Good to be Back
4th September 1992
"They did what?!"
"Flew our Dad's car to Hogwarts. All the way from London," Fred answered merrily, drumming his fingers on the table with each word.
"Because they missed the Express?" Neville tried to confirm. "Are they barking mad?"
"I think that was sufficiently established when we began this conversation," Mark commented dryly. Unlike the twins, he wasn't of the opinion that this was some spectacular prank, planned or otherwise.
"That isn't even the best part," George grinned, "Mum sent Ron a Howler. Right here, in the middle of the Great Hall."
Neville had his mouth hung open at that. Mark could understand; Howlers were the worst sort of reprimand a kid could get, especially one in public. He'd seen the effects of it first-hand.
Mark would never have claimed he was some saint-like kid—he had done his fair share of idiotic mistakes at school. Technically, some weren't even mistakes; just experiments gone awry. But never had his Dad reprimanded him in such a fashion. His Dad—and even Mark by extension—believed in the effectiveness of measured and rational teaching. No scolding, no hitting. Mark didn't even recall being grounded. His Dad explained and he listened. Simple.
So, to say Mrs Weasley's Howler was something terrifying to experience was an understatement. Anyone in the Great Hall who hadn't known about the incident previously surely came to know then. He'd never forget the sheer fear and embarrassment that had run through Ron at that very moment; he would have seen it on his face even if he hadn't felt it while gleaning into his mind.
Hermione Granger wasn't of the same opinion as him—she thought that the punishment was well deserved. She was now back to loathing Mark during the classes. He could see her trying even harder, obviously with the goal of firmly surpassing him this term. She was not the kind of person to settle for a draw, and Mark was happily prepared to offer a challenge.
Now that a few days had passed, Mark realised that he actually had missed Hogwarts. Not the castle itself, or the physical distance that separated Scotland and London. He would have rather preferred to attend a day school, staying close to his Dad as much as possible. No, it had been the study of magic that he had missed—the freedom to use his wand, to transfigure a snuffbox and charm a teapot, and to brew some fantastical potion.
While some things were good, some things were still the same. Professor Binns was still his ghostly self, allowing Mark the much-needed opportunity to nap in the class. Professor Sprout was still having them handle various confusing plants—if they weren't similar in appearance, they were probably similarly named. Mark was glad that Neville was finally back; he was sorely bored in the last class. Professor Snape was still his grumpy self, especially sadistic towards Harry. Mark was properly confused by the behaviour of the potions master—none of it made any sense.
In the same but diametrically opposite position was the odd behaviour of their new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher—Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin Second Class. If being pompous was some rare fabric, the man wore a whole set of robes made from it.
The very first class, he had given the students a pop quiz. Mark had gone through the prescribed books on the list during the summer. They were alright, if a little too story-bookish. If one combed through the self-aggrandizing stuff that the book was full off, you could find some really insightful information.
But that was not what the quiz was about at all. Instead of questions about Defence—hell any sort of useful information—it only contained questions straight out of a Witch Weekly issue. Who cared what Gilderoy Lockhart's favourite colour or his secret ambition was?
Hermione, obviously, had aced the test. Mark wondered if she had a slight form of photographic memory—he refused to believe any individual would willingly memorize Gilderoy Lockhart's favourite perfume. After an initial period of hoping that the test was a prank of sorts, Professor Lockhart asked two students to come forward in order to perform a certain scene from his book. Mark watched the professor enact the 'brave' manner in which he defeated a ghoul in a village in Africa—it was like watching a bad quality play.
It was then that Mark decided to glean into Professor Lockhart's mind, hoping to figure out his reasoning behind this. But he couldn't—Professor Lockhart was an Occlumens, and a good one at that.
In hindsight, Mark thought, he had to be. Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape—hell, even Professor Quirrell/Voldemort were Occlumens. It was a sign of skill and competence. And Professor Lockhart was clearly both skilled and competent—his accounts were rich enough proof of that.
Surprisingly, the DADA professor wasn't the only new Occlumens at school. There was the youngest Weasley and his newest friend, Ginny. Her mind was fantastically obscured—the only other student at Hogwarts who had any such defences was Harry.
Mark was glad to have met her. Ginny was smart, outgoing, snarky—lively. The exact opposite of what she had been when he had met her before at Diagon Alley in the summer. Then, she had been overtly shy, trying to blend in the background. Mark reckoned that it must have been the presence of her rather large family—he knew he would have been overwhelmed by them. He was happy that their conversation on the train went great, and that he had eased some of her worries about Elijah and the sorting—it took less than a minute for her to be declared a Gryffindor.
"What about the barrier closing itself?" Neville asked. Mark realised he had zoned out of the conversation.
"No idea, mate. It was tampered with—they checked it. But the cause is still unknown." George answered.
"In any case, they arrived with a bang, bravely battling the great Whomping Willow itself," Fred said proudly, "Couldn't have done it better ourselves. And because it was before the term started, they didn't even lose any points."
Mark checked his watch, his breakfast done. Drinking up the now lukewarm coffee from his cup (being friends with the house-elves had its perks—take that Dad!), he nudged Neville.
"It's time for charms," Mark announced. "Come on, finish up. I'll bring you up to speed on all the classes."
5th September 1992
"Whatsamatter?" Harry groaned. Couldn't he have some peaceful sleep for once?
"Get up. Time for Quidditch practice" Wood answered a little too cheerfully. "You guys too. I want the reserves on the pitch today too."
"But its five in the morning!" Ron cried out, still buried beneath his blankets. Harry, was already out and getting dressed. Used to rude wake-up calls, he watched in amusement as Ron punched his pillow before reluctantly clambering out of the bed. Mark, meanwhile, was nodding absently as he grabbed his clothes, dark circles beneath his eyes. He must have stayed up late last night, as was usual for the boy.
"Yes, it's part of the new training program," Wood informed. "I'll be waiting for you lot in the common room," he said before vanishing down the stairs. The three of them got dressed in their Quidditch robes, Ron muttering curses at everything in sight.
"Lucky sods," said Ron as he put on his boots, glaring at Seamus and Dean, still asleep in their beds. Dean had dropped out of the reserve team this year, allowing him more time to pursue his drawing.
"Come on, we don't want to keep Wood waiting," said Harry, his Nimbus Two Thousand in his hand. Ron picked up his old Shooting Star, while Mark would still be using one of the school brooms.
Wood was waiting for them in the common room, along with the rest of the team. Harry saw that the Weasley twins were still half asleep, drooping over their brooms. The other players—a bit more awake than them—were looking generally annoyed.
"Morning Wood!" said Mark, a bit too loudly, drawing the attention of everyone in the common room.
Harry turned to look at him—the enthusiasm seemed odd, the wide grin on the boy's face even more so. It took a moment for Harry's sleep-addled brain to register the connotation; when he did, he barely managed to hold in his laughter.
Evidently, the others weren't that slow. The impact of Mark's words had been instantaneous; Fred and George snapped to attention before smiling wildly, the rest turning to see Oliver Wood, who had now turned beet red. Ron was the only one still too sleepy to have realised what happened.
"What? Can't I greet my dedicated captain who has decided to hold our practice at this wonderful hour?" Mark asked, and Harry almost lost it. Chuckles and giggles broke out, and Wood decided to take control of the situation.
"That's enough cheek, Smith. Let's move, people," Wood ordered, his face still flushed from embarrassment.
"He's a foul git, he is! Bloody Malfoy." Harry complained as he sat in Hagrid's Hut. Hermione looked pale, while Ron was nodded silently in agreement, still belching slugs into the bucket in his hands.
After spending three hours of their 'practice time' inside the changing rooms going over all different plays and strategies that Wood had thought of incorporating in this year, they finally made their way to the Quidditch Pitch. It was mid-morning already by then, the reserves allowed to go back to bed. Ron had obviously stuck around, partly because he was interested in seeing Wood employ the new plays. He joined Hermione in the stands, who had brought along some breakfast for the two of them, a Lockhart book in her hand. Colin Creevey—a new first-year Gryffindor, excited to even be in the presence of the great 'Harry Potter'—was busy clicking away pictures of Harry on his magical camera.
An hour into the actual practice, one which Harry was trying even harder than usual—he was feeling especially guilty about the fact that they had lost the last match spectacularly due to him being stuck in the Hospital wing with no reserve seeker to take his place—the Slytherin Quidditch team had shown up.
Evidently, Snape had given them permission to practice today, overriding Wood's booking of the Quidditch pitch. The reason for their special practice was the training of a new Seeker—Draco Malfoy. His father—who Harry had seen in Knockturn Alley that day—had 'generously donated' a full set of brand-new Nimbus 2001's for the entire Slytherin team.
Malfoy, unable to resist insulting anyone wearing scarlet and gold, commented on the brooms of the Gryffindor team, only to be retorted back by Hermione—she mentioned how no Gryffindor had to buy their way onto the team. Enraged, Malfoy called her a Mudblood, prompting an immediate reaction from Ron.
In hindsight, if they hadn't flown from London in the car, perhaps this encounter would have gone differently. Because then Ron's wand wouldn't have been broken during their crash into the Whomping Willow. When Ron tried cursing Malfoy today, the curse backfired, causing Ron to start belching out slugs again. Evidently, Spellotape was not a prescribed fix for broken wands.
"Yer right Harry," said Hagrid, "But ye shouldn't try and pick fights with him. His father is on the Board of Governors. Leave it to the Professors. That goes 'specially for you Ron."
Ron opened his mouth to protest but instead belched a few more slugs into the bucket.
"You're right Hagrid," said Hermione. "Ron. Harry. I appreciate the two of you trying to stand up for me. But you shouldn't have tried cursing Malfoy." Taking a pause, she added with narrowed eyes, "As much as he deserved it. Remember, the last time he said that word, Professor McGonagall put him in detention for a week. He'll likely be punished again now."
6th September 1992
"Again—One, Two, Three, Four," Mark counted as George began strumming the Bass in rhythm.
Today was their first practice this term, and Mark had been blown away by the difference in his friends. The sheer improvement in their playing skills was staggering. Of course, they were still amateurs; but the last term they had barely begun learning the chords. The pace with which they were progressing was much faster than when he had first begun to play. They must have broken their backs practising all summer.
"Amazing," muttered Mark, watching Neville move fluidly over the drums. His progress was the most astonishing amongst them, as Mark hadn't strictly known how to teach someone to play the drums. He had had to draw on the limited second-hand experience of watching Ollie play at his old school. He wondered whether Neville had some innate talent for the drums; there was no way his friend was playing the way he did solely by what Mark taught him.
Fred and George were much different in their choice of music than Mark would have initially considered them to be. It hadn't taken him too long to figure out that the two were not as interchangeable as most people thought. George preferred the slow tempo of the Bass, relishing the technique involved in the playing. On the other hand, Fred preferred faster guitar heavy pieces, even singing along in his crazy voice when his heart felt like it. Mark wondered if Fred could perform as a vocalist; the boy did have the range for it.
"So, what do you say?" asked Fred, interrupting Mark's train of thought. "Do we pass muster?"
Mark didn't answer immediately; he was still processing everything he had observed. Trying to make sure if it implied what he thought it implied.
"What's wrong? I didn't think we were that bad," muttered Fred, sweat dripping off his forehead. He turned to Neville. "Were we that bad?"
"Gentleman," said Mark, drawing their attention back towards him, a broad smile on his face. "I think we have a band."
"I—that was bloody brilliant," said Neville.
"That's an understatement," remarked Fred, as they now made their way to the kitchens after the practice. "We should find some way to meet more often for this"
"Seconded, my slightly-less-handsome brother," George agreed. "How about Tuesdays? You guys don't have any classes in the evening, right?"
"Eh —" Neville racked his head for the timetable, but Mark answered before he could remember
"Yeah, we do"
"You already memorised the times for all the classes?" asked Neville in slight disbelief.
"Not at all. Just memorised all the free slots," came the reply. "Need to be sure of when I'm free to participate in certain shenanigans," Mark smirked as he high-fived Fred. They soon found themselves seated at one of the long tables in the kitchens.
"Hey Corky," Mark called out to the familiar elf passing by.
"You wants that salad again Master Smith?" Corky asked in an excited tone. A little too excited.
"Yes please" Mark replied, a reluctant smile on his face. He turned back to face his friends—now looking at him with their mouths hanging open.
"Salad?" Fred finally asked. "Where're the scones, where are the cakes? Where's the cheese? Who are you and what have you done with Mark Smith?"
Mark bit back a clever retort—probably not that clever in the first place. It was better to explain directly.
"Well, I've been put on a strict diet now. Dad and Edwin were right upset by how much I had gained last term," said Mark. Looking at the shocked faces, he continued further, "It's not something monstrous, guys. I'm still allowed everything except sweets during mealtimes. Anytime I feel hungry outside of mealtimes, I get a salad."
"No sweets?" asked Neville after a moment, a sickly expression on his face.
"No. Edwin was rather insistent. No more scones and cakes. No more cheese outside of meals." Looking at the now horrified expression on George's face, Mark gave him a pat on the shoulder.
"Cheer up, boys. It's not actually that bad. I found I rather liked a particularly well-made-salad."
"Particularly-well-made-salad," muttered Fred, "Those words aren't supposed to go together."
"Hey, if it helps me look anything like my Dad in the future, I'm all for it," Mark retorted back. Even though he looked sick than he had in his youth, Mark's Dad was still a head-turner at his age.
"If it's alright with you," said George, munching on a scone, "It's alright with us." Pointing the half-eaten scone at the bowl of green salad in front of Mark he added,
"Just don't expect us to eat that."
19th September 1992
As she rested her head on the soft pillow, Hermione thought back to the wonderful day she had had. She hadn't expected her friends to actually remember her birthday, let alone celebrate it. Her parents, always the practical purists, had pre-packed her birthday card and present inside her trunk, to be opened on the appropriate day today.
Before Hogwarts, Hermione never had any friends. Sure, people were friendly. But they were mostly intimidated or irritated with her. At first, she had believed that there must be something wrong with her. Maybe she was being too nosy about the work others did in school. Perhaps she should just keep quiet and not try and correct others, even though it was plain as day that they were wrong.
Sometimes she thought that others were just being mean to her. They would rather be friends with the pretty girls. She certainly wasn't, not with her large bushy head of hair and a quite noticeable overbite. Nor was she interested in spending her time with gossip and fluffing herself up with makeup and clothes. Being called the 'teacher's pet' certainly didn't help her. So she became an outcast—staying on the fringe—partly by the actions of her peers, and partly by her own choice.
But there was a small sense of sadness within her—of being alone, unwanted. Her parents helped; told her stories of their own childhood. Neither of them had been the popular kid at school. And now, they were both successful professionals—members of a happy family. All Hermione needed to have was patience and hard work. And she believed it.
That was until Professor McGonagall showed up at her doorstep last summer. Suddenly, Hermione had an explanation for her situation. That there was a reason she never fit in with the other kids—because she was a witch. She wasn't just different; she was different.
Once her initial excitement subsided, fear and logic gripped her again. Given that she had missed out on eleven years of magical life that the other kids at Hogwarts no doubt had, Hermione was at an obvious disadvantage. What would happen when she went to Hogwarts, ignorant and unprepared in the ways of the new world that she was joining? It was her own responsibility, after all, to prepare herself. So, she did. Read the textbooks, bought new ones. Studied everything she could, in the limited time she had. Left no stone unturned.
But as it happened, this school was not that different from her old one. Magical or not, they were still kids. After all, it had been naïve of her to expect something else. Magic hadn't made her more outgoing, nor made her more good-looking. Neither had it changed her attitude towards studying—if only it had now intensified. And even though she tried her hardest to be helpful and friendly, she still got the same reactions from her classmates. A prissy-know-it-all, with bushy-hair and buck-teeth.
By Halloween, she had been done. Crying in that bathroom, she made a silent promise; no longer would she try to be nice and helpful. If the others thought she was a prissy-know-it-all, she would actually do something to deserve that label. Nobody bothered about her. Nobody cared anyway.
But then she had been proved wrong. Faced with certain death—a smelly, disgusting troll swinging its huge club—her legs had turned to lead. In the back of her mind, she was hoping for some professor to arrive in the form of help. There wasn't hope otherwise. But when help arrived, it wasn't any professor. No, it was in the form of two boys. Specifically, the two boys who had been mean to her earlier that day. There to warn her—ended up saving her. They had cared.
After that moment, standing in the bathroom with a body of an unconscious troll at her feet, there was no denying it—she had friends. Those of the strongest kind. Sure, they were not as serious as her about their studies and were more prone to occupy themselves with whatever stupid activities boys like to spend their time doing. But they were true Gryffindors. She had understood what that actually meant on that day, and on the day they had encountered He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. She had been scared, but neither Ron nor Harry had been.
She wondered what her parents would think of that—their daughter almost getting killed twice in a year. Obviously, she hadn't told them anything—that would have been stupidity, and she was Hermione Granger. Still, she thought about how the differences between them were growing each day she was at Hogwarts.
Being dentists, her parents had planned on doing her braces last year, but coming to Hogwarts meant there weren't enough opportunities for the periodic adjustments. She had enquired about magically adjusting her teeth, which according to Madame Pomfrey was quite easy to do. But her parents were firm on this; no one was touching their daughter's teeth but them. Enough had changed already.
On the train ride to Hogwarts, Hermione had briefly wondered if Harry and Ron had decided to not be friends with her anymore. Maybe they had kept her around out of pity before. Now that they realised how unnecessary she was, they decided to abandon her. But then those two idiots flew a car into Hogwarts and everything was fine again.
Her birthday today had been wonderful. Even though she had remembered and planned a surprise party for Ron's birthday, for some reason she wasn't expecting a party for herself at all. It was a splendid celebration if organised in a slightly haphazard manner.
There was a cake (courtesy of Fred and George Weasley, who wished her "Happy Birthday Hermione Granger, muggle-born"), all her favourite snacks, and the birthday song accompanied with a guitar piece by played by Mark. They all gave her gifts, ranging from chocolate frogs and peppermint toads to an old battered copy of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. But she was mainly happy because she now knew she had good friends.
Hermione snuggled further into her bed, trying to hold on to the giddy feeling in her stomach. As her eyes fluttered closed, she remembered the brief and awkward hug Ron gave her, and the wonderful feeling that she had gotten from it.
AN: Another chapter in, and we're firmly into Year 2! This chapter delves into Hermione's psyche for a bit, something that hadn't happened yet. Her POV's will slowly become prominent, not actively coming into the picture as much in Book One. She's an interesting character, her personality a contrast with both Harry and Mark.
One important point to take note is about Lockhart. As it is evident, his first class did not have a demonstration with the Cornish Pixies here, instead moving straight onto the play acting from his books. The main reasoning behind it is that Lockhart is a crook, not an idiot. His every action is a well-rehearsed act, and he would definitely not bring in something he knows he can't handle. JKR's version of Lockhart is a person who is likely delusional; mine is not.
In the coming chapters Harry's role is limited; that is because the arc will focus on Mark more. The next few chapters after those will be opposite, with the arc focusing on Harry more. Given that this is where the divergences begin, Harry will finally get more expanded segments from now on.
As for the chapter upgrade, I'm now finished with both chapter 7 and chapter 8. Chapter 7 had some POV inconsistencies and both had dialogue which could be improved, so I did. Check them out. I think you'll like them.
Content wise, only one point has been added: the mention of Mark's Herpetophobia. I had originally planned on revealing it later, but realised it fit better there in Chapter 7. Other than that, nothing of note had been added.
Feedback is welcome. Please read and review. Thanks!