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“I heard yesterday that the Potter’s had a Secret-Keeper—they were in hiding, Hestia, and he found them anyway.  Someone betrayed them.  I heard it was Sirius Black.”

 

Instant relief—It had not been Peter.  It had not been Peter.  But my stomach clenched—Sirius Black?

 

“That’s impossible,” I said, “I knew him—he wouldn’t—He—.”  I choked on the suffocating clench in my chest, “I knew him!  Oh my God, he wouldn’t, he just wouldn’t—.”  But tears came faster than the words and I couldn’t continue.

 

For how could I not know the truth?  It had been Peter.  Sirius Black betraying James Potter was beyond preposterous, and Peter—well, Peter—it was all too clear.

I didn’t think about Peter much over the summer.  Well, I did, but it seemed too weird.  I couldn’t imagine being with him, and I couldn’t fantasize about him, but I couldn’t quite not either.  The idea of him just sort of sat in my mind to the point that it was relieving just to see him again on September 1st—so that maybe he would get out of my head.

 

Though it wasn’t too relieving, because of course our first encounter had to be sufficiently awkward.  My friend Nancy and I were banging our luggage down the aisle in the train when I saw him, a couple of doors ahead, with his back turned.  Of course Nancy had to be treading on my heels, singing loudly in my ear some terrible Muggle song she’d dug up over the summer.

 

“You are the DANCING QUEEEN!  Young and sweet ah-oonly seventeeeen!”

 

Sirius Black, who’d been talking to Peter, looked up, noticed me, and with a nasty little grin whispered something to Peter.

 

“—Dancing QUEEEN!  Feel the beeeeeat—“

 

Peter guilelessly turned around at Sirius’ words and found himself nearly face-to-face with me.  He reddened immediately and tried to escape into the compartment door, but I could see Sirius’ hand on his arm, keeping him in place.

 

“—oh YE-AH-AAAAH!—“

 

I was about to say a quick hello and run, but Sirius had other ideas.  He halted me with his other arm, which only mildly confused Nancy’s musical endeavors, but blocked most of the traffic in the passage and made me quite anxious.

 

“Hestia Jones,” said Sirius, in a tone of mock seriousness, “Peter Pettigrew has something to say to you.”

 

I looked at poor Peter who, with hopelessly terrified glances at everywhere but me, seemed to have no intention of saying anything, so I said brightly:

 

“Hi, Peter, how was your summer?”

 

He relaxed slightly and looked at me, saying in a voice so small that I think he was hoping Sirius couldn’t hear, “It was fine, how was yours?”

 

“Fine, thank you.  I hope I see you in some classes!”  And I pushed past Sirius, with Nancy still singing in my ear.  In all probability, she hadn’t stopped during the whole uncomfortable interchange.

 

As we hurried away, I heard Sirius say, “What on earth would you do without me, Wormtail?”

 

“Nancy, do you not notice anything?” I demanded.

 

She wouldn’t pause from her song, so she sang to me—with the same melody as before, “I notice everything dear, doesn’t mean I quit singingggg!  You met your little lover and he was too scared to ask you ouuuut!  Sirius Black is a total jerrrrk!  Oh looook!  It’s Phylliiiiiiiiiiis!”  She hit some terribly high note until Phyllis threw her jacket over Nancy’s head and dragged her into a compartment.

 

“I’ll get back as soon as I can,” I said, “I’ve got to report to the Prefect’s compartment first.”

 

“Prefect!  Congratulations, Bean!” said Phyllis, without skipping a beat, but I wondered if she minded.  I also wondered why all my friends had taken to calling me “Bean.”

 

We arrived at the castle as usual, sat at the Hufflepuff table as usual, and, for the first time, I noticed I wasn’t in awe of my surroundings—because it is strange, after living in my tiny, miserable house all summer, to return to such literally magical grandeur.

 

Phyllis and Nancy had conferred during my absence in the Prefect’s compartment and had not stopped bothering me about Peter since.  Even Max and Will joined in with the chant “Bean has a boooyfriend!” and they were usually the types to dive into Quidditch tactical discussions when the talk turned too girlie.

 

I fielded their questions with blushes and “I don’t knows.”  All I knew was that every time I glanced at him I got a little jolt.  It was hard not to like someone who was so genuinely nice—so genuinely the opposite of all the other boys I knew.  Even Max and Will were jerk-offs half the time—and they were Hufflepuffs (it was a common saying among Hufflepuff girls that Gryffindor men are for now, Hufflepuff men are forever).

 

I enjoyed my meal despite Peter and my friends’ endless taunts (though I couldn’t help but recall that food was a shared passion of ours and that he definitely would have liked the zucchini casserole that everyone but myself seemed to be avoiding).


The year began and we fell into our old Hogwarts routine.


 I steadily ignored or refuted my friend’s suggestions, insinuations, and teases about Peter, yet I found myself searching for that round, smiley face as I made my way through the halls, and I’d get a little thrill whenever I saw him, even if he didn’t acknowledge me—even if he was too busy following around all the Gryffindor Prats to see me.  He usually did notice me, though, and gave a little wave or widened his ever-present smile a bit.  We certainly had enough classes with the Gryffindors, but we rarely interacted in class.  Our circles were just too different.  And the issue of me continuing to be terrified of James made it near-impossible for me to approach him, as all the Gryffindor boys seemed to be glued to each other.

 

I had only two classes with Peter: Charms and Care of Magical Creatures, and at the NEWT level both subjects dove into topics I’d never even heard of at such a frightening place that I feared I’d never get a spare moment to sigh over, not to mention chat with, boys.  Luckily for me the chance to be alone with Peter appeared fairly quickly.  About a month into the school year, Professor Kettleburn decided to pair the students up himself, and I spent so much energy praying not to be paired with James Potter that I hardly noticed that my name was called with Peter’s.

 

Peter and I smiled at each other nervously, but were soon distracted by staring in horror at the red glowing heat coming from the cage in front of us.  The lesson was on half-breeds, and it looked to me like a cross-breed between a bucket of gasoline and a match.

 

“Well, go on, open the cages!” roared Kettleburn who, with his loud voice, broad stature, and mysteriously missing leg was not one to be argued with, “I’ll be round in five minutes, so be ready to tell me the parent species and possible breeding methods!”

 

“What is it?” asked Peter, as I gingerly (and reluctantly) unlocked the cage.

 

“I think it’s a cat,” I replied as, sure enough, the fiery, bright creature arched its back and hissed as us in a distinctly catlike way (though unfortunately with distinctly un-catlike fire shooting from its mouth).

 

It slunk out of its cage and lazily rubbed against my leg.  I jumped away from the heat, my singed robes smoking dangerously.

 

“You okay?” asked Peter, looking at me with a concern which prevented him from seeing the cat begin to bat at the hem of his robes.

 

“I’m fine.  Watch—!”

 

“Aah!” he cried in pain as the fire-cat jumped up and sunk its burning claws into his chest.  He instinctively pushed it away with his own two hands, which only burned him more.

 

The cat dropped to the ground.

 

“Let me see your hands,” I said, “I can heal them.”

 

He extended his red and blistering hands to me, clearly trying not to make any sign of pain, though his eyes were filled with tears.

 

“Enguilio.  Episkey.  Enguilio.  Episkey.”  I righted both hands.

 

“Thank you,” he breathed, “Stupid cat.”

 

The cat was now fixed intently on a two-headed bird that was sitting on Greta Catchglove’s shoulder.  A well-placed spurt of water sent it hissing and steaming right back to us.  We laughed.

 

“Hestia, I was—“ Peter began, but Kettleburn’s voice boomed from behind us.

 

“Any ideas, Jones?  Pettigrew?” he asked, appraising the monster fire-cat lovingly.

 

“Oh, um, yes,” I said, “Half housecat, half salamander?”

 

“Very good, point to Hufflepuff.  And now, how might it have been bred?  Cats and salamanders aren’t exactly the most natural pair.”

 

“Er…” I looked at Peter helplessly.

 

“I think,” he began with obvious uncertainty, “I think you transfer the cat fetus into an empty salamander egg and then—I guess you hatch it over fire?”

 

“Excellent!  Hah!  The quiet boy one-ups Miss Jones!  Well, what do you know?” He chuckled, “Pettigrew, five points to Gryffindor.  Only, the egg must be heated very gradually or little Princess Cleopatra here would be a charcoal kitty.” 

He began to address the cat in a very unsettling baby-talk, “Wouldn’t you, you little baby cat, flame-face kitty, you—oh, meow meow.  Meow meow!”  Kettleburn was now on his knees petting the fire-cat, affirming the longstanding rumour that our professor was indeed fireproof, and not a little out of his head.

 

“Er, Professor?” said Peter, “I think I’m bleeding.  The cat got me in the chest, see, and burned through…”

 

“Jones, please accompany Pettigrew to the Hospital Wing.  We don’t need any blood today, do we kitty-cat, pretty little thing, you…”

 

I told myself it was no big deal, as we left Kettleburn meowing with Princess Cleopatra, to be walking alone with Peter like this.  We laughed for a bit at our mad professor as we walked up to the castle, but soon I remembered:

 

“How did you know how to breed it?  I didn’t have the first clue.”

 

He shrugged, “My Mum bred a scaled cat once—cat with a lizard, I think.  So I figured it was similar with a salamander-cat.

 

“A scaled cat?  Ergh—why?”

 

He grinned, “She’s nuts.  Didn’t like the hair getting everywhere, I think.”

 

“I’ll take a regular old cat, thanks,” I said, laughing.

 

“I hate cats.”

 

“Well, in that case, Peter, I’m not sure we can be friends.”

 

He smiled, “Well, I have a very good reason for hating cats.”

 

“What?”

 

He stopped in the deserted corridor.

 

“If I show you, you can’t tell anyone.”

 

This piqued my curiosity, “I wont, I promise.”

 

He closed his eyes, muttered, “Anima” and suddenly shrunk—into something—at my feet.  I knew what the spell “Anima” was meant to do, but it took me a second to register it—

 

“A rat?  Peter?”

 

I knelt down to observe the brown rat, looking at me calmly with beady eyes, twitching its nose.  I gently picked him up and brought him to eye level.  His little hairless tail wrapped around my finger.

 

“So this is why you don’t like cats,” I laughed, setting him down again.

 

He changed back so fast, I was still staring at his feet while he stared down at me from his normal height.

 

He helped me up.

 

“Peter—that’s—that’s really advanced!”

 

He grinned sheepishly, “It took a lot of time to work out.  We all did it, James, Sirius, and me.”

 

“What about Remus?”

 

“He’s—yeah, him too.”

 

“That’s impressive.”

 

“Yeah, sucks to be a rat, though.”

 

“Seems like it’d be more useful that a bear or something—can’t you hide and sneak around the castle whenever you want?”

 

“Yeah, and I do I guess.”  This seemed to cheer him up a bit, “James needs me to do stuff for him all the time, actually.  It’s very useful.”

 

“You know,” I said, trying to begin cautiously, “You don’t just have to do their bidding all the time—you’re better than that.”

 

“They’re my friends,” he said simply.

 

“Yeah, I know,” I said, and, afraid we were going to fall into a row or into silence, I reverted to our old topic, “So…Why did you decide to become Animagi?  Besides that it’s irresistibly, totally illegal?”

 

“Hestia, will you go out with me?”

 

I stopped where I was and stared at him, blushing.  I knew my answer, however.  I’d known it since before he asked the question.

 

“I’d—I’d like that.”

 

And somehow we never made it to the Hospital Wing—or back to class.
 

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