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I sat down to lunch with Phyllis, Max, and Nancy, priding myself on acting so casually—my air of total innocence and indifference.

 

“Hey guys,” I said, totally normally, grabbing a baked potato.  They just looked at me.

 

“Hestia, why are you smiling at me like a madwoman?” asked Phyllis immediately.

 

“Yeah, and you keep changing colour,” added Nancy helpfully, “Like from pink to pinker.”

 

But it was Max who gave me away.

 

“Let’s see…who wandered off in Care of Magical Creatures to be alone with a certain Peter Pettigrew?”

 

And my cover was blown.

 

After they all absorbed the details at least twice, Nancy said, “Well that’s convenient, anyway.”

 

“Why is that?”

 

“Hogsmeade next week!  And what’s better for a little higglety-pigglety than a nice cozy hour in Madam Puddifoot’s?”

 

“Nancy.  Higglety-pigglety?”

 

She looked flustered and stammered, “Well alright, you knew what I meant.”

 

Hogsmeade came and went, with a lot less awkwardness than I expected.  We held hands, talked about average things, and he told me that under no circumstances should I ever listen to anything any of his friends said.

 

I found Peter surprisingly easy to talk to—nearly like talking to Phyllis.  With my other boyfriends I had felt like a turtle quaking in its shell once it actually got to the dating stage.  Flirting and having crushes was one thing, but under the pressure of being judged as a girlfriend, I had always faltered—in my own shyness, awkwardness, spinelessness, whatever.  Talking to James Potter, for example, had felt like jumping onto a burning, sinking, cracked-in-half ship and praying that you wouldn’t have to stay on it long enough to submerge under the icy water.

 

It was different with Peter.  It was the beginning of the easiest, most blissfully happy relationship of my life.  We fit, somehow.  I wanted to talk with him, be with him.  I didn’t shy away this time; I even missed him when we were apart and I could tell him so.  It was pleasantly unfamiliar.  I could even tell him about my family with out making some uncomfortable sob-story out of it.

 

We soon began to sneak outside after dark, as nearly all couples did back then, to kiss and nuzzle in the cover of the vegetable patch.  It felt so big at the time—breaking rules, whispering feverishly, pressing myself up against the boy I could have sworn I was in love with.

 

Despite all this, we were fairly discreet about our dating, so of course the whole school knew in an instant.

 

 

One day, Lily Evans skittered up to me in the hall, “Um, Hestia?”  Her enormous bag stuffed with books was slung over her shoulder and her long red hair looked messier than usual.

 

“What’s up, Lily?” I asked, surprised to be addressed—we hadn’t really talked since the year began.  She had been on my mind lately, however, since Peter had confided that she had finally agreed to date James Potter, (which basically meant that at this point I considered her a lost cause and looked at her with the appropriate pity).

 

“Well,” she began, “You’re dating Peter, right?  And now I’m in this whole weird thing with James Potter—I mean James, and, well, I was wondering—well because I guess it’s a little weird, me being the only girl with the four of them, so if you could, I don’t know…I mean, people sneak into other common rooms all the time, and you could just hang out every once in a while.  They wont mind—Peter especially won’t mind, he’s nuts about you, and I’d love to have company.”  She looked at me desperately, “You know?  Just now and then?”

 

“Yeah—yeah, alright.  No problem,” I said, trying not to envision all the very obvious problems.  She smiled at me brightly.

 

“Thanks.  You’re the best, Hestia.  Because with all my other friends it would just be weird—and half of them are in love with James which makes things even worse—, but you—you’ve sort of got an in, you know?  So, er…I’ll grab you after supper tonight?”

 

I nodded, “Sounds good.”

 

“Okay, bye!”

 

My stomach managed to sink all the way through supper.  I very nearly hated Peter’s friends, so why was I forced to hang out with them?  I had an essay to finish anyway, and showing up in their common room was bound to be terribly awkward.  Who did Lily think she was to make me go through with this?  Who did Peter think he was even being friends with them in the first place?

 

My friends wondered why I was glowering at them, and they wondered even more at braniac, goody-two-shoes Lily Evans showing up to whisk me away.

 

Luckily, Lily’s nervous giggles and chattering recalled me to my purpose: she was James’ girlfriend and she obviously needed help.  I would do my best to be her companion, and then I would get away as soon as possible.  Simple as that.

 

“Oh Peeee-ter!” called Lily, dragging me across the cozy red and gold Common Room to the far corner.  “Look who I found!”

 

The four of them—James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter—sat huddled in four arm chairs, relaxed and happy.  Only Remus even bothered to hold a book in a facsimile of studying.  They looked up at us as we walked over, and I felt as if I had been shoved under a microscope.  Lily settled herself at James’ feet, so I sat at Peter’s in a pose that I hoped to God exuded confidence.

 

“I need some girl to help me try to interpret boy-talk,” Lily explained, smiling at me, “Goodness knows I don’t understand half the crap you lot say.”

 

Sirius Black lazily propped his feet on Remus’ lap (and had them immediately shoved forcefully off).  He then said, “Then welcome, Hestia Jones, to the best House ever.”

 

“And welcome, Hestia Jones,” popped in James, “To the first meeting of the Best Prank in History.”

 

“And what might that be?” I asked, looking around at all of them, mostly to avoid looking straight at James.

 

James shrugged, “We’re hoping you had some ideas.”

 

I laughed, though I couldn’t escape that microscope feeling, “The Gryffindors have never run out of ideas before, I think you’ll do just fine without me.”

 

“In all seriousness,” said Sirius, abandoning his uncooperative footrest and leaning forward, “I’m all for ending all this sexual tension and finally setting up Moony and Snape.  It’s less a prank—more a public service.”  He ducked a book thrown from Remus, who was having issues laughing and looking angry at the same time.

 

That was my near-smooth transition into the Gryffindor circle, not that I ever neared really being one of them.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have willingly gone near them, except it seemed that I was addicted to Peter Pettigrew.

 

It seems stupid to think back on it now, but at the time Peter and I really were a good couple.  We could babble senselessly on for hours about nothing at all.  There are lots of different types of talkers in the world.  Some can be funny whenever they choose, some only serious.  Some say only the important things, others say everything.  We said everything.  We were babblers, and could hardly help it.

 

By mid-sixth year, all of Peter’s friends and I were hanging out in the Gryffindor Common Room regularly.  On one particular day, Peter and I were cuddling in a chair, talking, when James called over,

 

“Oy, what are you whispering about?”  Their conversation had clearly run out.

 

“Well, garden gnomes, actually,” I said.

 

“Garden gnomes?  For God’s sake, can’t you think up anything better than garden gnomes?  I’d much rather you tell us you were talking dirty than talking about flipping garden gnomes!”  Everyone laughed.  I did too, though I didn‘t exactly feel like it.  I rather knew it was funny than felt it to be so.

 

“No honestly,” said Peter, “It started with—er—fireworks, went to Flitwick, I think, then garden gnomes.”

 

“Great conversations, you have,” he said, looking at Sirius with eyes that said “Do you believe these two?”

 

“Well if you‘re such a great conversationalist, then why are you interrupting ours?  Running out of brilliant things to say?” I asked with a smile.  James gave me a joking glare.

 

“She’s got a point James,” said Lily, “Now shut up and kiss me, you’re talking like a fool again.”

 

“Gladly.”

 

After a moment, Remus said, “Well actually, we had been discussing something.”

 

“Yeah!” said Sirius, suddenly animated.  He had been watching James and Lily with an eye that said “Why can’t I get one of those?”

 

“We were discussing—” Remus began.

 

“Which means we’re going to—”

 

“Releasing ten Bogarts, Confunding Mrs. Norris, and turning the Main Staircase into jelly.”

 

“You’re not serious,” I said.

 

“And hopefully create a thunderstorm in the Great Hall.”

 

“And that’s just for this week,” said James, rejoining the conversation.

 

“Isn’t that dangerous?” asked Peter, wide-eyed, “Couldn’t someone get struck by lightening?  Or slip off the staircase?”

 

“Your arse’ll save you Peter,” said Sirius, “You’re fat enough.”

 

The others laughed, but I couldn’t quite get up to it (and found myself instead subconsciously sucking in my own stomach).

 

Remus changed the subject swiftly, “Or—an idea—for once we could do something useful for the world.  Did anyone read the Prophet today?”

 

“Wasn’t much to read, was there?” said Lily, “Just the picture—and all the reporters too scared to even write anything about it.  It’s maddening.”

 

“What’s happened?” asked Sirius.

 

“Well Voldemort slashed the words “I Am Lord Voldemort” across half the British countryside, didn’t he?” said Lily impatiently, “Burned everything in its way.  Now the Ministry’s got the great job of hiding every inch of it from Muggles until they can right it, and they had to make sure all the satellites and airplanes and televisions missed it, not to mention all the houses that got slashed through.”

 

“They reckon he’s worse than Grindelwald at this point,” I piped in, “After all these disappearances and murders, he seems to think he’s only just got started.”

 

“Well, Remus, what are we supposed to do about it?” asked Peter curiously.

 

“Chances are you wont do a damn thing,” said James, addressing Peter derisively, “Considering that after all our planning you still nearly gave us away to Filch and couldn’t even nick those papers he had.  What’d you do, trip over your own goddamn foot or something?”

 

Sirius chortled, “Nah, it was his robe—his robe (he could hardly speak for laughing now), it got caught on the—doorknob—and he—he—“  But he dissolved into giggled and couldn’t go on.

 

I didn’t really like being around Peter’s friends.  As talkative as he was with me, he didn’t really say much around them.  And whenever he did I felt like I had to protect him from the censure that would inevitably come afterwards.  I was quicker but not much quicker than Peter at retorting to their endless jokes, and though I don’t think they ever disliked me, they knew that I wasn’t at the same level that they were.  I’ve always been the type of person who acts like those around them, and it was no different with the Gryffindors, but it wasn’t genuine.  I didn’t enjoy it.  They had a language I couldn’t understand, they led a secret life that even Lily wasn’t a part of, and I could never shake off that uncomfortable feeling that I was a tag-along.  Whenever I walked back into the welcoming Hufflepuff Common Room, I felt my shoulders relax and swapped the fake smile for a genuine one at the sight of my real friends.

 

Sometimes I wondered if Peter ever got that feeling—of having real friends.  Not just ones who tolerated his presence.

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