Hermione heard Ron and Harry pleading with her to come out of the bathroom stall.
Moaning Myrtle was laughing so hysterically, ghostly tears were spilling from her eyes and evaporating on the tile floors. "She looks awful," she shrieked. And with that, Myrtle dove into Hermione's stall and disappeared into the toilet with a plop. Hermione shrieked, flinching back.
"'Mione, please come out!" Harry's voice was growing concerned.
"No, I'm hideous," the witch bawled. If she took a step out of that stall, she was sure to be the laughingstock of the whole school.
"Well, then. You leave me no choice," Ron said. "Alohomora!"
Hermione saw a small flash of light, and she could hear the lock on the stall unbolt. The door swung open, and she brought up her hands to cover her face.
She heard an exasperated sigh, probably from Ron. "Hermione, put your hands down." She shook her head violently. "'Mione, please." Ron sounded almost desperate. After some hesitation, Hermione slowly brought her hands down.
Harry and Ron stared in shock. Hermione tear-stained face was covered in tawny fur, as was the rest of her body, and her big brown eyes were now replaced with bright green irises with vertical black slits for pupils. A large tail was poking out from her robes, and she could feel it brushing against her legs as it swayed back and forth.
"The Polyjuice Potion…" she muttered. Her tongue delicately probed her teeth. Her canines felt sharper, almost like fangs. She realized that they actually were fangs once she pressed a little too hard, resulting in a faint metallic taste in her mouth.
"It didn't work. That wasn't Millicent Bulstrode's hair I had taken – it was her cat's. And now look at me!" The fur around Hermione's eyes was flattening as it got more and more wet with her tears. "I won't be able to come out of here for at least a month!"
"We need to get you to Madam Pomfrey," Harry said quietly, holding Hermione gently by the sleeve. And off they went.
"Hmmm…. Madam Pomfrey examined Hermione's fur as the young witch sat on one of the infirmary beds. She grabbed two hairs on Hermione's arm and yanked, causing the girl to hiss.
Madam Pomfrey frowned to herself, then motioned to Hermione to open her mouth. "Say 'acromantula' for me, dear."
The older woman stooped down, squinting to get a closer look at Hermione's teeth. After a moment, she stood back up. The frown on her face had only deepened, and her eyebrows were furrowed.
"Miss Granger, it seems that you have a condition."
Madam Pomfrey averted her gaze. "Yes, a condition. It's called Aelurus. It can stem from a situation like this… I'm afraid that you'll be stuck in this form permanently."
"…Permanently?" Hermione asked, eyes wide. Madam Pomfrey nodded solemnly. She opened her mouth to continue, but Hermione was already out the door.
The following morning, Harry and Ron woke up to find Hermione sitting on Neville's empty bed, fur and all. Next to her was the suitcase she had first shown up to school with.
"Hermione?" Harry asked groggily, rubbing his eyes. "How in Merlin's name did you get up here? It's the boys' dormitories."
"It's not the point," Hermione replied. She sounded serious.
Ron had woken up faster than usual, probably due to the girl's presence. "What brings you up here?"
"I…" Hermione swallowed. "I'm going to leave Hogwarts."
"What?" Harry sputtered. He was awake now.
"But – why?" Ron had jumped out of bed.
Hermione looked at them, then at her hands. "This form is permanent. I can never go back to looking the way I was before."
Harry had walked all the way up to meet her now. "And this is reason for you to leave Hogwarts?"
Hermione nodded. "I spent all night thinking about it. Yes, I love it here, and yes, I love you both." She gave a small smile. "I just… I just feel that it would be best for me. I don't know if I'll be even able to stay here. I mean, stealing ingredients from a professor and making potions that are more or less forbidden here? I could get expelled."
Ron shrugged. "I doubt it. You're friends with Harry Potter, you could probably get away with anything."
Harry laughed. "That is pretty true."
Hermione smiled. "Yes, it is, but I don't know if it can get me out of this scrape." She shrugged, trying to seem more nonchalant than she felt. "I'll find a place out there, I guess."
The two young wizards were silent, trying to absorb the reality of the situation. Then…
"Promise you'll write?" Ron was staring at the floor, fists clenched into the fabric of his pajama pants.
"I'll try," Hermione replied. Her eyes were misty. She walked over to the ginger and threw her arms around him, trying very hard not to cry. She could feel his arms wrapped around her tightly, and she smiled to herself.
"I'll miss you, Ronald," she whispered. She heard a sniffle in return.
"I guess this is goodbye, then?" Harry offered sadly as Hermione broke the hug. She nodded, then turned to embrace Harry.
Once they let go of each other, Hermione slowly headed towards the door. "I'm absolutely going to write you both," was the last thing she said to them before gently shutting the door.
About a week had passed since Hermione had left Hogwarts for good, and she missed it desperately. Not a minute passed where she didn't think about Harry, or Ron, or heck, even Malfoy at times. She never thought it would be possible to miss his presence, but she was still glad that she would never have to hear his taunts again.
She had navigated her way back from Scotland using whatever forms of disguise she was capable of. Spells were out of the question, since she didn't want anything worse happening to her, but she would pass nearly unnoticed with the use of large hats, her cloak (which could easily pass as a large coat), and her scarf. She expected to feel relief at not being noticed, but instead she felt an empty sense of loneliness.
Hermione was feeling particularly lonely one starless night, huddled in the corner of an alleyway, using her cloak as a blanket. She rubbed her thumb across the texture on her suitcase, which was lying beside her. She wanted to go home. What would the school tell her parents? Would they tell the truth, or would they fabricate some wild excuse? Probably the latter, since whatever they'd probably come up with wouldn't be too out of the ordinary compared to everything else at the school. The girl let out a small mirthless chuckle, then felt the sudden and overwhelming urge to cry. Hermione buried her head in her hands, the feeling of fur against fur still strange and uncomfortable. She missed her parents. She missed Hagrid. She missed Harry. She missed Ron. She missed Hogwarts.
A loud clanging noise resounded across the alley, causing Hermione to jump. A large shadow -the source of the noise, most likely- descended from overhead, landing nearly soundlessly in front of her in a crouch. She scooted back and gripped the handle of her suitcase, ready to use it if necessary. The shadow grew to a normal height, and Hermione could vaguely make out a human shape. It looked around the space, reaching into its pocket and pulling something cylindrical out. Hermione flinched. What was it? A weapon? No sooner than when she had thought this did a blinding light shine in her face, causing her to shield her eyes with one hand, but keeping the other on her suitcase.
The shape cautiously stepped forward, and a face moved into the light. Through her fingers, Hermione could make out an orange tint, most of which was covered by a newsboy cap. and a face was covered in mostly orange fur, with a mask-like dash of white around its eyes and streaks of black. The person continued to slowly move towards her.
"Y'alright, miss? You look like you've 'ad an awful fright." The voice coming from the shape was male, sporting a thick Cockney accent and a quiet, worried tone.
Hermione didn't take her hand off the luggage. "Well I was bound to, what with you jumping from the roof like an absolute twit!"
"Shhh!" The shape paused, as if caught. After a moment, she could see that a small smile had grown on his face. "That's fair. But are you alright?"
Hermione gave a curt nod, bringing her hand down from her face, her tone quieting to match his. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you."
"Oh. Well that's –" The person paused again, then kneeled in front of Hermione, flashlight still on her. She could see his whole face now, and he looked like her. His fur was mostly orange, with a white mask-like area surrounding his eyes, with small flashes of black. His eyes were wide, with vertical slits dilated in a sea of green. His mouth had dropped open slightly, and Hermione could see two fangs poking out.
She gasped slightly, jerking back. "What the–"
"Shhhhhhh!" The young man – if he could be called a man - clapped his hand over her mouth, and through his fingerless glove she could feel a soft, fuzzy feeling. More fur, she realized. He moved a little closer to her face, and his eyebrows furrowed, eyes flitting around her face. After some excruciating silence, he removed his hand from over Hermione's mouth.
"Come with me."
"I have absolutely no reason to trust you."
"Just – please?" He was holding his hand out to her now. Hermione started to lift her hand, then stopped. Was this really the right move? He could be leading her to her doom. But then again, this isn't half as weird as the things she experienced last year at school, and if anything went wrong, she had her wand in her suitcase to straighten things out.
"Okay." She placed her hand in his.
In a flash, Hermione was on this stranger's back, and he was clambering on top of trash cans and stepping on jutted-out bricks in the wall in order to get to the top of the roof. Instinctively, she glanced down, and she could see his long orange and black tail swishing down under them. She squeezed her eyes shut. The stranger pulled himself up onto the roof, eased Hermione off of his back, and then crouched, panting slightly.
Hermione took this opportunity to ask some much-needed questions. "Who are you?"
The stranger looked up at her from his bent-over position. "Mungojerrie, at your service, miss." There was a faint trace of snark in his voice as he swooped an arm down in a mock bow, then placed it back on his knee.
Hermione sniffed. "My name's Hermione Granger. How did you get like this?"
Mungojerrie seemed to freeze, then loosened as he let out a short huff. "Condition. I was small. Both me an' m'sister."
"I'm… terribly sorry."
"It's really nothing to be sorry about. Sometimes the best things can come out o' the best situations, y'know?"
She nodded. "I suppose."
"I guess it's only fair tha' I ask how you got this way. If you don't mind, o' course." He raised his eyebrows a little in questioning.
"I developed a condition as well, about a week ago. I was at school." Hermione tightly shut her eyes to keep them from watering. She opened her mouth, maybe to say more, but nothing came out. She then decided to say something else. "Where are you taking me?"
"Oh. That. Right." Mungojerrie straightened up. "I'm taking ya to the Junkyard. Hol' on," he said, cutting Hermione (who had just began to ask what the Junkyard was) off – "Just let me explain. The Junkyard is where folks like us live. All of them got this way somehow, and somehow, we all found each other. We call ourselves the Jellicles. To be honest, they're probably th'best thing to happen to me in my entire life."
Hermione considered this, mind flickering back to the wand in her trunk. "Alright. I will come with you."
Mungojerrie smiled, and Hermione found that it was quite a welcome sight after what felt like an eternity away from Harry and Ron. "Right then. Le's go."