Life has a funny way of going about things, setting events in motion, starting things that had once seemed so unlikely as to never have crossed one's mind. In one life in particular, things changed in a day, a meager stretch of twenty-four hours. Not noticeably, of course, but just enough. A little push, one could say. Just enough to start the caterpillar on her way to becoming a butterfly, to use one old adage. Or perhaps more accurately (and with a heartier dose of cheese), to start the turtle on her way to becoming a lioness.
Evening of March 15, 1977
The common room was a warm sort of place, full of tapestries and carpets, couches and pillows all colored in red and gold. At the center of the room holding court were the infamous Marauders, namely, James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. James and Sirius, the obvious leaders of the pack, had effectively replaced the lion as the Gryffindor mascots. Lily Evans, the house beauty, and her friends Alice Markwell and Marlene McKinnon looked on disapprovingly, while other students cheered, gazed admiringly, or tried half-heartedly to study.
There were no more than three Gryffindors in the room at that point that were earnestly working on their schoolwork, and not one of them was thinking of staying any longer. Two of these, a pair of second-year twins, headed out together. The third scrambled out the porthole in their wake, letting the portrait swing shut behind her.
Meet Susan Ponds.
Susan was, decidedly, the most unfit Gryffindor in the house. Brave? Nope. She could hardly talk to another human being without bursting into tears. Daring? Hardly. She'd never so much as considered breaking curfew since she'd been at Hogwarts. Chivalrous? Well, there was a rather important proponent of chivalry that involved a degree human interaction and, well, that certainly wasn't happening on a regular basis. Susan herself often wondered if it was possible for the Sorting Hat to be wrong. Her grades suggested Ravenclaw, but that was because she worked hard, not because she was gifted. She wasn't friendly enough to be in Hufflepuff (see "Chivalry"), and liked to think that she wasn't any kind of Slytherin. It seemed more likely that she wasn't actually meant for Hogwarts, and only the geography of the genetic lottery had landed her here.
Susan's life had, until this point, been exceedingly uneventful, her life defined mostly by the few memorable social interactions that she'd had, of which there was only one annually, at best.
In second year, Michael Lancetooth had discovered that ponds were often places where turtles lived; turtles have a reputation among the ignorant for being shy, and from then on Susan was known as Turtle, or, on occasion, Turtle the Wallflower. Susan had mentally noted that a lancetooth was actually a type of slug, but would never in a million years have spoken up.
In fourth year, most girls began (or, in some cases, continued) to, as Madame Pomfrey put it, blossom. This was an event that Susan was not invited to, apparently. She grew taller and thinner, completely lacking in curves, ending up looking akin to a lily-pale stick bug in witch's robes. Her usual lack of appetite did nothing to remedy this figure. Where other girls had curves or even muscles, Susan had a light layer of flab. She also had an unfortunate lack of knowledge in the art of eye-brow grooming that lasted until April of that year, when her dorm-mates took more pity on her than usual and gave her a quick lesson in the bathroom.
In fifth year, Susan made her first friend at Hogwarts. His name was Hagrid, the equally-awkward-looking groundskeeper and fellow creature-enthusiast. Being part giant, he was, like Susan, regarded by the vast majority of the student population as someone to be politely ignored or rudely made fun of. Their friendship began when Susan saw him nursing a unicorn behind his hut and managed to trip over a pumpkin while trying to watch. Hagrid had ended up tending to the both of them, while Susan petted the unicorn in a happy daze.
These were the major events of Susan Ponds' live thus far. The 1976-77 school year had been, up until this point, as markedly unremarkable as the rest of her life. The library was a much better habitat for creatures like Susan. Everyone was quiet, studying and finishing up assignments. The only sounds were the rustling of old pages and the occasional whisper. It smelled pleasantly of dust and parchment. Susan found an empty table, dumped her things, and went off to find a copy of European Casters of the Eleventh Century for a report. By curfew, she had finished the remaining eighteen inches needed and had started to work ahead on Transfiguration.
The common room was still moderately crowded when she got back, but no one paid attention as she slipped up the stairs to the girls' dormitory. The other four sixth-year girls were already in the room, getting ready for bed. Susan dropped her bag and sat down on her bed, waiting for her turn at the bathroom. On the bed across from her sat Mary MacDonald, a nice girl who didn't try to make Susan talk. Mary swung her legs back and forth, tapping her fingers on the blankets. "I wish Marlene would hurry up in there, don't you?" Susan nodded.
Marlene finally emerged from the bathroom, her face green with some kind of mask. "This had better work, Alice! That took forever to apply!"
"Yes, we know," muttered Mary. "We've been out here waiting for you."
Mary and Lily both took their turns at the sink, leaving Susan to her usual place. Last. Susan closed the door and put on her pyjamas: an old tee shirt and a pair of flannel pants. When she had brushed her teeth, she spared a bit of time to look in the mirror. What was it like for, say, Lily to look into her reflection? Susan couldn't help but wonder. Did she marvel at how she was so beautiful without even trying? Did Marlene admire her handiwork with the mascara brush? Susan contemplated makeup for a moment and decided against it, as she always had. Makeup was for girls who wanted to be noticed. Besides, she needed to end this train of thought. Feeling sorry for oneself is a stupid waste of time that is so pathetic that, after wallowing in self pity, you are so ashamed as to feel the need to do it all over again. This was a vicious cycle Susan tried her best to avoid. She splashed water on her face and went to bed.
Staring up at the canopy of her bed, she thought. Thinking was like a lullaby for Susan, helping her to sleep. She imagined what it would be like if people saw her. Really saw her. It was terrifying, the idea of it, but somehow seductive, to have people want to be around her, to like her. She pushed the thought away and instead thought of real lullabies, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, and drifted off to sleep.
(March 16, or the Day)
The next morning, Susan headed down to breakfast, walking a few feet behind her roommates. Mary threw a glance back over her shoulder but knew it was useless to try to talk. They all sat down at the table, Susan sitting just far enough away to not really be considered part of the conversation but close enough to not look like a complete loser. Even though, she reasoned with herself, she was. There was no real point in trying to hide it. She reached out to snag a slice of toast from the tray in front of her.
Susan squeaked, dropping her toast and scattering crumbs across the table. "Hello there!" said Nearly Headless Nick, his semi-transparent head sticking out of the toast tray. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you!" He rose the rest of the way through the table, floating above the breakfasting Gryffindors. Susan, knowing perfectly well that he'd had every intention of scaring her, stuck her tongue out at him. She heard a chuckle off to her left. Turning to see what was funny, she inadvertently caught the eye of Sirius Black. He'd been laughing at her, and was now facing her with that obscenely arrogant grin of his. Well, that was no good. She immediately turned her head down to nibble at her toast, letting her hair fall into a curtain around her. Look away, look away, look away… It's not like acting like a put-out six year-old was really that funny.
She finished her breakfast as quickly as she could without making herself sick and headed off to Charms, her first class of the day. Arriving considerably early (as always), she took her time organizing herself and arranging everything on her table. This class was blocked only with Gryffindors and therefore, she was lucky enough to have her own table without having to share because of space constraints. Wand across the front of the table, quill off to the right at a slight angle. Parchment (three sheets) stacked and staggered so that a centimeter of each one showed at the bottom. People often rolled their eyes at Susan's borderline obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, but Susan didn't mind. There was safety in order. With disorder came surprises, which were, in all honesty, a mite frightening.
Charms passed nicely, with a moderately challenging in-class assignment for which students had to master enough control of Augamenti to shoot a steady stream of water into a pitcher four feet away. By the time class was over, there were more than a few puddles on the floor and Peter Pettigrew was soaked, but nothing had exploded, seeing as James had spent the entire time trying to win Lily's affections by way of some truly dashing wand work.
Next was Potions, one of Susan's best classes, despite the fact that it was double-blocked with the sixth-year Slytherins with one of whom Susan had to share a table. They didn't learn anything new that period, rather, Professor Slughorn helped them make in tangible form the potion they'd made in theory for an essay assignment two days prior. Susan's came out the perfect color (which was, incidentally, a rather revolting blend of brown and vomit).
"Well done, Miss Ponds! Why, Severus, you may have some competition here!" said Professor Slughorn, in doing so performing the cruelest possible punishment of drawing the attention of the Slytherins toward her. I'm dead. Someone alert the house-elves, Susan thought to herself. There'll be Turtle-soup for lunch today. However, the Slytherin girl next to her said: "Good job. Someone needed to get that twit off his high academic horse. Even if you are in Gryffindor."
"Oh… thanks," Susan mumbled.
"I'm Roberta," the girl said, holding out one hand.
"Susan. Everyone calls me Turtle, though," Susan said as they shook hands.
"That's weird. You don't even look like one." With that, Roberta turned back to her cauldron and continued with the assignment.
Susan used the rest of the period to doodle on the back of her hand. On the way out, a foot strayed from a green-lined robe and mysteriously found its way into Susan's path, sending her sprawling across the floor. Severus Snape, nursing his wounded pride and dressing it with a bandage of nasty, continued on his merry way down the hall. At least, he continued all of twelve feet until he was hit in the back with a hex that extended his already prodigious nose to a full length of about a meter.
"Potter, you toe-rag! What did you do that for?" snapped Lily.
"Lily, darling, as much as I would like to take credit, I cannot. Though I can say that he deserved it for tripping poor Turtle there."
"He would never… Keep your friends in line, Potter."
"Actually, I don't think any of us did it," said Remus honestly. Lily seemed to trust him well enough, but was still obviously irked as she left the classroom.
As Susan finished brushing her skirt off, she accidentally made eye contact with Roberta, who winked as she returned her wand to her robes. More than a little dumbfounded, Susan stood awkwardly for a little longer than she should have before finally gathering her senses and walking off to lunch.
Rather than sitting inside the crowded Great Hall, Susan opted to take advantage of the lovely weather and take her plate out to Hagrid's. "Hello?" she called upon arriving.
"Susan? I'm a lil' busy back 'ere, just wait there a moment, nothin' more…" Hagrid called from around back. She sat down on the front stoop and started on a roll. At the sound of approaching footsteps, she looked up only to find Roberta, the Slytherin from Potions, just as Hagrid came around the side of the hut.
"Oh, um… I thought you were going to eat alone… and… yeah…" Roberta said awkwardly.
"Well, yer welcome teh sit with us, if ye like," said Hagrid, a little surprised. Susan nodded in agreement.
Roberta sat down, rather daintily, on a cloth napkin nicked from the tables inside. She balanced her plate on her crossed legs. "So," she said, "Turtle? Susan? Susan."
Unable to think of anything else to say, Susan answered, "That's my name."
"Yeah, you told me earlier. Anyway. I thought that, since we sit together every other day, we should be friends. It makes sense, don't you think? So much more convenient if we don't have to keep up the whole house-rivalry thing constantly. Plus, I think I like you well enough."
"And I mean, if Evans and Snivellus can do it, we can too, right?"
"I thought… but he's in your house." Susan was, by this point, discombobulated to say the least.
"You don't like him?"
"Does anyone? Well, besides Evans. But she's like a saint or something. Loves everyone. Except that Potter boy. I have reason to believe she very thoroughly dislikes him."
"Yes, well, she does. Dislike him, I mean."
"You don't talk much, do you?" Roberta asked, crunching through the remains of an apple.
Susan shook her head and realized that Hagrid had left sometime during this conversation. She looked around for a moment and decided that he probably wasn't going to rescue her from this mess.
"Well, this should be interesting. I have to go get some books out of the common room. I'll see you on Friday, or tomorrow maybe." Roberta stood and swept any dirt off of her skirt, shaking the napkin to a similar purpose. "Goodbye, then."
"Goodbye." Susan left the second half of her roll, along with the rest of her plate, uneaten. She'd be hungry for dinner. Hopefully.
Herbology was Susan's next class. All she really wanted for that day was to not be working with anything sticky, venomous, carnivorous, acidic, tentacled, thorned, or otherwise unpleasant or involving effort. She just wanted a nice, relaxing class where she could wind down, maybe take a nap afterward in preparation for Astronomy that night.
As it turned out, Susan got her wish. Professor Sprout was completely snowed under by assignments from other classes, and therefore was giving both herself and her students a much-desired break. They simply stacked pots and organized trowels for the remaining hour and a half. The Marauders made a good show of their masculinity (or, in poor Peter's case, lack thereof). James in particular lifted some very heavy pots, including some with plants in them that were not to be moved. Professor Sprout and Lily Evans were not amused. Susan stuck with what she was able to lift, which wasn't much, but still felt sort of helpful. By the end of the class period, she felt more feeble than anything.
The fact that it was a Wednesday meant that Astronomy wouldn't be called until midnight, so the Gryffindors and their astronomical counterparts, the Hufflepuffs, had a few hours to kill before dinner. Susan excused herself to her dormitory and took the nap she'd been waiting for all afternoon, managing to snooze right through dinner. When she woke up, she righted her robes and went down to Hagrid's. She found him checking on sprouts in his garden.
"Ah, hello there, Susan!" he said. "Good ter see yeh again. How've classes bin treatin' yeh?"
"Good enough, I suppose," Susan replied. "I finished a potion in class today before Severus Snape did, though, I think that's less because I did it better than the fact that he was so busy scribbling in his textbook."
"Yeh need ter give yerself some more credit, Susan! Yer a smart girl. Hey, do yeh think yeh could do me a favor? If yeh could jus' feed the flobberworms for me, tha'd be a big help. There's cabbage in the house," said Hagrid.
Susan nodded and went into the hut, humming as she brought out some cabbage leaves to the flobberworm pens. She began to rip the leaves into shreds, working in time with the song she was humming, scattering the shreds amongst the worms so that they wouldn't overeat. They weren't exactly the brightest of creatures.
There came an odd sound from the woods, a lop-sided rustling that, as it grew closer, was joined by barely-audible whimpering. Hagrid, coming around to investigate, pulled his crossbow out of his coat, though Susan doubted he would use it, even if the animal did turn out to be dangerous. A large black form limped out from the trees. It didn't make much noise and didn't seem threatening, so Hagrid lowered his bow. "Ah, could ye? Ye know…?" he asked.
"What? Oh!" Susan fumbled about in her pockets until she found her wand. "Lumos!" The creature turned out to be a huge dog. It appeared to be injured somehow, which obviously entailed Hagrid immediately wanting to care for it.
"I'll be righ' back," he said, running towards his hut.
Susan knelt and held a hand out to the dog. "Where did you come from, love?" she cooed. "What hurt you so bad, huh? C'mere, sweet. I don't mean you any harm." She beckoned. The dog cautiously made its way towards her, sniffing at her extended arm. Having decided that she didn't pose a threat, it immediately flopped over, its head in her lap, tail wagging. "Well, aren't you the charming lad," Susan giggled. She scratched his ears, her voice going up an octave (or eight) as she babbled at the dog. "Who's a good boy? Aw, such a good puppy. Yes, you are! You are! Oh, what a good boy you are…"
Hagrid emerged from his hut, arms full of bandages and ointments. "Aw, lookit there," he boomed. "Toldja ye had a way with creatures." He put the medical supplies down at Susan's side, dropping a few in the process. "'Ere we go." Soon the dog was properly bandaged and fussed over, leaving Susan with enough peace of mind to finally realize that her Astronomy class had started five minutes ago.
She jumped up. "I'm late! Oh, no, I'm going to be in so much trouble goodbye Hagrid I'll see you later!" The dog shook itself, wagged its tail at her and took off in the opposite direction. Susan sprinted to the castle, hoping to catch a break.
The Astronomy Tower was much too high up for Susan's liking that night. She had hardly gone up two stories' worth of stairs before she was completely winded. "Brilliant," she muttered to herself. "Perfect class to be late to. Yes, Su, let's all just sprint up the tallest tower on the grounds. Wonderful plan."
Susan jumped, nearly falling back down the stairs. Sirius Black stood a bit below her on the stairs, directly across the width of the tower. It was the second time that day she'd inadvertently caught the eye of the smug idiot. "O-oh, I just… I'm late…" Why couldn't she just talk like a normal human being?
"I noticed, seeing as I am as well. If you want, you can say you were walking me back from the Hospital Wing under Pomfrey's orders. I have a pass, for once." He grinned at her, and although Susan didn't notice (she was purposefully looking over his shoulder) he was trying to catch her eye.
Susan raised an eyebrow. "Sure?" she said quietly. She made to turn back up the stairs but twisted her foot in her shoelace and took a tumble.
"Oh!" Sirius ran to where he expected her to fall, and when she hit the ground, he stood there with his arms out as if wondering why she hadn't landed in them. How had he missed? And then he realized. "Did you just… fall up a flight of stairs… backwards?"
Rather than answering him, Susan simply stood up and picked up her books. Honestly, she'd only landed a few steps above where she'd started. Not that interesting at all, really.
"How did you even do that? I mean, don't most people fall down with gravity?" he asked, incredulous. Susan mumbled something about not being most people. Sirius only caught a bit of what she said, though admittedly, that was more than what he'd actually caught of her moments before.
"Well, yeah, apparently. Are you okay? Another pass from the Hospital Wing wouldn't hurt our case, walking in as late as we are."
"No, thanks," Susan said. He was being frustratingly nice to her. How dare he go and challenge her preconceptions about him by going and being all nice about things? Susan, now having caught her breath, started her way back up the stairs. She was starting to feel bad. Susan often observed people in her classes and around the grounds, forming judgments and ideas about them, even though they usually never interacted. She had, years earlier, decided that Sirius Black was a self-righteous, vain, womanizing prick who would learn someday that looks aren't everything. He had altered this decision slightly when he turned out to be an extremely talented wizard, proving her wrong in her thought that he was nothing more than a pretty-boy. And now, this.
Of course, he had to hold the door open for her when they reached the top.