Today Hermione was exceptionally restless. As they entered the
school she ran eagerly ahead, only to realize how far away she
suddenly was from her parents and run back. That was good; at least
she wasn't hiding behind them as so many other children did. They led
her into the classroom. All the chairs were arranged in a large
half-circle, some already taken by children, their parents standing
behind like guards. At the centre of the half-circle stood another
chair in which the teacher sat. Hermione took an empty chair and her
parents positioned themselves behind it, just like the other parents.
They exchanged polite nods and settled to wait.
It didn't take long for the classroom to fill up. Soon all seats
were taken by small, nervous figures, each backed by one or two
parents. The teacher cleared his throat. He was young, in his
mid-twenties probably, his eyes shining with life and his smile
friendly. Yet there was a hint of nervousness tugging on the edges of
his mouth. Probably his first class, the Grangers decided. That was
both good and bad; young teachers tended to bring good ideas and a
lot of motivation, but they weren't experienced in handling difficult
“Good morning, children, good morning to you all,” he
greeted them, his nervousness more noticeable in his voice than in
his behaviour. He settled into the chair behind him. “I'm
Jonathan Harley. I'll be teaching you for the next few years. Here
you will learn new and interesting things, find new friends and
hopefully have a lot of fun.” He looked around and got shy
smiles in return. The children seemed to accept him. That was a good
“Now, let's introduce ourselves, shall we? Please, you go
first.” He turned to a fair-haired girl at the far end of the
half-circle. “Tell us your name and a bit about you.”
“I'm Sheila Ryan. I'm five years old. I'll be six in March.
We only came here a few months ago. I like riding,” the girl
said. She showed no sign of shyness.
“Do you already know anyone here, Sheila?”
Sheila nodded and pointed at the girl next to her, who had rather
dark skin and curly, black hair. She looked very cute.
“That's Becky. She lives just across the street from me.”
The last few children introduced themselves. Then Mr Harley stood
“Very well. Now I suggest you all get to know each other
better. I will talk to your parents for a moment.”
He motioned the adults to follow him. They gathered in one corner
of the classroom. For some time it was very loud as the children
dragged their chairs around the room to form small, tight clusters.
Jane watched as Hermione joined a mixed group of boys and girls in
the far corner. Then she turned her attention to the teacher, who was
explaining the procedures of the school, how he planned to teach the
children and what he planned to teach. David's suspicion that this
was his first class was confirmed. Laughter could be heard from the
children. Some parents had more questions and Mr Harley answered them
as well as he could.
A loud crash followed by high shrieks caused them all to turn
around. In the far corner a large and skinny boy sat on the remains
of his broken chair, looking up in shock at Hermione, who was
standing over him, equal shock on her face. The other children had
jumped backwards, some toppling over on their chairs too.
Then the boy began to cry.
Mr Harley jumped into action. In surprisingly few steps he had
crossed the room, followed closely by the Grangers and another
couple, who probably were the parents of the boy. David hadn't really
noticed them before, as they had been standing a few chairs to the right
of Hermione and thus out of his sight.
“What's going on here?” the teacher bellowed. The
children fell quiet immediately, except for the boy, who continued
weeping. His mother rushed forward and took him into her arms. Mr
Harley turned to one of the girls who had toppled over and had now
started crying too. He lifted her up from the floor and spoke a few
soothing words before handing her over to her father. Then he turned
back to the main scene.
“Can you tell me what happened here, Hermione?”
But Hermione just continued to gape at the boy in front of her.
“Andrew, what about you?”
The boy lifted his head from his mother's shoulder. Hesitantly he
lifted one arm and pointed at Hermione.
“She... she...” he sobbed.
David pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes. He didn't
like people pointing at his daughter this way. Various parents and
children looked at Hermione. Mr Harley kept his eyes on Andrew, but
the accusing finger jerked Hermione out of her stupor.
“I didn't do anything!” she shouted. “He was
mean to me!”
“I wasn't!” Andrew shouted back. “I didn't say
anything!” His mother glared at Hermione and David stepped up
behind his daughter, returning the glare.
“Stop!” Mr Harley interrupted. Then he turned to a
girl who had said she knew Andrew.
“Sandra, what did you talk about here?”
The girl gaped, surprised to be addressed when she obviously had
nothing to do with anything.
“Nothing. Just ... talking.”
“He called me a woolly know-it-all!” Hermione shouted.
Mr Harley sighed heavily.
“Come on, let's get away from this chair before someone
draws a splinter. How did it break, anyway?” he said, more to
himself than to anyone else. He picked up one of the four legs and
examined it. All four had snapped near the seat. The wood looked
fresh and strong; there was no sign of rot or other damage that might
have caused the accident.
David put his arm around Hermione's shoulders and led her away.
She shot a nasty look at Andrew, who was picked up and carried away
by his mother. David turned her so that she couldn't see the boy and
knelt down opposite her. Jane knelt next to him.
“Now, Hermione,” David said gently, “what
Hermione looked at him, then burst into tears herself, her anger
“Come now, be calm. It's over. Nothing bad has happened.”
“He called me names,” she sobbed, “and he
laughed at me, and I stood up and wanted to shout and his chair
broke. I don't know why. But he was mean to me! Serves him right!”
“Now don't say that. That's a bad thing to say,” David
said, stroking her hair. “Shh, everything's alright now. Hush,
“Dr Granger?” Mr Harley said quietly. He knelt down
next to them. “Are you alright?” he asked Hermione. She
sniffed and wiped her eyes, but nodded. He smiled.
“Good. Now, I need to speak to your father for a moment.”
She nodded again and sought the comfort of her mother's arms
David and Mr Harley went to a window, where Andrew's father was
already waiting. He appeared to be a generally pleasant man, but
right now he was looking very disgruntled.
Mr Harley looked at the two, searching for something to say.
“Did your daughter have much contact with other kids before
school?” he finally asked David.
“No. Not much at all. She mostly kept to herself.”
“What about your son, Mr Bloomer?”
“Quite a bit. He knew most of the children that sat with him
Mr Harley steeled himself for a difficult question.
“Has he... shown a tendency to... be rude before?”
“What makes you think he...” Mr Bloomer started, but Mr
Harley cut him off.
“Please, Mr Bloomer, calm down. We must face the facts. That
insult sounds rather likely to me, and I could tell that Sandra
wasn't truthful. Five-year-olds don't make good liars.”
Mr Bloomer's face was very red, but his reason finally won over
“I just can't imagine Andy doing such a thing. He's a nice
“I don't doubt that. But there's a very common group
phenomenon, especially at this age: inclusion through exclusion, to
tighten a group by excluding people from it. I think that's what
“So what are you going to do about it?” asked David.
“I'll have to watch them in the future.” Mr Harley
thought for a moment. “I think for now I'll have them apologize
to each other. There's not much else I can do.”
“Mr Granger, Andrew thinks Hermione did something, and it's
quite hard to explain that she just couldn't break that chair. So
it's best if both apologize. After all, she wanted to yell at him, if
I understood you correctly.” He gave David a questioning look.
David considered this and decided that the teacher was right. He
“Very well. Should I tell Hermione or do you want to talk to
“I'll talk to them both. Mr Bloomer, I'll be with you in a
Mr Bloomer returned to his wife and son while the teacher and
David walked over to where Jane and Hermione had been watching the
discussion. Hermione had calmed down completely by now and was
standing next to her mother, holding her hand. Mr Harley knelt down
in front of Hermione again so he could speak with her eye to eye.
“Hermione,” he said, “I'm going to ask Andrew to
apologize for calling you names. But,” he added as Hermione
nodded, “I want you to apologize too. You wanted to shout at
him, and that's not nice. So just say you're sorry, alright? You
don't even need to say for what.”
She nodded again. Mr Harley smiled and walked over to the Bloomers
where he talked to Andrew in the same way. David couldn't help
grinning. The boy would get the apology he thought he deserved and
Hermione wouldn't resent giving it. No bad feelings would hopefully
Mr Harley stood up and stepped aside, leaving an open space
between Andrew and Hermione. Like a duelling area, David
thought. The two children cast uncertain looks at each other and
David gave Hermione a light shove. She stumbled forwards and Andrew
did the same. They met halfway. Andrew was the first to speak.
“Sorry, Hermione,” he said quietly, so that David
could hardly catch the words. “I didn't mean it.”
“I'm sorry too,” she answered. Andrew smiled a little
and stretched out his hand. Hermione took it. After a moment they
broke apart and returned to their respective parents without looking
back. David took his daughter into his arms and stroked her hair.
“Very well,” called Mr Harley. “If no one has
any more questions then you can go home. Tomorrow school starts for
The Grangers took their leave and left the school. The prospects
didn't look too bad for their girl.