Hermione swallowed one last shuddering sob, but the flood of angry, humiliated tears had finally stopped. She stayed where she was a few minutes more, huddled in the last stall of the girls' bathroom, resting her flushed cheek against the cool stone wall.
Eventually, though, she uncurled herself from her cramped perch on top of a battered toilet and crossed to the row of sinks under the long mirror. She blew her nose, splashed cold water on her face, and made an attempt to smooth her bushy hair. She could see that her eyes were red from crying, and her face was still a bit blotchy. But if she kept her head down and went quickly, it was likely no one would notice. There was really no need to stay in here any longer.
The problem was, the only alternative was to go out there. It didn't really matter where—to the Great Hall for what remained of the Hallowe'en feast, or the library, or the Gryffindor common room—if she emerged from her sanctuary, she would find all the usual people. People who scowled, or smirked, or rolled their eyes.
When she'd gotten her Hogwarts letter, Hermione was sure things would be different at a magical school. It was no surprise she had never really fit in before, she thought, if she was a witch and all her schoolmates were Muggles. And so she'd been terribly disappointed when Hogwarts turned out to be exactly the same. She got excited about her lessons and yearned for praise from her teachers, so she learned all the answers by heart—and everyone else called her a bossy know-it-all.
Ron Weasley's words echoed in her mind. "It's no wonder no one can stand her. She's a nightmare, honestly."
So Hermione stared at the open door, but she couldn't bring herself to walk through it.
I'm such a coward.
She closed her eyes, remembering her words on the Hogwarts Express, when she'd spoken so casually about wanting to be in Gryffindor. And the Sorting Hat had obliged. But now it all felt like some kind of cruel joke. I'm the farthest thing from brave there is. She couldn't even bear the thought of facing any of them, ever again. Especially Ron Weasley.
Suddenly, with a resounding crash that rattled all the toilets, the bathroom door slammed shut. The key turned in the lock. A horrible stench filled the room.
Hermione's eyes flew open, and she saw—
A twelve-foot mountain troll. Carrying an enormous wooden club.
The troll seemed confused at first, but then its eyes narrowed, and it looked rather...
Angry, and hungry.
Hermione backed away until she was pressed against the far wall, desperately trying to remember what Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them had to say about mountain trolls. "'The troll is a fearsome creature,'" she muttered frantically. "'Often violent and unpredictable...Trolls eat raw flesh...'" None of this was the least bit helpful in dealing with a very large, very real troll that was smashing each sink to the floor at it made straight for her.
Just then, the door crashed open again. Harry Potter came pounding in and stopped short, breathing hard, with Ron Weasley right behind him. Hermione had never been so glad to see anyone in her life. Even boys who sneered and said hateful things were infinitely more appealing than a hungry mountain troll.
Harry yelled and threw something, and the troll went for him, losing interest in Hermione. Then Ron did the same, and the troll turned again. Harry grabbed Hermione's arm and tried to pull her away from the wall.
But she couldn't move. Ron had distracted the troll, all right, but he was cornered, and now the thing was lurching right at him. Ron had gone so pale that his freckles stood out in sharp relief. He was clutching his wand and eyeing the troll defiantly, but it was getting closer and closer. It'll get him! Do something! shrieked a voice in Hermione's head. But what? Move! A real Gryffindor wouldn't be frozen with fear! Her knees gave out and she slid down the wall, shaking, her mind a complete blank.
At that point things began to happen very fast. Harry tackled the troll from behind and stuck his wand up its nose—that was one way to make it forget about Ron, anyhow. The troll staggered and thrashed, nearly squashing Harry several times. Ron gulped, raised his wand, and knocked the troll out with its own club. It seemed he'd managed to learn Wingardium Leviosa in Charms that day after all.
The troll thudded to the floor and lay still. The sudden silence was deafening. They all took huge gulps of air and stared at the horrible thing, trying to work out what to do next.
Then, to Hermione's immense relief, teachers arrived. Quirrell wasn't much use, of course, but Professor Snape went right to the troll. And Professor McGonagall—
The troll had been awful. But now that it was unconscious on the floor, and Professor Snape was bending over it, the memory of just how frightening it had been was fading. In fact, at the moment, the mountain troll had nothing on the Head of Gryffindor House. Professor McGonagall's face was white with fury, except for two red spots high on her cheeks. Her jaw was clenched so tightly it looked painful, and a muscle throbbed in her temple. This stern, brilliant woman had been a hero to Hermione since her very first evening at Hogwarts. Winning praise in a Transfiguration lesson made her prouder than anything. And now all that was over. Hermione cringed, waiting for her favourite teacher to turn to her with anger. And worse yet, disapproval.
Fresh tears welled up in her eyes. All right, so all the other students hated her. So a troll had come after her. Fine. But all her life, no matter what else had gone wrong, there'd always been one source of comfort: Teachers liked her. Teachers approved. She'd never, ever lost that before.
Hermione was frightened to the core of her soul. Being a good girl was all she had. It was all she was.
But suddenly, she realised that Professor McGonagall didn't know she was there. The teacher's fury was directed entirely at Harry and Ron.
Harry and Ron, who had heard Hermione scream and come running to find her. Harry and Ron, who had risked their own lives to lure the troll away from her. Harry, who had tried to get her out—and Ron. The image of those freckles standing out against his ashen face as the troll bore down on him would be burned in her mind forever.
And for that, Harry and Ron were the ones facing Professor McGonagall's wrath. Hermione, crouching unseen, wasn't going to fall from grace after all.
That wasn't right.
Letting those boys get punished when they had saved her life was not right.
Hermione rose to her feet and called out in as strong a voice as she could manage.
"Please, Professor McGonagall—they were looking for me."
A/N: Ron's spiteful comment and Hermione's improvised confession are from Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 10, "Hallowe'en." Hermione's fragments of troll knowledge come from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, pp 40-41.