“Get in there, freak!”
Harry stumbled into the cupboard as Vernon pulled the slot closed. Harry winced, carefully reaching around in the darkness until he found his bed. His stomach clenched with hunger, but he ignored it and climbed into bed.
He had no idea what time it was, but it never mattered. If Hermione wasn’t there, she would be there soon. He closed his eyes and sunk into sleep before the door appeared, just like always. He opened it and stepped into the field of paper flowers and rushed across the field towards the large oak tree that trickled into the sky.
She’d been working on it, he was sure.
Her door was closed. He worried his lip and sat beside the tree to wait. Minutes then what felt like hours passed with him alone. He crossed the field, eyeing the door before knocking politely.
He didn’t know if it worked this way, but he knocked again a little louder.
A crack appeared in the door and he drew back hastily, holding his breath.
He waited the whole night, yet she never came.
She didn’t come the next night either. Or the next day after Vernon had packed them all up to go stay in a dreary old cabin on his birthday. He was hoping to slip into sleep to try again when the wall exploded and an impossibly large man appeared.
It seemed that figuring out what was going on with Hermione would have to wait.
September 1st came without a single sight of Hermione, but Harry went to their secret garden every night like usual. It gave him a sense of peace even in her absence and made the days with the Dursleys a little dream-like. Hermione’s door had changed. The crack was slowly getting smaller, and the door seemed harder like iron then started gleaming like silver.
The night before Hagrid dropped him off at King’s Cross Station to catch the train it was turning gold. He had no idea what that meant, but he wondered if his door would ever change. It looked like plain old wood to him still, a little bent and scuffed around the edges as if it had been used often. Sometimes, there was a thumping from the other side, hissing, and he would find claw marks on the other side when he left, but he had never seen what it could be.
The Weasleys seemed like a nice family though a bit large and a little strange. He was grateful at least to board the train as if he belonged with a new friend, even if Ron had a pet rat of all things. As the train crossed the English countryside, he wondered if he would ever see Hermione again.
He leaned against the glass with a sigh and hoped so.
“You look down,” Ronald said with a bit of a frown as he ate a chocolate frog. “Aren’t you excited to go to Hogwarts?”
Harry shrugged, “I… don’t know much about it, really.”
“Well, we’re going to learn magic!” Ronald cried, pulling out his wand as Scabbers continued to crawl across his lap. “Watch, Fred and George taught me this spell. It’s supposed to turn him yellow.”
Harry tried not to grimace. Having a pet rat was strange enough, but having a yellow pet rat would only be slightly stranger.
“Sunshine, Daisies, Butter, Mellow–”
A knock sounded on the door. Harry frowned, “Come in.”
The door slid open and Harry gasped seeing Hermione there in long black robes and her hair in the same halo as when they first met. Her head was turned as she was speaking to someone in the hallway and a bright white stretch of bandage stretched across her cheek and nose. Harry got to his feet, holding his breath and hoping against hope that he wasn’t imagining things.
Ron was great, at least he seemed to be, but he wanted just a little bit of normalcy in the middle.
“Don’t worry, Neville. I’m sure we’ll find him soon,” she turned back and froze as their gazes met.
Her face broke into a wide, beaming smile and he felt it warming every part of him like the son.
“Harry!” She rushed in and threw her arms around him, squeezing him close, “Oh, it’s so good to see you. I thought I might never see you again!”
His eyes burned, squeezing her close and sighing into her shoulder. There were so many questions, but he couldn’t ask them now. Later, when they would see each other in their dreams.
“Hi, Hermione. Are you alright?”
Hermione pulled back with a small smile as she looked him over and sighed, running her hands over his shoulders and fiddling with his overly large shirt.
“Your glasses, Harry, and your clothes…”She looked up at him with a wry tilt to her lips. “That cousin of yours still a menace?”
Harry shrugged, “He’s… been better, I guess.”
It was mostly true. He was off at boarding school for most of the year, so Harry didn’t have to deal with him.
Hermione hummed, straightening his clothes. He caught her hands at the flash of stark white beneath the sleeve of her robe and rolled it up to reveal the bandages. He looked at her though she averted her eyes.
“I’m… fine, Harry.”
“I don’t believe you,” Harry frowned at the bandage over her nose. “You… I missed you.”
She gave him a weak smile, “I missed you too, Harry… I promise… we’ll talk, okay?”
He nodded and squeezed her hands.
She gasped, “So sorry to interrupt, but have you seen a toad? Neville’s lost his.”
“No,” Ron said looking between the two of them. “Who’s she?”
Hermione pursed her lips, “Certainly not rude.”
Ron flushed before sneering at her.
“Hermione,” Harry said, grinning. “This is Ronald Weasley. He and his family helped me get on the platform.”
She thrust her hand out, “A pleasure.”
Ronald eyed her hand and before rubbing his on his shirt and shaking it tentatively. Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that reaction. Hermione gave him a tense smile.
“Well, I promised Neville I’d help him. We’ll catch up soon?”
Harry nodded, “Okay.”
Hermione frowned at his glasses before pulling them off his face gently and pulling out her wand. He squinted to get a better look at it. It looked pretty, dainty, and distinctly fitting for her with vines carved into the handle. He wondered how she felt about it.
The tape hissed and vanished and the cracks in his glasses vanished. She set them on his nose without scratching him and smiled. He could see every freckle on her nose this close with his glasses on. Had that spell also made his glasses better?
“We’ll be arriving pretty soon, so you’d best get changed…”
She turned in a whirl of robes before turning back, “Ronald… right? You’ve got something on your nose…” She tapped the inside of her nose. “Just there.”
Harry chuckled as she left. He looked at Ronald who looked a little put out.
“Isn’t she a character?”
Harry grinned at him, “One of the very best.”
Ronald walked the long winding halls up to the Headmaster’s office. The gargoyle eyed him before jumping aside and allowing him entry. It wasn’t often that a first-year ever saw the Headmaster personally, but his mother said it was important. Besides, it was important. No one had ever said anything about Harry having another friend, let alone some buck-teethed, bushy-haired girl with freckles.
He huffed thinking about how easily she’d pulled out her wand and fixed Harry’s glasses.
“Ah, Mr. Weasley. Come in. Lemon Drop?”
“No, thanks, sir.”
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as Ronald closed the door behind him and took a seat in front of the desk.
“Well, Mr. Weasley, I am glad that you saw fit to take up this task of utmost importance. What can you tell me?”
“I’m not his first friend,” Ronald said. “Some… girl on the train knew him. They hugged like they’d known each other for ages.”
His eyes narrowed, “Who is this girl?”
Ronald frowned, trying to remember her name, “Granger… or something.”
Ronald nodded. Dumbledore tapped his fingers together.
“That does complicate things… She was sorted into Gryffindor. Well, for now, do your best to be his best friend, Ronald. It is important that someone his age is at his side during his return to the wizarding world.”
Ronald nodded, “What about her?”
“If you find a moment to drive a wedge between them, you should.”
Ronald nodded and left when he was dismissed. It wouldn’t take much, he was certain of it. He arrived at the Gryffindor tower and entered through the portrait hole to see Hermione and Harry at the table by the fire, chatting over their Charms textbooks. The fire set a glow in Harry’s eyes like a floo fire and seemed to wrap around them like a spell.
His fist clenched.
He was supposed to be Harry Potter’s best friend.
He was supposed to be the reason that the Weasleys finally got somewhere in the world. He’d already fended off Malfoy.
He had to get rid of Hermione somehow.
“Oh, Ron!” Harry grinned at him and waved him over. “We’re working on our Charms homework. Want to join?”
“Yeah…” Ronald approached the table and sat next to Harry. Harry had a page of notes as did Hermione. Ronald pulled out his books and took every opportunity to sidetrack Harry if possible, but he wasn’t budging, seemingly happy to stay with Hermione and finish whatever plans they had.
He pulled out a sheet of parchment and started a letter to his mother for a bit of advice.
Three days later, she sent back a vial of potion with instructions.