Hermione seemed like her usual self the next morning at breakfast, poring eagerly over her course schedule, organizing her new quills and rolls of parchment into neat stacks, and arranging the books in her bulging bag. Harry barely had the chance to say two words to her before she swept up all of her supplies, grabbed a handful of toast, and rushed out of the Great Hall, calling over her shoulder to them as she slung her heavy bag over one arm. “Arithmancy first, can’t be late. See you at lunch!”
Harry was soon wishing for just one of Hermione’s good habits as he dashed through the halls to his morning classes. His professors wasted no time in piling on the homework, and his bag was soon full of slips of paper with undecipherable scrawls: “HoM Essay Tuesday.” “Div Astro Chart Six Rolls Monday.” “Trans Homework Friday: Turn Bats.” Turn bats what? Harry could barely remember the assignment and he’d just had Transfiguration two periods ago. He stumbled into the library as soon as the last bell had rung, determined to make some order out of his chaotic notes before his bag threatened to explode, and hoping desperately that Hermione would be there to offer advice.
Hermione was sitting at their usual spot; she raised an eyebrow as Harry unceremoniously dumped the contents of his bag onto the table and flopped into a chair next to her. He had never been so glad to see anyone in his life.
“Rough day?” she inquired archly, her eyes widening at the sight of Harry’s mountain of crumpled papers.
“No idea how you manage this.” Harry raked a hand through his bangs in exasperation. “This is twice as much homework as we had during all of last year put together. I think they’ve given me twelve assignments in every class. And I’ve got to plan Quidditch practice for Saturday.”
“Harry, calm down.” Hermione pushed her book aside. “You just need a little organization, that’s all. Look, try this.” She took out her wand and waved it with an expert flick of her wrist. “Memorandus.”
A little red book materalized on the table in front of Harry with a soft poof. Harry stared. Hermione took a quill from her bag and handed it to Harry.
“Read about this in Spells for Successful Students. I’ve used one for years. Just keep it with you at all times, and write your assignments in it. It does the rest. Here, watch.”
Hermione produced an identical blue book from her own bag, opened it, tapped it once with her wand and said, “Wednesday, please.”
The book quivered, then began to glow faintly. “Wednesday, September 4th,” it said in a charmingly stuffy voice. “Transfiguration homework: Change paper hat into jewelled crown. Muggle studies: read thirty pages in Famous Muggles of the Nineteenth Century. Two days until your first Arithmancy quiz.”
Hermione looked at him pointedly. “It’s quite simple, really.”
Harry looked back at her, his best friend, one of two people who knew all the things he’d gone through since he’d gotten to Hogwarts, the only person he knew who could fix his troubles with a wave of her wand or a quote from a book. She would spend seventeen straight hours in the library if she thought it would help him. He was overcome with a wave of joy and gratitude. He realized he’d been waiting all day to be right at this spot, at Hermione’s side in the library. He realized he’d been waiting all summer to be here.
“Hermione. I, um…”
Harry suddenly felt a desperate need to tell her this, to give her an inkling of how it felt to be sitting here with her again, but he couldn’t fathom how to do it. Hermione, I… like studying in the library with you? Thanks for the three hundred times you’ve saved my life in the past four years?
Hermione was looking at him expectantly, her eyebrows raised in surprise. Not this again, thought Harry. I must look like a complete numbskull. What kind of prat goes to pieces at the sight of an enchanted assignment notebook?
“I… missed you,” he finished lamely. I’m such an idiot. Voldemort, come and get me now, it’d be quite all right, really.
But Hermione’s face softened. She blushed and smiled. Harry smiled back, feeling a rush of color overcome his own face.
“Hey, either of you seen Emma?”
Ron’s bag hit the table next to Harry’s with a thud as he slid into the seat across from them. Hermione and Harry both jumped.
“Ron Weasley, this is a library, do you mind keeping it down?”
“Sorry, Herm. I’m s’posed to meet Emma here, dunno where she’s gotten to — ” Ron looked up distractedly at just as a small group of Ravenclaw fifth-years appeared at the library entrance, Emma among them. She was looking anxiously around the room, and waved shyly when she spotted the three of them.
In one swift motion Ron had snatched his bag up and was pushing his chair back under the table. “There she is. See you at dinner!”
Harry watched as Ron walked quickly over to the cluster of girls, many of whom exchanged knowing looks as Emma stepped back to wait for him.
Hermione sighed. “Why does something tell me that’s the most we’ll be seeing of Ron this term?”
“I know.” Harry watched as Ron and Emma disappeared behind the stacks of books, his arm around her shoulder. “Can’t believe this is our Ron.”
“Well, you know. Everyone is different this year.”
“Yes, I mean, did you see how small the first years look?”
Harry nodded. “It’s crazy.”
“And you — ” Hermione stopped, as if about to say something else. “You’re… Quidditch Captain now, and everything.”
“I know.” Overwhelming anxiety from his hectic day of classes suddenly swept over Harry again. He put his head down on the table. “Oh, I know.”
“Harry, it’ll be okay, really it will,” Hermione began.
“No, no, it won’t,” Harry interrupted, raising his head to look at her. “What if Voldemort hatches some plan to kill me again? It’s his favorite sport. He hasn’t missed a year yet, and now he’s even got his body back. What am I supposed to do, write him a note and say I’ve got too much homework to be killed this year?”
Hermione collapsed in a fit of giggles.
“Dear Dark Lord,” she said, catching her breath. “Kindly excuse Harry Potter from your dastardly schemes this term. He has a Transfiguration final which he cannot be dead for.”
Harry was almost laughing too hard to speak. “Attention All Death Eaters,” he gasped. “I’m afraid I’ll have to miss your weekly meetings. I’m leading Quidditch practice on Sundays.”
“Will you kindly keep it down! This is a library, not a common room!” Madam Pince, the librarian, was glaring daggers at them from her perch behind the checkout desk.
“Sorry,” Harry managed to croak. Hermione bit her lip; her shoulders were shaking with suppressed laughter. Harry glanced at her. “Think we’d better get out of here before we cause a disturbance.”
Hermione nodded emphatically, her face red, and started to gather her books, trying her best not to meet Harry’s glance. They managed to hold themselves together until they finally reached the library door, at which point Hermione caught Harry’s eye again and the two of them exploded into guffaws. Harry grabbed Hermione’s sleeve and pulled her towards the stairwell and out of library earshot, not believing his tremendous luck at ever having met the girl by his side, whose face was glowing with happiness and streaked with tears of laughter.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Great Boggart Hunt of 1743 was interrupted by several unusual protests by an opposing group of wizards calling themselves the Boggart Rights Party. The BRP, as they were called by their supporters —
The Great Boggart Hunt of 1743 was interrupted by several unusual protests —
The Great Boggart Hunt —
Oh, bloody hell. Hermione slammed her book closed, inwardly cursing her ability to concentrate, which seemed to have flown straight out the window with the last Owl Post. She’d been trying to study for the past hour, but the only progress she’d made had been in setting a new world record for the number of times someone had read Page 67 of A Brief History of Magic.
I’ve gone mad, Hermione thought, as the vision of Harry’s brilliant green eyes filled her senses for what seemed like the hundredth time that morning. She could almost feel him next to her, collapsing with laughter onto the library table, pulling crumpled bits of paper from his bag with his funny uphill Harry scrawl on them, biting his lip in concentration while he bent over a scroll of parchment, running his hand through his hair so that a stubborn cowlick stood straight up in defiance of gravity.
If she could just bury herself in homework, things would be back to normal. Her heart would stop pounding when Harry slouched into the chair next to her at the library, when he grinned up at her as she settled into her usual squishy armchair in the common room, when they did any one of a thousand tiny little things they’d done together every day for the past four years. He’s my best friend, and he needs me, and I have to stop thinking like this, Hermione thought resolutely. It won’t do either of us any good if he comes to me with some terrible clue of Voldemort’s and all I can think about is the way his eyes flash when he’s trying to solve a problem, or the way his sweater smells when he leans over a book next to me, or —
St.Mungo’s, thought Hermione, burying her head in her hands. I’m headed straight to St.Mungo’s.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
September was flying by in a rush of classes, assigments, visits to Hagrid’s, Quidditch practice, and late nights at the library. Harry’s first Quidditch practice had started off somewhat shakily, but he’d felt confident as soon as he’d mounted his broom and kicked off to demonstrate a new manuever for the Beaters, and everything went swimmingly after that. The team unanimously voted Ron to be Katie’s replacement — which was unsurprising, considering the Weasley twins were one third of the vote — and Ron was doing an admirable job in his first season. His new scarlet Quidditch robes seemed to add six inches to his already considerable height, probably because he stood up so proudly whenever he wore them. Emma and Hermione devotedly attended every practice, Hermione catching up on her reading during Harry’s team lectures, Emma by her side watching Ron’s every move with rapt admiration.
Quidditch practice was one of the only times Harry got to see Ron these days. Most of the time Ron was with Emma, in the library, by the lake, in the Astronomy Tower, or other places Harry was not too keen to imagine. He and Hermione continued to save Ron his usual seat in the common room and in the library, which was empty more often than not as the weeks went by. Though they’d never spoken about it, Harry got the feeling that Hermione shared his wish not to see anyone else in Ron’s chair, and so it remained, often serving as a spot for their extra books or for a napping Crookshanks.
Harry couldn’t believe it was possible to feel so alone while sitting next to the person he spent most of his waking hours daydreaming about. Hermione’s presence was both comforting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Harry’s head spun with confusion most days; he didn’t think he could properly explain things to Sirius, who was the only other person he had remotely considered talking to about his feelings. Sirius was wonderfully sympathetic, but he didn’t know Hermione the way Ron did.
Harry was starting to despair of ever being able to tell Ron anything again as it was. He imagined Ron would finally come to his senses sometime after their seventh year, when Harry arrived at Ron and Emma’s wedding with his shoes on backwards, raving mad with confusion, with three new scars on his forehead from battles with the Dark Lord that Ron hadn’t known about. He’d tried to catch Ron alone after Quidditch practice, after class, in the common room, and after meals, but if Emma wasn’t with him, Hermione was. Harry relished the idea of pulling Ron aside in front of Hermione just about as much as he enjoyed Double Potions with Snape.
Harry was almost stunned to find Ron alone in the boy’s dormitory one evening when he went upstairs to dig a spellbook out of his trunk.
“Ron.” Harry breathed a vast sigh of relief. Ron was shuffling through the contents of his own trunk and looked up as Harry came into the room.
“Oh, hi Harry,” he said distractedly. “What’s up, you going to the library?”
“In a bit.” Harry seized the opportunity as fast as he could. “Look Ron, can we talk? There’s something I’ve really got to — ”
“I’m trying to find an essay I wrote last year,” Ron said, flinging rolls of parchment out of his trunk and onto his bed. “Emma’s having trouble with a History of Magic assignment, and I think I wrote something similar…”
“Ron.” Harry tried again. “I’ll help you find it, but can we just talk for a minute?”
“Can we do it later, Harry?” Three more rolls of parchment flew out of Ron’s trunk and onto the floor. “I’m in kind of a rush, she’s really freaked out. You know how Ravenclaws get about homework, they’re even worse than Hermione.”
Harry looked at the top of Ron’s red head, partially obscured by piles of books and parchment in the depths of his trunk. He felt his stomach twist tight.
“Yeah, alright,” he mumbled. “Sorry to bother you.”
“See you later then!” Ron said cheerily. Two more books hit the floor with a thud.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Harry hardly had a chance to grapple with the confounding absence of his best friend when an added distraction sailed into his life with the force of a Bludger. At lunch the next day, Professor Dumbledore rose and cleared his throat as they were all sitting down before their empty golden plates.
“Attention, please. I regret to inform you that the Wyrd Sisters will be unavailable to perform at this year’s Yule Ball.”
A loud murmur of disappointment from the crowd. Dumbledore peered down at them from above his half-moon spectacles, and everyone was quiet again.
“This has given us the occasion to concoct a new sort of activity for the school. Our Music Department is not well known among many students, and it’s time for that to change. This year the Department will be sponsoring a contest for students or groups of students who sing or perform music with enchanted instruments. The top contestants will play for the school at the Ball.”
Gasps of surprise from the crowd. Harry felt Ron kick him hard underneath the table. He looked up; Ron was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. He had the look in his eyes that Harry usually saw on those occasions right before the two of them found themselves inside a teacher’s office with twenty points taken from Gryffindor.
“The contest will take place the day before our Halloween feast, so you have plenty of time to prepare. Contest rules will be posted on the board outside this room. The deadline for entries is one week from today.”
The Great Hall erupted with noise as everyone began talking at once. Ron looked as if he might get up onto the Gryffindor table and break into song on the spot. He grabbed Harry’s arm.
“Harry, you’ve GOT to do this with me!”
Harry’s eyes went as wide as saucers. His eyebrows shot up into his messy bangs. “Ron, are you mental?”
Hermione was also goggling at Ron from her seat across the table. “Ron,” she began, “why on earth — ”
“We can do this,” urged Ron. “I can play guitar. Played for years, I inherited an old Muggle one from Charlie, he never used it much. My dad enchanted it so it sounds like it’s ‘lectric. I can have my folks send it here with Errol.”
“But why — ” Harry was attempting to absorb what Ron was saying, but it was much like hearing Hagrid announce he’d been a professional ballet dancer before he came to Hogwarts.
“Because it’ll be wicked fun, of course!” Ron was nearly flying out of his seat with excitement. “Please, Harry. Say you’ll do this with me!”
“Ron.” Harry fixed Ron with a meaningful stare. “Listen to me, Ron. You. Have. Gone. Mad. Completely crackers. I grew up at the Dursleys. I never played an instrument. I can’t sing a note.”
“Harry, you’ll be fine, you’re good at everything.” said Ron dismissively. “We’ll get you a bass, you’ll play four notes over and over, Gregory Goyle could do it.”
“Oh, thanks a lot,” Harry said, a note of mock hurt in his voice.
“Hold on just a minute,” Hermione interrupted. “Ron, you both have gobs of homework, you have Quidditch, Harry’s Captain, you can’t possibly start up something like this. Think of your marks. And we’ve got O.W.L.’s — ”
“Will you stop with the schoolwork thing,” said Ron impatiently. “How often do we get the chance to stand in for a famous group like the Wyrd Sisters?”
“Ron, here’s a news flash: you haven’t even won the contest yet.”
Harry broke in. “Hangon, hangon. Okay, Ron, let’s hear it then. Exactly how are you planning on winning this contest with one other person who is most likely tone deaf?”
“Well we’ll do it with more than me and you of course,” said Ron, rolling his eyes. “I just need a bass player is all. I’ve already got the rest of the band.”
Harry looked at Ron expectantly.
“Ginny,” said Ron, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. “You don’t know Ginny plays drums?”
“Ginny does what?” Harry’s eyebrows shot up again.
“Oh come on, you knew that,” said Ron. “Haven’t you seen them in our garage? She’s really good.”
Harry and Hermione both stared at Ron as if he’d started coughing up slugs, though he hadn’t been prone to that affliction for a few years now.
“Look, it’ll be great, just wait till you hear us,” said Ron, giving Harry a pleading look. “I’ll reserve a practice room for Sunday, just give it a chance.”
Harry looked at Ron. It felt like ages since they’d hatched any kind of scheme together. Almost a month into the school year, and they hadn’t even pulled out the Invisibility Cloak. He missed Ron so much it was painful. Maybe they’d finally get to talk.
But he could barely keep up with his schedule as it was.
Ron gave Harry a hopeful sideways smile.
Harry shook his head. He felt a deep pang of regret. “Ron, I just don’t think — ”
Someone cleared their throat from above Ron’s left shoulder. Harry looked up.
“Did I overhear you right, Weasley? You’re going to be entering the contest?”
Draco Malfoy was standing over the Gryffindor table, arms crossed over his jet-black robes, one pierced eyebrow raised sharply in Ron’s direction. Crabbe and Goyle, flanking Malfoy as usual, began to snigger as if on cue.
Ron stood up quickly. At his full height he now loomed over Malfoy.
“What’s it to you?,” he shot back. “Is your dad paying off the judges so you can win or something?”
Draco snorted. “Cute, Weasley, very cute. It’s always about money with you, isn’t it? Is that because you don’t have any?”
Ron’s face was turning red beneath his freckles. His lips were pressed into a thin line. Harry stood up and put a hand on Ron’s shoulder. “Ron, no use stooping to his level, let’s leave it, alright?” he muttered.
Ron ignored Harry. He was glaring furiously at Malfoy, who was smirking at him with a look of thorough enjoyment.
“When they’re playing our band on the Wizard’s Wireless, Malfoy, you’ll be trying to pretend you know us.”
Draco grinned. “Oh, this is rich. Keep going, Weasley, you’re making my day. Your band? Did your parents teach you Weasleys to sing on the street for spare change or something?”
Ron was now turning slightly white. Crabbe and Goyle broke into oafish guffaws. “You ever thought of using those two as bookends, Malfoy?” Harry said dryly, attempting to steer Ron away again. “I mean, I know most bookends are more intelligent, but…”
“Shut it, wonder boy,” snapped Draco dismissively. “I’m not talking to you. I want to hear more about this band of Weasel’s here.” He looked at Ron smugly. “What’s it called, then?”
Ron was now looking deeply flustered and even more furious, which Harry had not thought possible. He sputtered incoherently at Draco.
“Well — it’s — it’s — that would be — ”
Draco tapped his foot. He ran a hand through his cropped white-blond spikes, looked at his watch, and continued to watch Ron sputter. Ron stood as if rooted to the spot. His hands were balled tightly into fists. Draco started to turn away, sniggering.
“OUR band, you mean.”
Harry stepped in front of Ron, his eyes narrowed in an unspoken challenge. Draco spun around slowly and arched an eyebrow in surprise.
“Your band, Potter?” he said, his mouth twitching.
“Yeah. The Marauders,” said Harry. His wand hand slipped into his pocket. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ron’s mouth fall open.
“The Boy Who Sings,” purred Draco, his lips curling into a smile. “This is going to be so much more fun than I’d even dreamed.”
Draco’s eyes strayed to Harry’s wand hand, which was now closed around the wand in his pocket. He flashed Harry a wicked smile and swept out of the Great Hall in a blur of black robes.