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Some Hours of Loneliness

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After loading her trunk into the luggage car, Hermione Granger took up her heavy bag and went on a determined expedition for the compartment on the Hogwarts Express that was nearest to the front and wasn’t expressly reserved. Walking down the long corridor of the train, she could hear bright conversation on the platform and muted laughter from somewhere beyond her, but the train cars themselves were still nearly deserted. Each one waited neatly for the students that would soon come to make their way to school.

The emptiness almost had Hermione thinking, just briefly, that she Wasn’t Supposed to Be Here. (Perhaps she had broken a rule? Perhaps they weren’t really supposed to board yet?) But she shook her head of that silly feeling and pushed her way into the third compartment of the front car. No, she had explicitly asked once already. This wasn’t a mistake.

It was just nerves, Hermione told herself giddily. I’m supposed to be here.

She was eleven years old now and very soon to be twelve, attending a prestigious school that would teach her Important Things about magic, and she really had no time to accommodate silly feelings. Hermione removed a book from her bag, stood on the seats to store her bag on the rack overhead, and then hopped triumphantly down again.

Everything in its place, Hermione then sat down by the window, opened her book to the marked page, removed the bookmark, and settled in to wait. Everyone on the platform had appeared to know one another already and she had been too nervous to intrude on random strangers. She had boarded the train quite early, but someone else would come into this compartment eventually, and Hermione Granger had a Plan for when someone else appeared in her compartment.

Once another person entered, Hermione would look up quite casually from her book and introduce herself in a Friendly and Confident Manner, exactly as she had rehearsed. The person would then introduce themselves in turn and Hermione would make a very sincere effort to memorize their name and face. (This was Important, she knew.) Then Hermione and her new companion would make Pleasant and Reassuring Conversation together - two students equally nervous and excited to be attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Though, of course, Hermione had no intention of letting on just how nervous she was. A little bit of nervousness was fine, her parents had told her, but she ought to try to refrain from Worrying Unreasonably that she didn’t know nearly enough about magic and would fail all her classes.

Presumably, Hermione and her new companion would talk about things like what classes they were most looking forward to taking. Hermione was looking forward to everything, but she was most fascinated by Transfiguration.

Or maybe they would talk about what they had read in their assigned textbooks, since Hermione had read all of them multiple times and could discuss anything.

Or maybe they would talk about what Houses they thought they might be sorted into. Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, Hermione dared think for herself, which were Objectively the best Houses that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry offered.

Or maybe they would talk about what wonderful features of the castle they wanted to see in person! Who wouldn’t be fascinated by the magical ceiling of the Great Hall?! And Hermione was sure she wasn’t the only new student who longed, deeply and desperately, to see the extensive Hogwarts Library.

At long last, it felt, Hermione was headed to the place where she had always belonged. She would surely meet many kind, funny, like-minded people there. Her parents had said so. Hermione could very well imagine this large train compartment filled with many others who were all like her: other first-years eager to learn and talk with her. Some of them might even be fellow Muggleborns. Hermione and her companions would have many hours on this train to get along and get to know each other. Perhaps, on the long ride to Hogwarts, Hermione and her companions would even Become Friends.

This time, Hermione was certain, things will be different. This is where I’m supposed to be. This is an entire world filled with people who are Like Me. Everything is going to be Different here.

There had been very few times in her life that Hermione Granger hadn’t been able to focus on her book. Her parents quite often Despaired of her reading habits, which had occasionally caused her to miss buses (always accidentally) and ignore visiting relations (not… always accidentally). But today - today - Hermione Granger couldn’t seem to focus on a single word of the pages open in front of her while she waited.

Hermione kept looking up sharply at every footstep and holler that came down the long corridor of the train. She kept getting distracted by the shouts and whistles of the busying Platform Nine and Three-Quarters outside her window. Thank Goodness that she had read this book before, because she couldn’t help but be fascinated by the strange and wondrous people gathering on the station and all the other children who passed by her window.

Hermione had never really had such an interest in People before. But this was Different. They were different, she told herself, because these people on the other side of the glass were Her People.

She admired the growing sea of colourful and pointy hats. Many witches and wizards seemed to be wearing their best robes to the station today. They all looked so Magical. There were all sorts of feathers and flowers and furs out there - and all sorts of shiny ribbons and glittering jewels and bedazzled spectacles. The screech and chitter of various caged pets (many of which, Hermione noted with Some Disapproval, were not the permitted cat, owl, or toad) wasn’t the only amazing zoo out her window.

Honestly, most of the ruffles and sparkles out there seemed very impractical to Hermione’s sensibilities, though she could perhaps admit that it might be very nice to be so ruffled and sparkled. She found the stuffed vulture on one elderly witch’s hat especially silly. Hermione had only the required plain black hat in her bag, as her hair rebelled against keeping even that on her head without what felt like an army of pins.

Hermione supposed, quite wisely, that silly people existed in every world.

As more and more people appeared on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, Hermione realized that more and more people were passing by her train compartment. And yet no one had come inside. Many older students glanced inside, only to move briskly onwards once they’d spotted her, and small groups of students who looked closer to her own age did the same.

Hermione made eye contact with many of them, at first inadvertently, but then it became an Effort. She even attempted, somewhat awkwardly, to smile at some of them in welcome. A few of them smiled back, but still none of them stopped to accept her invitation.

A sinking feeling had appeared in Hermione’s chest now. As soon as she noticed it, she took a deep breath and quashed it ruthlessly. She looked back out the window and told herself that she was being very silly, because it was still Early Yet. No one here was avoiding her. She’d been eagerly early, but the train would eventually be full of the promised other first-years who knew no one and who would need someone friendly with whom to sit.

The clock on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters ticked closer to eleven o’clock. Many parents came and went, some lingering to chat with each other in cloaked groups or to wave periodically at their children. It made Hermione briefly regret assuring her own parents, who had been so uncertain, that she would be Fine on her own.

She would be Fine on her own. She was Fine right this very moment!

The number of other children on the platform had lessened greatly now. It was beginning to feel like the whole school must have passed by Hermione Granger’s compartment. A large and loud group of redheads thundered past her outside window, heading farther down the train to load up their trunks, perhaps assuming that the front of the train was already occupied.

It occurred to Hermione then that some students might not wish to sit so close to the front of the train, near the prefects’ reserved compartments and the conductor of the Hogwarts Express. They might not think it valuable to be able to easily ask questions or to have the first view of everything on their journey. Hermione, for one, had been dearly hoping that she might be able to peek in on the train’s engine or the like, if she asked the conductor Especially Politely.

She remembered many of her classmates at past schools, who had liked to sit at the back of the bus, so that they could be rude and loud without the bus driver telling them to shut it. Hermione dismissed the idea that these type of students existed here very quickly as nonsense. Yes, there might be some troublemakers about Hogwarts - there were always troublemakers about - but it just didn’t make any sense for the students of Hogwarts to all be like that! In a world of People Like Her, there had to be many other students who were as eager and well-behaved and sensible as Hermione Granger.

The clock hand seemed to be teetering on the edge of eleven o’clock now and the train seemed to be preparing to take off the moment it did. Finally, seemingly at the last possible moment, the door to Hermione’s compartment slid open.

Hermione’s head snapped around, but she was too surprised to give the greeting she’d practiced. The companions that had arrived were not the ones she had been expecting. Two older students, who both had to be sixteen or seventeen, were looming in the doorway.

“Is there anyone else sitting in here?” the girl asked.

Hermione shook her head.

“Yes, this’ll do,” the girl said to the boy behind her.

They came inside without further ado. The girl put a suitcase up on a rack and her purse beside her seat, while the boy loaded a satchel and an instrument case overhead. Both of them were dressed in their own robes, but the girl’s robes were especially fancy-looking - they were bright green and shimmery, and she wore a very stylish, slanted witch’s hat on top of her sleek strawberry curls. She looked very much Like a Witch.

Hermione looked down at her own very non-magical skirt and jumper. She suddenly felt much less Like a Witch than before and felt very silly. Then she felt very silly for having such a thought, because surely fancy robes and a pointed hat did not a witch make.

“Thank goodness that we made it!” the girl declared, as she collapsed into the seats across from Hermione.

The boy dropped down beside her and groaned. “Whose bright idea was it to hold that last party the day before the train? Last I saw when I left this morning, Mercutio Cricklerly was still snoring face-down under Evermonde’s billiards table. He might actually miss the train this year. Oh, look, there we go. We’re taking off now.”

The clock outside the train had struck eleven o’clock and, with a great whistle, the Hogwarts Express lurched accordingly into motion. The platform began falling away behind them and the strange and wondrous crowd of magical parents waved cheerfully after them. Hermione’s parents weren’t among them, having been sent off and go back to work, but she found herself wistfully watching King’s Cross Station pull away nevertheless.

“Crickerly can just Apparate to Hogsmeade,” the girl said absently, rifling through her purse. “Piper Mulpepper did that last year. She said that she couldn’t stand another trip on this dull train. Honestly, if I didn’t have my prefect duties, I might have done the exact same thing.”

Hermione stared at the girl. Any fantasies of having older students take her under their wings and telling her all about their school experiences were falling away with Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Here, Hermione was supposed to clear her throat and introduce herself, but instead she watched the boy toss his hat up onto the rack overhead and then rudely kick his shoed feet up onto the seat beside her.

“I have my meeting next door,” the girl said, sighing. “Summerbee won’t let any of us miss it.”

“At least Evermonde is Head Boy this year.”

“Hopefully he’ll make the usual nonsense marginally more entertaining. The meeting will probably be unnecessarily and unbearably long. What are you going to do? Just sleep?”

“Maybe,” the boy answered. “I might go have a chat with Brigg or see if Crickerly made it after all. I’ll probably end up in Youdle’s compartment halfway down with everyone else, as we usually do. Got to pass this massive waste of time somehow.”

It was then that these two older students seemed to acknowledge Hermione’s existence again.

“We’ll most likely both be gone in a bit,” the girl said, as she finally pulled a prefect badge from her purse and then pinned it to the front of her robes. “So long as you and your little friends don’t touch our things, it’s fine for you to say here.”

I was here first! Hermione thought indignantly.

Instead of saying that, however, Hermione cleared her throat (and her mind of the thought that she didn’t have any little friends) and said, “My name is Hermione Granger-” And this is MY train compartment. “-and I’m going to be a first-year student at Hogwarts this year. And you are?”

“Zenobia Yaxley,” the girl answered. “Welcome to the school and all. This is Remi Beckleber beside me. We’re both seventh-years; he’s a born and bred Hufflepuff and I’m a prefect for Slytherin.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Hermione persisted, though some part of her doubted very strongly exactly how nice it was to meet them. She puffed up her chest in pride before she determinedly held out her hand for them to shake. “I’m the first witch in my family!”

This declaration met silence at first.

“...We can tell,” Zenobia said finally, and gingerly shook Hermione’s hand.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Remi said to Zenobia, as though there might perhaps be something wrong with that. He eyed Hermione’s offered hand with amusement and then shook it with far more curiosity than firmness. “Someone has to be the first witch or wizard in any family, don’t they?”

“...True,” Zenobia agreed.

Hermione brought her hand back to herself, the reluctance of the touches lingering, and thought she ought to do something with it. She didn’t know what, though, so she sat on her hand so it couldn’t go anything in the meanwhile. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be going. This wasn’t at all how everything was Supposed To Happen.

Hermione was supposed to be sitting with her fellow first-years right now, just as excited and inexperienced as she was, and have a rousing conversation. These indolent older students weren’t supposed to have been the ones to come into her train compartment as though they owned it. They weren’t supposed to look at her like she was the interloper. They weren’t supposed to just ignore her like she wasn’t even there.  

 Someone knocked on the door and Hermione looked up in hope. But it was an older boy, maybe fifteen, with bright red hair, countless freckles, and his long nose rather high in the air. He was already dressed in his school robes, which were neatly pressed, with a prefect badge pinned to his chest, and he had a notebook and quill in hand. Upon being recognized, he took the liberty of sliding open the compartment door.

“Hello, Yaxley, I know you’re right next door, but I just wanted to remind you that the prefects meeting is scheduled to start soon,” the boy informed them all, very importantly. “I’ve been letting everyone know that they ought to start heading down.”

“Yes, thank you,” Zenobia said with a smile. “I’ll be right along.”

The boy nodded several times. “Well, excellent! I’ll be right next door if you need anything then.” He then nodded to Zenobia’s companion and Hermione as well. “Good day!”

Then he left the compartment, closing the door behind him, and left with a wave.

Zenobia’s smile dropped immediately and she said, “I hate him already.”

“Was that a Weasley?” Remi Beckleber said disinterestedly.

“Yes, he’s one of the new Gryffindor prefects and disgustingly eager for the job. I can’t stand people who are ‘too much’ like that, you know? Just shut up with your questions and stop overdoing everything; you’re making everyone else look awful.”

“Oh, those ones,” Remi groaned. “They’re the worst.”

“Just throw in the minimum effort like the rest of us,” Zenobia said jokingly, before her smile fell again. “I had better go on before he comes asking after my dawdling. Wish me luck, I’ll likely have to make polite conversation with him for the next ten minutes, because, as everyone knows, the prefect meeting never starts on time.”

“You could come with me and claim you’re looking to gather the other prefects,” Remi suggested. “Summerbee might’ve dragged Evermonde there by his ears, but there’s not a chance that Brigg’s meandered up here yet.”

“That could work,” Zenobia said as she stood. “I can’t believe you’re friendly with him.”

Remi shrugged as he stood as well and opened the door for her. “Brigg’s family owns a broom shop; he knows his magical trees. Ladies first. He’s the one who recommended the new supplier for our luthier. Or his aunt did through him, but-”

The train compartment door closed in the middle of his sentence and the two seventh-years left in the opposite direction of the last prefect. The only company that the forgotten Hermione Granger had, once again, was the book in her lap that she’d already read. She stared at the train compartment door long after they were gone. Then, upon realizing that she was staring at nothing, Hermione looked down at her book again.

Hermione replaced the bookmark and slammed her book shut as hard as she dared.

It was Just Bad Luck, she told herself firmly, as she stood up on her seat and reached for her bag. She had chosen the wrong train compartment. She had gotten here too early and people must have assumed that she was waiting for someone already. 

 But bad luck or not, she didn't have to Put Up with this! 

 Hermione hopped off the seat, with her bag and great determination in hand. She returned her book to the bag, where her school robes and her wand were waiting for her. If she changed into her school robes now - there was a washroom nearby - then no one would be able to look at her as though she Didn’t Belong Here.  Then, she planned, she would find a new compartment, where all her fellow first-years would be waiting for her. She would swallow her nerves and introduce herself. She would find an interesting conversation to join with interested companions.

Hermione knew that she didn’t know much about Making Friends, but sitting around and waiting for someone to come to her had never worked for her. Friends were, unfairly, one of those things that apparently just didn’t Happen to Hermione Granger. Not like they happened to everyone else. If Hermione wanted friends, she had to make it happen herself, no matter how terrifying the prospect was. 

She opened the compartment door and left this dead end for something new.

Things were supposed to be Different at this school and they would be. Hermione only had to find the Right People. Surely, somewhere on this train, someone was waiting for the sort of company she could offer. She only had to find them and introduce herself. What exactly happened between introducing herself and Becoming Friends, Hermione was not certain, but with the Right People she was sure that, somehow, everything would turn out alright anyway.