On the morning of September the first, King's Cross Station could be found full to the bursting with people bustling about, wheeling trolleys, trunks and travel cases, some chattering, some lost, and some focused on reaching their platforms in time.
Or, in the case of Hermione Jean Granger, reaching their platforms with plenty of time to spare.
"Just how early is too early?" Her Uncle, Arran Macleod, wondered aloud, looking up at the large clock which read just past eight-thirty.
The Hogwarts Express wasn't due to leave until eleven.
Hermione blushed, which made her Aunt, Iona Macleod, chuckle as they found seats within view of the big plastic nine and ten marking the two train platforms, between which Hermione knew the secret Platform Nine and Three Quarters was hidden.
"You really don't have to wait with me," Hermione said as Uncle Arran carefully parked the trolley with her trunk and a cage containing a beautiful owl with feathers a light amber brown that caught the light in a way that seemed to turn them a brilliant gold out of the way of the busy commuters.
"Of course we'll wait, we're not going to see you again until Christmas!" Aunt Iona said firmly, and Hermione ducked her chin to hide the reddening of her cheeks and her shy, pleased smile.
Even though Hermione had explained muggles couldn't get through the barrier onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters to see the train take off, her aunt and uncle had insisted that they be at Kings Cross Station to send her off on her first day at Hogwarts. The symbolism of the gesture was what was important, Aunt Iona had insisted, before proceeding to ignore any protestations about time and money from that moment onwards. Privately, Hermione was delighted by their presence, even if she felt like she was putting them out of their way.
"I'm going to miss all of you," she said, and her aunt laughed.
"Oh, nonsense!" she declared. "You'll be having far too much fun to spare even a second to be missing us! Besides," suddenly Aunt Iona's smile looked a lot less friendly, "I've been meaning to pay my sister a visit for some time now, and have a little chat with "
Hermione would feel a lot sorrier for her mother if she didn't think that Helen Granger probably deserved whatever Iona Macleod was about to dish out to her. And she was too excited today about finally setting off to Hogwarts to think about her parents, who really ought to have been the ones sending her off– she would much rather it was Aunt Iona and Uncle Arran anyway.
As her uncle had pointed out, they had plenty of time to spare after arriving at King's Cross Station, but Hermione had been too anxious to wait around the small hotel they'd spent the previous night at, after making the nearly seven and a half hour train trip from Aberdeen, Scotland, to King's Cross Station the previous day. At least she had been well prepared for the wait– as well as for her train ride ahead– and had packed plenty of books to read. Her aunt and uncle ended borrowing books from her too, and she was delighted with their interest in the magical world; Uncle Arran had selected 'A Traveller's Guide to Magical Europe', while Aunt Iona picked 'The Wizarding Way: Magical Solutions to Everyday Problems'. Hermione herself chose to continue her careful translation of Sylvianne Slytherin and her husband, Turlough Gaunt's, healer's treatise, which she was painstakingly copying in ordinary English into a notebook.
At nine forty-five, she started to notice a trickle of families arriving wheeling trolleys containing trunks on top of which were balanced cages with unhappy owls, and wicker baskets from which yowling cats could be faintly overheard. As she watched, eager and curious, these families disappeared, one after the other, through the barrier between Platform Nine and Platform Ten, vanishing without a trace.
"How does nobody notice?" Her astonished aunt asked.
"Maybe it's how the magic works?" Hermione suggested, fascinated. "If you already know about it, then it's not hidden from you?"
"Can magic work like that?" her uncle asked, sounding very fascinated.
"I'll ask Professor McGonagall when I get the chance," Hermione promised. "And I'll write to you with the answers."
"And your... owl will bring us your letters," her uncle said, peering over at said 'owl', who fluffed her feathers agitatedly.
'I look hideous, don't I? Loki-god made me look hideous– I don't suit such proportions, and this shade of gold just does not suit me,' Vashti fretted, hopping from foot to foot on her perch within the dome-shaped cage. 'This was a terrible idea, I should have just gone as the canary! Oh, change me back, change me back!'
Loki had disguised the young phoenix as an owl several days ago for Hermione, as Hogwarts only allowed students to bring owls, toads or cats as pets, and phoenixes were considered extremely rare– standing out didn't seem like a sensible choice, in Hermione's opinion. Vashti, after a lot of coaxing, considering how vain her beloved soul-sister was, had taken a lot of convincing– and the young phoenix had not been shy about how unhappy she was about being disguised as an owl, of all avians. Hermione's family was still confused about how her pet canary had turned into an owl, and they were even more confused about how owl post worked, but they were doing their best to just go where the tides took them, to use one of Uncle Arran's favourite phrases– something which Vashti should really try.
'If you go as a canary, one of the owls or cats might try to eat you,' Hermione pointed out sensibly, to which Vashti responded to by projecting an image of a burst of fire and the smell of burning feathers and Hermione had to bite her lip to stop from laughing out loud.
"Yes, Vashti will deliver my post, and if you give her any letters or packages, she can deliver them to me," she confirmed out loud for her Uncle Arran.
'If I don't die of humiliation first!' Vashti added sulkily. 'Or set the owlery on fire.'
...actually, that was a very valid concern, for when Vashti inevitably lost her temper at one (or several... or most... or all) of the owls in the owlery.
'Maybe it's best if you stay with me in the dormitories,' she suggested.
The sudden tolling of the large clock tower startled Hermione from the mental conversation, and she glanced up to see it was now ten o'clock– the time that her fellow first year muggleborns had agreed to meet on Platform Nine and Three Quarters, to make sure they'd find a compartment on the Hogwarts Express with plenty of time to spare.
"Is it time already?" Aunt Iona asked, and when Hermione nodded reluctantly, her aunt chuckled at her.
"Oh, love, don't look so miserable– you're going to have a grand old time at this magic school of yours, and you won't even remember to miss us, or to be nervous."
"Not possible," Hermione argued.
"More than possible," her aunt countered, pulling her into a hug. Hermione happily melted into her aunt's arms, hugging her just as tightly, before moving over to hug her uncle too. Uncle Arran then double-checked her trolley, making sure everything was properly attached, and then, after one last big family hug, it was time.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione aimed her trolley for the barrier between platforms nine and ten.
'Are you sure you know how to do this right?' Vashti asked, sounding nervous. 'Because if you do it wrong, sister-of-my-soul, I'm going to hit the bricks first.'
'I know how to do it, heart-of-mine,' Hermione reassured her. 'Most likely, anyway.'
'Most likely, or most definitely?' Vashti asked nervously.
'Only one way to find out!' Hermione sent cheerfully, before breaking out into a jog as the barrier loomed.
'HERMIONE!' Vashti screeched, panicked and indignant, and Hermione closed her eyes, half expecting to crash... only she didn't. And when she opened her eyes, she found herself facing a scarlet steam engine next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts' Express, eleven o'clock, and above her was a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it.
Hermione's attention wasn't focused on any of that, though. She wasn't even focused on calming down her ranting phoenix, who was sending waves of indignation over their link. Instead, her wide, shocked eyes were fixed on the grinning, entirely unexpected figure who was lounged against the side of the scarlet steam engine, waiting for her.
"Loki," Hermione breathed, and, as if he'd somehow heard her over the din of students, parents, and assorted animals, her god straightened up and started walking over to her, the crowd automatically, unconsciously parting for him; she doubted they even noticed it happening.
Hermione managed to wait until Loki was only a few feet away before she abandoned the handles of her trolley in order to leap into his arms. He caught her with a bright, merry laugh, spinning her around so her curls flung about chaotically around them, her skirts flaring. She'd left her hair mostly free for the occasion, a cascade of curls springing every which way with a life of their own, except for a small crown of braids with colourful flowers and golden bells intertwined. Her soft green sundress had golden needlework on the bodice, neckline and sleeves of flowering vines and a long, flowing skirt that hid the laced up brown steel-soled boots she wore underneath.
"You came!" she said breathlessly, when Loki finally stopped spinning, setting her back down on her feet but keeping a hold of her shoulders, supporting her as she swayed slightly, dizzy.
"Of course I did," her god said, as if it could never have been in doubt that he would. And, Hermione thought, there really shouldn't be. Because her god was a lot of things, and not all of them good, but if there was one thing he'd always been, it was there for her when it really mattered most.
Hermione wasn't naïve enough to think that her god was all sunshine and rainbows and lollipops– actually, he consumed enough sugar and sweets that he could almost be all lollipops, but that was beside the point. Hermione was almost certain that Loki loved her, and she knew that she loved him with all her heart– he was, quite literally, her god. But she didn't worship him blindly; she knew that her god could be cruel and petty and possessive, and she'd heard stories about him from Hati and Váli, and even from Loki himself, when he slipped up; she knew that he hadn't always been like he was now, and that sometimes the just desserts he served up to the arseholes out there were sickeningly horrific enough that it made her stomach turn to think about.
There was an awful lot of power and rage and grief tangled up inside her god, she knew, but Hermione didn't think any less of him for the times when it inevitably came exploding out, or for the days when he was crueller, sharper; his edges rougher, harsher. She just made sure she was there for him, after he'd finished taking it all out on whatever poor fool got on the wrong side of the wrong trickster on the wrong day, or the little corner of the world he'd vanished off to and likely flattened.
Like she said, an awful lot of power– more than she thought he even realised she'd noticed (though it was hard to overlook the amount of power it must take to travel one thousand years into the past).
Worse were the times when he touched her like she was made of glass, like if he even looked at her wrong she'd either shatter into pieces or run screaming from him. It made her heart hurt to see him like that, and she'd always pull him into a hug during those times, resting her head on his lap and guiding his hand to her hair so he could run his fingers through her curls until the lost, drifting look disappeared and her god seemed grounded in his own body again.
But like she said, she didn't care what Loki could be like, or the faces he wore, the personas he slipped into; because when it had mattered the most, whenever she'd needed someone, even when she hadn't known she'd needed someone, Loki had always been there for her. He'd always had her back. And he'd always have her faith, her worship, and her love, because of it.
And that was why she felt so conflicted about going to Hogwarts, despite all her excitement.
She'd been looking forward to going to Hogwarts since the first time she'd read 'Hogwarts: A History', back when she was seven years old and Loki had first left the book beside the altar she'd built for him. Going back in time, meeting the Founders, befriending Sylvianne Slytherin and Helena Ravenclaw, and exploring the castle with them had only fuelled that excitement, and Hermione hadn't thought anything could possibly ruin her growing anticipation for her first year at the school for witchcraft and wizardry, not until Loki had revealed the crushing truth to her– Hogwarts was warded against pagan gods.
It was the first time Hermione had ever felt truly torn between her faith and something else, something she'd been looking forward to for so long. The conflict warring inside her had been awful, and she'd felt sick to her stomach. She'd chosen Loki, of course, declaring that she'd attend Beauxbatons instead, but Loki, knowing how much it meant to her, had insisted that she attend Hogwarts. She had given in, eventually, agreeing to attend Hogwarts, but... she couldn't help but wonder now if she'd made the right choice in doing so. Because it felt like she'd chosen herself over her god, placing her own needs over his, and that just felt wrong.
"Why the long face, kitten?" Loki teased her, tugging on one of her curls to draw her back to the present moment.
"Just thinking how long it's going to be until I see you again," Hermione answered him, which wasn't exactly a lie– she wasn't a priestess of Loki Silvertongue for nothing– it just... wasn't the entire truth. Not exactly.
Loki arched a golden-brown eyebrow. "Are you that confident you're going to lose our bet?" he teased her, with a playful smirk.
"No," she huffed, crossing her arms, because that was a bet she was determined not to lose– Loki had challenged her to find a way to sneak out of the school grounds, beyond the wards keeping him out. If she managed before Christmas, he was going to teach her how to use her magic to fly. If she didn't, she was going to have to try out for her House's quidditch team– and Hermione loathed team sports.
"Then you shouldn't be sad at all, we'll be seeing each other in no time," her god said confidently, "and you can write to me in the meantime, to let me know how you're crushing everybody else in all your classes, and, of course, to tell me about all the pranks you're pulling and the chaos you're causing– basically, you can write to me about how you're making Hogwarts your bitch." Hermione couldn't help but laugh at that, leaning back into Loki's arms.
She loved how safe she felt there, how his hug was unlike anyone else's in the entire world; the heat that poured off Loki was hotter than fire, but without the painful burn, and where his bare skin touched hers, there was a static tingle, like a hint of electricity against her skin. She could never mistake his presence for somebody ordinary, for someone who was human, and it astonished her that the people milling about around them possibly could.
"I'm really going to miss you," she whispered into his chest, and his arms tightened around her, his chest dipping under her cheek as he exhaled, long and slow.
"Me too, kitten," he murmured, barely audible over the din around them, "me too."
The call of her name startled her, and Hermione straightened up slightly, looking around for the person responsible. It was Justin Finch-Fletchley, one of the muggleborns she'd met during the orientation tour. He was standing with Fay Dunbar and Kevin Entwhistle, under the Platform Nine and Three Quarters sign, and waving at her. Hermione waved back at them, letting them know she'd seen them, before turning back up at Loki.
He looked as resigned as she imagined her expression must look. "I guess it's time to say goodbye," he said, even as he kept his arms wrapped tight around her, and hers around him.
"I guess," she said reluctantly, leaning back in so her head was resting against his chest. Her eyes felt wet and she sniffed, blinking back the tears. "I love you, Loki," she whispered, and Loki went very, very still, before releasing her suddenly and stepping back, dislodging her arms.
For a brief, terrifying moment, Hermione thought she'd scared him away, that he was about to leave, but instead he crouched down so they were at the same eye-level, and he gently took her face between his hands. "Olani hoath ol*, Hermione," he murmured, the language strange and unrecognisable to her ears, both lyrical and harsh, and yet oddly beautiful, before leaning forwards to kiss her forehead. "I love you too, my priestess."
And then, he vanished.
Hermione, not sure whether to laugh or cry, did both, smiling even as she sniffed and wiped away her tears, before pulling her trunk over to where the other muggleborns were waiting. Sally-Anne Perks had joined Fay, Kevin and Justin while she and Loki were saying goodbye, and after trading greetings the five of them waited together for Dean Thomas, talking together about how they'd spent their week preparing for Hogwarts.
"I've read all our textbooks, of course," Justin said.
"Oh yes, of course," Hermione agreed. Fay, Sally-Anne and Kevin all exchanged looks, almost as if they hadn't read the books, though Hermione couldn't imagine why they wouldn't have tried to be as prepared as possible. It seemed as if Fay, Sally-Anne and Kevin had focused their attention elsewhere, though.
"Has anyone tried any magic yet?" Sally-Anne asked, in a hushed whisper.
"I did," Fay said, excitedly. "I'll show you on the train– I found a beginner's charm in my textbook, it's called 'lumos' and it basically turns your wand into a torch!"
"Wicked!" Kevin said, as Sally-Anne ooh-ed.
...oh dear, Hermione thought, mildly alarmed, as the others chatted excitedly over Fay's successful charm. If this was the standard of magic that first years were expected to perform in charms, she had a feeling that first year might be quite dull.
Dean arrived at exactly twenty to eleven, despite the agreed upon meeting time of ten, looking out of breath and slightly dishevelled. "I lost my ticket and forgot which number the platform was," was his sheepish explanation, when an exasperated Fay asked why he was so late. It turned out he'd spent the last half an hour running into walls, hoping he'd find the right one.
Hermione... honestly didn't know what to say about that. She was honestly just shocked it had worked. "So was mum, going by the look on her face when I fell through the barrier!" Dean laughed, as Hermione voiced this thought out loud.
All of them having now arrived, they hoisted their trunks up onto the train with the aid of a pair of helpful older students wearing yellow-and-black striped ties. About two thirds of the train's compartments were already full, but they pressed on through the crowds until they found an empty compartment where they tucked their trunks away under the seats and sat down. While Sally-Anne and Justin kept their owls in their cages which they placed carefully on empty seats, Hermione immediately opened the cage Vashti was in to let the currently-disguised-phoenix out.
"It's not going to fly around the compartment, is it?" Kevin asked nervously.
'It!' Vashti exclaimed indignantly, snapping her beak in anger.
"She'll behave," Hermione promised, lifting Vashti up onto her shoulder, where Vashti pointedly turned her back to the rest of the compartment, ruffling her feathers unhappily.
'Calling me 'it'– he'll be lucky if I don't set his trunk on fire!' she said angrily. 'Or him!'
'Boys can be stupid, heart-sister-of-mine,' Hermine soothed, reaching up to gently tickle Vashti's claws, 'just ignore him, and be satisfied with the fact he's scared stiff of you.'
'...he is?' Vashti perked up, turned her head almost one hundred and eighty degrees without moving the rest of her body to stare, eyes wide and unblinking, at Kevin, who looked like a might wet himself. Hermione very carefully pretended to be looking out the window, at a large family of redheads, two of which who were helping a small dark-haired boy lift his trunk onto the train, instead. 'Oh, he is afraid!' Vashti sounded quite delighted, sending a wave of mischievous glee through their link.
'Don't be mean to him,' Hermione scolded, amused. 'He can't help finding you terrifying.'
Vashti just sent back an impression of Loki's best evil cackle, while she started turning her head upside down in an incredibly unsettling manner, still not looking away from poor Kevin, and still not blinking. Hermione decided some battles were best left unfought and left her to it, focusing back on the conversation happening out loud.
"I can't believe it's almost time," Fay was saying excitedly, bouncing up and down on her seat. "This is so exciting!"
"I actually feel a little sick," Sally-Anne confessed, and she did look a touch pale. "It feels like it was just yesterday that Professor McGonagall was knocking on my front door to tell me that I was a witch."
"Were your parents quite shocked?" Fay asked. "Mine knew I was different, but they thought I might be a like one of those American comic book characters– you know, the ones with superpowers. Apparently I used to make my toys float when I was throwing tantrums. They never thought I might be a witch!"
"It came as quite the surprise to my family," Justin said, a bit pompously, "my name was down for Eton, you know, and I don't really remember ever doing anything out of the ordinary growing up. So when Professor McGonagall knocked on our door, we honestly thought she had the wrong house. My mother kept asking her if she was sure that I was a wizard, and if there was some kind of test I could do, just in case."
"Well my parents are Catholic," Sally-Anne admitted, "so they didn't take the news that their daughter was a witch well, as you can imagine. It took Professor McGonagall a long time to convince them that I wasn't going to go to Hell."
The others in the compartment winced. "That's tough," Dean said sympathetically. "My mum and step-dad were pretty good about it all. They've always said it's a miracle that I don't end up with more broken bones then I do, with all the accidents I get into. Well, it turns out it's not a miracle at all, it's magic!"
"My parents were okay about it," Kevin said nervously, his gaze still flicking between the group and Vashti. "They weren't that happy I wouldn't be getting my GCSEs though."
"Mine either," Dean agreed, and the others nodded.
"Hermione's already got hers, though," Fay said, turning expectantly towards her. "So what did your parents think about you being a witch?"
Hermione was saved from having to answer that awkward question by the train's whistle. Everyone forgot Fay's question immediately, excitement shining bright on their faces, and they all seemed to be holding their breath as the finally train started to move, houses flashing past the window as it gathered speed and they were off– off to Hogwarts at last!
*According to google"Olani hoath ol"means "I love you" in Enochian <3