There was a low moan from the other end of the ward. Ron had woken up. They could see him sitting up, rubbing his head, looking around.
"What – what happened?" he groaned. "Harry? Why are we in here? Where's Sirius? Where's Lupine? What's going on?
Harry and Hermione looked at one another.
"You explain," said Harry, helping himself to more chocolate.
As she began animatedly recounting the last few hours to their friend, Harry found himself contemplating his best female friend.
Occasionally jumping in to Hermione's narrative to clarify or support something she'd said, he considered the way the time he'd spent with her that evening had affected him. It had reminded him of the month or so just after Christmas when they hadn't been speaking.
She had been so miserable, and now he came to look back on the time, he had been, too. These last few hours had been a sharp reminder of how much he enjoyed her company.
True, they had spent some of it running around with their lives in danger – something he'd never seemed to be able to avoid every year – but there had been a lot of time whilst they had just been waiting for their past selves to show up where they had just spent time comfortably and companionably, sometimes in silence, sometimes speaking of small things.
It had served to remind him of how much he had missed her when they hadn't been speaking. He wondered now why that had been. Yes, he had been angry with her for getting his new broom confiscated by McGonagall, but he had eventually realised she'd only done it because she was worried about it had been sent to harm him. True, it turned out it had been sent by Sirius, but with the information they had at the time her actions made sense.
Also true, he now realised, was that he would almost certainly have done the same if Ron or Hermione had received an expensive gift from an anonymous source to replace a treasured item which was recently lost, and were sure to use immediately. Especially if there was known to be someone out to get them or do them harm. That revelation made him feel especially guilty for the way he had behaved towards her now.
Why had he stayed angry at her for so long? And since when had he been so materialistic as to consider a possession more important than a friend? True, he hadn't had any of either while he'd been growing up with the Dursleys, but why had he really spent that time shunning her?
He could very easily have spoken to her and asked her why she'd done it, and smoothed things over with her.
He took a little time to examine why she would have gone behind his back in the first place. Clearly she was worried about his safety, and had even said as much. The only thing he could see that she'd really done wrong was not talk to him before speaking to their head of house. He doubted he'd have been anywhere near as angry if she'd done so.
So he considered it from her perspective. If she'd had a wanted criminal after her and had received a gift she would be absolutely certain of using at her first possible opportunity from an unknown sender, what would he think? And what would he do about it?
It was then the realisation hit him. It was the exact same thing he'd do in her place.
She was so concerned for him that she placed more importance on his safety than whether he might be angry with her. Or, putting it another way, it was more important to her that he be alive to be angry because she'd done something than dead because she could have done something and hadn't.
He remembered their first year when she'd thought that Snape (but really Voldemort through Quirrell) was jinxing his broom during his Quidditch match. Jinxing a top of the range broom and sending it to him to replace the one he'd lost would have been a very good way to get him killed.
With a sudden rush he remembered all the other times she'd helped him out, even against her own better judgement. She'd always gone with him when he'd done something brave – or possibly stupid, as some would have said – when she couldn't dissuade him. He now realised that she'd done so to do her best to keep him safe even when he was being stupid (no, brave, he reminded himself).
She'd been doing it since he saved her from that troll in first year. She'd always been there, helping him. Either with schoolwork or homework or during one of the adventures he always seemed to get himself into.
He'd also noticed that while she continued to encourage him to do well academically and proofread the essays he wrote she'd quickly given up on doing the same for their other friend, Ron. With him, she more or less dictated his homework to him, knowing that he could never be bothered putting much effort into their assigned work.
Harry remembered how he'd learnt to do the bare minimum to pass during junior and primary school while he'd lived full time with the Dursleys. If he ever did better than Dudley he got a beating, so he'd made sure he only just managed to pass all his work.
Of course, this didn't save him beatings for other things, and occasionally it didn't save him beatings because of doing better than Dudley academically anyway, as the pig in a wig was about as academically motivated as… well, Ron, come to think of it.
He'd just stayed in that habit once he got to Hogwarts because it was easier to do the bare minimum than try hard in his lessons. But apparently Hermione had seen through his efforts towards mediocrity and continually encouraged him to do as well as she believed he could.
With a rush he realised how much faith she must have in him. Not just to be able to achieve academically, but to keep her safe even when he was doing something stupid and she'd come along to make sure he didn't end up in the hospital wing. Or, more usually, didn't spend more time there than he otherwise would have.
Harry went back to wondering why he'd given Hermione such a hard time over his Firebolt. He clearly remembered noticing how upset she'd been when they weren't talking, but he'd never known quite what to say or do to comfort her. And Ron had always very quickly then distracted him with talk of Quidditch, a game of wizarding chess, or exploding snap, or gobstones.
Or to complain about how she'd cost them the Firebolt.
Wait a minute.
She'd cost him the Firebolt, and not really even done that. There was no them when it came to his Firebolt. Sure, he'd promised Ron he'd give him a go on it occasionally, but it wasn't like they shared it.
And then the realisation hit him. It had been Ron who'd kept him from doing or saying something, anything to Hermione to comfort her and reconcile. It had taken Hagrid yelling at them both and threatening to drag them to her to apologise that had finally done it.
And then, mere minutes later, there had been the incident with Scabbers going missing and apparently having been eaten by Crookshanks – who had been antagonistic towards the rat in the extreme since first encountering him - leaving the blood stains on Ron's sheets. Disappearing, actually, and framing someone innocent for his apparent murder. Much like Peter had done thirteen years before with his godfather Sirius.
So he had been forced to mediate between them. Again. It had been one of their worst fights, and he'd been stuck in the middle, trying to get them both to calm down and see one another's points of view.
This now struck him as at least a little odd as, in all the time he'd known Ron, he'd never seemed particularly attached to Scabbers, and had been as likely to call him fat and useless as anything else. More than likely to, in fact.
If Harry were to look at it cynically, he was almost tempted to say Ron had just used it as a way to carry on being angry at Hermione, transferring his indignation at the loss of the use of a broom that didn't even belong to him to the loss of a rat he demonstrably hadn't cared one iota about since he'd gotten it.
And he'd only conceded it had been a mistake to be upset when it had turned out that his pet rat had in fact been a middle aged man and a Death Eater to top it off.
Not for the first time, Harry wondered why Ron was friends with Hermione at all. It couldn't just be because he was, could it? And it almost seemed as if Ron did everything he could to drive Hermione away without crossing over the line from belligerent arguing – sometimes over the stupidest things, it seemed to Harry – into the territory of being and out-and-out bully.
Was that it, Harry wondered? Was he really not friends with Hermione, and in fact was trying to push her away?
That thought troubled him deeply.
It seemed that the only use Ron had for Hermione's company at all was the help she reluctantly gave him, or more often was badgered into giving him, with his schoolwork.
They had none of the same interests, with the only possible crossover being Quidditch, which Hermione only paid any attention to because Harry himself played it. She couldn't care less about the Chudley Cannons' most recent game, or their performance in the league this season.
Truth be told, neither could Harry. It was just that that was one of the few subjects Ron was ever willing to talk about, and while Harry was happy to talk about Quidditch in general it was really only because he was interested in game theory and tactics.
Unlike when Ron was talking about his passion – Quidditch – Hermione always seemed to light up when she was talking about her passion – or passions, really – which included many kinds of books, fiction and something called science fiction, travel, and learning about everything from what they were being taught in their lessons to what she could find out about other cultures and languages.
There was something about the way her eyes seemed to light up when she got to talk about the things she was passionate about that made Harry want to just sit and drink in everything that she said and revel in it. Much like just now, in fact, while she was telling Ron of the adventure they'd shared that evening.
But Ron always interrupted before she could really get started, usually with a loud "Boring!" before moving the subject back to the Cannons, or something equally inconsequential, like complaining about the latest homework. At such times Harry thought he could detect a hint of hurt behind her eyes, and he found himself wondering just how long he might sit there soaking up Hermione's joy while she talked.
Harry found himself watching her while she regaled Ron. She really seemed alive at times like this – when sharing something she knew with someone who didn't know it. His thoughts quieted for a little while like they usually did as he lost himself in her animated narrative of the flight on Buckbeak and Sirius' reaction to his last minute rescue.
He realised he was smiling, and he looked down quickly, his cheeks reddening.
What was that about?
If only he had someone he could talk to. An adult he could trust while he explored his feelings. He was aware that his experience when recognising and dealing with positive emotions was woefully lacking. He'd felt them on so few occasions during the first ten years of his life.
He couldn't talk to Sirius, at least not while he was still on the run. Letters just didn't cut it.
Dumbledore had often said his door was always open, but the headmaster always struck him as aloof and inaccessible, unapproachable behind his gargoyle or at the head table.
His faith in McGonagall had taken some real hits over the years, before it had even had a chance to get going, really. First year when she hadn't believed him, Hermione and Ron about someone going to steal the Philosopher's stone. Second year, when she hadn't believed him about the Basilisk, and this year when she had taken his broom.
True, she had returned it, good as new, but it did nothing to improve his trust in her. She, also, didn't really seem approachable, particularly on the rather delicate matters of growing and changing emotion. Harry wondered whether she had been as stern as a teenager as she was now. It was so difficult imagining her as anything other than the strict, formidable witch generations of Hogwarts students knew her as.
He wished he'd had someone to talk to during that month after Christmas. It was the first time since the Halloween in his first year, barring the summers, that they hadn't spent time together every day.
Even while Hermione had been petrified during their second year he'd gone to see her every day in the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey had told him that she wouldn't be able to hear him, and even though he mostly believed her, he'd still gone, because seeing her and talking to her even if she couldn't respond or realise he was there was better than not doing so.
Harry took the time to consider her parents. It occurred to him that he knew very little about them.
He'd only met them once, briefly, in Diagon Alley before his second year and hadn't really had time to form an opinion of them, but how bad could they be? After all, they had raised such a caring, kind, supportive daughter.
And he had met Ron's parents on more than one occasion, even staying with them for some time during the last two summers. Wouldn't it be a good idea to see if he could spend some time with Hermione's parents?
They were, after all, the parents of one of his best friends. It felt odd, now that he thought about it, that he knew one of his friend's parents so well, and yet could barely remember what the parents of his other friend looked like.
Hermione had finished telling Ron about their evening and the hospital wing had descended once more into silence several minutes ago.
With nothing left to say about what had happened, and Harry apparently unwilling to talk further, Ron settled down to go back to sleep.
Within a few minutes, the familiar snoring from the end of the infirmary that usually filled their dorm room in the Gryffindor tower told Harry that Ron had fallen asleep again.
Realising that this was an excellent opportunity to set in motion a plan that had only just come to him after his ruminations, Harry quietly broke the silence.
"Hey, Hermione... would it be ok if I spent some time with you this summer?" he began.
Hermione looked at him in surprise. Of all the things she'd thought Harry might want to talk to her about, this subject hadn't crossed her mind since she'd resigned herself to the thought that he would far rather spend time with the Weasleys in the chaos and bustle of the Burrow than with her parents in the quiet of their home after the first two years of him knowing her but never asking.
"Oh Harry, I'm sure they wouldn't mind!" Hermione replied, trying to control her excitement at the thought of spending time with her best friend.
"I was half way through a letter to them yesterday, and had intended to finish it today when, well… all of today happened" she trailed off rather sheepishly.
"If you want, I can ask them when I finish the letter."
The surprises didn't stop for her, though, when instead of looking relieved Harry instead became rather sheepish too.
"And do you think… um, do you reckon your parents would mind…" Harry paused since, now he was asking, he really wasn't sure how to put it "I just, I have some stuff I'm trying to figure out, and I don't know who to talk to. I don't know who else I could speak to. Do you think they'd mind if I… I don't know. Talked to them? Sorry if that seems weird."
He trailed off, not looking at her.
"I mean, they've done such a good job raising you, clearly they know what they're doing" his cheeks were burning now with embarrassment and he kept his eyes fixed on his knees.
There was a quiet rustling followed by quick footsteps, and just as he look up he suddenly found his vision full of bushy brown hair, and he had his arms filled by his exuberant female friend who seemed to be bursting with excitement.
"Oh Harry, I would love to see you this summer! I get so lonely at home just sending owls to you and Ron," she said quietly, pulling away to sit on his bed.
"And I'm sure my parents wouldn't mind talking to you. I don't think it's weird. They always give me great advice, and they're always asking about you -" at that, Hermione put a hand over her mouth and looked at him, reddening rapidly. "I didn't mean to say that…" she said, looking down at her hands.
Harry frowned. This was certainly a surprise. Hermione's parents wanted to know more about him? "Do they ask about Ron, too?" he wondered out loud.
"Um… no. Not so much. But…" Hermione's blush was deepening and she was biting her lower lip, which Harry found adorable "but that's probably because I don't really talk about him as much."
Harry wasn't sure why this surprised him, especially when combined with what he'd been considering earlier about her and Ron. His brows creased as he thought about this new information.
"You… you're not mad are you, Harry?" Hermione asked nervously.
He looked up, surprised. "Why would I be mad, Hermione?"
He took a chance and reached out to place his hand on her arm, something she often did to try and reassure him.
"Why would I be upset that you talk about me more than Ron? I mean, you argue with him so much, and then there was that thing with Scabbers…" here he broke off and really scowled "I mean, I can understand. I guess I've kind of realised that maybe you're better friends with me than you are with him" he finished, lamely.
She smiled and reached up to place her hand over his, and looked relieved. She brought his hand down, and took hold of his other one.
"So… would it be ok if I sent them letter? If you'd like you could write one as well. I'm sure they'd like to hear from you." She looked up at him hopefully.
"Oh, um. Sure. I'll do it tomorrow and we can send them together with Hedwig, if you like?"
Hermione smiled at him and nodded, then returned to her bed. For the first time he was surprised to find he had butterflies in his stomach.
Whether that was from her smile or the thought of spending time with her this summer, he wasn't sure.
Perhaps it was both.