Harry decided to make the most of his otherwise empty compartment as he felt the scarlet steam engine that was the Hogwarts Express lurch forward. The eleven-year old hauled his trunk down from the overhead rack and planned to skim the first book he pulled out. He managed to lug a tome he had blindly grabbed and admired the cover for a moment, absentmindedly wondering what kind of school had such a dense history it needed the largest book he'd ever seen to describe it. Lost in thought, he didn't even notice the door to his compartment slide open.
"That's my favorite book!" Harry heard a girl gasp and reflexively he whirled around and backed into the corner. He caught his breath and saw a perfectly pleasant looking girl standing in front of him, hands gripping the door frame as she leaned in.
"Are you alright?" the girl asked, her brows scrunching together and her eyes moved from the book to Harry's eyes.
"S-sorry," he managed, sliding away from the corner and towards the middle of the cushioned bench. "You just scared me a little…" he half-whispered, watching the girl's expression brighten almost immediately.
"Don't be sorry, I'm the one who scared you, I should be apologizing." She smiled, then uncertainly took a step inside. "Can I sit with you? Almost every other compartment is full by now." She asked, averting her eyes and ducking her head slightly.
Harry felt a twinge of sympathy for the girl, whom he assumed was another new student. "Of course," he smiled, pointing to the bench across from his. She lifted her head back up and beamed at him, plopping down on the seat and immediately leaning forward towards him. For a moment Harry felt compelled to back away again – he didn't even know this girl's name and here she was leaning close across from him, elbows on her knees and hands cupping her chin – but he didn't move.
Something about her genuine smile lighting up her entire face…something about her brown eyes that seemed to reflect candid interest in how he felt…something about her in general made him feel less defensive, like he could relax, like he could…
'Oh my god, she's been talking this whole time!' Harry realized.
"…nobody in my family's magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it's the very best school of witchcraft there is, I've heard - I've learned all our course books by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough - I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?"
Harry had to take a moment to sort through the conglomeration of sentences the girl had spit out rapid-fire.
"Did you say you know all our course books by heart?" he asked after a few moments of un-jumbling the pile of words she'd thrown at him.
Hermione nodded gleefully, "Like I said, nobody in my family is magical, so I was worried I would have a lot of catching up to do. To think I didn't even know what magic was until my eleventh birthday!" she laughed, and Harry couldn't help but smile, despite being in a similar predicament. He absent-mindedly ran a hand through his hair and saw her eyes go wide.
"Holy cricket! You're Harry Potter!" she exclaimed, her eyes locked onto his forehead.
"Er…yeah. I mean, yeah I guess…" he stammered, quickly trying to cover the lighting-shaped scar he knew she spotted.
"I know all about you, of course - I got a few extra books, for background reading, and you're in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century." Hermione spouted.
"Am I really that famous?" He muttered more to himself than to his new friend.
'A girl who hadn't even heard of magic until she turned eleven learned about me in a matter of months!' He thought to himself, until Hermione's rambling drew him out of his thoughts once again.
"So have you read Hogwarts: A History?" she asked, and she was off again, "It's by far my favorite book from the magical world, even though it wasn't on the list in our letters. Why do you have it? Not that it's a bad thing, of course, it really is a great book."
"Uh…" Harry, unsure of where to start, tried to answer each of Hermione's seemingly endless list of questions. "I haven't read it yet, no, but-"
She was like a blur, flying across the bench to sit on Harry's left. Before he could even react she had practically ripped it from his hands and flipped it open to her favorite pages. Harry was taken aback, but he couldn't help but admire the girl's enthusiasm. She dragged her finger across the lines of the book, reciting all kinds of factoids. Harry particularly admired that Hermione wasn't even looking at the book after a couple minutes to spew the information, instead she listed facts and figures straight from memory and kept her eyes on Harry's.
"Brilliant…" Harry heard himself whisper as Hermione took a rare breath. She stopped herself and beamed at him once again. Harry couldn't help but reciprocate the grin, unable to ignore the contagious joy she emitted when she smiled.
'Even though her two front teeth are a tad big. But they are really white!'He thought to himself distractedly.
"You have nice teeth…" he mumbled and immediately fought the urge to jump out of the train window. He settled for looking away for a few moments, certain his new friend would bust out laughing and leave the compartment to hang out with someone else, someone who didn't say weird things like that out of nowhere.
After a few painful seconds Harry glanced back at his new friend and saw that instead of laughing, she was blushing – and she was equally dedicated to not making eye contact.
"No one's complimented my…" she started but tapered off. She glanced back at Harry and somehow her cheeks got even redder. "Sorry, no one's really complimented me on anything before…" she whispered.
Harry felt his stomach plummet. In an instant, he wanted to tell her everything. He wanted to tell her about the cupboard under the stairs, the tormenting from Dudley and his friends, the years of abuse and mistreatment, he wanted to pour his heart out to her.
But he didn't want to upset her or scare her off or freak her out or make her any more uncomfortable. Instead…
"I know how you feel," was all he said. He heard a sharp intake of breath, and saw her fiddling with the pages of the book. She still hadn't met Harry's eyes, and after a few painful moments he suddenly found his worn out sneakers incredibly interesting.
Harry felt a wall of force crash into his left side and a pair of small arms wrap around him. The air was quite literally knocked out of his lungs by the sheer force of Hermione Granger's hug. Short of other options, he weakly patted her arms.
"It's okay," they whispered simultaneously. Hermione pulled back, shocked that he was the one trying to comfort her. Harry threw her a bewildered look, surprised she had tried to comfort him instead of the other way around. After a beat they both began laughing. Neither of the youngsters could really explain why they broke into such genuine laughter after such a startling exchange of emotion. It just felt right. Harry couldn't help but think he had found a real friend here in his compartment.
After the unexpected injection of lightheartedness into their compartment, Hermione continued with her crash course in Hogwarts: A History in between conversations about Diagon Alley, receiving their letters, and the best flavor at Florean Fortescue's parlor (after Hermione gushed about the strawberry-and-peanut-butter, Harry made an internal promise to buy her one in the future).
As their pleasant conversation continued, the compartment door slid open. The two whipped their heads around to see a young boy with red hair standing nervously in the doorway.
"Um…hi," mumbled the boy, who appeared to be another first year. Harry and Hermione offered warm smiles.
"I'm Ron. Ron Weasley," the boy managed. "Anyone sitting here?" he asked, pointing at the seat opposite Harry. "I've been sitting with my brothers but I think they're about to do something ridiculous and – " was as far as he got before a loud BANG was heard somewhere down the train followed closely by a few shrieks and uproarious laughter.
The three first years jumped in shock at the noise before Harry and Hermione welcomed him into the compartment. The redhead quickly introduced himself and described his family, including his twin brothers who were notorious pranksters and were most likely responsible for the loud noise. All three managed a laugh before the trio continued conversing.
When Harry introduced himself, even pulling back his bangs to prove the scar was real, Ron was in awe, but that awe was multiplied when a smiling woman with a trolley full of candies wheeled to their compartment door and asked if they were hungry. Harry didn't hesitate to purchase some of everything, amazed by the multitude of candies he'd never even heard of.
As the boys dug in to Cauldron Cakes and more, they noticed Hermione eying the candy uneasily.
"My parents are dentists, so I'm not exactly big on candy," she explained, a hint of repugnance in her eye as she glanced at Ron, who had just stuffed his fifth, '…or sixth?' Harry wondered, Cauldron Cake into his mouth. Rather than be offended, the two boys smirked mischievously at each other before Harry grabbed a pack of Every Flavor Beans and the two began goading her into trying one.
The bushy-haired girl refused at first, but the two were persistent, with Harry mockingly saying "Here comes the airplane!" before she relented, eliciting pleasant laughs from all three. Unfortunately, Hermione's laughter quickly died down as she fought the urge to gag on her Earthworm flavored bean. The two boys fought the urge to subdue their laughter but the look on their new friend's face was too much and they roared with laughter while she glowered, despite a small smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.
"What's going on in here?" sneered a nasally voice, prompting the trio to turn their heads. They locked eyes with a pale, blonde-haired boy flanked by two much larger boys.
"I heard Harry Potter was in here. Is it true? Are you him?" prodded the boy, turning his eyes to Harry.
He nodded, but instinctively slid backwards in his seat, away from the door.
"Can't imagine why you're holed up in a compartment here with these two. I'm guessing you're a Weasley," he sneered at Ron, who turned pink at the venom in the pale boy's voice, "and some girl I've never seen before. What's your name?" he asked, leering into the compartment slightly.
"I'm Hermione Granger." She responded defiantly. "You are?"
"Granger? Never heard that one before. Are you muggle-born?" the boy laughed, and Hermione nodded, but the confidence she had voiced earlier seemed to drain from her as she slumped in her seat a bit.
"Harry Potter hanging around with a charity case like a Weasley and a muggle-born. Can you believe that?" the blond laughed with his friends. "For your information, I'm Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. My friends here are Crabbe and Goyle. Want to come over to our compartment? You don't want to be associating yourself with the wrong sorts of people, Potter," he sneered, glancing at Harry's new friends.
Harry was taken aback by Malfoy's words. He thought to himself for a moment, eying the sneering boy and his apparent bodyguards before speaking.
"You're right, I don't want to hang with the wrong sorts," Harry replied, glancing at Ron and Hermione. He stood up and walked to the doorway, much to Malfoy's delight. The pale boy turned to exit into the hallway with Harry, only to hear the door slam shut behind him. "So I'll be here with my friends." Harry winked through the window before drawing the curtains closed.
The boy wizard turned around and couldn't help but grin at his friends' relief. The three resumed talking, and Ron explained the Malfoy family and what they had done in the past, including siding with You-Know-Who. Hermione bristled as Ron explained how the Malfoys – a pure wizarding family – viewed non pure-bloods.
Soon enough Hermione glanced out the window and gasped at the magnificent castle that had come into view, and soon every student on board was changing into their robes – with Ron and Harry granting Hermione privacy while they sampled some more sweets in the hallway. After changing and embarking onto the platform, the trio followed Hagrid to the lake, where they hopped into a boat occupied by a boy named Neville Longbottom. The four of them made quick work of introducing themselves to one another and made their way towards their next great adventure: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.