By She's a Star
Disclaimer: I kind of wish I was J.K. Rowling.
Author's Note: I just started rereading CoS last night, and in doing so, was given the idea for this fic. Throughout the course of it, I have realized that I very seldom write things that aren't driven solely by shippiness, and now I'm all torn as to whom to put on the character menus. This friendship stuff is hard!
The day after she gets home, Hermione writes two letters.
Harry's comes first: she asks if he's enjoying his holiday, and if he's all right after what happened at the end of the year. She tells him a bit about being home again – that she's glad to see her parents, but can't help lamenting the lack of sweets. (She's grown a little fond of chocolate frogs.) She doesn't touch on his family, although she's momentarily tempted to; they'd seemed so wretched at King's Cross, but he probably doesn't need to be reminded of that. "I hope things are all right where you are" finally suffices, and that's the end of that.
Ron is a bit trickier. Hermione discovers at once that she doesn't know quite what to say to him when they aren't face-to-face. With Ron, she can't help suspecting that they need to actually be together. When he's walking next to her down the corridor or sitting across the table in the Great Hall, all blazing red hair and snarky comments, then she always knows exactly what to say. Here, though, white paper stares up at her, blank save for even frail blue lines that remind her of veins, and she's at a loss. She finally jots down something that's rather reminiscent of Harry's, give or take a few things. She asks Ron about his family, because every idle complaint he throws out about them betrays precisely how much he loves them – it's not dangerous territory the way it is with Harry. She finishes off asking if he's played any wizard's chess lately (the insipidity of this doesn't fully strike her until later), and reminds him not to forget about his summer homework.
She signs both letters 'love from Hermione' and sends them the Muggle way. Her parents still aren't quite used to the concept of owls.
Three days pass without replies. She very absently makes her way through Jane Eyre and reviews the details of each letter over and over in her mind. Five days. At six days, Mr. Rochester's crazy wife has burned the house down. By the time a week has passed, she's moved onto Wuthering Heights. She can't help thinking it a little ridiculous.
And then something dawns on her, sudden and horrifying.
"Mum," she says, as casually as she can, over breakfast, "do you think that maybe people could get the wrong idea if you signed your letters 'love from'?"
"What are you talking about?" Mrs. Granger asks a bit distractedly, and pours Hermione more orange juice. "You always sign your letters 'love from.'"
Mr. Granger grunts a request for more coffee at the other end of the table.
"It stains your teeth," Mrs. Granger reminds him.
"Do allow me my one weakness, dear," he requests, never so much as glancing away from the morning paper.
"But," Hermione says, a bit louder, "I've only ever written letters to family. If it was boys – do you think maybe then they'd get the wrong idea?"
Mr. Granger shoves down the paper. It rustles indignantly.
"Boys?" Mrs. Granger inquires, perfectly composed. "You mean Harry and Ron?"
"Well, it depends on the sorts of boys they are," Mrs. Granger says, and begins to pour a glass of orange juice for her husband. "I haven't met them, so I really can't be sure."
Hermione frowns a little as she considers it. "I don't think it would bother Harry. He's quite levelheaded. He's rather mature for his age, about that sort of thing."
"And Ron?" Mrs. Granger asks smoothly.
Hermione's not quite sure what to say. "Well, I think – I think perhaps he might overreact. Although he shouldn't, of course. It would be completely immature. It's just that he can be so maddening sometimes."
Mr. and Mrs. Granger catch each others' gazes.
"Uh oh," Mr. Granger says faintly.
Mrs. Granger mercifully pours him a second cup of coffee.
Hermione, who gets the feeling she doesn't want to know what they're talking about, marches upstairs and begins a new pair of letters.
Just in case.
Ron's not much of a letter-writer, and never has been, but all the same, he scrawls out two letters a few days after the summer holidays have started. One's for Harry and one's for Hermione. They aren't much – "how're you holding up with those awful Muggles?", "I hope you haven't started your homework yet; that's mental" – but he still feels like he should. He's never had anybody to write to before, not really, and so he does. He includes an invitation to come stay at the Burrow in Harry's, and thinks about it in Hermione's but doesn't. It just seems a little weird, is all, what with her being a girl. His brothers'd probably all take that completely the wrong way. And besides, it's not like he lives in a bloody bed-and-breakfast. There's only so many people that can fit into this house. Hermione would probably wind up having to stay with Ginny, and this summer, he wouldn't wish that on anybody. Even someone who's probably already finished her homework.
Ginny has taken to holding the mail hostage until Mr. and Mrs. Weasley will allow her her own broom, but that's not even the worst of it. Oh, no. Ginny's talked about Harry more than Ron has, which is a bit eerie when one considers that Harry is Ron's best friend, whereas Ginny has only seen him twice. She's obsessed. A few days after he's sent off the first two letters, he writes another one telling Harry about this. He forgets about it and leaves it on the kitchen table, though, and Ginny finds it. She makes a nightmare out of the whole thing, as usual, and ultimately, he's not able to send it at all, on account of the fact that she's fed it to the garden gnomes.
"Harry'll be terrified of you, the way you ramble on all the time!" Ron tells her furiously. "It's right mental, it is!"
Ginny bursts into tears, and he spends the rest of the day folding the whole family's socks as punishment.
A week goes by, and he hasn't got replies from Harry or Hermione. This is explained when Errol shows up one morning with the letters still tied to his leg, looking distinctly ruffled and faintly cross-eyed.
Still, Ron can't help feeling a little disappointed that neither of them have written to him on their own.
He decides to give it another go. He writes each of them a new letter, including in Hermione's that she's probably finished her homework by now (and that this, of course, is completely sick) and in Harry's that he'd tried to write him, but Ginny'd fed it to the gnomes. He doesn't include what had been in that letter, though he's not quite sure why. It'd probably just freak Harry out, is all. He's watching out for him. That's what best friends do.
He tries to get Percy to let him borrow Hermes, but Percy's a big git about it, as usual.
"Use Errol," he says through a crack in his door; he won't let Ron in all the way, because the idiot's gone completely bonkers. "That's what the rest of the family is supposed to do."
"If I use Errol," Ron says impatiently, "he'll probably die in midair and fall on some kids playing out in their front yard or something. D'you really want that on your conscience, Perce?"
"He will not," Percy sniffs. "Now if you please, go away. I have work to do."
"What are you doing, anyway?" Ron asks, and stands on tiptoe trying to see past Percy and into the room.
"Nothing!" Percy barks, and slams the door so hard it hits Ron in the nose.
By now, he almost wishes he lived with Harry's family instead. His great purple oaf of an uncle couldn't possibly be as annoying.
The letters take up residence on his desk next to the new Martin Miggs comic and stay there throughout Errol's convalescence.
"Why can't you deliver letters, huh?" Ron glumly asks Scabbers. He's asleep, as usual. "At least then you'd be good for something."
One eye pops open, and he twitches slightly, as though offended.
"Didn't mean it," Ron says hastily, and pats him lightly on the side. His fur's all foul and gristly, just like everything else about him, but still, Ron feels a little bad. It's not as though Scabbers asked to be completely pathetic.
Still, this doesn't help him out with his letter problem, and Harry and Hermione have yet to write to him. He starts wondering if maybe they've got other friends at home that he'd never heard about. The thought makes him angry. Where's the justice, if they've got friends and he's stuck here with his mad siblings?
"Hey, Ron," Ginny asks sweetly one day, "who's Hermione?"
"You know who Hermione is," Ron says crossly. "I've told you. She's my friend at Hogwarts."
"Does she love you?"
"What?" Ron squawks. "Where the bloody hell would you get a stupid idea like that?"
"I read it," Ginny says vaguely.
"Read it?" Ron asks. Suspicion begins to creep through him. "What do you mean?"
"'Dear Ron,'" Ginny begins, her voice ridiculously breathy and not at all reminiscent of Hermione's, "'How have your holidays been so far? I do hope you haven't forgotten your homework! But even more, I hope you haven't forgotten me! Looooove, Hermi—'"
"I'm going to kill you!"
"You'll have to catch me first!"
"Damn it, Ginny, give me my bloody letters!"
"RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY! WHAT WAS THAT LANGUAGE?"
"Mum, Ginny's been taking my letters!"
"Ginny's been taking everyone's letters! That does not give you the right to use such foul language in my house!"
In the end, Ron doesn't get to read his letters, as they all wind up torn to shreds thanks to the rather vicious game of tug-of-war he'd gone through to get them at all. He studies the largest remaining piece. It reads 'love from Hermione' – which is, he promptly decides, totally and entirely different.
As soon as his trunk has been locked in the cupboard under the stairs, taking every trace of Hogwarts along with it, Harry sits down to write to Ron and Hermione.
He's not sure exactly what to say, but this doesn't bother him very much, because he knows that's not the point. Being here again, with Dudley's brainless chuckling at the television and Uncle Vernon's terrible, booming voice and Aunt Petunia shrieking commands at him every few minutes, he needs to write their names. To see their handwriting: Hermione's perfect penmanship and Ron's hasty, friendly scrawl. That way, with the words in front of him (Hermione probably still fretting about his encounter with Voldemort – he pictures her wringing her hands anxiously; Ron telling him about Fred and George's latest antics – he can practically hear him chuckling) – that way, he'll have proof of them. This past year was real, and there'll be another one just like it. He's just got to survive the summer, that's all.
To have a letter from each of them will be enough for now, he thinks.
Uncle Vernon finds him tying the letters to Hedwig's leg and puts a stop to it at once. "Do you really think I'm going to let those – those freaks send messages to my home? Guess again, boy!" Hedwig's cage is padlocked by the time the sun sets that night. The letters sit, abandoned, on Harry's desk.
The day after he's returned to Privet Drive, Aunt Petunia wakes him at seven and orders that he come downstairs to make breakfast.
"Aunt Petunia?" he asks innocently from where he stands over the frying pan.
"What?" she snaps. There is the soft, slightly musical clang of glasses as she retrieves them from the cupboard above the sink and sets them onto the counter.
"Did my mum ever show you anything she learned?" he asks the eggs as they fry. "You know, at school?"
A glass falls to the floor and shatters with a crash. One shard lands inches from Harry's bare foot.
"Go back to your room," she instructs, her voice trembling.
"Can I help you clean up the glass?" he asks politely.
"No!" Aunt Petunia shrieks. The sound rings through the empty kitchen, and it reminds Harry a little bit of the glasses clinking.
"No," she says again, more composed. He turns but she is staring fixedly at the remains of the cup on the floor, arms crossed in a way that makes her look more frail than angry. "Go back up to your room."
They begin staying away from him, after that.
A week goes by and there's no letter from Ron or Hermione. They're just busy, Harry reasons. They've got lives to settle back into. Families. Friends, probably. It's not like this for them. It's not like here.
Hedwig doesn't like spending all her time caged. Uncle Vernon complains about the noise she makes when he's sitting at the head of the table at dinner, but seems content just to cast shifty-eyed glances at Harry almost everywhere else. He starts to feel a bit like he doesn't exist, or he's something dark and horrible. The Phantom of Privet Drive, he thinks, but it doesn't seem all that clever or funny when he's got no one to tell it to.
He contemplates writing Ron and Hermione again and then sending the letters through the mail, but he doubts he'd be able to get that past the Dursleys either. They know very well he's got no one 'normal' to write to. Instead, he spends his time sitting in the living room and thinking about nothing in particular while Dudley watches TV.
"This program's stupid," Harry says one afternoon, not because he wants to watch anything better but because he's bored and a bit reckless.
"You're stupid," Dudley grunts.
"Wow," Harry says. "That's really clever."
Dudley shifts in his chair and turns to glare at Harry. "You think you can change it?" He lifts the remote from the end table and dangles it over Harry's head, laughing to himself.
"I reckon so," Harry replies evenly.
Dudley stops laughing. "Go ahead and try."
Harry puts on the most sinister expression he can manage. It's not hard, all things considered. "Abra cadabr—"
"Aaaugh!" Dudley lets out a strangled scream. The remote goes flying into Aunt Petunia's favourite vase. "Mum! Mum!"
Harry spends the afternoon cleaning the upstairs bathroom. As he scrubs the rings around the bathtub, trying to make them disappear, his mind falls back on Ron and Hermione. He can't help wondering what they're doing right now: he imagines Ron laughing with his brothers, and Hermione smiling at her parents as she sits down to dinner.
They'll write him soon, he decides as he scrubs a bit harder. They're his best friends, after all.