Neville and Harry met Hermione at their front door, and handed her a Wizarding photograph of the three of them, and Colin, taken the day of the impossible snowman.
Hermione burst into tears.
The week since the last day of school had passed in an emotional whirlwind. Her parents had so much to do, and she’d quickly discovered that staying out from underfoot was a better policy than trying to help –or begging to go see her friends and being told no. So, she’d spent more than a few hours up in her room thinking, and re-thinking, over and over, again which books and toys she couldn’t live without for a few weeks, talking to Annie, and re-reading Miss Karen’s parting gift.
But there were only so many hours that she could spend alone in her room, without going crazy. So, with less than twenty-fours to go before their move, Hermione had finally managed to cajole her parents into one last visit to the Potters...
“Don’t cry,” whispered Neville, pulling her into a hug, and drawing her into the house. “It’ll be okay.”
The photo was supposed to make Hermione happy, not sad.
But maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised. She was always sad these days. In the week since school had let out, neither he, nor Harry had managed to have a single telephone conversation with her, without her bursting into tears–at least once.
It made him feel so helpless, listening to her cry and not being able to do anything about it.
But now, Hermione was here in person –for what would probably be the last time, in a really long time... So, he pulled her down onto the couch, between Harry and himself, and they both hugged her as she sobbed, because they were sad too, and they were going to miss her...
Neville had no idea how long the three of them sat that way, letting their tears mingle, but eventually Hermione’s sobs trickled to a stop, and she pulled away from the three-way hug, wiping ineffectually at her tears with the back of her hand.
“Thanks, boys,” she said, attempting –but failing– to smile. “It’s a really thoughtful gift.”
“Mum says that she charmed it, so that Muggles won’t notice that any of us are moving in the picture,” explained Harry, “That way you can put it up in your new room, in your new house, and you don’t have to hide it from your parents.”
“Even better!” Hermione managed a half-smile, at his suggestion. “That way I can look at you every day, and I won’t ever forget you.”
“Like you could ever forget us... We’re too annoying and silly to be forgotten, remember?” joked Neville.
Hermione didn’t crack so much as a smile.
“Besides, it’s not like we’ll never see each other again,” added Harry. “I asked Mum and Dad where the city is. It isn’t so far that we can’t ever visit. And we’ll write lots of letters. I promise. Mum promised to help, since me and Neville don’t write too good yet. And we’ll all see each other at Hogwarts, in five–”
Despite herself, Hermione found herself sniffling once again.
Neville and Harry talked about Hogwarts a lot, as though it was a foregone conclusion that they would all be going there together some day. But a mere week ago, she had considered it a foregone conclusion that they would make their way through primary school together, as well...
No one in her family had ever been to Hogwarts... What if, despite everything her friends believed, she wasn’t magic enough to go? What if she did get an invitation, but her parents said no? What if...?
“What if I don’t go to Hogwarts?” she asked.
Not go to Hogwarts? Neville stared at her, perplexed, unable to formulate a coherent response. What did she mean? Why would Hermione not go to Hogwarts? Every witch and wizard in the entire United Kingdom went to Hogwarts...
“Of course you will.” Harry shook his head in disbelief. “When you get your letter, you will. Remus says no one has ever turned down an invitation to Hogwarts.”
“Yeah!” agreed Neville, because the very idea of not going to Hogwarts was crazy. Even his over-protective Gran had never once mentioned not letting him go to Hogwarts.
Hermione felt a smile begin to creep onto her face, and she let herself be reassured. Maybe going to Hogwarts wasn’t just a pipe dream, this wasn’t a real goodbye, and they would see each other again someday… The boys sounded so sure.
“Oh! I almost forgot!” She darted up from the sofa, and towards the door, where she’d dropped the bag she’d come with, on her way into the house.
Reaching into the bag, she pulled out two brightly wrapped packages, and handed one to each boy. “I’m really sorry I’m going to miss your birthdays. Happy Early Birthday!”
The boys, sporting twin grins, wasted no time ripping into the wrapping paper, but Hermione looked down at her feet, and shuffled nervously. She couldn’t bear to watch their reactions. What if they didn’t like them?
Their birthdays weren’t for another month, and she’d thought that there’d be plenty of time to go shopping once school let out. So she hadn’t thought to ask to go out and buy gifts –until it was too late. With everything they needed to do in time for their move, there was no way that her parents would have agreed to take her shopping. Already, convincing them to let her visit had been stretching it.
However, it was bad enough that she was going to miss their birthday party, there was no way she was going to pass on getting them a gift too. So she’d thought really hard and come up with what she thought would be the best gift, given the circumstances...
The sound of ripping paper stopped.
Hermione wringed her hands nervously. “To remember me by...” she explained. She’d picked out one of her own picture books, for each of them –old favourites that she rarely read anymore, and could handle parting with –and added a personal inscription to each. “I know you don’t like reading as much as I do but...”
She chanced a glance up.
Harry was smiling brightly at her in appreciation. He didn’t like books half as much as she did, but he liked them well enough –especially when they had lots of pictures in them.
Besides, a book was just the right gift for remembering Hermione …
“Thanks, Hermione. It’s perfect!”
Neville smiled too, “Thanks, Hermione!”
Relieved, Hermione let herself smile back.
Yes, she was moving away in less than twenty-four hours, but nothing would change the fact Neville and Harry were now, and always would be her best friends forever...
A/N: Many thanks to my beta, Arnel, for the incredibly quick turnaround on this chapter.