The first time you see her you are ten years old, and you are alone. Your family has already crossed the barrier to platform nine and three-quarters, but you have hung back, uncertain. This is not something that belongs to you, not yet. It is Ron’s day, and Percy’s, and Fred’s and George’s. You are separated from them as though by a curtain, the youngest one, the left behind.
She is sitting on a bench, feet dangling an inch above the floor, hair hiding her face as she bends over a book. She's writing in it, or maybe drawing, you can't tell. On any other day you would probably keep walking, but today is today so you stop and sit beside her. She smiles at you with crooked teeth, a shy smile, but you have never been shy. When you ask her, “What are you doing?” she angles the pages of her book toward you.
“Coloring,” she says. And then, “Do you want a crayon?”
You take the color she offers you—purple—and look inside her book to see she has filled in each intricate picture neatly within the lines. You are not normally a within-the-lines sort of person, but you find yourself being extra careful this time, penning yourself in so that you do not ruin her careful artwork. Together, in silence, you fill in a butterfly. And then a flower garden. And then a frog.
When your parents find you ten minutes later they pull you away with barely a glance in her direction, remonstrating you as quietly as possible. “Wait, just a second,” you tell them, and take two quick steps backward to hand her back the purple crayon. “I’m Ginny,” you tell her, a parting gift.
“I’m Hermione,” she says.
Your father takes your hand to lead you away and she goes back to coloring in her book. You do not glance over your shoulder. You are ten years old; you do not think to wonder if you will ever see her again.
The next time you see her you’re eleven, and it barely counts—later, both of you will say it doesn’t count at all, and that’s okay. It’s your first year at Hogwarts and you can hardly think of anything but that, hardly notice anything beyond your nerves and excitement. Still, in the shuffle of trunks and trolleys, in the time it takes to reach the platform, you glimpse a girl sitting on a bench and something in your memory stirs.
She looks up. You haven’t said a word. You don’t even remember her name. She looks up, and lifts her hand and waves.
You wave back, smiling, as though to an old friend.
The third time you see her is the second time you speak to her. It’s the beginning of your second year at Hogwarts, and things are different now; you’re different now, in a multitude of little ways. You shiver when you see a diary and you can’t help but glance over your shoulder when you hear the name Tom. You’re quieter as you push your trolley through the station, almost dreading the arrival on the platform. Maybe that’s why you hesitate, why you glance around, looking for something else to focus on. Maybe that’s why you see her.
You remember her name this time. It swims to the front of your head as if it’s always been there. “Hermione,” you say, and you realize you’ve taken a path toward her bench without noticing. She’s not coloring this time, but she’s got a book, one with print inside instead of pictures. She looks up when you say her name.
“Do I know you?” she says, and then, in the same breath, “Oh, Ginny.”
“Yes,” you say, pleased. “You remember.”
“You do too,” she says. “You must come here every year.”
“We do. We take the train to school. Is that why you’re here, too?”
“No, I’m homeschooled,” she says. “We visit my aunt in Scotland every year, and we always get back September first, and my parents always leave me here while they buy bus tickets back home. I don’t mind. I like the train station.”
“So do I,” you say, and there are a thousand questions she could ask that you aren’t prepared for: the name of your school and why your brother’s trolley has an owl on it and what train you take and what platform you board it on. She doesn’t ask any of them, but you almost wish she had, because there’s nothing more to say now and you don’t want that to be true. You like the sound of her voice. You want to hear it again.
“I think your family wants you,” she says mildly, and you look over to see your mother vigorously beckoning for you to join them. You make a face.
“I guess I’ll see you next year,” you say.
“I guess you will,” she responds, and smiles. You smile back.
You don’t know it yet, but you have made a promise.
The fourth time you see her is the first time you look for her. You’re so aware of how much you’re looking for her, and at the same time you’re telling yourself that you aren’t. It’s pure chance that your head is turning every few seconds, eyes latching to empty benches and girls with curly hair. “Are you looking for that Muggle girl?” your mother says, sounding disapproving. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to—” but your father cuts in. “Molly, let them talk. It’s good for wizards and Muggles to interact,” he says, and takes you by the shoulders and spins you so that you’re finally facing her direction.
And she is looking for you, too.
“Hi,” you say, as you approach, almost breathless. “Hi, do you remember me?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, mouth quirking up on one side. “Hi, Ginny.”
“Hi,” you say. “How was seeing your aunt?”
“Fine. Is school going to be good?”
“Well, I hope so,” you say, and plop down next to her on the bench. “You’re reading again. You’re smart, aren’t you?”
“I like to think so,” says Hermione, laughing.
“How old are you?”
“Fourteen. How old are you?”
“Thirteen,” you tell her. “Do you like homeschool?”
“I like it alright. Do you like reading?”
“I like it alright.”
She laughs again. “What’s your favorite subject in school?”
Here is dangerous ground. You are supposed to lie now, in fact the law requires it, but you don’t want to lie to her. It doesn’t make sense to lie to her, somehow. She is barely real. So you settle for a half-truth. “Lunch.”
“Lunch,” she repeats, amused by the answer. You realize you are holding your breath.
“I should go,” you say, standing quickly. “Don’t want to miss the train.”
“I like your barrette,” says Hermione, and you pause, bringing your hand up to touch the pin, trying to remember which one you’re wearing. The rose, you realize after a second. When you pull your hand away you wince. “Your hair is caught,” Hermione says. “Here, I can help.” She reaches over to untangle you and suddenly her face is very close to yours, and how odd; your heart drops into your stomach, and, oh, there goes your breath again.
The fifth time you see her is only a few months after He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s return, and everything feels like it’s hovering on the edge of something terrible. You’re escorted to King’s Cross with Order guards and for a moment you think that Mad-Eye isn’t going to let you talk to Hermione at all, but Sirius-as-a-dog causes a distraction at the perfect moment and you slip away to the bench where she is sitting, waiting.
“You’ve got a new crowd,” she says, peering interestedly at your motley group.
“Things are different this year,” you say, subdued, and she turns to you in concern.
“Is everything okay?”
“It’s hard to explain,” you say, because you still don’t want to lie to her. She tilts her head to the side, brow furrowed, and you know you don’t have long this time to talk with her. Not long at all.
“Will you give me your address?”
“What?” she says, surprised, and you’re already regretting the words, but it’s too late now so you forge deeper.
“Your address. So I can write to you from school. So we can be friends. That’s if you want to, obviously—”
“Of course I do,” says Hermione, and rummages through her coat pockets until she pulls out a pen. “I don’t have anything to write on.”
“Here,” you say, and push back your sleeve. Hermione carefully etches the letters on your arm, the pen pulling at your skin. Goosebumps travel down your arm, and you tell yourself it’s from the cold.
“I’ll keep a lookout for your letters,” she says, finishing with a gentle flourish, and there’s a moment of pure panic, because how the hell are you going to deliver a Muggle letters from Hogwarts, what the hell are you thinking? But when you stand up to go she stands up with you and hugs you goodbye, and though you know this isn’t going to be easy, suddenly you think it’s going to be worth it.
The sixth time you see her is different. When you arrive at the bench she is standing on her tiptoes instead of sitting, head turning to catch a glimpse of you, and you speed up and throw your arms around her. “Hey!”
“Hi!” she says, hugging you tight. “You don’t know how excited I’ve been!”
“Me too,” you tell her. “I brought you your present early, it didn’t really make sense to wait and send it from school since we were going to see each other here, you know—”
“You didn’t have to get me anything!” she exclaims, as you present her with your badly wrapped gift. She turns seventeen in eighteen days. You know that because you know her birthday now, because you know a lot of things about her now—it’s been almost a year of writing letters to each other, back and forth.
“It’s not really anything, it’s mostly just a joke,” you tell her, as Hermione tears open the paper and looks inside. After a second, she looks back up at you, eyes shining.
“A coloring book?”
“So you can always remember.”
“As if I would ever forget,” she says, sitting down on the bench and holding the book in her lap. You sit down beside her and try to contain your smile. You still can’t believe this is real, that she is really your friend, this girl who used to seem almost imaginary to you. It’s all because of Harry, of course, wonderful Harry who let you use Hedwig whenever you needed to, who taught you how Muggle post worked, who researched what return address to put on your letters so that the postal-working wizards would know where to send Hermione’s responses. You don’t know if you’re ever going to be able to repay him for that, but you intend, someday, to try.
“Have you been sleeping all right lately?” Hermione asks, and you glance over at her.
“You’ve got dark circles,” she tells you, and you lift a hand to your face almost unconsciously. Of course you have dark circles. Everyone around you has dark circles these days, with You-Know-Who at large, with Sirius dead. “I have to take my exams this year,” you tell Hermione. “You know. The important ones.”
“And you’re already stressed? Dear god, I think I’m having an influence on you."
“Only in good ways,” you promise. Hermione brushes her hair back from her face, worrying her lip between her teeth.
“Listen, Ginny, I’ve been thinking.”
“You’re always thinking.”
“No, I mean, really,” she says. “I’ve been thinking, you know, we always see each other here, and it’s fine, but what if we saw each other outside the train station? What if we met up outside King’s Cross this year?”
You’re lost for words. Outside King’s Cross? Seeing Hermione outside King’s Cross doesn’t seem possible, somehow. It’s as though she only exists here, on this bench, between these walls. Imagining her in the sunlight or in your bedroom is like looking at a picture in a book. Pretty, but unreal.
“Only if you want to,” she says, and you see her hands are clamped tightly around her coloring book. You look back up at her and shake your head.
“Don’t be silly,” you say. “Of course I want to. I come home for Christmas every year. I’ll call you then.”
She smiles, her whole face lighting up. It is a picture-book smile, a fairytale-princess smile. It is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
The seventh time you see her at the station, part of you is worried it’s going to be your last. The trip to King’s Cross this year is horrible; there are empty seats in the car where Ron and Harry should be, and you feel empty too, drained and tired, but not sad. You’re angry. You’re absolutely furious. This, too, is to be taken from you? King’s Cross, after everything?
When Hermione sees you, she can tell something is wrong. She reaches out and touches the side of your face with gentle hands, brushing your hair back. “Are you all right?” she asks.
“No,” you say. You remain standing. You are worried that if you sit down on the bench you are never going to want to stand up again. Seeing her here in the train station again feels so right and so wrong, familiar and foreign all at once.
“Ginny,” Hermione begins, and you know she must suspect. The extent of what she has guessed you aren’t sure: you have not and will never lie to her, but you’re good at keeping secrets. She is smart, though. She sees your evasive answers for what they are, and she has watched you disappear into the crowd between platforms nine and ten enough times by now to suspect something. But she doesn’t press. You think it’s for the same reason you don’t leave.
This thing, this incredible thing that is between you, it is so fragile and perfect and impossible that neither of you is willing to take it any further lest it shatter into pieces. Going out for lunch when you come home for holidays and spending summer days together, talking on the phone for hours, all that has felt like something out of a dream—and dreams end. Dreams end, especially when you try and take them too far. Neither of you wants this to end.
But this is a year for taking risks.
It’s the seventh time you’ve seen her at King’s Cross, and if it’s going to be your last you might as well make the most of it, so you lean in and kiss her. She holds your face in her hands and kisses you back. When you pull away, you feel like crying.
“You’re going to come back to me,” Hermione tells you quietly. “You’re going to see me here again.”
Your mother calls your name and you know you have to leave. You know you have to leave and this year is going to be different and you might not come back, no one might ever come back.
Your mother calls your name again and you want to say I love you but it comes out as goodbye.
The eighth time you see her at the station, you are seventeen years old, and you are alone. Your family has already crossed the barrier to platform nine and three-quarters, but you have hung back, certain. This is something that belongs to you. This moment. This station. This girl.
She is sitting on a bench, feet planted firmly on the floor. When you sit down next to her she smiles at you, a shy smile, but you have never been shy. “What are you doing?” you ask her.
“Thinking,” she says.
“I hope you can guess.”
You smile. “I have so much to tell you. Some of it now, and some of it later, and some of it I’m going to have to show you. Some of it is going to seem impossible, but I promise you it’s not.”
Hermione tilts her head to the side. “Is that so?”
“And some of it might make you hate me.”
Hermione raises an eyebrow at you. The light is streaming in through the windows, and when she puts her hand on top of yours your shadows seem to merge together. “It sounds like there’s a lot to say,” she says. “Why don’t you get started?”
You take a deep breath. “Could you believe in magic?” you ask her.
Hermione laces your fingers together and smiles up at you.
"Don't be silly," she says. “I already do."