The ride back to King's Cross Station was silent.
It wasn't an entirely uncomfortable silence; but it felt warranted after the year that had just come to an end.
Their fourth year had been difficult to say the least. And the ending of the Triwizard Tournament had been devastating to everyone.
Cedric Diggory was dead.
Voldemort had returned.
And no one appeared to believe Harry.
These three points whirled around Hermione's mind as she sat against the window of their carriage, watching the summer greenery whip by as the Hogwarts Express pushed on to London. Harry sat directly next to her while Ron and Neville sat opposite them. Every once in a while Hermione would reach out and wrap a comforting hand around Harry's forearm and squeeze it gently; just to let him know that she was still there. That she would always stand beside him.
Harry spared her a small smile each time this happened. Once or twice he insisted that it wasn't necessary, but Hermione could see in his bright green eyes that he appreciated it all the same.
The four barely spoke the entire ride home; only exchanging brief words when people popped into their carriage to say goodbye and when the food trolley stopped outside their door.
Ron extended the invitation to visit the burrow, like he did every summer. Neville graciously declined; he stated that his Grandmother was taking him on a trip for most of the summer holiday. Harry jumped at the idea of getting away from the Drusley's faster this year, but he mentioned that Dumbledore had asked him to stay with his Aunt and Uncle until someone came for him. And Hermione wanted to spend some time with her parents since she hadn't even seen them during the Christmas Holidays; but she said she would be more than happy to come stay with the Weasleys later on in the summer.
Ron and Hermione shared a warm yet hesitant smile.
They had grown apart since the Yule Ball; but had worked together for the sake of Harry's survival during the tournament. The day before Cedric's funeral, Hermione had decided that the air needed to be cleared if their friendship was going to be able to continue forward. She had pulled Ron away from Harry and the common room that afternoon and laid everything out between them; she had calmly stated that she couldn't be someone's backup plan or second choice. Hermione admitted that she cared for Ron deeply but that she had realized that it was now more of a brotherly feeling of love than anything else. Hermione held her breath as she continued to explain how she wanted desperately to remain friends with Ronald and how they needed to get past this quickly for their own sakes and for Harry's. Ron thankfully had agreed and apologized profusely about making her feel any kind of hardships. They had embraced awkwardly and agreed to begin rebuilding their relationship strictly as friends.
But they were still finding their footing in this new friendship; the fact that everyone in Gryffindor seemed to know about their discussion added to the slight discomfort.
When King's Cross Station came into view, Hermione motioned for the three boys to begin gathering their things and to prepare to disembark. Ginny and the twins soon joined them in their compartment, quietly exchanging goodbyes with the people they were not related to.
Hermione hugged Ginny tightly, promising to come visit as soon as possible.
"Please don't leave me alone with all the boys for the entire summer. I'll go mad," the younger witch grumbled under her breathe.
Hermione chuckled lightly as she turned to quickly hug George goodbye, "Take care Granger. We'll see you soon, I expect." She noticed that George's wide grin didn't quite reach his eyes.
The train came to a screeching halt and jostled around the seven occupants of their little compartment. Some of the trunks shifted and Hermione threw out a hand blindly to steady herself as she began to topple forward.
Her arms were tightly grasped by strong stable hands before she made contact with the wall, "Alright there, Granger?" Hermione looked up to find Fred Weasley smiling down at her with a crooked grin.
"Yes, thank you Fred," she straightened herself and regained her balance. Hermione carefully rose to her toes and wrapped her arms loosely around the twin's neck, "I'll see you later this summer. Try to stay out of trouble." Hermione smiled as she pulled back and found a mischievous expression on Fred's face.
The others had begun to exit the compartment, and Hermione felt a strange tightening at her stomach as Fred made no movement to leave.
Instead he bent down slightly so that he could whisper directly into her ear, "Don't worry about me Granger; I don't seem to attract trouble as much as you, Harry and Ron." He voice dropped its cheerful banter as he continued, "Be safe, Hermione."
Fred had gently placed his hand on Hermione's shoulder while he spoke. And as he stepped around her to carry his trunk out of the train, his fingers slid down her arm leaving a pulsing sensation over her skin.
Hermione stood in frozen shock for a few seconds.
She turned toward the open carriage door, just in time to see Fred Weasley offer her a small smile that could almost be categorized as shy.
Hermione smiled back and hesitantly waved as Fred faded into the crowd of people on the platform.
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