Hermione gazed out the train window at the darkening landscape. She couldn't seem to find the courage to look at her two friends, who sat across from her arguing about something. She knew it was all an act on their part anyway. There was no fire, no life in either boy's eyes, after what they had all been through a few months ago, it was no wonder. Sirius' death and the battle at the Department of Mysteries was still very fresh in the minds of the six children who were there.
Hermione had spent the summer in a deep depression, lonely and confused. Her parents could only imagine what was going on with their only daughter. But even their worst fears were nothing compared to the reality of the matter.
Hermione had received letters from Harry, Ron, and Ginny over the summer but instead of the letters bringing her comfort, she became only more miserable. She was desperate to return to Hogwarts and be surrounded once again by the only people who could understand her pain.
The Hogwarts Express was halfway through it's journey. Hermione noticed that the cabin had become silent. She almost wished that Harry and Ron would start arguing again. The lack of noise made Hermione feel uneasy. She finally stole her eyes away from the window and chanced a glance at Harry. He was faced toward the window but Hermione could see that he wasn't taking any scenery in. He looked deep in thought, his eyes staring vacantly. Hermione knew that it was he that suffered the most, and her heart went out to him. She wished there was something she could say to lift some of his pain. It wasn't fair for Harry to be burdened with so much. Hermione had seen him change an incredible amount during the few years that she had known him, and it saddened her. She at last turned away and looked at Ron, instead. Their eyes locked. Ron would get over all this, of that much she was sure. She knew him too well, and she envied that about him. Ron gave Hermione a small smile, which she returned. It was strange how so much had changed for Hermione in just a couple short months. Hermione had been sure that Ron was the one, in the previous year. She thought she had loved him and she knew that Ron felt the same way, even if he didn't quite know it yet himself. It was different now though, neither of them were the same, and Hermione knew that she could never love him again. She felt incredibly old compared to him now. Hermione knew that this would eventually cause Ron pain, but it had to be this way.
She turned to look out the window again when she heard their door slide open. Ginny and Luna peeked in, timidly.
"May we join you?", asked Ginny.
Harry at last seemed to come out of his fog and looked up at Ginny with a small smile.
"Of course.", he answered and motioned for her to sit next to him. Ginny looked a bit surprised, but smiled back and took the seat. Luna sat next to Hermione and took out the latest edition of The Quibbler to read. Hermione glanced at it with mild interest.
"So, what's the latest?" she asked.
Luna looked up and eyed Hermione with a dreamy expression.
"Well, I told my father the whole story of what happened at the Department of Mysteries all those months ago. It only just got printed."
Hermione wasn't sure whether to be angry or happy about it. It wasn't like The Quibbler was a credible newspaper, but none the less it had gotten bigger after Harry did his famous interview in it, fifth year.
She was too tired to start an argument, so instead asked, "May I read it next?"
Luna's face was already back in the paper, she nodded without looking up. Hermione remembered Ginny and looked over at her to talk but found her deep in conversation with Harry. She glanced at Ron and he winked at her with a smile. She knew it was a dear wish of Ron's that his sister and Harry start dating. Hermione glumly turned away. She felt so lonely.
At last the train began to slow down and Hermione looked out the window to see Hogsmead station speedily approaching. She breathed a sigh of relief and when the train stopped got up and gathered her things. The cool air felt wonderful outside the train and Hermione took a deep breath. As prefects, part of Hermione and Ron's job was to keep things in order, and they set about helping out various students and showing scared first year's where to go. Hermione was about to head for a carriage, herself, when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to find a taller, thinner Neville. She hugged him close and smiled at him.
"Why didn't you join us on the train?"
"I didn't want to bother anyone. I know you guys like to sit alone."
Hermione was taken aback, "How can you say that? After what we've all been through together, you're one of us now. Never think that we don't want you around."
Neville blushed and seemed gladdened by what Hermione had said. Just then, Harry and Ron showed up, and after greeting Neville, led them to an empty carriage.
The journey to Hogwarts was short and once there, everyone quickly assembled in the dining room. Hermione remembered how little she had eaten that day and was suddenly extremely hungry. For the first time she didn't pay attention to Dumbledore's speech, and the sorting ceremony went by in a blur. At last the food appeared and she greedily ate as much as she could. When her hunger was at last quieted her mind became clear again and she looked around the room. Her eyes rested on Professor Snape. He was staring at her with an amused expression. She quickly looked away, embarrassed. Had he seen her eating? Like it would matter anyway, what did she care what Snape thought of her? She suddenly longed to go to bed, though she knew that to be impossible, as it was also the prefect's job to escort the first year's up to the common room.
"Hermione," Ron said," you look really tired. If you want, I can get the first year's up there myself."
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"It's no problem."
"Thanks, Ron. Goodnight, then."