Chapter 1—Out of Place
Hermione Granger stood alone at Platform 9 ¾ as she nervously checked her school trunk to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. She had missed an entire year of school during the last year of the War, and she felt rusty as she tried to get herself back into "student mode". She had mentioned as much to Harry and Ron; the former just grinned and shook his head at her (although Harry did tend to do that to a lot of the things that she said), while the latter (with his mouth full of food, as usual) said, "Are you crazy, Er-my-knee, when ave you ebber stobbed studying?"
Hermione sighed. Although they were her very best friends, sometimes she felt like they just didn't understand her. Learning was one of the most important things in her life—it always had been, and always would be. She felt the most like herself when she pushed herself to learn something new. It wasn't a chore for her like it was for Harry or Ron; reading was to her what Quidditch was to them. She tried to explain that to them in that very same dinner conversation, but decided it was best to stop as Harry's eyebrows went up so high they threatened to get permanently lost in his hairline, and Ron turned a brilliant shade of purple as he started to choke on his steak and kidney pie.
Apparently it was sacrilegious to compare anything to Quidditch.
She decided that she was finally done with checking her trunk. If she had left any books behind, she could always send an owl to her Mum and Dad who would make sure that she would get anything that she needed. They were very proud of her for making the decision to finish school. They had been worried that perhaps she would follow Harry and Ron's suit and decide to go to work with them instead of finishing school. Hermione could have told them that that would never happen. School was much too important to her and besides, she didn't want to be an Auror. She still hadn't decided just what she wanted to do; all she knew was that she wanted to make a difference in the world, and in her opinion, Hogwarts was the best place to figure out how to do just that.
Thinking about Hogwarts made her even more nervous. What if I don't know anybody in my classes? she silently wondered. I don't know how many from our year decided to go back to Hogwarts and finish…and besides, she continued, it will be so strange without Harry and Ron by my side. We went through everything in school together—in fact, I can't think of a single school memory that doesn't include them!
Hermione felt her mood start to shift towards panic mode, when she was interrupted with a "Hi, Hermione!"
She looked up to see herself face to face with Ginny Weasley. Of course, Hermione thought, feeling quite foolish. Not only would Ginny be there, they were now in the same year, being as Ginny had never actually left school and Hermione had.
Ginny hugged her. "Do you need some help with those trunks? Don't tell me that you have a trunk just for your books!" Ginny laughed.
Hermione grinned at her. "The bigger trunk, naturally. And yes, I could definitely use some help, thanks."
As they got settled on the train, Ginny started chatting animatedly about Luna, Neville, all their old friends, speculating about who would be coming back this year and who wouldn't. Hermione smiled politely, but didn't really add much to the conversation. Ginny's talk was actually making her even more nervous. I guess the War has affected me more than I realized, Hermione thought. Hearing all of these names is really making me feel, for lack of a better term, homesick. I wish it could just go back to way it was before the war! she silently quailed, knowing all the time what a childish thought it was. You can never go back, she chided herself. Make new memories and move on—that's all you can do.
"Hermione!" Ginny had surprised her out of her silent reverie. "Don't you have to report to the front of the train? You're Head Girl; don't you have to organize the prefects, or something?"
"Merlin! You're right. Where's my brain? I'll see you later Ginny, I've got to get going!" Hermione threw on her school robe (it already had the Head Girl badge attached to it, freshly polished) and quickly hurried to the front of the train.
As she passed car after car, she couldn't help but notice just how young everyone looked. She started to feel even more out of place. Kids all around her were chatting happily, eating sweets, playing games of Exploding Snap or even sleeping, but Hermione felt ages older than everyone that she passed on the train. Even the few classmates that she recognized from her year: Parvati and Padma Patil were sitting together, gossiping with a few other girls Hermione didn't know well, while Padma braided her sister's hair. It all looked so frivolous to Hermione—Couldn't they do something more constructive with their time? she thought. So many had been killed, how can you just sit there, speculating about if What's-His-Name is going to owl you or not? But then again, she remembered, the Patil twins hadn't seen what she had. Their parents had pulled them out of school shortly after Dumbledore had been killed in their 6th year, and had gone into hiding. They had been sheltered and hadn't seen much at all.
Maybe coming back was a mistake, Hermione thought. Of those who had come back to complete their 7th year, Hermione seemed to be the only one who had seen true War. And those who had been there for the Final Battle had all (as far as she could tell) opted to go to work and stay with their families (as Harry and Ron had). A few of them had even started families of their own—there had been quite a few marriages after the War, and many of her friends were engaged now as well.
As she passed car after car, Hermione remembered the past week she had spent with her parents before returning to school. It was the first time she had spent alone from Harry and the Weasleys (and from the wizarding world in general). She had needed some time alone to process everything that had happened in the past year. She, Harry and Ron had been through so much in such a short amount of time, and had seen more deaths than she cared to remember. Unfortunately, being around Harry and the Weasleys was a constant reminder: Fred was gone, Lupin, Tonks, Moody, Dobby…too many, far too many. At her parents' house, however, it was quiet. They knew what she had gone through, but gave her solitude to process and grieve. She had the personal space she just couldn't get in the overcrowded Weasley home. She remembered one morning where she must have spent at least an hour staring at her reflection in the bathroom mirror—she just couldn't believe how old her eyes looked. She almost felt as if the reflection she was looking at was a stranger.
That's what the problem was, Hermione thought as she entered the car where all the prefects and the Head Boy stood, awaiting her arrival. I haven't seen anyone here with eyes like that. Not even Ginny—although she had been there for the final battle and had lost a brother, Ginny had still spent most of that year at Hogwarts because she was underage and had still been sheltered, to an extent, by the rest of the Weasley clan. Ginny's eyes changed from time to time, but they weren't quite what Hermione saw staring back at her whenever she looked in the mirror.
Then she found them. A pair of silver-blue eyes met hers through the small crowd, reflecting back the hollow, slightly deadened look that only can be created by being at the front line of a great wizarding War. Eyes that looked centuries older than what they actually were because they had seen Great Loss. Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine and her heart swell in sympathy. Thank Merlin. Someone who knows exactly how I feel.