A/N: Disclaimer, see chapter 1. A huge thanks to everyone who added this story to their alert list, favorites, etc, and for leaving such wonderful reviews! I really appreciate it! Xx

Chapter 2

Hermione put her book down. She couldn't wait to see Professor Flitwick and discuss some of the theories in this year's textbook.

"What are you reading?"

Hermione glanced up and saw Neville looking at her.

"Oh, it's Advanced Charms," Hermione responded. She bit back a smirk when she saw his confused look. "I like to read ahead," she explained.

Ron snorted. "Reading ahead? Hermione, I'm sure you've already finished the criteria for the rest of the Hogwarts years."

She felt her face grow hot. "There's nothing wrong with reading, Ronald!" He could be so daft sometimes. Ron shrugged, going back to his candy.

Her eyes drifted towards Harry. He was being so quiet. And Harry wasn't usually this quiet. So something had to be up.

She just wondered what it was. She had been out of the loop for a while so perhaps something had happened?

Glancing out the window, she grimaced when she saw it was still raining. She had hoped it would clear up so they'd be able to see the castle when they approached it, but she supposed that wouldn't be happening.

The first glance of the castle was always the best. It was always filled with the hope and promise of another exciting school year.

Hermione, however, was feeling rather apprehensive about the upcoming school year. With the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, she wondered how that would affect the Wizarding World. She hadn't been getting the Daily Prophet, so she didn't know how everyone had really taken the news. But by judging the look on Harry's face, she didn't think it was going very well.

Luna shifted, putting The Quibbler into her bag. Hermione wondered if there was ever any actual truth in that magazine. Luna's gaze shifted to her, their eyes locking.

Hermione stared and Luna stared back, neither of them looking away. A small thud broke their gaze though. Turning, Hermione saw Harry had banged his forehead against the train window.

"You won't be able to see the castle," Hermione said gently.

"I don't care," he replied grumpily.

Hermione arched her eyebrow. Something was definitely up with Harry, and she was determined to find out what it was. "Well, we'd better change," she said, breaking the awkward silence.

Hermione stood, along with Luna and Ginny. The two of them made their way towards the bathrooms so they could change. Hermione inched closer to Ginny. "Has Harry been moody like this all summer?"

Ginny nodded. "The papers have been having a field day with him, saying he's a liar about You-Know-Who and what not."

Hermione immediately frowned. "They don't believe him?" she asked. She couldn't believe this! How stupid could people possibly be?

"No one does, and what's worse is no one believes Dumbledore either. Fudge is turning everyone against them," Ginny added. She looked worried, and Hermione didn't blame her.

"Perfect," she grumbled to herself.

"I believe them," Luna's dreamy voice piped in. "Daddy does too."

Hermione forced herself to smile at the girl. "Well, I'm glad someone does at least."

Luna smiled back.

The three girls quickly changed. Hermione lingered though, checking her appearance in the mirror. She was feeling rather nervous. Grabbing her prefect badge, she carefully pinned it to her chest. "Perfect," she said, a smile gracing her lips.

Slowly, she made her way back to the compartment. Stepping inside, she saw the boys had all donned their robes. Ron had pinned his badge to his chest as well and was now checking how it looked in the black window.

Hermione mentally scolded Ron when she saw Harry's look of longing and jealously.

To be honest, she wasn't sure why Harry didn't become a prefect, as she was still rather shocked about it. But one thing was clear, Harry wasn't too happy about it.

Eventually, the train began to slow down.

"We're here," Ginny said rather excitedly.

Hermione heard all the noise in all the other compartments as people began to get their stuff together. "Ron, we need to go," she said, reminding him of their duties. They were supposed to be supervising.

Ron grumbled something before standing.

"We'll take care of Crookshanks and Pigwidgeon," Harry said, giving his friends a small smile.

"Thanks," Hermione mumbled, disappearing. Moving into the hallway she groaned when she saw the chaos.

"Looks like a zoo," Ron commented.

"Mmmm," Hermione agreed. "All right everyone, grab your things and quickly exit the train, don't dilly dally in the halls."

Ron and her began to shepherd people forward, not wanting to cause any traffic jams. Stepping outside, Hermione looked around for Hagrid.

However, it wasn't his booming voice that sounded out but a female one. Hermione recognized her as Professor Grubbly-Plank, the witch who had substituted for Hagrid last year.

But where was Hagrid? Hermione immediately started to worry. Could something have happened to him? Turning towards Ron, she saw he was nowhere to be found. He must have been swept up with the crowd, she mused.

Hermione moved along, helping those where needed and yelling when needed. She thought she caught a glimpse of Ginny's red hair but when she looked back, she was nowhere to be found.

Suddenly, a familiar voice rang out. "If you don't hurry up, I'll give you detention."

Turning, she saw Malfoy yelling at a small boy. Immediately she clenched her fists and stormed over. "Malfoy, you leave that poor boy alone!"

The blonde snapped his head up. "And what's a Mudblood like you going to do about it?"

"Ohhh, you little git! Would you like a repeat of third year? Because my fist would definitely like to meet your face again," she growled at him.

Malfoy sent her a face of disgust before pushing the small boy out of his way. He disappeared into the crowd before Hermione could say anything.

Moving over to the small boy, Hermione helped him up. "Are you all right?" she asked gently.

He nodded. "Thank you."

She smiled. "Malfoy's a git, don't let him bother you."

He nodded once more.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Timothy," he replied quietly.

"Well Timothy, if you need anything, come find me. My name is Hermione, and I'm in Gryffindor."

"Thank you Hermione," he said, smiling at her. Timothy then spotted his friends and ran off to join them.

She smiled. He was so adorable. But then she remembered Malfoy, and at once she frowned. She wouldn't allow him to get away with that stuff, not this year. Not with everything else going on…

She sighed, making her way towards the crowd. She spotted Harry and Ron and quickly made her way towards them.

"What's got your knickers in a bunch?" Ron asked, taking in her angered appearance.

"Malfoy was being absolutely foul to a first year back there; I swear I'm going to report him! He's only had his badge for a few minutes and he's already using it to bully people worse than ever," Hermione ranted. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. "Where's Crookshanks?" she asked, looking around for her ginger cat.

"Ginny's got him," Harry replied. "There she is…" he said when he spotted her emerging from the crowd.

"Thanks," Hermione said, taking the squirming cat from Ginny's arms. "Come on; let's get a carriage before they all fill up."

"But I haven't got Pig yet!" Ron protested.

Hermione ignored him, making her way towards the nearest unoccupied horseless carriage with Ginny. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Harry staring at the carriage, an expression of worry on his face. Luna approached them, handing Ron his owl. She said something to Harry, who looked somewhat relieved by whatever she had said.

Hermione took a seat in the carriage, Ginny next to her. Ron, Harry, and Luna joined them moments later. She was glad that it had stopped raining. Making the journey to the castle was no fun if one was soaking wet.

Harry looked out, watching the trees as they moved by.

"Are you all right, Harry?" she asked quietly.

He glanced at her. "Just fine," he responded, but Hermione knew better. He was lying. She'd get it out of him later, she would.

"Did everyone see that Grubbly-Plank woman?" asked Ginny. "What's she doing back here? Hagrid can't have left, can he?"

Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but Luna beat her to it.

"I'll be quite glad if he has," Luna said, an air of indifference to her response. "He isn't a very good teacher, is he?"

"Yes, he is!" said Harry, Ron, and Ginny angrily.

Hermione pursed her lips together. She agreed with Luna. Hagrid was a wonderful person, and she loved him dearly, but he was an awful teacher. But she couldn't say that unless she wanted to unleash the wrath of her friends upon herself, which she didn't fancy doing. Catching Harry's glare, she cleared her throat. "Erm… yes… he's very good."

Harry nodded, smiling at her.

She smiled back.

"Well, we think he's a bit of a joke in Ravenclaw," said Luna, unfazed by their comments.

"You've got a rubbish sense of humor then," Ron snapped at her.

Hermione's eyes widened. That was rather rude of Ron. Luna was entitled to her own opinion, just like everyone else was. And she was from Ravenclaw, a group of people who pursued knowledge about everything else. Knowledge that Hagrid really wasn't good at explaining.

Luna didn't respond, she simply cocked her head and stared at Ron.

He turned red in the face, and Hermione wasn't sure if he was embarrassed or angry.

The carriage moved along the path, bringing them up towards the school. Hermione smiled as they got closer to the castle. This was her second home, and she was glad to finally be back.

As they passed the area where Hagrid's hut was, Hermione looked out, hoping to see some lights on. But nothing greeted them but darkness. She sighed, feeling disappointed. Glancing towards Harry, she saw he looked rather upset as well.

But Hogwarts loomed up ahead of them. A towering mass of turrets, jet-black against the dark sky, here and there a window blazing fiery bright above them.

She smiled, eager to get inside the warm castle. She couldn't wait to eat, and hear what the Sorting Hat would have to say.

The carriages jingled to a halt near the stone steps leading up to the oak front doors. Harry got out of the carriage first. Hermione followed him, frowning when she saw his gaze move to Hagrid's hut once more. His gaze then moved towards the front of the carriage. He looked worried again.

She moved closer to him, placing her hand upon his shoulder. "Are you coming?" she asked gently.

"Oh… yeah," he replied, sounding distant. He turned and followed Ron towards the castle.

Hermione stared at the space in front of the carriages. There was nothing there, right?

"You can't see them," a dreamy voice said next to her.

"See what?" Hermione asked, turning towards Luna.

"The thestrals," she replied.

Hermione cocked her head. She had never heard of a thestral before. This meant a visit to the library was in order.

"You can only see them if you've seen death," Luna said, pleased to spread about knowledge.

"And Harry can see them because of Cedric," she whispered, finally understanding. Oh poor Harry, he probably thought he was going crazy. Her eyes widened. "Luna, who did you know who died?"

"My Mum did when I was younger," she replied with a shrug. She reached forward and petted the invisible beast before turning around and skipping up the steps.

Hermione watched her go. Her eyes moved towards Hagrid's, wishing for a light to appear. With a sigh, she picked up Crookshanks and made her way up the stone steps into the castle.