Chapter 1 : Keeping Focused
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Chapter Image: the terminator@The Dark Arts ♥
Please note the sensitive topic/issue/theme warning and mature rating of this story - it deals with mental health issues.
As always, Platform 9 ľ was crowded with students, parents, siblings and thick with steam from the scarlet train; The Hogwarts Express. Hermione Granger took a shaky breath and pushed her way through with her school trunk, feeling rather empty that barely any of her close friends would be returning with her. She sighed, ignoring the tears pricking her eyes as she saw families; broken and alone, or whole and complete, hugging each other and chatting amidst the chaos.
It was times like these she missed her own parents. Although the Ministry had an extensive team of Wizards searching for Wendell and Monica Wilkins, Hermiones' parents' new identities after she had obliviated their memories a year ago, they had so far found no trace of them in their new home country of Australia. As much as she tried to ignore the dark thoughts lurking at the back of her mind, Hermione often worried that the Death Eaters may have found them during the war. After all, it was a possibility.
Stop it, she thought, trying her best to be optimistic. With a sigh, she finally made it to the train, hauling her heavy trunk in after her. She excused herself as she squeezed past a group of Ravenclaw's, keeping her head down. She had been warned that the students would probably be asking her about what happened 3 months ago, and she was intending to avoid that subject altogether.
After peering into several compartments, she finally found an empty one near the back of the train. With a grateful smile creeping on her face, she levitated her trunk up to the luggage rack and sat down on the soft seat, rubbing at her temples. She wished her friends were here. It felt strange to be going to school without them, but she understood the different reasons why Harry, Ron, Ginny and Luna were not returning, at least for the first term.
Ginny was still in Scotland at an intense Quidditch training camp. She had gone just for fun at first, but Hermione knew it was to keep herself busy and not worry about the past. She was meant to be home to go back to Hogwarts, but she had been invited to attend try-outs for a new under-20 quidditch team. By the sound of her last letter, Ginny was really shining through.
Luna, on the other hand, was still in St. Mungo's being treated for the wounds she sustained in the fight. Xenophilius, Luna's shaken father, had been persuaded by Mrs. Weasley to come around to The Burrow at any time, even if it was just for a meal and a chat. Hermione had seen him a few times over the summer - he had looked so lost without his only daughter. From what Hermione could tell, Luna was doing well, but didn't have a release date.
Harry and Ron, of course, had no intention to return to complete their last year of magical education. Hermione smiled faintly, knowing how thrilled they were that the Ministry of Magic had offered them jobs in the Auror Department.
With a jolt, she realised the train was moving swiftly from the station, and the platform was shrinking away in the distance. She almost regretted asking Mr. and Mrs. Weasley not to accompany her Kings Cross, but knew that she would never have gotten on the train if they had been there. She felt so guilty going away from them after all they had done for her, but knew it was for the best. They had a family to look after, and were still mourning the loss of Fred; Hermione felt that she would just be in the way.
A soft tap on the door brought her back to reality. She quickly pushed the thoughts from her head and uttered a small, “Yes?” as she twisted a brown curl tightly around her finger. Her brown eyes widened as the blonde head of Draco Malfoy peered in, a small blush creeping across his hollow cheeks.
“May I? Everywhere else is crowded,” he muttered, not looking at her. “And noisy,” he added as a bout of loud laughter floated down the train.
Hermione surveyed him, noting how thin he looked and how dull his eyes were. She was surprised to see him, she wouldn't deny, but nodded. She guessed that he, like her, was trying to avoid questioning glances and demands for details about the fight from the other students.
He smiled in thanks, and lifted his school trunk to the racks before sitting down on the seat opposite gratefully, shrugging off his black blazer. Hermione noticed that he had been limping, but hid her surprise. Everyone had scars, no matter what part they played.
“Potter and Weasley aren't coming back?” Draco asked awkwardly, trying to cover the silence. He ran his pale fingers through his hair, looking out at the green countryside they were passing.
Hermione shook her head, following his gaze to the pastures. “No, they've got jobs at the Ministry,” she answered, ignoring the pang in her stomach. Barely half an hour into the journey, and she was missing them already.
They hadn't gone a day without seeing each other all summer. All three of them had been living at The Burrow, and Harry and Hermione truly felt like a part of the Weasley family. Even though Harry and Ron had started working at the Ministry a few days a week, the trademark Weasley family dinners were never missed. But, as much as they all tried to ignore it, there was always that one empty spot next to George that would never be filled again.
Noticing her eyes were watery, Hermione snapped out of her thoughts and asked Draco is any of his friends were returning, hoping to focus on something else. Now was not the time to think about how much she'll miss the Weasley's.
“I think Blaise is here somewhere,” Draco replied, pulling a book from the side of his trunk. He flicked it open lazily, and Hermione took the hint that he wasn't in the mood for talk. She was grateful, actually - small talk was not her strong point, and she felt slightly ill. She wished she could find Neville; just seeing a friend would make her feel better.
Swallowing hard, she copied Draco and pulled a book from her trunk, ignoring the dull pain in her head. She hoped Madam Pomfrey would have a good supply of headache clearing potion once she got to Hogwarts.
As the journey across the English countryside wore on, several people she knew popped their heads in to say “Hello,” on their way past her compartment, and a group of young, giggling Hufflepuff's were gossiping loudly in the corridor about the battle. Hermione rolled her eyes at their lack of knowledge about what really happened, and she saw Draco's jaw was set hard when they were discussing who had died.
Shaking her head, she quickly placed a silencing charm over the door, keeping the high pitched voices away. She swore she heard Draco snort as she went back to reading about Artemsia Lufkin, but ignored it. The silence was lovely.
The silhouette of Hogwarts against the night sky was beautiful, and yet Hermione noticed that several of the towers were in ruins and some others had missing roofs. As she walked into the Entrance Hall, she saw that the floor was still cracked, and there were a few craters in the walls. Although the night was warm, Hermione shivered, trying to push all the memories of May out of her mind. Clenching her jaw, she wiped away the tear that had fallen down her cheek and pushed her way through the throng of students and into the Great Hall. Somehow, she felt even colder here.
Looking around, she saw the four school tables, looking as grand as ever. However, the usual Hogwarts House decorations above each table were non-existent. It their place were black curtains and tapestries. Hermione glanced at the other students milling around and realised that she was not the only one with tears in her eyes.
“Good evening, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said as she strode briskly past Hermione towards the staff table, ruffling through a stack of parchment. Her greying hair was, as always, in a tight bun, and she was wearing her usual emerald green robes. Seeing something so familiar amidst something that felt so foreign made Hermione realise that not everything has changed.
“Good evening, Professor,” Hermione said, sitting down at the Gryffindor table and tying her hair into a messy ponytail. Out of all her years at Hogwarts, she had never heard the Great Hall so quiet for the start of term feast.
Several minutes later, she was joined by Neville Longbottom, who seemed to look so much older than what he had when she had last seen him 3 months ago. In the place of the wounds and cuts that had littered his face, neck and arms from the battle were now scars, the most noticeable of which was on his cheek. She blinked away tears, smiling. “Oh, Neville, it's so good to see you,” she said with a smile, as he sat opposite.
“It's good to see you, too,” he said, grinning and flicking his dark hair from his eyes. “Harry and Ron not here?”
Hermione shook her head. “They've started working at the Ministry-” She stopped as the doors opened and Professor Sprout lead the nervous looking group of first years into the hall. The wave of silence washed over everyone, and Hermione remembered what it was like when she was in that group.
“Were we really that scared-looking?” Neville whispered with a grin. Hermione stifled a laugh, as Sprout started explaining the sorting process to the little first years.
Hermione watched on eagerly as the sorting hat started singing. It reminded everyone that no matter who you are, the war had affected you in some way, along with explaining how each house played a part in how Hogwarts is the way it is today. The round of applause once the hat fell silent was deafening, and Hermione saw most of the Professor's dabbing at their eyes.
After the sorting, the feast that appeared out of nowhere was just as incredible as it was the first time Hermione had seen it eight years ago. Mountains of roast meat, bread, pie, pasta appeared on golden platters, and the collective gasp from students old and new made her smile.
Realising how hungry she was, Hermione dished up some roast beef and potatoes, happily sliding into school life again. Having something to busy herself with for the next year was something that she was looking forward to. When she had time on her hands, she couldn't help but think of everything bad that had happened. All the people that had lost their lives here haunted her thoughts, and those left with the scars kept on blaming her and her friends in her nightmares.
She listened to Neville talk excitedly about the upcoming school year, so pleased for him that he had received the Head Boy badge, even though, like her, he was returning to repeat NEWT year. She was amazed that how after everything he's been through, he still managed to be so bright and optimistic. He deserves this happiness, she thought, remembering that if it wasn't for him, a lot more people would have died, including her.
As the feast cleared, McGonagall stood up at the staff table, and silence fell as she surveyed the hall of students. “As it's later than what I thought, I wont be long, but I do have a few important things to say. Firstly, welcome, and welcome back to our students. Secondly, the black curtains and banners are here as a sign of respect for all who fell fighting for their cause. The normal school coloured banners wont hang at all this year. Thirdly, we do have older students returning for their studies. Some of them will be well known to all who read the papers, so please respect their privacy-” McGonagall's eyes landed on Hermione and Neville, giving them a small smile. “Now, last school years atrocious curriculum and detentions will certainly never be used in this school again-” a loud cheer sounded, and Hermione joined in clapping. “And all first years, please follow your Prefects to your common room, and to our new Eighth Years, please see Neville Longbottom for details on your new common room.”
“New common room?” Hermione whispered to Neville, raising an eyebrow. He nodded slowly, drumming his fingers on the wooden table as Professor McGonagall resumed her speech.
“Lastly, some parts of the castle are still being re-built, so those areas are out of bounds for your safety. You have seen the craters here in the walls, and the deep crack in the entrance hall - if all goes to plan, those will be fixed by the weekend. Now, I bid you all a good night, and I expect to see you all back here for breakfast tomorrow to receive your timetables.”
As the noise started again, Hermione rubbed at her temples, wishing her headache would go away. She heard prefects calling for their new first years, their voices strong over the chatter. Hermione smirked, remembering when she and Ron were the new Prefects and he had called the new students 'midgets'. She would never say so aloud, but he did have a point.
“And here they come,” she heard Neville say cheerily. She looked up, surprised at seeing so many of her old classmates. She honestly thought that there would only be a few returning, but nevertheless was pleased that . First to arrive was Ernie McMillian, strutting along proudly and giving a smile as he reached Hermione and Neville. Following him were the Patil twins, Parvati and Padma, along with Susan Bones and Hannah Abbott, all four of them looking happy and healthy, if not a bit tired. Hermione gave them a warm smile, before seeing Justin Finch-Fletchly arrive, his left arm in a sling, closely followed by Dean Thomas, a Gryffindor who Hermione knew well. Finally, Blaise Zabini and Draco Malfoy came over, the latter limping awkwardly.
Eager to get away from the noisy hall, Hermione stood up, smoothing over her blue jeans and feeling rather tired. She looked over at Neville, who was staring intently at his watch, looking slightly flustered. “Neville?” she asked warily, frowning.
“Hang on,” he said. He stayed silent for several seconds, then abruptly stood up, giving a tight smile. “Come on, guys,” he said far too brightly, “McGonagall has given us the Upper East Tower as out common room and dormitories. She thinks we will appreciate the privacy and lack of questioning looks,” he chuckled.
Still glancing at his watch, Neville lead the way while most of the older students chatted amongst themselves. Hermione lagged behind, barely paying attention to the list of privileges McGonagall had given them all, but she did appreciate the freedom that they all had. She caught something about being able to go to Hogsmeade whenever they felt like, which brought a small smile to her face.
As she passed by the familiar corridors and portraits, her mind drifted to Harry and Ron. It was about this time of evening that she and Ron went for a stroll around The Burrows' overgrown gardens; he prattling about his day at work, trying to make her laugh at some stupid thing or another, while she appreciating the alone time they got. Although they both tried to hide their closeness, Hermione knew that Mrs. Weasley didn't buy their story of being only friends for a second.
The sound of Neville's voice telling them all the password to the tower (parsnip) brought Hermione back to the present. Silently, she followed the group into their new common room, eyes widening at how large the tower actually was. She smiled, noticing that there was a tray of butterbeer on what looked like a dining table in the corner. She hung back, listening to Neville explain that they had the option of eating here if they didn't want to go to the noisy dining hall. After telling everyone that they also had separate rooms, Neville bade a quick good night, looking at his watch as he hurried to the staircase at the other side of the room.
Yawning, Hermione followed suit, muttering a “Good night,” as she headed up the stairs. She smiled as she saw her name on a plaque, and creaked open the mahogany door, revealing a cosy room within.
“Thanks for the silence today, Granger,” she heard Draco Malfoy drawl as he passed her, although not as coolly as she was used to after six years of torment.
She gave a small smile as she saw his blonde head disappear around the corner. Muttering a small “You're welcome,” she closed the door, before flicking her wand at her trunk, which started unpacking itself. Her clothes flew to the wardrobe in the corner, her books arranged themselves on the dark bookshelf above the large desk, while the parchment stacked itself neatly on it, and her school robes folded up on the green arm chair.
Stifling a yawn, she quickly changed into her pyjamas, before sitting down at the desk, trying to think of what to write to Ron.
I made it. I'd forgotten how long that train ride was. Wish everyone else was here. Has your mum mentioned Luna at all? Do they know when she's getting out?
Give everyone a hug for me.
She smiled sadly as she folded it up, wondering how his day had been and what silly thing he had done this time. Looking over the desk, she saw her photos' stacked up by the quills. She immediately picked up the top one; a picture of her, Harry, baby Teddy (with bright green hair), Ron, Ginny, Percy, George, Bill and Fleur, which had been taken over the summer. Smiling, she stuck it on the wall as the occupants of the picture waved cheerily.
She turned sharply at the sound of a tapping on the window. Surprised to see an owl there, she quickly let it in. “Now what are you doing here?” she asked, noticing that it was not carrying a letter. It looked at her, then the letter folded up on the desk. “Mind-reader,” she laughed, tying the letter to its leg. “Take that to Ron at The Burrow,” she told it kindly.
With a soft hoot, it flew off into the night. Hermione quickly closed the window, before dousing the candles' and slid into bed. She knew she would never be able to sleep, but she tried to close her eyes regardless.
She hated insomnia. But considering everyone else, she'd gotten off lightly.
Author's Note: Thank you for reading! I've never written Hogwarts-era characters before; it's kinda fun :P I'd love to know what you think so far! ^_^