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A blur of greens and browns and blues filled her vision. Trees, rolling hills, and clusters of white clouds among the clear blue sky. She stared out the window, taking in the passing scenery of the Scottish countryside. Something about this train ride felt different from the years previous. Untouched by the war’s wreckage, the landscape looked like a serene oasis. She didn’t know what Hogwarts would look like since the final battle—repairs had been made, obviously, but she hadn’t seen the castle since May—so it came as a small comfort to know that some things remained the same.

“Hermione, are you listening?”

Pulling herself from her thoughts, she turned to look at Harry, an apologetic smile on her face. “Sorry, what was that?”

Harry gave a small chuckle, “I was asking if you're excited to return to Hogwarts.”

She let a small moment pass while she thought. Was she excited to return? She was looking forward to continuing her studies, that’s for sure. When Professor McGonagall had reached out to those who missed their seventh year due to the war, offering the chance to return to Hogwarts to take their NEWTS, she jumped at the chance. But actually returning to the castle, having to be reminded of all that had happened mere months ago, left something uneasy in her stomach.

Painting a smile on her face, she replied, “Of course! Did you finally decide what NEWT courses you’ll be taking?”

Mrs. Weasley, along with the support of Hermione, had convinced Harry and Ron to return for their eighth year instead of jumping straight into Auror training. Kingsley had offered both Harry and Ron spots in the Auror academy, but Hermione insisted that they’d be glad they took the extra time to complete their education and gain the proper knowledge to help them along with the theoretical aspect of their training.

Offering a sheepish grin, Harry said, “Just the required classes for the academy. Potions, Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Herbology, and Charms. Although, I still can’t figure out why I need to take Herbology,” he let out a soft laugh, “it’s not like I’m going to be spending my days in a greenhouse.”

Next to Harry, Ron spoke through the mouthful of chocolate he was currently chewing, “At least we’ll have Neville in that class. If we’re lucky, he’ll just let us copy his notes. Merlin knows he’s some sort of Herbology prodigy.”

“You leave Neville out of it. You won’t learn anything if you rely on him to get you through that class.” Hermione scolded. “But I am glad you both decided to return this year. I think it’ll be nice, just like old times.” Ah yes, old times. Where they were in mortal danger more often than not. She laughed, “Well hopefully not exactly like old times.”

Truthfully, as nervous as she was to return to Hogwarts, she really was looking forward to the upcoming school year. Things had been difficult since the end of the war, and she was ready for a fresh start. The past summer was filled with so much disappointment, what with her not being able to retrieve her parents' memories, and essentially being homeless since her childhood home had already been purchased by new owners. 

The Weasley’s had been kind enough to let her stay with them during the months leading up to the start of school, and while she would forever be grateful to them for their hospitality, she was ready for the quiet solitude of her own dorm room. As far as she knew she was the only returning eighth year girl in Gryffindor, so she would have the dorm all to herself, which meant plenty of alone time to reflect on whatever was going on between her and Ron.

Things had been different between them since the final battle. Not bad, but different. They weren’t together persay, but they had spent the previous summer trying to navigate the new edition to their relationship. Ron had told her he loved her one day in July, and she hadn’t said it back. She did love him, really she did, but she wasn’t sure if it was the same sort of love he was convicted he felt. She cared for Ron, yes, but did she love him? Did she see a future with him? It was hard to say.

Part of her thinks that they were so wrapped up in trying to survive and war, and the blissful aftermath of said survival, that they clung to each other in desperation for some semblance of normalcy. During a deep conversation in the days leading up to their return to Hogwarts, Hermione confessed that while she cared for Ron, she wasn’t in a hurry to start up a relationship and would prefer if they just let things progress naturally. If they ended up together, great. If not, well, they’d cross that bridge when they got to it.

He was hurt of course, but ultimately understood how she felt, and made it clear that he wouldn’t date anyone else. She was it for him, and he’d wait for her. Hermione didn’t know if that made her feel better or worse.

__________

After disembarking the Hogwarts Express, Hermione, Ron, and Harry made their way to the carriages. How odd it felt, to finally see the Thestrals. Everywhere she looked, she would see other students staring up at the creatures with a look of awe in their eyes. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone else that the only reason they were seeing them for the first time was because of death. Because of the deaths of their friends and family. 

She pushed the thought aside as she climbed into the nearest carriage, sitting herself next to Luna and Ginny. As the carriages began their trek towards the castle, she contributed to conversation every once in a while, but her thoughts were otherwise preoccupied. All she could focus on was the uneasy feeling in her gut the closer they got to the castle. Would it look different? Would you be able to tell it had hosted a battle? Would she breathe in the lingering traces of death and dark magic?

Hermione reminded herself that thing was a good thing. Returning to a Hogwarts was the right decision, and she was determined to make the most of it. All she had to do was pass her NEWTS and she’d be set to accept the Unspeakable position Kingsley had offered her in June. So what if she had to deal with the discomfort of returning to a place that once held so many happy memories, only to be tainted by war? She survived, she deserved this. She was determined to move on from the war and begin a new chapter. It’d be easy, right?

__________

The start of the term feast was just like she remembered. Filled with laughter, smiles, and every type of food you could imagine. The Great Hall looked just like it had in the years prior, light and warm and filled with the overwhelming nostalgia of childhood. Hermione was so afraid that Hogwarts would look like a shell of its former self, but she was glad to see that the repairs to the castle had returned it to its former glory. You couldn’t even tell a battle had taken place unless you looked too closely, and she refused to look too closely. She wanted to go into the new term with optimism, and she couldn’t very well do that if she allowed herself to stare at the small cracks in the walls.

All around her, her friends were engaged in conversation. Catching up with each other, making plans for upcoming Hogsmead weekends, and placing bets on who the new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher would be. She was only half listening to Ron and Harry’s quidditch debate when she looked up from her plate, catching a look of Malfoy. 

He was in some sort of heated conversation with Theodore Nott, making wild hand gestures and scowling at a piece of parchment in his hands. She hadn’t seen him since his trial in June, when she and Harry had testified on his behalf. Getting a proper look at him, she could see that something had changed. He definitely looked more alive since their sixth year, having put on a bit more weight and losing the dark circles that had once occupied the space below his eyes. He also looked a bit more at ease. She could still see the tension in his posture—probably due to returning to school per his probation requirements—but he no longer looked like he was suffocating with every breath he drew.

Before she could return her attention back to her friends, Malfoy looked up, catching her eyes. He scowled at her, and she looked away quickly, embarrassed that she had been caught staring.

A few moments later, the newly appointed Headmaster McGonagall approached the Gryffindor table, requesting the attention of Hermione, Harry, and Dean Thomas. “Ms. Granger, Mr. Potter, Mr. Thomas” she nodded to the trio, “it’s wonderful to have you back with us this year.”

Hermione smiled at her former professor, “Thank you professor, it’s great to be back.”

“If you wouldn’t mind,” McGonagall started, “would the three of you please stay back after dinner? There's something I wish to speak with you about.”

After exchanging a confused glance with Hermione, Harry smiled, “Of course, professor.”

McGonagall nodded again and turned to return to the head table at the front of the hall.

“I wonder what that’s about.” Harry said to Hermione, a look of confused on his face.

Hermione shrugged, “Probably something about classes, I suppose.”

Returning her attention to her food, Hermione finished her dinner just as Professor McGonagall excused the students to their dormitories for the evening. “We’ll see you back in the common room, okay?” She said to Ron as he turned to leave the hall.

“Alright, see you then.” He smiled at her, and quickly caught up with Neville and Seamus as they were passing through the hall doors.

As the rest of the student population left the Great Hall, Hermione, Harry, and Dean made their way to the front of the hall, where they waited for McGonagall to address them.

“As you know, we have a small group of returning Slytherin students this term.” McGonagall said to them, “As a part of their ongoing probationary period with the ministry, they’ve been required to take Muggle Studies this year. In effort to help them understand and empathize with the muggleborn population, the ministry has decided that for each of them taking the course, a muggleborn student will be assigned to them as a tutor of sorts.” She cast a knowing glance at the three students, sensing the tension already building. “You three will each be paired with a student, and use this as an opportunity to help them understand the muggle world better, and hopefully bridge the gap between the two societies.”

Harry spoke first, obviously more confused than Dean and Hermione were about the assignment. “I’m sorry professor, but I don’t quite understand. Why am I here? I’m a halfblood.”

McGonagall nodded, and smiled slightly, “Yes, Mr. Potter, you are. But you spent your childhood in the care of muggles, so it’s my belief that you’ll have just as much insight into the muggle world as Ms. Granger and Mr. Thomas.”

Harry nodded to himself, understanding her point of view.

“Who are we paired with?” Hermione said, a furrow in brow as she tried to make sense of the situation. Her stomach was already churning at the thought of being stuck with some pretentious pureblood for the entirety of her eighth year.

“Ah, let’s see.” McGonagall retrieved a piece of parchment from the pocket of her robes, reading aloud, “Mr. Thomas, you will be working with Mr. Nott.”

Dean visibly shuddered at the thought of having to work alongside Theodore Nott for the remainder of the school year.

Addressing Harry, McGonagall spoke, “Mr. Potter, you will be partnering with Ms. Parkinson.” 

Harry paled at the mention of Pansy, looking to Hermione for some sense of comfort.

Finally, McGonagall turned to Hermione. “Ms. Granger, it looks like you will be working alongside Mr. Malfoy.”