Name: Theo Paleye
House: Slytherin

Title: Like A Forest
Rating: 1st-2nd years
Warnings: Mild Profanity
Word Count: 484
A/N: Apologies for the bad fluff. Actually, no. No apologies at all.

The platform is thick with steam and laughter and it’s like nothing has changed between now and the first time she stood here seven years ago. It’s like their world hasn’t been thrown upside down and out of balance and back again, as if the faces that have been lost are still here.

Perhaps they are. Hermione Granger knows that if she looks closely then she will see that everything is wrong. She’ll see the pained frown on a freckled forehead, a scarred cheek, the empty hand of a child. But she doesn’t want to see so she doesn’t look closely, at all—just squeezes the hard-soft hand in hers, just smiles at the green-red-golden boy who’s hugging Ginny so tight that she might burst.

Her left hand is grasped tight around Ron’s, Crookshank’s basket in her right. The basket hisses and spits as she swings it around to give Ron her own farewell hug and he jumps away from her outstretched arms.

“That bloody moggie still hates me,” he grumbles. Harry grins, and Hermione glares at them, shushing Crookshanks. She puts the basket on the ground and reaches out to Ron again, closing her eyes and breathing him in—not sure if she can really let him go.

Then, with a hard kiss—a stilted sigh, a softened moan—he lets her go and turns to Ginny.

“I don’t think Crookshanks hates me as much,” someone mutters in her ear and her head snaps up, tears and all, to smile at Harry. He leans in and gives her a hug. She closes her eyes, breathing him in—not sure if she can really let him go.

“Study hard, Hermione Granger. I don’t want to hear you’ve been slacking off.”

“And you be careful, Harry Potter,” she whispers back. “I don’t want to hear all my hard-work from the past year has gone to waste.”

“Not sure we’ll last two days without you.”

“I’m not too sure, myself,” she says with a choking laugh. She pulls back, looking into his eyes that are so green—like a forest, like a tent, like a broken wand and a Christmas wreath—and it’s then that it really hits her how this year is going to be just as hard as the last despite the fading fears.

A whistle calls them back to the platform. His lips are hard on her cheek.

“Thank you, Hermione.”

She doesn’t have to reply. She knows what he means.

Then Ron’s hands are on her shoulders, pulling her into one last hug, and Molly is crying, and Ginny is trying to find a tissue, and Arthur is trying to get the trunks onto the train before it starts to move.

Hermione looks around the platform, breathing in the steam and laughter, and everything has changed but there’s only one direction to move in and that, like the Hogwarts Express, is forward.