Standing on Platform Nine and Three Quarters, Hermione heard her name being called through the billowing smoke of the Hogwarts Express.
"Hermione!" Turning, Hermione just saw a flash of red before she was wrapped in the surprisingly strong arms of a lanky, red-headed teenage boy.
"Ron, I can't breathe!" Hermione choked out, only half teasing.
"Sorry." Ron grinned, releasing her from his iron hold. Then his face became serious. "Hermione, where have you been? We haven't heard from you in weeks. Why didn't you come to stay at the Burrow?" He dropped his voice to avoid the curious ears of passers-by, "How come you didn't come to Sirius' place? You didn't even turn up for Harry's trial." He finished accusingly.
Hermione bristled. It wasn't as though she hadn't wanted to be there for Harry. She'd been worried sick about his trial ever since she found out about his use of magic against the dementors, but honestly, it wasn't as if she didn't have her own problems. Forcing herself to remain calm, she replied, "I am sorry I couldn't be there and that I haven't been in touch much, it's just I've been staying in London the last few weeks and things have been really busy." This was at least all true, if vague, and Hermione hoped it would be enough to satisfy Ron's curiosity at least until she could decide what to tell him. "Where's Harry?" She asked in an attempt to divert Ron from any further questions about her activities in the last few weeks. It worked.
"Oh he's on his way. He was just saying goodbye to…Padfoot."
"What?!" Hermione squeaked. "He's here? But that's so dangerous! So risky! What if someone realises it's him?"
"Relax, Hermione. Honestly, you're beginning to sound just like Mad Eye. Or worse…my mother." Ron grinned cheekily. Hermione hit him playfully on the arm in response just as a bespectacled boy with dark, untidy hair and a lightening shaped scar on his forehead reached them. Hermione scanned the boy appraisingly. He was tired she concluded. He had dark shadows beneath his eyes, as if his sleep was disturbed or if he weren't sleeping at all. He was also, as was always the case when he returned from the summer holidays, much skinnier than when she had left him at the end of the last school year. She would have thought that the time spent in the same residence as Mrs Weasley would have fattened him up a bit, but clearly his worry about the trial had left him with little appetite. As if he sensed her internal observations the boy squirmed uncomfortably for a few moments until he pulled her into a warm hug, saying, "Hermione, I feel like I haven't seen you in forever. Where have you been?" Hermione quickly used the train whistle as an excuse and merely responded, "Come on, we need to get on. I'll tell you on the train."
Fortunately, Hermione and Ron's new roles as prefects meant that they were kept busy for the first part of the journey, learning about their new schedules and responsibilities. All the while, Hermione dreaded the moment when she would have to return to Harry and answer questions on her whereabouts this summer.
The inevitable came, as it always does, and Hermione was forced to return to Harry's carriage. As expected, the boys had not finished their interrogation of her summer activities and Hermione had to tell Harry much of what she had previously told Ron. She tried to keep it vague but truthful, and also made it seem as uninteresting as possible so that the conversation would soon turn to something less personal – like Quidditch. Hermione told them the truth about staying in London but at the same time managed to imply that her parents were with her. Surprisingly, for someone with such an inquisitive and, quite frankly, suspicious mind, Harry seemed just as satisfied as Ron by Hermione's story and, as conversation so often does when fuelled only by two 15 year old boys from the magical world, the conversation drifted on to Quidditch.
Hermione sighed in relief as the boys started discussing chaser tactics of the Chudley Cannons. She allowed her mind to drift away from the carriage and started thinking about what Hermione would have said if she could tell them the truth. The whole truth. She cast her mind back to the night she left home, when she had walked out the front door with nothing even close to a plan. Luckily, Hermione was a quick thinker. Knowing how conspicuous she looked with a massive trunk and knowing that her parents might find her note at any time, Hermione set off at a brisk pace down the pavement, putting as much distance between her and her home as possible. She started going over the possibilities in her mind. She knew she would be welcome at the Burrow, but the Weasleys would no doubt have a lot of questions if she turned up unexpectedly and if there was one thing Hermione was certain about, it was that she didn't want anyone to know what she had found out that day.
She wasn't exactly sure why she felt she couldn't tell anyone what had happened. There were obvious reasons, like the fact that she didn't want her private life to become the subject of gossip amongst the whole wizarding community. She also knew that if the Order of the Pheonix (a group she had heard much from Ron about over the summer) found out that she had run away from home, they would insist on her returning or, at the very least, going to stay with the Weasleys, and right now Hermione just wanted to be alone. Most of all, though, Hermione didn't want to tell anyone because she felt ashamed. She knew it was not a particularly rational response, but it was her emotional response nonetheless. Hermione was ashamed that she, the brightest witch of her age, hadn't worked this out before. She was ashamed that her so-called parents hadn't respected her enough to tell her the truth. And, most of all, Hermione was ashamed that the man she believed to be her real father, who was supposed to love and care for her, had only ever despised and mocked her.