September 1, 1996

"Have you heard anything from… you know who."

Up until that moment, she had been lost in her own thoughts, not keeping track of the conversation that was taking place around her. For the last two hours, she had successfully repelled any contact with the other four students who shared her compartment, her mind focused on one person, one face, only.

Ron. Where was he? What was he doing? Was he safe? Was he okay? Was he doing well? Where was he? Questions seemed to flit by her mind at the speed of light, questions that overlapped each other, questions that didn't seem to be looking for any answers. Questions, questions.

What if?

And for the umpteenth time that summer, Lavender Brown wondered What If.

"Yes, do tell us," she heard herself ask, felt her gaze mechanically being torn away from the Scottish scenery she had been observing all afternoon. "Have they kept in touch... at all?"

Ginny Weasley - curse her hair, her freckles, those eyes that looked unbelievably like his – slightly jumped on her seat, perhaps at the shock of being addressed by a zombie. Lavender saw her blink too rapidly, saw the gears moving in her head, saw the lie that was about to be thrown at her in three-two-one seconds.

"They haven't," came Ginny's reply. Curt and evasive, just like a prisoner under watch.

Which was what all of them were now that they were being shipped back to Hogwarts. Shipped like stones piled on carts, stones that had no feeling, no emotion, no ability to dream and desire freedom.

Freedom.

"Are they together then, Harry and Ron and Hermione?" Lavender heard Neville Longbottom ask. Harry and Ron and Hermione

"I'm sure they are," answered Luna Lovegood. They are, they are. "They're never without each other, like Feather Bottomed Flimpys and – "

"Well," Parvati Patil, Lavender's best friend, interrupted, "wherever they are I hope they're safe."

Parvati aimed a knowing glance at Lavender. But she was already staring out the window.