Ron arrived at Grimmauld Place at what he considered an hour too early than should be allowed. He couldn’t help it. His enthusiasm wouldn’t allow him to sleep any longer. Quidditch season was beginning. Well, not real Quidditch, but the pre-season started today. After all the trouble last year with the disgraced Quidditch commissioner — who was now rotting in a cell in Azkaban with Dolores Umbridge, no less — the league was anxious to start things off on a good note.
That’s where the Action Twin came in. It was scheduled to broadcast the opening Puddlemere match in September, but today’s pre-season match would be a limited-market test. And the team playing today was the Chudley Cannons.
Ron could hardly contain his excitement.
He entered the gloomy entrance way of Grimmauld Place dressed in his orange Cannons shirt and cap, ignoring the drabness as he hurried to the sitting room. Even the dreariness in this old house couldn’t keep him down today. He and Harry had once again started their renovations. They’d completely cleaned out the sitting room so it was tidy, if not homey. It still looked as if only a mountain troll would want to live here. Harry had bought a brand new wireless, and Lee had helped them set up the Action Twin.
There was no furniture in the room other than the gleaming new wireless, but they’d get to that. For today, Ron had brought a few folding chairs from The Burrow, and they’d simply multiply them as needed. He leaned the chairs against the wall, stretching his arms over his head.
Lee was broadcasting from the pitch, and George had another crowd in his flat with his own Action Twin. This would be their real world test before the premiere broadcast in September. Ron was nearly dizzy with the excitement of it all.
Harry and Ron had invited the Aurors from their in-house Quidditch team over to watch the match — although they all believed they’d only be listening. Ron couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they realized what was about to happen.
Merlin, he hoped it would work.
“Hello?” Ron called, and Harry stuck his head out of the sitting room.
“What took you so long?” Harry asked grumpily. His eyes were still bleary, and his hair stuck up at all angles. It was highly unusual that Ron had been the one to drag Harry out of bed that morning.
“You try and Apparate with these awkward chairs,” Ron said indignantly.
Harry’s brow knitted with confusion. “Why didn’t you just shrink them?” he asked.
“Er… ” Ron said, derailed. “Never mind. Why are you so grumpy, anyway?”
Harry’s jaw dropped as he stared at Ron incredulously. Ron turned away so his mate wouldn’t see him smirk. It was true, Harry had to drag Ron out of bed on a daily basis, and Ron wasn’t a morning person. Today, however, it was Ron who’d insisted that Harry had to get up and get moving. It was too easy to wind him up sometimes.
“What have you been doing?” Ron asked innocently.
He walked into the sitting room, handing Harry a couple of the folding chairs, and was stunned to find a leather couch that hadn’t been there the day before placed in the centre of the room in front of the wireless. It was reddish in colour and plush. Ron sat down immediately and sunk into the luxurious comfort.
“When did you get this?” he asked, his entire body going limp. The smell of the new leather was intoxicating.
“I reckoned we needed something, so Ginny and I went into a shop while we were out looking at dress robes yesterday,” Harry answered, frowning.
Ron knew Harry wasn’t happy about the upcoming Order of Merlin ceremony to begin with, and he was even more put out when Mum had informed them all that they’d need dress robes. Ron had a set he’d never worn that Fred and George had given him for some reason. Mum had to alter them a bit, but otherwise, he was all set. Harry didn’t know what had happened to his robes, but since they’d been from fourth year, there was no way they’d fit, anyway. Altering charms could only go so far.
“It’s nice. Comfortable,” Ron said, leaning back into the couch and realizing how out-of-place it looked in the drab room.
Harry nodded. “I went in to get a table to put the Wireless on,” he said, nodding to the new table that Ron hadn’t even noticed, “but when I saw this, I liked it.”
“I’m not getting up. I want to be certain I get to sit here instead of on one of those during the match,” Ron said, indicating the stack of folding chairs that Harry was placing around the room.
“Er…Ron. I think we’re supposed to give our guests the good chairs,” Harry said.
Ron shrugged. “It’s just the Quidditch lot. Did you stock the ice box?”
“Yeah, with both Butterbeer and some of that Goldie’s Real Ale we were drinking the other night,” Harry replied.
“Sounds good,” Ron said. “I can’t wait to see their reactions to the Action Twin.”
“I can’t wait to see it. I wasn’t there when Lee demonstrated, remember?” Harry said.
“You didn’t tell them though, right? They have no idea of what’s coming,” Ron said gleefully.
“Who’s over at George’s flat?” Harry asked.
“The usual group — Ang, Alicia, Katie and her new bloke. Oliver doesn’t have a match today, so he’s over there too, along with some of his teammates. They want to see how it’s going to work before their match,” Ron said, slightly envious that George was entertaining a real Quidditch team — even if it was Puddlemere.
“D’you think we should’ve asked Duncan to come? Harry asked.
They’d been over this a dozen times already. Their initial thought had been to invite all the trainees, but Harry was uncomfortable with both Cormac and Rory getting past the security wards at Grimmauld Place, and rightfully so. Besides, Ron wasn’t even certain they were all into Quidditch. The team were all fans, and they were all fully-qualified Aurors, so letting them past the wards wasn’t a high-risk endeavour.
“We can invite him the next time, when Seamus will be here. I think Duncan and Seamus will hit it off,” Ron said. “I wish Hermione was back.”
“Hermione doesn’t even like Quidditch, Ron,” Harry said, exasperated.
“I know… but I wish she were home, anyway,” Ron said. He missed her terribly, but she’d promised she’d be back in time for the Order of Merlin ceremony. She sounded as if she was having a great time with her parents and getting to do some sightseeing. He wished she’d hurry up and come home, however. Things were always better when Hermione was around.
They heard the front door open, and both looked up to see Ginny moving slowly down the glum hallway, her arms loaded with a basket that Ron knew came from Mum’s kitchen. His stomach started rumbling immediately.
“What have you got there?” he asked.
“Mum sent snacks. I’m going to put them in the kitchen. Here,” she said, awkwardly reaching into her pocket and handing something to Harry.
He used his wand to enlarge a long table that he placed in front of the couch to hold their drinks and the food.
“She remembered a Shrinking Charm,” Harry said, smirking.
Ron scowled at both of them.
Ginny brought her basket to the kitchen, returning with a few empty plates and bowls. Harry helped her to fill them with crisps and a variety of snack foods. Ron munched as he watched them, thinking how domestic they looked together. It made Ron uncomfortable.
“You really need some more furniture,” Ginny said, frowning as she looked around the room. “And curtains. And paint.”
“I know,” Harry sighed. “I just don’t know how to pick out what I need for a whole house. Your mum helped me with the kitchen.”
“You don’t have to do the whole house, just this room,” Ginny said.
“We need to do something with the bathrooms, too,” Ron said. The one down here was clean, but empty. The one on the landing near his bedroom was disgusting.
“I need a bedroom set, too, before we can move in,” Harry said. “Or at least a bed.”
“A bedroom set,” Ginny said firmly. “You’ve never had your own, and this will be your first place. Do it up right.”
Harry shrugged helplessly. Ron had planned on bringing his bed from The Burrow, but he supposed he ought to think of something more fit for an adult, too. Maybe Hermione would help.
“We’ll worry about it later. For now, we need this room ready for a Quidditch match,” Ron says, spurring the other two into action.
They spent the morning arranging the chairs and putting out the food Ron’s mum had made. Ron and Harry got the Action Twin hooked to the Wireless, and when the doorbell finally rang, they were more than ready to have a party.
Harry opened the door, and the entire team trickled in led by Owen Savage. Abby and Elin each handed Ginny another plate, and Ginny added them to the table.
“Glad you could make it,” Harry said.
“This is an interesting place you’ve got here, kid,” Owen said, staring around the glum entryway dubiously.
“I inherited it,” Harry said, shrugging. “Haven’t had a chance to renovate yet.”
“Inherited it from who? The bloody Dark Lord himself?” Owen asked.
Harry snorted. “You’re not far off, actually. I’m working on one room at a time. The sitting room is better, and that’s where the Wireless is.”
Ginny had started a fire in the massive stone fireplace, and it danced merrily, brightening the room.
“So what’s this Quidditch surprise you have for us?” Hans asked eagerly. His bushy moustache was curled slightly at the edges.
“You’ll see as soon as the match starts,” Harry said, putting his hand on Ginny’s back. “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Ginny Weasley.”
They all greeted Ginny as they took seats around the room.
“Are you helping him decorate this place, Ginny?” Elin asked, pushing a stray lock of strawberry=blonde hair out of her eyes.
“I’m trying,” Ginny said. “I’m not really sure what he needs, either. My mum helped with the kitchen, but I found this couch.”
“My sister runs a small furniture shop in Hogsmeade. She also offers decorating services to clients who want it, if you’re interested. She’s very good. She just recently finished doing a home for one of the Weird Sisters,” Elin said.
“That would be brilliant,” Harry said, looking incredibly relieved.
Elin quickly conjured a scrap of paper. “This is the name of her shop, it’s connected to the Floo.”
“Thanks!” Harry said.
“This place definitely could use some help,” Ken said, chuckling. “It’s certainly not like anything where I’d expected you to live.”
Ron grinned inwardly. He doubted there was much about Harry’s real life that matched what the wizarding world expected of him. He remembered being stunned upon first meeting the scrawny boy on the train in first year. He’d expected Harry Potter to be at least the size of a fifth year. In the end though, Harry had turned out even better than Ron’s expectations. He was big in the things that mattered.
“Believe it or not, it was used as the Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix during the war,” Harry said.
“No effin’ way!” Owen said, his eyes boggled.
“Yes effin’ way,” Ron said, delighted. “Who would’ve thought to look for them here?”
“It does have a lot of protections on it,” Harry said. “I reckoned I could trust you.”
Ken snorted. “Let’s hope so. This group represents some of the Ministry’s finest.”
“How did you end up being the one to inherit it?” Abby asked, and Ron saw Harry’s face close off.
“It belonged to his godfather,” Ginny said, standing up. “I think the match is about to start.”
She turned on the Wireless, and Lee’s voice filled the room.
“Welcome to the opening pre-season match between the Appleby Arrows, and the Chudley Cannons. For those of you in specified markets, you’re in for a real treat.”
With that, the Action Twin lit up, and the image of the pitch appeared above the Wireless as all the players took to the air.
The sight of the orange uniforms streaking across the pitch caused the breath to catch in Ron’s throat. He clutched his chest and sank onto the couch, his eyes glued to the image.
“Bloody hell! Is that the match?” Owen shouted.
“How did you do this?” Ken asked, sinking onto a folding chair.
Elin’s mouth hung open while Abby and Hans began firing questions in rapid succession. Ron couldn’t even decipher their words. The Chudley Cannons were playing in front of him. Playing in his house. And he could watch everything.
“Ron! Ron! Are you all right?” Abby asked, shaking his shoulder.
“Give him a minute. He’s been a lifelong Cannons supporter,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
“Why?” Abby asked, perplexed, causing Harry to let out a bark of laughter.
“We’ve all been wondering that,” he said.
“How did you do this?” Ken repeated, his eyes glued to the image.
“Ron and Ginny’s brother George, and his friend Lee Jordan, who you hear broadcasting, invented it,” Harry said. “Ron gave them the idea after watching a Muggle telly, and Ginny named it.”
Ginny beamed. “It’s called an Action Twin.”
“And this is happening live?” Owen asked.
“As we speak,” Harry replied.
“I like the company you keep, kid,” Owen said, sinking down on the couch next to Ron.
“This is brilliant,” Ron said, still having trouble catching his breath. “And what do you mean why do I support the Cannons? This is going to be their year, you wait and see.”
Ron scowled at all of them. They could all support the Arrows if they wanted, it wouldn’t be the first time he was a lone supporter, but they’d see. As the match began, stunned silence filled the room for several moments before the cheering began.
Harry stood in front of the small mirror in the Weasleys’ bathroom attempting to secure the many tiny fastenings on his new dress robes. You could just toss ordinary robes over your head and forget about them, but these dress robes were impossible. He and Ginny had gone shopping for new ones. Harry didn’t really care, but Ginny seemed to enjoy it. Harry bought robes in a deep burgundy with gold trim. He was sure they’d be fine if he could just get all the buttons done in the right way.
He supposed his attitude was partly the problem. He really didn’t want to go to this gala. He was embarrassed by all the fuss. Both Ron and Hermione appeared to be enjoying it, and neither had made any comment about his award being First Class while theirs were Second. He wondered what they thought about it — but he didn’t want to ask.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Bill and George were also getting Second Class awards for their part in the Order of the Phoenix, as well, and Ginny, Neville and Luna were receiving Third Class awards for continuing Dumbledore’s Army. Everyone else was excited about the event, and all were looking forward to it.
All but Harry.
He just wished it were all over.
He knew he was taking too much time in the one bathroom, so he tried to refocus his attention to the fastenings.
“Do you need a hand there, lad? These dress robes tend to be purposefully complicated,” Mr. Weasley said, glancing into the open bathroom door as he descended the stairs.
Mr. Weasley was dressed in neatly-pressed, navy robes which, Harry noticed, were fastened perfectly.
Harry nodded, relieved, and turned to face the older man. Mr. Weasley worked silently, adjusting several of the fastenings that Harry had secured in the wrong spots. His pale blue eyes, always so kind and full of understanding, watched Harry intently. For some reason, it was making Harry squirm.
“You know,” Mr. Weasley said slowly, focusing on his task, “the rest of that lot downstairs are rather excited about this ceremony.”
Harry dropped his eyes to the bathroom floor, his shoulders slumping. “I know, sir,” he mumbled.
“Then why is it you look as if you’re attending another funeral?” Mr. Weasley asked bluntly.
Harry’s eyes quickly rose to the older man’s face. “Sorry,” he said automatically, before Mr. Weasley waved him off.
“There’s no need to be sorry for how you feel, lad. I’m just wondering what’s got you down?” he said kindly.
Harry shrugged, searching for the right words. All his instincts screamed to brush it off, but for some reason, he had the overwhelming desire to talk to this man. “It seems like it will never be over,” he said helplessly.
Mr. Weasley nodded, keeping his hands on the collar of Harry’s robes. “I suppose, in a way, that’s true. But we should remember. By remembering, we’ll never let it happen again.”
“I know,” Harry said, running his hand along the back of his neck. “It just seems… they always want to use me to remember.”
Mr. Weasley breathed deeply. “You are our symbol, and I realize that’s not a burden you bear lightly. It is one you bear, however, and I don’t see that changing.”
Harry nodded glumly.
“So you need to find a way you can live with it. There is no reason you should be so uncomfortable. This isn’t a day for remorse over the war, Harry. All the funerals were for loss and mourning. This is a celebration of the survivors. We lived, and we can go on to make positive changes in our world. We honour those we lost by going on to live full, happy lives. We move on, because they cannot.”
Harry was listening intently, and he felt compelled to get out the piece that was bothering him. He knew Mr. Weasley would do his best to help Harry — he always had. “I felt that the Minister tricked me into this,” he said, his eyes meeting Mr. Weasley’s kindly blue ones directly.
“Ah. I thought as much,” the older man said, continuing with the fastenings.
“I knew there would be a ceremony… he did tell me that, but I don’t see why I get First Class, and the others all get something less. We all suffered, and we all ended Voldemort’s reign,” Harry said, feeling his ire growing.
“It’s not that they did less, lad — it’s that you did more. You were embroiled in this since you were a toddler, and suffered far more than anyone rightfully should. You were our symbol, people rallied around you. If you could do it, it gave them the strength to do their part, as well. People are proud of the parts they played, and they want to celebrate that. Have Ron or Hermione said they’re upset because their awards say ‘Second Class?’” he asked.
“It’s our system, and it’s what’s expected. No one is dwelling on the order. The only thing that would make them do that is if you didn’t receive the highest honour,” Mr. Weasley said, fastening the last latch. “At the end, you stood alone with him in that Great Hall.”
“I always had help!” Harry insisted.
“Yes, you did, and we all wanted to help you. You were a beacon to all of us. We’re all being honoured for that help. We helped you. This is a party, lad. Don’t look at the order of things if it distresses you — we’re all celebrating the end of the dark times. My daughter has some very pretty new dress robes, and I know she’s looking forward to a dance or two,” Mr. Weasley said, patting Harry’s shoulders.
Harry dropped his gaze. “I’m being a downer, eh?”
“Just a bit,” Mr. Weasley replied, shrugging.
Harry grinned, feeling slightly cheered.
“Hold your head high, shake a few hands, but otherwise, enjoy a smashing good party,” Mr. Weasley advised.
“What about the reporters?” Harry asked with distaste.
“With all us Weasleys there with you? We can distract them,” Mr. Weasley said confidently. He leaned his head in conspiratorially. “I say, I think Ron and George actually enjoy the attention, and Ginny hasn’t Hexed anyone in the past few days.”
The magically-expanded ballroom at the Ministry was festively decorated with gold and silver ribbons. The tables shimmered with crystal goblets, and an abundance of delicious-smelling food rested on silver serving platters in every direction. Mr. Weasley had been right, it was a cheerful atmosphere, and witches and wizards had come from near and far to celebrate.
White columns rose high above, supporting an ornate ceiling, and the soft glow of candlelight illuminated the shiny oak floor. An opulent balcony overhung the room looking down on a horseshoe-shaped stage where the medals had been awarded. Flowers adorned each table — and nearly every empty spot in the grand ballroom. They were all of various shapes, sizes and varieties, yet all of them where white. White roses, lilies, gardenias, carnations covered the ballroom signifying an end to the Darkness.
There had been a gauntlet of reporters outside that guests had to run past, but as promised, the Weasleys had kept Harry surrounded. George had swung his arm around Harry’s neck and kept him in a choke hold through a portion of it, laughing all the way. Even Harry had to admit it was funny. He’d answered a few questions, but when it became overwhelming, he’d done what Mr. Weasley had suggested — merely smiled and took his leave. There were several reporters inside the ballroom, but they weren’t allowed to approach anyone for an interview, merely document the event.
Now that the speeches were over, and Harry wore his bright, shiny medal around his neck, he felt more peaceful and relaxed sitting at the table surrounded by all his Weasleys. He knew the delicious, elf-made wine had something to do with it, but he felt warm and relaxed and immensely fond of all the people accompanying him.
Ginny sat by his side, wearing her new turquoise-coloured dress robes and sipping her own wine. Her hair was done up in a fancy, elaborate knot, and Harry had been tugging at one piece all evening. He’d finally managed to set it free, so she had one long, loose curl that hung by her right ear. He now sat absently twirling it around his finger while he watched other guests on the dance floor.
“Harry! Stop it. Fleur spent a long time getting my hair to sit just right,” Ginny said, although there was no bite to her words. She didn’t pull her head away, and Harry kept twirling his treasure.
“And it looks very pretty, but I like it when it’s down,” he said absently.
Ginny quirked an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, I’ve noticed,” she said, chuckling.
“Hey, you lovebirds, where have the other matched set gone?” George asked, drawing their attention back to the table.
Hermione had returned from Australia two days ago, but she and Ron kept disappearing, so Harry felt as if he’d barely had the chance to talk with her. He supposed he couldn’t blame them. He’d be missing Ginny something fierce once she returned to school, and he knew Ron had been lost without Hermione.
“Dunno,” Harry replied, shrugging. “They were on the dance floor a few minutes ago.”
“They’re not there now,” Ginny said, scanning the floor. “Perhaps they went out on the terrace to get some air. Want to see if we can find them?”
Some fresh air sounded wonderful to Harry, so he immediately stood up and reached for her hand.
“You two go along. I just remembered something I had to do,” George said, his eyes on a group of young witches who were laughing gaily as they entered the room.
“Go get ‘em, George,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
“Come on, Percy. Be my second,” George said, grabbing his brother’s arm. Percy looked slightly startled, but he quickly gained his footing and followed George across the ballroom.
Ginny and Harry strolled through the crowd, absently waving at various guests as they did before they were able to make their escape. The evening air was cool and felt wonderful on Harry’s warm skin. Still, there was a hint of autumn in the breeze that was somewhat sobering. Merlin, he would miss her. The thought of Hogwarts had never seemed so depressing.
“Oh, it’s lovely out here,” Ginny said, smelling one of the many flowers hanging from a pot.
“Yeah, it is,” Harry said, running his finger along the side of her face.
Ginny smiled at him softly. Harry was about to lean over and kiss her when he heard Ron’s voice behind them.
“Hey! Get your own spot!”
They turned to find Ron and Hermione cuddled close on one of the many stone benches lining the terrace. Ginny slipped her hand in his as they moved over to join them.
“We were wondering where you two disappeared to,” Ginny said. Hermione slid over for her, but Ron looked disgruntled. Both wore their medals around their necks, as well, and the candles made them all glitter.
“This turned out to be a really good party,” Ginny said, resting her head against Harry’s shoulder.
He was surprised to realize he agreed with her.
“It was,” Hermione said. “I can’t believe how many people are here.”
“What are we supposed to do with this now?” Ron asked, staring at his shiny new medal.”
“Dunno,” Harry replied, shrugging. “I read that Dumbledore had one, but I never saw it. Maybe it was hanging in his office somewhere.”
“He was always more impressed with his Chocolate Frog card,” Ginny said.
“You think we’ll get Chocolate Frog cards?” Ron asked, his eyes nearly bugging out of his head. “That would be brilliant.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Honestly. You hang it in your home like a trophy, but your name will be forever recorded as having received one. It’s a very prestigious honour.”
Before anyone could reply, the door opened and a reporter and cameraman hurried onto the terrace. Both looked surprised for a moment, but the cameraman snapped a picture nonetheless. None of the teens opened a conversation, so the reporter followed protocol and didn’t approach them. The reporter’s face coloured with frustration, obviously struggling to restrain herself.
“They thought they were going to catch you two snogging,” Hermione said sagely.
“Huh?” Harry asked.
“Oh, Harry. Obviously they followed you out onto the terrace, they just didn’t expect to find us all here chatting.”
“But they’re not allowed!” Harry said indignantly.
“They’re allowed to photograph the event, just not interview you unless you approach them,” Hermione said slowly.
“If I was out here kissing Ginny, it wouldn’t be part of the event,” Harry insisted.
Hermione shook her head pityingly.
“It’s all right, we foiled their dastardly plan,” Ginny said, grinning.
“They’re never going to leave us alone,” Harry said, sighing.
“Well, that’s what the Invisibility Cloak is for,” Ginny replied, tilting her head.
“Hey! Maybe it just means you should kiss in private,” Ron said indignantly.
“Oh, as if you can talk, you hypocritical prat,” Ginny scoffed. “Besides, it’s not like the Invisibility Cloak hasn’t worked before. We once snogged in the common room while you were there.”
“Eww. I don’t need to know that!” Ron yelped, jumping off the bench.
“I’m glad they gave Professor Snape his award posthumously,” Hermione said, expertly derailing the siblings. Harry nodded gratefully.
“And Remus, Tonks, Mad-Eye… and Fred,” Harry said quietly.
Ron and Ginny sobered instantly.
“Mum really liked that,” Ron said gruffly as he sank back onto the bench.
“The names of all the victims at Hogwarts seemed really long,” Harry said painfully. He’d nearly had to bolt from the room before they’d finished the list.
Ginny reached over and grasped his hand, running her thumb along the edge comfortingly. “I think they’d all be honoured, but this event is to celebrate. I think Fred would be over the moon to get an Order of Merlin. In fact, I don’t think he’d hang it in his house at all — I think he’d wear it.”
Ron snorted. “Everyday. Everywhere.”
“He’d even wear it to work,” Hermione said, her lips twitching.
“I think he’d develop some sort of prank so when the kids in the shop touched it, it would insult them,” Harry said, laughing at the image in his head.
“He’d definitely wear it to the pub to impress the witches,” Ron said.
“I don’t know why we’re laughing — we’ll find out exactly what Fred would’ve done, because I’m fairly certain George will do the same,” Ginny said, wiping at her streaming eyes.
“Your mum’ll have a fit when he wears it to Christmas dinner,” Harry said.
“We should all wear ours to Christmas dinner!” Ginny said, sitting straight up. “Can you picture the look on Mum’s face?”
“We should all go out on New Year’s Eve this year! We’re all of age, and we can go anywhere we want,” Ron said, stunned by the idea.
“That would be brilliant,” Harry said. He’d never done anything really special for New Year’s Eve.
“Or we could have our own party at Grimmauld Place,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “You should have it decorated by then, Harry, and I’m going to stay there over Christmas break. We could invite everyone to our place.”
“Our place. I like the sound of that,” Harry said, beaming. He’d always dreamt of a home of his own, but the idea of sharing it with the three most important people in his life was better than anything even his imagination could’ve conjured. It was Sirius’s home, so he’d always have that connection to his godfather, but Ron, Hermione and Ginny had rooms there (even if Mrs. Weasley still hadn’t been informed about the latter), and there was even a place for Teddy. It had all come together perfectly.
“So, is that a plan, then? We’re having a New Year’s Eve party at our place?” Ron asked.
They all turned to Harry, who nodded eagerly. “We’ll invite all the surviving members of the Order, just so they can see what’s become of Headquarters,” he said.
“And the DA, too,” Ginny added.
“We’ll have to set up some sort of temporary wards so we can ask the Quidditch team, and the other trainees,” Ron said.
“And Hermione and I will want to ask some of our classmates,” Ginny said.
Hermione abruptly reached over and wrapped her arms around Ginny, her eyes shining brightly as she sniffled.
Ron and Harry stared at each other, perplexed. The party had been Hermione’s idea in the first place, so they had no idea what had upset her.
“Well, as of now, they’re both of our classmates,” Ginny said, patting Hermione on the back. She rolled her eyes at the boys, who’d finally cottoned on to her implication.
The door to the balcony swung open, and Bill and Fleur exited the ballroom. “Here you all are. Mum and Dad are wondering where you all disappeared,” Bill said easily. He didn’t appear in any hurry to let their parents know where they’d all gone.
He looked dashing in his grey dress robes. The colour of the trim matched the green of Fleur’s robes perfectly. The scars on his face were still prominent, but Harry thought he managed to carry them with an ease that Harry himself had never managed.
“Hi, Bill, Fleur,” Ginny said, standing up to hug each of them.
“Hey, squirt. This group looks like trouble,” he said, returning Ginny’s hug.
“We just decided we’re having a New Year’s Eve party,” Ron said, wrapping his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Ooh, zis sounds fun,” Fleur said. “Let me know eef you need any help. I love to plan parties.”
“Thanks, Fleur,” Harry said sincerely. Both Hermione and Ginny would be at school right up until Christmas, and he probably needed some advice before that. “I think I’ll take you up on that.”
Fleur beamed at Harry, leaning over and kissing him on both cheeks. “You know I would do anything for you, mon cherie. For now, I’m ready to go home.”
“And there’s my cue,” Bill said, standing with his wife and staring at her with a particularly soppy expression.
“Are Mum and Dad still dancing?” Ginny asked, turning her eyes away from Bill and Fleur.
“As I said, they’re looking for you. I think they’re ready to call it an evening, too,” Bill replied.
“George and Percy are dancing with a large group of very pretty young witches,” Fleur added.
“I’m not done dancing yet,” Ginny said.
“And there’s my cue,” Harry said, laughing.
“Oh, I want to dance, too,” Hermione said, pulling a protesting Ron to his feet. She wore ivory lace dress robes that showed off her tan. Bill and Fleur bid them farewell, and as soon as they left, Ginny made a retching sound.
“Cue, my arse. They’re going home to shag!”
Curiously, both Ron and Hermione turned bright red.
“Er… I don’t think you’re supposed to say that, Ginny,” Harry said, fairly intrigued himself.
Ginny shrugged, blasé. “I suppose I’m ready for some nieces and nephews, and Teddy could use a playmate.”
Harry kissed the top of her head, pleased by the inclusion of Teddy in the family.
“Come on,” Ginny said, “I really do want to dance.”
They all traipsed back into the ballroom, and danced until the ball ended well after midnight.
King’s Cross was bustling as usual on the morning of September first. Also typical, the Weasleys were running late, despite the fact only the two girls would be departing. Ginny had said her goodbyes to her parents and all her brothers before leaving, so only Ron and Harry accompanied her and Hermione to the station. They’d made their dash through King’s Cross, and despite her heavy heart, she couldn’t help but laugh at how right being late felt. Not everything had to change.
Harry pushed her cart for her, but Ginny kept a tight grip on his arm, unwilling to let him go a moment sooner than she had to. She saw various friends and classmates who she wanted to check in with amongst the crowd, but there would be plenty of time for that on the train. She wanted to hold onto Harry for as long as possible.
This separation would be unbearable.
He’d taken her out into Muggle London for dinner the previous evening, and they’d had a wonderful time. It was pleasant to see him so relaxed and unconcerned. He’d dropped her back at The Burrow to finish her last-minute packing, and he’d gone over to Grimmauld Place to check it over. The decorator was coming this week to plan the renovations.
He’d been in an odd mood once he’d returned, but Ginny couldn’t quite work out why. He, Ron and Hermione all seemed to be prickly with one another this morning. She supposed it was just the strain of separating.
From the corner of her eye, Ginny saw Ron pull Hermione behind a brick column, presumably to say a last, private goodbye. It wasn’t quite as easy for her since everyone was straining to get a peek at the Saviour of the Wizarding world. She wished they’d sod off and leave him alone. She turned to Harry as he slowed the cart to a stop.
“Guess this is it,” she said, her heart aching.
“Suppose so,” Harry replied gruffly.
“You’ll send Zeus along with a note to tell me about your day, yeah?” she asked, and Harry nodded his agreement. “And I’ll respond to tell you everything that happens on the train. We can write every day.”
“I know,” Harry said, but he sounded miserable.
“Harry! I didn’t know you’d be here,” a purring female voice called merrily.
They both turned to see Romilda Vane approaching them. A dark-haired sixth-year, Romilda had made no secret of her interest in Harry. Ginny felt her ire grow instantly. She’d never been the jealous sort with other boys, but with Harry, she felt as if she’d grown claws.
“Romilda,” she said coolly, still not letting go of Harry’s arm.
“Oh, hullo, Ginny. I see you two are still together then?” Romilda asked, scowling slightly.
“Never better,” Ginny said brightly.
“I just wanted to tell you how amazing I thought you were during the war, Harry. I wanted to go to the Order of Merlin ceremony to show my appreciation, but I couldn’t get a ticket,” Romilda said, her voice slightly breathless as she looked up into Harry’s eyes and spoke with dripping sincerity.
Harry ran a hand along the back of his neck. “Er… thanks,” he mumbled.
“I was underage, so they made me leave the castle, but I heard you were magnificent standing against You-Know-Who,” Romilda gushed.
Harry scowled at the lack of name. Ginny could read his discomfort easily, but it was obvious Romilda was oblivious. Ginny felt she didn’t need to do anything. The other girl was doing a splendid job of embarrassing herself without even knowing it.
“Say Voldemort,” Harry said shortly.
Romilda looked startled, and she frantically glanced around the train station as if she expected Tom to return from the dead at any moment.
“Well,” she said, fluttering a hand in front of her chest and drawing his attention. Her shirt was extremely low-cut for a trip back to school. Ginny suspected she’d undone another button when she’d spotted Harry. Didn’t know he’d be here, her arse.
“You always did have an easier time saying it than the rest of us. You were always so brave, Harry,” Romilda said, simpering.
“He’s dead. There’s no reason not to use his name,” Harry said flatly.
Romilda finally appeared to catch on that Harry’s tone was less than friendly, but she didn’t seem ready to give up. “So, will we be seeing you around some during the year? I imagine you’ll want to attend Hogsmeade weekends,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes.
“If Ginny wants to see me,” he replied, causing Romilda’s smile to drop.
“Always,” Ginny said, beaming. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Excuse us, Romilda. I see Siobhan.”
Ginny pulled Harry over to her roommate, leaving a scowling Romilda behind.
“I don’t like her,” Harry said under his breath.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “I don’t like her, either, but she’s harmless. I know she’s not your type.”
“She poisoned your brother! That’s not harmless,” Harry said indignantly.
“True,” Ginny conceded. He did have a point. “I won’t turn my back on her, okay? It’s you she’s interested in, anyway.”
“Hi, Ginny,” Siobhan said, leaning over to hug a much shorter Ginny, “Harry.”
“Hi, Siobhan,” they chorused.
Harry turned to put Ginny’s trunk on the train while Ginny looked over her roommate, who appeared to be alone.
“Still dating the Muggle boy?” Ginny asked.
“Well, I broke it off for school. I can’t very well send him an owl, and he didn’t understand that there were no phones allowed at my school. We’ll see what happens next summer,” Siobhan said, sighing. “What’s up with Romilda?”
Ginny shrugged. “She still fancies Harry.”
“Great. She’ll be trying to monitor your movements all year,” Siobhan said.
“I can handle her,” Ginny said dismissively.
“Oh, I know you can,” Siobhan said, laughing. “You’ll get in some good Hexing practice, at least.”
“Okay, your trunk is on the luggage rack,” Harry said when he returned.
“Thanks,” Ginny said, taking his hand before turning back to Siobhan. “Have you seen Liz?”
“Not yet. I’m going to see if she’s found a compartment. I’ll save you a seat,” Siobhan said tactfully.
“Thanks,” Ginny replied, smiling. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Siobhan nodded, waved merrily at Harry and boarded the train. Before Ginny could speak, Ron and Hermione approached them. Harry looked at his feet.
“I’ve got to go to the Prefect’s car, but I’ll come find you after we’re done, okay?” Hermione asked.
“Okay,” Ginny replied. She knew Hermione was nervous since it was mostly a new class for her. “I’ll save you a seat with Siobhan and Liz.”
“Thanks, Ginny,” Hermione said gratefully. “Bye, Harry.”
Harry awkwardly reached over and gave her a hug. “You’ll be fine, Hermione. Good luck, and have a good year,” he said, patting her on the back.
While Harry was saying his goodbye to Hermione, Ginny turned to her brother. Ron looked rather uncomfortable himself.
“Take care of yourself and Hermione, Ginny,” he said. “She’s really nervous about sharing your dormitory.”
“It’ll be fine, and Parvati will be with her,” Ginny assured him, not wanting to tell him she was nervous about it, too.
“Yeah, but it’s not like she and Parvati were ever close,” he said.
Ginny thought it was rather sweet to see how much he was worried about her. She knew Hermione had never connected particularly well with either of her roommates, but she thought the familiarity of being back together would help. “It’ll all work out,” she said.
“Take care of yourself, too, Ginny. It won’t be easy to be back there,” Ron said, his ears turning red.
“No,” Ginny agreed solemnly, “it won’t, but I’ll manage.”
“Avoid Fred’s corridor if it’s too much… I mean, take another route,” Ron said awkwardly.
Ginny felt her eyes sting. She’d been worrying about the first time she’d come across that spot, as well. She’d decided to do it on her own tonight to get it over with without an audience. “I will,” she whispered, throwing her arms around her brother’s neck and squeezing him tight. “You be safe, too, Ron. Keep an eye on Harry.”
Ron’s startled blue eyes looked directly into hers. “Thanks, Ginny,” he said, his voice strained.
Ginny looked at him quizzically.
“For trusting me to watch out for Harry. I know I’ve let you down,” he said, looking at his feet.
She and Ron had never really discussed his leaving Harry and Hermione during the Horcrux hunt, but she knew from all Ron’s actions over the summer that he still regretted it immensely. “I do trust you, Ron — more than I’d ever trust anyone else to have Harry’s back,” she said, startled to realize she meant it. Ron would die before he’d let anyone hurt Harry if he could help it.
Ron hugged Ginny again, and Ginny surreptitiously swiped her eyes on his shirt.
She turned to find Hermione sniffling as she boarded the train. She could hear Crookshanks growling in his basket.
Harry leaned over to whisper in her ear. His warm breath sent tingles down her back. “You’ll be okay, too, you know.”
Ginny looked over, slightly startled by his tone. “I know.”
“There will be a lot of bad memories from last year, but there are a lot of good memories from other years, too. Try and focus on those,” he said earnestly.
Ginny’s vision blurred again. She’d thought she’d done a better job of hiding her anxiety about returning to Hogwarts. Of course he’d noticed. He was so decent.
She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him fiercely. He wrapped his strong arms around her and gave her that bit of comfort she so desperately craved.
“I love you,” she said, sniffling.
“I love you, too,” he said, kissing her softly. She was aware of all the attention from both the spectators on the platform and from the other students hanging out the windows on the train. She ignored them as best she could. She knew Harry was doing the same. She supposed it would always be this way.
“You’d better get moving,” he said gruffly.
Ginny gave him one final peck on the cheek and climbed aboard, steeling her resolve. She’d much rather be off to this adventure than be returning to The Burrow. She knew from experience that Harry got the short end of this stick this time. She quickly found her roommates in a car not too far along. They were respectful enough to give her some space and allow her to lean out the window. Harry was there, and he raised his hand so she could take it.
“Book the Quidditch pitch for a practice at the first opportunity,” he said.
“I will,” she nodded around the lump in her throat. As the train began to move, she didn’t want to let go. Gradually she had no choice but she watched the slim, dark-haired wizard on the platform as he ran alongside the train until it left the station. His arm waving in farewell was the last thing she saw as the train picked up speed and rounded the bend.
She was going back to Hogwarts, but she knew Harry would always be there waiting for her. This was only the start of their next great adventure — and this time, they’d do it together.
Author’s Note: And there you have it, the end of the first summer after the Battle. There seems to be enough interest in what comes next to attempt it, so I’ve got the first chapter started. It will take a bit, as I like to have a good head start if I’m to keep up a once-a-week posting.
This has been a great ride, and I’m tickled to see there are others like me who just can’t let go. The “what happened next” wondering always plays in my mind, although I’ll admit I’m extremely leery of this upcoming play in London. Ah well, I won’t be able to see it anyway!
Huge thanks for this story go to my awesome beta, Sherylyn, who’s always quick to turn around, and always encouraging of a new story. Many thanks as well to an awesome support team — Ryan, Danielle, Sue, George and Claire have all been invaluable, and I hope you all know how much I appreciate it.