The months after the war had not been easy, but slowly most people had been able to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward. Most homes and businesses had been devastated by the fighting and looting that had taken place around Great Britain in the magical sections of the country, and Hogwarts had been hit hardest of all. It didn't take a genius to figure out that the only way the magical community could fully heal from the tyranny of Voldemort's reign was to rebuild the demolished school brick by brick, and that's exactly what Harry Potter had done. It was comforting to see the newly restored turrets and towers take shape against the grey Scotland sky. The entire project had only taken a few months thanks to the help of his friends, magic, and Hagrid's little brother Grawp, who turned out to be a fine bricklayer.
Now, a few weeks from the start of term, the question was would anybody show? Many of the students who had remained at Hogwarts that last year had died or been severely injured. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had not returned for their final year, but Ginny had managed to complete her sixth year during that time. She still remembered the screams of students as the walls of the Great Hall came tumbling down on top of them. Then the silence. She believed the silence was worse than the awful earth-shattering sounds of the building collapsing on top of them. Luckily she had been standing near a group of teachers when the Death Eaters felled Hogwarts. Professors McGonagall and Flitwick had managed to cast bubble charms and shield charms that protected most of the students and staff, but an unlucky few had not escaped. All in all, about thirty had lost their lives that day.
"I think that's the last of it," Harry said, shaking dust from his hands. He had been putting the finishing touches on the cobblestone driveway the Thestrals would take as they carried the students from the train station in Hogsmeade to the castle.
"It looks wonderful," Ginny answered, leaning in to give him a warm kiss on his grimy cheek. "I've never seen the castle look so nice."
Harry's eyes sparkled – a rare thing for him. He was obviously proud of the work they had done to restore the school. In fact, it seemed to Ginny that it had been a personal mission of his to see that Hogwarts was brought back to life. It was almost as if he felt he owed it to those who had died here, especially Professor Dumbledore.
"I've finished planting the flowers around the memorial," Hermione said as she joined them. "I know I could have used magic to do it, but I just didn't feel right about that. My mother always told me that the most meaningful tasks should be completed by hand. Of course she wasn't talking about magic, but it's the same principle I think."
Ginny looked towards the black stone column that recorded the events of the second war and the names of those who had died here. It stood gracefully against the hilltop, a sharp contrast to the rolling green slopes that served as its backdrop. Around the base Hermione had planted Forget-Me-Nots in the attractive, complimentary stone basins that surrounded the monument.
"Dean did a wonderful job designing it, don't you think?" Ginny murmured quietly, her breath catching slightly at the simplicity of the statue compared to the enormity of what it represented.
"Yeah," Harry agreed, slipping his hand into hers. "It's perfect."
They turned to each other at exactly the same time. Ginny never tired of these moments with Harry. Each time it happened it was like the planets coming into alignment, or placing the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle in its place. It just felt right. Harry's eyes crinkled, and the serious look disappeared, replaced by one of pure adoration. A sudden flutter in her chest reminded her of how much she loved him.
"Well, I just hope there will be someone here to see it," Hermione said, unintentionally interrupting their moment. "Professor McGonagall sent out all the booklists and letters, but so far Flourish and Blotts has reported that not many are buying them. I think people are still scared to let their children come back."
Harry's frown returned. "I know. But after all our hard work everyone has put into rebuilding, I find it hard to believe that we wouldn't get the enrolment we need to keep the doors open. Practically everyone has supported this project. Why wouldn't they want to send their children back?"
"It's one thing to rebuild a building," Hermione said gently. "Quite another to trust that it will keep your child safe."
"If Dumbledore was here..." Harry said, stopping suddenly. A look of pain flitted across his face as it always did whenever the topic of the former Headmaster came up.
"It may have made a difference," Ginny agreed, "but perhaps not. I've been thinking about this, Harry. I think we need to do something to show the world that it's safe to come back. If you say it, they'll believe it."
Harry shook his head. "I don't see how that will help. What can I say to ease people's minds?"
Ginny gave him a sidewise look and took a deep breath, steeling her resolve. "Tell them that the three of you are coming back to finish your seventh year."
"Huh?" Harry said clearly surprised. But Hermione's eyes lit up.
"That's brilliant, Ginny!" she said approvingly, her eyes shining at the prospect of spending an entire year doing nothing but studying, writing foot after foot of parchment, and taking the famous Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests.
"Ginny," Harry said doubtfully. "There so much to do.... The ministry is still in chaos, and half the businesses in Diagon Alley still haven't reopened. I couldn't possibly –"
"You deserve to finish your education," Ginny said sternly. "...All of you do. After everything you three did, I don't think there'd be a single person who would fault you for wanting to finish your education."
"Besides, Harry," Hermione added, "it might be just the thing people need to feel safe enough to trust Hogwarts again with their children."
"Exactly," Ginny stated, crossing her arms.
Harry still looked doubtful. "I don't see how...."
"Harry, you defeated Voldemort," Hermione said rolling her eyes. "If you're here, it would undoubtedly make parents feel safer sending their children back. Your name alone inspires confidence in people."
"If you won't do it for the sake of the school, Harry, then do it for Quidditch," Ginny teased.
"And I've seen your fan mail, Harry," Hermione said drily. "If even half the girls under eighteen who've written you come back, then we'll have a full enrolment."
"Now there's incentive," he said sourly. "Why don't I go call on Aragog's family again, shall I? That's much more appealing."
"You're not going to get over that incident in Hogsmeade, are you?" Ginny said with a laugh. "I actually thought it was quite funny."
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Hermione beat him to it. "Harry," she said in her most logical voice, "this may be the only way we can get the numbers we need to reopen the school. Besides, we really do need to finish our education. We owe it to ourselves and Professor Dumbledore."
Ginny knew in that instant that Harry couldn't defend that argument, and she was right.
"We're going to be the oldest seventh years to ever finish Hogwarts," Harry groaned. "I haven't had to do an essay or study for an exam in two years, Hermione. I'm not sure I remember how."
Ginny tickled him in the side producing a grin from him. "You're positively ancient, Harry," Ginny crooned. "Honestly! You're only just nineteen.... Hermione will soon be twenty. Now that's old!"
"Thanks for that, Ginny," Hermione said sarcastically with a grimace. But Ginny could tell she was overjoyed at the prospect of another year at Hogwarts. In an instant her frown had turned into a thoughtful smile. "I never thought this was possible.... I mean, I had always planned to finish, but somehow I thought I'd be doing it through correspondence... not here," she said looking around dreamily, as if in a daze.
"Doing what here?" Ron asked, loping towards at them, only catching the tail end of Hermione's excited babble. He had just finished stacking all the leftover materials from the driveway project and taken them to Hagrid's hut.
"Oh, Ron!" Hermione exclaimed excitedly. "We're going back to Hogwarts!" She practically squealed and threw her arms around him enthusiastically causing both Harry and Ginny to laugh. Only Hermione could get this excited over the prospect of a year of N.E.W.T. preparations.
"Hermione," Ron said slowly as if talking to a simpleton, "you are at Hogwarts."
"No, Ron," she said, brushing him off in an annoyed way. "We're going back to school to finish our education. All of us. The four of us are going to complete our seventh years here in order to show our solidarity and faith in Hogwarts. It's that brilliant?"
Ron mumbled something Ginny couldn't hear but earned him a disapproving look from his girlfriend. Lucky for him she was too busy daydreaming about all the work she would be doing this year to bother reprimanding him.
"Let's go find Professor McGonagall and give her the good news," she said, dragging Ron along with her. He looked back at them helplessly, giving them a rude gesture when they didn't follow.
"Who knew we'd end up finishing at the same time?" Ginny said with a grin.
He pulled her to him and planted a thoroughly satisfying kiss directly on her willing mouth. "The only thing I'm looking forward to is all the broom cupboards we can sneak into when Filch isn't looking," he confessed with a sly grin. "Maybe without Mrs. Norris' spying we can actually get away with sneaking off at night."
"Like that ever stopped you," Ginny giggled. "...Or me, for that matter. You know, I should feel awful that his wretched cat finally kicked the bucket, but I just can't seem to muster the compassion. I've hated that foul thing ever since she caught me sneaking into the trophy room my second year." Mrs. Norris had managed to survive the destruction of Hogwarts along with her owner, but she died two weeks ago in her sleep of old age. Harry and Ginny both thought it was much too peaceful a death for a creature that had delighted in tormenting students for most of her miserable life.
"Why were you sneaking into the trophy room?" he asked curiously.
Ginny flushed at the memory. "I was going to meet Delcey Fisher of Slytherin for a duel. It was a good thing Filch caught me, I suppose. I doubt I could have won."
"Why?" he asked curiously.
Ginny shrugged. "She was a seventh year."
"You were going to duel a seventh year?" Harry said feigning shock. "Ginny Weasley, what were you thinking? You could have died!" he quipped in perfect imitation of her mum.
Ginny laughed, punching him playfully in the arm.
"You know, the more I think about this crazy idea of yours the more excited I get," he admitted. "I never had a truly normal year at Hogwarts. Maybe this year we can all relax and enjoy ourselves."
Ginny rolled her eyes dramatically. "With Hermione badgering us about revising all year and trying to remember things we learned ages ago, I'm not going to count on it. Did you see the gleam in her eye? It was positively scary. Still, it will be normal stuff for a change instead of life or death, won't it?"
Harry didn't answer but pulled her closer to him and leaned his chin on top of her head. At first Ginny thought he wouldn't respond, then he said in a muffled voice, "As long as we're together and safe, I don't care how many revisions I have to do to please Hermione. You're all that matters to me." He pulled away and tilted her chin so that she was looking directly into his eyes. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Ginny Weasley. I love you."
"I love you too, Harry," she said, snuggling into him.
She sighed. Nothing would make her happier than spending a quiet year with him enjoying their last year of innocence together before adulthood truly hit – nothing at all.
[A/N: Expect chapters for this one to be shorter than my normal ones. (Most average between 2,000 and 4,000 words.) Updates will be every five days or so, however, depending on my work schedule. Thanks to Arnel, Melinda, and Terri for all their help. Chapter 2 will be up in approximately five days. Until then....]