A/N: I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but I'm sure I'll do a little of both when I finally hit the 'Complete' button on this story. Here is the conclusion of 'The Letter.' Be sure to read the extended Author's Notes at the end and, for the last time, please take just a minute to leave a review.
The morning of September first was cool, with the first hint of autumn which seemed to make everyone move a bit more briskly than usual. The Potters were no exception, for though they were far from late when they started out for King's Cross Station, James had been rushing everyone to get ready since the crack of dawn. He'd been unable to sit still all morning, and was chattering so vociferously that he didn't even notice when his father turned the car in an entirely wrong direction. But Albus, who was paying attention, called out from the back seat, "Dad, aren't we supposed to go the other way?"
"We have a quick stop to make," Harry replied, and minutes later he was pulling up in front of a handsome Georgian-style house which immediately disgorged Ron, Hermione, Rose, and Hugo.
"Cool!" said James as everyone piled into the car which had been magically expanded to fit a surprisingly large number of passengers in relative comfort. "I didn't realize you lot were coming along!"
"We wanted to surprise you," said Ron, who sat on James's other side with Hugo on his lap while Hermione flanked Rose and Albus. Lily sat up front between her parents, but peered into the backseat to beam at her cousins. "After all, James, you're our godson. We wouldn't miss seeing you off on the school train, would we, Hermione?"
"Of course not," Hermione said with amusement. "Besides, Rose wanted her father to learn the route so he'll be sure to get us there on time next year."
"You can never start too early," Ron replied virtuously. "Harry, Ginny, guess what? I've signed up for driving lessons! I'm going to take the Muggle driving test so I can drive Rosie to the station myself when the time comes."
"Driving lessons?" said Ginny, swiveling around to face him. "You?"
"Why do you say it like that?" asked Ron. "You don't think I can do it?"
Harry and Ginny exchanged a look over Lily's head and said nothing, but Ron surmised a great deal by their silence. "Oh, ye of little faith!" he exclaimed. "I'm a good driver, aren't I, Hugo?"
Hugo nodded loyally, but honesty compelled him to report, "Except for the time you crashed that bumper car at the Fair."
"You're supposed to crash bumper cars, son," Ron pointed out. "That's what they're for."
"You managed to flip yours right over the barrier, though, didn't you?" said Hermione. "And making it levitate back in wasn't the best choice, Ron. I had to perform Memory Charms on half the people there!"
"Fairground rides aren't the same thing as actual driving," Ron said, with his ears nearly as red as his hair. "And I plan to work hard at it. I've already started revising for the theoretical portion."
"Dad won't take it seriously," said Rose. "He keeps making jokes when I quiz him on the Highway Code."
"Well, I ask you," Ron protested, as Ginny giggled and Hermione rolled her eyes skyward, "what sense does it make to memorize the shapes of a lot of different signs when all you have to do is read the bloody things? If it says 'Stop' you stop, right?"
"I may start using the Muggle Underground a bit more often," Harry commented.
"Thanks a lot," said Ron as everyone, even the children, laughed. "Nice to know I can count on my best mate for a little support!"
"I didn't mean it, Ron," Harry assured him. "I've no doubt you'll pass the exam with flying colors."
"That's right, I will!" said Ron defiantly. "Besides, if push comes to shove, I can always Confund the examiner."
"Ron," Hermione said, "either you do this properly or. . ."
"I was making a joke, Hermione. It was a joke!"
"See?" Rose said smugly. "He won't take it seriously!"
They arrived at the station minutes later. After finding a trolley and loading James's trunk onto it, with Nestor the owl hooting dolefully in his cage, they made their way inside and soon found the barrier between platforms nine and ten.
"Want me to go through with you the first time?" Harry offered, but James shook his head with typical brash confidence. After checking to make sure no Muggles were watching, he grabbed hold of the trolley and ran toward the barrier, disappearing from view instantly. Ginny followed with Lily, then Harry with Albus, then all the Weasleys came through, and there was the scarlet steam engine, partially obscured by thick, white steam. Ghostly figures moved about on the platform, but they quickly caught up with James who stood with his trolley next to Fleur and Victoire while Bill helped his sons lift their trunks onto the train.
"Well, little cousin," said Victoire in her best prefect voice. "I hope you plan to do your best to uphold the family honor. I'll be keeping an eye on you, you know!"
"How are you going to do that?" asked James, with a disparaging look at her Ravenclaw badge. "I'm not going to be in your House!"
"No doubt," Victoire said dryly. "But prefects can take points from any House. So I'd advise you to be on your best behavior, young James."
"Be kind, Victoire," Fleur admonished. "'Eet ees only 'is first year at 'ogwarts!"
"Yeah, Vic, have a heart," Remy said.
"Don't call me 'Vic,'" Victoire replied. "And I'll thank you to show a little respect to your elders and betters, brat!"
"You surely don't mean yourself, do you, Vic?" asked Romy with a wicked grin.
Victoire turned to her father in despair. "Dad, you promised to talk to them!"
"Don't tease your sister, boys," Bill replied absently. "Hello everyone."
Before they could respond, a young man with bright blue hair came loping toward them. "Teddy!" James cried, running at him so fast he nearly bowled Ted over. "Did you come to see me off, too?"
"Er, yeah," said Teddy, with a quick look at Victoire, followed by a nervous glance at her parents. "Sure, James. Of course I did. Why else would I be here?"
"Why else indeed?" said Harry, as Ron smothered a laugh after a sharp jab to the ribs from Hermione. "Could I have a word, Ted?"
The walked a little way apart from the others. Harry pulled an envelope from an inside pocket with an impressive attempt at a straight face. Aside from his amusement at Teddy's discomfiture, he was brimming with the surprise contained in the envelope. In fact, he felt a bit like Father Christmas presenting a gift at holiday time.
"I thought I might see you here and brought this along on the off chance," Harry said. "You might find it interesting. It was approved by the Wizengamot just last night."
Looking puzzled, Teddy opened the envelope and read the letter inside. His face went red and his hair turned a brilliant gold.
"Order of Merlin?" he said, looking at Harry in disbelief. "But . . . how . . .?"
Harry grinned. "There's to be a presentation at the Ministry next month. I expect there are a few people you'll want to invite. Your grandmother, for one, and, er, anyone else you happen to think about. We'll be there, of course, with bells on." Harry clapped him on the shoulder. "Congratulations, Ted!"
Teddy read the letter again as though a second reading might convince him. Then he looked at Harry and his expression went from stunned surprised to warm emotion. "This is your doing, isn't it?"
"The Minister proposed it," said Harry. "Although I did agree that it was very well deserved."
"It's your doing, all the same." Teddy held his hand out for Harry to shake. "Thank you, Harry."
Harry ignored the hand and hugged his godson instead. "Thank you, Teddy. Thank you for my sons."
They rejoined the others and congratulations erupted when Harry announced the news, seeing as how Teddy was still too thunderstruck to speak very coherently. James punched the air, Romy and Remy both slapped Ted on the back, while the younger children squealed, clapped, and danced round in a circle. Teddy's hair and face went more brilliant colors as the men shook his hand and the women embraced him. All except Victoire who simply gazed at him with shining eyes.
"That's wonderful, Teddy," she said. "I'm so proud of you!"
"Thanks," he said, staring at Victoire with an expression that mirrored hers. Then he remembered the children, who were all looking at him expectantly. Teddy frowned and cleared his throat a lot more loudly than was really necessary.
"May I escort you to the train?" he asked Victoire in an absurdly formal tone, as if the two of them had only just met.
Even Harry almost laughed out loud, but Ron made no attempt to hold back, despite another nudge from Hermione. "What's so funny?" asked James.
"Nothing, dear," Ginny said, with a glare at Ron and a frown for Harry who wasn't doing much better. Fleur was staring off into space, but her lips had a suspicious twitch about them, and Bill had turned away, seemingly fascinated by the steam rising off the train engine, though his shoulders appeared to be shaking slightly. The children, however, all looked as bewildered as James.
"That would be lovely, Teddy," said Victoire, apparently deciding to ignore her insane relatives. "The prefects' carriage is just this way." And the two of them moved toward the thick smoke until they were enveloped within it.
"We should go," Bill said to Fleur. "I have a lot of work piled up at the bank. You two," he said to his sons. "Behave yourselves. We'll see you at Christmas, all right?"
"Yes, Dad," Romy and Remy said.
"Au revoir," said Fleur, kissing both boys. "Je vous aime, mes fils."
"Au revoir, Maman," they replied. As soon as their parents left, Romy turned to the others and said, "Well, we're off to find a compartment before they're all taken. We'll save you a seat, James. See you in a bit!" And then they vanished too.
Ginny began reciting a list of all the things James should and should not do while Harry observed some of the other excited looking First Years. Without Albus to do his bidding, James would be needing a new second-story man, and Harry was wondering which of these hapless youngsters would be recruited for the job when he caught sight of someone familiar. He excused himself and strode across the platform toward a tall, black man in a dark traveling cloak.
"Potter," said Blaise Zabini, offering his hand for Harry to shake. "I thought I might see you here."
"I'm surprised to see you here," Harry said, shaking the hand Zabini held out. "I thought you'd be at Hogwarts."
"Mother's funeral was yesterday," explained Zabini. "I thought I'd go back on the school train."
"I see," Harry said quietly. "I'm sorry. And I'm sorry we couldn't get the formula to you in time."
Zabini shrugged. "I don't know that it would have made a difference. She was much sicker this time. I doubt that even one of Claude's potions could have saved her."
"I'm sorry," Harry said again.
"Well, she didn't suffer much," Zabini said with a distant look in his dark eyes. "She went quickly."
Harry didn't know what to say, but fortunately he was spared the necessity by the arrival of Ginny and the children. "Hello, Blaise," she said. "I was so sorry to hear of your loss."
"Thank you," Zabini replied, but he wasn't looking at her. He was looking instead at James, who grinned up at him cheekily, Harry was horrified to observe. "And this must be my new pupil."
"Yes, this is our son James," said Ginny. "James, this is Professor Zabini. He'll be your potions teacher at Hogwarts."
James's exuberant spirits were such that he appeared to have misplaced his manners, for he greeted his new professor with a cherry, "Hiya!" Then he caught the hideous look his mother was giving him and amended, "Er, that is, how do you do, er, sir? Er, Professor? Sir?" Which wasn't a whole lot better, Harry thought, heaving forth a lugubrious sigh.
"How do you do, young man?" said Zabini without changing expression. He looked at Harry and Ginny, and lifted a brow ever so slightly. Harry shrugged and Ginny offered a sickly looking smile.
"Ought to be an interesting term," Zabini said. "Well, I should be getting along. If you'll excuse me." Then he too was swallowed up by the mist with a sweep of his long, dark cloak.
"He's a bit scary," said Hermione, who had come up behind them. "Isn't he?"
"Scares the hell out of me," Ron muttered. "Harry, doesn't he . . . remind you of anyone?"
"No," Harry said firmly.
"You're sure? Because he sort of reminds me of. . ."
"No!" Harry said, even more firmly. "He doesn't remind me of anyone."
Ron looked skeptical, but subsided at Harry's thunderous expression. "We'd better get you onto the train too, James," Ginny said. "Oh, look, there's Fred! The two of you can go on together."
Fred came running over and Ginny asked him, "Where are your parents?"
"They just dropped me off," Fred explained. "Dad helped me load my trunk onto the train, but they had to get back to the shop. Have you seen Romy and Remy?"
"They went to find a compartment," James told him.
"They'll have saved seats for us then. Come on, I'll introduce you to a friend of mine. He has a little brother starting this year. You never know, the two of you might get on."
"All right," said James, and for the first time he seemed a bit nervous. He looked first at Lily, who suddenly appeared weepy.
"Don't go, James!" she begged, hugging her brother around the waist. "I don't want you to go!"
"It's okay, Lils," James replied, hugging her back. "I'll be back before you know it. And you've still got Al to keep you company." But then he noticed that Al was looking a little despondent too. James gave him a light punch on the arm. "Hey, squirt. Look after Lily while I'm away."
"Okay," Albus replied dully.
"And look after yourself too."
"Okay," Albus repeated with even less enthusiasm.
"Next year it'll be your turn," James pointed out in a touchingly transparent attempt to lift his brother's spirits. "I'll write and tell you all about it. Then next year, when you come, I can show you around. Though of course I'm sure to be in Gryffindor and you'll probably end up in Slytherin."
This brought Albus out of his slump in a hurry. "No, I won't!"
"Sure you will. You're just the type they go for."
"I won't!" said Albus. "I won't be in Slytherin!"
"You'd better get on, James," said Hermione, leaning down to hug him. "Take care of yourself now."
"That's right, Jamie," Ron added, tousling his hair. "Say hello to Hagrid for us. And watch out for Peeves."
"Bye, Aunt Hermione. Bye Uncle Ron," said James, then looked at his parents. "Well, I guess this is it."
"I guess," said Ginny, and if Harry didn't know her so well he would never have noticed the way her eyes glistened. "We'll see you at Christmas then, darling."
"Sure thing, Mum."
"And please don't do anything in the meantime to make me send you a Howler."
"I won't, Mum."
James hugged his mother and turned to Harry. "Send Nestor to us once you know what House you've been sorted into," Harry said. "Write once in awhile. Let us know how you're doing."
"I will, Dad."
Harry hugged his son and watched as James started to walk away. "James!" Harry called after him. James looked inquiringly at his father. "We love you, son," Harry said.
James rolled his eyes at Fred as if to say, "Parents!" But he gave his mother and father a cocky grin and mumbled, "Love you, too," before jumping onto the carriage.
Harry shut the door behind him and Fred, as doors slammed up and down the train. The boys hung out of the windows, waving, and Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, with the four remaining children between them, waved back. Harry glanced at Ginny and both drew a deep breath at the same time. Ginny took Lily by the hand and Harry gripped Albus's shoulder, but just before the train pulled away a third year boy came up behind Fred and, seeing who he was waving at, shouted, "Sweet Merlin! That man! That man on the platform! Do you . . . do you know who he is?"
"Of course I know who he is," they heard Fred say. "He's my uncle."
"Your uncle?" said the boy in a voice of exaggerated incredulity. "How can he be your uncle?"
"He married my aunt, that makes him my uncle," Fred replied with irrefutable logic.
"But . . . But . . . Do you realize who he is?"
Lily had been following this exchange in bewilderment, then she saw the boy point to her father, who was making a concentrated effort to ignore the attention he was attracting. With a scowl eerily reminiscent of Ginny in a temper, Lily placed both hands on her hips and called out in a voice of righteous indignation, "He's Daddy!"
Everyone froze, then they all burst out laughing. Lily looked around, even more confused, then her lower lip pushed out. They were making fun of her! What could she have done to make everyone look at her that way? But Harry picked her up and hugged her tightly, even as he continued to laugh.
"That's right, Lily," he said. "You've got it exactly right. You know who I am, don't you?" Harry twirled her around in a circle until she was laughing too, and his next words were a roar of triumph, for he shouted them loud enough for everyone on the platform to hear.
This story was inspired by a post-DH interview in which J.K. Rowling said, "Harry and Ginny are soul mates with a passionate connection." I don't believe I am alone in thinking we saw very little of either the passion or the connection in 'Deathly Hallows' whose ending left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Like millions of other fans, I wanted to know what happened during that infamous 19-year gap between "The Flaw in the Plan" and the Epilogue, so I began to try to fill in the blanks on my own. The result was 'The Letter' which has truly been a labor of love. I am a writer by trade, but normally detest the actual process of writing (though I adore having written!). This story, however, has been a joy from start to finish, and the main reason has been reviews from generous readers who have slogged through each chapter and then had both the grace and goodness to leave constructive criticism and glowing accolades which left me floating on clouds of bliss while driving me toward this conclusion.
This has been such a delightful experience that I will almost certainly write another fanfic at some point in the future. One is already in the works, a Christmas story which I've promised to the Reviews Lounge titled 'To Hear the Bells Ring' that deals with many of the same themes in this story. If you have me on your Author Alert list, you'll be notified when that story is posted, and I have a couple of other plot bunnies bouncing around that will probably develop into something eventually. In the meantime, I want to thank each and every one of you for your faithful readership. As for your praise, I can only bow in humble gratitude to the great J. K. Rowling for creating these wonderful characters in the first place. Whatever new vistas I may have opened up for Harry and his friends, I cannot and will not forget that these are Jo's characters and this is her world. I'm only visiting for awhile.
That being said, I have developed a few original characters for the purposes of this story and, in true JKR fashion, I've chosen their names with great care. For those who find such factoids interesting, all of my original characters and the meanings behind their names are listed below in alphabetical order (Oh, and BTW, Fleur's parting words to Romy and Remy at the train station mean, "I love you, my sons," which I figure she said in French to avoid embarrassing them. Boys, you know!):
Claude Attor: Attor is an Anglo-Saxon name that means 'venom.' Since Attor was an expert with poisons, this seemed appropriate.
Calpurnia: The history of Harry's secretary had little to do with the actual plot so I didn't include it in the story, but in my imagination, Calpurnia is the widow of a Ministry official who was killed by Death Eaters. Her reverent attitude toward Harry comes from gratitude to the man who brought down her husband's murderers. Calpurnia, as some of you have pointed out, is indeed the name of a character from 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (one of my favorite novels of all time). But it's also the name of Julius Caesar's third wife, a very proper, dutiful woman who, according to Shakespeare, had a premonition of her husband's assassination.
Andora Dimbleby: Andora comes from the Old Norse word Andor meaning 'eagle.' Andora Dimbleby, as you may recall (Chapter 6), is the new Head of Ravenclaw House whose symbol is the eagle. Dimbleby has no specific meaning, I just liked the sound of it.
Fletcher: Distant relative of Mundungus Fletcher, a petty criminal. Self-explanatory.
Quinella Jones: Quinella's name derives from two sources, a surname (Quinnell) that means 'counselor' or 'teacher' and a Middle English name (Quinilda) that means 'warrior woman.' Quinella Jones (Chapters 8 & 9) manages the Auror training program.
Quincy: No specific meaning. It's an English surname that simply means 'fifth.'
Rowan Scrimgeour: Rowan is the son of Rufus Scrimgeour whose first name means 'red haired' or 'red one.' The name Rowan means 'little red one.' Rowan is also a type of flowering tree whose berries are extremely bitter.
Olga Weasley: In addition to being a common eastern European name, Olga means 'fruitful' and Charlie's wife, who has borne five children and is expecting a sixth, is certainly that. Another source claims that Olga means 'saintly which any woman who marries into this large, confusing tribe would more or less have to be.
Robert Wilkinson: Wilkin is a medieval form of the name William. Wilkinson would be the son of William, which is what I imagine the first name of Robert Wilkinson's biological father to have been.
Arachna Zabini: Although not an original character, the name Arachna is my own choice. Arachna was a figure from Greek mythology who challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest and then hanged herself when she lost. In sympathy, Athena turned Arachna into a spider so that she could always weave beautiful webs. In selecting this name, I was thinking of a type of female spider that kills her mates, but when her spiderlings hatch they crawl onto her back and devour her. Now that's motherly devotion (and I think Ron Weasley just fainted!).
One more name meaning you might find interesting: Cassandra was another figure from Greek mythology, a famous Seer who warned her fellow Trojans to, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." Nobody listened to her (story of my life!) so the Kingdom of Troy was destroyed by a gift from the Greek invaders, commonly known as the 'Trojan Horse.' A Cassandra Cross or Cassandra's Cross is a mark that palmists claim can be found on the palms of those who are born with a special gift for prophecy. And you can take that information any way you like.