A/N: Finally! In the spirit of going on as I began, this chapter gave me fits. I had a dreadful time deciding how to end this story. I really wasn't sure how much to reveal, because I haven't completely decided when or if to write a sequel, but I did want to leave a little bit of mystery, just in case my Muse cooperates enough to let me write Albus's story. Anyway, here is the final chapter of 'Great Expectations.' Thanks so much for your patience and your very kind sentiments.
Seven Years Later
The hired car bumped along a narrow road beside a quiet lake reflecting the softness of a clear, blue sky. It had been cloudy earlier in the day, but by midmorning all traces of fog had disappeared and the threat of rain had also vanished. Purple heather climbed the hillsides and rocky streams twisted their way through clumps of trees and pastures of verdant green where sheep grazed contentedly in cloud-like clusters amid picturesque stone cottages flanked by sycamores and Scotch fir. Only the sound of geese honking overhead shattered the blue and gold silence until the car screeched to a halt and Harry demanded tersely, "Where in the name of Merlin's saggy left. . ."
"Harry!" Ginny warned, as all five children stopped tormenting one another to listen.
"Does anyone have a clue where the blasted road is?" Harry said. "Check the map again, will you, Ron?"
"It shouldn't be much farther," Ron said, poring over the map he had unfurled on the dashboard. "Unless we made a wrong turn at that last fork. . ."
"Well done, Magellan," said Ginny, whose confidence in her brother's navigational skills was wearing thin. "I've always wanted to circumnavigate the globe."
"You're hilarious," Ron said without a trace of humor. "I'm amazed you don't write jokes for the Prophet instead of your Quidditch column."
"The road we want runs parallel to the lake, doesn't it?" said Ginny. "There, as you can plainly see, is the lake. Why is this so difficult?"
"No idea," sighed Ron. "Stupid Muggle map!"
"Why don't we stop somewhere and ask for directions?" Hermione proposed.
Ron and Harry both looked at her as if she had just asked them to jump, fully clothed, into a shark-infested moat.
"We're surrounded by fells and sheep pastures, in case you hadn't noticed," Harry said. "Maybe that ewe over there knows the way."
"Look," said Ron, "let's just keep going. Sooner or later we're bound to end up somewhere, aren't we?"
Everyone stared. "What?" they all said at once.
"Why not just enjoy the journey?" Ron said. "Come on, Harry, drive!"
No one seemed to have any better ideas, so Harry eased back onto the road, but the silence was once more shattered by a shriek from Lily who held up a reddened finger and declared, "Hugo bit me!"
Hermione twisted around to glare at her son. "What have I told you about biting people?"
"Not to," said Hugo, his brown eyes puddling with tears. "But she pinched me!"
"Lily!" Ginny scolded.
"He started it!" Lily said indignantly, flipping her braids over her shoulder for emphasis. "He called me a. . . Mummy, what's a bint?"
"Hugo Septimus Weasley!" Hermione exclaimed. "Where did you hear a word like that?"
"Daddy," Hugo replied in a small voice. "It was what he called that lady at Madam Malkan's who made him wait so long for his new dress robes."
Hermione looked pointedly at Ron, who slumped low in his seat, pretending to concentrate on the map. "You shouldn't use words if you don't know what they mean, Hugo," Rose said in a bossy voice.
"It's not very nice," Hermione informed her son, "and I don't want to hear you saying such things, young man. You either, Rose! As for your father," she added as Ron slumped even lower, "I'll be having a word with him later."
Just for something to do, James twisted Al's arm around his arm around his back and announced, "I'm hungry!"
"Release your brother," Ginny ordered. "How can you be hungry? You had such a big breakfast!"
"Mum, that was ages ago," said James, rolling his eyes. "I'm starving!"
"You're a pig," Albus muttered mutinously, rubbing his arm.
"You're a wanker," James replied. "Ow! Mum!"
Being trapped in an automobile with five children under the age of nine was not what anyone would have called a relaxing holiday, but they were there, ostensibly, to celebrate Lily's fifth birthday. As a special treat, her parents had offered to take her to Hilltop Cottage, the home of the late Beatrix Potter ("No relation," Harry informed his daughter with a smile) whose stories she adored, and they invited Ron, Hermione, and their brood to come along. That was their first mistake. The second was acquiescing to Ron's suggestion that they hire a car on the last day of their trip and see something of the countryside by driving to Rose Cottage.
It had seemed an excellent idea at the time. It was a beautiful, warm July day and the scenery was spectacular, but they had forgotten that children sequestered in a confined space, even with an expansion spell on the car, will eventually declare war on one another. They were due at the Burrow that evening for a proper family birthday tea, but at the rate things were going Ginny thought they might be there in time for Bonfire Night. The kids weren't exactly helping either. As they passed a farmhouse that Ginny could have sworn they'd already passed three times, James let out a shout that nearly caused Harry to drive off the road.
"Hey!" Al yelled, as James shoved a hand into his pocket. "Give it back!"
"It's mine!" James said, holding up a trick wand that immediately turned into a rubber chicken. "It's the one Uncle George gave me! What's it doing in your pocket, you little sneak?"
Albus blinked. "I. . . I don't know."
"A likely story," James scoffed. "Try another one!"
Albus looked dumbfounded. "I must. . . It must have. . ." He turned appealingly to his mother. "I didn't take it, Mum, I swear. I don't know how it got in my pocket!"
Ginny regarded Albus with a sober expression. She had never known him to lie. "All right," she said quietly. "I believe you."
"What?" said James, incensed. "You mean he's not even going to be punished?"
"That'll do, James," Harry said in a stern voice.
James folded his arms, his blue eyes snapping with anger. "You always take his side. Even when he's caught bloody red-handed. . ."
"Mind your language!" said Ginny, then added in a softer tone, "He didn't mean to, James. Just let it go, all right?"
James subsided, muttering under his breath, and Ginny exchanged a look with Harry. It wasn't the first time Albus had displayed involuntary magic, which was common enough in young wizards, but Al had been manifesting these signs since infancy. Even when he was a baby, toys that had been placed on shelves the night before had a way of turning up in his cot the next morning, wilting flowers suddenly bloomed in his presence, and animals seemed strangely drawn to him. The spring after his birth, an unusual number of butterflies fluttered down to perch on the hood of his pram, and birds responded to his cries as if to a clarion call. As soon as he began to crawl and toddle about, Ginny noticed squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, even hedgehogs regarding her son with curious listening attitudes, as if he communicated with them in a way no one else could understand.
Most curious of all was the day James came running into the house in a high state of excitement to announce that his then three-year-old brother was talking to a snake. Harry and Ginny both dashed out into the back garden to find Albus crouched in the grass near the broom shed, assuring a small, green snake that he wouldn't let anyone harm it.
"He was speaking English," Ginny reminded Harry later. "He's not a Parselmouth, Harry. Did you hear any hissing?"
"No," said Harry, but he looked troubled anyway.
"He's sensitive," Ginny said. "That's all it is. A lot of children are sensitive to animals."
Harry gave her a sharp look. "You're sure about that?"
Ginny did not answer, because she had never been sure of anything when it came to Albus. Even James, who attracted trouble the way a magnet attracts iron filings, caused her less worry. She had not forgotten the dreams. Remus and Tonks. Fred. Dumbledore. Sirius. Lily and James. Five dreams. Seven dream visitors. Three great tests of worthiness before the journey began. The first test Ginny assumed he had already passed, having survived his turbulent entry into the world, but the other two were yet to come. An old enemy must be turned away from a Dark Power, and the third. . . Had any of them ever told her what the third test would involve, or was it a mystery he must unravel on his own?
Not that her other children were necessarily easier to cope with. James, in particular, kept Ginny's blood at a constant boil, and Lily could be stubborn, though she was such an endearing little thing that no one could resist her. After the trauma of Albus's birth, it had surprised everyone when Harry and Ginny made a deliberate decision to have another child. Whether it was the triumph of hope over experience or sheer reckless abandon, it turned out to be the easiest pregnancy Ginny had known, and Harry lost his heart the moment he first laid eyes on Lily, a warm, wriggling bundle of dimpled charm who wrapped her father around her little finger and refused to let go. Of course she was very spoilt and got away with much more than she should, but she was merely following in her mother's footsteps, an observation that more than once had earned Ron a smack on the back of the head from his sister.
"Well, here we are," Harry said as they pulled up to the same fork they had turned onto half an hour earlier. "Right back where we started. Now what?"
"We should get the children fed and watered before we do anything else," said Hermione. "If there's time, we can carry on searching for the cottage after lunch."
"Good idea," said Ron. "I'm a bit peckish myself."
"There's a shock," said Ginny. "We're near the village, aren't we? Why not go to The Rose? It would be nice to see the Sinclairs again."
"If they're still there," Harry said. "That was eight years ago, after all."
"I don't see why they wouldn't still be there," said Hermione. "The business had been in their family for generations, they told us. Let's try it, shall we?"
After all the trouble they'd had finding, or rather not finding, Rose Cottage, they found the restaurant with surprising ease. It seemed only minutes before they were pulling up before a stone building with mullioned windows and a wooden sign above the door that displayed a fully-blown, brilliantly red rose.
They were shown past a row of heavy oak tables draped with fine Irish linen and seated near an enormous fireplace whose cheerful flames flickered in greeting. Pewter sconces cast tiny pinpoints of light on the walls as a buxom looking witch in a long skirt and fluffy white blouse came to take their orders.
"Are the Sinclairs in today?" Hermione asked, after everyone had selected something from the menu. "We'd love to say hello, if they are."
The waitress paused, quill still poised above her pad. "Sorry, who?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair," Ginny clarified. "The owners."
The waitress blinked. "Owners of what?"
"This establishment," Ron said, unable to keep the impatience from his voice. Ginny could not blame him. Was the woman an imbecile? "Don't you even know who you work for?"
The buxom witch stared at him. "If. . . if you'll excuse me," she stammered. "I'll, er, just get the manager."
The adults all exchanged wondering looks as she bustled off. They didn't have a chance to wonder long, for they were soon joined by a heavyset wizard who inquired haughtily, "Is there a problem?"
"Not really," Harry said. "We were just looking for. . .
But the heavyset wizard had seen Harry's scar and his eyes widened in recognition. "Mr. Potter! Oh, my, what a privilege! Giles Bosson, sir, at your service. Welcome to The Rose!"
Harry's mouth twisted and a faint line appeared between his brows, but his voice was polite when he said, "Er, thank you. Would it be possible to speak with the Sinclairs?"
Bosson blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"There's no problem," Harry assured him. "We have no complaint. It's just that we met Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair when we were last here and hoped to meet them again, if they're about."
Bosson stared, a bit stupidly, Ginny thought. "I don't understand."
"They own this place, do they not?" Harry repeated, sounding impatient himself now. "We met them when we here eight years ago."
Bosson had gone pale. "You're certain it was eight years ago, sir?"
"Positive," said Harry. "It was the summer of 2005."
"I'm sorry, sir," Bosson said. "But I'm afraid that's quite impossible. The Rose wasn't rebuilt until 2007. This is 2013, so. . ."
"We know what year it is!" Ron nearly shouted. "What do you mean it was 'rebuilt?'"
"It was destroyed by followers of He Who Must Not Be Named during the Second Wizarding War," Bosson explained. "Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair were indeed the original owners, but they were forced to flee to the Continent when they ran afoul of the Dark Lord. Unfortunately, they did not long survive their exile and their daughter, Cynthia, was so grief-stricken that she couldn't bring herself to rebuild until nine years after her parents' deaths. So you see, if you were here in 2005, you would have found nothing but a pile of rubble."
The waitress reappeared, balancing a tray of drinks on the end of her wand. Everyone waited until she had directed each glass to the correct place before turning back to Bosson who had remained, albeit regarding them a bit warily.
"It looks the same," Ginny said in a faint echo of her normal voice.
"Ah!" said Bosson. "Well, as I said, the property passed to the Sinclairs' daughter, who currently makes her home in Lille. Madame Rousseau, as she has been known since her marriage, hired me to oversee the reconstruction and later persuaded me to stay on as Manager. She wanted The Rose to be restored as nearly as possible to the way it was in her parents' lifetime, not only to honor their memory, but also because this place had for so long been an important local landmark. It meant a lot to the villagers to see it returned to its former glory. But Madame Rousseau has not been here since the restoration was complete. It's still hard for her, I think, but she trusts me to manage The Rose on her behalf. We communicate mainly by owl post."
The Potter and Weasley adults looked at one another, then almost as one they looked down the table at the children who had stopped listening to the boring adult conversation. They'd heard such tales of death and destruction all their lives and had learned to tune it out, perhaps as a defensive mechanism. Rose and Albus were having a sword fight with a pair of bread sticks. Lily was blowing bubbles through a straw into a glass of pumpkin juice. James was lobbing sugar packets at Hugo who had ducked behind a menu to protect himself, though he managed to lob a few back. They were so innocent, Ginny thought, five normal, healthy, happy children who had no idea what had been sacrificed so they could exist.
Bosson excused himself to see to other guests and the four stared at one another. "It looks the same," Ginny said again. "Exactly the same."
"Well, it's like he said," Ron replied in an unnaturally subdued voice. "They wanted it to look like the original."
"That doesn't explain how we saw it two years before it was restored," Harry said. "How is it possible? Even with magic, how is something like that possible?"
He looked again at Rose and Albus, and Ginny's gaze followed his. Could it have been a collective hallucination? Yet there sat Albus and Rose, whose very existence was proof that it had been more than a dream.
"Perhaps. . ." Hermione began, rubbing her brow distractedly. "No. No, it couldn't be."
"What, Hermione?" Ginny urged.
"It's nothing," Hermione said. "Well, probably nothing. Although it would explain why we couldn't find Rose Cottage. . ."
"Well, I'm glad you cleared that up," said Ron when she broke off again. "It would have been terribly awkward if you'd just left us hanging."
"Oh, be quiet, Ron." Her frown deepened. "Even if I'm right, it's only part of the answer."
"If you understand even part of it, Hermione, that's more than the rest of us do," Harry said. "So why don't you spare us the trouble of prying it out of you and tell us what's on your mind."
Hermione sighed and lowered her voice so the children wouldn't hear, not that any of them were paying attention. "Have you ever heard of the Novortus Charm?"
"No," said Ginny, and Harry and Ron shook their heads.
"It comes from the Latin words 'novo' meaning to revive, and 'ortus' meaning birth or rising,'" Hermione said. "The most accurate translation would probably be 'rebirth.' It's ancient magic, and very complex. It's a bit like. . . Did you ever see Brigadoon?"
Ron's eyes widened. "What?"
"It's an old Muggle musical film," Harry said. "I saw it on television years ago when the Dursleys were out one night. The only thing I remember is that it was a bit silly, all that singing and dancing and prancing through the heather."
"It's about a mythical Scottish village that only appears out of the mist for a single day every hundred years," Hermione explained. "I doubt there really is such a place, but there have been others like it. We learned about them in History of Magic."
"Hermione," Ron sighed, "you know Harry and I never. . ."
"Avalon?" said Ginny, who had managed to stay awake in Binns' class at least part of the time.
"Exactly," Hermione said, nodding her approval.
"Wait, Hermione," Harry said. "Are you trying to tell us there really was an Avalon? And the whole Camelot legend, the Knights of the Round Table, King Arthur, Excalibur. . . All that really happened?"
Hermione smiled. "It probably didn't happen the way you learned about it in primary school, Harry, but most Muggle legends are based on magical reality. If you'd ever paid attention in History of Magic, you'd know that."
"I've heard of Avalon, of course," said Ron, "but don't remember much except that it had something to do with Morgan le Fey."
"It was an enchanted island," Hermione said, "dedicated to the goddess and presided over by priestesses, one of whom was Morgan le Fey. According to the legend it disappeared into the mist, but it's supposed to reappear when all the signs are right."
"What signs?" asked Ginny at the same time Ron demanded, "What does any of this have to do with The Rose?"
"The ancient sign of the goddess was a rose," Hermione said, apparently deciding to answer both questions at once. "It was a symbol worn only by the High Priestess, and it's one of the signs that magical historians believe will herald the reappearance of Avalon, when Merlin himself will guide a reborn Arthur into a new Age of Camelot."
Ginny felt a chill, though the day was quite warm and they were sitting very near the fire. She shivered and Harry turned to look at her. "Are you cold, love?"
"No, I. . . I'm fine." She looked at Hermione. "It's not there anymore, is it? Rose Cottage, I mean. It was only there that weekend. For us."
Hermione bit her lip. "I don't know, Ginny. I just don't know."
"What are you talking about?" said Ron, but Harry's eyes narrowed in sudden, dawning comprehension.
"The Novortus Charm," he whispered, then turned abruptly to Ron. "Are you still in touch with the supplier who arranged our visit here eight years ago?"
Ron blinked. "I. . . Well, I just assumed he must have moved on. Nice bloke. Funny, I haven't thought of him in awhile."
"When was the last time you spoke to him?" Ginny asked.
Ron's eyes darted between Harry and his sister. "Around eight years ago, I guess."
"Before we were last here?" said Harry.
"Yes, but. . ." Ron said, a bit defensively. "People move on, don't they? It happens all the time. There's nothing sinister about it."
"I didn't say it was sinister." Harry stared at the tablecloth, tracing a rose-leaf pattern with his thumbnail. "Why, though? Why us?"
"Why not us?" Hermione replied. "After everything we've been through, all we've overcome, perhaps we were the most qualified to take on such a challenge."
Ron still looked puzzled, but when he glanced at his daughter there was a shine of tears in his eyes. Rose was tucking into her shepherd's pie and chattering away to Albus to whom she always had a lot to say. The two had bonded in their cradles and were absurdly close, though it was probably the oddest mismatch in history. Rose was brilliant, bossy, and opinionated, whereas Al's dearest wish was to fade quietly into the woodwork. He was the most unlikely leader imaginable, but Ginny supposed the same could have been said of Harry once, and look what he had become. Oh, my darling, she thought. My little boy!
Something hovered in midair and it rendered everyone temporarily speechless. "I'll do some research," Hermione said at last. "I'm sure to find something in the Ministry library."
Ron, Harry, and Ginny nodded. That was what Hermione did. She went to the library. If there were answers to be found she would find them. But no one said anything more about Rose Cottage. As if by unspoken agreement, they all seemed to realize there wouldn't be any point.
Rose Cottage no longer existed. If indeed it ever existed at all.
The family had gathered at the Burrow by the time the Potters and Ron and Hermione arrived. Only Charlie and Olga were missing, but Olga had just delivered her second set of twins, Molly and Magda, and was still recovering from the birth. Their first set, Arthur and Adam, were already two years old, and everyone was looking forward to seeing the new babies when Charlie brought his family to England for their annual visit in August. George and Katie were there, along with Fred, now nine, Gideon, who would be seven in September, and Fabian, who was just sixteen months younger. Bill and Fleur were there as well with Romy and Remy, also nine, and Victoire, thirteen, who had startled the family two years ago by being sorted into Ravenclaw, the first Weasley in generations not to be in Gryffindor. Percy's oldest son, Prewett, was the only Gryffindor to date of the current generation, a fact which Percy could not seem to resist commenting on at every family gathering.
Not that House distinctions were all that important anymore. Ever since the war a greater spirit of cooperation and camaraderie existed between the Houses, and there was no better example of this new harmony than Teddy Lupin. Teddy was a Hufflepuff like his mother and grandfather, but he had friends in all the Houses, even Slytherin, though if anyone could have made friends with Slytherins it was Ted. Handsome and hard-working, everyone's best mate and all-around good bloke, Teddy was easily the most popular boy at Hogwarts, and Ginny could not help smiling at the way Victoire's eyes followed him around the house, garden, and paddock. The girl's crush on her old playmate was blatantly apparent, though Teddy, oblivious in the way of most fifteen year old boys, still treated her like a kid sister, which drove her to near despair. Ginny vowed to have a quiet word with her niece very soon. Love was a madness that followed many wayward paths, but as Ginny knew, it never hurt to have a road map.
Victoire stopped mooning over Teddy long enough to sing 'Happy Birthday' to her cousin when Molly brought out an amazing cake decorated with spun sugar lilies and topped with an animated doll that sang along, only slightly off key. Lily comported herself with dignity. She took no prisoners, ordered no executions, but blew out the candles in a single breath and cut the cake herself with just a little help from her grandmother.
Harry smiled when Lily insisted that he take the first slice. "Thanks, pumpkin. May I have a kiss to go with it?"
"I'm not a pumpkin," Lily objected, though she complied with his request.
"Your hair's the same color," said Harry, tugging at one of her braids.
"Silly Daddy!" Lily giggled, and kissed him again before sauntering away to help her grandmother distribute more cake.
"Why the long face?" Ginny asked, taking a seat beside her husband at the table in the Burrow's back garden. "It's your daughter's birthday!"
"She's five," he said, jabbing a fork at the crumbs on his plate and swirling them around with a disconsolate air. "And next year she'll be six."
"Well done!" said Ginny, taking a bite of cake. "Soon we'll be able to start you on multiplication tables."
Harry didn't laugh. "Where did the time go, Gin? Wasn't it only yesterday she was a little pink bundle I could practically hold in one hand?"
"It does go by in a blink," Ginny agreed. "It really doesn't seem all that long ago that James and Al were babies. Have you seen Al, by the way? He disappeared just after Mum brought the cake out and I haven't seen him since."
"He's probably off with Rose somewhere. You know how they are."
Ginny nodded. She knew. "I worry about them," Harry said. "All of them, really, but Al in particular."
"I know," said Ginny. "So do I."
They had talked about it so many times that there couldn't be anything left to say, but it hung over them like a pall, especially after what had happened earlier that day. Most of the time they simply lived with the knowledge, because Harry, of all people, knew the futility of kicking against something that may or may not be inevitable. But Ginny knew it was why he put in such ridiculously long hours as Head of the Auror Department. Whatever challenges Albus might have to face in the future, Harry was determined to ensure that there would be few left over from the past.
"I don't know if I can go through it again, Ginny," Harry said. "Especially not with one of our kids. It'll be so much harder to watch him. . ."
"He's not you, Harry," Ginny said. "He's a different person and he'll have a different set of challenges, but we can help him develop his strengths and we'll be there to support him every step of the way."
Harry nodded, but his eyes were distant, as if he saw into the past and future and didn't approve of either one. "I just wish I could keep him safe. I wish I could keep them all safe. That's why it pains me to see them growing up, because I know I can't protect them much longer. They'll go out into the world and when they do. . .Well, I wish I could keep them safe."
"It goes with the territory, love," said Ginny. "It's the hardest part of parenting, standing back far enough to let them spread their wings. But we'll always be on hand, ready to catch them if they fall."
"What if we can't catch them?" Harry said. "What if they never even learn to fly? What if one of them breaks a wing and is eaten by cats or something?"
Ginny laughed at the lengths to which he had carried the metaphor. "Shall we go over all the horrid possibilities?"
"Oh, let me worry a little," Harry sighed. "I'll feel better if I do."
Ginny smiled. She had never heard a truth more aptly expressed. "Even if we keep them locked in padded cells the rest of their lives, you'd still find reasons to worry. You worry about everyone all the time, Harry. You always do."
Harry's mouth twisted. "You know me too well, woman."
"Not nearly well enough sometimes," Ginny said. "You worry about everyone else and I worry about you."
"Well, maybe we should go for a fly to clear both our heads. Are you up for a game of Quidditch?"
"Aren't I always?"
Harry grinned. "Silly question. Okay, let's round up the kids. But I get Fred and James this time."
"In that case, I get the twins."
"Then I get Ron and George."
"Only if I get Bill and Teddy. You can have Katie and Gideon, and I'll take Al and Rose if I can find them. You don't think the four P's will want to play, do you?"
"I hope not," Harry said. "I don't much fancy patching them up again. Meet you at the paddock in fifteen?"
"Done," Ginny said.
To Ginny's surprise, Albus was not with Rose, whom she found playing wizard's chess with Priscilla while Prescott and Prudence waited their turns to be soundly thrashed. Rose was amenable to Quidditch, however, and left her cousins to their own devices while Ginny went in search of Al. She finally located him near the frog pond where he and Teddy appeared to be engrossed in deep conversation. They looked up when Ginny approached and both were delighted to hear she'd tagged them for her team.
"We'll beat Dad for sure!" Albus enthused, punching the air. "You always win, Mum. Can I be Seeker?"
"Of course," said Ginny, and Al dashed off to collect his new racing broom.
Teddy waited until Al was out of earshot before saying, "He's such a funny kid."
"Funny?" said Ginny. "In what way?"
"A good way," Teddy insisted. "It's just. . . Well, he's always having those odd dreams, isn't he?"
Ginny smiled. "He's had a few. Why? Did he have one about you?"
"About my parents, actually," said Teddy. "He was just telling me they're both really proud of me for being made a Prefect. Weird, huh?"
It took Ginny a minute to respond because her throat suddenly felt tight. "I think he's right, Teddy. I think they are proud of you. I know I am."
Teddy peered at her from the corners of his eyes. "Yeah, well, it's like I said, he's a funny kid."
He went off to select a broom, leaving Ginny alone in the gathering twilight, thinking of something someone once said to her, though she no longer remembered just who had said it or even in what context. The sentiment was clear, though: some things weren't meant to be understood. They were only meant to be felt and the strength of the feeling was proof of how true it was. What happened at Rose Cottage was a mystery, but so was life itself and so was the love that created it. And if proof was in the results, then her feelings told her that what happened all those years ago was good and very, very right.
She thought about the summer after Albus was born when a sapling had appeared in the back garden at Grimmauld Place, in the very spot where all the children loved to play. The roots, having apparently lain dormant for years, sent forth a healthy shoot that summer and now a young tree stood in place of the one that had been destroyed by lightning. It was a sign, Ginny realized now, a sign that in the end all would be well. She wasn't sure how she knew this, but what Ron said that morning was actually a profound truth. If you kept going, sooner or later you'd end up somewhere, and perhaps the destination wasn't all that important. It was the journey that mattered, and Ginny knew that she wouldn't have changed a thing about her own. Not the joy or the heartache, not the laughter or even the loss. It was all part of who she was and how she'd gotten there. It was part of who they all were, and the never-to-be-forgotten dead who had not gone, but were merely invisible for awhile.
Death was part of the journey, for it was only a passage into another life in which they would all be reunited one day. They would always be missed, those who had fallen: Remus and Tonks, Fred, Dumbledore, Sirius, and Lily and James whose legacy lived in the form of their son. Now that son had children of his own, and the future belonged to them. Perhaps some of it was fated, but the rest was in their hands, hands too small as yet to bear the weight of great expectations, but someday they would be equal to it. Ginny and Harry, and all the others would see to that. These saplings would grow in good soil, and only when they were strong enough to stand alone would they begin their own journey.
Harry came up beside Ginny, holding out a broom and grinning down at her in challenge. But there was a look in those astonishing emerald eyes that thrilled her, a look that made her heart flutter like a lovesick schoolgirl, and she knew that it would be there as long as either of them lived.
"Ready?" he asked.
"For anything," Ginny replied, and together they kicked off and zoomed into the night sky.
A/N: As promised, below are the sevens that I deliberately wove into the story. Some of these clues helped readers guess what was coming. As I did with The Letter, I'm also including the meaning behind the names of my original characters (OC's). Thank you all so very much for the amazing reviews, as well as all the support and encouragement you've provided throughout this incredibly long, difficult odyssey. I will keep writing, I promise. Take care!
Note to Anonymous Reviewers: Thanks to the following Anonymous Reviewersfor brightening my world with your thoughtful comments: Leira, infinity, Celestina, Amy, Chicken Child, Noviwanwife, Clio, Raging Tomato, Dana, Mrs.H, Christina, Willa, Naomi, THEWORLDOFHPEXISTSNOMATTERWHAT, Jessica, bibay, amy, and jnnmbby.
Ginny is a seventh child
Harry was born in the seventh month (July)
Story begins seven years after the end of the war
James is seven months old when Harry & Ginny go to Rose Cottage
Albus and Rose were conceived in the seventh month (July)
Teddy Lupin is seven years old at the start of the story
Lucius Malfoy has a seven-year prison sentence
Albus is born after seven months gestation
Albus was born on the 25th of the month (2 plus 5 equals 7 – okay, this one's a stretch!)
Albus was in the NICU for seven weeks
Septimus (Hugo's middle name, also Ron's paternal grandfather) means seventh
Seven ghostly visitors
There were seven words on the magic parchment that allowed Harry and Ginny to communicate while he was in the Balkans
Final chapter (epilogue) takes place when Albus and Rose are seven years old
I may have missed a few. If anyone finds additional sevens in the story, let me know.
OC Name Meanings
Abeona: Roman goddess, believed to watch over children and ease the fears of parents as they took their first steps.
Lucretia Avenir: Avenir is a French word that means future. Madame Avenir, as you may recall, is a Seeress.
Giles Bosson: Bosson comes from the French "garcon," someone who serves food and drink. The name Giles derives from the Scots word "gillie," an attendant or servant.
Austerus Blunt: Play on words. Combine "austere" and "blunt."
Pavel Dragovic: Dragovic is a Serbian and Croatian surname which means either "of the dragon" or comes from the personal name Drago, which means "beloved." I found both meanings, but not sure which is correct, so take your pick.
Raphael Galen: Raphael comes from an ancient Hebrew name meaning "God has healed." Claudius Galenus, also known as Galen, was a Greek physician whose theories dominated Western medicine for over a thousand years.
Ilythia Giatros: Giatros, as previously stated, is a Greek word that means physician. Ilithyia (also spelled Eileithyia) was the Greek goddess of childbirth and labor.
Archibald Hines: the surname Hines comes from the English word "hind" and is generally thought to mean someone who is timid as a hind (female red deer).
Ivan Horvath: Horvath is a Slovenian nickname for someone from Croatia.
Niko Kovac: Kovac is a common Slavic surname in Croatia, Serbia, and the Czech Republic. It means blacksmith, or someone who works with metal.
Nicolai Petroff: Petroff is a Bulgarian surname. Comes from the name Peter which means "The Rock."
Cynthia Rousseau: Rousseau is a French name that means red-haired. Cynthia is another name for Artemis, the Moon goddess.
Monte and Sophie Sinclair: Readers of The DaVinci Code will recognize Sinclair as an English variation of the French name St. Clare which, according to some sources, is one of the families descended from the "royal" bloodline of the Rose.