'Hello, Mr Granger? It's Harry Potter; could I speak to Hermione, please?'
'I'll just get her for you, Harry, she's busy in the garden with her mother.'
'Harry? Is that you, where's Ron? He said he'd phone. Has something happened to him?' Hermione sounded panicky.
'He's fine, Hermione, he's standing next to me. We decided that I'd better start the conversation because his only other attempt at a phone call was a bit of a disaster. How are you?
'I'm … okay. Put Ron on, please, and tell him not to shout.'
'She says don't shout,' Harry handed the phone over to his friend, who lifted it cautiously to the side of his head, holding it well away from his ear as though he was afraid it would explode.
'Er, hello?' said Ron.
'Oh, Ron, it's great to finally hear from you.'
'I know, ten whole days; I wanted to phone last weekend, but Harry told me not to. He thought that it would be too soon.'
'Thanks, Ron,' Harry grumbled.
'How are you, how's work, Auror training, everything?' Hermione asked. Harry could hear her clearly but stood in silence and let his friends talk.
'Fine, we've only been in the office for a week, but training's already hard work and they're giving us loads of research to do. Harry's trying to take charge, of course. He's got us working on a new security system for the Ministry building in our spare time – not that there's much of that. Ginny's started working for George. They hope to re-open the shop next week. We're all keeping busy and working late. Harry's still at the Burrow with us. He keeps talking about moving back to Grimmauld Place. Mum doesn't think that he should be "all alone in that big old house," and neither does Ginny for some reason. But I think that would be a good idea. He definitely needs to see less of Ginny. I'm getting fed up of walking in on them when they're trying to lick each other's tonsils; it's disgusting.'
'Don't be cruel, Ron.'
'It's never much fun when you're not around, Hermione. I miss you.'
'That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me.'
'I'm not being nice, I'm being honest. I even miss being told off by you! How are things with your parents?'
'We're … working things out. They were impressed with you all at Heathrow and Waterloo; almost normal, they said … which is good. I'm going to try to persuade them to let you visit before we go to France. Kingsley's been here. He arrived in a car yesterday and spoke to Mum and Dad. He's offered them compensation and had a long talk with us. He was brilliant – wore a smart Muggle suit and he had a copy of yesterday's Prophet with him. The front page photo of him shaking hands with the Muggle Prime Minister helped, too. He made quite an impact on Dad.'
'Did Kingsley leave the paper with you?'
'There was an article on page six about Skeeter's trial. She was found guilty of failure to register as an Animagus and of burglary.'
'Burglary!' squealed Hermione, 'where did she burgle?'
'Azkaban,' Ron chuckled, 'she pleaded guilty to both charges because Kingsley threatened to charge her with treason if she didn't. She's in Azkaban legally now, for six months. She was fined five thousand Galleons, too. We reckon she'll be out in three months and trying to sell a new book on the prison system.'
'It's not long enough,' Hermione grumbled.
'Hi, Hermione, it's Ron. I dialled the number myself, this time, and it's only the third time we've telephoned you.'
'I suppose that you think that's a big achievement,' Hermione laughed.
'It is.' Ron was too happy to be speaking to her to sound hurt. 'How're things? Going to let me in on your big secret yet?'
'It wouldn't be a secret if I did that, Ron,' Hermione answered the second question first. 'Things are good, very good. Mum and Dad would like you all to come over next Sunday. You, Harry and Ginny. Mum and Dad want to meet you all properly. I'll meet you at Winchester Station at noon if you can make it.'
'GREAT,' shouted Ron, talking very quickly, 'I'll be able to come, I'll be there. You can rely on me. Harry's standing outside the phone box. Did I tell you that Harry wasn't even in the box when I dialled the number myself? I'll ask him …'
Ron's voice was suddenly distant. 'Can we get to Winchester Station next Sunday, at twelve o'clock, to meet Hermione? Ginny can come, too.'
Hermione heard Harry's muffled voice in the background.
'Harry says yes, we'll all be there,' Ron told her happily.
'Just one more week then I'll see you all, I can hardly wait,' said Hermione, 'how's work going?'
'Loads of homework; I really, really, miss you.'
'It'll do you good to do your homework yourself, Ronald, instead of relying on me to help!' snorted Hermione.
'Now that sounds more like the Hermione I know and love.'
Hermione gasped, 'What did you just say, Ron?'
'Sit down, Ron,' Ginny ordered, 'walking up and down the train won't get you to Hermione any sooner.'
'We're nearly there,' Ron told his sister, 'it's the next station. I'm going to stand by the door.'
He did so, his hand hovering over the "open" button. He was bouncing with excitement. He had loudly announced every station they'd reached, and had been counting down the stops.
'Only four stations left,' then 'three more to go,' until finally, 'Winchester is next stop!'
Harry, his arm casually draped over Ginny's shoulder, watched Ron with some amusement. He'd never seen his friend so excited. Ron was now busily checking his reflection in the train window. As he flattened his hair and adjusted the collar of his polo shirt for at least the twentieth time, Ginny gently squeezed Harry's knee.
'Better check your fly as well, Ron,' she deadpanned.
He looked down, panic written across his face, only to realise that Ginny was joking. Harry, Ginny, and several other passengers who'd been listening to the exchange, burst out laughing. At that point the train began to brake, and Ron stumbled against the transparent plastic screen next to the door.
'Wazzock,' he told his sister when he regained his balance.
'Pillock,' she replied cheerfully.
Ron looked ready to continue the name-calling, but the train was pulling into the station and he realised that he was standing on the wrong side for the platform. He rushed across to the door opposite, reaching it just as the train stopped and the "open" button lit up. He was out before the doors were completely open and looking wildly up and down the platform. By the time Harry and Ginny reached the door, he was sprinting down the platform towards Hermione.
Harry and Ginny strolled along the platform, each with a hand slipped into the back pocket of the other's jeans. Like most people in the station, they watched Ron and Hermione snogging passionately.
'D'you think that they've spoken to each other yet?' Ginny asked. Harry laughed and shook his head.
'How long do we give them?' he asked, 'As long as they need?'
'After all of the times Ron's interrupted us over the past month?' grinned Ginny wickedly as they reached the kissing couple, 'I don't think so!'
'Hi, Hermione, not found anyone better than Ron yet?' Ginny began, before putting on her "Ron" voice. 'That looks disgusting! Will you two stop it! Do you have to do that in front of me? Just put her down, will you?'
Harry grinned as he remembered the many occasions in the past few weeks that Ron had directed those, and other similar comments, towards Ginny and himself. After some further hectoring, Ron and Hermione finally parted. Hermione hugged both Harry and Ginny.
'I've brought a picnic lunch,' said Hermione. 'Mum wants us home at three o'clock for a chat, then Dad's going to take us out to The Cricketers for dinner.'
'A chat?' Ron looked worried.
'The Cricketers?' asked Ginny, confused.
'It's a pub, Ginny,' Hermione answered her before turning to Ron, a serious expression on her face.
'They want to meet my boyfriend, and the other boy I've told them so much about. They want to get to know you.' Hermione hesitated, 'They … they want to see if you're safe to be seen with.'
'If they think that you're weird,' Hermione looked desperate, 'we won't be going out for a meal, and you won't be invited back.'
'Oh,' said Ron worriedly, 'do we look all right? We've done our best.'
'We've been practicing,' Ginny reassured Hermione, 'Harry and I have been giving up our precious free time to drag Ron around the Muggle world. He's getting used to it.'
'They spend most of their time in the Muggle world,' explained Ron, 'mainly because the press and his fans are after Harry whenever he appears in Diagon Alley, or anywhere magical. It's got a lot worse since the day we were spotted at Gringotts. Harry doesn't like being pestered for photos or autographs.'
'I can be invisible in Muggle London without a cloak,' Harry agreed, 'and the Prophet's trying to check up on Ginny, too, now that they know we're going out.'
'They're calling her "the Chosen One's Chosen One,"' Ron sniggered. Ginny pulled a face, and then grinned.
'I've asked George for a raise,' she told Hermione. 'We're getting people coming into the shop just because I'm working there.'
Hermione smiled before putting on a serious expression. 'Ron,' she looked worried, 'when we go out for a meal…'
'Don't scoff my food, I know; Ginny's already given me the lecture.'
'I was going to say don't get drunk,' corrected Hermione. 'Dad's bound to offer to buy you a drink as you're eighteen. But Muggle beer isn't like Butterbeer.'
Ron nodded his compliance. 'How are things?' he asked as Hermione led them from the station.
'Much better,' Hermione smiled sadly, 'I really hurt them, but I think that they understand now. They want me to be more … normal, more Muggle. I can understand why. I don't want to hurt them again, so please try to act like Muggles today,' she continued seriously, 'try to fit in and be normal. It will really help with Mum and Dad.'
They stopped next to a small blue car and Hermione produced some keys.
'Is this your secret?' Harry asked, impressed.
'I've been taking driving lessons, a belated eighteenth present. I passed my test two weeks ago. This is Mum's car,' said Hermione, nodding proudly, 'I thought we could picnic in Micheldever Wood.'
After congratulating Hermione, they climbed into the car and were carefully driven away.
The meal was over. Ron had again been jokingly reminded by Ginny that, as none of their brothers were at the table, he didn't need to eat quickly to stop them from stealing food from his plate. He'd been on his very best behaviour.
Although he had politely declined Mr Granger's offer of a beer with his mixed grill, Hermione's father had continued to press him. He'd eventually accepted a half pint of Hambleton Bitter. He'd hardly touched it, but had been polite about its taste when Mr Granger asked what he thought of it. Hermione's father was on his second pint of the stuff and complaining about Australian lager.
Hermione had taken a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with her steak. Ginny had wanted to try the wine, but had been reminded that, at sixteen, she was not allowed alcohol. Ron had been cross with his sister, but Mrs Granger, to the surprise of both her husband and daughter, had entertained them with some of her own experiences of underage drinking.
'Thanks for the meal, Mr Granger, Mrs Granger,' said Ron politely, Harry and Ginny chorused their thanks, too. 'We've had a great day; I hope that we can see Hermione again soon.'
Mr Granger looked at his wife, who nodded.
'We leave for France in two weeks,' he told Ron, 'and we'll be away for over a month.'
'Oh,' Ron's face fell, 'I'd forgotten.'
'We were wondering if the three of you might like to join us for the last two weeks?' offered Mr Granger 'Provided your parents agree, of course.'
'I have no-one to ask,' Harry said, 'but if Ron and Ginny can go, I'll come, too.'
'No chance,' Ginny scowled, 'Mum'll never let me go off on holiday with Harry.'
'We'll be there, too,' Mrs Granger smiled, 'to make sure that you all behave yourselves. Ask your Mum to phone us, Ginny; we can talk it over.'
'I don't think Mum's ever used a telephone,' said Ginny uncertainly, 'but I'll ask.'
They discussed the possibility of meeting Hermione in France for some time. It was late when they finally left the country pub and were driven back to Winchester Station by Mrs Granger.
'We've kept you out much longer than we intended, sorry. When is your next train?' Mrs Granger apologised as they climbed out of the car, Hermione joined them.
'I'm not sure,' admitted Ron, 'but we'll be able to get home, don't worry.'
'Thank you for a great day; I didn't want it to end,' Ron continued.
'Well done, Ron,' Hermione whispered as she kissed him goodnight, 'you've won my Mum and Dad over. Now you've just got to persuade your Mum to let you come to France.' She climbed back into her father's car and buckled her seatbelt. They waved goodbye and watched the Grangers drive out from the station car park. Satisfied that they were gone, Ginny wrapped her arms around Harry, preparing for Side-Along-Apparition.
'Take me to my bed,' she told Harry.
'Best behaviour!' Ron begged, 'Don't even joke about things like that. We've got to be on our best behaviour for Mum. We could go on a real holiday! With Hermione!'
They Apparated back to the Burrow.
Harry stood up spluttering, shaking the seawater from his glasses.
'That one caught me by surprise,' he coughed while Ron watched laughing.
'You should be watching the waves, not ogling my sister,' Ron told him. A huge Atlantic wave crashed over Ron's head and knocked him over. Harry, who had seen this one coming, jumped and allowed the wave to carry him closer to the shore. He waved at Ginny and Hermione.
'You can talk,' he said, chuckling.
Ron struggled to his feet in the undertow, 'It's those bikini things, very distracting. I don't know what Mum will say when she sees the photos.'
'We've been here nearly a week,' Harry said, 'D'you think we'll get used to it?'
'I bloody well hope not!' Ron grinned. He stared at Hermione, who was standing at the water's edge. 'They're waving; it must be time to go and get ready for your birthday dinner.'
'We've been here all afternoon. We've been swimming, but they have just been lying in the sun. They haven't been in the water yet,' Harry pointed out. Ron winked at his friend. 'Good luck catching Ginny, mate.'
'Mum and Dad will be in the car park in fifteen minutes, you need to come out and get dry,' ordered Hermione, hands on hips, as the two young men walked into the shallows. She was healthily tanned, relaxed and unsuspecting. Ginny, however, was watching Harry suspiciously.
One of the many things Harry had discovered over the past few months was that it was very difficult for him to ambush his girlfriend. Hermione was different. As she turned to walk back up the beach Ron grabbed her around the waist. She struggled and screamed but he lifted her easily and carried her into the waves. Harry glanced at Ginny; she seemed to be watching Ron. He made his move, but wasn't quick enough. Ginny grinned, stuck out her tongue, and skipped back out of his reach.
There was a scream and splash behind him. Harry turned to see Hermione struggle to her feet. She was soaked and angry-looking. He watched Hermione curse at, laugh with, hug and kiss Ron.
Suddenly sensing movement behind him, Harry sidestepped. Ginny had darted forwards to push him over. He managed to grab her wrists and pull her into the ocean.
They met Mr and Mrs Granger on time by climbing up the steep path to the car park still in their wet swimwear, laughing and joking.
'You're the ones who'll be sitting in it when we go out to the restaurant,' Hermione's father told them cheerfully, as they travelled back to the gite wrapped in their towels, covering the floor and seats of Mr Granger's large car in damp sand. He sniffed the salty air. 'This takes me back to when you were small, Hermione. The trips to the beach with those old school friends of yours and a car full of sand and sea smells on the way home.'
At the gite, Harry and Ron went into the bedroom they shared and chose clean clothes for the evening. Two hours later, showered and changed, they were sitting in a seafront restaurant ordering Harry's birthday meal. Mr Granger ordered three bottles of the fine local wine. Ginny had been surprised at the Granger's changed attitude, but Mr Granger had simply said 'French law is different.'
Ron grumbled under his breath about the choice on the menu; he was not enamoured of French cuisine. Harry and Ginny, like Hermione and her parents, were enthusiastically trying new things. Harry had not found anything he didn't like. He grinned to himself as he ordered moules marinières.
'What's funny?' Ginny asked him.
''I'm eating "foreign muck"; my Uncle Vernon wouldn't approve,' Harry explained. 'But he never approved of anything I did.'
'They didn't send you a card,' Ginny observed, 'or a present. I thought that eighteen was important to Muggles.'
'I didn't expect them to; I'm not important to them,' Harry told her irritably.
'Have you seen them yet?' she asked.
'No,' replied Harry loudly, his temper beginning to rise. The tone of his reply was angrier than he'd intended and Ginny raised her eyebrows in surprise. 'Dedalus took them home and told them that I was okay, and Vernon told him to get out, that he never wanted to see another wizard for as long as he lived. So I'm going to wait for them to contact me.'
'Do you like your presents?' Ginny abruptly changed the subject after his sudden outburst.
'Sorry, Ginny. Yes, my presents are great,' Harry told her honestly. He hadn't actually seen any of them. They had agreed not to bring anything magical to Brittany with them, apart from their wands, of course. All Harry had were photographs. To his surprise, the DA had clubbed together and bought him a custom made dark detector. Ron, Hermione and Ginny, flush with the money she'd made working for George, had jointly bought him a Nimbus 2001. The 2001 was, Harry knew, being heavily discounted because of the forthcoming release of the new Nimbus Stormcloud on the first of September, but it was still an expensive broom.
Harry knew about the discount on the Nimbus because he'd almost ordered himself a Stormcloud a couple of weeks earlier. He'd decided that he didn't really need a new broom yet. Instead, he had ordered a Stormcloud for Ginny for her seventeenth. The Nimbus Broom Company had an embargo on any sales before September the first. They had, however, been prepared to make an exception for Harry Potter after he'd called into their workshops to ask. Now, he didn't know what to do. His surprise present for Ginny had been pre-empted.
'It's just that you seem a bit unhappy about it,' Ginny pressed. He looked her in the eyes.
'I like it; I almost bought myself a broom two weeks ago,' he said carefully. Ginny opened her eyes wide, smiled, and kissed him. She's guessed, he thought.
The meal arrived and Mr Granger filled everyone's glasses. His wife was driving, but he pressed her to take a half glass. He raised his glass to Harry.
'Happy eighteenth birthday, Harry,' he smiled. 'I can't say that I approve of all of the things you've done. But I know that my daughter was a willing accomplice. I'm certain that Hermione hasn't told us the worst of it, but it's over, and you're all safe, and we must be grateful for that. To Harry. Happy birthday!'
They clattered glasses together as everyone wished him a happy birthday then, to his horror, they sang "Happy Birthday" to him in the busy restaurant.
'We didn't know what to get you, Harry,' Hermione's mother said apologetically, 'so we thought we'd get you something to remind you of this holiday.' She handed him a soft parcel. Harry ripped open the wrappings; it contained a Breton jumper, which he immediately pulled on. He struggled to pull his head through the neck hole. This gave him the opportunity to wipe the moisture from his eyes.
'Copycat,' said Ron, when Harry arrived to give Ginny her carefully wrapped, but still obviously broom-shaped present. It was a glorious late summer day. The Weasleys and Hermione were sitting in the orchard above the Burrow. He had Apparated into their midst.
'He bought it for me before we bought his,' Ginny told her brother, confirming Harry's suspicions from two weeks earlier.
'Ordered,' he corrected. Ginny gasped as she tore the paper from the broom-shaped parcel.
'A Stormcloud! They're not even released yet! How on earth did you get one? You shouldn't have, Harry, it's really expensive! Thank you.'
'You'll need a good, fast broom if you're made Quidditch Captain,' Harry told her. 'You were brilliant on that old Cleansweep; you'll be sensational on the Stormcloud. The professional teams will be queuing to sign you up.'
Ginny kissed him, and kept on kissing him despite complaints from her eldest brother.
'Relax, she's just warming up for a game of Quidditch,' Charlie assured a puzzled Bill, while George, Percy and Ron laughed.
'Seventeen today,' she told Bill when she finally finished, 'I can do what I like.'
'Being seventeen makes no difference,' George told her, shaking his head. 'You always have.'
'True,' Ginny smiled. She grabbed Harry's hand and dragged him behind a tree. Once out of sight of her family, her face changed.
'Never, ever, spend that much money on me again, Harry,' she hissed angrily.
'You need a new broom,' Harry protested. 'I thought that you had guessed.'
'I thought you'd bought a Nimbus 2001 because of the discount,' her voice husky with emotion. 'That was really too much. Ron, Hermione and I had to save hard to buy you the 2001. I borrowed from George, too. But you …you buy a Stormcloud, before they go on sale, and don't even notice! You're impossible, Harry. I can never repay you.'
'I don't want you to.'
'Never again, Harry. Promise me.'
'Okay, Ginny. I promise not to buy you expensive gifts ever again,' he told her sadly. 'I'll buy you a cheap quill for the next twenty Christmases, okay?'
'That's not quite what I had in mind,' Ginny's anger faded as she gazed into his eyes. 'It's just that I don't want people to think that I'm your pampered princess, Harry.'
'You could never be that,' said Harry smiling. 'Pampered Princesses don't play Quidditch, do they? They just lounge around doing nothing except spend other people's money.'
'Thank you,' apologised Ginny. 'It's a great broom, and I should have been more grateful.' She pulled him down for another kiss.
They were interrupted by a shout from Ron. 'Owls,' he pointed at two specks in the sky.
Everyone watched in silence as the owls swooped down and landed, one in front of Hermione and one in front of Ginny. 'It's our Hogwarts letters at last,' Hermione squealed, tearing open her envelope. Something red and gold fell out and landed on the ground. Hermione shrieked excitedly, but Ron grabbed it before Hermione could pick it up. He looked at it, turned, and winked at Harry.
'Some new security thing, I suppose,' he told Hermione, clenching it tightly in his fist and holding it straight up in the air, well out of her reach.
'Security?' Hermione looked disappointed.
'Yeah, a badge with your initials on it,' he told her, 'looks like Ginny's got one, too.'
'Except my initials aren't QC,' Ginny laughed, 'Quidditch Captain!' she held her badge up for everyone to see. Harry and her family rushed forwards to congratulate her. Ron lowered his hand, although not low enough for Hermione to reach it, and looked again at the badge he was holding.
'Hermione Granger,' he announced, 'unless there's something else HG could … wha-ha-ha,' he staggered backwards as Hermione tickled his ribs. She hooked a foot around his ankle, making him stumble and fall. Jumping on top of him she straddled his waist and reached up to try to prise the badge from his hand.
'You rotten sod, Ron,' she squealed, as he lay on the grass laughing. He held the badge out for Hermione. When she snatched at it he grabbed her arms and pulled her down on top of him.
'Head Girl,' Ron shouted. He kissed her.
'There's still half an hour before the train leaves,' Ron grumbled to Harry, rolling his eyes towards Hermione. 'We've never ever been this early, and we're not even going!'
'I need to meet up with Justin,' Hermione reminded her boyfriend, as she dragged Ron towards the barrier.
'My Mum and Dad were Head Boy and Head Girl,' said Harry, winking at Ginny, 'and they ended up getting married.'
'He's nice, isn't he, Justin?' Ginny added. 'Not as nice as Harry. But he's Muggleborn, like you, Hermione, and he's split up with Hannah. His family are very rich…' Ginny looked meaningfully at her brother, whose ears were turning pink.
'Don't listen to them, Ron, they're just trying to wind you up ... Dean is back at school too, and Ginny has history with him,' she added archly.
'Never look back is my motto,' teased Ginny, 'so he's the one boy in the school Harry doesn't need to worry about. How many more does that leave me?'
'Do you want me to leave you here?' laughed Harry as they walked towards the barrier, 'so you can check out the first years in peace?'
'Cheek,' Ginny scolded.
'What happened between Hannah and Justin?' Hermione asked.
'They got together during the worst part of last year. But now that things are returning to normal, Justin decided that he shouldn't be going out with a barmaid. He suggested that Hannah get a better job. When she refused, they argued and he chucked her,' Ginny said. 'At least, that's what Lavender told me when she called in to the shop.'
'Why did Lavender call in to the shop?' Harry asked.
'Gossip,' Ginny said, 'and company. You should go to see her. She's been really depressed since Robards refused to allow her to take the Auror entrance exam.'
Harry nodded sadly. 'I will, if that's okay with you, Ginny.' She smiled, nodded and kissed him.
'I won't,' Ron said bluntly. Hermione didn't comment.
Hand in hand, the two couples stepped through the barrier and onto Platform 9¾. The platform was already crowded. A hush spread out from them as they were recognised. Dozens of people stared them. Harry ignored the stares slid his arm around Ginny's waist and looked up and down the platform.
'There's Nev,' he said, surprised, 'who's he snogging?'
Ginny sought out Neville, 'Romilda,' she hissed. 'So she's finally bagged herself a hero. I hope Neville knows what he's doing.'
'Looks like he's been getting a lot of practice to me,' Ron observed. 'How old is she, anyway?'
''Not much younger than me,' his sister replied. 'Seventeen next month, I think.'
'Do you think Neville's enjoying himself?' asked a familiar, sing-song voice, 'because that girl wasn't very nice to us a couple of years ago.'
'Best keep an eye on her, Luna,' Ron suggested. 'She nearly got me killed, too. And keep an eye on these two,' he indicated Hermione and Ginny. 'We don't want them causing any trouble at school.'
'Ron,' Hermione protested, 'I'm Head Girl!'
'But I'm not even a Prefect,' Ginny grinned.
'Here's an empty compartment,' called Ginny. Harry and Ron helped Ginny and Luna with their trunks. Harry gave Ginny a quick kiss.
'Ron and I are going to take Hermione's stuff down to the Prefect's carriage,' Harry reminded her. 'I'll come back to see you before the train leaves.'
'She'll miss you both,' said Ginny, nodding. 'Go and say goodbye to her properly.' Harry was reluctant to leave her, so she pushed him out onto the platform where Ron was waiting with Hermione's trunk. He was refusing to allow her to carry it. Harry grabbed a handle, and he and Ron followed Hermione down to the prefect's carriage. Justin hadn't arrived, but Fenella Gray and another Slytherin girl were chatting to two fifth year Gryffindor prefects, one of whom was Dennis Creevey.
'Hi, Dennis; hi, Fenella,' Harry said, 'prefects, eh? Ron can advise you.'
'No, he can't,' Hermione said, forcefully, 'I will. Who're your friends?'
'This is Vicki Frobisher,' Dennis introduced his fellow prefect.
'And this … this is Ermintrude Pepperell,' Fenella whispered.
'Trudi,' the Slytherin fifth year corrected forcefully.
'Just give me a minute, all of you,' said Hermione, looking tearfully at her two young men.
'I'm going to miss you two,' she sobbed. She hugged Harry tightly and kissed him on the cheek. After passionately kissing Ron, she tried to push them both off the train. She succeeded with Harry, who was anxious to get back to Ginny, but Ron resisted.
'Go! Just go!' she ordered, 'this is … wrong.'
'I can stay with you until the train leaves,' Ron pleaded.
'I'm Head Girl, I have responsibilities,' Hermione sobbed. 'This is stupid, Ron; if you stay with me, I'll just cry. You too, Harry, just go, both of you, I need to organise this lot.' She struggled to shove her boyfriend out of the carriage. 'Write to me, Ron, please,' she begged.
'I will. We'll see you on the first Hogsmeade weekend,' Ron called desperately. Hermione nodded and tearfully closed the door.
As they walked back towards Ginny's compartment, Harry striding, Ron dawdling and making frequent backward glances, they spotted a small, dark-haired woman struggling to help a little girl lift a large trunk onto the train.
'First year?' he asked the girl. She nodded, staring dumbstruck at his forehead.
'Need a hand, Mrs Cattermole?' Harry continued, reaching across and lifting the trunk out of the little girl's hands, 'C'mon, Ron.'
Ron took the other end of the trunk from Mrs Cattermole, asking, 'Reg all right, is he? You did get away safely?'
Mary Cattermole nodded, astonished.
'C'mon, midget, find yourself a compartment; this is heavy, you know,' ordered Ron. The little girl scampered into a compartment full of first year girls. Harry and Ron followed and struggled to put the trunk up on the rack.
'Enjoy yourselves,' Harry told the girls, smiling down at the slack-jawed and silently staring faces. 'Best school in the world, Hogwarts.'
'But watch out for the Head Girl,' Ron added, 'she's extremely strict, and she's got a terrible temper.' They left the awestruck eleven year olds, said goodbye to Mrs Cattermole and strode through the train to Ginny's compartment. When they got there, they found that Ginny and Luna had been joined by Jack Sloper and Dean Thomas.
'I'm the only one from our dorm going back,' Dean said sadly, 'Seamus is only coming up for his NEWTs in October, like you two, and Neville.'
'Look after Hermione, all of you,' ordered Ron. 'She's always had me n' Harry to take care of her. Who knows what sort of trouble she'll get in without us to keep her on the straight and narrow?'
'And win the Quidditch Cup, too,' Harry told Ginny.
'I'll do my best,' Ginny grinned, 'I have fond memories of the last cup-winning celebrations I attended.'
Harry feigned puzzlement.
'Could you remind me?' he asked.
Ginny threw her arms around his neck and complied. Luna was watching Dean carefully.
'You seem a little sad, Dean,' she observed. 'Would you like to kiss me?'
Ron snorted with laughter. Harry and Ginny simply ignored the commotion around them. They had better things to do.
Author's Note: This is the end of the "Grave Days" but the story of Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione and their friends (and enemies) will continue in "Aurors and Schoolgirls."