Author's Note: I want to give a big ol' thanks to all of you who've read, enjoyed, and commented along the way! Even though I didn't reply to every comment, I definitely read them all, and I appreciate greatly all of you input, both positive and negative. Best to you all, and here it is: the Epilogue to Ginny Weasley and the Half-Blood Prince. Enjoy!
"But what if I'm in Slytherin?"
Ginny raised her eyebrows in mild surprise at the earnestness with which her son whispered his concern. James had been teasing him about it for weeks, all summer, really; she had never taken it as anything more than brotherly fooling, something she knew a little bit about. But for Al to express this so urgently, so quietly, just before stepping on the train, she knew it had to be a real worry for him.
She also knew that this question was not meant for her, but for Harry.
She turned away, making sure Hermione and Ron were out of earshot and pretending not to hear herself, waving instead to Demelza and Natalie at the other end of the platform, both dropping their own children off for first and second years, respectively. "Albus Severus," Harry said behind her, crouched down close to their son, "you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."
"But just say-"
"- then Slytherin House will have gained an excellent student, won't it?" Harry said kindly but firmly. "It doesn't matter, Al. But if it matters to you, you'll be able to choose Gryffindor over Slytherin. The Sorting Hat takes your choice into account.
She heard the amazement in Al's voice as he replied. "Really?"
"It did for me," Harry assured him.
Ginny smiled; she had always liked that story. For all of his concerns about destiny and fate and what-not, she took it as proof that Harry had always been in control of his life. He had chosen his path. He had chosen to be a Gryffindor.
Now the trains were loading up and final boarding calls were sounding. Ginny gave Albus another quick hug and a kiss and did the same to Rose; both children wiped themselves clean of it as all good children should. She closed the door behind Al and wiped a bit of moisture from the corner of her eye; she was not prone to crying at these moments but it was a bittersweet thing, sending her second youngest off now to begin his growing up in earnest.
Rose and Albus quickly joined the throng of students hanging out the windows, many of whom had their heads turned to Harry. Harry barely noticed; he had honed his obliviousness to others reactions towards him to near perfection by this point in his life.
Albus had not. "Why are they all staring?" he demanded crossly.
"Don't let it worry you," Ron said. "It's me. I'm extremely famous."
The train began to move. Harry walked alongside it, away from the rest of them, his eyes locked on the pair of identical ones peering out at him from Albus Potter. The Hogwarts Express had long since disappeared around the bend in the track before Ginny walked quietly up to her husband at the end of the platform, his hand still raised in farewell, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "He'll be all right," she murmured softly.
Harry turned and smiled at her, his hand absentmindedly brushing against his lightning scar as he lowered it. "I know he will," he said. Ginny smiled warmly back at him, and she was inwardly amazed again for the umpteenth time at how his eyes on hers could still send her stomach into trembles. Not always, anymore, not all the time… but at moments. At moments.
"We're meeting Hermione's parents for lunch in London," Ron said as they rejoined he, Hermione, Lily, and Hugo. "Want to come along?"
"No, we're headed to The Burrow," said Harry. "Your dad's happened across yet another new Muggle device he'd like me to take a look at. Called an eye-phone or something?" Harry shook his head and laughed. "He doesn't seem to have figured out I've been in the wizarding world for twenty-six years now. I know about as much about this stuff as he does."
Ron scowled. "So you get to eat mum's cooking and I have to go to some Muggle restaurant? Must be some life, being the Chosen One."
"Oh, put a sock in it, Ron," Ginny said, playfully punching her brother. "But don't you two ever talk like that," she quickly added to the giggling Lily and Hugo.
"Are you all right, Harry?" Hermione asked. Ginny looked up to see that her husband had turned again, watching into the distance where the Hogwarts Express had disappeared.
"Hey," Ginny said, gently turning him to face them again. "Al will be fine. Relax."
Harry smiled and gave the barest shrug. "I'm perfectly relaxed," he assured her.
They all headed towards the platform exit, Lily and Hugo running ahead. "Remember," said Ron, "if he gets sorted into Slytherin it's all your fault, Harry. It was your idea to give him the middle name 'Severus'."
"It was MY idea to give him the middle name 'Severus', which you full well know," said Ginny with a grin. It was not a new conversation. "Besides, it was either 'Albus Severus' or 'Albus Half-Blood Prince'."
"Unfunny, Ginny," Hermione said in a sing-song tone over her shoulder. Harry and Ginny shared a smiling glance; after all these years Hermione still didn't like to be reminded of that particular name.
"Albus 'Half-Blood Prince' Potter," repeated Ron, chiefly in order to irritate his wife. "You're right, doesn't have the same ring to it."
"And anyway, we wanted to name him after Professors Snape and Dumbledore," said Ginny, "and as you well know," (and this next part she directed pointedly, as always, to Hermione), "Harry the sixth-year potions champion was the REAL Half-Blood Prince."
"He was not," Hermione shot at her with a contrasting evil-eye and pleasant smile, not entirely able to dismiss her annoyance at the old school-days joke, "and I despise the entire lot of you. Hugo! Put that down! Hugo!"
"Oi, Hugo, leave that in the rubbish!" Ron yelled, hurrying across the platform after Hermione to drag their youngest away from the trash bin out of which he was pulling some student's discarded potion ingredients.
"Well," Ginny said quietly to Harry as she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close, "you're MY Half-Blood Prince, and you always have been."
"So long as it's you, that's all right," Harry replied with a grin, drawing her close and into a kiss.
"Mum, dad, ewww! Stop being so gross!"
Ginny and Harry broke apart, Ginny rolling her eyes at her daughter's disgusted face. "Children," she muttered to a guffawing Harry. "Such a blessing."
They continued on their way, the little extended family, through the mist of the platform and back into the real world, Ron and Hermione arguing about which of them had let Hugo wander so far out of sight and Harry making faces right back at their giggling daughter.
It was a lovely life, Ginny decided as she slipped her hand into her husband's and smiled contentedly, just as she had always known it would be, even back over that year when she didn't know it would be this way at all.