New Year, New Hope

Aftermath

The Hogwarts Express chugged steadily southward under a cloudless blue sky, passing verdant green, rolling hills and quaint little villages basking lazily in the summer sunshine. Inside the train, the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry visited each other's compartments, talking in hushed tones of their holiday plans and what they would say to their families about their part in the defence of the school or Hogsmeade when they arrived at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters: the sense of apprehension for what the coming summer would hold had settled like a pall over everyone.

In the last compartment, Ginny Weasley stood staring out the window. The other occupants – Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom – were all napping or reading, leaving Ginny feeling very much alone. It was rather a peaceful moment as she allowed her mind to wander over the events of the last few months and think how they had changed her life.

It seemed only yesterday that she and these same companions had sat here in this very compartment on that cold January day, going in the opposite direction. She remembered standing in this same position, her conscience weighted by the feeling of awe at having received Harry's affections over the holidays. Then, as now, she had accepted the accompanying responsibility that becoming his girlfriend had placed on her. She had felt compelled to ease his burden, and she would never regret the feelings of security that had come over her when her actions had given him some much-needed relief.

She was still surprised by how easily he had reciprocated, many times over, when she had been in need of comfort and reassurance. Maybe that's what true love is, she thought, contemplating Harry's unwillingness to give up on her after the Quidditch accident. His generosity would forever be their little secret; her parents were too proud to let someone assist them financially as Harry had… even if most of the expenses were covered by the national health care system. Yet she was grateful for his desire to ease her family's worries.

Is our love based only on material things? she inquired of the scenery passing by. Deep down, she thought not. There was more to it. She saw evidence of it everywhere she looked. She had seen the love in his eyes every time he was at a loss for words or seemed to only communicate his feelings for her in a bone-crushing hug or searing kiss. It had taken him a long time to accept that she would willingly alleviate his suffering by giving him a part of herself: it was as if he thought himself unworthy of her caring. Thanks to the Dursleys' treatment of him, Harry's emotions conveyed themselves in extremes or not at all.

That's not what Snape would tell you, the little voice in her brain that sounded like Harry's said. He'd say that I carry my heart on my sleeve!

Is there anything wrong with that? Ginny inquired, smiling at this thought.

He seems to think it shows my weakness.

Thestral feathers! Ginny retorted. Professor Snape sees what he wants to see and not the young wizard I know at all!

And what do you see the Snape doesn't? Harry challenged.

Instead of replying, Ginny showed him images of her Harry. Her Harry was brave, selfless, and trusting; he respected his elders and treated her like a queen. Her Harry put others' safety before his own when he stepped into harm's way. And her Harry was generous to anyone he considered his friend.

She could feel his contentment as her Harry began to snore. She went on with her reflections...

He also had a lot of responsibility for someone so young. His meetings with Professor Dumbledore had proved that this week, and she felt very apprehensive about the future. The feeling of unease had started with their talk in her room and had only intensified when Harry had pulled her into an empty classroom on their way back to Gryffindor Tower after breakfast this morning. She remembered their discussion quite clearly.

"Listen, Ginny," Harry had begun. "I didn't get a chance to finish what I wanted to say last night."

She had giggled as she said, "How could you with Hermione banging on the door like that?" Realizing that he was completely serious, she said, "I apologize. Have your meetings with Professor Dumbledore gone well?"

"Yes, they have," he said, beginning to pace. "In fact, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." He paused, running a hand through his hair. "I—we—we've talked about more than what I have to do...and, erm, I feel a lot different about him now than I did at the beginning of the year."

"So you've forgiven him?" Ginny asked hopefully.

"Erm, yes."

Ginny took a chance. "He loves you, you know." Harry stood still, staring at her. "I saw how he looked at you in the hospital wing. He was so worried, even more than Mum and Dad were..."

"Wh... when did you see?"

"Sunday, after the healers put you back together. He was holding your hand when Ron and Hermione and I came back from lunch. You were sleeping and he just stood there beside you looking as if...I don't know...as if your being hurt was his fault."

"But it wasn't," Harry sputtered. "I chose to fight. I took the risks. I did it because..."

"Because you thought he expected you to fight?"

"Exactly." Harry looked away, his eyes fixed unseeing on the window to Ginny's right.

"I don't think he wanted you to," she ventured softly. "I think he wanted to protect you, just like you tried to protect me."

"We didn't listen very well, did we?" Harry commented, looking back at her.

"No, we didn't, but I think we learned something anyway."

"What's that?"

"We made some difficult choices that day, the ones we hoped were right. It would have been so easy to escape back to school through the tunnel, but we chose to stay and help."

"I know. Professor Dumbledore said almost the same thing," Harry replied. "When he said that, he sounded like he was proud of me."

Ginny rested her hand on Harry's arm. "He is, Harry. I heard it in his voice that day in the hospital." She looked into his eyes as she continued, "I also heard how much you respect and admire him."

"When?"

"When you were telling us why Voldemort wants Dumbledore out of the way. He seemed to relax a little in his approach to you after that. It was as if he knew you weren't mad at him any longer."

"I think I'd all but forgiven him then, too. I know I had by the time he finished talking to you three. The way he spoke with Ron, made him realize that what he did was just as important as what Hermione and I did...I couldn't be angry at him any longer."

Ginny smiled as she told him, "I'm glad, Harry, really glad."

Harry gently pulled away and walked over to the window. "Ginny, there's something else," he admitted quietly as he stared out at the scene below. "I hope you know I meant what I said about wishing I could tell you a lot more about what I'm learning from Dumbledore. But he's right when he says that the fewer people who know, the less of a chance something will slip out."

Ginny walked over and looked out the window, too. The tiny courtyard beneath them was in shadow; the sun had yet to rise high enough to provide more than a few fingers of sunlight and the plants looked as if they were still asleep. At length, she said, "I understand, Harry, and I'll be there when you need me."

"Good," he said simply. He drew his phoenix from under his shirt and toyed with it, an expression of regret darkening his face. "Ginny...I won't be able to wear the phoenix as much as I'd like to this summer. Maybe not at all until Voldemort is gone. I couldn't stand it if he or the Death Eaters discovered it; they'd know right away I had a connection to you."

"And you don't want me harmed," Ginny said softly, focusing her attention on the courtyard.

"I'm sorry, Ginny," Harry said, turning away.

Ginny grabbed his arm turning him back to her. "Harry, there's no need to apologize. Whatever happens, just remember it's not your fault, that bad things happen because others want them to, and most likely it's Voldemort causing them. I have only one request."

"What's that?"

"Make sure it's you who lives and not Voldemort," she said fiercely.

Harry tucked the phoenix back under his shirt and walked to the door. He turned, his hand on the knob, and said, "I'm going to try, Ginny. I'm going to try."

After he left, Ginny gave into the tears. He's distancing himself from me, she thought miserably. Preparing for the battle ahead. It was a long time before she followed him back upstairs.

A particularly loud snore from Harry brought Ginny's thoughts back to the present. She wrenched her gaze from the passing scenery to let it rest on the boy who meant so much to her. At the moment, he looked rather peaceful, his head resting on the back of the seat. Ginny sat down next to him and pulled the latest copy of the Quibbler from her bag before gently guiding his head onto her shoulder. Harry opened his eyes long enough to ask, "Lap?" as he turned and stretched out on the seat to make himself comfortable. He sighed contentedly as the cushions took the pressure off his left shoulder. At Hermione's suggestion he had worn his sling more as a reminder to himself not to strain the arm rather than because he really needed the protection. Ginny smiled and began running the fingers of her unoccupied hand through his hair. As Harry resumed his nap her thoughts drifted to the celebrations of the previous evening.

The residents of Gryffindor Tower had extended their celebrations long into the night—so long, in fact, that Professor McGonagall had come in to finally put an end to the festivities. Even with everyone abed the tower had buzzed with quiet conversations until the sun made its appearance over the Forbidden Forest.

For their part, Neville, Ginny, Harry, Ron and Hermione had secluded themselves in a quiet corner and watched the rest of their housemates enjoying themselves. Their conversation was minimal and had swiftly degenerated into variations of 'thank you' when their fellow Gryffindors sought them out with well wishes and heart-felt gratitude. When the five did speak among themselves it was with sombre tones and grave expressions; for even though they were proud of their awards, the enormity of Harry's responsibility and their part in helping him weighed heavily on their collective conscience. The fact remained that Voldemort still needed vanquishing.

"How long will you be at the Dursleys'?" Neville suddenly asked Harry, bringing Ginny from her reminiscences.

Harry lifted his head from Ginny's lap to look at his friend. "Not long. Professor Dumbledore promised to come to get me as soon as it was possible."

"Will he take you to the Burrow?"

Harry shook his head and settled back on Ginny's lap. "No, not for a while," Harry admitted. "I really don't know what his plans are for me except that I'll be coming back to Hogwarts for a few weeks." Ginny raised an eyebrow at this because she remembered the headmaster's promise to Harry to be more forthcoming with his honesty. They had all received the promised owls detailing the arrangements which had been made for their continued training. "There are other places he said I needed to visit before I went to Ginny's house." Ginny felt a warm glow well up inside her; Harry had never deliberately left Ron out of the equation before.

"Well, when you get there, send me an owl," Neville implored. "It was nice corresponding with you last summer."

Harry smiled. "Likewise, mate." He was silent for a time, so long that Ginny thought he'd gone back to sleep and resumed playing with Harry's hair. "Erm, Neville?"

"Yeah?"

"Will you be anywhere near Hogwarts this summer?"

Neville grinned. "I'm coming back next week to continue my research and finish editing my article for the Healers Journal. We learned so much from Ginny's recovery that we're adding an anecdotal record of her recuperation. Mr. Weasley sent word only this morning that the family was giving permission for us to include it."

Is this the Neville we know and love? Ginny sent quickly to Harry. He's amazingly formal whenever he talks about what he did for me, like he's found his life's work or something.

You know something, Ginny, I think he has. He began to be more formal about how he talked about Herbology and his research after that meeting we had with Dumbledore, you know, the one that started our training schedule. Harry replied. After his first week with Professor Sprout and Madam Pomfrey, Seamus remarked that Neville had stopped slouching.

I think everyone noticed it to some degree, but none of us really put two and two together. Ginny said thoughtfully. I just can't get over how old he sounds when he talks that way!

Harry chuckled quietly under Neville's description of his anecdotal record. I think Neville's formal scientist voice is here to stay. It'll take a little getting used to, but I like it. Let's see if I can shake him out of it, though. I have an idea. He turned seriously to Neville and said aloud, "Neville, I have a proposal for you."

Startled, Neville stopped talking, looking with interest at Harry.

"Neville, if I survive my final encounter with Voldemort and you and your research team are still looking for backers, I'd like very much to be one of your investors," Harry stated, shifting into the same formal tone as Neville's. "One of the things I've talked about with Professor Dumbledore is what I should do with the money I've inherited. He's had me draw up a will and one of the recipients I've stipulated should benefit from my inheritance is you and your research projects. I sincerely hope that more good will come from them."

Neville's jaw had dropped to the floor as he listened. He now slowly closed his mouth in order to sputter, "B-b-but Harry, I don't want you to die! I couldn't accept your endowment knowing that you didn't survive V-V-V-Voldemort! I won't let you give up!"

Harry smiled reassuringly at Neville. "I don't want to die, either." He dropped back into his own familiar speech pattern. "But there's always that possibility and Dumbledore has helped me see the importance of specifying who gets what; do you really want all that money to go to Bellatrix Lestrange or Narcissa Malfoy? I didn't think so and neither do I. And I can't think of a better cause than yours, Neville."

Neville sat back against his cushions with a long shuddering sigh. "Why do you want to wait to give us the money until after you fight Voldemort?"

Harry drew a long breath. "I'm selfish. I want to see you succeed," he stated. "What I'm trying to say is this: I'm willing to invest in your research and I want you to have the money whether I'm alive to see what you do with it or not. You have a very big heart, Neville, and I want others to reap what Ginny has from your work. It's as simple as that. But I also know that it's going to take until Voldemort's gone for you to really get established. You still have another year of school to complete and you'll also need the time to line up other investors as well."

"You have a very well-developed perspective on all this, Harry," Luna commented bluntly over the top of her upside-down Quibbler. "Your offer is very generous, indeed, and Neville would be a fool not to accept it."

"I-I-I never said I wouldn't take his money!" Neville sputtered. "I was just wondering why I couldn't have it now!"

Harry shifted in Ginny's lap as he said, "I'm good with that, you two. Just get that article published and see what happens after it comes out."

"I will, Harry," Neville said resolutely. "Madam Pomfrey wouldn't have encouraged me to write it if she didn't think my research was worth investing in."

"I agree," Ginny said quietly as all eyes swivelled in her direction. "Just as Harry has invested in more laughter through my brothers, I want you to help more people recover from injuries like mine. It took Fred and George more than a year to invent all the products for their joke shop and find the right location, so I think a year is a reasonable amount of time for you. Don't you see it?"

"Yes, I do," Neville replied. "I reckon I'm just impatient to get started, is all."

"Then I'll see you around the castle this summer," Harry said grinning. "I'd like to find out more about what you're doing and Dumbledore said I'd have some free time while I'm 'baching' it between our outings. It'll be nice to spend some time learning about what I'm investing in."

"I look forward to it," Neville said, sinking once again into his researcher's persona.

The door to the compartment opened admitting a tired-looking Hermione and Ron. Ron threw himself into the seat next to Neville asking, "What's so serious in here? You'd think there's a war on or something."

"Investment banking," Luna and Ginny said at once and immediately burst into identical fits of giggles.

oOo

The train slowed to a stop at Kings Cross Station and Ginny and the others stood to collect their baggage. Harry reached up to retrieve his trunk from the rack and grimaced with the effort of lifting his left arm over his head. He swore loudly enough to make the girls present all exclaim, "Harry!"

"Sorry," he mumbled, not looking sorry at all. He rubbed his shoulder and tried again with the same result.

"Here, Harry, let me get that," Neville said, easily lifting Harry's trunk from its place on the luggage rack. He set it on its end and reached up to retrieve Ginny's and his own.

"Thanks, mate," Harry murmured quietly, a resigned expression on his face. He stuck out his hand and Neville took it, pulling Harry into a loose, back-slapping hug.

"See you in a week or so," Neville said, releasing Harry and grabbing his handles and Luna's trunks. "Have a good holiday everyone." He peered out the window and, turning to Luna, said, "I see your Dad and my Gran. I bet they'll be glad to see us."

"Yes, but only after Daddy arranges to interview us about the awards we received last night," Luna stated, putting her copy of The Quibbler in her bag. Neville snorted and the two departed the compartment with a final wave and disappeared down the corridor. A moment later, Ginny saw them greeting Mr Lovegood.

Ron and Hermione had watched the exchange in silence, enjoying their own semi-private good-bye from the corner furthest from the window. Hermione now disentangled herself from Ron's arms and quickly engulfed Harry in a fierce hug.

"Take care of yourself, Harry," she said, her voice cracking a little as she released him and turned to hug Ginny. Over Ginny's shoulder she said, "Promise me you three will write to me! After the year we've had we need to keep in touch."

Silent tears coursed down her cheeks as Ron folded her into his arms again murmuring, "We'll see each other soon. You know that."

"I know," she said huskily, taking Ginny's proffered handkerchief. "But we've gone through so much together this year I don't want to say good-bye."

"It's only for a few weeks," Harry said reassuringly. "And I'll be with Professor Dumbledore most of the time. It's not like I'll be at the Dursleys' the entire summer."

"Yeah, we'll be together before you know it," Ron said bracingly, reaching for Hermione's trunk. "Let's go see if your parents are here." He winked at Harry as he paused at the door to make sure Hermione was following him. "Besides, I think Harry wants a few minutes alone with my sister," he smirked as Harry's ears turned pink and Ginny glared at her brother. Hermione giggled and followed him out the door.

When they were gone, Harry took Ginny in his arms and they held each other for several minutes. "Blimey, I'm going to miss you," Harry said into her hair.

Ginny gulped at the sudden lump in her throat and hugged him tighter, trying to memorize the feel of him one last time. "I'm going to miss you, too," she choked into his jumper, suddenly too overwhelmed to say more.

Harry pulled back and she looked up at him, her eyes questioning. Silently, he bent his head and captured her lips in a searing kiss that took her breath away. The way he was holding her felt as if he was trying to commit her to memory just as she had him a moment ago. She reached up and tangled her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck until the need for air forced them apart.

"Promise me you'll be careful at the Dursleys' and with Dumbledore, please, Harry?" she implored.

He grinned lopsidedly as he told her, "I promise. I'll even make Dudley carry my trunk."

She smiled sadly. "You do that, Harry. And make sure your aunt and uncle don't make you do anything Madam Pomfrey and the St. Mungo's healers won't approve of."

"Only if you'll do the same, Ginny. You've come too far to jeopardize all the progress you've made after your accident."

"Mum and Dad will see to it that I behave properly," Ginny grinned. "I know Mum's in constant contact with Madam Pomfrey and Healer Rodkey, so I won't get away with much of anything probably. Not even flying, come to think of it."

"I don't think that will stop you."

Ginny chuckled. "Only if Mum confiscates all the brooms in the house and uses a new locking charm on the broom shed!"

"Oi, you two." Ron stuck his head in the door, causing Harry and Ginny to jump apart. "Ginny, Mum and Dad want to leave. I'm to get your trunks. Hurry up."

"Sure thing, Ron," Harry said still gazing at Ginny. I love you, Ginny, and I don't think I could have made it through this year without your help.

I love you, too, Harry. Hermione's right; we've had an eventful year, but it's time to slow down a little, I think. Promise me you'll rest up while you're at the Dursleys'?

I'll try. Hey, Ron looks impatient. Let's go before your mum sends Hermione after us, too. He offered her his arm. She slipped her fingers around his elbow and they led Ron out into the corridor. At the top of the steps they stood aside and let him and the trunks pass down onto the platform.

Ginny turned to Harry and hugged him briefly one last time. Will you send Hedwig with a note telling me you've settled in, please? she asked. I'll feel better knowing you've arrived safely at the Dursleys'.

Harry grinned. I don't know about safe, but I'm sure Hedwig will welcome the journey. She didn't get to carry many letters this year.

I'll be looking for her, Ginny said, smiling back. She glanced out the door to see her mother hovering close by. Shall we?

Harry sighed and helped her down the steps where they were both engulfed in Mrs Weasley's motherly embrace.

"Oh, it's so good to see you two whole again!" she exclaimed. "Harry, dear, do you have Madam Pomfrey's letter to your aunt and uncle? Do I need to send you any potions? Any food? Should I send Arthur round next week to peek in on you?"

Laughing, Harry extracted himself. "I'll be all right, Mrs Weasley. I promise to send Hedwig if I need anything," he told her. He sobered as he continued, "I need to thank you and Mr Weasley for all you did for me this week. Having you at my bedside last Sunday helped me bear all the pain while the healers were putting me back together."

Mrs Weasley gave a strangled sob and threw her arms around him again, "Oh, Harry. You don't need to thank us. You're a part of our family and we would never let you go through something like that without being there for you."

"It's something families do for each other," Mr Weasley said, coming to join them. He put his arm around Ginny's shoulders. "You stayed with Ginny when she needed you and we were very happy to reciprocate, Harry, when you needed us."

Harry gently extracted himself from Mrs Weasley's arms and stuck out his hand. "Thank you, sir."

"You're welcome, Harry. We'll see you later in the summer, then."

Harry grinned, looking meaningfully at Ginny who returned his smile. "I look forward to coming to The Burrow," he said, his eyes not leaving her face.

Ginny stepped toward him and stood on her toes to give him one last chaste kiss on the cheek. I love you, she said.

I love you, too, Ginny. I'll send Hedwig as soon as I get to my room.

Good. Have a good holiday, Harry.

Harry turned away towards the trolley that held his trunk and Hedwig's empty cage and awkwardly began pushing it towards the barrier. Mrs Weasley looked significantly at Ron who sprinted after Harry who relinquished it without protest. With one last wave he was gone.

Ginny waved back, her heart heavy. "Will he be all right?" she asked no one in particular.

Mr Weasley said sincerely, "I think he will, Ginny. We must have faith. If it makes you feel better I'll arrange with Mrs Figg for you two to see each other at her house one day next week."

Ginny beamed at her father. "Thanks, Dad. I'd like that."

"Shall we go home, then?" her mother asked as Ron reappeared.

"Yes. Let's," Ginny said. And leading the way, she stepped through the barrier onto the walkway between platforms nine and ten.

The End

A/N: Well, folks, this is it. I've thoroughly enjoyed your comments and suggestions over the years and thank you for sticking with me for so long. I can't believe that I've finally finished the story after three years of writing on it and have actually made my goal of finishing before Deathly Hallows comes out. My next goal is to begin posting the sequel, Summer Story, before the new book hits the store shelves, too.