A/N: IT'S HERE! At long last, and with great pride and excitement, I present the first installment of the Eighth Year fic :D There will be two, maybe three stories covering the first year after the war. This one runs through the end of summer. Since the prelude is short, I will update again later today, but in general expect one chapter every Wednesday. As you can hopefully tell from the summary (I hate that length restriction!), I will focus not only on Harry and Ginny's relationship, but also on the Weasleys' recovery. Expect the usual cast of characters plus a surprise or two. Also, in this chapter I deviate slightly from "traditional" canon in one instance, but I could find nothing to contradict my idea and thought it would be interesting to explore. Just so you know that I know it's not the usual ;)

I do not own Harry Potter, his friends, enemies, future family, Hogwarts, its inhabitants, the Burrow, or anything else invented by J.K. Rowling. And...

DISCLAIMER: This is a legitimately mature-rated story! Unlike my other M-rated fics, it is not rated for dialogue, or innuendo, or implied sex. Unlike some of my edgier teen stuff, it is not a paragraph here or there that can be skipped. What this story is rated for is actual sex, a smattering of language (hello—Weasley boys!), alcohol abuse, references to violence (including sexual assault), and depression. If you are underage (or this is simply not your cup of tea), but you are interested in the plot, PM me. I will consider revamping the sex scenes if I get several requests, but I cannot adjust for the other warnings because they permeate the entire story. Okay? All right.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

May 2, 1998

Professor Minerva McGonagall surveyed the Great Hall. She had just replaced the tables, but everyone still stood in groups. A long line wove from the center of the room towards the front and curved beneath the windows as everyone waited to speak to Harry.

Harry. The man who had defeated Lord Voldemort, permanently this time, right in this very room, just a short while ago. She could no longer see him, surrounded as he was by jubilant and grateful admirers, but she didn't really need to. Messy black hair, slim build, neither tall nor short; just like his father. Sometimes she would get a glimpse of Harry in the hallways and think, just for a heartbeat, it was James. She sighed. She remembered receiving the news of James's and Lily's deaths, Harry's survival, Voldemort's retreat. She remembered traveling in her Animagus form to Privet Drive, sitting on the wall outside, watching Harry's family. Meeting Dumbledore—

Minerva pressed a hand to her chest, hardly realizing she was doing it. Nearly a year later, the death of her long-time friend and colleague remained a hollow ache. Turning away from the crowd in front of her, she searched for something to distract her from the memory of Dumbledore's murder. Her eyes fell on the platform that normally housed the head table. Its table was still gone, replaced with rows of wounded waiting to be evacuated to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. So many pupils. Despite the efforts of the Order of the Phoenix, despite her efforts, it had happened again. War, curses, death, but this time, it involved the children. Death Eaters teaching at Hogwarts! She had done her best to protect her pupils this last year despite being thwarted at every turn by Severus Snape (Minerva refused to think of the wizard who murdered Albus as Headmaster), but she had failed. Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, and Luna Lovegood sent into the Forbidden Forest at the full moon. First years locked in the dungeons. Virtually all her Gryffindors (and not a few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs) claiming they had tripped, or walked into doors, or fallen down stairs. The Muggle-born pupils gone, disappeared.

So many pupils. Lavender Brown, attacked by a werewolf. Colin Creevey … she had ordered Dennis to go home, but there had been nothing she could do about seventeen-year-old Colin, and now he was dead. Fred Weasley— funny, sweet, maddening Fred, only a few places over. George with a cursed-off ear, Bill attacked by a werewolf, Ginny and her experience in the Chamber of Secrets. Nymphadora, her baby boy only weeks old. Remus, former pupil and fellow teacher, lying by his wife's side. It was the Potters all over again, mother and father dead, baby boy orphaned. Alice, Frank, Sirius … the Prewetts, the McKinnons, the Bones…. The platform blurred, grayed. Too many. Two wars was two too many, but it was over. Minerva took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. They had done it, she and Dumbledore and Kingsley and all the Weasleys and every member of the Order, past and present. Every pupil who stood up to the Carrows—

The Carrows! She had completely forgotten. She glanced around for a Ravenclaw.

"Miss Chang!" Cho Chang had finished Hogwarts last year, but no matter. Entering Ravenclaw Tower required the answer to a question, not a password that would be known only by the current pupils.

The dark-haired beauty hurried over. "What is it, Professor? Are you hurt?"

Minerva followed the young woman's gaze to where her right arm dangled uselessly at her side. Her shoulder didn't hurt much as long as she didn't move it. She waved her other hand impatiently. "No, no. The Carrows are floating in a net in your common room. Find an Auror and take them up to Ravenclaw Tower so they can be taken into custody."

She gaped at her. "Floating in— my common room?"

"Now, Miss Chang!"

"Yes, Professor."

The Carrows. Oh, how Minerva hated them. She hadn't known it was possible to hate someone that much. And Potter; she would never forget the shock of seeing Harry Potter materialize out of thin air, and in the Ravenclaw Common Room of all places. And the curse. There was no denying it was well-deserved, but on her behalf? Harry had been so indignant, as if being spit at were the worst that could happen. She supposed it was a good thing, in more ways than one, that he hadn't been here at Hogwarts this year. Goodness knows, she'd had a hard enough time trying to restrain Miss Weasley and Longbottom.

There was Neville Longbottom, surrounded by a cluster of admiring pupils. Minerva felt a surge of pride and satisfaction. Her Gryffindors had done themselves proud, every one of them. She searched for the three, Potter, Weasley, and Granger, but saw only two, walking out of the Great Hall with a Harry-sized gap between them. It was worth it to see Voldemort dead on the floor and Harry still standing. The last year, the last thirty years. Fighting, suffering, hiding, grieving, resisting; it was worth it to give these pupils, and all her future pupils, and all her past pupils who had survived, the opportunity to live freely. Without fear or persecution. To build a life with hope and dreams and joy.

She would help them build it, starting with four tables and some food.