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A/N: I can't believe how long it's been since I last posted a chapter! I'm sure I've lost many loyal followers, but I'm back and re-focused on continuing this story. If you are reading, please leave a review. Thanks!

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
They strolled up to the house, hand-in-hand, with matching smiles plastered on their faces. Mrs. Weasley had returned from her appointment with the healer and was now busying herself with a basket full of laundry she was levitating to the wash room, off the kitchen. She stopped for a moment as she saw her daughter and her boyfriend making their way to the sitting room. She sighed happily, seeing that they had made their peace with one another, before returning to her task. She wondered how many more trials and challenges lay ahead, that would test their relationship. But, knowing her daughter and the boy she loved as well as she did, she knew they would work their way through any obstacle that arose; just as they had done today. She felt good knowing her daughter and two of her sons had found love and someone to share their lives with. Now, she only had to worry about the other three. Of course, she would never truly stop worrying about any of them, but, still…

As soon as Ginny and Harry stepped foot in the sitting room, Ron pounced on them.

“It’s about time you got back! Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone? What the bloody hell have you been doing all this time?” Then realizing what he was actually asking them, he scrunched up his and shook his head in disgust. “On second thought, don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.”

“Ron, will you relax, please? You behave like you’ve had the worse time in your life. Was it really so bad spending the last couple hours with me?” asked Hermione.

“There’s a loaded question if I ever heard one,” teased Harry. “Think carefully before you answer, mate.”

“Oh, I don’t want to hear it from you, ‘Mr. Savior of the World’. Next time you need some alone time with my sister, you can go ask someone else to look after your Godson.”

“Calm down, big brother,” warned Ginny, as she pushed past him and scooped baby Teddy up from the blanket on the floor.

“How’s my Teddy Bear?” she cooed softly to him and went to sit on the sofa, next to Hermione.

“What is it, exactly, that’s got your knickers in such a twist?” she asked, returning her focus to Ron.

It was Hermione who answered for him. “Oh, he’s just upset because I made him change Teddy’s nappies and later, Teddy spit up on his shirt while being burped. You’d think it was the end of the world. Honestly, Ron, you survived nine months on the run from Voldemort and all his death eaters, but you can’t handle two hours taking care of a sweet little baby!”

Ron just glared at her, in response.

“Look Ron, I’m sorry we put you through all that,” Harry apologized. “But, thanks all the same.” He went over to sit on the other side of Ginny. “There were a lot of things we needed to talk about.”

“Talk, yeah. I’m sure that’s what you were doing out there all this time.” Ron rolled his eyes at Harry.

It was Ginny’s turn to glare. “If I were you, I would watch it, Ronald. I could start in on you and Hermione and all the things you do when you’re all alone.”

Ron’s face was turning red with anger and Hermione’s cheeks took on a pink hue. She decided she’d better get Ron as far away from Ginny as she could, before a full out sibling fight ensued.

“Come on, Ron,” she stood up and reached for his hand.”

“Where are we going? I’m not finished with these two, yet!”

“Yes you are. Now, come on!” She forced him out of the sitting room and mouthed,
‘I’m sorry’ to Harry and Ginny as she left.

Harry was smiling at his friends as they exited the room. But, Ginny was still shooting daggers at Ron with her eyes.

“You think he’ll forgive us soon?” Harry asked.

“Oh, I could care less if he does or doesn’t. But, my guess is that he’ll forget all about his Teddy fiasco once Hermione snogs him senseless.” Ginny answered, irritably.

“Ugh, please. I don’t want to think about that,” said Harry.

“Oh, you’re just as bad as Ron, sometimes!” Ginny gave Harry an exasperated look.

He ignored her and focused his attention on Teddy. “Now, let’s see how this little one faired while we were gone.” He gently took Teddy out of Ginny’s arms and began talking and playing with him.

Ginny’s anger subsided as she watched Harry with Teddy. She was so amazed at how easily Harry was able to take care of him. It seemed to come so naturally for him. What made it seem more amazing to her, was that he could be so caring and loving towards a baby when he hadn’t received any love or support from his own family, growing up. She couldn’t help but think about what a wonderful father he was going to make, one day. Harry looked up and caught her staring at him.

“What are you thinking about, Miss Weasley?” he asked. This caused her to blush and lower her gaze.

“Oh, nothing, really.”

“Really?”

She smiled warmly at him. “Well, if you must know, I was thinking how easy you make taking care of Teddy look. You’re a real natural at it.”

It was Harry’s turn to blush. “I don’t know about that. I just want to make him happy. I think of how I was raised and I don’t ever want him to feel unloved, like I did. So, I’m just trying to give him all the love I can, and the rest sort of falls into place. Kind of lame, huh?” he grinned sheepishly.

“No, Harry, that doesn’t sound lame to me at all. I think it’s wonderful.” She smiled at him sincerely and kissed him on the cheek. They shared a moment of silence, just sitting and feeling the warmth of each other’s emotions.

Before they knew it, the day turned into evening and it was time for Teddy to return to his grandmother’s house. Andromeda was overjoyed to be taking him home, but Harry and Ginny had mixed emotions. They were looking forward to having more time to themselves, but they knew they were going to miss seeing him everyday. They said there goodbyes with promises to visit soon.

The next couple of weeks, the teens did nothing but spend time relaxing and having fun. Summer at the Burrow meant morning swims at the pond, afternoons of Quidditch matches and long evening strolls in and around the woods. They would fill up on huge portions of Mrs. Weasley’s delicious cooking during meals and take naps throughout the day. Looking at the four friends, one would never guess all that they had been through in their short lives. They looked like average teenagers without a care in the world. And, that’s exactly how Mrs. Weasley wanted them to feel. She knew she couldn’t erase all the horrible things that happened to them and the rest of her family. But, she was determined to give them back a little of the childhood they had lost over the past few years. As, she watched them laughing and having fun, she knew she was giving them just that. They were being given a chance to heal and move on with their lives…
____________________________________________________________

Late on the morning of the first day of July, four brown barn owls could be seen swooping down from the brilliantly sunny skies to land on the window sill of the kitchen at the Burrow. Each was carrying a letter with the official Hogwarts seal on it. Hermione was the first to spot them and walked to the window to meet them. In the past, she anticipated the arrival of the school owls with great excitement; much to everyone else’s annoyance. But, today, she had mixed feelings. She quietly took the letters from the owls and gave each a treat before they flew on their way back to the school.

“Hey, Hermione. What’s up?” asked Ron, as he entered the kitchen to find his girlfriend sitting down, staring at four letters on the table in front of her. “What’s this? Hogwart’s letters? Really?” He asked, picking up the letter with his name written on it.

“Yes,” she replied quietly, unable to take her gaze off the table.

“Well, do you suppose we should open them or wait until Harry and Ginny return from their visit with Teddy?”

“I-I don’t know. What do you think?” she asked nervously, finally looking up at him.

“Well, you know I’m not a patient person. But, I suppose it would be nice of us to wait; if that’s all right with you?” He looked at her expectantly.

“Hmm, I’m sure Ginny and Harry would understand if we didn’t wait for them. After all, we really don’t know when they’re due back.” She was trying to sound casual about it, but her insides were screaming to know what the letters said. Was Hogwarts ready to be re-opened so soon? Were they being invited back or were they going to be given an alternative way to take their NEWTS? Whatever was written in her letter was going to have a huge impact on her career and the rest of her life, for that matter. Was she even ready to move on, yet? They had just started to relax and have some fun. She knew they were only delaying reality for a short while, but she didn’t expect it to end so abruptly. They hadn’t even had their press conference, yet. They had blissfully ignored all the ‘fan’ mail that had been piling up at the post office. Now, everything came into sharp focus for her. Reality couldn’t wait any longer for them. But, was she ready to face it?

Ron broke her train of thought as he placed his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, are you alright?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, yes, of course I am.” She assured him. “It’s just…I just wasn’t prepared for this to happen so soon. I’m caught off guard is all,” she explained.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. You want me to open mine first and read it to you? Maybe that will take the edge off for you a bit.”

“Well, maybe that would help. Alright, go ahead,” she agreed and sat back to listen. He sat down next to her and began to read.

Dear Mr. Weasley,

I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your participation in the battle at Hogwarts and your adventures prior to the battle that finally made it possible to end Voldemort’s rule of terror over the wizarding world. I am very proud of you and your classmates.

A lot has happened since Voldemort’s downfall, in May. The Minister of Magic and various Hogwarts staff have worked together to appoint a new Head of Hogwarts, begin the renovation and reparation of the school and begin appointments of new staff where needed. As the newly appointed Headmistress, I am pleased to announce that Hogwarts will be ready to reopen this coming September 1st. This may come as a bit of a shock to some witches/wizards, but every staff member, along with the Minister, agreed that Hogwarts should be reopened as soon as possible. As our late great Headmaster, Albus Dumbeldore once said, “as long as there is one child who wants to attend Hogwarts-its doors shall remain open.” And I happen to fully agree with this belief.

Due to the unusual nature of the previous year at Hogwarts, there will be a few changes made to ease the burden of the school itself and the students that will be attending.

The first and foremost change will be the location of the Great Hall. Due to the great battle that took place in this location, the former Great Hall is being turned into a museum of sorts. It will be set up to commemorate the brave witches and wizards that fought and died in the final battle and will include facts about the war along with a timeline of the events that led to the eventual demise of Tom Riddle and his followers. There will also be various memorials set up in and around the castl, to commemorate all the brave men, women and magical creatures who gave their lives up to save the world. There is a new location for the Great Hall being constructed further down the entrance hall from the original one.

Another major concern was the education, or lack there of, that was offered last year. To address this issue, we will be accepting the return of all 1st through 7th year students from last year to repeat their previous year of studies. They will be accompanied by the new, incoming 1st years. This will mean there will be a larger class of 1st years than usual. To accommodate this, the Great Hall, all four common rooms, dorm rooms and certain class rooms will be magically enlarged for the next seven years, at which time the 1st year class will have graduated and there will no longer be a need for such an exception.

I have also been asked to inform everyone that the Ministry has set up a fund, through an anonymous donor, to help those who find themselves in financial hardship, due to the effects of this war. All awardees will be kept confidential. Those in need are asked to please send a letter addressed to ‘The War Fund’ in c/o the Ministry of Magic.

I do hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to complete your education and move on to your desired career. It is with great pride that I take over the position of Headmistress of this fine institution. If I only achieve a fraction of the success of my recent predecessor, I will retire a happy witch, indeed. Please send an owl with your reply by August 1st, so that we may consider your needs as we continue our planning of the school and its curriculum. Thank you for your time and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Sincerely,
Minerva McGonagall
Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry


Ron sat there and stared at the letter for a moment before he turned to look at Hermione. “Well, what do you think?” he asked her gently.

“Wow…I can’t believe how much she’s accomplished in such a short time. I mean, she’s thought of everything hasn’t she? What to do with the Great Hall, the memorials on the grounds, having everyone repeat their years; she’s even thought of what to do about the larger 1st year class.” Hermione stated, a little meekly.

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what she’s supposed to do, now that she’s in charge and all?”

“Yes, but it just seems so fast, doesn’t it? I mean, we just got done with this bloody war and we’re just starting to put our lives back together. I just don’t know if I’m ready for this, yet.”

“Wow, I never thought I would ever see the day when Hermione Granger was not sure about going back to school. And, did I just hear you use a swear word?” Ron asked with his eyebrows arched in surprise.

“Ronald Weasley, you are such an insensitive prat sometimes. You know that?” She raised her voice at him and started to get up to leave, but Ron was too quick for her and was able to stop her before she got up from her seat.

“Hermione, I’m sorry. I was just kidding. You know me. I never know the right thing to say in situations like this. I was just trying to make you feel better. I’m sorry. Please sit down with me and talk to me some more about what’s got you so upset. I promise I won’t make anymore fun, OK?” He looked genuinely sorry.

Hermione sat back down and rubbed her forehead with her fingers. When she looked up at Ron, he wore a very concerned expression. She realized he was serious about listening to her so she decided to open up to him some more.

“I thought you of all people would understand my hesitancy about returning to school so soon. You lost your brother, after all. Aren’t you wondering what it will be like to go back to the place where he died? What it’s going to feel like when you walk down the very same hall where the wall fell down on him? Did you think of how that will feel?”

Ron looked back at her with a mixture of hurt and defiance in his eyes. “Of course I’ve thought about it. I’m not as insensitive as everyone thinks I am, Hermione! I know it’s going to be rough at first. There will be so many reminders, of everyone who died that day. And the first time I see the spot where Fred died, it’s going to be…” his voice trailed off.

Hermione gave his hand a squeeze of understanding. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. But, it’s not just that. I mean, we haven’t been to school in over a year. Do you think it will be so easy to just go back and start taking classes again? I think it will be very strange to go back to such a normal routine, as if nothing ever happened since the last time we were there. It won’t be easy.”

“I understand what you’re saying, Hermione; I’m just looking at it a little differently than you.” Hermione looked like she was ready to start saying something again, so he cut her off. “Hold on Hermione. Let me finish. You know it’s hard for me to talk like this. Let me get it all out before you contradict me.”

She nodded her compliance and he continued. “Sure it’s going to hurt seeing the place where Fred died. Sure it’s going to be uncomfortable seeing everyone again, especially some of the Slytherins. And, I’ve even thought about how hard it will be to go back to such a normal routine of classes and studying. But, then I think of why everyone fought against Voldemort and all his followers. I remember why people gave their lives for us. They did it for this very reason. So, we could have the chance to go back to our normal, everyday lives. So we could be free to live our lives like we did before he was such a threat. I think going back to Hogwarts and living an average life again, would be the biggest revenge we could have on good old Voldy. Don’t you?” he finished, looking deep in her eyes for an answer.

Those eyes were beginning to tear up as Hermione stared back at her boyfriend. “Wow. You’re right. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense.”

Ron’s eyes widened with shock. “Wait, what?”

“You heard me. I said I think you’re right. I was thinking about it totally differently than you. I still have fears and doubts, but if I look at it from your perspective, it makes me feel better about it; like I’ll be able to handle it.” She explained with a watery smile.

“I can’t believe it. You think I’m more right about this than you? Wow, there really is something wrong with you today. First you don’t want to return to school and now you admit I’m right. What other surprises are in store for me today?” he teased.

She swatted him on the shoulder, but kept a smile on her face. Ron wrapped her up in a comforting hug. He spoke softly to her. “You know I’m going to be there for you the whole way, right? We’re in this together and we’ll help each other out. Whenever you’re down I’ll be there to help you and you’ll do the same for me, right?”

“Oh, Ron. I’m so glad I never gave up on you. You’re exactly what I need.” She squeezed him even more tightly.

“I’m glad you never gave up on me, either, Hermione. I don’t know what I would do without you,” he confessed.

Hermione’s smile widened as she closed her eyes and relished in this rare moment with her boyfriend. How things have changed in a year’s time, she thought.

By the time Harry and Ginny returned from Andromeda’s cottage, Ron and Hermione had all but decided they were going back to Hogwarts and had even discussed their plans with Mrs. Weasley.

Both Harry’s and Ginny’s feelings about the letter were mixed. Harry was apprehensive about going back to the place where so many died to help him fight Voldemort. There was also the issue of having to face the other students. He wasn’t worried about his friends and most of Gryffindor house, but those who didn’t know him well tended to think of him as some sort of hero. It would only be worse, now. He didn’t want to leave the comfort of being with his ‘family’ at the Burrow only to be ostracized by people who didn’t know or care about him at school.

Ginny was not only nervous about going back to where Fred died, but of the horrible memories the school would bring back from last year. She was the only one of the four who had actually stayed at Hogwarts for most of last year. Going back to classes without remembering all the awful things that happened in each one the prior year was going to be difficult. She automatically thought of Neville and Luna and what they were thinking about this.

Still, both of them thought that this was the next step in their healing process; one that would have to be faced sooner or later if they wanted to move on with their lives.
The one bright side that Harry mentioned was how this would give them nine more months to be together as they continued to heal. He didn’t think they were ready to jump into the real world just yet. This would allow them to ease into it more slowly. It would be like a buffer between the protection and safety of the Burrow and the harsher reality that awaited them in the real world.

They continued discussing this topic well into the night, when they also received the perspectives of Mr. Weasley, George and Percy. After all was said and done, they all came to the same conclusion. Even after taking into account some of their fears, going back to Hogwarts would be their best next step. Owls were sent to Hogwarts the very next morning with their replies. Ginny sent two extra letters to her friends telling them of her decision, hoping they had made the same one.
_________________________________________________________

A few days later, Mrs. Weasley cornered Ginny and Harry to ask them about their upcoming birthdays. “…after all you are coming of age Ginny, and Harry, well, we can’t let your day go by without some form of celebration.”

“Um, I don’t know Mrs. Weasley. I mean, I really don’t want any fuss made over me just for my birthday. Besides, I’m not sure how much everyone will be up for a celebration so soon after, well, you know…” Harry said.

“Oh, nonsense, I think a couple of parties would be just the thing this family needs right about now. It would be nice to have something to celebrate for a change.” she firmly stated.

“But, Mum, what about George? Do you really believe he’s ready for something like this? No offense, but you know how carried away you get with planning these things. It could get pretty crazy.”

“Oh, please! Do you know who it was that had to remind me I needed to start preparing for these birthdays soon? George. He was looking through some of those boxes up in his room yesterday evening and came across some of those awful fireworks he and Fred invented. He wanted to know if he could use them in whatever party we decided to throw.”

“Really?” asked Ginny, totally surprised by what her mother said.

“Yes, really. So no excuses. You are both going to think about how you want to celebrate your birthdays and let me know by this evening. These things take a lot of planning and with two of them so close together, it will be crucial to start right away.” There was a distinct gleam in her eyes as she stated these facts; a look of anticipation that Ginny hadn’t seen in a very long time. She couldn’t deny her mother this. If this is what would make her feel better, then she would let her do it.

“Ok, Mum. I’ll think about it and give you more details tonight.” She leaned in to give her mother a kiss on the cheek and then took Harry’s hand to lead him out the back door.

Molly smiled at them as they left. “And, you too, Harry. Don’t think you’re going to get away without a celebration, young man!”

“OK, OK. I give up!” Harry laughed as he was dragged out of the house.

Mrs. Weasley had a satisfied look on her face as she returned to her house work. She was getting this family back into shape little by little. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was going to happen. She would see to it. For you Fred, for you… she thought silently to herself. She had found her purpose again. Maybe those sessions with the mental healer really were paying off. Who would have thought? She shrugged and delved back into her morning chores.

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