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Chapter Thirty
The Real World

“ Yes!”

The word echoed in Harry's head as the crowd around him began to cheer loudly.  The meaning of what Ginny had just said didn't penetrate his mind for what seemed like an eternity, but when it did he grinned madly and pulled his fiancé into a crushing hug, kissing her thoroughly.  When they finally parted, he slipped the diamond ring out of the box and pushed it gently onto her delicate finger.

“ It's beautiful,” she said in awe.

“ Its beauty pales when compared to you,” he replied, making her smile even wider.  The moment was broken when Harry felt an insistent tapping on his shoulder.  Looking behind him, he came face to face with stony faced looking Weasleys.

“ What's all this about?” Ron demanded, crossing his arms.  Harry's grin quickly faded.

“ Do you have a problem with this?” Harry asked, a little nervous when the twins' gazes bored into him.

“ I hope you realise that this is our little sister,” Fred said.

“ And as such, we want to make sure you realise that if you ever hurt her, you will have us to answer to,” George told him.  Harry moved to stand in front of the Weasley brothers, Ginny's hand held firmly in his.

“ I would never hurt Ginny, no matter what happened.  I love her very much, and want to spend the rest of my life showing her how much she means to me.  I hope I can make her happy, and that's all I want.  I would walk over hot coals for her.  I would die for her.  I would give up my magic if it would keep her safe.  I am willing to sacrifice everything that is dear to me to protect her.  If you doubt that, then ask anything of me that would prove to you that I love her beyond all reason.”

The three flame haired boys stared into Harry's face, scrutinising him closely.  After several minutes, they gave each other significant looks before breaking out in grins.

“ Well, if that's the case, then welcome to the family!” George exclaimed, pulling the startled boy into his arms and giving him a brief hug, quickly followed by Fred and Ron.  The watching students and staff cheered heartily, causing the Weasley boys to turn red in embarrassment.  

“ I think that is our cue to leave,” Ron muttered.  That said, the pranksters all took a bow before banishing the stage and leaving the Great Hall, heading to Harry's room for a party, joined quickly by the friends they had on the staff.

“ Congratulations, both of you,” Minerva gushed, showing an unusual amount of emotion, “ I hope you will both be very happy together.”

The headmistress was soon followed by the rest of the staff, before Harry's family came to speak to him.  After each receiving hugs and congratulations from the elves, the Potters, Sirius, Remus and Heather, Ginny and Harry went to talk to their friends.

“ Do you have a problem with this, Glen?” Harry asked his son.

“ It's fine, Dad,” Glen said with a smile, giving his father and soon to be stepmother a firm hug each.

“ Are you sure you're ready for this?” Hermione asked, a slight frown marring her forehead.

“ I'm ready to settle down,” Harry said, “ All I've ever wanted was a family to love, and now that the threat of Voldemort's gone, I can finally be happy.  I know I have Glen, Heather, Minh and Eustace, but I need more than that.  Call me selfish if you like, but when you spend most of your life without love and affection, you tend to crave it.  I love Ginny, and I feel like I want to spend the rest of my life with her.  Why wait?”

Hermione thought over his words and finally nodded her head, giving each of them a firm hug.  The four talked for a while, before Harry was distracted by a figure hovering in the background, looking as if she wanted to talk to him.  Whispering something in Ginny's ear, he moved over to the ghost and stood in front of her.

“ Are you alright with this, `Tea?” he asked gently.  When she lifted her bent head and looked at him, he gasped at the sight of ghostly tears trailing down her cheek.

“ I'm fine, Harry.  I'm happy for you.  Really,” she said with a delicate sniff.  Harry wanted nothing more at that moment than to put his arms around her and comfort her.

“ `Tea, I love you.  I always will, you know that, right?”

“ But you love her now too,” she concluded with a watery smile.  Harry nodded slowly.

“ `Tea, I will always have a special place in my heart for you, but as you told me in the past, I have to move on.  I'm eighteen; I hopefully have a lot of years ahead of me.”

“ I know that, Harry, but it still hurts.  I just have to think that in all of those years you have to come, I would rather you are happy with another woman than miserable by yourself.  I love you, Harry, but I have to let you go.  You will always have my friendship, no matter what.”

By this time, Harry was also crying.  Feeling stirrings of Dumbledore's mind in his head, he did as the headmaster's soul urged him to do.  He reached out his arms, noting a slight ethereal glow around his limbs, and managed to pull the Ravenclaw ghost into a tight embrace.  Both were shocked when his hands didn't go through her insubstantial form, instead resting gently on her spirit and pulling it toward him.  The pair remained like that for several minutes before reluctantly pulling apart.  They watched transfixed as the glow receded, and Harry sent a mental `thank you' to Dumbledore.  He didn't know what the wily wizard had done to make that possible, but he wasn't going to question it.  

After moving back to his fiancé, the pair made the rounds of their friends, accepting hugs and well wishes from everyone.  At nine o'clock, Harry glanced at his watch and nudged Ginny.

“ Gin, I think there are a couple more people we need to talk to before bed, don't you?”

Ginny thought a minute, and then nodded, pulling Harry by the hand toward the fireplace.  After thanking their guests for their kind thoughts, they left the party and flooed to the Burrow, quickly followed by Ron and the twins.  When they arrived, they were met with surprised looks from Molly and Arthur, who had been sitting by the fire, reading.

“ What are you lot doing here?” Molly asked, staring at her children in surprise, “ I though Hogwarts didn't finish until tomorrow.”

“ It doesn't,” Ron said, looking at his sister and best friend, “ But something's come up.”

“ Mr. Weasley, Mrs. Weasley, could I talk to you in private, please?” Harry asked, surprising the pair.  Nodding their heads, they led the Boy-Who-Lived into the kitchen, shutting the door behind them and sitting down at the large kitchen table.  Arthur absently cast a silencing charm on the door, as well as securing it against Fred and George's Extendable Ears.

“ What's this about, Harry dear,” Molly asked, “ Is something wrong?”

Harry shifted in his seat, nervously.  He knew that he would have to speak to the Weasleys at some point, but he was nervous about their reactions.  They were like family to him, and he didn't want to risk upsetting or offending them.  He hoped that by doing everything in the proper and respectful manner, he would prevent them from objecting too strongly.

“ There's nothing wrong, Mrs. Weasley, I just have something to ask you.”

“ Ask away, Harry my lad,” Arthur said.

“ Um…well…I-I wanted to ask for your permission to marry your daughter.”

This statement was met with stony silence as the couple stared at Harry in surprise and shock.  This only made him more nervous, and he shifted around in his seat, looking anywhere but at the people he thought of as adoptive parents.  After a long silence, Arthur cleared his throat and struggled to speak.

“ Harry, are you serious,” he asked.

“ Yes, Mr. Weasley.  I love your daughter more than life itself, and I want to spend the rest of my life making her happy.  I asked her to marry me earlier tonight, and she agreed.  I just thought it would be the right thing to do to ask your permission.”

After more silence, the Weasley parents did exactly as their sons had done.  Broad grins spread across their faces and Molly pulled him into a crushing hug, while Arthur vigorously shook his hand.

“ Oh, Harry, I can't think of anyone better for our Ginny than you,” Molly gushed, happy tears streaming down her face, “ We'd love to have you as part of our family!”

“ I agree,” Arthur said, “ Who'd've thought it, our Ginny and Harry Potter!  Amazing!  Never thought she'd be the first to tie the knot, though.  When will the wedding be?”

“ Erm…We haven't thought that far ahead,” Harry said when Molly released him from the bear hug.

“ Well, we'll have to get planning!” Molly squealed, clapping her hands in joy, “ We have flowers to choose, and bridesmaid robes, oh and the food!  How many were you thinking of inviting, Harry dear?”

Harry's head began to spin as she rattled of different colours and fabrics for the chair covers and multiple designs of place setting cards.  After a few minutes of excited chatter, the three were interrupted by a tentative knock on the door.  After the spells were taken down, the four youngest Weasley children all came in and took seats at the table, Ginny right next to Harry so she could take his hand.  For the next hour, the family discussed the future, and the wedding of the first of the Weasley siblings.


The next day, Harry was roused from his sleep bright and early by the excited chatter of his roommates.  Looking around the dorm, he saw everyone else was frantically packing everything, ready to head down to breakfast in the Great Hall.

“ Come on, Harry, get up!” Ron said, “ We're leaving today!”

With a groan, Harry pulled himself out of the bed and headed for the showers.  Ten minutes later he returned, throwing on his smartest casual robes and lobbing the rest of his possessions into his trunk at random.  When he realised that he couldn't fit anything else into it, the waved his hand absently in the trunk's directing while pulling out his broom from under his bed.  When he went to throw the broom inside, everything had righted itself and was packed neatly.  The rest of his dorm mates looked at him strangely, catching his attention.

“ What?” he asked.

“ What was that?” Ron asked.

“ What?” Harry repeated innocently.

“ That charm!  It-it righted everything!  Packed it all!  Neatly

“ Just something I picked up last year.  You'd be surprised how many handy charms the Slytherins know for keeping things tidy.  After all, they have an image to maintain,” he said haughtily as he closed his trunk with a sharp click, turned, and strode out of the door, leaving the rest of the room's occupants gaping after him.

At breakfast, the Great Hall was in utter chaos.  Fred and George had set off some of their newest inventions, making nearly everyone forget where they had placed their trunks.  Those who did remember kept telling the victims where their belongings were, but the unfortunate souls promptly forget again, causing them to panic.  Harry sent the twins a wicked look before discreetly waving his hand in the direction of the Slytherin table, gluing every one of them to their seats.  When they came to leave the Hall after breakfast, they found that they couldn't move.  With a malicious grin, Harry set a timer for the spell to end - five minutes after the Hogwarts Express was due to leave.  Fred and George burst into hysterical laughter when he told them what he had done.

At the end of breakfast, those who could left the Great Hall and collected their luggage before preparing to leave the school.  Just as the students were moving out of the Entrance Hall, Harry cast sonorus on himself.

“ Hem, Hem

Everyone stopped instantly, sending him incredulous looks.  He looked back sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.

“ Sorry, couldn't resist.  Just wanted to ask if you would mind if I took a photo of the lot of you.”

They gave him skeptical looks.

“ I know it's a strange request, but I've had a school photo taken at the end of the year in every time period I've been to.  I just think the collection wouldn't be complete without one of the people I grew up with.  I'll even unstick the Slytherins as a sign of goodwill!”

The students from the other three Houses laughed, and the Slytherins scowled, but when Harry lifted the charm they all made their way to the Hogwarts steps as instructed and arranged themselves by House and year.  The staff took their places at the front, and Ginny set the camera on the timer.  As soon as the flash went off, the students moved away and the time travellers congregated on the steps with Fred and George.

“ I guess this is it, then,” Harry said, sadly, looking up at the castle that had been his home for eight long years.

“ Indeed it is,” Fred said, “ As soon as we get on that train we've officially graduated.”

As the seven students headed over to one of the thestral drawn carriages, Harry reflected on the time he had spent at the school.  It had been his home, his sanctuary, and his prison for many years, and now it was time to leave it forever.  The end of an era it was indeed, and now it was time for him to face the most frightening thing in existence.  More frightening than Dementors.  More frightening than Grindelwald.  More frightening than Voldemort.  

It was time to face the real world.

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