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Chapter 10: Epilogue
The sun was shining down rather brightly through the broad glass roof of King’s Cross station, twinkling and glinting off Harry Potter’s glasses in a way so as to temporarily blind him. He had been forced to come to a stop right in the middle of a bustle of people, pushing and vying to get on this train or that one, and so had quite lost sight of his wife, as well as Ron and Hermione.
It hadn’t been all that long since he’d been back here – as the former Boy Who Lived, he spent a fair bit of time traveling to Hogwarts and acting as guest speaker to some of the older Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons. But today marked the first time he’d been on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on the first of September since – he frowned slightly, trying to remember accurately. He’d missed seeing Teddy off alongside Andromeda, he remembered, because he’d sent his godson a large box of Chocolate Frogs the day after as a way of apologizing. Could it be that he hadn’t seen the Hogwarts Express properly since his own sixth year?
“Dad?” Harry felt a small tug on the hem of his shirt just as he heard his son’s inquiry, and, still squinting a bit from the glare, looked down at James, who was all but glued to his leg. “Dad, where are we going?”
“I told you,” Harry responded, not unkindly, and placed what he hoped was a comforting sort of hand on the boy’s head. “This is how you’re getting to school, son.” He looked up and narrowed his eyes, trying to see past two rather burly businessmen. “Now, we’ve lost your mum and brother and sister. Do you see them anywhere?”
James stood on his tiptoes, but unfortunately, his trainers didn’t provide much elevation, and although he was tall for his age, he was nowhere near as tall as the London working class. Just as his son was about to tell him this, however, Harry caught sight of a head of flaming red hair – no, two –and reached down to take his son’s hand and lead him in the right direction.
“Dad.” James yanked his hand out of his father’s and reached up to ruffle his own hair; Harry had no clue where he’d picked that particular trait up, but he was constantly doing so. “I’m eleven years old now,” he added stubbornly. “I can take care of myself.”
Harry just managed to keep himself from laughing; it was, he thought lovingly, a very Ginny thing to say. “You sure can,” he agreed. “Let’s go and find your mum.”
Ginny, Ron, and Hermione were clustered around the barrier between Platforms 9 and 10, obviously waiting for Harry and James to catch up to them. Albus was clinging to Ginny’s hand and looking about him a bit warily; next to Hermione, Rose Weasley was doing the same. Both of them would be off to Hogwarts themselves the year after next, but James was going off alone.
Lily and her cousin Hugo, who were also close in age, were running about Ron’s legs, playing a sort of version of tag with Hugo’s toy bear, Mr. Stuffing. “His leg touched your hair!” Lily was now shrieking triumphantly, hopping up and down and waving the poor old bear above her head. “You’re out, Hugo, you’re out!”
“Lily, please give your cousin back his bear,” Ginny said automatically, her eyes scanning the crowd around her. Her brown eyes locked on Harry, and her shoulders visibly relaxed. “There you are!”
“Sorry,” Harry muttered, unable to help grinning at Ron, who smiled back. “Shall we -?”
They were cut off as someone shouted first Ron’s name, then Hermione’s, and finally Harry’s. The three of them turned in sync and saw a pale arm waving wildly above the heads of the milling people. The arm eventually morphed into the rest of a person, and they saw Seamus Finnigan, one of their old classmates, holding the hand of a small brunette woman – his wife, presumably – and clasping a tiny freckled boy to his other hip.
“Thought you lot might be here,” he said as he came up to them, grinning slightly and letting go of his wife’s hand for a moment to brush a bit of hair out of his eyes. “Weird, isn’t it, assembling on the platform again like this? This is my wife, Moira,” he added.
“Very,” Harry said firmly, reaching out to Moira for a handshake, which she accepted gracefully. He smiled at the boy, whose cheeks turned pink as he buried his face in Seamus’s neck. “This one’s not going to Hogwarts, is he?”
“Not yet,” Seamus grinned, knocking the boy’s head lightly with his own. “Although he’s turned his mum’s roses blue three days in a row, so it won’t be long before – Kathleen!” He interrupted himself quickly, and Harry, Seamus, and Moira all turned to see a girl about James’s age, standing a bit behind the rest of the Finnigans, poking at something on the ground with the toe of her shoe.
“She’s a bit of a scatterbrain,” Moira said, almost apologetically. Harry smiled politely and made a mental note to tell James to steer clear of Kathleen Finnigan.
Ron, Hermione, Rose, Hugo, and Lily had all already gone through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, and Ginny was waiting with their two sons. James was chewing nervously on his bottom lip, and held out his hand for Harry’s, seemingly without thinking about it.
“It’s all right,” Harry said, taking the small hand in his and wrapping his other around the handle of the trolley. “We’re just going to run, now, it’s okay…” And, suddenly remembering quite vividly the first time he had done this, at James’s age, he broke into a light jog, towing his son along – the brick wall loomed up in front of them –
And they were onto the platform, hauling back on the trolley to prevent it from zipping onto the tracks in front of the large scarlet steam engine. James gaped open-mouthed at it, his hand still clutching Harry’s tightly. “Am I going to be riding on that?” he half-whispered, pointing at the train.
“Yep,” Harry said, unable to keep himself from grinning. “C’mon, pal, let’s find your aunt and uncle.”
Movement from the corner of his eye stopped him briefly as he moved away from the barrier; he glanced to his left, and then quickly did a double take. For the briefest moment, he thought he’d seen Colin Creevey standing there – but it couldn’t have been, because Colin was dead… He swallowed against the lump in his throat, and his eyes moved up to the man standing behind the boy he’d initially mistaken for the former Gryffindor, and was surprised to see Dennis – he barely looked like he’d aged at all.
Harry lifted a hand in greeting, still slightly in shock at how much Dennis’s son resembled his brother, when heard Ron calling from somewhere behind him. He and Hermione had found Luna and her husband, Rolf, each standing behind an identical boy.
“Hello, Harry,” Luna beamed as he and James walked over to join the little group; Ginny and Albus were there, as well. “Did you have a lovely summer holiday?”
“Erm.” Harry glanced sideways at Ginny, who had hurriedly busied herself with fixing the bow in Lily’s hair as she tried not to laugh. “I don’t really get holidays anymore, Luna. It’s kind of hard for the Ministry to just, you know… shut down.”
“Ooh, yes,” she said happily, absentmindedly smoothing the hair of the boy in front of her – Luna’s twin boys (they had matching names, Harry knew – something like Lucas and Liam, but odder than that) had started Hogwarts the year before. “It’s rather funny to think of you in an adult job,” she added, smiling at him again.
Before Harry, who was, by this point, thoroughly flabbergasted, could answer, she turned to Ron, whose ears had gone rather red from contained laughter. “Do you work at a joke shop? Your brother’s joke shop?”
“Oh. Yeah.” Ron scratched the back of his head and tried to look casual. “But we don’t get a summer holiday, either.”
“You should put an advertisement in the Quibbler,” Luna informed him, as though he’d not mentioned the holiday. “I’ll ask Dad – you send me an owl as soon as you get home.” Rolf, who had watched the conversation rather passively until this point came up, looked Ron with sudden interest, fiddling absently with his mustache.
Still smiling a bit dreamily, Luna wandered off with Rolf and the twins in two, and Ron and Harry watched them go with identically bemused looks on their faces. “I can’t decide if that’s a brilliant marketing strategy, that bluntness,” Ron said at last, “or if she’s mad.”
“A bit of both, I’d expect,” Ginny spoke up, having conveniently finished arranging Lily’s hair. Harry grinned at her.
“I’m a bit concerned about that adult job bit, though,” he laughed. “Though it’s sort of weird seeing Draco Malfoy strutting about the Ministry like he owns the place, instead of his father.”
Hermione scoffed at that. “Surprise, surprise,” she muttered.
James tugged on his father’s hand, having resumed chewing on his lip. “Dad,” he whispered impatiently. “Am I supposed to get on the train?”
“Don’t you want to say goodbye to your family first?” Harry ruffled his son’s hair for him, and James pouted. Apparently, he only liked it messy when he was the one to mess it up. But he didn’t move from his spot, instead looking at the cluster of people over his father’s shoulder. Ron and Ginny were arguing about something that had appeared in that morning’s Prophet – Oliver Wood had been quoted in support of a charity Quidditch tournament sponsored by Amos Diggory, in memory of Cedric – and Hermione was telling off Hugo, who had apparently kicked a now-crying Rose in the leg. None of the group was paying any attention to either Harry or James.
“Why did I have to get born first?” James asked, so quietly Harry nearly missed the question entirely. “I don’t get anyone to go off to school with – I’m going to be all alone.”
“You have Teddy,” Harry pointed out gently. “And Fred, and Roxanne, and Dominique. Lots of cousins.” He smiled, thinking just how many of his nieces and nephews would be running about the castle. “And there’s always Neville. Or Professor Longbottom, I suppose. He’ll have you over for tea any time.”
James didn’t look too sure of this particular fact. “But it’s not the same,” he said, and suddenly, with a sort of painful feeling in his chest, Harry could hear the five-year-old James again, small and scared and desperately afraid of the unknown, as he always had been.
He knelt down in front of James, who was fiddling with the hem of his jacket and determinedly not looking at his father. “I know you’re scared,” Harry said, placing a hand on both of James’s shoulders. “But you’re going to love school. I promise. And you can write home to your mum and me, whenever you like. You’ll be all grown up -”
“But what if I still want to be a kid?”
Harry paused, and then wrapped his son in a hug, taking James a bit by surprise. When he pulled away, he had to laugh a bit at the slightly shocked look on his son’s face. “James, you don’t have to give up being a kid forever to grow up,” he said. “Look at Uncle Ron – he works in a joke shop –“
“Oi! That better not be my name I’m hearing!”
Harry and James laughed. “You’re still growing up, James,” he continued, ignoring the look of suspicion on Ron’s face. “This is a great time of your life, and your mum and I are so proud of you. We all are.” He gestured with one hand toward the small knot of people standing on the platform – people who had come to see James off. The first day of the rest of his life.
James leaned forward and threw his arms around his dad’s neck, and this time, it was Harry who was surprised. “Thanks, Dad,” James muttered, and then quickly drew back lest anyone should be watching. At that moment, the train gave a loud whistle, and a burst of white steam erupted from the black smokestack.
“James! You’re going to miss the train!” Lily screeched, bobbing up and down. Harry laughed and walked over to his daughter, picking her up and kissing her cheek. James was moving his way around the cramped circle of well-wishers, saving a hug for Harry (and Lily’s leg) last.
And then, with last-minute good-byes and promises to write, and the promise of parcels of joke sweets cut off from Ron’s lips by Hermione’s reprimand, James boarded the Hogwarts Express. Harry watched as the train slowly began to edge out of the station, a lump rising in his throat yet again.
“First one off to school,” said a voice beside him. Harry looked down at Ginny and smiled, drawing her to his side with the arm that wasn’t busy holding Lily.
“First one,” he agreed, the final car of the train disappearing around the curve in the tracks. A sort of wistful smile turned up the corners of Harry’s lips.
Don’t grow up too fast, James.
A/N: It seriously feels like I just typed out a big, long list of thank-you messages for Growing Up Weasley. And now I've come to that bittersweet moment when I've got to do it all over again! These stories have been incredibly fun to plan and write and post, and the reviews -- I can't even tell you how much I love responding to them. A few people have been asking, and I'll tell you that, for now, I think I'm done with these Growing Up short story collections. It's time for me to take a break, however permanent, but nobody knows what the future might hold!
And now the acknowledgements, as always happens in a story like this: To Sarah and Mel, who've helped out with this story more than they know. It wouldn't be here without them! And to all my regular reviewers, too: MadamePuddifoot, Akussa, RosieQueen, BKL8008, Cassie, and Ariana, and anyone I'm forgetting (which, knowing me, is probably at least one person). If you've ever reviewed or read this at all, thank you. Thank you so, so much -- I won't be able to say it enough! You guys are what keeps me writing, end of story, and I'm so glad to have you stop by.
Keep reading, keep writing, and don't grow up too fast, guys. That kid in you, he or she is still there. Embrace it! ♥