The End of the Beginning

Chapter 25

It was altogether fitting to Harry that their last trip to King's Cross was perhaps the most chaotic one ever.

It all started the night before when, instead of finishing their packing like they should have, Ron managed to persuade Harry and George into sneaking off to the local muggle pub. It was called the River Road Inn and they quickly took a liking to muggle beer. So much so in fact that they stayed out far later than they initially planned. It wasn't until Ron was going overboard on the magic to impress a local girl and George started dancing to a drinking tune sung by every male in the house that Harry finally got the idea in his foggy mind to leave.

They had stumbled in around four in the morning and it seemed like he had barely closed his eyes when Mrs. Weasley's shrill voice came drifting up the stairs to wake them up. They had naturally overslept and what was more, they still hadn't finished packing.

Their heads pounding, Harry tried a spell he had seen Tonks use to pack his trunk years before, but instead of putting his things into his trunk, it simply sent them flying across the room towards Ron who was whacked unceremoniously on his head by Harry's telescope.

"Sorry mate." He groaned.

"Merlin, my head." Ron moaned from his bed.

It was right at that moment that Mrs. Weasley had entered, screamed at them for going out the night before, and finally waved her own wand to send their things neatly into their trunks herself.

"How does she always know?" Ron was holding his head like it would fall off if he let go as they made their way downstairs. "Did she really have to shout so much?"

"Well she was right you know." Hermione chimed in from the base of the stairs.

"Oh sod off." Ron grumbled.

"Good morning to you too Ronald." She replied rather loudly right into his ear, smiling smugly at his groan of complaint.

Breakfast hadn't been much better. In her rush to prepare everything Mrs. Weasley gave them all plates piled high with one breakfast item instead of helpings of everything. So they all passed around their plates like a weird game of musical chairs so that everyone got their fill of the different courses.

Right when it seemed all would be settled George, rather hung over in his own right, aparrated straight onto the table, breaking it clean in two and sending food flying everywhere. By the time George had repaired the table, Mrs. Weasley had finished a fresh round of screaming, and they had all finished cleaning the food off of them it was time to get everything loaded into a ministry car that Kingsley had sent to pick them up. This would have gone smoothly had Ron not accidentally taken out Ginny's legs when he tried to load it with magic and Harry had had to get involved to keep it from erupting into a duel.

Finally they were all in the car and headed to King's Cross, everyone a little cross with each other but none the worse for wear. In the time spent in the car, everyone's mood lightened to the point that they were all quite jovial and excited by the time they reached King's Cross.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all, at least until they crossed the magical barrier and entered platform nine and three-quarters.

Pure mayhem erupted at the sight of Harry Potter on the platform. He was immediately swamped by witches and wizards, who wanted to shake his hand, have him sign their books, and one woman was insistent that he kiss her baby girl.

They made no progress at all towards the train until Ron, Hermione, Luna, and Ginny worked together to make their way towards a compartment, using a combination of trunk trollies and wands to gently (or not so gently) force people aside. By the time they finally reached the train they tumbled into the first empty compartment they could find and collapsed into their seats breathing very heavily and feeling like they had run a marathon.

"Blimey Harry, it's all well and good that this is your last year." Ron huffed.

"Harry, your hair is all..." Hermione reached across to attempt to flatten his hair, which was distinctly disheveled from all the people who had ruffled it. Ginny glared at her until Hermione gave it up for a bad job.

"Wait a moment; aren't we supposed to be somewhere?" Harry inquired, bringing out his Head Boy badge and fingering it before pinning it to his shirt.

"Oh! Right, we're supposed to be in the Prefect carriage." Hermione answered as she stood up, pinning her Head Girl badge to her shirt. "You two had better come with us, Prefects are supposed to be there too." She motioned to Ron and Luna. Ron grumbled under his breath while Luna exited the compartment ahead of them, humming to herself.

"I guess I'll save the compartment for you guys. Don't take too long." Ginny called out from behind them as the compartment door shut.

All down the train people were poking their heads out of their compartments to get a look at Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Most didn't bother to lower their voices as they spoke in awe of what the three of them had accomplished the previous year. Those who already knew them waved to them and greeted them jovially, particularly those who had been DA members.

"What exactly are we supposed to do when we get there?" Harry had no idea what exactly the Head Boy did. Percy had strolled around making himself sound and look important, but then he always did that.

"Well, I think for today we're just supposed to meet the new Prefects and introduce ourselves. I think later we're supposed to organize Prefect patrols and school functions, I know the Head Boy and Girl helped organize the Yule Ball for instance." Hermione's voice was positively quivering with anticipation.

"Well I don't think you have to worry about introducing yourselves." Ron pointed to yet another compartment where some very young looking students had all poked their heads out to see the famous trio. They all shared a laugh as they came upon the Prefect carriage and strolled in.

Harry had never been in this carriage before and he was briefly taken by surprise. Instead of the cordoned off compartments of the other carriages, the Prefect carriage was furnished much like a very large and luxurious sitting room. There were comfortable looking couches spread in a row down the middle and along the walls , the floor was a plush carpet and there was even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

The chatter in the room rose in pitch and volume as they walked the length of the room to the only couch left at the front of the carriage.

"I think everyone is here, might as well get on with it and get it over with." Ron had been scanning the room, his head bobbing as if he was counting.

"The food cart doesn't start its rounds for a while yet Ronald." Luna dreamily replied, prompting a round of laughter from Harry and Hermione. Ron simply smiled.

Hermione then cleared her throat and amazingly the entire carriage came to a dead silence. Everyone in the room was looking with rapt attention at Harry and Hermione. Harry felt heat creeping up his neck.

"So then, now that we're all here let's get down to business. I'm Hermione Granger, I'm the new Head Girl and this is Harry Potter our new Head Boy." A smattering of applause greeted her words. "Now, for our new Prefects…"

Hermione launched into explaining the duties and responsibilities of a Prefect. Most of the old hands looked bored, while the newer Prefects were drinking in every word. Harry had to hand it to her, she was thorough.

"Any questions?" she finally finished.

"When will we meet again to schedule patrols?" Luna asked. Hermione seemed to have forgotten Luna was behind her and jumped slightly at the sound of her voice prompting a few snickers from the other Prefects.

"Oh, I was thinking we could meet a week from tomorrow. So next Monday before dinner. Harry and I will take the first week of patrols."

With that question answered everyone started chatting idly amongst themselves again, a few people making their way back to the main compartments to find their friends. Harry, Hermione, Ron and Luna all left to rejoin Ginny in their own compartment. Before they had quite made it out the door Ron tripped on something and fell quite ungracefully onto the floor.

"Better watch where you put those clunkers Ron." Harry chuckled. Ron came up cursing, that is until a very pretty girl with silky light brown hair and bright blue eyes that were round with embarrassment stood up.

"Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't do it on purpose!" She was sputtering.

"It's…it's alright." Ron's voice was oddly quiet and his eyes had gone wide too. Neither he nor the girl said anything for an awkward moment before Hermione came to the rescue.

"What's your name?" Hermione asked sweetly, a broad grin on her face.

"Aubrey. Aubrey Anne Peacock." Aubrey replied shyly. "I'm the new Hufflepuff Prefect." She had a heart shaped face with prominent, but cute dimples to either side of her smile.

"Aubrey." Ron repeated dumbly. Aubrey giggled.

"Well the man who has lost the ability to speak intelligibly is Ronald Weasley." Harry supplied, stifling his own laughter.

"Hi." Ron managed a weak wave.

"Well we'll let you get back to your friend there." Hermione grabbed Harry and Ron and pulled them into the next carriage followed by a laughing Luna. Ron strangled out a very weak "Bye" as the door shut.

They all took turns laughing at the vacant expression on Ron's face until they rejoined a disgruntled looking Ginny.

"About time you guys came back. I nearly had to hex a group of Ravenclaw girls who wanted to take over." She greeted Harry with a light kiss and her mood seemed to lighten now that he was sitting beside her. Harry felt a wave of pride wash over him knowing that being with him made her happy.

"Sorry we were late, Ron here tripped over a girl's foot." Harry chuckled. "Then his brain jammed up good and tight when he got one look at her."

"Did not." Ron mumbled, his face turning the same color as his hair.

"Could have been a Nargle." Luna supplied helpfully to a fresh round of laughter.

"Just admit it; you were right done in by the sight of her." Hermione teased.

"Just drop it alright?" Ron whined, blushing madly.

"Okay lover boy." Ginny sighed.

They passed the rest of the train ride with games of Exploding Snap and trading Chocolate Frog cards until the train finally slowed and came to a halt in Hogsmeade station. Harry strained his ears as they stepped off and was greeted with the booming call of "Firs' years! This way! Firs' years to me!"

"Hagrid!" Harry waved to the man who had been his first contact with the wizarding world. Hagrid waved back cheerfully.

Content to catch up with him later, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna, and Ginny all found their way to an open carriage. Harry noticed that Ron, Hermione, and Ginny's gazes all lingered between the shafts at the front of the carriage. He knew that they were looking at the pair of Thestrals that they could now see harnessed and ready to pull them through the gates.

"Come on guys, let's go." He gently pushed Ron and Hermione in before wrapping his arms around Ginny and pulling her in with him. The door shut behind them and they made their bumpy way to the castle in subdued conversation. Seeing the Thestrals had briefly stifled the light mood they had been in all day.

Their moods were soon to be lifted though when they entered the Great Hall to a thunderous round of applause that had started at the staff table and swept through the student body that had all risen to their feet. Everyone except a very sullen looking Draco Malfoy, who was seated alone at the far end of the Slytherin table.

Once everyone had taken their seats again and the noise level began to rise, Luna made her way to the Ravenclaw table while the rest of them found seats among the Gryffindor's.

They had just settled in when Professor Sprout lead in a line of scared looking first years. Harry watched as each was sorted, and clapped with his housemates as Gryffindor welcomed its newest additions. Eight first years rounded out the now full table.

Headmistress McGonagall then rose to her feet and the din of the Great Hall died almost instantly.

"Greetings students, welcome to another year at Hogwarts. The past year was not kind to the castle, but I think you will find that our renovations have made Hogwarts better than ever." A round of applause broke out and quickly died down. "We welcome a new staff member, Professor McClellan, who will be taking the Defense Against the Dark Arts position."

A dark skinned and stocky wizard stood up to the right of McGonagall to a smattering of applause.

"Now, I believe it is time for some nourishment. Tuck in!"

And just like that the glorious feast began. How he had ever lived without the wonderful food of the Hogwarts kitchens was simply beyond Harry. He split his time between enjoying the food and getting to know his fellow seventh years.

"Hey, where's Neville?" Harry turned and asked Ginny.

"Oh, he's over at the Hufflepuff table with Hannah Abbot. They started dating over the summer."

Harry scanned the Hufflepuff table and found him indeed sitting next to Hannah with a huge grin on his face, she had obviously just said something rather amusing. Harry smiled, he was happy his friend had found someone who appreciated him.

McGonagall gave a rather short speech that gratefully didn't include any mention of Harry before dismissing them all to bed.

"Harry, you should probably come with me and Ron, guide the first years." Hermione grabbed him before he could make it out the door.

"Oh, right, I'll see you Ginny." He gave her a quick kiss, but didn't miss the disgruntled look on her face.

Once all the first years were safely in their dormitories Ron turned with a very animated expression on his face. "Let's go see the Head dorms!"

"Oh, I nearly forgot we weren't in here." Harry grinned in response. "Where are they?"

"Did you even read your letter?" Hermione may have sounded exasperated, but even she was smiling. "They're on the fifth floor, near the Prefect bathroom."

"At least we're not across the whole castle from each other." Ron gave Harry a light punch in the arm.

"Hey, you're welcome anytime mate." Harry replied with his own punch.

"Boys." Hermione breathed.

They raced each other to the third door on the right on the fifth floor. Ron slightly beating Harry and Hermione.

"What's…what's the password?" Ron huffed between breaths.

Hermione gave Harry a grin. "Padfoot."

The polished black wood door swung open to reveal a plush sitting room decorated entirely in Gryffindor House colors. "They always use colors from the Head's Houses, since we're both Gryffindor's it was a simple matter." Hermione stated matter-of-factly.

"This is nice; you get this all to yourselves." Ron ran his hands over the silky couch that sat in front of the fire.

"Are those our rooms?" Harry pointed to the two black doors on either side. One had the letters "HB", the other "HG".

"Yes. Let's see what we have." Hermione strolled over to the Head Boy room and opened the door, letting out a small gasp.

The room was a square shaped room with a four poster bed much like from his old dorm, but along the walls were shelves that were lined with pictures and trophies. The pictures were all of the three of them, except for one picture of him and Ginny beneath their favorite beech tree on the grounds. The trophies were relics of his past adventures: the Tri-Wizard Cup and his Award for Special Services to the School the most notable ones, but even the Quidditch and House cups were here and there was a special mount on the wall where his Firebolt hung.

"They must have moved them from the trophy room. Oh, Harry look!" Hermione pointed to a cabinet in the back left corner of the room. In it were more trophies and plaques, but these bore the names of Harry's parents. There were two more Special Services awards, one each for Lily and James, as well as a Potions Excellence award for Lily and a Transfiguration Excellence award for James. In front of all these and featured prominently was a copy of their wedding photo, the occupants waving happily to the three of them.

Harry took it all in. McGonagall had put a lot of thought into his room; he would have to thank her later. "Let's go see yours Hermione."

They bounded across the common room and Hermione flung open her door before clapping her hands over her mouth.

"Sooo predictable." Ron laughed and then flinched when Hermione smacked him on the arm. The walls of her room were almost entirely covered with books and there was a desk in the corner that had a very comfortable looking chair paired with it.

Hermione was already running her hands along the bookshelves, whispering the titles that crossed her gaze.

"Well I'm going to make my way back to the Tower. I'll see you guys at breakfast." Ron took his leave and bounded out the door.

Hermione was still looking through all the books on her shelves. Harry sat on the end of her bed and started scratching Crookshanks who had sauntered in.

"McGonagall went all out for us didn't she?"

"Yes, she did." Hermione finally turned around and sat next to him on the bed. "We'll have to do something special to thank her."

"We'll think of something." Harry smiled at her. "Well my bed is calling my name. I'll see you in the morning Hermione."

When he stood up to go, Hermione stood up rather quickly next to him which caught his attention. He turned towards her to ask what was wrong but was met instead by her lips awkwardly crashing into his.

They stood rooted to the spot with their faces only inches apart, stunned at the turn of events. He could feel himself blushing furiously and Hermione's cheeks were a deep pink color. He had never been this close to her before, he could smell her hair which had a very pleasant coconut scent and saw that there were tiny flecks of gold in her deep brown eyes. She had placed her hands on his chest for balance and beneath her touch he felt like he was on fire.

"H-Hermione?" his voice came out deeper and huskier than he remembered it being.

"Harry, I'm sorry I….I only meant to kiss you on the cheek but you turned…." She took her hands off his chest and took a step backwards. Harry felt slightly dizzy.

They stood there transfixed at one another, neither of them having a clue what to say.

"I…er…." Harry tried desperately to get his brain to work, but it had completely abandoned him.

"I'm sorry Harry. It was just a simple mistake." Her voice was shaky.

"Yeah….right…a mistake."

But if it's a mistake, then why can't I stop thinking about how soft her lips are?

Shutting down that part of his brain, Harry forced himself to smile at Hermione. She smiled back, but there was something off about it. It didn't quite reach her eyes.

Those beautiful brown eyes.

He seriously considered trying his hardest to aparrate somewhere, anywhere where he could just think straight for two seconds.

His heart hammering against his chest, he finally managed to strangle out "Goodnight Hermione." before turning and walking across to his room, leaving a very teary eyed Hermione in his wake.

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