Harry Potter sat in the eye of the packing tornado that was the Weasley’s kitchen, feeling entirely irrelevant.
Ron had left a week ago for Tutor orientation, but he was back this morning to have frantic rummage around the Burrow for another trunkful of items.
Ginny raced in and out of rooms, her long, red hair hair flying behind her, and Charlie at her heels. They were having a loud and spirited discussion about Quidditch tactics while Ginny used her wand to sent things flying into her trunk, which was open on the kitchen table.
Molly Weasley trotted along behind everyone, trying to figure out what her kids were nicking and rescue the most precious items. In Harry’s opinion, she was fighting a hopeless battle.
“HARRY, DUCK!” shouted Ron.
Harry flattened himself against the table as Ron’s badly-levitated trunk zoomed over his head, missing him by inches. The trunk crashed by the doorway. Mrs. Weasley screamed her outrage, but was distracted by Mr. Weasley, who appeared dressed in his work robes and kissed her on the cheek.
“Sorry, mate,” said Ron to Harry as he grabbed an apple from a basket on the sideboard and took a bite. “Sheamush shere yesh?”
Harry was momentarily confused. “Is he supposed to be?”
Ron swallowed. “Yeah, Serpentia’s supposed to bring some things for Ginny, and then we’re all going together to meet the Primaries at the train. ….”
His voice trailed off as a silvery fox Patronus streaked around the room, yipping, “Running late!”
It was followed by a silvery snake that hissed, “It’s HIS fault!” before swallowing the fox whole. This made Ron laugh.
“What’s so funny?” asked Ginny, finally walking into the room at a normal pace.
“Seamus and Serpentia having another Patronus war.”
“Where are they, anyway?”
“Seamus says they’re running late.”
“And Serena says it’s his fault,” added Harry.
Ginny smiled and put her arm around Harry, but addressed Ron in a serious tone.
“Should we wait for them?”
“You should not,” said Mrs. Weasley. “You’re both starting the new year with important responsibilities. It wouldn’t do to be tardy on your first day.”
This made Harry think of fondly of his very first day of class at Hogwarts. “We were late for our very first class with McGonagall, remember Ron? She said she should transfigure us into a pocket watch, or a…”
Harry realized that Ron wasn’t listening. “…map….”
Ron donned his robe and pinned on his Tutor badge. Ginny did the same, affixing her badges for Captain of Quidditch and Co-Captain of the Gryffindor Charmsnastics team. She pointed her wand at her trunk, which closed and locked, and levitated Ron’s extra trunk gently on to the table beside hers.
Harry could no longer see the other side of the table, so he stood, and noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley looked a little misty. He knew how they felt.
Ginny noticed too, and said, “Want to come along, Dad? We’re portkeying directly to the platform.”
Mr. Weasley brightened. “Well, if I won’t be in the way….”
“‘Course not, Dad,” said Ron.
He and Ginny hugged and kissed their mother, who replied with a watery, “We’re very proud of both of you. Be good!”
“We’re leaving, Charlie, George!” yelled Ginny.
George’s faint “Good luck!” came from the study.
Charlie came in from the living room and hugged his sister and brother.
“Remember,” he told Ginny, “cross training. That’s what wins cups!”
Ginny turned to Harry and took his hands. They’d said their real goodbyes last night, but Harry, already missing her, had wanted to stay near until the moment she left.
Ginny smiled at him. “Goodbye, you.”
Harry’s chest felt tight. He forced himself to grin back, and willed his voice to be steady.
Ginny leaned in and kissed him, her warm lips lingering on his. Harry wanted to wrap his arms around her and hold on tight, but he knew this wasn’t the time or place. His eyes still closed, he felt Ginny step back, and then release his hands.
He opened his eyes to see Ginny and Ron put one hand on their trunks. Mr. Weasley set a statue of a weasel on the table. That was the portkey.
“‘Bye, mate,” said Ron to Harry. “See you in Hogsmeade.”
“‘Bye,” said Harry. “And good luck.”
Ginny gave Harry a final wave.
Mr. Weasley counted down. “Three… two… one!”
The three of them touched the portkey and rapidly spun out of sight.
The Weasley’s kitchen felt overlarge and achingly silent. The table looked unnaturally bare.
Harry stared at the spot where Ginny had disappeared until he heard Mrs. Weasley unfurl an apron with a sharp snap. As she tied it on, she said briskly,
“Well, boys, you haven’t had any breakfast. What would you like?”
Her tone made it clear that they would, indeed, eat something.
Charlie grinned and took a seat at the end of the table.
“Something hearty, thanks, Mum. I have a big day ahead with that cockatrice.”
“And that will be the same for you, Harry,” said Mrs. Weasley firmly as she brandished her wand.
Harry, knowing better than to argue, sat down at the long side of the table and watched Mrs. Weasley cook.
Soon Harry and Charlie were tucking into Scotch eggs with perfect jammy yolks, Charlie eating heartily and regaling them with exciting tales of dragon-taming. Harry hadn’t been particularly hungry, but the food was so delicious that he didn’t find it hard to eat.
When Charlie wound himself down and leaned back from his plate with a satisfied, “That was brilliant, Mum,” Mrs. Weasley levitated three mugs of tea to the table and sat down opposite Harry.
“So, Harry,” she said conversationally, “now that your friends have gone back to Hogwarts, what are your plans?”
Harry had expected this question, and he thought he was ready for it.
“Oh, I have loads to do to settle Sirius’ estate, now that all the Ministry offices are open again. There’s meeting after meeting with Gringotts. And Kreacher needs my help with the house. You should see what he’s done with it, it’s really…”
Harry noticed Mrs. Weasley’s unhappy expression.
“…amazing….” He let his voice trail off.
Mrs. Weasley took a long sip of tea. Harry had the impression that she was carefully considering what to say next. He exchanged glances with Charlie, who looked wary.
But when Mrs. Weasley set down her mug, her tone was gentle.
“Harry, don’t you think it’s time you considered your future?”
The future was, in fact, something that Harry had been trying very hard to ignore.
For years, he’d had a single purpose for living: to defeat Voldemort. Or to be more exact, to stay alive long enough to defeat Voldemort. All of the advanced magic that he’d learned, and most of the time he’d spent with his best friends, had been in pursuit of those goals.
Who was he, without Voldemort? What could he possibly do now that was as significant as what he’d already achieved?
He doubted anyone could help him answer those questions. The only people who might have been mentors — Albus Dumbledore and Remus Lupin — were gone.
To be honest, he had only one goal for the future: to marry Ginny. And he didn’t think this was the right time to bring it up to her mother.
He was spared from answering by loud voices from the front yard.
“You didn’t have keep checking his gait every fifteen minutes!”
“I had to show Dad how he was moving so he’d know what to tell the vet!”
“Why didn’t you just fix him with magic?”
“I wouldn’t have known what to fix!”
“Just fix everything! It’s there some kind of Equus Reparo Totalus spell?”
“You know there’s not!”
Harry smiled. It was Seamus and Serena, arguing as usual. He didn’t know why he found them amusing, but he did.
Mrs. Weasley pointed her wand at the door, and it opened. Serena stepped inside, followed by Seamus. They were both wearing school robes with Tutor badges. Serena carried a large leather bag, which she set down on the floor by the kitchen table.
“Good Morning, Mrs. Weasley,” said Serena. “Are Ginny and Ron still here?”
“I’m sorry, dear,” replied Mrs. Weasley, “but they’ve already gone.”
Serena turned to Seamus and huffed in frustration. “I told you you’d make us late!”
Seamus didn’t seem fussed about the time. “Will ye stop giving out about that! Let’s just go on to the train! Mornin’ Mrs. Weasley, Harry.”
Serena spoke over their replies. “I can’t yet; I have some things for George.”
“He’s in the study,” said Mrs. Weasley.
Serena Acciod a few packages from her bag and left the room. Mrs. Weasley rose and went to the teapot, saying, “Have a seat, Seamus. Have you met Ron’s brother, Charlie?”
Charlie stood and extended his hand over the table. “Charlie Weasley, former Gryffindor.”
Seamus shook his hand. “Seamus Finnegan. Once a Gryffindor, always a Gryffindor.”
“I guess that’s true.”
Mrs. Weasley returned with a mug of tea for Seamus, and they all sat again, Seamus at the other end of the table, opposite Charlie.
“You from Ireland?” asked Charlie.
“Don’cha know it.”
“Great dragons there.”
“That’s what I hear. I never saw one myself. The Ministry must keep ‘em tight under wraps.”
“Well, you know, Muggles are everywhere now. It’s a shame, really. Muggles would like dragons.”
Seamus laughed. “You don’t know many Muggles, do you?”
Charlie considered this, then said, “Come to think of it, I don’t know any at all.”
Seamus turned to Harry. “I suppose you were here to see Ginny off?”
“Yeah,” replied Harry, hoping that Seamus wouldn’t ask what he’d be doing next. But Mrs. Weasley didn’t need Seamus to ask an opportune question; his presence alone was enough for her to find an opening.
“So, Seamus,” she said, “what made you decide to repeat your final year?”
Seamus, not knowing that Mrs. Weasley was setting a trap for Harry, replied congenially, “Well, it’s the only way I’ll feel sure about passing my N.E.W.T.S. I’m after a career in Care of Magical Creatures, you see.”
“That’s me, too!” said Charlie. “I specialize in dragons.”
“No kidding!” replied Seamus. “Dragons are cool, but I’m going into domestic husbandry.”
Harry hoped that they would have a long conversation about magical creatures, but Mrs. Weasley quickly jumped in.
“Isn’t it nice that you’ve already decided on a career path, based on your interests. I was just asking Harry about his plans for the future. Perhaps you’d be a good professor Harry; Ron says you were a fine teacher to your friends.”
Charlie added, “I think you’d be a great Auror, Harry. You learned all those advanced spells before your O.W.L. year!”
Harry shook his head. “I learned that stuff because I had to, not because I wanted to.”
He didn’t like to admit this in front of Mrs. Weasley, but Seamus already knew how he felt, and he was comfortable talking to Charlie.
“I had to learn to make a Patronus, and dueling, and Occlumency, and even Unforgivable curses, but it was never fun. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to work at was Quidditch.”
Serena reentered the kitchen and stood next to Seamus. She must have heard the last bit of conversation, because she said,
“I think the question is, what would you have been interested in if Voldemort hadn’t been after you?”
Mrs. Weasley looked a little taken aback by the brutal honesty of the question, but Seamus seized on it and asked, “Yeah, Harry, what did you like about Hogwarts?”
Harry had thought about this many times, but now he considered it anew. He had to go back several years to remember the best parts.
“Well, there’s Quidditch, of course,” he said, “and riding Buckbeak the hippogriff was just about the coolest thing I’ve ever done. And I liked to hang out with Ron and Hermione, especially when Ron joined the Quidditch team and we could play together. And I actually liked Potions once Slughorn was teaching it. And I guess it was satisfying to teach the D.A., but honestly, I liked being Quidditch captain much more.”
Seamus, Charlie, and Mrs. Weasley looked thoughtful, but Serena said, “Well, the answer is obvious.”
They all looked at her, and she rolled her eyes at their cluelessness.
“Quidditch. You’ve said it about five times. Play Quidditch, dork.”
Mrs. Weasley began, “Now, there’s no need for that kind of langu–”
But Serena flicked her hand, and a brief fire turned into a calling card, which she laid in front of Harry.
“Send an owl to Marcus Flint, and include my card. He plays for the Falcons. Tell him I said you should try out for the reserve team.”
She abruptly shouldered her bag, turned to Seamus, and said, “We have to go.”
As Seamus rose, Charlie asked, “How do you know Marcus Flint?”
Harry was about to say that they were at school together, but as Serena headed for the door she said, “We used to date.”
Seamus spun around really fast. “Say what now??”
But Serena flung open the door with a wave of her hand, never breaking stride as she marched through. Seamus gave Harry wide-eyed look, and then, without saying goodbye, ran after Serena.
“MARCUS EFFIN’ FLINT???” they heard him shout as he pounded down the stairs. The door slammed shut.
There was a moment of astonished silence, broken by Mrs. Weasley as she reached across the table to pat Harry on the hand.
“We’ll figure something out, dear. Why don’t you interview with the Ministry, like Ron did? They had a plan all worked out for him!”
She rose and picked up a basket of vegetable scraps. “I’d better get these to the chickens,” she said as she left for the garden.
Charlie looked enviously at the card, but said, “Yeah, mate, I suppose Mum has the right idea.”
He drained his mug of tea. “Better get to work. See ye later, Harry.” He apparated away.
Harry picked up the card. Quidditch — as a career. It was ridiculous. It was impractical. It was irresponsible.
But he tucked the card in his pocket anyway, just in case.