|SIYE Time:22:26 on 21st September 2017|
These Cuts I Have
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Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use
Story is Complete
Summary: The war has been won, yet the aftershocks continue. The scattered survivors are left to pick up the pieces and find ways to move on. Join the various members of the extended Weasley family as they struggle to rebuild and cope with the consequences. And of course there are still Death Eaters left to find.
Hitcount: Story Total: 84838; Chapter Total: 3439
Awards: View Trophy Room
So, this one is definitely a transition chapter as we move into Harry’s Auror training. Thanks very much to Sherry for all her beta help. I’d also like to tell all of you reviewers that I really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. Keep it up!
The Next Chapter
Harry woke slowly, feeling sleepy and content. He was drowsy, as if awakening from a very deep slumber. It took a moment for him to organize his scattered thoughts. The first thing he became truly aware of was the fact he was naked. Why was he sleeping naked in Ron’s room? Becoming more alert and slightly alarmed, he opened his eyes, scanning his surroundings. Why were there railings keeping him within the bed? And why in Merlin’s name was he holding a stuffed unicorn?
That’s when the memories of the past several days exploded in his mind.
He sat bolt upright in bed, horror gradually overtaking his confusion as image after image flashed across his mind. He’d sucked his thumb in front of all of them. Hermione had found him hiding in a wardrobe. Ginny had carried him around in her arms. Ron and George had tossed him in the swimming hole like some kind of human beach ball. He’d cried on Mr. Weasley’s lap.
Bloody hell! Mrs. Weasley had given him a bath!
Harry groaned, falling back on his pillow with a thump and pulling the covers over his head as heat flooded his face.
He was never going downstairs again. He was mortified.
Maybe Hermione could do a Memory Charm on all of them to make them forget. And then one on herself, too.
Better yet, just do the Memory Charm on him.
He groaned again before hearing a faint chuckling coming from Ron’s bed.
“Not one word,” he said through gritted teeth, still keeping the covers clutched in his hand and over his head.
“Not even one?” Ron asked, sounding entirely more delighted than should be allowed. “You’re crushing your unicorn there, mate.”
Swearing, Harry pulled the toy out from beneath his shoulder and whipped it across the room at Ron without once removing the blankets from his head.
Ron’s laughter filled the room.
Harry reached blindly on his night table, searching for his wand.
“It’s not there,” Ron said, his voice still full of laughter. “D’you think we would’ve left a wand with a toddler? How responsible would that have been?”
Harry clenched his teeth. He couldn’t even get out of the bed and deck his best mate since he was completely starkers. He wished the floor would simply open up and swallow him whole.
“Come on, let me see you, then,” Ron said. “Are you completely back to normal? Not that you were ever normal.”
Harry remained silent. Perhaps if he didn’t answer Ron would just go away. He couldn’t stop himself moving his arms and legs to be certain everything was back to normal. Beneath the covers, his eyes roamed down to his private parts with some trepidation. He let out a sigh of relief when everything appeared normal.
“Are you going to tell me what happened? Hermione found the potion residue in Sirius’ old bedroom where we found you,” Ron said.
Apparently he had no intention of going anywhere while the opportunity to take the mickey out of Harry was so available.
“Is everyone awake already?” Harry barked.
“How should I know? Why?” Ron asked.
Harry kept his teeth tightly clenched as he spoke, “Because I’m moving to Grimmauld Place today, and I don’t want to see anyone else before I leave.”
Ron roared with laughter. “Oh, that’s a perfect idea. Just move right back in. Maybe you’ll find another potion that can permanently revert you to your childhood. Did you really enjoy it that much?”
The sodding prat was right.
Damn! Maybe he could just rent a flat after all. He had to get away before George arrived, and he could never look at Ron’s parents again. Never.
“Could you at least hand me some clothes?” he growled.
“What? So you can get up and try and hit me? I don’t think so,” Ron replied, chuckling. “You need to control your temper.”
Harry stuck his hand out from under the covers and wordlessly showed Ron what he thought of him.
“Well, I certainly didn’t teach you that,” Ron sniggered. “It’s not my fault, you know. I didn’t do it. How did it happen, anyway?”
Reluctantly, Harry pulled the covers off his head. He’d had enough childishness to last a lifetime. Ron sat propped against the wall, his hair mussed from sleep and a delighted grin covering his face.
“And there’s the Harry I know,” he said, laughing.
Harry ignored him.
“The potion was on the drapes. I moved them to look out the window, and a cloud of dust surrounded me. I don’t remember much after that until I woke up on the floor without knowing where I was or how I got there,” Harry said, recalling the panicky feeling he’d first experienced. He was annoyed with both himself and whoever had done this. He hated feeling weak or vulnerable, and right now, he felt both.
“What was the point?” he asked irritably.
“That’s what we wondered. I suppose the Death Eaters thought you’d be easier to capture as a little kid,” Ron said.
“Yeah, but just knocking me out would’ve done the same thing,” Harry said. “I thought the Ministry cleared everything out, anyway.”
“Hermione said potions are much easier to conceal because they don’t register as Dark magic,” Ron replied. “Remember how that wine that poisoned me in sixth year got through the wards at Hogwarts?”
“So, what? They just wanted to humiliate me?” Harry asked.
Ron chuckled. “Well, that plan worked splendidly.”
“Sod off,” Harry grumbled.
“Come on, Harry. It could have been much worse. It’s not like you were poisoned. Now the Ministry knows to search for potions. Fleur said there aren’t that many that work solely by inhalation,” Ron replied. “Besides, Mum and the girls loved taking care of you.”
Harry groaned again, feeling the color rising up his chest and across his face. He sat up, keeping the covers securely across his lap. He tried to move the railings off the side of his bed so he could get up, but couldn’t get them to budge.
“They’re childproof,” Ron said, amused.
“Are you going to help me at all?” Harry asked, feeling that Ron had more than tested the limits of Harry’s patience that morning.
Ron looked torn, but eventually he picked up his wand and Vanished the rails on Harry’s camp bed.
“Thanks,” Harry said tersely, holding the blankets firmly across his lap as he swung his legs over the edge.
They felt stiff and cramped. He supposed he’d gone through fourteen years of growing pains in one night. No wonder his body ached. He tried stretching to work out some of the kinks, but it was hopeless. The whole situation was bloody hopeless. How was he supposed to face the Weasleys after this?
“Come on,” Ron said bracingly. “It could have been worse.”
“Will you quit saying that?” Harry snapped. “How could it possibly be any worse?”
“Well, at least you were toilet-trained,” Ron said, falling to his side and holding his stomach he laughed so hard.
Harry shut his eyes tightly, hoping the entire thing was some wicked nightmare. The bedroom door swung open, and Hermione stuck her head inside.
“Harry!” she shouted, pushing the door open wide to reveal Ginny standing beside her. Both girls, still in their dressing gowns, rushed over to his camp bed and sat on either side of him.
Harry pulled the blanket closer, feeling incredibly exposed on all levels. His heart thumped wildly as heat suffused his face.
“How do you feel?” Hermione asked.
“Are you in any pain?” Ginny asked simultaneously.
Ron finally took some pity. “Oi, back off a little. He doesn’t have any clothes on under there.”
Perhaps not too much pity.
Ginny laughed, but Hermione jumped up and grabbed Harry’s dressing gown from the hook on the back of the door.
“Are you all right?” she asked, handing it to him.
Harry managed to reach out one hand to grab it while keeping the other clutched to his chest. “Thanks,” he muttered.
He felt disconcerted that Ginny was sitting so near and watching him so closely with an amused expression. Had they been alone, he might have teased her back, but right now, he felt distinctly at a disadvantage.
“Er… would you mind leaving?” he asked.
“Of course,” Hermione said. “We’ll meet you downstairs.”
“Are you going to come downstairs?” Ginny asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“He’ll have to. He says he’s moving back to Grimmauld Place today. He wanted to do it before anyone saw him though,” Ron said unhelpfully.
“Harry, you can’t!” Hermione gasped.
“He knows that,” Ginny replied. “That’s just his embarrassment talking. He knows Grimmauld Place isn’t safe. Right, Harry?”
“I reminded him,” Ron said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Harry glared at him. “Look, could you all please give me a minute to get dressed here?” he asked loudly.
Ginny leaned over and quickly pecked him on the cheek. “You don’t have to be embarrassed. We’ll meet you downstairs.”
With that, she stood up and bounded toward the door. Hermione and Ron both followed her out, shutting the door behind them. Harry finally pulled himself out of the camp bed and quickly dressed before they decided to come back.
Putting his hand on the closed bedroom door, he tried to steel his mind to just get through it. He was a Gryffindor, after all. Might as well just get it over with all at once.
When he arrived in the kitchen, he found Ron and the girls sitting at the table, but Mrs. Weasley wasn’t there. Harry wasn’t certain if he should be relieved or not. It just meant he’d have to revisit his embarrassment later.
Before he could even relax, however, Mr. Weasley stepped from behind the door of the storage cabinet, dressed in his Ministry robes.
“Good morning, Harry. How are you feeling?” he asked brightly, sounding as if he was delighted to see him.
Harry’s face flushed. “Morning, sir,” he mumbled, dropping his eyes.
Mr. Weasley chuckled, walking over to Harry and resting his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Chin up. No need to be uncomfortable, lad. Do you honestly think you’re the only one in this house with embarrassing childhood memories? We’ll just add yours to the bunch.”
Harry was extremely touched. “Thanks, sir,” he said gruffly, his eyes stinging slightly.
“I’m glad to see it all worked out. No harm, no foul,” Mr. Weasley said, patting Harry’s shoulder again. “I’m off to work.”
They called their good-byes as he left.
“Mum left your chair for you,” Ron said, nodding to a chair stacked with several pillows. Mrs. Weasley had put them there a few days ago to accommodate Harry’s slight stature.
Harry picked up the top pillow and beamed Ron in the head with it before taking a seat in an empty chair.
“Harry, there’s a note here that the Minister will be stopping by at half-twelve,” Ginny said.
“Did he say why?” Harry asked.
Ginny shook her head, “The note just said he was coming. Mum went to see Mrs. Tonks.”
Harry pulled a few slices of toast onto his plate.
“Ron told us you believe you inhaled the De-Ageing potion. Is that right, Harry?” Hermione asked.
“Yeah, from what I remember,” he replied.
“That’s odd,” Hermione said, frowning. “There aren’t a lot of potions that are effective simply by inhalation.”
“And that’s the only thing you found odd about this whole thing, Herminney?” Harry asked, pronouncing her name as he’d done when he was stuck in his younger self.
Ron and Ginny howled, but Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I might have let you get away with that when you were a cute little fellow, Harry Potter, but that’s over now,” she said firmly.
Harry smirked, pleased that he wasn’t the only one feeling disgruntled.
“Maybe that’s what the Minister wants to talk to you about,” Ginny said. “Dad told him what happened.”
“Great,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “I’m just glad it’s over and done. Did he say why the potion didn’t turn up when the Ministry did its sweep?”
“Oh, it’s not completely over,” Ginny said, smiling sweetly. “Mum took plenty of pictures.”
Harry cringed, remembering Mrs. Weasley snapping her camera every time he’d moved. “Brilliant.”
“Potions wouldn’t register as Dark magic,” Hermione said. They’re easy to miss, and easy to smuggle where they shouldn’t be. Fortunately, most of them have to be ingested.”
“So don’t eat or drink anything you find at Grimmauld Place,” Ron said.
“As if I would,” Harry said indignantly. “How was I to know there was a potion on the drapes?”
“What were you doing in Sirius’ room, anyway, Harry?” Hermione asked.
“I was thinking of turning it into a room for Teddy in case he’d like to stay when he’s older,” Harry said. “D’you think Dean Thomas would be willing to paint something on the wall for me?”
Ginny nodded. “He’d probably be happy to get the work. He’s put his name down to return to Hogwarts next term.”
“There you go, Hermione, someone else from our year,” Ron said.
Hermione nodded. “Parvati is returning, as well.”
“Is she?” Ginny asked. “She never returned after Christmas, not until the Battle, anyway.”
Hermione nodded. “Her parents didn’t want her and Padma to return at all, but when it was mandatory, they sent them. They went to stay with relatives over Christmas and never returned. I spoke with Padma when I went into the Ministry.”
They spent the morning in the field playing two-a-side Quidditch, but returned for lunch and the visit from the Minister. He arrived promptly at half twelve.
“Good afternoon,” he nodded to the teens. “I see you’re back to your earned age, Harry.”
Harry colored but forced himself to hold the man’s gaze. “Yes, sir. No harm done, other than a little embarrassment.”
“A little?” Ron asked, chuckling.
Harry shot him a filthy glare. “What can we do for you, Minister?” he asked.
“I just wanted to confirm you’re all right. I have a Ministry team back at Grimmauld Place as we speak, looking for traces of potions. They are extremely easy to conceal, so I wanted to warn you to remain on guard,” the Minister replied.
Harry nodded. “I’m always on guard, sir.”
“I know, yet you still ended up as a toddler for two days. We were lucky your friends found you quickly,” the Minister said, frowning.
“No one else could have got into Grimmauld Place,” Harry said.
“True, but do you think it’s a safe place for a toddler, Harry?” Hermione asked.
“It will be,” Harry said firmly, thinking more of Teddy’s safety than his own.
“I have one other item to discuss,” the Minister said, his eyes scanning them all speculatively.
“Which is?” Harry asked warily.
“I have a class of Aurors beginning on the twentieth of June. I was wondering if any of you would be interested in joining them?” he asked, his deep, rich voice filling the kitchen.
“That’s sooner than you’d expected,” Harry said, intrigued despite his question. The need to do something other than clean Grimmauld Place tugged strongly on his conscience.
Kingsley nodded. “It is. The class before you is moving along nicely, but we need people, so we’re starting this second group earlier than we’d planned.”
“Thank you very much for the offer, Minister, but Ginny and I are returning to Hogwarts in September,” Hermione said, glancing at Ginny for confirmation.
Ginny nodded. “I want to finish my final year,” she said.
“I’ll do it,” Ron said suddenly, looking directly at Harry. Harry knew he was hoping Harry felt the same. “What do you think?”
“What about the trials?” Harry asked. “Ron and I are expected as witnesses on several of them.”
Kingsley nodded. “Gawain Robards is aware of this, and agrees the trials are top priority. The recruits coming in are at various levels of readiness, so we can work around any need you have to appear in front of the Wizengamot. Classes will be rather sporadic over the summer, since a lot of Aurors are witnesses at various trials, as well.”
Harry glanced at Ginny to see her reaction. “What do you think?” he asked.
“I think you’ll be happier if you have something to do,” she said. “But evenings belong to me.” She grinned to let him know she was only half-kidding, but Harry was intrigued by the thought of what they’d do with those evenings.
“I can live with that. Okay, Minister, I’m in,” he said.
He was going to become an Auror.
Ginny walked through the corridors of the Ministry of Magic, her mind abuzz with Transfiguration facts. This would be her toughest examination. Despite all of Professor McGonagall’s best efforts, Ginny had never loved Transfiguration.
“Here you go, Gingerbear,” her father said, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. He’d Side-Along Apparated her into work this morning.
“Thanks, Dad,” Ginny said, taking a deep breath and steeling herself. “Here goes nothing.”
“You’ll be fine. You’ve worked very hard. Your mother and I are enormously proud of you,” he said, smiling.
“I think Ancient Runes will be fine, but I have to get through Transfiguration first,” she said ruefully.
Her father looked down, his ears turning slightly red as his demeanor changed. “I know this past year at Hogwarts was difficult. I wish there was more we could have done—”
“Don’t,” Ginny said, interrupting. “There was nothing you could have done, and you pulled me out before things got really bad. It happened, but we all got through it.”
Her father smiled sadly. “You’ve grown into such a spectacular young witch and shown more strength of character than we could have even hoped.”
Ginny colored, ducking her head. “I love you, too, Dad,” she said, hugging him again and clearing her throat. An annoying lump had become lodged there. “It’s funny to be taking these exams now. It’s just about the same time we should be taking them if we were still at Hogwarts.”
Her dad recognized her attempts to change the subject, and thankfully didn’t press. She needed a calm mind to sit these exams.
“Good luck, but I’m certain you won’t need it,” he said. “Just do your best.”
“I will,” Ginny promised before turning and pushing open the door to the holding room.
The Ministry had set up several rooms to accommodate the testing. She saw one of her roommates, Siobhan MacAuley, as soon as she entered.
“Ginny!” the Irish girl called, striding toward her.
Siobhan was tall with dark hair and striking blue eyes. She always looked so carefully put together, but after living with her for six years, Ginny knew it came innately to Siobhan. She was just one of those people with a natural beauty. Ginny eternally felt she needed to straighten her spine when she stood next to her roommate. Siobhan towered over her.
Fleur always referred to Ginny as petite. Ginny thought that was just her fancy way of saying short. Bill and Ron had stolen all the height genes in her family.
“How are you doing?” Ginny asked, hugging her roommate. “Are you ready for this?”
Siobhan shook her head. “I don’t know. Today will be okay, but tomorrow is Potions and Herbology. That will be my worst day.”
Ginny nodded, remembering Siobhan moaning about Potions class for years. “At least I’m getting my toughest one over today,” Ginny said.
“I got an owl from Liz yesterday,” Siobhan said excitedly.
Liz Spencer was their other surviving roommate. Her sister-in-law had been sent to Azkaban by the Muggleborn Registration Committee. Neither Ginny nor Siobhan had heard from her since the Battle, until now apparently.
“What did she say?” Ginny asked urgently. “Is she all right?”
“She is, but her sister-in-law didn’t make it. Liz has been helping her brother take care of her nephew,” Siobhan said sadly.
“Oh, no!” Ginny gasped. She’d feared this might’ve happened but had hoped she’d be wrong.
“She felt terrible about missing Anna’s funeral, but it was held the same day as her sister-in-law’s,” Siobhan said.
Ginny nodded. There had been so many funerals, many people had to pick where they could be. “Is she coming back to Hogwarts?” Ginny asked.
Siobhan nodded. “She said she is. Professor McGonagall is making special arrangements for her to sit her exams later in the summer with a few others who were unable to come here this week.”
“That’s really good of her,” Ginny said. She’d always been fond of their Head of House. She was tough, but Ginny knew she had a good heart underneath.
“It’ll be so strange to be back in the dormitory without Anna,” Siobhan said.
Anna had been their fourth roommate, and she hadn’t survived the Battle of Hogwarts.
“I know,” Ginny agreed. “Hermione and Parvati are both coming back though, so they’ll be in with us.”
“That should be interesting,” Siobhan said.
Ginny agreed. Although she liked Hermione very much, it was always a challenge to put a bunch of witches in a room together. She hoped they’d meld and not separate into two distinct groups.
“Speaking of seventh-years, have you seen any of the others?” Siobhan asked, her eyes twinkling merrily.
Ginny felt the traitorous Weasley coloring suffusing her cheeks. “Well, I am related to one of them, after all,” she said blithely.
Siobhan nudged her shoulder. “And what about his best mate? I haven’t seen your picture plastered all over the Daily Prophet, so we’ve all been wondering.”
Ginny smiled, thankful for Harry’s sake that the paper hadn’t picked up on their relationship yet. Apparently there was still too much post-battle drama for them to focus on. “Harry is doing well, and he’ll be happy to keep the Prophet away for as long as possible.”
“Is he staying with you? I’ve seen a lot of speculation on where he went after the battle,” Siobhan asked.
“Yeah, he’s with us for now. There have been some reporters nosing around the wards, but fortunately they can’t get through,” Ginny replied.
“How cozy,” Siobhan said, batting her eyes.
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Ginny said, smiling. “I’m a perfectly respectable young witch.”
“But I know exactly who you’d like to change that reputation with,” Siobhan said, laughing.
Ginny giggled. “We’re taking it slow. We’ve both been through a lot, and we’re getting to know each other again,” she said, sobering.
She knew what she said was true. The past few days aside — and she really didn’t want to say anything about Harry revisiting his childhood — had been better. Harry did seem so much healthier after revealing his fear about the Horcrux. His nightmares weren’t as frequent, and they appeared to have lessened in intensity. Was a little bit of reassurance all he really needed? Had he been so deprived of that comfort all his life? Ginny worried about him still, but all she could really do was be there for him.
She could understand why the thought of Voldemort living inside him freaked him out so badly, but she couldn’t help the disappointment that he’d ever considered she’d run from him over it. Above all others, she knew how he felt. She, too, had had that monster inside her. It was creepy to think about.
She shook her head to clear it. Tom wouldn’t get any part of today.
“Good for you, Ginny,” Siobhan said sincerely.
“How about you? Broken any hearts lately?” Ginny asked.
A light blush stained Siobhan’s cheeks, and she dropped her eyes demurely.
“Ooh! Do tell,” Ginny said excitedly.
“There’s not much to tell. It’s a Muggle boy from my neighborhood. Can you believe it? We’ve spent a lot of time together, and he’s got a lot of muscles. You know how much I appreciate muscles,” Siobhan said, grinning.
“I do,” Ginny said, laughing. “So… what do you do with a Muggle? Does he know you’re a witch?”
Ginny always wondered how that would work. Her magic was so natural to her, she never knew how she’d go about hiding it if she were dating a Muggle.
“We’ve gone to the cinema several times. I love the cinema! He doesn’t know I’m a witch, although he’s looked at me funny a few times when I mess up some Muggle thing I should know. My Muggle Studies class has come in very handy,” Siobhan said excitedly.
The girls turned to see Ritchie Coote and Andrew Kirke, two Gryffindors from their year approaching. The four exchanged greetings. There were five boys in Ginny’s year, and they’d also lost a roommate when Colin had been killed.
“How have you been?” Andrew asked. He was speaking to both, but his eyes were locked on Siobhan. Andrew had been asking Siobhan to go out with him since fourth year.
“It’s weird to think that the next Head Boy and Head Girl are in this room, isn’t it?” Siobhan asked.
Ginny really hadn’t given it a lot of thought. Her eyes roamed over her familiar class of almost-seventh-years. The people she’d always assumed would get it weren’t necessarily the same anymore. Last year had changed everything. The brutality of the Carrows’ rule caused some to step up, while others completely fell apart. They’d also lost classmates from each House.
The four spent a few moments catching up, but as the minutes ticked by, Ginny felt her heartbeat speeding up. She should have followed Hermione’s revision plan more closely. This was her own fault. She should’ve given her revision more time and attention. This was hopeless. She was rubbish at Transfiguration.
“I wish this was over already,” she muttered.
“Me, too,” Ritchie said. “I hate Transfiguration.” She and Ritchie had both been awarded extra work in Transfiguration on numerous occasions when they couldn’t grasp a particular spell. At least she wasn’t the only one dreading this exam.
Professor McGonagall opened the door and ushered them all inside. Ginny nodded as she passed, but otherwise, the strict professor gave no acknowledgement that she knew Ginny outside of the classroom.
“Well, it could be worse,” Siobhan sighed.
“How?” Ginny moaned.
“If we were back at Hogwarts, the fifth-years would be sitting their O.W.L.s. Can you imagine the nightmare Romilda would be?” she asked.
Romilda Vane was in the year behind them, and she was always very vocal about her complaints.
“Too right,” Ginny said, pulling out her quill and preparing to begin her first exam.
Ginny felt exhausted after finishing her last exam for the day. She and Siobhan exited the Ancient Runes exam and began following the crowd of sixth-years toward the Atrium. Each year had been assigned a certain week, and the sixth-years started things off. Ginny had another two exams tomorrow.
“Well, that was better than Transfiguration,” Ginny said. The exam hadn’t been as bad as she’d dreaded, but Ancient Runes was definitely easier.
“You think?’ Siobhan asked. “I thought it was harder than I’d expected.”
“Ginny,” a familiar voice called.
She looked up to see Harry standing in the shadows against the wall with his hands in his pockets. He smiled shyly as she walked toward him.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, surprised. By now, several of her classmates had noticed and the whispering and pointing had begun.
“Hi, Harry,” Siobhan said, still by her side.
“Hi,” Harry replied, rubbing the back of his neck. “I thought maybe you’d like to go out to lunch and celebrate. Er… unless you’ve already made plans.”
Ginny’s day immediately got remarkably better. “I would love to go,” she said happily, delighted he’d braved the crowds to surprise her.
“You two have fun. I’ll see you tomorrow, Ginny,” Siobhan said, hugging her quickly. “Potions, urgh.”
“Good luck,” Harry called, and Siobhan waved, winking at Ginny as she left.
“That’s my roommate, Siobhan,” Ginny said, knowing he’d forgotten her name.
“Right,” Harry replied sheepishly. “So, where do you want to go? The Leaky Cauldron or into Muggle London?”
Ginny took his hand and they began to walk, interrupted by some of her classmates who kept stopping by to say hello. Ginny knew the offer to go to the Leaky Cauldron was a big step for him. He’d been mobbed the last time he’d attempted it. Siobhan’s comment about not seeing her picture in the paper sparked Ginny to get the ball rolling. It would happen sooner or later, might as well let it be on her terms.
“Let’s go to the Leaky Cauldron,” she whispered in his ear so they wouldn’t have a crowd following them.
Harry raised his eyebrows. “You sure?”
Ginny grinned. “I am. I feel like strutting.”
Harry held out his hand, looking less certain that she felt, and they walked toward the Apparition checkpoint.
The Leaky Cauldron was busy, but not overly packed. Harry was spotted nearly instantaneously, and he graciously smiled and shook a few hands before Hannah Abbott ushered them to a table in the corner.
“Sorry about that,” Hannah said. “Give me some notice, and I’ll have a table waiting next time, Harry.”
“Thanks, Hannah,” he said, and Ginny knew he’d never do any such thing.
“What can I get you to drink?” Hannah asked, handing them some menus.
“How about a couple Butterbeers to start?” Harry asked. “We’re celebrating Ginny taking the first of her sixth-year exams.”
“Oh, congratulations. I’ve got extra shifts covered all week because I assume there’ll be bigger crowds,” Hannah said. “I’ll bring them right over.”
“So… it went well, yeah?” Harry asked.
Ginny shrugged. “Ancient Runes was fine. Transfiguration was harder, but I’d expected that. I still think I did okay. Onto Potions and Herbology.”
“What are they doing about Defense?” Harry asked.
Defense Against the Dark Arts hadn’t even been covered the previous year. The Carrows changed the title to Dark Arts, and actually taught them about using Dark spells.
“That one has been postponed. We’re to be given review materials after the other exams are over, then we’ll be tested at the start of term to determine what needs to be covered,” Ginny said quietly.
Harry nodded, grimacing.
“So, what did you do all day?” Ginny asked, wanting a lighter subject. “Did Ron and George throw you around in the swimming hole?”
Ginny cherished getting to meet Harry as a little boy. She’d recently spent so much time worrying about his past, it was nice to see first-hand what a survivor he was. He’d been timid at first, surprised by simple kindness, but he’d warmed up completely. Despite all his relatives had put him through, he’d still kept that innocence. Damaged, yes, but still innocent.
“Very ha ha,” Harry said, scowling, his cheeks turning red.
“Oh, Harry. It was funny. And you were so cute,” Ginny gushed.
“But if had happened to you, I bet you wouldn’t think it was so funny,” Harry said.
“Of course it wouldn’t be,” Ginny said unapologetically. “They’ve all seen me as a toddler already. It was the first time all of us got to meet little Harry.”
“Last time, too,” Harry grumbled.
“How do you know there isn’t any more at Grimmauld Place? Did the Ministry find anything else?” she asked worriedly. Fortunately, the De-Ageing potion had been harmless, but Ginny was uneasy thinking what could’ve happened, and what else could still be hidden there.
“Kingsley’s team is still there today, but… you heard him. Potions are extremely hard to detect,” Harry said, shrugging.
“So… you’re just going to risk it?” Ginny asked, alarmed.
“No,” Harry said calmly. “From now on when I’m cleaning, I’ll use a Bubblehead Charm. Anyone helping me will have to do the same.”
“Oh,” Ginny said, derailed. Obviously he had been thinking about it.
“Oh, indeed,” Harry said, smirking.
“You think you’re clever, don’t you?” Ginny asked. It was her turn to scowl.
“The Sorting Hat said I was,” Harry replied.
“It did?” Ginny asked curiously. “Did it consider you for Ravenclaw, then?”
Harry shifted, rubbing his hand along the back of his neck as he always did when uncomfortable. “At first it listed why I could fit in all the Houses,” he said, his voice sounding very far away. “But then it focused on Slytherin.”
Harry swallowed thickly, his face pale.
“D’you… d’you think it was because it detected the Horcrux?” he asked quietly.
Harry’s entire posture had gone rigid. Ginny hoped none of the patrons would come over and startle him now. He was liable to Hex them. She’d known he’d felt better about things after finally getting it off his chest at Privet Drive, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still bothering him. She imagined it would take some time. Everything that happened at Privet Drive would take time to heal.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “Is that what you think?”
Harry looked worried. “Maybe. It said I had a thirst to prove myself.”
“Well, that’s true. You can be cunning—”
Harry looked up sharply.
“—and clever, and loyal, but most of all, I think you’re brave,” Ginny finished firmly.
“That’s basically what the Hat said at first,” Harry said, taking a gulp of one of the Butterbeers that had magically appeared at their table.
Ginny took a sip of her own to gather her thoughts. “But then it focused on Slytherin?” she asked.
“Well, not exactly,” he said. “I think I panicked when it mentioned all the Houses. I’d already met Hagrid and Ron, and neither of them was keen on Slytherin. I’d also met Malfoy in Diagon Alley, and I definitely knew I didn’t like him, so I asked the Hat not to put me in Slytherin. Malfoy reminded me of Dudley, and I didn’t want to be around more people like either of them.”
“So… the Hat never focused on Slytherin; you did. The Hat commented on all the Houses trying to work out where you were best suited,” Ginny said, trying to be certain she had it right.
“I suppose you’re right,” Harry said, his brow still furrowed. “It told me I would do well in Slytherin… but only after I kept asking not to be put in Slytherin.”
“When it listed all the Houses, which did it list first?” Ginny asked.
Harry thought for a moment. “Gryffindor.”
“And it chose Gryffindor. Even if it did pick up on any trace of that Horcrux, and I’m not convinced it did, it picked Gryffindor. You were stronger, Harry. Your will won out,” Ginny said earnestly.
Harry’s shoulders relaxed, and a bit of color returned to his cheeks. “Dumbledore said it was because I chose not to go to Slytherin. He said it’s our choices that make us who we are.”
“He was always very wise,” Ginny said, feeling a wave of discomfort descend upon her. Harry had been so good about sharing his thoughts and fears with her lately, she felt she owed it to him to do the same. “I was terrified I wouldn’t be put in Gryffindor.”
Harry looked up, surprised. “You were? Why? You definitely scream Gryffindor to me.”
Ginny smiled. “My entire family had been Sorted into Gryffindor. I was the youngest, the only girl — different from all the rest. I worried what if that meant I’d be Sorted differently, too.”
Harry blinked at her, obviously surprised.
“I was terrified… and still worried about what had happened to you and Ron. Thankfully, that fear was unfounded. Once it was done, I was so happy I didn’t burst into tears and make everyone wonder why I’d been put in Gryffindor in the first place,” she said, remembering her younger self. That had happened before she learned about real terror.
“Sorry,” Harry said automatically.
Ginny frowned, “I thought we’d discussed not apologizing for things that were out of your control.”
Harry clamped his lips together to avoid apologizing again. Ginny laughed. Hannah came by and took their orders. While they were waiting for their food, Harry reached across the table and took her hand.
“Thanks, Ginny,” he said shyly.
“For what?” she asked, blinking.
“Everything,” he replied. “You just… you make everything better.”
Ginny thought the feeling of warmth and contentment that spread through her insides just might allow her to fly without the aid of a broom.
“You do that for me, too, you know,” she said, glancing up at him through lowered lashes.
She knew there was still a lot they each had to work through, but working through it together made anything seem possible. She suspected Harry still had a lot of issues he hadn’t fully dealt with, but she could wait until he was ready.
She and Hermione had done some research on abused children. While she’d never been as studious as Hermione, she could definitely delve into a subject when it interested her. More than anything, they both wanted to know why Harry had never said anything to them back at Hogwarts. They would have done anything to help him. Anyone in the Order or the teachers at school would’ve, as well. All the research materials said abused children rarely did confess, however. If confronted, they often took it as the questioner putting the blame on them for not telling.
Ginny never wanted to do that.
Wounds took time to heal, but they were getting there.
Harry woke up on the first day of Auror training with a slightly scratchy throat. He groaned, hoping it wasn’t the beginning of a summer cold. Perhaps a shower and some coffee would perk him up.
Ron still slept soundly, his snoring nearly shaking the walls of his small bedroom. On his way to the shower, Harry leaned over and barked into Ron’s ear. “On your feet, trainee.”
Ron jumped, his head whipping from side to side. When Harry chuckled, Ron scowled at him. “Very funny. Git.”
“I’m having a shower. If you go back to sleep, I’m not waking you again,” Harry called, ducking out of the way of the trainer Ron chucked at his head.
After his shower, Harry did feel better. He quickly changed into his new Ministry Trainee robes and ran down to breakfast. Ginny had said she’d meet him for breakfast. She didn’t usually like to get up so early, but he hoped she remembered.
Ginny sat at the kitchen table, still wearing her dressing gown with her hair looking extremely bed-rumpled.
“Morning,” Harry said brightly, pleased she’d dragged herself out of bed. For him.
Ginny looked up blearily, “Morning.”
Harry leaned over and quickly pecked her on the cheek as he sat down next to her and poured some coffee from the pot on the table.
“Good morning, Harry, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, bustling over and placing a heaping plate of eggs and bacon in front of him. “Is Ron up yet?”
“Yeah, he’s in the shower. Thanks, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry replied, tucking in.
“Nothing is too good for my boys starting their Ministry training,” Mrs. Weasley said, kissing the top of Harry’s head. He thought she sounded a bit tearful, and he raised his head quickly.
“They’re proud tears, not unhappy ones,” Ginny said, absently patting his hand.
Harry smiled, pleased. Mrs. Weasley walked back over and kissed his head again. “I’m very proud. I can still remember the two of you on the platform on your first day of Hogwarts. Both so nervous and excited at the same time. And now look at you. You’re going to be Aurors,” she gushed.
“If we pass the training,” Harry corrected, still feeling both nervous and excited.
Ginny snorted. “As if you won’t.”
Harry scowled at her. “It’s supposed to be really difficult, and a lot of recruits drop out in the first few months.”
“That’s true,” Ginny said, placating him. She lowered her head to her plate, and Harry knew she was trying not to laugh.
“Shut it,” he mumbled.
Ginny threw her head back. “You really are adorable. Harry, you were made for this job. You’ll be fine.”
“Is Harry thinking they’re going to toss him out again?” Ron asked, entering the kitchen with his hair still wet.
Mrs. Weasley hurried over with a plate for Ron, kissing his head, as well. “Oh, Ronnie! Look at you in your Ministry robes.”
The robes had been sent by owl yesterday. They were black, much like Hogwarts robes, but with a gold trim and an ‘Auror Trainee’ insignia on the pocket.
Ron’s ears turned bright red, but Harry could tell he was pleased.
“Do you know anyone else who will be in your group?” Ginny asked.
Harry shook his head, swallowing his eggs. “No, but Kingsley said we might. He asked a lot of the DA if they wanted to join.”
“Hopefully not Zacharias Smith,” Ron said, grumbling.
“He’s in my year,” Ginny replied. “So unless he decided not to go back to Hogwarts, you shouldn’t have to worry.”
“I’m not worried,” Ron scoffed. “I just don’t like the git.”
“Good morning,” Hermione said, joining them at the table for breakfast. “Are you excited?”
“Yeah,” Ron said, smiling. “I’ll be excited to get paid, too.”
“I can’t believe you’re really not coming back to Hogwarts. It won’t be the same without you,” Hermione said, trying not to sniffle.
“I’ll be with you,” Ginny said bracingly. “We’ll have a girls’ year.”
Hermione smiled gratefully.
“And it’s not like you won’t see us. We’ll come up for Hogwarts visits, won’t we, Harry?” Ron asked.
“Absolutely,” Harry replied, grinning at Ginny, who beamed back.
They finished up their breakfast companionably before the girls kissed them goodbye, and they Apparated to the Ministry. Harry’s palms were sweating, but otherwise, he thought he’d managed to control his nervousness. Ron, on the other hand, had begun to fidget. He looked pale and sickly, as if he wished he hadn’t eaten so much breakfast.
He had eaten a lot.
“We’ll be all right, Ron,” Harry said bracingly as he pushed open the door to the training room. “Everyone else is starting right where we are.”
Those already in the room turned to look at the newcomers. He saw several pairs of eyes widen in surprise before a familiar face called to them. “Harry! Ron! I didn’t know you’d be here,” Susan Bones, a Hufflepuff from their year and fellow DA member said.
Her dark red hair was pulled back into a plait, and she also wore the Auror Training robes. She was sitting next to a girl Harry recognized from Ravenclaw, although he couldn’t remember her name.
“Hey, Susan,” Ron said, moving to take one of the chairs in the row behind her.
Harry followed him to the other. He looked around the room at the other trainees. There was a dark-skinned boy with bright, inquisitive eyes who automatically did the glance upwards at Harry’s scar. He sat next to a muscular bloke who wore a bored expression. The final occupant of the room was a curvy witch with thick brown curls. She winked at him flirtatiously, causing Harry to quickly turn his gaze back to Susan.
“You remember Lisa Turpin,” she said, indicating the girl who sat beside her.
Harry remembered her name as soon as Susan said it. She had small, rather plain features, and she now sported one streak of blue in her dull brown hair.
Harry nodded, “Hello, Lisa. How have you been?”
Lisa smiled sadly. “Never thought I’d be here, but after the Battle… I felt the need to do something. You know?”
“I do,” Harry replied, understanding completely.
“My auntie recommended this program to me for years before she was killed. She was a very powerful witch, and she always said a lot of the power players in the Ministry came through the Auror program,” Susan said.
“I met your aunt,” Harry said, recalling his trial for underage magic before his fifth year. “She was part of the Wizengamot.”
“Yes, she’d been a member for years. Some say it’s why Voldemort targeted her,” Susan said.
The door to the training room burst open again, and another familiar face sauntered in. Ron groaned when he saw who it was. Harry felt like groaning himself. Cormac McClaggan had been in the year ahead of them at Hogwarts. A big, burly chap who thought very highly of himself. He and Ron had competed for the Keeper position on the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
“Potter, Weasley,” he said. “Still doing everything together, I see.”
Somehow, he made it sound derogatory, and Harry felt Ron stiffen beside him. McClaggan took the empty seat next to the curvy witch, smiling engagingly at her.
“Violet Benson,” the witch said, introducing herself. “My father is an Auror, but I decided to take a gap year that stretched into three.”
“I took a gap year myself. My Uncle Tiberius told me anyone who was anyone started by being an Auror, so here I am,” Cormac said pompously. “The Minister is in desperate need to replenish Aurors since the war.”
“While this is true,” the instructor said, striding into the room and taking his place at the front, “it doesn’t mean you’re going to be pushed through his program without meeting my standards. And I have very high standards.”
He was tall with a narrow, muscular build and striking blue eyes. His gaze roamed over all of them, making Harry feel as if he could see their insides.
“I may not be happy with our current recruitment practices, but I can see the need for them. Do not mistake that for believing it means you will breeze through this training. The lives of your fellow Aurors will depend on your skills, and if I don’t feel you have the skills, you’ll not go through. And I don’t care who you are,” he said, his eyes landing on Harry.
Harry stared back unflinchingly.
“My name is Thaddeus Pierce, and I have been inducting trainees through the ranks for the past fifteen years. I won’t let my standards falter now. If you’re here for glory, you’re going to have to earn it,” he said, this time resting his eyes on Cormac who smiled widely, as if he didn’t think earning glory was going to be a problem.
Ron had slunk down in his seat, and Lisa looked rather nervous as she listened intently to the instructor’s every word.
“I’m aware there are different experience levels amongst this group, but that is of no consequence. We’re all starting at scratch, and those who can will move on. The war trials are imminent, and our class time will be adjusted as needed to work around them. I have an assistant who will cover the class during any of the trials I need to attend. You will all be subjected to a physical today. Providing you are all in top form, you’ll be sent home with paperwork that needs to be filled out before you return tomorrow. I will also be testing your dueling skills to see which areas need to be addressed first,” Instructor Pierce said.
“Benson, Bones, and MacDonald, please see the Mediwitch first. She’ll be out the door and to your left.”
Susan, the flirtatious witch, and the muscular wizard all stood up and exited the room.
“McClaggan, Potter, Tate, Turpin, and Weasley, follow me,” Instructor Pierce barked. The remainder of the room quickly obeyed.
“What do you think?” Ron whispered as they followed the group into a larger room with a Cushioning Charm on the floor.
“Haven’t decided yet. As long as he’s fair, it’s all right if he’s tough,” Harry said.
He was no longer eleven and scared half to death. He wasn’t about to put up with any Snape-like bullying. He might know nothing about Ministry procedures, but he was good with Defense. He was certain he could handle himself.
Instructor Pierce lined them all up against the back wall. He walked in front of them, lecturing, before turning sharply and aiming a Stunner at Harry.
“Protego,” Harry shouted quickly, not only raising a Shield, but ducking out of the way at the same time.
Pierce nodded and continued his lecture, stopping a few moment later to cast the same spell at the dark-skinned, wiry wizard called Tate. Tate jumped back, bumping into Ron, who stumbled and knocked into Lisa Turpin, who was grazed by the Stunner as she fell.
Pierce revived her without comment and continued his lecture. All five students were staring at him warily now. Ron was the next to have a Stunner sent his way. He raised a Shield in time, but only just.
“He was anticipating it,” McClaggan said scornfully.
“Stupefy,” Pierce shouted, and McClaggan dropped. Ron’s glee was nearly palpable.
Pierce revived McClaggan and moved on. Cormac sat up, rubbing his head and scowling as he dragged himself to his feet.
“When you are tracking a Dark wizard, very often the attack will come suddenly and without provocation as it did with Mr. Potter, who responded extremely well,” Pierce said, nodding to Harry. “Afterwards, you were all on guard, expecting me to do something, yet I still managed to Stun both Turpin and McClaggan. This is again how it will be in the field. Even though you were aware and believed you were on guard, I managed to attack you. Tate, you dodged well, but you left your partner exposed. We have a lot of work to do.
“You will be training both physically and mentally over the next several months. I expect you to not only improve your dueling skills, but become stealthy at Concealment Charms, efficient with emergency Healing Charms, and familiar with Ministry protocol in dire circumstances.
“I’m going to interview each of you individually to see where your skill level lies. McClaggan, I’ll start with you,” Pierce said, raising an auburn eyebrow at the burly wizard.
McClaggan held his head high as he strode confidently, with a hint of disdain, toward their instructor. The remainder of the group huddled around a water table. Lisa scowled at Ron.
“Sorry,” Ron said. “I was just trying to get out of the way.”
“It’s a wonder you managed to survive long enough to take on You-Know-Who after travelling with this one,” Lisa grumbled to Harry.
“Say Voldemort. There’s no reason to show him any respect,” Harry said quietly.
“I wasn’t being respectful. It’s just habit,” Lisa replied, offended.
“A habit that needs to be broken,” Harry insisted. He glanced at the other wizard standing with them. His robes were neatly pressed, and he observed them all with inquisitive hazel eyes.
“Duncan Tate,” he introduced himself, offering his hand.
“Harry Potter,” Harry replied, shaking his hand.
“I know who you are,” Duncan said, grinning. “I’d have to be living under a rock these past few years not to.”
Ron introduced himself, as well. “I don’t remember you from Hogwarts.”
Duncan shrugged. “I went to Hogwarts for my first couple years, then my parents divorced, and I moved to France with my mother. I finished my education at Beauxbatons.”
“What made you decide to come back?” Ron asked curiously.
Duncan’s eyes shifted. “A lot of reasons,” he said evasively. “I worked odd jobs for the past couple years. When I heard about the open call for the Ministry, I decided to try my luck.”
“So, being an Auror hasn’t been a lifelong dream?” Lisa asked.
Duncan shook his head. “Not for me, but I need some direction,” he replied, grinning.
“Potter,” Pierce barked. “You’re next.”
Harry exchanged spots with Cormac, who stalked toward them scowling. He glared at Harry as they passed. Harry stopped in front of the instructor, looking at him expectantly. Pierce studied him carefully with those hyper-aware eyes.
“Obviously you come with history,” Pierce said, those intense eyes boring into Harry. “If I met you in a pub, I’d buy you a pint and offer my congratulations. I can’t do that here, however. Here, you are simply another recruit, and my job is to see if I can break you easily.”
Harry steadily met his stare without comment. Pierce waited for a moment before he pulled out some paperwork.
“Your school records show you have an impressive record in Defense, one year notwithstanding. I believe that was the year Dolores Umbridge taught, so we’ll disregard it. You come highly recommended by your professors, and even the Minister had put in a good word. All of this would have gained you admittance without the current Ministry open call. It won't, however, get you past me. You’ll have to earn that right the same as any of the others.”
He levelled that penetrating gaze at Harry once again. Harry remained mum.
“Do you have anything to say, recruit?” Pierce asked, showing the first hint of irritation.
“You haven’t asked me a question yet, sir,” Harry replied.
Pierce’s eyes narrowed. “What experience do you have with the Unforgivables?” he asked suddenly.
The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. His use of them was part of the public record, so there was nothing to hide. Harry still felt wary. “I’ve used both the Imperius and the Cruciatus, sir.”
“Despite the fact Unforgivable is in the title,” Pierce said slowly.
“Death Eaters didn’t seem to care, sir,” he replied, knowing he was pushing his luck.
“And that, Mr. Potter, is where we will have a problem. There will be no lone-wolf antics among the Aurors. You are part of a team, and will play by team rules, or this isn’t the career for you,” Pierce said firmly. He didn’t, however, threaten any kind of rebuttal for using the Unforgivables.
“What about the Killing Curse?” he asked abruptly.
“Only on the receiving end of that one, sir,” Harry said, doing his utmost to control the tremor that ran through his body.
Instructor Pierce started, showing the first sign of unease. “Right,” he said uncomfortably, his eyes doing the familiar upward rise to Harry’s forehead before focusing back on his paperwork. Harry was pleased he hadn’t also looked at Harry’s chest. It meant he hadn’t been fully briefed on what happened in the forest.
Harry answered several more questions about his knowledge and experience with certain spells before walking back over to the group of other trainees. He was met with frowns and suspicious glances when he returned.
“Tate, you’re up,” Pierce called, and Tate nodded at the group before walking toward the instructor.
“What took you so long?” Ron asked out of the corner of his mouth.
“He wanted to stress that there would be no special treatment for my celebrity status,” Harry replied, using his best Snape impression.
“So he kept you a half hour longer than anyone else to explain how you weren’t going to be treated differently than anyone else?” Ron asked, exasperated.
“Pretty much,” Harry replied, shrugging.
“Good. Just long enough for all the others to think you’re getting special treatment then,” Ron said.
“Welcome to my life,” Harry said wearily.
“And welcome to first-year Potions,” Ron said bitterly.
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