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SIYE Time:2:21 on 25th September 2017


These Cuts I Have
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-DH/AB
Characters:All
Genres: Drama
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 475
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: 84994; Chapter Total: 3247
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
So, I imagine youíve all seen the news about the play in London. I have to admit, my feelings are very mixed. First off, Iím frustrated that itís only in London, but Iím also very wary. Iím not a huge Next Gen fan, and above all else, I want Harry to have his happily ever after. A ĎCursed Childí just doesnít fit the bill. Color me worried. Iím going to have to rely on you British folks to fill the rest of us in on what happens!





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Chapter Twenty-one
Retribution



July had begun, and Ron and Harry continued attending their training classes. On this bright, sunny afternoon, Instructor Pierce gave the trainees some time off in order to prepare for Dolores Umbridge’s upcoming trial. Ron went over to George’s shop to help out, but Harry had plans with Ginny.

He felt tired as he hurried up the stairs in The Burrow to change his clothes. He’d been plagued with fatigue for the past week, and had woken each morning with a sore throat. It always cleared by the time he took a shower, so Harry wasn’t overly concerned. His body ached today, however, and he wondered if he was coming down with a summer cold.

He’d nearly reached the top landing when he stopped short. There were various pictures lining the walls of the stairway, and he’d just spotted another new one. Pictures of Harry’s “childhood” had been turning up all over The Burrow during the past few days. This one was the image of a small Harry sleeping soundly with his thumb in his mouth, and Ginny’s stuffed unicorn stuck firmly under his arm.

Harry’s current face colored warmly as he stared as his younger self. At least Mrs. Weasley had the decency to hang this one away from the living area. Ron and George were going to be merciless once they discovered it.

Despite his embarrassment, Harry still felt extraordinarily pleased every time a new picture appeared. Somehow, he suspected Mrs. Weasley knew that. If his mum had lived, he thought she might have hung pictures like that, as well.

He quickly changed into a pair of trousers and a button-down shirt. He and Ginny were heading into Muggle London. He’d actually asked Violet Benson from his Auror class for some ideas on what to do, and had to endure endless amounts of her teasing because of it. She had helped him out, however. Harry had reserved tickets on the Thames Clipper Service for a sightseeing tour up the river with a stop in Greenwich.

Both he and Ginny had been looking forward to it all week.

Once dressed, he bounded back downstairs, grimacing slightly at the tightness in his chest. Ginny stood in the sitting room wearing a pretty yellow sundress that he hadn’t seen before. It hugged her curves in all the right places, and the collar was V-shaped, so it plunged down to what Harry considered an entirely enticing spot.

“You look pretty,” he said, stopping short. It took considerable effort to keep his eyes focused on her face and not dipping to that alluring, lower spot. He clenched his hands together to discourage the irrational urge to reach out and touch the gentle swell rising invitingly above the neckline.

Ginny smiled, spinning around. “Do you like it? Hermione let me borrow it.”

“I like it on you,” Harry said, reaching for her hand. “You look pretty.” Harry thought it was worth repeating.

Ginny pecked him on the cheek, bouncing on her heels excitedly. “Mum packed us a picnic. I told her it was unnecessary, but she did it anyway,” Ginny said, pointing to a basket on the coffee table.

Mrs. Weasley never liked to see anyone go anywhere without an adequate food supply. Giving the amount of food her family could consume, it probably was a wise move.

Harry shrunk the basket and put it in his pocket. “Are we ready then?” he asked.

Ginny nodded vigorously. He enjoyed seeing her so excited. It was a pleasant contrast to the seriousness that had plagued their lives for so long.

As they walked through the kitchen, Mrs. Weasley turned to hug each of them. “Enjoy yourselves, but you will be careful, won’t you?” she asked, a hint of anxiety still in her voice.

“We will, Mum,” Ginny assured. “A boat ride and a picnic with Muggles, even Harry can’t get hurt doing that.”

“Hey!” Harry yelped.

Ginny grinned.

“I’m sure you’ll watch out for each other,” Mrs. Weasley said a little sadly.

Harry and Ginny waved their goodbyes and left The Burrow. Harry Apparated them to Grimmauld Place where they walked to the tube station. He enjoyed the feel of her hand tucked in his as they walked. His eyes kept straying to that tantalizing V-collar on her dress. He suspected she knew it, but so far she hadn’t called him on it. He kept hold as they boarded a train, getting off at a stop near Trinity Buoy Wharf.

The clipper didn’t begin boarding for another hour, so they took a stroll and visited some shops while they waited. Ginny loved the shops, and Harry was vividly reminded of her father by her excitement over Muggle things.

“This is such a wonderful idea,” Ginny said, beaming at the magnificent clipper ship on the pier. “How did you ever know about it?”

Harry felt his face grow warm. “Er… I didn’t, actually. I asked one of the girls in my class for some ideas on what to do,” he admitted.

“Oh?” Ginny asked, arching her brow.

For some reason, Harry felt nervous. “Her name is Violet Benson. Her father is an Auror, but she didn’t join the Ministry right away.”

“And how did you decide to ask her about dating?” Ginny asked.

“Er… well, I think she’s been on a lot of dates,” Harry replied.

Ginny’s gaze narrowed. “Has she? Been talking a lot, have we?”

“Er… ” Harry said, suddenly worried. He tugged at the collar of his button-down.

“Does she have big tits?” Ginny asked suddenly.

Harry’s eyes shot open wide. Was he supposed to actually answer that question? “Er… well, I suppose,” he said, stumbling.

“So you’ve been looking then? As much as you’ve been looking at mine since we left?” Ginny demanded.

This date wasn’t going at all how he’d planned. Harry’s shirt stuck to his back as he began to sweat. He ran his hand through his hair, making it stand impossibly on end. “No! I mean. Yes, I’m looking at yours, not hers, but… I mean… What?”

The corner of Ginny’s lips twitched.

Harry scowled, suddenly catching on. “You’re completely taking the mickey, aren’t you?”

“Just a bit,” Ginny said, her eyes sparkling.

Harry’s cheeks flushed. “Ha, bloody ha,” he grumbled.

“You’re terribly cute when you get flustered,” she said, laughing.

“Are you really upset I asked her?” he asked.

Ginny took his hand reassuringly. “No. It’s actually an especially cool idea for a date. We’re going to have fun.”

When it came time to board, the clipper ship, they took seats in the bow so they could see the sites easily but still be out in the fresh air. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and a light breeze blew off the water. Harry enjoyed watching the way Ginny’s hair flew around her face as she stared at Big Ben and Parliament when they passed.

The sun felt warm on his shoulders as he reached his arm around Ginny’s back. She leaned into him, resting her head against him.

“I’m glad you got the afternoon off,” she said.

“Me, too. The trials are just about to begin, so I should have more free time in the coming weeks,” he said.

“And Umbridge is first?” Ginny asked, scowling.

“Yeah. I think they’ll have to limit spectators though. Hers will be a big one,” Harry said. He thought a lot of Muggle-borns had the right to see Umbridge get her due punishment.

“Good,” Ginny muttered, snuggling in closer to his chest. Harry really wished they were alone on the ship. The Muggles around them didn’t seem to be paying any attention, but Harry thought they might if he and Ginny started snogging in the open.

Merlin, he wanted to kiss her.

He had to settle for keeping her tucked under his arm as they enjoyed the sites of London. He’d been into the city several times with Aunt Petunia, but never for leisure, and only when she couldn’t find something else to do with him. Since she’d usually been in a temper over his presence, he’d tended to keep his head down. It was a pleasant change to freely look around and point out things that interested him.

He’d found it much easier to open up to her since his breakdown at Privet Drive, and he wasn’t certain how he felt about that. He supposed it was healthy to be able to talk without bottling up so much, but he still wished she hadn’t seen him at such a low point. Still, it was nice to feel he didn’t have to hide from her anymore.

Ginny hadn’t been on a clipper ship before either, so she, too, enjoyed the experience. When they arrived in Greenwich, they followed the crowd of Muggles off the ship, checking the timetable for their return sailing before wending their way up to the Observatory. They blended in with the Muggles as they looked around, and eventually walked hand-in-hand to the Royal Park.

Harry found a relatively secluded spot to enlarge the picnic basket. He spread a blanket on the ground while Ginny pulled out a couple bottles of Butterbeer. The air was pleasant and warm, and the garden was lush with various flowers and plants.

Ginny settled next to him, and Harry finally had the opportunity to lean over and kiss her softly.

“I’ve been waiting to do that all day,” he said when they pulled apart, resting his forehead against hers.

Ginny grinned. “What took you so long then?”

Harry returned the grin. “Dunno. Wanted some privacy, I suppose.”

“Huh. That really doesn’t seem like our style,” Ginny said flippantly.

Harry threw back his head and laughed. “You’re brilliant,” he said, plopping flat on his back atop the blanket.

Ginny propped herself up on one elbow and leaned over to kiss him firmly. Her lips were soft but slightly chapped from an afternoon in the sun. Harry’s mind went blank as she deepened the kiss. The sounds of birds muted, as she became his sole focus.

The time got away from both of them as they enjoyed their picnic in between snogging. More snogging than picnicking, actually, but neither seemed to mind.

Harry traced his fingers gently up and down Ginny’s arm, thrilling that she was here with him, and that they were quite alone. She leaned in to intensify the kiss, and her hair curtained his face. He loved the silky feel of it as the wind blew it gently. They continued to kiss, enjoying the uninterrupted freedom, and Harry lost all track of time. A few stray wisps of Ginny’s hair had been tickling his nose for quite some time, and finally he couldn’t take it anymore. He kept trying to brush it back without interrupting their snog, but it was no use. The itching was driving him mad. He reached up his hand to run his finger under his nose vigorously.

Ginny pulled back, panting.

“Sorry,” Harry said, grinning sheepishly.

A deep, musical laugh rose up from Ginny’s belly. Harry loved the sound of that laugh, and he couldn’t help but laugh with her. All his troubles seemed so very far in the distant past. It was a new, but entirely pleasant, experience.

“Is this what you thought it would be like?” he asked, reaching for her hand as they lay side by side on their backs, heads turned to face one another.

“What what would be like?” Ginny asked curiously.

“Is this what you thought it would be like after the war… you know, once Voldemort was gone?” Harry said.

Ginny stared at him solemnly for a moment, her hand reaching over to brush a stray piece of hair off his forehead. “I always knew you’d beat him, Harry. Sometimes, I worried you might not protect yourself the way you’d protect the rest of us, though.”

Harry felt that old familiar guilt trying to rise within him again. He’d hurt her in the process of saving her. Why couldn’t anything ever be easy? He took a stray lock of her hair and begin twirling it between his fingers, pondering.

“Thanks for not letting go, Ginny. Even when I insisted,” he said, softly, not quite able to meet her eyes.

“You might be stubborn, but you’ve got nothing on me,” she said breezily.

“Noted,” he said gruffly.

“What did you think it would be like after it was over?” she asked.

“I dunno,” he said, sighing. “I never really gave it a lot of thought. Whenever my mind started to wander, I stopped it,” Harry said, remembering imaging Ginny as a bride at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. He’d feared it would be another groom.

He shifted uncomfortably, letting go of her hair. “I never really let myself think about it. It’s strange now that it’s really over. I’m training to be an Auror, which is what I always wanted to do. I have a house, even if it’s not ready to live in. I always wanted a home of my own, and…” Harry trailed off.

“And what?” Ginny whispered, staring into his eyes.

“And I have you in my life,” Harry said, blushing. It was true. The few times he’d allowed himself the luxury of thinking of his future, it always included her.

Ginny leaned over and kissed him again, hard. Harry closed his eyes and gave himself over to her ministrations. He groaned when she trailed a hot stream of kisses down his neck until she reached his pulse point. He loved when she did that.

He leaned his head to the side to give her better access, barely daring to even breathe in case she might stop.

“So, you have your dream job, your dream house, and your dream girl. Anything else going your way, Mr. Potter?” Ginny asked, punctuating each thought with another kiss.

Harry’s brain wasn’t working properly. He didn’t know how she could talk and kiss at the same time. He nearly moaned with frustration when she pulled back, her lips swollen.

“Well?” she asked, her brown eyes twinkling mischievously.

Girl. House. Job… godson!

“My godson!” Harry said, sitting straight up.

“Pardon?” Ginny asked, blinking.

“I have a godson. My very own godson. I should bring him a present. Aunt Marge always brought Dudley a present when she went away,” Harry said, trying to think what Teddy would like.

Ginny smiled kind of sadly, again tangling her fingers in his hair. “Little kids do like presents, but I’m not sure Teddy’s old enough to realize what a present is yet,” she said.

“You don’t think so?” Harry asked, feeling a bit crushed. He’d really wanted to do something for Teddy.

Ginny sat up, grabbing his hand. “You know, you’re right. As his only godfather, you should bring him a present. There were some gift shops back on the road. And I saw an ice cream shop.”

“Do you want ice cream?” Harry asked.

“Of course I want ice cream. Doesn’t everyone?” she asked, grinning.

As they began picking up their empty Butterbeer bottles and refolding the blanket, Harry felt an uncomfortable prickle on the back of his neck. He looked around carefully, peering into the spaces between the various trees and bushes in the park. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Pulling out his wand, he quickly shrunk the basket and put it back in his pocket. Ginny stared at him suspiciously as they began walking back toward the road. He kept his wand in his hand, his eyes darting.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, glancing around as well.

“I don’t know. I just feel… like I’m being watched,” he said.

Ginny’s grip on his hand tightened, and he saw her take her wand from her bag.

They reached the road without a problem. Harry began to relax when they blended in with the crowd of Muggles. They stopped in a gift shop and bought a small stuffed clipper ship for Teddy. While they stood in line waiting for their ice cream, Harry’s unease intensified again.

Something felt off.

His eyes roamed the faces of the surrounding Muggles, peering in between buildings at potential hiding spots. When they reached the front of the line, he paid for their ice cream and began steering Ginny back toward the pier.

“There, by the candy shop,” Ginny whispered, her own wand clutched firmly in her hand.

Harry looked over to see one of the Lestrange brothers standing outside the door of the shop, watching them intently. He stiffened when he realized Harry had spotted him.

“It’s one of the Lestranges,” Harry said softly.

“It’s not Rodolphus. He was frequently at Hogwarts to see Snape, so it’s the other one,” Ginny replied.

“Rabastan. Andromeda says he doesn’t do anything without Rodolphus’ direction, however,” Harry replied.

“What do you want to do?” Ginny asked.

Harry feared it might be a trap, but they’d been searching for the Lestrange brothers for so long, he didn’t want to risk letting him get away. His desires to protect Ginny and to apprehend Lestrange were at war with one another.

But she’d proven she could take care of herself. He had to prove he trusted her.

“Stay close to me,” he said, beginning to move across the road.

“Always,” she whispered, keeping step.

The decision was taken out of his hands when Rabastan Disapparated on the spot. Muggles continued to pass to and fro without even noticing he’d been standing there.

Harry looked around warily. “In there,” he said, nodding at an alley between two shops. Once out of sight, Harry conjured Prongs. “Go to the Ministry and tell Kingsley that Rabastan Lestrange Disapparated from Greenwich moments ago. Ginny and I are leaving now, but it should be investigated,” he told his Patronus. Prongs galloped down the alleyway and disappeared.

“Do you think we should take the ship back or Apparate?” Ginny asked worriedly.

“We’re taking the ship,” Harry said firmly. “He’s not ruining our date.”

Ginny was the boldest witch he knew, and he suspected it wasn’t her own hide she was worried about. It was his. There was nothing he could do here at the moment since he couldn’t trace Apparition, but perhaps the Ministry could.

Ginny smiled at him, taking his arm as he led her back toward the clipper ship. They reached it without incident, once again taking seats on the bow. Harry felt his tension ease once the ship was underway. The darkened sky was speckled with stars, and London looked beautiful with the lights reflecting on the water.

He leaned over and kissed Ginny deeply as they sailed beneath the lit Tower Bridge. And he didn’t care how many Muggles were watching as he did it.


*****


Ron locked the door on Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes after the last customers of the day departed. George stood at the till, marking some notes in a ledger. Ron’s neck ached, and he kept rolling it from side to side to work out the kinks.

“It was busy today,” he said, shutting the blinds on the door.

“Yeah, good haul,” George muttered absently. “Did Dad say what time he’d be getting here?”

Their father had sent an owl asking them to wait after closing the shop because he wanted to meet them there. Ron had been trying to block it from his mind all day. He couldn’t remember doing anything that would get him in trouble, and he didn’t want any more trouble. He felt as if he’d already had enough for a life time.

“Nope. He didn’t say what he wanted to discuss, either,” Ron replied. “Why do you suppose he wanted to talk to us here?”

“Probably doesn’t want Mum to know something,” George replied, seemingly unconcerned.

“Yeah, but that’s what the shed is for,” Ron said, perplexed.

The Floo in the back room flared. Both boys looked up in time to see their oldest brother entering the shop. He casually flicked some ash off his stylish clothes. Once he’d had a bit of gold in his pocket, Ron had gone out shopping with Harry to get a few things of their own. Somehow, though, he could never manage the same “coolness” that Bill always had. It’d been that way since they were kids.

“Hey, Ron, George,” Bill said, greeting each with a nod. “What’s the situation?”

“Situation?” asked George, bewildered.

“What are you doing here?” Ron asked.

Bill stared between the two confusedly. “Dad sent an owl telling me to meet you here,” he replied.

“This can’t be good,” Ron said.

Bill walked over to the till and leaned on the counter. “Whatever it is, I hope it’s an easy fix. I’m beat.”

“Overworking you at the bank, are they?” George asked, smirking as he put his ledgers away.

“Yeah. They’ve got several Curse-Breakers working on new procedures to prevent any further break-ins. Thanks, Ron,” Bill said, smirking.

Ron laughed. “It really wasn’t all that difficult.”

“Yeah, well, next time you’ll have to get past me, little brother,” Bill said, his eyes sparkling.

“Is that a challenge?” Ron asked.

Before any further sibling rivalry could erupt, the Floo flared again, and their father stepped out.

“Hello, boys. Thank you all for coming,” he said, his kind blue eyes raking over each of them.

“What’s going on, Dad?” Bill asked.

Their father took a deep breath, his expression pained. He looked as if he was struggling with what he had to say. Ron felt his alarm growing.

“I want to talk about Harry,” their father finally said.

“Harry?” Ron said, side-tracked. His confusion quickly turned to concern as he felt that familiar panic clawing at his insides. “What’s happened to him now?”

“Bloody hell,” George said, his shoulders sagging. “I thought something happened to Mum.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to alarm you, I’m doing this badly. Everyone is fine. Nothing new has happened to Harry. I want to talk about his past,” Dad said, obviously uncomfortable.

“This has to do with all the questions you asked about guard duty on Privet Drive, I presume?” Bill asked.

“Yes. I’m certain by now you’ve all realized he didn’t grow up under the best of circumstances—”

“Yeah, being stuffed in a cupboard certainly isn’t the best,” Ron interrupted.

Dad’s lips thinned, but he continued. “No matter how much I wish I could change it, what’s done is done. Harry has moved on and doesn’t want to be reminded. I’m going to respect that. What I can’t abide is letting the Dursleys escape without any consequences,” he said, quiet anger burning beneath his words.

All three brothers knew this was their father at his most dangerous. Their mother screamed and yelled and lost her temper frequently. Their father was much more laid-back and easy-going. It took a lot to make him truly angry. When he did, however, you’d best pay attention.

“What are you going to do?” George asked quietly. “Because I want in.”

“And me,” Ron said.

Bill remained silent, watching their father intently.

“I’m not planning on doing anything illegal, and I’m not planning on doing anything to upset Harry. He’s been through enough, and above all else, he is the one who deserves our concern,” their father said solemnly.

“But you’re not going to let them get away with it,” George said.

“No. The adults in Harry’s life — both wizard and Muggle - were never there for Harry when he most needed them. We all made tragic errors in judgement, and he had to pay the price. Harry had no advocate as a child. That oversight rests on the wizarding world, and I intend to see he has a voice now, even if he’s unaware of it,” their father said, a slight tremor to his voice.

“Dad, you’ve spent your life advocating for Muggles and the Muggle Protection Act. You can’t throw that away,” Bill said heatedly.

“I’m not going after them because they’re Muggles, I’m going after them because they’re abusers,” their father said indignantly. “No child — wizard or Muggle — deserves that.”

Ron was forcibly reminded of an eerie similarity to a scene between his father and the twins several years previous. Dad had been upset with them for leaving a Ton-Tongue Toffee on the floor for Harry’s bullying cousin to find. Both Fred and George had defended themselves that they had acted because of what Dudley had done, not because of who he was. Glancing over at George, Ron could see his brother was remembering the same thing.

“I know,” Bill said, lowering his voice. His eyes glinted dangerously. “And I agree that they should face punishment, but I don’t think you should throw away your career over it. Let us handle this.” He tilted his head towards Ron and George.

“Dad, if anything happens to you over any of this, it won’t really be helping Harry, because he’d never forgive himself. It would destroy him,” Ron said, beginning to see the reality of Bill’s concerns.

“I have no intention of using magic against them,” his dad said firmly. “I want to put the fear of wizardkind in them, but I want to do it without magic. I believe I can. I haven’t told your mother because I think she’d have a harder time controlling her temper. Your sister has enlightened me on a few details, and I cannot, in good conscience, let this go. Dursley will understand there are consequences to raising his hand to a child.”

“For raising his hand to a Weasley,” Ron said. “Harry is family in all but name and hair, and you don’t mess with a Weasley.”

“Too right,” George added. “Besides, Harry would do this for anyone else, so it’s only right we should do it for him.”

“Does Ginny know what you’re planning?” Bill asked.

Their dad’s ears turned very red. “I told her I’d take care of it, but I didn’t give her any of the details. I think it’s better this way. I don’t ever want to put her in the position of having to be untruthful to Harry.”

Bill nodded in agreement.

“Besides, she’d have bat-bogey’s coming out of their noses for the next fifteen years. Even Kingsley couldn’t get the Ministry to not notice that,” Ron said emphatically.

George snorted.

“Kingsley knows I plan on making a visit. I told him I have no intention of using magic, and I’d do my best to see that none of you did, either, but it’s best to have a back-up plan should something go wrong,” their father said.

“Nice to have the Minister on our side for a change,” Ron said.

“He could help with minor transgressions if it comes to it, but I’m counting on all of you to remain in control. If you think you’ll have a problem doing that, I ask that you back out now,” their father said firmly.

All of them looked over at Ron.

“What? I can do this. I’ve been with Harry longer than any of you, and he never even told me what was going on. I’m going,” Ron said indignantly.

He wasn’t going to be left behind. In fact, he had an idea about something he wanted to leave for the Dursleys. Something that wouldn’t get anyone in trouble, but would serve the Dursleys right. He needed Hermione’s help with the details, however.

Besides, Hermione deserved a piece of this, as well.


*****


Hermione walked slowly up the street in Diagon Alley, oblivious to her surroundings. Her mind was pondering the plan Ron and his siblings had for the Dursleys. Ron had told her about it after they’d already decided to do it, and he’d asked for her help with one of the details. Hermione was torn between wanting to warn them off doing it and wanting to go with them.

The Dursleys deserved to be punished, there was no doubt about that. She’d often suspected things were worse than Harry let on, and she should have pursued it. Outwardly, Harry covered his situation extremely well, but the signs were there if she’d only taken the time to really look. Still, she didn’t want Ron’s family to get in any trouble. She wasn’t certain that any of them — Mr. Weasley included — could hold their tempers around the Dursleys. From the few encounters she’d had with them, she could see they were impossible. That wasn’t even taking Harry’s memories into account.

When Harry had been under the influence of the De-Ageing Potion, the damage they’d inflicted upon him was more apparent. He repeatedly thought they were trying to get him in trouble and had seemed so startled by simple gestures of kindness. She suspected the older Harry still felt this way, but he did a much better job of hiding it.

But if Mr. Weasley had been the one to decide on a course of action, she supposed it would be all right. And she was going to help Ron with his idea.

She was currently on her way to George’s shop to meet Ron. They’d planned to go to the Leaky Cauldron for dinner. Food at The Burrow was always good and plentiful, but it would be nice to get away, just the two of them, for a change.

Ron had been treating her perfectly lovely these past several weeks. He’d been a model boyfriend. He’d taken her out to lunch a few times, spent some of his very first paycheck on dinner… he’d even gone into Flourish and Blotts without complaining or whining that he wanted to go to the Quidditch shop (although she knew he did).

They’d found several stolen moments to share a smooch or two, and he’d behaved like a perfect gentleman every time.

Hermione was shocked by how frustrated she was.

She’d never been as obsessed about being kissed as both Parvati and Lavender had been. She’d kissed Viktor a few times to see what they were talking about. It was certainly pleasant, but nothing she needed to go over every detail about repeatedly.

Right now, however, she had to admit that she wanted to be properly kissed.

She knew Ron’s reticence had to do with that awkward conversation about Lavender while they were in Australia. She’d stopped him from getting carried away with her questions about his relationship with Lavender. Hermione had always hated not knowing something. She felt horrible about being so jealous of a poor, dead girl, but the Lavender in Hermione’s mind was alive and mocking. Always mocking.

Hermione couldn’t get past the fact Lavender’s relationship with Ron had gone further than her own. She wanted to do something about it. Logically, she knew it was a horrible reason to let anything happen that she wasn’t ready to happen.

But she thought she might be ready to let something happen.

Not to let everything happen, but… It was driving her mad. She woke up in the morning thinking about kissing him, and went to bed at night thinking about the same thing. It didn’t help that she’d come upon Harry and Ginny snogging in the meadow while supposedly out for their evening “fly” on several occasions.

She knew from some of her late night talks with Ginny that it was Ginny who was holding back in that relationship, which Hermione found extremely interesting. Ginny was bold, and she always seemed to know what she wanted. Just because she was bold, however, didn’t mean sex wasn’t a big, scary step. Hermione felt better that Ginny was as nervous as she was. Ginny rarely cared what anyone else thought, and much like Harry, she liked to set her own rules. Hermione suspected Ginny had felt very not in control during the war, and she needed something she could control.

Hermione couldn’t help but wonder about Harry in this dynamic, as well. He was rash and impulsive on one hand, but also had a heap of intimacy issues thanks to his deplorable relatives. She wondered which would win out if given free reign. Of course, judging by her own hormonal indulgences of late, she thought she might know.

Hermione sighed deeply. She was well past puberty. She shouldn’t be thinking so much about it. Unfortunately, her mind didn’t want to acquiesce to her demands.

It startled her to realize she was standing in front of the door to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes without any recollection of the walk there. She’d always prided herself on her well-organized mind, but lately, a certain tall red-head - with very full, pouty lips — kept forcing his way into that mind.

And she hated not knowing what to do about it.

The door to the shop unexpectedly swung open revealing Harry watching her with an amused grin.

“Are you planning on coming in or just glaring at the sign all night?” he asked.

“Harry!” she said, surprised. “I didn’t know you were here.”

Harry shrugged. “Just dropped by to help George with some stocking out back,” he said.

Harry had tried working the floor on several occasions, and while it drew a remarkable crowd, people were more interested in Harry than the products. Several displays had been damaged in the rush to get to him. Since then, Harry had only helped in the back room where the public wasn’t allowed.

Taking a good look at him, she thought he appeared rather tired and pale. “Are you feeling all right?” she asked. “You look rather peaky.”

Harry grinned wryly. “Been spending a bit of time with Mrs. Weasley, have you?”

Hermione reluctantly grinned. “I suppose. Where’s Ron?”

“He’s upstairs in George’s flat. George has already gone out for the evening,” Harry replied as the two of them began climbing the stairs to the flat.

Hermione could smell the delicious aroma of Chinese take away before she was halfway up the stairs. They found Ron sitting at George’s table, a variety of opened boxes in front of him as he sampled each one. Hermione stared at him, perplexed. How in the world had he known about Chinese food? It certainly wasn’t a wizarding norm.

“Where did you get that?” she asked.

“That smells amazing,” Harry said at the same time, moving toward the table and lifting one of the boxes.

“George got it in Muggle London,” Ron said, his mouth full of noodles. “Lee and Alicia were supposed to come over, but they invited him out instead, so he said we could have it. Try this.”

Although she’d been looking forward to going out, the food did smell delicious. She hadn’t had Chinese food since she’d gone with her parents before sixth year. “Could we at least use plates?” she asked, exasperated, watching the two boys shovel food directly from the cartons.

“I’ve had this once before,” Harry said. “It’s good.”

Hermione went over to a cupboard and removed three plates, not really certain why she bothered. Neither of the boys seemed interested in simple things such as cutlery.

“Here,” she said, putting a plate and some utensils in front of each of them, and adding spoons to the cartons.

“Thanks,” they each grunted through mouthfuls.

“When did the Dursleys take you out for Chinese?” Hermione asked curiously.

“They didn’t. I snuck some from the fridge after they went to bed. Got caught though. Dudley smelled it,” Harry said, shrugging. He stuffed a heaping forkful of chicken into his mouth. Hermione suspected it was to keep himself from saying anything else.

She was surprised he’d admitted that much openly. That was progress for Harry.

“It does smell wonderful. My mouth started watering as soon as George brought it in,” Ron said, heaping more noodles on his plate.

“How did things go at training today?” Hermione asked. She still couldn’t believe they were in a classroom setting without her. She was eager to hear what they were learning, but they didn’t give as much detail as she would like. They usually spent more time disparaging their instructor. Despite her frustration, Hermione had to admit it was nice that not everything had changed.

“Rory MacDonald Stunned Susan Bones so powerfully she had to see the Mediwitch,” Harry said.

“Is she all right?” Hermione asked, alarmed.

“She’s fine. Pierce sent us all home afterwards, though, so we got most of the afternoon off. I don’t like MacDonald much, but Bones was asking for it,” Ron said.

“Ron!” Hermione scolded.

“She was!” She kept going on and on about her auntie. If I hear one more word about her auntie, I might Stun her myself,” Ron said, grumbling.

“Madam Bones was a very powerful figure at the Ministry, and she did die under Voldemort’s orders,” Hermione said.

“I’m not complaining about Madam Bones. I’m complaining about Susan. She seems to think she should get credit for anything her aunt did,” Ron said indignantly.

“She does tend to brag about her aunt a lot,” Harry agreed, nodding.

“It’s like she wants credit in the class because of who she’s related to,” Ron added.
“Cormac McClaggan does the same thing, really,” Harry said.

“Yeah, but Pierce seems more onto McClaggan, the git,” Ron said, scowling. He’d never got over his aversion to the arrogant Gryffindor.

“I don’t remember Susan bothering you when we were back at Hogwarts,” Hermione said. “She was part of Dumbledore’s Army, after all.”

Ron shrugged. “Didn’t really know her that well, did I? ‘Sides maybe it’s only the Ministry she expects special treatment from.”

“Can’t see Snape letting anyone get away with wanting special treatment,” Harry said wryly.

“Yeah… well… he wasn’t hot for Madam Bones like he was for Harry’s mum, either, was he?” Ron said, grinning.

Harry dropped his fork and pushed his plate away, a disgusted expression crossing his face. “Eww, Ron… That’s just… Must you?”

Ron laughed. “I must. More for me,” he said gleefully snagging the box of takeaway Harry was eating.

Hermione shook her head. “But what did you learn today?” she asked, trying vainly to bring them back on point.

“Other than not to get Stunned by MacDonald, you mean?” Harry asked.

Hermione clenched her teeth. “Yes, other than that.”

“Not much textbook stuff today, Hermione. We learned some cool offensive spells and had to practice,” Ron said.

Hermione frowned. It hadn’t occurred to her that they’d be learning new spells. The idea that they’d know how to do something she didn’t distressed her.

“What kind of offensive spells?” she asked.

“Disillusionment Charm, too,” Harry said. “I’ve got mine much more controlled than when we did our campsite.” Part of the protection charms they’d used while on the Horcrux hunt utilized a Disillusionment Charm.

“I don’t like how it feels,” Ron said, shuddering.

“What kind of offensive spells?” she repeated.

“There was one really good one that constricts your windpipe so you can’t cast a spell,” Ron said.

“Couldn’t verbally cast one, you mean?” Hermione clarified.

“Well, it’s hard to concentrate on a non-verbal spell when you’re trying to focus on breathing,” Harry said reasonably. He pushed his chair back from the table to stand.

“Are you leaving?” Ron asked.

“Yeah. I promised Ginny to go for a fly,” Harry said.

“A fly? Oh, is that what you’re calling it?” Hermione asked, grinning.

Harry’s cheeks reddened, and he ducked his head. “We fly,” he mumbled.

Sometimes teasing him was just too easy.

“That’s enough,” Ron said, continuing to eat. “I don’t want any details. When are you going to get a new broom?”

Harry shrugged. “I need to. Want to go with me to Quality Quidditch Supplies and take a look?”

“Absolutely,” Ron said excitedly. “Mine’s still in decent shape, but it’s always worth a look.”

“Have a good night, Harry,” Hermione called as he went downstairs.

Ron finally got up from the table and moved over to the couch, groaning as he sat down and put his feet on the coffee table. “I’m stuffed.”

“You were stuffed ten minutes ago but you kept eating,” Hermione said fondly as she sat beside him.

“Yeah, but it was really good,” Ron said, grinning.

“There are lots of different types of food you could try. We should go out to eat in Muggle London one of these days,” Hermione said thoughtfully.

“If you want to,” he said warily.

“Ron, you just tried something new and really enjoyed it,” Hermione said, leaning back as he put his arm around her shoulders.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to push my luck,” he said, tugging on a stray curl.

She turned her face toward him, and he surprised her by leaning over to kiss her fully on the mouth. A delicious tingle shot up her spine. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and opened her mouth to deepen the kiss.

It was all the encouragement Ron needed.

“I’ve been waiting to kiss you since you walked up the stairs,” he gasped in between kisses.

Hermione pushed on his chest, incredulous. “You’ve been eating since I got here.”

“Doesn’t mean I wasn’t wanting to kiss you,” Ron said, grinning wolfishly. “I’m glad Harry left.”

Hermione thought it would be better not to mention that Harry left so he could go kiss Ginny. She pulled Ron closer, enjoying the feel of his hands on her bare arms as he resumed his ministrations. When Ron’s hands moved from her arms to her shoulders and then lower, she didn’t stop him. He hesitated, and she placed her hand over his, keeping them where they were.

The evening hadn’t been what she’d planned, but she ended up enjoying it nonetheless.

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