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SIYE Time:22:55 on 27th May 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: 474
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: 76759; Chapter Total: 2899
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
Sorry for the lack of review responses last week. I hosted Thanksgiving here, and things were a bit crazy. I hope you’ll all enjoy one.




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Chapter Twenty-Five
Friends and Enemies



Ron ran up the steps up to George’s flat two at a time, Ginny close on his heels. They’d both worked at the shop with George and Alicia all day, and Alicia said Lee was coming over to show them something when they closed. She’d remained tight-lipped all day, but kept dropping tantalizing hints that they had exciting news.

It had been several days since they’d gone to Hogwarts, and Ron had watched Harry grow progressively sicker. Harry had gone back to the Healer that morning so they could cast another healing spell on his lungs. Ron hoped they would have some better news for him at St. Mungo’s. In the meantime, Ron felt he could use some good news, so he hoped whatever Lee and Alicia wanted to share would be worth it.

George sat on his purple couch chatting amiably with his friends. He’d gone upstairs with them when Lee had arrived, leaving Ron and Ginny to close the shop.

“Oi, we closed the shop… you know, your shop,” Ron said, slightly disgruntled.

“Oh, thanks, Ginny,” George said, ignoring Ron completely.

“No problem,” she said, smirking.

She always took George’s side. It had been that way since they were kids. Ron scowled at both of them.

“So, what’s this big announcement? Are you two getting married?” George asked easily.

Ron stared, flabbergasted. That hadn’t occurred to him. Judging by the blushing on both Lee and Alicia’s faces, it hadn’t occurred to them, either. Only Ginny didn’t seem surprised by the question.

“Er… no. That’s not it,” Lee said awkwardly.

“Are you pregnant?” George asked, unfazed by their discomfort.

“No!” Alicia snapped, irritated. “Just shut it and listen a minute, George.”

Alicia looked extremely annoyed, and Ron found himself wishing he hadn’t decided to stay. He didn’t want to find himself under the intensity of that glare. He walked over the kitchen and opened George’s cold cabinet. He pulled out some Butterbeers and brought them back to the sitting room.

“Help yourself,” George said dryly.

“Already did,” Ron replied, opening one of the bottles and taking a long draught. He passed the bottles around to the others. “So why are we here?” he asked.

“You’re going to love this, Ron. It was your idea, actually,” Lee said excitedly.

“What was?” Ron asked, stumped.

“Why don’t you three sit on the couch, and let us show you,” Alicia said, pulling something out of her bag. She kept it covered so they couldn’t see.

Ron and Ginny sat down beside George, as Lee pulled the table holding George’s wireless away from the wall and placed it in front of them.

Alicia took the item she’d been holding, a dark, oblong… well, Ron didn’t know what it was exactly, but she placed it on the wireless with a Sticking Charm.

“Are you ready?” Lee asked, grinning.

He waved his wand and quietly mumbled a spell. A hazy cloud rose above the wireless, gradually forming into an image of a Quidditch stadium. Ron quickly identified it as Puddlemere United’s home field by the signs along the stands. His mouth dropped open, and a chill went up his spine. He jumped to his feet, staring. They’d done it! They’d actually done it. He felt the hairs on his arms standing on end, as he turned wondering eyes on the grinning pair.

“You did it,” he said stupidly.

“Did what? What’s going on?” Ginny asked, staring at the pitch speculatively.

“Can the spell last through an entire match, even if it lasts for days?” George asked, excitement bubbling beneath his tone.

George clearly knew the potential.

“It can hold. We can sell the action transmitter — haven’t come up with a name for the device yet — with the spell attached beforehand. I’ve already pitched it at the radio station, and they’ve brought it to the Quidditch League. Best part is that they’ve asked me to broadcast Puddlemere’s opening match against the Tornados in September,” Lee said excitedly.

“This is brilliant,” George said, awestruck.

“Wait… you mean we can watch Quidditch?” Ginny asked excitedly.

“Yes!” Alicia said. “Ron actually gave us the idea when he talked about the Muggle telly.”

“How are you going to market it?” George asked.

“How are we going to market it, you mean? You gave me the idea on the spell, even though you didn’t know why I was asking at the time, and Ron had the initial concept. The four of us are in this together,” Lee said.

“This could be huge,” George said, still awestruck.

“We reckon anyone with familiarity with Muggles will know the concept, but we’re going to give out a few sample products to the Leaky Cauldron and a few other wizarding pubs before the match,” Alicia said.

“If this takes off like I think it will, the Wireless has offered me the gig,” Lee said, staring intently at George.

“That’s brilliant, mate,” George said.

“I know, but it’ll mean I have much less time to work here,” Lee said, watching George closely.

“So, I’ll hire more help,” George said, shrugging indifferently. “This is Quidditch.”

“Wait… so I get one if I gave you the idea?” Ron asked, brimming with excitement. He and Harry could watch from Grimmauld Place.

“They’re saying more than that, Ron. They’re saying when this thing takes off, and every witch and wizard on the continent wants one, we all get a cut of those profits,” George said excitedly.

Ron’s legs collapsed beneath him, and he sat back down on the couch. Ginny rested a hand on his shoulder and patted it reassuringly.

“Can we sell it at the shop?” Lee asked.

“Of course,” George replied. “We can to start. After it takes off, we might want to open a separate shop that caters to it. We don’t want anyone to think it’s a joke.”

“It’s no joke,” Ron said, still feeling stunned.

“We need a name for it,” Alicia said.

“How about an Action Twin?” Ginny suggested. “It duplicates the action, and you can honor Fred. He would’ve loved this.”

George reached over, grabbed Ginny’s head between his hands and kissed her on the forehead. “He would at that,” he said, a bit choked.

“Action Twin it is,” Lee said solemnly.

“How long do they take to produce?” George asked.

“The spellwork is complicated, so it’s not a quick job. We’ve got three done, including this one,” Alicia said.

“What about selling it at Quality Quidditch Supplies? I know the owner. We could give him a cut. It would probably work better than opening a separate shop,” George said, his mind obviously racing.

“That would work great. We can have the League approach him. They’re really excited,” Lee said.

“I can’t wait to show Harry,” Ron said. “We’ll set up a room at Grimmauld Place just as a Quidditch den.”

“Be sure to invite a lot of friends to the match. We want word of mouth to promote this thing,” Lee said.

“I’ll watch from the Leaky Cauldron. We need someone at the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head, too,” George said.

“What’s the matter, Ginny? Don’t you like the idea?” Alicia asked.

Ginny sat on the couch with her arms folded across her chest and a scowl on her face.

“Oh, I love the idea,” she said. “But I just realized, I’ll be at Hogwarts without access.” Hogwarts didn’t allow the Wireless, even in the common rooms. Too much of a distraction.

“Puddlemere’s first match is on a Saturday. Harry will get you out, and you can come watch with us,” Ron said, wondering why he was being so accommodating. It didn’t matter. This was Quidditch!

******

Harry sat in Gawain Robards office awaiting the arrival of Draco Malfoy. His Healer had given him another treatment, so he was feeling much better than he had the previous day. The pressure on his chest was constant, but at least he had more energy. He hoped Malfoy would have some decent information that would lead to Rodolphus Lestrange. Harry felt frustrated. He’d always hated waiting — he wanted to do something.

He clenched his fists so tightly his nails dug into his palms. He’d have to remember to restrain himself from punching Malfoy in the nose, no matter what the provocation. He didn’t think his boss would take kindly to that. Harry wanted to prove he could follow Ministry guidelines. Draco Malfoy was not going to get in the way of Harry becoming an Auror. In fact, if he could pull this off, then in a roundabout way, Malfoy could actually help him to achieve his goal. That would be epic.

“How are you feeling, Harry?” Robards asked quietly.

Although his department head knew about the poisoning, thus far it had only been Kingsley who’d addressed it with him.

“Better. I saw the Healer yesterday,” he replied honestly.

Robards nodded. “And how have your training classes been? I instructed Thaddeus Pierce to limit any physical exertions without making it obvious he was doing so. I trust Pierce implicitly.”

Harry nodded. He’d been told about it, and although he hated any kind of special treatment, he acknowledged it was necessary. Cormac McLaggan had nearly sent him to the Medi-witch with a mere Stinging Hex to his chest during dueling practice.

Robards must have noticed Harry’s scowl, because he smirked, running a finger along his lip to try and hide his smile. “It’s not as if you haven’t had enough dueling practice. I think you can stand to sit out a lesson or two.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said grudgingly.

“Your health has been compromised. That’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of desperation in our enemies. We will find a way to overcome this. Mark my word,” Robards said gravely.

Harry was surprised by the fierce tone. Until that moment, he hadn’t even been certain Robards wanted him in the program, never mind vowing to see Harry healthy again. People amazed him sometimes.

“Thank you, sir,” he said sincerely.

Before any awkwardness could descend, there was a knock on the door, and two Aurors entered, escorting Draco Malfoy between them. Harry recognized one of the Aurors as a Chaser from the Quidditch team, Elin something…

Malfoy’s eyes roamed the office, widening slightly when he noticed Harry already seated there. His familiar sneer quickly fell into place. His robes were clean and pressed, but Harry thought they looked more careworn than the Slytherin usually wore.

“Thank you,” Robards said, dismissing the Aurors. “Mr. Malfoy, please have a seat.”

Draco sat straight-backed and rigid in the other empty chair in front of Robards desk. Despite his aloof expression, he wasn’t nearly as comfortable as he was trying to appear.

Harry didn’t have the inclination to ease his anxiety. Instead, he stretched his legs out in front of him and slouched slightly in his chair, keeping his face neutral as he relaxed.

“What did you want to see me about?” Draco drawled, feigning disinterest.

“Actually, as I understood it, you requested this meeting,” Robards said, his dark eyes piercing.

“I requested a meeting with the Minister,” Draco corrected.

“This Minister is a very busy man. I’m in charge of handling prisoners, so he left this to me,” Robards said dismissively. “Mr. Potter tells me you approached him about some sort of deal. You want your father released, but I’m not certain what you could possibly have that might be of interest to us to make such an arrangement worth our while.”

Draco stared at him, slack-jawed, for a moment. By stating exactly what it was Draco wanted, Robards had taken any control the younger Malfoy felt he might have, and neutralized it.

Harry stifled his smirk, impressed. He could play this game.

“When you approached me in Diagon Alley, you indicated you wanted to make a deal. If that’s no longer the case, you’re wasting our time,” Harry said casually. He moved to stand.

“No! Wait,” Draco said, alarmed. “I have information.”

“Information in regards to what, exactly, Mr. Malfoy?” Robards asked impatiently.

“You’re still looking for some Death Eaters, and they’re plotting against you,” Draco said, jerking his head toward Harry.

Harry slumped back in his chair. “So what else is new? Do you have anything solid for us or just vague threats?” he asked dismissively. “Because I’ve heard all of those before.”

“I’ve had contact with Rodolphus Lestrange,” Draco said, a touch of desperation in his voice.

Harry felt his heart rate quicken, but he fought not to show a change in his demeanor.

“Now that is something useful. Where is he?” Robards asked.

“Before I tell you anything, I want an assurance that my father will be released, and the charges against him dismissed,” Draco said, gaining confidence.

“That will depend entirely on how useful your information is,” Robards said, conceding nothing.

Draco narrowed his eyes. “If I help you, my father will be released immediately, and our family home will be returned to us,” he said haughtily.

“Absolutely not,” Robards replied, regaining control.

Draco’s bravado faltered. “Then you have nothing.”

“Then you can go,” Robards said dismissively. When Draco didn’t move, Robards added, “Look, we do want Lestrange, and I’m willing to listen in regards to your father. Your home is non-negotiable, however. Consider it the spoils of war.”

Draco frowned, frustrated. “We’re currently forced to live in our summer home. It’s unsuitable. My mother is miserable there.”

“That’s not my problem,” Robards replied, shrugging. “Where can we find Lestrange? If your information leads to his capture, I’ll waive the remainder of your father’s sentence. Take it or leave it.”

Draco frowned, furious. “Fine,” he said through clenched teeth. “Uncle Rodolphus has a home in Nottingham. He’s not staying there permanently, however.”

“Where is he?” Harry asked.

“Obviously he moves around, since your people are hunting him like a dog,” Draco said, sneering.

“Then his house is no use to us,” Robards said, growing irritated. “Give me something I can actually use, Malfoy.”

Panic showed in Draco’s eyes once again. He kept running his hand through his slicked-back blonde hair, causing it to become unkempt. The corner he’d painted himself into was growing tighter. “They’re using his house as a meeting place. The next meeting is scheduled within the next two weeks, but I don’t know the date,” he said, his words garbled in his rush to get them out.

“How will you learn when the meeting is to take place?” Robards asked.

“They’ll contact me,” Draco said, licking his lips.

“Is the Lestrange property under a Fidelius Charm?” Harry demanded.

“Yes, but I can get in,” Draco said nervously.

“How?” Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.

Draco swallowed, glancing back and forth between the other two men. “Aunt Bella was the Secret Keeper. After her death, I became one since I’d been there before. Uncle Rodolphus accepts me, but he’s very suspicious of my mother. She helped you, at great personal risk. None of the others know exactly what happened, but she’s under heavy suspicion. I want her protected,” Draco said, once again making demands.

“What do you know about Grimmauld Place?” Harry asked suddenly, ignoring Draco’s news about his mother. He didn’t think Draco would know anything about the traps left behind, but he was curious.

The blondes’ eyes widened before recognition dawned. “Ah, right. Your dog of a godfather betrayed his lineage and let the Order inside. My mother and aunt were beside themselves. Ownership should’ve passed to them when the traitor was sent to Azkaban,” Draco said vindictively.

Harry struggled to keep his face neutral, and was pleased to succeed. “Except your aunt was also in Azkaban at the time,” he said, feigning boredom.

The color rose on Malfoy’s pale face. “Now that both Aunt Bella and the mutt are dead, my mother is the rightful heir. She’s awaiting the paperwork to appear in our vault, unless you’ve confiscated that, too,” he said scornfully.

Robards sat back in his chair, content to watch the exchange. Harry thought he looked rather amused. He had the distinct impression his boss didn’t care for the Malfoys.

A slow, lazy grin spread across Harry’s face. “The Ministry doesn’t own Grimmauld Place.”

“The ancient house of Black is a much better location than our summer home in Lewes. If you insist on keeping Malfoy Manor from us, then Grimmauld Place is the next best option,” Draco said haughtily.

“Yeah. Best get used to roughing it in Lewes then, because that’s not going to happen,” Harry said, feeling pleased.

“What do you know about it?” Draco asked scornfully.

“I know because I have the papers for Grimmauld Place in my vault. My godfather left it to me,” Harry said smugly.

The color drained from Draco’s face. “You’re joking.”

“Afraid not,” Harry said, enjoying the shock and dismay clearly written on his school rival’s face.

“Look, Malfoy, I don’t really care where you end up living. You get us Lestrange, and you get your father back. You can work out your living arrangement for yourselves,” Robards said, breaking it up at last.

Harry sat back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest and watched Draco steam.

“You’ll have to come with us on the raid,” Robards said, almost as an afterthought.

“What?” Malfoy yelped, dismayed.

“If we need a Secret Keeper to enter the premises, that’s going to have to be you,” Robards said firmly. His tone implicitly warned that Draco wouldn’t be able to wiggle out of this part of the deal.

“I’ll get you in, but I don’t want to be seen, and I won’t be put in any danger,” Draco said, desperate.

“You and I both know being around your uncle is dangerous. The sooner he’s caught, the sooner your entire family is safer,” Harry said, showing no mercy.

“Do we have a deal, Mr. Malfoy?” Robards asked.

“We have a deal,” Draco said, obviously not pleased. The look on his face clearly stated that the meeting hadn’t gone at all like he’d envisioned.

Harry didn’t deny he felt a certain amount of satisfaction in that.


******


Ginny stood outside the door to Harry’s training class, staring at her watch. It was minutes from the time his class should release for the day, and she would swear she saw the minute hand tick backwards. This class didn’t seem like it would ever end, and Ginny was eager for it to do so.

Today was Harry’s eighteenth birthday.

Ginny’s mind kept drifting back to the searing kiss they’d shared on his seventeenth birthday before her prat of a brother had so rudely interrupted them. She was going to make certain there would be no interruptions this year. She wondered if Harry had spent half as much time today thinking of that interrupted kiss.

She really hoped he had.

Her mum was planning a party, and Ginny was tasked with keeping Harry away until the guests had time to gather. Ginny had no problem with that plan. Mum had even asked Neville and Luna to come by, along with the rest of the family. Only Charlie wouldn’t be there.

… and Fred.

Ginny shook herself. She wasn’t going to sink into that melancholy today. Today belonged to Harry.

She could hardly wait to give Harry his present. Her stomach did summersaults just thinking about it. She’d had some help with the cost, but she really hoped Harry would be pleased.

He’d had a few good days after his most recent treatment, but at breakfast that morning, Ginny had noticed he merely pushed the food around on his plate. She’d also detected a rattling sound when he took a deep breath. Naturally, he tried to cover it, but there was no hiding that chilling sound.

She was worried. He insisted they were working on a lead, but Ginny couldn’t see them doing anything. She was beginning to rethink her return to Hogwarts. Instead, she could take Kingsley up on his offer to become an Auror. She wanted to make these rogue Death Eaters pay for what they’d done.

Except that she’d really never had any desire to work for the Ministry.

What she really wanted was to help Harry. She didn’t like seeing him ill. It was so incongruous to everything Harry was, and she found it disconcerting. She knew Hermione, too, was researching potion ingredients that could possibly cause Harry’s symptoms. The girls had spent many a late night scouring the vast supply of potion books Hermione owned.

Perhaps it would be the two girls who would find a way to cure Harry. A Muggle-born and a blood traitor thwarting the bigoted Death Eaters. That would be poetic justice.

The door to the training class opened, and a weary-looking group of trainees emerged. Ginny knew they’d had a test today, and from the looks of them, it must’ve been difficult. She could see her brother’s ginger head towering above, and as expected, Harry’s ruffled mop of black hair right next to him.

Harry’s bright eyes widened in surprise, and a grin formed when he saw her. Ginny couldn’t help beaming in return. The two trainees moved toward her, ignoring the curious stares of their classmates. A group of girls slowed their pace to watch them nosily. Ginny recognized Susan Bones and Lisa Turpin, so the dark, curly-haired witch next to them had to be the Violet she’d heard so much about.

Naturally she was really tall and buxom. Of course.

“Ginny! What are you doing here?” Harry asked, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

“Do I need an excuse to see you?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Er… of course not,” Harry stuttered. “I just… I… er… ”

Ginny laughed, deciding to give him a break. It was his birthday, after all. “Happy Birthday, Harry. I wanted to spend a little time with you before Mum has dinner ready.”

Harry’s cheeks colored. “She really didn’t have to go to so much trouble,” he mumbled.

“Harry, how long have you known my mum?” Ron asked, exasperated. “She thrives off this stuff. Besides, it’s your birthday.”

Ron seemed to think that settled everything. He always did really enjoy his own birthday. Christmas, too. Ron just really liked presents.

“Is it your birthday, Harry?” Lisa Turpin asked, joining their gathering. “Why didn’t you say anything? Hi, Ginny.”

“Hi, Lisa, Susan,” Ginny said, nodding to each while watching Harry’s cheeks flush a deeper shade of red. As if he’d ever voluntarily call attention to himself.

“Yeah, Happy Birthday, Harry. Maybe Pierce would’ve gone easier on that test if he’d known,” Violet said, staring curiously at Ginny.

“Violet, this is my girlfriend, Ginny Weasley,” Harry said. Ginny felt a thrill tingle all the way down her spine hearing him call her his girlfriend.

“Nice to meet you, Ginny. Violet Benson,” the girl said, offering her hand. “How do you concentrate when he looks at you with those dreamy eyes? It must be impossible to stay angry with him.”

“Oh, I can manage,” Ginny said wryly. “He can be quite infuriating when he sets his mind to it.” She grinned at Harry to soften her words. His face was the color of a tomato.

“Can you answer the question Witch Weekly is dying to know?” Violet asked.

Ginny frowned, wary. “What’s that?”

“Is he a good kisser?” Violet asked seriously.

Harry grabbed Ginny’s arm and tried to steer her away. “We’re going. See you all next time.”

Ginny laughed, calling over her shoulder. “He kisses as intensely as he does everything else,” Ginny called.

Harry groaned, but the three girls burst into laughter.

“That’s it. I’m out of here. Don’t make him late, Ginny. I’m starving,” Ron said, disgruntled.

“And that’s new, how?” Ginny asked before Harry shoved her into the lift and pressed the button for the Atrium.

“Enjoy your intensity,” Violet called merrily.

Harry looked as if he wanted to melt into the floor, but as soon as the doors closed, he turned to her, pulling her into his arms, his face very close.

“Is intensity a good thing?” he asked, his breath warm on her lips.

“Very good,” she said, slightly breathless before he even kissed her.

When the lift doors opened, they were still locked in a tight embrace. Someone cleared their throat, dragging them back to the present. They laughed, taking each other’s hands and dashing toward the Apparition point.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked.

“Let’s go into Muggle London. I don’t want to share you today,” Ginny said.

Harry’s eyes glazed slightly as he tried to decide where to go.

“Oh! I know,” Ginny said, suddenly. She’d wanted to stroll the streets and look in some shop windows, but now the idea of some privacy seemed much more enticing.

“Let’s go to the village in Ottery St. Catchpole. We can take a walk back to The Burrow.”
Harry raised an eyebrow, perplexed. “Really?”

Ginny nodded. “Really. I’m in the mood for a long, private stroll through the woods,” she said, grinning.

Harry didn’t need telling twice. He wrapped his arm around her waist and Side-Along Apparated her to the village. Although Ginny was more than frustrated with the restriction of being unable to use magic, she had to admit that she liked Side-Along Apparating with him, because she could wrap herself really close. Perhaps once she finally came of age, that was one habit she’d continue.

The weather was still hot and sticky, despite the late afternoon hour. The village was busy with Muggles getting out of work for the day, but as Harry and Ginny strolled hand-in-hand towards the dusty road leading to The Burrow, the crowd thinned out quickly.

Once they’d reached a thick copse of trees, Ginny tugged on his hand to stop. He turned to look at her questioningly.

“I felt the need for some intensity,” she whispered.

Harry grinned. “Happy Birthday to me,” he said, before he leaned over and crushed his lips to hers.

Ginny leaned back against a tree, tilting her head and running her hands along his shoulders. They were broadening, and she could feel muscles defining on his arms. A good and plentiful diet was definitely having positive results.

Harry deepened the kiss, and all Ginny’s cognitive thoughts fled her mind. He was the only one who could ever disorient her like this. Her heart thudded in her chest, and a lovely fluttering filled her belly. Even the discomfort from the bark of the tree pressed against her back seemed to fade. When Harry finally pulled back, panting, Ginny felt bereft. She leaned closer, trying to recapture his lips. Harry pulled away with a monumental effort.

“Need a minute,” he gasped. “You’re driving me mad.”

“There’s nothing wrong with mad,” Ginny said, pressing herself against him once again. She really didn’t want to stop.

Groaning, Harry pulled her against him tightly, his green eyes blazing before his mouth descended once again.

Violet had been right. It was impossible to concentrate under that fierce gaze. It was only the distinct wheezing she could hear in his chest that brought her to her senses. This time, she pulled away, despite Harry’s attempts to keep her there.

She took a step away, breathing heavily. If she felt out of breath, she could only imagine the pain in his chest.

“Are you all right?” she asked, lightly putting her hand over his heart.

Harry nodded without speaking. She could clearly hear the rattling now. She slipped her arm around his waist, allowing him to lean on her shoulder as they resumed their walk. She could tell he was frustrated, whether it was because of his weakness or that she stopped their snog, she didn’t know.

“Stupid poison,” he muttered, kicking a rock as they walked.

“Well, we need to be at The Burrow for dinner, but there’s plenty of woods left,” she said, grinning mischievously.

Harry brightened immediately. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Ginny nodded, hugging him fondly.

“You’re always there when I need you,” he said suddenly, ducking his head. “Thanks for staying, Ginny. I know I’m not easy.”

“No, you’re not,” she said matter-of-factly.

Harry snorted. His breathing sounded better, but she thought he still looked pale, even more than his natural paleness.

“How are you feeling, really, Harry?” she asked, expecting his usual response of ‘fine’.

“I’ve been better,” he said honestly. “I think I’ll need to go in for another treatment in a couple days.”

Ginny was stunned. She couldn’t remember a time when he’d ever answered anyone honestly that he was having a hard time.

“Why not go tomorrow?” she asked.

“Because Healer Larkin said it would be less helpful each time she had to cast it, so I want to prolong it.”

“Is it still only in your chest?” she asked, more fearful now that he was actually confiding in her.

He hesitated, almost halting his stride. She watched the play of emotions on his face as he decided how much to tell. Finally, squaring his shoulders, he whispered, “No. My stomach hasn’t been right.”

Ginny shut her eyes. It was spreading.

“And what is the Ministry doing about finding the source?” she snapped, frustrated and more scared than she wanted to admit. She hated feeling she had no control.

“We’re waiting for their next move. I can’t tell you how we know, but there should be a gathering soon. We’re just waiting for it to happen,” Harry said quietly.

“Oh,” Ginny said, derailed.

So, they had been working on something, and it’s not like he could tell the Death Eaters to hurry up. She could see the perimeter fence of The Burrow through the trees now, and was surprised when Harry pulled her to a stop.

She turned, questioningly, still lost in her tormented thoughts.

“This is the last of the woods,” he said.

“And?” she asked, distracted.

He pulled her against him again, resting his nose against hers. “I want the rest of my birthday kiss,” he whispered.

Who was she to deny him?


Naturally they arrived for dinner late. Everyone but Ron shouted, ‘Happy Birthday’ as they emerged into the back garden. Ron continued to scowl at his empty plate. Obviously Mum hadn’t let him have anything before the guest of honor arrived. Ginny couldn’t help feeling pleased that she’d managed to annoy him.

She glanced at Harry to see his reaction. He stared in wonder at the many guests, his smile widening even further when he noticed Neville and Luna at the end of the table. Luna wore a bright orange sari with bits of live green plants stuck on in a random pattern. Neville could probably identify what they were.

“I didn’t know you were all going to be here,” Harry said, sounding somewhat amazed at the attention.

“Obviously,” Ron said, disgruntled. “I hope you wouldn’t keep us waiting this long on purpose.”

“Ron!” Hermione said, slapping his arm. She reached over and gave Harry a hug. “Happy Birthday, Harry.”

“Thanks,” Harry said. He walked over to Ginny’s mum and gave her a hug, as well. “You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble, Mrs. Weasley.”

“Nonsense,” Mum said, beaming with affection. “It’s your birthday, and you’re no trouble.” She pushed him into an empty chair next to Ginny’s dad. Ginny took the empty chair on Harry’s other side.

“How are you, Neville?” Harry asked, reaching across the table to shake his hand.

“I’m good, thanks. I’ve been working in a greenhouse of one of the apothocary’s suppliers. It’s fascinating.”

“Er… sounds great,” Harry said.

Ginny thought he didn’t really think it sounded great at all. Being stuck in a greenhouse all day definitely wouldn’t suit Harry.

“How about you, Luna?” Ginny asked the blonde girl.

“It’s been rather dull. Daddy wasn’t well enough to continue our search for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, and we were so close. He’s finally feeling better, though, so I think he’ll be able to manage alone once I go back to Hogwarts,” Luna said.

Ginny knew that Mr. Lovegood had taken Luna’s capture very hard, and his health had failed after the war. She really didn’t know what to think about a Crumple-Horned Snorkack.

“Let’s tuck in,” her mum said brightly, placing a huge roast in the center of the table.

Ginny could see through her attempt to avoid letting the conversation descend into war talk. It was inevitable wherever there was a gathering of wizards lately, but Mum was determined to keep Harry’s birthday on a happier note.

Ginny really couldn’t blame her. Harry still felt far too guilty for his own good.
The conversation quieted as they all tucked in to the delicious meal, but gradually, various smaller conversations broke out along the magically-expanded table.

“Have you received your class list yet?” Bill asked.

Ginny shook her head, swallowing some mashed potatoes. “Not yet. I reckon it’ll still be a few weeks. There’s so much to reorganize this year, I won’t be surprised if it’s delayed,” she said.

“Are you sticking with Ancient Runes?” he asked.

“Absolutely. It’s my best class,” Ginny replied, grinning. “I think I did really well on my exam.”

“So, are you thinking about following in your favorite brother’s footsteps and becoming a curse breaker?” he asked, squinting.

“If she’s following her favorite brother, she’ll be opening her own business,” George interjected.

Ginny smiled indulgently at both. All her brothers always argued over which one was her favorite. She had her own ideas of what she’d like to do once she finished Hogwarts, but she wasn’t ready to share it with any of them yet.

“I theenk Ginny will decide on her own what it iz she wants to do,” Fleur said, raising a finely arched brow.

“So, what is it you want to do, then?” Bill asked.

Fleur thumped him the side with her elbow. “She will let you know. All you boys need to mind your own business. She will be of age on her birthday.”

Ginny smiled gratefully at Fleur. It was weird how much their relationship had changed. Although they were very different, Ginny found she enjoyed having another female presence around the dinner table. She caught Hermione’s eye across the table. The older girl was looking at her speculatively. There was no doubt in Ginny’s mind that Hermione would question her once they’d both turned in for the night.

Hermione was on to her. Somehow, Ginny didn’t think her friend would be as enthused about the idea of a career in Quidditch as she was. Still, even making the try-outs was a stretch, and Ginny was certain Hermione would want her to have a backup plan. Ginny didn’t want a backup plan. She wanted to keep her focus on her goal. A backup plan would only mean she had some level of doubt.

Ginny was going to play professional Quidditch.

For now, her focus would be on getting the Hogwarts team back into shape. As the oldest member of the team, with a well-known passion for the sport, she thought she had a good chance of making captain.

Harry thought so, too.

Ginny enjoyed having it just between them for now, however. She just needed to get him well first.

Glancing over at Harry, she was dismayed to see he’d eaten very little and was pushing the food around on his plate rather than eating it. That thrill of dread rose in her throat, and Ginny had to forcefully push it down. This was a happy occasion. He certainly hadn’t had many birthday celebrations. The ruddy Death Eaters weren’t going to take it from him.

He must’ve sensed her stare, for he looked up, his brilliant green eyes locking on hers. He winked, and for a moment, despite how large her family was, she felt as if they were the only two at the table. Of course, it didn’t last for long.

“So, are we having cake?” Ron asked, knowing full well the answer.

“Cake or presents first, Harry?” Dad asked, his blue eyes twinkling.

Ginny knew he wanted Harry to choose presents to take the mickey out of Ron, but she wondered if Harry would catch on.

“Presents, I think,” Harry said, his face coloring.

Ginny was pleased. He did catch on. Perhaps he was truly beginning to fit in. She nodded to George, who discreetly left the table in order to get their surprise. Harry opened some new Quidditch supplies that seemed to delight him.

When Ginny saw George again, she quietly got up and walked over to him, assisting him to place the cage on the table in front of Harry.

The owl was slightly smaller than Hedwig had been, and with more grey-coloring on his feathers. He looked a bit dwarfed inside the large cage. She knew Harry had avoided replacing his pet, but she hoped he’d be pleased. Hedwig had been a birthday present signaling the start of a new life for him. She thought this pet could signify the same thing.

Harry sat frozen in his seat for a moment, staring at the bird as if mesmerized. George pushed the cage towards him, and Harry stuck his fingers inside, stroking the owl’s feathers. The bird preened and moved along its perch to allow Harry to continue.

“I think he likes you,” Ginny said, pleased as she moved to sit back down next to him.

Harry looked up at Ron, stunned. Ron put his hands in the air, shaking his head. “I didn’t, mate. They’d already planned this before I told them.”

“They?” Harry asked, his throat sounding raw. He looked back at Ginny.

She shrugged. “It was George’s idea, and I couldn’t swing it on my own.”

Harry looked over at George, thunderstruck. George, usually so confident and cheerful, ducked his head, his ears reddening with that trademark Weasley blush.

“Hedwig was a good owl, and I think she’d approve,” he said gruffly.

Ginny knew there were a lot of consequences from the war that they all wished they could change, George especially. This was something George could fix, and she suspected it was extremely important for him to do so. In his own way, Harry had really helped George to heal, and George wanted to help Harry in the same way, although neither of them would ever say it out loud.

Boys.

“He’s beautiful,” Hermione said tearfully, staring appreciatively at the owl.

“He’s still young, so he’ll probably grow a bit more. That’s why the cage is so big,” George said.

“Thank you,” Harry said, choked and still staring at owl. He turned suddenly, grabbed Ginny’s face in both hands and kissed her soundly. Scattered applause and many groans erupted around the table. After all, it was filled with mainly her brothers.

“What about me? Don’t I get a kiss?” George asked, puckering.

Harry colored again, but swatted George on the back of the head good-naturedly. “She’s better looking,” he said, grinning.

Harry left the owl on the table as he opened the rest of his gifts, glancing over every few minutes. The owl’s yellow eyes blinked lazily, but he seemed to be staring at Harry as much as Harry stared at him.

“We’ll have to think of a name,” she whispered as Mum served the cake.

“We?” Harry asked, amused.

“Of course. I’m not going to let you call him something stupid,” she replied, grinning. She’d never live down her twelve-year-old self naming Ron’s owl Pigwidgeon.

“I think I want to get to know him a little bit before we decide,” Harry said, wrapping his hand around hers beneath the table.

“That sounds like an excellent plan,” Ginny said, leaning over and kissing him again.

“Harry, just because it’s your birthday doesn’t mean you can snog her at the table. I’m trying to eat, here,” Ron groused.

Ginny kicked him in the shin.

“Ouch!” Ron yelped, dropping his cake. “Now look what you’ve done.”

“Well, since it will no longer interfere with your appetite, we’ll just carry on,” Ginny said, pulling Harry back into a kiss.

Though never much for public displays, Harry didn’t resist at all.

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