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SIYE Time:22:57 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: 76771; Chapter Total: 2820
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
There you go! Ginny’s finally of age, and some progress against the Death Eaters. I hope you enjoyed it.

Again, my thanks and appreciation to my wonderful beta, Sherylyn, who always keeps things moving. It’s thanks so her that this is ready each week. I can’t believe how long we’ve been working together!




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Chapter Twenty-Seven
Coming of Age



Ginny lazily opened her eyes, squinting at the ray of sunlight streaming in from a crack in the curtains. She burrowed her head back into her pillow, unwilling to give up the last dregs of slumber. When sleep refused to return however, she grudgingly opened her eyes again and blearily looked around her room.

Hermione’s bed was empty and already neatly made. It was the other girl’s habit to make it before going downstairs each morning. Scratching her bed-ruffled head, she wondered what time it was. It was then that it dawned on her that it was 11 August. She was seventeen.

A wicked grin spread across her face as she grabbed her wand from her bedside table.

“Lumos,” she said, and the room flooded with light. She stood up, and again using her wand, she opened the curtains, made her bed and Summoned various clothing items to wear for the day.

“Nox,” she whispered, now that sunlight was filling her bedroom. She cast a spell to open her window and stared around the room, pleased. “Wicked.”

Ginny quickly dressed in shorts and T-shirt and entered the hallway. Although she knew it was her imagination, she felt taller today. She cast a Silencing Charm as she stealthily climbed the stairs to Ron’s bedroom, her wand clutched in her hand. She could hear the dull roar of Ron’s snores before she even pushed the door open. How Harry slept through that racket, she’d never know.

He was asleep though. She could see a tuft of dark hair poking out from the top of his covers. He was rolled on his side away from her, and his bare back was exposed. His discarded T-shirt lay in a crumpled ball on the floor as if he’d cast it aside during the night when the room grew too warm. He didn’t appear to be struggling for breath, so that was a good sign.

Her attention turned toward the room’s other occupant. Ron was sprawled spread-eagle on his bed, his covers tangled around his legs. His mouth hung open, emitting the horrible noise that filled the room.

Grinning, Ginny raised her wand. “Aguamenti,” she whispered, and a stream of water sprayed from her wand, arching in mid-air and fell right on target in the center of Ron’s chest.

Ron shouted and sat up, alarmed. His eyes were wide as he tried to get away from the icy spray. Harry turned over quickly and leapt out of bed, brandishing his own wand. He lowered it when he realized it was her, and he grabbed his glasses from his bedside table, stuffing them on his face.

Ginny cancelled the spell, laughing at her sopping-wet brother. “Morning, Ron!” she said gaily before launching herself at Harry.

She knocked him back onto the bed with an “oomph,” and straddled his lap, kissing him soundly.

“Oi!” Ron bellowed. “What the bloody hell are you on about, Ginny?”

Ginny pulled away from the kiss, turning her head with a smirk. “Happy Birthday to me! No more underage magic laws. Consider yourself warned,” she said before promptly turning back to resume her snog.

Harry happily obliged.

“So why spray me? It’s obviously Harry you wanted to wake up,” Ron said, disgruntled as he peeled his soggy T-shirt over his head. He cast a spell to dry his bedding.

“Because Harry hasn’t been tormenting me for months about being underage,” Ginny said, barely moving her lips away from Harry.

She felt more than justified. Ron had been asking for it, knowing she couldn’t respond with magic. He should’ve expected the need to be on guard this morning. Ginny had learned the subtle art of payback from the best. Fred and George had never let anyone get away with anything, either.

Harry threaded his fingers through her hair, sighing softly as he pulled her body closer.

“Well, I don’t want to sit here and watch you two snog. Cut it out, Harry,” Ron grumbled.

Before she could even open her mouth to respond, Harry said, “Door’s right there. Leave.”

Ginny giggled against his lips.

“It’s my room,” Ron whined, although she could hear him stomping out the door. “Happy Birthday, Ginny. I’m telling Mum.”

“Thought he’d never leave,” Harry mumbled, pulling her closer and deepening the kiss.

Ginny could feel the taut muscles on his bare back, and she thrilled at the touch. His words reverberated against her lips, sending a delicious tingle to the pit of her belly. She knew he wanted her, she could feel the evidence pressed against her intimately through his thin pajama bottoms.

His kisses were passionate and intense, making her feel dizzy. His mouth moved to her throat, and she threw her head back, reveling in his ministrations. He was driving her mad.

Both desire and fear raced through her body, confusing her. She was an adult, and all the reasons for waiting seemed vague and unimportant here in the heat of the moment. She was in Harry’s arms, where she always wanted to be. What would happen if she just cast a locking charm at the door? She could do it, she was of age now…

“Ginny,” Harry gasped, pulling back, “your mum will be up here looking for you any minute.”

“Ron won’t really tell,” she said, not allowing him to pull away, “he’s just hacked off.”

It was all the encouragement Harry needed. He kissed her again, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer to him. The brief pause, however, was enough to bring Ginny back to her senses. She wasn’t ready for this, and when she was ready, it wasn’t going to be on a camp bed in her brother’s attic bedroom. She pulled back, panting. Her lips felt swollen, but they tingled from the contact.

Harry’s hair was impossibly mussed, causing her to want to kiss him again.

She rested her head against his forehead while she caught her breath.

“Happy Birthday,” Harry mumbled, breathless as well.

“It is now,” she said, feeling more content than she ever had in her life. For a moment, she had even managed to forget the illness ravaging Harry’s beautiful body.

“How do you feel?” she asked suddenly.

“Seriously? I’m really turned on, Ginny,” Harry said, grinning.

Ginny swatted him on the shoulder, inordinately pleased with herself. She did that. He wanted her, and she knew it.

“I meant health-wise,” she said.

“I think you’ve discovered a cure for this poison. Kiss me again so I can be sure,” he said playfully.

Ginny let out a bark of laughter. “Prat. You do seem in good spirits this morning.”

“I wish every morning was your birthday,” Harry said, nuzzling her neck again.

Ginny pulled back, climbing off his lap and sitting next to him on the camp bed. He raised his arm so she could snuggle underneath.

“Did you get me a present?” she asked.

“Yep,” Harry said, grinning. “But you’ll have to wait until your party.”

“I could hex you, you know,” Ginny said, pouting.

“You’re enjoying this ‘being of age’ thing, aren’t you?” he asked, amused.

“I am,” Ginny said, nodding. “Never again do I have to do chores the Muggle way, or worry about hexing some nosy reporter.”

Harry threw back his head, laughing. “I wonder if that bloke still has bat bogeys in his nose?”

Ginny giggled. “It was a strong one. I was angry.”

“I noticed. Remind me never to get you that angry,” Harry said.

“Remember that the next time you want to protect me from something,” Ginny said, only half-joking.

Harry hugged her, kissing the top of her head. “Happy Birthday, Ginny.”

Ginny snuggled closer, luxuriating in the warmth of his skin. They both looked up, startled, when they heard a loud rumbling on the stairs. It sounded as if a crowd were hurrying towards them. Harry quickly Summoned a T-shirt and slammed it over his head. He adjusted the blankets, but kept her tucked beneath his arm.

“Are you decent?” George asked, entering the room with his hands covering his eyes.

“George! Of course, they’re decent,” Percy said, affronted.

“Well, you never know. She’s of age now,” George said, removing his hand and looking over the pair on the camp bed.

“And don’t you forget it,” Ginny said, smiling.

Ron and Hermione followed George and Percy in the room. “Happy Birthday!” Hermione said.

“Thanks!” Ginny said, beaming.

“Maybe we should go get breakfast,” Percy said, obviously the most uncomfortable with Ginny sitting on Harry’s bed, despite the fact she was obviously completely dressed. Her brothers could be impossible sometimes. She had no intention of moving just because of Percy’s discomfort. Ron, at least, had become used to it, while George was the only one who was never overly protective. He treated her more as an equal. Fred could too, but he definitely had had more of that protective gene that drove her spare.

“I’m happy where I am,” Ginny said.

She felt Harry’s body shake as he chuckled, although she could see him watching her brothers’ reactions tensely. She couldn’t blame him, there were three of them in the room.

“So, should I ask what you gave her for a present?” George asked, waggling his eyebrows.

“George!” Percy said, scandalized.

“Ew, George — that’s enough,” Ron said, his face screwed up.

Ginny ignored them. “He said I can’t have it until my party,” she said, pouting.

“Aw, come on, Harry. Give the girl her gift,” George said, causing Ginny to suspect he already knew what it was.

She turned to look at Harry, her eyes boring right into his startled green. “Does he already know?”

Harry squirmed under her intense stare. “I needed a place to keep it,” he said, defensively. “Don’t think I don’t know you’ve been snooping.”

Ginny’s brothers’ heads were swinging back and forth between the two like a net ball match. They all took sharp intakes of breath at Harry’s last comment.

“Are you accusing me of snooping for my present?” Ginny asked, feigning outrage.

“Are you suggesting you haven’t been?” Harry countered, his eyes sparkling.

“I know a way you could make it up to me,” Ginny said, raising her nose in the air.

“How’s that?” Harry asked.

“You could let me open it now,” she said slyly.

“It’s downstairs,” George said helpfully. “I left it there.”

“Well, now I want to know what it is. Let her open it, Harry. Then we can eat,” Ron said.

Hermione elbowed him in the gut, but she was grinning.

Ginny drew her wand and Ron instinctively ducked, causing Ginny and Harry to grin. “Accio present,” she said.

A small, square-shaped box, gaily wrapped in purple paper with a gold ribbon, flew into the room, and Harry deftly caught it before she could.

“Hey!” she said. The box intrigued her. It was about the size of a Bludger, and she couldn’t imagine what it might contain.

But she wanted to know really, really bad.

“Hang on,” Harry said, his bright green eyes alight with mischief. “I haven’t agreed to this. You’re supposed to open your presents at your party.”

“Better not make her too angry, mate,” George warned. “If she’s scowling at the Leaky Cauldron, your face’ll be plastered all over the Daily Prophet tomorrow for being a bad date on your girl’s birthday.”

“We’re going to the Leaky Cauldron tonight?” she asked Harry.

“First I’m hearing about it,” Harry said, looking at George.

“We’re all going,” Percy said. “Bill and Fleur are meeting us there.”

“I told you we’d take you when you came of age,” George said as if she were daft.

Ginny felt inordinately pleased. She squeezed Harry tightly. “I’m going to send Hannah a note with Zeus telling her we’re coming,” Ginny said. “That way you won’t get mobbed.”

“Already done,” Hermione said. “Hannah will have a table reserved.”

“So now open your present so we can eat,” Ron said.

“I know… I know,” Harry said, then the others all joined in as they chorused, “You’re starving!

Ron’s ears colored as the others all laughed. Ginny used the distraction to pull on the bow, untying it. Her eyes caught Harry’s questioningly. He nodded, and she ripped the paper off. As she removed the lid, Harry tapped the box with his wand and a long, sleek handle grew from within the box.

Ginny’s heart caught in her throat as she pulled a brand new Firebolt from the box.

“Whoa,” Ron said.

Ginny couldn’t speak, she stared at the gleaming wood and perfectly trimmed bristles reverently.

“Harry,” she breathed.

“You should make captain this year, and you’ll need to make an impression,” he said meaningfully. Harry was the only one she’d told about her plan to try out for a professional team in the spring.

Her eyes caught his, and he smiled warmly. His support and encouragement meant more than he’d ever know. She enjoyed having it a secret just between the two of them for a while more.

Ginny’s hand shook as she removed the broom fully, laying it across her lap. She could barely contain her desire to run to the meadow and try it out. As she stared at the broom, her mother bustled in the room.

“Happy Birth— Ginny! Get out of that bed right now,” Mum said, her face growing red.

Ginny felt Harry cringe beside her, his body tensing.

“We’re just sitting, Mum, and I’m of age,” she said defiantly, giving Harry’s hand a squeeze to reassure him.

“Of age or not, under my roof, you’ll live by my rules,” her mum said. Then her voice softened as she said, “It’s all right, Harry, dear. Why don’t you all come down to breakfast?”

Ginny turned incredulous eyes on Harry who looked as if he wished the bed would eat him alive. Ginny giggled. Perhaps he wasn’t yet comfortable enough to test the boundaries of her mum’s temper.

She grabbed her broom and stood up. “Come on, you lot. Breakfast than Quidditch,” she said, earning grins from her brothers.

Mum wrapped her arms around her in a bear hug. “I can’t believe my baby is all grown. Happy Birthday, Ginny,” she said, sniffling.

“Thanks, Mum,” Ginny said, hugging her back. This was shaping up to be the best birthday yet.


******


The breakfast table at The Burrow on the morning after Ginny’s birthday was subdued. Although no one got particularly out of control at the Leaky Cauldron, it had been a very late night. Hermione glanced over at the birthday girl, whose eyes were squinted as she stared at her morning tea. Her head lay in her hand, propped up on her elbow, and she clutched a spoon in her other hand, although she’d finished stirring quite some time ago.

Harry was the only one who appeared to have some life to him — but he’d always been a morning person. He held one stray lock of Ginny’s hair, twisting it around his fingers absentmindedly. He’d seemed healthy and relaxed yesterday, but Hermione wondered if it had been an act for Ginny’s benefit. She couldn’t help but notice that he’d barely eaten a thing all day — not even Mrs. Weasley’s roast chicken, which was one of his favorites.

He sipped his coffee this morning, but had yet to take a bite of the stack of toast Ginny had placed in front of him.

Ron sat next to Hermione, his plate cleaned except for a few stray crumbs, but his head rested on his arms. She didn’t think it would take much for him to fall back asleep.

“Ron, take your head off the table this instant,” Mrs. Weasley said, bustling into the kitchen with a laundry basket in her arms.

Ron didn’t move at all, but Harry immediately sat up straighter and pulled his hand away from Ginny’s hair.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had been dismayed with the extravagance of Harry’s birthday gift to Ginny. Mrs. Weasley had wanted her to give it back, saying it was much too expensive. All the Weasleys were sensitive about their financial situation, despite the fact it had improved after Mr. Weasley’s promotion. For his part, Harry never gave his fortune much thought. He’d spent his early years with even less than Ron, but he’d never had the inclination to spend wildly on himself — not even after he’d inherited Sirius’ vast wealth.

Hermione was thrilled when he’d treated himself to a new broom. Nothing had ever made Harry as happy as flying did — well, perhaps not until he’d finally noticed Ginny. Hermione knew he simply wanted Ginny to feel that same pleasure that he got from the Firebolt, and he was hurt by her parents’ disapproval.

She thought Mr. Weasley caught on to Harry’s dismay before Mrs. Weasley did, and he’d firmly stated that Harry and Ginny were old enough to make their own decisions. Hermione knew that although Mrs. Weasley had relented, both she and Harry were still uncomfortable.

Hermione suspected it had more to do with Mrs. Weasley’s difficulty in letting go of her youngest rather than a fear Harry would take advantage of her, but naturally, Harry assumed it was him.

“What do you lot have planned for the day?” Mrs. Weasley asked with forced cheeriness.

“We’re going flying,” Ron said around a massive yawn.

Harry cringed, and Ginny scowled at her brother. Sometimes he could be rather oblivious, but Hermione knew he meant no harm.

“I see,” Mrs. Weasley said, her mouth tightening.

“I didn’t mean to upset you with the broom,” Harry said quietly, unexpectedly. Hermione was shocked. Usually he avoided uncomfortable situations. Her eyes widened as she watched him.

“I just thought she’d enjoy it, and it’s the same one I have,” he said. His voice was quiet, but his gaze remained steady.

Harry was the bravest person she knew, and she also knew that he found standing up to Mrs. Weasley more frightening than he’d ever found Voldemort. Hermione knew Harry needed to learn he could disagree, and Mrs. Weasley would still love him, but it was painful to watch. She’d learned so much about Harry’s past recently, she now understood that fear lurking in the back of her friend’s bright green eyes. Part of him still expected that she’d abandon him.

Mrs. Weasley’s eyes softened. She rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I know that, dear. I can’t help but worry about what people will say about expensive gifts. They’re already dragging Ginny’s good name through the mud in that paper.”

Hermione thought it ironic that Mrs. Weasley — who used to be an adamantly faithful reader — had lost all support for the Daily Prophet after several recent denigrating articles about Ginny. Honestly, her disdain had started when the paper began writing negative articles about Harry in fifth year.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled, running a hand along the back of his neck.

Ginny had that same tell-tale shade of red on her cheeks that Ron got, warning of a pending explosion.

“That’s not your fault, either,” she said harshly. “They’d print those things no matter who you were dating. They’re just trying to sell a story.”

“I know that,” Harry said, “but I still don’t have to like it.”

Ginny turned towards her mum, her eyes blazing. “Look, I like my Firebolt. I hope I’ll make captain, and I’ll definitely put it to good use. I’m an adult now, and I can decide for myself if a gift is inappropriate,” she said hotly.

“Of course you can,” Mr. Weasley said, entering the kitchen with a frown. His pale blue eyes took in the scene and the tension in the kitchen. “I thought we’d discussed this yesterday.”

“Mum’s making Harry feel guilty,” Ginny said sourly.

Harry’s cheeks colored, though he didn’t drop his eyes.

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, squeezing Harry’s shoulder.

“To be fair, it’s not that difficult to make him feel guilty,” Ron said.

Harry took a deep breath, as if steeling himself. “You said I was part of this family, though,” he said, his voice very low.

“You are, dear! Of course you are,” Mrs. Weasley said anxiously.

“Then why can’t I share what I have with you?” Harry asked, his eyes locked directly on Mrs. Weasley, who looked rather flustered. “You’ve shared everything you have with me.”

“You can,” Mr. Weasley said, laying his hand on his wife’s shoulder reassuringly. “Much as it’s taking you time to adjust to having us all in your business, you’ll need to give us time to adjust to doing things differently, as well. Can you do that?”

Mr. Weasley’s expression was open and honest, and Hermione thought that’s what did it for Harry. Harry always appreciated when people were upfront with him. Good for Mr. Weasley for understanding that.

Harry nodded, giving Mr. Weasley a shy smile.

Ginny still looked ready to explode at her mother, but before she could, her eyes widened, staring out the window. “School letters are here,” she mumbled.

Hermione’s breath caught in her throat, and the familiar excitement that always came with the start of a new school year rose in her stomach, as they all turned to see two Hogwarts’ owls swooping in the open window. One stopped in front of Ginny, the other in front of Hermione.

Her letter was heavy, and Hermione took a moment to stare at the scrawl of her name on the envelope, finding comfort in the familiarity of it all. She was going back to Hogwarts. She couldn’t help sniffling.

“What are you crying for?” Ron asked, concerned. He put his arm around her shoulders. “You don’t have to go back if you really don’t want to, you know.”

“I know,” Hermione said, giggling. “I want to go back. It’s just… I’m going back.”

“That makes no sense, Hermione,” Ron said blankly.

“I know,” she said, smiling. She caught Harry’s eye. She thought he, at least, knew how she felt.

Ginny was staring at her envelope with some trepidation. Hermione knew that Ginny’s last year at Hogwarts was nothing like what Hermione remembered of the school, and she could see the wariness in the younger girl’s eyes. Another casualty of the war.

Harry wrapped his arm around Ginny’s shoulders, in the same way Ron was doing for her. Her heart swelled with pride for her boys.

“Are you going to open it?” he asked.

Ginny nodded resolutely, then with her trademark boldness, she ripped the letter open and a badge fell to the table. Harry picked it up, a smile crossing his face that made him look much as he had when Hermione first met him. He handed the badge to Ginny.

She took it, grinning. “I’m Quidditch Captain,” she said.

“Of course you are,” Harry replied, beaming. “McGonagall’s no fool.”

“Congratulations, Ginny!” Ron said, nearly as excited as his sister.

Hermione quickly unsealed her own letter, although more delicately than Ginny had done. A badge slid in her hand — a prefect’s badge. Hermione stared at it, her heart thudding. Her disappointment fell in her stomach like a rock.

“What is it, Hermione?” Harry asked.

“I’m a prefect,” she said quietly, her vision blurry.

“Of course you are,” Ron said. “You’ve always been a prefect.”

“Not for my year,” Ginny said, her eyes somewhat glazed. “Anna was prefect for my year.”

Ginny’s roommate had died during the Battle of Hogwarts. Hermione had always liked Anna. She thought she’d been a good choice for prefect.

“But… Hermione should be Head Girl,” Ron said, cottoning on to Hermione’s distress.

“I think there are several candidates from my year that also fit the bill, particularly those that stood up to the Carrows,” Ginny snapped.

Ron’s ears turned red. “Hermione should still be Head Girl,” he insisted.

Ginny turned toward Hermione, her expression compassionate yet resolute. “Look, it’s nothing against you, Hermione. If last year had happened like it was supposed to, I’ve no doubt you would’ve been our Head Girl, and rightfully so. But nothing went according to plan last year, and no matter how you cut it, one year is going to face the consequences of the war.”

“I know you’re right… it’s just. It was silly of me to assume,” Hermione said, desperately trying to speak around the pain in her throat.

“It’s not silly,” Ron said, fuming. “What is McGonagall thinking? She knows Hermione was tortured while out hunting those Horcruxes! She sacrificed everything.”

“And there were students tortured, as well,” Ginny said, glaring. Her expression softened somewhat as it turned back to Hermione, though remained intense. “I know the Cruciatus feels excruciating whether its cast at Malfoy Manor or at Hogwarts… but Hogwarts was supposed to be safe.”

“Hermione earned Head Girl while she was there,” Ron insisted.

“Ron,” Mr. Weasley said, “I’m certain there were several good choices.”

“But—”

“Listen to me,” Mr. Weasley said firmly, “if Hermione was made Head Girl over some of the deserving candidates in Ginny’s year, it would cause dissention. It would make it harder for Hermione to fit into a new year because so many would resent her.”

Ron’s shoulders slumped as he looked to her.

“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Mr. Weasley said. “You’ve every right to be upset. It’s a situation where there is no easy solution. It was bound to be unfair to someone.”

“It’s all right,” Hermione said, taking a deep breath and desperately trying to control her raging emotions. She gave Ron a quick hug for his support.

“And you’re still a prefect,” Mrs. Weasley said. “That’s not to be taken lightly.”

Hermione saw Ginny pull a face. She knew Mrs. Weasley had been disappointed her only daughter had never made prefect.

“I am still a prefect,” Hermione said, determined to make the best of it, despite how she felt. “That means Head Girl isn’t from Gryffindor. Who do you think it is, Ginny?”

She couldn’t help being curious — and if she admitted it to herself — jealous of whoever it was that got the honor.

Ginny tugged on her lower lip with her teeth. “Siobhan and I were talking about this when we took our exams. There are a couple possibilities, but honestly… I think it’s going to be Astoria Greengrass.”

“Greengrass… A Slytherin?” Ron asked, scandalized.

“Yes,” Ginny said, nodding. “When the Carrows were at their most violent, she protected the younger students. She covered for the first-year Slytherins, wouldn’t let them practice the Unforgiveables against each other, and she berated her own house-mates for picking on the younger kids from the other Houses. She shielded them whenever she could.”

Hermione saw Mr. Weasley wince. Sometimes they all forgot how awful it was at Hogwarts — a place that was supposed to be safe.

“Remember when Professor Dumbledore awarded Neville points in first year?” Hermione asked, sniffling.

“Because sometimes it’s braver to stand up to your friends,” Harry said, his eyes far away.

Ginny looked up at him, nodding, and he pulled her closer, as if holding her now could keep her away from the horrors of the past.

“I don’t know if I’m right — but that’s who I think it’ll be,” Ginny said quietly.

Harry leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “You’d know best. You were there.”

Hermione was lost in thought. She’d never really stopped to consider how frightening it must have been at Hogwarts last year — even before the final battle. It had been a struggle for survival.

“I still think it should be you,” Ron said, although there was no longer a bite to his words. Hermione was grateful for the support. She leaned over at kissed him on the cheek, making his ears turn red.

“At least I’ll have free time during Hogsmeade visits,” she said, trying to muster an enthusiasm she didn’t truly feel.

Ron looked at her sharply, a wide grin crossing his face. “I can’t wait for Hogsmeade visits,” he said.


******


Harry and Ron arrived in the Atrium at the Ministry early Monday morning after Ginny’s birthday weekend. Harry felt exhausted. The weekend had been fun, but strained. He didn’t like opposing Ginny’s parents, but there was nothing for it. Ginny was going to have that broom.

She was Quidditch Captain, and she wanted to try out for a professional team in the spring. She wouldn’t be able to show them her full potential with a worn-out broom. She was brilliant, and those Quidditch recruiters weren’t going to discount her over something Harry could easily fix.

Wasn’t going to happen.

Still, it seemed to have worked out. Mr. Weasley had even spoken to him man-to-man — as if Harry’s opinion counted. No one had really ever done that before. Even Professor Dumbledore — whom Harry admired greatly — had tended to assume he automatically knew what was best because he was older.

Harry liked the way Mr. Weasley treated him, and he really didn’t want to do anything to damage that.

But Ginny was keeping her broom.

She loved it. He could see it in the way her eyes sparkled, the way she’d kissed him afterward. Hell, he’d give her a new broom every day if she’d keep kissing him like that. What difference did a vault full of gold mean when she could make him feel that way with her mere presence?

Harry took a deep breath, cringing as his chest gave a particularly painful spasm. He really didn’t feel well this morning. His chest had been marginally better over the weekend, but this morning the pain was back with a vengeance. It was as if the poison had been gearing up for something. He’d had to lean on the wall in the shower that morning, struggling to catch his breath, and breakfast hadn’t even been a consideration. The smell nearly drove him from the kitchen. He hoped he could make it through the day without anyone realizing how badly he was struggling.

Mercifully, the Atrium was rather empty at this early hour.

“All right, mate?” Ron asked quietly, stopping before they reached the lifts.

Okay, so no one else realizing.

Harry put his hand to his chest, struggling to breathe. The pain radiated from his lungs down to his stomach and out to his skin, making him nauseous. There wasn’t enough air, and he felt unsteady on his feet. His vision swam as he tried to suppress a cough.

“Harry!” Ron said, sounding unnerved.

Harry knew the color had drained from his face, leaving him lightheaded.

Harry looked up into Ron’s wild blue eyes, reading the anxiety and dread in his friend’s face. Something about it calmed him, and he forced himself to breathe properly, focusing on Ron’s panicked blue eyes. The first breath hurt like hell, but gradually, he was able to get more and more air into his damaged lungs.

“I think we should go see the Mediwitch,” Ron said quietly, grasping Harry’s elbow and leading him into the lift. Thankfully, it was empty.

“I’m all right now,” Harry gasped, his breathing labored.

“You’re not all right. You couldn’t breathe,” Ron said, his voice rising with each word. “There’s nothing all right about not breathing.”

“Lower your voice,” Harry said. “We’re trying to keep this quiet, remember?”

“It’s not going to be quiet if you pass out from lack of oxygen,” Ron snapped. “Go see the Medi-witch. I’ll tell Pierce you had a Quidditch accident or something.”

“I’m fine,” Harry said, pulling himself together.

“Right,” Ron said grimly. “Why do you have to be so stubborn?”

Harry smiled feebly. He didn’t have the energy to deal with Ron’s hovering right now. It was all he could do to focus on not stumbling. When they reached the classroom, Harry sank gratefully into his chair. His legs were trembling, and he felt incredibly weak.

There was little he hated more than feeling weak.

The class passed in a blur with Harry absorbing little of what was said. He was grateful that Inspector Pierce hadn’t grilled him on his inattentiveness. He could feel Ron’s concerned glance on occasion, but the bustle of activity in the room assured him that the rest of the interns hadn’t noticed anything amiss.

A paper airplane swooped into the room, landing neatly on Pierce’s desk. He read it quickly before looking up at Harry.

“Potter,” he said, “they want you up in Gawain Robards’ office. Apparently they’re preparing for the next trial.”

Pierce put the airplane down and continued with the class. This had been a frequent occurrence over the past several weeks, so no one gave it much notice.

Harry felt a wave of dizziness as the blood rushed to his head when he stood. He took a moment to steady himself before exiting the classroom. His trek up to Robards’ office was slow, his breath coming in agonized gasps. He was going to have to see Healer Larkin before the day was out. This wasn’t good, since it had only been a couple days since his last treatment.

He knocked on the door, and was surprised when it swung open almost immediately. The posh office was filled with a group of people, including Bill and Mr. Weasley. Harry’s eyebrows rose in question.

“Have a seat, Harry,” Gawain Robards said without preamble. His dark eyes were burning with intensity, and the room held a palpable aura of excitement.

“What’s happened?” Harry asked warily, sinking into a chair next to Mr. Weasley, who frowned at him anxiously.

“Draco Malfoy is here and on his way up. We thought it best to make it appear as if we’d brought him in rather than that he came willingly,” Robards explained.

Harry nodded, a tiny bubble of hope building. Perhaps there was still time…

“Are you all right, Harry?” the Minister asked, staring at him in concern.

“Been better,” Harry answered truthfully. He must look worse than he thought, judging by the distressed glances of those in the room.

“Bill is going to help us dismantle the wards once Malfoy gets us inside,” the Minister said.

Harry glanced over at Bill, who nodded slightly. A tic in his scarred cheek was the only outward sign of his concern. Harry then looked over to Mr. Weasley.

“Young Malfoy indicated the house was hidden in a Muggle area. You’re familiar with such places,” Mr. Weasley said without outright mentioning Grimmauld Place.

Harry nodded, feeling somewhat calmed that the elder Weasley was there.

“This is Professor Ailsa Bowman. She works in the Department of Mysteries. She’s our leading expert on poisons,” Robards said.

Ailsa Bowman was a middle-aged, grey-haired witch with a monocle in one eye. She looked stern and foreboding as she studied Harry carefully.

Harry nodded in greeting, and she returned the gesture.

“I’ve been in touch with a friend of yours regarding the potion residue found on your drapes — a Miss Hermione Granger,” Ailsa said, her Scottish accent thick and heavy.

Harry smiled. “If anyone can help, it’s Hermione.”

Ailsa nodded. “She’s very bright and a quick study. I’ve offered her a position in the Ministry, but she says she’s returning to Hogwarts.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose. Hermione hadn’t mentioned a job offer. Before he could ask, the door opened once again, and Draco Malfoy was ushered inside by two stony-faced Aurors. He pulled his arms away as soon as they were inside the room.

“I don’t appreciate being manhandled by your goons,” he said with false bravado. Harry could see the sweat already forming on Malfoy’s forehead. He removed his raincoat slowly, taking extra time to regain his composure.

“You would’ve preferred if we let it appear you came here willingly?” Robards asked.

Malfoy scowled, tossing his raincoat on the back of an empty chair. “I have news,” he said, blatantly enjoying his moment in the spotlight.

“Well, we didn’t expect that you’d stopped by just for the tea,” Gawain Robards said impatiently.

Two high points of color arose on Malfoy’s cheeks. “There is a meeting planned three days from now,” he said quickly, as if forcing the words out.

“Where?” Bill Weasley asked.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “At my uncle’s house in Nottingham. I can give you the address, and then you’ll release my father.”

“That wasn’t our deal, Mr. Malfoy. You will accompany us on our raid. Once Rodolphus Lestrange is apprehended, your father will be released,” Robards replied unwaveringly.

“And what if I get you in, and Lestrange outwits you? It’s happened before,” Malfoy drawled.

“Then you’d do well to give us all pertinent information,” Robards said.

Malfoy scowled. “If I’m really to be forced to partake in this raid, I want to be in Potter’s group,” he said haughtily.

Harry looked up sharply, his eyes narrowed. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Potter. I know they won’t let anything happen to their golden boy, so the safest place is next to you, ” Malfoy drawled.

“Brave as ever, I see,” Harry quipped, causing Malfoy to sneer.

“So, this meeting is to take place on Thursday. What time?” the Minister asked, derailing the two younger wizards.

Harry looked down, reminding himself again not to let Malfoy bait him. Mr. Weasley gently patted his shoulder in a show of support. Harry smiled weakly.

“Half seven,” Malfoy said sullenly.

“Gawain, can you arrange an Apparition point in Nottingham and organize your teams?” Kingsley asked.

Robards nodded.

“Aisla, what do you need?” the Minister asked.

“I want to send two Unspeakables with you to detail the home after the raid. I’ll also have a team here on alert. I can contact the Healer to let her know if we find something,” Aisla said briskly.

“Bill?” the Minister asked, turning to the younger man.

“I’ll accompany the team myself. There is still some uncertainty at Gringotts, so I don’t want to alert anyone what is going on as of yet,” Bill said.

“Very good. I’ll let the bank know I’m in need of your skills on something else entirely,” the Minister said.

“I’ll come along personally as well, and deal with any Muggle entanglements,” Mr. Weasley said, causing a thrill of apprehension to race down Harry’s spine.

If something went wrong, Bill, Mr. Weasley and possibly even Ron could be in danger. He couldn’t stand it if anything happened to them while they were seeking a cure for him. Why must he always put the people he loved in danger?

Some of his dismay must’ve shown on his face, for Mr. Weasley again patted his back reassuringly. “If you want us not to worry when you go to do your job, Harry, you need to trust that we can do ours, as well,” he said quietly.

Harry looked up, stunned. He’d never thought of it quite that way.

Mr. Weasley smiled, squeezing Harry’s shoulder.

“Mr. Malfoy, I’ll send you word of the Apparition point, and you can meet us there,” the Minister said.

Draco had paled considerably. He swallowed heavily before nodding. “What about my mother? You promised her protection.”

“Once you arrive at the Apparition point, I’ll send an Auror guard to stay with her until the raid is complete,” Robards said smoothly, leaving Draco no wiggle room.

Draco’s lips thinned, but he nodded.

This was it. They were going to spring a trap on the remaining Death Eaters. Perhaps they could put the last remnants of this war away for good.

Harry was more than ready to move on.


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