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SIYE Time:22:54 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: 76747; Chapter Total: 4108
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Chapter Three
Hard Truths


The mind-numbing days after the Battle were filled with grief and sorrow. More sorrow than Ginny thought she could bear. Today marked the last of the endless stream of funerals, but it was doubly hard since it was for two people she’d grown to consider friends.

Quiet, thoughtful Professor Lupin, who had given her his time and attention when she returned to school after her dreadful first year. He’d shown her patience and kindness and taught her to master some defensive spells that made her feel as if she could take back some control.

Even more painful was Tonks’ death. Clumsy, bright, cheerful Tonks who, like Ginny, had pined for so long for her reticent love. She’d finally got all her wishes and had just become a mother. Tonks, who had changed her appearance at will to make Ginny laugh, who had sported bright red hair for an entire week to make Ginny feel she had an estrogen ally in a house full of boys.

It wasn’t fair.

The day was overcast and damp, a stark contrast to the brightness of the past few days. Ginny thought it seemed far more appropriate weather for a funeral.

She stood silently between Harry and Hermione at the graveside service. A gentle breeze ruffled her hair as the empty words washed over her. She dimly noticed that this group was much smaller than the huge gathering they’d had for Fred the previous day. Shutting her eyes tightly, she willed the hollow emptiness that had come upon her at some point after Fred’s service to return. She didn’t think she was capable of feeling any more pain or shedding any more tears. She was simply drained.

She suspected they all were. No one at The Burrow was sleeping well, and the Weasley boys could barely summon any enthusiasm to eat. It was just as well, since her mother hadn't once entered the kitchen since they'd returned from Hogwarts.

Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Ron’s arm draped securely around Hermione’s shoulders while the older girl wept into her handkerchief. Hermione had been the strong one for Ron during Fred’s service, and it appeared Ron was determined to be her support now.

Ginny’s gaze tentatively shifted to the stiff figure beside her. His green eyes were dull but dry as they stared stonily ahead. His hands were clenched tightly at his sides as if sheer force of will alone were holding him together. All of them had broken down repeatedly over the past several days under the onslaught of funeral services. All but Harry. He, alone, had refused to allow his emotions to get the best of him, but Ginny sensed the toll it was taking.

She was worried about him. She still didn’t know all the details that led to Voldemort’s fall, so she was uncertain how best to comfort him. Harry's entire life had been filled with so much pain and loss, she wondered if, now that it was finally over, it would all catch up with him.

They’d barely had time to talk amidst all the preparations for Fred’s services. Ginny’s mother had needed her support more than ever, and Harry had been expected to attend an endless list of Ministry functions. It seemed everyone wanted to see him honoring those they’d lost, and Harry couldn’t let anyone down.

He’d been by her side at Fred’s funeral, and like Hermione had done for Ron, he’d kept her steady as her entire world ripped itself apart. The sound of her mother’s wails as Fred’s shrouded body was encased in its casket had been Ginny’s undoing. Her knees had buckled, but a strong arm caught her before she hit the ground. He’d gently pulled her back on her feet and cradled her to his chest, allowing her to weep until she was spent. She knew how uncomfortable tears made him, but he showed no trace of discomfort as he stoically bore her grief, gently running his fingers through her hair until she’d finally drifted to sleep later that day.

Ginny wished he’d let her be that source of comfort to him now. She knew Remus’s loss was the hardest of all on Harry. She could hear it in his ragged breathing, see it in the way his shoulders hunched, as if the weight of the world had suddenly become too much to bear. The bruises on his face stood out starkly against his pale skin, and everything about his demeanor cried out for solace.

She didn’t know if he would let her in — didn’t know if that was still her right. She hated feeling so insecure, but there it was. Harry seemed so much older than the boy he’d been just the previous year. He was a man now, and she wasn’t certain he hadn’t outgrown her as well.

She felt his body stiffen beside her and looked up to see Andromeda Tonks lifting a small bundle of blankets from a basket that had been placed next to her. The older woman took two white roses and briefly laid them on the baby’s chest before placing one each on the caskets of his parents. Teddy made a soft, cooing noise. The sweet innocence of that sound belied the naked truth of what was happening before them, and Ginny’s throat closed as her vision blurred.

Harry’s breath hitched, and Ginny blinked the moisture from her eyes in time to see his lower lip begin to tremble. The stark pain of loss contorted his features, draining him of the little color he’d still had. Wanting to shield his pain from the bystanders who continued to gawk at him even at a funeral, Ginny took his arm and steered him around, facing away from the caskets. Just as his face finally crumpled, a blinding flash of light went off where they’d been standing. Moving more quickly than Ginny would’ve thought possible given his state of mind, Harry had drawn his wand and whirled back around to face a small group of reporters who’d interrupted the solemn occasion.

He wasn’t the only one. Ron, Hermione, and several other witches and wizards had all drawn their wands, as well.

“This is a private ceremony, and you’re being disrespectful,” Hestia Jones, who had been seated in the row in front of them, said quietly, casting a quick spell towards the camera.

“You can’t do that,” the photographer gasped, inspecting his camera for damage.

“I can, and I did. Either you leave now peacefully, or I’ll have someone escort you out,” Hestia replied.

Ginny’s eyes glanced back toward Harry. He wore that familiar, emotionless mask yet again. Ginny had never hated anyone more in her life than she did that photographer for interrupting Harry’s chance to grieve. That brief hint of vulnerability had disappeared as quickly as it came.

She wished he’d let himself come undone. She feared that instead he’d bottle up his emotions and move on, just as he always had. She wondered if perhaps that was the cause of his continued nightmares. He’d woke the occupants of The Burrow with his panicked screams for the past two nights in a row, but he’d refused to talk about it. He looked so uncomfortable with the attention that they’d all let it go for now.

“Shall we go up and pay our respects to Mrs. Tonks, or do you want to get out of here?” she whispered to him. It was pointless to ask if he was all right. He’d just say he was fine, and it was obvious he wasn’t.

Harry looked ready to bolt, but he took a deep breath and nodded towards Mrs. Tonks and the baby. “Remus asked me to be Teddy’s godfather,” he murmured. “I wonder if she knows.”

“Let’s find out,” Ginny replied, taking his hand as they began wending their way through the crowd, most of them members of the Order.

As they drew closer, Ginny was stunned by how much Andromeda Tonks resembled her sister. She had a brief flashback of a jet of green light rushing past her temple and couldn’t contain her shudder.

“All right?” Harry asked quietly. Of course he’d noticed.

“Yeah,” she nodded a little breathlessly. “She looks a lot like Bellatrix Lestrange.”

“I know,” Harry said, his eyes haunted. “I almost hexed her that night we escaped from Privet Drive.”

Ginny found it rather sad that he thought of leaving his home as ‘escaping.’

As they finally approached Mrs. Tonks, Ginny thought the regal woman regarded them rather coolly. Harry had stuffed his hands in his pockets and was looking steadfastly at his feet.

“We’re so sorry, Mrs. Tonks,” Ginny said, her throat closing up again. There were no words. What did you say to a woman who’d lost her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and sister all in the matter of weeks?

Mrs. Tonks nodded politely at Ginny before turning her gaze toward Harry. She regarded him for a moment before speaking. “My daughter spoke very highly of you, Mr. Potter.”

“I think your daughter was brilliant,” Harry said, looking through his fringe.

“And Remus told me it was you who forced him to see sense when he needed it,” she said.

Harry raised his head at this and met her eyes. “I don’t know if they told you… but… Remus asked me to be Teddy’s godfather. I’d like to help in any way I can.”

Andromeda took a step closer to Teddy’s basket. “He’s going to live with me.”

Harry seemed surprised, and Ginny suspected he’d never considered the idea that Mrs. Tonks might think he wanted to take Teddy with him.

“Of course. I… I don’t know much about babies, but I know what it’s like to lo-… to not… to be where Teddy is. I’d like to help,” he said sincerely.

Mrs. Tonks demeanor softened a bit. “That would be good of you, and I think as he grows older, he’ll appreciate it very much. I don’t want to wake him now, but perhaps you’d like to come over one day next week to get acquainted?”

Harry nodded, relieved. Ginny suspected he was much more keen to be introduced to Teddy when there wasn’t a crowd of people watching him.

“How is your mother doing, Miss Weasley?” Andromeda asked.

Ginny hesitated. She thought her mum wasn’t holding up nearly as well as Mrs. Tonks appeared to be.

Mrs. Tonks apparently understood Ginny’s silence. “Perhaps she’d like to call on me one day, as well? I think we could sympathize with one another.”

Ginny nodded, “I’ll tell her. I think she’d like that very much.”

The line behind them was growing, so Harry and Ginny bid Mrs. Tonks a farewell and moved toward Ron and Hermione. Hermione was dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief, but Ron watched their progress across the grass.

“You ready to go, mate?” Ron asked.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked, his melancholy returning.

“Back to The Burrow. I want to play Quidditch,” Ron said unexpectedly.

“Ron,” Hermione scolded, “I can’t believe you’re thinking of Quidditch of all things right now.”

But Ginny noticed a hint of spark in Harry’s eyes. A spark that she hadn’t seen in so long it nearly took her breath away.

“I can’t remember the last time I flew,” he said wistfully.

“I want to do something that’s not about the war,” Ron said.

“Something just for fun,” Ginny replied. There had been no Quidditch at Hogwarts this past year.

“Something I just want to do,” Harry said softly.

Hermione knew she was outnumbered. “Something where we can laugh,” she said.

*****

They Apparated back to The Burrow and decided to have a kip before meeting in the orchard. After Fred’s funeral the previous day, none of them had slept very well. Harry, in particular, was having a difficult time. As soon as he closed his eyes, images of the Battle flashed in his mind and he woke with his heart pounding in desperation from racing against time. Voldemort’s words plagued him.

You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself.

Had he? He didn’t think so. He’d never meant to…

He couldn't understand how the Weasleys could stand to have him here instead of Fred.

Since he’d awoken everyone with his screaming the previous night, he was determined to cast a Silencing Charm from now on. He’d fled the stuffiness of Ron’s attic bedroom after a short nap, and was the first to arrive at the broom shed.

He pulled open the wooden door and stared at the ragtag collection of brooms within, remembering huddling with Professor Dumbledore in this very spot. The brooms all looked a bit worse for wear.

How he wished he still had his Firebolt! He hadn’t really thought about it for so long. It had been lost somewhere over Surrey as they escaped Privet Drive the previous summer. He wondered what had happened to it. Was it destroyed in the fall or was some Muggle woman now using it to sweep her floors? Harry shuddered at the thought.

It was gone now. Gone like Sirius, who had given it to him. He shook his head, refusing to heed those morose thoughts. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he wanted it to stop.

It was over. Voldemort was dead, the prophesy had been fulfilled. Why didn’t he feel ecstatic? All he really felt was… empty.

He’d met with Kingsley each day since the Battle to work on a list of missing Death Eaters, but he still hadn’t mentioned the last Horcrux. He was having trouble wrapping his head around it, and thinking about it made him feel very unclean.

Forcing the thought from his head, he grabbed an older Cleansweep and took to the sky. The cool air whipped his hair as he swooped upwards. That familiar thrill in his gut rose as the world and all its problems dropped away. He pushed the old broom hard, diving and looping through the trees. It didn’t have nearly the speed of his beloved Firebolt, but it didn’t dampen Harry’s enthusiasm. He felt free.

Inhaling deeply as he felt his troubles melt away, Harry raced several loops around the orchard before letting the broom drift downward, testing what it was capable of doing.

The sky was much darker than it had been this morning, and he suspected rain was imminent. He hoped the others would join him soon.

He hoped Ginny would join him first.

They hadn’t had much time to talk or get reacquainted since returning to The Burrow. Too many commitments. Too many funerals. Too many brothers.

It was comforting to have her there, safe and whole. He wanted to ask her about Hogwarts and what she’d gone through, but he knew he couldn’t ask without sharing what had happened to him as well. He’d prefer to talk to her in private, but it seemed impossible to get her alone.

He’d rather just kiss her again than talk, anyway. Everything always seemed less desolate when she was in his arms.

Movement at the edge of the paddock caught his attention. He’d got half his wish. Ginny’s bright red hair was whipping around her head as a strong gust of wind blew. She and Hermione each had a broom, and they were chatting animatedly as they approached. Harry flew down to meet them.

“Hey,” he said, slightly out of breath.

“Hey yourself,” Ginny said, her eyes shining. She seemed happier than he’d seen her in days. “Did you sleep?”

“A bit. You?” he asked, unable to drag his eyes away. It had been so long since he’d been allowed to just look at her. He didn’t think he’d ever get enough. Her hair was slightly longer than he remembered, and her gaze appeared more closed off, but she was there. She was real.

Hermione cleared her throat, and it startled him. For a moment, he’d forgotten she was there.

“All right, Hermione?” he asked.

Hermione appeared to be trying to hold back a laugh, and it made Harry uncomfortable. He hated when she had that knowing look.

“Actually, it’s chillier than I thought. I’m going to run back and grab a jumper. I’ll be right back,” she said, smiling widely.

He saw Ginny roll her eyes. Before he could think of what to say, she mounted her broom and took to the sky, much as he’d done when he first arrived. Harry quickly followed her. They played a game of chase, racing around the pitch at breakneck speeds, taking it in turn to chase the other until the sky finally opened up and rain began to fall.

Harry followed Ginny to a landing, and they huddled beneath the leaves of a giant oak tree.

“You’re a bit rusty there, Potter,” she said, her eyes sparkling.

“No access to a broom,” Harry replied remorsefully. “You flew brilliantly.”

A light blush stained Ginny’s cheeks. “Hermione said you’ve been living in a tent this past year.”

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. Of course the girls would’ve talked. They were sharing a bedroom. A small part of him hoped Hermione had already told her everything so he wouldn’t have to talk about it.

Ginny seemed to know what he was thinking. “She didn’t tell me much, just that you were looking for something that you needed to destroy him.”

“Horcruxes,” he said, his mouth suddenly very dry. “We were looking for Horcruxes. Dumbledore told me about them, but we didn’t know where they were.”

The rain was beginning to come down in earnest, plastering Harry’s hair to his head. Ginny, who was closer to the tree where it was marginally drier, noticed. “Want to make a break for the broom shed?”

Squinting, he looked toward the shed. He reached for her hand and the two of them made a mad dash. Harry flung open the door, and they crammed themselves inside, dripping wet.

He became very aware of how close they were and goose pimples erupted across his back that had nothing to do with being wet. Drawing his wand, he cast quick drying spells over each of them.

Her eyes were studying him very carefully.

“I don’t know what a Horcrux is,” she said quietly.

“I know. Not many people do, but it’s a very long story. Maybe we could take it parts?” he asked, feeling it would be less overwhelming if he could just talk about one part at a time.

Ginny nodded. “I can work with that. Merlin, I missed you.”

“I missed you, too. We overheard a conversation about you stealing the sword of Gryffindor from Snape’s office,” Harry admitted. “I was worried.”

Ginny shrugged. “Snape gave us detention with Hagrid. The Carrows were terrified of Hagrid, so I suppose they thought the students would be too. They thought he was some kind of dangerous monster.”

“And Snape knew he wouldn’t hurt you,” Harry said, his eyes clouded.

“Yeah. I can see that now after everything was revealed about Snape. At the time, I just hated him. I understand he was on our side, but it doesn’t mean I have to like him. It was an awful year at school. The Carrows were brutal,” Ginny said, shuddering.

The wind outside howled, causing the walls of the shed to creak.

“Did they… ” Harry asked, reaching for her hand and unable to finish, yet bracing for an answer that he had been worrying about.

“They really didn’t bother with me much more than anyone else once they realized that you and I truly weren’t together. There was some questioning at the beginning, and certainly some detentions for the trouble I caused, but I’m a pure-blood, so they didn’t want to inflict too much damage. I suppose that part of your plan did work,” Ginny muttered, looking as if it cost her something to admit it.

Harry felt the tightness in his chest loosen slightly.

“They were much harder on the boys. There was a lot of innuendo and threats, but I think Voldemort wanted to leave the girls all unsullied for some kind of new pure-blood race. The Carrows didn’t mind beating on the boys, however, and we all suffered the Cruciatus when they were feeling particularly vengeful. Something always held them back from any real damage, however. I always had the feeling they were waiting on something. I think it was your capture. In a roundabout way, your elusiveness kept us safer.”

Ginny’s eyes looked far away as she spoke, as if she were somewhere else seeing what he couldn’t see.

“It doesn’t sound very safe,” Harry said, his heart aching at the idea she’d felt that kind of pain.

“It could have been a whole lot worse,” she muttered darkly.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said.

“For what? You didn’t do anything. This wasn’t your fault, Harry. None of this was your fault,” Ginny said, firing up.

Harry stared at a dark spot on the floor and watched as it blurred slightly. He could hear water pounding against the side of the shed.

Ginny placed her finger underneath his chin and raised his head to meet her gaze. His face tingled at the contact. “You can’t keep blaming yourself for everything he did or you’ll drive yourself spare. Voldemort caused this mess. He and the people who let him control them. He didn’t control you, so you have nothing to apologize for.”

A piercing stab went through his heart at her words, and an icy tendril of fear crept down his spine. She didn’t know about the piece of Voldemort that had been inside him. How much of him had it controlled? How much of himself wasn’t really him? Harry didn’t know, and feared her reaction when she found out. How could he tell her when he had no idea what to say?

He suddenly found it difficult to breathe.

“Are you all right?” she asked softly, and he knew the color must have drained from his face. The pitter-patter of the rain hitting the roof of the shed was comforting, and Harry took a deep breath to steady himself.

“Yeah,” he said shakily. “Can we talk about this later?”

Ginny pressed her lips together and scrunched them to the side. “As long as you promise not to hold anything back anymore,” she said firmly. “If we’re going to be together, we have to be open with each other.”

“Are we going to be together?” he dared to ask.

“Did you meet any Veela while you were out on your travels?” Ginny asked. She was joking, but Harry could see the wariness in her eyes.

“I wouldn’t have noticed,” he replied quickly, earning a smile. “And you? Did you… ”

“There’s no one else. It’s always been you,” Ginny said softly.

Harry felt bolstered.

“But I won’t be made to wait like that, anymore. I’d like… I want to be included in your life and your decisions. Part of me died when I saw Hagrid carrying you out of that forest, and I couldn’t bear to think of all the time we’d never have. We do have that time though, and I want to share it,” Ginny said, swallowing thickly. “What do you want, Harry?”

“You,” he whispered.

He reached over and grasped her to him, crushing his lips to hers. She wound her hands around his neck, tangling her fingers in his hair. He pulled her close so her body was flush with his and kissed her as if his life depended on it. After several moments, they pulled apart breathing heavily.

Neither moved as they stared at one another, blinking as if each were trying to steady a world that had tilted.

He leaned over and gently — almost hesitantly this time — swept his lips across hers. She gasped at the feather-light contact, making Harry’s stomach flutter. Her eyes flew open wide, warm brown eyes meeting his bright green. She looked as startled as he felt. He’d never be certain which one of them moved first, but suddenly their arms were wrapped around each other, and they were kissing with the demands of too many months spent apart. His hand tangled in her hair as he leaned her back against the wall.

Her back must have been uncomfortable, but she didn’t seem to care as her tongue ran lightly along his bottom lip causing a delicious shudder to run down his back. He was thrilled that he could still cause this kind of reaction in her. Their time apart had emboldened him, and his hands ran through her hair and up her arms with no concern for the thought that her brothers could catch them at any moment.

“Harry! Ginny! Where are you?” Ron’s voice finally pulled them apart. So much for no brothers.

Harry rested his forehead against hers as they both struggled to get their breathing back under control.

“Suppose we should head back inside,” she said, still a bit breathlessly.

“Suppose so,” he replied, really wishing they could just stay inside the shed for a few more minutes… hours… perhaps the rest of the day.

“Harry!” Ron shouted again.

Harry took Ginny’s hand and swung the door open, each of them running side by side as they dashed through the rain.

*****

Hermione couldn’t remember a time when there was such a lack of activity at The Burrow this close to suppertime. It was painful to be here, and she felt guilty for wanting to leave.

Mrs. Weasley had barely left her bedroom since they’d returned from Hogwarts. Mr. Weasley was trying to keep things together, but his eyes kept searching The Burrow for someone who wasn’t there. George, too, barely left the confines of his bedroom, but when he’d passed Hermione in the hall earlier, she was certain she’d smelled alcohol. She was still debating if she should tell someone, but she really didn’t know who was capable of helping George at the moment.

Surprisingly, it had been Percy who’d taken up a lot of the slack around the house. The meals he prepared were simple but satisfying, and she’d seen him doing laundry earlier that day. Hermione suspected he was trying to alleviate some of his guilt.

Hermione felt sorry for Percy. She could see he didn’t know quite where he fit in this new family dynamic, but then, Percy had never seemed to quite fit. She’d liked Percy when they were all at Hogwarts together. She found him far more responsible than Ron or the twins, and she respected his dedication to his studies. She used to feel bad about the way the others teased him.

And then he’d written that awful letter to Ron about Harry. She knew Harry was hurt by it, and Hermione just couldn’t forgive him for that. He continually sided with the Ministry despite all the evidence mounting against them. How could someone who knew Harry personally think he sought attention? At least the Ministers who wanted to use Harry didn’t know Harry the person, only the Boy Who Lived. Percy knew Harry.

Hermione was struggling with her feelings, as she knew they all were. There simply wasn’t a precise answer, and Hermione hated that.

Percy had gone into the Ministry for the first time since the Battle, and he still hadn’t returned, which was the cause of the latest drama in the kitchen. Ginny was attempting to prepare something for the family to eat, but after burning her first attempt, she was growing rather frazzled.

Hermione wanted to offer help, but after she recalled her disastrous attempts making mushrooms edible, and Ron’s obvious disdain, she was hesitant. The Weasley boys were accustomed to good cooking and lots of food. Though it galled her to admit it, she didn’t think she was up to the task.

“Urgh!” Ginny moaned. “I don’t have the patience for this.”

Charlie, who was attempting to scrape the burned pan over the sink, reached out a burly hand and patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about making it perfect,” he said bracingly.

“Perfect? At this point I’d settle for barely edible,” Ginny huffed.

“Can I try?” Harry asked, entering the kitchen. He and Ron had been involved in a game of chess, and Hermione hadn’t heard them finish.

Ginny shrugged incredulously. “Be my guest.”

“I’ll have to do it the Muggle way, I don’t know any of the spells,” Harry said, his eyes scanning the kitchen. “Does this oven even have a knob to turn it on the Muggle way?”

“I can help with some of the Spells,” Ginny said. “I know how to increase the amount you make.”

Gamp’s Law allowed you to increase food if you already had it, but if you didn’t do the spell exactly right, the taste and consistency would be off. Ginny might know the spell, but she hadn’t quite mastered it. Hermione watched Charlie cringe slightly at her offer.

Harry took out a large knife and cutting board and began cutting some vegetables. “Can you look in the cold cabinet and see if there is any beef?” he asked.

Ginny appeared more than relieved to get away.

Ron entered the kitchen and rested his hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Want to go up with me and see if we can convince George to come down?” he asked Charlie.

Charlie looked about as happy with the idea as Ginny had about cooking.

“All right,” he sighed.

Hermione reached up and patted Ron’s hand reassuringly. It still amazed her that she was allowed to just touch him freely. For so long she’d had to hold herself back. The fact they were together now, together as a couple, hadn’t quite sunk in. She supposed they needed some time away from all the others to really establish themselves as a pair. She wasn’t certain when that could happen, however.

Ron’s family needed one another right now, and Hermione felt selfish for wanting to keep Ron to herself. She knew Fred’s loss was hard on him, and he seemed rather desperate to keep everyone where he could keep an eye on them. She had been ready to hex him when he called Harry and Ginny in from the rain. She suspected they needed the chance to reconnect as well.

Hermione couldn’t wait until bedtime when she could ask Ginny what happened. She hoped Harry had finally talked to her and told her everything, although, she supposed Ron really hadn’t given them enough time for that. She hoped Harry at least told Ginny about being a Horcrux.

That was the one aspect of everything they’d been through that Harry had been extremely reluctant to discuss since he’d told them after the Battle. She wasn’t certain why he found it so upsetting since it was gone now. Harry was finally free. The Horcrux was gone and Harry was alive. Professor Dumbledore’s plan had worked brilliantly.

She’d been reading a bit about Spell Shock in one of her Healing books after she’d heard Mr. Weasley use the term, and she thought Harry definitely had the symptoms. Her book said he needed to talk about what was troubling him, but getting him to talk had always been a problem.

Ginny returned to the kitchen, dropping the meat on the counter and sitting down next to Hermione. Her eyes watched as Harry poured flour into a concoction in a large bowl.

“I didn’t know he knew how to cook,” she murmured.

“He didn’t let me know when we were struggling to eat over the past year,” Hermione replied, disgruntled.

Ginny glanced quickly as Hermione. “The tent had a magical kitchen, too, didn’t it?”

Hermione nodded. “It wasn’t as if we had much to cook, anyway. I’ve never been so hungry in my life.”

“Ron must’ve been pleasant,” Ginny commented, rolling her eyes.

Hermione stiffened but Ginny didn’t notice. “I wonder what’s taking Percy so long,” Ginny said.

Hermione had been wondering, too. “Perhaps he went back to check on his flat,” she offered.

Ginny’s brow crinkled in a small frown. “I hope Mum will be all right. I don’t know what to do for her.”

Ginny sounded very young, and Hermione placed her hand on top of the younger girl’s. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and there are stages of grief. People have to work through them at their own pace.”

Ginny nodded. “I feel guilty when I catch myself being happy,” she whispered, her eyes once again flickering to Harry.

“I know. I think Ron feels the same way,” Hermione said, commiserating.

Ginny smiled, the first real smile in a long time. “I’m glad my prat of a brother finally saw sense,” she said.

Hermione grinned. She looked up as the door opened, admitting Bill and Fleur to the kitchen. Bill’s eyes swept the room, looking for who was missing, as they all seemed to do.

“Hi,” Ginny said brightly. “You’re in time for dinner.”

After exchanging greetings, Bill joined the girls at the table while Fleur went over to see what Harry was doing. Hermione remembered their time at Shell Cottage and that Fleur was also a very good cook. Hermione guiltily hoped Fleur would help Harry with the multiplying spells.

“How is everyone this afternoon?” Bill asked. The somberness that had been so prevalent at The Burrow over the past few days quickly descended back over the two girls.

“Ron and Charlie went up to see if they could rouse George; Percy is at the Ministry, and Dad’s out in his shed,” Ginny said. “Mum’s still in her room.”

Bill nodded, grimacing. “And how about you?” he asked, reaching out and tweaking his sister’s nose.

Ginny slapped his hand away, “Cut it out. I’m not seven,” she said indignantly.

“You also didn’t answer the question,” Bill replied easily.

“I’m all right,” Ginny said, looking directly in her oldest brother’s eyes. “I’m worried about Mum though.”

“Aren’t we all?” Bill replied.

“Andromeda Tonks said she’d like to get together with her,” Ginny said.

Bill raised his eyes. “That’s a very good idea, they both lost a child.”

“That’s really nice of her, considering… ” Hermione said, trailing off uneasily.

“Considering what?” Ginny asked.

“Well… I mean, I know she had to. She was protecting you, after all, but… your mum did kill Mrs. Tonks’ sister,” Hermione said, squirming in her chair.

“Oh,” Ginny said, her eyes widening. “I didn’t even think.”

Bill shook his head. “The Black family disowned Andromeda years ago. They weren’t close. Andromeda was closer to Sirius than Bellatrix.”

Both Hermione and Ginny glanced up at Harry. He didn’t appear to be listening but was instead focused on what he was doing.

“I’m going to go check on Mum and see if I can convince her to come join us,” Ginny said, rising from the table.

“Good luck,” Bill answered. “How are you, Hermione?”

Hermione shrugged. “Remus’s service was hard,” she said quietly. “He was one of my favorite teachers.”

“He was a good man,” Bill agreed.

“I’m certain you and Fleur are happy to have your home back to yourselves. Thank you so much for letting us stay,” Hermione said sincerely.

Bill waved away her thanks. “That’s what families do,” he said. “Did Ron tell you he stayed with us over Christmas, as well?”

“He did,” Hermione said uncomfortably.

“He was really down, and I know he regretted walking away,” Bill said. “I’m not excusing him, but I know he wished he’d behaved differently.”

Hermione nodded, knowing he was right. Ron could be rash; she had no delusions about that. They were in an impossible situation, and the Horcrux certainly didn’t help. She knew it was influencing his behavior. Still, she worried about what would happen the next time things got rough.

She still had to bring her parents home, and she was certain there would be some tension there. Her parents weren’t going to be happy with her for putting herself in danger. They’d probably also be suspicious of the fact that she and Ron had basically been living together, regardless that it was completely platonic, for the past year. It would be awkward telling them they were now a couple. She knew Ron didn’t always handle his insecurities well.

And, she couldn’t escape another unavoidable truth — the last time there had been real, emotional conflict in their lives, Ron had left. He’d left her.

Dinner that evening consisted of a surprisingly good cottage pie. Fleur had made pudding, and the meal seemed almost normal since all but Mrs. Weasley and George crowded the table. Even Mr. Weasleys face had some color back in it.

“This is good,” Ron said, shoveling more into his mouth. He appeared shocked that his best mate could cook.

“Thank you for making it, Harry and Fleur. I appreciate it,” Mr. Weasley said sincerely.

Harry blushed. “You’ve certainly fed me enough,” he mumbled.

“Eet’s no problem,” Fleur said demurely.

“This is good, Harry,” Percy spoke. He hadn’t interjected much since his return from the Ministry a short time ago. “Where did you learn to cook?”

Harry stiffened and ran his hand along the back of his neck. Hermione recognized it as a sure sign that he was uncomfortable with the conversation. She spotted Ginny noticing it, as well.

“I used to do a lot of the cooking at the Dursleys,” he mumbled. “How did it go at the Ministry today?” he asked, clearly trying to change the subject.

Hermione clenched her teeth, finding it extremely ironic that he’d had to cook for his miserable relatives when they barely allowed him to eat.

“Yeah, Perce. What happened?” Charlie asked.

Percy swelled in his chair a bit. “I went to turn in my resignation, but the Minister wouldn’t accept it. He said he could use someone with my knowledge of how matters were handled over the past several years.”

An awkward silence fell across the table. Bill was the first to break it. “Well, congratulations, Percy. It’s a sign that we’re starting to move on.”

Hermione watched in alarm as Ron’s ears grew red. Desperately trying to get his attention, she shook her head, hoping he wouldn’t blow up. His temper could be so volatile.

Before he spoke, however, he noticed her alarm. Surprisingly, he nodded at her before taking a deep breath and returning to his meal. Hermione couldn’t believe it. He’d listened to her! Pleased, she couldn’t help the smile that crossed her face as she reached for her fork.

She saw Ginny smirking at her but ignored her.

“Kingsley is making some very positive changes from what I’ve heard,” Mr. Weasley said. “I have a meeting with him myself tomorrow.”

“What kinds of changes?” Ginny asked.

“He started by getting rid of anyone involved in the Muggle-born Registration Committee,” Mr. Weasley said darkly. “He’s released all the Muggle-borns who were sent to Azkaban, but I’m not certain even the ones who survived will ever be the same.”

“Survived?” Hermione shrieked. “You mean… some of them died in there?”

“Azkaban is a horrible place, Hermione. It’s not meant to be survived,” he answered grimly.

“What about Umbridge?” Ron asked furiously. His ears were bright red again.

“She’s awaiting trial,” Harry said quietly. “Kingsley is ensuring everyone gets a trial, no matter who they are.”

Hermione knew that Harry had been meeting with Kingsley about missing Death Eaters each day. “Then we can send her to Azkaban?” Ron asked.

Hermione was about to snap about the meaning of a fair trial but saw the words I must not tell lies etched clearly on the back of Harry’s hand as he reached for his pumpkin juice and closed her mouth.

“How many Death Eaters d’you think are still on the loose?” Bill asked.

Harry shrugged. “We’ve made a list of about twenty five. The Lestrange brothers and Antonin Dolohov are probably the highest ranking still out there.”

“Has there been any sign of them?” Charlie asked.

“Not that I know about,” Harry said. “Have you heard anything?” he asked Mr. Weasley.

“No, but I haven’t been to the office, and Kingsley has been rather busy,” he replied.

They were startled when Mrs. Weasley quietly entered the kitchen. She was pale and moved lethargically, but it was the first time she’d joined them.

“Molly!” Mr. Weasley said, standing up. “Come sit down. Harry has made a wonderful dinner, and Fleur has made a crème brule for after.”

Mrs. Weasley smiled weakly and allowed him to steer her towards a chair. “Thank you so much for stepping up,” she said, acknowledging both Harry and Fleur.

“How are you feeling? Can your stomach handle the food, or shall I make you some tea and toast?” Fleur offered.

Mrs. Weasley smiled gratefully, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I want to try this cottage pie.”

Hermione noticed Harry’s cheeks turning pink, although she knew he was pleased.

“Has George come down?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“He didn’t want to, Mum,” Ron said, watching his mother warily. Hermione knew it disturbed him greatly to see her like this.

Mrs. Weasley nodded sadly. “Give him time,” she said.

Hermione hoped that time was all George needed, but somehow, she didn’t think so.
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