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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: 76774; Chapter Total: 3508
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
Playlist for Harry and Ginny on the couch: Madness by Muse.
I had several comments last chapter about missing the meeting with the Healer. I didnít show it because there will be one coming. I thought it would be too repetitive, and the next one is more significant.

As always, heartfelt thanks to my wonderful beta, Sherry, who always manages to find time for me. Much thanks also to George. Send him positive vibes on his job hunt!




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Chapter Seven
Departure



Ron and Harry sat in the Weasley sitting room after dinner playing a game of chess. Harry wasn’t really paying attention, and Ron was getting frustrated. If it wasn’t for the fact that his friend looked thoroughly exhausted, Ron would’ve snapped at him by now.

Ginny and Hermione were on the couch flipping through some Witch Weekly magazines. They all looked up as George came down the stairs and plopped in a chair beside the girls.

“What’s up with you?” Ron asked, noticing the scowl on his brother’s face.

“I need to get out of this house. I can’t stand looking at the walls anymore,” George said. He hadn’t left The Burrow at all since they’d returned from Hogwarts after the battle, and this was the first time he’d showed any inclination to do so.

“Where do you want to go?” asked Ron.

“Where are we going?” asked Charlie, coming in from the kitchen. Ron assumed he’d also heard George’s comment.

“Let’s go grab a pint at the Leaky Cauldron,” George said.

Ron liked that idea very much. He looked at Harry, expecting to see the same excitement. Harry looked pensive, however.

“Okay,” Charlie said. “I’ll Floo Bill and see if he wants to join us.”

“I want to come,” Ginny said.

“Sorry, Ginny. You’re not of age,” George replied.

“What difference does that make? I’ve been to the Leaky Cauldron before,” Ginny replied huffily.

“Not to sit at the bar you haven’t,” George replied. “Tell you what, after your birthday in August, I’ll take you there myself.”

Ginny still looked put out.

“Ron, we’re leaving tomorrow,” Hermione said anxiously. “It’s a lot of travelling, and you’ll be miserable if you drink too much.”

Hermione worried too much. “I’m not going to drink too much. What about you, Harry. You coming?” Ron asked.

Harry glanced up at George and Charlie.

“Well, are you?” George asked.

Harry glanced at Ron again.

“I think Harry might be wondering if you Weasley boys wanted to go out together,” Hermione said tactfully.

“Well, yeah, that’s what we’re doing,” Ron said, wondering how she hadn’t caught on to that. “Are you coming, Harry?”

“Come on, Harry. You’re one of the Weasley boys, too,” George said, ruffling Harry’s hair.

Oh.

Harry could be a prat sometimes, but at the moment, he looked especially pleased.

“Percy!” Charlie yelled up the stairs. “Come to the pub with us blokes.”

Ron felt a pang of guilt. He hadn’t even thought to invite Percy. Convincing himself that it was only because Percy wasn’t sitting right in the room with the others, he shook off the stab of regret. He wanted to do this. He’d gone to the pub with Fred and George twice last summer before they got Harry from Privet Drive, but he’d never been out with his older brothers. Bloody hell, he and Harry had never done this together, even. This was going to be brilliant.

“This is so unfair,” Ginny said. She was sitting on the couch with her arms folded across her chest.

Harry looked over at her, his expression troubled.

Oh, no! She’s not going to ruin this.

“Don’t even think about it, Harry. You’re going,” Ron said, glaring at Ginny. “And don’t you make him feel guilty about it.”

“I’m not telling him not to go,” Ginny said, affronted. “I want to go with you.”

“Come on, Ginny,” Hermione said. “We’ll do one of these Witch Weekly quizzes. It’ll be fun,” she added, cajoling.

“Fine,” Ginny said, still pouting.

“Bill is going to meet us there,” Charlie said.


The four Weasley brothers plus Harry Apparated to the Apparition point inside the Leaky Cauldron. The bar was dimly lit but more crowded and smoky than Ron ever remembered it being during the day.

They’d barely had time to move into the main bar before Harry was recognized.

“Dog’s bollucks, it’s Harry Potter!” a round wizard with stubby fingers shouted, pointing right at Harry.

Heads turned and the noise level increased exponentially as the crowd rushed in, shouting questions and offering to buy him a pint.

“Bloody hell,” Ron said, taking a step closer to his friend who was near to being trampled.

Ron and his brothers attempted to form a circle around Harry but it was no use, the crowd was too large, too rowdy, and too insistent. A curvy witch with a very low-cut dress reached over and yanked out a tuft of Harry’s hair. Harry rubbed the spot on his head, staring slack-jawed at her.

A deafening bang shocked the patrons as a glowing shield of light appeared in front of the Weasleys, forcing the crowd to move back. Bill stood with his wand drawn, a furious scowl on his face.

“You’d think after defeating Voldemort, he’d be allowed to have a pint,” Bill snarled.

Ron wasn’t surprised to see how many still flinched at the name.

“I want to buy him his first pint,” a ruddy-faced wizard standing near the bar shouted.

Cheers and offers to buy the second filled the room as the crowd began to rush forward again.

“This isn’t going to work,” Harry said, leaning over so he could shout in Ron’s ear. “I’m going back to The Burrow.”

“No, we can go somewhere else,” Ron said. Once again he began to feel that annoying panic over the thought of separating.

Harry shook his head. “It’s all right. We’ll do it again when it’s better thought-out. George needs this. You stay with your brothers.”

Before Ron could argue any further, Harry stepped back. They were standing in front of the large fireplace, so rather than trying to make his way back to the Apparition point, Harry simply grabbed some Floo powder and was gone in a flash of green flame. Disappointed cries filled the pub.

“Where’s he gone?”

“Is he coming back?”

“Aren’t us common folk good enough for him?”

Bill pushed his way through the crowd. Ron noticed a path clearing as people stepped away from Bill’s wand. The other Weasley brothers followed in Bill’s wake.

“Ron,” someone shouted.

He turned to see Hannah Abbott, wearing a barmaid’s apron and motioning them forward.

“Hi, Hannah,” he said. “I didn’t know you were working here.”

Hannah nodded. “I’m helping Tom out since the crowds have been so large. Sorry about that. Next time forewarn me you’re coming and I’ll have a private table arranged. I did manage to clear you a spot in the corner.”

She ushered them to a circular booth where they could at least face the crowd and have their backs against the wall.

“Thanks!” Ron said, pleased. He knew Hannah from school, but they’d never been particularly close. “Do you know my brothers… Bill, Charlie, George, and Percy?”

Hannah smiled in greeting. “I’m so sorry about Fred. He always made me laugh,” she said.

Ron felt George stiffen beside him but Percy answered before George could. “Thank you.”

“What can I get you to drink?” she asked.

She took their orders and promised to be right back.

“She’s pretty, in a witch-next-door kind of way,” Charlie said, watching Hannah walk away.

“She was in my year, a Hufflepuff,” Ron said.

“I hope she hurries with our drinks,” George said, scowling.

Ron hoped a pint would cheer him up a bit. George had been so volatile of late.

“Where did Harry go?” Bill asked.

“Back to The Burrow. He didn’t think they’d leave us alone, otherwise. The nutters,” Ron grumbled. “Probably just as well. Next time we’ll try a Muggle place where he attracts less attention.”

“Why just as well?” Charlie asked.

Ron lowered his voice. “Dad told me the Ministry is afraid some of the renegade Death Eaters might try and do him in. I need you lot to keep a close eye on him while I’m away.” Ron’s blood had chilled during that conversation with his father. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to get away with Hermione, but the idea of leaving Harry alone and unprotected was giving him nightmares.

“Blimey,” Charlie said. “And I thought his adoring public was the worst of his worries. Do they always swarm him like that?”

“He should have expected it,” Percy said, earning scowls from the other brothers. “I mean… they pounce on him whenever he comes to the Ministry, too.”

“Yeah, well, if you’d taken the time to notice, Harry never did like the attention much,” George snapped, glowering at Percy.

Percy meekly cast his eyes towards the table. Fortunately, Hannah arrived back with their ale. She gave them each a full glass, and placed a pitcher on the table in front of them.

“Here you are. Let me know if anyone bothers you or you need anything else,” she said, smiling.

They all toasted her before she walked away.

“Here’s to us,” Charlie said, raising his glass to his brothers.

Ron took a long swallow, not certain if he liked the taste or not. He took another sip and thought he could get used to it, but he liked Fire whiskey better.

“And to Fred,” George said, raising his glass again.

“To Fred,” they all repeated rather solemnly.

Ron took another gulp, but George slammed his empty glass back on the table, reaching for a refill.

“Uh-oh,” Charlie muttered. He was sitting to Ron’s left. “I don’t think George is going to be his usual happy-drunk self.”

As the night wore on, occasional patrons would approach their booth, offering their thanks, or asking some nosy question about the war.

Despite the fact some of them could be rather annoying, Ron was enjoying the celebrity status. When he excused himself from his brothers and headed towards the loo, a witch with long dark hair and pouty red lips approached him.

“You’re Ron Weasley,” she said. “I recognize you.”

Ron wasn’t sure if it was the ale or the acknowledgement, but he felt very warm inside.

“Yeah, I am,” he said, ducking his head.

“You’re one of the heroes of the war. I wanted to thank you for your service,” the witch said. She had a very breathy voice, and she put her hand on his arm as she spoke. She was older than him, and Ron was very flattered by the attention.

“Oh, well, you know. We did what we had to do,” he said, scuffing his feet.

“And so modest,” she sighed. “Did you really fly a dragon out of Gringotts?”

“Yeah,” Ron smirked. “We did.”

“Hey, Ron,” Bill said, suddenly appearing next to him. “Everyone is waiting for you.” He took Ron’s arm and began steering him away.

“Bye,” Ron said, looking over his shoulder at the witch. She looked rather put out.

“I need to use the loo,” Ron said, yanking his arm away from Bill. “What are you on about?”

“Saving you a whole lot of trouble,” Bill said dryly.

“She was just thanking me for what I did to help end the war,” Ron said, miffed.

Bill shook his head. “You’re going to find a lot of witches who want to thank you. They also want to be seen on the arm of one of the heroes. If you really want things to go smoothly with Hermione, I’d suggest you steer clear of them.”

Ron remembered the birds Hermione had sent after him when she saw him with Lavender. He never wanted to see her that angry again. Besides, this was different. He just enjoyed the attention, he wasn’t going to snog her like he did Lavender.

Or anything else he did with Lavender, either. Ron felt a momentary wave of guilt. Lavender hadn’t survived the Battle of Hogwarts.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Ron said grumpily.

“Suit yourself,” Bill shrugged. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Considering Bill had a Veela for a wife, Ron thought perhaps he might know a bit more about how a witch’s mind worked than Ron did.

By the time they returned to the table, George was already pissed and staring moodily into his tankard of ale. Charlie and Percy were both talking to a pair of witches who stood in front of the table. The women took a step back when Bill and Ron rejoined them.”

“We’ll see you around,” one of the witches said, giggling as they walked away.
“You’re cramping my style,” Charlie said, grumbling.

“Sorry,” Bill shrugged, although Ron thought he didn’t seem to really care. “I’m going to head home soon, so you single chaps can entertain the witches.”

“I’m going to entertain them now,” George said, standing abruptly and heading toward the bar where the witch who had approached Ron was standing.

“You’ll keep an eye on him?” Bill asked.

Both Percy and Charlie nodded.

“What do you say, Ron? Are you staying or heading home?” Bill asked casually.

Knowing he had a long trip tomorrow and would face Hermione’s wrath if he wound up hung over, he decided he’d best follow Bill’s lead.

“You’re really leaving?” Charlie asked. “The fun is just beginning.”

“Yes,” said Percy finishing his tankard, “but they both have someone at home waiting for them.”

*****

Ginny sat at her kitchen table half-heartedly taking a Witch Weekly quiz with Hermione. Stupid brothers. Stupid underage rules. Stupid war. It was unfair! She knew they were all sitting together sharing memories of Fred, and she wanted to be there, too. She missed him just as much as they did.

Ginny angrily took a sip of her drink and placed it back on the table a bit too forcefully.

“I know you’re upset,” Hermione said tentatively.

Ginny glared at her.

“And you have every right to be,” Hermione added hastily. “But I really do think this will be good for George. It’s the first time he’s left the house. He needs to get back into a routine.”

“I know,” Ginny moaned. “It’s just so unfair.”

“You’ll be seventeen in August and never have to worry about it again,” Hermione said.

“Yeah, well, I’m hoping we’ll all feel a bit better by August anyway,” Ginny grumbled.

Before Hermione could respond, the fire flared green and Harry stumbled out, barely catching himself before sprawling on the kitchen floor. He had a spot of soot on his cheek and his glasses were askew.

“Harry!” Hermione yelped. “What happened? Are you all right?”

Hermione sounded slightly panicked, and Ginny knew she’d been worried about Harry going out in public after they’d been warned about the rogue Death Eaters.

Harry straightened himself out, rubbing a spot on his head. “There was too much of a crowd at the Leaky Cauldron, and they wouldn’t leave us alone. I reckoned it was better if I left them to have at it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Harry,” Ginny said. She could tell he had been pleased to be included with her brothers.

Harry still rubbed his head absently. “It’s all right. There’ll be another time.”

“Is something wrong with your head?” Hermione asked.

“Someone ripped out a chunk of my hair,” Harry said indignantly.

Both girls stared at him for a moment before bursting out in giggles.

“They what?” Ginny asked, wondering if she’d heard him wrong.

A reluctant grin spread across Harry’s face. “Someone pulled my hair,” he said, beginning to laugh himself.

Suddenly Hermione stopped laughing. “Harry, did you see who pulled your hair? What if someone is making Polyjuice Potion?” she asked shrilly.

“I thought about that, too,” Harry said, “but it was a young witch, and I saw a bunch of her friends all reaching for some. I don’t think they were up to anything.”

“But you’ll mention it to Kingsley, anyway, won’t you, Harry?” she asked fretfully.

Ginny had a pit in her stomach. She hadn’t thought about Polyjuice Potion. Imagine the trouble someone could cause masquerading as Harry?

“Yeah, I’m going to tell him,” Harry said, sighing.

“Want to join us? We’re taking a quiz called ‘What kind of wizard turns you on?’” Hermione said with a perfectly straight face.

Ginny watched the color spread across Harry’s cheeks. She thought he looked as if he’d rather go back and get his hair pulled again.

“Er… thanks, but, I’ve got some paperwork Kingsley gave me to read over. You carry on though,” he said, ducking out of the room.


Ginny and Hermione finished their quiz, giggling at some of the more outrageous questions. When they’d finished, Hermione reached her arms in the air and stretched.

“I’m going to bed.”

“It’s only 8:30,” Ginny said, surprised.

“I know, but we’re leaving tomorrow, and I want to be well-rested,” Hermione said, shrugging.

“It’s going to be all right, Hermione. Your parents will be fine,” she reassured. She knew her friend was incredibly anxious about going after her parents.

“Thanks, Ginny. I hope you’re right,” Hermione replied, hugging her.

The two girls entered the sitting room together and found Harry sound asleep on the couch, his glasses pressed to his face where his head lay on the cushion, and papers scattered all over his chest.

“I’ll leave him to you,” Hermione whispered, heading up the stairs.

Ginny stared fondly at the dark-haired wizard. His chest rose and fell in rhythm with his breathing. Ginny suspected he hadn’t had a peaceful sleep in quite some time, so she thought she’d just let him kip on the couch. Reaching over to remove his glasses, she yelped when he leapt to his feet as if on a spring, eyes blazing. His wand was pointed directly at her chest.

Frightened, Ginny held her breath, frozen on the spot.

It took Harry a moment to register what had happened, but she could clearly see when it did. His hand began to shake, and his wand slipped from his fingers. She watched as his face drained of color, and he sank back onto the couch. She suspected his legs wouldn’t support him any longer.

“Ginny,” he breathed. “I’m sorry… I… ”

“It’s all right, Harry,” she said softly, approaching him as if he were a spooked animal. “You just startled me is all. I think I startled you, too.”

Although she’d been slightly taken aback by the ferocity of his gaze, she was grateful for his keen instincts. They were what had kept him alive all these years.

“I shouldn’t have drawn my wand on you,” he said shakily.

“You didn’t. You drew your wand on someone you thought was attacking you. When you realized it was me, you lowered it,” she reasoned.

Harry looked at her doubtfully, but his color slowly began to return.

“I know I’m too jumpy,” he said, his voice low.

“Not surprising,” she reassured. “Did you see the Mediwitch today?” The image of that ghastly bruise on his chest still haunted her. She hoped he’d listened to her dad.

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing the spot on his chest where she knew the bruise to be. “She gave me some salve I’m supposed to put on it every morning and evening. She said it was caused by Dark magic, so it would take longer to heal, and the scar underneath won’t fade. That one’s permanent.”

Ginny nodded sadly. “I wonder if your head bruised like that when you were a baby,” she said, gently brushing the hair from his forehead.

“I dunno,” he said, shifting. He wasn’t certain if the bruise came from the Curse or the Horcrux leaving his body. The Killing Curse never left a mark on its dead victims, but since he was the only one to actually live through it, there was no way to tell. He certainly could never ask his Aunt Petunia.

“Go get the salve, and I’ll put it on for you. I’ll make some hot chocolate,” she said, tugging him up and giving him a slight shove. “Go on,” she insisted when he looked as if he might protest.

She prepared two steaming mugs, and was back in the sitting room in time to dim the lights before he returned with his salve.

“Take off your shirt and lie back here,” she said, patting the couch.

Harry looked at her dubiously.

“Do you expect me to put it on over your shirt, Harry?” she asked, raising one eyebrow.

Harry blushed, but he began to undo the buttons on his shirt. He tossed it on a chair and pulled his T-shirt over his head. Ginny winced at all the wounds marring his skin.

He sat on the couch and leaned back, watching her warily. He was so tense she thought she could bounce a coin off him.

“Don’t you trust me?” she asked, batting her eyes innocently.

“Should I?” he asked.

“Not if you have your wits about you,” she said, winking.

She opened the jar and put a good portion of the smooth, creamy ointment on her fingers. “What’s this?” she asked, indicating a mark along his collarbone. She was hoping to distract him as she worked in the salve.

Harry hissed when her fingers made contact with the dark, angry looking bruise. “Am I hurting you?” she asked, trying not to put any pressure on her fingertips.

Harry shook his head. She could feel his heart beating wildly beneath her fingers as she spread the ointment across his chest. His skin was smooth and warm, and she could feel her own heart racing.

“What’s that mark?” she asked curiously.

“Burn from Gringotts,” he said. “The cup was hidden there, and it was jinxed to multiply and burn anyone who touched it,” he said.

“How did it touch your collarbone?” she asked.

Harry flinched again as she began to spread the salve further out on his chest, massaging it in gently. Her fingers worked in slow, languid circles as she made certain the entire area was covered. Harry remained silent, but she could hear his ragged breathing. She glanced up and her eyes locked with his brilliant green.

Suddenly she couldn’t breathe. How did applying medicine become so intense? She licked her lips and pulled her eyes away, putting the cap back on the salve. Something about this intensity scared her, and she retreated.

She wanted more information before they got carried away anyway. She’d applied enough of the salve, now it just had to dry.

“Why don’t you start where we left off?” she said a little breathlessly. “You were having private lessons with Professor Dumbledore.”

She thought Harry looked a little disappointed, but he settled himself back against the cushions and took a deep breath. He took a sip of his hot chocolate, putting the mug down carefully.

“This is where he told me about the Horcruxes,” he began. His voice sounded shaky. “Actually, you and I were both part of how he got the first one.”

Ginny frowned, “How?”

“It was the diary I destroyed with the Basilisk fang,” he said quietly.

Ginny inhaled deeply, memories from her horrible first year assailing her senses. “Oh,” she said. “So that’s what it was? A piece of his soul?”

Harry nodded solemnly. “It was the first one he made, and you fought it, Ginny. You fought it for an entire year when you were only eleven,” he said, brushing her hair back over her shoulder.

“It’s still kind of creepy,” she whispered.

Harry looked stricken, and his hand dropped from her hair.

“I know,” he said hollowly. He pulled up to a sitting position while reaching over to grab his T-shirt. He quickly ducked into it, refusing to meet her eyes.

She wasn’t certain what memory she triggered in him, but she didn’t want him to close off. She didn’t want him to storm off like he always did when he was cornered. She needed more of this story.

“It’s okay,” she said, grabbing his hand. “I want to know. I need to know.”

Harry regarded her intently for a moment before he nodded, squaring his shoulders as if he were going into battle.

He told her all about the Horcruxes and how they learned Tom wanted seven. He told her about the night Professor Dumbledore died, and how the locket they’d retrieved had been a fake. He explained about hiding at Grimmauld Place, and Kreacher, and how they discovered Dolores Umbridge had the real locket.

“That’s why you went to the Ministry,” Ginny said. “Everyone wondered. You were nearly caught.”

“I know. A Death Eater latched onto Hermione and followed us back to Grimmauld Place, so we couldn’t stay there anymore. Hermione quickly tried to Apparate us to a forest, and that’s when Ron got Splinched,” Harry said, looking at Ginny worriedly.

Ginny knew he was concerned about telling the next part, not wanting to share Ron’s betrayal. Ginny let go of his hand and put her fingers under his chin to raise his head.

“Hermione told me about that. She also told me about Ron leaving,” she said.

Harry looked immensely relieved. “She did?”

“Yeah. I think she needed to talk about it.

“It was really hard on her. She cried for days.”

“I bet it was hard on you, too.”

“Yeah, but he came back, and it was a good thing, too. He saved my life that night,” Harry said.

“How?” Ginny asked.

Harry explained about the silver doe and how it led him to the pool of water.

“I was stupid and didn’t take the Horcrux off before I dived to get the sword. I think it tried to drown me,” he said, shivering.

“It probably did,” she said, shuddering at the thought that he’d been there alone.

“That’s when Ron suddenly showed up, and he pulled me out, along with the sword. That Deluminator that Dumbledore left him in his will led him right to us. I thought that since Ron got the sword, he should destroy the Horcrux.”

“But how did you know the sword would destroy the Horcrux? And how did it get there?” Ginny asked.

Harry shook his head in frustration. “Oh, I skipped a part. We didn’t know how the sword got there at that time, but we knew we were looking for it. That was part of what caused the row with Ron, that we had to find another thing. Hermione read about how the sword was goblin made, and it would absorb anything that made it stronger. Since I killed the Basilisk with that sword, it had the venom in it.”

“That’s why Dumbledore left it to you,” Ginny said, wondering at the caginess of her former Headmaster. And the Deluminator helped Ron find you, what did the Tales of Beedle the Bard do?”

“That comes later,” Harry said, beginning to look overwhelmed.

“It’s okay, just keep talking. We can skip around a bit,” she reassured him.

Harry nodded. “While Ron was gone, we went to Godric’s Hollow because we thought Dumbledore might have left the sword there for us. I’d been wanting to go for ages, but Hermione was afraid it might be a trap.”

“Are your parents buried there?” Ginny asked quietly, reaching for his hand. Harry grabbed onto it as if he were looking for a lifeline.

“It took a while to find them,” he said his voice low. “Hermione had found this symbol on one of the tombstones that matched a drawing in her copy of Beedle the Bard so she got distracted, but I kept looking.”

He was clutching her hand so tightly Ginny thought it might break. She recognized this was very hard for him to talk about. “Did you find them?”

He nodded quickly, visibly swallowing. “It was strange.”

She had to strain to hear his voice.

“I mean, I knew they were buried there and all, but… I didn’t really feel them there. Not like I thought I would. It was just sort of an… empty feeling. I dunno,” he said, running his other hand through his hair. The one grasping Ginny’s hand didn’t let go.

“Maybe one day we can go back and plant some flowers now that you know what to expect,” she said gently.

He shrugged. “Hermione conjured a wreath. It was Christmas.”

Ginny didn’t think her heart could ache any more than it did right then.

“We went and saw the house too,” Harry said, talking very fast. The grip on her hand was unbearable. “It’s been left as some sort of memorial. We met a neighbor who we thought Dumbledore might have left the sword with, but she was acting strange. I could talk to her, but didn’t recognize it was Parseltongue until too late.”

“Harry, let go,” she said, trying to pull her hand from his.

“Oh! Sorry,” he said, loosening his grip at once. He didn’t completely let go, however, and Ginny could sense he was distressed.

“She was speaking Parseltongue?” she asked. “So… was she a relative of Tom’s?”

“No. She was the snake. I dunno how he did it, but the snake was inside her, and when it came out, it bit me. Through the connection in my head, I could hear it telling Voldemort where I was.”

“Wait a minute. This was the snake that bit my dad? The one that was a Horcrux? And it bit you?” Ginny asked, alarmed.

“Yeah. Hermione came up and tried to help me get rid of it, and I knew I had to get her out of there because Voldemort was coming, but my head felt as if it was splitting in half. We Disapparated just in time.”

“But had you already been bit?” Ginny asked again.

“Yeah, I really don’t remember much about what actually happened once we Disapparated. I was trapped in my mind. Or Voldemort’s mind. Maybe both, I dunno. I saw his memories of what happened the night he killed my parents,” he said. His voice was very raw, and his eyes glistened, the fire burning in the hearth reflected in them.

Ginny didn’t know what to say. She reached over to lay the palm of her hand on his face. He leaned into her touch, closing his eyes.

“Oh, Harry.”

He cleared his throat and pressed on. “So, no sword, no new Horcrux, and my wand got broken beyond repair battling the snake,” he said, resolutely prepared to press on.

Glancing at the floor where it still lay, she could see the wand she knew to be his. It didn’t look broken, but she decided to leave that for the moment. “Why did you think Professor Dumbledore would leave the sword in Godric’s Hollow?” she finally asked.

“It’s where he was from, too. Your Auntie Muriel told me at Bill and Fleur’s wedding,” he said hoarsely.

“That old bat does love to gossip,” Ginny said irritably. No one could get under her skin like Auntie Muriel always could.

“It was confirmed in that book Rita Skeeter wrote,” he said quietly.

Ginny remembered reading Dumbledore’s biography when she was stuck at her Auntie Muriel’s. She remembered it being very harsh, particularly in regards to Harry’s relationship with the late professor. Fred and George had to restrain her from going after Rita Skeeter with a promise of inventing a prank with her specifically in mind.

Fred had never got the chance.

“That book was very unflattering. You didn’t believe all that stuff they wrote about you and him, did you?” she asked, already seeing the pain in his dull green eyes.

“I didn’t know what to think,” he said honestly.

“It was obvious he cared about you. Anyone could see that,” Ginny consoled.

Harry didn’t respond but appeared to pull into himself. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped an arm around them. He glanced up at her briefly before looking down again. “It hurt,” he said, his voice husky with emotion.

Damn that woman. I’ll invent the prank myself.

She reached over and pulled him into her arms. He didn’t resist. Ginny simply held him comfortingly, rubbing her hand up and down his back. She thought he’d had enough for the evening, so she was surprised when he kept talking.

He didn’t move from her embrace so she had to strain to hear him.

“I eventually came to terms with it and decided I trusted the man I knew. That came later, though. I think we left off where I told Ron to destroy the locket Horcrux,” he said.

“Mm hmm,” Ginny whispered, still rubbing circles on his back.

“It knew. The Horcrux knew it was in danger, and this thing came out of it. It started taunting Ron about all this stuff that Ron had been worrying about. Stuff I didn’t even know he’d been worried about. I kept telling Ron to stab it to make it shut up, but he was frozen. I began to worry that the Horcrux was going to win,” he said over her shoulder.

Ginny shuddered. She knew firsthand how Tom played on insecurities.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Ron stabbed it with the sword.”

“Good for him,” she nodded.

Although she couldn’t see his face, she could sense his mood lighten. “Then we both went back to the tent, and he had to face Hermione. I think he thought that was nearly as bad.”

Ginny giggled and she could feel the laughter rumbling in his chest. She became hyper-aware of his body, pressed against hers. She moved her hand up and ran her fingers through his hair. Harry turned his head and suddenly they were kissing. Kissing as if they’d been starved for one another. Ginny felt a tingling that went all the way down to her toes. She didn’t ever want it to stop.

Harry leaned back against the arm of the couch, pulling her down with him so that she lay sprawled half on top of him. She wasn’t certain for how long they continued to snog, but when she felt Harry’s hands began to move into places they hadn’t been before, she somehow came to her senses and pulled away.

“Harry,” she said, panting.

“What?” he gasped, trying to recapture her lips.

“Harry,” she said again, more forcefully this time. “Er… I’m… er… I like, I mean. Oh, stuff it. I’m not ready for more right now.”

Harry stared at her blankly for a moment, his lips swollen from kissing and his hair messy as ever. It took all her strength not to lean over and kiss him again, but now he seemed to have come back to his senses.

“Oh… er... sorry, Ginny,” he muttered, his face growing even redder than it already was. He shifted up on the couch and away from her.

“Don’t be sorry,” she said firmly. “I got as carried away as you did — and thoroughly enjoyed myself doing it, I might add. I just want to slow it down a bit.”

She wasn’t a prude, but she also knew that, despite the fact she knew it would be Harry eventually, she wasn’t ready for that step yet.

“Okay,” he said, running his hand along the back of his neck.

Regardless of her resolve, she knew she couldn’t trust herself to sit in the dark, cozy room with him any longer.

“Good night, Harry,” she said before slipping from the room.

*****

Harry awoke the next morning to the sounds of Ron swearing and banging loudly around the room.

“Oi! What are you on about?” he asked grumpily. It had been the most decent stretch of sleep he’d had all night.

“I can’t find my sweatshirt, and our Portkey leaves in an hour,” Ron said, pulling up the covers and looking under Harry’s bed.

“I don’t have it,” Harry snapped, slamming the covers back down.

“I bet Ginny nicked it. She’s always nicking our stuff. Watch out for your socks, she likes those best,” Ron said as left the room in search of his missing sweatshirt.

Ginny.

Harry’s thoughts drifted back to the previous evening. He didn’t know what might have happened if she hadn’t stopped it. His brain hadn’t been doing any thinking at the time. It hadn’t even been functioning. All his blood was being used somewhere else. No one had ever made him lose control the way she could, but he was worried. He didn’t want to push her, but he knew it was really only her good sense that had stopped them from getting completely carried away.

Merlin, he’d practically pounced on her. What a prat.

Like any teenager, his thoughts had certainly strayed there, but he’d never had the opportunity to actually do anything about it. He didn’t really know what to think except that he’d have to trust her judgement. When they’d dated at Hogwarts, he remembered her slapping his hand away once then, too. He’d had what he thought was a death sentence then, though, and it had always kept him tightly in check.

He didn’t have that now, though, and he couldn’t help wanting to touch her. Would she ever want him to touch her once she learned the full story?

Her words reverberated in his mind.

It’s still kind of creepy.

She thought the Horcrux was creepy, and she was right. She’d been horrified by the idea that it was in the diary that she’d carried around. What would she think when she learned that one had been inside him? That it had lived in him like a parasite for the entire time she’d known him?

Harry couldn’t stand to be inside his own head at the moment, either. Hands shaking, he fought at the covers constricting his legs before bolting from the bed and fleeing from the room.


He found Ron and Hermione in the kitchen after he’d had his shower and managed to tamp down on his raging thoughts.

“Harry,” Hermione said, delighted when she saw him. Her smile turned to a frown as she got closer. Perhaps he hadn’t succeeded in pulling himself together as well as he thought. “Are you all right? You look rather peaked.”

“I’m fine,” he lied.

“Coffee, mate?” Ron offered.

“Yeah. Coffee would be good,” he said, taking a seat at the table.

“You will take care of yourself while we’re gone, won’t you, Harry?” Hermione asked, worrying her bottom lip.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, rolling his eyes. “It’s not like we haven’t been apart for the summer before, you know.”

“It won’t be for the whole summer,” Hermione said.

“And it’s not like you’ll be trapped with the ruddy Dursleys,” Ron added.

“Of course not. You’ll be here with Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys,” Hermione said.

Harry knew they were worried about him, and it meant more to him than they would ever know. “I’m just going to be sitting here doing the same old thing. It’s you two who are going on the great adventure. You stay out of trouble.”

“We don’t go looking for trouble, trouble usually finds us,” Ron said, grinning.

Harry grinned back, feeling immensely fond of his two best friends.

“And you’ll come meet my parents properly when we get back, right, Harry?” Hermione asked. She was sniffling a bit.

“Of course. Is your house okay? I mean… did anything-”

“It’s fine,” Hermione interrupted. “It was searched, but no lasting damage was done. Mr. Weasley has already had it cleaned up. It’s just waiting for us to come home.”

“And your parents’ business?” he asked.

“Well, that’s a bit trickier,” she said, worrying her lip again. “See, when they left, the staff had to find new employment, and their patients have found new dentists. That’s too many people to find and memory charm. This Ministry wouldn’t do it anyway, so… I’m not really sure what will happen with their practice.”

“Maybe their patients will want to come back once they know your parents have returned,” Ron said hopefully.

“Maybe,” Hermione said, but she didn’t sound very confident.

“Did you find your sweatshirt?” Harry asked Ron.

“Yeah,” he grinned sheepishly. “Sorry for waking you. Ginny had it.”

Harry waved him off. “I was planning on seeing you off anyway. Are you packed?”

Hermione patted her purse. “Both cases shrunk and inside, ready to go.”

“Do you know where you’re staying tonight?” he asked.

“We have a room in Sydney for the night, then we’re heading west tomorrow,” she said.

“One room?” Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.

Ron’s ears immediately turned red.

“Well, we’re trying to conserve our funds since we’re not certain how long it will take,” Hermione said, flustered.

“It’s not as if we haven’t slept together before,” Ron said defensively. Then his brain caught up with his mouth. “I mean… in the same room… in the tent. You know, we all shared the tent.”

Harry continued to stare at them, eyebrows raised. It took all his effort to hold his expression and not laugh outright at the two of them.

“We were in there together when you were on guard duty and nothing happened,” Ron spluttered.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. What Ron and I do is none of your business anyway, Harry,” Hermione huffed indignantly.

Harry grinned. “I know. I’m only taking the mickey.”

Ron threw a dishtowel at him. “Git.”

Harry chuckled over their expressions and was still grinning when Ginny and Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen.

“Good morning,” Mr. Weasley greeted. “Just about to set off, are we?”

His enthusiasm for their adventure was obvious. Harry suspected Mr. Weasley wished it was him about to set off to live with Muggles.

“All set, Dad. Just have to grab on,” Ron said, nodding towards the empty fizzy drink bottle on the table.

“Excellent,” Mr. Weasley said, clapping his hands together.

Ginny moved to sit next to Harry, her hand brushing the tops of his shoulders as she walked past. “Have a safe trip, and bring me a souvenir,” she said.

Harry felt warm where she touched him, and he was pleased to see she wasn’t angry with him.

“We will,” Hermione promised.

“I won’t,” Ron said, causing Ginny to stick her tongue out at him.

“You do know that Australia has the largest population of venomous spiders, don’t you, Ron?” she asked sweetly.

Ron’s face paled considerably.

“It’s just about time, Ron,” Hermione said, grabbing his arm. Ron still looked worried.

Mr. Weasley, Harry and Ginny all stood and formed a half circle in front of the couple. Harry wrapped his arm around Ginny’s shoulders, and she put hers around his waist. They wished their friends off, and watched as they vanished from sight.


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