Chapter Five


Ginny closed the bathroom door and held her breath as she silently crossed the dark hallway. She pushed open her bedroom door, noting the ball of blankets on the camp bed, a shock of bushy hair splayed on the pillow. Crookshanks was curled at the bottom of Hermione's bed, watching her with intent yellow eyes. There was barely enough room between the two beds, but she shimmied as silently as she could before climbing into her own bed and pulling the sheets up to her chest.

She'd barely released the sigh of relief at not getting caught before a voice whispered harshly, "Where have you been?"

Ginny tensed and stifled a groan. Merlin, Hermione sounded like Ginny's mother. The older girl certainly wasn't as easy to fool as her brothers, and Ginny knew she wouldn't buy her innocent act like they did, either.

"Ginny," Hermione said, a little louder. Crookshanks glared at them.

"Keep your voice down," Ginny hissed. "Although I don't know if Mum would even notice." A wave of sadness washed over her with that thought. Normally, her mum would never go to bed without knowing exactly where they all were. She thought it would be worth a telling-off if her mum would just behave… well, more like her mum.

"We can find out if you don't answer the question," Hermione said, unwavering. "Where have you been?"

"Harry and I went flying, then we stayed out and talked a bit," Ginny admitted.

"You've been out there all this time? You didn't leave the wards?" Hermione asked suspiciously.

"Leave the wards? Where would we go? No, we were in the paddock," Ginny said. "Why do you think we would leave?"

Hermione turned over and propped herself up on her elbows. "I've been suspecting Harry will get tired of the confinement. He usually does."

"He's not being kept here, Hermione," Ginny said, feeling a bit insulted.

"I know that, but I also know there are a lot of Death Eaters still on the loose that would probably like some revenge," Hermione said.

Ginny was momentarily stunned. Of course Hermione was right, but Ginny honestly hadn't given it a thought.

"I think your dad ensures that Harry comes right home from the Ministry, and he's encouraged Ron not to take him meandering into the town at night," Hermione said.

"Harry won't like it if he realizes we're all keeping an eye on him," Ginny said.

"I know. That's why I wondered if you two had sneaked out," Hermione confided. "I'm worried about him, but I'm trying not to show it. He's been a target for so long, I don't think he'd be at all happy to know we think he still is."

"He never gets a break," Ginny sighed, flopping back on her pillow. "I don't think Harry will accept being hidden away again no matter who's after him."

"I know. That's why you have to keep him occupied here," Hermione said, brightening. "Did you two have a chance to talk?"

Ginny wasn't at all fooled by the casual tone.

"We did," she said, realizing she wanted to share with her friend. "Not the whole story yet, but we talked about the prophecy, his lessons with Dumbledore and Occlumency. He didn't start on the Horcruxes yet."

Hermione nodded, "It all ties together, so I suppose it makes sense for him to start there."

"Were you shocked when he told you about the prophecy?" Ginny asked curiously. "I wasn't. It just seemed inevitable, like that's the way it had to be. I don't know why, but maybe because I already know how it ended. What did you think when he first told you? He said he did the summer before your sixth year."

"I wasn't really shocked, more frightened. I suppose we suspected it, too, by that point," Hermione said, her eyes far away. "Harry, of course, thought we would ditch him. I think he was pleased that we didn't consider it."

"You two would never bail on him. I wish he really believed that," Ginny said sadly.

Hermione lay back on her pillow and stared at the ceiling. Ginny could feel her mood shift but was baffled at what made the other girl so uncomfortable.

"What's wrong?" she asked anxiously.

"There's something I have to tell you, because I really don't think Harry will want to do it. But you need to know to understand… and I really need someone to talk to… You have to promise me you'll listen and not go storming off," Hermione said, obviously working herself up to something.

"What are you on about, Hermione?" Ginny asked. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end, and she instinctively knew she wasn't going to like this.

Hermione took a deep, steadying breath. "For a time after we found the first Horcrux, we had no idea how to destroy it. Dumbledore really hadn't left us a lot to go on, so we still had all these Horcruxes to find, no way to dispose of them, Chosen One Wanted posters were everywhere we turned. It was very stressful, not even mentioning the fact we barely had enough food to survive."

Ginny nodded, imagining how nerve-wracking it must have been.

"We were living in a tent where we really couldn't get away from each other, and worst of all, we were taking it in turns to wear the Horcrux. We were terribly afraid of losing it," Hermione said. "It… it radiated evil, Ginny. It affected whoever had it negatively. All our doubts and fears and insecurities were multiplied tenfold."

"So you were getting on each other's nerves," Ginny said reasonably.

"It was worse than that. I think the Horcrux was trying to separate us, knowing we were stronger together. I've never been so hungry in my life… and Ron, well, Ron hadn't, either."

A shiver of apprehension went down Ginny's spine.

"I think… It didn't even register with me at the time, but it's awful to think about now. Harry handled the hunger better than Ron and me because… well, because I think he was used to it," Hermione said, her eyes tearing.

Ginny nodded, knowing how thin Harry was when he arrived from his awful relatives' each summer. "Ron's always had three solid meals a day plus some," she said. "And he likes to eat."

"Yes. He'd also been Splinched earlier in our hunt," Hermione said.

"Splinched?" Ginny yelped, alarmed.

"Shhh," Hermione hushed her. "Yes, so he wasn't well. He was starving, and he'd been wearing that bloody Horcrux all day."

"What did he do?" Ginny asked, dreading where this was going. Hermione was usually the one scolding Ginny for swearing.

"He and Harry had a row. A dreadful, terrible row. They both said some horrible things to each other that I know they'd have never normally said. And then Ron left," Hermione was nearly whispering by the time she finished, wiping a few stray tears from her eyes.

"He left?" Ginny asked, knowing there had to be more to the story. She could barely tamp down the rage that was building against her brother.

"He asked me if I was coming with him… but I couldn't leave Harry like that, not with so much depending on what we had to do," Hermione whispered.

"Of course you couldn't," Ginny said, clenching her teeth.

"But Ron saw it as if it meant I was choosing Harry over him. He really believed that," Hermione said, before bursting into tears.

Ginny scrambled out of bed and took the older girl in her arms. "It's all right, Hermione," she said as she rocked her friend back and forth.

When Hermione finally started to pull herself together, Ginny tried to stand up.

"Where are you going?" Hermione asked, confused.

"I'm going to hex my brother," Ginny stated calmly.

"No! Ginny you can't," Hermione yelped, grabbing Ginny by the arm. "He came back. He found us again eventually, and he came back."

"Eventually? How long was he gone?" Ginny asked.

"About a month," Hermione said, sniffling.

Ginny immediately stood up again and moved toward the door. Hermione caught her and pulled her back. Crookshanks got up, stretched and plopped himself back down somewhat indignantly.

"Ginny, this all happened months ago. If Harry's forgiven him, you can, too," Hermione said, pleading.

"Yeah, well, Harry's forgiven Snape and the Dursleys, too. I'm not that good," Ginny replied, still fuming.

"Oh, Ginny, so much has happened in between, and I want to let Harry tell you the story. He won't want to betray Ron, but I thought you should know. Ron really regretted it. He regretted it almost as soon as he got the Horcrux off and Apparated away, only he couldn't get back to us."

"I can't believe he left," Ginny said.

"I couldn't, either. It was so hard… it still is," Hermione whispered.

Ginny looked at her sharply. "I'm sorry, Hermione."

"He left me, too," Hermione said, swiping at her nose. "Things got hard, and he left me, too."

"You're afraid he might leave again," Ginny whispered insightfully.

"What happens the next time we have a big row? It's bound to happen. We row all the time," Hermione cried.

Ginny smiled her acknowledgement. "Well, there you go. You row all the time, and he doesn't usually leave."

Hermione smiled weakly.

"Have you talked to him about it?" Ginny asked.

Hermione shook her head. "We really haven't had much time to be alone with all the funerals," she said.

"Tell me about it," Ginny sighed. "Hermione, I'm really angry at the prat right now, so I'm probably not in the best frame of mind to reassure you, but… even I can see that the Ron who arrived at Hogwarts for the battle that night wasn't the same Ron who left The Burrow last summer. He's more mature, thoughtful even. He's been a rock to this family since Fred… since Fred."

Ginny had to stop talking, the words getting stuck in her throat.

This time Hermione reached out a comforting hand and patted Ginny's shoulder reassuringly. "I suppose you're right."

"I am right," Ginny said firmly. "Sit him down for a long heart to heart. He'll love that." Ginny suspected that would be more than a good punishment for her brother, the prat.

"Ginny, there's one more thing. While Ron was away, Harry and I went to Godric's Hollow. Don't let him skim over that part when he tells you about it. It was really hard on him," Hermione said.

Ginny was flooded with cold dread. She could only imagine how difficult that must have been for Harry. Ginny was raised on stories about what had happened that dreadful night in Godric's Hollow. She wasn't certain she ever wanted to actually see where it all happened.

"It was hard on him tonight, just talking about it," Ginny said, wrapping her arms around her abdomen. "We stopped when I thought he'd had enough."

Hermione nodded. "Shall I expect to find him brooding tomorrow then?" she asked.

"I don't think so," Ginny replied. "I think I distracted him."

"Distracted him how," Hermione asked curiously.

"I gave him a hickey."

If her mother had been awake, she would have definitely heard all the giggles coming from the girls in Ginny's bedroom.


The next afternoon found Harry sitting at the kitchen table staring, perplexed, at an owl that had arrived moments ago. A Gringotts owl with a note informing him that both his own and the Black family vaults had been seized in reparations for the destruction inflicted upon the bank. There was also a summons inside, demanding he appear in front of the goblins to assess any further penalties.

Harry didn't like the sound of that. He didn't want to appear in front of the goblins, but he'd eventually need some money. He couldn't live off the Weasleys forever. He reckoned he'd be paid once he started work as an Auror, but he had no idea how long that would be.

As he sat at the kitchen table pondering his options, he didn't pay much attention to Hermione when she entered the kitchen until she leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Nice Concealing Charm on your neck, Harry."

Harry felt his face flush as he slapped his hand to his neck, realizing a moment too late that obviously she couldn't see a Concealing Charm.

Hermione sat down next to him, smirking.

"Ha Bloody Ha," he replied, scowling. His skin felt extremely warm.

Hermione continued to smirk. "I wonder what Ron would think if I-"

"Don't even finish that thought," Harry yelped, interrupting her. "I really don't want to know, Hermione."

Hermione apparently decided to take pity, though she still looked far too amused for Harry's liking. "What do you have there?" she asked, nodding toward his letter.

"Oh, it's nothing," Harry replied, stuffing the note in his pocket. "More Ministry stuff."

He didn't want to worry Hermione with the goblin trouble. She was concerned enough for her parents without adding to it.

"I got a note from the Ministry, too," Hermione said. "Cibby Seekum - that's the person the Minister has placed in charge of the Muggleborn Retrieval Committee - wrote to me to say that she has a lead on my parents. She's preparing an International Portkey so Ron and I can go in a matter of days."

"That's wonderful, Hermione," Harry said, wondering when they'd decided Ron would accompany her.

His thoughts must have shown on his face because Hermione said, "I thought it would be too hard for you to get away with everything you've been doing for the Ministry, and I really don't want to wait."

Harry wouldn't have wanted to wait, either.

"It'll be good for Ron to get a break from all the somberness here, too," Harry said, wondering if there was something he could do for Ginny. He doubted very much her parents would let him take her to Australia. She wasn't even of age yet.

"Ginny tells me you had a good chat last night," Hermione said tentatively.

'That's not all she told you,' Harry thought, disgruntled.

"We did," he replied, running a hand along the back of his neck.

"You haven't told her about the Horcrux yet," Hermione said.

He knew without her saying it which one she meant.

Unexpectedly, the kitchen appeared to dim around him as it elongated. Black dots filled the edge of his vision as breathing became difficult. Hermione's words seemed to echo unrecognizably in his ears.

He was suddenly back in the forest staring at cold, merciless red eyes before a jet of green raced towards him, obliterating all else.

"Love, which did not prevent me stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter."

"Harry! Harry!" The fact someone was shaking him finally broke through the fog enveloping his brain. He was sweating profusely and really feared he might be sick. Hermione was staring at him, panicked.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

He nodded, dazed, and unable to speak. It was all he could do to clasp the bench and will his stomach not to expel its contents. Hermione stood and quickly pointed her wand at the kettle to start some tea.

"What was that, Harry?" she asked after pouring him a cup. She handed it to him as she sat back down.

Harry's hand was shaking badly, and he sloshed a lot of it over the sides of the cup before finally putting it back down. "Nothing," he whispered.

Hermione arched her eyebrow in disbelief. "We can all see that you're not all right, Harry. You're not fooling anyone."

"Maybe I don't want to talk about it," he snapped.

Hermione just stared at him until he added more softly, "It creeps me out."

She rested her hand on his arm in comfort, squeezing it gently. "Of anyone, Ginny should be able to understand what you're feeling the most. It was a Horcrux that possessed her, as well."

She placed her hands over his and gently assisted him in lifting the shaking teacup to his lips. The liquid burned going down but it helped him to focus.

Harry desperately wanted to get up and storm away from her, but he knew his legs wouldn't cooperate at the moment. He settled for glowering and turning his eyes away from her. He knew Ginny had been possessed. He'd been possessed, too. This was different. This was a part of Voldemort living inside his head for his entire life, and he hadn't even known. It had been there through everything he'd ever done, ever saw…

He shuddered, feeling that panic rising again.

Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen, his eyes darting between the two teens, taking in the intense stares between them. Harry knew he was a mess, but there was nothing that could be done for it. From the corner of his eye, he caught Hermione pantomiming something to the older man.

"I'm right here, Hermione," he snapped.

Mr. Weasley sat along the bench and poured himself some tea. Hermione meekly slipped from the kitchen to join Ron and the others gathered in the sitting room.

Harry, who was already nettled, grew increasingly uncomfortable with the silence as Mr. Weasley prepared his tea without comment. He shut his eyes as he tried to pull himself together, absently rubbing his chest over his heart. That heavy, constricted feeling had returned, pressing on him.

"How are you, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked pleasantly.

"I'm fine, sir," he replied.

"If you don't mind my saying, you don't seem fine," Mr. Weasley said in that same calm, genial voice.

Mr. Weasley had just buried a son. Harry didn't want to upset him, but he couldn't understand why he was bothering with him right now, either. He'd told the man he was fine. What did he want?

"I'm not trying to pry, but I'm concerned about you," Mr. Weasley continued.

"You don't have to be. I'll be fine," Harry said, feeling more and more nettled.

"I thought you said you were fine," Mr. Weasley said easily.

Harry's eyes darted toward the door, ready to make an escape. Everyone always accepted when he said he was fine, except sometimes Hermione. Why wouldn't he?

"Er… just still a little tired," he said. It was true, he was still sleeping horribly, so he wasn't really lying.

"Have you ever heard the term Spell Shock, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked.

"No, sir," Harry replied, swallowing around a lump that was growing in his throat.

"It's a common occurrence after a duel that turns particularly bloody or from heavy exposure to Dark magic. It happened a lot after the last war. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, increased anxiety," Mr. Weasley said, his eyes boring into Harry. "Have you experienced any of these problems, Harry?"

All of them.

Harry shook his head rapidly.

"Harry, please remove your shirt," Mr. Weasley said, and this time his voice was firm, unyielding.

"What?" Harry yelped. "Why?"

"Because you've been rubbing at that spot on your chest for days. I want to see if you're injured," Mr. Weasley said.

"I'm not," he insisted, his heart thudding painfully.

"Remove your shirt, please," Mr. Weasley's voice was firm and brooked no argument.

Harry couldn't argue with that voice, and he wasn't certain why he suddenly felt so small. He cast his eyes down, blushing furiously as he pulled the T-shirt over his head.

"Merlin!" Mr. Weasley exclaimed loudly, startling Harry so much he jumped. "Have you had this looked at?"

Harry glanced at his chest, already knowing what he'd find. The bruise was as black as ever, it didn't even appear to have lightened. The other marks and burns were in various stages of healing, making the large bruise stand out even more.

Mr. Weasleys loud exclamation attracted all of the others who'd been in the sitting room, and they all began piling into the kitchen. Feeling unbearably exposed, Harry wrapped his arms around his abdomen, hunching his shoulders and trying to make himself as small as possible.

Ron and Hermione were the only ones who knew what happened, but they hadn't actually seen the mark. Even their faces registered dismay. Charlie and Ginny were both staring, horrified, and Mrs. Weasley burst into tears.

"Bloody hell," Ron muttered.

"Harry! What happened?" Mrs. Weasley cried.

Harry wished they would all disappear. Better yet, he wished he would disappear. The Anti-Apparition wards on The Burrow wouldn't let him until he was outside.

"Harry, what happened here?" Mr. Weasley said in that same stern voice, once he'd recovered from the shock.

Harry noticed all three of the Weasley children in the kitchen glanced at their father warily. Obviously, they felt the same reverence for that voice that he did. He felt compelled to answer.

"Got cursed," he mumbled.

"Now there's an understatement," Ron said.

Harry glared at him viciously, but Ron seemed unperturbed.

"What curse did this?" Mr. Weasley asked, refusing to be distracted.

Harry hesitated. He really didn't want to answer that question. He glanced at Ginny. Her eyes were glistening, but she offered him no way out.

"The Killing Curse," he said, barely above a whisper.

Stunned silence filled the room, as Harry knew it would. He cast his eyes to the floor, unable to bear the horror on any of their faces.

Mr. Weasley faltered but eventually asked, "Did Madam Pomfrey look at this the night of the battle?"

Harry shook his head, still refusing to meet the man's eyes. Peripherally, he caught a brief glimpse of the guilt that flooded the man's expression and nearly came undone.

"There is a mediwitch at the Ministry. I want you to have her look at it tomorrow. I mean it, Harry. I'm going to alert Kingsley to expect you to do it," Mr. Weasley said.

Harry nodded before quickly pulling his T-shirt back on. The awkward silence grated on his nerves, and Harry fled the kitchen without a backward glance. He entered the back garden and walked toward the fence, trying to alleviate the thumping of his heart. Absently trailing his fingers along the rough wood and enjoying the warm air as it ruffled through his hair, Mr. Weasleys words rang in his ears. Spell Shock. Is that what was wrong with him?

He heard the kitchen door bang open and looked up in time to see Ginny walking toward him. She wasn't smiling, but her eyes were soft as she watched him.

Harry's eyes began to sting, and he turned away from her toward the fence. She never said a word, simply walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He leaned back into her, seeking her warmth. They didn't speak, but she stayed with him until he managed to get his raging emotions back under control.


The next morning, Ron was one of the last to rise. Professor McGonagall had arranged educational sessions at the Ministry for some of the students to revise so they could sit their missed exams later in the summer. Ginny had gone to work with their father for her first revision session. She'd never returned to Hogwarts after the Easter hols, so she was behind some of the other sixth-years.

Hermione had informed him that their International Portkey had arrived, and they were scheduled to depart in two days. Ron hadn't put a lot of thought into it before, but now he was panicking.

He was going to see the Grangers. He was going to see the Grangers as Hermione's boyfriend. He'd let their daughter put herself in danger all year, and he hadn't been able to stop her being tortured.

They were going to hate him.

They should.

"What's up with you?" George asked, joining him in the kitchen.

"I'm doomed," Ron replied, forgetting to whom he was talking.

"Welcome to hell," George said, pouring a glass of the juice that was on the table..

Ron glanced up. George really wasn't looking so good. "You look like hell, mate."

"Still better looking than you," George replied easily. "Come on, what gives?"

It was one of the first times George had willingly engaged in conversation, so Ron thought he should continue. Perhaps he was tired of everyone tip-toeing around him. Harry got that way sometimes, too.

"I'm going to Australia in two days to get Hermione's parents," Ron said miserably.

George stared at him a moment. "Yeah, you and Hermione alone on another continent. I can see why you're distressed," he deadpanned.

Ron rolled his eyes. "We're going to be with all Muggles," he said, although the idea of being somewhere alone with Hermione and away from all the rest of his family was highly appealing. Unfortunately, the alone part wouldn't last for long.

"Since when do you have a problem with Muggles?" George asked.

"I don't have a problem with Muggles," Ron said indignantly. "I just mess up using Muggle stuff."

"Ah. You want to impress Hermione's parents," George said, his eyes showing a spark of mischief for the first time since the Battle.

"Who wants to impress Hermione's parents?" Percy asked as he came through the door returning from the Ministry.

"Ron here needs some tips on impressing a girl's parents," George said, apparently delighted by Ron's discomfort.

"Don't let them see you eat," Percy said without pause.

George snickered as Percy joined them at the table.

"Or drink. Getting pissed is definitely a no," George said.

"Don't swear. You're language is atrocious," Percy added.

"And definitely keep your hands off their daughter," Charlie added, entering the kitchen and joining them at the table.

Ron rolled his eyes, but his anxiety was growing. "Funny… not. We're bringing them home on a Muggle aeroplane. What do I do on an aeroplane?" he asked, aware there was a whine in his voice.

"How would I know? I work with dragons," Charlie said incredulously. "Why not ask Dad?"

Ron stared at him, gaping. "Have you actually met our father?"

"He's got a point. Why not ask Harry or Hermione about the Muggle stuff. They could tell you what you need to know," George suggested.

"Harry's never been on an aeroplane, either… and I don't want to ask Hermione," Ron said, mumbling the last bit.

"Don't want to admit you're nervous more like," George said, smirking.

"Why are Hermione's parents in Australia?" Percy asked.

The comradery of the moment was shattered. Of course Percy didn't know what Hermione had done to protect her parents. He hadn't been there. Ron stiffened as he tried to stifle the flare of irritation toward his wayward brother.

"We were sort of high on the most wanted list," he snapped. "She sent them away to try and protect them."

Percy cast his eyes downward, irritating Ron further.

"I'm glad you came to your senses, Percy, but there's still a lot you don't know," Ron said, a hard edge to his voice.

Charlie glanced warily between the two, but didn't intervene. Percy's shoulders slumped, and he nodded in agreement.

"Fred would've pranked you all by now to get rid of this awkwardness," George said sadly. He showed no inclination of pranking any of them on his own.

"Might not have been a very good prank," Ron said, trying to bring George back to his lighter mood.

"Remember when he charmed Dad's robes to fart every time he shook hands?" Charlie asked, a reluctant grin spreading across his face.

"And Dad had a meeting with his Department Head that day," George said.

"I don't remember ever seeing Dad's face redder than Mum's," Percy added.

"I do," Ron said, nodding fervently. "Remember when you and Fred tried to make me take an Unbreakable Vow?"

"Not something I'd soon forget," George said, frowning. "Dad got hold of Fred first, so his bum got the brunt of it."

"You really shouldn't have been messing with that," Percy said, seemingly unable to stop himself.

"We never put as much stock in rules as you did, Perce," George snapped, firing up immediately.

"I know," Percy said, lowering his eyes once again.

"Fred could find a laugh in anything," Charlie said fondly.

"That's what Harry said, too," George nodded, still keeping an eye on Percy.

They were all silent a moment, each lost in their own memories.

"I need to go into Diagon Alley and check on the shop," George said suddenly, though he appeared reluctant.

"I'll go with you," Charlie offered, causing George to raise his eyes gratefully.

"If you can wait until Saturday, I'd like to help, as well," Percy said quietly.

George glanced at him sharply. They all waited tensely for George to reply. "Okay," he said slowly "We'll go on Saturday."

"I won't be back yet," Ron said. "But I'll come in when we get back."

George didn't fully smile and it never reached his eyes, but Ron thought he was pleased.

Author's note: Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Sherylyn for all her time and patience with me. Shout outs to George, Sue, Ryan and Danielle for all their support and encouragement.

Lastly, thank you so much to the SIYE readers for votes for the Silver Trinket. I'm so honored and delighted that Cuts has won best new story. This story has helped to fill some holes for me, and I'm absolutely delighted by the others out there who feel the same. Much appreciated!