Hello all. Yes, this is actually an update. Obviously, it's been more than awhile since the last one so if you're still reading this I'm quite impressed and I thank you much! I'm sorry it's been so long and that I haven't responded to reviews in ages and ages. I will do my best to do so this time around. I will do my best with updates, but as I'm sure you've noticed... I can't promise anything lol. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 24- Pull Some Strings
"Great job today guys! I'll see you tomorrow, same time. Hufflepuff doesn't stand a chance on Saturday."
The members of Gryffindor's quiditch team filed out of the locker room in high spirits, nodding their thanks to Ginny as they headed back across the grounds.
As soon as they were out of sight, the youngest Weasley let out a long sigh and returned to her locker, the smile melting off of her face and the brightness in her eyes dimming as she allowed herself to look how she actually felt: exhausted.
Things were more than dim at Hogwarts. The classes were half the size they should have been, no one went outside unless it was to practice or head to the greenhouses, and a somber mood seemed to have settled even over the great hall. Defense against the dark arts classes were so tense that Ginny was convinced someone was going to accidentally get hexed any day now. Being a morale booster was getting harder and harder to do.
Clenching her broom tightly in one hand, Ginny slammed her locker shut with a satisfying clang.
"Wow, tense Gin?"
Without thinking, Ginny spun around and quickly flicked her wrist.
Dean's eyes widened as his wand flew from his pocket and landed neatly into Ginny's palm.
"Dean! Merlin's pants Dean—don't scare me like that!"
Dean just blinked for a moment and furrowed his brow at the now trembling Ginny as she fumbled to return his wand.
"You're pretty amazing at that you know," he said, lamely attempting to cover the awkward tension that had suddenly risen. Catching Ginny in a moment of frustration was not a common occurrence. She was nearly always laughing and trying to get everyone else to laugh. No one ever said it directly, but all of Gryffindor (and other houses as well) gravitated toward the last remaining Weasley at Hogwarts.
Ginny grit her teeth and shrugged as she handed Dean his wand.
"Yeah, well, it was kinda Harry's specialty," she mumbled.
The silence that settled was less than comfortable. The trio's disappearance from Hogwarts had been all anyone talked about for a few weeks. It was the latest scandal as far as everyone else was concerned. It had driven Ginny nuts. She may not have been "allowed" to take part in Order meetings, but she still managed to keep herself far more informed than you average student. That, coupled with the fact that no one even knew if her dearest friend, brother, and ex-boyfriend were even alive, let alone where they were, made the idea of their disappearance being gossip material nearly unbearable.
But it wasn't long before the first raid happened. It left the wizarding world in shock. Hundreds had been killed—mostly families of muggle-borns. No one said a word about the trio's disappearance after that. The reality of what was happening had sunk in.
Ginny couldn't ever decide if it was worse to make sport of their absence or to not talk about them at all.
"You miss them."
Ginny looked up from where she had been tying her sneakers in a last ditch effort to alleviate the awkwardness. It hadn't been a question.
"I don't blame you Gin. Do you even know where they are?"
Again all Ginny could do was blink for a moment. No one had ever directly asked her. People had fished, but no one had ever just come out and asked her.
"No," she said quietly, "They couldn't tell anyone—less risky."
Dean nodded and ran a hand through his hair. Ginny winced internally at how his posture unintentionally mimed Harry's. It always had in certain ways and was probably why Ginny had initially been attracted to Dean, though she never would have admitted it.
"Don't let it eat you up Ginny. I mean, I know we… well I mean we didn't… I did date you. I know you better than a lot of the others. You don't have to shoulder everything on your own, ya know?"
"I know," Ginny replied automatically. "I'm alright Dean. It's just… it's harder some days than others."
Dean nodded and let out a long sigh as Ginny continued to stare blankly. Evidently, Dean hadn't sought her out just for a chat.
"You really like him, don't you."
Ginny couldn't help it, her mouth fell open of its own accord and she found herself completely without words. Any hope she had of evading the question, or pretending she had no idea who Dean meant was lost.
"It's ok Gin. I… I hope he comes back to you."
Dean smiled good naturedly, expressing more maturity than Ginny had ever seen in him, and shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his robe.
"I'll see you back in the common room."
Ginny nodded mutely as Dean turned and left the locker room. As soon as he was out of sight Ginny sat down hard onto the bench. She hugged her arms tightly around herself, and took a deep breath as she attempted to pull herself together. Gritting her teeth and fiercely wiping away the stray tears that had managed to make their way down her face, Ginny stood up and headed for the door. There was no time for tears. If she couldn't be out there with them, she was going to do everything in her power to make sure there was a home for them to come back to.
George let out a long sigh and rolled his eyes at himself. He had once again apparated back to his old place at Diagon Alley. Granted, it had only been one day since the wedding, but he had essentially moved out a week prior to that.
Try as he might to hide it, George was at a bit of a loss. He had spent the afternoon at Puddlemere's match with his sister, Ron, and Hermione. It was actually quite brilliant, especially when Harry took a bludger to the face and still managed to score, but when the game was over, George was painfully unpaired. Being the 5th wheel to his siblings was odd enough, and to not have Fred there to tease them about their significant others was even weirder. The four of them had invited him back to the flat with them but he had declined, making up something about plans with Lee, who was actually on a date tonight and not at all available.
And then there was Katie. What in the name of Merlin was he going to do about her? Her sudden profession of love had been more than a shock to him and he'd been carefully avoiding her ever since. It had been awkward at the wedding since, under normal circumstances, he would have danced with her or tripped the other dancers for her amusement. Instead he spent most of the wedding trying to be thrilled when he felt like his soul was being ripped in half, and trying to avoid one of the few people he would have been willing to let his guard down in front of. He had never really considered Katie outside of the realm of friendship. He saw her very much the same as he saw Ginny, but her friendship was important to him and he had never been in a position like this one before. Any other girl and he would have just brushed her off.
Clenching his hand into a fist George let out a growl of frustration and kicked at the wall.
"Would you mind not damaging the property?"
George spun around, suppressing the urge to blush (a skill he and his twin had been able to develop rather well, unlike the rest of their family).
"Verity? What are you doing here?"
Verity smiled slightly and shook her head at her boss.
"Well, you're overseeing the Hogsmeade shop, and since Fred is on his honeymoon, the two of you left me with the closing duties over here. Or has that conversation slipped your mind?"
"Oh, yeah, that's right. I forgot."
Verity had been at the shop with them almost since the beginning. She was often put in charge of things in the twins' absence and had also been given the choice of which shop she wanted to work at, her seniority trumping other employee requests. She had chosen the Hogsmeade shop, which George had found unexplainably exciting.
"Uh, are you ok?"
George blinked and tried to collect himself as Verity watched him.
"Yeah of course! I… uh… no. Actually, I'm not really," and to his complete horror, George began to laugh. He couldn't stop. For whatever reason, his standing outside his former flat with this blonde girl who barely knew him seemed utterly hilarious.
"George?" Verity shouldered her bag and closed the distance between herself and the red head, slightly unsure of herself.
George didn't respond and instead just continued to laugh so hard that tears streamed down his face. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd laughed quite like this. He almost felt slightly frantic. It suddenly dawned on him that he was slightly frantic as he struggled to draw breaths through his laughter.
"George? George, just breathe, ok?"
Verity's voice somehow made its way through to him and he took a deep breath, only to have it cut short as he continued to howl, tears clouding his vision. He gasped and clutched his sides, bent double. Verity timidly placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to get George to focus on breathing.
It was a few moments before George realized he was no longer laughing. Instead he was wracked with sobs. He couldn't even get a grip long enough to be mortified and instead sunk to his knees as Verity kept her hand securely on his shoulder in silent comfort.
In hindsight, he really should have seen this coming. He'd been jumping out of his skin for nearly a year now just trying to hold himself together on the outside. Since Angelina's accident, Fred had become jumpy and borderline paranoid. George had felt it was his responsibility to stay collected for both of their sakes. He should have known he couldn't do it forever.
Verity simply allowed George to sob, slightly stunned and her face full of confusion. At last George seemed to be breathing normally and his arms unclenched from around himself, Verity slowly sat down next to him.
George however, refused to look up at her and instead kept his eyes glued firmly to the ground, finally able to allow his mortification sink in.
"You should probably know," he said at last, still not looking up, "That this is the most embarrassed I've been in my entire life."
Verity just sat there, her expression unreadable as she looked at George.
"Want to get a drink?"
The abruptness of the question was enough for George to look up, stunned at how natural Verity had managed to make it sound.
"Huh?" was all he managed to get out.
Verity just smiled softly and shrugged. "Something tells me you could use one… and some company."
George just looked at her, surprised to find his lips curling into a genuine smile as Verity just smirked at him.
"Yeah I… I guess maybe I do."
"How'd it go?"
Ron collapsed into the vacant chair next to Harry and gave him a look that clearly stated exactly how his day had been. He was exhausted. For eight hours now Ron had been taking his exams. Even his OWLS seemed like a cake walk in comparison, and rather than go home to relax, he now had to sit through a meeting with the healer in charge of research regarding the sterilization curse. He hoped Harry was ready to pay attention, because he was certain his own brain would soon be oozing out of his ears.
"How long have you been waiting?"
"Not long," Harry replied, "They know I'm here."
Ron nodded and then furrowed his brow as he took a better look at Harry.
"The swelling on that ought to be down by now mate," he informed Harry with a frown.
Harry smiled sheepishly and looked at Ron through his good eye, his left one still swollen shut from the day before.
"I sort of forgot to put the salve on it."
Ron rolled his eyes and pulled out his wand.
"Well if you can't see out of your left eye ever again don't expect me to fix it for you," he informed Harry before muttering a spell and aiming his wand carefully at the swollen eye.
"Are you… I mean… is this going to be hard for you? Because if you'd rather just go home…"
"It's all right Harry. I want to do this. I just… yeah, it might be hard. I wish I wasn't coming from an eight our exam, and I wish it wasn't my girlfriend who was hit with this damned thing, but there's not much I can do about it. I'm dieing for a cup of tea though."
Harry laughed. "Well that I can help you with. The café is down this hall."
By the time Harry returned with two steaming mugs, the healer had arrived and was shaking Ron's hand.
"Mr. Potter! Healer Konrad; it's a pleasure to meet you!"
"Er, thanks," Harry replied awkwardly, shifting a mug to Ron to take the healer's hand.
"Right then, if you two will follow me, I'll take you on a tour of our lab. It's fantastic that someone is taking an interest—it doesn't happen too often. People tend to think we just wave our wands randomly and cure everything—like it's that simple. Anyway, feel free to stop me at any point; I tend to get a little passionate."
"I can see that," Ron said, raising his eyebrows at Harry as they followed the healer down the corridor. Harry just smirked into his mug.
"I had no idea you were in the healer program Mr. Weasley. Have you considered looking into counter-curse development at all?"
"Uh, no, actually. I'm not sure it would really suit me. I sort of… detest magical theory."
Healer Konrad laughed and nodded in understanding. "Definitely not the place for you then. Anyway, here we are."
The healer led Harry and Ron through a doorway and Harry instantly realized why his best mate had no desire to go into counter-curse development. H
The "lab" was essentially several rows of witches and wizards bent over desks, parchment, and books. It looked like a Hermione dream world and a Ron nightmare. The healer continued to lead the way to a small conference room towards the back of the space and gestured for them to take seats.
"Basically, what we deal with is a lot of research and theory. Breaking down the components of a curse is a meticulous process even when we know what it is—the sterilization curse is a particular challenge because we don't even know how it is cast. An incantation, wand movement, anything helps. The curse isn't even fully developed, so it's extremely tricky to pull it apart. What we do know is…"
"Wait, wait, wait," Harry shook his head and looked at Ron who, to Harry's shock, looked as though he completely understood everything the healer had just said, "What did you just say?"
"There are three main types of curses," Ron responded before the healer had a chance, earning him yet another incredulous look from Harry, "psychosomatic, physiological, and external force. External force is the easiest to heal; it's basically an injury caused by… well by some sort of external force, like sectumsempra. The injury is outside the body and easily healed… or at least relatively easily, make sense?"
Harry nodded mutely, too shocked to actually speak as Ron continued to explain curses.
"Psychosomatic are like my insomnia curse, or the imperious—it's all in the mind and most of the time are up to the victim to fix. The trickiest from a healing perspective are physiological. It's when the curse actually affects you biologically. I have a nasty feeling that's the category the sterilization curse falls under."
Healer Konrad nodded and Ron let out a long sigh. Harry however, just continued to stare at his best friend.
Ron sighed and glared slightly in response, perturbed by Harry's shock.
"What do you think I spend all day doing Harry?" he asked defensively.
Harry shook himself and muttered an apology.
"Right," Konrad began again, "As Mr. Weasley just explained, the sterilization curse is what we call a Class III, Physiological Curse. The Class III just means that it's extremely dark."
"There's only three classes," Ron added for Harry's benefit. Harry merely nodded and did his best to keep up as the healer continued.
"The curse biologically affects the reproductive organs themselves. If fully developed, we imagine that the organs would be essentially disintegrated by the curse. We have one case where a young witch is unexplainably missing half of her left fallopian tube, but that's the most extreme case we've come across so far. For the most part, the organs are just damaged and not completely missing. Our trouble mostly comes from not knowing how the damage is caused—what components of magic have made the organs break down. Without knowing that, we can't reverse the effects and rebuild the organ."
Harry simply blinked as Ron sat with his brow furrowed in thought.
"There's a curse," Ron said at last, "I can't for the life of me remember what it's called, but it dissolves the person's kidneys. Is it the same thing?"
"It's similar yes, but not the same. That's actually the curse we're using as a starting point for our studies. It's aimed specifically towards the kidneys and the breakdown caused by the kidney curse is different from the type we've seen in the sterilization."
Ron and Harry glanced at each other and Harry nodded to Ron, feeling that it was him who ought to initiate the funding. For a few moments, Harry felt as though he didn't even know his best friend anymore. Ron hated schooling. He hated studying. Yet his knowledge on healing had been impressive. It wasn't that Harry had doubted his friend's ability—quite the opposite, as he had experienced first hand just how capable Ron was at it. It was simply that Harry had never seen Ron display such a… knowledge.
"Healer Konrad," Ron's voice brought Harry from his thoughts, "Harry and I would like to offer funding for your research here. The curse has er… hit home, I guess you could say, and we'd like to do what we can to um… you know, help."
"I think your brother is mad at me."
Ginny looked up from the chopping board and raised an eyebrow at Harry.
Harry sighed and sat down at the table and put his head in hands.
Ginny smirked as she went back to her chopping. "Ron is rarely simple."
Harry snorted and leaned back in his chair. The meeting with the healer had gone well. He'd taken their offer of funding with enthusiasm and they'd worked out much of the details on the spot. Ron however, had been slightly distant with Harry the entire time and even less inclined to speak when they arrived back at the flat. Harry knew his friend well enough to know he was annoyed, but he wasn't ever quite sure how to broach the subject.
"Are you going to just sit there or are you going to tell me more about it?" Ginny asked, pulling her wand from behind her ear and charming the vegetables to chop themselves.
"I was thinking I was just going to sit here," Harry teased, "Care to join me?"
Ginny rolled her eyes but nevertheless perched herself in Harry's lap.
"Don't think this means I think you're smooth Potter."
"Nah, you just think I'm irresistible."
Ginny laughed and shoved Harry, who merely wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. They stayed that way for several moments, Ginny fully aware that Harry was merely biding time to sift through his thoughts.
"Ginny, I've never thought your brother was stupid."
Ginny pulled away to look at Harry, a confused expression on her face.
"Well he isn't," she said, a little baffled.
"I know. But he doesn't. And so… I don't know. Just because I don't think he's stupid doesn't mean it's not surprising to hear him so… I don't know… academic? Is that the right word?"
Ginny laughed and shook her head. "How about you explain from the beginning?"
Harry heaved another sigh and shifted to a more comfortable position before explaining further.
"Basically, we had that meeting with the research healer, you remember?" Ginny nodded and Harry continued. "He started explaining what they know so far about the curse and… well to put it bluntly Ginny, I was completely lost. I had no idea what the man was talking about, but Ron… he… he explained it to me! And I mean, I know Ron is studying to be a healer and all but I guess I just didn't realize how much he actually knows. I uh… I guess I looked pretty shocked, but I mean, this is the same Ron who had Hermione write a large majority of his essays! I know how capable he is… I've just never seen him… I don't know really. Anyway, we both know how fragile his self-esteem is; I think it really annoyed him that I was so surprised."
Ginny took this in for a moment before tilting Harry's chin towards her.
"Harry, the thing is, I don't think it is the same Ron who relied on Hermione's essays."
"I was afraid you'd say that."
Ginny smiled and kissed Harry lightly. "You had to grow up a lot earlier than Ron did; it was a lot more seamless for you… not easy," she added, seeing Harry's eyes flicker, "but less abrupt. I think Ron is a little bit more shocked with himself than even he realizes sometimes."
"Ginny I just… it was completely normal for him to be so… adult, if that's the right word, when we were…" he paused and waved his hands vaguely in the direction of the nearest window. It was how the trio in general referred to their time out horcrux hunting— a frustrated wave of the arms, as though not sure how else to put it. "…when we were out there."
"But now that you're not out there," Ginny said, mimicking Harry's hand gesture with slightly more theatricality, "you sort of just expected him to go back to how he was before the war. I know Harry. I know you didn't notice, but there were moments when you guys returned, even some now, where I just gape at the three of you. You had been dealing with the weight of the world being on your shoulders for years… for Ron, it got a lot more drastic in a much shorter space of time. He's still Ron. But… he grew up… or something anyway."
"How do you know all this?" Harry asked, half laughing, "You're younger for goodness sakes!"
Ginny just grinned and hopped off of Harry's lap.
"Youngest in a family with 7 kids, remember? I had to be tough and be mature if I wanted to keep up. Plus I'm a girl; we mature way faster than you anyway."
"It's true," Hermione's voice entered.
"What are you doing here?" Harry asked as she sat down next to him at the table, not meaning the question to sound as harsh as it did.
Hermione just smiled at him and shook her head.
"I live here Harry. And I like to think I know my boyfriend well enough to know when he needs some space."
Harry groaned and pressed his forehead into the table.
"That's my fault," he muttered.
Hermione glanced at Ginny and both girls had to hide their smirks.
"Oh just go talk to him would you? I know you both well enough by now to know when you need… well when you need each other," Hermione said, laughing.
Harry just looked at her in confusion as she and Ginny howled with laughter.
"I don't see what's so funny," he told them matter-of-factly.
"Sorry Harry," Hermione said, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "I only meant that you two just need to be around each other sometimes. There are some things that only you two understand about each other. I used to be so jealous actually… but hey, I'm the one that gets to snog him."
Harry just stared at Hermione the two girls who both seemed to think there was nothing at all odd about them insinuating that he and Ron needed some "alone time."
"Uh… ok? I'm going to my flat. I'll be over for dinner in…?"
"Twenty minutes," Ginny replied, dumping the vegetables into a pan over the stove.
Harry stood, casting both girls one last confused glance before apparating back to his own flat two flights up. It didn't take him long to find Ron, who was out on the balcony, leaning heavily on the banister.
Ron looked over at him, smirked slightly, and then turned his attention back to the grand expanse of parking lot.
"Ron, listen, I'm sorry about…"
"You know Harry," Ron interrupted, "I think one day I'd like to live in the country. Not too far out mind you, but at least somewhere with some trees, a big back yard, that sort of thing."
Harry just stared mutely for a moment and slowly took up post next to Ron on the banister. He wasn't exactly sure what the girls thought he and Ron did when they were angry with each other (at least, angry is what he and Ron considered it. The truth was usually that they were hurt, but angry just sounded much better), but they rarely, talked about it. That was the beauty of it as far as Harry was concerned. They simply didn't need to. They knew each other well enough by now to know what the other wanted to say.
They stood in silence for quite some time before Ron spoke up again.
"It wasn't really you I was upset with you know." Harry blinked and turned to look at Ron, who was concentrating hard on some point far away, not looking at Harry. "I mean, I kind of was, but under different circumstances… I probably wouldn't have cared." Harry just waited silently as Ron seemed to gather himself for what he had to say next. "They… they aren't going to get this curse figured out. They…" Ron growled in frustration and ran his hands roughly through his hair, "… they don't have enough information; they don't have anything to start with."
Harry didn't reply. He didn't understand much of what had gone on in that Healer's office, but he knew that Ron had, and his expression had not been a hopeful one.
At last, Ron straightened from the railing and turned to face Harry. It was an expression that Harry instantly recognized and he matched Ron's posture at once, ready for whatever was coming next.
"I might need you to help me pull some strings," Ron said slowly.
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