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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 18: Skin Deep
Time may fly when you are having fun, but it dies when you are worried. Ginny was beyond worried. How long had he been gone now, thirty-five minutes?

She was too anxious and worried to concentrate on anything, and she could not bear to be around anyone else. She knew she would be too transparent to them, but more than that she just did not want to deal with people at the moment. She knew she was far too likely to fly off the handle at the simplest provocation, and she was also liable to interpret absolutely anything as a provocation.

She had absolutely nothing to help her pass the time except worrying and waiting. Waiting was not something Ginny Weasley liked to do. She realised that she was being a bit impatient, but she could not help how she felt. She had taken refuge in Harry’s office; at least there she did not have to worry about keeping up appearances. She would sit down on the sofa, rise, pace back and forth in front of the fire, become frustrated with herself, plop down on the sofa, and repeat the process all over again. And so she waited.

She glanced at her watch. Forty-five minutes had passed since Harry left. “Ugh!” she cried, flinging herself off the sofa. She could not take it any more. She needed to do something, so she took her cue from Harry. Ginny flung the door of his office open and quickly traversed the corridors and staircases that led to the seventh floor corridor holding the portrait of Barnabus the Barmy. Impatiently pacing back and forth in front of the room, she tore open the door that appeared across from the portrait and slammed it shut behind her. Before the crash of the door had even reached her ears, Ginny’s wand was in hand.

“Lacerus!” she shouted, cutting her wand across her body as she did so. A short jet of light erupted from her wand mid-slash and raced forward. She watched as it tore across the midsection of a dummy that had appeared several metres in front of her. She took grim satisfaction in seeing the curse sever the dummy in two. She was already spinning to face her next target and never saw the first disappear as soon as it hit the ground.

Incendiary, blasting, bludgeoning, and cutting curses were her preferred methods of relieving tension. Of all the curses she knew, those were the most openly brutal to their targets. At first her targets all remained motionless, taking her onslaught, but after a short time, they began moving and fighting back. Ginny found it was much more satisfying to destroy something capable of defending itself and even able to hex her in turn. The ones that slipped a jinx past her defences – all minor – did not remain standing long afterwards.

While she was busy blocking a spell from a dummy on her right, one managed to hit her with a particularly irritating Stinging Hex on her left side. She unthinkingly jabbed her left hand towards the offending dummy. When she dispatched the one to her right, she turned, intending to counter the attack from the left. She instead found the other dummy crumbling into ashes as flames consumed its body. No new dummies appeared as she watched in morbid fascination. She glanced down at her hand then back at the pile of ashes.

In that moment of calm, her adrenaline began to fade, and fatigue caught up with her. She had no idea how long she had been at it, nor could she remember how many dummies she had dispatched. Ginny stared down at her left hand for a long minute before her senses began to catch up with her. She noticed the grittiness of her hand first. The feeling of a drop of sweat tracing its way down the side of her face followed. She wiped the sweat away from her face with her sleeve before turning to find a door leading to a shower room, just the thing she needed.

She kept her mind clear as she allowed the steamy shower to relax both her mind and body. After the workout she had just given herself, the heat felt wonderful on her muscles. It offered her only a brief respite, however, as all too soon the reality of the situation caught up with her. She cut her shower shorter than she would have liked, wanting to get back to Harry’s office so that she was sure not to miss him.

As soon as she arrived, she sank back onto Harry’s sofa and closed her eyes, unconcerned at the prospect of falling asleep. Her mind was much too active to fall asleep at the moment, even if her body was drained. She hoped Harry would not be much longer. The mock battle and subsequent shower had done a lot to ease her nerves, but she was still worried about him.

She refused to look at her watch as she waited. It seemed like hours before she heard footsteps outside the door. Her eyes snapped open and watched as the handle turned and the door seemed to open of its own accord. She was on her feet by the time the door clicked shut. As soon as Harry’s feet came into view as he removed his invisibility cloak, she was crossing the room towards him.

When his face appeared and he turned to her, he held out his hand to stop her approach. She stopped short and was confused, hurt, and worried all at once by the simple gesture. Her emotions must have shown on her face because he answered the question in her mind.

“My chest was – er – cursed,” he explained awkwardly.

“What do you mean cursed?” she demanded, feeling a cold pit of fear well up in her stomach. Her eyes quickly raked over his body seeking reassurance that he was okay.

He did not answer; instead, he grabbed hold of his robes and lifted them over his head.

She did not miss the wince of pain on his face at the action, nor could she withhold her gasp as the robe moved past his chest. His shirt was torn and singed, and she could see the raw, charred skin of his chest.

She took a couple steps towards him, closing the distance between them, and held out a hand as if to touch his chest but withdrew long before making contact. Her mind flew back to the dummy consumed in flames in the Room of Requirement. Then the scene changed. The flames never abated; only this time it was not a dummy, but Harry. She immediately shook that image from her mind, unnerved by the intensity of it.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his hand on her arm.

She opened eyes she had not realised she had closed to find Harry’s face looking down on her in concern. She could almost have laughed at the irony of the situation – almost. “Yes, I’m fine,” she replied in a hard tone. She looked deep into his eyes, and her voice softened as she continued, “The question is are you okay?”

He shrugged his response. “I’ll survive,” he said. “But right now my chest hurts like hell.”

“At least you’re learning to be honest,” she answered, regaining the remainder of her composure. She wanted to hear about the battle but needed to make sure he was taken care of before she succumbed to her curiosity. “Do you know what you were hit with or how to treat it?”

“Remus said…”

“You talked to Remus?” Ginny interrupted in surprise.

“In disguise,” Harry explained. “He was there tonight, and we ended up helping each other out a bit. He said he thought it might be a curse called the Devil’s Fire, or something like that. I don’t really know anything about it or how to treat it.”

‘Great!’ Ginny fumed in her mind. Part of her wanted to rage at him for taking such risks and getting himself hurt like this, but she knew it would solve nothing. It was not even a rational anger. She was not angry at him. She was angry at the Death Eaters and the situation. He should not be forced to take such risks, but she saw the necessity of it. No one else was doing much of anything about it. After all, that was what she was training for, so she could take those same stupid risks with him.

She took a couple deep breaths to calm herself before reevaluating the situation. She silently thanked her mum for treating her differently than all her brothers, forcing her to learn things that a proper witch should know if she ever hoped to run a household. She knew Harry would refuse to go to a healer unless there were no other options available, and that meant he would research the curse and any possible cures before he even considered it a viable option.

“Mum made me help her with a couple salves for Charlie when he was training before moving out to Romania,” Ginny told him. “I’m not sure how much it’ll help, but they’re pretty easy to make and don’t require anything outside our normal potion supplies.”

“That would be wonderful,” Harry told her with obvious relief. “How long will it take?”

Ginny shrugged. “About half an hour to make it, I think.”

Harry nodded and pulled his trunk out of his pocket, removing the shrinking charm from it. “There are supplies and extra cauldrons in the study. Take whatever you need.”

She nodded curtly at him and let herself into the trunk. He had already given her the tour, so she wasted no time heading for the study, quickly packing up all the supplies she would need. She ascended back into his office a couple minutes later to find Harry sprawled out on the sofa with his back flat on the cushions and his legs hanging over the arm of the sofa. He turned his head to look at her, and she offered him a small smile before making her way to his desk, setting up the cauldron, and preparing the ingredients.

“So tell me what happened,” Ginny said as she set off to work.

She heard Harry sigh behind her but did not let it distract her from her work. After a moment he began to speak. “Well, the Order was given false information. Or rather, they were given wholly incomplete information. There were five members of Voldemort’s inner circle present for the assault, as well as a good twenty other Death Eaters.”

She fumbled with the knife she was holding and nearly cut herself in the process. Twenty-five Death Eaters? Five from the inner circle? She turned around and looked at Harry, though he could not see her from the position he was in, and she silently thanked Merlin, the fates, and whatever deity might be out there that Harry had walked away with just the burn on his chest, horrible as it was in its own right.

Harry continued on, seemingly oblivious to Ginny’s reaction. “They were also a bit early. By the time I arrived, the battle was already underway. There were six Order members stationed around the house, and all six were pinned down. The Death Eaters had the superior position, and the Order members couldn’t make any headway at all. I circled the grounds as an owl and counted twenty Death Eaters, along with the six Order members.”

“Wait,” Ginny interrupted, turning around to face him. “I thought you said there were twenty-five Death Eaters.”

Harry moved as if to turn around to face her, but then winced at the action and spoke from his current position. “There were, but at the time I counted twenty. You’ll see why in a minute.”

She huffed and spun back around to resume working on the salve for Harry. After a short moment, he picked the story back up. He explained about the Death Eaters under the invisibility cloaks and how he was constantly being attacked from behind by the invisible foes. “Even after I discovered the invisible Death Eaters, it was impossible to keep track of them while fighting off all the others, which is how I ended up with this.”

Ginny did not turn to face him, knowing that Harry was speaking of the burn on his chest. Given the story he was telling her, she knew he was lucky to be alive. The burn looked bad, but compared to the alternatives, she was thankful that was all he had suffered. She was glad that she had the salve to focus on as he told his story. It kept her from contemplating his words, from conjuring scenes in her mind of Harry fighting for his life while hopelessly outnumbered.

Instead, she concentrated on mashing this ingredient, or cutting up that one, stirring it into the mixture clockwise for three turns. It was not the most complicated process, but it was enough to hold her attention. The thought that it could help Harry kept her mind focused on the task at hand.

His story finished before she was done with the salve, and the room settled into silence broken only by the sounds of her labours. About five minutes later the salve was finished. She poured the ointment into a jar and walked over to the sofa, kneeling down on the floor in front of him.

“Hey,” she said softly, her eyes briefly pausing on his chest before rising to his face.

“Hi,” he responded. “All done?”

“Yep.” She held up the jar for him to see. “Now, first thing we have to do is get you out of that shirt.” She paused a moment before suggesting, “It may be easier just to cut it off.”

Harry’s head tilted down to look at his shirt, and he seemed to consider his options for a moment before he agreed. “The shirt’s ruined anyway,” he explained.

She nodded, then cast her gaze around the room looking for something to cut the shirt with. She nearly smacked herself on the forehead when she finally thought to reach for her wand. A simple severing charm would do the trick. She concentrated on cutting through the fabric without touching his skin; she was particularly careful on the areas near his burn. The last thing she wanted to do was make his injuries even worse.

When she was finished, she pulled the fabric down to his sides and allowed her eyes to rake across his stomach and torso. After a moment her eyes flicked up to his and found that he was watching her. She had to fight down her blush as she felt heat rushing to her face. Once she had control of herself, she reached her hand out and traced his skin just below part of his scorched flesh.

“There are some bits of your shirt stuck to your skin,” she said after a long moment. “We’ll have to remove those.” She looked up from his chest to his face. “It will probably hurt.”

“How?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ve never exactly done this before. Mum never actually had me help her treat Charlie; I only helped make the salve. I’m as ignorant of what to do as you.”

Nodding his head in acceptance, Harry conjured a pair of tweezers and held them out to her. She took them and looked down to his chest wondering where she should start. His voice called her attention back to him.

“I’m going to cast a numbing charm over the area to dull the pain.” As he said this, his hand was already passing over his chest, and she saw a soft blue light pass over the affected area. She looked back up into his eyes once the light had disappeared. “Go ahead,” he encouraged.

She nodded her head and set to work. Even knowing that he should not be able to feel any pain, she still took great caution and care as she removed the bits of cloth fused to his burned skin. She did not want to damage the area any more than it already was, and she also knew that while he may not be able to feel it now, he likely would feel it later if she was too rough.

After several minutes she was finally satisfied and leaned back away from the sofa. She turned her torso and set the tweezers on the table behind her. When she turned back, she found Harry’s gaze resting on her. A small smile spread across his lips, and she somehow knew what he was trying to say. That smile conveyed his gratitude better than words ever could. She offered her own smile in return as she lifted the jar. “I think you’re finally ready for the good stuff,” she informed him. “Do you want the honours, or would you rather I do it?”

“If you don’t mind,” Harry answered without hesitation.

“Of course not,” Ginny replied. “If I can’t fight with you, at least I can take care of you when you come back.”

She dipped her right hand into the jar, scooping up a healthy amount of the ointment onto her fingers. She set the jar down and braced her left hand on the sofa in front of him as she began to spread the salve across the burn. She was careful to keep her touch light and frequently looked up into his face to make sure he was alright. Every time she looked up, the corner of his lips would quirk up at her, and she would immediately focus back on the task at hand.

When she was satisfied, she sat back and looked around for something to wipe her hand on, but Harry solved the dilemma by conjuring a towel into his hand and offering it to her.

“Thanks,” she said. “I think you’re supposed to lie still for awhile to give it time to set in, but I’m not exactly sure how long.” She finished wiping off her hand and tossed the towel onto the table. Harry barely lifted his hand as he immediately vanished the object along with the tweezers. She stood and looked down at him. “You just stay there, and I’ll go clean up.”

It took her only a few minutes to clear away the mess on his desk. Once she had finished the task, she perched on the table before the sofa, leaning over with her elbows on her knees to put herself in his line of sight.

The two were quiet for some time. Against her will Ginny found her mind wandering back to his description of the night’s events. Her mind began conjuring images of Harry locked in battle. She was helpless as she watched him struggle for survival, as she watched the curse connect with his chest. His stubborn nobility kept him fighting even through the obvious pain he was in. So lost was she in her imagination that she nearly jumped off the table when Harry broke the silence. “Ginny?” he asked.

“Yes, Harry?” she answered after taking a moment to collect herself.

“Can you grab the invisibility cloak?” Harry requested.

“Sure,” she replied as she stood and retrieved the garment. As she sat back on the table, she held the cloak out to him.

“No,” Harry said, shaking his head slightly. “I want you to keep it.”

“What?” Ginny asked, her voice belying her surprise. “I couldn’t. It belonged to your dad; it’s yours.”

Harry chuckled lightly, then groaned and held a hand to his chest just to the side of his burn.

“Easy,” Ginny soothed. “You need to be careful while that’s healing.”

Harry nodded his head in acceptance before returning to the topic at hand. “That’s not my dad’s. I got that tonight, and I want you to have it.”

Her head tilted down to look at the cloak in her hands. She slid the silky material through her fingers and held it up for closer inspection. “This belonged to one of the Death Eaters?” she asked tentatively.

“Yeah. For all I know it may even have belonged to the man who gave me this?” He nodded down to his chest.

Ginny just stared at the fabric held between her fingers. Objectively she knew that she should accept the cloak and be thankful for it. Invisibility cloaks were rare and expensive; she never imagined she would ever own one. At the same time, she wondered if the garment would be a constant reminder to her of the dangers Harry was in, or how close he had come to being more seriously wounded. Resolute, she refused to let her worries and fears control her.

“Thanks,” she finally said softly. “Any more surprises for me?”

Harry seemed to think it over for a second before responding, “No, I don’t think so.”

“Good. I think I’ve had all I can handle for one night.”

Harry sighed wearily. “We should probably get up to Gryffindor Tower. We’re already late for curfew.”

Ginny cursed under her breath. “I hope Hermione’s not waiting to ambush us.”

Harry shrugged. “Not much we can do about it, but the longer we wait, the more likely she is to say something.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“Of course,” he replied with a cocky grin. He opened his trunk to the compartment holding his clothes and grabbed a clean, whole shirt and robe. “Er – do you think it’s okay to wear something over this?” He gestured unnecessarily to his chest.

“I have no idea,” Ginny replied with a shrug. “Not much choice either way, is there?”

“I suppose you’re right.” As he struggled to get the garment over his head without stretching his chest too much, Ginny stepped forward and helped him. It took a bit of work, but they were finally able to get his clothes looking normal. With that settled, they set out for Gryffindor Tower. Luckily, Hermione was engrossed in writing an essay and did not notice the hour when they arrived. They went straight to bed, each too exhausted to even contemplate doing any homework or even spending time with their friends in the common room.


******

Harry forced himself out of bed the following morning. His chest was still quite raw, and every movement served to punctuate the pain. He called forth his magic and felt a cool, numbness spread over the area. It was an odd feeling. Every breath felt strange, but he did his best to ignore those sensations. The charm made the pain almost unnoticeable, so he could deal with any oddities.

For once Ginny had beaten him to the common room and was forced to wait on him, though he was sure she had not been waiting too long. He had only taken a few extra minutes to get ready. The concern in her eyes was evident from the moment her face swam into view, and he sent her a small smile hoping to allay her worries.

“Good morning,” he said as he stepped off the staircase and approached her. He leaned in to give her a quick peck on the side of her mouth. As he backed away, he saw the corner of her lips he had kissed quirk up into a soft smile.

“Good morning, Harry,” she responded in little more than a whisper. “How are you feeling?”

On any other day, the question would have seemed innocuous, but on this morn, the question was a loaded one. Part of him wished to tell her he was fine, that she should not be concerned, but he knew she would see through that fallacy. He could tell her that he was feeling just slightly better, or he could tell her the truth. “I had to cast a numbing charm.”

“I still wish you’d let a healer look at it,” she said in a defeated voice with her head down. She looked up and met his gaze as she asked, “Do you think it’s at least healing?”

Harry shrugged helplessly, wishing he had something positive to give to her. “It’s too soon to tell. I’ll continue to use the ointment for the next few nights, and hopefully we’ll know by then if it’s working.”

“Will you at least reconsider taking it easy for a few days?” she asked hopelessly. “You’re only going to aggravate it by staying mobile.”

“I promise I’ll take it easy, but I have to maintain appearances, which means the morning jog has to stay,” Harry responded patiently. “Now come on. Even if I don’t have to do a full workout today, you do, so we best get moving.”

She stuck her tongue out at him but did not argue; instead, she clasped her hand in his and walked at his side down the corridors of Hogwarts, into the entrance hall, and out into the grounds.

Harry was careful in his stretching routine, only doing the exercises that would not stretch his chest at all. When he began his jog, the discomfort was minimal, but as time passed on, he became more and more aware of the burn. The pain was never unbearable, though it made it difficult to get a full breath of air, which left him feeling unusually winded.

He slowed his pace to compensate. He was still outpacing Ginny at his reduced speed, but he was unwilling to push himself as hard as he normally would. He was frustrated with the situation, but he knew it was unwise to risk causing himself more harm.

******

Remus was exhausted. As if the battle and meetings the previous night had not been long enough, he had slept fitfully, unable to relax his mind. He had spent hours tossing and turning in bed as he struggled with the information he had learned and what it all potentially amounted to. It was almost inconceivable to think that Harry and their mysterious saviour could be one in the same, yet he could not deny the evidence.

The panther animagus form was just too much to be coincidence. Add in the fact that Ginny was the only one of Harry’s friends aware of that ability and things began to fall into place. Harry had even said that Ginny had “found him out.” What if in rescuing Ginny he had somehow revealed his identity to her? Or perhaps she was able to put the pieces together after the fact.

Even with all the evidence pointing to Harry, there were a lot of problems with that theory. For one, how could Harry have been in Diagon Alley to save Ginny over the summer? How could he have snuck out of Hogwarts into Hogsmeade on Halloween? And how had he found himself at the home of Amelia Bones the previous evening? The question was not only how he managed to get to these places but also how he knew to be there. Their information last night had come straight from Severus. There was no way Harry could have been privy to that information - unless he had a vision, but Remus liked to think Harry would not be so cavalier as to march off to battle without informing Dumbledore or another member of the Order first.

Then again, if it was not Harry it posed an even greater question of where he was getting his information. Did he have his own source of information amongst the Death Eaters? Or was his source perhaps with the Order? And what was his motivation? Why was he appearing to help them? Did he have any battles with the Death Eaters that they were unaware of?

There was also the obvious question of how Harry would even be able to perform magic outside of Hogwarts without getting in trouble with the Ministry. Even if Fudge was no longer eager to make Harry out to be unstable, he would still no doubt use an infraction as some means of leverage for his own political gain.

Even if Harry could somehow find ways around all those obstacles, the fact of the matter was that this kid could fight. Harry was a powerful wizard in his own right, but Remus knew him well enough to know that he was not anywhere near the level of skill displayed by the young man he had met the previous evening. The only evidence he really had to the contrary was a dream where Sirius had informed him otherwise. The dream had felt real, but he was highly sceptical. It was stretching the limits of his imagination to be able to conceive that the dream was real, that Sirius had really visited him. Then again, it was too large a coincidence to overlook.

Remus, therefore, was anxious and nervous, but, most of all, intrigued when Dumbledore summoned both Tonks and him to his office in Hogwarts in order to discuss some new information brought to light on the strangers. He was not entirely sure what he hoped to find out. Deep down, he hoped his suspicions about Harry proved to be false. He did not want to think of Harry putting himself at such risk. He was still just a boy – not an ordinary one by any means, but a boy just the same. He was sixteen years old, not yet of age and still in school. He did not belong on the battlefield.

If this new information confirmed his suspicions, he knew he would be left in an uncomfortable position. His duty to the Order would require him to divulge Harry’s possible involvement, yet his duty to Harry would require him to keep his silence – at least until he had an opportunity to talk to Harry first. He was not even sure if it would be a good thing for Dumbledore to know. If it really was Harry, he was obviously much more skilled than any of them could guess. Should they try to keep him under lock and key, he could likely slip by them and run off on his own. Remus was aware of how Harry felt being forced to live with his relatives every summer. He would not put it past him to rebel should any more of his freedoms be rescinded; his dream had even warned him of that very thing. Whether it was real or just his subconscious, Remus could not deny the validity of Sirius’s warning.

What it all amounted to for Remus, at least for the time being, was a headache. Tonks stepped through the fireplace before him, and he followed directly after. When he arrived in the Headmaster’s office, Tonks was already seating herself in one of two armchairs before the Headmaster’s desk. Albus was seated in his desk chair with his hands steepled in front of his face, his elbows resting on the desk. He gestured one of his hands towards the other chair before returning his hands to their steepled position. Remus took the chair and looked over to Tonks before returning his attention to the Headmaster.

“You said you had some new information about our mysterious allies you wished to discuss?” Remus asked, wanting to get the meeting underway.

“Indeed,” the Headmaster replied. “Severus was summoned earlier this evening, and he was made privy to some interesting information about these young men that, if true, would seem to confirm some of our earlier suspicions.”

Remus felt his eyebrows rise into his hairline as he stared into the Headmaster’s impassive face. “Oh?”

“I was wondering,” Albus continued conversationally, “if either of you had noticed a lone, dark-feathered bird at any point during your time at the Bones residence.”

Remus wracked his brain trying to think of any birds. He did not remember seeing anything, so he shook his head. “I don’t recall seeing any birds at all.” He looked over at Tonks to see her shaking her head as well.

“Me neither,” she said. “We didn’t have much time to scope out the area beforehand, and once the battle got started, we were too busy to notice much of anything except all the spells flying at us.”

Remus nodded grimly in agreement. He turned back to the Headmaster to find him nodding as if he had expected that response.

“Voldemort was unhappy to learn that his plans had failed, and when he was informed that this young man had once again nearly single-handedly fought off such a large group of his followers, he was all the more furious. When Voldemort demanded to hear all they could tell about this young man, one Death Eater claimed he saw a bird fly down to the ground near where the young man first appeared. He did not see the bird transform into the young man, but he never noticed the bird take off again. It would stand to reason that one of the young men is likely an avian animagus, while the other we know to be a panther.”

Remus sat in stunned silence, staring at the Headmaster. He had considered the possibility that they were in fact correct about there being two of them, and he had assumed that if Harry was one, Ginny must be the other. After all, if Harry had taught her to be an animagus while keeping the secret from Ron and Hermione, she was the only logical conclusion. It would be typical of Harry, though, to want to keep her out of danger if possible. To think that he would have her hidden, yet shielding him was certainly not unthinkable.

This new bit of information, however, threw all his theories out the window. If one of them really was an avian animagus, then maybe the panther was just a coincidence. Maybe Ginny stumbled over Harry’s animagus form on accident, thinking she was tracking down her saviour.

A noise at his side drew his attention out of his thoughts. Tonks was shifting in her seat while the Headmaster regarded the two of them. “I’m sorry, Headmaster,” Remus said. “I wish I could confirm the information, but I honestly don’t remember seeing a bird. If they really are twins, though, it would stand to reason that if one is an animagus, the other would also be.”

“Yes, I believe so as well,” Albus responded. “These boys remain quite the mystery. We can be glad we seem to be on the same side for now, but something about them troubles me. They seem keen to avoid contact with the Order as much as possible. What reason could they have to avoid us? Surely we could accomplish more by working together. This Jim’s cold behaviour last night, in particular, worries me.”

“In all fairness,” Remus interjected, “he had been through quite the wringer by the time we spoke. He was not cold to me, per se; he was direct and to the point. He assumed the role of leader and acted the part. You can claim he had no right to assume that role. He was most likely the youngest person there, but he was clearly the most skilled. I was not about to begrudge him that as he had just saved our lives. And, as I said last night, he seemed to be in a rush and almost preoccupied with something. If his brother or friend or partner was injured, that could explain why he was in a foul mood.”

“Alas, you are quite correct, Remus,” Dumbledore admitted. “We do not know enough about these boys to make any judgments. I am merely…cautious at the moment. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, but only so far as our interests coincide.”

Remus nodded his understanding. They would not assume that they would always be on the same side until they knew for sure where these young men stood. They were dismissed shortly afterwards and retired back to Headquarters. That night, sleep once again eluded Remus as the mystery seemed only to deepen. Before the meeting he had been all but convinced that Harry was at least one if not both of these men. Now, however, he was far from certain.

There was nothing he could do about it now, however. It was still weeks until the next full moon when he would see Harry again. If he had guessed correctly about the Devil’s Fire, that burn was not likely to go anywhere. Perhaps he could use that to his advantage.

******

“Hey mate,” Ron’s voice interrupted his concentration as he was writing an essay for Potions.

Laying down his quill, Harry looked up at his friend, who was leaning over the back of the chair opposite his. “What’s up?” he asked.

“I was thinking that we should probably start talking about starting Quidditch practices back up,” Ron stated, gesturing with his hands in front of him as his elbows rested on the top of the chair. “We’re well into the new term, so it’s about time we start looking forward to our next game.”

Quidditch. Harry had not given it any thought, but he wondered how his chest would affect his ability to play. His movements were limited at the moment, and he had no idea how long things would remain that way.

He quickly pushed those thoughts out of his mind as he realized Ron was awaiting a response. “That makes sense,” Harry agreed. “I haven’t got my new broom yet, but I imagine it should be arriving within the next week or two. If it’s not here in time for our first practice, I can just use a school broom or something.”

Ron leaned back and gripped his hands on the top of the chair. “Do you want me to just make up the schedule or…”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Harry answered. “As long as you don’t schedule them during my classes, whatever times you pick are fine with me.”

“Er – right,” Ron replied uncomfortably. “I’ll talk to Hooch and get the pitch scheduled and post the schedule for the team.”

“Sounds good. Thanks Ron,” Harry said.

“No problem.” Ron glanced down at the roll of parchment Harry had been writing on. “What are you working on?”

“Potions,” Harry replied in a sour voice.

“Can’t say I miss that class,” Ron responded a bit too smugly. “Auror career may be out of the question, but I think it’s worth it to be free of that git.”

“You know,” Harry said. “I think you might just be right.”

Ron stuck around for a little while longer before wandering off, leaving Harry by himself. Harry looked back down at the parchment he had been writing on. Try as he might to regain his earlier train of thought, Harry could not stop thinking about Quidditch. It had been a long time since he had played the game. He looked forward to playing again, but he was not looking forward to getting on a broom in the near future with his chest in its current condition.

He tapped his lips with the feather of his quill as he thought over how he would handle the situation. It was not as if he could just pretend to be uninterested in Quidditch. Everyone knew how much he loved the game. He could not even use Ron kicking him off the team as an excuse since he had already been reinstated and even made a co-captain.

In short, there was no easy way out of the situation. He could not afford to expose his secrets by revealing the burn. After all the hard work he had put in – all the sacrifice and the secrecy – he could not give that all up. He would have to play through it. His numbing charms were helping a lot; he could only hope the activity would not hamper his chest’s ability to heal.

******

The next few days were not without tension. Though Harry was loathe to admit it, let alone show it, he was rather concerned about the wound to his chest. Ginny was worrying enough for the both of them, however, and the last thing he wanted to do was add to it. He had noticed dark circles forming around her eyes and confronted her about it. She easily admitted to having trouble sleeping lately; the reason why she was having such difficulty was not as easy for her to talk about. Harry had listened as she explained her experience in the Room of Requirement that night and her burst of wandless magic.

She described to him the scene that kept haunting her dreams, forcing her into wakefulness. It would start with her in the Room of Requirement, fighting the dummies as she had that night. She would watch the dummy being consumed by the flames of her wandless spell, but the scene would shift. The flames would never die, but the dummy would morph itself. Its face would be given definition. Hair would sprout from its head. After a moment, she would watch as Harry was consumed by the flames. In the darkness she could make out the form of a Death Eater, wand trained on his victim, laughing at the agony he was causing to Harry.

Harry had not known what to do after listening to the description of her nightmare. All he could do was hold her and assure her that everything was okay. He had been rather worried about Ginny’s reaction to the burn. His biggest fear had been that she would try to get him to stop taking so many risks, to leave the war to Dumbledore and the Order. Even despite her nightmares, nothing of that sort had ever left her lips. True, she was worried about him, but she still did her best to take care of him.

If Ginny had her way, he would be holed up in bed until his chest was at least well on its way to recovery, if not wholly healed, but she did not push him. She listened to his reasons and respected him enough to make his own decisions. That was one of the things he liked about her. She could disagree with him and vocalize her opinions without pressing him. In turn, she was willing to accept his viewpoint and permit him make his own decisions about his life.

It was strange, he mused, to have her so concerned over his well-being. Whenever they were together, she insisted on doing things for him to keep him from having to move a muscle. When she gave him her daily inspection, she touched him in a way that was wholly unfamiliar to Harry. Her touch was so gentle.

Harry was not completely unfamiliar with being taken care of. He had spent more than enough time in a bed in the Hospital Wing as Madame Pomfrey’s charge, but the Healer had always been brisk and cool, demanding. It was clear that she wanted to heal him, but she was not very personable in her ministrations.

Being treated by Ginny was entirely different and foreign, though certainly not unwelcome. She leaned over his body, her eyes scanning his chest for some sign of change or improvement, her hands softly gliding over his skin around the edge of the burns. Her special brand of treatment almost made it all worthwhile.

Almost.

Unfortunately, the salve Ginny had created for him did not appear to be having any effect after a few days of use. By Wednesday, there was no visible change to the area, nor was the pain diminished in any way. He supposed he should be glad that his chest was not getting any worse.

On Monday, he had begun researching the curse in the library, looking for any mention of it either in Dark Arts or Healing tomes. He found several mentions of the curse but was unable to find anything that might help them in treating it. In fact, the little information he found did not bode well for him. There were not many documented survivors of the curse. Of those he had read about, none had ever managed to fully treat the damaged skin. The pain eventually dimmed, but the skin was forever marred.

Another scar - a horrid, ugly reminder of the war and what it was costing him. He was afraid to share his discovery with Ginny; he worried how she would react to that knowledge. She knew the path he had chosen to take, but he did not know how much thought she had given to it. Had she really considered all the risks he was taking? Had she faced the possibility that one day he might not come back? If she had not already, the scar would be a constant reminder of that risk. He worried what that would do to her - to them, so he continued to scour through the various texts, looking for some glimmer of hope to give to her - to himself.

As Ginny finished her examination, she sat back. She was on the ground in front of the sofa in his office, her back now resting against the table. Her eyes searched his face for a moment before asking, “How’s your research coming?”

Harry glanced down, avoiding her gaze.

He heard her deep intake of breath before her voice once again permeated the silence. “I think you need to see a healer.”

He closed his eyes, his head still downcast. He had feared it would come to this, and he knew he would need to share his findings. “I don’t think that will help,” he said quietly, never lifting his head.

“Harry, look at me,” she demanded. He complied, slowly raising his head until his eyes met hers. “The burn looks as bad as it did that night. Nothing we’re doing seems to be helping at all. You need to get it looked at.”

“They won’t be able to do anything for it,” he told her dejectedly.

“What do you mean?” Ginny asked, her voice slightly breathless.

“There is no treatment for it,” he told her. “There aren’t very many people who have even survived the curse. The burns of all those that have survived were untreatable. The pain should eventually fade, but the skin is irreparable.”

Silence followed his pronouncement. Her eyes left his face and travelled down to his chest, and he wondered what she was thinking. Was she imagining him years down the line with his chest still horribly marred, possibly with even more scars by that time? Could she find him attractive like this? Would she want him like this?

Her eyes continued to focus on his bare flesh, and Harry began to grow uncomfortable under her scrutiny. He wished she would say something, or do something – anything. Anything would be better than this painful silence. Unable to bear it any longer, he spoke, “Say something.”

She jumped, startled, and her head shot to his, their eyes locking. Her features took on an apologetic tone as she said, “I’m sorry. I got lost in thought.”

“What were you thinking about?” he asked, anxious, yet also dreading the answer.

“You,” she answered simply.

Harry just stared into her eyes, unsure what to say or how to respond to her.

She sighed after a moment and shifted, climbing onto her knees to face him. She leant over him slightly and took his cheek in her hand. He leaned into her touch, revelling in the warmth of her hand, the softness of her skin. “You’re worried,” she stated, causing Harry’s eyes to flick back to hers. He nodded slowly. “What about?”

He looked away from her for a moment, before turning back to her as he began his answer. “A lot of things, I guess.” He paused, unsure how to continue. She did not prompt him, did not question him. Her thumb began to caress the skin of his cheek as she continued to look down on him. He took a moment to enjoy the sensation her gentle touch caused before focusing his thoughts back on topic. “I’m worried about what will happen. There were a lot of moments I could have – should have – died in that battle. I was lucky more times than I can count, and I should be grateful that I escaped with only this.” He gestured to his chest and took a long moment to examine the disfigurement.

“Do you regret the decisions you’ve made?” Ginny asked suddenly.

Harry lifted his head back up to meet her gaze for a long moment before shaking it back and forth against her hand. “No.”

“You have no idea how hard it is to sit here on the sidelines while you go out to fight this war,” she said. “Part of me wants to try to convince you not to go, and another part of me wants to convince you to let me go with you. I know I wouldn’t win either argument – at least not yet. I like to think that if I train hard enough, you’ll let me come when I’m ready. Until then, I’m forced to wait here on those nights, hoping you’ll return to me.”

Harry turned his head in her hand, pressing his lips to her palm. He knew being left behind must be hard on her, but he had never stopped to realise just how taxing that could be. In thinking about it in that moment and seeing the effect it obviously had on her, he suddenly found a new appreciation for her and for all she did to support him. He sought out her free hand, giving it a comforting squeeze as she continued.

“What you’re doing is important, Harry; I know that better than most. I don’t know why everything always seems to fall to you, but you always rise to the challenge. Whether it’s luck or skill or some combination thereof, you have a gift for coming out on top of these situations. I’ve seen you training. I’ve seen the amount of effort you put into it. I’ve seen the amount of studying you’ve done. Nobody is preparing for war the way you are, and there is nothing more you could have done to prepare for it.”

She took a deep, steadying breath before continuing, her eyes boring into his. “If you were lucky to survive the last battle, then thank whatever deity you prefer and use the experience to better yourself. Learn from your mistakes, and become stronger from them. Don’t let this,” she gestured to his chest with their clasped hands, “deter you from your path. If you must, use it as motivation to strive to become better.”

Harry’s gaze remained on his chest as she finished. The burn would certainly be a strong motivator to continue his training regimen. It would also serve as a constant reminder that no matter how far he had come, he still had a long road ahead of him. If he was to one day defeat Voldemort, he would need to be much stronger and more versatile.

It was not his chosen path that held his true concern, however. As nice as it was to receive validation from Ginny on that point, it was a different kind of validation, acceptance, he needed from her, though he was unsure if she would be able to give it.

She must have sensed his internal struggle, for she once again turned his face back towards hers and asked, “What’s really bothering you?”

He released a long, slow breath. “Look at me,” he said. “Take a good look. I’m always going to look this way.”

“You never struck me as one to be concerned about his looks,” she commented teasingly, pulling her hand away from his cheek.

He looked up at her, no smile on his lips, causing her smile to falter. “You deserve more than I could ever offer. You deserve a normal life where you don’t have to sit at home wondering if I’ll survive the night. You deserve someone whole and unmarred, someone you could be attracted to.”

“You’re afraid I’m going to leave you?” she asked. “Over this?”

Harry found himself unable to meet her gaze. His head was tilted back, and he was staring straight up at the ceiling. He heard movement coming from her but did not shift his gaze in the slightest – not until he felt a truly odd sensation. He turned his head down to find Ginny leaning over him, her eyes gazing up into his face, her lips pressed lightly against his chest.

Her lips lingered there for a long moment before she pulled back, her eyes never leaving his. “I see a lot of things when I look at your chest. I see your struggle. Life has never been kind to you, yet you get up every morning ready to tackle whatever might come your way. I see your courage and bravery. I have never seen you let your fears overpower you. I have never seen you give up or give in. No matter the odds, you would always choose to fight for what is right. I see your sacrifice. I see all the traits in you that I admire, the traits that have attracted me to you.”

“I want you to listen to me, Harry, because I don’t want you to ever doubt this. I’m attracted to you for a lot of reasons. Yes, your body is a part of that, and it still is. I don’t care how many scars you have; I will always be attracted to you.”

Harry blinked his eyes closed as he listened to her words. Despite his struggle, he felt a single tear escape out of the corner of his eye and roll down his cheek. He had not realised just how worried he had been over her reaction. Ginny and he had only recently gotten together, yet now he could hardly imagine his life without her in it.

As the tear traced its way close to his jaw, he felt the pad of Ginny’s thumb brush it away. Harry opened his eyes to find that she had crawled up to kneel right in front of his face. He reached his hand out to cup her cheek. He longed to lean over and kiss her, but he could not manage the movement with his chest. She seemed to have read his thoughts though – or perhaps she was just of a similar mind – for she leaned in and captured his lips in a kiss.

Harry’s hand worked its way into her hair, running his fingers through her fiery locks as his lips moved with hers. Their lips worked slowly, taking their time to enjoy the kiss. When she pulled away a few minutes later, Harry turned his head to follow her. She remained there, her face only a decimetre away from his, and he felt the need to say something. “Ginny, I…” he trailed off for a long moment trying to work out what he wanted to say. As he opened his mouth back up to continue, she held a finger up to his lips.

“Shh,” she said quietly. “You don’t have to say anything, Harry.” She clasped both of her hands around his and brought it up to her lips where she pressed a kiss on the back of his palm. “Come on. Let’s get your shirt and robes back on.”

******

Harry was eating breakfast the next morning beside Ginny. He had spent the previous hour alternately reading a book on healing charms and watching Ginny as she worked out, though the latter activity took up far more of his time than he would have liked. He quickly found that any exercise that had Ginny jumping was entirely too distracting. As he would not normally be reading at that time, it hardly set him back, but he still wished he had gotten more accomplished – not that he thought of the time as wasted.

The two were joined shortly by Hermione, Ron, and Neville. Neville sat beside Harry while the other two sat across from the two boys. After giving his greetings, Harry tucked into his plate of bacon and eggs while the new arrivals filled their plates. Hermione had a book open on the table in front of her before she had even taken a bite. They had an exam in Transfiguration that afternoon. Harry was not concerned about it, but Hermione was not one to waste any opportunity to get some extra studying in.

Neville must have caught where his attention was aimed, for he asked, “Ready for the test today?”

“Yeah, it shouldn’t be too bad,” Harry answered. “What about you?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I think,” Neville replied.

“You’ll do fine,” Harry said. “You’ve been doing pretty well in class the past couple weeks.”

“It helps when you spend most of your time helping me,” Neville quipped. “Thanks, by the way.”

Harry waved his hand dismissively. “Nothing to thank me for.” As he finished saying it, he felt a nudge in his side. Turning, he found Ginny’s attention focused on him.

“You really need to learn to just accept a compliment,” she stated.

Harry stuck his tongue out at her and turned back towards Neville. “Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted.” He felt Ginny’s foot drop onto his own. It did not hurt in the slightest, but he could hardly let her have the last shot. “You figured everything out on your own; I just pointed you in the right direction.” As he said this, he slid his leg behind hers and hooked his foot out to catch her legs as he pulled back against her, causing Ginny to nearly topple over onto her side in the process. He struggled to keep a straight face as he heard her “Oomph” of surprise.

He turned to give her a smirk just as Ginny was moving to give him a playful shove in the back. His action caught her by surprise, and she was unable to pull back in time to avoid hitting him in the chest. He inhaled sharply in surprise and pain as she struck him. He had applied a numbing charm early that morning, of course, but its effects had begun to fade. Ginny’s smile vanished completely off her face, replaced by a look of worry and repentance.

For a moment the two just looked at each other helplessly. Neither could react for fear of arousing suspicion. After a short moment, Harry offered her a small smile to try to convey that he was okay and did not hold her at fault. She hardly seemed consoled but did her best to plaster a smile back onto her face; meanwhile, he did his best to mask the pain and act as if nothing was the matter.

As he was turning back towards Neville, Ron loudly set down his fork on his now-barren plate and said. “I posted the Quidditch schedule this morning.” Harry felt Ginny’s hand rest on his leg above his knee. He reached down and laid his hand atop hers, squeezing her hand in comfort as he kept his attention focused on Ron. “We start practice next week, so be prepared.”

Harry nodded as his thoughts turned back to Quidditch. Knowing what he did now about his chest, Harry was very worried that he would be unable to play. He needed to be flexible and agile in his movements to compete as a Seeker, and he was not sure his chest would be able to handle the stress. He worried that he would not be effective in the position and, even worse, that his injuries would be exposed to the team and potentially the entire school.

Harry heard a rustle overhead signalling the arrival of the owls for the morning post. Two owls slowly descended before him carrying a long package between them. They dropped the parcel on the table in front of him without regard to the plates of food in the way. Harry had little doubt of what it was, and it did little to improve his mood. He forced a wide smile onto his face while inside he felt like someone had taken a beater’s bat to his stomach.

Harry looked around, taking in the faces of all those around him. Ron had a look of unholy glee plastered across his face. Neville and Hermione both looked interested and mildly excited. Ginny seemed to be thinking along a similar vein as he, for she only offered him a small smile and a light squeeze to his hand. He noticed that he was the centre of much attention throughout the hall as many had noticed the package.

“C’mon mate, open it!” Ron urged with unrestrained excitement.

Harry did his best to act as thrilled as he would have been had the broom arrived a week earlier. He pulled his hand away from Ginny and reached out to open the parcel. Ron must have felt he was taking too long. He reached out to help, but Hermione batted his hand away before he had even touched anything. Harry continued at his leisurely pace until he had unearthed the broom, a brand new Nimbus 2050. Apparently they decided to forgo models 2002-2049.

He picked up the broom and turned it in his hands as his eyes raked over the shaft and down to the precisely tuned bristles.

“Wicked,” Ron breathed out.

Harry privately agreed, though he was hardly in the mood to celebrate the fact. Nevertheless he blew out a breath and exclaimed in a whisper, “Brilliant!”

“Can I try it out mate?” Ron asked then let out a startled “Oomph.” Harry looked down to see Ron rub at his midsection as he turned his head to glare at Hermione for a second. Hermione gave him a pointed look, and, without any words spoken, Ron turned back to Harry, “After you, of course.”

“Can’t tonight,” Harry said. “I need to meet with Dumbledore after dinner for our weekly lesson, and I’ve got a ton of other work to do. Maybe over the weekend or something,” Harry committed vaguely. He knew he would not be able to put it off forever, but he figured it would be best to give his chest as much time as possible to heal.

Ginny, whose hand had never left Harry’s leg, gave him another comforting squeeze just above his knee. Why did the broom have to arrive now? It was like rubbing salt in an open wound. The prospect of trying out his new broom should have left him elated; instead, he wished the broom had never come. All in all, it was not the best start to his day. He turned to Ginny and gave her a small, sad smile knowing she was thinking the same thing he was. It was not fair, but he – they – would find a way through this.

******

That evening Harry found himself sitting across from the Headmaster for their weekly Occlumency lesson. He was distinctly distracted but trying his best not to show it. He had applied numbing charms to his chest before the lesson, so his chest was not bothering him, though he was overtly aware of the lack of feeling coming from that area. He was almost too concentrated on not giving away any signs of his injury. As such, he was not making much progress in his actual Occlumency abilities, though he felt he was performing well enough so as not to draw suspicion.

His chest was not the only distraction for him, however. The other distraction, surprisingly enough, came from Fawkes. It was odd, but Harry found his attention constantly drawn to the phoenix. Whenever he looked towards the perch, Fawkes always managed to meet his eye, but then his gaze would shift slightly. Harry was left with the distinct impression that Fawkes was trying to convey something to him, though Harry was not sure what.

He did his best to put the matter out of his mind and was able to get through the lesson without drawing the suspicion of the Headmaster, yet he still felt as if Fawkes was calling out to him. Unable to resist, as Harry rose from his seat, he walked by Fawkes’s perch. “Goodnight Professor,” Harry said, looking over to Dumbledore. He turned back to Fawkes and reached his hand out as he said, “Goodnight Fawkes.”

The phoenix leaned his head into Harry’s hand, and Harry felt a copious amount of a wet substance smear across his palm. As Harry pulled his hand away, he moved to wipe it off on his robes when something connected in his brain, stopping him. Fawkes’s odd glances. Phoenix tears. He turned and walked to the door, careful to keep his right hand from touching anything. He turned the knob with his left hand, walked out onto the staircase, and pulled the door shut with his left hand behind him.

With the door closed, Harry looked down at his robes. They were in the way. With hardly a thought, a split spread down his front, opening the robes up for him. Wearing a button down shirt, Harry did not take the time to properly undo each button. Instead, he just ripped the shirt open with his left hand. Once his chest was exposed, he lifted his still-damp right hand and began to spread it over his marred skin.

The reaction was instant. As his hand crossed his chest, Harry could see the marked flesh fading into the rest of his skin. Within a matter of seconds there was no trace of his former wound. Harry cancelled the numbing charm still affecting his chest and felt no pain. He breathed in deeply, revelling in the wonderful sensation the simple action induced.

A wide smile stretched across his face, and he turned back to the door. Using mindspeak, Harry sent, “Thank you, Fawkes.” He did not receive a response, but he felt a warm rush overtake him momentarily. Spinning back around, Harry looked down at himself and took in the state of his clothes. Examining his shirt, he noticed that all of the buttons save one were still intact. He did the others up and with a simple summoning charm located the missing button.

Looking at his robes, Harry performed a simple Reparo and found the fabric weaving itself back together, if a little crudely. He could see the line from the tear, but he was not concerned with it – not at the moment. Satisfied, he rushed down the stairs, feet barely keeping up with him, and emerged into the hallway. Harry wasted no time making his way up the staircases and down the corridors that would lead him his office.

He activated the map on the wall, and his eyes immediately scanned the two most likely places he would find her. The library.

He was out the door in seconds and was already turning a corner by the time he heard the bang of his slamming door echoing in the corridor. He flew down a flight of steps and made a beeline for the library. He pushed the door open, and his eyes locked onto her fiery red hair. He strode purposely towards her, his attention never straying.

He came up behind her and put his arm on her shoulder as he leaned over to whisper in her opposite ear, “Come with me.”

******

Ginny was startled when a hand landed on her shoulder and she felt a presence close behind her. Her worries were calmed when she heard Harry’s voice and caught his scent. The feel of his warm breath in her ear was enough to cause a shiver to run down her spine. She turned her head to look at him and saw his wide smile and twinkling eyes. She spun back around and quickly noticed that every head at the table was locked onto them. A few wore surprised expressions while the others held knowing looks. She blushed at their scrutiny.

She could not believe that Harry would approach her in such a manner with all these people around. He had been so careful and secretive since they had gotten together, and now here he was practically announcing their relationship to the entire library – or her entire table at least. Lucky for them, none of the friends she was studying with were known for their gossiping.

She clapped her text book shut and stuffed it in her bag as she rose from her seat and turned back towards Harry. He was bouncing on the balls of his heels and literally seemed as though he could not stop moving. “Come on,” he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the exit.

She turned to wave goodbye to her friends as she allowed him to guide her out of the library and up a flight of stairs towards his office. Her eyes barely strayed from Harry, who maintained his wide smile without fault, though he said absolutely nothing. He ushered her inside his office, following in after her. She heard the door close and turned around to face him.

As she turned she found herself bumping into Harry’s chest. She looked up into his face to find him smiling down on her, but his smile had shifted. It was not so wide but more subtle and sly. His hand reached up to cup her cheek, and he tilted her face up. His lips quickly caught hers in a deep, searing kiss. She was initially caught off guard but quickly lost herself in the kiss. After a long moment, he broke the kiss and let his head slide to the side as he hugged her tightly, picking her up and spinning her around.

“Harry!” she yelled. She had no idea what had gotten into him. He had been noticeably sullen for the past few days as his burn refused to heal. All of a sudden something clicked in her brain. She broke the hug, pulling away from him. “Harry, your chest!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing? You could be making it worse!”

His damn smile was back in full force, and it gave her a moment’s pause. “What’s going on?” she demanded in a somewhat calmer tone.

He did not speak. Rather, he pulled his robes over his head, then slowly unbuttoned his shirt. When he opened it up, she found herself staring at his chest, but it looked nothing like it had every evening that week when she had examined it. There was not the slightest trace of a scar.

She felt his smooth skin on her fingers and the toned muscle beneath her hand, yet she had no recollection of even reaching her hand out in the first place. Her eyes drifted up the length of her arm, leading onto Harry’s chest, and finally rising up to meet his eyes. “How is this possible?”

Harry smiled then, his eyes twinkling merrily as he dropped his head down to catch her lips again in a short kiss. Her eyes had closed, and when she opened them, she found Harry’s face hovering in front of her, his eyes level with her own. His tongue darted out of his mouth for a moment, drawing her gaze to his lips, and she watched as they began moving as he said one simple word. “Fawkes.”

“Fawkes?” she parroted unconsciously as her mind quickly made the connection to phoenix tears. Then her mind made another connection. “Dumbledore!?”

Harry shook his head and gave a light chuckle. “Doesn’t have a clue,” he supplied.

She tried to assimilate this new information, struggling to make sense of it all. Harry took pity on her as he stepped past her, grabbing her around the waist, and pulling her into his lap as he sat in a nearby armchair. He then proceeded to explain the events of the evening.

They were both silent for a long time after he had finished his story. One of her hands was idly stroking his chest from her perch on his lap. Harry's right hand lay on his chest beside hers; his left arm was wrapped around Ginny, his hand resting just above her waistline. Ginny had tucked her head into the crook of Harry’s neck, tilted slightly downward so that she could gaze at his chest.

She was having trouble wrapping her mind around everything. This whole week had been full of stress. She was constantly worried for Harry – both about his chest and how he was handling it all. It was hard to accept that it was all over just like that. All that worry and stress just disappeared in an instant.

As her hand continued to stroke his chest, she lifted her head up from his shoulder. Her other arm had been wrapped around his neck, and she used that hand to pull his head down to hers, capturing his lips with hers. This kiss was slow and languid – a stark contrast to their last kiss, but there was no rush. She wanted to take her time and enjoy it. She felt Harry pull her in tightly at her waist. Her hand was no longer just idly stroking his chest; she was tracing the muscles with her hands, revelling in the solidity of his body.

They spent the remainder of their evening in his office cuddled on his armchair together, kissing occasionally but mostly just enjoying the chance to hold each other close. It felt good, comforting to be in his arms – to have Harry healthy, happy, and whole. And really, there was no better way to spend an evening than in Harry’s embrace.

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