Chapter 2 : Strawberry Shortcake
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As he took in her smell, his own hit his nose rather unpleasantly by contrast, and for the first time that morning, Harry opened his eyes in dismay. His hands were clean, having been washed by an adamant Kreacher before Harry was allowed to stuff his mouth, but beyond his wrists his arms were covered with scratches, dried blood, dirt, and a thin layer of sweat. As he looked at his torn shirt, his eyes focused and he could see the outline of a splatter of blood over his heart, the singed ends of the sleeves he’d rolled after the Fiendfyre, and the pit-stains. Harry shuddered, thinking what Ginny would say if she woke up to him like this. It was not the way he wanted to greet her after missing her for almost a year, and certainly not the best face to show her when he apologized for leaving her.
Almost as soon as he realized how much he fancied a shower, his bladder awoke to remind him he’d never emptied it after Kreacher had refilled his glass of pumpkin juice- three times. Harry reluctantly pulled himself out of bed and looked at Ginny, who lay curled halfway under the covers. He had never had the chance to watch her sleep before, unlike Ron, who had the chance to gaze at Hermione, practically drooling over her, while she slept every night on their hunt for the horcruxes. Harry chuckled lightly to himself, wondering if Ron would think the same of him, while his eyes traced over the curve of her leg hanging over the bedside and the way her shirt was bunched up under her breasts, exposing her soft, rounded tummy. She slept so differently from him, sprawled over half the bed, her legs sticking out at odd angles instead of curling into a ball. Ginny looked angelic with her red hair glistening in the morning light, framing her face in soft tendrils and curled around her shoulders. Her breasts peeked from beneath a light peach cami that made her skin glow. Harry reached out a hand to trace the curve of her stomach but stopped himself quickly- he certainly didn’t think she’d like waking up to him groping her.
He turned away to find clothes and a towel and finally realized why his body had fought so valiantly against waking up- he was sore everywhere, worse that he’d ever been after the deadliest of Quidditch games. His back ached in ways that made Harry contemplate hitting himself with a petrificus totalus until Ginny awoke to put him right, but then he’d still be dirty and, well, stinky. Shuffling over to his bag, he summoned out a pair of shorts, some trousers that looked like they’d only been worn once or twice and a shirt he could scourgify. He gave up, called for Kreacher quietly, and held out the shirt with a pleading look. Kreacher eyed it with distaste and then walked over to the table, handing Harry not only a brand new shirt, but new shorts, socks, a new robe in green and some dark green trousers.
“Miss Hermione is saying you must have some new things, so Kreacher has them for you sir,” he said, and Harry nodded vigorously, making a mental note to thank Hermione for thinking of his singed and soiled remnants. Harry took the proffered towel and soap, and, surprisingly enough, a back scrubber that Kreacher offered him, looking all too knowingly at the grime. Harry pulled the door shut and pulled off his shorts and shirt, then threw them in a pile on the floor hoping he’d never have to wear them again. He soaped up, feeling cuts sting, and inspected his new scars that were healing in the wide mirror over the sink. At first glance, he scared himself- he was very tan and very skinny. The months of hiding outside had given him a lean, muscled look, but he felt as though the missing fat would have been a plus. He sighed, knowing Mrs. Weasley would notice right away and reinstitute her campaign to fatten him up. The new cut across his chest, just below the heart-shaped burn from the locket, was deep but tiny. Harry knew immediately it was from Voldemort’s curse in the woods by its shape- it was a second tiny lightening bolt, the same as the first. He snorted to himself upon picturing it momentarily as a bull’s eye, then toweled off and looked at his hair. He had cut it off with his wand, of course, after Hermione had transfigured it when they had been captured, but despite her pleas to trim it properly, he’d left it shaggy and longish. Now he pulled the black strands down across his forehead and did a careful severing charm in the mirror, followed by four more, taking off extra hair that looked dead despite his shower. He brushed his hair out, feeling it spring back into life again, and dressed as quickly as he could without moving his sore arms or abs too much. The shower had relaxed his muscles, but his body still ached.
Harry crept out of the lavatory holding his new robes to see Ginny sitting up in bed, eyeing his earlier spot and stretching lazily. Her eyes panned the room curiously and then stopped on him, widening ever so slightly as they stared at each other. Harry grinned when Ginny’s eyes began shining but to his horror, tears began to fall. He rushed over wanting to touch her but afraid of hurting her, but Ginny made the decision for him. She threw herself into his cautious arms, leaking over his chest, and buried her face into the crook of his neck. His heart seemed to fly up into his throat, constricting his breath and for a moment, all Harry could do was stand there and take her in- her smell, the feel of her warmth pressed along him, her arms crushed around his neck, and rub her back, trying to stop her crying.
“Ginny, please- you’re safe now, I’m here- and we’re both here, I mean, we’re both alive, and we’re both safe-“
“HARRY JAMES POTTER!” Ginny shouted, pulling back to face him, “Don’t you DARE do that to me again! I thought you were DEAD, Harry! I know you had to, but did you HAVE to?”
“But Ginny, that doesn’t make-“
“I don’t care! What took you so long??!?!” Ginny yelled, “Do you really think I believe hunting Tom down took all year? I thought you said ‘dating opportunities’ would be ‘pretty thin on the ground!!!”
Harry looked at her, incredulous, trying to comprehend exactly what she’d just screamed at him. She thought he’d been dating when he’d been off hunting horcruxes? She thought he’d been having fun back at Godric’s Hollow?
“Ginny, wha-?” But his sentence was stopped short when her irate pose fell, and Ginny slumped into a fix of giggles. Pulling Harry down and shaking with laughter, she climbed onto a bemused Harry’s lap, covering his face with kisses.
“Hey, that’s not funny! Gin, I really thought you were miffed, and why-“
“Harry,” Ginny purred. “Your face was too perfect. Stop worrying. Please. I missed you.”
The last three words were his undoing, and suddenly, heat swam up through him, and he was kissing her like he had on his birthday, and her hands were on his chest, wrapping around him. He noted the pillow wedged below his back and had no idea when he’d lain down, nor when he’d pulled her on top of him, but it was so nice to have her pressed against him, and her kisses felt so good after so long apart. Too good, in fact, a thought flickered through his brain, but he was lost to the moment, to the feeling of her fingers running through his hair, tracing over the softness of his ear and the bottom of his chin while she kissed him, running his own hand along her side the way he had when they’d gone on walks on the grounds at night, and suddenly his fingers were on her breast, and he squeezed gently, then harder when Ginny didn’t protest. Harry ran his hands in a frenzy up her back, under her shirt, and felt his mind spin when he realized she wasn’t wearing a bra. Ginny moaned into his mouth and every voice in his head that had screamed for him to slow down, that there were people outside who needed his help, that Mrs. Weasley could walk in any moment, that Ron or Hermione could come in and Oh Merlin, wouldn’t Ron kill him!!! Abandoned Harry’s mind. He gripped her hip along his leg with one hand and the other gently slipped along the outside of her shirt, tripping lightly over her nipple. Harry groaned when he felt her shiver and rubbed, slowly, in circles, tugging gently with his thumb. Ginny moaned again, louder, and in a mix of expletives, Harry heard his own name tumble from her lips as the tip hardened. He pulled back, fascinated, which was probably a good thing, because it was at that moment that Kreacher chose to pop in to bring breakfast.
“Kreacher!” Ginny screeched, while Harry merely threw himself over her and grabbed his wand from under his pillow, ready to fire a curse at whoever had apparated in. Seeing Kreacher, who was dwarfed by a tray of cakes, eggs, and sausages and a layer of folded clothes which Harry presumed were for Ginny, since they were in berry tones, Harry looked down sheepishly, scratching the back of his neck with his wand.
“Er, sorry about that, Kreacher- do you think you could knock from now on instead of apparating right in? We, erm, weren’t quite expecting you,” Harry explained, cursing himself for forgetting that they were in a Hogwarts dormitory, and that the anti-apparition wards were bound to be in place again by now. Ginny slipped off the bed and thanked Kreacher, taking the clothes and towel and slipping into the shower.
“You is needing anything else, Master Harry?” Kreacher asked, drawing Harry’s mind back from his quickly fabricated mental picture of Ginny, standing eyes closed under a stream of hot water, her red hair soaked and curling around her breasts.
“Erm, well, actually,” Harry began, shaking his head to change thoughts, as he considered the day that lay ahead. He set out some plans for necessities, including some creams to help ease his muscle aches, some parchment and quills to begin writing letters to the goblins at Gringotts, and some more clothes for the next few days.
“See what you can pick up in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade- I have a bag of gold in the beaded bag but perhaps you’d better have it drawn from my account. I’d say three robes, maybe six sets of clothes, just jeans and shirts- and socks, lots of socks. Pick out something nice for Ginny too- maybe something new from Madam Malkin’s so she doesn’t have to go back to the Burrow just yet- well, actually, I don’t know if the Burrow is still there now . . .” Harry wondered aloud. “I guess we’ll just have to sort that out later. And get some new shorts and socks for Ron too- I have the feeling he won’t let Hermione get those for him just yet,” Harry finished. Kreacher bowed, finished his list that was being magically tattooed in day-long ink to his left arm of the supplies Harry needed, and vanished with a pop.
Ginny slid into the room three minutes later, while Harry was fixing her a plate, and when his eyes came up to smile at her and finally tell her a proper good morning, he stopped short. Ginny was wearing a towel. His mind went into overdrive, but Ginny blushed, pulled a wad of clothes off the bed, and went back into the shower, grinning quietly. She came back out minutes later, her hair tied back in a slick ponytail, and kissed Harry.
“Quite some morning, right?” She teased cheekily.
“Much better than the ones I’ve been having lately,” Harry agreed. He turned solemn and stopped adding sausages to her plate, feeling overwhelmed just to be near her again. “I’ve really missed you, Gin. You have no idea how much I wanted to be with you all this time, how worried I was about you, how much I thought about you.”
“I think I have an idea,” she answered quietly, warm brown eyes meeting his. “You have no idea what being here without you was like, Harry. And then we were home, and Bill said he’d seen you, and all I could think about was, he’s alive, he’s safe. And then the coin burned, and George and . . . well, I came here, and you were there- standing in the middle of that crowd, in Hogwarts, after all those months of waiting and hoping and- and wondering- you were alive again, and I knew it wasn’t over, but you were with me again. You looked at me and all I could think was to keep breathing, to make sure I didn’t pass out before I got to hug you, Harry. I think I have an idea how much.”
Harry was silent, watching her, and he slid his hand out to lace between her fingers. He pulled her close, forked a sausage, and popped it into Ginny’s unsuspecting mouth. “
“And that is for scaring me this morning!” He teased triumphantly.
Ginny swallowed the bite of sausage and slapped him lightly, then wrapped herself around him once more, nestling against his chest. Harry chewed some toast in contemplation, feeling content like he hadn’t in the longest time.
“I ‘spose we should probably go downstairs,” Harry mentioned after their breakfast. It wasn’t that he wanted to face the crowd of supporters or the task of rebuilding Hogwarts, but he wanted to see Ron and Hermione and the Weasleys and to speak with Kingsley, and he couldn’t stay inside letting Ginny feed him strawberry shortcake all week, could he?
“Do we have to?” Ginny pined sadly.
“No, but we should. Soon, at least,” Harry answered, noting her toes curling inside her socks. Her hair had dried in waves, and he had no problem with staying in bed all day, letting her rub out his aching muscles and eating his fill of the treacle tart Kreacher kept bringing up. For Harry, this was as close to heaven as it came, even though he now had a pretty good idea of what was actually waiting for him when he would pass on some day.
The two stacked their plates on the table for Kreacher and slipped on shoes from the pile near the door though Harry felt distinctly that the pair he had on was Neville’s, rather than his own, given the huge size. The last thing Harry remembered was opening the Fat Lady and tripping over his own feet, a pair of small hands grabbing at his shoulders. Then everything went black.
Down below, Kingsley and Minevra sat in the Headmistress’ office, deep in conversation over rolls of parchment scattered with ginger newt crumbs.
“Perhaps we’d better call Arthur to ask for confirmation- after all, we need to know the post will be filled, and I’ve already got to recall the Wizengamut and meet with the Auror Dept. again, they’re frustrated by the lack of communication, keep saying we should be looking for whatever plan was meant to come while this ‘diversion’ took place, load of tosh if you ask me,”
“Well of course, they haven’t heard from Harry and they weren’t here to see Voldemort’s last moments- how could they possibly feel he’s finally gone after his last supposed death? They’d be fools if they’d trust reports like this completely- Kingsley, they’d be mad not to suspect some foul play. Mad Eye would be proud,” Minevra interrupted, rolling back a second parchment with a map of the castle.
“You’ve got the wards back up as of 3 PM, and I know the reconstruction should be cleared by next weekend at the latest- except, of course, the potions room- a shame really, all those ruined specimens- and then we have a meeting next Monday to cover the plans for remedial work, correct? I should be able to give you a full hour during lunch, Minevra- plan to have Arthur there. I think we’ll need some of the school governors too- I’ll contact them tomorrow. We’ll need to fill Lucius’ old seat of course.”
“Should we really be bothering any of the Weasleys right now? Surely they need some time, it’s only natural,” Minevra questioned, “and can’t the posting wait for a bit longer? We have to give him time to consider, it is a big commitment.”
“Minevra, the Order was a big commitment. If I know Arthur he’ll be glad to have something to keep him occupied. Plus Molly will need money to rebuild the Burrow- the Death Eaters torched it practically minutes after they’d moved to Muriel’s. All that was left was that shed of theirs and an outhouse with a few old brooms.”
Minevra’s eyes rose at the mention of the Burrow’s end, which those who knew her would understand was the equivalent of a shocked wail. “The Burrow? Really? Have you told them yet?”
“No, not yet,” Kingsley shook his head sadly. “Though I have the feeling most of Arthur’s possessions were the muggle ‘artifacts’ in that shed, so he’s likely to be pleased it missed the fire.”
Just then a knock sounded. Percy Weasley stepped inside, nervous and tired, and the two occupants nodded to him. Minevra drew her wand and a spindly purple wooden chair appeared beside Percy.
“I still can’t get it to be poofy like Albus’ were, but I guess the purple is an improvement,” she remarked critically. Percy looked between the two incredulously, then straightened his glasses.
“I think you know why we called you down here,” Kingsley began. “I need someone to organize the different departments. We’ve never been able to coordinate effectively and the last three years proved its absolutely necessary for the different branches to be able to share critical information safely and speedily. Several of those attacks on muggleborns could have been prevented if ministry employees who’d heard things from corrupt coworkers had passed on the information to the Aurors, but people seem to be locked into their separate crews. Percy, I’m naming you head of a new Ministry Department, Ministry Liasons. I want you to put together a team of six to ten who will function as co-ops between three to five departments each, based on merit- I want no senior members, only new hires. We need to have some energy in this branch and I don’t want people who are afraid to shake things up. I’m holding your team responsible for interviewing all Ministry employees and assessing their current loyalties and job abilities; we don’t want any leftovers from Voldemort staying low in our offices. Send word to the Aurors of any cleaning we might need to do. They can track individuals until we’re certain. I also want you to assess their skills and take a look at streamlining where we need to- put fewer people under magical creatures and sporting and gaming, and more under international magical cooperation and magical law. Don’t be afraid to be tough when you’re questioning someone’s responsibility.”
Percy turned red. “Are you sure I have the skills you’re looking for? I’m not exactly a favorite among the Ministry,” he began.
“Precisely,” smiled Kingsley. “You have no reputation to break or lose. You can reshape your image in the eyes of the Ministry while helping us create a new set of standards. You’ll make people stick to the facts and you’ll catch their indiscretions. I was under the impression you liked high expectations,” Kingsley said with a slight grin.
Percy exchanged a few more minutes of conversation with the two, which was much more relaxed, before a second knock sounded. Percy was exchanged for Horace Slughorn, followed by Pomona Sprout and Poppy Pomfrey, each with their own reports on the conditions of parts of the castle.
“And we’ll be needing a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, which Albus used to joke was his only job- searching for the next year’s filler,” Minevra sighed. Kingsley eyed her remedial plans for returning students. “Did you plan on letting all the students back for summer, or is this just those with several months or more missing? I had assumed it would include those who’ve missed a year, but perhaps they should just rejoin a class behind,” he offered.
“I feel we should offer several options, but we’ll be able to discuss this in greater detail later. For now, I have three posts to fill, Muggle Studies, Defense and Transfiguration for the 4th years and below, and after a war we’re bound to be short on potential teachers.”
“Perhaps,” Kingsley drawled, “we are not as far behind as we might believe. Have you considered my earlier suggestion? He is right here now, you could ask him this evening even.”
McGonagall pursed her lips. “I wouldn’t want to intrude. He’s got enough on his plate right now as it is.”
“Give it a thought. In the meantime, thank you so much for the direction, Minevra. I’m sure we’ll be in touch tomorrow as well. I’ll need your authorization for the floo to let that lot in the halls home soon- we’ll have to shell out transportation though; I’m almost certain there were some questionable employees who turned in that department, but I don’t want to assume anything until I’ve interviewed.”
“What about one-time portkeys?” she supplied.
“I think we could make an exception,” Kingsley agreed.
Back in Gryffindor tower, Ronald Weasley was facing a predicament.
“I just don’t see why we can’t call for hot chocolate. It’s not as though the elves don’t want to bring us food,” he whined to Hermione. Ginny sat across from the pair, curled up on the couch with Harry’s head, complete with a magical “forever frozen!” ice bag (Get the chill without the charms!), setting in her lap. Ron had already finished two helpings at supper followed by a bag of year-old licorice he’d stolen from the sixth years’ dormitory, but he had a craving for chocolate and after months on the run, Ginny couldn’t blame him. It seemed even Hermione was being won over, but mostly because Ron was playing to her weaknesses.
“Just think how nice a big, steaming, thick pot of hot chocolate would have been in the winter, when we were so cold and frustrated,” Ron wheedled.
Ginny snorted at the look of blatant lust on Hermione’s face. Clearly, she was not envisioning a platonic scene in a cold tent, but rather one featuring a cosy fireplace with perhaps a fur rug to match.
“Maybe then you wouldn’t have skipped out on us,” Harry mumbled from under his ice pack. “I’ve often thought the lack of food was what was worst for you; I mean, after all, you grew up with your mum’s cooking every day, and then to go to our fish and berries and mushrooms- it was a nasty change.”
Hermione stiffened visibly, clearly remembering the incident, but Ron merely looked apologetic and smiled appealingly at her. For a few minutes they sat explaining the basic facts to Ginny, who had started at the knowledge that her brother abandoned his friends in the middle of winter while they were trying to bring down “the most seriously EVIL WIZARD WHO HAS EVER LIVED, RONALD WEASLEY!” Ginny shouted. It took Hermione ten minutes to calm her, and even Harry lifted off the ice pack to pull Ginny off Ron.
“I already got attacked by Hermione, once is enough!” Ron muttered. Hermione pulled Ron back down onto the couch and plied a disgruntled, guilty redhead into a game of wizard’s chess she was bound to lose. Ginny announced to the room she was going for a walk, and looked to Harry.
Silence fell, as Harry’s eyes were covered from his spot on the couch and he had no idea of Ginny’s silent request.
“Oi- she wants you to go for a snog with her,” Ron grumbled, shoving Harry’s arm.
Ginny huffed and Harry fell off the couch, clutching his ice pack. “Right then, let’s go for a walk, shall we?” he uttered, pulling Ginny out the portrait. “You know, he really did make up for it, saving me and all. He gave himself a hard time about it, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s already done. I think he punished himself enough for all of us, even Hermione- and you should have seen her. I mean, we all know Hermione can be mental, but this time she really was mental. I had to ward them from each other.”
Ginny chuckled at the thought of her tall brother groveling for forgiveness. “Maybe we should get that hot chocolate after all,” she lamented.
The two made their way to the kitchens and tickled the pear. Harry swung open the door, pressing against Ginny playfully for a kiss. Ginny stopped him with a hand though a pointed inside.
Harry turned his head to see a girl with long blonde hair straddling a man smeared with chocolate, kissing frantically on top of the main table. Her skirt was around her upper thighs and Harry’s eyes bugged out at the vanilla icing hand print and the bits of cake on the floor.
“Looks like someone had the same idea we had,” Ginny whispered, stunned.
The girl moaned, and suddenly Harry’s mind twisted.
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