Harry fell against the counter in side-splitting laughter. Breakfast sizzled in the pan beside him. Ginny grinned widely, cheeks dimpling, as Harry clutched his side, wheezing.
"I'm not wrong! Ron flies on jealousy, point blank period. He holds on to his broom," she ranted, clutching an imaginary broom, "like it'll run off with the ground if he doesn't stop it," she snarked over his shoulder.
Harry choked and took the pan off the stove before he burned the eggs. She wasn't wrong, he'd just never heard it said that way.
"If he named his broom 'Hermione' and the ground 'any wizard ever,' he'd fly so high, he'd be the first wizard on the moon."
The pair had recently begun their time of domestic bliss in the ever-charming Grimmauld Place. Two months earlier, Ginny decided she needed a break from public living, and joined her beau in shared solitude. Prophet hounds and Welsh paparazzi swarmed the Burrow during the World Cup. When her preferring cinnamon toothpaste over mint made the news, she kissed her folks goodbye and fled in the dead of night.
"He thinks we'd forget her masters day, when he went after that German alchemist. What man trees another man?! They had to float him down! Absolutely bonkers, Ron is!"
"H-he's," Harry gasped, wiping away a tear. He pulled off a shaky Hermione impression, and said, voice high and trembling, "He's p-p-passionate! He's, he's a protector!"
"He's a prat!" They erupted into giggles over toast that'd ages ago gone cold.
The constant harassment barely slowed at the Burrow, even now boasting a staff of round-the-clock lurkers for the off-season. Her parents hadn't a moment of rest since she was scouted the year before. Doubly so since she was recognized in June as the 2001 Quidditch League rookie of the year. She'd brought the Harpies to the knock-outs over the Welsh nationals. Harry and the Weasleys had stood by decked in her team colors, screaming themselves hoarse.
But this was on top of being the "girl of the Boy-Who-Lived," "World Cup star hopeful," the alleged mentee of the team's piratical captain Gwenog Jones, and Witch Weekly's "Hottest Harpy." One night, Ginny vented to the point of a few, frustrated tears that she couldn't breathe. It should be great, she complained, to have all that recognition. But the witch felt claustrophobic and watched and measured constantly.
Harry understood completely, and suggested she needed a place of her own, preferably one with hulking great gargoyles and wrought-iron gates where the hexes had hexes. He loved that she packed her things that night and moved in. With some new wards and Harry's willpower, Number Twelve remained a veritable cloister. Other Order members passed through occasionally, but they were largely left on their own.
Usually dark and fairly quiet, save for a few suspicious knocks in the night, it was a fair place to land for a star player and a savior on sabbatical.
"You're laughing because you know I'm right! I'm right, dammit!" Harry had his back to the table she sat on, but broke again at her pointed titters. "Of all my brothers you could've chosen, you picked him! If it wasn't for me, Harry, I'd entirely doubt your taste in Weasleys."
"Oi!," he objected with a sigh. He turned off the flame before he burned the whole house down. The eggs already had a healthy crunch to them. Merlin, he'd never prove he can cook at this rate.
"Knock it off, cork it! Every morning it's like this! Please, I'm begging you! I'll never look at Ron again without losing it!"
Now Ginny laughed maniacally, the spirit of Fred Weasley jumping out of her. She dissolved into giggles when he turned to her, flushed and faux-betrayed.
The two had brought light and warmth into Grimmauld Place. Harry felt it was Ginny's doing, with her life of coming up where family dressed the windows and covered the floors.
Even though Arthur soothed and Molly tutted, saying she could always come home, the couple fared rather well two months in. He watched her laugh herself tomato red. Another bit of loneliness flaked off of his freshly exhumed core. It had been a lot, haunting his own house, rattling his own cage. Sometimes he passed into Sirius' bitter restlessness wandering the halls. Ginny dissolved all that.
He needed her. If Molly Weasley was a lit hearth, Ginny was a campfire. She'd set up in any room, roaring and steady, a boon to survivors navigating the wild. Some nights, overcome with sharing a bed with her for the first time, he'd press his hands flat against her stomach and feel her shiver.
God, he loved her—which was why he heard static when he properly saw her face, smeared with bright, red blood.
Harry missed the bleeding at first because her face was already red. But then he rushed to her, grabbing her by the shoulders. She stared at him dizzily, high from humor.
"Heh, wh—what's up, what's wrong?," she asked, moving from jovial to concerned. Blood dribbled from her nose, over her mouth and onto her sleep shirt—an old Spiderman t-shirt she wore because she liked the colors.
As he got closer, he smelled the tang of copper and his stomach turned.
"You're bleeding!" This he might have shouted, as she flinched and pushed him off. She didn't like being manhandled.
"What are y—oh, shite," it was on her teeth. She ran her tongue along her top lip and cursed again. "Yeah, no, calm down," his girlfriend waved him away dismissively and pinched her nose.
She pointed past him to the counter with the other hand, bouncing impatiently. "This is bloody embarrassing. Hand me that rag?"
"But, what's happening! Are you okay!?" Harry was panicking. He knew he was, but couldn't control it. He'd only seen her bleed during a team practice, or after a game of Wizarding Wheezes—or during the battle. This came out of nowhere.
He couldn't get over the smell. He thought about her tasting it and heaved.
"The rag, Harry, please. It's getting all over my hands."
He nodded, left, and came back with the hand towel he used to wipe down the pans. The whiff of cooked egg and grease didn't sit well over the smell of blood, but at least it centered him. It was breakfast, on a Monday morning. These were breakfast smells.
His palms sweat as he braced himself on her thighs and took a deep breath through his mouth. Ginny watched him, showing him the eggy rag.
"Can you clean it?," she asked in a nasally voice, still holding her nose. Her fingers were, in fact, becoming sticky with red, but if he squinted, it looked like paint.
His hands felt weak as he pulled his wand from his back pocket. Harry tugged the rag toward him by the corner and muttered a cleaning charm. Harry shot a little wide and cleaned the hand holding it, too. He looked at the clean and familiar calluses, and leveled out even more.
"Just breathe," Ginny coached, thanking him. She put the cloth to her face.
"Yeah...er, yeah, I'm sorry, just, are you okay?," he replied, bringing a hand up to her cheek. This she allowed, although she flushed terribly. "Can I…?"
"Yeah, go ahead," she gave him the rag, looking up while he brought it up to her face. "Careful. It'll stop soon, just—yeah, just hold it while I can clean myself up."
Harry wiggled the wand still in his hand, now held alongside the rag. Ginny ignored him while she charmed away the blood from everywhere but the nose, which continued to bleed. He figured he'd better get to it and pinched it closed while she worked. It took a couple tries to clean the shirt, as blood rarely picked up in one go.
He swallowed thickly, feeling the rag give into wetness. The nosebleed had started soaking through the cotton cloth.
"Ginny…," he said, with a tone of tense warning.
"Yeah, I know, I got it. You're doing good, just breathe through it."
He pulled in air and held it, managing the first half of breathing and losing it in the second. His chest felt tight and his stomach swirled down to his socks. Harry put his wand away, not fully trusting himself with it. Something had to be wrong, and he didn't want to make it worse.
"It's fine, I know you don't like blood, c'mere."
His girlfriend took the rag from him and pushed him to arm's length. Once her fingers left his chest, he sprung back and held her freckled face in both hands. She answered with an exasperated huff.
"I'm fine, Harry."
"You're bleeding. A lot."
"Yes, and I'm fine. It's just a nosebleed, I won't die," she paused then, seeing him turn grey. "I take it back. That was bad word choice. Forgot I said that, or anything. Okay? I never said 'die.'"
"Okay, will do. Forgetting."
Harry didn't succeed, and so worked to suppress his now salient concern that Ginny Weasley, his girlfriend, his partner, the light of his life, was dying.
He knew it was just a nosebleed, and on an inaccessible plane of good sense, he knew she was probably fine. But sudden nosebleeds, and blood in general, colored most of Harry's most terrifying experiences. And now that he was safe, largely sane, and blindingly happy, terror cut stronger and faster than it ever had before.
"Harry, you're smushing me," and he had been. He had mashed Ginny's annoyed face between his sweaty, shaking hands. She looked rather puggish, actually.
"I love you, but this feels disgusting. Please let me go."
"I…," he tried. Nope, he couldn't. "I don't think I can, sorry."
Ginny sighed, propped the elbow of her rag holding arm onto his shoulder, and resigned herself to being clammily cradled. She levitated the plate of eggs to her lap, and summoned a fork from an out-of-sight drawer. With her free hand, she crunched down on the eggs with stubborn determination.
Harry readjusted to give her room to eat, pausing when she made eye contact. Anxious green gave way to stoic brown.
"Should I explain?," she asked through a mouthful.
"When you get a chance, yeah."
"So, it runs in your family?"
They moved upstairs after she convinced Harry to settle for holding hands. Her nose bled itself dry, at which point she led him upstairs complaining about the need for a shower. Harry relaxed to the shower going and Ginny humming tunelessly.
The water squeaked off, and he repeated his question through the door. He was answered by the door opening to his girlfriend's athletic silhouette, cloaked in cinnamon scented steam. Lengths of copper hair were raked back from her face and clung to the skin of her freckle-painted neck and shoulders.
Whatever wobbliness he had left was replaced by the feeling of home.
"Yeah," Ginny shrugged, wrapping herself in a giant, embroidered towel. The fair hair on her legs was damp and soapy, having escaped a proper rinse. Ginny always rushed washing, a holdover from training camp, Hogwarts, and seven kids to a bathroom at the Burrow.
"Why didn't I know about this?," he asked, lying on the bed with his chin on his fist. Harry watched her notice her soapy legs and bend down to dry them.
Being so close to her still threw him. It wasn't like his time in the tent, being within spitting distance of Ron and Hermione. He reeled at wanting to know a person this way and then just, doing it. Being allowed that close came with realizing how much he desired closeness. And the wanting, it came as a shock every time, without fail.
Ginny answered him with another shrug. "We all get them—the kids, I mean. Mum says it's from her side, although according to her, once she got pregnant with Bill, her nose stopped bleeding, 'like most everything else.'"
They both cringed at the imagery. Harry could practically hear Molly's unabashed, "Oh, pish, you!" Bravely, he forged on.
"Did she ever tell you why it happens? I've never seen Ron or George carry on like that. Was a faucet, basically!"
Ginny, who had begun drying her hair, dropped her gaze. Regretfully, he felt the name coming.
"Fred had them a lot," she said, matter-of-factly. She was looking at the bath rug, but seemed otherwise unfazed by talk of her late brother. Ginny was the only Weasley to manage that.
"George said once that it's how they came up with the Skiving Snackboxes. That's why they started with Nosebleed Nougats, then the spewing and fever stuff. Fred kept getting sent down to Pomfrey to get cleaned up, and it was pretty much the only time he didn't lose points while conscious and upright."
Harry coughed, and then let out a quiet chuckle. Ginny smiled, looking up again. It was going on four years since the end of, well, everything, and despite the hurts they all harbored, they were healing. People were getting easier to remember. He couldn't ask for much more.
"Anyway, Mum explained a few times when we were little," Ginny finished. "S'no biggie."
Harry sat up from his prone position, swinging his feet onto the floor. She walked out of the bathroom, head tilted to one side like she was listening to old, half-remembered stories. He reached out, wanting to touch her hair.
She got close to the bed, towel hitting the bedspread. There she grinned, and batted his hands away.
"That's enough touching from you today," and she plopped next to him on the bed. Its ancient springs groaned in protest.
She used his wand to float over underwear from the dresser. It only made it halfway, of course, before losing its will and fluttering to the floor in a swan song of striped cotton.
Harry nearly didn't blush while picking them up and handing them to her. Apparently, this was charming enough to earn him a peck on the lips.
"Ahem," he pulled on his fringe, thinking it might be time for a shower himself.
Sharing looks with Ginny and feeling a bit boyish, he ducked into the bathroom with a nervous grin. The Harpy star hopeful looked decidedly as if 'no touching' did not apply to her. And well, he had his virtue to protect.
"Harry Potter, running away from his girlfriend," he was teased through the quickly closing door.
"So, what did your mother say about you all gushing rivers from your noses? After it being genetic and before the bit about her, erm, cycles?"
"Crafty, mood-killing bastard," came from the bedroom. Then a sigh. "You won't slip away forever!"
"Yeah, yeah," he mumbled, searching the bathroom for his things.
The ensuite bath for the bedroom they'd chosen was all dark olive tile, a white porcelain clawfoot tub, and tarnished silver fixtures. Harry pulled his shower caddy from a wet nook in the wall, frowning at the muddy green tile, still thinking it ugly.
They had attempted to redo the bathroom in blues, yellows, and golds to no avail. Eventually, it reverted back to the green. The only color that took was red, but the Gryffindor scarlet they chose curdled to a clotted, scab brown. So, they figured it was best to leave the decor be.
He found his shave kit, his toothbrush, and was banging around for a new bar of soap, when he caught his reflection in the mirror.
The mirror was why they'd picked this room specifically. The mirrors in Grimmauld Place were a tricky business. Here there was no ghoulish version of himself reflecting in it, grey-skinned and rotting, or a ghost standing behind him, cursing his name. The mirror wasn't even enchanted to talk, or in the spirit of Number Twelve, hurl obscenities until he cursed it or fled in tears. It was a coveted find.
They found one Baroque framed mirror in the attic that showed maddening visions of one's own death and whispered that it was the user's fault. That one had been turned to face the wall and kicked until it broke, as therapy.
Meanwhile, this mirror simply did its job, reflecting what it saw: a Slytherin bathroom, a large white tub, and Harry. But as he took in his own reflection, turning his head to and from the vanity lights, he felt bereft.
Harry examined his bright green eyes, his mother's eyes, and reached up to muss his hair, dark as pitch and wild like his father's. He took in his short nose, his full mouth, his faded scar, all jagged and shiny. He palmed his chin and dragged the hand across the jaw.
Harry knew he resembled his parents, and their parents. He had seen pictures, the mirror of Erised, their actual ghosts, and he knew from those things that they were family. Not perfectly similar like people said, but definitely related.
Unwittingly, he started feeling out the nuances of his face while Ginny spoke on through the door. She had remembered some of the stories from her mother's side, the Prewetts, about nosebleeds.
"My dad's side, the Weasleys, gave us the red hair and the freckles, but my mum's side, the Prewetts, had lots of children, twins mostly. The story is, y'know, pureblood families don't tend to have a lot of kids, probably from years of cousins boffing each other."
"Chri—Ginny!" Harry turned from his reflection to gape at the bathroom door.
"What, I don't do it. That's families like the Malfoys. They're pretty sickly, and then the Crabbes and Goyles are thick, and the Blacks are absolutely nutters, although that could be the Dark magic.
"But even the Longbottoms, who have been Light for generations, rarely have multiple children. No judgement, it's just how it is. And like Neville, he isn't very magically strong except for in Herbology, which is like a family gift."
Harry heard her pause and the shhing of fabric as she pulled a fresh shirt over her head.
"So, the Prewetts stick out quite a bit for being...let's say, prolific. And the in-joke is that, in order to push out that many kids, we're 'spread thin.' Like, if you notice, except for mum, none of us have very much spare anything."
He agreed that all of Ginny's brothers were tall and thin, except for Charlie who stoutly took after his mum. And Ginny herself, while toned from flying, was naturally very up-and-down. Harry folded his arms, unsure if he'd realized how versed she was on other families. Perhaps it was a pureblood thing, to know other people's bloodlines.
Harry wrestled with an urge to ask about the Potters. Ginny couldn't be his access to everything, but maybe...
"Hey, do you know if, er," he trailed off. No, he couldn't put that on her. "Yeah, you're all skinny."
Harry returned to his self-examination, settling around his chest. In the center of it was the thick, ropey knot of the Killing Curse scar. It didn't hurt, but was always cool to the touch. He moved on.
"But since when does being thin cause bleeding?"
"You know when you transfigure your socks bigger and bigger to fit," she sounded closer to the door, then farther away, "until they get too thin and your toes poke through? It's like that, but instead of toes, it's nose skin. It's really thin so it bleeds. We also bruise pretty spectacularly. I don't know if you've ever noticed."
He'd noticed bruising before, on her and her siblings after catching a Bludger to the back. But a sneaky Bludger could bruise anyone black and blue. This meant nothing in a world with bruise balm and dittany. He hadn't thought anything of it.
"Hermione might know a term for that," Harry suggested. "Since her parents are doctors."
"Teeth doctors, I thought?"
Harry shrugged and remembered she couldn't see him. He gave up staring at himself for now and finally prepared his bath, forgoing a shower. He had the sudden urge to soak instead of stand. He felt an awareness of his body, and how his arms hung, and how his joints slotted together, that he'd rather lose in the weightlessness of the water.
"That's...something," he offered, wincing at awkward he sounded. A right poet, he was. The rush of cold water from the tap covered his mistake. He shouted, "Thanks for telling me! I had no idea about that family stuff."
"Didn't your family ever—ah, damn. Sorry, Harry."
Harry jumped, surprised. She usually didn't slip like that, forgetting he hadn't anyone to tell him about himself. Yes, he had the Dursleys, in the loosest definitions of "had," what with them being well and truly estranged. Ginny, more than anyone, stayed on his wavelength.
Maybe it was the door between them. Or maybe she just couldn't be perfect. It really was a lot to expect. Anyone could get so caught up in their own type of normal that they forgot someone else's. Hermione and Ron did it constantly, and they knew more about him than anyone alive. Even more than Ginny, as they were with him when half of his life happened.
Most likely, Harry knew, it was just that he was difficult to relate to. A piece of him here and there might resonate with someone else. He, Ron, and Hermione shared many pieces. He and Ginny shared the rest. But no whole person had quite managed to resonate with all of him. Hell, he'd died before. No one living could understand that.
Harry fell quiet for so long, he jumped when Ginny knocked.
"Can I come in?," she asked. They both knew the door wasn't locked, but he appreciated that she asked permission.
"Yeah, sure, but I'm about to take a bath," he replied, looking apologetically into her face as the door eased open. She looked a bit repentant as well, until her eyes flicked down to his chest and back up again. It was almost imperceptible. And like that, her patient, unwavering self was back.
"Let's take a bath together," she declared, undressing. He blinked, blushed, and began to protest.
"You're already clean!," he stated, pushing her from the room. Her shirt fell, and he tripped over it, and his chest ran along her back, skin to skin, as they fell in a jumbled heap on the floor.
The private chaos of tangled limbs, stolen kisses, and breathless, side-stitching laughter pushed his thoughts, formless but deep, from his mind. The morning powered on, despite Harry once being exhausted. However, it failed to remove the dense singleness in his spirit.
A want weighed on him, created a gravity in his gut. Harry didn't know if his parents had nosebleeds. His body was a mess of unknown parts from isolate places. It was his to share and to touch with and to have touched, but something about not knowing it completely made him feel separate from himself.
Harry took the afternoon to rest. Ginny dozed against him, her palm over the scar on his chest.
He glared at the ceiling for nearly an hour, so angry he could cry. After all his years of wanting, realizing he was still unsatisfied—despite everything he had—made him furious. He squeezed Ginny to his side, so tightly she grumbled and rolled over. He held the curve of her hip, furious again at how she somehow wasn’t enough.
He decided then, with the steely certainty he had for these things, that he would do what he needed to be happy. Harry would find his family, or at least what was left of them. After everything he’d been through, he deserved to feel complete.