In The House of the Quick and the Hungry by Laura Laurent



Summary: The finer aspects of Ginny Weasley's life, all entwined, in their own way, within the story of how she wound up with Harry Potter.
THIS STORY IS NOW COMPLETE!
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-HBP
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: Between the Lines and Beyond the End
Published: 2004.07.09
Updated: 2006.06.12


Index

Chapter 1: Bill Was Always There
Chapter 2: Charlie Was a Prewett
Chapter 3: Percy Paid Attention
Chapter 4: Fred Had No Regrets
Chapter 5: George Taught Me Well
Chapter 6: Ron Was Full of Woe
Chapter 7: Tomcat
Chapter 8: Little Ginny's Little Vigil
Chapter 9: The Unavoidable Regression Into Ginny
Chapter 10: Their Best Boy
Chapter 11: Someone To Help Her With Her Lashes
Chapter 12: The Ugly Duckling Manifesto
Chapter 13: An Old Friend Through Quiet Ways
Chapter 14: River Psychology
Chapter 15: Let These Be Your Desires
Chapter 16: One Step Ahead
Chapter 17: East By Southeast of the Castle


Chapter 1: Bill Was Always There

This was dedicated to my father,

Who couldn't hold up his end of the deal.


~*~

Bill Was Always There




It was always pretty common knowledge among the families in question that Weasleys were generally tall and lanky, and Prewetts were shorter and, as my roommates so sophisticatedly dubbed them: really dishy. There’s nothing remarkable about this, and no one particularly cares as to how the combination of Arthur Weasley and Molly Prewett manifests itself in their children, but I for one find these things rather interesting.

Firstborn Bill, the lucky prat, got the cream of the genetic crop: he’s both tall and really dishy. But five kids and thirteen years later it was slim pickings in the gene pool and I wound up short and just plain skinny. The general characters are harder to judge, and harder still to pigeon-hole into family stereotypes, but on the whole, Weasleys tend to be adventurous, wise, and slightly quirky, with steady, almost removed emotions that rarely get the best of them. Prewetts, on the other hand, are far more unstable–the life and soul of the party for the most part, but with the very real capacity to become murky vacuums of light and happiness.

Character-wise, Bill is a Weasley through and through, and everyone seems bent on thinking he’s my favorite brother, as he is so intent on us being "kindred spirits." Maybe we are, but Bill still isn’t my "favorite brother." I love him dearly, and I trust his judgement above all others, but the next time he tells me we share a thirst for adventure or a sixth sense about people, I might scream. It’s not that I'm so offended by those assumptions, because maybe I am what he says I am. I just don’t feel that he, the almighty globetrotter, has the right to say that about me.

All my life he’s had this vision of me as I was when I was four years old, as I was when I was his little Ginny. I was, he always said, the cutest, the smartest, and, from the time he was thirteen on, his best friend in the whole family, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I rarely had any idea what he was talking about.

"You’re like me, Ginny, we can smell the creeps a mile away," he’d say as I sat on his lap for the traditional Bill-and-Ginny storytime. "It’s a sort of sense we’ve got."

I used to be really chuffed when he told me that, but ever since my first year, you know–when I found myself a friend in a deranged mass murderer, I’ve been a bit more skeptical of this alleged sense. But Bill never mentions my possession. In part, I’m grateful–I’m glad he doesn’t treat me differently just because I was once possessed with the soul of Voldemort...

But lately I’ve been wondering if perhaps he’s repressed the memory altogether.

I don’t know how to tell him, either, that he doesn’t really know me for me. Many years ago, when Mum and I were still really close, I tried to explain it to her.

"He always says we’re kindred spirits!" I said, resting my chin on the countertop as I watched her peel the potatoes for supper. "He says all these things that we have in common, and all these things- like how I understand him and-"

"And this is so awful because..." she prodded, her eyes trained on the task in front of her, though I knew she was listening carefully.

"It’s not!" I insisted, "I mean, I’m glad and all but-"

Mum nodded sagely. "But it’s not who you really are."

There was a small beat.

"Well no, it is." I bit my lip and tried to remember what exactly my point was as Mum gave an exasperated sigh.

"Well then I’m afraid I don’t understand."

After that I decided to just let it be, and let him go on favoring me and spoiling me rotten. It was Bill who taught me the Bat-Bogey Hex after my first year when we went to Egypt, by the way. He had been telling us about the curse for years, and all of us, even Percy, were dying to learn it. He gave me very specific instructions for it's use.

"If any boy ever makes you cry," he instructed, "you threaten him with this. And if he ever tries to do it again, you use it on him."

I nodded, dumbstruck and amazed at my good fortune in having obtained something so coveted as the legendary Bat-Bogey Hex.

"I had a little talk with Fred and George the other night," he told me, "I don't think they'll be teasing you so much anymore, but feel free to hex them anyway–just so they don't forget who's boss." He punctuated this with a wink, before adding in a more serious voice, "But other than that, use it sparingly, or it'll lose its power. Right then, you got all that?"

He would write me all the time with stories and cool things he’d learned, and when he visited he brought me loads of little souvenirs from all his adventures, and I was so proud that I already knew the inside jokes and the history behind them that the tiny wrinkle of misunderstanding in our relationship went blissfully ignored, aided in that I couldn’t even put my finger on the problem in the first place.

But now I’ve grown up a bit, and my perspective on everything has changed. I don’t know how or when exactly it happened, but it did. The truth is that I am a lot like Bill–in both blood and spirit. Even he has always had enough sense to know that there are a few key differences of course, but for the most part his assumptions about me are correct. The problem is that it seems he decided all this very early on and has taken it for granted ever since. The fact that he was right is completely irrelevant.

People change, and what if I had? Bill wouldn’t have known the difference, because he never took an honest look at me to see who I was. Not that he did so intentionally; I feel confident that if Bill had lived here with me all my life, he would have gotten know me without any preconceived conclusions.

But he didn’t live with me. He was never home if he had the choice. Even before he left Hogwarts, he never passed up an invitation to spend the holidays somewhere else. As soon as he graduated he moved out and practically ran to Egypt on foot: I remember the day he left.

"Are you going now?" I asked miserably as I stood in the doorway drinking my little bottle of Pumpkin juice.

"Yeah," he said, giving me a half-apologetic smile as he emptied the last few items from his bureau. "Sorry Ducky, but I’ve got to go raid some tombs now."

"I want to go too!" I said, knowing he’d decline.

But instead of saying no, he brightened at this. "Oh yeah? Come here–my trunk’s almost full but let’s see if you’ll fit in the suitcase."

For one wild moment I thought that maybe he was serious, and I was a bit apprehensive at the thought of leaving the country in a piece of luggage, but he was joking, so I set my sippy cup down on the writing desk and crawled easily into the suitcase as Bill zipped it shut. And as I lay nestled in the dark, crammed in there with all his T-shirts as he carried me down the stairs, calling to Mum that he was all ready, I got a rush of adrenaline at the thought of what it would be like in Egypt. I indulged in the fantasy as he said his good-byes to everyone in the kitchen and then headed out to the entryway. The idea of running away with him was just beginning to grow on me when he set me down and unzipped the suitcase.

"Come on Bill, let’s go!" I said with a wide grin.

"Are you sure?" he asked, looking at me like an eighteen-year-old often looks at a five-year-old, even if they’re not meaning to be condescending, and I felt my heart begin to drop involuntarily. "You sure you won’t miss Mum?"

I shook my head, but I knew my heart wasn’t in it. He sighed.

"Come on Ginny, you’ve got to stay here."

Knowing the game was over, I nodded mutely and clambered out as I felt that aching in the back of the roof of my mouth while he re-zipped the suitcase and straightened. I stared at his shoes and my jaw began to tremble with the effort of keeping the tears at bay. I wondered why he wasn’t saying anything, and when I looked up and saw that he was also trying not to cry, I lost it completely.

"I hate being left behind!" I sobbed as he picked me up effortlessly. I sobbed so forcefully that I got that feeling where your muscles seize up and you can’t breath even though your mouth is wide open. I sat there shaking in his arms for several moments as I tried to open my throat, and all the while I kept thinking that I was wasting the precious few moments I had left with him paralyzed with tears. When my little fit had passed, I took a deep breath and I felt him do the same.

"I’m gonna miss you so much," he said quietly, which only succeeded in making me cry harder, "but I’ve got to go now."

I took the hint and loosened my grip around his neck as he put me down. He gave me a fake glare, as I dried my eyes and sniffed.

"Don’t you dare tell anyone I almost cried," he admonished.

I let out a small breath of laughter and smiled, blinking furiously.

"Bill dear, are you ready?" Mum bustled into the living room looking rather frantic, "Come on, the train will be leaving soon."

"Yeah," he said, and he picked up his trunk and suitcase as the rest of the boys began to gather round to see him off.

"Alright, Ginny," said Mum, addressing me, "I’m just going to drive him to the station, and then I’m coming right home. Listen to Charlie, I’ll be back soon."

She bent down and kissed the top of my head, before straightening and grabbing a few extra things of Bill’s.

"Goodbye everybody!"

Bill gave a general nod of his head as he turned and opened the door, and headed out to the car.

Thinking about that day always makes me feel like crying, both for the way we used to be, and for the way things changed and made us grow apart. I wonder if this is what people mean when they say that growing up is painful. A part of me hopes that Bill will never find out that I don’t actually have his sixth sense, and that he sort of missed out on most my childhood. Not only would he be deeply saddened, but he’d feel guilty that he was never around to realize it before. I don’t ever want him to think that he wasn’t there for me: he was there– to tell me a story, tell me I'm cute, to tell me not to worry, or make me laugh–Bill was always there.

He just wasn’t ever here.




~*~







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Chapter 2: Charlie Was a Prewett

Charlie Was a Prewett

For my grandfather, who is a Neumann,
And for Beth Voermans, who wasn’t intimidated.




As is so often the case with one's elders, the brothers whom I favored the least as a small child were the ones who did the most to make me what I am today. For example, if it weren’t for Charlie and his towering temper, the legendary tale of my first encounter with Professor Snape might never have been, which would be a shame, as it’s a favorite in Colin Creevey's repetoire.

“So, there we were,” he’ll say, “filing into our first potions class, with none other than the Slytherins, of course! And Professor Snape is writing at the board, and you know how he can make even that seem threatening... So anyway, there we are, all scared out of our wits, and he starts talking (I don’t remember what the lesson was about) but I’m sitting next to Ginny, and I notice she’s looking rather pale and nervous and jittery–like she expects him to hit her at some point. Well, you know how that oily old git can sense fear, so he turns to her and he asks her this really hard question, and then he gets up right in her face and does that stupid sneer thing and says, ‘Ms. Weasley... afraid of me?’

“And all these Slytherins start snickering at her, and here I am worrying that this poor girl is going to die of fright, but instead she just looks right back at him and says, well, tell them what you said Ginny,”


At this point I’ll look up from whatever I was doing and deliver the only point of the story that really bears repeating:

“I said, ‘No. Should I be?’”

“Well you can imagine his surprise–here's this tiny girl, and she answers with that. For a minute there I honestly think he was too taken aback to do much of anything, but then he recovered himself and deducted ten points from Gryffindor with a scowl. He hates her. But you know, since that day, I don’t think he’s ever tried to scare her again...”


He’s right. Snape hasn’t tried to scare me since that day, and after my first year, word got round to most of the school that I was a lot tougher than I had let on originally, and boys were afraid of me for me, and not for my brothers.

Michael had this old joke, he used to say, "Mates–I've done it! I've solved the crime of the century!"–this was commonly known in Ravenclaw as Percy Weasley’s Missing Bollocks–and then he'd lean over and kiss me on the cheek, and the implication was understood by everyone present that I was the theif. I smiled and blushed a little at the time, but the truth is that I’m brave not because of Percy, but because of Charlie.

There are seven children in our family, one for each day of the week, except that Fred and George were both born on Friday, so we have no Saturday. But in any case, I always thought it was especially fitting that Charlie, whose temper was the stuff of legend, was born on Thursday, the day named for the Norse god of thunder (don't look at me like that, Hermione was the one who made the connection). Even when he was a small child, Mum and Dad used to call him Stormy Charlie, because of the terrible tantrums of anger and sadness that he’d fall into every now and then. But that’s the side of Charlie that no one but his nearest and dearest ever see. To most of the world he’s Charming Charlie–Heartbreaker Extraordinaire. In short, Charlie is a Prewett.

He’s charismatic and funny, with a thousand little habits and mannerisms that drive girls crazy. And yet he’s also the only person that the twins are honestly afraid to cross, and for good reason. I remember after my first year, when they had teased me so mercilessly about my crush on Harry (among many other things), the horrible tongue lashings they had received from both Bill and Charlie when we all met up in Egypt. I don’t know what Bill said to them, but I couldn’t help but overhear Charlie’s rant, such was the volume of his voice.

It was our first night there, and Mum and Dad were out for dinner together. Bill was at his flat, of course, leaving Charlie in charge of all of us in the hotel. I lay in bed awake as Ron slept soundly in the bed next to mine, and from the other room I could hear voices being raised until Charlie was shouting at what must have been close to the top of his lungs.

“What’s the matter with you?”

I heard something being flung across the room, but it made a ‘clunk!’ rather than a ‘crash!’ so I assumed it was nothing fragile.

“You two are by far the biggest little arses that I’ve ever had the misfortune of KNOWING! Much less being related to! Let’s set aside the fact that you didn’t notice that your sister was being possessed by You-Know-Who... until she stopped eating, stopped sleeping! Don’t you dare tell me you didn’t notice, because Percy noticed! Percy, the big-headed prat who doesn’t care about anyone but himself- HE NOTICED!

“So your little sister, who’s away from home for the first time in her life and has no friends, grows quieter and quieter all year long while you sit around and ham it up, until she’s so sickly and pale that she doesn’t even blush when you humiliate her. AND WHAT DO YOU TWO DO? Do you take a time out from being the center of attention for just ONE second to see if she’s okay? NO! You do the only thing your messed up, pea-sized brains know how to do–you take the piss out of her some more!”

Aww...

If I hadn’t been so concerned that the twins were indeed, dead, I would have been touched by his words. It was the nicest thing he’d ever done for me, even if it was a bit hypocritical–because next to the twins, Charlie was the biggest tease I knew. Nevertheless, his words in the hotel that night changed my feelings about him forever.

Before that night, I had never had any reason to believe that Charlie really cared about me any more than the next sibling, and for a girl who was the apple of everyone’s eye for as long as she could remember, this always stung a bit. Once, when I was six or seven, a woman who was apparently very recently his ex-girlfriend came downstairs from his room in a huff as I ate my breakfast at the kitchen table.

“He’s insufferable!” she fumed, desperately buttoning her blouse and fixing her skirt as I stared back in a total deadpan, trying to fit a very large spoon into my mouth as my pink slippered feet dangled idly below.

“I swear! ‘No respect for me,’ honestly! He’s the most arrogant pompous-arse I’ve ever met that would- argh! The man probably makes BABIES ‘earn his respect’!”

I rested my temple on my wrist and stirred my Toady-O’s, looking listlessly into my bowl as she continued to revile my brother.

“Sweetie, I pity you! Having to live with that ego!”

“What are you doing?” Charlie had entered the kitchen forcefully, looking from her to me and putting the pieces together as his jaw twisted and clenched menacingly. “Get out!” he said tersely, but she wasn’t finished just yet.

“What’s the matter Charlie? Don’t want your family to know what a-“

“I said get OUT!” he shouted, “If you’ve got a problem with me, come back and tell me about it when you grow up, but don’t try to badmouth me to my seven-year-old sister! Because that’s not payback, that’s just asinine!”

She seethed for a moment, driving her heel into her shoe before she grabbed her wand and Disapparated. Charlie turned and looked at me.

“Someday you’re going to look back on this and think I’m a total wanker, so perhaps it would be best if you just forget it now.”

And then he went back to his room and left me to my Toady-O’s, not fazed in the slightest.

You could not have paid me to say it to Charlie at the time, but I had a pretty good idea of what the problem was, minus the sexual implications, and I agreed with the jilted lady. Charlie was charismatic and smooth, but he had such ridiculously high expectations of everyone, and he was so painfully blunt in expressing his disappointment that at times one wondered if anyone but himself met with his approval.

Girls flock to him like bees to honey, how could you not? He’s deep, dark and confident, with charmand one of those when-I'm-not-taming-dragons-or-buying-my-mother-flowers-I'm-a-badarse attitudes. In fact, his partners have a theory that that’s why he’s so good at what he does:

"That bloody temper of his can scare a male dragon shitless, and the shes just think he's dreamy–all he has to do is wink and they bat their eyes and fall into a swoon."

Women are incredibly turned on by things like that. Back when he lived at home, after Hogwarts and before he got the job in Romania, he used to have what he described to me as "two-person slumber parties" about once a week. His mates made setting up Charlie into a bit of a sport, by advertising him to interested women.

“Oh yeah! Charlie seems rough and rugged, but he cleans up really nice- impeccable taste, he’s got.”

“And did you know? He can cook! Almost as well as his Mum, see he specializes in French cuisine, but he’s got a knack for Italian stuff as well.”

“You see those roses there? Charlie grew those; he knows everything about gardening, if he ever gives you flowers–know that he has indeed grown, picked, and arranged them just for you. Don't tell him we said so though, it’s all a bit of a secret, see–mostly he just works out and plays Quidditch.”

"And he can sing, too! He's a bit shy about that one though, sort of keeps that side of him hidden to the world–I don't think he'd ever sing to a woman unless he really loved her. He's a good one to go dancing with, though.”

The funniest thing was that they weren’t really embellishing much at all. He can't cook as well as Mum, and he sings or whistles pretty much any time he's in a good mood, but other than that, they spoke the truth.

No, Charlie’s never had any trouble attracting women, but to this day, with all the pretty girls that have thrown themselves at his feet, I don’t think he’s ever been in love. For all three of my oldest brothers, there have been those who have questioned their sexuality, though for very different reasons. With Bill, it was simply that he was too good to be true. They’d see him, hear that he was a curse breaker, and say, ‘Oh no, he’s gay, isn’t he?’. Percy has so many feminine mannerisms, and he’s such a mummy’s boy that I think we've all wondered at some point if he really swings the way he says he does.

But no one ever speculates that Charlie’s not as straight as a ruler–Fred and George admire the fact that "no bird can make Charlie do anything he doesn’t want to"–and so do most woman... until they get close enough to realize that they’re no exception to that rule. That’s when they storm out in a huff and claim that he’s gay (or just generally a self-righteous bastard). I hate it when girls say that boys don’t think about anything but sex, or that they’re stupid and easily manipulated. It’s not true, and from what I’ve seen, the girls who say that are often the same ones that come charging out of Charlie’s room with injured egos just because they couldn’t seduce him.

Sadly enough, I was the same way, minus the sex: I thought Charlie was the coolest guy in the world, until he’d criticize me, or tell me to stop being such a bloody drama queen, or when he wasn’t moved by my very best puppy dog face. Then he was just mean, with a stuck up nose and a superiority complex.

But there’s one key difference between me and all those obnoxious women. I stuck around, and I gained his respect. Unlike most turnarounds in my relationships with people, this one didn’t take place over many years, it happened in an instant.


It was two summers before I went away to Hogwarts, and at the time, Charlie was still living with us. Fred and George had dared me one afternoon to take Charlie’s broom out of the shed and take a ride on it. I would have succeeded spectacularly, and stunned them both with my surprising flying abilities, but just when I got high enough to really fly, a big wind came out of nowhere and, given the fact that I weighed about sixty pounds, blew me straight into a tree, causing significant damage to the tail of the Comet Two-Fifty. I practically fell out of the tree in a panic, and spent the rest of the day trying to run away from home before Charlie returned from work.

“He’s gonna kill you,” leered Fred, snickering at me as I tried to pack a knapsack.


“Ginny dear, are you alright? You’ve gone all white and you’re shaking,” said Mum over tea.


Finally, the inevitable six o’clock rolled around, and I heard Charlie Apparating into the backyard. Any minute now, and he’d go out for his usual fly around the paddock after work to unwind and realize that his broom was gone...

“FRED! GEORGE!” I was hiding behind my bed, praying that someone would grant me powers of invisibility when I heard Charlie shout, but I had no such luck. Fred and George burst into my room and picked me up by my arms and dragged me downstairs and out to the broomshed.

“Come on Ginny, we’re not going to take a beating for this one!”

I whimpered and struggled against them, but it was no use. My face had gone whiter than a sheet, and my heart was beating so furiously I thought it was going to leap out of my chest and run away and hide. Charlie was waiting for them under the tree in which the broom had crashed, looking nearly as angry as I was scared.

“Well,” he spat. “What happened?”

By this time I was clawing desperately at their arms, and trying to stay behind them, but George forced me in front of them. I felt naked and very cold, standing there, the center of attention and the focus of Charlie’s furious glare. I pawed at my face and wiped away the tears quickly, before he could see that I was crying.

“So Ginny, what happened?”

I was petrified. My eyes felt dry and prickly, and I struggled to keep them open from flinching so much. He bent down so that his face was even with mine, and his stony expression made the breath catch in my throat.

“Ginny, are you scared of me?”

I wanted so badly to cry and say ‘YES!’ and have him scoop me up in his arms like Bill would do and tell me over and over again that he loved me and he never meant to scare me. But in that moment, as his hard blue eyes stared into mine, I knew that he wasn’t Bill, and I made a choice. I looked up, and stared right back at him as I bravely said,

“No. Should I be?”

And there was a long, triumphant silence. Charlie showed no emotion, except for a small raise of his eyebrows, but my heart swelled with pride as I spied Fred and George gaping like fish in my peripheral vision. After what seemed like an eternity, he knelt down in front of me, as if in surrender, and sighed, a little gruffly, “Course not–I would never hurt you.”

He pulled me into his arms and gave me one of the only real hugs I’d ever seen him give, and from that day forward I had Charlie’s respect, and he had mine.



Charlie and I give hope to one another. I'm his reminder that there are good girls out there, that are worth respecting and loving–he just has to find them. And he's my reminder that I’m worth loving and respecting, and that anyone can see that–I just have to hang in there.

There are two halves to the Prewett Paradox, the first states that they’re hilarious, and charming, with a deep, dark, unfathomable alter ego. The second half says that they always end up falling in love with good people. I believe that someday, both will be true for Charlie.








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Chapter 3: Percy Paid Attention



For Matthew,
Whom I secretly believed


~*~

Percy Paid Attention



“So I’m rather undecided,” said Percy one summer afternoon when I was nine and he was fourteen, “whether I want to spend more time on muscle toning, or on general cardiovascular health.”

“Whaha iffence?” I said vaguely, making a slurping noise to keep juice from dribbling down my chin as I tried to break my previous record for total number of grapes in my mouth at once. I was paying just enough attention to him that I knew when to pose a question, but for the most part I was busy with the task at hand as I sat on the floor in front of his chair and he plaited my hair into two taut French braids.

“Well, for example, muscle toning would be doing things like weightlifting and push ups and things like that, you know, to build muscle.”

“Oh, ight.”

"–and cardiovascular would be running or swimming or something, to build up my endurance.“

“I hee...”

Sixteen, seventeen...

“You see, I can’t decide because–well I’m not going to lie to you–I could probably benefit from some muscle work, but I’m such a natural born sprinter, I can’t help but be more inclined to make that the focus of my regimen–"

“Of hohh.”

Yes! Nineteen! Now came the tricky part... In order for the record to be broken, I had to completely chew and swallow all of them without spitting anything out. I took a deep, withering breath of intense concentration. This was the moment of truth: if I laughed or hesitated now, they would all come tumbling out and I’d have to start over.

“Of course, according to Clifford Huckle in Weightlifting for Wizards I should be working on expanding my versatility at this age, and when I’m older I can start on honing my strengths.”

“Mhm.”

I did a quick inventory with my tongue. Everything in the center of my mouth was finished chewing, now was the time to carefully shift things around and begin demolishing everything stored in my right cheek.

“Granted, I did some further research and it seems that that’s purely speculation and his own personal opinion. Yes, he’s one of the most respected magical fitness trainers in England, but–“

The muscles around my lips were clenching furiously as I struggled to keep my mouth shut; this was the juiciest part of the process, I had to be careful to keep it all contained.

"–but it also can’t be denied, I mean, it’s been proven in magical studies that if you’re really enjoying yourself while working out you'll get a better outcome.”

Only a few unchewed grapes left–I could now close my jaw and form most consonants with relative ease.

“How long did you want the plaits to go?”

The question caught me slightly off guard.

“Wha? Oh righ–try an' go as far to the ends as possible, I was gonna to leave them in a few days so they’d crimp.”

“Right, well anyways–in the meantime I think I’ll just put equal effort into both and do a little more research...”

The magical bowl in my lap was a gift to my mother from her godmother, and it refilled itself with fresh grapes every time it was emptied, and as a result, that summer I became slightly malnourished as I ate almost nothing but its contents.

Over the years I spent a great amount of time in Percy’s room as he did my hair and talked to me about his physical training regimen (in which he rarely made any progress), his studying regimen (in which he always made great progress), his relationship with Penny Clearwater, or, his favorite topic: his career options.

I listened well enough, and at the appropriate moments I would voice some support for him and his efforts, but for the most part I didn't really care, and that never seemed to bother him. At the time, Percy's exquisite French braids were payment enough for being his unfailing sounding board, but I've come to realize now that Percy did much more than simply plait my hair.

I'm a little ashamed of it now, but I used to play a little game with my family in which I'd run away and hide everytime I felt that I was wronged or neglected, and wait patiently for a very sorry brother or parent to come and find me some time later. Because of Percy, my little game rarely had any success, because he rarely failed to notice my absence within a half hour, and never failed to find me within an additional fifteen minutes.

I was on the first train back to a place that held less than pleasant memories for me, walking behind my brother and Harry and Hermione, when Harry announced not quietly enough that he wanted to talk to Ron and Hermione alone. But I wasn't stupid–I knew they just wanted to ditch me. I had to admit, I didn't think Harry would be so callous...

"Go away, Ginny," said Ron nonchalantly, as if he didn't think I had picked up the hint. I glared optical daggers at him but they glanced of his indifferent demeanor like an Imperturbable Charm. Had he just forgotten that this was exactly the reason I'd felt the need to confide in Tom Riddle last year? Or did nothing else matter if Harry was in the vicinity?

"Oh that's nice," I said stingingly, but even Hermione seemed more eager to hear what Harry had to say than how silly little Ginny Weasley felt. I stormed off down the corridor, but when I couldn't find a seat I turned back and watched with the familiar feeling of unwantedness creeping up inside me as they clambered into the last empty compartment. I had nowhere to sit. My tear ducts felt ready to explode, and I took off to try and find a place to cry in private.

I opened the last door to a freight compartment that was filled with students' luggage. The car was dimly lit by sickly streams of light filtering through the long, grimy window panels that ran around the walls just beneath the roof. One of the panes had been broken, and as the train barreled along it drew out all the energy and heat in the car like a sort of constant, rattling breath. I scanned my eyes over the cold mountains of trunks, looking for the smallest little cranny I could find to wedge myself into. Let it never be said that I'm claustrophobic: I'm always most at home in the places where no one else could possibly fit. I found the perfect spot in the back left corner where a neat little hole had been made between two enormous stacks of trunks. I stepped carefully over, and nimbly climbed into the little cranny.

I slid down against the wall with my legs bent up around me in a lotus position, but as I shifted my foot just slightly to allow for better circulation, something in the structure of the pile next to me was upset, and it came toppling down. The heavy trunks made several loud thuds as they collided with the reast of the trunks piled around me and formed a fully-fledged cage. I tried feebly to free myself for a moment, but my bent and awkward position was such that it made it nearly impossible to apply any sort of force.

For a moment I contemplated being upset, but I couldn't force myself to feel anything except rejection and bitterness. Ron'll be sorry now, I thought savagely. But then a voice in my head that sounded like Charlie spoke louder, No he won't, it's your fault you decided to be a drama queen and go sit on the cold cement beneath a pile of luggage. I gave a dejected sigh and as I exhaled I felt my very bones resign themselves to a long interlude of solitary confinement.

It must have been nearly an hour later when I heard the door to the car slide open and bright golden light shine in, but it seemed to become tired and faded by the vacuum that was the broken window, and a moment later it made no difference at all to the cold, draining ambiance of the luggage car.

"Ginny?"

It was Percy, appearing with his usual pretentious swagger at the door like some kind of godsend. I felt slightly embarrassed- I hadn't played this game in a long time and rather thought I had outgrown it. I felt blood rush to my face at being caught in such a ridiculous place.

"Hello," I said, my voice creaky and gargled from an hour of silent crying. Percy looked at the pile of luggage I was burried beneath as he cocked his head a little and narrowed his eyes, which dropped all pretense when they found mine. He smiled knowingly.

"What are you doing?"

"I–erm–looking for something," I said, my heart beating fast at my thin story. Percy wasn't fooled, he dropped his smile and said somewhat accusingly as he walked over and shifted the piles aside and pulled me out,

"You were crying, weren't you? Who was supposed to find you under there?"

I wanted to hex him very badly–how dare aim so near?

"No I wasn't," I said defiantly, but he still didn't believe me.

"Come now, Ginny, I'm sure Ron didn't mean to be mean, and Fred and George were asking about you," he draped his arm lazily over my shoulder and led me into the warm and cheery compartment beyond. "Let's go."


I'll never understand how he knew. I hardly ever talked to him about how I felt, or why I did the things I did. It was almost always him talking my ear off as I languidly stuffed grapes into my face. I suppose I simply underestimated how closely he paid attention to me as he went on and on about himself. I suppose he wasn't as self-absorbed as everyone accused him of being.

But now all that has changed. Percy broke Mum's heart and threw away his family for a job, and I feel forced to believe what Fred and George have been telling me all along: “Ginny, you know he’s only nice to you so that you’ll tell everyone he’s your favourite brother and he’ll look good.”

I never wanted to believe them. I hated to think that the only reason he showered me with compliments and plaited my hair and noticed when I was gone was that he was an ingratiating opportunist. In any case, I never expected Percy to sever ties with everyone in the family. I still have trouble believing it sometimes–believing him. He knew all my favorite hiding places, I could never cry in peace even if I wanted to, because he would always find me and tell me it everything was just fine. How could he have done that, how could he have known how, without really loving me?

But I guess it must have been an act, because he certainly doesn't care now. It feels like he’s been kidnapped by someone I thought I knew; I hate him now, for all of the obvious reasons, but I keep glancing back up at the front door, expecting that person I knew to come bursting through it with an explanation for why he had to do what he did. Why it was for our own protection or something forgivable like that.

And with everyday that passes without him bursting through the door, that hopeful expectation gets cut in half, until it’s just a tiny sliver, so small that no one can see it. But that’s the funny thing with cutting everything in two: no matter how small that sliver becomes, it never disappears completely. Until there comes a point where somebody with authority over the situation says it’s virtually gone, that for practicality and our sanity it ends there. But you always know deep down that it's still there–it's just very small.

I wonder if he knows how miserable I am, every time I think about him. I wonder what he’s waiting for. I wonder if he knows that it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten why he left.

Sometimes, I just want to scream and say that I don’t care! I don’t care what he did, and I don’t care if he’s an opportunist who would screw himself to get ahead and who only pretended to love me–I don't care... 'cause he had me fooled.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Fred Had No Regrets



For Nick,
Who is always funny
And always wonderful,
Even when he’s not.


~*~
Fred Had No Regrets




A really keen observer might have noticed that after the Charlie’s notorious tongue-lashing in the hotel in Egypt, the amount of teasing I endured from the twins lightened ever so slightly, and for some strange reason, they never saw reason to take the mickey out of me when certain older brothers were within earshot. But one couldn’t expect to deny them entirely of their favorite hobby, and so things were relatively normal again by the time we had returned to school for my second year.

To be honest, I don’t really mind the teasing so much. I’ve come to understand that in their own odd, ironic way, they’re just letting me know that they love me. People who don’t know us well are often appalled by the things they say to me, which has its own benefits in that they invariably come away with an image of me as this amazing, resilient, duck-thing who allows even the meanest of taunts to simply roll off her back.

That’s not entirely the truth. For the most part, I get a good laugh and don’t think anything of it, but every now and then, even the most impervious of ducks get hurt. I think the last time they made me cry was nearly a year ago.

It was sometime in the fall of my fourth year, and I was standing around outside the Great Hall waiting for lunch with the twins and their usual posse, which always included, but was not limited to, Lee, Angelina, Alicia, and Katie. I had just noticed that Lee’s prefect badge looked quite a bit fancier than the one Percy had worn two years ago, and I commented vaguely on this as I reached out to feel the new engravings on it. I noticed after a moment that the rest of the groups’ conversations had fallen silent and Lee was looking at me with a strange expression on his face.

Then someone came up behind me and I felt them drag my arm away, and I knew that I was powerless to stop whatever joke was coming,

“No Ginny,” said Fred gently, as he took my shoulders and pulled me back, “Lee doesn’t have your boobs. But don’t you worry, kid, we’ll keep an eye out for them.”

The effect was instantaneous: Fred, George, Lee, and Alicia burst into laughter, the latter quickly recovering herself and trying to look disapproving. Angelina and Katie looked like they were about to break their ribs from suppressing it, but they too seemed to understand the humiliation of being teased about one's lack of physical development. I merely stood there with a numb look on my face, my mouth agape as I tried to think of something–anything to say.

“Fred,” struggled Angelina reproachfully, looking as though she had the hiccups, “that wasn't funny–at all.”

Alicia grabbed me and gave me a hug. “I’m sorry Ginny. Don’t listen to him, he’s a git.”

The girls gathered around me and told me various words of assurance, but I could tell that they weren’t really angry with Fred–merely sorry that the joke had come at my expense. And indeed I was right, because when I excused myself to use the loo, by the time I had crossed the entrance hall, they were all laughing again.

By the time I had reached the toilet, my emotions caught up with me and for the first time in a long time I collapsed in a stall and cried, just for a minute. When I was finished I stood up and fixed my skirt, feeling much better. I straightened out the bunches and wrinkles in my blouse, and when my hands passed over my breasts, they stopped for a moment. I looked down at them, and said without thinking,

“It’s all right, girls. I don’t care if you’re small, I love you anyways.”

I took a deep breath and opened the stall door to find Pansy Parkinson arching an eyebrow at me in a sickeningly delighted way. I felt my face burn, and a small, strangled moan escaped me, and I promptly made a run for it.

After that humiliating relapse into squeaky-little-girl mode, the rest of the day passed as smoothly as it could, considering. I was determinedly avoiding and ignoring Fred, under the ridiculous impression that I might get him to apologize for the mortification he had inflicted on me. Much to my chagrin, he failed to even notice my frostiness until that evening, as I sat in the common room reading the chapter Umbridge had assigned us.

“Hey Ginny,” he said, flopping down in the armchair next to mine. “How’s life treating you?”

I didn’t answer him. He gave a bothered sigh.

“If this is about this afternoon... Come on Ginny, you know I was just kidding.”

“That was really mean!” I burst. I knew I wasn’t actually going to cry just then, but if I hitched my voice up just a little and put on the expression like I was going to, it got my point across much better.

“Ginny, it was a joke!” he said exasperatedly, missing the point entirely. “It was a dumb joke, it was no big deal.”

“You humiliated me!” I said, my voice incredulous and higher still. “In front of all your friends! It’s one thing to do it in front of my friends, but in front of yours is even worse.”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” he said, holding up his hands. “Back up here. Since when do you have friends?”

It’s hard to stop yourself from laughing, and it’s hard to stop yourself from crying, but it’s downright painful to try to stop them both at once. There wasn’t a facet of my mind that found this even remotely funny. I was in pain–I wanted to cry. ...And yet the muscles in my abdomen began to spasm in spite of myself! It was cruel, the way he made you laugh when all you wanted was for him to understand the pain he could inflict for the sake of good fun. But the cheeky prat just smiled back.

“See! That’s just what I do–I make jokes. I’m not serious, you should know this by now.”

“It still hurts,” I said quietly. “I won’t be able to look Lee Jordan in the face for weeks.”

He rolled his eyes, and said bluntly, “Like that makes a difference, you know he fancies you.”

I whipped my head back at him so fast I felt a stabbing pain in my neck. He was now lying back comfortably across the overstuffed armchair, facing away from me, languidly tossing a key ring into the air and catching it again,

“What?”

“Lee fancies you,” said Fred, as though it wouldn’t come as a shock to me. “Couldn’t you tell?”

“No!” I sputtered.

“Oh.” He quickly craned his head back over the arm of the chair to give me an upside down glance, and then resumed his tossing and catching. “Well everyone else could.”

My head was spinning.

“What?” I said faintly, “Wh–how?”

“Well for one thing, he’s always staring at you,” he said, “and he’s written ‘Ginny is sexy’ in Magic Marker in most of the boys toilets…”

“That’s a lie,” I shot, and I knew he was grinning, even if I couldn’t see his face entirely.

“Okay fine, that one is.” He craned back over the arm again and gave me a smile that said he was quite pleased with himself, and then settled back down. “But he honestly did steal a picture of you from George’s trunk and now he sleeps with it under his pillow.”

I had been massaging my eyes with the heels of my hands, and I got distracted for a moment, amazed at the thought that George had a picture of me in the first place... but then I remembered what was going on and I pulled my hands away from my eyes and glared at the top of Fred’s head,

“And you and George just–let this happen? No big-brother-vigilante issues, not even a ‘hey, how 'bout you stop ogling my sister’?”

He craned his head back once again, and then went back to occupying himself.

“Don’t get your pants in a twist,” he said lightly, “it’ll blow over in a couple of weeks. Lee’s always crazy about somebody, you’re just the latest.”

I ignored the tactlessness of this last comment, determined to get to the bottom of the situation. Because, you know, there's always more incentive to get to the bottom of the situation when the situation in question involves someone fancying you.

“I still don’t understand–why me? Doesn’t he fancy someone his own age? Or someone who’s, you know, good-looking?”

“Oh I dunno,” said Fred, still maddeningly nonchalant, tossing the keys up and down, without a care in the world, “you hang around us quite a bit, and it’s not like you’re hideous or anything.” He paused, and then said as an afterthought, as he stretched back yet again to look at me, “You know Gin, you really ought to have more self-esteem.”

I rolled my eyes in frustration, and nearly leapt off the couch to strangle him, but he chose that moment to stand up and excuse himself.

“I’m hungry. Think I’ll go nick something from the kitchens…”

I watched him stroll jovially across the common room and out the portrait hole, and only after he’d gone did I realize that I never did manage to get him to apologize. I let out an aggravated growl at his almost unwitting cleverness and stomped upstairs to my dorm.

You see, the biggest difference between Fred and George is that Fred is George, only more. He’s more offhanded, more spontaneous, more reckless, and far more unabashed. He’s funnier, drier, and blunter, and if George lives for the day, Fred lives for the moment.

It’s not nearly as charming as it sounds. For example: I’m sure George’s skull is an inch thick, so by the Fred-is-more logic, you can bet that his is at least two inches. George did his very best to ignore any guilt and remorse he might have felt after my first year, but Fred succeeded.

Talking to him seriously is like trying to hold water in your hands. You could have all the justification in the world to be angry with him, but the moment you allow yourself to confront him, he makes a few remarks that you weren’t expecting, and suddenly your point seems silly if it’s not vanished completely.

And in the event that you manage to make him admit that he was wrong, or to get him to apologize–which you simply cannot do unless he allows it–as soon as you’ve obtained that apology it doesn’t seem to ease your mind and you’re left with the frustrating feeling that you forgot to tell him something. All while you wonder how he managed to turn that conversation around without you noticing in the first place.

I hate feeling guilty, and I’ve said before that it’s an emotion I’d scarcely wish on anyone, but I wish with all my heart that just once, Fred would feel that pressing weight in his lungs. I wish that just once, he would have that desire to reel the words back in, or turn back time. It’s funny how the very people I want to sick the emotional dogs on are the same people I would die for.

You know–I'm not a very severe person, so it’s hard for me to truly wish harm on someone. And when they're being such a bleeding prat it’s hard for me to truly love someone, but it’s downright painful to try them both at once.


Back to index


Chapter 5: George Taught Me Well

A/N: And unless you want to be really horrified by this chapter- you'd better read 17 Minutes Till Midnight in Casablanca first.



For Schatze,
You are the most important dog in my life.

~*~

George Taught Me Well




My heart and my head were pounding as I left the kitchen in daze that night in late December- er… early January as it were. Had I really just done what I thought I’d done?

“Hello Ginny.”

I nearly jumped out of my skin as a voice spoke out from the dark. It was either Fred or George, I couldn’t tell just then, but whoever it was I was nearly ready to strangle him.

“Merlin, don’t do that!” I hissed as George stepped into the weak light without the company of his twin. “Where’s Fred?” I asked, willing the adrenaline-filled blood to stop pounding in my ears.

He rolled his eyes and said irritably, “We’re not attached at the hip, you know.”

“Could have fooled me,” I muttered, but George either hadn’t heard or he chose to ignore it.

“So Ginny…” he said leaning against the wall, barring my way to my room, “had a little chat with Sirius did you?”

Oh no… I thought quickly, trying to free myself from his implications, which, irrelevantly enough, were correct. Just how much had he witnessed?

“Yeah,” I said noncommittally, “and now I’m going back to bed, goodnight.” But as I turned to leave he grabbed my arm and held me there.

“How did Sirius feel about those shorts?” he asked, glancing down at my admittedly small pajama trousers- er… boxers.

“I don’t think they really affected him on an emotional level,” I said dryly, my voice betraying none of the apprehension that was beginning to creep though me.

“Right,” he said, and in the dim light of the hallway I could see a strange expression on his face. I knew what he was trying to convey–it was that smug, satisfied look he got whenever he felt he had the upper hand, but there was something in his eyes that looked out of place. “So when he got you drunk, called you beautiful–“ he said the word as though it were a cruel joke, “–and kissed you…“

“I kissed him,” I said sharply, unable to bear his cruel attack on a moment of vulnerability, and to my horror, I felt tears welling in my eyes. “…And I’m not drunk,” I faltered, before I recovered myself and steeled my voice. “So what? Bugger off.”

“Oh no,” he said, in a jokingly savage way, but it was a little too convincing for me to believe he was feeling entirely lighthearted. “It’s going to take more than that for me to keep this to myself–I believe I’ve got you properly blackmailed.”

“What do you want?” I asked grudgingly.

“Well I think Fred and I could use a willing and silent test subject…” he said, looking just a bit excited at the prospect, “Or perhaps just a little minion to follow us around and do our bidding–but then again I’m not so sure I want you around that much…”

His words sparked something in my brain. Without warning, my mind’s eye flashed to a night years ago, in a hotel in Egypt, after I had gone to bed.



I quickly closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep as I heard footsteps approaching the door. I sensed the light flooding into the room from behind my eyelids as a voice spoke quietly from the doorway,

“Ginny?”

I didn’t answer, my eyes still shut tightly in fake sleep.

“Ginny, we got an owl from Harry, he’s enclosed a note for you, I think he wants to wish you a Happy Birthday.”

Hah! Like I was going to fall for that one. George seemed satisfied that I was fully asleep, and he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

“I assume Ron, you’re asleep, seeing as how you didn’t jump when I said we’d got a letter.” I could hear him tiptoeing gingerly over to my bed, feeling his way around in the dark. He sat down on the side and seemed to turn himself to look in my general direction, though I doubt he could see anything.

“Hi Ginny,” he said, as though we were just being introduced, “I’m George–I’m a bloody coward, I don’t believe we’ve met.”

I was sure the muscles in my face were contorting rapidly from suppressing a giggle, and I was thankful for the dark. He took a deep breath.

“Anyways. I know none of us have said anything about it, but I know you heard Charlie yelling at us that first night here–now that I think of it, the crazy muggles in
Antarctica probably heard it."

A bit of air bubbled up in my cheeks as I suppressed another laugh.

“But moving on… About what Charlie said: okay, I’m not going to lie to you, Fred and I are
never going to stop taking the mickey out of you.” He paused, then added in a mumble, “We’re just going to be more careful not to let Charlie hear about it.”

There were pauses between each sentence, like he was nervous, and it seemed he hadn’t come in here with a clear idea of what he was going to say, and was just speaking whatever came to mind, and with every word he said I became more puzzled. He cleared his throat a little.

“Anyways, whether or not we admit it, what Charlie said… it’s made us think, or it least it made me think about- about what happened to you last year. I don’t know- it didn’t
seem like we were any more obnoxious than usual, I guess we just figured you could deal with it. Actually, until Charlie screamed at us, it honestly never occurred to us that maybe if we’d have been a bit nicer it wouldn’t have happened the way it did. Honestly though, I don’t think we were really much to blame. Really kid, since when have you cared what we thought of you? You never took us seriously… did you?”

He seemed to have forgotten that I was (supposedly) asleep, because his pauses between sentences were growing longer, as though he were waiting for me to wake up and tell him he could stop–that he’d apologized enough. But whether it was just to make him squirm or because I really wanted to hear it, I stayed as still as stone and let him carry on.

“Ah but Ginny, if you could have seen us–when we found out you were dead, or when they told us you were. It was miserable. I thought Percy was going to jump off Gryffindor Tower, but instead he just went and sent a letter to Mum. Bloody anti-climatic if you ask me. And Ron, in his usual thick-headed way, didn’t seem to think you were really gone. He kept suggesting that he might be able to
do something. Well, I guess he sort of did, but that’s not the point.”

He seemed to have found something he considered to be a more interesting tangent, because a touch of his usual liveliness returned to him when he spoke again.

“Ah but we did laugh that day, once–” he couldn’t even finish his sentence before he keeled over away from me and muffled his laughter in the bedcovers, and upon recovering himself, spoke unabashedly,

“I’m sorry Ginny, I know it wasn’t funny, especially not at the time–because we thought you were dead and all, but it really was bloody brilliant! So earlier, Fred and I found this great dead rat behind that old statue of the witch with the hump, and anyways, we put it under Scabbers’s favorite chair in a lifelike position, and so that day, Ron...”

And here he keeled over again in peels of laughter. It really wasn't that funny, but I supposed he was nervous and uncomfortable, so in my head I cut him some slack.

“He picked it up, when he was playing chess with Harry, and he put it in his lap, and he sat there and petted it for like an hour as he played… and he never noticed!”

My rising disappointment that he wasn’t sorry after all was beginning to make me feel fitful and restless, and it took every ounce of restraint I possessed not to roll over or move around or do
something. My eyelids were aching with the effort of holding them closed, but I stayed put and waited patiently for him to get up and go have a laugh with Fred back in their room.

But he didn’t leave. He just stayed there a while, as the humor faded from the atmosphere like smoke from a spent fire cracker. I could feel the gravity of the meaning behind his previous words pressing down on us, and just when I thought I might crack, he took a deep breath and spoke,

“Anyway. What I came here to say, is that we’re not sorry for teasing you. It’s just what we do, and you’re going to have to learn to live with it. But I think it’s safe to say… at least on my part, that–“ he stopped and cursed at the difficulty of the words, and then seemed to reconcile himself to a different strategy.

“I don’t think Charlie had any grounds to say that last year was any fault of ours, cause hey, it’s not our fault no one in this family can take a joke,” he made a pause for laughter, purely out of habit, and then continued, with steely deliberation in every word, “but we never wanted to shut you out, and we never... we never, never meant to give you the idea that we didn’t want you around.”

I felt a heavy, metallic sort of pulse somewhere between the roof of my mouth and my ears as his words echoed in my mind. I’ll remember forever the miserable crack in his voice over the words ‘didn’t want you’. The silence seemed to stretch on forever.

“So I’m telling you now because I didn’t trust myself to get it all out while you’re conscious,”

He wasn’t whispering, but his voice was very low and he was mumbling, and I strained my ears to catch every word, not wanting to miss this, the greatest compliment I’d ever received from them. I say ‘them,’ because even though Fred wasn’t there, somehow I knew that he must have felt the same way, somewhere along the line. They were twins, after all.

“I guess I’m just hoping that some of this will seep into your dreams and you’ll know somehow that we don’t hate you. You’re not annoying, you know.”

There was another heavy pause.

“Well, I’ll leave you to your regular dreams–with Harry, and flowers… and little chocolate hearts.”



“Oh but George,” I said, coming back to the present with my victory in sight, “I have it on very good authority that you do want me around… and that you’ve never meant for me to get the idea otherwise."

I watched his face turn from mollified to horrified as my words clunked with something in his brain.

“What?” he said faintly.

“That’s right,” I countered, “all these years you thought I had been asleep that night, but I know–“

George scrambled again for control of the catbird seat. “So? What’s your point?”

“My point is that Mum won’t be too chuffed if she finds out that on the day everyone thought I was dead, you and Fred had a good laugh because a highly distraught Ron was petting a dead rat- that you had intentionally put there. And nobody else will find it funny–because it wasn't–and Charlie I know in particular will never let you live it down when he finds out that you snuck into my room at night to apologize because you were too chicken to do it when I was awake.”

But George wasn’t giving in yet. “Right, let me get this straight: I laughed at an inappropriate time... you got drunk and kissed a man twice your age.”

“No one will believe you,” I argued, “Sirius will never admit it, and you’ve got no proof.”

“Neither do you—”

“So it’s my word against yours, and unlike you, nobody knows how well I can lie when I want to.”

Hah! I had him now.

“It’s too bad your breath reeks of alcohol,” he said, and for a split second I panicked. He wouldn’t wake Mum in the middle of the night just so she could smell it for herself… would he? Just then my eye caught on something brightly colored. I darted across the hall and grabbed a few red and green mints that were sitting in a candy dish on an old, dark wooden side table. I popped them into my mouth before he could stop me, and sucked furiously on them.

“Not anymore,” I said in triumph, as he grasped what had just happened.

“Damn.” he said, looking far more trounced than I had expected him to. “When did you get to be so good at blackmail?”

Suddenly the victory mints tasted bitter in my mouth, and I didn’t want to rub it in anymore, so I told the truth. I reached out and patted him on the arm. “I learned from the best.”

“This isn’t over,” he said with a fake scowl, and he turned and headed down the hall towards his room, casting one last glare over his shoulder at me, but I knew it was more to convince himself. I stood there in the hallway for a while, too stunned to move. I tried to smother the little flares of doubt and remorse as I climbed the stairs to my room, and I willed myself to think of anything other than what had happened to me in the last hour.

But once in bed, it was unavoidable. Once in my life I had seen him let his guard down, once in my life he had said something nice to me, and I had stomped all over it tonight. I had taken one moment of his vulnerability, made him think I had been asleep, and saved it for a time when I could use it against him. When had I become such a Slytherin?

My words from earlier echoed in my head,

“I learned from the best.”

How many of my vulnerable moments had Fred and George taken advantage of? And this one that had taken place tonight had been the most delicate of them all. And what would he have done? He have would blown it a million miles of misunderstanding out of context, held it over my head, and threatened to tell everyone about it.

No one would ever give me a chance to explain if they found out–even if I had the chance, no one would ever–could ever understand. We were just two ships passing in the night, two old souls that knew each other somehow. There was no way to explain that to my mum. My face burned as I imagined what it would have done to Bill if he had found out… or Ron, or, with the most gut-wrenching feeling yet… Harry.

So I wasn’t sorry that I’d done it, that I'd used George's only apology against him. I was only a little sorry that I’d had to–I was only a little sorry that that's the just way the world works. Fred and George used to narrate life in our house as though it were a contest of animalistic greed and survival of the fittest. On the nights when Mum had been too busy that afternoon to make a proper dinner, one of them would invariably announce to the household.

“All right boys–it’s every man for himself tonight!”

And then the scrounging for leftovers would begin….

Let it never be forgotten that there’s plenty of love to go around in our house, but all is fair in love and war, and sometimes you’ve got to fend for yourself. I guess some people can’t live that way; Percy is evidence enough for that. We live in the house of the quick and the hungry–you’ve got to eat fast if you want to eat, and you’ve got to speak up if you want to be heard. Fred and George taught me well.






A later A/N: I'm sick of acting apologetic about this chapter. If you read 17 Minutes Till Midnight in Casablanca ALL the way through, and you still think it's horrifying that Ginny had a glass of gin and kissed Sirius goodnight, well then I'm sorry that you can't relate, but please don't tell me I'm sick or perverted just because you are incapable of giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

In any case, it's not a storyline I'm going to explore further, it was just one night, Ginny and Sirius bonded, and that was it. It's not a major theme or anything, so please keep reading even if you didn't like it.

That said, I want to thank everyone who has read the story past this chapter, regardless of their feelings on the subject matter, I appreciate you more than I could ever express. Really, from the bottom of my heart–thank you!


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Chapter 6: Ron Was Full of Woe

For Dan,
Who will be just fine.

~*~

Ron Was Full of Woe


Bill was a handsome Head Boy who got twelve OWLs and went on to become a Curse Breaker for Gringotts. Charlie was a charming, madly attractive Quidditch Captain who could tame dragons. Percy’s grades were more brilliant even than Bill’s and he became the Minister of Magic’s personal assistant, never mind the real reason why. Fred and George were the stuff of Hogwarts legend, their grand exit will be remembered for generations, and they now own quite a successful little outfit in Diagon Alley. And Ron... is Harry Potter’s best mate.

All that is practically conventional wisdom to people who think they know my family. It’s wrong, and sometimes it feels like I spend so much energy trying to even out the cruelties of popular misconception that I don't get to sit back and enjoy any of my brothers for who they actually are. The misconceptions are murder on Mum, as well. She tries so hard not to categorize her children, but to love them all for who they are... but Ron has always been a stumbling block for her.

He’s always the first one to die in all her nightmares, and all he’s ever been a great success at is getting himself into dangerous situations for some greater cause. Or at least this is what I’ve gathered from the words she speaks in her sleep and the things she mutters under her breath when she thinks no one can hear her. She regrets naming him after Uncle Bilius, I know—it’s just one more horrible omen to add to the list of things that suggest that all Ron can do with his life is to throw it away to save something, or someone else. Even before he met Harry, everything Ron possessed had this odd way of dying or getting lost, or breaking beyond repair. I first became aware of it when I began to realize that things that belonged to me were somehow ruined by Ron quite frequently, usually without any malicious intentions on his part, and on a rainy afternoon a few years ago I decided to make a list. It read like this:

Things Ron Has Broken, Trashed, Lost, Incinerated, or Otherwise Destroyed and/or Damaged

1. My left arm

He tries to claim it was an accident, but I find his innocence to be rather tenuous, seeing as he was trying to forcibly stop me from following him up a tree, and I’m fairly sure he intended for me to fall to the ground; whether or not he actually meant for my arm to break seems a bit trivial after that.

2. Most of my baby teeth

...Because that’s just what happens when your mouth is at the perfect height to interfere with his arm swinging tendencies.

3. My left ankle

Broken–a few feet before I broke my arm, and likewise, Ron claims it was an accident.

4. My right ankle

Was sprained when he tried to stop me from running away with his Marvin Miggs thermos, which I was stealing in my quest to avenge...

5. My Gwenog Jones action figure

Which he so cruelly destroyed in his vendetta against me for putting his favorite Chudley Cannons poster out in the rain, which I had done in retaliation for his vicious assault on...

6. My Pride

Which was obliterated when he pantsed me at one of Mum and Dad’s dinner parties. And I don’t even remember what dastardly deed I did to deserve that.

7. My Hair

Ah, yes. The most eagerly awaited milestone in every young wizard’s life is his first sign of magical ability. Mum and Dad didn’t know whether to be immensely pleased at Ronnie-kins’s great show of power, or utterly and completely horrified, because my head was on fire.

8. My favorite purple quill

He’s denied all knowledge of its whereabouts ever since I lost it back in first year, but I’m convinced he “borrowed” it, and, in typical Ron fashion, promptly lost it.

9. My gingham crup

Looks a bit dismal with only two legs. Of all the things he’s ruined, this is probably up there with the most infuriating. I don’t even remember how it happened, but I really loved that dog, and Ron didn’t even seem that sorry when he handed him back to me with only fifty percent of his limbs. Ahh! I’m angry just thinking about it...

10. My pinkie finger

This one was broken in a desperate struggle for occupation of the bathroom at the Burrow, but despite the injury I prevailed and made sure to take an extra long shower before I went to Mum to have it healed.

11. My collarbone

He broke that one in one of our usual childhood brawls. I think in this particular instance, a large piece of pie and a long fall down the stairs (for both of us) were somehow involved. Hermione was quite horrified to hear this story–I guess in the Muggle world these things don’t happen so often among siblings, but as I explained to her, in the house of the quick and the hungry, Healers and Mediwitches just a grate away can mend bones in an instant, but a piece of pie is a piece of pie.

12. My first sentence

He ruined it. I might have said something adorable–something like ‘I love you,’ or, ‘I’m sleepy,’ but instead it was, ‘Ron hit me.’

13. Any chance I might have had with Harry

Gone now... Ron's probably told him all sorts of things about what an annoying little baby I am and whatnot, but even that aside, I think Harry thinks of me as a sister more than anything else, and it’s all because I just had to be related to Ron.

14. My nice white shoes

Except Mum was really more fussed about this than I was, because after all, mud fights are fun!

15. My left ear

The story went like this: once upon a time there was a little girl named Ginny Weasley with lovely peridot earrings she had received from her eldest brother on her fourth birthday, but the flashy little things caught on her youngest brother’s sleeve while the two of them were fighting, and now she has two earlobes... on one ear.

16. My tea table

I had a lovely little table I used to play house with, and I told the great prat he’d break it if he sat on it, but he seemed to have gone temporarily deaf.

17. My jaw

Ah yes, the last great battle of our violent stage. To make short of a long, melodramatic prologue, Ron and I were in the woods in the midst of a vicious brawl when I jumped on his back in an attempt to bring him down. And down he went, but he fell on a small, jagged stump where a small tree had been blown over in a storm. He howled in pain, and promptly rolled over and hit me as hard as he could, which, coincidentally, was very hard. We lay there whimpering in pain together for a few moments as we gathered our wits. I could see that his trousers were ripped just above the knee and blood was oozing out of them.

“You broke my leg,” he groaned.

Not being able to talk through the burning ache in my jaw, I merely whimpered an apology.

“I can’t move- you have to go up to the house, and tell Mum that my leg’s broken-“

I held a hand to my face, which was in agony, and made a strangled noise of protest.

“You can’t talk?” he asked feebly, his brows contorting in despair. I shook my head just a little, I couldn’t move my head very far without suffering excruciating pain.

“Great,” he said. “See what you’ve done? You can’t talk and I can’t move. What’re we going to do?”

I shrugged a little.

“Well, you have to go back to the house, and I’ll stay here and yell as loud as I can.”

I nodded a little as I sat up. He looked so pitiful, laying there on the ground, with his trousers all bloodied and his face ashen. I felt great pangs of remorse, and I did the nicest thing I could think of, I bent low and kissed him on the cheek, my jaw screaming in protest. I straightened up as he made a typical boyish noise of great revulsion and I whimpered another apology and stood, clutching both my hands to my face, trying to keep my head as still as possible as I made my way through the woods to the Burrow, leaving a shouting Ron behind me. As I neared the edge of the forest, I saw Mum running towards me, looking more worried than I’d ever seen her. I cried at the sight of her. It was as though my emotions had been on hiatus for the last few minutes, but when I saw my Mum, I lost it and I began to sob, because it hurt so badly, because I was sorry, because I hoped they wouldn’t have to take Ron’s leg off, and because it’s okay to cry in front of your Mum. She scooped me up and held me for a moment, trying to figure out what in the blazes had happened.

“Where’s Ron, dear?”

By this point I was crying so hard that I was screaming- great, muted screams because I couldn’t open my mouth. She reached out and touched the side of my face, but I jerked away in pain. A great rustle and crunch announced the arrival of someone else. Charlie came bursting through the trees, looking nearly as worried as Mum,

“What happened?”

He panted,

“I don’t know- go find Ron, Ginny can’t seem to talk, I think she’s broken her jaw.”

“Bloody hell- this better not have been a row...”

I looked down shamefacedly and nodded. Charlie swore, and went off to find Ron.

Within twenty minutes Ron and I were being carried into a small muggle clinic in Ottery St. Catchpole which both of us had been to many times before. A tall, lanky man with neatly combed white hair and an equally tidy mustache met us in the lobby.

“Ah, Ginny, Ron, it’s so nice of you to stop by and see us again- by Jove it’s been weeks!”

Mum smiled weakly,

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“Well, come on, we’ve got your beds all ready for you.”

Dr. Darrowby had been our family doctor for as long as we’d been a family. He ran a muggle clinic, but he himself was a wizard, and he and a couple of nurses ran a small side operation in magical healing. He showed us through a door that was only visible to wizards, and into a sparkling white ward that we had all to ourselves.

Charlie and Mum carried us to the end, where two small beds that had long ago been christened as ‘Ronald’s Bed,’and ‘Ginevra’s Bed’ waited for us. Organized chaos ensued, as the nurses and Dr. Darrowby scurried around attending to us. My jaw, they discovered, had not been severely broken, and was healed almost immediately, and I’d been administered a mild Pain-Relieving Potion.

Ron was another, more serious matter. His knee had been broken, and that required a slightly more complicated set of healing charms, and the gashes above it from the jagged stump were too deep to be healed without leaving a scar. I watched him in a mild daze as they set about to fix his leg. There was a lot of blood, and his face was white but resolute as he watched them work. He was so brave! It must have hurt terribly, but he never complained, and, as I noticed with a sense of humiliation, he never cried.

I watched as the action surrounding him slowly died away, and soon it had been settled that we would spend the night there, simply because it was quite late and we were too tired to go home. Mum and Charlie bid us goodnight, and said they’d be back in the morning to take us home. Dr. Darrowby and the nurses, save for one, retired for the evening, and the lights in the ward were turned off, and in record time Ron was asleep.

The moonlight streamed in through the windows on the opposite wall, and the shadows cast by the mullions created a large cross above his bed, and another on the blanket covering his sleeping form. Without warning, I was gripped with an almost incomprehensible feeling of leaden unease. A coldness filled my extremities, seeping slowly inwards as a dreadful shudder ran down my spine. I thought back to just hours ago, when he had sat staring bravely at his own blood, how strong and infallible he had seemed to me.

Suddenly–with stinging eyes and a worried heart–I didn’t want to fight with him anymore. Suddenly I didn’t care what Mum was worried about. Suddenly it didn’t matter that Bill was a Curse Breaker, or that Charlie could tame dragons, or that Percy was brilliant, or that Fred and George would go far with their delightful personalities. Suddenly Ron was the greatest of them all.

In years to come, he befriended the Boy Who Lived, he took out a mountain troll, and he risked his life in a game of chess to help his best friend save the world. He followed his greatest fear into a deep dark forest because the girl he loved had been petrified, and then he slid down a long dark tunnel to help slay a giant snake and save my life. He stood on a broken leg between his best friend and a mass murderer and told the man he’d have to kill him first.

Mum has good reason to fear for his safety: the omens have come so close to proving true so many times that I wonder how she can stand to let him out of her sight. But ever since that night in the Dr. Darrowby's ward, I’ve refused to fear for him. I've envied him. What I wouldn’t give to be Ron–to go out and solve the mystery and nearly get myself killed! It sure beats waiting around in the dark and falling victim to the things that lurk there. To be the hero’s best friend–to be the thing he’d miss the most–is better by far than becoming the Dark Lord’s most useful little tool.


So I’ll just let the parents worry about the little things like death. Let them say that Ron was always full of woe. I know what matters, and I know that he’s just fine.




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Chapter 7: Tomcat

Author's Notes: In which Laura tries to get all mystical/creative/just-generally-15 on you. Have an artsy-fartsy Halloween...


For Sylvia, Callie,
And other potential best friends.


~*~

Tomcat


The mirror above her headboard watched as the little girl by the name of Ginny Weasley sat on her bed one afternoon gazing fondly at her new school supplies. She had been there for the last ten minutes, simply staring at them spread out around her in a well-organized display, and it seemed quite likely that she was daydreaming about her impending life at Hogwarts. Her eyes scanned over the books, but stopped abruptly on a heavy volume titled Beginner’s Transfiguration, whose pages were parted as something black had been placed between them. Ginny opened it, and her eyebrows darted upward slightly as a black leather book fell out onto her lap. She opened it, and fanned through the leafs of blank paper with a look of gladness spreading over her features as though it were a small sort of miracle. For just the other night she had come to the end of her previous journal, and having none to replace it, she was now in need of another, though her family’s cramped financial situation must have made it difficult to ask for a new one.

She turned it to the first page with a glint of novelty in her eye as one often has when starting something new. She grabbed a quill and some ink (both of which were very handy, coincidentally), and poised her hand at the top of the first page. What to name it? Since her first diary had started as a soul-bearing letter to a wished-for pony, all of her diaries since that one had been animals. Pony, Puppy, Birdie, and just a few nights ago she had filled in the final pages of Bunny. Ginny presently made up her mind, and began her first entry with a steady quill.

“Dear Kitty,”

There was a pause as she looked appraisingly at those words, when they sunk into the page and disappeared. Her eyes widened, and she turned the leaf, revealing a clean, un-blotted page… the ink had simply disappeared. She turned the leaf back over, and jumped as more words appeared on the page in a handsome, dashing scrawl that most certainly did not belong to her.

“Please, if you insist on a feline pet name I much prefer… Tomcat.”

A small scream jumped through her lips, and she clapped her hands over her mouth and nose. This was not a normal diary. She had just begun to rise from her bed and bring the book downstairs and show it to her mother like a good girl should when more words appeared on the page,

“But anyway, you were saying?”

She stared at the words for a moment, cogs visibly working in her brain. She seemed to give in to the curiosity, or perhaps the need to be independent, because she lowered her quill to the page again.

“What are you?”

As they had the first time, the words sank into the page, and more appeared a moment later.

“A fully formed Imagexstus of a sixteen year old boy, preserved in this diary.”

Ginny knew what Imagexsti were- this very mirror had been witness when Percy had explained them to Ginny once; exact likenesses of a person’s soul, suspended forever from a moment in time. In his explanation, he had also expressed to her the difficulty of creating such a thing. Her body and visage emanated curious trepidation, and she bit her lip as her quill flew daringly across the page.

“You must be very clever to have made an Imagexstus of yourself when you were sixteen.”

She paused to form her next sentence, but gave an irritated sigh when the words sank promptly into the page again, and were answered just as quickly.

“How old are you, little girl?”

The color drained away from her face.

“How did you know that?”

“A lucky guess, I suppose- but your handwriting is young, and very feminine-looking.”

Whether or not ‘Tomcat’ meant to endear himself to Ginny so quickly, it can never be known, but in that moment she must have found him to be the kindest, most benevolent soul she’d ever met. To Ginny, who was raised among boys who often asserted that she wasn’t really a girl, that she looked and acted like a boy, and that she would never be pretty, to be called feminine was one of the highest compliments she could imagine.

“Thank you.”

“So tell me about yourself, who are you? What year is it?”

Within minutes, a brief, articulate sketch of the life and times of Ginny Weasley had been sold on the unassuming smoothness of the ancient pages, and by nightfall, Tom was her best friend. Had it possessed an ounce of true soul, the quaint old mirror might have watched these first hours in a state of tormented awareness and understanding. Had it possessed a stomach, it might have writhed as it watched her eyes gobble up eagerly the rancid, creepy words, not grasping the twisted implications behind each and every one. What a clever thing that Tomcat was, having so quickly invented a guise that would tug at her dearest wishes. A little girl who had spent most of her life in the company of people who assumed they knew her better than she knew herself, she’d never met a soul so eager to hear what she had to say, and she told him everything about her life and all aspects of it without hesitation.

“Bill, the lucky prat, got the cream of the genetic crop… …short and skinny was all that was left for me…
Bill was always there, he just wasn’t ever here, you know? …I guess you could say that Charlie and I give hope to one another… …And so that summer I became sort of malnourished as I ate nothing but grapes…walk away with the image of me as this amazing, resilient, duck-thing … Sometimes I like to imagine really bad things happening to me… I once vanished Ron’s tongue when I was really angry with him…”

Tom proved to be a wonderful listener, validating even her darkest of thoughts and feelings, and never dared laugh at her. Within days, Ginny began confessing more to Tom than she ever would have to a normal diary, where her words would linger on the page for nosy brothers to find.

“My family says I’m pretty, but I don’t think I really believe them… I’m so scared of being an old maid… …And if I were to marry Harry, I think Ron would probably tell me that he’d beat me to a pulp if I broke his best mate’s heart… I daydreamed about the twins dying the other day, that’s really awful isn’t it? …I always pretend to be grossed out, and I’d never ever admit it, but I really can’t wait till I’m old enough to have sex……Fred said I looked like a redheaded Professor Flitwick… …If you were to commit the perfect crime, Tom, how would you do it and not get caught? …Actually, it was me that got ink all over Mum and Dad’s wedding picture… …I’ve thought about doing it with Harry… I always feel really safe and happy in places where no one else is small enough to fit… …Sometimes I do it just to fall asleep…I love being needed…

She wondered how he could stand to listen to her rant and rave about herself and her life, and she was very curious about his story, but he could always distract her with a good, thoughtful question. Then one day, after many weeks of telling Tom all of her most appalling secrets, Ginny got her wish to know more about him.

“I’ve never had any parents. My father abandoned my mother before I was born, and my mother died shortly thereafter. I lived a miserable childhood in a Muggle orphanage…”

At first she read his entries about the orphanage with a reverent, wistful look in her eyes, and her answers seemed to be trying to offer him some of the comfort he had given her. But soon his secrets took on a much darker nature, and her quill began to tremble in response.

“I think that’s natural. I think everyone feels that way sometimes.”

She tried to validate his feelings, but when he told her that Muggles had no reason to live, her conscience must have got the better of her as she gave him a telling off that would have made her mother proud. The furiously scribbled response that had appeared had drained the color from her face for days.

“Wrong is it? You’re an eleven-year-old girl, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You may think that Lord Voldemort has been defeated by your precious Harry Potter, but I assure you that he is not dead, and unless you want to die a painful death at his hands, I would keep your little mouth shut and your little head down. Do you understand?”

For the first time since receiving him, Ginny looked as though she might set down her quill and walk away, but for some strange reason, she dipped the feather into the ink and wrote a meek reply.

“Yes. I’m sorry, Tom.”

~*~

That evening, Ginny’s dinner plate became a bit confused when she failed to make a dent into the enticing meal that was heaped onto it, and she excused herself early to go lie down, leaving a cold, dejected pile of mashed potatoes in her wake.

A plushy, calico cat who was nestled happily in Ginny’s arms noted sleepily that the girl’s stomach was growling rather loudly the next morning as she began to drift back from a long, dreamless sleep, and a spoon was dropped unceremoniously to the table with a clatter as Ginny took her first bite of porridge at breakfast that morning, which caused two redheaded boys and another with dreadlocks to look over at her in alarm.

“I think my porridge is rotten,” she said faintly. One of the redheads raised a skeptical eyebrow at her and took a bite from her bowl with his own spoon.

“It’s fine,” he said as the other twin looked at her so seriously that he didn’t look serious at all.

“Ginny, I’m a little concerned about you,” he said, “I think your freakish obsession with Harry has unhinged you a bit,” the twins and Mr. Dreadlocks laughed loudly at this, and Ginny’s cheeks burned scarlet as one twin tousled her hair,

“Eat your porridge, kid, I don’t like to see you so unhealthy.”

Ginny left the Great Hall that morning much in the way she had left the night before, leaving a crestfallen plate of food sitting sadly on the table.

~*~

A four-poster was curious as to why Ginny Weasley was stretched lazily across it when she should have been at lunch, but it became clear when she pulled out a black leather diary and a somewhat scraggly-looking quill.

“Tom,” she wrote, “I can barely write. My head hurts and my stomach is aching.”

There was a brief blankness before the answer came.

“Hmm… have you been eating lately?”

“That’s just it! I know I’m very hungry, but I haven’t been able to eat anything since yesterday at lunch- I just wasn’t hungry all of a sudden at dinner, and at breakfast, my porridge tasted awful, but only to me, because George tried it and said it was fine, Tom what’s going on?”

“I wouldn’t worry Ginny dear, it happens quite often to teenage girls. They’ll feel hungry and yet they won’t be able to eat a thing.”

“But I’m not a teenager.”

“Oh, but you’re so very mature in so many ways, this doesn’t surprise me.”

A pleased looking smile crossed Ginny’s face at this.

“Do you really think I’m mature?”

“Very. But I am a little worried about you, and I want you to promise to go see Madam Pomfrey if you still cannot eat tomorrow, all right?”

“All right. Thanks Tom, I’m sorry for yesterday, it wasn’t my place.”

“It’s quite all right, I’m sorry as well, I never meant to frighten you. I’m sure you’ll be quite safe.”

“I can’t write anymore Tomcat, I think I’ll take a nap before the feat tonight.”

“Yes, do that. You’ll feel differently afterwards, I promise.”

“Okay.”

Ginny closed the book, and made a move as if to climb under the covers of her bed, but seemed overpowered with exhaustion and she simply laid her head back down. Her lids closed, and when they opened, the eyes beneath were quite strange, and they remained so for the three hours to come in which her body would do things without her knowledge.

When her eyes finally flickered back into life, her body was in the same place that it had been when it had fallen under the spell, and so the last three hours were to Ginny only the blink of an eye. The dormitory door burst open.

“Well that was certainly scary.”

“I don’t think it’s real though, I think someone just decided to pull a prank,”

It was Ginny’s roommate, Glenna, talking to her sister.

“But they actually killed Filch’s cat!”

Ginny’s eyes widened, and she listened more intently to their conversation.

“D’you think so? I mean, we never actually heard that she was dead, I think she was just stunned,”

“Still, that’s a really awful prank,”

“I know it seems like that to you, but trust me, when you get older you’ll understand. Someone was probably just out for a little fun… Although it wasn’t a Gryffindor, I think everyone of the older kids was at the feast,”

Poor Ginny Weasley glared at her watch, and then blinked furiously, as though she didn’t believe what she had seen. How strange it must have seemed, for three hours to vanish in the blink of an eye. Though the dormitory was warm, the mattress trembled slightly as she shivered, and she did what must have come naturally to her at this point. She quickly opened her diary and wet her quill.

“Tom, I missed the feast!”

“How did you manage that?”

Tears had begun to well in her eyes, and the four poster noted nervously that her hands were cold and damp, as though they’d been washed in ice water, and were blotchy and pink, as though whatever it was that had been washed from them had left a stain.

“I don’t know! I just closed my eyes for a second, and then Glenna and Morgan came in, talking about something that must have happened during the feast. Tom, it’s warm in here, but I’m so cold and sweaty.”

It took Tom a moment to respond.

“Ginny darling, I’m fairly worried now.”

“Should I go to Madam Pomphrey?”

Tom’s reply came quickly.

“No. There’s no reason to do that…Let’s see if a bit of food won’t fix you up.”

“How?”

“You forget, I was once a student here. Take me with you, I’ll help you sneak down to the kitchens. Let’s go, it’ll be fun…”



~*~

A small, delicate silver necklace tucked beneath her blouse and jumper was apt to notice the wild beating of Ginny’s heart and the shallowness of her breath in the days to come every time someone mentioned the attack on Mrs. Norris. Heaped in a little pile atop a plain wooden jewelry box, the silver necklace had a clear view of Ginny’s bed, and bore witness every time she jerked awake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat in the weeks to come. Some mornings, when Ginny’s dreams the night before had been especially dreadful, she’d awake with only a few minutes to get to breakfast, and she’d hurry to get ready, but her hands would be shaking too badly to work the tiny clasp, and so she’d give up and leave the necklace on her night table, and the little thing would wonder all day if she was eating anything...

~*~

Ginny’s favorite purple quill found the things it wrote to be much more dire as November pushed forward and rumors about the attack died down. Apparently, Ginny was still having strange nightmares, and she told Tom all about them.

“It’s odd that I’m dreaming about it, when I didn’t even see it happen. Maybe deep down inside I’m just, what do they call it Tom? When you really want to know all the details about something that would horrify any decent person?”

“Morbidly curious?”

“Erm, yes, I think that’s the term I was looking for.”

“Glad I could help.”

“Oh but Tom, do you really think I’m morbid?”

“Don’t worry dear, I have much darker thoughts than those all the time, there’s nothing the matter with you.”

“Oh! What a relief.”

It was times like those and many others when the quill wished it could resign in protest of being made a critical instrument in something awful. It was a chilly, overcast November afternoon when the purple feather found itself nestled in Ginny’s hand once again. She was sitting in a remote seat in the Quidditch stadium, far away from anyone else, as she was giving a play-by-play to Tom and didn’t want the curious diary to raise any odd questions. Her hand was cold as it flew across the page in hasty, sloppy script, and she missed words here and there in order to keep up with the commentary.

“He caught it! Harry caught it!!!”

“How marvelous.”

Oozed the reply, but suddenly Ginny didn’t seem to notice,

“Oh he’s hurt! Bludger broke his arm!”

She set the book aside and stood up from her seat, craning her head to see something on the pitch below.

“Tom!” she said tearfully, having forgotten that Tom was just a book, “Tom, he’s passed out!”

She watched a moment longer, gripping the quill so tightly it nearly snapped in half.

“Tom, I’ll be back in a bit, I want to go see him-“

But her feet didn’t move from the bleachers. Her mouth was gaping open, but it didn’t appear as though she was able to breathe. The sounds of the crowd below suddenly seemed muted and far away, as though the volume had been turned down. Her hand trembled around the quill as a frigid gulp of November wind soaked in through her cloak until she was fully engulfed in it. Her face went slack and expressionless, her wide eyes flickered into glassy vacancy, and her body held the dark and banal appearance of a lampshade with no fire behind it. Her hand released the quill and let it flutter down unnoticed. Laying there on the cold, damp ground, the quill thought Ginny seemed very tall and ominous, towering above it with that deadened, listless demeanor.

It watched helplessly as she slowly picked up the diary and turned mechanically to her left and walked away, stepping on the quill with her wet, muddy shoe as she did so.

~*~

The frosty air was alight with the white light of the moon, as eerie, blue-black shadows stretched across the ground and pooled in the holes on the smooth, sparkling snow where feet had trodden. There wasn’t a breath or a cloud to be seen, and the stars twinkled with sharp, piercing clarity. A full moon looked down on a hidden place in Scotland, where a tall, stone castle stood, covered in glowing golden squares where windows peeked into warm, cheery, fire lit rooms.

Away from the castle, on the edge of the forest, was a small hut with darkened windows that had been shining with their own golden light, before the keeper of the little house had gone to bed. The moon reveled in the stillness for a moment, but it was disrupted by a diminutive little figure, making her way across the grounds with tiny footprints trailing behind her. The motherly moon noted disapprovingly that she was not dressed for the weather; a shock of vivid red hair was all that covered her hatless head, and her small white hands were naked to the cold. As she reached the hut on the edge of the forest, the happy castle was only an image in the distance, and it’s cheeriness failed to penetrate the chilling white and blue-black ambiance of the night.

The little girl opened a rusty gate into an enclosure by the hut with a protesting creak that was lost in the vastness, and stepped inside. She sank to her knees in front of a wooden box, and pulled wide a little door on its face, and backed away as a rooster came gobbling out to gather the feed she had spread on the snow. The rooster bobbed happily around on the glittering ground as he pecked at his unexpected feast. She stood watching him with an unnatural stillness that seemed almost death-like. She moved, so slowly that it was almost undetectable, but faster and faster with a predatory nature that didn’t suit her until she darted out and grabbed the proud bird around his neck with her tiny, unassuming hands. Her movements were mechanical and frighteningly deliberate as she gripped him more tightly, and the keen ears of the moon could hear with a sense of dread the frantic beating of the rooster’s heart, and then the curdling crackle and crunch as his neck was broken.

The bird gave one last, strangled crow as life flew out and death swooped in, and as it did so, something akin to recognition flickered in the little girl’s eyes. She turned her face to the moon as her body began to tremble, her hands still tightly gripping the rooster, whose warm blood was oozing out over her frozen fingers as his body flailed with eerie, post-mortem spasms. The feathery struggle was deafening against the quiet of the night, but the scratching, flapping and thrashing soon abated into silence, and there was no sound at all. Save for a girl, with murderer in her head and a rooster in her hand. Only a little girl sobbing in the snow.

~*~

A plain black quill, which had been purchased in a package of seven by one Hermione Granger, found itself in new hands one afternoon in the early days of February. It was moving steadily across some rather ancient looking pages,

“Well I lost my purple quill. It was my favorite, too!”

But it’s labors seemed to have been for naught, because a moment later the words had vanished. There was a strange silence, in which the quill sensed that something was occurring unseen. The hand was considerably more shaky as it stumbled across the page again.

“How did you do that?”

“Do what, dear?”

If it had had the power to do so, the quill might have jumped out of the little hand in surprise as penless words appeared where the quill’s own words had been just a moment before.

“I just heard you- in my head. Nothing showed up in the book.”

There was a much longer pause this time, hush-filled and anxious, and then words skated across the page in a rather enchanting way,

“Did I? I imagine we’ve grown so close that it just happened. There, is it appearing on the page now?”

The ignorant quill, though it had never seen such an eerie phenomenon, could not help but to feel that the hand ought to be comforted by the book’s assured and kindly reply, but it shook just as violently as it pressed the quill to the page again.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry Ginny, did I frighten you? I promise, I won’t go into your head again if you don’t like it.”

By now she was holding the quill so tightly that it could feel her pulse, beating just a touch faster than it should have.

“Yes. All right. Thank you.”

~*~

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick

The red and gold dormitory was empty of living things, and filled only with a muting, absorbing silence that was grounded by the faint ticking of the carriage clock on Ginny Weasley’s bedside table. The lavish decorations and warm colors gave the room the energy of something cozy and soft and peaceful, and none of this was lost when the door opened and an equally peaceful and contented-looking young girl tripped in. She was humming something under her breath as she danced across the room to lay her things on her bed and begin to settle in for the night. Then without warning her little song became a hair-raising screech as she jumped and whirled around and glared wildly at the chair that stood next to the door she had just come through.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick

But there was nothing there. It was a beautiful armchair, with an elegant mahogany frame and a rich, red velvet seat and backrest. But no one was sitting in it.

“Tom,” she faltered disbelievingly, “You’re just a memory, you’re not real!”

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick

Ginny screamed again and whirled around the other way, flailing her arms in a mad sort of frenzy, and all the while the cheery, incandescent light remained as bright and soft as ever.

“You can’t touch me!” she cried, and the little carriage clock knew it was one of the only sane thoughts she possessed at that moment, “YOU DON’T HAVE A BODY!”

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick

She was now raging, whipping frantically around, grabbing and hitting at something that wasn’t there. Tears formed in her eyes as she struggled with her invisible foe, and all the while her lunacy was simply swallowed by the pleasant, muffling atmosphere. The whirling little rogue picked up her unclosed rucksack and flung its contents throughout the room in her madness, but nothing broke or even made a noise as it landed on the soft, plush carpeting, and the whole room seemed to be blissfully rolling its eyes at her childish antics.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick

The complacent objects in the room endured several more minutes of her outlandish behavior before she collapsed, defeated, onto her warm, inviting bed and shuddered violently into her mattress, muttering faintly as she drifted off into fitful sleep at last.

“Go away, Tom…please… go away…”

The warmth in the room was not diminished by the woes of Ginny Weasley, and the clock went ticking on merrily, regardless.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick

And all was peaceful and quiet again.

~*~

A very old and seasoned jumper who knew it was Ginny Weasley’s favorite, and her mother’s favorite before her, could not fail to notice the unusual scrawniness of Ginny’s body when the girl pulled it over her head again for the first time in a few months. She had been always been small, only slightly smaller than her mother had been, but the jumper now felt oddly loose, covering her bony spine and the disconcerting prominence of each and every one of her ribs.

The ends of the sleeves, which were still too long for Ginny’s arms, were brushed across her face to dry the tears that had accumulated on her cheeks. What that jumper might have done for a voice to ask her what was wrong… but all it could do was hang around her in a comforting way and shield her from the chilly March winds that seeped into the castle through the rattling window panes.


~*~

The smooth, blank stone eyes of Salazar Slytherin looked down onto his chamber floor, where a little girl sat alone and crying. She had been there for several hours. He didn’t think a little thing like that could hold so many tears, and if he were honest he was growing quite tired of her.

“Tom-“ she pleaded, “Tom-“ she was slipping in and out of coherence, as though she were swimming in her own insanity, gasping for air every time she surfaced, “Tom-“

Her eyes followed something around the room, something that was only visible inside her head.

“Tom- you’re not real…” she whimpered, and began scrambling around on the floor, as though running away from something. And then she stopped, and her face was jerked upwards, giving her the eerie mien of a puppet on a string. And as she sat there, with her face bent upwards, a very faint, almost invisible shadow appeared. The shadow of a young man was bent over her, kissing her. Only it didn’t look that way at all. Kissing wasn’t the right word, it looked as though he was sucking the very life out of her. As the fleeting seconds passed, the shadow quickly became clearer, and more vivid. When it straightened before her, a boy of about sixteen or seventeen was clearly visible, with his dark hair and a Slytherin crest on his robes.

The heir had come again at last. The little girl looked considerably weaker, as she stared up at him. Her entire body resembled one made of water, her lips moved feebly, but no sound came out. The boy stared down on her without a trace of pity.

“That’s right, Ginny,” he said, for he could speak now, “You’re going to die in here. We’re going to sit together here, for one last little chat, and then Harry’s going to come down here to try to save you, and he’s going to die as well. How does that sound?”

The little girl gave a silent sob and collapsed onto the floor, her tiny body heaving and shaking.

“Ginny-“ said the boy in delicate, almost singsong voice, “Ginny- don’t you want to know how all this happened?”

The girl shook her head and clamped her hands over her ears and tried to roll away from him, but he leaned down and dragged her hands away from her head and held them there- and so weak was she that she had not the power to resist even the phantom of a man.

“You see Ginny,” he explained, in a voice that sounded fatherly and kind, but cruel and twisted at the same time, “I’m Tom Riddle. Do you know who Tom Riddle is?”

“No, of course you don’t, because if you did, you never would have written to me. I’m the Imagexstos of a young Lord Voldemort-“

If the boy had expected and great reaction from the girl, she was too weak and feeble by this point to understand much of anything,

“I’m the reason Harry Potter is an orphan, and I’m the reason that all your uncles and aunts are dead. Of course, I didn’t know this until you told me. Yes, you’ve been very useful to me.”

The boy let go of her hands and stood up, but she seemed nearly paralyzed anyway.

“All those nightmares you’ve been having… they really happened, I just made sure that you wouldn’t remember them. I’ve been inside your head for months now, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. I’m in your head right now, I’m listening in on your silent goodbyes to every member of your family.”

And here he paused,

“You may want to re-word that one a little- he may take it the wrong way,”

He laughed a cold, high-pitched laugh.

“Oh Ginny, it’s been fun, but you’re dying now, and-“ he glanced around, “I’m expecting Harry to be here at any moment.”

Just then there was the sound of something rumbling far away in the distance,

“Ah yes. Here he comes now.”

And with that, he darted away into the shadows of the chamber and waited. When a small, slime covered little boy with dirty glasses appeared, squinting his eyes at the end of the chamber, Salazar Slytherin was quite surprised. Was this supposed to be a joke? When the little boy’s eyes fell on the little girl, he abandoned all pretenses and ran foolishly towards her, without a thought as to what else might be lurking there.

He watched the boy plead for her life, and he might have thought it sweet if he hadn’t known that he shouldn’t get too attached to the image- a giant, deadly serpent would be appearing shortly, and both of them would be dead...

But in the fifteen minutes to come, the stone likeness of Salazar Slytherin was shocked and appalled beyond recognition. The monster was unleashed, as had been expected, but through the aid of a bright red phoenix and Godric Gryffindor's hat, somehow the little boy slayed the monster and destroyed the heir of Slytherin.

The phoenix stared into the eyes of the statue while the boy drove a fang through diary, and the bird seemed to say, 'It'll be a happy ending after all.' But he watched as the little girl was jolted back into life, and he watched as she cried and tried to tell the boy she never meant for any of it to happen. And he remembered how just hours ago she had lain paralyzed and cold on the damp stone floor, watching and listening as all of her nightmares came true, and somehow he felt, with a touch of consolation, that it wouldn't be so easy.













Three updates in 48 hours (and one was over 5500 words), I think that merits some reviews! An extra special thanks to Sylvia, whose earlier reading of this helped me with my vision.

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Chapter 8: Little Ginny's Little Vigil


For the mythic Bob Nygren

~*~

Little Ginny's Little Vigil




It was a hot, humid summer night at the Burrow as Ginny sat on the ancient wicker bench on the porch reading a lengthy-looking letter by candlelight.

“Who’s the novel from?” I asked, taking a seat with my glass of Firewhiskey in the equally antique armchair beside the bench.

“Michael,” she said.

I nearly choke and dribbled Firewhiskey down my chin–which would have hurt, because I still had a scar there that hadn't healed yet. “Michael? Merlin Ginny, how long have you been seeing him?”

“Ooh, I’m not seeing him,” she said unquestionably. “He wrote this one to me years ago.”

I nodded, contemplating how strange it was that my baby sister was old enough to have a love letter that was ‘years’ old, even if it was only two. She folded up the letter and placed it in a plain cardboard box that had been laminated with cuttings from Witch Weekly and Teen Charm and withdrew another one.

“Now–is this just what kids do on Saturday nights nowadays? Peruse old love letters in their pyjamas?”

Ginny made a throaty noise of irritation. “Well, as I’m not allowed to leave the house and I have no homework until I get my OWLs back, and I’ve already finished picking out all of my split ends this is really the only thing left to do.”

But a moment later she quickly folded the letter back up and stuffed it back into the box, muttering a string of things that sounded like ‘…self-absorbed ingratiating wank.’ She extinguished all the tapers around her save for one and crossed her arms over her chest, staring out at the bright, moonlit sky.

“So…” I prodded, “what sort of owl are we waiting for?”

“A white–“ she started, before she seemed to think better of it. I simply nodded again as I sipped my Firewhiskey, and waited for her to launch into an explanation. But after several minutes of silence, I began to wonder at how much quieter Ginny had gotten lately. In fact, I could hardly remember the last time I had listened to her ramble my ears off about things like how gross she thought mayonnaise was or why X was the most pointless letter ever.

“Why so quiet?” I asked, snapping her from her reverie.

“What?”

“Why are you so quiet?” I tried again, louder.

Ginny furrowed her brow at me. “I’m not any quieter than usual.”

“Oh. Right,” I said, still not believing her one bit, though I had learned long ago to simply keep my mouth shut and pretend to take her word for it when she said things like that. She stared back out the window, looking old and melancholy. When had she gotten so grown up? How could she be almost sixteen when it seemed like only yesterday that we didn’t even have a baby girl?

The road to Ginny was a long, hard one and I suppose I remember better than anyone else besides Mum and Dad. The classic family legend dictates that the first time Dad asked Mum to marry him, she said no, because there hadn’t been a female Weasley in six generations, and she was adamant about having a girl. So the story goes that Dad told her that they’d just have to make history–and promised her they’d have twenty-three kids if it took that long. If you think about it that way, I suppose I should count myself lucky that it only took half a dozen tries before I could stop babysitting.

“So who has the white owl?” I asked, polishing off the glass.

“Harry,” she said simply.

Oh that’s right. I guess I’d known that.

I have to give it to her–Mum never, ever seemed disappointed with all of us boys. She loves us like crazy, and she always has, but in the year and a half between Ron and Ginny, things got a bit rocky. That summer she was cranky and irascible, and she cried a lot, and none of us could understand why. In retrospect, I’m surprised she didn’t go round the twist completely: Dad was away at work a lot, the twins were in their terrible twos, Percy wasn’t old enough to help, and, I’m ashamed to admit it, Charlie and I were little more than two big energy vacuums ourselves. So it was just her, with six boys and no female companions within a mile, with news coming every day of more deaths and more terrible things happening at the bidding of You-Know-Who.

“He said he’d write to you, did he?”

Ginny nodded once.

I went away to school in the fall, and Mum’s letters to me sounded so horribly lonely and listless that I became as worried as it was possible to be at while living at Hogwarts. Christmas that year was normal on the surface, but everyone could sense her depression and, looking back on it, it was downright dismal. Things brightened some when she found out she was pregnant–I remember when she and Dad sat us all down a few days after the New Year and told us with glowing faces that they had some good news.

But soon she became so sick that she swore she didn’t care anymore–this was the last one, girl or no. That scared me, that she could be so sick that she didn’t care, and from that moment until Ginny was born, every penny I threw into a well, every time I saw a shooting star, and every time I caught my wristwatch at 11:11, I secretly used my wishes on a baby girl, because that was the only way I could see Mum ever being truly happy again.

“Do you still fancy him?” I asked reflexively, as I had done countless times over the years when I ran out of things to say. The subject of Harry had always been a surefire way to get her to fill the silences with some kind of talk.

Ginny rolled her eyes.

“Couldn’t resist, could you?” She pulled her upper lip between her teeth for a moment before she answered. “No.”

I nodded again, in secret incredulity.

Tragedy struck that March, not long after Ron’s first birthday. You-Know-Who was near the zenith of his power then, and one fateful day–the same day that Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian were killed–Evan Rosier broke into the house and placed Mum under the Imperius Curse. Mum, having heard the intruder before she went down to confront him, had locked Percy, the twins, and Ron in the attic, given Percy the key, and told them not to move or make a sound until she came to get them. So while Mum was under his spell, he made her search the house looking for the boys, and if he had only told her to knock on the attic door before Dad and Moody arrived… It still makes me sick to imagine it–a mother, forced to kill her own children.

“What do you see in him, anyways?” I asked lightly, forgetting that she ‘didn’t fancy him’. She turned sharply to me, and seemed ready to tersely deny me when she paused with her mouth half open.

“I trust him.”

Mum was distraught. I came home for Easter that Spring to find her much altered. She was a shaky mess most of the time, and she wouldn’t let any of us out of her sight–not even me, until I was safely on the train back to Hogwarts. Their marriage suffered as a result of her extreme instability, and by late May we got news that Mum had moved in with a neighbor, while she and Dad ‘worked some things out.’ She was home again by the time school ended, but they were both withdrawn and rather sad, and I got the impression that she felt obligated to come home for our sake.

“Don’t look so blasť,” Ginny said indignantly, displeased that I wasn't paying the usual amount of attention to her.


The rest of the hot, sticky summer passed at a snail’s pace. The Burrow had always been someplace that was truly Mum’s domain; she’d known its every quirk and cranny for as long as I could remember, and she’d always cleaned and cared for it as though it were an extension of her being. That summer, as she passed the hours in a neurotic, barely lucid puddle of sweat and tears, her house seemed to follow suit. Gnomes took total control of the garden–the whole place fell into dirty disrepair, and the very floorboards moaned and whined under the weight of even little Ron’s footsteps as sweat formed and trickled down the miserable walls. The chimney crumbled as the magic used to keep it erect began to falter, and that mad ghoul in the attic ranted and raged in more tortured delirium than ever before.

“You're right," I said, almost absently, "I’m sorry.”

Then there was the long, hard delivery, which had come almost a month too soon. There were quite a few complications as I remember–but I’ve never really asked to hear all the gory details. I watched the sunset that day from the hallway outside her room as I listened to all the worried voices and all her whimpers and moans and screams, and I remember knowing that it couldn’t possibly get any worse than that. That was, without a doubt, our darkest hour.

Ginny bristled further. “It means a lot to me. There are only two blokes in the entire world that I trust completely and he’s one of them.”

When Ginny was finally born, it was as if a ray of sunlight had burst forth from the birth canal instead of a slimy little red thing with an umbilical chord tangled around its neck. The tension broke, and I’ll remember forever the feeble whinny of sheer joy from Mum when the midwife told her it was a girl.

“Who’s the other one?” I asked.

Things got progressively better from the day she was born, and by the end of the summer Mum was going outside again. And though she was still paranoid and a bit mad, there was an aura of hope prevalent throughout the house. When Charlie and I came home the day before Christmas six months later everything was Camelot. Mum was jubilant and overflowing with energy: You-Know-Who had been defeated, Dad had taken two whole weeks of vacation off–we were all together and home for the holidays, and Ginny was going through a small fit of separation anxiety in which no one but Mum could hold her without having their ears assaulted with wailing and shrieking. Under normal circumstances, one might have considered this an inconvenience, but so positive was Mum that she merely beamed and hugged her closer.

“She knows–“ she said as we sat gathered around the tree on Christmas Eve, “In her own way she knows, and she’s just acknowledging the fact that I’m the one who needed her the most.”

She was currently giving me a long, hard glare.

“Ron,” she said, cramming emphasis into the single syllable before looking back out of the window. And that's when it managed to cut through my reverie.

“You mean, beside me and Dad?”

She continued staring resolutely out the window. “No.”

I knew she was doing it to hurt me. And it worked. I was so thrown I hadn’t the speech capabilities to utter even a faint, ‘what?’. Subtle signs of repentence began to appear, but she had never been one to back down before and I didn't suppose she was going to start now.

“It’s nothing you’ve done," she said, "it’s just that, after Tom–“

“Tom?” I asked in an incredulous exhale, “What, so if you can’t trust You-Know-Who you can’t trust your brothers?”

“I trusted Tom more than I’d ever trusted any of my brothers,” she said heatedly, “Tom never teased me, he said nice things to me, and he listened–carefully.

There was another unbelieving silence as she sat up and faced forward.

“Tom was with me everywhere I went, he never told on me, and I was all he had in return–he needed me. When I found out what he needed me for, when I found out he was You-Know-Who and I was going to die in the chamber of secrets, Ron was the brother who came through–and Harry...”


She took a withering breath as her eyes fell on the box of letters at her feet beside the bench.

“I mean, there was Dean, and Michael, but I don’t even want to pretend anymore–that I could really like someone else. If there’s something I learned from them it’s that there’s no such thing as a meaningless distraction, and I’d rather wait around on Harry than settle for someone else.”

I’ll never understand why it hit me at that exact moment, instead of the morning after, or years ago when it should have. But seeing her there in the dim light of her candle, without a smile or a frown or a smirk or a grimace or a giggle on her face to squint her eyes and make them the bright brown little stars I’d always known them to be, I felt as though... as though I’d spied a Boggart all alone.

Her face, which I’d always known to be little and round and dimpled had grown elliptical and graceful in the absence of her usual animated expressions, with big, swirling eyes above her cheeks, which were high-boned–but not the plump little cherries I’d always thought they were. I was seized with an indescribable pang of mingled sadness and wonder to see how wise she had grown, and to realize that her wisdom had come with a price.

I know that Ginny can’t be a kid forever. I’ve known that all along. I also know the ordeal she suffered in her first year, but in all honesty I never really believed it. Ginny’s just a little girl-- and if there was ever a shadow cast over her life it’s gone now, and I felt it had been understood that we could all just forget it ever happened. I’m sure that’s what she’d like–because she never meant for any of it to happen in the first place. Yes I know that she was possessed by a Horcrux of a young You-Know-Who, but in my heart of hearts I never believed for a moment that evil could have found a vacant space to hold in my baby sister’s bright eyes.

But Ginny had grown deeper than I could see, and more complicated than I could understand. I'd always thought the little baby girl who had answered our thirteen-year vigil for a complete family was destined simply to be loved and adored by the world around her, but somewhere along the line that destiny had been rewritten. There sat the answer to our prayers before me, holding a candle in a vigil of her own–waiting for a letter from a boy who needed the depth and complications that no one else could even comprehend.








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Chapter 9: The Unavoidable Regression Into Ginny

NEW A/N: This has now been slightly tweaked (again, less than 100 words difference) to comply with new canon. Enjoy!







For Nessa,
In return for what will be the best summer of my life.


~*~

The Unavoidable Regression Into Ginny


You’d never think it if you knew him now, but there was only one person more opposed to the idea of a seventh Weasley child than me, and that was Bill. Given the more significant age gap between myself and Percy, Bill and I had always been friends apart from the rest of the family. We had our share of typical childhood squabbles, but it was only because our places in the big picture were so close together. We were both annoyed by Percy, mildly amused by the twins, rather indifferent to Ron, and resentful towards Mum and Dad for making us baby-sit the lot all the time. We exacted our revenge in the same way: by being so lazy and irresponsible with the boys that Mum would more often than not prefer to just look after them herself.

Upon hearing the news that Mum was pregnant with a seventh child, Bill and I stared at Dad blankly, before looking at each other and saying in unison,

“Why would she do that?”

Talking about our feelings and trying to work out our hostilities was of course repulsive and out of the question, so I’ve never had the chance to ask Bill what drove him to co-found AAWS (Activists Against Weasley Sprawl), but I know that to me it was a simple matter of not understanding why on earth we were going through all this trouble to bring another girl into the world. Few showed any interest in our little organization: we were the only two members; but at one point I dared Bill to approach Professor Snape and ask him to make a contribution, and surprisingly enough (or not), he gave him six Galleons and kicked him out the door.

That following summer was rough, due to the events of the previous March, and neither of us had the heart to complain when it seemed that everything around us was already whining and crying. As we sat silently outside the room where Mum was giving birth, watching the sun sink blood red behind the darkening trees outside the window at the end of the hall, I remember wondering why Bill looked so grave and assuming that he was dreading the new baby as much as I was…

But when Mum asked him through tears of joy if he’d like to hold her, instead of sulking with me, he nodded as she placed Ginny in his arms. And his eyes watered as he swallowed, beholding her little pink face for the first time.

“She’s so small,” he said, looking up at Dad like a deer caught in the headlights. And from that moment until we got on the train to Hogwarts, Bill was the most devoted brother Mum could have dreamed of, and a bloody traitor. He carried Ginny around with him whenever Mum could bear to part with her, talking to her, telling her what was going on and why certain things were the way they were. He told her stories and read her books and rocked her to sleep, and because he was Bill, he managed to make it all look cool. I remember waking up thirsty in the middle of a stormy night, and I went downstairs to get a drink. From the humid kitchen I saw him standing on the porch holding her as she rested her head on his chest. I stayed deathly still as they watched the thunder and lightening while he swayed her back and forth, as if slow dancing, and over the steady roar of the rainfall I could have sworn I heard him singing.

And so, being somewhat abandonded by my former best mate, I took Ron as my new partner, and together we staunchly refused to be reduced to gushing in adoration over that ridiculously tiny little girl. He never exactly expressed any explicit disdain over the new baby, given that he wasn’t quite eighteen months yet, but I assumed that he was resentful that he had been replaced as the youngest, and he never contradicted me. Ron soon replaced Bill as co-president of AAWS, and during those first few years of Ginny’s life we had some good times together as we waited for the rest of the family to realize how ridiculous they were being.

As Ginny grew out of babyhood and the hype around her began to subside, so did the tenacity of our boycott. By the time she and Ron were children my philosophy had evolved into one of simply refusing to favor her just because she was our darling baby girl, and in my hidden agenda was the confession that I was predisposed to doggedly deny that she held any special charm for me. This became increasingly difficult to do with each passing year as her giggles and chirpy voice practiced on my surly barriers, and I never would have guessed that the day she did considerable damage to my Comet Two-Fifty would be the day I’d finally surrender–but it was. I’d been trying to convince myself for years that while I was obligated to love her, I found her obnoxious and tiresome, but the moment I perceived in her big brown eyes that she believed it to be true, but would face me with a stiff upper lip all the same I lost my will perpetuate the front any longer. I sank to my knees and gave her a hug that would have put bears to shame, and from there on out, no matter how I seemed to judge or disapprove I was secretly wrapped around her little finger–right next to Bill.

I’ll deny that I find her irresistibly charming, just like he will deny that he ever expected otherwise.

~*~

Now only once in my life have I ever had the misfortune of asking Ginny who she fancied, and having my ears go numb from the endless stream of disconnected, redundant fantasies about how wonderful Harry Potter was, and how much she really liked him. It was years ago, in her third year, when I’d come to Hogwarts with the dragons for the Triwizard Tournament. I made up some story for her about having business here concerning some illegal horntail eggs, and we had dinner together at Hagrid’s.

Halfway through the meal we heard a roar coming from the enclosure and Hagrid begged off to see what was happening. After we had caught up with one another and exhausted the usual topics I made the mistake of mentioning Harry and before I knew it she was giving me his detailed biography in accordance with her opinions. I had never been so utterly disappointed in her- her IQ seemed to have dropped twenty points while raving about him, as she praised every possible aspect of his person, and yet had to admit off-handedly that she’d never actually spoken to him more than five or six times.

I delighted in the silence that followed, after she ran out of steam and simply stared off into the distance with a wistful look in her eyes. After a rather long time of this, she spoke again, in a much calmer tone, like she’d just come back to earth.

“I’m really stupid, aren’t I?” she said, her eyes filming over with tears. If she was fishing for reassurance she was asking the wrong brother.

“Yup,” I said, not bothering to be gentle.

She began to cry.

“I’m sorry- I can’t help it-“ she sobbed.

“Listen to yourself!” I said, finally raising my voice above her whining, “You barely know the kid! You don’t talk to him, you don’t make an effort to get to know him, you just sit around and cry about him because you fancy the idea of being in love. You’re not in love with him, and if you are, you’re stupid–because he doesn’t care about you in that way at all. And the poor bloke’s done nothing to deserve your tears, so just stop it!”

She did, thank the Merlin. She looked hurt beyond tears, but it didn’t make me sorry because I knew I was right.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said lightly, “You’re just thirteen, it happens to the smartest of girls.”

I haven’t thought about that day for a long time now. But the knowing glances passed between a few of the more intuitive parties as we sit at the dinner table and my natural train of thought as I contemplated Ginny and Harry inevitably led me to think of that unfortunate conversation years ago. But things have changed quite a bit since then, and I feel obligated to consider the possibility that Ginny really does have deep, significant feelings for him.

And now it’s become more difficult to ignore certain things about the way they’ve grown in relation to one another: Ginny’s unaccountable talent for stopping him dead in his tracks, Harry’s natural means of bringing out a palpable authenticity in her smiles just by being in the room, and the seamless way they unwittingly take it in turns to look at each other when they think no one will notice. They’re quickly transcending their former relationship, growing from a few people’s wishful suspicions to the assumption of a single entity in everyone’s minds. Mum has begun seating them next to each other at meals more often, and she and Remus and Dad like to smile fondly at one another every time Harry and Ginny make each other laugh. Ron and Hermione especially seem to know something about the two of them that we don’t. And while everyone seems pleasantly surprised at this new development I’m fairly smug to declare that I saw it coming.

I first became suspicious years ago, when we all went to the Quidditch World Cup and Harry refrained from looking at Ginny too much because every time he did she was liable to fall down or break something. But I knew even then that if avoiding her and being kindly indifferent was his strategy the boy was doomed, because one way or another she’d get under his skin–I was sure of it. After the regrettable conversation in Hagrid’s hut a few months later I resolved not to touch the subject with the end of a Quidditch hoop lest Ginny start hyperventilating.

But when I saw them both again nearly three years later I couldn’t help but to marvel over the way the way things had changed between them. They had grown up. Ginny was nearly sixteen, and prettier than any of us had ever expected her to be (which, granted, isn’t saying a lot), and Harry looked drastically less like a baby turtle and more like your typical, run-of-the-mill hero.

But it wasn’t just that Harry’s shoulders had broadened, or that Ginny had filled out in the right places, but neither of them seemed like children anymore. Indeed, they didn’t even seem like teenagers so much as… dare I say it? Adults.

Harry seemed to be handling the death of his mentor and weight of the world in a very mature fashion, and his face had the noble, nearly aloof countenance of someone who was certainly struggling, but refusing to suffer. Ginny had grown more selfless and independent than one might have expected the youngest and most overtly adored of seven children to be, talking less and doing more–sharing all of her reasons for laughing and none of her troubles.

The biggest change between them seemed to be that she was no longer infatuated with him. She talked in front of him, and I knew he hadn’t failed to notice how graceful she was once she started concentrating on what was going on instead of him. And while everyone else was busy accepting the fact that Ginny no longer fancied Harry, I was silently praying for the boy: without her crippling crush on him, there was no telling what she might be capable of eventually reducing him to.

By Christmastime not a lot had changed to the unobservant, but upon closer inspection I couldn’t help but notice that Harry avoided talking to her whenever his mood was resolutely foul, because he seemed to have noticed on some level that if he let her in even an inch he ran the risk of forgetting what was so terrible. It made me wonder what he did when he didn’t even want to feel wretched anymore.

My suspicions were further solidified the next time I saw Harry and Ginny. We were sitting in a waiting room in the maternity ward at St. Mungo’s in the middle of a late April night, waiting for Bill’s baby to be born. He and Mum were in the room with Fleur, and every time she screamed it was joined by a yelp from Bill, and I swear I could almost hear the bones breaking in his hand. As the hours dwindled away, so did the number of conscious people in the waiting room, until Harry and Ginny, who had gotten the raw end of the seating arrangements and were sitting on a smallish, hard wooden bench were the only people still uncomfortable enough to have stayed awake–besides me, the self-proclaimed insomniac. I watched them out of the corner of my eye, as they said nothing, and simply sat there in silence, each looking painfully aware of the other’s presence.

I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep, wondering what would happen if they perceived themselves to be alone. There was still silence, and after several minutes, I snuck a peak at them. Harry looked tired, and had dark circles under his eyes, but Ginny was in a state of exhausted limbo. Her eyes kept shutting, as she drifted off, but then her body would relax and she’d begin to slump over, causing her to jerk suddenly awake, only to start to fall in the other direction a few moments later. Harry was watching her with a furrowed brow,

“You can lie down if you want,” he said quietly, as though it should have been assumed. Ginny might have protested, had she been just an ounce less tired than she was, but the poor thing all but collapsed onto his shoulder and fell asleep at last. He glanced down at the top of her head, and then inevitably to the other places their bodies were touching, and his face turned a subtle shade pinker, but also present was a look that I was not expecting. All this time I had assumed that he was trying not to fall in love with her, but as he stared longingly down on her when he thought no one else could see him it was plainly obvious that he had already fallen in love with her–long ago, no doubt, and was now trying to extricate himself before the world found out about it. I closed my eyes again with a grain of satisfaction in me, and when I peeked again a minute later, Harry had fallen asleep as well.

My hunch quickly proved to be accurate–over the next few days he continued to avoid laying eyes on her, but now I knew it was because every time he did it took a little longer than it should have to take them away again. Everyone could sense him pulling away from something, but few recognized what or who he was trying not to let in. Remus and I mused over this one evening in April. He seemed to think there was reason to worry for Harry and his tendency to push emotionally loaded things away from himself, but I couldn’t bring myself to be concerned,

“If you think it’s Ginny that’s he’s trying not to care about, I wouldn’t worry too much,” I said as we cleared away the plates from dinner, having told Mum we’d wash them tonight, “He can try, but it won’t last–he’ll see reason eventually–she’ll wear him down.”

Remus didn’t look entirely convinced yet,

“Well, I hope so–Harry is terribly determined himself.”

That night as I climbed into bed my mind was still pondering the matter of Harry and Ginny. I remembered how I'd once been so determined to be completely unimpressed with her, and how she'd hung around and eventually lodged herself firmly into my affections. Harry could push her away because he was afraid of his feelings, or afraid for her safety, but as I sat watching the minutes creep by on my bedside clock I knew that no matter how stubborn he may be, he was a goner. Once she'd gotten a hold of him there was nothing to save him from sliding down that slippery slope into her mud-pie eyes. He could brood, he could sulk, he could push, he could snap, he could yell, but some things are meant to be, and no matter what he did he couldn't stop the unavoidable regression into loving Ginny.





A/N: You have no idea how much a good, thoughtful review inspires me and allows me to write quickly. They really mean a lot!

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Chapter 10: Their Best Boy

Their Best Boy
~*~
For everyone who’s waited so patiently





The months following the death of Dumbledore proved to witness a rise in the number of occasions on which my family was forced to communicate with me. The twins were as impudent as ever, but within myself I was reasonably able to nullify their condemnations due to the fact that they’d never liked me much anyway. To some extent I was able to apply the same logic to Ginny and Ron and Harry, but even I couldn’t deny that lukewarm as their affections might have been they were all three fairly reasonable people who didn’t have enough resentment to waste on people that didn’t really deserve it.

Sometimes I visited Mum and Dad alone, and these occasions were pleasant enough, but it was difficult to find time when I could be assured of encountering them alone without being obvious about it, because that year Hogwarts had been closed to all students past their OWLs in lieu of the need for more competent witches and wizards at home to help defend their families. A wise move on the part of the board of executives, I thought, but it did mean that Ginny was at home for most of the year, and rather tense and irritable about it.

In October of that year a large-scale attack on several muggle and mixed families throughout the country forced the Grangers out of their home and into the Burrow, where they could be better protected. Mr and Mrs Granger were nice enough to me, but they were rather out of their element here in the magical world and as much as Dad’s ardent fascination with all things non-magical served to amuse them, I knew that they longed for the day when they could go home and be dentists again.

Charlie came home as well, and if I thought that he would give me the silent treatment I was surprisingly mistaken. He told me, on no uncertain terms, how he felt about my abandonment, but once finished ripping off my head he seemed to find it adequately severed and did not see fit to be passive aggressive from that point forward. This was a relief, because he seemed to execute a fair amount of control over the twins.

Bill was forgiving, but he no longer thought much of me and his indifferent stance hurt me more than resentment from Ginny, Fred, George, Ron and Harry combined. Not that the latter was around much, granted. Upon turning seventeen he moved out of his relatives house and into the village where his parents had lived and Ron and Hermione were somewhat suspended between there and the Burrow, where, if you’ll remember, both their parents now lived.

But Harry seemed to be avoiding the Burrow as much as possible–he was doing something mysterious with his time, for the most part, and I was greatly relieved that no one at the Ministry pressured me to try to find out what that was. They seemed to have guessed (correctly) that they might be more successful if they sent You-Know-Who himself to ask Harry what he was up to. But that aside it was unfathomable to me why Harry made himself more and more scarce as the year went on because on the few occasions that I did observe him at big family dinners and such he seemed to be markedly content. Incidentally, Ginny simultaneously grew more and more upset and nervous, and it was beyond me why no one talked about this or went after her when she left a room in tears. It’s what I would have done.

Finally in June there came an incident with which I was unable to remain unconcerned and uninvolved. I don’t remember what it was about the company or the conversation that set her off–actually I don’t reckon I ever knew in the first place, but she slipped out and I just had to find her. It was our old game, and so it came as a shock to me when I caught her in Ron’s room and instead of allowing me to hug her and assure her that we all loved her very much she snarled at me through red eyes and dampened hair, “Get out!”

“Ginny–what’s the matter?”

She took off her shoe and chucked it, hard, at my head and screeched, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

At this point I became a bit miffed. Really, how was I supposed to help her when she threw shoes at me? I stood there bewildered for a moment as she heaved labored breaths,

“There’s nothing you can do, Bighead,” she said brokenly.

“Ginny–“

She closed her eyes, indicating that she was done seeing reason, “Just–go.”

She really meant it. I felt a stab of pity for myself and horror at what I’d done. Never once, in all the other times that she’d thrown things at me did I get the notion that no longer would I be able to help her when I wanted to. I turned and left, feeling worse, I know, than she did.

~*~

Several important, irrelevant things happened in the week that passed between then and the next moment I’d like to bring to attention. The war was now being fought so heavily and the fog of uncertainty was now so thick that you could hardly make out the vague outline of tomorrow. As such, we hadn’t the emotional energy to even be surprised when Deatheaters descended in droves upon the Burrow that fateful day. Half the Order, also known as my family, was already there for Sunday dinner, and the other half appeared shortly thereafter, followed by swarms of Aurors about a quarter of an hour after that.

I had never seen so many people fighting at once, and while currently we had them all engaged with manpower to spare, I could feel our resistance waning. Through the smoke I saw George creeping away from the fight in a rather uncharacteristic manner, and only when I saw the small group of Deatheaters huddled low and congregating in the thick wooded copse beyond our garden did I understand what he was up to. He disillusioned himself and glanced around behind him, no doubt looking for possible help. He spotted me, and only me, for everyone else was already occupied.

“Reckon I’m going to go and see what the tossers are up to,” he said, as if he were headed to the store for more bread. He had to be daft–there were at least six or seven of them there already and from the looks of it they were what this whole uproar was trying to conceal.

“Surely you’re joking!” I spluttered, almost indignantly, “I mean, surely–you can’t be serious…”

“I’m completely serious,” he said, eyes fixed on the huddle, and then added with a backward glance, “and quit calling me Shirley.”

I ignored his ill-timed humor and tried to tell him what to do, “Go and fetch–“

“There’s no one to fetch and no time to fetch them,” he answered shortly.

“You’ll be killed,” I said.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, are you coming or not?”

And without waiting for my response he sallied forth. Cursing his rashness, I disillusioned myself and followed him. For a long time he crouched nearby (far too nearby, I felt) unseen, listening to their exchange. I saw the wisdom in this, at least: the Dark Lord’s innermost circle often kept their plans completely secret, even to those who would be executing them, until the very last minute. This helped to stop important details from falling on the wrong ears, and also gave the less dependable members no time to fully consider the consequences of their dastardly deeds.

I heard only a few scattered words from their discussion, as I had located myself further back from George. As far as I could tell, there seemed to be one or two of them that did most of the talking. These were, no doubt, the ringleaders. Once I heard one of the others pose a question that seemed to inquire as to the importance of what they were about to do, to which one of the ringleaders replied coldly, and I distinctly heard the words, ‘hostage’ and ‘bait.’ Not that this told me much, but George seemed to have heard enough, because he crept slowly closer and silently cast a charm I didn’t know on one of the figures who wasn’t speaking, effectively freezing him in place. He repeated this action on three more men before the ringleader, addressing one and receiving no reply from underneath the white mask, cast about him and spotted George’s faint outline on the ground, while I leapt up from where I knelt and yelled, “Stupefy!

Two of those still capable of movement descended on me, while George battled the remaining one. It occurred to me, through the commands he began shouting at the men I was dealing with that he was none other than Antonin Dolohov. The ones I was fighting were by no means brilliant, but there were two of them and before too long I had been disarmed. They didn’t even waste the time to stun or kill me before they dashed off towards the house, clearly trying to salvage at least a part of their plan.

As I stood there, without a wand, at a loss of what to do… I don’t know if my time ran out or I just gave up on the brainteaser that my life had become but I saw Dolohov raise his wand and somehow I knew this curse was fatal and an inspiration that has only blessed me with its presence once or twice in my life came bursting into my head like a cavalry with flags waving and trumpets blaring. Oh what an exit this would be!

And so without regard to timing I dashed out to stand between them, and it worked as I’d planned–almost. He wasn’t quite finished saying the incantation when I’d done it, and though he didn’t fumble the words I knew I’d screwed him up somehow.

He meant to kill George–not that he had any objections to killing me instead, naturally, but the wrinkle was enough to throw him off and the result wasn’t the typical flash of green light and rushing sound of death, but a sluggish, quavering glow that burned and ate me alive as it spread. The longest three seconds of my life passed then; the pain was pure and simple destruction.

When all at once it was over. I stood still, with a strange feeling that must only be known to people who have died–in which the brain is like clay, and all thoughts seem still and frozen. My time for thinking had expired: I was cashing in my life experience.

I felt a cool, unearthly stream lapping around my ankles though apparently no one else could see or hear it. Dolohov had been incapacitated in the confusion, and he lay now at my feet with the purest expression of terror on his face, looking up at a man he’d already killed.

My observations ceased to be my own. Everything I was seeing now was the solution, and I felt a bit stupid. It was like I’d turned the page of my life to the answer key and it all made sense now, but the discovery was dulled and meaningless because I knew I hadn’t figured it out for myself. I wished, just once, to have the puzzle back again, to be alive once more and in the dark so that I might find the secrets of life myself, and this was the only thought that seemed to be mine.

I swayed and fell to the ground as the battle fire began to dwindle around me, and then eventually flicker, until only the victors remained–the Deatheaters had fled. I looked at the sky, and failed to feel the deep, subtle thudding of a pulse against the thickness of the earth clod. Funny, but without it there doesn’t seem to be a difference between your body and the dirt and you are the earth–just staring up at spangled space.

It took them a moment to find me. George had gone back for help and been detained, no doubt, in his return. It was no one I knew that came upon me. They seemed to recognize me, however. Their voices sounded unimportant and very far away,

“Blimey! It’s–“

“Run and get a healer–I think he might still be alive.”

“We should find Arthur–or Molly, don’t you think?”

“Get a healer first!”

Then from what was in reality a great distance there came a scream that cut through me as if it had been uttered in my ear.

“Percy–no!

Nobody bothered to try to stop Ginny as she hurled herself across the scene to where I lay. She almost landed on me as she fell to her knees and promptly forgot what to do with herself.

“It was you!” she cried in debilitating dismay, “That green glow was you…”

She sobbed and snarled at someone who tried to pull her away, and I could vaguely hear a Healer say, “…nothing we can do… been cast… just wait.”

Ginny turned her eyes to me as if appealing for support,

“P-percy p-please don’t d-die!”

Her voice was strung with the stumbling, panicky fear akin to loosing control while tripping too fast down a gravel hill. I remembered how just a week ago she had refused, once again, to speak to me, and I longed to bring it up but by now the curse had robbed me of my nervous system and I could not even appreciate the small warmth of her hands as the squeezed at one of mine or the hot sprinkle of tears.

“Not you, Percy!” she sobbed, "You can’t just die!”

And I witnessed her pain like it was my own. I felt the horrible, burning recognition and I knew I’d spoiled a bit of the ending for her, as well. This was the cruel part of what I’d done.

She rammed her eyes shut and tried to block it out but she’d seen it all: the answers were seared into her mind in flashing ink. She read the forgiveness before she’d had time to let her anger fade, and she had forgotten all the hurt before she even had time to understand why it was unimportant. She had been thinking I was the one she liked the least, and now without getting the chance to like me first she was ripped to the conclusion and made to find that I was actually her favorite–and when they pulled her away she’d never see me again.

I thought of Penny–in hiding somewhere in the states, as I’d insisted, and I knew that she would be all right, though I longed to see her and kiss her again with the most powerful yearning yet. But in a moment the voice of Ginny came impudently, sweetly to my ears once more,

“Percy?” she sniffed. She knelt over me still, but now Fred and George knelt beside her, though the latter still blended with the sky behind him, and some feet away Dad held Mum as she ululated in his arms.

Tears coursed unchecked down Ginny’s face, though she no longer seemed to feel them. I hadn’t seen her cry so hard since she was just a little girl and Fred and George and Ron used to leave her behind–and I was the one to whom she turned.

The past few years ached like bruised flesh between us, and when she lowered down and embraced me on the ground the intimate pain was so intense that to my amazement I felt my eyes growing watery. It occurred to me then that the real and greatest power of Ginny was here, in the enormity of her heart–such love wraps itself around you and clutches out tears whether you’re dead or alive.

“We love you,” she whispered, straightening up as my vision began to darken, “I love you.”

I thought she looked very sweet just then, and there was beginning to dawn on her the faint, doleful glow of a story having come full-circle. Abrupt as it had been, all had been forgiven, and Ginny loved me fiercely once again. The same was true of Fred and George, and even Ron and Harry, wherever they were, but whether because she was the youngest, the smallest, the prettiest, or just the one kneeling right in front of me the spotlight shined on her in those last few moments of my life, as she cried furiously on Fred and George, who cradled her and rocked her and soothed her like she was their own hearts sobbing in their arms.

The stream flooded my ears as the sound went mute, and I felt the ethereal water rising to engulf me, the very last vestiges of life in my body slipping away. It was sad–that we hadn’t had more time. What we had was altogether much too short, but I was home, and though I couldn’t feel the significance of it then, I am exactly what I always wanted to be: their Best Boy, and there’s nothing that will ever change that now.






A/N: Whaddya think? Do I still got it? Review?

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Chapter 11: Someone To Help Her With Her Lashes

Someone To Help Her With Her Lashes

For Robert,
Who lets me cry on him



We all thought, during the battle at the Burrow that it was surely the end–that Voldemort had staged a distraction so that he and Harry could fight it out once and for all. But that wasn’t the case. He never showed his ugly, flat-nosed self at any of the various skirmishes that erupted across the countryside that night. (I can't personally understand why one would want to be seen at all like that, but he seems to think it's really daunting).

No–Percy died in what was apparently just a big fight. It had been my only consolation to Ginny, who was despondent–crying hard enough for the three of us, that now it was over, and indeed people were at that minute looking for Harry to thank him for defeating You-Know-Who for good, because if he hadn’t the Deatheaters would not have lost the battle here. But in the morning Harry showed up at what was left of our house and told us in a hollow, dead sort of voice that the Dark Wanker hadn’t shown: that he’d just been stood up by You-Know-Who.

It was a dull, gray day with clouds that never once broke and kept spitting at us as we put Percy in the ground. It was a tasteful affair; everything went smoothly and in a way Percy probably would have approved of–in other words: no smiling, no laughing, no joking, and no bright colors! Plus, people made speeches. About him. Really, it’s a pity he missed it.

But all told when the service was over it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected it to be. Ginny didn’t cry so much, she mostly just stared with puffy eyes and dry lips. Halfway through George’s eulogy she shook her hand free from mine and crossed her arms over her chest, as her eyes kept darting across the massive hole in the ground to where Harry stood.

“Percy had confidence in himself, and loved his life a lot, but never was there anything more important to him than doing the right thing to the best of his ability. People are being used everyday, deceived, and tricked into doing bad things because it’s easier than making decisions for themselves. People are killing other people every day for no better reason than pure and simple hatred, or pure and simple selfishness and cowardice. But we believe Percy was a man with good intentions, a man who stuck up for what he thought was right, and not just what would get him farther in the world. Percy, through it all, meant well, and in times as dark as these, ‘meant well’ is something rather precious, and is for the most part, more than can be said for the rest of the world.”

Through this speech Ginny began to blink furiously–her eyelids seemed to be begging Harry to look at her just once, but he didn’t until the funeral was over, and people began to walk away. Only a few members of the family were left when she got his full attention, and it was starting to sprinkle again.

“Come on, Ginny,” I said, reaching out to put my arm around her trembling, shivering shoulders. She stepped out of my hold, shaking her head and coming ever closer to tears, and she still stared at Harry.

“Ginny,” I said again, but she was refusing my consolation, so I decided to leave her there as I followed George’s retreating back away from the grave.

I only stopped and turned around the one time, to see if Harry would approach Ginny in my absence. I just barely heard her voice from across the dreary lawn as she said his name in a pleading, broken way, and I’m sure his heart went out to her but he stayed where he was.

They didn’t say anything at all, and there was a space of twenty feet between them, but I still felt like I was witnessing something private. And when Harry walked away from her with a guarded look on his face she seemed to break a little bit. As soon he was out of sight I went back to Ginny and this time she collapsed against me and sobbed.

She was still for a moment–had the wind knocked out of her, I think. When she gasped again I was expecting her to say something about Percy but in retrospect I should have seen her next words coming,

“H-He doesn’t love me!”

I tried to think of something funny to say but… well it just wasn’t that funny.

“And… and,” she hiccupped, and cried, “And I still love him!”

She began to rant, “And Percy’s dead for–for apparently no reason at all, except so that George isn’t the one dead for no reason at all…and he’s my brother and he tried to hug me and tell me he loved me and I woul–hic–dn’t let him, and now I wish I had, but even more than that I wanted Harry to hold me and tell me he loved me–hic–but he didn’t! Because he does–hic–n’t!”

I pulled her away a bit so I could give her an appraising stare; and I'm not going to lie to you, folks–she didn’t look good. Her chin was trembling as her mouth hung open and I could see the old dimples, at her temples and forehead and around her eyes, which used to be more visible when she was younger and her face was chubby. One of her eyes was blinking furiously, trying to see around her giant lashes.

“Don’t see why he wouldn’t,” I said dryly, unable to resist the urge to smile at her as I reached out and gently opened her eye with my thumb and forefinger. That particular little quirk was something else I hadn’t seen in a while. Ginny had been naturally blessed with long eyelashes, but when she was a baby, in that stage where she wanted to reach out and grab just about anything that was solid, she had somehow gotten a hold of Mum’s wand, and by the time we noticed that she had it her eyelashes and eyebrows had somehow vanished. We wrestled the wand away from her, and the brows came back normally enough in time, but the lashes grew in even longer than they’d been before, though a slightly duller, darker color. So long, in fact, that sometimes when she cried or rubbed her eyes particularly hard they got tucked in the lower lid and the upper one couldn’t pull them out, and sometimes, if she was particularly distressed, she needed a bit of help.

She momentarily began regaining her composure, taking slow, deep breaths, no longer blinded by the ‘blessings’ above her eyes. I didn’t know quite what to say to her, though I was fairly sure that she was wrong about a few things.

“All right Ginny, you can’t fool me any more: something is upsetting you.”

She gave me a weak smile, “Sorry,”

“Don’t be sorry,” I said. There was a long silence as I tried to digest what she had said in her little rant.

“I think there’s a bit of a story I haven’t heard here,” I said at last, knowingly.

And then she spilled it all out, about how Harry had kissed her after their Quidditch final more than a year ago, but they hadn’t told the family because Harry didn’t want to risk sending an owl out with that kind of information in it. And then she told me about how he had broken up with her at Dumbledore’s funeral for the noble reason of not wanting her to be endangered by being so close to him.

“Yeah, that’s sounds like Harry,” I said practically, “So then what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” she sighed achingly, “It’s not a crime to break up with me–“ she paused, surprised by the words and shocked by their truth, “He doesn’t need me.”

“What do you mean ‘he doesn’t need you’?”

“I mean he pushed everyone away that he could bear to live without–" she looked stricken-empty, “…and I got pushed away.”

It took me a few moments to respond.

“Don’t you think it’s probably kind of the other way around?” I reasoned.

She gave me a mild glare, “Oh what, he finds Ron and Hermione expendable, does he?”

“Well what were you thinking before you got all bent out of shape?”

She was looking off into the distance, squinting just slightly as though the memory of what she had felt before was out there somewhere and she was trying to make it out. She stopped squinting and looked rather defeated, “I just thought…it was some sort of temporary, unfortunate necessity. But it’s been so long and he’s just doing fine, being productive, all the while I’m standing here miserable without him… and even if he did come back, I don’t know if I’d want him, knowing how unaffected he’d be if I didn’t.”

“Bloody hell, Ginny, have a little faith!” I cried indignantly.

“I–“

“Listen–he fancied you, didn’t he? Ron and Hermione are as good as blokes to him, and blokes just don’t lock up other blokes for their protection–that’s just weird. But you’re a girl, and we know you could probably kick his arse if you wanted to, but that’s the way we work.”

Ginny shook her head; “I just can’t go on believing that’s really it anymore. Bloke or not everyone has feelings, and I’m going nutters without him, but he’s just fine.”

“Yeah, about that–“ I said, remembering a thought that I’d forgotten earlier, “What’s this about you being miserable without him? ‘Cause you look just fine to me.”

“My eyelashes got tangled from happiness, did they?” she said acidly.

“Give yourself a break–your brother died, you’ve had about eight hours of sleep in the last four days and–“ I grappled for something else to complete the point “–and it’s rather nippy out for June.”

She rolled her eyes.

“You’re fine Ginny–you’ve got yourself a job, you’re studying a healthy amount, and you are, as per usual, the life and soul of the party and the apple of everyone’s eye.”

“I live at home–“

“Yes, I understand that, with your overbearing mother, and a load of other blokes who are taken and–needless to say–your brothers, not to mention a nice Veela to hog attention and be there just in case you start feeling good about yourself or something.”

She was stunned, and stared at me with an incredulous expression–like she hadn’t expected me to realize all the things I’d just said.

“But you come into the shop and stand behind the register and laugh and smile at everyone you meet and flirt innocently with every single male and even a few females, and you’re happy, Ginny.”

Her brows knitted together and she looked a bit confused–apparently all this really threw her for a loop. She shook her head suddenly, as if remembering herself,

“What? You can’t tell me how I feel!” she snapped.

I was getting a hair annoyed at her thickness, and it was rather cold out. I gave her one last penetrating stare.

“Well all right then, if this is you in utter misery I’d say Harry by the same standards is probably off finding a particularly nasty and cruel way to off himself.

I turned and walked away then, feeling better for having been able to think about something other than Percy’s sacrifice for a whole ten minutes. I considered Ginny, and heard a voice in my head that sounded like Angelina telling me that I was just a bit insensitive and that, for the most part, I sucked at expressing my comprehension of human emotion, but I waved it off without much trouble.

Nobody needs to tell me anything about Ginny, because I understand her, and even if she doesn’t always understand my understanding of her (and really, who does?) she does just fine. George doesn’t even get it. He follows my lead as far as his treatment of her is concerned, but I know he feels guilty about it, and the guilt eats him up inside and winds up making him angry with her–just because he’s so miserable feeling guilty, and then sometimes he does really cruel things. I like the Ginny we’ve all raised, but she’s deep, and she feels things stronger than a lot of people do, including myself. If I ever started to really try to feel her pain I think it’d do quite a number on me, and being incapacitated with guilt and someone else’s pain doesn’t really help anybody in the long run.

In short: I know some girls need to have their feelings validated and all that rot, but there are some girls–like Ginny, and Angelina, too, for that matter–who are forceful, and these girls just need insensitive warts like me to call them ridiculous and untuck their eyelashes.

That’s the truth–I take my flippancy very seriously, you know.








A/N: Would you look at that- I updated. Reviews will do that to a person, you know. ;-)

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Chapter 12: The Ugly Duckling Manifesto

Happy Halloween! The beginning has a touch of spookiness in the spirit of the season, but in the end it works out fine. I promise.




The Ugly Duckling Manifesto

For Kevin,


Who agrees that most people are really much wiser than your average person.




For days and weeks (and ultimately months) after Percy died I lived my life as an emotional fugitive: on the go, always on the run from that idle time in which I might be able to think about things. Things. Most of which were between Percy and me–my anger with him for leaving the family and thinking he could rectify that mistake by simply killing himself, with my simultaneous inability to feel anything but emptiness and regret that he was really dead, all jumbled in with the complicated question of whether or not I would change what happened that night by the garden wall if I had the chance–every time I smiled or laughed or felt some good emotion come back to me it was ruined by wondering if my small happiness was worth my brother’s life.

But that was all to be expected. Anyone with any imagination at all would understand the pressures of those things. What was harder–nigh impossible to know–was that until the moment when Percy jumped in front of me, I had forgotten completely that he was even there with me, because my mind was racing with the things I’d overheard. That was a more gruesome egg of knowledge I was hiding from view.

I told Lupin of course, who was one of those chosen to run the Order after Dumbledore died, and he took the intelligence with a solemn nod of his head and a small word of thanks, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell my family–not even Fred. That first morning, after Harry had told us the bad news–that Voldemort was still alive and probably regrouping, I knew that the thought on all of their minds was the same: so all we’d lost that night had been for nothing.

Why? They must have wondered. What had been the purpose? Little did they know that I knew exactly what the battle had been for, but for as painful and gut-wrenching as their questions were, I knew the reasons why were somehow much worse. The Deatheaters had come to make a cloud of battle smoke and confusion, and in that cloud they planned to steal away with a single person, and with any luck for them by the time we noticed Ginny’s absence it would have been too late.

That plan, thankfully, had not come to fruit, except in my dreams, where it was muddled in the muck of all that pertained to Percy.

I walked across an empty field where just minutes ago a massive battle had been raging. Small fires smoldered in the ruins around me, but I was in a hurry. I had to find Percy, I had to help him... he was going to die alone if I didn’t get there soon.

I found him at last in our garden between the dahlias and the tomato bushes, but he was already dead. He was cold–already rotting, his skin was waxy and white and for some reason his hair was green; I knelt beside him and my insides burned with rage and guilt. And then he asked for Ginny.

The bottom of my stomach suddenly seemed to have fallen out. I panicked–how could I have forgotten to find Ginny? I stood up as fast as possible, partly to get away from the awful smell of him... I ran off and searched everywhere I could think of but she wasn’t anywhere. All these people would appear for single moments around me–I’d ask them if they’d seen her; they’d all shake their heads and then be gone.

Finally I began looking through the house, checking all the cupboards, cabinets, and even the drawers. I looked in every room what felt like more than once, and I was back to search the kitchen again when I heard something scratching at the backdoor. I jumped–I think I felt my heart hit the back of my mouth: Percy’s face peered in through the window in the door, still rotting and waxy.

"Where’s Ginny?" he called.

The blood was pounding in my ears so hard it hurt, my voice shook as I answered, turning my back to him,

"She’s right here," I called, "Just a second!"

I didn’t lose her–I swear I didn’t lose her.

"Where is she?" he called again, and I heard the handle on the door slowly turn,

"No!" I whirled around to face him and magically locked the door in my panic, "Just hold on a second, she’s–"

But the words were dead before I’d said them as I spied something red swaying vaguely off in the distance behind Percy’s cold shoulder. Every vessel in my body seemed to dilate wider in horror and I prayed that Percy wouldn’t turn around and see it: just beyond the garden wall from a dirty rope hung in the giant elm where we built our treehouse, Ginny swinging.

Percy’s head turned around painfully slow and back again, but his hair had vanished completely and his eyes were red, as he said with this cruel grin pulled taut across his face, until the skin began to split and he bled,

"There she is!"


I screamed until I found myself on a makeshift bed with hoarse lungs in the dark. Someone flicked on the lights and blinded me again as they grabbed my hand and tried to wake me,

"George,"

It was Ginny.

"George!"

She was alive. It was a dream. I took a breath as if the whole time I’d been underwater and I opened my eyes, hugging her fiercely as I began to cry–partly because I was deeply upset, but I don’t think there would have been tears if it weren’t for the bloody lights.

"Shhh..." she wriggled a moment, situated herself, and then settled, running her fingers in comforting circles on my back. I felt a bit absurd, being twenty years old and crying on my baby sister’s shoulder, but then again just a few days ago Percy had died to save me , and just this afternoon I’d given his eulogy: so stranger things than crying had happened.

As the tears began to stop I wondered if Ginny had heard me say her name in my sleep, if that’s why she was here. Because if so, I would be forced to tell her what I’d been avoiding telling anyone for the past four days.

Even if she hadn’t heard me I knew I should tell her–that it was the decent thing to do. Fred told me that afternoon what I’d been guessing since the battle at the Burrow–that Ginny and Harry already had a bit of a history going, and that Harry had been avoiding her all year in desperate hopes of making people believe he had no feelings.

And now, in her distress and his renewed vigor in the mission, she was beginning to believe that she had imagined the entire thing. Fred said she was being ridiculous, but it was the sort of ‘ridiculous’ he used when he was only mostly certain himself. And I held the missing piece of the puzzle, but I didn’t want to share it. When I thought of how guilty I’d been feeling lately, the nightmares I’d been having... I just didn’t want her to have anything to do with it.

I sat up and looked around me: I was camped on the couch in the living room in the only house that had space left for people who’d lost their homes–Harry’s, in Godric’s Hollow. Harry had been making himself scarce around the place for the past few days, but we got the feeling, judging from the neatness, that this was none too unusual.

Ginny was watching me with real concern in her eyes, and I cracked a sheepish smile. "That was embarrassing. You’ve now got official dirt on me for life."

She looked pained, and shook her head. "No, I’d never do that–"

I arched an eyebrow skeptically.

"Are you alright?" she asked, changing the subject a bit.

"Oh well, I will be."

She looked unconvinced.

"I reckon none of us are ‘alright’ at the moment, are we?"

She bit her lip and looked off in thought. "No, I don’t suppose so."

"How are you holding up?" I asked, beginning to feel a titch worried by the troubled expression that was now pervading her features.

"Oh–I’ve been better," she said humbly, wrapping the afghan tighter around her shoulders. She never did beat around the bush much when it came to telling how she felt. There was a long pause in which I grew exponentially more curious. To be honest I was probably looking for a calm, easy place to tell her what I knew I had to eventually, and I wasn’t really that concerned with how she was. Sounds harsh, but it’s just the truth.

"Knut for your thoughts?" I asked casually.

She looked at me. "I was about to ask you the same thing."

This was it, here was my chance...

"I’ll make you a deal: I’ll tell you what I know, if you’ll tell me... what I already know but haven’t had confirmed yet."

She looked at me quizzically.

"What’s the deal with you and Harry?"

She rolled her eyes and groaned, "Oh for the love of sorcery! I’ll just type it up and smack it on a brochure, shall I?"

"If you think it’ll help..."

"We went out in his sixth year, for a couple of weeks, towards the end–we didn’t tell you lot because... well Harry said it was because he didn’t want the letter to be intercepted, but I think he was probably more worried that Hedwig would reach the Burrow safely, if you get my drift..."

I shrugged. "Yeah, well, the guy’s had crazier ideas."

She started to make a sarcastic retort but stopped herself mid-word, "You’re joking, right? I know you like grilling me about my boyfriends and making threatening gestures at them but...you wouldn’t be all vigilante on me if I actually liked the bloke, would you?"

Ginny seemed to realize the implications of her words at the same time I did, but though her face turned a little pink and she looked slightly embarrassed she didn’t backpedal.

"You mean you didn’t like Dean or Mitchell? Despite the fact that you went out with them for months and snogged them in corridors?"

"No!" she said sullenly, "I didn’t use Dean or Michael if that’s what you’re getting at..."

"Okay..."

There was a pause. She looked thoughtfully at a water ring on the coffee table, "But I really did like Harry the whole time, you know."

"No, that’s–news to me."

"Well I did, but pining after him was just getting me down so I decided I wasn’t going to wait around anymore hoping he’d get new glasses and suddenly think I was pretty or something, and so I got a boyfriend. And–I have to tell you–it does wonders for the self-esteem."

"Thanks for the tip. I’ll keep that in mind."

She snickered, "Do."

"But you were saying..."

"I don’t know... It’s just nice, when you’re a hormonal, touchy adolescent to have a— shallow boyfriend to help you deal with all your shallow insecurities because, you know, few people look their best at fifteen." She said this with the tone used when stating the obvious.

"Actually," I said, suddenly feeling very truthful, "You are pretty."

She gave me a pleasant smile that said she was taking the compliment with a grain of salt.

"No really–you might not think so because no one ever says anything about how you look anymore, and everybody used to tell you all the time that you were really beautiful, when you were small, but that’s because back then you were actually really ugly–we felt a bit bad for you," I gave a small pause in case she wanted to hit me, but she didn’t. I sighed,

"But now you’ve grown up, and you’re so pretty–altogether too pretty, and now none of your family would be caught dead saying you look nice because we’re afraid it’ll go to your head, or worse: everyone else’s."

Her eyes widened for a long moment, and then she burst out into the giggles,

"You’re mad," she laughed.

I smiled and shrugged, "Yeah, well, there you have it."

"Was I really homely?" she asked gleefully, clutching at my arm.

"You know that pet name Dad used to call you?"

"What? You mean Ducky?"

"Yeah, well it was actually short for Ugly-"

"-Duckling! No way!" she laughed even harder, throwing her head back against the couch mirthfully. It took her a few moments to settle back down. She scooted up next to me and leaned on my shoulder, "Tell me more." She said happily as we stared across at the cold, darkened hearth as if it were glowing with fire-breathing salamanders.

"Well, what do you want to know?"

"Anything."

"About how ugly you were way back when or about what a hot little item you are right now?"

I felt her cheeks form a smile against my shoulder, "Whichever you have more to say on..."

"Well there’s not much to say about you being ugly–you were well nigh hideous, actually–mostly I guess it was just because you didn’t take very good care of yourself: you were always burnt to a tomato, your hair was long and stringy, you were missing most of your teeth, you sort of looked like you’d been raised by wolves, all told."

"But now..."

" Everyone fancies you."

"What?" she said skeptically, "How would you even know?"

"Well okay, last time we checked, everyone fancied you."

She sat up and gave me a penetrating stare, "Like who?"

"You mean besides the slew that you went out with?"

"No no George–" she said with a small smile, as if I had mispronounced a foreign term, "Not ‘slew’: two ."

"Poh-tay-toe, poh-tah-toe," I drawled emphatically.

She crossed her arms in front of her,"Well fine, who else then?"

"Let’s see, there was of course that little Lee Jordan fiasco, and let’s see... oh! you remember that incident right before the holidays–when Corner and that Zabini kid got into that brawl in the corridor–and Filch had to shoulder-check Corner into the wall?" I stopped to smile a little wistfully at the memory.

Ginny rolled her eyes, "How could I forget?"

"I heard some rather interesting tidbits on the subject just recently: apparently Zabini was jealous and made some lewd remarks about you–"

She made an irritated sound and flopped back against the couch and said incredulously, "Please, that is such a load of piss!"

"Hey- don’t kill the messenger."

"Michael hates Blaise Zabini with a burning passion, and Zabini just loves to see Michael suffer, it had nothing to do with me."

"If you say so..."

"Mm. I do."

"Well fine, but there were more... Harper, Stephen Cornfoot, those two useless pipsqueaks we had for beaters that year, Dennis Creevey"–she made a face at this–"the Hufflepuff keeper, the Slytherin keeper–you know that’s why you were able to score so many times, right? Oh, and, of course: Zacharias Smith."

"WHAT?" Ginny’s eyes looked to be in danger of falling out of her head.

"Oh come on, Ginny–think about it: he hates everyone in the DA, and doesn’t seem all that excited about the cause, and yet he comes to every single meeting? because who was the one spreading the word in his year? He pays you so much attention that you should be able to buy a better broom with it by now, Ginny."

Her mouth hung open. "But I hated him! He hated me!"

I shook my head. "Unless ‘hate’ means ‘is totally and completely whipped for’..."

The poor girl looked at the room around her as if it was coated in moon dust. "I don’t get it, how do you know all this?"

"Come now, we make it our business to know these things."

"No, you make it your business to joke about these things."

"Except where our only little sister is concerned. What kind of brothers would we be if we didn’t keep an eye out? If we didn’t protect our sister’s–"

Ginny's eyes flashed at me. "Finish that sentence, I dare you."

She didn’t scare me.

"Well don’t say you don’t need it," I snapped, suddenly feeling rather uncomfortable.

"I don’t need it."

"Yes you do, Ginny," I said loudly, "You do need it. You can’t just pull off a Bat-Bogey Hex and expect us to believe you can actually take care of yourself when you’re completely stupid about men and how they think."

She sputtered incoherently.

"You’re either oblivious to how people react to you or you’re shite at interpreting it, because you’re always caught completely off guard when you find out someone fancies you, no matter how obvious it might have been, and you don’t ever stop to think about what you’re doing or what message you’re sending."

I was getting more worked up by the minute. "You can’t just go around thinking that just because you’re not planning on taking things too far that blokes aren’t, or that they’ll just back off and respect your wishes once they’ve got you holed up in a broom closet with their tongue down your throat. I don’t know if you do it on purpose but you put yourself out there with this little-spunky-tough-girl attitude and it just makes sickos and perverts want to break you."

There was a furious pause.

"Don’t talk to me about sickos and perverts and breaking little girls," she spat venomously,

The response I fired back was instinctive. "Fine, I’ll talk to you about wild, impulsive, half-mad thirty-six-year-old fugitives, shall I? Or about how you apparently were the one who came onto Sirius Black!"

I couldn’t believe I’d said that. Her face was expressionless. I had once promised myself I’d never think about that night again–never mention it again. She blinked. I couldn’t believe I’d just said that... She blinked some more as her eyes began to grow watery.

"Believe me," I croaked, misinterpreting her tears. "No one wants to forget that night ever happened more than me, but it did, so you can’t look me in the eye and tell me you can take care of yourself."

That's when I noticed she was looking angrier than I’d ever seen her in her life.

"Shut up." She blinked the tears furiously away, "Shut up. Just because you think the worst about people all the time and just because you’re fixated with sex doesn’t mean everyone else is. Believe me, I’m pretty bloody aware of manipulation at this point and that’s not what it was."

"Oh what was it then? Real love?"

"No," she said loudly, "it's a little thing called empathy, ever heard of it?"

I couldn't say anything to this, and I merely sat there as the bitterness in her tone died away.

"I was feeling sad and depressed and so was he, and we just–related. He just understood how I felt, and I understood him, in the weirdest way–it was almost like I’d been there before.”

She gazed almost unseeingly at me for a moment with these wide sorry eyes that, no matter how certain I was that I was right, made it hard to disregard what she was saying. It gave me an odd sensation that cut through to my bones–I had that eerie feeling you get just before something important happens, like tiny springs all through your insides are being coiled by the atmosphere. The watery lonesomeness hardened into a diamond shine and her gaze became a glare.

“And I felt better when the conversation was over, so I kissed him goodnight. I’m not completely sure why I did it, but in retrospect maybe it was just to spite you."

I swallowed, my jaw clenching and unclenching. Sometimes, when you spend your life being unflinchingly trenchant, you forget about certain things–like apologizing, and sometimes it just doesn't occur to me to say I'm sorry. She must have thought that I wasn't listening, because she tried again.

"You can’t stop thinking about me like this eleven-year-old, star-struck little girl, but believe it or not I know I’ve made mistakes and, unlike some people, I’ve put them behind me. You still feel guilty, don’t you? For having ever let it happen in the first place?"

The expression in her voice was softening again.

"I love you, you miserable jerk! I never thought you failed me for a second, but you just keep insisting that I’m not alright, and you need to stop, because it’s ruining everything! You’re just hurting everyone more when you take on all this blame–and it’s made so much worse because you don’t let anyone see it. You just laugh it off, but I can tell, you’ve got this stupid chip on your shoulder, and now you're moping around, thinking you’re the only one who knows that Voldemort’s after me, and that you have to protect me somehow from the truth and the Deatheaters. Don’t you see how ridiculous that is?"


She ran out of steam at last. I stared at her a moment, grappling with this feeling that I was falling apart, and yet nothing was breaking. It was almost relief–like pieces of a person that were sick of being stuck together were just falling away and heading in a new direction.

"Ginny, I–"

"Shh!" she hissed, enveloping me in a hug.

"Please George,” she said quietly. “No matter how positively you look at things right now they totally suck. Please don't make them suck more than they already do."

I smiled a little, still feeling rather confused at what had just happened. It would be a long time before I came to see the truth and began to trust in what Ginny had said, but the slow unraveling of my ball of inner turmoil began that night on the sofa in Harry’s house, and the one thing I knew even then was that tomorrow wouldn’t be so bad as today had been.

I did the only thing that came to mind. I hugged her back, and said "I love you." Just because I do. It wasn't to prove a point or to make up for something I’d said or to explain something I’d done, it was just because I do.






A/N: Well, it's different, what do you think? Please review!

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Chapter 13: An Old Friend Through Quiet Ways

A/N: As always, thank you to all of my reviewers. I don't like extensive author notes that answer questions or justify the story right there on the page itself (it feels a bit like cheating to me), so I respond to individual questions via reviews (usually in a somewhat timely fashion). So please review if you have a question or a comment, or read my responses to other reviews.


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For David,

Who thinks too much.


An Old Friend Through Quiet Ways



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Harry once said, when we were staying up late one night in the common room talking–I dunno, what do you call conversation that isn't small talk? Big talk? That doesn't seem right but you get the idea... Anyway, at some point in the conversation I said he was basically a member of the family and so Ginny might as well have been his sister. He remained pretty expressionless as he told me that Ginny had never exactly been a sister to him, and something that flickered on his face told me he meant what he said, but he hadn't said all that he meant.

“Yeah well, she's never exactly been a sister to me either if it comes to that.”

You'd expect the first girl after six boys to be regarded as something of a princess, and to Bill and Charlie, I'm sure she was. But those of us on the other side of the age gap saw her for what she was: the rowdiest, scrappiest, wildest travesty of a princess imaginable.

Even when she cried it was a battle cry. When she couldn't fight back her tears she fought through them, and when she couldn't fight through them she fought with them: she wielded her pain like a weapon in the psychological war she waged with what seemed like everyone. I couldn't protect her if I wanted to, and most of the time I half-invited third parties to take a crack at her just out of curiosity: I wanted to know where her limit was, where enough became too much–or if she even had such a point.

As such, my tolerance for pushy dames is pretty high, I think, and while most people may not describe Hermione as a vulnerable princess, from the moment we saved her from that troll I couldn't help but feel a greater sense of purpose for myself in being her friend. Sure, she was annoying and controlling, but my words seemed to have an effect on her and she was one of those rare souls who could do with taking it easy more often. Really, she's liable to work herself to death without me.

I revel in our antagonism–I always have, but over the years the feeling has changed some. In the beginning, the first thing that came to mind when I thought of Hermione was she was my enigma: everything about her seemed to be a complete inversion of myself. But somewhere in adolescence the mantra “she's the opposite” began popping up more and more frequently as “she's the opposite sex.

It all revealed itself in seeming flashes. First there was that moment in the girls toilet our first year when I felt she needed me, some time after that was the moment when I decided that I was willing to attend a massive spider convention if it might help catch the monster that attacked her. It wasn't till a few years later that I got to thinking she was the perfect person to take to a ball, followed by the moment when I resented, for the first time, that I wasn't the only one who'd noticed how pretty she was; and then when she sicked those canaries on me a while after that I was suddenly looking at life without her in it and realized the rather achey truth that I needed her badly.

And through all this I kept waiting for that moment when I'd suddenly be really in love with her and she with me and then we'd just... be together. I knew I hadn't already let it pass me by, somehow I knew that jealousy and desire and need, even when put together, aren't quite love. But days and weeks and months slipped away, and the moment didn't come. I started to worry–what if it never happened, what if she ran off with someone else, someone who could tell her for sure that he loved her? I began to feel time with increasing awareness, knowing the amount of effort it took even after you'd fallen in love to build a future with someone. I laugh now, because I was fretting about all this at the ripe old age of eighteen, but at the time eighteen was beginning to feel like thirty.

Then one quiet, drowsy, cloudy day I was fixing myself a sandwich while she read the paper when all of a sudden–without warning–I had loved her for years. In a moment, it seemed, that love was deepened and strengthened patiently over time. Or perhaps I'd been wrong about love and how it came about; maybe it didn't just attack you in turns, one piece at a time. Maybe it slowly came upon you–maybe it quietly, imperceptibly changed your mind, like an old friend who knew you better than you knew yourself. Maybe it was clever like Hermione.

...But see then I get all twisted around when I think about Harry and Ginny, who don't seem to follow any of the same rules regarding this sort of thing. I swear–it takes me about a half an hour of deep concentration to try and put myself in their shoes until I can really see how their relationship came about. Then it takes me another thirty minutes to get back to myself, by the way, so I don't attempt to understand it very often.

Both of them would probably be angry at me for saying it, but they weren't really friends first, not like me and Hermione. I wouldn't think they were right for each other at all, actually, if it weren't for the fact that at the same time they seem to love each other in a way I can't even comprehend. It was weird enough when Ginny couldn't speak in front of him, when she pined for a boy I was convinced she'd never get, just because back then I was twelve and I didn't get the feeling that anyone would ever want to snog anyone else.

But I did know, even then, that there was something about Harry–because no one, no matter what they said or did, had ever been able to get my sister to shut up for any length of time, but all Harry had to do was walk into the room to render Ginny as quiet as a bunny rabbit.

I was neither perceptive nor insightful enough to get it at the time, but I should have realized what this meant about Ginny and her old scrappy self. It meant that at some point she had gotten it into her head that Harry Potter was simply too good, and that talking in his presence or acting herself in any way would only repulse him. It meant that Ginny was far more complicated than I had once believed.

“Isn't it amazing,” Hermione said the day Harry kissed Ginny after the match, “How this all works out?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean that Ginny hid away all her spirit and assertiveness for years, because deep down she thought she was unattractive, and yet no matter how much she tried not to be abrasive in any way, Harry never looked twice at her... until now, when, it turns out, he winds up liking the real her even though she did her best to never let him see it.”

I hadn't thought of it that way, and I'm not exactly sure how she worked all that out, but I believe it.

It's easier for me to understand where Harry's coming from. Or at least, he's a bit more straightforward about it all.

“Bloody hell, she makes me happy, all right!” was the eloquent reply I got when I grilled him on his intentions after I caught them in the middle of something the night of Bill's wedding.

I arched an eyebrow cruelly, because I really didn't believe for a second that he was using her–just enjoyed watching him squirm, “That all?”

He swallowed, casting his eyes about him lamely, “She makes me really happy.”

I strung out another long pause, “Just 'really happy'?”

He gave me a penetrating glare, “Okay, but you remember thirty seconds from now that you asked.”

I should have stopped him right there, but my curiosity had gotten the better of me.

“She's perfect," He blurted, his face going red in a way that was not too sophisticated, but definitely Harry, “I mean, you know, to me."

He gulped, "There's something about her that reminds me of... life, or my real life, in the weirdest way. A lot about me–most of me, really, is sort of tied up with Voldemort. I used to wonder whether I'd have any identity if he ever really died... that freaked me out.”

He stared resolutely at the floor, and though he looked rather uncomfortable he was suppressing a smile and glancing up at me furtively, “But even if he hadn't come back–even if he hadn't picked me in the first place–or even if he'd never been born at all; I have no idea what my life would be like, or what I would be like. But somehow, I get the feeling I'd still love Ginny. Mad, eh?”

Hermione was amazed when I told her that, “It's mind-boggling–it's like their lives are built on each other's or something. But how can that be? Half of Harry's life had been set in motion before he'd even met Ginny, so how did she work her way backwards into his identity like that?”

I love it when Hermione's logic clouds her vision.

I grinned at her, “Magic.”

“Really, Ron, emotions are still fundamentally the same–even in the magical world.”

“Yeah but in neither world are there rules about how much it's possible to love someone.”

“Well yes,” she agreed, “It still doesn't really make any sense to me though...”

But maybe love doesn't pay much attention to the limits of time. Maybe it lives like a tree that seems to shade a certain area, until you try to dig a hole out of its reach and find that the roots are growing faster and farther than you can see. Maybe love digs in even when you try to shut it out, or try to be someone you're not. Maybe love knows how much you underestimate yourself–and maybe it sees the greatness you really are. Maybe it bides its time like an old friend, quietly waiting for you to see it, too.


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Stay tuned, there's more than just an epilogue coming!

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Chapter 14: River Psychology

A/N: As of 9 o'clock (pm) on February 23rd, 2006 I'm all caught up on responding to every review I've EVER gotten! Go ahead, leave another one, especially if you have any questions!

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River Psychology

For my mom,

Cross ventilation, and the high road




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A little under a quarter of a mile down an old path which begins at the woods that form the western edge of our garden is a modest beach where the River Otter lazily bulges out into a sort of half-pond and the current is barely detectable. We called it a river-lake, or simply the Rake, and when we were little we used to all go swimming there. As summer afternoons faded into dusk we'd beg for our turns as Dad invented new and interesting ways to throw us around in the water, or compete for Mum's attention (she generally sat in a chair on the beach and attempted to read) as we showed off our amazing water acrobatics, or played Fish-House, which was really just regular House, except we were fish–and, for some reason, usually on the run from the government. For a couple of summers I remember we went almost every evening, as soon as Dad got home from work, staying past sunset before heading back to the Burrow through the woods in the blue shadowy twilight for a late supper, usually in our swimming suits.

Those were the days when 'bloody' was the worst curse we knew of and the 'S-word' was 'shut up'; when we reckoned Dad was the very height of cool and Bill was weird for not wanting to hang out with him and Mum all the time. Life then bore little resemblance to the one I now live, and I haven't gone down to the Rake in several years.

But I'm here now, in the dusk, as the first sunny day we've seen in weeks draws to a pink and violet, and ultimately indigo close. Crickets sing about the grass growing dewy, fireflies flash through the trees across the water, and all the other little bugs do their best to make me head inside, but finding the river here tonight has been like finding a pulse in the veins of something I was afraid had died.

The earliest memory I have is of this river. Vague and blurry, I've never told anyone about it, and I know I didn't invent it. I can't have been even three years old–it was in the summer, I remember: Mum was wearing a black bathing suit as she stood in the stream with me in her arms. She was singing–what, I don't remember: I can better recall the thudding of her heartbeat as I clung to her and rested my head against her breast. I felt the weightlessness like a dream, frightening and exciting, as she swayed me gently from side to side, humming softly as the water rushed around us.

This river is the original peace, from which it seems like I was born–the earthly pull descending on us as Mum waded in to shore, and the water trickling down our skin, back to the source... This river to me is the river of life, and as far as I'm concerned my life in this world began when she carried me out of that stream.

I've neglected the Rake for so long–even in thought, and when I began down the path this evening I was I half afraid I wouldn't find it–that it would have changed its course and left an empty bed. But it's here, just like I remembered it, only perhaps a bit smaller.

I wonder what would happen to me if I lost this lifeline somehow. Lately I've been feeling like I'm self-contained–like fate is testing me to see how much, like that poor red runner bean you do experiments on when you're a kid to find out what things plants can live without–I'm that etiolated red runner bean, growing in the cracks between rocks.

But I'm still kicking, aren't I? This week–no, this lifetime disguised as a mere seven days, has been rough, needless to say. I'll bet that tomorrow–Monday morning, I'll wake up feeling better. It's going to take more than the death of a brother, a ruined home, and a stubborn boy to keep me down. I roll with the punches.

But tonight there's no need to keep up with the winds of change, or worry that I've taken this spiritual refuge for granted, because it courses past me just the same... no matter what is carried kicking and screaming with it. This river can give and it take away, and I can also remember a time when I felt this darker side to running water.

I was perhaps about five this time, I was wading in the Rake in the morning sun, looking for gold and mussel shells (having much better luck with the latter) with a pasta strainer I'd stolen from the kitchen, when a snail caught my attention, and then scuttled away somehow. I splashed after it, distracted, and let go of the strainer.

Soon it was too deep and I was too short to be able to touch the bottom with my hands without bobbing away a bit. I stood up and turned back just in time to see the strainer become dislodged from the sand and begin to drift away with the slow, gentle current. I sloshed after it, but was impeded by the water, and so I dove forward and began swimming after it. I remember thinking that I wasn't supposed to be out this deep when Mum and Dad weren't there, but I also wasn't supposed to loose Mum's pasta strainer to the river, and I decided that I'd rather just grab it and then head inside.

So I grabbed the strainer, but had more difficulty enacting the second part of my plan. I was now several feet beyond the point where I could touch, and I was quickly drifting to the other end of the Rake as the current seemed to speed up. I began swimming franticly back towards the beach, but it didn't seem to be getting any closer. I screamed then, hoping against hope that Dad and Charlie were still playing Quidditch in the paddock and could hear me calling their names.

“DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD!”

I yelled with the cadence of an alarm clock, not pausing to listen as the shore grew smaller and I began to round the bend downstream. I kicked harder, as water splashed up around my face and smothered my shouts, and I began to cry, wondering why the adrenaline wasn't enough. I thought I heard a crack somewhere, but no one appeared at the end of the path, and I stopped trying to get their attention, believing it to be in vain and now devoting all my energy to getting back.

But it was no use, for the current had now rapidly picked up speed and I had rounded the bend entirely. I sobbed harder, now feeling with a useless racing in my heart that I just might die today. It was that that allowed the river to get me down. A large wave threw itself in my face and I coughed and spluttered, my head burning as my nose was waterlogged. And then I heard the sound of my father's voice.

“Turn around, Ginny.”

He was on the riverbanks, yards beyond me and was shouting to me, but I remember his words as if angels had whispered them in my ears.

“Ginny, turn around.”

I did as he said, now resigning myself to face the hostile fate that awaited me downstream. But I could see him then, wading out into the river as I quickly floated towards him.

“Now swim towards me!”

I began pumping my legs and waving my arms furiously as I swam to the source of the voice, but soon I found myself battling the current again as it carried me past him. I had almost begun to despair when there was another loud CRACK! and Dad appeared several more yards beyond me and told me once again to swim towards him. This went on three more times before I reached the shore, and when I clambered onto warm, solid–mercifully solid sand I began to cry in earnest.

“Now now,” said Dad benevolently, scooping me off of the ground after a moment and brushing the sand from my bottom and muttering a drying spell on his jeans, which were soaked up to mid-thigh (my rather sensitive skin, however, reacted badly to drying spells, and so I was unfortunately in for a wet journey home).

“Don't cry, don't cry, we'll just head back to the Burrow and have some soup and you'll be as good as new in no time.”

He pushed his way through the thicket of trees to the road which wended its way along the river, carrying me over his shoulder like a cold, wet sack of highly distraught potatoes. He set me down then, and at the simple sensation of the warm, gravely, sunbaked road on my clammy feet I felt a little better. We walked in silence then for a long time, as he stared out ahead with a thoughtful glimmer in his eyes while I hopped along beside him, determinedly dodging the cracks in the asphalt–a customary compulsion.

“So Ginny,” he said at last, “What have we learned today?”

I didn't know just how to answer him, uncertain as to which of my lapses in judgment that morning had been the most wearisome. Was it going down to the Rake by myself? Or taking Mum's pasta strainer? –Which, remarkably enough, I had managed to hang onto throughout, and was now wearing over my head like a helmet. Was it going after the snail, or going after the strainer? Or was it letting go of the strainer in the first place?

“I don't know,” I said, jumping awkwardly over a large network of cracks in the road, causing the metal bowl swivel around on my head–a peculiar sensation, “I'm sorry I took the strainer.” I added quietly.

“Ginny dear,” he reprimanded mildly, “Your safety is far more important than a kitchen utensil. No, what's the most important thing you learned today?”

“...I should have asked Mum before taking it?” I tried, still hung up on the strainer as I took a very large step and picked up my back foot with difficulty.

“If you ever find yourself adrift in the river...” he prompted, “What should you do?”

“Never go to the river without your Mum or Dad!” I piped. He shook his head.

“You already knew that,” he said, a tiny hint of reproach in his voice. He stopped and turned to me, “What you learned today is something much more important than that–I want you to remember it always, do you understand?"

I nodded, a gesture that was exaggerated by the strainer on my head, wobbling up and down as if in fevered agreement.

“If you ever find yourself in the river again, you face down stream. Never mind where it takes you, always swim with the current, never against it.”

I tucked it away in my mental file labeled “Things That Are (Apparently) Very Important,” so it could join such other thoughts as “take the high road,” and “it takes two open windows to tempt a breeze,” and, most prominently, “roll with the punches.”

I understood what he meant, but the advice seemed flat and strangely overstated: wouldn't “don't fall in the river” have been a more efficient motto for the whole ordeal?

“The river is much stronger than you.” He said then, turning back and staring out ahead of him as he began walking, taking naturally deep strides as I kept up with him in leaps and bounds, “You can't necessarily do what's most obvious.” He tapped the side of his head sagely, “You've got to use River Psychology.”

“What's that?” I asked, sidestepping a small patch in the asphalt.

“It's a sort of mind trick that Muggles use,” he said with a dignified fondness that would one day remind me a bit of Percy when he talked about study habits, “It's the art of changing your approach to a problem so that the more difficult it becomes the better it all works out for you in the end.”

I scratched my strainer in confusion, holding it to my head as I squinted up at him.

“A river will go the way it pleases, no matter who you are or where you were lost from.”

I nodded. We crossed a bridge that was familiar to me, and soon I recognized the road as being one that would eventually bring us home.

“Sometimes life's like that, too. Fate, or luck, or sometimes the people in control will be heading in one direction, and instead of fighting against them to try to get your way, you have to settle your expectations a bit. You have to decide which side your principles are on, and you have make your way closer to that side always, no matter what specific opportunities have passed you mustn't look back or you'll be dragged down under. That's why they call it River Psychology.”

I didn't get it, and I expressed as much, which seemed to make him realize that a few more years would have to wait before I would understand the nuances of his analogy, so he merely smiled,

“No matter–the bottom line is the same thing.” He stopped and picked the strainer up to get a better look at me with his affectionate eyes, “Just choose a side, Ducky,” he kissed the top of my head, “and go with the flow.”


Nearly ten years would pass, before a change in me triggered a great unfolding of my self and my abilities, during which I would begin to consciously understand the significance of all those things I tucked away in that file.

I sat in the Great Hall one early evening in December, eating dinner mechanically as I brooded about the cruel irony of agreeing to go to the ball with Neville on the one instance in all of eternity in which I had a real shot at getting Harry to look twice at me.

It was an hour of lead–in which I really hated life and denounced the whole thing as cruel and needlessly bent against me. I looked miserably across the table at Neville–the embodiment of the gray, joyless future now stretching out before me. I just knew I was going to wind up marrying him, staying at home all day and making babies that would be named after ugly plants. Just then he glanced up at me, too, and grinned bashfully, turning a happy shade of red. And I smiled back, not being desperate enough yet to let him know that I loathed and resented him and all that he represented.

Later that evening I caught up with Hermione and informed her in a neutral tone of voice that Neville, upon being rejected by his first choice, had asked me to go with him “just as friends” and that I had agreed unthinkingly, right before turning down the opportunity to go with Harry because I had, as mentioned, already made plans to spend the night having my feet trampled.

“Oh, that's infuriating!” she moaned sympathetically, rolling her eyes and wearing the same despairing expression I did whenever I imitated her. It set me off. My hackles rose around my sense of self as pride reared up and indignantly shook her gloomy perspective off of my back.

“What's infuriating?” I asked convincingly.

“Your luck of course,” she sighed, as though I had dazed off and forgotten what we were talking about, “To think! You finally get a real chance to get Harry's attention and you have to spend the night with Neville!” she rolled her eyes with a disdainful half-smile, missing entirely the look of determined incomprehension I was fixing her with, “Things just don't seem to be going your way, do they?”

“What are you on about?” I laughed, cramming as much emphasis as was believable into the action, “This is my way.”

She cocked her head curiously.

“I'm going to the ball!” I said, beginning to get caught up in the act,

“But what about Harry?”

Ah yes. Harry. There was the rub. I knew even I couldn't pull off pretending to be ignorant of the feelings, or at least the painful history of feelings therein, so I simply decided that this had been part of my plans from the start. I improvised.

“Well I wouldn't want to go to ball with him now,” I said obviously, “How boring would that be? If Harry's going to fall desperately in love and spend the rest of his life happily to me I'd rather like to get around first a bit, if you know what I mean...”

I waggled my eyebrows suggestively, but Hermione still didn't seem convinced that, of all the possible ways the situation could have gone, this was really mine.

“Ginny,” she said seriously, realizing that I must be somehow suppressing my painful feelings of rejection and she placed a kindly hand on my arm, “What are you doing?”

I set my hands on my defiant hips and stuck out my lip, blowing my hair out of my eyes, and I said proudly,

“Rolling with the punches.”

She dropped her hand from my arm and looked confused. I smiled at her and patted her on the back, “It's all River Psychology, friend.”

Actually, I use it quite a lot Hermione–it's saved our friendship on a number of occasions. She's the girl who's stolen my favorite brother's heart, and she's the best friend of the boy I love, and no matter how secure I am in my place in the universe, sometimes I get sucked up in that dangerous jealousy vacuum and I'm afraid I hate her. I don't want to hate her–it's bad for my pride. But sometimes the three of them get to talking and I'm reminded that the world is grateful for the Harry, the Ron, and the Holy Hermione and I feel ten years old again, like an afterthought or a small matter of interest. And in those times River Psychology is all I've got: pretending I don't even like him is all I've got.

I remember the day they left me behind: she stood in the hallway outside my bedroom that morning, desperately trying to apologize for keeping me in the dark like this–she told me it was killing her that I wasn't allowed to know what they were doing, and that she'd explain it all one day, when it was over. Without even knowing, she was doing it again.

“Or don't.” I said evenly.

Hermione was taken aback.

“Just do what you need to do,” I said with a small, natural smile, “And I'll do the same.”

She was more convinced this time than when I tried to convince her I was happy with my Yule Ball date, and I noticed rather smugly that she looked quite impressed. I pulled her in for a hug and said, “I'll see you around.”

~*~

Tonks and I watched them go from the window seat at the Burrow, both feeling rather dewy but neither of us actually crying.

“Are you okay?” she asked after a while.

“Well that all depends.” I said.

“On what?”

“On me. And what happens to me.”

“Anything I can do?”

I thought for a moment, considering my options. I didn't care if he did it to protect me: I hated Harry for what he'd done. And that's the part that made me want to cry–I didn't ever want to hate him. He's Harry, for the love of magic! Please don't make me hate him...

It was then that I remembered about River Psychology. I looked away from the fog my breath had left on the pane and fixed her with a proud, pleading gaze.

“Let me go with you.”

She made a throaty noise between disbelief and discomforted amusement, “What, let you join the Order?”

I nodded, begging her silently to understand that there was nothing left for me to do: to understand that when you were loathe to be left behind and too proud to follow where you weren't wanted, the only thing for it was to turn around and swim in the opposite direction like it was what you'd wanted all along.

“I can't.” She said, “You're only sixteen, your Mum would–“

“Then help me do it behind her back.”

Tonks looked extremely uncomfortable. On the one hand, we were close friends and she wanted to empower me... on the other hand, Mum had been so supportive of her all last year... on the other hand, it was doing things for the Order than had kept her from staying in bed every day for the last year and brooding about Remus... I was just beginning to think I might be getting somewhere when I heard a voice from the doorway.

“Behind whose back?”

It was Mum. I kept my horrible cringe of despair inside: if there was one thing that had always tripped up the twins it was that they acted guilty before they'd been caught.

“Hermione's.” I answered instinctively. She was unfooled.

“So you want to join the Order...” she said slowly, in an even voice that seemed to have to have the potential to turn really scary really quickly.

I didn't say anything, and avoided her eyes.

“Do you want to join the Order, Ginny?”

...No sense lying at this point.

“Yes.”

“I'm not going to ask you if you know how dangerous it is...” she began. I cut in,

“I don't want to upset you, you know,” I said sharply.

“Good, because that would certainly be a foolish reason to put yourself in danger.”

I kept waiting for the metaphorical roof to cave in, there was no way I wouldn't be in deep trouble for this–conspiring to deceive my mother and put myself out in the thick of the battle, but thus far this was not the conversation I had anticipated.

“Well I'm not in charge of the Order,” she said. I looked up at her in disbelief, “So you'll have to ask your father and Remus if it's all right.”

Tonks looked more shocked even than I did, and she jumped to her feet and pulled her wand out immediately, pointing it at Mum.

“Who are you and what have you done with Molly Weasley?” She demanded.

Mum gave a small smile, “I take it you're remembering my hesitance to let Fred and George involve themselves even when they were of age.”

I snorted, “I think we will all forever remember your–hesitance, did you call it?”

She smiled sadly as she crossed the room and took a seat beside me in the spot Tonks had vacated. She placed a hand absently on my foot as she gazed out the window,

“Oh, my boys,” she said softly, “My Fred and George. My Frederic Fabian... and my George Gideon.”

With the walls in the chambers of my heart seeming to close in I began to understand. I didn't know what to say. I had never lost a brother. I could only imagine how horrible...

“Gideon, Fabian... and Bilius.” She turned and looked at me, “We called your brothers after them to remind us of who those wonderful people were in life. We didn't mean to one day be so haunted by their names.”

I nodded, trying to tell her without words that it was all right, and that she didn't need to explain anything anymore, begging her not to say another word. I didn't want to hear her voice what she was thinking, because I was thinking it, too, and it scared me.

“But they have to do what they will, and I have to roll with the punches," her grief seemed buried beyond the reaches of tears, until she said, in a voice that was quickly becoming overwhelmed with a sort of growing-pain that seemed to live and breathe, "But for you, Ginny..." her sentence faltered, and quickly fell upon a sob, "I know what it's like when your brothers leave you behind!”

Her whole body quaked as I pulled her into a hug, and there she cried on my shoulder, until she could say, with a bit more composure, “And I also know what it's like–to wonder, every day for the rest of your life, if maybe you could have somehow been there to help them then, then they might be here to help you now.”

Her tears were renewed, though not in such torrential quantities, and I strummed my nails in comforting circles on her back, as she had always done for me, until the storm subsided. She pulled away for a moment then, and looked at me with what can only be described as a hard, blazing–if very watery–expression, “You go get 'em, Ducky,” she sniffed with a tearful, sappy smile as she borrowed Dad's pet name, “Show them what you can do. Knock their socks off.”

A pitiful howl was ripped from my insides as my eyes welled up, and we collapsed against each other and cried, half in power and half in pain. A sniffle from a few feet away reminded me that someone else was in the room, and I held an arm open from the hug, “Come on Tonks, you know what this is all about!”

And then we were three.



~*~

All of this brings me very far away from the river, where I'm standing now, almost a year from when I joined the Order. I don't how to come full circle again. What does the river have to do with anything? Nothing. ...Or maybe everything. What does the blood that beats in your veins have to do with anything? Everything, and yet nothing. How can something that feels so vital have so little to do with all that matters to me now?

I bet it's just not time for the ends to meet yet. I bet I've got a lot of story left to tell. I bet tomorrow is going to be sunny, too.






Ain't too proud to beg... Pleeeease review

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Chapter 15: Let These Be Your Desires

A/N: Major fluff alert. And fluff isn't my strong suit. I would have let Harry tell this part of the story himself–in first person, but he's an unusually bad storyteller, and now I know why Jo wrote it the way she did. And forgive me my somewhat flippant treatment of the Voldemort issue--I just didn't want to make you all suffer mediocre plot-specifics.

And the intentionally cheesy love song was written, sadly enough, by me–for the sole purpose of being thorough in my telling of the story. The actual tune of it is perhaps best described as a cross between Bob Dylan's “Just Like a Woman,” and the Righteous Bros “Unchained Melody,” and feel free to ignore it, because Harry and Ginny certainly are. Without further ado, I hope you all enjoy this enormous box of angstychip fluff-cookies!


~*~
For all the readers

Who reviewed on my last birthday

In hopes that they're still here this year.


Let These Be Your Desires

~*~




Harry Potter rolled over for the millionth time that night to squint at the time on the clock by his bedside. It was three o'clock in the morning.

“Why am I still awake?” he groaned, banging his head lightly on the night table. Was it because Ron was snoring so bloody loudly? Probably not, because he'd shared a room with Ron most nights of his life for the past seven years. Was it... the pillow, which felt like cloth-covered clay? Maybe. He punched it. It hurt. Resigning himself to a sleepless night, he sat up on the edge of his bed and tried to find something to do with himself.

He tried to think constructive thoughts–about Voldemort and the how he could no longer avoid confronting him, now that all of the Horcruxes had been destroyed, but it was like waking up in the middle of the night to do homework. Maybe Hermione could do it but he certainly couldn't. So instead his thoughts strayed to all the places he'd rather be, and he didn't get any further than Ginny Weasley.

It had been almost a year now since they'd said goodbye. In which time he had dutifully hunted down all the pieces of Voldemort's soul, except of course the last one–which simply wouldn't sit still what with all its plans for world domination. He had no idea what exactly Ginny had been up to–he hoped she was staying safe, but honestly doubted it. He knew of course that she had lost a brother–indirectly because of her connection with Harry, but Ron had already sat him down and told him none of the Weasleys blamed his feelings for Ginny for the death of Percy. He accepted this–they didn't have time to argue about it anyway.

Ginny had also become an aunt: Fleur had given birth to a baby boy named Max in March, who was, as the midwitch dryly declared, “one of the biggest, healthiest babies ever delivered at seven months.”

He had gotten to see Ginny in the hospital–even gotten to touch her as she had fallen asleep on his shoulder in the waiting room. The next few days, however, had been painful, as he watched her cooing and holding a baby while being overly friendly, it seemed, to everyone but him.

Not that he normally allowed himself to think of these things. Every heavenly day he had spent being anything more than a friend to Ginny was held apart from anything else he had ever experienced, with the possible exception of flying, locked away in a special vault in his mind and taken out only in those twilight hours between sleeping and waking. He had less than a month of memories with her to last him an indefinite amount of time–and yet within those four weeks the possibilities were infinite: twenty-five little days to build his dreams on–like twenty-five little letters to write every story ever told. (...X really isn't that necessary if you think about it.)

He got up from the side of his bed and allowed himself to walk over to the writing desk where his precious Pensieve sat hidden beneath his Invisibility Cloak. Sometimes, perhaps only once or twice actually, when he couldn't get to sleep, he'd bring out the Pensieve and empty out a long thread of some of the best memories of her, and then sink into the stone basin and watch what was in his opinion the most brilliant movie ever, soft porn or not, and sometimes, Harry had found to his delight, if he concentrated hard enough on the memory while viewing it, he could put himself back in the body in which he had lived out the instance in the first place. In any case, tonight was to be one of those nights.

Harry pressed the tip of his wand to his head and concentrated hard on a supernova of things that exploded in his mind when he thought of Ginny, and pulled his wand away from his temple, pulling out a long, thick plait of memories that was thicker than usual.

Most of them were just particularly brilliant snogging sessions, really, but a couple of them had some particular emotional significance. There was of course their first kiss after the Quidditch Final, and the long walk that followed, but his favorite took place one sunny day with a picnic basket by the lake.

It started out like anything good does, with Harry's tongue in Ginny's mouth as they leaned back on the blanket. But about five minutes in, a voice startled them.

“Hello Harry, is that Ginny under you?”

They leapt apart at once to find that it was Luna, much to Harry's mingled annoyance and relief–they’d kind of been in the middle of something, but at least it wasn’t Ron or a Professor.

“Hi Luna,” said Ginny, looking rather flushed and sounding overly cheery as she hastily straightened and tugged her shirt down, “Nice day, isn’t it?”

Luna looked dreamily around her. “Yes. It is,” she turned back to Ginny, “I came to see if you wanted to review switching spells–“

Ginny swore and clutched her hands to her head, “Oh Luna–I’m so sorry! I completely forgot!”

Luna smiled. “That’s alright, we can do it another day–I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t been kidnapped by one of the Minister’s secret agents.”

Harry squinted up at her, tilting his head just slightly so that she blocked out the sun. “Why would the minister want to kidnap Ginny?”

“He doesn’t want you dating anyone I suspect,” said Luna calmly, “Of course he knows they need you on their side to help them go after the goblins more aggressively once you’ve defeated You-Know-Who, and Ginny here might convince you to retire and settle down with her for a more peaceful life with children and Furbies and such.”

She suggested all this in the same tone she used to discuss things like Stubby Boardman and the Rotfang Conspiracy, but with a sideways glance at Ginny Harry realized that her theory almost had a point.

Ginny laughed weakly, “How ridiculous.”

Luna frowned a bit. “That’s unlike you Ginny–you’re usually more supportive of my ideas. Bread stick?”

Harry only just noticed the food in her hand as she held the napkin out in offering.

“Oh–we’re good,” said Ginny, indicating vaguely at the picnic basket.

Luna just smiled more brightly. “Well that’s good. Would you like a bread stick?”

Ginny coughed and Harry said, “No, thank you–we’re all set for lunch.”

“Oh. Alright then. I’ll see you later then, Ginny. Goodbye Harry.”

They watched her glide away from them, and winced mutually when she tripped and almost fell off the path.

“She’s alright,” Harry said at last, doing his best to be noncommittal, wondering if Ginny would mention the awkward conversation.

“Yeah.”

He looked at her, deciding that it had most certainly affected her, but that she didn’t feel able to bring it up herself, and cleared his throat,

“I think I’ve heard crazier things from her before, though.”

She glanced at him.

“What? Oh–don't get her started on the Furbies, she's convinced that they've invaded the Muggle world and are disguising themselves as normal children's' toys with batteries or something–”

He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer to him and giving his lips access to her neck now that they were alone again.

“I think she's got a point. I think I might like shacking up somewhere with you–“

She tilted her head up questioningly.

“And the Furbies?”

“Furbies aren't real...

Ginny grinned, and he kissed her.

A few blissful minutes later, she managed to convince him that they had to eat something, if only because she was so proud of her foresight in remembering to get a picnic basket from the kitchens, so he rather reluctantly let go of her and they began rummaging under the napkin.

“Are you just eating that bread with honey?” he asked after a few moments as she managed to fit the cap back onto the bottle of honey with her one free hand.

“Yeah,” she chirped, “Why? Have you never had that?”

“No–I can't say I have.”

“Try it–it's really good.”

He waved it off. “S'okay... I'm not a big fan of honey.”

She looked incredulous. “You don't like honey?”

“Yeah,” he said scratching his head, “I dunno–just tastes a bit too...”

“A bit too...?” Ginny was now practically snogging her slice of bread and Harry got a bit distracted by the way she was licking her fingers.

He gulped. “Buggy.”

There was a split-second pause before she broke into peels of laughter. He smiled a little nervously, not quite understanding what was so funny.

“Oh Harry–” she said after a few moments, still giggling, getting to her knees and crawling towards him on the blanket, “You are the only poor bloke I've ever met who could eat something like honey and taste the bees!”

He couldn't see what was so wonderful about that–what could warrant the adoring way she was looking at him, but he wasn't about to complain.

“Ah well, you know me–” he said with false modesty, “I like to have the worst possible experience with everything wherever I can manage it...”

He trailed off, as Ginny had now straddled his lap, staring into his eyes in a way that made him the happiest kind of nervous and caused a considerable migration of blood cells further south. Her hands were on the sides of his face–her fingers carefully smoothed away the hair from his forehead, as she pressed two reverent lips to his scar. One day Harry would be filled with regret when he thought of that moment, and he would wish that he had told her then that she made him want very badly to survive–that she made him happier than he could ever remember being in his life.

But he didn't say anything–maybe he would have, but at that moment he felt something cool and sticky on the side of his head.

“Oh no!” Ginny drew back sharply, barely smothering a laugh as she realized that she was still holding a honeyed crust of bread in the hand she had plastered to the side of his head. “I'm so sorry, Harry–you have honey on your ear... and in your hair!”

She chucked the bread, looking dismayed with herself as she gave him a small, sorry little smile. Harry assumed that she would Scourgify his hair for him, but as a wicked Fred-and-George-like grin spread on her face she seemed to have been struck with a better idea. She moved in boldly and, after only a second of hesitation, drew his earlobe between her lips and gently sucked the honey from it. Harry's trousers now felt uncomfortably restricting as Ginny began cleaning off the rest of the honey with her tongue, and the wispy sensation of her breath in his ear caused a powerful jolt throughout his body.

...And from about there on out it was really just a particularly brilliant snogging session...

Several more memories later, Harry was beginning to forget why he had left her behind at all, which made him almost want to turn back and go to bed when he reached the memory at the very bottom of the basin–it was the one he had left safely ensconced in the Pensieve the last time he had recalled it, because it was simply too much–too sweet–too painful, to keep in his head. And though he knew that watching this could not be easy, he couldn't stop himself from sinking into that scorching day in August.

It was Bill and Fleur's wedding, though neither them nor any of the Weasleys could be seen. In fact, the kitchen in the Burrow appeared completely empty, but Harry was only too aware that he and Ginny were both present, hidden by the Invisibility Cloak in a moment stolen from his 'last golden day with Ron and Hermione'. Without even trying to, Harry was sucked into the original perspective, and he felt Ginny in his arms once again.

They stood alone in the dying rays, visible only to one another as they swayed beneath the Invisibility Cloak to the music that floated into the kitchen through the open windows.

Burn me... with your touch

Mark me... with your love


The old black wizard singing on the dais in the garden had a rough, velvety voice that expressed a sorrow that was not present in the words themselves. His hair, as could be seen even from the kitchen, was streaked liberally with white and gray, and he sang like he'd had a life rather like Harry's: littered with loss and uncertainty.

And claim me... claim me with your kiss

Harry looked around him as the peaceful world of the Burrow seemed to be going down in flames. This last golden day was fading, and he knew that he'd be underground when the sun rose again, as the fighting and violence would resume.

The stars, are peeking out above

And you're all I've been dreaming of...


He held her tighter, his arm chaffing on the rough gold fabric of her dress, but they were already standing as close as could be and it wasn't enough.

For I love you much too much

She whimpered in discomfort.

“I hate this dress!” she fumed under her breath.

Oh I hunger for your touch...

"Take it off."

For a moment Harry was certain that he would heartily deserve the smack on the head he was about to receive, but his eyes widened as he recognized the expression on her face as the one she wore whenever she was contemplating something scandalous. His blood began to race as she reached behind her and slowly unzipped the back of her dress, her eyes never leaving his, though there was something almost frightened in her expression as she whispered, “No one can see me anyway, right?”

So won't you burn me–mark me with your love.

He swallowed what felt like a walnut and nodded mutely and almost choked on his own tongue a moment later as a lacy black bra and panties were revealed. He hadn't been expecting that–not that he had any idea what he had expected, but he nodded, red-faced and said in a strangled voice,

“Very nice. Classy.”

This was true: aroused as he was, Ginny was actually slightly more covered than she would be in an average bikini. She giggled, which alleviated some of the tension.

“I'm glad you approve.”

Burn me with your touch...

Mark me with your love...


Unable to restrain himself any longer pulled her to him and kissed her, and any reservations about how far this ought to go were pushed from his mind as she leaned up into him, her fingers unbuttoning his shirt as her hands sought the skin on his chest.

And claim me... claim me with yo-our kiss!

He felt as well as heard the mellow, humid pangs of the guitar as the tortured refrain came sobbing from the band on the breast of the evening air. The heat was incredible. Even the bare white walls, when lit by the yellow-orange sunlight, seemed to gleam with perspiration. The sun melting lower through the western windows set every sunset-varnished surface in the sweltering kitchen aglow, like the smoldering remains as a fire died–and the brightest of these embers Harry now clutched in his hands and threaded through his fingers, as if it made him the richest man alive.

Charms, my love, can't enchant me like this,

He pulled her closer still, kissed her harder still, as she stood on her toes and he wished desperately that she could simply crawl inside him–protected by his own skin and he could have her everywhere he went.

Potions... can't se-duce-me-like-thi-is!

She seemed to want this too, because a moment later she had hooked her legs around his hips and he became the only thing she was touching–he wasn't even sharing her with the creaky wooden floor. He knew how absurd this must look–how very dead he would be if any of her brothers found him here in the kitchen, shirt undone with their nearly naked baby sister wrapped indecently around his hips as he held her bum in his hands. But it just wasn't worth it to put her down. He buried his face in the crook of her neck as his lips sought their favorite place: just behind her ear where her hair was like down–softer and finer than the gleaming curtain that was visible to the everyone else. She was all sweaty now, though–both of them were, and Harry really didn't care, because this was the closest he had ever been to another human being.

Oh my love I'll remember,

Through the darkest December


...A liquid bead caught his attention as it slipped down his spine, and he wondered whether it was a trickle of sweat from his hair or a tear from her eye. He shivered in the blistering heat, and suddenly knew that he would feel very cold when they were wrenched from their hiding place and this last magic moment was ended.

You claimed me–you claimed me with a ki-iss!

The old man and the harmonica wailed from out the window, and as the last few bars of the song rang out, Harry felt like crying with him. He readjusted his hold on her as a desperate, lovestruck little boy in him begged for the song to play just a little bit longer.

"One more second..." he pleaded silently, "One more second, one more second, one more second..."

But it ended at last and Harry felt himself being hurled brutally out of the Penseive and back to the room at the Leaky Cauldron where he soon collapsed, trembling and gasping for breath, into the chair at the desk. He felt like he was sobbing, and though his hands shook uncontrollably while blood beat so hard in his veins he could almost taste it, and though each breath scratched painfully at his moistureless throat, his eyes remained clear and unperturbed and he did not cry.

After several moments in which he had calmed down, Harry heard a rather loud clatter and voices echoing up from downstairs. These days ever-wary, he grabbed his wand and cautiously opened the door into the hallway, looking up and down it before heading towards the source of the commotion. He met Ron, who was coming up from the bar, at the top of the stairs.

“Is someone here?” he asked.

“I was just coming up to tell you–Lupin or someone must have reckoned we'd be here tonight, some of the Order's here and–”

Harry held up a hand to silence Ron as a familiar laugh could be heard from the dining room below.

“Why's Tonks pretending to be Ginny?” He muttered, pushing past Ron and shuffling down the stairs, trying not to know full well who would be waiting for him at the bottom.

Several smiling faces greeted him, and Harry made sure to notice who they all were and begin to greet them before turning his eyes to the witch standing in front of him.

“Ginny–what are you doing here?”

She laughed, “Well it's good to see you too, Harry.”

She came up and hugged him then–like he was another brother of hers, and it made him rather uncomfortable that she was so comfortable about it. Harry glared around for someone to blame, and not finding anyone, grabbed Ginny's arm and dragged her off into the hall as soon as propriety would allow.

“What are you doing here?” he hissed.

“I'm a member of the Order.” She said, as if it wouldn't surprise him.

He stopped. Of course he'd known, on some level, that she wasn't just sitting at home, but that didn't mean he couldn't be a little scared by that, did it?

"Well good," he said, not meaning to sound so snide, "I'm really glad I broke up with you for your protection then."

"What, are you going to yell and me and tell me to go home, or better yet, why not just give me some rations and chuck me into your vault at Gringotts?" She was glaring at him in a way that caused him pain.

"Ginny I didn't mean it like that..."

"Well then what did you mean?"

Harry buried his face in his hands. What did he mean? But Ginny was too impatient to wait for him to find out.

"Okay Harry, let's make something clear here–contrary to popular belief, this isn't just about you.”

Harry had the distinct impression that Ginny had been practicing this conversation in her head with an imaginary Harry by herself for quite some time, and he found himself wanting to know what had been on her mind for the past year.

“This is about defeating Voldemort, and while you just happen to be heavily involved it doesn't mean you're the only one involved–I'm here because I'm my own person with my own ideas and you can't tell me what to do.” She took a quick break for more air, “And since we've parted ways you've forfeited your privileges to make even small suggestions so just stop it!”

There was a rather heavy silence as Harry felt his need to prove that he respected her as a person overwhelmed by something terrifying in what she'd just said.

“We've parted ways?” he asked blankly, unable to resist an awful, wounded expression.

“Yes, Harry, we've parted ways,” she raked two frustrated hands through her hair, “Hence all the crying–remember?”

“What do you mean 'we've parted ways' ?” he sputtered, “What are we, Fudge and Dumbledore?”

“That's what happens when you go away,” said Ginny loudly, emotion breaking in her voice for the first time, “We part!”

“Well I was coming back!” he shouted. She had to know how he felt–Ginny had always known how he felt. She had to be able to see that he didn't think for a minute that she wasn't as capable as he and Ron and Hermione, "And I wouldn't have done if I didn't think you'd be alright without me!"

“Well that's too bad because you can't go back, Harry,” she said, sounding as though she was still trying to talk to a hypothetical Harry when the conversation had changed gears too quickly, “You left and we went our separate ways and I don't care what but you can't change what's happened!”

She was casting about her now, looking for more things to say as she avoided his burning stare. If he thought for a moment that she meant what she said he would have had to let it be for the sake of his pride. But it was simple, and plain to see that Ginny had just spent too long trying to figure what she'd do with herself if it turned out that she meant nothing to him.

“You can't go back,” she repeated meaninglessly.

“Yeah? Watch me.” He closed the gap between them and kissed her–at first it was hard and blazing, with a lot of pent up passion and frustration, and then softer, with reverence, and longing. And he read her emotions as though there were flashing cue cards across her chest: at first she was simply shocked, then for a moment she was happy, and then for a split-second she was confused, before she broke it off and pushed him away.

“No–Harry.” She was breathing heavily, “You can't–we can't. It's been too long–you're here, and I'm–”

“Also here?” suggested Harry, bewildered and at a loss as to why she was still resisting, “Name one specific reason why you don't want this, Ginny.”

Ginny stuttered for a few moments before crying, “Well it's not about us and the specifics–no, Harry, I have to be my own person, I have to know that I can live without you, or I can't live with myself. I know it seems right, but I can't just be yours to have or not have whenever you feel like it.”

“Do you think for a minute that I actually felt like leaving you?”

“I know about the incredible circumstances, but those don't matter either! It's not that the feelings are just gone, but I have to look at the big picture, and be my own person... and so do you, for that matter.”

“Well look bigger then!” said Harry, “Because in the biggest picture my own person loves your own person and that's all there is to it.”

And with that he leaned in and kissed her again. And again she pulled away a moment later, and for one wild second he thought she might slap him, but instead she smiled and started to cry as she said, “And my own person loves your own person back!”

~*~

“It's late.” Said Ginny, many heated minutes later, as they watched the sky slowly turn lighter through the windows in the Leaky Cauldron. Whether fortunately or not, they had been unable to leave the dining room for someplace with a bed, because Harry was sharing his room with Ron, and Ginny was sharing one with Hestia Jones.
“Yeah; it's a good thing we got this sorted out now,” said Harry, “In case Voldemort pops in here bright and early tomorrow to quiz me on the status of my relationship with you.”

Ginny giggled, “Your intentions, more like.”

“Nah, you've got six older brothers, you really don't need an evil overlord.”

“Agreed.”

In one giant and not-so-incredible twist of fate, by the following night Harry had been subjected to a meeting with Voldemort, and had lived, once more, to tell the tale of it, this time forever. Voldemort was dead and it took a throng of reporters all of about three hours to come banging on Harry's door, where he had been in the midst of celebrating and recovering in peace with the remaining members of his adoptive family, to ask him, above all things, what it was like facing Voldemort, for as soon as he had died the spell over his name had been broken, and no one was afraid to say it anymore.

“Oh well, it was about like you might expect really,” said Harry from the doorstep, as the crowd fell silent to hear him, “There was the usual: name calling, blood, arguing, torture... a pop-quiz on my relationship with Ginny Weasley.”

A few reporters smiled uncertainly as they hastily scribbled down things like 'hero unhinged--Cruciatus?' and before they began to fire more questions at him, a laugh rang out from inside.

“And what did you tell him?” asked Ginny, appearing in the doorway at Harry's side.

“I told him to hurry up and snuff it already so I could go make out with my girlfriend,” he said, turning to her, before addressing the reporters once more, “And I'm about to say something similar to this lot.”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A/N: The title is inspired by a poem by my fellow Capricorn Khalil Gibran,fromThe Prophet (the book, not the fictional newspaper) On Love

Not that I haven't already hinted enough, but it's my birthday, so a REALLY REALLY great present for me would be if I got a bunch of honest reviews...I'll know if you're lying! ;-P

And believe it or not, it's still not over!

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Chapter 16: One Step Ahead

Author's Notes: This is two years following chapter 15, if you'd like to see more between then and now, read That Night Over the Moon, and Love Itself Shall Slumber On.


For Jenna:
Please be in heaven,
Please be giggling.


~*~

One Step Ahead






It did occur to me to consider myself lucky. Some girls, I supposed, didn't even have one strong male figure in their lives to walk them down the aisle, and here I was, listening to my three older brothers bicker with each other over got to do the honors while my father simply rolled his eyes. As I say, it occurred to me. But to be honest, I wasn't really feeling the love radiating off them just then. I hadn't realized that this would be such a problem. When they started fighting at the engagement party three months ago over who got to do what and who got to give a toast, Harry had the rather brilliant idea of holding tryouts: each brother would give Harry and me a copy of what they would say if they gave a speech, and we would choose the one that we liked the most. And here we were, two days before the wedding, and no one had yet followed through. Either they couldn't take it seriously or it simply required more thoughtfulness than they were capable of utilizing. As such, their present obsessive discussion over a stupid ritual only served to irritate me.

“Hang on–so everyone but me is going to be walking her down at least some portion of the aisle? That's not fair.”

I tried not to listen to their conversation, but was of course unsuccessful.

“No, Ron isn't either.”

“Yeah well he's the best man!”

“Charlie–you're not honestly suggesting that five people–”

“I don't see how that's any more ridiculous than four!”

I tried to take a deep breath to calm myself, but it wasn't working.

“Three,” said George.

“Two!” shot Bill.

Quite suddenly, it was simply too much. “That's it! Everyone SHUT UP!” The talking stopped abruptly as they all turned to look at me.

“I've had enough of it,” I said wildly, “None of you is going to walk me down the aisle!”

Their looks of confusion deepened as I realized what I'd just said. Never one to backpedal, I cast about me for someone to come to my rescue, but the only other person present was–

“Hermione. Hermione's going to give me away.”

Hermione, who had been quietly arranging the fairy lights on the trellis behind us, froze, giving me a bewildered glare as everyone's attention shifted to her. And before she could do more than gape and stutter, I marched up to her and dragged her over. Bill was the first to recover.

“Ginny, you're not serious–”

“Oh but I am!” I said savagely. “Now I want all of you to go wait by the altar like normal groomsmen. Go!”

The shock on their faces quickly turned to hurt, which only succeeded in driving me madder. “Well I'm sorry!” I shrieked, “but you see otherwise I'll trip and fall on my arse, because I simply CAN'T SEE through this BILLOWING CLOUD OF TESTOSTERONE!”

There was another stunned silence.

“Ginny, we're sorry.”

“ALTAR–GO–NOW! Don't make me pull out my wand!”

At last they obeyed, slinking away like wounded dogs. As they arranged themselves meekly at Harry's side he determinedly maintained a neutral expression, but when his eyes caught mine I could have sworn they were laughing at me. Hermione, meanwhile, was casting nervous looks in my direction, no doubt fearing that I might start shrieking again if she were to speak.

“Sorry for dragging you into this,” I muttered sheepishly.

“Never mind that,” she said, giving me a searching look. “Ginny, are you sure you really want to do this? I mean–I know they were being horrible pratts about it, but–”

“Isn't there some little girl inside me who still really wants Daddy to give her away?” I said, giving her a wry smile. “Well yes, until I stop and think about it. I don't much fancy being passed from father to brother to husband like a bloddy quaffle, thank you very much.”

She gave me another longish look.

“Of course I'm sure!” I said, turning and facing the altar and straightening the wrinkles in my skirt. “I'd walk it alone, but then I really would fall flat on my face.”

~*~

I sat in the swing on the back porch at the Burrow later that evening, having calmed down some, as I finished the alterations on my gown. When I was at last satisfied, I removed the pins and with a flick of my wand, lazily levitated it out in front of me to give it one more critical appraisal.

Just then there was a loud crack, and Bill materialized in the garden, wearing a set of smart-looking dress robes. Looking around and spotting me through the screen, he dashed up to the porch and beckoned me out of the hammock.

“Come on,” he said, leading me outside into the garden, where he immediately began waving his wand–conjuring one long trestle table with a white linen and several places set with fancy china.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Trying out,” he said, now conjuring chairs and rather crude dummies to sit in them.

“Trying out what?”

He finished with the last dummy, and only then seemed to register my question.

“My speech,” he said, turning to me, and I felt my pajama trousers and t-shirt being Transfigured into something far less comfortable. It was a nondescript, rather ugly wedding gown. I made a few indignant noises of protest but Bill ignored me.

“There,” he said airily, shuffling me over to a seat at the center of the table and instructing, “Just sit down and pretend it's the reception and I'm giving my speech. Here–” He muttered a few things at the dummy sitting next to me, and messy black hair and a scar appeared on its head. “That's Harry for now, you can summarize it for him later when the two of you decide which one you're going to choose.”

I started to tell him that no one else had bothered to come up with a speech to give to Harry and me yet, but he simply powered on through, not distracted in the slightest.

“Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention?” he looked convincingly around the empty garden, as though it were full of his friends and acquaintances.

“For anyone who may not know me, I'm Bill Weasley–I'm Ginny's favorite brother.”

“Oh really?” I said dryly, crossing my arms over my chest, but again, Bill hardly seemed to hear me.

“As such, I'd like to make a speech.”

I sat back in the chair, my curiosity getting the better of me.

“Let me begin by saying that Ginny has always been my favorite sister. In fact, come to think of it, she's my favorite brother, too.” He waved his wand at the bed of day lilies so that a chorus of gnome laughter punctuated his little joke. “When I was going through that troubled stage of adolescence, my 'misunderstood' phase, where I struggled to break free from Mum and Dad; Ginny was my rock. She may not remember this very clearly, she was only about two or three, but when I was feeling resentful she used to help me with my chores, while I ranted and raved about how I hated being responsible for everything, and how ridiculous it was that I was still getting my hair cut by my Mum, and how no one appreciated that I never complained about anything. I used to always say, 'Ginny, you're the only one who understands me. You are so wise.' And then Ginny would smile and say, 'Thweetth?'”

Bill grinned, and discreetly forced more laughs from the gnomes.

“As time went by, and Ginny learned to read, I started writing her letters, and when I read her replies it never ceased to amaze me how much she reminded me of myself. Of course, in recent years, I haven't given it much thought–wars tend to push things like this from your mind, you know. Anyway, through all this Ginny has grown into a woman (much as it unnerves me to say that), and since she's getting married, I've been thinking about it more and more.”

I squinted slightly through the gradually darkening twilight to discern the nuances of his expression, but it was almost unfathomable.

“Do Ginny and I have a lot in common?” He snorted, “Yeah, right. I wish.”

I stopped squinting, his words having taken me literally aback.

There was a thoughtful beat. “She's better than me. She's braver–she actively takes on dark wizards, the arse of humanity, and she's confronted some of the most despicable things, things most people can't even imagine, and she's come out on top.”

He paused. I wasn't really sure what sort of expression to have, or how much of this speech I would allow to go to my head, so I simply sat there, alternating between being reluctantly pleased and mildly embarrassed.

“But then again we've all seen horrors these past few years, her especially, but we've all experienced things we could never imagine. We're all strong enough to survive, but she's more than that, she's strong enough not to hate.”

I couldn't stop the genuinely happy feeling of validation any longer, and so I allowed myself to let it be.

“And she's wiser than me, too. Instead of trying to get a sense of everyone else, instead of trying to sum people up and figure them out, she knows herself. She sympathizes deeply, and yet she understands how much of life can't be understood at all until you've lived it.”

But also within me, there was another inkling rattling around, and that was that despite the sincerity in Bill's words, I could only walk away from this encounter with a fresh understanding of how I'd lied to myself in some way.

“The truth is that everybody likes to think they have a lot in common with Ginny–if she were the the eldest, you might say that all her siblings wanted to be like her, but because she's the youngest we all like to flatter ourselves to think that Ginny takes after us. Which is ridiculous because what we really adore in her is the one part of her that's entirely unique from the rest of us.

“I always thought it would sting, the day that Ginny got married and changed her name. But really, it doesn't change a thing, because she's always been so much more than a Weasley: she's Ginny.”

There was a muffled thud as my chair tipped over onto the grass; I vaulted over the table at him as I cried fiercely, “I am not!”

He laughed as I jumped into his arms, and for a few seconds I dangled a couple feet above the ground and I couldn't say anything at all. I was overwrought, unable to express or even understand how exquisite I felt. It was the kind of elation that feels so wonderful you can't stand it for more than a second. He lowered me back to the ground, and I felt the measure of his words as they settled in somewhere just below my esophagus.

“Do you really think all that about me?” I said, rather mistily.

“Of course.”

My mouth hung open as I faltered. “I–I don't even know what to say.”

He smiled at me. “What, don't you agree?”

“No!” I said, almost scandalized.

“Why not?”

“Bill–I'm not all that–not even close. Because I–I do hate, and I do spend too much energy judging other people, and I don't really know myself...” I trailed off at the exasperated look on his face, and that feeling you get when you realize that you're talking to someone who's one step ahead of you began to creep up on me. “What?”

His head shook in wonder. “When will you ever make up your mind?”

He fixed me with a long, searching stare, and if I knew what he was looking for I would have given it to him in a second, but all I had to show for myself was me–unadulterated me, in my my natural state, without the foggiest idea how I'd got there. Bill relented in his searching then, and smiled a smile that should have been accompanied with a mild rolling of the eyes, but they were too full of an aching fondness.

“Oh Ginny,” he sighed, “when're you going to love you as much as I do?”

It was one of those damnable, mildly annoying times when you manage to come up with a really good, profound response to an eye-opening question, about seven years after you've been asked. I wandered away from the conversation that evening in a dimly-lit state of preemptive amazement.Bill had made a very good, very deep point that I had never thoughtof before that time–I just didn't personally understand what exactly that point was, at the moment...

I wondered if this was what it was like to be Romilda Vane: it's like she could smell something brilliant and remarkable when he walked into the room, but, having no concept of selflessness or true bravery or depth of feeling, she actually had no idea what she was swooning over.

I returned home that night to Harry's flat–hah–after all those months of calling the flat mine, I finally recognized that it was his, and the day after tomorrow it really would be my flat as much as his. I stepped in quietly. The lights were all out, save for a dim lamp in the corner of the sitting room. Harry was sprawled out asleep on the sofa, mouth hanging open and glasses askew. He always had to “wait up” for me. I smiled at him, leaned over, and shook him gently.

“Harry–”

Nothing. I sat down and shook him a little more vigorously.

“Harry!”

He jerked awake, and said automatically, “Whasahmt?”

“I'm home,” I giggled. “Thanks for waiting up.”

“Always,” he slurred as he sat up, oblivious to the fun I was having at his expense. He had this idea that so long as he was not actually in his bed, asleep, with the lights out, it constituted as “waiting up.”

I bit the inside of my lip to keep from laughing. It was very important to Harry that he kept a constant, wary eye out for his girlfriend at all times–remained on guard and conscious of her safety. “I have to be overprotective,” he told me seriously whenever I rolled my eyes at these statements, “Voldemort may be dead, but there're still Deatheaters out there who would love to get revenge, and you being my girlfriend puts a big bullseye on your back.”

He was right, I realized, and for that I endured his over protectiveness without complaint. It was a hardship, certainly, what with all this "waiting up" and such, but I managed all right...

“Well now I'm home, you should go get some sleep,” I crooned sympathetically, scooting closer as I pulled off his glasses and wiped some sleep from the corner of his eye.

“Wha–” he yawned, “t-time is it?”

“Almost midnight.”

“What kept you?”

“Oh, various things–helping Mum with some of her pre-cooking, I finished hemming the dress–oh, and Bill dropped by to show me his speech.”

A slightly affronted expression was germinating on Harry's features. “Really? How come I wasn't invited?”

“Yeah, well sort of,” I said. “He conjured up fake guests and everything, only it was a terrible speech and he knew it.”

“Seriously?” he asked curiously.

“Well no, it was good, it was just–kind of inappropriate for a wedding toast... in that he never really mentioned you.” I laughed at the look on his face. “It was basically just Bill doing something sweet because... I don't know, maybe he feels guilty this afternoon."

“What–oh, the whole aisle-walking fiasco?”

I nodded. “And before you ask, no, I have not changed my mind.”

Harry nodded, as he lumbered up from the couch, stretching and yawning again. I stood as well.

“It's the only fair way, you know,” I said, as I followed him into the bedroom.

“Why don't you just have your Dad do it? I'm sure he'd be tactful about it.”

“Yeah, I know,” I sighed, as I began changing. I couldn't really find the 'but' to finish the sentence, because the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much it made sense. It wasn't about being “handed over,” I realized, so much as a highly symbolic gesture representing a huge transition in my life.

Quite suddenly, I felt gripped in an emotional tug-o-war between a stubborn, childish need to stand by my decision instead of admitting that I had reacted in the heat of the moment and had not been thinking for myself; and the even more childish fear of growing up–of relocating the meaning of “home” and “family” in my mind from the noisy, impassioned House of the Quick and the Hungry, with its creaky floors and infestation of boys; to something I'd have to build myself. Harry flicked off the lights just as my eyes began to well up, and we climbed under the covers. I tried to quell my inner turmoil as I lay there, but my mind was too exhausted to argue with the warring children, and they got their way in reducing me to tears. I sobbed. “I just don't want him to, okay?”

“Ginny–what?” Harry groped around in the dark for a moment, and then lit his wand, turning to me with a worried look on his face.

“I just want Hermione to do it, okay?”

The worried look instantly melted into one of nonplussed amusement. He smiled, sort of. “Okay.”

“Okay,” I echoed, feeling a bit silly. Why was I so emotional lately?

He shrugged, and wrapped his arm about my waist, pulling me closer and kissing the places where I was still tear streaked. “Are you alright?”

“Hmm...Yes–I think so.”

“Can you go to sleep now?”

I smiled facetiously. “Yes, thank you, love.”

“Are you sure?” he said rakishly, hands wandering downward. “Can I do you? –I mean, do anything for you. Sorry about that, Freudian slip...”

...And for years and years, I just assumed that Freud was a muggle famous for the graceless, cheesy lines he used to get into womens' knickers.




A/N: I'm sorry I didn't get this up sooner–I've had a rather crummy time of it lately, death of my first contemporary and all that. And really guys, reviews are all that fuels my soul these days, so thank you, you're the best. (Please leave another one? I'm asking for the moon now)

NOTE: the conspicuous lack of the words 'the end' ? It's cause it's not! Haha! Only one more chapter, I promise.


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Chapter 17: East By Southeast of the Castle

Author's Notes: My masterpiece is now essentially complete. All the revisions to earlier chapters have been made, and it is DONE! So read it, reread it, review it! Anything you want!


For the cutest boy I ever saw

East By Southeast of the Castle

~*~


East by southeast of the castle near what was once the edge of the Forbidden Forest lay the most fertile ground on the Hogwarts environs. A thousand years or more ago Helga Hufflepuff came across the expanse of rich, dark soil while hunting for the perfect place to plant the tiny seeds she’d taken home from her travels through the juicy green jungles of India.

What she found was this fairly broad lot of fertile soil in a shallow valley between two gently sloping hills that reminded her of home, and in that relative seclusion she planted a single bamboo seed, enchanted by magicians of the far east to grow to maturity and thrive for thousands of years in any soil, regardless of the climate around it. She was tickled at how strange it would look against the backdrop of common beeches and willows, and so to make it up to the lonely tree she planted another one to grow in the gully there beside him.

Soon the two trees towered, their leafy tops arching over enough to caress one another. In time their legend faded into a peculiarity–a good story told to newcomers, and as the common forest advanced on the lawns, closing in around them ever so gradually, most forgot about Helga’s two pieces of India tucked away just behind the line which students were forbidden to pass. They bided their time of obscurity with gentle patience, and were rewarded when one day, hundreds of years later, the Keeper of the Keys arrived in the now forested little vale with seven red-haired men–though one of these was only there in spirit. The Weasleys appraised the spot, discussing its merits and possibilities, and soon enough they all seemed to agree on some matter, and they departed for the Three Broomsticks.

A handful of them came each day from then on, making plans and provisions for something–and soon they were felling the brush and saplings around the trees, thinning out the forest around the them so that once more, the bamboo trees could be seen from the lake. In no time at all a foundation was laid in the space between them; a skeleton was raised, and then sheathed with white walls, and all was eventually covered and thatched with a roof.

Various enchantments were then cast upon it–to increase the space within, to keep water from leaking in, to prevent infestations of Bundimuns and woodlice, and to give a certain amount of protection to the people within from things like arrows and reporters. The steady additions of final touches had gradually tapered to a state of satisfaction, until at last the Secret-Keeper of the place stood alone in the kitchen as August came to a hot and sticky end. Ron set his jacket down on the table and conjured a sheet of parchment with a wave of his wand. He withdrew a stout quill from the pocket in his jeans, and began to write.

The prospect of writing this letter had been bobbing vaguely near the surface of his thoughts for many weeks now, but in the literal heat of the moment, he found that even if by some miracle he managed to say something eloquent, it would be oddly out of character anyway, and so he kept it simple.

Harry and Ginny,

In case you haven't realized, there's a Fidelius Charm around the house and the front garden. I'm the Secret Keeper for right now, but send me an owl and we'll arrange a time so we can switch. The Floo's not hooked up yet, we weren't sure if you wanted it, but there's a fireplace in the kitchen and in the living room.

We thought you might like to decorate it yourselves, so the furniture is a bit sparse at the moment, except that in your room, you'll find that Hermione took a few liberties in making up the bed. Hope you enjoy it–the house, that is–not the bed.


He straightened up as he scribbled Love, Ron hastily at the end, and glanced back over it. He wiped a trickle of sweat from the back of his neck, and after a moment's consideration he bent back down.

P.S. I mean–I do realize that you probably will be enjoying the bed, and it's not that I have a problem with that (really, I don't), I just didn't want to make you think that I was, you know... I mean, you don't really need any encouragement from me in that ...he paused for a moment, an awkward grimace on his face, and then finished hesitantly, area.

Deciding he had better quit before he made a prat of himself any more than he already had, Ron pocketed the quill and tucked the letter under the lamp so that it wouldn't blow away. And as he wandered through the house, making sure that everything was in its place, lazily opening all the windows with a flick of his wand, he turned his thoughts to the lateness of the hour, and the wedding which would take place the following day.

He wasn't quite sure how he felt about it. Grumpy was perhaps the best word for it. Not outright resentment or disapproval, because technically speaking Ron had been hoping for this day since he was fourteen. The logistic advantages of it were by no means lost on him: Ginny would be with a bloke he trusted, and Harry wouldn't be in love with Hermione. It was killing two of his worst nightmares with one stone. What had never really occurred to him was that if Harry and Ginny did fall in love, they would be in it for more than the logistic advantages. And something about that thought made him grumpy.

He closed the front door behind him and stepped down off the porch as he filled his nostrils with the sultry August air and headed down the newly created footpath. He'd better start making his way over to Hogsmeade if he was going to meet his brothers in the Leaky Cauldron for a drink, because while many things had changed over the past few years, you still couldn't Apparate on Hogwarts grounds.

As the path curved towards the castle, Ron stopped and turned back to look at the little bungalow. There it stood, nestled between the two giant bamboos–like a little toy house between two bundles of long, droopy green grass. Fairies twinkled here and there through the forest, and the sound of their laughter could be heard now and again, blended with the chorus of crickets and the sigh of the wind in the trees. He thought again about the open windows, and looked up. The moon was a healthy-looking crescent hanging just above the trees, and stars covered this particular bubble of the sky from horizon to horizon–not a cloud to be seen. He could leave the windows open for the night, it didn't seem likely to rain–at least not here.

In Ottery St. Catchpole, however, it was pouring. Hotter than a dragon's mouth–and pouring. Ginny lay awake in her stifling bed, tossing and turning, trying desperately to get away from own body heat. But she could only roll over so many times in this narrow bed. She wished feverishly that she could be back at Harry's–where the mattress was softer and it didn't sag in the middle–even if she did have to share it with another body.

But her mother had insisted. It was tradition, apparently, for a young witch to spend the eve of her wedding in the house of her parents. Ginny had raised her eyebrows upon hearing this.

“Well alright!” snapped her mother, “I have no idea whether or not it's tradition–but I'll tell you what isn't tradition–sleeping with your intended the night before the wedding!”

“In that case,” Harry murmured, the instant Molly's attention had been driven elsewhere, “I bet it also isn't traditional to go at it like rabbits every night for a year before getting engaged.”

Ginny snickered lazily, feeling lackadaisical and yet so tortuously far from sleep. The blankets had long ago been discarded, as had the Silencing Charm over the fan–she had canceled it in hopes that the dull humming as the head drifted from left to right and back again might lull her into slumber, but so far it had been unsuccessful. She shifted again, and felt momentary relief as her front was exposed to open air and her back flopped onto a slightly cooler part of the mattress. Perhaps, if she stayed very still, if she relaxed every muscle in her body and took slow, deep breaths, she would fall asleep. But soon her back began to radiate in misery, and her eyelids ached from holding themselves closed.

She shot up with an aggravated moan of discomfort and swung her legs off of the bed and stood up. She searched around for her discarded nightgown, which she had flung from her burning body not long after the blankets. She slipped it back on, and headed downstairs.

Her mother was awake yet, sitting in the bright, cheery glow from the light above the kitchen table as she did the Daily Prophet crossword. Ginny shuffled over and sat down opposite her with a listless, haggard expression on her face. “I can't sleep,” she said dully.

Molly gave her a sympathetic stare. “Are you nervous?”

Ginny shook her head ruefully, “If only...”

“What's the matter sweetheart?”

“I just...” And after many weeks of grappling with an intangible twang of sorrow, it suddenly became very real to Ginny, and she buried her head in her arms on the sticky wooden table and began to cry. “I don't want to get married!”

Her sympathy tearing at her heart, Molly was silent for a moment, taxing every ounce of her wisdom and self-restraint to conceal her own ache from her daughter. Ginny looked up, and misinterpreting the conflicted look on her mother's face, said immediately, “I–I didn't–”

Molly nodded wisely. “You don't mean that.”

“I really don't,” she said earnestly.

“I know you don't. You just–” Molly paused, remembering just in time that Ginny didn't respond well to being told how she felt, “Is it just that you'll miss home?”

Nodding, Ginny's brow contracted, as her eyes blinked faster to keep up with the rising tears, and her bottom lip began to tremble–it was almost her mother's undoing. She reached out and took Ginny's hand, cradling it in her own and saying soothingly, “There, there dear, it's all right...”

But other than that, she wasn't entirely certain what to say. She did remember how this felt–she remembered the eve of her own wedding, and she wondered, if her own mother had been there, what she would have wanted to hear from her. She pushed out from the table, and moved around it to sit in the chair beside Ginny as she pulled her into her arms.

“Shh...” she whispered, “Ginny–you're much too old to cry like this.”

Ginny choked, and pulled back to give her an incredulous look. “You're one to talk!” She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, “Mrs. Gushing-Hosepipe.”

“Ah,” she smiled, “but you're much too young to cry like that.”

Ginny gave her a watery grimace. “I'm scared.”

“Scared of what, dear?”

“Well–” She bit her lip, “What if it's not the right thing? Getting married?”

Molly frowned slightly. “What makes you think it's not?”

“Oh I don't know–” she cried tartly, “just this empty, deadened feeling I have when I think about it.”

She pulled her tightly to her breast, as if she could squeeze the doubts out of her, “You'rescared of loosing something that's already gone, I'm afraid.”

Ginny pulled away and looked at her quizzically. Molly smiled wistfully and smoothed her hair away from her eyes. “Darling–I know what you're feeling, I do–but there's no use crying about it. All the things we've lost in this war will still be gone this time tomorrow, whether you go through with the wedding or not. If I had it my way you and Harry would not be getting married for several years–but then again if I'd had it my way you would not have lost a brother, nor joined the Order at sixteen, nor for that matter been possessed by Voldemort at eleven, but all that's been done, and there's no use trying to go back now.”

Ginny looked at her mother for a long time, wondering how she had gotten to be so wise when it seemed that all she could ever do was worry. She nodded in understanding.

“Oh Mum,” she whimpered, her head falling forward onto her shoulder again, “Where would I be without you?”

Molly did not answer her for several moments, so deep was she in thought and reminiscence. She took a pensive breath at last and said, “You'd be sitting alonehere in the kitchen, crying and wondering nervously why you were crying–by the time the sun rose you'd figure out for yourself the same things I have just told you, and then you'd go to bed, oversleep, be woken up by your brother, and barely make it to the church on time. Then you'd get married, and go to the reception, but fall asleep there before all the guests left, and your groom would have to carry you out to the car and to the hotel, and you'd wake up the morning after, having missed your wedding night, but feeling perfectly well rested and happy.”

“You seem to be awfully certain of all this.”

Her mother smiled tiredly at her, “Of course I'm not–that's just what I did, when it was me.”

Ginny felt another pang of understanding, and her sense of gladness that the war was over and her mother was still here to comfort her intensified a hundredfold until it was all she could feel. There was a pause as Molly stifled a yawn.

“I'm sorry dear, but I really must go to bed now–or I'll fall asleep during your reception as well.”

She nodded, and then stood up from the table. Molly sent her dishes over to the sink with a flick of her wand, and then made her weary way up the stairs to bed. But Ginny wasn't ready to go to sleep quite yet. She stood alone in the sweltering kitchen, breathing the smell of woodwork on a hot night–a spicy smell like a sauna. There was a flicker, and then a gurgling clap of thunder, and as she stood, rooted to the spot, she felt a childish whim coming on. There was something irresistible about the sound of the rain playing on the roof over the porch–and suddenly Ginny felt that she would not be living at all if she did not go out and experience it for herself.

She pushed open the screen door with her fingertips, and stepped out under the sprinkling sky. She moved out into the garden, her arms spread wide and her head tipped back in wonder. She welcomed the rain as it fell harder, and with each drop her nightgown became heavier–with each trickle of rainwater down her body, she felt washed in purity.

With a quiet creak she pushed open the gate into the lane, and started down it–hardly noticing the sharp gravel under her bare feet at first, but all too soon the little rocks poked at her skin and made her feel inescapably heavy on the ground. There was only one thing for it: without a second thought, Ginny broke into a run, following the lane down the hill. Her flying feet felt no pain, and she hardly registered the feeling of pavement as she burst onto the main road and ran on. But soon she felt the road incline, and though her heart and lungs panted happily like they could keep on going for miles, her momentum began to fade. She pushed on just a little farther as the slope became steep, but when she reached the top of the hill she stopped abruptly.

She was sheltered now by two spreading elm trees on either side of the road–their gentle arch had formed a gateway in her childhood. These were her old boundaries. For as long as she could remember, her parents had set the limits of her world at the bridge between Ottery St. Catchpole and Ottery St. Mary, Stoatshed Hill, and these two trees. Venturing farther than the crest of this hill was the sort rule that seemed unbreakable to a five-year-old–this was where Hide and Seek ended.

Ever so tentatively, Ginny stepped forward out of the shelter of the elms. The road was now open to the sky, and Ginny wished there were stars to gaze at. It had always been a symbol to her of the inescapable limits in life–that one could not play in the rain and stare at the stars at the same time–it would be like having your cake and eating it too. She did not know how long she stood in the open road, but when she felt that she was properly soaked to the bone she turned around and began the journey back to the Burrow.

She was heavy, fully saturated with the satisfaction that only comes after having a ridiculous fancy and acting on it immediately. She was ready for bed at last, and she trudged back home, wincing frequently as she stepped on what seemed like every little rock in the road between here and home, she was too exhausted to feel fully irritated. It builds character, she mused.

When at last she arrived at the back door, the feeling of wooden floorboards and the sounds of a silent house had never felt so welcome to her. The temperature rose with each floor as she made her way upstairs, but the rain had cooled Ginny to her core and though she could feel the stifling heat of her room, it was no longer overwhelming, and she slipped out of her wet nightgown and into her bed gratefully. Then she fell asleep almost instantly, drifting off into a rapturous rest, where she dreamed of flying and pretty dresses.

Arthur, who had stirred at the slamming of the screen door, and awoken at a loud clap of thunder several minutes later, peeked his head into her room on his way down to the kitchen for a glass of water. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could perceive the outline of his daughter, clad only in her underwear, sprawled out over the mattress and entangled in a single sheet as she slept feverishly. Smiling to himself, he stepped quietly into her room, the sounds of his slippers on the floorboards muffled by the easy whirring of the fan; he crouched down beside her bed and reached out to stroke the hair away from her face. Her skin was damp and chilled to the touch. He waved his wand and silently conjured another sheet, and as he lay it over her, he thought absently that she was not so very different from the little girl he had once privately called his Ugly Duckling.

He reminisced. When she was very small, she used to ask him sometimes, “Daddy, am I pretty?”

If Molly happened to be in the room, the answer was always “Yes,” if he did not wish to suffer one of his wife's world-famous death glares. But if it was only him and the boys, as it usually was, then Arthur would smile at her and say, “Ducky–you're the prettiest girl in the room.”

“Daddy you fruthtrate me!”

Arthur smiled now, looking into Ginny's sleeping face. He certainly thought she was the prettiest girl in the world, but being well-aware of his fatherly bias, he also knew that it was unlikely that there were a great many people who thought the same. In all objectivity Ginny was not your usual beauty, nor was she an unusual beauty–thus, she wasn't really a beauty at all. But no one looks at the world 'in all objectivity' without a concentrated effort, and somehow–maybe it was her laugh, or the way she caught your eye and stole your attention while other people were talking, but somehow–Ginny was always the prettiest girl in the room. And that, he knew, was not just his fatherly bias.

With one last fond glance, he turned and stepped across her room back out into the hall and closed the door behind him gently. He made his way downstairs thinking of nothing but a glass of water and his bed, and when he waved his wand to extinguish the light above the kitchen table, he briefly caught a glimpse of the family clock. Ginny's hand was half past “Home” and going on “Cloud Nine.”Ron's moved decisively from “Traveling” to “Out,” where it joined those of Bill, Charlie, Fred, and George, all of whom were currently seated around a table in the Leaky Cauldron, toasting the completion of one fine little bungalow.

“Ron!” they boomed raucously, holding up their glasses as their youngest brother swung open the door to the Leaky Cauldron.

“Everything all set?” called Charlie, as Ron made his way over to their table.

Before Ron could do more than nod, Fred interrupted.

“We were jus' reflecting on Gin–” a hiccup interrupted him as he slurred, “reminiscing–if you will... on our.. our youngest person of a fraternal relationship to ourselves.”

In fact, they had been discussing the various assets of the Holyhead Harpies–both tactical and otherwise–for the last three quarters of an hour, but Fred was a dishonest drunk and no one else was particularly inclined to set the record straight.

“And the young Mr. Potter!” added Bill, raising his glass and taking another drink.

“And the young Mr. Potter!” agreed Fred, not missing the opportunity to have a bit more himself. “We got Potter!”

At this point George laughed and both began catcalling, as they had when Harry was sorted, “We got Potter! We got Potter!” While Ron ordered a glass of mead.

“Yes,” said Bill, as thoughtfully as the alcohol would allow, “We got Potter... how'd that happen again?”

“She's a Weasley!” bellowed George, ceasing the catcall immediately, “We're bloody irresistible–all of us!”

Bill smiled wryly. “So irresistible women won't even go out with us... isn't that right, George?

“Shuddup, you!” he said, throwing a napkin at him.

“Yeah,” piped Charlie, speaking a touch more eloquently on behalf of the bachelors, “You know there comes a point–when so many women want you that you think 'alright mate, you know–it's just not fair to pick one, is it?'”

“Exaclty,” said George, raising his glass. Charlie clinked it with an acknowledging nod of his head, and fell silent then, watching as his brothers slowly soaked themselves in alcohol. There had been a time, he mused, when he had reveled in the stupor of being smashed, but he was thirty years old now, and fortunately had enough sense to realize that the novelty was wearing off at last.

His gaze flickered to Ron as he loosened up under the influence of the mead and began regaling them all with stories about all the ridiculous things Harry had done over the past few years to get Ginny's attention in their off-again, on-again relationship–not the least of which was buying a red convertible, tattooing a Hungarian Horntail across his chest, and of course the two thousand Galleon broomstick he had used to bribe her into marrying him.

Charlie wondered, though, if Ron realized that the most ridiculous part about it all was that Ginny was so obviously and irretrievably lost to the rest of men because of Harry, and that whatever she might say, she couldn't really love anyone else if she tried. Sometimes it seemed to him that Ron was going into this with the mindset of a brother of the groom, and not the bride. Though maybe it was easier for him that way, he supposed he didn't know.

At last, Tom hobbled over to their table and informed them that the pub would be closing at half past two, and they all got up and began to stagger their way towards the exit. It probably wasn't safe for any of them to Apparate, but all were sober enough to Floo home, and all had significant others who would be able to help them if they got dizzy and collapsed in the fireplace.

All except George, that is. Nobody had had as much to drink as George, and nobody had grown so quiet and dark as the evening wore on.

“Come on George,” said Charlie, helping him out the door. The flat above Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was close enough to walk to anyway.

“No,” slurred George, whirling away from him, “You think you're all high 'n mighty–think you're better than me–y'can hold your liquor!”

“No,” said Charlie tersely, “I'm just not such a flaming idiot as you to drink ten galleons worth of booze in one night.”

“Well I don' care!” he replied belligerently, “I don't need your help!”

“Fine!” said Charlie angrily, “Fine! You can go home and puke up your guts by yourself, you sodding prick!”

Fuming, Charlie stormed back into the pub, cast a handful of sand into the fire and yelled, “149 Wilder Street!” leaving George to walk the length of Diagon Alley alone.

Except that George wasn't alone. He certainly thought he was, as he wended his way down the crooked street, half laughing, half crying his troubles to the drizzling night. He didn't even know what was bothering him anymore. For all intents and purposes he was still identical to Fred, but when they became drunk one waxed jolly and poetic and the other grew sardonic and disdainful. One loved company, the other preferred to be alone.

But he wasn't alone. He was never alone when he was like this, because there was always someone watching over him–someone disapproving of him from his high horse in heaven–someone with horn rimmed spectacles and a pompous attitude.

Percy held a vigil over his little brother that night, seeing to it that he made it home safely, and that if and when he started to vomit, he was lying the right way so as not to suffocate. In life and death, that's what brothers were for. He stayed by George's side until the sun rose, passing no judgement and thinking no thoughts, and he watched over them all through the following day, as they ran around like Nifflers in Gringotts as the last frantic details of the event were put into place. He felt mollified to learn that Ginny had changed her mind and decided to let their father walk her down the aisle after all, and he was gratified beyond words when a tear slipped down her cheek as she took her first steps towards the altar, because he knew, through the sort of omniscience that comes with being departed, that she was wishing he were there. She looked lovely, and as she made her way towards the reverent groom, what began as a nervous quivering of the lips grew into a strong and healthy grin, and she beamed at him.

He had the same goofy expression he always did whenever he took a step back and realized how cool it was that he was going out with Ginny Weasley–it reminded Ron of an overgrown puppy. He rolled his eyes at Harry and turned his gaze to the girl walking towards them on Arthur's arm.

To his surprise, his own breath caught in his throat. It wasn't as though it had never occurred to him that Harry would be marrying his sister, but these sorts of revelations can hit a person multiple times without losing any of that novel sting. He tried to think of something to say to Harry–they had never really had a heart to heart about this whole thing. He tried to find a way to tell him how cruel she could be–but that if you could stomach the cruelty, you'd find a hurt and vulnerable girl inside, but he couldn't think with that much clarity. So he tried to tell him that Ginny would always get her way–and that if she didn't she'd change her mind to want whatever way she was getting, and that was just the way she coped. But that wasn't any easier to say.

Time was of the essence, as Ginny grew ever closer, and Ron–realizing that this was one of those moments when he could say something about owl pellets and pass it off as meaningful advice–decided he'd better say anything. He took one look at his best mate and said quietly, “You don't even know.”

Harry tore his eyes from the bride for just a moment and gave him a questioning glance.

He gazed at Ginny. “You have no idea how much you love her yet.”

Harry looked bemused, but the expression didn't last, because at that moment Ginny drew level with them and his attention was forfeited for the remainder of the evening. But it made no difference, because long after the ceremony had ended, and the reception had drawn to a close, and the five brothers and Mr Weasley had given a collective toast to announce their gift to the happy couple–long after the little bungalow, the speechless bride and the reverent groom were mutually felt and touched and explored and adored and loved and finally settled into that first rest of thousands yet to come, Harry would remember those words and see their truth unfold before his eyes.

For Ginny, her beloved childhood was over, and though the end of any great thing is painful in its own way, she went forward with the flow, rolled with the punches, and never looked back.

And for eternity, their vows echoed in the evening, in the trees, and were absorbed in the forests and the hills, until they bled down the mountainside in many little rivulets, rushing seaward as they converged and made their way to the river's end–a delta on the shores of the lake, east by southeast of the castle.

THE END


~*~


A/N: Well–that's it. That's really it. Thank you all so much for your patience with me–it's been nearly two years but it's finally finished. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would finish this story, but all the same, it's a great relief to have it done.

That said, I have lots of material floating around in my brain regarding sequel stuff, and while I'm not about to embark on any big project like this one in a hurry, you can expect to see some one-shots popping up in the near future.

And would it be an author's note if I didn't beg you all shamelessly for reviews? This is my last chance to get some, so please, if you have read this and never reviewed, please just do so once right now, it means SO MUCH to me!!! You can't even imagine!

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