She averted her eyes downward. There were many.... too many.... people-shapes swarming around her in aimless, unpredictable trajectories. She could sense them. Some were sniffling or sobbing; others were moving their mouth shapes, saying things that she did not feel like deciphering. Perhaps some of the shapes were trying to communicate with her, but she really couldn't care less. Like an amoeba fleeing the light, she kept her head down, blocked out the distractions, and let instinct navigate her past all of the noises, shapes and moving obstacles, single-mindedly gravitating toward.... escape.
After a certain point in her travels the moving shapes thinned out and were no more. The flat space of green, mown grass gave way to a more coarse surface: gravel, stones, brambles and shrubs. Her feet discovered something brownish: hard-packed earth; a path leading somewhere quieter.... leading downward.... toward the water perhaps. It was easier to walk on the path than through brambles, so she followed it until it went no further. Here she found something big and grey: a boulder with roughly textured sides. Her hand reached out to touch it, realizing that it had a smooth top surface: almost like a seat tailored for solitary contemplation. This place, wherever it was, did not inspire panic; she felt no urgent need to escape any further.... so she lowered herself onto the old stone and turned to face the blue thing that was a lake.
There were lilies at the water's edge. The toe of her shoe rested lightly on the rippled, silty fringe. A gentle breeze played at strands of hair on her forehead. She wondered if that should tickle a bit? She wondered if she had any memories of being caressed by a soft summer zephyr? She supposed that it might feel quite pleasant. She supposed that it probably would.... if she didn't have a gaping hole in her chest.
Why the hell did it have to hurt like this?!
Ginny had braced herself for this day. She had known it would come. When everything had fallen apart the night before last, she felt that ice run through her veins telling her that the day was going to come much sooner rather than later. Her smart, rational, logical side had kept telling her over and over that this really was the way it had to be.... that it would all be for the best.... that she should have faith.... that she must be strong.... that if she was strong and had faith, everything would work out in the end.
So when he had finished stumbling through all of the pondersome words needed to make it a formal breakup, Ginny pressed the button to activate the part of her brain that was strong and logical. That part, ever the professional actress, delivered the robotic, scripted response. The words had been chosen with great premeditated care; they sounded warm, strong, convincing and resonant in spite of her own innately wavering conviction. Everything went as well as could be hoped. Harry Potter was going to succeed in whatever world-saving mission he was irrevocably bound to pursue. He would not fail. She would not inadvertently cause him fail. She would not have to blame herself for whatever terrible fate would befall the world if, in some desparate moment of selfishness, she had broken down.... if she shredded him in fury.... clutched him possessively.... begged him not to leave. She committed none of those sins. In fact, she had barely cried.... maybe her eyes misted a bit or something, but her cheeks remained dry. She was quite certain that she.... her robotic, logical, actress person.... had actually even smiled for him.... a little, anyway. She had done well.
So why why WHY did it feel like a clammy, thousand pound weight of guilt, shame, regret or something like that was sitting right over top of every inch of her, suffocating her, blocking out every other thought or emotion?! Why did it feel like every ounce of happiness and hope had been ripped from her heart, and thrown onto some rubbish heap of wasted emotions?
It's because you gave too much....
She jerked upright — that voice in her head! It was that annoying little id voice that had always been trying to pester her into doing brash, irresponsible things. It was the voice that never let her forget that she was the twins' little sister, and had somehow acquired one of their guiding principles: "It's more important to be fun than to be safe."
It was jarring to hear that voice again.... now of all times. That voice.... well, all of the voices really.... had been on holiday for long enough that she had almost forgotten about them. When Harry Potter had fixed those spectacular eyes on her.... when he had focused on her all his deep wealth of kindness and sensitivity.... when he had kissed her.... when she suddenly had free reign to run her fingers through that ruffled dark hair....
When all that had happened, she hadn't needed any voices to tell her what to do. Logic and instinct; id and angst: all the voices smiled at her, put aside their differences, kicked up their heels and walked off into the sunset arm-in-arm. For a parting prank, they left behind some fluffy-headed voice who babbled silly love songs in her ear all day. But that had been okay.
Now Harry was gone, so apparently it stood to reason that the voices would drift back. But that irritating little id voice had come back to say what? The same stupid voice who had nagged her day in, day out for years to give up; to surrender herself; to throw caution to wind and just think, live, breathe Harry.... was scolding her for giving too much??
"Hypocrite!" she muttered aloud. She quickly glanced around, relieved to confirm that she was alone.
And then there was silence. A bit of wind rustling the trailing willow branches, perhaps, but she had expected (perhaps even hoped) that the voice in her head might.... well.... elaborate a little. Maybe it could surprise her and say something that actually made her feel better.
Or maybe it already had. Maybe just the momentary distraction had helped a little. Her psyche was still torn, her composure mangled, but she was.... breathing.... now. She inhaled deeply, held it for a few second, and the released it. Okay, that does feel a little better. Her breath was still a bit ragged and she still ached, but at least she didn't feel quite so suffocated.
She looked down at her reflection in the water and immediately wished she hadn't. It was a lone hunched form with enflamed eyes, hair loose in the breeze. "I look like a banshee," she grumbled. Once again she froze and glanced around furtively.... grateful to confirm that she still had the solitude necessary for yelling at herself with impunity. She scowled and hurled a rock at the reflection. It exploded into a thousand little sparks of light and color, then wobbily reformed itself into a banshee.
If the banshee wasn't going to leave her alone then she was going to close her eyes.
Breathe. Close eyes. Breathe.
This seemed to be working. A few more muscles unclenched. She decided that she was going to be okay. She had felt worse. She had gotten over.... deaths.... dementors.... survived even worse experiences. But she was certainly not going to think about those!
Or would she? It couldn't make her feel any worse, could it? Why not remind herself again what she had accomplished. After the Chamber or Secrets, she made it back out of the darkness, clawed herself back onto her feet, and eventually learned to thrive again. Yes she, Ginevra Molly Weasley, was a consummate survivor! She leaned back, caught a ray of sunshine on her face, and told herself that she would eventually even be able to deal with people again, learn to smile again. Not yet, but maybe tomorrow.... maybe even tonight.
As the diameter of her gaping wound closed a little more, she wondered if she should just get the messy part over with: surrender herself to tears and sobbing. She loathed the thought of weeping, but maybe it would help her heal. Yes, as long as she was all alone.... just this once.... she could probably let herself....
The touch of a hand on her cheek nearly startled her into the lake. For one delirious, elated, panic-stricken instant she thought it might be Harry.
She didn't dare look. No no no no no — it can't be Harry! He had to be gone! If he's back so soon it means.... what? That he's given up? Somebody else is hurt or dead? She gasped at the thought, not daring to really contemplate what sort of horrible news it would mean if he was back again already. It can't be Harry. She couldn't see him again so soon — no amount of selfish longing would be adequate compensation for knowing that the world was even more perilous than she's already believed. And besides, she could scarcely imagine what kind of pain she would have to endure if he had to turn right around and leave again.
It's not Harry, she told herself.... and finally dared to swivel her wide eyes a little to the side. She was disappointed.... NO.... relieved.... she was profoundly relieved that the hand was too small to be Harry's. It was too small, too pale, and too attached to.... Luna Lovegood.
Luna was gazing serenely into the distance. She was dressed all in white; the breeze rustled her robes and long blonde hair. She was humming softly.
Ginny leaned forward and looked down into the shallow water, peering at their shimmering reflections. This is okay. She needed to be alone; it would be okay to be alone with Luna Lovegood.
And Neville Longbottom.
He made his way cautiously down the slope until he was standing behind her right shoulder, arms crossed, frowning, darting the occasional wary glance from side to side or behind him. He seemed to be checking carefully to ensure that they were all alone.
So Ginny was alone with her tangled hair and puffy eyes. With a rib cage that felt like it had been kicked, and pair of lungs that were still a bit dysfunctional. She was all alone with Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom.... and that was okay.
A small bird began to pick its way over the muddy fringe a little way up the shore. They watched as it skipped several feet, flipped over a pebble, poked its head back and forth, then skipped off in another direction.
The ghost of a smile crossed Luna's face, as if in reminiscence. She inhaled deeply, it almost sounded like music.
"You will get spinglets!" she proclaimed. For a moment she beamed radiantly, then gazed off northwards, mouth slightly open, eyes vacant.
Spinglets? From the rare Lovegood smile, Ginny supposed that this probably wasn't a disease. It hopefully wasn't a colony of mystical parasites that she might have unknowingly sat upon. Or maybe it was. Luna seemed to have lots of symbiotic relationships with mystical parasites. Ginny shivered a little but then managed a weak smile. Just the mere fact that she was sitting here wondering what spinglets were, seemed.... stupidly encouraging? Encouragingly stupid?
Ginny stared out across the water to the far hillsides that had attracted Luna's gaze. As a girl of nine, Luna had lost her mother. Other people were losing loved ones almost every week. Ginny thought of Susan Bones and Hannah Abbott: two quiet, thoughtful girls who had each lost guardians this year. She wondered if either of them had ever come out to a secluded rock like this to stare into the distance, seeking the resolve to go on. She wondered if they, or other bereaved souls, had ever rested right on this very spot in search of peace.
As depressing as these thoughts might have seemed, they certainly put matters into perspective. She, Ginny, had not lost Harry — she had only lent him. She had released him to fly the winds of fate; to do something that he needed to do; something that they all needed him to do. She knew she could still hope that maybe the sun would rise some morning to a world where he would be back in her arms, with a peaceful look in his eyes, telling her that he would never have to leave her again.
Two tears welled in her eyes. Don't do it! Ginny tried to urge them back into their ducts, but they escaped and began rolling onto her cheeks.
Luna caught one of the droplets on her finger tip. "I have never told you a story." she said.
Ginny cocked her head a little, with a quizzical frown.
"I really haven't told any of the students at Hogwarts a story." She was still looking peacefully into the distance, head swaying side to side. "Perhaps none of them would really hear it." She put a hand to her lips and narrowed her eyes a little. "But that's not completely true. I think Harry would hear a story. But he's seeing too many other things right now, so he'll have to wait. I will tell him a story later. Maybe in a few years. He'll be ready then."
Luna, for the first time, looked down at Ginny. "Can you prepare Harry for a story? No, not today of course. You can work with him next year if you'd like?"
Ginny nodded. She hadn't the faintest clue what she was agreeing to, but vacuous nodding seemed appropriate.
"Thank you Ginny, you're ever so kind!" Luna beamed. "Neither of you have many wrackspurts, but I will lend you a siphon if you would like. We will stand on a grassy hillside before sundown and hear a story." She inhaled again. "I will enjoy that very much."
Ginny replayed the bizarre conversation in her mind and caught her breath. The explicit mention of Harry had not been a jolt — it had almost not even registered. Her chest had not imploded. She had not stopped to wonder if there would be a next year to worry about wrackspurts and hillsides and something or other else that Luna was asking about or telling her. No, for some reason it seemed acceptable.... tolerable even.... that she should be sitting here all alone beside the lake, flanked by two very dear, very unconventional, friends. And there were dragonflies alight on the lilies and the gentle summer breeze was now.... actually quite successful.... in its mission to tickle that loose bit of hair on her forehead. And standing beside her was Luna who had said something or other to her, and perhaps some sort of a reply might be expected, but she had no idea what to say, which in fact was fine because Luna had started speaking again, and this time the girl had momentum!
"It was near the end of the first wizarding war, a little while before I was born. My mum always said it was before I had hatched, but I know she was just making me laugh because she never would have taken an egg with her when she was out to check the fireseed cave." Luna stopped for a moment to consider this, then nodded at her logic. "Well, we were returning from the cave just before dark when at the foot of the hill Mum looked up into the mistletoe and saw an owl. She knew it had to be gravely important because it was a light feathered Ural with almost the deepest, darkest eyes we'd ever seen."
She paused again to let these salient facts sink in. Ginny felt obliged to nod again, stealing a quick glance at Neville, who was still staring across the lake with the same small frown around his eyes.
"The owl had spell damage. It's wing was broken and it had lost nearly every feather on one side of its body. It was most distraught and hopped right onto my Mum's arm. It had a parchment, and kept gesturing with it, but the owl wouldn't let her touch the scroll because the message was charmed. Mum understood at once and we went tearing up the hill, cradling the damaged owl in her basket."
Ginny was transfixed. Through five years friendship, this was a completely unique experience for her. Luna Lovegood was not staring blankly into space, or humming, or making startling pronouncements. Luna was telling her a story. And it continued.
"Mum knew we shouldn't touch the message. We didn't have an owl of our own to transfer the message to anyway, so the only thing she could do was to mend the Ural as quickly as possible. His name was 'Yugra' by the way. Father was away at the time, so when Mum ran out of all the fireseed we'd just collected trying to repair the spell damage, we had to go out all alone in the middle of the night to another fireseed cave ten miles downstream to collect more. When we finally got home, Mum nearly shaved herself bald to stock the refeathering potion. She still looked like a darling little boy when father came home three days later. He was so endearingly shocked."
Smiling dreamily, Luna had unconsciously gathered Ginny's hair and was letting it cascade through her hands.
"By mid-morning, Yugra looked completely mended. We were exhausted. We fed him two oatmeal biscuits, drank our gurdyroot infusion and fell onto the bed. The last thing we saw before closing our eyes was Yugra at the window, waving to us and rising away to his mission. I wondered if I would ever see him again."
"I didn't really understand news back then. Perhaps it was because I couldn't read well through Mum's belly, and she rarely held any letters or books down that low anyway. But to be honest, I still don't really understand the news — Father says it's the mark of a strong intellect to be confused by the news...." She gazed over at Neville, inquiringly. He nodded ever so slightly. "But Mum would still try to explain it to me sometimes. She told me she knew that Yugra saved many lives that day. I was happy about that, but I'd never met any of the people he saved, so more than anything I really just wanted him to come back to visit me. Time went on. Weeks. Months."
Luna inhaled like music again.
"Finally, one night three days after I was born, we were all humming by the fire when we heard the window rattle. It was Yugra. When Father opened the window he flew straight to Mum's arm and touched my face with his beak. He looked so proud.... so healthy and strong. He had a little brown cloth bag. I stared as Mum untied it.... pulled the drawstring, and carefully removed.... fireseeds!.... And spinglets!"
Luna put her hands on Ginny's shoulders and rocked them both back and forth, gazing into the sky. "They were beautiful scarlet spinglets. In all my days, I'd never ever seen such vibrant colors! You must understand that one needs places with year-round snow to find them like that. I hear that the ones near Hogwarts are only rosy, and the ones around home are barely pink. Yugra must have flown far up north to find them!"
Luna bent down to whisper in Ginny's ear. "Only someone who's really really brave will ever receive spinglets. It's been so many years since I saw one -- I'm so much looking forward to seeing yours! You will get so many, Ginny!" She wrapped her arms tightly around Ginny and rocked her in rapt enthusiasm. Teetering off balance, Ginny grinned nervously, wondering whether or not they were both about to fall into the lake.
Straightening up again and shielding her eyes, Luna stared off south, into the sunshine. "Yugra used to appear once or twice a year. I loved him and he was always kind to me. He would tell me beautiful stories about letters, and far away wizards, and fieldmice. But I could tell from looking into his eyes that his main reason for visiting was to see Mum. I last saw him a week after Mum was buried. He came to me in the late afternoon, tickled my cheek with his beak and dropped two tiny spinglets into my hand."
She gazed placidly off at the hills, hands resting at her sides. "Can you believe it Ginny? They were blue! I wonder where he could possibly have found blue spinglets?" She smiled and squeezed Ginny's shoulders. "Yours could be green I think."
Ginny felt a big lump rise in her throat. Oh brilliant.... I hold myself together through every sort of hell and now I'm going to completely fall apart over.... spinglets!
And tears came pouring out.... for Luna and the owl, for Hannah and Susan, for Neville's mother and her chewing gum wrappers. Ginny cried for her own dear Mum who lived every day in fear of getting horrible news. Sobs came for Harry, because he really only wanted to have a normal life with a job where he could whistle his way home to his family every evening. She cried for herself because she wanted to be that family, just like she wanted Hermione and Luna and Hannah and Susan and Neville and every redheaded Weasley under the sun to visit their little cottage in the woods every Sunday afternoon and drink butterbeer in the shade while children chased each other around the garden. She cried because Neville and Luna had come around to face her: they were standing ankle deep in the soft lakeside muck hugging her, and she, Ginny, slid off her lonely rock and felt something cool squish into her shoes, and she embraced her friends so hard that she heard Neville say "Owrhff." And her sobs started to feel like laughter, and she started grinning like a fool. And she knew that her face must be making one of those sweetly deranged grimace-grins that little children have when they're trying to cry but some adult insists on saying something really silly. And something must be really silly for her to be laughing like an idiot standing in the mud in her best clothes looking at Neville who clearly knew she had lost her mind because he was looking back at her with a goofy little smile that she had never seen before, while Luna was staring placidly up into the trees like this was all perfectly normal behavior for three grieving students at a funeral.
Arm in arm, Ginny looked from Luna to Neville and back again. The sun had shifted a bit in its lazy summer tour of the sky. Neville was thinking. Luna was humming. Ginny's laughter had faded some time ago, gradually settling into a wistful smile; wistful because she couldn't help but think that for all she had longed for complete solitude in which to reassemble her scrambled head, there were yet three more people whom she would have loved to have join her in her lonely contemplation. Ron, she decided, would be standing on the little knoll, hands in his pockets, looking bewildered. He would have made several comments that, while initially humorous, would be starting to sound a bit plaintive. He would have mentioned food four times by now. Hermione would have found a place to sit under the tree. She would be pretending to re-read the funeral program, but the subtlety of her surreptitious glances would be waning. Eventually she would just have to put the parchment down and sit there smiling at their silly antics. And Harry. It didn't hurt Ginny so much to think of him now.... especially not when she knew that he would be standing right here in the mud with them. Sure he would have squawked a bit when she and Luna pulled him off the rock, but by now he would have had that deep rolling laughter that he so dearly needed, and Ginny could distinctly feel his eyes shining deep into her soul as he looked at her.
She framed it all, the exquisite blend of reality and fantasy, in her mind's eye because someday she really would bring Harry here to the rock where she had failed in her bid to be alone. Then she would confess to him that just one hour.... two hours? Whatever. She would confess that the same day that he had supposedly ... yes, supposedly.... broken up with her, she had come down here, cried about love lost, about life and death and spinglets, and she had stood in the mud with two of their dearest friends, laughing like a loon on the lake. He would be relieved and happy. Of course he would feign indignation — some deadpan quip about expecting a more dignified response to their breakup. At which point she would have no other choice than to pull the brave and noble prat off the rock and into the mud.