Have you ever written any works about that clean, empty train station Harry ended up in? Or rather, what that place may have looked like for other people?
Ginny woke up with a gasp that felt like sandpaper shoved down her throat. Her lungs brimmed with rock and cold water, with the thick musty smell of snake.
She inhaled again and it was softer– she blinked her eyes open as the world rearranged itself. Mildew and stone gave way to the scent of sun-warmed grass. Apple blossoms. Branches cut the sky into shards of blue.
She had learned how to fly in this orchard. She had stolen her brothers’ brooms out of the shed and practiced when no one was watching her. She knew this view–lying on the ground, looking up–because she had laid out here in the shade on hot summer days, because she had fallen off brooms and bruised herself all over, again and again, knocked all the air out of her lungs. Ginny sat up.
Ginny sat up. Her mother put a mug of tea down in front of her. Ginny wobbled where she sat and clutched at the rough edge of the kitchen table.
“Drink your tea,” said Molly.
“Mum,” she said. “I think I’ve been hurting people.” The Burrow’s kitchen was sunlit and scrubbed clean behind Molly.
“Of course you wouldn’t, sweetheart,” said Molly.
“Mum,” said Ginny. “There was blood on my robes."
"We’ve all killed a few chickens in our time,” said Molly.
“How did I get home?” She wrapped her hands around the steaming mug. It was cold against her palms, wet and gritty. There was dirt under her nails. She shivered. “I was at Hogwarts."
"It’s not going to be easy,” Molly said. “He’ll tell you that, someday– the choice between what is right and what is easy. Isn’t that interesting? That doing the right thing is always so damn hard.” Molly put the tea kettle back on the stove. Her apron was thick beige canvas, well-used. “But you won’t really be listening. Because a boy will just have died, and you’ll be thinking about that. About whether or not he had a choice.”
“Who’s dying?” Ginny said. “Who’s going to die?"
"No one you know well,” Molly said. “It’s alright. No one important to you. Someone very important to other people, but, of course, everyone is. And no, he won’t have had a choice. Right, or easy. But you do."
Bill was trying to brush her hair. It was tangled at the back of her skull, matted, but his hands were very gentle. The chair she sat in creaked under her, old, in need of repairs like everything the Weasleys had ever owned. Sunlight dripped down through the leaves of the orchard. Bill had been the one who taught her to undo the lock on the broom shed door.
"You haven’t done this since I was little,” she said.
“You’re still little,” Bill said. His voice was younger, squeakier, and when she tipped her head back she saw his chin smooth and unstubbled, his hair still short and neat, his ear unpierced.
“I miss you,” she said. “You’re going to leave. You’re going to go on adventures and forget to write home and forget to visit."
"I’ll visit,” said Bill.
“Not enough,” she said. “I’m glad you grew your hair out, though. It looks good. Mum doesn’t get it, but it looks more like you."
Her skull was cradled in his hands, still tipped back, looking up at him.
"You’re not really here,” she said.
“No,” he agreed. “You’re all alone. You’re on the floor of the Chamber, can’t you tell?"
Ginny touched her robes. They were cold and damp, sticking to her spine. Moldy water dripped from her hem onto the dry dirt of the orchard.
"You’re just embarrassing us,” said Percy. He was fussing with his robes, picking lint off them. A sunbeam came through the kitchen window and draped itself around his shoulders.
Ginny swallowed. “You don’t mean that.” She looked around the kitchen, but it was empty. Mum and her teapot weren’t anywhere.
“Can you imagine how Mum and Dad will feel?” Percy said. “When it comes out their baby girl has been strangling chickens and killing Mudbloods?”
“No one died,” she whispered. “And don’t say that word."
"C'mon, Ginevra, no one died but they were meant to. A camera, a mirror, a ghost, a puddle– the Mudbloods got lucky."
Her whisper shrank and shrank. "Don’t say that word."
"Mudbloods? Why? You wrote it on the wall in blood.” His face twisted, sneering, twisted and twisted– she had never seen Percy’s face skew that far. She didn’t think faces could move like that. She didn’t think they should. She squeezed her eyes shut. “You’ve been trying to kill people all year, and you haven’t even managed one,” said the thing with Percy’s voice, the voice he used to tell first years to knot their ties properly. “Embarrassing. Maybe tonight you’ll finally get it right."
"You’re not really here,” she said. “This isn’t real. This is a dream, it’s all in my head, you’re not really here."
"Of course it’s all in your head,” Percy said, or something that had once looked like Percy said. She wasn’t opening her eyes to see. “Why would that mean it isn’t real?”
“Welsh Greens are my favorite dragon,” said Charlie. Ginny pried her eyes open. Charlie smiled at her from across the kitchen table. Her tea was still gone. Percy was gone. The sunlight had faded to pale morning light. She was shivering.
“I try not to play favorites,” he said. “You know, but sometimes you just gotta admit things to yourself.”
“Charlie, I think I’m dying.” She gripped the edge of the rough kitchen table and it bit into her palms.
“They’re just so elegant,” Charlie said. “The first time I saw one fly. Do you remember? No, you weren’t born yet, I think. But Dad got suspended for a month, though Mum and Dad didn’t tell us that part–something with Lucius Malfoy–but he had a month off so we went to stay with that old friend of Mum’s in Newport. Right near the preserve. And we went out into it, and the twins kept trying to run off, and Bill spent all his time reading those adventure books he liked so much then, but we saw dragons. A Green sunning, across a gorge. One flying, almost directly over us. And I knew, right then, what I wanted to do with my life."
"I think it was Lucius who put the diary in my textbook,” she said. “Why would he do that? Why did I write in it? Why did Tom make it? Why did I write back?"
"See this?” said Charlie, rolling up a sleeve. Two long jagged lines of scar tissue bulged down his forearm, wrapping around it. “Poor thing got stuck in a trap and nicked me when I was getting it loose. Damned poachers."
"Charlie, I think I hurt people.”
“And here,” said Charlie. He untucked his shirt and showed her a big shiny burn that went all up and down his leftside ribs and hip. “Healing skin,” he said. “It’s the weirdest thing.”
“We prank Filch and Mrs. Norris all the time,” said George. He was sitting in a tree in the orchard, the way the twins had used to before they got too big for the fragile branches. “But Merlin’s beard, Gin, never like that."
Ginny sat cross-legged in the grass, picking stalks and trying to weave a crown. "Do you think Mrs. Norris’ll be okay?"
"And Justin?” said George. “He’s a little twerp, but my god. We could have helped you put cayenne in his oatmeal or something, come on."
"It wasn’t me,” said Ginny. “I didn’t mean to."
"Okay, was it not you, or did you not mean to?” said George. “Those are two different excuses.”
“Never trust something if you can’t see where it puts its brain,” Arthur said. Her father was under the car. She couldn’t see him from the mid-chest, up. She couldn’t see his face.
“You know it’s not your fault, right?” Ron was lying on his back on his bed and she was laying belly-down on the floor, coloring. The ghoul in the attic banged pipes– angry, desperate sounds resounding like they were in an empty, vaulted space that swallowed up echoes and spat them back.
“I wrote back,” she said.
“Yeah, and? Plenty of people have penpals. That’s all you did. You were lonely. Don’t you think I get it? We’re the last ones, you and me. The point where people have seen so many Weasley kids they stop bothering to learn our names. I know.”
“I should’ve known,” she said. She rolled over onto her back, her hair tangling with her colored pencils. It sounded like the ghoul had maybe broken a pipe– a violent hissing shook the room. “Never trust something if you can’t see where it keeps its brain."
"That’s stupid,” said Ron, sitting up, leaning over so she could see the profile of his long nose, his flop of red hair. There was a spreading stain on the ceiling above him.
“Dad says that."
"Well Dad’s stupid sometimes. What does where something keeps its brain have to do with anything? Somebody put that diary in your stuff. Someone made that diary– and they kept their brain right in their skull, just like us."
"So it’s ‘never trust anyone’?” Hissing, snarling, metal on stone, the drip of water. Her skull pressed into the hard floor, too heavy to lift. The noise rose and rose, but she could hear Ron’s voice just fine.
He shrugged, lanky shoulders bobbing. “I dunno. Maybe it’s 'do your best.’ I dunno. You’re eleven. Why do you have to be thinking about stuff like this?”
“You’re twelve. Why are you?”
“Yeah, well, I helped fight You-Know-Who in my first year."
Ginny curled her fingers into her dark robes. She had had to throw away the ones she’d killed the roosters in. She’d never learned Mum’s cleaning spells well enough for that.
"You could, too,” Ron said. The stain on the ceiling kept spreading, white plaster going dark. “You did. Fight You-Know-Who, your first year.” Water dripped onto her forehead.
“How?” she said. “I helped him. Tom was in my head, my hands– He was–"
"You tried to tell people.”
“I should’ve made them listen,” she said.
“You can’t make people listen,” said Ron.
“What can I do, then?” she said.
“Wake up,” he said. “Wake up, wake up, come on, Ginny, wake up, Harry why is she so cold.”
“I’m so scared, Mum,” she said. The tea was steaming but her hands were shaking against cold ceramic. “I think I’ve been hurting people."
"You’ve always been able to tell us apart,” said George. The leaves on the trees rustled behind him. “We appreciate that, you know? Like, there’s some pranks we can’t play with you around, but, still, it’s nice."
"You can go,” Percy said, kindly, and Ginny shivered and shivered. “You’ve always wanted to. You’ve been dreaming about running all your life. Just taking a broom and going."
Apple blossoms filled the air. Dry grass tickled her cheek, the curve of her calf. Branches cut through the sky– blue, broad, endless. She could feel cold, rotting water seeping into her robes, her socks, swallowing her hands.
Bang. The ghoul in the attic was hitting pipes again. Hissing. Shouts.
Bang. Swinging his feet, knocking his heels against the table legs, Fred sat on the rickety table in the broom shed. He trimmed the stray broken twigs from the tail of his Cleansweep, whistling, and he didn’t look up.
The door of the shed hung open behind Ginny, the sun at her back, the smell of apple blossoms in the air.
"If you’re going to steal our brooms,” Fred said. “You could at least help with maintenance, you know."
"Why are you the last one?” she said. He had stopped whistling, but the sound kept going, ricocheting off the walls. “Why weren’t you with George?”
“We don’t do everything together,” said Fred. He looked up from the broom and he was smiling. “He’s going to do a lot of things without me, one day.”
“Where am I?” she said. “What is this? This isn’t home."
"Isn’t it?” Fred said. He was smiling and she wanted him to stop. “You see, Ginny, you get a choice. Not everyone gets a choice, but you do. This is a place where people wait,” he said. “This is a place where they get to decide. To go forward or to go back."
"What if I don’t want to go back?”
“Then you take one of these brooms, Gin, and you just go.” He stood up, holding the broom loosely in his hand. “You used to dream about it, remember? When no one was paying attention to you, or when they were paying too much, or when Ron broke your favorite porcelain doll. You thought about sneaking out here, and taking a broom, and just going. The first time you snuck out here and stole my broom, that’s what you meant to do. Run away. Find a circus, or an adventure, a new life.”
“But I came back."
He shrugged. "You ran out of the cookies you’d packed. And it got cold."
"It’s getting colder,” she said. “Fred, I’m so cold."
"You won’t get cold, if you go. You won’t run out of anything.”
“What’ll I find?” The sky out the window was blue. It went forever.
“I don’t know, kiddo. Not yet.”
Bill was brushing her hair in the orchard. It didn’t hurt, but she knew it should. She tipped her head back. The sky was blue. She let him hold the weight of her skull in his two big hands, his rings digging into her scalp.
Charlie was telling her about dragons. Percy was picking lint off her shoulder and telling her to get some sleep. George was picking dead leaves off the apple tree and dropping them on her head.
Ron laid on his back in his bedroom and water dripped down from the ceiling. The ghoul was shrieking, the pipes were hissing. The stain spread and spread and she watched it go. She couldn’t lift her head.
“You have a choice,” Arthur said. He had oil on his cheek from fixing a car he swore he never meant to drive.
“It’s getting colder."
"I know, baby."
The handle of Fred’s broom was trapped between them, digging into her ribs, bruising her collarbone. She twisted her hands in the back of his shirt and buried her face in the front of it. Fred was taller than he should be. His chin was bristly with a beard he shouldn’t be able to grow this well, not yet.
"I miss you,” she said. “You’re going to leave."
"Are you?” he said.
She gripped the back of his shirt tight. She could smell the orchard through the open door. She was crying. Her tears were the only warm things in the whole world. “No,” she whispered.
“It won’t be easy,” Fred said, his chin pressed to the top of her head, because he was taller, he was so much taller than he should be. She cried and the stain spread through his shirt. “But it will be worth it."
Apple blossoms and old stone. Snakes in the dry grass. This was where she learned to fly. She had taught herself.
"Wake up,” said Ron. “Harry, why is she so cold? Wake up, Ginny, you’ve got to wake up."
The blue sky was cut into a hundred shattered pieces.
She opened her eyes.