Written for the Make it Quidditch Flash Competition at the Dumbledore's Armada Discord Server, hosted by Hslades!
Prompt Given: 8th Year
COMPETITION WINNER: BEST ANGST CATEGORY
Her breath came in as sharp as the hairpin turns she took as Ginny swooped around the Quidditch Pitch another time. The late November air clung to her skin, seeping through the layers of robes and gloves, giving no care to the warming charm that was quickly fading or the thick knit jumper she wore under her robes- a dark, murky shade of green with a golden F on the front. She had found it on her floor, beneath her bed, while packing for her return to Hogwarts and had been unable to return it to his room. The feel of the knit and the smell of powdered ashwinder that lingered in the fabric that she refused to wash brought a modicum of comfort, so she wore it.
A gust of wind cut through her concentration, causing her to fly off track and reroute what would have been a perfect Woollongong Shimmy, turning it into some strange off-brand version of a Porskoff Ploy. She cursed at herself, giving her Comet 290 a hard yank to the right, levelling out and stopping mid-air. She closed her eyes, feeling her hair settle back over her shoulders, her eyes stinging from the cold wind. No one questioned her if she flew and came back puffy-eyed.
"Must have forgotten her goggles again" they'd say.
She never forgot her goggles, she purposely left them on the bench, right next to her helmet and her pads. It was so late at night when she came out to fly on her own, she never intended to actually practice. She had denied the request to be captain this year- something about taking that position, about moving on in such a manner, it felt wrong. It already felt wrong that it was his broom that she flew on, his voice in her head every single time she left her goggles and pads on the bench…
"You've got to make sure to always wear your goggles, Gin! You can't keep eyes on the Quaffle if you can't see!"
There it was again! That pain in her chest that ached and tore at her insides, the crushing feeling of loss every time her stupid brain supplied his disembodied voice to her thoughts. It had been months since the Battle, months since they held the funeral and put Fred in the ground and yet… she couldn't think about anything else.
At first, the only thing she focused on was George. Georgie wouldn't let anyone but her in his room, in his flat, in his life for three full months. She bathed him, she fed him, she laid on the couch and held his head in her lap and sobbed with him. She removed every broken mirror from the flat he shared above Wheezes, she took their pictures off the walls, she closed his bedroom door and put all her energy into George.
Because everyone else was moving on and they understood that George was broken, he would never be whole again, and that a part of his very soul died with Fred. So they pitied him, they tried to care for him, and when they couldn't, they moved away from him.
But Ginny remained.
For months, she stamped down her grief. Take care of Georgie. Georgie needs you. George is broken, you're whole, help him. Get George through the summer. Over and over she repeated these thoughts in her head, a mantra of sorts, to get George through. If she got George through it, then she could get through it. Afterall, George had lost a twin.
"He was still your brother," Harry had said to her. "You're allowed to miss him and be upset, too."
"If I fall apart, who else will be there?"
Harry had simply shrugged, placing the plates on the table they were setting for Sunday dinner. That was something she loved about Harry, he didn't have all the answers, and he didn't pretend to. Instead of trying to figure it out, he had simply continued with what he was doing and offered her the time to think.
But here, in the air, seventy feet from the earth with the wind rushing past her ears and the only light coming from stars that illuminated the Pitch in a foggy, silver glow.. Here, she didn't have to think or take care of anyone else's broken emotions. Here, she could feel as hollow as the rings on either end or heavy as a bludger.
Ginny had considered not coming back to Hogwarts. Technically, she was still only a Seventh Year student. But, with the way the last year had gone, and with nearly none of the students that should have moved on last year, doing just that, Professor McGonagall had welcomed back all seventh year students for a special year. Eighth year studies had been combined with seventh year, creating one large class of broken-hearted students who had seen too much, too young. Who were returning to a place they watched their friends, teachers, spouses, and family be killed. A place that simultaneously felt like home and felt like prison.
Returning to Hogwarts made Ginny understand exactly why people go insane in Azkaban. The overwhelming, claustrophobic, lonely feeling of being trapped was enough to make anyone go spare. She laughed out loud, the sound shocking against the quiet of the night air. Ironic- to feel confined in such a large castle, on such expansive grounds, surrounded by people... The sound felt good as it pulled from her throat, as if there were some force behind it. She tested the sound again, letting out a hearty guffaw.
Her heart skipped a beat as her laughter echoed around her, the wind pulling it through the air to swirl above the pitch and sing above the Black Lake. As she laughed, she realized it was the first time since before the Battle she had heard the sound come from her own mouth. It sounded foreign and stilted, but she could feel something when she hiccuped those chortles. Soon, Ginny was zooming around the pitch again, laughing loudly as she dipped and twisted and barrel rolled through the air.
Then finally, the laughter ebbed into something far more fierce. When her feet hit the ground, finding purchase on the soggy soil of the earth, she screamed. And she screamed. And she screamed. She howled and wailed and cried. She felt her chest constrict as her stomach ached, her throat raw and burning. With every bellow from her lungs, it felt like glass pushing past her lips and she relished in the pain of it. As she took in a deep breath through her nose, she could smell him on the sweater she wore and she screamed again. The feeling of the most expensive broom she owned giving her fingers splinters because she couldn't bring herself to buff away the last evidence that Fred had used it, so she screamed again.
Ginny fell to her knees, the weight of her grief finally causing her to buckle. The sound of Fred's laugh, just slightly lower than George's, reverberating around her mind.
Put on a show, din't ya, Gin? Too bad no one here to see it. Put half that force into your Quaffle throws and you'll be lead string for the Harpies this time, next year!
I don't want to play for the Harpies anymore. I'm going to go work at the shop with George.
Well that's a bloody waste! You've got more Quidditch talent in your pinky finger than the lot of us ever had. Don't throw it away on my account.
It feels wrong. It all feels wrong now.She was crying, she could feel the wet on her cheeks as she continued this insane made up conversation in her head. The tears, she realized, felt almost as good as the laughter and the screaming.
The right thing to do hardly ever feels like it's the right thing. But, you're feeling something now aren't you?
It's not… I can't. It's too risky, leaving George to handle everything on his own.
You're not helping him like this and besides, he's not on his own! You think you're the only one having conversations with me in your head? You all are! Bunch of nutters! How are you going to have any fun if you don't take a risk or two?
Ginny slowly blinked, wiping the tears from her face with her sleeve and coughing to clear her throat. Fred, or whatever strange version her brain had thought up of him, was right. She was of no help to anyone when she moved about, a shell of herself. Pressing down the ache and hurt, ignoring the pain because it was easier to focus on George and his grief than it was to pay any mind to her own. But how was she supposed to have fun when fun felt like such a foreign concept to her now. When was the last time she had fun? What was the last time she flew for fun, instead of as a way to just feel something besides the skull crushing ache of emptiness…
With a new resolve, Ginny bucked her chin forward and took a few shaking breaths, bringing herself up to her feet and gripping her broom tightly. It was nearly the end of November, and the match between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor was coming up. She had completely fumbled the last one, and they lost because of it. But not this time. Ginny mounted her broom and pushed off hard, rocketing straight up and hovering dead center of the pitch. She took a deep breath, the air filling her belly to chest, before she blew it out slowly. When her lungs were wrung of every bit of oxygen, her emotions more centered than they had been in months, she closed her eyes and waited.
She could feel it, finally for the first time in months, she could feel the buzz in her head that she could only ever attribute to flying. The wind was blowing again, much slower, but still enough to create a current. She could feel her heart race with excitement as the hairs on the back of her neck stood at attention. Her belly danced with flutters and the tips of her fingers tingled with anticipation. She tightened her grip and leaned forward, zipping into the current and letting it pull her along. She eased up her control, allowing the wind to do the work and as she did she thought of Fred.
His jokes, his laughter, his singing in the shower (so loud that mum had to put a silencing charm on the door), his excited face when he came up with a new sweet for the snack box, how he and George would let her into their room at night when it stormed and she was scared, the faces he'd make behind mum's back whenever she made tripe, the knobby jumper she was wearing now…
But most of all she thought of flying. At the age of eight and at night when no one else was awake, Fred would sneak her out and teach her the basics. For hours they would practice on beat up old Cleansweeps and she would laugh until her stomach ached. And now, as she turned quickly, weaving around the goal posts, she laughed like she did when they were kids.
There you go, Gin.
a/n: Thank you so much to everyone who voted for this fic! I'm insanely proud of how it turned out, and I am overwhelmed by the amazing things people have had to say about it. I know dealing with grief is hard, so please, if this upset you- remember to take care of yourself and be kind. Everyone heals differently and at a different pace.