iii.

Summer of her fifth year was one where she finally noticed what had been true for a while. Ron stopped his pleading looks, stopped pushing her into corners and asking her questions she had no answers to. He stopped catching the edge of her robe or walking into her room late at night, hair wonderfully tousled. She thought it should have hurt, but it didn't, and wasn't it funny how nobody noticed the frost that appeared in her footsteps, where she placed her hands, or the frigidity that followed her, its chill like perfume.

(Ginny's favourite game was follow the leader, because she needed a way to prove she loved her brothers. She painstakingly copied their movements, wanted to satisfy everyone, and knew their secrets - that Fred belonged to George and Percy to his books and Bill to the task of being the oldest and Charlie to his solitude. And finally, Ron to his triumvirate of three, where Harry and Hermione gave him the balance she couldn't give.)

The only brother left was the one who sat at the family table and said nothing. He had no words for her anymore, no more tales to tell, and watched people go by with a haunted expression that made Ginny wonder if he had someone whispering in his ear as well. His only indication of life was a tiny egg that hatched a dragon, which collapsed back into its shell a week later. Ginny hated it since it reminded her of the time she was unable to turn back, to become another red haired baby in a too large family. She hated it and couldn¡¦t bring herself to break the perfectly formed scales, the iridescent shell. So it just sat there, where his large hands placed it, a surprise that made her suffer everything but happiness.

Ginny's stare was attached to his every move even though he was oblivious to her. Tom chortled at the attention she paid him, and beyond him, she thought she could hear the shattering of icicles outside as they dropped onto the pavement. When she went outside, the sun was as bright as it ever was, and there were no fragments of ice on the sidewalk.

What does he know? Were Tom's words, scornful of the brother when she searched the ground for remnants of what she heard, if voices were another one of her delusions. His job is to play with fire.

It seemed hearing things was the least of her problems, and Ginny couldn't help but see Tom in every move he made, even though outside they were different, but inside they were the same. They stood alone in every place they went, seeking the farthest reaches of wilderness to only find more questions to the ones they already have. Tom was driven by the pursuit of the mind, and Charlie for the pursuit of adventure. At the end of the summer she was confused about which one she wanted, the man or the ghost boy, and if she even had a choice at all.

Her sixteenth Christmas she spent outside where she fit best. To darken her hair and her skin and become a tree sprite or a bird. She pretended she could float upon the air, become a wisp of smoke, a barely there image. She wished Charlie was not the only one of the Weasley's who seemed not see her as a girl, but as another male relation. He was a stranger to her, familiar, but distant. A brother who was not a brother, a brother who refused to hold her and hug her as other brothers did, only patted her head like she was five years old. When she stopped her movements at the intrusion of the brother she knew not at all, he smiled at her with a growing misery in his eyes that was becoming familiar. You're so thin now. He said, and it was then Ginny realized she had been mistaken all along, he noticed her forming body more than the other boys combined.

For all of Tom's jeers and mockery of Charlie's slow drawl, Ginny awaited the holidays with a thrill that scared her. To chase the spectre of the Prefect away from her mind, she only needed to think of dragons. The feelings grew and grew inside of her, stretched to fill her transforming body, the distant sky. The days passed in glowing hues, and she danced throughout February, made snow angels in the spread of white. She drew too many pictures that were wrong, in angles and descriptions and things made up in mind. She knew what the others thought, that she was mad. She spoke to the air, and tried to move away from invisible demons, attempted to keep one step ahead from Tom, who was always there, always waiting.

She felt his gaze on her even though he thought she wasn't looking. He as just like the brothers in the end, linked to her by shape of mouth and joints and blood and bone. She felt him resist, and she drew pictures upon pictures, breathed her own personalized style of magic into the colours. She posed for him, hair red against sunlight, knew that he ran his eyes down her legs, up an arm. Under his focus, she grew stronger, flourished in the intensity it gave her, the ability to escape the one who held her captive for moments at a time. (Ginny's favourite game as follow the leader, since Tom approved of her webs, her sugar spun lies. What he doesn¡¦t know was that the rules of the game still applied, that the leader had the sceptre to make his hold void.)

Charlie was forever distant, aloof, beyond everyone else and caught in his own dream world. He lived in a place of dragons and great beasts, and it was those eyes that probably saw the most. He had a clean face, an honest face that held its own purity. She drew him clean and warm and alive with a hint of coolness. She would always remember him that way as her model, sitting on the window seat, hands clasped around his legs, face turned to the night. When she asked him to take off his shirt for artistic integrity, he didn't object. The shirt settled into a pool on the floor, she drew a sharp involuntary breath. For his body was a sculpture, freckles a sea down his back.

The maze was reaching an end, the walls of the labyrinth not quite so high. They were closer than ever before. Tom's panic, his walls were breaking, his world shaken. His rage made every gasp sound like ice cracking, crystals thrown against solid surfaces. She refused to acknowledge him, denied making him real, for she knew his weakness now. Tom needed somebody to see him.

The pad slid down to the floor to join the shirt, and Ginny closed the distance between them with only the whisper of feet against thick carpet. He didn't say anything when she ran hands down smooth skin and muscles hard from work. He only closed his eyes and looked like he was about to break. (Ginny's favourite game was follow the leader, for Ron already taught her all there was to know about bodies, and guided her hands with the assurance of one who had every right to do it.) He did nothing of the sort, and only allowed her to touch, to roam over his back. She marked every turn, every curve with a sort of reverence akin to worship. The girls could keep their athletes and prefects. She had her own version of an idol. She had Charlie.

(Ginny's favourite game was follow the leader, when a faceless pair of hands joined hers, to draw her palm to meet lips on a too pale face. When the possessor of those hands touched her flesh, to tease and to insult and to ridicule. He was her teacher, her first, and it was in that he took what she had to give.)

When his gaze met hers it sent tingles from the sensitive points of her fingers and towards the tips of her toes. His brown eyes were velvet in the hushed darkness of her room, and she knew he would be very gentle. When she kissed him it was chaste almost. Not at all like Ron's fumbling caresses, Michael's eagerness, Tom's pull to draw your soul out of your body. It was like him, careful, precise, lifeless.

(Ginny's favourite game was follow the leader, but there was a thrill in loving him, in leading, knowing that she was a bit like Charlie and a bit like Tom, that she had her own wildness, her own passion inside of her.)

She was the one who pulled away, but he was the one who raised a hand many times bigger than her own, hands scarred and rough and hovering inches from her face, waiting. She could almost see the gate ahead, to grasp the handle with both hands. (Ginny's favourite game used to be follow the leader, but the key had been inside of her, formed and ready and waiting, and she cast Tom out of her life with a force that left her shivering...)What do you want from me, Ginny? His voice was hoarse, and she had a sensation like falling, falling into him, for him to catch her and hold her against the warmth of his chest, and she showed her reply with her lips on skin that burned.

--

In Romania, where the mountain peaks stretched to lonely distances. In Romania, where snow was as plentiful as brothers back home. In Romania, where the natives did not ask about child brides. There, Ginny shared Charlie with the dragons. The snow drifted down in silent, suffocating layers, created patterns to divert the eyes. The days were always cold and the nights always warm. She loved him like a sister should, with all her focus and mind and being. She had broken some cardinal rule somewhere in there, for she loved one brother above the others, loved the grooves of his hands, the way they played against her hip, the arch of her foot. And Ginny knew he would never lead her into games of follow the leader, to do with her as he willed. Ginny knew because she didn't remember him ever playing games. Ginny knew because of his eyes that took her in like a drowning man would, and she knew because he was her spring, the one she had waited for all along.

Ginny's favourite game was follow the leader, because for you, she would go anywhere.

--

Fin.