And Perhaps

by S. Risen

It is summer, and Ginny is growing up quickly. Her father tells her so, resting a hand on her shoulder and giving her a tight smile. He has stopped tucking her in at night. Instead he kisses her cheek before she disappears up the stairs. The subtle letting-go is bittersweet, like most things in wartime. She savors this newfound dignity.

Her mother resists. She frowns disapprovingly at the soft eye shadow on Ginny's lids and still insists on brushing her hair for her some nights. On hot mornings she braids it for her, "To keep it off your neck, dear…and you really shouldn't yank at it like that."

"Let her have her space," Arthur says gently. Molly purses her lips and objects silently.

Ginny remains her brothers' little princess, though her crowns aren't fashioned of paper and sequins anymore. Instead she dons the earrings Fred and George gave her for her birthday (one hoop from each they told her), and the gold barrette that Charlie sent for no reason at all. Ron's gifts are sarcasm and overprotection and a running joke about knights in shining armor. She chooses not to say aloud that she is too grown up for fairy tales; Ron is still rooting for her and her knight.

Like in her storybooks, there is a villain, too. He wears black, and his laugh is cruel, all in fine dramatic style. She once played, to perfection, the damsel in distress with her secrets betrayed and her will broken. Any fragments of herself which she did not give to him freely, he simply stole. Her knight rescued her that time, but when the dust settled the villain stood unconquered and there was no painless ride into the sunset. Instead she was left to reclaim her missing pieces, which no longer seemed to fit together. There were gaps and sharp edges that had never been there before, and no one to save her from them. By necessity, she salvaged what she could and remade the rest. To this day she is not quite complete. Sometimes she fears she never will be.

It is autumn, and she is left hating Tom from a distance. He is and is not the phantom she knew, and she wonders whether this is comforting. "Go ahead and cry," Hermione tells her one night when they are alone in the common room. She tucks her bushy hair behind one ear. Her expression is so pained and compassionate—she does not know how tears make it real again. Ginny bites her lip. "I'm past all that." Instead she wakes before dawn the next morning and goes out flying, letting what demons she has simply circle on the ground beneath her.

Sir Hero does the same. He takes his Firebolt out, mostly when the weather is nasty and no one is likely to follow him. Spectators whisper uneasily at the way he pulls out of dives within an inch of the ground and doesn't blink when Bludgers whisk by his robes. "You got a death wish?" they joke nervously when he comes to earth again. He pays them no heed, for the cracks in his armor are sealed with indifference. He does not know how else to patch them over. Hermione fusses when he comes in soaked and freezing, but he waves off her earnest lecturing. She is frightened for him, Ginny knows, and not just because of the homework he quietly ignores.

Ginny is frightened for him, too, but it is an instinct long since mastered. She refuses to feel sorry him, which sets her in the minority. Rather she gently delivers a few choice words on the subject of self-pity. In a temper he is even more impressive than her mother, she soon finds. But when he loses it and yells at her to mind her own business, she stands unflinching and yells back that he's being a moody, morose prat and if he doesn't smile, and she means right now, damn it, she's going to hex him stupid. In the end Sirius is still dead, and Harry is a bit lost here.

She goes with him now, when he flies. She can never quite match his easy grace and has no hope of keeping up, but in close quarters she can sometimes outmaneuver him handily. The air is desperately cold and blank, and it makes their eyes water as it rushes past. A Quaffle flies between them continually as if neither really wants to touch it. On the few occasions that it slips from their fingers and past rescuing, they simply let it fall and keep flying.

The world is as lost as they are, and nearly as edgy. At night the Wizarding Wireless murmurs grimly in the common room until someone snaps and turns it off. They have all come to hate the broadcaster's practiced cheerfulness and his tired opening line: "There is good news tonight." He says it, and their lips curl scornfully—we read the papers, between and behind and all around the lines. Good news, indeed.

She feigns levity in her letters home and pretends she is not a frightened child. And when her friends offer their awkward condolences—"Really sorry about Michael, Ginny… So sorry"—she hopes that her mouth's strange contortion is a smile and thanks them for the sentiment. She is as grown up as that.

It is winter, and Christmas threatens. Douglas firs sparkle prettily along the length of the Great Hall; she is not sure whether to laugh at them or set them on fire. As a compromise, she nicks a delicate glass ornament and methodically destroys it in a corner of the dormitory one midnight. Harry notices her sliced hand the next day, and asks with his eyes if she is all right. She only smiles for him, genuinely. They are all frightened children, she begins to believe.

The earth turns slowly and tiny sacrifices snip at the corners of her life until it is ragged and chafing and disappearing on her. Hogsmeade trips are the first to go, in light of safety concerns. Quidditch is outlawed soon after. Eventually she cannot even take a walk on the grounds without an adult escort and a written pass from the Headmaster. But precautions are usually as unnerving as what they seek to prevent, and she finds herself fidgeting when she watches Filch lock up at night. She shudders as the great carved doors are heaved shut and their charmed bars fall into place one by one with a symphony of echoing clanks. She remembers what castles were built for in the first place.

"There's a war on," someone says whenever she complains. "Don't you know there's a war on?"

Her reply is vicious. She knows.

She feels trapped now pacing the halls and seeing the same scared faces over the papers at breakfast every morning. The scene is reminiscent of her first year and it leaves her sick with herself some days. There are still empty spaces inside that she has never been brave enough to mend. The alarmists and the embellishers and the drama queens are having their day, holding court over an entourage of the gullible. A sallow Ravenclaw seventh year has taken to playing Nostradamus in the library. So far the only person whom he has not accused of being a Death Eater is Dobby the house-elf. She listened from behind a bookshelf once, immersing herself in his silver tongue and elaborate theories until Ron found her and dragged her away. "We're not paranoid enough for you already?"

It is not quite spring yet, and she is precisely three-sixteenths crazy. Perhaps this is why she pulls her broom out of storage despite the ban. And perhaps why she brings the Firebolt along, too, while she's at it. No matter the reason, she marches into the Great Hall, takes Harry by the arm, and drags him outside in spite of his protests. Then she commands him to fly, right now, in much the same tone of voice she used for her pet bird when she set it free of its cage once, long ago. She remembers with perfect clarity the way the little sparrow glanced left, then right, pausing nervously on the windowsill before shooting out into the blue. Here and now, Harry has a hundred excellent reasons to tell her she is mad (which she is) and stomp back inside, but he climbs on the broom anyway.

And perhaps the almost-spring and the fraction of insanity are what prompt her to follow him up. Or perhaps it is the smile he gave her before he left the ground. At any rate, she kisses him when she catches him and things cannot be the same afterward.

A week of detentions later, she is a lady and a fighter and entirely his. She tries to tell him so—just in resting her head on his shoulder and settling deeper into the common room sofa. He has stopped blushing at her touch. Instead he smiles his slow, rare smile before brushing her hair away from her face in that way he has. She has been sealing her empty spaces with that smile. Sprawled on the rug in front of them, Ron and Hermione smirk and turn back to their chess game. The instant is precious in its transience as most things are in wartime.

Perhaps it will all turn out right.