Who was like a sister to me
Love Itself Shall Slumber On
A soft, luscious darkness engulfed the headstones of a magical cemetery in London, and though graveyards at night have something of a reputation, there was nothing frightening about the place at all, if only because at the moment there was no one around to be afraid. The cemetery itself was not actually magical, it was only the people buried in it that were all wizards and witches, and even they—magical though they had been in life, were in death just as dead as ordinary people.
It was exactly that hour in the middle of the night, when it has been dark for quite some time and the stars in the sky are not the same ones that peeked out of the deep blue when the last traces of daylight faded from the horizon so many hours ago, that those who are awake to witness it begin to realize just how long a night really is, and those who are eager for daylight begin to wonder if it's coming after all.
But quiet reflections were pushed from the forefront of the atmosphere when, quite suddenly, the silence of the cemetery was broken with a loud crack and a young man appeared from nowhere between two graves which were set a bit apart from the rest near the edge of a copse of trees. His out-of-place, almost hurried look indicated that he didn't wish to linger between the stones, only long enough to squint out at the darkness and discern a direction. He made a throaty noise of frustration.
He was casting about in his mind for the memory of a funeral a few years back, but the location of the grave site was hazy in his recollection. He shook his head. He didn't remember where Percy was buried. What to do? Well it was a bit stupid of him to have come here in the dead of night, for one thing. Perhaps it would be best if he came back tomorrow morning—at least then it would be daylight. He raised his wand again to apparate away, but something stayed him.
Something tugging at his the back of his mind gave him the feeling that he'd regret it a little for the rest of his life if he came back Monday morning. Well, this was Monday morning, technically speaking, but for all intents and purposes the island of bliss that had been this weekend was undisturbed until the sun rose and he to go to work.
He set off through the cemetery, squinting at the stones as they glowed pearly white in the vague light that always keeps a city from going completely dark. He lit his wand, and shone them upon the names, searching quite in earnest, because there wasn't even some tiny part of him that hoped that if he couldn't find Percy in the cemetery, it might mean that he was alive. The idea that someone could be completely gone from the earth didn't surprise him very much anymore, and he didn't waste time denying it.
At last he came upon it, aided in no way by what he remembered. In fact, it felt very much to him like he'd never been to Percy's final resting place at all. He gave his wand a flick, and the brilliant flood of light from it vanished. And as his eyes adjusted once again to the dark, the sight of Percy's headstone emerged from the blackness.
There was an inscription below that, but he couldn't read it in the dark. He turned his thoughts to the person who was buried here.
He had all the bugs worked out of the mourning business by now: denial was inefficient and so was wasting time feeling foolish about talking to a block of granite. Of course the dead probably wouldn't get the message, but that wasn't the point, was it?
Harry paused. He wasn't very prone to long monologues, and while he harbored no irrational fantasies that the departed would ever answer him, he just needed a little time to think of what to say.
"I'm sorry Ginny missed your Deathday yesterday, it was my fault." He couldn't help the smug little smile that escaped him at this point, inappropriate though he knew it was. "We were—er—celebrating..."
And, unable to contain it a moment longer, he said it: "I asked her to marry me."
Ah. There it was. Harry asked Ginny to marry him, and the moment she had accepted, they had locked themselves in his flat, Imperturbed the fireplaces and put extra wards up around the perimeter, and for two blissful days they'd had themselves all to each other.
They wanted to be alone, to spend some time together—they'd been so busy these last few months. But Harry also had to admit that there was a part of him that had clung desperately to their seclusion for reasons other than wanting to spend time with Ginny, and now as he stared at the name before him the full weight of it stole in around him—a queasy sort of coldness, and he tried hard to remain concentrated on why he'd done it.
"I asked her to marry me," he murmured.
He was a month shy of twenty years old... Ginny was only eighteen. The churning in his stomach intensified and he raked a hand through his hair, worried that he felt so worried: and here he was, at the mercy of a cold slab of stone, standing at the remains of the one person who just might have hated him the most right now if he were alive. He heaved a guilty sigh, staring intently at the stone.
"I guess my being here probably feels like a personal insult to you, but"—he laughed humorlessly—"I swear that's not what I was going for."
He trailed off, as memories of Percy seeped through the spaces between his thoughts, and he regretted more deeply than he ever had before that he hadn't forgiven him before... But whose fault was that? How can you forgive someone for something they won't even apologize for? And yet such defensive sentiments didn't stick, in the end, because Harry had always known, deep down, that Percy was sorry, whether or not he ever said so. He cleared his throat.
"Don't think I don't understand why you never apologized to me. I get it—your entire family stood behind me, and you were sure I was a liar so you left, and no one came after you; you gave them this awful ultimatum and the way you see it they chose me. And then—it turned out I was right, and you were suddenly expected to come crawling back, begging for their forgiveness. That must have been galling for you."
Silence reigned again, and Harry felt somewhat nonplussed. Spouting off the argument to all that he had lived and believed in these past few years wasn't all the bitter insincerity he had thought it would be. The unexpected understanding continued to sink itself into Harry's thoughts, and it depressed him further. There was a rather defeated gormlessness in his tone when he spoke again.
"And now, on the second anniversary of your death, your sister—your only sister—forgot the date, because I asked her to marry me, and she was busy saying yes."
There stretched out a long silence, in which the only thing to be heard was the breathing of the night—the faints sighs in Harry's uneasy lungs, and in the gentle shaking of the poplars. He could feel exhaustion gaining on him with every inhalation, thoughts of Ginny in his bed, warm and fast asleep, looming ever closer.
At long last he felt moved to speak again, though by what he wasn't fully aware.
"She came over to my flat one night," he said. "She seemed a little upset, but when I asked her what was wrong—well she didn't really answer. And we were sitting on the couch after we'd eaten, and we were talking about N.E.W.T.s or the Auror tests or something, and out of nowhere she just burst into tears—I had no idea what to do.
"So I just let her cry, and eventually she started talking and... and it took me a minute to figure out who she was talking about—but it was you. She said she missed you so much she couldn't stand it—which I thought was a little odd because she pretty much ignored the fact that you were alive for two years—but apparently that didn't matter. She just cried, and said you were a world class prick and that she really hated you, and then said 'but I still love him, you know?'"
Harry swallowed roughly. "And no, I didn't know what she meant. I had no bloody idea what she was talking about! I'd never loved someone that much—so much I could truly hate them and it wouldn't change it. I was useless—I didn't know what it felt like to lose something like that; I didn't even know what she was missing.
"So I told her that, and... she dried her eyes and crawled onto my lap and kissed me, and said that someday I would understand. She said we'd just have to make me a family, and then I'd know."
He was staring so hard at the stone it made him dizzy, wishing viciously that Percy could hear him.
"I could have gotten down on one knee right there," he said in earnest. "That was a year ago."
Harry fell quiet at last, no words came to mind—his head was full of hush.
A lone blackbird broke the silence, singing his two knuts to the dead of night, as weariness ebbed at Harry's consciousness. The stinging in his eyes... the aching in his lids... if he went home now, he could catch a few hours of sleep, ease the stiffness in his joints, before work tomorrow.
Work tomorrow. A dread sickness began swelling up gradually inside him; there were only a few hours left before work tomorrow. Work tomorrow—and then everyone would find out about how he and Ginny wanted to get married. His insides felt like thick porridge being stirred as he imagined people he respected trying to talk him out of this. The very thought of trying to make them understand his decision, against all their knowing looks words of wisdom, made him feel horribly like a child who'd had no one to teach him not to linger where he wasn't wanted—like a rogue urchin at a dinner party for grown-ups. And here he was, searching for reassurance, begging comfort—from a headstone. The inane awkwardness of his current position hit him then in one fell swoop.
God—if anyone could see him now—raving to a graveyard in the early morning as dawn crept closer in the east, they'd know the truth in an instant: who could mistake this stray kid from nowhere for someone with something to brag about? He stared enviously at Percy's name, and the sting of latent tears in his eyes grew worse as it spread to his nose.
He groaned, "Shit, Percy!"
The blackbird had taken wing. "Look—you were a goddamn idiot, alright? You were a Weasley—you had parents and five brothers and a sister that loved you, and you threw it away for an important job with the bloody minister—so you could make my life a living hell!"
He stopped himself, frustration riding high in his system—this wasn't what he'd come to say at all. He took a deep breath. "Well it doesn't matter. I'm not here 'cause I'm mad at you, I'm here because—"
But here he found himself at a sudden loss. He searched his mind for the reason that had led him to a cemetery at three am. on a Monday morning. He and Ginny had collapsed into an exhausted sleep late Sunday night after their weekend of nearly non-stop "celebration"... Ginny hadn't even mentioned Percy, and... and then he understood. And with this understanding, he gave a labored breath and spoke.
"I just came here in case—if there's any chance you're watching over us, feeling bitter and resentful every time I kiss her, and still hating me for being right in general—to stop feeling sorry for yourself because Ginny loves you, and she'll never get over you. You're the irreplaceable one."
By now in the east the sky was fading to an anemic shade of blue, and as Harry saw it, a fresh wave of exhaustion washed over him. He wanted very much to go home, and to crawl back into Ginny's arms and sleep. He looked wearily back at the marble face of the tombstone, the inscription now visible in the dawn.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the beloved's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
He looked at the graveyard around him. He had done what he meant to, in that his feelings of unease over Percy had been alleviated, but in the process he had filled himself with doubt—a raw kind of empty doubt.
He pulled out his wand to apparate home; he had about an hour, judging by the lightness of the sky, in which he might sleep awhile before he had to get up. With a loud crack he reappeared on the street in front of his flat, too tired to care that the Muggles might see, and shuffled up to the door with the exhausted ache of apathy. He let himself inside and kicked off his shoes.
Love was one of those things that people talked rather a lot about, but Harry was fairly certain that when people talked about it they were never referring to this cold, vacant thing. Did he know what love was at all? He had broken up with Ginny three years ago not because he loved her and didn't want her hurt, but because he didn't love her, and he didn't want to start—not when such terrible things kept happening to people he loved. The Deatheaters had gone after her anyway, granted, but Harry was sure that if he'd really loved her it would have happened a lot sooner than it did...
Was it really love then, if you were allowed to just put it off until a time that was more convenient? Maybe he had missed his chance. Was it really love if the sight of a disapproving headstone sent you spiraling into doubt?
He padded across the living room to the bedroom, trying not to doubt, and opened the door to his room, having doubted anyway.
She was lying right where he'd left her, half covered and entwined in the covers, smooth expanses of skin slipping out here and there as the rising sun crept in through the sheer curtains and made the everything in the room glow a kind of pinkish orange, nothing moreso than her hair, heaped carelessly around her on the pillowcase.
His eyes took it all in, and he came to the conclusion that this whole true love thing was a highly questionable matter. He stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him with a gentle click. He had lived some truly horrific scenes, and the fact of the matter was—he mused as he pulled his shirt over his head—that he was liable to fall apart at any moment. Cynics could strip him to the bone—talk him into worthlessness, despair and depression would ravage his soul until all the good in him was dead and he was but the charred shell where a man used to be. The mere memories of all the evil he had seen would torture him into depravity, warp him until he was incapable of anything but hatred and cruelty, and all other manner of ridiculous melodramatic hyperbole.
...At which time that monster in his chest would leisurely roll over with a nice big yawn, having slept through all that raging and storming undisturbed. And Ginny would claw her way into his thoughts and do that thing she did where suddenly everything seemed just great, and all would be right with the world.
That was unconditionality, he reckoned with a yawn, dropping his trousers and walking over to the other side of the bed, smiling a little. Trouble could follow him, grief could smite him, and misery could rot his brains out. He lifted up the covers and climbed in beside her, closing his eyes and knowing with relief that he could doubt until the cows came home, and people could say whatever the hell they wanted. Love itself would slumber on...
A/N: I know I should be updating House of the Quick and the Hungry, and believe me, I'm trying. Both this story and its predecessor, That Night Over the Moon, actually began as attempts at chapter sixteen, but they kept getting away from me, and I couldn't focus with them floating around in my head.
So, now that I have these distractions out of the way, I should be able to finally get down to it and update again. Thank you all infinitely much for your patience with me, and thank you so much for reviewing! Nothing hastens updates like reviews!
And the inscription on Percy's headstone is from a poem by Percy Shelley---"Music, when soft voices die."