Disclaimer: Harry Potter is not mine.
Chapter Fifteen - Timeless End
"The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head..."
She is standing at the edge of a mirror-flat lake, so pure and clear she imagines she can see to the bottom, where there swim magnificent sea creatures of a hundred colors. Mountains rise above her like jagged teeth, dusted with snow. The air is warm like the sun, and the sun is bright between the clouds, which glide over the lake and catch on the mountain peaks. She has never been to Geneva, but she knows that is where she is.
Beneath her feet the sand is damp from the receding tide, seeping between her toes and giving under her welcome weight. She walks along the water, without direction. She turns and behind her there is nothing, nobody, not even a seagull crying his summer requiem, or a glade of cattails whispering obsequies. Could she be alone in this wondrous place, when she has always wanted to share it with someone else? She sighs, and for a moment -- a moment that flutters away from her lips soft like a secret -- it is the saddest sound in the world.
But when she turns, and has to push her hair from her eyes in the strong wind, there is a figure approaching. Her heart rises for some reason she cannot quite remember, and her feet sink into the sand but she is running, running, picking up the flowing skirt of her gown so as not to trip. She knows there is something ahead of her that she wants, desires, cannot live without, but she also knows she is dreaming, or perhaps not? The sand is too real, too grainy, and she has no memory of Geneva. She is here. She must be.
He is not far away now, no more than a hundred paces, but he still looks indistinct, shimmery as a mirage, and she runs faster. Does the sun shine off of his pale blond hair or merely the sand beyond him? Is that truly the malleable grayness of his eyes, or a silver mineral in the mountains around them? She screams some name, it sounds like his, and it is ripped out of her mouth with fork tines and swept away. Is he moving towards her, or away, or at all? Her heart is full and spills over. She shouts his name again.
Now he moves, but slowly like he is swimming, or floating. She is closer to him, but he is farther from her, and she cannot reach him. Echoes, echoes of echoes, come back to her and she sobs as she thinks she might have heard his voice once before, when he whispered to her so sweetly about things like love and eternity. He knows her name. He calls her name and it is music in the wind.
Is that white she sees? Perhaps he wears a white shirt, but then again whenever she thinks of him he is wearing white. She sees the folds in his sleeves, smile lines on his face, and now maybe he is not so far away after all. She calls his name a third time, to be sure, and he makes some sound like an entreaty, a question. Her name is in the air between them, followed by -- their name. Their name. Are they one still? Had they told the truth when they said they would never be torn asunder?
He is before her, so close, within her reach, and she imagines she can feel his rough hands, the light stubble on his face, and see the love shining out of his eyes like a lighthouse beacon, but then he is gone, gone, nowhere to be found and maybe he was never there at all. She spins all around looking, and still she hears his voice, asking, asking. She runs farther down the beach, calling for him, and her heart is empty. Maybe he was never there at all.
She wakes screaming his name, pleading his name, begging his name, and her throat is raw and red. The room is dark like night and blurry, like him, like him, but because of her tears and not the cruel veil that stands in her way. Her arms stretch out before her, milky white in the moonglow, straining towards him, longing for his embrace, but the only one who comes to relieve her of her lamentation is her mother, and her kind of comfort is a gentle touch and bottled peace.
She sleeps. He comes again. She begins to dread her unconscious hours.
Luna told them everything. About the nomination ball, where Draco and Ginny had only had eyes for each other; the secret assignations, at her modest flat and his upscale set; the desperate proposal; the midnight marriage. It hadn't been a plot to get back at anyone, or a means of manipulating one of their families -- it had simply been two people, completely in love. At the story's end, where Draco lay expired in Ginny's arms on a banquet table in a pub, it all sounded like something out of a sensational romance novel, only in this case, there was no closing the back cover and returning to real life.
The Weasleys, plus Harry, sat in astonished silence in the Burrow's living room once Luna was done, while upstairs in her bedroom Ginny wavered between fitful half-sleep and blind hysteria. Fleur had tears streaming down her face, as did Penelope. George couldn't look at Luna, who stared down into her lap while she spoke.
"I'm not sorry for helping them," she said, twisting the friendship ring George had given her. "He made Ginny happy."
"Yeah, and now he's made her miserable," Ron said, but it was without fire. He seemed to notice it himself, for he looked around at the rest of his family. "Isn't that...odd?"
"Isn't what odd?" Percy said.
"I mean...I've hated Malfoy all my life," Ron said, frowning. "He was a rotten bugger -- sorry, Mum -- he was horrible to us at Hogwarts and after the War, and I was -- I was livid when I saw him last night. Made me sick to even see him. And now..." He shrugged.
"I don't hate him anymore," Fred said curiously. "I don't even remember what it felt like to hate him."
"That's because the Malfoy debt has been paid," Hermione said softly. Everyone turned to look at her. "I've -- I've been researching blood feuds for a few weeks now," she went on. "When this one was created, evidently the Weasleys wanted the life of a Malfoy in payment. It's been done. He -- Draco gave his life and it's done."
"That's it, then?" Bill said, his hand threaded through Fleur's. "The blood feud is resolved?"
"I -- think so," she said uncertainly.
"Then why is Ginny so..." George gestured upwards with his hand, just as screams came from above: she was shouting Malfoy's name again. She must have been dreaming of him in her sleep, for it was all she did while awake; she called for a man who would not come to her any longer. Molly jumped to her feet and took up the Draught of Peace she'd been giving her all day, and ran upstairs.
"She's handling her grief very badly," Hermione said. "I mean, if Luna is to be believed --"
"Ginny's just lost the man who meant everything to her," Luna said, eyes flashing angrily. "How would you be if you lost Ron?"
"And what about Harry, eh?" Ron shot back, glaring at her. "What about him? He's been nothing but there for Ginny for years. Then, what, Malfoy just sweeps in in a few months and leaves my baby sister like that?" He pointed up the stairs. Ginny had stopped screaming.
"You can't choose who you love," Luna said plainly.
"Well said," Fleur murmured, patting Bill's hand.
"But still," Ron went on, his voice becoming stronger as he went on. He was still pale beneath his long coppery fringe, but he had come a long way from the debate. "A Malfoy! She had an affair with a Malfoy and she married him and didn't tell us a thing!"
"What upsets you more," Luna said coldly, "that he was a Malfoy or that she hid something from all of you?"
Nobody answered her at first, and then everybody was talking at once.
Harry was strangely quiet throughout their discussion, sitting on the windowseat that looked out over the snow-covered fields behind the Burrow. He had hardly spoken a word since the evening before, since they had watched somber wizards in dark gray robes come in and take away Malfoy's emaciated body on a stretcher; since Arthur had scooped up a despondent Ginny like a little girl in his arms and carried her to her childhood bedroom.
"We're a family," Charlie was saying. "We don't hide anything from each other."
"Though I can see why she would want to hide involvement with a Malfoy," Percy said pointedly. "Mum and Dad were appalled when he came into the Leaky Cauldron last night."
George got up and left the room without saying a word. Luna followed him anxiously with her eyes until he had gone, and she bowed her head again. The conversation went on around her.
Angelina and Fred were giving each other unreadable looks, as though struggling to share something with the rest of the family. It wasn't until Molly returned from tending to Ginny, her eyes rimmed in red, that Angelina asked for everyone's attention.
"I know this probably isn't the best time," she said, taking Fred's hand, "what with everything going on and all the strange things happening, but -- Fred and I have an announcement that will hopefully cheer everyone up a bit." A smile betrayed her as she glanced at Fred and then everyone else. "We're pregnant."
Molly really began crying at that, and so did Angelina and all of the women. Fleur was bawling, her face buried in Bill's shoulder. No one said the words out loud, but there were there as though written in the air, and they wept -- for the baby, and for Ginny.
Luna could only watch and feel left out, somehow, left out of the tight, protective dome of love that surrounded this amazing family.
Blaise Zabini appeared on their doorstep two days later, while Ginny was still locked up in her room and the Weasleys were still not sure what to make of everything that had come to pass. Arthur answered the door when the firm knock came, while everyone had gone home for the day, and uttered a little "oh!" of surprise when he saw who it was.
"Mr. Weasley," Blaise said smoothly, offering his hand to shake. Arthur took it, still confused. "I'm Blaise Zabini, as you know. I was a friend of Draco Malfoy's."
"Er, ah, yes, why don't you come in?" Arthur stepped aside and let Blaise into the warm kitchen and out of the cold. Blaise nodded his thanks and brushed a few errant snowflakes from the shoulders of his winter cloak.
Once Arthur had offered him some hot tea and a seat by the fire in their cozy parlor, Blaise got down to business. "I'd like to speak to Ginny, if I may, sir," he began.
"So would I," Arthur said sadly, blowing on his tea. "She hasn't been out of her room since... since it all happened."
Blaise nodded. "I ask because Narcissa Malfoy would like for her -- and the rest of you, if you wish -- to come to Draco's funeral on Thursday, in Wiltshire."
Arthur still had a difficult time getting his head around that. His daughter, his little girl Ginny, grown up and married to the son of the man he had despised from birth and before. A Malfoy wife. A Malfoy widow. Merlin, how his world stood on end these days. "I don't know if she'll be up to it," he said honestly. "When she's not asleep, she's crying and calling out for him. She's taken it none too well."
"Perhaps she will see me," Blaise said.
"You think so?"
Blaise nodded again. "I witnessed their wedding," he said. "I'm a part of her life with him." When Arthur only looked down into the ruddy depths of his tea, he added, "I won't go up unless I have your permission, but please, Mr. Weasley. For her health and welfare."
"It's entirely up to her," Arthur said, sighing, after a long time's consideration.
"I won't force her to do anything."
"Molly won't be thrilled, but I'll handle her," Arthur said. He set down his teacup. "I'll take you to her room."
They both stood, slowly, as though they had aged years instead of minutes, and made their way up the crooked, uneven staircase that led upstairs. The Burrow was quieter than it ever had been, what with all of his sons at their own homes and Molly in Diagon Alley buying food and more Draughts of Peace. They came at last to a room near the top of the house, and they could almost feel the despair oozing through the crack under the door. Nothing moved within.
"I'll be in the kitchen if you need me," Arthur said, and he headed back downstairs.
Ginny was dead inside, porous and mismatched and half-there. She had fought against the vicious cycle that had been her dreaming of him, dreaming of being with him again, only to have him snatched away and her awake calling for him -- now she did nothing, only sat by her window and looked out at the snowy expanse below her, wrapped in a faded old quilt. She was without thoughts, motivation, emotion. She was dead.
Her bedroom door creaked open and she didn't even turn to see who it was. It wasn't until he had crossed the room -- for she knew it was a he by the weight of his footsteps -- and knelt beside her that she realized it wasn't one of her brothers or her father, or Harry. Ginny turned and saw Blaise instead.
He gave her a sad, lopsided smile and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Hello, love," he said quietly. "How are you holding up?"
"He's trying to speak to me," Ginny said. A fresh tear dripped from her eye; she didn't wipe it away. "I know that's what it must be. I keep dreaming of him, Blaise, and we reach for each other but he fades away and he's gone." A sob bubbled up in her throat. "He's gone, Blaise, he's really gone." When the tears started again, he sat beside her and drew her into his arms and they drifted in their own private misery.
"Come to the funeral," Blaise said.
Ginny laughed bitterly. "You're joking, right?"
"Narcissa specifically asked for you to come. From her lips to my ears, Gin."
"It won't be a funeral." Even saying the word made her voice quaver, and she trembled in Blaise's arms. "It'll be a media circus. Everyone will want a final look at the last scion of one of the oldest wizard families in Britain, and they'll want to see his secret wife. I couldn't deal with that."
Blaise snorted. "Mourning is a team sport, Ginny," he said dryly. "You're not the only one who lost someone you love, you know. I lost my best friend. Narcissa lost her only child. Snape lost his godson. We'll all be there, and all of the people that went to school with us, together." She said nothing; he went on. "He'll be buried in the family plot on their lands in Wiltshire. Malfoy Manor is one of the most heavily protected places in Britain, outside Hogwarts, the Ministry, and St. Mungo's. I don't think a soul will get in that isn't supposed to be there."
Ginny bit her lip and looked down at her left hand. Her rings were visible now, minus Harry's diamond, and the emerald threw green sparkles onto her face when it caught the light just so. "He would want me to be there," she whispered.
"He would," Blaise agreed. "Draco was a git at times, but he was always a gentleman."
"He was, wasn't he?" Ginny looked up at him, eyes swimming. "What do I have to do, Blaise? At the funeral?"
"Nothing special," he assured her. "Just be there with Narcissa. You'll be the chief mourners. She's already made the proper arrangements and everything."
"Then I'll be there," Ginny said, with more confidence than she felt. "He would have wanted it."
"I'll go and tell Narcissa to expect you, then," he said, standing. "And Ginny..."
She looked up expectantly.
"If you ever need me," he said sincerely, "for anything at all, don't hesitate to ask. Draco would have wanted me to say that as well."
Ginny gave him a tightlipped smile and nodded. He smiled grimly back, and left her, shutting the door gently behind him.
Harry came to see her on Wednesday, while she stood out in the fields where she had played Quidditch with her brothers, where Bill and Fleur had been married. She was knee-deep in snow, which melted and soaked the bottom of her cloak, but she couldn't feel it. She didn't feel anything until Harry was standing right beside her.
The two of them were silent a long time, merely staring out at the barren countryside. Grayness everywhere: the snow was old and melting, not the fine white stuff that fell like baby powder. The sky was the color of slate. Only the Burrow, leaning at a precarious angle, looked warm and inviting, with its glowing windows and cheery smoke trail trickling out of the chimney.
"Were you ever going to tell me about him?" Harry asked softly.
"Eventually," she whispered. "I was afraid to."
She tilted her head back, and all she saw was gray like his eyes. "I remembered just the other day," she said. "You used Sectumsempra on him at Hogwarts. That's how he learned it. You almost killed him when you were only sixteen."
"And you thought...Merlin, Gin." Harry ran a hand through his messy hair. "Well, I'm not going to stand here and deny that I would've been angry."
"I never meant to hurt you, Harry." She turned her head and looked at him. He was still staring at the snow underfoot. "I do love you, no matter what you might think."
He snorted. "You love me?" Harry gazed out at the trees around them, black and bare like wires. "Ginny...you cheated on me and married another bloke while we were still dating. Wouldn't it have been easier to just dump me? Maybe that way I wouldn't have had to see you kiss Malfoy days after I asked you to marry me." He laughed shortly, and his breath was a marshmallow puff of air. "Fucked up, that is. Worse than what they print in News of the World."
"You know what I thought at first, when I saw Zabini bring him into the Leaky that night?" he said. "I thought he'd turned on his own mate and was bringing him to be taken in by the Aurors. I was -- glad. Thrilled, even. I wanted to see him behind bars at Azkaban. Then you rushed towards him, and the look in your eyes..." He broke off with a strangled sound. She didn't look at him. "You were so gentle with him, Ginny. And I wanted to die when I saw how you cradled him in your arms."
The tears, as close as they were to the surface these days, filled her eyes. "I didn't want everyone to find out about us that way," she said. "We would've told Mum and Dad first, and his mum. Snape would've found a way to counteract the blood feud."
Harry sighed. "But nothing ever does work out quite the way we want it to, does it?" he whispered.
She shook her head. "Never."
"And somehow, I'm not mad at you," he said. Finally he turned his brilliant green eyes on her, and they broke Ginny's heart. "I can't be mad at you, Gin. Believe me, I tried many times over the past few days, and it's just...impossible."
Ginny wiped at a tear sliding down her cheek. "I love him," she said.
"Just tell me one thing -- was it something I did or said? Did I ever make you feel --"
"No." She shook her head emphatically and took his hand in hers. "It wasn't anything to do with you. You're wonderful, Harry, I've always known you were, and someday you're going to make some witch so happy --"
His head bowed at that, too quickly. "It was me," she went on. "I fell out of love with you a long time ago, and I was simply too scared to tell anyone."
"I love you, Ginny," he said, raising his eyes again, and she could tell he spoke from the bottom of his heart. "I think I always will."
She smiled sadly. "I love you too, Harry."
"I would have done everything I could to make you happy."
"I know," she said, and she stepped into him and drew him close. His arms were solid, comforting, but not enough. "I never doubted how you felt."
"But...with Malfoy --" Harry pulled away.
Ginny's lip trembled and she turned from him. "If my love for you is a teardrop," she whispered, "then my love for Draco is an entire ocean. He's..."
"Everything," Harry said meaningfully.
Ginny nodded. "My whole world."
"I know what you mean." Harry shoved his hands in his pockets. They stood in contemplative silence.
"We should get indoors," Ginny said at last.
"Yeah." Harry reached out and took her hand again, and his was warm on hers as they headed back for the Burrow. "You know -- I don't want you to feel like you have to avoid me or anything. I'm here for you."
"Thank you, Harry," she said.
"I mean," he went on, and his eyes started to shine too brightly despite the smile on his face, "I reckon we've got a shared experience now. We've both lost the one true love of our lives. That's sure to start up some interesting conversations, isn't it?"
Ginny choked on her laughter, chased as it was by sobs.
Thursday dawned cold and clear, with the sky a flat ivory color and not a breath of wind in the air. Though her brothers and their wives had politely declined Narcissa's invitation to Draco's funeral ("I may not hate him anymore," Ron had said, "but he's not suddenly my best mate"), Luna, Arthur, and Molly accompanied Ginny to the Malfoy family's ancestral lands in Wiltshire, and trod on ground that had not seen a Weasley in nearly a thousand years. The trees here were upright evergreens, standing tall where they dotted the landscape like sentinels. The encroaching forest showed no signs of life.
Blaise had not exaggerated when he said the place was heavily protected. As they walked up the winding drive that led to the front entrance to the massive manor, Ginny could feel the magic in the air like a tangible thing, throbbing and pulsing all around her. The wards were similar to the ones Bill had placed on her flat, but far stronger, far more complex. No one would dare try to sneak into this place. She felt around the magic again and realized: he was in it. She could feel him here, more strongly than anywhere else she had been, so close by she felt as though he were just behind her.
Narcissa herself met them at the front door when the elves let them in. Her pale skin and hair looked nearly white beside her elegant ink-black robes, and she greeted them quietly, in a carefully modulated voice.
"Thank you for coming," she half-murmured, looking only at Ginny. "I'm so pleased you could come." Ginny only reached for her hand and squeezed it. Narcissa wavered, and for a moment she looked about to break, but then her mask was back in place. She showed them to the parlor, where already a few dozen people milled. Silence fell when they saw the Weasleys. Narcissa told them that the ceremony would begin in a few minutes, then excused herself to greet more guests.
Ignoring the blatantly curious stares coming her way, Ginny studied the room they were in. She had never been to Malfoy Manor before, so she drank in hungrily every detail of the place; she could see her parents doing the same. The carpeting under their feet was rich and soft, a deep shade of Slytherin green, and the furniture was polished to a high sheen. Numerous old portraits hung on the wall, framed in what were likely real gold-plated frames. Ginny's eyes skimmed along them, noticing that all the occupants of the frames were respectfully dressed in black. To think, she said to herself, if things had been different, we would have lived here together. I would have called this place home.
"Hello, love." Ginny turned and Blaise had come up behind her, with Daphne on his arm. Daphne had a handkerchief clutched in one hand, and her eyes were red-rimmed. Ginny smiled at them both, and hugged Blaise when he opened his arms to her. "I hoped you would come."
"I would have regretted it if I hadn't," she said.
The mourners were led by a house elf out to a massive room of glass at the back of the mansion a few minutes later, just as Narcissa had promised. Ginny let out a soft cry when she saw the black casket at the center of the floor, laying on a platform, with sprays of blood-red roses scattered over it. Thankfully, it was closed. She did not want to think about how she would have felt had the casket been open, enabling her to see his beautiful face, his graceful hands.
Narcissa was the last to enter the glass room, and she fell into place beside Ginny, her chin tilted up and her eyes dry. An old man dressed in Ministry robes, carrying a tome that looked ancient and falling apart, moved to the center of the room and began the service. Ginny barely heard a word of it. The Ministry wizard went through his obligatory readings and reflections on life and death, and allowed a few younger wizards to eulogize -- Narcissa said they were second cousins, and would inherit the entirety of the Malfoy estate once she died. Ginny only nodded at this information, trying to concentrate on anything except the ebony coffin before her and why she was standing so near to it.
It was no use.
Cinnamon. Pomegranates. Burnt toast.
She'd catch him sometimes, when he wasn't paying attention, and she'd hear him singing under his breath while he leafed through the morning Prophet. He would always deny it later, because he was a Malfoy, and Malfoys certainly didn't sing. He was adorable when petulant.
You look beautiful.
For a week -- only one -- she had worried that all they felt was lust. Her fears had been erased in an instant when, on one of the rare mornings he had been able to stay, he had looked up at her, wearing his discarded shirt and her hair a tousled mess, and out of the blue told her she was beautiful. The challenging look on his face as he said it had made her laugh out loud.
I love you, Ginny.
They hadn't had enough time. All those years they had known each other, only to have them end just when things were getting good. Merlin, why hadn't they met earlier, at some other party or event, or in Hogwarts? How could two and a half months be enough? How?
"Rain clouds, oh they used to chase me," she sang softly, too softly for anyone to hear. A tear rolled down her cheek. "Down they would pour..."
Ginny was brought back to reality when she realized Narcissa was gently tugging on the hem of her long black sleeves. The ceremony had ended, and now they were going out to the graveyard. Their wands drawn, six of the second cousins levitated the coffin off of its platform, and, led by the Ministry wizard, they made their way out into the wintry world outside. The rest of the mourners followed after.
"Malfoys have been buried here for generations," Narcissa said as they walked, and the snow crunched under their feet. "It's actually fairly far from the manor, but I've adjusted some of the wards so the walk won't be long at all."
"Lucius is buried there," Ginny said.
"Yes, he is." Narcissa's tone gave away nothing, not a flicker of emotion. "I'll be buried there one day. You will, too."
She wondered idly if the grave had already been dug into the cold, hard ground, if the headstone had been erected. The image was clear in her mind: the snow pushed away into white mounds, a gaping emptiness in the dirt before her. Maybe her parents and Luna and Narcissa wouldn't stop her. Maybe she would jump in after him, and let the dirt cover her and they would be together again.
All the snow had been cleared out of the graveyard, and lay piled like walls on three sides. It was filled with elaborate statues, ancient crypts, towering monuments in tribute to Ozymandian greatness that seemed false in the bare winter sunlight. They followed the cousins, who followed the Ministry wizard, past tombstones and placards that had been worn nearly smooth with time, to more recent ones: Julius Andronicus Malfoy, one read, and beside him his wife Beatrice Derrick Malfoy. And somewhere in the middle Ginny started recognizing the names: there lay Julius Abraxus, and his wife, her name obliterated by a stray wisp of snow, and then Julius Lucius, whose marble gravestone still glinted as though brand new.
The stone they stopped before, the one everyone spread out to circle, was gray granite like his eyes, Merlin just like his eyes, and one full space away from his father's. The cousins lowered their wands as one, and the coffin hovered directly above the rectangular gap. Luna took Ginny's hand and squeezed it tightly, and Ginny knew she couldn't jump.
"We commit this wizard to the ground from whence he came," the Ministry wizard intoned solemnly, "for as we are born of our mothers in the beginning, so we return to our great mother's embrace in the end, and rest our heads on her bosom in our eternal slumber."
Julius Draconis Malfoy, his stone read in angled letters. 1980-2004. It didn't sound like the same person. There was something else below it, but Ginny was too far away to read it.
"Every moment we live we are dying," said the Ministry wizard, "and every moment we live brings us closer to the end. For the end is just as much a part of life as the beginning, and the cycle begins anew. It has in the past, and does in the present, and will in the future, world without end." The cousins lowered their wands again, and the black coffin, with its roses, sank into the ground and out of sight. "Julius Draconis Malfoy," the Ministry wizard said. "May God have mercy on your soul."
The world tilted in silent expectation then, as the assembled gazed down into the gaping hole that was his bed. There were no birds, no sounds of life around them -- it was as though the whole world had followed Persephone into the underworld, and nothing was left to mourn him save these few people, who might have loved him. They might have known the sound of his rare laugh, or his dry humor, or his quick temper, but Ginny doubted it. He deserved far more than this.
She paid no heed as the Ministry wizard announced that there would be a light meal being served at the manor, in the ballroom. One by one, or in pairs, the cousins and distant relatives that didn't know the name of his favorite band turned from the grave and headed back to the food, to the party. Only Ginny and Narcissa stayed, with Luna and Arthur and Molly a few paces behind, and they watched the Ministry wizard fill the grave with black dirt and smooth it over. He bowed to Narcissa once he had done; Narcissa nodded back. He left them to their private grief.
Ginny stepped closer, wanting to know what else had been carved into the granite. Luna released her hand and let her go, but Narcissa followed her. The words were unfamiliar, and yet she might have already known them:
"He lies, as if in dewy sleep he lay;
Awake him not! surely he takes his fill
Of deep and liquid rest, forgetful of all ill."
"It's beautiful," Ginny whispered.
When Narcissa did not answer, she turned to look at her. The older woman's eyes, so like her son's, had filled at last with hot, bitter tears, and all the good breeding in the world could not dampen them. "I've done something," Narcissa said softly. "I know I must have."
"Done what?" Ginny said.
"Something terrible, unspeakable, but I know not what." Her shoulders shook, and she pressed her fingers to her lips. "I have outlived my own child, Ginevra. I buried his father not six years past. No woman is strong enough to bear that, no woman should have to be. I am being punished."
"I'm sorry," Ginny said, and she clasped Narcissa's hand in hers. "I'm sorry."
"He must have loved you so," she said, smiling faintly, and Ginny started to cry. "He was always possessive as a child. What things he claimed as his, were his forever. I did not have it in me to deny him anything. He was the brightest star in my life."
"What am I supposed to do?" Ginny sobbed. "I don't know what --"
"As long as we remember the dead," Narcissa said, "they will never truly leave us. They are not gone for good, merely in another place. They will always be with us."
Ginny's head buzzed in protest, and she wanted to scream at her, at Luna and Molly and Arthur, that they were wrong. How could they find something positive in death? How could it be anything but an end, a horrible end, a vacancy in life that nothing else could fill?
How was she meant to live without him?
Ginny's limbs stiffened in pain, and at first she thought it was from the sharp December cold. She gasped through her tears, and clutched Narcissa's hands until she must have been hurting her, and the earth shifted under her feet. She cried out in anguish, her heart breaking, her limbs aching. Luna called to her, Molly shrieked her name in fear, Arthur cradled her in his arms when she collapsed to the ground.
She succumbed to the blackness that encroached, and knew nothing more.
Again. They were in hospital again.
The halls were decorated with Christmas lights and streamers this time, for the holidays were less than a week away, and the Healers hummed carols as they went from patient to patient. A choir of children sang in the lobby, and their voices carried all through the building, even up to the solemn corridor where the Weasleys gathered outside a lone ward, their backs bent in grief. No one walked through their part of the hospital bringing tidings of good cheer. No one dared approach the aura of sorrow that surrounded them, and darkened the very lights that illuminated the rest of the building.
Narcissa had paid for a private room -- she had paid for everything, though Molly and Arthur had at first refused. "I never had a daughter," Narcissa said. "Let me spoil my only one while I can." She stood with Snape and Blaise Zabini, the only outsiders, along one wall, and all thirteen Weasleys plus Luna and Harry stood along the other.
"I don't understand," Molly sobbed, her face puffy and red. "I thought the blood feud had done."
"No," Snape said hoarsely. He glanced at Narcissa before continuing. "The Weasley-Malfoy feud is -- was -- two-sided. Both families required payment of some kind, not just one."
"That's impossible," Hermione began.
"I assure you, it's not," Snape said. "The Weasley debt has not yet been paid."
"But all the blood feuds I looked into required active participation," Luna said abruptly. Everyone turned to look at her, save George. "The families have to choose to end them, they don't just end by themselves."
"I have a theory," Snape said slowly. Once he had everyone's attention, he went on. "You well know that no spell lasts forever. They need to be renewed periodically, else they will simply fade." They all nodded to show that they followed. "This blood feud, and the spell cast to create it, were nearly one thousand years old. The spell was fading."
"But then why didn't it just lose strength and end?" Luna said.
"It did," Snape said gravely. "It is. The feud is ending itself, and it is taking its payments by force from the families involved."
"So..." Hermione's eyes filled with tears as realization dawned upon her. "Ginny and Malfoy basically volunteered themselves to end the feud, when they were married," she whispered.
"I am afraid so," Snape said.
George stood and started walking away from the family, hands in his pockets, and no one stopped him. Harry nudged Luna with his elbow. When she turned, he gave her a meaningful look, one that she understood at once, and Luna got up and went after George.
"I can't stay back there," he said. He wouldn't look at her. "My sister is dying, Luna. I can't stay back there."
"You don't have to," she said. She touched his arm and he stopped, just before they reached the Healers' station. "But you need to."
"Luna." His voice was a breath of air, a soft breeze, barely audible. He turned to her, his eyes shining with grief. "God, Luna, this is --"
"I know," Luna said, smothering a sob, and then she was in his arms, clinging to him with every ounce of strength in her body. His tears fell on the shoulder of her robes, and she knew he had been angry at her for keeping such a huge secret from him, but they were together for now and she didn't care, she didn't care.
"Marry me, Luna," George said into her ear, his fingers digging into her back. "I don't want to be like Ginny and Malfoy. I don't want to end up like them. Marry me."
"I will," Luna said, and she cried all the harder, because she knew Ginny wouldn't be at her wedding, the way she had always planned.
The Healer came out of Ginny's room then, her movements hurried. "The curse is too far advanced," she said in a clipped voice, looking at all of them. "You'd all better see her now and say your goodbyes."
The Weasleys quickly filed into the room, as Narcissa, Snape, and Blaise watched. "Only human beings," Blaise whispered.
He bowed his head and said no more.
She has returned to Geneva. The sun is hot above her, burning her bare feet, so she steps into the damp sand and feels the tide sweep over her skin. She moves slowly, taking her time to enjoy the weather. It is beautiful here, and peaceful, and so far from all of her troubles. She wishes she could live here.
"Rain clouds, oh they used to chase me," she sings. "Down they would pour. Join my tears..."
She hears a voice somewhere behind her, deeper than her own, beloved above all others. Her smile widens, but she keeps walking forward, forward into the land of endless sunshine.
"Join my tears, allay my fears," he sings, and his hand brushes hers. She turns and there he is, all in white, as wondrous and beautiful as she remembered.
He pulls her in close and her arms twine round his neck. Their foreheads touch and he looks directly into her eyes, his own sparkling like silver in the sun, and her heart is full again. "Sent to me from heaven," he whispers, "Sally Cinnamon, you are my world."
"You are my world," she echoes.
They are silent a moment, drinking the other in, reveling in being together at last. "I apologize for the lack of fanfare," he says, smirking, "but the angelic choir had the day off today."
She throws her head back and laughs, for they know it does not matter. She is with him again, in his arms again, and he kisses her like he always has: with his whole heart in his lips. All is right in the world, for she is safe, and comforted, and loved.
She is home.
Author's note: I'd like to thank everyone for reading my story. It's been a long journey (I started writing this all the way back in August!) but it's come to an end now. I couldn't have done it without all of you, my wonderful readers.