Lame title, but they're hard. So, another one of my battle-related one-shots, and another Ginny one, too, though there's some Bill in here. I wrote George's reaction to Fred's death right after I read the book, and now this just sort of started writing itself. Let me know what you think.
She'd fallen down a flight of stairs. A full flight, the full lot of stairs. For a moment, Ginny let herself lay at the bottom, and groaned. The sound was lost amongst the noise of the battle.
Then she rolled, hauled herself onto her hands and knees and crawled, her body screaming in protest, round the stairs, under them. She just needed a minute. A minute to breathe. Every inch of her ached. Her shoulder was bleeding; she didn't know why, or how much. She hadn't felt the skin break, but it must have, because she'd felt the slow, warm liquid slide down her skin; when she'd touched it, her fingers had come away crimson.
The attacker she'd ran from must have lost interest when she stumbled backwards down the stairs, Ginny decided. She wouldn't have run, except she'd felt the blood on her shoulder, and she'd twisted her knee and it was agony, and she'd just seen the huge, masked figure shoot green light at a boy Ginny didn't know, didn't recognise and she didn't want to die. So she tried to get away; and in stumbling, falling, down the stairs she'd succeeded.
She wasn't crying. She felt like maybe she wanted to, but no tears would come. She wasn't a crier, not really, not anymore. But it was bitterly saddening to realise, now, that she didn't want to die. Now that she faced her own mortality she knew she didn't want to die. She wasn't ready for it.
Her head hurt. Her throat and eyes were coated in dust because the walls kept collapsing. Her muscles ached and her knee was still painful. She'd just watched a stranger die.
Ginny knew she wasn't even supposed to be here. Oh, of course she'd wanted to, up in the room when everyone she loved was around her and preparing to fight. She'd wanted to join the battle, do what she could to help, and if she died in it, well, no one's chances of survival were good, were they? But it was different, now, here, when people were dying and walls were collapsing and everything hurt and she didn't want to die.
She wanted to go back to the room of requirement. She wanted to go home. She wanted her mother.
Ginny wrapped her arms around herself, her eyes darting, and waited for the moment when she was found. She hated that she was hiding here, instead of fighting, but she couldn't breathe, couldn't think, and everything hurt.
What if her mother was already dead? Or her father? Or one of her brothers or Hermione or – or Harry? What if, while she was here, hiding under a staircase, one of them was dead?
It was with that thought that Ginny stood – her knee protested but was ignored – and gripped her wand tightly in trembling hands. She walked slowly from under the staircase, and shot a stunner at the nearest Death Eater. She couldn't bring herself to kill. Even though she knew she should, that it was necessary, she hadn't been able to make the words come into her mind or out of her mouth. And wasn't sure she had the power for it anyway.
She ran, crouching low, because there weren't any more Death Eaters that weren't fully occupied. Another part of the castle, another fight to join –
"Ginny!" Bill's voice was horrified when he grabbed her arm, spun so that she hit a wall (painfully) and was shielded by his body. "What the hell are you -"
"I had to, someone needed help," she replied instantly, her voice was fast as her heart beat, "they were screaming and I couldn't, I couldn't just let them die and I saved her, I saved her and then I couldn't get back and there was so much going on and I wanted to fight, I wanted to, but I can't anymore, I can't it hurts, everything hurts -"
Her words were pouring out, falling over each other, and she was choking on them and Bill decided she was hysterical, or near it. "Shh, Ginny, shh, it's OK." He glanced behind him, met Fleur's eyes. She nodded, and he lifted his sister into his arms and moved, quickly, through the crowd, aware Fleur was watching, keeping his path clear. He prayed she was keeping herself safe, too.
Ginny was hardly aware anymore, until Bill set her down in an empty room. "Ginny, we can't stay here long. It's not safe." Both his voice and eyes were urgent and fearful. "I'll get you upstairs, and try and get you home, OK?"
"I can't leave." She whispered. All she wanted, right now, was to be at the Burrow, safe, with everyone she loved around her. It wasn't too much to ask, really, was it? "I can't." She closed her eyes. "I don't want to fight anymore." The words were barely audible.
"You said 'it hurts'." Bill said gently. "Said, 'Everything hurts'."
"My knee." She murmured. "I twisted it. I fell down some stairs. My head hurts." She added the last part as her head pounded viscously. Exhaustion dragged at her, and she thought vaguely that if she laid down and closed her eyes, she'd probably sleep, despite the setting, the situation. Then again, maybe if she closed her eyes she'd see that boy jerk, fall. She started to shake, lightly.
"You're exhausted." Bill told her, touching his wand to her knee. She didn't know what he did, but it felt suddenly cold; then the pain faded.
He didn't think he'd ever forget this, the sight of her like this, her face pale with fatigue, her eyes shadowed and bleak, her arms wrapped around herself in a defensive posture as she shivered lightly. Exhausted, and in shock, he decided. God, she'd be so traumatised – well, they all would, but this - this was his little sister, his baby sister, and she had no place here. He didn't want her anywhere near it. Wasn't it bad enough last year, when he'd seen her fighting, upstairs, and not been able to get her out? Wasn't it bad enough that she'd been at the ministry the year before, fighting Death Eaters as just fourteen? "I'll get you home, Ginny. Somehow. I'll get you out of here -"
He broke off as Voldemort's voice echoed around them. The words didn't make much sense to Ginny – her head felt blurry - but the voice made her shake slight harder.
"An hour." Bill closed his eyes. In the dark room, Ginny realised how pale he was. She wasn't the only one who was tired, wasn't the only one who was suffering. "We've got an hour, Ginny. I...We should..."
"Wait here for a little while." She finished. Her voice was quiet, and it shook just a little. "The Death Eaters...give them time to get out of the castle."
"Ginny...I..." How could he explain how much he needed to get out there, to find his wife and make sure she was alright, to check on his parents, his brothers. "Fleur..."
"Please, Bill. Please don't go out there yet."
Voldemort had spoke of the dead. And somehow, somehow Ginny knew, felt in her heart, that one of those dead were hers. They'd lost someone. She knew, with everything she was, and it terrified her.
They gave it ten minutes before walking out, slowly, carefully. Her head still hurt, her eyes and throat, she still felt more tired than she ever had, but none of it mattered because someone she loved was dead. She was shaking, more violently now, and the closer they got to the Great Hall – where, Bill said, everyone was sure to gather - the more she wanted to run, and hide. She couldn't go in there, couldn't find out who was – who was –
"Someone's dead." She whispered it; though there was noise around them, people screeching with relief at seeing friends and family alive, and people wailing in pain at seeing a loved one dead, Bill heard her, and she knew, by the way the arm he'd put around her tightened, that he knew it, too. "One of us. One of us is dead."
"Ginny...you don't know that..." But he did. God, he did. He knew, he felt it, and hadn't he known as soon as they'd begun this desolate fight that one of them was bound to fall tonight? There were just too many of them to make it through alive; and while he'd comforted himself with the idea of Ginny's sanctuary, and Charlie not even being back in the country yet, he knew that that didn't alter the odds at all, really.
Ginny didn't say a word, but carried on walking, if only because Bill's arm around her shoulders kept her moving forward. Then they reached the doors, and she stopped. "I can't. I can't. I can't." She might had repeated the sentiment again and again if Bill had murmured, "Shh." He pulled her into a hug. "I know. But we have to, OK; we have to go in there. If someone...if one of us...we have to know, Ginny."
She didn't want to know, she didn't want to go in there. But Bill walked, and his arm around her forced her to do the same.
The hall was crowded, with people; the survivors, the injured. And bodies. Bodies had been retrieved, laid gently out, and more were being brought in, carried with care and tears. Ginny searched for her family; and saw no one.
And then a flash of red, and Percy was visible, crouched on the ground. Alive, she thought. Percy was alive. Bill saw him too; he let go of Ginny, moved forward swiftly, because he'd seen what Ginny hadn't yet noticed; a pair of legs in front of Percy; the rest of the body was obscured. But someone was there, Bill thought frantically; the legs belonged to a dead body, now. It seemed to take forever to cross the hall, and then he was there, and he saw.
Bill sank slowly to his knees, beside Percy, as he looked into his younger brother's face. Wrong, he thought. It was all wrong. The eyes were empty, the face inanimate. Fred was too still. Fred was never this still.
Fred was dead. God, God it was Fred, Fred was dead.
Ginny hadn't moved. She couldn't; Bill had almost reached Percy before she saw what he'd seen, and then she watched him sink, slowly, slowly. She whimpered. She wasn't aware of the quiet, pathetic sound, but she whimpered, once, and wrapped her arms around herself again. For a full minute, she stood there, still, and then her legs were moving her forward, even though she didn't want to, didn't want to see, didn't want to know, not ever. But she was moving forward, and then she reached them, and placed each hand, lightly, on each of her brothers' shoulders. And looked.
A sound escaped her. It wasn't loud enough to be a scream, and it wasn't a sob, but somewhere, somewhere in between. And then she was stumbling back, back, because she could look at it – it was a lie, a trick, some part of her mind insisted. It wasn't true, it couldn't be true, because Fred could not be dead. It was wrong.
"Ginny. Ginny. God, Ginny." Percy's face was tear stained, and his hands weren't steady when they gripped her upper arms. She wrapped her arms around her own waist, for comfort, for defence against the trick. She might have kept her stumbling backwards walking if Percy's grip hadn't stopped her. She was shaking violently. "Ginny." Percy murmured, his voice less urgent now. "I'm sorry, please, I know, please..." His words made no sense to her; and she didn't know that her expression, the bleak, pain-filled, horrified expression was the cause of his "please" because he didn't want her to look like that.
"It's not him." She said it quietly, her tone high and clearly begging for him to agree. "It's a trick, it's a lie."
"It's not a trick, Ginny, it's not a lie." He told her clearly. "It's him. I was – I was there – I saw..." His voice broke.
"A mistake." If not a lie then it was obviously a mistake. "It's a mistake, he's not really -"
"He's gone, Ginny. He's gone."
And she let him hug her, and fell against him, because she knew it was true.