Vespertine - 'To Open My Eyes'
To Open My Eyes
A/N: At the end of her fifth year, Ginny Weasley learns that venturing too far into the Forbidden Forest can bring unexpected discoveries. Told from Ginny's point of view.
Though compelled, at first, to set off a dungbomb and be done with it, I follow the sensible plan. I sit in front of my Charms text, purposely procrastinating; I wait until the common room's nearly empty; I pretend to scold myself for putting off such an important essay. And then I excuse myself (rather loudly, in case anyone's still listening) to the library to finish it.
Pitiful. Fred and George'd be so disappointed in me.
Still, I can't risk being followed. So I hide in the shadows, feeling ridiculous, as I veer away from the general direction of the library. When I step into the fading sunlight, the grounds are deserted. I feel a bit better. But it's not quite enough, I decide, and keep walking.
"I thought you'd be back."
The voice cuts so swiftly into my thoughts that I come out of them quite disoriented. It's him, studying me with faraway eyes, like he's seeing me from across dimensions.
The old centaur paws the ground, but says nothing. It's worse than a reproach.
"I had to get out of the castle," I explain stupidly.
After a moment, he bends low to the ground, waiting for me to clamber onto his back like old times. It was so important before, getting away from all the students' nervous whispering to hear myself think. But now I notice the wrinkles in his face, so pronounced. And the circles under his eyes are darker than I've ever seen them.
Ginny Weasley, I say to myself, you are a world-class idiot, and I could kick you for wandering off without thinking.
If another centaur happens to see such a shameful gesture -- kneeling before a human -- it's all over. Briar's not as strong as he used to be. Would he even be able to defend himself from an attack?
"Those children wouldn't dare," he says suddenly, reading my mind, and I jump. "This is my part of the forest."
I'll never forget waking up in Briar's arms first year, dirt on my face and in my hair, and dried blood on my hands. I didn't know how I'd gotten there, or who he was, but at that moment all I could remember were stories of the Forbidden Forest's bloodthirsty inhabitants. Convinced he was carrying me off to my death, or worse, I screamed.
Yet something in his voice quieted me then, as he returned me to safe ground -- the same way his gaze silences me now. I'll never understand him.
The next thing I know, I've climbed onto his broad grey back, and he's rising to his feet, carrying me into the forest's depths.
I have this theory. Six years at Hogwarts will either a) completely desensitize you to fear, or b) replace your old set of anxieties with new ones. We grow up a lot faster here than I think we're meant to, especially with Voldemort back, reminding us of things we'd rather forget.
Voldemort. How long have I thought of him as 'Voldemort' and not 'You-Know-Who'? I hadn't noticed the transition. I don't know whether to be proud or not.
"It's odd," I say to Briar, surprisingly grateful for someone to talk to. "Fred and George told me stories about this forest. It was the one place I never wanted to be, and I thought staying deep inside the castle'd protect me from everything."
"And now?" asks Briar.
I shrug, more to myself than to him. "The further inside the castle I am, the more I want to get away," I say. "Can't feel safe there anymore. I don't remember the last time I did."
This is a lie. Closing my eyes, I recall it perfectly.
I'd woken up, completely exhausted, though I'd slept like the dead. Harry was the first thing I'd seen. And for that one fleeting instant, he was all I thought about. That was safety. Then I'd looked around, realization had set in, and the feeling had gone.
Exhaustion's tugging at me from all sides now, and I can't open my eyes. I let my head hang down, feeling a dull tension in my neck and shoulders.
Three breakups with Dean Thomas and that one doomed week with Justin Finch-Fletchley were bad enough, I think as Briar stops walking. I don't need to be reminded of Harry, too. That's why I snuck out to begin with.
I can't ignore him completely. I try, of course. I don't want to get my hopes up, after all this time, just because he's been staring at me during breakfast. And I don't want to notice how the brilliance of his eyes has faded, almost imperceptibly, with one too many losses. I just want to melt into the ground and be at rest.
"I don't know if you've fancied a girl centaur, Briar," I say. "But it's terribly disappointing stuff. Suppose you find one that makes your insides go all funny -- the only one who's ever supposed to make you feel that way -- so you start doing stupid things, like sticking your elbow in the butter dish."
I feel eleven years old again, clumsy and adoring.
"And the whole time you're growing up, she's out of reach." I don't know where these words are coming from, but I can't stop.
"You want to be beside her, and tell her that you don't like her because she's famous, but because you've always known it to be right. And whenever something dreadful happens, you want to take all her pain so she won't have any, to hold her and breathe her in deep and be there for whatever's coming."
I am not going to cry, I'm not.
"Suppose you try not to love her, and you're good at it, too. Until she finally looks and really sees you, and you have to escape because it can't be what you hope it is and that hurts, more than anything. What would you suppose then, Briar?"
"I would suppose Briar'd have a pretty tough job of getting his elbow to fit in the butter dish."
My eyes snap open at once. "You're... you're here," I say, and can't say anything else. Briar's waiting for me to climb down. My feet touch the ground but I sway uncertainly, knowing this can't be real.
When Harry wraps me tightly in his arms, I have no further doubts.
It's in the air and in the ground -- that certain something, knowing and dangerous, that tells intruders, "Be on your guard." There's more mystery in the Forbidden Forest than one could uncover in a lifetime. But I don't want it explained. Whatever it is, it's always been here, and it will continue to endure anything -- just like we will, hand in hand.