(A/N) I started writing this story alongside GWCoS, but only worked on it sporadically. This is kind of what I had in mind for the boys when I wrote their reactions after the Chamber of Secrets.
The Longest Afternoon
Dear Mother and Father . . .
Dear Mum and Dad . . .
Mum and Dad . . .
He couldn’t write this. How could he write this? How could anyone write this?
I am sorry to have to write . . .
It pains me deeply . . .
I have bad news.
He put his quill down and stared at the parchment. His eyes felt hot and dry, like baked clay instead of flesh.
* * *
The monster in the Chamber of Secrets has Ginny.
* * *
A fourth-year girl came over to the Weasleys as they sat in a numb clump around the fire. "I--I wanted to say--" she said awkwardly.
Fred looked up. His neck creaked unnaturally, as if he were a man of metal, and he hadn’t been oiled in a long time.
"I’m sorry about--Jenny?"
"Ginny," Fred said, half-rising from his chair. "It’s Ginny!"
The girl took a step back. "I’m sorry," she said, and fled.
George said quietly, "Fred," and Fred subsided into his chair, shaking.
She’d got her name wrong. How could you get her name wrong? How could Ginny be anything other than herself?
She’d always been Mum’s favorite. It was one of those things that nobody talked about because they all knew, and there was no point in saying it. She was everybody’s favorite, come to that. Ginny-Ginny-Wee-One, who thought her brothers had created the earth and sky just for her.
They would have if they could.
* * *
The teachers are doing their best, but Dumbledore isn’t here, and they don’t . . .
* * *
It had been one of those minor miracles that Ginny learned to walk at all, the way her eldest brothers insisted on carrying her around in her first summer. Ron considered himself completely entitled to all credit.
Charlie had snuck her some chocolate, and Ron had grabbed it away when nobody was looking. Squalling like a banshee, she’d given chase, and it hadn’t been until she’d nearly knocked Ron over that he’d realized she was chasing on two feet instead of four.
They’d spoiled her. Oh, they’d spoiled her rotten. Ron had decided early on that it was his job to see that Ginny wasn’t completely ruined for life. He’d taught her chess, and proceeded to beat her hollow every single time. Almost every single time. She could be really awfully sneaky. But he’d taught her that too.
Ron listened to the fire crackling and wished with all his heart that she was there, so he could let her win.
* * *
Blame me. Please blame me.
* * *
The back of George’s hand was hot from the fire, but he didn’t pull it back. He couldn’t seem to move. The sun had been hot on his shoulders and the back of his neck on the day Ginny had said his name for the first time.
He had been competing with Fred, both of them trying to get her to say their names. She’d long ago said her first words ("Ma! Daaaaaa!") but so far, she hadn’t managed any of her brothers’ names yet. Bill of course claimed that her "Baa!" was his name, but he was shouted down and roundly scorned by the rest of them, especially when Ginny stopped bellowing it as soon as Fred gave her the cuddly toy sheep back.
"C’mon, Wee One," George urged. "George. Geooooooooooooorge. Geeeee-orge."
Fred waved at her to attract her attention. "Fred. Fur-red."
She started eating the grass, and George batted her hand down. "Stop that."
Fred pulled some Cockroach Cluster out of his pocket. "Here. Eat this."
"That’s not fair," George said hotly. "That’s cheating."
"Is not, it’s Cockroach Cluster."
Ginny sucked on the treat, beaming at them. George tapped her nose with his finger and said, "Boop!" She giggled and batted at his hands.
Percy came over. "What’s she eating?"
"What? Fred, that’s not good for her!"
"She likes it."
"She likes grass too." Percy tried to dig the Cockroach Cluster out with his fingers, the way their mum did, and Ginny bit him. "Ow!"
George and Fred fell about laughing. "See?"
Percy made a face at them, nursing his dented fingers. "I’m telling Mum on you."
"So what? Bill brought it home, not us. C’mon, George, let’s go play Quidditch Champions of the World."
They were three steps away when Ginny shrieked out, "Jadge!"
They both froze, staring at each other.
George spun around. "Ginny?"
She bounced up on and down on her padded bum, stretching out her arms toward him. "Jadge jadge!"
He grabbed her up. "Yeah! Yeah! George! That’s me!"
"Jadge," she repeated, grinning gap-toothed.
"Yeah! Hear that?" he asked his two brothers, grinning madly. "She said my name! She knows me!"
"Some name, Jadge," Fred said, trying to be sour but grinning anyway.
George started carting her off. "C’mon, smart girl. Me ‘n’ Fred are gonna teach you how to play Quidditch."
"Ha!" Fred yelled, running after them. "Me too! She knows me too!"
"Jadge" had become her joke name for him, revenge for calling her Wee One all the time. Sometime in the past two years, though, she'd stopped it entirely. When he'd twitted her with having a bad memory, she'd said loftily, "That was when I was a baby."
Right at this moment, George would have given everything in the world to hear her say it again.
* * *
She was ours, and we didn't work hard enough to keep her safe.
* * *
Percy couldn’t write dead. Not right next to Ginny’s name, because that would make it true.
He couldn’t even write that awful, obscene message that had been left. The dripping red letters danced and gibbered at him from the backs of his eyelids, as if they’d been written in Ginny’s very blood.
He remembered a time when she'd come to him, holding up her finger. "Percy! Look! Look what Fred did!" It was a diagonal cut across the pad of her finger, slowly seeping blood. "Where's Mummy? It hurts."
"She's not back."
"You fix it," she ordered.
He took her to the bathroom and sat her on the lid of the toilet while he found the cotton wads and iodine. "Why'd Fred do that?"
"He said we were going to be blood brothers."
"Like the Indians. In America."
"But you're already--never mind."
"Sorry." He blew on it. "Better?"
He bandaged it carefully, and she examined it. "Good as Mum?" he asked, putting everything away.
He turned around and crouched. "Up on my back, Ginny?"
She climbed on, hooking her legs through his arms with the ease of long practice. "Where are we going? Can we do something to Fred?"
"No, we're going to tell Mum when she gets home. She'll fix him."
"Oh, come on, Percy. Let's do something to him. He deserves it." She bounced. "Please?"
"We shouldn't--" But it was awfully tempting.
He chewed his lip, then met her eyes in the mirror. "Where's those balloons from Ron's birthday party?"
She cheered, waving her bandaged finger. Before Mum came home that afternoon, every last one of them had been soaking wet and roaring with helpless laughter. Ginny, in the middle of the fray, had been the wettest and giggliest of them all.
Alone with his half-finished letter, Percy put his head in his hands. Little Ginny, who couldn't stand a hangnail, but bore gushing blood without complaint. What had the monster done to her?
* * *
I didn’t take care of her.
* * *
Fred hunched over, clutching his head, his elbows on his knees. He felt as if he were going to throw up.
Clever Ginny. They’d taught her to be clever and smart-mouthed, and she’d always been tough enough to care of herself, he’d thought. They had to work to outwit her.
He remembered one particular time. She’d been five, and they’d been nine. They’d decided to pull a prank for April Fools’ Day, and pretend to be each other for the entire day, and only reveal it at bed-time. They’d been delighted at their own brilliance, sitting at the breakfast table and smirking at each other over the bacon.
"Whatever you’re planning," Mum told them from the stove, "don’t."
They snorted with laughter, seeing as how they already were.
Ginny came in and groaned when she saw the peanut-butter-less table. "Mummy, the peanut butter--"
"Is in the cabinet," Mum told her as she juggled plates of sausages and eggs. "You’re a big girl, you can get it."
Seeing the chance to take advantage of her, George seized it. "Mum, is there any marmalade?"
"Ginny, get Fred the marmalade while you’re there."
She scowled, but pulled out the marmalade along with her peanut butter. "There," she said resentfully, plonking it in front of Fred.
"Ginny, I said Fred--"
"I did! That’s Fred!"
"How did you know?" Fred blurted before thinking.
She looked at him as if he’d just asked her how she knew the sky was blue. "Because you’re you and he’s him," she said, and started eating her bacon.
Not clever enough.
Not this time.
* * *
I didn’t watch after her.
* * *
Professor McGonagall escorted Percy up to the owlery and stood by as he affixed the letter to Hermes’s leg and let him go. In silence, they watched the owl soar into the clouds and out of sight.
When he turned to head for the stairs again, the Transfiguration mistress cleared her throat. Percy stopped and waited, politeness too ingrained to just ignore that.
"Weasley," she said, lifting a hand. She didn’t seem to know how to go on from there, her hand hanging in mid-air.
Percy looked at it. He should say something, he knew, but he couldn’t think what.
"I’m sorry, Weasley," she croaked. "Your sister--I don’t know how--"
In a flash of screaming agony, he suddenly hated Professor McGonagall more than he’d ever hated anyone else in the world. If she’d taken more care--if she’d kept a proper eye--
But Percy knew better than that. It hadn’t been her job. It had been his.
* * *
I didn’t try hard enough.
* * *
For eleven years, it had been the eternal motherly injunction, whether they were going out to the yard or venturing halfway into London. "And don’t forget to take care of your sister!"
To Fred and George, it had been terribly annoying. Partly because they considered that Ginny was at the age where she had ought to be taking care of herself, but mostly because they thought it was a given. In their minds, they could no more neglect her than they could absently leave a right arm behind somewhere.
But they hadn’t, had they? If they’d taken proper care of her, she would be with them right now.
George leaned his head against the back of his armchair and stared into the fire. There was a gaping hole in him now, a dull thick ache that would never entirely fade.
* * *
I didn’t love her enough.
* * *
Fred had always thought they’d done a pretty good job of toughening Ginny up. She knew how to handle herself. She could play pranks like a champ, her devious little mind coming up with twists that even he and George wouldn’t have thought of. She’d always been able to take everything they threw at her and toss it back with a fireball attached.
Until this year.
Maybe--just maybe--they’d been the merest touch too hard on her this year.
It had been such a spooky thought, though. Ginny coming to Hogwarts, their baby sister here. She didn’t belong here, she belonged at the Burrow, playing in the sand and chasing the chickens and jumping on her brothers to hug them around the neck when they came home. Coming here meant she was growing up, and Ginny couldn’t grow up, because who would be their baby sister then?
And she’d been already growing up, with that nutty crush on Harry. Teasing her about that was just brotherly duty, the same way they’d have mocked Percy or Charlie or come to that, each other.
But maybe their mum was right, and girls were different about this kind of thing.
* * *
I just want her back.
* * *
Why couldn’t he have listened? Why couldn’t he have gone after her this morning? Harry had known better than he. Harry had known that something was wrong. She’d known something, but he hadn’t bothered to find it out. If he’d really cared about his sister, he would have darted after her and not stayed to rail at Percy.
When was the last time he’d talked with her or even listened to her? Before coming to Hogwarts, Ginny had been his best friend. Of all his siblings, she had come the closest to understanding how it was for him, the second-youngest, the left-behind, because she was left behind with him. Although . . . at the same time, he’d always thought it was impossible for her to understand, because she was the treasured, the darling, the only girl, and he was only the sixth in a line which had already accomplished everything marvelous there was to accomplish.
All the same, she’d been his scheming partner, the tosser of apples in Quidditch Champions of the World, his confidante. And when he’d come to Hogwarts, he’d dropped her like a hot potato, because he had Harry and Hermione, and he didn’t need her anymore. She wasn’t a friend, really, she was just his sister.
Stupid. Stupid! Why hadn’t he seen? Why hadn’t he figured out that she might need him?
Ron looked up from his knees, and Harry gave him a twisted, upside-down sort of smile, one that said, Sorry. It was the same one Harry’d been giving him all day, a sort of silent reaffirmation of support.
Ron tried to smile back, but his mouth wouldn’t work properly. He closed his eyes and wished with all his heart that when he opened them again, he wouldn’t see the helpless sympathy in his best friend’s eyes, because the reason for that sympathy wouldn’t exist.
* * *
I’m so sorry, Mum. I’m so sorry, Dad.
* * *
Percy gave the password in a leaden voice that sounded as if it came from someone else, and the Fat Lady opened for him without comment. She gave him a look of painted sympathy, which registered in some portion of his mind but didn’t penetrate his understanding.
Faces turned to him when he stepped inside, tight and pale. A heavy pall of fears realized hung over the common room, dampening conversations and sapping energy.
His brothers sat at the fireside, as helpless as he in the grips of sorrow. Their eyes followed him, dark and hopeless. He turned away and almost ran for the dormitory stairs. He couldn’t face their eyes, the same color as Ginny’s, telling him how he’d failed to take care of her.
The dormitory was still and empty. Everyone was downstairs. He stood in the dark, listening to himself breathe. By feel, he made his way to his bed. His knees gave out, and he crumpled to a sitting position on his trunk.
Percy put his face in his hands and wept. He could do nothing else.
* * *
Love, your son.