Ginny plunged into the lake. She had gone around the
opposite side, cutting across part of the Forbidden Forest, where she wasn’t
technically allowed to trespass. But the forest didn‘t scare her anymore - and
anyway, Ginny had always been a brave girl. That’s what it meant, didn’t it,
being chosen for Gryffindor?
Her body sliced into the water and she felt every pore
inhale the sweet, cold silence of being under. She just wanted to be under,
away from all the noise, all the light, all the students moving in shocked packs
through the corridors, whispering and telling rumors. She couldn‘t stand to
listen to one more person try to make sense of the chaos Hogwarts had become.
"I can’t believe he’s dead." "Cedric
Diggory - did you see Cho earlier? She looked like somebody Stunned her."
"You heard they’re saying He’s back?" "You Know Who -yeah I heard
that, but that’s ridiculous - my mum said He was dead thirteen years ago."
"Yeah, Potter killed him, I thought." "Nah, Potter just got lucky."
"Has anybody seen Potter, since..." "Yeah. He’s looking pretty
bad, actually." "Well you heard that Moody almost killed him though,
right?" "That’s not true is it?" "It can’t be - Moody‘s
dead." "No, he’s not dead, he’s Bart Crouch, from the Ministry."
"No, Crouch’s son, I thought." "Yeah, right. Now they’re both
Ginny pulled her legs and arms in wide breast strokes,
digging herself deeper into the lake. She wanted to deafen all the echoes. She
was very tired. She was shaken and confused and wanted very much to know what
was really happening. But she wasn’t interested in knowing anybody’s version
of events except for Harry’s. And since Harry never told her anything important,
she knew she’d be left out of it. She was just going to have to deal with all
this by herself, as usual, in a world full of questions without answers.
She hit the spongy bottom of the lake with one white
foot, bent her knee, and pushed up hard toward the surface. Her lungs were burning
and she was glad of it. It took her mind off everything else. For five glorious
seconds there was only the rocketing of her body up through the silent water,
and the sensation that her chest might burst for want of air.
She broke into the sky and gasped, taking in every molecule
of available oxygen. As she pedaled the water to keep her head up, she noticed
other students swimming across the lake, in the permitted areas. She squinted
across the way. Barely, she could make out that there were small groups of her
schoolmates dotting the lake shore, sitting on the grass and shading their eyes
from the sun. But there wasn’t any noise. Nothing at all. It was odd, Ginny
thought, to be finished with exams, and practically right on top of summer -and
not to hear anybody laughing. Usually this time of year meant shrieking and
water fights, people running and flying like mad over the grounds of the castle.
But this year everything was different.
Ginny shut her eyes, relaxed every muscle and sank like
a sandbag back under the blue glass surface of the lake. The quiet pressure
of the water calmed her mind slightly. She wished it were possible to suspend
herself there for the summer - she wondered briefly what kind of enchantment
Dumbledore had used on the hostage students during the second task. Maybe if
she asked him, he’d let her sleep at the bottom of the lake for awhile - or
maybe if she went deep enough underwater herself, the merpeople would spirit
her away... she wouldn’t have minded. It was too hard being awake, too hard
standing off to the side and watching Harry get tossed around from one crisis
to another like a cork in a storm. She didn’t want to watch anymore.
She wasn’t the only person feeling anxious for him, Ginny
knew. She remembered Ron’s pale face and Hermione’s bloodshot eyes, as they
had looked on the evening following the third task. They’d both been wrecked.
It was different for them, though, Ginny reflected. It was easier for them.
Even though they loved Harry very much, even though they were frightened for
him and confused about what the world was becoming, they at least had the liberty
of talking to him about it. And they had the relief of being able to help, because
he allowed them in.
Ginny bobbed to the surface of the water in order to
breathe again, and then propelled herself into a face-up floating position.
She felt the world drop away beneath her. In her vision there was nothing but
open sky fringed with trees. In her ears there was only the amplified sound
of her own breathing. But in her head she kept seeing Harry, the way he’d looked
when he’d dropped from thin air onto the Quidditch pitch two weeks before, one
hand clutching the Triwizard trophy, the other gripping Cedric’s robes, his
face haggard from some terrible wear.
She wished there was something she could do to stop herself
from thinking of him. There wasn’t any point in thinking of him. In three years,
he’d hardly even seen her standing there. It was almost cruel, she thought,
to be Ron’s sister and to have become so much closer to Hermione this year.
It meant that Harry was always there - but always once removed. It was very
difficult to take. She ought to be right there with him, she knew it, she felt
it. She’d had her birthday already; she was fourteen, just like he was. She
wished that he would notice, but she could hardly expect anything like that.
He had other things to think about now.
Ginny sighed deeply against the ache in her chest, curled
into a little ball and sank again into the darkness of the water, holding her
breath as long as possible before surfacing once more. She began to swim silently
inland, gliding toward the shore, her hair streaming behind her. She hoped she
wouldn’t run into anybody on the way into the castle. She wasn’t in the mood
to say a single word, not to anyone, not even ‘hello’.
She stepped onto the pebbly shore that lined that side
of the lake, toweled off and pulled on her clothes, even though her suit was
still wet. She pushed her damp feet into sandals and rung her hair tightly in
her hands to get the water out. Then, carrying the towel over her arm, she slipped
noiselessly back across the edge of the forest, emerging near Hagrid’s cabin.
She looked to her left. There were students on the front lawn- she’d have to
cut through them in order to use the entrance doors, and then she’d have to
pass the Great Hall, which was sure to be busy, on her way up the stairs. The
risk that she’d have to talk to somebody was too great. Needing to keep her
privacy, Ginny turned away from the crowd and trudged toward another entrance
- one that was usually deserted. The house elves had shown it to Fred, who in
turn had shown it to her. Going in this way meant that she would only have to
pass by classrooms on her way up to Gryffindor Tower. Nobody would be in the
classrooms now that exams were done. And nobody was just what Ginny wanted.
She rounded the elliptical flagstone wall of one of the
castle’s many stout towers, making for the side door. And then she stopped,
her knees feeling strangely weak. Someone was sitting on the gray steps outside
the side entrance. Because his head was bent, Ginny could only see his black
hair and the back of his neck. But she knew it was Harry because of the way
her chest was burning, just as if she were still far under the water, wanting
air. She didn’t move.
Neither did Harry - indeed, he didn’t seem to have heard
her approach. His head was hanging heavily toward the ground. His elbows were
on his knees and his forearms and hands dangled loosely. Ginny had never seen
his posture so defeated and she felt her heart go out to him - she wished that
it wouldn’t, but there was no stopping it. She wondered what on earth he would
do if she sat down next to him and held him - just quietly held him, nothing
more - she wanted to give him that. But it wasn’t as if she could actually do
it. This was his grief, not hers, and she didn’t dare to infringe on it without
Without a noise Ginny backed away, not minding the crowd
at the front entrance if it meant leaving Harry undisturbed. She was successful
in keeping completely quiet and was about to turn back and slip around the tower
wall when Harry’s head came up slightly. She froze. He hadn’t looked at her,
but she knew that he was aware of her presence. She wasn’t sure whether to keep
walking away, or whether she should speak to him. She did neither; merely stood
and waited. A moment later, he brought his eyes up to meet hers - the small
movement took obvious effort, on his part - but Ginny could tell that he wasn’t
really seeing her. His eyes seemed to focus through her face and out beyond
Hogwarts. They were such tired eyes, Ginny noticed. So tired, and so green.
Harry’s eyes shifted to the towel on Ginny’s arm, and
then back down to the ground. He gestured behind him to the door, carelessly.
"Go ahead," he muttered, moving slightly to the right on the step,
so that Ginny could get past him. She hesitated. She wanted to say that she
could stay with him if he wanted someone - she wanted to ask if he had anything
he needed to say - she wanted to sit on the step above him and let him lean
back against her and go to sleep. But none of that was possible, of course.
She nodded instead, and moved gently up the stairs without touching him or speaking
to him at all. She pulled the door open - turning back slightly to see if he
would follow her. But Harry had already dropped his head again. His position
hadn’t changed. She looked at the back of his neck for a moment, then shook
her head sharply and stepped inside. No good torturing herself about it. He
was someplace else, and wherever it was, he didn’t want company.
Ginny shut the door softly, but couldn‘t bring herself
to leave. Instead, she pressed her palms against the door and let her forehead
rest on the wooden panels. For a long time - she had no idea how long and she
didn’t really care - she stood without moving. It was only when she heard gravel
shift on the steps outside, as though someone had just gotten to his feet, that
Ginny turned and fled away down the corridor.