The Sugar Quill
Author: Madhuri (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Into the Lake  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: Many hugs to Ciircee and Zsenya, beta-readers extraordinaire.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Into the Lake

The sky was clear and stunningly blue, that afternoon in May so many years ago. Ginny caught only a glimpse of that sky through the kitchen window, but it was enough to make her spirits lift. A spot in her lower back was itching terribly, but she could barely reach it. It didn't help that her new formal clothes were a little too tight. Her mother, in all her enthusiasm, seemed to have forgotten that Ginny was growing faster than a weed, and would probably not fit into this frilly contraption by the end of the month. Ginny sighed and looked at her afternoon snack with distaste. Ron kicked her under the table when their mother wasn't looking, and they had a quick foot-wrestling match that ended in a draw.

The Weasley household was as usual, in utter and complete chaos. But instead of surrendering to the chaos as Molly usually did on Sunday afternoons, the one time she could allow herself to take a well-deserved rest, she was bustling about with remarkable speed, her arms moving so fast they looked like a blur. As far as the children were concerned, they knew that their parents were expecting some Very Important Company that evening for dinner (although they couldn't see what all the fuss was about- it was only the neighbours, after all, not the Minister of Magic himself) and that it would serve their best interests to stay out of their mother's warpath.

At least, Percy, Ron and Ginny knew that. The twins, clever as they were in certain aspects, still had not come to realise the danger of harrying their mother when she was already in a very volatile mood, fuelled by the never-ending chore of dusting underneath the couches and tackling head-on the mood swings of a very temperamental family ghoul. When Molly discovered the mess they had made in the garage, in which they had been fooling around since the wee hours of the morning, there was hell to pay. Ears still stinging from their mother's tirade, George was forced to sweep out the fireplace while Fred straightened out the bookshelf and dusted the carpet. Molly hid their toy wands in the top-most shelf of the pantry, fully aware that they would reclaim them on their own before the week was up. But not before the dinner-party was over, and that was all that she cared about. How she wished that Arthur were home, but his hand on the Grandfather Clock in the hallway remained firmly pointing towards 'Work'. How she hated those unexpected raids.

In the midst of all this confusion, Ron and Ginny managed to quietly sneak out through the back door after finishing their bread-and-butter. Thankfully for them, their mother and all siblings currently at home were too occupied to notice their disappearance (Percy was frantically searching the attic for the lace doilies his mother had misplaced ages ago). Despite being out in the clear, they still tried to make as little noise as possible as they hurried down the grassy slope south of their house, towards the clearing in the valley. Once there, they hugged themselves in glee and laughed conspiratorially.

"I'm going to swim," Ginny declared loudly. She turned around and marched down the dirt path their father had cleared, which lead towards the lake.

"No, you're not," said Ron just as loudly, but finding that his sister had already disappeared from view, ran down the dirt path as well.

He found her kneeling at the edge of the large lake, tugging impatiently on the barrettes with which their mother had clipped her unruly hair into place. Ron started fidgeting with the stiff, starched collar that he was wearing, suddenly remembering how uncomfortable it was.

"If you jump into the lake it'll become all soft," said Ginny, as she pulled off the last of her barrettes. Her curly hair bounced wildly about her face.

"I'm not jumping! And neither should you!" said Ron. He gave a final tug on his collar, but gave it up as a useless endeavour.

"That's just 'cause you're 'fraid. You're a 'fraidy cat, that's what you are," Ginny said tauntingly, as she removed the frilly pink dress that she was wearing.

"I am not!" said Ron heatedly. But he automatically took a step back when the choppy water lapped at his feet. He didn't trust the lake. It was too wet and brown. The rocks underneath it were too slimy, and sometimes the water went in through his nose and he coughed.

"You're just a-scared," Ginny sang as she kicked off her clean white shoes. "You're a-scared as a Slytherin, hahaha..."

"Am not!" Ron yelled, but she probably hadn't heard him, as she had jumped boldly into the lake with a whoop, wearing only her slip. Water splashed over Ron, and he shuddered.

Ginny's beaming, freckled face bobbed above the water, her once neatly-styled curls hanging limp and stringent. She stuck her tongue out at Ron and flipped over on her back with ease, pushing through the water with calm, powerful strokes. Ron shoved his hands into his pockets and scowled, jealous of how his sister could be so at home in water.

"I'm gonna tell Mum!" he shouted. "And Dad and Bill and Charlie and Percy too!"

"Then I'll tell them that you were the one who flew Charlie's broomstick into a tree!" she yelled back.

Flushed with anger, Ron whirled on his heel and marched away, fully intending to inform his mother about Ginny swimming and becoming all messed up before the Very Important Dinner.

"Ooh! Ron! I'm a-drooowwn-ding!" Ginny shouted, and then squealed with laughter.

Ron clenched his teeth and marched resolutely forward, where the foliage on either side became considerably less dense.

"Hee! Ron! There's a big scary Octerpus here! And it's drownding me!" He could still hear her.

She didn't even stop shouting by the time he was in the clearing. Really. What a brat.

"Ron! Ron! Help, Ron!" He paused.

"RON!"

Heart beating madly, Ron dashed back through the undergrowth, not stopping for breath till he reached the lake. Panting from exertion and panic, Ron frantically scanned the lake. Ginny was nowhere to be seen. The lake was as ripply and choppy as ever.

And then, he saw a quiet, quick glimpse of red near the side bank.

Without stopping to think or kick off his shoes, Ron put on a burst of speed and dived head-first into the muddy water. Water seized him in and entered his lungs. He flailed his limbs wildly and groped about for the surface. Somehow, he managed to rise above the water and gulped in huge breaths of air.

"Ginny!" he cried, pushing his wet hair out of his eyes. "Ginny! Where are you?!"

He took a deep breath and plunged into the water again, struggling with all his might to keep his eyes open. Just then, a soft something brushed against his leg. A hand?

Ran came up again, took in another deep breath, and went down, clawing frantically about for his sister. He felt something... hair, a face, a neck, shoulders, the shoulder straps of a slip... Yes! Grabbing frantically at her neck and slip, Ron kicked his legs and rose to the surface. Ginny's white face broke the surface of the water, and lolled about her shoulders. Her eyes were closed, and water streamed down from her face and nose. Her lips were parted.

"Wake up!" he cried, grabbing her by one arm and slapping her cheeks. "You're the swimmer, not me!" His formal, starched robes were becoming unbearable heavy, and kept dragging him down.

"Help!" he croaked, although he knew that no one would hear them. "Please, help!"

*

 

Wiping the last champagne flute with her dust rag, Molly leaned back on the dining room table and heaved a sigh of relief. The cleaning was done. Now she'd just have to find her youngest ones and prep them on their table-manners.

She walked over to the stairs and leaned on the banister. "Ginny! Ron! Come down now!" she yelled up.

There was a pause, and no answer, not even the heavy thudding of footsteps. "Ron? Ginny, darling, come down now!"

Still wiping the champagne flute absentmindedly, Molly walked into the living room. Percy was sunk on the loveseat, poring odiously through a very heavy manuscript.

"Percy, have you seen Ron and Ginny?" she asked.

Percy looked over his book, his eyebrows raised. "I thought that they were with you."

"No, they are not with me," his mother said, looking a little annoyed. One would think she'd be grateful for the peace and quiet. "I thought you were keeping an eye on them."

"I was looking for the doilies!" Percy huffed indignantly. "The twins are de-gnoming the garden right now, maybe they know where Ron and Ginny are."

He watched his mother walk slowly into the hallway, his stomach suddenly feeling a little strange. He watched as she looked at the Grandfather Clock. Her face drained of all colour, and her mouth opened but no sound came out. The champagne flute slipped from her hand and shattered into a million pieces on the floor. Percy was at her side in an instant.

He looked at the Clock, which confirmed his worst fears. "No," he mumbled, "Oh Merlin no. Ron and Ginny..." Mortal Peril.

"I'm going to the clearing, and then to the lake," he heard his mother say, as if from someplace very far away. "You get the twins, and find out if they are at the Diggorys' or the Fawcetts'. Search the village."

Molly Disapparated. Without a word, Percy bolted out the front door.

*

 

Still clinging desperately to Ginny with one arm, Ron kicked and flailed with his remaining arm and legs. He couldn't keep his eyes open, everything was a blur anyway. Water kept going into his nose and he couldn't breathe. He dearly wished to just take a moment's rest... just a moment.

Ron's head slowly disappeared underwater, but his grip on his sister's limp body was as tight as ever.

A few moments passed, and Ron thought of how nice it would be to just go to sleep like this, when his foot connected with something solid and slippery. "Slimy rocks," he thought, his mind suddenly awakening with renewed vigour. With all the strength that he had left, Ron kicked the ground with his foot and rose up, breaking the surface of the water.

He gulped in deep breaths of beautiful, fresh air, and opened his eyes. He realised with immense relief that he was only a foot or so from the bank. Gritting his teeth, he kicked and pushed and shoved his way towards the dirt mound, making sure all the while that Ginny's face was above water. When he reached a point where he could stand on the floor of the lake and the water only reached his chest, Ron took a deep breath and hoisted Ginny up and over the steep bank. He clawed at the dirt and slowly climbed up out of the water as well.

He wanted nothing more than to lie down on his back and catch his breath, but he had to wake up Ginny first.

"Wake up," he muttered groggily, shaking Ginny by her shoulders.

"Wake up!" he tried again, more loudly, when she didn't stir.

He knelt down close to her ear and shouted with all his might. "GINNY! WAKE UP YOU ARE NOT IN THE WATER ANYMORE!"

She didn't move. Didn't cough, didn't stir, didn't blink, didn't wake up and annoy him like she'd been doing for the past six years. For as long as he could remember she had never been this quiet. Her face was blue, her mouth was open, and she didn't move.

Ron knelt back, his eyes big and glazed, suddenly overwhelmed by the situation. His throat constricted terribly. "Ginny," he sniffed quietly, touching her damp cheek. "Wake up or Mum's going to be mad."

Almost as if on cue, Molly burst in through the undergrowth, her eyes wild and looking more terrified than Ron had ever seen her look. "Ginny!" she cried, and knelt down beside her daughter. Ron watched, numb, as she pressed her ear to Ginny's chest, and then touched her neck. His mother pointed her wand at Ginny's chest and said, "Recipero!"

Nothing happened, and his mother again pressed her wand to Ginny's chest and said loudly, "Anhelo Latuseris!" Ron watched, hugging himself as he shivered in the breeze. Abruptly, Ginny coughed. She coughed again, and water spurt from her mouth. Then she moved her hand, blinked, coughed up water once more and started to cry.

"Oh Ginny!" his mother cried, picking her daughter up and cradling her to her chest. "Ginny, my poor darling. Are you all right?"

Ginny hugged her mother and sobbed loudly, hiccupping all the while. "My leg hurt, my leg hurt (hic) so bad... and then I was drownding and I thought I was a-going to die!"

"It's okay, it's okay sweetheart..." Molly kept murmuring as she clung to her daughter and rocked back and forth. She suddenly looked at Ron, furious.

"How could you let her go into the lake, Ron?" she cried. "How could you be so irresponsible?" And without another word, she stood up and carried Ginny out, through the dirt path into the clearing.

Flushed with anger but still shivering from the cold, Ron got up heatedly. I pull Ginny out of the lake, and Mum gets mad at me? That's so unfair! He picked up Ginny's pristine white dress shoes and threw them furiously into the muddy water. The splash wasn't big enough to calm him down.

*

 

The Weasleys couldn't remember the last time they'd had such an uncomfortable dinner. Their guests, however, were oblivious to the fact that everyone's attention was focused almost entirely on little Ginny, as if they were afraid that she might suddenly disappear at any given moment. Ginny herself was pale and drawn. Her eyes were very red indeed and she longed desperately to squirm in her seat, but didn't dare. Ron sat next to her, steadfastly not looking in her direction. Ginny slowly and clumsily deposited her slice of cake on Ron's plate, but he just pushed it to the side and did not even glance her way. She blinked sadly and concentrated on not swinging her legs.

Suddenly she realised that the big bearded man was talking to her. "So I hear that this little lady had quite the escapade today, eh?" he boomed, his words slurring together a bit. He laughed loudly, and continued, "There's nothing like a healthy dip in the lake to scare the wits out of you."

"Coffee, Amos?" Molly said quickly, as Ginny flushed from head to toe. Whatever had happened today, Ginny knew that it was not something the man should be laughing about.

"Yes, yes, thank you Molly, that would be welcome," he said. Ginny couldn't help but stare at the man's big, red nose. It seemed to be growing redder every second. Her attention was diverted when his wife suddenly spoke. She was thin and pointy-nosed, with short dark hair.

"Well, in my opinion, leaving a lake of that size near the property without any protective barricade spells around it is sheer lunacy!" she said, and laughed shrilly. "Now, we make sure that our Ced here never goes swimming without the appropriate floatation enchantments, underwater-respiration charms and adult supervision." She smiled at her son, who had dark hair like his mother but was less pointy-nosed, and who looked almost as uncomfortable as Ginny felt. Fred and George sniggered.

There was a short pause in the conversation after that, until Percy asked very politely if he might be excused. Ginny quickly fled the table after that, followed by her brothers and a still-uncomfortable Cedric, and went into the living room. Fred and George dragged the boy out into the garden, telling him a little too enthusiastically about their revolutionary new 'tamed' garden gnomes, and how much they loved to be tickled. Percy sank onto the sofa with one of his books. Ginny and Ron stood awkwardly for a moment, before Ron stiffly wished Percy goodnight and stormed up the staircase. Not really understanding what she was supposed to do, and feeling very confused indeed, Ginny sat on the cold tiles of the fireplace and hugged her knees to her chest.

*

 

Arthur knocked gently on the door of Ron's room. He felt a little guilty for leaving Molly downstairs to deal with the Diggorys on her own, but he needed to talk to Ron before he fell asleep.

"Hey, Martin Miggs," he said, when his knock elicited no response. "Can I come in?"

"Uh..." came Ron's voice from inside, obviously deciding whether or not to allow his father the privilege. Arthur smiled and pushed the door open. The room was almost pitch-dark.

"What are you doing sitting in the dark all by yourself?" he wondered aloud, and lit the candles next to Ron's bed with his wand. Arthur settled himself down cautiously on the edge of an old trunk, as there was nowhere else to sit, and looked at his son. Ron glared at him, sulky and morose.

"How are you feeling?" Arthur tried.

"I'm so mad," Ron began vehemently. "Because I had to wear these stupid grey robes to dinner because the only good ones I had got ruined, and because Mum thought that I'd pushed Ginny into the lake, and because Ginny is SUCH an IDIOT who just doesn't listen and thinks she's the greatest and you always favour her over me and--"

Arthur held up his hands. "Calm down," he said quietly but firmly. Scowling, Ron looked down at his pillow and started plucking off the stray threads.

"Ron." Arthur paused for a few seconds. "You did a very, very brave thing today. I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am of you."

Ron looked up, surprise clearly etched on his face. Arthur smiled and leaned forward. "You behaved like a Gryffindor, very much so. Bill and Charlie will be proud when they hear of what you did."

Even in the candle-light, Arthur could see how red Ron's ears had become. He continued, "Ginny was a little hysterical after your mother brought her home, but when I talked to her, it was fairly easy to figure out what happened. She's very, very grateful to you Ron. She'll never forget this."

Ron suddenly scowled again. "She is SUCH an idiot!" he repeated.

Arthur removed his spectacles, rubbed his eyes tiredly, and put them back on again. He tried to explain. "No, Ron, she's not an idiot. Stubborn and very disobedient, yes, but not stupid. She holds herself entirely responsible for this, and she told us many times how you are not to be blamed. She's just... I suppose she has to get into trouble before she can realise how our advice is actually for her own good." He sighed. "And in my opinion, she isn't entirely responsible for this. She's the baby of the family, Ron... your mother and I, your older brothers... we can't help but pet her a little more than necessary. We sometimes are too lenient on her. "

"That's what I keep saying but you never listen!" said Ron, looking immensely gratified that his dad had finally admitted his 'policy of blatant favouritism' (as Percy would have said) out loud.

Arthur chuckled. "Yes, well... please don't be too hard on her, Ron. Your mother and I have already given her a scolding she won't forget in a hurry, and she needs her older brother right now."

Ron continued to pick at the stray threads of his pillow, not answering.

Arthur cleared his throat, hoping that Ron would at least listen to what he was about to say next. "And also, don't be angry with your mother. She didn't mean to blame you, not at all. It's just a terrible thing to experience when you look at the clock and find that your children are in danger. It's something no parent could bear to go through. No parent should go through." Arthur was aware that his face was showing some emotions that he didn't feel like explaining to Ron at that moment, but luckily his son looked away, giving him time to compose himself.

Arthur cleared his throat. "And I'm sure that if your mother weren't tired out by now, packing up the guests and cleaning up the kitchen, she'd be in here right now, telling you how very proud she is of you, and about your trip to the Quidditch Arcade tomorrow." He grinned as his son's jaw dropped open in amazement.

"The... The Quidditch Arcade?" Ron croaked, his eyes wide. "In London? The Quidditch Arcade? With... with the hoop simulators and the rapid-fire Quaffles and the--"

"Yes, Ron, The Quid- oof!" Arthur gasped, as Ron suddenly pounced on him and hugged him tightly.

"Oh Dad, thank you thank you thank you-"

Arthur gently prised away Ron's arms from his waist. "Thank your mother. We were planning to take you for Christmas, but decided that now was as good a time as any. Think of it as your reward." He leaned down and kissed the top of his son's head. "Goodnight." Arthur walked out of the room and left the door a little open as he hurried downstairs, hoping that Molly and Felicia Diggory hadn't killed each other by now.

"Goodnight, Dad," Ron said wonderingly, as his father left the room. He flopped down onto his bed, still scarcely believing what had just happened. The Quidditch Arcade... wow...

His second visitor that night entered the room just then. Ron sat up and watched as Ginny very slowly and cautiously came in, carrying a plate with a very lumpy piece of chocolate cake on it. "You didn't have your chocolate cake," she said quickly, her words tumbling over each other. "And you always love chocolate cake; you always complain that you don't have enough chocolate cake so you should eat this now. Okay." Ginny set the plate on the bedside table and wrung her hands, looking at the floor.

"You ate some of the cake on the way up, didn't you?" Ron asked, feeling amused for some reason. Ginny quickly looked up, her eyes wide.

"I did not!" she protested loudly.

"You've got chocolate all over your nose, Gin," Ron said. Ginny frantically wiped her nose with her sleeve.

"I'm really, really sorry," she whispered. "Um, about the cake too, and because I was so stupid today. My leg suddenly hurt so much and then I couldn't breathe. I shouldn't have gone in when you told me not to."

Ron was feeling so happy that he wouldn't have minded if Fred and George stuffed his pillow case with live spiders. "C'mere," he said, patting the spot next to him on his bed. Ginny stepped forward and tentatively hugged him. Ron hugged her back, and she tightened her grip on his neck.

"You're the bestest brother anyone could have," she said. "Thank you for pulling me out or I would have died."

"Well, I couldn't have let that happen," Ron said, grinning. "You're the only sister I've got." He flopped back on to his bed, somehow feeling happier still, if possible.

"Why are you smiling so much?" Ginny asked.

"Mum's taking me to the Quidditch Arcade tomorrow," he replied. "Cool, huh?"

"Ah, okay," said Ginny, lifting up the covers next to him and crawling underneath them. Ron did not object. "Percy said that it's all humbug, which is nice, don't you think? I love humbugs, they're so tasty."

"It's absolutely brilliant Gin!" Ron said, as she rested her head on his arm. "I've heard so much about it! Charlie and his friends went there from Hogwarts and they even supply you with your own Nimbus 87s for the training sessions, isn't that great?"

Ginny was snoring softly. Ron stopped talking, and studied her for a moment, remembering how awful he'd felt when she lay there on the ground that afternoon, wet and blue and so terribly still. Perhaps the real reward of his bravery wasn't the trip to the Arcade the next day, but the little sister with the red curls who was drooling on his shoulder. He leaned over and blew out the candles.

//
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