I started writing the following fic and just... got too depressed. The whole thing was too sad. So I put it away for a while. And then Luna came, and showed me a different direction to head in.
See if you can spot the splice point.
Title: Better Days
Fandom: HP. Post book 7.
Length: 1800 words
Characters: Luna and Ginny.
Warnings: References to the deaths of many characters you probably would rather not have die.
Summary: "It wasn't until she returned to Hogwarts the next September that it really hit Ginny. She was alone."
"True it is, we have seen better days. " William Shakespeare, As You Like It
It wasn't until she returned to Hogwarts the next September that it really hit Ginny. She was alone.
After the first day of classes, rather than wander up to the library, or to the common room, she found herself meandering down the lawn to the beech tree that overlooked the lake. It had been a favorite spot for the lot of them to hang out, and as she sat down in the damp grass, she found herself searching for some lingering sign of their presence, of their laughter.
None there. Only in her memory, which was layered with images like a forest floor littered with leaves.
Hermione, Ron and Neville, all gone. Somehow, in this place, that was even more devastating than the loss of her own mother, a loss she knew she would be mourning for the rest of her life.
Harry, still so strange and distant, huddled there in Grimmauld Place, looking up at her when they had both managed to stop crying and telling her, his green eyes flat and lifeless, "I don't know who I am anymore."
Dumbledore and Hagrid, dead on the steps of the castle itself, right there.
Death and destruction, blood and terror, and somehow it didn't feel as if they had won, even with Voldemort truly and finally defeated.
Tom. That image was clear and icy. Tom, who still haunted her thoughts and taunted her dreams. Why, after all of it, was she left with him?
She had spent her whole life wrapped up in her brothers' loves, their ambitions, their battles, their struggles, their friendships and their hates. She had rooted them on when they needed rooting and yelled at them when they needed yelling.
But none of it seemed to matter any more.
Hermione, Ron and Neville, all dead. And Mum. And Percy, the poor bastard. And Dumbledore, and Hagrid, and Lupin and Snape, and Mrs. Figg, and Kingsely Shacklebolt, Tonks, and Cho, and Dean, and Susan Bones, and Theo Nott, and Ernie MacMillan, and the Patil sisters, and the Creevey brothers, and so many others. All dead. And Harry as good as.
And all of the love and joy that had warmed her way through the difficulties of the past six years like some sort of magical furnace was melted away, less substantial than the mist that was dampening the grass, and swirling through the tree limbs.
She felt rather than heard someone settling down behind her, smelt a mixture of vanilla and bubotuber puss. "Hi, Luna," she said. "Just come from Herbology?"
"Yes," said Luna, airily. "I tried to show Professor Sprout a different way of lancing bubotubers. Daddy ran an article in The Quibbler."
Mirthlessly, Ginny laughed, just because it seemed called for. "What did Professor Sprout think of that?"
"Oh, I never presume to know what people are thinking. But she didn't look particularly happy."
"I bet not," Ginny sighed.
"For that matter," said Luna, "neither do you."
"What?" Ginny said. Turning around, she saw Luna's eyes gazing at her in that steadying, infuriating, knowing way that she had. "Oh, all right, yes, I'm not terribly happy."
"Ghosts?" Luna asked, who knew something about ghosts.
"Yes, I suppose. But it's more, you know, the absence that's eating at me just now. I thought coming back here would be coming back to all the laughter and the purpose... But it's all just empty, you know?"
"I think so," said Luna.
"It's like... I know you always saw the Thestrals, but when I finally saw them last year the whole place seemed... less magical. More just a place. And now, to come back, when there's so much missing... It feels so..."
"Empty," Luna finished, and handed Ginny a tattered handkerchief.
"I mean, what's the point? Take classes, pass tests. Why? What does it matter? Go on dates to Hogsmeade? Learn silly spells to turn yourself into a bat or make the lake turn purple? And so many people are just gone and it just all doesn't seem to matter at all, what happens, what I do. I mean, what the hell is the point of it all?"
Luna took back the handkerchief, limp and dry in Ginny's hand, and dabbed gently at Ginny's damp cheeks. "Oh, there is a point. I don't know that we ever get to see it, but there is a point."
Ginny snorted. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"When my mother died, I spent a lot of time thinking about the same sorts of things. Daddy, of course, wasn't much help, because he was just as devastated as I was. The two of us would barely remember to eat. And what I came to realize was that there is more than just what you can see and feel and hear at work. That there is some sort of gigantic game being played out, and we're only aware of part of it--that it goes on outside the realm of our senses and beyond our sense of time and place." When Ginny scowled at her, Luna went on. "You've been in the Department of Mysteries, Ginny. You know that what they try to study there, all of it, is finally unknowable. Time, the future, space, the mind. Death. Love. These are dimensions that we can guess are there, but there's no way to say, 'Ah, this is how this works, this is what this means.'"
"You're spouting rubbish, Luna."
"Perhaps. But I've been thinking about this for a long time." She looked out towards the lake, her silver-blue eyes mirroring the overcast sky perfectly. "My mother used to say that the meaning of life was whatever you make of it. I never knew what she meant by that. But I think it had something to do with playing the game fully."
Ginny rubbed her temples. She hated it when Luna got philosophical like this, because it left Ginny feeling as if she were looking at the world through a wool muffler. "It's not a game, Luna."
"But it is, Ginevra. You love Quidditch, don't you?"
Ginny shrugged bleakly. The fierce ecstasy on Ron's face as he made the final save last year, just as Harry was catching the Snitch. He would be dead less than two hours later.
Luna stared out at the lake for a moment and then went on. "I never really cared much for it. It always seemed rather pointless, you know, a bunch of people flying around, throwing things and catching things. But then, the year that you and Ronald were first on the Gryffindor team, it all suddenly made sense to me. You have to pick a side for it to be any fun at all. You have to pick a side and pretend that it really matters: then it's quite exciting."
"Not most of the matches we played that year," groaned Ginny.
Her friend simply continued. "It occurred to me that most things are that way. If you play the game fully, then there's pleasure in the doing of it. Of course," Luna said, resting a hand lightly on Ginny's leg, "then you also get the pain of loss. But it all matters."
Inexplicably, Luna's strange eyes filled immediately with tears. "You okay, Luna?" Ginny asked, startled.
"Do you remember when my mother died?"
Ginny nodded her head.
"You came over to play at my house every day for months. And I couldn't play. So you would play in my room, giving my dolls tea parties, brushing their hair, brushing my hair... And I would just sit there and watch you. For months. And the stories that you were spinning began to whirl around in my brain, and all of a sudden, I found myself in the games, playing along with you... Ginevra, it was the nicest thing anyone ever has ever done for me. Even nicer than the time Neville gave me that Snorkack horn and kissed me under the mistletoe."
Ginny didn't have any idea what to say, so she looked down at Luna's hand splayed across her leg.
"I'd like to try to return the favor," said her friend. "Come on, let me show you something," and she pulled Ginny to her feet and towards the nearby forest.
"Uh, Luna, what... Where are we going?"
"You'll see," Luna said airily as they passed into the first trees in the Forbidden Forest.
Ginny looked around nervously--she'd been here before, but never without Hermione, her brother, and Harry. "I don't know if this is a good idea, Luna, there's a reason this is called..."
"Last June," Luna said, an uncharacteristic look of determination on her face as she pulled Ginny along a narrow track, "you fought off two Acromantula, three Death Eaters and a Troll. This time of day, I don't think there's anything in these woods that you need to be afraid of, apart from the Centaurs. And the Centaurs still don't come to this part of the forest often."
Looking around, Ginny was vaguely aware that they were, in fact, headed into the part of the forest where Hagrid's brother Grawp had lived for two years. Several of the trees seemed to have had their tops ripped off. "Can't blame the Centaurs," Ginny muttered, "Poor old Grawp didn't like them very much..."
"No," Luna agreed, and then she held up her hand. They had come to a clearing. "Ah! Ginevra, I'd like you to close your eyes for a little bit."
Ginny looked her friend dubiously; the determined expression was still lodged on Luna's face, however, so Ginny merely shrugged. "I wish I'd never told you my full name. No one ever uses it."
"I do," said Luna, infuriatingly--which made Ginny want to laugh, thinking how angry Hermione used to get at Luna. Which made Ginny want to cry. Luna put her spindly fingers over Ginny's eyes, and Ginny dutifully closed the lids. "I think your name is lovely." Luna now lowered her hand and took Ginny's. "I'm going to lead you now. Don't open your eyes."
"But..." Ginny began.
Luna simply walked her forward. They were in the clearing, Ginny knew, feeling the sunlight on her face and the thick grass pulling at her feet.
"Here," Luna said. "Kneel down."
Still dubious, eyes still shut, Ginny did as she had been told.
After a minute of silence, Luna spoke. "Magic isn't just funny words, and squiggles on parchment and disgusting brews and such. Magic is part of what we are, part of everything--not just the creatures and the wizarding folk, though we have the sensitivity and the power to use it, but everybody, everything. The magic is spread across the face of the earth, but nobody sees it."
Ginny felt a warm weight lay across her thighs--Luna's arm, she assumed.
"You should open your eyes now, Ginevra," Luna said, very softly.
Perplexed, Ginny did so. A unicorn, impossibly white, was kneeling beside her, its golden horn laid across Ginny's lap. A warmth flowed into Ginny, filling an emptiness she had only begun to perceive. "Oh!"
Luna's hand rested lightly on Ginny's shoulder, then began to run gently though Ginny's hair.
Not so alone.