There’s a story I’ve always wanted to write.
When it starts, I’m standing in the snow, but that’s not the beginning. The winter wind whips my hair into separate strands, and each are a trail trickling back to every place I’ve been, and there’s the image of a white rabbit, newly slaughtered. I can see that image so clearly, the blood staining fur and snow, sinking into the white with its weight and heat. The poor rabbit’s heart beats frantically and stills, and then I think about how it was killed, and realize the murderer was I.
It’s over my shoulder now, a brace of two young bucks in a hide pouch. I’ve been wearing hides for so long they’re oiled and creased just like second skin, except I’ve been moving north, the nights are growing longer, and leather’s no longer warm enough. On top of the skins, I wear furs—rabbits, bear, and wolf. I slew a yeti once, but its skin was too thick to cut.
Dragon skin is thin but strong, and durable in all weather.
And so I go forward, and I think my hair is blood just like the rabbit’s, and I think that I am bleeding, just like the rabbit, until my heart is still, just like the rabbit, and like the rabbit, I am winter. The snow is as white as a thousand pages of a book with nothing written in it.
Some words we do not write in ink.
The beginning begins with someone else’s story.
The first book was released just shy of two months after the end of the war. After that there was one book for each year he was at Hogwarts, culminating in the seventh volume, released in 2007. The series took longer to be written than the war took to be fought.
He hated it, of course; someone’s taken my life, he said, and all that happened, and made it just a story. He’s always hated that, Rita Skeeter and the Prophet, the whole lot of them. I think he even hated Professor Lockhart for that reason—for making his life into books and things when it should have been the truth.
Sometimes he still looks for the Muggle switch device in a room, before casting Lumos, and once when he dropped a glass he started to clean up the pieces before he realized he could Reparo. It’s little things like that, the way he thinks he needs a kerchief when his nose is stuffy, that makes me realize that for him, our world always was just a little bit like a story. Maybe the reason he gets so upset was that finding out the truth was always different for him than it was for me.
For us, for so long he was the story, and I think that was what was so hard for him to understand. The wizarding world dreamed of The Boy Who Lived for a decade nearly, and when he came to Hogwarts, he was The Chosen One. Then he disappeared again his seventh year, and we were the figures ranged around the fire, and he was the legend passed around the flames.
It wasn’t until I read the books, however, that I realized I was only a minor character.
Another scene I see, I’m standing on a dune when the desert sun fails to rise. Instead fire fills the east, and a dragon surges, shattering the night into day.
The Persian Dahagh, Eater of a Thousand Horses, is the colour of oil, blotting out the sky like ink, a writhing writing that can only spell out doom. His three heads are each cetacean in proportion, his three mouths stretched open in searing screeches, all six eyes black as the absence of a hundred thousand stars.
I stand silent in my desert garb, my wand at my side, my whip loose in my fist as his spine strains toward the sky, and I see his belly—a mess of muscle that moves like a colony of slugs and snails, sinuous and strong. Then the long slippery slide of his tail crests the horizon, like the contrail of a panting, greasy locomotive, a phallic stain upon the bested sun. I brace my knees, feet planted in the sand, and lift my whip.
There is not enough strength in even the strongest woman’s arm to hold back a monster of such mammoth proportion, but heedless, I wrap the whip about my arm. I lift my wand, and when the dragon snaps back, screaming, I bind him to the sinking sand. Swiftly I creep up along its spine, crouching, as though running along the ridges of the desert basin, between the hazardous beat of leather wings. I find the weakness between the scales at its scapula, and by the time I’m done, I’m covered in a substance much like tar or pitch, and the mountainous mass of his straining body is nothing but a hulking carcass.
When the sun at last rises, it is bloody, and I am black with death.
When I was little, I liked books quite a lot—especially stories of The Boy Who Lived. I stopped liking to read after my first year at Hogwarts.
You probably know the story; it was in the second book, but it leaves out exactly what it’s like to become the embodiment of—well, what else was it but a story?
The journal was black leather, unoffensive looking, and the pages were all white. In it, I wrote about him in my favourite pen. I wrote about other things too, of course—little stories and the classmates who annoyed me, my new friends and what I liked to have for breakfast, the house I wished to have when I grew up and what I might name my children. Mostly, though, I wrote about him.
When it began to write back, I woke up in the night with dreams of blood and an aching need. In that half-asleep state, I slaughtered chickens—only roosters, muscular and leggy, never the soft white hens, their plump bodies or their bright round eggs. Hens don’t crow, but when I strangled the roosters, they clucked in their distress, fluffed and helpless.
I was no longer writing in the journal—it was writing me, and it should have been my own blood on the walls. I should have been the corridors, the winding halls, dark and damp, this reptilian presence breaching my secret, hidden chamber. The Dark Lord was inside of me, and I was inside of Hogwarts, searching out that secret spot that could fulfill the desires invading my whole body. When at last I opened the Chamber of Secrets, he opened me. Something broke inside and could never be restored.
I wrote in rooster’s blood while the hens stayed white as snow.
This isn’t the beginning of the story either, but I have to begin somewhere, so the first scene is probably a seedy street in south Săveni, where I buy a set of knives and a belt to sling them round my hips. I think I’m very savvy with the dealer and that my eyes are steely. I have no idea.
When I find the dragon I’ve been tracking, in the woods just west of there, I realize I’ve followed the wrong trail. It’s not the dragon I was searching for at all, just a little Green Breather—Smok, they call it here.
I should realize my mistake. I have a family waiting; a sister’s wrath won’t sell for motive, and my new knives won’t make a wife a warrior. Instead I feel such rage, such an incandescent ire that it almost feels like fire coursing through me, burning out doubt and fear, leaving only me.
Even though Smok isn’t the dragon I was seeking, I’m determined not to fail again and it’s Smok that teaches me the essentials of dragon hunting—how to recognize the scent of sulfur in the air, how to distinguish their claws against the rocks, how to predict their patterns.
I’ve barely slept in three nights, bruised and aching, reduced to cupping water out of muddy ponds, when I finally bring Smok down. I’m still clumsy, and it thrashes me to the ground almost a dozen times before I get astride it and hold on, my thighs wrapped tight around its neck. Its neck is almost as thick as the night is long, and not knowing any other way, I saw straight through till morning.
By then my knives are dull, but my ambition sharp. My thighs ache with the burn of a new life.
Charlie died four years after the publication of the last book. It was a dragon that killed him, a Russian silver Zmey Gory that had lived peacefully in its paddock for years.
Charlie would have told me that a basilisk is not a dragon, but when he died I couldn’t help but think that that is just what killed him, that Harry didn’t stop it, couldn’t stop it, that basilisks cannot be stopped. Sometimes I think that it stopped me instead, as though the basilisk gazed my way, and turned me into stone.
He said that it wasn’t my fault that Charlie died; Ginny, how could it possibly be your fault? He told me that there was nothing I could do; it wasn’t going to bring him back; I don’t understand why you’re doing this. He told me that my responsibility was here.
He was right, of course. When I left home, James was seven and Lily was only five, but he doesn’t know what it’s like to wake up and find that he’s slayed the basilisk for you, that he finally destroyed the journal for you, that he ended everything for you, and all you had to do was lie there. Some things he never understood, because he was the main character, and it always was his own story.
Sometimes he still wakes up as the snake, its language on his tongue, burning in his body, but that doesn’t make it any easier for us, that understanding. Parts of us are children still, violated, and yet sometimes when he’s with me in the night, I cannot help but feel that it is he who is violating me. I see snakes and other, larger reptiles; I see scales and I am all the halls of Hogwarts, and he is slithering inside.
Then there needs to be a sort of descriptive summary, bridging the time between killing Smok and slaying the Dahagh in Iran. First I travel all of Europe, tracking the Zmey Gory that killed Charlie, following words and whispers. Instead I find false leads, red herrings and dead ends, the Culebre in Spain, the Lindworms that live in Germany, and wyverns to the north.
If my quest is really vengeance, I should leave them be, unless it’s someone other than Charlie I avenge. In Norway I slay the Bearded Dragaur terrorizing Vardø; I slaughter the drakaina that befriended and betrayed the Oracle at Delphi. I slit the throat of a dragon laying waste to Sicily, and later find her nest eggs. I should feel remorse, but I do not. I burn them.
In Turkey there are flying wyrms that spit out fire from their tails, and in the Black Sea there is a snake that can sink a ship with a single thrash of its massive body. In Rajasthan in India, the dragons have no feet; they can speak a language that sounds the way that he does, in the night, and their blood is a pretty poison.
I travel back across the Arabian Sea on the thread of whispered rumour, circling the desert by slaying skeletons of naga and of sand wyrms. Benin is the worst. It is on the knife edge between desert and the sea, and the people I encounter there are friendly like no other. They speak of a Rainbow Dragon, which brings the rain, newborn plants, and babes. They are kind and strong, sharing their legends and their secrets.
When I slay the Rainbow Dragon, no one sings a song. It’s the first time I realize I will not be the hero of this story.
There is a saying that goes that there are only as many different kinds of dragon as there are stories of wizards slaying them, but like so many sayings, it isn’t true. I can think of plenty of stories in which there are no wizards at all, only witches. In those stories, it’s usually the dragons who win. This is how they go in England:
Once upon a time there was a kingdom terrorized by a gruesome evil dragon. The king said unto the dragon, “What will it take for you to stop laying waste to my strong kingdom?” And the dragon says, “Only send me your strongest,” and so the king sends a knight, whom the dragon promptly slashes into ribbons. And the dragon says, “He is strong no longer.”
The king says once more, “What will it take for you to stop laying waste to my wise kingdom?” And the dragon says, “Only send me your wisest,” and so the kind sends a wizard, whom the dragon promptly burns alive. And the dragon says, “He is wise no longer.”
Then the king says one last time, “What will it take for you stop laying waste to my innocent kingdom?” and the dragon says, “Only send me your most innocent,” and so the king sends his daughter, whom the dragon promptly gobbles up. And the dragon says, “She is innocent no longer,” but the king had tricked the dragon, for strength and wisdom may be hard to come by, but innocence can be sewn and grown, just like a crop. Just like a crop, it can be reaped, and so the king says, “If you stop laying waste to my kingdom, I will send to you a maiden every seven years.”
And so the dragon settles down to sleep.
Near the end of the story, I pictured reaching the Pacific, following the whispers, “Dragon”. In bars and boats and slow treks through the steppes I hear another rumour. It’s starts with “dragon” but ends with “man”; sometimes they say, “English.”
Of course I know of the dragon dances performed in Asia; I know that wizards in China dance with real dragons, for I have seen it. I have seen dragons in India bring longed-for death, and dragons in Nepal bring the rain. I have seen a dragon in the mountains of Tibet teach children to find caves in winter, and I have seen dragons set fire to the jungles of Vietnam, so fruit may grow again in spring.
What I have not seen is Draco Malfoy drinking sake at a bar in Osaka, wearing black and looking so severe with his white hair, as sharp and glacial as I feel. What I have not seen is Draco Malfoy turning, leaning back and lounging, his eyes as grey and hard as my katanas, and his mouth so unsurprised. I have heard dragon-slayer and wyvern-bane; I have heard Killer of the Rainbow. It’s just been so long since I’ve heard, “Ginny Weasley.”
“Potter,” I say, automatically.
“Potter,” is all he says, and turns back to the bar.
I sit beside him and tell him of the dragon without wings in Egypt, the way that it circled me without me at first discerning its shape. Beginning with its tail, it consumed itself until it almost was too late. He tells me that he knows that sensation of strangulation, of slowly being squeezed to death. The only escape is to cut straight through.
He tells me that he has been with monks, and learned to count the stars. The centre of the Earth has shifted, since four thousand years ago, and the North Star used to be the tail end of Draco, a star that was once called Thuban. The world used to point to just that star, and the universe wheeled around it, until our axis shifted, like a top that’s slowly spinning.
The flat after that is six Songs an hour, neon red blinking sin and signs through blinds. Somehow, though he touches me, the inevitable does not happen. “I don’t want to think of him,” I say, as his hand filters through my hair.
“It always will be, if we do,” he says. He takes his hand away.
I tell him that I’ve killed a thousand dragons, which should have been enough.
“The ending isn’t written yet, Mrs. Potter,” he tells me.
I tell him that my name is Ginny.
Sometimes I am so caught up in rhyme that I forget what I am saying, and sometimes finding the right words among all their multiple meanings feel beyond me. Sometimes I feel that I am searching for something which cannot be said.
I’ve thought of using someone else’s words instead, telling fairy tales and legends of long lost dragons. There is a song we sing in Wizard England; I think of it often:
“What a to-do to die today
At a minute or two to two
A thing distinctly hard to say
And harder still to do.
For they’ll beat a tattoo at two to two
A rat-a-tattoo at two, boo hoo!
And the dragon will come
When it hears the drum
At a minute or two to two today,
At a minute or two to two.”
Sometimes when I can’t write what I want to, I think of the maidens tied up to the posts. I do not think of fire, of fear, of being consumed. I think of waiting, and I think of this:
“Why hullaballoo, you die today
At a minute or two to two,
A thing distinctly hard to say,
But an easy thing to do.
For they’ll beat a tattoo at two to two
A rat-a-tat-tat tattoo for you,
And the dragon will come
When it hears the drum;
There’s nothing for you to do but stay,
And the dragon will do for you.”
At the end of the story, I’m right back to the start, standing on a winter’s plain in Siberia, my hair as thick as rabbit’s blood, and my heart as cold as ice.
When Zmey Gory crests the veil of snow, it has silver scales and wings the size of whales; its skin is incandescent. I have long since been able to sex dragons, simply by the ridges around the eyes, and I know that it is female. It isn’t this that stops me, but merely the look within those eyes.
She does not know that I’ve been hunting her, and she does not care. Her eyes are not the eyes of an animal once caged and now gone feral; what I realize is that she was always wild. When she killed my brother, she was merely doing what she does; when my brother died, he was only doing what he used to do. She lives by her wants, by her needs, and not according to the legends we tell, the songs we sing of her.
She does not need to feed; she has done so recently—elk, or maybe caribou. We eye each other, somehow as equals, for long, still moment in the snow. Slowly, I lower my sword. A moment lower, she takes wing, strong and soaring like an iridescent sail against the sky.
Then the tundra’s white and empty, and I’m alone. I put the sword on my back and turn away, toward home.
I’ve always wanted to tell this story, but now I’ve written it.
There is no epilogue.