In the aftermath of the war, Harry sits with Ginny in the shade of a beech tree by the lake. Through their entire conversation, he's looking around with a sort of avid, hungry wonder: he stares at his hands, blades of grass, Ginny's freckles. He talks in careful fits and starts, as though unsure of what to say. "I watched you," he says, "on the Map, just to see you were still --" and gazes at where his fingers and Ginny's are interlaced. Ginny wonders whether Harry will ever know how to talk to anyone again. Maybe Ron and Hermione can work him up to normal. But Ginny doesn't mind. Normal isn't important.
It's not until the sun is sinking down, gilding the lake red and gold as though house points still matter, that Harry takes a strange shaky breath and tells her. He talks like he's groping in the dark, carefully feeling out every idea as he reaches it: Dumbledore's mission. Horcruxes. A ring, and a cup, and a diadem, and a locket, and the foul snake that Neville beheaded. Riddle's diary. And Harry.
"Oh," Ginny says. Harry's watching her anxiously, and if Ginny were anyone else, she'd be recoiling in horror or flinging her arms around him in sympathy, doing something dramatic. Ginny just squeezes Harry's hand gently. "That does explain it," she says.
Harry stares at her for a long moment. His face is chalky-pale, and there's something like grief in the twist of his mouth. He doesn't look like a hero. He looks like a stranger, and Ginny has never been happier to see him.
"Yeah," Harry whispers. They sit, leaning together, and watch the bloody sunset.
No one's ever understood me like you, Tom, Ginny writes. She's eleven years old, and she's maybe a bit in love, long past being embarrassed by what she says to him. Every curl of his writing is dear to her, and he always says the right thing.
He says the right thing: with that particular flow to the letters that means he's feeling particularly fond, Tom writes, No one has taken the time to know you as they should, and it's their loss. You're a wonder, Ginny.
Sometimes Ginny wishes that Tom's diary wouldn't soak up her ink. She knows Tom needs it to write back to her, but she would like to reread all the kind things he's said, all the useful, understanding advice he's given. She wants some real record that he loves her; but even then she knows it's a lie. Ginny remembers every seductively kind word Tom has ever whispered, etched into her soul, filling her dreams, crowding out the spells and dates she's supposed to be memorizing for school, muffling her abstract fear for the Muggleborn students and those flashes of immediate terror when she remembers that there are whole hours she's forgotten. Ginny needs some record of the paint down her front and the chicken feathers clinging to her robes, but Tom's diary eats those words too.
How exactly are you supposed to make friends, Tom? Ginny writes. The other girls don't speak to pale, frightened Ginny Weasley. Not anymore. Her brothers won't take her seriously, and sometimes Harry Potter smiles at her in the corridors, but Ginny just trips on her robes; and she has Tom now. She doesn't need Harry when Tom loves her.
I didn't have friends when I started at Hogwarts, either, Tom tells her. There's the slant to his dear writing that means he's amused, but Ginny knows that he would never laugh at her. It gets better, I promise you. Give them time, and they'll come flocking to you begging for your friendship. They won't call you strange or mad then.
No one calls Ginny mad now, not where she can hear. But maybe it's only a matter of time. Sometimes Ginny can feel thick, sibilant hisses trying to curl across her tongue. Her small hand twitches, spattering the page with ink, and she scrawls, Thank you, Tom, thank you, I don't know how I'd bear to wait for it to get better if I didn't have you, digging her quill in deeply enough to make it true.
Ginny feels so strange and miserable in the week leading to the Yule Ball that it's like being eleven again. She tells herself that it's only because Neville is going to step on her feet, and that it's a bit obvious she was desperate to stay, but Ginny doesn't like herself very much when she has to resort to cruel lies.
Hermione finds her sulking in the library, and corners her against a mullioned window with snow frosting the panes. "I'm sorry, I know Harry asked you when you'd already said yes to Neville," Hermione says. "But really I think it was the right thing to do, you know, it's no good being hung up on Harry forever. If you go have fun and stop worrying and show Harry what you're like really, he's bound to come to his senses, and if he doesn't, you're better off without him."
Since Hermione is always like this, fobbing advice off with an edge of eager anxiousness, Ginny automatically says, "Yeah, I think you're right." She doesn't add that this is a terrible strategy to take if Hermione wants Ron to notice her, because she's learned a thing or two about prudence and subtlety from Tom; neither does she say that Harry isn't the problem.
The problem is that she's still a bit in love with a memory, with an evil soul vampire, with the only boy in the world who has ever cared enough to actually listen, sympathize with her, make her feel loved just for being Ginny. The problem is that Harry asked Ginny to the Ball a day too late, and if she went with Harry -- maybe Harry would protect her.
Or at least she could look at him and pretend.
Ginny collapses at nearly the same instant that Tom gains physical form, but even as her vision goes dark and her body crumples onto the damp Chamber floor, Ginny sees Tom for a moment with perfect clarity.
He is exactly as she imagined him. He has a narrow pale face and soot-dark hair; he is sharp-cheeked and painfully beautiful. He looks like Harry -- or perhaps Harry looks like Tom -- and even through her terror, in the moment before darkness swallows her, Ginny is glad to have seen him.
When she comes to, Harry is sitting there, smeared with grime and blood and ink, white-faced with shock. Ginny stammers something like an apology, and Harry says something that should be a reassurance, holding up Tom's diary with a venom-seared hole through its heart; at the time, Ginny is mostly in shock, and terrified of being expelled, but afterwards she can't stop picturing the mangled book. Harry has stabbed the heart of her secrets, too, and every time she looks at him she sees Tom in his face.
She tries very hard, after that, to avoid him, but they're both in Gryffindor and Ron's his best mate and Mum loves him and, no matter how she ignores it, Harry didn't kill that diary properly, because Ginny still wants.
When the sun has set, leaving streaks of purple like wounds in the darkening sky, Harry and Ginny trudge up the lawn to the castle, still leaning together. Hogwarts is half a ruin, though it already looks better than it did yesterday, and better than it did the day before that. Ginny wishes, a little, that people could rebuild themselves by magic instead of just tearing themselves apart.
"No one else is in my dormitory," Ginny says softly as they cross the entrance hall. Most of them were underage, of course, but the ones who were seventeen didn't stay. Ginny might have recruited Luna, Colin, Michael and his mates for the D.A., but the Gryffindor girls in her year had been a lost cause since she was eleven and mad. Not even Eloise, who was of age and generally kind to Ginny, had stayed. Ginny tells herself fiercely that she's glad, and it becomes true when she glances sideways at Harry and sees the heavy relief on his face.
They climb to Gryffindor Tower in silence, and slip through the empty common room. Harry follows Ginny up the girls' staircase, and Ginny is for once a little glad the castle is broken: the damage must have knocked out the alarm spell. The dormitory is dark, the air still strangely thin with the terror they've all been breathing this long exhausting year.
Ginny turns, opening her mouth to say something inconsequential, and Harry is on her; his arms wrap tight around her, mouth crushing hard to hers, and his shoulders are so tight that Ginny knows any backwards struggle will have him leaping away from her, so she surges to meet him, hands fisting tight in his shirt. A lifetime ago, Harry kissed with such fumbling sincerity that Ginny gave him top marks for effort and waited as he got better with each go. Now Harry kisses like he's drowning, and Ginny's insides go molten.
They stumble to the nearest bed, which may well be Eloise's, and Harry tumbles backwards with Ginny sprawled on top of him, sheets of hair getting in the way of everything. She tosses her head impatiently to one side and kisses Harry again, and today's tidy lie is that they're making up for a year's missed fumblings and sweet kisses with this desperation in the half-dark. There is nothing fumbling about this; they still have layers between them, but their hips roll perfectly in time, and any moment now the molten trembling in Ginny is going to break, but not yet, not --
She breaks the kiss, gasping, and stares down at Harry, who stares back up at her, wide-eyed, glasses gone, and Ginny wants to tell him that the hole he made with the basilisk fang is still hollow in her chest; and she sees that he already knows. Ginny gives a little sob and wraps herself tight around Harry, burrowing her face in against his neck, and when Harry makes a soft shocked noise and convulses, Ginny feels a little less alone.
Only once does Ginny allow Harry to see how angry she is with him.
It's the Christmas holidays, and Ginny's whole family is at 12 Grimmauld Place because it's close to St. Mungo's, where Ginny's dad lies, bleeding out every hour but not dying anytime soon. Ginny has long since learned that it's better to be angry than afraid, so when Harry hides in his room, convinced he was possessed by the snake that got Ginny's dad, Ginny is not worried, like Hermione and Ron. Ginny is damn well tired of how perfectly invisible she made herself.
"I didn't want anyone to talk to me," Harry snaps, when she and Ron and Hermione corner him in an effort to talk sense.
And Ginny finds herself saying, taut and trembling with three years of things they should have long since said, "That was a bit stupid of you, seeing as you don't know anyone but me who's been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels."
There is a long pause, in which Ginny can feel her brother and Hermione staring at her. But she has eyes only for the tense line of Harry's back. Slowly he turns, and the look on his face is stricken. "I forgot."
"Lucky you," Ginny says coldly.
"I'm sorry," Harry tells her, and for the first time in ages he sounds something besides blinded with hurt. He meets Ginny's eyes and asks her, so she tells him, more gently than she meant to, that if his memories are still his own, he's free. Quiet wild joy comes into Harry's face; Ginny smiles back and wonders if, when the hissing sibilants crowd his tongue, he still believes his life is his own.
The question is whether Harry starts to notice her because she was in the D.A. and came to the Department of Mysteries with him, or because they see each other every week in Quidditch practice now she's one of his Chasers, or because Harry listened the one time Ginny made him see what binds them together. Harry probably doesn't know the reason, but the answer is absolutely vital.
She keeps catching him staring. At first she thinks it must be because she isn't afraid to look at him now, but one evening she's in the common room, snuggling in an armchair with Dean -- Dean, who loves Quidditch and draws beautiful sketches and has no part of him that reminds her of Tom Riddle -- and she sees Harry watching her from across the room, and she sees the look on his face. It's a sharp, drawn look, like hunger and pain, like a voracious appetite to possess Ginny and know her secrets. He can't possibly know he looks like that, and he can't possibly know it makes him beautiful.
Ginny puts it from her mind, and it enters her dreams, slithering through them in soft suggestions, white face, dark hair, long-fingered hands caressing Ginny's curves gently, and in the dreams Ginny says, Sorry, Harry, I'm sorry, but I already gave it away.
When she breaks up with Dean, it's because he's taking Gryffindor chivalry to such stupid, unbearable, cosseting levels that Ginny wants to scream.
When she kisses Harry in front of the whole of Gryffindor after winning them the Cup by snatching the Snitch right out from under Cho Chang's nose, it's because -- it's because they talk Quidditch every time they see one another, and because Ginny can make Harry laugh himself sick, and because when Ginny was young and trusting Harry came to save her armed with nothing but his own stupid bravery. It's because when Harry climbs through the portrait hole into the midst of screaming celebration, his gaze lights on Ginny at once from all the way across the room, and the bright fierce hunger in his face makes Ginny fly to him and kiss him hard, like he's the one she meant to spill her heart to all along.
With the Ministry fallen, the world is a different place. Neville and Luna, the fragmented core of Dumbledore's Army, are Ginny's only people; the Room of Requirement, their one safe haven. She tunes into Potterwatch every week, and keeps up with all her homework in Transfiguration, and learns how the Cruciatus Curse feels from the inside, which is like her bones are on fire but her soul is untouched.
For the first time in five years, she begins keeping a diary.
Maybe she's trying to tempt fate, or maybe she's just trying to find a way to distance herself from the horrors going on around her; but instead of examining the reasons, she dips quill in ink, sets quill to parchment, and writes, just as she did the first time in that stretch of summer leading up to her awful first year, Dear diary, and waits until the ink stays shining on the page, until the diary does not answer back.
I miss Harry, she writes. I miss walking with him down by the lake and hoarding bits of bread to throw to the squid. Everyone knows we were dating, so of course the Carrows know too, and Harry's grand gesture at Professor Dumbledore's funeral was wasted. I don't mind so much, though, since they've discovered I have no idea where he is. Luna and Neville get punished just as much as I do, for their family connections and for speaking out.
I used to call Luna "Loony Lovegood" with all the rest of them, with Eloise and Perdita and Aggie and everyone, because it stopped them having a go at me. I don't think Luna needs me to apologize, but sometimes I think I might like to. I've been called Mad Ginny Weasley six times already since term started, and you'd think they'd come up with something cleverer, and you'd think I'd stop counting. I'd give them all the Bat-Bogey Hex except I don't need to give the Carrows another excuse to give me detention. Crabbe's already quite good at the Cruciatus, and I don't want to give him more practice.
I want -- and she stops, quill dripping a helpless expanding dot onto the page. She wants to know what Harry's up to and she wants this stupid war to be over and she wants to do something more useful than set off acts of petty defiance against the Death Eaters ruling this castle and she wants Tom Riddle to tell her everything will be all right.
When she wakes in the night, a month into her horrible sixth year, and finds Tom sitting at the foot of her bed, making a soft indent on the coverlet, Ginny tries and fails to be surprised.
"You're dead," she tells him, because she has to say it; and when he smiles at her, the charming curve of a smile that can't quite mask the sharp hunger underneath it, she adds, "Go away," because she's lived through torture and she's lived through being eleven and she's going to live through this year too.
"You can't really be angry at me after all this time, can you?" he asks gently.
She doesn't take her eyes from him. He looks exactly how she wants him to -- how she wants him to now, still as comforting as he did when she was little, but seductive in a different way, all beautiful planes and angles, the way Harry might look if he could fill the gap in her chest. Ginny reaches under her pillow, fumbling for a moment, and pulls out her diary.
She has to turn away to find a quill, but she does, making it a deliberate gesture. She opens to the first blank page and writes, You're going to die, Tom. Harry is going to kill you.
He flinches. "Don't say things like that, Gin. I was sixteen."
"I didn't know any better."
She laughs at him. She's known better for years, and she's known him for years, even if she felt like she'd lost him until the first time she held Harry in her arms. She laughs at him but Tom is only inches away now, his breath a warm puff against her cheek like the memory of Harry dozing by her side a lifetime ago. "We could be beautiful," Tom whispers. "We could live forever and be beautiful and powerful and --"
When Ginny kisses him, it's to see how they compare. There is no contest at all: Tom makes a soft unsteady noise into the sweet give-and-take of the kiss, one long-fingered hand sliding up her thigh under the oversize t-shirt she wears to bed, and Ginny understands how Tom Riddle took her heart, and how he took Hogwarts and the Ministry, and how he might devour the world.
She disengages gently, and she says, soft and fierce, "I don't need you anymore."
He vanishes, snuffed like a candle, and Ginny curls up amid her blankets, wrapped around the terrible empty space lodged somewhere inside her. Harry had better hurry up and save the world, because Ginny doesn't know how much longer she can say no.
And on the fourth day after Voldemort's own curse killed him, Ginny wakes naked in the sunlight with her limbs tangled up with Harry's. She hopes, in a vague sort of way, that Ron won't wonder where they are and think to look in here; it would be a pity for him to have survived this long only to die of shock. Ginny giggles involuntarily, and Harry stirs.
"Whazatime?" he mutters.
"No idea." Ginny struggles upright and stretches luxuriously. If she had dreams, she doesn't remember them. She looks down at Harry, whose hair is more wildly disheveled than usual, and she wonders if he's caught on yet. She hopes he never knows the whole of it: pour your heart out to a Horcrux, and it will pour itself out to you. No wonder she saw Tom again after so much time with Harry. But he never has to know; and Harry has a gift for a kind of charming selective blindness, although these past few days it's been stripped from him, the way everything was stripped from him in that moment on the edge of death.
Harry yawns widely and blinks up at her. After a moment a tentative smile curves his mouth. "Ginny," he says, and he's still speaking carefully, but now it's like he's selecting the words with measured thought rather than groping for them in the dark. "Do you feel ... lighter now?"
Light is a word for empty; it is also a word for unburdened. Ginny tries it out, the idea that the weightlessness she's felt for the past five years isn't the hole Tom left, but the feeling of breathing unconstricted now that he's no longer clutching her heart. Ginny doesn't know if that's right; what she does know is that she and Harry are in this bed alone, without Tom Riddle lying between them.
"Yes," Ginny says, laughing, "yes," and kisses Harry with the morning bright around them.