It feels, for a moment, as if the entire world has ended as the Sorting Hat’s voice rings out through the Great Hall. Not even the heavy cloth down around Ginny’s ears can muffle the sound of four horrified gasps, each familiar enough to her as to be distinguished merely by pattern of air.
There must be some mistake, she thinks, once in confusion and a second time more forcefully, as if compelling the hat to take it back.
The hat doesn’t deign a response, Professor McGonagall (not her head of house) sweeping it off her head in one brisk motion. Ginny perches uncertainly on the edge of the stool, McGonagall’s steely eyes already moving to the next frightened eleven year old.
“Miss Weasley,” she says crisply. “Your table is on the end.”
Ginny glances at the dark sea of green and silver at the far end, the way the entire table seems tucked into the shadows of the edge of the hall. No. No way. This is a mistake.
She turns her head to the Gryffindor table, meets the wide-eyed, horrified stares of her brothers, and stupidly waits for George to crow that it’s just a joke, and wasn’t it impressive that he could pull a prank this convoluted on her? He’d spent all summer making a fake hat!
George just shares a glance with Fred, faces identical all the way to the pale shock of their cheeks.
“Miss Weasley,” McGonagall repeats, her voice no longer sharp. There’s a buzz of sound building in the room, people turning and whispering to each other as Ginny refuses to give up her seat.
Move, she orders her frozen limbs. Just get up and move.
She finds her feet, tries to lift her chin as she walks the great distance to the far table, but the faces waiting there for her are closed, hostile. They whisper behind their hands as she approaches.
She perches on the very end of the table, and doesn’t let her hands tremble. Much.
She doesn’t remember much of the feast after that.
Later as she settles into her dormitory in the deepest hidden depths of the castle (not a tower, not a nice roaring fire nor a fat lady to welcome them), she gives herself a mental shake and reminds herself that it’s just a house. She reminds herself of this again when the girl in the next bunk turns her nose up at Ginny’s secondhand things and the other girls follow suit.
Just a house.
That doesn’t explain why she feels sick in the green tinged depths. Wrong. As if the lapping waters of the black lake above are pressing down on her. She tugs the curtains tightly closed around her bed and tries not to hear the voices of the other girls.
She lies in her bed that first night staring at the delicate silver embroidery wrapping around her bed. The beasts and dragons seem to swirl and move, creeping in on her in the dark. She firmly keeps her imagination in check, teeth biting down in the inside of her lip. She’s never been afraid of the dark and she isn’t going to start now.
When the other girls fall quiet, their rhythmic breathing filling the chamber, Ginny shoves back her covers and lifts open her trunk at the foot of the bed. On top is a red and gold scarf knitted by her mother. Ginny grabs it and shoves it down into the deepest recesses of the trunk. It’s down there at the very bottom that she finds an unfamiliar book.
Pulling it out, she sees that it is a thin black diary, the cover made of smooth leather. She thinks this must have been a hidden gift from her mother like the scarf, only this one much more fitting. She blinks back tears and picks up the book, opening it to the first page.
Ginny Weasley, she writes carefully. She considers the words for a while before picking up her quill again.
Ginny Weasley, she writes, is a Slytherin.
Her heart pounds as she stares at the words. Splotches of ink drip from the quill where it hovers uncertainly over the page.
Ginny scribbles across the damning words, quill slashing and obliterating.
Take it back, take it back, take it back, she writes beneath it, over and over again.
For the first time that day, something finally cooperates. The ink sinks back into the page, leaving nothing but quiet, creamy expanses as if the words never existed in the first place.
She lifts the quill to the surface again and asks the one question that’s been echoing in her mind all day--What did I do wrong?
The words slowly bleed away.
For a moment, she almost wishes the diary could answer.
She wakes the next morning with no great answers, no simple fix. Out in the halls, Fred and George drape their arms over her shoulders and say it’s no big deal, but she’s been living with them her whole life and knows when they’re lying.
It is a big deal.
She doubts she has even begun to understand all the ways in which it’s a big deal, just knows it is. Even Percy thinks it, judging from the way he pats her arm awkwardly and solemnly shakes his head back and forth as if to a dirge.
Ginny has never before realized just what a prig he is.
She shares this thought with her diary and wonders if this is viciousness. If this is why she’s here. Did the hat see something in her?
She watches the ink sink in and disappear, like an act that never happened. She imagines it makes her feel lighter, just a little bit.
The first time Errol labors his way into the Great Hall with post from home, Ginny thinks her mother’s tone is strained. Just words on paper, but she imagines her mother’s confusion. Pansy Parkinson, voice perfectly pitched to carry as far down the table as possible, notes she’s never seen a more decrepit and pathetic looking owl in her entire life. Did it have some sort of disease?
Ginny lowers her head and forces bone dry toast down her throat.
During the day, she has classes to fill her moments. There’s no one to sit with but quiet Smita, the housemate who was unlucky enough to get stuck with Ginny. They don’t speak except when Smita needs Ginny to pass her eye of newt, and Ginny doesn’t bother trying for anything more.
She learns instead to focus down on the feeling of a wand in her fingers made for her and her alone. If she tries hard enough, this is one place things can bend to her will, work out the way she expects them to. Magic makes sense.
She excels. While Fred and George and Ron are all ease and laughter, surrounded by friends and immersed in the luxury of just sliding by, she pulls marks her mother had begun to give up hope for in her younger brood. It makes Ginny wonder just what Percy and Bill and Charlie and their top marks might have been running from.
At night, she pours her frustration and confusion into the only place she can—her diary. She writes each and every word she thinks but doesn’t dare say during the day. Every doubt, every dark feeling, and sometimes it feels like it’s the quill moving and not her.
One day it answers back, and it’s the most natural thing in the world.
You aren’t alone, Ginny.
His name is Tom. He’s her only friend.
She rises from bed the next morning feeling empty, floating like a ghost.
Mid-way through the first term, Bill sends her a letter. ‘Slytherin, eh?’ he says by way of greeting, and she appreciates this lack of coddling. No easing in, just going for broke. ‘I went to Madame Puttifut’s with a Slytherin girl in my fourth year. We had quite the snog.’
Her hands clench, paper crinkling in her fingers. It’s no big deal.
‘Not that you should go around snogging feckless Gryffindors. Certainly not until well after your fourth year.’
Ginny chokes back a laugh, the feeling foreign and forgotten, a smile threatening to crack her face in half from disuse. Mum liked to complain about it, but Bill has always spoken to her like an adult, someone things don’t need to be hidden from.
‘I know everyone’s telling you it’s just a house, but I think it’s more important that you remember you’re a Weasley, and that’s the one that matters.’
She sets the letter aside, folding it carefully and pressing it into the pages of her diary.
The problem is that red hair aside, she’s beginning to doubt she’s really a Weasley. The Weasleys have been in Gryffindor for four generations after all, and the Prewetts another three. She begins to wonder if her mother made some sort of pact with a fairy to have her—the precious only daughter, and this is the unforeseen price.
Maybe she’s a Changeling.
She reads about it hidden in the back of the library at lunch, unable to face a table of strangers. Only the books tell her a Changeling child should have untold strength, and she doesn’t feel it.
In the end, it’s only Tom who understands.
You don’t need anyone else.
She walks around with ink-stained fingers and learns to breathe through the airless moments, to keep walking when she wants to do nothing more than disappear. She could run home, leave this all behind, but she hasn’t walked away from a challenge since she was four years old and broke into Bill’s trunk to stow away to Hogwarts.
This is her dream, being here. She just never imagined it like this.
“Ginny?” Smita says once during potions, something almost like an inquiry, but when Ginny turns, the girl’s face is all hard angles and disapproval.
She doesn’t think you’re worthy. But I do.
Ginny feels her gut clench and thrusts the bowl of eviscerated flobberworms towards Smita.
They finish the lesson in silence.
When the black outs begin, she feels a strange sort of relief. Waking up with blood on her fingers and no memory seems a fitting thing for a Slytherin. Isn’t it?
Only then people start getting hurt.
What’s going on? she scribbles in the pages. What is happening to me?
Tom always has the answer. You’re stronger than you know, Ginny.
By the time she begins to suspect, to work it all out in her increasingly fuzzy mind, there’s no one to tell.
She approaches Ron once, the brother who won’t even meet her eye anymore, but it’s Harry who actually notices her.
“Ginny?” he asks, his flitting attention all too quickly distracted as he frowns at a group of Hufflepuffs deliberately crossing the hall so as not to walk too close to the supposed Heir of Slytherin.
If only they knew.
She can’t tell if she wants to laugh or throw up.
In the end she says nothing, not wanting to see the blame there in Harry’s eyes. The sense of, ‘I knew it.’
She shakes her head and walks away with the diary burning against her thigh.
When Tom takes her down to the deepest dark spaces of Hogwarts, she thinks maybe she’ll just be able to disappear, judging by the way her body seems to melt into the stone. Only that isn’t what she’s here for, she realizes all too late. She isn’t here for punishment. She’s bait.
Ginny has her doubts.
She lies, more dead than alive it seems, lies there and watches Tom try to rewrite the pastfuturepresent. Does absolutely nothing to stop it.
Maybe if she’d been a Gryffindor, she would have been able to.
She’s still surprised to wake up and find Harry there. There was a time that might have meant everything to her. He’s injured, nearly died for her, even as life begins to rush back into her flesh, not pins and needles, but knives and mallets. There’s no point in stopping the tears, the pints and pints she’s been collecting all year long.
“It’s all right,” Harry says, patting her shoulder awkwardly, clearly more comfortable with basilisks and evil wizards than hopeless little girls. “Riddle’s gone.”
What does that fix, really? She stares down at the ruined diary bleeding ink across his lap. Her words—her secrets—blurred and tarnished as they ooze out on the floor.
She shakes her head, pulling her legs hard into her chest. Harry never should have come down here. Not for her.
“Ginny,” he says, bewildered concern weighting his tone.
“I’m a Slytherin,” she mumbles miserably into her knees. Just like Tom. Just like Pansy and Malfoy and every dark wizard who has ever fallen.
More than anything she wants to hear Harry say, ‘So what?’, to tell her it doesn’t matter. But he just stares back at her, confusion furrowing his brow. For the first time he doesn’t look like a hero, but rather a scared little boy. She isn’t sure what to make of that.
Aberration, comes Tom’s dying whisper, thorns still dug in and holding despite the fact that he should be gone. You don’t fit his careful columns of good versus Slytherin. And yet he was the one they all suspected.
Ginny wants to shake the voice away, claw it out of her skull. There’s painful anger here over something she does not understand, things she’s too young to grasp, just knows that for all she poured into Tom, he poured some things back.
These are not the sorts of things a little girl is supposed to feel.
Try as she might, she can’t see Harry Potter in quite the same light ever again. Maybe he’s still a hero, but she’s never going to be a princess. (Was the hat right? Is this who she really is?) Her silly crush doesn’t stand a chance against the weight of all that.
She lets Harry lead her out and save her and explain away her failings to her waiting family, but knows she’s leaving something behind she’ll never get back. Innocent little Ginny Weasley never leaves that Chamber.
The greatest irony is that her disgrace makes her a proper Slytherin at last.
In the common room everyone vies for her attention, sidling up next to her and asking what it had been like, to have such a beast under her control, to know she had the ability to kill and destroy, wash this place of mudbloods, if only she hadn’t been caught in her own trap.
She thinks of Hermoine Granger and her frizzy mane, the way she smiles at Ginny in the halls, kind, but guarded. The way that even she, the smart one, is not completely sure of Ginny out of the context of Gryffindor.
“How did you get away with it for so long?” her housemates want to know.
She doesn’t know what to say, how to explain to them about victims and lack of choice and pouring out precious secrets and feelings to someone who didn’t deserve them. Doesn’t know how to risk speaking without betraying her weakness. She may not know much, but even she already understands the danger of weakness. She needs to speak, to find the perfect lie, but her throat freezes and betrays her.
Only somehow her silence does not condemn her.
This is how she unexpectedly learns the power of silence. The power of not acting, when all she’d ever been raised to know was running blindly ahead.
When they demand a recounting, Ginny presses her lips together in a thin line, looking sideways at her housemates. She lets them fill in the blanks with whatever they need.
It holds her long enough to survive the last few chaotic days of the term, to keep herself together until she can finally slip away. She doesn’t like to think of it as running, but she’s grateful all the same for the sheer distance from Hogwarts and the relentless memories that her family’s impromptu trip affords.
The harsh sunlight of Egypt burns into her skin, her family pressing in on all sides. Maybe it will be enough to make Tom fade, like a picture left too long in direct light.
Out on the sandy dunes, Bill steps up next to her, hand mussing her hair with distracted affection. A few feet away, the twins are trying to shove Percy into a tomb. It’s all so startlingly normal, like the last year never happened, that Ginny finds it a little hard to breathe.
Bill squeezes her shoulder. “Your first year in Slytherin and you already faced off with You Know Who and derailed his plans, eh?”
That isn’t exactly the way it happened, but Ginny doesn’t have the heart to correct him (or perhaps her mouth has learned too well to keep its secrets). Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. The only other person to know the full truth of what happened down there is Harry, and he’s thousands of miles away with no clearer understanding than her own.
Bill leans in closer, grinning mouth near her cheek like a conspirator. “What a disappointment you would be to good old Salazar.”
She smiles because it’s expected. But also because proving to be a poor Slytherin is supposed to be a good thing, right?
He tugs on her braid. “Weasley,” he says, an affectionate accusation.
Ginny leans into Bill’s side, thinking that maybe she’ll let herself believe that.
Just for a little while.