It was with this uneasy alliance in place that Ginny’s first year at Hogwarts winded down.
Tom had offered to help her through her end of year exams, and she had promptly refused; indebting herself to him seemed the polar opposite of what she would call a good idea… not to mention the distinct impression that using the evil ghost in her brain’s knowledge surely counted as some form of cheating. Sadly, that particular concern ended up going moot — as she planned to double her studying efforts, it turned out that Tom was a surprisingly effective teacher, who eagerly offered a more morally sensible sort of help she felt she no longer had a good excuse to refuse. The boy knew a lot about magic’s many disciplines, and not all of it seemed to be exclusively booksmarts. Begrudgingly, Ginny felt that an unspoken moral debt towards Tom was inevitable.
All up until the exams were suddenly cancelled. For everyone .
To say that she was puzzled would be an understatement.
With the rest of her year ending in more relaxed terms, she spent most of her days enjoying Luna’s company, one of the few people unknowingly capable of keeping Tom at bay. There was so little about her he could even tolerate that he would end up completely disinterested with their conversations, content to float away and spy on literally anything else within the vicinity of his sphere of existence. Ginny had no idea how she would ever be able to repay her friend. She would stare at the ceiling of her dorm for hours every night thinking of the right gesture or the right gift to translate her gratitude, recalling on loop what she knew about Luna’s likes and dislikes. What did you give someone who didn’t want anything more than your company? The thought of somehow disappointing Luna made her wince so much.
Finally, the day of departure arrived. In the morning, as she was packing her belongings, she was surprised to find her dormitory visited by the head of Gryffindor House, Professor McGonagall. The stern-looking woman had gently knocked on the door, then gestured to the other girls in the room to keep at their preparations. “Weasley, would you have a moment?”
“Oh… Sure,” Ginny replied. She dropped her folded sweater back on her bed, then headed out of the bedroom, Tom slithering behind her as usual.
“If you would please follow me,” McGonagall ordered. They walked out of the Gryffindor tower, and after a walk that would only ever be called short in the massive corridors of Hogwarts, Ginny was brought to a small office on the first floor. It was nothing like the homely mess that was Dumbledore’s — this one was orderly and neat, the only element that could’ve been called messy being a fresh-looking pile of parchment on the desk that an enchanted feather was carefully signing one page at a time. Off to the side, next to a few decorative baubles, was a small green book titled Possessions and Poltergeists: How to Cohabit With Another , written by one Miranda Fontom — a name Ginny recognized from a wizard card as the most haunted witch of all time. McGonagall motioned at a chair for Ginny to sit on, then took place on her own, adjusting her reading glasses as she looked at her quill’s handiwork. “I would like to apologise for this last minute meeting; this whole Chamber of Secrets business requires a complete report to the Ministry, and paperwork isn’t quite Dumbledore’s… Well, I’ve been in charge of documenting everything, so I couldn’t fit you into my schedule until now.”
“Do I need to testify? Is that why I’m here?” Ginny asked. She wasn’t sure she would be of help if that was the case, what with being unconscious for most of it.
McGonagall waved away her question. “Do not worry about this, Miss Weasley, we would rather students your age rest undisturbed from traumatic experiences like this one. What I needed to talk to you about was…” McGonagall went silent, placed her documents back down, then gently leaned, looking Ginny straight in the eyes. “Dumbledore informed me about your situation,” she said, speaking as neutrally as she could.
Tom snickered. “A ‘situation’, am I now?”
“Regard— Regarding having become you-know-who’s—” Ginny paused for half a second to remember the word the headmaster had used, ”horcrux?”
Professor McGonagall’s eyes went wide. “Is that…? By Merlin’s great grey beard, that is even worse than I’d been told,” she muttered. Taking a long, deep breath, she spoke once more. “Speaking to you as an adult to a child, I am truly, deeply sorry, for what you are going through. That is a horrifying prospect.”
‘Is it really that bad?’ Ginny thought. She already knew it sucked, sure, but going off her teacher’s reaction, she felt as if she didn’t know the full extent of it yet.
Then, taking back on her dignified attitude, McGonagall continued. “And speaking to you as your Head of House, I must apologise once again that harm came to you within the walls of Hogwarts,” her hand unconsciously shifted towards the book on her desk, “and I need to know if there is anything that we can accommodate for next year.”
As Ginny started to think about it, Tom immediately spoke. “Easy. We need a bedroom just for ourselves. It’ll stop you being fussy.”
Ginny held her tongue in over how black this pot was calling her kettle. “Hmm, I don’t know…“ she muttered, considering it. She was worried people would wonder why the preferential treatment, why the isolation. She still didn’t feel ready to open up to anyone about this yet. “Just… pretend everything is normal, for now, please. Don’t tell anyone else.”
“As you wish Miss Weasley, though if your feelings on the matter change, know you can come to me anytime.” The professor turned her attention back to her papers. “You may go back to your room, then. Make sure not to forget any of your belongings, lest they spend the summer here.”
Ginny got up and headed for the door, when a thought stopped her in her tracks. “Actually, could something be done about the enchantment on the stairs, at least? They keep trying to throw me off because of Tom…”
McGonagall slowly tilted her head up, her eyebrow arching. She looked as if she had two questions on her mind, but settled to ask just the one. “What enchantment?”
“The one, uh, about making boys slide off the girls’ staircase?” Ginny replied.
“Oh, that safety hazard? We certainly had our own share of complaints about that back in my time as a student; I made sure to dispel it the moment I became head of Gryffindor.” The professor got up, grabbing her wand. “I take it that the stairs are enchanted again?”
Ginny nodded her head, somewhat surprised by how well that went.
At that, her professor passed her by, marching out of her office at a vigorous pace. “PEEVES!” McGonagall’s shout bellowed across the grounds, echoing far and away.
With her suitcase packed, Ginny descended down to Hogsmeade’s train station, where the Hogwarts Express was already taking in students.
“Fifty years later and they’re still using this old steam engine…” Tom pondered aloud. “Who even is in charge of its maintenance?” He had often expressed the feeling that Hogwarts was already stuck in the past back in his time, and only growing more and more outdated now.
Ginny just wished he would stop ruining the magic of her dream education.
She saw, a little ways away, her brother Ron, Hermione and Harry exchanging words. And hugging too, a lot, with smiles plastered on their faces. If they were any worse for wear, they weren’t showing it.
Tom stared at Ron from afar, squinting his eyes a little bit. “Your family really does have a distinctive resemblance. Must be a strong, pure-blooded line, am I wrong?”
Ginny shook her head. He was technically correct, but very much wrong in thinking it mattered a bit. “Blood doesn’t make the wizard.”
Tom tutted. “Squandering your gift it is, then. You could be so much more, if you didn’t waste your time with the riff raff.”
And that was as much of him as she could take at once. Very much intent on putting an end to this exhausting conversation, Ginny resumed walking towards her brother and his friends.
“You’ve gotta tell us how Hogwarts is in the summer,” Ron said to Harry excitedly. “Bet it must feel like a proper castle when there aren't classes going on everywhere!”
Hermione nodded in agreement, biting her lower lip. “I’m so jealous… I’d do anything to get two months all to myself with the library! The perfect holiday if you ask me…”
Ron rolled his eyes, and Harry giggled before replying. “I think Hagrid has already enlisted me to help around the castle grounds.”
“He does have his own definition of what’s fun, at times…” Hermione fretted.
“Urgh, don’t talk to me about manual labour right now,” Ron grumbled, his shoulders slumping. “Mom’s already put me on de-gnoming duty all summer after the whole car stuff…”
“Labour? After the Dursleys, anything Hagrid could throw at me I’ll enjoy for sure in comparison.” Harry was the first to notice Ginny, smiling at her brightly. Her heart did a little leap, and she hoped her cheeks weren’t growing too red. “Hi, Ginny!”
“Potter,” Tom sneered, to an audience of no one but himself.
“Hi,” Ginny replied weakly. Why did Harry have to be so charming? Why did he have to be so handsome?
Ron stared at his sister silently, until Hermione bumped his shoulder. “Ginny…” He looked as if he wanted to say something, but ended up letting out a simple “Hey.”
Hermione sighed, and took over for him. “How are you feeling?”
Ginny didn’t know how to respond to this question. She was fine, kind of, but was she really? She apparently had a ticking time bomb strapped to her hip. And Hermione, of all people, was the one asking? “How are you feeling?” She sent the question back at her. “You were petrified for months… because of me. Because I touched a diary I shouldn’t have… I could’ve been more wary, more careful, and I just…”
“Ginny, none of this was your fault,” Hermione retorted, her eyes full of compassion. “If I’m being honest, I probably would’ve fallen for it too.”
“Books are the perfect Hermione trap,” Ron interjected, getting a chuckle from Harry and a glare from the girl in question. “Come on, it’s true!”
“It is…” Hermione eventually conceded with a sigh. “Anyway, you did nothing wrong, Ginny. All this… this was all on Voldemort. Well, a Voldemort, as I’ve been told.”
“Tom Riddle…” Harry’s fists tensed and balled up, an intense gaze showing up on his face. “…is gone. For good.”
Ginny struggled to keep from looking at her feet.
“Oooh, goosebumps. Haven’t had those in… Well, before the diary, for sure,” Tom said, grinning meanly. He floated in circles around Harry, coiling around him. “You will wish you had seen the last of me, Potter.”
Hagrid proclaimed the last all aboard warning before departure, and that left very little time for a quick hug and promises of owl-flown letters between Harry, Ron and Hermione. The latter two and Ginny scrambled into the nearest carriage and waved Harry away, the door closing and locking behind them.
As the train began to move, the repetitive ka-chunk of its wheels providing a pleasant background rumble, Hermione turned to Ginny. “Three weeks.”
“You said I was petrified for months, but it was only three weeks, at least for me,” Hermione said.
Huh. Ginny’s sense of time really had been destroyed while under Tom’s control. “I don’t know if that makes me feel better…”
“It’s a silver lining, at least…” Hermione said with a shrug. “It went in the blink of an eye for me. It was no different from being asleep, really.”
“I guess that’s less horrifying…” Ginny stated, a little white lie to make the conversation move on.
The three of them settled into the last empty compartment and threw their hand luggage onto the overheads. Four of them? After everyone corporeal was seated, Tom tentatively took the seat opposite Ginny's, looking as if he worried he would phase right through. When that didn’t seem to happen, he nodded just a little, crossed his arms and legs, and made himself comfortable. “Well, goodbye for now, Hogwarts. May I continue your purge next year,” he grinned evilly.
Ginny had no doubt that Tom’s comments were intent on grinding her down piece by piece. For now, she thought all she could do was take it with the resolve of a Gryffindor, lest she make a scene she couldn’t explain.
They were joined a few minutes later by Fred and George, who unknowingly sat on top of Tom, forcing him to find a new free seat by Ginny’s side. With the Dark Lord outnumbered one to five, a cheerier ambiance quickly developed. After a couple too many questions that hindered the mood, it was decided that Hogwarts matters were to stay in Hogwarts, and the Weasleys started talking out their plans for the summer, while Hermione ‘caught up on some light reading’ (“ Light? ” Ron had interjected with a glance at the thick, numbered tome).
“The good news is, with Ron tending to the gnomes, the garden is going to be in tip-top shape,” George said.
“And thanks to the aforementioned sibling being grounded, we might have a spare broom to put to use this summer…” Fred bounced his eyebrows a couple times, a sly smile matching his twin’s.
Ginny gasped. “You’re really gonna let me fly with you guys?”
Fred nodded. “We were thinking of a complimentary course in Quidditch, even.”
“The most important class on the school curriculum, it is,” George added playfully.
“Hold on a second,” Ron butted in, “you can’t just lend out my broom without my permission.”
“Were you planning to refuse, little brother?” George asked.
Ron looked as if he wanted to object at first, but he bit his tongue almost as fast. “It’s not that,” he said, sounding almost dejected.
“Sport of brutes…” Tom muttered his opinion to himself.
The lively conversation grinded to a halt as trouble saw fit to find them. On the other side of the compartment’s inner windows, three raucous figures stopped by the door, exchanged muffled snickers, and tore it open, revealing the Slytherin uniforms they were still wearing.
“Well well well,” the plummy voice of one Draco Malfoy resonated through the carriage, “we’ve got the Potter’s whole array of lackeys. Abandoned by your little master, have you been? Did he finally decide you weren’t good enough for him?”
“Leave us alone, Malfoy…” Hermione exhaled, dropping her book on her lap. “You don’t have your dad’s governor status to hide behind anymore. Don’t think the school will hesitate to expel you the next time you do something bad. So unless you want me to report you to Professor McGonagall, you’ll leave me and my friends alone.”
“Hah! Like they would get rid of natural talent. Not something you would be accustomed to, Mudblood.” Draco took a malignant pleasure drawing his words out with a grin. His henchmen snickered behind him. “Enjoy your last moments of fame. Once the next school year starts and Potter gets tired of you, nobody will even remember an unremarkable little girl named Granger exists.” Despite his words, the boy grimaced and threw one last defiant glance before taking his leave, Crabbe and Goyle tailing behind him, as he muttered about mud, blood, muddy blood, and many in-betweens.
Hermione let out her breath, her eyes still boring into the corridor for a moment. The twins made a show of switching seats to each of her sides, playing supportive bodyguards.
“Kind of unlike him to give up this fast…” Ron said, his leg twitching. He had been about ready to jump to his best friend’s defence when Draco had instead just left.
“He tried not to show it, but my warning cooled him off,” Hermione explained. “School governor or not, I still don’t think we could get him expelled. Professor Snape would never let it happen. But that doesn’t mean Malfoy wanted to put it to the test this fast… He’ll probably lie low for the summer, at least.”
Ginny let out a sigh of relief. She hadn’t run into her big brother’s bully since that time at Flourish and Blotts, and she hoped she wouldn’t have to again any time soon.
“Malfoy, Malfoy, Malfoy…” Tom muttered to himself, looking pensive. “...The grandchild of Abraxas, then? Now that is a strong, pure blooded family. And loyal to myself, that is excellent news. You would do well to follow his example, Ginny.”
“Not a chance,” she replied.
“Hmm?” Ron turned his attention to his sister.
Ginny shook her head. “Sorry, just… thinking to myself.”
Ron shrugged. “Draco can be pretty scary, but Hermione is usually right with these things…”
Despite Tom’s best efforts to bring down the mood, the group of Gryffindors spent the rest of the trip to London talking, laughing, playing, and enjoying each other’s company. They set off what was left of Fred and George’s stock of Filibuster fireworks before Mom would get a chance to confiscate it, cursed each other with harmless jinxes, got a few rounds of Exploding Snap in, and Ginny gossiped about Percy and Penelope Clearwater with the twins, who absorbed the information with the attention they gave only to their most mischievous pranks.
Finally, the sight of platform nine and three-quarters made its awaited appearance, and Hermione and the Weasleys stepped off the Hogwarts express eager to breathe the Londonian air.
Both sets of parents were already waiting for them. While the twins took a detour to catch Percy and Ron reluctantly followed them, Ginny walked over to hers, dragging her luggage with her.
“There’s our daughter— oh, let me take that off you!” Her father, Arthur Weasley, rushed in by her side. He was wearing his muggle disguise: a bright white shirt with ‘I [heart] London’ stamped on it, under his usual coat and tie. As he kneeled to grab her suitcase, he whispered to her conspiratorially. “The whole hullabaloo aside, how was your time at the ol’ Hogwarts?” He asked, before quickly adding “Your Mom doesn’t like me calling it that, but if you’d know about the stuff that goes on at the Ministry, a cursed book is pretty small fries.”
“Small—!? I am the greatest wizard that has ever lived!” Tom, ever present, protested.
“It was okay, I guess…” It was hard to tell, with how little she remembered of it. A non-committal answer just ended up slipping out before she could think about it.
“Ah, well, I hope you got some rest in the last weeks, right?” He winked. “Couldn’t have had you nose deep in a pile of books in those circumstances.”
Ginny gasped, understanding coming to her fast. “...Dad? Did you…? The exams?”
“You know how it goes, Cornelius owes me a favour, Dumbledore owes one to Cornelius… Don’t tell a soul.” Her Dad gave another quick wink before standing back up, ruffling Ginny’s hair into a mess, and heading for the trolleys the parents had brought to the platform.
Well, at least it wasn’t hard to get who the twins took after.
Tom shook his head dismissively. “Shady government, shady school. All so happy to bend the rules…” Reluctantly Ginny could see his point, but surely the circumstances had justified it?
A properly ribbed Percy, as well as Fred, George and Ron reunited with them, they said their goodbyes to the Grangers, and unanimously elected to cure their homesickness as fast as they could.