Ginny Weasley dreamed about waking in the Chamber, Harry and his halo of phoenix gold pulling her back to life. It could have been an image for her to cling to when the shadows around her all sounded like rustling pages, but instead Ginny squeezed her eyes shut. The last time a charismatic dark-haired boy became her world, he ate her whole.
Lucius Malfoy had slipped Tom Riddle’s diary into, of all things, Ginny’s Transfiguration textbook. Years later, she realized this and thought it was a fitting sort of lie.
Ginny had poured out her soul to a book, and it had poured back into her. Ginny had not been able to see where it kept its brain, but it could see her. It had kept its brain in her, Tom Riddle’s soul slipping ounce by ounce into her small body. It could see her. It thought it could see her, that arrogant shade of a boy.
In the summer after her first year, Arthur taught Ginny how to take the car apart and put it back to together. Ginny smeared oily hands over her overalls, her rough white shirt. Her mother rolled her eyes to the ceiling, scolded shrilly, but Ginny smiled. She liked knowing where her stains came from. She liked knowing how to make things fly.
Her mother had tried to tip-toe around her, but quiet patience had never been Molly’s grace. It wasn’t what Ginny needed, either, not from her. To see Molly quiet, hesitant, tentative, only made Ginny feel more breakable. The first morning Molly snapped, shoved dirty dishes at her, bemoaned the state of her tangled hair, Ginny felt warmth buoy up in her. She wrapped her hands around the rough feeling and held it tight.
She was eleven going on twelve. Or was she not? Did Riddle’s years count as hers, too now, after they lived so long in her body? The seventeen years of the boy ghost, or the decades he spent trapped within the pages? She had a hard time, as she grew, separating Riddle’s frustration at that paper cage and her own rage against her mother’s well-meaning smothering, the tracks all her brothers had already plowed. She stumbled trying to follow them, until she lost their trail.
Did it even make sense to count years anymore, when Ginny had died and come back, walked herself down to her watery grave and woken there on the cold ground?
Ginny had written on the castle wall in chicken’s blood. She had fought not to cry as she washed robes she hadn’t remembered staining red. Hogwarts had stared at Harry sidelong, whispered about the Heir of Slytherin. Serpents had coiled in Ginny’s gut. She was the seventh child of a destitute house. She was heir to nothing.
Ginny and Charlie went for long walks around the fields and fens of the Burrow. They talked about flight. She could see her father in her brother, when they stood in sunlight, looking up. Charlie was all sun-browned wild man, her father such a cheerful bureaucratic klutz, but in some moments the resemblance was blinding. They were both so good at finding beauty in shunned places, and so in love with dangerous things that could fly.
She thought Charlie and her father loved flight because of the sights, the new perspectives, the horizons rolling away in every direction.
Ginny wanted to know how to leave the ground behind.
Ron called Ginny talkative, said she never shut up. She wrote to a phantom friend for a year, because there was no one around to listen.
Had she not met Luna yet, then? Would that come later, after Ginny had fallen and reemerged, when she knew how to look for isolated souls? When she could understand the value in someone who read things upside down and believed in things she didn’t see? Don’t trust things if you don’t know where they keep their brain, Ginny heard her father say, but Luna didn’t trust anything, not really, just everything.
The Ravenclaw tower was guarded only with riddles, so Ginny went up to visit Luna. The Ravenclaws understood interdisciplinary studies in academics to some degree or other, so they only spared her curious glances. There was a Slytherin in the corner nearly as often as Ginny was curled up in an armchair. He loosened his green tie beside a Ravenclaw, their heads bent together over scribbled papers, a drive to accomplish buoying up a will to discover.
As the youngest of seven, Ginny enjoyed attention but hated being catered to. She built herself on sharp, quiet one-liners and amused sympathy; she could laugh with a quirk of the lips. She had a way with words she some days attributed to the way part of her soul had burned away inside basilisk-venom pages. Other days, softer days, she blamed the ease on the rapid clamor of the Weasley table, keeping up with six conversations at once, or sitting in rare quiet afternoons with Bill and listening to him murmur to himself over his poetry.
Ginny kissed her first boy in her fourth year. He was not Harry Potter and she did not need him to be.
Harry caught glimpses of her over the years—she was Ron’s shy little sister, she was a limp pile on the Chamber floor that he had to save, she was blazing hair and blazing looks, catching his eye in his sixth year and blinding him. For both of them, they thought it was the fire inside the other that they loved. And they did—she burned with temper, at Fleur, at Ron, at him, blazed with a passion, streaking across the sky with her hair streaming behind her.
But it was the shadows within each of them where they finally found a connection to last. They had both had something so ugly in them. Both of them, in their own ways, were Riddle reborn.
She and Harry had both done what Voldemort could not—died and come back. Harry sacrificed, a lion’s death giving him a lamb’s rebirth. Ginny was risen in the Chamber of Secrets at the strike of a fang to a poisoned diary but she was not reborn then. Leaving the Chamber, she was as much a shade as Tom Riddle’s desperate ghost.
It was not Harry’s heroism, Ron’s desperation, her mother’s love, or her brothers’ toilet seat humor that brought her back (though the toilet seat helped). Ginny breathed deep at night. She wept. She remembered how to rage. She snuck out at night and stole each of her brothers’ brooms in turn. She took to the skies and brought herself back to life.
Lucius had put Riddle’s diary in her Transfiguration book, but he had not transformed her. Ginny remembered, she knew, that this self was not new. Hissing at Malfoy in Flourish and Blotts. Stealing her brothers’ brooms since age six and taking to the skies. Running behind the Hogwarts Express at ten, yelling and laughing and crying.
Tom had stolen bits and bits of her, hours and safety and the cleanliness of her hands. He put things back into her, his smooth voice, the cadence of his words which she found heavy on her tongue years later, darkness running the fibers of her muscles, things for dementors to latch onto and suckle greedily. He stole and he filled her. Riddle thought he stole all of her, but she remembered.
Sometimes she used his voice, even now. But they were her words, wise ones and foolish ones, bright gallows humor and pointed affection. These were not Riddle’s. She was never Riddle’s. He was a thief and she stole herself back.
Ginny Weasley valued fear. She desired to be frightening. She was afraid. For a long time, she thought that made her unworthy of Gryffindor.
Harry crashed out of the Portkey, weeping over Cedric’s body. He raged in the bowels of 13 Grimmauld Place, angry but mostly terrified, mostly desperate, while Ginny flung dungbombs at the meeting room door and eavesdropped. Harry had lines written in the back of his hand. He screamed when Sirius died. He taught children how to fight in the Room of Requirement because he knew the world required you to fight for yourself, sometimes, knew that well, by a mirror, beside old snake skin, in a circle of dementors beside a frozen lake, a graveyard.
Fear was a treasure of Godric’s House. Without fear there was no bravery.
Ginny had thought her fear was Riddle’s scar, the ugliness he left in her, the way she shook at night. Ginny stood in the Department of Mysteries, in the Great Hall, in her own skin, and her breath shook in her chest. Her wand arm was steady.
Harry had Riddle’s features, his mother’s eyes, his father’s bravery and his stubborn prejudice, too. Ginny had his mother’s hair, her family’s brazen House, and the ugly echoes of Tom’s young soul ringing inside of her. They were all made of pieces of the generations that had come before.
She had her own steady hands.
When Ginny spoke up amid a crowd of students and named the DA, she named it for the Ministry’s greatest fear. She thought it was a particularly Gryffindor thing to do, to understand the power in such a thing.
When Harry was asked to choose between the world and her, he chose the world. He left with Ron and Hermione at his heels, at his back, at his side, to save it.
Ginny stayed. The world was made of different places to stand, and this would be hers. She, Luna, and Neville boarded the Hogwarts Express together. Empty compartments taunted.
Of the three that stayed, Ginny wondered who she was.
The leader, burning bright and impulsive with the villain’s dark fingerprints under her skin? She had a trusty loyal sidekick at one side, a brilliant young woman at the other. She stood in the Room of Requirement, teaching children to fight, and she felt powerful, she felt chosen, she felt doomed.
In that moment, Ginny Weasley was as close as anyone would come to understanding the life of Harry Potter. Harry was the only one who might ever begin to understand what it was to stand in her invaded skin.
Or was she the Weasley of the three: red-haired, the brawn to match Neville’s heroic destiny and the ease with which the boy held loss and sacrifice, to match Luna’s odd, burning intelligence and unthinking kindness?
Was Ginny the smart one, with her sly wit, her words, the faces she could wear—but her intelligence was less kind than Hermione’s, always, more fit to this guerilla warfare in sacred halls.
Or were they something else entirely, this trio who was not golden? They were the unchosen three: the discarded Horcrux and the last Weasley; the brave, broken backup Boy Who Lived; the loony girl who lost her shoes and had more friends in thestrals than in her common room.
Ginny rallied an army in the Room of Requirement with her mother’s knack for raised voices, Riddle’s smooth words, Harry’s agitated passion, and wondered if she was the hero of this story.
She painted Dumbledore’s Army, still recruiting on the walls. Ginny charmed sneezes to circle Amycus’s head, put whispers in Hestia’s twisted ears, fixed a corridor to drop anyone with a Dark Mark into the highest Hogwarts tower—she felt like maybe they weren’t Harry’s second place winners, then, maybe they were the twins’ successors, the twins and Lee Jordan reborn in wartime. Certainly Peeves was on their side when he went screaming through the halls, dropping balloons full of pudding on Snape’s head.
They barreled into the Room of Requirement with tired, desperate laughter, dust-streaked. Neville, who had once introduced himself as “nobody,” taught first years basic healing charms and put salve on their hurts. Luna sparked at her wand, trying to build some clever new spell. Buttoned-up Ravenclaws, their buttons coming undone, circled closer to stare. Ginny practiced Bat Bogey hexes and drew up safe routes, escape routes, battle plans.
Maybe they were something entirely different.
Luna brought them their first Slytherin, a quiet boy, shy and driven. desperately loyal to this place that took him in. More came. The few Muggleborns in green and silver came, but others, too; one was a young woman, bright and mischievous, better than any of them at creative long term jinxes. She reminded Ginny more than anything of the twins, from the wild mischief she managed down to the way she took frightened eleven year olds aside and made them smile.
Ginny made them feel safe. She scoffed when Luna told her that. The smallest child of an old house, she was no one’s shield and sword.
Ginny watched them the next time she flung a Bat Bogey Hex at a dummy, her hair flying behind her like a battle flag. The first-years, the Hufflepuff third year who was so good at illusions, the seventh year Ravenclaw who said four words once a week but which were always just the right ones—they watched her. They stood straighter. She made them feel safe. She made them feel brave.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron came back to Hogwarts through the Hogsmeade tunnel. The veterans of Hogwarts rose and greeted them, comparing scar to scar. Ginny hung back and watched the heroes join the crowd, envious and proud.
Theirs was a quest narrative. Hers was a reclaiming, a vengeance, a defense. She would take back these halls, these classrooms, this body. She would take the way her breastbone felt soiled even now and burn it clean. This was her home, these ribbed stone walls and these ribs that cradled her fragile lungs. They were hers and dark men kept trailing dirty fingers along them. They would regret it, a fang to their hearts, a fire in her gut, an avada kedavra in the Great Hall.
The point here was the darkness. The reason was the light. The point was that Ginny’s first career was to fly and her second was to write, that the Battle of Hogwarts was only her second struggle for her own holy ground. Her palms were stained, red with paint, black with ink, drowned in basilisk venom and the damp of cold stone. She could not wash them clean, she would not, so she clenched her hands into fists.
It was a long fight, for a young girl to convince herself that she deserved her body. This one, these brown eyes, the freckles, George’s grin and Bill’s smirk, her mother’s fierce affection and her father’s love of shunned things.
It was a long fight. They won.
The wand, the cloak, the stone. Harry earned them all as he grew from boy to man. Only one was a blessing.
Rereading Beedle’s stories at thirteen, Ginny had started laughing. Across the common room, Ron had looked up, startled, hopeful, and Hermione had looked on, concerned.
Did people really think you needed a magic stone to have specters haunt your heels? Ginny could feel Tom reading over her shoulder, through the backs of her eyes, his sympathy and his malice.
In between learning card tricks from the twins, hunting some sort of invisible, intransient thing in the upper corridors with Luna (tracking it by its lavender macaroni and cheese scent, Luna said, was the trick), Ginny could still hear the drip drip of the Chamber’s high ceiling. She got good at Silencing Charms and slept with her bed curtains pulled shut. She didn’t need a stone to make ghosts haunt her dreams.
But Harry managed to throw it away. He threw the stone, he threw the wand, and he kept the cloak.
Ginny was jealous, jealous of the powers he was able to rid himself of while she went to sleep with Riddle’s voice humming in her bones. It was years before she realized Harry didn’t lose those things any more than she did.
She found him looking out the windows or at old photos. He told her about a Muggleborn boy so very excited about moving photographs, a girl who loved Divination, about a godfather she too knew and mourned. She told him stories back, about Sirius restless in Grimmauld Place, about Fred’s toilet seat promises. They both looked back.
Harry dropped by for breakfast once and found her standing in the grungy, sunlit kitchen of her first apartment, staring at her tea. She had an interview for an office job in an hour, and Quidditch trials for a minor league position in the afternoon, but the smell of her morning tea reminded her of musty book pages. The tea was too green, the wrong shade to be Riddle’s sharp eyes, but close enough, and what a silly thing, but she couldn’t breathe.
He looked the same way, some days. He reached out, tentative, and she let him wrap her in his arms.
People gawked at Harry in the streets, a media presence even worse now that he was not a minor, not under Dumbledore’s friendly nose, not the Boy Who Lived but the Boy Who Died, Who Killed Him, Who Came Back. Ginny came over to watch the latest So You Think You Can Brew and someone smashed a rock through the window (Death Eaters never die, even when you cut off the head of the snake). Harry destroyed the Elder Wand, but he was Harry Potter, the Boy Who Won, and he would never wash that stain of power from his forehead.
They hid under the cloak together. Sometimes they both needed to feel safe. On rainy nights, they curled up together under the cloak and pretended not even death could touch them.
Harry looked back, he looked back. He had his mother’s eyes. Ginny had her brother’s sharp-eyed mischief, her own ghosts. She had Tonks’s laugh, Tom’s sly patience, all these things tucked into her pockets. They weighed her down. They gave her something to hold herself down.
They both carried old deaths as they walked forward, but they walked forward. Ginny took his hand, this boy who saved the world, she a girl with the dark in her bones, her tomb abandoned, her battle won. She took his hand and she showed him how to walk into the light.