Five Things That Never Happened in The Chamber of Secrets
- The Burdens of Being Upright
"Life is perfect never better, still your daughter still the same. If I tell you what you want to hear, will it help you to sleep well at night? Are you sure that I'm your perfect dear? Now just cuddle up and sleep tight." (Percy, Ginny)
Of all the Weasley children at Hogwarts, Percy and Ginny are the only ones who ever send letters home.
Percy takes the letters up to the owlery every Thursday at precisely nine o'clock. Percy is nothing if not a creature of habit. He notices, after the first few Thursdays, that Ginny doesn't seal her letters. Whether it's an act of carelessness or one of trust, he isn't sure.
But after awhile, Percy begins to read them.
He doesn't mean to, not at first. It's the sort of thing his mother would do, and he hates that he does it, too. But there's something in those cramped, controlled sentences that compels him to do it. It's an instinct, a hunch, a prickle on the back of his neck.
Ginny writes in red ink, which he thinks is odd. She never had before, had she?
After awhile, Percy knows what he's going to read there without even opening the letters. He knows it because Ginny always says the same thing. The same words, down to the commas and question marks.
He wonders if his parents notice. He thinks, probably, that they don't.
"Are you going to send those?" Ginny asks from behind him, and he jumps.
"Oh. Oh, yes. I was just about to," he says, folding her letter up and hoping she doesn't notice that he was reading it.
The way she's looking at him tells him that she knows, though. She isn't upset about it, like any of their brothers would have been. She just looks at him curiously and crosses the room to stand beside him. And that's when he begins to understand. He understands that Ginny doesn't seal her letters because she wants him to read them. She wants someone to.
She stands with him at the window that night and holds his hand. She hasn't done that since she was a very little girl. And when she holds his hand, it's another scream for help and he knows it, but still he pretends not to hear.
"It must be nice to be so sure and never feel insecure. It must feel good to believe you're always right and you're never wrong." (Tom/Hermione)
It was fitting, in a way, that he should have come to her in a book. Books had always been at the center of Hermione's life, and that fact explained a lot about her. It certainly explained, at least in part, why she did what she did. There were other reasons, too, of course: Hermione was not someone who volunteered knowledge until she was completely sure of its accuracy, its flawlessness. She checked every fact, cross-referenced and footnoted. She knew the answer to every question, and if she didn't know, she found out. It never occurred to her, at least not then, that knowledge might be dangerous. That there might be some questions better left unasked, unanswered. That books and facts and certainties might one day betray her. Betrayal by a book was unthinkable to Hermione. The idea that one might be dangerous was laughable.
But, then, there was an afternoon in a bookshop. It was late summer and there was dust in the air, there was sunlight through the windows. There were too many people packed into too small a space. Hermione didn't like it, didn't like them being there. They were invaders. They trampled, they smeared ink, bent pages, talked too loudly. They flipped through books they hadn't bought with fingers still sticky from sweets or ices. They disrupted the quiet, got in the way of the smell. Bookshops were supposed to be hushed and cool, they were supposed to smell of leather and ink and very old paper. They were not supposed to be close and stuffy, hot and too loud. And Hermione was not supposed to be standing in the middle of this not-right chaos, alone accept for Ron's little sister.
Somehow, Hermione had got landed with little Ginny Weasley while Ron and Harry went off to ogle broomsticks, or whatever it was the boys did when they were alone together. Hermione didn't know what they did, and most of the time she pretended she didn't care. It wasn't, she told herself, that she resented that Harry and Ron wanted to go off alone (without her). It was that she wanted to know. She wanted to know what they were like when there were no girls around. She wanted to know what they were like when there was no anyone around. She wondered if they were very different or if they were mostly the same. It was a question she had mostly accepted not knowing the answer to -- but that didn't stop her from wondering.
But Ginny, Ginny was ten and small and fragile-looking. She blushed prettily and didn't say much. She folded her hands neatly and smiled silently and flipped through frivolous teen fiction while they waited. Hermione was quite disposed to dislike her, or at least ignore her.
Ginny began picking methodically through the books in the cauldron, and blushed, again, prettily. She had ribbons in her (perfectly straight) hair and they bounced and curled every time she bent over to lift a book from the cauldron. The ribbons were the color of robin's eggs and even though Ginny's dress must have been second-hand, the color matched perfectly. Standing next to her, Hermione felt as though she was all arms and legs and teeth and bushy hair. She reached down and pulled up a green-and-grey argyle sock that had crept sloppily down around her ankle, and only looked up when Ginny suddenly spoke.
"Here," Ginny said, holding a book out to her. "I think this is Harry's. He accidentally left it in with the books he gave me." It was the most she'd said at one stretch all afternoon.
"Well, why don't you give it back to him?" Hermione said, not really paying attention.
"Oh. Oh, no. You go ahead." Ginny's cheeks went pink(er) and she thrust the book at Hermione more forcefully. "I'll just forget. It's better if I give it to you while I'm thinking of it."
Hermione just barely stifled a sigh and took the book in hand.
"You're eleven, aren't you?" Ginny asked, apropos of nothing.
"That's right," Hermione said automatically. "I'll be twelve in September." Then waited expectantly for wherever Ginny was going with this.
Eventually, she said, "I won't be eleven until November." There was another extended pause. "Was it hard? To be younger than everyone else in your class?"
But Hermione never got to answer, because then Ron and Harry came back and Ginny was silent the rest of the evening.
It wasn't until late that night, as she was turning off the lamp by her bedside, that she remembered the book.
Hermione picked it up and flipped through the pages. It was blank inside, and it was also clearly not Harry's. For one thing, as far as she knew, Harry had never kept a diary. And for another, the year 1942 was stamped in gold on the top left corner of the black leather cover.
She picked up a pen, an ordinary one, and tried to write on the first page. Nothing happened. Frowning, she put the pen aside and took up a quill and ink bottle. She touched the quill to the page. A bead of black ink bubbled briefly, then sank below the surface.
Hermione nearly jumped out of bed.
"Hermione Granger," she wrote. "Who are you?"
"I'm Tom Riddle. And this is my diary."
"And you can understand me? You're alive?"
"Not alive exactly," the words drifted to the surface in an elegant, casual hand. "A memory. But I most definitely understand you."
"I ought to tell-"
"Oh, yes. Definitely, you should right away." There was a pause, and then, almost an afterthought, "Of course, if you do then you'll never know."
"All the things I can tell you. All the things you want to know. Because you want to, I can tell. Intelligent people are curious. I'm curious. I've been around a very long time. I can answer questions even your teachers can't, or won't."
"But if I tell someone, you can't?" Hermione wrote, slightly suspicious.
"I'm unique," Tom wrote. "There are other books similar to me, but none quite like me. They would take me away, to study. To figure out how I'd done it."
"How did you?"
"I can't tell you that." A pause, and Hermione picked up her quill to protest. "But I can show you."
And so she let him.
It snowed the first evening in December and Ginny spoke to Hermione for what was possibly the first time since August.
"Hermione?" she asked, standing in front of the fire and blocking Hermione's light so she couldn't see what she was writing. "Could I- Can I talk to you?"
Hermione shrugged and tapped her quill impatiently against the edge of the diary.
"Are you all right?"
"Of course I am." Hermione hesitated a moment, then said, "Why? Have Ron or Harry said something?"
"Oh, no. You just seemed... different. And I thought- Well, I thought maybe it was something you couldn't tell them. Boys are just-" She paused. "Well, they're boys. And I thought-"
"That's awfully nice, but I'm fine. Really."
Ginny didn't look convinced, but all she said was, "Okay. But if there is ever something- I know what it's like to have no other girls to talk to. You can always talk to me."
She walked away, taking her shadow with her, and light spilled onto the pages of the diary again.
"That's a pretty thing." The words scrolled across the empty page, and Hermione felt an uncomfortable and familiar flash of jealousy. She didn't write back.
After a moment, "You don't like her? I should have guessed."
"No, no," Hermione wrote quickly, quill scratching against paper in her haste. "I like her. There's nothing wrong with her."
"You don't," he replied. "You don't like her. That's all right. You can say it here. Write it down, no one else will know. With me you don't have to pretend."
As the winter wore on, it snowed harder and Hermione's days became more and more like blank pages. They were faded, incomplete with missing sections and blotted words. She couldn't remember things, she slept poorly. The only time she felt really alive was with Tom. He taught her and talked to her and never once seemed to think that learning was dull or tiresome.
"You like to know things," he said one day when they were inside a memory together. "It reminds me..."
"Reminds you of what?" she asked, sitting a little closer but too afraid to actually touch him.
"The past. Myself. A girl I once knew. A lot of things." He shook his head. "But tell me more about you. About school, about your friends."
"It can't possibly be interesting to you..."
"I've been in here a long time, Hermione." He smiled, the spring sunlight behind his head. "I'd like to know. Everything."
And so she told him.
3. Beautiful Garbage
"Can you stand up, or will you just fall down? You better watch out for what you wish for. It better be worth it." (Ginny)
Red has never been Ginny Weasley's color. She knows this, instinctively. The way she knows that she ought to wear gold not silver, that hats are passe and that a smart witch can never own too many bags, gloves and shoes.
Ginny ought to wear green. She knows this, too. Knows that the color ought to suit her, that she was born for it. But somehow green isn't quite right, either. She's tried every shade: emerald, chartreuse, olive, jade, loden, forest. It's as though the clothes, well-cut from expensive cloth, want to fit her, but can't. As though there's something missing in her face, her figure, her eyes.
She can't get over the idea that she ought to be something more than what she is. She wonders how she missed it, whatever it is. She wonders what it was and when it was supposed to have happened. Because she knows, somehow, that it was supposed to happen, and that now it's far too late. There is also a part of her that guesses it was a bad thing, something painful, something dark. She knows it's not the sort of thing she should be thinking about or wishing for.
But some days she sits, amidst all the bright colors and expensive things she's taken so much care to surround herself with, and wishes it anyway. Her life is so ordered, placid, it's the glossy, smooth surface of a looking glass. Her whole world is glass and light, smoke and mirrors. It makes her want to scream, break things, draw blood.
But only some days.
Most days Ginny soaks and clips and brushes and curls. She paints and pins and matches and tucks. Always inside the lines, always according to the patterns and plans. And, most days, this makes her forget. She forgets that she's as glossy and flat and empty as the pictures and plates she arranges. She manages to forget that things are not supposed to be this way, that this is not who she's supposed to be.
But on the days she does remember, she wonders. She wonders about that otherher, and what her life is like. Is it better? Is it sadder? Does she hurt? Does she feel more alive? Does she love?
Because Ginny understands beauty, but not love, or truth. Love is messy, truth is inconvenient, and the price of both is too high -- even for Ginny who likes expensive things. Someday, though, she tells herself, someday she'll figure out what it is, this thing that's missing from her and figure out how and where it can be found. And if she does, she suspects that she'll be willing to pay any price.
4. #1 Crush
"I will sell my soul for something pure and true." (Tom/Ginny/Harry)
This story hadn't always had a happy ending, she knew, but after all this time she found she liked it better this way. She liked the telling of it.
They were heroes. They'd saved the world.
That was the happy ending. There wasn't any more fighting; there wasn't any more death. Everyone knew where they belonged and no one was ever, ever ignored. Everyone mattered.
She was very happy.
"You're happy, aren't you, Harry?" she asked one evening. It was almost always evening now.
Harry just smiled. He didn't talk much anymore, but that was all right. Ginny always knew what he was thinking. She could see his heart.
There was paper on the hardwood floor, reams of it, scrolls and stacks and rolls. Bottles of ink: scarlet, jade, indigo, silver, black and gold. Quills and fountain pens and penwipers like the ones Ginny's mother used to stitch together from old scraps of fluffy and frothy fabric.
Ginny and Harry sat on the floor and wrote. Ginny wrote carefully, tiny measured letters in perfect script, filling page after page. Harry, though, knelt and wrote, in a wide, looping hand, across the blank, white walls.
Ginny hardly remembered what she wrote. Things that were, that had been, but also things as she'd wanted them to be, things she wished could happen, things that never would. Harry wrote the same things again and again. To keep them, he said, on the rare occasions that he whispered against Ginny's ear. To keep them here, to keep them safe, to keep himself from forgetting.
The papers on the floor rustled and scattered, a draft blowing across the back of Ginny's neck. Her skin went cold.
The door was open.
"Hello, children," Tom said and smiled at them with the sunset at his back. "Would you like to know how the world is today?"
Ginny went to sit at his knee, pulling Harry along with her by his hand. Harry's hands were always warm, just like Tom's were always cool. Ginny liked the difference between them. She always knew, that way, which of them was touching her.
Harry leaned slightly against her, while Tom told them a story about a place where the sky was on fire. His hands played across Harry's forehead, smoothing away the hair with long fingers.
"Now, isn't this better," Tom asked, after a long pause, "than the way things were before?"
Harry still didn't speak, but Ginny managed a soft 'yes' in reply.
"That's what I thought." Tom smiled. "I didn't have to keep you. That was my choice."
It had been, Ginny remembered. Somehow she didn't like to think about that. She knew there had been a time before. It had been colder and she had cried. At least she thought she had. There had been blood and snakes and poison and metal and Harry, always Harry. What was it they had done? What had they promised Tom? Because there had been a promise, she knew.
"Now, now," Tom said softly, moving his hand from Harry's face to cup Ginny's chin. "Let's not think too much about that."
And Ginny nodded because she didn't want to think about it. She'd made their ending happy here in the pages of their own story, and that was what mattered.
And they sealed the ending with a kiss.
5. The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
"Maybe you'll get what you want this time around." (Harry)
It was one of those decisions that changed the world.
A split second later, another choice, and everything would have turned out differently. Or maybe it wouldn't have. Maybe they'd never had a choice and anything they'd done would have ended up the same.
But Harry didn't think so.
The morning he watched Ginny Weasley run from Great Hall, he'd been preoccupied, thinking about the Heir and Hermione and voices no one else could hear and where Dumbledore had gone. He got up and started to follow Ron from the room, but he stopped abruptly.
"Ginny," Ron said suddenly. "Let's go find her." He paused, uncertainly. "It sounded important, I think."
"But Percy said-"
Ron gave a snort. "Percy thinks everything is about him."
There really wasn't any arguing with that, so Harry followed.
Ginny wasn't in the Tower or the library or out on the lawns. They asked the other girls in her year where she was and they said she'd never turned up for class. Ron began to look worried.
"It's just," he said, trying to keep his voice nonchalant, "that this isn't like her at all. She's normally so, well, normal."
"We'll find her," Harry said. But it took longer than he'd imagined it could.
The last place they thought to look was high up in a spire at the west end of the castle. The first room in the corridor was very old and looked as though it hadn't been used in years. There was dust in the air. It tickled Harry's nose and throat. Sunlight came in through one long window and there was Ginny, sitting in a patch of light with a black book on her knees. She chewed nervously at her lip, as though trying to make a decision.
"Hello," Harry said, and she jumped.
"Harry." Her eyes went very wide. "What are you-? Why are you-?"
"Ron thought-" he began, then called out, "Ron! I found her!"
Ron came through the door. "Why have you been hiding? I thought you had something to tell us."
"I do." But Ginny's voice was very small and soft as she said it.
"Well, what is it already?" Ron asked impatiently.
So she told them.
When she was through, Harry turned slowly to Ron and said, "I think you ought to go and see if Hermione is awake yet."
"Hermione?!" he exclaimed. "Forget Hermione! We need a bloody army to deal with this! Shouldn't I get Dumbledore?"
"He isn't here," Harry reminded him. "We need to figure out what to do."
Ron nodded once and left. When he'd gone, Ginny seemed to deflate. She slumped forward and let Harry take the diary from her without protest.
"It's really him, then? The Heir of Slytherin?"
Ginny went white. "I suppose he has to be, doesn't he?" She paused. "He asked about you a lot. I don't know why."
There was a noise just outside the door, almost a footstep, but shuffling and hurried. Harry tossed the diary back to Ginny and started toward the door, but just then Ron flung it open, followed by an exhausted Hermione.
Hermione was very white, her hair dull and pulled back in a too-tight knot. She leaned slightly against Ron, like maybe she ought to have been sitting down. She was, Harry realized after a moment, wearing Ron's old pajamas, the sleeves slopped over her wrists and the hems dragged on the floor and under her heels.
"I was right, wasn't I?" she said, not even bothering with a hello. "About the snake? About the pipes?"
"Yes." But it wasn't Harry who answered. Hermione looked up sharply at Ginny. "He's using the pipes. He calls the Basilisk to him when he wants it. Down in the girls bathroom."
"All right, I do. But I don't want to. He makes me."
Hermione looked at Ginny for a long moment with an odd expression on her face. "Ron told some of what you said, but I didn't want to believe-"
"Then we have to get rid of the thing," Ron said. "Before it does any more damage."
"Yes, but how?" Hermione asked, in a tired voice that didn't sound like her.
"I wondered where you all disappeared to," a voice said from the doorway. Percy stood there, his face and manner carefully neutral.
"Percy, you don't-" Ron started, but was cut off.
"What? You aren't going to turn us in?"
Percy wasn't looking at Ron, though. He was looking at Ginny. "If it's true, what you said to Harry just now, then do it. Right now."
"You were listening-?" Ron began, affronted. But Ginny nodded without a word, and picked up the diary.
Harry reached out a hand to stop her. "Wait."
"We don't know what will happen-" he began.
"It's just a book-" Ron began.
"If there's one thing we know for sure," Hermione said, taking a slightly unsteady breath. "It's that this is definitely more than just a book."
"It has to be destroyed," Percy said, looking uncharacteristically ruffled.
"But," Hermione said, "Maybe Harry's right. Maybe we shouldn't decide this on our own. If we took it to Professor McGonagall then-"
Ginny laughed sharply and everyone turned to look at her. "You don't think," she said, "that I thought of that? That it wasn't the very first thing I thought of?" She held the book out. "Go on. Try to make him show himself. Try to find the enchantment on the diary. It isn't there. Not if you're looking for it. He's hidden. Completely. Unless he wants you."
Percy took the book from her and laid it on an old chest. Hermione went over to him and they bent their heads together over it, whispering words and fumbling with their wands.
"But maybe," Hermione said at last, "maybe we just aren't advanced enough to do it. I'm sure Dumbledore-"
"Isn't here," Ron finished, looking grim, looking as if he'd just understood what this meant. "And if we go to someone with this story and we can't prove it- "
"That isn't going to happen," Percy interrupted. "I won't sacrifice her. This wasn't her fault."
Ginny walked over behind him and put one hand on his arm, letting the other drift down onto the front cover of the diary.
"I'll do it," she said. "This is my fault. I ought to have known better."
She picked the book up, letting go of Percy's arm. She took it in both hands and let it fall open to a random page. She tore it, and they all let out a breath Harry hadn't realized they'd been holding.
She tore the next page, then another and another. The only noise in the room was the sound of paper ripping free of its binding. There were two furious spots of red on her pale cheeks and she ripped the pages into shreds. Hermione came forward, took the facing pages in trembling hands and began to help.
"I hate him," Ginny said, and that's when Harry noticed the ink on her hands. "I hate him," she said again, her voice high and shrill.
There was ink on Hermione's sleeves, up to her elbows. It was smeared across Ginny's cheek and in her hair. She choked, closing her eyes, and nearly dropped the book. Percy rushed in to steady her and caught the binding of the diary instead.
Ron looked at Harry, then Hermione, then his brother and sister. He hesitated a moment, then stepped to Hermione's side, took her right hand in his and helped her tear a thick, white page free.
But Harry still hesitated. Then other four looked up at him as one, pages still in their hands, and he made up his mind.
As Harry took hold of the book, the spine tore with a popping of seams and a faint howl. They fell back with the force of it, each coming away with a handful of ink-soaked pages. Harry looked down. Red ink was dribbling over his fingers, dripping down the dangling binding threads and onto the floor.
Until it wasn't.
The drips slowed, like blood clotting, closing a wound. Defying gravity. The ink crawled and writhed up from the floor, up the hanging threads, and onto his skin. Harry jerked away, staring at his hands. The words written there disappeared beneath his skin with a hiss and a sigh. His skin was on fire and his heart pounded erratically against his chest. He couldn't breathe and it should have frightened him, but it didn't. It was exhilarating. He glowed, he flew, he held the world in his hands, all for a fraction of a second. And so, he knew, did the others. With all of them together in that room, he felt they could have set the air on fire.
Later, though, when it was over, they all pretended. Pretended they didn't read the words written on them, didn't remember what they said. Harry knew better. He remembered the ink on his skin, letters, words and crimson. Words had power in their world and they all knew it, knew they'd been marked and branded, knew they had power but not control.
This wasn't how things were supposed to be.
But it was how things had turned out, and there was no changing it now. He'd led them here and now it was his responsibility to make sure they were all right. At least they had each other, and that wouldn't ever change.
He remembered the words, what had been written on him. Harry was the leader, he hadn't chosen it. When had he ever gotten to choose anything? It had chosen him. (Tom had chosen him, but he ignored that part if he could.) He was the one who knew what had to be done, who knew how to help the others do it. Without him, there was no center, the middle would fall out of things and they would, all of them, collapse.
All those words. Lust, rage, ambition, charisma, jealousy. Those things were in each of them now, part of them. They had taken them away from Tom, made it so he couldn't use those that power anymore. Together, the five of them, they made one whole. The future was theirs for the taking, the world was, as long as they were together.
Harry wouldn't let any of them go.
*The titles and epigraphs for each section belong, respectively, to Tracy Bonham, Garbage and Hole.
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