A Harry Potter fanfiction by Arabella
Thanks to CoKerry for the beta
This story directly follows "The Very Secret Diary", but also stands on its own.
Albus Dumbledore had developed a habit, over the years, of saying only what he meant. He had seen great things come from careful speech and terrible grief result from careless slips of the tongue; he now respected language as a tool equal to magic in its ability to create and destroy.
He had been weighing his words for so many years that it was rare to feel this blinding urge to say more than was wise. But feel it he did, and he had spent the evening fighting it, sitting quietly in his chair and resisting the explanations and stories that seemed to have leapt into his mouth. This was not the time for stories. And the explanations, though he longed to give them, would be made far more meaningful through experience than he could ever hope to make them in this office. He knew that.
Still, it had been difficult to watch the boy sit there with his hair covered in slime, his arm crusted in blood, and his eyes dark with too much understanding. Difficult to let him wrestle alone with his terrible questions - especially when there were answers. Yes, Albus admitted to himself, feeling very weary, it had certainly been harder to bite his tongue since Harry Potter had come to Hogwarts.
At least he did not have to bite it now. His office had been quiet ever since the grateful professions of Dobby had died away in the corridor. Indeed, Harry had been well thanked; so had Ron Weasley, and they would both receive awards - House points, too, Albus reminded himself - which would be given at the feast. A small matter, perhaps, but to them it was enormous. And they had earned as enormous a prize as he could give. So had Hagrid, who had been acquitted after fifty years of injustice, and would soon be given his due.
But gratitude still owed, in one corner. Albus bowed his head in the direction of the Phoenix's perch. "Thank you, Fawkes," he said quietly.
The great bird trilled, filling the silence with his ringing music; Albus closed his eyes and listened, absorbing the sound into every pore until the last reverberations had died out. He needed a bit of restoration. The night was far from over, and not all of it would be awards and reunions. Arthur and Molly would want to see him. He must also speak to Ginny, though he could not imagine what to say. "There has been no lasting harm done," he had assured her earlier, but now the words rang in his mind as quite wrong. No lasting harm to others, perhaps, but the damage done to Ginny Weasley could not be cured with Mandrake Restorative Droughts. It was permanent.
"I welcome suggestions," he said wryly to Fawkes, but the bird's only answer was a sympathetic gaze. Albus sighed and stood up. "I thought so," he said. "Well. Perhaps you are right. She may need me to listen far more than to speak."
Fawkes gave a nod of approval.
But as Albus left his office and swept down the twisting corridors that led to the hospital wing, he could not help but search himself for words, answers - something to calm the Weasleys, who must be horror-struck. Something to offer Ginny, who had been imprisoned within herself all year, right under his nose. How her faith in everything must be shattered, he thought, and felt a stab of keen disappointment in himself.
He paused to collect his emotions at the infirmary door, and pulled it open.
The Petrified students were gone; he noted that first, with deep relief. They had been restored. Only four people remained in the hospital wing, and three turned to look at him: Poppy, whose face was equally relieved, if very tired; and Molly and Arthur, who looked shell-shocked. Ginny, on the other hand, had immediately rolled over to face the opposite wall. Only her shaking shoulders betrayed the fact that she had not finished weeping. The exorcism was not over, and perhaps it never would be. Language was a powerful tool, Albus thought bitterly, but no wise words could restore Ginny Weasley's innocence. It had been taken, as so many others' had been taken, and by the same hand.
It was beginning again.
He winced at his own thoughts. He wished he were wrong, but he had lived in darkness and fought it, and he could not pretend that he did not feel its approach. What had never truly ended was beginning all over again, and the first victim lay here, unable to look at them. But it could have been worse, he reminded himself. She could very easily have been dead.
"Professor…" Molly said weakly. "We don't…" She sat with one hand between her daughter's heaving shoulder blades. The other lay curled so tightly in her lap that the knuckles were white.
Arthur stood beside her, open helplessness on his face. But his hand was firm on Molly's shoulder and when he spoke his voice was far steadier than hers. "We'd like to talk to you outside, for a minute."
Albus closed the door behind him and came closer to Ginny's hospital bed. "Any explanations that I can give," he said simply, "are best heard by all of you. Poppy, if you would allow me a moment with the Weasleys?"
Poppy looked unwilling to leave her patient, but she nodded. "I'll have a look in on Professor Lockhart," she said with obvious distaste, and in a rustle of starched white robes, she disappeared into the faculty ward.
Albus sat in a chair near the end of the bed. Arthur sat too, but he stayed on the edge of his chair and moved his hand from Molly's shoulder to her knee as though he could not stand to lose contact. Molly unclenched the fist in her lap and grabbed hold of Arthur's hand; the two clung to each other. How like their very youthful selves they still looked, Albus mused, knowing that they would not believe it if he told them. But it was true, and for a moment he felt thrown back in time by their expressions - so trusting and attentive. At the same time, they looked badly aged by what had taken place over the course of the day, and Albus’s heart went out to them. They deserved all the comfort that he could give. They also deserved the truth.
Such a pity that truth and comfort so rarely walked together.
Arthur spoke first. "How… did this happen?"
Albus looked at the huddled body on the bed. "If Ginny is prepared to speak, then she is certainly the best person to ask." He paused. "But Ginny," he continued gently, "if you are not ready, then you may give me permission to speak for you."
They waited nearly a minute in silence for her answer.
"G-go ahead -" she finally choked, and then covered her face with her arm, so that they could not even see the edge of her profile.
Albus returned his attention to Arthur and Molly. "Your daughter was given a diary," he said calmly. "A diary that once belonged to Tom Riddle, when he was a student at this school, fifty years ago. Tom Riddle was - and is - the only remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin. He was also the boy who became Lord Voldemort."
Ginny gave a terrible sob. Molly looked helplessly at her shaking back; Arthur's jaw clenched and his eyes watered.
"All right," Arthur said, his voice very dry. "We understand all that. But how did it…" He suddenly dropped Molly's hand and narrowed his eyes. "Did you say given? The diary was given to her?"
"I did." Albus watched as Ginny's back went still. She was listening. Good.
"Well who gave it to her?" Arthur demanded.
"Harry believes - and I am inclined to support him on it - that Lucius Malfoy had an opportunity to slip it into one of Ginny's schoolbooks, last summer - "
Arthur was on his feet, purple with rage, before Albus had even finished speaking. "MALFOY," he snarled. "I should've known - I'll get him for this - I'll kill him for this -"
"Arthur!" Molly grabbed the back of his robes, looking terrified, and tried to yank him back into his chair. "Don't!"
The voice was very small, but its tone was enough to freeze Arthur and Molly in mid-struggle. They looked at the bed.
Ginny was sitting up, staring at Albus with hollow eyes. Her breath came in ragged, audible pulls. "He gave it to me on purpose? He…knew?"
Albus met her gaze. "There is no evidence," he said gravely. "But my instincts tell me that Harry is right. What do you remember?"
Ginny's eyes seemed to turn inward. "He threw a book into my cauldron in the shop," she whispered slowly. "He said something nasty to Dad and then he threw it… And that's the same book I found Riddle's diary stuck in…" Comprehension dawned in her eyes. She drew a shuddering breath, covered her face with both hands, and doubled over. "I'm so stupid," she sobbed brokenly. "I'm so stupid, how could I be so stupid…"
Molly got onto the bed behind her and held her tightly, but Ginny made no move to hug her back.
Arthur stood motionless. He looked incapacitated. "We told her…" he said helplessly. "We told all our children about… magical objects…"
Ginny moaned, and the sound was full of shame.
Albus shook his head. "She has learned that lesson, Arthur," he said quietly. "There is no need to repeat it to her."
Arthur did not seem to hear him. He ran both hands through his thinning hair, then looked at Ginny. His jaw trembled. "How could he?" he rasped. "How, Albus? How could Malfoy give her - even considering the past, I don't understand - how could he? To my daughter? She's just a child, she's just eleven, she -"
"T- twelve!" Ginny sobbed. Her head snapped up and she swiped furiously at her eyes and nose. "I'm twelve, Dad!"
Albus was seized with the mad desire to laugh, out of both delight and relief. She would never forget - but she would heal. She would heal very well indeed. He caught Ginny's eye and gave her a serious nod. "An excellent age," he said evenly. "I would like a word alone with you, if you will permit me."
Ginny gave him a frightened look, but collected herself enough to choke: "Am I in t-trouble?"
"Not at all." He smiled, then looked at her parents. "Arthur, Molly, if you would please wait in the corridor."
They were clearly reluctant to leave the room; Molly in particular took her time letting go of Ginny and getting off of the bed. But a moment later, the door had shut behind them, leaving Albus and Ginny alone.
She hiccoughed and rubbed her nose. Such a small girl, Albus realized, watching her struggle to sit up against her headboard. A slight girl. Yet she had channeled Voldemort all year, and here she was, alive and well and perfectly sane. Tom Riddle's diary had been only a shadow of the Dark Lord, perhaps, but even so; Quirrell had been a fully-fledged wizard when he had surrendered half his body to the shade of Voldemort - and it had killed him.
"I'm s-sorry." Ginny hiccoughed again. She looked dully down at her covers. "I didn't m-mean to hurt anyone. I know I should have t-told someone what was h-happening."
Albus watched her face. "Why didn't you?"
She hugged herself. "I thought he was n-nice. And when I realized what he was -" She winced. "First he said my d-dad would get sacked if people found out what I was doing and th-then he said I’d be expelled. And then he just wouldn't l-let me talk."
"What do you mean?" Albus asked gently.
Ginny glanced up at him and Albus was struck to the bone by the expression in her eyes. She looked back at her knees. "He could make me do things," she mumbled. "Or not let me do them. Sometimes I'd try to tell, but I wouldn't have a voice. In the end I wanted to tell so much that I could almost fight him, but then Hagrid went to Azkaban. Riddle said I'd go there too, as soon as someone found out about me. He said my soul would get sucked out." She pressed her eyes and mouth shut and gave her head a slow shake, as if she might be sick. "I knew I should have told anyway," she whispered. "But I was too scared. I was a c-coward." Her breath hitched. "I shouldn't b-be in Gryffindor anymore."
Albus had to smile a little. It was apparently a day of self-doubt for all Gryffindors. "And in which House should you be?"
Ginny looked up at him and blinked. It was awhile before she spoke. "Slytherin, I suppose," she said dully. "After what I've done. The Sorting Hat even said that I could go to Slytherin."
"Yes. It said I'm ambitious."
Albus knew that his smile must be visible in his eyes, but really, it was too much. "That Hat," he said dryly, "certainly has been putting ideas in people's heads these last few years. Why do you suppose that it put you in Gryffindor, in the end?"
Ginny shrugged and wiped her face again. "I don't know. Because of m-my brothers."
"Ah, but think of the Patil twins, for example. Not all siblings, Virginia -"
"Ginny." Her interruption was harsh and mechanical and she stared at him with haunted eyes. "Ginny."
Albus was taken aback. "Certainly, Ginny," he said slowly. "But what -"
"He called me Virginia." She clutched at her covers. "Riddle did. Don't say it. Please."
The emotions that stirred in Albus were uncomfortably close to hatred. "It is your name," he said quietly. "Do not let him poison it."
"I don't want to hear it."
"Then he has won."
She looked miserably up at him. "I know he won," she said, looking on the verge of tears again. "Not against Harry, but he won against me. He made me…" She pressed her eyes shut again and shook her head violently. "He made me hurt people. He said I wanted to do it deep down or he couldn't have made me do it. He made me say I was his - his -" She took a deep breath. "His servant. He made me stay up all night for no reason, so many times. He made me sleepwalk. He made me ill." She was speaking rapidly now, continuing to shake her head from side to side. "He made me tell him everything I knew about everyone. Even my brothers and Harry. And I did it. He wouldn't let me finish my homework. He wouldn't let me tell my mother, or Percy, or you - he said he l-loved me, and that he understood me - and he kept convincing me that I couldn't hear the voice in the walls. He made me speak Parseltongue - he made me shout at Myrtle - he - he called me…" She put her hands over her face. "He called me stupid and useless. He said I was nothing, and that everyone would hate me - he told me all the ways that I would die. He said I'd have to watch him kill Harry. He got inside my legs and make me walk - he made me put my hands in the Basilisk blood and write those words, he made me go into the Chamber by myself and it was so dark and I couldn't fight, I couldn't fight…"
She was gone again, lost in sobs, curled up in a ball of hospital nightdress and matted red hair against the headboard, rocking with her freckled arms wrapped around her knees.
"I hate him," she gasped, into the silence. "I hate him, I hate him, I hate him…"
Albus kept silent and let her finish. Partly because he knew that she needed to do it, and partly because he was too grieved and furious to speak. He had been right in thinking that there was nothing to say that would cure her. There would be no tidy summary, here; no setting her mind to rest. She would have to live alone with this. Wrestle with it. Conquer it on her own. And it would take a long, long time.
Ginny wept for several minutes. When her sobs died away, she sat limp against the headboard with her face to the wall. Her features were slack, and she did not seem to be fully awake. But when she spoke, her voice was disturbingly clear. "You said… that he was and is the last descendant of Salazar Slytherin." She paused. "Do you mean… is he… I thought that Harry killed him."
"Harry destroyed the diary. Tom Riddle's memory no longer exists."
"But if he is…" Her face turned very white. "He's out there, isn't he?" she whispered. "The Dark Lord? In Albania, like you said?"
Albus knew it was cruel to give her the truth tonight. But lies were impossible. "What do you think?" he asked in reply.
Her head remained limp against the headboard; he heard it roll against the wood as she turned her face towards him. "I think he is," she said quietly. Her eyes were strange and dark. "I think he'll come back."
They looked at each other for a long time, and along with many colder feelings, Albus felt a surge of pride. These children - these remarkable children - they seemed able to withstand all things, and they were so willing to name the difficult truths. He had not seen their like in many years.
"Is there anything more that you would like to tell me?" he asked, very gently.
Ginny's eyes dropped again to her covers. For a minute she seemed to be thinking, but then she shook her head. "No… but can I ask something?"
Albus nodded. "I will answer if I can."
Ginny went quiet again. She was clearly struggling for words. "Was he… right?" she asked faintly. "When he said he couldn't have made me do those things if I didn't want to?"
Albus waited for her to look up at him. When she did, he held her gaze. "Only you can answer that, Ginny. I can tell you what I believe, but it is what you believe that is important. Do you believe that you wanted to do those things?"
She twisted her hands in her lap. "I don't think so," she mumbled, and looked away again. "But he said I did."
"How often were the things he said the truth?"
She glanced up at him and gave a very quiet laugh. It was the kind of laugh a twelve-year-old should not have known how to give. Albus shivered.
"Often enough to make it hard to tell," Ginny said. She studied him with guarded eyes; her face looked at once so young and so tired that Albus was not sure what to make of her. "If that diary's really gone," she said abruptly, "then why can I still feel it? What if I - do something else? If he's out there, then can't he make me -"
Albus held up a hand. "He is no longer working through you, Ginny. No matter what you may still feel."
"But he said he'd always be with me - all my life." Her eyes gleamed unnaturally. "Was that true?"
"In a way, perhaps," Albus answered honestly. "You will not forget the experience. You will heal, in time, but such wounds tend to leave their scars."
Her eyes widened. "Scars?" she repeated. Her face was unreadable.
"Scars are not necessarily bad things, Ginny." Albus smiled at her. "As a matter of fact, they can be rather useful." Into his mind's eye flashed the image of a thin scar, shaped like lightning. "Yes, very useful indeed…"
Ginny gave a strange, girlish little sigh that surprised Albus. "All right then," she murmured, and shut her eyes. After a few moments, her body slumped and she slid into what looked like an uncomfortable position, half-sitting, half-slouching on her pillow. Her breathing grew slow and regular.
She was asleep.
Albus watched her small, pale face grow more tense with every passing moment, as if each second that she slept sank her deeper into a nightmare. But she did not wake. He stood, went silently to her pillow and rested his hand on her head.
"You are a Gryffindor, Virginia," he said quietly. "And he has not won."