It didn't get any better over the next few weeks. True to his word, Ron put a nest of garden snakes in her bed in retaliation for having told on them, and Ginny had woken the entire household with her terrified shrieks. She hated, hated, hated snakes.
But when she saw everyone, including Harry, gaping at her as she stood on her dresser, cowering away from the horrid slithery things all over the floor, she hated Ron more.
The worst of it was that she couldn't get back at him. She didn't know how Harry felt about spiders, or that would have been her first resort. She couldn't put anything in Ron’s food, because she wasn't nearly as quick as either of the twins. She couldn't even draft them to help her, because they blamed her for Mum's punishments too. In fact, they'd probably helped with the detestable snakes.
Percy was no help--he told her, condescendingly, that if she ignored Ron and the twins, they'd stop. She gazed at him in disbelief, trying to figure out how one could live in this household for a lifetime and actually think that.
In the end, she resorted to ignoring all three of them, very pointedly--not so they'd stop, as Percy seemed to think, but as punishment. Unfortunately, this meant she had to ignore Harry too, since he and Ron were always together.
Ignoring had usually worked before. Normally, after three or four days in Coventry, Ron was so crabby and lonely that he'd dropped whatever grudge he'd had against her and started acting nice.
But she might as well have been a wall, for all the effect it had this time. He seemed to utterly forget she existed. He didn't need her--he had Harry.
Not that she could blame Harry, who seemed to delight in everything and everybody in the Weasley household. He had boundless patience for explaining the Muggle world to her dad, and ate everything her mum put in front of him. He even smiled at her every so often, and declined to take part when Ron twitted her, and was kind enough to pretend not to notice when she knocked things over or tripped or babbled--all of which she did quite a lot of in his presence.
But Harry's kindness aside, Ginny was without a playmate again, and she found that being lonely in the middle of a crowd of brothers was ten times worse than being lonely with only her parents about.
It was only until she got to Hogwarts, Ginny kept telling herself. Once she got there, it'd be just like Bill and Charlie and Percy and Fred and George and Ron, and she'd make absolutely loads of friends, and she'd be having so much fun that she wouldn't care two pins for her brothers' company.
She started counting down.
One morning, as she sat spooning up porridge and calculating again how many days there were until school started (nineteen), three official Hogwarts owls swooped through the kitchen window, one after the other, and perched on the counter.
"Ah, I'd been wondering when these were coming," her mum said, wiping her hands on her apron and taking the creamy-parchment letters, two each, from the owls. They clacked their beaks, ruffled their feathers, and were off again.
"There you are, Ginny," her dad said, taking them from her mum and passing one to her. "Your very first Hogwarts letter! What d'you think of that?"
Ginny took it with awe. She remembered all her brothers getting theirs, and them setting off to Diagon Alley to buy robes and books and wands, and now here was hers, lovely and smooth in her hands, with its pretty green writing.
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. . . .
She'd had the most illogical fear, lately, that she'd turn out a Squib--but no, here was her letter, big as life.
Voices echoed in the hallway. "What d'you want to do today, eh, Harry?"
Ginny tried to push her porridge bowl aside to oh-so-casually spread her lovely Hogwarts letter out flat on the table (where Harry couldn't help but notice) but only succeeded in knocking the entire bowl off the table and onto the floor. Oh, smooth, Virginia! she raged at herself, diving under to retrieve it. She could have fried the bacon on her face as she sat up again to see Ron smirking at her, and there was an unholy mess under her seat now.
Harry, thankfully, pretended not to notice any of it, although she didn't see how he could have missed it if he were both blind and deaf.
Ginny caught her mum's eye, and then the towel she tossed. Gritting her teeth, she set about cleaning it up while the boys (including the twins, who ambled in a moment later) were issued their letters and looked them over.
When she finished, she maliciously draped the gloppy towel on the back of Fred's chair. He didn't notice, because he was leaning over to read Harry's book-list.
"You’ve been told to get all Lockhart’s books too! The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher must be a fan." He grinned widely. "Bet it’s a witch."
Their mum, on her way over to retrieve the towel from the back of his chair, shot him a look, and he quickly grabbed for the marmalade and started trowelling it onto his toast. Mum had a thing for Lockhart, and the twins and their dad had a thing for teasing her about it.
George's voice was a little more worried than Ginny was used to hearing. "That lot won’t come cheap. Lockhart’s books are really expensive . . ."
Ginny winced and picked up her list. She hadn't managed to read it before brilliantly knocking her porridge over, and she was hoping that her class hadn't been assigned Lockhart's books. But there they all were, all seven of them, scrolling down the page along with The Standard Book of Spells, A History of Magic, and all the others. She could almost hear her dad's meagre pay blowing away in the wind.
Mum said in her brightest we'll-survive-this-haven't-we-before voice, "Well, we’ll manage. I expect we’ll be able to pick up a lot of Ginny’s things secondhand."
Ginny didn't even so much as sigh at this--she'd been expecting it. In any case, she didn't have time to bewail her secondhand fate, because Harry asked, "Oh, are you starting at Hogwarts this year?"
In the highly complicated and taxing process of nodding in the affirmative, she managed to put her elbow in the butter dish.
* * *
The next Wednesday evening found Ginny was sitting in her room, looking over all her schoolbooks. She hugged every one of her sparkling new Lockhart books--not because Lockhart impressed her at all (really, what was it with him and that photographer? he’d made Harry horribly uncomfortable, any idiot could have seen it) but because Harry had given them just to her, instead of to Ron or his other friend Hermione. "You have these," he’d told her, dumping them into her cauldron. "I'll buy my own--"
He could, too--she’d caught a glimpse, round his elbow, of his vault, piled high with more gold than she’d ever seen in her life. It must all be from his parents, and for a moment she was envious, but then she thought, I’ll bet he’d trade all that gold for them back, and her envy faded. At least she had Mum and Dad.
She picked up the Transfiguration book Dad had gotten for her and sighed. She knew she was being horrid, wishing it was as new and glossy as the Lockhart books, but Mr. Malfoy’s words had stung her pride as badly as they’d stung her father’s. "It’s the best your father can do for you . . ."
Her chin stuck out. She’d rather have a father who did his best and loved his children than a nasty bullying git like him. Dad couldn’t help it that his job paid so little, and that there were so many of them. And there were five of them at Hogwarts this year. It hadn’t helped that Ron and the twins were still growing like mad and needed robes as much as Ginny did. Percy was growing too, but not as quickly anymore, and he could live with turned-down hems for a term or so.
"You know, dear," Mum had sighed to her in the second-hand robe shop, eyeballing a hem length for George and Fred, "I’d learn to sew if I thought I had the time . . ." Mum could mend, but mending was a far cry from running up whole new suits of clothing.
Ginny thought, touching the cover of the Transfiguration book, that she’d have to take really good care of these books if she wanted them to last. But that, of course, was nothing new. It went along with being a Weasley.
Sighing again, Ginny riffled the pages, checking for loose ones she’d have to Spellotape back in. Something fell out, bouncing off her knee and hitting the floor, but it wasn’t a page.
She picked it up. It was a small black notebook, as shabby as the book that had housed it. There was a year on the cover--she did some quick math. Fifty years old. Well--! If it was fifty years old, it was actually in rather good shape.
She opened it up. "T.M. Riddle," she read to herself. "Who's that?"
She riffled through the pages, but they were all completely blank. Whoever T.M. Riddle was, he hadn't bothered to use this notebook. Very well then--finders keepers. She'd need a notebook for school.
She reached for one of her new quills (really honestly new ones--you couldn't get them secondhand) and a bottle of ink. With a firm stroke, she crossed out T.M. Riddle and wrote Miss Virginia Elizabeth Weasley just under it.
She stuck her quill back into the ink bottle and admired the name, the delightful adultness of it for a moment. But only for a moment.
Even as she watched, it appeared to dissolve and disappear--name and cross-out together.
Those twins! They must have slipped her invisible ink!
Fuming, she turned to the bags of school supplies and dug out another one, checking carefully to see that the seal was unbroken and it read Lady Macbeth's Indelible Ink, for all your composition needs before she turned back to the notebook.
Hello, Miss Virginia Elizabeth Weasley. So you've found my diary?
She screamed out loud and dropped the new bottle of ink, which shattered all over the floor and her rug.
There was a knock at the door. "Ginny? Are you all right? I heard you scream."
"N-nothing, Mum," Ginny called back, staring at the page, with the impossible words still sitting there, for all the world as if they expected to be answered. "I--dropped something. A bottle of ink. All over my rug."
There was a sigh. "Not one of your new ones? Ginny, ink is expensive."
"I--I know. I'll clean it up, Mum."
"Bring your rug on out here and I'll give you some Mrs. Skower's."
Ginny did as she was told, but all the while she was Mrs. Skowering the mess off the floor boards, her eyes kept returning to the diary, sitting innocuously on her bed. The words had disappeared, and she was wondering if she'd imagined it, after all.
Once the ink was no more than a faint splodge on her floor, she got up and peered at the blank page. Maybe it only said something if you wrote your name.
Her hand trembling, she wrote, Virginia Guinevere Weasley.
There was an answer at once. Hello, are you the same person who wrote before? Only your name's a bit different.
Yes, she wrote. I mean, I'm the same person. Neither Guinevere or Elizabeth is my real middle name. I was trying them out. I want a new one.
What is your real middle name?
Myrtle, Ginny wrote, making a moue of distaste at the page. Drat Nana Myrtle, who'd insisted that the first girl born in this generation had to have her name.
I don't blame you. I knew a Myrtle once--she was extremely tiresome. I'm sure it doesn't suit you at all.
Ginny blushed. That's very nice of you to say so. Who are you?
My name is Tom Riddle. You found my diary, then?
Yes, it was in an old schoolbook.
Ahhhh. Tell me about yourself, Virginia.
You can call me Ginny--everyone does.
Ginny, then. Tell me about yourself.
* * *
The day she found Tom was the end of Ginny's loneliness. She could tell him anything and everything, and she did. His sympathy and support was like balm to her oft-wounded pride, and he always knew what to say. Even better, he told her things about his own schooldays at Hogwarts--things like shortcuts to the Great Hall, which corridors to avoid if you didn't want to get hopelessly lost, and all the best rambles around the grounds. She took to spending more and more time shut away in her room, talking to him.
She heard Fred say, one evening as she was leaving the kitchen after dinner, "What's up with her, eh? She got a boyfriend in her room?"
Ginny's cheeks flamed.
Her mum said, "Leave her alone. A girl needs her privacy sometimes."
"Why?" Ron piped up, annoyingly. "She never did before!"
They're like that all the time, she moaned to Tom that night. They treat me like a baby, and I'm NOT!
I know you're not. How could you be?
Most comforting was the way he was always willing to listen to what she had to say about Harry, even asking questions about things she hadn't mentioned. He'd actually never heard of Harry--he'd preserved himself in this diary fifty years ago, long before You-Know-Who was even thought of. It was so wonderful to be able to pour it all out to him. She had a lot of things to pour out and most of them were about Harry.
One episode that gave her an hour’s worth of writing happened one rather nippy morning shortly after their expedition to Flourish and Blotts. Harry walked into the kitchen by himself, and when Ginny snuck a look at him, she realized with a thrill that he was wearing the jumper they'd given him for Christmas.
It really is quite nice, she thought proudly. The color of green her mum had picked did bring out his eyes, just as she’d hoped it would. It had been her idea, because she knew from Ron's letters how much his relatives despised him, and how unlikely it was that he would get anything from them, much less a wonderful jumper knitted just for him. She sat smiling to herself, basking in the fuzzy glow of a good idea brought to fruition.
Her dad glanced over and said, "Like your jumper, Harry."
Harry grinned at him. "Lovely and warm, Mr. Weasley."
Ginny waited expectantly for her father to add, "It was Ginny's idea, you know."
And Harry would turn to her-- "It was? Thanks, Ginny! I love it!"
And she would say, "Oh, it was nothing, really--I just thought you might like an extra present . . ."
And he would--
But her father merely smiled to himself and went back to the paper. Ginny's shoulders drooped. How was he ever supposed to notice her if her parents, of all people, didn’t give her a little help?
"Where's Ron?" her mum asked Harry. "Is he up yet?"
"He was still asleep, but I was hungry. Thanks." Harry took the plate her mum handed him.
She was poking morosely at the remains of her third egg when Harry said, "What are you up to today, Ginny?"
She was so surprised that she dropped her fork with a resounding clatter. "I--why--I--" She was struck with inspiration, God only knew from where, and blurted, "I'm walking down to the village."
"Oh--what's down there? I haven't been yet."
"Oh--uhm--shops and--things--" She casually reached for her juice glass and knocked it over. Fortunately, it was nearly empty, and only a few drops spilled onto the table, but her face went up in flames anyway.
Harry picked up his napkin and casually dropped it on top of the spill before she could reach for hers, and carried on as if it hadn't happened. "Like what?"
In some corner of her dazzled brain, she realized that he was probably talking to her because Ron and the twins and Percy weren't down, and her dad was reading and her mum was cooking. But she didn't care, because he was, after all, talking to her . . . "There's a bookshop," she said, "and a Muggle sweets shop--"
"It's not half so keen as Honeydukes, though," Fred said, coming in. "Nothing there that'll burn a hole through your tongue."
And that was the end of it, Tom, she related mournfully a little while later. I just know that if Fred hadn't barged in, he might've gone to the village with me, or at least talked to me some more . . .
He will someday, Ginny, he wrote back.
I certainly hope so, but I’ll have to get all my brothers out of the way first!
* * *
Only one day left, Tom, she wrote one evening a week later, snuggling down into her pillows. We leave for Hogwarts tomorrow morning. I'm so excited!
I'm excited too--it'll almost be like being back there. Is Dumbledore still the Transfigurations master?
No, he's the Headmaster now. Was he your teacher, Tom?
Yes. If you could see me, I'd be making a face. He's terribly strict, and he's suspicious of everyone.
Really? Ginny asked in surprise. My parents think very well of him, and even my brothers like him. Harry especially has a lot of respect for him.
Oh, well--it has been fifty years. People change, I suppose. Better
get some sleep, Ginny--it'll be a big day tomorrow