I know that I don't look like much

An old worn hat like me

But none can Sort as well as I

Or sing so well in key

The founders time is now long past

And yet our school stands strong

So it's up to me to figure out

The House where you belong!

Is it Gryffindor, Great Godric's House

He who loves the bold

Will you thrive under pressure

In the house of scarlet 'n gold?

Or is it Hufflepuff for you, my friend

Where Dear Helga would permit

Into her house of yellow and black

Only those who will not quit!

Maybe Ravenclaw suits you the best

Shrewd Rowena would be thrilled

To make you blue and bronze in true

If knowledge leaves you fulfilled

Or Slytherin! Sly Salazar would choose

Those students who show cunning

If you'll do anything to reach your goals

In green and silver you'll look stunning

If you're unsure 'bout where to go

You don't need to decide

I'll take a peek inside your head

From me you cannot hide!

I'll see it all, and know what's right

I'll keep your secrets safe and tight

So there's no need to feel a-fright

Let's get this Sorting done tonight!

The tune echoed in her head as she listened to McGonagall's voice call out each name, and then the booming shout of the hat.

Ginny turned towards the boy she'd sat on the train with, after her brothers had left to find their own friends. He was a little taller than her, and he'd beat her twice at Exploding Snap, even though she'd had to teach him how to play it. She played with the hem of her frayed, second hand robes and clenched her fist tightly before leaning in to whisper to him.

"What's your last name?"

"Creevey," he whispered back "I'll be up soon!"

Ginny groaned. "Mine's Weasley. I'll be last, for certain!"

The other names were called in a blur, so much so that she would have a hard time remembering who went where, or even who any of her classmates were. But finally, she heard "Weasley, Ginny!" and she forced herself to walk towards the hat sitting on the stool. Placing it gently on her head, she screwed her eyes up tight and tried very firmly to think of every brave thing she'd ever done.

She peeked out from under the hat, to stare at her brothers. Ron wasn't anywhere in sight, but Percy, Fred, and George were all staring at her encouragingly, and it made her sick to her stomach. What if the hat put her in the wrong house, and she had to walk to a different table? She could nearly see how horrified they'd be, the looks on their faces!

"Hmmm, quite a bit in here to Sort through, I think. Where should we start?" The voice felt like a whisper in her ear. Should she respond by thinking or speaking to the hat? Should she talk to the hat at all? She wouldn't want to distract it!

"You're welcome to think very clearly at me, and I'll hear it all the same. Or you can whisper if you prefer. I wouldn't mind your input on the matter. A Sorting is a very serious business, wouldn't you agree?"

Ginny decided whispering might be better. She didn't want to accidentally think the wrong thing. Auntie Muriel had warned her about that once, reminded her how important it was to be the first female Weasley in seven generations, and how she needed to always represent herself well. Ginny just wanted to go out and play in the garden, but it felt like Auntie Muriel, or her Mum, or her brothers were always there to tell her how she was doing everything wrong.

"Can I go to Gryffindor please? That's where Harry and my brother are!" Although, she hadn't seen them at the table with Fred, George, or Percy, they were closest to her age, and therefore most important.

"That remains to be seen. Quite a bit going on in your head. I see you want to be a famous Quidditch player. And married to Harry Potter! That's quite the ambition, wouldn't you say? Slytherin could make you great. Harry will need someone cunning on his side in the coming struggles. And what a good bit of cunning you have - very sneaky of you to practice flying late at night so you wouldn't be caught and wouldn't fall behind."

Ginny wasn't sure what this barmy old hat was talking about anymore, but she just wanted to go to Gryffindor! She didn't care that it was casually displaying all her deepest secrets to her or telling her nonsense about Harry needing someone from Slytherin. She could be a great quidditch player anywhere, and Harry and Ron and her whole family would hate her if she went to Slytherin! She just wanted Gryffindor!

"Please, please, Gryffindor please!"

"And what about Hufflepuff? How devoted are you to your dreams? To your friends? I see how sad you were when your Mother wouldn't let you play with your friend Luna. You even snuck out to see her! Now if that's not loyalty, I don't know what is!"

Ginny felt a little guilty at that. She did miss Luna. But when her Mum had caught her after sneaking out, she'd been grounded so bad she'd never tried to sneak out again. Which meant -.

"I wouldn't be a very good Hufflepuff, I never tried to see Luna after I got in trouble. But it was brave of me to sneak out, wasn't it? I knew I might get caught and did it anyways!"

"I suppose you aren't half wrong, although that might be more foolhardy than brave. But what's this? Hmmm. Yes. You may yet need your own lion's share of courage. I see the spark for it within you, and I don't doubt that it will do you well. Remember, though, that being brave isn't about being fearless. It's about being afraid and pushing on anyways. That's what it takes to be a true GRYFFINDOR!"

Ginny realized how loudly that last word was shouted at about the same time she saw her brothers' faces light up. She felt her face try and break apart from the force of her smile. She could feel tears stinging at her eyes, threatening to fall down her face, at the fact that the hat had given in to her wish. She rubbed her eyes briefly and tried very hard to keep the tears in because in the immortal words of Fred and George, "no one likes a cry baby."

As she ran to find a seat, she heard Dumbledore give a speech. Ginny sat next to two girls she didn't know and peered around the table. Harry and Ron were still missing! She was about to ask Percy, Fred, or George if they knew where her brother and her crush were, when the feast appeared before her.

All thought of anything except for food left Ginny's mind. Her Mum's cooking was fantastic, that was for certain, but her Mum only ever cooked one meal at a time. And if there was one thing this feast had, it was variety. Ginny didn't even know for certain what all the food in front of her was called! Some of it she had never even seen before.

As she took a large bite out of the roast lamb and reached for some kind of dish that looked like it had strawberries - her favorite! - in it, she started chatting to one of the girls next to her, introducing herself.

This was going to be a good year.

Ginny was tired.

She'd been fighting Tom for so long, it felt like it was all she'd ever done. She couldn't remember a time when she wasn't struggling just to think straight, or to think her own thoughts at all. She could only barely remember the beginning of the year, when her mind was merely consumed by thoughts of Tom, and writing to Tom, and telling Tom about her day, and her dreams, and her hopes, and her fears, and her, and her, and her.

Her life had slowly become Tom. 'Tom would like this.' 'Tom would find that funny.' 'Tom would know what to do.' 'I should tell Tom.' Ginny wouldn't say she had a crush on Tom. He wasn't noble or heroic like Harry Potter. But he was kind, and smart, and attentive. It was like having Bill around all the time, but he wasn't her brother which made it all the more special. She just ignored the way her stomach flipped every time Tom told her she was pretty, or smart, or funny. He was just being nice.

When Tom wrote back her for the first time on her first night at Hogwarts, she'd been scared. 'Don't ever trust something that thinks if you don't know where it keeps its brain' her Dad had always said. But then she woke up in the morning and the mirror had talked to her just like Tom had, telling her she should brush her hair, and she didn't know any of the other people in her year, and Tom was willing to be her friend, and was it really so bad to just want a friend?

Apparently, it was. She made the wrong choice. She wrote to Tom again, that first morning in Hogwarts, even though she'd vowed not to the night before. She talked herself into thinking it was okay. Hogwarts wouldn't have any dangerous magical objects just laying around, so if it was okay for a mirror to talk to her, and okay for a hat to look inside her head and give her advice, it was surely acceptable to write in a book that wrote back. A book that her parents had probably bought as a late birthday present, no less! They did that sometimes, when money was tight. It'd be a sparse birthday, but then things would just suddenly be there in her room, and she'd hug her Mum and Dad extra tight at breakfast, and it was one big unspoken game.

And besides all that, she was lonely. Not a single one of her brothers had spoken to her at breakfast that first morning, and she hadn't had any friends! The girl she'd introduced herself to the night before was talking to someone else from their dorm, and Ginny had no one to talk to. Tom was willing to be her friend, so why shouldn't she take him up on it?

She would get a little tired sometimes, staying up late writing to him, but it was worth it for a few extra hours talking to Tom.

I don't know if I'll be able to remember what we did in class today, Tom. I just couldn't focus! I kept falling asleep!

Don't worry, Ginny. I remember those classes from when I was a student. Here, let me help you finish your homework. You were working on the most common wand motions, right?

Oh Tom, Melaney laughed at me again today! At breakfast, I fell asleep, and my head fell in the porridge! It was almost worse than when I put my elbow in the butter dish while Harry was at my house over summer! I won't be able to face any of the Gryffindor girls again.

You don't need to worry about her, Ginny. You don't need to worry about any of them. You wouldn't want a mean friend like her, anyways. A good friend wouldn't ever laugh at you. I don't ever laugh at you, do I? You need a friend like me.

She didn't start to worry until the first time she realized she was missing time.

Tom. How did we get to dinner? It was just breakfast! I don't remember any classes from today! Did I get any homework? Did I write to you at all?

Not to worry Ginny, you just had a bit of a daydream. Maybe you should head to bed early tonight? I'd miss talking to you, of course, and wouldn't be able to fill you in on what you missed today in class. But if you're worried, I'm sure you'll be able to catch up… eventually…

Oh, no, please help me catch up Tom. I already don't remember today. I can't fall behind, what would Mum think?!

Then she started blacking out for longer periods of time.

Tom. Why is it Monday? Wasn't it just Thursday? How did my homework get done this weekend? What's going on? Tom, I'm scared. Please, help me understand, why is this happening?

Don't worry, Ginny. I worked with you on your homework all weekend. It must have just been so boring you forgot about it.

Tom, people don't just lose four days of time. It's not normal. It's never happened to me before.

You're fine, Ginny. I promise. I'm your friend. Don't you trust me? Don't you believe me? You should trust me. You believe me.

Covered in blood, flashes of her standing over the chickens by Hagrid's house, snapping their necks.

It came to her at breakfast, in a flash.

"Poor Hagrid looks so sad. I wonder why?"

"Heard all his chickens turned up dead." Ginny froze, and ice coursed through her veins. She rushed to her dorm, not caring that she skipped her first lesson. She threw her bed curtains aside, and nearly threw up. When she reached, tentatively, under her bed and pulled out her robes, she ran to the bathroom, and lost whatever meager fillings she'd managed to keep down from breakfast.

Tom. I remember. Oh, Merlin, Tom, I remember. Why are you doing this? The blood is on my sheets, my room mates almost saw. I've been scrubbing my robes for hours. I can… Tom I can still hear the birds squawking as I… as I… Oh Tom. Why? What did I do? Why are you doing this? Why me? Aren't we friends? I thought we were friends. You said we were friends...

That was when she realized how dangerous Tom was. Tom's honeyed words were no longer so sweet. The next day, when she tried to leave the diary behind, she was paralyzed by the door of her room. She couldn't leave it behind. Her body wouldn't listen to her commands. And all that day, she tried desperately not to write in the diary. She couldn't help it; she had to write to him. She opened the book and his words surfaced, like they floated up from the depths of a deep pool of water. What was once comforting now horrified her.

What are you doing, Ginny? Aren't we best friends? Trust me, Ginny. I'll make all your dreams come true. You'll be important. You'll be noticed. You'll be a somebody.

That was when she started to fight him.

It had been the hardest thing she'd ever done in her life, throwing the book away. She had argued, and struggled, and screamed in that bathroom all alone, her fingers clenched around the book unwilling to let go,

"I hate you, Tom! I do! I won't let you use me anymore! I should have never written in you, I hate you! I want you to die, I want you to never have anyone to talk to again, I want you to leave me alone!"

Her body was flushed, the quality leather soft against her fingers as she held it tight. Her body dripped with sweat as the muscles in her arms tensed, her jaw set as she struggled with herself. With Tom. What was the difference between them anymore?

Her feet were turning around without her doing it, walking back towards her dorm and out of the bathroom without her wanting it, and she almost started to tell herself it was all in her head, that Tom was a good friend and she was crazy.

But then Tom's voice was in her ear, crooning, 'Good. You won't leave me, will you, Ginny? We're friends, aren't we Ginny? I'm here to help you, you know that don't you, Ginny?'

That was enough to terrify her because Tom had never talked to her while the book was closed before. She'd always had to open it to talk to him, and he only ever wrote back. But strangely enough, he sounded just like she imagined he would.

That horrified her and with a single, piercing, shriek she threw the diary with all her might, into the toilet, and she flushed once, twice, three times before she sprinted out of the bathroom, leaving Tom behind her.

And for a short time, things almost got better.

Then she saw Harry with it. Harry Potter had Tom. So she stole Tom back, because letting Harry keep Tom was the worst idea ever. She didn't care if Tom told about her crush - she was pretty sure Harry knew about it from the way he looked at her when that stupid dwarf had read her poem. No, Ginny was terrified that Tom might corrupt Harry like she had been corrupted. Harry might start losing time, or killing chickens, or something even worse. Ginny couldn't let that happen, not to the Boy-Who-Lived!

So Ginny paced back and forth in one of the secret alcoves that Tom had showed her about, or maybe that he had just had her hide in while she blacked out. She wasn't sure, it was all so blurry. But her feet hit the floor, quickly one after another, a steady rhythm reverberating in the small stone area. She muttered to herself and created a Plan of Action.

She would get Tom back. She'd do it on Ron's birthday, when they were all out of the dorm celebrating. No one would notice she wasn't around, and if she got caught she could pretend she was leaving a surprise present for Ron on his bed. Yes, it was a plan. A good plan. Tom would be proud, but that wasn't a good thing, was it? Was it?

She looked up, and saw that she was no longer in the alcove, and a few third year Hufflepuffs were staring at her, tie undone, shoes unlaced, muttering to herself. She sneered at them, and they scurried away. She didn't mean to sneer, it just happened as if on instinct, and oh God she couldn't let Harry become like her, couldn't let Tom get his hooks in Harry!

Her plan went off without a hitch. It was perfect, just like she had known it would be. No one even suspected her.

When she grabbed the diary, she was revolted with her too eager fingers as they reached for the comforting leather, the soft ruffle of pages. The sound of a scratching quill filled her ears as she gripped her diary.

She had run all the way to her room, tears streaming down her face, thankful her plan worked so well and no one was in the Common Room. She shut herself in her bed, curtains closed, and repeated her mantra. Harry is safe now. It's worth it. Harry is safe now. It's worth it.

Tom had been glad to have her back, and it made her feel so good to be wanted and to be missed and to be important. Her cheeks flushed in shame as his words of praise and encouragement made her stomach flip and her smile blossom, because she knew it was wrong, and she knew he was using her. But for a short while she wasn't losing any time or blacking out, Tom said he would stop and that he just wanted his friend back. He was lonely.

Harry is safe now. It's worth it. And really, it isn't all that bad.

Ginny, as the youngest of seven and an only girl, knew desperately what it was like to be lonely.

The boys were up in the air, playing pickup quidditch. Ginny saw them up there and stared at them with longing eyes. She was in the kitchen, helping peel potatoes. They laughed, and screamed, and flew together. Even Percy had deigned to take the day off from homework, to make the teams even. Bill and the Twins against Charlie, Percy, and Ron. Dad watched them from the ground, refereeing the game, pride on his face and in his smile. Mum hummed to herself, and every so often looked out the window to gaze fondly at her boys. Ginny sat, and peeled, and wished desperately that she was allowed to fly.

So she tricked herself, and lied to herself, and told herself again and again that maybe Tom wasn't so bad, and she must have been jumping to conclusions before.

But then she woke up with blood covering her hands again, and accidentally hissed when Melaney had tapped on her shoulder in class, and she instantly knew that Tom was a liar, and that she'd fallen for it.

That was when she started fighting Tom again. Fighting, struggling, trying to remember and to stay asleep late at night. But she just couldn't win. She could never win. She wasn't strong enough.

She was too young. She was just a little girl. She wasn't ready yet. All the little things her Mum and every other adult had ever told her that she fervently disagreed with, they were all true.

When she started to fight Tom, he started getting mean. He would suck her into the diary and throw her into her own memories of not being good enough. Being scolded by her Mum when she had been caught trying to steal a broom for the first time.

Every single time one of her brothers wouldn't play with her.

"You're too little!"

"This isn't a game for girls!"

"Why would we want to play with you?!"

"I'm too busy to play right now, Ginevra, I have homework to do."

She had tried to fight all year, and she just hadn't been good enough. Hadn't been strong enough. Hadn't been enough.

So that was how she had ended up in the Chamber, looking up into Tom's eyes, as he stared down at her, still speaking and taunting her for being such a stupid little girl.

"Did you really think, you insipid twit, that you could fight me? That you could win? You wouldn't have passed a single class if it weren't for me. I can't believe you're what passes for a pureblood these days. You're hardly even a witch!

"All the times I had to tell you how pretty you are, how smart you are, how special you are. You're nothing but a vain, selfish little brat.

"I'm going to steal your body, you simple little fool. It is quite literally the only option available to me. You are lucky, aren't you Ginevra, to be taken over by me. Honestly, you should be thanking me. Just like Myrtle should be thanking me for ending her pitiful existence. You should be grateful you'll at least be useful in bringing me back to life."

She wondered why she was still fighting. Nobody expected her to fight, let alone to win. Isn't that what her family always said?

A Lady shouldn't do that, Mum always said.

When you're older, I'll teach you, Dad would assure her.

Don't worry about it yet, but later I promise, Bill always lied.

Are you sure you can handle that, Charlie wondered.

That's nothing to worry your head about, Percy pursed his lips.

You sure you can keep up, Fred and George asked together.

Just leave it alone! Ron always shouted.

Her family, who knew her best, knew she wasn't enough.

But she'd done more than even they could have expected! She had even managed to make sure nobody but her had died. They were working on the potions to revive all the petrified people, and she had saved Harry Potter from Tom! So what if she was the only person to die? That didn't seem so bad, not after everything she had done. Maybe she even deserved it, just a little.

As she looked up at Tom's face, twisted in a sneer, she let her eyes fall closed, and the errant thought 'I can't believe I ever thought he was pretty' flitted through her head. She was going to die, and maybe, just maybe, that wasn't such a bad thing.

Ginny was cold

She could feel the hard, chilled stone beneath her body. It was the only sense of awareness she had. The rock was ice cold against her skin, bypassing her robes and her skin and reaching into her very soul. The still air of the Chamber settled over her, and its touch was a freezing chill. The cold seeped into her body, draining her of whatever energy she had left. The searing cold coursed through her limbs, into her blood, and into her very being.

She couldn't see, couldn't smell, couldn't taste, couldn't hear. The only thing she could do was feel, and she didn't know if she would ever feel anything other than cold ever again.

She doubted she'd ever be warm again; of course, being resigned to dying meant that it wouldn't be likely she'd ever have the chance to warm up. But the scary thing was that it was taking longer than she thought. She had honestly hoped her death would be quick - one last mercy for a scared little girl who didn't deserve any. She wasn't tired anymore, but that was only because there was no room left in her for anything other than freezing.

She wanted to shiver, to move in an attempt to heat her body up, but she couldn't. Her body refused to respond.

She wondered, in her half alive, half dead state, if this was what it was like to be petrified. To be eternally cold, unable to move, thinking and feeling all the while, knowing you were trapped.

Ginny thought it a fitting punishment that she would experience what she had done to all those people before she finally died.

She could feel herself getting weaker. She was ready to just let it all go, to move on. Ginny wasn't sure what was waiting for her, and was actually afraid of whatever faced her on the other side, but the thought "you deserve it" just wouldn't leave her alone.

She tried, one last time, to remember what it was like to be warm. She tried to imagine the sun shining down on her. She tried to imagine flying in the garden that one day her family had all gone out and she had finished her chores early. To imagine what it felt like to be wrapped up in blankets with a mug of hot chocolate with a giant fire on Christmas eve. Ginny willed her body to shiver, to move, for just one last happy memory.

All she felt was the icy stone beneath her and the glacial still air around her.

Ginny was dying.

Ginny hadn't given any real thought to what it would be like to die before. It was something far away, that happened when you were old. Oh, sure, she had figured that she deserved this, but she hadn't thought about what it would mean, or what it would be like.

She was convinced, before, that she had been lonely. So sure of herself that she knew, intimately, what it was like to feel alone. But she couldn't have been more wrong. Down in the Chamber, with nothing to hold onto, she was losing herself inch by inch, every moment falling a little further away. No one was there for her. No one to save her. No one to care.

She didn't know what she was going towards. What lay after, what lay beyond, what lay on the other side. Her fear warred with her apathy. The unknown of death's crooning whisper warred against her inability to hold on any longer. The mysteries of the afterlife became less and less mysterious, and more and more appealing. She nearly found herself reaching out towards it.

That terrified her.

There was a weariness in her. Not in her body, she couldn't feel that anymore, but in her very being. It wasn't quite tired either; like someone was whispering softly in her ear give up, let go and it was just such a persuasive voice. Maybe she was so delirious in this mostly dead state that she was hearing voices. Maybe her subconscious was trying to tell her the truth about which option she really felt she deserved between living and dying.

Maybe it was really Death itself, come to sweep her away with his wand, and his cloak, and his stone. She'd always hated that story when her Mum read it to her; she much preferred the Boy-Who-Lived stories.

She desperately wanted to give in, and she desperately wanted to never give up. She fought with herself, with her delusions, with Death's freezing grip, until something pierced through her like a stake through a vampire.

"Harry Potter" hissed Tom's silken voice, and suddenly she was very fervently struggling to survive. She had worked so hard! He shouldn't have been able to find her. He was supposed to be SAFE! There was a basilisk down here, for Merlin's sake!

But try as she might, she couldn't come back. She felt herself slipping further away the harder she struggled, and eventually her whole body was consumed with a feral, instinctual, visceral desire to not let go.

With a burst of light her eyes opened, and her senses returned. Blearily, she turned her head to see a broken and battered Harry Potter, leaning over the diary. The diary had a bloody basilisk fang sticking out of it, and it was dripping ink, and there was a scar on Harry's arm that looked too similar to the giant fang and, and, and.

Ginny almost passed out again, experiencing too much input in too little time. She still couldn't move, but she was able to let her head fall to the side, away from Harry and the diary. She stared at the wall, where a large stone snake coiled around a pillar. It had intricate scales, and jewels for eyes. Bright green emeralds, boring down into her. She lost herself in them, let herself come to terms with the fact that she was alive. Each breath she took strained all of her muscles, and it hurt to keep her eyes open, but the pain was a welcome one. It meant she could feel things other than the cold, other than the tired, other than the helpless, weightless feeling of 'just let me die.'

Harry was asking her if she was okay, asking her what happened, asking question after question after question. The words wouldn't come to her, caught lower than her throat, in her stomach, a roiling guilty feeling that caused tears to fill her eyes. She choked back a sob and couldn't even shake her head to tell him she couldn't answer. She cried there, on the grimy stone floor, being judged by that snake with emerald eyes, and she hated herself for it. The snake found her wanting, and she couldn't disagree.

She had lived, and she didn't deserve it. Harry had saved her, and he shouldn't have risked it. Ginny had dreamed of being saved by Harry ever since her Mum had read her story books at bedtime about him. How great and noble it would all be, to be saved by him and then they'd get married in a beautiful giant wedding at the Burrow, or maybe in a castle.

She hated it. Hated needing to be saved. Hated being the reason Harry had almost died, being the reason so many other students had almost died. Hated being so weak.

Hated herself most of all for choosing to just give up.

Harry was talking at her, unsure of how to handle her tears and her sobs. A giant phoenix came over, and Ginny gasped.


It got brighter and warmer, and for a split moment Ginny was undeniably warm again, and the creeping cold vanished in an instant. They arrived next to a large pile of rocks. And she saw Professor Lockhart smiling goofily at the ceiling. Ron had his wand trained on the Professor, eyeing him warily. And for a brief moment, Ginny thought maybe everything would be better.

There was another flash of red-yellow fire, and Ginny once again felt warm, and relaxed, and safe. The small cavern disappeared in that flash of red, and she appeared somewhere new with Ron, Harry, and the Professor.

They were in an office, with strange shaped silver objects everywhere, and Dumbledore sitting behind his desk. The phoenix disappeared in a flash of bright light, and she could feel that it was gone. She could feel it in her bones, the unrelenting cold, seeping into her again. She was freezing, and she tried desperately to stop shivering.

She felt herself almost give in automatically, almost give up and let go, before she fiercely forced herself to repeat that I do not want to die, I do not want to die and she was crying and gritting her teeth while she thought it, but she did, and she meant it.

"Well," Dumbledore spoke, looking at them over his glasses, and gazing at her just a few moments longer than the others. "This is a surprise. Fawkes doesn't usually bring visitors along. It looks like you all have something of a story to tell me. I look forward to hearing it. But first, I think your parents would be rather put out if I didn't call them here first thing." Ginny wasn't sure she liked the way Dumbledore looked at her as he said that. She didn't trust him, but he was Dumbledore so of course she should trust him. It was a confusing jumble of thoughts, so instead Ginny focused all her attention on stopping her tears.

Her parents were called, and she was taken to the hospital wing in short order. Plain, calming colors surrounded her, a bed less comfortable than it should have been, and the room still felt cold. Impersonal. They kept asking questions, but every question prompted a memory, mostly of Tom and the hell she had been living that she just wanted to put behind her. Every question just caused a fresh set of tears.

When they eventually convinced her to calm down enough to tell her story, she had to stare at the phoenix the entire time she spoke. The phoenix's mere presence was like a ray of sunshine filtering down on a cloudy day; it was warm, unexpected, and totally welcome. Sadly, it wasn't nearly enough. Ginny craved that warmth, hoped desperately that the bird would set itself on fire so she could feel heat again, if only for a moment.

The phoenix had come down with Dumbledore, and it seemed to be staring at Harry's unconscious form. A few stuttered sentences in and it flew to her shoulder to nuzzle her head, and the bird was so warm it felt like a bonfire resting on her shoulder. Everyone around her was quite shocked. She just sighed and leaned into it. Her story came easier then, and while it wasn't okay, and she wasn't okay, at least she got it all out.

"I… I found a diary. Tucked in with all my things. I figured it was a late, uh, birthday present. It was beautiful leather, soft pages. It was so nice to be able to write out all my thoughts."

She shook her head as she felt herself fall into the memories of writing in the diary. They called to her, drew her in, wanted her to bask in the past. She wouldn't let herself do it.

"The diary… it talked back to me. Or, uhm, wrote back to me, I guess. His name was Tom. I thought he was my friend."

She looked up then, at her Dad, and tried to get him to understand.

"I remembered what you said! I did! I couldn't see its brain, so I was going to hand it in! But, I was so lonely. And the hat spoke to me in my head, and I couldn't see where it kept its brain! And the mirrors in the bathroom, they talked to me too! And I thought it was a gift from you and Mum, so I figured, well, it must have been alright!"

His face was taut and his eyes glistened, and she couldn't take it anymore. She forced her eyes to the ground and brought a hand up to the bird still perched on her shoulder. Stroking his plumage gave her something to do while she tried to organize her thoughts.

"It wasn't alright. Tom was… well, a lot of things. But most of all, a liar. He tricked me. Slowly started to make me doubt myself. And then he…" Her throat closed up and her hands clenched into fists around the bird's soft feathers. It was only the soft trill of the phoenix that kept her sane. She screwed her eyes up tight, feeling something hot and wet run down her cheek, and said it all in one go.

"I opened the Chamber of Secrets. I controlled the basilisk. I hurt all those people. Tom wanted me to kill them, and I did!"

Her Mum let out a shriek, then ran to hug her and Ginny flinched back. She didn't want anyone to touch her. She was dirty and had done terrible things. Even worse, she remembered distinctly the feeling of Tom stroking the back of her hair or giving her a hug to comfort her late at night before she had realized she was losing memories but after she had started blacking out. When he'd sucked her into the diary they'd been able to lightly interact, and it had been so wonderful. Now it was only a horrifying remembrance of a time when he'd had a firm hold on her and she hadn't even realized it.

She could see tears in her Mum's eyes and so Ginny forced herself to reach out and suffer through a hug, but she felt trapped, too close, help! She slowly pushed away from her Mum and tried to give a quick smile, but it must have come out wrong as it just made her Mum cry harder. She wanted to feel bad for making her Mum cry. She wanted to be willing and able to struggle through a hug or a smile. Instead Ginny just felt guilty at how relieved she was when her Mum backed away.

Madame Pomfrey began to fuss over her, and it was all Ginny could do to not lash out at her. She didn't want to be poked and prodded. She didn't want to be looked after. She just wanted the day, the year, to finally be over.

She was given a clean bill of health and they headed towards the floo because 'no my daughter is not going home on the Hogwarts Express, she is coming home with me now.'

The last thing she thought as she stepped into the floo behind her Mum was This is going to be a long summer.

A/N: So, I'm trying my hand at fanfiction again. This is a story that has been on my mind, in some capacity, for a few years now. I've got most of the whole thing written, and a maybe the first half of it self edited (or edited with help). This will be a stand alone story, only covering the content of Prisoner of Azkaban. I hope to write the rest of Ginny's years at Hogwarts, but I didn't want to get a head of myself. And although it will largely be subtle, this story is DEFINITELY AU. It won't necessarily be easily seen right away, and many of the events of Canon will still happen (definitely during Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire, if I end up writing that much). But they won't necessarily be things that Ginny is dealing with or worrying about, so hopefully the stories will still be fresh and interesting.

I need to give a huge thank you to my good friend Clare for being a sounding board for me, and helping edit some of the earlier works/chapters. I doubt if I would have gotten as far into this as I have without her!

For reference, I'm going to tentatively say that I'll be posting an update every Monday, but I refuse to promise that. We'll keep it as a rough estimate of how I hope things will play out. Please, if you enjoy this, leave a review for me. I'd love to hear everyone's (constructive or positive) thoughts and opinions on the story!