Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Summary: "Chamber of Secrets" from Ginny's point of view. In this chapter, Ginny writes in her new diary, Harry and Ron miss the Hogwarts Express, Hermione frets, and Ginny meets two girls on the train.

Author's Note: I wrote an H/G story in which Ginny had a friend, and suddenly wondered why we've never heard anything about the people in her year other than Colin Creevey. From there, I tried to figure out why Ginny was lonely enough to fall prey to Tom Riddle. I hope I've done a good enough job that this story seems plausible.

This chapter is dedicated to Quetzle, who graciously took time from her insanely busy life to beta-read this for me, and to Miss Cora, who took pity on me in the beta-seekers' thread at FictionAlleyPark. All remaining canon goofs, grammar mistakes, continuity errors, implausible characterizations, bad dialogue, boring passages, and Americanisms are my fault, not theirs.

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CHAPTER 1: First Impressions
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Ginny Weasley cracked her right eye open and peered at the faintly lit sky outside her window. It couldn't be any later than six o'clock. She groaned, rolled over and stuffed her head under the pillow, trying to shut out the badly muffled whispers and creaks from the other bedrooms. Her brothers were horrible at keeping quiet - not that their house gave them much help. What were they doing up before dawn anyhow? It was too early to be awake; they had to be planning something.

A crash from the kitchen, immediately followed by Mum's angry shouts at Fred and George, jolted her upright. Was her whole family up? What on earth was going on? Didn't they know this was summer?

Summer. Oh dear.

Summer was ending, today was September 1, and they were off to Hogwarts for the school year. Her first year. Ginny stared wildly around her normally clean room, which was currently filled with an untidy jumble of everything she'd meant to pack last night but hadn't gotten around to. Jumping out of bed, she started throwing clothing on the covers to fold, until she heard heavy footsteps coming down the stairs towards the bathroom.

Oh no. The bathroom. Ginny froze. Four brothers, Harry, and her parents - who knew how long they'd take washing up? And with Harry around, she couldn't possibly eat breakfast in her nightdress...

Ginny grabbed her towel and ran for the bathroom, skidding through the door just ahead of Ron, who yelled, "Ginny, you arse, I was here first!"

"I don't care!" she shouted over her shoulder, slamming the door in her brother's face. She sank down on the toilet and moaned. She was never going to be ready in time. She was going to miss the train and never get to Hogwarts and never learn to be a witch and be stuck at home all alone with Mum and Dad forever - not that she wasn't dreadfully fond of them - but she had to get out or she would go mad.

Why on earth hadn't anyone woken her sooner?

"Cheer up, dear," said the mirror over the sink. "Whatever you're moaning over, it can't be as bad as you think. Face it like a Weasley. Seize the day!"

"Right," mumbled Ginny. "Seize the day. Be a Weasley." She glanced at her reflection - tangled red hair, freckles, a thin face, and tired brown eyes stared back at her. She looked a rumpled wreck. "I can't do this!"

"I'd advise a shower, dear," said the mirror kindly. "You'll feel better afterwards."

"Right," Ginny said again, and turned to the bathtub, remembering just in time to lock the bathroom door.

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The house was in an uproar all morning, with various Weasleys - and their houseguest, Harry Potter - crashing into each other as they ran up and down the stairs in various states of undress. Not wanting to meet Harry or her brothers in only a towel, Ginny peered carefully both ways through a crack in the bathroom door before venturing back into the hall. She dashed to her room, slammed the door, and threw on a skirt and blouse. Thank goodness Harry hadn't been in the hall. If he'd seen her...

Ginny stayed in her room for an hour, cramming all sorts of odds and ends into her trunk. She wasn't sure what she'd miss if she forgot anything - she'd never spent more than a few days away from home - and there was no way to fetch things until Christmas holidays. Best to bring everything. Finally she slammed the lid shut and jumped on the top a few times to make sure everything was packed as tightly as possible. Satisfied, she called Dad to take it to the car.

He dragged her trunk from the room and made a peculiar grunting wheeze as he struggled to keep it from crashing down the stairs. "What on earth have you put in here?" he asked. "I don't remember any of the boys' trunks being this heavy."

Ginny flushed. Perhaps she had overdone it a little. "Sorry, Dad," she said, and slipped past him to the kitchen.

He dropped the trunk to the floor with a bang and waved his hand airily. "That's all right, Ginny. I'm sure I can manage. A good test of ingenuity, that's all." He hoisted the trunk to his shoulder and staggered, mumbling to himself.

"You could float it, you know!" she said as he disappeared out the front door and stirred up the chickens. Why Dad wanted to do things the Muggle way was beyond her; magic was so much more convenient.

Ginny ate several slices of toast and marmalade under Mum's gimlet eye before ducking out back to the garden, carrying her new diary and a quill. She'd finished packing well ahead of schedule despite her late start, and if she didn't get away, Mum would enlist her into helping her brothers pack. She had no intention of doing any such thing.

The morning sky was brilliant blue, lightly dotted with clouds, and bumblebees droned madly as they searched for late summer flowers. Ginny skipped a bit from sheer excitement, then collected herself. She was eleven and going to Hogwarts. Skipping was babyish, and she wasn't a baby anymore, whatever Ron thought.

She walked to the pond, shooed away a gnome, and sat on the grass, glad to be out of the madhouse and away from Harry. The diary - which she'd found stuffed inside her second-hand Transfiguration book when they returned from Diagon Alley - rested on her lap, waiting for her to tell all her secrets. Its black cover was a bit shabby and the pages were worn, but Ginny wasn't about to look a gift diary in the face; it had been hard enough to convince Mum to accept the set of free Gilderoy Lockhart textbooks Harry had given her after the disastrous scene Lockhart, Dad, and the Malfoys had caused in Flourish and Blotts. Besides, a battered diary wasn't nearly as intimidating as a fresh one; she wasn't afraid of ruining the pages.

Ginny opened her ink bottle, dipped her quill, and tapped the feathery tip against her chin, thinking of what to say. Eventually she creased back the cover and wrote, "My name is Ginevra Weasley and I'm eleven years old. I'm a witch, I have red hair and freckles, and I have six older brothers; two of them are grown and have left home. The others are still at Hogwarts.

"Today I'm leaving for my first year at Hogwarts - to learn to be a witch. I'm very excited, of course, but also a little nervous. My brothers have told me all sorts of stories, but I don't believe half of them, particularly the ones from Fred and George. I hope people will like me there."

She paused, wondering what else to put down, and nearly dropped her quill when her words sank into the page and vanished. Slowly, new words appeared - words definitely not in her handwriting.

"Hello Ginevra. My name is Tom Riddle, and I live in this diary. I'm pleased to meet you; I've been rather lonely for a while."

Ginny stared suspiciously at the words, which were sinking and fading like hers had done. This was not what she had expected - the diary had seemed perfectly ordinary, of Muggle make, even, but clearly it had some sort of magic. Maybe it was like a mirror or a portrait?

"Why do you live in a diary?" she wrote. "Who put you there?"

There was a long pause before the diary wrote, "I am a memory of the person who first wrote in this diary, a long time ago. He put me here so I could listen to others and talk to them if they needed a friend. Do you mind that I'm in here?"

Ginny laid her quill on the page and thought carefully. Did she mind that a person - a man or boy - was in her new diary? She couldn't very well tell it all her secrets now... but then, she'd never had much practice keeping secrets. She'd always told Ron everything, as he'd told her everything until last year, when he'd gone off to Hogwarts without her and had found new friends in Harry and Hermione. She'd missed him dreadfully but he'd barely ever written to her, despite his promises.

It would be nice to have a friend again, a special friend she could tell everything to. Nobody would need to know; she could pretend she was writing in an ordinary diary. The diary - no, Tom; he had a name - couldn't go away and find new friends. He couldn't tell her secrets to anyone else, since words vanished into the pages. And he seemed nice enough.

"No, I don't mind," she wrote. "Do you think we could be friends? I think I'd like that."

"I'd like that too, Ginevra," wrote Tom.

Ginny smiled. She had a new friend to make up for Ron, and maybe she could even tell him about Harry later. Maybe. He was a boy after all, and, she reminded herself, there were some things you didn't tell boys.

Suddenly Mum's voice rang through the garden. "Ginny! Come inside and help me find Ron's spare quills!"

Oh, toad guts. Ginny sighed and scribbled, "I have to go help Mum pack now. I'll talk to you later, Tom." She shut the diary without waiting for a reply and walked into the chaos of the house.

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Two hours of insanity later, Mum herded the boys into the car, which was much larger inside than out. Ginny sighed; Dad had been tinkering again, and if Mum noticed... But Mum merely glanced at the five boys in the back seat - Harry's black hair looking peculiar amidst all the red - and said, "Muggles do know more than we give them credit for, don't they? I mean, you'd never know it was this roomy from the outside, would you?" Ginny hid a grin; Mum could be so dense sometimes.

Dad fiddled with the ignition and the engine coughed to life. As the car pulled out of the yard, Ginny turned to look at her house for the last time until winter holidays. The Burrow was a shabby, higgledy-piggledy mess, but it was a familiar mess. She stared at her window as they turned into the lane.

"Damn!" said George suddenly. "I forgot my Filibuster fireworks. Dad, can we go back and get them?"

"Absolutely not. You shouldn't have them in the first place," said Mum. "And watch your language!"

"Now, Molly, let the boy have some fun," said Dad cajolingly, and he pulled back into the yard. George dashed in and out of the house in three minutes, carrying a large box with him.

Mum shot the boys a stern look and said, "Has anyone else forgotten anything? I don't want to come back here again." They shook their heads, and Dad trundled the car off again.

This time they were halfway down the lane when Fred slapped his forehead and groaned. "Er, Mum, I left my broomstick in the kitchen. Sorry." He gave her a rather sickly grin.

Mum swelled but said only, "Arthur, turn around." Dad sped back to the house and Fred ran from the car, almost wrenching the door off in his hurry. Ron, Harry and George snickered in the back seat. Percy sat in dignified silence.

"This isn't funny!" said Mum fiercely. "If we have to come back here one more time, for any of your nonsense, you will regret it." The snickers stopped. Ginny grinned again; her brothers were such idiots. She felt a bit sorry for Harry, though.

Fred burst out of the house, threw his broom in the trunk, and slid back into the car. They drove off again, and Ginny idly watched the green countryside roll by. She'd have to tell Tom all about Fred and George, and how dense they were not to pack everything beforehand. They knew how Mum was, didn't they? She reached into her handbag to check on the diary.

It wasn't there.

Ginny bit her lip. Had she put it in her trunk? No, Dad had already put that in the car. Had she given it to anyone else? No, of course not. Had she left it in the house? She closed her eyes and thought hard. She had come in from the garden, set the book, quill and ink on the kitchen table, and gone to help Mum look for Ron's quills - and she'd not gone back to the kitchen at all.

"Aah!" she cried, and Mum jumped. "We have to go back! I left my diary."

"Ginny! Not you, too," said Mum. "We haven't time."

"But I need it! It's my diary." She gave Mum a pleading look and hoped she'd understand. Hadn't she ever had a diary?

Apparently she had, since she let Dad turn the car around a third time. Ginny dashed into the house, scooped the diary off the kitchen table, and clambered back into the car. By that point everyone was in a foul mood, and Mum was dangerously close to exploding over wasted time. Ginny was sure they'd miss the train and everyone would blame her, which wasn't really fair since the twins were at least as much at fault as she was; but everyone expected them to be trouble, so no one would notice them especially.

Dad was also worried about the time, enough to suggest flying the car. He glanced nervously at Mum. "Molly, dear-" he said.

"No, Arthur-"

"No one would see - this little button here is an Invisibility Booster I installed - that'd get us up in the air - then we fly above the clouds. We'd be there in ten minutes and no one would be any the wiser-"

"I said no, Arthur, not in broad daylight." Mum folded her arms and glared at Dad, ending the conversation. He drove the rest of the way in silence.

They reached King's Cross at a quarter to eleven, and Dad parked the car on a side road before hurrying off to get trolleys while Mum oversaw the unloading of trunks and owl cages. The boys shoved everything onto the trolleys as fast as possible and everyone raced into the station, charging past Muggles who shot the family strange looks. It was the owls, Ginny was sure, or the fact that Dad had no idea what proper Muggle clothes should be. But they ran so fast no one had time to ask them any difficult questions.

Ginny was completely out of breath when they reached the barrier between platforms nine and ten - the entrance to platform nine and three-quarters, where the Hogwarts Express was getting ready to leave. "Percy first," said Mum, looking nervously at the clock. They had five minutes to get on the train. They were going to miss it. Ginny could feel it.

Percy strode forward, stiff as always, and vanished through the barrier. Dad went next, followed by Fred and George. Mum grabbed Ginny's hand - Ginny squirmed, looking at her feet - and turned to Ron and Harry.

"I'll take Ginny and you two come right after us," she said, and dragged Ginny through the barrier. Left with only one free hand to manage her things, Ginny barely stopped the trolley from slewing sideways and attacking a large crowd of older boys walking toward the train just on the other side of the barrier. She flushed and yanked her other hand from Mum's as they hurried toward the train.

Mum teared up. "Oh, I'm going to miss you, Ginny," she said. "Mind you be good - pay attention to your brothers - and don't you follow Fred and George's example." They reached the train, and she fussed over Ginny's hair, tucking it behind her ears so it fell neatly down her back.

Ginny jerked away. "Mum!"

Mum sighed. "I suppose you are getting a bit old for that. Off to Hogwarts. Well, hurry up! You don't want to miss the train!"

After looking in vain for Dad or the boys - "Always underfoot, but where are they when you need them?" Mum asked - Mum helped Ginny hoist her trunk onto the floor of the train. "You can manage from here?"

Ginny nodded.

Mum looked as though she wanted to say more, but the train gave a great jerk and began pulling slowly from the platform. "Goodbye, dear. Your father and I love you very much. And do keep an eye on your brothers!" she said hurriedly.

Ginny nodded again and began dragging her trunk along the corridor in the train, looking for Ron and Harry. When she glanced out a nearby window, the station was already fading in the distance. Mum and Dad were gone. She resolved to write home as soon as possible, and continued along the corridor.

Ginny had nearly reached the end of the train before she spotted a familiar face. Hermione Granger - Ron and Harry's friend, whom she'd met briefly in Diagon Alley - stuck her head out of a compartment and said, "Ginny! Have you seen Harry or Ron?"

"No. Aren't they with you?" asked Ginny.

Hermione looked worried. "No, I haven't seen them. I thought they were probably up front, or had stopped to get you settled, or perhaps to talk to the twins," she said. "Neville and I were going to look for them if they didn't come in ten minutes."

A round-faced boy peered around Hermione's bushy brown hair and nodded. He seemed pleasant and harmless; Ginny smiled at him. "They were right behind me and Mum coming onto the platform. We were late, and rushing, so I didn't see where they got onto the train."

"Ah. They must be up front, then," said Hermione, settling back into her seat. "Would you like us to help you introduce yourself to other first years while we wait for the boys? You can leave your trunk in here if you'd like."

Ginny looked at her feet. "Erm. I was hoping I could sit with you, actually. I don't know anyone, you see, and-"

"Oh, nonsense! I didn't know anyone when I got on the train either, and Harry and Ron certainly didn't know each other," said Hermione sharply. "The train is for meeting other students. Why else do you think we take such a great long ride when the school could just as easily organize scheduled Floo trips into Hogsmeade? We'll just put your trunk out of the way and be off. We'll move forward and look for the boys as we go." Hermione stood and started pulling Ginny's trunk into the compartment; after a few seconds, Neville stood and helped them hoist it on top of Hermione's luggage.

In short order Ginny found herself propelled along the corridor toward the front of the train, with brief pauses for introductions to various Hogwarts students Hermione knew, and occasional stops at compartments filled with first years. Ginny flushed, watched her feet, and mumbled her name when Hermione prodded her. Names and faces slid straight through her mind in a haze of mortification.

Where were Ron and Harry and why were they letting Hermione humiliate her like this? Nobody would take her seriously now. They would all laugh at her.

They hurried past Fred and George's compartment, interrupting the twins' friend Lee Jordan near the end of a complicated and off-color story. The twins hadn't seen Harry and Ron since they reached the platform, but they didn't see much reason to worry.

"If they missed the train, Mum and Dad will take care of it," said Fred dismissively.

"After Mum throws a fit, of course," added George, "but that's nothing new."

Hermione sniffed and rushed Ginny off, further up the train. "Idiots," she said. "I'm sure we'll find them soon. Perhaps they're with Percy and the other prefects." But they reached the prefects' compartments at the very front of the train without any sign of the boys.

Percy himself was extremely unhelpful. "No, I haven't seen them, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn they had managed to miss the train," he said with a sniff. "Terribly irresponsible, the pair of them." He turned back to his book; it was a dreadfully boring one about former Hogwarts prefects and their political ambitions, which he'd bought in Diagon Alley before the disaster with the Malfoys.

Hermione yanked Ginny away and strode back down the corridor, muttering to herself. "Irresponsible? I'll show him irresponsible, I will. Big-headed prat. This is his brother and Harry - doesn't he have any concern? And after last year? Ha. I'll teach him to call my friends irresponsible-"

At this, Ginny felt she had to speak out. "But Ron says you always call them irresponsible. Don't you?"

"Yes, but they're my friends."

Ginny hid a small grin. "Very logical."

Hermione spun and glared at Ginny. "Oh, don't you start, too," she snapped. "I'm allowed to be illogical sometimes! I'm not a machine."

"Of course."

Hermione sniffed and hurried back to her compartment. Ginny trailed after her.

"We didn't find them," Hermione announced to Neville as she flung open the compartment door. "I don't think they're on the train at all. Nobody's seen them since they came through the barrier." She sank into a seat and bit her lip, looking deeply worried.

Ginny felt somewhat cruel about giving her more bad news, but she ploughed ahead. "Actually, I don't think anyone even saw them come through the barrier. They were behind Mum and me, and we didn't have time to look for them." She shifted her feet. "Do you think something's... happened to them? Something like last year? It was odd that a house-elf stopped Harry's post all summer and warned him not to go to Hogwarts."

Neville gasped. "A house-elf stopped Harry's post? But house-elves don't do that."

Hermione glared at him. "What, and house-elves can't be ordered to do something unusual? Or they can't have minds of their own?"

Neville shrank back - Hermione was rather intimidating, and he didn't seem overly brave. Ginny smiled encouragingly at him and he gave her a tiny nod.

"Anyway," continued Hermione, "I doubt this has any connection to the house-elf. That was probably Malfoy having a bit of... of fun. Ron and Harry were most likely talking and came through the barrier too late to catch the train. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley will bring them up to Hogwarts."

"But what if something did happen?" asked Ginny, rubbing her arms. "Ron says things always happen to Harry..."

Hermione bit her lip again, then seemed to come to a decision. She patted Ginny on the shoulder. "I'm sure your parents will take care of things. They'll show up and we'll all laugh about this after the Sorting," she said briskly.

"Now, why don't you go find some other first years? You can't spend all your time with Harry, Ron and me, you know. You can come back here to change when we get closer to Hogwarts." Hermione nudged Ginny into the corridor and closed the compartment door firmly behind her. Neville glanced out through the glass and shrugged apologetically, but made no move to oppose Hermione. Ginny didn't blame him.

She wandered along the corridor, unsure of what to do. Percy would be no help today; he'd vanished into his prefect mask. Perhaps she could find Fred and George? No, they would only laugh and tell her to pester someone else. She was on her own.

Ginny leaned against the corridor wall. She had never truly been alone before. Even when Mum and Dad were away, one or another of her brothers was always around to lend a hand or a smile and let her hang around. She felt very small. Laughter and conversation leaked from the compartments and swirled around her, but she wasn't part of any of it.

She rubbed her hands over her eyes and slid down the wall until she sat huddled on the floor, which was slightly sticky from the residue of years of lost sweets and forgotten candy wrappers. Ginny drew her legs in, wrapping herself into as small a space as possible.

Ron and Harry had vanished. Hermione had pushed her away. She was alone.

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Afterwards, Ginny was never sure exactly how long she'd stayed in a heap on the floor before she thought of her diary. She pulled it out and rooted through her bag for ink and a quill. Her only quill was much the worse for wear, but the nib was intact. She looked at the diary and grinned. She wasn't really alone.

"Dear Tom," she wrote, "hello again! I'm on the Hogwarts Express, but my brother Ron and his friend Harry have gone missing - they're not on the train and I'm worried for them."

She waited impatiently for Tom to write back, to prove she hadn't imagined the events in the garden. Eventually ink swam up through the page. "Hello, Ginevra. I'm sorry to hear about your brother and his friend. Did they disappear from the train, or did they simply not board it?"

"We think they didn't board - we were late."

"Ah. Then I'm certain your parents - you came to King's Cross with your parents, right? - will take care of them."

Ginny bit her lip. Tom was probably right, but this was Harry Potter... She dipped her quill again and wrote, "You're right, but I can't help worrying. You see, Harry is, well, special, and things have a way of happening to him. He survived the Killing Curse when he was a baby and just last year he faced You-Know-Who at Hogwarts. And this summer a house-elf stopped his mail and told him he'd die if he went back to school!"

There was a long pause before Tom responded. "I understand your concern," he wrote. "However, I think this is most likely a case of bad luck and unfortunate timing. May I ask, though, who You-Know-Who is, as I certainly don't know?"

"He was a dark wizard; I don't want to say his name. He's been gone for years, since Harry defeated him when he was a baby, but I'm afraid he might come back like last year. Everyone's afraid of him."

"Ginevra - you don't have to say his name; you only have to write it. Surely that won't hurt?"

Ginny flushed. She could almost see Tom laughing at her, though she had no idea how he looked, and she couldn't argue with his logic. "His name is Voldemort," she wrote slowly.

There was a very long pause.

"Ah. I believe I heard of him the last time someone wrote in here, which was many years ago, but I seem to have missed his rise and fall. Sometime, I must ask you to catch me up on the events of the last several decades. Nevertheless, I'm sure your brother and his friend will be fine. After all, if Harry survived a powerful dark wizard, he can't come to much harm from a house-elf."

Ginny considered this. It made sense. Her brothers, Hermione, and now Tom seemed certain nothing horrible would happen - surely they couldn't all be wrong. "Thanks, Tom!" she scribbled. "I feel a lot better now. I suppose I should let you go for a while."

"As you wish. Goodbye for now, Ginevra."

"Bye, Tom." Ginny shut the diary, smiling, and slipped her things into her bag. She hoisted herself from the floor and walked forward along the corridor, peering into compartments in hopes of finding some fellow first years. She had hours to overcome their first impressions of her, after all.

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Ginny passed through three carriages before she found a compartment whose occupants - two girls, sitting side by side and chatting animatedly - seemed both vaguely familiar and young enough to be first years. She slid the door open and said, "Hello. May I come in?"

The girls looked up; the one closer to the door smiled. "Oh, sure!" she said. "Glad to see you got away from that fright who was dragging you around. Did you ever find your brother?"

Ginny felt slightly flustered. "No, he doesn't seem to be on the train," she said. "But Mum and Dad will take care of him, so it's nothing, really. I'm Ginny Weasley. And I'm awfully sorry but I don't remember your names."

The girl smiled again. "No worries. I'm Daphne Rumluck and this is my cousin, Apple." Apple smiled but said nothing; Daphne punched her in the shoulder and continued, "We're both first years, same as you. Sit down! Stay a while!"

Ginny shut the door and perched on the seat across from the cousins. They didn't look related - Apple was tall and skinny, with a long, thin face, dusky skin, and dark, frizzy hair plaited into a crown around her head. Daphne was short and solid, with a round face and shiny auburn curls pulled loosely back by hair-clips. They seemed fairly well-off. Their clothes were obviously high quality, their trunks were brass-bound, and they had their own animals - an owl blinked haughtily from a brass cage in the corner, and a silver Persian cat curled elegantly in a polished carrying box. Ginny hoped the girls weren't as class-conscious as a lot of old wizarding families.

"You're both Rumlucks?" she asked tentatively. "I think I've heard the name. Does one of your fathers work for the Ministry?"

"Yes, Apple's dad - he's some big muckety-muck in the Department of Magical Transportation," said Daphne. "It's a dreadfully boring job if you ask me, but he seems to like it." She grimaced. "All our family's dreadfully boring, actually. Wonderful people, but unspeakably dull - except for Apple, here, and our cousin Alexandria. She's dead cool."

Ginny looked at Daphne curiously. "They're all dull? I wish my family were dull. I have six brothers and they're all mad - well, except for Percy, who is a bit dull, particularly since he was made prefect last year."

"Trust me, you do not want a dull family," said Daphne with a long-suffering sigh. "You'd think Apple and I were in constant danger of our lives, the way our parents go on, but we never get in that much trouble. My mum always says, 'Why don't you ever think before you jump into things, Daphne Delphinia? You'll never get anywhere in this world if you don't cultivate some patience. I don't know where you get your wildness from - not from me, certainly - but you'll never fit into Hufflepuff if you continue down this path.' It's embarrassing, really."

"Hufflepuff?"

Daphne waved her hand airily and said, "Oh, all our family's been Hufflepuffs for ages - they're all nice and dull, aren't they? They're ever so proud of Apple, absolutely certain she'll lead Hufflepuff to academic victory over Ravenclaw, but they've washed their hands of me. I think I horrify them." Daphne laughed. "I've no idea where I'll go, but I'm sure it won't be Hufflepuff!"

Ginny looked curiously at Apple. "So you'll be in Hufflepuff?"

Apple shrugged and spoke for the first time. "Perhaps. I wouldn't mind. But all the houses have their advantages, and I expect I'll be happy enough wherever I'm placed."

"Ha! Typical Ravenclaw, if I ever heard one." Daphne grinned and punched her cousin's shoulder again. "No, she's no Hufflepuff, whatever the family thinks. Who planned all our adventures, I ask? Who read all the textbooks with a month to spare before school? Who writes poetry in her spare time? Who named her owl Brunhilde, for goodness's sake? You're doomed to Ravenclaw."

Ginny sighed.

"Why so glum?" asked Daphne.

"Oh, nothing," said Ginny. "I'm sure I'll be in Gryffindor - everyone in my family has been - but I don't know if I belong there. I don't feel particularly brave. And my family's, er, a bit hard to live up to."

"Oh, yeah, the Weasleys. Our cousin Alexandria - the one who's dead cool - works with your brother Charlie in Romania, you know, so we've heard all about your family. I can't wait to meet those twin brothers of yours, myself." Daphne grinned and rubbed her hands.

Ginny groaned. "Whatever house you're in, I hope I'm not. Fred and George are bad enough without getting apprentices."

Apple, who had been sitting quietly with a small smile, leaned over and whispered into her cousin's ear. Daphne burst out laughing. "Ha!" she cried. "You think I can't? Give me two weeks and we'll see how it goes."

"How what goes?" asked Ginny, worried. If Daphne were anything like Fred and George, this could be dangerous at best.

Daphne waved her hand. "Oh, nothing important," she said. "Just a cousin thing. Don't you worry."

Ginny turned to Apple. "What did you say to her? It's not nice to keep secrets."

Apple smiled and shrugged. "Sorry. If Daphne's as talented as she thinks she is, two weeks will reveal all. But it really isn't important." She glanced at Daphne and changed the subject. "You seem certain you'll be in Gryffindor. Do you want to be?"

Ginny paused before answering. It was obvious Apple and Daphne were shutting her out, just like Ron had shut her out since Harry had come to the Burrow. But they didn't seem malicious, only a bit tactless. It couldn't hurt to answer. She just wouldn't say anything personal. She could save that for Tom.

"Yes, I do want to be in Gryffindor," she said. "I don't think I'd fit very well anywhere else, and I'd be lonely without my brothers. Last year was just awful." She hesitated. "And Ron's told me so much about Hogwarts and Gryffindor that I feel I've already been there. All about his friends-"

"Oh!" interrupted Daphne. "That's right, your brother is Harry Potter's friend. Wow. Have you met him? What's he like? Does he really have a scar?" She bounced on her seat. Apple sighed and pulled a book from her trunk, pointedly ignoring her cousin.

Ginny flinched. She didn't want to talk about Harry; that was personal. But she couldn't avoid talking about him without explaining everything to Daphne. She sighed. "Well - he stayed with my family the past few weeks. Ron talked Fred and George into rescuing him from his Muggle relatives. Mum was furious, but they wheedled her out of it; they always do." She grimaced and shrugged. "Boys."

Daphne laughed and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I know. You would not believe my brother Aurelius. But what about Harry Potter?"

"Oh, he's all right," said Ginny, choosing her words carefully. "He's kind of short and skinny, but he's not horrible-looking. He's got black hair and green eyes, he wears glasses, and all his clothes are too big for him. He's pretty normal, really. And yes, he has a scar. It's like lightning, right on his forehead. You can see it when his hair gets mussed."

"Wow," said Daphne, rocking back and forth. "Imagine, he got that scar defeating You-Know-Who when he was just a baby. And we're going to school with him - that's so cool! I can't believe you met him. I'd die if I had to talk to him."

Apple glared at her over her book and said, rather sharply, "You would not. You'd badger him to death with all your questions." She clicked her tongue. "It's foolish to look up to him, if you ask me. I doubt he remembers what happened that night, and nobody knows why He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named couldn't kill him. I should think he'd be mortified by your hero-worship if he met you. And if he weren't mortified, I shouldn't think very highly of him at all."

Daphne grinned. "Spot on as always, Apple. What would I do without you?"

"I shudder to think," said Apple, and retreated to her book.

Daphne turned back to Ginny. "Well, would he be mortified by my hero-worship, Ginny?" she asked. "You've met him, after all."

Ginny flushed. Of course he would. He was mortified by her own hero-worship. She felt raw after Apple's lecture, though it hadn't been directed at her.

"Yes, he would," she said. She folded her arms and stared out the window at the passing countryside, which looked heavy and dull under the cloudy sky. He would be mortified - and she liked him even more because of it. Oh dear. If she were in Gryffindor, she would have to see Harry all year. Not that seeing him was a bad thing, but what if he saw her seeing him? But she didn't want to be in another house where she wouldn't see him...

"Bother," muttered Ginny. "Bother, bother, bother."

"Bother what?" asked Daphne.

Ginny looked up, startled. "Nothing."

"Nothing? I don't believe you."

"It's nothing," said Ginny firmly. If everyone else could have secrets, she could have secrets too.

The three girls sat in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes before a witch arrived pushing a cart full of sweets. Daphne sprang up and bought far too much candy for her health, which she insisted on sharing with Ginny after Apple refused all but two Chocolate Frogs. Ginny protested feebly, mentioning the sandwiches in her bag, but Daphne would hear no excuses. Over chocolate, she began talking about Hogwarts, trying to sort through the stories her family had told her. Ginny shared a few of the more outrageous lies her brothers had tried to feed her, and the two girls passed the rest of the journey laughing and chatting happily about anything and everything.

Daphne even went so far as to haul her cat out of the carrying case and let Ginny tease him with the wrapper from a Chocolate Frog. Ginny was delighted; she'd always wanted a cat but the family couldn't afford any animal that wasn't useful. Apple unbent slightly when the cat knocked aside her book and curled into her lap, and she proved to have a dry sense of humor when not shooting disapproving glares at her cousin.

Ginny was rather sorry when Hermione opened the compartment door and dragged her away to change her robes. Apple was a shoo-in for Ravenclaw, but Daphne was a lot of fun. Ginny hoped her new friend would be in Gryffindor with her.

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AN: Please review! I appreciate all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why. It helps me make future chapters better for you. :-)