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: After OotP, Ginny thinks about Tom, Harry, desire, fear, and the nature of truth. At what point do illusion and reality meet? Downbeat, not necessarily compliant with HBP.

Author's Note: This piece is, I believe, what is known as therapy writing -- hence the downbeat tone. In this interpretation, Ginny learned the wrong lessons from her year of isolation and she's paying the price for her illusion of normality.

Please note that this story was written in October of 2003, and is therefore not necessarily compliant with HBP. It was previously posted on FictionAlley, but I've revised it since then, partly because Ginny's 'voice' was a little odd, and partly because the original version just oozed melodrama. Yes, even more than this version. I blame it entirely on the fact that I had the flu while writing. ;-)

Any canon goofs, grammar mistakes, continuity errors, implausible characterizations, boring passages, and Americanisms are entirely my fault.

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Lies
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My life stopped when I was eleven. When it started again, it wasn't my life anymore.

That was the year I learned how to wear masks. Tom taught me that, by example and by force. He pretended he was my friend, my almost-brother. I pretended nothing was wrong. If we both pretended hard enough, it was almost real.

Tom's gone now -- no more masks. Even in his first life, he has no more masks. Voldemort is a monster in body as well as soul, and after that night at the Ministry his last mask -- the illusion of normality -- it's torn away.

Harry took away Tom's masks.

I wonder if he'll take mine.

The closest I came to living again was the last day I knew Tom, the day he took me to the Chamber one last time. I tried to strip off my mask, to tell Harry the truth, but I didn't. It's not that I couldn't. You have to understand that no matter how much Tom pushed at my mind, it was my choice. I'd learned how to shut him out by then, how to thin his voice to a nagging whisper. But I hung on to my mask, pretending that nothing was wrong.

My mask is my safety. It's my shield.

I nearly died behind that shield.

I remind myself of that whenever my mask gets too comfortable. I'm not sure why I bother -- sooner or later reality always catches me again and I feel the pressure of wax and stone on my face. A smile is just as much of a prison as Azkaban, if it's not your real face.

Sometimes I almost think it's funny, the way I hang on to my prison.

When I lost my mask in the Chamber, the first thing everyone tried to do was pick up its broken pieces and glue it back onto my face. Ron wanted to hug me and tease me about Harry. Mum wailed over me like a lost lamb rescued from the slaughter. Dumbledore offered me lemon drops, and Professor McGonagall told me that it wasn't my fault and I wouldn't be punished.

Harry ignored me.

I pushed Ron away at first, but no matter how much you want to, putting aside a mask isn't an easy thing to do. And if I'd really put it aside, if I'd showed how much I changed with Tom, if I'd told everyone how I let him use me, I would've torn Mum's heart from her chest, raw and bloody, and squeezed.

There are worse things than hiding.

So here I am, Ginny Weasley, Gryffindor, social butterfly, Quidditch player, hot-tempered redhead, the girl who can and will put Harry Potter in his place when he's being a git. It's a nice mask, I think. Some days I even believe it. I can be strong, I tell myself. There's no reason to let a ghost and a few bad memories make the rest of my life a mess. I can smile and laugh and study and fly and gossip and comfort Hermione and tease my brothers and make plans for the future.

Some days the mask is real.

And then I start to think, if my mask can become real, what about Tom's? Were there some days when he really was my friend? He did teach me spells. He did help me write essays. He did show me around the castle. He did hug me, and whisper good night, and soothe away my nightmares.

How much of that was a lie?

I think of Tom and I can't understand Voldemort. Oh, I know Tom wanted power. I know he hated Muggles. I know that. But what he wanted more than anything was to not be hurt again. He wanted power to make sure no one could ever hurt him. He wanted eternal life because death hurts. Death brings fear. Death strips away power.

I think revenge came later, once he had some power but nobody was around to show him a different way to live. Nobody showed him how to make friends. Nobody showed him how to love. All he had was magic, and people who called him a freak. Wouldn't you want to stop hurting? Wouldn't you want revenge?

I think of Tom and I think of Harry, and I wish I could throw away my mask and cry for real. They're two sides of a coin, and there's no difference at the beginning, nothing to say which one had to be light and which one dark. And now Harry's growing darker, even while I remember Tom's flashes of light. I know Tom. I watch Harry. And what I see scares me. If he doesn't reach out, if he doesn't let go of his hatred, the thickness between the sides of the coin may wear away to nothing.

I wonder what Tom would do then?

Voldemort won't care. He'll kill Harry anyway.

But Tom might've understood. He knew what it's like to be alone, to hurt, to stop trusting, to want revenge. Would they have pulled each other down? Or could they have dragged themselves back into the light, back to me? It hurts to think of Tom -- Tom, who was my friend, my almost-brother -- slicing off pieces of his soul, falling into Voldemort.

He tried to kill me.

I miss him anyway.

Tom helped me keep up my mask. He knew it was there, he knew why I wore it, and he helped me hide. I know it was wrong. I know he was using me. But the strength I got from letting one person inside, from knowing that one person knew the truth -- I want that back. I want the certainty of autumn, when he was my friend and I was his friend and I knew he would never let me down. I want even the twisted, barbed heartache of winter and spring. I was falling into hell, and he was with me every step of the way. I know he was the one pulling me down that road. But to pull a person, you have to hold her hand.

Nobody holds my hand anymore. Only the boys I go out with, and they don't hold my hand. They hold a wax hand, a stone hand, a hand inside a shield. They don't see my face.

I think Harry might've seen me once, even through the mask. He thought Voldemort was possessing him through his dreams, he panicked, and he locked himself up behind his own mask. What's funny is that I don't think he knows that it was a mask. I know. I know all about masks.

I reminded him that Tom had definitely possessed me, at least at first, and since that last day in the Chamber, the day I put my mask on for good, I've never known anything like the fierce, living satisfaction I felt when he froze.

"I forgot," he said.

I wasn't surprised. Harry's like Tom -- he only sees how people affect him, and sometimes how he affects us. He doesn't see how we affect each other -- he's too alone for that. Harry and Tom are each the centers of their own universes. They're the two poles of mine. Tom built my mask. Someday Harry may unbuild it.

Until then, I'm strong. I'm brave. I'm alive. I survived being possessed by Voldemort and came back unmarked -- except when dementors rip off my mask. I have a life. I can't feel it through the shield, but I know it's there, and sometimes it's almost real.

This is my life with the mask: I love Potions and Herbology, and Professor Sprout says I should go into research. I have a gift for charms and hexes and Professor Flitwick says I should learn to duel. I talk with Hermione, listen to her problems, and give her advice. I gossip with my friends and laugh and tease and sparkle. I keep tabs on my brothers and support them even when they're idiots. I yell at Slytherins and keep up the House war. I play Quidditch, and I love the freedom when I soar through the air, or corkscrew and dive, freefalling toward the unforgiving earth.

This is what's behind it: I want Harry, no matter how many other boys I chase. I want Tom, no matter how impossible that is. I want to curl up into a ball and make the world go away. I want them to lie beside me and run their hands down my sides and murmur that everything will be fine, that they'll never leave me, that they'll always hold my hands.

I dream of them. Every night I dream, and in my sleep I cry and they come to me, and they reach through my shields but they let me keep my mask. They let me hide my tears, even as they wipe the salt away.

Someday my mask will crack and fall to the earth in a thousand shards. Someday everyone will see the truth, and then they'll turn away from me. Someday even the distant touches through my shields will stop and no one will reach for me -- but I'll reach out my own hands and grasp the world.

Someday I may be able to stop dreaming.

I think I'm waiting for that day.

I think I want to stop lying.

I think I want to live.

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AN: Thank you for reading. Please review and tell me what worked and what didn't; I greatly appreciate feedback.