The Difficulties of Avoidance
Summary: (AU following OotP) When Ginny stumbles upon a young Tom Riddle passed out in a remote Hogwarts passageway, she resolves to have nothing to do with him. However, as he becomes more entangled in her life, Ginny is drawn into protecting Riddle from himself - if she can first protect herself from him.
Rating: T to be on the safe side. Tom is involved here.
Ships: Harry/Ginny; Ron/Hermione; other canon ships.
A/N: This story is AU after OotP (though it includes elements of HBP and DH such as history and characters) and is more or less something I write for fun... I just wanted to see two characters interact more and there weren't enough gen fics about them. Most interactions in this story are purely platonic (which I find infinitely more interesting, but so hard to find in fanfiction) with the exception of canon relationships (G/H, Hr/R, ect.) It should be noted here that I am a SLOOOOWW writer. Let me repeat that in terms you can understand: Expect a chapter a month and be pleasantly surprised if my muse kicks me into high gear. I have school, college applications, and the like. So, without furthur ado...
EDIT 06/10/08: Slight edits have been made to this chapter. Fill in those plot holes!
It was an almost normal day, but the colors had faded. No one had noticed, not even him. Then they swirled together; lines wavered; the edges of vision were fuzzy. A Pepper-up would do him good, but then the world shrunk, crinkled into a paper ball, and he crumpled with it. No pain involved, just folding. Then it all fell away, shattering like glass at the edges and working in towards him, and there was a terrible pulling. Worse than Portkeys or Apparition, the pulling stretched him both ways; the edges were getting closer. Darkness was beyond the edges, and then it was next to him. He touched it and everything snapped, whipping wildly out of control; he was flying and falling and being crushed into a ball, but staying in the same place.
When the world unfolded, he was lost to it.
Ginny's broom lurched dangerously when one of the Beaters scored a perfect shot on the shaft. "Watch where you hit that thing!" she roared, a second before Harry roared, "Peakes! Stop dinking your shots and put some power behind it!"
Almost at once, Harry realized what his command implied and he laughed uneasily before he tore higher up into the sky to look for the Snitch.
"Peakes, give me your bat!" Ginny called.
"Don't pull a McLaggen!" Peakes answered cheekily, rearing back as another Bludger approached. This one he knocked aside with such force it was clear he had taken Harry's advice to heart. "Watch out! Quaffle!"
Ginny caught the Quaffle just before it hit her head and immediately rolled into a dive to avoid the Ravenclaw player who had been hoping to intercept the pass. A satisfying crunch told Ginny either Coote or Peakes had scored a good hit, but she did not look back. The goal posts were looming and she shot; a roar of cheers erupted from the stands, but when they continued even after the Ravenclaw chaser caught the ball, Ginny realized it was not for her goal. Harry was streaking above the Pitch with the determined focus he only had when he was chasing the Snitch. And the Ravenclaw Seeker was in his wake.
Wheeling her broom around, Ginny raced after the Ravenclaw Chaser. Coote swept past her head, nailing a Bludger at the opposing Seeker. Just as Demelza intercepted the Quaffle, Harrry caught the Snitch and the game was over. The celebration that ensued kept the players from returning to the locker rooms for a good hour, but that was what happened when your house took the Quidditch Cup for the third year in a row.
"Brilliant catch, Harry!" Dean said, patting him on the back so hard his glasses rattled on his face. He was radiant with happiness, and with good reason; it was always a joy to win the last Quidditch game of your school career.
"Couldn't have gotten it without Coote," Harry answered, flashing an awkward sideways smile. Ginny snorted into her Quidditch robes as she tugged them over her head. Harry was so silly about compliments.
He was right in front of her when she finally got herself untangled from the robes and he was wearing an uncharacteristically grim face for just having won a match. "Alright, Harry?" she asked.
"You know I didn't mean it that way, right?" he asked. "I mean, I would never want Peakes to hurt you."
Ginny had to stifle a laugh. She had quite forgotten that incident in the heat of victory. Sniffing daintily, she answered, "I'm sure…"
"She's only joking, mate," said Coote as he passed Harry.
"Right, I know," Harry answered, wheeling away quickly and tearing his own robes over his head. It did not stop Ginny from glimpsing his red ears.
There was an unspoken agreement that the entire team was forgoing showers. They were already missing the celebration in the Gryffindor common room. Ginny tied back her windblown hair and slipped her school robes over her head faster than any of her teammates, shouldering her broom by the locker room doors. Harry joined her a moment later, hair mussed from his struggle with the school robes, and took her by the hand.
"Hold up, you two!" Ron called after them, though his voice was muffled by his robes, which he seemed to be having trouble putting on. It may or may not have had something to do with the shrinking charm Ginny cast on his collar before the game. Whatever the case, it was nice to share the short walk up to the castle only with Harry before they joined the deluge of celebration upstairs.
The crowds swallowed them in applause when they entered the common room, but every time Harry caught her eye over the crowd, Ginny felt a smile rise unbidden on her face. It was an omen, she decided. They could be far apart after he graduated and still make this work. It was practically the same thing as making eye contact across the common room in the middle of a Quidditch Cup celebration.
Honestly, it was.
The next two weeks were as hectic as they were wonderful. Hermione had buckled down on Ron and Harry for their N.E.W.T.s, going as far as writing up color-coded studying guides that screamed at them if they did not complete the studying assignments Hermione indicated. It gave everyone quite a scare the first time Harry's bag screamed like a banshee, but Hermione was Head Girl and could get away with it.
Fortunately, every spare moment Harry got between studying for N.E.W.T.s and meeting with Dumbledore, he spent with Ginny. They talked a lot more than they had the last year when they went off alone. This year they spoke in subdued tones about how they were going to deal with the troubles of the next year. Harry was planning to go after Voldemort fulltime with the Order, while Ginny was returning for her final year of school. Ginny had tried – she really had – to drop out of school to go with him. Fred and George had turned out just fine without their seventh year, after all, but Harry would not hear of it. He was already reluctant enough to continue their relationship with the looming threat of Voldemort (on that count, Ginny was the stubborn one), convinced that Voldemort would not shrink away from attacking those whom Harry loved most. No matter how much Harry's convictions frustrated Ginny, it still raised butterflies in her stomach to think that Harry considered her to be the one he loved most.
It was just after Harry finished his last N.E.W.T. (a disastrous potions practical, or so he claimed) and Ginny had curled up against his side to contemplate their complicated relationship, when Luna Lovegood appeared in the Gryffindor common room. It was still a mystery how the Ravenclaw girl so often managed to guess the Gryffindor password. Ginny personally suspected it was because Sir Cadogan had taken an unhealthy liking to Luna ever since she sketched a lopsided castle in the background of his painting.
"Hello, Ginny," Luna said, ignorant of the eyebrows she was raising and the private moment she was interrupting. She held up a makeshift net made out of her wand and a sock, and grinned. "Are you ready to go hunting?"
It hardly seemed possible, but Luna looked more odd than usual. She was almost swimming in the baggy khaki outfit she was wearing, topped off with a safari hat that featured a radish dancing around its brim. A very long roll of parchment trailed from her back pocket, and upon seeing it, Ginny remembered her appointment with Luna.
"Oh, right!" she said, wriggling out of Harry's embrace with an apologetic smile. "I'm helping Luna look for her missing things again this year."
"And a few things that aren't missing," Luna added, to Harry's amusement.
Ginny giggled as they left the common room together. Luna's annual search for her hidden possessions had become much like a scavenger hunt, and Ginny had valiantly joined her friend since their fourth year. This was the first year Luna had dressed so extravagantly, however.
"What are you supposed to be?" she asked, just as they located a Uric the Oddball chocolate frog card in a crevice outside the Gryffindor common room.
"An explorer," Luna answered as she slipped the card into one of her billowing pockets. "I think I may want to be a magical naturalist after I leave Hogwarts, and every good naturalist must have a good exploring outfit."
"Naturally," Ginny answered, levitating Luna's butterbeer cork necklace down from where it had been hanging on a chandelier since the second week of school. Ginny paused for Luna to recover from laughing at the pun before continuing.
As the two girls worked their way down the list, it became increasingly difficult to find things. It did not help that Luna had lost her lucky paperclip and her complete collection of the works of Ragnok the Pigeon-toed. Even the usually level-headed Luna was becoming a bit frazzled over the idea of her copy of Little People, Big Plans mildewing in the dungeons over the summer holiday.
"It really is a pet peeve of mine, mildewing books," Luna repeated, peering anxiously over Ginny's shoulder and shirking her duty to keep the tapestry from falling on their heads.
Ginny mumbled some non-committal answer as she tapped along the wall with her wand. "Where is it—I swear Fred and George—Ah! Here it is." The stones faded away before them and Ginny stepped victoriously inside the rarely used shortcut. "We'll just check in here, and then we'll go straight down to the dungeons," she told Luna, who followed her in eagerly and let the tapestry fall over the entrance with a thud.
"Lumos." Ginny held her wand in front of her just in time to avoid running into a crouching figure in the narrow space. Then his all-to-familiar face caught the light from her wand.
Ginny screamed and stumbled back into Luna. The Ravenclaw girl caught Ginny easily and gently shoved her back to her feet, and by that time Ginny had recovered from seeing Tom Riddle glaring up at her. "Honestly!" she huffed. "This castle is positively infested with boggarts. I swear, if I have to see Tom Riddle dance the can-can one more time, I think I might kill myself." Leveling her wand at the boggart, almost lazily, Ginny recited, "Riddikulus."
Nothing happened. The boggart looked a little drowsy, but it had looked drowsy before she cast the spell. Frowning, Ginny prodded her wand at the boggart with more force. "Riddikulus!" Again, nothing. Except now the boggart looked more awake and more irritable.
Faltering slightly, Ginny repeated, "Riddikulus! Riddikulus!" The young man got to his feet, rubbing his temples but still glaring at her.
"Luna, you do it!" Ginny said, pushing the other girl forward with a note of panic in her voice. But as Luna stood before the boggart, her wand tracing lazy circles in the air, the boggart did not crack and take the form of Luna – sans strange accessories and quirky personality – like it normally did.
"He doesn't seem to be a boggart," Luna said after a moment.
At the same moment the young man seemed to regain his speech capacity. "Whatever you did, you're going to regret this," he spat, moving towards her on weak legs.
Before the adrenaline kicked in, Ginny felt so lightheaded she almost fell over onto Luna. Then everything was crisp and clear, and she leveled her wand at Tom Riddle with her heart pounding in her ears. "Stupefy! Petrificus Totalus!"
When Riddle toppled to the floor like a board, Ginny's knees gave way and she fell against the wall, her eyes never leaving him. "Get… Dumbledore…" she breathed, only vaguely aware that Luna followed her instructions. Ginny only had eyes for the nightmare lying across from her.