Chapter 2. Helping Hands (Sept. 1, 1992 — March 4, 1993)
Ginny had finished her packing and checked it carefully. The penalty for her diligence was being late for breakfast, but fortunately there was a silver lining. As she entered the kitchen, the twins were getting up to leave, which would open up a seat across from Percy (immersed deeply in the Daily Prophet) and (!!) right next to Harry!
Ginny swung herself into the chair, flicked the butter dish out of her way, and frowned as it skidded a little further than planned. She had just opened her mouth to warn Percy that his arm was hovering a bit close to the relocated condiment… when a fresh tray of mouth-watering crumpets made their appearance and derailed that thought. Something about Weasleys, food, and attention spans…
Harry gratefully accepted a crumpet, and flashed a smile as he passed Ginny the platter. “G'morning Ginny! Are you…?”
"Oi Harry, it's late!" Ron burst from the table, yanking Harry away from his crumpet. "Mum, we'll be upstairs. I still need to finish packing, and Harry hasn't finished reading the 'Martin Miggs Goes to Mongolia' series."
"Errr…?" Harry gave an off-balance glance back at the table as he lurched along, following the arm that Ron had forgotten to release.
"C'mon mate!” Ron tugged Harry relentlessly toward the stairs. “This is your last chance. I'm not bringing any comics to school this year — not after Seamus got custard on my 'Miggs the Matador' special issue!"
Harry's sigh faded into the distance, interspersed with clattering footsteps.
Ginny's eyes trailed them for a moment... then drooped back down to her plate. Suddenly crumpets and bangers didn't seem quite so inspiring.
Over the next while she fiddled listlessly with her fork, supplied obligatory responses to her mother's cheerful queries, and chewed a few bites, washing them down with pumpkin juice she barely tasted...
Through it all, Molly Weasley furtively eyed her daughter with renewed concern. She paused her dish washing and wiped her hands. "Not keen on the crumpets, dear? Would you prefer some eggs or toast?"
"No thanks, Mum."
"Are you sure? I'd hate for you to go hungry on the train."
"You packed lots of sandwiches, Mum." Ginny pushed back from the table. "Can't I just eat later when I'm hungry?"
Molly frowned. She usually knew her children like the back of her hand, but Ginny's recent despondency remained a mystery.
For several days after Harry had first arrived here, the youngest Weasley had been the life of the Burrow, full of wit, charm and energy. Molly suspected that Ginny had probably been a driving force behind that misguided (albeit successful) scheme to rescue Harry's owl and belongings from Surrey (thank Merlin neither the Ministry nor the Daily Prophet had found out).
But then things had since gone way downhill. Sometime after that humiliating trip to Diagon Alley (will Arthur ever learn to ignore Lucius's flagrant provocations?! ), Ginny had grown… depressed? There were still brief stretches when Molly's vibrant daughter seemed about to regain her natural spark, but some mishap would invariably weigh her down, and…
“Oh!” Molly jolted from her thoughts. “Percy, look out for…!”
Rising from the table, Percy cast down his newspaper with a self-important flourish… and sank wrist-deep into well-softened butter.
For a moment both Molly and Ginny stared at the thick splatters adorning Percy's lace cuff…
“Oh right.” Ginny sighed wearily. “Mind the butter dish, Perce.”
Molly bit her lip.
Percy's pinched face exuded a classic 'kick me' whinge that normally invited a lively round of Weasley ribbing.
But not today.
This morning, for the first time in modern Weasley history, nobody laughed...
Hours later at Kings Cross Station, with Ron and Hermione garrulously monopolising the Potter boy's attention, Molly could not restrain herself any longer. She wasn't certain that she grasped the situation perfectly, but it was breaking her heart to see Ginny plodding listlessly along the platform, so the Weasley matron swung into action. Leaving Percy and the twins to fend for themselves, she hurried to catch up with her only daughter and wrapped a warm maternal arm about those little shoulders.
"Bye Mum. I'll be good,” Ginny attempted by way of dissuasion. “I'll owl every two weeks…"
Molly smiled at the brave, dutiful recitation that the girl must have learned from her brothers. She squeezed Ginny's shoulders a little harder then stepped back to look at her.
Ginny shrank from her Mum's eyes.
Molly cupped the girl's face. "He's only twelve years old, dear. Give him a little time, and he's sure to come around."
"Huh??" Blinking, Ginny finally meeting her Mum's gaze. "Who'll come around?"
"Who else?" Molly's eyes betrayed gentle amusement as a tinge of mortification crept down her daughter's cheeks. "Don't think I haven't noticed — every time you try to talk to Harry, there's always someone getting in the way. Ron, Fred and George, Arthur... probably even me..." Molly sighed in regret. "I swear, we all seem to latch onto the dear boy as if he was some sort of prized gem..."
Ginny nodded awkwardly.
"But don't worry." Molly's smile returned. "He may seem polite and accommodating, forever getting steered about, but he's a Potter — and Potters are famous for setting goals then doing everything humanly possible to achieve them. I'm sure that the time will come when he'll stand up straight, push away all of the distractions, and finally claim his own prized gem."
"What prized gem?? Mum, you're not making any sense!" Ginny shook her head in confusion, nervously eyeing the train whose doors would be closing soon.
Molly tapped her daughter's pretty little nose then pulled away. "You, you silly goose! You're the prized gem; you just need to give the boy a bit of time to realise it." She laughed and caught Ginny's hand, guiding her toward the nearest train car. "Now go find some friends to sit with. And if I don't get at least four owls a month you'll be in a world of trouble, Ginevra Mol..."
The car door juddered shut with Ginny on one side, and her mother's muffled voice trailing off on the other. Ginny waved halfheartedly as her parents slipped away, then she gazed up and down the car at all of the packed compartments. She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Go find some friends... That'll be so easy."
Trudging toward the rear of the train, Ginny quirked her head and shrugged. At least she had one friend she could count on. She didn't even need to worry whether that friend had saved her a seat... because he was ready and waiting, tucked inside her hand bag, conveniently stored within a small black book…
Oh Merlin, what a mess! What a lousy day in a rotten week of a horrible year! Trudging up the steps of Gryffindor Tower to his dorm, Harry knew he would be useless in the day's remaining classes. He was so bewildered and demoralised that he could barely concentrate on keeping his feet moving, one after another.
Harry entered the silent Second Year boys' quarters. He dropped his torn, ink-stained ruck sack onto the floor beside his four-poster and reached beneath the bed to pull out his old school trunk. Tucked away inside a pair of stockings near the bottom of the old chest, he pulled out a second (much smaller) trunk. After checking to make sure that nobody was around and all was silent, he tapped the trunk with his wand and uttered the elementary spell. "Expand."
As the trunk enlarged itself, Harry groaned in contrition. He took a deep breath, then lowered himself down into the gift his parents had sent him for his last birthday.
Frenetic months had gone by at Hogwarts and he'd found so little time to enjoy his wonderful resource. With heavy heart, he now realised that he should have come down here far sooner. Good parental advice and perspective could probably have spared him (and others) a lot of pain.
As he made his way to the potions lab, he recalled his thrill months ago upon first discovering this special inner sanctum. That thrill seemed rather distant now; he slunk along with the trepidation of a child who assumes he's about to face a good old-fashioned scolding.
Taking a seat at the lab bench, he gazed regretfully at twin stool standing empty beside him.
He'd never invited anyone to sit there. Should he have? Would that have helped this mess?
Groaning again, Harry's face sank into his hands as he steeled himself for the unavoidable. Finally he reached forward and unraveled the small scroll that lay nearby. It had a very simple message for him.
Blimey son, what's wrong?
Harry cringed. "Dad, things are all bollixed! Someone's been opening the Chamber of Secrets; Justin and Colin have been petrified, and Nearly Headless Nick has, errr, been frozen or something. Ron, Hermione and I have been going spare trying to figure out what's going on and, well, in all the excitement I guess I just never made it down here."
Harry waited with bated breath for a response which, mercifully, came quickly.
Harry, we're here to help, not to judge. You needn't feel guilty about taking your time between visits… but we're guessing that's not the only reason for your remorse?
“No. I feel like such a heel for how I've treated Ginny. Last summer, she was so kind to me after my awful birthday, and I was grateful and all, but things just got so busy... I've barely spoken ten words to her since the start of school, and she must think I'm utterly thoughtless.” Harry issued a ragged sigh. “It's Valentine's Day today, and she sent me a poem that, well…”
A poem? Uh oh.
Do you recall anything of it, dear? Can you recite a few lines?
"Errr, maybe, but you have to understand that my books were scattered all over the floor, I had a dwarf on my back yelling and spitting in my ears, and Malfoy was being the usual git, so I wasn't listening closely to, you know, rhyme and meter stuff. But..." Harry trailed off. "Oi. Are you really going to make me recite poetry?"
Son, your Mum thinks there's more going on here than a love-sick girl pouring her heart out. Please answer as best you can.
Harry sighed. "Okay, but don't hold any of this against Ginny. The Dwarf sounded half illiterate, so who knows how much he hacked around with the poem, but one of the verses he snarled at me sounded something like:
Harry Potter, he never fails;
He's hero of so many tales.
But those green eyes, so dreamy,
Never do they see me...
Oh, and I think the refrain went:
If I wasn't invisible
To the boy who's incredible.
Then I'd be dependable;
I'd be his friend."
Wondering if the parchment could magically detect his blush, Harry edged back a bit from the lab bench. Nonetheless, he watched it intently as it deliberated, and soon it filled with script.
Hmmm. You know dear, that's not half as sappy as the lovelorn Valentines your father used to get. Ginny may be miffed that you haven't paid attention to her, but something doesn't add up. Someone plucky like her ought to get plenty of notice...
"That's true; she ought to." Harry nodded distantly. "She's bright and funny, and hey — remember last summer when we flew together? She actually did a barrel roll! I thought I was going to choke just watching her, but she held on, pulled through the loop and grinned at me."
Ah?? Real chaser material, eh? She's a catch, son! Why don't you run out and find her? Apologise for being so thick, and let her clear the air.
"I tried Dad, but she was upset by the ruckus with the Dwarf and Malfoy, and she bolted. By the time I'd gathered up my stuff, she was nowhere to be seen."
I think your Mum's right — we're misreading the problem. A girl with the moxie to fly a barrel roll or send her beau a tweeky public Valentine is unlikely to run away from mere embarrassment.
What do you think, Lily? Is this bigger than boy problems?
Definitely! She says Harry's not noticing her, but… I just sense she's saying more than she's 'saying'. Does that make sense?
Sweetie, can you tell us more? What happened just before she ran away?
"Let me think." Harry closed his eyes for a long moment, replaying the scrum in his mind. "So I'm heading to Charms when I saw the Dwarf making for me. I tried to back away, but my ruddy rucksack chose that moment to spill open, scattering books, quills, ink everywhere... ugh."
Harry paused to wipe the cringe from his face. “It was just like one of those ridiculous dreams where everything goes wrong — I was down on all fours trying to collect my stuff; the Dwarf was on my back, shouting and slobbering down my neck; then Malfoy — of course he just had to be there — reached down to pick up the diary. That's when I heard Ginny gasp…"
Slow down, son. Diary? What diary? What are you doing with a diary?
"It's not mine, Dad." Harry shook his head. "We found it in the loo; somebody tried to flush it through Moaning Myrtle's head, and she regurgitated it."
Ew. Okay, so the diary isn't yours, dear? Might it be Ginny's, then?
Harry shook his head. "I don't think so, Mum. The name on the inside cover was 'T.M. Riddle'."
BLOO... Harry, get the diary! Bring it here, immediately!
"Er, okay, but..."
Wide-eyed, Harry raced out of the lab, through the library and up the steep steps. Head and torso bursting up through the opening, he lunged to the spot on the floor where...
"What the... ?!"
Harry's torn bag had been hastily shoved to the side; the contents were (once again) scattered.
A quick scan of the mess produced bad news — the diary was gone!
Harry groaned and ran a hand through his hair. "Blimey. I wasn't even down there for ten minutes and the diary is already gone!"
"Trust me, Harry. You don't want the diary."
Harry jumped, nearly lost his balance on the step, then came face to face with a disheveled but fierce-looking Ginny Weasley.
Her wand trembling, Ginny pulled back scattered locks of hair to reveal a face strained, yet blazing with determination.
Baffled, Harry glanced down to the diary clutched in her left hand.
Noticing his glance, Ginny shook her head, sending hair flying back into her face. "Forget the diary, Harry. I refuse to let it hurt you the way it hurt me!" Her voice quavered slightly but her wand grip stiffened. "I have to get it out of here. I'm going away to find some way to destroy it. Don't try to stop me, and don't follow me."
Wide-eyed, Harry slowly shook his head. "Ginny, we need to talk. Please don't go."
"No, listen!" Ginny's voice shook. "Don't make this any harder for me. I need to leave Hogwarts before there's any more trouble. I'm taking the diary away so it can't get at anybody else. So it can't get... at y-you..."
"Look Ginny. I don't know what's going on, but I really really want to help you." Harry reached out an empty hand toward her. "Have you thought any of this through? Do you know how to destroy it? I mean, you're obviously not going to simply flush it down another toilet, but if you told me what you're planning, maybe I could help."
Trembling, Ginny stared at him uncertainly.
"Let's be strong together, Gin'." Harry extended his hand a bit further. "I've got great resources down in this trunk that we can use. Can I show you?"
Ginny glanced at Harry's hand, but didn't take it.
“My parents sent it for my last birthday.” Harry gestured toward his trunk. "There's a full potions lab and tons of great books. I've never shown it to anyone, but I'll bet it's perfect for dealing with that diary."
Harry smiled weakly but hopefully. Ginny's intense gaze flickered from Harry's hand, to his smile... to the trunk itself (from which he half-protruded), before finally settling on Harry's eyes.
Ginny stared for a long time at the face of a boy who evoked so many questions...
Who was this boy? Was this the same shy fellow she'd taken flying that perfect summer night months ago? The one she thought might become her friend?
Or was this the boy who always went off with his friends and ignored her? The snotty, arrogant Harry Potter that Tom railed against — far too important to ever be interested in pathetic, clingy little girls like her?
Ginny had been asking those questions in her mind for months, but had almost lost hope of every finding answers. Every time she'd approached Harry, someone had spirited him off or shooed her away. Even here in the silent dorm, she practically expected someone to swoop out of a closet… or for Harry to turn and run...
Yet nobody swooped, and Harry did not run. All fell perfectly still.
Ginny's scrutiny moved from his face, to those tantalising green eyes… and peered deeply within.
Harry stood patient, unmoving, hand still extended in hopeful invitation, as Ginny silently pursued an inquiry that had been stifled so long.
Will you trust me? Can I trust you?
Can I be a friend? An equal?
Are you as honest and good as I once hoped? Uncorruptible enough to handle the diary?
Will you leave in disgust when you see how weak I've been? Or will you understand how hard it was for me? How awful, how poisonous and treacherous a curse can be?
Will you help me, Harry?
Ginny finally loosened her penetrating stare and let her gaze drift downward.
Her eyes focused on Harry's five patient fingers, still poised exactly where they had been all along — only an arm's length away.
Ginny reached for them... and her face spread into its first real smile in so many months.
Midnight struck the old clock above the hearth in Harry's Potions Lab.
Just as they had every night over the past few weeks of hard work, Harry and Ginny wound down their tasks, and wearily took seats at the lab bench.
Harry removed his dragon skin gloves, wiped the perspiration off his hands on a clean towel, then reached for the scroll, ready to provide an update and receive new instructions.
Tonight, the scroll read simply:
Have the moonseeds finished steeping in hot vitriol?
Ginny coughed slightly as a whiff of the expected pungency evaded the chimney. "Yes, Mrs. Potter."
Before you do anything further, be certain that the amphora is still completely solid. Give it a dozen good whacks with a metal spoon from top to bottom; if the carborundum doesn't make a nice ringing sound, we can't risk going to the final step.
Harry glanced toward the fireplace. "I just finished testing it a few minutes ago Mum. It's solid as a rock."
So this is it, then. You could either wait until tomorrow night for the last step, or finish it tonight.
Harry and Ginny glanced toward the diary which lay on one corner of the bench, next to a small bowl containing a yellowish paste. They nodded in unison. “Tonight.”
Good. You must first add the Syrup of Arnica. Then you can throw the book in.
Who would like to do the honours?
Harry shifted in his seat. "Er, I've worked with Arnica before, so I'll add the syrup."
"I want..." Ginny gritted her teeth; a steely edge to her jaw. "I want to do the book."
I understand. Good luck then.
But I must impress on you both the need for caution! Once the Syrup of Arnica has been added, your potion should be able to destroy any magical object beyond hope of magical repair.
The book is a magical object, but so are you! A single droplet on the skin could be fatal!
Harry nodded expressionlessly. "We understand the risks Mum. We'll be careful; we can do it."
Ginny's stoney expression didn't waver. "I want that book destroyed."
I knew you would say that.
As a mother, though, I have a duty to remind you that there is another way.
Harry, your father doesn't like this suggestion, but don't forget that you could ask a professor to perform the final steps.
"Mum, that would mean Snape! No way I'm explaining the diary to him — he'd expel us both!" Harry shook his head vigourously. "Ginny and I need to do this. Her and me; nobody else. We can't let other people risk themselves.”
Ginny nodded. “Harry and I are committed to this and we're going to finish it. Together."
Harry, you're pure Potter, and Ginny you're so clearly a Prewett — two of the most wonderfully, admirably, impossibly hard-headed families in all of Britain.
I can hardly fault you for that, can I?
Blushing slightly at the affectionately back-handed compliment, Harry and Ginny found their gazes falling upon each other. For a fleeting instant they couldn't help wondering about all those adventures from the first Wizarding War — those days of fear and courage when Ginny's valiantly knavish uncles had stood shoulder to shoulder with Harry's parents, striving to push back the suffocating darkness.
In another world, parents and uncles (and so many others) need not have perished; Harry and Ginny might have grown up with far more time for play, innocent discovery and daydreaming. But in this world they inhabited, they were left to shoulder urgent weighty responsibilities — the hour was late; time was short, and the note on the scroll had already been overwritten.
Just because you're a Potter and a Prewett doesn't mean I'm going to let you charge in unprepared!
First of all, please confirm the safety precautions.
Ginny jumped. "Oh yes, of course! I, uh..." She reached across the bench for a small box containing a collection of vials. "I have the Twelve Vital Antidotes of Hippocrates in easy reach. Each vial is capped and full."
Harry picked up an unusual harness from its hook beside the bench. "When adding the syrup, I'll wear the bubblehead mask and shoulder harness." He reached across the table to retrieve his elbow-length work gloves. "And these!"
Ginny picked up the end of a sturdy tether attached to Harry's harness. "If the potion splatters, or if Harry staggers even a tiny bit, I'll be ready to pull him back from the amphora."
Harry took a deep breath. "I will walk, but not run, to the hearth. I'll scrape the syrup against the inside lip of the amphora then I'll return briskly to the bench."
You'll cover for Ginny when she's ready to dispose of the diary?
The pair nodded.
Oh! One second sweeties...
Harry, your father wants to say something.
"Sure Dad! Go ahead."
Harry, Ginny, I don't want to alarm you, but if the diary curse is what I suspect, it might fight back.
"Huh?" Ginny stared in consternation at the scroll. "Fight back? How?"
The scroll went blank. It remained that way for a tense moment, before the characteristic scrawls of James Potter returned.
I'm not sure. It may try to brainwash you, trick you into weakening your resolve, or turn one of you against the other.
I need to know that you can both be very strong, determined, and fiercely loyal to each other.
A cold prickle ran down Harry's spine as he remembered the hideously persuasive wiles of the Voldemort wraith lodged in the back of Quirrel's head.
Ginny's breath hitched as she caught a flash of suppressed memory — a faint but terrifying recollection of Tom Riddle's hypnotic pull; his saccharine charisma; his silky poetic words sucking her inexorably into blind subservience.
The two children stared at the diary sitting quietly in front of them. A mere moment ago, it had seemed to be passively awaiting its caustic fate, but suddenly they both pictured not a simple book, but instead a pulsing canker of hidden malice and trickery, sparking invisible powers to target, corner, conquer and CRUSH...
Unconsciously, two hands clasped — Harry's on Ginny's — and the ghastly vision passed, replaced by the warmth of ten intertwined fingers; by strength — gentle but mighty, more awesome than the darkest, most dastardly curse.
Harry looked into Ginny's eyes.
Ginny gazed up at Harry's face.
Their hands squeezed.
"We're ready Dad." Harry rose from the table and donned his harness. "It's time."
The explosion of power blew out all of the magical lamps inside the trunk. A demon's fury and hatred had scourged the senses of two courageous children... but their preparations had been perfect. The grey amphora, magically tempered to great resilience, had sent the raging blast and magical fury straight up the chimney, to some unknown aether beyond.
Her outstretched fingers still curved to the shape of the now-vanquished book, Ginny teetered, and gave way to the tether's frantic pull. Rushing forward, Harry caught her, and she collapsed into his arms.
Shuddering from the ordeal of defying the desperate magic of Thomas Riddle, Harry locked his thin twelve year old arms around the small midsection of a girl who must surely now be his dearest friend. Perspiration glinting in the flickering sparks of the nearly-spent potion, Harry strained backwards, and hauled Ginny's limp form toward the library.
Fearing for her life, Harry braced himself against a wall and carefully lowered Ginny (and himself) to the floor… and was rewarded with a soft moan — the most precious sound he had ever heard.
Setting her to rest in his lap, Harry reached across himself to find his wand. "Lumos."
Ginny's eyelids twitched; her breath rasped. "Bastard."
"He was. But he's gone, Gin'.” Harry tenderly brushed a lock of hair from her face and exhaled. “You did it."
Ginny nodded slightly, then shook her head. "No Harry. We did it."
Harry smiled to himself. Pointing across the room with his wand, he re-lit one of the magical torches, then shifted slightly, seeking a position comfortable enough to sustain even if they were stuck there for a while.
Ginny shifted sightly and put her head on Harry's shoulder. "Did..." Her voice trailed off uncertainly. "Did you believe what Tom said? About me being ungrateful... whinging... callously risking your life...?"
"No!" Harry caught himself, surprised by the force in his tone. He took a breath to expel some of the tension, and placed a comforting arm around her. "No. Tom was a dirty liar. He was desperate to kill me, and he'd have said anything to drive us apart." Harry unconsciously stroked the girl's cheek. "Besides, you're my best friend."
Ginny snuggled deeper into the crook between Harry's neck and shoulder. "Thanks."
They remained there for an indeterminate time, wedged between floor and wall in the dim light of a single flickering torch. After a while, with his leg starting to go numb, Harry stirred again. "Hey Gin'?"
"Do you think you've recovered enough to, er, stand?"
Ginny didn't respond for a moment. Harry was just beginning to wonder if he should try repeating the question, when Ginny pulled back a few inches and looked him in the eye. "Sure Harry, I can stand… But why stand when we can FLY? "
"Errr..." Harry blinked and raised a pensive finger to his lower lip. "We've been working half the night and it's must be four or five hours past curfew. Are you suggesting that we, uh, sneak out and go flying...?"
Ginny nodded, her face spreading into a feisty grin. "You have an invisibility cloak, right?"
Harry gaped at the girl, then formed a crooked smile, elated to witness such a wonderful transformation. Ginny had been subdued and sullen for so long that Harry had nearly forgotten how amazing she could be.
After a cold dark winter, they had just reignited a hidden spark, brighter than the stars; more spirited than a lithe filly on a fresh spring morning.