Dean did not protest when Ginny told him she just wanted to go back to Gryffindor Tower. It was the only words she uttered to him during the long, excruciating walk back to the common room.
She felt so cold inside as flashbacks from her first year continued to race through her mind. The dementor had dragged back all of her worst memories–some of which she’d actually forgotten until today. She couldn’t believe how quickly all of the shame came back. It was like she was eleven years old again, crying in the Chamber and too weak to help herself.
When they reached the Fat Lady, Ginny forced herself to say the password before Dean could. She wanted to prove to herself that she was strong enough to move past this again.
Once inside the common room, they collapsed on a small sofa in the corner, away from the other students.
“Thank you for helping me back to the common room. I’m feeling much better now,” she said slowly. If she pretended she was okay now, Dean would give her some space.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said gently. He hesitated a moment before continuing. “Ginny, who was that?”
Ginny tensed. She was not ready to talk about the Chamber with anyone who didn’t already know, not even Dean.
“Dean, I don’t want to lie to you…” she started.
“Then don’t,” he said with an edge in his voice.
Ginny swallowed, choosing her words carefully. “He was someone who bullied me a long time ago.”
“But he looked like our age–”
“He’s gone now,” she said shortly, cutting him off. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
Dean looked incredulous. “You scream like you’re scared for your life and become nearly catatonic afterward, and you think you can just pretend like nothing happened?”
“No, I’m letting you know that I’m not going to tell you who he is,” she retorted, feeling cornered.
“Was he related to Salazar Slytherin? It sounded like he was a Parselmouth,” prodded Dean.
“I don’t know.” She wasn’t going to give him any information, even if that meant lying.
“Was he related to Harry?” he asked, still fishing.
Ginny recoiled with revulsion. How could Dean ever think that Tom was related to Harry?
“Of course not!” she said hotly. “How could you say that?!”
“Harry’s a Parselmouth, too. You know he’s been tangled up with Dark magic for all of these years. Who knows what he’s capable of?” said Dean suspiciously.
Ginny was so horrified that she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t believe she was hearing such ugly insinuation about Harry from Dean–of all people.
Seeing her distress, his face softened and he placed his hand on hers.
“Ginny, how can I be there for you and support you when you won’t let me in?” he asked gently, almost pleading with her.
But Ginny was still reeling from his comments about Harry. “I told you, he’s gone. He will never come back, so you don’t need to be there for me.”
He drew his hand away, his face stony again. “Fine. If you won’t tell me, I’ll just ask Harry. He clearly knows him,” he said defiantly.
She wondered if Dean expected her to protest. It was likely that he was bluffing anyway. Most students knew better than to ask Harry about his enemies.
“Ask Harry, then,” she said dismissively. “I don’t think you’ll get much more information from him.”
“Just like everything else,” groused Dean. “You have so many secrets, yet Harry seems to know all of them. Maybe you should just be dating him.”
This nearly brought Ginny to heel. Once again, Dean was feeling left out. Her secrets and her reawakening feelings for Harry had caused a terrible distance to grow between them. Harry might not know all of her secrets, but it was true that he knew more than her own boyfriend did.
“Dean…” she said softly, struggling for something to say.
“That’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it? You’ve always had a crush on him,” he spat, clearly hurt.
“That was a long time ago…” she said weakly, knowing this wasn’t quite true anymore.
“You thought you were going to die, and you screamed for him,” he said in a strained voice. “Not me!”
This wasn’t fair. She hadn’t realized that it was a boggart at the time. If Dean had known that was a young Voldemort in the room, he’d have been screaming for Harry, too. But did that matter? What if it hadn’t been Tom Riddle? Would she still want Harry instead of Dean by her side?
Ginny opened her mouth to protest, but decided against it. She realized that it didn’t matter who she’d called out for. It wasn’t Dean, and she feared it would never be Dean.
Dean shook his head in disgust. “You’re not even going to deny it. You can’t even pretend to prefer me.”
The pain in his face pierced her heart like a knife. She wanted to say something to take his pain away.
“No, I called for Harry because T–” she stopped, catching herself. “He...he said Harry’s name–in Parseltongue.”
Somehow, this seemed to upset Dean even more. “You’re a Parselmouth, too?”
“No, I only know Harry’s name in Parseltongue,” she said quickly. This was true–Tom had said it so many times that she knew she’d never forget those words.
He snorted derisively, shaking his head again. “Of course you know Harry’s name, of all the words to learn.
“Maybe I’ll ask Ron who this mystery bully is,” he continued. “He seems to be the only one willing to be honest with me.”
He stormed off to the boys’ dormitories. Ginny knew Ron would clam up if Dean mentioned anything remotely related to Tom. Ginny turned toward the stairs to the girls’ dormitories and her eyes met Hermione’s across the room. She wondered how much of their argument Hermione had heard.
Ginny laid awake in bed for hours, reflecting on her argument with Dean. It was getting harder to avoid examining her feelings for Dean and Harry. Like Michael, Dean had accused her of still having feelings for Harry, and he wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t fair to Dean for her to be indulging these feelings, even if she wasn’t acting on them.
In that moment, as she stared at the red canopy above her bed, she decided that she needed some space from both Dean and Harry. It was finally time to do the hard work of examining her relationship with Dean and decide what she wanted to do about her feelings for Harry.
It wouldn’t be hard to avoid the two boys. Dean was angry and hurt enough to avoid her on his own, and she could easily go back to limiting her contact with Harry to Quidditch practice for the time being.
After tonight’s fight, she wasn’t optimistic about her relationship with Dean. This is what she did when she got close to others–she hurt them. She Petrified her classmates during first year, she broke Michael’s heart at the end of fourth year, and now she was destroying Dean. Tom was a shadow that stayed with her every day, casting a pall over every relationship and isolating her from others.
Yet even if she could share this burden with Dean...even if she knew that Dean would understand and accept her without question, she realized that she simply didn’t want to confide in him. And, with a stab of guilt, that told her all she needed to know.
Harry returned to his dormitory well after midnight, his hands aching from peeling and gutting the rest of the flobberworms. He was grateful to see the hangings drawn around Dean’s bed, indicating that he’d already gone to sleep. He wasn’t keen to talk about what had happened with the boggart.
He opened his trunk and rummaged around for some Chocolate Frogs. The prolonged exposure to the dementor coupled with spending time with Ginny and Dean had left a heavy sadness that felt like an anvil resting on his shoulders and chest. He hoped the chocolate would take some of the edge off.
“There you are,” came a voice from behind Harry. He spun around and saw Dean’s head poking out from behind his hangings.
“Hullo, Dean,” said Harry quietly. He did not want to wake the others.
But to Harry’s dismay, the hangings around the room swept open and Ron, Neville, and Seamus’ emerged with bleary eyes and tousled hair.
“Wassamatter?” mumbled Ron groggily.
“Nothing,” said Harry sharply. “We’re just going to bed.”
“Alright, Dean?” asked Seamus, who seemed slightly more alert than Ron.
“No, I’m not,” grumbled Dean, his eyes on Harry. Seamus turned to Harry, matching Dean’s glare in solidarity with his friend.
Harry said nothing and returned to his trunk to get his pajamas. He was not going to talk about the boggart in front of everyone.
“So who is he, Harry?” demanded Dean, unwilling to let it go.
Harry threw a sidelong glance at Dean as he started to pull on his pajamas. “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” he replied, trying to keep his tone casual.
“Ginny’s boggart,” said Dean through gritted teeth. Harry suspected he had just rowed with Ginny on the same subject. If Ginny didn’t want Dean to know, then Harry certainly wasn’t going to go against her wishes...
“Lay off, Dean,” said Ron, climbing out of bed and standing between Harry and Dean. Harry suspected that Ron didn’t need to hear any more to guess what form Ginny’s boggart had taken. “That’s none of your business, and you’d better not be bothering her about it.”
“Is Ginny okay?” asked Neville in a worried tone, who was also rising from bed.
Harry wondered the same thing. He hadn’t seen her since she left the dungeons. She’d looked very pale, and he wished he’d had the chance to talk to her afterward.
“She’s fine,” said Dean dismissively, waving a hand at Neville.
“What did you do to my sister?” demanded Ron, advancing on Dean. Harry grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back as Seamus stepped menacingly forward.
“I didn’t do anything–” started Dean defensively.
“We were in detention, and Ginny found a boggart in the cupboard,” said Harry quickly to Ron, Neville, and Seamus. “Nobody was hurt.”
He put his hand on Ron’s chest and tried to guide him back to bed, fearing that a fight could break out soon. Ron relented, taking a few steps back, but refused to sit on the bed.
“Then I don’t see a problem,” Ron said loudly, glaring at Dean.
“The problem is that Harry and your sister are keeping secrets from me,” replied Dean, jerking his head toward Harry. “Some bloke our age stepped out of the cupboard, and she screamed bloody murder. Then she pretended that nothing happened and won’t tell me who he is.”
“Out with it, Harry,” demanded Seamus.
“They don’t have to tell you anything about–” started Ron, but Harry cut him off.
“Listen, Dean,” he said in a conciliatory tone. “Nobody’s trying to hide anything from you. It doesn’t matter who he is because he’s gone–”
Dean let out a derisive snort. “Sounds like you both rehearsed this together.”
“We’re telling you the same thing because it’s the truth,” shot Harry, the heat rising in his voice.
“What are you playing at here, Harry? Are you just jealous that Dean’s got the prettiest girl at Hogwarts?” said Seamus, who seemed to be spoiling for a fight.
“That’s my sister you’re talking about!” spat Ron. “She’s not an object to be possessed!”
Harry turned to Ron, slightly taken aback. It sounded like something Hermione would say. He wondered if they’d been talking about Ginny...
Dean shot Seamus a warning look, and he took a step back. “Nobody’s saying that, Ron.”
“Right,” said Harry shortly. “I don’t have anything else to say about any of this. Good night.”
Without another word, Harry climbed into bed and pulled his hangings shut.
“Why don’t you sleep on it and talk to Ginny in the morning?” he heard Neville say gently.
“You leave her alone–” came Ron’s voice again.
Harry stuck his head out of the hangings. “Let it go, Ron!”
Over the next few days, Harry noticed that Ginny seemed distant. She avoided him at mealtimes and communicated with him stiffly at Quidditch practice.
At the same time, she didn’t seem to be any warmer toward Dean. It was clear they were still on the rocks–they were both distracted at practice and played poorly. They wouldn’t pass the Quaffle to each other, making it difficult to even run a basic play.
But talking to Ginny was nearly impossible. He tried to intercept her on her way to classes after both breakfast and lunch the next day, but she’d waved him off and said she was in a hurry. It was clear that she was avoiding him and did not want to discuss the boggart or the ensuing fight with Dean.
Harry couldn’t help but take Ginny’s sudden coldness after their encounter with the boggart as a sign that his history with her and Riddle might make it impossible for them to be together. Voldemort would continue to dog him, and Ginny would forever associate Harry with her worst memory.
Even worse, Ginny had chosen to stay with Dean despite the fact that the boggart had caused a rift that was clearly making her miserable. Harry had thought–even hoped– that her latest fight with Dean might have been the one to end the relationship for good.
“We can’t let Ginny and Dean carry on like this,” said Ron at dinner after almost a week of difficult practices. “We’re going to lose our next match if our Chasers can’t play together.”
Harry nodded silently, hoping that the problem would solve itself with a quick and painless breakup.
“I don’t see how we can do anything about it,” replied Harry with a shrug.
“It’s impacting the team, and it’s not fair to the other players who work hard at practice every day,” insisted Ron. “I overheard Demelza complaining about it yesterday, and it’s going to start killing morale.”
Harry tensed. He hadn’t realized that this could somehow snowball into discord on the rest of the team.
“So what do you expect me to do about it?” he asked tentatively. Harry didn’t see an easy solution, short of cutting Dean from the team.
“We’ve got to talk to both of them,” said Ron matter-of-factly.
Harry snorted derisively. He’d rather be trampled by a herd of rampaging hippogriffs than get involved in Ginny’s relationship. “You want to break them up?”
“No, I don’t want to meddle,” said Ron seriously, shaking his head. “I want to help them work this out.”
Harry raised his eyebrows, unable to see how this wasn’t meddling. He could tolerate Ginny’s relationship with Dean, but he wouldn’t actively help her prolong it.
He looked around for Hermione for help. Surely she could talk Ron out of this nonsense…
But as his eyes scanned the table, he remembered that he’d seen her disappear with Ginny immediately after they’d returned to the castle after practice that night.
“Ginny’s with Hermione tonight,” replied Harry, who had no intention of talking to Ginny or Dean about this. “Maybe Hermione will help them work it out.”
Ron rolled his eyes. “I’ve already talked to Hermione about this, and she thinks we should all stay out of it.”
“It sounds like Hermione gave you some very good advice,” said Harry, hoping this would end the conversation.
“Fine, I’ll talk to Dean,” said Ron, as if the matter were settled.
“How do you think Ginny is going to take that? She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want Dean to know about Riddle,” argued Harry. “Besides, why do you care so much? I thought you were on her side.”
“I am on her side, but she’s clearly miserable,” said Ron shrugging. Harry said nothing, surprised at Ron’s perceptiveness.
“And you’re the one who said you’d rather see her happy with Dean…” continued Ron.
Harry stiffened. As a rule, he avoided making any comments about Ginny and Dean’s relationship when he could. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said defensively.
“At the poker game...at Christmas,” pressed Ron, giving Harry a hard look. He felt like Ron was searching his face.
He shook his head, pretending not to remember–even though he recalled the situation vividly. George had used the Veritaball to ask Harry if he’d wanted Ginny to break up with Dean. Under the threat of slugs and losing the game, Harry had said that he wanted her to do what made her happy–whether that meant staying with Dean or breaking up.
“I don’t like seeing my sister in pain,” continued Ron slowly. Harry avoided his eyes, but could feel him watching him closely.
Sensing that Harry was not going to engage, Ron moved on. “We’ll have to tread carefully when we talk to Dean,” he said. “We don’t want this backfiring and making everything worse.”
“We are not doing anything,” said Harry testily. “You can do whatever you please. But I don’t see any outcome that doesn’t involve us telling Dean who Riddle is.”
Ron said nothing, and Harry was grateful to finally stop talking about Ginny and Dean. He knew he couldn’t stop Ron from interfering, but he could do his best to stay out of it.
Ginny and Dean’s teamwork did not improve at the following Wednesday’s practice. In fact, as Ron predicted, the situation had deteriorated quickly. Demelza had started to make passive aggressive comments to the two of them, which resulted in both of them refusing to pass the Quaffle to her as well. It was a long–and silent–practice, and Harry was very glad when it was over.
As the team dispersed afterward, Ron asked Dean to stay back to help him pack up the balls. Dean obliged without question, but Ginny shot Harry a quizzical look before she left. It was the first time she’d made eye contact with him in over a week.
Feeling uneasy, Harry decided to stay behind to prevent a confrontation. He didn’t want Ron and Dean to argue again and cause more problems on the team.
Once Ginny had gone, Ron turned to Harry. “Can you pack up the balls and take the brooms back to the broom shed? I’ll meet you in the Great Hall afterward.”
Harry shook his head, not willing to leave Ron and Dean alone. “We can do it together.”
“I knew you’d come around,” said Ron in an undertone, giving Harry a satisfied look. There was no way Harry could stay out of it now.
“We’re just going to feel him out,” hissed Harry. “We can’t tell him who Riddle is!”
“Right,” said Ron dismissively. Harry was not reassured.
Ron rounded on Dean, who had started to pack up the balls. “It seems like things are still strained between you and my sister.”
Dean folded his arms and grunted noncommittally. Harry tensed, sensing Dean’s resistance.
“We’re concerned because it’s impacting the team,” continued Ron, ignoring Harry and Dean’s obvious discomfort. “We can’t have three Chasers who won’t pass the Quaffle.”
Dean glared at them and said venomously, “Then tell me who the boggart is.”
“Only if you make up with her,” said Ron before Harry could respond.
“No–we can’t,” hissed Harry, but Ron ignored him.
“I’ll decide if I can forgive her after you tell me,” said Dean acidly.
“No, I’ll tell you what I can, but that needs to be the end of it,” said Ron sharply.
“Dean, you know I can’t have you both on the team if you can’t play together,” Harry said, hoping to find another way to get Dean to relent.
It was a poorly veiled threat, and Harry could tell that Dean knew it. Ginny was the best Chaser on the team, so Dean was risking his own spot on the team by prolonging this row.
“Alright, I’ll drop it if you tell me who he is,” said Dean, unfolding his arms.
Harry shook his head, deciding to take another approach. “She’s keeping my secret, and I can’t tell you for your own protection.”
This wasn’t entirely true, but Dean was never going to know the whole story and this was about helping them make amends. Besides, it was true that there was some danger in knowing about the diary and Voldemort’s younger self.
Dean furrowed his brow. He clearly hadn’t expected this.
“She’s not keeping this from you to hurt you,” Harry continued. “If the Death Eaters knew, they could go after you, Ginny, or even her family to get information on me.”
“How do I know you’re not lying to me now?” asked Dean, clearly skeptical.
“You don’t,” said Ron harshly. “You can just accept that you’re not going to find out.”
“You just said you’d tell me if I made up with her,” retorted Dean. “Now it’s top secret information that could endanger my life?”
“Listen, I don’t like seeing my sister miserable, and you don’t realize how unfair you’re being to her right now,” snapped Ron. He shot a quick glare at Harry. “And Harry won’t let me make you understand, so you’re going to just have to take him at his word.”
“How about I just tell her you two tried to bully me into making a fake apology?” said Dean sourly.
Harry shook his head. This was exactly why he had not wanted to interfere.
“If you tell her, it’ll just make her feel worse,” said Ron angrily. “Is that what you want? To hurt her more?”
“You’re asking me to lie to her and pretend I’m not angry with her,” argued Dean.
“And you’re threatening to tell her that when you know it’ll just hurt her more!” said Ron, incredulous.
“Listen, let’s just calm down–” interjected Harry. He stepped between Ron and Dean.
“Harry, you don’t know what she was like last time this happened,” said Ron angrily, pushing him away. “He can’t keep holding this over her head when she’s trying to recover.”
Ron was right; Harry didn’t know what Ginny was like the last time she’d faced Riddle. But he knew that threatening Dean wasn’t going to help her.
“Then make me understand why I’m being unreasonable, Ron!” said Dean, raising his voice and stepping toward him.
“Harry, I’m sorry, but I have to do this for my sister,” said Ron, giving Harry a meaningful look.
“Ron, no, this won’t help,” said Harry desperately. Ginny would be furious if they told Dean. She had already withdrawn from Harry and closed the door on the possibility of a relationship. This revelation could end their friendship as well. Ginny was such a private person that he was certain she would see this as a betrayal of her trust.
“Ginny’s boggart is You-Know-Who!” blurted Ron. Harry threw up his hands, defeated.
“But Ginny said he’s gone–” started Dean, looking bewildered. Harry cut him off, determined to mitigate the damage.
“Yes, Voldemort in that form is gone and he won’t come back,” said Harry, shooting an irritated glare at Ron and feeling compelled to do as much damage control as possible. “I can’t explain any more without putting you in danger. But I’m asking you to realize this was never her secret to tell, and it may be years before she is ready to talk about it with anyone–even her own family.”
Dean’s mouth was slightly agape by the time Harry had stopped talking.
“Blimey,” he said quietly. “That was really Voldemort? How did Ginny get mixed up with him? Did he hurt her?”
Harry glared at Ron again, giving him his best ‘I-told-you-so’ face.
He turned back to Dean and folded his arms. “That’s all I can say, Dean,” he said firmly.
Dean nodded silently, seeming shocked. Harry hoped he would not bring this up with Ginny. Even though he didn’t technically betray her since it had been Ron who’d let the cat out of the bag, he knew that she would be hurt nonetheless.
“Thank you… both of you,” he said, extending his hand. Harry and Ron each shook hands with him. “Your secret is safe with me.”