Since the story is based on SIYE's challenge, I believe a little background is in order. The challenge stories were supposed to take place in Harry's second year, where he makes it to the train, as opposed to canon. Later, during the period of one week, he always finds himself with Ginny, usually alone. Ginny had to confide in Luna, while Harry's confidant was supposed to be a surprise.
A big "thank you" goes to Sovran, Jonathan Avery and Ilovecats for their beta work.
The next morning, a light tickling woke Ginny. She swiped at the offending thing and rolled over, intent on more sleep, but the memories of the previous day came crashing into her awareness. Opening her eyes, she saw a few dozen white feathers floating in front of her. Startled, she sat up. A cloud of feathers filled the air. A whole pillow's worth of feathers covered her bed. Her mind goggled at the sight, trying to cope with the situation when she heard a snigger coming from the door. An older girl was standing in the doorway and laughing at Ginny's predicament.
"You looked a bit homesick last night, Weasley, so we created this little henhouse for you." Ginny did not know who the girl was, but she had seen her the previous day. She was one of the girls who had spent the previous evening making fun of her.
Looking around, she saw that all of her dorm mates were smirking and laughing. Not knowing what else to do, she grabbed her clothes and ran from her bed towards the bathroom, desperately trying to keep her tears from falling.
Thankfully, the bathroom was empty, so she locked the door and dropped to the floor, finally giving in to her despair. Assuming the other girls were trying to listen in on her, she stifled her sobs as much as possible. Her words to Harry from the night before echoed forlornly in her head. They had been spoken in anger, and she never really meant them. This was not what she had wanted.
Her anger was mostly gone; the only remaining part was directed at herself for allowing something like this to happen. She knew better, but she had let her petty emotions cloud her judgement.
"Don't get your feathers ruffled, Weasley, but we would like to get our turns in the bathroom, too," a muffled voice called out from behind the door. Another wave of laughter echoed in the room beyond.
Ginny decided that she had to pull herself together if she wanted to exit the Slytherin common room in one piece, and judging by her first night there, that would not be easy.
Maybe she could still talk to Harry tonight. Maybe he would not be too angry with her.
Breakfast was as subdued as dinner had been, and Harry ate grudgingly. His appetite protested at the thought of a normal meal, so he restricted himself to toast. Ron stewed next to him and threw dark scowls at the Slytherin table in general, but mostly at his sister.
It was beyond Harry's comprehension. How could he act like that when he was the cause of it? Ginny's waspish words during their shared detention had unnerved him. He could not believe she wanted to be in Slytherin. Unless rumpled hair and blotchy eyes were an indicator of a good night's sleep, however, he was certain she had merely found him a convenient target for her anger and frustration. And he was fine with that. He deserved it.
"Harry, where were you last night?"
Hermione's unwelcome question startled Harry, and he snapped at her. "I had a detention, with Snape."
"A detention? On the first day? What have you done? What were you thinking?"
The outraged barrage of questions pushed the guilt deeper into his chest. "I really don't want to talk about it, Hermione."
"But Harry, how –"
"I said I don't want to talk about it." He raised his head to look her in the eyes, giving finality to his statement. Hermione glared at him and thinned her lips in anger, but he had other things on his mind than her hurt feelings.
Even the little appetite he had disappeared after his confrontation with Hermione. Harry rose to his feet and left the Great Hall. He did not notice that Ron was right behind him until he heard his voice.
"What are we going to do about Ginny?"
The question surprised Harry, but at least Ron was looking for a solution. He frowned. What could they do?
"I still don't know what to tell Mum about this," Ron continued, taking Harry's silence as permission to do so. "It will break her heart to hear that Ginny's a Slytherin."
The last word was spoken with such malice that Harry spun around in surprise. Ron's countenance was screwed up into a dark scowl that incensed Harry. "What the hell are you talking about, Ron? She's your sister!"
"Well, yeah, but you know what Slytherins are like. I reckon I always knew Ginny wasn't quite like the rest of us, but I thought it was her being a girl and all. Now it all looks different."
Harry willed himself to hear his friend out. "How so?"
"Well, she could always get her way. Mum and Dad always listened to her and thought she was an angel. She used to blame us for pranks she pulled, and they believed her." Ron shrugged. "The Hat knows this stuff. It's been Sorting for a thousand years, and I bet it's never wrong. Ever."
"Ron, you're the one who told me that all the Weasleys go to Gryffindor. Doesn't this seem strange to you?"
Ron sighed. "Look, I told you she was different. Now it's starting to make sense. Maybe we should keep away from her until we find out what she's really like at school."
"Keep away from her?" Harry's voice was stone cold.
"Now that she knows she belongs in Slytherin..." Ron trailed off.
"You're insane! Can you hear what you're saying? If it's anyone's fault she ended up there, it's ours. Yours especially. You're the one who chucked her out of our compartment."
"Well, it's a good thing I did! She could have picked up our Quidditch plays or something." He scowled. "Could have already, really."
At that moment, Harry realised that his friend could not understand because he did not want to. As soon as something was sorted under a certain label, Ron lost perspective.
Somehow, Harry smothered the sudden urge to hit Ron. Turning on his heel, he stalked down the hall toward the Transfiguration classroom without a word. He could hear Ron shouting something, but in his anger the words washed over him like empty noise. It was almost as if the castle could feel his anger as the stairs realigned themselves to allow him the most direct passage to the classroom.
The classroom was still empty when he entered, so he walked to the last desk in the corner. That spot was always vacant because there were not enough students to fill all the desks. Hoping Ron would get the message, Harry put his school things on the chair beside him to emphasise that he wanted to be left alone.
When Ron finally arrived a few minutes later, he immediately went to sit next to Harry as if nothing had happened. Harry could not believe how thick his friend was. He just kept ignoring the other boy, and finally could see the redness of anger creeping up his face.
Even though Ron was now angry with him, Harry let out a sigh of relief, followed by another one when Professor McGonagall entered the classroom. At the very least, no one would be approaching him for the time being.
Harry bolted from the room once the lesson ended. He wanted to use the free period for some peace and quiet, and he wanted to plan how to approach Ginny that night. He heard someone walking behind him. The quick pace of the steps told him that this person was trying to catch up with him. He risked a glance behind him and saw Hermione falling into his pace.
"Harry, why are you angry with Ron?" she asked without any pleasantries, and while Harry appreciated her direct approach, she had hit the topic he most wanted to avoid.
His eyes flashed. "Isn't it obvious, Hermione? Have you heard the way he talks about his sister now?"
"Well, he's obviously surprised. It may take some time for him to accept it. And why do you even care?"
Harry stopped walking and turned to the girl. "Why do I care?" he asked. "How can you even ask me something like that?"
Hermione looked stricken. "No, no… I didn't mean it that way. It all came out wrong." She looked him in the eyes. "What I wanted –"
Harry waved her off. "Listen, I'm not in the mood for this. I can see you're concerned and I appreciate it, but you don't understand. We caused this. You, me, and Ron, but mostly Ron and me. We are the reason for Ginny ending up in Slytherin. That's why I care. And even if it wasn't our fault, I'd still care. Ginny is a Weasley. Weasleys are special." His last words came out in a whisper, and before Hermione could ask more questions, Harry rushed off to Gryffindor tower.
His dormitory was empty, but Harry wanted absolute privacy. He sat on his bed and closed the curtain around him. Ron was acting like a complete git, Hermione did not understand, and Harry was getting desperate. He opened his trunk and took out the first book he could grab, hoping it would take his mind off of the situation for a moment. He needed something to calm himself.
He put the book in his lap and opened it without even glancing at its title. The subject was not important; the book served only as a welcome distraction.
The page where an index should have been was blank. Harry turned one page and then another and another. The entire book was empty. The pages looked old and worn, but there was no text. He closed the book and looked at the cover, finding nothing on it except for three fading letters: 'TMR'.
Harry completely forgot about Ginny for the moment. He tried to remember where he had acquired this book, but he found that he had no idea. His finger traced the page as he tried to remember his shopping trip to Diagon Alley. Distracted, he cut his finger on the paper. A drop of blood smeared the page along one edge. Harry hissed and sucked at his stinging finger. He cursed himself for being so careless before turning back to the book. He was surprised to see his blood disappearing from the page as if the slim volume were a sponge absorbing spilled water from a table.
Frowning, Harry pressed his bleeding finger against the pages. In a couple of seconds, that stain disappeared, too. Harry stared at the book intently, trying to figure out how to proceed. He had never heard of a book that drank blood. He doubted that it was a good thing, but he was unsure what to do. Surprisingly, the book decided to help him make a decision as text started appearing in an unfamiliar handwriting.
You might consider using a quill and some ink.
Harry looked at the book in wonder, and suddenly he understood. He could write into the book, and the book would respond. Deciding that writing in bed was not really practical, he pulled the curtain aside, stuck his head out, and observed the dormitory. It was still empty.
He quickly took a bottle of ink and a new quill from his school bag and moved to the desk near the window. He carefully set the ink on the table, followed by the book. Holding the quill in his right hand, he pulled out the chair and sat down.
Opening the book, he smoothed the page with his hand and dipped the quill into the ink. He was about to start writing when he realised that he was unsure what to write. While he was trying to decide, a drop of ink from the quill fell onto the page. Harry noticed that it was absorbed much faster than blood had been.
That's better. Now, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tom Riddle.
Harry was thankful for the opening. He lowered the quill and started writing.
Hi, Tom. My name is Harry Potter.
I'm pleased to meet you, Harry. Potter… Would you be Harold and Audrey's son?
The question took Harry by surprise. He did not recognize the names, but they were obviously Potters.
No. My parents' names were James and Lily.
Ah… Do you mind telling me what year it is?
Another strange question, Harry thought. Deciding that it could not harm anyone, he wrote back.
Ah, that would explain it. I wasn't aware that so much time had passed. James was probably their son, and you are their grandson. Or perhaps James was their grandson.
Harry's mind raced, trying to understand what he was reading. This Tom, whoever he was, had apparently known his grandparents. And he might have known his father. He wrote exactly that in the form of a question, his handwriting even messier from excitement.
I have met your grandparents, but I am not familiar with your father. From your questions, I take it you never met any of them.
Although he found it hard to answer the question, Harry felt like he had been given the best gift – a book that could tell him about his family.
My parents died when I was only a baby, and I don't know anything about my grandparents.
It took some time for the response to appear. I'm sorry to hear that, Harry. If I may ask, do you know how they died?
Even though it was a strange question, Harry answered it. He wanted more information about his family.
They were killed by an evil wizard named Voldemort. He killed them when I was a baby, and he tried to kill me, too, but I survived. The curse rebounded and struck him instead.
This time the pause was even longer. I see. An amazing feat. You must be very special.
I'm not really. It was my mother's sacrifice that saved me. You said that you've met my grandparents. How could you meet them when you're a book?
This book is a diary, actually. It contains the memories of my sixteen-year-old self. I made it fifty years ago, when I was a student here. I met your grandparents before that.
Harry was thrilled. Could you tell me about them?
I can do better than that. I can show you.
Show me? How?
Tell me, Harry, have you ever heard about Pensieves?
A Pensieve is a magical instrument which allows you to watch one's memories as if you were there. I have placed charms on this diary which will allow you to view my own memories in a similar fashion.
Amazing. Can you show me now?
I'm afraid that no one has used me for a long time. It will take some time until I can show you, but rest assured that I will. In fact, if you keep writing, I'll recover more quickly. The diary was charmed to work like a friendship – what you give, you get in return.
The whole concept warmed Harry's heart. Not only had he found a friend, but this friend could give him information about his family. And with the tension among his usual friends, he could use a new one.
I will. Don't worry. I can't wait until you show me.
Nor can I. I am glad you have found me, Harry Potter.
Harry wanted to write more, but the dormitory door opened. A wave of possessiveness washed over Harry, and he snapped the diary closed and turned toward the door. Neville walked in a hurry.
"Oh, hi, Harry," Neville said. "I've forgotten my Charms book, so I came to get it. What are you doing here anyway? The class starts in ten minutes."
Discovering the diary had made Harry forget that he had more classes to attend that day. He got up and returned the book to his trunk. Neville was watching him when he stood back up.
"I thought you'd be with Ron and Hermione."
"I was writing a letter," he said as he picked up his school bag. "Good thing you came up here, I was caught up in everything. Let's walk together to class."
"Sure. I've got my book. Let's go."
Harry chatted with Neville about nothing in particular, his thoughts on his newfound magical friend.
Ginny had spent almost half an hour mustering up her courage. She had seen Harry and her brother enter the Charms classroom. She had a free period, so she walked around the castle thinking. Her thoughts and life were a chaotic whirl in her mind, and it helped that she was as far from the Slytherin common room as she could get.
She really wanted to talk to Harry, but she was not sure if she would get her chance during the detention, so she had decided to try to catch him when his class ended.
She walked to a small alcove in the corridor so she could stay unseen until Harry exited the classroom. She hoped her brother would not be accompanying him.
Harry spent his Charms class sitting with Neville. It kept him far enough from Ron, but Hermione was not as easy to deter. As soon as he entered the classroom, she waylaid him and demanded to know where he had disappeared to. He waved off her questions, but she continued. She sat next to him and Neville and spent the class asking him questions he did not want to answer. It was too much for him.
When the class ended, Harry remained in his chair. Neville threw him a questioning glance.
"You go on," Harry told him. "I'll catch up with you. I need to talk to Flitwick." Truth to be told, he wanted to avoid Hermione.
Neville nodded and left. Harry looked around the classroom and saw that most of the students had already gone. Sure enough, however, Hermione was waiting for him. He watched warily as she approached him.
"Harry, you still haven't told me where you were." She looked like she wanted to read his thoughts, and it made Harry angry.
"Listen, Hermione, you keep asking me questions, and I don't want to answer them. Sometimes I do things that I want to keep private, so lay off." He tried to keep his emotions in check.
Hermione obviously had a different opinion. "But, Harry –"
"I don't want to talk to you! Just leave me be."
"Fine! Be that way!" She huffed and left the classroom.
Harry took a deep breath to calm himself down. Then he noticed that Professor Flitwick was still there. "Is there something wrong, Mr Potter?"
"No. Everything is fine," Harry said, leaving the classroom. But the truth was that everything, the diary aside, was wrong. Very wrong.
He had barely made ten steps out of the classroom when he felt a hand touching his arm. Hermione obviously was not going to give up easily. "Leave me alone! I don't want to talk to you!"
He turned around and saw the stricken face of Ginny Weasley. Tears glistened on her freckled cheeks. He opened his mouth to speak, to apologize, but she turned and ran, her sobs echoing in the halls.
At that moment he felt so bad that he could not even run after her. How was he going to explain that he had thought she was someone else? Especially after everything that had happened. He sought a wall to help keep him upright, only one thought crashing about in his mind like a rogue Bludger. What have I done?
"He hates me, Luna. You should have seen the look in his eyes. He hates me, and it's all my fault," Ginny cried to her friend.
"I am sorry, Ginny. Are you sure he was talking to you?"
"Yes, I'm sure," she sobbed. "The corridor was empty except for us. Who else would he be talking to?" Luna still looked optimistic, and Ginny felt a ray of hope shining through her despair.
"He might've been talking to a Blibbering Humdinger," Luna said. "They breed this time of the year."
"Oh, Luna…" Ginny hugged her knees, all her hope gone.
I was so stupid, Tom. I should've turned around first.
Anyone could make a mistake like that. It's not your fault.
I thought she hated me, and instead, she wanted to talk to me. And what did I do? I made her cry and run away. I'm a horrible person.
It was horrible, I agree. However, you still have a chance to rectify the situation.
How? How can I fix this?
You need to talk to her again. From what you have told me about Ginny and her family, she truly doesn't belong in Slytherin house.
That was all that mattered to Harry. Ginny did not belong there, and he needed to help her.
Thank you, Tom. You are a true friend.
It was so good to have someone so understanding, and Harry already felt better, even if he was a bit tired.
You're welcome, Harry. That's why I'm here, after all. Now, tell me more about yourself.
Harry looked at his watch. He still had plenty of time before the detention. He could spend a while getting to know his friend. He dipped his quill in his inkpot and continued writing.
"You really should talk to someone about that," Luna said.
Ginny continued rubbing her bruised shoulder. "Who? I told Snape the first night, and look what happened. I got a detention."
"Talk to Harry," Luna said without a moment of hesitation.
"Harry?" Ginny had a hard time believing that her friend could suggest that after their earlier conversation. "Harry hates me, and I don't blame him. He's the last person who'd want to know about this."
"Harry will listen. He wants to talk to you, too." Luna was still looking at the drawing she had shown Ginny earlier. It was supposed to be a protection from some kind of creature.
"How do you know that? Why would he?" Tears blossomed in her eyes again. She swiped at them with her sleeve.
"I just know. Ginny, you have to try. You have nothing to lose."
Sadly, it was the truth. Everyone hated her, and she had landed herself in more trouble than she could handle. Harry could not hate her more than he already did.
She stood up. "I need to go, Luna, or I'll be late for my detention. Bye."
The dungeon hall, as Snape had called it, was a large room, almost the size of the Great Hall. It had no windows and no usable furniture. The walls were made of uneven stone blocks, and rusty chains hung from the ceiling. Cleaning it was the most useless thing Harry had ever done. He had not even known a dungeon hall existed in the first place. The room had not been used in years, maybe even centuries, and Harry was baffled as to why it would have been used at all. Snape had been forced to spell the doors open after the old rusty key snapped in the door lock.
Snape stood in the doorway and watched Ginny and him. It was unnerving, and Harry hoped that he would leave them at some point, just like the night before.
Ginny was scrubbing the floor on the other side of the room. She had avoided his gaze when they met Snape in the dungeon, and Harry was not sure whether she would acknowledge his presence at all.
Harry winced and flexed his sore hands. He had multiple scratches on his palms, but they were not deep enough to bleed. The floor was coarse, and the cloth he was using was rather thin. He decided that Snape was enjoying this greatly, and that was why he only provided them with rags. While the last detention had been painfully boring, this one was just painful.
"There is something in need of my attention," Snape said, his voice booming across the room. Harry jumped, and Ginny squeaked in surprise. Harry hoped that the Potions Master did not notice. "You will keep working until I return."
"This had better work."
"How can you be so confident?"
"It is in my nature."
"Among other things…"
"What was that?"
"Very well. Let us see what is going on."
"So we just watch?"
"Yes. We have interfered enough. Lemon drop, Severus?"
Harry and Ginny worked in silence until the dungeon hall was almost completely clean. Harry figured that they could finish in a couple of minutes, so he stood up. "Ginny?"
She turned around. She shuffled her feet and looked down, her hair hiding her face.
She looked lost and alone, and Harry felt an odd twisting in his stomach and chest. "I'm sorry, Ginny. I'm so sorry."
She lifted her head, and he prepared himself. What he saw was something completely different from what he had expected. Her eyes were bright, and her lower lip was trembling. There was no anger in her expression at all.
"What did you say?" she asked quietly.
He swallowed. "I said I'm sorry. Earlier today, I thought it was Hermione that stopped me, and she's been bugging me ever since we came to Hogwarts. I just wanted her to stop questioning me and leave me alone. And she was…" He stopped when he realised he was rambling.
"So you didn't mean what you said?" she asked in the smallest of voices.
"Of course not. In fact, I wanted to talk to you from the start, but after yesterday…" he trailed off, gesturing helplessly with his hand.
"I'm sorry, too." Harry was not sure what she was trying to say, and it seemed that Ginny recognised his confusion. "About what I said yesterday. I didn't mean any of it."
"You didn't?" The surprise in his voice was tinged with hope.
"No. I'm not happy in Slytherin." Ginny's voice rose in pitch with every word. Tears started welling in her eyes as she continued. "I never wanted to go there. But I was so mad at you after the train ride."
Harry only nodded, not trusting his voice.
"My own brother threw me out, and all I wanted was to sit with you. And maybe talk to you," she added shyly, sniffling and wiping her nose on her sleeve.
"Ron's a git. And I'm an idiot."
"I thought so, too. In fact, I still think that about Ron. But you… I couldn't really expect you to help me."
"Why not? I should've said something. I felt so bad after that. I left the compartment, and I almost hexed Malfoy. That's how I ended in detention."
Ginny smiled slightly. "Really?"
"Yes. But at least I got a chance to talk to you. Why did you get a deten–"
The doors of the hall burst open, and Snape almost ran in. "You are supposed to be working, not standing there looking at each other like two fools!"
Harry hoped he could finish his conversation with Ginny, but Snape did not give them a chance. Instead, he had to be happy with the little progress they had made.
Later that night, he pulled the curtains around his bed closed. "Lumos," he whispered, holding his wand in front of him.
In the soft spell-light he started writing, Tom, you were right...