J. K. Rowling owns the Potterverse. And she has made a lot of money out of it. I don’t own anything. And I haven’t made any money at all.
“ – Mark my words.” Dad was sitting at the bar of the Leaky Cauldron, saying something very earnest to Ron. Next to Ron stood Hermione and –
– and Harry.
I stopped in my tracks. I felt a slow, deep flush spread beneath my freckles as I nearly met the green gaze of the Boy Who Lived. I tore my eyes away in time and stared at the floor, thinking that he was handsomer than I remembered, while I murmured a polite “Hello”. Fortunately, Harry did not notice me at all, because Percy had claimed his attention.
I tried to remember the appropriate way to behave in front of Harry. He was my brother’s best friend. Ron’s other siblings all considered Harry as at least a casual friend and spoke to him easily. I should have done the same. After all, I’d speak politely to Lee Jordan, and spend a few moments asking him about himself … wouldn’t I? But it was too late now. I’d missed the moment. Harry either hadn’t noticed my omission, or had noticed it in the wrong way. And anything I did now would make the situation worse.
Hermione had smiled at me, but I couldn’t think of anything to say.
She had Harry and I didn’t.
And we had to share a room tonight.
“I notice they haven’t made you two Prefects!” Mum was saying to Fred and George.
“What do we want to be Prefects for?” asked George, while Fred made gagging noises. “It’d take all the fun out of life!”
I giggled. The idea of Fred or George handing out detentions was so very incongruous.
Mum started to complain that the twins needed to set a better example to me, but nobody really listened. Soon I was able to grab two of the shopping bags and make some excuse about sorting out my new stuff.
In fact, dinner was much more fun than I’d expected. I sat between Fred and George, which put me directly opposite Harry, so that I could look at him without apparently staring. Everyone had a great deal to say, and the five-course meal was very good. We might have sat around listening to the twins teasing Percy until midnight, but the hard chairs were really not very comfortable to people who had slightly over-eaten after a long day’s brisk walking. In the end, I was the first person to stand up and announce that I really must go to bed.
Alone. Safe. I dropped onto the bed – and an earsplitting howl shot out from underneath me. I sprang up again and felt cautiously down the bedspread.
Fur. A cat. I had nearly squashed a cat. I stroked the fur cautiously and it began to purr. I nearly laughed with relief. It was only a cat. It didn’t even seem to be an angry cat, although it must know that I had nearly squashed it. I felt my way to the candle niches in the wall and lit them. The cat was stretched out contentedly on my bed, a huge orange creature, still purring lazily.
My bed? I suddenly realised that the creature in front of me must belong to Hermione. I hadn’t known she had a cat. Of course she would have left it on her bed over dinner. That meant she had chosen the bed by the window. It wasn’t my bed at all.
Abruptly, I pulled away from the orange cat, took my nightdress from my trunk, and tunnelled into it. Not alone. There was a cat in the room. There had been too much alone-ness last year. As I brushed my teeth, I reminded myself of my resolutions. This year, I will make friends. This year, I will concentrate on my studies. This year, I will think before I act. I picked up the cat and cradled it on my lap. This year, I will join in with at least two extra-curricular activities. This year, I will not follow Harry Potter. This year –
The door swung open alarmingly. Was there a ghoul in the Leaky Cauldron? No, it was only Hermione.
“They’re still going strong down there,” she told me. “Ron would have kept me talking all night. Silly, really. We have all year to talk.”
Ron. And Harry, of course, I thought.
Hermione sat down on the other bed and actually looked at me. “Oh, look at Crookshanks, what a cheek! He’s taken over your bed. Do you hate cats, Ginny?”
“No, not at all – no, I’m very fond of cats. It’s all right, Hermione; you don’t have to move him.” I was proud of myself. I had managed to say something sensible to Hermione, and say it pleasantly too.
“I noticed you’d left your stuff by the window, so I put Crookshanks on the other bed. He obviously liked your idea better. Silly puss, you should ask before you take over other people’s furniture.”
“I didn’t know you had a cat. Did you buy him today?”
Hermione did not reply until she had finished cleaning her teeth. “He’s a birthday present. I bought him at the Magical Menagerie today. Although I’m not sure how it will work out. Crookshanks has his eye on Scabbers, so of course Ron doesn’t like Crookshanks. A load of fuss about nothing, if you ask me, because pets are always kept in dormitories. … So, did you meet anyone interesting in Diagon Alley?”
No, you had monopolised the interesting person… I swallowed, and admitted: “I met Colin Creevey.”
Hermione pulled her nightdress over her head, and modestly began to remove her clothes from underneath it. “How’s Colin?” Her voice was muffled through the cloth. “Has he grown over the summer?”
Thinking that was a very odd question, I replied abruptly that Colin still wasn’t quite as tall as I was. After all, I thought, he lost six months of growing time last year. It’s amazing that his Muggle parents let him come back to Hogwarts at all. No. No, I won’t think about that. Hermione shouldn’t have reminded me. “Colin was in a very good mood,” I snapped defiantly.
Hermione seemed surprised at my tone, but she said quite placidly, “He always is. Do you know, when he woke up from being Petrified, his first words were, ‘Hi, Madam Pomfrey, would you like a grape? They’re really for Harry Potter, but would you like one?’ He hadn’t broken his train of thought since the second he was Petrified, and he didn’t seem at all surprised to find himself in the hospital wing, with his grapes and camera gone.”
Hermione doesn’t mean to be tactless, I reminded myself. But that thought was jangling with a louder one: That’s exactly the kind of reason why I don’t want Hermione to share my room! I stiffened my jaw, stroked Crookshanks furiously, and made myself ask: “What were your first words when you woke up?” And hoped it wouldn’t show that I didn’t care about the answer.
“Nothing very original, I’m afraid. I said, ‘There’s a basilisk right behind us, Madam Pomfrey! We have to warn the whole school.’ So I suppose I hadn’t broken my train of thought either. I really was surprised when I realised that I was up in hospital. Penelope was much clearer-thinking. She didn’t say anything until she’d had a good look around, and seen Madam Pomfrey revive Colin. Then she asked, ‘How much time has passed?’ And Justin said nothing at all until the rest of us had finished orienting ourselves, when he told Professor Sprout, ‘I am greatly obliged to you, Professor,’ in that wonderful clipped Eton accent of his.”
She came to pick up Crookshanks, who raised his head for just long enough to let himself be transferred from my arms to Hermione’s. He raised the volume of his purring. He hadn’t minded being stroked by me, but it was obvious whose cat he was.
“But Mrs Norris spat and yowled,” said Hermione. She was still talking about Petrification. “She even tried to scratch Madam Pomfrey. She wasn’t a good quiet cat, not like Crookshanks, was she, was she? Who’s a gorgeous beastie, then? And Nearly-Headless Nick kept going on and on about how if the basilisk could Petrify him, it ought to have been able to sever his head completely too, and could Madam Pomfrey do anything to complete his decapitation. As if she could do anything at all for a person who’s already dead! If you ask me, he’s lucky that the mandrake juice worked on him.”
I moved myself to underneath my bedcovers. With any luck, Hermione would take the hint that I wanted to sleep. In fact my mind was racing, and I knew I would toss and turn, but at least I wouldn’t be trying to think of things to say to Hermione.
“You know the most surprising thing about waking up?” Hermione could evidently think of plenty of conversation points herself. It was a pity they all seemed to converge back on the Chamber of Secrets. “It was noticing how different everything seemed. I was still thinking the same thoughts I’d had on the day I was Petrified, but they didn’t fit any more. I had to take in five weeks of changes in just a few minutes.”
“Oh?” I tried to sound politely interested in the great psychological change in Hermione.
“You see, it was all very quick. One moment Penelope and I were creeping out of the library, staring into her mirror in case the basilisk should be on the loose, but not seriously expecting it would be. The next moment we saw the reflection of these two great yellow eyes. I hardly had time to think, ‘It is the basilisk!’ before Madam Pomfrey was feeding something into my mouth, and the mirror had gone, and the library corridor had turned into the hospital wing. I know now that it was five weeks, but at the time it only felt like a second. I was bursting to explain that there was a basilisk, and nobody must look at it, and we needed to bring in some roosters. It took me several hours to realise that my thoughts were all out of date.”
“Oh?” Polite again. Talking about what Tom Riddle had done to Hermione was still easier than talking about what Tom Riddle had done to me.
“Well, the basilisk had gone, thank goodness, so nobody was afraid any more. There was no mystery to solve, and nobody was suspecting Harry any more, so I didn’t have to waste any more energy trying to convince people that it couldn’t have been him. Hagrid had been cleared too. And the boys told me all about Lockhart – ”
“Lockhart?” I sat up straight in bed. “What did Lockhart have to do with anything?”
“Well, Ron told me … oh, dear, that was tactless.” The colour drained from Hermione’s face. For the first time she stopped talking and looked straight at me again. “Ginny, I’m sorry. I’d completely forgotten how you were concerned with all that Chamber business. Of course you don’t want to hear about that cowardly peacock.”
“Professor Lockhart?” I asked again. “I didn’t like him much, but what was the problem?” The truth was that I didn’t have very clear memories of any of my Hogwarts teachers, only general impressions of the way I’d felt about each one.
Hermione bit her lip. “Didn’t they tell you how he behaved on the day you were taken down to the Chamber?”
“Professor Dumbledore told me that Harry and Ron worked out where the entrance to the Chamber was. Lockhart went with them to rescue me, but there was an accident on the way and rocks fell down, which meant Lockhart lost his memory and Ron was trapped. So Harry had to rescue me on his own.” I said that with some pride. Harry Potter had saved me – saved me from a basilisk and from Lord Voldemort. When Hermione did not reply I stared at her. “Is there something they didn’t tell me? Answer me! If this is about me, I have the right to know.”