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.
Hermione, still cradling Crookshanks, moved back over to my bed, and sat down in front of me. We stroked the cat together while she looked me in the eye.
“Ginny, Harry and Ron told me that Gilderoy Lockhart did everything he could not to rescue you. First he tried to leave Hogwarts by the back door. When Ron challenged him, he said he didn’t know where the Chamber of Secrets was. He tried to wipe the boys’ memories – it’s lucky Harry was so quick. Harry had to Disarm Lockhart and force him down to the entrance.”
Yes, Harry is her hero too, I thought. But this time I did not resent it quite so much. She was only telling me what had happened.
“Even when the Chamber door opened, Lockhart tried to get out of entering,” Hermione continued, eyes wide with disgust. “They had to push him in. He just didn’t care about rescuing you at all. And then he tried to Obliviate their memories again.” I could feel the anger coursing through her veins as she remembered.
I was leaning towards her, tensing with the same anger. “How did they escape?” I hadn’t known that Lockhart had tried to destroy Harry.
“It was pure luck. He was using Ron’s broken wand, and it backfired in his hand. The spell hit Lockhart, and Obliviated him instead of them. That’s how he lost his memory. I don’t understand how I never realised what kind of man he was!”
“Well, you couldn’t have known, before he did those things.”
“But, Ginny, he wanted to leave you to a basilisk, and to destroy Ron and Harry’s minds, just to preserve his own fake reputation for no effort! Surely there would have been a clue about what kind of criminal he was? But I never noticed – not the least little bit.”
“I suppose you wanted to believe the best of him. Shouldn’t we always believe – ” But my words died in my throat, when I remembered how willingly I had believed the best of Tom Riddle.
Crookshanks stretched plaintively, as if we had neglected him, and we both began mechanically stroking him again.
“So Ron didn’t tell you my guilty secret.” Hermione’s voice was suddenly small.
“Ron never tells me anything. He just teases me and sends me away.”
“So you didn’t know that I used to fancy Professor Lockhart?”
“No!” How extraordinary! The girl who spent her whole day with Harry Potter could waste her energies on a mere teacher!
“I suppose Lockhart was very good-looking.” I knew this wasn’t much comfort, but I really didn’t remember much about the man.
“He was,” Hermione concurred. “But that was the only thing you could say for him. He was vain, and stupid, and dishonest, and cowardly, and self-centred, and … need I go on? He hadn’t even done the brave deeds described in his books; it was all lies. I don’t understand how I could have wasted my time on him.”
“Lots of people assumed Lockhart was telling the truth about his adventures,” I pointed out. “That doesn’t make you unusual. Perhaps you fancied him because he was brave?”
“Brave, and adventurous, and exciting, and a defender of the weak … oh, it’s easy to find excuses. But usually I’m right about people. I’ve always known that Hagrid couldn’t be a criminal, and that Snape isn’t all bad, and that your friend Colin may be irritating at times but nevertheless he’s totally loyal and trustworthy … really, I think I would have known all along that Lockhart was a fake if I hadn’t been befuzzled by his handsomeness. That’s a very embarrassing thought.”
“Hermione, it was very brave of you to tell me when you didn’t have to.” That was the first thing that came into my head. “After all, I was befuzzled by Tom Riddle, because of his friendliness. It’s the same thing. Or worse. Because Lockhart was only a fool, but Riddle was evil.”
“This was a violent fool,” said Hermione, although she sounded somehow happier. “Lockhart was the kind of fool who was happy to finish off all my friends. I’ll never be able to forget how stupid I was about him. In fact, I shall never, never fancy a fair-haired man again.”
Of course not. Not when there are black-haired men around! But my dislike for Hermione was rapidly losing all its passion. Instead, I felt sad and unlucky that we were rivals, when clearly we were so much better suited to being friends. And I did promise myself I would make friends this year. I must start with Hermione. Whatever it cost, whatever the effort, I must try.
“What made you recognise you were over Lockhart?” I asked.
“Realising that I’d just spent fifteen minutes being outraged and disgusted at him! We’d spent hours talking about the Chamber, and I was so busy being angry with Lockhart that I’d completely forgotten that he was supposed to be my hero. So when I did remember that I’d forgotten, I knew at once that he wasn’t my hero any more, and I was so happy to be free of him. Who wants to have a crush on a teacher anyway?”
“Lots of girls have crushes on famous Quidditch players or singers,” I pointed out. I could feel the flush spreading under my freckles, as I remembered that the boy I loved was also famous and a hero. I hoped Hermione couldn’t see it in the dim candlelight. “Men whom they don’t even know.” I looked up, a little defiantly, because I did know Harry.
“But, really, it makes more sense to love someone you know,” said Hermione. “Someone whom you already know well enough to know that he isn’t going to change into a coward as soon as you come close to him. Someone whom you already know isn’t stupid. Someone with whom you can have fun every day because he’s always around. Someone with whom you don’t have to pretend because you feel comfortable telling him anything.”
I closed my eyes and dropped my head to my knees. For a while, I had almost been liking Hermione Granger, but there was no escape. There was no mistaking the light in her eyes or the tone of her voice. She was going to go on … and on … and on … about how she and Harry were always together, without even noticing that that meant Ginny Weasley was always being left out. However, I had faced Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets, and now I must face Hermione Granger in the thralldom of love. I lifted my face, and made myself say:
“So you do like someone, then?”
She smiled ecstatically.
“When did you realise he was the one?”
“About five minutes after I realised I was over Lockhart. There he was, telling me all about the Chamber … and he’d been so brave, so enterprising, so very right in the way he’d behaved … yet he was so modest about it, unlike some people, and he’s so intelligent too, and he really is very good-looking, even if he does forget to comb his hair … there just wasn’t any doubt in my mind that I belong to him, and always will.”
I swallowed hard and forced my voice to sound normal. How would I sound if I were happy for her, but otherwise quite indifferent to the question? As if she fancied a boy whom I’d never met? “Do you think he’s noticed that you like him?”
She laughed. “No-o. He’s a boy. He hasn’t noticed girls yet. He wouldn’t realise I fancied him if I tattooed his name all over my face and surrounded it with hearts.”
I was brave enough to ask, “Doesn’t that worry you?” but it wasn’t an enthusiastic question. Since Harry didn’t know that Hermione fancied him, I had a chance, a very slim chance, but if I did end up the winner, then Hermione would be the loser. And I knew then that I wanted both of us to win.
“I read somewhere that girls start noticing boys younger than boys start noticing girls. Since we’re the same age, it’s natural that I would notice him before he notices me, but I’m sure he’ll work it out in the end.”
“When do you think he’ll start noticing that you’re a girl?”
“I think it’ll take another ten months.”
I gawped. “How can you be so precise?”
“Because of his height,” she said calmly.
I stared at her again.
“You should read more, Ginny. Last Christmas I’d nearly caught him up in height, but by the time the school year ended, he was towering over me. He was growing really fast in the first half of this year. Well, I read that boys start – er – noticing girls about six months after their growth spurt begins, but it usually takes them another year after that to admit that they’re noticing. So he won’t be telling me that he knows I’m a girl until the end of this academic year. … Ginny, is something wrong?”
I shook my head, fighting desperately against an overwhelming sadness. This was supposed to be a good year but Hermione had planned, down to the minute, exactly when Harry would become her boyfriend, exactly when I would be cut off from all hope forever. “What if – ” I hesitated. We were skating on very thin ice here. However, Hermione had started it, so I would continue. “What if he does start noticing girls, but the girl he notices isn’t you?”
Hermione frowned and stopped petting Crookshanks. “I suppose that might happen, but it doesn’t seem very likely. After all, I am his best friend. We’re together every day. When he does wake up to girls, I’ll be the first girl he sees. So I’m not really worried that he won’t be interested.”
Nice, I thought, to be so confident.
“No, I’m more worried that he’ll lose interest after he’s started. I’m sure I’ll be the first. Sooner or later there’ll be a school dance or – or some kind of pairing-off activity, and he’ll realise it’s easier to go with me than to make the effort to approach a stranger. But once he’s comfortable with me, he’ll become more confident about approaching other girls. What worries me is whether or not I’ll be able to keep him interested in me then.”
I pushed back the glorious vision of Harry becoming so interested in girls that he abandoned Hermione and transferred his interest to me. No. It wasn’t fair to think that way. Take a deep breath. Say what a friend would say. “If he does like you already, you have gallons of advantage over anyone whom he hasn’t even noticed,” I said, unable to keep the sad tone out of my voice. Intimate lighting or not, she would soon see that I was on the verge of tears.
She frowned. “Well, it may not be as easy as I’m hoping. He’s not exactly the most in-touch-with-reality person. Today he was talking as if he’d catch Sirius Black single-handed. He’s not facing up to the painful truth about Scabbers’ old age, either. Harry and I were saying today that the rat isn’t going to live much longer.”
I was confused. First she said that he wasn’t facing the truth about Scabbers, then that he knew Scabbers was dying.
“Talking of whom,” Hermione continued, “Harry’s been getting himself into trouble this summer. Did you hear how he blew up his aunt? He wants to be more careful.”
“It wasn’t his fault!” I protested. I didn’t understand Hermione’s sudden cool tone. “People can’t help it, you know, when they do wandless magic.”
“No, but everyone can develop self-control,” she said. “If Harry would face up to his unforgiving attitude – ”
There it was again, a definite coldness towards Harry when he was in trouble. “Hermione,” I insisted, “Don’t you love Harry?”
“Of course I love Harry,” she replied, still coolly. “Harry’s my second-best friend ever – ”
The world did rock then. The bedroom walls shrank away, and the bed covers billowed up enormously, and the candles – and shadows – flared up to the ceiling. I had lost all sense of balance, and didn’t know whether I was swaying backwards onto my pillows or forwards into Crookshanks. I barely heard what Hermione was saying about acknowledging her friends’ faults because they were her friends. When I found any voice at all, all I could whisper was an echoed, “Second?”