Author/Artist's Notes: When r_becca tapped me to pinch-hit, I was intrigued with snuggle_muggle's prompt — especially the part where she requested an exploration of how Ginny's experiences with the diary and the Chamber affected her self-esteem. While I think canon is pretty clear that Ginny shook off the effects during her years at Hogwarts, I wondered how such an experience would affect her years later. It's true that children will make you feel your vulnerabilities.
"Mum let me get the DC clasps for my school robes, Rosie!" Lily said into the Floo. "I couldn't believe it. They were twice as much as the normal clasps, but Mum said I could have them."
Ginny smiled and started to untie the parcel of schoolbooks she had just purchased for Lily's first year at Hogwarts. Every book was brand new — a ridiculous extravagance when Lily could have used The Standard Book of Spells and all the other texts that James and Albus had shared, but Ginny wanted Lily to have new books with untouched pages.
Her heart started beating rapidly and her palms broke out in a sweat.
She put her hand over her chest and felt her frantic heart trying to beat its way out. No. Not here. Not with the children around.
She had kept it together in Flourish and Blotts. Harry had joined their shopping spree during his lunch hour, and while he had raised his eyebrows at the all-new textbooks, he hadn't fought with anyone, nor had Lily been given a used diary.
So why was she still reliving that day?
If only she hadn't written the first line in Tom Riddle's diary: Today we went to Diagon Alley for my school things.
Lily was talking and talking and talking… "I think I saw Diane Smith coming out of Gladrags for Girls, but I'm not sure if it was her." She giggled. "Albus wouldn't even look in that direction when I pointed her out…"
Ginny put down the books with trembling hands. Lily's innocent chattering made her want to scream.
Outside. She had to get away.
Ginny bolted out the door. It was just as warm and stifling outside as it had been in the kitchen, but at least she was free to move. She kept walking until she reached the vegetable patch. Two garden gnomes dropped the green pumpkin they were trying to steal — but she barely registered their wild scramble over the garden wall.
No one was going to know. She curled her hands into fists and closed her eyes, riding her bucking emotions like a broom tossed in a storm. She was going to get through this — alone.
The children were not going to know how anxious she felt. She was not going to constantly check the hands on the clock. She was not going to be her mother.
Hadn't she tried Albus's new trick broom just the other day? She had managed to grab the twigs and do a 360 degree turn before she tumbled through the sky and landed on the Cushion Charm below. Former Harpies players, the cool mums, the women who were fun and fearless and open to a challenge didn't have panic attacks. She was not that little girl Tom Riddle had possessed.
But what about Lily? said the anxious voice in her head. She's a little girl.
The clouds were gathering. It looked like rain. Maybe the gnomes were afraid of the upcoming storm rather than of her.
Now was now. Lily would be fine. There were no more diaries to warn about. She raised her chin. Her children were going to go off to Hogwarts happy and carefree — even if it killed her.
"Lily, you have to tell the girls not to send scrolls to my Tweeter Twig," James said at dinner that night. "I don't care who likes which Hufflepuff twit."
"James," Harry said, "could you register your disapproval without the combative tone?"
"No, sorry," James said. "I can't. Lily won't listen, otherwise."
"I'll listen," Lily piped up before Harry had a chance to say anything. "It's not my fault I can't have a Tweeter Twig."
"You can have one," Harry said. "But you have to earn it. We want to see how you handle your first term."
"But how can I keep track of everyone if I don't have a Tweeter Twig? My first term is going to be miserable if I can't talk to Rosie or Molly or Roxanne. And Molly is in Hufflepuff. If I'm sorted into Gryffindor, how am I ever going to talk to her?"
Harry met Ginny's glance. "We didn't have Tweeter Twigs when we were in school — and we managed to keep up with our friends. Even our friends in different houses."
"Dad! Owls take forever! You can't have a proper conversation," Lily said.
Harry raised his eyebrows as if to say you couldn't have proper conversation with a word-limited Tweeter Scroll, either, but James beat him to it.
"You don't have anything to talk about anyway, Lily. Nothing happens to first years," he said. "After the first exciting week of getting lost in the castle, all that's left is doing homework and hoping none of the magic you mess up is permanent."
Getting lost in the castle.
Ginny felt her heart speed up again as she remembered the damp stone walls of a cold narrow corridor. Where was she? Water was dripping from overhead. One lone torch sputtered in the bracket. A cat meowed. Mrs. Norris? If she were caught…
Ginny put her palms flat on the table and stood up. "I… er... Kitchen." She fled the dining room through the swinging door, entered the kitchen and kept going until she was outside.
The air smelled like wet grass and cooled her hot face. It had stopped raining, but heavy clouds still hung overhead.
It's over. Get a grip.
Ginny took several deep breaths of the fresh, cool air and then returned to the kitchen. She felt light-headed and shaky — as if she had fever.
"Er — need any help?" Harry asked.
"Um. No." Ginny pinned a smile on her face, but didn't look him in the eye. "I thought I had left the cauldron over the fire, but I didn't."
"Okay." He frowned at her.
"Mum!" Albus burst through the swinging door. "Anything for afters? Or can we walk to the village for sweets? I still have Muggle spending money."
"Are you paying for Lily and James, too?" Harry asked.
Albus grinned. "No. But I'll share if they beg properly."
"Lily has money. She's working out some sort of scheme with James to use his Tweeter Twig."
Harry sighed. "That wasn't what I had in mind about Tweeter Twigs. Yes, you can go to the village — after you all do the washing-up — and I want you back by eight o'clock."
"It's only a week until school starts and you need to get back into a routine."
Albus gave an exaggerated sigh. "We can still listen to the wireless when we get home, right?"
"Until ten o'clock." Harry glanced at Ginny. "You know how much we enjoy listening to Witches and Wizards Have Got Talent."
Ginny tried to smile back, even though her heart wasn't in it.
"Now, your mum and I are going to take our own walk." Harry took her hand and squeezed it.
"Lily, James! Bring in the dishes!" Albus called. "We can go if we clean the kitchen."
"Brilliant," James called. "Oops." There was the sound of silverware clattering on the floor.
"Maybe I should supervise," Ginny said.
"No." Harry tugged on her hand.
Once they were outside, Ginny expected Harry to question her about her strange behaviour, but he was silent as they walked past the vegetable patch (where the gnomes were interrupted yet again). Once they entered the Enchanted Wood — a small nature reserve that the Ministry had established from seized Death Eaters' lands — Harry did talk, but instead of questioning her, he told her about his day. Ginny started to relax. Maybe Harry just fancied a walk and hadn't noticed how upset she was.
"So what about you?" he asked. "How was your day?"
"My day?" Ginny pretended to examine a Vibrating Violet that was growing on the side of the path. "You were with us for the shopping trip."
"I didn't go school robe shopping."
"I got Lily the clasps she wanted." Ginny straightened and looked him in the eye. "I know you don't want the children spoiled, Harry, but for a girl, those little things do make a difference."
Harry frowned at her. "I know that. Well — I don't know that — but I could see how happy Lily was with them."
Ginny sighed in relief. Harry wasn't going to be difficult about the shopping trip.
"I don't think she cared about new books, though."
Ginny could feel the sudden heat in her face. "Oh?"
"But you cared, didn't you?"
Harry was doggedly questioning her in his best 'casual' Auror's manner. "Yes, I cared." She glared at him. "There aren't any diaries included with new textbooks."
"Ah? What does that mean? Ah?"
"Hermione was right — you are comparing Lily's first year to yours."
She didn't trust herself to speak as the heat rose in her face. It was bad enough that she was feeling all of these unwanted feelings, but to have Hermione and Ron discussing her… She took a deep breath and looked over Harry's shoulder at the curious Bowtruckle that had climbed down the large oak they were standing under. It looked like a twig with eyes.
"Ginny? Don't be angry — we weren't discussing you. Hermione just remarked that it's difficult enough to send your children off to Hogwarts — but it's worse if something terrible happened to you at that same age. And that got me thinking about—"
"Harry, something terrible happened to you at every age — and you're not having panic attacks. So don't try to dress it up or pretend to be understanding."
"I'm not pretending." His voice was sharp. "And, to tell you the truth, I don't understand what you're going through. I'm just guessing."
"I don't know if I want to talk about it." She turned and walked down the path toward the small clearing where there was a spring-fed pond. Harry had told her once that it reminded him of where he had found the sword of Gryffindor.
"Why?" Harry asked. "Is there something else from your first year that I don't know about?"
At that she stopped. Harry did know everything about her first year. He had been there, for one thing — and years later, she had told him about Tom's charming friendliness, and his soothing explanations for why she had blood on her hands and feathers on her robes.
Harry knew about that terrifying moment when Tom had risen out of the diary and had marched her to the Chamber. She had repeated Tom's taunts in a low whisper and then her voice had risen when she described how she had fought him tooth and nail — trying to scratch that icy flesh that felt more dead than alive.
Harry had held her when she told him of how she had heard his voice — after hearing only Tom's for so long — begging her not to die as she felt the life draining out of her.
There was no point in hiding any of her feelings from Harry.
"It's not you I don't want to tell," she finally said once she reached the deep, still pond. The water reflected the grey sky and her pale face. "I don't want Lily to know how anxious I am. Mum was always worried about us and it was smothering. And I don't want her to know about the diary or Tom Riddle possessing me or opening the Chamber."
"Ginny, it's not good to keep secrets from your children," Harry said in a flat voice. "I spent years in the dark, trying to find out about my parents and how they died and what they were about. I got all kinds of wrong ideas before I actually found out the truth."
"That's fine for you, but your mother was never possessed by Voldemort. Your mother wasn't stupid enough to write in a Horcrux diary all year. Your mother died protecting you, Harry. Lily's mother almost died because she was an insecure, lonely girl who didn't have any friends except for a diary. Lily's mother almost got Lily's father killed. I do not want my daughter knowing that about me."
Harry ran his hand through his hair. "Ginny."
"What?" She stared at the flat surface of the pond. If she threw a stone, it would shatter the surface and then fall into the depths, disturbing whatever lurked below. She didn't want her past mistakes to shatter Lily's happy anticipation of Hogwarts.
"No secrets — remember? We promised each other that."
"No secrets between us, Harry. I never promised anything about the children."
"Do you remember when everyone thought Sirius was trying to kill me?"
She frowned at this abrupt change in topic. "Yes."
"I overheard your parents arguing at the Leaky Cauldron — about me."
Ginny raised her eyebrows. "About you?"
"Your dad wanted to tell me about Sirius so I could be on my guard — and your mum didn't want me to be worried or anxious." He met her eyes with a steady gaze. "I was glad your father told me."
"Harry, we can warn her about Dark Magic without letting her know I messed up."
"So this is about your pride."
He sounded so disappointed in her that she wanted to put her hands over her ears, but that would be even more childish. "Stop it." She stifled a sob. "I feel bad enough as it is."
"Ginny, I—" He put his arms around her. "I don't want to make you feel worse. I know this has been difficult. It's going to be an adjustment to have all of the children out of the house. And mothers and daughters have something special — so you're really going to miss Lily."
She leaned against him and let a few tears fall. She was going to miss Lily — terribly. Harry held her close and murmured soothing sounds. Comforted, she pulled away and wiped her eyes. "Mothers and daughters do having something special — and then it gets complicated. I guess that's part of my — um…"
"Angst?" Harry smiled at her. "You get along fine with your mum now."
"I know." Ginny took a deep breath and realized that she felt better. "I want that with my daughter."
"Tom Riddle isn't that powerful, Ginny. He can't hurt your relationship with Lily."
She stilled as his words sunk in. "You're right. But—" She bit her lip.
"I don't want to worry Lily. I don't want to make her anxious about her first year."
"Ginny, do we agree this is over with Tom Riddle? You aren't seriously worried something like that is going to happen to Lily, are you?"
"Well, no." Put like that, her fears sounded ridiculous. Hogwarts was a completely different place now. The world was completely different. She sighed, feeling confused again. "So why am I bringing it up?"
"Because the price of the secret is too high."
Her mouth went dry and she licked her lips. "What do you mean?"
"Keeping this from the children feels wrong, doesn't it?"
"It does," she breathed. No wonder she had felt like she was trying keep the door slammed shut on a Boggart. "But I don't know why it should."
Harry touched her arm. "Let's just get this out in the open and then we'll work out that part."
"Okay." There was no point in making it more complicated.
He nodded. "Shall we go back?"
"I want to do something first." Ginny looked around and found a small stone. She dropped it into the pond with a plop. A circle formed and then another and another and another. She watched until the water stilled again. The silvery rings had been beautiful in their way.
"Let's go," she said.
The first thing Ginny heard when they entered the house was James's amused voice. "You shouldn't have helped them, Albus."
"Why not? They've been trying to steal that pumpkin for a week now."
Ginny smiled. All of her children were individuals, but every so often she saw flashes of others in them. In this case, Albus sounded just like her father.
"You messed up their fun," James said. "Now they'll have to find something else to steal, or to change around, or—"
"How do you know?" Albus said. "You're no garden gnome expert."
"I understand the art of a prank," James said, sounding uncannily like Fred — the uncle he had never met.
Albus snorted. "I'm sure that will help with your marks this year."
"So, can I use your Tweeter Twig now?" Lily asked.
"Half an hour — that's it."
"Half an hour? I bought you three Mars Bars!"
"That's ten minutes for each — not a bad bargain, eh?"
"Before you start with the Tweeter Twig and the wireless programs and the Mars Bars, we want to talk to you lot," Harry said.
"We were back by eight o'clock." Albus was sprawled on the floor examining his bag of sweets.
"You're not in trouble," Ginny said as she sat next to Lily on the sofa. "We want to tell you a story about Hogwarts — about me, actually."
"Is this the one where you played Seeker for Dad because he had a detention?" Lily asked. "I like that one."
"Or the one when you broke into the Headmaster's office with Neville and Luna?" James asked.
"No," Ginny's voice trembled a little. "This is about my first year." She patted Lily's hand. "And now that Lily is going off for her first year, it's made me remember when I started at Hogwarts."
"So what happened, Mum?" Lily's brown eyes held nothing but curiosity.
"Um..." Ginny looked at Harry, who gave her an encouraging nod. "Well, as you know, when I was in school, my parents didn't have a lot of money and I had to have used school things."
"Uncle Ron is always talking about that to Rosie and Hugo." Lily giggled. "He had to wear robes with lace to the Yule Ball."
"Um..." Ginny exchanged a glance with Harry, who looked amused. "That's another story. Anyway, while we were shopping for my books, I was slipped a diary. It was a really old diary and I thought it had been left behind in one of the used books. Turned out it was full of Dark Magic."
Lily's eyes were round. "Oh, no."
"Oh, yes." Ginny could feel every muscle in her body tighten. "I wrote in it and it wrote back."
"It wrote back to you? Like FaceScroll?"
"FaceScroll?" Ginny asked.
"It's a magic parchment that's connected to other magic parchments. Whenever you write an entry, your friends can see it on their FaceScroll and then they can write to you."
Ginny shook her head in amazement. What would they come up with next? "No — it was a Horcrux, actually — and I was writing to the soul of Tom Riddle."
"You mean Voldemort?" Albus had gone pale.
"Why did you write to him, Mum?" Lily asked. "He was evil."
"Um..." She hesitated, searching for the best way to put it. Then she realized there was no best way. "When I started at Hogwarts, I was lonely and my roommates weren't very nice to me."
"They weren't nice to you?" Lily stared at her. "Why?"
"I was self-conscious, I suppose — about my clothes and — well… I didn't have a lot of girl cousins like you, Lily. And I didn't know anyone else my age before I went to Hogwarts — so I was shy about meeting new people."
Her eyes widened. "Poor Mum."
Ginny sighed and got the worst over with. "I wrote so much that eventually the soul in the diary got stronger and managed to possess me."
"Possess you?" James frowned. "We read in History of Magic about people being possessed by Voldemort and…" He licked his lips. "…all of them died."
"Well, I didn't die," said Ginny in a stronger voice. "Your father managed to rescue me before that happened." She looked at Harry. "In the Chamber of Secrets."
"Wait," Albus said, looking from Ginny to Harry. "Was this before or after Dad killed the Basilisk?"
"Same time," Harry said. "Tom Riddle used your mother to open the Chamber and let the Basilisk out."
Harry held up his hand. "When you're possessed, you don't remember anything. It took a few months for your mum to realize what was happening. Once she realized what was going on, she actually had the strength to throw the diary away. Of course, I found it and started writing in it, too."
"Dad!" Lily squeaked. "After everything you told us about Dark Magic?"
He smiled. "I didn't know that much about Dark Magic then. Anyway, your mum stole it back — to protect me."
James shook his head and murmured, "Good show, Mum." Ginny wasn't sure if she liked James praising her for stealing, but she let it pass.
"That story of Dad killing the Basilisk makes sense now." Albus nodded. "I always wondered why you went down there. In the Harry Potter book, it said that you heard the snake talking — but you did it for Mum, didn't you?"
Harry cleared his throat. Then he looked Ginny with warm eyes. "Best decision I ever made."
"I'll say," James said.
"So why wasn't Mum's part of the story in Dad's book?" Lily asked.
Ginny glanced at Harry for help.
He shrugged. "I didn't want people to judge her for that. She was only eleven."
"Well, I would have been your friend, Mum," Lily said. "No matter what kind of school robes you had."
"Oh?" James said. "That's easy for you to say, Lily. You have DC clasps. Everyone is going to be your friend."
"Good. I want a lot of friends." Lily lifted her chin. "If they're nice girls, I'll be their friend no matter what kind of robes they have."
Ginny put her arm around Lily and hugged her. "I named you well, Lily Luna. Luna was my first friend at Hogwarts."
Lily put her head on Ginny's shoulder and snuggled close.
"So what have we learned from this little story?" Harry asked.
"Lily needs a Tweeter Twig so she's not writing in diaries?" James said hopefully.
Everyone laughed. Then Albus spoke up. "I don't know if I learned anything, but I liked knowing it."
"Me too," James said. "Not a lot of grownups tell you the real story."
"We'll always try to tell you the real story if you do the same," Harry said.
James frowned. "What do you mean?"
"No secrets. If there's something we should know, you'll tell us — no matter what kind of mistake you've made."
"We'll always love you," Ginny added, "and try to help." She could feel Lily's warm weight against her.
James squirmed at this earnest sentiment and Albus nodded solemnly. Harry broke the mood. "So, I'm curious… what does DC stand for?" he asked. "I don't get it."
"Designer Clasps," Lily answered as if it was completely obvious.
"You mean they're only cool because a company decided they were cool and marketed them that way?"
Ginny giggled at Harry's incredulous expression. "Welcome to the next generation."
Harry shook his head. "It's an interesting time to grow up."
"I think you and Mum had a more interesting time," Albus said. "But I'm glad Hogwarts isn't like that now."
"I am, too," Harry said.
"It's time for Witches and Wizards Have Got Talent," Lily said, sitting up straight. "Since I have James's Tweeter Twig, I'm going to vote for Tim."
"How can you know your vote before you've heard his performance?" James scowled.
"I heard him last week and he was brilliant," Lily said.
"You saw that photo of him in the Daily Prophet last week — that's the only reason you're voting for pretty boy."
Harry and Ginny left them to their bickering. "Feel better?" he asked once they were in the kitchen.
Ginny put the kettle on the fire. "I do. You were right about not keeping secrets."
She sighed. "Wasn't Lily sweet? She wanted to be my friend."
"And James and Albus wanted to protect you."
"I don't know why I thought the children would judge me harshly. They're not like that at all."
Harry sat at the table. "Maybe because you've judged yourself a little too harshly all these years."
The kettle started to sing: it's time for teeeeeea. Ginny poured the water into the teapot and thought about what Harry had just said. "I think you're right," she said, picking out the words as the disjointed thoughts came to her. "Remembering was bad enough, but the worst part today was feeling too ashamed to tell anyone. I felt that a lot my first year."
"And I dragged it out of you — sorry."
"I'm glad you did." She stood in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders. "Now I know why it felt wrong not to say anything. I was giving in to the shame — acting like Tom Riddle still had power over me."
"Well, he doesn't." Harry smiled up at her and put his arms around her waist. "And, really, we don't have much choice about our secrets — not with all the history books out there."
"But Albus caught on to the real story of the Chamber."
"He did." Harry pulled her close. "Now the children know just how much their dad loves their dear old mum."
"Dear old mum." She giggled. "You're older than I am and you always will be." She kissed the top of his head. "Besides. I think they already knew that."
He grinned up at her. "We have no secrets in this house."