Funny, wasn't it, how things fell apart so very quickly? Ginny ended her first day of Hogwarts sequestered in the first-year girl Gryffindor bathroom. She wasn't crying, she wasn't, but if she sat out there with all her new house mates she just knew she wouldn't be able to pretend to be happy.
Not right now, maybe not ever.
Even though everyone would think she'd be thrilled to be in Gryffindor, exactly where she belonged.
Well, everyone except the one person who could never rat Ginny out even if he wanted to.
Ginny's words were wobbly, practically illegible even as she pressed the diary against the wall for a flat writing surface, but they disappeared into the spine of the notebook all the same.
"Oh Tom, it all went wrong!"
Ginny hadn't managed to catch sight of Ellie when she'd exited the train. She thought, for a moment, she might have seen a bright banner of red hair trailing off into the twilight but that was the only sign of her.
Then, in the Great Hall, Ginny had tried but the room had been so crowded and so overwhelming that Ginny hadn't found her. She kept getting distracted by the ceiling, the candles, and the faces of more children than she'd ever seen in her life. Even when she tried to look at every face in the Slytherin table she still couldn't find her. She barely had a second to look before she was ushered with the other first years to sit just behind the sorting hat.
Just like Tom had promised, it really was just a hat, and it really did sing a song. Ginny couldn't say she listened to all of it, it said something about unity and history repeating itself maybe, all she could think was that this was it.
And, just like everything involving a last name, Ginny was last.
Merlin, she almost wished she could take the troll instead. At least with a troll it would probably be based off how you chose to beat it. If you were direct, Gryffindor, sly, Slytherin, and if you ran for you life like a sane person you were probably Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw.
She waited through the A's, the B's, the C's, and then the L's…
Looney Lovegood, pale, delicate, and absolutely dotty thing that she was sat under the wide brimmed hat and dazedly peeked out at her stunned audience. Looney Lovegood, in one second, had just broken the sorting hat and probably all of Hogwarts with it.
Ginny watched, mouth open, as Ginny's dotty neighbor placed the hat on the stool gently and stood with that familiar airhead smile on her face. She looked out at the four and only four tables in the hall, then back up at a dumbfounded McGonagall, "Where's the Default table?"
Oh, Luna, you fool, Ginny wanted to say, there is no Default table.
Except, before Ginny could open her mouth or melt into the floor out of shame, someone beat her to it.
A single girl stood from her seat at the Gryffindor table, her hair a shock of vibrant golden-red curls. Without even looking at the Luna Lovegood, the staff table, or the rest of them she extended a single pale hand with indomitable confidence.
The Great Hall groaned and shuddered as it expanded beneath her will, a fifth, empty table appearing out of thin air along with a gray and undecorated banner above it.
"Here is the Default table!"
Then, the girl, Ellie Potter, looked over at them with a self-satisfied grin. Her eyes, her eyes were such a bright green, you could see them glowing from all the way across the hall. There was something about her that drew you in, as if she was surrounded in an invisible glow, like a miniature sun caught indoors.
She walked over to the new table, dragging a pale and beautiful boy from the Gryffindor table with her. There was a spring in her step that matched the smile on her face, and, after finding a seat somewhere in the middle she smacked her hand on the table and declared, "Right here, table Default at your service."
Luna's dazed smile became a bright grin and, with no hesitation whatsoever, she danced her way over to the new Default table. She was shortly joined by a sighing, bushy haired girl maybe only a year or two older than Ginny, who slowly walked over from the Gryffindor table to sit right next to Ellie.
Leaving unsorted Ginny Weasley behind.
Ginny, when the hat was finally put on her head, had only a single second to plead with it.
Please, she thought, Default. Let me be with her, say it's Default.
The hat barely waited a second, "It had better be GRYFFINDOR!"
And just like that, Ginny stood, and everything felt bittersweet. Gryffindor, that was good, that was great. She had always wanted to be Gryffindor but she thought Ellie Potter would be too. More, looking now, she could do what that one girl did, she could stand and just walk over and…
But she couldn't, because the hat had told Ginny that she wasn't worth it. Default, whatever it was, wasn't for her. And neither was Ellie Potter.
And so here Ginny was, pouring her soul out to a book, the only thing left in her world that could possibly understand what had happened.
"Oh, Ginny, didn't I tell you that you can't fool the hat?"
Well, yeah, he had but—
"Ginny, being in Gryffindor is far from the end of the world. More, Default is—"
He actually stopped writing, halfway through the sentence as if he had no idea how to finish that thought. After a very long pause, he noted.
"At least Gryffindor is a legitimate house and not some monstrosity made up by this girl who lived."
"Merlin, Tom, you're such a git," Ginny wrote, but she was smiling, she didn't know why but she felt better already.
"Yes, but I'm a git who happens to be right," Tom responded without any shame whatsoever, "Now, Ginny, are you going to keep sitting around feeling sorry for yourself or are you going to get the girl?"
Right, Ginny didn't have to be in Default to become friends with Ellie Potter. Ellie hadn't even been sitting at Slytherin to start with, which meant Ginny should be able to get close to her somehow. Tom was right, Ginny couldn't give up now, not before she'd started.
"You're right, Tom, I've got this!"
"Of course you've got this, what woman could resist you?" Tom asked.
Ginny flushed a vibrant red and slammed the notebook closed. Merlin, his teasing was even worse than Fred and George's. Still, at least for now, she'd rather have him than her brothers. It'd only been a few hours but she wondered if this was what it felt like to have a best friend.
And was it strange that it was getting harder to remember what it'd been like before Tom had been there?
Except, there was just something about Ellie Potter that made her impossible to approach.
First off, Ginny hardly ever saw her. She hadn't realized just how separated the houses were, but more than that, the different years.
Ginny ended up seeing quite a bit of Luna Lovegood as well as Ellie's beautiful Albanian sidekick, Lepur Rabbitson, who apparently had been held back an entire year for missing half of last term. Ellie, though, that was another story.
Occasionally, Ginny glimpsed her racing through the hallways from one class to another, or else saw her across the Great Hall at meals but—
Ginny wouldn't call herself shy, exactly, but there was just something about her that Ginny knew she couldn't reach. Every time she tried to build up her nerve to just go and talk to her already, to walk across the hall and sit down at the Default table, she crumbled.
In the meantime, Ginny felt just a bit too boyish for people in her own year and house. They weren't on bad terms, exactly, but even in the first few weeks they stopped inviting Ginny along to things.
Ginny's brothers, as Ginny had suspected, were each far too busy for her and worse seemed embarrassed by her very presence. Ron, the git, had actually run away when she'd tried to sit down with him at breakfast.
As for Luna, who Ginny had always secretly felt better than, well… Luna had moved along to greener pastures. Luna was now one of Ellie Potter's few chosen followers and the only first year in the whole damn school to get close to her.
So, Tom ended up not just being her best friend but somehow her only friend.
"I don't know," she scribbled one night, long after all her dorm mates were asleep, "I guess I just, I thought I'd be good with people."
She'd never thought she was shy, awkward, weird, or any of the other things that might drive off somebody. She wasn't an arrogant cad like Percy, she wasn't mean like Fred and George, she wasn't overly sensitive like Ron, barmy like Luna…
"Except, I guess I just never met enough people to tell."
When your world was confined to only the people who could never leave you, a house full of brothers and a neighbor even more isolated and lonely than Ginny, it gave you confidence you didn't deserve.
Ginny had grown up thinking…
She'd believed she was likeable.
"Does it bother you that much?"
Ginny sighed, that was the real question, wasn't it? Ginny also had always thought she'd had very thick skin. You had to with six older brothers who loved to tease you. So, it shouldn't matter that she just didn't click with anybody here. Except, somehow, it really did.
"I don't know," Ginny wrote again, "I just—I feel different than everybody else."
Oh, he just had to ask, didn't he?
Ginny bit her lip, unaccountably nervous even though she knew Tom would never judge her. Not only did he not have room to judge her, being nothing but a book and all, but he was also very patient and kind even beneath his dry wit. Tom always listened, no matter how silly or stupid it sounded, and he always listened seriously as if Ginny's problems were just as important as everyone else's.
If Tom was a real person she imagined that she could walk up to him at any time of the day, no matter who he was with, and he'd make time for her with that crooked smile that pretended to be so much more smug than it actually was.
Was it strange, how Ginny both wished he was real and wished he could stay a notebook forever? If he was real, then Ginny could actually see him, she could do more than just imagine the expressions he wore. On the other hand, if he was real, then he wouldn't just belong to Ginny, he'd belong to the world.
More than anything, she cherished the fact that she could keep him all to herself.
Still, that gave her an idea, "Hey Tom, what were you like?"
"Are you avoiding the question, Ginny?" Tom asked in turn.
Ginny frowned, "No, well, yes—but seriously, what were you like, when you were human, I mean?"
"Why don't you tell me?" Tom asked, "After weeks of talking I'd think you'd have a pretty good idea of what I was like."
"No, I mean, what did you look like?" Ginny quickly scribbled.
"Tall, dark, and handsome."
Sometimes, Tom remembered that for all that he was almost perfect, his ego was also unbelievable. Ginny just couldn't believe she also found his overwhelming confidence a charming quality rather than obnoxious.
"Seriously, I was Hogwarts' unrivaled teenage heart throb. It was the great tragedy of the school that I refused to either get myself a girlfriend or crawl out of the closet."
"Huh?" Ginny wrote, because… She wasn't sure she understood what that last part was even supposed to mean, what would Tom be doing in a closet?
"Idiom, sorry, they just pop out sometimes," he said, not explaining what that was supposed to mean either or why they would just pop out, "I meant that half the school was convinced the only reason I didn't have a girlfriend was because I was secretly a homosexual."
Ginny wasn't entirely sure what homosexual meant, but she was pretty sure Tom was talking about boys who liked other boys or girls who liked other girls. Ginny found herself flushing terribly, wondering if Tom somehow—
"Ginny, try not to be so close minded." Tom lazily chided her, "Had the love of my life been a man I would have married her regardless."
"No, no it's not that!" Ginny hastily scrawled, "I just—With you being a book and all I just never thought about, you know, your love life."
"I told you, I wasn't always a book," Tom scribbled, and here Ginny swore she could read mild irritation in each letter, "Look, if you really want a good idea there should be a photograph or two in the trophy room. You can—"
"I like Ellie Potter!" Ginny wrote over his words.
They stayed on the page, right there in big, black, ugly letters for everyone in the world to read. Ginny couldn't breath, couldn't move, until they slowly started to fade into the page.
And then for far too long the page was empty.
Her heart was pounding, beating so fast she thought it'd jump right out of her chest. Suddenly she thought that this was it, Tom would stop talking to her. He'd be disgusted, like everyone else would be if they found out that Ginny liked Ellie Potter a bit more than everyone else did.
Like when she realized that Ginny was different than everyone else, that when Ginny said she liked Ellie Potter she didn't mean it the way her other peers did, that they didn't think Ellie Potter was beautiful the way Ginny did.
Finally, "Good, you've finally admitted it."
Ginny laughed, hastily stifling her giggles in her hands. She wanted to write something, no wanted to say something, but she couldn't move her hands without everyone waking up and seeing her.
"Ginny, would you like to speak face to face?"
Ginny removed one hand carefully, then the other, and wrote back, "What's that mean?"
"I mean that I'm a little more than a notebook," Tom wrote, "And if you trust me, if you want to, I can show you what my world looks like. You can see what I really look like."
The words faded quickly, almost before Ginny could read them, and replaced with a single plea, "But you have to trust me."
Why did he even ask? Ginny wondered with a smile. Didn't he know, couldn't he guess what he meant to Ginny? And now, after he'd heard and what he'd said…
Just what did he think Ginny was anyway?
"Of course I trust you."
He really was beautiful.
Tall, dark, and handsome just like he'd claimed.
He was taller than her brothers, taller than most, with curling dark hair, pale skin, and bright pale blue eyes. He was dressed in Slytherin robes, a prefect badge glinting in the fire light. And his smile…
His smile was just what Ginny had imagined.
She looked around at their surroundings, "Is this the Slytherin common room?"
It wasn't half bad. Everything was green and silver, but richly furnished, the chairs each looking comfortable in front of the warm glow of the fire.
Ginny had expected some kind of evil dungeon, filled with ancient dark artifacts, mysterious silver instruments, and a few torture devices. This though, it just looked like a sliver version of the Gryffindor comm room.
She wondered if that said something about the houses, that no matter what anyone said, they really weren't supposed to be that different.
"Yes," Tom said with a fond smile, "At least, the Slytherin common room as of fifty years ago. Though I imagine the decoration hasn't changed all that much."
He motioned her towards a chair, "Come, sit, we have much to discuss."
Ginny walked over to the chair, but it felt like she floated over towards it. Was this really happening? Had Ginny just jumped into the notebook, into Tom Riddle's memories or else his mind, just like that?
As soon as she sat an ornately carved table appeared out of thin air. A white tablecloth fluttered down over it, soon joined by a vase of flowers, and a full set of china dishware. When Tom reached the table, he poured the pair of them cups of tea from a single pot.
"An old and dear friend of mine was very fond of tea for just about every occasion," he explained as he passed her a cup, "I think it wasn't so much the tea or even the food but the atmosphere that she liked."
He smiled to himself as he poured his own cup and set it down on a small plate in front of him, "Pity, I never appreciated it much at the time. Only in her absence, inside here, did I start picking up all her old habits."
Finally, Tom sat down across from her, looked her in the eye and noted, "So, you like Ellie Potter a bit more than everyone else likes Ellie Potter, is that it, Ginny?"
Ginny flushed desperately and fidgeted beneath his gaze. He was so… Intimidating looking, it wasn't that he looked scary or anything, but he was so pretty he was hard to stare at directly.
More, there was something about his eyes, so light they were almost colorless. When they focused on you they felt a little too seeing, a little too knowing, like they cut through right to Ginny's heart.
"Love's nothing to be ashamed of," Tom said kindly.
"I just—" Ginny stopped, tried not to mumble the words even as she stared down at her tea, the safest place to look, "I don't even know her. I mean, sure, I read all the books about her but—"
"Sometimes it's like that. Sometimes all you need is to look at them once and you know," Tom mused, "Honestly, I'm a little envious."
"Envious?!" Ginny blurted, finally looking up from the table.
He didn't look embarrassed though, he didn't even take back his words, instead he smiled with a strange and almost sad fondness. Like he was thinking of a very dear memory that he would never get back again.
"When I was—When I was real, human, I wasted so much time. In fact, I wasted nearly all of it, and all because I was too proud and too dense to realize it."
Here his smile turned a little bitter, surprisingly self-deprecating, "Of course, I was very young, much too young for such things, but fate is rarely kind enough to deliver things in a timely manner."
"You mean like how Ellie's a year older than I am and is in Default?"
"I suppose you could say that," Tom said
Ginny wasn't entirely sure she understood what he meant, or what he was even talking about, but at least she seemed to have the right idea.
"Hey, but—What about the other you?" Ginny asked.
"What about the other me?" he asked. Ginny blinked, she wasn't sure, but for a moment she could have sworn there was some edge of hostility in his voice.
"You're just an impression, right?" Ginny asked, "So, maybe the real you figured it out and stopped wasting—"
"I'm afraid not," Tom interjected with a forced smile, "You see, she was a few years older than me, and when I left for Hogwarts she disappeared. After I went to school, I never saw her again."
"Oh," Ginny said slowly, not quite sure what else to say.
Finally, swallowing some tea and gathering her courage, Ginny asked, "She was a muggle, then?"
"Oh, lord no," Tom said, "No, she was more talented than anyone I've ever heard of."
"Not more talented than Ellie Potter," Ginny corrected with a grin.
"Well, not all of us have an opportunity to blow up the most powerful dark lord of the age as a toddler," he noted drily, looking very unamused which just caused Ginny to grin harder.
He sighed and smiled, "Regardless, she was far more powerful than me, I remember how much I hated that. When I first met her, I wanted to smash her face in just for daring to be better than I was."
Ginny giggled, ignoring Tom's raised eyebrows towards her, "Oh, I'd never want to beat Ellie up."
First, Ginny knew she wouldn't, couldn't, win that fight. Second, she'd probably be too dazed just from watching Ellie in the moment to even think of fighting her. Ginny could just imagine it, Ellie's hair coming unbound from a braid or pony tail, floating off behind her as she moved forward with grace and cool confidence.
"Was she pretty?" Ginny asked.
Tom considered that for a second before responding, "Yes and no."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ginny asked.
"She was probably around your age when we met, maybe a few years older, and she wasn't what would be traditionally considered attractive at that age," he said, eyes lost in memory as one finger idly traced a circle on the table cloth, "She was caught in adolescence, not quite a girl but not quite a woman either."
"She was too small, too lean, to be a woman. She had no curves yet, no height, just a slight thinness about her waist. As for a girl, she was too wild looking to be anything anyone could consider cute. She had the curls, she even had the smile, but her eyes and her face betrayed her."
He paused as he looked over at Ginny, "It suited her though, somehow, she never looked unnatural despite how unnatural she was. So, yes, I always imagined she'd have grown up to be very pretty."
Ginny considered, that, wondered if Ellie Potter looked unnatural or else cute. Cute wasn't really the word Ginny would use, even having glimpsed her, but it was true that little girls were generally supposed to be cute rather than beautiful. Beautiful was something you were supposed to grow into, something that came with age and wisdom.
Except, the girl who lived was small, she had thick curly red hair, good skin, and Ginny had even seen her bright sunny smile. So, shouldn't she look cute? Still, like Tom said, that wasn't the right word and Ginny had never thought about it that way.
"Oh, it's no good," Ginny said, "I can't picture it."
"Well, there's no real need to," Tom said, "It was a long time ago and I haven't seen her in ages. Besides, I brought you here to talk about you, not about me."
"Well, yeah," Ginny complained, "But now that you've started you can't just stop there."
"I don't see why not—" Tom tried to say but Ginny wouldn't let him.
"Because that's so depressing! That'd be like—Like if I never really talk to Ellie, like I just see her, never work up the courage, and then something happens to her and I never see her again. You have to show me what she looked like!"
Tom sighed, "Oh alright, I suppose there's no harm."
He waved a hand idly. Only, instead of summoning a photo or portrait like Ginny would have expected a third, empty, chair appeared at their table. Before Ginny could blink it was filled by a little girl who, just like Tom had promised, was maybe a year or so older than Ginny.
Except, there was one thing Tom had artfully forgotten to mention.
"That's her!" Ginny screamed at the girl, who was now blinking at Ginny in wide-eyed alarm and confusion, "That's Ellie Potter!"
Tom did a double take, looked between the girl and Ginny, "That's Ellie Potter?"
It really was her though! Every detail was right on, or close enough. Ginny couldn't tell, but this version might be a little taller, a little broader in the shoulders, but otherwise it was an exact match. The exact shade of her eyes, the way her hair curled, her wrists and fingers, everything Ginny had glimpsed right in front of her.
Ginny glared over at Tom, "Is this some kind of a joke?!"
"No, no—" Tom said, for once oddly flustered, "I—Are you sure this is what Ellie Potter looks like?"
"Positive!" Ginny cried out, "If anyone knows what the girl-who-lived looks like it's me!"
Ginny lifted the girl's hand, ignoring the way Ellie's doppelganger stiffened at Ginny's forceful touch, "You even got the fingernails right!"
"Blew up the dark lord as a toddler…" Tom muttered to himself, "The greatest witch of the entire age… Ellie Potter—"
"Eleanor Lily Potter!" Ginny finished for him, hands on her hips, just daring him to try and excuse himself out of this.
"Her middle name was Lily?!"
Men, honestly, Ginny could not even deal, "That's all you have to say?!"
He considered the girl for a moment, then smiled at Ginny, "Well, you probably see Ellie because that's how she would look to you."
"Can you repeat that?" Ginny asked dully.
"The way I saw her is the way you see Ellie Potter. We're inside the mind, Ginny, sitting on a bridge between you and I. So, some things get translated as metaphors. The way she looks doesn't matter, it's the way we feel about her."
"Oh," Ginny said, deflating for a moment, "Oh, I guess that makes sense."
"That said," Tom said with a grin, "This is a priceless opportunity."
"It is?" Ginny asked dubiously, trying and failing not to look at Ellie sitting so close next to her (so close that Ginny could touch her, was touching her, could kiss her, oh Merlin—)
"Sure," Tom said, "After all, I've just given you something to practice with."
If anyone asked, that was the moment Ginny died. Now, if being able to practice anything she wanted to with a fake Ellie Potter was hell or heaven, that Ginny would leave for someone else to decide.
All that mattered was, by the time she spluttered awake back in the real world, she was still blushing.
Author's Note: Other titles for this story "Ginny Weasley's Adorable Sexual Awakening and Inevitable Betrayal". But yes, next chapter is when these two stop being so... cute.
Thanks for reading, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter