Standard disclaimer applies, only the plot is mine.

This is a rather long chapter and contains a great deal of dialogue, which is not necessarily my forte. However, it was in my mind the best way to move the story along, particularly at this critical juncture.

Draco is distracted all day, snapping at Crabbe and Goyle, pushing Parkinson away, and at one point, threatening to hex Zabini if he doesn’t leave him alone. He changes his mind about meeting Ginny a hundred times, even writing a note telling her not to come but then tearing it up in frustration.

Ginny’s similarly distracted although she shows it differently, avoiding her classmates and the Golden Trio as she stumbles through the day in a daze. She knows that she’ll have no choice but to reveal some of her own secrets if she goes through with helping Draco Malfoy – there’s no other way to do it. She’ll have to explain how she understood and in doing so, she’ll have to tell him about the choices, the roads she faced.

And then, finally, they’re back in the classroom, facing one another in desks they’ve pulled to the center of the room. She’s brought the Pensieve, not that she wanted to, but she knows that she may need it. Ginny is the first one to end the uncomfortable silence as they stare at one another.

“My family doesn’t have a lot of money,” she says in a carefully neutral tone, “So I’m used to hand-me-downs and second-hand things. Often when we’d get something from the second-hand store, there’d be other things with it, like a hair ribbon in a pocket or some parchment stuck in a book.” She looks away from him to stare at the wall; she doesn’t want to see his likely sneer at the thought of their poverty or of using someone else’s things. “I really didn’t think much of it when I found an old blank diary in one of my school books after we got home from Diagon Alley. I just thought someone had stuck in there and forgotten it.”

She closes her eyes, remembering how she’d examined the diary, wondering why it was blank and thinking what fun it would be to record her adventures with Ron at Hogwarts. She shakes her head at the memory and continues, “I didn’t start writing in it until I got to Hogwarts. I wanted to save it for when I finally got there and started experiencing everything I’d heard about from my brothers. I wonder to this day if I would have told my parents about it writing back if I’d still been at home.”

Draco is listening intently, his eyes fixed on her face, watching the myriad emotions flit across it as she talks.

“It took me a long time to realize why I didn’t tell anyone about the diary sooner, why I didn’t take the right road. Oh, I know I should have – my mother had told me often enough not to trust anything that could think for itself if I couldn’t see its brain – but I had all kinds of reasons for not telling. That’s the point, you see, you can always rationalize your decisions, not matter how wrong they are in the end.”

Ginny wrings her hands unconsciously as she talks, the knuckles white with the pressure. “I’d expected Ron to be there for me my first year, to be my friend as he was at home, but he wasn’t. He ignored me to be with Harry and Hermione, kept secrets from me, didn’t stand up for me when I was teased by the twins or mocked by my classmates for my worn robes and books. So I didn’t tell, I didn’t take the right road because now I had a secret, now I had someone who stood up for me, even if it was just in a diary.”

“It’s easy enough to justify why I kept writing; I was lonely, I didn’t know any defense, I was overpowered by Tom. But that implies I didn’t have a choice, and I did. It wasn’t until I tried to understand why I didn’t take the other choice, the right road, that I was able to finally understand what happened.” Ginny takes a ragged breath and adds, “But even understanding doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to live with … to know that you were the reason people were petrified, that Riddle could have come back to life.”

Draco stares at her; who is Riddle? He’s never heard the name before – wasn’t it Voldemort’s diary that caused her possession? She looks up and sees his confusion, then laughs almost hysterically. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know that Voldemort was Tom Riddle back at Hogwarts?” she cries, “Surely you knew that!”

He bites back the sarcastic rejoinder on his lips and as calmly as he can, replies, “No, I didn’t know that. And just who is Tom Riddle?”

“Tom Riddle is the half-blood who ultimately became Voldemort, and because he so despised his Muggle father, devoted his life to exterminating those with any trace of Muggle blood, just like himself!” she exclaims, “And your father, with all his Pureblood ravings, is the toady of a half-blood.” She gives a bitter laugh, “Talk about irony. Anyway, that doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is why I didn’t do what I knew I should.”

Draco looks away from her; her face is painful to look at, all sharp angles and shadows … it hurts him somehow, somewhere inside. And that information about Voldemort – it can’t be true, can it? He can’t process it right now, the implications too shattering to his world to consider. Then her voice draws him back and he is compelled to look at her again.

“I finally realized that there were three points in time at which I was faced with different paths to take, three forks in the road, three opportunities for me to take the right road. The first was when the diary wrote back for the first time. I can remember almost dropping my quill in shock, wondering what kind of trick the twins had pulled to make it do that. Then I realized that they didn’t even know about the diary until I’d forgotten to take it in the mad rush to get to the train and that they couldn’t have had time to jinx it. I kept the diary not because I was ignorant or lonely, but because I knew if I gave it up as I should, I wouldn’t have something no one else had, and oh, I craved that. I wanted to be special, to be different, and the diary made me that – no one else could possibly have a diary that wrote back.”

Ginny’s head is bowed now, and her words are becoming softer and softer until Draco has to lean forward to hear. “The second time was when I finally realized that it was me who was setting loose the Basilisk and who was responsible for the students being petrified.”

Draco starts in surprise at this new information; he somehow hadn’t connected her possession with her actually controlling the Basilisk, he doesn’t know why he didn’t – how else would it have happened?

“I tried to flush the diary away in Moaning Myrtle’s loo, even though I knew I should have gone to McGonagall and confessed, knew I should have given her the diary to destroy. I didn’t because I didn’t want anyone to know how the youngest Weasley, the only girl, had screwed up so badly, had been so stupid – I couldn’t have borne seeing the looks on my parents’ faces or my brothers’. And I couldn’t have borne being treated any worse than I already was by my classmates … I wanted so desperately to fit in but couldn’t. And then of course, there was Harry – my hero; how I could possibly look any worse to him?”

“When I stole the diary back from Harry, I could have burned it, could have taken it to the Headmaster, could have done anything else but started writing in it again … but I did. Not because I was still possessed or didn’t know any better, but because I craved what Riddle could give me, flattery, a sense of being special, something I didn’t have otherwise. I didn’t take the right road because I wanted what the diary gave me, no matter how wrong.”

Ginny leans back in the desk chair and closes her eyes for a few moments, trying to calm herself before finishing.

“After Harry rescued me and my parents were so thankful to have me alive that they didn’t take me to task for what I had done, I fooled myself in thinking that everything was alright, that I’d been an innocent victim of Voldemort and wasn’t to blame for what had happened. I managed to fool myself up until the dementors boarded the train as we were going to Hogwarts for my second year. When the dementor came into our compartment, all I could think of were my worst fears realized; I saw fingers pointing, horrified looks, people turning away in disgust. And what was even worse was when Professor Lupin had turned the dementor away … all anyone could focus on was how Harry had fared. Oh, they’d noticed I’d been shaking like mad but no one even thought that I might have been affected. I sat there, burning up with anger, wanting them to suffer like I was. That’s when I knew I needed help. I went to Dumbledore the next day and that’s when he gave me the Pensieve and showed me how to use it.”

She opens her eyes and pins Draco Malfoy with her gaze; it’s frightening in its intensity. “It took me almost two full years to come to grips with what happened, to understand what made me not take the right road each of those times. Once I had done that, I could start to move on, to try to deal with those aspects in my character that made me flawed enough to succumb. I can’t change the fact that we’re poor, that I’m the youngest, that my brothers tease me unmercifully at times, but I can change how I deal with it, how I react in situations. The one thing I’ve never been able to change is my hatred for your father, my desire to hurt him as badly as I was hurt by what he did. That hate, that rancor, it burns me up at times. Had I been able to, I would have killed him that time in the top box at the World Cup … it made me physically ill to see him there as if nothing had ever happened.”

“I rejoiced when he was thrown in Azkaban; I danced about my room in glee, hoping a dementor would torment him for all eternity. I reveled in my hate for him and then boxed it away neatly in my mind – or so I thought. But I’ll deal with it; I’ll learn to handle it just like I’ve learned to handle everything else. That’s what I’ve learned from the Pensieve. If I look at this long enough, I’ll be able to figure out why I can’t take the road to forgiveness, can’t at least take the road to acceptance. And then I’ll be able to move on once again.”

Ginny’s voice is hoarse after talking so long, and Draco conjures up a glass of water that she takes and drinks thirstily, giving him a grateful look.

They sit in silence for a few moments and then Draco clears his throat and starts to speak. “I really intended to become friendly with Potter,” he says, his tone almost conversational, “My father had told me he’d be starting Hogwarts that year and that it would be ‘helpful’ if I were to be seen as an ally. I didn’t realize I’d met him before at Madame Malkin’s, not until I saw him on the Hogwarts Express. He was sitting in a compartment with your brother and they looked quite chummy, even after such a short time.” He gives Ginny a sideways glance and then continues, “I didn’t have many friends, you see, actually none when I think about it. I had companions or acquaintances that my parents thought suitable to associate with, so I was actually a bit jealous when I saw that Potter and your brother were so friendly already. I might have gotten past that if your brother hadn’t snickered at my name. I’ve never really liked it, you know; it’s always seemed a bit odd to me. But my mother’s family always named their sons after stars in constellations and my mother always did what her family wanted. My father protested a bit, I’m told, but he gave in because my mother’s family is quite wealthy and he didn’t want to annoy them.”

“Well, your brother hit a nerve when he snickered, and so I lashed back and ridiculed him and your family. Potter took offense and rejected my offer of friendship, refused to even shake my hand. I was embarrassed and furious … how dare he turn down a Malfoy, I thought. So that was the beginning of it, the infamous feud between Potter, Weasley and me. When they hooked up with Granger, that made me even angrier – taking sides with a Muggle-born over a Pureblood is how I saw it.”

“I don’t need to tell you the rest; you know it. But up until I saw all of it in the Pensieve, I never even considered that I had a choice in what I did. This is what my father would do, I’d think, or this is what a Malfoy should do. I never really thought about what it was I should do.” He shakes his head, almost in wonder, “It’s rather like Potions, isn’t it? Every action has a reaction, change the action and you change the reaction. As I watched every event, I kept wondering what would have happened had I acted differently.”

Ginny’s been listening intently, her eyes fixed on his face, and now Draco lifts his head to meet her gaze. “You know, it wasn’t until you said what you did after you came out of the Pensieve that I even thought about trying to understand why I didn’t act differently. Yes, I wondered what would have happened, but in the end I was too busy justifying why I did act the way I did.” He looks down at his hands that have been clenching his knees, and gives a bitter chuckle, “I’ve got a lot to think about, I reckon, particularly now that you’ve given me that information about the Dark Lord. I still can’t quite take that in, it just doesn’t make sense … or perhaps it makes too much sense, when you really think about it.”

They’ve been there a long time and Ginny knows she has to get back soon or Ron will start asking questions that she doesn’t want to answer. She gets up slowly and walks towards the door, stopping just before opening it to turn back and look at Draco. “You know, Malfoy, that if you breathe a word about this to anyone, my Bat-Bogey Hex will look like a walk in the park to you, right?”

Draco gives her a slight smile and she blinks in surprise that it’s not a smirk; his face looks quite different when he smiles. “I know,” he says, “And I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.” He hesitates and then says, “Could we talk again? Once I’ve had a chance to think about this some more? Now I know that I really can’t do this alone and I don’t know who else I could turn to.” He looks away, his pale cheeks tinged with color, embarrassed that he still needs her help.

Oddly enough, it’s that flush of color that sways Ginny; his embarrassment is strangely endearing and her innate good-heartedness wins out. “Alright,” she answers, “Let me know when you’re ready,” and she escapes before she can regret her words.

Draco sits in the classroom by himself, trying to suppress the feeling of relief that had flooded him when she agreed – he’s not sure if he’s in his right mind to continue this. But as he leaves the classroom, he knows he’ll contact her and he’ll be back – he doesn’t think he could do anything else.
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