What Ginny Weasley in Chamber of Secrets Teaches Us About Abuse

Personally, I’ve found Ginny Weasley to be one of my least favorite characters in the Harry Potter series. To be fair, I can’t remember how I felt about her before the movies started coming out… but Bonnie Wright (and, more accurately, the scenes written for her) totally ruined Ginny for me.

Case in point: “shoelace” *shudder*

This year as I’m re-reading the Harry Potter series, I’ve decided to focus my attention on this youngest Weasley in the hopes of giving her another chance. Maybe through a thorough investigation of her story, I can grow to love (or appreciate) her character.

While we see her briefly in Sorcerer’s Stone, Ginny’s big debut comes in Chamber of Secrets—and what a serious debut it was. She had possibly the worst year at Hogwarts of any student ever. It’s no surprise that I kept noticing how Ginny was displaying the classic warning signs of someone who was being abused. What drove me crazy was how her situation was “resolved” and referred to later.

Abuse is a really serious subject, whose complications and consequences are well beyond the ken of our 12-year-old narrator (who is not Ginny). However, after finishing book two, I’m left wondering if J.K. Rowling didn’t make a mistake in the way she addressed this issue—both in CoS and throughout the remainder of the series.

From this point on, except otherwise noted, all quotes taken directly from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling. All photos are taken by myself of illustrations from Jim Kay’s beautiful illustrated edition of the same.

Warning Signs in Ginny Weasley’s Behavior

When Ginny first speaks in front of Harry, she’s defending him from Malfoy with a feisty retort in Flourish and Blotts. We already know from Ron that Ginny “never shuts up,” and has a really big personality. She’s embarrassed around Harry, to be sure, but her nature is lively. She went out of her way to try to run into Harry at Hagrid’s hut and by sending him a rather hilarious public valentine. These are glimpses of the real Ginny, and contrast hugely to how she appears later.

The first time Ginny seems to be showing signs of her internal stress is in Chapter 8 of Chamber of Secrets. “Ginny Weasley, who had been looking peaky, was bullied into taking some [Pepperup Potion] by Percy” because he erroneously thought she had a cold. In truth, the first instance of her being possessed by Tom Riddle was just about to occur. Her true self was already fading away.

As the attacks begin, things only get worse for the young heroine. We learn that Ginny “seemed very disturbed by Mrs. Norris’s fate. According to Ron, she was a great cat-lover.” Ginny was unable to control her emotions when her brothers tried to cheer her up. She was jumpy and emotional. Percy tells us that she was having nightmares, and that “I’ve never seen her so upset, crying her eyes out.” She was “distraught” after Colin Creevey—her desk mate in Charms– was petrified. Ginny had already been through so much that she seems numb: after Hermione was attacked, she appears “very subdued” in the Gryffindor common room.

Ginny tries to dispose of Riddle’s diary once and for all, but that doesn’t solve the problem. In a final act of courage, she attempts to tell Ron and Harry her secret… but she was riddled (see what I did there) with anxiety. “She looked tense and nervous, and Harry noticed that her hands were twisting in her lap. She looked as though she couldn’t find the right words. Ginny opened her mouth, but no sound came out.” The moment unfortunately passes, and Ginny never gets to share her truth. Her failed, last-ditch effort turned out to be her last act of agency.

Was This Really Ginny’s Fault?

Before we know what’s happened, Ginny’s lying prone on the floor of the Chamber of Secrets, with Tom’s figure filling us in on the missing details. “She’s still alive, but only just.” How did Ginny get like this? “Well, that’s an interesting question,” said Riddle pleasantly. “And quite a long story. I suppose the real reason Ginny Weasley’s like this is because she opened her heart and spilled all her secrets to an invisible stranger.”

The real reason Ginny is in mortal danger is because she was vulnerable. Because she trusted the wrong person. Because she tried to cope with her troubles by putting too much of herself into another. All in all, she was a young girl with an open heart. She was manipulated and traumatized by the worst dark wizard of the age. None of this was her fault.

Seeing an Abusive Relationship From the Inside

We spend all of Chamber of Secrets watching Ginny fall apart on the outside. For most abusive relationships, that’s all loved ones outside of the couple will ever see. In Riddle’s monologues, Rowling gives us a rare glimpse of her true abuser.

The way Riddle talks about his victim is all too familiar to those who have been on the receiving end of verbal abuse. “Pitiful,” “boring,” “silly,” “stupid little Ginny”. “The foolish little brat.” Riddle laughed at her expense. He found her fear amusing. “I wish you could have seen her new diary entries… Far more interesting they became…” In contrast to this incredibly cold cruelty, Harry was horrified and furious.

Most chilling to me was that Tom put up such a convincing farce, fooling Ginny for months on end. “I was patient. I wrote back. I was sympathetic. I was kind. Ginny simply loved me. No one’s ever understood me like you, Tom… If I say it myself, Harry, I’ve always been able to charm the people I needed… I grew powerful, far more powerful than little Miss Weasley.” Those of us who have experienced emotional abuse will recognize this paradox immediately. It’s one of the most devastating aspects of an abusive relationship.

We only see a tiny portion of Ginny’s inner thoughts during this time: “Dear Tom, I think I’m losing my memory. Percy keeps telling me I’m pale and I’m not myself. I think he suspects me… Tom, what am I going to do? I think I’m going mad… I think I’m the one attacking everyone.” Can you fathom what it would feel like to write those lines? We can only imagine the mental and emotional anguish she went through.

After many months, Ginny stopped trusting her diary… but the damage was already done. Her abuser was about to complete the final stage in the cycle of abuse—the shift to physical abuse and the victim’s eventual death. And yes, that cycle does apply to us muggles. Those end results are ours as well. As Riddle explains, “I made Ginny write her own farewell on the wall and come down here to wait. She struggled and cried and became very boring. But there isn’t much life left in her: she put too much into the diary, into me.”

Voldemort’s Lasting Impact

In a glowing moment of triumph, movie-Harry says, “It’s alright, Ginny. It’s over. It’s just a memory.” Hah. Yeah right.

For Ginny, as for all who have been through trauma or abuse, the torture has only begun. Leaving the abusive relationship is only the beginning of a long and difficult journey. Ginny will deal with the after-effects of these events for years, if not for the rest of her life. And that is where I think my dearly beloved J.K. Rowling may have made a mistake. Just paragraphs after Ginny is taken, in delirious tears, to the hospital wing, she is said to be “perfectly happy again.” Unless there’s some psych magic I’m not aware of in the wizarding world, this just can’t be true.

Studies have shown that emotional abuse in childhood has psychological effects for a lifetime. Namely, these kind of experiences produce problems with emotion regulation even into adulthood. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is not a joke. Ginny was abused, possessed, and nearly killed—and that kind of trauma doesn’t just evaporate into thin air. This is a perfect example of deliberate psychological terrorism.

Ginny Never Forgot—Even If Everyone Else Did

While Ginny doesn’t get as much ‘screen time’ in the next novels, we later learn that she’s in another toxic relationship with Dean. She’s in tears, fighting with him nearly every day, and her friends are noticing. It’s a common trope that the abused woman would somehow unconsciously seek out another abusive partner later in life, and Ginny falls right in line. We also learn in Cursed Child that an adult Ginny still remembers the experience vividly: her time at Hogwarts immediately after being in the hospital wing was lonely, as she was avoided by basically everyone (except Harry, who challenged her to a game of Exploding Snap).

Most telling of all is this scene in Order of the Phoenix that shows exactly how much these memories are still fresh for Ginny:

“I didn’t want anyone to talk to me,” said Harry, who was feeling more and more nettled.

“Well, that was a bit stupid of you,” said Ginny angrily, “seeing as you don’t know anyone but me who’s been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels.”

Harry remained quite still as the impact of these words hit him. Then he wheeled around.

“I forgot,” he said.

“Lucky you,” said Ginny coolly.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Moral of Ginny’s Chamber of Secrets Story

As readers, we are taught not to care at all about what happened to Ginny after the end of book two. And that, sadly, is how a lot of people also treat those who have undergone trauma in our very real world. These things don’t just go away once they’re officially “over.” We as a society need to learn how to care for individuals with lasting effects of mental and emotional stress… along with all other mental health disorders. Because as Rowling displayed with Ginny, and as many of us have discovered on our own, healing from trauma and abuse can be a lonely road.

Ginny isn’t our protagonist, of course, but this trauma was probably one of the most defining moments of her entire life. She would still definitely care about it years later… And I want Rowling to acknowledge this further, instead of letting readers turn a blind eye to Ginny’s past. On the other hand, Rowling could be making a statement that trauma doesn’t define us, and using Ginny as an example of how (easily?) we can overcome. Either way, I’d like a little more nuance into this discussion than is present in later novels.

What do you think? If you’ve undergone trauma, especially in childhood, do you see any glimpses of yourself in Ginny or her experience dealing with the aftermath? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so definitely leave a comment below if you feel comfortable doing so.

P.S……..

I could write an entirely new post on how other characters tried and failed to help Ginny during and after her experience with abuse… and besides, I thought this installment was long enough as it is. Stay tuned for that discussion if you’re interested in a lesson on how not to help a person through trauma!

 

“But you’ve been too busy saving the Wizarding world. Well … I can’t say I’m surprised. I knew this would happen in the end. I knew you wouldn’t be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort. Maybe that’s why I like you so much.” —Ginny Weasley, Half Blood Prince

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