As far as starts go, nobody had one quite as bad as Ginny Weasley. Being possessed by Tom Riddle’s diary must have been isolating, terrifying and confusing. Not only was Ginny navigating starting a new school and being away from her family for the first time, but she had to do so whilst dealing with being under the influence of a Horcrux. The diary made her do terrible things – such as killing chickens and smearing bloody messages on the walls of Hogwarts and let’s not gloss over the fact she opened the Chamber of Secrets, setting the Basilisk loose on the Muggle-borns of Hogwarts.
Ginny didn’t want to do any of those horrifying things. In fact, she had huge gaps in her memory when the piece of Voldemort’s soul had total control over her. We can’t even begin to imagine how dreadful it must have felt to have so little power over your own thoughts and actions. And when Tom Riddle was done with her, he left her in the Chamber of Secrets to die a slow, lonely and terrible death. He even made her write the message on the wall informing everyone at Hogwarts (and her family) that ‘Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber for ever’. If it wasn’t for Harry rescuing Ginny, her first year would have also been her last.
Ok, so Harry may have had to also deal with Lord Voldemort protruding from the back of Professor Quirrell’s head in his first year, but there is no way that his start at Hogwarts was worse than Ginny’s! Whereas Ginny’s first year was marked by isolation and despair, a lot of Harry’s was filled with joy and new discoveries. He had finally found a place he could be happy, had made some brilliant friends and had somewhere he could gladly call home. Yes, he had a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher out to get him. And yes, facing the wizard who had murdered his parents can’t have been easy. But Harry did not have to do any of that alone. He had Hermione and Ron with him every step of the way – Ginny had no such support system.
Furthermore, despite breaking about a thousand school rules whilst retrieving the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry was praised and rewarded for his daring actions. He was able to bask in the glory of his success and his antics helped earn Gryffindor enough house points to win the House Cup. Ginny didn’t have any upside to her traumatic experience. Instead, (as we learnt in Cursed Child) she was shunned by her peers.
There was also Ginny’s crush on Harry and the incident with the singing Valentine featuring the lyrics ‘His eyes as green as a fresh pickled toad’. It was just embarrassing all round – the less we say about this the better. But just imagine having to deal with a crush on a boy who barely knew you existed, as well as being possessed by part of the soul of one of the Darkest wizards of all time and that same boy you fancy is the one who ended up rescuing you – it’s a lot.
Overall, Ginny had an extremely miserable first year at Hogwarts. She left the comforting surroundings of The Burrow and found herself completely adrift in a school with nobody to turn to. Whilst Harry’s first year was all about discovering a new world that felt like home and was warmer and brighter than anything he had experienced with the Dursleys, Ginny’s was all about discovering the underside of the wizarding world and its murky awful depths.
Okay, fair’s fair, Ginny definitely had her hands full in her first Hogwarts year – nobody is disputing that. Being possessed by Lord Voldemort + trying to get to grips with your first school crush? Definitely bad! But let’s not forget about our resident Boy Who Lived, who had an even more terrifying Hogwarts beginning.
And the trouble started before he even got to school. While Ginny came from a loving wizarding family, with several brothers and two parents to inform her of the Hogwarts experience, Harry didn’t even know he was a wizard until just over a month before he had to start term, and that his parents had actually not died in a car crash, but had been murdered by someone called Lord Voldemort, who had tried to kill him too. It’s a lot! Thanks to the Dursleys’ failed attempts to ‘stamp the magic out of him’, poor Harry only had August to emotionally prepare for this huge, dramatic overhaul. Isn’t it distressing enough starting a new school, let alone with the added caveat that your entire life, up ‘til now, has been a lie? And you thought picking the perfect first-year school shoes was nerve-wracking.
Despite some help (and cake) from the friendly gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid, Harry doesn’t even know how to get to catch his train to school, with the Dursleys callously dumping him at King’s Cross Station without a second thought. What a horrible thing to have to go through all alone! It wasn’t until he bumped into a friendly wizarding family – Ginny’s family! – that Harry found his way.
Then, when Harry actually got to Hogwarts, his lack of magical knowledge continued to be overwhelming. Sure, he was finally rid of the Dursleys, getting to live in an enchanted castle with new friends and professors to guide him, but due to Harry’s unique position as being the child who took down the most dangerous wizard of the time, Harry joins Hogwarts as a celebrity. And while that might sound great on paper, Harry found himself at the centre of a lot of expectation and attention – not all of it good. He quickly gained his fair share of bullies, from the jealous Draco Malfoy to an actual teacher, Professor Snape, openly embarrassing him in his first-ever Potions class. How upsetting for an already-incredibly-nervous young first year to have your self-esteem laid to waste like that! Snape’s behaviour (built on years of hatred of Harry’s father) wouldn’t even make sense to Harry until much later. At this point, Harry is still coming to terms with his personal history and his legacy.
And such a legacy puts Harry in a series of precarious positions pretty swiftly. Yes, yes, it’s nice to be popular, but a spotlight can quickly darken, as Harry soon learnt. After getting caught wandering around Hogwarts out-of-hours, for example, he loses a huge wedge of house points from Gryffindor (‘Fifty points each’ still rings in our ears) and instantly becomes the most unpopular child in school. Harrowing! (Side note: this all happened because Harry was trying to transport Hagrid’s pet dragon out of Hogwarts safely, as a favour to a friend! Added reminder! He is still only 11 years old!)
Death of his reputation aside, Harry also experiences approx. four real near-death experiences in his first year alone. Combatting a giant mountain troll, coming face-to-face with a huge three headed dog, surviving a cursed bucking broomstick, and then, to top it all off, meeting Lord Voldemort himself – who – surprise! – isn’t quite as vanquished as perhaps we all thought. Hogwarts life is certainly never normal, but all of the above is beyond abnormal.
Harry ends his year at Hogwarts in the hospital wing (again – not great!) with his headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, having to explain a lot to him – while still holding back some secrets. Yes, your first year at school (be it magical or Muggle) is tough enough, but Harry had to do it all with a target on his back.
So, there you have it. Strong cases for both of these characters. But what do you think? Are you team Harry or team Ginny? Or do you still think there isn’t a clear-cut answer? Let us know!