Harry followed Ron and Hermione as they dragged Ginny down the hall, ignoring her angry protests. He felt the weight in his stomach settle heavily at the prospect of Ron's plan.
"Where are you taking me?" Ginny demanded crossly, trying to wrench her arm out of Ron's grip.
"Room of Requirement," said Ron in a low voice, letting go. "Shut it, or we'll be caught. Filch tried giving me detention this morning for walking past him funny. If he sees us out for even one second -"
"Shhh…" said Hermione. Harry jumped back hurriedly as she stopped, to keep from bumping into her from behind. He had a feeling Ron hadn't told her about him being in the Invisibility Cloak, because she asked, "Where's Harry, anyway?"
There was a decidedly furtive look on Ron's face. "I dunno… probably doing some homework or something."
Ginny's expression went dark at the mention of Harry's name, but she didn't say anything. Hermione raised an eyebrow at Ron, who was clearly trying to avoid her gaze.
"Besides," he said slowly, as they entered the Room of Requirement. Harry slipped in behind him as the door closed swiftly. "If Harry were here, Ginny wouldn't come."
"I don't know what you're on about," said Ginny glumly, flinging herself into a chair. The Room of Requirement had changed itself once more to accommodate the needs of those within it. Right now there was nothing but four chairs set in a circle in the middle of the room, presumably one for each of them, including Harry. So Invisibility Cloaks weren't immune. Harry maneuvered around the empty chairs until he was directly across from Ginny, so that he could see her face.
Hopefully she wouldn't notice that there was one chair too many. The Room of Requirement wasn't known for extravagance – just efficiency.
"We want to know what's wrong," said Hermione
"Funny," said Ron sarcastically. "Harry said the same thing."
"I don't care what Harry says."
"Well, if you don't, then why do you care if he's at practice or not?"
Ginny glared, looking determined to keep her mouth shut. Ron rolled his eyes.
"Look, I don't know what happened with you two, but I'm NOT letting this stupid fight get in the way of our winning the Quidditch cup."
"Who said it would?" snapped Ginny. "I intend to play."
"Good," said Ron, "Then you can start coming to practices again."
"Is Harry going to be there?"
"Ginny! Will you let it go?"
"I'm not playing if he is!"
"Because..." she searched angrily for the right word, and found it, "Because he's a great big prat."
Ron didn't miss a beat. "So?"
"So she's angry with him," interrupted Hermione, giving Ron a look that clearly said, isn't it obvious? "Does this have to do with your fight?"
It took Ginny a while to reply. Finally, she nodded, a bit reluctantly. "He's such a git."
"Would it make you happy if I made him apologize?" asked Ron. Harry clenched his teeth under the cloak. Why should I apologize? I didn't do anything!
"What did he say, anyway?" asked Hermione, shushing Ron with a gesture of her hand.
Ginny shook her head. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Ron and Hermione gave her puzzled looks, and even Harry, in his cloak, leaned forward, waiting for her answer.
"He's always hiding things," she said gradually, staring at her hands. "He never tells me anything."
Hermione and Ron exchanged looks.
"I hope he realises he's not the only one with feelings," she said suddenly. "I mean, tell the truth, Ron – he acts like he's the only one who ever gets hurt. Doesn't that bother you?"
Ron's face took on a strained sort of expression, like he was unsure of what to say. "Well, I…"
"He's got a lot on his mind," Hermione offered, apprehensively. "He's-"
"Harry Potter, I know." said Ginny bitterly. "Does he have to rub it in?"
Harry felt a surge of irritation flush through his body. Is that what she's angry about? Well, it's not MY fault. I don't go around asking things to happen to me. He fought back the urge to shake off the cloak and tell Ginny he'd trade places with her any day, any time. He couldn't understand why she was acting this way, and what made him even angrier was the fact that it had been Ginny who'd bravely stood up to Draco that day years ago in Flourish & Blotts; Ginny who'd voiced the words Harry so often found himself wanting to scream at the world: he didn't want all that.
"I don't think Harry's rubbing anything in," said Ron sharply. "I know you're upset and all, but don't blame him for being who he is. Harry's not like that."
"I'm not saying he is-"
"Then what are you saying?" asked Hermione.
Ginny was quiet for a minute. Then she looked up and Ron and Hermione, her eyes suspiciously bright, a look Harry knew well and did not like. "I'm saying I'd rather have him talk about it. I hate second-guessing his moods. It's like," Ginny spat out the words with tremendous difficulty, "it's like he doesn't think I'm worthy. Like I'm not even there."
"That's stupid, Ginny," began Ron, an expression of incredulity on his face. Harry couldn't agree more. Not worthy? What kind of bloody bollocks was that? What was she thinking?
"Harry does NOT think you're unworthy!" exclaimed Hermione vehemently, shaking her head. "He thinks of you as a friend!"
Ginny gave a curt laugh. "Of course he does."
Harry bristled. What was that supposed to mean?
"Look, Ginny," said Ron after a while, sounding exasperated. "It annoys me too when he takes out his frustration on us-"
"-but we deal with it," continued Hermione, glancing at Ron. "because we're his friends-"
"Don't you think I've tried?" she snapped, closing her eyes. "I've bloody well tried to talk to him, but he never tells me anything. I know it when he's upset, it's obvious, but he seems to think he's good at hiding things, which is just-"
"Bit stupid, yeah," said Ron. "but you know how he is."
"He's been like that since forever," added Hermione. "We got used to it."
"How do you get used to Harry Potter?" muttered Ginny darkly to herself. Ron and Hermione exchanged looks, but said nothing. Harry, on the other hand, felt as though he'd been slapped in the face.
Am I really that self-absorbed?
Yes, it was true that he hadn't really thought about anyone's feelings but his own since the death of Sirius, but that, Harry thought, was understandable. He knew that he was not the only one in mourning… but there were times when he felt an aching loneliness, a yearning for Sirius that was so strong that he couldn't help withdrawing into himself. He made sure he was alone during those times because he didn't think anyone could even begin to understand what that felt like.
He knew he'd hurt their feelings – all of them, Ginny, Ron, Hermione – and he felt bad for it, but he just couldn't keep his emotions in check at times. Not when everything in his world seemed to be falling apart. Why can't they see that?
"I'm sorry," said Ginny eventually, rubbing her eyes. "I know Harry doesn't- isn't like that. I suppose I'm just being oversensitive."
Too right you are, thought Harry.
"I understand, Ginny." said Hermione soothingly. "Sometimes… well, to be honest, sometimes I feel that way too."
"Yes," she admitted, a little guiltily. "I know he's having a rough time and all, but he could use a little thoughtfulness."
"Hermione…" Ron's eyes darted to the far wall. Harry supposed Ron thought he was lurking somewhere there.
Hermione paid him no attention. "Remember when he promised to meet us in the common room last week? He never showed up."
"He probably forgot," said Ron hastily.
"He said he didn't feel like coming," Hermione continued, looking irritated at the memory. "We waited for him all night. I could have been studying."
Harry's face went red under the cloak. He hadn't intended to stand them up – he just hadn't been able to sum up the energy to face the crowd in Gryffindor tower that night. If studying was more important, well, then – Harry would make sure never to waste Hermione's time again.
Ron coughed, looking very uncomfortable. "C'mon, Hermione, you know he didn't mean to."
"Well, I suppose not," sniffed Hermione, straightening up. "But he could have told us beforehand."
Harry was wondering why he'd bothered to come here at all, if all he was going to hear was people complain about what a selfish, moody git he was. I can go and talk to Malfoy for that.
"I wish he'd stop," said Ginny quietly. "I can't take it anymore."
"Sirius's death was hard on him…" said Hermione, her lip quivering, as if saying his name was taboo.
"I know it was. Believe me, I know." said Ginny, twisting her hands in her lap, "He blames himself for it. I can tell."
Harry felt sick to his stomach. The conversation had taken an unexpected turn. Somehow it felt wrong to be here, listening to three of his closest friends discuss the death of his godfather. He eased himself out of the chair, wondering if he should just leave. This had been a bad idea right from the start; he shouldn't have listened to Ron.
"It wasn't his fault," said Hermione.
"Try telling that to him," said Ron dryly, before he caught himself and clamped his mouth shut.
"He doesn't think anyone understands… but I do. I felt guilty, too, after the Chamber…" Ginny bit her lip, looking down at her hands. "After he saved me from Tom, and I found out you'd been Petrified…"
"Only for a bit," said Hermione quickly, although she gave an involuntary shiver. "The Mandrakes were practically ready by then anyway."
Ginny took a deep breath, her voice icy as she continued. "He didn't even remember it happened. I had to remind him that I'd been possessed once. Doesn't he ever think of anyone but himself?"
"That's not fair, Ginny," said Ron defensively. "He cares about you, why else-"
"I didn't say he doesn't care about anyone else," she interrupted, "I just wish he'd think sometimes."
There was a short silence.
"I reckon he thinks plenty," Ron spoke slowly, carefully. "He thinks too much."
"Why'd you get so upset, anyway?" asked Ron, and Harry's ears perked up. Finally, they were getting to the part he wanted to know about. Took bloody long enough, thought Harry. "I mean, it's not like he hasn't been doing this all year. Besides, I just saw the two of you talking yesterday, and you seemed to be getting along fine."
Ginny coloured, much to Harry's surprise. What had he done, anyway, to upset her? He still couldn't figure it out.
"I dunno…" she said, "He just got all weird last night at supper. I was talking to Dean, and well, you know the rest."
"Dean?" repeated Ron, his eyes darting around the room. Hermione gave him a strange look. "Why would Harry care if you were talking to Dean?"
Harry wanted to kick Ron in the shins.
Ginny shrugged, though she looked as though she wanted to do the same to Ron. Harry felt his cheeks heat up and go red.
A small smile played on the corners of Hermione's mouth. "Oh please, Ron."
"You know why."
"I know I'm wondering why Ginny was talking to Dean in the first place."
"Get off it, Ron!" Ginny snapped in disdain. "If you have to know, Dean was telling me how all the sixth year boys are betting on your chances of saving the Quaffle against the new Ravenclaw Chaser."
Ron stared at her. He hadn't seen this coming, it seemed. "They're betting?"
"That's against the-" began Hermione hotly, but neither Ron nor Ginny paid her any heed.
"Yeah," said Ginny wryly, "and it's not in your favour, either, dear brother."
Ron's jaw fell open.
Harry felt a twinge of anxiety. He'd seen Samuel Berkins play; the second year Chaser was sharp. Ron's chances, considering his track record of one save (a spectacular save, to be sure) last year, wasn't particularly reassuring.
"Does Harry know about this?" Ron demanded. Harry froze, a growing sense of alarm overcoming him. Would Ron be upset that Harry hadn't told him?
"Yeah, he does," replied Ginny, much to his chagrin, but her next sentence made him breathe with relief. "He placed ten galleons on you."
Ron relaxed; a smug sort of look on his face. "Who cares what those other prats think anyway, Harry knows I'll pull through."
"Actually," continued Ginny nonchalantly, "Dean says that Harry only put down ten Galleons after someone said you'd be sure to lose, and Harry said, yes, but even so, someone ought to root for you."
"Ginny-!" exclaimed Hermione helplessly, casting Ron a nervous look. Harry's insides sank like a rock. He made a mental note to hex Dean Thomas later.
Gee, thanks, Ginny.
"Did he now?" said Ron slowly, his eyes trailing around the room dangerously. Harry nervously swallowed, edging backwards into the wall. He hoped fervently that Ron wouldn't blow his cover.
"He didn't say it outright," she shrugged, "But you know how it is."
Is this Snitch-on-Harry day or what?
Ron's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, I see, all right."
"I think we ought to go back to Gryffindor Tower now," said Hermione nervously, casting worried glances at Ron's increasingly red face. He kept turning his head, (looking for the invisible Harry, of course) and it seemed like he was trying to see the back of his skull.
"We are prefects, Ron… don't you think it's about time we got back?"
"About time, yeah…" he muttered darkly. "We'll talk more about this, Ginny. Later."
Something about the way he said ‘later' worried Harry.
"Yes, well, whatever. I'm just sick of having to bend to his mood-swings." said Ginny, rolling her eyes. "If he wants to wallow in misery, let him."
"Well, we all know Harry's a git sometimes," said Ron meaningfully to the air around him. Harry glared at him from under the cloak, though, naturally, it had no effect. "I can tell you, be glad you don't sleep in the same dorm as him."