This story has been a long time in the planning. It was originally called "Believe in Me", and was basically going to involve Ron and Hermione not believing Harry's suspicions about Draco at the beginning of HPB. Ginny believed him instead, and that was pretty much it. But every time I tried to start writing the story, I got really bored. There just wasn't anything there to distinguish it enough from canon. My wonderful beta, Ella (Alianneoftortall - go read her brilliant Backward with Purpose if you have not), helped me plan out a new, more sinister plot, and I think it works. I ended up using an idea that was originally going to be part of a Chamber of Secrets era story, but I think it works much better in 6th year. The Harry/Ginny interactions are a lot more fun now too.
For those of you who like Watching and Waiting, there will eventually be some fun outtakes from this story. Plus, I'm working on yet another chapter of that story.
Enjoy and please review!
Chapter One – Everything is Not Okay
"Will you just give it up, mate?" The irritation in Ron's voice was more pronounced this time as he looked across the train compartment at Harry. "I mean, we know you think it's suspicious. But when has Malfoy ever done anything on the up and up? I think you're overreacting."
Harry sighed in frustration and leaned back against the train seat. He and Ron had been having similar versions of this same argument ever since they had followed Draco down into Knockturn Alley the week before. Harry was certain that Draco's threats to Borgin were serious and should be taken as such. Ron had agreed that Malfoy was up to, well, something, but neither he nor Hermione seemed terribly concerned about what that something might be. It didn't make sense.
Ron especially had always been willing, eager even, to believe the worst about the Slytherin in the past, and Harry couldn't understand his lack of interest now. Particularly since the three of them were all operating under an unspoken agreement to pretend that everything was normal. Even though they all knew that it really wasn't.
In the week following the death of Sirius at the Department of Mysteries, Harry, Ron and Hermione had barely spoken to each other. To be completely fair, Harry didn't really speak to anyone. He couldn't exactly explain what was wrong, other than the obvious, of course. The guilt was familiar. He kept replaying Sirius' last moments over in his mind, kicking himself for being so gullible. How did he actually believe the lies of a house elf who had clearly loathed his master? If he wasn't so into his "saving people" thing, he might have stopped to listen to Hermione's concerns, might have considered the reasons for the Occlemancy lessons, might have remembered the enchanted mirrors, might, might, might.
And Sirius would still be alive and Harry would not have dragged his closest friends into what could have, and should have, been a massacre.
But there was something else besides the guilt and grief, a feeling that had no name. Like rage, but deeper and emptier. And an intense desire to separate himself from everyone because of an anxiousness he did not understand. It wasn't Voldemort's voice or thoughts he heard during these times, but his emotions weren't his own either. The feeling usually hit suddenly, leaving Harry almost physically ill as it passed, struggling to make apologies and excuses for his angry outbursts or blank moments. He had taken to blaming most of the feelings on his friends; if they hadn't been acting so oddly, he wouldn't be so angry. The more he thought about it that way, the more sense it made to him, until by now, Harry barely realized that his own behavior was off.
Truth be told, none of the six who had fought at the Ministry were dealing with the aftermath particularly well. It might have made sense for them all to get together to talk about what had happened, but as close as most of them were with each other, they were all quite different when it came to trauma, and dealing with it. When they were together, it seemed like everyone just wanted to pretend that nothing had happened.
And that was why Harry, Ron and Hermione were sitting silently together in the train compartment when, in any other year, they would have been deep in discussion about what could possibly be going on with Draco, or more likely, analyzing Dumbledore's promise to begin teaching Harry personally this year. But now, even that request was not enough to break the silence that stole over the trio. Ginny was off with Dean somewhere, Neville had deposited his things and hadn't returned, and no one really had any idea where Luna was.
Harry watched as Ron rubbed his forearm unconsciously; he was still obviously annoyed that Harry continued to pursue his suspicions. But there was something else on his face too, a hesitance that Harry had never seen before. If he hadn't known Ron nearly as well as he knew himself, Harry might have said that Ron actually looked nervous. But about Malfoy??
The look was gone before Harry could register what it meant, Ron's face rearranging itself back into the careful blandness that usually marked his features these days.
Harry was suddenly annoyed again. Ron was still clutching his arm, no doubt trying to subtly remind Harry of the injury he had suffered when the escaped brains had wrapped around him. The scars were fading, but still apparent, and Harry had the impression that, despite his strange nervousness, Ron still enjoyed the attention he got whenever someone noticed the lines carved around his hand and up his arm. Even though he knew he probably shouldn't, Harry couldn't resist getting in another dig.
"I bet Malfoy's arm hurts worse than that," he remarked, deliberately trying to keep his tone conversational. "You know, where he had the Dark Mark branded."
Ron stopped rubbing his arm, but instead of the sharp retort Harry had expected, he just looked scared again, and stared down at the floor. Hermione was the one to look at Harry, a tired expression on her face.
Harry deflated, his anger disappearing as quickly as it had come, and he studied his other best friend for a long minute. For once, Hermione was not pouring through her schoolbooks or boring them with yet another story from Hogwarts, A History. She was just sitting and watching Harry sadly, as if she couldn't quite understand what had led him to antagonize Ron.
That made sense. Harry couldn't understand it either.
The door to the compartment swung open and Padma Patil looked in at them.
"Ron, Hermione, there's a prefects' meeting, remember?" The Ravenclaw looked curiously at the trio; no one had ever had to remind Hermione about a meeting before.
Hermione frowned and then nodded, gathering up her things and looking back at Ron. He shuffled after her, mumbling a quiet "bye" at Harry as he left.
The compartment door clicked shut, and Harry was alone. He sighed and looked out the window. Being by himself seemed to bring a moment of clarity, and he wondered what exactly was going on with his friends. It wasn't like they hadn't all survived dangerous situations before. Every single year, actually. And he didn't think any of them blamed him for what had happened, even though Harry felt that blame was quite deserved. He supposed it could be about losing Sirius, but even that didn't seem to be it. Sirius had been his godfather, so the sadness and guilt were to be expected for him at least. But why was Ron so scared? And Hermione. If he was being kind, he would call her pre-occupied, but not in the way she got around finals time, or with S.P.E.W. Scattered was more like it.
Anger was building up inside Harry again, irrational anger at Ron and Hermione, and the others. Here he was, just having lost one of the most important people in life, and none of them seemed to really care. Instead of trying to suppress these strange feelings yet again, Harry embraced them, going over in his mind all the ways his closest friends had let him down in recent weeks.
Luna, for instance. What had happened to her odd, but tension-breaking comments that made everything seem less overwhelming? The one time Harry had talked to her, in the hospital wing, she had been remarkably in the moment, calm, sane, and kind of boring. He couldn't remember seeing her on Platform 9 ¾ at all, and wondered, briefly, where she was.
Neville was another disappointment. He had always been a solid presence for Harry, a quiet source of support. Harry had always felt that Neville was almost a touchstone for what his own life could have been, a reminder that Harry was not the only student at Hogwarts with demons in his past. It made him want to fight harder, to keep those demons at bay. Neville had been Harry's greatest success during the months of the D.A., and Harry had begun to feel that he was gaining another strong ally in the fight against Voldemort. But in the days after the six returned from the Ministry, Neville seemed to have retreated back to being that timid, forgetful boy they all remembered from first year. Even now, two months later, he had barely spoken to Harry on the train before racing off somewhere.
And Ginny. Oddly, Harry's thoughts towards Ginny were a lot more muddled. His memories of her from before the Ministry were not nearly as personal as for his other friends. Harry realized that he had always thought of her in relation to someone, or something, else; Ron's little sister, one of the Weasleys, a girl with a crush on him, a girl to be rescued from the Chamber. True, this past year he had begun to see flashes of a personality that finally explained the wary awe her brothers bestowed on her, but his own interactions with Ginny had been rare. Of the five who had gone with Harry to the Ministry, Ginny's attitude and demeanor had changed the least, as far as Harry could tell. But maybe that was because he hadn't particularly noticed her before.
As if reading his thoughts, the compartment door suddenly opened and Ginny herself was there. She grinned at Harry with an easiness that was missing from his other friends. Apparently she hadn't gotten the memo that everyone was supposed to be acting weird, Harry thought wryly to himself.
"Oi! I can only listen to stories about West Ham for so long!" Ginny sighed dramatically and fell onto the seat across from Harry. "Does Dean talk that much about football in your dormitory?"
Harry was taken aback at her casual conversation. "Umm, yeah, when we let him," he managed to stutter out. He was oddly pleased when Ginny laughed. Then she sat up and looked around. "Why are you sitting in here alone? I didn't interrupt anything, did I?"
What exactly did she think she might be interrupting? Harry thought to himself, a flash of the familiar irritation stopping him for a second. But he was able to shake it off.
"Ron and Hermione had to go to a prefects' meeting. I'm just waiting for them to come back."
"Right," said Ginny. Then she frowned. "Harry . . . do you think that they're acting, I don't know, a bit strange?"
"I think we all are." The admission flew out of Harry's mouth before he could bite it back. They were supposed to be pretending nothing was wrong. Ginny stared at him for a minute, and then nodded. "Ron's scared, Hermione's . . . well, she's not all hyper-organized and thoughtful. What are you?"
Harry was shocked at how perceptive Ginny was about what was going on. He didn't think she paid that much attention to him anymore. "How did you . . ."
Ginny raised her eyebrows as if she could see his thoughts. "It's not hard to see, Harry. We lived together all summer at the Burrow, remember? Not to mention all that time at Grimmauld Place last year."
And Harry suddenly did remember. As if looking at a series of photographs, he saw the past months fly by in his mind: cleaning the living room at Grimmauld Place, lurking outside Order meetings with Extendable Ears, waiting for news of her father, being yelled at by her, eating together at the Burrow. Ginny had always been there, but Harry hadn't really paid attention. And Quidditch – he had been surprised to hear that Ginny had taken his place after his ban last year, but after seeing her play, he wondered why she had not joined the team earlier.
The sound of Ginny clearing her throat forced Harry from his thoughts. She was still looking at him. Actually, she was still waiting for him to answer her question, Harry realized.
"Umm, you asked . . .?" Harry remembered, but he wanted to be sure.
"I asked what your problem is," replied Ginny. "And don't try to tell me you don't have a problem too." Her eyes softened. "Is it about Sirius?"
Ginny was the first to ask about his godfather. Harry would ordinarily have expected Hermione to be the one to try to delve into his feelings, but with the way Hermione was around him these days, it was as if she barely remembered that Sirius had died, or that Harry might be feeling his trademark guilt about the entire thing. Harry felt a flash of annoyance even thinking about Hermione trying to make him feel better. Or was it because she wasn't here, trying to figure him out?
Why was he annoyed? Hermione used to be good at explaining feelings. Look at what she understood about Cho. Look how she used to yell at me and Ron when we were acting like arses to each other.
Harry wasn't sure how he felt, having Ginny ask the questions he would have expected from Hermione. He gave the answer he thought she would want to hear.
"Some of it is, I guess. I mean, it's just unfair that we got so little time together." Dumbledore had said something similar to Harry the night they arrived at the Burrow after seeing Slughorn. At the time, Harry had been working to ignore everything that had happened at the end of the school year; he had given Dumbledore a pat reply that he wasn't going to hide himself away just because of what had happened, that Sirius wouldn't have wanted that. Dumbledore had been pleased at Harry's response; Harry had been surprised at how easily the lie had rolled off his tongue. Then he had gone and hidden himself away for most of the summer anyway.
Ginny looked at Harry closely, as if she knew he wasn't being honest. "And you feel incredibly guilty." She was matter-a-fact.
"Wouldn't you?" Harry knew he was being rude, but he still wasn't sure he wanted to have this conversation.
"Of course I would," said Ginny. "And sad, angry, cheated, lonely, you name it. But there's more, isn't there? Something that has to do with how weird Ron and Hermione are being and how you don't feel like yourself."
Ginny watched as Harry's face betrayed more than he probably wanted about how accurate her assessment was. Of course, she was at an advantage here, interpreting his feelings. She had been watching him surreptitiously for almost five years. Harry said a lot more with his face and his actions than he ever said with words, a fact most people didn't realize. She knew he shared more with Ron and Hermione than anyone else, but usually only after stewing on his own for a while. And she knew that Harry was nearly as jealous of Ron's life as Ron thought he was of Harry's, with his fame and attention.
Harry was quiet, staring down at the floor. Then he nodded, as if making a decision. He looked at Ginny.
"It's like, we can't be together. Not comfortably. Not like we used to be. And I don't know why. You're right. Ron is scared of something – I've never seen him like this, except for that time we got caught in a den of giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest. At least he had a good reason that time."
Ginny nodded. She had seen the uncharacteristically frightened look on her brother's face a lot this summer. Usually when conversation had skirted too close to the Department of Mysteries or speculation about Voldemort.
"And Hermione . . ." she prompted.
"Hermione is okay around Ron, but she can't seem to focus on anything like she used to. She doesn't want to discuss . . . I mean, neither of them believe. . ." Harry stopped, and Ginny knew he didn't want to admit how much it bothered him that his best friends didn't seem to trust him all of a sudden.
"Believe what?" Now that she had him talking, Ginny was determined to find out as much as she could.
"Believe that Draco Malfoy has taken his father's place as a Death Eater and is involved in something dangerous." Harry said the last in a rush, as if he didn't expect her to buy his theory any more than Ron or Hermione had.
Ginny frowned. "He's only sixteen," she said slowly. "Do you really think . . ."
"Yes, I do really think he is," said Harry firmly. "We followed him into Knockturn Alley last week and he threatened a shopkeeper there by showing him something. Something that really scared the man. I think it was the Dark Mark on his arm. And he's planning something using a dark item from the store. We just couldn't see what it was."
"And my brother doesn't believe you," said Ginny. It wasn't a question.
"No," said Harry shortly. "Neither does Hermione. They don't want to talk about it at all, actually."
Ginny thought to herself before she spoke, making sure she believed her words and wasn't just placating Harry. "I suppose it's possible," she said slowly. "Lucius Malfoy is certainly a nasty piece of work. I wouldn't put it past him to sign his son up to be a Death Eater at the earliest possible moment. She had not forgiven the man for slipping her Tom Riddle's diary four years earlier. She looked at Harry. "Maybe we should try to keep a closer eye on Draco."
Harry let out a breath. "Yes – that's all I wanted to do. It's not like I'm planning on marching up to him and accusing him of anything."
"Okay then," said Ginny. "I'm in. Let me know how I can help."
Harry grinned at her and it was as if the entire atmosphere in the compartment changed. Ginny smiled back. It was amazing how his mood lightened with the promise of help, someone on his side. And somehow, she knew that Harry was right. A year ago, she might have agreed with him as an excuse to get him to notice her. Now she was oddly proud to think that she was supporting him because it felt right.
Harry was just saying something about using the Marauder's Map to keep an eye on Draco when the compartment door opened and Ron and Hermione came in. They were both laughing about something that had happened at the prefect's meeting.
"And the look on Ernie's face when you did the charm better than him!" Ron was saying, giving Hermione a high five. "Just priceless!"
Ginny saw Harry frown and read his thoughts as easily as if he spoke aloud: Ron and Hermione seemed to be behaving a lot more normally all of a sudden, and it bugged him. Just then Ron caught sight of Harry's face and the light seemed to go out of his own. He looked back and forth between Harry and Ginny as he sat down.
"What?" Harry asked.
Ron shook his head. "Nothing," he mumbled.
Anyone could see that Ron did not want to know what was going on. Ginny was not really surprised that Harry told him anyway.
"Ginny agrees we should keep an eye on Malfoy. "She's going to help."
Ron drew in a breath. "I don't think that's a good idea. It could be dangerous."
Harry looked mad now. "I thought you said I was overreacting!"
Ron still looked scared. "Every time you get suspicious about something, someone ends up hurt. Or . . ." his voice trailed off.
"Or dead? Is that what you were going to say?" Ginny jumped as Harry yelled at her brother, his fury back again. "People around me die, right? Well, if you haven't noticed, a lot of people around me live, too. And I've managed to survive Voldemort what is it, four times now? Five? And I'm still here fighting, and I'm going to keep fighting, even if I have to do it alone. Which I'm beginning to think is the best way anyway." He took several deep breaths, his fists clenched.
Ginny watched Harry struggle for control, torn between whether she should try to calm him or instead support her brother somehow. Instead, she kept quiet. It was clear to her that Harry's anger had a life of its own, although he was trying to suppress it. Ron's fear was out of his control too, for that matter. She wondered briefly about Hermione, but before she could consider the other girl, Ron spoke.
"Maybe we should just go," said Ron, as if reading Harry's thoughts, or at least, his body language.
"Yeah," Harry replied, not looking up.
Hermione was uncharacteristically silent during this exchange. Well, it would have been uncharacteristic before this summer. Now she just stared out the window and ignored the fact that her two closest friends were fighting with each other. She looked up when Ron touched her arm, smiled at Harry, and said goodbye before leaving the compartment again.
Ginny sighed. She needed to think. And Harry needed to be alone before he could antagonize anyone else. "I think I should leave too," she said.
Harry nodded grimly. "Dean and his West Ham stories must be a hell of a lot more pleasant than me."
Ginny just gave Harry a look as she paused at the door to the compartment. "We will figure out what is going on, though. And I don't just mean with Malfoy." She touched his arm. "And I'll try to talk to Ron."
And then she was gone, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.