|Signal to Noise
Author: Kourion PM
Harry's problems are multiplying in the wake of Sirius' death. SI and noncon warnings. Mature subject matter.Rated: Fiction M - English - Angst/Hurt/Comfort - Harry P. & Remus L. - Chapters: 22 - Words: 113,397 - Reviews: 414 - Favs: 247 - Follows: 330 - Updated: 11-05-10 - Published: 07-30-07 - id: 3690537
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
TitleSignal to Noise
Disclaimer is this REALLY necessary? I don't own HP, yadda, yadda, yadda.
AN this story takes place during the fall (following OofP.) Harry is 16.
Summary Hindsight is 20/20. But recognition after the fact doesn't lessen grief – in fact, it usually makes things worse.
Warnings: contains references to disordered eating and cutting. Also very slight references to physical and sexual abuse. If any of these subjects trigger you, then you probably should stay away. I'm also a relatively recent fan of the series (I know, I know – have I been living under a rock?), so I apologize for any inaccuracies. Concrit and reviews are appreciated.
I am sitting in the dark - my hand clutched around one stinging limb, when I hear the creaking of the Gryffindor boy's bathroom door. My eyes automatically half-close as a wave of light streams into the room; I prop myself up against the tiled wall and pull my robe tightly over my body. A cracked section of wall digs into my shoulder blades as I use it for support, and I wince. That part of me is already pretty badly bruised.
The voice is tentative, feminine and tender. But I remain quiet for a moment, as I don't want to talk to anyone right now – even Hermione. That thought causes a surge of fresh shame.
"You really shouldn't be in here, Hermione." My voice sounds oddly haggard.
"Why? Do you really think anyone else cares if I am here? Besides it's just you and me", she is silent for a moment, and then adds, "I didn't see you at the feast and…well, I was concerned, okay?"
When I don't reply, she adds with greater insistence, "I looked for you all over. Ron told me that he saw you earlier, when you were unpacking. I was going to see if you were in the commons room, because I couldn't sleep either."
Hermione sometimes provides me with more information than needed, and occasionally she even seems to know what I am going to ask next in a conversation. She used to joke that it was her "women's intuition" made manifest, until I said something about intuition and Trewlawney in the same sentence, and ever since then she has denied having any extraordinary perceptive abilities.
I guess it comes in handy. I don't have to ask why she's here, or how she knew I was here, because as soon as I think of this she supplies more information: "I saw your satchel outside the restroom, Harry. Why do you boys do that?"
"Habit, I guess", I admit.
I glance upwards out of basic respect for my friend, and then look back down, studying my hands. They look unnaturally pale in the darkness of the room, the moons of the nails starkly white, the cuticles torn from the nail beds. The bleeding highlights my fingers in little red crescents.
Hermione comes closer and rests her hands on my back, rubbing it gently for a moment before mumbling something. Her hand feels unnaturally warm and comforting, or maybe I am just unnaturally cold and lonely. Some part of me registers that she is asking me something, so I nod when I feel the moment is appropriate, and she shakes me a little.
"I think we should be off to our respective rooms now – you are barely awake", and her hand brushes the small space under my right eye, so softly, that I almost question if she has touched me at all. "Your eyes are so dark, you are obviously exhausted. So don't argue, because I'm going to drag you back to bed if it's the last thing I do."
I try not to laugh at that statement, and she flushes, annoyed with her sloppy wording.
"Oh shut up."
This causes me to laugh even more. The only reason I can get away with laughing at all is because we are such good friends. I know that she isn't really embarrassed – not truly. She smirks, amused with my immature response.
"Try not to be such a male for a second. Seriously – you are just as bad as Ron. We have potions first thing in the morning. Do you really want to be sleep deprived for that particular class? I can just see it now…you half-awake, dropping the wrong ingredient into our mixture, Snape detracting more house points than we could have even earned by that point and…"
She's rambling again as she pulls me to my feet, and doesn't mention the oddness of the entire evening. Doesn't make reference to my quietness, my seemingly obvious depression. I don't know if I like this take-charge-but-don't-comment Hermione, or if I want her to broach the subject and demand to know what I am doing sitting in the boy's washroom with the lights off at 2.30 in the morning. At this moment, I almost want to tell her. Which is evidence of my exhaustion, because I would never want to tell anyone the truth. Not ever.
Unbelievably, Potions class goes by without incident. I remain mute but pay attention so as to not incur Snape's wrath. To my amazement Neville doesn't cause any sort of calamity, Ron doesn't set off Malfoy, and Hermione works diligently on cutting up something called a scarab root for our team assignment while I sit passively by and only add components to the mix when I feel Snape is near.
A few times I have felt him staring at me with those beady black eyes, the git. But he seems reluctant to say anything to me, which suits me just fine. However, by the end of the first hour I'm feeling not unlike a ghost. Unseen. Invisible. I don't know if I like this feeling or not.
The next few classes pass by in a blur, which I chalk up to my tiredness. After all, I didn't get much sleep, even after dutifully returning to my dorm last night, as I promised to Hermione.
Then again, I really couldn't bring myself to eat much breakfast either. A sip of pumpkin juice and a bite of peaches and cream oatmeal, but that was it. And I only ate that much because I was feeling a little nauseous and woozy.
But by lunch hour, I'm feeling even less enticed by the prospect of eating, so I spend 10 minutes pushing green beans, roast beef and potatoes around on my massively oversized plate.
I don't know if it is my imagination, or if the school has simply outfitted the 6th and 7th years with larger plates – but everything looks so excessive this year. I mean - do we really need 500 pieces of buttered toast on a table that has not more than 80 Gryffindors? There is more food here than what we would need for a week. I shudder when I think of the obvious waste.
I then notice that Hermione is staring at me rather intently, and asks if I feel ill. I just dismiss her with a wave of my hand.
"Everything tastes bitter."
"Bitter? Harry – the food is perfectly sound. You are looking a little pale though…are you sure you're not sick?"
I bite back my retort, as irritable as I am, and pierce a green bean with the tine of my fork, taking a nibble to show her that I'm reasonable.
Chew, chew, swallow. Try to look impassive. But the vegetable seems to lodge itself in my body. It's an intrusion. It seems to take up too much space, and all at once I feel defiled. I feel contaminated, antsy and it doesn't make much sense. Maybe Hermione is right. Maybe I am coming down with something.
"No, it tastes strange. I can't really explain it any better than that. It doesn't taste bitter, or, I don't know – off – to you guys?"
"Off? What, all of it tastes "off"?", Hermione qualifies, and I shrug before nodding.
Ron looks up at me in confusion, having already eaten two large chicken legs, a massive heaping of mashed potatoes and gravy and an impressive serving of pumpkin juice before finishing off another plate of baklava. I try to hide my revulsion.
"Tastes good to me," he says through bites, tearing the remaining crispy skin off the chicken breast, revealing the glistening pink flesh underneath. I feel bile, hot and salty, surge to the front of my throat and barely make my way from the Great Hall to the outside quad before I vomit in the grass.
I manage to avoid Hermione before she heads off to her 6th year Arithmancy class amongst a throng of Ravenclaws, and I feel my pulse decrease slightly with that knowledge. I just crave to be alone; to go back to my room and curl up with the recent book on Quidditch that Ginny gave me for my birthday.
I know that I am supposed to be meeting up with Ron for Herbology, but I cannot convince myself that the first class will even be all that important as every year it's the same deal. We just go through a yearly "welcome back" speech, and basic run-through of the syllabus. Nothing essential. I decide that the library appeals to me more at the moment and I'm almost home free before I hear the patient voice of my previous DADA instructor.
"Don't you have class now, Harry?"
Remus is looking at me with a look that is not quite bemusement, and I try to hedge before just coming clean.
"I'm not really feeling too enthusiastic for Herbology at the moment."
He nods in what I think shows understanding before adding, "It's hard to be enthusiastic on an empty stomach, isn't it?"
Oh Merlin, not this. Did Hermione say something?
"I guess," I respond tersely. "But I really don't think that's it – I just, I…"
Yeah, that's a powerful argument, Potter. Ramble. Good job.
Remus digs around in his pockets before retrieving a silver foil edge of Honeyduke's chocolate… of course – his magical cure-all for everything.
"Why don't you eat some of this, and try your best to get through what is it next? Herbology? You've already gotten through Potions today haven't you? So it's all downhill now", he replies amicably, with but a certain finality, gently guiding me away from the library entrance.
I take his chocolate offering, mutter a polite thank you, and then make my way towards my next class. Before I enter the greenhouse, I dispose of the chocolate in the north wing waste bin - feeling slightly guilty as I do so. I feel like I am throwing away something more than chocolate. I feel as if I am throwing away his help, his friendship.
The routine is as follows: breakfast is offered as early as 7 am to all students, first classes commence at 8.30 in the morning and last 60 minutes a piece, so total in-class time each day averages 6 hours, with short breaks between classes to change books, or if necessary, clothes.
Lunch begins at noon, and finishes by 1 pm and is followed by three afternoon classes. The last class typically finishes around 3.30 or 3.45, depending on whether students were late or the class took longer than expected to complete. From 4 to 5:30 we have our extra-curricular activities, including Quidditch practice. Dinner is offered from 6 to 7, and then the final three hours of the day are essentially, "free" (although that usually translates into homework or practice time, so the actual true free time offered is far less than this, and in Hermione's case, is practically non-existent, except in those cases when we travel to Hogsmeade, or during holidays, of course).
Lights out time is supposedly 10 pm, although this is only in theory, since by the third year, most students do not follow this 'rule' and the commons room is usually bustling well until quarter to 11 with students playing Wizard chess and eating more than their fill of chocolate frogs and other sweets. At which time McGonagall sometimes makes rounds, and we carefully disperse, lest she usher us off to bed or decides to take off house points. Most Gryffindors (and I assume those from other houses as well) awaken around 6.30 am for showers or preparations for the next day.
As such, everyone lives by the same schedule. There are slight deviances in the schedules for some, such as in the case of those who play Quidditch, or those who take advanced Arithmancy, but generally speaking – we have our lives mapped out for us. Each hour of every day is filled. There are no alternative breakfast times and there are no alternative dinner times. If you miss lunch, it usually is noticed by at least a handful of your peers since we all eat communally and there are no valid excuses, save for illness, as to why a student would be absent.
When I first began my schooling at Hogwarts, the routine was very comforting. I craved it, much the same way Ron seems to crave his sugary confections, or Snape craves being an arse and picking on first year Hufflepuffs.
Coming from the Dursley's, I wasn't used to knowing when I'd get a meal, or if I'd even get a meal. My life with them was one long stretch of unknown territory. It wasn't uncommon for me to go three days in a row, with little more than a slice of toast and a small glass of milk for breakfast or lunch. If I screwed up, or if Uncle Vernon was simply in a foul mood, those items were sometimes restricted as well.
Weeks could pass and I'd become sleepless, cold, agitated. The weight would drop off me, especially in summer time, and more so once I began studying at Hogwarts, which always perplexed me but was something I never questioned. I'd go to bed with a belly of acid and wake up with knees that looked a little knobbier, a little bonier. Each autumn, I almost always returned to school a stone or so under my previous weight.
When I was little, I just thought that was my lot in life. I was told that I was treated appropriately, and that I deserved my treatment – that I deserved punishment. I guess after awhile, I just figured that they were right and I was wrong. Maybe I DID deserve some of the restrictions, some of their anger. I certainly went on to meet others that felt the same. Snape, and Malfoy, and essentially the entire Slytherin house, for whatever reason.
But I also made connections with people who tried to change my outlook, who showed me tenderness and warmth and friendship. Who thought I was a good person, not a wretched one.
Dumbledore, Hagrid, Hermione, Ron, Remus, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ginny and later…Sirius. And I trusted them more than I had ever trusted anyone, so for awhile, I think I started to feel okay with myself, feel okay with what was the past, because I had convinced myself that I wasn't to blame.
Sirius once told me that I was a very good person but that I had undergone very bad things. Though they were simple words, I found them haunting, because he didn't know everything. No one knew everything, and I never had any intentions of letting anyone know aspects of my past. What was done was done, and there was nothing anyone could say or do, no matter how much they cared about me – to change the past.
So even though Sirius only knew some of what upset me, some of my problems, his words still struck a chord – because they applied to everything I had ever experienced that I wanted to forget, that I wanted to deny. The things he knew about, and the things he didn't. And his eyes seemed to radiate this knowledge, as if he knew something about my spirit – that it was ultimately pure, and that nothing could change that, and if I could believe it, everything would be okay.
In the end, everything would be fine. As if I wasn't, deep down, contaminated. As if he knew – knew everything – but didn't care. His eyes seemed to implore: trust me.
After that point, I almost had the crazy, intense desire to talk to him about it all. I was shaky with this need to let him know, to have someone know, because if I kept it all inside I thought I'd perhaps lose it entirely. I was just so angry.
He explained that this didn't make me bad. He told me that my anger was natural, that it was righteous anger at being hurt and having others I care about also hurt. He told me that my rage was expected – and I believed him. But lately, I'm questioning whether or not he was right. It's possible that he may have been mistaken, isn't it?
Because here I am, barely 16, and I'm surrounded by death.
My mother and my father died to protect me. I'm alive, and I continue to live – despite situations that would have undoubtedly cost anyone else their life. Some days, I almost feel as if I cannot die, as if I will simply make my way through this life and be forced to watch everyone else I care about be tortured and abused, and killed. Cedric last year, and now Sirius. I try not to think about him sometimes, but it's almost as hard not to think of him as it is to recall his life, our time together.
Whenever I close my eyes I see his face, I see his eyes, I hear his voice – so clearly. Occasionally, my sleep is dreamless, and I awake feeling okay, and those moments are almost blissful. Yet they never last, and are soon replaced with an odd, momentary confusion: thinking that he is still alive, and wondering why I fear that he is gone. And when I remember that he isn't here anymore – that he is gone – and it hurts almost as much as it did when I first lost him.
There is an actual constriction in my chest, as if some entity has wrapped ice cold hands around my heart and is squeezing the muscle, preventing the blood from entering. In the muggle world, they speak of God, and in those moments I pray. I pray, "just let me see him once more, please God, just for a moment." I almost think that I might have been able to get through all the rest – the stuff Sirius knew about and the stuff he didn't – if only I could see him again. If only I could talk to him one last time.
I didn't know how badly I could miss someone or grieve for someone until he died. I think my capacity to hope, maybe even to love fully, also died with him. Because I cannot bring myself to feel the same way about Hermione or Ron as I did before. I feel close to them, but at some level, some very deep level – I have already started to say goodbye to them as well. Maybe that way, when they die, it won't hurt quite so much. Maybe if I prepare for it now – I won't go through this same horrible feeling again. I won't feel as if a cheese grater has been taken to my chest, as if I am being cut up from the inside out.
Everyone who spends too much time with me, who comes to care for me – they suffer for it. I see this fact so clearly now, whereas when I was little, I mistakenly thought I was the one suffering. The reality is that I cause suffering. My very existence causes suffering.
And here I have Dumbledore and countless others refer to me as their hope against the dark forces in the world. How can I live up to all the expectations of those who see my life, which should have ended in infancy, as a miraculous occurrence?
I don't feel very miraculous. I don't feel much of anything that is good anymore. I try to stay distracted, and focus on the rituals of the Hogwarts calendar or my own rituals of how to act and what to say to Professors, to my classmates, to my established enemies, to my established friends. I pretend to be all right. I pretend that I am finish mourning for him, but the truth for the matter is that I don't think I've even started yet.
I have never felt more lost or empty. Or, when I don't feel empty I only feel rage and grief and the most foul of all emotions: hatred. I feel it boil up inside me, polluting my body and mind. I feel its power work its way through my veins, I feel the caustic rise of aggression, the desire to destroy and break things and lash out.
It scares me so much – this hatred, this grief. I want to lance it from my body, remove it from my soul. But there isn't a charm I can cast that will accomplish this feat. There is no potion I can swallow to make the feelings go away.
I've tried to ignore it. I've tried muggle alternatives – sneaking from the stores of rum in Uncle Vernon's cabinet, until the acidic warmth of my belly met the even more attractive warmth of alcohol. For a time, it helped, but only slightly. It was never strong enough, and I had to be careful to never ingest too much. To never get caught.
I spent some of my money on different things. I purchased sleeping remedies, but they only made me groggy the next day, and I never got my chores completed in time. There were several fights over my drowsiness, over my "laziness", and one of those fights ended in my back meeting up with my Uncle's belt – something I had avoided for years. Another incident was even worse, and had I not been so completely out-of-it, well, it probably wouldn't have even happened in the first place. For that I am to blame. For that reason, I cannot feel pity for myself – only disgust.
I think that's how it began – the cutting. I needed something effective, something that I could control and that took all my focus and energy and directed it into one, neat, expected end. Something that would temporarily swell within me, blot out my horrible rage and my incapacitating sadness and allow me to get through the day without losing it entirely. But I also needed something that wouldn't leave me vulnerable to predations, that wouldn't affect my ability to react to move away from danger.
So that's the reason for why I'm currently in the boy's washroom this evening, more than an hour into what should be my Quidditch practice time, with a razor that I've dismantled from my muggle shaver in my right hand. That's why I currently have said razor pressed up against my left arm, ready to make the next clean slice in a series of beautiful, clean slices.
I think of it as being akin to meditation, although I couldn't very well sell Hermione or Ron on something that looks this gruesome using the term "meditative". And it's not as if I'm trying to kill myself. If that was my goal, I would already be dead. This isn't about suicide.
Plus, I'm sure my friends have their own little secrets that they keep from me as well.
But more than that, I could never tell them because I know what they will think of it, and of me. They'll think there is something very wrong with me; they wouldn't understand how beneficial the slight, controlled application of pain could possibly be for someone in my position. Because, at one time, before I needed it – before there was true need – I don't think I would have understood it any better either.
That's what this is now – a need. This application of a little force, a little pain, is keeping me together. And the cost is minute. All I have to do is sacrifice the surface of my skin. That's really such a small price to pay for what I get in return.
The swelling of pain, and the waning of it afterwards… It leaves me feeling limp, calmed, but not unscathed. I feel like it is a perfect blend of comfort and punishment. If I thought myself totally innocent, perhaps I could go to Hermione and Ron, or even Remus. They would say something to placate me, to assure me that I'm normal, to assure me that there is nothing that I could have done for Cedric or for Sirius, or even, maybe, for my parents. Or maybe, if I could have brought myself to tell them – they would have argued that I couldn't even blame myself for what has happened with my Uncle, for what has happened there.
But I just don't believe them anymore. I want to believe them, but I'm convinced that they would say anything to take away my pain. And what if that is wrong? What if I SHOULD feel pain? What if the Dursley's are right after all?
At least I know I am not truly innocent. I don't think anyone can have such ugly thoughts swirling through their mind and be a good person. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. About what separates me from anyone else, from anyone I would have previously thought of as bad, or even evil. How am I, Harry James Potter, all that different from a death eater, or Uncle Vernon, or even Voldemort himself?
The bathroom is cloudy with steam by the time I finally enter. I disrobe apprehensively, and run my hands over my chest; fingers gliding over pallid skin, coming to pause near the site of an old injury. The other Gryffindors have just about cleared out.
I cringe in apprehension: the old cuts on my arm look odd in the dark light of the shower room. They have a yellow tinge, and I sigh. I really have no idea if I let them get infected. I honestly haven't been paying attention to all that much in the last few weeks. So I turn off the shower and listen carefully to determine if anyone else is lingering around. Fairly certain that I am alone, I swipe for my navy towel and wrap it around my waist before exiting the stall and making my way over to the rusted sinks. There is a little more light near that area, and light is what I need right now.
I'm in the process of examining the wounds when I hear the doors squeak tellingly and a familiar voice calls out into the steamy room. It's almost a déjà vu experience, except that the voice this time is masculine. Which, given my state of undress, is undoubtedly preferable. All I would need now is Hermione coming in here to mother me while I'm, essentially, naked.
"Ron! Give me a moment, okay?"
I'm trying to cover up my arm with my Quidditch top before he makes his way over to me.
"Well, well, well - if we aren't Mr. Modest today. Most Gryffindors aren't really this secretive you know", he laughs and starts to tug on my shirt in play, which I have half slung around my head and left arm, thank Merlin.
The cuts are concealed for now, but if he keeps tugging on my top there is a possibility…
"Bugger off! I'm getting changed here!" and I immediately wince, my tone and my words bordering on aggressive. I see the amused glint in his eyes die out and he props himself up a little straighter.
"Alright man. Fine. I just went looking for you to let you know that Ginny's gonna have your head. Quidditch practice is almost over – again - and you are in here… getting a shower? Have you even gone to more than a handful of practice sessions this month?" he finishes in a petulant tone.
I'm trying to shrug off his reactivity, and come across as cool with the whole thing, but I've effectively stopped changing. If I shift around to grab the other sleeve, my shirt is going to ride up and expose my arm. As it stands, the shirt has crept up my chest and is exposing more than enough to make me self-conscious. As if reading my mind, Ron starts in on this.
"Bloody Merlin Harry! Look at your chest!" and I pull away before he can finish commenting.
"Look Ron, if you don't leave me alone and let me finish getting dressed I'm not going to make it to the practice at all and…", but he decides to cut me off, his face an odd mixture of suspicion and concern. He's definitely been spending too much time with Hermione. It's a classic Hermione look, but on Ron it looks foreign, and is unwanted.
"Forget Quidditch Harry. Come on…get dressed… You're coming with me for early dinner. Merlin you are starting to look sick, and you haven't been eating around us… and now I'm starting to think that you aren't eating at all!"
I almost laugh at that.
"Ron, we have only been back at school for a month! Don't you think you are jumping the gun a little bit? And I eat. I make it for most of the meals, don't I?"
He stares at me with a tired look on his face, and for one rapid-fire moment I feel a burst of anger take a hold of me. And then it is gone, and I feel okay again.
"Harry – you eat so little though... Seriously mate, you got to eat more. I mean, you especially – what with your running and with Quidditch and everything. You can't keep having the odd bowl of soup. That's not enough! You know it's not enough!"
They've been on my case since I was 11 about being too thin so I'm starting to find the whole thing exasperating. But I know if I keep making excuses things are going to get worse, so I turn around and quickly finish getting dressed in a nearby stall.
I bypass Ginny as I make my way to my seat. She looks up at me not unkindly, and sort of points questioningly to my outfit – the bright colors of the Quidditch shirt poking through my black robes. I mouth "sorry", and shrug, composing some sort of excuse for later. I've already ticked off Ron and worried Hermione lately – I'd like to stay in good standing with at least one friend.
By the time I sit down, I know full well that Ron and Hermione have been talking about me, as they grow quiet. Hermione speaks first.
"Well, Ron tells me you've decided to try something other than soup today. You must be ravenous, huh?" She throws me an encouraging smile, and I don't want to disappoint her.
But I'm not really hungry.
She's not finished either: her eyes scan my frame, and she frowns, as do I, cause I know what's coming next.
"Harry, you know we don't mean to badger you about this, but you are starting to look really skinny. And you were already so thin before, you know? But now…" her voice is quiet, barely more than a whisper so as to not attract the attention of everyone else.
Goodness, she's not done harping on this yet?
"…and you didn't eat at all today, nor yesterday. Did you eat this week? I mean – something other than broth or tomato soup? Cause I know I asked you if you were sick at start of term – and you said no, but if you aren't eating at all…" She sounds almost timid, her eyebrows scrunched in slight apprehension and she looks to Ron, apparently to see if he has anything else to add to this non-conversation. I feel an odd thundering in my chest, a twinge of guilt at making them worry.
Words, sentences – they do not come. I feel frozen, and my own voice fails me. All I know is that I am too tired for any of this. I guess she senses this because her tone immediately softens.
"Look you guys…" I begin, and my eyes make their way between the pair, begging them to understand everything without me having to say anything.
"I haven't felt great, no. But I'm not exactly sick. I just haven't been that hungry. Soup just feels sort of soothing right now, and it's got to be more nutritious than fried chicken and sugary desserts, right? So what does it MATTER if I don't eat those things? I don't really feel like anything else, and if I needed something else – I'd be craving it by now. It's not like I'm going to starve, so please – just let it go, okay?"
Hermione looks less than convinced. "Well, are you going to have something? Something light maybe? I'm not saying you should go from eating so little to eating a Ron-amount…but maybe your appetite will return if you eat a LITTLE more?"
Her voice has taken on a pleading edge, and after a few moments I relent, just to appease her, grabbing a small dessert bowl and filling it partway with tapioca. It's relatively light (certainly better than anything else I'm going to find here) and my only real option considering they both seem to have something against soup right now.
Hermione gives me another glance, before returning to a previous argument with Ron. I tune them out and concentrate on crushing the tapioca balls between by teeth. After a few mouthfuls I feel ridiculously full, and break the remaining pearls with the back of my spoon, squashing the bulk against the bowl and spreading the dessert against the outer edge of the dish.
I just cannot stomach anything right now. Weight feels accusing in my belly. It just sits there. Oppressive. I hate the slight swell of my belly after ingesting anything, the heightened awareness of my stomach making use of the food, turning, moving, processing stuff I don't need. Hunger too, I hate, but not so much as feeling full.
I don't want to feel food in my body. I don't want to have weight in my body, dragging me down, making me feel heavier. And I don't know why.
The sky is a purple-pink and I'm stillwide-awake. Morning again – and it's gorgeous - but I really can't appreciate the beauty of the sky right now.
I can sense the others throughout the room. I can sense their energies. Neville turns slightly, his body instinctively coming to the edge of his bed before stilling. As a first year, he fell out of that bed countless times. For his sake, thank goodness that has stopped.
I watch the digital reading on my green muggle watch for a few minutes. It's almost 5 am and I know that I'm not going to get any rest in the next two hours. Or technically, I could sleep in until 8 pm and still make it to Potions, but why cut it so close? I slump back down and close my eyes – the sabulous feeling expected, but disappointing. I decide I might as well get up, get a shower, and make the most of my morning.
I retrieve a quill from my nightstand, find a piece of usable parchment, and scrawl out in neat print:
Ron: I went for a walk and caught early breakfast in the quad. (Those house elves do come in handy – just don't let Hermione know I think so!). Make sure you try the pasties this morning – they are better than ever. Or maybe I just haven't had them in awhile, huh? See you in Potions.
The house elves offer pumpkin pasties most mornings, and Ron is chronically late to breakfast. I hope my note looks convincing, but I know he's not going to accuse me of lying and the whole thing is plausible. I could have easily gone to early breakfast. The only problem is that Hermione usually is up and has breakfast at 7. I'll just have to cover my tracks.
I find a pair of old runners that Sirius and I bought together during a day off in London. They were originally black, with green laces and a vibrant green Nike swoosh on either side, but they have lately taken on a gray appearance from excessive tromping through muddy sections of the tracks and parks.
I make my way through the halls, decked out in maroon sweats and a long sleeved royal blue waffle shirt. It's not even 5.30, but I decide I might as well head towards the kitchens, and request a little snack from the house elves. If push comes to shove, I can explain that "early breakfast", for me, was at 5.30 in the morning and not 7. It's better than having absolutely no alibi. The great hall is still dark, and I maneuver to the back hall, beyond the area where the professors usually have their meals, before I reach an arching doorway and knock gently.
A noble little face, warm and smiling, immediately catches my eye. It's a female elf, wearing two extraordinarily long magenta socks on her arms, with small holes for her thumbs and fingers. It reminds me of a ballet student's apparel, but looks quite bazaar on this tiny being, not more than three feet in height, with sallow, wrinkled skin.
"Good morning Dulcey."
"Good morning to you Harry Potter! I sees from your outfit that you are going for an early jog, is I'm right?"
Dulcey has a peculiar way of speaking. She often mixes up "is" with "am" and has an amusing way of stringing sentences together. Almost reminiscent of the muggle character Yoda, or something. I try not to laugh, and nod in confirmation.
"You are right Dulcey. I want to train a little harder for Quidditch practice – so I'm thinking I might just start going to sleep earlier and adding a run in the morning. You know for endurance and all."
Her pleasant little face stares up at mine with respect and patience, and I add, "So anyway, I am wondering if you could perhaps provide me with some pumpkin pasties so I can fuel up? Only if you have some already made, of course. That way I can have a little breakfast before my run and have time to get a shower before my classes begin."
Her face lights up with happiness, and she darts back into the kitchen, only to return a few minutes later with three well cooked pasties.
"Can I get you something to drink Harry Potter?" her nimble fingers run together in apprehension of a request.
"No, this is great! But, you know I might be by about this time in the mornings from now on…"
Dulcey, understanding what I am asking, grins even more widely if possible and enthusiastically cuts in, "Oh yeses! I understand, yes. I can have pasties for you each morning…ready for you? Is good? If you like, ready every morning for this time Harry Potter?"
I smile. I now have a valid excuse for missing breakfast.
I jog down by the runner's path, pass the lake, and throw the three pasties into the pond. I immediately feel safer once I see them bobbing on the surface of the water and then – as they sink, I feel even more relaxed. It was a close call, but I realize my food intake has been cut down significantly in the last couple of weeks, and although I feel much purer, I also have been having odd reactions due to the restriction. I've lost a little weight, sure, but nothing major. However, more interestingly is that the last few nights I have dreamed about food, dreamed about being in Honeyduke's gorging on gummies and chocolate frogs, stuffing the food into my mouth so quickly I can barely breathe.
I always feel immense relief when I wake up and realize that it was a dream, or rather – a nightmare - but this morning, holding the warm pasties in my hand, smelling the pumpkin and caramel glaze, knowing that I could just lift them to my lips and wolf down the confections was, well, unnerving.
Even after I threw them away, there was a brief pang of loss, a sense that I should have kept them in my possession. Not to eat, but just to keep close by. It was beyond weird.
I try to drown out thoughts of food, of bingeing, which is both a wonderful and terrifying thought, and return my focus to the task at hand: running.
It's not cold enough yet to worry about layers, or so I think, but I'm surprised all the same when after a few minutes out on the Quidditch diamond, I begin to feel frozen. I rub my hands together and pick up the pace until a familiar warmth spreads throughout my calves and thighs and my lungs start to prickle and burn.
I'm on lap seven, my breath coming quickly, when I start to feel unbelievably dizzy. I reach for a bleacher end and use it to hold myself up, but as I look up at the sky, everything goes white as if I am being exposed to some sort of supernova blast. The overcast sky, the early fall sky, is covered in clouds and the purple-pink beauty of dawn has been replaced with a cool, biting whiteness.
Perhaps I haven't consumed enough water lately. Maybe that's why I feel faint? I usually drink a fair bit, especially between classes to keep my stomach from growling, but right this minute I feel as if my knees "have turned to jelly". There is no support, no use in trying to stand - my legs are shaking and the wooziness is back. All of a sudden my pulse is pounding in my head, the blood cruising through my eardrums, shssss, shssss, shhhssssssss. A rushing sound, too loud, too fast.
I look upwards again, see stars, and feel a rush of sickness overtake me before I heave onto a patch of earth near my legs. I spit out the excess sick, and wipe the edges of my mouth with my shirt. For a moment I think I can hear something nearby, not unlike the sound of snapping twigs of crinkly leaves. But there is nothing.
I analyze what little I've voided with a sort of morbid fascination. I must admit that it feels better to have my stomach completely purged. I feel – clean, good.
Last night Hermione urged me to have a medley of vegetables to compliment my usual cup of vegetable broth, and the peas and carrot bits and corn pieces felt uncomfortable going down: a goopy, impure mass of foods that I don't need and don't want. They also hadn't digested at all by the looks of things.
Well – that's pretty. Ugh.
I scrape some browning, dying grass together with my hands and cover up the small mass of vomit before hobbling away a little bit. No need to sit right next to it.
I decide to remain still and close my eyes, willing my body to behave. I stay in this position for several moments, losing track of time before everything becomes all the worse.
"What do you think you are you doing out of your dormitory at this hour?"
The voice is like silk, and cutting – colder than my razor. I almost have the urge to vomit again.
Oh Merlin, I don't need this!
I look up to see the face of my detested Potions professor, hovering not more than a few feet away from me.
Snape's hands roughly grab me and I try not to cry out in surprise as he wraps his fingers around my forearms, applying too much pressure to the delicate fresh cuts that are, of course, hidden beneath my shirt. He forces me to my feet. But what he wants and what I can provide are two different things, as my knees give way and I slump back to the ground.
Leave me alone, you bloody git!
I keep my eyes clamped shut, as if to will Snape away, and after a few moments there is no noise, no sound. I realize I must look ridiculous and I open my eyes almost fearfully, hoping the previous few seconds were simply a hallucination.
Snape is staring at me with a look I've never seen from him before. As if I am a fascinating new specimen that he should study and not a character that he hates. His face shows no malice, but I feel my stomach plunge when I notice that his eyes have turned to my arm.
"Are you injured Mr. Potter?", and I shake my head. I assume he saw me wince. But he did grab me rather forcefully.
Of course, whatever powers that be seem to have it in for me these days, as my recent stress-relief session lead to some rather deep incisions, and his rough handling lead to the tearing open of these wounds, causing them to bleed once again.
And, just my luck, the blood has wept through the shirt - calling my bluff.
"You are not hurt? This is curious as your shirt is doing a formidable job of soaking up blood", he begins with a sneer, "Please do not waste my time Potter! Let me see what you've done now - aside from running yourself into the ground and vomiting all over the training field at 5 in the morning."
A million thoughts are going through my head. One is to simply run as fast as I can away from Snape, but he more than likely will prevent me from getting too far. Not that I would likely get too far anyway, given how I feel at the moment.
I also cannot very well attempt a concealing charm with him right by my side.
I could try ignoring his request and hope he drops the subject, but the likelihood of that happening is so remote that I don't even entertain the idea for more than a moment.
But most importantly, I'm wondering how Snape knew I was even OUT at this time! Ron, Hermione and I have been out of the castle enough times to know that the building isn't, for want of a better term, magically alarmed.
And Snape doesn't strike me as the kind who goes for morning constitutionals.
His expression turns even sourer, if possible, with my delay in responding.
"Your reluctance is not improving my mood", he says with a scowl, and before I have a moment to recover, he has grasped me once more and is pulling back the edge of my shirt, exposing one extremely pale arm which is currently covered in several dozen crisscrossed lines, all at varying stages of healing.
The ones from the summertime have already healed as well as they ever will and have left purple keloid scars that stand out brilliantly in the cold morning air. I am almost fond of those ones. They were made shortly after Sirius died, shortly before I returned to the Dursley's for my 'holiday'. Those were the very deepest, and now remain the prettiest and most impressive testament to my atonement.
The newer ones have scabbed. I hate scabs, but it is part of the process and I must take the bad with the good.
The ones from this morning have started bleeding again, so my arm looks messy and bloody. This fact irritates me. I like it when the lines stand out, but not when it looks messy, not when it looks sloppy. As if no care or control were at work. As if I just made the cuts savagely with no thought as to what I was doing.
I knew damn well what I was doing.
I don't meet Snape's eyes, or say anything. Part of me is angrier about the fact that he has broken my ritual rather than punctured my skin. It was my compulsion, my act – and he ruined the process of it all. I rub at the fresh wounds with the hem of the blue shirt to blot up the blood, unconcerned now with Snape's presence, his awareness. I don't care for him more than in a most basic sense - my human respect for his physical being. It's not as if I care about what he thinks of me.
I know what he thinks of me.
"Get up", he says. His voice sounds odd. I cannot put my finger on what it is that sounds so different about it – the timber? Something. He doesn't sound pleased to have found me hurt, nor angry, nor disappointed. He sounds almost… resigned?
"We are going to see Madame Pomfrey, and then you and the headmaster are going to have a little talk so we can come to some arrangement… as to what to do about this mess."
I don't say anything, but simply follow his lead. I guess I agree with him. I am in a mess. A very small part of me knows it, but a very large part of me doesn't care anymore.
Snape isn't looking at me, or speaking to me, as we make our way through the halls. Usually, the smallest mistake on my part is met with incredible animosity. But I have yet to receive his typical scathing remarks or his sneers this morning. He walks aside me at a brisk pace, and I blink several times still feeling a little off balance as I rush to keep in step. I can feel his eyes darting over to me occasionally, taking in my form, and then resuming their focus dead center on the walkway before us. His silence is almost more unnerving than anything else.
We make our way up the stairs and as I fall behind for a moment, causing him to slow. I tap my watch with one finger, to try and set off the indi-glow light. It's not even 6 am yet.
This is, without a doubt, the most dragged out morning of my life.
As we near the infirmary, I start to feel apprehensive. I don't know how Madame Pomfrey will respond, but that's not what is worrying me right now. What worries me is that I know that regardless of anything else she'll try to heal my wounds. And I don't want that.
I didn't make them so they could just be erased. They soothe me, largely, because they are there. They are always with me – a physical presence of my own construction. Raised, scabbed flesh under my robe. I can run my fingers over the lines during a class, and that's comforting. I can apply pressure to my arm against the corner of my desk, and it's reassuring to know that no matter where I am, or whoever is around me, I can induce pain.
So if she heals the cuts, I'm not going to have that ability anymore.
I realize I must have stalled again because Snape pushes me from behind, and says in a low growl, "You will enter this infirmary immediately if you know what's best for you."
And I do, but only because I can see no way out of this situation. I don't have any other options and resistance will only make everything worse. So despite the fact that every fiber of my being is screaming at me to run for it, I dejectedly comply; Snape leads me over to an examination cot crammed in an alcove at the far left of the room, and indicates that I should sit.
"Lie down and remain here. I warn you now – don't consider leaving if you know what's best for you." He almost spits that out, before turning on his heel and leaving through the same door that we just entered - apparently on a mission to locate our head nurse who is not yet in the infirmary.
Taking in my surroundings, I notice vials and gauze on a nearby metal table. It looks not unlike a TV dinner tray stand, but the base of the table has long spindly legs and the whole thing glistens brilliantly.
I can smell antiseptic and rubbing alcohol in the air, which strikes me as strange. Most wounds in the wizarding world can be healed fairly easily with either spells or potions. Of course, deep wounds – extensive wounds that lash right into bone or ligaments are a little more difficult to heal. Most potions work internally and speed up the body's natural healing ability, but they don't do so immediately if the damage is severe, and so, on rare occasions – old-fashioned muggle supplies come in handy.
I look over my battered arm now, and realize that my wounds are simply superficial and will likely be eradicated very rapidly.
Turning my attention to composing myself as best as I can under the circumstance, I spit on the edge of my sleeve and use the dampness to help rub away some of the congealing blood. My injuries are not bad at all, but my razor is always kept quite sharp, and the cuts always bleed a fair bit, thus they always look worse than they are, unless I am careful to keep the area clean.
I manage to dissolve most of the crusted blood, careful not to reopen the slight bubble of fluid that has already formed over each line.
And then I count the cuts.
There are 33.
I'm about to recount, when Madame Pomfrey hurries into the room, her face pinched. Snape follows closely behind.
She approaches me with an air of hurried purpose, and I tug my shirt hem back down.
"Come on now. Your professor has told me that you have some injuries that require my attention. Off with the shirt, Harry."
She's circumnavigating, not quite addressing the real issue, the real concern and I find myself honestly surprised by how everyone is treating me. I was expecting – I don't know – shouting, or ridicule, or perhaps pity. But her voice sounds so factual and levelheaded, her face drawn and doleful.
I swallow a rather large and painful lump, and shake my head.
I'm not taking off my shirt – that's what my actions say.
"Mr. Potter. I don't have time to coax you into compliance. I want to see for myself if…" she trails off, takes a breath, and continues, "I need to see your arm Harry. Please roll down your shirt."
My anger is back at that, even though not a second before I felt nothing but perplexity and fatigue. My emotions are all over the place today – mercurial and raging.
I turn to the elderly mediwitch, my line of sight focused on some spot that mars the adjacent wall. It looks like a scratch in the grain of the wood: some poor soul trying to claw their way out of this infernal hovel, no doubt.
"I'm not hurt, okay? I'm fine! So if you'd please just leave me the hell alone…!"
I get up, aggravated – PISSED – and start to make my way to the door. Fat chance Snape is going to use magic on me right now – not with another staff member present. After all, he saves his power displays for when he is alone with students, and I realize that if I can get away now – get away quickly – I can just leave the school entirely. Sprint away to Hogsmeade or something and give myself some much needed down time. I almost smile at the thought.
It would certainly be a better course of action than lingering around here, stuck in this dingy castle amongst mothering friends and leery, calculating teachers.
I cross my arms over my chest and start to walk away from the two flabbergasted adults. Snape cuts me off at the pass, and blocks my exit from the infirmary.
"You are in way over your head, boy! Sit. Back. Down."
He looks as aggrieved as I know I must look myself; his former unreadable silence now eclipsed by typical hostility.
"I realize I was out of my dorms, sir, and I'll serve detention or whatever it is that you think I should do – but I'm not hurt, and I don't need to be here, and this is all rubbish!"
He snorts at my exasperation and nods to Pomfrey, talking to her now as if I wasn't even in the room.
"He's not cooperating. Not that I expected this to be easy. You'd best to get the Headmaster while I stay here."
I push past him at that, aware that I'm looking more and more out of control with each passing moment, and he grabs me yet again, his hands like twin vices around my wrists. But at the same time, I can sense that he is being careful not to apply any undue or excessive force. He is simply trying to make it impossible for me to leave.
"Let GO of me you bastard!"
Ponfrey looks stunned my shouting, her face contorted with disbelief. Snape forces me back down onto the cot, all the while I struggle against him, new borne panic lapping at the edge of consciousness, propelling me to fight, to get away, to escape.
I cry out. Not with intelligible words.
"Stop it right now, Potter!"
My breath is coming raggedly now, and I feel somewhat disconnected, as if I am watching a scene unfold from above. As if I am a heavenly observer, and not an earthly participant. As if my spirit has disconnected itself from its body and is floating just outside of my physical body, aware that there is a boy who is breathing too fast and is damn near to hyperventilating, being held firmly - unable to escape.
Part of me is aware of all of this. Part of me feels completely splintered, completely removed. It's the part that speaks to myself in the darkness of my room, the part that guides me. The voice of my consciousness, that thundering presence that always surrounds humans when awake.
And then there is my body, which is thrashing about, feeling weak and yet simultaneously overexcited.
I register the voice again - Snape's voice. Firm, but uncharacteristically gentle. It sounds almost…consoling.
"Calm down Harry! Before we are forced to sedate you. You are making everything much, much worse for yourself."
And I feel then as if I have no more air in my lungs. I feel as if I have been fighting for a thousand years. As if I am the spirit of everything wild and everything harmed.
"You are going to hyperventilate! Come on! Listen to me before you pass out. Focus on my voice."
"Don't think of anything. Don't struggle – no one is going to hurt you. Nothing bad is going to come of this. You're safe now."
And that's all it takes. Those few, direct words are all it takes to pierce through my armor.
Maybe it's because the voice telling me all this is none other than my most feared professor, who is now holding me not exactly unkindly, not with malice or disgust, but with resolute intent on having me treated. Or maybe it's because I believe the words this man is speaking and I am relieved that I can finally stop. Stop trying to hide, to pretend.
Ultimately, and for whatever reason, at that moment everything that I had tried to tune out for the last four months – every strong emotion, every feeling I've denied – rushes to the fore. It's a torrential force, this pain, and it causes me to gasp. It's involuntary, inexorable, much as my vomiting was earlier this morning. I don't expect it. It just happens. It happens so rapidly that it takes my breath away.
I begin to cry.
Only a moment has passed, but in that moment, my body has gone from tensed and ready to flee – to utterly, pityingly drained.
Snape doesn't say anything, but instead relaxes his grip on my body, which affords me the opportunity to curl up into a corner of the cot. Ugly sobs continue to force their up through my throat and out of my mouth, divulging my hitherto concealed pain to the world.
After a few minutes the tears stop. The stinging warm heat of saline tapers off and soon my breathing begins to normalize. Already I try to recover from my momentary breakdown. Gingerly, slowly, I rub away the evidence of moisture on my face and sink into the slight warmth of the bed, still and hyper vigilant – and not a second too soon, as I can now hear the rushed sounds of figures echoing down the corridor.
I'm right on the mark of course, and turn my head towards the entrance way even before Snape responds, only to see the blue cloaked form of Dumbledore move into the room.
Dumbledore looks at me, his blue eyes piercing and troubled, before indicating to Madame Pomfrey.
"I hear we have a very upset young man in our midst, Severus" to which he turns to me, "would like a chance to speak, Harry? Madame Pomfrey has informed me that you were rather upset with being asked to come here in the first place."
There is no way I can begin to explain any of this right now. I wouldn't know how to start, and Dumbledore seems to understand my predicament.
"Of course, tensions can run high when people are not well rested. So I'm thinking the best course of action right now is to simply let someone tend to your physical injuries, and then for you to sleep."
It's not a suggestion, but a statement, and he makes his way past Snape, who has now backed off and is standing a fair distance away, his eyes taking in the whole scene with the sort of analytical detachment that one would find in a barn owl while searching for mice.
Dumbledore has now fixed his gaze on Snape, realizing that I'm not about to start talking, and that Pomfrey cannot offer much help.
"I am, of course, not in the habit of wasting the time of others over…the small trifles of adolescents, Headmaster. But when I find obvious evidence of self-mutilation, I cannot in good conscience turn my back on any student."
Dumbledore nods resignedly, and looks back to me at this, before lowering his body to sit on the edge of the bed.
"I think we will have to see that arm now, Harry. May I?" and he indicates to my now stained shirt, before rolling up the edge.
Dumbledore then lightly skims his hand over the base of my arm, studying the markings before adding, "Okay, so this is it, is it? Have you cut yourself anywhere else Harry?"
My sense that I'm living through some deranged nightmare comes back to me full-force. He's too calm. They're all so damn calm! I gulp down my nervousness and bat away my mentors' hand softly, scratching the skin near my wounds, before shaking my head.
I have, in fact, cut my thighs but did not find the site quite so pleasing. However, I'm not about to show them my hand and reveal my cards.
So I pretend, and I shake my head, and hope they buy it and try to keep my anger from bubbling to the surface.
This ISN'T a big deal. And yet everyone is making a huge fucking deal out of it all, and the incongruity between what I have experienced in seeing Cedric die, only to then lose Sirius – all of that stands out in stark comparison.
I feel angered that these lives are now so easily cast aside while a few shallow cuts have warranted so much attention.
The whole month seems to have mocked their suffering, their loss. From overly concerned Hermione, pestering me to eat, to Ron pointing out my natural thinness as if I'm sick, and now Snape "breaking rank" and treating me like some delicate piece of china! All of it is making me incensed.
I want death to mean something. So, in comparison, I want a small, insignificant cut to mean next to nothing. Yet everyone is focusing on the wrong issues, the wrong wounds – and are making a big fuss out of what amounts to a paper cut. But in actuality I've been amputated - a whole part of me lopped off, gone.
And they focus on mere scratches.
A/N: Part 2? Let me know what you guys think. Harry is a very angst-filled character, so when I'm feeling angst ridden …he tends to get it in the neck. :/
There is something cathartic about moving a character through a self-destructive stage to one that is a little healthier and accepting. Given Harry's past history of abuse, and his recent loss as of OoTP, I don't think anything here is too far fetched. An abusive past tends to prime someone to self-injure, because it slowly convinces a person that they are more or less worthless, or that their physical or emotional pain doesn't matter (especially if the abuse begins in childhood, as it did in Harry's case).
And grief seems to be a pretty big trigger, because the intense pain can be overwhelming. It comes as a pretty big shock for someone who is used to having their needs denied – or who have repressed their emotions for most of their life.
I just wanted to make it clear that self-injurious acts don't always seem "bad" (as in sick, or wrong or anything else) to the person who is, for example, cutting, or engaging in eating disordered behaviors – although these people usually understand that others would likely see their behaviors as pathological. Most self-injurers harm in private, and go to extreme measures to not be found out. This is true of those with eating disorders too, although it may be harder to conceal anorexic or restrictive behaviors, obviously.
Anyway, if there is any interest in this story, I'll continue with a second chapter.