The Heart in Reverse

by Mad Maudlin

for memorycharm's Poetry Month challenge

It is life in slow motion,
it's the heart in reverse,
it's a hope-and-a-half:
too much and too little at once.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Wait"

Harry disappeared, and we waited.

No one could blame him for running at first—not after we saw the last earthly remains of Lord Voldemort and the crater they were splattered in. Anybody would need some time alone after that, just to process it.

Nobody could blame him for staying in hiding, either, even when a full week had passed. The media coverage was terrible—journalists from all over the world converged on London to cover the story, which was the only thing that anyone was talking about. We all knew how much Harry hated publicity, so it wasn't surprising that he'd try to stay out of the public eye, though of course it didn't seem quite fair that he didn't tell anyone where he had gone—it's not like we would've turned him over to Rita Skeeter or something. But, too, Harry had been through a lot in these past few days, months, years, this lifetime; it was only natural that he'd need some time to process it all. If he needed to have that time alone, we'd give it to him.

After a month, though, things began to look dodgy. The press were saying he'd died—or that he'd been permanently disfigured, or driven mad, or any other number of daft things, and that Dumbledore was trying to cover it all up. It didn't matter what we all said time and again; we were either in on the scheme or helpless pawns of a wicked old plotter. Those accusations more than anything else drove Dumbledore into retirement, the straw that broke the hippogriff's back. We all knew the truth and stood behind him, but he said he was too tired to deal with the ones who didn't, and hid himself in a cottage on some forgotten moor. We all understood, and we all waited for Harry.

We tried looking, everywhere and anywhere we thought he might turn up. We tried every manner of Homing Spells and Locator Charms. We contacted his Muggle relatives, even, but they'd not seen him for years. We tried offering a reward for about a day—did that ever bring the fakers and the grifters out of the woodwork. We made special agreements with the staff of the Knight Bus and every wizarding innkeeper and publican we could find, that if Harry turned up they should tell us—no more. We just wanted to know he was safe, after all. If he wanted privacy, we wouldn't intrude.

We found neither hide nor hair of him, not in England, not in Europe, not in the Northern Hemisphere. And eventually, we all sort of agreed that, alive or dead, Harry wasn't going to be found, and we moved on.

At least, most of us did.

There were two people who never quite gave up on Harry, and we didn't expect them to. Ron and Hermione had been his friends forever—sometimes it seemed like they were part of his soul. Sometimes it seemed like he was part of theirs. They kept looking when everyone else gave up; they kept trying newer and stranger spells, arcane old things that Hermione dug up in crumbling, ancient tomes. They both took jobs—Ron an Auror, Hermione an Unspeakable—but on their days off they would travel round the world with an old photograph and one question. They never got a yes. Hermione was patient, though, and Ron was stubborn, which was almost as good.

We tried to take care of them, but they didn't seem to want to be cared for. They didn't spend every spare minute on the search, but near enough. Hermione took to carrying around vast paper maps covered with dated dots for every place they searched. Ron came up with some new theory every few days or so, getting sillier all the time, but even when it seemed like rubbish they chased it down to the bitter ends and came back a little bit worse for the wear. We tried to keep them fed, to make sure they were sleeping, to get them to let go and have lives of their own, to move onbut they always had the same fevered glint in the backs of their eyes, and their answers were always pretty much the same.

He's our friend. We're not giving up on him.

The silent months piled up. The trail, if there ever was one, got colder. Ron's wild theories came slower, Hermione spent less time in the special collections of the Hogwarts library, and the maps were unreadable for the dated dots. We kept telling them, and eventually their answer changed.

We'll wait for him as long as he needs.

They waited through the happiest Christmas in decades; they waited through a sweltering summer and threw him a birthday party in absentia. They finished their training, went to weddings of peers, became godparents (and in Ron's case, an uncle thrice over) and moved into a small cottage together. Life in the wizarding world carried on, and they were waiting for Harry.

(We all heard the rumors about them, of course, especially when they moved into the cottage, but there wasn't a shred of truth that we could see. If they were having some sort of affair they kept it very quiet, and we weren't going to intrude on any bit of happiness they might have together. They were waiting for Harry, but nobody said they had to wait alone.)

Of course, this meant they were the least surprise of all of us when Harry did come back.

He appeared, the story goes, on the front stoop of his aunt's house in Surrey, wild-eyed and irrational; he forced his way into the house and shut himself up in a cupboard. The wretched cow called the Muggle paleeze, who got word to the Ministry when Harry turned a bobby into a sheep, and eventually three certified Healers from St. Mungo's wrestled him out and Portkeyed him straight to the Janus Thickey ward.

Hermione and Ron were waiting for them there.

It was the talk of the wizarding world again, and Dumbledore even came out of retirement to see the world's most famous madman. The story filtered back to us in bits and pieces. Harry was delirious and irrational, but in good physical health; he could still do magic but his memory was shot; he'd been found wearing filthy Muggle clothes but could not explain where had got them, or where he had been. Dumbledore announced that Harry's mind had been damaged when his connection to Voldemort had been broken, but wouldn't explain in more detail no matter who asked. Ron and Hermione took leaves of absence and made nuisances of themselves to the Healers, but if they knew anything more, they weren't sharing either. Frankly, we didn't really want to press them for it. We thought their wait was over.

It wasn't the first or last time we were wrong.

Harry was back where he belonged, but as mad as a fish in a privet bush. He talked to people that weren't there and completely ignored people who were. There were great gaping holes in his memory that he seemed unable to fill. Sometimes he could carry on a conversation that even made logical sense, but if we pushed too far beyond the present, if we said the wrong thing, if we just looked the wrong way, he would shatter. It was painful, heart-breaking to watch. Ron and Hermione stayed by his side anyway.

He needs us, Hermione said tiredly.

We'll wait, Ron said, with an expression like a piece of wood.

The Healers did what they could. Harry improved—slowly. He put on weight and let his beard be shaved off, and eventually slept through the night. Ron and Hermione stayed with him constantly, and when the Ministry tried to tell them they'd used up all their vacation for the next seven years, they owled in their resignations from the hospital. We wanted them to go home and relax, but we knew it was futile; they hadn't waited this long just to move on. They didn't leave the hospital till the Healers gave up, and when they did they brought Harry home with them.

We all thought it was crazy from the start and we told them as much. They did it anyway. That cottage was a madhouse for the first couple of months, what with Harry having fits and forgetting things and making no end of trouble without even really meaning to. We tried to help, with the shopping and the washing up and things, but after that first couple of months Hermione hired a house-elf and Ron started turning us all away at the door.

Harry needs time, he said through the screen.

Wait.

We forced them to keep in touch, dragged tidbits out whenever and however we could—Harry was fine, Harry was improving, Harry needed more time. The papers ran riot with rumors again. Harry was dead; Harry had killed his friends and gone to Azkaban; Harry had been kidnapped; Harry had been faking and the three of them were living it up in the exotic resort of your choice. No one listened to what we had to say, anymore than they'd listen the first time.

The three of them disappeared, and we waited.

And when they came back—when they emerged in the sunlight with thin faces and smiles, when Harry looked lucidly about with two hands on his arms, when we could hug him and touch him and welcome him back—when he was back—we knew it was worth it. And life moved on.