Chapter 22 – An Ending
Ron's POV - Two days Later
It's about 5 bloody thirty in the morning when the wind up muggle alarm clock that Hermione gave me for Christmas starts going barmy. Seriously... mental barmy! Not wanting to damage the thing, I just shake it up and down.
"Turn that off, eh mate?," Neville gripes drowsily, his voice louder than typical, his eyes squinting in pain as he blocks his ears with his pillow.
"I don't know HOW to, Nev! Damn thing's not turning off!"
Neville turns around and just stares at me then, as if I've said something barmy. No. More like...glares at me, his eyes furrowing together into two small brown beads, a little angry pucker between his eyebrows.
He stomps out of the bed then - barefoot and groggy, and holds his hand out for the blasted frog clock. Squinting at the thing, the sound way higher than what would be required to wake up even a deaf muggle, I'm sure, he flips the clock over and peers at the underside. Sighing, he pushes something indistinct on the back.
Immediately, the room is full of calm.
Of course, my ears still ring with a weird humming aftershock.
Neville sighs, almost inaudibly, and mumbles something about how I need to learn how to work the clock or else he might just chuck it out the window next time.
Which doesn't sound like Neville at all, really, but I guess having the blasted thing go off like a noise bomb so early in the morning has got to be a bit of a pain for anyone.
Glancing over, I smirk - amused at Dean, who is still out in la-la land. Seriously - if the two of us didn't douse him in water practically every morning he'd always miss Potions!
Feeling my eyes start to slide back on me, I pull the comforter back up to my chin, telling myself '10 more minutes.'
I really, really wish I knew how to work the thing. I really do...
When I wake up again, everything is calm. I immediately can tell that Neville has shut the window against the cold, and everyone is out of bed. Neville's bed is pin-cushion neat, or something muggle-ish like that...and Dean's covers trail on the ground.
And neither of them are in the room.
I moan into my pillow before reaching over and glancing at the clock, knowing I'm not going to like what I see.
Crap, crap - how did 10 minutes come to equal two hours?
I know I should brush my hair, but the elves start to clear the breakfast trays at five to 8, and breakfast really is my favorite meal.
So I really don't get ready properly at all...just throw on my school outfit, throw on my cloak, and race to the great hall. If I'm lucky, I might be able to salvage something small and eat it on the way to Potions class.
I don't even bother sitting down...just scan my eyes across the reams of plates of mash potatoes and scrabbled eggs and waffles and fruit...and finally grab two buttered pieces of toast before the elves take the last of it away. Not even 8, and they already are disapparating the stuff! It's criminal!
And while two buttered pieces of toast are far from an ideal breakfast, at least it will keep my stomach from grumbling in my most-detested class of all time. Sighing, I chew at the crust convincing myself that the meager food will tide me over until lunch. But there really is no shortage of food then - it's not like I can't make up for missing breakfast later. Although I'm hungry now...so I almost literally inhale the bread, the butter - really wishing I had some treacle tart of taffy pudding or spotted dick or something good to go with it. I also scan the rows for Harry, Hermione. I was so out-of-it tired the other day, I can't for the life of me recall if he came back last night. His bed looked...undisturbed, but that's really not too surprising these days.
Harry had been rivalling Neville for clean-freakishness for the last while anyway. He could have been there for most of the night, and I'd never know.
Trying to recall if I saw him, or any of his stuff when I awoke at 5, I continue eating the bread, savoring the oily butter, the saltiness against the crispiness of the toast. And I'm a little shocked and disappointed when it's gone...because it really seems to be gone too soon.
I'm broken out of my dissapointed realizations by Ginny - who, unlike me, looks washed and presentable.
"THERE you are! I've been looking all over for you! Did you sleep in?," she eyes me warily then shakes her head in exasperation while I brush toast crumbs off my cloak and tie, "Dumbledore wants to see us in his office. He has something he wants to discuss with us."
She sounds so calm, and I marvel at how that can be - because calmness and Ginny don't really go hand-in-hand. I shoulder my satchel, glaring at the bag as it almost knocks me off balance. Really...do they have to make these texts so thick? It's not like we can go through ALL these spells in one day. Certainly many...smaller, portable-without-breaking-your-back editions would be possible.
"Need help?," and then I catch it, a look, the Ginny-has-a-secret-she-doesn't-want-me-to-know look.
"Giiiin...," I growl, trying to sound intimidating and old-brotherish, but she doesn't seem to waver. "What are you hiding?," I finish sweetly.
She looks around for a second, as if trying to decide how to tell me something important. As if she doesn't know how to begin.
"Hermione's back," she says bluntly. But the way she says it...she doesn't look happy. "Lupin too. And Potions is cancelled."
It's not what she says that concerns me. It's what she doesn't say. She doesn't say that Snape is back. Obviously he's not, and that's the reason for the cancellation. And most importantly...she doesn't say that Harry's back. And in my heart of hearts, I knew that he hadn't returned.
"Dumbledore wants to talk to us about Harry," I start numbly, "and SNAPE - the git - is still with him? So it can't be good."
A little known fact is that magical children can have problems like muggle kids. I think, in the muggle world, they give the conditions all sort of confusing names. Melancholia becomes depression, manic depression. Melancholic dreaming becomes "suicidal ideation" in their world. And according to Hermione, muggles have doctors - like Harry's in the hospital (and also different types of doctors that treat bones that break or general wounds - sort of like Madame Pomfrey. In the magical world, it doesn't happen that often, but if someone becomes very sick with melancholia, they are sometimes taken to clinics like St. Mungo's and treated by special healers. It is a job for a special type of healer...one that has different training to Pomfrey, which is why Harry probably wasn't allowed to stay at Hogwarts at all...wasn't treated by Madame Pomfrey.)
And a little known fact about Snape? He is a master potionier who sometimes provides some of the bigger hospitals in the magical areas with their potions for stopping melancholia, acedia. All the other related conditions. Which I find almost hilarious, because if there was one person in the world who could trigger a big bout of melancholia for me - it'd be Snape.
But now, following Ginny up the gargoyle staircase, I can't help but consider this fact. The fact that Lupin was weaker, and Snape was the potions master for the clinics that treat...people like Harry. People who get sick...like Harry.
And that makes me feel jittery and weak because if Harry's not back and Snape is the one who stayed behind with him - it must mean he's still really sick. In his head, as Hermione has said. Head-sick - which scares me, because there is no knowing how long that of sickness will take to get over. I mean, look at Neville's parents. They are nothing like what they were. And that thought scares me beyond everything else. The idea that I'll lose my friend, even if he's still physically here. If barely.
Dumbledore calls us in warmly, and his voice is all genial charm as he offers us a muggle assortment of "licorique allsorts." I take a handful, still hungry from missing breakfast. Ginny rolls her eyes and declines.
Our headmaster turns to me first, face smiley and open, although his eyes are troubled. Like grey storm clouds passing over an otherwise blue-blue sky, I notice, before turning to scan the room. It's then that I see Hermione curled up like a kneazle in one of Dumbledore's over sized chairs. There's not a lot of light in the room - the window curtains are drawn, and a soft glowing orb of some sort ripples incandescently, illuminating Hermione's face from this angle. But even from the distance, and even with her eyes closed, I can see swollen-ness, puffiness around her closed eyes, her face otherwise pale.
"Mr. Weasley...we missed you at breakfast," Dumbledore starts gently.
I'm starting to understand the enormity of Harry's actions in starving himself. Everyone is going to be watched now. Even those of us, like myself, that have always liked our good food a great deal and have detested the word diet from the get-go. Not like Harry was dieting, truly, but even so...
I brush off his concerns with a wave, and finish swallowing an all-sort, before asking, "it looks like she's been crying."
No point in flat out denying the obvious. And I hate being the last one to know things.
Dumbledore turns to Hermione, still curled in sleep, and sighs.
"She has been, " he tries again, "Miss Granger - normally so stoic. But I can't say I'm surprised - a lot is at stake right now. A lot has happened."
I swallow down a lump in my throat, the all-sort lodging itself, refusing to budge.
"Water?," I croak, embarrassed, and Dumbledore pauses before giving me one of his classic understanding-smiles. He gets up and comes back a few moments later proffering some pumpkin juice in a large goblet.
He certainly keeps his rooms well-stocked.
I take a sip, almost cautiously, as if testing whether anything will pass, and lay out the remaining candies on my cloak before I swallow some more, suddenly thirsty.
"Shouldn't we take her back to her dorm?," I try, uneasily, not really wanting to get into a discussion with Hermione in the room. Not when Hermione has been the one crying in front of our Headmaster. The thought alone sort of fills me with dread.
"In a minute," Dumbledore concedes, before rising and slowly making his way over to Hermione, rousing her gingerly. "Miss Granger?"
Hermione wakes pretty suddenly, and the tell tale signs of exhaustion are more apparent now than before. She looks...woozy, rubs her eyes a little, the motion so child-like and cute that my heart swells with affection before I register again the reasons for her fatigue.
"M'mm, sorry," she begins, then seems to realize I'm in the room, "where were you, Ron? We waited all morning - all through breakfast for you!"
I give a small half-smile. "I slept in. I couldn't figure out how to change the settings on that alarm click you gave me."
"Alarm clock," Hermione mutters, with minimal insistence. She's obviously still very tired.
"Well," Dumbledore claps his hangs together, "I wanted to talk with you, Mr. Weasley - Miss Weasley," and he indicates to Ginny. "Because we have some things we have to decide pretty soon. Some hard choices to make in the next few days."
"Concerning Harry," I stress, something in my stomach bottoming out.
Dumbledore looks grim.
"Yes, concerning Harry," he agrees. "And one of the options does...have to do with your family."
The man is usually a little less round-the-bush.
"What about?," I try, wanting to know what's going on, the anxiety building.
Dumbledore sighs, lightly, barely, but I hear it.
"We don't think it's a good idea for Harry...to return to school right now. You know why, Miss Granger. I suspect, you know in part, Mr. Weasley."
That irks me. Just a little.
"I'm sure I know as much as Hermione!"
Dumbledore shakes his head sourly, passing a fleeting look to Mione.
"No, no, I don't think so. Miss Granger...I know you wanted to wait for Mr. Weasley before we...talked about everything."
I can see Ginny stirring, and it occurs to me that I've never...actually...let her in on what was wrong with Harry. I've sort of insinuated stuff. Not out-right said anything though, so I turn to my sister suddenly trying to gauge where she's at, emotionally. I mean, this is Harry we are talking about. The kid she has had a crush on since she's been 10 years old.
"What did they tell you?," I ask her suddenly, needing to know - and it comes out like a demand.
Ginny sort of fidgets then, the move uncharacteristic as my sister is pretty bold. Most things don't derail her. She wouldn't have really made it through as the youngest, and the only girl, otherwise.
"Just that...Harry...wasn't eating. He was preventing himself from eating."
She doesn't looked that shocked with the information.
"How long did you know, Ginny? Because I'm pretty sure you never once visited him in the hospital!"
Ginny pales a bit then, before looking away guiltily.
"We are getting off topic," Dumbledore tries again a moment later, but not unkindly. "In a sense we are, anyway," he amends and turns to look at Ginny questioningly.
"Why didn't you go and see Harry, Miss Weasley? Certainly you knew Harry was...sick. Why did you avoid him?"
Hermione seems on edge too, watching my sister with even greater intensity, if at all possible.
Ginny makes a sort of frustrated motion with her hands, trying to gather her thoughts and turn them into something intelligible.
"I...I didn't think he wanted to see me. I didn't think he was mad at me, but he HAD been avoiding me. I didn't want to make things worse..."
She looks ill.
Hermione, on the other hand, looks conflicted, angry, sad, understanding, frustrated. I've never known a girl to channel so many emotions, to school them into discrete units, so that each emotion is at once instantly recognizable individually when you look at her. But Hermione can do it, and always has been able to, and in a sense - because of it - she's sort of an open book.
"He needed you Ginny," she starts, a little tersely, her wavy hair looking brushed, but otherwise far fuller and less managed than would be typical in the morning.
"I...he seemed nervous around me. I thought if something was wrong...if he was doing something wrong to...you, know, to himself...that he wouldn't want me to know."
Hermione seems to kick into gear then,"But you're his FRIEND. He needed someone to call him on it! If someone is hurting themselves..."
"I KNEW you knew," Ginny interrupts, "I knew you knew, I knew he was getting help, I knew I couldn't do anything!"
"Do anything?," I sputter, "don't you think...whatever is going on...you should have visited him? That maybe he's taking it personally, you not even going to see him once, Ginny?"
"He DIDN'T want me around! He wouldn't even look at me! So you know what...considering I knew you and Hermione and Snape and Lupin - and even you, headmaster! - since I knew you were all involved already, and he obviously didn't want me-"
"This isn't ABOUT you. This is about HIM. And his need for our support!," I try again, suddenly angry with my sister.
Dumbledore holds up a hand, and I still.
"Anger can replace fear very quickly, Mr. Weasley. I don't think you are as angry with Ginny as you think. You're just worried, I take it?"
I want to punch the chair, or chuck the candies at my headmaster, or do something impulsive and immature and aggressive.
"No doubt," I bite, then add, "so just go on then. Why keep us in suspense?"
In another time, another situation, I'd have been reprimanded by my mother for such rudeness. But right now, it doesn't seem to matter. Not to me, certainly not to Dumbledore.
Ginny is impossibly quiet, but I can see her mouth sort of screw up as if she wants to keep saying something, but then keeps stopping herself from talking. I mean, I know she has a crush on him - on Harry. And I know, deep down, I have one on Hermione. And I'm trying to consider, right now, how I'd feel if someone told me Hermione was doing to herself what Harry has been doing to himself. How I'd respond. Would I yell at Hermoine? Shake her for being stupid? Probably not. But would I try to hug her? Try to kiss her? I don't know how I'd process the emotions, I don't know...
would I cry?
Hermione begins, breaking the awful silence that has descended upon us.
"He...Harry, Gin...," she stops, bats her hands in little fists against her knee, as if nervous, then carries on, "Harry has a lot of problems, Ginny. I think...some of the problems are in his mind. I think they've been there for awhile."
"Like what?," Ginny begins, at long last when Hermione pauses - obviously waiting for input.
Hermione seems to falter for a second, as if she isn't sure how to continue.
"His family...they were very...cruel. They were abusive, Ginny. In many different ways."
"How did they hurt him?," my sister whispers. It's the question I want answered too. I know a little. I don't think I know everything.
"They...they punished him in really...disturbing ways, Gin. They didn't want to take care of him, but felt...forced, so even though he may not remember a lot, he can remember enough. And it started when he was little. He was...hurt physically, sometimes. Hit...sometimes with nothing but hands, fists...but sometimes...with items. Paddles or belts. Sticks. I know he was burned once."
I didn't know that. I push down a wave of nausea.
"His aunt-," and Hermione's voice trembles, "burnt him with an iron once. On the backside of his legs. I...saw the marks. At the clinic. He told me. He wanted to tell me," she finishes sickly, stressing the word wanted.
"He wanted to talk about that?," I croak, feeling disgusted. Merlin, I don't even want to hear about it. I can't imagine wanting to talk about it.
"I think he needed to talk about it, Ron," Hermione says, getting out of the chair, coming closer to sit with the three of us, now obviously awake. "To keep it bottled in...it was poisoning him. He's so...hurt inside, so angry, so..."
She takes a deep breath.
"You know how they kept him...locked up? Sometimes?"
Dumbledore flinches at this, as if he knew. As if he knew and feels guilty.
Ginny, on the other hand looks torn.
"I...sort of. I knew they...punished him sometimes by keeping him someplace small. He said something like that last winter, after he had drank-," she stops, looks at Dumbledore, looks alarmed at what she almost admitted.
Hermione dismisses her worry,"It's okay, Ginny. The headmaster doesn't...care so much about that right now. He just...we...we just need to talk about this, because Harry won't probably bring this up again - it was hard enough for him the first time - and he's going to need some extra help right now."
Ginny looks pale and out of sorts.
"What else?," she asks.
"They...would...he told me in the clinic that sometimes they would do things to him, to scare him, to punish him. Keep him in the bathtub, keep the water cold. Hurt him like that."
Ginny looks like she's on the verge of crying, her face screwed up like it used to once the twins teased her to the point of exhaustion.
"He...he didn't know how to deal with all of that, and then all of this...all this stuff, here. Snape and learning about his parents, Voldemort...what was expected of him. He had to find a way to push away all his pain, and focus, concentrate. Do you understand?"
Ginny nods, although I know she doesn't really understand. Not really. How can any of this make sense? It's like hearing the most ugly stuff, the most awful stuff, and trying to make sense of it, and say, "ok." As if someone, anyone, even Harry - could ever have all that happen and be normal afterwards.
I nod, though, along with Ginny - mostly because I don't want Hermione to keep stuff from me, thinking that I won't deal with it, won't help Harry.
So I swallow down a rusty, slicing pain in my throat - because I think I know what is coming next. Dumbledore just observes, telling Hermione that she's doing a good job explaining everything when she starts to stammer a bit - when she looks like she's going to stop talking.
"Harry...he would hurt himself, Gin. With sharp things, any thing sharp really: glass, sometimes razor blades."
Ginny looks blood-let, nauseous.
Hermione seems lost in thought for a second, then starts again, a deliberate firmness in her voice. "Maybe to feel something. Maybe not to feel anything. I'm not sure. I...was able to get him to talk about some of the things his family did to him, but he doesn't seem to want to talk very much about what he's doing to himself."
"Doing?," I insert, my mouth opening and closing all on its own. "I thought...he had stopped Mione."
Hermione wraps her arms around her midsection, as if cold.
"No. He hasn't. Stopped. Not with that. Not with...cutting. And not with other stuff. Professor Snape found him in the bathroom two days ago, before I got back to Hogwarts, with Professor Lupin. He had...cut into his arms very badly with his glasses. He broke them in the middle of the night. Snape found him in the bathtub," she finishes almost in a whisper.
Ginny is staring at the floor.
"He was in the tub?," and I know my sister is shocked. Is in shock. The words sound sullen, and low and lacking in comprehension.
"He had the shower on. Cold water," and I meet Hermione's eyes as she speaks, needing to know more, not wanting to, but needing to know more about my friend. "He was wearing all of his clothes, Ron," she affirms. "But he's not... The hospital hasn't helped him. In some ways he seems worse. He's very...dep-," she pauses, "he's not in a good place right now, guys. He probably can't come back just yet."
Ginny speaks again, her voice low, as if she doesn't want Dumbledore to hear.
"Why would he still do this? I mean, no one will make him go back. Not...not to them," and Ginny all but glares at Dumbledore, who doesn't seem to look all that concerned over her anger.
"I think," Hermione begins again, "it's his way of talking without talking. Explaining what happened, without using words. His...body, what he's doing to his body...that's how he's talking to us. That's how he's asking for help, Gin."
Hermione isn't really looking at either of us right now, and I suspect something more is about to be said, I know it is - because she turns to Dumbledore, her hazel eyes pleading with him, as if she doesn't want to continue.
"You've done very well, Miss Granger - thank you," and Hermione gives a weak smile, a faltering half-second smile, then stares at her shoes, almost motionless. Almost as if she's expecting to be slapped, or hit, or expecting to hear something awful. And I can't for the life of me understand what would...hurt her this much. It's obviously something she already knows - something more than every other ugly thing that has already been discussed.
"Ginny...Ron," Dumbledore speaks, uncharacteristically using our first names. "Harry...was attacked by his Uncle in the summertime. Very...severely."
And something squeezes in my chest, in my heart. Phantom hands, ghost hands - reaching in and squeezing.
"Like how...? Because, because Mione...you told us that his aunt bloody burned him, and they hit him and locked him up, and flat out tortured him, and you...told us that, you-," and my voice breaks off - out of the blue, and to my complete horror I find myself combating tears. I find that I have to put my head in my hands, and bite down on my lips to keep from making any noise, and I haven't even heard what they want to say, what they are trying to say but don't want to mention.
And then warm hands are on my back, my neck, swirling lightly, patting, circling - a pattern only Hermione knows. A pattern to comfort. To let me know she's there.
She only stops when we hear the voice, small, certain, wrecked.
"He was...his uncle?," and my sister knows something, something awful, having put something together. I can see her shaking her head back and forth, unconsciously I'm sure, and Dumbledore looks older than ancient, older than I've ever seen him in that moment - the two of them sharing something, some knowledge with only their eyes.
When my sister looks up, and meets my eyes, I see the devastation, "Ron..."
She looks cast adrift.
Hermione pulls me into a light, barely-there hug, and I whisper to her, tell me, tell me 'Mione, not even caring about Dumbledore anymore.
So she does, her usual sweet voice carrying such an brutal truth in three small words - he. was. raped. - that I suddenly can't breathe, can't move. Harry - Harry who is like a brother to me, my best mate, my best friend of all time. Hurt like that. Hurt like that.
And so much makes sense now... in how he has been, how he has acted. But then nothing makes sense all at the same time because my mind can only dredge up the incomprehensibles like razor blades found in green quill cases, and dried blood on bed sheets, spotted and regular to the point that Dean once asked if Harry was a girl, the git. Or... shirts covered in stains that looked like old cranberry juice...
Or Harry's ribcage protruding - and the dark purple blotches of bruises up his spine that made me turn my head, made me talk to Hermione in the first place. The pushing away of food. And the time - the one awful time - I heard him vomiting.
The same time I saw him vomiting - me, quiet, shocked, staggeringly shocked - and him - unknowing, fostering the action, generating the sickness with his hands. Pressing, pressing, gagging. And his crying afterwards, the anger in his body as he moved about, not happy about something, not happy with the result. Weak sniffled tears echoing around the bathroom, his shaking, his anger.
A few minutes later I feel something soft and tissue-y press into my hand, and I realize my face is wet and everything seems too bright, which really makes no sense at all, if you think of it.
"I'm sorry, I-," but I stop, because Ginny also looks ruined, her eyes bright red.
"Where is he? Where is he - I want to see him," and Ginny is back - the Ginny I know. Assertive and braver than any other Gryffindor. Her anger is full force now, her protective sisterly care pruned into something workable, something determined and headstrong.
Hermione passes a look to Dumbledore, then mutters, voice sotto, "he's with your parents. He might...be staying with your mum and dad for awhile, Gin. He's too sick for school, right now. At least, he's too sick for the next little while. But we can visit him. We can visit him every week."
Ginny looks resolute.
"I want to visit him now."
"I want to say I'm sorry, Hermione," she starts, obviously beating herself up more than I am, if such a thing is possible.
Hermione nods tightly, "we...are cleared from classes for the next few days, right Headmaster?"
Dumbledore's voice is softer than anything I've heard in my life. Soft, like water, like he doesn't dare say no to us. Not on this.
Not when it concerns Harry.
"Of course, Miss Granger."
We go back to our dorms to pack up some small bags, not really speaking to one another. Hermione mutters something about meeting in the great hall within the hour. Ginny still looks shell shocked.
I take to the stairs two at a time, something hot and acrid coursing through my belly, my veins, my brain. When I get to our room - Dean, Neville's, mine...Harry's...I quickly take in the space, survey his bed, open his closet... my eyes scanning over some muggle shirts, some wizarding cloaks, old Quidditch books we've given him throughout the years, and trinkets. Or maybe...maybe they weren't ineffective and stupid trinkets at all, really. He held on to them. Even the gag gifts. Even the Zonko's joke products. Maybe this was everything he had to hold onto, all he could grasp, to keep himself from losing himself even more.
A flash of gold, of burgundy and movement then. I bend down low and pull up a photo - a wizarding photo, coloured. And Harry, 11, in full Gryffindor Quiddich gear waves back at me, glasses completely round, eyes just as round - excited. Younger Harry smiles, gives a another little wave, a sporty little grin. He looks happy. And the fact that he could be happy, growing up with those monsters - it really should fill me with relief, but another part of me is unnerved with just how easily, and for so long, he was able to convince us that things were okay. Maybe not great, but not so...horrific.
He came from that world - that horrible reality - and he smiled, he laughed. And it should make me certain of his resilience, but I can't get over the fact that it's not exactly normal to be so...removed from pain, from suffering. Because how do you go on like a normal little kid when all of that evil stuff has happened?
I hold onto the photo, I hold onto it and bring it closer to my face, before doing something impulsive and silly. The words want to come right now - and so something not unlike a muggle prayer rapidly spills from my lips, from my heart.
"You can't let them kill you, Harry. You're stronger than them. You're stronger than us. I know you are-"
A slight, disheveled 11 year old smiles back at me, waves back at me - his eyes bright and full with glee.
"You're stronger than anyone, Harry," and I'm speaking to a photo, to a silly old photo, not to Harry - but somehow it seems right. Appropriate.
I put the photo in my bag, making a mental note to give it to him when I see him. He needs to be reminded of his strength.