Saving a Friend
"Excuse me, Professor."
Minerva McGonagall looked up in surprise from where she had been perusing the library shelves. "Yes, Miss Lovegood?" she asked.
"May I speak with you for a moment?" the normally dreamy girl was, for once, reasonably focused. She was even sufficiently aware of her surroundings to dart a nervous glance over her shoulder for Madame Pince.
McGonagall flicked her wand. "We are now surrounded by a silencing spell, Miss Lovegood. No one can hear us, including the librarian. How can I help you?" She assumed it was a question about Transfigurations.
"I was just wondering if there were a reason for Ginny's behavior," Luna replied.
McGonagall blinked. "Her behavior?"
"Yes. You see, I know that Gryffindors are often involved in all sorts of heroic activities, and I wondered if that was why Ginny was acting so oddly. As part of an adventure, I mean. I thought if she were, then it might be rude of me to ask her about it. Especially if it were supposed to be a secret adventure," Luna explained, her rather off-center mind once again making itself felt. "But of course, she's only a first year, and so I thought that even Gryffindors were probably not allowed to have secret adventures in their first year, at least not without permission, so I thought I would ask you."
Minerva tried hard not to blink again. It would not do for a Head of House and Deputy Headmistress to react like a befuddled Hufflepuff. "Do I understand that you believe Miss Weasley to be acting in an unusual fashion?"
"Why, yes, Professor. I thought I had explained that. She's behaving very oddly, it seems to me."
Biting back the obvious retort, McGonagall asked, "What exactly has she been doing?"
"Well, she's become very unhappy and withdrawn, and she writes in a diary all the time, and she has taken to lurking in lavatories. So far, it's only the girls' toilets, but I was worried that the adventure might take her into the boys', and that could be troublesome."
"Yes," the professor managed to reply. "Yes, I would agree." She cleared her throat. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Miss Lovegood. I will look into it."
Luna smiled and drifted away. "Thank you, Professor. I just wanted to be sure Ginny doesn't get hurt on her adventure. Adventures can become tragedies so quickly, can't they?"
McGonagall wasted no time in returning to her office and calling Professor Snape. "Severus," she asked, as soon as the dark man had emerged from the fireplace, "has Harry or one of the other children said anything about Ginny Weasley acting strangely?"
"More strangely than a normal Weasley?" Snape asked drily. At his friend's glare, he relented. "No. Why?"
"Miss Lovegood just came and told me that she has noticed Ginny's behavior has changed since the start of the school year. I was wondering if she had confided to Miss Granger or her brother."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Miss Lovegood noticed odd behavior? And the rest of you didn't?"
"Well, I suppose it could just be normal homesickness in a first year," Minerva said doubtfully.
"I imagine even Miss Lovegood would not make a mistake like that," Snape commented. "Have you noticed any changes in the Weasley girl's scholastic performance?"
"She does seem more distracted," McGonagall admitted, "but she hasn't received any detentions or warnings. She doesn't have the normal Weasley exuberance, but I assumed that, as a girl, she might be different in personality."
Snape frowned. "I haven't heard her brother ever mention such a thing, though he doesn't speak of his sister all that much."
"I'll call her in and talk to her," McGonagall decided. "But do keep an eye on her in class and let me know if the other children say anything."
Snape nodded. "Of course."
Unfortunately, McGonagall's conversation with Ginny was fruitless. The girl insisted everything was fine, and short of accusing her of hiding in lavatories, there was nothing her Head of House could say to dispute her statement. McGonagall decided merely to alert the other professors and maintain a watchful silence for the moment.
Silence was one thing Harry was finding in short supply. At first, he assumed the whispery voice was a joke from one of the boys in his dorm or possibly Draco, trying to move from pureblood-related insults to more schoolboyish pranks. But after several confrontations when it became clear that his friends knew nothing – or were better actors than anyone had guessed, Harry began to get worried.
The only good news was that his scar didn't throb when he heard the voice, so he guessed it probably wasn't Voldemort. Of course, the more he learned about the Wizarding World, the more evil, twisted, Dark, and dangerous creatures he learned about, so being able to cross Voldemort off the list didn't make Harry feel all that much better. The fact that the voice always seemed to be going on about blood and killing didn't reassure him either. He kept remembering some of the Muggle horror movies he had seen – or rather that Dudley, delighted at how much they scared him, had made him watch. He remembered a few, especially one that featured the word "REDRUM", and he began to worry that the voice might actually be coming from inside his own head. After all, no one else seemed to hear it, so what else could it be? If the voice wasn't Voldemort's, and the absence of pain in the scar seemed to indicate that, then the only one left in his head was Harry himself. Was he going insane?
Muggle TV always showed crazy people muttering to themselves and shouting at people who weren't really there. Maybe this is how they started? The few books he was able to find in the library – since he wasn't about to ask Hermione for help! – seemed to agree that hearing voices was a sign of madness. They also talked about how severe emotional shocks and abusive backgrounds and chronic exposure to stress and violence could cause people to have mental breakdowns. Harry got more worried.
As much as he hated to admit it, Snape had convinced him that the Dursleys' treatment of him was pretty abusive, and since he'd left them for Hogwarts and Wizarding society, he'd pretty much been under nothing but stress, between having to live up to the title of The Boy Who Lived and knowing that Voldemort and his Death Eaters wanted him dead. And of course, the whole business with the Philosopher's Stone last year had been a pretty big emotional shock. Harry still got queasy when he thought about how Voldemort had looked, peering out of the back of Quirrell's skull, and the smell of the man disintegrating from Harry's touch. So, it seemed he had lots of reasons to go insane. Was this voice the first indication?
Harry wished he knew what to do. He didn't want to tell Ron and Hermione – crazy people didn't have friends; he knew that from the telly. Well, except for other crazy people who shouted at nothing and lived with them on the streets or in the loony bin. And friends were too new a concept for Harry to be willing to risk the two best friends he had. There was always Madame Pomfrey, but she'd probably ship him off straight to St Mungo's. Professor McGonagall was nice, but Harry was sure she'd just bring in Pomfrey, and Dumbledore was too much of a risk. Harry liked the Headmaster, but he hadn't forgotten he was the one who had left him with the Dursleys all those years and couldn't even be bothered to check on him. If he learned Harry was crazy, he'd probably send him back there or to some horrible mental institution that made the Dursleys' home look like Paradise.
What about Snape? Harry chewed his lip anxiously. He trusted Snape more than pretty much any other grown up – as much as Ron and Hermione in fact, and maybe a little more, since he had an adult's knowledge and experience to back up his advice. But Harry was only just learning what it was like to have an adult care about him, and he was terrified of disappointing Snape or having Snape disengage from him when he realized Harry was a loony.
In the end, the answer came from a most surprising place. "Whatcha reading that for, Harry?" the soft, almost tentative voice behind him startled Harry from where he'd been searching among the library stacks.
He spun around, concealing the book under his robe. "Neville! What are you doing sneaking up behind me?" he demanded, embarrassment making him irritable.
Neville looked startled. "Sorry, Harry. I was just wondering why you were looking at that book."
Harry shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. "Just trying to figure out how crazy old Voldemort is," he said, shoving "A Catalogue of Mental Diseases" back on the shelf.
"Oh," Neville looked pensive. "I dunno if I think he's crazy or just evil."
"Can't he be both?" Harry asked, a bit flippantly.
Neville glared at him, something so unusual that Harry blinked in astonishment. "There's nothing funny about being crazy, Harry!"
"I didn't mean to make you mad, Neville," Harry apologized, too taken aback by his friend's sudden fury to do anything else.
"Yeah, well, it's just…" Neville's anger dissipated as quickly as it had flared. He took a deep breath. "My parents are at St Mungo's Mental Ward. They were tortured by Death Eaters until they both went mad." Harry's eyes were wide with horror. "Not many of the other kids here know, but I guess outside Hogwarts, well, it was a big deal when it happened. Not as big a deal as your parents' dying and all, but… Anyway, I guess I just think of crazy as something you can't help, and evil as something that you choose. But I didn't mean to snap at you, Harry. I'm sorry."
"No, Neville. I'm sorry. I – I didn't know. I didn't mean to say anything that would, um, you know, make you feel bad or insult your parents or anything," Harry stammered.
Neville gave him a quick smile and hurried off before Madame Pince could yell at them for talking in the library.
That night, Harry was so distracted over his homework that Snape finally gave up in disgust. "What is it?" he demanded, annoyed. "Your mind has been elsewhere this entire night!"
"How do you know someone is crazy?" Harry blurted out.
Snape's eyebrows rose. "I beg your pardon?"
"Neville told me about his parents. You know what happened to them, right?" Snape nodded slowly. "Well, he said that Death Eaters tortured them until they went mad. But how do you know they're mad? I mean, what if they're just, I dunno, hurt or scared or something?"
Snape thought quickly. Sometimes Harry had too much compassion than was good for him. He could imagine the boy lying awake nights worrying that Frank and Alice Longbottom were locked away in some horrible mental ward, crying out for help and being mistaken for insane. He understood why Harry, with his weird link to Voldemort, might well worry about errors being made in the diagnosis of mental diseases. What if someone had decided that Harry's tales of visions from the Dark Lord or blinding headaches whenever Quirrell was around were nothing but the ramblings of an unbalanced mind? No wonder Harry was anxious.
"Unfortunately, there is no doubt as to the Longbottoms' condition," he said gently but firmly. "From what I understand, they are in a state of catatonia, which means they do not respond to anything in this world, not even their son. I am sure you understand how sensitive this topic is for Neville and will not do anything to cause him pain or embarrassment?" He waited until Harry had nodded, a flash of indignation in his eyes, before continuing. Not that he hadn't expected Harry to be properly sympathetic, but he couldn't take a chance on something as important as this. The Longbottom boy had enough stress as it was. "Other mental conditions are equally plain to diagnose. When someone is truly mentally ill, they will hear voices or see things or display behaviors or thoughts that are clearly not based in reality."
"For a long time, I thought that if you believed in magic, you were crazy. The Muggle world still thinks so," Harry said quietly.
Snape frowned. "True, but now you know better. And if a Muggle claims to be doing magic, it can be proven true or false. If true, they're not a Muggle. If false, then they are not thinking clearly and need assistance."
Harry swallowed. "What kind of assistance do crazy people get at St Mungo's?"
The boy had clearly inherited Lily's mile-wide compassionate streak. "The Longbottoms are well looked after," he stated firmly. "They are well fed and kept clean and safe. No one harms them, Harry."
"So they're like… locked up? For their own safety?"
"Exactly," Snape reassured him.
"So… someone – some Wizard – who heard voices or saw things or whatever, he'd get locked up too?"
Snape nodded. "And kept safe."
Harry forced a smile. No, he definitely would not be telling an adult about the voice anytime soon. He didn't want to be locked up and kept safe. He'd had enough of that at the Dursleys, when Dumbledore apparently decided that being locked in a cupboard and slapped around by Muggles was safe.
From now on, Harry wasn't going to rely on anyone else's definition of safe. The Headmaster might think that the mere existence of blood wards guaranteed safety, and maybe to him they had worked – Harry was still alive, after all – but Harry had higher standards than that. He'd just have to hide his craziness from everyone, but really, would that be so hard? After all, he had hidden his magic in the Muggle world for most of his life. Maybe it was even a good thing for him to be crazy. Surely anyone who was told at the age of 11 that he was the target of a Dark Lord who'd already survived death once, needed to be a little crazy just to get through the day. And if Harry was supposed to play a role in defeating Voldemort the second time around, well, again a little craziness might help.