Chapter 3: Anger
Only his mum and Ginny were still in the kitchen when Ron came back inside.
"Anything yet?" he muttered, sinking into one of the kitchen chairs.
"Not yet, Ron," his mum said. Ron thought she sounded very tired.
"Where's Dad? And Bill?"
"Your father will be right back; he's just stepped out for a moment. And Bill's working on strengthening the wards so that Harry can be safe here."
"What's going to happen now?" asked Ron gravely. "Harry's going to stay here, right? He doesn't have to go back to that place does he?"
"Anyone who tries to send that boy back to that house will have to go through me first," his mum vowed hotly.
Ron nodded, satisfied. An irate Molly Weasley wasn't someone to take lightly, especially if one of her children was involved. Anyone attempting to take Harry away would have a battle on their hands.
There was a sudden popping noise from the sitting room that told them the Floo was opening, followed by a man's voice.
"Arthur, Molly? Anyone home?"
"Remus!" his mum cried, jumping to her feet. "We're in the kitchen; come on through!" Only moments later a disheveled and harried Remus Lupin rushed into the kitchen.
"Molly, where's Arthur? There's – " He hesitated, glancing at Ron and Ginny as though unsure how much to say in front of them, then he seemed to decide urgency outweighed caution. "There's been trouble at Privet Drive. I don't want to alarm you, but Harry's gone missing and we need – "
"Remus, he's here," his mum cut in quickly.
Lupin trailed off abruptly, staring at her in confusion. "He's here?" he finally repeated, dumbfounded. "Since when?"
"He's been here for about an hour. He's upstairs with the Healer right now."
"Healer? What's wrong? What happened? Is he all right?" Panic and concern lay heavy in his voice.
Ron watched his mother's face cloud with anger again. "No, he most certainly is not all right. He's been abused, Remus, all summer by that lout he calls an uncle. Arthur, Bill, and the twins brought him here about an hour ago.
Completely shell-shocked, Lupin collapsed into a chair. "Abused?" he whispered, eyes wide. "But…but how? What happened?"
He looked right at Ron as he muttered these words, as if hoping he would have the answers, but Ron just shrugged. "Dunno," he said bitterly, clenching his fists on the table. "You'll have to ask George."
Lupin didn't respond. Instead, he let his head drop into his hands, moaning. "How could we not notice? How could I not notice?"
"Because he didn't want us to."
Everyone looked up at Ginny's softly spoken words, the first she had uttered in a long time.
"What do you mean, Ginny?" his mum asked, eyeing her daughter curiously.
"Is it that hard to understand?" she asked quietly. There was no temper in her words, just understanding and sad certainty. "He's Harry. When have you ever heard him complain about being hurt, or sick, or tired? I don't think he even realizes he's supposed to since he never had anyone who would listen anyway. And you know how he hates people fussing over him. I'm sure we never knew because he did everything he could to make sure of it."
No one responded, each lost in the unmistakable truth of her words. Ron knew Ginny was exactly right. He remembered last year and Harry's detentions with Umbridge. The woman tortured him for weeks and he didn't tell a soul. Hermione and he wouldn't even have known if they hadn't caught a glimpse of his hand. And that was just a sadistically cruel teacher; Ron knew Harry would have rather died than have everyone know what was going on at his own house.
And from the sound of things, he'd almost received his wish, Ron thought, anger returning.
After that, they all waited in silence for Healer Winkworth to emerge. George soon joined them, sitting at the table but never saying a word, his freckled face pale and wearing an expression of mixed rage and worry. Sometime later his mum muttered something about tea and biscuits and spent several minutes bustling about putting the pot on and finding cups and saucers. Bill and his dad came in just as it was ready. They nodded at Lupin, who nodded back, and then the waiting continued as everyone's untouched tea got cold. Ron found that not even his mother's wonderful biscuits sounded tempting at a time like this.
Gradually, Ginny's head sank into her arms on the table. George's eyes remained fixed on the ceiling, as if willing himself to see through it to his twin above. Ron twirled a spoon in his tepid tea, watching the liquid swirl around and around, just like his thoughts. Bill and Lupin sat straight and silent, while his parents held hands, often exchanging meaningful glances.
"This can't be good," Ron's mum finally muttered, startling several of them. "It shouldn't be taking this long! I'm going to go up and see what's happening!" She started to rise but his dad gently pulled her back into the chair.
"Just wait, dear. Healer Winkworth will tell us everything, and if there were a real emergency, I'm sure we'd know."
She sighed and closed her eyes, putting a hand wearily to her face. Ron knew how she felt. It was taking every bit of restraint he had not to jump up from the table and rush the stairs to demand news.
Finally, after what seemed like years to Ron, the elderly wizard came down the stairs. As one, Lupin and all the Weasleys jumped to their feet.
"How are they?"
"Are they going to be okay?"
"Can we see them?"
With an experienced sigh the Healer raised a hand, asking for patience and effectively silencing the questions. He finished descending the stairs and set his bag on the table before sinking wearily into one of the empty chairs.
"Thank you, Molly," he said gratefully as he accepted the cup of tea Ron's mother placed before him. "I'm really getting too old to keep up with your brood, especially when you throw several flights of stairs into the mix."
"So, how are they?" pressed Ron, unconcerned with appearing rude for interrupting. He was tired of waiting and this was no time for small talk.
The Healer sighed again and set down his cup of tea on the table. "Before I go into any sort of detail, let me assure you that they are both going to be fine, physically at least."
The room breathed a collective sigh of relief at those words.
"And let me also thank Merlin that Weasleys have thick skulls."
"Fred?" gulped George, and Ron thought he looked ready to turn Healer Winkworth into something rather nasty if he didn't get on with it pronto. Secretly, Ron thought he just might help him.
"Is going to be fine," the old man answered quickly. "I won't lie – that was a nasty blow. Fractured the lad's skull and caused a serious concussion. If we were Muggles the boy would be on his way to a hospital, but thankfully, we're not. I mended the fracture and dealt with the concussion. I had to use some pretty powerful spells on that hard head of his, however, so I've simply bandaged the wound and given him a potion to speed up the healing. Sometimes, too much magic is dangerous when dealing with head injuries. As it is, you may notice some side affects for a few days."
"What sort of side affects?" Bill spoke up worriedly.
"Memory problems, both short and long term, strange mood swings, inability to control his emotions as well as usual."
Ron gaped at the Healer in horror at those words. An emotionally unstable Fred? They might as well move into a fireworks factory and invite a pyro over for dinner!
His expression must have been mirrored by the rest of his family because Healer Winkworth gave a little laugh. "Don't worry, it isn't permanent! The affects should wear off by the end of the week! Just make sure he keeps taking the potion I've left for him, Molly – two times a day, with food, until it's all gone."
Ron watched his mother nod that she understood then turned back to the Healer. He opened his mouth to demand more answers but someone beat him to it.
"What about Harry?" pushed George. Apparently, what he'd seen that night had greatly upset him, and now that he was assured of his twin's safety, he was as concerned as Ron about the younger boy.
The aged Healer's face fell at those words and his eyes lost some of their sparkle. "This has happened before you know," he said softly, a sad expression settling on his features. "He was rather cryptic with his answers but as I examined him I noticed some alarming patterns. I pressed him and he reluctantly admitted to a history of emotional and physical abuse at home. This is definitely the most severe incident, but it has certainly been going on for years."
Ron's anger flared again as he listened to the Healer talk about his best friend, and he wasn't entirely sure who he was angriest with: Harry's so-called family for doing this to him, or himself for never noticing. Despite Ginny's words, Ron felt he should have known! Harry was his best mate, closer to him than even most of his own brothers! Heck, they'd shared a dormitory for five years – he should have known, seen something, done something!
"I'm a Healer," the old wizard continued unaware of Ron's tumultuous thoughts. "Very seldom do I wish harm on another living thing, but after seeing what those Muggles did to that child…" He trailed off, shaking his head. Ron agreed heartily, although he had no qualms about wishing harm on the Dursleys. After seeing Harry practically naked and in chains, and now waiting to hear his injuries catalogued like some morbid shopping list, Ron was making plans to tear them limb from limb the next opportunity he got. And he figured there were at least a few other people in the room who would willingly be recruited to help.
"What did they do?" Lupin growled when Healer Winkworth paused for too long, unintentionally projecting his inner wolf.
"Sorry," the old Healer said, sitting up and facing the waiting group again. "I'm not usually this distracted." He heaved a deep breath and Ron could tell he was preparing to tell them things that would only incense his listeners.
"He's been beaten repeatedly, not just in the last few days, but for the whole of the last three weeks. He's suffering from bruises, welts, and contusions in various stages of healing as a result. Some of the blows were strong enough to bruise three ribs and give him a fracture in one of them. I've healed the fracture and wrapped the others tightly, but healing that many bruises and cuts magically at once would be extremely painful for the lad. I've decided to simply speed up the natural process and have left a dose of the same potion for Harry as I did for Fred. Make sure he remembers to take it."
Several heads nodded their understanding but no on spoke. Ron thought George looked like a ticking bomb, ready to go off at any moment, his mum was making no attempt to hide the small tears rolling down her cheeks, and the rest of them sitting around the worn, wooden table – and Ron included himself in that number – were too angry to express themselves in words that were usable in Molly Weasley's presence.
"He's severely malnourished and dehydrated, but that's nothing a few weeks in your excellent care won't cure. Just make sure he eats and drinks something at every meal, Molly, even if he doesn't feel like it."
"What about his cough?" George suddenly spoke up, voicing a worry Ron hadn't even known about. "Is he sick?"
"Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. He has a rather severe case of what Muggles refer to as pneumonia. I imagine it started innocently enough, just a cold he came home from school with, but it was left untreated and then exacerbated by poor living conditions and neglect for three weeks."
"Pneumonia!" Ron's mum cried, shocked. "But that's a Muggle disease! Wizards don't get that!"
"No," corrected the Healer, "wizards who have a great deal of contact with the Muggle world sometimes still develop a case of it. You just don't hear about it because it's hardly ever allowed to progress to the point of true pneumonia before being caught, and even the it's easily cured with a simple potion if caught within a day or two."
"So, you cured Harry, right?" spoke up Ginny, her eyes blazing.
"Well, no," Healer Winkworth admitted reluctantly. "Young Mr. Potter is well past the window for the potion to have any affect. He's going to have to recover from this the Muggle way now."
"And what exactly does that mean, Woodrow? Is this disease serious?" Ron's father asked, speaking for the first time since the Healer had descended the stairs. Ron thought he sounded worried and tired, very tired.
"Any illness like this has the potential to be serious, but with lots of rest, a safe and comfortable place to be, and good, healthy food the lad should be fine. Unless something unexpected happens, I suspect he will be feeling much better by the end of the week, although the cough may persist for longer. I'll come by tomorrow with a Muggle drug – a potion in essence – that should help with that. Just see that he doesn't do anything to aggravate the coughing."
"So Fred's gonna be loopy and you want Harry to rest?" asked Ron incredulously. "Oh, this is gonna be a grand week."
Despite the grim situation, several of those sitting around the kitchen table chuckled and Healer Winkworth took that as his cue to stand up.
"They should both be sleeping now," he said, still smiling slightly from Ron's comment. "Fred from the spells I had to use and Harry from the light sleeping potion I slipped him. I don't expect either of them to wake before morning, but if you notice anything that concerns you, don't hesitate to Floo me. I'll be back tomorrow with the medicine for Mr. Potter."
The old man gathered his hat and cloak from the chair they had been draped over and turned toward the sitting room, but then stopped as if remembering something.
"Oh, Arthur, Molly, you'll want to get the boy to an optometrist as soon as he's healthy enough to leave the house. Muggle or magical, it doesn't really matter, but he's been too long without his vision corrected. I suspect it's already deteriorated beyond what it was before from the strain of trying to see clearly, not to mention it's giving him nasty headaches."
"We'll make an appointment in the village as soon as you say he's healthy enough," Ron's dad said quickly.
"Good," Healer Winkworth nodded. "Now, I really must be off. I'm far too old for these all-night calls, you know."
The adults in the room followed the Healer into the sitting room, speaking quietly, but Ron, Ginny and George remained sitting at the table, not really looking at each other. Ron was fighting to control a rage unlike any he'd ever experienced before and at the moment his thoughts were dark and ugly. He kept seeing Harry sitting there on George's bed as the ragged blanket fell away to reveal a starved and beaten body wearing nothing but his skivvies and a shocking set of chains.
"George," he growled suddenly, fixing his older brother with a burning look, "what exactly did they do to him?" He had heard the Healer's list of injuries, and he had that image he'd seen with his own eyes of Harry seared into his brain, but he needed to know what the twins had seen tonight, what exactly they'd walked into that could bring out this cold, furious anger in a brother who was normally so cheerful.
George eyed him and Ginny for a moment, his expression clouded and unreadable, before he pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. "Sorry," he said shaking his head firmly, "but no. You heard the Healer and you saw him yourself. Doesn't take a genius to figure it out." His voice was hard and angry. He looked at them for a moment more, then turned and walked up the stairs.
Ron thought about yelling at him, demanding that he come back, pressing his right to know as Harry's best mate, but he knew it was pointless. All it would do is start a magnificent row which would probably end with George and him pounding the crap out of each other. The idea was rather appealing, if only as a release for the rage that was filling him, but it wouldn't really help anything.
He shook his head, swearing under his breath, and stood up. "Going to my room," he muttered distractedly to Ginny and then took the stairs two at a time without even bothering to look at her. His fury fueled him up all five flights without a pause and he entered his attic bedroom still smoldering as he slammed the door behind him hard enough to shake the entire house.
He spent a good twenty minutes tearing apart his room as he worked through his anger and his whole arsenal of swear words. He was pretty sure his shouts carried down to the rest of the house – he certainly made no efforts to contain them – but no one came to tell him to be quiet and he wouldn't have listened if they'd dared to try.
Finally, emotionally and physically drained, he sank onto his disheveled bed and let his head fall into his hands. He sat there lost in his thoughts for a long time as he listened to the house grow still and dark below him. Eventually, however, he stood and went to his dresser. Opening the top drawer, he rummaged around inside for a while, shoving aside junk, mateless socks, and the tattered wrappers from a sixteen-year hidden candy stash. Scattered haphazardly throughout the drawer, crumpled here and shoved into corners there, he found was he was looking for. He gathered the papers up and pulled them out, not bothering to shut the drawer as he walked back to his bed. With grim determination he spread them out on the coverlet and then hunched over, studying them fiercely.
Silently, Ron pushed the door of the twins' room open and slipped into the dim space, closing it carefully behind him.
George looked up as he entered. Ron wasn't at all surprised to find his brother sitting there on a chair between the two beds. He'd heard the whispered voices floating up from the kitchen that told him his parents were still deep in conversation with Bill and Lupin. His mother must have gone back downstairs to join them after checking on her boys. Ron had no doubts at all what that conversation was about, and that alone assured him it would be a good while before his mum got around to coming back and inevitably shooing them out.
Wordlessly, George flicked his wand and a second chair appeared in the space between the beds. Ron sank into it without a sound. He glanced at Fred, lying pale and still in his bed, his flaming hair mostly hidden by the bandages wrapped around his head. He was far too gray and unmoving for Ron's comfort, but the Healer had said he'd be fine so Ron allowed himself to glance away and over to the other bed.
Harry was sleeping peacefully, his expression relaxed and a brightly colored quilt pulled up to his chin. If it weren't for the bruises that marred his face, Ron could almost pretend nothing was wrong. Or at least he could have, if he could somehow erase the image from earlier that was tattooed into his memory.
"What are those?"
George's whispered words drew Ron's gaze away from his best mate. He followed his brother's gesture to the papers he was clutching in his left hand.
"Harry's letters," he whispered, his voice full of self-loathing. George held out a hand and Ron handed them over without protest.
"He tried to tell me, y'know," Ron said with disgust as George thumbed through the letters, reading bits here and there. "Having a great summer…" Ron quoted. "Been spending time with my family... Almost have my Charms essay done..." He gave a bitter laugh. "Since when has Harry ever had a great summer, or done his homework early, or spent time with those bloody gits? Never once did he mention Sirius, or ask for information about what was going on, or even jump down my throat for keeping him out of the loop. He was desperately giving me every clue he could with that monster standing over his shoulder that something was wrong, practically begging me to notice, but I was too stupid to even see it."
"You weren't the only one he wrote letters to, Ron," George finally said quietly, handing back the stack of rumpled, smudged papers. "None of us noticed either, so if you're gonna lay on the guilt, make sure to share it around."
Ron turned from his brother to stare at his best mate again, not bothering to hide the fury burning in his eyes, before breaking the silence once more. "George," he whispered, not taking his eyes off Harry as he spoke, "what did they do to him? Tell me." Even in a whisper, his voice was cold and hard.
George was silent for quite a while, leaving Ron to wonder if he'd have to beg or threaten the answers out of him, but finally the twin spoke. "They took away his shoes and his clothes and his glasses; they chained him to his bed and left him locked in his room for three weeks, Ron." His words were clipped and blunt, completely to the point. "They beat him and starved him and left him abandoned and locked up for days. The better question is what didn't they do to him. Now, is there anything else you'd like to know?" spat George, rage still strong in his whispered words.
"Yeah," answered Ron firmly. "I wanna know when we're leaving for Privet Drive and how we're gonna avoid Azkaban when we're done with whatever it is you're already planning."