Story cover by NinthFeather!
I don't know what to make of Edward.
The boy hasn't said a word since arriving, unannounced, on the first night of term. It had been right after the Opening Feast, and I don't recall seeing him at dinner; he had simply shown up in the dorm while the rest of us were discussing the mysterious extra bed, walked over to it, and gone to sleep. Rumors had spread halfway through the first class about who he was, where he had come from, and why he looked so strange; they became wilder and wilder by the minute, though, and I know none of them could be even close to the truth.
But still...it's odd that he hasn't said anything yet. I suppose that means the two of us aren't so different; maybe that means we can be friends.
(Who am I kidding? Two kids who don't talk? That friendship would fall apart faster than...)
He seems very smart, though, maybe even (dare I say it) brighter than Hermione. He perfected the Charms assignment in two tries; even Snape could find no fault with his potion; he had finished his Defense essay and gone to bed before the rest of us had even considered thinking about it.
And that leads us to where we are now.
He wakes up screaming in the middle of the night and says two short, terse sentences in response to Seamus' questions. Somehow, I think his voice is strange. I'm not sure what I was expecting him to sound like, really. Something higher, something less, well, masculine? Edward is clearly male, but the way he wears his hair, with his big eyes and his short stature...
(It didn't sound like it was his usual voice, anyway. He's so obviously terrified by whatever he had been dreaming about; his laugh was so nervous, so uptight. I wonder if I sound like that, all the time.)
Seamus and Dean accept his explanation easily enough, falling back asleep quickly. But the rest of us sit on our beds, looking at each other, both curious and worried. Edward doesn't seem any calmer, and I wonder briefly what his dream had been about. It must have been something terrible, for him to be so shaken up; he had yelled something—it was what had woken everyone up in the first place—but I can't recall what he had said. Harry offers for him to talk it out. Everyone knows that makes you feel better after a nightmare—someone's there to ground you in reality, to assure you that no, it wasn't real, it never happened, you're safe, nobody's going to hurt you—
(But then, I wonder whether we have any right to intrude into someone's subconscious. Your mind's the last sanctuary when you have nothing left; that's what Gran always tells me. And to lay it bare to people you've barely met...)
Understandably, Edward hesitates; from my adjacent bed, I see his right hand twist tighter into the covers. He mutters something about his brother, but I doubt Harry and Ron heard. Their beds are across the room, after all. He seems hesitant to say it any louder, though, and I, again, feel a strange sort of connection with this boy. He seems reluctant to voice his concerns aloud, as if that would make them concrete, a reality, something he can never turn away from again. Like it would ruin him.
(Maybe it would. I've thought the same before. That's what they call a "self-fulfilling prophesy," after all.)
Harry offers again, a greater hint of concern lacing his words. He stands up from his bed and pads across the floor, standing at the end of Edward's bed. The blonde boy curls in on himself, closer, tighter, and doesn't reply. I can see him shaking. I can't tell if it's from cold, or fear, or the nightmare. Maybe all three.
(He wants to hide from Harry. Hide from Ron. Hide from me. Hide from the world. I've seen that pose before. I've been in it myself. Why is it that it never seems to work?)
I think maybe we should go back to sleep, because obviously he doesn't want to talk about it. Harry's face is growing even more worried now (kind, chivalrous Harry, I only wish I could be like him), and now Ron gets up too, wiping the sleep from his eyes and walking to stand next to his best friend. Edward stiffens when he glances up and sees two people at the foot of his bed, and still refuses to reply.
(If he doesn't want to talk, don't make him talk. He's either too terrified of us or too terrified of the dream to say any more. Why can't Harry and Ron understand that? To people like us, sometimes, just the idea of talking is too much to bear.)
Harry glances over at me questioningly, asking silently why I haven't said anything, why I haven't moved from my frozen position atop my pillows. Why haven't I? It's in human nature to help your fellows, after all. Edward's obviously hurting in some way. It's only natural that we try and help him.
(But sometimes, the best way to help is to let him sort it out himself.)
Ron sees the direction of Harry's gaze and shrugs at me before turning back to Edward. He looks at a total loss for what to do, and I don't think I can blame him. We're men, after all, and men have never been emotional creatures. And Ron's probably as oblivious as they come. And yet, he tries to help, he leans on the bedpost and cocks his head, eyes still droopy from sleep, asking Edward if he's going to be all right, and says not to worry, because he's a Gryffindor now, and Gryffindors take care of their own. If he needs any help, he shouldn't hesitate to ask, because someone will be there. Always. No matter the day, no matter the time, no matter the problem. So, he concludes with a bit of a grin, just relax, okay?
(If only I could follow his advice. I've known Ron for, what, four years? I'm sure he's said something like that before. Why won't my traitorous mind believe him?)
Edward does indeed relax his posture a bit, but his face is still hidden by knees and bangs. I wonder briefly if he's crying and simply doesn't want us to think that he's weak. That the new kid, the one everyone already seems to know everything—and nothing—about, is a loser, someone not worth our time, a useless piece of human flesh.
(I wonder this, because I've wondered it myself.)
Harry's brow is creased with worry lines now, and I wonder if he'll have wrinkles before his time. There always seems to be something wrong, something that worries him, and—to make it even worse—the whole world's fighting against him now. And yet, he's still cheerful, still happy, still helpful and kind and generous and all these wonderful things
(that I could never be)
that make him Harry. And now, Edward is going to learn of another part of Harry I admire: his tenaciousness. Yes, it's three in the morning; yes, he's a complete stranger; that doesn't mean Harry won't go out of his way to help. That's just the way he is. I think, if Edward never says anything, Harry will stand there all night.
(He would do that for anyone, right? If I had a nightmare, or Ron, or anyone, he would sit up with us and assure us that it's all going to be okay. Even though his own life is hell compared to ours.)
(I don't deserve our friendship.)
Edward finally lifts his head from his knees, and indeed, his eyes are a bit red. Nobody mentions them, though, and it is as if they aren't there. There's no reason in the world to point out to someone at their weakest moment just how weak he is.
(Unless it's yourself - then you can't help it. Your own mind turns against you.)
He mumbles—in that strange voice that doesn't seem to suit him—that he'll be fine, that it was just a memory, long gone, it can't hurt him now. We needn't worry, sorry for waking us up, please go back to sleep.
(If this isn't hurting, then what is?)
Harry and Ron seem to have the same opinion, though, and continue to press him for answers. I want to yell at them to stop, because I can see Edward getting agitated again, and this is not going to help his state of mind. He thinks they are angry with him, and he'll just retreat back into his cage again.
(Nobody likes being hated. People like me and Edward can't stand the thought of someone being even the slightest bit upset with us.)
But I stay silent. Harry quickly realizes that he's not getting anywhere, and says, in a much gentler tone, that we're just trying to help. Talking your way out of nightmares always makes us feel better, and we won't hold it against you, right? There's no harm in trying. Even if it's something from your past,
(because sometimes, there are things we regret but can't escape)
it's in the past, right? It won't ever happen again. You shouldn't worry.
(Worry? Ha. We always worry. It's just a matter of degrees.)
Edward looks at all three of us in turn (I turn my eyes away quickly; eye contact is terrifying; he can see right into my soul if I offer him my eyes) before smiling a bit and shaking his head. He gets nightmares a lot, he says. Things from his past that haunt him still.
(I wish I could relate, because then maybe I'd have a vision to put to my fear, but it eludes me.)
He just needs a bit of time afterward to recover, and he'll be fine. Honest. Stop worrying. Harry looks both skeptical and pleased—he has gotten the boy to reply, but at the same time, it's a very vague answer—and says that he can't help but worry about people in pain, it's ingrained into his very self, and if Edward is hurting then he needs to find someone to help him.
(Everyone needs help. But not everyone gets it.)
Ed, is the boy's reply, and it takes me a moment to realize that he's correcting Harry. He wants to be known as Ed, not Edward, and I have to agree that it fits him better. Edward sounds far too formal, too old, for someone a mere fifteen years of age. Like someone who has to carry the world on his shoulders.
(And if he's like me, he's already got great burdens to bear. Nobody should have to carry both.)
Ed, Harry acquiesces, and continues that their offer still stands. But, if you really want us to leave you alone, we will. And Ed nods, so Harry and Ron retreat to their beds. I see them exchange a glance, though, and I know they will not let this drop.
(Why won't they? If he wants to be left alone, you should leave him alone. Sometimes other people are too much to handle. Why can't they understand?)
Ed lies back down on his bed, facing me, and we make brief eye contact before I flicker away again. Even if Ed is the same, it is still terrifying. I carefully focus my vision on a spot somewhere on his forehead
(a skill I mastered long ago, to give the appearance of eye contact)
so as not to hurt his feelings, because making others upset is absolutely unacceptable, and I see, barely, in the darkness, a ghost of a smile on the boy's face. He is smiling now, at me, when Harry and Ron are gone away. He hadn't smiled back then, not really; he'd just put on a fake one to appease the others until they accepted it and left.
(I saw it for what it really was, as I've worn it so often myself.)
But now, his smile is genuine, and only for me, just barely visible in the gloom of the night. And it makes my stomach flip, because he is smiling at me, he's smiling at me, and I can't detect any sort of double meaning behind it, and I don't think I've done anything to upset him
(except not talking earlier, but I think that's what he wanted anyway)
so it has to be real, it can't be fake, he's genuinely happy, and he's trying to make me happy as well. So I smile back
(It's not fake! I'm so proud of myself)
and look him in the eye for the first time, and somehow, I know. He's not the same as me. Not really. Yes, he's scared. Yes, he's worried. Yes, he doesn't quite know what to make of his five new roommates yet.
(Honestly, if I were in his position, I wouldn't make it. Starting at a new school halfway through the curriculum, apparently worried to death about his brother, and being pestered by people he's barely met.)
And yet, he still finds the strength to smile for me.
(Maybe it'll get better from here.)
I can't remember the last time I was so happy.
(Maybe everything will be all right.)
And for the first time in years, I think I honestly believe that.