Visiting hours are really over, so I’m not supposed to be here. I’m sitting in a chair between my parents’ beds. It’s almost ten o’clock. I don’t even know why I come here anymore… It’s all so pointless, isn’t it, visiting people who barely even recognise me anymore. I rub my face and groan, and immediately feel guilty. How can I be so selfish? I have every reason to be here. They’re my parents. They loved me once…
My mum is sitting in her bed, fingering the collar of her gown absentmindedly. As I groan she looks up at me, her expression mild and vacant. Reaching under her pillow she pulls out a gum wrapper and gives it to me. I take it on pure reflex and give an empty smile in return.
The truth is that I’m here because I don’t have anywhere else to be. It’s Christmas, and I’m all alone. I work part-time in a shop in Diagon Alley that deals in magical plants. I don’t really have any friends to speak of right now. Or, I suppose I do, but I don’t see them very often these days, and either way I wouldn’t want to bother them, especially not at Christmas. Better I just leave them all be. They have their own lives. And Gran… Well, we quarrelled. I don’t even remember what about. Probably something stupid like my job and why am I not getting anywhere in life. I don’t want to see her right now.
I suppose there’s some satisfaction in sitting here, some reason why I bother with it. Otherwise I would have left by now, right? Otherwise I would have walked away.
Mum is staring at a speck of dust now. So childlike, just like she’s been for as long as I can recall. I wish I could remember her some other way. Maybe that’s why I’m here. Maybe I’m trying to spark a memory of something other than white hospital walls and sterile bed sheets.
I want to cry at the futility of it all. I used to have something to live for, something to fight for. But the war is over, and even though she is dead, even though the one who did this to my parents is gone, they’re still the same. Nothing has changed for them. Nothing has really changed for me, either.
“Neville.” I turn my head around. “Sorry,” says Hannah Abbott from the doorway, “but you can’t stay much longer now. The patients need to go to sleep soon.”
She’s a Healer in training. I’ve seen her a lot lately, because she works at this ward, and she’s in charge of the room my parents are in.
I never knew her very well in school. I never knew she wanted to be a Healer, and she never knew my parents were here. Now she does.
“Right,” I tell her. “I’ll just be a minute, then.” I turn back to my mother. My dad’s already snoring. No sense in waking him. “Bye, Mum,” I whisper. She’s not looking at me. She’s distracted by something else again and doesn’t seem to realise I’m speaking to her. I stand up and leave the room.
Hannah is waiting outside the door. She gives me a sympathetic look and smiles. “How are they doing today?” she asks me.
I shrug. “Same as always.”
She nods slowly, staring off into space for a moment as though trying to decide what to say next. “My shift ends soon; only a few more minutes. If you want to… I mean, if you’d like to talk or just want some company, we could head to the Leaky Cauldron for a drink or a bite to eat. My dad’s away, so I don’t really want to go home.”
“Maybe some other time.” I force a smile. “I should get home. Get some sleep or something.”
“Sure,” says Hannah, smiling at me. “Just let me know!”
Of course I don’t sleep. I haven’t really slept in months. That’s why my job isn’t going too well. I can’t sleep because I keep thinking too much, about everything.
When I was little, seeing them wasn’t so bad. I was happy when I got to see them. They didn’t know who I was, but they knew I was someone who mattered to them, so they’d smile and look happy when I got there. Sometimes they’d play with me. I think my mum even used to hug me. She stopped. I think she got worse. She’d flinch whenever I made a sudden movement, and being too close to anyone upset her. Once when I was there my mum had some sort of panic attack and started to scream. My dad sat down in a corner, covering his ears and started humming loudly to himself. After that they began giving my mum Draught of Peace every morning. It made her less psychotic, but no more of a mother. She still never spoke. I never understood why she couldn’t speak.
Then she started with the sweet wrappers and little pieces of paper that she’d give to me. I treasured them in the beginning. I have a whole drawer full… Now I throw them away when she gives them to me, on my way out of the hospital. They feel so empty and pointless.
I’m still waiting for them to get better, somehow, even though I know they won’t. But there has to be a reason for it! I’ve shown endless patience, there must be some reward for me in the end. There must be a reason why I’m still here.
I’ve had revenge; Bellatrix Lestrange is dead, even if I wasn’t the one who killed her. She might as well still be alive for all the good it did my parents… Did I think that they would become better if she was gone? What do the mad care about justice? There’s nothing left in this world to them. They’re not really here. They’re somewhere else, far away, seeing things that I can’t. In a way I envy my parents. They can see a whole world in a speck of dust and not feel silly about it. Perhaps insanity is freedom.
In the end I fall asleep, my mind swimming with too many thoughts and no meaning. I dream that my mum is having tea with Bellatrix Lestrange while I’m sitting on a chair in the corner next to an empty bed, staring at nothing. Hannah Abbott is combing my father’s hair. I’m still waiting.
Back again. My mind is numb; I’ve left all the thoughts outside. I’m just looking at her, at my mum, while her eyes chase something invisible. She’s smiling.
Dad’s drawing something dark. His brow is furrowed as he stares at the paper, black crayon in hand. I think he drew something green to begin with, but then he picked out brown and black and dark blue and orange, and doodled over it. Now the whole page is a mess of dark colours. He’s concentrating. His eyes keep flicking up to the right as he bites the inside of his cheek. We look to the right when we’re trying to remember something… Perhaps Dad could do with a Remembrall.
His left arm, the one he’s not drawing with, has been locked for a while. He never moves it, as though it’s been paralysed. One of the Healers told me it’s nothing to worry about, that there’s just something else that needs more attention from his mind. He’ll start moving it again soon.
Mum has stopped staring at whatever it was she saw that I couldn’t and is looking at me instead, intently studying my face while I look at Dad. I can feel her stare. Eventually I turn my eyes back to her and she looks suddenly surprised, as though she didn’t think I knew she was there. But then she smiles and reaches out a hand to poke my shoulder.
She’s so frail. They both are. They’re small and thin and grey now. Pale, as though they’re slowly slipping away. Even their eyes seem like they’ve lost their colour.
“Don’t you have anywhere else to go, Neville?”
I turn around. Hannah is standing in the doorway, looking at me. There is no sarcasm in her voice, no accusation, nothing. It’s just gentle and soft, and her eyes have a slightly concerned look.
“It can’t be good for you… I mean, it’s wonderful that you care so much about your parents, but you shouldn’t sit here day in and day out, wasting away.” She walks over to me and puts a hand gently on my shoulder.
“What about you?” I ask. “You’ve been working overtime. I know, because you were here this morning, and you’re here now. Don’t you have anywhere you should be? It’s Christmas…”
She sighs and lets go of my shoulder. “I don’t really have anything to do. It’s just my dad and me now. And Dad… He’s not very sociable these days.”
Hannah falls silent. I look at my parents again. My mum gets out of bed and walks over to my dad. Then she sits down and picks up a crayon, and begins to draw pink circles on her arm. Perfect circles.
“I worry about him,” says Hannah, and I tear my gaze away from Mum. “About my dad, I mean. I lied before; he’s not away… He’s just sort of distant these days. Sometimes I worry that he might end up here too.”
I don’t know what to say. “Is that why you wanted to be a Healer?” I venture rather lamely.
She shrugs. “I don’t know why I wanted to be a Healer. I don’t even know if I want to be a Healer… I thought that if I could heal just one person it would satisfy me, but here, in this ward, no one can be healed. So I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”
I look away, uncertain of what to say again. Every new question sparks more uncomfortable situations. Am I meant to comfort her? How does one do that? But she doesn’t expect me to answer, this time, and speaks again.
“Neville, why do you come here so often?”
“I have to,” I mumble.
The question irritates something hidden inside me and I erupt. “Because it’s just the kind of thing you do! You take care of sick relatives, watch over them! You’re patient, and wait for them to get better! It’s just the sort of thing people do.”
No reply. I look up at her. She looks completely unaffected, her eyes still gentle and warm, no anger, no surprise at my outburst. Hannah is a rock, unfathomably strong. Her hands are clasped in front of her, and her blonde hair is tied back in a tight plait. Her round face is kind.
“You don’t have to hide from the world,” she says at last, searching my eyes. “You don’t have to sit here, day after day, forgetting to live. Your parents know you love them, even when you’re not here.” She touches my shoulder again, and then heads out of the room.
I take a deep breath. “Hannah,” I say, turning around. She stops.
“I think I might be ready for that drink now.”
Hannah turns her face towards me and smiles, and it’s a brighter smile than I’ve ever seen on her face before.
“I finish in five minutes. Just let me go get my coat.”