Harry frowned. He tapped the table and glanced out of the main sitting area's window. He'd been trying to answer Ron's letter for the better part of an hour.
"I think I'm going to tell him," said Harry to Stephen, who was playing solitaire with exploding snap cards.
"But how, though?"
"I wish I could tell you," said Stephen, looking up from his cards. "I didn't have anyone I wanted to know that I was here, so no experience there. Being home schooled kind of killed any chance of meeting people who weren't pure blood pricks."
"Yeah," Harry said. He frowned and reached into the box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans that Stephen had dragged out. "Do you think ... Ron'll treat me weird if he knows where I really am?"
"For a while he will," said Stephen apologetically, "everyone does when they first find out. Least they have for me. But that's only because they don't want to hurt you, and are worried they'll say the wrong thing. It's just because they care - I get that now, but it was hard when people were getting used to it."
"How did your family react?"
"My Mum cried a lot," said Stephen quietly. "But that's what mums do, right? Dad just got mad that I'd hurt myself on purpose. He didn't understand. But my Dad's not the best example. He's a bit of a hard-ass."
"Ron's Mum knows. He said she's been crying too."
But that's what mums do, right? That's what mums do what mums do what mum ...
"What if you asked her to tell him?"
"What if you asked your friend's Mum to tell Ron. I mean, she must know if she was crying, and if she's crying she must care about you."
"Seems kind of like a cop-out," Harry said, sinking down into his chair a little more, "but I wish I could ask her. She would too, if I just asked. She ... she kind of likes to act like she's my mum too."
Harry smiled a little. He hadn't really thought too much about it, but trying to describe Mrs Weasley to Stephen made it sink in. Mrs Weasley did act like she was his mother. Admitting it felt ... good. Really good.
"The only problem," Harry continued, "is I have to tell my friend Hermione too. I'd have to tell her straight up. She'll be tougher, ‘cause she's so emotional, right? At least if I tell Ron myself, I can ... I dunno, practice. "
"I bet Richard would be able to help," said Stephen, who, as one of the teens, also had Richard for sessions. "He's good like that."
Harry shrugged. "I don't think it will matter how many people I ask. It's just ... the problem is, there's no nice way to say that you've ended up here, is there?"
Stephen set down his cards, staring at the table top, forehead creased. "No," he said. "No there isn't."
"Guess I just gotta do it," Harry muttered after a long silence. He glanced over the table at Stephen, their eyes meeting. It was the look of reassurance Harry needed, and he put the quill to the page. He took a deep breathe.
I'm not stuck at the Dursleys'. I made Dumbledore and Remus promise not to tell you and Hermione where I was. It's complicated, but I promise I didn't do that because I wanted to hurt you guys. I don't really know how to say any of this. It's tough. So, um, remember those cuts that you and Hermione asked me about? The long thin ones on my arm? Well ... those weren't from Hedwig getting spooked, like I said. Anyway, Remus got worried over them, and he guessed they weren't exactly ... an accident. Don't call me crazy, please Ron, I just ... I've been so angry lately. I don't know. So Remus and Dumbledore sent me here for a while to get my head back in order. I'm just so mad at myself over Sirius' death, and I know everyone says it isn't my fault ... I just can't believe it right now. Not yet. I don't know. I'm in a hospital right now. Don't worry, I can say that in a letter. Dumbledore's arranged it so I can give my letters to the Order affiliate who works here. He's agreed to pass them on without post to your Mum or Dad at Headquarters. Although you probably have been doing that already, or something, only on your end, considering owls don't exactly show up here. I dunno.
Anyway, in your letter you said you'd put up with my family even, if you could just visit. And I know that coming to a hospital isn't ... isn't really fun. I know. I'm in one. But I really would like it if you visited. Just don't treat me like I'm going to break, okay? I'm not suicidal or anything, just kind of pissed off and depressed. If it's too much to ask, that's okay, we can just send letters, but I really miss you, and I hope you come.
Hope that made some sense,
P.S. your parents know, I' m pretty sure. They might be able to answer a few questions. And Hermione will know soon too, but I wrote your letter first because I figured it would be easier. You know how intense she gets, sometimes, when she's worried.
Harry set down his quill, and before he could lose his willpower, he put the parchment in an envelope and sealed it.
"I'm going to go see if I can give this to Richard now," said Harry, hoping he wouldn't be doing a session at the moment.
Stephen offered to come with Harry, but Harry said he didn't need to. He could tell Stephen was enjoying his game of solitaire by the way he was shuffling his cards restlessly. Besides. Harry felt oddly like he had to do this alone. Do this himself.
He took a deep breath, walking through the ward. People were milling about. Some sat in chairs and stared blankly, cups of tea or coffee before them. He avoided their eyes, hoping he wouldn't have to say hello to any familiar people.
Harry's heart felt like it skipped a beat. A nervous flutter he'd had a long time. Richard said it was anxiety, that Harry's heart was fine. Still, it always made it feel like the ground had fallen away for a half second. He thought of what Ron might think when he read the letter. Yet, even though he was really frightened to see Ron's response, he didn't think that it would be a bad response. It wasn't that he was afraid Ron would make fun of him, or be angry at him. It was more that Harry was afraid to hurt Ron, because he knew that he cared. But wasn't that always how it went for Harry? Didn't he always keep quiet about everything that hurt out of the desire to protect the ones he loved? But why was he protecting them from himself? His friends didn't badger him every other minute of the summer to see how he was doing because they wanted good news. They wrote so much in case there was bad news, because they wanted to make things better for him.
By the time Harry got to Richard's office, Harry's legs felt stronger. His hands didn't shake.
"I'm telling Ron where I am," Harry told Richard, who was luckily between sessions and shuffling through some paperwork.
Richard took the letter. To Harry's surprise, he beamed.
"I am so proud of you, Harry," said Richard, his eyes glowing. "Well done."
Harry felt a strange warmth inside him, and then a sharp falling sensation. That smile, that look of pride reminded him of an expression he had seen on someone else.
Harry returned the statement with a smile, albeit a watery one, and left for his room. He fell onto his bed, his tears pouring onto the pillow and his sobs muffled by the feathers.
Sirius, remember those times you said you would be proud of me? Are you proud of me now? Would you be proud of me still?
He wasn't sure. He didn't know. But he knew what he wanted to believe.
Harry cradled his stomach as he pressed his face into the damp pillow. He missed Sirius so badly it hurt. He didn't understand how he could have been feeling just fine minutes earlier, and now, it was like the world had broken apart. A simple statement - "I'm so proud of you, Harry". A simple statement that broke the dam again, lit the fire that was the knowledge that Sirius was gone, that he was never coming back. It was beyond words, the feeling, the knowledge that the world would never be the same. That all around him, people were continuing with their lives as though Sirius Black had never existed, that it didn't matter he wasn't here now. Continuing on as though they didn't notice that someone so vibrant, so important, so full of life and heartache of his own, had dropped off the face of the earth. Three, two, one, gone. Just like that.
How could they go on? How could the world go on?
But it did, and as Harry's cries ceased he felt his own heart thrumming steadily on. Maybe it skipped a beat every so often, but it was still going. Still marching toward every second that came and went. Harry felt like it was somehow against the rules, that it could keep going when every breath hurt so bad. But it did. And to him, at that moment, what a painful, impossible, and yet somehow wonderful thing it was.
Severus was overjoyed that it was raining outside. Constantly beautiful weather when life was a disaster had been wearing him down, and the first thing he did when he looked out the courtyard door to check the weather, was grin. Usually the ward opened up the garden during the day for patients to walk through, and like today, they were swung wide open to allow the fresh air in. It had been a long shot asking to go out into the garden, considering how muddy it was, but thankfully, they were able to convince one of the healers that some fresh air would be good for them, rain or not. So, at last, the healer agreed that ten minutes - even in this weather - couldn't hurt them, as long as the door was left open so the healer could watch them to make sure they didn't do anything they shouldn't. Normally there was a healer in the courtyard whenever it was opened, but during bad weather they often asked patients to stay inside.
It was mainly Daisy's womanly prowess when it came to looking sweet and innocent that got them the go ahead. Thus, donning their cloaks and borrowing some of the ward's wellies (kept for those weeding the herb garden) to keep their feet dry, they went out into the rain.
It was a cool rain, but not so cool as to be chilly. The courtyard was filled with puddles, and the sky up above was a damp grey, but to Severus it was the most refreshing thing he'd seen since he had come to stay. They walked through around for a few minutes, exploring and chatting amicably.
"Have you ever gone on one of the gardening activities?" Daisy asked him after some time as they splashed around the edge of the herb garden.
"No," said Severus. "You?"
"Yes, it's pretty good," said Daisy. "They let you feed the goat too."
"Goat? You're joking." What purpose did a goat have here?
"I am not," she said in mock indignation, "come on!"
Daisy grinned, then took off through the rain.
"Bloody hell ..." muttered Severus, taking off after her and getting water in his wellies, soaking his socks. Although, to be honest, the freedom to run (albeit through mud and puddles) felt nice.
Severus slid to a halt in the muddy corner of the courtyard, narrowly avoiding Daisy and sending a cascade of dirty water off in all directions.
"Watch it," said Daisy with a chuckle, wringing out the edge of her cloak.
"You're the one who insisted on careening through the courtyard," Severus said, rolling his eyes half-heartedly.
"Maaahhhhhh," the goat bleated, and Severus jumped badly.
"Told you," said Daisy, making a face at Severus and reaching over the small fence before them and scratching the goat's back. "Don't worry, she's friendly."
"Okay, you were right. But why on earth do they have a goat?" Severus said as it bleated again.
"Why not?" said Daisy, shrugging. "Must be because animals are good for ... you know, nutters like us."
He looked to Daisy curiously, but she was busy feeding bits of grass to the goat.
"What did you come here for, anyway?" he asked before he could stop himself.
"Oh, nothing much," said Daisy, avoiding his eyes.
"Sorry," said Severus.
Daisy just shrugged. "Bound to ask it eventually, but it's complicated. I'll save you the trouble."
Severus wanted to say that it wasn't any trouble, but the sound of the Healers calling them back rang through the courtyard.
They turned around and started for the door. As they did so, Daisy changed the subject, asking Severus if he'd gotten anything interesting in the mail. That was just about the only other highlight of living at Oak Tree. Mail. Severus said his hadn't been great, that he didn't want to see Dumbledore tomorrow, and wished he could just call the whole thing off. He didn't quite want to talk about why yet, but Daisy didn't pry. He was glad for that.
The healer, who had been watching from the door, took their wet cloaks and dried them with his wand. They handed over the two pairs of wellies, and were told to stand on the mat while the healer performed a drying charm.
"You two left the goat tied, right?" asked the healer when he lowered his wand.
"Of course we did," said Daisy scornfully. "Wouldn't want a rampant goat around the place. It would scare off all the visitors."
The statement sounded innocent enough, but the healer, caught up in putting the wellies away, didn't see Daisy's sideways glance, or notice the truly awful grin that spread over Severus' face as she spoke.
"Oh, no, definitely not," he said, forcing an innocent expression upon his face as the healer's gaze turned back to the two of them.