He had made a promise to her all those years ago, and now it was broken, like the language in her eyes that told him that she would never be the same again.
His family had arrived from England by International Portkey around noon, Cairo time. A subdued and somber family greeted him; so alien a reunion from his unconventionally boisterous family. There were forced smiles, fierce hugs and kisses laced with salty, barely contained tears.
“Hey, Little-Bit.” He had opened his arms and she had walked into them willingly. She held him fiercely, her arms around his waist, her small hands clinging to the fabric of his t-shirt. She inhaled his scent deeply, as if seeking comfort in the familiar, and then she was as still as a statue in his arms.
He had studied her intently as she stood there among her family, trying to be unassuming. He catalogued the changes in her appearance, but more importantly, the transformation in her demeanor. Her hair was lank and flat, her eyes – usually vibrant and filled with mirth and mischief – were dull with dark circles beneath them, and her face was blank and expressionless. She was like a broken china doll in his arms and it tore his heart from his chest to see the empty shell of a girl that stood before him now.
What had he done to her? What had that bastard done?
They sat down to a solemn lunch where they spoke quietly of inconsequential things. The air was heavy with unspoken questions. The light that was their family had dimmed; she was damaged, perhaps irreparably so. The radiance that once was Ginny’s smile may never shine again. As they sat in the crushing silence of their own troubled and guilty thoughts, they each clung tenaciously to the hope that she would rise from the ashes of her violation, like a Phoenix, reborn.
The silence at the table was broken by her soft voice. “I’m sorry.”
Their Mum let out a barely contained sob. “Ginny, no. You have noth–”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, cutting off her mother’s words. “Please be patient...just a little patient. I...I’m fine.”
Bill watched as she paused, swallowing the bile that threatened to surface at the blatant untruth of her words.
“I will be fine…just don’t…don’t give up on me okay?” After a moment, she turned to her Mum, dry-eyed. “May I be excused from the table?”
Her voice hitching slightly, her mother responded. “Of… Of course you may, darling.”
Ginny folded the napkin and placed it to the right of her untouched plate of food, quietly stood and left the table for the solitude of the room that Bill had prepared for her use.
As soon as they heard the click of the door, Molly turned to her husband, buried her face in his chest and sobbed quietly in his arms. His father’s expression, usually so open and jovial with his family, was blank as he absently drew circles across his wife’s back. It was an expression Bill was not used to seeing on his father’s face and it concerned him greatly.
“Dad? You okay?” Bill asked.
“I’m all right, son,” his father responded, but did not look in his son’s direction.
Bill paused for a moment before speaking. “I can see she’s not doing fine, but…tell me, how has she been coping?”
“Oh, Bill, she doesn’t eat, she doesn’t sleep, she won’t talk about it to any one. She’s having nightmares almost every night, but I can’t administer the dreamless sleep potion anymore by Madame Pomfrey’s orders – it’s just too addicting. It’s not as if the potion was stopping her nightmares, but at least she was sleeping,” his mother replied, a look of anguish on her face that was unbearable to watch.
“She won’t tell us what happened. My imagination goes wild with the most horrible thoughts. I can’t stop myself from wondering about all the ugly, vile, cruel things he could have done to her. Poppy assures me that she hasn’t been violated, but sometimes, the way she reacts to being touched is unnatural. It makes me question what actually happened to her. I can’t take seeing her like this, it…it breaks my heart to see my…my…baby…this way,” she ended on a tormented sob.
Fred faced his brother a look of determination on his face that Bill was unaccustomed to seeing and said, “When she has those nightmares, she screams until she’s hoarse, she thrashes about the bed and she always says the same things. ‘No, Tom. Stop, please’ over and over again, and then after a while she starts to scream ‘No, not Harry, don’t hurt Harry’. Then she cries in her sleep and after a while she starts to drone in a flat monotone ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’ over and over again…” Fred trailed off, unable to continue.
George took up for his twin. “…after a while her voice sort of gives out and she just mouths the words and then just as suddenly, she stops. Her body goes taut and then limp as if the fight has gone out of her. It’s the most…”
“…heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen in my life. If that bastard wasn’t already dead..”
“We’d kill him!” They nodded in agreement “We’d torture him first,” they said in unison and grinned evilly at the thought.
Percy cleared his throat. “Before we left school, I researched in the library on how to deal with emotional trauma, but I couldn’t find a single solitary reference. It was very frustrating to say the least, and quite an astonishing fact considering the Hogwarts library has at least a millennia’s worth of books in its possession”
The twins groaned and rolled their eyes at their studious brother.
Bill smiled inwardly. That was just Percy’s way of handling things.
“When we got back home I went straight to the Muggle library in the village and found several books, I found one of particular value, they call what she is going through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
“But how does that help us Percy, dear,” his Mother interjected.
“Well Mother, it explains the symptoms and how to treat them. Ginny is displaying pretty much all of them: depression, anxiety attacks, reliving the trauma, difficulty sleeping, bursts of anger, lack of interest in things that used to bring her happiness, emotional numbness…”
“We know all that Perce, but how does that help us?” Charlie interrupted him.
“I was getting to that, Charles.” Percy pursed his lips in annoyance, both at being interrupted and his brother’s use of a diminutive when addressing him.
“Actually, Ginny pretty much gave us the answer to her healing. We need to be patient with her, give her time, and listen to her when she’s ready to talk about it. We need to try to avoid triggering the emotional buttons that might give her flashbacks. Time, love, patience and an understanding ear are all we can offer right now. We need to give her time, but we also need to make sure she doesn’t isolate herself too much because that can lead to long-term effects that can be emotionally debilitating if unchecked.”
“Is their such a thing as a medical healer that specializes in emotional trauma at St. Mungo’s?” Bill asked to the room in general.
“Madam Pomfrey gave me the name of a Healer, but I don’t know if and when she will want to see her. You know she can be a stubborn little cuss when she wants to be. Not to mention that this is a relatively new field in mental health medicine. We’re not really sure how effective it can be.” Molly answered.
“We’ll just have to take it a day at a time. Let’s not bring that up with her just yet. Eventually she may need someone objective outside of the family to speak to, so we’ll just keep that under wraps for the time being,” Bill advised.
“She’s a smart little bugger. You’ll notice she said all that for our benefit. She knows we’re heartsick and worried, and she wanted us to know that she will be well, given enough time. We just need to be patient with her and let her heal in her own way, in her own time. She’s strong and resilient. She’s not a hothouse flower. If uprooted and thrown on arid and rocky soil, she’ll find a way to put down roots and thrive.”
After the noon meal, the family took a tour of Cairo on an enchanted carpet that Bill had requisitioned from Gringott’s. Ginny had given Bill a genuine smile when she first saw it; he had her sit in front of him as he steered the carpet through the busy market streets. They buzzed over the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx with its enigmatic smile and scarred nose.
When they set down at the base of The Great Pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu, Ginny had refused to be taken inside. Bill would have rescheduled the tour for when she was ready to join them, but Ginny insisted he take the rest of the family; she would go another time. Charlie had volunteered to stay with her in the three o’clock sundial-like shade of the pyramid; he had visited Bill on hols last summer and was already familiar with the treasures housed there.
That night in the quiet solitude of his room, Bill lay in bed contemplating the conversations at lunch that day and later at dinner. He smiled when he recalled the look of delight on Ginny’s face as she enjoyed the novelty of riding a magic carpet for the first time. He had her sit in front of him between his raised legs, her back pressed firmly to his chest. She would let out a brief giggle of delight at a sudden dip or a sharp climb or turn, that contrasted with his mother’s shrieks of horror. For a brief moment he saw a glimpse of the Ginny that he knew, she was in there, he just needed to be patient, just a little patient.
An unfamiliar sound brought him out of his reveries. He picked up his wand from his bedside table and padded out of his room barefoot and bare-chested, clad only in his pajama bottoms – a concession to his family’s presence in his home. He followed the noise to the archway of his balcony and what he saw there shocked him. Sitting in the dark was his father, a fist to his mouth, shoulders shaking with silent sobs and tears streaming down his face. The sounds that had disturbed him were the occasional sobs that his father’s traitorous body could not contain.
Bill stood stock-still, afraid to move lest he alert his father to his presence. His father was a proud, honorable man; in all his twenty-two years, Bill had never seen his father cry.
Without warning, Arthur turned pleading eyes towards his eldest son begging him for what he did not have the strength or presence of mind to do for himself. Bill understood the silent plea, raised his wand and cast a Silencing Charm. He watched, unchecked tears streaming down his own face, as his father opened his mouth in silent wails of despair. And then he did something he never thought he would have to do in his lifetime, he gathered his father in his arms as he vented his grief.
After what could have been mere moments or the span of hours, Arthur raised his head and nodded to his eldest. Bill removed the Silencing Charm. He watched his father gather his composure, a shaky breath escaping his lips. He placed a hand on his son’s shoulder and squeezed it before standing up and walking toward the balcony entrance to the flat.
Without turning to face his son, he said, “I was supposed to protect her Bill. I failed to protect her.”
“How could you have known, Dad? How could any of us have known that we needed to protect her from something like this?” he protested.
“I know that. My mind and my intellect are at war with my heart, and that knowledge is cold comfort. It doesn’t relieve me of the guilt I feel. She won’t talk to me Bill, she won’t cry or rage. My little angel lays in that bed at night, a broken shell as she battles the demons in her dreams. I want to avenge her, my father’s heart wants to hurt the man that hurt her, but I can’t Bill, that man has been dead nigh unto twelve years. There is no one to expend my father’s revenge on. Do you have any idea how powerless I feel? That’s my baby, my all, my life, and I can’t help her!”
Bill watched his father walk away, not once looking back. He sat there and watched the blanket of stars as they disappeared from the sky, a spectator to the miracle of the unhurried transformation from night to day as God’s canvas unfurled before his tired eyes and his tortured mind.
“Da’s been crying again hasn’t he?” She stood in the same spot her father had the night before, clad in hand-me-down pajamas she inherited from Ron, her hair mussed from sleep and her eyes red-rimmed.
Bill did not know what to say to that so he remained silent. She walked over to him and climbed onto his lap. She pressed her cheek to his chest, the steady beat of his heart a source of comfort. They sat in silence for a long time, the cacophony of an awakening city in the background.
When she broke the silence her voice was a mere whisper.
“I want to tell him, Bill. I really do. But every time I start, the words get stuck in my throat...I’m…I’m afraid.”
“What are you afraid of, sweetheart?”
“I…I don’t know. It’s all jumbled in my head. It’s like I have these conversations in my head that tell me it’s okay to tell – it’s like Da’s voice in my head telling me it’s okay, everything will be okay.” Her voice dropped to where he could barely hear her. He brought his head down lower in an attempt to catch the words as they escaped her lips.
“But then, I hear Tom’s voice, taunting me, telling me that if I tell… you’ll all…” she trailed off and was silent again.
“What, sweetheart? What does he tell you we’ll do?” he prompted.
“I’m dirty! If…if I tell what he did…what I did…Oh Bill, I can’t, I can’t, don’t make me say it!”
He grabbed her about the shoulders. “Look at me Ginny.”
She shook her head against his chest.
“Look at me sweetheart, please, please, look at me,” he pleaded.
Slowly, achingly, he watched as she lifted her tortured eyes to him.
“I love you. We love you, with all our hearts and with every breath we take. Don’t doubt that. Ever. Do you hear my words, Little-Bit? Hear only my voice when Tom starts to taunt you in your head. I want you to hear my voice telling you how much I love you, how precious you are to me. There is nothing, nothing on the face of this earth, or that the demons in hell or the angels in heaven could do to make me stop loving you. Do you hear me, little one? Nothing!”
She shook her head as if in denial, but he ignored her as he continued.
“When you hear his voice, I want you to think of Mum’s voice as she sings you that lullaby you love so much, or when Dad calls you his little princess, listen to his voice as he recites your favorite fairly tale at night. Listen to Charlie calling to his Gin-bug, asking if you want to go for a bit of a fly around the paddock at the Burrow, or as Percy lectures you in his Prefect’s voice as he calls you Ginevra in that way that only he can. You’re the twins’ Gollywobbles and partner-in-mischief; can you hear their laughter in your head, sweet girl? Think of Ron teasing you, the great prat, listen to his voice calling to you like he used to when you were both little ‘Come on Ninny, let’s go out and play ”.
She was still and quiet as his voice and words began to penetrate her troubled soul and tortured mind and then just as suddenly as if a dam had been broken, the words burst forth and the tears sprang to her eyes, flowing down her cheeks and falling onto her clasped hands.
She told him of her loneliness at school, about Ron’s defection and inattention and how betrayed she felt. She told him how ashamed she was about her second hand books and robes, something that had never bother her in the past now seemed amplified by the thoughtless taunting of her dorm mates. She told him how she had found the diary and how at first Tom became her confidant, her closest, dearest friend, how she poured out all of her insecurities and hurt onto the pages of that wretched diary.
She told him about her bouts of shyness around the boy she loved as far back as she could remember, how when she had met him for the first time on Platform 9 ¾ that she knew she would love him until the day she died.
She started to notice the gaps in her memory, the blood on her robes and the feathers on her bed. How she began to fear the diary as she began to feel the intrinsic, malevolent evil that seemed to pour out of it, its foul and putrid thoughts seeping into her very soul. She would not tell him what happened in the Chamber and no amount of assurances or pleading on his part had swayed her to the contrary.
“I was a silly little girl! People almost died because of my stupidity and naiveté. Daddy told me never to trust anything if I couldn’t see where it kept its brain. I let him use me to hurt people, Bill. I will never, ever forgive myself for that!”
She did not know at what point during her tearful confessions her family had come to the small balcony, but there they all stood in silent support. They gathered around what was the heart of their family, this little witch who was the center of their world, who held the happiness of her family in her small little hands.
She was startled when her father responded to her heartfelt outburst.
“We forgive you, princess, and in time you will come to forgive yourself. But the truth is there is nothing to forgive. Stronger, older and greater Wizards than you have been deceived by ‘He Who Must Not be Named’. And yet here you are, my little witch, you survived and you will be the stronger for it, I swear it.”
“Oh Daddy!” She flung herself into her father arms, the arms that had always protected her, loved her, and soothed her. “You don’t hate me do you? You told me, but I didn’t’ listen. He…Tom…Tom said you would hate me. I’m sorry, Daddy, I…I’m so sorry.”
“I could never hate you, princess. Never. I’m sorry too.”
And so the healing began. The scene that day on the balcony of his flat would forever be imprinted in his memory as both one of the saddest and happiest moments of his life. She would be fine, in time she would be fine.
His Broken Angel’s wings began to mend slowly that summer. True, she was forever altered by her experience – she would not trust as easily, but her loyalty once given was fierce, Tom could not take that away from her. The nightmares, though they became more infrequent with each passing day, would haunt her for the rest of her life. It was there in the back of her psyche, a scar in her heart and mind.
She told him years later that whenever Tom managed to break into her thoughts, undermining her sense of self-worth and planting seeds of doubt in her mind, she would think back to that day on the balcony of his flat in Cairo. She could then wrestle the dark shade that was Tom in her mind until she could only hear her family's voices telling her how much they loved her and that Tom could go straight to hell where he belonged.
On the rocky, arid soil that was the devastation and aftermath of the Chamber, she took root and thrived. Their precious English Rose thrived.