Chapter 1 : Guilt.
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The nightmares were getting more frequent. This was the third time in a week Demelza woke in a panic, sweat pouring down her face. She took a few deep breaths, hoping it might calm her down and help her forget the memories currently flooding through her mind.
Being back at Hogwarts seemed to have made it worse. Over the summer, at home, it had sometimes been possible to forget, to believe that maybe, eventually, life really could return to something resembling normal. Here, there was no relief. The memories were everywhere.
Tears filled her eyes and she choked back a sob, not wanting to wake her dormmates, all of whom appeared to be sleeping peacefully. They deserved the opportunity to sleep on undisturbed. Most of them had been through their own traumas, suffered their own nightmares and for the most part, they had been undeserved or even a consequence of their very bravery and unselfishness. Under the previous regime, standing up for your friends had become a dangerous business. One she was apparently unable to manage.
There'd been a time she'd believed herself brave. She was a Gryffindor, after all; courage was supposed to be part of the deal. But she'd never before been truly tested. She'd thought she had, had believed she'd shown courage in any one of a hundred different everyday events, but when it had really come to the crunch, when she'd really been put to the test, she'd come up short, showing herself nothing else than a horrible coward.
Despite her effort to remain silent, tears threatened to engulf her and she buried her head in her hands, wishing she was somebody else, somebody who could look herself in the eye and be proud of who she was, someone who could sleep peacefully, knowing she'd nothing she'd to be ashamed of, instead of tossing and turning, afraid to go back to sleep, for fear of the horrors that awaited her if she dared close her eyes.
In theory, she could quench the sleeplessness and the awful terror by going to Madame Pomfrey and asking for a sleeping draught. They'd had more than one talk that term about how nobody needed to suffer in silence; there was help available for anybody who needed it
In practice, she knew she could never do so. That help was for people who truly deserved it, for all of those who'd been hurt in so many ways through no fault of their own.
The nightmares, sleeplessness and the terrible memories were her punishment for what she'd done. She'd no right to try and avoid them, no right to any kind of relief. She was a horrible person who'd done terrible things and deserved every bad thing that could happen to her. To try and evade that punishment would be an insult to those she'd betrayed.
She reminded herself she'd really no right to feel sorry for herself. She was reaping what she'd sowed. She'd caused pain to others so she deserved to experience it herself.
It didn't help. Knowing she deserved it made it no easier to face the long night or the memories that engulfed her.
Feeling slightly guilty for seeking any relief whatsoever, she got up and tried to work on an essay for Defence Against the Dark Arts, which just made things worse. Defence Against the Dark Arts? Who was she kidding? Hadn't she already proved that not only was she unwilling to defend herself or anybody else against the Dark Arts, but that she would surrender to them completely.
She buried her head in her hands again as sobs begant to wrack her body.
The night passed slowly, but eventually morning came and Demelza slipped out of Gryffindor tower, deciding to skip breakfast.
She'd been isolating herself more and more since the school year'd begun, dropping out of the Quidditch team and avoiding her friends. Most of them probably wouldn't want anything to do with her anyway. After all, they must have known at least some of what she'd done. She wouldn't want anything to do with herself if she'd been them. In fact, she didn't want anything to do with herself, but unfortunately she was the one person she was definitely stuck with.
She was spending more and more time on her schoolwork, just to try and block out the memories that crowded in, whenever she'd nothing else to think about. But it wasn't helping. Her marks were dropping lower and lower. She couldn't concentrate, possibly because she'd hardly managed a full night's sleep since the school year had begun.
Not that she really cared. School felt irrelevant and grades were the last thing on her mind. All she wanted to do was numb the feelings of self-hatred and horror.
Of course her teachers had noticed her declining performance, but though they'd commented on it, she hadn't really got in trouble. Most of the staff were making allowances, aware of everything their students had been through in the last few months.
Not that she really deserved any allowances and she couldn't help wondering if the teachers, like everybody else, herself included, were secretly scorning her. They too must have some idea of what she'd done and the type of person she truly was.
The thought was still on her mind when Professor Sprout pulled her aside after Herbology that afternoon.
"Is everything all right, Demelza?"
The teacher raised her eyebrows.
"The last year has been hard on everybody, Demelza. It's all right to admit it if you're finding things difficult. Merlin knows you're not the only one. There is help available if you need it."
"I know that, Professor."
Unfortunately, Sprout didn't seem inclined to let the matter rest there.
"Have you been sleeping?"
"Yes, Professor," she lied.
"You took tired."
"I stayed up late last night finishing an essay." She twisted part of the material of her sleeve around in her hand, feeling slightly guilty about lying. But she couldn't get sent to the Hospital Wing, couldn't let herself avail of the help that was the last thing she deserved.
"It's not just today. You've been looking tired for a while now."
"I have my O.W.L.S. this year. I've been doing a lot of study."
"All right," Professor Sprout said reluctantly. "But if you do ever find yourself having difficulties coping, go and see Madame Pomfrey. There's no point in suffering any more than you have to. There's been more than enough of that in this school recently."
Demelza felt her chest tighten, remembering she'd been responsible for some of that suffering. She had to get out of there, had to get away from Professor Sprout before the teacher realised just how close to complete panic she was. Otherwise she'd certainly be sent to the Hospital Wing.
"I have to go now, Professor." The words came out in a rush. "I have to get to Transfiguration."
Professor Sprout nodded. "All right, Demelza." She didn't look entirely satisfied.
Demelza hurried away from the Greenhouses, but she didn't go back to the castle. Instead, she sank down on the lawn in the grounds, waiting for the panic to abate. She was going to be really late for Transfiguration, if she didn't decide to skip it altogether, but right now, she didn't care about that. She just wanted the pains in her chest to stop.
The panic eventually passed, but she remained slightly on edge and once the day's classes had finished, the last thing she wanted was to return to the busy common room. Instead she headed for the Room of Requirement. She'd been heading there more and more often lately, anxious to avoid just about everybody.
She'd almost reached her sanctuary when she spotted him, a small second year now. Seeing her, a look of fear crossed his face and he stepped back, moving slightly away from her.
A kaleidoscope of images filled her mind, as she was drawn back into the previous year. The boy stood before her, even smaller now, the Carrows watching, a flash of light, screams.
She sank to her knees, gasping for breath. The noises in her head got louder and the figures in her mind seemed to crowd in closer around her.
"I'm sorry," she said aloud, tears pouring down her face. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"Demelza." She felt a hand touch her arm and she drew back involuntarily. "Demelza, are you all right?"
For a few moments, the two pictures seemed to superimpose themselves on one another, the sounds from the past almost drowning out the voice speaking to her now, but finally she pulled herself back into the present and glanced up at the girl addressing her.
And almost immediately wished she hadn't. The figure kneeling beside her was Ginny Weasley, possibly the last person she could bring herself to face right now.
The tears grew stronger, blurring her vision until she could hardly see.
She wanted to get up, to walk away, but she could hardly force herself to move. Her stomach heaved and for a moment, she wondered if she was about to be sick.
"Aguamenti." Ginny touched her wand to the glass she'd just conjured, filling it with water, and handed it to Demelza. "Drink this."
Unable to summon the strength to argue, she did as she was told.
"Now, can you tell me what's the matter?"
Demelza shook her head.
"All right." Ginny's voice was gentle and reassuring. She touched Demelza's arm gently. "We'd better get you to Madame Pomfrey."
"NO!" For the first time she managed to find her voice.
"Demelza, you're in a real state. You need something to help calm you."
She shook her head. "I don't deserve it."
"Don't be ridiculous."
Tears filled her eyes. "But I don't," she insisted. "Those potions are for people who fought in the Battle of Hogwarts. Or for people like you, who lost family. Or for those the Carrows abused.I did nothing. I..." She trailed off, beginning to hyperventilate.
"They wouldn't have let you fight, even if you'd wanted to. You were too young, Demelza."
"You managed," she interrupted.
"I was only three months from my seventeenth birthday and I'd completed my sixth year. Sixth years with earlier birthdays were allowed to fight and I'd learnt just as much as they had. You were what? Fourteen? Merlin, Demelza, nobody wanted fourteen year olds out there."
"I was fifteen," she whispered.
"Barely. You hadn't even completed your O.W.L.S! We were all putting our lives on the line, but going out there without even O.W.L. level Defence...well, none of us would have expected that of you."
"I was older than you were when you fought in the Ministry."
"And look how that turned out! Besides, that was desperation. There was nobody older around."
Demelza paused, feeling as if she'd been lying. Nothing she'd said was untrue, strictly speaking. She did feel like a coward for not even trying to join the battle. But it was nowhere near her greatest source of shame.
But if she admitted that, if she revealed the awful things she'd really done, she knew Ginny would turn away in disgust. She wasn't sure she could bear that, wasn't sure she could face seeing the distaste in her eyes, hearing the anger in her voice. And yet, she knew she couldn't bear this sympathy either, not when she was receiving it under completely false pretences.
"It's not just the Battle of Hogwarts," she whispered, nausea again rising in her stomach. "I...I never stood up to them. I'm supposed to be a Gryffindor, for God's sake. I'm supposed to be brave, but I...I just did exactly what they wanted. I was too scared to do anything else." She glanced up, warily.
"We were all scared," Ginny said. "You did what you had to to protect yourself. You weren't the only one. Even the teachers didn't stand up to them directly, not until the end. You think McGonagall isn't brave? You think Snape wasn't? And look at my dad and my Uncle Percy. They worked under Thickness in the Ministry."
Demelza shook her head violently. "That's different. They were working against the Death Eaters behind the scenes. I just...I gave into them. I...I hurt people."
"You were forced to. We all were."
"Not all the time. There was once..." She paused as the blackness threatened to engulf her again. She'd never spoken about this before and she wasn't sure she could. Every time she so much as thought of it, it felt as if her whole world was falling apart. Trying to pull herself back into the present, she took a deep breath and choked back a sob. "There was this boy. He was only in first year. He cheeked Amycus and well, I grinned. I knew he saw me - Amycus, I mean. I was terrified. I knew what he was likely to do to me, so I...I..."
Visions began to fill her mind again and she started to shake.
"It's all right, Demelza, calm down." Even through her panic, she felt Ginny's arms around her.
"It's not all right, it's not. You don't know what I did."
"It can't be any worse than what I did."
"WHAT?" Demelza glanced up in amazement, almost snapped out of her terror. Whatever she'd expected Ginny to say, it hadn't been that.
Ginny didn't answer immediately and for a moment Demelza wondered if she'd heard properly or if it was one more echo of the past.
"It was before you started Hogwarts," Ginny finally said quietly, "but I'm sure you've heard about it. I almost killed people."
"That was different." She was certain of that. "You were enchanted."
"Not so very different. We were both forced into doing things that horrified us."
"I wasn't forced though, that's the point. I just...well, I...I wanted Amycus to think I wasn't laughing at him, that I was grinning because...well, because it was an opportunity to punish the boy. I cursed him, severely. He was screaming."
Memories of his screams filled her mind again.
"They were torturing us." To her surprise, Ginny's voice was still gentle. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but it certainly wasn't this show of sympathy.
"But they didn't. I...I managed to evade ever being hurt by them, just by doing exactly what they said." Tears rolled down her cheeks again. "And the look on Amycus's face when I cursed that boy. I could see he was impressed; he even congratulated me. He thought I was like him, like them. And he was right. I was. I am."
"No." Ginny shook her head. "Demelza, what you went through, watching them hurt others, knowing they'd do the same to you if you stepped out of line, being forced to perform acts you hated, that's a form of torture in itself. It's emotional torture. And look at you, at how you're feeling now. How can you say they didn't hurt you?"
Demelza lowered her head and didn't reply.
"You're very ill," Ginny continued. "And you don't even realise it. You really do need to go to the Hospital Wing."
Demelza shook her head, saying nothing.
Ginny sighed. "Or else I can get Madame Pomfrey to come up here." Her voice was still soft, but a hint of determination had entered it. It was clear she meant to do exactly what she said.
"All right," Demelza said quietly, before getting to her feet. Madame Pomfrey had enough to be doing, dealing with all the students suffering war trauma, as well as all the normal injuries and illnesses of school life. With a few hundred partially trained, young witches and wizards around, the latter weren't exactly in short supply either. The last thing she needed was to have to come looking for a silly little girl who'd brought all her problems on herself.
Ginny slipped an arm around her again. "You'll feel much better soon."
She wasn't sure she wanted to feel better. If she did, if she recovered, didn't that just prove she was a cruel, heartless person who didn't care who she hurt? She'd seen the look on the face of that boy when he passed her. What she'd done clearly still haunted him, so why should she escape? She was the villain here; he the victim.
But she didn't say any of that to Ginny. In truth, she wasn't sure she could say any more. Her throat hurt from crying and she felt utterly exhausted. She'd confided more in the last few moments than she had in over a year and she felt as if she'd revealed all she could.
Luckily, Ginny didn't seem to expect any more, but gently led her to the hospital wing, where Madame Pomfrey took one look at her and ordered her straight to bed.
"You look exhausted. I'm sure you haven't slept properly in weeks."
Demelza shook her head slightly, looking down at the floor. She didn't want to answer, didn't feel she'd any right to admit her difficulties, but there was something about Madame Pomfrey that made her impossible to rebuff or lie to. If she expected an answer, you gave one and at that moment, Demelza certainly hadn't the energy to resist.
"I'll bring you a Calming Draught and something to help you sleep," she said. "I'm afraid you'll be here for a few days yet.."
"She will be all right, won't she?" Ginny sounded concerned.
"Eventually, yes, but something is clearly bothering her a great deal and she won't recover overnight. We'll get her through it eventually, but it might be a long process."
"Can I come and see her?" Ginny asked.
"Of course. She's going to need all the support she can get. That may well be very bit as important as her medication."
"She's blaming herself," Ginny began, but what else she said Demelza never heard, as the sleeping draught she'd been given took affect and she fell into her first uninterrupted sleep in months.
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