: Tannhäuser Story
: They Do Not Recognise Him Chapter
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THEY DO NOT RECOGNISE HIM
They Do Not Recognise Him
‘Yes, they were talking about Neville’s parents,’ said Dumbledore. ‘His father, Frank, was an Auror just like Professor Moody. He and his wife were tortured for information about Voldemort’s whereabouts after he lost his powers, as you heard.’
‘So they’re dead?’ said Harry quietly.
‘No,’ said Dumbledore, his voice full of a bitterness Harry had never heard there before. ‘They are insane. They are both in St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. I believe Neville visits them, with his grandmother, during the holidays. They do not recognise him.’
– From HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE
‘Now, Neville – understand,’ snapped the sallow, hook-nosed witch in the vulture-topped hat and big red hand-bag, ‘you mustn’t cry. It would be very bad for them.’
‘Yes, Gran.’ He wouldn’t cry. Not now. He had seen them too many times to be shocked – but even the first time, he hadn’t felt – he couldn’t feel – that these… these beings, were his parents. He had never known them when they had been people, even.
They charged briskly down the self-consciously kindly halls of St. Mungo’s, nodding to a well-starched nurse, greeting a white-bearded Healer. Then they stood outside the Paracelsus ward, the attendant talking with a practised cheeriness.
‘Well, Sister, and how are they today?’
‘Well, much the same as usual, Mother L. – of course, it’s difficult to tell with Mr. Frank, you know, but Miss Alice very much enjoyed the strawberries you sent. She shared them with her little doll you brought her, young man,’ said the Nurse, smiling brightly at Neville. As some response seemed called for, he said, meaninglessly, ‘Thank you very much,’ and she seemed satisfied.
‘Well, if you’d like to come in, I’ll fetch them out to you.’
‘Thank you very much indeed.’
They entered the ward, and the Nurse departed into the soft twilight of the patients’ rooms. Presently she returned, wheeling a bath-chair and trailing a frail woman in a thin gown behind her. There was a figure in the chair, a gross mass of white flesh, inert, immobile, with eyes like grey rubber and a few thin hairs drooping over a balding skull. Its mouth kept opening and shutting on a single word: ‘…mustn’t… mustn’t… mustn’t…’ The woman, crop-haired, pretty once, was crooning over a similarly cropped doll. The Nurse noticed the Grandmother’s hard glance. ‘We had to, you know,’ she said brightly, commiseratingly ‘Same as with her own… she kept tearing its hair out, poor thing. But she loves it, you know. Doesn’t ’oo wuv wittle baby?’
‘…mustn’t… mustn’t… mustn’t…’
‘Well, Frank, and how are you today?’ rumbled Neville’s grandmother.
‘It’s a pity about his weight, really it is,’ said the Nurse, ‘but he won’t move, and we can’t exactly starve him, you know.’
‘Yes, quite – do you think we might have our visit now?’ interrupted Neville’s grandmother, sharply.
‘Well, I’ll leave them with you. Just an hour, you know, and then I must give Mr. Frank his wipe and bath, and that’s rather a chore, you know.’
‘Thank you very much.’
‘Well, children…we’ve brought you some nice currant jelly, and Neville’s got a nice bit of that ham you like. And then Neville will read Mama a story, and he has some nice flowers for her…’
The dreadful hour wore on. Neville cut up the ham, and spread the jam on toast, and fed his father, and wiped his face where the food had fallen from the mouth as it muttered. Then he sat and read a Muggle story, (‘…then the happy daisies said to Mrs Bossy-Cow, ‘‘Cow…’’ – sorry, ‘‘How are you today, ma’am…’’ ’) immensely dull but safe, unlikely to bring on the screams. Neville’s mother gurgled, cuddling her doll.
At last the Nurse came bustling back, and Neville rose with a sigh.
‘Well, I’m back to take them off, as you see. I’m afraid you have to say ‘‘good-bye’’ now, dears.’
Neville bowed to the lump in the chair. ‘Good-bye, Dad.’
And to the lady. ‘Good-bye, Mum.’ She giggled and curtsied; the doll dropped to the floor. The boy scrambled to gather it up, to hand it to her – but with a swipe of her hand she clawed him, hurling him away.
‘Gimme Neville! Gimme Neville!’ she shrieked, snatching the plaything up. ‘Don’t you TAKE NEVILLE!’
The hot blood stung on his cheek. He struggled to his feet, and the cry burst out of him – ‘I’M NEVILLE!’
‘Don’t touch my baby,’ she hissed, and spat in the boy’s face. Then she ran out, clutching the doll to her.
‘Now, then, Neville….’ barked his grandmother, stiff-lipped, ‘you know they don’t mean it… you know – you know … you mustn’t cry … you mustn’t … cry.’ She buried her face in her hand.
The blob in the chair raised its eyes toward Neville, unexpectedly soft, dark, full of human pity. His fat white hand gently stroked the boy’s hair. ‘Mustn’t cry,’ he murmured. Then eyes went blank again, hand dropped squishily like a half-filled water balloon, and he returned to muttering: ‘…mustn’t… mustn’t… mustn’t…’ The nurse wheeled him out.
A minute later, she came scurrying back, with a stinging, restorative potion to lave Neville’s face. ‘Now, dear, you mustn’t take it to heart, you know. They don’t mean anything by it. They don’t recognise you.’