Failure to Thrive - Part IV
As she watched Harry levitate the last of the washed pots to the cupboard, she decided to broach the subject that she had discussed with her husband repeatedly. They had let months go by without acknowledging Harry's small stature, mostly because they knew the cause, and knew the cure, and had always had his health in mind as they continued their weekly dinners. But Minerva McGonagall had surprised Narcissa with a visit today to discuss Harry's health with her, and had informed her that Madam Pomfrey had made repeated attempts to start Harry on treatment, but he had refused. This was terribly concerning for the senior Malfoys, so it was clearly time to act.
"Headmistress McGonagall paid us a visit today, Harry," Narcissa told him. "Apparently you've let her know that we've had some success with our remodeling." She smiled at the dark haired teen as he gave her his full attention. "She requested a tour around the manor. I can tell you that it was quite lovely to hear such high praise from my former Transfiguration Professor. Quite lovely. And, it bridged a gap between us, for which I am terribly grateful to you, although I am not in any way assuming that was your intent."
"I thought she should see what you and Lucius have done with your talent around here," Harry said. "I'd like to learn how to do some of that kind of spellwork. Some paint charms, at the very least. Grimmauld Place needs sprucing up pretty badly."
"I'm am at your service if you'd like to set a time to do some practice."
"It will have to be after the Hogwarts reconstruction has calmed down," Harry said. "It's looking like there will be a couple more months of the same kind of work before the real magical reconstruction can begin. I won't be able to help as much with that part, I imagine." He levitated the place mats into a stack beside the plates they would conjure outdoors for the picnic.
"Harry," she said softly, waiting for him to face her again before continuing. "Lucius and I have a few concerns regarding your health." Harry's expression hardened, but she kept her tone caring and persevered. "I believe you have a condition that happens to younger wizards when they experience great trauma in their teen years. In fact I'm sure you've got it. It's called Failure to Thrive. Have you heard of this?"
"No, ma'am," Harry said in a tight voice, keeping his eyes averted from hers. He already knew something was wrong. Madam Pomfrey had been after him to come see her, but he'd been unable to pull himself away from his work on the rebuild. There was no denying something was definitely off. When Harry looked in the mirror, he saw the boy that he'd last seen over three years ago. He'd already turned 18, but he still looked like a small 15 year old. And he often still felt that young. Sometimes he wondered if this was the reason he was unable to hold his sadness in check. Things in that regard had improved, and he'd only broken down a few times in front of his new pseudo guardians. But privately, he was likely to cry at night, for hours, in the darkness of his bedroom. The heartbreak never seemed to lessen. If he started to feel lighter about Remus, he'd mourn for Fred, or Sirius, or Dumbledore… or Snape….
"It's the reason that you still look like a boy, rather than a young man," Narcissa was continuing, and unknowingly confirming his inner monologue. "Your magic is quite strong and at the point where it should be for your years, but the harsh conditions and terrible traumas you've been through have caused it to shock your physical body into a state of suspended development, and has actually pulled away some of your aging." She moved into his line of vision, forcing him to look at her. "Were you not bigger and more developed when I saw you here last spring, fighting Bella, or in the Forbidden Forest?"
"Yes," Harry whispered. "It can be cured, can't it?" he asked anxiously.
"It can, darling. By quite simple means: rest and good nutrition."
"Oh," Harry said. His eyes grew troubled as he added. "But that's not simple for me."
"It's a change in behavior, that's all, Harry."
"You don't understand," Harry said tersely, at once growing defensive. He was doing the best he could!
Narcissa reached out and cupped his cheek. "No, I probably don't understand. But I want to." Harry pulled away, trying to hide the unsettled disappointment that he was feeling. "Come, let us have our meal and relax. We can talk this out later, alright?"
"Yeah," Harry whispered.
They were dining at the table today, as there was a light drizzle and the air was full of the scent of fresh, wet grass. The subject of the younger wizards finishing their educations came up, and Harry successfully diverted attention to Draco, who had been considering finishing up at Durmstrang, but had just admitted he was thinking he should wait to return to Hogwarts.
"It will be difficult to go back, but I think I'd better," he told his parents. "I don't mind the delay in the start of term, either. I think it's been good to have this time to regroup."
"I am in agreement, son," Lucius said, much to his son's visible relief.
Draco asked a loaded question as they continued to eat. "So, Harry, are you getting backlash for being friends with us?"
"Probably," Harry answered dismissively. "Apparently there's an entire daily column devoted to the subject in the Prophet. But I stopped reading that old rag after they cowtailed to Umbridge last year." He caught the Malfoys all exchanging grim looks. "People seem to have a lot to say about my muggle clothes and small size… but I just can't be bothered with giving their opinions much thought right now."
At Narcissa's prompting nod, Lucius cleared his throat. "Harry," he said in his commanding tone.
"Yes, sir?" It was obvious the boy knew what was coming.
"I think you are in a better emotional state now, and that it would be a good time to work on your health. I want you to follow a new set of rules for the next several months. Will you do that?" Lucius deliberately asked for his compliance, but let his tone declare that he expected nothing less.
"Is it about my eating and sleeping habits, sir?" Harry asked defensively.
"Indeed it is, and rather silly to think that it's necessary-"
"You don't understand!" Harry said harshly, ending the tranquility of their pleasant dinner and glaring at Lucius.
Lucius remained calm, realizing that he was going to have to be quite assertive with the boy on this subject. He rose to his feet. "Walk with me, Harry."
"I'd rather not!" Harry bellowed, not liking how trapped he was suddenly feeling.
"It was not a request, young man," Lucius said in a more dangerous tone.
Harry gulped, but held onto his bravado. "I don't have to listen to you, you know. You're not my father!"
"No," Lucius agreed in the same steely tone, "I am not." He circled around the table to Harry and grabbed his upper arm, pulling him to his feet, tightening his grip when Harry struggled to pull away. He lowered his face to be level with Harry's as he warned, "I am your friend who feels fatherly concern for your welfare, and therefore honor bound to look out for you." He started walking, taking the boy with him, leaving the peaceful scene beneath the shade tree and heading to a secluded spot on the farthest side of the manor.
"It's not like I don't eat on purpose!" Harry said resentfully, trying and failing again to extricate himself from the older man's grip. "Let go of me!"
"I will not," Lucius said sternly. He walked on, seeking an area that was out of sight to both Draco and Narcissa. "This is very important, Harry," Lucius continued, still in his sternest voice, "and at the very least, you can expect a stern lecture from me in future if you cannot seem to change your habits of self care to include eating a minimum of three proper meals each day and sleeping at least eight hours each night."
Harry finally succeeded in wrenching his arm out of the older man's grip. He turned to stalk off toward the apparation site, but was stopped in his tracks by the commanding tone of his pseudo guardian.
"You will do me the courtesy of having a civil discussion about this, young man."
Harry turned to face Lucius Malfoy, a wash of defeat flowing over him, making him feel trapped and helpless in a way he'd not felt in some time. He didn't question that Lucius would follow through with some form of consequence if he refused to comply, and suddenly wondered if he might even find himself getting spanked like a bratty child if he pushed his luck. But since Harry really didn't want to walk away from the bond that had grown between him and the Malfoys, he realized he either had to have this conversation or find out what Lucius would do to him if he refused.
"Harry, can you not see why I am forcing this issue with you, son?"
"I'm not trying to harm myself-" Harry tried to be defiant and unyielding, but he couldn't help but be affected by the shift to kindness in Lucius' question. "Lucius, I honestly can't eat a lot of the time. I get sick to my stomach."
"Yes, I'm sure you do," Lucius agreed. "And, I'll bet you have terrible nightmares that affect your sleep as well, don't you?"
"Yeah," Harry said, calming a bit.
"Harry, you are eighteen years old, already a year into your legal majority."
"You are the only one who can make your health a priority. You realize, you could choose to reduce your efforts at Hogwarts just enough to relax your mind and body so that you can get sufficient rest and eat properly. It's that simple. Work less if your appetite is so badly affected. If you have bad dreams and lose sleep, take extra time for a nap during the day to help to compensate. You must cease the practice of existing on poor nutrition and little rest. That's all you have to do, young man. No one is going to think less of you, or that you're not doing enough."
"How do you know?"
"I've told you before, foolish boy, that you are deeply loved and cared for by many." Lucius gave in to the urge to pull Harry into a tight hug. "And I count myself among them." He was gratified when Harry yielded to the embrace, and after a few seconds was leaning into him and circling his arms around Lucius' middle.
For Lucius, this kind of concession in a battle of wills was a conquest in its own right, but he was immeasurably relieved that the boy had come around. Still worried, he pressed on, "Have I made my point, son?" He couldn't see Harry's face, but was aware of his chest heaving and could see the boy was swiping at his eyes. Lucius rubbed Harry's back. "Your state of health is important enough for me to go to great lengths to convince you to take better care. Do you understand this, Harry?"
"No one ever has before," came the hurt response.
"And that is a horrible shame, but it is something that cannot be changed in your past. I care now, son. Try to look forward, alright?" he waited for Harry's responding nod against his shoulder before continuing. "Everyone in our world was affected by Voldemort's invasion, and many of us were powerless, and at our very worst because of it. But there is no such peril in the world now. You can take the time to let yourself feel better." Lucius was trying not to falter. It seemed like the boy was listening and taking comfort in the embrace, but… he continued, hoping he wasn't rambling, "And while by helping repair Hogwarts, you are doing your part in rebuilding our society, no one would want you to compromise your health to do so, Harry. There's no call for it now. The worst of it is over. You can slow down and pace yourself. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded again, but he was still upset.
"Tell me what hurts you right now, Harry."
"I've been feeling like I don't fit in anywhere," Harry said brokenly. "Sometimes I feel like I should go live in muggle London, or maybe the States. Just start completely over, where no one knows anything about me."
Lucius could feel his heart breaking at the idea of Harry leaving. "I don't blame you for your thoughts, but do feel compelled to correct you and say that you fit in quite nicely right here, with us. Nonetheless, I beg you to trust me when I say that before you make such a major change, you need to get your health back in balance."
The boy was pulling away from him by the time he finished.
"I do trust you, sir. You've been really great, so I want you to know I'm grateful, okay?" The words were heartfelt, but Harry had visibly put up an emotional wall.
Now Lucius' eyes filled. "Please don't give up, son,” he said earnestly.
Harry gave a little smile, but it didn't reach his eyes. "I like that you call me son." He stepped away and took a few more steps backward, putting distance between them. "Tell Narcissa goodbye and thank you, and Draco, will you?"
Lucius nodded. "Harry-"
"You did the right thing, sir. I need to get things together, and I'm going to do better, I promise. But you made me think about stuff that I can't talk about right now."
Lucius frowned. "We'll see you next Sunday?"
"Of course, sir." Harry's eyes filled again. "I'm sorry I'm such a pain in the arse." With that, he turned and ran to the apparation area and popped out of view.
Harry did indeed return the following week, and he was pleasant and truthful when he said he'd managed to eat three meals each day and had been in bed for eight hours each night. But it had been hard for him to do, and there were no visible signs of improvement yet. The senior Malfoys noted the continued detachment that Harry exuded, but decided to give him time to make the changes he needed to make. They chatted about easy things until Draco shocked them all by suggesting they go to the muggle cinema the following weekend, and to dine out in muggle London.
And they did just that, meeting outside of Diagon Alley, everyone dressed muggle casual, blending right in. It was then up to Harry to show them the way to the theatre and purchase tickets to an American romantic comedy that they all enjoyed for different reasons. Lucius took the lead on the dinner out and they enjoyed a nice meal together to finish off the evening.