[personal profile] lrthunder82 posting in [community profile] hp_mhealthfest

So, here I am. First floor, corridor on the left, last door on the right – that’s where the pretty young witch at reception in St. Mungo’s instructed me to go when I showed her the paper on which my son had scribbled: Post-traumatic maladies and disorders. What a strange name to call it – yet oddly fitting. I try to steel my nerves and remind myself that I’m a Malfoy… Draco Malfoy, who had survived the Dark Lord’s embrace and his continued presence in my home for months, and that tiny little informative visit at St. Mungo’s was nothing by comparison. But I know myself too well to persist in lying. I’m here for help – and this, to say the least, is disconcerting.

But in the end, I have no choice. I’ve come this far, have I not? To be honest, I expect nothing, no benefit, from this … treatment, but at least I will have something to tell Scorpius should he inquire about it in the evening. That boy… I don’t know how I, the epitome of selfishness, managed to raise a boy like that. It’s been a couple of months since he moved out, and he still fire-calls as often as he can to check on me, bless his heart. And he visits, too.

“Saturday afternoons are yours, Father, as much as the Sunday lunches belong to the Weasley family,” he always says with that sweet smile of his that almost makes me doubt my paternity. It’s almost surreal to look into my eyes, shining brightly on my face – because there’s barely a trace of Astoria in him – and see a smile on it that is so kind and sweet that it nearly erases all the Malfoyness out of him. My boy is beautiful in a way I never knew how to be. I’m doing this for him. So he can have a father he can still be proud of, if only very privately.

So I force myself to lift my hand and I knock on the door. I’ve never felt more like running since the war ended. But I stay. For him. For my son. Because he deserves better than the disintegrating person I’ve become.

I’m so deeply immersed in myself, it takes me a few moments before I notice there hasn’t been any reply to my knocking. I make my fingers rap on the door again, silently promising myself that I will leave if there’s no answer this time either. There isn’t one. And in the end, it simply annoys me too much. Malfoys aren’t meant to wait, and even with what the years have done to the Malfoy name and to me, I’m still a true heir to the name. I decide to try the door just once, come what may. And it opens for me smoothly, as if I was welcome all along.

The first thing I see stops me dead in my tracks. My eyes catch on a river of long coppery hair, glowing and glittering like some untouchable treasure of old under the late afternoon sun, and the imagery is so magical and surreal, it leaves me dazed. I’ve always had a thing for beauty, and this thing… the scenery, the setting sun making a curtain of long red hair look as if a fountain of fire in the middle of the room had come to life, is by far one of the most sublime things I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s like visual magic, and I can’t take my eyes off the person – clearly a man, judging by the width of the shoulders – leaning forward onto his folded arms, resting on the table, and dozing away. He makes a stunning sight. And… there is something else. His face is tucked into his folded arms, and though I can’t see it, his sleep makes him look… guileless. I realise it gives me just the sense of control I’ve craved badly, and which I could never hope to get once I crossed the threshold into this place. Somehow, he made me feel safe just by being there, sleeping, as if this was a safe place to sleep. If only I could have that once more… that sort of peace of mind. But that’s what I’m here for, am I not?

I take a step further and I close the door behind me, only a little surprised when I hear the lock click – apparently the self-locking charm is a standard feature to this particular door, yet it had opened for me so easily… Unsure how to proceed, I take a look around the medium-sized room, and I find myself strangely comforted by how airy and… homey it is. One wall is almost completely covered with large, semi-circular windows, and the shelves carved into the thick wall underneath them are adorned with cushions, as if they were inviting a visitor to come and have a seat and absorb the light.

There’s certainly light aplenty, and the furniture seems more befitting of a one-room flat rather than St. Mungo’s clinic. A slightly worn out sofa in front of the fireplace occupying one corner looks so wonderfully comfortable it’s practically calling the name of my exhausted self. Against the opposite wall, covered from top to bottom in bookshelves, there is a small working desk that appears to be overloaded with papers and strange instruments I can think of no use for. But the true centre of the room seems to be a round coffee table with a scratched wooden top, surrounded by a number of cosy-looking recliners, and that fixture is currently hosting the redheaded piece of art. It’s all so… not sterile, almost friendly, and oddly welcoming, like a relaxing study room - not unlike my own - rather than a hospital. It’s nothing like what I expected… and feared, if I’m entirely honest. It’s almost… pleasant.

And then it dawns on me that I might be at the wrong place altogether. Of course, that must be it! I had wandered into someone’s private quarters, and I would be considered an intruder by their rightful residents. I must have misunderstood the receptionist – as scatterbrained as I was lately it was not improbable. I should really be leaving – only I don’t. I try looking elsewhere, I truly do, but my eyes are constantly being pulled towards the mesmerising centrepiece of the room: the intriguing man resting his head on the table like the proverbial Sleeping Beauty, making the room glow with his presence alone.

He’s made me curious about him, even though he is merely resting there in a world of his own. Are these his quarters? Is he the Healer? My Healer; the Healer I came to see? Surely not! I can’t see his face, so there’s no way for me to tell his age, but something about him seems young… A patient, perhaps? Waiting for someone? Residing here? Oh, the door probably wouldn’t let me go out anyway – perhaps I could find out? Have I mentioned that I have a bit of an obsessive personality? Well… yes, yes I do. I have issues letting things go, even when I really should. So – perhaps if I stayed just a bit longer…

I cough discreetly, just the way I was taught by my mother. I’m fairly certain it won’t work, but at least it will give me the impression that I tried to wake him up politely. But much to my surprise, the coppery head jerks up immediately and turns towards me… and I find myself staring into a pair of the most brilliant blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Honestly, they’re like… jewels. He’s a redhead, of course it was to be expected he would have blue eyes… but perhaps not quite so blue. They’re positively piercing against his creamy skin and a multitude of golden freckles… and he is young – surely too young to be a Healer! And he is… well, shockingly… attractive.

Oh, I suppose he couldn’t be considered classically beautiful, not with the waist-length copper-red hair and those galaxies of freckles, but to me… he just might be the most breathtaking thing I’ve ever encountered. Remember those preferences I mentioned not being compatible with the image of my wife? Well, a magnificent redhead with eyes like summer skies might be the perfect match for them. Yes, uhm, a male one. Don’t even get me started on that. I’ve lost enough sleep over that as it is, and it didn’t change a damn thing. Luckily, I’ve become such an anti-social recluse that I was rarely tempted to take any steps in that direction… and I certainly can’t remember ever being as intrigued as right now when those hypnotic blue gems are on me. I’ve never actually… Merlin’s glory, what am I thinking?! I wouldn’t dare make advances, surely not! Not now, God forbid, no, this is St. Mungo’s, for god’s sake, I came here for a proper reason, and yet… I seem to have forgotten how to form thoughts for a moment there…

“I apologise for intruding on you… and your rest…” I start, just to say something, but though my voice has the same cool, slightly bored quality to it that I schooled into it decades ago, I barely know what will jump out of my mouth.

“I was wondering… are you waiting for a Healer?”

This… misery is all my stuttering brain can come up with. And I’m still shamelessly devouring him with my eyes, as if my mental self-reproach hasn’t left the faintest impression on my unruly behaviour. He’s… oh, must words fail me now?!... irresistible, perhaps?

As a response to my question, the soft, generous mouth curves up in a tiny, sexy smile that makes him look like a Kneazle that just woke up all warm and cuddly from his sleep, and as he shakes his marvellous head, the glittering river of that coppery-gold hair breaks into small rivulets of silken locks.

“Merlin, no… most certainly not,” he says, and it’s a proper shock how deep and melodic his voice is for someone so young. “But I was waiting for you. Mr. Malfoy, right? Your son said to expect you. I was supposed to receive you and introduce you to the procedure of treatment, but… uhm, look, I’m sorry I fell asleep like this,” he briefly rubs his face with his hands, and I get a chance to large, elegant palms, with long, strong fingers that make him look masterful. Did I mention that hands like these just happen to be another one of my weaknesses?

But then those gem-like eyes are back on me, and… Merlin, they’re just… so deep, and so very blue… and hopelessly distracting. I really should stop looking into his eyes; I can barely register what he’s saying! Words seem to reach me with a bit of delay, and it feels as if my tired brain is taking its bloody time to process them. I find it hard to look away. It’s like I’m spellbound.

“…but they’re working us like the house-elves of old, and I haven’t been home to rest in about three days straight. Still, I’m sorry I wasn’t more helpful; I should have known better than to fall asleep at my work. Merlin… if my mother hears about this, she’ll scold the ears off me!” the redhead murmurs, and his face scrunches up in a very boyish and… gods… adorable way.

I confess, a phrase like this one brings back some memories that make me hid a smile… but speaking of memories – there is something vaguely familiar about his appearance as well.

But before I can figure it out, he stands up, and it is as if a mountain has moved. With a swish of his wand, his gorgeous river of red hair is tied into neat plait, and it’s only then that I notice the robes identifying him as a Healer. In spite of his young face, I promptly forget about his age when he’s towering above me, a good half a head taller, and he’s so… in charge.

Jesus, I haven’t had that in years… someone to tell me what to do, to take the lead, the responsibility… to take the weight of my shoulders. But he is most definitely that kind of a person. I suppose his height alone makes an impression… but there’s more. There’s this invisible, bewitching aura about him that makes my knees weak and tells me I have no choice but to yield. God, how I crave that. I could never honestly confess that to myself, but I crave it. I’m no good on my own, though I’ve tried for so many years, but perhaps my father conditioned me to follow, not to lead… and now I need someone to lean on. And I’ve never felt it more acutely than in the proximity to this charismatic young man. I might as well accept my fate… and, oh god, his hand.

He’s just held it out to me for a proper introduction, and as good manners require, I have to look into his eyes as I accept it… I have to. It’s etiquette, you see. I also have to tilt my head up to take in his impressive height, and when my eyes find the hypnotic, diamond-blue orbs, I once again have that feeling – as if I can no longer look away. Is the little innocent smile he gives me supposed to make my breath hitch like this? I don’t know anymore. His commanding presence seems to be confusing all my senses.

“I’m Hugo. Hugo Weasley. Pleased to meet you... at last.”

Oh, god, yes… that was it. Of course he is. His father… yes. Merlin’s grace. Another Weasley. Obviously, it’ll take one of them to save me. But I promptly forget his name – and possibly my own – when those strong fingers close around my ice-cold hands. His giant hand engulfs mine like a warm blanket of comfort, and an unexpected wave of liquid, heady magic floods over me, so overpowering in its majestic, golden hue, I can barely keep my footing. Somehow I feel… lighter… elated… as if in that one surge has cleaned me and delivered all my problems into the hands of another. This young man… his magic is exceptional. I think he knows. He must know. I imagine that’s why he chose this profession. I know I’m just one of his potential patients… but at this moment, I don’t care. I desperately don’t want him to let go of my hand.

“Yes, I’m… pleased to meet you as well,” I finally manage to utter, but he doesn’t seem to mind my incoherence.

“I’m the Healer around here – that is, when I’m not sleeping,” he smiles a blissful smile that takes my breath away and leaves me utterly unprepared for what he says next. “So I’m yours for the afternoon,” he points out matter-of-factly, and his deep, melodic voice makes my inside quiver and resonate with some unknown emotion.

“You know, if you’ll still have me.”

I… forgive me, but I’m kind of not functioning properly on the inside… like I’m falling apart. I know that I should thank him politely, tell him I expected someone older – ask for someone else, for Heaven’s sake, anyone! – only I can’t. I can’t even take my eyes off him. I’ve always denied myself such… feelings – any kind of feelings, save those I have for my son – so to have them flood me now, with such overbearing, rich intensity is… I don’t even know how to deal with it. Why must all my weaknesses come back to haunt me in a moment like this?! But I’m utterly and completely unable to resist.

“Yes,” I croak out, somewhat desperate to put on some sort of appropriate façade. “I’ll… I’ll have you.”

Merlin’s golden aura, what am I saying? Could I be any more awkward?!

“That is to say… if my son thinks you’re the best for me… and my well-being… I trust his judgement.”

There. Merlin… I’ve barely made it. This is where the years of Malfoy drill in diplomacy and politeness come handy. I never knew I’d need those damn things again.

But it’s all in vain, because there’s already that killer smile back on his face, with a naughty tinge to it now, and when he tilts his head as if he’s appraising me, I wonder if he knows what he’s doing to me, how badly he affects me.

“Oh, good. Brilliant. I was hoping you’d say that. I guess…. Sum tuo aere, Mr. Malfoy.”

And I don’t know if the heat wave that rushes through me is from his amazing smile… or from his provocative words. I can literally feel my face flush – and that… is a rare occurrence.

“Do you…” flies out of my mouth before I can stop myself – and then I can’t not continue. “Do you even know what you said?”

The smile is back, but… oh, Merlin’s balls, it must be my imagination, but it kind of feels… private, challenging and charged, like it’s meant for my eyes only… and how I would even know such a thing is beyond me.

“My mother is Hermione Granger,” he says softly. “Do you really think I’d dare say something I didn’t understand?”

Oh, god… yes, there is that. Of course not.

“No… of course not. That’s not what I meant. I’m certain you understand the words… but I was wondering, how much do you know of their social… application?”

He doesn’t say anything right away. Instead, he bites his bottom lip, and I swear, my insides nearly liquefy, because it’s the sexiest fucking thing I’ve ever seen anyone do. Ever. He’s got these really full, soft lips, and seeing those white teeth scrape against them… Merlin’s horny balls, my fingertips are tingling with the desire to reach out and touch the decadently rosy, soft flesh. I need… saving. That’s what I need. I’m headed for a trainwreck.

But then he pulls me lightly towards the comfortable sofa, and only at that moment do I become aware that he’s still holding my hand. Well, this is embarrassing… only it isn’t. It’s anything but. It’s sending an unknown tingling sensation up my arm and all over my body, and it’s sensual… and mind-melting… and I dread the moment when it’s going to dissolve. But then the back of my knees hit the sofa, forcing me to sit down… and my heart nearly stops, because suddenly, he kneels in front of me, and just like that, his incredible face is just inches from mine. I could kiss him, I could… JesusMerlinfuck, what’s wrong with me?! He’s half my age; I shouldn’t be thinking that!

“Of course I am aware their social application,” he says, and there’s a clear amusement in that deep melodic voice. “Sum tua aere – I am yours for a copper – were the words found scribbled on the remains of the ancient Pompeii. They were essentially cheap propaganda by the dirt-poor prostitutes desperate to earn their living. It used to be a running joke between us, the Healer trainees around here, because they would work us to the bone for little more than lunch money.”

Oh… oh. I should have known better than to challenge Granger’s son. He could probably offer me the explanation in fluent Latin. There’s some serious intelligence hiding in the depths of those breathtaking, brilliant eyes…

“Mr. Malfoy…?”

What? Oh, god, I must have drifted away, staring into that universe of glittering blue… how very embarrassing.

“I’m so very sorry…” I try to croak out, but suddenly my throat is dry, and I no longer know what I was supposed to be sorry for.

He smiles, gently this time, and lifts his arm as if in a peace offering, and then he simply takes my other ice-cold hand into his large palms. I swear, it feels as if my body starts to buzz under his warm touch and proximity.

“You know… I really wanted you…” he says, nearly making my heart jump out of my chest for no sane reason whatsoever. “I mean… oh, bugger… I wanted your case,” he explains with a small apologetic smile, which is a completely good thing, because I have no business feeling things so confusing and… improper, they are better fitted to a teenager.

“Your son approached me about your… issues in complete confidentiality, I assure you. In such a circumstance, I’m bound to protect your privacy by magic. I’ve been giving your case a lot of thought, and I would really like to help you to get better. But before we start, there are perhaps a few things you need to know about me – well, mostly my methods. At any point - until you explicitly agree to participate - you would be perfectly within your rights to walk away from here, and look for a person that you perhaps consider better qualified to offer you proper treatment. But if you choose to stay – ”

He pauses for a moment as if he’s trying to stress the importance of what he is about to say, and I have to keep myself from swallowing and nodding already, because it would be embarrassing to confess that I can’t even consider leaving anymore. He is… it’s him I want. Oh, god, for treatment, that is. Merlin. Yes. Treatment.

“If you stay,” he says quietly, “I will do everything in my power to make you better. Believe it or not, I have an indication of the hell you’re going through. My family – my parents and my uncle Harry in particular – have had similar experiences since the war, and I know how hard they found it to cope. It is why I chose this profession.”

I never would have thought… but it makes perfect sense now that I think if it. No one was ever closer to that monster Voldemort than Potter. The word is, he once shared a part of his soul – and I shudder to think of the burden he must carry. I suppose the life of the Golden Trio wasn’t all sunshine and glory after the war, either.

Incomprehensibly, this knowledge makes me feel a bit better about being here… and I wonder if the blue-eyed angel shared that with me because he knew it would. Just how smart is he? Oh, scratch that. He’s Granger’s son, after all… and I’ve always suspected Weasley to have a rather clever brain under those goofy looks as well! It doesn’t matter. For my sake, he better be as clever as possible. So I look into the astute blue eyes and I nod.

“I understand,” I say. “I’m not your first case.”

“No, not by far,” he smiles in that tiny, private way of his, and it goes straight to my heart. “But as it is, you might be my worst. I was told that your experiences might have been much worse than those of my family… possibly by tenfold. Your son told me he didn’t have much detail to give me as you have kept your ordeal from him – but you would be required share it here. I need to know everything, in order to help you. You shouldn’t even consider trying to spare me, not out of the sense that something might be too gruesome for me, nor out of any residual guilt you might feel. You need to purge yourself of this burden, and this is the place to do it safely, and I’m the person to help you. I promised Scorpius, who is practically family already, to dedicate all of my abilities and knowledge to help you, but you have to do the work.”

You know, this is hard. A part of me is absolutely petrified. The very thought of having to relive my night horrors, possibly in a state of awareness, fills me with icy dread. But then, there are his hands wrapped around mine – his warm, big wonderful hands that feel like a protective shield around me – and somehow, I think I could do it. I can’t go on living like this. Eventually, I would self-destruct, by chance or ill intent, and rob my son of having a father. I want to get better. For my son, and perhaps… perhaps even for myself?

So I nod again. No words come out this time. But he understands anyway. He smiles again, gently this time, and he’s got an absolutely beautiful smile. It turns his eyes into blue sparkles and it’s so… warm and comforting. The way it brightens up his face, it makes me feel as if it’s his purpose and a special kind of privilege to see him shed the light he’s filled with onto this world.

“I know this is hard for you,” he says softly. “You’ll have a chance to reconsider. But to be able to fully assess the situation, you need to know a thing or two about me and about how I work. That’s how trust is built, and I don’t want you to bind yourself to something you wouldn’t be comfortable with.”

I... love this. I love how he takes his time to help me relax, how… personal he makes it, even though his words are nothing but strictly professional. I love it how in charge he is, how he clearly knows what he’s doing. He must have noticed my silent approval, because the tiny, sweet smile in the corner of his lovely mouth is back, and suddenly my fingers are itching to fix a loose strand of coppery hair behind his ear. Merlin… what is happening to me? When he speaks again, the sound of his voice is a most welcome distraction from the mess in my head.

“As you might have noticed, my methods, my approach, even this place, they’re… it’s all very unorthodox, to put it mildly. But that doesn’t make me any less qualified,” he says simply, with that firm, matter-of-fact confidence that comes with the truth.

“You see, I’ve been doing this since I was sixteen. While my friends and family spent carefree summer holidays playing Quidditch and resting, my mother had arranged for me – upon my request – to spend weeks in practice here, at St. Mungo’s, as well as in Muggle institutions for people with mental disorders. No job was too menial or too challenging for me; I’ve done it all to be able to learn - and learn I did. I learned about the state the patients were in when they were admitted, about the spells and medication available to make a difference, and how those helped improve their health until they were fit for discharge. I’ve learned to determine the symptoms common to a certain type of patient, the variations of their disorders, the theoretical and practical approaches to improve the broken state of mind they were in. I still make it my business to keep up with any new breakthrough methods that have promising results, and I’ve implemented a few procedures of my own that appear to have good results… but I’m boring you, surely,” he says with that slightly embarrassed, enthusiastic smile that says he could probably talk for hours on the subject.

“To put it simply: I wanted to know everything there is to know, take the best from both worlds, to help them. I worked as hard as I could to obtain all the necessary official qualifications – and degrees, as they call them in the Muggle world – to start my own work in this field and combine both approaches. And yet… In my time here, I’ve encountered lots – and I mean lots, Mr. Malfoy – of prejudice, objections, and even all-out rebellion towards mixing the healing practices from the two worlds.”

He pauses and looks deep into my eyes at these words and I’m only slightly shocked to realise that I’m staring at an old soul, the soul of a fierce warrior residing within those enchanting eyes – and I’m clearly being challenged. In spite of his gentle manners, this young man is a force to be reckoned with; I have no doubt whatsoever about that.

So I swallow, and say the words to remove all doubt:

“You won’t get that from me. I’ve learned my lesson. My parents… they’re too old to change their ways, but I’ve made sure that my… altered opinions, reflect in the way I raised my son.”

Once again, his face lights up in that smile that makes my blood surge.

“Thank you,” he says simply. “I’m happy you helped me clear that up. An open mind is a wonderful thing, Mr Malfoy, and I really appreciate you giving me a chance to prove myself. Not everyone has been so gracious. But you see, I’m not a quitter, and my parents taught me that sometimes doing the right thing means standing alone. And in my case, enough people were eventually desperate for help – any kind of help – to give my approach a chance, and with time, it began showing some very good results. Your son can testify to those if you wish, but I believe it speaks for itself that last year, the Ministry agreed to let me open a department dedicated strictly to people with problems similar to yours: people who have not been born with any kind of mental disorder, but have developed one due to their life experiences, usually so damaging and immensely traumatic that they are still feeling the consequences years later.”

How does he know all that? How come it is so easy for him to put into words the very thing that is wrong with me? Oh, he’s just... impressive, isn’t he? Clearly as much of an overachiever as his mother ever was, and so much more than just bloody gorgeous. He seems genuinely dedicated to this cause. Perhaps it’s the sincerity of his efforts that leaves such an impression. I’ve just realised that in spite of his youth, he’s made me trust him. I never once doubted him because of his youth and it’s a bit surprising how very unquestionable I find his authority. It’s myself I’m not so sure of. Can I do this?

“You know, one of the first cases my supervisor here had me see was the Longbottoms,” he speaks quietly, and there’s a tinge of sadness in his voice now. “He was a very wise man. He told me he wanted me to see the effects of magic at its darkest… and to understand that there are limits to healing magic. There would always be people who would be beyond my help – and I had no future in this profession if I was not willing to accept that.”

Oh, god… the Longbottoms. I’ve heard of them, of course I have, and I swear I wouldn’t have had the stomach to treat poor Neville as badly as I did if I’d known half the story back then. Merlin, it was difficult to imagine they were still alive after what my mad aunt had put them through. She certainly bragged about it often enough, especially when she got sloshed on my father’s expensive Firewhisky, so I had more than just a vague idea about what she had reduced them to. To have one’s life so utterly ruined like that… my chest unexpectedly constricts with the wave of shame and disgust that floods over me, and suddenly it feels as if my lungs can’t get enough air. But before I can succumb to a full-fledged panic attack, there’s a cold glass pressed against my lips, and the refreshing feeling of water feels like salvation.

“There you go… drink it all up, but do it slowly,” the redheaded angel says calmly, and then smiles. “Healer’s orders.”

I’m drinking in small, greedy sips, as ordered, and gradually, some sense of normality returns. Merlin, this is embarrassing. Only, he doesn’t seem to think so. He’s watching me attentively, with care, and I try to suppress the shiver that runs through me when he takes the empty glass away from me and our hands touch. And just like that, his fingers are wrapped around mine again, and I can’t help myself: I smile gratefully. I’m not beyond using any kind of support I can get. Not to mention that I love the feeling of his hands around mine.

“We need to figure out eventually what triggers these outbursts,” he murmurs to himself, but then he notices my eyes on him and he inquires quickly, with genuine concern in his voice:

“Are you feeling any better? We could continue another time…”

This… is simply not an option. Not only would I have to tell my Scorpius that I’ve failed spectacularly and embarrassed myself, I’d also have to leave… pull my hands out of his and be on my own again – and I wasn’t quite ready to do that yet.

“No, I’m… Thank you for your concern, but I’ll be fine,” I say hastily, desperate to gain some of my usual composure. “I’m terribly sorry about this fit. Please, go on. I wish to know more about you… that is, your work, if I am to become your… charge, is it?”

“Charge it is,” he smiles. “If you’re still willing and ready.”

“I… yes, of course. You have yet to say something that would have me storm out of this room,” I blurt out, and it earns me another smile and a tilt of his head in that lovely, elegant way, as if he’s graciously accepting my masked compliment.

“Thank you for your trust,” he says simply. “I will do my best to earn it.”

But then the look in his eyes turns contemplative and serious, and I gulp quietly, knowing that whatever is coming isn’t going to be easy to take.

“Look, I do realise that talking about the Longbottoms makes you uncomfortable,” he speaks quietly, but firmly. “But I’m afraid there is no way to avoid the territory of the uncomfortable, painful, regretful and frightening here. This is what we will do here, this is what we need to tackle; these are the feelings you need to face, stand up to, and hopefully purge from your system. Nothing else will do. Bottling up your memories and your emotions, however scary and negative, is what brought you here. Hiding from them is what is haunting you, Mr Malfoy. So if you decide you wish to go on with it, we’ll talk about everything that made you this way during our sessions. No topic is off limits, nothing is too sacred, too shameful, too painful – because you no longer need to put yourself through what you’ve already lived through once. It is in your past and this is where you need to let it rest. Sometimes it takes a while to embrace the idea that it’s time to let go and to stop punishing yourself, but if you are completely honest with me and with yourself, we’ll get there in end.”

I… believe him. I’m not… I can’t feel it yet, I’m not quite ready to embrace the idea of my own salvation yet, but those warm hands around mine say that I can do this.

“Whatever you think you deserve – or don’t deserve – it’s time to accept that you’re still here, that you survived and got a chance to still have a future,” his warm voice reaches me through my scrambled thoughts, and I look up into his eyes again. I so need what they’re promising.

“This is more than what the Longbottoms have,” he says simply and involuntary shiver ripples through me again at the thought of their fate, and this one I can’t conceal. His hands grip more firmly around mine, and I can feel the strength he’s pouring into me.

“You know, I told my uncle Harry the same as I’m going to tell you: all the survivors like yourself owe it to the people like Alice and Frank to have a good life. They have been my hardest, and most valuable lesson. To me, they are so much more than just a reminder of the limits to the healing magic. I visit them once a week to remind myself that the Healer’s work is never done. I’ve recently obtained their son’s permission to try a new therapy with Muggle medication on them, and I’m ready to start the trials next week. You see, I never give up on my patients entirely. They might be beyond my help for now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring. I believe there’s always a way to improve their lives and the lives of those who care. The one thing that makes the patients respond universally, even if only on the most minute levels, is genuine care... and, of course, love.”

And I confess that my heart nearly stops at those words. I know he doesn’t mean them like that - he can’t - but it feels as if they are meant specifically for me. I’m very possibly completely scrambled.

“I accept that some patients might be beyond my help, but no one is beyond hope,” he speaks thoughtfully and smiles warmly. “And whether you choose to start your treatment with me or not – I can already tell you that you aren’t. You can be helped, Mr Malfoy. By me or someone else. I’m not your only option, but I’ll be honoured if you place your trust in me.”

I won’t see anyone but you.

I nearly say that aloud.

I want it to be you.

That as well.

But I can barely help myself. It’s like I’ve reached the point of breaking, and suddenly I can’t imagine going on by myself. And I want him to be the one. I can barely believe he’s real. If he was a prophet, he’d have crowds following him. I’ve never seen so much quiet power reside inside any one person, and mind you, I knew powerful wizards galore, up close and personal. His power is not the flashy kind that turns heads, but is like a solid, unbreakable force that dwells inside him, ready and up to any collision. He’s… magnificent. And I so want to lean closer and taste those words of hope on that soft mouth… perhaps surrender all my troubles to that incredible smile and have myself wrapped in those soothing hands. I’m desperate for contact, desperate to fall apart and let go, desperate to give in…

“I want to…”

JesusMerlin, stop, Draco, you tired fool, stop! What on Earth?!

“I would like to take you up on your offer and begin the treatment.”

Even when I should clearly be running. Barely another save there. Merlin, what’s wrong with me?!

He doesn’t reply anything at first, just tilts his head gently and observes me carefully, and then nods subtly, as if he reached a conclusion.

“You’re exhausted, aren’t you? I doubt that you can make a well thought out, solid decision in your current state. You need sleep. Given the state you’re in, I can’t have you spending another nightmare-riddled night. You could hurt yourself. You’re going to have to stay here – and give me your answer when you’re well rested. If you are still of the same opinion then, I will tell you a bit more about how we’ll proceed.”

Before I can object in my muddled state of mind, he gently pushes my shoulders backwards onto the pillows he literally charms out of nowhere, and suddenly my whole body is resting on that ridiculously comfortable sofa, and it’s the most incredible, airy feeling ever. It’s like I’m floating on a cloud, and my eyes are nearly closing already. I make one last attempt to focus on his face, only to see him smile gently:

“You’re in for a relaxing night, Mr. Malfoy. This sofa has been charmed by my Uncle Bill, the Senior Curse-Breaker at Gringotts, to keep all malicious spells and nightmares at bay, and I keep it here only for emergencies like yours. Sleep tight. I want you well rested, and we’ll talk when you’re awake again. I’ll watch over you.”

The last thing I remember is the feeling of his warm hand covering mine, and another hand gently sweeping across my brow: “Sleep.”

And I did.

Part 3
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