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

This… is the most heavenly feeling ever. Every muscle in my body is relaxed, warm, and free of pain, and my head is wonderfully empty of pressure and sort of… clean. It feels as if the black, soaking cloud of depression that has been hanging over my head for the last few months is suddenly gone, and the steely halo of nervous tension that had given me a constant dull headache has lifted, and I can breathe deeper. I don’t want to open my eyes yet. I want to enjoy these moments of freedom for as long as I can. This is… perfect. I want to keep this feeling. I want to keep waking up like this… so that probably means I have to do this… this therapy thing. At least I have him to help me.

Hugo.

God, he’s stunning. I can admit that to myself now that I’m thinking straight again. Those piercing, charismatic diamond-blue eyes. That gentle, alluring, caring smile. Those wonderful magical hands. Another gorgeous Weasley in my life. But this one is mine. Fuck me if I know what I mean with that thought, but it feels right. I’m clear-headed for once, and nothing is more obvious to me than the fact that I need to keep him around. He is the right one… you know, for the job.

And no, it isn’t just because I find him ridiculously attractive. He is so much more than his looks. He simply breathes authority; he seems intuitive, kind and genuinely dedicated to his profession – they wouldn’t put just anyone in charge of their own department at… whatever age he is. And his glorious, golden magic… oh, don’t even get me started on that! It is almost palpable… so soothing and vitalizing all in one, extraordinary… simply out of this world. My thoughts keep flying back to the moment when our hands connected, and it surged through me like a warm tide, chasing away the numbing pain and bitter frost settled in my stiff, tired limbs, as if they were no match for such a magnificent force. If there is anyone who could chase my demons away, it is him. Yes, he is most definitely the right choice.

I’m just going to have to look past my unhealthy, uncalled for… infatuation. It’s not like I could do anything about it when our relationship is about to become professional, no… and I doubt that he would want me to! He is insanely good-looking – surely he must have suitors galore! Tons of them… probably female… probably half my age. He was Ron Weasley’s son, for heaven’s sake… Merlin, when did I get so old?!

So, no. I had to find a way to keep my feelings under control and focus on my treatment. I was here to get better, and he could help. Right. Our relationship was going to be strictly professional.

Not entirely happy with the decision I made, but out of other options, I open my eyes to a world flooded with the golden light of the morning sun – and I instantly forget all my sensible, well-meant decisions. He’s still by my side as if he never left, his hands wrapped around mine, and his pretty fiery head is resting on the edge of the sofa. He’s once again sleeping. His stunning face is inches from my own, and the even breath escaping those soft lips teases my skin into goosebumps. He’s unbearably beautiful like this. My fingers are literally itching to sink into the silken, golden-red hair, and those lips… god help me. My kingdom for a touch of them....

Merlin’s screeching dragon… I was wrong. I’m still very much scrambled. There is no way that feeling so attracted to someone that you’d actually contemplate stealing a kiss while they’re sleeping is normal. It’s a good thing I’ve already decided that I needed help…

And as if he could hear my thoughts, his magical eyes open, and for a moment we’re just staring into each other’s eyes. I’m… gods… he’s… I can’t even breathe right. And then he smiles. JesusMerlin… well, goodbye, sanity. So much for my level-headed decision not to drool over him.

“Merlin’s grace, I’ve done it again, haven’t I?” he speaks in that warm, sleep-addled voice that makes me buzz on the inside. “I haven’t really got an excuse. Just that you’ve been sleeping for nearly… forty hours now, and I’ve been by your side for most of the time.”

Forty hours!? I was out for nearly two days?! And he had been here with me, keeping me safe. Just like he promised. Something that feels like molten gold seems to spread inside my chest, and I suddenly feel ridiculously happy. Of course it’s too good to last.

He straightens up, and I have to stop my twitching hand from reaching out and pulling him back down onto the sofa because… oh, damn, because it feels as if he belongs by my side. That is possibly the most insane idea I’ve ever had, but my eyes follow him as if I’m hypnotised.

“I only left you when your son came to visit,” he rubs those elegant hands across his face again. “I needed to run some errands and, you know, offer my family proof of life – my dad had already threatened to come over and check my pulse. So I left you in your son’s care for a couple of hours, and I came back as soon as I could. You were asleep this whole time, but I wouldn’t call it wasted. I sat by your side to make some observations, but I suppose in the end my fatigue got the better of me,” he shrugs, but he sounds disappointed with himself. “I suppose it’ll be a miracle now if you decide to stay with me.”

I’d love to stay with him. Oh, I know perfectly well what he means, but you know… I’d love to stay. In any way he is willing to have me.

“I’ll stay. That is… after thorough consideration – and a most beneficial sleep that fully recovered my ability to pass judgement – I have decided to take you up on your generous offer. I would be very much willing to become your… charge. If you’ll have me.”

An absolutely beautiful radiant smile stretches his lips, leaving me breathless, and it was worth saying yes for that brilliant wonder alone.

“I’ll have you,” he says warmly, and when he looks into my eyes, my silly old heart begins doing some strange flip-flops that make me feel lightheaded. “In fact, I’m more than happy to accept you as my charge, a very special one. No more sleeping for me; I promise to take good care of you. In fact…”

He makes a small booklet whoosh into his hand with such a fast surge of invisible magic that I have to employ all my schooled coolness to stop my jaw from dropping onto the ground. Clearly, nonverbal spells are another one of his specialties.

“… we can start right away. Nothing too sophisticated for the first time, I don’t want to scare you away. Just a few questions to break the ice and see where to head next.”

Damn. I suppose I’ll have to…

“No… don’t. I mean, you don’t have to,” he says quickly when I make an attempt to get up. “You can keep lying down if you prefer. I’m afraid the charms on this sofa are only fully activated when one is sleeping, but it’s still pretty comfy for a sofa, and you look as if you can use all the rest you can get. Besides, people tend to give me more straightforward answers when they’re comfortable,” he smiles, and I collapse back into a lying position with such speed it’s embarrassing. Oh, I’m just so ridiculously grateful that I don’t have to get up just yet. This is so unbelievably nice. The comfortable sofa. That pleasant buzz of warmth and energy flowing through my body. His proximity. Oh, yes, I’ve got more than one reason not to want to move. I feel those blue orbs on me, and when our eyes meet, he smiles kindly.

“You know, I noticed something, when I was observing you in your sleep – I wasn’t actually sleeping near you the whole time, imagine that. For the first thirty or so hours, you slept like the dead, no moving whatsoever – in fact, I made it my business to check for your breath regularly, as it wouldn’t be the first time that patients had problems taking their next breath due to extreme exhaustion. And you, Mr. Malfoy, were one of the most extreme cases I’ve ever seen. My guess is you’ve only ever slept when you’ve medicated yourself, is that correct?”

“Yes,” I admit, and right now, I’m not feeling too proud of myself. I was a fool not to seek help sooner – any, well, fool can see that. I suppose I was too tired and my judgement was too clouded to even make that call. “I’ve taken Sleeping Draught, mostly. I’ve been making it myself, and sometimes…”

My voice disappears. I doubt I’ve ever felt stupider in my life.

“The Draught of Living Death?” he guesses correctly, and I nod with a knot in my throat.

“I guessed as much,” he nods thoughtfully and makes a note into his little booklet. “The deadly pallor, the loss of concentration during our conversation… You’re a skilled potioneer, your son tells me, so I know you were aware of the effects and consequences. I can only suppose you were desperate.”

There is no judgement in his voice, not even surprise, just a simple acceptance of fact, as if he genuinely understands how bad it can get, and my relief is such that the words just pour out of my mouth before I could stop them:

“Yes! You see, it was the only thing that worked in the end. Complete oblivion, that’s what I was after. Anything less than that…”

I swallow. In the brilliant golden light of the sunny morning it was hard to imagine the nightly horrors that plagued me – or maybe it was this charmed sofa of his that made it hard to recall, but I knew that it was bad, I knew it. I just couldn’t put it into words.

His warm hands find their way onto mine, and their gorgeous, soothing warmth is something I crave desperately. I turn my hands upwards so that our fingers intertwine, and I’m holding on for dear life. I don’t even care how embarrassing this all is. In this beautiful golden day, my fragile armour of defence is cracking, and I need something – someone to hold me together before I shatter. And he takes on the job without holding back for a second.

“Close your eyes,” he orders in that warm, authoritative voice that expresses so well that he has my best interest at heart. I wouldn’t dare object. “Now breathe in… and out. Slowly. That’s it. In – and out. You’re doing very well, Mr. Malfoy. No one can reach you here, not through space or time. You’re safe, even from yourself. I promised to keep you safe, and that’s what I’m here for. That’s it, you’re doing wonderfully. Just hold on to me, it’ll be over soon.”

One of his warm hands is suddenly on top of my madly beating heart, and its calming effect is pure magic. I can feel the heat of his skin burning through my thin shirt, and the feeling is so reassuring and relaxing that my erratic heartbeat begins to slow its mad racing. I focus on his powerful, warm presence anchoring me, protecting me. I… oh, god help me, but I imagine him wrapped around me, shielding me, and I completely melt at the thought. I can’t lie to myself – his intoxicating presence is turning into a proper need of mine.

“How do you know… that this… your hands… how can you possibly know that it helps?” I finally blurt out when the worst of it is over. I’m fully prepared to babble to cover up for my embarrassment, because it is simply overwhelming. I can’t even imagine what a wimp he must take me for.

“Because it helped before,” he replies kindly. “You might have slept calmly through three quarters of your exhaustion, but in spite of the powerful charms on this bed, you got restless towards the end. I guessed that you were going through some immensely powerful experiences that my uncle’s charms barely kept at bay – and as soon as I placed my hand on yours, you relaxed considerably. You respond intensely to human touch, and perhaps even in your dream, it made a difference that you didn’t feel alone. You are doing perfectly well now, Mr. Malfoy. You can open your eyes now.”

I do so reluctantly, because this was just… oh, too bloody nice, but then I find those blue-diamond orbs already on me, and somehow, I no longer care about having my eyes closed. He’s just… Merlin, yes. I need to soak up whatever little of him I can get.

“We won’t be long now,” he speaks with that reassuring smile. “Just a few more questions, and you’ll be free to go. I would very much like to determine what triggers those panic attacks of yours, because living alone – as your son tells me you do – they could be dangerous. At the very least, they must be debilitating – you’ve had two since you got here, and I imagine you would have had a few more if you weren’t under the protective spells. I’m fairly certain they don’t happen spontaneously. Have you had them for long?”

“Well…” I swallow thickly because this is it. I didn’t come here to lie. When I speak next, my voice is barely audible.

“I had a few when I was a child. The manor – my home – can be scary, and my father was not averse to a somewhat harsh upbringing. His disciplinary techniques included having me spend time in the dungeon, sometimes for hours at time. For a while, I was absolutely petrified of the dark. To this day, my worst memories are tied to the darkness.”

A particular memory jumps into my head, and I can’t help but think bitterly that perhaps that was how it all began.

“They made us look for a wounded unicorn in our first year at Hogwarts, Potter and I, did you know? Oh, I suppose you do. Everything about Potter is in about a million books. But you don’t know that I was scared stupid. I wasn’t half as brave as he was. Half of my empty bravado was just that. There was no real courage or confidence underneath. My father couldn’t help me there. Nor could my oafish friends. No one could. No one cared.”

It’s strange how after all these years, my throat is so easily choked by that same feeling of helplessness rushing in, that pervaded me back then. It seems to be the recurring theme of my life. I’m not much better off now than I was back then. I’m still too easily unsettled and too damn fragile.

“Uncle Harry would have defended you with everything he had… even though you were anything but friends. But you couldn’t have known that back then,” he says quietly. “You must have felt dreadfully threatened and exposed.”

“Yes… precisely.”

I close my eyes again to get a grip on myself, but instead I am ambushed by a shockingly sharp shard of memory – my 11-year-old self, facing the dark shape feeding on silvery unicorn blood with obscene slurping noises, and my fingers clutch Hugo’s hands with such force that I’m sure my nails must have left an imprint. When I speak again, my words are just a flood of anguish.

“I was on edge from the moment I set foot in that forest. I was extremely uncomfortable to begin with, and then to see him… the creature he had become! You can’t possibly imagine… no one who hasn’t met him can. He had a bone-chilling presence that made one shiver. I didn’t know who … what he was, not at that moment, but he filled me with absolute dread. I ran…but I had nightmares and panic attacks for weeks after that, and it took me a while before I put it all behind me. I never told my parents - I was none too proud of myself for having run while Potter had stayed, you see. But I only thought I could run. There was nowhere I could hide.”

I can feel my heartbeat pick up its wild, unhealthy pace again, but I can’t stop the flood of emotion that is coming.

He invaded our home, made himself comfortable there… took over my place of safety and childhood memories with his vile cronies and defiled it all. The Great Dining Hall was no longer a place where my parents hosted their glamourous parties that were the talk of the wizarding community for weeks. Instead, it was a place where torture and murder took place. So much fear… the air was pungent with it… it was hard to breathe… and god, all that screaming…”

My voice breaks once again. I don’t even know how I can talk about these things… I never told anyone, not even the Aurors. Perhaps there is enough magical protection around my makeshift bed to give me the courage to proceed… but I feel as if the source of my strength is in his warm, reassuring hands, firmly intertwined with mine. And now that I’ve started, I can’t seem to stop.

“I still cross our courtyard with my eyes closed most of the time. I once learned how to master my first broom there, on the green lawn in the centre, but I couldn’t bear to teach Scorpius in that place. All I ever see are the bodies, a pile of them, daily, and the Snatchers standing in the rain, burying them under the muddy patches of grass… and once the lawn was full, under the cobblestones. It was always raining back then. All my days from that period are cold and grey. They’re no longer there… the bodies, you know. The Ministry took care of that… gave them a proper funeral. Identified every last one of them… and their killers. Granger… your mother, helped them develop a charm that could reveal the identity of the dead through the remnants of their magic by touching their bones. My parents and I… we could testify to their end. We were all present for most of it; the Dark Lord would have it no other way. He enjoyed making us watch people break. From the pile of bodies, I had to pick my own…”

My breathing is now completely erratic, and it’s a good thing my eyes are closed, because I have a feeling that the world might be blurring at the edges. But suddenly, strong arms close around me like protective armour, shielding me from my misery, and I’m pulled up into his warm embrace. I literally dig my fists into the robe on his back not to have our embrace dissolve. He is stretched all around me like a wall of strength, magic, and protection, and his warm touch is the only true, solid thing keeping me together. Moments ago, I felt dreadfully dirty and nearly sick with horror and shame, but I’m safe now… safe and cherished.

I can’t even begin to imagine where that feeling comes from, but that’s what he makes me feel. In the darkness of his wonderful embrace, I let myself go. My shoulders are shaking with sobs and incoherent, muffled screams come out, as if my horror can find no human words. I’m making a huge mess of his robes, but I don’t care…. and he doesn’t seem to care one bit either. He’s holding me close, combing through my hair with his long fingers, whispering calming words of care and comfort into my ear, and gradually, the storm of emotions subsides. I have no idea where it came from. I never knew it was so close to the surface, so ready to erupt. I must have been more on edge than I was aware of. Merlin… if it is going to be this way every bloody time… I don’t even want to think about it.

Instead, I’m trying to get a grip on myself, and I’m getting there slowly with those strong arms around me and the wonderful comfort his embrace provides. Gods, this scent of him is pure gold. His embrace smells of clean robes, a hint of soap on warm skin, and something I can’t put into words. It makes me want to dig my fingers in it and own it. It’s a Hugo smell, I have no other words for it. He must have guessed that I’m in a better state now, but he doesn’t let me go yet, and I’m grateful for every prolonged moment of peace he gives me. Peace… my god, could this really be the way? I just came to realise that my shocking outburst has… cleansed me somehow, and I’m beginning to appreciate this idea of therapy. Will it feel like this once we’re done? Like I’ve forced it all out?

His hands are still sliding down my back soothingly – I wasn’t even aware he was doing that, but now that I know, I can barely suppress a purr. Merlin, he’s good. And then they slowly come to a stop at the small of my back, and the next thing I need to suppress is a disappointed whimper. I suppose it had to come to an end sometime.

“Better?” he asks me quietly.

I just nod, suddenly too mortified for words. Merlin’s holey pants, how do I even proceed after such a meltdown? But he moves me away from his body slightly, and though I hate the idea of letting go, I readily comply. I’ve embarrassed myself quite enough, thank you.

“I don’t suppose you have to hug every client you have?” I blurt out, and in the same moment, I realise that, in my desperate wish to bridge the awkwardness that was sure to come, I have clearly gone barking. I have no other explanation for the nonsense that just came out of my mouth. But he just chuckles softly.

“Oh, no, god forbid! I told you that you were special. Not everyone is comforted by an embrace. Everyone’s scars are different. I learned that lesson the hard way at 18, when I placed my hand on the back of a delusional Muggle patient, a former soldier that had spent months as a prisoner of war in one of the wars Muggles have going on. He had been severely tortured in the past, and during his episode, he didn’t see me for who I was. He genuinely believed I was one of his tormentors. He broke my arm in three places.”

Someone please pick my jaw from the floor. I can only stare.

“Well, if that didn’t put you off this profession…” I start, but my voice is trembling. He only shakes his head and looks at me solemnly with those thoughtful blue eyes.

“He didn’t know what he was doing. It wasn’t really his fault. We, the Weasleys, are very touchy-feely, and it’s not always something people are comfortable with, not even the healthy lot. For some, like yourself, the comfort of a human touch could be of essential importance, but his experiences made him connect human contact with hurt and humiliation. I needed to apply a different strategy, because he required help badly. You see, he had already sent one of his family members into the hospital in one of his fits, and he had been diagnosed as suicidal. So I had a rough night with the Skele-Gro, but I went back in the morning, obliviated him of the incident, and proceeded with more caution. It took us nearly half a year to figure out the right way. He was very well suited for a different kind of therapy. Art. There, on the wall… that is one of his works.”

Sometime during our conversation, he gently helped me lean back onto the sofa, cleaned us both with a non-verbal spell so casual that I barely noticed when my wet cheeks and messy robes turned dry and neat, and he was now gesturing to a small piece of wall not covered by bookshelves. For the first time, I notice about half a dozen small framed pictures – and they take my breath away. They are so intensely unsettling, ugly, and scary, they make me cringe. It’s like they each represent a window into a whole different reality, incredibly wretched and disturbing, that has no business hanging on the wall of this cosy, pleasant room. He walks over to the picture, removes it from the wall and brings it closer. It’s even more ghastly up close.

“This is a self-portrait,” he says quietly. “I asked him to make me a drawing, an art piece, a sculpture, whatever he could, of how he felt on the inside. This was the result. You see how his image is all torn, the mouth is stitched together, the eyes half blind, crying blood, and the head is crushed? This is how he felt. He made more, but this first one was the most precious. For the first time after his ordeal, he was able to express his inner devastation, and it brought him immense relief. We were also able to find him the right medication for his anxiety and sleeping issues, and he’s much better off today. He may never be the man he was meant to be before the war, but for now, he’s coping. And he knows he can always come back if he needs help.”

“That’s… amazing.”

I literally have no other words.

“It is, isn’t it?” he smiles beautifully, and my heart jumps at the unexpected thought that I want to be the reason for that stunning face to glow with pride and joy as well. But then I have another thought.

“You said you’ve obliviated him of the incident that gave you the injury. I know only authorised personnel are allowed to obliviate wizards and witches, and a record is made of every obliviation procedure in the same way as it is when underage magic is performed, but Muggle obliviation is not subject to such strict restrictions, as it is often an on-the-spot necessity. Why not wipe out all his negative experiences?”

He nods, and for the first time, the brilliance in his eyes seem to dull a little.

“Believe me, I’ve considered the thought more than once upon witnessing all that suffering. But there are complications. Surely you’re aware that I would have to invent a whole different story for the months of missing memories, and obliviate anyone who they came in contact with. In this particular case, the patient had a family, which he nearly wrecked, and a circle of army buddies that went through much same ordeal as he did. But there is more. The body remembers, Mr. Malfoy.”

He rubs his face with his hands, as if he wants to wipe tiredness and unpleasant thoughts from his head, but then picks up the explanation with the same calm tone:

“When a memory is especially traumatic, it tends to leave a trace. Imagine you were made to kneel down every time before the torture began – even years afterwards, the very act of kneeling might trigger a bodily reaction of extreme panic, shock, or a meltdown. The same goes for smells and sounds related to traumatic experiences – a specific taste, the feel of material – there are millions of little ways in which the body reminds a person of what they’ve been through. Those associations can be very powerful, and if the person had no memory to link them to, it would leave them with terrible confusion and a sense of going mad. There is no healing in that.”

A tremor goes through me because I realise… I do know what he’s talking about. You see, every single prisoner of the Dark Lord’s whose interrogation I witnessed was initially suspended in the air before the torture began – it was the best way to keep them defenceless, disorientated, and to stop them from running. And to this day, I cannot witness the levitation spell without my stomach turning to stone and my whole body breaking in shivers. It is the one spell I never allowed in my house, and the one time I barked at Scorpius was when I stumbled upon him practising it on Rose. I couldn’t bring myself to explain to him why. I couldn’t even apologise; I ran like the coward I was and spent the rest of the afternoon sick as a dog in my bedroom. Merlin, Hugo was right. He didn’t even know how right he was.

“I imagine you know what I’m talking about,” he says softly, and I realise he’s been watching me this whole time. I just nod with a knot in my stomach, praying he won’t have me say it out loud, but he simply sighs and makes a note into his little booklets, before his hand slip on top of mine, and a familiar wave of comfort floods through me. Merlin, he’s got me addicted to this.

“Perhaps we should call it a day and continue at another time,” he proposes. “You’ve had quite a morning already. I don’t want to put you through unnecessary suffering and then send you home. It wouldn’t be ethical.”

But I’m already shaking my head. I need to know more. I need to know there is a way, if trying to forget isn’t the right one.

“I’m fine… or I will be. I want to know more. I want to know how…”

I’m just no good at speaking. It seems I’m too shaken to form proper sentences. He looks into my eyes with that intense stare, and after a long moment, he nods almost imperceptibly.

“From what I know of your difficulties so far, I believe you’re displaying the symptoms of what the Muggles refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder. It happens to a certain percentage of people who have been through a traumatic event or even a prolonged period of extreme pressure, violence, or abuse – psychological, physical or sexual. It doesn’t often occur – at least not in its most devastating form – in cases that were unintentional and unavoidable, such as incidents related to natural disasters or accidents. It is far more common in people subjected to trauma and abuse through the actions of a fellow human.”

He pauses to think, and then his blue eyes are on me as if he wants to make sure I hear his conclusion:

“It’s almost like human malice… knowledge that there was evil intent behind their ordeal, is the very thing that leaves such deep psychological damage. This condition I believe you’re suffering from is very commonly the result of engagement in warfare or severe cases of domestic abuse, where trust in one’s support network is utterly crushed. It results in feelings of helplessness, guilt, panic, intense anger, self-loathing, or severe depression – sometimes all of those. If untreated, it may escalate to cause sleeping disorders, episodes of self-harm and delusional frenzy, or bouts of extreme aggression, even towards one’s loved ones. In the long run, it makes a person unable to function. So people look for a way to cope.”

I’m… afraid to move. Everything inside me seems shaky and strangely dislocated, as if I’m physically going to crumble if I as much as move a muscle. His diagnosis of me is so clear and spot on that I’m genuinely shaken to the core. So far, he’s gotten everything right.

“Repressing one’s memory is a common coping mechanism that may allow a person to function temporarily, but in a long run, it may be extremely unhealthy, and most of all, unsuccessful,” he once again speaks quietly. “The road to healing is not through forgetting, but through learning how to live with those experiences, managing the consequences of the trauma inflicted, and realising that above all, you survived and how strong that makes you. You may not feel like a winner much, Mr. Malfoy, but speaking in terms of evolution, you are one. You survived the most horrid experiences, and you are still here, given chances and options that those who didn’t make it will never have.”

Rationally, I know he is right. I survived. I managed to find a wife, father a son, continue my line, even enjoy my time with him. I am wealthy, have my freedom, I am still relatively young and in reasonably good health – I was by all standards successful. I should be happy. And yet, as soon as my Scorpius didn’t need me anymore, my life collapsed as if it had lost its purpose. My riches meant nothing, I lost my wife, who was as good a friend to me as any and a gentle companion, I didn’t know what to make of my freedom, I even let my health waste away. Was that really all there was for me? To father a son, so he could have everything in life that I couldn’t? Will I ever feel as if I was meant to have more than that? I look into his eyes, silently pleading for answers, and from the sadness and understanding in his eyes, I can tell he knows how I feel.

“The human mind is a funny thing, Mr Malfoy. When in extreme danger and most threatening circumstances, it makes us feel we desperately want to live, but once we are given that chance, we often don’t know what to do with it. For someone with your experiences, that could mean living a half-life; life filled with fear, regret and mourning over the loss of what could have been, life they can see no meaning in and no purpose for – life they are not sure they deserve. You need to ask yourself, and answer honestly: are you such a person?”

God, he’s harsh. Harsh, and right. With all my shields down and my pretences melted, I can admit to myself that I am indeed such a person.

“I see you’ve already got an answer to that,” he says softly, but firmly. “You could either choose to continue your suffering for the rest of your life, paying a debt that doesn’t exist, or choose life, recovery and eventually, moments of happiness. Quitting is the easy way, but for some, the only way. I’m not here to pass judgement. But though I cannot promise you that life will be all roses once you’ve stepped on a path of healing – I can promise you that your half-life is over: this process will take all of you and make the most of you. Whatever choice you make, I need you to be sincere when you make it, or no therapy in the world can help you. If you choose to do this, you have to – consciously, and with all your willpower – choose life. Because you’ll have to make this choice not once, but every day for the rest of your life. You will never again take a single day for granted.”

He wants me to make a decision that feels like the hardest one in my life, and yet I’ve never felt more fragile. Merlin help me… can I do this? Relive my memories, allow them back into my head from the world of dreams where they dwelled – loathed, feared, but impossible to banish? Can I clean myself of all the vile garbage festering at the bottom of my soul? Can I find the words to express the depth of my anguish... my absolute dread... my helplessness and all that self-loathing... my immense guilt… and pour all the toxic mess out to the redheaded angel by my side watching me intensely with those heavenly blue eyes?

“Will you help?” I wheeze out, and I can barely recognise my own voice. I sound about a million years old.

He leans forward as if he wants to make sure he got his message through, and for once I don’t have the strength to fight his incredible magical allure. I simply let myself drown in the precious gems of his eyes. His rich, dark voice reaches me, and it’s enough to make me fall under his hypnotic spell.

“I will be with you every step of the way, even if I have to push all my other cases aside. I will fight for you with all my magic, skill and knowledge, and drag you back from the doorsteps of death if I have to, if you decide to do this… Mr. Malfoy.”

God, he’s gorgeous. And completely overwhelming. I can’t take my eyes of him. The air between us is practically crackling with our mingling magic, and the way I want to… need to yield to him sends wave after wave of shivers down my spine. My trust in his abilities is absolute. He’s simply… magnificent. And I’m… god help me, I don’t even want to think it. I don’t need a broken heart on top of everything else.

“When… how do we begin?” I finally hear myself blurt out, still far from sounding like my usual self, but it earns me that blissful, radiant smile, and I feel like I’ve done the right thing. Oh, this better work. It has already shattered me beyond belief.

“First, you need to give me some time to put all my observations from today and whatever notions your son has given me into your personal file,” he speaks, and at least for a moment, his solemn expression is gone, and he smiles enthusiastically. “My Uncle Harry would call it “building a case”, but the truth is, it is easier for me to have complete oversight and see the subtler connections once I have it all in one place, properly annotated and organised.”

But of course. Granger’s son. No surprise there.

“I will call your son now to escort you back home, and keep you under a watch for a while,” he says determinately. “We can’t risk your condition escalating, and I’m told that your problems are somewhat… less pronounced, when he’s around,” he smiles kindly. Merlin, what has Scorpius told him about me?! Oh, I reckon it’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. I should stop feeling so bloody embarrassed around him all the time; he’s a professional after all. It’s just… oh, I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m hopelessly drooling over him on the inside. I simply find him what Rose Weasley would probably describe as “hotter than hell”. Those Weasleys… seriously. But they do have a way of getting to the point, don’t they?

“I will contact you to schedule our next meeting as soon as I’ve designed a more refined approach suited to your needs. It shouldn’t be more than a day or two.”

“A day or two?! But that’s…”

It sounds like forever. I realise that I dread the thought of going back to the manor. It’s like a crack has been opened in my armour, and I’m afraid that the darkness of that place will seep underneath it and poison my sanity somehow. The very thought of going back feels wrong.

“If I may… why do you still stay there?”

The bluntness of the question shocks me. I look into those bright eyes and wonder if he isn’t by any chance a skilled Legilimens? How on earth can he possibly guess with such accuracy what’s going on in my mind?

“I can see you’re troubled at the thought of returning to the manor… uncomfortable, even,” he explains quietly. “And it makes perfect sense. The manor is a place that has clearly given you your darkest experiences. Why would you still want to stay there?”

God, he’s merciless. But we talked about honesty… and I have to do this. Giving him an answer shouldn’t really be that hard.

“It’s home,” I tell him quietly. “It’s the only home I have. And…”

I just realised what else is there, and the thought startles me.

“And as long as I live there, someone remembers.”

He nods as if my words make perfect sense.

“You’re paying your quiet penance to the victims, aren’t you? You don’t think you are one.”

Of course I’m not a bloody victim! I stood there and witnessed them being tortured and murdered and did nothing! I was even made to take part in it – who in their right mind would possibly see me as a victim?! I’m trying to find eloquent enough words to say that, but my face must betray me, because his blue eyes flicker with fire, and there’s a slight undertone of that flame in the tone of his words when he speaks.

“Were you there by your own choice, then?”

“Well, no… of course not. But…”

“Would you have fled if you stood any chance at all?”

“Yes, god, yes. But my parents…”

“Could you, in complete honesty, say that you never willingly participated – let alone enjoyed – any of the macabre things that you witnessed in the manor during the Voldemort’s reign, and you only took part in them because you feared for your life and the life of your parents?”

“Who in their right mind could possibly willingly participate in such monstrosities?! Enjoy it, even?!” I subconsciously realise that I’m shouting, but I can’t, for the love of god, stop. “I was not cut out to witness all that screaming, begging, broken bodies and minds! I bloody vomited every time I had to be present for the first couple of weeks. They mocked me, teased me that I’d be next, and taunted my parents for bringing up such a weak child! They threatened to hurt them if I didn’t prove my allegiance to the Dark Lord and their cause. They intimidated and tormented me in a thousand little ways every moment of the day, you have no idea…”

“Then, how are you not a victim?” he says quietly. “Everything about you screams that you are. Even my uncle and my parents could see that you were not there voluntarily, how very scared you were. How are you not a victim, Mr Malfoy?”

“Because…”

And then it dawns of me.

“Because you survived,” he completes my thought, and I can only nod, out of breath and out of words. I’m still alive; that is my fault, my complicity, my biggest sin. I should have died. I would have needed to be on that pile of bones to be one of them.

“And this is something we are going to be working on,” he says simply, and his eyes are serious, even worried. “You need to see yourself for who you are. Accept it, and stop punishing yourself. We need to determine what is the driving force behind those terrible nightmares of yours, and I’m not going to lie: this might be terribly hard on you. I will need your cooperation, and I will definitely need your worst memories for that.”

And what better place for those to come back to life than in the place that gave life to them? Especially now, when I’ve willingly decided to let them come… So, back to the manor it was. Merlin, this might just be the end of me.

But then genuine concern crosses his face, and he leans forward, as he always seems to do when he wants to make a point:

“But your safety and well-being are my primary concern, Mr. Malfoy. Always remember that. If you’d rather stay here for some time to recover, you only need to say a word. You are welcome to stay as long as you need to. However much we are interested in speeding this process up, it won’t do to violently shatter whatever mental defences you’ve built in the years after the war; the results might be too unpredictable. This is a gradual process, and it takes its time. Therefore…”

“No… thank you for your generous offer, but no,” I interrupt him, even though everything inside me is loudly screaming in protest. The truth is, I want to stay in this place of peace and comfort so badly it hurts. The need to stay near this stunning young man whose enthusiasm, skill and dedication leave me awestruck and fill me with trust and hope is almost physical. Yet I have to do this. I can’t quit before I’ve even started – and now that I’ve made my decision, I’m anxious to go through with it. He was right; I can’t go on living this half-life.

“I have to return some time. I can’t stay away permanently anyway… and that place is still my home. I will be all right – I have been so far, haven’t I? I’ll be sure to let you know if anything out of the ordinary occurs – which it won’t if you’re sending Scorpius with me. Please let me know as soon as you can when we can proceed. I wish…”

My voice fails me for a moment, but then I somehow find the strength to proceed.

“I wish to put it all behind me. I want to get better.”

One of those radiant smiles that take my breath away lights up his pretty face once more, and his fingers slip around my hands again, so wonderfully warm and full of strength, I nearly melt on the inside.

“Then let me help you.”

Part 4
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