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

I must be mad to be doing this. I have absolutely no idea why Hugo insists on bringing me here, into the lion’s den, so to speak. He was very mysterious about it, and he insisted that I would find out in good time – apparently, he needed something checked or confirmed or some other rot. I’m even supposed to arrive early to meet him. Possibly, he needs to instruct me on how to avoid getting hexed into an early grave by a house full of his disgruntled relatives. Oh, how I don’t want to be here! But he insists, and I’ve learned in the last few days that I’m willing to follow him wherever he’s going to lead me. It’s scary how besotted with him I’ve become!

We’ve practically been inseparable ever since the day in the library. He’s always around, helping me organise my days in such a way that everything seems to have a purpose. I was surprised to find out how much a simple thing like having a schedule to follow made me feel better. We talk a lot. He’s seen everything through my memories, and though it’s still anything but easy, I’m learning how to express my feelings rather than stifle them when something is bothering me. He’s teaching me step-by-step how to take back control of my life. And it doesn’t hurt that he indulges me every evening, after I’ve tried so hard the whole day, and spoils me with a sweet cuddle that’s always too short.

God, I’m so desperately horny near him… but I have a feeling he’s trying to make sure that my feelings aren’t just the result of that bloody transference rot, and that he won’t truly give in until he knows I’m better, and that I’ll want him even when I can stand on my own two feet. He has no idea. I’ll be all over him like the plague as soon as his defences are down. Get ready, love. You’re making me work hard for you, and I’m going to make you pay. In a lot of naked, pale, sun-kissed flesh, with a texture so silken I can barely keep my hands off it.

I’ve yet to come farther than exploring that beautiful long neck with my mouth… but last night he didn’t stop me until my lips closed around his tender pulse point to suck on it hungrily. Oh, Merlin’s balls… the way it made him moan and tilt his head to the side in a gesture of surrender has made a hopeless addict out of me. I need to get better soon, show him who I am when I’m healthy and restored to my full strength, or I’m going to perish sadly from a lethal case of blue balls.

So, I’m doing this for him. Facing Weasley… uhm, Weasley Senior… Ronald. He is bound to be absolutely livid when he spots me invading his home. Still rather mental after all these years, that one. To be fair, Rose has invited me to their home a couple of times, but I’ve never really taken it seriously, and I’ve always declined politely, much to her apparent relief. It’s not like any of them – the older Potter-Weasleys – were ever openly hostile towards me after the war, no, but still… I’m very uncomfortable around them. I suppose they remind me too much of my terrible choices.

That is, everyone, but Ronald. He and I… oh, the bloody man is just too damn feisty, and we can’t seem to stay in the same room for any length of time without initiating some sort of a quarrel. We’ve tried being civil on a couple of occasions – mostly Ministry events – where we inevitably bumped into each other. But in spite of only the briefest contact, we always managed to botch it, and we ended up yelling at each other. I swear it must be in our blood – a sort of hereditary genetic defect passed down from fathers to sons.

I can sort of handle Granger, and I suppose Potter has turned out to be quite passable in recent years, though we’ve always kept our contact as limited as possible. But Ronald Weasley is one stubborn wanker who can hold a grudge like no other. I can’t believe he fathered someone as perfect as Hugo; I just can’t!

And now I’m going to have to face him in his own home. God help me. At least my son will be there - and that’s no small comfort, considering that I’m practically walking into enemy camp unarmed and with a target on my back once they find out why I’m actually there. Well, perhaps I’m being a tad melodramatic, but considering that I’m not even sure if they know about us… about my less-than-chaste intentions with one of their young ones, that’s the way it feels! Nevertheless, I can’t say no to Hugo. He’s done so much for me, and I suppose I have to bite the bullet and meet his family at some point. At least I hope I will finally find out what this secrecy is all about.

~

He meets me as soon as I Apparate into a sunlit garden. The radiant smile he greets me with makes it all worthwhile. I’d face my mad Aunt Bella for that smile, unarmed.

“Hey,” he murmurs with that deep, sexy voice, and it makes my heart positively jump into my throat when he casually takes my hand and pulls me closer gently, in full view of anyone that might be spying on us from one of the many windows in the lofty house behind us. I’m immediately hit by that invincible Hugo scent that spells happiness to me, and if I could have it my way, I’d have more than just the small, chaste kiss he presses into the corner of my mouth. But as little as it is, it will do. It’s his unspoken declaration of how he feels about me, and it makes my heart swell with love and pride that I’m not meant to be his dirty little secret.

“That’s a nice little welcome,” I mumble, just a little too overwhelmed with joy for my own good. Right now, I’m just glad I came. He’s totally worth it.

“Oh, there’s more where that came from,” he chuckles gently and kisses the tip of my nose this time, which makes me flush embarrassingly. Merlin’s limp cock, put that mouth anywhere near me, and I’m no longer accountable for my actions!

“Come,” he pulls me towards the door leading into the house. “It’s time to find out why you’re here.”

Just before we enter, I manage to look around a bit. I must confess that Granger and Weasley – Ronald – managed to do well for themselves. I suspect that under all the birthday decorations practically overflowing the garden, their place looks rather nice. It is not as grand as the manor, to be sure, but the garden in front of the house, filled with rose bushes and jasmine, is well-tended, and the house it surrounds looks spacious and cosy. And the best feature: there’s not a single one of Hugo’s relatives in sight. So far, so good.

The room we end up in looks shockingly like the one in St. Mungo’s – only greener, much greener – and I confess, it puts a smile on my face. The image of that other room, still so clear in my mind, never fails to evoke some good memories, and this one has the same airy, comfortable… content look about it, almost as if the owner’s character left an imprint of happiness on it. I want to make a room like this in my home for him – I want to give Hugo some place where he could be happy.

He’s still holding my hand when he pulls me down onto a wonderfully comfortable sofa, and once I’m sitting, he takes my other hand between his big palms as well. He smiles, but his lovely eyes are serious, and the way my skin prickles, I can tell that whatever he has to say is not going to be easy to take.

“You’ve done so well in the past few days,” he says warmly. “I’m really proud of you and of the progress we’ve made…”

“It’s for you,” I blurt out because I’m suddenly filled with anxiety, and I need him to be perfectly aware why I’m doing this. “I’m trying so hard for you. So you won’t have an excuse to let me go.”

Something flickers at the bottom of those lovely eyes, and he unexpectedly closes the distance between us and presses a small, enticing kiss next to my ear.

“Silly…” he murmurs tenderly. “Who said anything about letting you go?”

I didn’t even know how much weight I was holding in my anxious chest until I could let it go in one shivering, exhaled breath. So this isn’t about breaking up with me. Merlin’s grace… I can take anything else.

“I wouldn’t, you know,” he says with sudden blue fire in his eyes. “I wouldn’t just let you go. Not until there was any hope you might actually… like me, for real. I was willing to find you a different Healer, but I wasn’t willing to let you go. Not just like that. And even if it turned out…” he pauses shortly and closes his bright, beautiful eyes briefly, “… even if it turned out that your feelings for me were… of a passing nature… I’d make damn sure that you no longer wanted me before letting you go. Because I’ll never find anyone like you again. You’re it. You’re the one for me,” he says quietly, passionately, and those simple words nearly make my world blur at the edges. And just when I thought I couldn’t love him more… I can’t even speak. I’d choke on all the bloody love he fills me with.

“So… no. This was not about me letting you go. The way we’re going, I’d be a fool to let you go. Never fear. Not going to happen,” he smiles, and it’s that radiant, sincere, knock-out smile that makes me relax more than any words could.

“This, however, has everything to do with you getting better. I was wondering… if you are willing and ready to take the next step,” he proposes calmly, but it still sends a nervous shiver down my spine. I’ve been thinking about it ever since he told me he might have found a way to help me, and I thought I was ready… but now I’m not so sure anymore. I am just slowly gaining control of my life – what if this thing – whatever it is – doesn’t work? Will it cost me all the progress I’ve made? Am I strong enough? But then I look into his eyes, and I find my answer. Yes. Yes, I am. With Hugo by my side, there is nothing I’m not ready to tackle. I simply nod, not quite trusting my voice not to tremble, but he can read our silent language well enough to know that I’m ready. I’m willing to do anything for him, anything he would ask of me.

“Good. Brilliant,” he smiles sweetly, and as innocent as that beautiful smile is, it makes me want to lean in and hungrily kiss it off his face. God, I have it bad for him. But… this isn’t the right time. I only have to look into those determined, brilliant eyes to remember that he brought me here to a different purpose. I need to focus… and behave.

“You know, we’ve been talking a lot lately… and we’ve been working through some of your more complex emotions and feelings that you kept buried inside all these years. A lot of different issues emerged… but all this time – something has been puzzling me,” he says thoughtfully.

And now I’m honestly intrigued.

“After all the memories you allowed me see – I kept wondering how come it was not fear, but remorse that appeared to be your strongest and most persistent recurring emotion – and the one that was the hardest for you to let go. You made me see Voldemort through your memories, and let me tell you love, he nearly gave me nightmares. His barely human appearance… the way he smelled of death and decay, as if he belonged to the other world and had somehow forced his way into this reality… his cruelty, not even purposeful, as in the case of your aunt who clearly enjoyed it, but casual, as if it was the only way he knew… He was truly a terrifying creature, and fearing him would have been a logical response – yet seeing him through your eyes had me feeling more repulsion than fear. I could tell he absolutely disgusted you – but the feeling I was left with was that even your own aunt scared you more. The only fear I sensed coming from you when he was around was not for your own life, but for the lives your parents.”

He’s… right. My god, he’s so right. The one time I really feared the Dark Lord was that time in the forest when I didn’t really know who he was. Once I was introduced to him properly, he made me cringe to the very core of my being – but I never felt acutely, out-of-my-mind frightened around him. Merlin, that was… odd.

“You’re right. How can you be right about a thing like that? How can that be? How was it possible that I was not wretchedly frightened of him? Everyone else was!”

“I found it intriguing as well,” he nods thoughtfully. “And then I remembered hearing a funny little rumour. Uncle Harry, in his effort to have Severus Snape posthumously exonerated, interviewed everyone who could have been close to him in the last months before his death, and could provide proof of his work as a double agent working on Dumbledore’s behalf. And your Mother, of all people, gave the most extraordinary statement. It was in a sealed document because Uncle Harry didn’t want anyone involved compromised, but Rose managed to dig it out.”

I can literally feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising. They wouldn’t have sealed something that only impacted the dead. Whatever was in my Mother’s statement had to have consequences for the living. And suddenly, I’m immensely grateful that Hugo is holding my fingers in the same tight grip that had always given me the strength I needed so badly.

“You see, your mother told Uncle Harry that before you were sent to Hogwarts with a mission to kill Dumbledore, she had, in her despair, paid Snape a visit in the company of her sister, to ask him to protect you at all cost,” Hugo tells me quietly. I nod. This bit I know. She told me. That can’t be all there is, then.

“Your mother made him take an Unbreakable Vow to protect you, and Bellatrix had apparently made the last minute addition of making him swear he would do the job in your stead if you were for some reason unable to complete it. Your mother protected you the best she could.”

I nod again. I knew that as well. It was what sealed Dumbledore’s fate in the end, even if the old cunning man had orchestrated it. His death was to be the last proof the Dark Lord needed to see that Snape was truly on his side. The old headmaster had made sure that even his death benefited his cause. He was the one and only true mastermind behind the Dark Lord’s demise.

“I know that,” I tell him, but my voice barely seems to work. “She wanted me to understand about Snape before it was common knowledge. She said she owed him a great debt. He performed his mission to protect me exceptionally well.”

“But why?”

Why… what?

“Why did your mother feel the need to protect you – while you were in Hogwarts, under the care of Dumbledore who never lay a finger on any student, and who, in the end, sacrificed his life so you did not have to commit murder – while no special measures for your protection were taken during your weeks-long stay in the company of monsters like the Death Eaters?”

That’s… I don’t know. God, he’s right. That is puzzling. It’s controversial, to say the least. What was Mother thinking? Did she really think that while she was in the manor with me, nothing would happen to me? She couldn’t have been that naïve! She couldn’t be by my side at all times… and things – bad things – did happen to me while she wasn’t there to protect me. Nothing left lasting damage – the bastards were more careful than that – but there was… some damage done. In any event, there is no doubt that I was in more danger in the manor than I ever was at Hogwarts. But she had to have her reasons! With a few exceptions, Mother has one of the greatest and most cunning minds I’ve ever known. She is truly extraordinary. And she never does anything without a purpose. Perhaps…

“Did she say why she did it, then?” I ask, strangely breathless. “Did she tell Potter?”

“Actually, it was my mum who had asked her that question,” the redhead smirks with unmistakeable pride. Of course. Granger, the brain-power of the Trio. Potter is all guts, he never would have thought of it, but Granger’s fantastic brain… she would have figured something was off.

“And yes, she told my mum,” Hugo speaks softly, clearly aware how fragile even speaking of those times still makes me. “She said to consider it a payback for the time she was mistreated under your roof – but that she would hex her blind if she was to ever use it against you.”

Suddenly, I feel faint. So this is about me after all.

“In the days just before you were born, Voldemort had been on the rise. He was in his full power. He was effectively annihilating anyone who stood in his way, making followers of those who feared and admired him, and forcing those who opposed him to run for their lives or go undercover. He was the man of the hour – and back then, he had grand plans for the pure-bloods. Your Father was certain their hour had arrived. He had always aspired to follow someone who would have the power and potential to restore the pure-bloods to their elite position, granting them everything Lucius considered their rightful privileges. He considered Voldemort’s rise to power a godsend. He greatly admired his ambition, and he was in awe of his ruthlessness.”

Merlin, forgive my father for being such a blithering fool! Needless to say, he came to regret his folly many a time once the Dark Lord revealed his true, ugly face, but still… to think that he had willingly associated with that monster…

“In spite of your mother’s warnings –– who was at the time heavily pregnant – and against her explicit wish not to be closely associated with the havoc and carnage the Death Eater movement brought with it, your father didn’t want to be left out of it. Your mother was appalled to find out that Lucius had – thinking himself diplomatic and cunning – offered the hospitality of their home to the dreadfully powerful dark wizard they knew nothing about but that death and destruction followed him like a cloud of flies everywhere he went. She berated her thoughtless husband heavily for it – but the damage had been done, the invitation issued – and much to your mother’s horror, Voldemort came.”

Merlin’s grace… where does this wretched story lead?!

“And not only did he come – he came the moment he found out that you were born. To pay his respects, he said, to congratulate to the fine pure-blood family for welcoming their first-born son and heir… but your mother had a gut feeling it was much more than that. And she was dead frightened. It could have been for any number of reasons. Her panicked, protective brain painted her pictures of the most horrible dark rituals in which pure-blood children were required, and which the Dark Lord was rumoured to perform.”

I feel physically sick. I try to imagine my mother, as young as she was back then, exhausted from childbirth – which nearly cost her her life – and absolutely terrified, with the shadow of that dreadful man looming over her baby’s cradle… and it feels so real, as if I could remember it. I was, after all, the baby in the cradle, staring up the face of absolute evil from the day I was born.

“You can imagine the confusion, relief and anxiety all in one when your mother discovered that Voldemort had no use for you dead – but he was very much intent on making the best use of you alive,” Hugo tells me quietly. “He, a mere half-blood by his own reckoning, needed the political capital your father had as a rich, influential pure-blood from a respected family. You were to be his regime’s poster child: the living, breathing propaganda of the new world on horizon, his tool for winning even the most stubborn pure-bloods over, the noble child from an esteemed family who lived a life of luxury and prosperity under the merciful wing of his reign. He had no children of his own at the time, so you were going to be it. She realised that much when she heard the Dark Lord volunteer himself for the position of your godfather – and your father proudly accepted.”

And this time, it all goes mercifully black, if only for a minute. I… my whole being seems to be squashed into a small, dark space inside my brain, and I can almost feel the darkness I used to fear so much breathing around me. God, I was tainted. Tainted and defiled with his evil spirit from the cradle on. Will I ever be free of him?! He seemed to be reaching out for me even from beyond the grave.

“Draco… love… please, babe… just focus on my voice. You know how to do this, come on, love, we’ll get you out of there…”

It’s the voice… his voice… his beloved, rich and powerful voice that could cut through even the darkest nightmare my mind locked me in and show me the way. I follow that voice like a blind believer, and I slowly become aware of the warmth around me, the familiar love-scented embrace, and I finally dare open my eyes. The blue heaven of his orbs is above me, staring down at my face with a mixture of worry and relief all at once, and I become aware of how cold I am against his warmth, how clammy my skin feels, and how very tired I am.

“Please tell me it didn’t work,” is the first thing I blurt out. “Please tell me that I’m not his… this monster’s… that he wasn’t my…”

I can’t even say it. The bond between godfather and a godson is a sacred one – was a part of that ungodly creature really forever bound to me?

But I can hardly believe my eyes when Hugo slowly but distinctly shakes his head. Merlin… could that mean…?

“It didn’t work. Your mother was absolutely certain about that.”

I nearly black out again.

“How?” How was it possible that the Dark Lord, whom I had known for a fact to be able to perform the darkest, most complex rituals known to the wizardkind, failed to succeed in making a fairly common bonding ritual between a godfather and a godson work? Even a half-Squib could do that! Basically, all one needed was a living child, a consenting parent, and a person willing to take on the role. How was I spared so terrible a bond, then?

“Your mother wasn’t entirely sure…” Hugo says thoughtfully. “But she surmised it was one of two things. For one, she wasn’t willing to give her consent. Your father wanted to get back in her good graces, so he agreed when she insisted on holding you throughout the ceremony. In fact, she was so adamant that even the Dark Lord mercifully granted the new mother what he was believed she considered a great privilege. But your mother had looked up the strongest non-verbal spells for resisting the procedure that she could find – yes, they exist, and they stem from the very same old magic that Lily Potter used to protect her son – and she focused the whole of her magic on it.”

Bless my mother… bless her. Many people would have jumped at the chance to have their son protected by the person who was largely considered one of the most powerful wizards of all time – but not my mother. She knew a rotten apple when she saw one. I could not describe the gratitude I felt towards her in that moment. She might have literally saved my soul.

“But another option came to her mind when the story about the Horcruxes came to light. As you might know, the bond between a godfather and a godson is a bonding of souls – and by the time he came to visit your parents, Voldemort no longer had one… not an undamaged one anyway,” Hugo explains calmly. “He had already made the Horcruxes, split his soul into pieces, and cursed himself to a half-life. But if you want my opinion, it wouldn’t have worked anyway.”

I look into those brilliant eyes, and find them smiling. And like this, wrapped tightly in a strong, warm embrace, I dare to ask the question:

“How so?”

“Love,” Hugo says simply. “Your mother had plenty, enough to protect you, and Voldemort had none. Tom Riddle was abandoned as a child; he never knew love and had always underestimated it. But this is old magic, protective magic, the oldest there is – and as such, it is based on the most essential and powerful bonds between an adult and a child: bonds of love and trust. And all he had was a calculated ambition to use you as a tool of his regime in exchange for an illusion of protection – and no love for you. Old magic doesn’t work like that. He had no love to give – so no bond could be made. You were untouchable.”

I could hug him and kiss him stupid right now, but I’m all too stunned to move. Almost like this is all a dream, and I’m about to wake up soon, but it’s somehow making me feel… cleaner than in years. That monster made of pure evil reached for me, did his best to defile and ruin me – and failed. I did not belong to that creature; no part of me did. The feeling was incredible. Liberating. Overwhelming. Just… bloody brilliant.

“But your mother saved the best for last. Voldemort, being raised by Muggles, had no idea that one was supposed to feel the bond once the ritual was completed – he thought that merely saying the words constituted a bond. But your mother knew that if it worked, the person holding the child would be able to feel it – and she felt nothing. She could barely believe that her intention worked so well – and she was quite shocked to find out that the Dark Lord had no idea that the ritual had failed. She was careful not to mention it to anyone. As long as he believed that he was your godfather, he wouldn’t even attempt to hurt you. You, of all people, were the one person who was completely safe from him. This leads me to believe that you were not truly afraid of him, because he never gave you a reason to be. He never meant to hurt you. He believed he couldn’t, not without hurting himself.”

God Almighty… the more I think of it, the more I’m beginning to see that Hugo just might be right. The Dark Lord never once threatened me, not with a word, not with his actions – and not one person dared to even taunt me, let alone put a finger on me in his presence. Even when he had sent me back to Hogwarts with the impossible task of killing Dumbledore, it seemed more like a punishment to my parents than to myself. I was never in any real danger from him. From his companions, yes, obviously, but from him… not as long as he thought we had a bond. Merlin’s limping dog, this was a lot to take in!

But then I remember our previous conversation.

“But that still doesn’t answer why my mother was so desperate to protect me at Hogwarts? It explains why she never tried to protect me from the Dark Lord, but it still doesn’t say anything about why she would consider me in danger from Dumbledore.”

“Your mother was only willing to partially answer that question,” Hugo shrugs. “She said she knew you were no match for Dumbledore, whom you were sent to kill, and she was merely making sure that you didn’t get hurt should you actually attempt it – it wouldn’t the first time a student was killed by coincidence. And then she made a hasty excuse and left. But, believe it or not, I think it was my dad who, in the end, made the best guess.”

I cannot help but raise an eyebrow – and it doesn’t escape him. He chuckles softly, and suddenly, I’m a bit ashamed.

“A lot of people tend to underestimate my dad, but he was in charge of the entire Auror corps’ strategic department while he still worked at the Ministry. His chess-trained brain would rarely let him neglect any of the loose ends on the table.”

Well, fuck me backwards. I suppose there is something about Weasley – Ronald – under all that temper and booming laughter. And Hugo sounds so proud of his long-nosed father that I’m almost… well, perhaps just a little bit… moved by it. I’m sure it will pass quickly. There, gone, I’m all ears now.

“Dad reckoned your mother knew that Dumbledore was a master of intrigue, incredibly connected and protected, the most magnificent wizard of his time – and willing to be quite ruthless when he was protecting the future of the wizarding kind. He loved Uncle Harry – by his own admission, as well as if he was his own – and yet he was willing to sacrifice him to win the war against Voldemort. Imagine what he would do if, by any chance, he found out that you were the one person Voldemort didn’t think he could hurt – and he had a way of finding those things out. You would have been an ace in his skilled hand – and, as your mother believed, entirely expendable. She didn’t want to risk it. If it meant sacrificing Snape – whom, she admitted, would have been her honest choice for your godfather – she was willing to lose an ally like that.”

JesusMerlin … so much new information… it was making my head spin… I would need days to chew through it in my head and make perfect sense of things, come to terms with so many conflicting feelings. But then I feel his eyes on me, that deep blue colour even more vibrant than usual, and then I realise that this is not the end yet. This is not why Hugo wanted me here. He could have passed that information to me in the comfort of my own home. But he brought me here – for what purpose?

“Are you all right?” he asks softly, and the obvious concern in his voice melts my heart. “Are you coping? Do you need some time to come to terms with all this? It must be hard to take…”

“No… I’m… I’ll be fine. It’s just a lot to take in… But this is not why I am here, is it?”

Hugo nods and there’s a flicker of admiration in his eyes that makes me quite proud of myself.

“Always so shrewd,” he murmurs. “You’re very intuitive, love, aren’t you? You are, of course, absolutely correct. I need you to understand what we’re trying to do here. We are tackling whatever issues and negative emotions you’ve suppressed in the years after the war. All of them. Starting with the least concerning – such as your confusing feelings regarding your role in what went on in the manor during the Voldemort’s stay – and moving on to the bigger issues: your fears, your self-loathing, your shame and, ultimately, your guilt and regrets. This is where we find ourselves now. It’s time to take this on.”

Merlin, why am I so weak? I nearly feel faint already just thinking about those pleading voices in my head, begging for help – how can I possibly try to… tackle it, in whatever form Hugo has in mind? How can I take back my own cowardice?

His fingers find their way under my chin, and he tilts my head up gently; the way his eyes sparkle, it takes my breath away.

“I will be with you every step of the way, as long as you’ll need me. You have my word,” he speaks in that warm, calming voice. “You let me see your memories, remember? I already know the worst. I know why it is so hard to forgive yourself – you were there, silent, on the same side of the table with those mean bastards, in matching clothes, with a matching mark on your arm. But you were forced to be there, Draco. Never forget that. They made you sick, what they did made you sick, it still does when you think of it – you weren’t the same as them. You might have sat there and looked the part, but you were not one of them. Do you think that any of them would have been genuinely sorry about what happened during that dreadful time? And when you think the worst of yourself – remember the time when you really could have earned Voldemort’s grace by identifying Uncle Harry – but you gave my Uncle and my parents a fighting chance by claiming you couldn’t. Uncle Harry didn’t testify on your behalf for nothing, you know.”

I nod. I know why Potter did it. I never told him how grateful I was – and I can’t shake the feeling I didn’t deserve it.

“But I think that’s exactly the problem.”

I nearly stop breathing. Is he reading my mind again? How does he always know what I’m thinking? Does he also think that I should have been punished?

“You… were pardoned, love,” he says firmly. “But you were never forgiven.”

Yes! Yes, that’s exactly it. I was never forgiven. I did so much wrong, but I somehow managed to avoid the punishment, and I was simply shown leniency. But the ghosts of those I’d wronged never really went away. How could I be forgiven after all these years? I can’t be! I can’t…

“You can’t ask forgiveness from the dead, so I thought… perhaps, you might be willing to ask it of the living?”

My throat goes dry. I know exactly what he means. That’s why I’m here. OhChristMerlin... I… can’t.

“I’m not forcing you – how could I? – but I think it would be really good for you,” he says hastily, almost pleadingly. “You’d only need to ask one… pick one person… give it a chance – give yourself a chance, and see if it makes any difference. I believe it might. I believe it might make a massive difference. But I can’t make you do it. It has to come from you. But hearing that you were forgiven might change your own perception of yourself… allow you to breathe, make you understand that those people don’t look upon you with hatred and resentment. They’ve moved on. And I’m willing to bet everything I own that they’re willing to give you a chance to move on as well. Please, Draco. At least consider it.”

“All right.”

I can’t believe I just said that. It’s not what I meant to say. I meant to say no; I meant to say that I can’t, how could I? I’m a coward, remember? But this… nonsense, this mad bravery, came out from some place deep inside of me, as if that boy I once was, that boy that just stood there and watched them suffer, saw his chance of forgiveness and jumped at it. This is his voice, not mine. I’m as wimpy and cowardly as always. But this time, he prevails. I’ve kept him buried for long enough – he’s not letting me have this round.

“Merlin, babe, will you really?” Hugo whispers, as if he doesn’t quite believe that I really would. I look into his eyes, into that blue sea of goodness and love, and I understand how much he’s putting on the line as well. He just risked losing me, if I refused. He’s still risking failure if I can’t find the right way to ask forgiveness. He’s risking his whole treatment backfiring and setting us all the way back to the beginning of the procedure, with myself more crushed than before. But he’s madly brave, just like his parents. And I can’t… I won’t let him down.

“Who did you have in mind, then?” I ask, but my voice barely works. Merlinfuck, I need to pull myself together. How am I supposed to convey some sort of an apology if I can barely breathe?!

“I thought… perhaps Aunt… that is, Luna Lovegood?” he offers. “She’s a very mild-mannered person, and she was there, in the manor.”

And just like that, I find myself nodding my acquiescence. Luna Lovegood is a good choice. At least she’s mellow enough not to try and hex me into the Dark Ages if I manage to botch my apology. I have absolutely no bloody idea what to say to her, but my blood is pumping in my ears with some unknown, insane courage, and I manage to blurt out somehow:

“Well, no point in delaying, is there? If she’s here, bring her in.”

Part 7
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