Title: Kingdom in the Waste
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco preslash, past Harry/Ginny and Draco/Astoria
Warnings: Angst, canonical child abuse, epilogue-compliant
Summary: Clarifier Draco Malfoy has seen a lot of traumatic memories. He's not proud that seeing Harry Potter's sets off a reaction in him that he thought dimmed long since.
Author's Notes: Another of my Advent fics, this time for your_huckleberry. She gave me this prompt: Draco has the ability to retrieve and strengthen lost/happy memories and to 'dim' unhappy/traumatizing memories (a skill needed in the wizarding world after the trauma of war). Harry goes to him to have his memories of his parents brought forward and his memories of the Dursleys 'dimmed'. Harry and Ginny have divorced. A suggested reason for the divorce is Harry can't tell the difference between cruelty and discipline and thinks Ginny is too strict/unkind. Harry also doesn't know when he's overindulging the kids. Harry is convinced he is a bad father because of the children's reaction to the divorce and this is what motivates him to go to Draco. I've followed the prompt pretty closely, although the children don't appear as characters.
Kingdom in the Waste
"Tell me again what you want done." Draco knew perfectly well what Potter had asked for. His ears worked, after all. But he couldn't reconcile the man who had lived in his head all these years, the man who beamed from the front page even in a story after his divorce, when he had promised to stay strong for his children, with the one that hunched on a chair in front of him.
Potter didn't even bridle at the request. His head sunk down so far that it looked as if he had a lump stuck on his chest between his shoulders, he whispered, "I want to have my memories of my parents Clarified and my memories of my Muggle relatives Dimmed."
Draco sat there and thought about that. Then he asked, because again he thought he knew but leaping to assumptions had proven a bad thing already this morning, "How old were you when your parents died?"
"Eighteen months." No more hunch this time. Maybe there was no new position for his head to sink to.
"I've never worked with memories from that far back," said Draco. It was true, and not just an excuse to get out of working with Potter. "I think most Clarifiers who would are unethical. What you want is a Mind-Healer-"
"No," Potter whispered. A small word, but it made Draco stop completely. He wasn't shouting. "I don't want to be reconciled to my parents' deaths. I want to remember what real parental love is like."
Draco blinked. "Well, the first reason I don't touch memories that young is that our brains generally don't retain them, and the struggle to bring them forth produces false memories," he said. "But another fact is that they-may have been forgotten for good reasons." It was the closest reference to the Dark Lord that he felt comfortable making around Potter.
"I want to remember something more of my mother than her screams as she died."
Draco noted the flat tone a long moment before he noted the words. It was then that he swallowed. "You remember your mother's screams?"
"That, and the light of the Killing Curse. That's my worst memory when Dementors come near." Potter was staring at his hands. His gaze could sink even if his head couldn't, Draco thought irrelevantly. "Please, Malfoy. I need something more."
Draco tried to come up with something to say, and couldn't. So he moved onto a question on the application that Potter had neglected. "You haven't said why you want this specific combination of Clarifying and Dimming." He really should have sent Potter away when he saw that blank line, missing the most crucial answer of all, but he seemed like the rest of the wizarding world, unable to treat Potter normally.
Potter looked up for the first time. His eyes were hopeless enough that Draco thought of the wasteland he'd sometimes dreamed of, courtesy of a Nightmare Hex from the Dark Lord during the war. The wasteland had replaced Malfoy Manor, and Draco wandered alone over an endless stretch of brown-grey barrenness forever.
"I need to know how to parent my kids," Potter said quietly. "My parents were great. Everyone says so. I'm not. I need to be better."
"What does the Dimming of your memories of your relatives have to do with it?" Once again, Draco thought he knew, but now, with Potter, he would refuse to simply guess.
Potter moved his tongue about in his mouth for a moment like a stick he was getting ready to throw. Draco still waited. Nothing would make him hurry now. He was going to sit here until Potter gave up and went away, if that was necessary.
Finally, Potter whispered, "My relatives, my aunt and uncle, they were horrible. They didn't treat me the way a child should be treated. Ginny says—Ginny says I don't know the difference between what they did to me and anything else you would do to restrain a child. I have to forget about them and see the way real parents would act. Then I can be a real dad."
Draco watched Potter and tried to forget about some of the same aches he had felt himself, some of the same questions he had faced, when Scorpius was born and he had realized how important that one little life locked between his palms was. Then he murmured, "And how many years of memories do you have of them?"
Potter shrugged for the first time, touched his forehead as though he was going to run his hand through his hair, and then dropped it again. "I don't know how many count. They were less horrible after I got my Hogwarts letter, and then I have a few summers and nothing else. Ten before the letter? Maybe two after?"
Draco contained his sigh. This was going to be more difficult than he had thought. But then, Clarifying cases always were. Show him the Clarifier who thought he was dealing with an easy job when he chose this one, and Draco would show you a liar.
But he had to start somewhere. So he said, "I need you to trust me. To be able to look into my eyes."
Potter leaned forwards with an eagerness that made Draco think of something that had been chained up, straining against its bonds towards food. "I know you have to use Legilimency. I'll let you do whatever you want to me."
Draco shook his head. "It's not Legilimency. Not the normal kind, anyway," he added, because Potter looked warier than the statement warranted. "I look into your eyes, and we build a mental landscape together. I move your memories around on that landscape, Clarify some and Dim others."
Potter nodded slowly. "What image will the landscape form?"
"No one knows until the Clarifier and the patient start to work together." Draco held out a steady hand. "Hold on. This will help you focus on me."
Potter showed no sign that he knew what the gesture meant to Draco. He took Draco's hand, his fingers painfully tight on Draco's wrist, and locked eyes with him.
Draco took a deep breath, preparing himself for a rush of strange waters, as he always did, and touched his wand to Potter's temple beside his eye. "Ambulo in caligine," he whispered.
He did indeed walk in darkness for long moments, shielded against the pressure of Potter's memories by the magic that surrounded him, a strong form of Legilimency he had helped discover. Merlin knew he had needed to understand and control his own mind and emotions after the war, and he had been able to help others do the same thing, founding the Clarifiers.
The darkness yielded abruptly, flooding away. Draco took a deep breath and looked around.
His heart trembled for a moment. He was in the middle of the same grey-brown waste that the Dark Lord had created in Draco's mind using the Nightmare Hex.
"Where are we?"
Potter sounded so utterly terrified that Draco felt some measure of calm come back to him. Both of them couldn't panic, or they would never return to their bodies. He turned around, and saw Potter's manifestation here. It looked like his ordinary body, his ordinary age, except that he stood with his head lifted instead of sunken.
"It's all right," Draco said. "This is the image that our minds form when they meet." He wondered for a moment if Potter had also been subject to the Nightmare Hex, or if perhaps the bleakness in his mind would naturally form such a wasteland. It was hard to ask questions he would never find an answer to, though. Clarifiers had been studying why the landscapes looked the way they did for the fifteen years since they'd been a profession. No satisfactory answer had ever been found.
Of course, it didn't help that only the Clarifier and his patient would ever know exactly what the place looked like.
"There's no here here," Potter whispered.
Looking around, Draco could understand what he meant. The plain had bare ripples on it, as if water had once pooled and run there, but no other distinguishing features. No trees, no oases, no houses. Even the horizon was a dim, pearly grey. Draco turned his back on it firmly. He was starting to think that, although the form of the landscape might have come from his own mind, it was this way for a reason. Perhaps Potter needed it to be bare so that he could focus on his actual thoughts without a distraction.
"Potter," he whispered, and waited until those frightened green eyes came back to him. "Listen. We're going to form a place here that will be a refuge for you, a sanctuary where you can retreat and reinforce the memories when you need to. They won't be very strong at first, you know? You'll need a place where you can polish the brightened memories and bury the dimmed ones. You see?"
Potter relaxed the longer he talked. Draco knew a moment's pride. He had the right touch with patients, one reason he had been able to become a Clarifier in the first place. Good to know that he could handle even Harry Potter if he had to.
"Fine," Potter said. "What will the place look like?"
Draco smiled. Most of his patients enjoyed this part. "What's the safest place you can think of? This part will come entirely from your own mind."
Potter closed his eyes and stood as if in thought for a moment of timeless trance. Then he breathed, "Hogwarts."
Draco blinked, and knew a moment's sadness, the sort that was always ambushing him in the middle of Clarifications. This time, though, it was more personal. That Potter had found no other safe place in the years since Hogwarts told Draco much, probably more than Potter would want him to know.
On the other hand, Potter had agreed to come here and let Draco see the intimate depths of his mind in the first place. No use going back and worrying about his privacy now. Draco nodded and held out his wand towards Potter. "Then Hogwarts it shall be."
It was easier this time than many others, probably because Draco knew the place, too. The air sparkled as strings of jewels floated out of Potter's temples and became lighted windows. Shadows turned around and became towers. The ground beneath their feet bubbled with growing grass. Draco heard the slight ripple of a lake off to their left.
The rest of the wasteland remained exactly as it had to, of course. Draco was used to that, too, if not to a place that drew so deeply on the still waters of his own mind.
"Good," said Draco, and waited until Potter had gazed around on their castle and nodded at it before he waved his wand and broke the connection between their minds. Potter seemed startled to open his eyes and find himself back in his chair. "That's enough for now."
"I thought you were going to start bringing the memories forwards today," Potter muttered, and his hands wrung on the arms of the chair.
Draco shook his head. "Not today." He held up a hand when Potter opened his mouth in what looked like an angry exclamation. "You don't understand. Even that kind of mental effort is unusual for most people. You'll need time to recover."
Potter opened his mouth as if to argue again, but the argument became a yawn. He clasped a hand over his lips, blinked, and said, "You may be right."
"I'm always right," said Draco, and surprised a laugh out of Potter. Draco smiled. "Go home and rest. We'll start the Clarification tomorrow."
Draco looked up when Potter knocked on the door of his office and laid aside the paper he'd been reading. It had articles on Potter's divorce and some of the things Ginny Weasley had said about the reasons she'd chosen to end her marriage. Draco hadn't paid enough attention when it happened, but he thought he might know, now, why she had been so frustrated with Potter.
"Reading the gossip?" Potter asked, his eyes finding the papers the minute he stepped in. His whole body tensed. Well, that was all right. Draco hadn't made any effort to hide the Prophet or the other, smaller papers that had reported on a story as juicy as the Potter divorce.
"Doing research," Draco responded, and waited until Potter's gaze came back to him. He nodded. "I know it's repugnant to you, but there's too much that I didn't know."
"You're nothing like I expected," said Potter, and took the chair across from him.
Draco snorted. "The boy who tormented you in school would have been no good at working with patients."
"Well, obviously," Potter said, leaping to a conclusion that hadn't been obvious to Draco at the time. That was all right. He had accepted that, just as he could see things about his patients that they didn't want to acknowledge as the truth, they could see him better from the outside. Then Potter patently dismissed the subject and leaned forwards. "I want to know whether we can start the Clarification today."
"We can," Draco said. "But there's other memories I have to Dim first before I can begin with those of your relatives. Those of your ex-wife and the divorce," he added, when Potter opened his mouth.
Potter scowled and looked off to the side. "Knowing why Ginny wanted to divorce me might help you understand me," he said, his voice muffled. "I don't know why you think that it'll hinder me, though. I accepted all her reasons. I'm here, aren't I?"
"You have to be here for your own reasons," Draco said. "Not hers. A Clarified person is someone who knows his own mind and works on the memories for his own will."
Potter tensed in what seemed to be instinctive resistance. "I don't want to forget her."
Draco sighed and used a blunt instrument of truth that he had sometimes had to wield against other patients who had recently been through a divorce or other traumatic undertaking. "This won't make her come back."
To his surprise, Potter nodded, with a small, bitter smile twisting his lips. "I know. I've accepted that. There were reasons she wanted the divorce, but reasons I did, too."
"Share them with me."
Potter looked off to the side, and his face turned red. "Do I have to? They were sexual. And private."
Draco arched his eyebrows. Sexual incompatibility was a reason he would never have sought to assign a divorce like Potter's and Weasley's, which seemed so focused on the obvious reasons of the children and Potter's upbringing. A lesson to him, in return, to not focus on things that seemed simple only on the surface.
"Then I'll handle the divorce memories only if they end up interfering with the process," he said, after thinking about it for a moment.
Potter relaxed with a soft sigh. "Thank you."
"Now," said Draco, and drew his wand, "I want you to picture the castle in your mind. Your Hogwarts. Can you do that? You have to picture it as strongly as you can. You have to imagine yourself there with every fiber of your being."
Potter gave him a small smile. "No problem with that. It's the only thing I envy my children for. That they're there."
Draco didn't respond, but once again, he wondered why Potter seemed to have found no happiness in his life since Hogwarts to replace Hogwarts, or at least echo it.
Potter, meanwhile, had bowed his head and shut his eyes. "I'm there," he said, his voice faraway. "Outside, on the grass, next to the lake. Are you going to meet me there?"
"Yes," said Draco, and he was glad that he had been with Potter at the creation of the castle and knew where to go. It might not be possible for Potter to come back to him now. "Ambulo in luce."
This time, he joined Potter in the middle of the waste immediately, and stood there for a few seconds observing him. Potter, or the analogue of him that existed here, was breathing in with his eyes closed, an expression on his face that made Draco keep quiet for a few moments. It was as though this was the only time of peace Potter had had in years.
Combined with what Potter had mentioned to him and what he had read in the papers, Draco was beginning to suspect he knew why. How long had Potter tried to maintain the façade of a perfect marriage, raise his kids in the perfect way, and hide whatever sexual problems had parted him from Weasley?
And in the name of what?
In the name of being the perfect husband, father, Gryffindor. You know that.
Draco concealed a sigh. If Potter had come to him to continue that pursuit of perfection by making himself into the perfect father, the Clarification was going to fail. Draco couldn't create satisfaction that wasn't there. He could throw light on memories or Dim them, that was all. The patient was the one who had to perform the mental and emotional shift that would make them satisfied with the results.
Potter turned around and started on seeing Draco, which told Draco how deeply he had gone into his perfect place. "Oh! There you are." He made a small motion with his head towards the castle. "Do we have to go inside?"
"No," Draco said, and lifted his wand. "That will be up to you, if the memories I summon are too distressing. Are you ready?"
"I can't imagine being distressed by memories of my parents," said Potter, and set himself in a relaxed stance that Draco thought might come from Auror training, facing Draco.
Draco could imagine plenty of distressing things about learning that the parents you'd loved only from a distance were either great parents or poor ones, but he said nothing. This time, the spell he whispered was simple. "Luce."
In light, the Latin meant, or by means of light, and Draco easily lifted and sped forwards into the world deeper than this one, deeper than the place where his mind and Potter's met. For a minute, waves of emotion lapped over him. Draco was searching for a complicated combination of things: memories that had the tinge of age, memories that had the tinge of youth, memories that tasted like they came from a child's mind. It was the sort of thing he could do now, easily, but it had taken him practice after practice at Clarification until he could. You couldn't train someone to do this by explanation any more than you could explain the taste of strawberries to someone.
Draco opened his eyes at last, and nodded. Then he waved his wand, and the light he had carried with him broke through Potter's mind, tugging on Potter's attention and making him recall these memories. Draco felt as though Potter stood behind him, although he knew it was only his attention; the majority of his mind would be resting in the Hogwarts analogue.
"Ohhh," said Potter, drawing the sound out.
Draco nodded, resisting the temptation to smile at the image of a pretty woman with red hair and green eyes bathing a baby in front of him. He would lose his concentration and his link to Potter's memories if he got too involved in the emotions. But they were tempting, he had to admit, much more than the ones in some of his Clarifications. Draco was pretty much immune by now to sexual feelings—sometimes distressingly so, or his divorce from Astoria might not have happened—but this complete warmth and relaxation was something else.
"Is this one of the memories you'll bring forwards?" Potter whispered.
Draco nodded again and wove his wand, rotating them to a memory that had a different "taste." This one was Lily Potter sitting with Potter, older this time, able to sit up, on a floor patterned with a red and yellow rug. She was peeking through her fingers at baby Potter, then hiding her face. Each time she peeked out again, the baby screamed with laughter.
"I never knew she did that," Potter whispered.
Another rotation, and this time, the man who had to be James Potter was tossing the baby in the air and making him float by use of a Wingardium Leviosa Charm. Draco blinked, a little giddy with the emotions blowing through him like bubbles in this one. Excitement was the least of it. There was also a pure joy that he didn't know if older people could feel. Certainly he'd never felt it in the Clarifications or Dimmings he did.
"Or him," said Potter. His voice rang with wistfulness, so close to his ear that Draco reminded himself again not to turn around. "Do you think—people can really change, right, Malfoy? I mean, you did. I know my father bullied Snape. Do you think he really changed and became a good father after that?"
Draco blinked. He's asking for my opinion? "I'm sure he did," was the only, lame reply he felt qualified to offer.
Potter turned his attention back to the memories. Draco didn't shake his head, because it would give Potter a wrong impression, but he had to wonder for a moment. Was he truly the best person to take on this case? Most of the time, a simple question from a patient wouldn't have thrown him as badly as this one had.
The memories changed and flicked through his head: Potter's parents playing with him, talking to him, cuddling him, talking to each other on the couch while Potter dozed in one of their laps. Those memories, Draco had to work the hardest to draw forwards into the light, since Potter had been not only young but mostly asleep. But the absorption of sensory information, sound and sight, was still there, only hidden. Draco tangled more and more wisps of memory around his wand, pulled on them, and created the shining net of light he would need to hold this in place once Potter woke again.
When he felt the pressure of Potter's attention fading, he spoke aloud. "Go back to Hogwarts and think about them. I'll be here when you wake."
He faded out from Potter's mind and found himself sitting in his chair, wand arm aching. Draco sighed. It had been a long time since his exertion in his mental state had been reflected in his muscles. He must have been twitching his hand in response whether or not he wanted to.
He stretched and lay back, keeping an eye on Potter. His head still buzzed with questions, but he thought the Clarification of those early memories was going to be successful. So far.
"This afternoon, we'll work on Dimming the memories of your relatives." Draco paused. "Are you listening to me, Potter?"
Potter had been staring at the far wall of the room, but he shook his head and refocused on Draco the next second. "Sorry. Yes. I was just thinking about something that the Clarified memories told me, something I hadn't considered." He paused and struggled silently for a second as though trying to come up with the answer to a problem in Arithmancy. Draco waited, his hands folded on his lap.
"They were afraid," Potter whispered abruptly. "My parents. They were happy that they had me, but I couldn't help noticing how afraid they were. I'm a trained Auror. I know how to look for the signs. Why—how could they be such good parents when they had fear preying on them?"
"A trained Auror ought to know the answer to that one," said Draco, a little repressively. Potter showed some signs of getting too dependent on Draco to answer questions that he couldn't answer. Draco had to keep repeating, with some patients, that he couldn't give them the mental peace or strength they needed. At most, he could help them attain it.
And Potter now looked straight at him and justified some of Draco's hopes. "Yes. All right. I do. Just because someone is a good parent doesn't mean that they can't feel fear and anger and helplessness and—all the other negative emotions." He was quiet for a moment, and looked away. "I thought—I thought when I felt those with my children, I was doing something wrong."
Draco shook his head. He knew his smile was wry, and that he was stepping a bit over the boundary between a Clarifier and a patient, sharing this, but he thought it was important that Potter understand. "I felt the same way with Scorpius, plenty of times. Especially when he wouldn't stop screaming when he was a baby. Sometimes I think he screamed just to test my patience."
Potter looked at him with a sudden smile that made Draco understand why Weasley might have married him. "Al did the same thing."
Draco nodded, pleased at the tentative rapport they had established, and raised his wand. "Are you ready to enter the memories of your relatives?"
"Yes," said Potter. This time, his face went smooth easily, and Draco knew he had already made the journey to the castle they had raised together. Draco made the same transition almost as easily, and then began hunting the memories that would need to be Dimmed.
This time, the memories all had the taste of hunger.
Potter's presence was beside him, but utterly silent. Draco brought down a soft haze, like a sepia fog, on memory after memory, moving as silently. Curses, lies, denial of magic, name-calling, chores, bullying by the large cousin, denial of food. Living in a cupboard.
Draco had occasionally seen worse trauma—for one thing, so many people reacted in different ways to the war that their feelings about the memories they wanted Dimmed might be worse even if what they had suffered wasn't, in and of itself—but the litany still made him sick. He was glad to make darkness inside the cupboard sink into darkness, to soften Potter's memory of the name "freak," and shut out the faces of the Dursleys from his recollection until he knew Potter would struggle to recall them and their names. Draco could do nothing about physical scars, but he could at least be a balm for the mental ones.
Draco started. He was in the middle of a delicate scrubbing of the cupboard. He would never be able to erase the memory completely—it was too deeply buried in Potter's psyche—and that wasn't what Dimming was about, anyway. Nevertheless, like applying water to a written page, one could make the ink blur and run.
"What, Potter?" Draco snapped, when he had recovered his mental balance and performed the last of that particular scrubbing.
"There's some other memories I want Dimmed. Can you do them, too?"
Draco sighed. He thought he had finished with the last of the Dursley memories, but his skin itched as though he was the one who had sat in that cupboard for years with the spiders and the dust. And it was true that he had experienced all those years at once, even if it was at second hand. "You know it'll cost extra."
"I know. But I want to be normal."
Draco turned his head, eyes narrowed, although of course it was useless since he couldn't see Potter here. There should at least have been a hesitation before that word. Draco had worked hard enough to purge its desirable connotations from Potter's mind, since the Dursleys used it so often. "This doesn't have to do with being normal. This has to do with letting you live a calmer life, the life you want."
"That's a normal one."
Draco shook his head sharply. "I'm not in the best mood to do Dimming right now. My own emotions aren't supposed to interfere. I don't even know what memories you want me to Dim, so I don't know how to reach them."
There was silence for a second, and then a sudden surge in his mind, which seemed to come from a dark part of it. Draco was startled, but he understood what must have happened. He had helped Potter build that memory-Hogwarts, and he had become more drawn into the process than usual, because Hogwarts was a place he also remembered.
And because it was Potter. Draco didn't doubt for a second that that was part of the truth, too.
So Potter could reach out for him through what was essentially a tunnel under Draco's defenses, and Draco found himself whirled through darkness and plopped down in front of what looked like an enormous, faceted window. Each different pane contained an image of Potter staring at something, or—well, wanking.
And the people he was staring at, and the fantasies that hovered over his wanking memories like misty illusions, were all men.
Draco stood still for a long second, recovering both from the surprise of the travel and the surprise of what Potter had shown him. Then he said in a voice he knew was clipped, "I suppose this is the sexual incompatibility that you said broke up your marriage with Weasley?"
Silence, but Potter would have disagreed if Draco wasn't right. Draco rubbed the bridge of his nose and said as neutrally as he could, "Why do you want them Dimmed? I doubt you dream of going back to her."
"No." Potter sounded startled. "But this way, maybe I could marry someone else who could be a mother to my kids and then—"
Draco had had enough.
He broke the connection between their minds the way he'd sometimes had to do it when the trauma a patient was experiencing had started to affect him or trigger his own memories. In seconds, he was gasping, his eyes open, and Potter was sitting in front of him with his head between his hands, swearing.
"What did you do that for?" Potter all but yelled at him, his head coming up. "I could feel it working, and then—"
Draco held Potter's eyes and snapped, "I divorced Astoria for the same reason, did you know that? Except, unlike you, I always knew that I preferred men. I thought I owed it to my parents to give them grandchildren. I was a disappointing son. I couldn't give them more than one, though, because sleeping with my wife was too difficult. So we broke up. It was more honest that way. How long did you know that you only wanted men?"
Potter clenched his hands on his knees. It was unfortunate that Draco knew a lot, now, about the way those hands looked when Potter wanked. "I didn't mind sleeping with Ginny!"
Draco just stared flatly at him. That wasn't true.
Potter's face was as red as if he and not his wife was the born Weasley. "Fine. I didn't like it, but it—by the time I knew, we were already married, and how could I abandon her and them like that?"
"You could have lived an honest life," Draco said.
"Then my children wouldn't have been born!"
"You wouldn't have worried so much about failing them, either." Draco pulled himself up with a jerk before he could say more. He was supposed to be a professional, and this had degenerated already. "I won't Dim those memories, Potter. I only Dim or Clarify the memories that are causing harm to a patient or could help them, and I had reservations about your case already. I told you that at the beginning."
"These are causing harm! I could have a normal life without them!"
Draco turned slowly back to him. "And what do you define as normal? A life without Dark Lords? A life that doesn't involve dangerous cases? You've lost on those counts already."
Potter's forehead furrowed as he frowned. "A life with a wife and kids. The kind of life Ron and Hermione have."
Draco ought to have known that his friends would figure into it somewhere. He wondered if they knew they were Potter's standard of normality, but he didn't care enough to ask.
"I have a life as a divorced, gay, single father," Draco said. "I'm a Clarifier. I wouldn't say that everyone should aspire to that career, but there's nothing abnormal about it. I also have my past." He drew back his left sleeve so Potter could look at the Dark Mark, faded but still there. "I've atoned for my crimes, or tried to do so, by helping people. And you need help, Potter, but it's not the kind I can offer. If you can look at a life like mine, or yours, and see it as lacking because you don't have the perfect family, then you need to go and see a Mind-Healer."
Potter stood up in a rush. His hands twisted in front of him. Draco looked up at him, unafraid. He had seen Potter's memories, and while he might act out in a temper, as a baby or a child, he wasn't the sort of man to strike out violently at Draco now.
In the end, Potter turned and walked out of the office. Draco sighed and massaged his forehead.
It seemed the Dursleys had managed to plant at least one legacy in Potter's head that wouldn't change no matter how much Draco Dimmed those memories: the notion that there was only one way to live, and Potter was a failure if he didn't achieve it.
After that, Draco didn't see Potter. The payments for their sessions still arrived on time, but Potter didn't come back to the office, and didn't respond to the owl that Draco, arguing all the while with himself about professionalism, decided to send to him. It seemed that he had simply chosen to find another Clarifier, maybe a less scrupulous one who would do what he had asked.
By careful inquiry, though, and listening to office gossip, Draco at least managed to eliminate that option. No one bragged about having Harry Potter under treatment, and Draco knew they would have. No, Potter seemed to have backed off completely.
Maybe the Clarification and Dimming Draco had already performed had done all Potter had wanted or hoped for, Draco thought cautiously. The sets of memories he had done were larger than normal, but all related. That always made them easier.
He hoped that Potter was settled in his mind, calm, and able to deal with his children without worrying about punishing them unnecessarily. He hoped he was coming into the mindset that would enable him to give up his unstable fantasy of living a "normal" life that had ended from the moment his parents were murdered, if not earlier.
He spent more time thinking about Potter than he strictly should.
The night he opened his eyes in a darkened corridor that ran towards the Slytherin dungeons and heard a terrified scream from around the corner, Draco knew he'd spent too much time thinking about Potter.
The dream felt too solid, too real, to be an ordinary one. Draco reached for his magic, and nodded. Yes, he knew where he was and he had his memories and his wand with him, which almost never happened in ordinary dreams, even ones that took place in Hogwarts. This felt like a Clarification. The bond he had established with Potter's mind had been too strong to simply break and drift apart.
Even if it also hadn't done all the work it was supposed to, Draco thought grimly as he ran around the corner. Somehow, Potter's mind-castle had turned into a trap instead of a sanctuary.
Draco stopped almost immediately once he came into sight of Potter. Facing him, looming up in the flash of lightning through a great arched window, was a figure that looked like the Dark Lord. But it had the face of James Potter, and a clinging darkness around it that reminded Draco of the cupboard. And Potter was kneeling on the floor in front of it, his hands over his ears, as it spoke in Ginny Weasley's voice.
"I always knew that you wouldn't be able to take it. Too indulgent to your children. Too gay to feel all that sad when I divorced you. Too marked by Tom bloody Riddle to stop having nightmares and talk about things that happened to you…"
Draco moved steadily forwards. The figure was a nightmare, but not his nightmare, although his chest ached with sympathy for Potter. Once, the similarity of this to the real Dark Lord might have made Draco hesitate, but he had Dimmed his own memories of that horrible being the minute he learned how to do it. He could handle this.
"Ambulo in luce," he said, and the world all around him filled with light, the stabbing, piercing light that accompanied Clarification, that filled and transformed the darkness into solidity.
The figure spun around, and its face wavered and spun with it, as though it was struggling to settle on Vernon Dursley. Draco suspected it already would have, but he had done a good enough job Dimming Potter's memories that Potter's mind was having trouble forming the features of his hated uncle.
"You have no place here," Draco said softly, speaking the words clearly so Potter could hear them. "This is the place of Potter's power, his own mind, and he defeated you in the real Hogwarts. Don't take the face of his father, the man who loved him. Don't take on the darkness that he's forgotten." He paused, and for a moment the face of Ginevra Weasley snarled at him, so Draco added, "And don't take on the voice of a wife who, whether or not she really loved him, is parted from him, and doesn't have the right to reign in his nightmares."
For a moment, the Dark Lord trembled as though he was trying to come back together. Draco raised his wand, ready to cast the Clarification spell again if he had to. But then the figure trembled and spun and split apart, and Draco was standing in a corridor quickly turning more brilliant, as if filling with sun and not lightning.
Potter still crouched on the floor, though, even when Draco knelt next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Potter," Draco whispered. "It's all right. The thing is gone."
"It's never going to end, is it?" Potter whispered.
"The nightmares?" Draco asked. "That's a side-effect of a Clarification and Dimming as thorough as the one I performed on you, sometimes." He bit back the exasperation that made him want to ask why Potter hadn't come back and remained so Draco could explain that and help him through the dreams. What did that matter? Draco was here now, after all. "They'll end as your mind settles into the new configuration I introduced."
"Not that," Potter whispered, and sat back and stared up at Draco. "All the strange things in my life. I thought changing my memories would make me a different person, but—I've been a bit better about saying no to Albus in the last little while, but—I'm not a different person. I've been thinking about the fear in my parents' faces. A normal person wouldn't notice something like that."
"Most people aren't trained Aurors," was all Draco could think of to say.
Potter shook his head wildly. "But even that just sets me apart." He closed his eyes. "I wanted to be—average. Ordinary. Not special. I thought I could do that if I just concentrated on it after the war. And I tried to be the normal husband to Ginny and the normal father to the children. And I always, always went too far."
Draco was beginning to catch a glimpse of other things that he thought had split Potter's marriage up, but he kept his voice as calm and soothing as possible. "Well, there are things that you can't help. Consequences of the things you survived—"
"But I can help the way I think about it," said Potter, his voice unexpectedly strong, and he touched Draco's cheek.
Draco looked down at him, professional composure fleeing, and blinked. He wondered if Potter's eyes had looked as green even in his office as they did in this half-dream, half-dreamt landscape.
"You're gay," Potter whispered. "You made a life for yourself after you acknowledged it, even if you know it's not the way that your parents would have preferred you to live."
Draco nodded. His heart was singing. He so rarely got to see the way that his patients transformed themselves. It was private. It happened outside his office, in the core of their minds.
Just like this was.
"You have a relationship with your son that isn't—isn't perfect, but you have one," said Potter, maybe struggling with things he had heard in letters from his son Albus, who Scorpius sometimes tormented and sometimes worked with. "Even though you had to have a life that isn't exactly what you wanted it to be."
"Yes." Draco smiled. Scorpius was the greatest joy of his life.
"So maybe I can, too," said Potter, and he closed his hand down on Draco's wrist until Draco though he would carry the brand of that warm touch on the bone for the rest of his life, outweighing and outburning the Dark Mark. "Can I—can I come see you, talk to you, about—things, even if they aren't about the exact things I was visiting you for at first? See you outside the office? See some—memories of yours?"
Draco met Potter's eyes, unafraid. He had never showed any of his own memories to patients, but if Potter did what he was suggesting, he would no longer strictly be a patient. "Yes," he said.
"Even—private memories? Intimate ones?"
Draco moved towards what that warmth on his wrist, in Potter's eyes, blazing in the connection between their minds that the shared Hogwarts occupied, was telling him. "Yes," he said. "And more than just wanking."
Potter's eyes shone, and the lightning quieted, and then a sun did rise and start shining on the castle from outside.
"Maybe I can even get outside Hogwarts," said Potter, speaking in a soft, breathless murmur. "Into wherever you put your heart and strength."
And he lightly kissed Draco's hand, where he was holding it. "I'll see you soon."
The warmth of that was greater than anything Draco had ever felt, stronger than pain, richer than the fear that Potter was perhaps only using him as a pattern of how to live. He nodded, and bent down to kiss Potter's fingers where they held his wristbone.
And then the sunlight melted around him, and gently removed him from Potter's mind as the castle dissolved.
Draco didn't object. For one thing, he knew that the connection would be replaced by something stronger, sturdier, more durable, in short order.
For another, he was intensely glad that Potter might be able to exist without Hogwarts as his only safe place.
Draco opened his eyes to the muted light of rain and not sun, and feeling as though someone had stretched his magic and his mind as only a particularly hard Clarification would do.
But still, he smiled.