If you are NOT in a good mental head space right now, do not read. Please take care of yourself and your mental health. The story will still be here when you return. I promise.
Seriously, TRIGGERING MATERIAL AHEAD!
SPOILERS, but TRIGGER WARNING!
TRIGGERS INCLUDE: suicidality and talking of suicidal thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Depression and depressive symptoms.
HELP FOR UNITED STATES LOCATIONS
If you're in crisis, there are options available to help you cope. You can also call the Lifeline at any time to speak to someone and get support. For confidential support available 24/7 for everyone in the United States, call one eight hundred, two seventy-three, eighty-two fifty-five. 1-800-273-8255.
CRISIS TEXT LINE:
Text HOME for the following areas:
US and Canada: text 741741
UK: text 85258 | Ireland: text 086 1800 280
HELP FOR INTERNATIONAL LOCATIONS
Please look up the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). You can be helped.
Author's Note: Seriously, people. Triggering stuff ahead. Please be aware that there is triggering material in this chapter. This chapter is really, really rough. Please take care of yourself and do what's best for you.
"Hi, Paul," Harry said as he entered what Paul was now calling 'The Magical Therapy Room' - only in his head, of course. He liked puns, but he didn't want to make Harry uncomfortable...if referring to a room as magic would make Harry uncomfortable. Working in a magical environment was sometimes difficult, and this was only his second visit!
"Hi, Harry...please, have a seat. How are you feeling?"
Harry dropped into a squashy armchair and sighed. "I'm tired," he said. No elaboration. It wasn't needed. Harry's head dropped back to rest against the back of the chair and relaxed into the cushions.
"You look tired. It's been two days since I last saw you. How are you doing?" Paul asked as he looked Harry over. The boy did look a little tired, but there was something a little different….
"Is 'flat' a feeling?" Harry asked.
"Yes, if that's what you're feeling. Can you tell me more?" Paul asked.
Harry shrugged and picked up a cushion, tossing it up and down a little. Paul paused and looked Harry over again. He did seem flat. Depressed.
"Any thoughts of suicide?" Paul watched as Harry froze and then gave a single nod. "What did you do when you were feeling that way?"
Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar piece of paper. "I used my list."
"That is excellent, Harry. Can you give me a few more details?"
"Well, this happened yesterday. I didn't feel like going to classes, and I wasn't really interested in food. I wanted stir fry for some reason, and they were serving steak and kidney pie. So, wasn't hungry for what was on offer. I could have asked the house elves for something else, but that felt like too much effort. I was tired. Cassius was just...lurking. I had a bunch of homework, and well, it was pointless? I mean, my Charms teacher wanted a foot and a half about the differences between one charm and another, and I just...didn't care." Harry paused and then shrugged. "I started thinking about not having to deal with it and then I started thinking about how nice it would be...pondered if I could, you know?"
"If you could kill yourself?" He asked. Harry nodded.
"And then?" Paul asked when it seemed that Harry would not continue on his own.
"I remembered what you said...about how these were just thoughts and I didn't have to act on them. I decided to leave dinner and pulled out the list we made last time. I read it over and realized that I was having those thoughts, and then looked at the next section, you know? The distractions?"
"Was that helpful?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah, it was. I picked drawing and Cassius retrieved my bag of art supplies for me, and he made it sound like he was just waiting for me to ask for something. I went outside to the Quidditch pitch and just...drew for a while."
Paul wrote down a note before responding to Harry. "That's good, Harry. Did you want to share what you drew?"
"Yeah…" Harry pulled out a portfolio from his satchel and handed it to Paul. Harry had sketched the Quidditch pitch from his vantage point in the stands.
"This is well done, Harry. Your art is really coming along. I'm impressed. Anything else?" Harry motioned for him to keep going and the next picture surprised Paul. He studied it for a moment and considered it. "This looks pretty frightening." Harry had drawn a small version of himself crushed into the corner of the page, surrounded by vague shapes and menacing scribbles advancing on him. The small version of him cringing away from everything surrounding him, his arms raised to ward off what was advancing on him.
"It's how I was feeling at the time," Harry whispered. "I just...felt like I was being crushed by everything."
"Crushed by what?"
"Expectations? The future...maybe. People staring at me. Being famous. Having a lot of money when I never had any before all of these expectations that came with my name. It seems like everyone is expecting great things from me, and I just…" Harry fell quiet for a few minutes. "I am being crushed by what feels like everything. I used to be able to handle it all, and now, I can't."
"Do you think you should be able to handle it?" Paul asked.
"Yes." Harry answered immediately and then shrugged. "I don't know."
"You don't have to, you know." Paul told him. "Remember, if you just want to live the rest of your days...doing underwater basket weaving, that's okay."
"Heh...yeah. I think Aunt Petunia would have a few words to say about that."
"Remember, Harry. It's your life and you're the one who's going to have to live it. Why not make it what you want, rather than what people expect?"
"Remember, Harry. It's your life and you're the one who's going to have to live it. Why not make it what you want, rather than what people expect?"
Paul's words stayed with Harry over the next few days. He said that he would be back on the third day, unless Khalid came and said that Harry needed him sooner. Paul had given Harry an assignment to do and he was to do it before their next appointment.
"You can complete this by writing it out, or you can do it in art." Harry stared at the materials in front of him and wanted to toss everything across the room. Of course, Madam Pince may throw him out for disturbing her precious library, and so he refrained. No one thought to look for him here these days. "You might find it difficult, but I would like you to try. Pick one thing to change in your life that you think would make the most difference. Show how this change would make things in your life better, and how things will change in relation to this choice. You can do more than one if you want, but I think that putting some ideas down on paper may help you put things into perspective. Remember, Harry, that there is no judgement here. You can make yourself and your future anything you want. Show me a version."
"Easier said than done, Paul." Harry muttered as he scribbled on paper with a pencil. "I can't see myself six months from now...much less the bloody future!" Harry tossed down his pencil and glared into space. This was hard. He did not like this. He lowered his head to rest on the table in front of him and decided to start scribbling to see what came of it. Maybe his brain would take over for him and he wouldn't have to think about it.
He allowed his mind to disengage and he just drew for a while. He didn't draw anything in particular, but after he had filled his first page with meaningless squiggles and shapes, something started to develop on the second page. It all started with a box and slowly, images started to appear in different shapes on the paper in front of him. There was an image of him at home with Aunt Petunia, just having tea and talking. Playing video games with Dudley. A lightsaber fight with Hermione. He was pretty sure she was going to win. Playing Muggle chess with Remus. Him gardening in his own little spot. Just sitting in a chair and reading. Cooking with Aunt Petunia. He studied the images for a few minutes and felt a little realization settle in him. He took out his journal and started writing down what he had learned and his thoughts about it.
"There you are!" Hermione dropped into the chair across from Harry and her school satchel clattered down onto the table in front of him, breaking him out of his thoughts. "Harry? You okay?"
"Fine," he said absently, still focused on his writing.
"Do I need to get Cassius?" Hermione asked, his brows coming together in worry.
"What?" Harry's head snapped up and looked at her. "No! Please, don't get Cassius...I was just a little focused on what I was doing and...well." He gestured towards his journal and Hermione's facial expression changed.
"Are you fully operational?" She asked.
Harry couldn't help smiling at that phrase. It had come from one of their Star Wars meetings. Harry couldn't actually call them meetings. More like a group of rabid schoolchildren coming together to chant lines that half of the school simply did not have the context to understand. Hermione had seen Harry having a moment, and she had asked him if he was fully operational. Since that time, it had become their code for his moments. If he answered in the negative, Hermione would help him get some space, a chance to breathe, or whatever he needed at that moment, even if it was alerting Cassius to the problem. It had only been three days since the first time, but Harry had to admit that it was helpful to be able to say something when he needed help without needing to say 'I need help.' It was easier for him to say that he was not operational than it was for him to say "I need to get some air." or "Get me out of here."
Hermione was a great friend. He had felt comfortable enough to share his safety plan with her the day after he and Paul had created it. True, after she read it, she asked if she could hug him and when he had said yes, she held onto him tightly for a full ten minutes. She had cried, but then she gave a tiny sniffle, dried her tears, and hugged him again, telling him she was proud of him for admitting that he was not okay and that he needed help. Harry thought it was a little strange that she was proud of him for it, but she wouldn't hear his protests and told him it was something to be proud of and she respected him for it.
"You're my best friend, Harry. I'm here for you. Day or night. I love you, Harry." She told him. He was back in a hug before he recognized that she was going to do it again, and he relaxed against her with a laugh.
"Love you too, Mi." He told her as he returned the hug. "Love you, too." Harry didn't know what the future would bring to him, or even if he had one at this point. All he wanted at that moment was to sit with his friend and enjoy the hug.
"I am fully operational." He told her, smiling at the phrase again. "Promise. I was just involved. Study time?" He closed his journal and gathered up his art materials to tuck them away into his bag.
"Yes, I think it is. Have you started on the essay from Professor Flitwick yet?" Hermione asked as she set out her materials.
"Not really." Hermione's look told him to get started with it. Harry sighed and pulled out his Charms materials. He could at least outline it. Maybe that would help him write it. The pair of them fell quiet as they turned to their assignments. This was nice, studying with a friend. He pulled out his journal and turned to the list he had made of "Things I Enjoy." He had started it as a quick reference separate from his safety plan. It was one he could use without having to pull out his full safety plan. He jotted down "studying with a friend" and stashed the book away in his bag.
He and Hermione studied for about an hour before Harry couldn't focus any longer and closed up his books for the day. "Finished?" Hermione asked, her head snapping up as Harry stood.
"Can't focus. I'm going for a walk."
"Want me to come?" Hermione asked.
"No, thanks. I'm fine." Harry said. Hermione nodded her head and turned back to her homework. Harry could tell she was in her "accomplish something" mode and nothing would deter her from it for a little while.
Harry started down the stairs and Hogwarts helpfully made the stairs stay still so he wouldn't have to wait for them to finish moving around. Hogwarts was extremely helpful in that. He wandered outside and ended up at the lake. He shrugged philosophically and sat down on a large rock at the end of the lake. When it was warmer, he would dangle his feet in the water from this rock; now, though, warming charms were necessary. Harry pulled out his drawing materials and started sketching the lake in front of him. He added an AT-AT from Star Wars just for fun and found himself imagining what would happen if some of the pureblood students ever saw an AT-AT in real life.
"Hello, Potter." Drake's voice broke him out of his thoughts.
"Hi, Drake." Drake didn't say anything further. He just sat down at the other end of the rock and was quiet. Harry went back to his drawing, ignoring the other boy. He knew that Drake would speak when he was ready.
"Are you okay?" Drake asked, startling Harry out of his imagined scene. Darth Vader was attacking the Whomping Willow with his lightsaber, and the Willow was winning from what Harry could tell.
"Sure...and I'm a muggle." Drake said in response. "I'm not asking you to confide in me or anything, Harry. I just wanted to let you know that you have people on your side - even if you're holding blackmail material on me."
"Snape already knows about your Muggle girlfriend. He figured it out. I didn't tell him." Harry responded.
"Oh, I know. We've had numerous talks about not disgracing myself, family planning, the fact that my teenage hormones are pushing me to make unwise decisions that I would otherwise not make if I didn't have them coursing through my system…" Drake cackled at the look Harry was giving him. "Oh, if you could see your face!"
"I really don't understand the conversations you two have...I really don't."
"Oh, come on. You're telling me that you've never had the wand and holster talk. Birds and the bees. Watering the flowers. Tending the garden."
Harry bust out laughing and let his sketchpad fall to the ground. Drake laughed too and Harry had a feeling that Drake had wanted to make him laugh. "Okay, never want to hear that kind of talk again. I'll stick with the Muggle version, thanks. They use actual terms."
"You had that talk before coming to Hogwarts?" Drake sounded surprised.
"No...I was just really good at finding information that I thought I needed to know. There was a really helpful librarian that showed me how to find what I was looking for in the library. Of course, once she figured out what I was researching, there was a really serious talk about how some things are best left to the adults in your life." Harry shrugged. "Now, I really don't want to ask my aunt about how things work...so Remus is the choice, and since I'm pretty sure that he and my aunt are somewhat involved, I don't want to ask him any questions either."
"Well, there's always Professor Snape." Drake said lightly.
"Urgh." Harry shuddered and gave Drake a dirty look.
"He gave the fourth year 'Your Body is Changing and You're Not Allowed to Disgrace Slytherin' talk in the dormitory. It was very informative. He had dia-" Drake's voice cut off because Harry had silently conjured a pillow and tossed it at his face.
Drake caught the pillow, smirked, and then tucked it behind his head, relaxing back against the grass. "Thank you, Potter. Very thoughtful."
"Would you like a blanket, too?"
"No, thanks. If I get too comfortable, I won't go to my next class." He paused and then propped himself up on one elbow to look at Harry. "Seriously, though. You okay?"
"A little off, but I'm functioning, I guess." Harry said honestly. "Just tired, I suppose."
"If you need to hide or anything, I have a private bedroom. You can hide out there. Cassius isn't allowed in Professor Snape's quarters, so you'd be safe from your...honestly, Potter, I'm still not sure what to call him."
"Bodyguard, valet, pest…" Harry started listing.
"No appreciation for what I put up with," Cassius said, startling the pair of them. "And I will not have you hiding away where I cannot reach. There is a reason I am here, Master Harry."
"Whatever happened to 'you won't notice me half the time?'"
Cassius gave an injured sniff. "I cannot help the fact that you are extremely observant when you want to be. And what have I told you about sitting on the ground!?" Cassius said, lifting Harry to his feet. "Besides, you have a visitor."
"Visitor?" Harry asked as Cassius straightened his uniform.
"Yes, your father is here. No time to change, but I've done what I can." Cassius started urging him back towards the castle. He shot a frantic look to Drake, but the boy gave him a shrug. It was obviously too late for help from Drake. "Come along, Master Malfoy. Lord Tepes would like to meet you." Draco followed after them, his face pale with the idea that he was going to meet the Lord Tepes.
Harry followed Cassius into the castle and towards a classroom Harry knew hadn't been used in his time at Hogwarts. Inside was Headmistress McGonagall, Lord Tepes, and a man Harry vaguely recognized as the tailor from the summer before. "Mister Potter, I would appreciate knowing of the arrival of your guests ahead of time." The professor said as she approached him.
"I'm sorry, Professor. I was not aware that he was arriving."
"Ah, Harry!" Dracula interrupted the professor. "Thank you, Professor, for helping me to surprise my son." Dracula stepped forward and held Harry by the shoulders, looking him over. He stepped forward and pressed a kiss to Harry's forehead. "Good to see you, Harry." He held Harry in a hug and Harry relaxed against him.
"And this must be your little friend, Drake!" He said as he stepped around Harry to approach Draco Malfoy, who turned even paler if that was possible.
Draco bowed a very formal bow, almost exactly the same he had given Harry when he found out about Harry's connection to Dracula, and then offered his hand. Dracula took Draco's hand in his own, shook it, and then wrapped both hands around it as though he was a maiden aunt attempting to hold onto him. He stepped closer and then draped an arm around Draco's shoulders. "Thank you for keeping my son company this afternoon. His friends are always a delight to meet."
"Forgive the interruption...but son?" McGonagall sounded absolutely perplexed.
Dracula turned back towards McGonagall, pausing in what was a very subtle move to the door with Drake. "Yes, Harry came to visit me this past summer and well, he is now my son. Didn't you tell her?"
"I, uh, just wanted to be normal?" Harry was not sure what Vlad's expression meant, but he was concerned that Vlad might retaliate. "Um...as normal as possible, considering?" He edged away. Vlad's look was telling him that Harry was in trouble.
"We'll discuss this later, Harry. You should allow your tailor to measure you while I see your friend off to his next class. Then I shall speak with your Headmistress." Dracula stepped away from Draco, nudged Harry towards the tailor and Harry found himself relieved of his school robe, jumper, tie, and button up shirt. The classroom door opened and shut behind Draco and then Dracula stepped back towards McGonagall.
Harry was left standing in his undershirt (a new addition from Cassius which he had to admit he liked) and his trousers. He was standing on a stool and the tailor started measuring him, muttering under his breath in a language Harry couldn't understand. The man nudged him a few times, asking Harry to hold out his arms, to shift his legs apart to allow the tape measure to wrap about his thigh, and other things. The fact that Harry was unable to understand the directions didn't seem to matter. The tailor made himself understood through pokes, pinches, and at one point, a light smack on the arm that brought Harry's attention back to what they were doing from watching Professor McGonagall and Dracula speak to each other behind a silencing spell. Harry could break the spell and listen in if he wanted, but then the tailor started holding up swatches of cloth to Harry's face and demanding that Harry participate, even though he could not answer any questions.
"Yes, that one!" Dracula's voice called out from where he was standing. He was pointing at the swatch of cloth that the tailor was holding. He said something in the language Harry didn't understand, and Harry had a feeling he was just repeating himself for the tailor. He said something else, and the tailor nodded before turning back to Harry and gestured for Harry to do something. Harry could only shrug in bewilderment and the tailor gave a disappointed sigh.
"Raise your arms, Master Harry. He wants to measure your waist." Cassius said.
"Thank you, Cassius." Harry did as requested and nearly jumped off the stool when the tape measure was shifted across his bottom. The tailor chided him for moving and then went back to his measuring.
"I really don't want to know why his tape measure went there." Harry grumbled.
"I have an idea, but I'm not allowed to share." Cassius told him. "You're done now." Harry stepped down from the stool and started to reach out for his uniform, but Cassius stopped him. "Step over here, Master Harry." Cassius pulled him to the opposite side of the room behind a screen. Harry had a sinking feeling that more clothing was going to become an issue, but all that waited for him was another stool and Dr. Smithson.
"No offense, Doctor, but really?"
"Yes, really. Cooperate." Cassius sat him down on the stool and stood over him as the doctor smiled down at his patient.
"Good to see you, milord, though I wish it was under better circumstances. I'll make the exam quick, okay?" Doctor Smithson was a nice doctor, and Harry appreciated how fast the exam was. The standard questions, the usual pleasantries about the weather in London, how fascinating magical travel with a vampire could be, and did milord notice that he was under weight?"
"Not really interested in food at the moment." Harry said. "It comes and goes." Harry sighed. "I'm trying."
"I know you are. Just try to remember that you need the calories. Your body is changing rapidly at the moment, and it needs all the calories and rest it can get, especially if you aren't up to eating full meals. Cassius, let's try some high calorie snacks between his classes and during his free time. See if that doesn't help. I can also prescribe some sleeping pills to help you sleep, if you'd like. I can tell you aren't sleeping well."
"No, I'm okay without them. There's this tea that Cassius gets for me that helps on the bad nights, and I like it. I fall asleep pretty fast after drinking it." Smithson paused and then looked up at Cassius for confirmation.
Cassius nodded in agreement and then smiled down at Harry. "Master Harry is slowly eating more and drinking the tea I give him."
"Very well. More food, more rest, and more relaxation. You are exhibiting signs of stress that I normally see in high-level politicians and well, people with extremely dangerous professions that I cannot name or give details about because doing that would break the law. I'll be back to see you in a week, and if I don't see some slight improvement, we may have to remove you from school for a while."
"But-" The doctor folded his arms and gave him a look. Harry was very familiar with this look. His aunt had it, Remus had it, and even Cassius had it from time to time. It was the "You aren't taking care of yourself and you need to take care of yourself" look. Harry sighed. "Understood. Thank you." Harry sighed and then allowed Cassius to pull him back to his feet. "I'll do my best."
"That's all I ask." The doctor wished him a good day, gave him a handwritten list of instructions, and then started to pack away his bag.
"Let's put your uniform back to rights." Cassius said as he led Harry out from behind the screen. Dracula was studying him as Harry appeared and Harry had to look away as Doctor Smithson approached Dracula and started to speak to him in a low voice.
Harry tied his tie and pulled on his jumper, ignoring the low voices on the other side of the room. Cassius held out his robes from him and Harry realized that he had gotten used to someone helping him get dressed. Cassius smoothed his shoulders down and reached around to fasten the robe around him. "A comb and mirror, Master Harry." Cassius said, handing him the items. Harry focused on smoothing his hair and tying it back away from his face. He noticed Dracula's insignia hanging from his necklace and he tucked it away. Cassius reached up and pulled it out, allowing Harry to see him do it. "He wants to see it. You can tuck it away later." He whispered to Harry.
Harry nodded in response and prepared himself to meet his father. Vlad stepped forward as McGonagall left the room. Harry supposed that he was spared from McGonagall's wrath for the moment; he had a feeling that there would be a meeting between the two of them later. Harry found himself crushed against Dracula's chest and just held there. "Um…?"
"Shush, child, and let me hold you." Dracula whispered to him. A vampire's strength was not exaggerated; Vlad could pick him up as though he weighed nothing and carried him to the window seat on the other side of the room. They settled there and Vlad just held onto him. Harry relaxed into the hold and the scent he had come to associate with Dracula was there. Slightly musty, but in a good way, like the garden shed. Dracula always smelled a little like earth under whatever fragrance he was favoring that day, and Harry found it made him feel a little at home. "Oh, Harry, my son. Why did you not tell me that you were having such a difficult time at school?"
"Don't know...I didn't tell anyone." Harry offered. "Everything was supposed to be all right...except it wasn't and I wanted it to be, but then I got here and everything just wasn't all right and there was the schoolwork and that ridiculous Boy Who Lived issue and these little kids following me around like I'm supposed to save them all and I can't and -" Harry choked on air and realized that he was crying.
"Shhh." Dracula cradled the back of his head and pulled him in closer. "I know. Let it out, child." Vlad held him there longer than Harry had thought was possible. They were alone in the room, and Harry a feeling that Cassius had directed the tailor and doctor to remove themselves. "I'm here, my child. I'm here."
"Thank you," Harry said softly. Vlad's arms tightened a bit more and then released him. Harry pulled back and Vlad offered him a handkerchief. Harry accepted it with a nod of thanks and then cleaned his face.
"I'll have to make sure Cassius provides some of those for you. Every gentleman should own at least three."
"I already have some," Harry told him, folding it and offering it back to the vampire. Vlad took it and reached up to Harry's face, wiping a spot Harry was sure he hadn't missed in his own efforts.
"Well, you need to carry them so you can use them." Vlad told him. "Now, do you know why I am here?"
"No, I don't. Not that I don't enjoy the surprise of you showing up...but why are you here?"
"Well, there was something about a masquerade, and you and your friends needing some costumes…"
"Really! You brought costumes!"
"Yes, really...I'm joining you at the masquerade, and I can't wait to see everyone's faces when you walk in. Oh, I'm also told that you're going to be in the talent show. That should be a treat for everyone, and then the dance later that evening. Oh, I can't wait. The headmistress has invited me to stay until the day after the masquerade, and classes that day are completely canceled. We are going to have such fun." Vlad said, ruffling Harry's hair.
"Fun? Uh-oh." Harry had a feeling what Vlad thought was going to be fun. He had to warn some people...Professor Snape would probably appreciate a warning.
"Yes, now, it is time for you to show me around. Come, Harry. Show me the wonders of Hogwarts."
Author's Note: Okay, dear readers. Heavy stuff for the last two chapters. The next chapter will be a lot more fun, I promise. Please know that none of you are alone. Take care of yourselves. 3