It happened again last night. One of my… episodes. A more violent one this time. They seem to turn progressively more violent ever since… well, it's still sort of hard to imagine, but my Scorpius, my bright, beautiful boy, is all grown up and has finally left the manor. I couldn't stand in his way, naturally… no, that wouldn’t be right, even though I have no love for the Weasley girl he's moving in with. He's been obsessed with her since he was 14, so now, nearly a decade later, I've grown accustomed to it, and it no longer annoys me. They have my blessing. I still can't stand her father, obviously… or her mother, for that matter – not even her uncle! – but she is… she’ll do.
But ever since Scorpius has been out of the house, my… nightly episodes... seem to have grown in frequency and intensity. Until, two weeks ago, I crossed the line and Astoria left me. I can’t really blame her: I did attack her after all. Granted, I did it unwittingly and was deeply convinced I was merely defending myself, but I could’ve hurt her quite badly, or worse, had she not been able to reach her wand in time. After that, there was no chance of keeping the pretence of our marriage together. That’s all it ever was anyway. The Malfoy line needed an heir, and she needed a rich husband to provide for her. She was a kind, beautiful and smart woman, so I had no reason to object. I reckon she even fancied herself in love with me for a while… but she must know better by now. At least she realises it could never be reciprocated. Love is… hard for me, and I’ve only ever felt it properly for one person other than my parents. No, not for myself, and certainly not for Astoria. And I’ve never felt what people describe as romantic love; I was never in love. The concept seems horribly overrated.
Still, it had been an amicable, solid enough marriage, and I suppose I did end up feeling love in the end, just not the sort anyone expected. Because, you see, when my Scorpius was born, it seemed as if all the love I would ever feel had been born with him. I love that boy insanely. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him, and he never stops fascinating me. In the end, I even let him go, because that was the best I could give him. But that was also the beginning of my demise.
I was always… troubled, after the war. Hardly anyone could blame me. I spent long weeks surrounded by evil, dangerous, bored wizards – and one select witch – whose only entertainment was to torture and murder people they thought beneath them. But at least they had some morals to guide them. He… the Dark Lord… god, after all this time, I still have problems using his name… Voldemort had none. He was a deranged, unhinged madman who loved only power and trampled over everything and everyone to get it.
During those dreadful months at the manor, there were moments when I nearly became the true victim of those monsters. My father’s status as one of Dark Lord’s favourites was weakening, slowly but surely, and the fact that they were our guests meant less and less every day they spent there, waiting and bored. A few more weeks in that hell, and they would have got to me. They had already made a point of tormenting me in a thousand little ways – I was hardly their equal, and they let me know it. And eventually, I felt myself becoming more like them with each passing day. Living with them was sucking my soul into the darkness.
But I did have two things that protected me, physically and… otherwise. The first one… the one that can still turn my stomach when I think of it, happened in the early days of their stay in Malfoy Manor, before the tedious wait to capture Potter really began. Everyone present was still over the moon about having the Dark Lord back – except a select few who knew better than to demonstrate their lack of enthusiasm – and he was willing to be gracious, pretending as if there was some method to his madness. He loved to bask in the adoration of his followers, and in those moments, he was most willing to be gracious. Perhaps he tried to pretend he still had a soul, perhaps he was merely trying to project that there was bright future ahead for all under his rule... who could tell what went on in his mad, dark mind? But it was during one such moment that I felt his icy reptilian arms snake around me in an embrace, and time ground to a screeching halt.
As trivial as it sounds, that embrace was the best protection I could have asked for; that was no ordinary hug. He had shown everyone he had plans for me, that I was to be the poster child of the new generation of pure-blood wizards who were loyal to him, and, consequently enjoyed his protection. No one really dared hurt me… much… after that. Not even my mad Aunt Bella, whose envious gasp was the only sound accompanying the heart-stopping moment.
But my soul is still haunted by the memory of his foul embrace. To this very day, there are moments when, in my madness, I can still feel the foul stench of him wrap around me, surrounding me, and owning me – and it feels as if there is no way out alive. The vapours of death and decay from the world beyond are upon me, seeping through me like the essence of that long-dead creature that dwelled in his corporeal form due to some vicious dark magic… and I am permeated by it, I am poisoned by it. The horrible smell of an open grave is all over me, devouring me, corroding me, pulling me under, and nothing, not even hours of scrubbing my skin until it’s raw and bleeding can get it out until my madness passes. I was embraced by pure evil, and there are traces of it still residing under my very skin. I’m certain of it.
Still, there is no denying it: that embrace saved me from perishing… saved my body from perishing. The thing that really kept whatever little sanity I had left afloat… was a very stubborn ray of hope. Hope that I could do better, hope that just wouldn’t die, no matter what they’d put me through. It was born in the moment at the top of the Astronomy Tower in the darkest moment of my life, when I got a little glimpse into my own goodness. Between my aunt’s mad shrieking to finish the Headmaster off, and the echo of his voice telling me I was no coldblooded murderer, I realised I wouldn’t do what I was sent there to do, not even when my own life was at stake. Not back then, I wouldn’t. Not when I could still choose between my life and Dumbledore’s. Later...
I don’t wish to think about what I did… what I was forced to do later. I survived, that’s what I did. I helped my parents survive, and we took care of each other as best as we could in that living hell they’d turned our home into. And all this time, that little ray of hope that I was not beyond salvaging, that I could do better, that one day I would do better and would be free of this nightmare, kept my head above water. I persevered, and I kept going, not only through the war and the loss of friends, status, and nearly my freedom, but also afterwards… Afterwards, when no one would go near the Malfoys, when unknown people tried to hex my mother and me whenever we showed our faces in public, when it took Father three rounds around the pure-blood families with eligible daughters to find me a bride, when I kept waking up in my own mess with my throat raw from screaming due to the night terrors that just wouldn’t stop… I persisted. I persevered. I kept my head up and kept going – and I got my lucky break when my Scorpius was born.
It was as if the light had entered my life at last, and I would never have to walk completely in the darkness as long as I had him. When they put him in my arms and I looked at that tiny, round, innocent face with curious grey eyes… my heart skipped a beat, and the world was never quite the same again. It was love at first sight. Love, protectiveness, and new strength to keep going through my life, which had seemed bleak and colourless until that moment. I felt the impact of the little life in my hands immediately. My nightmares subsided – they were less frequent, less intense, less frightening. Perhaps because my sleep had become so much lighter. I was always looking out for the signs of distress in my baby son, waking up at the slightest sound that could have meant his discomfort – but nearly every night, my Scorpius slept soundly. There was no question whether his crib would be in our bedroom or not; I had picked that thing up and physically transported it there myself the first night after he was born. Before that, I couldn’t have imagined I’d love anyone quite that much.
It took me a couple of years to allow my reason to prevail over my concerned heart, and I had Scorpius’s bed moved out of our bedroom. To the adjacent room – that went without saying. I didn’t sleep a second the night after the change – not until my boy wandered to my bed in the wee hours of the morning, still warm and drowsy from sleep, and crawled between my sheets where I closed my arms around him. Only then I could doze off, knowing I would always keep him safe from the world.
It came as a shock a few years after that when Astoria proposed that he be moved into his own wing of the house. Whatever for!? I couldn’t think of a reason! There was a wall between us, was there not?! He was properly shielded from our nightly activities, however rarely they occurred. Why was there any need to put further distance between us? Didn’t she love him? Didn’t she love having him around? But my wife was a clever woman. She looked me in the eye, unperturbed by my enraged, panicked accusations, and she told me I would suffer greatly once our lovely boy moved on to Hogwarts if I didn’t allow the gap between us to grow just a little wider. She told me I was smothering the child, that I had made myself his only friend, and that he needed the company of his peers, or he will be at disadvantage compared to other Hogwarts students, who enjoyed a much larger network of social contacts than our son did. Clever, like I said.
So I did it for him. I asked his opinion; I told him that he was not obliged to do my bidding in the matter – still secretly hoping at that point, I guess, that he would reject our plans for him – but he agreed to the move, and as much as it pained me at the time, I confess he seemed enthusiastic about the whole affair. My first proper nightmare in years returned on the night he moved and it was such a violent episode that it had woke him up, even when he was a good number of rooms away from our bedroom.
I will never forget the look on his face when he entered the room, scared, unprepared for whatever was there to meet him, but bravely pointing his toy wand at whatever monster was tormenting his father. He was only nine at the time, but I realised in that moment that Astoria was right: he deserved better than I could give him. He crawled into the messed up, sweaty, wet sheets of my bed without a single word that night and just locked his arms around my poor, tormented head. And held me. The way I should have been holding him. And then the tiny, selfless angel I’d raised asked me if I wanted him to move back into his old room. It took everything that I had at that moment, not to jump at my chance. But I could still smell His stench on me, though I knew that my son wouldn’t be able to detect it; so I swallowed my screams and told him I was going to be fine. He was welcome to stay where he was. He was better there. Safer.
Putting him on that train to Hogwarts was every bit the torment Astoria had predicted it was going to be. I drove myself spare thinking about all the things I could be subjecting him to – the friendless existence, the shunning by his fellow students… I couldn’t even stomach thinking about the potential abuse. He was a Malfoy, a descendant of the family that chose the wrong side of war. Twice. What could possibly go right?!
It turns out that son of mine was born under a lucky star. He had promised to write as soon as he got a chance, and I didn’t even bother with sleep the first night he was away. But in the morning, his owl arrived, and I remember nearly strangling the poor feathered messenger trying to pry the letter out of her talons. The first thing I noticed was a photograph that was somehow projected onto the scroll. It was clearly from the Hogwarts Express, and it featured my son smiling shyly into the camera, with a redheaded girl grinning wildly on his left, and a boy with sparkling green eyes and a similar shy smile on his right. I never knew I would look at a Potter and a Weasley and feel such relief. My son was letting me know through the letter that he had made new friends, and they took something called a “selfie” with some blessed Muggle technology to prove to me that I had nothing to worry about. Merlin… he was going to be all right. That was all I could think about. A Potter… and a Weasley… and now, a Malfoy. Salazar the Great… what I wouldn’t give to have had that back then, though I was always too proud to admit it.
He sent two, sometimes three letters a week for the entire stretch of his seven years spent at Hogwarts, and between his letters and the prospect of holidays… he never missed any… I survived somehow. His letters were showing the same concern for me as I had for him, because, by some incomprehensible miracle my Scorpius was just an incredibly caring soul.
“Are you sleeping well, Father? You better not be shutting yourself up again! Will you attend the Ministry charity event? I’m hoping for a picture of you in the Prophet!”
This. This was my son. Always caring about me, always pushing me an extra step towards my well-being. So I did it for him. I took potions when I felt a bad night coming up. I attended as many Ministry events as I could stomach, and made sure I was seen in the background of at least one of the pictures posted in that rag of a newspaper. I took good care of myself so as not to let him down, reminding myself I needed to be there for him, and I was. He finished his formal education with the second highest number of N.E.W.T.S. under his belt – because… ugh… Rose Weasley – but it wasn’t the number of his N.E.W.T.S. that made my heart sing. Upon his return from Hogwarts, he came home to inform me that he agreed with Rose to wait a little while before moving in together, so he would be staying with me in the manor for some time to come. I could barely contain my joy.
I suppose even then, five years ago, Rose and my Scorpius were a done deal, as solid a match as was ever made in Heaven. It didn’t matter to them if they had to delay living together for a while. They had nothing to prove; they were it. He was going through the training to become a fully-qualified Healer, and I admit I was equal parts shocked and touched by his enthusiastic determination to care for others. Rose was the level-headed one; she was all about politics. She wanted to make a large-scale impact – as was becoming of the Minister’s daughter – and that meant inhumanely long hours and insane schedules at the Ministry’s many departments. But somehow, they always found time for one another, and in those five years, I saw much more of Rose Weasley than I would have liked.
It’s not like I don’t like the girl, no… She is as smart and gifted as they come, with a sardonic, brittle sense of humour, yet incredibly charitable and, of course, very beautiful. But most of all, she is just as head over heels about my Scorpius as he is about her – so really, I have no reason whatsoever to dislike her. Still, there was always the nasty thought nagging at the back of my brain that one day she would take my son away from me and end this comfortable, satisfying arrangement we’ve set up. And it had happened sooner than I had expected. A lot sooner. A mere five years, that’s all I got! Merlin, one would think… Oh, I suppose consciously I knew it wasn’t just her, that there was no pressure needed or applied, and that it was my Scorpius’s, my grown-up son’s wish as well as hers, to finally start a life together on their own. That’s how life works, and really, I should have known… I should have expected.
Still, it hit me like a brick to the head when they’d broken the news to me, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes, flushed and happy – and I just couldn’t break their bliss with my misery. So I nodded stiffly, wished them both good luck, and informed my son that I had set aside assets for such an occasion, so they could splurge on their first flat a little. It turned out that Rose’s parents – Ron Weasley, a successful joke-shop co-owner these days, and his wife Hermione Granger, the current Minister for Magic – had much the same thoughts. And since our children – however proud of their measly income – couldn’t really turn down gifts, they were set up for a more-than-comfortable life together. I should have been happy for them… I was happy for them, but for me… their decision brought nothing but misery. I crumbled on the inside that very day.
It didn’t take long for my nightmares to return, as if they were only swept aside to a dark corner of my mind, captured there by the light that was my son, and could not wait to ravage me the second the light was gone. I didn’t even get a single night’s rest. Every single night, it was the same recurring nightmare. I was running down the corridors of the manor, neglected and poorly lit as they were during that terrible time when war was upon us, and I was manic with fear. With every hurried step I took, the candles were being extinguished behind my back by some unknown horror following me, approaching me, making me run even faster. There were screams and crazy cackles behind me, and I was exhausted, but I kept running until I turned the corner… and suddenly there was nothing.
Like the world had stopped, like the time was no more. The voices went silent, and there was nothing but pitch darkness, corporeal in its thickness, watching me with a thousand eyes, its heavy breathing sending waves of panicked dread and despair through me. I could feel the ice-cold breath of the horror chasing me on my neck, and it made my skin prickle as if it was being stuck with needles. And there was nowhere to run. Until, inevitably, that bone-chilling touch was upon me, sending shivers down my spine, and that’s when I started to fight… thrash… scream… trying to scrape the horrible darkness washing over me off my skin, shred through it, but it was like trying to grab empty, frozen, heavy fog, and it was sucking the air from my lungs as if I was being devoured from the inside out.
It was in one of those fits of nightly madness that I hurt Astoria. I don’t even know why we still insisted on sharing a bedroom; it’s not like either of us remembered we were still young enough for another child, or at least some off-hand intimacy. It had been apparent to me for some years by then that my… preferences... were somewhat different – not that I ever dared act on them – and Merlin knows what hers were; it was certainly not in my nature to ask. But the fact remained we were not very well matched in the bedroom. Perhaps it was the old pure-blood pride, unwillingness to admit that our marriage was a failure, that still kept us together. We shared a bedroom as a normal couple would, but there had hardly been any intimacy between us since Scorpius was born. But she still came to our bedroom every night like a queen dutifully taking her throne, and she would sleep next to me.
Most of the nights before our son’s departure had been fairly uneventful. Whenever I had felt a bad night coming up, I would take potions and excuse myself with some work or the other, spending the night in my study, which boasted an exceptionally comfortable sofa with millions of cushioning charms. But that changed once Scorpius left. My nightly horrors could no longer be predicted or contained, and it was as if the darkness I carried inside me all these years somehow found a way out of its container and spilled all over me, defiling me, ruining me for everything else. I could not sleep properly, and I dreaded dozing off during the day, regardless of how tired I was. I took potions to keep myself awake, and I was exhausted, unable to focus on anything, and barely composed during the day. My mood was foul from all the fatigue, and my appearance visibly deteriorated. I lost what little appetite and interests I had, and by the fateful night when I attacked Astoria, I had turned into a proper ghost of myself.
I went to bed just like any other day, fearing the moment I would succumb to my tiredness, and no matter how much I tried to postpone it, it always inevitably came. I was too exhausted to stay awake, and the dosage of potions that was required to knock me out was nearing lethal quantities – I had enough knowledge to realise that. So at some point, I must have closed my eyes, and the next thing I remember was the sight of my hands tightly locked around Astoria’s neck, squeezing the life out of my poor wife just before the blasting spell hit me and I flew backwards into the wall. If my wife wasn’t so well-versed in non-verbal spells, I would have made myself a widower and a murderer… once again. I was so shocked, lying by the wall trying to catch my breath, that I barely understood what she was trying to tell me.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she was saying, the tears streaming down her face and her voice choked. “Merlin knows I love you more than you deserve, Draco, but I… we can’t go on like this. You can’t go on like this. You need help. I know you’ve suppressed whatever it is you’d been through in that bloody war, love, but it has to come out, not fester on the inside. It’s making you ill. It’s making what little peace we’ve made during our years together shatter. I stayed around after Scorpius left, prepared to pick up the broken bits of you – because I know you; I knew you would fall apart. But this is… I can’t do this. I know you feel nothing for me – you haven’t, not for years, not ever, though you’ve always given me your attention and respect – but now you no longer care for yourself, either. And I can’t do this any longer. I’m locked up in the tomb of a palace with a man who’s dying on the inside – and it’s suffocating me, Draco.”
By then, the brave, wonderful woman I married approached me and kneeled down next to me, even though I’d tried to kill her moments ago – and I swear I never wanted the comfort of her touch more. Only… I was dead frightened to lay a finger on her, and too shocked and shattered to even find words. But, kind and intuitive as she was, she understood. She wrapped her arms around me, and I leaned my head into her, silently begging for forgiveness. I knew that it was given without her speaking a single word… and I also knew that it was over between us. I owed her that much. I needed to let her go, let her fly and take her warmth, her big, generous heart with all that love she was capable of and give it to someone who would have it gladly. Someone, who would be able to give her as much love as she deserved. I… couldn’t. I was too broken on the inside.
“I’m sorry,” I choked out, and I knew she understood that I wasn’t apologising just for hurting her, but for all the wrong I had caused her by letting her whither by my side for all those years.
“Don’t be sorry,” she said quietly. “We’ve had some good years as a family, and we’ve raised a wonderful son together. And for what it’s worth… I loved you, I still do. So don’t be sorry, because I’m not. I spent over two decades of my life at the side of the man I will always love with a part of my heart, and I have no regrets. But I do wish to have a parting present from you: I want you to get better. Can you do that, Draco? Will you at least try?”
I nodded feebly. As guilt-ridden as I was, I would have promised her anything, but honestly, I had no idea how to go about it. I’ve been living with my terrors and my guilt for so long, I could barely imagine how it would be to live… free. Free from potions I came to depend on, free from murderous headaches and subsequent memory loss that made me come to my senses in places I had no recollection of going to. Free from flashes of cruel memories that came upon me without warning, leaving me incapacitated, frozen, and feeling filthy for hours to come; free to fall asleep and not wake up screaming, free… free. How would that feel? How would I even go about that? How did one get free like that? Did I even deserve to be free of it?
I had no answers to these questions, and the force of my headache was turning blinding. I took potions that evening that knocked me out for nearly a day and a half, not caring if I ever woke up. But when I opened my eyes at last, Astoria was gone and I found my son sitting next to me, worry and anxiety etched into his face. My wife… my soon to be ex-wife had apparently been serious about her parting gift, and she had engaged the one person I was willing to go to the end of hell for, on my bloody knees if I had to. There’s no need to repeat the conversation that ensued with my son; let it suffice to say that it had ended in my complete and utter capitulation. I had agreed to seek help.
My son has left me with very clear instructions on where to get it. And what made my choice a little easier was the fact that he would be near should I require his assistance. St. Mungo’s was his destination as well as mine.