evandar: (Company of Wolves)
Title: Redemption Retreat
Author: Evandar
Fandom: Harry Potter
Rating: R
Genre: Horror/Psychological
Pairing: Rabastan Lestrange/Neville Longbottom - onesided
Warnings: Psychological Horror, Emotional/Psychological Abuse, Referenced Character Death, Memory Loss, Stream of Consciousness, Personality Erasure, Magical Trauma, Self Mutilation
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and am making no profit from this story.
Summary: Redemption Retreat: A Last-chance Rehabilitation Centre for Criminal Minds was the alternative to a life-sentence in Azkaban after the Second War. It promised a final chance at peace and forgiveness through daily treatments and constructive activities. That's what the leaflets in the library said when Willow tried to read them, before the words started swimming on the page and the fog closed in and he forgot why he wanted to read them in the first place.
Author's Notes: Written for the 2017 [community profile] hp_darkarts Horror Fest.

There’s a flurry of movement down the corridor. He can hear it over the tinny ringing in his ears, and he shuffles to the door. It’s Quiet Time – time meant for reflection on past deeds to talk about at the next therapy session – but the sounds of movement and the familiar sound of Healer Wittle’s welcome speech have drowned out the screams in his head. He opens the door just wide enough to peer out.

Healer Wittle is guiding a young man down the corridor. They’re followed by two nurses in their pale blue robes, blank-faced as they carry the young man’s few possessions. A small case. A houseplant with spiked leaves and tendrils sprouting smaller plants. The young man is watching Healer Wittle’s gesticulating hands and his wide smile and he looks a little trapped.

He closes his door again before he’s spotted. There’s a tugging ache in his chest that makes him frown as he presses his hand to his ribs. His heart feels strange, but it isn’t pounding – emotion, he thinks. His frown deepens. Sympathy?

He settles down on his meditation mat once more and folds his legs underneath him, but his focus is gone. He thinks about the young man and his wary eyes and he listens to the sounds of his moving in grow faint before they reach his door.

The young man is in his group therapy session the following morning. He is given a name as they all have been – the young man is Sunflower: a warm and happy name that doesn’t suit the expression on his face. He is Willow, here; before, he was someone else. Someone bad. He knows this, and Sunflower knows it too. The young man stares at him from across the circle with a hard glint in his eyes. Hate. Willow blinks at him once, twice, because he does not know this young man and yet knows he must deserve his hatred if it can be seen so clearly.

He spends the session in silence save for encouraging murmurs to the others. He does not volunteer. Sunflower, he thinks, would be upset if he did.

Breakfast comes after the group session. Willow eats toast and honey and drinks his morning potions without complaint. They taste of aniseed and metal on his tongue and he follows them with another slice of honeyed toast. It makes him feel sick as it always does, but the metallic taste is worse than nausea.

After breakfast, he is permitted in the gardens. He takes long, deep breaths as he shuffles to his assigned plot. He does not look up. He works slowly, methodically, on rows of chard and spinach; carefully plucking snails and slugs from the leaves and laying pellets around the base. The air smells green and fresh, but it misses the salt and sting of the before-time that flutters at the edges of his memory. He hears, again, Healer Wittle over the ringing in his ears. The young man is led to the plot next to his own, where he looks in dismay at the wilted plants that his predecessor has left behind.

Willow shuffles closer, plucking weeds from dark earth.

“The centre is self-sufficient, however we grow far more than our inmates can eat,” Healer Wittle explains. The speech is familiar. “The excess harvest goes to St Mungo’s Hospital – a worthy cause, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

“Yes,” the young man says. His voice is soft and low and not suited to the hatred he had directed at Willow earlier. It is pleasant, and it creates an answering pang of something in his chest.

“The plants…” the young man says.

“Ah, yes,” Healer Wittle says. “Our dear friend had no gift for Herbology, I’m afraid, but he managed to find himself a place where that particular skill wouldn’t be needed.”

“I see,” is the reply. Willow barely hears it. His fingers are curled around the stem of a new weed. The shoot is bright and brilliantly green between his muddied fingers; he peers at it blankly as Healer Wittle’s words sink into his mind. Something stirs beneath the fog. He tugs the weed gently free and drops it in the trug at his feet.

He blinks once, twice, and reaches out to pluck a slug from the earth with his bare hands.


He drops the slug, still living, into the trug as well. He continues on. Behind him, faced with a Herbology project he hadn’t anticipated, the young man simply sighs.

He sits quietly in the library after lunch. It isn’t Quiet Time and it isn’t much of a library – scattered pamphlets advertising the Redemption Retreat! Last-chance Rehabilitation Home for Criminal Minds and a small collection of brightly coloured books. Willow likes the library, but he doesn’t like to read.

He used to, he thinks, in that distant before, because he picks up a book every time he enters the room, but the words swim on the page and he tires from looking at them. Sometimes he’ll study the pictures: drawings of smiling animals and children with round faces, but sometimes they make him tired as well.

He runs his tongue along the inside of his teeth. Metal. He does it again and again and again and again and again and again and again –

The afternoon sunlight is bright. His spot by the window is warm and safe, and he looks down at the book open in front of him. The picture shows a little girl with yellow hair and pink cheeks, and she is pinching the toes of an infant. The baby is screaming in protest, face scrunched up and so very red.

The girl is bad. Bad like Willow once was. Willow once made a baby cry as well, but he held him and rocked him as he screamed. Sometimes, Willow still thinks he can hear him. It makes his head hurt.

He glances, briefly, around the room. He is alone. He is safe. He carefully tears the picture from the book and folds it so that he can slide it into his slipper.

Sunflower does not speak in therapy. Not much. Not beyond his first session where he had stared hate at Willow across the room and murmured about animals and how he likes to cut them. Willow can picture it – he dreamed once of a boy who was Sunflower-but-not-Sunflower cutting the head off a snake. That boy used a sword. Sunflower would use a trowel. Snick-thunk. No more snake.

Sunflower spends his time in the garden. Willow hates Garden Time, but he goes without complaint because it is Good To Give Back by growing things and he does so desperately want to be good. He wants to see Sunflower, too, even though he knows that Sunflower hates him. He stays quiet and keeps his head bowed and watches Sunflower from the corner of his eye. He watches, always watches, because he does not know Sunflower even though Sunflower knows him, but even though he watches, he is still surprised when Sunflower speaks.

Surprise. It’s a jolt in his belly and a spark in his veins and a little of the fog in his head clears as a result – enough for him to know that the fog is wrong. He blinks at Sunflower once, twice, and unsticks his tongue from the roof of his mouth.

“Ah?” is all he can manage.

Sunflower watches him. His eyes are different. They’re strange and sharp and Willow blinks once, twice, and can’t think of how that should be strange. Sunflower’s jaw works; his expression turns into something Willow doesn’t know but that he recognises with a jolt and his belly tightens.

Somewhere, a baby is screaming. It’s screaming so loudly that he almost doesn’t hear the question.

“Did he tell you he was going?” Sunflower asks, waving a soil-encrusted hand at his plot.

Sunflower works at the plot of the man who had been in Room 212. Willow is in Room 216. The noise of Sunflower’s moving in did not pass his door from the stairs, and so he must be living in 212 now as well. Willow knows this and, somehow, feels pleased that he knows. And…something else. He runs his tongue along the inside of his mouth and tastes metal. He does it again and again and again and again and again as his belly twists and the hard press of the sky on his shoulders grows heavier.

There was a moving, wasn’t there? A noise in the night before Sunflower came. And it had been the next day when Yarrow did not come to therapy or to his plot, hadn’t it?

Sunflower is waiting. He is waiting and his jaw is hard like he wants to hit something – likely Willow – but Willow is…remembering?

“Nnn,” he says. He takes a deep breath like Healer Wittle said he should when he goes outside and the sky starts to push too hard. “Nnnnno. Nnnno.”

His voice tears at his throat after so many days of quiet, but he has spoken to Sunflower and it feels good. Right, somehow.

“H-he left a-at nnnnight,” he says. “I h-heard. The nnnnoises.”

Sunflower frowns. “What sort of noises?”

“M-moving,” Willow says. “St-eps.”

Sunflower’s eyes are sharp enough to cut. He peers down at Willow like he wishes he could scoop the words out of his head or force his tongue not to stumble. And it’s wrong it’s wrong it’s wrong somehow, but Willow can’t see.

“Thank you,” Sunflower says after a moment.

That’s wrong too. If he hates Willow – and he does – then he shouldn’t ever be forced to thank him. Healer Wittle says so. They are Bad People and they are here to Give Back to the people that they used to hurt. They should never be thanked.

Willow wakes up to the sound of a baby screaming and the taste of metal in his mouth. He lifts his head, but the cloth of his pillowcase sticks to his face. He peels himself out of bed and shuffles carefully to the door in the dark. He touches the switch that brings light and stares at the red crust that covers his pillow.

“The Redemption Retreat is the only way you’ll get out of the Kiss this time. This is a one-time offer –“

He shuffles back to his bed and collects his pillow before creeping back to the door. He switches off the light and licks at his teeth again and again and again and again until his eyes adjust to the darkness. He opens his door, just a crack, enough to peer into the corridor. Dark. Empty.

He licks his teeth. Metal. Aniseed and metal. Fog swirls and he knows he knows he knows he knows he knows and he steps out into the corridor and shuffles towards the stairs. Towards 212. He knocks. Knocks again.

Sunflower has sharp eyes. Eyes that can see.

Eyes that do see, something, when he opens the door and stares wide-eyed at Willow in horror.

“You’re bleeding,” he says.

Willow nods and nods and licks his teeth and reaches out to curl his fingers around Sunflower’s wrist. He’s warm like the safe-place in the library and his heartbeat hammers under his skin. There’s a baby screaming in his mind and a bloody pillow clutched to his chest and already the fog is settling once more. He has to speak. Before he loses everything, he has to speak.

“Mmmetal,” he says. “An-ann-anniseed. I-in the po-tions.”

And Sunflower’s sharp eyes are clouded with confusion, and Willow is slipping, slipping, slipping back into the – He licks his teeth. “Bad,” he says. “Bad.”

He cannot say anything else.

Willow eats toast and honey and drinks his morning potions without complaint. They taste of aniseed and metal on his tongue and he follows them with another slice of honeyed toast. It makes him feel sick as it always does, but the metallic taste is worse than nausea. Nausea. Nausea. He eats a third slice and a fourth and his stomach churns with discomfort. Nausea.

He makes it to the lavatories before he vomits.

Toast and blue potion and dark red splatter into the toilet bowl. He chokes and gags and heaves again and again and again until his throat is burning and his stomach feels empty. He licks his teeth and spits red and metal before reaching up to flush. The fog is there, but it’s less somehow. Lighter. He flushes again and again and again and leaves the cubicle to rinse his face in the sink.

The mirror tells him he has dark hair flecked with grey and dull, flat eyes. Dead eyes, not sharp like Sunflower’s. He’s pale and tinged with grey and he doesn’t care to study himself too closely, but the eyes – the eyes. Dead.

There was a time before, he thinks, when he was alive. There must have been for him to have done anything bad enough to have ended up here. He just…can’t remember. He tries, sometimes, when the baby wakes him from his dreams with its screaming, but he can’t remember anything before the wet tears on his neck, and he can’t remember anything after it. He just…knows.

He studies his dead, blank eyes and thinks of the nurses. Of the others. Of Sunflower, so bright and alive and determined; the way his heartbeat had pounded against Willow’s fingers and how he looked at Willow with hatred and, sometimes, something that almost looked like disappointment – as if Willow should be someone else.

Willow was someone else, once. He thinks he wants to be that person again, even if only to know what he did to deserve this.


The day he vomits his morning potions into the toilet is the day they are taken outside of the centre. He shuffles next to Sunflower, who looks at him curiously but does not ask. Trips outside are few and far between – heavily monitored and, ultimately, boring. They pick litter up after Quidditch games and scrub graffiti from the walls of buildings in Diagon Alley. Sometimes people spit at them, or hiss “murderer” and “monster” as they pass; more often, they are invisible. For the most part, the people who pass them treat them as an unattractive backdrop.

They are in Diagon Alley today. It heaves with people – children and their parents bustling from store to store as the patients of Redemption Retreat slide between them. Unnoticed. Invisible. Collecting litter and scrubbing walls and pretending that the scorn they receive from the ones who do notice them doesn’t affect them.

Or maybe it doesn’t. Willow sticks close to Sunflower, but he watches the others and the way that they move. Heads down, they shuffle in mute silence. Fog. Wrong.

“You told me metal and aniseed were bad,” Sunflower says. He holds his scouring pad a little too tightly dripping soapy water down the wall of Flourish and Blotts. “How?”

He licks his teeth. He licks them again and again and then stops because they don’t taste as bad today. “Do-n’t remmm-remmmember.”

Sunflower nods. He’s frowning. Willow wishes he wouldn’t frown.

“Bad. Knnnow it’s bad. From be-fore,” Willow says, because he has to say something. He has to try and take that frown away. Because Sunflower was someone he hurt and that means he deserves to be happy. Healer Wittle said so, and Willow happens to agree with him on that.


“The centre,” Willow says. He scrubs and scrubs at the wall and tries to organise things into some sort of line in his head. So that he can say what Willow should hear; what he needs to hear. “There w-was – I-I w-was bad. Before. Hurt pe-eople. Bad.” He pauses. He licks his teeth. He scrubs and scrubs and licks and licks and tries to decide how much to tell. “Po-tions we-were before.”

“You made potions?”

He has to think. He has to think to try and remember. What was he? Who was he? Willow knows that the thing he is now is a lie: a construct of the Redemption Retreat. He knows that he was bad before, but he knows that he is Not Right now and that, perhaps, is worse.

The centre was supposed to make things better. That’s what the leaflets in the library said, when he tried and tried to read them.

“Nnno,” he says after a while. “Nnnnn. No.”

“What the fuck have you done, Bella? His mind’s shattered. Shit! There’s no – fuck you, no I can’t heal this you sadistic bitch.”

“Do…do you know who you are?” Sunflower asks him.

He sounds so sad, so tired, that Willow turns his head to look at him. He looks tired. And sad. And all the things that Willow wishes he wouldn’t be. And behind him, a nurse in blue robes is approaching them – her face blank and her eyes as dead as the ones Willow sees in the mirror.

“He-Healer,” he says. “Bad. I w-was bad. A-annnd a He-Healer.”

He’s not sure how he knows it, but he knows that it’s true. He was. Once, he was a Healer and that’s how he knows that the potions are wrong. That the fog is wrong. He knows he knows he knows. He dips his scouring pad in the bucket, and the acid of the detergent stings his fingers but he doesn’t blink. The nurse is coming. “Sssscrub,” he says. “Nnnnow.”

And Sunflower, reluctantly, obeys.

Potions. There are potions that night and a nurse in his room. He drinks and sinks and bleeds onto his pillow, but he does not complain. There’s a baby screaming in his mind and phantom tears on his neck and he bleeds bleeds bleeds onto white cotton but he doesn’t say a word.

The garden plot behind his own is untended. He weeds and waters his own in the morning sunlight and licks metal from his teeth. He licks again and again and again and again and again until his tongue tears open and blood drips from his mouth onto the dark soil.

He licks through the blood. He licks and licks and licks and tries to think why he thinks that something is missing.

Men in purple robes arrive. Curses fly - “Crucio!” - and patients, fogged and wrong and mute, sit still in the dining room as blank-faced nurses and Healer Wittle are taken away in cuffs. The men in purple robes don’t know what to do with them – Willow can see it somehow. His bleeding tongue tracks over the insides of his teeth, lapping metal from his incisors as he watches them lower their wands and look around the room.

They have odd looks on their faces. Looks that make his stomach swoop and his heart clench. He doesn’t understand why.

One of them approaches. He has brown hair and sharp brown eyes and a hard jaw that clenches tightly even as he walks closer. He looks at Willow like he wants to hurt him – do bad things to him; or like Willow might be the one to do bad things, like he knows what Willow used to be before.

He is familiar, somehow. The fog in his mind stirs and shifts and resettles without offering an answer, and a baby is screaming somewhere – Willow can hear it over the ringing in his ears. He wishes he would be quiet, poor thing. If he’s not quiet, he might be hurt too and that would be bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad like Willow used to be before.

The man in purple robes is looking at him like he’s wrong, somehow. Wrong and strange and…disappointing. Willow doesn’t understand. He licks and licks and licks at the metal and the blood on his teeth, and he watches and waits as the man reaches him. Reaches for him.

A hand curls over his shoulder. Warm. Solid. The baby hiccups and stops crying, and Willow frowns through the fog because –

Sunflower? Sunflowers should be happy, not grim and sad and – Sunflower. This man is Sunflower, whoever that is. He knows it. He knows it like he knows he wasn’t always Willow and that his mouth shouldn’t taste of metal and that the blood on his pillow is as bad as - worse than the things he did before - “Crucio!” and that – that – that – that –

He took his potions that morning. Without complaint. He had a slice of honeyed toast before and after and he felt sick, but no sicker than the crushing sky makes him when it’s Gardening Time. He looks up at Sunflower-not-Sunflower and his purple robes and he knows-doesn’t-know him, but he knows that he should be happy. That Sunflower should always be happy. And he licks his teeth and he licks and he bites and he bites and he bites and there’s blood sliding from his mouth but he bites and bites and bites and –

Subject 724A: Rabastan Lestrange aka. Willow

Occupation: Death Eater, Healer – specialist in curse removal

Previous: Life in Azkaban for role in the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom. Subject claims to have kept infant Neville Longbottom removed from the scene of the crime. Subject claims to have investigated injuries caused by co-conspirators Rodolphus Lestrange, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Bartemius Crouch Junior. Sentence overturned on recapture following Battle of Hogwarts, 1998: subject released into custody of Healer Bertam Wittle as part of now defunct Redemption Retreat programme.

Status: Squib, former wizard.

Notes: Subject aided in investigation by Auror Neville Longbottom following the death of Subject 761C: Eric Scabior. Subject indicated potion regime as possible cause for death, identifying aniseed and a metallic taste as indicative of magic-draining poison, implying latent knowledge of former self. Subject attempted to defend Auror Longbottom when confronted by nurses in the employ of Healer Wittle by encouraging him in complying with menial tasks and, when nurses continued their interrogation, falsifying symptoms of prolonged exposure to Cruciatus. Subject claims no memory of the event. Subject continues to indicate knowledge of his life prior to Redemption Retreat programme, however, verbal responses are limited due to self-imposed injury.

Sentence: Subject remanded to Janus Thickey ward of St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

The new room is bright and lined with beds. One man has lots of pictures. One lady that he thinks he knows from before has sweet wrappers, and she gives one to Sunflower every time he visits her.

Willow has nothing to give him. Sunflower brought him a plant, once: a plant with spiked leaves and tendrils that sprout into smaller plants. He takes care of it, and Sunflower smiles at him whenever he catches him looking after it.

There is no sky to crush him here. No metal or aniseed in his mouth. There are potions that they say will make his tongue grow back, but he won’t take them. No. No no no. He won’t take potions ever again. No potions. Not even for Sunflower, who sometimes sits on the edge of his bed and watches him as he tends to his plant or cradles his pillow in his arms like a baby. Not even for Sunflower and his sad brown eyes and his warm hands that rest on Willow’s shoulders and his low voice that begs for him to let the Healers try. No. Not even for Sunflower.

Because Sunflower is the baby that he had to stop crying. And because Sunflower deserves to be happy, while all Willow can do is hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt people like he did before – because the only word that he remembers from before is Crucio!” and that means he was bad. He was bad so he must Give Back and the only way he can do it now is to stay silent.

The Healer said so.
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