Title: The Other Side of Free
Summary: Harry’s career as a Seeker is on the line because of an injury.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Deathly Hallows compliant? no
Word Count: 10,200
Author's Notes: shadowclub, I enjoyed working with the prompts you gave me. I was a bit afraid to have Harry do something that almost destroys him because I didn’t want to make the fic too angsty. Hope you’ll enjoy the fic :) Many thanks to my betas for their help.
Harry opened his eyes, his heart racing. There had been the awful noise of a body hitting something, surprisingly enough followed by silence. A small girl was sitting on the train's floor, eyes brimming with tears, staring at the red marks on her knees. A few moments later, a young woman knelt next to her and began speaking comforting words whose meaning Harry couldn't understand. The girl nodded and raised her arms, waiting for her mother to pick her up.
Ever since leaving England, everything had felt incomplete. He loved all the flowers and when he wasn't tired, he even loved their language, but now he was frustrated that he couldn't understand the mother's words, that the explanations on the little warning signs made no sense to him and that he didn't know how to ask for food - or what food to ask for, for that matter.
He closed his eyes again and remembered Healer Kealan's words. You've risked a lot, Mr. Potter, and you might pay a far greater price than you've anticipated. As if not playing in the game against the Kestrels would have been a great step in his Quidditch career. Not that he had a Quidditch career now, because he didn't. If this Italian Healer wasn't able to fix his right knee, he'd have to give up Quidditch, his career and everything he'd worked to achieve for the past five years.
He dozed off again in the silence of the compartment. A short man woke him up and pointed to his ticket, then to the door. Harry got up and nodded at the man, embarrassed that he wasn't able to even thank him properly. His only suitcase was as light as a feather, but the magical cast that the Healers at St. Mungo's had put on his leg to prevent further damage was not. The fact that Harry couldn't travel by Floo or Apparate with the thing made matters worse. At least Tarini wasn't in Japan.
The train station was nice, with oleanders on the sides of the walkway and a lot of people moving around. Healer Kealan had arranged for him to stay in one of the hospital's apartments, so he didn't have to worry about lodgings, and had assured him that a man from the hospital would be waiting for him.
A tall, thin, well tanned man approached him, smiling widely. "Signore Evans?"
Harry was about to shake his head no, then remembered his coach's explanations about the need for discreetness. It was obvious that he was more worried about the other teams finding out that his Seeker was severely injured than Harry's privacy, but it worked well for him. The last thing he needed was a Daily Prophet reporter writing an article about Harry Potter limping around on Italian soil.
He was a bit concerned that it was going to take him a while to learn to answer to the name, but he didn't bother with it too much. He wouldn't understand what they told him anyway.
The car the man led him to was impossibly small, and Harry was tempted to ask the man for directions and try to walk to the hospital. When the man got inside and started the engine, Harry renounced the thought and tried to get in without any further injury.
When he was finally in, the man smiled at him and set off in what was the craziest ride of Harry's life. After two turns and a narrow miss of another car, he was gripping the seat with all his strength and debating whether he wanted to die with his eyes opened or closed.
"First time in Italy, signore?" the driver asked with a distinctive accent, apparently not worried by the hectic traffic or his lack of attention towards it. At least he was able to speak English.
"Yes. Haven't left the UK until now."
"You'll love it here. Everybody loves Toscana." The driver took another turn and Harry closed his eyes, determined not to open them until they reached their destination. He could admire the beauty of Toscana after he arrived at the hospital, hopefully still alive.
Healer Mancini was a short, bald man who frowned a lot. "You played after you sustained an injury? Without getting treatment for that injury?"
"There wasn't time for treatment, and I had to play in that -"
"You do realize, Mr. Evans, that everyone has an explanation for their actions." The Healer closed Harry's file and smiled. "Sometimes, it is better not to know these explanations. It helps us keep a better opinion of the patient."
Harry frowned. "Can you fix my knee?"
"I can try. If you follow the treatment and do as my assistant instructs, you'll play again. But remember, Mr. Evans, you can't afford to make any more mistakes."
It was common knowledge that Quidditch players were reckless creatures and not very bright. What wasn't common knowledge was that not all Quidditch players were the same. "I'm not a five year old," he mumbled for the sake of his pride. Just because he did one thoughtless thing didn't make him stupid.
Mancini smiled indulgently and nodded. "Of course not. I'll perform the spell this evening. Its purpose is to fix the damage done by the repeated injuries. The real problem is that your knee is weakened and it will require time to regain its former condition. My assistant will work with you, physical therapy for about two hours each day."
"Are these exercises magical?"
"No. If you would have come here an hour, two at most after the injury was sustained, they could have been. Magic cannot fix everything, especially not now. I cannot tell you what they will be, as I am not the one deciding."
"But this assistant of yours… he knows what he's doing, right?"
Mancini laughed. "Yes, he does. You'll like him. After all, he is the one who taught me enough of your language to avoid using a translation spell."
Mancini nodded. "Go to your room and rest."
It was hard to say why, but Harry couldn't settle down. He was used to moving from one place to another, and even if the differences were quite big, he should have gotten used to his rooms and the surroundings.
Nobody had bothered him after Mancini performed the spell, as everything he needed appeared magically on the table. He had expected a white room, with a bed made of metal and a nightstand, and had been pleasantly surprised to find that the room had cream-coloured walls and wooden furniture, even a table, two chairs and small shelf. The problem was that Harry knew he was in a hospital, and because of that, he couldn't truly relax and enjoy the free time that he had.
The Healer's assistant was supposed to arrive any minute and Harry was sitting on the bed, itching to run, fly, anything but sit there. He hoped the cast was going to go, and not only for the duration of the exercises.
There was a soft knock at the door and Harry said "Enter," closing his eyes. He took a deep breath and opened them again, prepared to meet this 'assistant' who was supposed to make him well again.
The door opened and a tall blond man entered. He was thin, with pale skin and quite familiar features. Before Harry had the chance to say anything, the man introduced himself.
"Hello, I'm Healer Mancini's assistant, Draco Malfoy." He carefully closed the door, turning away from Harry as he did so, then turned back again. "You are Mr. Evans?"
Malfoy was looking in Harry's general direction, but not at him and didn't seem to register his nod. "Yeah."
"You were informed I was coming, I hope?"
Malfoy had turned his head a bit, but again, not to look at him. Harry was surprised that there had been no sign of recognition on Malfoy's face. Maybe he had changed more than he realized since leaving Hogwarts for the man not to recognize him, although it was highly improbable.
"Yes, Healer Mancini told me yesterday."
"Very well then. If you would sit on the bed and get ready, we can start."
Harry narrowed his eyes. Maybe Malfoy had recognized him and was playing mind games with him. "I am on the bed, Malfoy."
"Oh. Well. They changed the layout of the room, then." Malfoy started walking towards him, with small and slightly apprehensive steps. "Can you say something, please?"
"Say what? What's wrong?" Harry's frustration increased tenfold. He had braced himself for the worst - or so he had thought. He would have been ready to deal with someone rude, or too inquisitive, but not with a strange acting Draco Malfoy. And when did Malfoy become a Healer?
Malfoy stopped and frowned. "He didn't tell you?" He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm blind. Healer Mancini usually remembers to inform patients, but I suppose the need to speak English confused him too much."
"You're blind?" As shocking as it was, what worried Harry was that this man was supposed to treat his injured leg - the one his entire career depended on. "How can you be a… um… without being able to see?"
Malfoy smiled and began walking again. "I'm a Healer, actually. But I stopped working as one when I lost my sight."
"Four steps to the left and you'll be by the bed," Harry said, watching as Malfoy found his way in the room. He closed his eyes, trying to imagine how it would be, then quickly opened them again, realizing that Malfoy was still walking and was probably depending on him for instructions. Malfoy ran into the edge of the bed with his legs and touched the cast on Harry's leg with a hand.
"I'm not doing any cutting, if that's what you're worried about." He mumbled a spell and the cast vanished. "Healer Mancini told me that there are no open wounds and that the muscles and ligaments had been strained. The treatment that I will apply is rather simple." He paused for a few seconds, running his fingers over Harry's knee as if assessing the situation. "I will massage your knee for now, Mr. Evans, so you can relax and breathe again."
"I've been breathing," Harry mumbled, trying to relax. It was obvious that Malfoy didn't know who he was and had no way of finding out; he was probably good at what he was doing, or the Healers here wouldn't keep him. And it wasn't like Malfoy could damage him very much by doing a simple massage. He took a deep breath and exhaled.
"It won't hurt. If you feel anything, just let me know and I'll stop and cast a numbing spell." Malfoy continued with the touching and Harry closed his eyes, trying to imagine it was someone else doing it.
"Is there another reason why you're worried?"
Harry cringed. "No."
Malfoy began gently moving his index and middle finger on Harry's knee, applying more and more pressure. "I believe that you are afraid that I'll hurt you." He waited for a moment, then continued, "Now I don't know if you actually knew me before I left England, or you heard about me." Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wasn’t ready to tell Malfoy who he was and he knew that blind or not, the man would definitely know he was lying if he tried to.
Malfoy cast another wandless spell and it felt like a cool cream was applied on the injured area. Harry tried to move to see it, but Malfoy stopped him.
"It's a salve that I will use for the first four days to reduce the swelling. Once I'm done with it, you'll be encouraged to take daily walks."
"Anybody following me around to see if I obey orders?"
"There are no orders, Mr. Evans. Just suggestions. If you don't follow them, you'll be our patient for a longer time."
Malfoy didn't say anything after that, and neither did Harry. He was afraid Malfoy would ask him if they had met, and he didn't know how to answer that. He was a terrible liar, but he couldn't say who he was and expect things to go even civilly between them. And he needed for things to go as well as they possibly could.
When the two hours were up, Malfoy cast a cleaning spell and then an unfamiliar one, which had no visible effect.
"That has created a different cast that will prevent you from doing anything harmful, but you should be able to walk for a few minutes at a time, if you wish to."
Malfoy began walking to the door the same way he had come to the bed; with small, well calculated steps. Harry told him when to go a bit to the left, and as Malfoy opened the door Harry realized that he could have guided him to the door himself.
"Have a good day, Mr. Evans." Malfoy left the room and closed the door softly.
Harry was surprised that Malfoy had been cordial, not asking stupid questions or making useless comments. He hadn’t even scolded Harry for the way he got the injury, which was quite remarkable considering the way the other Healers had reacted. But that was no surprise, considering the fact that Harry hadn't denied that he was afraid of him. He hadn't meant that as an insult, but it probably felt like one to Malfoy. Maybe he could explain things a bit the next day, so there weren't any misunderstandings between them.
"This is just great!"
Harry opened his eyes and stretched. Malfoy was standing in the middle of the room, looking very annoyed.
"Hello," Harry said, yawning.
"Oh, you're here." Malfoy seemed relieved and resumed his walk towards the bed. "I was afraid you were away and I didn't know where to search for you."
"I thought you'd gone out for a walk. The weather is wonderful today, if you haven't noticed."
Harry hadn't noticed, but he wondered how Malfoy had. He figured asking something like that wouldn't help their relationship, so he decided to fix what he had done yesterday before he said anything else.
"About yesterday, I didn't want you to -"
"There is no need to explain yourself. I was making presumptions and well… I should probably be happy I was right." He smiled, but it was a bitter smile, and Harry realized that his reaction yesterday had truly hurt Malfoy.
"I was a bit surprised, and I have to admit I have a certain reticence when it comes to Healers."
"Nothing personal, then?" Malfoy smirked and removed the cast on Harry's leg, then began the massage.
"I did wonder how you decided to become a Healer."
"After Hogwarts, I became a Potion Master's apprentice." Malfoy cast the salve-spell again before he continued. "I don't know if you've heard of Professor Snape."
"Yeah. I went to Hogwarts, too."
"Not in Slytherin or my year, then. Well, this Potions Master was quite incompetent when compared to Snape, so I wasn't very happy there. I went to St. Mungo's, to work in their Potions Research Department, and met a Healer who had the patience to train me."
"Why didn't you work with Snape?"
Malfoy smiled. "We did work together, but not for too long. His patience has limits, and I know him well enough to avoid crossing them."
It was a wise decision. Harry didn't imagine Snape would want to fight with Malfoy, nor that he would able to stop himself from doing so if they spent too much time together.
"I take it that you weren't very fond of the Professor during your time at Hogwarts," Malfoy commented, a knowing smile on his lips.
"I think you know how few were. I wasn't one of them."
"It helped that I was in Slytherin, I suppose."
Malfoy worked in silence for a while, and although Harry wanted to ask more about his blindness and the circumstances that brought him to Italy, he remained silent as well. Maybe Malfoy needed silence to be able to focus properly on his task. It was surprising they had talked as much as they had already.
"How's England?" Malfoy asked when Harry was about to doze off.
"Were you sleeping? I apologize if I woke you. Patients don't usually fall asleep when I'm doing this."
"It's ok. I have plenty of time to sleep. Um… home is home."
Malfoy laughed. "I should give you time to properly wake up."
"I didn't fall asleep. I just don't know what to tell you. When's the last time you were there?"
"Three years ago. That's when I came here, actually."
"Oh. Shacklebolt is Minister for Magic, and some of the members of Hogwarts' board of governors are -"
"I don't care about politics," Malfoy interrupted, frowning. "I want to know about the places there. What happened to Diagon Alley?"
"There have been some changes there. Did you know about Ollivander's being closed? There were some who tried to keep it going, but it wasn't the same."
Malfoy nodded thoughtfully. "I got my wand from him. He gave me a little speech about the great things that I was going to accomplish." His tone suggested that he didn't appreciate the gesture very much. “Did he do the same for you?"
"Yes." Of course, considering who the two of them were, it was normal that Ollivander had given them that particular speech.
"I suppose he did that for everyone. Must have helped with the sales. Are there any new places?"
"There are a lot of new places, actually. Fred and George Weasley opened a big joke shop five months ago and they -" Harry stopped when he saw the grin on Malfoy's face. "What?"
"Those two were impossible. They could have done anything if they had been in Slytherin."
"I guess they could have. You Slytherins got away with a lot more than the rest of us did."
"Of course." Malfoy grinned, proud. "That's what it was all about. Doing what you wanted and getting away with it."
As he performed the cleaning spell and he prepared to leave, Harry wondered how Malfoy felt about his life now.
"If you decide to go outside and want me to come later, tell one of the nurses, and she'll tell me," Malfoy said and began walking towards the door.
Harry got up and caught up with him. He didn't know what to do, or how to offer help, and couldn't think of anything by the time they reached the door. When Malfoy's hand touched the door handle Harry saw the smile on his lips.
"Thank you, Mr. Evans," Malfoy said, and Harry knew he had known all along that they were walking together.
The next few sessions went the same with them talking about inconsequential things, like the shops in Diagon Alley or the trips to Hogsmeade during their Hogwarts years. Malfoy never asked him about his House, colleagues, or anything that could be considered personal.
Two weeks after Malfoy started treating him, they were quite comfortable with each other, and Harry had stopped worrying about asking the wrong thing or making an inappropriate comment.
"You walked more yesterday," Malfoy said at the beginning of the session, frowning slightly.
"I didn't force the cast. The weather was great, and I went into the hospital's gardens."
"Ah, the gardens. Everyone here is so proud of the gardens that sometimes it seems they’re all they’re thinking of."
"They seem different from anything I've seen before."
"Each department here has a part of the garden to take care of, and each member of each department has his or her own plants." Malfoy explained.
"Do you have anything there?"
"Yes. Healer Mancini helps me take care of them, but I chose them. Can't tell you how they look, but I assure you that they're the best smelling plants in the entire garden." Malfoy smiled, and Harry was certain he was proud of the garden, too.
"I don't mean to pry, and I won't mention this ever again if you don't want me to, but you seem to be… content."
Malfoy titled his head a bit and pursed his lips. "I presume you refer to my condition."
Malfoy tensed. "I don't know if content is the word that I would use, but I'm not angry about it anymore. Considering how things could have turned out, this is a good life." Malfoy sighed. "Considering that I'm blind, this is a good life."
Harry felt like an idiot for having asked that, but his curiosity demanded answers to his questions, and Malfoy hadn't told him not to ask about it. All he needed to do was be less direct.
"After I talked to the Healers at St. Mungo's, I thought I wasn't going to play Quidditch again. I was… it was as if everything I had was taken from me. I can't imagine what I would have felt like if I couldn't walk anymore."
"You're lucky there are good Healers in England. I'm certain that was a possibility at some point."
"I know what I did was stupid, but at the time I didn't see any other choice. Don't tell me you would have stayed on the bench at one of Slytherin's games if the Cup was at stake."
Malfoy smiled. "I wouldn't have. But that doesn't mean that Madam Pomfrey wouldn't have scolded me afterwards."
"At least you didn't scold me."
"I know how Mancini can be. I doubt anyone needs a scolding from me after talking to him."
"Yes, he does have that condescending tone, like he's talking to a small, stupid kid. And the accent… that makes it twice as bad." Harry stopped his babbling and looked at Malfoy, who was smiling again. "Why are we talking about me?"
"Maybe because I'm not ready to talk about my life with a Quidditch player who can't even take care of himself," Malfoy answered, partly ironic, partly amused. Harry took his answer at face value and hoped that one day Malfoy would to tell him more.
The next day, Malfoy finished the massage an hour early.
"Done?" Harry asked, probably too enthusiastically judging by the flash of hurt that crossed Malfoy's expression.
"Done with the massages. From now on, the sessions will be one hour long, and we'll do exercises, to make sure you don't do this again as soon as you get on a broom."
"Anxious to get away from us so soon?"
"You must realize I'd rather be somewhere else than a hospital room."
Malfoy smiled sympathetically. "I do. I don't have anything to do this second hour, so I'll go for a walk in the garden."
Even if it wasn't expressed as an invitation, Harry took it as one and got out of bed.
"I take it you'll join me."
"I was going for a walk after your visit, anyway," Harry said.
They walked together through the hospital corridors, and Harry noticed how the nurses and Healers passing by smiled at Malfoy and saluted him, some even said a few words. Malfoy answered, smiling himself. He didn't use many words, but his Italian accent seemed perfect to Harry.
"Did you know Italian before moving here?" he asked as they passed the garden's gates.
"Not very well, but I knew it. I couldn't have settled in without knowing the language." Malfoy went on the main path, and Harry followed along, curious to see where the other man was taking him.
"I learned it when I was seven, with an Italian tutor. Of course, learning it in Wiltshire and speaking it in Italy are two different things though," Malfoy snorted, self-deprecatingly. "I didn't say anything but 'prego' and 'grazie' for the first month here."
"I don't even know those."
"They mean please and thank you. Anyway, that's why Mancini speaks English. He used a translation spell at first, but learned it quickly. We usually speak in English when patients aren't around. He says he wants to keep me happy."
"And does it?"
"It may seem trivial to you, but being away from home and unable to hear your language being spoken with proper pronunciation can be quite frustrating. Especially when nothing else is going right."
Malfoy turned left on a smaller path and Harry walked faster to catch up with him. "How did you know the path split there?"
"I've walked this route many times before." He smiled and took Harry's right hand in his, making him stop. "Close your eyes and breathe in."
Harry did as he was asked and inhaled a delicate, sweet scent.
"We don't have those flowers at home, so I can't tell you their English name."
"Those are your plants?"
Malfoy nodded and began walking again, letting go of Harry's hand. "I never realized how important smell was until I became blind. You'd be surprised how many things a scent can tell you."
"Muggle doctors say that when one loses one sense, the others become stronger."
"Stronger and more versatile. And for us, it's not just the senses."
"No. Us magical folk."
"I wondered about your wandless magic," Harry admitted.
Malfoy made a dismissive sound. "I could do wandless magic before, and the spells I do are so simple and I do them so often, I'd have to be inept to need a wand for them. What I mean is that I can feel magic." He paused, and then continued as if they had discussed the weather, "There should be some benches on the right side of the alley. If you want to rest, let me know."
"Dumbledore mentioned feeling magic once," Harry said, hoping that Malfoy would explain more.
"Yes, he was quite powerful. I haven't reached his level, but I can distinguish between different people’s magic, and if I have spent enough time in someone's presence, I can recognize them."
"You mean you could know if I was in a room because of my magic?"
Malfoy nodded. "I found a reference in a book about it. There are spells which can help blind people create a mental image of their surroundings…" Malfoy frowned, as if he continued the thought in his head and didn't like the conclusion. "I'm not very good at orientation, but I manage. I suppose I've gotten used to my surroundings and don't need help with them anymore."
"Do you live in a hospital apartment?"
"No, I have a flat nearby."
Harry was beginning to feel the protective spell on his knee, so he asked Malfoy if they could sit down. He agreed and Harry clumsily guided him towards the nearest bench, where they both sat.
"I've never spoken about this to anyone," Malfoy said after a few minutes of silence. "I have a friend who helped me settle in, but we never talked. He's the pragmatic type and I think we both would have regretted it if I would have started a conversation about it back then."
"I don't mean to make you talk about something you don’t want to, but this - what you're doing, the way you're managing to do everything - this is very different from what I would have imagined."
"More so considering how I was as a teenager."
"You did whine and complain a lot," Harry said, hoping Malfoy wouldn't be insulted.
"I was spoiled, and it showed. The worst part was that I thought I deserved everything, and I always found someone to blame if I didn't have it." He sighed, bowing his head. "I thought that they owed it to me. When I finally realized I was wrong, I was blind, jobless and desperate."
"You had your friend."
"I didn't deserve my friend. I think half of what I accomplished after I came here was because I wanted to show him I was worth his effort. The other was because I wanted to thank my colleagues for their trust and support."
Harry couldn’t help but think that the brat he’d known at Hogwarts probably hadn’t been worth the effort, but the man sitting next to him was.
They continued their daily walks when the weather permitted, which was most of the time, and Harry had the chance to find out a lot more about Malfoy. Harry now knew that the flat Malfoy lived in had been bought by his friend, without any input from him. Malfoy liked it though, and there were days when he couldn't wait to go home and relax.
He had a lot of patients, but Harry was the only one with whom he worked daily. The others had one session each week, and some of them came from other countries. The hospital was one of the best magical hospitals in Europe, and there were a lot of famous wizards and witches who had been there; famous and peculiar, which allowed Draco to have a lot of stories to tell.
What Malfoy didn't speak about was how he had become blind, but Harry hadn't asked about it. He was too used to their chats to risk losing Malfoy's company over one question. It's wasn't like it mattered that much.
"Did you ever want to see how other hospitals worked?" Harry asked.
"Not really. My experience wasn't very encouraging, either, so I never considered it."
"You didn't like the place where you worked before?"
They had found Malfoy’s section of the garden on their first visit, and now they always stopped there, sitting on a white wooden bench
"After my apprenticeship was over, I moved to Germany and worked at a hospital there. We dealt with children who had been injured in Muggle-Magical accidents. Some of them were Muggles who were treated for their injuries, then Obliviated so that they forgot the magical aspects of their healing."
Malfoy paused, and seemed to be looking for words to continue. "You didn't get along well with the other Healers?" Harry asked, encouraging him to continue.
"Oh, I got along fine with them. I didn't have friends at the hospital, but I didn't feel like I needed any back then. One day, we treated a girl who had been in a car crash. We thought she was a Muggle… she wasn't." Malfoy took a deep breath and stood. He took a few steps away from the bench and stopped on the other side of the pathway. "She didn't know that we were trying to help her, so she panicked and tried to defend herself. It was accidental magic, but she wanted us to stop so badly she… there was a strong light. I wasn't near her bed when it started, but I moved closer to see what was wrong. A ray of that light hit me and… I haven’t been able to see anything ever since."
Harry had expected something that involved a duel, or a nasty curse placed on Malfoy by someone who wanted revenge. He hadn't expected this.
"My colleagues found me useless after that. I tried to adapt, to find things to do, but my supervisor told me that I was worthless to them, and I was to leave as soon as I was healed."
"Where did you go?"
"My friend took me in and found this job for me. He came here, talked to Healer Mancini, bought my apartment, and finally brought me, too." Malfoy smiled. "I was angry at him, but I got caught up in work soon enough and forgot about my anger."
"You're not angry anymore."
"No. And when we meet again, I'll thank him."
Malfoy turned towards Harry. "I suppose our daily walks together are over now."
Harry frowned and got up. "Why would they be?"
"You have your answers." He began walking back, but at a pace that Harry could follow easily.
"Actually, I have lots of questions. I just don't have to worry that one of them will bring back unpleasant memories."
Malfoy laughed. "I decided not ask you about what House you were in at Hogwarts until you left, wanting to see if I can figure it out. I didn't expect you to help me quite so much."
Harry smiled. "And what House do you think I was in?"
"Hufflepuff, maybe… maybe Gryffindor."
Harry didn't say anything to that, amused by the smirk playing on Malfoy's lips.
They continued their walks and Harry ended up talking about himself, about what he liked and disliked, about the games he played and the people he met during and after the Quidditch matches.
“Quidditch Healers have the tendency to scream at you,” he said in a sulky voice, remembering one particular incident. “There was this guy who hit me. He actually hit me then screamed at me saying I was stupid, then fixed my leg.”
“Yes, I can understand your indignation. After all, you are the best patient in the world.” Malfoy’s tone was serious, and Harry burst into laughter.
“Malfoy, if I hadn’t known better…” He shook his head. “I tried once to do that, you know. Be all cool and composed when I wanted to laugh or be angry.”
“I’m certain you failed admirably.” There was a knowing smirk on his lips, as if he knew the truth, and Harry felt his face heat up. If Malfoy knew that James Evans was Harry Potter, then he knew he had been lied to and he wouldn’t want to spend any more time with a liar. Harry closed his eyes and was about to apologize, when Malfoy continued, “After all, you can’t even lie to a blind man.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, just that you keep saying things like ‘It’s ok’ and ‘I don’t mind’ when it’s obvious that something’s troubling you. Then you try to be cheery and manage to say something very stupid, usually a childhood tale that is clearly adapted to hide certain events. When you’re done with the story, you don’t know what to say, so you don’t say anything for a long time, then remember we are here to talk and start with another story.”
“I… I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Malfoy smiled the 'you’re-doing-it-again' smile but Harry didn’t mind, because he’d been right. Harry did tell a lot of silly stories from his childhood, avoiding mentioning the Dursleys or suggesting that he had grown up amongst Muggles. Of course Draco Malfoy would realize he wasn’t entirely honest.
“Let’s say I’m talking about the times when you want to ask a question and you stop. Or when I ask something you don’t like me asking, but you don’t say anything about it. Why?” There was genuine curiosity in Malfoy’s tone and Harry wanted to answer his question, but he couldn’t. Not honestly.
“I don’t want to upset you or –”
Malfoy turned away, mouth set in a thin line. “Not wanting to upset the crippled man. I expected you’d have realized I’m not helpless. I won’t break if you act normal around me.”
“I don’t… I don’t think you as a crippled man, just different. I know that it’s more difficult for you and I want to help and –”
Malfoy turned towards him and if he hadn’t known that the man was blind, Harry could have sworn he was trying to read his mind. “Come to my flat. Tomorrow.”
“I… can I? Am I allowed to leave the hospital grounds?”
“Of course. I’ll meet you at the entrance and we’ll go together.”
Malfoy had Portkeyed them to his flat as soon as Harry arrived, without any explanations.
The flat was small, with one room that served both as a bedroom and as a living room. It had no decorations, but then again, there was no need for them. There was only a bed, a table and an armchair. One door led to the bathroom and another to a little kitchen. Harry was tempted to ask if he could cook, but decided to wait for the other man’s explanations.
“If you’re not comfortable sitting on the bed, please take the armchair,” Malfoy said after a few moments.
Harry thanked him and went to the armchair. Malfoy cast a few unfamiliar spells, then walked to the bed and sat down. “I only have water and orange juice.”
Malfoy conjured the two glasses and Harry took his, placing it on the table. “Listen, Malfoy, I –”
“You’re in my home, you might as well call me by my name.” There was a pause and his composure melted into tiredness. “Please.”
“Ok.” Everything that he was about to say about the wrongness of the situation and how he should be going back dissolved at Malfoy’s request. Draco. He never thought he’d call him that, not even when they became closer. He had always been Malfoy until today. “I… well, you can call me James.”
“I know this isn’t the nicest place in the world, but it’s better than the hospital and I like it here.” Draco got up and walked to the table, which was full of all sorts of objects. His hands began moving over them, studying textures and shapes. “I don’t know what this is called, but it’s nice. Someone from the hospital gave it to me when I started working here.” His fingers settled on a little sphere and he tapped it with his wand. Music began resounding in the room, gentle and warm.
“That’s amazing,” Harry managed to say after a few moments. He’d heard music before, of course, but it had never sounded like that before.
Draco smiled. “I used to play this piece when I was young. It was my favourite piece.”
Harry closed his eyes and tried to imagine Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy listening as their son played the piano. He found that he couldn’t and he quickly opened his eyes. “I didn’t know you could play the piano.”
“Of course I could. I was a very well educated young man.” He sighed and went to the bed again. “Then I grew up and it was useless.”
“I don’t think it was useless. If you hadn’t taken those lessons, you’d be listening to some new band that was screeching more than singing.”
Draco smiled at that, his sadness forgotten for a few moments. The music played on and Harry understood why Draco enjoyed coming to a home he could not see.
“Mr. Evans.” Mancini paced in front of Harry, with occasional frowns and grunts that did nothing to explain why he’d requested Harry’s presence. “I am aware that you have visited Mr. Malfoy yesterday.”
Harry cursed inwardly. Malfoy should have said something, prepared him for this.
“You probably know it’s not illegal for such a thing to happen.” Mancini stopped in front of Harry and looked down at him. “However, if any of you is… affected by this new development, I will not interfere.”
Harry was staring at the man, wondering if this was supposed to be a fatherly talk or a warning. Either way, Mancini wasn’t very good at it.
“Mr. Malfoy will continue treating you, regardless of your feelings for each other,” Mancini said eventually. “If you cannot act like adults, then you will face the consequences.”
Harry frowned and was looking for the right words to explain that they were adults and didn’t have any plans to fight with each other, but when he opened his mouth, Mancini gestured towards the door. “Out. I have patients.”
So Harry left the Healer’s office, certain that the man was mad or had read far too many romance novels and imagined the strangest outcomes for relationships. He was about to walk back to his room when he spotted Draco walking towards him. When Draco reached him, he called his name softly.
“James?” Draco turned a bit so he was facing Harry. “I should be on the second floor, near Healer Mancini’s office.” He frowned and took a step closer to Harry. “Where am I?”
“Right where you should be.”
“Oh. Well. I’m going to my next patient’s room.” He scrunched up his nose and Harry guessed it was their location that kept Draco from telling some stories about the undoubtedly unpleasant patient. “Walk me to her room?”
They walked together for a few minutes and Harry admired Draco’s assuredness. He wasn’t pausing at every step, looking around like some of the people they met, and he wasn’t asking for directions or guidance.
“What were you doing there?” Draco asked suddenly.
“I had a nice little chat with Healer Mancini about my visit yesterday.”
Draco grinned. “He is a bit odd, but he means well. At least I think so. He talked to me, as well, this morning.” He stopped in front of a door and Harry stopped next to him. “Is this room 214?”
Harry looked at the door plate. “Yeah.”
“I’ll see you at four, then. Rest your leg until then.”
Harry nodded and smiled. “Will we go to… umm….”
“To my flat? If you want to.”
Draco walked to the table and set the little music sphere on it, then returned to the bed. He paused for a moment and Harry took his right hand, slowly pulling him closer. Draco sat right next to Harry without protest.
“I… umm… what do you want to do?” Draco asked, frowning. “I… it’s ok, but please tell me before so I don’t…”
Harry knew Draco was scared because of all the things he couldn’t see and he couldn’t blame him. “I was thinking that maybe we could sit a bit closer, that’s all.” He really wanted to kiss Draco, but he couldn’t find the words to explain it and ask for permission.
“Ok.” Draco moved a bit closer to Harry, so that their legs touched a bit. “I never knew what to do when I got close to someone,” Draco murmured, head bowed.
Getting close was all about reading the other’s features, interpreting gestures, understanding what wasn’t said. “I always imagined kissing solved everything,” Harry admitted, “until I actually kissed someone and it wasn’t that great. Not to mention the fact that it only made matters worse.”
“Yeah, well, there can be problems. I haven’t… I haven’t done it since I became blind.”
Harry looked at him and smiled. “I’m sure you’re fine.” He touched Draco’s face with his fingers then kissed his temple. “I haven’t kissed someone for a long time, either.”
Draco leaned into him, his head bent down a bit into the curve of Harry’s neck, and it was much better than a kiss would have been.
At some point Harry had decided to tell Draco the truth. He would act like an adult and explain why he hadn’t told him earlier that he was really Harry Potter – not the same he had been at Hogwarts, just as Draco wasn’t the same he had been at Hogwarts – and that he had been entirely honest in everything he’d said. He even thought about the right time to break the news: one week before his stay in Italy ended. That way, he’d have enough time to explain things properly to Draco and make sure they would still keep in touch.
Unfortunately for Harry’s plans, Draco began mentioning his departure before the last week. He would ask small questions about the future, then dismiss them because Harry wouldn’t be there so it didn’t really matter.
“We’ll still talk,” Harry said eventually, hoping that Draco would cheer up a bit. “You could get a Muggle phone in here, and then I could call any time.”
Draco sighed. “I couldn’t… I don’t know how those work, and the Muggles always send bills.”
“You could talk to someone at the hospital and they could take care of the bills. And the phones are really easy to use.”
Draco sighed and nodded. “How does it… I mean is it like mail with voice?”
Harry smiled. “Better than that. We talk to each other. It’s like a Floo, but we can only hear each other.”
“Right. So will you come here again?” It sounded as if Draco was certain Harry would never come back.
“Of course I will. Whenever we have a free day, I’ll come here. I have to find the nearest international Floo station, but I’m sure that’s not a problem.”
Draco nodded. “I’ll speak to Healer Mancini so I can take my days off when you come.”
“It’ll work out great, you’ll see.”
Draco nodded, but didn’t seem too enthusiastic. Harry just hoped they’d be talking to each other after he told Draco the truth.
There were eight more days and Harry couldn’t keep his eyes away from Draco. It was obvious he was worried and maybe a little bit scared, and Harry’s heart clenched every time he thought this might be the last time he was welcomed here before his departure. He didn’t want to think that Draco wouldn’t eventually understand his reasons and accept him.
They were sitting on the bed again, talking about Italy and if Harry had liked it.
“The houses are nice,” he said, trying to remember what he’d seen from his ride to the hospital on his first day. Aside from that, he hadn’t seen much of the place, spending his time in the hospital, the gardens, or Draco’s place.
“I heard Tuscany is beautiful.”
“It is… but it’s not breathtaking.”
Draco grinned. “What is breathtaking for you, James?”
Harry closed his eyes. Draco liked his name, his new name, and he often said it. Harry couldn’t imagine Draco calling him ‘Harry’, although he would probably be ‘Potter’ for a long time.
Draco nodded. “Yes, I suppose that is better than a landscape. You can’t wait to play Quidditch again, I presume.”
Harry was about to tell him that what he really wanted was to stay here a bit longer when the clear pop of Apparition resounded in the small room. Harry’s eyes flew to the source of the noise and saw Severus Snape standing there, sneering at him.
“Draco,” Snape said slowly, his eyes fixed on Harry. Draco smiled and turned towards Harry, probably to introduce his newly arrived friend. “Mr. Potter.”
Draco’s hand flew to Harry’s shoulder and he whispered “James, what…”
“Draco, I –” He didn’t have the chance to finish his apology, because the wards cracked around him, strong and hostile. He felt a tug similar to that of Apparition and found himself in front of Draco’s flat building, sprawled on the pavement.
He’d waited patiently for Draco next day, hoping that Mancini would be true to his word. When a short old woman entered his room, Harry lost all hope.
She couldn’t speak English, but for some reason presumed that he could understand Italian, so she talked for the entire hour they had to spend together. Just before leaving she shook her head sadly and said Draco’s name. Harry looked up at that and she shook her head again.
“Signore Malfoy?” Harry asked, hoping she would say something that would explain matters. She probably did, but Harry couldn’t understand a word. “No… no comprende.” That was one of the few things he’d learned in Italian, and he hoped he didn’t mispronounce it bad enough to actually say another word.
The woman nodded her understanding and thought for a few moments. “Arrivederci,” she said eventually. “Capisci?”
Harry nodded, staring at the floor. He hadn’t expected that Draco would leave and now he had six days left and no Draco.
“Maybe you should have been an Auror after all.”
Harry looked up from the stack of papers and saw Healer Kealan standing in front of him, an amused smile on his lips.
“Last I heard, you can join the program until the age of forty.”
“Yeah. What do you want with me?”
Kealan frowned and sat on an empty chair. “You’re a professional Quidditch player, not some Ministry employee. So I’m wondering why you’re sitting in this office, looking trough old newspapers instead of being on the pitch, playing again.”
“I need to find something.” Harry didn’t look at him, his eyes skimming the pages.
“The Coach put Anderson as main Seeker for the next five games.”
Harry found that information interesting only because it meant he had more free time.
“He’s convinced you aren’t recovered enough after the injury and that you’re afraid to hurt your knee again.”
Harry nodded and finally looked up. “He’s right.”
Kealan grinned and got up. “Of course he is. I’m sure he could be persuaded to let you go on a short trip, to recover properly.”
Harry nodded unenthusiastically. The only trip he wanted to take was to Snape’s house and he couldn’t find any reference to the man in the papers that would suggest where he went to.
Harry knocked twice and waited patiently for an answer. Snape was living in the wizarding area of Munich, in a small house. After a few minutes, the door opened and Snape glared at Harry with all the contempt he seemed capable of.
“Mr. Potter.” Snape narrowed his eyes and studied Harry for a few moments. “Do come in,” he said eventually, moving from the door frame.
The house was nice enough, with warm colours and tasteful decorations. It didn’t look like a wizard’s house and it definitely didn’t look like a house he would have imagined Snape living in.
“To what do I owe the honour of your visit?”
Harry sat on a chair, uninvited, and looked into his eyes. “I want to know where Draco is.”
“Do you now? After what you did you expect me to answer that?”
“You did just as much damage as I did, and you know it.” Snape seemed surprised by Harry’s accusation, so he went on. “I planned to tell him everything, explain who I was and why I hadn’t said anything. I don’t know how he would have reacted, but you hurt him by exposing me like that.”
Snape bowed his head and nodded once. “I did.”
“Did you think he knew about me, about who I was?”
“I was certain he did not. I didn’t expect him to be so affected by the news, though. Not the way that he was.”
“Is… is he ok?”
Snape sighed. “He’s not unwell, but he’s been much better before. I don’t really know what to do with him, actually.”
“What do you mean? Where is he?”
“Upstairs, probably listening to our conversation.”
Draco listening in would explain Snape’s civil attitude, provided that Draco’s feelings towards Harry hadn’t changed that much. He doubted that Snape would invite him in if Draco never wanted to see him again.
“I’ll go talk to him.”
“First door on the left.” Snape left the room and Harry climbed the stairs alone. He knocked on the door and waited for an answer.
“Come in,” Draco said from the other side and Harry’s heart began pounding in his chest. He needed to make this right. He turned the doorknob and walked in.
The room was the same as the rest of the house, warm and inviting. “Hello,” he said quieter than he intended to. “Hello, it’s Harry.”
“I know.” Draco was standing near the big window, his back to the door. “Take a seat.”
Harry sat in one of the two armchairs. “Snape said you were listening to our conversation.”
“Did you know it was me downstairs or you…?”
“I didn’t do it out of principle, no.” It sounded as if Draco was smiling, but Harry didn’t dare hope. “There is a charm that announces to us who’s at the door, in case Severus is away and I’m alone here.”
“I… I should explain what I did. I didn’t know if -”
“You don’t have to explain anything.” Draco turned around and sat in the other armchair, his movements a bit unsure. “I thought about this for a long time, and I realized I would have done the same thing. Looking back, I probably should have understood some of the things you let slip and recognize you.”
“So you’re ok with what I did?”
“No. I just said I would have done the same thing.”
“I planned to tell you, I really did. I hoped I could make you understand why I did it and make you accept me.”
Draco nodded. “It would have been better if you would have told me, I suppose. Although I can’t guarantee you wouldn’t have been thrown out then, too.”
Harry smiled. “I survived.”
There was silence for a few minutes, and Harry tried to think of the right thing to say without making a mistake.
“Do you –”
“I think you should leave,” Draco said quickly, as if he was afraid of Harry’s question.
“Oh. Can I come back tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Draco said softly.
“Great. Tomorrow, then.”
Harry left the house without meeting Snape, but he wasn’t too worried about that. All he could think of was that hadn’t messed things up and Draco wanted to see him again.
“Draco told me I can come,” Harry said when Snape opened the door the next day. He walked past him and up the stairs. The door to Draco’s room was open and he walked in, knocking on the door frame from the inside.
“Come in.” Draco was sitting in the armchair closest to the window, the music sphere in his hands. “I apologize for being such an awful host yesterday.”
“It’s ok.” The music began playing the same tune it had when Harry had first heard it. “I have to say I missed hearing that.”
“I didn’t expect you to come here,” Draco admitted.
“You didn’t expect me to come back before you knew who I was, either”
Draco nodded. “I didn’t. Would you like some tea?” He conjured two cups and attempted to conjure the tea, as well. When nothing happened, he turned his head in Harry’s direction. “Is there tea in your cup?”
“Bloody git. He did that on purpose.” Draco seemed ready to storm out of the room looking for Snape.
“It’s ok. Water’s fine, too.”
Draco calmed down a bit and water appeared in their cups.
“I can bring something the next time I come, if you need anything…”
“Oh, he’s fine, but he hates you and doesn’t appreciate me inviting you here.”
Harry wanted to point out how it wasn’t ‘fine’ for Draco’s closest friend to hate him, but he figured that would start a rather unpleasant discussion. “We could meet somewhere else. I have a hotel room and I can get you a Portkey.”
Draco shook his head. “He needs to get used to the idea and this is my home. I won’t run away because of him. Now, tell me what you’ve been doing.”
Harry told Draco about the Quidditch games, the changes he found upon his return from Italy and anything he thought Draco would find interesting or funny. By the time he was out of subjects, it was dark outside and Draco was laughing.
“Dinner is ready,” Snape said from the doorway, startling both of them.
“I didn’t realize it was that late,” Draco said getting up. “Will you join us?”
Harry accepted and soon found himself eating a very good dinner with Draco and Snape. They didn’t talk much, but it was ok. Draco seemed content, and Snape wasn’t grumpy, so things were as good as they could be.
They continued meeting and after a few days it was like it had been before, except that Draco called him Harry and he didn’t have the fear of being discovered.
“Do you like it here?” Harry asked one day as they were walking in the park near the house.
“It’s ok. I know the language a lot better than Italian. I practiced it more.”
“Are you thinking of finding a job like you had there, or are you helping Snape?”
“Haven’t thought about what I’ll be doing. I’ve been adjusting to the new place.”
“I thought you liked it there, in Italy.”
“I had stuff to do and I knew how things worked, but… I feel no urge to return. Did you like it there?”
“The houses were prettier.” Seeing Draco’s amused expression, he realised it wasn’t a very good reason. “I wish I could explain. They had all these crazy colours for houses and the window blinds were even crazier.”
“I’m happy I couldn’t see them, then.”
“Oh, but they matched. Sort of.”
Snape opened the door with an exasperated look on his face. “Come in, Mr. Potter. Maybe you can make him understand how irrational he’s being.”
“I’m leaving!” Draco announced from upstairs in a gleeful voice. Two large suitcases floated down the stairs, quickly followed by Draco. “I thought about what you said and I’m leaving.”
“Where are you going?”
“Home, to England. When you told me about Italy, I kept imagining those silly blinds on the Manor windows.” Snape snorted and Draco frowned at him. “Then I forgot about the blinds and imagined I was home again, and I realized there’s nothing stopping me from going back there.”
“So you’ll be going home now?”
“Yeah. You can take me there, since he –” Draco pointed a finger in Snape’s direction “- doesn’t want to.”
“Ok. Finish packing, then, and we’ll go.”
As soon as Draco was in his room again, Snape cast a Privacy charm. “You’d better take good care of him, Potter. Don’t let his enthusiasm get out of hand, because he’ll be disappointed and he’ll become depressed again. Write every week and tell me how he’s doing.”
“You don’t seem too upset that he’s leaving.”
“Of course not. I was the one to set him up in Italy, after all. But he needed to have some opposition for this escape to have more appeal to him.”
“Isn’t this a bit… sudden? Are you sure he really wants to leave?”
“He’s been alone for days, thinking. I presume he was waiting for something to happen to set this in motion. You must have said the right thing and here we are.”
“Something smells wrong.” Draco sniffed and nodded. “Something’s rotting in your house.”
Harry cringed and cast a quick Scourging charm. “The table is three steps in front of you.”
Draco walked to it, and his finger began tracing its edges. “There’s a lot of furniture in your house,” he said neutrally.
“I’ve never been here for too long, it didn’t have the chance to get in my way. We’ll get rid of some of it.”
“Ok. Do you have any armchairs?”
Harry smiled and took Draco’s hand, guiding him towards the couch. “Not yet. I do have a rather comfortable couch, though.”
Draco sat down and Harry took the music sphere from his pocket, placing it in Draco’s hands. “Will you make it sing?”
The music began immediately and Harry was prepared to drift off into sleep when he felt Draco’s hand poking him in the ribs.
“Ah, I thought you’d left,” Draco said softly.
“No. I was listening to the music.”
“Will you talk to that Healer of yours?”
“Don’t you want to settle in before you start working?”
“I’m home. I don’t need to settle in when I’m at home. So will you?”
“First thing tomorrow.”
Draco and Healer Kealan were sitting on the benches, talking animatedly. Harry couldn’t hear what it was, but it was probably some of that medical nonsense they were so fond of.
“Don’t worry, they’re not talking about you,” one of the Beaters said, flying close to Harry. “I’m sure they do that when you can’t hear it.”
“That’s not helping.”
“Don’t worry. He must like it with us if he’s decided to join us on the American tour.”
“And you shouldn’t worry about him, either. If anyone can take care of himself, it’s him.”
“I can’t help thinking something wrong will happen during one of the games, when I’m playing, and I won’t be able to help him.”
“I’m sure you’ll do a good job of taking care of him.”
Draco smiled then at what Kealan said and turned his face upward, looking peaceful and content. For a moment Harry wished that Draco could see him and maybe wave, the way the other players’ partners did, but then he flew close to the benches and Draco began laughing.
“Quit fooling around, Harry and play. The sooner you catch the Snitch, the sooner we go home, remember?”
“Yeah.” Harry hovered for a few more moments, eyes focused on Draco.
“Go on.” Draco waved his right hand dismissingly. “Catch me the Snitch.”
Ten minutes later, Snitch in hand, Harry walked next to Draco. “I caught you the Snitch.”
Draco’s fingers touched the little thing and Harry realized it was the first time that happened since the accident, probably longer. “Are you okay?” he asked, whispering.
“Yes.” He closed his fingers around the Snitch and took it from Harry. “I’m great.”