Title: Another Country
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Angst, profanity, sex, issues of disability (Harry has brain damage and Narcissa has missing limbs).
Summary: Brain-damaged by a Dark curse, Harry is seeing auras that no one else can see and visions that don't come true and speaking Latin instead of English. The Healers want him to go back to normal. Draco Malfoy thinks his future should be different from his past.
Author's Notes: While Harry's disability might seem similar in certain aspects to existing ones, especially aphasia, it is magical, made-up, and not intended to be identical. No disrespect is intended to those who have similar disabilities or anyone else. Also, while the Latin has been triple-checked, I may have gotten something wrong. The poem Draco quotes to Harry is Catullus 5, slightly altered.
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." –L. P. Hartley, "The Go-Between."
Harry folded his arms and glared at the Healer. She was a young woman with blonde hair, big green eyes and, at that moment, a slightly glassy look on her face.
"It's simple," she said with strained patience. "Look." She held up the bowl of soup in front of her. "I know you can understand me. That means you should be able to speak. Bowl. Say it."
Harry curled his lip and spent a minute studying the Healer until her expression looked as if it was ready to fly into a thousand pieces. "Scaphium," Harry said.
The Healer pressed a hand over her forehead. "No," she said, "that's not right. But since I'm the teacher here and the only one who speaks English, I suppose I'm the only one who can say it right."
Harry sneered at her some more and didn't answer. She had just said that she knew he could understand English, even if the ability to speak it was slipping from him. Why would she assume that he wouldn't know and respond to her insults?
"This is hopeless." The Healer set the bowl of soup down on the table next to his bed. "You're hopeless. How can we release you back into society again if you won't make an effort?" She put her hands on her hips. "I've heard all my life how great Harry Potter is, how determined, how powerful a wizard, but if you can't even shape your lips around a simple word…"
Harry rolled his eyes, picked up the bowl, and started eating the soup. It was chicken-flavored, not his favorite, but then, the staff at St. Mungo's who "tended" him largely refused to change his food unless he succeeded in asking for it in English. Harry had struggled to do that until the end of last week, when he realized that the foreign grammar settling in his head felt easy and natural and the English seemed to disappear between his tongue and his brain. He could still comprehend it, he still thought in it most of the time, but he refused to look like an idiot and a fool when he had another language that worked perfectly well for speaking.
It worked perfectly well for thousands of years, he thought mutinously. Now if only I had someone who could understand me.
"Enjoy your meal," said the Healer nastily, and slammed out of the room. Harry heard raised voices immediately. Someone who didn't have to deal with him was probably scolding the Healer—Harry thought her name was Leonora—with great force. And then they would send someone new in, and that person would get disgusted with him, too, and then they would send someone new in, and it wouldn't end unless Harry could convince them that he just wanted to adapt and go home.
They won't let me, he thought as he finished the soup with a loud slurp and lay back on the bed. His room at St. Mungo's was bare, the walls a pale blue, the single picture a forlorn dog that spent most of its time cowering in the corner of a painted house. English grammar books covered the tables, and charts of the varying levels of damage that Greyback's curse had done to Harry. He knew them all by now, backwards and forwards. They want me to change back to what I was before.
When will they realize that I can't and that's all right? Harry closed his eyes and swallowed loneliness in place of food. I just want to change in the ways I can, instead of concentrating on the ways I can't.
"I don't know what will happen, Draco." Narcissa spoke with her eyes trained on the blanket and her hand resting in her lap. Although her hair drooped slightly in front of and shaded her face, Draco knew from a month of experience at her bedside that she would be looking at the place where her right hand should have rested, and did not. When she turned her head slightly to the side, it was to look at the curve of air that her right arm should have occupied, and did not.
"I don't think anyone does." Draco had learned to answer with quiet, easy patience. The first few days after the attempt on his mother's life, he had screamed louder than anyone. And then he had seen how that distressed Narcissa, and he had decided that she was the one with the most right to yell about what had happened to her. He would be as supportive as he could. The fact that the St. Mungo's Healers had tried to replace Narcissa's arm with one of flesh or grow a new one three times, and had been baffled by the Dark magic in the wound, was another thing to treat with patience. "We'll wait and see."
His mother looked up at him, eyes so haunted that Draco reached out before he thought. Luckily, he managed to reach over and take her left hand in time for it not to look strange.
"And what happens if they can't replace it?" Narcissa whispered.
"Then you'll have an artificial limb," Draco said, raising an eyebrow, as if to ask her what else she thought would occur.
"And if it looks ugly?"
Draco sniffed. "With our money? We'll make sure that one won't. I always thought Made-Eye Moody only carted that ungainly wooden leg around out of sentiment, anyway."
Finally, his mother smiled and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. "I feel better when I'm near you," she whispered. "Would you tell the Healers to come in again? I can feel my right hand hurting."
Draco nodded and stood up. Even though, from what he had read, the pain in the missing arm was perfectly natural, his mother thought of it as a weakness and preferred not to feel it at all.
Draco squeezed her wrist. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Farewell." His mother always sounded calmest and most self-possessed when he departed. Draco preferred to think that was because he had done his best to cheer her up instead of because she liked to see him going, although he was wise enough to know that was probably a part of it.
He stepped through the door and nodded to the women hovering down the corridor, one full Healer and one trainee. They immediately hurried inside and shut the door behind them. Draco listened hard and thought he could hear the click of a lock.
He sneered mildly and started walking. St. Mungo's was anxious about his mother and had, more than once, nearly kicked him out of the room altogether. Of course, money was as good about stopping that as it was about finding a pretty artificial limb.
Something in silver, perhaps. Or will she want the one arm to look so different from the other? Ivory might be the better choice.
"You have to let us help you!"
Draco raised his eyebrows. He was near the end of the Spell Damage ward, and it was to be expected that one would occasionally hear a patient screaming in pain and torment. It was less likely to see a Healer standing outside the door of a private room and waving her arms.
A string of expert Latin profanity answered her. Draco felt his jaw drop open. His parents had insisted that he learn to speak Latin as one of his native languages, feeling it would give him an extra advantage when it came to spells, and that insult was quite a creative one.
Most people wouldn't think you could do that with a penis.
After his admiration faded, however, Draco had to admit to curiosity. Who would be swearing in that way in St. Mungo's? Draco thought he knew almost all the other pure-blood children who had learned Latin as a native tongue, and he hadn't heard that any of them were in hospital.
He eased forwards and peered around the Healer, who was ranting at the patient. She showed no sign of noticing him; instead, she was repeating a great deal of nonsense about "we know best" and "you must realize that" and "haven't made any effort to help us help you." Draco could see into the room, and the only thing he had to fear from her was that her swinging elbows would hit him in the face.
Harry Potter stood there, his arms folded and his face red with anger as he glared. His hair looked even more ruffled than usual, and absurdly, Draco's first thought was that they had tried to make him comb it and that was what had upset him. The hair on the left side of his skull looked as if it had recently grown back. Draco could see the old traces of a burn there.
He snapped his fingers. Now he remembered. It hadn't seemed important, because it had happened a day before the attempt on his mother's life, and Draco had concentrated all his energy on her and the arrangements they needed to make for her instead of wondering about stupid things such as what his former rival was doing. But there had been an announcement in the Prophet about how the Heroic Auror Potter had sustained a direct hit from a Dark curse. Draco knew he'd been chasing one of the former Death Eaters, still free after five years, if not which one.
The snapping of his fingers called the Healer's attention to him. Draco might have thought her pretty, but she would have had to keep her mouth shut if he ever invited her to the Manor. Her voice could have cut through stone walls around his skull. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. "This is a private room."
"And this is a very public altercation," Draco said, to see how she would respond.
The woman clapped her lips shut and glared some more. Meanwhile, Potter had taken a step forwards, his eyes wide. His mouth worked for a moment as though he needed to think before he said, "Malfoy?"
"Hullo, Potter." Draco nodded to him in turn.
"Get out of here!" the Healer apparently decided to explode. "You have no right to be here!"
"In fact, my mother's a patient on this ward," Draco said cheerfully. And my father just donated enough money to St. Mungo's to pay your wages ten times over. That was not the sort of thing that a harridan who couldn't keep secrets needed to know, though. "I was passing by, but the screaming caught my attention." He looked at Potter and smirked a bit. Potter only shrugged and turned away to kick at the bed.
The Healer fell on his words with the eager glee of someone who'd been left alone in the company of uncomprehending people for too long. "It's this curse he sustained," she said rapidly. "He can still speak English, but he won't. He keeps speaking Latin now, just because he claims that's easier." She gave Potter a look of disdain so perfect Draco was attempted to appoint her an honorary Slytherin. "I never thought someone like him would be such a coward."
Draco had to bite his lip, hard. Not because the Healer's insults were that good, but because Potter gave her such a perfect look of slow-burning contempt, Draco wanted to laugh aloud.
He had to know more of someone who could give a glance of contempt like that. It was an impulsive decision, yes, but he'd had to make quick decisions often since his mother was wounded. This was another one, and he was free to leave if it didn't work out.
He stepped forwards, past the Healer, who glared but didn't try to stop him. Draco wished she would make up her mind. Did she want him out of a private room or taking advantage of the free, loud explanation she'd been pleased to offer?
"Quid agis?" he asked Potter softly. "Medicos exagitare potes, sed non debes eos exagitare."
The delighted widening of Potter's eyes was wonderful to watch. Draco's only regret was that it left him unable to turn around and watch what happened to the Healer's face at the same time.
The words leaped straight into Harry's brain and clicked. For the first time since he'd been hit with the curse, he'd really felt that his mind was his own again, or even better than before; he didn't remember it spinning like this, clear and keen and sharp.
Of course, it would be just like Malfoy to tell him that he shouldn't irritate the Healers. But Harry didn't care. Someone understood, and if Malfoy thought Harry should go back to being the normal person everyone thought he had been before the curse, at least he had the good sense not to say it.
"I can irritate them all I like," he snapped back, and watched as the words traveled like arrows across the distance between them and found a home in comprehending ears. Malfoy grinned at him.
"I agreed with you about your ability," he responded mildly in Latin. "I only questioned its wisdom."
Harry studied him with hungry eyes. If Malfoy spoke his new language, then Harry would be seeing a lot of him. And he had heard what Malfoy said about his mother being a patient on the same ward.
For the first time in what seemed like years, Harry wondered about someone outside this room; he wondered what had happened to her.
Malfoy had grown since Harry had seen him last, and only up. He was lean, slender, in a way that reminded Harry of the white hunting dogs that one of the shops they'd raided had had, waiting to be crossbred with Crups. Hermione said they hunted by sight, though Harry couldn't remember what she called them. From the clear, commanding grey of Malfoy's eyes, he certainly hunted by sight.
His face was pointy, but his expression was quieter than it used to be. Kinder, too. But perhaps Harry only thought that because he was kind enough to speak in the first place.
"They want me to speak English," Harry said. "The only words I can manage now easily are proper names and a few simple ones, like—" He struggled, the smooth flow of his language, language used the way it ought to be used, broken and shattered. He shrugged and returned to what he could say. "It doesn't matter. I keep telling them that, but they insist that I have to speak English and treat me like a spoiled child when I don't. They seem to think I'm not as smart as I was, all because I can't make them understand me."
"Considering how small your stock of intelligence was in the first place, I shudder to think what they must see now." Malfoy grinned again. "But yes, I've noticed that people will speak slowly and loudly in one language instead of bothering to learn another. As if that helps."
Harry snorted in agreement and glanced out at Leonora. She looked as if she was ready to faint or throw a fit. Harry hoped that he wouldn't miss either if it happened.
"I think I'm smarter than they are now," Harry muttered, "because I know two languages, and they only know one."
Malfoy cocked his head. "You can understand English, then?" At Harry's nod, he said, "So what did the curse do?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "They still don't know," he said. "All they know is that I got my wand up in time and managed to cast part of a defensive shield, so the spell that hit my brain had some of my magic mingled with it, instead of being a pure curse. And since then, I've been seeing auras, and visions, and speaking Latin." He shook his head, shutting his eyes for a minute. One of the quick attacks of despair he'd had sometimes since the curse was coming over him, and he would kill himself before he would cry in front of Malfoy. "They think they can change me back, somehow, but since they don't know the first thing about this spell, they haven't succeeded yet."
Malfoy was so quiet that Harry thought he'd left. When he looked again, though, Malfoy was leaning forwards, studying him out of those clear eyes. Harry blinked as an aura of white and gold sprang up around his head, transparent and misty, like a lamp lit amid falling snow. As usual, he had no idea what that meant or why he had suddenly started seeing it.
"Then the question becomes what you want," Malfoy said. "Do you want to go back?"
Harry gaped at him. He could credit that Malfoy might be curious, but he sounded almost—sincere. Why would he ask Harry something so personal, something that had nothing to do with magical theory or the facts of spell damage?
But just like he'd had to talk to someone who understood him even if that person was Malfoy, Harry didn't think he had the power to refuse Malfoy's sympathy now. He shook his head gloomily and muttered, "I don't think it's possible."
Malfoy raised a reprimanding eyebrow. He would have made a great professor, Harry thought; that eyebrow could have induced guilt in any student who'd forgotten to do their homework. "That's not what I asked."
Harry turned away and gripped his own chin. He wanted to protest that he hadn't really understood because of the Latin, but that wasn't true. Latin was flowing like water in his head now, clearer than English.
So he had to answer.
He peeked over his shoulder, half-hoping that Malfoy would have solved the problem for him by going away, but Malfoy still stood there. Harry licked his lips and said slowly, "I don't—I don't really want to go back. They've kept me here so long that I'm starting to get used to it, or I think I could if they would let me forget it for one fucking minute." He spat the last words; he couldn't help it. "They won't. They don't want me to leave until I'm 'normal' again. And I keep failing their tests, and then they tell me that I have to go all the way back to the beginning. And my English is getting worse all the time, so they tell me that they have to keep me for observation."
Malfoy narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "I don't think you would live a fully normal life even if you left," he said. "You have a magical inability to speak English, or to write it, I assume?"
Harry nodded shortly, thinking of the way that Patricia, one of the other Healers and gentler than Leonora, had started crying when his English words gradually acquired endings that shouldn't be there and started moving around in the sentence, the way Latin words were free to.
"Then it'll still be a hard life," Malfoy said, "no matter how well you may be able to understand and respond to English. And Latin's hardly a tongue on everyone's lips."
"I would prefer it to this," Harry said stubbornly. "And just because I can't speak English anymore doesn't mean that I couldn't learn another language. Like French, or something." The Healers had told him that they thought he would never speak anything but Latin again, but then, they didn't know the first thing about how the curse had actually affected his brain, and they kept trying to get him to speak something other than Latin anyway. So Harry didn't feel inclined to listen to them.
Malfoy raised both pale eyebrows this time. "That's true enough. I hadn't thought of that."
"Something the great and powerful Draco Malfoy hadn't thought of?" Harry looked at him mockingly. "I'm shocked."
Malfoy smiled instead of getting angry, and his face was illuminated as if by a white lightning flash. Harry stared, charmed in spite of himself. Had Malfoy always had the potential for this sort of look? Or had he changed so much in the past few years that he had become capable of it?
"I like the way you talk," Malfoy said.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course you would, since you're the only one who can hold a normal conversation with me, and it gives you the chance to prove that you're special after all."
Malfoy smiled, but didn't confirm or deny the accusation. "And my mother suffered a—mishap with Dark magic as well," he said. The tone of his voice told Harry not to ask more about that right now. Harry thought he understood those tones better in Latin than in his old language. "I'm trying to convince her that mourning the past doesn't work, that we have to more forwards into the future, even if that is another country." His voice brightened briefly with passion, then sank back into normality. "I could do the same with you."
"No need for that conviction." Harry didn't want to be pitied, and there was a light that could become pity in Malfoy's eyes.
"No?" Malfoy left the question hanging, which infuriated Harry, because couldn't he have seen that from the words they'd just exchanged? But Malfoy went on before Harry could make some comment on his intelligence. "Well, then I could help convince other people that you know your own mind best and should be allowed to move forwards without glancing over your shoulder."
Harry blinked at him. "You'd be willing to do that even with all the history between us?" he asked finally.
"That history was with another person," Malfoy said.
Harry drew himself up. He hated people who acted as though he was "damaged" in some way, like the Healers who were certain he'd become a child again simply because he wouldn't do as they said. "I'm not completely different, Malfoy," he said. "I didn't become someone else, someone lesser, just because of what happened to me."
"Not someone lesser," Malfoy said. "But I think it's foolish to deny what happened to you. Isn't that what they're trying to do?"
Harry chewed his lip. No matter how long he stood there and thought, Malfoy simply remained still in all his glassy glory, so at last Harry had to admit the truth and nod. "Yes," he said. "But I don't like the way you phrased that."
"Think of it as a mere opinion, then, something I need to think to commit to helping you and you don't need to," Malfoy said equably. "Do you want my help?"
He didn't make it sound like a threat, Harry thought. It was just an offer, and Harry could pick it up and accept it or not.
That, more than anything else, except perhaps the distant, calm look in Malfoy's eyes, was what made him say, "Yes."
Lucius looked up and nodded briefly to Draco. He stood in his study, with the door open enough that Draco could see him. A map of Europe was spread on the table in front of him. He held his wand in one hand and a dead dove in the other, its breast slit open. The blood from the wound dripped onto the map as Lucius moved the bird's body in careful circles. "Is Narcissa well?"
"Yes," Draco said. "Still suffering twinges in her missing arm, but that's to be expected."
"Of course." His father's eyes narrowed and he bent over the map, drawing in his breath with a harsh hiss. Draco nodded to him again, though he doubted Lucius saw it, and went on up the stairs to the second floor.
The Aurors had proven—unhelpful—when it came to tracking the people who had attacked his mother. Draco didn't think they'd deliberately neglected clues, but they had neglected the search, and treated Draco and Lucius as if they were the suspects rather than relatives of the victim. Certain mental scars inflicted on the general wizarding population didn't go away any more easily than the Dark Mark did.
So Lucius had begun tracking the would-be murderers himself. He was using blood magic and Dark Arts, which would have concerned Draco, except for two things. Lucius had quietly repaired the Manor's wards after the war, so that someone would have to be standing practically on top of them to feel any use of illegal magic now.
And family honor demanded vengeance. Draco was more comfortable soothing his mother, while Lucius couldn't be near her without tensing and beginning to talk of what would happen to the people who dared to maim his wife. Draco was more than happy to leave the task of pursuing their enemies up to him.
We all have our roles to play, Draco thought as he opened the door of his private library.
After the war, his parents had decided to surrender one of the wings of the Manor to him, in acknowledgment of his adult status as well as the fact that they did not like to sunder their family so soon after an event that had almost destroyed them. Draco could therefore have the solitude and room he desired without leaving his ancestral home. The library was his favorite part of the house, and he used it often.
The sunbeams of early July poured through the windows and fell on the bookshelves, shadowy and deep so as to protect the books and scrolls and ledgers they housed from any ill effects of the light. The scrolls were numbered and the books arranged after a system that was important and meaningful only to Draco. It amused him to think that someone who was trying to find important documents among them and use them to embarrass him would probably have more trouble locating them in the first place than the effort to embarrass him was worth.
In the center of the library sat a rug that shimmered with curves of red and green and black, depicting a battle that had taken place between wizards and Muggles centuries ago. Draco stepped onto it and concentrated, extending his hand in front of him. The rug shimmered and split open near the far corner, growing what seemed to be tendrils at first, though they quickly formed into a comfortable chair. Draco sighed and sat down in it. It was his favored kind: curved to be kind to his hips and spine, yet straight enough that he wouldn't slouch and ruin his posture.
"Epiphany," he called.
This time, it was the bookcases that shimmered, and a white blob of mist detached itself from the lowest shelf on the left and floated towards him. By the time it had reached his feet, it had formed itself into a small, slender, transparent figure with long, swirling hair, as different from a house-elf as could readily be imagined.
Epiphany, his book-spirit, bowed to him and said expressionlessly, "How may I serve you, master?"
"Fetch me the issues of the Daily Prophet for the first week of June," Draco murmured, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. Of course he knew the date Potter had been wounded—the date of his mother's attack was etched into his mind, and the attack on Potter had happened near that—but he wanted to see the full run of the paper's coverage, and he didn't want to stand and get it himself.
"Of course, Master."
Epiphany floated off the floor and towards the shelves. Draco watched her from beneath his eyelids. Epiphany was a fine enchantment, though she had taken much careful working and reworking of the spells. He had named her what he did, when she finally came into being, because of his surprise at how long it had taken.
Now, though, he had her, and in a moment, he would have all the news of Potter's curse that he could swallow.
Epiphany found the issues of the paper without pause—that was her function, to know everything in this particular library and fetch it for him—and came coiling and dashing back like a small breeze. Draco put his hands up to receive the newspapers and briefly brushed his fingers through her body. It felt as if he were touching a soft, fine drizzle.
"That will be all, Epiphany."
Her hair swirled around her again as she bowed, and then she vanished into a faint sheen of light on the shelves. Draco turned his attention to the papers.
The first picture of Potter showed him lying on the ground, staring at the sky. Blood poured from his temple, and the moving photograph showed his hair flicking aside as someone, probably his partner, cast a wind charm to see how bad it was. Draco whistled under his breath at the sight of the genuine hole in the side of Potter's head.
The first article told him that it was Fenrir Greyback who had wounded Potter as he and Weasley closed in on him and that Greyback had died in the altercation, but little else that Draco didn't already know. He read on through the week and watched the initial panic change to pity.
No wonder Potter looked at me the way he did when I presumed to feel sorry for him, Draco thought idly as he flicked through the pages.
The paper said that Potter couldn't speak English any more, that he didn't know where or when he was, that he resisted the attempts of the Healers to help him. There were a few hints that something else might have happened, but the wilder stories faded without being picked up. Draco reckoned that what had really happened to Potter was enough to satisfy the public's craving to know more about their hero.
Draco's favorite sentence came from the last article that was specifically about Potter himself; there were others that connected the attack on Potter and the attack on his mother or used the moment to criticize St. Mungo's, but he wasn't interested in reading them.
"It is to be hoped that Mr. Potter will realize how important his life is to the British wizarding public and try again to become the icon of heroic action that we all need."
Draco rolled his eyes as he snapped the paper shut. No matter what happened to him, or how he managed to adapt, Potter would never be that hero the paper wanted again. He was a stranger in his own country, since he couldn't make himself understood in his own language, and Draco thought that he probably shouldn't live by himself if some of the other reported effects were so bad.
But the perusal of the articles had given Draco what he wanted: a reason to maintain his interest in Potter. He nodded to no one in particular and summoned Epiphany to take the papers back to their proper place.
Yes, he did not regret making the offer of help.
"How are you today, Harry?"
Harry sighed. He enjoyed Hermione's visits, but she was as determined as any of the Healers to get him back to "normal," and he knew that her politeness was really only a cover for the lectures she would begin soon.
He understood, he really did. He couldn't say a word that Hermione heard for herself anymore; she used a Latin dictionary to grasp a bit of what he was saying, and no more than that. Or she had him write it down and then went home and translated it. So she would know what he felt and thought about things, but only hours later.
Harry thought that the people who wanted to help him really had to hear how he felt about it from moment to moment, in free-flowing conversation—
The way Malfoy had.
But Malfoy wasn't here right now, and Hermione was, talking with a desperately bright light in her eyes. Harry sighed again and focused on her.
"The Healers tell me that you aren't eating your food as much as you should be, Harry," Hermione began.
Harry gave her a look. One thing he had noticed was that she said his name much more often since the attack, as if she thought that he had changed into a different person, too, and this was a way to convince herself that she was still speaking to her friend.
Hermione didn't grasp the look, and gave him a confiding smile. "The food can't be that bad, Harry. You've had worse, I'm sure."
Only at the Dursleys'. But it was the behavior of the Healers that Harry wanted to tell her about if he could, and not the food. He shook his head and reached out an impatient hand. Hermione raised an eyebrow and gave him the parchment and quill. She tried to look solemn, but her mouth quivered hopefully. She probably thought that Harry wanted to write down what he had to say, and that was "a stride towards communication."
She didn't know that Harry only did this because he had to, and that someday he was going to find a better substitute for the English words that traveled in at his ears and not out through his mouth again.
As always, Harry spent a few moments concentrating while he held the quill. He should be able to write down the words if he could hear them, right? He'd learned how to write when he was a kid, and the spell couldn't have damaged all the parts of his brain that controlled language. The words should come out of his hands.
But they didn't. The only difference between trying to write and trying to speak his abandoned language was that Harry could actually feel the twitch of the magic barrier that insulated his brain from producing English, flexing and bending like a wall made of pudding.
He shuddered and wrote down his complaints about the Healers. This was something he felt every day, so maybe it was different from all the other things he wanted to say and couldn't. Hermione could take it over and look at it, and meanwhile the Healers would go on treating Harry like he was a spoiled child who refused to get better, instead of being unable to do what they wanted.
He smiled as he wrote. He hoped that he would get to see Hermione come storming in, full of indignation and rage, and give Leonora a piece of her mind. Leonora thought she was special because she had a natural Healing gift she could use even without a wand. It wasn't Harry's fault that the injury in his brain had resisted her gift, and she shouldn't be taking her disappointment out on him.
"I'm glad it's something happy, this time."
Hermione reached out and put a hand on his arm. Harry lifted his free hand and squeezed back, then completed the last sentence with a flourish. One of the things he loved about Latin was that the verb could travel around the sentence. He had put it at the beginning of the sentence and in the middle and at the end, just for variety, in the message. He handed the parchment to Hermione.
"The Healers?" Hermione had learned to recognize that word, at least. She looked earnestly at Harry. "You know they're only trying to do their best by you?"
Harry had perfected a slow, cynical look. He knew he'd perfected it because Leonora had told him so, not because they let him have a mirror. He gave it to Hermione now.
"They do want the best," Hermione said. "There are some of the most skilled Mind-Healers in the world here."
Harry wished there was a simple expression or gesture that he could use to point out the fact that they hadn't cured him so far, and maybe she was overrating their skill. But there wasn't, so he pointed towards the door instead and gave Hermione a hopeful glance.
"It's not for the best," Hermione said. "Or not unless you want to go into the garden." The garden was an interior courtyard that St. Mungo's had filled with flowers and trees, but it was too small for Harry's tastes, and too familiar by now.
He shook his head and tapped the key that Hermione usually wore hanging around her neck. It was the key of the first flat she and Ron had owned together after they left Hogwarts. They didn't own that flat anymore, but Hermione had made a copy of the key, and Harry knew it symbolized home to her.
Hermione sighed, a wistful sound. "I wish I could, Harry. But it's not for the best."
Harry turned his back on her and folded his arms. Why couldn't she see that staying within four walls for a solid month except for brief trips to the garden was killing him far faster than the wound would have, even if they went away from the ambient magic of the hospital that the Healers were convinced stabilized it?
"We're all doing the best we can, Harry," Hermione whispered. "We all want you well. You know that."
Harry stamped his foot. That wasn't enough. He knew Ron was worried about him, and Ginny, and Dean, and everyone else who'd visited. The problem was that they were so worried, so preoccupied with how they'd almost lost him, that they didn't seem to remember he was alive and right in front of them and needed other things instead of endless coddling.
Hermione's visit didn't last much longer after that. Harry knew she was eager to go home and translate what he'd written. He wondered why she didn't bring the Latin dictionary with her to his room, but he hadn't seen it since she had given up attempting to use it to understand his speech. He didn't know why, and he couldn't even ask. The sentences he could write down were too precious to be wasted on stupid things like that.
No, instead he had to make arguments about why he should be allowed the normal human privilege of going home. He hadn't felt the curse in his brain change for a fortnight. He thought St. Mungo's had done all it could for him, and now he should be allowed to start living his life and go back to his own variation of normal.
Harry scowled. The problem was, no one else thought so, and they outnumbered him and had the walls and wards on their side.
Except maybe Malfoy.
It shamed Harry to think how much he was looking forwards to seeing Malfoy again. Of course, it probably wouldn't happen. The offer he'd made to help Harry had seemed genuine, but probably it had slipped his mind again the moment he went home, and he would never—
Then the door opened and Malfoy walked in.
Harry almost lunged forwards to greet him. In the end, though, he managed to restrain himself to a slow nod and a smile.
"You can speak to me, Potter." Malfoy's voice was lazy and heavy through his words, reminding Harry of sunlight pouring down on ice. "Or did you forget that?"
"I'm so frustrated that it feels as if I'm forgetting lots of things," Harry admitted. "Hermione was just here, and she won't listen to any complaints I make about the Healers. I think she would if I could just get them across in words she understood." He felt a brief sense of betrayal, since he was complaining to Malfoy about one of his best friends, but loyalty couldn't persuade him to shut himself up behind mental walls any longer.
"Why don't you walk out and leave the Healers behind?" Malfoy asked softly. "I would have thought you could do that."
"I tried the minute I felt better. They think I'm mentally incompetent to judge anything, since the curse affected my brain." Harry made a foul gesture at the door to show what he thought of that. "Ron and Hermione are so worried about me—and they think my intelligence is affected, since I'm losing my grasp on English—that they go along with whatever the Healers suggest. If I left, they'd bring me back. And who else could I hide with?" He scowled. "Besides, could you imagine the headlines? 'Who Kidnapped the Chosen One?' 'Country Worried as Boy-Who-Lived Continues Missing.'"
Malfoy laughed. The sound was sharp and lovely, Harry thought, like a splinter of snowflake. "Your friends could learn Latin to communicate with you, surely."
"Hermione tried," Harry admitted. "But she said that I spoke too fast and she couldn't keep up with my pronunciation. Apparently it's different from what the dictionaries told her it should be."
"It sounds fine to me."
Harry smiled warmly at Malfoy, despite everything. Then he sat down on the bed and said, "Now. You spoke of helping me. What else can I do, besides learning some language which the curse doesn't magically prevent me from speaking?"
Malfoy took a seat on the chair Hermione had used. He blazed like a candle in Harry's dull room, and Harry was half-afraid one of the Healers would sense his presence there just because he was so different from everything else nearby. "You mentioned that your curse had other effects. I'll need to know what those are before I tell you what you should do."
Harry rolled his eyes. There was a hint of smug delight in those last words. He still thinks it's fun to order me around, even though years have passed since he was a prefect.
But it wasn't enough smug delight to bother him, after all that had happened to him. Harry tucked his legs up beneath him and sighed. "Well, for one thing, I see auras around people."
Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "What do they look like?"
Harry let his eyes unfocus and his gaze drift across the room as if he had lost his glasses and was looking for them. It took a minute longer than usual, perhaps because he had never seen the aura around Malfoy before, but then the air around Malfoy's head and shoulders turned gold and white and brown. "A colored silhouette," Harry muttered, "with the colors clearly separated. They radiate out from you and get fainter the further they travel."
"Do they interfere with your sight of other things?" Malfoy asked. "With your concentration? That could be a sign of the curse affecting your sight."
Harry blinked in pleasure, and the aura vanished. No one had discussed his curse with him like that before. The Healers used technical terms that he couldn't understand, as if it was somehow important that he not know what they meant, and Hermione slid into them without noticing. Sometimes Harry had thought, based on their words, that he could lose his sight and other times that he couldn't. It didn't help that they couldn't comprehend his descriptions of what the auras looked like except at the most basic level. "No. They only appear when I'm tired or letting my mind wander. The one I saw around you vanished the moment I reacted to your words. And they don't mean anything, as far as I can tell. The ones I see around the Healers and my friends change from viewing to viewing."
"Hmmm." Malfoy cocked his head to the sight. "What else?"
Harry closed his eyes and bit down on his tongue. The pain seemed to fill his mouth and radiate throughout his being. His tongue turned cold and numb, and Harry felt himself shivering. He opened his eyes and saw Malfoy staring at him.
Well, he saw Malfoy staring at him first. Then an image of Malfoy stood up from the chair and walked through the wall. Another one melted out of his body and keeled over to the floor, a strangling snake around his throat. A third one leaped into the air and soared about on large silvery wings like a bird.
Harry couldn't control his response, and snorted. The visions were gone in a second. Malfoy asked, "Well?"
"I see futures that can't possibly come true," Harry said. "How will you walk through the wall when you leave here? Or grow wings? Or get strangled by a snake? It's like being a Seer, but absolutely useless."
Malfoy's face twisted. "Some viewings are metaphorical, rather than true and straightforward prophecies—"
"I've asked after the people I saw futures for," Harry said. "Or the Healers said. Nothing I saw has come true, in any version whatsoever. In fact, in one case the opposite came true. I thought one Healer who helped heal the hole in my skull was going to marry the man she was with, but it turned out she'd eloped with someone who doesn't work at St. Mungo's. Shouldn't I have seen that if the visions had any truth at all?"
"It does seem likely." Malfoy leaned forwards on the chair, hands clasped, and looked at him in fascination. Harry could tolerate that, because he knew that Malfoy did consider him as a sort of project. The Healers were supposed to be helping him, but he hated their false "compassion." Malfoy could be as academic as he liked about it. Harry knew he would never get any more than curiosity from him.
He felt regret about that for a minute. Malfoy was beautiful enough that—
Harry shrugged one shoulder and shoved the thought into the back of his mind. He hadn't had time to think a lot about his preferences, which had swung more and more in the direction of men, before Greyback attacked him. He didn't have time to think about it now. His concern had to be the curse.
"I don't think it's damage to your eyes," Malfoy said. "But the curse is interacting with your brain and moving you in the direction of…wisdom."
Harry blinked. "What?"
"Think about it." Malfoy's voice edged only a little higher, but Harry thought that was the equivalent of leaping to his feet and pacing about in excitement, for him. "Seers are considered wise. Those who can see auras are, or were thought to be at one point in history, Seers of another type, sensitive to the moods or fates of the people they were seeing. And Latin's been considered a language of wisdom among both Muggles and wizards for centuries." He faced Harry with a narrow smile. "Your shield and Greyback's spell both had different purposes. But when they hit your brain, I think their purpose was transformed. The curse is giving you what could be seen as wisdom. Granted, since the original magic was Dark, the things it does are either useless or annoying. But that's the basis that unites all of them, I'm certain."
Harry sat very still for a minute. No one else had been able to offer him an explanation so elegant and unified, and he was afraid to reach out for it.
He was afraid to hope.
He half-wanted to argue. Why hadn't the Healers seen that? Why hadn't Hermione?
But then, he was becoming increasingly convinced that the Healers would need help finding the paper to wipe their arses with, and Hermione wanted rational explanations for things. She would ask how Dark Arts and a shield could cause brain damage based on wisdom, and would conclude they couldn't, so she would keep searching for a different answer.
"All right," he said at last. "That sounds reasonable. What does it mean?"
"I don't have the slightest idea yet."
Harry stared at Malfoy, then laughed. "At least you're honest."
"It's harder to lie in Latin," said Malfoy, with a face so innocent that Harry was immediately sure that he had done exactly that.
Harry shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. "So what does it mean in terms of what we can do? Do you think I can convince the Healers to let me go if I tell them what connects these separate things?"
"I've got to know St. Mungo's Healers fairly well since my mother was attacked," Malfoy said. Harry wondered again what had happened to Mrs. Malfoy, but again, it didn't seem like the right time to ask. "They didn't want me at her bedside. They didn't want to take away the pain of a missing limb when she asked."
Harry winced. At least that didn't happen to me.
"I had to argue and fight and argue again before they would listen to me and realize that their way of doing things was not necessarily the best way." Malfoy's eyes glittered, and his hands clenched slowly into fists. Harry watched him in fascination. His beauty wasn't destroyed but transformed by his anger, as though cold sunshine was falling on an iceberg. "I think that the same thing has to happen to you." He leaned forwards and peered into Harry's eyes. "Will you let me translate for you, Potter?"
Harry licked his lips. "I just—"
"Yes?" Malfoy's voice was slightly impatient.
"Why are you doing this?" Harry asked. "I know that I need you, because you're the only person I know who speaks Latin, and you seem to have a grudge of your own against the Healers, but why are you putting so much time in for me? Not that I don't appreciate it," he added hastily. The last thing he wanted was for Malfoy to get so offended that he would walk right out the door. "But what's in it for you?"
Draco relaxed. When Potter first started talking his reasons for helping, he had expected a tirade about Slytherin selfishness and ambition.
But it seemed that Potter had changed in more ways than the obvious. He could accept, without taking a stand on a moral pinnacle over it, that Draco wasn't someone to simply walk up and begin heavy labor out of sheer compassion.
"Like I said," he murmured, "I know something about how much Healers tyrannize over patients that they aren't certain how to cure. I will take great pleasure in thwarting them."
Potter raised an eyebrow. "And that's enough?"
His voice slid smoothly over the Latin vowels in a way that Draco couldn't remember it doing with English. He wondered what Potter would say if he told him that. Probably a stammering denial and a blush. Yes, things had changed, but Potter had not fundamentally altered his personality.
"Yes," Draco said. "It is, for right now. Of course, when you're free of hospital and you're considering giving your story to the papers so that they can understand what really goes on here, then you might remember me."
"To all those papers that write in Latin," Potter muttered, and leaned back against the pillows on his bed, scowling.
"We'll find a way," Draco said. "Perhaps you can learn French and give it to them that way. But there's no use in giving up before you start, Potter."
Potter blinked and looked at him, assessing. Draco expected more arguments, but Potter inclined his head and took a deep breath. "You're right," he said. "Sorry."
Draco learned at that moment how powerful a jolt of surprise Potter could give him simply by admitting that he was right. It felt as though his feet were about to leave the ground. His mouth seemed to flood with sugar water.
How powerful a jolt, and how sweet.
Draco licked his lips and swallowed back the imaginary sugar water. "We need allies," he said. "People we can convince of your sanity and your willingness to work on being independent again in some other place than St. Mungo's. Would it help if I spoke to your friend Granger?" There was no malice in his voice when he said her name, and he watched Potter take note of it with a faint rise of his eyebrows.
"It would help, and you have to," Potter said. He sat back up again, but tucked his feet up beneath him. He looked oddly defenseless. Draco hoped it was only the hospital robes that made him look that way, or they had worse problems than the fact that no one wanted to try and understand what the curse had done to Potter. "You're the only one who can speak for me."
He rubbed his hands up and down his arms as if rubbing away a chill. Draco had seen his mother make the same gesture when she realized that she had to trust him to argue for her, since the Healers didn't seem to listen to any patient.
Draco narrowed his eyes. He wouldn't want to be in the same position himself, dependent on someone who could betray him, but if Potter didn't dare trust him, then they were doomed. "Remember that," he said sharply, "but don't hesitate to argue with me."
Potter looked up abruptly. He seemed to study Draco with eyes that pierced deeper than any pair of eyes possibly could, at least when they belonged to a wizard who hesitated to use Dark Arts.
Then he laughed. "Of everything we have to struggle with," he said, "I think my not arguing with you is the last thing we should worry about."
Draco smiled and stood. "So long as you haven't learned the helplessness they wanted to enforce on you," he murmured. "I was only checking."
"Of course you were." Potter held out his hand, his eyes steady. "Hermione's supposed to visit at two tomorrow. Can you come?"
Draco gripped the hand and felt the pulse throbbing, strong and steady, for a moment beneath his fingers before he answered. "I will be here."
Potter watched him go, fingers on his throat as if he was feeling the difference that actually being able to speak his new native language made. Draco paused at the door to look back, but didn't speak the taunting insult he'd planned on.
Not with those green eyes as steady as the pulse.
He shut the door and went down the corridor to visit his mother. He told himself he was glad that Potter was being so adult about it all, and that they didn't need to spend time butting heads. Perhaps a month under the curse with no one else who'd succeeded in helping him made Potter more tractable.
He didn't allow himself to think, because he didn't want to, of the way that Potter seemed to affect him.
"Harry! How are you?"
Harry smiled and hugged Hermione. He was glad that she'd come without Ron, at least this time. Ron more usually visited in the evenings, anyway, since he was still busy with his work as an Auror during the days.
The work I'll never perform again.
Harry tried his best to ignore the bitterness. The one piece of advice the Healers had given him that had proved useful was not to think too much about the past. If he couldn't be an Auror again, then he couldn't, but that didn't lessen his ability to live a good life. He could do other things.
Time to do them, he thought, and nodded to the parchment that Hermione carried with her, raising his eyebrows.
Hermione frowned for a moment, but then seemed to remember what he'd written the other day. "Oh, the Healers," she said. "They say that they're still treating you the same as they ever were, Harry. They're giving you good meals and trying to give you good exercise, but you won't cooperate." She paused and regarded him severely.
Harry growled. He knew that Hermione loved and respected the rules, and she'd studied the guidelines for hospital visitors so many times by now that she must know them by heart. But the Healers hadn't been able to find anything wrong with his eyes that would explain the visions and the auras, and they didn't know why the curse prevented him from speaking English. They just kept saying that he should be able to, and then they blamed him when he couldn't.
"I know that they might not be everything you could wish for," Hermione began in a soothing tone. "I know that they exasperate you, and you wish you could go home. But, Harry, they're the ones who know best. They're the ones who can treat a curse like this." She took a deep breath, and Harry saw the glitter of tears in her eyes.
"I'm so frightened," she whispered. "I'm so frightened that you'll never get better, that you'll have to stay here for years like Neville's parents. Please, Harry. Can you go along with them? For me? So that you can be free again someday?" She reached out and held his hand, staring earnestly into his eyes.
Harry might have melted. But Hermione had asked him this before, and nothing had actually changed. The Healers continued to look for what they thought should be there instead of at what actually was.
Besides, he had an advocate now.
Who, at the moment, was opening the door behind Hermione. She turned around with a mild look, probably assuming it was Leonora or one of his other failed attendants.
She stiffened all over when she saw Malfoy. Harry was glad that he held her hand, or he thought she would have tried to pick up her wand. As it was, she bowed her head in a way that made Harry wince, because her neck must be so tense, and spoke in a constrained, chill tone. "Malfoy. What do you want?"
Malfoy nodded to Hermione and looked over her head at Harry. Harry understood what he intended to do when the Latin words flowed out of his mouth. "Agitne hoc semper?" Does she always do this?
Hermione stood still this time, instead of stiff. Harry thought that was at least an improvement. He massaged her fingers and nodded at Malfoy. "Yes. And she was just trying to convince me to lay back and let the Healers have their way."
"But that doesn't work." Malfoy took a step forwards that Harry would have called aggressive, except he couldn't envision Malfoy becoming that upset over him. Hermione backed up a step. Harry didn't think she was frightened; from the way she positioned herself, she was trying to protect him from Malfoy. "Tell me, Granger," Malfoy said, shifting back to English and looking at Hermione. "Why haven't you, or someone else, arranged to learn Latin now that Harry speaks it?"
Harry. His name had never sent a spark and a thrill through him before.
"Or why didn't you cast a translation charm that would allow you to hear what he says as English?" Malfoy continued relentlessly. "I know that that isn't beyond the range of advanced magic—which the Healers should certainly have access to."
"The barrier in his head from the curse won't let us use charms like that," Hermione said, firing up with true best friend temper. "We've tried. And I don't care if you speak Latin, if you're trying to talk Harry out of receiving help, then—"
Harry had never seen the coldness of Malfoy's face turn hard since meeting him again, but he watched it happen now.
How dare she.
Granger might not know about his mother being in hospital. She might not be able to know how profoundly Draco had changed since those days when he was in school and had cared mostly for the next day or the next week instead of the next decade. She had no real reason to think that someone Sorted into a House she despised could ever really change.
But she had heard him speak Latin, and she had seen that Potter's face didn't turn blank with shock on seeing him. And she was intelligent enough that Draco was inclined to demand more of her than he did of someone like Weasley. She could not give him the benefit of the doubt. She could not link his presence here with her friend's unhappiness, and realize how extreme it must have been to send him seeking Draco's company in preference to the Healers'.
She had leaped immediately to the conclusion that condemned her friend, instead of the one that would allow him to retain some dignity.
Draco looked at her with an expression that he knew would shut her up, and then shifted his eyes back to Potter's face. "Do you want me to tell her in detail about the Healers?" he asked. "Or translate what you say?"
"You don't know enough details, I think." Potter looked stunned, still, but sounded calm. "Besides, if she hears you talking to me and then repeating something, she'll probably think that it came from me."
"Probably?" Draco glanced at Granger, who was standing as though someone had dumped a bucket of cold water on her head—shocked and yet resisting the shock, convinced that the person who had done it to her must be the one in the wrong.
"Probably," Potter repeated. "Hermione's very reluctant to adopt new ideas once she gets one stuck in her head. Besides, there will be at least one English word in what I say: the Healer's name. If she hears me say it and you repeat it, then perhaps she'll let herself be convinced." He let his lip curl a bit. "Hopefully."
Draco nodded and waited. Potter rubbed Granger's hand and then stepped around her so that he was between Granger and Draco instead of the other way around. Draco relaxed without meaning to. He wanted to shake his head and snort in derision at himself, but the reaction of being more content when Potter was close was simply an honest one.
"There's a particular Healer named Leonora who's been making my life miserable," Potter said briskly. "They wanted her to try and Heal me by laying on her hands, which she can do to other patients. Apparently she's never failed before. It didn't work, and now she blames me. I don't know for certain if they won't assign her elsewhere until she cures me or if she simply is stubborn and wants to find a cure, but she taunts me and treats me like a slow child."
Draco nodded and repeated that to Granger in English. Granger's eyebrows rose, and she looked more shocked than ever. Draco approved. As long as they could keep her off-balance, then they didn't have to cope with a flood of reasons and excuses for her behaving as she had done.
"Leonora? But I know her. I've met her. She would never do something like that. She's been patient and gentle with Harry every time I'm here." She folded her arms and glared at them both, though Draco thought most of the force in her look fell on him. "If you can't come up with a better lie than that, Malfoy, I think you should leave."
"It's not a lie," Potter snapped. Draco could hear the strain in his voice, like the strain of ropes trying to bind a dragon, and could only guess how many times he must have tried to hold his temper in check when one of his friends disbelieved him. "She just doesn't treat me badly in front of you. Why would she? She knows that you're her ally."
Draco took some glee in repeating that, especially with the hurt way that Granger's eyes widened. She was chewing a curl of her hair now, and her gaze darted back and forth between them as if she was trying to see the invisible strings that she must feel Draco was trying to control Potter with. But her jaw was sticking out more, too, and Draco thought she wasn't far from a decision.
Just make the right one, he thought at her in irritation. Potter needs the support of his friends.
And why should I care about that?
Draco laid the consideration aside for later, carefully wrapped in golden tissue and secured in an ivory box. He had laid many thoughts aside in his mind like that, among them thoughts of the war and the way he had had to torture people. He had never gone back to them. Why should he? Dwelling on questions that had no answers and feelings that no longer resonated did no one any good.
"I could," Granger whispered, "I could remain here under a Disillusionment Charm and see what happens the next time she comes in to talk to you."
"You could," Potter said at once. "Or you could trust me."
Oh, that made Granger's cheeks turn pink. She glanced back and forth between Potter and Draco, then said, "You must be desperate, if you're letting Malfoy speak for you."
Potter nodded tightly, once. His arms were folded, the nails of his right hand digging into his left elbow. Draco reached out and folded his hand back without thought. Potter blinked at him and relaxed his posture.
"I want out of here," Potter said.
Granger seemed to understand this almost without the translation. Her eyes darted to the walls of Potter's room, and she nodded a bit. "I can see why you would," she whispered. "But they know best how to treat you here."
"Not without someone by my side to fight for me," Potter said. "And I haven't had anyone like that."
Granger looked up with her eyes full of guilt. "I'm sorry, Harry," she whispered. "I would have, if I knew."
"I know that," Potter said, and bridged some of the gap between them by reaching out and squeezing Granger's shoulder. "But the important part is that you believe me now, and work with Malfoy and me to get me out of here. All right?"
Draco felt himself almost fade into the background as he translated Potter's replies and then Granger responded. Because Potter didn't have to have him translate the English, the link was constant, a one-way circle, instead of having to flow back and forth twice through him. Granger listened to his voice, but spoke to Potter; Potter responded to her words, but depended on Draco to speak for him.
If someone had asked him how he would withstand a situation like this, Draco would have laughed and predicted boredom and active pain. He hadn't planned to spend his afternoon reconciling Gryffindor friends. He had been sure that Granger would need a lot more persuasion, and he had looked forwards to providing that persuasion.
And yet, he was content to fade into the background now. He was content to watch the play of emotions across their faces and note the way that lines of tension slowly faded from around Potter's eyes.
Another useless thought, laid aside in silver paper and ebony box to be opened when some bell that would never ring sounded. Draco had so rarely felt contentment like this that he was disposed to exult in it rather than drive it out of existence with too much questioning.
Finally, Granger said, "All right, I'll speak with the Healers. They're used to thinking of me as an—ally, the way you said. It might be that they would take what I said more seriously."
"That's the best plan," Potter said and Draco translated.
Granger still stood looking at them with a faintly shaking head before she turned and walked away. Draco was glad she had gone. Perhaps she would eventually become his ally as well, but for the moment, she made him uneasy when her attention fixed on him.
"I want to leave this room," Potter said suddenly. "Can we visit your mother?"
Draco turned to stare at him in astonishment. Potter looked calmly at him, his head tilted to one side as though he made a suggestion like this every day and was only waiting now to see how Draco would respond to it.
"I—I reckon we could," Draco said. His voice was hoarse, and he had to clear his throat a few times before he responded. "I don't know how she'll react to the sight of you." It was the only warning he could offer. Perhaps he should have refused, but the offer made his contentment grow, and that he was unwilling to lay aside. "She might not want to see you," he added as an afterthought.
Draco stood staring at him for a moment, because he didn't know this new and strange Potter who could accept that someone might not slaver with joy at the sight of him.
But in the meantime, he shook his head and turned to lead the way down the corridor.
He found another reason for joy as they passed Healers who stared at him and Potter. Once or twice they opened their mouths, but no one said anything. They'd been cowed into submission by him and the Malfoy money, and they seemed to assume that Potter couldn't understand English anymore, either.
Draco was hoping for some more spectacular reactions later, when the news of Potter being out of his room spread, or when more Healers knew about Granger's questions.
For now, though, the joyful way Potter looked at the walls and stretched his arms out quickened Draco's breath and almost dimmed his nervousness as he laid his hand on the door of his mother's room and urged it open.
Narcissa Malfoy seemed graceful and perfectly symmetrical even without one arm. Harry didn't know how she did that.
Nor did he know how she looked at him with deep eyes when he stepped into the room, nodded once, and simply held out her remaining hand, saying, "The last time I saw you was in the Forbidden Forest. You appear to be in less danger than you were then, Mr. Potter, Dark curse or not. Welcome."
Harry had held her hand and muttered some incoherent words about Voldemort and how she saved his life and how he owed her a life-debt. She had done him the grace of ignoring those, since she couldn't understand them anyway, and was now talking quietly with her son. Harry perched on a chair in the corner of the room, studying both of them.
More of his attention wandered to Draco, though. He was smiling gently, his eyes fastened on his mother's face. It didn't seem as though he was ignoring the gap where her arm had been, either. It was simply that her expressions, her face, were more important to him. He stroked her hand once and asked in a low voice if he could get her anything. Mrs. Malfoy shook her head and began talking about some kind of investments. Draco seemed to know what she meant, because he bent closer and answered attentively. Harry tried not to listen.
I never knew—I never knew that he could be like this.
Of course, five years could do a lot for a person. Harry, who felt he was really steadier and more adult than he'd been five years ago, knew that. But he hadn't known that Malfoy would change so profoundly in the direction of a decent human being.
Mrs. Malfoy laughed. It seemed to be at something Draco had said, because immediately he pretended to puff up and said, "Fine, don't take my advice then," in a playful tone.
Mrs. Malfoy shook her head, her smile faint but amused for all that. "Draco, darling, I simply don't think that one should try to avoid all attention. Most people on seeing me will immediately know that I have a false arm. And silver will be lovely, for me to look at if nothing else. I do not need ivory."
Draco leaned back with one elbow on the table beside the bed and smiled at his mother. Harry picked up the narrowness in his smile and was sure that he had advised an inconspicuous arm just to make his mother pick a more obvious one. He wanted her to feel proud and as though she wasn't diminished by what had happened to her, Harry thought.
I wonder if he'll try to manipulate me the same way? But since Draco had already settled it that he was helping Harry, it seemed that any manipulation would have already happened.
At that moment, Draco turned his head and caught Harry's eye. His smile deepened, but the narrow edge simply became more prominent. Harry smiled back nervously and hoped that it wouldn't look nervous.
Harry turned around sharply. Leonora stood in the door of Mrs. Malfoy's hospital room, her pointed glare saying that she ignored everyone in the room but him.
"What is this nonsense?" she asked in a chilly, haughty tone Harry had learned to hate, because it always meant he was about to be scolded like a child. "Miss Granger has come to me and had the gall to say that I am not treating you properly. What did you tell her? Why did you complain?" She stepped closer. "I am your Healer, no one else."
Harry opened his mouth to respond, but the first Latin word had hardly emerged when Leonora shook her head.
"You will respond in English," she said, "which I know you can understand, like a proper adult, or I will have no choice but to report your non-cooperation to the rest of the Healers. Imagine what they will do to you."
Harry clenched his hands as a familiar feeling of frustration spread through him.
And then Draco was there, standing between them like a living wall.