Author's Notes: Many people have asked how I've managed to write from a blind person's POV. When I was a child, my mom had a blind friend. She had always been blind when we knew her, but she had once been seeing, and lost her vision very suddenly due to illness. I remember always wanting to make things for her that she could feel. I suppose I drew more, however, from my experience as a speech therapist, as odd as that sounds. While I wasn't working with visually impaired people, we were taught a little about how to do that, if the need were to arise, and the entire concept of 'functionality' is similar across all therapeutic fields. The same sort of "how can I compensate or restore normalcy" mindset. I also walked around with my eyes closed a lot -- I'd take a shower, or try to get to the front door from the kitchen, or try to chop onion with my eyes closed, to see how it felt. I really was walking around in Draco's head a LOT when I started writing this, trying to imagine how he would perceive things, and the things he would and would not be able to manage. I don't know if it's *really* realistic, but I've tried.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Draco's Leader was inspired, in part, by the Bubble device in Lori's PoU universe and is used with permission.
Draco In Darkness
Chapter 4 - Touchstones
touch·stone (noun): a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
With Draco safely back in his common room, Harry decided there was no point in going back to the library to finish his remaining homework. Instead, he went up to his own common room to see what Hermione and Ron were up to.
Only Hermione was in sight, however, when he finally climbed through the portrait hole. She looked up from her pile of books and notes when he came in, a look of surprise on her face.
"I didn't expect you back so soon. Aren't you normally still studying with Malfoy around now?"
Harry gave her the brief version of events: how he and Draco had gone down to practice their DADA skills, how he'd accidentally broken the Leader, and how he'd walked the blind boy back to Slytherin house afterwards.
"So, anyway, I figured I'd take the extra time and spend it with you after all," he finished, looking around. "Where's Ron?"
"With Mandy, of course," Hermione answered. "I do hope she'll get him to start revising for his N.E.W.Ts at some point - there's only a little over three months left!"
"He'll be fine, Hermione," Harry placated, throwing himself down on the squashy armchair to her right. He craned his neck to look at her notes. "What are you working on?"
"Arithmancy. We've got a big presentation coming up; I've been doing a lot of reading for it, but I wish our library had more books on the subject."
Harry hid a smile as he eyed the enormous stack beside her. "Yeah, Malfoy mentioned something about having to do some research and stuff. Don't know how he's going to find anything if you've got all the source material though," he laughed.
Hermione looked mildly affronted. "I'll have finished these in a few days, and they'll be back in the library, I assure you. Besides, most of these have more than one copy. As if I would purposely keep crucial reading material from any student. Even Malfoy." She frowned. "And speaking of - I want to talk to you about him, Harry."
"Why are you doing it?"
"Doing what? Studying together?"
"You saw for yourself how much better I did for Professor Binns," he shrugged. "I thought you'd be pleased that I want to keep improving. I know you two are probably a bit upset that I'm not with you as much, but I swear, I still-"
Hermione waved her hand impatiently. "I get that. I'm not so insecure that I think you're choosing him over us or anything. I admit I don't really understand why it happened this way, why you can't get the same results here, but," she shrugged, "these things happen. I fail to understand how you can stand to be with him so much - or at all, really - given who you two are, but that's not the issue here."
Harry frowned. "Then what is?"
"The issue is," she paused, as if choosing her next words carefully, "I just want to make sure you're doing this for the right reasons. You can't manage to say one good word about him for six years, then he goes blind after a game you played, and now suddenly you're offering to read to him, and walking him back to his common room, and - just be sure of your motives, Harry. That's all I'm saying."
"Are you saying I'm just doing this out of pity and guilt?" he asked, feeling a sudden surge of anger.
"I don't know!" she gestured defensively. "It just looks a bit odd, you know? Oh, Harry, I'm not trying to make you angry. And maybe you have nothing of the sort in mind. You've been going off to read to him for about a month now, and you watch him any time you're in the same room, as if you're making sure he's all right, and I know you like to help anyone who is in distress. It's one of your greatest strengths and one of the things I love about you. But I don't think Malfoy's the type to want saving, and it isn't right if you're spending time with him under false pretenses, trying to help him like a wounded baby bird, if he thinks you're just a study partner."
Harry crossed his arms over his chest. "And when did you start caring so much about Malfoy?"
"I don't," she replied shortly. "I'm sorry he was injured, and I don't envy him at all the obstacles he must now face. Truly. But I also remember how much of a bastard he was to all of us, and he isn't suddenly harmless to me just because he can't see. My concern is for you . If you're not doing this for the right reasons, if you're just doing it out of guilt or pity or heroism or anything like that, and he finds out, then you're going to get hurt. So - just think about it, okay?"
So Harry thought. He thought while he read through his Herbology notes, and he thought while they went down to dinner. Ron joined them there, finally prying himself away from his girlfriend and sliding into the seat on Hermione's other side at the table. Harry managed to set his musings aside long enough to socialise with his housemates, but then he lost spectacularly at his nightly game of chess with Ron because he couldn't focus on the pieces. And he was awake long into the night, still thinking.
In the dark dormitory, with his bedcurtains drawn and his glasses off, he wondered if this was what it was like for Draco. Every day. How did the Slytherin stand it, just him and his thoughts and the feel of his blankets piled around him and nothing to relieve the blackness? Only a slight, blurred sliver of moonlight was visible to Harry's right, where he had failed to draw the curtains shut all the way; he was glad of it. He suddenly felt that he might drown in the dark, were he to lose that one bit of visual input.
He found himself feeling sorry for Malfoy, and wondered if there was truth in Hermione's words. Was he just acting out of pity? There probably was at least a small element of guilt. Everyone told him it had happened too fast, that nothing could have kept Draco from hitting the post, and for the most part, he believed them. But somewhere, in the back of his mind where his guilt over Cedric still lurked, was another small voice Harry had never been able to fully silence. You could have warned him sooner. He had, at least, been able to prevent further damage by grabbing the injured boy as he slipped, keeping him half-supported on his broom by sheer strength and adrenaline until they could get to the ground. But still. What if he'd noticed the danger a half-second sooner, or yelled a little louder. Would it have made any difference?
And anyway - even if a little guilt or pity had motivated his initial approach back in January, it wasn't really an issue now. He was getting just as much help as he gave; in exchange for reading to Malfoy and practicing spells, and debating issues with him, he was learning the minor variations in the smell a potion gave off during the simmering process, and how to use that information to help determine when it was time to add the next ingredient or remove it from the heat. In Herbology, he was getting better at diagnosing plant ailments by touching them, in addition to looking. All his senses seemed sharper, as if he was finally using them to their fullest extent. That combined input, together with the enhanced memory retention he experienced from reading aloud, was giving him some of the best marks he'd ever had.
And while he loved Ron and Hermione, and always would, he also found he was honestly enjoying Draco's company. For all that they had hated each other previously, they now seemed to be striking up a friendship of sorts. The banter and bickering was familiar, but lacked the viciousness of their younger years; now it was just a lively way to spice up the endless swish-and-flick practice and chapters on troll wars.
Was it wrong to feel good that Draco seemed to tolerate his company, when he resisted everyone else's? Was he acting out of pity by keeping Draco company? Or was it just being a friend? Harry thought about some of the things he'd seen and heard, of Draco appearing to exchange only a bare few words with his tablemates at mealtimes, holding himself apart in classes, insisting on his own capabilities any time they were remotely called into question. He wondered why Draco no longer seemed interested in spending any time with his housemates, those who had eagerly clustered around him only a few short months ago. Was Harry mistaken? Did Draco still socialise with them in the privacy of the Slytherin common room? All signs indicated 'no' - otherwise, some of that camaraderie would surely have spilled out into mealtimes or lessons.
Then there was the reluctance Draco had shown to mention his once-revered father, and that cryptic remark about never letting his guard down. In some ways, he hadn't changed that much. He still gave off the impression of being angry and bitter over things gone wrong, but the difference now was that he kept it inside instead of complaining or manipulating things in order to improve his situation. To all appearances, the Slytherin had shut himself off from everyone - his family, his housemates, and, to a large extent, even his teachers. The only person he spoke to with any regularity was Harry.
With a jolt, Harry realised his thoughts had wandered, and he drew them back to the original problem at hand. He was now starting to actively worry about the other boy, but it didn't feel like pity. Just ... concern. For a friend. To be honest, he was largely starting to forget Draco's disability, until something made it obvious - like the broken Leader.
By the time another month went by, the weather had warmed up enough to let them study outside occasionally, though they still needed their cloaks. The two boys were relaxing by the lake, both in largely good moods; the day's Potions work was done, and they were taking a bit of a break before moving on to other assignments. An early spring breeze blew around them.
"Not that I'm not glad to have you around, but - don't you miss your housemates at all?" Harry asked, as he pushed a lock of windblown hair off his face.
Draco shrugged. "Not really," he answered.
Harry was incredulous. "How can you not? You all seemed to have a great time harassing the rest of the school together. Not that I want to see you go back to that sort of thing, but -- don't you miss it at all?"
"Look, Potter, I said I don't and I don't. We're Slytherins, not sweet and gooey Hufflepuffs, brain-sharing Ravenclaws, or whatever it is you Gryffindors all see in each other. Everyone is out for their own power, and any friendships are established to either get more, or to get something else. I gave up on that after the accident; stupid little game to play."
"So, you just gave up on them, too? There isn't anyone whose company you still want?"
"I'm friends with you now, aren't I?"
Harry felt oddly flattered. "Yeah, you are. But I'm not in your House. What do you do once you go back to your common room?"
"I sing old musicals off-key. What does it matter what I do? I can operate just fine on my own, you know." Draco turned his head away and faced into the wind instead.
"I never said you couldn't. It just seems ... well ... lonely. Unnecessarily so."
Draco didn't move. "I said I'm fine," he replied tersely, in the direction of the lake. "And what do you know about being alone? You have an adoring horde following you wherever you go."
Harry gritted his teeth. "I spent ten years of my life and more than half of each summer since then completely alone, I'll have you know. Okay, fine, in five of those summers I at least got letters. But my daily life consisted of being ignored. If I wasn't ignored, I was treated like dirt. I would have given anything to have people around me. You have them - why not be with them?"
"Potter, did it ever occur to you that maybe I don't want to be with them?"
"Why the hell not?" Harry reconsidered a moment. "Okay, not that I would want to be with any of them, but - you got on just fine with them for nearly seven years. Why not now?"
"Maybe I don't want their pity, okay?" Draco's own anger was evident in his voice, the sound echoing over the water.
"Maybe the only person who's pitying you is you ," Harry yelled back in frustration. "And look at me when I'm talking to you!"
"I can't," Draco answered coldly. "Or did you suddenly forget?"
"Well, you can bloody well face me when we're talking, can't you?" he snapped.
"What difference does it make? I can hear you just fine, whether I'm facing you or not. In fact, I think the giant squid heard you, you were shouting so loudly."
With an effort, Harry lowered his voice, despite the frustration still seething within. "It's not the same. When you don't face me ... it's like ... you're not paying attention. Like you don't care." He wondered absently why it was suddenly so important to him.
"I'm listening. I've listened to every damn thing you've said since we started hanging out together. I listen whether I want to or not, because there's nothing else for me to do but listen. And I hear a great deal more than just your words, I'll have you know." He started ticking off on his fingers. Harry watched curiously, some of the anger ebbing away. "You have this odd idea that I need constant adoration and companionship, and that the ideal place for me to get that is in my own House. You think that just because it's true for you, it should be true for me. You like attention."
"I do n-"
"Don't argue with me. And yes, you do. Otherwise, it wouldn't bother you so much if you thought I wasn't paying attention to your Mighty Words of Wisdom."
Harry scowled. It wasn't so much that he liked attention from everyone, just from certain people. But he had to admit - Draco was one of those people. For seven years he had been on the receiving end of Draco's attention, and even if most of it had been negative, he was used to it. And he had certainly found himself enjoying the other boy's less belligerent company of late. "What else?" he asked grudgingly.
With a knowing smile, Draco finally turned to face Harry again, ticking off one last finger as he did so. "I can also tell that you're scowling."
"I am not!" Harry tried hurriedly to wipe it off his face.
"Yes, you are. Or you were. You're trying to change that now, aren't you?"
Caught, Harry couldn't help but smile ruefully. "Prove it," he teased.
To his surprise, Draco reached out in his direction, made contact with his arm, and pulled Harry towards him by the sleeve.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm 'looking' at you, Potter. I'm going to look at your face and prove that I'm right."
Harry allowed himself to be pulled closer to Draco, watching as those pale fingers reached out gently, found his face, and began exploring - first his eyebrows, then sliding over the bridge of his glasses and down his nose to his mouth.
"Okay, not a scowl - not anymore - but definitely serious. Pinchmark between your eyebrows and everything. Watch that, or you'll end up all wrinkled before your time."
Harry couldn't stop a laugh from escaping. "Not really one of my biggest concerns, but I'll keep that in mind, thanks." He started to pull away, but Draco's fingers continued to roam over his features, skimming lightly around the edge of his jaw, over his cheekbones to his nose, and once more across his lips.
"Haven't changed at all, have you, Potter?" Draco murmured under his breath; he seemed to be speaking more to himself than to Harry.
Harry held himself perfectly still as the other boy's fingers moved back up to the bridge of his nose and gently removed the interfering glasses with one hand; he held them out, waiting until Harry took them from his palm before going back to his two-handed exploration. Up, over and around his eyes; he closed them automatically to keep from being poked, and he felt a brush over his lashes and over his lids before he opened them again. The hands moved up to his hairline and through a few locks of hair, and then....
"Ah yes. The scar. How could I have forgotten?"
Harry suddenly didn't know where to look as Draco traced the shape of his lightning scar. He wanted to look up at Draco's hands, he wanted to look down at the ground, he wanted to watch Draco's face even though the flat, unfocused grey eyes still unnerved him a little. And he wanted to close his eyes and focus entirely on the feel of someone touching him in such an oddly intimate way.
For a long moment neither boy moved. Then the Slytherin finally pulled his hands away and Harry, with shaking fingers, pushed his glasses back on to his face.
"Well," Draco said into the silence. "Now that we've got that bit of melodrama out of the way, and I've established that you are actually Harry Potter and not some clever imposter walking around with his voice, shall we get back to the books?"
Harry blinked. "Er... right." He looked around in a daze. "I've got my Transfiguration book here. Do you have your notes?"
Hours later, Draco was still thinking about it.
It had felt like he was seeing Harry for the first time, but also like he was coming back to a long-lost memory. Touching him, feeling the lines of his face, the messy hair, even the scar - it made Harry real . Real as no one had really been since he lost his sight. He'd touched potion ingredients and books and wands, but they were objects , not people. He'd touched Harry before - taking his arm after the Leader broke, helping him feel the difference between two similar plants - things like that. But those hands and arms and even the voice could just as easily have belonged to anyone, even in their familiarity. The face was different though - it was clearly, unmistakably Harry , meshing perfectly with what he remembered of the Gryffindor boy.
He had many images of Harry in his mind, of official duels and forbidden fights, and challenging stares across the Great Hall. A whole library of memories. Yet the image that stuck out most of all was that of his very last sight - the image of Harry reaching out for him. His very last sight. How often had he pictured that moment in his mind? It was with him all the time, on constant replay like a wizarding photograph, to bring out and examine any time the endless dark became too much. He savoured that last gift of eyesight, even though the details were blurred by shock and pain, even though his hated rival was the central focus.
Hated rival he might have been, but no more. Almost as if he knew or remembered Draco's last seeing moment, or maybe just because he was a damn Gryffindor, Harry had continued to reach out to him. First for the schoolwork and now, as the argument by the lake proved, emotionally, too. Draco didn't want it - he didn't want people to reach out for him, to coddle him or pity him. But, he thought, that wasn't what Harry had done. Most of the time he had treated Draco fairly, expecting no less from him now than he would have done before. Perhaps he'd gone a little easy at the beginning of the duel, but by the end, he was obviously giving it everything he had, and Draco had even made a few successful strikes.
In fact, Harry had always been the one to push Draco the most. Of course, back then it had been in fierce, unbending competition, as each boy strove to outdo the other. Now it was more a cooperative race of equals; they each knew what the other was capable of by now, after all. Even though the hatred was gone, there was still the unspoken expectation between them. 'Come on, Potter, is that the best you can do?' 'Hey, Malfoy, bet I can transfigure this ink bottle faster than you can.' Draco thought about his other classmates, noting that no one else had ever pushed him so hard. Only Potter.
To see him again -- really see him, even if it was through his hands and not his eyes - had been like turning back the clock, giving him something he hadn't had since the accident. His fingers still remembered the feel of Harry's cheeks, his chin, that damned scar. It was a perfect image of Harry. The touch had transferred into a vivid mental picture and, because he had stared at Harry so many times in the past, Draco could now recall that face more clearly than almost anything else. He hadn't realised just how much he had missed seeing this one person who had been in his face for nearly seven years; touching Harry this afternoon had filled in a piece in his life he hadn't even known was missing.
He wanted to do it again.
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