The first sensation as he Apparated was the intense heat of the sun, like a hood descending on his body, that widened every pore and flooded his skin with sweat. Draco inhaled deeply, trying to dominate the initial discomfort of finding himself into an unknown, new place.
He was in the internal garden of a palazzo and a man hurried past him, ran down the stairs towards the exit without noticing him. The man pushed a wide wooden door and plunged himself into the shiny street.
Draco stood still, motionless inside the dark niche where he was hiding, his shirt stuck to his chest, eyes straining to get used to the bright sunlight.
When he felt calm enough, he ran down the stairs and opened the wooden door. He must have pushed it more forcefully than necessary, because the wood creaked and he felt himself hurled into the street.
He avoided a biker by chance.
The city was nestled in the Sicilian Eastern Coast, between the endless turquoise sea and the rumbling volcano that commanded fear from above.
Draco walked down the noisy streets with eyes fixed on the old parchment that served as a map, ignoring passersby and motorcycles as best as he could, until he reached his destination.
The house was placed on the edge of the main road, surrounded by an uncultivated garden that had expanded until it swallowed the iron and the white marble of the perimeter. Taking a momentary hesitation, Draco tapped his wand against the oval sign at the entrance gate that swung open at once.
Pulling all of his wizarding courage and his Malfoy pride, Draco advanced into the domestic, lilliputian jungle.
“Tu sii un carusu, veru? Draco?” a voice muttered behind him.
The young wizard turned around, recognizing only his name pronounced with a foreign accent by a foreign voice.
“Yes?” he inquired to the woman standing behind him.
“You are Draco Malfoy and we were waiting for you,” she said in English. “I’m your host, la signora Matilde.”
Matilde Teresa Maria was a very old witch who was said to have descended from the Spanish Viceroys, the Uzeda of Francalanza, who had once ruled over Sicily, and to whom a famous pedestrian course was dedicated, before being renamed in honor of the volcano.
She was a superb-looking woman, incredibly slim and tall, her pale skin shrunken by inclement age, her mouth tight with just a shade of light pink and perpetually bent downwards. Dressed entirely in black, she wore the crown of a rosary on her chest and occasionally clutched on its red pearls.
“How is your father? And your mother?” she asked, once they sat in her shadowy living room.
Draco was still dazed for entering into an unknown house, in a southern city that seemed wild and frightening. He took a breath before answering.
“Very well, Mrs. Matilde. Thank you in advance for your hospitality, your fee will be paid by the end of the day, as my parents established via owl.”
“Of course,” she replied casually. “Sei stanco? Are you tired?” she asked then, as if she had noticed the young man standing before her for the first time. “Let me call someone to help,” she warned, before raising her voice considerably. “Agatina! Agatina, veni accà! U carusu arrivau!”
A swift figure materialized from the door into the living room; a small woman, smiling and staring at Draco with huge, shining dark eyes.
“Are you Draco, the boy? Welcome, welcome!” she exclaimed, waving her hands up and down with enthusiasm.
“Portilo nilla stanza so’,” the lady Matilde murmured. “E vidi di nun farci rumpiri nenti,” then talking to the young wizard once again. “Dinner is at eight o’clock, but if you don’t like to eat inside, you can go out and take an arancino, ‘na sfoglia, whatever you want. Just remember to be home by midnight and to be quiet. I don’t want to hear noise in this house, am I clear?”
“Very much so, Mrs. Matilde.”
Draco’s room was narrow; with a single bed on one side, a small bedside table and a wooden wardrobe embellished with mirrors on the doors on the other. The walls were painted snowy white and the ceiling was higher than Draco would have thought; above it, there was a golden circle surrounding the silver chandelier.
Miss Agatina placed his baggage near the bed and opened the door that led to a balcony.
“From here you can hear the streets and the people,” she explained, looking at the sky. “It is very nice, especially when you feel alone, to hear other people. So you are not alone anymore, right?”
“Of course, you must be tired!” she said with an indulgent smile. “Not really in the mood for the talks of an old lady! But it’s really nice to have you here, very!”
“Thank you,” he whispered, regaining his manners. “It’s nice to be welcomed in such beautiful place.”
“Ha! You take a walk outside! You see the city! You’re going to like it,” she promised, pointing a finger. “I’m going back to the kitchen. You want anything before dinner? There’s a bottle of water over there, on the table, and clean towels. I left you biscuits and a bit of fruit, some apples and pears and … prickly ones, I think. Prickly you say? You want coffee?”
“I’m fine, thank you very much.”
“Well, if you need anything, you call me. Don’t be afraid to raise your voice, this house is big and nobody hears a thing. You rest now, okay?”
“Okay, thank you again.”
Agatina left the room with a huge smile on her face. Draco sighed and crumbled into the freshly made bed.
Without being aware of it, Draco sank into a deep sleep, full of images and memories.
He dreamed of being in his childhood bedroom, surrounded by green furnishings and puerile games. He was laying in the sweetly smelling bed there too, when Harry came to him. His face was lit by a beautiful smile and, with feline elegance, he was suddenly on top of Draco, who was sighing with longing.
The dream ended when Draco tried to touch the face he desired.
The young wizard woke up in the late afternoon; the sky was already dyed in dark orange and the moon was shining above. Draco took a quick, much needed shower before going downstairs, in the living room where the dinner was about to be served.
Lady Matilde was seated at the table, her wrinkled fingers wrapped around the beads of the rosary, her mouth twisted in a grimace.
“Have you rested well?” she asked at the approaching boy. “Take a seat,” she prompted him. “Agatina is coming with dinner, tonight we have pollo co’ sucu … I don’t know how to say that in English, you’ll see and if you don’t like, you can leave it there.”
Draco sat down and adjusted a white cloth on his legs.
Miss Agatina entered the room, carrying a delectable smoking hot pot.
“Good evening, master Draco! Have you rested well? Is it too hot for you in here? I won’t be surprised if it was. You must be used to other climates.”
“Agatina, the boy doesn’t care for your chatting,” Mrs Matilde interjected.
“I say he does,” the housekeeper replied. “He seems awfully quiet and that’s no good for a boy of his age.”
Draco looked at the talking ladies without daring to interrupt them.
“I don’t know if you like this,” Agatina murmured, filling his plate with a dense sauce made of onions, tomatoes, olives and celery, before placing upon them three parts of chicken breast. “It’s pollo, chicken. I thought it was a good choice for you, but you tell me if you want something else.”
“It’s perfectly fine,” Draco replied. “It looks delicious,” he added without lying.
The chicken breast was fragrant and inviting in its sea of red sauce. Agatina placed a generous portion of homemade bread next to it and more olives, in a tiny bowl smelling of oil and garlic.
“To sweeten the mouth,” she explained.
Mrs. Matilde was served next, then Agatina helped herself with the remaining chicken and sat down in the middle of table. She closed her eyes, clasped her hands together and pressed them to the chest, quickly mirrored by her mistress. They whispered something unintelligible, before opening their eyes to take hold of the cutlery.
“Buon appetito, enjoy your meal!”
Draco hesitated, at loss of words for the unusual beginning of a dinner, then tasted a bite of the chicken.
“Do you like it?” Agatina inquired with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
“Very much so, it’s delicious.”
“Ha! I knew it!”
“Agatina, please … the boy doesn’t care.”
“And I say he does,” the housekeeper replied once again. “I’m sure he never ate something so good as my chicken. Look how thin is he, poor thing!”
Mrs. Matilde raised her eyebrows in contempt, but said nothing.
“So, how's your father doing?” she asked Draco, while cutting her meat. “I heard that a bit of sparring happened in England over that Lord … that wizard who died. I read the news. Lucius and I are cousins, you know that?”
“I do,” Draco replied, a bit stunned by the mention of the Dark Lord, Voldemort, as if he was just an afterthought in a bigger discussion.
“The Malefoys and the Uzeda, my noble ancestors, were connected by a couple of well-placed marriages. My grandmother was married with a Malefoy … I’m named after her naturally.”
Draco nodded, oblivious.
“You’re too young to know this, I reckon. And you people have forgotten about the Southern branch of the family, as often rich families do when they have no convenience in remembering anymore. But I do.”
“I can’t …”
“You’re just a boy,” Matilde granted with a smile that looked foreigner in her stern face.
“My mother was a peasant and so my father,” Agatina intruded. “No kinship with me.”
She exchanged a mysterious glare with her mistress, before they both bowed her heads and kept on eating in silence for a couple of minutes.
Matilde spoke again.
“Why are you in Sicily? I remember your father telling me something in the letters.”
“Oh yes,” Draco seized the opportunity to change subject. “It’s for a research. I’m studying to become a potioneer, you see, and it would be a wonderful opportunity to study the plant life near the volcano and by the sea.”
“My father would be so grateful for your hospitality and I’m sure he won’t ever forget again what you did for us,” he added, hoping to center a crucial point in the conversation with his host.
He did. Mrs. Matilde smiled knowingly.
Draco was getting dressed when Agatina entered her room.
“I brought clean towels ... oh, you are going out! Good for you, boy!”
The young wizard smiled at her, fixing the collar of his pristine shirt.
“I was thinking about a walk, yes.”
“That’s right! A young thing like you should enjoy the city. There are so many places you could visit, new people to meet.”
“I have to return by midnight …”
The housekeeper waved her hand dismissively.
“Don’t worry about that old woman! You tap your wand against the door outside, I open for you.”
“That’s very kind, I don’t want to keep you up all night though,” Draco replied. “I shall return at a decent time. When will you serve the breakfast tomorrow?”
“The breakfast, yes. Whenever you want, my boy. There’s no problem. Go have fun!”
Draco took his leave from the housekeeper and Apparated into the warm night.
Harry was towering over him; his muscular arms tense, his naked chest darkened by wisps of black hair. His eyes, not covered by glasses, looked greener than usual but somehow distant.
Draco stretched out his hand; he remembered the harshness of the stubble, the softened of black hair pulled back.
Something wasn’t quite right.
“Is this a dream?”
Harry smiled with benevolence.
“You left me,” he replied.
“I didn’t!” Draco answered hurriedly. “I wanted to stay with you.”
Dream Harry tilted his head.
“You should marry a pureblood girl and have pureblood heirs,” he said, sounding eerily like Lucius.
Draco shook his head.
“I won’t,” he declared. “I won’t marry any woman, or man. I’ll find you and I’ll be with you.”
The wizard woke up with a start. Outside his bedroom birds were chirping, the sun had illuminated the entire room. Draco rubbed his eyes and went to the bathroom.
Agatina was already working in the kitchen. She had filled a large pot with water and cut onions and potatoes into squares.
“Good morning, Miss Agatina,” Draco greeted, entering the room.
Apparently breakfast was usually served in there.
“Good morning, Draco! Did you have fun last night? Did you meet new friends?”
The wizard sat down at the table, embarrassed by the questions and thinking about a way to evade them, when his host placed a tray of biscuits, cakes and desserts in front of him.
“I could do English breakfast for you, if you want, but we have these already.”
“Oh … they look properly scrumptious.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Agatina replied. “Do you like milk? Tea? Coffee? Orange juice?”
“Just coffee, please.”
“Ha! I also drink coffee in the morning,” the woman declared, sitting the coffee pot on the cooker. “Let’s see if you like it the Italian way, then.”
Draco bit a biscuit.
“Where is Mrs. Matilde?” he asked.
“She wakes up very early in the morning and goes to the cemetery, as usual. She will be back by midday, so you’ll have the house for yourself and your research.”
“Oh yes. Yes, thank you.”
Back in his room, Draco sat down by the desk and pulled out a pack of letters from his luggage. He had learned to fake his father’s handwriting and signature in order to secure the travel. Mrs. Matilde wouldn’t have allowed his staying, if she knew the real reason behind it.
With a defeated sigh, the wizard opened his map and crossed off some places.
Mrs. Matilde came home at twelve o'clock precisely. She was hungry and commanded that the dinner was served in an hour. Draco hid letters, maps and everything in his possession and placed some herbology books on his bedside table.
“So, how did it go your first night here? Have you rested well?” Mrs. Matilde asked.
“Very much so, thank you,” Draco politely replied.
They were sitting at the table having lunch. Agatina had served maltagliati with asparagus, potatoes and shrimp as first course and now was serving swordfish in sauce. Despite her apparent slimness, Mrs. Matilde was an extraordinary eater.
“What are you researching?” she asked again.
“I … alternative uses of moonsbane and broom flowers in restorative potions.”
“I remember reading about something similar when I was younger. Interesting research.”
“Were you interested in Potions?” Draco inquired.
Once again, he witnessed a silent and puzzling exchange of looks between his hosts. He opened his mouth to say something, but Agatina stopped him.
“Have you seen the statue of the elephant? It’s the symbol of the city.”
“I … did, yes.”
“Do you want to know why is it so important?” Mrs. Matilde intervened.
“Centuries ago a violent earthquake almost destroyed the entire city. Imagine the scene; houses, palazzi, roads … everything swallowed up by dirt. The city was on its knees. The citizens, of course, started to rebuild and an illuminated man decided that rebuilding needed celebration. A tangible sign. So the statue was created and everyone, the noblemen and the peasants, prayed for it and for the city. The statue meant good fortune for all of them, despite the differences of status. There’s a moral in there, you know.”
Draco frowned, confused.
“You make people care,” Matilde explained. “You make them feel like they own something, like they should care. And they will never hurt what you love.”
On the seventh day of his permanence in Sicily, Draco found Harry. He was sitting on a cliff, staring at the horizon, white shirt and black hair blowing in the wind.
Draco Apparated next to him, mindful of the slippery surface of the rocks. Harry turned towards him.
“Draco?” he whispered, stunned. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you, you mindless idiot!” Tears were already filling his grey eyes. “I’ve searched everywhere!”
“How did you find me?” Harry asked.
He stood up, patted the back of his dirty jeans.
“George gave me a map,” Draco whispered. “The Weasleys were worried and I … they let me search for you,” he lowered his head before raising his voice. “I was worried sick, you stupid ape! How could you do this? Was it … was it because of me?”
“Do you regret our night together?”
“No!” Harry replied more energetically. He came closer to the other wizard, cupped his face in his hands. “I don’t regret our night together, Draco,” he declared in all seriousness. “Actually that was the most brilliant thing that ever happened to me in a while. Ever.”
Draco bit his lips, his cheeks flushed with the brightest pink.
“But it reminded me that … I needed space, time. Everything happened at once after the war and I felt lost. I’m sorry I ran away without leaving a note. I’m sorry that I’ve hurt you.”
“Are you coming back?”
It was Harry’s time to lower his head. A deep line crumpled his forehead and he looked unnaturally tired.
“You don’t have to!” Draco hastened to say. “If it’s too much for you. I can tell everyone that you’re doing well and you can send owls just for us. I won’t push you into something you don’t want.”
Harry frowned again, this time in surprise.
“Thanks!” he exhaled. “That’s …”
“... What you needed to hear, I reckon,” Draco retorted with a smile. “You think I haven’t learn anything in these months with you?”
He fixed his shirt and prepared to Disapparate, when Harry grabbed his hand, spinned him around to kiss him soundly.
“Thank you, Draco,” he whispered against his lips. “That’s really what I needed to hear. Come back tomorrow, same time, same place. We’ll talk more.”
Out of breath, Draco nodded.
When Draco Apparated inside the villa, the frightening cries of Lady Matilde welcomed him.
“Tu, vastasu! Cosa fitusa!”
He avoided something thrown from the distance and pressed his back against the wall, petrified. Lady Matilde was screaming at him, drops of saliva splashing from her lips and eyes wide with rage.
“Liar!” she shouted and Draco understood. He turned on his side; the letters were on the floor, that’s what Matilde had thrown against him.
“I’m s-sorry …” he muttered, feeling sick in his stomach.
“Liar! Infame!” she kept on yelling. “Why did you fake your father’s signature? Does he know anything about this? Why are you here?”
Cold sweat ran on his back and Draco couldn’t find the words to justify his actions. He thought about Harry, standing on the cliff, and somehow that made him feel sicker.
“Do you understand the damage you did?” the lady continued. “You’re father is going to ruin me!”
“He won’t!” he found the strength to answer back, clenching his fists. “He won’t if you don’t hurt me! It’s true, my father doesn’t know about this visit but that doesn’t change a thing.”
“For Merlin’s sake!” Draco spat out. “You’ll still have your galleons!”
The old lady’s grimace turned so low it seemed grotesque.
“Galleons!” she shouted. “And what about my good name? Who you went to see, huh?”
Draco’s face flared up, but he raised his chin in a proud display of dignity and refused to answer.
Matilde spat on the floor and raised her hands, Agatina rushed in the room.
“Chi stati vanniannu? What is all this screaming for?” she glanced at her mistress, then rushed towards Draco. “You scared him!” she yelled, holding her hands out.
Draco flinched, turned to the wall.
“Don’t be afraid, child. Don’t be afraid …” he tried to be strong and dignified, but could hold the sobs back. “Oh, look!” he lowered his head and Agatina held him in her arms. “U’ carusu! U’ poviru, poviru carusu!”
“Dissi ‘na minzogna!” Matilde interjected. “He lied to us.”
“E si fa accussi?” Agatina yelled, enraged. “U’ poviru carusu, u facisti scantari ppi ‘na minchiata! E non ti virgogni? Don’t you have any shame?”
While Draco cried and trembled in her arms, Agatina kept on looking at her mistress, her eyes full of disdain.
“Iddu è sulu un caruseddu e tu sii ‘na raggiata!”
“Ti scurdasti tutti cosi! Ti scurdarsi comu su i cristiani!”
Draco didn’t understand a word she was saying, still he felt her strong arms around him, the warmth in her tone. He held on tight on Agatina, his only defender, and waited until Matilde was gone.
“Puvireddu!” she whispered, cupping his face like a mother. “You poor thing!”
“I’m sorry .... that I lied ....”
“And who doesn’t? That’s nothing, boy. Nothing,” she reassured him. “The lady forgot how it feels to be young, to care so much about something or someone that you must risk everything. But that’s her fault, not yours.”
Hot tears gushed out Draco’s eyes, but for the first time he felt as if his sentiment was legitimate and recognizable by somebody else.
“That’s it,” Agatina smiled, her dark eyes full of peasant wisdom. “I’ll talk to the mistress and make her apologise to you. But first, you need food.”
Draco sat down in the garden outside the villa, where the plants had swallowed all the white marble and ornamental statues placed in there centuries ago. Nature reclaiming her spaces.
He looked down at his feet and remembered Matilde’s apologies, the uncertain, frightened light in her eyes and Agatina’s stare on her. He had wondered about the relationship between the two women without coming to an answer. Some things were destined to stay unresolved, he thought.
He couldn’t find the strength to see Harry at the cliff above the sea and waited all afternoon in a state of pathetic languor and unexpressed desire.
“I’ve found you!”
Draco turned around, incredulous to see the object of his desire standing before him, in Matilde’s garden.
“You’re here!” Harry smiled, illuminated by a ray of light filtrating from the savage vegetation.
“How did you even find me?”
“That’s not your exclusive thing, you know,” he replied, coming towards him, leaning on his heels. “The old lady told me what happened yesterday,” he murmured, stroking Draco’s face with gentle fingers.
“Which one?” Draco replied, shifting backwards. “It doesn’t matter. All I did was for nothing, I can’t force you to come back home and I can’t force you …”
“I can’t force you to love me as much as I do,” he whispered slowly, and without lowering his shining eyes.
“I don’t need your pity! I want so much more and if I can’t have it, I won’t feed on a poor substitute.”
“I agree,” Harry said.
Draco looked at his, frowning in hope and uncertainty, hands moving forwards on their own accord. Harry took them in his.
“I needed some time to find the energy to face the word but … fuck, it’s going to happen anyway, whether I’m ready or not. I’ll say better sooner than later and, Draco, I want you by my side. You’ve been so brave coming here to look for me.”
“I want to face the world with you and stay forever with you,” he whispered, pressing noses together in a prelude of a kiss. “I’m sorry I didn’t leave a note. Will you forgive me?”
“Will you come back home with me?”