Harry made his way up the winding sandy path to a cliff top a few hundred metres from the house. There was a large oak tree at the top of the hill, with a bench facing out to overlook the glittering sea far below. It had become Harry's favourite place to be over the past few days, enjoying the sounds and smells from the forest at the base of the cliff, the sea breeze that came in off the water. He also liked that he could easily hear anyone approaching. After 14 months of being tortured by a terrorist organisation – not to mention being attacked by his school teachers and relatives before he was kidnapped – he was constantly anxious and jumpy, not helped by the heightened awareness the phoenix tears gave him.
Harry settled under the large oak tree, leaning against the trunk and closing his eyes. It was much quieter up here than in the large mansion at the bottom of the hill where there was the constant buzz of electricity or rush of water in the pipes, as well as Tony's music as he worked in his workshop. They were all welcome, comforting sounds, but Harry had found himself wishing for a small amount of peace and quiet, which he found under the oak.
He angrily lit a fire at the tip of his finger, burning swirls and designs into the largest of the roots by his leg, small wisps of smoke curling upwards. He was reminded of the many times he had sat under the beech tree by the black lake with Ron and Hermione when the weather was like it was now, though he didn't think it had ever been this warm at Hogwarts; even with the fire that felt like it flowed through his veins he knew the sun was hotter in Malibu than it ever got in Scotland.
Harry found his thoughts drifting to his friends, wondering what they were doing now – they would have been back at Hogwarts for a few days now. He spent a few minutes trying to work out what electives Ron and Hermione would have chosen for their OWLs. They hadn't ever talked about the subjects they would take in third year before the whole debacle with the Chamber of Secrets, and Ron hadn't even spoken to him afterwards.
"Hermione definitely took Arithmancy and runes." He said to himself. The surgeon Tony had paid a stupid amount of money to quietly remove the lump of metal from the back of his tongue had told him to try and speak as much as possible to build up the muscles in his mouth again, but it was still uncomfortable, and Harry had spent so long talking in one or two word sentences that it took some effort to speak more than that. The surgeon had suggested simply whispering to himself – saying his thoughts out loud or commentating on what was going on around him – would help him get used to speaking, and over the past few days Harry had been forcing himself to talk. "Ron won't have taken either, and neither of them would have gone for muggle studies." He continued to burn patterns into the bark next to him, enjoying the strong smoky smell that rose up around him. "Care of magical creatures maybe? Ron probably decided on divination as well." He didn't know what he himself would have chosen if he had not been kidnapped and had gone back to Hogwarts. Care of magical creatures and Arithmancy, perhaps? It didn't matter now anyway.
Harry shifted so that he was lying on the cool grass, staring up at the canopy above. The leaves rustled in the sea breeze.
He looked up when he heard footsteps approaching, climbing up the path towards him. It took him a second to identify Matt Murdock, the lawyer, and he dropped back onto the grass, staring up at the blurs of green above him.
"Hi." He said once the man was close enough.
"Stark's AI told me you were up here." Matt replied, sitting on the bench that looked out over the ocean a few metres away.
Harry nodded. "I like it out here. It's..." He searched for the right word. "I don't know."
Matt seemed to understand. He nodded, and the two sat in peaceful silence for a while.
After a few minutes Harry got to his feet and began walking back and forth down a stretch of the sandy path, his hands in his pockets as he listened to the ocean, the buzz of insects, the whisper of wind through the forest far below.
"If you don't mind me asking, Harry, how long have you been blind?" Matt asked.
"Just over a year." Harry replied.
"Did the ten rings do it to you?"
Harry shook his head. "You?" He asked.
"I lost my sight when I was 9." Matt replied. "A tanker of chemicals was tipped over in a car accident, and got into my eyes." He huffed a laugh. "Can't say it was particularly pleasant."
"Sorry." Harry said softly. The basilisk venom hadn't exactly been enjoyable, but he couldn't imagine what getting chemicals in your eyes would feel like.
Matt shrugged. "It's not all bad, you know. You save a fortune on your lighting bill." Harry laughed, and Matt shifted his cane in his hands. "They say your other senses compensate as well. You know, improve to make up for the loss of your sight."
"Can't say I've noticed that, but it's a nice thought." Matt said.
Harry frowned slightly and stopped walking. The man's heart rate had jumped, now beating faster than usual. "Why?"
"Why ask?" Harry clarified, kicking at a rock by his foot and sending it clattering over the edge of the cliff and down to the blue water far below. "How long I've been blind."
"Oh." Matt replied. He shrugged. "Curiosity? You're remarkably well-adjusted already. You don't seem to be bothered by the fact that you can't see, much."
"Nor do you."
"Well, I've been blind a long time." Matt said. "I'm used to it. But you, you've only been unable to see for a year, and you're in an unfamiliar place, but you don't walk into chairs, you shake people's hands, you make yourself sandwiches..."
"Fast learner." Harry said, not looking at the man, even though he knew he couldn't see him.
Matt made a non-committal noise, and a slightly awkward silence fell between them. Harry stopped walking and looked into the sky, letting the warm sun wash over his face as he listened to the ocean far below and the gentle breathing of the man next to him. His eyebrows twitched together as he listened to an unusual sound layered with the breathing; a kind of creaky groan, like an old ship.
"Are you hurt?" He asked.
"Me?" Matt said. "No. Well, a little battered and bruised. I... fell."
He tipped his head towards Matt slightly, listening intently.
"Yeah, they got pretty banged up."
Harry wanted to feel Matt's chest, to try and work out what it was that he was hearing, to learn more, but it would be extremely weird if he asked to feel the man's ribs because it sounded like they were fractured. He briefly entertained the thought of asking Tony to fracture his so he could listen to them, but knew the man would never agree to it, even with the unnatural rate at which Harry healed.
Harry started slowly walking back and forth down the path again, enjoying the sounds and the scents that floated up to the cliff top. "How did you get up here?" He asked suddenly, a small frown pulling at his eyebrows.
"You know that's not what I meant." Harry said. "There's... rocks, roots and stuff on path and iit winds around the hill..."
Matt shrugged. "Like I said. I've been blind a long time. Jarvis warned me, and I had my cane." He held the white stick up slightly. "You're talking a lot more than last time I was here." He said. "What's up with that?"
Harry didn't miss that he was trying to swiftly change the subject. "Operation. There were bits of metal stuck in the back of my throat."
Harry shrugged. "I've had worse." He said quietly.
Matt didn't seem to know what to say to that, and a rather heavy silence fell between them.
"How are you liking living with Stark?" Matt asked finally.
Harry couldn't have stopped the grin that spread across his face if he had wanted to. "It's great."
"That's good to hear." Matt said. "Really." He twisted his head around, as if looking at the scenery around them. "This is a nice place, up here."
Harry nodded. "I like it."
Matt nodded, a small smile on his face. "It's nice to hear the ocean, and the birds. Is there a forest at the bottom of the cliff?"
Harry nodded, closing his eyes and holding his arms out from his sides slightly, turning in a small circle as the sun gently warmed his skin. "Yeah. It's got deer in. And owls." He could hear them now, shuffling around. He felt a pang for Hedwig, who had surely thought that he had simply abandoned her.
"Skunk and bobcats too." Matt said. "Presumably, I mean."
Harry hummed in agreement as he continued to spin. The ground was cool under his bare feet where he kicked up the sand. He let out a small laugh as the first feelings of dizziness began to creep up on him, the same way they used to after he had pulled off a series of stomach-churning stunts on his broom. He quickly raised his foot to step over a protruding root before he tripped over it.
Matt gave a small chuckle as Harry raised his arms higher, enjoying the slight breeze he was creating as it brushed his face.
"You might want to be careful." Matt said.
Harry shrugged. "The edge of the cliff is ages away. I won't fall." Even so, he dropped his arms and slowly stopped turning.
"That's not entirely what I meant." Matt said. Harry unsteadily made his way over to the bench and sat down beside him. "You don't want to get..."
Now that he had stopped spinning, Harry's head was rolling, his stomach clenching uncomfortably. He held his head in his hands, elbows on his knees.
"...dizzy." Matt finished, a faint note of amusement in his voice. "You alright?"
"Everything's spinning." Harry muttered. He would have laughed if he didn't feel so nauseous. "How? I can't even see it!"
"It's an equilibrium thing." Matt explained gently. "It's got nothing to do with your eyes. Liquid in your inner ear gets disturbed when you spin and has trouble levelling off."
Harry shook his head desperately. "No, it's worse than that."
"I get what you mean."
"No, my senses are-" Harry cut off, taking huge gulps of air. "Oh man, this was a mistake."
Matt laughed. "As a general tip then, don't get drunk." He said. "Spins are probably worse than this."
Harry hugged his stomach and laughed. Matt rested a comforting hand on his shoulder.
A few moments later, the worst of the spinning had stopped and Harry sat up, staring out over the sea.
"What did you mean about your senses?" Matt asked.
Harry grit his teeth. He had been hoping that he hadn't noticed that. "Nothing." He realised how... guilty that made him sound and forced himself to explain. "Like you said; they compensate. That's it."
"Right." Matt said.
"Why are you here?" Harry asked. He felt himself flush. "Not that I-"
Matt laughed, shaking his head. "I know what you meant. Tony asked me to talk to you."
Harry's eyebrows shot to his hairline. "Why?"
"Well, if your case goes to court, there's a few things I need to ask you anyway." Matt explained. "But he seemed to think you'd appreciate talking to someone else who couldn't see. He also thought you'd rather talk to someone you've already met, rather than a complete stranger."
"Right." Harry nodded.
The sun slipped behind a cloud as the two of them sat together quietly.
A group of birds were startled at the base of the cliff and rose into the air, squawking. They circled around the treetops for a few minutes before settling back into the forest.
"Are you doing ok?" Matt asked after a few minutes.
"Never better." Harry said shortly. Why did people keep asking him that? "I'm not in Afghanistan. I have a... a home."
"I can't imagine what you went through over there." Matt said softly.
Harry swallowed thickly. "I don't ever want to feel like that again. They... If I... It..." he trailed off, shaking his head. It wasn't just Afghanistan he has glad to have left; the Dursleys hadn't exactly been the nicest people to stay with either, and despite only going to Hogwarts for 2 years, he had been in at least 4 life-threatening situations.
He didn't like feeling weak and helpless.
He never wanted to feel that way again.