7 Months Later
Harry leaned back against the side of his boat, angling his face away from the sun.
Unlike England and Scotland, where sun rarely shone beyond the clouds, the coast of Ghana seemed to situate itself for the sun to blaze down on all living creatures to the point that Harry would swear the sun was getting closer to earth everyday.
His loose clothing and bandana over his head were already soaked with sweat.
He reached for the bottle of water and downed half of it. He would need to make more potion to relieve the sunburn he got daily.
The first month he had applied sunscreen diligently, but despite high SPFs and claims of being sweatproof, he was painfully burned by the end of the day. Hiding in the shade, staying out of water, and slapping on more greasy sunscreen did nothing to ease his burning. Finally, he had relented and made a potion to ease skin burning, a potion that he remember from his third-year potions textbook.
The potion stunk up his little hut, a thatched-roof, one room affair with a hammock to sleep and a faucet that let water spew out to fall into a drain below. Someone had been kind enough to build an outhouse thirty feet away that reeked so bad in the heat of day that Harry avoided going near it unless absolutely necessary.
The hut only had walls on two sides which Harry had found odd when he first saw it. But the landlord, who owned a dozen similar huts down the beach, had explained to him in broken English that the wind needed to blow in and out or he would suffocate from the heat. During the first night, Harry had realized the landlord was indeed telling the truth as he lay sweating and begging that another breeze might waft in from the ocean.
But he had endured the heat, learned to swallow it down, drink more water, and hide his face from the relentless glare.
A tug from one of the lines made Harry sit up in the boat and reach for the taut twinge that disappeared into the water. He had to pull it slow, he had learned, to keep the fish on the line. The bait on the hook was magically enhanced so fish would be lured to it, but for actually pulling it in, he depended on his own strength and speed.
The fish was big and long, at least 20 pounds and 2 feet long. He unhooked the hook and tossed the fish down beside the other seven he had already caught. That was enough for today.
He wound up the line, aimed the boat towards shore, and began paddling. Earlier in the year he had used magic to force the boat to go faster, but now he used his own arms and back to get to shore.
It was past noon when he docked. Putting the biggest fish aside, he strung the others on a line, slung them over his back, and trudged up the docks towards the trading store.
Several other fishermen saw him, and a few began laughing.
"Siadefo!" they called out.
Harry grinned at them and nodded. That name apparently was Fante for lucky person. He had learned a few words so far, but Ghana had so many dialects and slang words mixed in with English that he didn't try much. Almost everyone he met knew some English, a result he feared was due to British Imperialism and the American slave trade of past centuries.
The trading store was the main hub of the village where about fifty families lived. Another building had a walk-up bar where he liked to eat in the evenings as it doubled as a diner. The food was different – millet, sorghum, plantain, and always and forever fish – but he ate without complaint.
The thing he missed the most was tea. He might have been able to find a good cup of strong, hot tea in port cities like Tema, but here in the rural coast lands, he had to settle for whatever goods they had.
In the trade store, he put his fish on the counter as the owner, a Mr. Ekow, walked over. Harry wasn't sure if Ekow was a first or last name, so he added a Mr. to it in his mind and called the man Sir which he seemed to like immensely.
"Here you go, Sir."
"So many fish. All the time. Never stop," Mr. Ekow shook his head in wonder.
"Guess the fish just like me," Harry shrugged.
"Too lucky, too lucky," the owner moved to weigh the fish. Still muttering and shaking his head, Mr. Ekow reached into the till and gave Harry 4 cedis coins and 45 pesewas.
From what he had learned about their currency, it took about 7 cedis to make 1 British pound sterling and about 5 to make the American dollar. He wasn't sure about the exchange rate into Wizard money, but he doubted it would be good. He had no idea how the other fishermen lived on such pay and hoped desperately that he was paid these scraps because he was the only white British stranger in the village.
There was an American guy doing research for a doctoral dissertation in one of the huts down the beach, but when Harry had approached him, the guy had sworn and closed his laptop. "Who the hell are you? I came all the way out here to do work on tribal, primitive living in poverty-stricken Africa and you are going to ruin my observation by bringing in your privilege and Western civilization!"
Harry had tried to protest that the village wasn't exactly primitive as they had a phone line in the trade store and generators if they needed electricity (one of which the American was using), but the American had been irate and started yelling about post-colonialism and the evils of global capitalism that made Africa so poor and how dare he come here and expect the citizens of Ghana to bow to him like all the British explorers of the 1800's. Harry had considered setting his laptop on fire, but instead had slunk away. He didn't visit that side of the beach much, and when he had heard that the American had suffered from heatstroke, he had allowed himself a self-satisfied smirk.
With coins in his pocket, he went back outside and got in his boat. Mornings were for fishing, afternoons for cleaning the boat and swimming.
He paddled along the shore until he saw his hut. Unlike other villagers who kept their boats at the main dock, Harry preferred to pull his up on the beach in front of his hut. No one seemed to mind, especially since the nearest hut was several hundred feet away.
The boat, one made in darkness from driftwood and pulled together with magic, was only about eight feet long. He had named it The Ginny as the front had reddish wood that shone in the sunlight. It was his only connection from back home; he didn't even go by Harry here. He gave his name as Henry, figuring that was close enough to his own to remember to answer to it.
Lunch consisted of beheading whatever he had caught, cleaning it, and cooking it over a fire made on the beach. He would boil a pot of whatever grain he could buy for cheap, sprinkled salt over everything, and eat it.
Even now towards the end of July, he tried not think about the food of Hogwarts or Snapdragon Manor. Spitting out a fish bone, he would think about anything other than hot crusted bread with butter smeared over it, cold glasses of pumpkin juice, cuts of beef pink in the center with gravy – no, don't think about food. He was in exile and whatever the poor villagers ate, he would too. He wasn't going to create food, either; he would learn to like Ghana food.
By the time he cleaned up lunch, burning the remains of the fish, he went for a long swim in the ocean. Staying parallel to the shore, he swam past the other huts, past all human markings, until the wild shore spread out.
There he liked to climb out of the water and hunt along the beach for shells or even a crab. He also would find material from nets, old masts and clothing, and bits of rope. He liked to tie all into a bundle, secure it to one leg with a rope, and swim back home with his treasures.
Late afternoon was spent tidying the hut, putting away his new treasures, washing clothes and dishes, and sweeping out the sand and dirt that was blown into his hut.
When his watch read 6:30, Harry either went to the village to eat or ate leftovers from lunch. Usually, a meal from the open bar cost about 2 cedis unless he wanted a drink with it which ran about 3. He could afford it; the only other thing he paid for was the hut at 30 cedis a month and the large bottles of purified water he consumed daily. If he ran out of money, he Apparated to a bigger city, stole money from people at a fancy hotel, and took money back to pay his rent. (He would sometimes treat himself to dinner in the city, but it had to be Ghana style food, nothing else.)
Once back at the hut, Harry set about the arduous task of cleaning himself. He had a large cloth that he hung over the front of the hut to give himself the illusion of privacy (even though the back was wide open.) With cool water from the faucet, he scrubbed all the sand, dried saltwater, and fish remains from himself. He had a bar soap and he rubbed through his hair as well. Then he spread the sunburn potion over all red places before putting on a loose shirt and shorts to sleep it.
He took the cloth down and folded it. It wasn't a Legilimency night so he didn't need it.
Sitting on the front of his hut, he watched the ocean turn different colors as the sun set. His wet hair had already dried, and it fell over his forehead until he tied it back with a bandana. He hadn't cut his hair since getting here and the tangled mop made him look older than 16, especially with the patchy scuff on his face.
Several people walked by in the twilight; Harry raised a hand to them and they waved back.
Everyone he had met was friendly, but wary of him. They had asked where he came for, and he had spun a yarn about wanting to see the world before settling down. He mentioned finishing school, so he guessed they thought he might be eighteen or nineteen. The muscles he had packed on in the fall had only grown, and with a recent growth spurt, he looked older than sixteen.
After a month of living there, the villagers acknowledged him more, much to the rage of the American who glared at Harry every time he saw him. The language barrier made long conversations with the villagers hard, so Harry smiled, waved, and nodded, and they seemed happy with that level of interaction.
He thought about learning more of their language, but if he talked more to them, he was in danger of spilling secrets. So far, no one had come to look for him, no one figured out his real name, no one guessed he was a wizard. He knew other wizards must live Ghana, but they were as apt at hiding it as the wizards in England had been.
Once it was dark, Harry went back inside. He lit a small lantern to brush his teeth and get into the hammock. It was past ten, and he had been physically active most of the day so he knew sleep would come quick. He listened to waves on the beach as weariness pushed down on him. Another beautiful day, another day of freedom, a day here he could go as he please. He would relish the feeling of peaceful content as sleep swept him away.
He woke up in the darkness.
Immediately, he reached for his watch, desperate for it to be early morning, right before sunrise.
The wave of loneliness that swept over him was unbearable. He put his hand over his mouth to muffle a sob and then bit down on it as tears flooded his eyes.
Turning on his side in the swaying hammock, he drew himself into a ball and let the sobs rack his body.
The truth he avoided in the daylight was always stark clear in the darkness of night.
He hated being here.
No one cared if he lived or died in this place. If he drowned on one of his swims, they would shrug and clean out his hut. No one asked if he had eaten, or how he was feeling, did he have clean clothes, did he get enough sleep? No one asked if he had exercised or laid on the beach all day. No one scolded him, talked to him, listened to him, punished him, or even really looked at him.
The villagers all belonged here. They had family and friends, stories of past years, common language and customs, feeling of safety and security. Harry was really just a tourist in their lives, something to chat about over cups of pitoo or iced kenkey, but not really a part of the village.
At least the awful American had a place to go home to when his research was done!
Harry tried to wipe away tears to look at the watch again. 2:13.
In the business of the day, he could lie to himself. There were activities and work and exercise and getting food and all kinds of meaningless nonsense to distract himself from how miserable he was.
Harry got out of the hammock and went to the beach where the moon shone down. It was still except for the waves coming in and out.
He missed his friends. He missed Snape. He missed the manor. He missed Hogwarts. He missed everything about his own life. Yes, Azkaban had been a nightmare, but at least he had someone to talk to.
This was worse than the years with Dursleys. Then he had liked school and he had had the hope that life would get better the older he got. Now, he had no hope. He could go wherever he liked and see the whole blasted world, but he would be alone.
He barely practiced magic these days, he couldn't remember what felt like to hold a wand, and he was so, so tired of pretending like everything was great as he stuck another bite of horrid, oily fish into his mouth.
Never had he wanted to go home more.
Brushing way more tears, he imagined living a cupboard under the stairs at Snapdragon Manor. He would do it, just to be woken in the morning by an impatient Snape. "Enough sleep for you! More chores for punishment!"
That way waking up seemed a hundred times better than here, alone in the darkness.
Some nights he slept all the way through, and though it was awful waking alone, at least there was light and something to do. In the middle of the night, he had nothing. He didn't even have a book to read or paper to doodle on. He could have bought or stolen a book, but the characters in there would have conversations and friends, and Harry would still be all alone but jealous of fictional characters.
He had tried to make one of the wild birds his pet, but it pecked at him angrily and flew away. He even spoke Parceltongue to a snake he had found in the wild; it asked him to please let it be left alone because it didn't want to go to the village and be killed. Harry had asked the snake if they could hang out in the wild, away from the village; the snake replied that it wasn't fond of humans. It had slunk away, and Harry hadn't seen any snakes since.
His tears finally dried up and he was left alone with the awful ache in his chest. At least tomorrow night was a Legilimency night. He slept better after those.
Why, oh, why, hadn't he made a deal with the Ministry after escaping Azkaban? Yes, he wanted to be left alone, but surely, they could have included a provision that let him return every three months for a weekend holiday. He could suffer the loneliness of three months if he knew he could be around people who cared for him eventually.
Unbidden, a memory came to him: the common room in Gryffindor Tower, warm with a fire blazing on the hearth as rain feel outside against the windows. Ron arguing with Hermione over something. Dean and Seamus playing chess. Prefects telling the first-years to go to bed and the third years better have all taken showers after Hagrid had them mucking out stalls for one of his new creatures. And Harry sprawled on the sofa, exhausted from training with Snape, content to sip a cup of what Snape called healing tea, but was something strong and bitter.
The memory was almost too painful to take in. Then his biggest worry was trying to avoid Moretta and hoping Snape didn't make the next training too hard.
He would give anything to switch places with that happy, content Harry.
Around three he went back to his hammock and stared at his watch until he fell asleep.
He didn't have nightmares anymore. Being awake was enough of a nightmare itself.
The next day was pretty much the same except he stopped after catching six fish and got paid only 4 cedis.
He took time to scrub down the boat more thoroughly as it had a lot sand at the bottom. Swimming, dinner, washing up, until finally, finally it was 9:50.
He had the cloth hung up, and he sat down in the only chair with his back to the cloth. Waiting these last few minutes was the hardest part as his heartrate increased and his cheeks grew warm. He couldn't tell if it were nervousness, loneliness, eagerness, maybe desperation, but those ten minutes caused him to crush his hands into fists and bear out the ticking of the watch with short breaths.
At three seconds to ten, he closed his eyes. Just breathe.
When he opened them, he sat in the same place with the cloth behind him, but the hut had disappeared into darkness and the only things left were the cloth, the chair, and him. Oh, and Snape.
The man closed his eyes in frustration. "For the thousandth time, why do you have to involve the cloth. We're meeting in the middle, a dark place where we can't see anything else. I don't bring anything. Why do I have to look at that dirty rag every time?"
"You might look beyond it," Harry said weakly.
Snape crossed his arms. "For all that's holy – if I knew where you were, don't you think I would have found you already?"
"You might know."
"It's hot where you are," Snape listed off. "It's sandy. You're sunburned even though you keep trying to heal it. You and that cloth reek of fish. That narrows it to about a fifth of the world, which I may remind you, is quite large."
"Then stop trying to guess."
Snape looked murderous but stayed quiet.
"Are my friends safe?"
"You ask that question every time. I don't have to answer."
"Are my friends safe?"
"Ron, Ginny, Hermione, and Draco?"
"Yes, all safe. None of them are in Azkaban."
"You could be lying."
"Then be my guest and come see for yourself. I promise you I will escort you to Azkaban myself once you arrive."
Harry said nothing.
"You look terrible," Snape's tone was short. "I'd been embarrassed if anyone knew you ever lived at Snapdragon Manor."
Snape looked fine, Harry realized with a pang. It was summer again so he wore black trousers and a white-collared shirt, but somehow it look better on him than last year. His dark hair was pulled back in in a single tail, and his face was vigorous and healthy.
Harry awkwardly smoothed down his raggedy sleeping shirt. "I-I don't need nice things anymore."
"There's only one thing you need."
From the dark direness of his tone, Harry doubted if that thing was a hug.
Silence lapsed between them as it always did after a few minutes. Harry couldn't tell Snape anything about his life now, and Snape refused to exchange a single word about anything he was doing or had seen or had planned. Their lives were almost as dark to each other as the blackness that enclosed their Legilimency space.
"I saw some interesting fish today," Harry ventured.
"I could not care less."
He scowled and crossed his arms to mimic Snape. "Then I don't know why you're here."
"You know exactly."
And Harry did. For the first week in Ghana, Snape had constantly tried to enter his mind. When Harry had shut himself off, Snape had tried to pull him into his own mind. Harry had let him until he had recognized the family room of the manor coming into view. He had informed Snape that he would only meet him in a neutral space, hence the black space. The hanging cloth was just an extra precaution against any snooping Snape might do.
Snape had yelled a lot in those days, threatened Harry within an inch of his life, but by March they had reached an agreement of only talking once every three days, always at ten o'clock at night Harry's time. (He thought Snape might be in the same time zone but didn't mention it.)
"I'm not coming back. You betrayed me. You said you would have a plan, but you left me alone in prison."
"I had a plan," the words were spoken flat but with conviction.
"What was it?"
"Why should I tell you? You made a mess and other people cleaned it up."
"I needed space. I felt trapped there."
"Now you have all the space you need," Snape shrugged.
Harry meant to reply something biting back, but his throat caught, and he had to swallow quickly to keep from making a noise.
"Harry," Snape stepped forward suddenly, "just come home. I promise I won't be too angry. Just come back, and we'll figure out everything."
Snape reached out, and Harry pulled out of the dark space, drawing himself back to his hut with a start.
He let himself have one gasp of frustration, hurt, regret and everything else that he felt in pulling away. For the thousandth time, he weighed the option of returning home. The sensible part of his brain (the part he ruefully thought was the adult side) laid it out neatly: he was not happy here. Go back to the manor and admit that running off was a mistake and destroying part of Azkaban was also a mistake and lots of mistakes happened and people needed to understand that.
But the other part of his brain protested (maybe not the adult side, but definitely not in any way a childish side since he was no longer a child). He didn't need anyone. Look how well he did here on his own, taking care of himself. Yes, there was the waking up at night sometimes in tears, but what could one expect with eating so much fish? Everyone knew fish made you a little unbalanced; Harry was certain he had heard that somewhere.
And Snape had to be punished. Harry was miserable, but then Snape must be, too. It would be nice if he could be happy while Snape was unhappy, but life was never fair.
Harry got off the chair. For some reason, he felt restless.
Rather than sleep, he went for a walk on the beach, letting the water lap on his bare feet.
The moon was beautiful over the ocean, and he wondered if he should give up sleeping at night altogether.
When he returned to the hut, he checked his watch. 11:59.
He felt so strange. Was something about to happen?
He remembered seeing the calendar several days ago, but that had been the 27 of July. Was – was it almost July 31?
He was seventeen, he realized. He was of age now.
Harry leaned against one post of the hut. It was his birthday, and how different it had felt from last year when –
The cloth was torn down with a savage movement.
Gringwad stepped in the hut, holding a cane in one hand and a parchment in the other.
Harry felt his jaw drop open, but he couldn't move.
Gringwad smiled, a ferocious showing of teeth and malice. "Hello, hello."
Harry couldn't utter a word as the man in his dark suit looked completely out of place in the shabby conditions of his hut. Surely this was a nightmare.
"Let me be the first," Gringwad swung his cane in the chair, and the chair spun through the air and crashed against another post, "to wish you a very, very happy birthday."