Rating: PG-13/R for language and some mature themes
Content: Drama, Post-Hogwarts, Post-War, and a little bit of Angst for good measure.
Summary: "It seems as if everywhere I go, I find the nowhere in somewhere, or make it of anywhere."
Disclaimer: The characters in the Potterverse were created by JK Rowling. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Notes: (1)Thank you to my most amazing beta, emmagrant01, who I want to thank yet again. She was able to spot the heart in this and forced me to bring it to the surface, which is why before you now is an actual story rather than my tangential dribblings. So, really, you should all be thanking her, too.
(2) This is based somewhat loosely on Dave Eggers' You Shall Know Our Velocity!, which is not his greatest book ever, but is certainly a thought-provoking and entertaining read.
(3) Yes, this is That Africa Fic, in case you were wondering. ;)
HARRY POTTER DROWNED IN THE COOL, BLUE-GREEN WATER OF THE
URUBAMBA RIVER STILL SEAT-BELTED ON A BUS THAT HAD GONE OVER
THE GUARD RAIL OF A SMALL BRIDGE IN NORTH-WESTERN PERU, ALONE
BUT WITH TWENTY-TWO OTHER LOCALS HE HAD NEVER MET BEFORE BUT
HAD HOPED TO; THINKING, FITTINGLY ENOUGH, OF DRACO MALFOY.
IT WAS A BLUE AND CLOUDLESS DAY, THAT DAY, AND THE WIND WAS
STRONG AND TO THE NORTH, CARRYING THE SMELL OF FOREST AND
YESTERDAY RAIN, AND IT WAS PLEASANT, IT WAS GOOD.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE.
Africa, as Harry quickly learns, can easily be split down the middle, divided into two parts: 1) tropical and flat, with red clay that sticks between the grooves of your boots when it’s wet and stains absolutely anything it touches beyond repair; and 2) golden, sun-washed desert, where the sand is fine like sugar and gets into everything: hair and clothes and particularly your mouth if you were talking or if you were breathing, or especially if you were shouting to the clear white-blue sky, at the top of your lungs from the summit of the tallest sand dune that you could find, arms wide and palms up, IS THIS ALL?
“I just can’t forgive myself for loving you,” Draco says to him once, when he thinks that Harry has already fallen asleep, the sheets rustling with his movement.
Harry has to fight to keep his breathing even.
And he is awake the rest of the night, waiting for Draco to continue, waiting for a further explanation. But it never comes.
The airports are a mess here; all crumbling concrete and flaking, dull beige paint and travelers who refuse to form queues and seem to conform to some other, uniquely African way of passing through the airport prerequisites. And the air is hot and muggy, uncomfortably stale, with open windows and ceiling fans rather than air conditioning, and the sun is bright even indoors, garish on the dark, shiny faces of the airport employees behind their computers. They seem impervious to the heat, these employees, with their shirts buttoned to their necks and their sleeves rolled up crisply, the men all with gold watches on their left wrists and the women with piles of thin, loud bracelets stacked to their forearms.
The woman at the counter before them wears silver while most of the others seem to prefer gold, or maybe it was brass. She has a long neck and turquoise earrings, and her voice sounds practiced as she reminds Harry, “The computer is still searching for your vehicle, sir.”
“I told you we should have just Apparated,” Draco whispers harshly into Harry’s ear. His cheeks are pink from the heat and there is a small crowding of sweat beads at his hairline that he would probably be shocked to discover. “This place is worse than St. Mungo’s with the barmies let loose. Which I have seen, for the record.”
Harry rolls his eyes and turns away, refusing to explain to Draco yet again the dangers of Apparating someplace where one has never been before, due to the pesky issue of exacts and details—the necessity of them and their lack thereof in this case. And did he even need to mention the dangers of doing a General Apparation in Africa, where the odds of stumbling over landmines or guerilla warfare were terminally high at every turn, let alone somewhere random in the general vicinity of wherever you were trying to go? Nothankyou, the rental car will be just fine. Speaking of which—
“Excuse me, miss?” Harry cranes his neck around the large computer screen as he tries in vain to catch the attention of the woman, who never seems available to them unless she wants to be.
She is tall and thin, with eyes and skin the color of the espresso shots that Draco sometimes takes in the morning before he meets with Ministry Officials. Harry sometimes calls them his parole officers, but the joke is completely lost on Draco, and anyway, Harry doesn’t think it’s as funny as it had been at first.
The war ended just over five years ago, with everything being resolved in almost exactly the way that had been expected, that people had always said it would: with Harry Potter defeating Voldemort unaided, and gaining even more acclaim the entire world over.
But there is still that ‘almost,’ because no one had ever told Harry about the smaller battles that had to be fought before he could win the war. No one had mentioned casualties, which is a word that has never sat well with Harry, who sees none of the names on the Memorial Stone and what they sacrificed for him as casual. No one ever told him that Ron would be killed, or Dumbledore, or Cho Chang, or any of the hundreds of others, nor did they mention just how much killing that Harry would do himself. And it’s because of this, Harry thinks, this exclusion of details that has become dead weight on his shoulders, that Draco Malfoy is with him today.
Draco similarly followed the beaten path laid out before him, having been inducted as a Death Eater shortly after Hogwarts, and Harry has heard rumors that he was indeed very high up in the rankings, very prestigious in those circles and all that, but Harry doesn’t like to believe the gossip. It helps him to sleep at night thinking that the man who sleeps in the room just beside his hadn’t spent the entirety of the war scheming his demise. But Harry reasons, if Draco hasn’t pulled anything in the previous four and half years of this arrangement, he isn’t likely to do it now. There are only six months left of his generous sentence, which was bestowed upon him only after the testimony given by Harry in his favor: that Draco Malfoy was a good person caught on the wrong side during the war, largely in part to the manipulations of Lucius Malfoy, and was undeserving of the punishment of Azkaban.
And Harry lays his head down to sleep every night just as Draco does in the next room over, knowing that it hadn’t mattered whether or not he believed the words of his testimony. What mattered to Harry was Draco, was the heart that beat beneath the chest, the life that could still be saved, because Harry had taken so many, and had been unable to save so many more.
Draco avoided the Dementors by being given into the custody of Harry Potter, a suitable enough wizard if anyone had ever known one, they had all said, to “rehabilitate” Draco until his release. And in return, Harry was given the pleasure of Draco’s companionship for five years, to keep him company in situations such as this one, waiting in a hot, uncomfortable airport in East Africa while the great-great grandfather of all computers searches for their reserved rental car.
The woman behind the counter smiles mechanically at them, revealing two rows of perfectly straight, brilliant white teeth. “The computer is still searching for your vehicle, sir.”
Her voice is thick with an accent that Harry has never heard before coming here, but that he finds he likes the more he hears it, in the broken conversations of the people passing behind him and the two security guards flanking either side of him and Draco. Each guard holds his own gun, the stock in one hand and barrel in the other, index finger resting lightly beside the trigger. Draco asks after the guns, and while Harry isn’t familiar enough with Muggle weaponry to know the technical name, he knows that in telling Draco they are “machine guns,” he isn’t very far off.
Harry fishes around in his pack for a moment before producing a slip of paper and offering it to the woman. “See here? I’ve already reserved a car, so shouldn’t it be waiting for us, or something?”
The woman doesn’t even glance at the paper. “The computer is still searching for your vehicle, sir.”
Draco says snidely, “Yes, thanks so much for the update.” He sighs, throwing his head back dramatically. “I knew this was a bad idea.”
Harry pretends that he hasn’t said anything.
The computer finally locates their car after what seems like hours, and they make to leave the airport, but first Harry stops in the terminal to speak with a large family of natives who have no luggage and whose clothes have been faded by the sun to almost nothing, to almost white thread. The woman holds the hand of her husband too tightly, and her wrists look as if they might snap from the stress.
So Harry gives them all of the cash he has on him, about 300€, and has to write them a check for 50,000€ because there isn’t a bank anywhere nearby.
“And you’re sure about this, Harry? Africa is quite a… different place.”
To this day, Remus Lupin is still the only person who can prepare a cup of tea just the way Harry likes. He smiles gratefully at Remus when he hands him his cup, letting his eyes fall closed as he deeply inhales the warmth and spicy scent.
“There’s a lot to consider with a trip like this,” Remus continues, taking the seat opposite Harry in the parlor of Grimmauld Place.
Harry turned the old house over to Remus shortly after Sirius’ death for safekeeping while he finished Hogwarts, as well as for some other, more personal reasons. Sirius’ death took a heavy toll on Remus, one that Harry suspects he still pays his dues on every night when he turns into the bed the two had once shared. Sometimes Harry thinks he made the wrong decision in handing Grimmauld Place over to Remus, thinks it might have been too much on him too soon, but he doesn’t think that there is anyone other than himself that Sirius would have wanted his home to go to. And Harry thinks that Remus secretly shares in this opinion, even though the shadows under his eyes have always grown when Harry comes to see him.
“Where will you stay when you’re there? How safe are the cities? And are you actually taking Draco with you?”
Harry laughs. “I have to, no way around it. The Ministry says he has to be under my observation at all times, so I don’t think they’ll look too highly upon my leaving him behind whilst I visit another continent.”
“But I don’t imagine he’s overjoyed by your plan?”
Harry shakes his head as he smiles, saying, “I haven’t exactly told him yet.”
“Harry,” Remus begins in a warning tone before Harry starts again.
“I know Draco has his opinions,” he adds hurriedly, “ that’s for sure, and he still has his snide comments, which I don’t think he’ll ever be rid of, but he understands the state of things.” Harry brings the teacup to his lips. “Draco will be fine with it. He has to be.”
Remus looks at Harry for a moment over his cup of tea and blows gently over the steam. “Yes, so he does,” he says, the steam dissipating slowly in the air between them. “And you’ve taken the proper safety precautions? Studied up on your current events and the places you’re going?”
Harry gently waves him off as he sips his tea. It’s too hot, burns from the tip of his tongue all the way down his throat, but it’s been ages since he’s had a decent cup. (Neither he nor Draco can manage to safely boil water, and Draco’s wand was confiscated.)
“I’ve had travel agents handle all that,” Harry says. “They have all this information on the current ‘situation,’ all this rubbish they were telling me and newsletters they wanted me to take home and read, but it only confused me more, everything about passports and regulations and whatnot. So I just told them what I was doing and let them see to it. They’ve bought all my plane tickets and rental cars, and scheduled the whole thing for me. We won’t be in one place for more than two or three days, and they wouldn’t send me anywhere too dangerous. They’re very up to snuff on all the goings-on over there.”
“Yes. They have to be, I suppose,” Remus says distantly, as if to himself.
“I’ll only be gone three weeks,” Harry says. “Hermione’s due the first of August and I can’t very well miss that.”
Remus’ eyes go wide and he smiles, and it’s genuine and seems to warm Harry’s chest, or perhaps that is the tea. “Oh, yes, I had almost forgotten,” he says, enthusiasm glowing the edges of his voice. “I have to remember to send her and George something nice for the baby.”
“Nothing plastic,” Harry says, smiling. “Hermione throws a fit over plastic toys; won’t tolerate them in her household she says. Has it in her head that newborns are prone to swallowing only plastic items and choking.”
Remus smiles gently as he leans back in his chair, crossing his legs. “All mothers go through a phase where they become paranoid. I wouldn’t worry.” He sets his tea aside and clears his throat, saying, “But back to this Africa business. The money?”
“I’m giving it all away,” Harry answers immediately. “The basic idea is just to go through as many rundown, deprived cities as we can and get rid of my money.”
He nods slowly, and Harry can’t tell whether or not he approves. “I don’t know how that will be possible, Harry; you have so much,” he says, an amused lift to his tone, and Harry feels reassured by it.
Smirking, Harry drinks the last of his tea and says, “I’ll just give it away in bigger pieces. More often.”
But the lightness of the moment has already passed by, and Remus looks at him seriously. “I think, Harry, that you will find this all to be much more complicated than you could have anticipated once you get there. What may not seem like a lot of money to you is life changing to them. You’re talking about playing God with these people’s lives.”
The reference to Muggle religion briefly throws Harry, but he recovers quickly and says, in a steady voice, “It isn’t like that. I mean, it might seem to be, but you know that isn’t my intention. I just…” He sighs. “I just want to be sure that the money finds its way into good hands.”
The look on Remus’ face is doubtful, but he doesn’t say anything else on the matter.
The first place that Harry takes them is the rural districts in Southern Uganda, where the terrain seems to be made entirely of mountains and tropical forest, and the horizon is a jagged green line, sharp against the deep blue sky. It seems to always smell of rain here, though Harry can see no evidence of this from the cloudless sky, and he doubts that it has ever rained a single day here at all.
“Where are we going?” Draco asks, investigating the glove box of their rental car, an old Beemer with no paint and a sunroof that doesn’t close. He undoes the latch and it flops open, giving him a start as maps and pamphlets fall onto his knees and the floorboard. “This thing is dangerous!” he exclaims.
Harry grins. “We’re headed to wherever is east of here. I don’t know exactly.”
The man who had handed Harry the keys to their rental car had warned them that northern Uganda was dangerous and steeped in rebel revolts against civilians, so the first thing that Harry had done, after giving the man a bundle of money, about 25,000€ (and the expression on his face when he touched the money was overjoyed, perfect, exactly what Harry had hoped for), was buy a compass and plan to stay far from that direction. He reasons that as long as they don’t go any farther north than they are now, or too far east into the Congo, which he had already been warned keep far from, they should be fine.
Draco rolls his eyes as he stuffs the papers back into the glove box. “Sounds like you know exactly what you’re doing, Minister Yorkershire.”
Harry looks at him. “What?”
“Minister Yorkershire, you know, he was—” Draco glances at Harry and shrugs. “Nevermind; it would take too long to explain.” His gaze drifts to the window, and to Harry his image in the glass seems flat and white, as if Draco had been drawn onto the glass instead of something real and tangible, reflected there. “Halfblood,” Draco mutters under his breath, and Harry catches it, just barely.
“What was that?”
Harry glances to his side, but Draco won’t look back at him. His fingers twist at the last button on his shirt as he refuses to answer.
And Harry is satisfied to let the conversation drop. They are winding smoothly through the African hills and untouched plains like curses cast in water, and it feels wrong to Harry, arguing amongst all of this, to even speak in the presence of such natural simplicity.
The wind that rushes through the sunroof feels damp and cool, and Harry is thankful for the relief from the heat. The roads are no longer made of asphalt this far out of town, but clay, tightly packed and the rich, gingery color of pumpkin pie. The sun shines dazzling and polishes everything vibrant and deep: the green grasslands and forest-covered mountains that surround them and the sapphire sky above their heads. His eyes hurt from the vividness he can still see in negative reds and oranges behind his eyelids when he closes his eyes, and he wants to throw his head back and laugh and he wants to ask Draco if he feels it too, feels this humming in his bones.
But before he has a chance to do either, he spots a small shack in the distance as they come over a hill, and then another and another as they descend further. Harry grins and looks at Draco, who is already looking back at him.
“We’ve found some,” Harry says, unable to keep the excitement out of his voice.
Draco nods and glances through the windscreen, at the shacks that are fast approaching. “Have you got the money ready?”
Harry can feel the weight of the Ugandan currency in his trouser pockets, and his shirt pocket, and also his left shoe and his backmost belt loop (he has split the money up, in case something is to happen), and answers, “More than ready.”
His fingers are tingling on the steering wheel as he comes to a stop in the middle of the small village, which consists of only five or six identical straw huts scattered over an area that is mostly clay. There is a group of native women huddled outside one of the shacks, four or five, all of them tall with long necks and straight backs, observing the two of them curiously. Harry smiles broadly and shifts the car to park, opening his door.
Draco grabs his forearm. “You’re getting out?”
Harry glances at Draco’s hand on his arm, where he has bunched the rolled up sleeves of his shirt into a wrinkly mess, before looking at him strangely.
Draco tightens his grip. “Don’t you think you could hand the money over just as well through the window, from the safety of an automobile with decent acceleration if they try to, you know,” he makes a slashing motion with his free hand, “cut you?”
Harry snorts. “These are women, Draco, I don’t think they usually wield the family machetes.” He shrugs his arm free and says, “You’ve been in my Muggle DVD collection again, haven’t you?”
Draco slumps back into his seat. “I have not.”
Harry leaves the driver side door open and slowly approaches the women with his hands halfway in the air and what he hopes is a harmless smile on his face. They smile at him and then look at each other and begin to laugh in low, rich tones. The woman closest to him steps forward and, in an accent that is similar to that of the woman from the airport, but somehow different, greets him loudly-
“Hello! How is you doing?”
And Harry feels like a complete ass, and he can almost see Draco smirking from the passenger seat, that same nasty sneer from Hogwarts. Harry drops his hands to his side and grins widely in relief and excitement, because this is really happening, he is really here.
He walks up to the women, who are all smiling at him but more so at each other, sharing in some joke that Harry isn’t a part of and doesn’t necessarily want to be, because that would somehow spoil the moment, rob them of their mystery. And Harry doesn’t want that, thinks that they are perfect just as they are now, here, in the middle of the deep green Ugandan grasslands, dark and mysterious and beautiful, eyes bright and bold as they watch him.
“Hello there,” he says with enthusiasm. “You speak English?”
“I is speaking little,” she says, smiling, and Harry thinks that he will never stop being shocked by the smiles of the natives here, so white and straight and perfect.
Her head is wrapped in a long, colorful scarf, something soft and sheer that hangs down her back, with red and orange and amber paisleys. Her eyes are large and slanted, darker than onyx. She is wearing a long summery sort of dress that wraps behind her neck and leaves her arms and shoulders bare. It falls to just above her ankles, this dress, and it is carried easily in the light breeze that’s blowing, and Harry thinks it must be made from the same fabric of her scarf, and the other women look to be wearing something similar. On her hip she rests a large wooden bowl that holds some sort of gray mush, and she is glorious and flawless and this is heaven, Harry thinks, and he has fallen in love with her in that instant, fallen in love with all of them.
Harry extends his hand. “Harry Potter, pleased to meet you.”
She looks blankly at his hand and then back, meeting the likewise blank expressions of the other women. Her brow is furrowed when she looks back at him, a single crease in her high, smooth forehead.
He drops his hand and points to himself expressively. “Ha-rr-y Po-tter,” he says, overemphasizing each syllable.
Her brow smoothes over instantly and she throws her head back, her free arm coming up just a little as she does so. “Aaaah,” she says, her mouth forming a perfect O. She points to her breastbone and says slowly, “Kway-er-a.”
Harry’s jaw is becoming sore from smiling so hard, but he doesn’t think he will ever stop, because this so much better than he had thought it would be, than he had ever planned for.
“Pleased to meet you,” he says.
“Pleased to meet you,” she repeats, but the words are transformed on her tongue by her accent, shaped into something that is, Harry imagines, altogether more genuine.
He feels as if no one has ever been as pleased to meet him as the Ugandan woman standing before him with the bowl on her hip, as Kwayera is in that moment.
Suddenly Harry remembers the money, and his hand unconsciously drifts over his shirt pocket. He wants to give it to them, give all of it to them. He likes these women, loves them even, Kwayera the most, but he hesitates because he hasn’t done this before when he actually knew the person, had stopped and spoken with them first, had learned their name, seen where they lived, and he isn’t sure how to go about it. Does he just hand them the money, or does he try to explain himself? She speaks some English, but if the introductions took this long, he isn’t sure he has time for moral justifications.
And he suddenly realizes that he doesn’t want to give them the money. He wants to give them something more. He wants to give them everything in the world they have ever wanted, happiness and love and good health and absolutely everything, but—
But they look as if they already have that, Harry thinks.
He can’t give these women something as cheap and meaningless as money when they are so obviously rich in every other way. They had never asked for anything. It would insult them if he threw his money at them now. It would taint everything that had just passed between them, between himself and Kwayera.
His hand drops from his shirt pocket, and he smiles one last time at them before saying goodbye and turning back, walking to the rental car. He gets into his seat and can feel Draco watching him as he buckles his seatbelt.
“What happened?” he asks.
Harry runs the palm of his hand over the top of the steering wheel. He sighs and says, “I couldn’t do it.”
Draco doesn’t say anything else as they drive through the small village, passing the women who are watching them, their smiles still in place.
Kwayera waves as they go by, and Harry can just hear her through the open sunroof as they drive away exclaim, “Pleased to meet you!”
“We’re closer to Heaven here,” Harry tells Draco once.
They are somewhere in the south, close to the water, where it is cooler and the sky is bluer, and the clouds are enormous and white and you can almost touch them with your fingertips if you stand on your tiptoes and reach.
He traces the tips of his fingers over the inside of Draco’s arm and leaves gooseflesh in the wake of his touch.
“See how close the sky is? This is the closest we’ll ever be before we die.”
But Draco doesn’t understand, Draco doesn’t know about Heaven or about sacrament, thinks the soul aught to be powerful rather than pure, and a part of Harry knows that he isn’t able to forgive him for it, even though he has never thought of himself as religious, never believed in God.
Harry gives away a total of 500,000€ in Uganda, which is short of his intended number, but satisfying enough for the look on Draco’s face when Harry tells him how much money he had witnessed being given away.
On the second day they drive south and find nothing but farmland, cows and goats and some tall hybrid animal that is between an ostrich and a dog, and Harry had been surprised because he had thought that the only animals in Africa were the wild and the exotic ones: lions and zebras and giraffes, of which he had admittedly so far seen none, but Draco says that they’re bound to come across them sooner or later, this being Africa after all. And because there had been no one to give the money to and it would have been a wasted day if they hadn’t gotten rid of some of it, the idea occurs to Harry to put various amounts money in envelopes and tape them to different animals. Harry reasons with himself that the money will eventually find someone that way, attached to this cow and that goat, and that he or she will be a good person, probably an old, hard working farmer who had more children and wives than he could handle.
Draco shrugs when he suggests it, and that had been all he needed.
They find some tape in the trunk (which Harry doesn’t want to consider too deeply, why there should be duct tape in the trunk of his rental car), but they have to make the envelopes themselves because Harry has forgotten the spell for transfiguring something as useless, or so he had thought, as an envelope. So they use the papers from the glove box and Harry teaches Draco how to fold them after a method that he had learned as a child from one of his Muggle teachers, and Draco makes a snide remark about his Muggle upbringing and then gives himself a paper cut and Harry laughs at the justice of it.
On the third day they don’t have a chance to do anything because they wake up late and have to catch their flight, but it’s okay because Harry gives an entire day’s worth of 160,000€ to the boy who helps them carry their bags from the hotel lobby to the rental car because he does so without being asked, and because he doesn’t hold out his hand afterwards.
Later, on the plane, with the setting sun peering in through the window and making the cabin glow golden, Draco turns to Harry and smiles and says something that Harry has now forgotten, because Draco’s smile had been so private, so gentle, so different from any that Harry had seen before, as the light of Africa’s setting sun had shone through the window and made the entire cabin glow golden.
And Harry can’t decide which feeling he likes more: the satisfaction of have saved so many good people from poverty and providing them with opportunities they never would have had before, or the way his throat tightens when Draco smiles at him, and Harry knows that he was the one to put it there.
“Why are you doing this?” Draco asks him once, and his voice is tired. “You’ll never be rid of it all. Once you get home, Harry, there will be another ten checks waiting for you, royalties for your book deals and payments on patents.”
There is no wind tonight. The air is still around them, warm and soft like an embrace.
“Checks from the candy companies and the toy companies and Merlin knows who else, for the rights to using your name and image to sell their rubbish.”
A slow sigh comes from Draco’s lips, and the sound is tired, defeated. Had Africa brought this out of them, Harry wonders, this marrow-heavy weariness, or had it always been there?
“I don’t think you’re doing this for them, Harry. I know you like being the savior,” he pauses and smiles distantly, privately, “and if I remember correctly, you always loved the white horse bit a little too much.” He hesitates before continuing. He quickly wets his lips and says, “But I don’t think you’re doing this just for them. I think you’re doing this for your own salvation. You’re waiting for those people to save you.”
He sighs again.
“But they can’t, Harry.”
Draco looks at him, and he takes a step forward, rests his hand on Harry’s chest, between his collarbones, over the tanned expanse of skin that peaks from between the undone buttons of his shirt. The tips of his fingers just brush the hollow of Harry’s neck. His skin is warm, not hot like everything else he has found here, but perfectly warm, and Harry knows that the human heart is not found directly between his clavicles, that it is lower, that it is slightly to the left— this is biological fact. And yet he still finds himself doubting it, feeling otherwise.
He places his hand on the small of Draco’s back and wonders what salvation truly is, if this might be his.
After Uganda they are in Senegal for two days, then Zambia for three. Harry gives away almost 1,000,000€ and has never felt so rich.
He gives a little over 30,000€ to an old blind woman whose hands are callused at the joints and warm when she grasps his hands and whispers, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” over and over again, eyes closed and head tilted back, face towards the sky. One man insists that he repay them, and he invites them into his home and attempts to make them coffee. They don’t drink it but the man doesn’t notice, and they talk for what seems like hours because the man can speak passable English and has an interest in football. And Harry laughs when Draco joins their conversation, because he seems to have invented his own language for conversing with the natives.
“And is you going to be seeing any football here?” Draco asks loudly, and the man looks at him brightly and smiles and Harry laughs harder, and he feels content.
He feels happy, he thinks.
And when he goes to sleep at night, it isn’t alone, but with his arms around Draco and his face buried in the curve of his neck, breathing in his scent and heat and Africa.
The day before Gregory Goyle is to be Kissed, Draco asks Harry if he might attend, as the two were old friends, and Draco didn’t want Greg to die surrounded by only the people who hated him, the people who would whisper to him as he passed by in invisible chains that the Kiss was too good for him, who were only there for “justice” (and he says this with only a slight sneer).
It is the first time that Draco asks Harry for anything since his sentencing. Harry considers saying yes.
But then Harry considers the people who would be there: the families of the people Greg had killed, the most upstanding citizens in the community, the Minister himself. The list goes on. And the press would also be in attendance, with their charmed quills and phonetic recording devices, and the next day on the front page would be a picture of him and Draco as they ran from the courtroom with Harry’s jacket over Draco’s silver-blonde hair and the cries of outrage chasing them down the hallway. Harry can see the headline now. It would read:
Draco Malfoy shows his continued alliance with He Who Will Not Be Named
by making appearance at fellow Death Eater's Kiss
And Harry doesn’t want Draco to go through that, wants to protect him from it as best he can.
So he tells Draco that he can’t go, that it would look bad if he were to show up because of who else would be there and because of who Greg had been and especially because of who Draco was. Harry says that Draco should never forget his new place in this new world, where purity of blood is the equivalent of dust, and that this was borrowed time; that Draco was living on the graces of other’s at this point, and surely, Draco understands?
Draco looks away and says that he does.
Harry dreams of all the people he has saved in Africa.
They are all hiking up one of the green Ugandan mountains to get to him, to where he sits at the very highest summit and can see everything, can see the entire world from that spot, and their hands are clasped in front of them as if in prayer. They are soaked in rain even though the sun is out bright and warm, and Harry can feel it on the back of his neck.
They are climbing and going as fast as they can, but the peak keeps raising higher, the incline keeps sloping steeper, and when the slope of the mountain becomes almost completely vertical, they claw at the soil and roots to continue climbing, to continue on their path to Harry, but suddenly the mountain turns to sand, and it is sifting through their fingers like water and they are falling backwards, all falling away, and he panics, reaches out to them—
And he catches them in the palm of his hand.
But they are so small now, so fragile looking, but it’s okay, it’s all right, because they’re safe, because Harry was there to catch them. They try to thank him and they call him their savior but the word doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to, instead means something wrong and ugly, and Harry is hurt, Harry is insulted.
They all go mute and fall to their knees and melt into the sun.
Harry wakes up sweating and panting, unable to shake this feeling of uneasiness.
“I don’t see why you love it here so much,” Draco says to him once.
And Harry doesn’t understand, thinks it should be obvious, says so as he draws small circles onto the small of Draco’s back and smiles into the slope of his shoulder.
“There’s nothing here,” he continues.
And Harry realizes that Draco is looking at all of the wrong things, studying what is missing rather than what is here, tangible, under his feet and above his head and all around, holding him close, warming his skin.
Draco is missing the entire point.
When they arrive in Guinea, it’s monsoon season, and the skies are the same color as lead and seem equally heavy, undulating thickly with rain clouds that Harry thinks will reach into the upper stratospheres, into outer space.
They get their rental car, a jeep with four wheel drive and oversized tires, and they check into their hotel. Draco tells Harry that he wants to stay, wants to not go out in the rain looking for people in poverty driving in a jeep with zip up windows and a tarp roof, but Harry tells him that he doesn’t have a choice. After that, the arguments are short. They leave after lunch and head east, towards Côte d'Ivoire, because Harry has heard of Côte d'Ivoire, and from what he’s heard he thinks there will be lots of people there, lots of people in need of his help.
He feels like the money is burning through his hands, and he needs to get rid of it as soon as possible, needs to get it into someone else’s hands as quickly as possible. He gives a man at a gas station 15,000€ just because he doesn’t want to hold on to it any longer, just wants it gone, just drops the wet mess in front of him at the counter and walks away, not even waiting for his thanks. He dumps another 20,000€ in the driver seat of an old, rundown flatcarry lorry as he walks by, while the driver, an old native man with gray hair and shaky hands, fills up the tank and doesn’t even notice.
As they drive away, Harry wants to watch in the rearview mirror for the moment when the old man opens his door and discovers the money. But he doesn’t, and he isn’t sure why.
As they drive, the rain is almost solid on their windscreen; they are almost swimming over these roads. The wipers squeak with every swipe and Harry is on edge, anxious, can feel the same thing radiating from Draco in the passenger seat.
Some of the roads and bridges are washed out, and Harry follows the arrows of the diversion signs until he loses direction, forgets where he has come from. And everything looks the same here, the steep green mountainsides and the dark clouds and the rain pouring on top of everything.
Harry’s grip on the steering wheel tightens. They’re lost. He has gotten them lost in Guinea in the middle of monsoon season in a leaky jeep with bloody zip up windows. Lost.
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” Draco asks, and he has to raise his voice for Harry to hear, because the pounding of the rain on the roof and the squeak of the windscreen wipers is almost deafening.
“We’re not lost, Draco,” he lies.
Draco points out his window. “This is the third time we’ve passed that diversion sign.”
Harry narrows his eyes and keeps his voice steady. “All of the diversion signs are the same, Draco. It’s just an orange sign with an arrow.”
“But obviously, if we keep passing the one that directs us to the right, we’ll have been going in a circle,” he says evenly, with just an edge of ridicule, but it’s enough.
Harry bangs a fist on the steering wheel. “Goddammit, Draco, would you just shut up? We’re lost, okay? We’re fucking lost in Africa, okay, but I can’t very well get us found if you’re mouthing off in my ear about the signs.”
“Well, you’re ignoring all of them,” Draco remarks, keeping his voice level.
“What are you talking about? I’m following every single one of them!”
Draco rolls his eyes. “Think outside of the box for a minute here, Harry. I don’t mean just the literal diversion signs, but all the other signs we’ve been given since we got here.” He looks at Harry, and his eyes are dark and gray, like the storm clouds in the sky. “We shouldn’t be here.”
Harry scoffs. “Oh, you mean the metaphorical, intangible signs? Like the joy on these people’s faces when I hand them the money, or when they cry and kiss the back of my hands?”
“No, Harry, I mean something more along the lines of your obvious addiction to this,” Draco says, turning in his seat to face him. “The way you’re using your money, thinking that you’re making these people’s lives better, it isn’t right.”
“Thinking I’m making their lives better? Draco, I am.”
“The money—” he begins, but Harry cuts him off.
“Is all that I have!” he exclaims, frustrated. “If there was something else, Draco, anything else in the world I could give, I would, in a second.”
“All that you have?” Draco repeats disbelievingly. “So, what, you’ve just forgotten all about the magic wand in your pocket now?”
Harry lets out a short bark of laughter. “You think I don’t want to use magic? That I haven’t thought of it? Almost done it? But that would be false. Magic would be a quick, instant fix to them, Draco. It would give them false hope in something bigger that’ll never come around again.”
Draco looks at him closely. “And what do you think walking by and dropping money into their lap is doing?”
It is silent in the jeep for a moment; the only sounds are those of the rain and the wipers and the gravel road crunching under the tires.
“But what does it matter afterward, right, Harry?” Draco continues. “You’re not interested in what happens with those people after you’ve walked away and had your fill of them. You use their gratitude as some sort of quickening for yourself, as something to fill your void.”
“So you’re saying that feeling good when I help someone is bad?” Harry asks, disbelief rounding his words.
“It is when you do it just for that feeling. You don’t help these people because you’re compelled to, Harry. There isn’t some greater good inside of you that has brought you here, of all places. You’re the same as everyone else, just with a scar on your bloody head.” Draco’s voice is cold. “You’re playing the savior to these people just to feel like one, just for that high, because people have been feeding it to you your entire life: The Boy Who Lived, our savior in spectacles and whatnot, and you don’t know what to do now that that’s started to taper off with the war finished. You’re using them, Harry, so you can still be the hero, still get that rush. And that makes this no different than any other drug.”
“Whatever,” Harry says, shaking his head. “I’m trying to save people here, not that I expect you to understand.” He sneers at him. “You were a Death Eater, Draco, through and through.” He looks at Draco hard. “I know it. And the things I’ve heard about you, they’re things that- that— You’re the vermin who killed all of the good people in the war, all of my people, and I wouldn’t expect you to be able to comprehend something as simple as human decency.”
“Human decency?” Draco repeats. “Human. Decency? You killed people, too, Harry, people with families and husbands and wives, who had hearts just like those good people you call yours.”
“I KNOW!” Harry finally explodes, the tension in his spine breaking open. “And do you think I don’t try my hardest every- fucking- day- to repay that?”
The rain continues. The wipers squeak.
Harry breathes deeply and glances at Draco, who is looking at him with eyes that are gray and brimmed with sadness, and Harry feels his anger slide away in the same way the rain glides across the windows in the wind. He looks back at the road and is certain that they are now completely and utterly lost, as Draco takes one of his hands from the steering wheel and holds it closely in his. He presses a kiss to Harry’s knuckles and sighs against his skin and Harry has trouble breathing.
“It was a war, Harry,” he says softly. “There’s always two sides to it.”
Harry looks at him and nods, and he knows that Draco is right, he does. But it doesn’t change anything, and everything is the same as it had been before.
One night they are lying in bed in their hotel room, arms and legs tangled together in a way that doesn’t seem at all tangled to Harry, but arranged carefully and with great care.
Harry presses his lips to the corner of Draco’s jaw and says absently, “I don’t see how these people do it. How they just live like that.”
It is quiet for a moment, and the moonlight that splashes on the walls and the foot of their bed is bright, lights up the entire room soft silver.
“You would be amazed at what people cope with,” Draco says, untangling himself from Harry’s arms. “What we learn to live with.”
Harry looks at Draco, but his eyes are covered in shadow and Harry doesn’t have any idea what he might be thinking. He rolls over and pulls the comforter over his shoulders.
And Harry doesn’t sleep for the rest of the night, because there is something in the way that Draco had spoken that leaves him unsettled, something in his words that had seemed more personal, more painful, than Harry thinks should have been.
Being lost in Guinea isn’t so terrible, as Harry comes to find out. They never quite make it out of the rain, even after an hour of driving in the direction that Harry hopes is the right one. They come to a stopping point at the summit of one of the smaller mountains, near a cliff, and Harry pulls off because this is the perfect place, he thinks, the best place that they’re going to find.
He takes most of the money out of his pockets and shoes and other hiding places, leaving enough to give away if they come across anyone else, and he asks Draco if he’s coming, and Draco says that he isn’t. Harry glances away, at the rain that pours on the grass and soaks the ground into a black, muddy mess. He asks again, if Draco will please do this one thing with him, and Draco hesitates. Harry thinks that his reluctance isn’t wholly because he doesn’t want to get wet, privately thinks that that isn’t the whole reason. But then Draco agrees and he smiles and it doesn’t matter anymore.
They jump out of the jeep before Harry remembers that a drying spell would have been helpful and they run towards the edge of the cliff, but Harry slips and falls sideways into the mud before he takes five steps. He laughs wildly at himself, at the mud that has gotten all over his clothes and into his hair, and he slips again when he tries to stand. Draco has to help him back up, with his hands locked under Harry’s arms, as he curses the mud and the rain and Harry, Harry most of all.
They stop at the brink and they look at one another. The rain has soaked Draco’s hair, matted it down to his forehead and cheeks and the back of his neck, and small drops hang from his eyelashes that look like tears. His skin looks like fine porcelain in the rain-light. Harry wants desperately to kiss him at that moment, fiercely, in the middle of an African thunderstorm on the brink of a cliff, and he can almost taste the way the rain would have tasted on Draco’s lips.
But they are both muddy and Harry knows that Draco wouldn’t have it, and Harry doesn’t exactly fancy the mud either, but the almost of the kiss is almost enough.
And then Harry suddenly turns and flings all of the money over the edge of the cliff, and he knows that he might be doing just that, he might be just throwing money over the side of a mountain for it to be lost and trampled over by animals and rain for years, but maybe not.
And maybe it doesn’t matter, because the gesture is all the same, the notions of freedom and flight that are inherent in rushing over the edge.
But the money never frees itself, and it never flies. It is already wet and muddy from Harry’s fall when he throws it, and the bills stick together in a clump that arches and plummets, gets beaten down by the rain before it has the chance.
Harry hates Guinea and he is glad when they board their flight.
Draco is asleep, and this makes it easier for Harry.
“My whole life, it seems as if everywhere I go, I find the nowhere in somewhere, or make it of anywhere. But this…”
His hand hovers just over Draco’s shoulder, and Harry wants so badly to touch him that it hurts, actually makes his bones ache, but he won’t. He watches as the sheets rise and fall evenly over Draco’s chest.
“This is something for me. It’s good. It makes everything else more tolerable. And it may not have been what either of us had in mind, but things so rarely do turn out like we thought.”
Harry clasps his hands together and holds them tightly, to make sure that he doesn’t reach out.
“There’s no predictable answer to what will make us happy.”
When they leave Guinea, they are in Kenya for three days and Angola for three after that, and Harry begins to lose count of how much money he’s given away, and how much he gives to each person.
But he does remember the woman with the baby in her arms, looking at him as he passed by on the street with eyes that were so full of despair that he had turned back after he continued walking and given her half of what he had left. And then, two streets over, he had spotted a different woman, with a similar expression of desperation, and she had looked directly at him and begged for money, and Harry had realized that she was holding the exact same baby as the other woman had before, wrapped in the same dirty blanket and wearing the same appearance of sleep.
And he remembers the young man who had unloaded their luggage from the airport and held out his hand all too readily, and had looked at Harry cruelly when he had given him only an ordinary tip. The man had said that Harry had just given his brother a large sum of money for putting his luggage in his taxi at their hotel, and so he knew that Harry had money, and so he came all this way to unload his luggage and so he had. So why hadn’t Harry given him more money?
He begins to wish that he had just thrown all of the money over the cliff.
Continue on to Part II