He squinted in the early afternoon sun and glanced at the clock. Groaning, he slid out of bed in a daze, still partially asleep. He stumbled over to the curtains covering the sliding glass door and opened them, revealing a small balcony furnished with a table and two chairs. He rubbed his eyes and leaned against the door frame.
The view was spectacular, and he gazed at the curvature of the coast where sand met water as it stretched into the distance.The dark and foamy wave caps of the Atlantic Ocean only made the scene look more serene.
He wished for the moment that he was still in Barcelona. That was where he had begun this journey, in a hotel where he could have picked up the telephone and ordered coffee and breakfast from room service. Instead, he was here in the flat he had let and, at this hour, he would need to cook something or go hungry. He trudged to the kitchen where he put coffee in the maker and then went back to bed to wait for it to perk. He stretched out in the sheets of the white bed and stared at the sky.
Harry watched as the curtains fluttered and danced in the cool air. His stomach growled and the smell of coffee wafted towards him, drawing him back towards the kitchen. As he fixed himself a cup he thought about how there was nothing better than the coffee in Spain, the area was known for it and the dark drink woke him up better than anything else could. He made himself some toast and jam and made his way to the table on the balcony.
After finishing his toast, he stood up and went to the railing. He leaned forward, gripping the railing with both hands, and looked down at the beach from the vantage point of the fifth-floor balcony. The air was cool, the February sunshine was invigorating. Harry could see a line of clouds forming on the horizon. He felt the strong east wind moving his hair. Harry closed his eyes, soothed by the sound of the wind and ocean waves. He had always liked the ocean, always felt connected to it somehow. Perhaps it was the fact that he had only dreamed of it as a child. The Dursleys had always left him home on summer days when they took Dudley to the beach.
His flat was situated on the top floor of the building, which he preferred since there was nobody above him and gave him only one neighbour to the side. It was mostly peaceful here. Winter in coastal Spain was definitely not the most popular season for tourism, but Harry enjoyed the quiet.
He gazed at the coastline stretching out as far as the eye could see. During his stay here, while he was walking down the beach for miles on end, he imagined that last year, while he was struggling to survive, this place was here exactly the same. It was hard to believe that this world existed in the same space and time as that one. It seemed almost un-natural, as if such a calm, peaceful world wasn’t allowed to exist in the same one he had come from.
These few weeks, everything in his past, present and future seemed far away. The past felt as if it had happened long, long ago, or in a dream. The present felt unimportant and distant. The future still felt like something he couldn’t grasp.
Ginny felt like she was a lifetime away.
It didn’t matter. She didn’t matter. The mere thought of her made him want to throw something.
Harry put his dishes in the sink and went back to his bedroom to dress. As he pulled his shirt over his head he thought about her briefly… again. It seemed as if she were in his mind more than he liked, and most days he couldn’t go five minutes without thinking of her.
All in all, it left him feeling miserable. He knew he needed to begin to sort out exactly what had gone wrong between them, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so just yet. With all that Ginny had expressed to him last month, Harry knew she deserved his thought and energy. She still deserved it, even though she had done what she had done and ended their relationship. Yet, at this point in time, he couldn’t bring himself to sort through any of those events, feelings or emotions.
As he stepped outside and made his way down the five staircases, he entered the main street of Zahara de Los Atunes. The ruins of an old fort stood across the road. They were dilapidated from salt air and time, and were mostly kept open as a tourist attraction. Sadly, they didn’t seem to attract many visitors, at least they hadn’t in his time here. The few fancy hotels that stood on the main street, although grand, were similarly vacant at this time of year.
He had done enough observing to know that life in general was different out here. Harry thought about the past three weeks and all he had seen and experienced. Nothing about Spain had been familiar when he first arrived, and he had enjoyed the mystery of the place. The sights, sounds and smells were all so different from anything he had experienced growing up in dreadfully boring Surrey or in the Wizarding world.
When he had left London, it was in a hurry, with a head full of angry, irrational thoughts. He had thought that some kind of escape would help him cope and it had. Yet, despite how much time he had spent resting, relaxing and thinking these past few weeks, he still felt the same irking mixture of grief and pain he had felt all along. He would find momentary peace of mind during long walks on the beach, but then his thoughts would wander to horrible things: the blown-out walls of Hogwarts, the smile on Fred’s face as he died, his final confrontation with Voldemort, and Tonks and Remus lying dead in the Great Hall. Warm and drunk and safe within the walls of the cantinas he frequented, he could forget for awhile, but afterwards — often in the middle of the night — he would lie awake with a terrible stomach ache and insomnia, feeling awful inside. He had trouble sleeping, and he still had nightmares most nights; usually, he woke up gasping for air and covered in sweat because he hadn’t realized it was simply a nightmare and that whatever he had dreamed about hadn’t actually happened. It would take him several long minutes to realize that Ginny or Ron or Hermione weren’t dead and gone because of him and what he’d had to do during the war.
He had been thinking a lot, too; mostly about the last real conversation he had with Hermione about Dr. Nutters. He had sorted out in his time away that Hermione was probably right about his needing to seek help. It wasn’t an outright admission that he needed it, or that he wanted to. He was sceptical. To be honest, he wasn’t sure if or how much Dr. Nutters could repair him. Am I broken? he asked himself again. Maybe, the voice in his head answered in the way it had the past few times he had asked himself that.
It was difficult for Harry to begin to sort out why he was still having such trouble here in Spain. While the point of this journey was to remove himself from it all, he still felt as haunted by his past as he had been back in England.
Being away has been good for me, though, he thought decidedly. At least since he had found this flat and began wandering up and down the beach every day, he felt less anxious than he had in months. Then another voice in his head told him that it wasn’t a holiday anymore. It was an escape.
The clouds in the distance had rolled in since he had left his flat, leaving the sky grey with a slight misty rain falling. Harry pulled the hood of the jacket he was wearing up around his head. He decided to take off his shoes and socks. He shrunk them and put them in the pocket of his jacket. The cool February air nipped at his feet, but the sand felt good in his toes. He stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets.
Harry stared down at his feet, feeling less like himself than ever. He wasn’t Harry Potter, Auror in Training and Order of Merlin, First Class. Out here, he wasn’t Harry Potter, the sodding Boy-Who-Lived or Harry Potter, boyfriend to the most beautiful and infuriating girl he knew. Back there he had to be someone all the time and out here… well, out here he was Vernon Dudley, tourist, bachelor and playboy. And, might he add, life as Vernon Dudley was really much, much easier.
Did he want to go back to being Harry Potter? Who would really want to be him anyhow? It was definitely a burden, if you asked him.
Ginny stared at the letter she had written with slight disgust before shoving it into Hermione’s hand. It made her want to retch into the nearest bin. Instead, she buried her face in Hermione’s quilt.
What else was there to say? What more was inside her heart? If there was more, the letter would be wet with ruddy tears and would read, Regardless of how much of a prat you are and how much I want to hit you, it’s pathetic how much I miss you and love you. There is a physical pain in my chest when I hear your name or any mention of you. Even though we’re so far apart in so many ways, I think about you all the time. I’ve been a wreck for weeks while you’ve been gone, but I don’t show it because even if I did, you don’t care, do you? You haven’t cared, not in a long time. But, Godric, I wish you cared. Godric, I wish you did.
Her letter said nothing of the sort. She had been emotional in the letter, but had definitely not been that pathetic.
“Hermione, what do you think? You’re taking too long to read it! Please, just read it quickly. It’s very private,” she pleaded.
Hermione looked up from her letter, “I’m sorry. It’s just… I want to read through it properly. If you didn’t want me to read it then why did you ask me to?”
Ginny shrugged. “Because you know him. I want to know what he’ll think. Did I misspell any words?”
“Oh, Ginny, Harry wouldn’t know or care. You know that,” Hermione said with certainty.
“I know. I just want to seem like I took care with that letter.” Ginny sighed as she fingered the pile of letters in front of Hermione and counted them again.
There were fifteen. Two from her parents, one each from Mum and Dad, and one apiece from George, Bill, and Fleur… made five. One from Kingsley and one from Hagrid made seven. One from Ash, number eight. One each from Andromeda Tonks and Professor McGonagall… nine and ten. Then two more, respectively from Luna and Neville — for a total of twelve — the latter had come out of the woodwork from Herbology School in India to write a letter to Harry about his own struggles with his experiences from last year.
The last three had been written by Ron, Hermione and herself. With all the letters now collected, they had planned to meet tonight after dinner to perform the charm. Ginny and Hermione had retired to the dorm for the night and were already in their pyjamas and dressing gowns. Ginny’s letter was the last letter to be sealed.
Hermione handed it back to her and Ginny was glad to find an understanding look in her eyes. This was the first time they had been able to have an amicable conversation in a while. In the past few weeks, everything seemed to be tit-for-tat between them. Thankfully that seemed to be ebbing off a bit.
“Knowing him, he’ll read this last. He’ll probably be scared of you most of all.”
“I’m sure you’re right. My Harry,” Hermione gave her a quick awkward glance and Ginny felt herself blush hot, “I mean, our Harry is not a coward. Not at all, but you’re right. Mister-Acts-like-a-Gitwould read mine last, wouldn’t he?” Ginny crossed her arms over her dressing gown. “It’s so not like him, or like he used to be. I’m sure I’m as intimidating to him as a bloody angry Blast-Ended Skrewt.”
Hermione laughed. “Right. Harry’s not afraid of dragons by a long shot, but you should have seen his face when Hagrid revealed the Skrewts in fourth year. He went as pale as Nearly-Headless Nick!”
“Oh, Godric, those things were completely atrocious!”
Ginny giggled, imagining Harry being afraid of a Ginny Weasley Skrewt, one with a long ginger plait and wearing a Harpies t-shirt, shooting sparks and fire out of her blast-end. At Hermione’s curious expression, she described this to her friend who doubled over laughing.
When they had calmed down some, Ginny stretched her legs in front of her, frowning. She pulled her one long red plait over her shoulder, and played with the ends of her hair.
“He probably won’t read through half of the letter I wrote, will he? It’s all the same things he didn’t want to hear last month, all over again. What do you think of it, in all honesty?”
“I think it’s suitable, Ginny. It will positively make him think, that’s for sure. I also imagine that he will read it through. He’ll be too curious not to and… I’m sure that, in all actuality, he probably misses you as much as you miss him.”
“Do you think so?” Ginny asked softly. She still wasn’t sure what Hermione thought of her and Harry and what had gone on between them.
“I do.” Then Hermione paused, “Listen, Ginny. I’m sorry we didn’t have this conversation sooner. Term started up again and I’ve just been so busy and… I’m sorry if I’ve not been myself. I think that Harry being gone has affected us each in different ways. I just want to say that… I know why you had to break up with Harry and I’m sorry it had to happen. I know you make him really happy and… that’s all I want him to be. By reading your letter, I know how hard it’s been for you. I just hope you don’t think it’s your fault. I admit that for awhile, I was blaming you, too… I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
“Are you?” Ginny said flatly. She had suspected as much for awhile.
“Yes, I am.”
“Why did you blame me, Hermione?”
“I… I suppose I thought that if you had been more patient, or waited a bit longer to tell him how you felt… given his state of mind, it just seemed…”
“There’s a lot you don’t know.” Ginny cut her off. “A lot I’ve never told you or anyone about what went on or about how Harry treated me last term. Before you made your judgements, maybe you should have asked.”
“I know. I was wrong.”
“Yeah? Well, now it all makes sense. Ron’s been treating me like a speck of dirt. Even George, too. Neither is returning my letters. Do you know how that feels?” Ginny didn’t want to cry so she stopped herself. Instead, she grabbed her wand and threw herself on her back, hard. She started floating gold bubbles to the top of Hermione’s four-poster.
So Ginny hadn’t been the only one to place the blame for Harry’s disappearance on herself. It was a sore subject, one she hated thinking on. She tried not to blame herself entirely: She tried to tell herself that it was both their faults that things had turned out so terribly. It was his apathy and her terrible lack of patience, her mixed-up, pent-up emotions and his inability to identify whatever he was feeling. And so much more…
Ginny sighed, and watched the last golden bubble pop in mid-air. “I admit,” she began softly, “that maybe I shouldn’t have done it — break up with him, I mean. Maybe he wouldn’t have left, but I couldn’t go on anymore, the way things were between us. I didn’t over react. I did the best I could with the situation I was given until I couldn’t take it any longer. We were literally crashing and burning and I was so damn unhappy because he was so damn unhappy. If we went on that way, it would have ended up a disaster… I love Harry, but most of all, I want him to be happy and I want him to get better, just like you do.”
Hermione nodded. “I know. I know you feel that way and that’s why I wanted to apologize to you. You’ve tried to help him all along, and I respect how strong you are and how hard you tried. And…” she continued, “and if my opinion matters in the least, I think he does love you.”
For a while they didn’t speak until Hermione added so softly Ginny nearly didn’t hear, “I’m sorry, Ginny. I really am. I know how hard it is for me. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you.”
“It’s about time you realize you don’t know everything,” Ginny said quickly. Then she looked up at Hermione, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to come out that way.”
“It’s okay. You did mean it and you’re absolutely right.”
Ginny looked down at her hands. “Can I ask you something, then? What changed your mind, Hermione? Why don’t you blame me anymore for what happened?”
Hermione took a deep breath and looked down before answering, “I… I realized, the more I thought about it, that despite how much he needs you, Harry isn’t the easiest person to deal with, emotionally. You’re right. You did do the best you could with the situation you were given and the fact is… you did your best. Harry deserves to have someone like you love him so much, even if it drives him mental to hear it. I also thought long and hard about how it was for me. I remember how it felt to hold it all in when it came to Ron and… I also remember when it was and how it felt when I couldn’t hold it in any longer either. No matter what Ron’s state of mind had been at the time I wouldn’t have been able to stop letting my true feelings show. There’s no reason you should have had to either, especially with how much you put up with. I suppose I was too caught up in worrying for Harry to think about you, Ginny. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
“Well, there’s also something you should apologize for as well if you don’t mind my asking.”
Ginny swallowed, and sat up on her knees. “Telling Harry that I had a plan to get him to fall in love with me.”
Hermione looked as if she’d been caught stealing gold from Gringotts.
“Now that I’m thoroughly and completely embarrassed for life, Hermione, if ever I have a secret, I won’t be sharing it with you.”
“Ginny, I’m so sorry I … I didn’t think he’d tell you. I don’t know what to say.”
Ginny shrugged slightly, “There’s nothing to say. Just… say that you’ll try not to be so involved like that when it comes to Harry and me. Nobody ever asked you to be.”
Hermione inhaled sharply. “I know I deserved that.”
“What’s between me and Harry, is between us. I don’t care to share my business with you or Ron or anyone else that isn’t Harry. I shared my feelings and Fleur’s letters with you in confidence and I’m… I’m just hurt that you broke my trust.”
“Ginny, I admit that was wrong of me to do,” Hermione said quietly, “It’s… it’s really taken some getting used to, having you in the dynamic between the three of us. Maybe I need to take a step back when it comes to Harry, while you take a step forward.”
Ginny was glad to hear that, but she knew that Harry would always need Hermione, too. “It’s all right. I realized a long time ago that there’s no room in the trio for me. I’m fine with that. I don’t want to be a part of it. I just want Harry, whole and happy.” Ginny reached over and grasped Hermione’s hand. ”I may not forgive you right now for your big mouth, but I don’t want to fight with you, either. I’ve enough of bad feelings. I’m absolutely done with them.”
“I apologize for what I said to him, Ginny.”
It was quiet between them for a few moments. Ginny sealed her letter and handed it back to Hermione. Hermione added it to the overstuffed envelope. Then she opened her rucksack and pulled out a roll of clipped parchment and began stuffing it into the envelope.
“What’s that?” If that parchment was going to Harry, Ginny wanted to know what it was.
“This? Oh, it’s a copy of the chapter from that book, the one on post war stress. I’m hoping he’ll take a glance at it.”
“May I see?” Ginny asked.
Hermione handed it over. Ginny scanned it over briefly before handing it back to Hermione. Words like “depression” and “unsafe”, “flashbacks and nightmares” jumped out at Ginny and she involuntarily shuddered. Despite wanting to throttle Harry for what he’d done, and the way he’d behaved since the end of summer, she desperately wanted to curl up under his arm and hug him and take some of his pain away just by being there for him in quiet comfort. That was where she belonged. Old habits die hard was what her mum usually said about finger-nail biting or nose-picking, but it was also true in this case. She never imagined she would feel any different when it came to Harry.
“You think that’s what he has, don’t you?” Ginny said softly.
“I’m only guessing, Ginny. I don’t think I know, but it makes sense when you look at the symptoms and manifestations. Do you want to know more about it?”
Ginny nodded and with that, Hermione gave her the same information she’d apparently given Harry all those weeks before.
“Will you be angry if I ask you something?” Hermione asked at the end of her soliloquy.
“No,” she groaned. Ginny felt dispirited and drained from hearing it all. Somewhere half-way through Hermione’s post-war stress information, she had curled herself into a ball on Hermione’s bed, clutching her stomach, feeling like she was about to be sick.
“Are you okay, Ginny?”
“No, I guess not. I feel ill after hearing all that.”
Hermione paused, raising an eyebrow at her, which made Ginny feel a bit unsure, “How are you coping with last year?”
“Me? I’m…all right, I suppose.”
“You never talk about it. In fact, I’m not even sure you’ve mentioned last year at all since we came back to Hogwarts after summer… I know our trust is probably severely broken by what I did, both by being a bad friend lately and by telling Harry your secret, and I know I haven’t been acting like I do, but I care about you, Ginny.”
Ginny nodded slightly. “Thanks.”
“I reckon you won’t be coming to me with your problems after what I did, but if you ever need to talk about something that’s bothering you, maybe you should talk to the doctor I suggested Harry talk to. Do you know Nell Branstone?”
“Sure. She’s a Hufflepuff, fifth- or sixth-year?”
“I think it’s fifth. Anyhow, Nell’s dad is the Muggle psychologist my parents have been seeing — you know, to cope with their experience — and I wanted to offer… if you want to come to my house for a weekend, I can take you there, and you can tell him…anything you want. There’s something called patient confidentiality. By Muggle law, he’s not allowed to tell anyone anything you two talk about. He’s there to help you cope, and to help you work out the bad feelings you may have because of your experiences.”
Ginny thought for a moment. “You told Harry he should go?”
“Yes. He was so adverse to the idea and it was too bad. I’m hoping that if these letters work, and Harry does come home, that he gives the idea another shot. It could do him wonders, help him sort out his thoughts, calm his fears, think about the future…”
“He’ll be okay, won’t he? With or without the help of one of these psycho… whatever-you-called-them?” Ginny wondered out loud, hoping she was right.
“He will. If he does come back, he will get better with Dr. Branstone’s help, if he chooses, and also with a lot of support and love and time,” Hermione said as she twisted a stray curl around her finger. “But let’s just worry about bringing him home, first. If the letters work, that means he’s ready to face reality, Ginny, and help himself. I know him. Ifhe decides to come back, it’s because he wants to come back and he’s ready to make some positive changes in his life.” Ginny thought about that until Hermione held up the large envelope which now contained all fifteen letters to Harry.
“Now, are you ready to find out where Harry’s been hiding?” she asked.
For the first time, Ginny wasn’t so sure. She was afraid of how knowing would make her feel. She wasn’t sure if these letters would work or if Harry would ever come home. She wondered, as she often had since she found out he had done a bunk, about their future and whether or not it would ever happen or if it was something she would be forced to give up completely. She also wished it didn’t matter so much to her, that he didn’t matter so much to her, but that was something she couldn’t help.
Ginny managed to nod and she watched Hermione perform the charm on the envelope. All of a sudden, the letters emblazoned on the parchment read,
Harry James Potter, Fifth-Floor Penthouse, Lindeza Building, Zahara de Los Atunes, Costa de la Luz, Spain.
The moonlight lit up the beach in front of the terrace of the seaside restaurant and bar. Harry had just finished up his dinner and was sipping his beer.
After his walk on the beach this morning, he had gone to the gymnasium in his building. He smirked when he thought of how the weights and machines and smells of the place reminded him of his cousin. He wondered briefly how the big clod was from time to time, remembering the off-handed kind gestures he had extended towards Harry at the end of his time at Privet Drive. He wondered briefly if he would ever see Dudley again and if he did, what he would say or how he would feel. He honestly never wanted to see Petunia and Vernon again, and he hoped to never set foot in Little Whinging again. Ever since Ginny had brought it up during their fight, he had been thinking more and more about how miserable his childhood had been growing up with the Dursleys. It was simply the way things were, but when he thought about it, it made him feel damaged inside, like he was no good.
Harry ordered another beer, pushing those thoughts out of his mind. He was fine, wasn’t he? He had turned out okay.
The cocktail waitress brought him another pint of his favourite stout and smiled when she saw him look up. Harry zoned out, soaking in the sights of the beach at night, until he realized that the waitress was staring at him from her end of the bar.
Harry looked away, flattered but entirely uninterested, and he worked on finishing his drink.
Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by the waitress who giggled and walked away as she slipped him a note.
I get off in an hour, will you stay?
Harry gulped down the rest of his drink, left the money on his bill and exited the place quickly. This was the second time during his trip that a girl had approached him and, quite frankly, he wasn’t ready to meet anyone. He didn’t want someone else to help him forget. He wanted his girlfriend back, the one who had decided to abandon him when he needed her the most.
Harry stumbled out of the restaurant and began walking parallel to the beach, along the quiet street. He made a bee-line towards the next cantina he saw. He knew that this one, small and dark as it was, wouldn’t have any giggling girls there to bother him, hopefully.
This cantina was small, had a telly blaring and the door open facing the ocean. Harry sat at the bar, ordered a beer, and took two sips, again zoning out while watching the moisture building on his glass bottle.
“Bloody hell!” he heard a male voice shout. Harry glanced over at the bloke, who was sitting beside him two barstools over.
“You follow what’s going on in Yugoslavia?” The bloke looked his way. “Seems like that whole corner of the world is just coming apart at the seams. The KLA’s been blowing up the Serbians left and right, they have.”
“That so,” Harry muttered, not sure if he was directing his conversation towards him or the bar keep, but there was no one else at this side of the bar.
The bloke took a sip of his beer. “Haven’t you been watching the news?”
Harry had been, on occasion, but mostly he watched Muggle game shows and comedy. He had been too absorbed in his own life to worry or care about what went on in the Muggle world.
“No.” He looked down, his hair hanging in his face, hiding his eyes.
“I’ll enlighten you if you have a moment to spare.”
Harry ran a hand through his long hair. “Sure. I guess. Why not? Nowhere else to be.”
The bloke raised an eyebrow his way. “Wait a moment. I’m quite glad to hear your accent. It’s not common to hear it in Zahara, especially in winter. Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Harry raised his bottle slightly.
“Whereabouts are you from?”
“Whereabouts?” The bloke pressed on.
“Oh, err, near Camden.”
“I’m originally from Gloucester, near the Welsh border. Ever been?”
“No. Maybe I… I may have stayed near there once or twice.”
“I’m a Londoner at heart, though. Did three years of university there. Anyhow, did you still want to hear about the situation…” The bloke proceeded to go on and explain the recent clashes between the Yugoslav security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army to Harry. While he talked, the bloke even procured a pen and drew Harry a map on a paper from his briefcase. Harry felt himself becoming interested and absorbed in what this bloke had to say. About ten minutes or so later, Harry stopped him.
“You know a lot about this. Are you a news reporter or something?” he asked.
“No. I teach history at the University in Cadiz, but I find myself getting so caught up in everything that’s going on. It’s a crazy time to be alive.”
“I’m Vernon,” Harry offered his hand, which the bloke took, and they shook briefly. Then Harry cursed, “The world is a messed up place, isn’t it?”
“You got that right. My name’s Louis. Pleased to meet you, Vernon. I apologize for being so passionate when it comes to the situation in Serbia. I suppose it has a lot to do with my own military experience. Anyhow, let me finish what I was saying.”
“No, wait,” Harry stopped him. “You say you’ve had… military experience?”
“Aye. I was a young man, near your age, a bit older actually during the Falklands. I was a member of the Royal Navy, stationed on the HMS Sheffield. You heard of it? Didn’t they teach you about it in secondary school?”
“No, not the school I went to. What war did you say it was?”
“Falklands. Would you…would you like to hear about it, Vernon?”
Harry nodded slightly. As they drank, Louis proceeded to tell the story of what had happened during the Falklands war, and that horrible day on the HMS Sheffield.
Harry listened intently throughout. At the end, Louis sighed.
“Many blokes I knew felt lost, confused and hurt after the war. I felt that way myself for a long time. I lost my best mate on that destroyer. He was trapped when the missile hit and he burned to death on his baby daughter’s first birthday.” Louis paused. “I’ll never forget how it felt to ring his wife Melissa after she had heard the news. It took me years to shake the guilt I felt that I survived to see Bonnie grow up and Paul didn’t. It took a lot of years and a lot of time to get over losing him and I still think about him every day.”
Harry thought of Ron and Hermione. For the first time, he realized that they were lucky. They were still going to be around to get on each other’s nerves, to see each other grow old. Louis hadn’t been so lucky and Harry was grateful for the fact that his two best friends had survived the war with him.
“It took me a lot of years as well to recover from other parts of my life that I lost afterwards.”
“What else did you lose?” Harry asked.
“Among many things, my relationships with my parents and remaining friends. My girlfriend…”
Harry’s head shot up at the mention that Louis had had a girlfriend at the time. “Your… your girlfriend?”
“Aye. Noreen, Noreen… golden hair and the deepest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. I was seventeen when we met. She was my first love… well, you know, eh? She said she’d wait for me when I signed for the Navy, and she did wait. Two whole years. The problem was, by the time I returned to her I was different and she hadn’t changed. She wanted me to be who I was before I had left, and I wasn’t. At that point I was… hardened from the war. Once she realized that I was struggling, she tried to help me, but no matter how she tried to tell me that life would get better and we’d move on and be happy, I wouldn’t listen. Looking back, I couldn’t listen at that point in my life. Inevitably our relationship fell apart and we both moved our separate ways.”
“That right?” Harry’s heart raced as he thought of what had happened between him and Ginny.
“Sure is. Last I heard, Noreen had just had her third child. That was about seven years ago. She married one of her school mates, and apparently is living a happy life. I haven’t seen her since, because I reckon if we were in the same room together, it would be like old times. I wouldn’t be able to tear my eyes from her. Took me an unfair amount of time to get over her, but after all these years, I’m happy for her. This was how it was meant to be between us, I suppose.”
“What happened with Noreen, though? Was there just one moment where you… where everything sort of fell apart? Did you know it was coming or did you just… did it surprise you, is what I’m asking, I reckon.”
“Well, I can’t really remember. It’s not so important in the end. To be honest, after I recovered from the initial hurt and heartache, I went the way of staying in school until my eyeballs nearly rotted out of my head and about six years ago, I took a teaching position in Brussels. That was meant to be as well, because I finally met Lena, my wife. Now I teach at the University in Cadiz and we have two little girls. Want to see a picture?” Harry nodded. Louis pulled out a picture of two little girls with dark curly hair from his wallet. “That’s Gracie, she’s nearly three, and Mary Katherine is four.”
“They’re lovely.” Harry grinned.
“Thanks, Vernon.” Louis smiled after slipping the picture back into his wallet. “I think so. They are lovely, but with their combined energy, they give me and Lena a run for our money.”
“Why aren’t they with you?” Harry wondered.
“Oh, Lena’s in Brussels with the girls visiting her mum right now, and I’m a bachelor for a week. I came out to Zahara because it’s where I usually come to write…”
They fell silent for a time and Harry sipped his beer while he listened to the telly. All he could think about was this bloke’s friend burning to death on a ship, and of the KLA blowing up buildings and cars. Harry imagined being in that scene. He imagined the smell of death, the body parts strewn everywhere. He worried that the world was indeed a messed up place and that it would never get any better.
Harry was well into his second beer when Louis interrupted his thoughts.
Harry’s head shot up.
“The lights are on, but nobody’s home, eh?”
“What?” Harry gave him a wary look.
“Well,” Louis began, “you look like you’re a million miles away.”
Harry knew the stare well, and had been doing it quite frequently. Even Ginny had said all through Christmas that he was zoning out left and right. Sometimes he barely even heard her as she tried to pull him back to reality. Often she did so with a kiss on the cheek. He realized with a pang in his chest how much he missed her kisses.
Louis stuffed the map he had drawn of Yugoslavia and his pen back in his briefcase. “I’ve been to Zahara near ten times since I moved to Cadiz and you’re really not the typical visitor this type of year. Usually, I’ll see couples on a romantic week away, or wayward groups of travelling students, but never a bloke your age alone. Why are you here?”
“Me? I don’t know… I’m really not sure.”
“I don’t really like talking about it.” Harry took another long pull of his beer.
“I understand.” Louis faced him and Harry was met with a look of care and compassion. “I can see how you made it here to Zahara,” he said. “It’s a good place to simply have time to think.”
Harry couldn’t dispute that.
“Vernon,” Louis continued, “are you still interested in hearing a bit more about the Falklands?”
Harry nodded slightly.
“Well, it’s not really about Falklands, it’s more about me. I suppose I can tell you because I’m actually writing a book about it now…. Vernon, back in 1983, after the Falklands Conflict, I was a mess mentally. I’d seen things, done things I’d never thought I’d ever do, even though I was prepared. There was so much in my head and no one understood, not my family, not the blokes in my unit…” He trailed off. “It was a bad time for me. After I lost Paul and came back to England, I suffered a great deal. I ended up having all these weird mood swings, nightmares. I argued with Noreen and soon everything went south with her. I argued with my parents. I argued with my superiors. I refused to follow the advice of people who cared for me and one day, I just couldn’t take what my head was dishing out and I went and left home for a year.”
Harry searched Louis’ face. “You did?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, I did.”
“Did… did leaving help?” he asked.
Louis took a deep breath. “In some ways, yes, and in others, no. What did result was my trailing around Europe for a long time, finding all sorts of trouble wherever I went. I came home after a year and was still a mess. Within a few weeks of returning home, my parents and brother checked me into the psych ward at the Naval Hospital… I was there for six months, if you’ll believe it. I needed that much time to work through the guilt and anger and depression I simply couldn’t shake off on my own.”
“Are you cured now?”
“I’ll never be completely cured, Vernon. I did too much to ever be completely free from that portion of my life. Instead, I’ve learned coping techniques, ways to manage my feelings enough to live a normal and productive life. I feel like I’ve been successful in doing so, but I couldn’t do it alone. Thank goodness I had my family to send me off in the right direction.”
Harry thought about that before he spoke again. “I was involved in a war last year, too,” he muttered finally.
“You were in the military?” Louis asked. When Harry only nodded, he added quickly, “I knew it. I understand the need for secrecy, Vernon. You don’t have to tell me which branch you were in.”
“I don’t really like talking about it, so thanks. It’s just… I did come out here to escape. I needed a break, so I came out here to Spain. I ran away… from my girlfriend, from my friends, from my job — which I love, or at least want to love. I ran away from it all.”
“That’s common,” Louis murmured. “It’s a strange time of life you’re in. You’re trying to find your place in the world and, coupled with your experiences in the military, I understand,” Louis cleared his throat. “You mentioned you did leave behind a girlfriend.” Louis ordered another beer before he spoke again. “Does she know you’re here?”
Harry cleared his throat. “No. I used the word girlfriend, but I suppose it’s habit… she’s not my girlfriend anymore. She ditched me just before I left London.”
“What’s her name?”
“Ginny,” Harry whispered, peeling the label off his bottle.
“She’s a pretty girl,” Harry responded quickly.
“Well, Vernon, you can share the story of your girl if you’d like.”
Harry stared straight ahead for almost a full minute before he asked, “Are you sure you’re that interested?”
“Of course, mate. I’ve nowhere else to be tonight.”
Harry shrugged and started talking, stumbling over his words at first. It was difficult to organize his thoughts, although the more he talked the easier it was. He began at the beginning, went through the Christmas hols, the Auror’s party — calling it a holiday ball — and the aftermath at Grimmauld Place and their inevitable final conversation on the Astronomy Tower.
At the end of it, Louis blew out a deep breath. “So let me get this straight. In your post-war haze, you left her there, did a bunk, high-tailed it out of the country and somehow ended up in Zahara de Los Atunes?”
Harry nodded and fell quiet.
“What was the last thing Ginny said to you before she left you there at her school?”
When he spoke again, he stared down into his lap. “She felt that I need to sort out my issues from the war before I’m ready to worry about falling in love. For some reason I couldn’t handle that. In fact, it made me angry.”
“Ah ha. It’s usually the girlfriend who knows you best.”
“Do… do you think Ginny’s completely mental?”
Louis chuckled. “She’s not. She’s just about as mental as any girl in love. They’re all completely mental. You’ll figure that out soon enough.”
“Maybe.” Harry sighed.
Louis shook his head. “When I was your age, I couldn’t handle the idea of love either. I wish I knew then what I know now.”
“What do you know now?”
“Well, I know that you only have one life, and every decision you make will affect you for the rest of it. I know that much. Now, I’m a huge believer that things happen for a reason and… please don’t get me wrong. I love my wife and my girls very much, but I still think that if I could go back in time and set things straight with Noreen, I would.” Louis turned to him with a sly grin. “Don’t ever tell my wife that.”
Harry grinned. “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
“I’ve learned that it’s a waste to have regrets though, Vernon. Life’s too short for regrets. I was able to recover from my own experiences and in time I found my happiness in life. I’m a lucky man to be where I am today.”
Harry stared at him for a moment, “G-good,” he stuttered, “That’s… good.”
“You, on the other hand, are at a point in your life where it can go either way, so think about what you want. Just know that whatever happens, you are going to fine, and you have the chance to have a happy life just like anyone else. Be positive, Vernon, and have faith. Oh and… can I be direct about something? The military has places for you to go and get your head checked. You really should, Vernon. It’s not a good thing to walk through life with that stare on your face, mate. I mean that. You seem like a nice enough bloke, and if you were one of my students, I’d tell you the same.”
For awhile, they didn’t speak, and Harry fell into his thoughts.
“Thanks, Louis,” he finally said, “I appreciate the talk.”
“You zoned out again for a few minutes there, mate.”
“I know. Sorry about that.”
“It’s all right. It was plenty nice to meet you, Vernon. And I’ll bet that if you clear your head and clean yourself up properly between now and when your Ginny leaves school — you might have another chance with her. It sounds like that’s what you want. What you went through in that war of yours, no matter what your experiences were, can do funny things to a person. Escape will not solve your issues. Trust me, I know wherefore I speak.” Vernon reached into his briefcase and pulled out a slim black case which he flipped open and pulled out a small piece of paper. “Here’s my card at the university. If you ever need to talk to someone you can ring me. If not, I hope you’ll look me up if you’re ever in Cadiz.”
“Thanks.” Harry took the card.
“Where’s your next stop after Zahara?” Louis asked as he gathered his briefcase and coat.
“I… I don’t know.”
Louis took a good look at him. “Go home,” he said as he hoisted his briefcase up. He saluted Harry before he walked away.
Harry sat at the bar for a long time. When he finally did get up, he was glad that he had a fair long walk back to his flat. He had a lot to think about.
Ginny burst out of the doors of Hogwarts castle into the cold evening air. She tucked her cloak more securely over her practice clothes and breathed into her scarf for warmth. Snow crunched under her boots as she made her way to the broom sheds.
It was Saturday and, despite the need to write a twenty-four-inch parchment for Potions, her day had been spent revising for Monday’s Transfiguration exam. Satisfied that she was prepared, the top item on her priority list was practicing. Tryouts were only twelve days away and even though the days seemed to be going by slowly, they were actually slipping by more quickly than she would have liked. She knew she needed to focus and practice which was what she had been trying so hard to do in the last month. Early mornings, late evenings, fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there. Whenever she had the chance, she was flying. It kept her mind clear.
Looking up, she scowled as she realized she had company. Jack must have finished dinner early and raced out to the pitch. He had already taken to the skies and was circling around the goal posts.
Ginny wasn’t all that upset since Jack had helped her practice loads these past few weeks. In fact, what was a Chasers’ practice without a good Keeper? Jack always tended to block her not-so-great shots and to miss her really spectacular ones, so Ginny learned the ways around him as much as she could. From this type of practice, she had learned what she had always known, but to a much greater degree: a good Chaser always knew and studied the opposing team’s Keeper. This extra practice with a skilled Keeper would really benefit her in tryouts.She hoped to watch a few people go in front of her at the tryouts before it was her turn so she could study the stand-in Keeper well.
Before she mounted her broom, Ginny stretched thoroughly to warm her muscles and ran two laps around the pitch. When Harry had been captain of the team, he always encouraged them to run to build up their strength and endurance and she kept that going with her own team. In fact, she thought with pride, they had just won their match against Hufflepuff last weekend and were 2-0 for the season.
When she finally made it back to her old Cleansweep, Ginny kicked off from the ground to fly laps around the pitch. Her first lap was lazy, slow and steady, but with the second she leaned forward and zoomed through the clear sky quick as lightning. All right, not lightning. She was on her Cleansweep, not Harry’s Firebolt, but still she took the broom to top speed. The wind felt cold as anything and stung her face where she wasn’t covered by her wool scarf, but the sun was settling behind the mountains, casting a glow on the castle that filled Ginny with contentment as the evening grew into night. Gaining more speed, she smiled and settled into the third lap around the pitch.
She finally made it over to Jack, who was hovering by the third goalpost. He had just blocked a great shot from the Quaffle he had enchanted to fly towards the goalposts. Feeling invigorated and playful, she nicked the enchanted Quaffle, swung around the third goal post and slammed it into the hoop.
“Goal!” she exclaimed, “Ginny Weasley — 10, Jack— nil. Ladies and gentlemen, witches and wizards of all ages, meet the new Chaser for the Montrose Magpies, Ginnnnny Weasley. And the crowd goes wiiiilllld!”
Jack laughed and dove for the Quaffle, which had begun losing altitude. When he came back up, he swiped his dark blond hair off his forehead, “Not so quick, Weasley. Let’s try again. I was hardly paying attention that time!”
“Fine, you want another go? Let’s have at it,” Ginny challenged.
Jack threw her a playful look, and then tossed the Quaffle at her, hard. Ginny flew a half lap around the pitch, and then approached Jack from the side. She zoomed over his head to weave around the goalposts, trying to trick her classmate, who maintained his post with skill. Finally, she aimed a shot that would have gone into the third goal post and hoped to see it soar through.
“Blocked!” he shouted. “Ha! One for Jack Edgewater, Keeper for the Wimbourne Wasps. Ladies and gentlemen, let it go on record that Jaaaack-is-baaaack!”
“Oh, yeah, give that here!” Ginny laughed and zoomed close to him, reaching for the Quaffle and nearly wrestling it out of his hands. Determined, Ginny watched Jack fly back into his place by the goal hoops. They went straight into game mode and soon, she had made three goals before he could block a fourth.
Jack flew over to her, breathless after the last shot. Ginny hovered, fixing her ponytail.
“There is no way you aren’t making it into the league, Ginny.”
Ginny leaned her hands on the wood in front of her and looked at the lake, grinning. The giant squid was skimming the surface of the lake and she watched it momentarily.
“Thanks for the compliment, but I still think I have a lot to learn.”
“Yeah, me, too. I really need to practice more.” He scratched his head. “I just… I just want to make it onto a team, any team, second string. If I can learn on the job, imagine how much I will learn during just one season!”
“Thanks, Ginny.” He smiled her way, and a bit embarrassed by the way he did so, Ginny looked away, hoping she hadn’t ignited the crush she knew Jack was harbouring for her. She had made sure he overheard her talking to Hermione one day at lunch a few weeks past about how she was so not going to date anyone at Hogwarts.
“Err… In the meantime, are you staying up here or should we go to back to the common room and finish our homework?”
“I think I’ll stay. I could use the air time. Less than two weeks, you know? It’s coming up soon.” Ginny scanned the stands.
“You all right, Ginny?” Jack asked, a tinge of concern in his voice.
Was she alright? Not particularly, but she was doing her damn best trying to be.
“I’m fine. See you later. Let’s practice again tomorrow evening if I can finish my essay for Potions between now and then.”
“Great.” Jack smiled and zoomed away. Soon he became a little speck on the ground. Ginny kept flying.
She dove into a Wronski Feint, but pulled up too soon and nearly doubled herself over. She gained altitude and tried it again, with the same results. She wished sorely that Harry were there to tell her what she was doing wrong. If he were here to watch her practise he would be able to help her, too. Not that she wanted to be a Seeker or anything, but if her dreams of being a Chaser were dashed, at least she had enough potential skill to be considered for a position as Seeker and she had one chance to show her skill. Ginny knew the more versatile her skills as Quidditch player, the better her chances would be at the league tryouts.
As she tossed more Quaffles into the goals from every direction, Ginny imagined Harry again. This time, he was hovering beside her, patiently telling her how she had done in that easy-going way of his. His way… like he used to in the D.A or as Quidditch Captain. And when she did her last few laps around the pitch, as she had during the match last weekend, Ginny imagined he was there in the stands watching her.
Despite how much she tried to push him out of her mind, and focus on herself, she felt lonely and desperately nervous for her tryouts. She wished Harry from fifth year were here. He would have held her hand and, grinning, he would have told her she was brilliant and could do anything she set her mind to.
Ginny felt like a head case.
Feeling discouraged, she finished practicing for the evening and descended to the snow-covered ground. After putting the Quaffle and broom away in the shed, she trudged up the lawn, retracing her steps from earlier back to the castle. Looking up, she noticed that Hagrid’s hut had smoke coming out the chimney. Ginny shrugged and veered off course, wondering if Hagrid needed any help caring for the creatures in and around his hut. To be honest, Ginny liked helping Hagrid feed and care for the animals because doing so took her mind off her current situation. It also reminded her of the mundane chores, like feeding the chickens or doing the washing up, that she was made to do growing up at The Burrow. It was comforting, and made her feel less homesick than she was. Also, it helped vent her frustrations and took her mind off of one specky, scrawny git. When she was elbow deep in chopping up bits of dead ferrets to feed the new baby hippogriff that Hagrid was raising, Harry was the farthest thing from her mind, at least for awhile.
After a satisfyingly long walk down the beach, and a warm shower, Harry crawled into bed, his head full.
Perhaps, Harry admitted to himself for the first time ever as he huddled under the white sheets in the bedroom of his flat, Perhaps, I actually do love Ginny. He wasn’t ready to completely deal with his feelings for one reason or another, but in his heart, he knew how he felt for her. He couldn’t get her out of his mind, even if he tried. He thought of her endlessly, even when he didn’t want to. Just the sound of her name in his head made him miss her and ache to hold her close, for there was no one else he could ever imagine himself being with. All of these feelings weren’t subdued at all by what had happened between them.
Yet, if I do love her, he countered, what happened? Why have things turned out so badly? If I love her, weren’t things supposed to be perfect?
He tried to work that out in his mind, but instead he thought long and hard about Louis’s story about losing Noreen. He thought of how Louis had found happiness in life with his wife and two little girls, but he thought of how things could have been different for him if he had stayed with his first love and been able to cope with his feelings instead of allowing himself to be overwhelmed by his past experiences.
Giving up on sleep, and feeling a headache coming on, Harry grabbed the duvet and went out to the balcony. He wrapped it around his bare shoulders for warmth, and then sat on the chaise lounge to stare at the stars.
After a stretch of time, Harry figured that if he loved Ginny, then what had gone wrong was probably inside of him and had been all along. That was a bitter thought to swallow.
As he stared at the ocean, Harry fell deeper into his thoughts…
He knew he was a long way from setting things right with Ginny and that, before he could even hope to do so, he would need to sort himself out. Louis was right. If he wanted Ginny back, he would need to seek help and learn to cope with his past. He would need to clean himself up, and put himself back together before he could even hope to fix his relationship with her. He knew now that he needed help; he couldn’t do it alone.
More than anything, even once he was at the point where he was getting better, he still had to know what he wanted. There would be no messing her around, even if it was unintended. There might be one “next time” with Ginny, but there would not be two, and he knew it. If they ended up together again, it would be forever.
Harry thought it odd that, for the first time, the word ‘forever’ didn’t frighten him. What did frighten him, and make him feel worse than ever, was the thought that forever with her was slipping through his fingers. He thought of the possibility of losing Ginny for good and instantly the monster in his chest whimpered pitifully and clawed at his insides.
Frustrated with himself, Harry asked the simple questions he had asked himself many times without any luck.
When it comes to Ginny, how do I feel and what do I want?
He had never felt more determined to answer it.
A/N: It is always exciting to have a new chapter ready. I would like to thank Arnel for her beta skills and for her patience as she sorted through the many edits and rewrites of this chapter. Her always honest opinion and her high expectations of me have improved this chapter immensely. Her help is making me a better writer and that is invaluable. Also, I am eager to thank my new pre-beta, J, who has taken time off from his busy schedule to help the story along. Finally, thanks to the readers for your patience with me in this long break from publishing. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this chapter! Thanks much, Rebecca