"…and the first to reach him were Ron and Hermione, and it was their arms that were wrapped around him, their incomprehensible shouts that deafened him. Then Ginny, Neville, and Luna were there, and then all the Weasleys and Hagrid, and Kingsley and McGonagall and Flitwick and Sprout, and Harry could not hear a word that anyone was shouting, nor tell whose hands were seizing him, pulling him, trying to hug some part of him, hundreds of them pressing in, all of them determined to touch the Boy Who Lived, the reason it was over at last-" Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, page 744
Harry was sitting underneath a tree in Rome, Italy with his eyes closed just feeling the breeze blow against his face. In the August heat, it felt delightfully cool. Ron and Hermione had stopped at a small ice cream shop for a moment and Harry had gone ahead to the top of a hill for a quiet moment alone.
They had spent the last year on the run fighting a war. Now it was time to catch up on all the life they missed out on. Not to mention that an extra week would be spent in Australia afterwards, putting some lost pieces back in the puzzle.
Ron caught up with him and took a seat next to him in the grass.
"Hey mate, you're a million miles away. What's on your mind?"
"Have you gotten over being bone tired yet?" Harry still hadn't shaken the feeling of being weary down to his core. If he could, he would curl up and sleep for the next two weeks, months, or years..
"Can't say that I have, but then again, it's been like being in another world this week. You'd think a war never happened down here."
They had already been through Paris, had visited the same southern village that Hermione had vacationed at on the Mediterranean coast, and had spent a weekend in Lisbon before passing through Madrid on their way here to Rome. It had been a memorable week and a half with his friends and though they were enjoying the time away, they had yet to get much real rest. They all had trouble sleeping.
Harry had to agree with Ron. The Continent had clearly not suffered as Britain had during Voldemort's reign of terror. In fact, Harry found he was even relatively anonymous. Not that he was complaining. "I envy them. This is what normal life is supposed to be like." He hadn't meant to sound so defeated.
"Cheer up mate. We're still here. It's over now. We won." Ron was trying hard to sound optimistic, but the dark bags underneath his eyes told another tale. Fred's death was still weighing hard on the Weasley clan. Harry certainly could relate. He couldn't go a day without seeing Remus and Tonks being lowered into their graves, holding his godson next to a stone faced Andromeda Tonks.
"Where's Hermione?" Harry changed the subject.
"You know her; she caught a glimpse of some monument or other and had to get the full experience. She'll be up eventually." Ron sounded amused at the very predictable behavior of the third member of their Trio.
"So where are you two exactly? With each other?" Harry hoped he hadn't crossed a line. Ron had never really been one to talk about relationships with him before.
"I'm not sure to be honest. I think we're just enjoying being alive and whole right now. I think she wants to sort it out when we're home. What's on your mind?"
Harry weighed his options in his mind. He had been worried about something for a while, but wasn't sure if he wanted to talk about it. A thought that had crept into his mind once he had been able to think clearly for a day or two. Now that they were here, he figured now was as good a time as any.
"Ron, you and Hermione have a chance for a real life now." Harry took a deep breath, gathering the courage to ask a question he was afraid to know the answer to. "You could have had that ages ago without knowing me. Without Death Eaters wanting to kill you for being my friends. Won't having me around simply be a constant reminder of the hell we've been through?" Harry felt the blood leave his face. He had rarely been this open with anyone about how he felt. Now that he voiced it, it seemed all too real to him that he felt like a walking monument. Reminding everyone why their loved ones wouldn't be joining them any longer.
"Harry…" Ron gave him a concerned look. "You remind me of the very reason I am alive to enjoy this life I have. Why Hermione is still here. A reminder to me and everyone else of why we can sleep at night without wondering if tomorrow is our last day on Earth."
Harry was taken aback. Ron was not prone to emotional speeches. Again, that was Hermione's department. She must have rubbed off on him after all. Regardless, Harry was still unsure of himself.
Sensing his unease, Ron continued. "And Hermione and I both are more grateful than you can believe to have been able to stand by you all this time. Well, most of it for me…." Ron took a moment to examine his shoe laces. "But we wouldn't choose to be anywhere else than by your side."
"He's right you know." Hermione came strolling up to join them. "How many times do we have to give you this speech? We've had seven years. Seven years Harry. We could have had our own life ages ago." Both Ron and Hermione were looking at him now with determined looks. Harry felt a wave of relief wash over him.
He couldn't muster up anything else to say. Hermione and Ron took a seat on either side of him. It was like they were sitting underneath their tree at Hogwarts again, just with different scenery. The sun sank lower in the sky, setting off a terrific sunset over the city.
Harry wanted to ask them if anything would ever be normal. If the nightmares and constant reminders of what had been lost would ever go away. Ultimately, he decided it didn't matter. He wouldn't be alone for one minute of it.
Harry woke up the next day with a start. He hadn't realized he had been asleep. Sleep usually fled from him.
"Wh-wha'sgoinon?" he very groggily groaned. He was answered by Ron's snoring on the couch next to him. They had both fallen asleep sprawled over the two couches in their hotel suite.
"I hope you'll forgive me." Hermione came walking into the room from the connecting door to her adjoining suite. "I spiked yours and Ron's drinks with some Dreamless Sleep potion last night. I took some myself in my room. We were all exhausted yesterday; I figured we needed some real sleep." She had a concerned look on her face. Harry knew she was worried they would be mad at her for not telling them.
"No, thank you. I hadn't slept like that in weeks." Harry stretched before moving into the kitchen to put on some coffee. He did feel a lot better he had to admit. Ron continued to snore in the living room. Harry thought it best to leave him be.
"Care for a walk? I've been meaning to go to the market." Hermione asked as she accepted a cup of the freshly brewed coffee.
"Sure, let me get ready."
Twenty minutes later they were walking down a narrow street towards the sounds of a bustling market square. There were stands with all sorts of freshly grown vegetables and fruits, along with handmade household items and touristy souvenirs. They walked in amicable silence among the stands as Hermione bought a couple of days' worth of fresh food.
When they returned, Ron had woken and was eating some leftovers from the night before.
"I could get used to this Italian stuff." Ron amusingly said through a mouthful of chicken marsala.
They spent the afternoon in a park on the city's periphery. Hermione sat in the shade of a tree reading a book while Harry taught Ron how to throw a muggle Frisbee.
"You've just about got it. You just have to keep your wrist level." Harry consoled Ron as they took seats with Hermione. Registering their presence, she looked up from her book to give them both a look that said she had something on her mind.
"Well, come out with it then." Ron made a point to dramatically sigh with resignation. Ignoring her friend's teasing, Hermione looked at Harry.
"What are you going to do about Teddy?" Harry frowned. He had been avoiding the thought of his now orphaned godson, as it was a constant reminder of his failure to protect said godson's parents.
"I would guess he will live with Andromeda. He's my godson though, so I intend to do everything I can to be there for him." Harry looked away from Hermione. This conversation was leading him to remember his own godfather. He thought for a brief moment of the life they could have had now with the war over, but he pushed it from his mind.
As if reading his thoughts, Hermione grabbed Harry's hand. "Like Sirius did for you." Unsure what to say, the trio sat in silence for a few moments.
"I'm going for a walk." Harry got up to leave. When he saw his friend's motion to follow him, Harry raised up a hand. "If you guys don't mind, I would rather be by myself for a minute." Looking a bit put out, they both settled back into their seats as Harry walked off. He could hear them start a muted conversation just as he passed out of earshot.
Part of why he wanted to be alone was to give his friends some time without him. The tension between them wasn't suffocating or anything, but he knew they had some things to discuss. If Ron's answer the day before had been any indication, he and Hermione hadn't spoken much since their kiss during the final battle. Harry wanted to give them some privacy. He sometimes felt like he was intruding on them, or that they held back from each other in his presence, probably to make him feel less awkward.
The truth was, Harry was ready for whatever was happening between his friends to be settled. As uncertain as his own future loomed ahead of him, he felt like he owed them the chance to figure out their own. Harry was truly unsure of what he would do upon returning home. Where was "home" anyways? Grimmauld Place? The Burrow? Hogwarts? He could make a case for any of them, but they all had their baggage. Harry felt like what he wanted was a fresh start. A clean slate.
An idea had been forming in his mind. He had never thought he would live to see his twenties. Or that he would ever have a life outside of battling Voldemort. Now that he had the chance, he felt very strongly that he wanted to finally live the life that had been taken from him. An excellent start would be making a home where his chance for a normal life had been stolen from him: Godric's Hollow.
Harry thought that it would be the ultimate victory. The final trophy of the hard fought peace. Building a life where his parent's lives had ended. Not to mention it would be quiet and out of the way. The perfect way to escape the new found pressures of being the savior of the wizarding world for a second time.
He would have to rebuild it, which raised plenty questions of its own. He wasn't sure if he would even be allowed to and he certainly didn't have the handyman skills to do the actual work. He would learn though. This was his life to build. So he would build it, along with his friends of course.
Ginny was another matter altogether. She had wanted to come with him on this trip and Ron had lobbied hard for her, but Harry had only wanted his two closest friends. It wasn't that he didn't want to be around her, at least he didn't think so; he just wanted to be with the only two people who understood everything he'd been through the past year. He felt relatively sure that when he returned to England that he wanted to be with her, but he no longer really knew why and that bothered him.
His mind wandering and missing his friend's company already, Harry made his way back to the tree. He had made a full circle around them, so he would be approaching from behind them this time. As he drew closer, their conversation was carried to him on the wind.
"..then what did it mean Hermione?" Ron sounded rather angry. Great, Harry thought, at least the tension won't be so bad when they refuse to be in the same room later.
"It meant that I loved you Ron. I do love you." Hermione sounded like she was fighting back tears. "It's just…now…it's not a good time."
"I just thought, when you kissed me that we could finally be together. Be us."
"Ron, I do want that. Please listen to me. It's just not the right time yet. I don't even have parents to introduce you to and you're family is still reeling from Fred…." Her voice cracked on the last syllable. "We've waited this long, is it really that terrible to wait a little longer?"
Harry stopped a little ways off; he didn't want to end up in the middle of another argument between his two best friends.
"I….I get that Hermione I do. But maybe I need this. Did you think about that?"
"Ron….I want so badly to make you happy. I wish I could give that to you, but I need just the opposite. I need you to be my friend until I can get my life back together. Until we can all get our lives back together."
Ron stood up from his seat. "I'm going for a walk."
"Ron, please don't go. Don't do this again…"Hermione was pleading with him.
"So we're bringing this up again eh? Why can't we move past it Hermione?" Ron was getting angrier. "Every time you have to bring that back up and throw it in my face again! Do you forgive me or not?"
"Ron, I'm trying to forgive you. It doesn't help that here you are about to do it again!" Hermione was clearly in tears now. "I need you to stay here with me and you're just going to walk away and sulk! You know what? Go! Just go Ronald!"
Hermione was on her feet now. Without another word Ron stormed off in the direction Harry was standing. When he passed by Harry, Ron gave him a withering look and muttered something like "Mental. Makes no sense." before walking off in the direction Harry had come. Hermione had fallen to her knees and was crying by the tree.