The End of the Beginning

Chapter 5

The trio awoke the next day and after a light breakfast, boarded the first in a small series of trains that would take them from Rome to Vienna. When the appropriate privacy charms had been cast, they settled into friendly games of exploding snap or wizard chess. If Harry didn't think too hard it was almost like when they were riding the Hogwart's Express in their school days.

It was while he was on this train of thought that Hermione looked up from the chess game she was losing badly to Ron.

"Do either of you think you're going to return to Hogwarts? You know…finish our education?"

Ron and Harry exchanged looks. "I'm not sure Hermione. It just won't quite be the same now will it?" Ron offered. They all knew he was talking about Fred. "Besides, do you really think we need it?"

"Well, depending on what you want to do, a lot of careers are going to want N.E.W.T's. They're not exactly going to just hand us whatever career we want."

Harry had to admit she had a point. "I might go back. After all, I don't really have anywhere else to go." It was the truth. Harry had no desire to return to Grimmauld Place or Privet Drive and any plans he had for his parent's home would have to wait.

"We could get a flat." Ron offered.

"What about the Burrow?" Hermione asked him as her last pawn was getting throttled by Ron's queen.

"As much as I love my family, it's time for me to move out. It's just been…suffocating there lately." Harry hated how almost any conversation turned into a conversation about the war's aftermath.

Hermione gave Ron a concerned look before continuing. "Well, if we went back to Hogwarts, we could at least be together until we figured out what we're doing."

That comforting thought seemed to end the discussion. It was quiet except for the sounds of the chess pieces moving as Ron tried to corner Hermione's king. Harry couldn't decide if he wanted to talk to his friends yet about Godric's Hollow just yet. Maybe they should figure out exactly what they're all going to be doing first.

Ron seemed to sense Harry's disquiet and had other ideas. "Something on your mind mate? Checkmate Hermione."

Hermione pushed her king over before looking at Harry expectedly. Harry had to give it to his friends, it was increasingly hard to get anything by them.

"Well, we were talking about places to live, and I have just been thinking…"

"About Godric's Hollow." Hermione finished for him.

"Er….yeah." Harry added lamely.

Ron had a puzzled expression on his face. "What? Your mum and dad's place? Or somewhere else in the village?"

"I want to rebuild my mum and dad's."

Ron and Hermione both gave him a knowing look. "Well, we're more than happy to help. Though, I don't know that either of us will be much help at first."

Hermione's expression brightened. "Well we'll just have to learn won't we?"

"Thanks guys. It means a lot." Harry didn't feel the need to go into all his reasons why. They probably knew anyways.

When they had reached Vienna, they settled into their hotel. It was a similar setup to their last one. Side by side suites: one for the boys and one for Hermione. Harry had burned through quite a bit of gold to afford their accommodations (not to mention the exchange rate to muggle money), but in his mind it was worth it. Gold had never meant too much to him anyways. He had also spent a pretty penny on a surprise he had for his friends.

"Ron, Hermione, can I see you real quick?" They both joined him in the kitchen from their respective unpacking. "I have something for you."

Harry handed Hermione a white envelope. Her eyes brightened as she opened it, Ron took up position behind her to see. Hermione's jaw dropped and she clapped a hand over her mouth when she pulled out two tickets. Ron looked puzzled.

"What are these mate? They don't look like Quidditch tickets."

"Oh….Harry! You didn't!?" Harry had to laugh. His gift was having the effect that he had hoped. Hermione simply gaped at him. When she turned attention back to the tickets, she too briefly looked confused. "But..Harry….there's only two tickets here."

"Can someone fill me in what's going on here?" Ron flustered.

"It's two tickets to the opera house Ron. They're terribly expensive, but it's really fun and very fancy. We went to see one when my family vacationed in France. But Harry, you still haven't told me why there's only two tickets."

Harry grinned at his friends. "I want you two to go out tonight. Just the two of you." At the worried expression from Hermione he raised his hand. "No Hermione. Really. Go out and have some fun. You two deserve this. Consider it my thanks, for everything."

Hermione's eyes watered and she grabbed Harry in a bone crushing hug. Ron grinned, "Thanks mate" and Harry gave him a wink over Hermione's shoulder.

"Oh thank you Harry! I've got to go get spruced up! Ron you had better look your best!" She gave Harry one last squeeze before traipsing off to her room and shutting the door.

"You had better get going Ron. Better look spiffy." Harry grinned. Ron answered with a grin of his own before taking a more serious expression.

"Thank you Harry. You're the best mate a guy could ask for." Ron clapped him on the back.

"Don't mention it. Now go get dressed!"

About forty-five minutes later Harry was standing with Ron in the kitchen again. Ron was wearing a magnificent dark blue tuxedo that brilliantly set off his fiery red hair.

"Come on Hermione! We're going to be late!" Ron looked at his watch for the fifth time. "Women Harry, honestly. What in the world could be taking so…"

But Ron never finished his thought, for right then Hermione's door opened and both Harry and Ron audibly gasped.

Hermione was wearing a beautiful ballroom gown that matched Ron's in color with a pearl necklace and matching pearl studded earrings. Her hair was in an elegant bun with a strand left on either side to frame her face. She looked simply stunning.

Ron's mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water while Harry simply gaped. Harry had seen some beautiful women in his life, including a very lovely Hermione at the Yule Ball, but he never thought he'd ever see a woman as beautiful as Hermione was at that moment.

"Well, considering you both have lost the ability to speak I'm guessing I look alright?" Hermione positively glowed from the muted reactions of her two male companions. Harry had never seen her look so confident.

"Alright? Hermione you look…" Ron couldn't finish his sentence, so Harry came to his friends' aid. "Positively smashing." Harry smiled and gave Hermione a short embrace. "You had better help him along or he'll just stand there all night."

Hermione beamed at him before turning to Ron. "Let's go Ronald." The use of his whole name shook Ron from his reverie. He proffered his arm to Hermione and lead her to the door before opening it to follow her out. They both looked back at Harry.

"Thanks again mate."

"Thank you Harry. Are you sure you'll be here by yourself?"

At that they both looked apologetically at Harry.

"I'll be fine lovebirds, now go before I kick you out myself." They both chuckled at Harry before Ron closed the door behind him, Hermione giving Harry a last small wave.

They were gone. Harry let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. As happy as he was for his friends and for how they had taken his surprise, he couldn't help but miss their presence. But he knew that they wouldn't be able to be around twenty-four hours a day forever, so he might as well get accustomed now.

He honestly hoped they would have a good time and stray away from arguing. While it had been endearing at times and well within both of their characters, Harry thought that at some point they'd have to move a little closer in thought patterns for them to give a relationship a real go. Constant bickering was cute when you're eleven, but was no way to be married. No other couple Harry knew of behaved that way.

In any case he now had the room to himself. Tired from all the travel that day, he turned on the television and began watching a football match. He was moving in and out of consciousness for several hours before falling asleep, not waking up until the sound of the door opening woke him with a small start past midnight. A strange curiosity peaked in Harry and instead of greeting his friends, he feigned sleep and listened to their hushed conversation.

"He's asleep Ron."

"I'll wake him and have him move to the bed when you've run off. Tonight was fun."

"Really? I was worried at first you would think opera to be boring."

"I can't say it's my favorite activity, but the company was good."

"Well tonight has shown you can be sweet. It's nice to know."

A couple of footsteps and the rustle of fabric told Harry that they had embraced.

"I had a wonderful evening Ron."

"I did too. It's the first time in a very long time I didn't once think about what could be around the corner or about….well…you know."

"Me too Ron, can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Why….why can't we be like this more? We didn't argue or fight one time tonight and it was the best time I've had with you that I can recall."

There was a moment of silence before Ron answered. "To be honest Hermione, I don't know. I just…I guess a lot of my arguments with you stem from feeling….you could say…inadequate?"

Another moment of silence. "Ron, how could you.."

"Think about it Hermione. You've always done better than me at spellwork and schoolwork. You've always seemed to know more than I do. I guess most of the time I would argue so that I could try and prove something to you. Prove that I could be good enough for you."

"Ron, I….I don't know what to say. So tonight you…you don't feel that way anymore?"

"I can't say I've kicked it entirely. But I'm trying. I guess I'm becoming more secure in who I am, determined to just be me instead of trying to measure up to someone else."

"Well, I'm happy for you Ron. Thanks again for such a wonderful time."

Harry heard her give Ron a kiss. "Goodnight Ron."

"Goodnight Hermione."

Hermione walked into her room and closed the door. Ron stood still for a moment before walking over to where Harry was on the couch. Ron shook his shoulder gently. "Hey mate, why don't you head to bed."

Pretending to be just waking up, Harry stretched and sat up. "Sounds good mate. How was tonight?"

"It was…we'll talk about it later."

Puzzled at his friends' answer, Harry followed Ron into the bedroom and changed into his pajamas. Without further conversation, both boys climbed into bed and Ron's snores soon told Harry he was fast asleep.

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