In the days following the defeat of Voldemort, Harry found himself at a crux in his life. He had two choices, the way he saw it. Either he could become an Auror; go through the training and enter the Ministry; (and rise through the ranks and eventually replace Kingsley - he heard the talk.) Or he could play Quidditch; join a team and travel the world; (and never have a spare moment to himself without the gossip rags stirring up lies - he had already been there with Rita Skeeter.) Harry carefully weighed his options, holed away in the house at 12 Grimmauld Place where he was free of spectators. He made lists filled with Pros and Cons of both of his potential choices. Then he made his decision.
He chose neither.
It took nearly six years for Hermione Granger to manage to track down her best friend.
She had looked everywhere for him, it seemed like. When it had been discovered that he was gone, the entire Wizarding World had looked for him. A day wouldn't go by when someone hadn't see Harry Potter in Bulgaria/Turkmenistan/Quebec or somewhere else. Every week there had been a new theory as to Why Harry Potter Disappeared, ranging from a Secret Love Child with Gabrielle Delacour to the fact that he had been In Love with Nymphadora Tonks and couldn't live without her. Each hypothesis was more ridiculous than the last. And it seemed like the citizens of the Wizarding World ate it all up, every last one of them. Hermione was just beginning to despair for the sanity of the magical population when the Quibbler, of all publications, published a long, well thought out essay as to why it thought Harry had gone. Because he just wanted to be Harry. Not Harry Potter. Not The Boy Who Lived. Not The Man Who Defeated Voldemort. But to just be a normal person living a normal life. She could have kissed Luna, if she hadn't thought Ginny'd hex her.
The Wizarding World, as a whole, ignored it and went on with business as usual. And so did she.
Never once did she mention the letter she had found under her pillow the night after Harry left. Never once did she suggest to Ron that they go to find him together. (Not that he would have agreed. Once he got over his pout about how Harry had abandoned him, he quickly turned back to Lavender Brown for solace. Now, six years later, they were already giving Molly a run for her knuts in number of children produced.) Never once did she approach the Ministry or the Order with the clues she had pulled from the other anonymous messages she had received. Letters that could only be from Harry.
Luna was right. He needed space.
But, five and a half years was more than enough space, thank you very much. She missed her best friend. And Hermione Granger was nothing if not organized. It didn't take her long to compile all of the sightings, rumors and hypotheses about his disappearance. It took even less to pull together the notes that had arrived at odd intervals since he left. She started with the clues found within those letters, apparating to the far reaches of the globe for the slightest evidence of him. That resulted with nothing more than a poison ivy rash, a bite (or two or three) from a swarm of army ants and an unexpected encounter with a rhinoceros. Refusing to become despondent over being unable to find him, she pored over the papers from years before. Every sighting was followed up, every place visited, no stone unturned.
Hermione was quite ready to give up after six months of searching. Perhaps he didn't want to be found, she told herself. Even if none of his letters said that, perhaps he thought it was understood. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Each despondent thought drew her further into herself as she wandered, trying to not lose her hope. Finally even she had had enough, deciding that if Harry was to be found it was up to him.
One week later she found herself avoiding the celebrations of Voldemort's defeat, something the entire Wizarding World turned into a week long party. She couldn't bring herself to join in the revelry, she felt too empty inside. Hermione, instead, spent the time braving the blazing summer heat to visit extended family she rarely saw. Today it was her Great-Aunt and Uncle Granger, where she spent the afternoon in their stifling hot home with only weak lemonade for refreshment. A small greengrocer's had caught her eye on her walk in from the Apparition point, so on her return she stepped inside for a cold fizzy drink. Setting her selection on the counter, she glanced up at the man behind the register.
Messy dark hair. Glasses. The faint outline of a scar that had fading almost immediately after Voldemort died.
There he was. Harry Potter. Running a greengrocery, a Muggle greengrocery. In Little Whinging, Surrey. Of all places.
"Hallo, Hermione." He pressed buttons on the old fashioned register nonchalantly to ring up her sale, as if there was nothing unusual about their unexpected meeting. "I wondered when you would be getting here."
"H-Harry?" she asked, her mouth agape and mentally cringing as her voice raised two octives while saying his name.
"H-Hermione?" he parroted back at her with a grin. A bit of the tension left her shoulders. It was a long standing joke between them from whenever he surprised her. "You look good."
It was him. It was really him. She unconsciously patted her hair - full of tangles - as she asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Getting ready to close," he replied matter of factly with a quick glance at the time. She followed his glance; it was nearly five. "I've got a cottage pie fixed up, I just need to put it in the cooker. Would you like to stay and eat?"
She continued to stare, though, a part of her still uncertain that she wasn't dreaming. Here he was, in Little Whinging and he was offering her cottage pie for dinner. Hermione shook her head, knowing that he was avoiding the real question, and leveled her best Prefect's glare at him. (Something she had perfected in the past six years working in the research department at the Ministry. Merlin only knew that her co-workers would have blown the place to bits (again) by now if it weren't for her, giving her ample opportunities to practise the look.) "Stay and eat? Harry James Potter! What is going on here?"
He looked up from where he was bringing the bins of veg in from where they had been flanking the door outside - manually bringing them in, without magic. It makes sense, she told herself as she watched him and waited for his answer, it is a Muggle community. It isn't like he could just use magic all the time.He brushed his hands against his trousers with a frown before he locked the door behind him. He flipped the sign from open to closed as he turned back to her. Harry gave her a long look before he continued, as if drinking in what he was seeing before him. "What is going on here? Life, Hermione, life is going on. My life, to be exact."
"But this isn't-"
"But this isn't what? Isn't what anyone expected? Of course not! No one expected Harry Potter to be a grocer of all things." He took a deep breath, only now looking as obviously upset as she felt.
"Especially considering all the great things he could have done if he had stuck around," she retorted angrily as he flipped the lights off and headed to a door at the back.
"That was a low blow, Hermione." Harry said softly, motioning for her to follow him. The door opened to a staircase, which presumably led to the apartment abovestairs. "You of all people should know how I felt about my fame."
"But here? I also know how much you hated this place!" She concentrated on her annoyance, trying to ignore the sight of his bum in front of her, going up the steps. The constant, or so it seemed, running for their lives had kept them fit in school and it was evident that he had stayed quite fit in the interim.
"I hated living with my aunt and uncle. The village itself isn't so bad." He gave her a half-smirk over his shoulder. "Besides, it is the last place anyone would look for me. I hear the latest "Spot Harry Potter" tour is going to the Sahara."
"How do you even know about that?"
"Luna keeps me up to date. I've been trying to convince her to have the Quibble sponsor some of those tours. Apparently they're rather good money-makers, and you know how the economy is these days. Plus, that'd be the one tour I'd trust to never actually show up here."
She swore she could feel her blood pressure rising. "Luna!? Luna knows you are here?"
"Her and Ginny." Harry gave her a calculated look, before turning to the fridge and pulling out what must have been the cottage pie. He set it on the counter while turning the oven on to preheat. "Didn't you ever wonder why they haven't been at the Burrow for a holiday since announcing they were together?"
"I thought they were with Luna's dad-"
"No." He shook his head, crossing his arms and leaning back against the counter with a sad look to his face. "Molly never understood that Ginny and I separated because it was best for us, because she had found someone who was better for her in Luna and I, well.... At first I was too wrapped up in the war to really love anyone they way they should be, and then when I tried I think we both realized it wasn't her. We just didn't fit that way. But Molly she didn't understand, so she made it very clear that they weren't welcome as long as Ginny was 'experimenting'. She still thinks it's just a phase Ginny's going through because I left."
"The Wizarding World isn't nearly as tolerant of people being different as the Muggle World. You should understand that."
"I would hardly call the Muggle World tolerant," she muttered softly as she sat at the table and put one hand to her forehead, remembering the reactions when one of her cousins came out.
"Compared to the Wizarding World it is. The only reason Luna's father didn't completely disown her is that she's the only family he has left. He only talks to her about the Quibbler, nothing else. He completely ignores Ginny."
"Okay, I agree. But this isn't about Molly or Luna's father, stop trying to change the subject! It's about the fact that every day for the past six years I've said 'I wonder where Harry is' and you've been here all this time! And Luna and Ginny knew! When were you planning to tell me? Or were you ever going to do that?"
"I couldn't!" He flung his arms to the side as he answered before slumping back against the counter. "I just wanted to get away for a while, so I found a spell in a book in the library at Sirius' house. A decidedly dark spellbook, even though the spell itself wasn't really. Well, maybe shades of grey."
"And this spell kept you from telling?"
"Essentially, yes." He peered at her over the top of his glasses. "When you get back home, look at those letters I sent you. I know you saved them all, but look at the letters from the past few years. This address--" he motioned around the flat with his hands "--it's on there. But you couldn't see it. As long as people are looking for me they can't find me. You know what's crazy? I walked past Seamus Finnigan last week in London. We go to the same barber and I can sit on the stool next to his and he doesn't know me. Because he's looking for me. Do you have any idea what that's like? To hold the door open at a restaurant for someone you care about and have the not see you?"
"That's how Luna found you, her editorial in the Quibbler - she had stopped."
"Yeah, even then, it was impossible for her to say anything to Ginny for nearly a year."
"Because Ginny was still searching for you." She looked at him, shaking her head. This was so typically him. "Oh, Harry. What were you thinking?"
"That it would just keep the location and tracking spells from finding me," he answered hoarsely, looking away. "I just wanted a break. To go away for a while and get my head together. Figure out what I was going to do with my life. I-I had realized some things that last year while hiding from Voldemort, about myself, about the people I loved. I needed time to think about that. I spent seven years trying to not die and not thinking past defeating Voldemort. Suddenly I had my whole life in front of me and everyone wanted me to do something different. For them. Not for me."
"We are a selfish lot," she said quietly, "expecting you to continue saving the world."
"It was a relief, you know. Getting away from the Wizarding World." He shrugged, looking back at her. "This not being able to return was unexpected and there are things - people - that I have missed. But I've grown to rather like it now that I've gotten used to it." He grinned widely at her. "You know what the biggest expectation I have to deal with now is? That my produce is fresh instead of limp and spotty. And that I open and close on time. That's it. No world saving here. It's rather... refreshing."
"Then, you're happy?" Hermione asked quietly.
"Yeah, I think so." Harry stopped, chewing on his lower lip before continuing. "What I have now is not the life I figured I would end up with by any means. I was forced to leave so much behind. But it's what I needed. I think I am happier here than I ever would have been in the Wizarding World. There always would have been unreasonable expectations. Here I'm nothing but Harry, the guy who runs the grocery."
"I-I do miss everybody. But it isn't something I can change." A wry smile crossed his face. "I've gotten a lot better at that, dealing with things that I can't change. And short of putting an ad in the Daily Prophet telling everyone to stop searching for me, there isn't much I can do."
"Luna practically already did that with her editorial." Hermione pointed out.
"I know." Harry looked down at his hands before saying quietly, "I've missed you, too. And Ron, but who he used to be, not the Ron I hear about from Ginny and Luna. But I've missed my best friends."
"Oh, Harry," she said for the second time that day as she stood and walked over to him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry it took me so long to be able to see you. I'm sorry that Ron is stuck being a prat and probably won't figure it out for some time. I'm sorry-"
He cut her off, leaning forward and covering her lips with his, kissing her deeply. Surprised, she didn't react at first, before leaning into him and returning the kiss. She made little noises of complaint when he pulled away, and he chuckled at her reaction. Harry lifted his right hand to her face, stroking his thumb against her lips. "I've been waiting five years to do that."
"Well, it did take me a year to figure out what I wanted." He tucked a strand of her curly hair behind her ear. "But I did. And that's you."