I have updated this and made the story a little tighter and more readable but the overall plot has stayed the same. HUGE, HUGE thanks to my beta Chloe for agreeing to
school me in the art of better writing. :D
Worth the World
Running his hands through his hair trying to tame the unruly mass, Harry sighed. If I didn't have this scar I could actually cut it short and not have to worry about it.
It had been just over two years since the battle at Hogwarts, and he was still stopped in the streets and halls of the Ministry. Mostly people just thanked him which was bad enough; but there were those who fawned over him and wanted an autograph or to take a picture with him, those were the worst.
It wasn't like he had really done anything special; the whole thing was more incidental than anything. It was like Dumbledore had said; Voldemort had made the prophecy come true by being so obsessed with Harry's death. In the end all Harry had done was stand his ground.
A soft whooshing sound drew his attention, turning he saw a brightly glowing otter swim through his window. "Hi Harry we are almost ready here, if you need a little more—"
Sounds of Ron's indistinct yelling drowned out Hermione's voice for a moment. "Ron! Stop that! I told you if you yelled for Ginny like that again I would Side-Along Apparate you into a random library and leave you to find your own way out."
Harry laughed; he wouldn't put it past her to do just that.
"Sorry about that Harry, I've been trying to get him break a few of his bad habits." she said.
Harry wasn't sure but he thought he heard something a little more serious than just exasperation in her voice.
"As I was saying," she continued, "if you need more time to get ready just let me know and we will head over and get some appetizers, which should hold Ron until we all can order. If not we will see you soon, bye Harry."
He smiled as her Patronus popped out of existence, turning he snagged his wallet and jacket from the hall table. Glancing around his flat he remembered how he had found the place.
After everything had calmed down a bit, Harry realized he couldn't just live with the Weasleys. Not only did he not want to be a bother, but living in the same house as Ginny when they were dating just seemed wrong. So he had talked it over with Hermione and they decided it would be best if he got a Muggle flat somewhere in London, not right next to the Ministry but not on the other side of the country either. He still owned 12 Grimmauld Place, but after it had been compromised he thought it might be better to leave it vacant for a few years.
So with her diligent research in hand, and a few leads her parents had snagged for him from a realtor friend of theirs, Harry had set out to find a quiet, modest place he could call his own. After a couple of open houses and phone calls he had found the perfect place; a two bedroom flat with a fair view of the city and neighbours who stopped by to say hello but didn't intrude. It was on the second of three floors in Haringey; plenty to do within walking distance if he wanted to go out, but secluded enough from the magical world he didn't have to worry about being recognised the moment he tasted fresh air.
He closed his eyes, preparing to Apparate from his a flat to the alleyway by the bistro, with a gut sucking wrench he was on his way
With an audible pop he arrived in the deserted ally; his hand gripping the wand in his jacket tightly. He knew it was going to take awhile before he got used to not being in danger, but old habits die hard.
Harry glanced around, making sure no Muggle had seen him pop out of thin air; the coast clear, he exited the alley and made a left onto the lightly populated pavement.
It felt good to be able to relax and be one more random person on the street. A small grin on his face, he made his way the two blocks to the bistro Hermione had chosen for their double date. Thinking on it, he wondered why he hadn't thought of it sooner; the perfect place to get away from everything and spend some uninterrupted quality time with his friends was right out in public, Muggle public.
They had all been hanging out at the Burrow by default, an old habit none of them minded; not doing anything and really just being bored, when Hermione had sat up suddenly one day with that gleam of an idea in her eye. The rest of them sat up a little straighter expecting an announcement when she jammed her hand into the pocket of her faded jeans and raced outside; Harry and Ginny had looked at each other, each raising an eyebrow while Ron pondered his next move at Wizard Chess. A few moments passed when, with a bang, Hermione came strutting back into the room with an enormous grin on her face. "Don't make any plans for next Friday," she said.
"What's up, Hermione?" Ron asked, not even looking up from the moving pieces.
Plopping back down into the stuffed chair, she grabbed the book she had tossed aside when the idea struck her. "We," she said nonchalantly, "are going on a double date."
"Um, Hermione, Harry is still getting swarmed when he goes out…" Ginny said, turning to look at her friend.
Hermione just grinned. "That won't be a problem."
Finally looking up from the game, Ron gazed at his girlfriend in confusion. "You aren't going to make us drink anymore Polyjuice Potion are you? That stuff was nasty, and once was more than bloody enough."
Harry watched Hermione roll her eyes. It wasn't all that often, but Harry had to agree this time.
"No Polyjuice, no magic at all as a matter of fact. Actually, I don't know why neither Harry nor I thought of this before," she told them, her gaze stopping at Harry
"Where was the one place you were never famous, Harry?"
Harry thought for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. "I dunno, where?"
"Come on, Harry, think about it!" Hermione urged.
"Um." Harry dug into his memories and it finally hit him. "Bloody hell! No, Hermione. Not a chance." He pointed his finger at her in what he hoped was a menacing fashion. "You've absolutely lost the plot if you think I'm going back there. They moved back to Privet Drive after the war, you know, and I don't think they were all that taken with their wizarding protection because I got a real nasty letter and... and... and I'm not welcome there anyway," Harry finished lamely. Hermione was the most persistent person he knew when she got an idea in her head, but there was no way he was going to Little Whinging again. He'd put his foot down on this one.
Ron and Ginny looked on in bewilderment as Hermione threw her head back and laughed. "Oh, Harry, I didn't mean with them."
"Well I just... No, course you didn't. Gut reaction, sorry," said Harry as he fully grasped her meaning. "And hey, you're right... No one ever thought I was anything special in their world!"
Ginny looked over her shoulder at Harry, comprehension dawning in her eyes. "Of course! Muggles don't know who you... Oh, Hermione, you're a genius!"
Looking between his three laughing friends, Ron huffed. "Well since I don't seem to be as quick as you lot, someone want to fill me in?"
Hermione sighed, "I swear Ron, sometimes you're hopeless." Ron tossed her a hurt look but didn't interrupt. "Muggles don't know who The Boy Who Lived is, do they? Harry has always been invisible in the Muggle world – living with the Dursleys was proof of that. We're going to go on the double date to a Muggle restaurant, see?"
"So what's the…oh, no one will know Harry from any other bloke on the street!" Ron exclaimed, the light bulb finally coming on.
They spent the rest of that day planning their date and talking excitedly about all the things Ron and Ginny would see for the first time.
Hands buried in his jacket pockets, Harry walked under the bistro's green awning as a waiter was winding in for the night. Nodding a hello, Harry opened the glass door and entered the restaurant. A warm blast of air and delicious smells greeted him.
Standing for a moment to let his glasses unfog, he closed his eyes and let the atmosphere wash over him; pasta, fresh salads, well-spiced meat and soft conversation eased any tension he had been holding onto. "This is going to be a good night."
"May I help you, sir?
Harry opened his eyes to a smiling girl a few feet in front of him. "Oh, yes, sorry I was just…spacing out I guess," he told her with a chuckle.
She grinned in understanding. "To be honest I do that sometimes too, so don't worry."
Grinning himself now, Harry winked. "I'll take your word for it. I have a reservation actually, for four. I think it should be under Granger?"
"Granger…" She glanced down at the open book on the podium in front of her, scanning quickly. "There you are, the rest of you party hasn't arrived yet, would you like to wait here or at the table?"
"The table, please."
"Not a problem, just follow me." Grabbing four menus she weaved her way through the tables of couples and families to a booth in a back corner. The flickering flames from four tall candles in the centre played gently across the table and cast merrily dancing shadows. "Here we are. Can I get you something to drink?"
"Yes, I'll have a…." Harry paused, realizing he didn't know what to order here. It had been so long since he had been in a Muggle restaurant that he had no idea what his choices even were. "Um, I'll just have what's on tap?"
"Good choice, it's a local brew," she said, laying the menus out. "I'll be right back."
Sighing, Harry shrugged off his jacket and tossed it over the back of the booth. Dropping into the well-used leather seat, he looked around. This is definitely a couples spot.
There were a few families set around the entrance but most of the place was taken up by couples leaning close together and talking quietly or just cuddling and enjoying the atmosphere.
"Here we go. One tap." The hostess put a coaster down and set the tall, deep brown drink in front of him. "If you need anything your waitress's name is Amber and she'll be here in a minute."
"Okay, thank you," he replied with a smile.
As she walked away, Harry turned his attention to the chilled glass in front of him. There was a good three inches of head on it. Remembering a time Hermione had gotten a dab of foam on her nose from Butterbeer, he smiled to himself and took an experimental sip, careful not repeat her mistake.
Wow, this is good!he thought as a sweet but bitter taste filled his mouth. Swallowing, he detected a hint of hazelnut and orange as the beer filtered down his throat and hit his stomach with a pleasant heaviness. I'll have to get Ron to try this.
Just then he heard the tinkle of a bell and looked up to see Ron, Hermione and Ginny come through the door. Setting his glass down, he was about to stand up when both Ginny and Hermione caught his eye and smiled. It was like being Stupified.
They had both gone all out for the date but they couldn't have been more opposite. Feeling a fire catch below his bel,t he stared at Ginny. Her long, straight red hair was aflame in the light, and her eyes blazed when she saw him. She had worn a pair of tight-fitting black slacks that squeezed her slim firm figure perfectly, leaving very little to the imagination and a deep green blouse, unbuttoned to her sternum to show off her creamy white skin and just a hint of cleavage. Grinning wickedly, she tugged at her blouse causing it to stretch just so over her chest. She turned around to talk to Ron and Harry really got a look at Hermione.
She had shrugged out of her coat while he ogled his girlfriend and handed it to Ron. She turned around, smiling softly at Harry, with a delighted twinkle in her eyes. Her brown hair framed her face and the candlelight flashed on a few strands of burnt gold; not bushy tonight, but falling thickly and slightly wild over her shoulders. She was wearing a thick, dark purple sweater with a large neck that lay in folds over her chest. It fit her subtly, showing off her curves but only hinting at what lay beneath. A grey skirt fell to just below her knees, hugging her soft form gently. Is this really the same mousy little girl that we saved from the troll?
Harry shook his head at Ron's call, slapped a quick smile on and stood as the three of them approached the table. "Hey guys."
Ginny stepped close, raised herself on her toes and kissed him firmly, her warm lips quickening his pulse. Harry closed his eyes and kissed her back.
"Really? Thirty seconds and you two are snogging already?" Ron moaned, fighting a grin. "You're gonna make me lose my appetite!"
Harry laughed as Ginny slid into the booth, "She was the one kissed me first. Blame her."
Ginny reached over and smacked his leg, "Gee thanks, Harry, glad to know you'll rat me out first chance you get!"
They all laughed. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, you two look gorgeous tonight," he said sincerely, glancing at both her and Hermione.
"A little better, yeah," Ginny replied with a grin.
Hermione stepped up to him just then, placed her hands flat on his chest and kissed his cheek softly, "Thank you, Harry."
"Uh, sure," he said, flustered and sitting down quickly as soon as she stepped back.
Ron stepped aside and let Hermione slip into the booth then sat himself. "What's that, mate?"
"Oh! You have to try this Ron, it's on tap and it's brilliant!" Harry told him, taking another sip from the glass. "It's a beer, but nothing like Butterbeer."
Taking his word for it, Ron took a tentative sip from Harry's glass and after a moment his eye went wide, a grin spreading across his face. "Bloody hell, mate. That's brilliant all right!"
Laughing again and wallowing in how good it felt to be able to, he picked up a menu and browsed it as they talked.
They always had new things to talk about, what with Harry and Ron in the last stages of Auror training, Ginny finishing school and being recruited by the Harpies, and Hermione taking on more responsibility in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
Their waitress stopped by, taking everyone's orders and giggling at Ron's enthusiasm over the beer.
Ginny had had her first couple of practices with the Harpies and was optimistic about the team. "Lots of talent and determination," she said. "Maybe not this year, but by next season I think we'll have a shot at the Cup."
Harry knew all this but was still proud of her; it wasn't often that someone was recruited right out of school to a starting position for a professional Quidditch team.
"You'll get us free tickets, right Gin?" Ron asked. "I mean being your brother and all…"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Yes Ron, I'll get you and Hermione free tickets but no you can't meet the team." Ron started to protest but Ginny cut him off. "All you'll do is fawn all over them and embarrass yourself, and me."
Ron opened and closed his mouth, silently trying to defend himself and finally gave in with a harrumph. Hermione laughed. "Don't look so down Ron, don't Aurors sometimes get to provide security at the World Cup?"
"Yeah…but only senior ones…or those who have connections," he informed her, a gleam growing in his eye. "Hey, Harry…"
It was Harry's turn to laugh. "I don't think so, mate, I get enough attention as is without throwing my name around."
"True enough, sorry 'bout that," he replied, wincing as Hermione kicked his ankle under the table.
Harry grinned at Ron. "No worries, don't want Hermione breaking your ankle about it."
"Wha, I did not…how did you know?" Hermione protested, a light blush colouring her cheeks.
"I know that look. Don't forget Ron's not the only one you've kicked under the table over the years."
Ginny snorted when Hermione gave Harry a piercing look. "Relax Hermione, he's not saying they didn't deserve it."
"Well, at the time I may have thought otherwise, but most of the time you turned out to be right. And go easy on the poor guy, Ron's not asking anything more of me than he would anyone who could get him World Cup tickets," Harry explained with a smile. "Besides, we might not have always seen it but you're pretty much the only reason we survived Hogwarts, so a couple of kicks are well worth it."
Hermione blushed deeply, her gaze softening. "I just told you what I knew and thought would be best…"
"I might be clueless to a lot of thing Hermione, but I agree with Harry; you saved us more times than I can count," Ron said, picking up his glass. "To Hermione, the best girlfriend a bloke could have and the most brilliant witch of our generation!"
Harry and Ginny raised their glasses and clinked them with Ron's. "Hear hear!" They both chimed in.
"You bloody fools, knock it off," Hermione said softly with an embarrassed smile as she quickly wiped away a tear with the back of her hand. "But…thanks."
Laughing, they sipped their drinks and were letting Hermione compose herself when their food showed up. The waitress placed the food in front of them and almost lost a hand as Ron dug in the moment his plate hit the table.
"Really Ron, you could wait until the poor girl has her hand out of the way," Hermione said, slightly annoyed but more used to his eating habits than she used to be.
"Mmhm," Ron replied, mouth full of pasta.
Hermione rolled her eyes and started in on her own entrée. The table was quiet for a while as they all enjoyed the warm filling meal.
"So, really? They don't use any magic when they make the food?" Ron asked, obviously being the first done.
Harry finished a mouthful and took a sip of his beer before replying. "None at all. I'm surprised you're still shocked by it, though. You've been to dinner at Hermione's parents' before and watched her mum cook."
"Well yeah, but that took so long. It was really good but she spent like an hour making it all!" he said. "This place had it out to us before we even finished our drinks."
"I don't agree with Ron a lot, but he has a point," Ginny added.
Harry looked at Hermione, eyebrow raised in what by now was their universal signal of "You want to explain it or should I?"
Hermione tiled her head to the left, the "I'll get this one" sign.
Harry nodded and took another bite of his steak; it wasn't quite as good as Hogwarts but still far better than his attempts.
"Yes, Ron, my mother did spend a lot of time making those dinners for us, without magic," he started. "But that was just her making it. Dad is horrible in the kitchen so he doesn't help. At restaurants there are chefs and they have at least one, if not more, assistants to help prepare the food. Depending on the size of the restaurant, there might even be two or three chefs making the main dish."
"Oh, is that all, just more people?" Ron asked, not at all impressed with the answer. "Seems like magic would make it a lot easier."
"Yes it would, but that's not how it works for Muggles, is it? They obviously can't use magic," Hermione told him, an edge to her voice. "Which is why it meant so much for my mum to make dinner for us, and it upset me when you kept asking if it was ready."
"I can't help it if I was hungry, can I? You told me not to fill up at lunch so I didn't. What did you expect? You've know me how long? Aren't I always hungry?" Ron replied, turning to look at his girlfriend.
"Yes! You are always hungry, but I would have thought you had the brains not to announce it every three minutes." Hermione took a breath and continued, but no one heard her. After a moment she stopped and looked around in confusion only to find Ginny's wand lay discreetly on the table.
"Ginny, did you silence Hermione?" Ron asked incredulously.
"Yes, I did. One, we are in public and I hate it when you have a row, and two, one of you two should have done that years ago," she informed them between bites.
Ron started laughing heartily as understanding dawned on Hermione's face. "Ginny, release her right now, that wasn't nice," Harry said. "And you shouldn't have done magic here either."
"As long as they are done arguing, I will."
"That's up to them, now come on end the spell or I will."
Ginny rolled her eyes, grabbed her wand and subtly removed the spell from a red-faced Hermione. "There, just no more arguing."
"Fine. Excuse me while I use the loo," Hermione told them in a strained voice.
Ron was still chuckling as he watched her slide from the seat and walk off. "That was a good one Gin, don't know if I ever would have had the courage to do it though!"
Harry eyed his friend. "That wasn't nice and you know it Ron. A laugh is a laugh, but you know how she is."
Ron looked sheepishly at Harry. "Yeah, well she didn't have to start a fight right here."
"That's between you and her," Harry said, turning to Ginny. "And you're supposed to be one of her best friends…and you do that?"
"Someone needed to stop them from fighting, and you don't ever do it. So maybe it was a little much to silence her but come on; she does pick on Ron about little things all the time."
Harry closed his eyes. Just a quiet dinner with my girlfriend and friends…that's all I wanted.
"Ok, fine it's over, just don't do that again all right?" he asked, opening his eyes and looking into hers.
Ginny grinned. "Well, not tonight, but I can't promise anything in the future."
Ron snorted. "I'm sure her boss wouldn't mind doing that every now and then when she's on about some law or other."
Harry stood from the table. "I'm going to check on her, so the both of you get it out of your system while I'm gone."
Walking off before either could reply, he asked a passing waitress which way the restrooms were. She pointed back near the kitchens and continued on her rounds.
Harry knocked of the women's door before cracking it open. "Anyone in here?"
With no reply he looked back over his shoulder to make sure no one was coming, then entered. "Hermione…I know you're in here."
"I'm fine Harry, just give me a minute and I'll be back out."
From the echo she sounded like she was in the last stall, so, striding down the length of the room, he gently pushed open the door to find her sitting on the toilet, red-faced and wiping tears from her cheeks.
"Stop it, Harry, it's not a big deal, I should be used to it by now. Neither of them mean any harm by it, it's just who they are and how they survived growing up with their brothers." she said, a hitch catching her voice. "I'll be fine."
Sighing, he dropped into a squat in front of her. "I know that but it doesn't mean I think they can both be prats."
Hermione jerked her head up. "Did you just call Ginny a prat?"
Harry laughed. "Yes I did. I love her but sometimes that impulsiveness gets the better of her and she just doesn't think…kind of like Ron."
A small smile cracked Hermione's face. "Well, they are brother and sister after all."
"That's them all right. And I'm a fame-seeking celebrity. And you, Miss Granger, you're just a little know-it-all, aren't you?" he said with a lopsided grin.
She smacked his shoulder. "Oh come off it. Stop trying to cheer me up, I'm fine."
"But you are a know-it-all." He watched her face fall and quickly continued. "But I meant what I said earlier, if you hadn't been we, or at least I, would be dead. You are the reason I'm alive Hermione, and I can't ever thank you enough for being so bull-headed, bossy and just a general know-it-all. You're my best friend and sometimes you get me in ways that not even Ginny does."
Harry watched as a blush crept up her neck and flush her cheeks, her brown eyes sparkled and a dazzling smile burst from her lips. She really is pretty.
Before the thought could form any more than that, Hermione leapt at him and wrapped him in a fierce hug. He threw his arms around her as he fell back, trying to take the brunt of the fall himself.
When they came to rest, she rolled off of him and stood brushing herself off quickly before offering him a hand. "You sure you don't secretly play rugby behind our backs?" he asked, grinning.
"Ha ha Harry Potter, no I do not. Now, are you going to lie on that floor the rest of the night or not?"
Taking her offered hand, Harry stood up and as soon as he did she enveloped him in another hug. "Thank you," she whispered into his ear, causing a shiver to run down his spine.
"Uh, you're welcome."
Squeezing him tight quickly she let go and swept around him to a sink. "Now, get back out there and tell them I'll be right out."
Harry ran a hand through his thick hair. "Ok, but don't take too long. I'm pretty sure Ron wants to order now."
"Of course he does," she replied, but instead of anger there was humour in her voice.
Turning to leave, he caught a glimpse of her in the mirror and swore that she was still blushing.
Far across the foggy moors inside an ancient castle a well dressed man sat languidly in a comfortable, overstuffed chair.
"Is everything in place?" he asked coolly.
"Yes, sir, everything has been set. Our message will go out as soon as they are brought back and are conscious again."
A hint of a smile creased the man's lips. "Good. This time the mistakes of the past will not be repeated; change is inevitable. "
An hour later the couples exited the restaurant, pleasantly full and once again in a good mood.
"I swear that's what happened! He tried hexing me and when I opened my eye he was flat on his arse halfway across the room!"
"I was there, he's telling the truth. Our instructor was really upset Ron hadn't told him he could do that spell without saying the incantation," Harry explained, laughing. "And he didn't believe us when we told him it was the first time Ron had ever done it."
"I guess it just took a while for the lessons to sink in, hmm?" Hermione chided Ron playfully.
"Either way, Ron got free lunch for the rest of the week from the other recruits," Harry finished. "And that's all the reward he needed."
"Hermione?" said Ginny.
Hermione turned to Ginny who had let go of Harry's hand and was standing with her arms crossed over her chest. "What's up Ginny?"
"I'm sorry I silenced you. I just hate listening to you guys fight and I didn't think. I shouldn't have done that."
Though her posture was defensive, it wasn't often that Ginny apologized. But when she did, as insincere as it might come off to outsiders; her friends knew she meant it from the bottom of her heart.
Hermione slid her arm from Ron's and embraced the younger girl. "I know you didn't mean it, but thank you."
Ginny hugged her back and visibly relaxed.
"Aww, no girl fight?" asked Ron.
They both turned at the same time, each smacking an arm.
Harry laughed so hard tears leaked from the corners of his eyes. "You want some of this?" Ginny asked, raising her fist threateningly.
"N-No." Harry said between breaths. "I'm good."
Ginny stuck her tongue out but scooted over and slid her fingers through Harry's. "Just make sure you stay good, or else."
Grinning, Harry leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I think I can do that."
Hermione had wrapped her arm back into Ron's, and the two couples strolled down the lit streets. We should make this a monthly thing. Thought Harry.
"You know, we should do this at least once a month, just get away from everything and relax," Hermione suggested.
"That's just what I was thinking," Harry said. "Weird. What do you guys think?"
"Sounds good to me. Maybe we could try some other places too, see what else these Muggles can cook up," Ron suggested.
Ginny looked up at Harry. "If we can try to schedule it around my games, I'd love to."
"That we can do."
"Ok then, it's a date," she said with a smile.
"This is it, right?" Ron asked, looking down a dimly lit alleyway they had come to.
"Yeah, looks kind of ominous at night huh?"
"You can say that again, mate, even for us Aurors it looks scary," Ron replied with a half-grin.
Looking around, Hermione stepped away from Ron, snaked her hand inside her jacket and with a muttered "Lumos" provided a beacon of light. "Better?"
"Hermione, my hero!"
"Ron, you git, you're going to knock me over!" Hermione exclaimed as Ron comically tried to hug her from behind.
Ginny and Harry laughed as they walked to the back of the alley. "Well, I guess this is goodnight," he said, looking back at Hermione and Ron.
"Yeah, so we'll see you tomorrow at the Ministry Harry?" Hermione asked as Ron rested his head on top of hers.
"Yeah. Ginny has her first game in Bulgaria in a couple of days so I was going to see her off, but other than that eight AM as usual."
Ron grunted. "You think we could get away with half eight?"
Harry chuckled. "You try it and see how it works out."
"Bah, I'll see you at eight then."
"Night Ron, night Hermione," Ginny said, snuggling close to Harry.
Ron yawned. "G'night."
"Goodnight Ginny. I'll floo you before you head out, ok?" said Hermione.
"Ok, I should have the day before we leave off to rest, so that would be best."
"Ok." Hermione turned to Harry, a soft smile on her lips. "Goodnight Harry."
"Goodnight Hermione," he replied, returning her smile and feeling a warm flush run through his body.
Ron and Hermione vanished before him and with a pop of his own returned he and Ginny to his own flat.