Dedicated to my wonderful, beautiful friend, Camilla. I hope this is okay, love. I tried my best.
"Hermione… you're sure you want to go back?" Harry asked, sweat trickling down his brow from the hot July sun beating down on Diagon Alley. His arms were laden with books he was helping her carry. Beside him, Ron let go of the overflowing cauldron in his hands and sat on its rim, panting softly.
"Yeah, 'Mione," he said, pulling his nearly empty flask of pumpkin juice out of Hermione's cauldron and downing it in one gulp. "Hogwarts is great and all, but don't you think your experiences are enough to get you, oh, I don't know… any job you could possibly fancy?"
"Oh, don't be silly, Ronald," Hermione said, examining a set of quills and parchment in the window of Amanuensis Quills.
"I'm not," Ron groaned. "I'm just saying, don't you think saving the Wizarding World is a bit more impressive than a couple N.E.W.T.s?"
"Now you're just being cheeky." Hermione's lips twisted into a smirk. "You know very well I plan on achieving more than just a couple of N.E.W.T.s."
She dragged her eyes away from the shop window long enough to press her lips to his for a brief moment. Harry shook his head, half in amusement, and half in annoyance. Of course, he was happy for his two best friends (and certainly happy that their sexual tension was no longer so thick that even a severing charm couldn't slice through it), but being witness to their few moments of flirtation made him wish Ginny was around. She'd taken ill a few days prior and wasn't very much up to anything, to Harry's dismay. He'd have enjoyed her company.
Ginny was, of course, returning to Hogwarts for her final year. Mrs. Weasley, already horrified at Harry and her sons for not completing their schooling, wasn't about to let her youngest daughter follow in their example, much to Ginny's dismay.
"I was hoping to try out for the Holyhead Harpies in September," she'd told Harry after Mrs. Weasley shut her down for the third time. "Their Seeker lost an arm and they're holding tryouts for her replacement."
Harry was sure waiting until the coming year to try out for the team wouldn't affect Ginny's chances of being accepted. She was an extraordinarily skilled Seeker, having even managed to beat him to the Snitch a number of times during their games at the Burrow.
As Hermione debated over two different quill sets in the window, Harry unbuttoned his sweater and draped it over her cauldron. It was too hot, even for it being July. He ran his fingers through his messy black hair, the tip of his thumb brushing his scar. It was… oddly surreal for Harry, not feeling the fear that his scar might start to burn, alerting him to Voldemort's excited emotions. And though the scar no longer served as a connection between he and Voldemort, Harry thought dismally, the lightning-bolt on his forehead would never be just a scar as he so wanted it to. Everywhere he went, especially then, when the entire Wizarding world knew of what he'd done, there were whispers, stares, and strangers wanting to shake his hand.
Being the boy who lived had been tiring enough. Harry almost thought that being the boy who lived, then died, then lived again, then helped defeat the most powerful Dark Wizard of all time was even more difficult. Almost. He had to admit, seeing his face unnecessarily plastered on Chocolate Frog cards was much easier than having to look death straight in the face on countless occasions.
"Ron, do you mind coming with me? I just need to get some new quills and parchment," said Hermione, setting the few books she was carrying in her cauldron.
"No problem," said Ron quickly. "You don't mind watching this, do you, Harry? Easier to leave it out here than take it in the store."
"Of course," said Harry. "I'm going to head over to Fortescue's. I'll just take it with me."
"Thank you, Harry," Hermione said brightly, taking hold of Ron's hand and pulling him toward the shop. "We'll meet you there in a bit."
The ring of the bell on the door as Ron and Hermione entered the shop was lost in the voices and everyday sounds of Diagon Alley. Harry put one hand on either side of the cauldron, sucked in a large breath, and tried to lift it off the ground.
"Bloody hell," he gasped as it slipped right out of his grip. Several witches and wizards turned to look in his direction, and almost all of them started whispering excitedly to each other immediately after. Harry kept his head low as he bent down to pick up a potion bottle that toppled out of the cauldron, flattening his hair onto his forehead in an attempt to cover his scar.
"Pardon me, sir," a stout wizard with a white beard said, hurrying up to Harry with his arm outstretched. "Forgive me for asking as you must get this all the time, but aren't you Harry Potter?"
Several more heads turned at the sound of Harry's name, and those who'd already been staring gasped in admiration of the man brave enough to approach Harry Potter.
"Er, yeah," said Harry, awkwardly shaking the man's hand. "I guess I am."
The man's eyes widened and Harry couldn't help but notice the slight trembling of his arm as he pulled away. "Nathan Framingham, Mr. Potter, sir. You must know my grandson. He was a third-year Hufflepuff when you got to Hogwarts," the man said.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, scratching the back of his neck. "I must have, um, never gotten around to speaking with him."
The man did not seem at all disappointed. He grasped Harry's hand again in both of his and said, "Sorry to waste your time, Mr. Potter, but I swore that I'd thank you someday. You're the reason my family is still alive."
"No, sir, I - you don't understand, I haven't done anything - "
"Oh, nonsense," said the man. "The Wizarding world is indebted to you, Mr. Potter. As you young'uns say, 'we owe you one.'"
The man chuckled to himself and clapped Harry on the shoulder before making his way back into the crowd, leaving Harry slightly red in the face and feeling as though a thousand eyes were being thrust upon him. He fumbled inside his mokeskin pouch for his wand, which he'd chosen to stop carrying in his pocket as a result of Moody's old advice.
"Wingardium Leviosa," said Harry quietly, pointing his wand at Hermione's cauldron and trying his hardest not to draw attention to himself. The cauldron lifted itself off the ground, floating in front of Harry as he started walking, head down, to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.
It was hardly the place Harry remembered from his third year. After it was demolished by the Death Eaters and its owner killed, Florean's son, Raymond, had to step up and take care of the shop and its refurbishments. Harry, who had not stopped in the parlour for many years, was happy to see that a few things from his young memories had not changed. The glasses were still the same as they had been all those years ago, as were, much to Harry's delight, the cool-inducing ceiling fans.
"Ah, Harry!" Raymond exclaimed, much to Harry's dismay. "Thought I'd never see you here. How do you like the new place?"
"It's wonderful," Harry said, pretending to ignore the newfound stares as he let the cauldron rest on the ground. "Your father would have been proud."
"I like to think so," said Raymond softly, his eyes drifting to the framed, smiling and waving portrait of his deceased father by the entrance. He brightened again after a few moments, turning back to Harry. "So what'll it be, then, Mr. Potter? Anything you'd like. It's on the house."
"Honestly, sir, I couldn't - "
"I insist!" he said, gesturing grandly to the many ice cream flavors beside him. "Anything you'd like."
"Um, I'll take a scoop of peppermint chocolate chip," Harry decided after a moment's pondering.
"Sure thing, Mr. Potter, coming right up!" As soon as Raymond turned his back, Harry slipped two Galleons in the jar set on the counter for tips.
"Some heat London's pouring down on us, eh, Harry?" Raymond said, handing Harry his ice cream.
"I'll say," said Harry, taking a spoonful and relishing in the icy treat. "Well, er, thanks for the ice cream, sir."
"Any time, Harry," he said, nodding as Harry made for the door. "Give the Weasley and that Granger girl my best, won't you?"
"Uh, sure!" Harry called back just as the door closed behind him.
It was awfully odd, Harry thought, that people who he'd never met before managed to be so formal about talking to him as though they were old friends.
Harry made a bee-line for the single shaded table left, all the others being occupied by sweating witches and wizards with too-thick robes. In his haste, he knocked into a small girl with brown hair, wearing Muggle clothes and carrying a small, caged owl in her hand.
"Oh, sir, I'm terribly sorry!" the small girl squeaked, helping Harry pick up the few things the collision had knocked out of the cauldron.
"Quite alright. My fault, really," Harry said, waving his wand so that the several items that had rolled under chairs and tables were swept back into the cauldron. The little girl stared in amazement.
"I take it you haven't seen much of that," he said, a slight smile playing at his lips. The girl laughed sheepishly.
"I've seen a fair bit," she said, "but it's kind of hard to get used to. I'm… oh, what do they call it? … Muggle-born, see. First time in Diagon Alley. Say, you think they'll teach me how to do that at Hogwarts?" she asked him, motioning toward the objects finding their own ways back into the cauldron.
Harry laughed. "Not for another few years, I don't think. Almost positive Summoning Charms aren't taught until fourth year."
The girl pouted. "Pity. I could use it when Mum tells me to clean my room." The girl held out her hand. "My name's Hayley Bennett, by the way. What's yours?"
"Harry," replied Harry promptly. "Harry Potter."
Her eyes fell on Harry's forehead and immediately went wide.
Oh, no, Harry thought silently. Here it comes.
"That's a rather interesting scar you have there, Harry," said Hayley curiously. "How'd you get it?"
Harry was rather taken aback. Could it be, someone had no idea who he was? It was like a drink of water after a five mile run: welcome and extraordinarily refreshing.
"It's a boring story, honestly," said Harry, grinning widely. "Terribly generic. Nothing special, really."
"Did it hurt when you got it?" she asked him, her small hand reaching out. Harry winced slightly, and relaxed soon after. This wasn't Voldemort's cruel, pain-inflicting touch from the graveyard, or a fan's hard, excited stroke. It was the touch of a genuinely curious little girl, something Harry had never thought he would experience.
"You know, I don't remember," he said. "I was just a baby when I got it. I'm pretty sure it hurt more while I was at school than when I actually got it."
"Scars don't hurt once they're fully healed, Harry," Hayley said teasingly. "Probably just stress headaches from exams."
"You know what," Harry said, his grin widening as he straightened up. "You're probably right."
Another girl, no taller than Hayley with wild black hair, scurried up beside her, several books in her arms.
"Hayley, your parents said not to wander off," she scolded, reminding Harry of a young Hermione. "My parents have been trying to assure them for the past five minutes that you're probably fine - oh!"
The books cascaded out of the girl's hands, one of them pushing Hayley's ruffled owl a few inches to the side.
"Oh… oh my!" the girl exclaimed, her hands covering her mouth as she looked up at Harry.
"Oh, right," Hayley said calmly, extending one arm toward Harry. "Kori, this is Harry Potter! Harry, this is Kori. I've just now met her, see, she's a pure-blood and - "
"You're Harry Potter," whispered Kori, her eyes wider than Harry thought eyes could possibly get. "You're Harry Potter."
"Well, um, it was certainly nice meeting the two of you," Harry said, flicking his wand to levitate the cauldron once more. Kori squeaked in surprise and looked up at Harry in wonder. "Have fun at Hogwarts. Oh, and don't trouble Peeves. He takes no pity on first-years."
Harry's head snapped toward the voice, and soon Ron and Hermione appeared out of the throng of witches and wizards.
"There you are, Harry!" Hermione said. "We've just escaped a group of fifth years all trying to snog Ron." She laughed, and Harry's gaze switched to Ron who looked slightly awed.
"Could hardly get them off of me," he said, bemused. "Bloody crazy some people, aren't they, mate?"
"And, really, Harry," Hermione continued, "you and Ron should think of asking Kingsley to find others to help him round up the stray Death Eaters and come back to Hogwarts for - "
"Hayley, Hayley, it's Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, too!" Kori said excitedly. "Oh, I can't believe it! Hermione, I heard rumors you were going back to Hogwarts but I couldn't bring myself to believe it was true!"
"Kori, what are you doing?" said Hayley, coming up to tap her friend on the shoulder. "You're treating them like they're famous or something. We gotta go!"
Hayley pulled her dumbstruck friend by the sleeve. "Catch you later, Harry. My mum's going to be furious if I don't head back soon!"
Harry waved goodbye to the girls, not long after hearing Kori's voice exclaim, "But it was really them, Mum! Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger! Together! Here! In Diagon Alley!"
Hermione laughed. "Your fan club, Harry?"
"Hardly." Harry grinned. "One of them had no idea who I was."
"You're joking," said Ron, dropping a set of quills into the cauldron as it floated in front of them. The trio started back into the crowd. "You've got to be joking. You're Harry bloody Potter, for crying out loud. How could she not know who you were?"
"Muggle-born," Harry said, waving again when he caught sight of Hayley and Kori with their parents.
"See, Mum, I told you they were here!"
"That explains it," Hermione laughed. "Must've been a nice change for you."
"I'll say," sighed Harry.
And it was nice. It was hard to find a place Harry could go where people weren't staring at his scar and wanting to shake his hand. Aside from being amongst the Weasley and his old school friends, there was no where Harry could be just Harry.
And maybe Harry would never really be just Harry, but there were times that made him almost believe he could be, and those few moments made him feel better than fame ever could.