Harry Potter wakes up on his eighteenth birthday, feeling unusually well rested. He takes a moment to stretch, yawning and noticing the soft light pouring in through the window. Ron is still asleep, snoring softly. Harry lazily plunks his glasses on to his face after rubbing his eyes, then stands to look out at the backyard.
He knows that in the Muggle world, 18 is supposed to be an important birthday. He doesn’t feel any different, though; there’s nothing special about the mid-summer morning, about a ginger cat chasing a gnome through the Burrow’s garden. In fact, he’d almost forgotten that his birthday was even approaching, and is surprised yet oddly pleased that nobody else has mentioned it at all. Harry would love to just have a normal, peaceful day with his friends. Play some Quidditch. Enjoy one of Mrs. Weasley’s home-cooked meals.
Ron mutters something in his sleep and turns over, his face scrunched up. Harry wonders if he’s having a nightmare. They’ve all been having them, ever since the war. Rarely do they talk about their contents, but every morning all summer the three of them exchange knowing looks, the dark circles gradually lessening as the tragedy trudges further and further into the past.
Harry smiles to himself as Crookshanks finally catches the gnome he’d been chasing. Quiet footsteps approach the room and Harry turns to the door, which slowly swings open.
Hermione smiles when she sees Harry awake, then rolls her eyes at the sight of a very much asleep Ron. She presses a finger to her lips as she sits down at the edge of his bed, then leans her head toward Ron’s ear. Harry, realizing what’s about to happen, stifles his laughter as Hermione half-shouts, “Ronald!”
She backs away immediately as Ron shoots out of bed, scrambling for his wand. When he realizes his surroundings, he exhales and flops back onto the messy covers.
“Bloody hell , Hermione! Why not blast me in the face with cold water instead? Or better yet, just roll me right out of bed!”
Hermione laughs. “Both things I considered, but this was easiest.”
Ron looks at Harry, betrayed. “And you just let her do that, did you?”
Harry laughs again, shrugging. “I wanted to see what would happen.”
“Absolutely mental, both of you,” Ron mutters, shaking his head.
“It’s not my fault you chose to sleep in,” Hermione chides, kissing his cheek. “You need to get dressed and come downstairs.”
“Excellent, is it breakfast already?” Harry asks.
“Erm, yes,” Hermione says, avoiding his eye for a split second. “But you need to do something about your hair!”
“Well, I’ve just woken up,” he says defensively, reaching up to feel that his hair is an absolute disaster, no doubt caused by tossing and turning.
“Come. On.” she hisses at Ron, pulling on his arm. He attempts to stay planted firmly on his bed, but the force of her tugs lands him on the floor. He groans and stands, still blinking sleep out of his eyes.
Harry eyes Hermione suspiciously as she leaves the room, giving Ron one last warning to get dressed and come downstairs. He decides that this just must be a side effect of the new developments in their relationship and grabs a comb, heading to the bathroom to see if he can do anything about his hair. He wets the comb but finds that his hair is just too short to really be tamed by it. It still sticks up in the back and he sighs, looking at himself in the mirror.
He starts almost every morning by studying his scar. Not because he has any fondness toward it, but because he’s noticed that somehow, it’s started to fade ever so slightly. For the first month at the Burrow he’d been sure it was just a trick of the light, his eyes playing tricks on him, but then the curiosity had gotten the better of him. He’d held an older picture of himself up to the mirror, confirming that it has, in fact, softened just slightly. Not enough to really be noticeable to others, but after seventeen years of seeing it so pronounced, Harry can tell a definite difference.
He gives up on his hair, trying to flatten it one more time with his hand as he returns the comb to his and Ron’s shared room. Ron is gone, the clothes he’d slept in thrown haphazardly onto his bed. Harry puts the comb away and takes a minute to at least give his side the appearance of being organized, and once satisfied starts to head downstairs. The lack of noise in the usually lively house is mildly disconcerting, but the smell of bacon wafting up the stairs is enough to quell his worries.
When he enters the kitchen, he’s almost knocked flat backwards as he’s met with a deafening shout of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY!”
The entire Weasley family—sans Charlie, Bill, and Fleur—and Hermione are standing around the long kitchen table, a practical feast of breakfast foods steaming in heaping piles on the table. A banner stretches across the room that says ‘Happy Birthday Harry!’ and includes a few Snitches zipping between colorful bursting fireworks.
Harry gapes at the scene, his mouth opening and closing. “I…”
Before he can say anything Mrs. Weasley is upon him, kissing his forehead. “Happy birthday, dear,” she says, her voice quivering slightly.
“Mrs. Weasley, I—”
She holds up a hand to stop him. “Harry Potter, there will be no arguing today. We are celebrating, whether or not you decide to join us!” She steps back, smiling.
Hermione comes around the table, her grin borderline mad. She throws her arms around Harry, who returns to hug, still at a loss for words.
“Hermione, I don’t—”
“I agree with Mrs. Weasley, Harry. We all decided it would be best to make it a surprise because we knew you’d never agree to a big party like this.”
“You’re right, this is crazy!” Harry says, feeling slightly frustrated.
Ron shakes his head. “You’re the one who’s being crazy, mate. After everything you’ve done for all of us? This is the least we could do.”
“We even compromised,” adds Hermione. “We didn’t really get you any presents or anything, but we do have a couple of things planned, which is why we’ve started so early.”
“Really, Harry, the day will be so much nicer if you just let us do some nice things for you,” she finishes, her tone implying that the conversation is over.
Harry lets out a huff of laughter, shaking his head.
Ginny rolls her eyes, grabbing his arm and pulling him into the next room, away from everyone.
“Would you stop being so thick?”
He frowns at her. “What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean, Harry. My mum and your best friends put this wonderful day together, and you’re standing there giving them a hard time.”
He splutters for a second. “No, I—it’s just, they didn’t have to do all this just for me.”
“Just for you? Do you even know who you are?”
“I mean, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but it’s all just so much…”
She sighs, her face softening. “Of course you don’t. I’m sorry. But Harry, to be blunt with you, most of us have been worried for the last five years that you… that you wouldn’t make it this far,” she says grimly. “Every year was another year that you managed to do it, and now this is like the beginning of not having to worry about that ever again.”
He stares at her, not sure how to feel about this information. “Oh,” he breathes.
She chuckles and rolls her eyes. “You see now? And you’re right, we didn’t have to do this at all. We did it because we wanted to.” She hugs him, then steps back. “Now stop being a git and go enjoy your damn birthday.”
He smiles. “Thanks, Ginny.”
She grins back and pats him on the shoulder, returning to the kitchen.
Harry takes a minute to relax, surprised to find tears forming in his eyes. He blinks them away, laughing at himself for being ridiculous, then follows Ginny.
All eyes are on him, expressions slightly tense and curious. After a second, he smiles and says “Well, let’s eat, then!”
Once he accepts that all attention is going to be on him all day, he finds that he does rather enjoy it. He can’t remember the last time he was in the spotlight and it wasn’t about being ‘The Boy Who Lived’ or ‘The Chosen One,’ the last time people celebrated him for being just Harry, and nothing more.
Breakfast is delicious and spirits are high all around for the first time in a long time. An ineffable weight has been hanging above the Burrow for months now, its inhabitants tiptoeing around the pain they all share. There would be time, eventually, to reopen that wound and let it heal properly, but the quick cover-up is what they need now just to get through. Harry’s been itching to get out of the house and go somewhere, but he’d been instructed by the Ministry and—in his opinion, more importantly—Mr. Weasley, that it might be best for him to lie low for a while. As great as his thirst to escape is, nothing really takes precedence over his desire to avoid unnecessary and excessive praise.
Of course, he’d argued with Ron and Hermione countless times over just how unnecessary this hypothetical praise would be, but as far as Harry’s concerned, the only thing he’s done is his duty in the grand scheme of things. The words of the prophecy that still sometimes drift through his dreams had been kept well-hidden from the public, so only a select few know that it was always only him who could’ve vanquished the darkness permanently. He was hoping he’d be able to have some semblance of normality in his life post-war, but as Hermione once pointed out, he’s landed himself firmly in the middle of one of Professor Binns’ History of Magic lessons. Voldemort was perhaps the most evil wizard in history, and to be the one to defeat him…
“Harry? Are you alright?” Hermione asks quietly, trying not to draw too much attention away from the story Ron is telling to everyone. He blinks, realizing he’d been staring down at his plate.
He nods, cutting a sausage in half and popping it into his mouth. “I was just thinking,” he murmurs back.
“Anything you need to talk about?”
“Actually, yeah. Later, though. All three of us.”
She gives him a soft smile and nods, turning her gaze back toward an animated Ron. Harry tries to focus in on the story, but finds his mind wandering again in the gleeful din.
“So, what did Ginny say to you earlier?” Ron asks, badly masking the intrigue in his voice.
Harry shrugs as they walk through the overgrown grass toward the broomshed. “She just told me I was being an ass and made me realize that I’m lucky to have you lot.”
“Oh. So it wasn’t, like…”
“Like what?” Harry asks, a little defensively.
“Well,” Ron starts carefully, pulling open the wooden door. “The two of you sort of had something going on at one point, and I was wondering—”
“No,” Harry says, cutting him off, “it wasn’t like that.”
“Oh,” Ron repeats. “I mean, it would be fine if it was! I mean, I didn’t have a problem with it then, really, and now… I don’t know mate, life’s too short, you know? So don’t let me stand in the way of you shagging Ginny if that’s what you want.”
“Excellent news, let me just go let her know that it’s on, then!” he fires back, not bothering to cover the irritation in his voice.
“A-ha! So that is what’s happening!”
Harry rolls his eyes, grabbing his broom. “I wasn’t lying to you, Ron. I just don’t see her that way anymore. She’s like my sister.”
Ron eyes him suspiciously, closing the door behind them. “If you say so…”
“I do say so.”
Harry can’t really explain it himself. Something had shifted in him. He’s not sure when it started, but looking back on his relationship with Ginny, it just feels so out of place. Even thinking about Cho doesn’t make his heart jump the way it used to, the way it did even after the weird falling out they’d had.
“Well, if that ever changes—”
“Could you just shut up and get the ball so we can start? You’ve forgotten it,” Harry snaps, not wanting to spend any more time on the subject. He mellows out his voice as he continues. “It’s my birthday, remember?”
Ron grumbles something about ‘being just as confusing as a girl’ as he begrudgingly trots back over to the broomshed, returning with a tattered Quaffle.
Harry and Ron both let out a soft cry as George Apparates right next to them, grinning. “About to get started, are we?” George is perhaps the most noticeably changed out of the members of the family; his previous tendency for mischief and chaos has diminished considerably, flattening out into a more stony, sarcastic manner. The store in Diagon Alley has been closed all summer, though he’s mentioned on a few occasions that he does plan to get back to it eventually.
“I risk sounding like mum when I say it, but do you really have to Apparate everywhere still? You passed ages ago, give it a damn rest.”
The sentence has barely left Ron’s lips before there’s another crack, causing Harry and Ron to flinch again. Ginny smiles, looking up at George. “Yeah, Georgie, it’s my turn to make these two wet their pants every twenty minutes.”
Harry laughs as Ron chucks the Quaffle at her head; she catches it and rolls her eyes, tossing it lazily to George.
“Why can’t you two be more like Hermione? See, here she comes now. Walking, like a sane person might.”
“Who’s sane?” she asks as she joins them, one eyebrow quirked slightly.
“According to Ron, you are. Can we just get started already? George and I have been dying to kick your asses since last time.”
“Last time,” Ron argues, “Harry had a cold and kept sneezing every time I passed him the ball.”
Ginny snorts. “The sneezing thing happened one time. The rest, he just dropped.”
Harry nods, patting Ron on the shoulder. “Don’t know why you insist on playing my partner every time, we both know I don’t do well with a Quaffle.”
“So, shall we play first to fifty points, then switch off so we all get a chance to play?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Ron says, looking over at Hermione. “We’ve decided that as a gift to Harry, Hermione won’t be playing.”
“Alright, that’s a little harsh,” Ginny says as Harry nods, narrowing his eyes at Ron for being tactless.
Hermione simply laughs. “Please, you all know I’m absolutely rubbish on a broom. I’ll just slow down your fun.”
“Harry, really, I don’t mind! I have a new book I wanted to start anyway,” she says, holding up her hand to reveal a book clutched in it.
“Well, that’s settled, then!” George cuts in impatiently. “Now can we fly already?”
Harry and Ron lose again. Twice. The first match is an absolute shutout; Ginny and George are just better Chasers than them. To his surprise, Harry doesn’t drop the Quaffle at all today, but getting the ball through the shabby hoops is where he runs into problems. Ron, however, drops the ball multiple times, always returning to the sky red in the face and mumbling apologies to Harry. Harry finds that he truly doesn’t care one bit, and just feels happy to be on his broom. More than once, while zipping around, taking turns as tight as he can, he hears Ron’s voice shouting at him to remind him that they’re in the middle of a game, to which he returns with a bit of reluctance.
The second match Ron scores twice and gets a little too overconfident, completely blowing the rest of his chances to do so. They start a third match, but it comes to an abrupt halt when Ron and Harry collide in the air, both thrown from their brooms. There’s a shriek from below as Hermione whips out her wand, catching them both with well-timed cushioning charms.
“And we had that last match, we did,” Ron grumbles as he all but throws his broom back into the shed, the Quaffle violently following it. Harry chuckles to himself.
“It’s really not that big a deal Ron, I don’t mind losing.”
“Well I do! As if Ginny’s head needed to get any bigger…”
Harry just laughs again and shakes his head, giving Ron a firm pat on the back before joining Hermione in the grass, protected by the shade of a gnarly tree.
“Good save, by the way,” he says as he sits, grinning at her.
She returns a half smile, eyes flitting up to his from her book. “You’re just lucky I was here,” she says, not looking up, her smile betraying her indifferent tone.
“What time is it anyway?” Ron asks as he slumps down next to him, stretching out onto his back. “Reckon I could eat a whole ham about now.”
Hermione rolls her eyes, still not looking up from the book. “It’s almost noon. We can have something to eat before we, er…” She does look up now. “Well, before the next part of your surprise, Harry.”
He groans, following Ron’s lead and laying back, his arms behind his head. “I think I’ve had enough surprises for a lifetime, honestly.”
“But these are nice surprises!” she says, her tone pleading with him just slightly.
He sighs. “Alright, I’ll play along.”
“So you want me to put on a blindfold and you’re just going to Apparate us somewhere?” Harry asks, holding the cloth in his hands.
“Don’t you trust us?” Hermione asks, tapping her foot impatiently.
“Of course I do, you know that, I just—”
“Then on with it!”
He looks between them one last time, shaking his head as he ties it around his face.
“And good luck trying to peek, mate. She’s bewitched it.”
Harry frowns, trying to pull it up so he can peer down at his feet, but sure enough it won’t budge. He then tries undoing his own knot, but it stays in place. “This is cruel,” he mutters, letting his hands come to rest at his sides.
“Ready?” comes Hermione’s voice from next to him as her arm loops into his.
Ron’s arm does the same on his left side and he sighs.
“Here we go then!”
There’s the familiar pressure, like being squeezed through a tube, folded up and shoved through a mail slot, and then a pop and the feeling of feet on ground once more.
“Right, can you get this off my face now?” Harry asks almost immediately, the two arms in his tightening their grip slightly.
“Don’t be impatient, there’s just a short walk—”
“We have to walk somewhere?”
He feels Hermione swat his shoulder. “Yes, you’ll see.” Ron laughs through his nose as they start forward, Harry listening to his own breathing and the sound of quiet footsteps on stone as they go. He’s desperately listening around him for clues, his heart pounding as they guide him. They make a few turns, the silence around them a bit disconcerting. Finally, they come to a stop.
“Alright, we’ve made it,” Hermione says, a little breathlessly. “Blindfold’s coming off now.”
Harry winces as the cloth is removed and light hits his face, causing him to blink rapidly. Once he’s adjusted, his heart stops.
They’re standing in front of his old home in Godric’s Hollow.