Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, and I am not making any money from this fanfiction, more's the pity. :)
Harry threw the last of his things into his old school trunk. He didn’t know if he had everything he’d need, but then he wasn’t sure how long he’d be gone for. He had packed every book he had on magical theory, but he didn’t think it’d do much good. There was little to no information in them about magical addiction. It was a largely unknown phenomenon. Wizards couldn’t become addicted to magic, as they had their own power sources, unlike the Wicca who drew power from the earth. Dumbledore should never have told this ‘Giles’ character he would help him, no one in the wizarding world could.
He had suggested Hermione back in Dumbledore’s office, but that was just him running on default, falling back into an old safety-net. But he wasn’t at school anymore, and Hermione no longer knew everything. About to bend down to shut his trunk, Harry paused, standing completely still. He stared into the middle distance, reminiscing. After five minutes, or hours, or days, he came back to earth, blinking rapidly to clear his head. He seemed to be doing that more and more these days, just losing touch with the world.
He supposed his surroundings didn’t help much. Everything was quiet and calm, perfect like a dream. He sometimes felt like he’d been assimilated, like he’d been engulfed so completely that he didn’t think anymore. Looking around his smallish house, he thought how like opium it was. Whenever he was there, he felt doped up to the eyeballs. But no, that was impossible. A house, a street, couldn’t do that to a person, could it? Surely not, it wasn’t even magical. It was just a little suburban house in a quiet neighbourhood. The Home Counties didn’t have this effect on everyone; it was just him that felt the slow, gentle numbing of his mind whenever he saw the neat little garden and the children playing in the street.
Perhaps Dumbledore had asked him in particular to try and get Harry to have a holiday. Perhaps he didn’t think it was healthy for Harry to live all alone in a place like this, where his mind could wander for hours at a time. But then, Dumbledore had been wizard-raised; his affinity for Muggles was mainly a curious fascination, coupled with an almost paternal, if slightly condescending, fondness. To a Muggle, a haunted house filled with ghouls and ghosts was scary; to a wizard the monotony of Muggle suburbia was utterly terrifying. Harry knew Dumbledore simply wanted him to be happy, but for some reason he couldn’t understand that Harry was happy in his mundane little life. It was so quiet. Nothing ever happened, and that was how Harry liked it. He’d had things happening to him, often highly unpleasant things, ever since he’d entered the wizarding world. This was paradise.
It had been hard to convince Ron and Hermione too, when he’d shown them the place the day after he’d moved in…Harry watched Ron look around the living room with its cream wallpaper and comfortable suite of sofas and heard him give a low whistle.
‘It’s, er, it’s nice,’ Ron said, unable to make himself sound the least bit convincing.
‘Yeah,’ said Hermione a few seconds too late, ‘really… nice.’
‘You don’t like it, do you?’
Hermione fiddled for a moment with her nails, avoiding his gaze. ‘It is nice, Harry, it’s just that… that…’
Ron saved her from the dilemma of telling the truth.
‘It’s so Muggle!’
‘And what’s wrong with that?’ asked Harry, confused.
‘Well,’ said Hermione tentatively, ‘are you sure you want to live somewhere like this, Harry? You love the magical world, and, well, it’s… odd that you would choose to live somewhere that… well, not to put too fine a point on it-’
‘Somewhere that’s exactly like Privet Drive,’ Ron finished for her.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, this isn’t at all like Privet Drive,’ said Harry. ‘This is so much fresher and-’
‘Nicer?’ suggested Ron, innocently.
Hermione interrupted Harry’s angry retort before he could begin it.
‘If you like it Harry, then that’s all that matters, but… you do understand, it looks like you’re running away from the wizarding world.’
‘And if I am? If I want to live out my life in peace and quiet, what of it?’
‘Well, that’s… f-fine,’ Hermione stuttered, astonished at Harry’s vehemence.
‘It’s bloody not fine,’ said Ron hotly. ‘You heard him, Hermione, “live out my life” – you’re twenty-one bloody years old, Harry! Why would you want to live like this, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you!’
‘Ron, I’ve lived a whole life already. I don’t want any more adventures. I don’t want to be famous. I just want a little bit of peace, alright?’
‘Oh, Harry-’ Hermione began, but thought better of it. She swallowed, then tried again. ‘If you want to live here, if you want some time away from everyone, then that’s your decision. We want you to be happy. Just, don’t turn into some kind of hermit, would you Harry? Don’t run away from us, please?’
‘Of course I won’t. You two are just over-reacting. So it’s a little mundane, so what? Look, I’ve got a fireplace, I’ll hook it up to the Floo tomorrow and then I’m only a firecall away, aren’t I?’
He’d talked them round in the end, but he had known they hadn’t been entirely happy. They still weren’t, not really. They never came round, and they tried to get Harry to go out and see them as often as possible. He didn’t mind it, well, not really; even with all the noise and the permanent, semi-organised chaos.
These days, Harry preferred to stay at home, doing a bit of gardening. He kept a herb garden, a wizarding herb garden that is, and therefore full of interesting and highly useful magical plants, his one nod to the past. He found gardening very therapeutic, very relaxing, and he made sure all the plants were put to good use. He had hated potions in his Hogwarts days, but he was determined not to waste the hard work he put into growing his garden, and had learnt several years’ worth of theory which Snape had neglected to teach in order to keep to his resolution.
He’d been glad to have some time free from obligations, some time to just to nothing. He had spent all his time rushing around doing things all through the war, on barely any sleep. He’d gone straight from schoolwork to fighting, and after six years of that, six years of danger and fear and death and blood, he felt he had damn well earned some peace and quiet and the rest of the wizarding world could go hang!
And then Dumbledore had summoned him to his office, just like old times, and had given him another mission, just like old times. ‘His not to make reply, his not to question why, his but to do or die…’ well, Dumbledore hadn’t wanted Harry to end up dead, far from it, but Harry had always seemed to end up in mortal peril despite his efforts. There was something Dumbledore wasn’t telling Harry, he was sure of it.
‘Just like old times,’ he muttered to himself as he packed the last of his potions cases, and then seized his trunk before apparating away.