"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
-J.K. Rowling, the Chamber of Secrets.
Harry should have known he could not escape his choices after Death.
He merely wondered why he was faced with a squalling infant and the Headmaster he killed.
Dumbledore looked grave, his face no less haggard in death than it had been in life. In the distance, he heard a train whistle.
"This was not what I planned."
The old man mused, as he knelt beside the infant. Harry saw the baby bore red eyes. Harry chose to remain silent in death, as he had often chosen in life.
Dumbledore straightened, holding the babe.
"But I suppose it turned out alright in the end. You, my boy, have one last choice to make."
Harry lifted a brow. He had rather thought Death was final. In fact, he was counting on it, as he had sent far too many people there now to worry about them coming back.
Dumbledore sighed, looking down at the child he held.
"You do not need to remain Dead, if you wish. I am bound to tell you this, for there can be no lies here. I would quite think the world is better off without you, however."
Harry chose not to agree, though he saw the merit in such a statement. Honestly, he thought he was better off without the world.
"It was not the Hallows that saved you as I had planned. Instead, it appears you lied to me long ago, when you claimed the Stone destroyed. It has rested within you this entire time, undoing the damage you wrought upon yourself, storing up its serum in your blood, running its magic through your own. I always wondered if it was sentient; if it could choose its owners. Nicholas rather thought it was a rather boring rock that tended to sweat immortality by accident. It has given you a reprieve from Death from the poison you spread through my school."
At that, Harry finally spoke.
"Nothing can stop the Killing Curse. Not even the Philosophers Stone."
Dumbledore smiled with grim amusement.
"I'm afraid, no matter how proficient you are at casting that curse, that you failed in your latest attempt."
"I made the choice to cast it. I do not fail."
Dumbledore laughed, a mocking sound that rang and echoed against the stone walls of an abandoned train station.
"What was it you told me, my boy? You always make good choices. Well, it appears that fact is true. Your magic simply would not make a bad choice even when your mind told it it was so. The curse instead killed this infant, this young Horcrux, that had secreted itself away within you for the last years of your life."
Harry paused, his mind racing, and evaluated that statement.
Indeed, the killing curse had been a bad idea. Why kill himself twice over? His body had been dying in a particularly bad way, of course. And he had wanted to be thorough.
Harry sighed, and met the narrowed blue eyes of the man in front of him. He might as well believe the man, though he didn't agree. He had said Death prevented lies.
Harry smiled and spoke.
"Life is always a good choice."
And the world around him dissolved with the sound of an oncoming train.
When Harry awoke, he was cradled in soft arms, and there were tears on his face.
He was relieved when he realized they were not his own.
Hermione, however, dropped him in her shock and the pain in his head nearly sent him unconscious again.
"Harry! Oh Merlin, Harry! You were dead! I did all the checks, oh Merlin, Harry, Harry, Harry…"
She babbled on, and Harry looked over and met Theo's eyes, and saw the happiness warring with sudden reserve.
Perhaps Theo, deep inside, would have preferred Harry stay dead, and Hermione stay his alone. But the Slytherin was only as selfish as Harry himself was, and Harry too might have felt the same were the positions reversed.
It was a good thing Hermione did not seem inclined to make a choice between the two. Either option would have been bad.
Harry let Theo make the announcement that Voldemort was dead. There were a million more choices to be made, a million decisions underway.
Hogwarts would have to be rebuilt, as would a dozen other wizarding settlements across Britain, as would Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley.
Harry decided he wanted no part in rebuilding a civilization. He would leave that to the witches and wizards who actually cared about it.
Instead, Harry chose to go on vacation, and his shadows followed him.
Theo's father had been among the Death Eaters killed at Hogwarts. Harry saw the man shed no tears over it.
Hermione's parents, on the other hand, were apparently living in Sydney, Australia, with no notion that they had a daughter.
So it was that while the entirety of wizarding Britain was celebrating the defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by The-Man-Who-Lived-Again, Lord Potter and Lord Nott escorted Ms. Granger to Australia to right a wrong.
Mr. Granger, Harry, and Theo sat still on the couch while Mrs. Granger and Hermione talked, explained, talked some more, and finally made the decision that more talking should be done during dinner.
Later, once the women had disappeared for more talking away from listening male ears, silence reigned for nearly ten minutes of blessed relief.
Then Mr. Granger sighed.
"At least you two don't talk a lot."
Theo and Harry exchanged glances; Theo smirked and Harry hummed in acknowledgment of the statement.
Hermione watched her mother finally accept what she had just told her, in far too many words, most of which where only hinting at the possibility that her daughter might, truly, be involved with two very nice, wealthy, wizards.
At the same time.
She didn't see fit to mention that they were also dangerous killers, one of which may or may not be a psychopath and both of which at the least had a sociopathic bend.
"Is this… common, among your kind?"
Hermione tried not to wince at the choice of words.
Her mom bit her lip, a gesture Hermione had inherited.
"But… will you get married? Will you just... choose one?"
Hermione's eyes widened. She supposed being involved usually did lead to marriage, and as far as she was aware, wizarding marriage ceremonies generally only contained two parties. As did muggle ones.
"I'm not sure we have to get married. At least, not for a long time. Maybe never."
Her mother looked disappointed, and the worry only grew in her eyes. Hermione braced herself for the next question.
She felt the air leave her lungs as the words impacted.
"Well, dear, how will you know who the father of your children are?"
Hermione suddenly realized that she had more things to be worried about than acceptance of a lifestyle.
She tried to imagine either Theo or Harry as fathers, and felt herself pale.
Hermione was oddly silent when they left her parents behind with several fond farewells and more words than Harry thought necessary for the situation.
She was still silent when they arrived at one of the Nott properties in the Norwegian mountains. Harry wondered if the acts they had committed in the last year had finally impacted her mind. He hoped not.
Theo was the one who approached him three days of silence later, after having held Hermione through a restless night where she tossed and turned, blubbered more than once, and ranted far too much.
Harry had left after the first hour to seek his own rest elsewhere.
Theo took up his customary position against the nearest wall, casually elegant in his wizard robes, their texture far finer than anything he had worn while they lived in a tent. The man was a pureblood Lord in every inch of his bearing, in the regal tilt of his chin, in the way he spoke and the manner in which he held Harry's gaze.
"She wants to get married."
Harry stood, looking out the wide window upon the snow covered mountains, and considered his choices. Theo continued.
"I would prefer the Nott line to not end with myself."
Another wrinkle. Children? A very bad choice at the moment. Especially if they were his. Theo's voice rumbled behind him.
"Not now, of course. My estate is near ruin if it is not carefully managed due to the recent negligence."
Negligence was a wonderful word to describe war, murder, and the near decimation of an entire population. Harry approved. Theo sighed.
"She's a woman. They need stability. We just need to make a choice."
Choices. He knew how to make them, how to weed the good from the bad, the better from the worse. And Hermione was most definitely a woman. He chose to forgive her that shortcoming.
Theo moved closer, frustration edging into his tone.
"It's a simple legal matter, and has no bearing on our personal life. But I do, at some point, wish to re-enter society. I am Lord Nott now, and that carries responsibility. I doubt Hermione wants to hide forever either."
Harry did. He wanted to lose himself in snow and isolation, with his books and perhaps a nice trail to run every morning and night. He would be happy never stepping again into a world that did not understand why good choices were sometimes evil. Why the right choice could also be very, very bad.
Theo sighed again, and Harry heard him run a hand through hair that had grown longer in the last month, a soft sound.
"She's talking about taking her N.E.W.T.s. Maybe attending that magical university in Greece. I told her money was no limitation, we would provide for it if she wished. We can't cage her, Harry. We can't tell her no."
Harry didn't intend to. That would be a bad choice indeed. Did he look like a fool?
Harry turned to face his shadow, saw the consternation plain in Theo's eyes. He decided to speak plainly, to lay out his choices years in advance. Why not? It was a good thing, to make plans, now that the future looked more kindly toward them.
"You will marry her. She will have our children in a few years. The first child is the Potter Heir; the second, yours. That should cover our familial duties, yes? She can go to whatever school she desires, whenever she wants. I can live anywhere."
Theo stared for a moment, nearly agape, but his manners were too ingrained to let the expression pass.
"I think that's the most I've ever heard you say in one sentence. Merlin, that's callous. Do you even care?"
Harry only raised an eyebrow. If he didn't care, he wouldn't have spoken.
Theo groaned in his throat.
"I'm not going to tell her that. She will strangle me."
Harry turned back to the window.
"Come on, Harry. It's not in the least romantic… Women like romance!"
The snow looked marvelously white outside.
"...What do you expect me to say? 'Harry has it all planned out?' 'Don't deviate from the Potter list of life goals?' She wants feeling and flowers and reassurance and…"
Harry wondered if there were trails outside the cabin. The slopes looked pretty steep if so.
"...and children! Should we tell her to wait until she's done with school? Should she wait to start school until after? Should we hire a housekeeper? The elves can only do so much…"
Had Theo been bottling these questions up the entire time he had known him? Where had his silent shadow gone? Harry was missing him.
"...Harry, really. We need to bring Hermione in on this. You can't just decide for us how things will be. It needs to be an actual discussion! Which means actually talking!"
Harry abruptly wanted to either hide, or kill something. Hermione solved his dilemma before he needed to make a choice.
"I've been right here the whole time, Theo. I really appreciate you trying to intermediate for me, but its not necessary."
Harry heard Theo grumble. He heard the sound of a touch, then more touches. He was glad that touching and words seldom coincided in their relationship.
Hermione spoke again, her voice soft and soothing.
"I'm going to go to Greece, come with me."
Theo murmured agreement, the man's mind apparently already fuzzy. He had noticed that Hermione did that to a wizard. It worked out nicely for her, as it usually ended with her getting her way in things. Any choice seemed good when Hermione spoke it in one's ear, while her hands worked magic.
Harry heard them leave, and rested his palms against the clear glass.
He found himself smiling in the silence.
Snape and Malfoy reappeared as suddenly as they had left the year before.
Harry had seen neither of their faces among the Death Eaters he and his shadows had slain, and suspected they had fled.
There was the small matter that Snape was wanted for Dumbledore's murder. Snapes only request was Harrys help in mending that little problem, as the price of his silence on Harry's own involvement.
When Harry met with the two, Theo and Hermione were at his back, their hands linked, and they both received strange looks from Malfoy, who seemed to prefer to skulk behind Snape.
The current Minister, voted in by an emergency session of what was left of the Wizengamot, accepted the story of the events without a single question.
Kingsley knew it would be a bad choice to question The-Man-Who-Lived, and he needed every scrap of public opinion he could muster.
Harry liked the large black man. He could recognize someone who understood about choices.
"I'll put out a proclamation in tomorrows paper. I suggest waiting a month or so before rejoining public life, Mr. Snape, so the news may sink in."
Snape inclined his head. Harry figured the wizard would return to Hogwarts with what was left of the staff.
Hermione had told him McGonagall had survived, as well as Flitwick and Hagrid.
Hogwarts had begun with four founders before; it could do so again.
Harry spoke most with feather light touches and hard strokes. He whimpered and moaned and only air passed his lips, but his fingers told the true story.
His magic smothered them; it rose to the surface in uncontrollable waves, at times violent, at times a contented cat, rolling over for a caress. Always it hovered like a cloud, a protective shield and yet also a cage. There would be no escape.
Harry made the choices for everyone when he was with them. He could not stop himself. Even when his mind became unfocused, when his eyes closed and his body shuddered, even then the release itself was a choice he made.
And when he chose to slip out into the night, the smell of power and electricity lingered behind him, an ever-present reminder.
Hermione lay beside Theo, their shadows lost in the dark.
Her voice whispered to him as he lay still, near sleep, her fingers tracing runic patterns on his back.
"Why does he always leave us? Why can he never spend an entire night here?"
Theo murmured back with a sleepy grumble.
"He runs. Always has."
Hermione pressed a kiss to his shoulder, rested her chin on his back.
"What is he running from?"
Theo sighed and turned, gathering her close against him.
"His good choices."
The green light broke across the sky in ripples of color, Killing Curse green, the color of his eyes.
Harry stood at the top of the mountain and laughed into the star filled night, laughed at the green light of the aurora borealis as it hovered above him.
It was cold, and beautiful, and good.
Wasn't that what the Christian God had said? It is very good.
And it was. It was all the flavors of good. Wonderful perfection, awesome majesty.
The silence was only broken by the wind, by his laughter, by the beating of his heart. Harry imagined he could feel the Stone within his belly, pulsing and laughing and filling his veins with its own magic. Would it affect his children? Would he age? Would Harry always remain as he was?
Thoughts for another night.
Tonight, his good choice was to enjoy all the other good choices. He ran to embrace them, he ran always towards them, seeking them, loving them.
Theo and Hermione did not understand. Harry knew they did not. How could they? Their lives were like boats tossed on the sea of chance, they could steer and put sails up and down, manipulate their lives, but always the wind pushed them forward.
Harry could choose his wind. He could choose his sea. He could choose whether he even wished to sail.
His good choice now was freedom. Only his shadows linked him back to earth, only his shadows made him care.
Harry began his running descent, the green light marking his path, his magic making his feet light, sending him in a jumping flight at times as he flew across the mountain on strong legs, heading back to the shadows he had left below.
He had more good choices to make.
~A Rule: Reviews are always a Very Good Choice.~