A/N: Just to keep in mind that English is my second language. So, thanks to excessivelyperky this chapter went through beta and revision.
I apologize for the long wait for this chapter but it didn't want to be written. I hope that the final result doesn't show the blood of the battle it was to finish it.
CHAPTER 9 – AND ON WE GO
PERCY & HERMIONE
The bags were packed and by the door, ready to be taken away.
"This will be really weird," Ron commented. "Going back home with Percy. And he says he won't be going back to the Ministry."
Hermione finished her second tour around the room to be sure they weren't forgetting anything. "I think it's admirable that he can rethink his position and opinions and then have the courage to act upon this change."
Ron lost his faraway look and turned to his wife. "We need to be courageous about changes, too."
"Yes," Hermione sat by his side. "I think both of us need to be able to accept changes."
"It will be a bit like when we started dating."
"Maybe," Hermione agreed. "But we will be stronger and happier."
"What you think Harry would say if he saw us here?"
"Probably the exact same thing he said before our wedding: 'You guys are really sure that this what you want?' It was what he asked us when we told him about the marriage, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. He said we were too young, that we should experiment a bit before making such a big decision…" Ron trailed of.
"Well, he was right. But I'm not going to tell him that!" Hermione said, while Ron smiled.
"But it doesn't mean we can't be right too," she continued. "We can make this work! Can't we?"
Ron saw the need for reassurance behind her 'know-it-all' display and looked into his wife's eyes, letting himself be carried away by memories, diving into that warm brown gaze.
"Yeah," he finally answered, pulling a deep sigh from Hermione, who was waiting nervously for his confirmation.
"I think we can pull this off. Maybe it will be a bit harder than we expected, but we will be fine," Ron smiled and offered his hand, which Hermione took with enthusiasm.
"It feels a bit like our adventures at Hogwarts. You know, running into something without really knowing where we were going or what we would find," she said.
"But we always got out of it ok, at the end," he replied. "And this time, we didn't even get bloody, so it should be an improvement."
"But this time I was the one to lead us in all the trouble…"
"Well, you sure had to learn something from Harry and me after all this time," Ron said with a smirk.
Hermione slapped his arm playfully and the couple fell into an embrace, basking in each other's warmth and love. A knock at their door separated the couple. Ron went to open it.
"Hello, Ron, Hermione. Are you two ready to go?"
"Yes," Hermione glanced around one last time. "Everything is packed and we are ready to go home."
"It's kinda strange, isn't? This was suppose to be a fun vacation and not the whole discover-thyself trip…" Ron comment looking around the room.
"Ron, I'm shocked," Percy said. "Profound and serious comments coming from you?"
"Well, I would say everyone here grew a little in this vacation, git," Ron answered without any meanness in his tone.
"Yes, I have to agree," Percy said. "Not what I was expecting at all, I must agree. But, as surprises go, this one was quite all right."
"At least it gave us something to build on. In nicer way than what I expected," Hermione commented.
Percy shook his head. "So let's go. We should be able to be home for lunch," he said and helped Ron to carry the bags.
The trio walked to the receptionist desk and dealt with the last details of the hotel before the departure.
SEVERUS & ALBUS
"What are you doing just sitting there?" Snape asked Harry, who looked lost sitting on the bed.
The black haired young man turned to his ex-professor and seemed to think hard about to answer him. "I'm a bit lost. I don't know… Everything seemed so much clearer before…"
"Well, there was a clear goal before: to end the war through exterminating the Dark Lord."
"You still can't call him by his name?" Harry asked a bit aghast.
"Voldemort! Satisfied?" Snape answered with a sneer.
"Yes," Harry smiled silly.
"Whatever!" The older man made a gesture with his hand, signifying that it wasn't important. "So, it's obvious that the focus and target were clearer before. But it shouldn't be so hard to find something new to set your goals on, Harry."
"Well… I feel… lost… And Ron and Hermione are married now," Harry answered with a bit of contempt. "We won't be working together anymore…"
"This is called 'growing up', Harry. Eventually even you will have to mature."
Harry blew a raspberry toward the Potions Master. "Not really."
"Really, Harry!" Snape sat by the younger man. "It's not so bad. The goals change and you might drift a bit apart from your childhood friends, but you will find new interests and you will meet new people…"
"But it might not work!" Harry jumped out of the bed and started pacing. "How I will know that the people that come close want really to be my friend and are not looking for a close up with fame? Or even worse, want a chance for revenge?"
Severus observed the young man ran his hand over his messy hair with nervousness. "Maybe you won't know in the beginning…"
"But you will learn with time!" The Potions Master didn't let Harry interrupt him. "Takes time and takes some pain, but you will learn, Harry, and you will be enriched by all these lessons."
"You didn't look that enriched by your experiences at Hogwarts."
"Took me quite some time to really understand and learn. This… fantasy helped me to see what was around me… and in me." Severus answered quietly.
"I don't what to wait twenty years to understand things!" Harry exploded.
"Don't be impatient, Potter!" Snape sneered. And with a deep sigh, he continued. "It won't take that long for you, Harry. You have a… good heart, an innocent soul, and you will be all right."
"I killed… not only Voldemort but some Death Eaters too… How can you say I have an innocent soul?" Harry asked, his head bowed in shame.
"You destroyed evil, Harry. And the proof of your innocent soul is that you feel guilty and shamed by the necessity of it. You didn't get hardened. And that's why you will be ok and won't take twenty years also."
"I wanted revenge on Dumbledore, that's why I came here…" Harry whispered.
"I figured that much." Snape sighed. "But you backed out when Mr. Roarke asked you to. No harm done. And the old coot did need a wake up call. Let's just hope that worked."
Harry snorted. "As if…"
"That's enough, Potter! Enough of guilt, enough of shame, enough of stalling!"
"And what I should do now, Professor?"
"Go live! I asked Tattoo and he said that the Muggles like to go 'backpacking' as a way to know the world and 'find themselves'".
"Backpacking?" Harry asked surprised.
"Yes. Put your basic needs in a satchel or backpack and go travel around Europe, or America, or Australia. Go visit other places, meet different people. People who probably don't know you are 'the-boy-who-lived', 'the-man-who-conquered'".
Harry looked at the older man, as if searching for hidden meanings but Severus kept his expression open and his eyes firmly on the young man.
"That's an idea…"
"It sure is. You don't have to cut all contact, I'm sure Mr. Roarke will be able to provide you with the addresses of all the magical streets in any country you desire to visit. You can send owls or firecall any of your friends."
"That's sounding better by the minute."
"So, Harry, gather your things and prepare to a real and normal experience."
Harry smiled with enthusiasm and ran to put together a backpack with some clothes, a journal – a present from Severus, given with an economy of words and gestures – and sack full of galleons and some English pounds.
"Let's stop by to talk with Mr. Roarke so you can have some maps and directions," Snape opened the room's door and waited for Harry to leave the place.
"Wait," Harry said, closing the door and turning back to Snape. "What about you? What you will do? Not going back to Hogwarts, are you?"
"Ah, please, Severus! If you go back, everything will be the same! Dumbledore will lord over you as always!"
"Yes, I know."
"And you don't care?!" Harry asked exasperate.
Snape smirked. "I'm way ahead of the game, Potter."
"What you mean?"
"I was contacted by the Potions Guild and asked if I was interested in an exchange program."
"Exchange program?" Harry asked confuse while sitting on the bed again to pay attention to his ex-Professor.
"Some Potions Masters are interested in trying new venues of research and study and the Guild came up with the idea of an exchange program. A Potions Master from, let's say, a research institution goes to teach in the place of a Professor. Said Professor tries to expend some time in the research institution."
"Oh! That's a clever idea!"
"I thought so myself." Snape answered with a self-satisfying smile.
"You came up with this idea?" Harry was surprised.
"Of course! I needed an iron-clad excuse to escape Albus's clutches', after all."
"For how long have you been planning this?"
"From the moment I was absolutely certain you would destroy Voldemort."
"Well, than it shouldn't be long…" Harry said with uncertainty.
"On the contrary, only days after Albus disclosed the prophecy."
"You trusted me for that long?! And you never said anything to me?!" Harry was really peeved.
"Of course. If I said that I trusted you, first Albus would be really suspicious of me and my plans. And second, would you have believed me then?" Severus asked, looking directly into Harry's eyes.
The younger man looked into the other man's eyes for awhile, then he dropped his head, cheeks red with embarrassment.
"No… I think not. I didn't trust you then."
"So, there it is." Snape said with certainty. "Let's go?"
Harry stood up. "Where are you going, and who will be teaching at Hogwarts?"
"I'm going to spend at least a year at the Potions Research Institute in Boston, USA. It's related to a Muggle facility, M.I.T., I believe the name is."
"I think this one is famous, at least Hermione should know about it."
"Let's leave Mrs. Granger-Weasley out of it, for now, shall we?" Snape asked with some displeasure.
"Afraid she will steal your place?" Harry laughed.
"She has years to try…" Snape murmured grudgingly.
"And who will be at Hogwarts?" Harry asked again, still laughing.
"A Miss Yahzee Thundercloud, a Potions Mistress with another mastery in Charms and a Navajo ancestry."
"Uau! I almost wish to be back at Hogwarts to see this!" Harry said amazed.
"I prefer to hear about all the noise from my esteemed colleagues," Snape said maliciously.
"And how were you able to arrange all that without Dumbledore finding out?"
"Well, Albus was suppose to be on vacation, wasn't he?" Snape smirked again. "I talked with the Deputy Headmistress."
"McGonagall is in on it too?" Harry asked surprise.
"Can you think of somebody else, besides you and me, who would wish so much to teach Dumbledore a lesson?" Snape was trying hard to control laughter.
Harry looked surprised at the smiling dark man and let a laugh of his own escape. "No, I don't think so."
"So, let's not delay. I have my trunk with me and I expect that Mr. Roarke can provide a direct trip to Boston, for me." Snape said and rushed forward.
Harry walked faster to accompany the older man, still laughing from the images he was conjuring of the entire situation.
"Things seem a bit clearer for you now, Mr. Potter?" Mr. Roarke asked with his blinding smile, as soon as the two dark haired men found the Island's host.
"Not so much, but at least I got an idea to follow, thanks to the Potions Master here," Harry answered, still a bit peeved that the man in front of him had made him cancel his revenge fantasy.
"By the backpack in his hand, I must assume that all those questions about travels and places to see weren't for your, Mr. Snape," Tattoo said with a smirk.
"I have an organized life to come back to, Mr. Tattoo," Snape answered with a faint sneer. "This travel and discovery, it's for young and rich men without worries to pursue."
"Don't even start, Snape!" Harry exclaimed. "I was ready to go back and continue to be my old moody and unbearable self! You were the one to come up with this idea to try to find something better to do! And not only for myself, you sneaky git!" Harry smiled.
"I think it's a capital idea, Mr. Potter," Mr. Roarke said and gestured to Tattoo, who advanced with a package. "Here you have maps, addresses and some suggestions of places to visit. And, of course, we are always at your disposal whenever you need our help."
Tattoo put the buddle of papers on Harry's hand and took a step back, keeping the smirk on his face.
"And for you, Mr. Snape, we have a portkey that will deliver you directly at the reception desk of the Potions Research Institute inside MIT in Boston," Tattoo said smirking again and showing a miniature version of the famous Statue of Liberty.
"And the activation word is 'freedom'", Mr. Roarke finished.
"Have fun, Mr. Potter, I bet you'll find tons of ways to get into mischief." Tattoo said to Harry.
"You don't need to encourage Potter here, Mr. Tattoo," Snape sneered, but the warmth in his eyes took away some of the malice in his voice. "This young man is capable of finding trouble in a closed room."
"Not my fault!" Harry exclaimed.
"It's never your fault," Snape said.
"What can I do? Trouble just finds me."
"It's your warm heart and your generosity that leads your way, Harry," came the comment from Dumbledore.
Harry and Severus turned quickly to find the Headmaster behind them. The man seemed rested and happy, with the twinkling in his eyes aiming for new heights.
"Ready to go back home, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.
"Well, I won't go anywhere with you, that's for sure," Harry answered with ill hidden disgust.
"The door at your left will take you to our international floo connection, Mr. Potter," Mr. Roarke said, trying to avoid another battle.
"And you're clear to go anywhere you want, kid," Tattoo said with a real smile this time.
"Thanks," Harry acknowledged the two men. "Thanks, Severus…" Harry gave a crooked smile. "I never thought we would be grown up enough to have a civil conversation, not even mentioning good advice."
Severus took Harry's hand in his and shook. "Good luck, Harry. And you will be all right."
"Thanks," Harry said again and walked fast away from the group, entering the indicated room and closing the door without look back.
"Where is he going?" Dumbledore asked a bit aghast for being ignored.
"None of your business, old man," Tattoo sneered.
"Tattoo!" Mr. Roarke tried to rebuke his assistant. "Mr. Potter is going on with his life, Professor Dumbledore. When he's ready, he will return."
"But we can't leave him alone! He needs guidance!" Dumbledore exclaimed and tried to follow the younger man.
"No, you don't!" Snape gripped the old man's arm. "He did what you wanted him to do. He's of age now. Let him be. Let him find out what he wants for his life, who he wants to be."
"But he might choose the wrong path!"
"Albus, you don't know that. As a matter of fact, you don't know everything, and in some cases, you don't know anything! Let the boy be!" And Severus turned to walk away, but part of the impression he could make was lost since he wasn't wearing his robes right now. The Potions Master withdrew with large steps and soon he was back into the corridor that would take him to his bedroom, his truck and the opportunity to test all he had lean in his surprise fantasy.
Albus Dumbledore looked a little lost, turning his head from one side to the other, from the door through which Harry disappeared to the direction Severus walked. But in a few seconds the twinkling was back in this eyes and the benign smile was adorning his lips again.
"If a raven won't help, then I'm sure I can find another bird to keep me informed about Mr. Potter whereabouts," Dumbledore said to himself. "And can always work on Severus during the school year in Hogwarts." Then he too walked outside, following the path toward the plane to go back home.
"We do what we can but, at the end, life is in the hands of each person to decide what they will do with what they learnt here," Mr. Roarke commented sadly, after watching the exchange between Harry, Snape and Dumbledore and the departure of the wizards.
"Some people never learn," Tattoo said with a headshake and turned to walk toward the pier so they could see their guests out of the Fantasy Island.
"But the lessons keep coming, with when they don't want it," Mr. Roarke said, walking with his assistance.
"I think we need to find a bird of our own, to keep us informed about this new year at Hogwarts, boss," Tattoo smirked.
"That's an idea, Tattoo, it surely should be an interesting year." Mr. Roarke smiled and went to say goodbye to his guests.
A/N2 - And I want to say thanks to everybody who read it and especially to those who review it. This tale ends here but if you liked I invite you to go check my other stories still in progress.