Title: The Choices We Make
Disclaimer: The characters still belong to Jo and only Jo.
Summary: What's the line between good and evil?
Keywords: Harry, Dumbledore, Harry/Hermione
A/N: Thanks to Amethyst for doing a beta for me. You know how I love and adore you, my dear. hugs
People stared at him as he passed. They always did.
The halls were familiar to him. He'd walked them as a student and continued to walk them. Hogwarts was still the safe beacon of hope, secluded in its ancient charms and cloaking devices. But where there were once classrooms, there were now chambers and conference rooms. Gone was the loud chatter of excited students. In its place were the hushed, subdued tones of a people unsure of whom to trust.
Hogwarts had once been his home. Now it was his jail.
People stared at him as he passed. Some he recognized, some he didn't. Some had made up the now defunct Order of the Phoenix, others had been part of the destroyed Ministry of Magic.
They were all on the same side now. The side of good. Of hope. Fighting for the world against Voldemort's tyranny.
Harry clenched his fists until his fingers dug into his palm. How things had changed.
As he walked, his eyes fell on places that incited images from his childhood—memories of a more innocent time. There, that's the Room of Requirement where he'd started the DA. Over there, there's the painting of a bowl of fruit, one simply had to tickle the pear to enter Hogwarts' kitchens. Up those stairs and he would find the Gryffindor common room, the boy's dormitories. How many after-Quidditch parties had he spent there? How many hours had he spent in Ron and Hermione's company, doing homework, talking, bickering?
And there, the slight black singe on the floor was the only evidence of Voldemort's attempted break-in in Harry's seventh-year. Right there, that's where Draco Malfoy had attempted Avada Kedavra on Hermione before leaving Hogwarts forever. And over there, that's the furthest Hagrid made it after escaping Voldemort's clutches.
Harry stopped in front of a large statue, its shape unchanged and unharmed even after so many years of confusion.
"Butterbeer," he said.
Harry climbed the staircase, his hand hovering over his wand. His face was set in a grim frown of determination. He knocked on the door before entering.
Dumbledore's office had not changed. The same portraits still lined the walls, Fawkes still squawked at him in greeting.
Dumbledore was at his desk, his blue eyes twinkling as merrily as they always had. He leant back when he saw Harry, a warm smile breaking out on his face.
"Harry," he said. "What a pleasant surprise."
Harry did not smile back. His visit was not a surprise—Harry had long ago learnt that Dumbledore was aware of everything that went on in his school. He knew full well Harry had been on his way to visit him.
And what Harry's visit meant.
"Good-afternoon, Sir," Harry said. "Do you have a moment?"
"Several," Dumbledore said. "Will you take a seat?"
Dumbledore's tone was oddly formal.
"I'd prefer to stand."
Dumbledore met his challenging gaze, appearing unaffected. "Very well."
For a long moment they stared at each other, the silence broken only by the rustle of Fawke's feathers. Harry felt the tension rising around them, the combined power of their magic shimmering in the air. If he closed his eyes, he could feel it hovering around him, a force he had become adept at using.
I will not speak first, he thought to himself, staring into Dumbledore's eyes and waiting.
Finally, Dumbledore blinked and spread his hands on his desk. "I can understand your frustration, Harry."
Harry's voice was cool. "I doubt that."
Dumbledore leaned forward. "You feel trapped. You feel as though your power has been taken away from you."
"Wow, good observation," Harry said.
Dumbledore heaved a great sigh, as though Harry was being a difficult, demanding child, one that needed to be placated.
"Harry, you must understand—"
"We are doing this for your protection, your time will come, you're too important to our effort…" Harry trailed off and made a sound of disgust. "I'm rather tired of hearing the whole explanation, frankly."
Dumbledore's mouth seemed to thin. "What is it, then, that you've come for?"
"What I've come for…" Harry repeated. He turned away from Dumbledore's calm form and began pacing the office, his hands jammed into his pockets. "How little you've always understood me, Sir."
"Harry, I have always done my best when it came to you." He paused. "I apologize—I know that it has not always been good enough."
Again and again—had Dumbledore ever told him anything new? The trust he'd once had in this man had been without reserve. Now, Harry saw manipulation in every gesture, every word.
"I will not continue to sit, holed up, while everyone I know is out fighting this war," Harry said.
"To be safe!" Harry said. "I KNOW."
Dumbledore folded his hands together. "What would you like me to tell you?"
Harry clenched his jaw. "I want you to tell me what we're fighting for."
"The same things we have always fought for, Harry," Dumbledore leaned forward. "For goodness, for peace, for love and justice. We fight for those we care for—for our friends, for our families, for those of us that have been taken in the line of duty."
"Yeah," Harry said. "That's it, isn't it? That's why we're out there every night, killing, torturing—or worse." He shook his head. "No one seems to remember why the Unforgivable Curses were once illegal."
"We do what we have to. Times are… dark, Harry. They require… harsher measures."
Harry studied Dumbledore. The same long beard, giving him an approachable appearance, the twinkling eyes, the blue hat perched on his head.
"You've been fighting this war too long, Professor," Harry whispered. "Far too long."
"Perhaps," Dumbledore murmured. "We will end this, Harry, mark my words. You've been growing stronger every day… your progress is remarkable. When you face Voldemort, you will be ready."
"I'm ready now."
For the first time, Harry could see the beginnings of impatience showing in Dumbledore's face. The lines around his face seemed deeper.
"You are not ready," Dumbledore said. "Do not give in to your recklessness, Harry. I know how hard it is, losing those you love—"
"Yeah, it is hard," Harry said, his voice rising. And it's even harder watching them slip away, one by one, until the war is the only thing they know.
"Harry, think this through, you still have so much to learn—"
"Oh, sod that!" he snapped. "D'you remember when you first read me that prophecy? Five years ago? Six? D'you remember what was in it? The Power He Knows Not?"
Harry moved closer to Dumbledore's desk. The old wizard had gone still, his eyes flat as he tracked Harry's movements.
"I'm losing that," Harry said. "The longer I'm here, the more I lose it." Harry dropped his voice. "Learning Avada Kedavra will not help me defeat Voldemort. I reckon no one here can remember what love feels like, they're all so intent on destroying the Death Eaters."
"This is war," Dumbledore said.
"And emotions are weakness, right?" Harry scoffed. "That's what Snape always told me."
"You must learn to control your emotions, Harry. I fear that it is something you have not yet mastered."
Anger flooded through Harry's mind, but he pushed it away, focusing on the magic he could feel in the room.
Dumbledore stood up, knocking his chair backwards. "Harry Potter, push aside your emotions and think! This is not the way to destroy Voldemort."
"Maybe not," Harry said. "But your way isn't the way either. I won't stay here any longer."
Harry waited for Dumbledore to do something—perhaps use force. For years Dumbledore had kept Harry sheltered from the war outside, training and preparing him for what was to come. Harry had been forced to stay on the sidelines, watching as his friends went out to fight without him. Some had died, some he had lost in other ways.
"You are not leaving this school, Harry."
Harry hefted his chin. "This is no longer a school."
"Harry, do not be so foolish as to challenge me."
"I am leaving," Harry said. His hand hovered over his wand in his pocket. He knew Dumbledore was watching his movements. "I have grown powerful over the years, Professor."
"No," Harry said, he pulled out his wand. He took a step closer. "Do not fight me, Albus."
It was the first time he'd ever called Dumbledore by his first name. As soon as the word slipped past his lips, Harry knew that was it. The room descended into darkness. He could feel Dumbledore prodding into his mind, trying to decipher whether or not Harry was bluffing.
For his own part, Harry put more force into his words than he felt. He was certain he could not take on Dumbledore.
But he was betting Dumbledore would not call his bluff.
"I hope you know what you are doing, Harry."
Harry began backing away to the door, keeping his wand pointed in Dumbledore's direction. "Yeah, me too."
His hands were shaking when he opened the door to his quarters. "Lumos," he whispered.
His wand burst into flames and Harry dived for his duffel bag, searching the room in quick, sporadic bursts. He grabbed personal mementos, his Firebolt, photos of his parents and Ron and Hermione. He stuffed in some food, a pillow, clothing.
"I don't even have a plan," he muttered to himself. "Bloody. Hell."
The realities of his situation began to sink in. He'd been following his emotions, as usual. All he knew was that he had to get out. He could not bear another moment trapped in the old castle, so cut off from life around him. Anything further than that, he had no idea.
He heard movement behind him and paused, sucking in a breath. His grip on his wand tightened.No one knows how to get in here. Except…
"Hermione," he breathed. He relaxed and turned around.
She was dressed in an old pair of jeans and t-shirt, her hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes searched his before moving on to his satchel and the clothes scattered about.
"You're leaving," she said simply.
For the first time, Harry felt a twinge of guilt. "Yeah. I'm… yeah. I'm leaving."
She came further into the room. "Oh, Harry, you were never going to tell me, were you?"
Harry couldn't meet her eyes. He shrugged.
"I couldn't take the chance that you'd try and convince me not to."
"Where are you going?" she said briskly.
"How are you planning on protecting yourself? You'll need a disguise, you know. You're still Harry Potter, no matter what section of the world you're in."
"I'm working on it, alright?"
"And Voldemort—he'll come after you straightaway. This is dangerous, Harry."
"I know," he said, through gritted teeth. He shoved a pair of trousers into his bag. "I'm tired of it, okay? All this time waiting… I can't do it anymore, Hermione. I can't keep watching this war from the sidelines. I can't… I can't stay… here."
She sighed and chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip. "You're right."
"What?" Harry said, so startled he nearly dropped his wand.
"You're…" she hesitated. "You're right. This isn't the place for you, Harry."
Harry grunted. "I'll find a way once I'm out there. I always do."
She approached him. "I'm going with you."
"What?" Harry said. He whirled around to face her. "I won't let you."
"You know as well as I do that you need me. Don't be stupid."
"Stupid?" he said. He took a step closer to her. "Hermione, I hope you realize what my leaving means! They're not going to rest until they have me back!"
"Of course I know that! You can't do this alone—it's foolish to even try." She grabbed at his arm. "I've always gone with you."
"They won't harm me, Hermione. They can't." He looked into her eyes. "But they… they won't have the same reservations about you. I won't let that happen. You have to stay here."
"Yes, you will!"
She released a tearful breath. "No, Harry! How can you even ask me that? I won't just stand here and let the last person I still love walk out of my life."
He was momentarily stunned into silence, but his overwhelming need to protect her quickly came back to him. "Hermione, I've just made myself enemies with Albus Dumbledore. Do you really want that?"
She let out a soft moan. "Oh, Harry… why?"
"Because," Harry said, "I've let him control me all my life—I won't any longer. He's done nothing but lie and manipulate me since I was a baby. It was something I had to do."
Hermione pressed a shaking hand to her forehead. She sat down on his bed, her face pale.
"I won't leave you." She shook her head, folding her arms across her chest. "We're stronger together, you know we are."
"This war changed you."
"It changed all of us," Hermione said. "Not just me."
"When was the last time you read a book?"
She looked up at him. "That doesn't—"
"It matters," Harry said. "The first time you used the Cruciatus curse, you woke me up in the middle of the night. I still remember what you felt like when you cried in my arms."
"That was the last time I saw you cry, Hermione." Harry set his bag down on the floor. "Merlin, do you even have any memory of the person you used to be? What happened to S.P.E.W.?"
"I'll always be that person," she said quietly. "You're not allowed to show emotion, Harry. Surely you've learned that."
"Yeah," he said. "Never was much good at doing that."
"Harry, you must understand… it's war. Things are… different in war."
"So I've been told."
Harry studied her. They'd been best friends since they were eleven years old. They'd been in love for… well, he wasn't exactly sure. It wasn't something they ever discussed—it simply went unsaid between them. Partnership, sex—those were things viewed as necessary to human survival. Love was something purer, saved for times of peace.
Could he really leave her now? She'd changed, it was true, but he knew Hermione was still alive in her. He saw it in the way her eyes tracked his movements, the way she was still determined to follow him anywhere.
Her mouth hardened into a determined line. "There's nothing for me here if you go. Harry… I don't want… I don't want to become like everyone else fighting this war."
Hermione fixed her gaze on his. "He won't come."
Harry looked away.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I know you still… but he's… he's—"
"Too far gone," Harry said, in a hollow voice.
Ron had drifted away from him in their last years at Hogwarts. It was a gradual shift, but it slowly became apparent that they no longer had the same things in common. Life wasn't about Quidditch and Wizard's Chess. It was about war and who could master what curse faster, who practiced Unforgivable Curses, who could catch the most Death Eaters. Ron fell into his role on the side of good, embracing the power it brought him.
Ron was obsessed with the war. Dissolving the Ministry was right—it was too slow to make up its mind. Shutting the Goblins out of Gringotts was just—they were untrustworthy. Treason was a high crime, punishable by death.
Like what we're doing, Harry thought. He looked at Hermione and knew they would go after her anyway—whether or not she went with him. They'll use her to get to me. No matter what.
"I don't know what's right anymore," he said, sitting down next to her on his bed. "I used to. It used to be simple. I wonder if killing Voldemort will even accomplish anything." Harry sighed. "Guess it's a start."
"D'you think Ron—"
"Will come after us?" Harry shrugged. "Probably. I don't think his loyalty is with us anymore, Hermione."
Harry could see she was struggling. It went against everything they'd been taught. They were fighting for the side of good. By leaving with him, it showed she trusted him over Dumbledore, she valued his safety over the beliefs that had been imprinted in her.
"You don't have to do this, Hermione," he said.
"I know." She gave him a shaky smile. "But it's true what I told you. I've always gone with you, Harry. I won't stop now."
He smiled back. "Yeah, okay…. Thanks."
She reached out once to touch his hand before drawing back and fumbling for her wand.
"I need to pack."
"We'd best do it quickly."
"Yes. I know a friend in Hogsmeade. We'll spend the night there. They'll be looking for us come morning"
"I know. I…" Harry struggled. "I'm not near powerful enough to kill Voldemort with force. It'll have to be something different."
"Different?" she frowned. "Different how?"
Her implicit trust and dedication to his well-being shone through her eyes, and Harry found that he could see the Hermione of old lurking below the surface.
"Why are you doing this?"
"What do you mean?"
Harry gestured around him. "This. You know what could happen, Hermione. I'll do anything I can to keep you safe, but that doesn't mean much, we both know it doesn't. You've always trusted Dumbledore to know what's right."
"Books and cleverness will only take you so far," she murmured. "Do you know, I promised myself long ago that I'd never leave you? You're more important to me than anything, Harry. Keeping you alive has always come before anything else—you should know that by now."
She leaned up to kiss his cheek. "Well, then," she said, her tone businesslike. "Let's get going."
She took him by the hand, her small fingers curling around his, and her grip much more confident than his own.