Harry relaxed on the sandy Australian beach. The last couple of weeks had passed by in a blur. After he left Hermione, he'd simply walked until he was tired of walking. He found himself in a rougher muggle part of town, but it wasn't as if he was defenseless. Having nothing better to do, he walked into the nearest bar and asked the barkeep if he was hiring.
"I'm just trying to sort out my life, and I need food and a place to stay," was all he'd said, but the bar's owner agreed to hire him and let him stay in a small room in the back. He had a cot, a shower, and a cooler. He spent the nights cooking and working as a bar-back, and during the days he was just another bum. He smiled to himself. There was something refreshingly honest about the disdain the girls around her showed his scrawny, underdeveloped frame. He loved every second of the anonymity.
Unfortunately, he had to admit that Snape was right about one thing: He hadn't the foggiest idea what to do with his life, and having to make the choice rather sucked. He shrugged internally. As much as he hated to admit it, the anger and hurt over Hermione's actions sat in his gut like one of Hagrid's cakes. He'd spent two weeks mulling everything over and he still hadn't managed to come to any real conclusion. He missed her, even though he never wanted to see her again.
His fist clenched as a flare of anger erupted in his heart. He took a few moments to calm down, and then stood up. He knew one thing; he needed to have a long overdue conversation with a certain greasy arsehat.
Harry left the beach to tell the bar's owner that he was getting his things and leaving. The bartender didn't smile or frown, but he clapped Harry on the shoulder and wished him luck. Two hours later, Harry activated the portkey back to Britain.
Harry walked the familiar path towards Hogwarts. He couldn't believe that only a few months previous he'd basically committed suicide via Voldemort, returned to life, watched Voldemort commit suicide via Voldemort, committed suicide again, and then returned to life a second time in as many weeks. He was glad that the students hadn't returned. He let his feet carry him towards the Forbidden Forest and the final part of the Deathly Hallows.
"'Arry!" Hagrid's voice boomed out, making him jump a little. Harry turned, and the first genuine smile in weeks bloomed on his face. Hagrid came happily galumphing towards him. "It's good ta' see yah, lad! 'ower yah doin'?" Harry shrugged. Hagrid just grinned and drew Harry into a spine-snapping hug. "None a' tha', 'Arry, but it's good ta' see yah again!" Hagrid set Harry down. "Oh, right, afore ah fergit, the centaurs gave me sumtin tah give ter yeh." Hagrid started patting down the pockets of his great moleskin jacket. Harry smiled as Hagrid mumbled "ah knew it were somewhere in here."
"Ah ha!" The half giant bellowed as he pulled the Resurrection Stone from the depths of his jacket. "Ah knew it were in here somewhar!" He handed the stone to Harry, who only blinked in surprise. "Tha centaurs were a might bit upset at it bein' in the woods, you see, an' they dropped it off fer me tah give ter you. Somethin' bout it bein' outside o' the order o' the stars or sommach." Hagrid shrugged. "But they said it were yours so 'ere yah go! Anyhow, wat's this ah hear 'bout you and Hermione bein' married?" Hagrid asked with a happy smile. Harry grimaced. Hagrid looked surprised. "Wot? There sumthin' wrong?"
Harry shrugged, and waved off Hagrid's concern. "It's nothing. Really, it's nothing. Just another one of Dumbledore's brilliant ideas."
Hagrid's brow furrowed. "Now Harry ah never thought ah'd hear yah say sumthin bad 'bout Dumbledore. He was a great wizard, he was, and a great man."
Harry shook his head and clenched the stone in his fist. "Yeah, you're right Hagrid, just forget I said anything. Don't worry about it. Hermione and I aren't married."
"Oh really?" A voice said silkily. "Is that so, Potter?"
Hagrid gaped at Snape's ghostly form. "Well bugger me sideways with a dragon!" Snape and Harry blanched at the mental image. "Professor Snape, whaterya doin' here? Yeh aren't planning on hauntin' me cabin are yeh?"
Snape sneered at his bumbling former 'colleague.' "No, thank Merlin, I'm not. I suppose I'm here because Harry wanted a few words?" Harry nodded. "Very well." He turned to Hagrid. "This is a personal matter…"
"Oh, right then. Ah'll be seein' you, Harry?" Harry nodded. After giving Harry another hug, Hagrid ambled back towards his cabin, muttering the whole way about how even death couldn't wash that arsehole's hair. Snape sneered at his retreating form.
"Simpleton." He turned to Harry and smirked. "So I suppose this is where you admit that I was right?"
"Fuck you," Harry replied. "You have no clue how wrong you were, are, and will always be."
Snape blinked at the venom in Harry's voice. "Elucidate," he commanded.
"Why should I?" Harry asked. "It's not like you or Dumbledore know a damned thing about anything."
"If you didn't want to talk to me, you wouldn't have come back for the stone." Snape said with a sneer. "So let's skip the mindless antagonism and get to the point."
"Fine," Harry spat. "So it turns out that Hermione and I got a little carried away while we were searching for the Horcruxes."
Snape's eyebrow elevated. "Not entirely unexpected, but I'm confused as to why you are mentioning this now, instead of the last time we met. I mean, that would be a rather definite clue that she held some affection for you, would it not?"
"Well, I certainly would have," Harry said with a feral grin, "if I'd remembered."
Snape blinked. "You mean to tell me that the great Harry Potter got so potted that he banged the bookworm but couldn't retain the recollection?" He started to laugh.
"No you fucking puddle of troll spooge," Harry spat, "she bloody well obliviated me afterwards."
"…well shit," Snape said softly, his laughter instantly extinguished.
"Yeah." Harry's jaw clenched in anger. "So, oh great and bloody all-knowing bastard, what pearls of infantile wisdom are going to vomit at me now?"
"No need to get nasty," Snape said offhandedly, "I'm sure one day the two of you will just look back at all this and laugh." Harry stared at Snape with the same mindless hatred that allowed him to crucio Carrows for spitting in McGonagall's face. "Or not. I suppose you're going to tell me now that you don't love her?" Snape asked with the tiniest hint of sadness in his voice.
"Of course I love her," Harry spat, "but that doesn't mean a bloody thing now, does it? What was that thing you were going on about? Me having control over my own life now or some shit? Well, I've got control, and I'm perfectly bloody miserable with it, but now that I've got some choice in life I can't bloody well let Hermione muck about in my head whenever she pleases. And I'm certainly not bloody well happy with your silly little matchmaking game!" By the time he'd finished the sentence, Harry was screaming.
Snape pinched the middle of his ghostly nose. Harry stared at him expectantly, arms crossed. "Well?" He asked.
"I certainly didn't foresee this little wrinkle." Snape replied quietly.
"Oh, just bloody great." Harry threw his hands in the air in exasperation. "So, what, you blindly thrust us together in your oh-so-smug manner and never once considered that perhaps you were wrong and we weren't the perfect bloody couple?"
Snape shook his head. "No, it's not like that at all. It shouldn't have worked. Hell, you left before I had the chance to explain that you could return to life whenever you wanted, bond or not."
Harry blinked. "You're taking the piss."
"I assure you, Mr. Potter, I am not 'taking the piss' as you so eloquently put it. I needed a way to keep you from the preemptively matrimonial grasp of the matron Weasley, and I found the most potent method of assuring it." Snape sighed. "I assure you, if the ritual completed then at that moment both of you were quite willing, if not able to acknowledge the fact, to spend the next lifetime happily wed."
"Well that's all well in theory, but the practice falls a bit short, doesn't it?"
Snape shrugged. "Well, what do you expect me to do about it, Potter?"
"I expect you to tell me exactly how to bloody well undo it, Professor."
"I haven't the foggiest."
Harry gaped. "You have got to be shitting me! No backup plan? No convoluted plot with an excess of exits?" He spat. "Oh, of course not, this is Potter's life you mucked about in. Can't give the bloody son of James bloody Potter the same bloody effort you wasted on that inbred blond skrewt sodomizer, can't have that! Wait, what about Dumbledore? Did he come up with something? Of course not! 'Greater good' and all that shit. Job's done, why waste more than the minimum amount of time WIPING YOUR ARSE AFTER SHITTING ALL OVER ME!"
"Harry," a soft grandfather voice said, "Harry I'm so sorry…"
Harry looked up. He could see the pain etched in Dumbledore's face. "Don't. Just… don't. I know why you did it, and it's done. You're brilliant plan worked, Voldemort's dead, the world's saved. So unless you have some forgotten magic under that pointy hat, it's time to stay dead and leave the living to tidy up after you."
"I suppose I deserved that," Dumbledore said softly.
"Yes, you did." Harry and Snape said at the same moment, along with the sibilant addition of a third voice.
Dumbledore winced. Snape pinched the arc of his nose. Harry threw up his hands in exasperation. "Of course, this little party of people I really can't bloody stand wasn't complete without you. What in Merlin's name are you doing here?" Harry spat.
"Enjoying the respite," Riddle's ghost replied emotionlessly.
Harry ground his teeth in frustration. "Well, here we have almost the entire collection of the 'lets bugger up Harry's life for our own sordid little plans' club. So, Tom, since you're the only one who isn't actually involved with this fiasco, any words of advice?"
Voldemort's shade stared pointed at Harry. "You are asking me for relationship advice?"
"No you sodding bastard," Harry hissed between clenched teeth, "I'm asking you for a way to break these," he waved his hand towards Snape and Dumbledore, "two wizards' little mistake."
"Kill the bitch," Riddle said flatly.
Harry rolled his eyes. "There goes any hope that people are reformed by the afterlife."
Riddle shrugged. "Well, if you don't want the most expedient and satisfactory solution, perhaps you should tell me what the problem is."
"I. Can't. Bloody. Believe. I'm. Having. This. Conversation."
"If it makes you feel any better, every moment of respite here only makes the torment worse when I return."
"Really?" Harry asked flatly.
Voldemort replied with a shrug. "I quite literally have nothing better to do."
"Ever hear of 'True Bonding?'" Harry asked, ignoring Dumbledore's frown and Snape's blank expression.
Voldemort stroked his jaw. "Hmm… ancient magic, requires human sacrifice, practically unknown."
"That would be it, yes," Harry responded nastily.
Riddle took a few moments to ponder. "Kill the bitch."
Harry threw his hands in the air. "I should have bloody known. Go to Hell, Tom." Voldemort's shade vanished with an air of resignation. Harry turned and looked pointedly at Dumbledore. "So, are you actually going to helpful or do I have the dubious pleasure of another one of you tidbits of great, but useless, wisdom?" Harry's words were sarcastic but his voice had the slightest undertone of pleading.
Dumbledore sighed. "Harry, words can't express how sorry I am."
"I take that as a no," Harry said forlornly.
"I'm sorry, Harry. Perhaps you will find something that we missed. You'll find the information on the ritual in my office. Just tell Minerva to give you the book that's shrunken and hidden on the back of my portrait."
Harry grumbled as he dismissed the two shades. "Of bloody course, its Hogwarts, can't ever get a damn answer, oh no, gotta hunt for every bloody thing in some bloody old book…" He grumbled as he walked towards the castle.
Minerva was shocked at Harry's arrival, but after Dumbledore's portrait assured her that the request was legitimate, she wordlessly handed the now-enlarged tome to her old student. Before he left, she stopped him. "Are you going to return for your final year?" She asked, unable to conceal the hope in her voice.
"I really don't know," Harry said. "I've got too much to think about right now."
McGonagall nodded, accepting his answer. "If it's any consolation, Mr. Potter, I always thought that you and Hermione would make a splendid couple."
Harry shrugged. "You and me both."
Harry spent the next four days pouring over the musty book, beating his head against the obsolete language and ridiculously over-complicated magical theory. 'Great, I've got forty five different ways of figuring out how make the bond, but not a single way of breaking it.' Harry thought with a grumble. He fidgeted with the Resurrection Stone while re-reading yet another hopelessly confusing passage.
"Hello Harry," a soft female voice said from behind him.
Harry turned away from the frustrating book and turned towards the voice. "Hello, Luna. What are you… I mean, why are you here?"
Luna smiled at Harry. "Because Hermione isn't, silly."
"Oh," Harry replied. "Well, I'm a little angry with her right now."
"I suppose that you are," Luna said while nodding sagely. "I was wondering," Luna continued on, "what it was like."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"What it was like when you walked into the forest before the final battle, what it was like when you walked into the Veil at the Department of Mysteries. It must have been terrible and wonderful at the same time."
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Luna asked Harry another question before he could say anything. "You do know that you are very precious to a lot of people, Harry. I mean, not the everyday average person, but the people who know you, right?"
Harry nodded. Luna beamed. "Oh good, I was worried maybe you didn't. Anyhow, I was wondering how it felt, making the choice to take away something so precious to so many people, just so they could be happy. Did you talk to them first? Did you ask them if, perhaps, they'd be happier with you in their lives even if it meant such terrible things?"
Harry swallowed. "Luna, I…"
Luna continued blithely on. "Do you think I'm happy?"
Harry blinked, a bit disoriented by the shift in the conversation. "Um… well, you seem rather happy."
Luna smiled. "Oh yes, I am, very. It's hard work, you know, being happy." Harry nodded, not quite sure what she meant. Luna peered at Harry queerly. "You have a hard time sharing, don't you?"
"What?" Harry asked, flabbergasted at Luna's suggestion.
"Oh, I don't mean material things," Luna said airily. "Although I suppose that isn't really sharing, is it? I mean, you don't think of those things as truly yours, so you don't mind giving them away. You don't like sharing the most important things, things like Right and Wrong."
"I…" Harry said.
Luna shook her head sadly. "No… I suppose you are very selfish with the intangible things. You have to be Right, or you have to be Wrong. You aren't terrible fond of letting other people have a little bit of your Right and Wrong, do you? You like to hoard them away, squirrel them into your special places where you keep the You, and the precious little things like your feelings and caring."
Harry's mouth worked, but no sounds came out.
Luna placed her hand on top of Harry's and gazed deeply into his eyes. "It should have been me," she whispered, and for a moment Harry saw such incredible sadness in her eyes that his heart broke.
"Luna, I…" Luna cut off Harry's words by pressing a single soft finger to his lips.
"Sssh." A single tear trickled down her face. "I'll tell you a secret. Every day is different." Luna beamed, her sadness banished like the sun emerging from behind dark clouds. "Every day is different, and that's a reason for happiness. You see, happiness takes a lot of work, if it's real. You can't just say 'I'm happy,' or only be happy every once and a while, when life's going your way." Luna sighed, shaking her head, making her light blond locks move gently on her shoulders. "Real happiness shines when the skies are dark and the path narrow, when you can't move except in one direction, and you find your precious things, the things that really matter, and you share your precious things, your Right and your Wrong."
Harry swallowed heavily, his mind reeling from Luna's insights.
"Do you feel married?" Luna asked in a bubbly voice.
Harry blinked and shook his head no.
"Really? That's strange." Luna said. "Hermione feels married. I wonder what's wrong." She shrugged. "Oh well, I suppose I should return to the Burrow now. Hermione is knee deep in garden gnomes. Did you know that garden gnomes have three genders?" She turned and skipped away.
Harry stood, the book forgotten. "Luna!" He called out. Luna stopped, turning her head and regarding Harry carefully.
Harry swallowed thickly. "Thank you… would you… would you tell Hermione I'm… I'm going to be there soon."
Luna pursed her lips. "No, I don't think I will."
"Can you learn to share?" She asked lightly.
"Even the hard things?"
Harry nodded again.
"Then I won't have to tell her, because you are right here next to me." Luna said with a sort of soft finality.
Slowly, Harry stood and walked with heavy steps towards his friend. Luna shook her head and smiled. "Not like that Harry, happiness might take work but it's not a burden. If you keep tromping around you might attract the attention of Fudge's rogue heliopaths, and you wouldn't want that, would you?"
Shaking his head in bemusement, Harry could only reply "No, I suppose I wouldn't."
Luna beamed, and skipped alongside Harry as they made their way to the Headmistress' office.