Author's Note: This is my 100th story, and I don't think I need to tell you all how surreal that is. Because it is my century mark I took a little more time than usual, mostly biting my nails, and tried to come up with something different. This is a story in three/six parts about two young men letting go of childhood and going out to find meaning, purpose, independence, and love.

The story is supposed to be in three parts but the files were too big, so each part has been split in half.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.. I make no profit from this piece of fan fiction.

Warning: This will contain homosexuality, nudity, cursing, and possibly vulgarity as well.

University

Part One A

Harry Potter was not enjoying the novelty of his 'eighth year' at Hogwarts. The school building was different now. The war had destroyed large sections of it, some of which could never be repaired due to some complicated problem with the layering of wards. It was still under repairs when students were accepted back into its halls. The sections available for classes were considerably more cramped. The essence of Hogwarts had changed too. It no longer radiated the same strange mystique and comfort Harry remembered. Now it was just a run-down castle filled with children and their caretakers.

The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw House dormitories had been destroyed, which meant that all students were crammed into the Hufflepuff and Slytherin dormitories together. Boys were kept in the Slytherin dungeons and girls in the Hufflepuff quarters, which were close to the greenhouses. This revisal of living arrangements wasn't as bad as it could have been, considering that there were only a bare two hundred students attending the school. House rivalry did not survive the War.

The variety of coursework had shrunk to the bare minimum required. That is to say, the subjects specifically asked for in OWLS and NEWTS. Hermione was furious and still, a month into term, ranting about the lack of educational stimulus. The fact that she considered twenty courses per semester to be the bare minimum of coursework required for her to attach the term "stimulating" shall be ignored.

Eight year was lacking in stimulus in general. After settling in and getting used to not drawing his wand at every loud or unexpected thing, the boredom came like a heavy fog to fill his days and obscure the meaning in everything. He began to wonder why he had bothered to come back to school. He wondered why he wanted to be an Auror. He wondered if he even wanted to be an Auror at all, or if that was just a pipe dream left over from wanting to copy his dad.

It made his stomach do funny unpleasant things, but his suspicions about the pipe dream theory were growing every day. If he didn't want to be an Auror, what did he want to be? He couldn't just be nothing. Well, he could afford to do nothing, but he would rather die than spend his life twiddling his thumbs and throwing parties every time he got bored or lonely. And not only because the list of people he could stand to spend time with at a party had shrunk to less than twenty.

Things were bleak.

~000~

Harry was making his way to Runes on Thursday afternoon of his second week at school when he suddenly realized that he didn't want to go to class. This realization had come and gone many times over the years and he'd usually ignored it and gone to class anyway. Having a friend like Hermione can do that to you.

But not today. Today Hermione was already in class and wouldn't realize that he was outright skipping for at least ten more minutes. Ten minutes was plenty of time to go far, far away where she couldn't find him and drag him to class.

He turned down a hall in the opposite direction and began walking faster. He was not going to Runes today. No sir.

So focused was he on not attending Runes that he failed to notice the person coming down the hall. If he'd seen her, he would have tried to hide or look busy or perhaps even go to Runes out of desperation. But it was too late.

"Harry!"

"Ginny!" she startled the answering greeting out of him. He wondered if he looked as guilty as he felt.

His relationship with Ginny was…complicated. It didn't used to be. Once upon a time she was his best friend's little sister and that was that. Then she was the girl who stared at him a lot, and then he started to stare back out of curiosity. The war got worse, though nobody was brave enough to call it a war yet at that time. He began to feel this strange isolation no matter where he was. It kept him up at night and destroyed his concentration. Everything seemed to be coming closer and closer, crushing him.

And then he realized that she was staring at him because she fancied him. Being a brave girl she'd kissed him, and that great big empty feeling went away just for a moment. From then on he stopped thinking about Ginny. He knew it was complicated and that it was just plain rude for him to not devote a moment's consideration for what must be going through her mind. But he couldn't stop to think, because thinking would ruin everything. All he needed to know was that everything was somehow okay when he was with her.

Inevitably he had to go and pursue Voldemort. She made him promise that they would be together when everything was over. He promised. He wanted to everything to be okay.

Now everything was over. Now he had to keep that promise, except that empty feeling was gone now. He didn't need her like he had before. He was confused and couldn't understand what had changed between them. Hadn't they been in love?

He'd managed to dodge her for the most part since returning to school. The distance between their dormitories helped and they were so busy at first.

She looked nice. Uniforms were no longer required, mostly because textiles had suddenly become precious and a little bit because the uniforms were more than many students and their families could afford. It was warm today. She was dressed in a thin flowery frock.

He smiled nervously and she kissed him. The kiss came without warning. He felt nothing as her mouth covered his for a good half a minute. He responded to her movements dumbly, like a puppet, all the while filled with turmoil. It didn't feel right. He felt like he was kissing Hermione, or perhaps Ron.

When she finally pulled away he knew she must have felt something was off as well because her eyes were wary. She reached out and took his hand. She squeezed his fingers. This felt alright. This felt affectionate and normal. She smiled a little.

"Aren't you supposed to be in Runes?"

"What? Oh, uh, ha, yeah…"

She grinned, "Its okay. I'm supposed to be in Arithmancy but it's just too nice to sit in the dungeons. Do you want to come for a walk with me?"

He didn't, but technically she was still his girlfriend and he had no logical excuse to give her should he say no.

"Sure, yeah, alright; what do you say we head behind the greenhouses? There's a gap in classes there, so we won't be spotted."

She snorted and began to walk with him in that direction, "What would they do to us? Give us detention like a bunch of kids? Haven't you noticed that the teachers treat us differently? Or you, really. It's like you're an adult who just happens to be studying here."

He hadn't noticed, but now that he thought about it she was right. Maybe he should have taken more advantage of that. He mused on missed opportunities until Ginny squeezed his hand and said in a soft voice,

"Harry?"

"Hm?"

"Don't you…don't you like me anymore?"

Oh god.

"What?" he faked a laugh, "Why would you ask me that? Of course I like you."

She stopped and he was forced to stop as well. She still held his hand, and he knew that she was stronger than she looked. Her grip had tightened by degrees until it was almost painful. By Merlin she was a fierce Beater.

"I just…I know you're fond of me, and I'm fond of you, but I don't think this is working."

Relief washed through him. He didn't have to say anything! She was dumping him.

"I think our relationship is in a rut, and that we've gotten so comfortable around each other that we could go on just kissing and holding hands forever. Harry, I think we should…" a tint of pink touched her cheeks but her eyes were resolute behind her embarrassment, "I think we should have sex."

His relief vanished like fog on a summer day. What was he supposed to do? What could he say? And why, pray tell, was the thought of intercourse with Ginny so repulsive? She was pretty. She was nice. She was smart. Hell, she was even funny when she wanted to be.

He opened his mouth, a gentle platitude all planned out, and what came out was:

"I think we should stop seeing each other."

She went stiff and frozen, her hand in his suddenly gone. He was momentarily relieved that she wasn't going to break his hand. Her eyes fixed on him and he felt like the lowest worm of worms when he saw that she realized he was being serious. She took a step back. He took a step back, unconsciously mimicking her.

"What?"

"I said we should-"

"I heard you. Do you mean take a break or for keeps?"

He swallowed, "For keeps."

She shocked him to the core when she shrugged and let out a long sigh. "I guess I should have seen this one coming. Luna was right. You really are gay. I've been wondering and then that look you gave me when I brought up sex kind of clinched it. So, like, do you fancy a bloke right now or do you just not want to be with me?"

"I…"

Gay? She thought he was gay? Of course he wasn't gay! That was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. He'd kissed loads of girls! Okay, no, he hadn't. Cho kissed him, and it'd been a near thing with Romilda Vane. Come to think of it, Ginny was the only girl that really "counted". And right now the very thought of putting his hands anywhere near her breasts or whatever it was she had under her skirt was appalling.

Was he gay? Or was she just not the right person?

She raised her eyebrows, and he wondered how much of his thought process had been obvious from his facial expressions. He flushed. She laughed and punched him in the arm.

"Relax, stupid! I still want to be your friend, if it's not too awkward. Just don't tell Ron I'm not a virgin. Oh, and if you ever want to tell me about the guy you fancy, feel free to. No judgment."

And with that she sauntered off, looking as relaxed as he'd felt before she dropped the gay bomb on his lap.

Damn it, what if he was gay? Lord only knew he'd checked out Cormac McLaggen enough times to make himself wonder. Perhaps McLaggen didn't count, though. He put underwear models to shame. That hair! Those eyes! And those muscles!

Shit.

He dragged a hand through his hair and decided to just ditch the rest of the day as a total loss. He trudged through the school to one of the many tunnels to Hogsmeade. He would be recognized, but it was better than going to classes. He had some thinking to do.

~000~

Ron and Hermione were, well, loved up. It was almost nauseating to watch the two people notorious for bickering about anything and everything doting on each other like a couple of love birds. Not that Harry and the rest of the school weren't happy for them; quite the opposite. Things were much more peaceful without the sharp sound of Hermione slapping Ron for something stupid he'd said or done and Ron's roars of outrage whenever Hermione punctured his thin skin.

The problem was that Harry felt like a third wheel.

He had been wishing for his best friends to just get over themselves for years. Now that they finally had, he wondered if he had perhaps been a tad shortsighted. As a newly-single person, he found himself with no one to talk to. He could talk to Neville, but Neville had become close with a pair of newly-sorted Hufflepuff boys and they had their own set of private jokes and an undying devotion to the study of plants. Harry's sole non-school-experience with plants was his aunt's garden, and he didn't think there was much crossover there.

It wasn't that he didn't try to talk to the other students, either. He just had trouble relating to them. Those that didn't worship him like a demigod were immature and unaffected by the war.

Then there was Luna.

Divination was no longer formally taught at school, so Luna Lovegood had started an initially small study group for all interested parties that had suddenly swelled to include almost the entire female student body and a good amount of their male counterparts, most of whom attended to watch the girls do weird things with crystal balls and stare very hard at tea.

Because of her group Luna didn't have much free time until after supper. Then she could usually be found wandering the library like a lost lamb, singing quietly. She would take a book down, read a little, and then put it back. She would do this for hours and then wander the grounds until curfew.

Harry escorted her on her walks. At first he was nervous around her. Ginny had said that Luna was the one that told her he was gay, after all. But Luna was Luna, and it became impossible for him to remain tense and wary around her. He confided his doubts in her, and she listened solemnly to all of his concerns.

Finally one night she said in that curious lilting voice, "Harry, I really do think that you like men. I think a nice, strong, intelligent man could make you very happy. Will you promise to try, should you meet a man like that?"

Harry didn't know what to say, so he just agreed and told himself to forget about it.

Except he couldn't forget. He couldn't help it. The thought of being with someone like that was tantalizing. The more he thought about dating someone he wouldn't struggle to understand all the time, someone without breasts and a fascination with painting her skin different colors to look more attractive, the more he liked the idea.

Maybe it wouldn't be so horrible if he was gay. No one he cared about was homophobic, not even Ron, so what did it matter? He would worry about this when he fancied somebody.

~000~

Technical schoolboy though he was, Harry was still a "Figure of Interest" to the Press, Ministry, and just about every advertising agency that knew his name (which was all of them).

Hogsmeade weekends became something of a challenge. The Ministry regularly sent people to try and recruit Harry for just about everything, and he considered it a twisted sort of game to come up with stupid and absurd excuses for why he couldn't participate in whatever it was that they wanted him to join.

He honestly didn't think that becoming a member of twenty different archaic Ministry elite clubs would improve the public's morale. On the contrary, what he thought would actually do some good was donating to the War Orphans Shelter(s) and War Widows Fund. The Goblins at Gringott's weren't too happy with him for donating as much as he had, but he couldn't in good conscience sit on his parent's fortune while less-fortunate people suffered the after shocks of the war.

He almost stopped going to Hogsmeade altogether when politicians began to show up and tried to convince him to back them in various causes or to form alliances. Politics were not his thing. He'd had enough of that horse and pony show, thank you very much. All he wanted was to be left alone.

It was the first weekend of November when he dodged one of the above politicians by ducking into a school book shop. It was small and dim and dusty, and he easily lost the lobbyist in the close-set stacks by climbing on top of one and lying flat until the man gave up and left, cursing under his breath.

He climbed down and decided to browse a bit before he left. He didn't want to risk running into the same man waiting for him outside.

The shelf he was next to was devoted to Magical Universities. His eyebrows climbed. Stupid though it seems, he hadn't been aware that there was such a thing. Trade schools made sense, but actual universities?

He browsed through the information, becoming interested despite himself. He picked up a newer volume with the title 'Scholarship Programs' and in opening it dislodged a stapled sheaf of paper.

It was an application. He tucked it back into the book and would have continued browsing, except something pulled him back. He took out the papers again and flipped ever-so-casually through them. All that was necessary to apply for the University of Circe's Scholarship for Disadvantaged Youth was a set of NEWTS scores no older than 6 months and an essay describing why you wanted to attend the school. If the school liked the sound of you they would award the scholarship. There were seven places in the program.

He pocketed the application on a whim.

A week later he decided in the middle of Transfiguration class, after flipping through his NEWTS-level textbooks and realizing that he could do all of it in his sleep, that he was going to go to the Ministry and take his NEWTS next week. He would have taken it right away but decided that it would be better to review all the material before he went leaping into tests.

There was just no point waiting until the end of the year to take the exams. If he passed them but decided not to go to a University, he could always get an apprenticeship with one of the Professors and still be with his friends, when they had time for him, until the end of the year.

He decided not to tell Ron and Hermione. They hadn't said anything to him yet, but he'd overheard Hermione casually talking about how young her aunt had married and how happy she was. The way Ron had blushed with pleasure revealed that he didn't find the thought of an early marriage unappealing.

The last thing they needed was Harry making them worried. Besides, if he wasn't accepted (and he doubted he would be), then all their fuss would be for nothing. No. It was best if they didn't know until it was all over.

~000~

His NEWTS proctor was named Carol. He estimated her age to be somewhere between 30 and 35. She was unmarried. He suspected this was because Carol was repulsive. She smelled of garlic, scowled like a gargoyle, and gave him a static shock every time she passed by due to the fact that she wore three wool sweaters and a wool skirt. He suspected her lavender hand-knit stockings were also woolen.

Despite the distraction that was Carol, who had a nasty cough on top of her electrical field, he completed all of his exams with time to spare and without encountering more than a handful of questions that required more than a moment's thought. He began to wonder if he had a chance at this thing after all.

The essay was trickier. What could he say? He'd never been much of a writer. He almost gave in and asked Hermione for advice, but got an idea just as he was walking through the library to confess his plans and prostrate himself for her wisdom.

Why not write about his life? The choices and consequences that comprised his life were hardly lacking in interest and excitement. The essay could be up to 10 feet long. That was plenty of space to natter on about his childhood and unusual adolescence. If he was lucky, the Board of Circe's University would find him worthy.

He optimistically planned to complete it in a single evening. It took him a week.

When he finished he wasn't entirely satisfied with the result, but he was running out of time and he knew that if he tried to improve it he would end up scrapping it entirely and just giving up the plan. He didn't feel guilty about leaving out the most complicated bits. There were certain details that he still didn't understand completely and therefore didn't get into all. Sirius was one, Severus Snape another. And, for some reason, so was Draco Malfoy. He couldn't understand why it was so hard to describe an old rival turned ally.

He let sleeping dogs lie and mailed his application with a day to spare.

~000~

Two weeks later a blue scroll arrived late at night, delivered by a Bearded Vulture, the same bird on the University of Circe's crest. Harry was, thankfully, spending the evening alone in the library with a book on Quidditch.

He reached to take the scroll and realized that his hands were shaking. Until then he hadn't realized how nervous he was about this. He hadn't let himself think about how much he wanted to go away, to live in another city and meet interesting people his age, and try new things. New things that didn't have the potential of getting him killed, that is.

The scroll was written in English, which was a relief. He skimmed it and let out an exultant shout without meaning to. He was accepted! And the Board said they would be honored to have a teenaged veteran as a student as long as he kept his grades above a certain median.

He rose and began to walk uneasily around the little room between the shelves. He would have to tell Ron and Hermione that he was leaving now.

~000~

"I applied on the off chance that they'd pick me, and they did."

Hermione remained silent, as if she was thinking about something else. He fidgeted and then made himself stop. Finally she said in her soft, serious voice,

"I love you, Harry, and I want you to do what will make you happy. God only knows that you more than deserve whatever happiness you can get; I just want you to write me and tell me all about Paris, alright?"

"Thanks," he said, relief rushing through him a cool flood. "I'll write you a nice long letter."

Ron wasn't half so easy to win over. Ron became outright angry when Harry told him, and even angrier the more Harry tried to explain. He had never been very good at expressing himself with words, and everything he said just seemed to make it worse.

"Fucking hell, Harry! Don't you understand? This was it. This was it! This, this last year of school, is what I fought for alongside all those ideals and what not. I wanted us to have this time together to just be kids. No Voldemort hanging over us and no Draco Malfoy jeering. After this, sure, we can grow up."

Harry swallowed. "We're still best friends, Ron. I wanted that too, you know. I'm just…I'm different now. I grew up even though I didn't want to. I can't keep pretending to be a kid. And I really want this! Please, can't you just be happy for me?"

"I am happy if you're happy. I want you to know, though, that I'm disappointed in you for letting me down. You promised that we would have this year, the three of us, and then you and I could enroll in the Auror's program while Hermione did whatever it is that Hermione does with those books of hers."

He paused and looked so unhappy that Harry almost tore up the slim blue scroll in his hands. He wanted Ron to be pleased, not miserable.

"Don't you see? None of us will ever be together like this again. I will become an Auror, Hermione is going into the Research and Development Department, and now you are going out of the fucking country to do Merlin knows what in France! France!"

Ron took a deep breath as though to go on. Harry stiffened his chin and cut him off.

"Ron! I am going to university in another country, yes, but that doesn't mean that I am dying or going to prison or something. I will take a Portkey back every other weekend and spend it with you and Hermione if you still want to see me. We can still be together."

Ron sat down heavily on his bed and sank forward to rest his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He inhaled noisily through his nose. Harry knew all the tell-tale signs that Ron was about to cry and didn't want Harry to see. Harry sat down beside him and hesitated a second before he wrapped his arms around him and tucked his face into the crook of Ron's neck. They sat there very still together for a long time.

Harry could feel the warm wet sensation of Ron's tears soaking into the fabric of his trousers and the little shudders that went through him. He felt miserable but also as though something deep inside of him had been released.

He felt at peace with himself and the world.

~000~

This was it. Tomorrow, at six in the morning, he would be taking a Portkey to Wizarding Paris, France, to attend the University of Circe. His trunk was packed and he'd said his goodbyes. He'd laid out his clothes for the next morning and made sure he had clean socks and briefs. The weather was supposed to be fine, December notwithstanding. His alarm was set and he'd checked it twice.

Now he lay in bed, waiting to fall asleep.

Harry's last thought before drifting off was to wonder about whatever had happened to Draco Malfoy. The last time he saw him was after his trial. He'd vouched for him and felt a sense of peace when Draco was pardoned due to evidence Harry had provided that his loyalty was to the Light. Afterwards they'd both gone to the men's room at the same time quite by accident. There was a tense moment at the sinks until Harry broke it by frankly thanking him for saving his life.

Draco's thin lips turned had up ever so briefly, but it'd been a smile.

Harry thought specifically about that smile until he began to dream.

~000~

End Part One A

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