Not in the Hands of Boys

Fourth Rose

Story Summary:
Once the final battle is won, life must go on, although it can be even harder to master than death. Back at Hogwarts for his final year of school, Harry tries to cope with everything he's been through. As the world around him struggles for a way back to normality, he is forced to realise that in the long run, living takes a lot more courage than dying.

Chapter 02 - Part 2

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

"You've been so brave... just a little bit longer, it will soon be over... only a few steps, and it will be done..."

The pale figures were beckoning, their hands reaching out for him, and Harry felt himself being dragged forwards even though he was struggling with all his might to stay were he was.

"No, please, leave me alone! I won't, I can't go there - I don't want to die, let me be!"

His own voice sounded shrill and panicky in his ears, and his heart sank when he saw his mother's smile fade, his father's proud expression melt away. "You must, Harry, there's no other way -"

"There has to be! I want to live, you can't make me -"

"We all wanted to live, Harry." That was Remus, his face just as lined and haggard as it had been when Harry had last seen him among the living. "We all gave our lives, gave them for you, and you can't do the same for us?"

"We might not even have died if you'd figured it out sooner." Fred's features were twisted in a grimace of pain, all signs of his last laugh gone. Next to him, Colin's eyes were huge and dark against the bluish pallor of his face. "I went to my death for you, Harry, remember?"

Sirius just shook his head and turned away. Half-hidden behind him and Remus, Harry saw Tonks cradle an empty bundle of blankets to her chest as if she hadn't noticed yet that she wasn't holding her baby boy any longer, would never get to hold him again.

"I never wanted any of you to die!" Harry was screaming at the top of his lungs now. "I never wanted any of this, and you have no right to ask more from me! I won't do it, I won't go there so that he can kill me!"

"You will, Harry." Dumbledore's grave face radiated disappointment. He held out his blackened hand, and Harry's feet moved forward on their own accord, even though he desperately tried to keep them still. "The choice was never yours; it was made for you a long time ago. Don't fight this, it will be over soon, and you'll find peace then, you'll see..."

"NO!" Harry's throat felt sore and raw from all the screaming. "I can't do this! Let me be, I don't want to die -"

"Harry, WAKE UP!"

Strong, warm hands were shaking him, and Harry struggled against them for a moment before he came to his senses. He opened his eyes, but everything remained dark; it took him a moment until he recognised the outline of Ron's head and shoulders against the pale moonlight filtering through the window.

"I - what..." Harry was barely able to get the words out; he was so hoarse that every sound was painful.

"It's okay, Harry." Ron's hands remained on his shoulders, firm and sure, and Harry had never been so grateful for a simple touch. "You're not going to die. It's over, and you got through it all right, remember?"

Harry took a deep breath, ignoring the pain in his throat, and finally found the strength to push Ron's hands away. He heard a whispered "Lumos", and then the room was bathed in soft, warm light. Ron was perched on the side of Harry's bed, his face pale and his eyes shining with something Harry couldn't identify.

"Okay now, Harry? You've just been dreaming."

Harry sat up and ran his hands through his hair to avoid Ron's gaze. "I'm sorry I woke you. Go back to bed, okay?"

Ron didn't move. "Have them often? These nightmares, I mean."

Harry's first impulse was to deny it, but there was something in Ron's expression that made it impossible to lie to him. "Quite often, yeah."

"Thought so." Ron's face was grim. "I knew there was something wrong when you were hell-bent on sleeping alone in Bill's old room. Why didn't you say anything?"

Harry shrugged. "What for? You've got enough on your plate, I don't need you to hold my hand just because I have a bad dream." It had come out a lot harsher than he'd intended, but Ron's expression didn't change.

"What did you dream about?"

Harry didn't answer. There was no way he'd ever be able to express the gut-wrenching terror he felt whenever he found himself back at the moment when he had realised that he was meant to go to his death, had always been meant to without knowing it. The actual events of that night seemed like a half-faded nightmare themselves by now, so unreal that he had a hard time believing that he'd ever been able to do it, that he had ever possessed the strength to quietly accept that death was his only choice. Now that he was no longer numb with shock and grief as he'd been then, that he'd had months to fully realise what had happened, to feel and grasp the magnitude of everything that had passed that night, the mere thought paralysed him with horror, and it got worse every time that the scene replayed itself in his dreams.

"It's nothing, Ron, really." He hated the way his voice shook and paused a moment to steady it, cursing himself for this shameful display of weakness. "It was just a stupid dream; I'm sorry I made such a racket. I'll put up a Silencing Charm in the future, okay?"

Ron's eyes narrowed. "Don't you dare. You were dreaming about going to face You-Know-Who, weren't you?" When Harry didn't answer, it was Ron's turn to look away; his hands were balled into fists, and the muscles in his jaws worked as if he were clenching his teeth.

"I can't stop thinking about it, Harry, ever since you first told us. I just get so bloody angry, you know?"

Harry closed his eyes for a moment. He had a feeling where this was going, and he wasn't sure whether he wanted to hear it. "Ron, don't -"

"How could he?" Ron didn't even seem to have heard him. "How could he just expect you to - to go and ask to be slaughtered? I knew he was off his rocker, but I always thought that you... that you were really special to him, and then it turns out he only wanted you to get yourself killed when the timing was right! It's so - so bloody unfair!"

"Ron." Thankfully, Harry's voice obeyed him once more. "None of what happened to any of us was fair. Life isn't fair, and you know it. How's it fair that I'm alive while" - he stopped himself from saying Fred's name just in time - "while so many others were killed? There's no need to get all worked up on my behalf."

Ron whipped around at this. "That's rubbish, Harry, and you know it. They were killed by Death Eaters, the people they were fighting. But Dumbledore was supposed to be on your side!"

"He had more than just me to think about. His main concern wasn't my safety, it was -"

"- the greater good?"

Harry had never heard Ron's voice sound so bitter. He looked down at his hands which were nervously plucking at his blanket; he hadn't even noticed he was doing it before.

"Something like that, yeah."

"Well, then -"

Harry shook his head. "Ron, let it go. Please. I - I can't think about this right now." Ever since the adrenaline rush of the final battle had worn off, he'd been careful not to dwell on the questions which Ron had just asked. He knew he was treading on dangerous ground; once he began to think about this, there would be no stopping his thoughts, and Harry wasn't sure he'd be able to cope with the conclusions he'd come up with.

Perhaps, in time, there would come a point where he would be able to face the memory of Albus Dumbledore with a clear head and an open mind, and he would figure out how to make sense of his conflicting emotions then. Right now, Harry was determined not to think about Dumbledore, although he was strangely grateful that Ron would feel angry and betrayed on his behalf when he himself couldn't.

Long after Ron had gone back to sleep, Harry was still lying wide awake. He was afraid to fall asleep again; the memories that haunted him seemed ever so much stronger now that he was back at Hogwarts, and he didn't feel up to facing another nightmare so soon. He wasn't sure what had happened to the desperate, determined courage that had kept him going during the last year; now that it was all over, that he was safe at last, he felt weaker and more fearful than ever before in his life. As he watched the first light of dawn seep into the room, Harry couldn't help asking himself, not for the first time, if it had really been his own strength that had driven him forward back then, whether it hadn't been that piece of Voldemort's stone-cold, ruthless soul deep within him that he'd tapped into whenever he needed to be stronger than he really was.

It would explain why the bravery he'd always taken for granted as the mark of a true Gryffindor had left him so utterly after Voldemort's death that he now barely felt able to face what the next day would bring.

* * *

"Harry, over here!"

Bleary-eyed and drowsy, Harry slowly made his way over to the Gryffindor table, where Hermione was waving at him. She was beaming, but it wasn't lost on Harry how dark the shadows under her eyes were and how Ron was hovering next to her, watching her every move with an air of protectiveness.

Harry returned the fierce hug she gave him and then held her at arm's length to take a look at her. It had only been four weeks since he'd last seen her, but they had seemed like an eternity, and she didn't look as if she'd had much fun during that time.

"How did things go with your parents?"

Hermione's face fell; Ron wrapped an arm around her shoulders when she sat back down with Harry on her other side. "Not so good."

"They came back with you, though, didn't they?" Harry did his best to sound positive, but he was aware that he probably wasn't the best person for pep-up talks right now.

Hermione nodded miserably. "Yes, of course they did - they said they wanted to go back to their lives, now that I had stopped messing with their minds and they could remember them..." She blinked a few times before continuing, in a small voice, "They just don't understand that I had no choice. They said - a lot of things, none of them very nice." She drew a deep, determined breath and gave Harry a watery smile. "But don't worry, we'll work it out. They are all right, and that's all that matters at the moment. How are you, Harry? How is Teddy?"

"He's fine," Harry answered, evading the first part of her question, "I spent a lot of time at Mrs Tonks' house with him, and he's just great. I think he already recognises me; he always turns his hair black when he sees me."

"That's wonderful." Hermione was smiling more convincingly this time, but then quickly became serious again. "And Mrs Tonks?"

Harry shrugged. "As can be expected." He'd been amazed by Andromeda Tonks' composure; nothing in her demeanour had given away that she was mourning her husband and her only daughter, but there had been a flat, dead look in her eyes that Harry had found thoroughly disturbing. There was nothing that he of all people could do about it, of course; deep down, he knew that he couldn't even have blamed Mrs Tonks if she'd forbidden him to ever come near her grandson, godfather or not.

Hermione was kept from answering by Professor Sinistra, the new Head of Gryffindor House, who was moving along the table handing out timetables. Harry took his with the same strange sense of surrealism he'd experienced the evening before, when he'd sat down for the Welcoming Feast. Again, he felt as if he'd gone back in time and landed in a past that was strangely distorted - familiar enough, but still wrong somehow. Or perhaps it was just him who didn't fit into it any more.

Ron was studying the timetable with one hand still around Hermione's shoulders and a piece of toast in the other. "Blimey, Harry, look at this - we've got classes together with all the other houses!"

"It seemed like the best solution," Professor Sinistra, who was still standing nearby, told him curtly. "It was difficult enough to arrange everyone's timetables so that students below seventh year who have to repeat a year could stay with their housemates, but there are just too many seventh-year students, since so many of last years' returned. We could have split them up either by house or by age, and the Headmistress chose the latter option."

"Why?" Ron asked bluntly. "I'd rather have classes with the younger Gryffindors than with a bunch of Slytherins who happen to be my age."

"Yes, I'm well aware of that, Mr Weasley," Professor Sinistra replied in a tone which was so carefully neutral that it was impossible to tell whether she agreed with Ron or not.

Out of habit, Harry glanced over at the half-empty Slytherin table. Beside Draco Malfoy, whose white-blond head was bent so low that Harry couldn't see his face, there seemed to be only two more students from their year: Blaise Zabini and a pale, mousy girl whom Harry remembered from Hagrid's classes although he had forgotten her name. They all looked sully and subdued; Harry doubted that they'd give anyone much trouble this year.

Tearing his eyes away from the Slytherins, Harry took a piece of toast and started nibbling at it; he wasn't hungry, but he reckoned he had to eat something to be prepared for the day. A glimpse at his own timetable informed him that the new school year would start with double Potions and Defence before lunch. This caused him to remember a question he'd been meaning to ask ever since last evening.

"Ron, do you have any idea who's teaching Defence this year?"

Ron frowned and quickly swallowed his mouthful of scrambled eggs before he answered, "Nope. There was no new face at the teachers' table yesterday, was there?"

Harry shook his head. "Not that I remember. They haven't even found a replacement for McGonagall, she said she'll still teach Transfiguration this year."

"Perhaps one of the teachers is covering two subjects?" Hermione suggested.

Ron shook his head. "Nah, I don't think that would work. Perhaps the new fellow is just arriving later."

Harry was about to answer when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and found himself face to face with Ginny, whose eyes were flashing dangerously.

Harry's heart skipped a beat; for a moment, he was at a loss for words. He knew that Ginny had every reason to be angry with him. He hadn't quite avoided her during the weeks he'd spent at the Burrow, but he hadn't sought her company either; he just didn't trust himself around her while matters were still unresolved between them. It had seemed tactless to ask her whether she wanted him back so shortly after her brother's death, so he'd kept his distance for the time being. Ginny hadn't paid him much attention anyway, but he could understand all too well that she'd had other things on her mind. When he looked at her expression now, however, he couldn't help wondering whether he shouldn't have said something sooner.

"Morning, Ginny. What -"

She didn't even let him finish the question. "Demelza just told me you won't be on the team any more. Is it true?"

So this wasn't about them, after all. Harry wasn't quite sure whether he should be glad or disappointed. "Yes, of course, I told her yesterday. I -"

Ginny sat down on the bench next to him so that those around them wouldn't hear them talking. Her voice was so low that Harry had to lean in to hear her properly, but it was still obvious that she was furious. "What do you think you're doing?"

"What?" Harry was at a total loss. "What do you mean?"

"Is this your attempt to make up for the fact that you've barely looked at me ever since - since it was all over? Stepping generously aside so that I can keep playing Seeker?"

Harry gaped at her with his mouth open. "WHAT?"

"If you thought you were doing me a favour, Harry Potter, you'd better think again!" Ginny hissed, not even acknowledging his question. "You think I couldn't have lived with it if you had beaten me to the position? But no, you won't even grace the tryouts with your presence to spare me the embarrassment, like a perfect gentleman! You know what, Harry, I might even have beaten you, but now we'll never know, will we?"

Harry suddenly felt even more tired than before. Perhaps Ron was right, and he didn't know Ginny all that well, but he could still see the pain and hurt behind the angry facade, and they both knew none of it had anything to do with Quidditch. "Ginny, calm down, please. I won't try out for the team because I don't want to play Quidditch this year, not because I want to do you a favour. My decision had nothing to do with you, believe me."

Ginny's face went strangely blank, a look that made Harry more uneasy than her anger before. "Well, am I ever glad to hear that." She stood up and left before Harry got a chance to reply - not that he'd have had any idea what to say to her.

Ron shot him a meaningful look over the top of Hermione's head, but Harry quickly focused his attention on his breakfast again and pretended he hadn't seen it.

* * *

Cursing under his breath, Harry sprinted along the silent corridors of the dungeons. He was running late for Defence thanks to Professor Slughorn, who had held him back after class and pestered him with questions about his well-being since his performance during the first lesson had been rather poor. It had taken Harry a while to disentangle himself; he couldn't very well tell Slughorn that he hadn't lost his alleged knack for Potions, but just didn't have Snape's personal notes to help him through the class any longer. There was a rather painful irony in this, but Harry didn't dwell on it; the topic of Severus Snape was high on the list of things he tried not to think about at the moment.

It was quite a long way from the Potions dungeon to the Defence classroom, and Harry was out of breath before he was halfway there. Shaking his head at his own stupidity, he stopped running and continued his way at a normal walking pace. It was so tempting to slip back into the familiar old schoolboy routine, but he knew he wouldn't be able to fool himself in the long run. After everything that had happened, it was ridiculous to pretend that he would ever care about things like house points or detentions again, so he might just as well stop right now.

He was ten minutes late when he finally reached the Defence classroom, resigned to the fact that was going to make a bad first impression with the new teacher. With a shrug, Harry opened the door; if there was any subject where he didn't have to worry about his performance, it was Defence, so he supposed the new professor would just have to live with it.

He'd planned to quietly slip into the classroom, but he froze on the threshold when he was greeted by the sound of a cold, horribly familiar voice. "And here's Mr Potter, fashionably late. Ten points from Gryffindor, for old time's sake."

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, the feeling of surrealism stronger than ever. So much for not thinking about Severus Snape.