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 04 - Part 4


"You've been so brave - it's all right now, we're here with you..."

He felt his mother's arms around him, the brush of her silky hair against his cheek as she pulled him closer - when had he grown taller than she was? - and held him so tight that it almost hurt.

"I'm so proud of you, my boy." His father's arm around his shoulders was strong and reassuring, the smiling face almost a mirror image of his own but for the colour of the warm brown eyes.

He held on to both of them and felt the grief and pain and fear fade into nothingness, leaving nothing but blissful, peaceful contentment behind. He'd made it through, he was with them -

he was home.

"Not quite, my dear, but soon." His mother's voice was soft and sweet, but the arms that had held him a moment ago were gone, their lingering warmth snuffed out by the bite of the chilly evening air. Dusk was falling quickly; when he looked up, his parents were merely pale, shimmering outlines against the looming dark mass of the forest in the distance. He felt a cold, sick dread rise like acid bile in his throat when they held out their hands towards him, beckoning him.

"Come with us - just a little bit further, and it will be done... come, Harry, there's nothing to be afraid of..."

But he knew they were lying, that a terror beyond imagination was waiting for him in the darkness, that they were trying to lure him into walking towards his doom. All the happiness he'd ever known was gone; he felt betrayed and alone, and he'd never been so afraid in his life.

"No, you won't make me - let me be, please..."

"It's only death, Harry, nothing more - stop fighting, it's no use, it will all be over if you only -"


Harry sat bolt upright in bed, breathing hard, his own cry still ringing in his ears. It took him a few seconds until he remembered where he was and that there was no need to fret, that he'd just been dreaming again. The Silencing Charm had held, too - in the bed next to him, Ron was still fast asleep.

Harry took a deep breath and waited for his racing pulse to return to normal before he dared to lie down again. He had hoped that things would get better once he'd got used to being back at Hogwarts, but it had been almost a week since the beginning of the new school year now, and the nightmares still kept returning with merciless regularity. He was getting heartily sick of waking up drenched in cold sweat and shaking with horror at least once a night, but no amount of concentration had managed to banish the troubling dreams so far.

With a sigh, Harry closed his eyes and racked his brain for something, a memory, an image, that would be powerful enough to keep the nightmares at bay and grant him a few hours of peaceful sleep. At long last, he fell back on his favourite fantasy; he was past caring whether Ron found it ridiculous or not. Harry concentrated with all his might and pictured the gleaming scarlet steam engine of the Hogwarts Express among hundreds of children in school robes who were milling around on platform nine and three-quarters. He was there with Ginny at his side, Ron and Hermione were laughing and teasing each other, and there was a small, warm hand clutching his...

...the boy had vivid green eyes and unruly black hair, but there was no scar on his forehead, no memories of cupboards and dead parents in his past. He looked timid and very small among the other, much taller students, but Harry smiled down at him and saw the fear in the boy's eyes disappear. When he looked up, he spotted Draco Malfoy, half-hidden by a cloud of steam from the engine. The steam thinned, and for a moment, Draco's face stood out in sharp relief against the shifting mist as he gave Harry a curt nod and turned away. Harry nodded back, bewildered; he suddenly felt alarmed and uneasy, and the little boy next to him gave him a wide-eyed, worried look, but there was no reason to be worried, none at all, because everything was well...

* * *

It was late morning when Harry woke again and blinked owlishly in the brilliant sunlight that filled the small room. For a moment, he was convinced that he'd overslept, but then he remembered that it was Saturday, which meant that he'd finally managed to sleep in without waking up screaming. He'd even had a quite nice dream, one he'd had before - yes, it had been the one with Ginny and their children and the Hogwarts Express. Harry snuggled back into his pillow and tried to hold on to feeling of happiness and contentment that he remembered from the dream, but something was off. Despite the pleasant dream, he felt strangely uneasy, as if there'd been something that was not supposed to -


Once again, Harry sat bolt upright in bed, the lingering remains of peace and happiness gone completely as the memories came flooding back. Draco Malfoy had been there, smack in the middle of his favourite fantasy. It felt like a violation, a defilement of what had until now been the most treasured, safest retreat for Harry's mind whenever reality got too overwhelming.

With a muttered curse, Harry jumped out of bed and reached for his clothes. He was profusely grateful when Ron snored on; if he woke up now, Ron would notice that something was wrong and start pestering him, and Harry was convinced that he would die of mortification before he could ever let Ron know what he'd been dreaming. This had gone far enough, and he was going to put a stop to it before things got completely out of hand.

* * *

During his frequent visits to the Hospital Wing in the years before the war, Harry had learned to judge the severity of his situation by Madam Pomfrey's expression. As long as she was curt and stern, everything was going to be all right; if she became snappish and impatient, there was reason for concern. Once she showed something akin to compassion, things were quickly going from bad to worse.

Therefore, he was not at all reassured by the look on the nurse's face when he'd made his request, because Madam Pomfrey seemed to be fighting back tears.

"I'm very sorry, Potter, but I'm afraid I can't help you."

"What?" It was the first time Harry had ever heard that sentence from her. "All I'm asking for is some Dreamless Sleep Potion. I haven't been sleeping well lately, and - "

She cut him off with a gesture towards the chair in front of her desk. "Have a seat."

Bewildered and more than a bit annoyed, Harry sat down. Madam Pomfrey fixed him with a piercing gaze and asked with a gentleness that Harry found thoroughly alarming, "How bad are your nightmares?"

The question was unexpected, but Harry couldn't quite get himself to lie. "Bad."

"Potter... Harry... please listen to me." Her voice was firm, belying the worried look in her eyes. "There have been at least twenty students with the same request so far this week. It's only to be expected; you have all been through things that most adults would find difficult to cope with. But I've talked at length with the Headmistress, and we both agree that Dreamless Sleep Potion is no solution. The Potion is not made for constant use; it has rather severe side-effects, and it's addictive in the long run. You need to find a way to live with everything that has happened, not just to suppress the nightmares it causes. In your case, Harry, I would strongly suggest that you talk to a trained counsellor; there are several experts among the staff at St Mungo's, and I could -"

"Forget it," Harry interrupted her. If there was one thing he was sure of, it was the fact that he was never going to discuss everything that had happened with a stranger who tried to poke around in his brain. "I don't mean to be rude, Madam Pomfrey, but that's not an option."

She merely sighed. "I had a feeling that you were going to say that. Will you then at least promise me that you'll talk to someone? Choose someone you trust, a friend you feel close enough to to discuss how you feel. I know you quite well by now, Harry, and you have an unfortunate tendency to think that you need to do everything alone. This isn't something you can sort out all by yourself, believe me."

Harry chewed his lower lip, uncertain how to answer her. Ron and Hermione had their own problems to deal with, and it didn't seem fair to burden them with his troubles on top of that. Apart from them, he couldn't think of anyone he was willing to confide in. They all looked up to him as the vanquisher of Voldemort, the hero of the second war - how could he possibly admit to any of them that he was afraid of a few bad dreams?

"Is that the only advice you can give me?" He hated how small his voice sounded, as if he were a frightened child instead of someone who had left his childhood behind for good on the day of Cedric Diggory's death.

"Well, not quite," Madam Pomfrey admitted. "There's something else, although it's only a temporary solution. How specific are your nightmares? Do the scenarios change, or are the dreams focussed on one particular memory?"

Harry closed his eyes for a moment and tried to recall the nightmares he'd had during the last months. They hadn't all been identical (Draco Malfoy's appearance in an otherwise pleasant dream last night, for example, had been entirely new), but the overall pattern was clear enough. "They change a bit, but there's one memory that keeps coming up over and over again. What difference does it make, though?"

"In the case of a specific event that the patient finds impossible to cope with, a Pensieve can be of help," Madam Pomfrey answered. She was back to her usual businesslike behaviour now, and Harry was relieved that she didn't ask questions about the nature of the memory he kept dreaming about. "I would strongly advise against removing the memory in question for good, but it might help to get rid of it for a while until you feel able to face it again. You could also view it inside the Pensieve before you put it back where it belongs; a different perspective might help you to accept what happened and learn to live with it."

It wasn't what Harry had been hoping for, but it was probably better than nothing if he ever wanted to sleep undisturbed again. "That sounds promising. Do you have a Pensieve I could use?"

Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "The only Pensieve in this school belonged to Professor Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall has given me permission to send students who wish to use it to her office. I'll let her know that you're interested; she'll summon you when she has time for you."

* * *

Harry had expected Professor McGonagall to send for him within a few hours, but several days passed without a word from her. He had no idea why she kept him waiting; it wasn't as if the nightmares were going to go away by themselves. It was becoming harder and harder to hide from Ron what was going on, and Harry was struggling not to let his growing irritation show. The fact that he hadn't got a full night's sleep ever since school had started didn't help, either; there were moments when he was so tired and cranky that he wanted nothing more than to lash out at the next person who so much as looked at him funny.

As long as there were no other solutions available, Harry did his best to bury himself in his schoolwork. It took his mind off things, and poring over his books until he was so exhausted that he almost collapsed on top of them at least helped him to fall asleep quickly once he'd finally made it into bed - even if he'd inevitably wake up from another nightmare a few hours later.

It was strange, in a way, how quickly he found himself slipping back into the familiar routine of school. Most of the time, it seemed as if the events of the previous year had never happened - nobody was keen on discussing them, classes went on as before, and even though the slight feeling of surrealism never fully disappeared, it was almost possible to pretend that everything had indeed gone back to normal without a hitch.

Sometimes, however, there were moments when the mask of normality the whole school was wearing slipped a bit. Harry got used to walking in on younger students crying in a corner and quickly learned that it was best to look the other way and pretend he hadn't seen them. He noticed the way Ron would sometimes stop himself just in time before mentioning Fred's name, and how Hermione paled slightly whenever the post owls delivered a letter from her parents. Harry became very adept at avoiding painful memories - he knew better than to let his thoughts dwell on Fred, Lupin, Colin, or Tonks, yet every now and then, the ever-present grief would catch up with him through little things that slipped by his defences. More than once, he caught himself looking up from his breakfast to check the flock of owls coming through the windows for a speck of white before he remembered that Hedwig wasn't going to be among them any more. One evening, he found a pair of mismatched socks at the bottom of his trunk and sat staring at them for half an hour because he couldn't bring himself to throw them away, given how much Dobby would have liked them.

Classes were a relief; now that the old curriculum had been reinstated, the teachers were doing their best to make the students catch up with everything they had missed for one reason or the other, and Harry was thankful for the way the workload kept taking his mind off things. He had been rather apprehensive about Snape's classes and the prospect of having to work together with Draco Malfoy, but so far, Snape had mostly limited himself to theoretical lectures and had only asked Harry once to demonstrate a few simple Shield Charms. Draco hadn't even looked at Harry ever since their talk in the corridor, and Harry was relieved that he didn't have to deal with him on top of everything else right now.

Ginny, too, didn't seem too keen on talking to him, but Harry wasn't overly worried about that. In spite of what Ron had said, Harry was still confident that he and Ginny would be able to work things out eventually. They had all the time in the world, and he was willing to be patient and wait for the right moment. The knowledge that he would have Ginny back at some point was like a shining beacon in the distance, helping him to find his way through the murky twilight of the present. Whenever he woke up from another nightmare, he would think of her and try to picture moments from the future they would have together - the Christmas scene had become his new favourite now that Draco Malfoy's inexplicable appearance had ruined the Hogwarts Express scene for good.

Still, every evening, he went to bed dreading the dreams the night would bring and hoping that the next day, McGonagall would finally let him get rid of the memory that kept haunting him in his sleep.

* * *

Double Transfiguration was the last class on Friday afternoon, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief when McGonagall held him back after the end of the lesson.

"Potter, do you have any plans for the weekend yet?"

This wasn't quite what Harry had been expecting. "Well, yes, I was planning to go and see my godson on Sunday." It still felt strange to refer to Teddy as 'my godson', but somehow, Harry found that he liked the sound of it.

McGonagall pursed her lips. It was no secret that she still wasn't keen on the fact that Harry had insisted on being allowed to leave the school whenever he wanted. Harry knew perfectly well that McGonagall would never have let anyone else get away with such an outright breach of school tradition, but this was the one matter where he was determined to play the Saviour card if he had to. He was one of only two people Teddy Lupin had left in the world; he owed it to Remus and Tonks to look after their son and be there for him as best he could.

"Very well," she said after a moment; it wasn't lost on Harry how clipped her voice had become, but he knew that she wouldn't keep him from using the Pensieve just because she was annoyed with him. "Could you fit it into your busy schedule to come to my office Saturday morning, ten o'clock? There are a few things that need to be discussed."

"Erm, yes, of course. Professor, did Madam Pomfrey ask you if - "

But McGonagall silenced him with a glance before he could finish the question. Saviour of the wizarding world or no, she still had a way of making him feel five years old when she looked at him like that. "There will be time for that tomorrow, Potter. Ten o'clock; the password is 'tabby'."

* * *

Harry's heart was in his throat when the spiral staircase took him up to the Headmistress's office the next morning. The nightmares had been particularly vicious last night, and the thought of finally getting rid of them was making him feel giddy and strangely apprehensive at the same time.

To his surprise, he could hear the murmur of several voices through the heavy oak door. It was impossible to make out words, but besides McGonagall, Harry was sure he recognised Professor Slughorn and another, even deeper voice that was familiar although he couldn't place it. Had McGonagall thought he wanted an audience for this?

His apprehension growing, Harry reached for the brass knocker and noticed how the voices inside fell silent immediately. Then the door swung open, and Harry realised with a feeling of dismay that he was in for an unexpected meeting with the Minister for Magic.