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 05 - Part 5


"Harry, it's good to see you again." The Minister rose from his seat and extended his hand. Harry shook it, but didn't return the smile Shacklebolt gave him.

"Hello, Minister."

"It's still Kingsley to you, Harry." Shacklebolt gave him a sharp look, as if daring him to contradict. "Sweet Merlin, you look like shit."

Professor McGonagall harrumphed loudly, but Harry couldn't help grinning. Shacklebolt's honest bluntness was oddly refreshing, and of course, two could play that game. "You're too kind. What the hell are you doing here?"

Now even Slughorn looked a little scandalised, but the Minister laughed out loud. "I suppose I deserved that. Have a seat, then, there's something I need to discuss with you."

Harry sat down on the empty chair between Shacklebolt and Slughorn, his uneasiness returning full force. "Who's dead?"

Shacklebolt seemed taken aback for a moment; then he shook his head. "No, nothing of that kind. I'm sorry if I made you think that something was wrong; there are just a few things you should know about. Headmistress?"

McGonagall picked up a piece of parchment from her desk and handed it to Harry. "As you can imagine, it is becoming necessary for the Ministry to finally issue some kind of official statement about what happened during the Battle of Hogwarts. Minister Shacklebolt has been able to keep the Prophet at arm's length so far, but the rumours they keep making up to compensate for the lack of actual information are getting worse every day." Harry opened his mouth to interrupt her, but she silenced him with one of her withering looks. "No, Potter, I haven't forgotten that you said you weren't going to give any kind of testimony. I still think it's regrettable, but I'm going to respect your decision."

"Of course, Rita Skeeter will say that the compulsion to keep things quiet is another trait you picked up from Albus Dumbledore, my boy," Slughorn added with a wink.

Without thinking, Harry turned his head to where Dumbledore's portrait hung behind McGonagall's desk, but the gilded frame was empty. He experienced a brief twinge of disappointment, but there was something else too - something that almost felt like relief.

"Thank you, Horace," McGonagall said coolly. "Please read through the parchment I gave you, Potter; it's an account of the events which I have drafted together with the Minister and Professor Slughorn in his capacity as Deputy Headmaster. If there's a passage you want altered, just say so."

Harry skimmed the text that was written in McGonagall's copperplate script. He could see at first glance that the Headmistress and the Minister, who didn't possess most of the key information anyway, had even carefully censored plenty of things they did know about to come up with a report that barely deserved the name. It sounded very important and official, but the basic message was hardly more than, Voldemort attacked, tried to kill Harry Potter but botched it up again, and got killed for good this time.

With a shrug, Harry handed the parchment back to McGonagall. "It's fine with me, but I doubt the press will be satisfied with that."

"That's their problem, not mine," the Headmistress replied, "and before you ask, reporters are still banned from the Hogwarts grounds, and I will uphold the ban for as long as you and your classmates are students here. You needn't worry that Rita Skeeter will waylay you in the corridor and ask for an interview."

"Of course, it just means that she'll write her book about you without any firsthand information," Shacklebolt threw in casually, and Harry wasn't quite sure whether he was joking or not.

"Is that why you're here? To warn me that Rita Skeeter is out to get me?"

Shacklebolt waved his hand dismissively. "Like you needed me to tell you that. There are more important things that need to be decided right now, and I want you to hear this before we implement it."

He paused for a moment, and it wasn't lost on Harry how the Minister sat up straighter, as if he were about to deliver an official statement. "It's been almost four months since Voldemort's death, but we're still only at the beginning of getting things sorted out at the Ministry. We brought back most of the Muggleborns who had been fired or had fled, but there's just no way we can sack everyone who collaborated with the Death Eaters while Thicknesse was Minister. If we really tried to get to the bottom of this, we'd have to fire at least half the Ministry staff, and frankly, I don't think the current situation is stable enough for us to do that."

Shacklebolt paused again, and Harry was under the impression that he chose his words very carefully now. "That's only a part of the bigger problem, though. We need to decide what to do with everyone who supported Voldemort in some way, or profited from his actions, like the snatcher gangs. Problem is, it's difficult to draw a line - dark times bring out the worst in a lot of people, and if we start going after everyone who got his hands dirty, we'll need to build a few more prisons."

"And brace ourselves for another war within a couple of years," McGonagall added quietly.

Harry suddenly felt cold. "You really believe that?"

McGonagall nodded, her expression very serious. "Like the Minister said, Potter, this problem runs too deep to simply cut it out of our society. I think the only way is reconciliation, as far as that is possible."

"Is that why you apologised to the Slytherins during the Welcoming Feast?" Harry hadn't planned to ask her about that, but now he couldn't help but make the connection.

The Headmistress briefly looked over to Professor Slughorn before she answered. "Partly, yes. Professor Slughorn pointed out to me that the way I addressed Slytherin House in the Great Hall may have come across as a summary dismissal which alienated the Slytherin students even further from the rest of the school."

Harry was about to remind her that it had happened after Pansy Parkinson had wanted to send him out to where Voldemort was waiting, after all - but he thought better of it when he remembered that basically, so had Dumbledore.

"It may also interest you to hear that none of them were seen among the Death Eaters who came to take the school," Slughorn added gravely.

This gave Harry pause. Hadn't Voldemort told Lucius Malfoy that all the Slytherins but Draco had come to him? But then, Crabbe and Goyle had still been at Hogwarts and not with Voldemort's forces either - and now that he thought of it, he really couldn't remember seeing any students in the camp in the Forbidden Forest.

"Then why did half of them not come back? If they have nothing to hide, I mean?"

"I can think of quite a few reasons," Slughorn murmured as if to himself, but didn't elaborate when Harry shot him a dark look.

Shacklebolt cleared his throat. "With all due respect, Headmistress, Slytherin House is your responsibility, not mine, so I'll get to the point of my visit." He was addressing Harry again when he continued, "We've been discussing this for weeks at the Ministry, and frankly, we don't like any of the options we seem to have. Still, like the Headmistress said, our main goal must be to ensure that we don't pave the way for the next Dark Lord by deepening the rift in our society even further. Therefore, we're thinking about a general amnesty for all Death Eater crimes short of homicide committed since the return of Voldemort. Everyone else will get their wrists slapped, be assured that we'll be watching them closely from now on, and receive a pardon. I think it's our best chance for lasting peace; plus, it's probably the best way to make sure that those who did commit murder and have not yet been killed or arrested won't get any help from their former allies."

Harry had trouble believing that he'd heard him correctly. "So the likes of Dolores Umbridge will go unpunished?"

"Listen, Harry, I don't like this any more than you do." Shacklebolt looked sincere, and he probably was, given that he'd been a member of the Order. "I didn't say it was a perfect solution, but it was the most promising solution we could think of. We will go after the killers, but apart from them, we'll soon have a semblance of normality back. It's what people crave most at the moment; they're tired of bloodshed and turmoil."

The last remark hit squarely home, since it summed up how Harry himself felt at the moment. He didn't like the idea of so many crimes going unpunished, but now that he thought about it, he found that he liked the idea of an ongoing struggle even less. Still, there was one thing he had to be certain about.

"That means you are still going after Dolohov and Greyback."

Shacklebolt's face hardened. "You bet we are. Dolohov has been sighted twice, and it seems that Flitwick's hex left him in rather bad shape, but we've had no luck catching him so far. Greyback was last spotted when he went down in the Great Hall, no sign of him since. We're still none the wiser how they escaped, but it doesn't really matter - the important thing is that we hunt them down as quickly as possible, and we will."

"I blame myself for this," McGonagall threw in with a hint of bitterness in her voice. "I should have checked sooner whether all those we had taken down were really dead, especially Greyback - everybody knows how hard it is to kill a werewolf."

Harry didn't feel like bringing up that Dolohov had managed to kill Remus.

"It's like this, Harry," Shacklebolt continued, as if he hadn't heard McGonagall at all, "if we implement this policy, several rather high-profile followers of Voldemort will go free. It's not just the likes of Umbridge. I'm talking of people like Lucius Malfoy."

Harry realised that he wasn't terribly surprised by this - in a way, he'd been waiting for the name Malfoy to be mentioned ever since the Minster had started talking about amnesties. "Lucius Malfoy never killed anyone?"

Shacklebolt shook his head, his expression grim. "If he did, he covered his tracks well. There isn't even evidence of him torturing Muggles, or something like that. The slippery bastard seems to have been very careful not to get his precious hands dirty, with the exception of that one time at the Ministry that got him sent to Azkaban."

Harry closed his eyes for a moment. As clearly as if it had happened only yesterday, he suddenly remembered the dank, clammy darkness of the Chamber of Secrets, the hiss of Parseltongue and the slithering of huge scales over wet stone.

The man who had sent a young girl straight into this death trap would go free. Harry tried to feel fury and outrage at the thought, but all he felt was exhaustion.

He thought of the night Voldemort had returned and tried to recall the sound of Lucius Malfoy's voice as he pledged his renewed allegiance to his master. Lucius hadn't seemed particularly happy then - although not nearly as unhappy as he'd been when Voldemort had told him to consider Draco's death his punishment. It seemed wrong somehow, that a man capable of the things Lucius Malfoy had done should be able to love his son so much that he placed his survival above all other concerns. It made it somewhat more difficult to hate him the way he deserved, but then, Harry hadn't been able to work up the energy to truly hate anyone ever since the night of the final battle.

In the end, it probably didn't even matter very much any more.

When he opened his eyes again, the three adults were watching him carefully, as if he were a bomb that had just started ticking. Harry took a deep breath. "Why are you telling me this? It's not as if my opinion matters when it comes to Ministry politics."

Shacklebolt sighed. "Harry, please spare me the humility act, you know damn well that it matters. There is no hope for the Ministry to carry out such a controversial measure if you were to publicly speak up against it. People don't know much about how Voldemort died, but they do know that it was you who finished him for good. If you asked for Lucius Malfoy's head on a platter right now, half the wizarding population would fall over themselves in their hurry to hand it to you."

He must have noticed Harry's expression, because he continued in a much gentler tone, "Yes, I know you would never try to undermine my position or anything like that. But the fact remains that there is no single person in wizarding Britain right now whose opinion carries more weight than yours, and I need to make sure that you won't oppose my decisions in this matter before I open a huge can of Flobberworms."

Harry resisted the temptation to close his eyes again; he didn't know what to think. Ever since he'd returned to Hogwarts, he had felt like an adult trying - and failing - to impersonate a schoolboy, but now that the Minister for Magic had basically asked for his permission to carry out Ministry policies, it seemed to him that he was little more than a child dressed in a man's clothes, expected to play a part that was beyond his experience and his abilities. He had done everything he could, had been willing to die for them when he saw no other way out - couldn't they finally leave him alone now that everything was over?

"Minister," he said at last, hoping he sounded formal enough to hide the fact that he had trouble keeping his voice steady, "do whatever you see fit in this matter, I won't say a word against it to anyone. All I want is to finish my education and lead a normal life, I'm definitely not going to interfere with Ministry politics."

The looks of relief all around were impossible to miss - Slughorn heaved a great sigh, McGonagall's tense shoulders slumped the tiniest fraction, and Shacklebolt's serious face broke into a wide grin. "Harry, you have no idea how glad I am to hear that. Stick to it, and I can safely promise you that I won't come bothering you again - that is, unless you have need of the Ministry in any way..."

"I really don't think that will be necessary," Harry quickly cut him off before he could continue.

Shacklebolt, unfazed by the interruption, kept grinning. "Ah yes, of course. Well, then I suppose you're rid of me until you apply for Auror Training. You are still planning to apply, aren't you? The Headmistress told me you wanted to be an Auror since your fourth year."

"Er, yes -"

"That's really good to know." Shacklebolt stood and held out his hand towards Harry, who took it with a feeling of slight apprehension. "You can't begin to imagine how this will boost the morale of the Corps. They're all pretty down at the moment; they have suffered heavy losses, and it's still fresh on everyone's mind. Knowing that Boy Who Lived Twice will be joining them before long will raise spirits all around like nothing else could."

Harry let go of the Minster's hand. "Kingsley, could you - would you mind terribly not telling anyone about it yet?" He didn't know what made him ask the question, but something in Shacklebolt's words had made his stomach clench. "I mean - I'm looking forward to joining, I really am, but I don't want to - to jinx it..."

It sounded lame even to himself, and he wasn't surprised by the disappointed look that crossed Shacklebolt's face. Minister or no, Kingsley Shacklebolt was obviously still very much an Auror at heart, and Harry didn't blame him for trying to make things easier to bear for his former colleagues. "If that's what you want, Harry. I'll see you after your NEWTs, then?"

Harry nodded glumly and watched in silence as Shacklebolt bade farewell to McGonagall and Slughorn and then disappeared into the green flames of the fireplace. It was very quiet for a moment once he was gone; then McGonagall cleared her throat.

"Thank you for attending the meeting, Horace." She wasn't looking at Slughorn, but at Harry when she added, "Now if you don't mind, I believe Mr Potter and I need to discuss a few things in private."

* * *

"You're really sure about this?" McGonagall's hands were still on the rim of the stone basin she had placed on her desk, as if she were reluctant to let go of it.

Harry hesitated. "I'm not sure how a Pensieve actually works, Professor - if I put my memories in there, will I be able to still remember them at all?"

"A Pensieve is no Memory Charm, Potter," McGonagall replied, sounding as if she were giving a lecture in her classroom. "You will still possess the intellectual knowledge of what happened - as if you got the facts from a book, or somebody told you about them. It will be the actual memory of the scene in question, the feeling, the emotions, the whole experience of living through it, that will be gone - temporarily, that is, because I strongly advise you against removing a memory for good."

"I know," Harry said hastily, "Madam Pomfrey already told me. I'll put it back eventually, I promise. Right now, I just want to stop dreaming about it every night."

McGonagall's stern face softened. "Of course. Do you know how it's done?" When Harry shook his head, she reached for her wand. "Then I'll help you the first time; if you ever need to do it again, you can do it yourself. There's no spell or incantation involved, you just need to picture the memory you want to remove as clearly as you can. Ready?"

Harry closed his eyes and concentrated. He usually avoided thinking about these moments when he was awake, but now he tried to recall every second of his walk into the forest - the darkness, the cool wind in his face, the smell of the grass under his feet. The memories began flooding in freely now; he remembered the feeling of numb, cold dread, the way how a part of him hadn't wanted to accept that he was really, seriously going to meet his end. He all but felt the cold metal of the snitch against his lips and the wave of relief that had flooded him when he'd seen the ghostly images appear in front of him and realised that he would not have to go to his death alone, that they would accompany him and help him to see it through as he must.

He still saw his mother's smile before him when he opened his eyes again and nodded. "I'm ready."