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 06 - Part 6


The tip of McGonagall's wand touched his temple, and Harry experienced a most curious sensation inside his head. A thread of silvery mist was attached to the wandtip when she slowly pulled it away; it left a strange feeling behind, a kind of emptiness that made him light-headed for a second. Once that had passed, it suddenly became easier to breathe, as if a weight on his chest he hadn't even been aware of had been lifted. He watched McGonagall lower the misty thread into the Pensieve, which seemed to fill up with a swirling, half-transparent liquid. It looked innocent, almost beautiful, and for a moment, Harry could hardly believe that this was the material his nightmares were made of.

McGonagall eyed him with an air of apprehension. "Do you feel anything, Potter? Any changes?"

"I think so." Harry tore his eyes away from the swirling silver inside the stone basin. "I feel - I'm not sure how to describe it. Better, anyway."

"You still remember what the memory was about?"

"Yes, absolutely." The images were still there, but it was only now that he discovered he didn't find it difficult to think about them any longer. "I know what happened, but I - I don't feel it any more."

"That was the idea." McGonagall gave him a thin-lipped smile. "Do you wish to look at the memory?"

Harry took a step back. "No, thanks." When he noticed her expression, he added hastily, "I think I'll wait a bit for that. Perhaps I could look at it before I put it back -?"

To his immense relief, McGonagall didn't press the issue. "Very well. Then I will keep it safe for you in the meantime."

"Can't I have it?" It seemed wrong somehow to let his memories float around in McGonagall's Pensieve, where anyone might take a peek at them. For the first time, Harry experienced a small twinge of guilt at the memory of sticking his head into some of the worst moments of Snape's life back in his fifth year.

"No, Potter." McGonagall's voice was kind, but firm. "Frankly, I don't want you to get tempted to destroy the memory. Don't worry, it's perfectly safe with me - look here." With a wave of her wand, she summoned a clear glass bottle and, with a second wave, siphoned the silvery mist into it. She stoppered it carefully and labelled it with a small piece of parchment reading H. Potter. Then she walked over to a heavy wooden cupboard next to the fireplace and tapped it with her wand.

His curiosity piqued, Harry took a step closer. The cupboard doors sprang open, revealing a collection of at least two dozens similar bottles in orderly rows. Each of the bottles contained the same swirling liquid and was labelled with a name. The arrangement reminded Harry uncomfortably of the photo of a military cemetery he'd once seen: rows and rows of identical white headstones that bore nothing but the name of the soldier buried underneath. He'd found the sight vaguely disturbing even then, but now that he'd attended so many funerals just a few short months ago, the memory made his stomach turn. When McGonagall placed his bottle next to the others, Harry was momentarily afraid he was going to be sick.

As if the Headmistress knew what he was thinking, she closed the cupboard again so quickly that Harry couldn't make out more than two or three of the names on the other bottles. He was sure he'd seen S. Bones and D. Creevey, and the label next to Dennis' bottle might just have read D. Malfoy.

This, more than anything else, helped Harry get his balance back. The anger that rushed through him was a welcome relief from the choking feeling of grief and guilt that he'd first experienced at the sight of his schoolmates' memories. Draco Malfoy? What on earth would the git remember that he couldn't cope with? He still had his parents, his father wasn't even going to Azkaban, he was back at school with nothing more than a few black looks in his direction...

...after spending months in the company of a murderous, power-crazed madman, fearing for himself and his parents, watching Voldemort kill and torture and being forced to participate, witnessing the gruesome death of one of his closest friends -

Harry's anger evaporated as quickly as it had flared up, leaving nothing but the familiar feeling of exhaustion behind. The events of the past year had changed so many things; the fact that he no longer seemed able to properly loathe Draco hardly counted among the more important ones.

He took a deep breath and pushed the thought away. "Are we done, Professor?"

McGonagall gave him another piercing look, but Harry found it easy to return it without blinking. For the first time in weeks, he didn't feel as if he were walking around with a shameful secret at the back of his mind that people might notice if they looked at him closely enough.

"Yes, I believe that's it, Mr Potter, unless there is anything else you think we should discuss."

"No, thank you, that won't be necessary. I'm fine, really." It wasn't quite true, but there was definitely more truth to the statement than there had been in a while.

It was obvious that there were still some things McGonagall wanted to say, but she merely nodded. "Very well, then. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Potter, and please let me know immediately when you have need of the Pensieve again."

Harry wasn't quite sure whether this was an offer to get rid of any other memory that troubled him or an admonition to put this one back where it belonged as soon as possible, but right now, he didn't care. His stomach was growling, reminding him that he hadn't eaten much for the last few days, and he couldn't wait to get down to the Great Hall for lunch.

* * *

"It seems you've finally got your appetite back, Harry," Hermione said in an approving tone when she noticed that Harry had almost finished his second helping of shepherd's pie.

Harry, who had his mouth full, merely shrugged; he didn't particularly like her fussing over him, but he knew she meant well.

"What did McGonagall want of you, by the way?" asked Ron, who, as usual, had finished his own lunch in record time. Harry did some quick thinking while he swallowed; he hadn't told Ron about his plan to use the Pensieve, but Ron had heard McGonagall tell Harry to come to her office. Eventually, he decided to let them know about the part of the meeting that was probably of greater interest to them than his troubling memories. They wouldn't like the news, but it was probably better to learn them from him than from the Prophet.

"Kingsley Shacklebolt was there. He told me there will be an amnesty for all followers of Voldemort who didn't commit murder."

Harry wasn't sure how he'd expected Ron and Hermione to react to this, but the meaningful glance they shared definitely came as a surprise. "Wait a moment, did you two know that already?"

"Well - yes," Ron admitted after hesitating briefly. "Dad and Percy were talking about it a few times over the summer. They're not happy about it, but Dad says he thinks it's probably the best solution."

"I had a long discussion with Percy before I left for Australia," Hermione interjected. "He said it's pretty bad to go to work every day and meet people he wants to punch as soon as he sees them, but they're all trying to cope somehow. He thinks it's impossible to tell who just went along with the way things were done under Thicknesse because they were afraid, and who really liked what was going on. It's a frightening idea, really, that so many people who were never Death Eaters might still have been okay with Muggle-borns being persecuted."

"That's what Dad said, too," Ron added with a frown. "That he never knew how wide-spread these things were before - well, before. It's not like they're all going to have a change of heart just because You-Know-How is dead, is it? But Shacklebolt thinks it will be easier to make them come around if he doesn't go after them now."

Harry couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. "So you're okay with it? With the likes of Umbridge being pardoned?"

Ron's expression darkened. "You don't seriously believe I'm okay with that c-"

"Ron!" Hermione interrupted him sternly before he could spit out the profanity that had obviously been on the tip of his tongue.

Ron shrugged. "Whatever. At least no one at the Ministry wants to work with her now; Dad told me she's being handed from department to department because everyone tries to get rid of her."

Hermione had a dreamy look on her face now. "The Centaur Liaison Office in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures should be perfect for her, don't you think?"

Ron stared at her with his mouth open for a moment before he burst out laughing. It had been a while since Harry had heard anyone laugh in his vicinity, and for the fraction of a second, it almost felt as if things were back to normal.

"Hermione, that's brilliant," Ron finally gasped while he wiped tears from his eyes. "Remind me to write Percy about it, I'm sure he'll love the idea!"

There was a small, smug smile on Hermione's lips when she answered, "He seemed quite taken with it when I suggested it to him, yes. Said he was going to mention it to the Minister as soon as possible."

"God, I love you." Ron leaned in and pressed a quick kiss on her temple, which caused Hermione's cheeks to turn a gentle shade of pink. Harry looked away; he was happy for them, he really was, but he never quite knew how to behave during moments like this. He'd expected Ron and Hermione to get together for quite some time, but now that it had happened, he still wasn't sure how to deal with it. Thankfully, they were rather discreet about it most of the time.

"So if you both knew about the amnesty, why didn't you tell me?"

"Um." Ron gave Harry an apologetic look. "Sorry, mate, but I wasn't sure how you'd take it. I half expected you to bite someone's head off once you found out."

It seemed ironic that this was exactly how Harry had expected him to react, but somehow, Harry felt there was more to it. Between Ron's cautious tone, Hermione's wary expression and the way Shacklebolt had treated him a bit earlier, Harry couldn't help asking himself whether they all thought he was some kind of explosive that had to be handled with extreme care because it might blow up in their faces any moment.

He didn't want to dwell on it, though; not when he finally had reason to hope for a peaceful night once he'd managed to get another day behind him.

* * *

It was a bright, crisp autumn day when Harry stepped out of the main gate, feeling better than he had in weeks after a long night of blissful, dreamless sleep.

As he walked down the stone steps to head for the Apparition point outside the school grounds, he briefly wondered whether he'd ever be asked to take his Apparition Test. So far, no one seemed to care that he was Apparating all over the place without a licence - perhaps it was another thing that only the Chosen One got away with. The idea should have been amusing, but it reminded him of the talk with Shacklebolt the day before, which dampened his mood somewhat.

"You look very serious for a beautiful Sunday morning."

Harry jumped at the sound of Luna's voice next to him; he'd been so lost in thought that he hadn't seen her sitting cross-legged on a chequered blanket on the grass, a book in her lap. She gave him a beaming smile and patted the blanket next to her. "Come sit with me and tell me what's wrong."

Harry hesitated for a moment, but he wasn't supposed to arrive at Mrs Tonks' until almost an hour later, so he still had plenty of time. Besides, Luna was a good listener, even if her answers sometimes were a bit weird.

"Minister Shacklebolt told me yesterday that it will lift the morale of the Auror corps if I sign up for Auror training."

Luna gave him one of her intense stares. "And how is that bad? Don't you want to be an Auror any more?"

Now that he heard her ask the obvious question, Harry realised he wasn't as sure about the answer as he'd once been, which was more than just a bit unsettling. Pushing the matter aside for the moment, he answered, "That's not the point, you see - it's that they have no reason to get all excited about it yet, they can't even know whether I'm going to be any good at it!"

"Aurors hunt Dark Wizards, and you killed a Dark Lord," Luna pointed out reasonably. "I suppose they think that counts for something."

"Maybe." Harry fell silent for a moment, trying to find a way to make her understand what made him so uneasy. It was hard, mostly because he didn't fully understand it himself. "It's just - I don't want to remain The Bloke Who Killed Voldemort my whole life. I want - I want to be what I am, not what I once was, or did, in the past. If I become an Auror, I want them to be glad to have me because I'm good at it, not because I make for a nice figurehead. I didn't think about it before yesterday, but now that Kingsley could barely wait to tell them I was going to join to cheer them up - I don't know." He shrugged, resigning himself to the fact that he couldn't find the words to express what was going through his head. "It probably doesn't matter anyway."

Luna was still looking at him as if she were trying to read his mind. "I've told you before that I think you shouldn't be an Auror."

Harry was puzzled for a moment before he recalled the conversation they'd once had at Slughorn's party. "Because of some conspiracy thing, wasn't it?"

Luna shook her head. "The Rotfang Conspiracy became obsolete when the old Ministry fell, and I doubt they need to start another, now that an ex-Auror is Minister. I just don't think you'd be happy, being an Auror."

Harry grinned weakly. "You think I'm not made for conspiracies?"

Luna didn't answer; she was looking past Harry towards the steps leading up to the school entrance. Following her gaze, Harry noticed Ginny, who was standing there with her hands balled into fists and an expression reminiscent of an approaching thunderstorm on her face. When Luna raised her hand and waved at her, Ginny threw her a murderous glance, turned around on her heel and stormed up the steps. The heavy oak door slammed shut behind her with an echoing boom.

Luna slowly lowered her hand. "I don't think she was happy to see me with you."

Harry, who had been staring after Ginny in utter bewilderment, did a double-take at this. "What?"

When it finally dawned on him what Luna had meant, he almost burst out laughing. He caught himself just in time; he didn't want to offend her by implying that the idea of Ginny being jealous of her was ridiculous. "Why should she mind? She knows we're friends."

Luna gave him another look. "She's having a hard time right now, and that can blow things out of proportion. Besides, you two still haven't got together again, have you?"

"No." Harry was beginning to fidget under the intensity of her stare. "The time hasn't been right so far."

"Oh." Luna paused for a moment, as if pondering his answer. "But you want to be her boyfriend again?"

"Yes, of course I do!" It had come out louder than Harry had intended, but Luna seemed unfazed.

"Just like you want to be an Auror?"

Harry opened his mouth and closed it again when he realised that he had no idea how to answer that. "Luna, I'm sorry, but I need to get going, Mrs Tonks and Teddy are waiting for me."

"Please give them my greetings." Luna was smiling again, and Harry was grateful that she hadn't noticed he'd dodged her question. "Remind Mrs Tonks to keep Teddy away from cauliflowers until he's two, unless she wants him to get a bad case of Purple Placklumps."

Harry grinned at this. "I'll make sure to tell her."

* * *

If Luna had a knack for brightening his mood, it was nothing compared to Teddy's ability to make Harry forget everything around him. As always, the time he got to spend with his godson passed far too quickly, but Harry was still smiling to himself when he Apparated to Hogsmeade in the evening and started walking back to the school. It would be dark soon, but he was in no hurry; he'd already had dinner with Mrs Tonks, and his homework for the weekend was finished. There wasn't anything left to do tonight other than reading a bit or losing a game of chess against Ron if he hadn't wandered off to snog Hermione in a secluded corner.

On the whole, it seemed to Harry that this Sunday had been by far the best day he'd had since - well, since much longer than he cared to think about. He was humming the lullaby he'd heard Mrs Tonks sing for Teddy under his breath when he pulled the Hogwarts gate open.

His good mood lasted for another two seconds after that, because as soon as he'd stepped over the threshold, he found himself face to face with Draco Malfoy.

"Oh thank God, I thought I'd be standing here all night before you graced the school with your presence again!" Draco snapped at him.

It was probably just the fact that he'd had a full night's sleep that made Harry keep his cool. "Waiting up for me? That's so sweet of you."

Draco's face twisted into a grimace that reminded Harry of a dog baring its teeth. "Really funny, Potter; I'll laugh when I have a moment. And now come on, Snape wants to see us in the Defence classroom."

"What, now? On a Sunday evening?"

"It's only half past seven, for pity's sake. I can see that you need your beauty nap, but you'll manage somehow." With that, Draco turned on his heel and walked off without checking whether Harry was following him or not.

Fuming, Harry ran after him until he caught up; he wasn't going to traipse along in Draco Malfoy's wake. He was a bit surprised that the git would have the nerve to take such a tone with him - had he already learned about the amnesty and now thought that he had nothing to fear from Harry any more?

"Did he at least say what he wants from us?"

Draco shrugged. "He needs us to prepare a demonstration for tomorrow's Defence lesson."

"And he couldn't have told us sooner than the evening before?"

"He said you'd find a way to chicken out if you knew too long in advance." Only now did Draco turn his head to look at Harry. "From what I gathered, tomorrow's lesson is going to be about Occlumency."