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 08 - Part 8

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for the beta!

Harry felt a bit like he was back in his sixth year the next morning, when he sat down for breakfast in the Great Hall and immediately looked over to the Slytherin table where Draco was sitting hunched over a bowl of porridge. It was very obvious that he wasn't eating, and even more obvious that he hadn't got much sleep last night: he was even paler than usual, and there were dark circles under his eyes that were visible even from a distance. Harry wasn't quite sure what to make of that; if anything, he'd have expected Draco to be pleased about the news he'd learned from him, not upset to the point of sleeplessness. Harry briefly pondered whether Draco had really owled the Ministry for confirmation, but he quickly dismissed the idea as ridiculous.

Nevertheless, Draco sat up ramrod straight as soon as the first owls started soaring through the open windows, as if he were indeed waiting for a letter. Harry scanned the flock of unfamiliar birds, resolutely not thinking about the missing spot of white among them, and recognised the huge eagle owl that usually carried the Malfoy family's mail even before it landed on the Slytherin table and stuck out its leg towards Draco.

Careful not to let Ron and Hermione notice that his attention was elsewhere, Harry busied himself with buttering his toast, while he kept watching the scene out of the corner of his eye. Draco unrolled the parchment so hastily that he almost ripped it in two, and his face went even paler when he started reading. It took him a while to finish, but once he lowered the letter, his expression had changed completely. Whereas he'd looked anxious and tense before, he now seemed to be sagging with relief; he briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath, as if he needed to steady himself. The girl next to him, a snub-nosed blonde who couldn't be above fourth year, leaned closer and asked him a question. Draco answered with a curt nod, which caused whispers to spread along the Slytherin table like ripples in a pond. Draco, however, seemed unaware of it; he rose from his seat, the letter clutched tightly in his hand, abandoned his untouched breakfast and left the Great Hall.

There were, Harry noticed belatedly, a fair number of people who watched him leave - not only at the Slytherin table, but at the other House tables as well. He obviously wasn't the only one who had taken an interest in Draco's correspondence today, and it made him wonder whether Draco had told anyone about their conversation the day before.

* * *

Harry got an answer to that question later in the day, when he was on his way to the Defence classroom for the dreaded Occlumency lesson. He'd decided to be early in case Snape wanted to go over anything he was planning for today, but he already saw Draco standing outside the classroom, deep in conversation with a small Ravenclaw girl Harry didn't know. Neither of them noticed Harry's approach, and he was able to hear a few snippets of their conversation.

"You needn't worry," Draco was saying in a tone that was surprisingly gentle, although it didn't seem to have any effect on the girl, who was shaking. "Nothing is going to happen to her. The Ministry employee my father contacted is reliable enough, and although he wasn't pleased that word has got out at this stage, he confirmed that it's true."

"So they won't come and take her away to Azkaban?" the girl asked, sounding as if she were close to tears. "I've been so worried ever since -"

Draco shook his head. "They won't; she's safe, and you can stop fretting. And now run along, I've got work to do."

Once the girl had dashed off, Draco looked up and spotted Harry coming towards him.


His tone was cool, but perfectly civil. Harry wasn't quite sure how to react to this strangely formal behaviour; eventually he settled on a brisk nod. "Malfoy. What was that about?"

"The girl?" Draco shrugged. "She wanted to know whether the rumours about a Ministry amnesty were true."

"Busy spreading the word, are you?" Harry couldn't decide whether to be amused or annoyed, although he was sure which of the two Minister Shacklebolt's reaction would be when he heard about this. He was rather surprised how little the thought bothered him.

Draco gave him a shrewd look. "You didn't tell me not to."

"I doubt it would have stopped you."

"Well, if you'd have preferred me to keep this to myself and leave all the others who are afraid their parents or siblings might get arrested any moment in the dark..."

Harry shot him a glare. "Spare me the sympathy act, Malfoy. First, I doubt you care about anyone's family but your own, and second, let's not forget that these people would have deserved to go to Azkaban, so don't expect me to shed any tears over the fact that they're a bit nervous right now."

"Fine." Draco jerked his head to the side, indicating the direction into which the girl had disappeared. "You want me to go after her and tell her to stop worrying about her mum because she's not worth it anyway?"

Harry couldn't think of a comeback that wouldn't lead to more pointless bickering, and he was getting heartily sick of that. Instead of replying, he turned towards the door of the Defence classroom; he had his hand on the doorknob when Draco's voice stopped him. "Potter?"

Reluctantly, Harry turned around again; Draco hadn't moved from the spot where he was standing and was watching him with a guarded expression. "Thank you. For telling me, I mean."

This was the second time Draco had thanked him, so it didn't feel quite as surreal any more, but Harry still had no idea what to make of it. "You'd have heard about it soon enough, I reckon. And now come on, we need to finish preparing Snape's demonstrations since you ran away halfway through yesterday."

* * *

The lesson went surprisingly well, given how ill at ease Harry felt throughout. Predictably, almost everyone who wasn't in Slytherin wanted to work with him when the time came for practising; only Neville and two Hufflepuff girls volunteered to join the much smaller group who would try to keep Draco out of their thoughts.

They were only practising projection, which filled Harry with a sense of vindictive amusement - Snape may have resented Draco's critique of his teaching methods, but he obviously had been forced to realise that it made sense to start with the easiest stage. Still, none of Harry's classmates pulled it off at the first go, although Dean Thomas came close by thinking of nothing but football as soon as Harry had cast the spell. Most of the others unwillingly allowed Harry glimpses into their minds that filled him with a mixture of pity and horror - the war was everywhere, there were memories of death and pain, the overwhelming feeling of fear and loss, hopelessness and grief that seeped through everyone's defences and made it just as difficult for them to shield their thoughts as it was hard for him to witness what was going on in their minds.

It was a sobering realisation to see what kind of burden everyone else was carrying around all the time while they were all desperate to act as if nothing had happened, as if they were safely back to their normal lives now. It made him wonder how messed up he himself must be if the minds of those who'd been hardly more than bystanders in this whole mess were affected this badly.

Hermione and Ron were the last to go, and by the time he got to them, Harry felt so exhausted that his head was beginning to spin. Hermione went first, and Harry braced himself; he wasn't sure he was up to facing her darkest moments, given what they'd all been through. It was almost a relief to find out that the images that kept shining through her projection were the faces of her parents, looking at her with a mixture of anger, hurt and bitter disappointment. Harry could sympathise with her plight, but given what he'd seen so far in other people's minds, he'd been expecting worse.

Then only Ron was left. He seemed extremely fidgety when Harry raised his wand, and Harry quickly found out why. Although Ron did his best to block him out with the memory of his last, triumphant Quidditch match during sixth year, there was clearly something else on his mind that prevented him from focussing properly. Through the hazy Quidditch scenes, Harry kept getting flashes of other images - images he could really have done without and which left him firmly determined to always knock when he was about to enter their room from now on.

His expression must have given away his thoughts, because Ron was blushing crimson and very carefully avoided looking into Hermione's direction by the time Harry lowered his wand.

"Harry, listen - "

Harry held up his hand to cut him off. "Ron, drop it, please. I don't want to know, and I'd prefer to forget this as soon as possible, okay?"

It wasn't entirely true; he couldn't help wondering whether he'd witnessed the results of an over-active imagination or actual memories, but Ron would probably kill him if he ever asked him that. Still, whatever it had been he'd seen, it left him with a nagging feeling of unease. Ron and Hermione had been his closest friends ever since their first year, but now there was a part of their lives he had no access to, and even though he knew it was stupid and selfish, he couldn't help feeling a bit left out.

Then, finally, the bell rang; Snape set them a twelve-inch essay on the different techniques of mental shielding and dismissed the class. Harry, sensing danger, made a dash for the door, but Snape was faster.

"Potter, Malfoy, stay behind for a moment, there's something we need to discuss."

Harry wasn't surprised, but still annoyed; his head was pounding, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down for half an hour before dinner. Draco didn't seem too pleased either, although he kept quiet when Harry asked the portrait, none too politely, "Well, what is it?"

Snape gave him an icy glare. "Watch your tone, Potter. We need to make arrangements for the marking of the essays I set; it's not as if I could do it myself."

Draco sighed. "Don't tell me you want us to correct and mark essays for you?"

"That's precisely what I'm telling you, Mr Malfoy. The students who assist me in my other classes get to mark the homework of the year below them, but since there is no year above yours, you will have to do it. For all the seventh-years, not just for the students in this class, since the other seventh-year class is marking the sixth-years."

Draco seemed about to protest, but he couldn't get a word in. "I don't want to hear it, Mr Malfoy. Both you and Mr Potter, as much as it pains me to say, possess knowledge on this subject that surpasses that of the average seventh-year student. You should be more than up to the task, and of course, I will be there to guide you."

"And who will mark our essays?" Harry gestured towards Draco to emphasise his point. "His and mine, I mean. Don't tell me you want us to mark each other's homework?"

Snape lifted an eyebrow. "Do you have a better suggestion, Mr Potter?"

Harry could think of several things he'd have liked to suggest right now, but since none of them related to Defence essays, he kept quiet. Draco, however, was shaking his head. "I don't have time for this, Professor. The Quidditch season starts in three weeks, and I have my hands full as it is to get the Slytherin team into shape. They need me; I can't very well tell them to train without me because I have to spend my evenings marking essays!"

Snape sighed. "Your flair for dramatic exaggerations is getting a bit tedious, Draco. I assure you this task won't take up all your evenings, but if you're that worried about your team's performance, you'll be excused from helping with the essays when you've got team practice. Luckily, Mr Potter doesn't play Quidditch anymore, so I'm sure he'll be glad to take over for you on these occasions."

Harry was convinced it was not just his imagination that both Snape and Draco were biting back identical smirks at this. Clenching his teeth, he shouldered his book bag and made for the door before he said or did something he'd regret.

* * *

At the dinner table, Ron came up with an impressive and very colourful collection of names to call Snape and Draco when Harry told him about the extra task he'd been saddled with. He either really cared about Harry's predicament or, Harry thought with a touch of irony, was just tremendously relieved that Harry hadn't brought up the details of their Occlumency training.

"I can't believe the little shit dared to use Quidditch as an excuse to let you do the work for him." Ron shot a dark look at the Slytherin table, even though there was no white-blond head in sight there. "Everyone knows the Slytherin team is a laugh. Even he does - they say that Slughorn had to practically beg him to accept the captaincy!"

This was news to Harry, but then, he wasn't paying much attention to Quidditch-related rumours this year. "What's wrong with them?"

Ron snorted. "You mean, what isn't wrong with them? With half their house gone and barely any upper years left, they've assembled a team of green kids who've probably never seen a goal hoop up close in their lives. I've heard that apart from Malfoy, the eldest is barely fourteen. Seems he's aware that they'll be the laughingstock of the school, or he wouldn't make them train three times a week."

"Three times a week?" Harry found it hard to believe; not even Oliver Wood had been that fanatical. "They can't be that bad after that kind of drill, can they?"

Ron shrugged while he heaped a second helping of spaghetti onto his plate, momentarily reminding Harry of that evening in the tent when he'd told Hermione he wanted to go to Godric's Hollow. "No matter. We're playing them in a little over three weeks, and we're going to wipe the pitch with them." He gave Harry a grin that had no humour in it. "Don't worry, mate, Ginny says she can't wait until she gets to kick his arse."

Harry's eyes drifted down the length of the Gryffindor table, to the spot where Ginny was sitting between two girls from her year. As if she'd noticed his glance, she suddenly turned her head and saw him looking at her. Before Harry could do as much as give her a smile, however, she'd turned away again without acknowledging him in any way.

He heard Ron sigh next to him and was grateful that he didn't say anything.

* * *

The Ministry announced the amnesty plan three days later via an elaborate statement of Shacklebolt's in the Daily Prophet. The timing convinced Harry that he had forced the Minister's hand by letting the information slip, but he didn't feel overly bothered by it. There was much discussion in the Great Hall and in the Gryffindor common room during the following days, which caused Harry to skip meals in favour of what he could get from the kitchen elves and retreat to his room to do his homework in the evenings. He neither wanted to hear his housemates arguing about the news, nor was he willing to look around in the Great Hall to find out how many faces wore an expression of relief.

He was slowly getting accustomed to being back at school. There were days when the familiar routine no longer felt jarringly wrong, but actually gave him a feeling of comfortable stability in a world that still seemed to be off its axis, and he wasn't going to ruin these precious moments by hearing students who had no way of knowing what the war had even been about discuss Ministry politics. He had no idea how the wizarding public was reacting to Shacklebolt's announcement, and he didn't want to know. Pondering the issue led to memories of Dolores Umbridge watching his bleeding hand with a smug smile on her toad-like face, or of Lucius Malfoy's disdainful laugh when Harry had asked about Sirius in the Department of Mysteries - and Harry knew that it was no use to dwell on either, or on thoughts about another dozen of people who, for the sake of a new beginning, would not be held responsible for the crimes they had committed.

There were days when Harry felt that he'd almost pulled off the impossible feat to empty his mind of all thoughts about the past and focus on nothing but homework and timetables. Likewise, there sometimes were nights when he didn't dream at all or had forgotten most of it by the time he woke up in the morning. He even dared to sleep without a Silencing Charm around his bed now - Ron said that he sometimes heard him muttering in his sleep, but that didn't bother Harry as long as he didn't wake up screaming any more.

The certainty that there would come another of those better days again soon helped him through the moments when he wanted nothing more than to curl up in some dark corner and never come out again, or when the suffocating feeling of numbness settled over him and made him feel like a ghost walking among the living, witnessing the warmth and vibrancy of life around him without being able to share it. Some days were worse than others in that regard, but they too would pass eventually, and the knowledge kept him going. He had made it this far, had managed to survive even though his death had been pre-arranged during his infancy, and he stubbornly held on to the belief that there would come a day when life would finally be worth living.

He sometimes wondered whether Ginny felt the same way, whether she too still had to find her way back into a world where the only enemies left to overcome were pain and grief. He often thought of her during the darker moments, picturing the future he would one day share with her, when they would live safely in the knowledge that all their suffering was in the past. He was willing to give her all the time she needed, but sometimes, when he saw her chat with her classmates or smile at one of her friends at the Gryffindor table, he was convinced that he wouldn't have to wait much longer for the moment when they would finally manage to talk and set things right between them.

It didn't make anything better, just like holding on to his threadbare teddy hadn't kept the darkness of his cupboard away when he'd been a child. Yet in the same way that the teddy had helped him through the long, lonely nights back then, thinking about Ginny made everything a little bit easier to bear.