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 10 - Part 10

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

It dawned on Harry that he should have listened to Ron the moment Ginny came out of the changing room and saw him sitting with his back against the broom shed. Her eyes narrowed, and a sharp line appeared between her eyebrows that made her look much older than she was. He hadn't expected her to be overjoyed about finding him waiting for her, but it still stung when the only greeting she gave him as he scrambled to his feet was a curt, "What are you doing here?"

"I - I thought..." Harry took a deep breath, steadying his voice. "I hoped we could talk."

Ginny crossed her arms over her chest, her grim expression never softening. "About what?" Her clipped tone reminded Harry of Fudge during his interrogation before the Wizengamot three years ago.

He was never going to dismiss Ron's advice again. "Um - you know, it can wait if it isn't such a good time right n-"

"Oh no," Ginny interrupted him, "by all means, let's talk. It might be another year before I get the privilege of speaking with you again, after all."

Harry felt his mouth drop open. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Ginny took a step closer, and he had to fight the urge to shrink back. The colour was rising in her cheeks now, hinting at the anger bubbling underneath the icy surface. "What, you mean you can't guess? After you've pretended that I don't exist ever since you sent me away from the battle?"

This was so unfair that Harry felt as if she'd slapped him. "You couldn't have stayed, you were underage! If you -"

"Bullshit!" Ginny's voice was getting louder, her temper finally flaring for real. "As if anyone would have cared about my age! You wanted me out of your hair, nothing else!"

"I wanted you safe!" It was all Harry could do not to yell back. "Do you think I could have lived with myself if I'd let something happen to you?"

Ginny was about to give a scathing reply when Demelza came out of the changing room, gave them a quick look and then hastily walked past them. The seconds until she was out of earshot seemed to calm Ginny somewhat, because she continued in a more controlled tone, "That wasn't your decision to make! We were fighting a battle the whole year at Hogwarts, with the Carrows after the DA and the Slytherins practising hexes on us, so don't think I need you to look after me!"

"Could have fooled me down there in the Chamber of Secrets," Harry snapped, and then instantly regretted it. It had been a foolish thing to say, but it had rankled him to hear her hold the events of last year against him, given what he had been through during that same year. Still, he wished he could take back what he'd just said when he saw her flush deepening.

"Oh, so you do remember that after all? Then why the hell did you keep your mouth shut right now instead of reminding McGonagall that the little shit deserved being spat at?"

Harry took another deep breath; he was beginning to fear that things between them might get damaged beyond repair if he lost his temper now. "Ginny, please listen to me. I know what Lucius Malfoy did to you, and I'd love nothing better than to see him rot in Azkaban for it, but it's just not going to happen, and picking fights with his son won't change it. McGonagall told me that she thinks we'll either manage a fresh start now or face another war in a few years, and we both know what that would mean, don't we?"

"My God." Ginny's voice was low, but trembling with fury. "You really mean that. Have you gone as mad as the rest of them? Don't you know what their lot put us all through?"

Harry couldn't believe he was hearing this. "What do you think I did last year, go on holiday or something?"

"How the hell should I know? It's not as if you ever told me anything about it!" The angry tears that had glittered in Ginny's eyes before were now spilling freely over her cheeks, but she didn't even seem to notice them. "I kept waiting for a word, a message, anything from you while you were on the run; there was nothing, and half the time I wasn't even sure whether you were still alive! Then you came back, and I wanted to fight next to you, but you sent me away! And when it was all over, you had forgotten that I even exist!"

Harry stared at her, stung by the accusation he'd never have expected from her. "Forgotten? I kept thinking about you all the time! Sometimes at night, I sat for hours and watched your name on the Marauder's Map until -"

Ginny's eyes went wide. "That map that Ron and Hermione used the night Snape killed Dumbledore? You had it all the time, you... you bloody bastard? It would have kept us safe from the Carrows all year!"

Harry felt utterly dumbfounded; now that she'd said it, it seemed completely logical, but the thought had never occurred to him before. "It's - I've had it forever, and I just wasn't thinking..."

"...of me," Ginny finished hotly. "Nothing new there, I suppose."

Harry suddenly knew with frightening clarity that if he didn't manage to completely turn the conversation around now, he was going to lose her for good.

"Ginny, that night of the final battle - " He paused for a moment, carefully weighing his words; he was about to reveal something he'd never told anyone before, and it was a lot harder than he'd imagined. "When Voldemort was pointing his wand at me, and I thought I was going to die the next second - everything I could think of was you."

He hadn't planned to ever tell her this, and now that he had done it, he felt strangely vulnerable, as if he'd stripped naked in front of her and was now waiting to see whether she was going to laugh at him or not.

Ginny slowly wiped the tears off her cheeks with her sleeve; when she looked at him again, her expression was eerily calm. "It's very sweet that you would have died thinking of me, Harry. Pity you never seem to spare a thought for me while you're alive."

He wanted to reply, to tell her that she'd completely misunderstood him, but she kept talking. "I really like you, Harry. Or at least I thought I did." Her voice was flat and emotionless; it made him wish she were still yelling at him instead. "I've always been certain that things would be all right in the end, once it was all over. But now I look at you and see you look right through me, and I get the feeling that I'm facing a stranger. I wanted my Harry back, the one I've been waiting for all this time - but I suppose I've stopped believing that it's ever going to happen."

There was a lump in Harry's throat that seemed to grow with every word she said, until he felt as if it was choking him. "Ginny, please - "

He reached out towards her, suddenly desperate to touch her, to remind her that he was right here with her, but she took a step back.

"Do me a favour and leave me alone, Harry. I'm sure you know how to do it, you've had a lot of practice."

He watched her walk away with her head held high, her flaming hair fluttering in the breeze, and kept waiting for her to turn around and laugh, to tell him that it had all been a stupid prank to give him a scare, that of course they were going to be together...

But she didn't turn around, and Harry stared after her, feeling completely numb, long after she had disappeared in the distance.

* * *

The next days passed in a strange kind of blur for Harry. Lessons, meals, breaks, evenings in the common room, they all blended together into a shapeless mass of images that felt more surreal than ever. He went through the motions of his daily routine like a sleepwalker, keeping his mind as blank as possible. He found it impossible to focus properly, but he couldn't allow his thoughts to wander either - they invariably strayed into territory that was no longer safe, eager to return to the dreams and fantasies that had given him comfort for so long and unwilling to let go of them just because he knew now that they weren't going to come true.

He'd never have thought that it could be so difficult to stop hoping.

There was a gaping hole in his life where the image of Ginny had been; the beacon that had lit the path for him was gone, and he was left to stumble along in the darkness, neither knowing nor caring where he was going. There were mornings when he was no longer sure why he even bothered to get up, and without Ron's gentle prodding, he probably would have shut the bed curtains again and refused to come out at all.

He'd told Ron and Hermione what had happened - they had already guessed from his behaviour that things had gone badly wrong between him and Ginny, and they would probably get to hear Ginny's version anyway, so there was no point in keeping it to himself. Hermione tried to be supportive and reassuring; she kept telling him that Ginny was just hurt and angry, that he'd be able to get through to her once she had calmed down and that things would be all right eventually. He knew she meant well, but it was exceedingly jarring to endure her determined cheerfulness.

Ron said nothing at all about the matter, and Harry knew that he should be grateful for it, but he couldn't help feeling that Ron didn't mention Ginny to him because he had already said everything he had to say on the subject back in early September. There really wasn't much that Ron could have added to that, now that he'd been proven right.

Harry would have been hard-pressed to say why he was so convinced things were well and truly over between him and Ginny. There had been something missing in her eyes, something that had always been there before and was now gone, its absence turning their hard, blazing look that he had always admired so much flat and cold. It had made him feel as if he'd never seen her before, as if she were describing his own feelings when she had talked about looking at him and seeing a stranger. He no longer recognised the girl he used to think and dream about in her, and when he recalled her expression when she had told him to leave her alone, he wondered whether that girl had ever really existed at all.

He was almost thankful for the rare moments of simple, blinding pain, when the harsh realisation that he she was well and truly gone from his life cut right through the numbing haze and made him want to howl with misery. They never lasted long, though; soon enough, the numbness would return, surrounding him like a heavy, suffocating cloak that he couldn't shake off.

He sometimes thought of the talk with Dumbledore at the place that had looked like King's Cross and wondered idly if he would still decide to go back now if he were given the same choice again.

* * *

It took three knocks, each a little louder than the prior one, until Harry finally raised his head from the Transfiguration book he'd been leafing through.

"Who's there?"

The door opened, revealing Neville standing on the threshold. "Hi, Harry. Can I come in?"

"Yes, of course." Harry closed the book and gestured for Neville to sit on the bed, since he was occupying the only chair on his side of the little room. Neville sat down gingerly, and Harry couldn't help noticing how he kept fiddling with the hem of his sleeve.

"Where's Ron?"

Harry shrugged. "Off with Hermione to snog somewhere, I suppose. You may have to wait until curfew if you want to talk with him."

"I don't. I was looking for you, since I didn't see you in the common room. I - there's something I want to tell you."

A week ago, Harry would have been alarmed - such a tentative opening usually meant bad news. Now he just couldn't bring himself to care. "Spit it out, then."

"I had a talk with Ginny yesterday." Neville hesitated for a moment, clearly noticing Harry's sudden attention. "She asked me if I wanted to go out with her. I said no."

Harry gave him a blank look; it took him a second until it registered on him what Neville was talking about. When he finally found his voice, it sounded strange in his own ears. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I thought you should know." Neville had stopped worrying his sleeve; his expression was calm, with a hint of pity to it. "I'm aware that you two never got together again, but that doesn't mean she's over you, you see."

"Hard to believe if she's asking you out." Harry hadn't meant to sound snappish, but Neville didn't seem to mind anyway.

"Ginny and I spent a lot of time together last year. We've become good friends, and I think I've got to know her quite well. I really like her, but I'm not blind, Harry - no one can compete with the image of you in her mind."

The peculiar wording wasn't lost on Harry. "No," he replied bitterly, remembering all those accusations after the Quidditch match, "not even me, it seems."

Neville frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Never mind." Harry looked away for a moment, carefully choosing his words. "Neville, you don't need my blessing if you want to go out with her, but if you don't - you are still going to remain her friend, aren't you? Because I think she really needs one right now."

"I know." Neville smiled, but his eyes were sad. "Yes, of course I'll remain her friend. I told her so, too. Don't worry, Harry, I'll do my best to help her over this."

"Thanks, Nev." Harry's throat suddenly felt bone-dry, and he had trouble getting the words out.

"Anytime." Neville gave him a feeble pat on the shoulder as he walked out, leaving Harry to stare unseeingly at the door he had closed behind him.

* * *

"Potter, your orthography is nothing short of appalling."

Harry raised his head and shot a dirty look across the Defence classroom. "And you have the girliest handwriting I've ever seen in my life, Malfoy. Now shut up and keep working so we can get this over with."

"Gentlemen," came Snape's sharp voice from the portrait on the wall, "stop this inane bickering immediately. It would make for a refreshing change if you could finish marking each other's essays without killing each other."

Harry clenched his teeth. This was the first time Draco had not been able to worm out of helping with the essays, and so far, the evening had been relatively uneventful - they both worked mostly in silence unless one of them needed to ask Snape a question. Harry had been somewhat galled by the fact that Snape had assigned all the Slytherins' essays to Draco, as if he wanted to encourage him to favour his own house - not that it was necessary, since the final grade was Snape's decision anyway.

On the other hand, given the situation Slytherin House was in, they probably did need all the help they could get.

Now, however, the two of them were working on each other's scrolls, and Harry was getting heartily sick of the way Draco kept tsking and shaking his head throughout. He knew he hadn't put much effort into the essay - schoolwork had been the last thing on his mind this past week -, but that didn't mean he needed the git to rub it in, especially since he had to grudgingly admit that there was nothing wrong with Draco's foot-long analysis of ways to counteract mind-altering curses.

To Harry's surprise, Draco didn't gloat overmuch when Snape eventually gave his essay full marks while Harry's barely scraped a passing grade. Snape, though, didn't disappoint in that regard.

"That essay is a disgrace, Potter. They won't break out the red carpet for you at Auror Headquarters for a performance like this, Chosen One or not."

That brought Harry up short. "What gives you the idea that I want to become an Auror?"

Snape sighed. "In case you've forgotten, you trumpeted it all over the school two years ago. I assumed at the time that you merely did it to annoy Dolores Umbridge, but Professor McGonagall seemed convinced that you were serious."

Harry clenched his teeth. He'd completely forgotten that he'd told Umbridge. "And how do you know I haven't changed my mind?"

"Harry Potter change his mind about anything?" Snape's cruel sarcasm hadn't lost any of its bite just because he was dead. "That would be a first, wouldn't it?"

"Have you changed your mind?" Draco's unexpected question sounded casual, as if they were discussing the weather.

"No!" Harry replied without thinking and then, mentally kicking himself, quickly added, "Not that it's any of your business."

Draco shrugged without looking at Harry; he was busy packing his quill and ink away. "I don't care anyway. Speaking of caring, on the way here I saw your girlfriend clean the bathroom on the first floor. Why don't you go and help her wipe toilet seats, now that we're done here?"

Harry closed his eyes for a moment and silently counted to ten; he wasn't going to answer before he was absolutely sure that he had himself under control. "I'll wipe them with your face if you don't shut up, Malfoy. And she's not my girlfriend, so you can stop trying to needle me about her."

Draco raised an eyebrow; it made him look so much like his father that Harry's hand gave an involuntary twitch towards his wand. "Trouble in paradise, Potter? And here I was thinking she threw that lovely tantrum on the Quidditch pitch for your sake."

"She shouldn't have done that." Harry did his best to sound calm. "I'd have cheered her on if she'd slapped you on twenty other occasions, but spitting in your face because you beat her to the Snitch should have been way beneath her."

Draco grinned feebly, although there was little humour in it. "Well, remind her to hex me next time, that has never been beneath the honour of a Gryffindor. Good evening, Potter."

With a nod towards Snape's portrait, he marched out, leaving it to Harry to gather the finished essays and lock them in the cupboard at the back of the classroom. Seething, Harry summoned the essays into a pile, threw them into the cupboard and closed the doors with a bang. He was secretly hoping that Snape would say something, thus giving Harry the chance to snap back at him and vent some of his anger, but the portrait remained quiet.

When Harry finally left the Defence classroom, he couldn't help pondering the strange realisation that Draco Malfoy had, simply by being the royal pain in the arse that he was, just managed to make him feel almost normal for the first time since his talk with Ginny.