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 11 - Part 11

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

If Harry strained his hearing, he could still make out the clatter of cutlery and the buzz of hundreds of chatting voices drifting over from the Great Hall. He'd been sitting here on the little stone bench underneath the high-arched window for quite a while, but from the sound of it, the Halloween Feast was still far from over. He could have moved further away, into another, more remote corridor that was completely silent, but something made him stay here, safely hidden under his Invisibility Cloak, listening to the faint noises of celebration in the distance.

He'd feigned a splitting headache to get Ron and Hermione out of his hair. He didn't particularly like lying to them, but they would both scold him for "moping around" if they knew he was sitting here in the semi-darkness of the empty corridor, so he'd told them he wanted to go straight to bed instead of going to the feast. He'd had enough of their fussing over him; they both meant well and were worried about him, but after they'd dragged him along with them for a Hogsmeade visit today, the wish to disappear from the face of the earth for a while had become overwhelming. They'd done their best not to let him feel how much they'd have preferred to spend the afternoon on their own, but Harry wasn't stupid, after all.

Besides, he didn't feel like partying. He knew McGonagall was hoping that a smashing Halloween party would take the students' minds off everything they had to cope with and might become another step towards normality, but for him, it brought back memories of the painfully stilted cheerfulness of the party which the grieving Weasley family had arranged for his eighteenth birthday. Since then, he was sure that he never wanted to see people force smiles onto their faces again - especially not tonight, on the anniversary of his parents' death, when his thoughts kept returning to the memory of a snow-covered grave in the silent cemetery of Godric's Hollow.

"Mr Harry Potter, sir?"

The squeaky voice that had spoken up somewhere at the level of his knees snapped Harry out of his brooding. The cloak hadn't slipped, so no one should have been able to see him - but when he turned around, he faced a house-elf, wrapped in a clean tea towel stamped with the Hogwarts crest, whose bulging eyes were undoubtedly focussing on him. The elf was balancing a cake decorated with candles and marzipan pumpkins, which made Harry wonder whether it had got lost on the way up from the kitchens.

"Mr Harry Potter?" the elf repeated when Harry didn't answer right away. "Hanni is sorry to be disturbing sir when sir is not wishing to be seen, but Hanni saw sir sitting here and is wishing to ask a favour."

In a way, it made sense that house-elves would be able to see through the cloak; Harry had seen enough demonstrations of their magic that, in many ways, surpassed everything wizards were able to accomplish. It became very difficult not to think of Dobby for a moment.

It was probably that thought which caused him to hide his annoyance about being disturbed. "Never mind, Hanni. What's the matter?"

The elf raised the cake it was holding a little higher, as if Harry might somehow not have noticed it before. "Hanni is being sent by all the kitchen elves to bring Miss Luna Lovegood a cake for her birthday, because Miss Luna is always coming down to the kitchens and being kind and telling us funny stories."

Harry bit back a grin at the mental image of Luna sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor with dozens of elves around her listening to her stories about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. He made a mental note to wish her a belated happy birthday as soon as he saw her; he hadn't known she'd been born on Halloween. "I'm sure she'll be glad. I suppose you'll find her at the feast in the Great Hall."

The elf shook its head. "Miss Luna is been going to her room early tonight. She isn't telling anyone about her birthday, but we is all thinking she is a bit sad about nobody remembering, so we is making her a cake."

Harry experienced a surge of the slightly embarrassed pity he often felt for Luna, even though he was never sure whether she really needed his pity since she seemed quite comfortable with herself. "That's - er, really very nice of you."

"Yes, sir, thank you, sir - but Hanni is thinking, Miss Luna celebrating alone with a cake from the kitchen elves is still being a bit sad, and then Hanni is seeing Mr Harry Potter sitting here, who is being Miss Luna's best friend even though he is never asking her about her birthday, and could Mr Potter perhaps take the cake to Miss Luna's room and wish her a happy birthday instead of Hanni?"

The request took Harry by surprise, and his first instinct was to refuse - but the elf's hopeful expression brought back memories of Dobby again, and besides, he didn't like the thought of Luna sitting in her room all alone on her birthday either.

"Fine, I'll take it to her. You just need to tell me where her room is, I've never been there."

The elf beamed at him and snapped its fingers, which caused the cake to rise into the air and hover right in front of Harry's face. "Thank you so much, Mr Harry Potter, sir! You is only needing to follow the cake, it is taking you to Miss Luna's room." With that, it snapped its fingers for a second time and disappeared with a crack.

The moment the elf had gone, the cake began to float away. Feeling extremely silly, Harry followed it along the silent - and thankfully empty - corridor, towards the Ravenclaw Tower. It was quite a long walk until the cake stopped in front of a narrow door opposite the entrance to the Ravenclaw common room. Harry had to knock twice before the door opened to reveal Luna in a lime green nightshirt that seemed to have been made for a person at least twice her height and three times her weight.

Her eyes widened at the sight of the cake floating in the corridor; only now Harry remembered that he was still hidden under the cloak. He felt even sillier than before when he quickly ripped it off, causing Luna's huge blue eyes to widen further.

"Oh, hello, Harry! Are you practising Disillusionment Charms?"

Harry ran his fingers through his hair in a futile attempt to stop it sticking up in all directions. "No, I - I came under the Invisibility Cloak, and I forgot I was still wearing it."

Luna nodded earnestly. "So you lost your way because you couldn't see your feet while you were walking? I heard that can happen when people make themselves invisible."

"Has never happened to me," Harry replied curtly, uncertain whether she was having him on or not. It was sometimes hard to tell with Luna. "And I didn't get lost, I came here to wish you a happy birthday."

The way Luna's face lit up made him feel a bit guilty. He'd known how much their friendship meant to her, after all; he should have thought of asking her when her birthday was. "Also, the kitchen elves are sending you the cake."

"That's so sweet of them, and of you as well." He'd never seen Luna smile like this before. "Do you want to come in so we can light the candles?" She plucked the cake out of the air and stepped back from the door to let Harry enter, but he hesitated.

"Can I come in? I know you've got your own room, but it's technically still a girls' dormitory."

"Yes, but the protective magic only works while the girls living in it aren't of age. The teachers don't want the seventh year students to find out about this, of course, but the elves told me. They know a lot more about the castle than anyone else, you see."

"I bet." Harry still felt slightly apprehensive when he followed Luna into her room, but nothing happened; obviously she had for once chosen to believe someone who actually knew what they were talking about.

The room looked much like his and Ron's, except that it had only one bed in it. The first thing Harry noticed once he was inside was his own scowling photograph with the words "UNDESIRABLE NO. 1" flashing in red letters across his chest, glaring at him from a huge poster over the bed.

Luna saw him stare at the poster and gave him another beaming smile. "It's a nice photo, isn't it?"

"Where on earth did you get that?" Harry still wasn't quite over the initial shock; he truly hadn't expected to ever see one of those posters again.

"I accompanied Dad to the Ministry when he was going there in July to interview the new Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures," Luna said while she set the cake on the desk and lit the candles with a wave of her wand. "They were in the middle of rearranging the offices, and there were several of these posters that they were going to throw out, so I asked if I could have one of them."

Harry felt his cheeks colour up at the thought of Luna asking for his poster at the Ministry, but he couldn't help feeling oddly touched at the same time - he still remembered the pictures of him and the others on Luna's bedroom ceiling.

"Now I get to make a wish!" Luna declared; she looked excited. "I haven't done this since I came to Hogwarts! What do I wish for?"

"Well, I can't know that, can I? Think of something you've wanted to come true for a long time."

Luna had a faraway look on her face for a moment; then she smiled, took a deep breath and blew out the candles. "There. Isn't this where you're supposed to sing something?"

"You don't want me to sing, believe me," Harry replied with a grin, "but - happy birthday, Luna. I -"

He suddenly had a hard time finding the right words. He wanted to wish her a year that would be as happy as the past one had been painful, wanted to thank her for her friendship and assure her how much it meant to him, but he couldn't think of anything that didn't sound awkward or pretentious. Instead, on an impulse, he reached out towards her and pulled her into a hug, hoping she would understand what he was trying to say.

Luna's arms came up to hug him back, and for a second, Harry allowed himself to enjoy the warm, friendly touch and the faint smell of peppermint and patchouli he'd come to associate with her. She didn't let go when he did, though; instead, she leaned in and pressed a kiss on his lips that could by no means be misunderstood as a friendly peck during a birthday celebration.

Harry froze, uncertain how to react. His astonishment must have shown on his face, because Luna, whose arms were still around his neck, gave him another brilliant smile. "Well, that wish didn't take long to come true, did it?"

Harry didn't know what to think any more. "That's what you were wishing for? A kiss?"

Luna's smile turned impish. "For starters, yes."

"What?" Harry quickly took a step back, out of the reach of her arms. "Luna, listen - I really like you, you're a great friend, but I - I mean, I'm not -"

"Oh, I'm not in love with you or anything," Luna replied serenely, as if she'd known what he was about to say. "Come here, have a seat." She sat down on the bed and patted the covers beside her; after a moment's hesitation, Harry sat down gingerly, feeling thoroughly ill at ease.

Luna placed a hand on his arm, but left it at that. "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable," she said, sounding rather unconcerned. "When I was locked up at Malfoy Manor, I sometimes wondered whether I would ever make it out alive. Then I used to think about all the things I still wanted to do in my life, and how I wouldn't waste any time doing them if I ever got the chance. You never know how much time you still have, after all."

Her words struck a chord with Harry. The memory of his walk towards Voldemort's camp didn't bring up emotions any more, now that its essence was safely stored in McGonagall's cupboard, but he still recalled the feeling of regret at the thought of all the things he would never get a chance to do now.

"So I began making lists in my head," Luna continued. "It was a great way to pass the time; I thought of everything I wanted to do, and then imagined how exactly I was going to do it. I'd never been with a boy, but this was definitely something I wanted to try, so I used to imagine being with you."

"Me?" Harry had a hard time imagining Luna fantasizing about him in the dungeons of Malfoy Manor. "But why me?"

"There aren't that many boys I like, and hardly any who also like me," Luna answered with her typical directness. "Neville is my friend, and I think Ron Weasley is too, but I've always liked you best."

Harry was too stunned to come up with a reply, but it seemed Luna didn't expect one anyway. "I remembered how you asked me to come to the party with you during sixth year. You said we would go as friends, and it made me think that there are other things we could do as friends as well. Last year made me realise that you shouldn't put off anything you really want to do, in case you never get another chance later."

Harry was beginning to wonder whether he'd fallen asleep in the corridor and was having a rather bizarre dream. "Isn't it the bloke who's supposed to use the 'I don't want to die a virgin' line?"

"I don't know," Luna answered with obvious interest, "do you want to?"

"What, die a virgin? Not particularly, no - but..."

"Well, then," Luna said in a tone of satisfaction and kissed him again.

* * *

The first grey light of dawn was filtering through the window when Harry woke up in an unfamiliar bed, feeling drowsy and slightly disoriented, but also relaxed and utterly comfortable. It took him a moment to recall where he was and how he'd ended up here, with the warm weight of another naked body snug against his - he'd gone to wish Luna a happy birthday, and she had asked him in and kissed him and...

He felt almost giddy for a second when the events of the previous night finally began resurfacing in his memory. Bloody hell, Harry, you really did it. He'd really spent the night with Luna, who was now snoring softly against his shoulder while her hair tickled his neck.

Harry stretched gingerly, careful not to disturb her. It felt surprisingly nice to wake up like this, just like everything that had happened last night had felt good - a bit awkward, since neither of them really knew what they were doing, but good nevertheless. Harry wasn't sure what he had expected from the first time he had sex, but it certainly hadn't been this gentle, heartbreaking sweetness that had left him with a strange ache in his chest. He'd only noticed the wetness on his cheeks when Luna had kissed it away afterwards, but the memory of it made him wrap an arm around her and pull her closer.

Luna murmured something and buried her head in the crook of his neck, reminding Harry of a kitten Mrs Figg had once had. "Luna, are you awake?"

"I am now." Luna raised her head, blinking owlishly while her hair was falling into her eyes. Harry had the feeling that he should say something, but he wasn't really sure what would be appropriate under the circumstances. Like so many times before, Luna saved him the trouble.

"That was a very nice birthday present." She was smiling that impish smile again, and it was suddenly easy for him to grin back.

"If I'd known that it was supposed to be a present, I'd have tied a ribbon around my dick."

Luna stared at him with her mouth hanging open for a second; then she started laughing so hard that the whole bed shook, and after a moment, Harry found himself joining in. He couldn't remember when he'd last laughed like this, until his sides ached and his eyes were swimming, as if he didn't have a care in the world. Luna was gasping for breath when she finally calmed down, and Harry felt extremely dismayed by the realisation that he had to leave soon.

"I should probably go back to my own room now before anyone else is up - I doubt McGonagall would be happy if she found out that you've let me spend the night here, Head Girl or not."

"Hmm." Luna snuggled up to him again. "It's okay if you don't want anyone to know about this, Harry."

It took Harry a moment to get what she meant. "Do you think I'm ashamed of you?"

"No, of course not." Luna's words were interrupted by a yawn before she continued. "I just thought you might be a bit embarrassed. I'm sure many people will wonder what a hero like you might want with someone like me." There was no bitterness in her tone, but the implication stung nevertheless.

"If we can sleep together as friends, we can also go out together as friends." It cost Harry some effort to hide his indignation on her behalf. "Anyone who has a problem with that can kiss my arse."

Luna burst out laughing again, and it struck Harry how much he liked her laughter, even though it did have some similarities with the braying of a donkey. He gave her a quick kiss before he reluctantly slipped out of bed and started to get dressed. She sat up in bed and watched him quite unabashedly, and Harry hoped very much he wasn't blushing. Luna seemed completely unconcerned about her own nakedness; unlike the women in the movies Harry remembered from his life in the Muggle world, she made no attempt to pull the blanket up over her breasts.

She held out her hand towards him once he was dressed and pulled him back to the bed for another lingering kiss. When they finally broke apart, she smiled and simply asked, "Friends?"

Harry smiled back, feeling more at home in his own skin than he had for a long time. "Always."

* * *

He assumed that Ron would still be asleep when he quietly opened the door to their room, but he found him sitting upright in bed with his arms crossed over his chest. "Where have you been?"

"Good morning to you too." Harry did his best to sound nonchalant, but his attempt seemed to fall flat. It hadn't even occurred to him that Ron might worry about him. Ron gave him a sharp look, and Harry couldn't help the blush that crept up his face under such close scrutiny.

"Tell me you weren't with Ginny tonight."

That brought Harry up short; he'd never have expected Ron to even consider the possibility. "Of course I wasn't."

Ron's whole posture relaxed at this. His scowling expression changed to something that looked almost predatory. "Okay, mate, then I want details."