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 13 - Part 13

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

It wasn't until they reached the gargoyle in front of the hidden staircase which led up to McGonagall's office that Harry began to have second thoughts.

"Luna, perhaps this isn't such a -" He faltered under the intensity of her wide-eyed gaze, ashamed of himself for this pathetic admission of weakness. He'd lived through the real thing, and now he didn't dare to face the memory?

"Would you rather go by yourself?" Luna took a step away from the gargoyle, although she didn't let go of his hand. It struck Harry that the idea that he might chicken out didn't even seem to have crossed her mind.

He shook his head vigorously. "That's the last thing I want. Forget what I said before, let's get it over with. Siamese!"

At the last word, the gargoyle sprang to life and moved aside to let them step onto the moving staircase that would take them up to the Headmistress.

Harry held on to Luna's hand as he reached for the brass knocker; he couldn't help it that his heart was in his throat. He'd been so sure that he'd be able to face this, now that his life had begun to resemble something like normality again and his dreams were no longer haunted by the shadows of the dead. McGonagall had reminded him several times to put the memory back where it belonged as soon as he felt ready, and during the last days, he had begun to realise that he might indeed have recovered enough to do it. He knew who he had to thank for it, too, and he was immensely glad that Luna had agreed to accompany him when he'd told her what he was planning.

McGonagall was already waiting for them, the Pensieve full of swirling mist before her on the desk. She got up from her chair when Harry and Luna entered, simply said, "I'll be in the next room if you need me, Potter," and left.

It was very quiet for a moment. Luna eyed the contents of the Pensive with a thoughtful expression.

"You really think I'll be able to see them?"

"I'm sure of it," Harry replied without hesitation. "You'll step into my memory; you'll see everything I saw, only from the outside. Stay close to me?" The last question was a plea he wasn't able to suppress, but Luna merely smiled her dreamy smile and tightened her hold on his hand.

"Of course I will. On the count of three?"

Harry nodded, took a deep breath and approached the Pensieve. They leaned over it, and at Luna's "Three!" they both plunged their faces into the swirling mist of Harry's memory.

There was the familiar feeling of falling, and then Harry found himself standing on the dewy grass next to Hagrid's hut. It was dark, and the lights of the castle stood out like beacons in the distance. He looked over his shoulder and saw a swarm of Dementors guarding the edge of the forest; it was strange to perceive them without feeling their presence in any way.

Then something moved in the darkness, a figure outlined by a silvery shadow that was slowly coming closer. Harry's breath caught in his throat; it was him, under the Invisibility Cloak, walking towards the forest to meet his death there.

He'd never been so glad of the warm, secure touch of Luna's hand in his. "Do you see him?"

Luna nodded. "It's you under your Cloak. You were right, I can see what you saw when it happened."

Harry watched himself slowly approach the place where they were standing. The boy in front of him looked like a stranger; much younger than Harry thought he appeared, his grimy face deathly pale and set in a frozen expression of forced calm that wasn't reflected in his eyes, which were wide with fear. He was dragging his feet, slowing down more and more as he came closer to the forest. He passed them by, and Harry signalled Luna that they should walk beside him, accompanying him on his lonely march towards death.

At the edge of the forest, the boy stopped; he'd spotted the Dementors among the trees, and although Harry had no memory of the gut-wrenching terror that had overtaken him back then, he saw the boy tremble and felt as if he were standing there in his stead, on his way into the jaws of death, trying to muster up the strength to throw his life away so that a prophecy that had been made before he'd even been born could be fulfilled.

Then the boy reached into the pouch around his neck and pulled out a Snitch. He stared at it for a moment, breathing hard, then raised it to his lips and murmured against the metal, "I am about to die."

Harry heard Luna take a deep breath; he must have forgotten to mention that sentence when he had told her what had happened on his way into the forest. Under the silvery sheen of the Cloak, the boy lowered his hand, raised Draco's wand, and murmured, "Lumos". It was impossible to make out the little object on his palm, but Harry didn't need to see it to know what it was.

The boy closed his eyes and turned the Resurrection Stone over three times.

When he opened his eyes again, his expression changed completely. Even though he still seemed anxious, there was a look of hope and longing on his face; he was staring straight ahead of him, and after a moment, his lips moved soundlessly.

Then he began walking again, his steps longer and more secure than before, towards the dark, silent mass of the forest in the distance.

Harry wanted to move, to follow, but his feet seemed to be made of lead; he could only stare after the lonely figure of the boy as he disappeared among the swarming Dementors under the trees.

"I'm afraid it didn't work after all, Harry." Luna's voice was barely above a whisper, but in the deep silence around them it was as if she had shouted. "I couldn't see them."

"I couldn't see them either." Harry felt strangely numb; he was almost ready to believe that none of this was real, that he would wake up any moment to realise that he'd been caught up in another nightmare. "I saw nothing but myself. They - they weren't there."

* * *

The first thing Harry saw when he drew back from the Pensieve was the careworn face of Albus Dumbledore's portrait, who was watching him from out of his frame. His eyes behind the half-moon glasses showed no sign of the twinkle they had possessed during his lifetime.

"Hello, Harry, my dear boy. It is good to see you again."

Harry didn't answer; he didn't think his voice would obey him if he tried.

"Miss Lovegood, would you mind giving us a moment?" Dumbledore sounded kind, but it was still a demand, not a request. "It appears to me that Harry and I have some things to discuss."

"No." Suddenly it was easy to speak again. "She stays right here with me." Whatever was going to happen, Harry was absolutely sure that he would not, could not face it alone. There had already been too many things between him and Dumbledore that he'd been forced to keep to himself.

"As you wish." Dumbledore put the tips of his long fingers together in the way Harry remembered so well. "I suppose you have many questions to ask."

"You know what I saw just now?" Harry still wasn't sure what to think; a part of him desperately wanted to start yelling at Dumbledore, while another part just wished to walk out, hide in the darkest corner of the school and never come out again.

"Perhaps. Professor McGonagall informed me that you were going back to your most troublesome memory, and I think I can guess what it might have been."

Harry took a deep breath. "I went back to the moment I figured out the secret of the Snitch you sent me."

"Ah." Dumbledore seemed taken aback for a split second, but then quickly regained his composure. Still, there was something about him that made Harry think he was - uneasy? "That's not quite what I expected."

"Was it real?" Harry hated the way his voice trembled, but there was nothing he could do about it. "What I saw when I used the stone - did it really happen, or did I imagine it all?"

"I've told you before, Harry," Dumbledore replied softly, "only because something happens inside your head doesn't mean -"

"Don't you dare." Out of the corner of his eyes, Harry noticed Luna giving him an alarmed look. "I want a clear answer this time. I saw them when I used the stone - my parents, and Sirius and Remus. They had come to fetch me, and they... they said that they were proud of me, and that they'd stay with me all the way, until the end. I'd never... I knew I had to go to him so that he could kill me, but I wouldn't have been able to do it without them. And now I went back there, and I saw only myself, all alone! They said they'd be invisible to anyone else, but this was my memory in the Pensieve, they should have been there if it was real! Who... what did I see back then, if it wasn't them?"

"You saw what you wanted and needed to see in that moment, Harry." Dumbledore sounded remarkably calm.

"What?" Harry stared at him blankly. "But - I used the stone, and even though it was broken, it worked -"

"Oh yes." Now there was a hint of regret in Dumbledore's tone. "It still worked. Such is the power of the Resurrection Stone, my boy, as I found out when I foolishly tried to use it. Had I not been told all my life that no magic could bring back the dead? But I still kept believing in the power of the Hallows."

"When my mother told me the story of the three brothers, she always said that anyone using the stone would bring back nothing but echoes and shadows." Harry did a double-take at Luna's words; she was looking at Dumbledore as if he had just presented her with one of the puzzles Ravenclaws were so fond of. "I remember it well; I often thought of it after she died."

Dumbledore sighed. "Then she was a wise woman, Miss Lovegood, and not prone to false hopes and empty dreams as so many others who sought the stone have been, myself included. Shadows and echoes indeed, but the stone's magic is more ingenious than just that. It shows us what we expect to see at that very moment - not necessarily what we want to see, but what we, deep in our souls, believe is going to happen. Those who love us are always near us in death, Harry, you knew that - so you saw your parents, your godfather, and your favourite teacher, coming for you to guide you on the path you were destined to go."

Luna gave the portrait the unwavering look Harry had come to know so well. "I don't think my mum would have let me go to my death."

There was deep silence for a moment, and Harry suddenly had trouble breathing. He remembered it so well, the silent horror that had haunted his nights, the suffocating feeling of betrayal when his dreams had showed him his parents luring him towards a fate he did not want to face, the twisted, sickening looks of disappointment on their faces when he had tried to resist -

"I knew I had to die," he whispered. "I knew there was no way around it, and they - they were helping me along, encouraging me -"

Dumbledore nodded gravely. "At that moment you were convinced they would, Harry, so that's what you saw when you used the stone. When I sent it to you, I wasn't certain what it would show you, but I knew that it would be whatever you needed to help you do what you must."

"But it was you - " Harry paused, trying to recall what exactly had happened during that day. His memories of it were blurred and chaotic, but one thing stood out clearly in his mind. "It was you who told me what I must do - you told Snape, so that he would tell me when the time was right -"

"And he did." Dumbledore sighed. "Poor Severus, it was the last thing he ever did in his life."

"You bastard." The words were hardly more than a low hiss, cold and hateful. Harry's head whipped around to where they had come from - next to the window, half-hidden by the curtains, was a small picture frame that had always been empty when he had seen it before, but now it showed Severus Snape's face, white with fury. A few other portraits of former Heads of Hogwarts began muttering indignantly, but he didn't even seem to notice them.

"How dare you?" Harry had seen Snape angry on many occasions, but never like this. "You made him believe that his mother wanted him to go to his death? Lily Evans would have killed you with her own bare hands if she had known that you were raising him like a pig for slaughter! She'd have let the whole world go down in flames before she'd have allowed anyone to harm her son! How dare you befoul her memory like this - Black and Lupin would have ripped your heart out if they'd known!"

When Dumbledore didn't answer, Snape suddenly directed his wrath at Harry. "How could even an utter idiot like you ever fall for this charade? You knew what she had done for your sake! She threw her life away to save your useless neck, and that's how you repay her?"

Harry was completely dumbstruck; his brain seemed to be filled with fog, and all he could do was stand there and stare at Snape. He barely noticed the wand touching his temple until images began flooding into his mind - the forest, the darkness, the mind-numbing horror, and the relief that had flooded him at the sight of the four ghostly figures...

Then small, firm hands grabbed his shoulders, and Luna's voice said close to his ear, "Let's get you out of here."

* * *

They only made it back into the corridor with the gargoyle before Harry's legs collapsed under him. He remained sitting where he was, with his back against the wall, drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. After a moment's hesitation, Luna sat down on the cold stone floor right next to him.

She didn't speak, and neither did he; all he could think of was the memory of his parents' voices in his head, his father's panicked shout, Lily, take Harry and go! Run, I'll hold him off...

And then his mother, screaming, pleading... Not Harry, please, not Harry...

It was the only real memory he had of them, even if it had taken Dementors to force it back into his consciousness. Echoes and shadows, everything else - but this had been real, had been them as he had heard them back then, during the last moments of their lives, trying to keep him safe until the very end.

They had wanted him to live. They had put him above everything else, above their duty, their allegiances, their own lives. He had known for years, and he had heard so much about the power of his mother's sacrifice, but now Harry felt that he could, for the very first time, truly grasp what it meant that that his mum and dad had died for him - not because of prophecies, oaths, or magical bonds, but simply because he was their child. He thought of Mr Lovegood and Mrs Malfoy, both willing to betray their own side for the sake of their children, and of plump, motherly Mrs Weasley, who had killed without hesitation when it had been the only way to save her daughter.

He didn't let himself dwell on what Dumbledore had done. There would be time to think about that later, to feel the shock and anger he couldn't muster right now. The only thing he felt at this very moment was the heady, strangely elating sensation of incredible relief.

Harry didn't know how long he had already been sitting on the chilly flagstones of the corridor, with Luna's quiet, reassuring presence by his side, when the sound of quick footsteps approaching began to register on him. They stopped dead once they'd rounded the last corner separating them from the spot next to the gargoyle.

Harry looked up and saw Draco Malfoy, glowering at him with flashing eyes.

"Potter, what the hell are you doing here on the floor? You were supposed to meet me in Snape's classroom half an hour ago, but the only one who turned up was Snape in a spitting rage! Do you think I've got nothing better to do than chase after you?"

Reality swam back into focus, but the all-permeating feeling of relief stayed behind. Harry opened his mouth to reply and realised at the same moment that right now, he didn't want to fight with anyone, not even with Draco.

"I'm sorry. I'll come right away."

Draco watched them with a quizzical expression as Harry and Luna scrambled to their feet.

"You both look as if you'd seen Merlin's resurrected corpse walking the school grounds. What's going on?"

The automatic response It's none of your business, Malfoy was immediately on the tip of Harry's tongue, but he couldn't bring himself to utter it. For some reason, he wanted to answer the question, wanted to say out loud what had happened, as if he needed to hear his own voice speak the words to convince him they were the truth.

"I just learned that my parents wouldn't have wanted me to get killed."

Draco eyed him as if he'd grown a second head. "And that was news to you?"

An image flashed through Harry's mind that he had thought of before - Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, their arms around their son, oblivious to the turmoil around them...

He took a deep breath and tried to rein the memories in. "Go back to the Defence classroom, Malfoy, I'll be there in a few minutes."

"You'd better." Draco threw him a last suspicious glance and then walked away, shaking his head.

Once he was out of earshot, Luna sighed and patted Harry's arm in a gesture of sympathy. "I don't think it's going to be much fun spending the evening with Professor Snape right now."

"I don't care." Harry meant it; how could Snape's bad mood possibly matter to him on such a day? "Don't worry about me, Luna, I'll survive."

"I know," Luna answered with that dreamy smile of hers. "You're good at it, after all."