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 18 - Part 18

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

An hour later, the mere thought of breakfast still made Harry's stomach heave, but Luna insisted that he should at least accompany her to the Great Hall. It was Saturday, and Harry wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed again and sleep until afternoon, but after last night, he couldn't bring himself to refuse her. She held out her hand once they had left her room, and Harry took it, pathetically grateful for the comfort she kept offering and deeply ashamed at the thought of how little he deserved it after what he'd done to her.

Ron and Hermione were waiting outside the Great Hall, and from the look on their faces, he knew immediately that the news had got out already. Hermione rushed up to him as soon as she spotted him and almost swept him off his feet with the force of her embrace; then she stepped back, held him by the shoulders and looked him up and down as if she were checking for any visible marks Greyback might have left on him.

"Harry, are you all right? We have heard all kinds of rumours, and when Ron said that you never came back last night -"

"Harry was with me," Luna interrupted her calmly; from her tone, nobody would have been able to guess that she had no idea what Hermione was talking about. "He's fine, Hermione."

Harry wasn't sure how she could sound so convinced after everything that had happened, but neither Hermione nor Ron seemed to have heard her anyway. Ron was so pale that his freckles stood out in stark contrast to his skin. "Mate, what happened last night? Somebody said that you were attacked - "

A group of first-years passed them by at that moment, and the looks they gave him weren't lost on Harry. "Look, this isn't the place to discuss this. Can we -"

"It's true, then?" Ron's eyes were huge, but at least he had the sense to lower his voice. "Fenrir Greyback really attacked you last night?"

Harry heard Luna's sharp intake of breath and felt the pressure of her fingers around his increase for a moment. "Yes, it's true. I was out for a walk by the lake, and I ran into Malfoy by Dumbledore's tomb -"

Both Ron and Hermione frowned at this, but Harry didn't give them time to interrupt him. "Greyback must have been hiding nearby, and he attacked us. He didn't hurt me," he added quickly. "He went for me, but... Malfoy hit him with a Slashing Hex, and -"

"My God, it's true?" It was Hermione's turn to ask the question; her fingers were digging so hard into Harry's shoulders that it was beginning to hurt. "I heard that Malfoy killed Greyback, but I couldn't believe it!"

Harry opened his mouth and closed it again; for just a second, he had been about to tell her what had really happened, but something held him back. He imagined the horror that would creep into their expressions once they heard what he'd done, and he realised that he wasn't sure whether he'd be able to face it. He didn't like lying to them, but since he would have to maintain the lie towards the rest of the world anyway, it was perhaps better to spare them the truth.

"Are you serious? The ferret killed Greyback?"

Harry felt strangely bothered by Ron's incredulous tone, although he would have been hard-pressed to say why. "He saved my life last night, Ron."

"Blimey." Ron shook his head with a dazed expression, as if he'd just run into a solid obstacle headfirst. "Seems even that pathetic little Death Eater spawn is good for something after all."

* * *

The Great Hall was surprisingly full for a Saturday morning, and it was impossible to miss the hush that fell over the crowd when Harry took a seat beside Ron at the Gryffindor table. The silence didn't last long, though; soon enough the room was abuzz with whispered conversations, and Harry was painfully aware of the way everybody seemed to cast furtive glances in his direction. He still wasn't hungry, but he forced himself to reach for a piece of toast and nibble at it just to give the appearance that he was eating. He kept his eyes on his plate, determined to act as if nothing had happened; at least his housemates didn't ask him any questions and let him have his breakfast in peace.

He only looked up when he heard Neville's gasp next to him. Nobody was paying attention to him any more; all eyes were on the Slytherin table, where Draco Malfoy had just sat down between Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass. Even from the distance, Harry could see that Madam Pomfrey hadn't managed to heal the scratch from Greyback's claw completely; there was an ugly red line down Draco's cheek, covered in some glistening substance - a Healing Salve or Potion, most likely. He was even paler than usual and had dark circles under his eyes, reminding Harry a bit of the way he had looked during sixth year.

People were not just casting glances now, they were staring openly, and it wasn't lost on Harry how the Slytherins next to Draco were huddling together around him, as if to protect him from the sudden scrutiny. Draco himself seemed oblivious to the attention. He wasn't eating, he just stared into his coffee cup as if it held the key to all the world's secrets and nodded mechanically whenever any of his housemates said something to him.

Harry was a bit surprised; given that by now everyone was bound to have heard how Draco had allegedly killed Greyback, he had expected him to bask in his new-fangled glory. The view of Draco's bowed silvery blond head brought back memories from the previous night, and Harry felt a hot blush creep up his cheeks. He still had no idea what had come over him, and he wasn't sure he wanted to ponder it, given what it had made him do.

His stomach gave an unpleasant lurch at the thought, and he quickly pushed his plate away because he wasn't sure he would be able to keep down another bite of food. "I'm leaving, Ron," he said quietly, trying not to draw any more attention. "Are you coming too?"

Ron hastily swallowed a last mouthful of porridge. "In a moment, mate, I - there's something I need to do first." He scrambled to his feet, and Harry's mouth dropped open as he watched Ron cross the Great Hall in a few long, determined strides, clearly heading for the Slytherin table.

Draco only raised his head when Ron all but loomed over him, steadfastly ignoring how the Slytherins around Draco looked daggers at him. The hall had gone quiet for the second time this morning, but Ron paid no attention to that either. "Malfoy," he said in a booming voice that seemed even louder for the sudden silence around, "I still think you're a despicable little shit, but Harry says you saved his life, so I want to thank you."

For a moment, Draco eyed the hand Ron extended towards him as if he weren't sure what he was supposed to do with it. Then he took it with a stony expression, shook it once and quickly let go again. Harry could see that he said something, but he spoke in a low voice, and the Slytherin table was too far away for him to make out the words.

All around, students were sticking their heads together to discuss this surprising new turn of events. Ron seemed unfazed as he walked back to his own table, from where his housemates were giving him curios looks. Harry was convinced that none of them would ever have expected to see Ron Weasley offer his hand to Draco Malfoy, and it was clear from their expressions that they weren't quite sure what to think of it. Only Neville was smiling faintly, while Hermione had such an adoring look on her face that Harry averted his eyes in embarrassment.

"Ron, that was really decent and mature of you." She finally seemed to have learned how not to sound so surprised when she approved of something Ron had done. Ron blushed faintly and grinned.

"What did he say to you?" Harry hadn't meant to ask, but his curiosity got the better of him.

Ron's grin widened. "He said, 'Up yours too, Weasel'. It's a relief, it would have been pretty horrifying if the ferret had thought I was trying to be friendly."

There were a few giggles at this around the table; clearly Ron's words had convinced his housemates that the world as they knew it hadn't been turned upside down after all. Harry caught a glimpse of Luna at the Ravenclaw table; she was idly chewing a strand of her hair and watched the Slytherins with a thoughtful expression that stood in stark contrast to her usual dreamy demeanour. It was one of the moments that reminded him how clever Luna really was underneath all her quirks and eccentric beliefs, and it made him strangely uncomfortable for a second.

He forgot about it when Ron clapped him on the shoulder and said in a low voice, "I'll meet you in the common room, all right? I think I'll better go wash my hands first."

* * *

Harry couldn't bring himself to make his way over to Luna's room that evening. They had spent the afternoon studying together in the library, but after dinner, he told her he was tired and wanted to go to bed early. She didn't ask questions, merely gave him a peck on the cheek and bid him goodnight with a smile.

He really felt utterly exhausted, even though he hadn't got much work done during the day, but once he was lying in his bed, sleep just wouldn't come. Ron's bed was empty; he was probably still in the common room with Hermione, and Harry felt the silence in the room settle over him like a heavy weight. He concentrated on the sound of his heartbeat, trying to draw comfort from the steady, reassuring reminder that, no matter what had happened, he had lived through it all. It didn't calm him tonight like it had many times before, though; the longer he stared into the darkness, the more the reality of everything that had happened the previous night began to sink in.

He had killed Greyback. For years, there had been a part of him that had dreaded the moment when he would have to kill Voldemort, and he still vividly remembered the relief that had flooded him after the final battle at the realisation that it hadn't been necessary after all; that there was no blood on his hands because in the end, it had been Voldemort's own curse that had finished him. Now, however, that last bit of innocence he had still possessed was gone; he had taken a life, had cast the very curse that had cost him his parents and, just a few months ago, had brought him close to death's door himself.

He didn't feel guilty for it; there had been no other way. But he was sure there should be something, some sensation of horror, or regret, or - anything, really, not just this cool, detached surprise that it had been so easy. He could still recall the heady rush of power as his curse had hit home, and he wasn't sure what to do with the realisation that he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry that he had killed, when the shame and remorse over what he'd done to Luna afterwards was still strong enough to almost make him physically ill.

Harry was immensely glad when Ron snuck into their room close to midnight; he didn't give any indication that he was still awake, but he still felt better now that he was no longer alone with his thoughts. Ron crawled into bed and was asleep within minutes, and the familiar sound of his even breathing eventually managed to lull Harry into sleep as well.

* * *

He could feel the power surging through him, cold and deadly; power that was alien and yet incredibly familiar, like a long-forgotten part of himself he had finally remembered. His whole body thrummed with it; he'd never felt so alive, so crackling with energy and excitement. The world lit up in a flash of green light, and he threw his head back and laughed; there was nothing to fear, no one who would ever be able to stand against him, and whatever he wanted was right before him, his for the taking.

The weight of the warm, hard body on top of him was the most delicious feeling he had ever experienced, and he pressed into it, eager and hot and aching with desire, the grey eyes above him widening with something that might have been fear or arousal or maybe, hopefully, both. He was achingly hard, and there was a hand on him, stroking him so harshly it hurt. Harry clenched his teeth to keep himself from crying out while his hips snapped forward, pushing into the touch. This was his too, and he was going to take, take, take -

He was dimly aware of the sound of Ron's breathing, and he knew he mustn't wake him, but it was too much, too much, so he pressed his face into his pillow to muffle his groan as he came in a rush, the grey eyes still on his -

That was when his surroundings finally registered on him; he wasn't out by the lake any more, he was in his bed with his hand down his pyjama bottoms, still breathing hard from what must have been the most mind-blowing orgasm he'd ever had in his life.

Harry snatched his hand away with a mixture of revulsion and horror. He was wide awake now, and he wished desperately he could forget what the dream had been about, but the whole scene was still clear in his mind; there was no escaping the fact that he'd just tossed off either to the image of Draco Malfoy or to the memory of killing Greyback, and he wasn't sure which was worse.

He had never felt so dirty in his life. Harry all but jumped out of bed and made a dash for the bathroom, wanting nothing more than to wash all over and wishing he could to the same with his brain. Yet even though he scrubbed himself until his skin was red and raw and finished with ice-cold water, the heady, vibrant sensation deep inside him wouldn't disappear completely, and he had no idea what to make of it.

Likewise, he had absolutely no idea how he was ever going to face Draco Malfoy again.

* * *

Hermione was the only Gryffindor from his year at the breakfast table when Harry stumbled into the Great Hall half an hour later. She was half-hidden behind the Daily Prophet she was reading, and Harry's stomach gave an unpleasant jolt when he noticed the photo of Draco on the cover under a headline that screamed in huge black letters, Lucius Malfoy's son saves Harry Potter's life.

She quickly lowered the newspaper when Harry sat down next to her; she seemed taken aback and a little bit embarrassed, as if he had caught her reading something naughty. "Oh, good morning, Harry - you're up early for a Sunday!"

Harry shrugged and reached for the toast; he was ravenously hungry. "Well, so are you."

"Yes, but I usually rise early."

"So you can read the papers in peace?" Harry asked pointedly, indicating the Prophet she had nonchalantly put aside.

Hermione blushed. "It's... Harry, you always say you don't want to hear about anything they're writing, and really, I understand - but I do want to know what they're up to, I think it's important even if I have to wade through all the rubbish they're printing."

Something in her tone made Harry uncomfortable. "Hermione, you can read the bloody Prophet whenever you choose. You don't need my permission to do it, and you certainly don't need to get up at some ungodly hour just so I don't see you reading it!"

"Of course not," she replied mildly, "but Harry - you know how you get when you're -"

"- pissed off?" Harry finished with a wry grin. "Yeah, I suppose I do."

It was a relief to see Hermione grin back. "Well, that's something. Why are you up so early, though? Are you going to see Teddy today?"

Harry shook his head. "No, I'm going next weekend; I've got a ton of Defence essays to mark today." The thought filled him with dread, given that it would mean spending several hours in the company of Draco Malfoy. He had never been so glad that there were no more Occlumency lessons to prepare; if Draco ever found out about last night's dream, Harry was sure he would die from sheer mortification.

He was desperate enough for a change of topic to point at the paper and ask, "So what are they saying that's so important to know?"

Hermione's eyebrows rose almost to her hairline. "You really want to hear about it?"

"I asked, didn't I?" Harry shot back; the news would likely be infuriating, but right now even Rita Skeeter's latest coup seemed like a welcome distraction.

She gave him a wary look, but reached for the paper nevertheless. The photo on the front page was several years old; it showed a Draco who could be no more than fourteen and smirked into the camera with the cocky expression that had always made Harry's fists itch. It felt weirdly familiar, even though he now realised that he hadn't got to see it in quite a while.

"Do you want me to read the whole article to you? Only it's Rita at her worst, and I think you've had enough of that."

Harry had his mouth full and couldn't answer right away, but she interpreted the look he gave her correctly. "No, there isn't much about you; it's just that it's - well, you know, Rita Skeeter."

"Okay, just the abbreviated version, then."

Hermione nodded. "Malfoy was asked to give his testimony yesterday - they must have firecalled McGonagall, I'm sure we would have heard if they had sent Aurors to Hogwarts. The Ministry published a statement afterwards; she's got her facts from that, and it seems she didn't dare to twist them too much." She lowered the newspaper with a frown. "I wonder why they didn't ask you to give your version of the events? You were there too, after all."

Harry merely shrugged; he had been wondering himself, but he didn't like the answer that seemed most likely to him. Once again he remembered the look McGonagall had given him, and it irked him all the more to realise that she had been right to keep the information about Greyback's true killer from the Ministry.

Hermione turned back to the paper when it became obvious that he wasn't going to answer her question. "She's mostly latching on to Greyback and Malfoy - she goes on and on about everything Greyback has ever been rumoured to have done, and I'm sure she's made up half of it - as if he hadn't been horrible enough in reality! There's quite a bit about Malfoy's family background, and the role his father played as Voldemort's henchman. They still don't know Narcissa Malfoy saved you, though, I'm sure Rita would have mentioned it if she'd heard about it."

"She was afraid I wouldn't confirm it." Harry had spoken without thinking, and it was too late now to take it back.

"Who, Narcissa Malfoy? You really think so?"

Harry sighed. "She told me." Anticipating Hermione's next question, he added, "She visited Mrs Tonks on Christmas Day, and I had to talk with her for a bit."

Hermione's eyed widened. "You never said!"

Harry turned back to his toast, avoiding her accusing gaze. "It didn't seem important."

"And she really had the gall to think you would lie about her saving your life? That's so -"

"Hermione, I said it's not important," Harry interrupted her impatiently. "Please forget it, okay? What else does the article say?"

She looked stung, but still turned back to the paper. "There's an interview with the Minister, and he says the fact that the son of a former Death Eater was willing to save the Boy Who Lived proves that the amnesty was a wise decision, and that we're headed towards healing the wounds the war has left behind. Oh, and he mentions Dolohov has been sighted again and reminds the public to be cautious."

Harry's head snapped up at this. "Dolohov was seen? Where? When?"

"Shacklebolt didn't say," Hermione replied curtly; from her tone, it was clear that she was annoyed with him. "Perhaps it's not even true, and they just think he'll be easier to catch if he's getting nervous."

"He'll also be a lot more dangerous if he's getting nervous," Harry pointed out. "They'd have to be pretty desperate to resort to such tactics."

It was Hermione's turn to shrug. "He has been fooling them for eight months now, so they probably are. I'm sure it's difficult to convince people everything is back to normal as long as there's still a dangerous Death Eater on the run."

Harry pushed his plate away; he was still hungry, but somehow he had lost his appetite. "If all it took to go back to normal was Dolohov's head on a platter, I'd be out there looking for him myself."

Unsurprisingly, Hermione had no answer to that.