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 19 - Part 19

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

Draco looked up from a scroll of parchment and scowled almost as darkly as Snape's portrait on the wall when Harry entered. "So good of you to join me, Potter. We said after lunch, right?"

"It is after lunch," Harry shot back while he sat down and reached for a scroll from the stack between them. "I'm here, so stop whining." He was aware that his cheeks were flushed and his heart was beating a lot faster than it should, but there was nothing he could do about it except keep his eyes on the parchment and hope that Draco wouldn't notice anything.

Draco, however, obviously had other ideas, because he put his quill down and pushed the scroll aside. "Would you care to tell me what the hell is going on? Why am I being hailed as the slayer of the Big Bad Wolf while you sit back and act as if you hadn't even been there?"

"It was in your own testimony to the Ministry, right?" Harry replied with a shrug.

"Don't give me that." There was a hint of barely suppressed annoyance in Draco's tone. "McGonagall woke me up at some ungodly hour this morning and all but ordered me to lie to them. What she failed to tell me was why."

Harry reluctantly looked up at this; Draco's expression was neutral, although his eyes were narrowed. The scratch on his cheek was now covered with an ugly reddish-black crust that was beginning to flake at the edges, and Harry wondered fleetingly how on earth he kept himself from picking at it. "She thought it was better if the Ministry didn't find out I had cast a Killing Curse."

"I see." Draco drummed his fingers on the tabletop as if he were considering something. The silence that fell between them heightened Harry's discomfort; it was easier to avoid thinking about last night's dream while Draco was talking. Now that he seemed to be deep in thought, Harry couldn't help wondering what exactly those thoughts were about and whether the events right after Greyback's death played a role in them. He felt his blush deepen; it took all his willpower to keep himself from squirming in his seat.

"I suppose it makes sense," Draco finally said with the slightest hint of his familiar sneer. "We can't very well ask the wizarding world to wrap their minds around the fact that Saint Potter had it in him to cast an Unforgivable, can we? I suppose I should be glad that McGonagall didn't ask me to tell them that I had AK'd him."

It was quiet again for a moment. Draco was clearly expecting an answer, and when Harry remained stubbornly silent, he raised an eyebrow in mock astonishment, "Potter, are you feeling all right? You just missed your cue to point out that I have cast Unforgivables in the past and am therefore capable of anything by default."

Harry lowered his head; he couldn't have looked into Draco's eyes right now. "Malfoy, we both know there's lots you're not capable of, so why don't you just drop it?"

"Fine." Abruptly, Draco turned back to the scroll on his desk and picked up his quill again. "Start working, I want to be out of here as quickly as possible."

Harry bent over his own scroll and tried to focus on the words in front of him, but he found it difficult to concentrate. His thoughts kept returning to Draco's words and the memories they had brought back, memories of Unforgivable Curses he had cast, even if hardly anyone knew about them. He didn't regret putting that goblin and Travers under the Imperius Curse at Gringotts; there had been no other way to save their lives. The Cruciatus Curse against Carrow was another matter entirely - Harry could have just Stunned or Petrified him, there had been no need to deliberately hurt him first. It had just felt so good to finally vent some of his anger and frustration, to make Carrow suffer for everything he had done, even if all he had done right then had been spitting at McGonagall.

Funny how he had not been able to use it against Bellatrix two years earlier, when he had been brimming with hatred and grief after Sirius' death - yet it had come to him almost naturally when he had pointed the wand at Carrow and watched his curse hit home with a feeling of deep satisfaction and not the slightest bit of remorse. Perhaps that was what Bellatrix' You have to mean it! had been about.

Was that how you went forward on the way into the darkness, step after small step, until you finally left everything behind that made you human? Was that how Tom Riddle had started out?

It was strange to realise that none of these questions evoked the feeling of horror Harry would have expected at the thought that he might be going down the same path as Voldemort. It was merely his conscious mind that asked them, but there was no emotion to accompany them, no revulsion, no shock, nothing but a detached, almost clinical curiosity. Where would the path take him, now that he had cast the full set of Unforgivables, that he had ripped his soul apart by taking a life? There was no point in lying to himself, it had felt incredibly good to kill Greyback - the heady rush of power, the knowledge that anyone who dared to cross him would eventually regret it. What would happen to him now, and would he even be aware of the fact that it was happening before it was too late?

That last thought brought back memories of what he'd done to Luna right after Greyback's death, and only now the horrified revulsion he had been unable to feel before hit Harry with full force. What was he going to end up doing to those around him, to all the people he loved, if this... something that seemed to be festering inside him was allowed to grow? Just a few months ago, he had been willing to sacrifice his life for their sake - what if he had indeed been destined to die back then and was endangering them now by his mere existence? What if, in some twisted way, it had been that part of Voldemort's soul inside him that had made him who he was, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, the wizarding world's saviour, and it was all coming apart now that the enemy who had shaped his whole life was gone from the world as well as from within himself?

The letters on the parchment were swimming before his eyes, and it was only when his quill snapped in his hand that Harry became aware he had been gripping it so hard that his knuckles were white. He cast a quick glance to the side, but Draco was scribbling something on his own parchment and paid no attention to him. When he looked up, he saw Snape's portrait give him a piercing, calculating stare and hastily bent over the scroll once more. He'd have to think about all this later, when he'd had time to calm down; right now there was nothing he could do except to concentrate on the task at hand.

* * *

Harry's heart was in his throat when he knocked on Luna's door that evening. He had been debating with himself all afternoon whether he should come here or not, but finally the need to make sure that things were all right between them had won out. "Hi, Luna, is it okay if..."

"Come in," she interrupted him with a bright smile, and Harry experienced a strange mixture of relief and chagrin at the realisation that she wasn't angry with him although he would have deserved it. "I was just about to go to bed. Are you staying with me tonight?"

Harry leaned in to kiss her and took comfort from the fact that she didn't flinch away. "If you'll let me?"

"Of course," she replied with another smile and hooked a finger into his belt to pull him towards the bed.

It was rare for Luna to initiate sex, but it was clear enough that this was what she had in mind now, and after a moment's hesitation, Harry decided to go with it. He hadn't planned to sleep with her tonight, and he definitely wasn't in the mood, but if this was what Luna needed to get past the things that had happened two nights earlier, the least he could do was to make sure that she enjoyed it this time.

He tried to recall what she had liked best during their previous nights together; until now he'd usually just gone with the momentum and had hardly ever thought about what they were doing. Now he took care to pay attention to her reactions, focussing on the places that made her gasp and sigh when he touched her. He even went down on her although he found it just as disgusting as he had the first - and so far only - time he'd tried it; if Luna was surprised, she didn't show it, and she certainly seemed to appreciate what he was doing to her, even if he had to keep stroking himself throughout in order to stay hard.

He pulled her on top of him afterwards, holding on to her hips as she straddled him and allowing her to set the pace. This was his least favourite position because there was so little contact except in the obvious places, but tonight he wanted to give her total control over what was happening. Overall, it was the least enjoyable sex he'd ever had, but at least he was concentrating so hard throughout that his mind couldn't wander into other, dangerous places. Harry was thoroughly grateful when Luna finally snuggled up to him and soon began to snore softly against his shoulder. He held on to the reassuring knowledge that he hardly ever dreamed in her bed, but it still took him a long time to fall asleep.

He felt as if he hadn't slept at all when he woke at the crack of dawn with the vague image of a pair of grey eyes lit up by a blinding flash of green in his mind. His heart was racing; he was achingly hard and covered in sweat that made the sheets stick uncomfortably to his naked body. It took him a moment to remember that Luna was sleeping next to him with her arm across his chest and that the last thing he wanted was to let her notice the state he was in.

Careful not to disturb her, Harry extricated himself and crept into the tiny bathroom. Gritting his teeth, he stepped into the shower stall and braced himself; the water was so cold that it stung on his skin, but it took care of his erection and cleared his head from any lingering remains of the dream. Harry stayed under the icy spray until his lips turned blue and his teeth began to clatter; then he wrapped himself into one of Luna's brightly coloured towels and tiptoed back into the bedroom.

Luna was still sleeping soundly, and Harry was glad of it; he had no idea what he could possibly say to her right now. He dressed as quietly as he could, brushed a feathery kiss on her forehead just in case she was only pretending to be asleep (you never knew with Luna), and slipped out of the room.

* * *

"Today, my dears, I have something really interesting for you." Slughorn beamed at the Potions class and pulled a small vial filled with clear liquid from the pocket of his waistcoat. "Can anyone tell me what this is?"

Hermione's hand shot up, followed by Draco's, who raised his more slowly, probably because he knew that Slughorn would ignore him anyway.

Slughorn did indeed not even spare Draco a glance, but he didn't ask Hermione to speak either. "I'm sure there are more of you who are familiar with it - come on, Harry, give me your best guess!"

Harry sighed under his breath; they were more than halfway into the school year, but Slughorn still hadn't given up hope that Harry's supposed knack for Potions would miraculously return at some point. Since Harry needed "Exceeds Expectations" at Potions to get into Auror training, he hoped for his own sake that he wouldn't let Slughorn down too badly when he sat his NEWTs.

Right now, however, he could only count on his luck, because he had no idea what to say. He had seen so many colourless potions in Snape's class, beginning with -

Harry felt his insides turn to ice as realisation dawned. Of course this was one of the most interesting potions, since it was one of the most complex and dangerous, and therefore reserved for students at NEWTs level.

"Veritaserum," he replied curtly, trying to keep his voice even when he would have loved nothing better than to bolt from the room. He had hardly slept for the last two nights because his dreams kept getting more and more intense, leaving him tired and distraught and painfully aware of just how much he had to hide. He could only hope that Slughorn wouldn't actually make them drink the potion - but the glint in the beady little eyes told him that their professor was planning to do exactly that. Harry needed a way out of this, and he needed it fast...

Slughorn, blissfully unaware of his favourite student's discomfort, announced, "Very good, my dear boy - ten points to Gryffindor! Yes, this is Veritaserum, the most powerful Truth Serum that exists. It is strictly regulated by the Ministry, and I had to get special permission to demonstrate its uses in class. To that end, I'm asking you to pair up for the preparation of the potion. I know we don't usually do teamwork at this level, since you will all be on your own during your exams, but now you need a partner to test whether you brewed it correctly. Given the nature of Veritaserum, I'd advise you to choose somebody you trust."

Harry quickly turned towards Ron and Hermione, but both of them were shooting him apologetic looks while they inched closer to each other. He knew that he couldn't blame them, but he still felt a stab of irrational anger as if they had betrayed him somehow. He fervently wished that Luna were in this class, because she was the only partner he'd have been halfway comfortable with, but of course that was no help. All over the classroom, students were craning their necks and weighing their options. Harry received several hopeful glances, but he responded to none of them; he couldn't think of anyone he trusted enough to let them question him under Veritaserum. Yet more and more people were pairing up, and since there was an even number of students, he'd eventually be forced to work with the person everybody else had snubbed, which probably meant -

Almost without conscious thought, Harry turned his head to look at Draco, who was sitting at the back of the room and wore an expression of dismay and barely controlled panic that matched Harry's own feelings on the matter. He was the only Slytherin in Slughorn's class, so there was nobody for him to turn to, and if there was anyone in the classroom who had even more to hide than Harry, it was probably him. It was just too bad that Draco was also the last person Harry would ever let in on his deepest secrets since -

That was when the idea hit him. Harry was out of his chair before he'd had time to properly think about it, but he was sure that this was the only possible way out of the mess Slughorn had got him into. Draco eyed him as if he had grown a second head when Harry flopped down in the empty seat next to him, ignoring the stares he was drawing from the students around them.

Before anyone could say anything, Slughorn clapped his hands. "Excellent, excellent. Now that everyone has a partner, please come up to my desk to get the ingredients. I advise you to handle them carefully - the brewing process of this potion is extremely delicate, and since it takes a full moon-cycle to mature, you'll have to start over in a month if you make just the slightest mistake now."

Harry didn't get to hear the rest of Slughorn's instructions because amidst the rustling of robes and scraping of chairs, Draco leaned closer and hissed, "Potter, what the fuck are you playing at?"

"I'm offering you a deal, Malfoy," Harry replied in a low voice. "You're good at Potions, aren't you? I mean really good?"

For a second, Draco seemed about to point out how that made him different from Harry, but he thought better of it. Instead he merely shot back, "Yes, and?"

"Can you brew a variation of Veritaserum that's indistinguishable from the real stuff, but also completely useless? Right under Slughorn's nose without him noticing?"

Draco's eyed narrowed at this; he fell silent for a moment, and Harry could almost see the wheels turning in his head. He was sure Draco had understood him; now everything depended on the question whether he trusted Harry enough to agree to the deal.

At last, Draco gave a tiny nod, at it wasn't lost on Harry how his shoulders relaxed slightly. "I might."

Harry rose from his chair and pointed towards Slughorn's desk where his classmates were already busy gathering the ingredients they needed. "Then tell me exactly what to do."

* * *

Harry wasn't surprised when Hermione made a beeline for him the moment they had left the Potions classroom. "Harry, what on earth were you thinking?"

"Seriously, mate," Ron added gravely, "I get it that you're grateful he saved your neck, but he was just paying back his debts, wasn't he? There's really no need to get friendly with him."

"I wasn't getting friendly," Harry replied, his patience already wearing thin. "I'll only have to work with him for one more lesson a month from now, when we finish the potion."

"Yes, and test it!" Ron reminded him. "Do you really want the ferret to nose around in your brain?"

Not again if I can help it. Harry knew better than to voice that thought; he still wondered whether Draco had ever told anyone about the things he'd seen in Harry's mind during that blasted Occlumency training session. "Not particularly, but since I get to ask him a few interesting questions in return..."

From the look Ron gave him, it was clear to Harry that he wasn't falling for this explanation, but Hermione suddenly seemed thoughtful. "You have a point; perhaps he lets something slip that we should know. You needn't be too concerned about yourself, I suppose - I'm sure Slughorn will monitor closely which questions we ask."

"I still don't like it," Ron insisted stubbornly, ignoring Hermione's indignant huff.

"Then you shouldn't have let me fend for myself in there, should you?" Harry snapped, his temper getting the better of him. He knew he was being childish and self-centred, but during moments like this it was still difficult to deal with the fact that they no longer were the team they had once been, that Hermione and Ron had now fenced off a part of their lives he had no access to.

Ron flushed angrily, but Hermione cut in before he could say anything. "You don't mean that, Harry. You didn't think we were implying you couldn't handle Malfoy, did you?" The placating smile she gave him made Harry want to shrink back from the gentle touch of her hand which she had placed on his arm. "We know that you can, of course - you have nothing to hide, after all, so you've got nothing to worry about."