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 27 - Part 27

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

Time seemed to speed up once the Easter Holidays started and Harry found himself in a half-empty castle with a stack of colour-coded study notes that Hermione had left for him. He hadn't given the upcoming exams much thought during the last weeks, but now that he was no longer preoccupied with searching his mind and soul for traces of Voldemort, he realised with slight alarm how far behind he was with his preparations. NEWTs were scheduled for mid-June, and if he wanted to do well on them, he couldn't afford to waste any more time.

Harry had never been a bookish person, but once he started burying himself in his studies in earnest, he found them surprisingly calming. It made for a welcome change to lose himself in a world where there was an answer to each question, where there were no demands but to cram pages and pages of information into his brain. Hermione was highly pleased with his progress when she came back from the holidays, and even though Ron shot him exaggerated dark looks and murmured something about swots, Harry couldn't help the impression that Ron was a bit relieved to see him buried in schoolwork.

He had to admit that he did feel better than he had in a while. He pored over his books each night until he was tired enough to doze off on top of them, but he slept all the better for it once he fell into bed. He still had strange dreams sometimes, but they were fuzzy and nebulous and quickly faded once he woke. Harry wasn't sure whether the troubling images were gone from his mind because he had stopped worrying about Voldemort causing them somehow, or because he still kept the bottle of memories that he had extracted before his talk with Lucius Malfoy locked away in his trunk. He did his best not to think about it - neither the dreams nor their likely cause held any significance any more, now that Harry knew that there were no remnants of Voldemort hatching in his brain. Therefore, he told himself it was best to leave the memories where they were for the time being since he really didn't need the distraction right now.

He still did his best to see Teddy regularly, even if the way his godson's face lit up when Harry picked him up always made him think of how it should have been Remus in his place. The much-anticipated birthday celebration went swimmingly, although it irked Harry to no end how much the little boy loved the toy broom Narcissa had given him the day before (Andromeda Tonks had wisely managed to avoid another meeting between Harry and her sister). As the weather got warmer, Mrs Tonks let Harry take Teddy outside and teach him to fly - or rather, hover a few inches over the ground - on his new broom, and Teddy's enthusiastic squealing and laughing made Harry long for the day when he would be old enough to take him flying for real.

The one-year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts came and went, and to Harry's immense relief McGonagall managed to keep all Ministry officials away from the school. Since Harry still didn't read the papers, he had no idea what kind of celebration the Ministry had finally settled on; at Hogwarts, there only was a quiet, dignified ceremony in the Great Hall on the eve of the anniversary, with toasts to the memory of the fallen and a short, heartfelt speech by the Headmistress that was more about the future than the past. Harry let it all pass him by and almost managed to convince himself that it didn't concern him. He still saw the long row of dead bodies laid out on the flagstones of the Great Hall before him, and he knew that the memory would be a part of him for the rest of his life, but that seemed like a small price to pay for still having a life to live when so many others had lost theirs.

Then the exams suddenly were just a month away. There was a buzz of activity among the seventh-year students, although it felt very different from the hectic anxiety Harry remembered from his OWL year. He reckoned that school exams just weren't enough to frighten his classmates any more after everything that had happened, but they all seemed driven by the same grim determination to focus on their studies and pass every exam with flying colours as if nothing else had ever mattered in their lives.

The Quidditch final made for a brief interruption of everyone's busy work schedule. Slytherin was leading Ravenclaw by a narrow margin going into the last match of the school year, and although Ravenclaw clearly was the better team in the final, Slytherin took the Cup thanks to a daredevil manoeuvre by Draco Malfoy, who plucked the Snitch right from under the Ravenclaw Seeker's nose. Even Harry had to admit that it had been one of the neatest pieces of flying he'd ever seen, and when Luna, dressed in blue from head to toe beside him, stuck two fingers in her mouth and let out a loud, appreciative whistle in spite of her House team's defeat, he forced himself to clap politely for a few seconds. Draco's team mates were all over their captain the moment they'd all landed, and his grin when they lifted him on their shoulders as he held the cup almost split his face in two. Harry found himself wondering if he'd ever seen Draco smile like this before, completely free of malice or superiority, but he forgot about it when Luna started talking about how all this trampling around was going to upset the Kurdwurbles that were living in their burrows under the Quidditch pitch.

* * *

The day of the Quidditch final had been overcast and windy, but the following morning dawned bright and blue, and there was a smell of early summer in the air. Harry had spent the evening studying with Luna in her room, both eager to avoid the collective post-match gloom in their respective common rooms, and he had ended up in bed with her, which had made for a nice change after weeks of hardly seeing each other outside the library. Now that he was accompanying her to the Great Hall for breakfast, he felt more at peace with the world and with himself than he had in a while.

Luna was humming to herself and looked as if her thoughts were miles away. She was about to walk through the door of the Great Hall ahead of Harry when Draco Malfoy, coming from the other side of the corridor, rounded the corner and almost bumped into her. They both froze for a second, and Harry was about to tell Draco to watch where he was going when Draco took a step back and, with a gesture that was so exaggerated that it might have come straight out of ballet school, signalled for Luna to go ahead.

"After you, Loony."

Harry's eyebrows shot up, but Luna didn't seem to mind the nickname; she smiled, bobbed a mocking curtsey and stepped over the threshold. It wasn't lost on Harry how Draco followed her immediately, making it perfectly clear that he would definitely not step aside for Harry.

Once all three of them were inside, Luna held out her hand towards Draco. "My congratulations," she said gravely. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone fly like you did yesterday. It was a well-deserved victory."

Draco, who seemed to have taken her hand out of sheer surprise, quickly let go again; he was clearly uncertain how to react. "Erm - well, thank you."

Luna nodded, gave Harry a little wave and then went off towards the Ravenclaw table. Draco stared after her with a bemused expression, and Harry expected a snide remark about his mental girlfriend any moment, but all Draco said eventually was, "Full of surprises, isn't she?"

In spite of himself, Harry couldn't help smiling at this. "She is that, yes." He paused for a second and then, on a sudden whim he didn't fully understand himself, added, "For someone who claimed he didn't care about Quidditch any more, you took one hell of a risk with that last feint. Are you that eager to break your neck?"

Draco cocked an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you would have been sorry if I had."

Harry stiffened; from Draco's tone, it was clear that he was just trying to be flippant, but Harry had seen too much death to feel comfortable joking about it. Draco definitely hadn't been this blasé about the prospect of dying when he'd clung to Harry during their flight through the burning Room of Requirement - or during the night when Harry had killed Greyback.

Harry took a closer look and noticed, not for the first time, the pinched expression on Draco's face and the dark shadows under his eyes. He was so pasty that the scar across his cheek that had faded to a pale pink still stood out clearly against his skin, and from the way his robes hung from his shoulders, it was obvious that he had lost weight recently. Not that Harry cared, of course; after everything Draco had done, he could consider himself damn lucky that all he'd had to worry about recently had been Quidditch and pre-NEWTs stress.

It was probably best not think about it too much. "As a matter of fact, I would have been," Harry answered lightly, going for the same nonchalance that Draco was trying to display. "There's still the last round of Defence essays to mark, and I'm definitely not doing it alone this time, so don't think you can wiggle out of this again!"

Draco shrugged with a lopsided grin. "I'll endure it for the prospect of being rid of you forever afterwards."

There was surprisingly little venom in his tone, and for a second Harry felt almost tempted to grin back, even though Draco's words reminded him uncomfortably of the vow he'd made to his father. Draco might look forward to getting rid of Harry, but Harry knew better than to get his hopes up in that regard; given the git's talent for getting in over his head, he had no doubt that there would come a day when he'd have to live up to his promise, whether he liked it or not.

When Harry didn't answer, Draco turned on his heel and strutted over to the Slytherin table, every inch the new Quidditch star gracing his admiring fans with his presence. Harry made a face and turned towards his own House table, determined not to let Draco Malfoy ruin this fine morning for him.

* * *

Harry was halfway through his breakfast and listening to Hermione and Neville discussing career options after school (Neville wanted to apply for an advanced Herbology research programme that was going to be carried out in the Amazon rain forests, and Hermione seemed fascinated by the idea and kept badgering him with questions) when the usual flock of post owls swooped into the Great Hall. Harry barely looked at them; now that he visited Mrs Tonks regularly, she hardly ever wrote any more, and he didn't get much mail from other people these days. Therefore, the eagle owl that landed on the Gryffindor table right in front of him startled him badly, and if it hadn't been for Ron's quick reaction, Harry would have spilled his Pumpkin Juice all over Ron's toast.

"Blimey, Harry, it's just an owl! Who's writing?"

"No idea," Harry replied with a trace of embarrassment while he reached for the roll of parchment that was tied to the owl's leg. "I don't recognise the owl either, so -"

He was interrupted by a whooshing of wings as the huge bird, without even waiting for the usual owl treat or scrap of bacon, took flight the moment Harry had untied the letter. Harry was beginning to get a rather bad feeling about this.

He unrolled the parchment and frowned when he read the name of the sender. "Livius Blumburg? Never heard of -"

"But of course you have!" Hermione cut him off, momentarily abandoning Neville's diatribe about fascinating tropical plants. "He's the publisher, remember? The one you wrote to because of - well, you know!"

"Better read this outside, mate," Ron added quickly. "I'm done eating anyway. Are you coming?"

Harry hastily rolled the letter again and left the table with Ron; Hermione grabbed her book bag and followed right behind.

Both of them rounded up on him the moment they were outside the Great Hall. "What did he write?" Hermione asked in a brisk tone that didn't quite conceal the fact that she looked nervous. Ron didn't say anything; he seemed about as uncomfortable as Harry felt.

There was nothing for it, though, so Harry unrolled the letter for the second time and held it so that all three of them could read it.

Dear Mr Potter,

thank you very much for your letter in which you voiced your concerns about the manuscript that Ms Rita Skeeter was allegedly planning to publish via my company. Ms Skeeter had indeed approached me with this project, although I had not yet agreed to printing her book, and I did not have any detailed information on the contents of her planned work at the time.

After receiving your letter, I immediately looked into the matter, and I am sorry to say that she was indeed going to include the disturbing allegations that you were concerned about. I talked to her at length, but unfortunately she refused to see reason. Therefore, I declared the prior agreement I had with her null and void and told her in no uncertain terms that I would never lend my hand in publishing such vile slanders, especially since I am well aware how much we all owe you.

Furthermore, I have passed on the information about Ms Skeeter's highly questionable plans to my colleagues, and I am happy to inform you that no respectable publisher in wizarding Britain is going to aid her in carrying out her plans with this book.

I deeply regret that I was almost tricked into this, and I greatly appreciate your willingness to approach me before I unwittingly became an accomplice of such a despicable attack against your integrity. I very much hope that you will be able to forgive my oversight and will not think to poorly of me for it. I assure you that I will be more cautious in the future and always look out for your best interests wherever publications that involve your person are concerned. Please do not hesitate to contact me again with any concerns you might have.

Sincerely yours,

Livius Blumburg

When he'd finished reading, Harry looked up from the letter into the beaming faces of Hermione and Ron. "I never thought he'd give in so quickly!" Hermione exclaimed, sounding equally excited and smug. "I told you it was worth a try to write, didn't I?"

Ron clapped Harry on the back with an expression of deep relief. "Great news, mate. Who'd have thought there would come a day when it would only take you a letter to shut Rita up for good?"

"Who indeed?" Harry murmured absent-mindedly, his thoughts racing. Like Ron and Hermione, he would never have expected such a downright grovelling acquiescence to his wishes, and he wasn't sure what to make of it. The publisher didn't seem bothered by Rita's accusations against Dumbledore, but he was clearly terrified by the idea of upsetting Harry in the slightest. Harry felt the familiar knot forming in his stomach when he followed that train of thought and realised what it was that troubled him so much about this letter that he couldn't share into Ron and Hermione's celebratory mood.

The letter was all but reeking of fear. Mr Livius Blumburg, whoever he was, hadn't given in to Harry's wishes because he was an honest businessman, or because he was grateful for what Harry had done, but because he was afraid.

Afraid of him.

* * *

Harry sat through this morning's Charms lesson without hearing a single word Professor Flitwick was saying. He kept going back and forth over the text of the letter, but the conclusion he came to was always the same. It seemed almost strange that after years of being faced with either blind adoration or mistrust and contempt, he'd never even considered that there might still be an alternative he would like even less.

In hindsight, it seemed to him that he should have understood earlier why everyone was tiptoeing around him, but at the time he'd actually believed that most people might have his own well-being in mind when they treated him as if he might either fall apart or explode any moment. The memory of Shacklebolt's tense expression and McGonagall's worried looks suddenly got a whole new meaning, as well as the fact that, for the first time ever, his wish to be kept out of the spotlight had been respected. For a moment, he felt an odd pang of fondness for Rita Skeeter, the only journalist who obviously wasn't afraid enough of him to leave him alone.

Harry would have loved to be furious at all the idiots who were repaying him like this after everything he'd been through for their sake, but he just couldn't muster the anger he probably would have felt under the same circumstances a year ago. Even if they were afraid of him because of false assumptions - given what he'd heard, most people thought he had killed the most powerful Dark Wizard ever right after returning from the dead himself - he'd learned too much about himself during the last months to still blame them for fearing him. A glimpse into the darkness of Harry's soul had managed to impress a man like Lucius Malfoy, and even Dumbledore had admitted that he had once considered Harry dangerous enough to think of his death as the safer option.

Once again, Harry remembered the glorious rush of deadly power that had claimed Fenrir Greyback's life. It had given him an idea of what he was capable of, and he had just barely come to terms with the realisation that he would always have to keep a tight rein over himself, that the rest of his life was going to be a constant struggle to hold the darkness within himself at bay. What he hadn't expected, however, had been that he would have to lead this life surrounded by those who feared him for it.

Until now, Harry had always had to fight for everything, and his whole life had been shaped by that fight. What would happen now, when he could get what he wanted simply because of the fear he instilled in people? How was he supposed to keep the darkness safely locked away within himself when people were giving him power over them because of it?

All around him, his fellow students were busy taking notes about Professor Flitwick's demonstrations, but Harry felt as if an invisible wall was separating him from the soothing familiarity of just another day at school. He had thought the worst was over when his life had slowly returned to something resembling normality during the past year - but now it dawned on him that there was a good chance that the worst was only just beginning.