Disclaimer: Surely no one is silly enough to believe that I own these characters, or this world? JK Rowling does and I'm only playing with them. I promise they'll be happy when I put them back.
Author's notes: This series is supposed to cover the last two years of school for Harry and Ron. It discusses child abuse, underage consensual sex between two people who love each other, and will eventually cover MPREG as well. If any of these topics offend you please turn back now. In addition, I have tried to follow cannon as best as I can, but you know how it goes…I'll have messed something up somewhere along the way. I know their birthdays are wrong, but lets just allow for artistic licence and no one will get hexed.
Further warnings: by now this could probably be called an AU if that would make anyone feel better. And forgive me for the Quidditch match - I'm the shape of a Quaffle and sport just ain't my thing! Also, by now you'll have realised that my Harry ain't a happy carefree lad - though he has his moments. If this is a problem for you, back out gracefully now. There's an exit to the left.
Part 2 - First Term, Sixth Year
The portkey released them and Harry took a deep breath, letting go of the hanky that Ron had given Dumbledore to transform. Ron shoved the piece of material back into his pocket and both teens jumped when the train Guard spoke from behind them.
"Well don't just stand there, lads," the Guard was a rather wizened, painfully thin man with crooked teeth and a set of brilliant green robes, "There's no one on the platform yet, hop down and find a carriage before you're caught."
"Yes, sir," Harry moved quickly for the door, Ron close on his heels. They jumped down onto the platform, and Harry grinned at the familiar sight. Though it was deserted, this was usually his second real sight of the Wizarding world, and a friendly one at that. Ron strolled along the carriages and chose the second one from the engine, strolling into the first compartment and settling on one of the seats.
"Mum said that she'd be here early with Ginny, so we might as well reserve a decent carriage now," he called and Harry strolled along the platform to join him. They'd both tucked a Muggle book into their robes to while the time away, not wanting to get caught doing anything else. Ron had told Harry that he wasn't ready to tell anyone about their new relationship, and Harry had been relieved. He knew that the moment Mrs Weasley discovered what they were doing she'd turn her back on Harry forever. He knew that Muggles often disowned their children when they revealed their sexuality, and didn't want to take the risk that Ron would lose his family over their relationship. One of them should have a family who loved him, and in Harry's mind, Ron was elected.
"Hey, Harry, what is this guy on about?" Ron interrupted Harry's thoughts, and he turned to look at the book Ron was reading. 'The Postman' was not their usual theme of book, but Harry had found it in Flourish and Blotts amongst a bundle of second hand books and found it fairly interesting.
"What?" Harry prompted, shaking free from his thoughts, and Ron pointed out the first chapter. Harry spent a few minutes explaining about nuclear weapons and America, and then settled back to his own book. They were sitting opposite each other, and Harry had a good view of the barrier. The sound of a trolley had him looking up and he shut the book, grinning.
"Your mum's here, Ron," he warned and Ron shut his book, shoving it into a pocket as he stood up and stuck his head out the window.
"Mum! Ginny!" he waved, then opened the door and went out to meet them. Harry marked his place and followed slowly, giving Ron time to speak to his mother in private. Ginny appeared in the corridor and Harry pointed out their compartment.
"Hello, Harry," Ginny smiled warmly, "Mum wants to see you, you'd better get out there."
"Sure," Harry nodded, speeding up a little. He got to the door just as Ron leapt inside, shouting for him. Harry jumped back, banging into the wall, his eyes wide. For a moment the worst case scenario was playing through his head - danger, death and pain danced at the edges of his vision for a sickening moment before his partner dispelled them with an easy gesture. Ron reached out for him, squeezing his arm in apology.
"Sorry, mate," he shook his head, "Mum wants you."
The slight roll of his eyes and crooked grin reassured Harry when nothing else would have, and he shook his head, heading for the door again.
"Well if you hadn't knocked me down," he mock grumbled over his shoulder and grinned at Ron's rude, low voiced response. He was still smiling when he reached the platform, and Molly Weasley enveloped him in a hug.
"Oh Harry, dear, you look much better," she let him go and looked him over carefully, "And you've grown! You're almost taller than me, now!"
Harry had discovered that too, and was a little embarrassed about it. Mrs Weasley was always a little larger than life to him. He felt himself blush, and wanted to die of embarrassment that he was blushing, which just made things worse.
"Yes Mrs Weasley," he said sheepishly in the end and she clucked her tongue, shaking her head. The green beret perched on her hair slipped a little and she reached up with a frown to put it right. Harry felt a rush of affection for the busy, kind-hearted woman.
"I think that by now you can call me Aunt Molly at least," she scolded. Harry blushed again and nodded.
"Thank you Aunt Molly," he mumbled and she patted his shoulder in approval. Ron was grinning fit to burst next to them and Harry made a mental note to tell him off at a later date. Molly seemed to spot this too, and she turned her attention to her youngest son.
"What are you grinning for, Ronald Weasley? Here, help Harry take this hamper to your compartment," she gestured to the hamper that still sat on the trolley they'd used for Ginny's trunks, and Ron pulled his wand out.
"I'll do it," Harry interrupted, "You need to get your books and things organised."
"Ok," Ron put his wand away again and Mrs Weasley started telling him about what she'd bought for him and where it was. Ginny welcomed the hamper with a grin and dug out a couple of scones, handing the first two to Harry and biting into a third. He headed back out to Ron, handing his partner the second scone and joining him in telling Mrs Weasley an edited version of their holidays.
Neville Longbottom appeared through the barrier with his grandmother, and Ron went to tell him which compartment they were in. Harry was grateful that he'd spend the journey with friends, as Hermione and Ron were expected to help patrol the train during the trip. The prefects sat in their own compartment just behind the engine, and last year Harry had spent the trip in a very low mood.
"Harry, are you sure you're all right?" Mrs Weasley asked quietly, "I know that this summer has been hard for you..."
"I'm fine, Aunt Molly," Harry smiled, "Really I am. The time at Hogwarts was very peaceful, and now I'm my own man. I was going to be leaving the Dursley's at the end of next year anyway."
"Well I hope you know that your Uncle Arthur and I expect you to come to the Burrow for holidays. You'll always be welcome under our roof. And, Harry, no one knows about... what happened. We managed to keep it out of the press, though that Rita Skeeter woman has been stirring up all sorts of bad feeling with her articles," Molly frowned in distaste and Harry sighed, nodding.
"Ron and I have been following the stories," he frowned, "But there's not much we can do. All of the Muggle born Witches and Wizards I know are happy with their families. You can't judge by the Dursley's - there was something wrong with them."
At least, that was what Harry was telling himself. It hadn't been his fault they'd hated him - he hadn't chosen to be a Wizard, and all things being equal he'd rather have his parents alive, than live with that Muggle family. He couldn't change the past, but he could change how it controlled him.
"Hello Harry!" Neville came up to them, "Look at the wand Gran bought me!"
Dean and Seamus ended up in the compartment with Neville, Ginny and Harry. Ron and Hermione were in and out at odd times, Ron complaining that this year's group of first years were 'pathetically wet'.
"There's one girl, she keeps following me up and down the corridors," Ron continued, shoving Harry over a bit so he could sit down, "Budge over, Harry. Did someone hit your arse with a swelling hex?"
"I'll hex you," Harry threatened, laughing with the others. Hermione seemed a little quieter than usual, as did Dean. Ginny kept shooting them worried looks, and Neville was biting his lip, something very obviously on his mind. From the glances Ginny shot his way, Harry could guess what was on Hermione's mind.
"Did you see the articles Rita Skeeter's been publishing?" Harry asked Seamus, "She's trying to get people interested in signing a petition to take the Muggle-born away from their parents for their own protection."
Hermione shot him an anxious look and Dean shifted uncomfortably, telling Harry he was on the right track. Seamus - who had been a little uncomfortable with Harry since his outburst at the beginning of their fifth year - seemed relieved to have something easy to talk about.
"Yeah I saw it," he shook his head, "Mum thinks it's ridiculous. As soon as they tried it the Muggle world would be after us, it would be like the Middle Ages Witch Trials all over again."
"But what if their parents are hurting them for being... well... different?" Hermione asked bluntly, and Seamus and Neville gaped at her in horror. Ron shook his head, shifting next to Harry but not interfering. They both could see what Seamus and Neville were thinking, even if Hermione couldn't.
"Your parents hurt you?" Neville squeaked and Hermione flushed angrily, shaking her head. She resolutely kept her eyes on Neville, and Harry sighed. Hermione was over thinking the situation again. He'd have to talk to her, reassure her that he was fine.
"Of course not! Mum and Dad might not understand about the Wizarding world, but they'd never hurt me for being a Witch!" she snapped, "But... oh!"
Hermione got up and stormed out. Ron shifted beside Harry again, staring at the floor. He sighed and got up, heading for the door.
"I'll talk to her," he said to no one in particular, and Harry grinned. Trust Ron to jump in where angels feared to tread.
"Good luck. If you don't come back can I have your Chuddley Cannons collection?" he called after his friend and got a rude gesture in reply. Harry broke out a pack of cards for exploding snap, and dealt everyone in.
"Dean? You ok?" Ginny asked and Dean nodded, putting a card down carefully.
"I got a subscription to the Daily Prophet these hols. I haven't shown the articles to Mum, but what if this Skeeter skag gets her way? I'd give up wizardry before I gave up my parents."
"She won't get anywhere. Seamus is right, the Muggle world would hunt every last Wizard and Witch down before they let them take away their children," Neville replied, and Harry nodded.
"Besides, with Tom Riddle still on the loose, the Ministry has better things to do than set up housing for Muggle-born Wizards," he agreed.
"Who?" Dean looked up, curious. Ginny had jumped a little at the name, but Harry and Ron had got into the habit of calling Voldemort by his Muggle name over the summer - Harry was tired of watching Ron flinch every time he heard the V-word.
"Tom Riddle - You Know Who. It's his Muggle name from when he went to Hogwarts," Harry explained casually, laying his card down carefully. The deck was beginning to fizz slightly, and someone was about to get a face full of cards.
"Where the bloody hell did you hear that?" Seamus asked incredulously while Neville giggled. Ginny began to smile, a slow beautiful expression that lit up the whole compartment and had Neville gazing at her admiringly. Harry winked at her discreetly, and she ducked her head, swallowing a giggle. The Weasley family - with the possible exception of Percy - loved a good joke.
"He was a Slytherin - he's still on the house register. Obviously he wasn't a Dark Lord back then, but..." Harry shrugged, "Why should we call him Lord anything? He's the one who made up the name that everyone is too scared to say, so why use it? Tom Riddle was good enough for school, and we're at school..."
"You're mad," Dean said, but there was a faintly admiring tone to his voice. He laid down the next card and the deck exploded. It broke the tension and the threat of the Dark Lord slipped away.
Ron and Hermione had rejoined them by the time the train pulled into Hogsmeade Station and the compartment was a fair mess by then. Seamus and Dean seemed to have misplaced everything they'd ever owned, and Neville was his usual forgetful self.
"Hey Harry," Seamus began for the tenth time at least, looking for yet another lost item, "Have you seen my copy of 'International Quidditch'?"
"Why do you keep asking Harry if he's seen your stuff?" Ginny asked in exasperation and Summoned the magazine from underneath the seat. Seamus took it with mumbled thanks, and then grinned over at his housemate.
"Because Mr Neat and Tidy over there has usually put whatever I've lost away," Seamus replied, and Harry frowned at him. Seamus was a very untidy dorm mate, and Harry had retrieved the other boy's possessions from under his bed, and even out of his drawers more than once. There was some truth to the remark.
"I'm not that bad," he said uneasily and helped Hermione with Crookshanks. Neville and Dean were chuckling too now. It was a bit of a joke among the dorm mates that they never needed a house elf to clean their room for them because they had Harry.
"You are mate - you can't go by a stack of books without straightening them," Dean informed him, and Ron distracted them by nudging the hamper Mrs Weasley had packed off the seat. Harry gave him a grateful look as they all bent to pick up the bits and pieces. This conversation was going in a direction that Harry would rather avoid if at all possible.
"It's true," Neville was not to be distracted, however, "You never leave anything lying around."
"It's not a bad thing, Harry," Ron hastened to assure him. Harry was feeling cold and small - as if he was going back to the Dursley's tomorrow. What was wrong with being tidy? Tidiness was safe. Tidiness let you eat regularly and kept the hard hands and fists away.
"Harry?" Seamus asked, frowning. Harry wondered what his face looked like to get that tone from the normally oblivious Irishman. He took a ragged breath and pasted a smile on his face that seemed to alarm his travelling companions instead of reassuring them.
"Not everyone is as neat as you, that's all I was saying," Seamus said awkwardly, and Harry felt something give way. Despite his hopes that he'd be able to banish the first part of the summer, a day with his friends had shown him otherwise. What worked to keep him safe with the Muggles was wrong with the Wizards, and what kept him safe with the Wizards was forbidden with the Muggles. The demands of the two worlds were starting to pull Harry apart, and the conflict just boiled over, spewing from his mouth in a heated torrent of words.
"Yes, well, not everyone was starved for a day for leaving their comb out of alignment with the corner of their dresser, either," he snarled, "Nor was everyone beaten nearly to death by their Muggle family for being a Wizard. That would explain Skeeter's little attack of concern for the Muggle-born, hey?"
The train lurched to a halt and Harry was out in the corridor in a flash, heading for the platform and the bustle of a school's worth of children trying to get to where they had to be. He heard Hagrid calling for the first years and took a deep breath. Some things never changed - Hagrid was Hagrid, and his rotten temper and poor timing had apparently survived the summer intact too. He had no one to blame for that little outburst but himself.
Just ahead of him a painfully thin girl with white hair slipped when a bunch of third years rushed past her to get to the carriages. Harry hurried over and helped her up. Bright blue eyes blinked up at him, and she flushed a little.
"Thank you," she gasped and Harry forced a smile. It wasn't her fault either and he'd made a promise to Ron and Hermione in their fifth year to stop taking his temper out on other people.
"That's ok," he turned and looked at Hagrid. This girl was easily the smallest person on the platform, and Hagrid's height must have been intimidating to her, not to mention all the strangers rushing about.
"Come on, I'll introduce you to Hagrid. He's the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts, and one of the nicest teachers there. He takes Care of Magical Creatures," Harry started forward, forging a path for the girl, who had taken his hand. From the strength of her grip she was terrified, and Harry wondered if he'd have to use the repelling spell on her to get her to let go.
"Alrigh' Harry?" Hagrid beamed as they reached his side. Harry grinned. There was just something about Hagrid that said 'home' to him. The fact that Hagrid was playing it up as if they hadn't seen each other all summer was pretty funny too. Hagrid's only expectation of Harry was that he always do his best, which helped Harry relax, the tension from the argument starting to fade a little.
"Yeah, Hagrid. I've got one of your charges here - people were knocking her about," Harry turned to include the girl in the conversation. Hagrid bent over to look at her, and she shrank back for a second before standing straight and meeting his gaze levelly. Harry made a mental bet that this young lady would be in Gryffindor by the end of the night, and knew that Hagrid was thinking along the same lines.
"Blimey! You're a tiddler an' no mistake. You jest stick wi' me, you'll do fine. Better get on Harry, or yer'll be walking to the castle," Hagrid reached over and took the girl's hand from Harry, who was relieved to get his circulation restored to his fingers.
"Right," he nodded and smiled at her one more time before turning and heading for the carriages. The thestrals that pulled them didn't even rate a glance this time. He had other things on his mind.
The evening hadn't got much better from there, though. The Sorting Hat had sung it's song and sorted the students, and the feast was as delicious as ever. Then Harry had stood behind Ron and Hermione, listening with half an ear to their 'welcome to Gryffindor' speech until Neville, Dean and Seamus had come up to apologise. Harry thought he might have sorted that particular problem out, or at least made things a little better, and best of all they'd promised not to say anything to anyone else. It was just as his two best friends were getting to the rules about the dorms, that things took a turn for the absolute worse.
Lee Jordan had stepped through the portrait hole, along with a group of seventh years. Harry had watched them come in, talking quietly about something or other, their heads together. There was a mixture of third and fourth years in the room, the Creevey brothers among them. One minute Harry was listening to Ron tell the first year boys that the bathrooms were to be kept tidy, the next everyone was ducking as a roaring ball of fire shot over their heads and ignited the Gryffindor banner above the mantle.
People started screaming and the first years stood petrified, staring at the banner in awe. Everyone leapt up, and the students at the fireplace started backing away from the banner. The Creevey's had their wands out, presumably to put the banner out, when several voices that no one knew cast the Jelly Legs jinx. First years went down in heaps, and Harry pulled his wand out, calling the counter jinx, as did several of the other seniors in the room.
There were more explosions of fire and the jinxes and hexes started flying left right and centre. People went down in awkward sprawls or shrieked in panic as their housemates did their best to counteract their attackers spells. Every time Harry thought they might be sure of getting everyone on their feet a new wave of jinxes, hexes and curses would erupt from different points in the room - and they couldn't seem to pinpoint who was causing it.
"Who's doing it?" Ron roared as he and Hermione joined Harry behind an armchair near the portrait hole. They were sending out counter jinxes as fast as they could, their voices often overlapping.
"I don't know - they're invisible!" Hermione snapped back. Ron squeezed himself tightly against Harry's side, and automatically their fingers linked together.
"Get the first years upstairs!" Harry roared over the noise to Angelina Johnson, and she nodded, grabbing a few of them and pushing them ahead of her. There was a ripple in the air, and without thinking Harry pointed his wand at the vulnerable group and shouted,
A shield with the Gryffindor lion appeared and whatever hex had been headed for the group recoiled back towards the caster. Protego was the charm for a shield to protect a Wizard from harm, but it would only protect the one who cast it. By changing the suffix from -o to -ah Harry had been able to cast his protection over the girls. Ron was quick to catch on and they started casting shields as quickly as they could, making it much more difficult for their attackers to take out the students as they ran in groups for the stairs.
The common room was beginning to burn fiercely, despite the water and freezing charms being cast by the remaining students. There was a tug on Harry's robe, and he glanced down to see Dobby at his side. The elf's eyes were wide with fright, but he barely flinched when a hex whizzed over his head.
"Master Harry, sir! The house elves are here to help!"
"Dobby! Tell them to get the teachers!" Harry gasped, choking on the smoke from a nearby couch, which was smouldering fiercely. They needed adult help - their teachers experience would turn the tide in their favour. In fact Dumbledore could probably sort this little lot out single-handedly.
"They are outside! They cannot get in!" Dobby squealed and threw a counter hex at whoever was targeting their armchair. Harry nodded, his fingers flexing against Ron's rapidly. With the common room on fire and no way out they were looking at a bad situation indeed. Ron turned and squinted down at the elf, signalling his agreement with Harry's plan.
"Get the elves to take as many students through the elf passages as will fit. Pass on a message to the seniors to break the windows and start taking people out on brooms!" Harry ordered, "Tell them not to take any risks - and the same for the house elves! Evacuate the tower as soon as you've got everyone you can, and someone tell the teachers what we're planning!"
"Yes Master Harry!" Dobby turned and disappeared. Harry didn't have time to see where he was going, as Hermione screamed in horror. Ron's tight grasp told Harry all he needed to know.
One of their attackers had hit the giant bookcase that stored the abandoned texts from former students and the various games that the Gryffindor's liked to play. It was tipping slowly forward, set to crush the writing tables in its path. Underneath one of the tables was the white haired girl that Harry had taken to Hagrid. She had her wand out and was trying to put out a small fire nearby, unaware of the danger above her.
"I can't hold it!" Hermione cried desperately, as her Levitation charm slowed, but did not stop the heavy bookcase. Ron and Harry jumped to their feet, both trying hard to remember the girls' name.
"Accio Beth Dunn!" the partners shouted and she flew across the room into their arms. They threw themselves down behind the armchair again just as seven balls of fire hit it. Beth wrapped her arms around Harry's neck and sobbed in fright. They scuttled back from the armchair, throwing up a shield as several jinxes targeted them.
"Is everyone upstairs?" Harry asked, coughing hard. The smoke had blinded Ron and Hermione had some small burns on her arms.
"Yes," Hermione gasped, and Harry started pulling them towards the stairs. It wouldn't do to get trapped behind the portrait of the Fat Lady. It took them longer than he would have liked to get to the stairs - their attackers were hounding them every step of the way, and once on the stairs they had even less cover to protect them. The stones themselves seemed to be on fire, and Harry was very grateful when Dobby appeared beside them again. Harry knew that the elf wouldn't be here unless he had carried out Harry's instructions, and luckily Beth wasn't much bigger than the elf.
"Take Beth!" Harry pushed the girl into the elf's arms and then ducked as Ron threw a shield between them and a ball of fire. Dobby grabbed the girl and they disappeared, her shrieks fading slowly as they got further and further away.
"Come on!" Ron yelled, tugging on Harry's hand, and he turned, pushing Hermione up the steps ahead of him. They ducked into the first boys' dorm room they came to and the door burst into flame just after they shut it. It exploded, sending burning splinters into the room. One struck Hermione on the head and Harry grabbed for her, putting her between himself and Ron. They staggered to the window, keeping their shield between them and the door.
"Harry!" Angelina shouted and he waved her over to the broken window urgently. She swooped over and hovered on her broom. Ron started pushing Hermione onto the windowsill, leaving Harry to maintain their shield.
"Take Hermione," Harry shouted, "She's hurt!"
Angelina reached out and grabbed the dazed girl, settling her onto her broom carefully before zooming away, heading straight for the ground. Lee Jordan took her place and Harry pushed Ron towards the window. Ron shot him an anguished glance, but climbed out quickly, knowing that to argue could be fatal. Harry did his best to maintain the shield, but it buckled when what felt like fifteen hexes hit it at once. One sliced across his right arm, sending blood spattering to the ground.
The pain clawed through Harry's nerves like a slash of a whip, stealing already scant breath, and he doubled over for a moment before reinforcing the shield. The doorway was entirely engulfed in flames, and the smoke was being sucked towards the windows, as the flames crept further into the room.
"Harry!" Colin Creevey shouted, and Harry turned, clambering awkwardly onto the windowsill. Harry had seen Colin fly just last year, and had been impressed with the other boys speed and agility. Harry threw himself forward recklessly, feeling Colin's hand grab his robe to steady him as the broom headed away from the window to the grass in front of the school.
He looked back at the Gryffindor tower and Colin steadied him on the broom. Flames were pouring from every window - the tower blazing like a beacon in the night.
Harry woke in the hospital wing, his arm aching fiercely, wrapped in heavy bandages, suspended in a sling. Dobby was sitting next to his feet, and Harry smiled at the elf before trying to sit up. Dobby was there in a flash, plumping pillows and offering Harry water. It took him a few minutes to calm the elf down, and by then Madam Pomfrey was there, checking him over and shooing Dobby back to the end of the bed.
"Where's Ron? Is Hermione ok? Did everyone get out?" Harry clutched her sleeve anxiously, and felt something relax when her kindly face smiled at him. Her hair and clothes were in their usual pristine order, so he knew she hadn't spent the night rushing from one gravely injured student to another.
"Yes, everyone got out safely. There were a few little burns, and some bumps and bruises. Miss Granger wasn't hurt badly and she's with the others having breakfast, and Mr Weasley wasn't hurt at all," she patted his shoulder, "Now, you're to have some breakfast, and I have a potion for you to take for that arm of yours. Then Professor Dumbledore wants to see everyone in the hospital wing after breakfast - we had to put all of Gryffindor in here last night. You can get up for that. And I expect to see you first thing in the morning and last thing at night every day until I tell you otherwise."
"Yes Madam Pomfrey," Harry nodded, and received a pat to the shoulder in return. She went to fetch his tray and Harry looked down the bed, holding his good hand out to Dobby.
"Did all the house elves get out too?" he asked as Dobby walked back up the bed. He patted the elf's shoulder lightly and Dobby beamed at him. It took so little to make the elf happy, and Harry was glad to make the effort. Without the assistance of Dobby and his fellow elves, Gryffindor tower would have been turned into a funeral pyre.
"They did, Master Harry, and none of the house elves were hurt at all. Gryffindor protected the elves! Stimpy the baking elf would have been hurt very badly if the young masters had not helped him. Never has a house elf been protected by a Wizard like that!"
"I'm glad that everyone is unhurt," Harry said rather inadequately. Dobby beamed at him again and then moved when Madam Pomfrey reappeared.
"Dobby has to return to the kitchen, Master Harry, but Dobby will come and visit if he is allowed to. Dobby will tell the other elves that Master Harry asked after them," the elf got off the bed and padded to the wall. He opened the door to one of the elf passages and disappeared down it. Madam Pomfrey put the tray in front of Harry with instructions for him to eat the lot, and then bustled out of the small room he had been put in to supervise the rest of Gryffindor.
After breakfast, Harry was given his wand and a pair of slippers and led out into the main ward of the hospital wing. The beds had all been removed and someone had conjured up a large number of couches and cushions. The whole house was seated on these, still in the hospital wing provided pyjamas and nightgowns, looking rather washed out and tired. Harry spotted Ron and Hermione sitting together on a large couch, sharing it with several first years, Beth Dunn included. Neville made as if to get up and give Harry his seat, but Harry kicked a free cushion over to the couch and sat at Ron's feet, leaning against the armrest for support and discreetly sticking a finger down Ron's sock. Professor Dumbledore was sitting in a squashy paisley armchair, and Professor McGonagal was beside him on a velvet red fainting couch. Both of them looked very grave. Professor McGonagal gave Harry a small smile and then looked over at the Headmaster.
"Firstly," Professor Dumbledore didn't even have to ask for quiet, the Gryffindor students were so subdued, "I want to thank every one of you for your courage, calm, and teamwork last night. You worked together to prevent what could have been a most terrible tragedy. You should be proud of yourselves, as indeed all your teachers are."
"Your parents have been informed, and will be here this afternoon to see you all," Professor McGonagal spoke up, and there was a little ripple of reaction through the room, "And I will say to you what I will say to them - last night you all exhibited the true spirit of your house, in your care for your fellow house mates. I am honoured to have such excellent students in my house."
"During the attack, the house elves managed to not only assist you in your escape, but to rescue your personal belongings as well," Dumbledore spoke again, and Harry rubbed his finger over Ron's ankle bone in relief. He wasn't looking forward to repeating the mammoth shopping trip that would be necessary to restore his wardrobe and school supplies. Besides, he liked the stuff they'd bought the last time. Ron had chosen a few shirts especially for Harry - who'd been feeling sentimental enough to buy them.
"These are being cleaned and placed in the new Gryffindor quarters. Unfortunately the Gryffindor tower requires extensive repairs before it will be suitable for habitation once more, as it is now merely a ruined shell," the Headmaster continued, "Once we have completed our meeting here, you will be taken to your new dormitory and you will have the rest of the day to settle in."
The Gryffindor's smiled, whispering to each other, speculating where they would be. For a moment the allure of a new dormitory distracted them from the events of last night. Both the Professors let them talk, waiting until the students had settled again before resuming their remarks.
"Unfortunately we were unable to capture your assailants last night," Dumbledore said this softly and Harry felt the mood turn sharply to fear. Beth Dunn squeaked and got off the couch to come and sit on Harry's cushion, burrowing between his shoulder and Ron's leg. Harry disentangled himself from his friend's ankle to hug her for a moment.
"Why couldn't we see them?" Hermione had her hand in the air, "We all tried to summon their invisibility cloaks but it didn't work, and neither did the revealing spells we tried."
"They were using a Chameleon charm," Dumbledore told them, "It alters a persons appearance so they cannot be seen by human eyes."
"We should have kept Dobby with us - he'd have been able to tell us where they were," Hermione said to Ron, who shrugged and shook his head at her. Second-guessing was a habit that Hermione had after the fact - she had nearly driven them mad with her desire to go through all the OWL exams again once they were out of them.
"And how were we supposed to know that?" Ron asked her, "We didn't know the charm existed!"
"There is nothing you could have done differently last night," McGonagal interrupted what looked like the start of a quarrel, "You must remember that you were faced with a very difficult and dangerous situation. Your presence here this morning is proof that you did everything right to get out of there in one piece."
"Do we know how they got into the castle?" Angelina asked after a moment. She was also seated on a cushion near Ginny Weasley. Her braids were a bit singed, probably from ferrying people out of the windows to the lawn below. Several people nodded and leaned forward to catch this answer.
"We found traces of the Chameleon charm aboard the Hogwarts Express," Dumbledore looked around the room, meeting eyes and offering a little smile, "And we traced them to Hogsmeade as well - we are certain they have left the castle."
"Did they hurt the Fat Lady?" Neville asked next. McGonagal smiled at him kindly.
"They sealed her shut with a very difficult to remove version of the Permanent Sticking charm, but the fire didn't damage her canvas at all. She was very distressed of course, but she will be unstuck soon and we will be able to remove her for cleaning," she told him, and several people sighed in relief.
"Perhaps now would be a good time to discuss the events of last night," Dumbledore murmured. People shifted around a little, uneasy at reliving the event when it was so fresh in their minds, but Harry was resigned. Dumbledore did not believe in putting off unpleasant things.
"Harry can tell you - he was in charge," Seamus grinned over at his stunned housemate. Harry paled a little and looked around at his friends who were nodding and grinning at him. He didn't want to be in charge - the last time he had nearly killed his friends. Beth shifted against him, moving to hug him firmly.
"I wasn't!" he protested, and felt Ron lean over to touch his shoulder. The touch calmed him and he bit his lip. He and Ron and Hermione had worked together as a team - like they always did. And the rest of the seniors had done whatever they thought best as well.
"You were the one who organised us to get the juniors into the dorms," Angelina reminded him, while several people nodded in agreement. No one seemed upset by it - in fact the seventh years looked approving.
"And you made up that protection spell, too," Lee added, "It saved our arses when we headed up the stairs."
"Protection spell?" McGonagal looked over at Harry. He blushed and looked at his slippers. His change to the Protgeo spell had been a desperate, almost unthinking bid to save Angelina and her charges. It was a serendipitous discovery, and he wasn't inclined to claim any credit for it.
"Harry changed the suffix of the Protego protection spell from -o to -ah," Dean spoke up, "It forms a shield with the Gryffindor lion on it."
"Can you show me?" McGonagal leaned forward, and several people got out their wands. They pointed them at their housemates who grinned, not at all worried about the spell after it was tried and tested under such awful circumstances last night.
"Protegah," the word rang out strongly and shields with Gryffindor's lion popped up all over the hospital wing. Harry blinked at the one in front of him, and then grinned. He could feel faint warmth radiating from the shield and sighed. Beth chuckled and looked up at him.
"It's pretty," she whispered, "Did you invent it?"
"I guess," he shrugged as the shield faded away. McGonagal was giving him a rather strange look, but he ignored it. His arm was aching again and he was starting to feel tired. It was warm in the hospital wing, and he stuck his finger back down Ron's sock, the touch of skin on skin reassuring.
"I can't believe you went to sleep," Ron muttered as they followed Dumbledore along the fourth floor corridor. Harry had dozed off not long after the demonstration of the Protegah charm. His friends had let him sleep, waking him when it was time to go to their new dormitory. His head had been leaned against Beth's and when he woke she had been stroking his knee in a rather proprietary manner.
"I can't believe you let me," Harry replied, a little embarrassed, though no one had teased him about it. Beth had woken him with a gentle touch and Ron had hauled him up. He'd followed along obediently, waking as he walked with Ron's hand on his elbow to guide him along. Harry desperately wanted to be alone with his partner to check that he was ok, but knew that there was little chance of that for a while.
"Here we are," Professor McGonagal stopped in front of a large and rather hideous horned gargoyle. It had short stubby wings, and fangs that stuck at odd angles out of its mouth. It crouched on squat-clawed legs, and had four sets of strong arms that ended in three fingered hands.
"Who is that?" Harry asked without thinking, and the gargoyle rustled its wings, turning its head with a rough grinding sound to look at him through pale stone eyes.
"I am called Wrestler, who are you?" it's voice was also rough and grainy, and Harry blinked at him in astonishment.
"Put your wand hand on its head and give your full name," McGonagal told Harry, standing back to give him access. Ron helped Harry take the sling off, and Harry gritted his teeth as he lifted the arm. The stone felt warm under his sweaty palm, and tingled slightly.
"Harry Potter," he said obediently. The wings rustled and the wall behind the gargoyle rippled.
"Wotcher, General," Wrestler said in a respectful sort of tone and Harry stepped through the wall. He walked a few steps forward and turned to look behind him. Ron had his hand on Wrestler's head and was greeted with a 'righto, Colonel' before also stepping through the wall. He hurried over and put the sling back on Harry, stealing a very brief kiss as he did. His eyes were clouded with worry, but Hermione stepped inside and prevented them from speaking.
Harry turned his attention to the common room they were standing in. Scuffed leather couches were grouped around sturdy tables. There were floor length windows along one wall, letting in the sunlight, with faded red drapes tied back with yellow and red ties. Two large fireplaces - on opposite walls - dominated the room, and there was a new Gryffindor banner hung above one of them. Just past the main entrance there were two corridors, opposite each other, leading off into the rest of the dorms. There was three large wooden chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and a few torches set in brackets on the walls. The floor was covered with thick rugs. Each entrance to a passage was surrounded by carved arms, twisting together to grip each other's wrists. Harry had the feeling that they would become as mobile as Wrestler was, should any of the boys attempt to sneak into the girls dorm.
While they had been looking at the common room the rest of Gryffindor had stepped through the wall. Professor McGonagal was the last person inside. She smiled at them all, and moved to stand between the two branching corridors. Harry thought she looked a little tired as she stood there. The teachers wouldn't have had much sleep last night - seeing to the safety of the students, putting out the fires and tracking the school's assailants must have taken a lot of energy and concentration.
"The girls dormitories are on the right, and the boys are on the left. At the end of each corridor there is a room for the seventh year Prefect, and halfway down there is a room for the fifth year Prefect, with the sixth year Prefects room located at the entrance to each corridor. The Prefects will of course be sharing this room with a friend, and I believe the house elves have already moved your belongings in. There are also boys and girls bathrooms and toilets located in each corridor for your use. I'll leave you to get settled, and find your way around. You are expected to come to the Great Hall for lunch, and your parents will meet you there afterwards. Wrestler will not admit anyone to the common room unless they touch his head and state their full name. Anyone not a member of Gryffindor will be restrained immediately."
She nodded to them and headed out through the wall. They stood around for a moment staring at each other before Ron cleared his throat in an attention getting kind of way.
"We should do something for the house elves," he said, "We should put a tin in the middle of the common room and all put in for a present or something."
"A plaque?" Neville suggested, "You know, we can say what they did and things."
"All in favour?" Hermione asked briskly, and everyone raised his or her hands. She nodded decisively and looked around, "I'll put the tin out then, and we'll have a collection by the end of the day. Now we should find our rooms and get cleaned up."
Harry smiled at his friend and turned to the boys near him, ushering them towards the left hand corridor. He passed the first door without glancing at it, walking them along to the next set of doors. There was a brass plaque shaped like a lion on them, with names engraved on it. Relieved that they wouldn't have to open every room and search for personal belongings, Harry urged the boys to find their names.
"Harry," Ron called and Harry turned back, passing friends and housemates as he trudged back to Ron. Ron pointed to the sixth year Prefects door. The brass plaque read R Weasley and H Potter. Ron grinned at him and opened the door.
They stepped into a narrow rectangular room with a high ceiling. To the left of the door was a large mahogany wardrobe that took up most of the space between the walls, leaving just enough room to open the doors, or to walk past it to the rest of the room. In front of them was a window and just underneath it sat a bookcase with all their books - the Muggle fiction they'd started to collect and all of Harry's old and new schoolbooks as well as his collection of Defensive books, side by side with Ron's books as well. The wall to the right of the door held hooks that their cloaks and bags hung from; including the broom storage bags that Hermione had given them. There were also a couple of moth eaten wing chairs, with a table between them.
Ron stepped past the bulky wardrobe. There was a small fireplace with a fireguard in front of it and a mirror hanging over the mantle. A second window had a large dresser underneath it. There was a curtained bunk bed jammed into the end of the room, about the width of the four-posters that they usually slept in. There was also a large writing desk and their trunks. Harry stared at the bed with longing and Ron turned around to close the door and put a privacy seal on it. He came back to Harry and put his arms around him, spooning up against Harry's back. He felt some of the tension leave his body as Ron hugged him close and sighed into his neck.
"Come on, bed," Ron mumbled, and walked them forward. Harry reached out and opened the curtains before climbing onto the bed. Ron followed him and settled Harry on his back, touching him lightly, then curling up beside him to stroke Harry's right hand.
"I was so scared you'd be hurt," Harry blurted, and Ron leaned over to kiss him. They kissed for a long moment and then leaned back.
"Me too, you heroic General," Ron teased and Harry felt himself flush. He wrapped his good hand in Ron's hair and pulled a face.
"Insubordination, Colonel?" he asked lightly, and Ron grinned. Harry was feeling a lot better if Ron could grin at him like that.
"Yeah, and did you hear Wrestler call Neville Sarge? I thought he was going to burst," Ron kissed Harry again, "And now we've got a whole year in here together. Privacy. I bet Dobby had something to do with this."
"Mmm," Harry rubbed his fingers through Ron's hair. Right now he was far too comfortable to care about anything. Ron smiled at him and put his head down, burying his face in Harry's neck. They held each other quietly.
They had collected a large amount of money from their fellow housemates, Ron mused as he peered into the collection tin the next morning. There were quite a few galleons in the mix, and the rest were silver sickles. They'd be able to afford the plaque easily, and maybe have enough left over for something extra. He heard Harry come through the wall and smiled, putting the tin back. He'd had fun waking Harry early this morning and helping him with his morning ablutions and dressing. Though his partner wasn't up for any fun and games, they'd enjoyed touching each other lightly and making rude comments.
"What did Madam Pomfrey say?" he asked his friend. Harry was frowning a little, but the pain he'd woken with was gone from his face. His arm was still heavily wrapped, and supported under his robes with a sling. It made Ron's heart lurch each time he saw it, remembering Colin's landing on the lawn, the blonde boy yelling for help as Harry fainted from blood loss.
"I have to wear the sling for the next fortnight," he sighed, "Report to her before breakfast and tea for new dressings and potions, and I'm not to use my hand for wand work or note taking, though I can attend classes."
"What, you'll just sit there?" Ron rolled his eyes, "Half your luck."
"Actually, Madam Pomfrey taught me the kind of spell they use to make Quick Quote Quills," Harry replied, "So I'll be taking notes anyway."
Normally quills that took notes automatically were banned from student use, but as Harry couldn't write left handed the teachers would make an exception until he regained the full use of his arm. Ron was glad that his friend would have something to do in lessons besides sit there - Harry was a doer, not a sitter, and would likely drive them all to distraction with his fidgets.
"Good morning," Ginny emerged from the sixth year Prefects room, her bag already over her shoulder, "How are you today, Harry?"
"What am I, chopped liver?" Ron complained, and Ginny pulled a face at him. Harry knew it was a part of their family makeup to bicker and tease, though the Weasley's were the closest family he'd ever had the privilege to meet.
"Good morning, Ron," her voice was exasperated, "Do you mind?"
"I'm fine, Ginny," Harry laughed a little at Ron's disgruntled expression. He could hear people stirring in the corridors behind them and knew that the rest of Gryffindor would soon join them, "You're staying with Hermione?"
"Yep, and the beds are so queer - they're bunk beds, but with the usual curtains. But you'd know that, right?" she tilted her head and Harry nodded. The top bunk wasn't going to be in use this year, but they didn't have to tell anyone that. Ron cleared his throat and went to fetch their bags, not wanting to give the game away. Hermione was out there examining the tin when he returned, and that reminded Ron it was his turn to pay the owl for their Daily Prophet. He checked to make sure he had the coins and then jerked his head at Harry, who immediately understood.
"We'll see you at breakfast," he told the girls and followed Ron out into the corridor. They both said good morning to Wrestler on their way past, walking along the corridor briskly. The Great Hall was slowly filling with students as they arrived, and Ron led Harry to their usual place at one end of the Gryffindor tables. They sat down and Harry shifted their plates automatically while Ron started slathering jam onto toast and piling it onto the top plate. Harry poured pumpkin juice for them both and the owl arrived right on time. They settled into their morning habit of reading whilst they ate, talking quietly over the articles as the table filled around them. Professor McGonagal had handed out their timetables yesterday, and Tuesday morning started with double Potions.
Ron was not looking forward to this, as Snape was sure to be in a foul mood, and Malfoy would probably have some choice comments lined up about the attack on Gryffindor. He watched Harry wipe his face clear of crumbs and sighed, folding the paper and stuffing it into his robes.
"Come on, we might as well get going," he sighed, and glanced around the table. The first years were sitting halfway down the Gryffindor tables, bracketed by the senior students protectively. Hermione and Neville were sitting opposite him and Harry, talking in low voices.
"Neville, are you in Potions this year?" Ron asked curiously, and Neville nodded, his face glowing with pride. Snape frequently reduced Neville to a pitiful state of nerves, but the forgetful boy had obviously been paying more attention than anyone had thought.
"I couldn't believe it when I got my results!" he told them, "The only other O I got was in Herbology!"
Ron let Harry congratulate Neville while he fished both their bags out of from under the seat. Students were moving all around them and Ron was a little worried about Harry's arm, knowing that it was still very painful and an accidental - or not so accidental - bump would be agonising. Hermione had also gotten up, and she and Neville bracketed Harry, with Ron leading the way to Potions. That turned out to be a wise move as Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle tried to cut them off at the door, foiled by a bunch of seventh years from Hufflepuff who wandered away from their table, heads together as they consulted over a book.
They waited quietly outside the Potions dungeon, Hermione telling them all about the fascinating potions she'd read through over the holiday, and Neville telling them a little about some of the more exotic ingredients. Neville's love of Herbology was starting to pay off as his knowledge boosted him in Potions. Malfoy glared at them from further down the line, looking rather diminished without Crabbe and Goyle looming in the background. Evidently his companions hadn't made the grade to be accepted into Potions this year. Susan Bones and Justin Finch-Fletchley had made the cut, as had Terry Boot and Dean Thomas. Seamus' potions weren't bad, but they did tend to be a bit weak, hence his absence.
Snape let them in with a sour expression on his face, and they moved to sit quietly in the dungeon. Ron realised the Professor was giving Harry a rather funny look, but his friend was too busy setting up his quill and parchment to notice. Snape prefaced his morning lecture with some disparaging remarks about the 'lax examination process that allowed some people to gain such high marks' and then coldly informed them that he expected those marks to be maintained.
He launched into an explanation of today's potion - one that would seal magical wounds from the inside, and the most difficult one they'd tried to date - and then put the notes up on the blackboard. Once everyone was finished with the notes and involved in the preparation of their ingredients - and Neville looked a little pale, but very determined - Snape called Harry up to his desk.
Ron watched with concern as his partner walked quietly to Snape's side and then turned his attention back to his ingredients when Snape glanced his way. He listened with half an ear as Snape put Harry through a ten minute catechism on the effect of each ingredient being used, the reason they were prepared in the method Snape had indicated, the effect of improper temperatures on the brewing and storing of the potion, and the correct sealing spell to use to keep the potion most potent over a length of time.
His friend was dismissed with a curt word - and no indication of whether he'd answered correctly or not - and Harry turned to go back to his seat. Malfoy moved around his cauldron and then stepped back as Harry passed, tripping them both and twisting so that Harry landed beneath him. Ron lurched forward, his stomach knotted at his friend's cry of pain, but Snape beat him to it.
"Malfoy!" Snape roared, and Ron felt sick when he saw the blonde haired Slytherin put a hand back and squeeze down on the bandages as he got up. Harry was pale and sweaty as he bit his lip hard enough to draw blood.
"Potter tripped me sir," Malfoy lied and then yelped as Snape practically shoved him aside to get to Harry. Ron was there too, ignoring the Slytherin student and reaching for his friend. Snape beat him to it, helping Harry sit up and then baring the affected arm carefully. The bandages were bloodstained and Ron sucked in a breath.
"Mr Weasley, take Mr Potter to the hospital wing, and then come straight back here," Snape ordered, and Ron put an arm around Harry.
"Lean on me, mate," he murmured and Harry made a pained noise as they levered him to his feet. Snape let go and Ron slowly led Harry out of the dungeon, aware of the glares being sent Malfoy's way by the rest of the class. Harry was breathing rather heavily and Ron rubbed his fingers on the other teen's arm.
"Ron, don't do anything to get into trouble with Snape. Leave Malfoy alone, please," Harry whispered softly, and Ron sighed. He nodded reluctantly, guiding them up the steps.
"I promise," he told his friend, "Lets just get to the hospital wing and let Madam Pomfrey look at you."
Madam Pomfrey was highly indignant and whisked Harry off, leaving Ron to return to the dungeon slowly. It was silent except for the sound of the potions bubbling and he retook his place quickly, glancing around.
Malfoy was scowling mightily, and Hermione looked a little tense. Neville had his head down, frowning in concentration and Ron picked up his spoon, stirring his potion experimentally and then leaning down to change the fire, cooling it a little. From Hermione's significant look Ron knew he'd have to find out what had happened at dinnertime.
"He got a detention?" Harry grinned a little. Ron was sitting in one of the winged chairs in their room, flipping through a book, looking for a spell while Hermione leaned on their bookshelf. The red head grinned at his partner, but let their friend tell him as she had witnessed it.
"Professor Snape glared at him and told him he'd have detention after tea on Friday," Hermione nodded at him. Harry chuckled and leaned back in his seat. He was still too pale for Ron's liking, but there was nothing the redhead could do about it. Madam Pomfrey had kept Harry for the rest of the day, and none of the teachers had inquired. Professor Dumbledore had been present for dinner and tea, presiding over the room in what seemed to be a very disapproving mood.
"Did Madam Pomfrey say anything about your arm?" Hermione asked anxiously and Harry shook his head stubbornly. Ron looked over at his friend and Harry sighed, giving in.
"Just that if it tears open again she'll keep me in the hospital wing until it's healed," he mumbled, a little flushed, "Don't fuss."
The last comment was directed to Ron, who didn't need a mirror to know his face was also flushed, with temper. Ron nodded and bit his lip, knowing that to retaliate against Malfoy when Harry was still vulnerable was to possibly inflict further pain on his mate. Further discussion was prevented by the appearance of Dobby. He was carrying a tray, and peering rather anxiously at Harry's pale face. Ron felt a rush of affection for the faithful house elf and made a mental note to get Dobby an extra special Christmas present.
"Dobby has brought some supper for Masters Harry and Wheezy," the elf announced. Hermione bristled and Ron groaned under his breath. They didn't need an impromptu lecture on the slavery of house elves right now.
"Masters Harry and Wheezy?" she asked in a rather dangerous voice. Dobby beamed up at her.
"Oh yes, Dobby is taking very special care of Master Harry and his Wheezy," the elf told her, conjuring up an extra cup of tea and some more scones. Hermione raised her eyebrows at them and Harry spoke up before Ron could.
"That reminds me Hermione," Harry's voice was determined, "I've been wanting to speak to you about the hats and things you hide in the common room. You've insulted the house elves to the point that they won't clean in here at all. Dobby had to clean the tower all by himself last year - though he said he didn't mind it..."
"Dobby did not! Dobby was pleased to do it. Dobby hoped to see Master Harry more often!" Dobby interjected, his eyes wide. Ron smiled at the elf kindly, and reassured him before Harry could.
"And you were a great help to us last year too, Dobby. Harry told us it was you who came up with the Room of Requirement when we needed it."
Dobby beamed happily and Harry took control back of the conversation, offering the elf a smile of his own.
"I just don't think it fair that you do the work alone Dobby, and Hermione it's not right of you to trick the elves into a freedom they don't want. I agree that the slavery is wrong, and that something should be done, but why insult the elves while you're at it?"
"Harry's right, Hermione," Ron backed his friend up, ignoring the angry looks she was shooting at them, "If you want to change things for the house elves then you should do it legally - maybe get a few laws passed for their protection, and see about getting wages for them. Professor Dumbledore agrees that we should treat non-human magical creatures better, but you don't see him going around tricking them into something they mightn't want."
Hermione stopped glaring and started looking interested. Harry took the opportunity to thank Dobby and pass around the scones. With a bit of luck they'd avoid an argument and Hermione would start looking for better ways to achieve her goal.
They settled on a tea towel each with the Gryffindor logo printed on it, and a badge with the Gryffindor lion on the front, and the date, the house elf's name and a message of thanks on the back for each house elf that had assisted them during the attack. There was also a plaque, charmed to be self polishing, detailing the actions of the house elf's, which would be mounted on the wall outside the Gryffindor common room once it was repaired.
The Headmaster had given permission for them to make the presentation in front of the school, and the seventh years did it after tea, only nine days after their tower was destroyed. Professor McGonagal had helped them get their order to Diagon Alley and back in record time, and Harry sat with his housemates while the Headmaster and Prefects handed out their thanks. He led the three cheers at the end, and several embarrassed house elves had to be led aside to a quiet room to recover.
Dobby was thrilled with it all, and wore his badge proudly, though Harry thought that his fellow elves would probably just put the mementoes away somewhere safe. Ron made a similar comment silently, and both agreed not to mention their understanding to Hermione, who would probably get all stirred up again.
Harry had been approached by Angelina Johnson about playing as Seeker this year. With his arm injured, he wouldn't be able to try out with the rest of the team but she had proposed they hold a separate trial for Seekers when his arm was better. Ron had been looking so hopeful that Harry had agreed, though he'd said to Ron and Hermione later that it didn't seem very fair. Ginny had announced last year that she intended to try for Chaser this term, so Harry wasn't worried about hurting her feelings.
"Nonsense, Harry," Hermione had scolded, "Angelina wants the best team possible, so of course she's going to wait until her Seeker is recovered before holding trials."
"What about the lifetime ban?" Harry pointed out, "I mean, Umbridge was a complete prat, but she did have the authority at the time to impose it."
"And that authority has been removed, Mr Potter, along with the ban," Professor McGonagal said from behind them, "Now if that's settled, perhaps you'd like to come into class!"
Harry flushed and followed his friends in. Transfiguration was becoming more and more difficult, and this year they'd be tested for Animagus qualities. As no one had known that his father and Sirius were Animagi, Harry supposed the test was a new one. The teachers of each subject had continued to pull Harry to one side during lessons and question him closely about the minutiae of the spells, charms, beasts and potions that the sixth years were learning. Harry understood it was a way to ensure he was taking in what they were saying while he was unable to actually participate, but he found it more draining than actually making the spell, charm, potion or handling the beast itself.
They were turning spoons into lyrebirds this lesson, a tricky transformation that required precise enunciation and wand control. Harry went up for his usual catechism, glad that the bandages were coming off on the weekend. That was only another day away, and then with luck he'd be able to get a bit of his own back at Malfoy. The blonde teen had taken to lurking around Harry whenever he was outside the Gryffindor common rooms, or in between classes. Harry knew he was trying to put him off balance, and unfortunately it was working. Harry was tense and paranoid, which meant that Ron was too - and his partner's temper did not respond well to unresolved tension.
"Professor," Harry said very softly when McGonagal had finished asking him questions, "When will you be holding the Animagus testing?"
"Not until just before Christmas, Mr Potter," she replied, and her eyes softened a little, "You needn't be concerned. If you have inherited your fathers talent that will be quite a useful skill for a future Auror."
"But you'll have to register me," Harry tilted his head, "Won't that make the transformation redundant? If everyone knows what an Auror can turn into then it's not much of a disguise."
"An Auror's Animagus status is sealed to the public - indeed even to most members of the Ministry," McGonagal informed him, "Don't worry, Mr Potter. You will be given more information closer to the date."
Harry nodded and went to sit down, watching Ron's spoon grow some metallic feathers. He pulled his textbook out after a moment and looked through it for the chapter on Animagus - deciding to get some extra reading done now. He couldn't explain why he felt the way he did about the subject, only that he was rather curious and apprehensive about it all.
It hadn't been too hard for Harry to regain his position as Seeker in the Gryffindor team, and Ron had helped his partner to celebrate very enthusiastically that night. Their first match would be against Hufflepuff, and Angelina had them training hard. Ron was relieved that the nerves that had held him back last year stayed buried in the past, and was able to make a very good showing during practice. Malfoy had turned up with is usual crowd of hangers-on, but the Gryffindor team had ignored them easily, more intent in breaking in their Beaters and giving Ginny a chance to practice some of her moves as Chaser.
They were still fairly elated the next morning when they sat down to breakfast. With Harry's arm out of the sling, he and Ron were able to re-establish their morning routine of reading the paper while their fingers talked to each other - a vital connection that had been sorely missed. Ron's comments on the latest Quidditch scores were still echoing up Harry's arm when he noticed the glum looks from Hermione and Dean.
"Hermione, don't take her seriously," Harry said quietly, and Ron nodded agreement. Rita Skeeter was becoming more and more insistent about her crusade, and Hermione was becoming more and more depressed over the whole matter. Ron sighed as Harry let him go and bent to rummage in his bag.
"Look, Hermione," Ron offered, "There's nothing we can do, short of revealing her own little secret."
"You know what she's building up to, Ron," Hermione scowled heavily at him, shooting a significant look at Harry, who was now writing something intently at the top of a roll of parchment. Ron sighed and glanced at his partner for a moment before looking up at the teachers' table. Professor McGonagal was scowling at her morning paper, and Professor Sprout was talking earnestly to Professors Flitwick and Sinistra. It wasn't just the students who were disturbed by the report, and Professor Dumbledore was watching the students very closely. The whole Hall was restless, people sitting with their heads together in clumps.
"I know," Ron conceded, "But short of squashing her like a bug there's nothing we can do to stop her writing. The Daily Prophet proved their lack of morals last year when they reported Harry and Professor Dumbledore were nuts. And you can't use your influence on her Hermione, because she'll find a way to twist that to her purpose too. You'd be written up as part of the problem."
"I think we can come up with another plan," Harry signed what he was writing with a flourish and stuffed it inside his bag as the teachers stood up to signal that students should head to class.
"What are you planning?" Ron scowled at his friend. There was only one area in his life that he liked surprises, and this was not it. Harry bustled them all along the corridor towards the History of Magic classroom.
"I'll tell you later," he promised as they sat down and Professor Binns glided through the blackboard.
Ron fidgeted all through the lesson, until Harry poked him in the ribs with a scowl of his own. Hermione was taking her usual copious notes, and Harry was reading through what he had written at breakfast. Ron leaned over to take a peek and Harry sighed very quietly, shoving the parchment over. The further Ron read, the bigger the grin on his face. He reached the end and nicked Harry's quill to sign beneath his friend's name. Beneath the desk, their fingers tangled.
/Good idea/ Ron commented, and Harry raised an eyebrow at him.
/You sure? It could backfire/
/Nah, you've got them cold/ Ron handed the roll back and Harry nodded, reading it through one more time before tucking it away.
/We'll start it in Gryffindor, then Hufflepuff/ Harry told him and Ron nodded. Hermione was giving them some very queer looks and they let go of each other, though Ron knew she hadn't seen their tangled fingers under the desk.
'We the undersigned wish to register our disapproval and dismay at the blatant attempts to marginalize and isolate the Muggle-born members of the Wizarding community as reported by Rita Skeeter in the Daily Prophet. We would like to assert that to our knowledge, Miss Skeeter has never once attempted to speak to any of the people concerned in her stories - including the Muggles that she is allegedly quoting. We would further like to register our disgust in the apparently slipping standards of the Daily Prophet's reporting standards and their editors evident disregard for the truth that they are supposed to be representing.'
It was signed by the entire student bodies of Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, with a few teachers added besides. Copies of the petition went to the Daily Prophet, Witch Weekly, and Wizards Monthly Review. Professor Dumbledore had seen the petition and given tacit approval of it by not confiscating it. Harry and Ron had sent their owls off to the periodicals, and sent the original petition back with the owl that delivered the Daily Prophet.
The newspaper ignored it until the periodicals came out with it as their leading stories. Forced to make some kind of acknowledgement, the Daily Prophet shut down Rita's regular column quietly, and printed an editors note to the effect that the paper was a forum for public opinion and the editorial process had to cater for a wide range of readers tastes.
Hermione had cheered up a little, and Dean had been heard to tell Seamus that that was the last they'd hear about that. No one had much time to brood on the matter as the first Hogsmeade weekend was coming up, and everyone was planning what they'd do once they got there.
Flourish and Blotts had opened a branch in the village, and Harry wanted to look through the books on offer. Hermione was all for that plan, and Ron came along as a matter of course, complaining under his breath and teasing Harry about turning into a bookworm.
"They might have more Muggle books," Harry pointed out, "Or you could order that one you were telling me about last night."
As they'd been in bed together last night, and the discussion had ended with a wrestling match that had further devolved into a pretty hot groping session, Ron shut up and blushed a little. Hermione asked which book he'd been interested in, mistaking the blush for being embarrassed about having a hobby so like his fathers. Ron spent the rest of the walk fending off her curious questions.
Once inside the new shop - just as crowded with books as the one in Diagon Alley - the three of them split up. Harry found the area that dealt with magical transformations and started searching for more texts on Animagi. The school library had several excellent texts that were on loan to seventh year students, and Harry saw no reason why he shouldn't just get his own copies. He tucked several promising books under his arm and browsed further along the shelves, listening with half an ear as Ron enthusiastically discussed David Brin with Hermione. Glad that they'd found something from Hermione's world in common - thus staying out of his hair - Harry pulled another book off the shelf and flicked through it briefly, a faint tinge creeping over his cheeks when he realised it was a book about sexuality. There were the usual highly detailed anatomy chapters at the beginning of the book, and then it started talking about other things. Harry realised the diagrams were moving, to give better detail to the descriptions and hurriedly flipped the pages away from one particularly enthusiastic diagram. The header at the top of the new page said 'alternate styles of loving' and showed two men...
Harry shut the book and looked at the front cover for a moment. The diagrams in that last chapter had woken a very wild desire in him, and he took a deep breath, checking the anatomy chapters again against the Animagus books he was holding. He'd be able to put the purchase of the book down to his interest in Animagi, and if he was quick he could make the purchase before Ron and Hermione caught up with him.
Decision made, Harry hurried to the front counter, placing his selection down confidently and greatly relieved when the assistant merely totalled his purchase and wrapped the books for him.
Ron felt a jolt go right to his groin and gaped at his partner. The book was open on the bed, with a couple of jars of cream from the Apothecary sitting beside it. The diagram in the book was very energetic, and the way Harry was caressing the page with the tips of his fingers had Ron hot and bothered in just a few seconds.
"You want to do that?" Ron gestured weakly, "Who'd do...I mean which..."
"I want you to do it to me," the comment was directed to a point over Ron's left shoulder. He nearly turned to see who it was his friend was speaking to. Ron gaped down at the diagram as it went back to the beginning and started again. They'd mainly used their hands and mouths on each other so far - Ron loved Harry's taste and went after it every chance he got. Seeing as they were both healthy teenagers that was quite a lot.
"You really fancy that?" Ron asked through a dry mouth and Harry nodded. Ron pushed the book aside and moved to take Harry in his arms. For someone with Harry's past to willingly put himself in such a vulnerable position... Ron thought his heart would burst.
"Not if you don't," Harry sighed into Ron's hair and Ron snorted, pulling one of his friends' hands into his lap.
"What do you think?" Ron asked and then moaned as Harry's hand touched curiously, then began a slow massage that would end the whole thing before they got started. Ron captured the hand and smiled when his partner whined in disappointment. He kissed the pout and then pulled the book back over to them.
They ended up with Ron sitting propped against pillows, Harry in his lap. They'd spent quite some time touching and playing with the slippery contents of the vanilla scented jar. Harry had felt such pleasure when Ron touched him just right that they had abandoned the book to simply experiment.
Ron had felt himself enter the tightest place in Harry's body, and it was almost over before it began. He'd held Harry close, their bodies barely moving, gasps and moans the only noises as their fingers and hands did the talking for them. They reached completion together, the world whiting out with pleasure, leaving them wrung out, messy and clinging.
Harry stirred after a little while and gave Ron a slightly embarrassed look. Ron took a guess at what was bothering his partner and did his best to make Harry feel better in his own special way. He didn't want Harry to think that Ron thought less of him for what they'd just done together - in fact Ron was hoping to do that together a lot more. He admired someone that could just let go like that, especially considering Harry's experiences. Therefore, his next comment came straight from the heart.
"Harry, my lad, you are one hell of a shag."
Outraged splutters turned into helpless laughter and Ron shifted them around, spooning up around his partner and holding on tight.
"As you know, we've spent the last week going over the theory behind Animagus transformations thoroughly," Professor McGonagal stood beside her desk and eyed them all. In a special once off lesson, all four houses were seated in the classroom, "Today you are going to attempt the Animagus transformations yourselves. I will remind you that there is no shame in being unable to perform this particular spell as it is not just a matter of understanding the spell but talent that is often inherited from your families. You will find the theory for this particular spell is covered extensively in the end of year test, and I will remind you that any transformation that you do manage must be registered with the Ministry of Magic. That will be done with my assistance at an interview I will arrange for those of you who complete the transformation."
Harry's gut was twisting in a rather nasty way. He couldn't tell if it was because he wanted to be able to transform or if he didn't. He knew his father could become a stag, but what if Harry became a rat like Pettigrew? Ron was sitting beside Harry calmly, not at all fussed about this one way or the other. Harry hadn't discussed this with his partner, wanting to seem as calm about it as Ron obviously was.
"In order to prevent any accidents I will call you up one at a time. Whilst you are waiting I think it would be best if you reviewed the theory thoroughly, and ensure you know the incantation. Remember, to actually transform you must not say the incantation at all, but will it to occur. Also, whilst you are waiting it would be best if you could be as silent as possible to avoid distracting the students that are attempting transformation."
Harry bit his lip and Ron glanced over, frowning. Unwilling to catch McGonagal's attention, Harry reached out surreptitiously and took Ron's fingers in his own.
/Do you think you'll do it// he asked Ron who grinned and shook his head easily.
/Nah, there are no Animagus in our family. We don't have the talent. / Ron looked calm about it, and Harry felt a little better. If Ron didn't care that he couldn't change why should Harry?
/That's better / Ron's sudden comment told Harry that his partner had noticed and he shot him a rueful grin. He knew that he could be a bit obsessive over things like this - a lot of the time the pressure he felt came from wondering what his parents or Sirius would think of his actions and accomplishments. Professor McGonagal was steadily working her way through the students in the room, calling them out alphabetically.
Hermione got up with a gulp and Harry turned to watch. He smiled when she glanced at them, and Ron squeezed his fingers. They knew that she would be disappointed if she failed, and five minutes later Harry put an arm around her shoulders in commiseration. She sighed and then straightened up. He let go and they watched as Neville managed to transform into a brown hare - the first successful transformation of the class. Everyone clapped, which made the hare jump rather violently, and then Neville was back, flushed with success and grinning hard. The formerly tubby and painfully insecure boy had grown into a sleek teenager during the summer, who was starting to find his confidence. Each success boosted him more and more, until he could even begin to face Potions with a calm façade.
"Good on ya, Nev!" Ron called out as their friend returned to his seat, and Neville sent them a grin. Even Professor McGonagal was beaming at him, a rare thing for the austere Head of Gryffindor.
Malfoy was next, and Harry watched with no small amount of glee as the Slytherin pureblood failed to accomplish the transformation. Professor McGonagal merely moved down the list, the Patil twins next.
"Harry Potter," McGonagal called and Harry shut his books and got up, walking to the front calmly. He knew the incantation back to front and had done enough extra reading to know that the process itself wasn't painful at all. There were remedial spells, which his father had probably used to overcome whatever problems Pettigrew had with the transformation, but Harry didn't feel the need to search them out. He'd fail at this, and then go sit back with Ron.
"When you're ready," McGonagal urged and Harry took a deep breath, centering his mind and focussing on the incantation. There was a warm sensation, flowing over him like water, and then he was looking up at Professor McGonagal from about mid thigh height. The mirror behind her showed a rather large wolf, with shaggy black tipped fur and faint rings around his eyes where his glasses sat. He gaped at her, and then shook his head, reversing the spell easily, a cold flow of sensation.
"Well done, Harry," McGonagal was smiling at him too, and Harry returned to his seat in a daze. Ron slapped him on the back and Hermione squeezed his hand in congratulations. Harry just gaped at them incredulously. He was supposed to fail!
"Close your mouth," Ron suggested kindly, "And look at Malfoy - he's going to burst something if he doesn't ease up."
Sure enough the blonde teen was red faced with fury. Harry shot him a smug look - he couldn't help it - and then turned to Ron. He had bigger problems than Malfoy's lack of talent.
"You don't mind?" he asked in a very low voice and Ron rolled his eyes. His partner shook his head and gave him a look that promised they'd speak about this later. Harry was a little paranoid about showing his partner up, or making him feel that he'd been shown up, ever since their fight during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry never wanted to be that alone again.
"Ronald Weasley," Professor McGonagal called, and Ron got up, walking confidently to their teacher and smiling at her. She smiled back and gestured for him to get on with it. Ron cleared his throat - the nervous habit he'd acquired in their first year had never really disappeared and always made Harry smile a little - and his body flowed and changed into that of a large red fox. Harry grinned at the surprised yip his partner made, and clapped with the rest of the class as Ron returned to his normal form. He was rather pale, and totally gob smacked.
"That wasn't supposed to happen!" he told McGonagal, "It's not a Weasley gift!"
Malfoy made some sneering comment to Millicent Bulstrode, which had her giggling not too discreetly into her hand. Half the class glared at them, and someone muttered something about 'sour grapes', which shut them both up rather quickly.
"Never-the-less, Mr Weasley, it is one you have," Professor McGonagal told him kindly, and sent him back to his seat. Ron plonked down next to Harry and gaped at him in bewilderment while Harry merely grinned and patted his shoulder.
The three people who had managed a transformation were kept behind when the class was dismissed. Professor McGonagal had them all transform again and encouraged them to move around and get used to the animal forms they had taken on while she filled out the paperwork. Harry nipped his partner on the tail, starting a game of tag that had all three of them racing around the classroom, leaping over and under furniture. Their Head of House seemed inclined to ignore the noise for a moment, and Harry took the opportunity to enjoy the feeling of sleek power and easy balance. Neville was the fastest of them, and Ron was more agile than Harry's larger form.
Eventually the Professor called them back to their human form and informed them that she was sending the news to their parents, as well as the official notification to the Ministry, who would probably send an Auror out to check them over and register them properly. She requested that they refrain from changing forms in the corridors or common rooms, and congratulated them all once again.
"Mr Potter, I thought I might add your information to Mr Weasley's note."
Harry was rather surprised at the thought, but agreed readily.
"Thank you Professor, Aunt Molly would probably singe my ears off if I didn't tell her straight away," he nodded and they were dismissed to their common room.
"Mum says congratulations, and she can't wait for us to show her at Christmas," Ron tossed the note on top of the bookcase, turning to lean on it and Harry frowned up at his partner. The redhead had gone to catch his excitable owl when it had flown itself down a chimney in the common room and started buzzing the students there. Dean had come to tell Ron what was happening, laughing so hard he could barely get the words out. Harry had been sitting with Hermione; going over the Animagus books in his collection and discussing the spells with her in an effort to help her either give up on becoming an Animagus, or help her achieve her goal.
At his partners' words, Harry felt an icy fist forming in his gut. He was expected to spend Christmas with Ron's family? With his parents and siblings? Didn't Ron know that this was impossible?
"Christmas?" he asked quietly and Ron nodded, looking a little confused.
"Yeah, we're going to the Burrow for Christmas this year mate, didn't I mention it? Mum is expecting us. You're welcome too, Hermione," he smiled at the girl beside Harry, who rolled her eyes.
"Honestly, Ron, you did this last year too," she scolded while Harry felt as if all the warmth in the room had been sucked out, "What is it with you and last minute invitations? Besides I can't go, I've got to go home. Mum and Dad are having a big family reunion this Christmas, and I don't want to miss it."
"Right, well I'll send Pig with a note to let mum know it's just Ginny, Harry and me," Ron shrugged, and Hermione nodded.
"I'll send her a note too," she decided, "Can I borrow Hedwig Harry?"
Harry gaped at her, and then frowned over at Ron, who frowned back. He couldn't believe Ron would expect them to go to the Burrow and simply lie to his parents for the entire Christmas holidays. Did he have no idea how difficult it had become for Harry to conceal about how he felt for Ron?
"Uh, yeah, she can take my note too," Harry made an effort to speak normally, though his hands were shaking with anger and shock. Two weeks with Ron's family, pretending that he didn't love Ron, and didn't just want to touch him every minute of the day. It was bad enough at school, but he had been hoping that they could relax a little together these holidays.
"Note?" Ron asked, a puzzled look on his face, and Harry wished his partner would just leave it until they were alone and could speak freely. He wasn't going to be the cause of Ron's separation from his family. He knew how much Ron loved his parents, and he knew how much it would hurt Ron to be parted from them, especially in anger.
Harry had always known at the back of his mind that he came second place to the rest of the Weasley's in Ron's heart, and that didn't bother him. It was natural for Ron to love his family first, and Harry didn't want to upset that. But he knew that he loved his partner too much to just lie about how he felt, especially to Ron's mother.
"I can't come this Christmas either," Harry kept his voice as level as possible, thinking desperately to find a plausible excuse, "I'm... spending Christmas with... Hagrid."
He bit down on a wince, knowing that Ron would probably see through this in a moment, and Hermione wouldn't have believed it at all. Sure enough, Ron started to frown, a dull flush taking over his ears.
"Is there some problem with spending Christmas at home?" he asked through gritted teeth, and Harry sent a desperate look to his partner, canting his head in Hermione's direction significantly. He didn't want to have a row over this; surely Ron could see it was for the best that Harry stayed at Hogwarts.
"I don't want to lie," Harry said significantly, and Ron's face cleared. He smiled easily, sagging back to half sit on the bookcase again. Hermione was looking deeply interested, and Harry wished yet again that they were having this conversation in private.
"You won't have to," Ron gave him that special smile reserved for more intimate moments, "I plan on telling mum and dad all about it when we get home."
Harry felt as if Dudley was punching him again, and sucked in a hard breath. He knew that he must have looked pretty ghastly, as Hermione closed her book and put her hand out to touch his sleeve. He shook her off angrily, glaring at Ron.
"You can't," Harry shook his head, stumbling upright and heading for the door, "I won't let you! You mustn't!"
He lurched out of the room and almost ran through the common room, bursting into the corridor beyond it and running blindly, his heart at war with his head as he tried to reconcile the loss of Ron with causing Ron's potential loss of his family.
"What the bloody hell," Ron broke off; staring at the door his partner had slammed behind him. He pulled his wand out and set a privacy seal on the still vibrating door before letting rip with a flood of language that had Hermione glaring at him, rather pink cheeked.
Ron felt betrayed, hurt that Harry was ashamed of their relationship. The Weasley's were a close family, and the thought of spending two weeks denying the way he felt about Harry in front of them made Ron feel physically ill. One, because Harry deserved to be acknowledged to the other important people in Ron's life, and two because his mother would serve him sprouts for a year when she found out for lying to them all.
He'd thought that Harry would be pleased, that he'd want to take this next step in their relationship - the public acknowledgement that would let them relax their guard around family. He glared at Hermione, who was looking at him rather askance, and sighed.
"Well, I've made a right bollocks of things," Ron sighed, "Maybe you can figure this out."
"Figure what out, Ron? If Harry doesn't want to spend Christmas with you..." Hermione trailed off at the glare Ron shot her. She was not as slow as she was pretending and Ron had always hated to be condescended to.
"Come on Hermione, I know that you've probably figured this out already," his voice was testy, and he folded his arms defensively, "But just in case I'll tell you straight out. And remember, I'm only telling you this because I want your help - I would rather have waited until after Christmas."
"Thanks!" Hermione snapped and Ron groaned under his breath. If he pissed her off she wouldn't be much help, and he was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to work this out on his own. Something had tripped one of Harry's defences, and Ron had the feeling that it was one of the conflicts between Wizard and Muggle society.
"Sorry, sorry," he apologised, "I just didn't expect Harry to do his nut like that."
"Ok," Hermione said grudgingly, "What do you want to tell me?"
"Look...um...Harry and I...well, we're a couple," Ron stared at his fellow Prefect's feet and tried not to blush. Beyond a little gasp, there was no reaction, and he looked up at her wide-eyed face.
Ron rolled his eyes and snorted with tension. To be fair she wasn't usually this slow, and Ron put the rather redundant question down to shock.
"Yes, Hermione, we're gay. We're both male and we're shagging each other. Does that cover it?" his voice was gruff and he knew it.
"There's no need to get shirty with me! It's just a shock, that's all. How long have you been..." she trailed off and made a vague gesture with her hand. Ron swallowed a snigger and straightened his face.
"This summer. We were together when we had Harry's party, but it was too soon to tell anyone. Look, Hermione, we didn't want to hurt you, and we'd have told you after we told mum and dad," Ron knew he had his pleading face on, but couldn't help it. He genuinely didn't want to hurt her, she was their best friend, but he had wanted his family to be first to know. Hermione seemed to read all this in his face, because she nodded and sat up.
"Ok," she took a breath, "I think I know why Harry reacted like that. It's a Muggle thing, and I haven't had any time to research this in the library..."
"Hermione," Ron groaned, "If this is one of those weird Muggle society versus Wizard society things then just tell me about the Muggle part of it, and I'll explain the Wizard side, ok?"
He'd learned that the Muggle born had what some would consider gaps in their education - natural consequences of being raised by Muggle parents. The Wizarding world did a lot of things differently, and sometimes these gaps caused tension between what the Muggles thought to be true and how the Wizards did things. Usually someone would point out the differences and the Muggle-born would adjust. Although Harry was not Muggle-born, he had been raised by Muggles and often had the same conflicts.
"Ok," Hermione took another deep breath, pink creeping over her face, "Just remember that Harry and I don't know how this works in the Wizard world."
"Well, most Muggles have a prejudice against gay people," Hermione started determinedly, not looking at Ron at all, "They think that it's... well, perverted, really. In fact, Muggle parents have been known to disown gay children, even throwing them out of the house. I think that Harry reacted to your announcement like that because he's scared that your family will disown you, or split you two up. Gay Muggles aren't allowed to marry, and most the time they're not allowed to raise children either, assuming that they manage to have any."
"That's barbaric!" Ron exclaimed, and Hermione looked up at him, bewildered, "Hermione, in the Wizard world it doesn't matter. You love who you love, and you marry who you marry - well as long as they're not your brother or sister or close relation or something... and you're telling me that Harry thinks that by telling my parents he's going to get me disowned?"
"It's possible," Hermione nodded and Ron swore under his breath, removed the privacy seal and headed out after his partner. He knew exactly where Harry would go.
It was dark in the Room of Requirement, and given that Harry was hiding rather unsuccessfully from Ron, the room was barely bigger than a cupboard.
"Lumos," Ron told his wand and spotted his white-faced partner crouching in a corner, tears streaming down his cheeks. Harry had managed to work himself into a right state over this.
"Harry you git," Ron shook his head and got down on the floor too, pulling the resistant form into his arms, "You're freezing! You're going to make yourself sick!"
"Stop it Ron," Harry muttered, but gave up the struggle and slumped unwillingly in the redheads' arms. Ron simply pulled him closer and wormed a hand under his robes and uniform to rub the small of Harry's back.
"Listen, I talked to Hermione," Ron waited out the indignant squirms, willing to be the patient one this time, "She told me about the mad Muggles, and Harry, it's not like that here."
"it's not?" the whisper was small and very sad and Ron shook his head. Harry relaxed a little into the hold, his head resting hesitantly on Ron's shoulder.
"I promise," Ron smiled, "Wizards can even marry Wizards, and the same for Witches," he continued in a quiet voice, "And besides, I won't be the first in the family. Mum walked in on Charlie and his best friend Geoffrey when they were fifteen. They broke up during their NEWT's year. The most she did to them was yell at them about using a privacy spell. No one is going to be disowned, I promise."
"You're positive?" Harry's voice was congested, and Ron's neck was getting wet from the tears. Ron nodded, rocking them a little in silence and waiting it out. Harry was very protective of Ron and his family, it stood to reason that he'd go a little mental when faced with the possibility that it would be him that caused them some kind of harm.
"Sorry," Harry wiped his face and sat up a little, "I just..."
"Went a bit bananas?" Ron supplied the end, "Don't worry, I'm used to it."
"Well, we are fruits," the tone was a little teasing, a little hesitant and Ron didn't bother to restrain his laughter, relieved when Harry joined in. He hit the door with their privacy spell and then leered in the dim light from his wand. He was relieved to see a bit of colour creeping into Harry's face.
"So do you fancy getting fresh with me?"
Harry's tongue down his throat was answer enough.
During the holidays students were allowed to leave Hogwarts in one of two ways. They could take the Hogwarts Express back to London - something that just about everyone under sixteen did - or they could use the Floo network from a grate in the Hogs Head - for a small fee. Those students who had passed their Apparate test often walked to Hogsmeade and simply Apparated home, which is what Harry and Ron planned to do. Rather than leaving Ginny to travel back on her own and then getting the Floo from the Leaky Cauldron, Mr and Mrs Weasley had sent the fee for the Hogs Head grate so that Ginny could come home directly. She would take Harry's bag with her, and then he and Ron would follow with the bags that held their Christmas presents to the Weasley's and each other.
"Ready?" Ron asked when they'd seen Ginny off and Harry hesitated. He was still worried that Ron's parents would react badly to the news, despite his partners' rather enthusiastic reassurance. Ron didn't say anything, just looked at him patiently, and Harry nodded reluctantly.
"Idiot," Ron said softly and Apparated. Harry took a deep breath and followed, the cold lump in his stomach feeling worse. He materialised in the back yard, under the large tree at the bottom of the garden. The ground was well covered with snow and he was glad that the school cloaks were so thick.
As he approached the back door he could already hear Mrs Weasley welcoming her children, and he smiled a little. It was such a happy sound, it warmed him all the way through. Mr Weasley was there as well, Harry could hear him in the background, and he took a deep breath before knocking on the kitchen door and stepping inside.
"Harry! Fancy knocking like a stranger!" Mrs Weasley scolded and bustled over to give him a hug.
"Hello Aunt Molly," Harry mumbled into her shoulder, and she patted his back affectionately. Ron was sitting at the kitchen table already, and Mr Weasley - dressed in very old and comfortable looking robes - was beside him, asking questions about the Animagus test. Ginny was sitting opposite, listening intently, and Harry took a seat silently on his friend's other side.
"We were very pleased to hear your news, Harry," Arthur leaned around Ron to say, "You two are the first Animagus in the family."
"Well go on, then," Molly waved a hand at them, "Show us!"
Ron gave Harry a rather resigned look and cleared his throat before changing into the red fox. It was rather strange to see his partner flow so smoothly into another shape. One minute Ron was sitting there in his school uniform, and the next a larger than usual fox was sitting in his chair. Arthur and Molly beamed at their youngest son while Ginny gaped. They had obeyed Professor McGonagal's restriction on changing at school, so she hadn't seen their animal forms yet.
"That is so wicked," she sighed, "Go on Harry, you too!"
"Yeah, come on," it seemed strange to hear Ron's voice from the animal in front of them, but Harry already knew an Animagus could speak in animal form - Sirius had spoken to them as Padfoot.
Harry got up and moved away from the table to avoid any accidents, flowing into the two toned wolf carefully. He sat down on the floor so as not to frighten anyone, and Ginny came over to take a closer look at him while her parents exclaimed over them both. Ginny giggled and reached out to touch Harry's ears.
"You still look like you're wearing glasses," she told him. Ron changed back to his human form and looked at his mum and dad seriously.
"There's something else we wanted to tell you," he said firmly and Harry shivered, all his worries coming back with a rush. He scrambled to his feet and changed as quickly as he could, walking to the table. He sat down rather heavily beside Ron, who didn't even glance at him.
"Harry and I are a couple."
Harry flushed as he heard Mrs Weasley draw in a sharp breath, and he bit his lip. It seemed that he had been right this time, when he had wanted so desperately to be wrong.
"Oh, but Ron..." her tone was a little anxious and Harry let his hearing fuzz out, not wanting to hear her tell her son that Harry wasn't worth keeping.
Ron knew that Harry wouldn't be able to relax until they'd told his parents the truth and his mum had a chance to fuss over them. Harry just didn't seem to understand that the Weasley's actually liked him rather a lot. His normally smart friend had missed all the clues that would have made this whole thing easier on him, such as the fact that they'd asked him to call them Aunt and Uncle, and had sent him Christmas presents before they'd even met him. Ron's letters home that first year had been full of his friendship with Harry, and his kind-hearted mother had reached out to include his friend in the usual round of Christmas gifts.
So he waited until the fuss was over about them being Animagus' and then simply broke the news, much as he had to Hermione. He could feel Harry quivering with tension beside him, and wished he could just reach out and hug his partner, but knew it would be best to wait for that until his parents had their say.
"Oh, but Ron I've put a folding bed in your room for Harry," his mother frowned, and Ron grinned at her. He knew his parents would take this in their stride, and glanced over at Harry. The grin disappeared at the white face and miserable eyes. Harry was one small step away from a full-blown panic.
"Hey, Harry, I told you it would be ok," Ron murmured and put and arm around his friend, "Harry?"
"I'll go back to Hogwarts. I knew this was a bad idea," Harry gulped and Ron tightened his grip. His mother made a startled noise and got up to add her arms to Ron's embrace. Harry flinched, burrowing into Ron for protection with a small moan, and she drew back, hurt. Ron realised that Harry wasn't following the conversation and gave his partner a little shake.
"Harry, you idiot, its ok! Mum won't hurt you," Ron muttered into the closest ear and Harry's grip on him relaxed a little. Ginny was gaping at them again, but stopped when Ron shot her a fierce look. He was relieved when his dad sent his mum to put the kettle on and moved to sit on the table at Harry's side. Arthur put a gentle hand on Harry's head and rubbed the dark hair.
"Harry," Arthur said in that fatherly 'I'm waiting, young man' tone that never failed to get a response. Sure enough, Harry sat up enough to look Arthur in the eye, and the red-haired Wizard smiled gently at him.
"I can't say I'm surprised, Molly and I knew that Ron had a bit of a crush on you years ago. You two have been so close that I knew it was only a matter of time before you took this step in your relationship. I'm a little disappointed that you thought we'd be mad..."
"Muggles have been known to disown their children for this," Ron interrupted, "Harry thought that you'd chuck us out of the house or something. It's not his fault. I tried to explain."
"Is that all this is?" Molly asked as she rejoined them and Harry nodded hesitantly. She rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue in exasperation.
"Well I never. Fancy being so closed minded that you'd disown one of your children over love!" she shook her head, "Honestly, sometimes I wonder how Muggles manage anything at all!"
She headed back to the stove to take the now shrieking kettle off the stove and make them all a cup of tea. Harry sat up properly, and Ron kept his arm around him. Colour was creeping back into his friends face, and Arthur had moved his hand to Harry's shoulder.
"You don't mind?" Harry asked and Arthur smiled. He was not a handsome man, but Arthur Weasley's smile was very heart warming.
"Actually I'm rather pleased that Ron chose someone decent. Bill's first girlfriend was a bit of a nightmare to be honest," he told them both, "Though if you repeat that..."
"We won't," Ron grinned remembering the hair that changed colour daily, and the odd smelling potions she'd left lying about, "Mum was saying that she'd set up a separate bed for you in my room, but we can just share mine if you like."
"That reminds me," Molly came back with tea and cakes, "I hope you two will be using a privacy spell, because I won't have any...shenanigans in this house!"
Tea at the Burrow was always noisy and full of good cheer, and Harry was more than ready to take part in it all. Ron's parents had accepted him, even given their approval of their relationship, which had taken rather a heavy load off Harry's shoulders. The twins had arrived in time to help set the table, and Charlie and Bill were home too, making things very squashed. No one seemed to mind, they bumped elbows and passed plates happily.
Percy sent an owl that he would join them over Christmas and Boxing Day, which seemed to please Mrs Weasley a lot. The twins weren't too impressed, but their comments seemed to go unheard by their mother. Harry was relieved; he didn't think he could take a row after the stress of the afternoon.
"We've got some good news to tell you all, too," Arthur said as they passed the pudding around.
"If you're going to tell us about Ron and Harry, don't bother," Fred interrupted.
"Yeah, we walked in on them snogging in the front room when we arrived," George added his two Knuts worth, and Ron scowled at them. Harry sighed. They'd been holding onto each other and Ron had been melting Harry's spine by rubbing the small of his back - a known weakness that his partner exploited every chance he got.
"We weren't snogging," Ron snapped, "We were just hugging mum, honestly."
"I have to say though, Harry, I think you could do better," Fred spoke over the top of his little brother with the ease of long practice. Harry grinned, his hand on Ron's leg to prevent his partner from exploding.
"Is that an offer?" Harry asked sweetly and Fred choked on his mouthful of plum pudding. George had to pound his twin on his back, and Charlie was laughing so hard that he needed Ginny to get him a glass of water to recover. Ron aimed a mock scowl at Harry who grinned back cheekily.
"Well, you'll fit right in," Bill sounded amused, and Ron sighed the sigh of a much put upon man.
"Don't encourage him!" there was a teasing undertone to the plea, and Harry shook his head. He still had a hard time believing his luck that the Weasley's actually seemed to like him. Arthur Weasley cleared his throat to regain their attention.
"As I was saying... The Ministry of Magic recently changed the curriculum at Hogwarts in order to test the students for Animagus abilities. Fudge seems to be worried that there are a large number of unregistered Animagi running around. They test at the sixth year level and our Ron has shown the ability," Arthur got the sentence out and looked relieved that he hadn't been interrupted again.
"Get out!" George looked impressed, and Ron transformed for them. Fred leaned around Harry for a better look.
"I'll get out of the way, shall I?" Harry asked him dryly, and changed into his wolf form. He heard Ron snicker beside him and flicked his partner an amused look. George had yelped in surprise, sending Ginny into gales of laughter.
"Bloody hell! Two Animagi in the family!" Bill exclaimed as Fred leaned back to look at Harry, who eyed him as if considering where to bite. He even licked very sharp teeth in a threatening manner, and Fred shivered a little. The twin reached out hesitantly to touch Harry's foreleg.
"That's impressive, Ron," Charlie told his little brother, "None of the Weasley's have managed that skill in centuries. I think the last one was only a mouse."
Harry still had a warm glow from Bill's comment and changed back to normal with a little smile on his face. It hadn't been easy to balance on that chair as a wolf and he was relieved not to have made a fool of himself by sliding off. Ron changed back too, and Mrs Weasley got up to start clearing the table. Harry stood automatically to help, missing the rather significant looks exchanged by his adoptive Aunt and Uncle.
Harry woke early on Christmas day and spent a few minutes staring at the wall opposite Ron's bed. The posters of the Chuddley Cannons were still for the moment, as the players were still asleep, propped up against each other. Ron was a warm lump at Harry's back, their fingers tangled together as usual, Ron's breath tickling the back of his neck. Harry took a deep breath of his own and Ron's grip tightened.
"Merry Christmas, mate," Ron kissed him, and Harry sighed, leaning into the touch. His partner levered himself up and kissed him properly, slipping his tongue into Harry's mouth to wrestle lightly with his own.
"Want to unwrap a present?" Harry asked when they paused for breath, and Ron snorted with laughter.
"Sure," his partner sat up and shoved the blankets back, enthusiastically 'unwrapping' Harry from his pyjamas, tickling him as he went until Harry was helpless with laughter, sprawled naked beneath him.
"Oooh, just what I wanted," Ron continued the game, his fingers wandering greedily over Harry's body, "Where do I stick the batteries?"
"Ron!" Harry spluttered and Ron laughed, reaching for the little jar they kept by the bed, slicking his fingers and moving unerringly to his goal.
"Ah, here it is," Ron purred with satisfaction and leaned over to kiss Harry breathless while he slicked his body, preparing him for Ron's 'battery'. Harry moaned and writhed into the touches, pleasure zinging through him. Ron could make him nuts with this, and his partner knew it. He pulled his legs up to his chest and felt Ron balance his body between his thighs. There was an instant of blunt, slick pressure and then ...
"Perfect," Ron moaned into Harry's knee, "Just perfect."
"Are you going to lie there all day?" Harry gasped, desperate for the friction that only Ron could provide. Ron moaned again, a decidedly wicked look in his eyes.
"I was thinking about it," he confirmed and Harry clenched himself tightly around his partner. The resulting sensation had them both whimpering and gasping for air.
"Stop thinking. It's a bad habit," he panted when he could speak, "Shift your lazy arse, Weasley."
"God you're bossy," Ron complained, shifting as ordered with very pleasurable results, "Maybe I can trade you in for a quieter model?"
"You'd better not," Harry moaned, and all conversation halted as other more important sensations reported in.
The second waking of the morning was a lot stickier, but all the better for it. Harry kissed Ron thoroughly, and the redhead snuggled closer.
"You're stuck with me now, Potter," Ron promised, and Harry sighed happily before lifting his glasses enough to glance at his watch on the bedside table. They'd have to get up soon.
"Speaking of stuck..."
Percy had arrived when they emerged from their room and Ron swallowed a grimace. He'd spent enough time with his older brother to know that expression on his face meant Percy was at his most pompous. Fred and George were already in the kitchen, helping their mother make breakfast by buttering toast and making pots of tea.
"Good morning, Ron," Percy said rather formally as they entered, "And Harry, it's good to see you again."
"Good morning, Percy," Ron replied, grinning when Harry said it with him, perfectly timed. His brother looked a little startled but Ginny was there to hug them both - she always got sentimental over Christmas - and then Ron's Dad was hugging them too, just as sentimental as his daughter. They exchanged Christmas greetings with everyone else and Harry moved to help in the kitchen. Ron grinned and went to set the table before checking in the front room to see that his and Harry's gifts to the family were in place.
Breakfast was crowded and noisy, with people getting up every two minutes to fetch something for the table or move an empty dish to give everyone more room. Ron was relieved to see his partner relax a little, allowing others to do some of the work. There was nothing more irritating than having someone anxiously volunteering all the time - Harry had never picked up that habit, thank goodness.
With breakfast over, Mrs Weasley ordered her three oldest sons to wash up and tidy the kitchen before the opening of the presents, which allowed Ginny to nip upstairs to her room to collect the joint present from herself, Ron and Harry to Mr and Mrs Weasley. It had arrived last night, and she'd hidden it in the attic with the old family ghoul.
Percy was made to put the plates away, while Bill and Charlie chatted to each other about work. Ron realised that the Order hadn't been mentioned once since the holidays started, and was grateful to his parents for their discretion. Harry might seem like his old self, but he still spooked at the oddest times. The last thing he needed was to be reminded about Tom Riddle and the Death Eaters. It was bad enough to be reading about the failed hunt for them every day in the paper, though to be truthful old Riddle had gone very quiet.
Molly and Arthur Weasley settled into their usual position on the family lounge. Arthur had the family tin in his lap, and Ron grinned, pushing past Fred and George to claim a seat near the window. There was room for Harry to sit with him and they'd have a prime view of the family as they unwrapped their various presents. He pulled Harry's hand into his lap when his partner joined him, and Ginny came in a few moments later, having sent the present to the kitchen. Percy came to sit rather primly in an armchair - the twins having bagged the other lounge - and Charlie and Bill came to sprawl on the floor with Ginny.
"Right," Arthur looked at them all, "First things first, then. The annual Christmas draw."
"We draw a name out of the tin to see who'll be handing out the presents to the rest of the family," Ron whispered to Harry as his father shook the tin and held it up for his wife. She put a hand over her eyes and drew out a piece of cardboard, decorated with childish drawings and a name written in very tipsy letters.
"Everyone makes a nametag when they turn six," Ron continued, "And each year it's someone different."
"Hey Mum, we'll have to add Harry to that," Bill called, and Ron beamed at his brother in approval. Any signs of acceptance were eagerly received by his partner, stored away for later remembrance. Molly also smiled, righting the bit of card she held and holding it out so everyone could see it.
"I did that this morning," she told her oldest son, "Ginny, dear, you're Santa."
Ginny jumped up with a smile and went back out into the kitchen to retrieve the present she had stashed while Ron fished the plain card that said Harry out of the tin. He Summoned some pastilles from their place in the old chest that had always contained their childhood toys and nudged Harry into decorating the card. A few moments later, Ginny appeared in the doorway with a large screech owl on her shoulder, and Mr and Mrs Weasley exclaimed in surprise. She put the owl on her mothers' knee and smiled at them while Ron explained and Harry drew a snitch with careful concentration.
"Errol's getting on a bit, mum, and Ginny, Harry and I thought that he could retire."
Mrs Weasley unrolled the birds' documents and smiled. Ron had been complaining about Errol for years, and she had discussed retiring him with her husband only a few weeks ago. New owls were expensive, and her children must have saved all term for this.
"This is wonderful," she told them, reading the certificates through. They contained the owls pedigree and information about how far the owl had progressed in its training.
"Very thoughtful," Arthur agreed, "We'll have to name it - something beginning with 'F'."
Harry looked up, confused. Bill grinned and offered an explanation for the family tradition for the newest member.
"Mum and Dad have been naming their birds alphabetically. It started at Hogwarts - they each had an owl, called Agnes and Basil. It was just a coincidence at the time, but someone teased them about it and the idea stuck. When they got married they were given an owl, which they called Corinne. She was killed by Death Eaters, and so was her successor Duncan. Then came Errol, and now..."
"Flynn?" Charlie suggested, and his mothers face lit up with approval.
"Flynn it is!"
Harry grinned and started tracing a border of broomsticks around his name card. His shoulder and arm were pressed into Ron's side, giving the redhead a strong sense of peace.
Hermione was back at the school by the time Harry, Ron and Ginny trudged up through the snow from Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts Express wasn't due for another few hours, and only two Gryffindor students had stayed at school this year, so they practically had the common room to themselves. The four friends spent some time swapping Christmas stories, and then they retired to Harry and Ron's room at Hermione's suggestion for a more private conversation. Harry put the privacy spell on the door and wondered if this was where Hermione told them she didn't want to be friends with a couple of fags.
She was rather red in the face and fidgeted with her skirt a bit, pleating the hem and not looking anyone in the eye. That was so unlike her that Harry ended up gripping the edge of their bookcase in order to control his urge to just yell at her to tell them what she was thinking.
"Spit it out Hermione," Ron said good-naturedly, picking Harry's hand up off the bookcase where both boys were leaning. Ginny had gotten used to seeing this and merely rolled her eyes. The twins had a field day with the mannerism - both boys could be found at any moment holding hands, their fingers rubbing and tangling together.
Harry used the grip to tell Ron his fears - something that was getting easier to do as they slowly drew closer together. Ron's response was to tighten his grip. Neither one of them gave a second thought to the communication, Harry had assumed it was something all Wizards or Witches did with their partners, and it hadn't yet occurred to Ron that the ability was outside of the norm.
"Well, I wanted to say that I'm still your friend," she got it out in a rather squeaky rush, "I know that Muggles think that it's... well you know, Harry ... but I don't. I just thought you should know..."
"Thanks Hermione," Harry interrupted, his relief coursing up Ron's arm, "That means a lot to us both."
"Yeah," Ron seconded the notion gamely, "That's... really nice of you."
Ginny rolled her eyes and reached over to pat Hermione's arm. Harry's eyes narrowed. He'd seen that look on his friends face before and it never boded well for any male in the vicinity. On the other hand it was a positive sign that Hermione's words were sincere. She wasn't just saying what she thought they wanted to hear. And Ginny had been comfortable with them ever since Christmas.
"Ignore them, Hermione," she advised, "For all the hand holding they do they're still the same Ron and Harry we know and love."
"Inept," Hermione sniffed, sneaking a grin at her co-conspirator, "Emotionally stunted."
"Boys," Ginny added and Ron growled at her half-heartedly. Harry shook his head. The past few months had been chaotic - from his departure from the Dursley's to the budding relationship with his best friend, culminating in the acceptance of that relationship by a wonderful family. Voldemort was still a heavy weight around Harry's neck, but for the first time since he'd learned about the Dark Wizard, Harry felt like he might be able to defeat his enemy.
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