Harry Potter was going to die. He was certain of it.
For one thing, having the duvet drawn up so tightly around his head was getting to be rather stuffy, and he was running out of air. He groaned and wondered how bad it would be if he tried to grab a quick breath. Of course, it would require him to take his fingers out of his ears, and there was the chance that Hermione was still talking.
He was starting to get dizzy. He had to risk it.
Harry poked his head out from beneath the blankets and gulped. He groaned again.
She was still talking. About that.
"...and it's really- Harry?" She scowled at him from her perch at the foot of his bed. "Have you heard anything I've been telling you?"
Nod and smile, nod and smile. Harry nodded and smiled.
Hermione looked doubtful. "I don't see how you could have," she sniffed, "with your head stuck in the blanket and your fingers in your ears."
"Sorry, Hermione," said Harry sheepishly. "Can we just not talk about this?" He flopped backwards against his pillow and squeezed his eyes shut. "I never should have told you."
"Yes, you should have!" Hermione punched the mattress with a little fist. "Harry, you're fifteen years old. You should know all this by now, and those people didn't even have the decency to explain it all to you-"
"-and I am quite glad of it, thanks." Harry shuddered. He tried to imagine his Uncle Vernon sitting at the foot of his bed and explaining to him the Facts of Life. Even Hermione with her clinical detachment wasn't as bad.
However, that did not mean Harry was enjoying it in any way.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Harry," said Hermione, a little kinder. "I mean, loads of people don't learn any of this stuff at all. I had to find out from a book, because my mum was too shy to tell me and my dad – oh, they're dentists, for goodness sake."
Harry shook his head, letting it roll back and forth across the pillow.
"Maybe I could get a book, then," he suggested. "If you can read about it, then I can, too."
Hermione snorted. "I'd give fifty Galleons to see you actually read a book that's got nothing to do with Quidditch," she said, ducking when a pillow came flying toward her head.
She laughed. "Oh, come on, Harry. It's not that bad. I don't mind, really."
"I mind!" Harry cried. "I shouldn't have to hear this stuff from one of my best friends! That's what pa-"
He stopped himself, and found that he missed his pillow. It would have hid the red blooming in his face and he wouldn't have to see the infuriating flicker of pity in Hermione's eyes before she thought to control it. He sighed and picked at his thumbnail absently.
"Perhaps," she said after a moment, in a sheepish tone, "you could write to Sirius and he could-"
Harry glowered at her. "No," he said, evenly. "It's fine. I don't need anybody to tell me anything. I'll find out on my own."
"Hermione!" Harry crawled across the bed and bumped his forehead against her knee. "Please, for the love of God, drop it."
With his eyes closed and his head pressed against the denim of her leg he couldn't see her face, but when he heard her sigh and felt her hand rifling through his hair he relaxe and knew that he'd won.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a short victory.
Harry knew the basics at least. He knew where babies came from because Aunt Petunia watched programmes like Brookside and Home and Away ,and Harry's childhood memories were often accompanied by a soundtrack of people having tearful rows about that sort of thing. He'd also seen the magazines Dudley had recently taken to hiding in the shed in the garden, and while the subject matter horrified him some it did give Harry an idea of what went where.
What he didn't quite understand was why.
Then there was the night over the summer that Harry had woken up to Aunt Petunia shrieking. He opened his door a crack and saw her standing in the hall in her night-dress, clinging to a dishevelled Uncle Vernon and gibbering into his shirt. Uncle Vernon was scarlet and glowering, which wasn't unusual for him.
What was strange was that they were standing outside of the bathroom, yelling at the closed door.
"You will not do that sort of thing in this house, boy," said Uncle Vernon. A moment later and a very sheepish-looking Dudley scuttled out of the bathroom and into his bedroom. Uncle Vernon led a distraught Aunt Petunia back to their room and shut the door, and Harry could hear them talking in low voices behind it.
Letting curiosity get the better of him Harry crept out of his room and paused outside of Dudley's. The door wasn't quite shut and there was the sound of sniffling from the other side.
A grunt. "Sod off." It was a typical Dudley response. Harry wasn't deterred.
"What happened?" he asked.
There was a pause so long that Harry thought Dudley might have decided to ignore him. Then, "Mum walked in on me while I was on the toilet."
Harry stifled a giggle. "She's done that before, though," he said. "Why was she crying this time?"
"Because," hissed Dudley, "I was... you know."
"Er," said Harry. He didn't want to admit to Dudley that he didn't actually know what that meant, because it sounded as though he should. "Oh. Er, why?"
Dudley appeared at his door, looking very red and glaring at him with his small, piggy little eyes. "You're pathetic," he snapped, and slammed the door.
The next morning Dudley wouldn't look Aunt Petunia in the eye and Uncle Vernon took him out for a long drive. Harry went up to his room and owled Ron to tell him about the whole incident.
Ron wrote back:
Sounds like Dudley got The Talk. Mum gave it to me last month when I accidentally walked in on Ginny in the bath. I don't see what the big deal is but apparently it is a big deal or Mum wouldn't have been so keen on explaining it all. Anyway, I feel more sorry for your aunt having to see that, if Dudley's as disgusting as you say he is.
To which Harry had replied:
He's that disgusting and more. I don't feel sorry for Aunt Petunia at all. What's The Talk?
Two weeks later they were back at Hogwarts and Hermione had cornered Harry in his mysteriously-deserted dormitory, and Harry made a mental note to turn Ron into a rock.
When, a few days later, he walked into the dormitory once again and found Remus Lupin and Sirius Black waiting for him, he added Hermione to the list of People Who Needed To Become Inanimate Objects.
"What the hell are you two doing here?"
Lupin looked up from Quidditch Through The Ages and smirked. "Language, Harry."
From his place by the window Sirius laughed.
"That's a fine hello," he said, hopping off the sill and pulling Harry into a hug. He knuckled the boy's head. "You're huge."
"You're mad," said Harry, wriggling free. "Aren't you supposed to be on the run? What are you doing back here, where someone could see you?"
Sirius made a rude noise and waved his hand, dismissively. "I owled Dumbledore," he explained, leaping onto Harry's bed beside Lupin and nearly bouncing the other man off of it. "Said I had a godfatherly duty to uphold and that I needed safe passage into the castle."
Harry scowled and looked at Lupin. "And you?"
"Moral support," Lupin replied, nodding his head toward Sirius. "Also, I wouldn't miss this for the world."
"Miss what?" Harry asked, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Hermione, you are going to spend the rest of your life as a sock.
Sirius grinned. "I'm told we need to have a little Talk, Harry," he said.
A dirty sock.
Harry blanched. "No, we don't. We don't have to have any kind of Talk, Sirius. I'm fine, you're fine, we're all fine!" He threw up his hands. "Fine!"
"Harry," said Lupin, kindly. "Calm down. I know you're embarrassed-"
"What? Me? Embarrassed? No."
"-but Hermione owled us and she was really very concerned about you."
A dirty great smelly sock that's been dragged through Bubotuber pus and...
Harry sighed. "Look, I know enough, all right? I've seen it on television and Dudley had some magazines, and-"
"Whoa, Harry," said Sirius, holding up his hands. "That's not all right. What if you've heard the wrong thing? I've no idea what they go on about on Muggle television-"
"You don't want to know," said Lupin wearily.
"-but that's not an education. That's hearsay. You can't grow with only half the facts. If you have even that."
Harry gnawed his lower lip. He really, really did not want to have this conversation with his godfather – and, inexplicably, his former teacher. He would rather go to a Potions lesson completely naked. On the other hand, he was beginning to wonder what exactly it was that he didn't know, that everyone seemed to think was so bloody important.
In defeat he sank to the floor and dropped his head into his hands. He heard the bed shift and felt the warm presence of Sirius crouching beside him, a hand resting on his shoulder.
"Harry," said Sirius, softly. "It'll be fine. I promise. There's no reason to be ashamed."
Nodding first at the floor and then up at Sirius, Harry managed a weak smile.
"Okay," he said. "Talk."
Nothing, Harry decided, an hour later, was as funny as Sirius Black trying to explain sex. Perhaps it had something to do with his elaborate hand-gestures, or the diagrams he drew in the air with his wand. Whatever it was, by the end of it Harry could hardly breathe.
"I give up!" cried Sirius in exasperation as Harry and Lupin descended into giggles once again. "I can't do this. I'm the worst godfather in the bloody history of godfathers." He flopped backwards onto the bed and flung an arm over his eyes. "Please, one of you, turn me into a cockroach and step on me. Put me out of my misery."
Lupin reached over and patted Sirius's leg fondly. "You were doing fine," he said, "Until the bit with the sound effects."
Harry gave an odd squawk and toppled over. Sirius glared up at Lupin.
"You," he said, shaking a finger at him, "are no help at all."
"It's okay, Sirius," said Harry, sitting up and adjusting his glasses. He took a moment to catch his breath and quell a few remaining giggles. "I got the point."
At Sirius's dubious expression he nodded urgently. "No, I really did."
"So you understand, then," said Lupin. "You get it."
Harry smiled. "I do. Well, more than I did before, actually. I had no idea it was, um, more complicated than just. This goes there." He made the same motion that Sirius had done and promptly began to laugh again. "Though," he sputtered, glasses falling off again, "I still don't know why anyone would want to do anything that sounds so ridiculous," he said. He picked up his glasses and wiped them on his shirt. "It sounds like it would hurt a lot."
Lupin and Sirius exchanged a look. "Er, well," began Sirius, but Lupin held up a hand to stop him.
"Harry," said Lupin, "Have you ever, er..." He made an indistinct sound. "You know, on your own?"
It took Harry a moment before he thought he knew what Lupin was getting at. "My cousin used to do that," he said, quietly. "In the bath. My aunt caught him, and-"
"That's fine," interrupted Lupin. "But I'm not asking about him. I'm asking about you."
"N-no," he mumbled. "I didn't dare. If Dudley doing it was so horrible they'd have chucked me right out of the house if they'd ever caught me at it." He shrugged. "I don't much care, though. I never really wanted to." He knew they knew he was lying but he said it anyway. "I heard Uncle Vernon tell Dudley he'd go blind. I don't think that's true, but..." He shrugged. "Ever since a giant told me on my eleventh birthday that I'm a wizard, I tend not to assume anything about anything."
"Fair enough," said Sirius. "But just so you know for certain, Harry, your Uncle Vernon is full of sh- crap." He grinned. "I remember when I was your age. This room, actually. You couldn't stop us from going at it. Thank God for Silencing spells, though some people forgot to use them." He glanced at Lupin.
Lupin sniffed and studied his fingernails. "Some people," he said, haughtily, "were more intent on the task at hand."
"Anyway," Sirius turned and looked at Harry, "what I'm getting at is that it's perfectly normal for a boy to, ah, you know. Do that."
"Oh." Harry thought about it. "Well, that's good. 'Cause Ron never bloody stops. He's always making up some excuse to go off alone, and when he comes back he's even redder in the face than usual."
"Mmhmm," said Lupin. "It really is the safest sort of sex there is. Also a good way to get to know what you want from a partner. When you eventually choose to have one," he added, quickly.
"So, don't worry about it, Harry," continued Sirius. "You probably shouldn't do it when you're at home, but here? That's what those locker room showers after Quidditch are for."
Harry could have sworn he saw Lupin and Sirius exchange a look, but he couldn't be certain.
"So, Harry," said Lupin lightly. "Anybody ever caught your eye? If I remember correctly there was a particular Quidditch match where you were rather distracted by a very pretty Seeker."
Harry blushed. "Er," he began, and then he stopped.
"Really?" Sirius looked at Lupin. "Do tell. Afraid I was a dog at the time and I couldn't pick up on that sort of thing."
Lupin laughed. "It was quite the spectacle. Harry was positively wonky about it."
"I was not!" Harry protested, going scarlet. "I was nervous, it was an important match!"
Sirius batted his eyelashes at him. "A match made in Quidditch, I'd say."
Harry scowled. "As if it would ever happen," he muttered. "He's such a prat, anyway."
Lupin and Sirius stared at him. Harry stared back, confused, until it dawned on him what he'd said.
"Er," he said, clearing his throat. "You were talking about Cho Chang then."
Lupin nodded. "I take it you were not."
"Um," said Harry.
Sirius found his voice. "Do you mean th-the Slytherin Seeker?" he asked. "Malfoy's son?"
Harry winced. "You're not exactly making me feel any better about it," he grumbled. "I don't like that I, y'know. Argh." Harry covered his face with his hands. "Now I wish Voldemort had finished me off."
No one spoke. Sirius looked horrified. Harry wanted the floor to open up and swallow him.
"Well..." Lupin spoke, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "I believe this brings us to the next part of our little chat."
"Which is?" Harry asked, glumly. Sirius still looked halfway between disgust and disappointment. "Is this the part where you Obliviate me, and convince me that I like girls, just girls, and nothing but girls?"
Lupin regarded Harry with kind, bright eyes. "No, Harry," he said. "Don't be silly. Though," he said, thoughtfully, "I admit that I didn't forsee this as a possibility."
"You and me both," muttered Sirius, who was bumping his forehead against Lupin's shoulder, over and over. "Worst." Bump. "Godfather." Bump. "Ever." Bump. Bump. Bump.
Lupin shook him away. "Steady on, Sirius," he said. "You're not helping."
At the look of anguish on Sirius's face something inside Harry cracked in two.
"I'm sorry," Harry blurted out suddenly, loud enough to cause the two men to jump. He scrambled up and away from them, feeling panicked and helpless. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm a freak. I'm sorry I don't know anything. I'm sorry I let you down. I don't know why I feel like this and I wish it would go away because I'm sorry, it's wrong and I'm horrible and if you never want to talk to me again I-"
Sirius got up and marched over to Harry, gripping him by the shoulders. "Enough," he said sternly. "Harry, that's enough."
Harry went quiet, biting his lip nervously.
"I'm sorry," said Sirius. "I shouldn't have reacted like that. No one is cross with you, Harry. And you are certainly not a freak." He shook Harry a little. "Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. There's nothing wrong with you, and there's nothing abnormal about you, either. Apart from the hair, but that can't be helped."
Sirius stooped slightly and looked Harry in the eye.
"Never apologise for who you are," Sirius said, hoarsely. "Do you understand?"
Harry nodded, weakly.
"Good." Sirius straightened up and stepped back. "God, I wish I'd been here for you, instead of locked up in Azkaban. You've probably been worried about this for ages, and those blasted relations of your mother's filling your head with lies..." Sirius frowned. "I don't even know where to start."
Lupin snorted. "Well, you could start by telling Harry that you know exactly how he feels."
Harry blinked. Sirius went pink and shot Lupin a dangerous look. Lupin twinkled back at him.
"You do?" Harry asked Sirius. "How-"
"Well, he'd better," said Lupin, with a small, shy smile. "I taught him everything he knows."
"Moony..." Sirius ran a hand through his hair. "Is now really the time to tell him?"
Harry gaped at the both of them, then looked at Sirius. "You... and Professor Lupin?"
Sirius fidgeted. "Suppose you'd better start calling him Remus, Harry," said Sirius hoarsely. He sat down on the bed, looking a little dazed. "But yes. Me, and Professor Lupin."
"Huh." Harry didn't know what else to say. He studied them for a moment, watched the easy way they leaned into one another - as if they didn't even realise they were doing it - and wondered why he'd not seen it right from the start.
Because you never knew what to look for until now, said a little voice in his head that sounded a bit too much like Hermione.
"Back in school," said Sirius, "I was sort of, er, popular. With girls."
"Is that your word for it," Remus muttered. "Because I know a different one."
Sirius shot him a dirty look. "It wasn't until fifth year," he went on, "that I figured out that I fancied boys more than girls, and then another couple months more before I realised I really only fancied one boy in particular."
"That would be me of course," Remus preened. "Though, I was a bit clueless about the whole thing. I was very fond of Sirius but didn't really understand just how fond of him I was."
"How did you know?" Harry asked. "I mean, how did you figure that out?"
"Er," said Remus, looking thoughtfully at Sirius. "I don't know, honestly. One of the other boys in Gryffindor was queer and often went on about a fellow he'd left at home when he came to Hogwarts. The way he spoke of him was how I felt about Sirius." Remus smiled. "That was sort of a clue, there. It took a long time for me to come to terms with it, because it's one thing to be a werewolf and quite another thing to be a gay werewolf. Back then, I didn't want to feel even more different than I already was. Eventually, Sirius convinced me that it was worth it, and he was right."
"Of course I was." Sirius was sprawled across the mattress on his stomach now. Remus's hand rested lightly on his back, moving in slow little circles. "Here's the thing, Harry - sex is important. Some people will try to tell you it's not, and those people are bloody liars. It's normal to be interested in it, and it's normal to want to have it. With anybody. Especially right now, because you're at an age when your hormones are wearing little party hats, and any moment they're going to kick in and if you don't do something about them, you'll feel as though your head's going to blow up."
"How descriptive," murmured Remus.
"The problem is," continued Sirius, "that there are some people who think it's their business, who you're having it off with. Some people think it's wrong for you to have sex with anyone you want, because it bothers them. They think it's abnormal, but it's got nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Those people, Harry, are-"
"-prats?" finished Harry.
Remus beamed. "You always were such a bright student," he said fondly, reaching over and ruffling Harry's hair.
"And that's not even the important bit, Harry," continued Sirius. "Sex is sex, but there's also love, and that's the best bit. The really important part of all of this stuff we've been talking about. You're going to love someone someday and who that person is, that's entirely up to you. Whether it's a girl or a boy or… D-Draco Malfoy." Sirius shuddered. "Sorry, but honestly-"
Harry sighed. "I know," he said, quietly. "Malfoy's an arse, I know. I don't like that I, y'know." He can't quite bring himself to say it. "I just do. I'm not going to do anything though, so don't worry about that."
"It's sometimes not up to us who we find attractive, Harry," offered Remus. "Your mind and your body sometimes don't communicate properly when it comes to something like that."
Sirius snorted. "This is the man who once said Severus Snape was good-looking."
"ACK!" Harry stared at Remus in disbelief. "You're joking. Please, please tell me you're joking."
"Sadly, no," said Remus, laughing. "Fifth year. Severus went through a phase when he looked rather dashing. I thought so, anyway."
"And they say I'm the crazy one," Sirius said to Remus. "I don't understand you, Moony.".
"And yet you love me." Remus leaned over and planted a kiss directly onto Sirius's lips. Harry thought he should have looked away but instead he watched and smiled at the blush that crept into Sirius's cheeks. Sirius ducked his head and shot Harry a shy glance. Harry grinned back.
It was a much better Talk than Hermione's had been.
After Sirius and Remus had left, promising to keep in touch and leaving him with a mysterious parcel of what Sirius called "supplies," that Remus made him promise to open in private, Harry went down to the common room and found Hermione and Ron sitting twitchily by the fire, pretending to be absorbed in homework. They looked up when Harry walked in.
"Now, Harry," began Hermione nervously, "please don't be cross with us-"
"We were only trying to help, mate," Ron chimed in
"-and we didn't think you'd listen to us-"
"-so we had to take drastic measures-"
"That's enough!" Harry said sharply. He folded his arms across his chest and studied them both with indifference. "I don't know what to say to either of you."
Hermione looked on the verge of tears. "Oh, I knew you'd be angry. I knew he'd be angry, Ron." She punched him in the arm.
"Ow! Well, it was your idea to owl them!"
"You told me I should!"
"You didn't have to listen to me!"
Hermione looked up. Harry was standing over her. He reached down, took her hand and pulled her up out of her chair and gave her a quick, chaste kiss on the lips.
"Oi!" Ron shouted. Harry laughed and released Hermione quickly. She sank back down into her chair and touched her lips with her fingers, looking dazed.
Then Harry grabbed Ron and did the same thing to him. Ron went stock still for a moment, then staggered backwards, cheeks flushed. He gaped at Harry.
"What the bloody hell, Harry!"
Harry grinned at them both.
"Thanks," he said. "For everything."
He fled quickly back up the stairs to the dormitory, eager to see what Sirius meant by "supplies."
Hermione and Ron stared after him. They looked at each other.
"Well," she said, a little roughly. "At least he didn't turn us into socks."
Ron scowled, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and hid his scarlet face behind a book. He didn't notice that it was upside down.