Disclaimer:JK Rowling owns them (sigh)… maybe if I'm really good I'll get them for Christmas!
Authors Notes:A really big thank you to the people who reviewed my other works on this site! I've enjoyed hearing from all of you and I apologise that I haven't personally responded to you all, but I tend to only put these things up when they're as complete as I can make them (spelling mistakes aside… at least they were consistent, right?). I enjoy the short comments as much as the long ones, and I appreciate the time you took to write to me. Hope you like this one.
Warnings:um…. None? (A wee bit of angst at the end but nothing too bad I promise…not like DW)
Harry finished clearing away his potions ingredients and glanced around his workspace. Snape had the sixth years working under exam conditions, and the room was silent but for the rustle of cloth or scrape of instruments. The potion they were making was full of complex steps and ingredient combinations, so the quiet had only helped him to concentrate. Harry, and many others in his year, had discovered that they worked best when Snape was not stalking around the dungeon making snippy remarks. His potion was almost the exact colour it had to be, and Ron's was fairly close too. Hermione's looked as perfect as always as did Malfoy's.
The container with his finished potion had cooled enough for Harry to pick it up and place the stopper in it, sealing the unbreakable charm that he routinely placed on his potion vials. He also had a tamper proof spell on them to avoid any 'accidents' from some of his less friendly classmates.
"You may bring the completed results to the front," Snape announced and Harry fell into step behind Ron obediently, Hermione on his heels as they wended their way to the teachers desk. They all made sure to avoid so much as looking at their teacher so as not to set his rather spectacular temper off, and Harry had to clench his jaw to keep from making a sound when Malfoy stood rather heavily on his foot. No matter what the reason, Snape would like nothing more than be able to fail Harry for making a noise when he was supposed to be silent.
They packed their bags quietly, and Harry followed his friends out into the corridor, waiting until they were on the stairs to the next floor before whooshing his breath out in a huge sigh and groaning at his throbbing toes.
"Malfoy's put weight on," he moaned to Ron, who laughed at his antics, but cupped a supportive hand under Harry's elbow.
"There there," Ron sympathised, "You'll live."
Harry grinned and straightened but made no move to pull away from Ron's touch. If the battle at the Ministry and the loss of Sirius had taught him anything, it was that he could not afford to shun the contact and good humour of his friends.
The fact that he felt more than good humour for Ron, and always seemed to get a pleasant tingle along his skin when the redhead touched him had given Harry more than a few sleepless nights. He hadn't missed the fact that Ron's touch always made him feel better, and Cho Chang's had not, and neither did he miss the fact that he'd rather spend time in Ron's company doing anything - even detention - than spend a few minutes alone with the pretty Ravenclaw girl.
At first, Harry had worried about his feelings for Ron. His friend never gave any evidence that he felt the same way, if anything he seemed rather fascinated with Hermione. Eventually, though, Harry had accepted them, and decided that Ron would never find out that his best friend had a crush the size of a planet on him. The fact that what he was feeling was a good bit stronger and more lasting than any crush was something that Harry wasn't going to think too hard about. He wasn't into pain, after all, and if Ron's friendship was all he could have then he wanted to enjoy every last second of it.
"It's awfully dark," Hermione frowned, glancing over her shoulder at them, "It was sunny when we went into the dungeons."
The rest of their classmates were swirling around them, heading for the Great Hall and the dinner that was waiting for them after a long day of study. The days were getting shorter as winter approached, but not so short that the last class of the day was conducted in darkness. Ron shrugged and let go of Harry's arm as they reached the top of the stairs. Harry tucked his arm close to his body, preserving the warmth where Ron's hand had rested and paid attention to the conversation between his best friends. A debate over the way the weather could suddenly change was not the world's most interesting thing, but served as enough of a distraction to stop him from mooning over his friend.
"Harry, back me up," Hermione's plea caught him by surprise, but Harry was used to the way the arguments went between these two and had just enough standard responses in reserve to not betray that he hadn't been listening.
"You've both got a point," he shrugged, "But does it matter? I'm too hungry for a weather debate!"
"Hah!" was Ron's response and the red head wheeled in the direction of the food. Hermione rolled her eyes and fell in beside Harry as they walked along the narrow corridor towards the entrance foyer. Outside the clouds were indeed low and threatening, an ominous purple with a green tinge that made Harry desperately uneasy. He'd never been a big fan of thunderstorms - they tended to be enervating experiences. He'd never confided that small discomfort to anyone, preferring not to give them ammunition to tease him with.
There was a tremendous peal of thunder and lightening flashed so brightly that for a moment Harry was blinded by it. He staggered to a stop and blinked furiously to clear the after images. His ears appeared to be ringing too, but after a moment his brain caught up with his hearing and he realised that it was the Headmasters voice, magically amplified through the corridors.
"… and students. Hogwarts is currently under assault by a very rare phenomenon known as a time storm. I would like to advise all students to move away from any windows in their vicinity immediately, and head for the shelter of the Great Hall. All teachers are to escort their classes to the Great Hall at once. Please move in a timely yet calm fashion."
"Oh no! This corridor is one long series of windows!" Hermione sounded dismayed and Harry moved to her side protectively. Before he could reassure her, another voice spoke.
"Then I suggest you get moving, Miss Granger, and stop holding the rest of us up," Snape's cutting drawl was unmistakeable and Harry grit his teeth. He put a hand on Hermione's arm and urged her to move silently. Ron reached back and took her hand as well. Harry tried not to let his jealousy show in his touch, and evidently succeeded because Hermione didn't look at him strangely or pull away as they walked briskly along the corridor. Hermione was by no means a coward, but the touch served to comfort them all in the uneasy atmosphere.
The tension in the air wasn't all due to the fear the students were feeling and it was getting worse, building up like a static charge along Harry's skin, making his hair stand up even more wildly that usual. Ron's hair was also on end, and Hermione's was one big bushy ball. Something glinted in the corner of Harry's sight and he yelled, pushing Hermione into Ron, shoving them both away from the window the three of them were passing just as the tingle reached an unbearable climax and the world went away in yet another peal of thunder and white flash.
It was bright and loud and he hurt. He couldn't remember where he was or what was happening, but he just knew there was something wrong. People were shouting around him and he curled into as small a ball as he possibly could. He didn't want to attract attention to himself, bad things happened when he was the centre of attention. Something dark encroached on his vision and he grabbed for it, hoping to find peace there. Thunder rumbled a warning, making him shiver.
His arm hurt so badly that he pressed it into the small space between himself and the dark with a whimper and hid his face in it as well. Someone, the person belonging to the dark, had snatched him up, and he clutched the black material they were wearing in his hands to avoid more jostling. He couldn't remember if his aunt or uncle wore this colour but he didn't think so. Besides, his aunt or uncle would have simply dragged him to his feet.
"Harry?" the voice that spoke his name was not familiar, but he was too scared to ignore it. He turned his face from the soft black stuff and met the most startling blue eyes. The face they were set in was very old and surrounded by white hair, but the eyes were kindly enough.
"Hello there," the face smiled and he forced a smile in return. He had no idea what was going on and stiffened when he felt the arms holding him make as if to put him down. He didn't feel ready to give up the comforting darkness yet and clutched the material tighter.
"Well, for whatever reason, Severus he appears to have latched onto you," the face twinkled and pulled away. He looked up into the face of the person holding him and bit his lip. The man was very pale and a stranger to him, and looked rather angry.
"I'll have the elves set up a cot in your quarters, you can weather the storm there, if you're sure you're not hurt," the face told the pale man, "I must return to the Great Hall to reassure Minerva and the rest of the students. Poppy will have Mr Weasley and Miss Granger well in hand, they were only scraped in their tumble."
"Very well," the man holding him sneered and turned, striding along quickly. The movement hurt, but he didn't cry out, knowing that to protest would only make things worse. Uncle Vernon was always telling him that freaks with no parents weren't allowed to cry and Harry was not in the mood to have this stranger yell at him either.
They went down some stone steps and along a stone passage that was very dark. He could still hear the thunder, even though there were no windows at all down here and was glad that they were well protected by the walls and ceiling. The stranger put Harry down with a thump and pulled out a stick, waving it over a blank bit of wall before reaching down and pulling Harry forward. Harry screwed his eyes up, hoping that he wouldn't hit the wall too hard, but a moment later they were standing in a nice room with a fireplace and lots of books. There was a big couch and two chairs and a desk and doors that led out of the room. Looking behind him, Harry could see the stone passage that he'd been carried along.
He looked with huge eyes at the man who'd carried him and bit his lip. He was feeling a little sick, truth be told, and cold as well. A quick glance down showed he was wearing a white shirt that was so big it dragged on the ground and a red and yellow tie like his Uncle wore to work. He was also wearing socks that were far too big for his feet, and wondered why he wasn't wearing Dudley's old clothes.
There was a pop and two creatures about Harry's size appeared next to the fireplace. They were carrying a very large tray between them, which held covered dishes of nice smelling food.
"Come on Potter," the man who'd carried him muttered and stalked over to the table in front of the couch. Harry trotted after him obediently, holding his sore arm close and standing next to the table while the man sat down. Not sure what he was supposed to be doing now, Harry thought it best to follow the rules from home and cleared the covers from the dishes. There were two plates, and he picked up the largest, handing it over to the man carefully, turning back for cutlery the moment the plate left his hands.
"Thank you," the man narrowed his eyes at him and Harry stepped back cautiously, hoping he hadn't done the wrong thing. The man gestured to the smaller plate and Harry took it to the other side of the table, relieved to put it down because his arm hurt so much. He knelt so he could still reach, and began to eat the vegetables, fully aware that he couldn't possibly cut the sausage links on the plate with one hand and knowing better than to try and eat with his fingers. Dudley might get away with that, but he would not.
When the meal was over and the silence began to grate on Harry's nerves there was another pop and the two creatures returned. They waved a hand and Harry watched with wide eyes as the plates and tray disappeared, and another object appeared beside the fire. It was a cot bed, and he remembered the kind face saying something about that was where he would sleep.
"The bathroom is through here, Potter," the stranger said and Harry followed him obediently. He was relieved to be left alone in the tiled room and quickly found the loo, then washed his face and hands as best he could, moving slowly so as not to jar his arm. Uncle Vernon didn't like hearing Harry whine when he was hurt, so he bit his lip and struggled as best he could to clean himself up and be presentable.
The cot was very inviting, and Harry was relieved to crawl into it, drawing the blanket up and turning so his arm was most comfortable. He closed his eyes and listened to the strange man mutter under his breath for a while before going into another room and shutting the door. He didn't know where he was or what was going on, but Harry knew enough to realise that this strange man was in charge of him now, and he'd do well not to make him angry.
In the morning his arm was swollen and his fingers purple. The thunder had finally stopped some time last night, and Harry had managed to get a little sleep. He eased himself out from under the blankets, cradling his arm against his stomach. He knew that it would be all better in a week or so, but in the meantime he would be exhausted and hurt a lot. It had happened before, and while he wouldn't say he was used to it, he at least wasn't afraid of what was going to happen.
On the table in front of the couch there was a pile of clothes. They were too small for the man to wear, and Harry picked them up curiously. There was even underwear and socks there, and a quick glance under the table showed a pair of shoes that should fit. Harry left the things where they were and headed into the bathroom to take care of some pressing business.
Once he'd flushed he undid the tie with some difficulty and the unbuttoned the huge shirt. He wasn't wearing any underwear and the over size socks were easy to peel off. Fully stripped, he eased his purple arm into the hand basin and turned on the cold water tap. He wasn't sure why the cold felt so good, but he knew from experience that it would help in the long run. While his sore arm soaked he used the soap and his other hand for a quick cold wash. There was a small towel hanging from the wall and he used it to dry himself off and mop up any splashes of water he'd made. He picked up the things he'd been wearing and hurried back to the small pile of clothes, feeling a lot better when he'd managed to get on the underwear and pull the grey flannel trousers up as well. He eased the white shirt over his sore arm and then the long black coat thing. It wasn't a proper coat that his aunt or uncle would wear, but he put it on because it had been left out for him. He managed to pull his socks on one handed and slipped his feet into the shoes before trying to do up all the buttons.
He managed the zipper on his trousers before the stranger came stalking out and whirled into the bathroom, and managed the button on his trousers by the time the man had come out. He was ready to cry with frustration, but knew better than to let himself do so. He didn't want to discover if the stranger could smack as hard as his aunt.
"Are you ready Potter?" the stranger looked over at him and rolled his eyes, bending down to quickly do up his shoes and shirt. Whoever he was, he knew Harry's name, which made Harry think that the Dursley's had either left him there, or deliberately forgotten him again. The last time they'd forgotten him it was on the way to Aunt Marge's house, and Harry had hoped that the nice policeman that the girl at the garage called wouldn't find them. No such luck, however.
"Come along," the stranger snapped and Harry hurried to keep up, the quick pace jolting his arm. They didn't go upstairs; instead they followed the stone passage to another room, one that was lit by narrow windows set up near the ceiling. It had lots of benches and stools, and up the front was a blackboard and high desk on a raised platform. He was in a school of some kind!
"I have a class to teach this morning," the stranger pulled out his stick and waved it. A small wooden stool appeared next to the desk, "You'll sit down and be silent. My students can't afford to be distracted by a noisy brat."
"Yes sir," Harry sat down obediently determined not to get into any trouble at all. Sitting still would give his arm time to heal, the lack of movement letting the fierce pain soothe itself to a dull relentless ache. The door opened and some big children came in, all wearing clothes just like his. They had bags over their shoulders and settled into place at the benches quickly. Evidently they didn't want their teacher to be cross with them either. He got a few looks, but quickly trained his gaze on the floor when he realised that the stranger was glaring at him.
"As you can see, we have a guest. Mr Potter is not, contrary to rumour, dead, deformed or defunct. Can any one of you explain why?" the cold words scared Harry. He wondered why the stranger had said that and only half listened as one big boy said something about a storm and reversing age. Harry didn't understand it at all.
The next time he looked up the big children were cooking something in pots on fires. The stranger was stalking around the room and Harry looked back at his feet. He was starting to feel hungry, though there had been no evidence of breakfast this morning. Usually he snuck a bit of bread and butter from dinner into his cupboard in order to have something to tide himself over to lunch, but there hadn't been any at dinner last night.
The noise of the class packing up roused Harry from his thoughts and he looked around carefully. The stranger was sneering at someone at the back and Harry bit his lip, hoping that the bad temper he was seeing wasn't going to be aimed at him when the student left. A glint of red hair interrupted his view and Harry focussed on the longhaired girl with blue eyes that was smiling at him. She was crouched down in front of him, and seemed like a friendly sort of person, so he smiled back cautiously.
"Hello, Harry, do you remember me?" she asked, and he shook his head warily. She didn't seem angry about that though, just put out a hand to him and grinned, "My name is Ginny, Ginny Weasley."
He shook hands politely and pulled back when she frowned and leaned over to look at his sore arm.
"Miss Weasley, I'm sure you have other classes to attend today," the stranger snapped and Harry looked down, hoping he wasn't about to get into trouble.
"Professor, what's wrong with his arm?" Ginny snapped, "His hand is all purple and swollen!"
"Shh!" Harry hissed at her, "It will get better in a week or so! It's not his fault!"
"Not his fault!" Ginny stood up as the stranger moved to have a look, an unreadable expression on his face, "Professor!"
"Miss Weasley!" he snapped back at her, "I was unaware that Potter was hurt at all, and am hardly likely to go around injuring babies! I'll take him to Madam Pomfrey now!"
"I'm coming too!" she insisted and Harry bit his lip to keep from crying out as the stranger picked him up, jostling him in his grip as he strode towards the door. By the time they stopped jolting up stairs and along corridors, it was all Harry could do not to scream. He knew he was crying, though he did it silently so as not to draw attention to himself. It was bad enough that the girl Ginny had shouted at the stranger, without Harry making a fool of himself too.
He was put on a bed and a motherly looking person in a very long frock bustled over, took one look at him and turned to the stranger, telling him off. Ginny worked her way past the two adults and put her arm around Harry, fishing out a hanky and wiping his face.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered, "I was trying to be good."
"It's not your fault, Harry, and no one is angry with you," Ginny whispered back, and Harry leaned into her body wearily. The motherly woman had waved her stick over him a few times during the argument and was now bustling off again. The stranger was standing at the bottom of the bed Harry was sitting on and looking at him with a blank face.
"Why didn't you tell me about your arm, Potter?" he asked in a bitter voice and Harry leaned into Ginny a bit more. She was warm and had a very gentle touch, and something told him that he could trust her.
"Uncle Vernon says I mustn't whine when I get hurt," Harry told the truth, and watched the strangers face crease into a hateful expression. The black clothed man stormed away and the doors slammed behind him. Ginny patted Harry's back and the motherly looking woman came back to his bed with a tray.
"Harry, my name is Madam Pomfrey, and I'm afraid you've broken your arm. I need to fix it, and it will hurt a bit dear, but only for a very little while," Madam Pomfrey put the tray down and looked at Ginny.
"Miss Weasley, you may go. I'll take very good care of young Harry."
"Yes Madam Pomfrey," Ginny let go of Harry and he looked at his knees, not wanting her to see how scared he was to be left with yet another stranger, and one that said that they were going to hurt him.
"First things first, Harry," Madam Pomfrey murmured, "Just drink this for me dear. It tastes nasty, but will help you feel better."
The drink did more than taste nasty, it also made his head swim so badly he toppled over. His arm burned all the way to the top of his head and he let the dark spots in his vision take over for a while.
"Look who's waking up," the voice was a new one, but so warm and deep that Harry wasn't afraid of it at all, not even when he opened his eyes and saw the size of the person it belonged to. The man was huge, and for a moment Harry thought of the giants he'd heard about in the stories that his aunt read to his cousin. They were always fierce and eating little boys and girls for no good reason. The eyes of the giant in front of him were twinkling, though, and the face was creased in a big smile. The giants in the story never smiled, and Harry smiled back.
"How's that arm of yours now?" the big person asked and Harry looked down at it. The hand that poked out of the striped pyjama top was no longer swollen or purple, and the arm itself felt just fine.
"It doesn't hurt any more," Harry moved it cautiously, then made a bolder movement when the pain stayed away, "It's good as new!"
"Aye, Madam Pomfrey knows her medicine, even if you didn't take too well to it," the big person chuckled, "She were right upset abou' tha'. It wasn't yer fault, tho' Harry, so don't you think on it."
Harry nodded and looked around cautiously. The windows were dark and there were torches lit against the wall to provide light. He wondered why they didn't use proper lights, but figured there must be a black out or something.
"Now Harry, the Headmaster says you won't remember me, so I figure I'd better introduce myself. My name is Rubeus Hagrid, and I'm th' Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Tha's where you are right now. You can call me Hagrid," Hagrid beamed and Harry stuck out a hand to shake his.
"Hello Hagrid, I'm Harry," he said politely, and Hagrid beamed at him.
"I know, lad. You and I have met before, tho' you don't remember it. An' because o' tha' I bought you a little present. Hang on now," Hagrid got up and started patting the pockets of his huge coat. Standing he was even bigger than Harry thought, and he watched the huge hands delve neatly into each pocket, their owner mumbling under his breath the whole time.
"Ah! There it is," Hagrid brought his hand into view, clutching something very bright and furry. He handed it over to Harry, who examined it curiously. It was a strange sort of creature, the front half being a bird of some kind and the back half a horse. It was rainbow coloured and large enough that Harry had to use two hands to examine it.
"Thank you Hagrid," he looked up from where his fingers were rubbing the soft fuzzy material, "Er… what is it?"
"What is it? Oh, I suppose it's a little different to your usual teddy," Hagrid petted the head of the thing with a single big finger.
"I don't have a teddy," Harry flipped the thing over to look at the underneath curiously, "Dudley has one, but it doesn't look like his either."
There was a moment's pause, and Hagrid cleared his throat. Harry looked up in time to see Hagrid frown, then smile when he noticed Harry looking at him.
"The colours are all wrong o' course, but that, Harry is a Hippogriff. Wonderful creatures, Hippogriffs. I thought you might like something to keep you company at night," Hagrid had settled back down and was watching Harry's fingers stroke the Hippogriff's soft body.
"Do… do I have to go back to that man again?" Harry asked nervously. Hagrid shook his head and patted Harry on the knee.
"No, the Headmaster is trying to figure what best to do for you," Hagrid replied. The door opened and Madam Pomfrey bustled in with another tray. Harry was very glad to smell the food that was headed his way, as he was starting to feel very hungry. Hagrid said goodbye and left Harry to eat his dinner, and when he was done Madam Pomfrey tucked him and the Hippogriff under the covers. She sat in Hagrid's empty chair and waited with Harry until his eyes closed and sleep overcame him.
When he woke again, there were voices of two people at the foot of his bed. One belonged to the old man that Harry remembered from the very first time he ever woke up here, and the other was totally new to him.
"… a task that should not be taken lightly, Mr Weasley. You have your own studies to attend to, and responsibilities to your House," the old man was saying.
"I understand that, Headmaster, but Harry is my friend. If not for him I'd be in his situation right now, and so would Hermione. Ginny said how quiet he was in Potions, and I know that he'll be good for me in class. Hermione has a few ideas about keeping him occupied in lessons, and he can come with us for the Prefect stuff - we're supervising Prep this year, so he won't be any trouble," the new voice said, and Harry wondered who was claiming to be his friend now. He opened his eyes a little to peer at the foot of his bed. He always saw better when he squinted, and now he could see a tall boy with red hair just like Ginny's at the foot of his bed with the old man.
"… situation was different I'd send him to the Burrow. However, if it got out that he was there I fear the Death Eaters would attack without hesitation. Minister Fudge has agreed to suppress the story for now, but its only a matter of time before the Daily Prophet rebels against the gag order," the words didn't make sense, and Harry could see that the red head didn't care about whatever the old man was saying.
"With all due respect Headmaster, that's not my concern. Harry is. Look, the rest of the teachers are just as busy as Snape…"
"Professor Snape," the old man corrected, and the red head grimaced.
"As Professor Snape, and they'd be in the same situation. Harry would have to sit still and stay out of the way. Even Madam Pomfrey can't look after him, because if there's an emergency she needs to be free. If Hermione and I look after Harry, then the teachers can still supervise him in class time, because he's with us, and then Professor McGonagal can supervise us at night. We'll be in the Gryffindor common room anyway, and when we're not we're at prep or in the library. Plenty of supervision and help should I need it," he folded his arms over his chest, and nodded at Harry, "Besides, he's awake now, and probably hungry. I can take him to the Great Hall for breakfast and you can see how we do. All of Gryffindor will want to help out, you know we're all worried about him."
"Good morning Harry," the old man said and Harry sat up, a little embarrassed that he'd been caught. He clutched the Hippogriff tightly and offered a smile.
"Good morning," he replied and looked more closely at the red head. He was wearing clothes like the ones Harry had found the first time he woke up, and his hair was as messy as Harry's usually was. He had freckles and a friendly smile, and moved to sit on Harry's bed next to his feet.
"Hello Harry. I'm Ron. You met my little sister Ginny yesterday," he held out a hand and Harry shook it. Ginny had been very nice to him when he was hurting, and he said as much to Ron. Ron grinned and nodded.
"Yeah, I think she's going to be a Healer when she graduates," he said and got up, "How about some breakfast?"
"Yes please," Harry nodded and Ron peeled back the blankets. The old man at the foot of the bed sighed and waved a stick. The cabinet door beside the bed opened and Harry spotted his clothes from before. Ron took Harry's Hippogriff and helped Harry off the high bed before plucking at Harry's pyjamas. Harry couldn't remember the last time someone helped him dress, and co operated as best he could. When he was ready, Ron handed Hippogriff back to Harry and then took his hand.
"Come on, the Great Hall is this way."
The Great Hall was huge, and Harry looked around in wonder at the sight of so many people sitting together and eating without arguing. Quite a few of them looked at him too, and he moved closer to Ron. Ron had held Harry's hand the whole way to the Great Hall, not once complaining that Harry was walking too slowly or that his hand was dirty. Harry knew he had been walking slowly because he'd kept looking at all the moving pictures on the wall. One of them had even said hello, and Ron had said hello back as if it was normal for this to happen.
Ron led the way to one of the great big tables and walked along it until he came to a space. A girl with bushy brown hair was sitting there, and next to her was a big cushion, then a gap and a boy with dark brown hair. Ron let go of Harry's hand and picked him up, putting him carefully on the cushion and steadying him carefully.
"Harry, this is Hermione," Ron pointed to the girl next to Harry and she smiled at him. She put her arm around him and squeezed lightly, then let go and started putting eggs and bacon strips onto a plate.
"Hello Hermione," Harry looked around at the people who were staring at him and spotted Ginny sitting opposite. He smiled and waved to her and she waved back asking if his arm felt better.
"It's all better now!" Harry waved that arm to show her and almost lost his Hippogriff. Ron caught the tumbling toy and put it on the bench between him and Harry's cushion.
"We'll just leave him there for now, Harry, all right? You can have him back after breakfast," Ron patted his shoulder and cut some toast slices into smaller pieces. Hermione put the plate she was filling in front of Harry and Ron slid the toast onto it too before cutting the bacon strips into pieces as well. He handed Harry a fork, patted his shoulder and started filling a plate of his own.
"This is for me?" Harry was astonished. His Aunt preferred him to have a slice of bread or cold cereal for breakfast - that is, if he was allowed breakfast at all. Dudley got whatever he wanted, and that changed from day to day. Once, his cousin had demanded hamburgers for breakfast and his aunt had made him one.
"Of course it is," Hermione sounded surprised, "Unless there's something else you'd like."
"No thank you," Harry replied hastily and put his fork in the eggs, taking a mouthful before the food could be confiscated. Ron merely chuckled and tucked into his own meal. Harry concentrated on his plate, uncomfortable with all the people looking at him. He wasn't sure why they were staring and kept checking anxiously out of the corners of his eyes that Ron and Hermione weren't upset with the way he was eating. He finished everything on his plate and looked around for the kitchen. Washing the dishes was his job, and he was determined to show that he was going to be good while he was here.
"Um, Ron? Where should I take my plate?" he asked when he failed to spot the kitchen.
"No where," Ron looked down at him, a puzzled expression on his face, "We leave the plates here and the house elf's clean them up for us."
"I don't have to do the washing up?" Harry asked, rather relieved that he didn't have to deal with the sheer number of plates he could see around him. Ron laughed and tousled his already messy hair.
"Nah, mate, the house elf's take care of all that," the red head reassured him, "Have you had a drink this morning?"
Harry shook his head and Ron poured him a glass of milk. Harry wondered how this new person knew that he liked milk, but accepted the cup and drained it thirstily. Ginny giggled when he put it down and Hermione peered at his face with a smile.
"You've got a moustache," the brown haired girl wiped his face gently with her own serviette, and then pulled a bag full of books up onto her lap.
"Now, Harry, you'll be going to class with Ron and I for a little while, and so we thought you might like some things to do. While the lesson is running you need to be quiet and sit still, so we got you a few things you could play with quietly," she said briskly and Ron put a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"You'll sit with me, ok mate?" he asked and Harry nodded. Ron grinned and handed him Hippogriff, which Harry clutched tightly about the middle. Hermione pulled a pad of paper and a flat tin out of her bag, and placed them next to her plate.
"We thought you might like to do some drawing, and colouring," she smiled and Harry grinned back at her. That was the one activity he loved most of all, because it was silent and he could do it in his cupboard. He used old scraps of paper and pencils that his cousin had broken and thrown away, but it was the one thing he was really good at.
"And there are a few books from the library you can look at as well, but Harry you must promise not to draw on them or damage them," she added.
"I'll be good," Harry promised. Ron leaned over to have a look at the books with him, his hand still on Harry's shoulder. It felt nice, not scary like when Uncle Vernon did it.
"Where did these come from Hermione?" Ron asked, and she rolled her eyes at him.
"The library, Ron," Ginny said from the other side of the table, and Ron rolled his eyes in return.
"Thank you, Ginny," he retorted, "What I meant was I didn't realise the library had Muggle children's books."
"They're for Muggle Studies," Hermione replied, "And they're heavy."
"I'll help carry them," Harry offered immediately, and Ron laughed, squeezing his shoulder before taking three of the books and putting them in his own bag. It wasn't a mean laugh and Harry looked at him curiously.
"You've got enough to do with carrying your Hippogriff," Ron sounded amused, "Don't worry, Harry, they're not so bad."
"Where did you get the Hippogriff, Harry?" Hermione asked and Harry beamed in remembrance. Despite his size, there was something about Hagrid that said 'gentle' and 'safe'.
"Hagrid gave him to me," Harry told her, "It's the first teddy I've ever had!"
"Really?" Hermione looked surprised, but before Harry could worry Ron was standing up and picking Harry up from his cushion. Harry nodded anyway and took the hand that Ron was holding out shyly. He received a smile and Ron led the way out of the Great Hall.
Harry spent the day following Ron and Hermione from room to room, sitting next to Ron in each class and drawing contentedly on his pad of paper. He was used to making the most of his paper, so each piece was covered in small but detailed pictures front and back before he started a fresh piece. There was so many interesting things going on around him that Harry had heaps to draw, at least he did when he wasn't watching with wide eyes the things Ron and Hermione could do with their sticks.
Harry learnt that they were called wands, and that his new friends were making magical things happen at the direction of their teachers. All this would probably upset the Dursley's, and Harry made a mental note to keep quiet about it if his relatives ever showed up.
They ate lunch in the Great Hall again and then walked down a familiar flight of steps and into a classroom that Harry remembered all too well. The stranger - the man called Snape - owned this room, and Ron settled Harry comfortably at a bench with his Hippogriff and drawing materials.
"Harry, it is very important that you make no noise and touch nothing in here, ok?" Ron whispered to him, "We don't want to make Snape mad."
Harry remembered all too well how scary Snape could be and nodded solemnly. He wanted to see what this class was actually about however, so he just clutched Hippogriff and watched with wide eyes as Ron and Hermione wrote some things down and then started cutting up ingredients and cooking them. He wondered what they were making, but didn't want to taste it when he smelt the steam rising from their pots. It was a nasty colour too, and Harry wrinkled his nose when Ron went up to the front with some of his liquid in a little jar.
"What did you cook?" Harry asked as he climbed the stairs with Ron afterwards. He was starting to feel tired, as the day was rather a long one, and he hoped that they were going to sit somewhere quiet for a while.
"We made a special potion for photos. When you put the film in the potion, then print the photos onto paper, they can move," Hermione answered from behind him and Harry turned his head to look at her in astonishment. He spotted a blonde boy with a pale and pinched look on his face storming up behind her and shouted,
Hermione turned to see what was happening and Harry realised that the blond boy was going to push into her. He felt Ron drop his hand and a moment later Ron's wand was pointing at the boy.
"Just keep walking, Malfoy," Ron sounded angry, and the blond scowled at him and Harry.
"Oh look, the Weasel and the Mudblood have a baby," he sneered and Harry narrowed his eyes. He hated being called a baby, because babies were helpless. Being helpless near the Dursley's was not a good thing. Before he could say anything Ron spoke up.
"Just shut it Malfoy," Ron sounded bored, "Haven't you got better things to do? I know I have."
Malfoy sniffed and walked past, deliberately giving them a wide berth. Ron put his wand away once the boy and his friends were gone and took Harry's hand again. Hermione ruffled his hair gently and thanked him for the warning. Harry would have replied, but yawned instead.
"Sorry," he blushed and Hermione laughed.
"It has been a long day," she agreed, "Come on, we'll go up to Gryffindor Tower for a while."
"If you want to go to the library, Harry and I can manage, right mate?" Ron spoke up, and Harry nodded. Hermione hesitated and then gave in, promising to meet them at dinner. Harry followed Ron up a seemingly endless lot of stairs, one of which moved when he stepped on it, and almost made him fall. They came to a portrait of a fat lady in a pink dress that asked for a password. Ron told her one and she let them in.
"More stairs," Harry groaned as Ron led him up them, then bit his lip. Uncle Vernon hated it when he whined and usually gave him a slap. Ron laughed though, and didn't seem to mind.
"This is the last lot," Ron promised, "You won't have to deal with any more."
Harry nodded and followed Ron into a room that had a lot of beds with curtains on them. He was lifted up onto one and his shoes were taken off.
"Right, mate, here's the plan. We'll get you into a bath and then read a story until dinner. Then it's bedtime, ok?" Ron dumped his book bag onto the bed next to the one Harry was sitting on and turned to rummage in a chest of drawers.
"This is your bed, and that one there is mine," Ron waved to where his bag was resting, "You'll be sleeping here tonight, ok?"
"Ok," Harry nodded, looking around curiously. He didn't notice Ron shrinking a set of pyjamas to fit him, followed by a dressing gown, slippers and fresh underwear. He did notice that there was a sudden hoot and something white fluttered outside the window.
"What's that?" Harry pointed and Ron went to open the window, letting in the white bird, which landed next to Harry. He saw that she was an owl, and she was looking at him rather closely.
"This is Hedwig, Harry," Ron reached out and stroked the owl's feathers lightly, "She lives here too."
Harry reached out cautiously and petted the owl, an action that seemed to make her happy. They spent a few minutes talking to her, and Ron explained that Hedwig's owner wasn't here at the moment. He told Harry about the role of owls and let Harry feed her a treat. She then went to sit on Ron's headboard and Harry was taken off for a bath.
The hot water was very nice and the bubbles were a new experience. He was fairly drowsy by the time Ron lifted him out and patted him dry, and very grateful that his friend carried him and Hippogriff down the stairs to sit by a fire. Ron sat him on his lap and read one of the stories in the book that Hermione had given him. There were lots of people around working, but they didn't seem to mind that Ron was reading to Harry at all.
Ron carried him back to the Great Hall for dinner and he and Hermione cut Harry's food up again. By this time he was too sleepy to care about people looking at him, and was much too tired to be interested in pudding. Ron carried him back up the stairs again, and Harry was asleep before he got to the lady in the pink dress.
The next two days were a copy of the first, though sometimes Rom and Hermione had to go after their last lesson to sit with some smaller children and answer questions. Harry became accustomed to taking Ron's hand when he walked anywhere, and sometimes took Hermione's as well. These two people didn't seem to mind having him with them, and actually seemed to like him.
On Friday, and Harry knew it was Friday because he heard Ron saying so, Ron left him with Hermione after class and went off to practice something called kid-itch. Harry didn't know why anyone would want to make children itchy, but wasn't game to ask in case they did it to him. The last few days had been surprisingly safe, as no one hit him or pulled him about.
Hermione took him to the library with her, and Harry sat on the bench beside her while she read through a great big pile of books and did a lot of writing. He was pretty tired, but the library was a place where you had to be silent and still, so instead of bugging Hermione to let him go to the Gryffindor tower where they all lived, Harry lay down on the narrow bench with his head resting on Hippogriff and rested for a while. He wasn't quite asleep, but neither was he really awake as the library darkened and the people around him moved quietly from the shelves to the tables and back again.
He didn't see Ron come in, but definitely heard him when the friendly voice asked quietly, "Where's Harry?"
"Here," Harry waved a hand sleepily and Hermione made a startled noise while Ron hurried around the table and knelt beside him, his big warm hands steadying Harry where he lay.
"Oh Harry, I'm sorry," Hermione whispered, "I lost track of the time!"
"It's ok, I was being good," Harry sat up and Ron steadied him for a moment before scooping him up and tucking Hippogriff into his arms.
"You were very good, and it's time for dinner. You can have a bath afterwards, ok? And tomorrow you can sleep in for a bit," Ron rubbed his back while Hermione packed up and they headed out the library doors with the other students.
"What about Quidditch?" Hermione asked, startled, "I thought that you wanted Harry to come and see it."
"We'll see," Ron replied, "What would you like for dinner Harry?"
"Anything," Harry replied honestly. The concept of warm, decent portions of food that came at regular intervals was still something of a novelty, and he had been trained to eat whatever meal he was given anyway. Ron chuckled and they entered the Great Hall.
A boy called Neville had saved Harry a seat today - which meant that he'd sat next to Harry's cushion and reached up to help Ron put Harry in place comfortably. Harry liked Neville, who always had a funny story about something that had gone wrong in one of his lessons. Sometimes Harry had seen what had happened already, but sometimes Harry had missed the rather spectacular explosions or changes, and Neville was always so cheerful about his mistakes that Harry wasn't worried about laughing with him. Hermione sat opposite Harry today, and Ginny sat with her, both girls discussing the upcoming kid-itch match.
"Are you coming to the match tomorrow Harry?" Neville asked as he put two big scoops of raspberry ice-cream into a bowl and plonked it down in front of Harry, "Ron's going to be playing tomorrow, you can sit with me and cheer him on."
"Harry might prefer to sleep in," Ron spoke up before Harry could, "He fell asleep in the library today."
"So did I," called a boy that slept in the same room as Harry, "Madam Pince was not amused."
"That's because you drooled on her book Seamus," Hermione spoke up, and Harry laughed with the others. He'd heard the fuss but had been too drowsy to pay proper attention. The ice cream was all gone and he sighed, putting the spoon in the bowl and leaning into Ron a little.
"Come on, mate," Ron chuckled, "Bath and bed for you. Say goodnight, Harry."
"Goodnight Harry," the people at the table chorused and Harry giggled, mumbling goodnight back. As Ron carried him up the stairs, Harry mused that this was the nicest place he'd ever been and hoped that he could stay here for a long time.
The people on the flying brooms zoomed through the air, and Harry squealed in delight as Ron kicked the ball away from his hoops. Neville had explained Quidditch to him very quickly, and Harry was bouncing up and down on their bench in excitement as the two teams swooped and dove about, the balls flying everywhere.
"Has anyone spotted the snitch yet?" Hermione asked as she joined them. She had promised to come, but was held up by a problem in the girls dorm. Neville and Harry had saved her a seat, and she settled into it gratefully, snagging a hand in Harry's robes in case he fell off the bench.
"Not yet," Neville told her, and Harry turned, pointing to the hoops at the other end of the pitch.
"It's over there," he told her firmly and Hermione gaped at him in astonishment. He wondered if she thought he was lying, "I promise, Hermione, the gold ball is right there, above the middle hoopy."
"I believe you, Harry, it's just that we mustn't point it out," Hermione said quickly, "We have to let the players find it themselves."
"Ok," Harry dropped his arm and smiled at her, "It's moving anyway, now it's in the middle of the pitch."
"Well, we'll just watch the match, ok?" Hermione's voice was a little stunned and Harry nodded, returning his attention to the game. He wished that he was on a broom, flying after the pretty gold ball, but knew that he was far too small. People shouted as Ginny suddenly zoomed down the pitch in a wild zigzag and Harry squealed again, clapping excitedly.
"She sees it, she sees it!" he told Neville, who was shouting encouragement at the top of his lungs. They joined the rest of the House in chanting Ginny's name, and cheered wildly when she caught the snitch right in front of the stands, zooming over their heads with it clutched in her hand. The noise was incredible, but Harry was too excited to be worried about it all, and he laughed and clapped when Ginny flew back over them to rejoin the team.
"Did we win?" Harry asked Hermione, who nodded and grinned, hugging him suddenly and making him clutch around her neck for balance. She put him back on his feet and they watched the people in the yellow robes land on the ground and clap politely as Ron and Ginny's team flew around the pitch once before also landing. They red and yellow team shook hands and people in the stands started moving. Neville took Harry's hand and led him down the stairs and out onto the pitch with the rest of the people.
"Hello Harry!" Ginny called from the middle of a group of people and came over to his side. He let go of Neville to hug her and admire the gold ball she still held in her hand. Someone jostled her from behind and she let go of it, exclaiming as it zoomed from her fingers. Harry caught it quickly and held it back out to her with a grin.
"Harry spotted the snitch before you did Ginny," Neville laughed as Ginny took the gold ball back and did something that made it fold away its wings, "Hermione had to stop him pointing it out."
"What's that?" Ron came up, his broom still in his hand, "Harry caught the snitch?"
"Yep!" Harry nodded and Ron laughed, "But only because someone bumped Ginny."
"In that case you should also get to ride on a broom," Ron chuckled, looking at his sister with a gleam in his eye. Harry didn't know why he was looking at her like that or why she stuck her tongue out, but he was too excited by the idea of flying to care. Ron swung a leg over his broom and Neville picked Harry up, putting him on the handle in front of Ron. Harry clutched the handle in excitement, and before anyone could tell Ron not to do this, Ron kicked off and the broom soared up into the air.
Harry gasped in excitement. This was the best feeling he'd ever had. The wind whipped past him and the ground below was a green blur. Ron's arms were strong around him, and when the man behind him leaned to the right to turn the broom Harry adjusted his balance easily.
"Faster Ron!" he called and heard Ron laugh a little, before leaning forward. The broom went faster and Harry squealed in delight, the wind whipping the sound away as they sped along. They did a few laps of the pitch and then soared up into the air for a moment before diving back down to the ground. Harry clutched the handle in excitement and yelled out his joy, arriving back at ground level breathless in excitement and windblown. Hands plucked him gently from Ron's broom and he looked up at the face of the old man with the kind eyes.
"Did you see?" he almost shouted in excitement, "We flew!"
"That you did, Harry!" the old man smiled back at him and Harry turned to hug Ron, burying his face in the red wool the other man was wearing. He leaned back and grinned up at Ron hopefully.
"Can we go again?" the question was guileless and Ron didn't seem to mind that he'd asked. He was hugging Harry too, his hand patting Harry's shoulder.
"Tomorrow," the old man interrupted, waving a hand at the sky, "If it's not raining."
"Ok," Harry accepted the answer readily, too happy that he hadn't got in trouble for asking. Ron took his hand and Harry bounded along beside his incredible friend.
Thunderclouds rolled in that afternoon and Harry soon lost the euphoria from his first time on a broom. He hated thunderstorms, and almost wished he were back with Snape in the deep dark place. Gryffindor tower was high in the sky, and normally he loved being up there, but with the flashes of lightening and rolling thunder he felt oddly vulnerable.
Hippogriff was a comforting armful to hold, and Ron didn't mind that Harry glued himself to the redhead's side. They sat together in a chair and Ron read to him for a while, and then Neville and Ginny came and played a game with some funny cards that went bang and shot all over the place. The thunder was getting louder though, and by dinnertime, Harry didn't want to play any more.
The ceiling in the Great Hall was full of roiling clouds and bangs and flashes that made Harry jump. He didn't want to eat much dinner and Ron seemed to understand because he took him out before pudding. Harry had a bath and Ron put him to bed, sitting with him until he fell into an uneasy sleep.
A very bright flash followed by a particularly loud bang woke him and he sat up with a cry of fear, clutching Hippogriff to him tightly. The air was thick and prickly and the curtains around his bed seemed particularly dark right now. His chest felt tight and he wanted …
Ron opened Harry's curtains and Harry threw himself forward into welcoming arms, crying in fright. Ron hugged him tightly, sitting on the bed and rocking them back and forth while he shushed Harry gently. Comforting words poured over his head, and warm hands rubbed his head lightly. Hippogriff was located and added to their hug and Harry calmed slowly. He whimpered when Ron made as if to move and Ron's arms tightened around him once more. There was another flash and loud bang and Harry flinched and shivered.
"Come on, Harry," Ron murmured, "Let's go downstairs for a bit."
Ron picked Harry up and perched him on one hip, before bending a bit and grabbing a blanket. Harry buried his face in Ron's neck and they went down to the common room, where Ron sat in their favourite armchair by the fire and tucked the blanket around them both. The room was lit by the fire, which Ron stirred up using his wand, and the warmth and half darkness was soothing to the frightened child. The flashes didn't seem to be so bright here, and the bangs were somehow muffled by Ron's words. Harry drowsed off after a while, though he woke at irregular intervals, usually after an especially loud bang.
The last time he woke, Ron was talking to the old man, who was perched on a footstool near by.
"… considering how sensitive he is to atmospheres. The Dementors are a case in point," the old man was saying. Ron nodded.
"He hates rows too," the red head said softly, "Poor kid."
"Ron?" Harry lifted his head from Ron's chest to look at him. His friend had sounded so sad then, and Harry wondered what was wrong.
"I'm here, Harry," Ron said immediately, "Go back to sleep, ok?"
Harry put his head down obediently again, tightening his grip on Ron and Hippogriff. The two men were silent, and Harry went back to sleep.
A flash and the sound of Hermione scolding someone waked him. Rubbing sleep filled eyes, Harry peered around the common room. It was still dark outside and raining hard, but the thunder had gone away. He looked up at Ron, who was still asleep and snoring a little, then back at Hermione. She smiled at him and put a finger to her lips before carefully peeling the blanket back and picking Harry up. Ginny leant in and put the blanket back over Ron while Hermione carried Harry upstairs.
"Do you want to sleep some more, Harry?" Hermione asked and he shook his head. He felt a little sluggish, but didn't want to go to bed by himself. Hermione didn't make him, instead she helped him get dressed and brushed his hair. Harry stood still while she fussed with it, knowing that she'd give up when she realised it wouldn't stay flat. She sighed and put the brush away after a while and took his hand to go down for breakfast. Ron was still asleep when they passed, and someone had pinned a note to his chest.
Neville was sitting next to Harry's cushion and the cheerful boy helped him settle comfortably and poured the glass of milk that Harry always drank for breakfast. He drained it eagerly and Neville refilled it while Harry tucked in to the pancakes that Hermione had dished up for him. There was real fruit and cream on them as well as syrup, and when he'd finished she gave him some fruit salad as well. Harry picked through that for his favourite pieces, putting them to one side and eating the rest first so he could linger over the delicious parts. The Dursley's yelled him at for this, but Hermione didn't seem to mind and Neville always smiled at him.
After breakfast, Hermione took him to the library and put out his drawing pad and pencils. She collected a big stack of books and then sat down to read them. Harry drew for a while, then looked around at all the students who were working hard. After a while his bladder began to protest the second glass of milk and he tapped Hermione on the arm.
"I have to go to the loo," he whispered in her ear. Madam Pince had never actually told him off, but he knew that she watched him closely whenever he was in the library and didn't want to do anything that would get himself or his friends in trouble. Hermione sighed and Harry scrambled off the bench. She hated to stop working, and Harry had noticed that Ron avoided disturbing her as much as possible when the three of them were in here.
"I can go by myself, I know where it is," he pointed and Hermione hesitated before nodding. He'd done this once when the three of them had been here, though Ron had watched him from the doorway of the library. Harry beamed and collected Hippogriff, walking quietly out the library doors and down the corridor to the boy's toilets. He had a little trouble washing his hands afterwards, but on the whole he was feeling pretty proud of himself for showing Hermione that he was a big boy.
Back in the corridor, Harry paused to look at a painting that had lots of animals in it. They were all moving about, grazing and the babies were chasing each other. He watched for a moment and then turned to go, not wanting Hermione to have to come looking for him.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't baby Potter," a cold voice drawled and Harry looked up at the blonde boy that had tried to push Hermione over on the stairs, "Where's your minder Potter?"
Harry set his lips, determined not to talk to the big bully and moved to walk around him. His way was blocked by one of the bully's friends and Harry backed up to try and figure out a way around them. He looked towards the library, hoping that Hermione would appear, but the corridor was empty. A hand blurred past his face and Hippogriff was snatched out of his arms.
"Give it back!" Harry cried, lunging for his toy. The blonde laughed and held it up out of Harry's reach.
"I want to look at it," he sneered and laughed when Harry jumped for the toy, jerking it out of his reach once more, "Is this a Hippogriff? How pathetic!"
"It's MINE!" Harry shouted, and the blonde boy threw it to his friend. Harry tried to intercept the flying Hippogriff but was too short. He was angry and his head was starting to hurt a little. The three boys threw the toy back and forth, always keeping it just out of reach and laughing as Harry got wilder and wilder with them. Something was bubbling up in him, something strong and untamed and it burst free when the blonde bully caught Hippogriff by his tail and swung it around in a circle until the tail came loose with a rip and Hippogriff's body went flying down towards the library. The three boys laughed and the blonde threw the tail in Harry's face.
"NO!" Harry screamed and the untamed thing burst loose. The three boys were gone suddenly and Harry ran to his toy, clutching the tail in one hand and scooping the body up with the other. He was crying and there was a lot of noise around him, but he didn't have time to pay attention to that, because Hippogriff was broken. The only teddy he'd ever had and the first gift he could remember was in pieces and Harry wept in anger and frustration.
"Harry?" Ron's voice intruded and Harry launched himself at his friend. Strong arms swept him up and Harry cried into Ron's neck, his insides roiling. Ron shushed and rocked and rubbed his back, not trying to make him stop crying, just offering comfort.
"They broke him!" Harry sobbed and Hermione appeared at Ron's side. She had her wand out and coaxed Hippogriff's tail out of Harry's hand before holding it in place and waving her wand. The tail joined back onto the body perfectly and a new wave of tears engulfed Harry. He couldn't seem to stop them, something wild was surging through him, making him miserable.
There was shouting behind him, and Ron seemed to be watching whatever was going on down the corridor as he rocked Harry soothingly. Harry could hear someone shouting to be let down, and adults arguing about getting someone off the walls. After a while Ron sighed and squeezed Harry gently. Harry turned his head just enough to see the old man standing beside Ron, looking at him with worried eyes. His hand joined Ron's in rubbing Harry's back and the old man spoke to him.
"Let them go Harry," he said in a soft voice and something in Harry relaxed. There were three yells and heavy thuds and Ron chuckled.
"Good boy," the old man smiled and patted him again, "Perhaps Mr Weasley should take you to wash your face. It will be lunch time soon."
"Come on mate," Ron said and carried him away. Harry's head still ached a little, but the cool water helped with that, and he took the time to check Hippogriff over carefully as well. Ron also examined Hippogriff, giving Harry's toy a sympathetic pat on the head before handing him back.
Hermione seemed upset at lunch and gave Harry a big hug. Ginny also was upset, but she appeared to be upset with Hermione, not Harry. The brother and sister sat on either side of him for lunch and Hermione went to sit further down the table.
"Can we go flying today?" Harry asked as they finished their sandwiches and Ron shook his head, pointing up at the ceiling. Harry looked at the dark clouds and raindrops and sighed.
"Sorry mate," Ron rubbed his shoulder, "We'll go some other time, I promise. It's no fun flying in wet weather. Harry… I'm sorry for what happened with Malfoy."
"It's not your fault!" Harry was astonished and Ron sighed.
"I shouldn't have slept in," Ron shook his head, "It won't happen again."
Harry gave him a hug, because he knew that Ron liked them and watched his friend cheer up a bit. Ginny hugged him from behind and tickled his ribs, making him squirm in protest.
"Giiiiiiiiiinnn -nnnyyyyyyyyy," Harry grumbled through his giggles and she laughed, but stopped. They went back to Gryffindor tower and Ginny read to Harry for a while before Neville interested him in a game with the cards that went bang. His headache was coming back, and he was starting to feel pretty tired by the time Ron took him up for a bath. Harry didn't want Hippogriff to wait on his bed like normal and got cranky when Ron made him leave his toy behind. He sulked through the bath, refusing to play with the bubbles that usually made him feel happy, and ran from the bathroom the moment he was dry to see if Hippogriff was all right. Ron had to chase him with his pyjamas and actually raised his voice to Harry a little bit.
Harry went to dinner with Neville and Ginny, refusing to talk to Ron at all, but didn't enjoy his dinner. It didn't taste as good as normal and he missed the way Ron cut up his bangers into slanty slices. Ginny gave him green beans, which he hated but didn't dare to leave on his plate, and Neville gave him ice cream without strawberry sauce. Neville carried him back to the Gryffindor tower, but didn't stop to talk to the paintings and Harry wriggled out of his arms when they were in the common room. He felt cross and out of sorts and wanted Ron, but was too cranky to say so. Neville tried persuading him to go to bed, but Harry wasn't having a bar of it. Ron appeared and picked him up, heading for the stairs quietly. Harry hit his shoulder and pulled faces at him. He scrambled off his bed the minute Ron put him down and Ron had to chase him and put him back.
He scrambled off again and whirled to dash back out to the common room when he ran into the teacher that changed things into something else. Harry loved watching her class because it was so exciting, but right now he didn't want to watch her change anything. She picked him up and perched him on her hip.
"I'll take over for now, Mr Weasley," her funny voice was neither happy nor sad and Harry looked at Ron with big eyes. He didn't want to go with her, and if Ron let him stay he'd be good. Ron simply picked up Hippogriff from Harry's bed and handed the toy to the teacher. She carried Harry out of the tower and along the corridors to a painting that opened when she touched it. The rooms inside were very neat, but cosy and warm. There was a cot beside the fire, but instead of putting Harry on it she sat down in a chair that rocked and positioned Harry comfortably in her lap. They rocked quietly for a while with Hippogriff in Harry's lap, and Harry began to relax. The cross feeling drained away in the silence and left him drowsy.
"Poor bairn, you're very tired," her voice was soft and understanding and Harry's eyes stung a little in response. He hid in Hippogriff's fur and eventually went to sleep.
The changing things teacher woke Harry the next morning and got him dressed, leading him by the hand to the Great Hall for breakfast. Ron was waiting by the doors and Harry hesitated, remembering how awful he'd been to Ron last night.
"Are you mad at me?" the question slipped out without Harry really thinking about it, but Ron simply smiled at him and held his arms out for a hug. Harry rushed to hug him and Ron picked him up, squeezing him a little and then tickling. Harry squirmed and laughed but didn't try to get away. He'd never been forgiven this quickly before. It was a heady feeling.
"It's all right, mate, we all get a bit cross sometimes," Ron stopped tickling and ruffled his hair instead. Harry ruffled Ron's back and the changing things teacher laughed before patting his back and walking into the Great Hall. Ginny, Neville and Hermione all welcomed him back with smiles and hugs, and Harry sat between Hermione and Ron for breakfast.
They went to classes again, and Harry followed along happily. His drawing pad was getting full, but Ron had promised him a new one when he needed it, so Harry wasn't worried. When classes were finished for the day, Ron asked Harry to give Hippogriff to Hermione for a little while and led him out of the castle. It was a bit muddy and chilly outside, but Harry forgot all about the cold when Ron pulled his broom out from a shed and hopped on.
They flew around the castle a few times, and Ron let Harry steer for a bit too. Ron let them climb high into the sky and then rushed them down at the ground with Harry screaming in delight. They swooped along and stopped in front of a stone hut. The front door opened and Hagrid came out, lifting Harry off Ron's broom and carrying him inside.
Hagrid's house was full of fascinating things that moved and rustled and chirped, and there was a big black dog that let Harry pat it while it dribbled on Ron's leg. Hagrid said its name was Fang. His stomach rumbled while they were talking and Hagrid got up to make tea while Ron tried to find a chair that Harry could sit in and still see over the top of the table. In the end, Harry sat on the edge of Hagrid's big table and sipped at a big glass of milk while he told the giant all about the flying and how he'd been allowed to steer for a little way.
"When I grow big, can I get a broom like yours Ron?" Harry twisted to ask his friend, who laughed and promised that he'd have a really special broom all of his own when he got to Ron's size. When the milk was finished, Hagrid said that it was nearly dinnertime and Harry hugged his giant friend goodbye. They flew along at ground level to get back to the broom shed, and Ron let Harry steer again. Normally, Harry would be too tired to climb all the stairs up to Gryffindor tower, but tonight he was full of beans and hopped from one stair to the next happily.
Bath time was fun as they had a bubble fight and Ron had to pull his wand out to clean up the mess. Harry bounded down to the Great Hall for dinner and was reunited with Hippogriff. He told Hermione and Hippogriff all about how he'd steered the broom, and ate a huge dinner. He started back up the stairs to Gryffindor tower, but ran out of energy by the time they got to the common room. Ron had to carry him up the last flight to bed, and Harry tumbled in happily.
Harry patted the bedside table, looking for his glasses. He gave up after a minute and grabbed some underwear and fresh clothes, heading for the boys showers. It was early, but then he usually woke before the others, enjoying the quiet of the tower. He ran a hand over his chin and decided that he didn't need to shave, then climbed into the shower. The warm water felt good and he spent a minute just standing there, waiting to wake up properly.
The door to the shower room opened and Ron's familiar shuffle alerted Harry that his best friend was up. He tipped some shampoo into his hand and started scrubbing, listening out for the squeak of the tap in the shower next door. Instead, there was a rattle of the shower curtain and a cold breeze struck Harry. He whirled and gaped at Ron, who was gaping at him.
"Ron!" Harry reached out and snapped the curtain closed again. They'd seen each other naked before - modesty was not a big thing in the dorm - but Ron had never tried to get in the shower with him!
"What are you doing?" Harry spluttered. Ron seemed to be spluttering too.
"Sorry! I wasn't expecting…" Ron trailed off and started the shower next door after a moment. Harry wondered what that was all about and ducked under the warm water to rinse his hair. His head swum and he grabbed for the wall, his memories returning in a rush. Walking from potions class, the storm, the flash and the pain, staying with Snape, Hagrid's gift to him and Ron's care all rolled over him in one almighty wave, making him shake and breathe hard, the hand that wasn't holding him up pressed to his forehead. That explained Ron's sudden decision to check him in the shower at least. He was expecting a four-year-old Harry, not the sixteen year old.
After a moment Harry straightened up and finished rinsing, climbing out of the shower and drying off. He dressed and made his way carefully back to his dorm, searching once more for his glasses. He couldn't remember wearing them at all when he'd been four and wondered where they were. He found his wand in the back of his dresser drawer, out of reach of a four year old, and slid it inside his robes. Neville got up and shuffled for the bathroom, saying good morning on the way past and yelping when he got into the corridor.
"Harry!" Neville stared at him from the doorway, "You're back!"
"Yeah, Nev," Harry smiled at his friend, "I'm back and I remember everything too. Thanks for the games."
Neville grinned and nodded before heading to the loos at a good pace. Harry grinned and squinted around the dorm, even going to Ron's dresser to look for his glasses. There was no sign of them and he dropped onto his bed with a frustrated sigh. Hippogriff was lying in the tangle of blankets and he picked the toy up with a fond smile, rubbing the soft fur and remembering how soothing it had been to hold the toy each night. Ron cleared his throat in the doorway and Harry looked up with a blush. He knew it was silly, but the thought that Ron had bathed and dressed him for over a week was pretty embarrassing. It was bad enough that Snape had to help him once. At the back of his mind he wondered why his pyjamas had fit him when he'd woken, though he was grateful they did. Who knew the damage that could be done by squeezing a sixteen-year-old body into a four year olds pyjamas.
"Uh, Madam Pomfrey said that the moment you … grew up … she wanted to see you," Ron stuttered and Harry nodded, laying Hippogriff back on his pillow. He got up and headed for the door, squinting to see a bit more clearly.
"Do you know where my glasses are?" he asked Ron, and the redhead shook his head. As Harry reached him Ron took Harry's hand and turned to lead him down the stairs. Harry stared at their hands, remembering the way it felt to have someone hold his hand kindly and determined to preserve that memory as best he could. Ron seemed to realise what he had done because he jumped and let go of Harry's hand again, flushing bright red.
"Sorry," Ron mumbled and Harry shrugged it off, tucking his hand into his robes to preserve the brief warmth of his best friends touch. If it had been unlikely that Ron would ever consider looking at Harry in a romantic light it was impossible now. There wasn't anyone in the common room, and Harry headed for the portrait hole quickly. He could clearly remember people reading stories to him here, and playing games with him as well. His housemates had all helped Ron and Hermione cope with him at one point or another and Harry only hoped that he hadn't been too obnoxious.
He would be forever grateful that Fred and George had left the school. He knew himself well enough to know that if those two pranksters had got their claws into him he'd have turned into a prankster that rivalled all four of the Marauders at once.
Madam Pomfrey sent Ron to get the Headmaster and had Harry's robes undone and her wand scanning him before he knew what was going on. He asked her for her glasses and sighed in despair when she told him that they had been reduced to their composite elements by the time storm.
"You'll need a new pair, and if the Headmaster agrees, I'll take you to Diagon Alley today to get them," the Matron patted his shoulder, "We'll get a pair that suits you a bit better, ok?"
"Thanks Madam Pomfrey… for everything," he looked up at her with a smile and she chuckled.
"You were a very charming little boy, Harry, and very well behaved," she let him do his robes back up and conjured a glass of milk for him. He had one every morning at breakfast, had ever since he'd started school here and had unrestricted access to his favourite drink. She explained while he drank that the house elves had placed a growth charm on his clothes that would be triggered by his return to his usual self, which explained why he hadn't woken wearing burst pyjamas and too tight briefs.
"Now, I'll have a breakfast tray brought up while you wait for the Headmaster," she continued, "You can wait in my study."
Harry followed her to the comfortably cluttered apartment and chose a chair near the window. He couldn't see to read one of the many books that crowded the room, but his long distance vision would at least let him look out the window a little. The tray that appeared had his usual breakfast on it, and another glass of milk as well. Harry wondered how Ron and Neville had noticed that he preferred that to pumpkin juice, but pushed the thought aside. He was embarrassed enough as it was without dwelling on his time as a four year old in his friends charge.
Dumbledore arrived as the tray disappeared and Harry stood up politely, smiling at the Headmaster, remembering clearly his four-year-old name for the great Wizard. It would have been rude to voice it, though the name was meant with affection.
"It's good to see you again, Harry," Dumbledore waved Harry to a chair and sat opposite him, "I suspect we have several questions for each other, so perhaps now would be a good time to air them."
Harry nodded, but waited for the other man to go first.
"Do you know what a time storm is, Harry? No? Well, perhaps I should start by explaining that. A time storm is a very rare phenomena, caused once every hundred years or so by a build up in the atmosphere of magical energy. It seems to be attracted to wherever there are strong magical impulses, such as the ones given off by this school, or other large gatherings of Magical beings. It acts much the same as a regular storm, however I wonder if you can remember anything unusual about its behaviour."
"I could hear the thunder before the lightening flashed," Harry remembered, "And I could see the spark of the lightening before it struck."
"Exactly," Dumbledore beamed, pleased with his acute observations, "That would be a violation of what the Muggles call Physics. You do hear the thunder first, that is one of the indicators of a time storm. The lightening is not the same as that of a regular storm, however, as its affects are rather more unusual."
"It reverses time?" Harry guessed and Dumbledore nodded to him, his eyes twinkling.
"Precisely," he replied, "I have missed our little chats, Harry, your instincts are always refreshingly sharp."
Harry squirmed in his seat, but managed not to mumble in embarrassment. The Headmaster was not supposed to be nice to him, especially after Harry had trashed the man's office and now refused to look at him during the rare occasions they were in the same room. He didn't want to take the risk that his hard won Occlumency skills would fail and allow Voldemort to hurt the other man.
"So when I was struck I was regressed to the age of four," Harry summed up, plucking at his robes, then frowned, "But Madam Pomfrey said that my glasses were reduced to their individual elements…"
"That is because they took the full impact of the bolt, Harry. You tripped as you pushed your friends to safety and you glasses came off. They took the main bolt, and you were caught in the nimbus," Dumbledore folded his hands in his lap, "Had you taken the full brunt of the bolt you would have been killed. The whomping willow was also close to a strike, and was reduced to a seed. Had you been similarly reduced…"
Harry nodded, not wanting to think to closely about it.
"I broke my arm when I fell, and because I was regressed to a four year old, I had no memory of where I was or who the people around me where," Harry mused, "So I latched onto the first safe thing I could find, and ended up in Professor Snape's care. He must have been thrilled."
"Not particularly," Dumbledore chuckled and Harry grinned reluctantly. The Potion Master's dislike of him was no secret, "I felt, however, given your grip on the man, that it was best not to fight with you about your choice of guardian. He did relate to me the reason you did not choose to inform him of your broken arm. I must ask, Harry…"
"Don't," Harry interrupted, "Let's just say that I'm a quick healer and leave it at that. I don't want to talk about them. Besides, I'm too big for them to do that again. I don't have to worry about it any more."
Dumbledore got a very sad and grim look on his face, but didn't press the issue any further. Harry was glad that he didn't, because he didn't want to drag up the old memories. He'd grown up anyway and there was nothing the Headmaster could do about it now. Harry certainly didn't want the notoriety of a court case against the Muggles, and he had the feeling that taking action against the Dursley's would destroy the protection charm his mother's death had laid upon him.
"Will Madam Pomfrey really be taking me to get new glasses today?" Harry changed the subject desperately, "I really can't see much at all and I don't want to embarrass myself further by spending the day walking into furniture."
"Yes, you will be visiting Diagon Alley shortly," Dumbledore nodded and stood, heading for the door. He paused as he opened it and Harry squinted at the blurred figure, "You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Anyone who thinks otherwise would do well to recall Mr Malfoy's fate. I will see you later, I am sure."
"Thank you, sir," Harry nodded and wondered what he meant. He wasn't sure what had happened to Malfoy, although he could vaguely remember someone saying something about walls and getting down. He'd been sobbing into Ron's neck at the time, and in no fit state to appreciate whatever he'd managed to unconsciously do. The door opened again and he squinted at the bustling figure that came in.
"Time to go, Mr Potter," Madam Pomfrey chuckled, "And not a moment too soon, if that squint is anything to go by."
Harry grinned and got up, surprised when she took his arm to guide him safely along to the fireplace they'd be using to Floo from. The Dursley's would have let him fall.
In the end, Harry chose a pair of rectangular lenses set in a wire thin gold frame. He'd initially thought about choosing silver, but didn't want to run the risk of accidentally poisoning Remus Lupin. Silver was deadly to werewolves and Harry wasn't about to risk the last of the Marauders on a fashion statement. The optician put several useful charms on the frames, including an unbreakable and impermeable charm that would help him a lot when it came to playing Quidditch.
The new glasses changed his face considerably, and Madam Pomfrey had approved them with a smile and pat to the shoulder. The school Matron arranged for the bill to be presented to Gringott's for payment from Harry's account and he signed the authorisation form. They Flooed back to the school in time for lunch and Harry dashed upstairs to get his schoolbooks for the rest of the day.
Walking into the Great Hall was a little unnerving as a lot of the students stopped eating to stare at him, but Harry just put his head down and hurried to the Gryffindor table. There was no cushion there, but Ron had saved him a place and Hermione gave him a hug before admiring his new glasses.
"They're smashing," Ginny chimed in from across the table and Harry ducked his head in pleased embarrassment. To change the subject he asked Ron what had happened to Malfoy. Ron handed him a platter of sandwiches and Harry helped himself while his friend cleared his mouth of food.
"You stuck the git to the wall, upside down," Ron chuckled, "Crabbe and Goyle too. Professor Snape couldn't get them down, and neither could the Headmaster. He had to ask you to let them down and you dropped them sharply."
"Whoops," Harry couldn't find it in himself to be too embarrassed about that incident, as the emotions accompanying it were still sharp. The people around him were chuckling along with Ron, and he grinned a little sheepishly.
"They got a week of detention and fifty points off Slytherin," Hermione added, "Professor Snape was furious."
"With fifty points off his House, I'm not surprised," Harry took a bite of sandwich and nearly choked at Hermione's next words.
"No, Harry, he was the one who took the points off."
They finished lunch without much more conversation and headed off to Charms. Professor Flitwick launched straight into his lesson on healing charms and Harry was soon too caught up in things to worry about how people thought of him. Lesson followed lesson and he was soon in the library doing homework and listening to Ron grumble about their Transfiguration essay. He collected the storybooks that his friends had borrowed for him and returned them to Madam Pince, thanking the librarian for letting him read them. She gave him a rare smile and he hurried back to the table before he could embarrass himself further.
He quickly got back into the routine of schoolwork, homework, and Quidditch practice. The DA hadn't been restarted, as their new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was more than adequate. Mad Eye Moody had returned to Hogwarts, and the Marauders Map had assured Harry that his teacher was who he claimed to be. He'd had a little trouble facing Professor McGonagal at first, but as she had made no allusions to rocking him to sleep, his embarrassment had faded. He'd written her a formal letter of thanks, as well as one to Professor Snape, which had been ignored as far as Harry knew, and the subject dropped.
If it seemed that Ron sometimes reached out for him, and sometimes pushed him away, then Harry was resigned to their changed relationship. Hermione had made it plain that she didn't think any differently of him though he did have the misfortune to overhear her describing him as 'cute' to Ginny, who had agreed and added the word 'adorable'. Neville was his usual self, and Seamus and Dean soon learned that Harry was more than capable of defending himself from their teasing. Malfoy avoided him at all costs, even to the point where he would turn around and head back the way he'd come.
Hagrid wasn't much help in the end, especially when Colin Creevy developed his current roll of film and circulated the pictures of Harry as a four year old. There was even one of him in the bath for Merlin's sake, and Hagrid had petitioned Colin for copies of all of them. Harry also received a copy of each one, though he seemed to lose one immediately. It had been a picture of him and Ron asleep together in the armchair the morning after the thunderstorm. It had been a really nice picture, and Harry looked everywhere for it before giving up.
The Christmas holidays were rapidly approaching, and Harry used the opportunity presented by the late Hogsmeade weekend to finish his Christmas shopping. The weekend had been put back to avoid any unfortunate 'leaks' of information. Harry was grateful that the Headmaster had arranged things for his protection, but at the same time was well aware that there were a few students who were very annoyed by the postponed treat.
Ron and Hermione were apparently going to the village together, as a couple in fact, and Harry resigned himself to the fact that he would have to watch his best friends get married. He very much doubted that he'd ever find someone else to love the way he loved Ron and was feeling a little depressed about the whole situation as a result. He determined not to spoil anyone's day and politely turned down Ginny's offer that he should go to the village with her and Neville. She and Dean had broken up and Ron was much happier as a result, especially as he approved thoroughly of Neville as a possible in-law.
Once in the village, Harry wandered from shop to shop, making little purchases and sidestepping groups of the carollers that thronged the streets. He'd found the perfect gift for Hagrid this year, in a small shop that specialised in unusual items. Knowing that Hagrid thought that biting books were interesting, Harry was sure that Hagrid would get a big kick out of slippers that came when you called and massaged your feet when you sat by the fire. They were a hideously fluffy purple colour, and purred when their owner's feet were warm. Given that Hagrid spent the day on his feet tending to all of his creatures, students and grounds, the half-giant would appreciate something that cared for him in return.
Dobby had the annual gift of socks, though Harry had added a few spectacular ties for the elf, in case he felt like trying something new. He'd also bought a pair of lemon coloured socks for Dumbledore and meant to get Dobby to give the to the Headmaster on Christmas Day. It would be an anonymous gift that the Headmaster would probably get a kick out of. Hermione had a book that detailed the historical dealings between the world of wizards and that of magical creatures and beings. The book detailed how some of the laws that still existed today had come about, with a section on House Elves in particular. Ron would get a broom servicing kit, and Ginny a book on advanced charms. He'd noticed that they seemed to be her area of expertise last year and wanted to give her something she'd find useful as well as interesting, and it would help with her OWLs this year.
Mr and Mrs Weasley got a nicely framed picture of Ron and Ginny. Harry had asked Colin to take and enlarge a picture for him, and he bought a suitable frame in the same shop that he'd found Hagrid's slippers. The carved vine would bloom and whither with the seasons and gave off a pleasant scent, and the glass was charmed to be self-cleaning. The brother and sister were sitting in the Great Hall together with their homework books in front of them, and smiling for the camera in a rare moment of accord.
With everyone on his Christmas list taken care of, Harry browsed through the shops idly. It was a bit lonesome without his best friends, but he would put on a cheerful face for them when they met up at the school again. In the window of one shop a display of watches caught his eye, reminding him that the watch he'd once worn was still broken from his little swim in the lake during fourth year. He turned into the shop and spent half an hour looking at what was available, finally choosing a fob watch with two faces - one to tell Muggle time and one to tell Wizard time. It clipped into his robes pockets on a platinum chain that was spelled to be unbreakable and also un-stealable. It was also waterproof to a depth of five fathoms. Harry didn't imagine he'd ever get that far under water - even the lake wasn't that deep - but better safe than sorry.
Rather than hang around by himself any longer, Harry went back up to the castle and took advantage of his dorm mate's absence to wrap his Christmas presents and store them away. He put the picture in the frame and wrapped it too, sending Hedwig on her way to the Burrow, then headed up to the owlry to send Ron and Ginny's presents as well. Mrs Weasley could put the presents aside until Christmas, and Harry would have the pleasure of his owl's company for Christmas. He wouldn't be having Ron and Ginny, because they were going home for Christmas to the Burrow. After last year, Harry was planning to stay at school. Hermione was going to her parents for Christmas, but Harry knew that Ginny would slip his present into Hermione's trunk when she wasn't looking.
By the time Ron and Hermione returned, laden with bags and secretive smiles, Harry was comfortably ensconced in an armchair, helping the first years with their transfiguration homework and reading a book on defence charms.
"What do you mean, you're staying here?" Ron gaped at Harry, and he ran a hand through his already messy hair. Ron had been sitting right next to Harry when the list for the people who were staying behind at Christmas had come around, and Harry had borrowed Ron's quill to sign it when his went missing in action.
"You were there when I signed the list," Harry reminded him, "You said that Mrs Weasley had told you and Ginny to come home, and I asked to borrow your quill."
The gape got bigger and Ron flushed. Harry knew the difference between a flush and a blush and sighed. He didn't need Ron to get angry with him now. Things were a little strained as it was, without them parting on a row.
"Harry you berk, I said that mum had told me we were to come home. That meant you as well!" Ron clenched his hands into fists at his side, "What will it take for you to get that you're part of the family too!"
"I'm sorry," Harry backed up, misery struggling in his chest, "I'll send Hedwig with an apology to your parents. They won't blame you."
"Dammit!" Ron snapped but Harry whirled and banged out of the dorm, rushing down the stairs, dodging through the common room and out into the corridors, moving swiftly to try and outpace the feelings cramping in his chest. He hadn't meant to upset his friend, and certainly didn't want to part on a row, but he just had no experience dealing with families and therefore needed things to be blatantly spelled out if he was to understand what they wanted him to do.
He'd always been out of his depth when it came to other people, mainly because the Dursley's had made sure that he had no friends and didn't 'get above his station'. Coming to Hogwarts had been the scariest thing he'd ever done, because he was away from the Dursley's and people actually seemed to like him. Without his uncle and aunts reactions to gauge what was right and wrong he'd had to do a lot of growing up in a short time. As twisted as it sounded, the Dursley's were still his first point of reference when it came to relationships with other people, simply because they had raised him. Try as he might, he couldn't banish their influence over him.
He slammed into the owlry and stumbled to the window, banging his fists on the window ledge in frustration. Hedwig soared from the rafters to his shoulder and he sobbed once for breath, his hand reaching up to stroke her feathers softly. She hooted in a worried tone and he shook his head, biting his lips. He couldn't… he didn't know…
"Why do they want me there?" the words were torn out of him, "Why does he want me there? What do they see in me? I'm just Harry!"
"That's why I want you," Ron said quietly from behind him. Before Harry could turn strong arms wrapped themselves around his waist and he froze at the unexpected embrace, "I want you because you're Harry. You're my best friend, a terrible chess player and a great Seeker. You're smart and funny and you never take me for granted."
Ron's warmth was pressed along his back, his head resting on Harry's other shoulder. Harry could feel Ron's hair brushing his ear. It was as soft as it looked.
"I want you because even when you're angry and impatient with us, I know you'd bend over backwards for us if we asked you to. I want you because you're damn pretty, Potter, even when you're four years old. I want to be your friend, and your brother and… and if you… fancy me half as much as I fancy you… then maybe you'll want to be mine… and you'll let me be yours…"
The last words were a bare whisper, and Hedwig launched herself back to the rafters, sensing Harry's reaction before Harry himself was aware of moving, twisting desperately to get his arms around Ron, sobbing incredulously. Ron clutched him close and rode the storm out, letting Harry get it all off his chest as it were.
"So are you coming home for Christmas?" Ron asked in a perfectly normal tone when Harry had calmed down and was simply revelling in the feeling of being held close. How they went from arguing about Christmas, to unexpected confessions was beyond Harry, but he decided not to worry about it too much.
"Yes," Harry laughed a little soggily and Ron squeezed him in approval.
"Good. So we need to go find McGonagal and tell her that you're coming home with me, and I need to change my jumper. There's snot on this one."
"Sorry," Harry muttered, and pulled his wand, cleaning his tears off Ron's shoulder. Ron cupped his face in his hands and kissed him on the nose.
"Don't be," he said, "That's what I'm here for. I know you didn't mean for me to hear what you said to Hedwig, but… the fact that I love you Potter was one of the reasons I insisted on taking care of you when you were four. You know I'm actually relieved to have got it off my chest?"
"Me too," Harry breathed and pecked Ron on the lips shyly. Ron smiled, took his hand and led the way to the door.
"Lets find McGonagal then," he said, "The sooner we do the sooner we can find ourselves a quiet place to sort this out."