Disclaimer: This story was written using the background and characters of J K Rowling's Harry Potter novels. No financial gain will be made from this story, it is just for fun .

Warnings: This story contains spoilers to all five Harry Potter novels (The Philosopher's Stone right up to The Order of the Phoenix).

Author's Notes: I began this story a while ago, and I want it to be known that I will not be reading JK Rowling's latest novel (The Half Blood Prince) until I have completed this. I really don't want to be distracted by all the wonderful new things she comes up with and lose interest in this story  Please read this as an alternate universe. This is a long one folks, the longest I've ever written in fact, and I really hope you enjoy it!

Author's warnings: This story does take a dark turn in the future, so pleased don't be surprised that it is not a happy novel.

Note: Thank you to Jessica for editing this, without her the grammar would be horrendous 

Note: The first few chapters won't reveal everything that is coming, so try not to loose interest, hopefully it will be an exciting read with drama, friendship, angst, and courage. There is something in here for everyone (except hopeless romantics, sorry), so please enjoy!

Rated: pg13

Wayward Son

Chapter One

Sixth year had started with the usual mad dash onto Hogwarts express, everyone getting in the way as they anxiously tried to help load the various trunks and cages into selected compartments. The Weasley family was no exception as the red-headed mob commandeered a large section of the platform to hurriedly rush through the heart felt good-byes. Harry was crammed right in the thick of the group, being passed on from Molly Weasley to her grinning husband Arthur and on still to the twins (Fred and George) who pet him lightly on the head and crooned as though he was their favourite pet. In the end Ginny, the youngest of the large family, had ended up freeing him from the group and dragging him onto the train as its last warning horn blew. Ron had run off when they'd arrived to meet up with the other prefects with promises to meet up with Harry later, as soon as the new students and the Slytherin prefects were under control.

It had been a relief to get out from under the watchful eyes of the Weasley's, though he loved them as dearly as he would his own mum and dad. Ever since the battle Harry had dragged his friends into, leading to the death of his beloved godfather Sirius Black, Harry had felt their worried gazes upon him almost constantly. He had been blessed, of course, to have such a wonderful and understanding family adopting him as though he were one of their own. It had been their concern, their compassion, and their friendship that had gotten him through the worst of his mourning for Sirius's death. Without them he really didn't know where he would be right now, but he did know that it would have been a dark place indeed.

He missed his godfather terribly, and at night he would still see him falling into the mirror with the luring voices, never to come out again. Voldemort had tricked him, and the loss had been almost too great for him to cope, but in the end he had won. He could talk about his godfather without tearing up embarrassingly now, and remember the few good moments he had with him. His return to Hogwarts was filled with anticipation and not dread. He had sat with Neville, Ginny, and Luna Lovegood (who had traditionally read her magazine upside down the entire trip). The Creevey brothers had tried to squish into the compartment and nab the last two seats but had ended backing out rather hurriedly with their arms raised to ward off an attack from the hissing Crookshanks. The large furry cat had then stretched out luxuriously to take up the remaining two seats, daring anyone to make him move.

As the train had rolled along, fields flashing by, the group had swapped stories about their summers, played combustive dominoes from the reassembling set that Neville had brought, and relaxed. Hermione had swept into their cart, sitting right next to Harry and giving him a tight hug before frowning at the domino chalk covering the compartment. Harry had laughed and handed her some chocolate frogs that he'd saved for his absent friends. It took a moment before he realized that Ron hadn't followed her in and he frowned.

"Where's Ron?"

"I don't know, we split up about half an hour ago and agreed to meet here." Looney Luna had looked up from her reading in interest at the mention of his best friend and Harry wondered if Ron had ever noticed her interest in him. Harry doubted it though, because as much as he loved his best friend, the man was as clueless as Harry when it came to women. Hermione leaned in close to Harry and he responded in kind, knowing that she didn't want to be overheard.

"Does Ron seem a little bit edgy to you? Aside from his normal daft behaviour that is?" He frowned at her concern, and tried to think back over the last few weeks with his friend, but he couldn't think of anything out of place. Surely he would have noticed if something was wrong, seeing as they spent almost all their free time together.

"Only when Fred and George are around, and that's with good reason." The week before they'd put a jinx on his clothes so that they started shrinking half an hour after he put them on. When they'd finally stopped he had been standing in the back yard with a shirt pulled up tight to his ribs, baring his pale, slightly defined midriff and his shorts so tight that they really left nothing to the imagination. His outraged shuffle back into the house had had everyone in tears despite his anger and scarlet face. Molly had then proceeded to verbally tear the twins apart and it had taken four hours to coax a word out of Ron. He still hadn't forgiven his brothers. After that he had become very adept at avoiding any of their pranks and their older brothers became the new targets. "Why? Does he seem off to you?"

"Not really, just a bit on edge. He keeps looking over his shoulder to make sure he knows who's there. It's not that odd I suppose, after everything we've all been though." She sighed and leaned back just as Ron stepped into their cart and was subsequently showered with an exploding domino.

"Oi!" He waved a hand in front of his face to clear the air and glared at an innocent looking Ginny and Neville. Surprisingly he didn't retaliate and instead turned his glare on Crookshanks, sitting comfortably in his seat. Hermione dragged the large beast onto her lap and Ron sat gratefully, opening a chocolate frog tossed at him. His cheeks were a bit flushed and his ears were tipped red which meant that he'd either recently been embarrassed by something, or he'd been angry.

"Everything all right mate?" Harry asked as he half leaned over Hermione waiting for a response and watching him carefully. Ron shrugged in exasperation and grabbed for another frog.

"There was a bit of a row between some second years about flobber worms, of all the nutty things. I mean seriously, what could there possibly be to fight about over flobber worms? Were we ever that idiotic?"

"No, you were usually more occupied with flying your parents' car into the whomping willow at that age." Hermione stated casually and they laughed. It was good to hear everyone together and see them smiling. Harry had been relieved that Neville was still speaking to him after he'd dragged him into mortal peril the last time they saw each other, and having this group getting along like old times was comforting. However, Harry wasn't sure if Ron was being entirely truthful about only being bothered by the second years.

Five minutes later Draco Malfoy appeared in their doorway, flanked by his usual lackeys Crabb and Goyle. Harry felt the tension shift in the room to tense alertness and he leaned forward, prepared to defend himself either verbally or physically. He noted everyone else do the same, except for Ron, who folded his arms and leaned back in his seat. Harry couldn't see his normally blue eyes, because he was looking at Malfoy. There was a moment of cold silence as Malfoy looked at each person, his eyes meeting Harry's.

"Potter." He sneered and Harry just tilted his head in response waiting for more. Then Draco was looking at Ron, staring in silence a moment before nodding as if to himself. "Let's go." He ordered his surprised followers and then they were gone as quickly as they came, the big guys scrambling to get out of Malfoy's way.

"What was that all about?" Ginny asked and looked at Ron imploringly, because she, along with everyone else, had seen his silent exchange with the Slytherin Prefect.

"He was just making his usual show, stirring up the crowd and all that." Ron shrugged, slouching a bit lower in his seat, long legs stretching right across to kick his sister lightly.

"That was as far from his usual show as we are from the Burrow." She returned and stomped on his outstretched foot.

"Oi, watch it or you'll be waking up with flobber worms for your pillow next week."

"You wouldn't dare!" she exclaimed, her fiery temper rising to the bait as Ron effectively changed the subject. Harry saw Hermione frown and file some questions away for later and Harry did the same thing. There had definitely been something going on between the Slytherin and his best friend, and Harry wanted to know what.

It had been a nice clear sky when they arrived at Hogwarts and Harry looked up fondly at the castle as he trudged along with the rest of the students to the Thestral powered carriages. Hagrid's booming hello over the crowd had been warming, even though he noticed some of the first years cowering in fright. Ron and Hermione jumped into his carriage just as they headed off to the castle, arguing in what was their normal form of communication. Harry grinned at the third years sharing their cart as they watched his friends with slight unease. It was always a show when these two got into each others faces, but by the end of the ride they'd agreed to disagree and all was well once again.

The sorting had been filled with cheers of welcome and the proud grins of siblings as their brothers and sisters joined them or other houses.

"Harry! Hey Harry! My brothers starting up the school paper again!" Colin Creevey waved vigorously at him from aways down the table.

"That's great!" Harry tried to enthuse and laughed as Ron dramatically rolled his eyes.

"Perhaps we could arrange to do an interview sometime! I'm going to be in charge of photography!" Harry grinned and waved again before turning away from the excited boy.

"That's just great." Harry muttered and Ron grinned, waving a chicken bone briefly in his hand as though it were a substitute wand.

"At least this way you'll get decent presentation, those boys worship the ground you walk on."

"The last thing Harry needs is more stories floating around with his name in them. Last year was bad enough." Hermione groaned, as though every word printed about Harry directly affected her, which he supposed it did in a way, seeing as it was her or Ron that ended dealing with his sour mood.

"Ah, no worries. As long as we run cover for him he'll be fine. Maybe you could publish some of your spew splutter in there."

"It's S.P.E.W." She offhandedly corrected, though Harry saw the sudden interest in her eyes. By tomorrow she'd be wondering why she hadn't thought of starting the paper up again sooner, and he rolled his eyes at Ron. The rest of the night went fast, and after eating Harry had quickly tired. Dumbledore had given his warnings about staying out of the forest, and let anyone who was interested know that they could find the rules for the school posted on Filch's door. There would also be Auror's stationed around the school for the children's protection and they were not to be bothered. Without further ado they went to their various dorms and Harry gratefully crawled into his four-poster bed, burrowing under the heavy blankets. Twenty minutes later Ron quietly entered and changed silently, thinking Harry was asleep. He pulled on his maroon pajamas, ignoring or not noticing the fact that the legs were a good twenty centimeters off the floor. He had grown in height over the summer and stood a good five centimeters taller than Harry. His shoulders were broader but his shirt stretched to fit him so the clothes were still good enough for him. Harry smiled fondly at the sight, even though he knew it was a result of the Weasley family's financial state.

"It's good to be back." He stated and grinned wider when Ron jumped and turned to glare at him.

"I thought you were asleep." He said lamely and then rolled his eyes at his answer as he got into his own bed, muttering something about second years diminishing his brain capacity. Harry ignored his response and waited until he was settled before springing his question. He hadn't been able to get Ron alone once since the train and had been itching to interrogate him for the entire night.

"What was that between you and Malfoy on the train?" Ron blinked at him as though he didn't know what Harry was referring to, and answered in kind. Harry frowned, not sure if he should be irritated or worried by his best friend's sudden lack of honesty.

"There was nothing between us; we didn't even speak to each other when he showed up." Ron managed to say this as though it was the most obvious thing in the world and Harry stared at him in disbelief.

"Ron, are we really going to start off this term by lying to each other? After everything?" And Ron's face burned a slight shade of red as he lay back on his pillows, huffing. He and Harry had had many talks over the summer and they had been honest to each other the entire time. Ron had even held Harry when he'd woken up from a few particularly bad nightmares. There wasn't much they couldn't say to each other, but now Ron seemed to be embarrassed about something as he wouldn't meet Harry's eyes.

"No, we're not. Sorry, Harry, I just didn't really think it was all that important."

"I noticed." He urged on and Ron sighed again.

"Malfoy and I had a bit of an exchange before I came to join you lot. We came to an agreement." Harry sat up and looked at his friend imploringly. Ron was making agreements with Malfoy behind his back? Ron seemed to know exactly what Harry was thinking because he sat up to and looked at Harry.

"This is why I didn't tell you, I didn't want you to get upset." He explained.

"I'm not upset." Harry retorted, not quite knowing how he felt. "What kind of agreement did you come to?"

"The kind where Malfoy doesn't pester us anymore." And Harry heard the unspoken explanation in those words. Ron was protecting him from Malfoy's cutting ways, and he didn't want Harry to know because he was afraid Harry would think that Ron felt he was incompetent. All his red-headed friend was trying to do was help him, and it warmed his heart considerably to know that he had such a companion in Ron.

"Thanks." He said and grinned when Ron looked a bit startled at his easy acceptance. "The less I have to deal with him the easier life is. I appreciate your help." He didn't ask what it was that Ron said to get Malfoy to back off, but over the next few weeks Harry discovered that it had worked like a charm, especially when Ron was with him. Malfoy would sneer and growl and look incensed, but he never said or did anything to provoke Harry or Ron. It was one of the most peaceful times at Hogwarts that he could remember.