Disclaimer - I really don't own them I just like to pretend that I do.
Authors notes and WARNINGthis is an MPREG story, and there is an actual birth scene. In order to spare your blushes I have written the story in a way that will allow people to skip the birth scene and still have the story make sense. The chapter with the birth scene is entitle WARNING and if you don't think you can cope with it then don't read it… Harry/Ron pairing, sex is mentioned duh, how else would the boy get pregnant and technically this could be considered a death fic, though an unusual one.
Hatches Matches & Dispatches
On the second day of his exploration of Headquarters, Ron found an impossibly large conservatory, overgrown and totally out of hand. He poked around very cautiously, looking up at the tree that grew in the centre of the conservatory before going back out and fetching Hermione from her explorations in the library. She got that interested look that she usually got in class time, and together they started putting the conservatory to rights. They had to mow it first, as the owner had grown grass - either on purpose or accidentally - instead of the more usual flagstones. The grass was nearly hip high and had started encroaching on some of the lower garden beds. This explained the total lack of garden to the rear of the property - a conservatory would always have dry and clement weather.
Who ever originally had the care of the room had been an avid collector of a number of rare and unusual plants, not something Ron had expected of the now defunct Black family. They quickly discovered that not all the plants were stationary, and that they had to be on their guard when pruning and weeding. Hermione had been surprised to find what looked to her like rose bushes in one raised bed, but the coloured thorns identified the plant to Ron right away.
"These are singing roses, Hermione, they're really rare!" he examined each of the ten plants carefully, seeing where the lack of care had allowed them to lose their carefully pruned shapes, "Watch out for the thorns, ok? They're really sharp, and have a mild poison in them - your fingers go numb for hours."
"They don't seem to be singing," Hermione pointed out and Ron reflected that for a Muggle born she was incredibly knowledgeable, "I've read about these in Herbology, they're supposed to have truly beautiful voices, and when you get more than one colour together they harmonise."
"They need a bit of pruning and care to make them flower - they'll sing then," Ron assured her, "Good thing whoever owned this garden had all the tools and things we'll need to hand care for them. Most plants actually react better to hand care than magical care, and the roses are a case in point."
"I wonder who owned this part of the house?" Hermione mused as she fetched out the shears and Ron steadied the now shivering bush. Singing roses didn't like being pruned, even if they did feel better afterwards.
"Who ever they were, they must have been a potions master," Ron cleared the first branch away and steadied the next, "There are a lot of plants in here that Snape grows at school for his own use, stuff that isn't really decorative."
"Maybe we should let him look at this," Hermione mused and Ron pulled a face. He didn't really want to have his teacher in here, poking around. The conservatory was really warm, smelled good and was full of sunlight. He was hoping that Harry would spend some time in here with them - his friend always came back from the Muggles pale and thin. This place would help cheer him up. Especially in the light of recent events - the return of Voldemort being the least of their worries as Harry was locked away to grieve alone.
They had most of the work done by the time Harry was due to arrive. They'd taken to lying on the grass at night and staring up at the sky, watching the stars come out and listening to the nocturnal plants wake. The two of them would discuss the battle at the Ministry, and the year they'd just had at school. They both agreed that they'd let Harry down by not forcing him to talk to them and hiding from his temper. That would change this year. It was while they were discussing this, that Hermione finally connected the dots and came to a startling conclusion.
"Even Dumbledore expects Harry to defeat Voldemort," she sat almost upright at this, and then sank back to the grass in astonishment, "I never really noticed it until now."
"Yeah, well, he's the Boy Who Lived, Hermione," Ron frowned, "Whatever it was he did to kill V-V-Voldemort off the first time can't have just been luck. The older he gets the more strength he has… I guess they're hoping that he'll be able to finish the job this time."
"Ron! That's a terrible way to talk about Harry! He's a human being you know!" Hermione scolded, rolling over to lie on her front and scowl down at him. Ron couldn't blame her; he was a bit surprised to hear that attitude come from him as well.
"I didn't mean it like that!" he protested, "It just seems logical that Harry would be able to do it again when he's older and stronger."
"No, there's more to it than that," Hermione frowned, "It's almost as if Harry is the only one who could get rid of Voldemort. As if Dumbledore can't."
"Hermione, whatever happened the night his parents were murdered is not something that can be… well tested against. The only way to see if Harry really is immune to the Killing Curse is to cast it on him," Ron pointed out, "They couldn't do that to a baby, and he wouldn't let them do it now."
"Ron, Dumbledore defeated Grindlewald," Hermione frowned, "And then there's the Ministry! The Death Eaters were after Prophecies, specifically the ones to do with Harry and Voldemort. What if the Prophecy is about Harry killing Voldemort - what if Harry's really the only one who can?"
"If that were true then he'd be getting special training," Ron frowned, "And before you say it I know about the Occlumency - and a brilliant waste of time it was too. I mean he'd be getting training in fighting and all sorts of other stuff."
"He has been," Hermione reminded Ron bleakly, "From our first year Harry's been working on special tasks. He killed a Basilisk when he was twelve - you or I couldn't have done that."
"Come off it! Why on earth would Dumbledore let him do Divination as an OWL if Harry is the only one that can kill V-V-Voldemort? Wouldn't he make sure that Harry did Arithmancy or something? Wouldn't he make sure Harry worked harder in class than he did?" Ron protested. Hermione bit her lip.
"I don't think so," she said sadly, "The Headmaster has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Harry. He keeps treating him like a child, and he encouraged others to do it too. Look at the way he lets your mum tell everyone what Harry is allowed to hear - Sirius wanted to tell us the truth, and Dumbledore should have backed him up on that, but he didn't."
Ron thought about it for a moment, his heart sinking when he realised she was right. He planted his face in the grass and swore, cursing the old man for putting Harry into this situation. Hermione tugged on his shoulder to get him to talk to her and he resisted, pounding a fist to the ground in temper. He'd come to realise something in the wake of the Ministry battle and that knowledge, added to this was too much to bear.
"Ron!" her voice finally broke through and he took a ragged breath, sitting up suddenly and twisting away from her. The attack of the brains at the Ministry had forced some rather unwelcome self-knowledge on him, and he'd spent the summer coming to terms with it and how it would affect his relationship with both Hermione and Harry. He knew it wasn't fair to keep this secret from her, and truth be told he had to tell someone or he'd burst. Maybe saying the words out loud would make things better, easier somehow.
"I'm gay," the words were dull in the bright conservatory, "I'm in love with my best friend and the adults around him are using him as a weapon."
Hermione sucked her breath in and then hugged him impulsively. He hadn't been expecting that reaction and hugged her back. He'd known that sometimes the Muggle born were hung up about sex, placing a lot of store in the gender of your partner. Wizards were more concerned about the feelings that their partner attracted than their gender, although a few were also concerned about bloodlines. Hermione broke the hug after a moment and Ron searched her face for any sign of distaste or anger. He couldn't find any and relaxed.
"Ok," she used the bossy take charge tone that he and Harry loved to hate, "This is what we have to do; first of all we have to help Harry get ready to fight Voldemort. No more distractions or silliness. Secondly, you have to tell Harry how you feel. He deserves to know."
"He just lost his godfather, Hermione," Ron felt as if his innards had frozen at the thought of telling Harry his secret. What if Harry didn't love him back, "The last thing he needs is for me to crack on to him, and besides, Harry likes girls."
"You're wrong there, Ron," Hermione scowled, "And it's not fair to Harry to have you feeling like this about him and not tell him. Besides, there's a good chance that he'll feel the same way. He was never really that enthusiastic about Cho, even when he was kissing her, and you can hardly say he was devastated when she broke up with him."
Ron started arguing, knowing in the back of his mind that he was going to lose this argument and tell Harry the truth sooner rather than later. He just hoped that when he did manage to say the words out loud he wouldn't destroy their friendship.
Harry had been shocked to see the wary looks his friends gave him as he entered the kitchen at Grimmauld place. The glances they aimed at him were like a slap in the face, a reminder of how beastly he'd been to them last year. They were probably expecting him to start yelling and sulking at them, but Harry knew better now. If there was one thing that the death of his godfather had taught him, it was that his stubborn arrogance had no place in the upcoming war. He couldn't afford to be proud or wilful, and while Harry knew that it would be hard to deal with his emotions and old patterns of behaviour he'd vowed to Sirius that he'd be a better man than the one he had been. He hoped that Sirius would approve.
The battle at the Ministry had shown him something else. The feelings that he held for his friends were not just simple friendship. Hermione was the sister he'd always wanted, almost a twin to his soul. Ginny was like a sister to him, and always had been by virtue of her relationship to Ron. She was younger though, and always called forth fierce feelings of protection. He wasn't about to start vetting her dates - that was Ron's territory - but he would always be keeping an eye on her welfare. Hermione was his age, though, and he saw her as more robust than Ginny, somehow. She was like the twin he'd never had, a smarter, more serious twin. She was George to his Fred, and if anything ever happened to her he'd be shattered.
Ron was another matter altogether. His relationship with Cho - all five minutes of it - had been based on the attraction of having someone who wanted him for himself. The reason it had failed so badly was that she wanted someone who would act as Cedric had. He didn't need to be Hermione to figure out that Cho had been very confused while she dated him. Ron had been his friend from the very first train ride. The redhead never minded explaining things he took for granted every day, and stuck by him through thick and thin. In the five years they'd known each other they'd only really had one nasty row, and that had been made up very easily once they'd had a bit of time to get over it.
His feelings for Ron didn't stop at friendship. If he loved Hermione as the twin he'd never had, then he loved Ron with a passion that was deep and forever. There would be no life for him without Ron, Voldemort not withstanding. This realisation had not been an easy one, and it had taken him weeks of thought and effort to come to terms with it all, but he'd promised the forever-absent Sirius to be a better man, and the books from the library said that being a better man meant knowing yourself.
He'd forced his Aunt to help him renew his old library card, using the threat that Mad Eye Moody would come visiting if he complained and arguing that he could borrow heaps of books with no cost to them and then stay in his room to read them. He'd received grudging approval from his Aunt and spent as much time in the local library as he could. Knowing that he needed to find a way to grow up without the guidance of his parents or godfather, he read book after book in the 'self help' section, and some of them had done him some good. A simple book on meditation had helped him more than Snape's Occulmency lessons ever had, to the point that he could retreat to his 'safe place' to block the dreams that came from his scar at night, and Harry now meditated for forty minutes every night. There had even been one or two books on sexuality that he'd hidden from his Aunt and had helped him come to terms with the fact that he was apparently gay.
He was not ready to announce that realisation to anyone, and that decision was reinforced now by the looks he got from his best friends. He was determined to put them first in all things, and that meant keeping his temper under tight control. Luckily the meditation and directed thought exercises helped with that, to the point that not even Aunt Marge could get a rise out of him in her short visit. When Hermione hugged him he smiled gratefully and hugged her back, and when Ron made some crack about his lack of height he'd grinned and agreed carelessly, more interested in basking in their presence than asserting his. Mrs Weasley encouraged her son and adopted daughter to show Harry the garden they'd been working on all summer and he trailed along obediently, feeling safe in their presence and grateful that he was.
He followed them down the front passage to a door that he'd never even noticed and straight into the most amazing conservatory that he'd ever seen.
"Harry!" Hermione's voice was a little impatient, and he dragged himself away from the raised bed that had such wonderful scents. Even his aching, upset stomach, which had been bothering him for the last few weeks, had settled under the influence of the place. Hermione caught his elbow and dragged him off to sit under the tree that was growing in the centre of the domed conservatory. Ron was sprawled out as was his wont, and Hermione curled up comfortably, leaving Harry to settle himself and look from one solemn face to another. He had a feeling that they were about to lay the law down, but wanted to apologise to them first. Gryffindor's rushed in where Slytherin's feared to tread, so he took a deep breath and launched into the apology without preamble.
"I want to tell you both that I'm sorry about last year. I'm sorry I was such a rotten friend and flew off the handle at the slightest thing. I'm sorry I didn't listen to your advice and pay attention to your thoughts. I'm sorry I let my foolishness lead you both into danger, and I'm grateful that you followed me. I won't let it happen again."
The words were steady, quiet, and hung on the air at the end. Ron looked gob smacked, and Hermione had blushed a little. He'd made sure to meet their eyes and let them see the sincerity of his words. This was no hollow apology; Harry meant every word of it. He knew that if he continued on the way he had last year he'd not only lose his friends, but lose the fight against Voldemort as well.
Hermione launched herself at him in a hug, knocking him over backwards when she took him by surprise. She was shaking and muttering something into his collar he couldn't hear, smacking his chest with her fist as she did. Harry held her close and let her get it out of her system. She crawled off him eventually and straightened her hair and skirt, sniffling and glaring at the grass with tear bright eyes. Harry sat up cautiously before Ron tackled him back to the ground, hugging him silently and then getting off his chest quickly. Hermione was smirking at the redhead, and Harry looked at him in silent question.
"I thought we were playing 'tackle Harry'," Ron shrugged, and Harry snorted at the unexpected joke. Even Hermione had to smother a giggle, and Ron's familiar grin was a very welcome sight. They took a moment to revel in the joke and when they'd all calmed down again Hermione spoke in a very determined tone.
"Harry, we do have to talk to you about something important." she smoothed her skirt and Harry looked at her expectantly, "We think that Dumbledore hasn't been telling you everything. It's pretty obvious that there's an expectation from him and the Order that you will be the one to face Voldemort at the end."
"That's what the Prophecy said," Harry nodded, interrupting her straight away, "Dumbledore told me just after Sirius died what was in it."
"He knew all along?" Ron scowled and Harry looked at him in surprise, "If he'd told you last year…"
"I wouldn't have killed Sirius and nearly killed you," Harry sighed, "I know."
His best friends stared at him in astonishment before Hermione tackled him in another hug. Harry reflected that he was going to have some impressive bruises at this rate, and hugged her back, realising that she was crying only when she pressed her face to the side of his neck.
"Don't cry Hermione," he said helplessly, "I promise it won't happen again."
"It wasn't your fault!" she wailed, "Harry, you didn't know…"
"Shhh, don't cry," he shushed, rubbing her back. He felt more than saw Ron shifting over to join them, the redhead actually lying down beside him and putting an arm over Hermione, his other hand knotting in the sleeve of Harry's ratty t-shirt. Harry let them hold onto him and waited until they were both calmer and Hermione had slid off him, curling against the shoulder that Ron wasn't occupying.
"It wasn't your fault," Hermione sniffled, "Don't you ever think it was. Sirius had choices too, and he chose to come to the Ministry. I'm sure the others told him not to and… it wasn't your fault."
Harry nodded for her sake, not arguing the point. He knew that she knew he didn't believe her, just as he knew that she would continue to argue with him about this until the issue was completely settled. He was counting on it, actually, because he knew that either Hermione would come around to his way of thinking, which would only protect her in the future, or he would come around to hers.
"So," Hermione cleared her throat and snuggled closer, "We're going to make sure that you're ready for Voldemort. No more distractions, and plenty of practice."
"At what?" Harry asked curiously, and Hermione leaned up on one elbow to glare at him.
"Everything. And you're dropping Divination as well. You need to be learning Arithmancy at the very least," she scolded and Harry nodded again, not wanting to get her riled up once more. Hermione nodded back sharply and collapsed back onto the grass, cuddling close. It was nice to lie in the bright sunshine, warm and safe with his two best friends touching him. He liked having Hermione this close - it meant that she knew how safe she was with him, that he'd never do anything to hurt her if he could help it. It was even better having Ron close by. The redhead wasn't one for cuddles and hugs, and every touch from his friend was to be savoured.
"Ron has something to tell you," the words hung in the air and Harry felt his friend stiffen. Harry gazed up at the tree branches that were spread above him and at the glass beyond them, grunting in a curious tone and waiting patiently for Ron's suddenly tight grip to stop cutting off the circulation in his arm.
"I'm gay," the muffled words were hard to hear, but splashed over Harry like a bucket of cold water.
Hermione could tell the moment she saw Harry that the dark haired teen hadn't had a very good summer with the Dursley's despite the regular letters that protested well being and decency. He had that curious air of caution and expectation that usually marked his time with the Muggles. It was almost as if he was watching to see if the magical folk around him would suddenly turn into the Muggles that hated him. She had a feeling that one of the reasons he always reacted so badly to Snape was because he was determined to have at least one place where people seemed to like him and Snape was ruining that for him. Or maybe it was just that by the time he saw Snape after the summer he'd had enough of bullies and had decided for whatever reason to stand up to a teacher instead of a relative.
The discovery of the conservatory and the plants within it was a double boon to Hermione. Not only did it let her learn a lot of Herbology in a practical way - Herbology was one of those subjects that was hard to learn from books because the more interesting plants required practice as well as knowledge - but it also got them out of the endless round of cleaning. Not that Hermione minded helping Mrs Weasley, and in fact felt it unfair that no one else helped her friends mother more with the chores, it was just that there was so much she wanted to talk to Ron about that couldn't be discussed in front of adults.
The Ministry had been a real eye opener for Hermione. She'd always known that Harry was good at defence, charms and to a lesser degree transfiguration, but she'd never really seen him in full action. In first year he'd gone ahead while she tended to Ron, in second year she was petrified while they found the Chamber and Harry fought the basilisk, in third year Professor Lupin had been there so quickly that Harry hadn't had much time to fight Sirius, and in fourth year no one had seen the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. Fifth year was the first time she'd seen Harry fight, no holds barred, no punches pulled. It had been pretty impressive to say the least.
She knew that the Prophecy had been destroyed at the Ministry, and that it was unlikely that there was another copy lying around. That said, she had a sneaking suspicion that Dumbledore knew what was in it at the very least, as it was not like the elderly Wizard to be ignorant of anything that might affect a student. The only question was had he told Harry what was contained in it, or was her friend as ignorant as last year.
The time spent tending the garden was a pleasant one; despite some of the nasty shocks they had initially cleaning it out and making it safe. Being unable to use magic made tending the plants all the more challenging, and Ron turned out to have a lot of knowledge stored that he had either retained from class or from helping to tend his mothers garden. She and Ron managed to discuss the events that had taken place at the Ministry, and she discovered that Ron was as disappointed as she was that they'd been taken out of the game so quickly, leaving Harry and Neville to face the final challenges on their own. Her realisation that Harry was indeed the most likely person to kill Voldemort and Ron's admission that he was in love with their friend had been a shock, but one that had let her focus her mind on the here and now. She'd begun gathering books from Sirius' library that would help them with the studying they'd need to do now and during school, and with Ron's unenthusiastic help she'd plotted out a course for them to follow.
The talk and activity helped keep her mind off the arguments her parents had made to take her out of Hogwarts. They couldn't understand that she couldn't just turn her back and walk away from all she'd seen and done. Giving up now would weaken Harry, and allow Voldemort to win. In some vague sort of way, she understood that Harry relied upon her; no matter how angry or thick headed he was acting at the time. Harry relied upon them both, for more than knowledge and back up, something that she couldn't quite name, but a part of her deep down recognised. She couldn't explain that to her parents though, and in the end they'd come to an uneasy truce.
When they showed Harry the garden, she'd watched the place reach out to him and draw him in. He drifted from raised bed to bed, touching the edges of the pots with careful fingers, sniffing and even humming once or twice. He had become fascinated by the catnip just as Crookshanks had, a look of such peace on his face that it broke her heart to call him away.
Their talk had been filled with unpleasant surprises, despite the jokes that Ron had slipped in when he could. The very idea that Harry was blaming himself for the death of his godfather was a horrendous one, and to her embarrassment she had cried on his shoulder with frustration. It would take more than simple words to get Harry to believe them when they said it wasn't his fault, and she could only hope that in time they'd manage to ease his burden of guilt.
Then she made Ron tell Harry what he'd said to her. It was funny, in a way it was a relief to know that Ron didn't fancy her that way. They'd argued and bickered too much over the years for her to feel that way about the redhead. It was nice to know that instead of the three of them getting split up by three different boyfriends/girlfriends, that they would only have to deal with Hermione's boyfriend if and when she ever found one. Viktor Krum had been nice, but hadn't understood that the boys were her closest friends and therefore not a threat to him. Viktor always got jealous when she talked about them. Of course she thought for a horrible moment that Harry was not happy to hear that Ron was gay from the way he stiffened beneath their weight. She and Ron were pretty much using him as a mattress and that was no joke considering that Harry was thinner than both of them and barely taller than Hermione.
"Um… that's nice?" Harry sounded confused, and Hermione hoped that Ron wouldn't panic about all this and do something stupid. After all, he hadn't even told Harry why he was announcing this yet. Before anything else could happen Molly Weasley called them to dinner and Ron hurried away. Harry waited until she'd gotten up before getting up too and they spent a moment brushing grass off each other. Hermione could only hope that the boys would be able to talk this out. Harry's response hadn't indicated disgust or approval, and that was something that needed to be determined soon.
Her hopes were dashed when she retired to the library after dinner to give them some time to talk and Harry followed her in. Sometimes she just wanted to tie them down and force Veritaserum down their throats until they talked to each other like proper people instead of stupid boys. Those violent wishes were best kept to herself, however they didn't stop her from launching into a quick tirade the moment Harry sat opposite her. It had to be quick so he'd see the error of his ways and go looking for Ron.
"Harry, I thought you were more open minded than this," she began in her best lecturing voice, well aware of how much they hated hearing that tone, "There's nothing wrong with Ron being gay, and I think its very brave of him to have decided to be so open about it. Wizards don't share the same prejudices that the Muggles have about it, and Ron won't understand if you don't make an effort to talk to him. You barely said two words all through dinner, and couldn't get out of the kitchen fast enough."
"I had to throw up," the words were quiet and steady, "I haven't been able to keep much down lately - I think I caught a bug from the Dursley's."
"Oh," Hermione sat back, shocked that they hadn't noticed him feeling poorly, "Oh Harry, I didn't know."
He gave her a twisted smile, and she could see now how green he looked, and the way he sat with a hand pressed to his stomach, as if to steady the contents. Before she could call for Mrs Weasley or get up and drag Harry off to find her, Harry took a hitching breath and shocked her once more.
"Ron's not the only one who discovered he was gay this summer," Harry winced and swallowed, breathing shallowly for a moment, "I'm gay, Hermione, and I have no idea what to tell him. He's going to think I'm just …"
His breathing hitched again and he was out of the chair in a flash, running for the door with Hermione on his heels. He made it to the downstairs loo, and Hermione called for Mrs Weasley anxiously, listening to the painful retching on the other side with a queasy stomach herself. Ron followed his mother down the hall, and looked at the closed door with concern, obviously guessing who was inside. They had to shout to be heard over Mrs Black, but Hermione explained what Harry had told her.
"He says he thinks he caught it at the Dursley's," Hermione wrung her hands, wondering why she hadn't paid better attention to Harry's health. They'd both tackled him in the conservatory, and used him as a pillow besides. He'd never uttered a word of complaint! Ron looked just as worried, and Mrs Weasley had her wand out, tapping at the door lightly with her other hand.
"Harry dear, can I come in?" she asked softly, and there was a groan between the retching that could have meant yes or no, depending on your interpretation. Mrs Weasley obviously felt that was a yes as she pushed the door open carefully and disappeared inside.
"He sounds bad, Hermione," Ron fretted, and Hermione put an arm around the redhead. Harry would have to tell Ron the truth about himself soon, because she'd never seen her friend so upset. She couldn't break Harry's trust however, and that was frustrating to say the least. Maybe a little hint?
"Ron, I can't tell you what Harry and I were talking about," she bit her lip, "But I know that it will be alright."
Ron glanced at her, confusion written across his face before understanding dawned and he hugged her. She squeaked in shock and he let go, grinning fit to bust before sobering and looking at the door to the loo. It was quiet in there now, and she could read the hope on his face that his mother had made Harry better.
"Ron," the door opened a crack and Mrs Weasley peered out, "Go get Harry some pyjamas will you? Hermione there's a wooden chest with a thyme plant carved on it in the kitchen. Take that up to Harry's room, it's got some potions I want him to take. Then I want you to fire call Madam Pomfrey - the address is Hogwarts Hospital Wing - and have her come here immediately."
"Is he alright?" Hermione asked as Ron headed quickly for the stairs.
"Now, Hermione," was the less than reassuring answer, and Hermione hurried to do the Witches bidding, wondering what on earth was wrong with Harry.
Hermione's words not withstanding, Ron didn't find any ease for his mind that night. He helped his mother get Harry upstairs and into bed, his best friend semi conscious and uncoordinated throughout. He planted himself next to Harry's feet, but Madam Pomfrey kicked him out and sealed the door. He and Hermione waited outside the room, holding hands and fretting. He knew she was fretting by the way she picked at her skirt and shifted about.
"We were lying on top of him Ron," she whispered finally and Ron felt like he'd been slapped. Harry hadn't seemed uncomfortable when they'd used him for a mattress, and hadn't complained about being tackled either.
"He was ok with that, Hermione," Ron reminded her, "He would have let us know if we were hurting him. Whatever this is, it's not something we did."
He believed that implicitly, because no matter what Harry had felt when they pinned him down, pain was not part of it. His friend had been relaxed and had even pulled Ron a little closer. He told Hermione this and she confessed that Harry had done the same with her. Harry had welcomed their contact, and had even sought to maximise it
After an hour or so the door opened and Ron stepped forward eagerly. His mother looked angry, but not at them or at his friend, so he grabbed her sleeve and squeezed gently.
"The Muggles were feeding him some kind of poison," she snapped, "He's going to be alright."
"Why didn't he have symptoms earlier?" Hermione asked and Molly Weasley sighed.
"Apparently it was some sort of rodent killer - the pellets release their load slowly over time. Harry's stomach acid finally broke enough down to irritate his poor stomach and…"
"He threw up everywhere," Ron summed up impatiently, "Can we see him?"
"Go in," Molly sighed, "He'll sleep for the rest of the night, and probably tomorrow as well. You'll be sleeping in your normal bed Ron; we don't think he's at risk any more. I must send a message to the Headmaster, and Madam Pomfrey will make sure you don't disturb him."
Ron nodded and let her walk away, practically dragging Hermione forward to get to his friend. Harry was asleep, a little pale, but not looking too bad, all things considered. Ron sat down on his own bed and drew a knee up, resting his cheek on it. He'd be happy to sit here all night and watch Harry breathe, though there was no way he'd ever admit to it. Harry always seemed so peaceful in his sleep, and Ron loved to watch him. Hermione kissed Harry's cheek and then his, heading off to bed herself.
Madam Pomfrey tucked Harry's blankets in a bit tighter and gave Ron a long look, smiling to herself when she recognised the signs. The redheaded teen had nearly entered Wizard puberty, which was when magical teens discovered their sexual orientation among other things, and she could only hope that when her patient did - if he hadn't already - that Harry's orientation was the same. Best friends usually were, which explained why Hermione was so close to the boys and young Draco Malfoy barely tolerated his two sidekicks. She patted Harry's lax hand kindly and told his friend to watch over him for a moment while she checked with Molly that the Witch had all the potions she would need.
As she hurried down the dingy stairs Madam Pomfrey mused that the coming school term was going to be very interesting indeed. Sixth years always were.
Harry smiled at Ron the moment he opened his eyes, a gesture that had Ron tingling happily all over. His friend had slept through breakfast and lunch as predicted, and Ron had been playing chess against Hermione with a Muggle (and boring) set. She didn't like the way the pieces killed each other off in Wizards chess, and to keep the peace he'd agreed to play with the old wooden set that she'd produced from her trunk.
"How are you feeling mate?" Ron asked lightly and Harry shrugged, clearing his throat and sitting up.
"A lot better than before. I guess your mum's potions got rid of the bug," Harry smiled hopefully, a smile that faltered when Ron scowled. The Muggles were in a world of trouble with the Order, and he was pretty sure that the protection charm that Dumbledore had laid so much store in was broken or worthless now.
"Actually Harry," Hermione proved once again why she was in Gryffindor by taking up the slack, "It wasn't a bug. It seems that the Dursley's were feeding you… well, poisoned food. Professor Moody is actually interrogating them now. Madam Pomfrey managed to clear it out of your system and…"
"You're going to be fine, and we'll sort the Muggles out," Ron finished the sentence for her as Harry's face paled. He might not have liked his relatives, but being forced to confront their actual hatred of him would not be an easy thing for Harry to do. Harry frowned, then scowled at his knees for a moment before shifting in the bed.
"I need to go to the loo," the green eyed teen said in a low voice, "And… can I have something to eat, or has Madam Pomfrey said no?"
"You're on a diet, but you can eat," Ron confirmed, "Do you want me to bring up a tray?"
Harry shook his head and wriggled out of bed, finding his slippers and shuffling out the door. Ron looked at Hermione when it closed and sighed.
"Can you go warn mum Harry's on his way?" he asked and she got up with a nod, walking briskly from the room. He followed, tracking her down the stairs by listening to her quick tread while he loitered in the hall with Harry's dressing gown. His friend looked surprised to see him and Ron wrapped him in the robe without a second thought, even tying it loosely at the waist the way Harry preferred it in the dorm.
"Thanks," Harry sighed, and Ron patted his arm awkwardly, suddenly aware of how much he'd just invaded Harry's space. His friend didn't seem to mind and walked companionably beside Ron, tiptoeing past Mrs Black's portrait, which had been surprisingly quiet yesterday evening, and into the warm kitchen. Mrs Weasley greeted Harry with a hug and a glass of warm milk to 'tide him over' and Ron was pleased that Harry sat next to him at the kitchen table to drink it, sipping carefully and listening to his mum and Hermione chatting as they prepared dinner. His dad would be here tonight, as whatever task he'd been doing for the Order was finished, and Ron had a feeling that a few more Order members would be around as well.
Sure enough, just as they were finishing their afters, which in Harry's case was a spot of plain toast with jam, Dumbledore and Moody arrived, their faces grave, their presence casting an instant pall over the conversation. Moody would not be here if he hadn't got to the bottom of the poisoning, and Ron didn't think Harry was too keen to hear all about it just at present.
Moody obviously didn't give a rat's arse about that though, because he dropped heavily into a chair, swigged from his flask and fixed his magical eye on Harry. Ron shifted closer in response, wanting to protect his friend from whatever nastiness was about to be aired.
"Well Potter, we've gotten to the bottom of it," Moody growled. Ron's mum looked like she wanted to protest, but subsided when his dad gave her a significant look. Ron had to agree - keeping Harry in the dark like last year was recipe for disaster.
"It seems your cousin Dudley felt that you were in his way. The money that was being put into your upkeep was money that could have been spent on him," Moody began and Harry snorted bitterly.
"As if giving me his hand-me-downs and leftovers was a huge payment on his parents part," Harry muttered under his breath and Ron shifted closer again. His shoulder was touching Harry's now, as was his side and thigh and Harry seemed to be leaning into that contact easily.
"It seems that young Mr Dursley got hold of some of his parents accounting information," Dumbledore spoke up, his tone grave, "He came to the conclusion that his parents were spending an equal amount of money on the two of you, money that should be solely his."
"Don't be daft!" Ron burst out, "There is no way…"
"Ron! Don't interrupt!" his mother interrupted and Ron subsided, glowering at his empty desert dish. Harry nudged him in thanks, though, which went some way to appeasing his temper. Anyone with one eye open cold see that the Dursley's spent the bare minimum on Harry's upkeep and well-being.
"The poison dose was being administered in small amounts, but as you were not dead yet, he gave you a final larger dose in your lunch Potter, and disguised the taste by salting your food heavily," Moody completed the explanation and Harry nodded, slumping a little where he sat.
"We felt it best to hand the evidence over to the Muggle authorities, who will deal with it in their own manner," Dumbledore concluded, "Your medical records and the findings of Madam Pomfrey have been sent along as well."
"Harry needs to rest," Ron said in the ensuing silence, and Hermione got up, urging Harry to stand. Ron flashed a grateful smile at her and together they ushered him back to the bedroom, helping him strip off his dressing gown and tucking him in.
"Are you going to tell me a story too?" Harry's hoarse voice sounded amused and Ron laughed lightly. Hermione plunked onto the mattress at his feet and cleared her throat.
"Once upon a time…" she began and Harry chuckled too, settling down to listen.
Harry found Ron in the conservatory after breakfast the next day and sprawled on the grass beside him, obviously content to lie companionably with the redhead. This went a long way to restoring Ron's confidence in their friendship in the wake of his declaration.
"Don't tell Hermione, but I'm supposed to be weeding the borders," Ron said by way of greeting and Harry chuckled lightly, putting a finger to his lips in a shh gesture. They watched a few fluffy clouds scud across the glass and Harry sighed, a contented noise that Ron was glad to hear. The fact that Harry was happier here than with the family that was supposed to have loved and raised him, hit Ron out of the blue, and made him angry all over again.
"I can't tell you how angry I am at those worthless Muggles," Ron blurted, feeling that he had to say something about this whole mess or bust, "I hate the way they've treated you, not just lately but all the time."
"I'm ok," Harry reminded him, and Ron growled under his breath. His friend would be eating bland food for at least another week and taking a potion each morning before breakfast to boot.
"Yeah well they'd better look out for my seventeenth birthday. No one treats my loved ones that way," he muttered darkly and Harry sighed, reaching over to pat his arm.
"You say that so easily," Harry sounded wistful, and Ron frowned.
"Say what?" he was as confused as he sounded and Harry wriggled over to lie on his front, plucking at the grass gently and avoiding Ron's eyes.
"That you love us," Harry blushed, "You love your family and friends, and you say it so easily. Not all the time, and not like you're soft, but still…"
Ron thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. His family had always been clear on their feelings for each other. If they were happy, angry, sad, lonely, brassed off - the emotions were there on the surface to be read and expressed.
"Its because I do," Ron tried to explain, and Harry sighed, smiling at him gently.
"I wish I could," the green eyed teen astonished him, "I've never had someone say 'I love you Harry' and mean it like that… and I've never been able to say it."
"Why not?" Ron asked the easy question first. The fact that his friend hadn't ever had someone tell him they love him was too sad and too lonely to contemplate, and this conversation had already delved deeper than any other they'd had before.
"I guess because I'm not sure that I do," the confusing reply dragged Ron's attention back.
"You're not sure you love us?" Ron spluttered, "Harry, I've seen you… you grieve for the pain of strangers, you laugh with us, you cheer when someone else succeeds. You turned Malfoy's hand in friendship down after talking to me for an hour, you fought a troll for Hermione and you fought a sodding Basilisk for Ginny. How can you say you don't love us?"
"I … when you put it that way," Harry smiled a little and Ron nodded firmly, wriggling so that his head was under Harry's and his best friend was staring down at him. As for the first part of Harry's confession, that was easily taken care of.
"And Harry… I love you," Ron said firmly, and Harry's smile was well worth the risk. Harry rubbed his hair gently, his eyes softening in pleasure.
"I love you, Ron," Harry admitted and Ron grinned. They lay there quietly for a moment, looking at each other before Harry frowned a little. Ron thought it made him look cute - a sentiment best kept to himself.
"How do you know if you're in love?" Harry asked softly. The conversation was taking what Ron would normally have described as a very 'girly' turn, but he didn't mind too much. He had the feeling that something important was happening here, something that he didn't want to screw up no matter what.
"Well, I guess you put them first in all things. You're always glad to see them, even if you've quarrelled. You put up with their bad habits. You know that you can trust them, and that you can take a risk because they won't let you down," Ron listed the ways he thought he was in love, trying not to let on that it was Harry he was talking about. He'd seen his mother and father love this way their whole marriage, and it felt good to be able to share that with Harry. The green eyes above him had widened in surprise and Ron wondered what had suddenly occurred to his best friend.
Before he could ask, Harry had leant down and kissed him softly, warm slightly rough lips brushing tenderly over his. Harry pulled back to see what Ron was thinking and Ron made a noise of protest, reaching up to tug him back.
"I love you," he whispered before lifting his head to meet Harry's lips again. Harry murmured the words back to him when they broke for air, and the world dissolved into warm, clinging kisses.
Harry grinned and stepped onto the Hogsmeade platform. Most kids hated going to school, but not him. School combined things that were forbidden when he went back to the Dursley's - food, fun and magic. He was freer at school with all its rules of conduct and expectations then he'd ever be with the Dursley's, and he appreciated that more now than ever before.
Ron and Hermione stepped down behind him, jostling him on the platform and he poked the redhead before tugging Hermione's robes crooked. He didn't wait for retribution, just hurried to the carriages, ignoring the thestrals in the shafts and climbing aboard.
"I'll get you back later, Harry," Hermione threatened and he cowered behind Neville who was already in the carriage. Neville shoved him away, telling him that he was on Hermione's side and Harry sulked in a corner while Ron jeered. Minutes later they were on their way to the castle, the road following the edge of the lake for the first part of the journey.
The moon was half full, and Harry could easily see the boats floating across the lake with Hagrid in the lead, bobbing on the gentle swell beneath the star-studded sky. There was something peaceful about the scene, and Harry leaned against the door, watching and remembering his own trip across that lake with his new best friend at his side. Already he'd felt invincible because he was with Ron, and he glanced at the young man that had become his lover over the summer holidays.
They hadn't been shy. While there wasn't much privacy to be had at Grimmauld Place, there would be even less at school, and Harry had wanted to know all of his lover - and have Ron know all of him - before they had to start sneaking about and hiding from people. Well, more the teachers than their housemates. Ron was determined that he would hold Harry whenever he wanted, and that Harry would hold him as well. That meant that they be open about their change in status with their peers. Harry had been unable to dissuade the redhead, his concern that the news would get back to the Death Eaters and make him an even bigger target waved aside.
"I won't lie about loving you, Harry, and I'm not ashamed. It's going to take more than some mouldy old Death Eaters to scare me away."
The quote rang in Harry's mind and he shot Ron a grin before looking back out at the boats on the lake. Harry wasn't ashamed either - in fact he'd be gloating forever that Ron had agreed to be his. Hermione and Neville were comparing wands, and Ginny was telling Ron about something she'd learned while travelling that summer with Luna - who was reading in a corner. Altogether it was a very noisy carriage, but it fell silent the moment Harry drew his wand and sent a stunning spell arrowing out over the lake.
"Harry, what?" Ron leapt to his side in time to see something hit the surface of the lake with a huge splash and a rain of hexes fall upon the unprotected boats. Instantly Harry opened the door to the carriage, an action that made the thestrals stop, and ran for the side of the lake.
"Death Eaters!" his yell attracted the attention of the students in the carriages behind who were wondering why they'd stopped so soon after leaving the train station. The former DA members leapt out and ran to his side, joining their efforts to his to provide some surcease from the aerial attack.
"Accio Invisibility Cloak!" Ron shouted, and one shadowy form was revealed. The Death Eater was swooping low over the boats that were even now heading for the shore and their defenders, and came within the first years reach. One of the girls stood up, grabbed the lantern and hook and smashed it solidly into their attacker while her shipmates cowered and sobbed. The DA garnered three more cloaks in that manner, when the redhead went on to target the brief glimpses of feet or heads that had first alerted Harry to the Death Eaters presence.
"Use your wands!" Harry yelled to the children on the lake, and a few of the purebloods yanked theirs free of their robes and shot sparks into the air, while one or two managed an actual tickling spell or gush of water and dye - things that their older siblings had probably done to them once or twice. Hagrid was also standing in his boat, using his own hook and lantern to knock the Death Eaters off their brooms if they flew into his reach.
The squid was also swatting at the flying menace, though its reach was limited, and it had several of the Death Eaters that had fallen into the lake in its grasp. In the bottom of several of the boats were still huddled forms, first years that had been hit with the hexes from the Death Eaters. Harry redoubled his efforts, targeting the ripples in the sky that indicated that someone was flying through the air, and doing his best to shield the children below.
The boats were twenty meters from shore when the Death Eaters cast their final, damning spells. The old rowboats shattered beneath the frightened children and sank, scattering their loads into the water like seeds on the wind. Immediately the overhead barrage ceased, as if they sensed that they could do no worse.
Harry plunged forward immediately, stopping when he was thigh deep and drawing a deep breath at the coldness of the water. There was no way they could fish everyone out with a spell, especially as the squid was busy with its captives and so many of the students were either unconscious or unable to swim. He plunged forward, striking out strongly for the wreckage where the students struggled to keep themselves and their shipmates above water. He'd taught himself to swim for the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and while he wasn't going to be winning any medals he could at least tow a few people ashore.
The water around him became thick with bodies as the other students joined him, and from the bank there were calls of encouragement from those that had remained behind. Harry was glad that there would be someone dry there to take care of the first years when they got them ashore. Harry came to the first knot of struggling students and drew his wand, expanding the nearest bit of wreckage into a floating platform they could grab. He helped boost the unconscious girl that one was clutching onto the platform itself and checked that she was breathing.
"Kick for the shore," he ordered them and headed for the next group. All around him people were conjuring flotation aids for the smaller children to hold onto, and in one or two places they were making the wreckage form rafts like Harry had.
The water around them boiled suddenly and then the head of a mer-person popped up into the air. There were several screams of fright as the mer people grabbed students left right and centre and began towing them to dry land - the victims and their rescuers alike. Harry lunged for a corner of the raft he'd conjured and started kicking, pushing it with its burden to the dry land, relieved when two mer-people joined him and the raft picked up speed. They hit the shallows and the first years scrambled for dry land while Harry turned, patting shoulders in lieu of speaking Mermish, thanking them in English anyway and smiling and bowing before scooping the unconscious girl in his arms and hurrying for the shore.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see carriages heading for the school already, and the squids captives being guarded by some grim faced seventh years. He could hear Hagrid's voice behind him, calling to the shore to get people moving in the carriages, and was relieved that his large friend was all right and apparently able to swim.
"Harry!" Hermione called and he veered to the carriage that she was standing in the door of. She took his light bundle from him and he closed the door, sending the thestral to the castle as quickly as he could. There was a flash and he whirled, wand pointing aggressively, right between Dumbledore's blue eyes. Fawkes trilled and Harry lowered the wand sheepishly, not bothering to apologise as he headed back to the water to help get the last students out and heading for carriages. He was aware that Snape and McGonagall was also there, a discarded drinking goblet showing how they'd avoided the problem with apparating through the school wards. It was chaos, and he needed to concentrate if he was to get everyone out of the water and to the school safely.
The fact that it was not his place to worry about that now the teachers had arrived never occurred to him.
Harry shivered in the Great Hall, sipping the drinking chocolate that Hermione - who had stayed out of the water, and was therefore dry and warm - had shoved into his hands and leaning against the blanket wrapped form of Ron. Hagrid was hunched at the end of the Gryffindor table, several nasty hex marks on his hands and face that he refused to show Madam Pomfrey until the 'children were set righ''. Ginny and Professor Sprout were dabbing some sort of salve on them and Harry was fairly sure he'd seen the Professor add a hefty tot of alcohol from a flask to Hagrid's hot chocolate. The fireplaces in the Great Hall were roaring and house elves darted about with flagons and blankets, their squeaky voices sounding above the dazed murmur of the students.
"Did we get them all out?" Ron's mutter took a moment to sink in, and then Harry shifted closer, dropping his head onto the broad shoulder. Ron's wet head came to rest on his, the weight oddly comforting.
"We did," he reassured his lover, and it was the truth. He wouldn't have left the lake if there were the slightest chance that he'd missed a single student. They had been incredibly lucky because although several of the schools youngest had been hurt, no one was hurt badly or dead, despite the Death Eaters best efforts. Thank Merlin for the mer-people, who had caught the unconscious ones before they drowned and aided everyone to the shore, even the rescuers.
"Harry Potter?" Dobby whispered and Harry reached out to pat a thin shoulder, admiring the Fair Isle pattern on his vest, "Dobby has more drinking chocolate for Harry Potter and his Wheezy."
"Thanks Dobby," Ron mumbled and they both held their mugs out to be refilled. Hermione came back from where she was dealing with several younger members of their House and accepted a cup too.
"Dobby, is it possible to get some sandwiches or something for everyone?" Harry asked quietly, "I know the elves had a feast planned, and you've all been working hard on it but the sandwiches might tide people over. I doubt we'll be feasting tonight anyway."
"There is elves working on it now, sir. Professor McGonagall also said so," Dobby beamed and then hurried away to fill an empty cup.
"I saw Aurors in the foyer," Hermione reported, "I guess they've come for the Death Eaters."
"Good," Ron yawned into Harry's hair, and the green eyed teen smiled to himself. He snuggled closer and let himself drift, monitoring the sounds around him to ensure that no trouble was brewing anywhere. He saw Ginny pat Hagrid on the shoulder and start putting away the clothes and pots of salve while Professor Sprout topped up his mug and then headed for the Hufflepuff table. There was a rustling at the door and a moment later Professor McGonagall's amplified voice washed over them all. Ron sat up and Harry turned with his lover to face their Head of House.
"May I have your attention please? All houses are to report to their dormitories immediately. The house elves will have a supper waiting there for you. The Sorting feast will be held tomorrow morning at breakfast. The Headmaster has asked me to inform you all, that not a single student was lost to the Death Eaters tonight, thanks to your brave defence of each other. The Ministry has your captives in hand and Aurors will be patrolling the area to ensure that none of their wicked band remained behind. The first years are to sleep in Gryffindor tower tonight - would the Gryffindor's please ensure they are taken care of. That is all."
There was a general rustle of movement and Harry stood with Hermione, looking for the small clumps of frightened first years that ranged throughout the hall. The rest of his House stood too, the seventh year prefects going to stand at the door and prevent any first years from wandering off, while the rest of Gryffindor waited for the school to clear out. When there were only soggy blankets and abandoned cups left, Gryffindor moved as one to gather the youngest students, each member of the House ushering along a bewildered child. Harry had one on each side, holding his hands, and Hermione was walking beside another while Ron actually carried his sobbing first year through the school corridors. There were several people missing, who would be spending the night in Madam Pomfrey's care, and Harry supposed they could manage to house them all in the empty beds, although he hoped the tower had expanded itself a little.
Gryffindor moved like a sluggish tide up the stairs, their painted guardian smiling at them in silent approval as the Head Girl gave her the password,
Hermione watched as the little girl she had been trying to coax into her school outer robes ran across the room and hid behind Ron. He had carried her to the tower last night, and she'd sat on his lap while they ate the sandwiches and sipped the mugs of creamy soup the house elves had prepared for them all. Gryffindor had talked quietly, encouraging the youngsters and catching up with each other, taking their roles as hosts seriously. Harry had made a quiet suggestion that they all go to bed straight away, and even the older students had fallen in with the idea meekly. The fact that Harry had used what Hermione and Ron privately called his 'Boy Who Lived' voice had something to do with that. When he was acting that way, his presence and quiet tone of command had you obeying automatically.
Ron hugged the girl and brought her straight back over to Hermione to finish getting dressed. She had asked for him repeatedly from the moment she woke up, and Hermione had had a hard time getting her washed and dressed. With Ron at her side, she completed donning the robes meekly, though she took his hand the moment the robes were properly fastened.
Hermione had been lucky in that Lavender and Parvati had chosen to share a bed last night to let a couple of the first year girls sleep in Parvati's vacated bed. From the looks of things Harry and Ron had also shared last night, not something the couple would have been upset about; they had that contented look that she'd become accustomed to seeing in Grimmauld place of a morning. One of the first year boys was hovering close to Harry, and as Hermione watched the girl he'd ushered up the stairs to Gryffindor came and took his hand, something that freed the boy to do the same thing.
Harry grinned down at the two first years carelessly, and then looked over to Hermione, his amusement plain.
"Sleep well?" he asked her and she nodded smiling back. He looked so happy, a marked change from the teen that had come from the Dursley's this summer. He'd recovered from his cousins attempt to poison him, and Ron had ensured that their friend wasn't… bored. Hermione had even found Harry amenable to studying, something that had surprised her initially. They'd made plans to block out some time to spend in the library to continue his additional learning and Harry hadn't complained at all. Hermione was almost waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Yes thanks, are you two ready for breakfast?" she asked and Ron's stomach answered for him, something that made the trio laugh and got a shy smile from the juniors holding their hands.
On the way down the stairs the Trio reassured the juniors that things weren't always like this at Hogwarts and they were safe here. Blonde little Abigail didn't seem convinced and clung to Ron's hand tightly, hiding behind him almost inside his robes. Curly haired Sarah seemed to accept the reassurance wholeheartedly, but Hermione thought that longhaired Tom was waiting to gather further evidence before making up his own mind. Hermione was sure that Tom would end up in either Ravenclaw or Slytherin, and that Sarah was headed for Hufflepuff, but she just wasn't sure where Abigail would fit in. Perhaps the gentle souled Hufflepuff's would be her best companions, rather than the boisterous Gryffindor's, subtle Slytherin's or studious Ravenclaws'. It would be interesting to see what the hat made of her.
Professor Dumbledore was waiting in the main foyer, the scroll of first year's names in one hand, the other in his pocket. Fawkes was sitting on one shoulder in a rare public appearance, and the Headmaster appeared to be sucking on one of his ever-present lemon drops.
"Good morning Headmaster," Hermione called and watched their trio of first years move closer to the two boys. She was rather glad that the girl she'd ushered upstairs last night had woken cheerful and independent, going to talk to some friends she'd made on the train and walking along sedately with them.
"Good morning, Miss Granger," Dumbledore twinkled and Harry led Sarah and Tom right over to him, "I trust you all slept well?"
"Yes thank you sir," Harry replied, holding a hand out to Fawkes, "Did you?"
"I did, thank you Harry," Dumbledore replied, though Hermione thought he looked a little tired. In the wake of last nights attack the teachers wouldn't have had much time for sleep between reassuring parents, dealing with Aurors and ensuring the students were safe, fed and sleeping easily. Hermione was drawn from her musings when Fawkes trilled and hopped onto Harry's wrist.
The Boy Who Lived smiled, innocently patting the phoenix, unaware of how rare it was for the bird to interact with someone that was not his familiar. It was things like this that made people so frustrated with Harry - the most coveted courtesies and tributes were offered to him, and he never seemed to realise their worth. Perhaps it was because he didn't seek those courtesies, didn't flaunt them over other people, and was most often trying to do his best for someone else that the courtesies were given to him in the first place. Hermione watched as Abigail peered around Ron, drawn by the comfort in Fawkes song, and Harry turned towards her.
"Fawkes is a phoenix," he said in a soft voice, coaxing her further away from her protector, who edged silently towards the doors of the Great Hall, "He is the most amazing and wonderful being I've ever met. He can carry great loads, his tears have healing powers and he is incredibly loyal to his friend. When he dies he bursts into flames and is reborn from the ashes."
Fawkes trilled again softly as Ron slipped into the Great Hall and Abigail petted the phoenix with a fingertip, lightly and with great respect. Tom and Sarah also stroked a fingertip over the bird, who spread his wings and preened, pleased with the attention. Hermione had reached the doors to the Great Hall now, and as she watched Harry coaxed Fawkes to sit on Abigail's forearm. He eased back as the other first years moved cautiously closer to have a look, and joined Hermione in slipping through the doors of the Great Hall, hurrying to sit with Ron, who had saved places for them as usual.
"I wonder what sort of breakfast we'll get?" Ron muttered to Hermione as they sat waiting for the last few students to appear in the Great Hall. The Sorting would be held first, and then Hermione assumed they were going to classes. She and Ron would have to show the first years where to go, and how to interpret the timetables correctly, as things were always a bit mixed on the first day.
"You only ever think of your stomach," Hermione scolded absently, looking up at the battered Sorting Hat sitting on the stool at the front of the Hall. Six years ago she had sat under that hat, as had her friends. Things would have been very different if they had been sorted into other houses, though Hermione liked to think that they would have become friends anyway.
"Not any more," Ron's voice was laden with meaning and Hermione glanced at him startled, before turning her head to look at Harry.
"That means a lot," Harry confessed, his cheeks a bit pink. Ron grinned, but the moment was broken when he was jostled by a third year trying to squeeze in next to a friend. Hermione smiled at Harry, who looked so happy that she almost wished Colin Creevey would take a picture of it. It was very rare to see this mixture of happiness, contentment and pride in Harry's face.
The doors to the Great Hall opened and Dumbledore led in the first years, Fawkes flying ahead to perch on the back of the Headmasters chair at the staff table. The idle conversation in the Great Hall died down, and all eyes turned to the schools newest students. A few still bore traces of the attack, sporting bandages, cuts and scrapes that stood out like beacons to the older students. They held their heads up though, and eddied about at the foot of the steps curiously, all eyes fixed on the hat that sat on the stool.
It stirred finally and Hermione had the feeling that it was looking around at them all. She knew from what Harry had said that the Hat didn't just sing songs with important messages, and right now she got the feeling that they were being judged, that some course of action was being weighed.
"There will be no song this year," the hat said finally, and the Hall gasped in shock as one, "In fact, I am going to say for once very plainly what I have always tried to express in my songs. Last night this school united very briefly to defend itself. That is a good start. However, House rivalries must not be allowed to undo that unity today. Slytherin are our strategists and intelligence gatherers. In the future they could prevent the attacks that are surely coming our way. Ravenclaw are our researchers and scholars. In the future they could find a way to end this war once and for all. Hufflepuff are our loyal supporters and stalwart workers. In the future their efforts will sustain us through the worst of times. Gryffindor are our soldiers and rescuers. In the future their efforts will carry the day for all of us. Do not allow old prejudices to blind you. Do not allow pride to trip you. Do not sink back into the old ways."
Fawkes trilled as the Hat fell silent, looking at them all with his bright eyes. There was dead silence as people tried to fathom the Sorting Hats message. Hermione had never heard of it lecturing the school so straight forwardly, and wondered what would have caused such a departure from its normal singing routine. When it became apparent that the Hat was done, Dumbledore began to read the list of names he held in his hand, sorting the students one by one.
Abigail was sorted into Gryffindor, much to Hermione's surprise. She came scurrying down the steps to sit with her new house, glancing up the table at Ron anxiously. Hermione saw him smile at the blonde in encouragement, and squeezed his hand in approval.
"Leave off, Hermione, I need those to eat," Ron muttered in her ear, loud enough for Harry and those sitting close to hear him. There were a few chuckles and she let go, shuffling back to see who went where and wait for the rest of the day to begin.
Later that week, Tom and Sarah came to sit with Abigail at lunch, and when one of the third years would have objected, Ron shut him up with a poke and a glare.
"They're not hurting anyone, sitting with their friends," he muttered, and the third year subsided, sulking into his potted meat sandwich. A few of the seventh years got up and went to sit with Ravenclaw, putting their heads together over a book which they were probably sharing in a class. Ron forgot all about it when Harry sat beside him, coming late from Potions where he'd had to clean up a failed brew. He'd been paired with Malfoy - as Snape had announced that the class was going to be forbidden to work with their own houses. Ron suspected the Headmaster had something to do with it, and had spent the double session being bossed around by Pansy Parkinson. Malfoy's potion had turned dark green and emitted the smell of rotten eggs when the blonde was adding the last ingredient, something he and Snape tried to blame Harry for.
"Detention?" Ron asked around a mouthful of bread and cheese and Harry nodded with a sigh, picking listlessly at the sandwich Ron plunked onto his plate.
"Tonight. I have to make it again," Harry sighed, "Bloody Malfoy. I had a look at the ingredients on our desk - he grabbed stink weed instead of stink wort."
"It's not like him to make a mistake like that," Hermione frowned from across the table, looking up from the Herbology text she'd propped in front of her, "I wonder what's going on."
Harry shrugged and started eating, much to Ron's pleasure. He didn't like to see his lover go hungry, and Harry's appetite could be picky at best, especially after dear Dudley's doctoring of his dinner. He pushed another sandwich onto Harry's plate while the green eyed teen filled two goblets with pumpkin juice. It was a domestic action that made Ron ridiculously happy. The fact that several people at the table had noticed didn't bother him, he wanted everyone to know that he and Harry were together.
"We've got Defence next with that Auror that Dumbledore hired," Ron checked his timetable and the watch that Harry had bought for his sixteenth birthday, "I wonder what he'll be like?"
"If he says 'wands away' I might very well run screaming from the classroom," Harry retorted, "Although even Lockhart was better than Umbridge."
"That's not saying much," Ron reminded him, and winced when Hermione's elbow impacted his ribs, "Ow! Hermione!"
"Leave off Hermione," Harry put a protective arm around Ron for a moment, his hand soothing the small hurt, "Torturing Ron is my job."
"Oi!" Ron protested, but his friends were too busy laughing to pay real attention. Ron didn't really care, he'd just got his first hug in public from Harry, and was planning on gloating later. From the grin that Harry shot him, his friend knew what he was thinking and approved.
"We're going to be late," Hermione reminded them. The boys grabbed their bags and followed along dutifully, discussing the Potions class they'd just had in low tones. It had been decided during the holidays that they would review each potions class together, going over the ingredients, their properties and uses as they went. Sirius' library had several books that described in greater detail than Snape did what each ingredient did and common interactions and uses. They'd bought it to school with them, determined to best Snape by learning in spite of him. Hermione approved the learning, but not the reasoning behind it. She seemed to think that people should want to learn everything possible about everything else, and couldn't seem to understand why others were different.
The Auror that Dumbledore had hired reminded Ron a bit of Moody, in that he had a wooden leg, and several facial scars. The similarities stopped there, though, much to Ron's relief. They didn't need another paranoid rogue with a hidden agenda teaching them this year. Auror Davenport had bright green hair, wore close fitting clothes and sported a dagger at his hip.
"I wonder what weapons he's got concealed," Harry muttered in Ron's ear as they sat down, and Ron ran his eye over the teacher again, wondering the same thing. The dagger did seem a bit obvious now Harry mentioned it, and although the clothes were close fitting, the careful use of misdirection charms could conceal other lethal weaponry. People settled quickly, watching as Davenport watched them.
"Good afternoon," his voice was so deep it was a rumble, "Wands away please."
Beside him, Harry tensed and then shot him a look, leaving Ron wondering if he'd have to tackle his boyfriend to keep him in the class. People were obeying slowly, murmuring soft speculation to each other as they did, and Ron hoped they weren't facing another Umbridge after all.
When dinner rolled around Ron was still enthusing about Davenport. Hermione was looking a bit impatient, but she had the same expression as she did when they were arguing about Quidditch, so Ron ignored it as he waxed enthusiastic about their defence class.
Davenport had started with a short question and answer period, asking each person in the class three questions apparently at random and ignoring the people who put up their hands while his chosen person tried to come up with an answer. Hermione's hand had been up all the time of course, but Davenport was apparently blind to the Gryffindor girl who was almost bouncing in her seat. Malfoy had muttered something about 'letting Granger leave before she wet herself' and had lost points for the remark. Davenport had been on the other side of the room frowning at Pansy at the time, and Ron had traded impressed looks with Harry, though neither boy dared comment lest they also lose points.
"I mean, he's got ears like a bat!" Neville was nodding, grinning as Ron recalled Malfoy's exact expression. The Slytherin prefect had looked like he'd tried to swallow a lemon whole.
"It's probably a spell, Neville," Harry spoke up from where he was filling his plate with this and that, in his usual eclectic style, "The Aurors would have to know how to hear the criminals they were spying on so they'd know when to catch them. It makes sense that Davenport would use this in his own classroom to keep an eye on us all."
"I hadn't thought of that!" Ron sat back, staring at Harry with an impressed expression on his face. Harry shrugged diffidently and started picking at his food. For someone who looked like regular meals were something of a luxury, Harry sure didn't eat heartily, though he always cleared his plate.
Once the question and answer period had ended, Davenport had led them along the corridors and up the stairs to the room of requirement. He'd challenged them to get from one side of the room to the other without the use of magic, and made the walls transparent so they could all see what was happening inside the room. It was a real obstacle course, with moving obstacles and everything, though there were no animals or plants to challenge them.
Ron had actually been the only pure blood - aside from Harry who'd been raised Muggle - to get to the other side. The moment you pulled your wand you were disqualified, and several of the Slytherin's did just that barely five steps into the room. It was instinct to go for your wand, something that Davenport later explained could actually get you killed, or noticed by the wrong people. Ron was a master at chess, however, and that mastery stood him well now. He used the attempts of the others to spy out the lay of the land and plan ahead as much as he could.
The Muggle born did well of course, used to having to think their way through obstacles, rather than magiking a solution to their problems. Several of them mentioned something about a 'play station' or 'Nintendo', references that didn't make sense to Ron, but made Harry and Hermione laugh. At the end of the lesson, Davenport made a short comment and then sent them on to Transfiguration.
"There's more to defending yourself than waving a wand. Don't forget that magic cannot solve all your problems."
Ron thought that was some of the best advice he'd ever had.
Ron was a little… muted as they sat in front of the fire later that night, and Harry was worried about him, though Hermione commanded his attention pretty thoroughly as they worked on the homework and revision that Hermione demanded they do nightly. They also rehashed the telling off Snape gave Malfoy after yet another one of his and Harry's potions failed, this one going up in spectacular blue flames.
"In the end," Hermione summed up, "It comes down to Malfoy being an arrogant git, and Snape needing to get through to him. You can't afford to brew over strength potions - they can become toxic very quickly and Malfoy could poison himself or someone else in the future. I bet that Snape wasn't getting through to him and decided that this was the shock he would need."
"The question is, how far can we gloat," Ron mumbled from where he was slumped in his chair. Harry thought he looked a bit flushed, though they were sitting close to the fireplace. Even in summer the tower was cool and at night the common room fire was usually lit.
"Not far," Harry sighed, "By making a big deal out of it we risk upsetting the rest of the school by stirring up old rivalries, and we all agreed not to do that."
The Gryffindor's had held a house meeting where it had been decided that they would uphold school unity by letting old rivalries slip in class and free time, except during Quidditch. Harry was not going to break ranks with his House on this issue, and certainly not in the second week of school. Ron nodded glumly, and Hermione sighed.
"Pity," she smiled sadly, "It would have been nice…ooh!"
"Something bite you?" Ron stirred out of his armchair and then slumped back when Hermione shook her head. Harry got up and sat on the arm of Ron's chair, feeling his forehead and slipping an arm around the redhead's shoulders. Ron didn't feel too warm, though he did snuggle into Harry's side quite happily.
"Proper preparation prevents poor performance," Hermione stated proudly, "We can use that phrase when we're around Malfoy."
"And we can look at him," Harry added, well aware of how much of an impact a look could have on a person, "We don't have to actually say anything, we can just know…"
"That would really confuse the tosser," Hermione agreed and Harry fell off the arm of Ron's chair.
"Hermione!" Ron gasped and she smirked at them both, getting up and kissing them goodnight on the cheek, skipping gaily off to bed.
"I can't believe she said that," Ron helped Harry up and he laughed. Harry suspected that Hermione had been waiting a long time to slip a profanity in somewhere. Never where anyone else would hear her, of course, after all she was quite the lady in public. He took Ron's hand and led the way up to the dorm, ignoring the few Gryffindor's still up in favour of tangling his fingers through his boyfriends.
Harry missed cuddling up to Ron at night, though that had been difficult at Headquarters anyway. Any time they spent alone together was spent doing a lot more than cuddling, in fact they'd gotten very good at groping, wrestling, snogging and something else that ended with -ing as well. However it was the brief amount of cuddling that they did that Harry missed the most at night. It always took him a bit longer to go to sleep without it, and he woke a bit earlier in the morning as a result.
This allowed him to sneak over to Ron to say a quick good morning, but when he pulled back the curtains this time his smile melted instantly into a worried frown. Ron was flushed and breathing heavily, but not because of any good reason. Quite a few people had caught a cold as a result of their rescue efforts in the lake, and it looked like Ron had finally succumbed.
Hermione looked up as Harry ushered a cranky looking Ron down the stairs. She'd been looking forward to seeing them this morning, and their reaction to her bit of swearing last night - which she'd waited a long time to do. She hated having Ron swear all the time, but knew he'd been making an effort to stop after her constant reminders. Any anticipation she felt drained away when she got a good look at her friends. The redhead was bundled in his dressing gown and slippers and Harry looked like he'd dressed mainly by guess.
"Ron?" she asked, hurrying to the redhead's side. He was flushed and feverish and Harry was visibly fretting on the other side.
"I think he's got a cold," Harry reported, "I'm taking him to the hospital wing."
"I'd rather sleep," Ron informed Harry, who ignored him and hustled him forward. Hermione opened the portrait for them and then walked on Ron's other side as he shuffled along. Although he was flushed, there didn't seem to be any congestion in his breathing, though he was breathing a little harder than normal. The doors to the hospital wing had never been so welcoming, and Madam Pomfrey headed right for them, putting Ron onto a bed right away while Harry hovered in the background, and Hermione edged in close to hold his hand. It looked as if taking that final step and becoming lovers had pushed Harry into a highly protective state over his friend, and she didn't want him kicked out by an irate Matron with his hovering.
"Wizard puberty," Madam Pomfrey announced after a moment, "Two to three days in bed, Weasley, and a week confined to the tower. I'll inform your teachers, and have the house elves deliver your meals. You can go back to your dormitory."
Hermione blushed, but hurried forward to help Ron off the bed when it became apparent that he was feeling a bit dizzy. Harry hesitated for a moment, then wrapped his arm around Ron's waist, taking the redheads weight and shuffling them back out into the corridor while Ron muttered bad temperedly under his breath about being made to walk all the way down to the hospital wing for nothing when he was perfectly fine, and where did Harry get off ordering him about like Ron was some kind of child or possession.
Hermione got a glimpse of Harry's face, the worry undiminished but now joined by a sizeable amount of hurt, and had the overwhelming urge to stun Ron to shut him up. She bit her lip however, knowing from what Mrs Weasley had said that the first few days were really uncomfortable and understanding that Ron didn't mean to be such a surly pest. She got the portrait open for them again and helped Harry get Ron back upstairs and into bed, watching her best friends face crumble as Ron rolled away from him with an ill tempered grunt and hauled the blankets over his head.
She was really thankful that the dorm was empty when Harry turned to her, a confused expression on his face and asked,
"What's Wizard puberty?"
She hadn't expected to have to deal with that particular question until she had children of her own. Mrs Weasley had pulled her aside only this summer to explain it to her, and she'd already had the Muggle talk from her own mother. It appeared that no one had remembered to talk to Harry about it, though Mr Weasley had been very busy, in and out at all hours, and had most likely forgotten that Harry had basically been raised a Muggle, as she had. Most Wizards forgot that, which made it very difficult for her friend at times.
"Sit down Harry," Hermione sat on his rumpled bed, waiting until he'd joined her.
"Mrs Weasley talked to Ginny and me this summer about it," Hermione kept her eyes on her knees, really embarrassed to be doing this, "Wizards go through a sort of puberty when they turn sixteen. It varies how long it occurs after your birthday, but at the end of it, your body has made a few little changes that allow you to access your magical ability much better. It lasts for three to four days and can be pretty uncomfortable and tiring, which is probably why Madam Pomfrey has given Ron the week off. Sometimes it means that the witch or wizard is more powerful, and it also tends to clue you in as to your desired… um… well… bed partner…"
"So if you didn't already know what you liked you would at the end of the week?" there was real dread in Harry's voice and Hermione looked up in time to see the most pained expression on his face before he got control and hid it all away again. Harry was a real stoic when it came to this sort of thing and Hermione hated that. He was probably thinking Ron was going to decide he didn't…
"Harry, Ron loves you," Hermione shook her head, "He won't take that back."
"But he might not want me any more," Harry whispered, "Because when this puberty is over he might be straight."
"He will," Hermione said firmly, "Don't you dare doubt that! Ron would never have told anyone about his feelings if he wasn't sure."
"Ok," Harry didn't sound convinced, but he got up and smoothed Ron's covers, drawing the curtains on Ron's bed and then tidying his own robes, "Anything else I should know?"
"No," Hermione shook her head, thinking that Mrs Weasley's warnings about increased fertility didn't need to be passed on. It wasn't something that the boys would have to worry about, because they had each other, right?
Hagrid's class worked as a great distraction for them both the second day into Ron's confinement - as it were. Fawkes, who had taken to joining the students in the Great Hall at mealtimes, was sitting on a perch in front of Hagrid's hut. Ron's mood had not improved, and Harry bore the brunt of it, mainly because he was the only one who would go near the cranky teen except for Madam Pomfrey and the house elves, who'd seen it all before. Hermione made a note to be more gracious about the change and in the meantime tried to distract Harry with homework and study. The green-eyed teen would only manage that for so long before he had to go check on Ron, coming back sad and quiet. Hermione heard from Neville that Ron had been pretty mean to Harry once or twice, and took that to mean her friend had been a perfect little snot.
The class gathered around Fawkes perch, who cooed to them all placidly. Hermione thought the Phoenix looked a little… heavier than normal, not that she'd had a lot of time to study the bird that lived in the Headmasters office. Crabbe and Goyle were missing from class today, and when Hagrid called the roll, he didn't seem surprised, which Hermione took to mean the Slytherin's had hit their WP - as the Gryffindor's were calling it - as well.
"This is Fawkes," Hagrid introduced them, "You'll have seen him in the Great Hall at mealtimes since term started. Fawkes is a Phoenix - and as you all should know Phoenixes are very long-lived birds that burn at the end of each life cycle. Can anyone tell me anything else about Phoenix's?"
It was no great surprise to Hermione that Harry also raised his hand, after all he seemed to know Fawkes very well.
"They can carry great loads, their tears have healing powers, and they can travel by fire a bit like apparating. Their song can either terrify their enemy or encourage their supporters," Harry said when Hagrid pointed to him.
"Five points ter Gryffindor," Hagrid beamed, "Excellent. Now normally Fawkes doesn't come down from the Headmasters office. If he goes out at all, he goes to fly. However over the summer, Fawkes mated for the first time. A Phoenix will only produce two eggs in their lives, once at the very beginning and once in the middle, which is one of the reasons their numbers are so low. Fawkes is a male Phoenix, so all his eggs will also be male. The Headmaster and I estimate that Fawkes is about forty five years old, so this is his first egg."
"How will he…" Hermione blurted and then blushed. People sniggered around her, but Harry moved closer, a very reassuring gesture on his part that she appreciated.
"When he burns at the end of this cycle the egg will appear among his ashes," Hagrid told them matter of factly, "Now, normally, that egg would then be taken by Fawkes somewhere safe to hatch, but the Headmaster and I both agree that this won't happen this time. Like all of his kind, Fawkes is a free bird, he stays with the Headmaster because he wants to, and will leave the school whenever he likes. Sometimes a Phoenix that has chosen a Witch or Wizard as a friend will also choose to give their egg to someone living close to their friend for protection. The Phoenix that hatches from that egg will usually stay with the Witch or Wizard that was chosen by its parent."
"And you think that Fawkes is going to do that this time?" Neville gasped and Hagrid nodded solemnly.
"We're letting all the classes talk ter Fawkes and let him decide what to do," Hagrid replied, "So for this lesson you'll all introduce yourselves, and make as many notes as you can. For homework I want two parchments on the Phoenix, their abilities, habits, care and feeding."
"Two parchments!" Malfoy moaned, but Hagrid ignored the blonde.
Hermione and Harry spent the lesson drawing Fawkes and labelling him accurately, hanging back from the crowd of eager students that were introducing themselves to the Headmasters familiar. At the end of the lesson, Hermione took her turn while Harry packed their stuff away. When Harry went to say hello the Phoenix hopped from its perch to his arm and leaned against his chest tiredly.
"Shall I take you back to the Headmasters office?" Harry asked, and Hermione watched in astonishment as the Phoenix trilled assent and snuggled - there was no other word for it - into Harry's arms. She curbed her flash of jealousy, and felt like a heel only seconds later when Harry turned and asked her to come with him. Her friend was always generous with any boon he had received, sharing his good fortune with those around him, and she felt bad for having forgotten that. It was his woes that Harry concealed, and you only knew that something was wrong from his temper.
Ron was feeling better by Friday, good enough to get up and shower and dress. Harry had been leaving his homework assignments and copies of the class notes on Ron's dresser, and while his lover was at class, Ron decided to get stuck into things. The notes that Harry had left were a lot more detailed than normal, and the homework assignments had a series of suggestions for the answers that would make writing them a lot quicker. Ron made a mental note to do the same for Harry when it was his turn, and spent a productive day on his bed, writing diligently so as to have some free time to spend with Harry this coming weekend. He had already asked the house elves to make a special thank you cake for his love, and was planning to do a bit of pampering of the green-eyed teen when he felt a little less washed out.
He heard the portrait open and looked up, surprised that it was lunchtime already. Harry always made a point to check on him for lunch, and usually brought something sweet to try and tempt Ron's admittedly poor and fussy appetite. Thankfully he was feeling much more himself today and would be able to greet Harry with smiles rather than frowns. Sure enough, Harry opened the door cautiously, and smiled hesitantly when he spotted Ron. Ron got a funny feeling, but sat up and smiled back.
"These notes are brilliant, Harry. I'll be able to catch up on the homework with no troubles," he greeted his friend. Harry came properly into the room and put his things on his bed, taking out the morning's notes and adding them to the ones Ron already had.
"How are you feeling?" was that trepidation Ron heard in his friend's voice? He must have been a proper dragon if Harry was this uncertain of him.
"Much better thanks," Ron got off the bed and Harry slid aside out of his way, obviously thinking he was off to the loo or something. Ron didn't let him get far though, crowding Harry to his own bed and sitting on it with him.
"I've been a prat, haven't I?" Ron asked mournfully when Harry sat a little stiffly in his arms, "I'm sorry, luv, you know I'd never do it in my right mind."
"I know," Harry whispered, nodding his head a little, "It's just… Hermione told me that you'd know who your… preferred lover was when this was over… and you were so… its ok, Ron, if you don't want me any more…"
"I want you now, always and forever," Ron hugged Harry even tighter, "I've wanted you since before you were born and until the end of time."
Harry gasped and collapsed into Ron's arms, his shoulders shaking and his breathing unsteady. Ron rocked them on the bed and shushed, whispering words of love into the messy black hair. He wondered why Hermione had told Harry that, and then realised that the Muggle born probably felt that Harry should know everything. What was just knowledge to her was life altering to Harry who'd once confessed that no one had ever told him they loved him like Ron had.
After a while Harry's breathing calmed down, and his shoulders stopped shaking. Ron let him sit up, but wouldn't let go, making Harry squirm to get his hanky out and dry his face. Ron pulled him close once done and Harry snuggled into his arms with a little sigh.
"I love you," Harry promised, and Ron smiled, kissing his temple and squeezing gently.
"I love you," he replied, "I'm sorry I was a beast. Thank you for putting up with me."
His stomach chose that minute to announce that it was empty and Harry peeled himself away reluctantly.
"I need to go," he sighed, and Ron nodded, brushing his hand through the already messy hair.
"You need to eat," he agreed, "And maybe tonight we could have a cuddle? Just hold onto each other for a bit."
"Sounds nice," Harry sighed and heaved himself up, "I'll see you later."
Ron watched him go, cursing himself under his breath for making Harry doubt him. This called for some major apologising and cherishing. He'd also be having a word to Hermione at a later date. Fancy letting Harry walk around with the idea that he was going to be dumped.
By the end of Sunday, Ron was cleared to go back into the Great Hall for dinner, and would be rejoining his classmates on the following Monday. Crabbe and Goyle were also shambling along behind Malfoy, their WP also overcome, a fact that Hermione whispered to him as he headed for the Gryffindor table. There was a group of Hufflepuff's sitting with Abigail, and he waved to the girl as he sat down beside Harry, wrapping his fingers around those of his beloved under the table and offering him a warm smile. Harry's smile was also warm, and Ron squeezed the fingers he held before letting go and serving Harry for dinner.
He'd read a book last year when no one was looking about the Wizards Puberty, and nothing in it had prepared him for the actual event. He'd felt totally unlike himself, and hadn't been able to control any of his responses to the people around him. Both Fred and Charlie had their WP at home, and his mum had warned the rest of them to stay away and let them get on with it, using the vague excuse of 'he's feeling poorly'. Poorly did not begin to cover it.
He knew that the WP could hit at any time once you turned sixteen and that the length of time between your birthday and the WP had nothing to do with how powerful you were, or were likely to become. It had more to do with the maturity of your body and mind - as if your magic knew when you were ready to deal with some extra responsibility, and WP kicked in as a result. Some Witches and Wizards were almost seventeen before their WP kicked in. Once it was over, the Witch or Wizard felt their magic more strongly. It was like a constant awareness of a warm, tingly ball of something that resided in your chest. When you cast you could feel the 'ball' react to your casting, and when Ron tried a spot of duelling for Defence Against the Dark Arts he also felt the 'ball' heat up. It was a little disconcerting, though he became accustomed to it as the weeks of first term passed.
Harry insisted that Ron formally introduce himself to Fawkes after dinner, explaining in a low voice that the Phoenix was looking for a companion for its unborn. Ron made polite noises to the magical bird, but was more interested in the way Fawkes leaned into Harry's touch and trilled in response to Harry's words. He teased his lover that he had an affinity for red coloured creatures, his eyes twinkling as he included himself in the 'creature' category. Professor Dumbledore laughed at him and Harry gave him a sweetly shy grin in response.
Neville and Seamus succumbed to WP on Wednesday, and Harry took over the care of Neville while Dean struggled with Seamus. Ron supported Harry by taking more detailed notes than usual and bringing his lover books, snacks and back rubs. Neville's normally sweet temper deserted him and he had Harry on the hop once or twice to keep up with his more hyperactive symptoms. Dean and Seamus seemed to be having similar problems, though Dean wasn't half as patient as Harry.
Parvati succumbed just as Neville and Seamus started to feel better, and Hermione took over her care after she slapped Lavender and called her a string of names in a volume that could be heard outside the tower. The girls were cool to each other for days after Parvati rejoined the school, but rallied to support Hermione through her WP, which was followed closely by Dean and Lavenders.
Ron overheard Professor's McGonagall and Sprout bemoaning the charged atmosphere that was the sixth years, though Sprout teased McGonagall that her Gryffindor's were 'following tradition and getting through it quickly'. A third of Hufflepuff had gone through the puberty, and roughly the same number of Ravenclaw had as well. Slytherin wasn't even a tenth of the way through, and a bit of cautious eavesdropping showed Ron that the Slytherin's tended to go slowly through this sort of ritual.
One Ravenclaw had to be supervised by Madam Pomfrey for their turn at WP, after their fever soared dangerously high, and Ron fussed over Harry as a result, checking his temperature on a regular schedule. As Ron did it the same way his mother did - with a kiss - Harry wasn't complaining at all. The green-eyed teen was becoming increasingly tense and jumpy, which Ron took as a sign of impending WP.
Sure enough, two days after Harry's 'twitches' started, Ron pulled back the curtain to find his lover flushed and miserable, and very disinclined to get into his dressing gown and trek down to Madam Pomfrey.
Ron learned a lot about Harry during that week. Mainly that someone had taught the most important person in Ron's life that he wasn't worth bothering over. Harry's instinct was to curl into a little ball and suffer in silence. He flinched when touched and it took solid persuasion to get him to lean on Ron for trips to the bathroom - and Ron had a sneaking suspicion that Harry went after Ron left or before he arrived during the day to avoid 'burdening' the redhead. He wouldn't allow Hermione anywhere near him when she came up to visit on the second day, and on the third night Ron woke to find Harry curled up and shivering on top of his covers, holding onto Ron's pyjama sleeve with a desperate grip. Ron pulled the smaller teen into his arms and held him all night long, not at all embarrassed when Neville and Dean found them that way the next morning.
It was something of a relief to find Harry sitting up and looking alert three days later. His lover was working on homework that was abandoned in a flash when Ron appeared in favour of some shy kisses and warm cuddles. Ron indulged them both with a bit of low key snogging on his own bed, and persuaded Harry to come down to the common room to talk to Hermione.
"I love you," Harry sounded a little anxious and Ron grinned. He realised that Harry had been worried that he would realise he was 'straight' during his encounter with WP, and kissed him soundly.
"I love you too," Ron reassured Harry, "There was never any question of that for me. I loved you before, I love you now, I will always love you, and I will never leave you."
"I loved you before, I love you now, I will always love you, and I will never leave you," Harry repeated the vow and they sealed it with a kiss.
Hermione was happy to see Harry, and hugged him carefully, ready to let go if Harry showed any sign of discomfort. He didn't, though he did apologise for not wanting her help. Hermione scoffed at him and the Trio headed for the Great Hall. Fawkes was there, sitting on the top of Dumbledore's chair as was becoming normal. Ron had forgotten that Harry hadn't seen the bird for a week when Harry exclaimed in surprise:
"Yep, Hagrid said it would be any day now," Ron agreed and the Phoenix called to Harry quietly. Harry went immediately, stroking the ragged looking wings and rubbing the birds distended undercarriage gently.
"Poor Fawkes," Harry sighed as he rejoined them, apparently ignorant of the favour that Fawkes had shown him. Hermione gave him an exasperated look, and Harry turned to Ron for guidance.
"Harry, Fawkes hasn't called to anyone since he started getting so close to Burning," Ron said softly, "If I had a galleon, I'd bet that you'll get his egg."
"No," Harry protested, "Ron, Fawkes knows me from second year."
"He knows Ginny and me from that time too, Harry, but he hasn't called for us to come pet him. Not even the Headmaster has been summoned like that, and Dumbledore lives with the bird," Ron smiled, and wrapped an arm around Harry's waist, "Don't worry about it, mate, we'll wait and see, ok?"
"Ok," Harry nodded and leaned into his side. Ron leaned in as well, pressing them close together and breathing in Harry's smell gratefully. For all his confidence, their brush with maturity had worried him. All sense and feeling tended to be thrown out the window during that time, and he knew that Bill and his girlfriend had broken up when Bill went through it at school. Bill had dated other girls, and Ron had worried that Harry would decide that he liked boys in general and not Ron in particular. Harry was everything Ron had ever wanted - and even the knowledge that he was destined to fight Voldemort couldn't change that.
Harry meditated for two extra hours on the weekend in order to regain his mental balance. His meditation allowed him to put aside the discomfort of the WP, and realise that Ron was reaching for him just as he always did. They were not particularly romantic in their relationship - as likely to laugh and try to gross each other out as cuddle and coo sweet nothings. They stood and sat closer together in public but didn't make loverly faces at each other, or spout tender poetry. Hermione's presence was as welcome as always, and on the whole WP hadn't changed their relationship one iota. This realisation allowed Harry to regain his confidence in his feelings for Ron, and when he emerged from his meditation he was his old self.
Ron helped cement this by jumping Harry and dragging him into the passage that led to Honeydukes, where he ravished the black haired teen with Harry's enthusiastic assistance and participation. Harry counted himself lucky to have remembered to cast a privacy bubble around them because his encouragement of Ron's actions was very vocal. Both teens were slightly more randy than they had been before the WP, which meant that Harry never knew when he was going to be dragged into a secluded spot and thoroughly shagged. He didn't mind, because if Ron wasn't dragging him, he was dragging Ron - they were all for equal opportunity dragging, though Harry preferred to be on the receiving end when they shagged, only taking Ron when the redhead really insisted. Ron said that Harry was a bottom, 'and a very lovely one too', a comment which usually started a second round of activity no less pleasing than the first, with Harry the aggressor.
Fawkes failed to appear in the Great Hall for breakfast two days after Harry had rejoined the school. He had been the last Gryffindor in sixth year to undergo the WP, and on the whole, the House was relieved to have it out of the way so quickly. Fawkes' non attendance of breakfast immediately had everyone calculating the number of days before the Phoenix presented his egg to the person he'd chosen. The Ravenclaws sitting at Gryffindor's table held the opinion that it would be in three days time, when Fawkes had grown enough feathers to fly once more. Ron was of the opinion it would be closer to twenty as the Phoenix would wait until the egg was about to hatch before giving it away. Professor Dumbledore didn't appear to notice all the fuss, and Hagrid merely beamed at the students who caught his eye, as he always did.
In class, Professor McGonagall had them working on changing furniture into animals, once again turning her desk into a pig to show the class how it was done. As this was a much larger scale of transfiguration than turning a button into a beetle, several distracted sixth years had considerable difficulty achieving the transformation, and at one point the noise was so incredible that Professor McGonagall had to cast an enormous silencing charm to get the attention of the class. She scolded them thoroughly and things seemed to calm down a bit after that.
Twenty days later, Hedwig came to Harry with the rest of the owls that delivered the morning mail. She sat on his shoulder - the one that wasn't leaning against Ron - and hooted affectionately in his ear, accepting the bacon rinds he offered her happily. As she usually visited him about once a week Harry didn't think twice of it, though several of his housemates were staring. 'You'd think they'd be used to it,' Harry mused as he held his goblet up for Hedwig to drink from.
"If she doesn't have mail for you, why does she come?" Dean asked with the air of a person who had wanted to ask that question for quite some time. Harry grinned at his dorm mate, and rubbed the underbelly of his owl affectionately.
"Hedwig likes to make sure I'm behaving myself," Harry replied cheekily and she nipped at his hair as if she understood what he'd said, "Ow! Leave off, Hedwig! That hurts! I'm sorry, I won't say it again!"
"Gives a whole new meaning to the term hen pecked," Ron mumbled into his goblet of juice and copped an elbow not so accidentally in his side from Harry. Before his boyfriend or his owl could pursue the matter further there was a bright flash of fire above Dumbledore's head, and Fawkes appeared, hovering in mid air.
There was instant silence, as if someone had thrown a switch, though from the number of smug faces Harry could see a few people would be collecting on their bets, Ron included. Fawkes trilled, a triumphant sound, and in his talons he clutched a glowing golden egg. The Phoenixes wings beat hard, lifting him out of his hover to glide forward along the Hall, coming to a graceful midair halt and hovering once more in front of Harry. In shock, he put his hands out to Fawkes, who dropped the egg, just as it burst into flames, the warm ash raining down on Harry's cupped hands. He felt something solid land too, and move against his skin.
Fawkes trilled once more, the only sound in the silent Hall, before disappearing in a puff of his own fire. Hedwig hooted once, leaning forward to look at the ash Harry held, and moments later a head appeared, small and ugly just as Fawkes head was after his initial burning day. Hedwig hooted again and the baby bird turned to look at her and then Harry, making a soft plaintive noise that had him drawing his hands in closer to his chest.
The action broke the thrall, and the Hall, and a regular cacophony took its place. Dumbledore and Hagrid both hurried to Harry's side but it was a very smug Ron who helped him rise and steadied him as they walked out of the Hall.
The Headmaster reminded Harry that his new familiar would need a special perch, and Hagrid suggested it be near his bed, so with Ron's arm bolstering him, Harry carefully trekked up the stairs to Gryffindor's tower. The portrait gossip chain was hard at work, and the Fat Lady's friend Violet was whispering in her ear as they arrived.
"My Lady," Dumbledore said courteously and she simpered at him while Violet gawked, then protested as the portrait swung forward and obscured her view. Ron ushered Harry in and they headed for the boys dormitory immediately. Harry hesitated at the foot of his bed and Ron pulled his wand to conjure a stand for Harry's baby phoenix. The stand was plain, a simple brass pedestal with a sand filled tray to catch the ashes when the phoenix next burned, and a rail to perch on, with a water holder on one end and a feeder on the other. It was similar to the one in the Headmasters office, but Fawkes stand was made of gold.
Ron blushed, but before he could say anything or banish his stand, Harry carefully nestled his double handful into the sand while Hedwig hooted her approval.
"That's grand, Ron," Harry said softly, "Thanks."
Ron flushed with pleasure as Harry settled the baby comfortably, stroking its head with a fingertip and then pulling his hand away carefully. It trilled and he smiled as Ron leaned forward, his head almost on Harry's shoulder, Hedwig on the other. The phoenix looked at Ron very closely, and Harry rubbed his cheek on the surprisingly soft red hair. He wasn't sure if he was imagining it, but the eggling seemed a bit jealous of the contact between Harry and his best friend. He hoped he was wrong, it would be pure murder if the two of them didn't get along, and in an effort to forestall that he decided to make a proper introduction.
"This is Ron," he told the phoenix who trilled in response. Ron reached out carefully, and stroked the birds head softly, a look of unashamed awe on his face. Hagrid reached past them to fill the water container, and the Headmaster pushed some food into Harry's hand. He fed the newly hatched creature and watched as it went to sleep after only a few beakfulls.
"You have class, gentlemen," the Headmaster reminded them softly, "And this young fellow needs to sleep."
"Ok," Ron sighed reluctantly, and straightened away from Harry, who immediately missed his warm presence. Ron made him feel safe, and Harry hated the first few minutes after they had to let go. He'd never told his boyfriend that, and probably never would. It seemed too… weak of him.
"Have yer got a name ready, Harry?" Hagrid asked as they headed back out of the common room. It was a tight fit to get the half giant through the portrait hole, and both Harry and Ron made a conscious effort not to laugh.
"I thought I'd wait a while, until … well, until he had a bit more personality," Harry confessed, and Hagrid nodded his approval. It had been difficult to name Hedwig, and the thought of naming a Phoenix seemed ten times worse. He knew that the name wouldn't change the nature of the bird currently sleeping in the dorms, but couldn't dismiss the foolish feeling that this was somehow important.
"Good idea," the half giant smiled, "I'd better take Hedwig with me, she can't go to class and once we're outside she can head for the owlrey."
"Hedwig?" Harry asked politely and she deigned to step onto Hagrid's wrist, hooting a dignified farewell as the half giant headed for the foyer and outside to his first class of the day.
"In the end, I recited a list of names for Fawkes to choose from. He seemed amused by the irony of his name, though I know many people have wondered why I would call such a Light creature after someone who was branded a traitor. It is not something I have been able to explain either," the Headmaster patted Harry's shoulder and nodded to Ron before he turned to the right, obviously headed for his office. Harry watched him go in silence, at a loss for anything to say. His feelings were very jumbled, and he felt the need to shout, and run around the castle twelve times and snog Ron stupid. The moment they were alone, Harry stole a quick kiss from Ron, and held his hand all the way to potions. They didn't need to speak - and somehow the contact calmed how he felt.
Somehow without the Trio realising it, they'd created their own traditions and behaviours, and the first trip to Hogsmeade before Christmas was a case in point. Ron and Harry would split Hermione's day neatly in half, each teen squiring her around the village and carrying her shopping for her, while the other slunk off alone to do some secretive shopping of his own. This year was no different, and Hermione found Harry waiting for her at the bottom of the girls stairs on the morning of the trip, an empty bag over one shoulder that had an expansion and feather light charm on it to make it easier to carry whatever its owner bought.
"'Morning, Hermione," Harry held out a hand for her empty bag and walked her to the portrait hole, "Sleep well?"
"Yes thanks Harry," Hermione smiled at him fondly, "You?"
"Mmmm," the noise was affirmative, and Harry had a very… satisfied look about him, which meant that he and Ron had probably shared a bed again. The redhead was probably still upstairs, taking his time to get ready, as tradition said that the one sneaking off in the morning went to the village alone, and the one sneaking off in the afternoon came back alone.
"I named the Phoenix this morning," Harry grinned at her, "He's grown all his flight feathers and started hopping about. Hedwig seems to be trying to teach him to fly, but he's too lazy at the moment."
"Did you choose a name off my list?" Hermione asked eagerly. She'd provided Harry with a long list of suitable names and their meanings the day after the egg had hatched. Harry and Ron had read them over together in the common room, heads close over the parchment. Some of the names made them laugh, and others had them shaking their heads, but Hermione was confident that they'd find something there to suit such a noble creature.
"Sorry, Hermione, but I didn't," Harry sighed as they walked down the steps to the Great Hall, "He's gotten into the habit of hopping all over me to wake me up when he's hungry, and we were still in bed this morning; I told him off and he was answering back. I said 'don't get cocky with me, sunshine' and he just glowed. So he's named Sunshine, though Ron immediately shortened it to Sunny and got a nice burst of song."
"Well, if he glowed…" Hermione sighed, thinking it would have been nice to have a name from her list chosen, "And it is appropriate considering his colour."
Sunshine was a golden Phoenix with darker yellow and orange highlights. He obviously favoured his mother, though Fawkes had some gold to his feathers, the other half of Sunshine's genetic heritage obviously favoured the orange-yellow spectrum.
First snow had fallen, and they walked briskly from breakfast to the village, where Harry patiently awaited her decision as to what she wanted to do first. On trips like this, Hermione had absolute power over the day's itinerary, because when the three of them were together they tended to negotiate and trade off. Two bookstores later - and even Harry had made some purchases there - Hermione squared her shoulders and led the way into the local Quidditch shop - really nothing more than a franchise in the back of a clothing store.
"You're a wonderful Witch, Hermione. Someone is going to be very lucky one day," Harry said gently and kissed her cheek before heading to the new line of team strips. It wasn't hard to guess that he was going to buy Ron a Cannons strip, and the thought of the violent orange so close to Ron's red hair made Hermione shudder. Harry grinned sympathetically, and Hermione realised he was thinking exactly the same thing. It must be love for him to buy something so unflattering for his friend, and Hermione gave him a wry grin of her own.
They met Ron in the Three Broomsticks for lunch and discussed their plans for the upcoming Christmas. Hermione was going home to her parents once more, and Ron was planning to stay at Hogwarts with his boyfriend. Said boyfriend had looked a little nauseous at being described in that way, but didn't do more than poke the redhead, who retaliated with a kick to the shins and Hermione had to break it up before they could get even more childish with each other. Harry slipped away afterwards to do his own secretive shopping while Ron squired her around the rest of the town. There was a new store called Bits and Bobs, which sold ornaments, brick-a-brack, and Wizarding appliances. After some discussion they decided to buy a small wireless for Harry as a joint present, and Ron bought his mother a picture frame. Ron treated Hermione to the traditional hot drink at Madam Puddifuts and then carried her bag back to the castle, escorting her gallantly to the bottom of the girls' stairs and handing the bag over with a bow.
"Oh you," Hermione pulled a face and trudged up the stairs to wrap her presents. She was going to leave Harry and Ron's presents in the charge of Dobby this year, and give the elf his own present at the same time. She hoped that most of the House would be leaving the school - this would give Harry and Ron some much desired time alone together.
How do you teach a Phoenix to fly? After careful consideration, Ron and Harry hatched the plan of luring Sunny into the air by putting him on the ground and taking off on their brooms. This was apparently a plan that Hedwig approved of, as Harry's owl not only hooted her agreement when Ron and Harry talked it over, much to Ron's amusement, she was waiting for them when they carried their brooms and Sunny out to the Quidditch pitch.
The cold weather didn't seem to be bothering the young bird, though Harry's breath was steaming in the air, as was Ron's. The redhead wasn't bothered though, he was still gloating over he and Harry having the Tower to themselves this Christmas. Hermione had taken Ginny with her for Christmas, and everyone else in Gryffindor had gone home too. In fact, the school was positively deserted.
They'd celebrated having the run of the common room by getting very frisky in front of the fire, and then wandering naked upstairs for round two. Harry was very tempted to go for round three, but decided that it would be even better after they'd spent some time flying together first. They reached the pitch and Harry carefully shook the Phoenix off his wrist to the ground, hopping back from the now annoyed creature and leaping onto his broom when Sunny made as if to leap onto his foot to escape the frosty ground. Harry hovered to one side, Ron joining him as Sunny flapped about and made generally annoyed noises. Hedwig hooted from above them, gliding in tight circles around their position and Sunny screeched.
"Come on Sunshine!" Harry called, drifting higher, "Its wonderful up here! Come on!"
"Come on Sunny!" Ron called, and began mimicking Hedwig's circles, "Come and join us you lazy lump!"
Sunny squealed and launched himself, arrowing towards Ron in retaliation, not realising that he was actually flying. Ron ducked and swerved, flying higher to escape and calling over his shoulder as Harry followed his lover and his irate Phoenix, smiling broadly as Hedwig matched the golden birds flight path easily, her white feathers standing out clearly against the dark grey sky.
Sunny let out an astonished squawk, a most undignified noise and almost stopped flapping his wings. Harry held his breath until the young bird righted itself, and then cheered when Sunny dipped and whirled in the air in sheer joy, jubilant song bursting from the slender body. Ron's cheer joined his and together the four of them spent the next hour whirling around the Quidditch pitch, calling back and forth.
After an hour Harry led the way to the Gryffindor tower and magicked their window open, urging the tired Phoenix inside for a rest. Hedwig followed, and he brought his broom up beside Ron, a wicked idea occurring to him.
"Hover a moment," he called to the redhead, and a moment later he was perched on the back of Ron's broom, a flick of his wrist sending the Firebolt inside. He snuggled tightly into Ron's back and wrapped his legs over the redheads. Ron was warm and smelt great, and the redhead leaned back into his arms readily, balancing the broom easily.
"This is nice," Ron twisted his head to look back at Harry and the dark haired teen grinned, inching closer and sending one hand down to rub and stroke a part of Ron that rapidly stood up and took notice. Ron nearly sent the broom into a dive and Harry had to adjust his weight sharply to get them back in balance.
"Oh Merlin, Harry," Ron whimpered, arching his hips into the pressure and struggling to keep the broom in a hover while Harry increased his ministrations. Harry leaned forward and whispered in his ear, a perfectly depraved suggestion that he'd been saving for just the right moment and Ron howled, a sticky wet patch spreading, the broom bucking almost out of control. Harry had to once again take over, and in the end simply steered the broom in through their open window, sealing it behind them with a wave of his wand and landing on Ron's bed. The redhead turned and pounced on him and Harry gave way eagerly, letting Ron have whatever he wanted in a delicious bout of retaliation.
Nausea was not fun. Watching one best friend spend thirty minutes with his head down the loo while your other best friend fretted his red hair off was not fun either. Hermione was glad they knew this wasn't a relapse from summer because Harry hadn't been near anyone who would try to poison him; as far as Hermione knew Dudley Dursley had gone to juvenile gaol for his attempt on Harry's life. The charm at the Dursley's was irrevocably broken and they could only hope that Dumbledore knew of somewhere safe for Harry to stay this summer, preferably where Ron could stay with him.
She conjured a cloth and handed it to Ron, who flushed the loo and wiped Harry's hot face, while Hermione conjured up a glass of water as well. Harry rinsed and spat, then sipped gingerly.
"It's been a week, Harry," Hermione sighed, "You need to see Madam Pomfrey. Please, for Ron if not for yourself, he's worried sick."
Harry looked up at her and then at his lover. For some reason he didn't want to visit the Matron and they'd been nagging him ever since he started getting ill after breakfast. All three of them had been almost late to the first class of the morning all week as Hermione wasn't about to let Ron deal with this by himself.
"Ok," Harry sighed and Ron kissed his temple tenderly before hooking his hands under Harry's arm and pulled him up carefully. Hermione was ready to steady Harry when he staggered, aware that dizzy spells often came with the nausea, and between the two of them they shuffled Harry off to the hospital wing.
Madam Pomfrey greeted them with her usual clucks of annoyance, and Harry was bustled over to a bed, forced to lay flat and endure a multitude of scanning spells. Hermione could remember the start of term one, when Ron had been in that bed while Harry fretted over him, and took her friends hand, squeezing in reassurance. Ron shot her a pathetic look and Hermione offered him a smile as well.
"Right Weasley, Granger, off to class with the both of you. Come back after dinner," Madam Pomfrey announced and shooed them out the door, separating Harry's bag from the ones Ron was carrying. They protested and dragged their feet, but she had them out of her hospital and the door closed firmly in their faces before they could rally.
Hermione led the way silently to class, grateful that they had Hagrid first on Fridays. The half-giant wouldn't dock points for them being late. Nor would he dock points for distraction, which was a good thing because Ron was absolutely useless in class, something that continued for the rest of the day. He rushed to the hospital wing at lunchtime and came back chastened after Madam Pomfrey sent him away with a flea in his ear. In Transfiguration he miscast his spell so badly that Professor McGonagall assigned him three extra lengths of parchment for homework.
Hermione had to practically drag him to the Great Hall for dinner and Ginny, who was obviously reading Ron's body language, sat on his other side and helped Hermione nag him to eat. Their house mates watched this in fascination, as did several of their table guests, and by the time pudding rolled around there was a rumour floating that Harry was at deaths door. The moment she'd finished her serving of ice cream, Ron had a hand under Hermione's elbow and was dragging her for the door, his desire to see Harry making him thankfully deaf to the rumours that were being whispered around them.
Harry's bed had screens around it, and when they ducked behind them they found their friend asleep, lying on his side.
"He's been crying!" Ron whispered and climbed up on the bed, wrapping himself around Harry from behind. The dark haired teen's face did bear traces of tears, though his sleep was peaceful. He murmured as Ron jostled him and wrapped the redhead's fingers in his possessively. Hermione sighed and then jumped as Madam Pomfrey rustled into view, clucking her tongue at Ron but making no move to shoo him away, much to Hermione's surprise.
"How is he, Madam Pomfrey?" Ron asked anxiously, and the school Matron folded her hands at her waist and harrumphed at them.
"He's pregnant Mr Weasley, which I am reliably informed is partially your doing," she said flatly, and Hermione gasped and blushed, while Ron spluttered and paled, hauling Harry closer possessively.
"But how… Harry's a boy!" Hermione exclaimed and Madam Pomfrey raised her eyebrows at her. She blushed even redder, feeling as if her whole face was glowing and her ears burning. Ron had his face buried in Harry's hair, obviously not paying attention to anyone else while he came to terms with this latest bit of news. Hermione was well aware that Ron and Harry had an active and apparently varied sex life even at school, but the idea that one of them could get pregnant was a little too much.
"There are two ways for a Wizard to get pregnant," the lecturing tone was familiar and Hermione suddenly understood why the boys hated it so much when she directed it at them, "They can use a combination of potions and rituals to deliberately create life, or they can love each other so greatly that their magic aids their love. Love is a force more powerful than any other and any spell cast with love, even a spell cast unconsciously is capable of transcending any law of nature."
"I'm carrying Ron Weasley's love child," Harry spoke up and opened his eyes and Ron laughed a little, the sound muffled by Harry's hair. Madam Pomfrey even chuckled, though the look in her eyes said that wasn't far from the truth.
"You're awake!" Hermione exclaimed and Harry nodded. Her head was spinning, and she had an overwhelming desire to get to the library and read every book she could find on this new subject. That would have to wait until she was sure that her boys were ok, though.
"I woke when Ron climbed in with me," he confirmed and there was a moment of silence before Ron hauled himself up onto an elbow and leaned over Harry.
"Thank you luv," he whispered and kissed Harry's cheek. Tears ran down Harry's face once more, but Hermione understood that they were happy tears. She stepped forward, her own eyes prickling and bent to kiss Harry's cheek as well, followed by a kiss for Ron.
"When are you due?" Ron asked, and Harry grinned. Hermione had the feeling that he was about to tease the redhead, a welcome sign that Harry's spirit hadn't disappeared in the light of this life altering news.
"Middle of July," was the quiet response, "Valentines Day."
Ron groaned and hid in Harry's neck his shoulders shaking with muffled laughter. Hermione watched for a moment before her mind did the math.
"Wait a moment, that's only six months!" she blurted and clapped a hand over her mouth, embarrassed that she'd been so… forward.
"Wizards carry for sixth months, Miss Granger," Madam Pomfrey sounded amused, "But don't envy them the reduced time period. They experience nausea for the first three months of the pregnancy and dizzy spells and fainting fits for the entire sixth months. We're lucky Mr Potter here hasn't come over funny on the stairs."
"You can't do exams if you're fainting," Hermione fretted as someone called for the Matron, who bustled off, "Maybe you can wait until afterwards, you know, and make them up in summer, Harry."
"It's more than that Hermione," Harry sighed, "I'm not supposed to do magic after the fourth month, it's too risky. My control will be shaky at best, and I'll need my strength for other things. Besides, if I stay in school and got hit with the wrong spell…"
"What are you going to do?" Hermione sat on the edge of the bed, "I mean, Ron and I will send you the work of course and I'm sure the Professors will let you do make up tests, but…"
"Hermione mid July is halfway through the hols. He's not going to want to be taking tests right after the baby comes anyway, and next year we sit for our NEWTS," Ron interrupted, "I've got a better idea."
"What?" Harry turned to look at the redhead, who had Hermione's attention as well. Ron was using his 'chess voice', the one that meant he'd been plotting and planning while they spoke.
"We'll both take next year off," Ron said simply, "I'll be there to help out while you're making up sixth year, and by the time Ginny starts her NEWTs we'll be ready as well. The baby will be old enough to leave during the day and Hermione will have graduated so she can baby sit!"
The last was said with a cheeky tone, and Hermione swatted at Ron lightly. They still had to settle where Harry was staying and if Harry and Ron could even defer their NEWTs, but Harry's shy laugh and Ron's proud grin made her want to simply enjoy this for a moment longer.
Harry had refused to go to the Burrow - not wanting to put Molly at risk, and the Dursley's had of course been out of the question. It turned out that he had insisted on talking to Professor Dumbledore before he spoke to Ron, and the Headmaster had come to the same conclusions that the Gryffindor prefect had. He had taken himself off to Grimmauld place, and done battle with the wards, casting an expulsa rite that had banished the Dark from the house forever. The wards would attune themselves to Harry over the course of the next three weeks, and because Harry and Dumbledore were both Wizards of the Light the house itself underwent a few minor changes.
All the Dark creatures and pests infesting the house had been banished, as had a majority of the portraits - including Mrs Black. The Headmaster had been seriously drained by the spell, but had reported that the house was now fit for Harry to live in before Madam Pomfrey hustled him off. Harry had gone back to sleep and the plan was to move him to Grimmauld place after his bout of nausea on Sunday morning. Ron and Hermione had packed up their friend's belongings and Ron had been forced to say goodbye to his lover, promising to come to the house for the Easter break.
Hedwig and Sunshine had of course travelled with Harry. The Phoenix travelled to Hogwarts a few times a week, sometimes with a letter for Ron, sometimes apparently on his own recognisance, visiting the redhead and sitting on his lap while Ron stroked his back lightly. It had been oddly comforting, almost as good as sitting with his lover in comfortable silence.
To get to Grimmauld place that Easter, Ron had to run through an illegal Floo connection that the Headmaster set up in his office. Had Ron been thinking clearly he would have realised what a huge risk the man was taking to reunite two teens. It was a mark of the depth of feeling that Dumbledore had for Harry that the old man would take such a step to make the green eyed teen happy. Ron couldn't travel through a normal Floo connection because they didn't want to take the risk that he would be traced.
His mother was waiting in the kitchen with another woman that was introduced to Ron as Harry's midwife. Ron was taking birth classes from Madam Pomfrey, who didn't believe in euphemisms. He probably knew more about Harry's insides than he'd ever wanted to know, but Ron took those classes seriously. When the time came he was going to do more than hold Harry's hand, he was going to ease his partner's burden as much as he could. The Midwife's name was Alice Trent, and Ron warmed to her immediately. She was a cousin of Professor McGonagall, and had been approached by the Head of Gryffindor personally. From what Harry said in his letters, Ron's lover felt comfortable with her and that was what mattered the most in the long run.
Harry was apparently in his bedroom, and Ron wandered out into the corridor immediately. The changes to the house were instantly apparent in the plain, light coloured walls, bare wooden floors and simple furniture. Mrs Black's curtains and portrait were gone, and a spindle legged sideboard rested in their place, with the portrait of the former headmaster handing above it. He would act as a method of communication between the school and Harry's house, a precaution that was necessary but not one that was welcome. Ron didn't like the idea that Harry was being watched even here, no matter that it was for the best of reasons. The drawing room had a simple rug, plain bare walls and was flooded with spring sunshine. Even the scent of the house had changed to something fresh and pleasant.
Ron turned to the left automatically at the top of the stairs and smiled when he noted the plaque on the door of their old room. The word 'nursery' was surrounded by ivy, but the door was locked so he couldn't see inside yet. In one of their letter exchanges, Ron had reluctantly given in to Harry's request that the green eyed teen be allowed to prepare the nursery and a make the final choice of a name from a list of names for their unborn. Ron hadn't wanted Harry to deal with all of that alone, but Harry had felt he needed something to occupy his mind while preparing for the babies arrival and this was evidently it. Ron wasn't going to begrudge him the make work, especially as he was already feeling guilty that Harry was stuck here while he was at school.
Their bedroom - and Ron had no doubt that it was theirs despite the fact that Harry slept alone at the moment - was beside the nursery and Ron slipped in quickly. Once more the room was large, and an enormous four-poster bed was pushed against one wall with heavy curtains hanging about it. The window was uncurtained, as was the custom in Wizard homes, and allowed late afternoon sun to stream across the blue rugs on the floor and making the rose wood dresser and cupboards glow a little. Harry was stowing something in a drawer and Ron moved quickly to put his arms around him, embracing him from behind.
"Hello luv," Ron kissed the nearest ear and Harry leaned back into his arms, "I've missed you."
"I miss you too," Harry sighed and Ron cuddled him for a long moment. The body he was pressed against had changed. Harry was thick around the middle and Ron was curious. He slid a hand down Harry's body, noticing the way his lover tensed, and found that Harry had quite a belly on him. He rubbed a hand over it very gently, keeping a slow steady motion until Harry relaxed in his arms, tipping his head back to rest on Ron's shoulder.
"Let me look at you," Ron kissed Harry's ear again and gave a little nudge to set Harry back on his own feet, stepping back and turning his lover cautiously. Harry had the same profile that any other pregnant person had when they were halfway through their pregnancy, though to Ron he seemed a little bigger than normal. That didn't change the fact that he was still Harry, the person Ron had fallen in love with, which was all that mattered in the end.
"Fat," Harry interrupted.
"Beautiful," Ron glared, "Don't call yourself names. That's my child you're insulting."
"I know full well whose children I'm insulting thanks," Harry muttered, "They kick like football stars."
Ron spluttered in shock, thinking he'd misunderstood what Harry was implying. It didn't help that he'd never seen a game of football and didn't quite understand the metaphor, despite Dean's posters in their dorm.
"Children?" he asked and Harry grinned, shooting him a distinctly flirty look.
"As I recall we had a couple of really good goes at it on Valentines Day, surely you remember," his hands rubbed over his belly, stroking swollen flesh, "Do you remember Ron?"
"Yeah, I do," Ron replied, and gathered Harry in for a hug and tender kisses, his own hand joining his lovers. He remembered Valentines Day with perfect clarity, as evidenced by the stirring in his pants. Now was not the time for that though.
"I miss you," Harry mumbled into his neck, "Your mother is wonderful, but she's not you. It's… lonely here without you."
"I'm sorry," Ron whispered, "I'll drop out of sixth year too. We'll catch up together."
"No," Harry straightened, "You need to be available for the children while I'm learning. I'll survive another three months."
"If you're sure," Ron led the way to the bed and Harry nodded. Ron watched his lover climb onto the bed carefully and settle on his side. Because Wizards weren't designed by nature to have babies they had to be careful not to lie on their backs during pregnancy, because the weight of their child could crush their spinal cord. Once Harry was settled Ron moved so they were lying face to face, and they lay in silence for a while, sharing warmth and companionship.
Harry's eyes were drifting closed when he grunted and shifted on the bed. Before the redhead could panic, his lover caught Ron's hand and guided it to his belly: a moment later Ron felt a distinct movement there. His eyes widened and he leaned in to kiss Harry even as he rubbed the spot. He knew better than to bring up quitting school again; they'd argued about it on and off in the letters that Sunny brought him, usually when Ron was at his lowest or when Harry was coping with a new symptom. He didn't want to row at the moment, he wanted to bask in Harry's presence and touch the place his children were resting.