Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Warner Bros, Bloomsbury. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Once again many thanks to Periculum for her beta work. Without her I'm sure everyone would be out for my head

For those interested, Hopes Refuge will be updated as soon as Periculum gets back to me.

Sorry for the wait!

Chapter Eight.

"Alright there, mate?" Ron asked once Harry had fallen silent for a few minutes.

Harry snorted softly and started to pull away from his best friends. "I don't know if I'll ever be alright again, Ron," he mumbled, reaching for his crutches and trying to stand.

With a flick of her wand, Hermione sent the crutches to stand next to Harry's chair and pulled Harry back down to sit between her and Ron, only to squeak in surprise along with the two boys when the grass under them was transfigured to a giant squishy pillow that allowed the three of them to sit with comfort.

Glancing up, Ron growled at the sight of the Potions Master with his wand out. "I bet he's gonna give us shit for using magic while not in school, even though it wasn't us who did it," he snarled

Harry, on the other hand, nodded gratefully towards his elder. "Actually, he's probably the one that transfigured the pillow," he informed the redhead softly.

"I take it that's part of the reason you wanted to talk to us but couldn't put it in a letter?" Hermione stated, making herself comfortable.

"Yeah, you could say he's the main reason I wanted to talk to you."

"What did he do this time?" Ron grumbled, twisting himself around to face Harry.

Harry gave Ron a serious look. "I need you to be open minded and think about this before you react."

Ron studied Harry for a moment, before nodding his head. "Of course, mate, whatever you need at the moment is yours, as long as you tell us what happened for you to need those things to walk as well," he replied, indicating the crutches.

Harry sighed in relief before glancing at Hermione, "'Mione, I also need to tell you something you are not going to like, but I want you to keep in mind that I had no idea that it happened, or if it has actually happened, alright? It's just a theory at the moment." Seeing Hermione nod her head in response, Harry took a deep breath. "I'm telling you this part first, so that it makes everything else to explain in comfort," here he hesitated for a second before taking another deep breath. "We believe that Dobby bound himself to me, but we haven't actually confirmed that with him yet."

"Well that makes sense, mate," Ron said before Hermione could process that information. "A house-elf's magic and well-being depends on the magic of their owner. It was part of the agreement that was made when they first came into service. Dobby would have needed a new owner within a year after you freed him in order to continue living. And it's really no surprise that he bound himself to you, considering that he went against the wishes of his last family in order to protect you," he stated calmly.

Hermione stared at Ron like he had just grown another head. "How do you know that? Why didn't you tell me? Are you sure that's true? There's no information on it in the library."

Harry leaned back and relaxed as he waited for Ron to answer the questions presented to them; he was actually as surprised as Hermione about this information.

Ron, for his part, just shook his head. "Every child within the Wizarding world knows how the house-elf came to be part of our households. It's one of the tales that parents tell their children. I'll send you the book of tales later. We tried to tell you all this when you first started S.P.E.W, but you wouldn't listen because you couldn't find it in the library, and you were so sure that with your Muggle upbringing you could make the rest of us see that slavery was wrong. The part you didn't want to hear, was that it's not slavery if they are the ones that ask to be bound. I agree with you that things need to be put in place to better protect them from 'bad' masters, but it's still their choice. As for not being able to find it in the library, why would you? It's a SCHOOL library, that kind of information would be found in a personal library or maybe the Great Library, but not here," he pointed out to the witch far more gently than anyone would give him credit for.

Hermione smiled grimly. "I do get carried away and believe that I'm the only one with the answers, don't I?" she finally admitted, throwing a fond look at the redhead.

Harry stared at Ron for a moment before glancing back at Hermione, and started to laugh, hard enough to actually hurt. "Who are you and what have done with my best friends?" he finally managed to gasp out.

Ron smiled sheepishly at the two of them before becoming serious once again. "I think in my case it's called growing up. After what happened at the Ministry, and then finding out that your best friend was in the hospital wing and not being told what it was that happened for two weeks, kinda gave me a lot of time to think." Looking Harry in the eye, he continued. "I don't want to be the person you can't talk to because I lose my temper every time I hear something I don't like. I want you to be able to come to me with anything that happens and be able to hear you out and give ideas on what could be done to fix it or whatever else you may need me for," he informed them, his voice going soft in its sincerity.

Hermione nodded her head in agreement. "What he said, Harry."

Harry didn't know what to say as tears gathered in his eyes. Seeing this, Ron rolled over onto his side and pulled Harry back into a hug, cradling the younger teen to him, while Hermione stretched out across Harry's back, cocooning Harry in warmth and unconditional understanding.

"I think I'm gonna put all of that to the test right now," Harry sighed. Not wanting to move from what he hoped wouldn't be the last time his friends would stay like this with him, Harry instead just squirmed slightly to get comfortable. Using Ron's arm as a pillow, and with Hermione running her fingers through his hair, Harry told them about his treatment at the hands of his aunt and uncle in even greater detail then he had told his father and Remus. He explained his reasoning about not telling them or anyone else about the abuse. He explained how he was removed from that house and by whom, along with the injuries and what was done to treat them. Finally, finally he told his two best friends about the letter he received from his mother. How Severus Snape was one of his fathers, and the decision he made to try and be a son.

A few minutes passed in silence before Ron spoke again. "There's more, isn't there? Might as well get it all done and over with at once so we can deal with it now," he murmured.

"I know the prophecy."

"What's it say, Harry?" Hermione asked softly, sharing a concerned look with Ron.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ...

Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ...

And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ...

And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ...

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."

(OP 37).

"Oh, Harry," Hermione cried, burying her head between his neck and shoulder.

"We'll figure it out, mate," Ron also whispered, silent tears running down his cheek, as he turned and pulled both Harry and Hermione closer in his arms.

Once again, the two of them became Harry's anchor as deep sobs wreaked through his body, sharing in the near silent pain of the youngest of the 'Golden Trio'.

~~oOo~~

A bright blur from the castle caught Ron's attention some time later, and he gently shook Hermione awake, leaving Harry to slumber somewhat peacefully between them. It made Ron wonder, with how deeply asleep Harry was, just how much sleep he had managed to get last night. As the blur materialized as a lynx Patronus, they knew that their peaceful afternoon was coming to an end.

~the three of you need to come in for dinner~ they heard Remus' voice say.

Sighing softly, Hermione stood carefully and summoned Harry's crutches, while Ron gently woke up their friend. "Harry mate, it's time to wake. Remus wants us in to eat."

"Not 'ungry," Harry mumbled, burying his head deeper into Ron's chest.

"Yeah, mate, I gathered that much, doesn't mean the rest of us ain't though," Ron chuckled.

"Besides, Harry, you need to eat in order to have the strength to heal. You should know that by now," Hermione added.

Grumbling a little bit more, Harry finally stretched feline-like, and came to the immediate realization that he was wrapped around a decidedly male body. Snapping his head up to look into Ron's laughing blue eyes, Harry blushed beet red, and mumbled his apologies.

"No worries, mate." Ron whispered, before unwrapping his arms from around Harry and standing. Reaching down, he grabbed hold of Harry's hands and pulled him upright, allowing the smaller teen to rest against his side, while he figured his balance out. The transfiguration of the grass ended as soon as all three of them were standing.

Glancing around the area, Harry decided against calling for Dobby, knowing that he would more than likely be heading back out to that spot after they were done eating, and if not he could ask the little elf to clean it up later. Starting the slow process back up to the castle, Harry stopped suddenly and cast a cushioning charm on the crutches themselves. "Ah, much better," he sighed.

"Did Madam Pomfrey say how long you would need to use those for?" Hermione asked.

Harry groaned softly before answering. "She said I would have to use them until the muscle tone in my legs returned. The nice part is, as my reliance of them reduces, they'll turn into canes and maybe a walking stick, that I'll have to keep on me at all times. She managed to get me a set that shrunk down to fit on a sheath."

"That sucks, mate," Ron offered.

"Tell me about it. Madam Pomfrey thinks I might have to use the brace on my left knee for the rest of my life, but she doesn't want to worry me more then I already am."

"Will you be able to play Quidditch again?" Ron asked, looking for a way to lighten the subject hopefully.

"Ron! There are more important things in life than Quidditch, you know."

Ron and Harry both looked at Hermione in horror. "Bite your tongue, Woman!" Harry started, sounding scandalized.

"There is nothing more important in this world than Quidditch," Ron added.

"You have got to get your priorities straight!" they both finished, reminiscent of the times Hermione had used that line on them.

"Boys!" Hermione groaned and threw her hands up in the air, before grinning at them. "Come on, let's go eat. It's obvious that the two of you are not thinking straight due to lack of food."

Laughing, the three of them entered the castle.

~~oOo~~

Harry barely managed to make into the Great Hall when he received a mouth full of red hair, as Ginny came and gave him a careful hug. "Mum's on the war path, just to let you know," she said in greeting, then stepped back to make the way clear for the older woman.

"Great," Harry whimpered.

"Harry, Dear, I am so sorry," Molly cried, wrapping Harry in a large hug.

Feeling someone grab hold of the crutches, Harry gratefully let go so he could wrap his own arms around her. "I'll be alright, Mrs. Weasley," he tried to reassure her.

"That's not the point!" she nearly screeched. "Why didn't you say anything? We would have helped you."

Not sure how to answer that, Harry looked around the room, desperate for a diversion. Thankfully Arthur was well used to his wife, and pulled her away carefully. "Now, now Molly-Wobbles. We've already gone over this. We all know now, and we will do everything we can to help."

"Yes, yes, of course. You must come and stay with us now, Harry. Why, you're already practically one of our own," Molly started.

"Um, I'm sorry, Mrs. Weasley, but I"m staying here at the castle," Harry said, as he accepted his crutches back from Ron.

"Well, yes, of course Madam Pomfrey would want you close. But after you'll need somewhere to stay, and then you can live with us."

"Well um, you see, I ah..." Harry managed to stutter out. Searching for and finding his father, he managed to raise an eyebrow in question, and almost growled when he got a negative answer. The adults hadn't been told you. "We'll see when Madam Pomfrey releases me," he finally managed to finish off lamely, let his father deal with these two.

"Of course, dear." Molly finally said, allowing her husband to lead her back to the table.

"Ah, Harrikins..."

"why do we..."

"get the feeling..."

"You don't want to stay with us?"

Fred and George asked in mock hurt, taking away his crutches (again) and half carrying him over to a table set up away from the adults.

"Oh, hell," Harry grumbled, glaring at both Snape and Remus, who both were trying their best not to laugh at his predicament. "Maybe because I don't want to put up with the two of you on a regular basis?" he offered up in answer.

Fred and George looked at each other over top of Harry's head. "Nah! It's gotta be something else, cuz you know we'll be around to bug you anyway. After all, you are our silent partner," they said together.

"Oh, you have got to be kidding us!" Ginny exclaimed. "Mum is livid over the two of them quitting school, and starting up their business. She's been trying to figure out how they got the money all year."

"You didn't tell us that, mate," Ron added, amazed.

"Oh, Harry!" Hermione said, in between laughter and despair.

"I uh, gave them the winnings from the Tri-Wizard Tournament," Harry answered, rubbing the back of his neck.

"So beware, brother Potter. We have mum on our side," the twins stated.

Grinning evilly, Harry looked up at the adult table before glancing at each twin in turn. "Oh, you may have your mum, but you see, I have the last two of the true Marauders I can turn you over to."

"Two?" "But Harry..." Ron and Hermione both said.

"You know who the Marauders are?" the twins.

"Huh?" Ginny.

"Prongs, Moony, Padfoot, and Wormtail created a map when they were students here and used it to create mayhem. After they left school, Shadow the fifth Marauder joined the group," Harry explained to Ginny. "The original four could apparently give the twins here a run for their money."

"Ooh, I would love to see that happen. Do you know who they are?"

"Of course," Harry said, sharing a grin with Ron and Hermione. "Prongs was a Stag, Padfoot was a Grim-like dog, Moony is a werewolf, and Wormtail, the bloody traitor is a rat. I'm not sure what Shadow's Animagus form is," Harry added thoughtfully. "I'll have to ask him later tonight."

Glancing a few times between the grinning trio and the adult table, the twins preceded to put together the clues, before the paled. "Harry, mate, we are so sorry. Marauders' honour, we will never use Mum against you again," they pleaded.

Harry continued to pick at his dinner, ignoring the disapproving looks from both Hermione and his father he received for his not so great intake of food, before he finally relented and let the twins off the hook. "Oh, fine. But let this be your only warning."

The six of them spent the rest of dinner catching up with what everyone else had been up to so far that summer, leaving the heavier topics alone until after they were finished eating. Finally, after dessert, Ginny gave Harry a concerned look. "Why don't you really want to stay with us now?" she asked.

Harry hunched over into himself, sure Ron and Hermione had stuck with him, but he wasn't sure about anyone else.

"It's alright, Harry," Hermione said softly.

Sighing, Harry focused on the table. "I found out yesterday that Snape is my secondary father," he said softly.

"Excuse me, I don't think I heard that right. Did you just say that Snape is your Father?" Ginny asked, her voice gaining volume at the end.

"WHAT!" Mrs. Weasley screeched, having heard her daughter loud and clear.

Harry glared halfheartedly at Ginny before dropping his head onto the table. He knew he should have kept his mouth shut.