A/N: Surprise! I updated. I came up with a list of excuses and then decided that we all just know that I'm an updating failure. I'm not super happy with this chapter (especially the Harry and Hermione bit), but I'm not sure that I could make it better with time. If anyone has any suggestions please let me know. I might even edit it someday.

"He's fascinated by people's friends, because as a freak he's never had any." Harry could hear the words ringing around him, echoing in his head. He could feel hands on his back, pressing into his shoulders and brushing gently over his scars. He didn't know who was standing behind him; he thought that maybe he should care, but those words wouldn't stop. "As a freak he's never had any."

The hands ran comfortably down his arms and he saw freckles spattered across the backs of them. A Weasley then-not Ron, and definitely not Ginny. He thought that maybe he should care. The hands skimmed over his abdomen and torso, tracing the white lines left by his uncle. Harry breathed in sharply when the hands passed over his nipples. They stopped, rolling the nipples gently between long fingers, and Harry gasped, eyes closing. "As a freak." Lips pressed against his ear and a voice whispered,

"Why does your back say 'freak'?" He knew that voice. "Your back says freak, Harry. Why does your back say freak?"

"Because I am a freak." Shame filled him and he pulled away from the lips.

"How much of a freak are you?" The voice asked. Bill. It was Bill.

"What?"

"How much of a freak are you?"

"It's carved into my back. I'm a freak in the muggle world because I'm a wizard. And I'm a freak in the wizarding world because I'm The Boy Who Won't Die, with a scar to prove it. I'm a freak."

"So, you're a freak enough for this?" One of the hands cradled his face and the lips moved so that they were no longer pressing against his ear, but were instead surrounding his lips. Their mouths moved together and a tongue slipped into Harry's mouth sending sparks. A voice rang around the room.

"Freak."

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Harry's eyes flew open and he found himself staring at a bright orange Chudley Cannons poster that was plastered to Ron's ceiling. He was breathing heavily through his nose and he could feel his cock straining against his pajama pants.

"No!" He breathed out desperately. He pulled a pillow up to cover his face- "no, no, no, no, no." Shame and disgust churned in his stomach and tears pricked at his eyes. He was a freak. How could he do this? The word carved into his back prickled and he shifted uncomfortably. Harry had seen how his aunt and uncle reacted to same sex couples and he knew that there was nothing to it, except that he was sick and wrong.

He threw the covers off of him and stumbled out of the room and down to the bathroom. His cock was still throbbing, no matter how he tried to will it away and as much as he hated himself for it, he knew that he would never go back to sleep until he took care of his problem. He stripped off his pants and wrapped a hand around his member, determined to think of girls and women. But he couldn't control his brain and he saw freckled hands with long fingers and felt long red hairbrush against his cheek. As he reached his climax he thought of his dream, Bill's tongue working it's way into his mouth and he bit down on his lip to stifle a shout. Sluggishly he moved to clean up the mess he made and crept back up to Ron's room, hoping to fall back asleep.

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Harry spent the following days avoiding Bill's gaze and feeling his self-disgust crawl beneath his skin. He couldn't avoid the man completely because the Weasleys, Harry and Hermione were spending most of their time together. They played chess, gobstones, Quidditch and exploding snap and Bill and Charlie told stories about work and their school days. His nights were filled with dreams in which his friends discovered his sexuality and abandoned him and his uncle decided he was too much of a freak to stay alive. Every night Harry woke up gasping for breath after his uncle's meaty hands closed around his throat.

That was why he avoided Bill's gaze. He was afraid that he would stare and give himself away. His friends would hate him and he didn't think that he could handle verification that he had few redeemable qualities. He wasn't going to waste his time trying to deny that he was attracted to men. At the very least he found Bill attractive. And he had almost died enough that he knew that denial wouldn't get him anywhere. The best thing for him to do was to acknowledge it, and do his best to shove it into a dark part of himself that would never be seen by the rest of the world. Perhaps, after a while, he could stop hating himself and look the eldest Weasley brother in the eye. For now though, all he could do was be grateful that Bill was no longer asking questions about his school years and that he had stopped running into him when he was alone.

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Bill had tried to back off after the trip to Diagon Alley. He didn't want to scare Harry away and he had a feeling that the kid wasn't used to people taking such an interest in what he did with his time. He still kept an eye on the raven-haired boy, but he did it while spending time with his brothers and sister.

The only problem with this plan was that Bill was worried about Harry. And he wanted to run his fingers through the raven colored hair. Every time that Bill glanced at Harry in the midst of a story, the boy was pointedly avoiding his gaze. It seemed that he was willing to look anywhere except at Bill. Within a couple of days his skin had grown pale and he had shadows under his eyes. Bill had seen Ron and Hermione whispering together and looking at their friend, and his mum had been fussing over him as she always did. Despite all of this he was increasingly tempted to pull the boy to his chest, run his fingers through the wild hair and comfort him.

Once, Harry hadn't managed to avoid Bill's gaze and his face had quickly turned red. Bill was surprised; Harry had never struck him as the blushing type before. He had stammered and been distant, guarded and careful, but he'd never seemed to be embarrassed. And those eyes, those expressive green eyes had seemed haunted rather than shining with embarrassment. The look tugged at Bill's heartstrings and once again he simply wanted to brush through the lad's hair until he relaxed and got some sleep.

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Harry, Ron and Hermione were sitting outside, underneath a tree, slogging through their summer work. This was the compromise that Harry had come up with when Hermione insisted that they begin their essays and Ron insisted they not. They both agreed that working outside was a decent compromise although Hermione maintained that the outdoors would detract from the quality of their homework. Ron resolutely informed her that their homework would detract from the pleasures of being outdoors and Harry requested that they both shut up.

Half an hour later, however, Harry was silently wishing that they had listened to Hermione. He wasn't so concerned with the quality of his homework, but it appeared that homework had saved them from having to de-gnome the garden, and Bill and Charlie had taken over that task. He had managed to write two sentences for his History of Magic essay, and was doing his best to keep his eyes on his paper on the book in front of him. He wasn't doing very well, and found himself staring in the direction of the garden, mind wandering.

"Harry, mate, stop that!" Ron's voice broke his reverie and Harry jumped, blotting ink on his parchment.

"Sorry-sorry, I mean…sorry! I wasn't-" Harry's eyes jumped around for something innocuous to look at and his tongue tripped through apologies. Hermione's brow was furrowed as she gave him a long, concerned look and Ron raised his hands quickly in surrender.

"Calm down, mate. It's fine. It just looked like you were doing that thing where you think and your brain goes to dark and dangerous places. I thought I'd stop while we were ahead…which apparently we weren't." Harry dropped his eyes to the ground, doing his best to avoid Ron's gaze, and he rubbed sheepishly at the back of his neck.

"Right, sorry. I don't know where my mind was. Definitely not on History of Magic."

"Can't blame you there, mate. This stuff is dead boring." Hermione didn't even reprimand Ron for not taking his schoolwork seriously. She was too busy gazing at Harry.

"Are you alright, Harry?" she asked. "You've seemed a bit off the past few days; you've looked really tired and you've been acting quite odd."

"Well, would you say that I've ever really acted normal?" Harry tried to make a joke of it, but it hit a little too close to home and even he could tell that his voice was strained. Ron gave him a strange look as Hermione asked,

"You know you can talk to us about anything, don't you?" Harry gave her a small smile,

"'Course I do, 'Mione. I've probably just been stressed about our summer work." Ron gave an incredulous snort.

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A few days later the Weasleys held another outdoor dinner. Once the meal was over the evening sky found Ron Weasley, avoiding the pranks of his elder twin brothers, and Harry Potter, sitting by the pond. He was once again lost in thought. He turned many things over in his mind, including his current predicament of being gay, his friend's concern and the disturbingly handsome Bill Weasley. He was so lost in thought that he didn't hear the footsteps approaching him and, in fact, didn't notice the other person until they dropped down next to him. Harry's heart jumped.

"Hermione! I didn't see you there." Hermione raised her eyebrows at him.

"Or hear me there. Lost in thought again, were you?" Harry smiled uncomfortably.

"It would seem so. I don't know why I've been so distracted lately." Hermione shrugged,

"It happens." She moved closer to him and leaned her head on his shoulder. He tilted his head and rested his cheek on the top of her head. They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the small waves in the pond and the tree frogs echoing in the humid air. Hermione was the first to break the silence.

"Do you want to hear something interesting?" she asked. Harry rolled his eyes fondly; Hermione was always full of interesting facts.

"Sure."

"It's not a fact really. It's just something I was thinking about. I just think it's really interesting the complete difference in the social debates of the two worlds-muggle and wizard."

"You're surprised that muggles don't care whether you're a pure blood or not?"

"Well, obviously not. I mean, for example, homosexuality. It's a huge topic in the muggle world. Before I came to Hogwarts I had to write a persuasive essay on gay marriage for school and there were entire sections devoted to the topic at the library and in the local bookshops. But I've can't remember ever seeing a book like that in the Wizarding world. Not in Flourish and Blotts and not in the library either. So I asked a couple people about it and they told me that the reason for that is because it's rarely discussed in the wizarding world. You can marry whomever you want. Obviously people are entitled to their own opinions, but the it's completely legal and the majority of people don't seem to care."

Harry's heart was pounding in his ears and he was positive that all the blood had drained from his face. He looked down at his lap to find that his left hand was trembling violently and he clenched his left hand in an attempt to stop it. After a couple of seconds he managed to squeak out a response,

"What was your opinion on gay marriage for your persuasive essay?" Hermione turned to smile at him, although looking back Harry might have called it a knowing smirk.

"I was all in favor of it of course. People can't help who their attracted to and there's no reason that people shouldn't be able to marry when they're in love." Harry nodded shakily and turned back to look over the pond. Hermione moved to face the same direction and allowed the satisfied smirk on her face to grow as long as Harry wasn't looking at her.

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Bill Weasley had watched Harry and Hermione from afar and then gone off in search of his younger brother. He found Fred and George first and heard the details of their prank, which involved turning Ron into a canary or flamingo or some other international bird. Only for a short while, they assured him.

After that Bill began his search in earnest knowing that his youngest brother would be in hiding. When he finally found him crouched in the rose bushes, he pulled him out covered in leaves and scratches from the thorns.

"I'll rescue you if you promise to answer a question for me."

"There are some things that I can neither confirm nor deny. Rescue me and then I'll see what I can do." Ever since Harry had told Ron about Bill's questions Ron had been slightly suspicious and more watchful of what he said.

"Alright, but I reserve the right to set Fred and George back on you if I don't like your decision." Ron considered for a second,

"Deal." Bill crept around the corner of the house and fired three spells in quick succession. Fred and George found that their trick pastries had flown from their hands into their bedroom window, their hair had turned bright pink and that they were tied together expertly at the wrists and ankles. He turned back to face Ron.

"Consider yourself rescued, little brother." Ron made a face at the name.

"What do you want to know?" Bill cleared his throat briefly and glanced around.

"Harry and Hermione were down by the pond. They seemed rather…close. Are they dating?" He did his best to keep his voice as casual as possible, but Ron still narrowed his eyes.

"Why do you want to know?"

"I like to gossip," Bill snarked. Ron looked him up and down and seemed to consider both the question and his answer.

"No. They're friends. Definitely not dating."

"You're sure?" Bill asked.

"What part of 'definitely' don't you understand?" Ron asked grumpily. "They think of each other as siblings. Well," he glanced at Bill, "-siblings that the like."

When Harry and Hermione returned to the Burrow they found Ron frantically trying to outrun his eldest brother.