A/N: So I made some hefty changes to previous chapters. I had introduced Sammy's character being transgender in an authors note rather than in the story and I've been feeling pretty conflicted about that. On the one hand, I didn't want to misrepresent anyone's experience but at the same time, it was sort of like I was erasing her story and it just made the fic disjointed. I put a call out on Tumblr and I was very happy that a few people responded to help me with those scenes. If you don't want to read the scenes there isn't really anything in there that wasn't already in the authors note. I inserted them at the end of Chapter fourteen, the beginning of chapter fifteen, as well as a scene in chapter fifteen right after they Harry and Snape get back from Hogsmeade. Then in a couple of paragraphs at the beginning of chapter sixteen.
Sorry this took so long. I've got some excuses, but they're just excuses. I'd thought this chapter would be easy to write since I've been looking forward to the last scene, but it all sort of got dragged out of me.
Augustus waited nervously for Norman to come home from work. The man had never been able to clock out on time. Everything would be so much easier if Norman was more predictable with his comings and goings. When the door to the flat opened, Augustus nearly jumped out of his seat. It wouldn't matter if he did though. He was invisible and silent and Norman had no idea that he was there. Or rather, he wasn't supposed to have any idea that Augustus was there. As he had done the past couple of times Augustus had made his weekly visit, Norman paused in his entryway and looked around. He looked cautious. Eventually, though, he shook his head and went to his ice box.
Here too though, Norman paused. With the door open he hesitated, but taking a deep breath and sighing, he still grabbed his usual cider and poured himself a glass before walking towards his sitting room. He hadn't taken a drink yet though. Augustus frowned. Norman settled into his recliner and set his drink down next to himself and turned on the wireless. He seemed to be ignoring his drink. Why wasn't he drinking? Why had he been more cautious when he came in? What should Augustus do?
He was sat in front of a charmed mirror Norman kept. Norman had never developed a great sensitivity to magical signatures, so Augustus's own signature was currently being masked just by his proximity to the mirror, but if he started moving around, Norman would sense the shift in the balance of the room. The decision of what to do was removed from him when Norman finally took a drink of his cider. Augustus heard the glass and the drink spill down Norman's front as Norman's body went limp.
Augustus sighed a bit in relief and he left his perch by the mirror and entered the sitting room. He made himself visible, though Norman's head was slumped forward and he would just be able to see Augustus's feet.
"Scourgify," he cast upon Norman. He set the glass to the side and pushed Norman's head back against the headrest of his chair. "Haerant," he cast, so that he could keep Norman's head upright.
"I brought you a present Norm," Augustus said. "It wasn't easy to get either, but I went out of my way." He pulled out a small phial from his robes. "Veritaserum," he said. "You may not recall, but it's been terribly hard on you these past few weeks. The things you make me do to get a little bit of information out of your head. Now that won't be necessary. Three drops now, is it? Don't you worry Norm, this will all be over so much quicker than it used to."
Norman's mouth was already slack and open. Augustus placed three drops on his tongue and stared into Norman's eyes. Norman couldn't talk, of course, but the Veritaserum would bring the answer to any question he asked to the forefront of Norman's mind. Legilimency allowed Augustus to quickly glean what he wanted to know.
"Where does the ministry believe the Dark Lord to currently be?" Augustus asked.
Same answer, as usual, 'probably Eastern Europe,' oh, and also South America now, maybe. That was laughable.
"How far along is the ministry into the investigation over Potter's name coming out of the Goblet of Fire?"
Honestly, it was like they weren't investigating it at all. It really was laughable that so many thought Potter had put his own name in.
Augustus paused here. He didn't really have anything else that needed to be asked. The veritaserum really did speed everything up considerably.
"Why did you hesitate when you walked in? And when you opened the ice box?"
Norman didn't know. Augustus frowned.
"Alright then, Norm, I think it's time you took a nap. Let's get a bit of dandelion juice in your mouth. Here you are, that'll clear your head. All right. You see how easy that was? We should do this again sometime. How about next week, same time?"
He chuckled as he released the sticking charm on Norman's head and it slumped forward in a nod.
"Excellent," Augustus said. "It's a date. Obliviate," he cast followed quickly with, "Somnium."
"You really shouldn't fall asleep in your recliner," Augustus said. "What am I going to do with you. Oh well. Sleep tight."
He walked back into the kitchen and opened up the ice box. He pulled out the jug of cider and eyeballed it before retrieving the jug he had swapped out earlier. He poured out a little bit into the sink so they matched and replaced the non-drugged jug back into the ice box. Grabbing the remaining jug, he left.
The first couple of weeks after Ron had faced his dragon during the first task had been hectic. After coming out to his friends, there were a lot of things that Harry was trying to face head on instead of ignoring or trying to halfway deal with. Everything from taking his survival training more seriously to trying to come to some sort of peace with his sexuality, he was trying to face things as they came at him. He couldn't afford to curl up in a ball on his bed and wait for the world to stop feeling like shit. There was too much at stake for that. At least he had Ron by his side once more; he didn't know what he'd do if he didn't.
Night time wasn't even a reprieve from it all. He kept dreaming of Ron facing the dragon, only in his dreams, Ron never got back up after he'd been hit. Those were the worst dreams he was dealing with just then.
A good thing was that Harry felt that he was closer to Ron than he'd ever been before. They were having a lot more late night chats now. Harry thought part of it was Ron needing to relax a bit before he went to sleep, of which he was getting a lot more of now, though probably still not as much as he should. But they were really talking now, about things Harry had thought he'd never talk to anyone about. Things he didn't like to think about in his own head. Things he'd buried deep. Coming out to Ron was somehow one of the best things he'd ever done in his whole life.
Ron and Hermione were talking about things more too. Twice in the two weeks since the first task the two of them had gone off to talk. Ron said they mostly talked about coping and less about what they'd actually gone through. Harry's dad was still playing armchair psychologist now and then, but the focus of most of their time together seemed to mostly be on preparing Harry for the prophecy of late.
Harry felt that he was doing alright for himself, for the most part. There were things that lingered, like the feeling that his dad's affection was transient, or that everyone would turn on him, or that he was going to fail and Voldemort would win, or…. all sorts of things, but he wasn't going to let that stop him from getting through his day. There were a lot of times Harry wished the floor would swallow him up, when negative thoughts felt overwhelming, but as he was getting used to, he'd just clear his mind and get back to work. He didn't have time for what-ifs or should-haves, or could-haves. His dad had talked to him of this more than once. He had to take the world on as it was. Harry was a werewolf, he was gay, he had to face Voldemort, and just… everything else. There were things he couldn't change, and Harry was happy enough that he actually seemed to be getting better at accepting that. All he could do was work to make things better, whether that was preparing for each month's transformation, or training with his stupid dagger, or trying to figure out how his dad felt about gay people.
"So anyways, after that, I ran into Thomas Miller, from Ravenclaw and we started talking about Hexes that follow Adria's Principle," Harry said. He had stuck around after potions since it was the last class of the day. "I was thinking of doing my essay on that."
"That's a good topic," his dad said, reacting not at all to Harry name dropping an out student. "We could practice some of those the next time you train."
"Yeah," Harry said. "I'll make sure I'm ready for that… Do you know Miller?"
"Harry, I've taught every student in this school," his dad said.
"Right," Harry said. His dad probably wasn't even clued into the student rumor mill. This was probably a bust. Why was he even trying this in the first place? It wasn't like he was ever going to tell his dad in the first place.
"So unless I am mistaken," his dad said. "Professor McGonagall announced the Yule Ball earlier today."
"Oh yeah," Harry mumbled. "That." What on Earth was he going to do about that?
"You do not seem so very enthusiastic," his dad observed.
Harry swallowed, were straight boys supposed to be excited about the dance? Ron liked girls and he didn't seem all that thrilled either. "Oh, yeah, um, just… nervous about asking out a girl," he said. Normal boys were nervous to ask out girls, weren't they?
"Ah," his dad said. "Here, I'm afraid, I do not have very much good advice. I will tell you that as a fourth year, I would not place too much worry over it. Ask someone you would like to spend the evening with. You need not give this more weight than it warrants. Additionally, you do not have to bring anyone to the ball. There will be plenty who will go stag."
"Well Ron has to have a date," Harry said. "Professor McGonagall said so, 'cause he's a champion."
"How unfortunate for him," his dad said. "Is there anyone you wanted to ask?"
"Oh," Harry said. "Um, I mean there's so many to choose from. You know… girls. At least Ron probably has someone in mind."
"Has Mr. Weasley become taken with someone?" his dad asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "But I don't think I'm supposed to say who."
"Well if there is anything you wanted to discuss regarding the ball, I would be happy to discuss it with you," his dad said.
"Right," Harry said. "Did they have dances when you went to school?"
"Hogwarts had her one millennia anniversary when I was a seventh year, we held a solstice ball to celebrate."
"Did you ask anyone out?" Harry asked.
"I did," his dad said. "I thought the whole thing was stupid; I generally thought everything was stupid back then, but there was a lot of pressure for the upperclassmen to not go stag and so I asked out a girl from Ravenclaw."
"How was the dance?" Harry asked.
"About as stupid as I thought it would be," his dad said.
"Oh," Harry said.
"Don't worry on it overmuch," his dad said. "It could be fun."
"Careful you don't oversell it, dad," Harry said.
"I'm sure it will be fun," his dad said. "Just approach the ordeal as a fun experience rather than checking off a box from a list of adolescent expectations and you'll be fine."
"Hmmm," Harry replied. "I'd probably just embarrass myself trying to dance anyway."
"One does not need a date to dance at the ball," his dad said. "Perhaps one of the nice things about going stag is that you can dance with a number of people,"
"So instead of being nervous to ask out one girl, I'm supposed to ask a bunch of girls to dance."
"Asking a girl to dance should be much less pressure than asking a girl to be your date," Severus said.
"Lots of pressure," Harry countered. "I can't dance."
"Ah," his dad said. "I cannot help you there either."
"Didn't you dance with your date?"
"I placed one hand on her shoulder and one hand in her own and I tried to move in time to the music."
"Did that work?" Harry asked.
"It did not work," his dad said.
"I'm just going to embarrass myself," Harry said.
"I am fairly certain a number of students feel the same," his dad said. "Most of your classmates have not had dance lessons. I do not expect you to stand out."
"I always stand out," Harry said. "At least I don't have to open the ball."
"I imagine that would be a lot of pressure," his dad said.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Well, I've got to go get some homework done before our defense study group tonight."
"Have fun," his dad said. "Oh, and I wanted to give you a warning."
"Did I do something?" Harry asked.
"No," his dad said. "It's not that. It's about Rita Skeeter. She has a habit of overhearing conversations she shouldn't be able to and she has definitely taken an interest in you. Remember that there are some things important to the prophecy that must not be said out loud."
"I'll be careful," Harry said, throwing on his invisibility cloak since he would be walking the halls alone. "I'll see you."
Harry didn't keep a schedule for when he visited so Severus had taken to meeting with Draco when Harry had his defense study group.
"Why on earth do we need to have a ball?" Draco asked.
"You grew up going to balls," Severus said.
"I grew up hating going to balls," Draco said.
"What do we do when faced with something we don't like?" Severus asked.
"Find an opportunity," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "And I've already identified several but that doesn't mean I'm going to enjoy the ball."
"I identified an opportunity of my own," Severus said.
"What's that?" Draco asked.
"Dance lessons," Severus said.
"I don't need… Oh, of course," Draco said. "Yes, it would be a shame if our school put on a poor show in front of the delegates. Who better to teach everyone else than someone who's had ballroom dancing lessons since he was five."
"Perhaps you could partner with a housemate who could provide lessons for Hogwarts girls," Severus said.
"Oh, Bethanie Zane would probably like that, she always shows off at Ministry functions," Draco said. "I don't know how many people will show up, I've lost a good deal since father was sentenced."
Draco's face remained impassive, but Severus was well aware how hard he was taking his father's imprisonment.
"You've lost fair weather friends," Severus said. "You've gained good allies. You will continue to gain good allies. You are doing very well with Hufflepuff, perhaps it is time to take Gryffindor seriously."
"You realize Potter will actively step in if he sees me encroaching on his hegemony," Draco said
"Hegemony is most definitely not the word to describe his role in Gryffindor," Severus said. "Which goes to show that you have not been taking Gryffindor seriously. Start watching them, do not act until you know you have your angle."
"So what about Potter?" Draco asked.
"Watch and decide," Severus said. "Keep in mind he is neither your rival nor your enemy."
"Tell that to him," Draco said.
"Invite Gryffindors to your dance lessons," Severus said, ignoring Draco's comment.
"You said to watch and wait," Draco said.
"That would be a good opportunity to watch," Severus said.
"They're not going to come," Draco said.
"Then when the ball comes they will regret having not accepted your olive branch," Severus said. "Though I will see what I can do to encourage participation."
"You're going to get Potter to come?" Draco asked skeptically.
"We shall see," Severus said. "How have you liked your reading?"
"Well you were being a bit transparent with the whole Anastasi thing," Draco said. "Nature and nurture. When you assigned me more reading on psychology I assumed it was going to be more analysis of human behavior, not something political. Though that bit about DNA was interesting. Muggles do the weirdest things without magic."
"I was attempting to be transparent," Severus said. "I did not think subtlety was warranted."
"Are there genes for being a wizard?" Draco asked. "Only, why are there muggleborns?"
"To my knowledge, a wizard's genes have never been studied; beyond that, I do not know. It certainly raises questions."
"Well I have more immediate things to think about," Draco said. "Like homework. I still have that you know."
"Yes, I do believe I assigned some of that," Severus said.
"I can't remember the last time I had any free time," Draco complained with a flare of melodrama.
"You told me you had several far-reaching goals, did you imagine you would not have to work harder than your peers?" Severus admonished.
"I know," Draco sighed, and for a moment he looked vulnerable. "I've just… been tired of late." The look was gone from one moment to the next.
Severus relented. "Perhaps a less time-consuming assignment for this week is in order then. I want you to do something nice for someone."
"What?" Draco asked. "I'm nice all the time."
"Something that doesn't benefit you in any way," Severus said.
"Why on Earth?"
"You can tell me afterwards if you can answer your own question," Severus said.
"So this is a publicity thing?"
"The less publicity the better," Severus said.
"Did you read this in a muggle book?" Draco asked.
"We will discuss that after I return from vacation," Severus said.
"This is some Hufflepuff nonsense," Draco said. "Fine, one good deed coming up."
"Try not to sound too put out," Severus said.
Draco rolled his eyes.
"Where did Hermione go?" Ron asked returning to their spot in the library from the bathroom. They had been haunting the library a lot together in search of a clue for Ron's egg.
"She gasped, said 'Oh,' and then ran off to the back of the library," Harry said.
Ron nodded and sat down. This was not an uncommon occurrence.
"So are you going to ask her to the ball?" Harry asked.
Ron's eyes widened. "Ask who?" he asked with red cheeks.
"You know who," Harry said. "I mean, not you-know-who, but, you know, Hermione."
"Who said I was going to ask her," Ron said.
"Who else are you going to ask?" Harry asked.
"What if she says no?" Ron asked. "What if she wants to go with someone else?
Harry shrugged. "What if she's waiting for you to ask her? I've seen, like, half a dozen girls get asked out since Thursday, the clock's ticking."
"Why are you all concerned about it?" Ron asked.
Harry squirmed a bit. "I just figure you've got enough to worry about. You should just get this done and over with." He was also hoping that if he could see Ron and Hermione happy together he could get over crushing on Ron.
"It's not like I'm that worried about it," Ron said.
"So ask her then if it's no big deal," Harry said.
"What about you, who are you asking?" Ron deflected.
"Um, are you forgetting something?" Harry asked.
"No," Ron said. "I figured you might still go with someone, friendly like. I don't think everyone's going to start dating whoever they're taking to the ball. So who would you ask if you could take a boy without it being a big deal?"
'You,' Harry thought instantly. "Oh, I don't know," Harry said, trying to think of a response that wouldn't be weird. "Um, ah, Cedric would be nice, but, um, he's like a foot taller than me," Harry said.
"Also he's three years older than you," Ron said.
"There is also that," Harry said. "Benjamin's got a girlfriend; I guess Dean. Not that I've got any reason to think any of them would even be interested, but you know, if it's all pretend." He flushed. Ron kept acting like it wasn't a big deal, and kept bringing up Harry's sexuality casually when they were alone, and Harry was trying to be as casual as he was, but even still, Harry felt guilty for naming those other boys. He didn't think they'd want Harry associating them with any of that.
"So are you going stag?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "What else am I supposed to do?"
"I dunno," Ron said. "You could ask a girl to go as a friend."
"I don't know. What if I ask someone and they think I want to kiss them or something?"
"Think of it as an opportunity to practice," Ron said.
Wouldn't it be nice if that could just make him straight, Harry thought. The thought of kissing a girl seemed wrong though. He knew he didn't want to kiss girls. Though, he thought it would probably be weird to actually kiss a boy, outside of his daydreams.
"Would you practice with a boy?" Harry asked.
"What, no," Ron said, looking flustered.
"Well, that's what it'd be like practicing with a girl," Harry said quietly.
"Aren't you worried about being the only boy without a date?" Ron asked.
"I doubt I'll be the only boy without a date," Harry said.
"You could take Ginny," Ron said. "She won't be expecting any kisses. That way she can go to the ball too since she's a third year."
"Maybe," Harry said. He was used to wearing masks.
Hermione suddenly arrived with a half dozen books in her arms.
"I think I've got our next area of research," she said, dropping the books in front of Harry and Ron.
"Poaching the egg?" Harry asked.
"For the last time, we're not cooking the golden egg," Hermione said.
"Magicryptography?" Ron asked, flipping open one of the books.
"We'll have that egg solved in no time," Hermione said.
"What language is this in?" Ron asked.
"English," Hermione said, already engrossed in one of the books.
"This is not English," Ron said.
Harry nudged Ron in the ribs. When Ron glanced his way Harry made a subtle nod towards Hermione.
Ron gave a wide-eyed shake of his head.
"So what are we looking for, Hermione?" Ron asked, trying to sound casual. Harry elbowed him again.
"Just flag anything applicable to sound modification and I'll look through it later," Hermione said.
Harry nudged Ron again and this time got a finger jabbed in his ribs for his trouble.
"So Hermione," Harry said. "What do you think about the Yule Ball?"
"Oh, not you too," Hermione said. "Everyone's just so excited about it. It's all everyone talks about. You wouldn't think we're still in the middle of term. Why can't they just ask someone out and then be quiet about it?"
"You're right," Harry said. "Everyone makes too big of a deal out of it all. Right, Ron?"
Ron glared at him, which Hermione did not see since she hadn't lifted her head up at all during the exchange.
"Yeah," Ron agreed. Harry elbowed him again.
"So Hermione," Ron said. "Um, well what did you think about maybe going to the ball with me. As a friend."
This got Hermione to raise her head. She looked surprised. "Well alright then," she said. Then she frowned. "You two haven't even opened your books yet. Honestly, how are you going to feel when everyone else has figured out the clue and you're just completely unprepared."
"I've got more than two months Hermione," Ron said.
"You're going to need it," Hermione said. "You're letting that dragon go to your head."
"It was pretty spectacular," Harry said.
"Yes, well, I'd rather not have another opportunity to think you're dead during the next task so we're going to be prepared," Hermione said opening a book for Harry and Ron each.
Harry sighed. "Anything that has to do with sound modification," he said, starting with the table of contents.
They went back to reading. Ron nudged him with his elbow.
The final days of term wound down in a flurry of activity that left Harry, per usual, feeling like he would dearly like to sleep for a week. He was really really looking forward to the Christmas break. He was also looking forward to having a proper Christmas with his dad, and he hoped it all wouldn't get pushed off to the side like it had the year prior. Of course, not everything would stop come that Friday. The holiday would be coming with plenty of homework to keep them busy and his dad had told him that he'd be getting additional training sessions. Though, they would be taking a vacation.
Still though, he found himself enjoying the frenzy. He had his friends, he still had his dad, Ron had made it through the first task and Harry could feel true confidence that he could make it through, and also, Harry had played his first game of pickup quidditch since his name had come out of the goblet. Things felt like they were going well. He should be wary.
"Okay," Benjamin said. "Now dig your hip in. Right, now step forward, other foot, drop your hips and curl…"
The older boy was flung over Harry's shoulder and onto the mat on the ground.
"How was that?" Harry asked, helping the older boy up.
"You're too nervous about it; you're not going to break me," Benjamin said.
"Right," Harry said.
They repeated the throw a few more times until Benjamin declared that there had been some improvement, and it was time to move on.
"Grab a dowel," he said.
"What are we doing?" Harry asked.
"Wand to the head," Benjamin said.
"I'm good at that," Harry said. "I did that in real life at the Shrieking Shack last year."
"Oh, you never said," Benjamin said. "Good on ya. Still though, it's good to practice, and now, I want you to turn the move into a throw while maintaining control of the wand hand."
Harry tried to envision that in his head. "I think I can do that," he said, handing Benjamin the dowel.
"You can do that," Benjamin said. "Ready?"
"Yes," Harry said.
Benjamin's left arm snaked around Harry's chest while his other arm pressed the dowel against his temple. Harry's heart thudded in his chest and his stomach clenched, but he focused. He twisted out of the grip while bringing his hand up to deflect the wand before grabbing the fist and drawing the arm outwards as he continued the rotation, overbalancing Benjamin before sending him hurling over Harry's shoulder. Harry maintained his grip and soon had Benjamin flipped over with his arm twisted behind his back.
"Ready to switch?" Harry asked, letting go of Benjamin's hand.
"You should do it a few more times," Benjamin said, doing a fancy roll to get to his feet.
"I'm ready to switch," Harry said. He'd never liked the parts of defense that involved getting grabbed.
"All right," Benjamin said. "Do a couple practice falls so I don't have to feel bad about throwing you." He always said that size didn't have to matter in a fight, but he always treated Harry a bit with kid gloves.
Half an hour later, they were done with practice and Benjamin walked with him back to the tower.
"So, hey," Benjamin said. "A few of us are having an end of term get together tomorrow, you should come."
"Oh, thanks," Harry said. "But my dad and I are leaving for Sydney tomorrow after classes."
"Are you missing the Yule Ball?"
"Oh, it's only a few days," Harry said.
It was actually the full moon the next day and Harry would be having an 'accident,' in DADA so he could get out early."
"You're taking an international portkey for a trip that's only a couple of days?"
"There's an international potions thing happening so that's probably the main reason we're going, but, hey, why not enjoy the beach a bit. Get away from the snow."
"Well have fun," Benjamin said. "So who's the lucky girl?"
Harry had heard that phrase a few times and he wondered that people seemed to think him some sort of prize.
"Oh, I didn't ask anyone to the ball," said Harry, who was feeling a bit like he was tiptoeing around a precipice with the conversation.
"Well you've got one day to ask someone if you're leaving right after class tomorrow," Benjamin said. "Otherwise you'll cut it pretty close."
"I don't know, I might just go stag," Harry said. "Must be nice already having a girlfriend. Most of the boys in the school are acting like this whole thing's a nightmare."
"Oh, well I still asked Anna," Benjamin said. "Girls like to be romanced, Harry."
"Yeah, but you pretty much knew she'd say yes," Harry said.
"So is that why you're not asking anyone? Afraid you'll get turned down?"
Harry shrugged. "Got enough to worry about," Harry said.
"I guess you do," Benjamin said. "So there isn't a special girl you've got your eye on?"
"Oh, um, sort of, um, she already got asked out though," Harry fibbed.
"Ah, that's rough," Benjamin said. "Well, maybe you can get a dance with her at the ball."
"Maybe," Harry said.
"So what are you doing in Sydney?" Benjamin asked.
"Mostly I think I'm going to try and avoid the myriad of poisonous flora and fauna," Harry said.
"Ah, don't worry about that," Benjamin said. "Make sure you check out the Daintree Rainforest."
"That sounds like the sort of place that would be full of poisonous things," Harry said.
"Probably," Benjamin said. "But there's nothing like it here in Britain."
"You've been?" Harry asked.
"With my uncles when I was little," Benjamin said. "It was a lot of fun."
"Well I'm looking forward to it," Harry said. "It'll be our first family vacation."
"Sooo, how is that all going?" Benjamin asked. "The family thing."
"Have you been wanting to ask that for a while?" Harry asked.
"I didn't know what to think when all that came out," Benjamin said. "I figured I wouldn't bring it up if you didn't."
"It's been really nice actually," Harry said.
"I guess we have you to thank for potions class being more tolerable," Benjamin said.
"Not really," Harry said. "I wouldn't have ever told him he was my dad if he hadn't stopped being a git before hand."
"Huh. So how much of that had more to do with your other family?" Benjamin asked awkwardly.
"Oh," Harry said. People usually didn't bring up the Dursleys. "It mostly started because I was curious about him and then I sort of realized we could actually get along. But yeah, I also really wanted to get away from them."
"Honestly, out of everything, Snape being your dad's probably been the weirdest thing that's happened since you came to Hogwarts."
"What?" Harry asked. "Weirder than Voldemort living on the back of Professor Quirrell's head?"
Benjamin gave a nervous laugh at Harry's use of Voldemort's name "Well you expect weird stuff with the defense professor."
"That's fair," Harry said. "Though Professor Lupin was pretty normal."
"Well there has to be a normal one every now and then to throw you off," Benjamin said as they arrived at the tower. "Well then, I hope you have fun in Sydney."
"See you in class tomorrow," Harry said.
"See you," Benjamin said.
Harry went and found Ron and Hermione and worked on finishing his history essay which was due first thing in the morning.
The next day went by pretty slowly and Harry spent a good bit of time debating with himself on if he should be asking a girl out while he still had time. In the end, he never really decided and when DADA came up, Harry idly speculated on asking one of the fifth year girls in the class. He didn't know if Katie had been asked by anyone but he thought it might be weird to go with a teammate. Honestly, it would be weird to go with anyone.
Halfway through the class, Harry purposely flubbed a bombardment hex during the practical exercise and Professor Moody, who was in on the whole affair, sent him to the infirmary. He wasn't really injured, they'd practiced earlier in the week how Harry would mispronounce the hex to get an effect that looked a lot more traumatic than it was. Harry clutched his ribs and tried to look dazed as Anna walked him to the infirmary.
"Is your head all right?" she asked.
"Huh?" Harry asked, hamming it up a bit.
"Well I guess that answers my question," she said. "Don't worry, Madame Pomfrey will take care of you."
'Doesn't she always,' Harry thought.
Anna dropped him off and left after she made sure Madame Pomfrey knew that Harry was there. As soon as she was gone, Madame Pomfrey ushered Harry into her office and he flooed home. His dad would be finishing his class before joining him, but Professor Lupin arrived shortly after Harry did and they worked together to get the cellar ready. They worked together in an awkward silence, their most recent conversation weighing heavily between them. Harry wanted to say something, but his dad arrived right after they finished in the cellar and the three of them went upstairs to get dinner ready. The moon was rising at five thirty that night, so there wasn't much time. They had an early dinner and Harry didn't have much time to write in his log book before it was time to head downstairs.
Professor Lupin didn't bring up their meeting in Hogsmeade, likely because he didn't want to get Harry upset right before the transformation, but Harry had some stuff to say.
"I didn't want to write too much in my last letter," Harry said. "But I wanted to apologize for what I said in Hogsmeade."
"You don't need to apologize," Professor Lupin said.
"Yeah, well, when I said some of that stuff about myself, it was sort of like I was saying it about you too, so I'm sorry."
"How are you doing with everything?" Professor Lupin asked.
"I feel better now," Harry said. "Sort of. I told Ron and Hermione, about being, um, gay. Things are good."
"Did you really?" Professor Lupin asked, sounding a bit surprised. "Well I'm glad that worked out for you."
"Well, um, thanks, for talking to me about it, and the book, I guess I needed that."
"I'll remind you later since you won't remember this, but let me know anytime you need someone to talk to about this. Any of this. Your sexuality, being a werewolf, anything."
"Sure," Harry said, glad that he had apologized and the weight between them was gone. "So my dad said that you had a ball in your seventh year."
"We did," Professor Lupin said. "James was very excited to be able to take Lily on a fancy date."
"Did you go with anyone?" Harry asked.
"Sirius and I officially went stag," Professor Lupin said.
"Did anyone say anything about that?" Harry asked.
"There was some surprise about Sirius, he was very popular and very handsome, no one could fathom why he didn't have a date. I've always wished we could have danced together at the ball, not that I have any fondness for dancing, but it would have been nice."
Harry entertained thoughts of what it would be like to dance with Ron and suddenly it didn't seem so odd that the rest of the castle seemed to think the dance a big deal. Of course, he wouldn't be able to dance with Ron at all. Even if he could get away with dancing with another boy. Ron had Hermione.
"Come on," Professor Lupin said. "You're worried about the ball, I can tell. Let's talk about something else before the moon rises. No worries, alright?"
"Well, did you know we're going to Sydney after I'm better?" Harry asked.
"I didn't. Good though, you can get outdoors without the chill, how long will you be gone?" Professor Lupin asked.
"Just a few days," Harry said. "We'll be back before Christmas and the ball."
"That should be nice," Professor Lupin said. "Will this be your first time out of the country?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "Though I've heard Australia isn't all that different from England, except there's a lot of things that are poisonous."
"They seem to manage there. I'll remember to tell you about some of my travels in the East another time."
"You'll have to tell me sometime what all we talk about down here," Harry said. "I always wonder afterwards." He never liked that he forgot. He rubbed the back of his neck and wished he could remember everything.
"I've told a lot of stories from my time as a student," Professor Lupin said. "I could write a book."
"You tell good stories," Harry said.
"I'll tell you tomorrow, so you won't have to wonder anymore," Professor Lupin said. "How about you tell me a story tonight," Professor Lupin said.
"Oh, huh," Harry said, thinking. "Okay, so did you know I didn't know I was a wizard until I was eleven?" Harry asked.
"You told me," Professor Lupin said. "While we waited for September's moon."
"Oh," Harry said. "Okay, what about the mountain troll?"
"I've heard of it, but not from you," Professor Lupin said.
"I shoved my wand up its nose," Harry said. Which, that was the wrong place to start the story. He began again from the beginning. "So Ron and I didn't get along with Hermione at first…"
The return portkey dropped them back in the small clearing outside their house and Harry was left clutching his dad's arm to stay steady. He wished that he hadn't just eaten dinner, but the feeling quickly passed.
"It is currently seven thirty in the morning," his dad said and handed him a small phial of potion. "Take this and you will be able to go to sleep at your normal time tonight."
"Thanks," Harry said. "It's weird, I feel like the day's supposed to be over. Are we going right back to school?"
"We are," his dad said, approaching the front door of their home. "I think I have a solution to your dancing problem."
"Is there a potion for that?"
"One of your fellow students has decided to offer dance lessons for students who are interested."
"I don't know that I'll be needing to know how to dance," Harry said.
"Just in case then," his dad said. "It could be a nice way to spend time with your fellow students. Besides, I very much doubt Mr. Weasley has much experience and he will be opening the ball."
"Well, I guess if Ron goes," Harry said, though he didn't think he wanted to see Ron dancing with someone else.
"Tonight after dinner," his dad said. "In the lecture hall on the East Wing of the fifth floor."
"We'll see," Harry said.
"It might be fun," his dad said.
"It will definitely be awkward," Harry said.
"That is true," his dad said. "But it might also be fun."
His dad stepped into the fireplace and flooed to Hogwarts, Harry followed after him.
"Think of it like combat training," his dad said, brushing him off when he got to the other side.
"I'm going to battle the girls of Hogwarts?"
"You're going to develop your agility and balance."
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "All right, I'll give it a try," Harry said.
That got a smile from his dad.
"Have fun," his dad said.
"Thanks," Harry said. "And I did. Have fun, I mean. On the trip. It was really nice."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," his dad said. "We'll have to decide on somewhere to go for the summer."
"Sure," Harry said, still feeling unsure of if this would last that long.
"Do you have your invisibility cloak?" his dad asked.
"Of course," Harry said, pulling it out from his robe pocket.
"All right," his dad said. "I will see you tomorrow evening for Christmas Eve."
"Yeah," Harry said. "I can't wait. See you."
Harry threw on his cloak and made his way up to the tower. He passed a slow trickle of students making their way to breakfast, though with it being the holidays, most students were sleeping in a bit more. Harry went through the portrait hole, slipping off the invisibility cloak. Harry was somewhat surprised to see Ron up in the common room when he got in, but it was a good feeling. He consciously wiped a fond smile off his face before anyone noticed. For crying out loud, it had only been a few days. He couldn't be acting like a lovesick teenager, even if he was.
"I'm back," Harry said.
"Hey, good to see you," Ron said. "How was the down under?"
"It was great," Harry said. "I'd forgotten what it was like to go outside without applying five heating charms first."
"I see you didn't die," Ron said.
"Oh, no, I got stung by a jellyfish, I'm just a really opaque ghost now. See I can turn myself invisible." He threw his cloak back on.
"Hah," Ron said. "Did you really get stung by a jellyfish?"
"Yeah," Harry said, taking the cloak back off. "But it wasn't one of the murder ones. My dad had a potion for it so, besides that, I managed to survive my vacation unscathed."
"You know, most people survive visiting Australia," Ron said. "You don't need to sound boastful about that."
"Everything there wants to kill you," Harry said.
"You shouldn't have read that book Hermione gave you," Ron said.
"It was really interesting, actually," Harry said. "You should read it too."
"I don't need to look at pictures of spiders," Ron said. "I noticed, by the way, that even though you're scared of all the poisonous stuff, you still went swimming."
"Well I've always wanted to go to the beach," Harry said. "Also my dad actually did have the antidote to just about everything, so I figured it was an acceptable risk. Besides, I didn't think they'd get me if I was just walking through the waves."
"You didn't go swimming?" Ron asked.
"I don't really know how," Harry said. "I was supposed to learn in primary, but Aunt Petunia told them I was allergic to chlorine."
"What's chlorine?" Ron asked.
"Um, muggle chemical that keeps swimming pools clean."
"Huh," Ron said. "So I'm guessing you're not allergic."
"Not as far as I know," Harry said. "I think she just didn't want me to learn."
"Why even?" Ron asked.
"Probably hoped I'd drown someday," Harry said, shrugging. Ron frowned. "So, what did I miss?" Harry asked.
"Well we figured out the egg," Ron said.
"Finally decided to cook it, huh?" Harry asked.
"No, it was that sound modification stuff Hermione had us looking into," Ron said. "We needed to change the pitch, it's mersong, only what it sounds like out of water."
"What, like mermaids?" Harry asked.
"Merfolk, yeah," Ron said. "They're going to hide something of mine in the lake and I have to go get it."
"Something I'll dearly miss," Ron said.
"It better not be your broomstick," Harry said.
"Oh they'd better not," Ron said. "It probably will be though, it's the best thing I've got; also it is waterproof, of course. Still, though, I don't know how they'll figure what to take. Whatever sweater mum knits for me this Christmas I'll just tell everyone how much I love it."
"So, what, you have to do the task underwater?"
"We're looking into it," Ron said. "I bet you've missed the library."
"Oh, of course," Harry said. Sydney was supposed to have a really great magical library but oddly enough Harry hadn't asked to go there. "So how have you been?" As much as he'd made a thing about being worried about all the poisonous flora and fauna of Australia, he'd for the most part done most of his worrying over Ron and Hermione. It wasn't like right after they'd been abducted when he felt horribly anxious when they were out of his sight, but he still didn't like being away from them, not knowing they were safe.
Ron shrugged. "I was all right for the most part. Sunday night I started to head over to your bed for a chat before I remembered you were gone."
"You sleep all right?"
"Nah, I wrote that night off and studied," Ron said. "Then the following day a first year bumps into me in the hall and I, like, flung myself away like he was a manticore."
"At least you didn't hex them," Harry said. "Are there many underclassmen still here? They can't go to the ball."
"There's a couple," Ron said. "Danny Latimer stayed again this year, dragged him off for a snowball fight the other day since there aren't any other Slytherins below fourth year who stayed. Couple other students too."
Harry felt a twinge of guilt, he hadn't really talked to Danny since the last Christmas break when they had made sure the solitary Slytherin first year wasn't alone for the holidays.
"So you won't guess what Malfoy's doing?" Ron said.
"Running away to join the circus?" Harry asked.
"Well that's really off," Ron said.
"You said I wouldn't guess, so I said something I wouldn't actually guess if I was actually trying."
"Right," Ron said. "Well, he's giving dancing lessons tonight for anyone who wants them."
Harry gasped. "That sneaky Slytherin."
"I don't know, Harry," Ron said. "I don't see how he's going to use this for some plot."
"Well you never know," Harry said. "But I'm talking about my dad. He sort of convinced me to go tonight without telling me it was Malfoy."
"So he Slytherin's you too?" Ron asked.
"Of course he does," Harry said. "I should have seen it coming when he didn't say who was giving lessons."
"Are you still going to go?" Ron asked.
"Well, what about you?" Harry asked.
"What about me?" Ron asked.
"Do you know how to dance?" Harry asked.
"Just move in time to the music," Ron said.
"You're literally going to be on display opening the ball," Harry said.
Ron grimaced. "Don't remind me. Still, though, I don't need to learn how to dance like a prat."
"What if he really is plotting something?" Harry asked. "We should investigate."
"Oh merlin, you really do have a crush on Malfoy," Ron said. "You want to spend time with him now."
"I do not," Harry said. "That was just a joke." Thinking he was cute didn't mean Harry had a crush. Malfoy was a horrible person and as horrid as it was to have crushes on about four different boys, including and especially his best friend, at least he didn't have a thing for just every boy who looked good. His heart definitely knew that Malfoy was an off-limits toe rag.
"Whatever you say," Ron said. "So we're going?"
Harry shrugged. "We're spying on Malfoy, it'll be like old times."
"Why are we spying on Malfoy?" Hermione asked from the base of the stairs to the girls' dormitory.
"Well obviously he's up to something," Harry said.
"He's always up to something," Hermione said. "How was Australia?"
"It was fun," Harry said. "Nothing tried to kill me."
"What about the jellyfish?" Ron asked.
"It was like a bee sting," Harry said. "Well, like a bunch of bee stings, but my dad took care of it and it wouldn't have killed me so I was good."
"My dad always vetoes Australia," Hermione said. "Are there any good pictures?"
"I don't even have a camera, Hermione," Harry said.
"Well surely your dad-"
Harry shook his head.
"Well that's alright," Hermione said. "Did you learn anything interesting at the potions conference?"
"There's a guy working on an invisibility potion no one thinks is going to work," Harry said. "Everyone was talking about really high-level stuff. My dad gave a talk about his project; I understood most of that, but that's just because I've been helping him with it for over a year now."
"I'm so jealous you got to go," Hermione said.
"Did you already eat?" Ron asked. "We should get to breakfast."
"I just had dinner, actually," Harry said. "But I could do with some toast."
"So when are we spying on Malfoy?" Hermione asked.
"Tonight," Harry said. "When he's doing his dance lesson."
"Oh, thank you," Hermione said. "I'd tried to talk Ron into learning something before the ball."
"Just move around in time to the music," Ron said. "It's not that hard."
"We're opening the ball Ronald," Hermione said.
"What's there to learn, anyways?" Ron asked.
There was a lot to learn, actually. If the dance was held on the grounds with brooms, Harry was sure he'd be fine, but on his own two feet he felt clumsy and awkward. Another thing that was awkward was practicing dancing with girls he didn't really know. No one was dancing with their date for the ball. Harry had stepped on a few feet that night, but to be fair, his own feet had been trodden on, so he didn't feel particularly horrible about it.
"Who knew dancing could be this complicated?" Ron asked when they took a break.
"I'm pretty sure everybody," Harry said. "But forget that. Why are so many people on a first name basis with Malfoy?"
"I know," Ron said. "Right? What's going on?"
"He hasn't even sneered at anyone tonight," Harry said.
"Also there's only a few Slytherins here," Ron said.
Most of the people who had come were Hufflepuffs. There were a handful from Ravenclaw, and even a few upperclassmen from Gryffindor too, but Ron was right, considering who was teaching the lesson, there were very few Slytherins in the room.
"So how's moving around in time to the music?" Hermione asked.
"Great," Ron said. "How are you doing?"
Hermione gave a tight smile and Harry didn't think she was particularly enjoying herself.
"He's making friends," Hermione said.
"Who, Malfoy?" Ron asked.
"That's what this is all about," Hermione said. "That's what everything's been about."
"Yeah, but why?" Ron asked.
"He wants to influence people," Hermione said. "This may not be a specific plot so much as him making contacts."
"He's definitely plotting something," Harry said.
"Well I don't think we're going to figure it out tonight," Hermione said.
Their break was over and they went back to learning the Viennese Waltz. Harry kept one eye on the step charts and the other on his own two feet. It was close to curfew when they called it quits.
"Didn't think I'd been seeing you tonight, Potter," Malfoy said, approaching Harry at the end.
"No point in looking like a fool tomorrow just to avoid you," Harry said.
"Then I'm glad you came," Malfoy said. "I would hate for anyone to look a fool in front of the other schools."
"What do you want Malfoy?" Harry asked a bit tersely.
"Did Granger figure out the egg?" Malfoy asked.
"That's none of your business," Harry said.
"Like I said," Malfoy said. "I would hate for anyone to look a fool in front of the other schools."
"Oh, and you've figured out the clue and want to help, is that it?" Harry asked.
"I haven't figured it out," Malfoy said. "But it has something to do with water. That's where Diggory's shifted his research. Magical animals that live in water, charms that have to do with water. Probably something to do with the Great Lake."
This more than anything, shocked Harry. Because by all evidence, Malfoy had actually just given him good information. Unless he had already figured that Ron and Hermione had started researching underwater stuff as well.
"What's your game?" Harry asked.
"No game," Malfoy said. "It's not like I want Weasley to win. Diggory's the champion, and Weasley's Weasley. But this is an important event, and we should all be working hard to show the other schools that Britain is strong. Politically, we still haven't recovered our standing since the war. I'm helping you because it's the smart thing to do. The times for childish rivalries are over Potter. We have bigger things to worry about now."
"Oh, childish rivalry. That was all just fun and games to you?"
"Well, I suppose it felt like bigger things back then," Malfoy said. "Look, don't take my word for it. Ask Diggory. You helped him with the dragon, didn't you? He'd probably just tell you."
"How do you know about that?"
"I'm a sneaky Slytherin," Malfoy said dismissively. "Anyway, it's almost curfew, and I have a bit further to travel than you do, so I'll cut this short. Make sure Weasley's set for the second task. It would be great if he could beat one of the other schools." He turned to leave.
"Hey," Harry said challengingly. "Don't forget he's leading this thing right now. He'll win this."
"Night, Potter," Draco said, without looking back.
Harry watched him walk out.
"What was that about?" Ron asked when he and Hermione had joined Harry.
"He told me Diggory was researching water creatures and water related charms," Harry said.
"What's his angle?" Ron asked.
"I know," Harry said.
Hermione sighed. "I'm going to bed."
"Come on," Ron said. "We don't want Harry's dad catching us out after curfew."
"Hey," Harry said.
"That would just be embarrassing," Ron said. "Getting detention from your best friend's dad?"
"I could probably talk our way out of it," Harry said.
"Now I wouldn't mind watching that," Ron said.
"So did you stick to wizarding spaces in Australia or did you go muggle at all?" Ron asked. Harry really should be sleeping. Regardless of the potion his dad had given him, he had been up for twenty-five hours, but when they had said goodnight to Hermione they'd just settled on Harry's bed and Harry was happy to have time alone with Ron.
"Well the first couple days we did the conference, but then we spent two days sightseeing. Most of that stuff is muggle, you know? I mean I don't think there was a magical beach or anything. Did you know witches and wizards don't wear robes over there?"
"What do they wear?"
"Like ancient Greek stuff," Harry said.
"What, like curtains wrapped around them?" Ron asked. "Wizards still wear that in Greece, but I didn't think they did it anywhere else."
"Yeah, so there was a big wizard war in Greece around the time Britain was first colonizing Australia so a bunch of refugees moved there."
"Tell me you tried one on," Ron said excitedly.
"I did," Harry said.
"Wait," Ron said, crestfallen. "You guys didn't take any pictures."
"We did not," Harry said.
"Well that's no good, mate," Ron said.
Harry shrugged. "We saw a lot of cool stuff. My dad just sort of hopped us all over the place, so we saw these, like, desert and rainforest and swampland areas, and then we went on a boat and saw sharks, which were really cool, cause they'll dangle food for them over the water and they'll jump out to get it."
"So you had a good time?" Ron asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "What about you? You said you had a snowball fight? So you haven't spent too much of break in the library, have you?"
"More time than I'd like, but yeah, I got out a bit," Ron said. "Christmas at the castle is really different with so many people staying for the ball. You never asked anyone, did you?"
"No," Harry said. "I just figured I'd save myself the hassle. Luckily, I won't be the center of attention."
"I do not want to have to dance for everyone," Ron said.
"At least you sort of know how to dance now," Harry said.
"I'm going to have Hermione murmuring steps in my ear the whole time," Ron said.
"She'll give you a markup afterwards with areas for improvement," Harry said.
Ron laughed and Harry grinned to see Ron's face light up. He found himself blushing for no reason whatsoever.
"Um," he said turning his face. "Here, I brought back some Australian sweets." He opened up the backpack he had had on the trip and brought out a packet of chocolate covered sandwiched biscuits. It was muggle, but Harry was pretty sure you couldn't get it in Britain.
"Cool," Ron said, ripping open the package and handing it out to Harry. They ate cookies for a while.
"So, guess who asked Ginny to the ball," Ron said.
"Um," Harry thought. "Merlin."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Neville did, and guess what; she said yes."
"Neville did?" Harry asked. "So what do we think about that."
"Well he better be a gentleman is all I know," Ron said.
"I'm pretty sure his gran would kill him if he wasn't," Harry said.
"Forget his gran," Ron said.
"I'm pretty sure you have nothing to worry about," Harry said.
Ron shrugged. "So how was the full moon?" he asked. At this point, it was just common practice to put up some basic privacy charms whenever they were alone.
"I wasn't really hurt bad at all," Harry said. "And I was mostly just tired the next day." He wasn't quite on a level with Professor Lupin, but he was doing so much better post-transformation than he had in the beginning.
"That's good," Ron said. "So are you doing all right with the whole werewolf thing now?" Ron asked.
"Well the actual transformation is still painful," Harry said, an understatement. "But I'm recovering really well now and it's all sort of getting routine. The thing I'm still not used to is the smell."
"What smell?" Ron asked.
"Well you for one," Harry said.
"Oy," Ron said, prodding Harry with his foot.
"It's my nose," Harry said. "It's super sensitive now. Especially around the full moon. For a few days, I can actually smell emotions off people and stuff, sort of. But, like, smelly socks and stuff like that? Ugh." He wasn't going to tell Ron that he had a smell all his own that lingered within the confines of his bed curtains after the other boy went to bed at night.
"Is that why you've been trying to clean up in here?" Ron asked. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"I don't like to make a big deal about stuff," Harry said. "I'm sort of paranoid that people will figure things out, like if I complain about things being smelly they'll suddenly realize that I've got a heightened sense of smell and then they'll realize I'm a werewolf. Really, worrying about people finding out is probably the worst part about being a werewolf right now."
"So what else is different when you're a werewolf?" Ron asked.
"I dunno," Harry said. "I can see better in the dark, I can hear really well, there's weird little quirks I have to repress."
"Quirks?" Ron asked.
"Like wolf instincts," Harry said. "Like wanting to sniff things that are new, or run after animals in the forest and things like that."
"What's the worst one?" Ron asked.
"Oh, it's definitely the food," Harry said. "Like all of a sudden, I feel like if meat's been cooked anything past rare it's been ruined. I'd talk to someone about the food here but I'm not about to tell anyone I've turned into a bloody carnivore."
"Anything good?" Ron asked.
"Oh, I dunno," Harry said. "I feel like I have a much better sense of where people are around me. It's, like, impossible to sneak up on me."
"That's probably handy," Ron said.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Though I get antsy if it's really noisy and there's a lot of people around. The ball's probably not going to be that great."
"I feel you there," Ron said, and Harry was reminded that he didn't have anything to complain about.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Are you going to be alright?"
Ron shrugged. "I dunno, I've got to be, though, don't I. I'll be on display."
"I should teach you a bit of occlumency," Harry said.
Ron snorted. "Sure, I'll just put that somewhere on our very full schedules."
"So you got dance lessons, are you going to dance with anyone?"
"Maybe," Harry said. "I'm not planning anything."
"Well, I heard talk going around," Ron said. "People were asking if you're going to the ball with anyone."
Harry huffed. "People are always talking about me."
Ron shrugged. "I got asked out," he said.
"What?" Harry asked. "By who?"
"Dunno," Ron said. "I'd never talked to her before. Really awkward, especially since Hermione was right there."
"Was she angry?"
"Maybe?" Ron said, sounding unsure. "She acted like she wasn't. I dunno, maybe I was supposed to have announced to everyone that I had a date."
Harry shrugged. He didn't want to talk about Ron's love life anymore. He wished he could move on from his stupid crush.
"We should get some sleep," Harry said.
"Oh, yeah, how's the Portkey displacement?" Ron asked. "Eleven hours wasn't it?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "My dad gave me a potion though, so I should be fine tomorrow. Have you been sleeping alright?"
"On and off," Ron said. "It's gotten better, but it's never really all better."
"Well have a good night then," Harry said.
"You too," Ron said.
Ron headed off to bed and Harry was left with his own thoughts. He resisted the urge to just occlude everything away. He couldn't just always solve his problems like that. He did organize his mind a bit though. It was getting easier. It had always been really easy, relatively speaking, to clear his mind and occlude when he had been learning with his dad, but when he was upset or when his thoughts were in absolute chaos it was so much harder to get started and all the harder to maintain. Hell, when he was really caught up in his own head it was hard just to remind himself that he should be calming himself down.
In an odd way, it had become easier since he had come out to his friends. He felt lighter, less like he was going to explode. In the month since he had come out, he found himself more able to calm his own headspace, to deal with his worries and focus on the moment. It wasn't that he didn't still have a lot of things to worry about, but he felt that he had gotten better at not obsessing over things he couldn't really control. As much as he had denied needing it, a lot of the things his dad had taught him for taking care of his mental health seemed to have an effect when he had the wherewithal to put in the effort.
It was just that there wasn't any mental exercise that could turn off his crush for Ron. He could temporarily clear Ron from his mind, he could stand back and look at everything he was feeling objectively, but he couldn't get rid of it. The knowledge that he could never really be with Ron was not new, but just then it formed an icy pit in his stomach that he pushed away.
He wanted to get over it, he needed to get over it. Ron was a great friend. He was cute, he was funny, he made Harry feel like he mattered, and Harry was so very aware of how important Ron was to his life. Harry just needed to stop having a crush on him. Ron needed to be very solidly put into the best friend category in his brain and not in the love interest slot. He was friends with a few other boys at school, he even thought a few of them were ridiculously good looking, but Ron was the only one he couldn't stop thinking about. It wasn't just that Ron was never going to be into Harry, it was that he was his best friend and Harry didn't want to destroy their friendship with an unrequited crush.
Harry just wished he knew what to do about it. He wasn't going to solve it tonight though. Slowly and systematically, Harry cleared his mind and relaxed. It was a good habit to be in, he'd found, right before he went to sleep. There were fewer nightmares if he took the time before he went to sleep. Harry drifted off and dreamed of a red-haired boy who smiled at him like Harry was the world to him.
Christmas Eve dawned the next day and Harry was slightly nervous for some sort of event to come along and get in the way of another family Christmas. Though, all in all, even with the tournament and the dragon, this year had been a lot calmer than the last. Harry had cautious optimism that he was going to survive the holidays with nothing horrible happening.
Harry found Danny in the library after lunch. He was surprised to see Sammy with him, who he had assumed would do Christmas with the classmate she was staying with over the summer, but he supposed she had stayed in the Castle to be with her brother. He joined them at their table.
"Hi Harry," Sammy greeted him happily. Danny looked surprised to see him, and Harry supposed that was fair since he had completely ignored the boy since the previous winter break.
"Hi," Harry said. "I didn't know you two were friends."
"We're in debate together," Sammy said.
"Also we're the only second years here," Danny said.
"We have a debate club?" Harry asked.
"Malfoy started it in October," Danny said. "I don't think we have any Gryffindors."
What was Malfoy up to?
"Danny has to argue for no more pudding after dinner when everyone gets back from holiday," Sammy told him.
"What?" Harry asked. "Why?"
"Malfoy says it's harder to argue for things you don't want," Danny said.
"Right," Harry said. "Well, I thought we could have another game of color tag like we did last year. Are you busy after lunch tomorrow?"
Danny shook his head. "No, I can come."
"That sounds great," Sammy said. "Can I bring Justin?"
"You can bring anyone," Harry said. "Isn't there a first year running around somewhere?"
"His name's David and he only likes books," Sammy informed him.
"Didn't even want to have a snowball fight," Danny said.
"Well invite him if you see him," Harry said. "We'll play out on the grounds."
"Sure," Sammy said.
Harry found Thomas Miller studying in the back corner. It wasn't surprising to find him studying alone, since that was basically what he had been doing for most of the previous year's Christmas festivities, but now that Harry knew the older boy was gay, he wondered if his aloofness was at all related.
"Hey," Harry said.
"Potter," Miller said, eying Harry warily.
"We're going to play tag again tomorrow after lunch," Harry said. "I thought you'd want to come along since you played last year."
"Are you for real?" Miller asked.
"I know you go back and forth with being the school celebrity and being an outcast, but I hardly think hanging around me is going to do you any favors," Miller said.
"Oh," Harry said. "Well it's good I don't really care about that stuff then."
Harry shrugged. He mostly didn't care.
"Whatever. Look, I'm pretty busy right now, thanks but no thanks."
"Right," Harry said. "Um, happy Christmas."
Harry threw on his invisibility cloak and headed back out into the halls. It would have been nice if the only other gay kid in the school was more approachable. Though if that book that Professor Lupin had given him was to be believed, there were probably a lot more in the school. They were just all hiding, like Harry was. Harry shook off his pensive thoughts. It was Christmas Eve and he should be focusing on getting into the holiday spirit. He was going to spend time with his dad, he was going to play in the snow, and was going to have fun.
Harry had dinner with his dad that night, and even though it wasn't much different than dinner usually was with his dad, something about it being Christmas Eve made it feel special. Harry found himself with a strange urge to come out to his dad that he tamped down. That would be a great way to kill the Christmas spirit.
Harry's dad wasn't very affectionate, but he got a hug that night before he went back upstairs to the tower. Ron was right about Christmas being different with everyone staying over. There was a Christmas party in full swing when Harry got to the tower, and they all wound up staying up late. That night, Harry didn't clear his mind, he wanted to go to sleep with the anticipation of the next day. He was only slightly anxious for some calamity getting in the way of another Christmas day. All in all though, with the exception of the ball, and Harry was excited for the day to come.
Ron was asleep when Harry woke up the next day. The other boys were up but seemed to be making sure that they didn't make too much noise. If Ron was getting some sleep then there wasn't any point in waking him. Harry went and took a shower. He wanted to be able to go see his dad after he had done presents with Ron.
"Happy Christmas," Ron said when Harry came back from his shower.
"Happy Christmas," Harry said.
Ron took Harry's entry as his cue to start opening presents. "Oh, thanks," he said enthusiastically as he put the Chudley Cannons hat that Harry had gotten for him on his head. It looked a bit off though, since Ron was still wearing his pajamas.
"What did your dad get you?" Ron asked.
"Oh, just a sec," Harry said. He wasn't going to open presents in a towel. He grabbed some clothes and ducked behind his curtains.
"Let's see," Harry said, coming back out moments later. "Now you didn't tell him what to get me this time did you?"
"I figured after the Firebolt he'd do alright," Ron said.
There was a trio of packages all wrapped in Slytherin green and silver and tied together with twine. Recognizing his dad's writing on the small card on top, he picked it off and opened it.
To my dear son,
These gifts are but a small measure of how glad I am
to have you in my life. This past year has given us
both joys and sorrows, but you continue to be a source
of strength and pride. Thank you for giving me the
chance to be your father. Thank you for giving me a
"You know you only have to read the card first if your dad's there, right?" Ron said. He had just torn into the package he had gotten from his mum and was already starting on one of her mincemeat pies.
Harry was grinning. The card was the best part, he thought. He started opening presents.
"Goggles!" Harry said.
"Prescription?" Ron asked.
Harry shoved them over his head. "Yeah," he said. "They're perfect." He picked up the insert. "It says they're water repellant. I haven't talked to Cedric in a bit, we should do some pickup games over the break."
"You should invite Krum," Ron said. "Can you imagine getting to play against Krum?"
"You should come," Harry said.
"Oh, I wouldn't miss that," Ron said.
"I mean you should play," Harry said.
"Isn't it just team members?" Ron asked.
"There's no rules," Harry said. "We're already rotating people throughout the games. Besides, Gryffindor doesn't have a Keeper right now, you could get some practice in."
"Well, see if you can get Krum to go," Ron said. "What else did you get?"
"Let's see," Harry said tearing into the second package. "Wand holster aaand, oh, a picture frame."
"Lemme see," Ron said.
"Who're these people?" Ron asked.
"That's me and my dad," Harry said. "We're polyjuiced. That's from the fair we went to on my birthday."
"Only your dad would consider that a family portrait," Ron said. "Also, you look like you're ten. Where does your dad even get all this stuff for polyjuice?"
"Barbershops, I think," Harry said.
"Ew," Ron said.
"When have potions ever not been ew?" Harry asked.
"Fair point," Ron said. "Now come on and open the rest of your presents, I'm starving."
"You just ate one of your mum's mincemeat pies," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ron said. "Just one, I'm saving the rest. I'm still starving."
"All right," Harry said. He opened his presents from Ron, "hey, thanks," and Hermione, "well that'll be useful," and Mrs. Weasley, "I'll wear this to breakfast," and Hagrid, "sweets!"
"Where's your jumper?" Harry asked
Ron went a bit red.
"Is it maroon again?" Harry asked. "You've got to wear it; it's tradition."
Ron groaned. He pulled out a knit sweater in gold and red with a Hungarian Horntail emblazoned on the front.
"Hey," Harry said. "That's actually pretty cool."
"I'm going to look like I'm bragging," Ron said.
"You were telling everyone who would listen what it was like in the arena," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ron said. "When they asked. Also, that was weeks ago."
"You should wear it," Harry said.
"Yeah, I will," Ron said. "If only because I know the twins would do something if I didn't."
Hermione complimented Ron's new sweater, which made him blush. They headed down together and split off when they got to the great hall. Harry continued downwards in his invisibility cloak, avoiding Slytherins on their way towards breakfast. His dad was in the kitchen when he walked into his quarters.
"Happy Christmas," Harry said, removing his invisibility cloak.
His dad smiled at him. "Happy Christmas," he said. "Do you want to help me make breakfast?"
"Sure," Harry said. "Thanks for the presents, I'll probably be wearing those goggles as soon as I can get a game together."
"Are you wearing your wand holster?"
Harry held up his forearm and flicked his wrist. His wand shot into his hand.
"You should keep that on you from now on," his dad said.
"I will," Harry said. "It's good to be prepared."
"Indeed it is," his dad said. "Are you prepared for the dance tonight?"
"I am," Harry said. "So as it turns out, it was Malfoy teaching those dance lessons."
"Oh, did I fail to mention that?"
"You did," Harry said.
"Did you learn anything?" his dad asked.
"Never trust a Slytherin?"
"Did you learn how to dance?"
"Well I think that might be a matter of opinion," Harry said. "But I guess I learned a few moves. So what is Malfoy up to?"
"I believe he wanted to make sure that the school put on a good show in front of our guests," his dad said.
"Yeah, but he's been up to something for, like, over a year now," Harry said. "I know you're probably behind it."
"I wouldn't say I was behind it," his dad said.
"I'm sure you wouldn't say a lot of things," Harry said a bit cheekily.
"I'm sure I wouldn't," his dad agreed. "You should invite him to your pickup games."
"Oh Merlin, you do want us to be friends," Harry said.
"I want you to be able to get along with people you don't like," his dad said. "It is a good life skill."
"So is that why Malfoy tries chatting me up now and then? He's supposed to be learning life skills?"
"He is learning life skills," his dad said.
"You want me to just act like bygones are just bygones?"
"You've done it before,"
"That was different," Harry said, a bit more upset than he thought he would be on Christmas day. He shouldn't have brought up Malfoy.
"Not by much," his dad said.
"It's not like he's asked me to forgive him."
His dad was silent for a moment and Harry felt awkward.
"I mean, I can kick his butt at quidditch if that's what you want."
"Harry, I treated you truly terribly," his dad said. "I wronged you repeatedly. I've taken so much from you."
"It's not a competition between you and Malfoy," Harry said.
"I never apologized," his dad said. "You forgave me but I never said I was sorry. I never asked for your forgiveness."
"You didn't need to," Harry said.
"I think I did," his dad said. "I'm sorry, Harry. I'm sorry I didn't give you a chance when you were a first year. I'm sorry I went out of my way to make you miserable. I'm sorry I gave you reason to think I wanted you dead."
"It's okay," Harry said.
"It was never okay," his dad said.
"Well then I forgive you," Harry said.
"You're very forgiving," his dad said, sighing, and Harry was suddenly on the receiving end of a hug.
For a brief moment, Harry felt like he could tell his dad anything, but the words died in his throat.
"We should eat this while it's hot," Harry said.
"Yes," his dad said. They settled at the table.
"So what are your plans for today?" his dad asked.
"Well later we're getting together for color tag," Harry said. "I guess I'm not doing much. I'll have to get ready for the ball at some point. I should probably do something about my hair."
"I don't think I can help you there," his dad said.
"That's okay," Harry said. "Do you want to go on an adventure after breakfast?"
"What sort of adventure?"
"Well," Harry said. "I got you a present for Christmas, of course." He pulled a parcel out of his pocket. "But I thought you might like an exceptionally rare potions ingredient also. I would have gotten it myself, but then you'd have figured I went and got it myself, and you probably wouldn't have liked that."
"What sort of rare potion ingredient are we talking about?"
"Basilisk venom," Harry said.
"You want to spend Christmas in the Chamber of Secrets?" his dad asked.
"Well, not too long," Harry said. "Maybe an hour or so. Do you have a broom?"
"Is it safe down there?" his dad asked.
"Sure," Harry said. "Also there's a giant statue of Salazar Slytherin. That's cool right?"
"Do you even know what sort of potions Basilisk venom goes into?" his dad asked.
"Well not all of them are horrible," Harry said. "I'm sorry, do you actually not want Basilisk venom?"
"No, I do want it," his dad said. "You have caught me off guard."
"Well, that's a feat," Harry said.
"You regularly catch me off guard," his dad said.
His dad would probably feel caught off guard if Harry ever told him he was gay. He hated the uncertainty, he hated the doubt, and he hated feeling like it was constantly hanging over his head. It wasn't that Harry wasn't comfortable keeping his dad at arms length, but the idea of getting everything out on the table and ending it all felt a bit like a weight would be taken off his back. At least then he'd know. Then again, maybe he could just keep it a secret forever. Maybe he'd never need to find out, and he could just keep everything at the status quo. The status quo was good. There was no need to disrupt it all.
He had told Ron everything, and Ron had been great, but there was only one Ron in the world and Harry had no idea how his dad would react. He didn't know if he would get the same acceptance or if he would get disgust. It had felt so good coming out to his friends, but that was because they had supported him. Thomas Miller had been outed to the school and kept himself aloof in the library. Sammy had been accepted by the school only to lose her home. Harry didn't care about the school, he had his friends. The question was, would he still have a father. With all of the uncertainty though, he felt that the secrets between him and his dad, his sexuality, his faults, his fears, they were all bubbling within him, and every kind word and assurance his dad gave him just stirred everything up.
"You're chewing on your lip," his dad said. "There is food in front of you."
"Just trying to remember everything that's down there," Harry said.
"Do we have everything we'll need?" his dad asked.
"Oh, I don't think we'll really need anything besides brooms," Harry said.
"Oh? And what have you learned about handling dangerous potions ingredients in class?"
"Keep an eye on the Slytherins," Harry said.
His dad raised an eyebrow.
"Dragon hide gloves and proper storage containers," Harry said. "I'm sure you have all that here."
"I do," his dad said.
"Cool," Harry said. "So do you want to go now?"
"Finish your breakfast," his dad said. "You have a full day ahead of you."
Harry scarfed down his food and took care of the dishes while his dad got his supplies.
The first obstacle they faced was that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was inside of a girls' bathroom.
"It's always empty," Harry said. "Moaning Myrtle haunts it."
"Homenum Revelio," his dad incanted. The room was empty.
"See?" Harry said. He opened the door.
The second obstacle was Moaning Myrtle.
"Who's there," the spirit demanded.
"It's just Harry," he said.
"You've come to visit me," she said, excited.
"Oh, well…" Harry said.
"It's been ages. But then, no one ever wants to see miserable Moaning Myrtle, do they?"
"A friend of yours?" his dad asked.
"Harry used to visit all the time," Myrtle told his dad.
"Um, how have you been?" Harry asked, not sure how to make small talk with the ghost.
"Horrible," Myrtle said.
"Well," Harry said. "Alright then… I'm just going to…" he motioned over to the tap and walked over to the sinks and hissed "open" in parseltongue, willing the entrance to open as fast as possible.
"Oh," Myrtle said. "You're going down there again."
"Yep," Harry said.
"You didn't even die the last time," Myrtle said accusingly.
"Nope," Harry said.
"Do you think you'll die this time?" she asked.
Harry glanced awkwardly at his dad who raised an eyebrow at him.
"Who knows," Harry said. He unshrank his broom and hopped on. "See you down there," he told his dad.
Descending the pipe was a lot cleaner when he wasn't sliding down it. His dad was a minute behind him.
"You have an admirer," his dad said.
"She wants me to die," Harry said.
"Relationships can be complicated," his dad nodded sagely.
"I'm good staying single," Harry said.
"That's alright," his dad said. "Onward?"
They made their way through the tunnel until they came upon the area where the rockfall had occurred.
"Was this here two years ago?"
"This happened two years ago," Harry said. "Ron was stuck on this side and I was on the other, so I went to get Ginny while he cleared that bit up top."
"What happened here?"
Harry frowned. The spell had backfired on Lockheart, wiping his memories, but Harry had still been caught up in the backlash of the spell, had been thrown back by the force of it. His mind had felt seared and he had come to in the dark under a cascade of memories and thoughts a jumble in his brain and a splitting headache.
"That arse got his hands on Ron's broken wand and tried to curse us, but it backfired," Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Blew the whole place up."
"Well, we should reinforce this before we try to go through," his dad said.
"Same spells we use in the cellar?" Harry asked.
"Indeed," his dad said.
"Alright," Harry said. At this point, it was an easy spell for him and it didn't take them long to make sure there wouldn't be any rockslides or falls when they climbed over the cave-in.
Eventually, they came upon the great iron door decorated with snakes. Harry didn't remember closing it when he had left, but it was locked once more.
"Open," Harry said again. The door unlocked and swung open.
"I should get you a pet snake," his dad said.
"I'm a Gryffindor," Harry said.
"What's the point of being a Parseltongue if you don't use it to talk to snakes?" his dad asked.
"Opening the Chamber of Secrets," Harry said. "And I did talk to a snake once, at the zoo."
"What did it have to say for itself?"
"Not much," Harry said. "It told me it had been born at the zoo and it thanked me when I accidentally vanished the glass over its enclosure."
They entered the great big chamber and his father took in a sharp breath. Light seemed to come from nowhere and from everywhere.
"Huh," Harry said. "I remember it being bigger."
"The chamber or the basilisk?"
"Both I guess," Harry said.
"The basilisk is a great deal bigger than I expected," his dad said, eyeing the great skeleton.
"It was pretty old, I guess," Harry said.
"Indeed," his dad said. "How did you kill it?"
"With the sword of Gryffindor," Harry said. "I thought you all would have gossiped about it, Professor McGonagall was there when I told the Headmaster."
"I knew about the sword, but a beast this big?"
"Oh," Harry said. "I got it's brain, through the roof of its mouth; that's how I got bit. You can see the hole in it's skull right there." Even though it had been healed like it had never been there to begin with, he still rubbed at his arm where the fang had punctured him.
"I'm not even surprised at this point," his dad said. "Alright, go stand over there." He gestured over near the skull. "And don't touch it." He pulled out a camera from his robes.
Harry eyed the camera skeptically. "I didn't think you had a camera."
"I felt I had been remiss in not having any photos to commemorate our first vacation."
"Ron and Hermione commented on the lack of them too," Harry said. He felt awkward and unsure of himself under the lens of the camera.
"Smile," his dad said. Harry did his best.
"How are we going to harvest?" Harry asked.
"Severing charm," his dad said. "Put on your gloves."
There were a lot more fangs in the thing's mouth than they had room for, but they collected as many as they could in short order. Afterwards, Harry explored around the cavern for a bit. There were a number of small tunnels and offshoots, but it all seemed to be a start to something that was never finished. There was a small room with a number of books that had turned to dust a long time prior, another where it looked like someone had camped out for a bit. Considering that it was called the Chamber of Secrets, Harry didn't feel like there was much to discover down there.
"We should get back I guess," Harry said. "I've got a game of tag to play."
"Just a moment," his dad said. He held the camera out and tapped it with his wand. When he let go, the camera hovered in the air. It was pointing at the great big statue of Salazar Slytherin. "Family photo," he said.
"Ugh, if anyone ever sees this it'll ruin my Gryffindor street cred." Harry said.
"If I can root for Gryffindor at Quidditch, you can take a picture with the founder of my house."
"His pet snake tried to kill me," Harry pointed out.
"No one's perfect, Harry."
Harry joined his dad in front of the statue and got a hand on his shoulder as they faced the camera. He stared almost defiantly at the camera. The camera stared indifferently back at him. He almost flinched at the flash. He wondered if they would ever take a family portrait again.
"This one's going on the mantle," his dad said.
"You're getting very sentimental," Harry said.
"This is our second Christmas as a family," his dad said. "When I was putting your presents together, I realized that that was the only picture we had taken together in that time."
"We can do Christmas cards next year," Harry said. "Just with a different picture, okay?"
"Who do we have to send Christmas cards to?" his dad asked.
"Oh," Harry thought. "Professor Lupin."
"That's one person."
"Oliver," Harry said. "Now that he's graduated. And Ron's parents too. And the Grangers, why not."
"Why not, indeed. Come on," his dad said. "I think you have an appointment to play tag."
"Oh, yeah," Harry said. "I probably shouldn't be late."
They started the hike back.
"Harry," his dad said.
"I'm very glad you survived the basilisk," his dad said.
"Oh," Harry said. "Yeah."
They didn't really do much by way of terms of endearment, but Harry was rather heartened by the sentiment.
If Harry hadn't already known that Ron had feelings for Hermione, the look on his face when she walked down the stairs from the girls' dorm that evening would have told him everything he needed to know. The little gasp was also a bit telltale.
"H- Hermione," Ron said, taking a few steps forward to meet her. "You, um, you look good."
"Thank you," Hermione said awkwardly. "You look, um, handsome."
Even Harry, who often had to stop himself from staring at Ron, knew that this was a lie. Ron was freshly showered and he had combed his hair, but the truly abominable dress robes he was wearing were doing him a complete disservice.
"Okay," Hermione said. "Just let me…" She pulled out her wand and with a few spells had unfreyed the hems of Ron's robes, changed their color, and made them fit properly."
"You didn't need to," Ron said, embarrassed.
"Ginny said you hated them," Hermione said.
"Oh, well I do," Ron said. "I mean, I did. Um, thanks. I didn't think you'd know any domestic spells."
"Oh, well that was just illusions," Hermione said, waving it off. "It should last the night at least. Did Harry even do anything to his hair?"
"I tried," Harry defended himself, trying to flatten it down with his hand.
"What did you do to your hair?" Ron asked her. Her usually bushy hair had been straightened and done up in a style that complimented her well.
"Potion," Hermione said dismissively. "It was a bit of a process, don't get used to it."
"It looks nice," Ron said. "Um, so, can I escort you to the ball?" He held out his arm blushing deeply as he did.
Hermione smiled. "Yes, you may," she said, she took his arm
They looked awkward, but they also looked happy. Harry felt a sick twist in his stomach.
The two walked off, out the door. Harry followed after. Once they arrived at the great hall, they had to split up. Ron and Hermione were sitting at the head table with the other champions and the teachers. Harry found a seat with Seamus and Dean and their dates. The long house tables had been removed and replaced with smaller round tables.
This was probably for the best. It felt bad to be so jealous. He didn't need to see Ron and Hermione being romantic. He just needed to enjoy himself. This was supposed to be a fun evening. He wasn't supposed to be miserably pining after a friend who could never return his feelings. He tried to be sociable throughout the meal. He sat with his back to the head table and he chatted. He avoided thinking about Ron. He got a pep talk from Seamus about asking girls to dance. Harry feigned interest.
That lasted throughout dinner. Unfortunately, after that was the opening dance of the ball. The tables magically moved out of the way and the music started playing and the champions and their dates moved out to the dance floor to dance the first dance. The students gathered around the edges of the hall, and there was Hermione, holding onto Ron, a look of concentration on her face, completely oblivious to the look in Ron's eyes as he gazed upon her and they danced.
Harry was saved eventually when the first song ended and the rest of the assembled students were welcomed out onto the dance floor. Harry didn't have a date to occupy his time, but at least now he didn't just have Ron and Hermione to look at, the hall was quickly filled up with dancing partners.
A sense told him someone was walking up behind him. "Do you want to dance with me?" a girl said next to him.
"Huh, oh, um…" He was supposed to say yes. "Sure."
There was a pause as they both looked at each other before the girl reached for his hand and placed it on her shoulder. Harry put his other hand above her opposite hip and they started dancing. It was one of the dances that they had learned from Malfoy and it took Harry a moment to realize that he was dancing with one of the girls girl he had been paired with that day. He blushed, in part from embarrassment since he was pretty sure she noticed he hadn't recognized her at first
"You're in Ravenclaw, right?" Harry asked, trying for small talk.
"Yes," she said. "I'm surprised you didn't get a date." She said, a clear question in her voice.
"Oh," Harry said. "Already had a date, didn't feel like asking anyone else out. What about you?"
"Damien got detention," she said.
"For the ball?" Harry asked.
"He got a lot of detentions," she said. "He got caught doing psychedelic potions."
"Oh," Harry said, not sure what he was supposed to say about that. "Sorry."
"It's his loss," she said. "There's a lot of foreign boys who don't have dates and I'm going to dance with all of them."
"Oh," Harry said.
"And then I'm going to tell Damien all about it," she said.
"You're not happy with Damien, are you?"
"No, I am not," she said. "So you're single, you're not just going to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the ball are you?"
"I thought I'd just see how things go," Harry said.
"You're pining, aren't you?"
"What?" Harry asked.
"The girl you like went with another boy, so you decided to go stag. You've got to try again."
"Right," Harry said. Why did everyone have an opinion about his lack of a date?
"Seriously," she said. "I'm not the only girl here who doesn't have a date. Find someone you want to spend some time with and ask them to dance."
He couldn't just go and dance with boys. He wasn't sure why so many people felt the need to give him a pep talk about the ball. They kept dancing until the song ended, Harry kept an eye out for Ron, even though he knew that he shouldn't. At the end, Harry was relieved for the dance to be over and glad that he had managed to not step on her feet.
"Thanks for the dance," Harry said.
"Go find someone," she said.
Harry went to the punchbowl. If he looked busy, he wouldn't look like he was awkwardly sitting on the sideline. Once he got his punch he sipped it for a bit and looked around. There was a dessert table on the other side of the room. That was something to do. He walked around the edges of the ball and wondered if this was going to be his life. Because what was he supposed to do? Everyone expected him to get a girlfriend or something. Or, at least, act like he wanted one. Someday they were going to expect him to get married. To a woman. What happened if he never did? Were people just going to figure it out eventually? Was that just the inevitable end of this whole charade?
Sammy had never really tried to hide that she was a girl. It was everyone else trying to make her into someone she wasn't. Harry wondered if he would be someone else if he didn't hide himself from the world, if he was out. He'd heard jokes and stereotypes about how gay people acted, who they were, but none of that really meshed with the few gay people Harry actually knew; just like Sammy hadn't meshed with what little Harry had heard about transgender people before he had known that she wasn't really a boy. Would he present himself any differently if he was out? He couldn't really imagine asking a boy to dance anyways, so what would be different?
Harry briefly glanced around for Thomas Miller, wondering if the older boy was even at the dance or if he was off by himself reading a book. All in all, Harry wasn't sure that Miller would stand out from anyone else in Ravenclaw who was obsessed with their studies. The only reason anyone ever talked about the boy was because they knew he was gay, not because Miller acted any different from anyone else. Harry wondered if he would really be any different at all if he were straight. He might have one less thing to be anxious about at the very least. Besides the part where he liked boys instead of girls, was there anything that really set himself apart from the other boys? Harry supposed he didn't really have a good frame of reference to judge.
At least for now, while he was still figuring things out, maybe he should be putting on a show of interest towards girls. Maybe he should ask one to dance. If only so people wouldn't ask. Whoever he was underneath every layer he had covering himself, he was still very much against everyone knowing that he was gay. What was one dance?
He made it to the dessert table and spent a while picking through things and sampling things. He would ask a girl to dance in a little while. It was alright to stall for a bit. It wasn't like dancing was fun to begin with. It was awkward dancing with girls. Harry was pretty sure it would be awkward dancing with a boy too, but that wasn't the point. The point was that dancing was stupid… He wasn't sure if it would be awkward dancing with Ron though. That might be nice. He blushed as he thought about holding Ron close on the dance floor. He wasn't supposed to be thinking about that at all. He should just go ask a girl to dance.
He turned around to look for anyone who didn't have a partner but found himself with an eye out for Ron against his will. He spotted Ron, of course, before he saw any unattended girls. Ron wasn't dancing though. He was standing in the middle of the dance floor with Hermione, and he didn't look like he was having a good time anymore. Ron was pale and staring at the ground. Hermione was standing close to him with her hand on his shoulder. She looked like she was saying something into his ear. Harry made his way through the crowd of dancing students.
He should have expected this. The first couple of songs had been slower, but the party was in full swing now and the music was louder and faster and there was shouting and laughing and the whole thing was just slightly organized chaos. The whole thing was exactly the last thing Ron needed these days. He had been doing better, but between the noise and the press of the assembled student body, it looked to be too much for Ron just then. Luckily, Harry was always ready to duck out of a scene.
He could hear that Ron was breathing raggedly when he got up to them. Harry pulled his invisibility cloak out from his pocket as he approached his two friends and threw it over the both of them. He put his hand on Ron's back and guided them out of the room. They exited into the entrance hall and from there they followed the fairy lights that had been set up to guide guests into the rose garden. The bushes had been charmed to bloom despite the snow that covered them and the air felt pleasantly cool instead of frigid. Harry could hear Hermione whispering something to Ron as they walked. They didn't stop until they were well into the garden and Harry spotted a bench.
They all sat down, and Harry waited patiently as Hermione spoke gently to Ron. He tried not to listen. That was their thing. He looked up at the stars for a while. Some charm let their light shine through the orange glow of the torches that lit the garden. It was a while before Hermione pulled the invisibility cloak off of herself and Ron. It looked like he had calmed down, but now he just looked miserable. They sat in relative silence for a while longer.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," Ron said. "I didn't want to ruin the ball for you."
"Well it's not ruined," Hermione said. "I wasn't exactly comfortable in there either."
"The rose garden's nice," Harry said.
"Exactly," Hermione said. "Honestly, I did all the dancing I needed to do. It was just too loud in there."
"Really?" Ron asked.
"Of course," Hermione said.
"Same here," Harry said. "Dances are horrible, in my opinion. I'm not missing out on anything."
"Thanks for getting me out of there," Ron said. "The last thing I needed was everyone seeing that."
"No worries," Harry said. "Are you alright?"
"I'm doing better," Ron said.
"Have you been getting enough sleep lately?" Hermione asked.
"I'm getting more," Ron said.
"So that's a no?" Hermione asked.
"I'm not a zombie anymore," Ron said. "Honestly, I'm doing loads better, Hermione. I didn't freak out just now because I don't get enough sleep."
"Sleep's important," Hermione said.
"Sure," Ron said. "I'll get there. Eventually. If I can defeat a dragon, I can get a good night's sleep; someday."
"Still," Hermione said. "Maybe you should go back to trying to catch up on the weekends."
"Hermione, I'm…" Ron sounded frustrated. "Hermione, would you like to walk through the rose garden with me?"
"Oh," Hermione said, taken aback. "Well alright."
Ron looked at Harry. "Um, sorry mate, are you going to be alright?"
"Yeah," Harry lied. "You two have fun."
"Yeah, well you too," Ron said. "Try to have some fun in there."
"I'll have as much fun as a closeted gay guy can have at a school dance," Harry said.
"Yeah, well, at least keep an eye on Ginny," Ron said.
"She's with Neville," Harry said. "What do you think is going to happen?"
"You never know," Ron said. "Here's your cloak back. You should wear it back to the hall."
Harry took the cloak back. "You two will be alright out here?" he asked casually.
Ron took a deep breath. "I don't think we'll get kidnapped," Ron said, reading Harry's mind.
"Well yeah," Harry said. "Alright, I'll see you."
"Have fun," Hermione said.
"Yeah," Harry said, giving them a wave. "Make sure you stop and smell the roses."
Harry threw the cloak back on and made his way off to the ballroom. He cast an eye around for Ginny and saw her on the dance floor with Neville. They looked happy enough. He sighed to himself. He felt as though he could feel the eyes of others upon him. He felt like people around him were judging him, that they knew why he didn't have a date. At least his dad hadn't seemed suspicious that he didn't have one.
As was usual when he thought of his dad finding out about his sexuality, Harry felt a cold pit of dread pool in his stomach. Even before he had realized he was gay, Harry had always dreaded his dad getting to know him too well, that eventually, he would realize that Harry was no good. That he would hate him like the Dursley's had hated him, that he would want to hurt him like the Dursleys had hurt him.
As mortified as he had been, he had been somewhat reassured after his dad had been to see Aunt Petunia. His dad had seen how the Dursley's had hated him, how the Dursleys had seen him, and he still cared about him. Yet still, Harry worried. He worried that there were things that could change his dad's mind.
Harry thought of everything he had told Ron, of Ron's unwavering friendship. He thought too of how much effort Ron had put into getting better, how he had struggled just to go to class while he also tried whatever he could find to help himself, trying to face his fears so that he could go about day to day without being afraid. Harry knew there was one thing he could do to face his fears, but the threat of loss felt overwhelming. He thought of what Hermione had told him before he had come out to his friends. If he was so sure that his dad was going to figure it out eventually, then what was the point in keeping it a secret if he was just going to worry over it.
All of the professors were chaperoning that evening, it wasn't that hard to find his dad. He tugged at his dad's sleeve in lieu of trying to shout over the din of the party. He motioned towards the entry hall. The two of them reconvened moments later in the quieter room.
"Are you enjoying the dance?" his dad asked.
Harry shrugged. "It's pretty loud in there."
His dad nodded in agreement.
"Hey, dad, so, um, can I come over to your quarters tomorrow?"
His dad put his hand on Harry's shoulder and said very seriously, "Harry, you have a home wherever I have a home. You do not need permission to come to my quarters."
"Right," Harry said. "So, I'll see you, um, around ten, I guess."
"I will see you then," his dad said.
"Thanks," Harry said.
"Is everything all right?" his dad asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Um, I just wanted to talk about some stuff. Stuff you said I could talk to you about if I felt like it." Now he couldn't just decide not to have the conversation.
"I'm glad to hear that," his dad said.
"This is nice," Hermione commented after they had been strolling for a while.
"Yeah," Ron said. "You're, um, everything's pretty. Out here, I mean."
"The roses are lovely under the moonlight," Hermione said.
"The moon isn't weird for you?" Ron asked.
"No," Hermione said. "Is it weird for you?"
Ron nodded. "It reminds me of that night and stuff."
"What were you remembering back in the hall?"
Ron shrugged. "You'd think it was stupid," he said.
"You know I won't," Hermione said.
Ron chewed on that, because for all their talks about what had happened, she had always been understanding, even when she hadn't understood. They both knew that they'd left normal behind a long time ago.
"It was Hogsmeade, right before," Ron said. "It was crowded and it was loud, and everything was normal and then it wasn't. Most of the time I freak out that's what I'm freaking out about. It's so stupid. You'd think it would be memories of him, but, I mean, that's usually at night, but during the day, in the regular, just, everything... the noise and the crowd reminds me of just before everything got fucked up and I feel like he's about to get us and... I don't know. I'm getting better, I just, sometimes I just can't help it."
"Well there's probably a charm for that," Hermione said.
"What?" Ron asked.
"For the noise," Hermione said. "Something that will block out the background noise but won't block out people talking to you."
"You don't need to start a whole 'nother research project just for me," Ron said.
"The noise is more than a bit stressful for me too," Hermione said. "And I try to avoid stress these days."
"Does it make you remember?" Ron asked.
"No," Hermione said. "It's meat for me."
"What?" Ron asked.
"It's all they ate," Hermione said. "Honestly, that had to be so bad for them, but I remember being hungry and wishing they would share, and afterwards, for a while, the sight of it would remind me."
"You know, it was weird," Ron said. "The whole time, I don't remember being hungry."
"You've never not been hungry." Hermione said.
"It must have been the stress," Hermione said.
"Maybe," Ron said. "So what? You look at a pot roast and remember them?"
"For a while," Hermione. "Of course, right afterwards we were holed up away from the rest of the school and Harry was bringing us meals and he's all steak and potatoes."
"I remember you complaining about that," Ron said. "So how'd you get over it?"
"Well meat's hard to avoid, really," Hermione said. "But well, I made a point of eating meat whenever I was with people I was comfortable with."
"Well isn't that what I was doing?" Ron asked.
"No, you were doing everything you could to retraumatize yourself," Hermione said.
Ron blushed deep red. He didn't regret telling Hermione about his attempts to get over his fears, he was trying to be more open, but still. There were some things he didn't want her thinking about on their pseudo-date.
"So I should have tied myself up when I was with you or Harry?"
"Oh, I don't know," Hermione said. "I talked about it with my therapist at the time, we made a plan for how I'd deal with it."
"Hmm," Ron said. He wasn't going to get a therapist. "This isn't really a strolling through the garden sort of conversation is it?"
"No, it's fine," Hermione said. "I'm glad we can talk about it, and it's nice that we have the garden to ourselves for now. I don't think anyone else has tired of dancing yet."
"It is nice," Ron said. "Having the garden to ourselves. This is, um, really nice. I really like, um, I really like you, Hermione."
They stopped strolling.
"What, just because I changed my hair?"
"What, no," Ron said. "For a while, I've liked you for a while. Like, like like, you know?"
"Ron that's... well I mean this isn't exactly the time in my life for a boyfriend. We're... we're recovering. We went through a traumatic experience together, and it's probably normal for us to be taken with one another."
"Wait, does that mean you like me to?" Ron asked.
"Did you literally listen to nothing else I said?" Hermione asked.
"So what?" Ron asked. "Are you taken with Erstwhile too?"
"Erstwhile didn't spend three days doing everything he could to protect me," Hermione said.
"Well I don't feel like I like you just because we got kidnapped together," Ron said.
"That's not even the point," Hermione said. "I told you, I'm avoiding stress and Merlin knows that's hard enough without suddenly dating my best friend. Besides, Dr. Abbasi said I shouldn't be making big life decisions right now."
"I'm not asking you to marry me, Hermione."
"I'm not ready to date right now, Ron," Hermione said.
Ron swallowed. "Okay," he said. "Okay, but... I like you, and you like me, so, can't we be friends who like like each other but aren't dating yet."
"I think we've been doing that for a while," Hermione said.
"Yeah, well, maybe now I don't have to pretend that I don't have, um, feelings for you."
"Well that's alright," Hermione said, and Ron was a bit surprised that she had readily agreed in the face of her previous reservations.
"So are we alright?" Ron asked.
"Yes," Hermione said.
"Okay," Ron said, figuring it was time to change the subject and not press his luck. "Umm, so the flowers are nice."
"Yes," Hermione said. "They're lovely."
"Oh," Ron said. He pulled out his wand and severed a rose and with a bit of concentration slivered off the thorns. "I think I can do this," he said. With a lot more concentration he transfigured the stem into a ribbon that was still attached to the rose. "Here," he said, holding it out. "This isn't a dating thing, a bloke's supposed to give a girl a flower if he asks her to a dance, I think."
"It's very sweet Ron," Hermione said. She held out her hand and Ron tied the ribbon around her wrist so the flower would be on top. "Very nicely done."
"Thanks," Ron said. "So, how 'bout I shove some cotton in my ears and we go back in there to get some dessert and then we can hit the library."
"You know me too well," Hermione said.
"Once you mentioned finding a charm I knew we'd end up there eventually," Ron said.
"Well come on then," Hermione said. "I want to see if they have that french custard again."
"The one with the shell?" Ron asked. "That was good. We should invite Beauxbatons every time we have a feast."
Hermione took his arm as they walked back to the castle.
"So you two were out for a long while," Harry said. The other boys in the dorm had gone to sleep and they were camped out on Ron's bed under some floating fairy lights.
"Well we went to the library eventually," Ron said. "Hermione found these weird charms for me so I can deal with a lot of noise and stuff."
"Oh, that's cool," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ron said. "Now, before that, we happened to bump into Krum and he decided to strike up a conversation with his top competition."
"Yeah?" Harry asked. "How'd it go? Did you ask him for his autograph?"
"No," Ron said. "But I did tell him if he's been missing a chance to play quidditch he should get to the pitch next Saturday."
"We're playing quidditch next Saturday?" Harry asked.
"Well after you tell Diggory you are," Ron said. "You're welcome by the way. Please beat him."
"Wait, so he said he'd come?" Harry asked.
"Yep," Ron said. "Said he missed the air, only he hoped there'd be someone who could keep up."
"Oh my god, I could fly against Krum," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ron said. "And he basically called out all of Hogwarts so you better beat him."
"Oh, sure," Harry said. "I'll just beat the best seeker in the world. Oh my god Ron. I might just fly against Viktror Krum. Thank you so much."
"Yeah well, when you're a champion in an international tournament you tend to be the sort of guy who can get thing's done," Ron said, flashing a grin. "Also I told Hermione that I like liked her."
"O-oh," Harry said, perhaps a bit bug-eyed. "What did she say to that?"
Ron shrugged. "She basically said that she liked me too but that she wasn't ready for a boyfriend."
"So is that, um, okay?" Harry asked.
"Well sure, but I don't really know where that leaves us," Ron said. "We sort of agreed that we wouldn't hide our feelings and stuff but we're also not going to act like we're dating, so… I dunno, and I dunno when she's gonna feel like she is ready to date or if she will feel like it someday but she'll be over me, or… I mean I get why she might not be ready, and stuff, I'm not- I'm not really upset about that part, but, I don't know, it's a weird place to be in."
"That's pretty rough," Harry said. "So if that wasn't what you were upset about, what are you upset about?"
"Oh," Ron said. He shrugged. "She brought up being in recovery. Like us being traumatized means we aren't supposed to move on with our lives, and, you know, that's not on her. If she's not ready she's not ready, and if she feels like our captivity had something to do with it, then it has something to do with it. But that's just the thing. It's like they keep taking stuff from me. It's like, here I am at a ball and I'm asking Hermione to be my girlfriend, and they come in rearing their ugly heads. Everything comes back to them, and I'm sick of it. They're dead, but they're still ruining my life, whether I'm panicking in the middle of the ball room or I'm getting turned down, they've got something to do with it."
Harry's first impulse was always to apologize, but he knew Ron didn't want apologies for what had happened to him because Greyback had wanted Harry. "Well you said it yourself, you're getting better, and you'll keep getting better," he said. "So what does that mean, being open about your feelings for each other but you're not dating?"
"I have no idea, and it was my idea to begin with. At least I told her. What about you?" Ron asked. "You can't even tell anyone you like them. What are you going to do when you find someone you're really into?"
"Oh," Harry said. "Well, it's not like I have anyone I'm dying to confess to. Although, um, I am telling my dad tomorrow."
"What, for real?" Ron asked.
"So you're telling him...?"
"Everything," Harry said.
"Like, everything everything?"
Harry nodded again.
"So that's big," Ron said.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I don't know if I should start off with the Dursleys or my sexuality or what."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
That was tempting. He'd already told Ron pretty much everything he thought he'd go over with his dad, but this also seemed like something that should just be father-son.
"Thanks, but I think I'll go this one alone."
"Well, just let me know if you need anything," Ron said.
"Do you think you can smuggle me out of the country on short notice?"
"Mate I smuggled a dragon out of the country on short notice, you just let me know where we're going."
"Wouldn't it have been crazy if Norbert had been the dragon you had to face?" Harry asked.
"Oh, sure," Ron said. "Give the bugger another chance to bite my hand off."
"I mean you never got a chance to say goodbye," Harry said. "He probably misses you."
"Misses my blood, more likely," Ron said.
"You could always send a liter to Romania," Harry said.
"Eww," Ron said. "That's it, I think we've stayed up too late; you're talking crazy."
"I should let you get some sleep," Harry said.
"Oh don't act like you get eight hours every night," Ron said.
"I'm alright," Harry said. "Are you going to sleep alright after...?"
Ron waved his arm dismissively. "That- episode at the ball feels like ages ago, I'm fine really. I'm sure I'll sleep as well as I usually do."
Harry raised an eyebrow at that.
"I'm doing alright, honest," Ron said.
"How much sleep do you get?"
Ron shrugged. "I don't know. It's mostly restless sleep so I'm, like, waking up a lot or drifting in between a lot. But I am getting by, so you don't need to worry about it."
"Okay," Harry said. "Just, let me know if you need me to keep watch or something."
"Good night Harry," Ron said.
"Good night," Harry said.
Harry got up to go to his bed. "Hey, Harry," Ron said.
"Everything you want to tell your dad; he'd be an idiot if he got upset with you for it, and you already know what I think."
"It's all in my head," Harry said.
"Its all in your head," Ron said.
"I'm still gay," Harry said.
"Yeah, well, like I said, he'd have to be an idiot."
Harry didn't sleep well that night. The thought of the next day's conversation kept running through his head. He would clear his mind only to have his thoughts racing again moments later. He thought up a hundred different ways to say everything. He imagined a hundred different ways for his dad to react. Mostly though, he worried. He worried about his dad hating him the way the Dursleys had hated him. He worried about his dad hurting him like the Dursleys had hurt him.
It had built and built. The closer he got to his dad the more he worried about losing everything. The closer his dad got to him, the more he worried that he would see in him what the Dursleys had seen in him. He found himself drifting off and waking up throughout the night, his mind back on track as soon as he gained cogency. He wondered if Ron was having a similar night.
"I don't know if I can do this," Harry said the next morning on his way to breakfast.
"Do what?" Hermione asked.
"Harry's telling his dad today," Ron said.
"Oh, good for you," Hermione said.
"No," Harry said. "What was I thinking, this is just... This is going to go horribly."
"Well maybe you can do it another day," Ron said. "If you're not ready, you're not ready."
"I told him we'd have a talk today," Harry said. "I told him we'd have, like, a serious talk today."
"Make something up," Ron said. "Tell him you don't want to take potions after OWLs."
"I'm trying to avoid getting disowned," Harry said.
"Well we can come up with something," Ron said.
"He wants to start occlumency practice again," Harry said. "If he thinks I've come clean with, whatever, then... you know? I've painted myself into a corner here."
"Harry," Hermione said. "Unless you hide this for the rest of his life, he's going to find out someday."
"Maybe if I didn't still need a place to stay over the summer, or, you know, a dad," Harry said.
"My parents would definitely adopt you," Ron said.
"I still need the blood protection," Harry said.
"Look," Hermione said. "There might be a lot of negative stereotypes about that sort of thing, and you shouldn't have to, but you can definitely show your dad that there's nothing wrong with you."
"You've got a lot more faith in me than I do," Harry said.
"It's either going to work out or it isn't," Hermione said. "But at this point, it looks like it's going to happen, so there's no point worrying about it."
This was phenomenally unhelpful. Ron and Hermione cajoled Harry to eat a bit at breakfast and then they tried to keep him focused in the library but eventually, it was time to go see his dad. His dad greeted him at the door when he got there. They made small talk for a bit, though both of them knew that this wasn't exactly a normal visit.
"You wanted to talk to me," his dad said.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Um, I guess we should sit down."
"Tea?" his dad asked.
"No," Harry said. "I just- I just need to say some stuff."
"Okay," his dad said.
Harry took the seat nearest the door and his dad sat down opposite him.
"So," Harry said. He had far too many scripts for this conversation in his head.
"Perhaps you can start with the beginning," his dad said.
"I don't know if this conversation has a beginning," Harry said. "There's a bunch of different stuff. Um- I guess it starts with the Dursleys. Um- you know they hated me, so- um..."
"They were wrong to do so," his dad said.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I know they were wrong. Except, for a long time I didn't know that, and sometimes I still don't. I mean, I know it's wrong to hurt a kid, but at the same time, they told me why. They hated me and they told me why. They said a lot of things and a lot of the time I know it isn't true but then a lot of the time, even when I know, I know it isn't, I still feel that it is."
"There's a lot of times when I'm scared that everyone else is going to realize how messed up I am. I've been worried that you were going to figure me out. I- maybe I was trying to sabotage things in the beginning. I told myself I was testing you, but I know it would have been a lot easier if you had just told me to get lost in the beginning. Even when I was telling you those things about me though, I never really dug too deep. There were some things I couldn't say. Some things they said to me that I didn't want to say out loud. Things I don't like to think about."
"I feel like if someone gets to know me too well they're going to start to hate me. They're going to want to hurt me. For a long time in first year, I thought Ron and Hermione were going to turn on me eventually but it was nice having friends, so I thought I'd ride it out as long as I could."
"Harry," his dad said. "The Dursleys lied. I know it must be difficult knowing something is a lie while feeling that it is true, but we can work on that. I'm glad you want to talk about this."
"It wasn't all lies though," Harry said. "Look, I don't want you to make promises."
"What do you mean?" his dad asked.
"Don't tell me everything's fine until I tell you everything. I just- I don't know what's going to be the thing you can't overlook so..."
"We started this conversation once before," his dad said. "I told you then that you did not owe it to me to tell me everything you thought I would not want in a son. I still believe that. You don't owe me an explanation, but I do want to understand you better and I want to help you to overcome these perceptions you have of yourself."
"Don't tell me that before I've told you everything," Harry said.
"All right," his dad said. "Where do you want to start."
A coil of anticipation formed in his gut and he stopped breathing for a moment, because as soon as his chest started moving again he spoke. "I'm gay," he said. "Um, really, really gay."
"Yes, I suspected as much," his dad said.
"What?" Harry asked. When had he screwed up? Why hadn't his dad said anything? Had his dad heard right? What did gay sound like that his dad might have heard?
"You suspected that I was gay," Harry clarified, being sure to say 'gay' loudly and clearly.
"Yes," his dad said.
"Since when?" Harry asked.
"This summer," his dad said. "I thought, perhaps, that you felt a bit differently for Mr. Weasley than you did for Miss Granger."
Harry paled. "Is it obvious?!"
"You are not so guarded when you are recovering from the moon and Mr. Weasley makes a surprise visit. I am rather certain that he is oblivious."
"Wait, so you knew?"
"I had a minor hypothesis," his dad said. "Romance is certainly not my forte."
"You never said anything," Harry said.
"It was merely a suspicion, I did not want to force you to out yourself," his dad said.
"You are my son and I love you," his dad said.
Harry looked at him in shock.
"Really?" he asked.
"Yes, really," his dad said.
"Oh," Harry said. "Um, okay. I'm really selfish."
"What?" his dad asked.
"Um, we're moving on," Harry said. "There's a lot."
"I see," his dad said. "I don't think this is a one-day conversation." He got up and grabbed a bit of parchment and a quill.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked.
"Making a list," his dad said. "So I may address each item in turn."
"Oh," Harry said.
"Are we going in any particular order?" his dad asked.
"No," Harry said. "I sort of figured I'd do all the big stuff first but then that just sort of popped out."
"Why did the Dursleys say you were selfish?" his dad asked.
"I was always super needy," Harry said. "And I still am, I make everything about me. I take up everyone's time."
His dad was writing things down.
"What else," he asked.
"I usually find a way to ruin things," Harry said.
"Hmm," his dad said, writing that down too. "Was that one of the big things?"
Harry shrugged. "Relatively speaking?" He bit his lip. "They made me feel like I ruined their family."
"Am I going to need more parchment?"
"Yeah," Harry said.
"Okay," his dad said. He got up. "Harry?"
Harry looked up at him. "No promises," he reminded him.
"You are my son and I still love you," his dad said. "And I'm not making any promises, but I'm going to make a prediction, that at the end of this evening I will say the same thing."
"This evening?" Harry asked.
"I suspect we will be talking for a while," his dad said.
"I still haven't got a proper start on my holiday homework," Harry said, the prospect of spending all day on this was daunting.
"For a good long while indeed," his dad said.
"You really don't care that I'm gay?" Harry asked.
"You're my son and I still love you," his dad said.
"That's not an answer," Harry said.
His dad sighed.
"There are many negative stereotypes surrounding homosexuality," his dad said. "Something I rather wish we had not imported from the muggle world. Harry, I can't think of anything bad that one might say about gay people that applies to you. Stereotypes have a rather bad habit of not being true. I will admit however that I do care about your sexuality because I care about your well-being. You have more than enough stacked up against you. I wish- I wish your sexuality was not something that others would hold against you. I do not have an issue with homosexuality, I just do not want you to have to face any of the stigmas that people associate with it, just as I wish I could assure you never have to deal with any stigma associated with your lycanthropy."
"I don't mean to make you worry," Harry said.
"That is my prerogative," his dad said. "Now, you are my son, and I still love you, so what's next on the list?"
Harry wasn't sure how to feel. A part of him had been so sure that today would be the end, but now he thought he might make it through. He took a deep breath and got ready for the long haul.
A/N: Fic Recs- Tick Tock by Ididntsignupforthisshit (Oliver_Ravenwood) a Soulmate/modernday AU for Voltron. Foreign Scenes by bwyn, modernday AU also for Voltron. Both are Klance.
Thanks as always to my beta althor42 who is writing his own story The Horcrux Within.