Disclaimer: Surely no one is silly enough to believe that I own these characters, or this world? JK Rowling does and I'm only playing with them. I promise they'll be happy when I put them back.
Author's notes: This series is supposed to cover the last two years of school for Harry and Ron. It discusses child abuse, underage consensual sex between two people who love each other, and will eventually cover MPREG as well. If any of these topics offend you please turn back now. In addition, I have tried to follow cannon as best as I can, but you know how it goes…I'll have messed something up somewhere along the way. I know their birthdays are wrong, but lets just allow for artistic licence and no one will get hexed.
Further warnings: by now this could probably be called an AU if that would make anyone feel better. And forgive me for the Quidditch match - I'm the shape of a Quaffle and sport just ain't my thing! Also, by now you'll have realised that my Harry ain't a happy carefree lad - though he has his moments. If this is a problem for you, back out gracefully now. There's an exit to the left.
Part 4 - Third Term, Sixth Year
"Who's the best gardener you know?" Harry grinned at Ginny as they settled into their compartment on the Hogwarts Express. She grinned back at him, having heard all about the house plans from her very excited brother. Her mother was also making a few plans of her own, mainly to do with furnishings for the new home.
"Neville is," she replied, "You should get him to plan it all out for you."
"Plan what out?" Neville asked from the doorway. Harry got up to help him stow his trunk in the rack above the seats, and grinned at his friend. Ron hated gardening - Harry had heard him complain about it often enough at the Burrow - and Harry had plenty of experience with Muggle gardens, but no real idea what a true Wizarding garden was like to start from scratch.
"Ron and I need the advice of a good gardener," Harry chuckled at the astonishment on Neville's face, "We're planning a garden - one that can be left alone for long periods of time at first, and one that Muggles will be able to look at without a Memory charm."
"Yeah?" Neville looked interested, "How big? Where is it? What sort of soil and climate are you in?"
"Near to the sea, about thirty miles away actually, and I think it's got clay in it, the garden borders an old open air clay quarry. I didn't really look," Harry sat down beside Neville, who frowned.
"Without a soil sample I can't really make any plans for you at all," he fretted, "There's no point in giving you advice on the wrong sort of plants. Do you want Muggle plants as well?"
"Climbing roses," Harry mused, then grinned at his housemate, "Tell you what Neville - there's no hurry. I can get you a soil sample and proper measurements over the summer hols and you can plan it out for us. We can easily wait until next spring to actually plant it."
"Plant what?" Ron asked, coming in and plonking down onto the seat beside Ginny. They'd been in town to organise the money for the house at Gringott's, deciding to ride back on the Express with their friends instead of Apparating to Hogsmeade and walking up to the school. Hermione was on the platform, talking to Susan Bones about a book in her hands, gesturing as she did, and Ginny rolled her eyes when she caught sight of the two girls. Ron's question went unanswered for now, Harry would tell him later.
"She's had her knickers in a twist over some house elf law all hols," Ginny sighed, "She won't be happy until she's got them rights, or freedom or something."
"At least she's stopped trying to trick them into freedom," Harry sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. His forehead was aching a little, and from the frown Ginny was giving him he must have looked as pale as he felt.
"You ok Harry?" Neville asked, clearly remembering the screaming nightmares from their last year, and the sudden bouts of pain that had Harry crying out in class. Harry forced a smile, and nodded, sitting up a little straighter.
"Too much holidays if you get my meaning," he winked at his friend and Neville grinned back, a reminiscent smile in his eyes. Harry thought that Neville was reminiscing over a certain victory party, something that was confirmed with the other boy's next remark.
"That fire whiskey was good, though," he agreed and Harry felt a little bad for lying to his friend. He didn't want to be bothered with useless speculation about possible moves from Voldemort at the moment, though he'd be sure to tell them should things get worse. His scar had been hurting on and off all Easter, and he'd dutifully reported it to the Weasley's and Dumbledore straight away. Dumbledore thought it was because Voldemort was being thwarted in his quest for immediate power, and had asked Harry to be sure to keep up the Occlumency.
Ron had been furious with the Headmaster, and it had taken all of Harry's powers of persuasion and distraction to keep his partner from sending the Headmaster a Howler. Ron had seen the instruction as an insult to Harry, and Harry had felt oddly reassured by the outburst. He now knew without doubt that Ron trusted their safety into his hands without reservation. It was a heady feeling.
"Not so good for some of us," Ron grinned in memory. Hermione had been an exhausting drunk, and it had taken three of them to sober her up and then dose her so she wouldn't suffer too much the next morning.
"Harry only likes it in coffee," Ron revealed, and Harry glared at him. It didn't stop Ron from telling Neville about the hard time Ron had rousting Harry out of bed the next day, though he mercifully didn't say precisely how he'd managed it in the end. The other boy didn't need the mental picture of Harry being led around by a delicate part of his anatomy.
Ron and Hermione were off patrolling again, and Harry mused that he hadn't seen much of Draco Malfoy this trip either. Malfoy usually put in at least one appearance to take a dig at Harry with Crabbe and Goyle looming menacingly at his back. Harry was more than capable of out talking or out hexing the boy now - after the Dursley's Malfoy seemed like an annoying gnat in comparison.
Ginny was sitting with Luna - or 'Looney' as she was known around the school. They were talking together quietly enough. There were a couple of first years huddled on the seat next to Harry, who was sitting next to the window, and Neville was sitting opposite him. Harry had been reading one of Snape's books - the last one on the list, and the only one he and Ron hadn't already read and annotated as they went. They'd got into the habit of scribbling in the margins of their books - little comments, questions and comparisons that made it easier to retain the information. Harry often found a reply to anything he'd written, and he replied to Ron's comments as well. He couldn't remember who'd started this habit, but it was one he'd come to enjoy, even cherish. It made the book theirs - not just his, or just Ron's.
Neville had been staring out the window for quite some time, and Harry thought he might actually have dozed off. He was on the verge of it himself despite the prickling pain - the book wasn't the most attention riveting tome he'd ever read, and he'd read some boring things in his time. The motion of the train was fairly soothing too, so when Neville pulled his wand out, pointed it out the window and screamed:
"Stupefy!" at the top of his lungs Harry got quite a shock and nearly jumped through the roof. He was even more astonished when a white masked Death Eater emerged from behind a torn Invisibility Cloak and fell off his broomstick. Neville would later explain that he had seen the man's feet where the cloak failed to cover them against the wind of broom-flight, but at the moment Harry was too concerned with pulling his own wand out and shouting the alert up and down the train.
Students hit the floors as the windows shattered, sending shards flying across the compartments. The older students repaired the windows instantly, casting Unbreakable charms as well. The charms would hold for a while against the hexes flying at them now, but it wouldn't last forever.
There was a shrieking noise as the train's fire alarms went off, and a disembodied voice announced 'fire in rear carriage' over the noise. Harry swore under his breath. They weren't even at school and the Death Eaters were already having a go. It looked like old Tom Riddle had given up trying to get into Hogwarts.
"Neville, get everyone up to the front of the train," he ordered, "Pack them in as close as you can, and have the Seniors cover the windows. Cast as many protection charms as you can - get them organised. Ginny, help him out!"
Ginny started ushering the cringing first years out, with Luna close at her side while Neville ran back with Harry. They split up, Neville staying to clear the third carriage while Harry headed for the fourth. He shouted to the occupants of the fourth carriage to get to the front and ask Neville Longbottom what the plan was. The students in each compartment piled out, moving quickly. The rifts between the four houses were quickly forgotten in the mutual struggle to defend themselves and survive.
There were whisps of smoke in the fifth carriage, and the students in there were looking a little more than nervous. Harry repeated his instructions, and they moved out quickly. Several Slytherins brushed past, ushering smaller students and Harry moved aside for them easily. Malfoy was on the sixth carriage, which had more than a few whisps of smoke. He was ushering people into the sixth carriage as Harry opened the door, and Harry pushed them on, telling them to make sure they all packed into the front carriages as tightly as possible.
"Potter! The Weasel and the Mud-blood were headed for the seventh carriage!" Malfoy shouted over the heads of several students, and Harry felt fear clench in his gut. He nodded, and started forcing his way against the crowd to reach the blonde Prefect.
"Make sure they get up the front safely," Harry said as he passed, "Get the windows covered and put the Seniors in charge of protecting the Juniors!"
He felt a flash of gratitude when Malfoy merely sneered and kept pushing people along the corridor instead of forcing Harry to stop and deal with him. The Death Eaters weren't going to discriminate about their targets today - and they hadn't in the attack at the Valentine Ball either.
The door to the seventh carriage opened and Harry felt the tug that said Ron was trying to connect them. He stepped to the side, entering an empty compartment, then took a smoky breath and put all of his strength at his partner's disposal. From the draw and tingle, Harry felt a levitation charm put to use, lifting a person from the weight of it. More students than could have fit in this carriage stumbled past; students with singed robes and soot blackened faces were streaming along the corridor past Harry, and he heard Malfoy calling them on, urging them to move faster. With a bit of luck they'd be able to pack everyone into the first three carriages, and be able to lose the last five. With the reduction in weight the engine could speed up - broomsticks weren't generally designed for lengthy bursts at high speeds - and they'd lose a few of the Death Eaters. The link dissolved and Harry stepped out, heading into the seventh carriage.
He checked each compartment as he went, looking under the seats and up on the luggage racks for unconscious students. There were flames licking around the window frames, and some of the glass fragments had blood on them. Obviously the Death Eaters had targeted the last few carriages, maybe because their brooms were having trouble pacing the train. Hermione and Ron were no where to be seen, which meant that Harry would be having words with his other half as soon as they had a spare minute. The door to the eighth carriage was hot to touch, and Harry wrapped his robes over his hands, tugging them up at the neck to form a mask to breathe through.
Then he opened the door and stepped into the flames.
Harry was going to kill him. Ron decided he'd better survive long enough for his friend to do so, and ducked the ball of fire that was headed his way, pulling Hermione down with him and covering her body with his. Most of the students in this last carriage had already made it to the seventh, the last were leaving as he glanced back. Hermione had been talking to Beth Dunn when the first hex had hit, and Ron had been quick to see that the fires burning all over the carriage would soon engulf it. There had been a few moments of panic - Ron's and the students around them - before Hermione had started shouting at everyone to get out.
Ron had seen one or two people with bad cuts staggering past, and he'd grabbed Susan Bones as she hurried forward with Hannah. Hannah's face bore long deep scratches, and she was crying from a combination of the smoke and pain.
"Get everyone into the first three carriages! Seniors to defend the Juniors, and make sure someone checks for injuries!" he shouted over the roar of flames and the wail of the siren, with it's repeated warning droning over all the noise. It was making it very hard to concentrate, and getting on Ron's last nerve. Susan nodded and dragged Hannah forward.
"Shut up!" Ron yelled at the small box on the wall in frustration, and much to his surprise it did. Hermione was heading to the compartments at the end of the carriage and Ron followed her, checking to make sure there were no unconscious students lying hidden in the smoke.
"Ron! The Guard!" Hermione shrieked in horror as they cleared the last compartment. Ron swore under his breath and pulled his robes up to block out some of the smoke, with Hermione copying him a moment later. There were sparks beginning to fly around the compartment as the magically assisted fire took a firmer hold on the train. Ron wasn't sure where this was all coming from, though he'd be prepared to swear on Harry's life that there was no one on the train who shouldn't be there.
They made it to the rear door and managed to open it. The floating floor and concertinaed windshield that normally protected you when you crossed between the carriages were gone, replaced by a ring of flames and a red-hot coupling. The baggage car was also well on fire, but Hermione's streaming eyes spotted the unconscious shape of the Guard and she whipped out her wand, pointing it at the slumped shape.
"Wingardium Leviosa!" she cried, and his hand lifted a little in response. Hermione sobbed in frustration, and Ron put a hand on her arm, easing her back a bit. He reached deep for the connection to Harry, feeling relief that his partner responded almost straight away. He felt Harry put his not inconsiderable strength and ability at his disposal and raised his wandless hand. The Guard rose from the floor and floated quickly into Hermione's eager arms.
"Harry's in the next carriage," Ron let go of their link, helping Hermione drag the Guard forward. It was getting hard to breathe as the fire took all the air out of the enclosed space, the flames and sparks licking at their exposed skin and robes hungrily.
The door opened as they reached it and Harry reached out, grabbing the Guards legs and backing rapidly into the seventh carriage. The fire hadn't quite so great a hold here and it was easier to progress up the corridor with the three of them taking the unconscious mans weight. The sixth cabin was full of smoke and starting to smoulder dangerously, and the fifth wasn't much better off. They checked the compartments anxiously as they stumbled forward.
"Hermione, take him!" Harry ordered as they reached the empty fourth carriage, "Get Malfoy to help you. Tell them to pass on the message to hang on for a lurch and the driver should speed up! Then Apparate to Hogsmeade and get us help."
"What about the anti-Apparation spells?" Hermione panted, staggering forward, "I can't get around those!"
"Shit!" Ron swore, "We'd have to be outside the train to Apparate!"
"Potter!" Malfoy roared, "Get in here!"
Ron turned and saw that the door to the overcrowded third carriage was open, and that someone had the brilliant idea to coat the walls in ice and drench the students thoroughly in water to keep them safe from stray sparks. Malfoy reached out with a frown of distaste and pulled the Guard into the carriage. A few of the Juniors moved to give the injured man help and Ron dismissed him from his mind.
"We can disable the wards on this carriage," Ron grabbed Harry's wrist, "She can Apparate off before we release the coupling!"
"Good idea," Harry agreed, "Hermione, did you hear him?"
"How will you do that?" she asked, getting behind them as indicated. Ron tightened his grip on Harry's wrist in reply and they ripped the roof off the carriage in front of them, tearing the wards irredeemably. Hermione and Malfoy both shouted, and Ron felt the wards flicker and die.
"Go!" Harry was shouting, pulling Ron around their stunned friend, and heading for the door of the third carriage. Hermione disappeared with a pop and Ron secured his grip on the frame of the door, wedging Harry firmly in beside him. Harry put a hand on the back of Ron's neck.
"Partum coupling!" Ron pointed down at where the coupling should be and Harry grabbed for him as the train lurched sharply, picking up speed slowly at first and then with ever increasing rapidity. There was a sudden shadow passing overhead and Harry took over the magic, shielding them from the bloodletting curses being rained down upon their vulnerable position.
"Harry! Neville says they're getting hammered in the second carriage!" Susan shrieked from her position halfway up the carriage, and Ron swore in his friend's ear. They couldn't be in three carriages at once, which left them with a rather daunting prospect.
"Harry, we need to extend the shield to cover the whole train," he said urgently, and felt Harry nod in agreement. Ron took a deep slow breath and felt Harry get in synch with him, the hands knotted in his robes flexing softly as the charge built between them in an euphoric rush. He felt the power gather and then slowly, carefully creep out over the train, flowing like water to cover the carriages and engine as Ron's vision faded to nothing. He lost track of everything but the warmth of Harry's body moulded to his, the flex and warp of their magical shield as the frustrated Death Eaters pounded it with everything they had for what felt like a short eternity.
Something roared - it sounded vaguely like a lion or something, amplified a hundred times - and still Ron poured everything into his link with Harry, feeling his partner match him, feeling the sense of danger decrease a little and moaning softly as the strain became too great, as the shield began to thin in places. He felt Harry reaching desperately for some hidden reserve, anything to keep their protection working. Voices were shouting, but Ron couldn't understand them.
Harry screamed in pain as the shield tore right down the middle, clutching desperately at Ron as his partner fainted, the link crashing to nothing in a heartbeat. For one terrified moment he thought Ron was dead, and he twisted hard, letting his partner down onto the floor. He was aware that Malfoy - of all people - was holding onto him to prevent him toppling out of the carriage. Crabbe, who was holding onto Malfoy's robes screamed and ducked as someone Apparated onto the outside of the train, clinging to the coupling with his feet and the outer edge of the door with one hand. Harry whipped his wand out, but stopped the hex that leapt to his lips just in time.
Dumbledore looked like an avenging angel, clinging to the outside of the train, his long hair and beard streaming behind him, his robes flapping and cracking in the wind. Harry reached out to pull him in, and Dumbledore took his hand, securing himself just inside the door.
"I want as many of you as possible to secure a hold on each other," his magically amplified, calm voice sounded easily over the sound of the students casting hexes out the windows and trying to maintain a shield of some kind against the Death Eaters. Harry saw them all reach out - the first years using both hands to clutch their protectors - and Dumbledore pulled a small key out of his pocket. Harry pushed Ron into Malfoy's arms and glared at him before flattening himself and taking Dumbledore's place, putting a shield over their open door with his wand. He may not be able to produce a large effect like he could in the partnership, but he could watch their backs for a few minutes. When he looked back the carriage was empty and Dumbledore was striding along to the next one.
"Harry, I must remove the wards to allow help to arrive," he called over his shoulder, and Harry stumbled after him in a hurry. If the Death Eaters realised that the carriage was no longer protected he'd be mincemeat if they caught him on it. Reaching the Headmasters side, Harry reached out for the next port key.
"How do I activate it to send the next lot back?" he asked, and despite the danger Dumbledore's eyes twinkled in approval. Irrationally, it made Harry feel a little better. Plan made, Harry pushed the door open and stepped through, shouting to be heard over the counter hexes being flung. There was a ragged cheer when he announced that help was here, and people started linking together. This carriage had indeed taken a pounding, the damage and streaks of blood and soot on the students faces speaking eloquently of their struggle. There were one or two still, hunched figures, and Harry's heart was seized with an awful fear that they hadn't been so lucky this time around in avoiding serious injuries. Neville was one of the hunched forms, but he stirred enough to grasp the hem of the person next to him.
A moment later the carriage was empty. Harry looked back in time to see a whole bunch of Aurors in their black and gold robes materialise in the third carriage, brooms in hand. Snape and McGonagal were with them, hurrying forward towards the Headmaster as Dumbledore turned and handed out the last port key. Harry took the old shoe and lurched up the corridor for the first carriage. Halfway there a fireball succeeded in melting through the ice barrier that they had set on the walls, and Harry had to throw himself flat as the Death Eaters outside started bombarding the carriage with fireballs and bloodletting curses.
"Harry!" McGonagal shouted, and Harry waved back that he was uninjured before heading forward again, this time wriggling very quickly on his stomach, staying below the level of the windows and smoke. The Creevey brothers were closest to the door in the first carriage and Harry yelled his message again, with the added information that Aurors had also arrived. Everyone grabbed hold of each other and Harry passed the port key to Colin before reaching out to grab hold as well, intending to go with them.
The train shuddered and lurched as he said the spell, making Harry lose his grip as he fell. A moment later he was alone in the carriage. The wards in the walls were starting to give under the bombardment outside, and Harry lurched forward, heading to the engine. At least it was made of iron and harder to burn.
"What are you doing here!" the sweet trolley Witch shrieked when he appeared in the doorway, and she pulled him inside. The Driver was tense faced, watching the gauges and the shovel that was magically ferrying coal into the boiler at a frantic pace.
"Dumbledore's here! All the students have been taken off the train!" Harry told them from where he was leaning, "There are Aurors out there too now."
"Thank God," the trolley Witch muttered and pointed her wand out the window again, sending a hex after a fleeing Death Eater, "Don't you worry dearie, we'll take care of you."
Harry nodded, but went to the other small window and pulled his wand out, aiming freezing curses at any Death Eater he could target safely. There was a real battle going on out there as the Aurors hounded the Death Eaters away from the crippled Express. The Driver was peering ahead, and suddenly he swore loudly.
"Hold tight! They've blown the track!" he roared and Harry twisted to look. The rails a mile ahead were a twisted mess for about thirty yards, and even as he watched the driver had thrown the emergency brake on hard. The engine lurched and almost came off the rails anyway as the wheels locked, trying to stop their forward progress.
"Reparo!" the trolley Witch shouted, and some of the damage smoothed out. Harry joined her in shouting the charm over and over again, with the Driver adding his efforts to theirs. Some of the rails nearest them began to relay themselves, but the damage was too great for them to repair entirely. The Hogwarts Express was still going - albeit at a crawl - when it hit the damage and jumped the rails. The world turned on its ear, and Harry ended up on top of the Driver, with the Witch on top of them. The Driver stirred under Harry, pushing at him, shouting.
"Get out! Get out!"
Harry groaned and forced himself up, pulling the dazed Witch with him. They climbed and slithered out of the engine and headed for shelter in the nearby woods. The train was a mess, though only the engine and first carriage had come off the rails. The second carriage was tilted to one side, and burning fiercely, and the third carriage had caught fire at the end nearest the second. There was a horrendous squeal and the Driver groaned as great gouts of steam burst from the engine when the boiler split itself wide open.
The Aurors and Death Eaters continued to duel - even as Harry watched one of the Death Eaters came off his broom and fell heavily to the ground, followed by his broom as it floated down lazily. The Driver grabbed Harry's arm in excitement and pointed at the second carriage. Professor Snape was standing on it, surrounded by flames, shooting curses at a particularly proficient Death Eater. From the enemies moves Harry knew that Snape would not hit the man from the ground, and the Professor was in danger of being burnt alive as his opponent drove him towards the flames.
"Accio broom," Harry yelled, jumping out into the open. An Auror had spotted Snape and was moving to drive off the Death Eater, but the help had come too late. Snape went down for a moment as Harry mounted the broom and kicked off. He wasn't sure if the wards on the carriage were weak enough for Snape to Apparate to safety, and got his answer a moment later when Snape disappeared and then reappeared on the spot in short order. He was bleeding from a nasty wound to the head, and Harry saw the edge of his robes catch fire as the flames leapt high about him despite the quenching spells he was directing at them.
"Snape!" Harry screamed, and when the Potions master looked up he performed the sticky finger charm, feeling his left hand glue itself to the broom, and hooking his legs around the shaft tightly before leaning down with his right hand outstretched. Snape's hand whipped up into the air and Harry felt his fingers glue themselves around the other mans wrist. There was a terrific jolt as he took Snape off his feet and away from the burning carriage, and something in Harry's shoulder tore open. He screamed in pain as his arm lost all power, but thankfully the sticky fingers charm held, and Snape was lifted safely back to the edge of the forest. Harry lowered his teacher to the ground carefully and then collapsed beside him, letting the pain take him away.
Ron didn't care that Harry's hair was wet with his tears, or that the body he was clutching was cold and unresponsive. He didn't care that his mother was seated on the end of the bed that he and Harry were squeezed into, or that his father was sitting at his back, one hand on his shoulder. He didn't care that Snape and Dumbledore were standing at the foot of the bed, and the Headmaster was regarding him with worried eyes, or that Madam Pomfrey was looking at him with concern while she tried to take Harry's pulse.
All he cared about was that his partner was in one piece, and if it took him a little time to come back to him from wherever he'd retreated then Ron would wait gladly. Ron pressed his face closer into Harry's hair and tightened his grip when Pomfrey tried to prise their hands apart once more.
"No," he growled, "Not letting go!"
He'd woken in the hospital wing with a bad head and a few uncomfortable burns. He'd been so sick he'd thrown up all over Madam Pomfrey, and it had taken all her skill to get the strong headache potion down him. Unable to stay - there was a stream of injured students being carried up from the Great Hall by the teachers and their fellow students - she had left him to recover in the small isolation chamber. Hermione and then Ginny had come to find him eventually, sitting with him while the noise from the main ward quietened. The girls had dozed off when night finally fell, and Mr and Mrs Weasley found them there. Ron had fought off the lethargy he felt long enough to ask about Harry, and that was when things had taken a turn for the worse.
Ginny had been out in the hallway for some fresh air when Harry had been brought in. His shoulder was a mess, Snape was no lightweight, and he was deeply unconscious. Madam Pomfrey had directed his bearers to lay him in another of the isolation chambers. Then Madam Pomfrey and the Healers summoned to the school when Hermione had raised the alarm, had swarmed around him, and Ginny had stayed to see what happened to Harry before going to tell Ron that he was there. Furious that no one had told him that his partner was here and hurt, Ron had staggered out of bed to go to his side just as the Healers had stepped back.
Madam Pomfrey had said something about dangerously deep shock, a few burns that Harry hadn't noticed in the thick of things, the damage to the shoulder he'd dislocated once already this year, and then fallen silent. Mrs Weasley had been pale and tearful, but Ron had simply climbed into Harry's bed and gathered him close, careful not to jar anything, breathing in Harry's unique scent.
Harry had lain in his arms, totally unresponsive to external stimuli for two days. Madam Pomfrey had tried to get Ron to let go and get up, but Ron had refused adamantly. He just knew that Harry would want him close, knew that he was there, and would come back to him when it was safe to do so. Ron couldn't forget that Harry had once said one of the things he loved about Ron was that his partner was always at his side - and when they had to part he knew that Ron would be waiting when he came back. Ron was determined not to let Harry down.
"Ron, dear," his mother reached out to grasp his ankle, "You must let Madam Pomfrey..."
"No!" Ron shouted, turning his head enough to glare at her. He wasn't letting go, and he wasn't letting them take Harry away. Madam Pomfrey had said something about St Mungo's. He wasn't letting them take his partner to that place - Harry hated St Mungo's. He couldn't sleep there; it was too noisy and frightening.
"No, I don't have to let her do anything! He's my partner, and he'll be ok if you'd all just let us alone!"
"Don't shout at your mother," his dad shook Ron's shoulder a little, "She only wants the best for the both of you."
"Then leave us alone! He's tired and he needs to rest. He'll wake up when he's rested. Professor, tell them! Tell them that he's just sleeping," Ron pleaded with the Headmaster, "Please... just tell them."
Dumbledore shifted from foot to foot and folded his hands beneath his beard uncomfortably. Ron bit back another sob and buried his face in Harry's hair once more, the messy black strands clinging to his wet face. He heard the Headmaster clear his throat and gripped his partner even tighter in defiance.
"Ron," Dumbledore's voice was very gentle, "Perhaps it would be best if you let go. Just for a moment."
"No," the response was very weak, but clear, "Ron..."
"I've got you," Ron blurted, kissing Harry's hair and wrapping a leg around his partner's. Freezing cold fingers found his, and he tangled their hands together joyfully.
"Cold..." the complaint was soft, but galvanised Madam Pomfrey into pointing her wand at the blankets and heating them once more. The charm had a limited life, and wasn't designed for medical use, but until she could untangle her patients it would have to do. Ron snuggled closer than ever - something that anyone watching would have thought impossible.
"It's ok, Harry, just rest," Ron whispered, "Just rest now."
He felt his partner take that 'step back' and smiled happily.
"He's asleep, he's practicing the Occlumency," he told Madam Pomfrey when she made a startled noise and a grab for her wand again, "I can feel it."
"Now will you let go?" she asked tartly, and Ron shook his head stubbornly. He did manage to sit up though, with his partner rolling over automatically to get comfortable. Ron smiled, pulling Harry's head into his lap. It wasn't a bad compromise, Madam Pomfrey had better access and Harry sighed comfortably as the blankets were tucked in under his chin.
"How's Harry?" Hermione looked up as Ron slumped into the chair opposite hers, and he shrugged grumpily. He'd gone rather suddenly from gluing himself to Harry's side for three days to being exiled by a very embarrassed and grumpy partner only this morning. Harry had slept deeply in his arms, and woken with much more energy. Ron had been kissing him good morning when Madam Pomfrey appeared with their breakfast, and her scolding and fussing had led to Harry asking shamefacedly for Ron to go.
Ron had spent his lessons sulking in silence, with most of the students around him too scared to ask how his friend was. He felt a little betrayed - he'd gone head to head with every authority figure in his life to stay at Harry's side and his partner had simply dismissed him.
"Fine," Ron folded his arms and sulked at the fireplace. He saw Hermione swallow a smile, and grimaced at her. She didn't understand. The relationship between him and Harry was rapidly outstripping the bonds of family love he felt for his parents and siblings, yet Harry had dismissed him after a little lecture from the schools matron.
"It's not my fault Pomfrey came in without knocking," he told her, "But I'm the one who gets kicked out."
"Don't be mad," Harry's voice startled him, and he leapt up, turning to look at his wan partner, who was leaning on Neville's arm rather wearily. He was too pale for Ron's liking, and his hands were shaking badly, which meant his legs probably were too. His right arm was in a cotton sling, protecting his overstrained shoulder.
"What are you doing?" Hermione yelped and Ron leapt to take Harry's other side. He felt something in his chest relax when Harry leaned into him, a warm welcome weight that Ron had been afraid he'd lost forever.
"I left the hospital wing," Harry confessed, "Neville found me on the stairs."
"I thought it best to get him up here where he could rest," Neville said anxiously as they helped the shaky teen into Ron's vacated chair, "And... I didn't want to be there when Madam Pomfrey noticed Harry was out of bed."
Harry laughed, and Ron shook his head, kneeling at his friend's feet to stay in contact. The unhealthy pallor had him a little worried, but the fact that Harry had felt up to getting out of bed and walking up two flights of stairs was kind of comforting.
"Where did you get these?" he plucked at the rather violently red and green striped dressing gown and the yellow fluffy slippers. Neville had slipped away with a pat to Harry's shoulder, and Hermione had packed up her book in order to spend some time with her friends.
"Dobby," Harry shrugged, "I think they were going to either be his once he'd shrunk them or we're looking at a Christmas present for someone."
"Eek," Hermione laughed lightly, and Ron forced a small smile. Harry sighed softly, and shifted his legs, shoving himself upright and wobbling for a moment before Ron leapt up and steadied him, looking at his friend in alarm.
"I'd better be lying down when Madam Pomfrey catches up with me," he told Hermione, and Ron led him away towards their room, letting any further conversation wash over him until he'd sealed the door shut behind them. He helped Harry take off the sling and lie down, and then stepped back from the bed, his arms folded over his chest as he watched his friend catch his breath.
"Ron," Harry put his hand out, "Please. Don't do this."
"You told me to go away," Ron snapped, anger boiling over, and Harry shook his head.
"Ron, I heard everything. I only blacked out for a few minutes. I heard everything the Healers said to you. I heard everything you said to them. I know you wouldn't leave me, and I know that they were going to ship me off to St Mungo's," Harry sighed, letting his shaking hand drop to the bed once more, "You'd had to do so much, I could hear the stress in your voice. When I asked you to go, I was hoping that you'd be able to relax. To rest. To not get into trouble over me. The whole school must know you stayed with me, what will they think if it gets out about us? I mean, its different for me, I don't have a family name to ruin. I only meant for you to go out for a while. Where did you go?"
"I went to class," Ron told him, moving a little closer, "I just don't remember what we did today."
"Hermione will have notes," Harry offered a hopeful smile. Ron heaved a big sigh and climbed onto the bed, straddling Harry's hips, leaning down so he was blanketing his friend without putting too much weight on him. Harry's hands came up to touch his thighs lightly, his fingers still.
"You git," Ron mumbled into Harry's neck, "I don't care what other people think about us. I love you, you dumb shit, and if that lot outside our door can't handle that then they can sod off."
"Forgive me?" his partner stroked his hair, and Ron nodded, gripping the bright dressing gown with slightly shaking fingers. Harry sighed, and tension that Ron hadn't noticed in the body under his melted away. There was a long and comfortable silence, while they just got back into synch with each other, sharing warmth and companionship.
"I need to wash my hair," Harry said after a long silence. Ron blushed a brilliant red and cleared his throat, sitting up. Harry was scowling, but there was love in his eyes.
"Yeah... about that..."
"You're late," the Potions master sneered and Harry glanced at Hermione, startled. She checked her watch discreetly while Ron apologised in a rather tired tone. The partners had found it hard to regain their energy after the attack on the Hogwarts Express, and their recovery was not helped by the tension in the castle as the Daily Prophet reported the storm of accusations, fear and name calling. Hogwarts students had been under attack three times this year, and parents were starting to call for its closure.
Harry knew that there was a good chance that the Headmaster would be forced to send him away from Hogwarts if there was another attack. He'd already decided that he'd wait for Ron at Grimmauld Place. Once his partner had graduated from Hogwarts they'd re-plan their future together.
"Sit down," Snape was scowling at them all, and Harry shuffled to a desk at the front, sitting close to Ron, their fingers linked openly. This earned them a roll of the eyes and a sneer, but neither teen made a move to untangle.
"I'm going to instruct you on the brewing of potions that require significant amounts of magic before, during and after their preparation," Snape folded his arms and glared at all three of them, "For what reason would a wizard be required to use magic whilst brewing?"
"The ingredients being used can only be handled safely with magic," Ron spoke up dully.
"The potion itself is of a toxic nature whilst brewing that requires some distance for the safety of the brewer, until it has completed the brew and become quiescent," Harry added softly, their fingers still and limp on the desk top.
"Or the potion is of a potency that accidental exposure is instantly fatal," Ron finished the explanation for them both, as Snape's glare became incendiary. Hermione hadn't even put her hand up, as it was not her tuition they were there for, and she knew that if Snape got too angry, he'd use the slightest excuse to kick her out.
"Very well," Snape waved his wand at the board and it filled with a recipe that they had done before. The Shrinking solution wasn't difficult, but from their reading over the holidays Harry knew that several of the more common ingredients would react poorly to being prepared magically rather than manually. He could also see that Snape hadn't adjusted the recipe to allow for this. Ron's quick squeeze informed Harry that he'd also spotted this problem.
"May we make the correct substitutions to the ingredients, Professor?" Harry asked quietly. Snape's eyes flashed. He jerked a short nod at them and Harry went to the ingredients cupboard, followed closely by Ron.
They collected what they needed from the cupboard and set it out carefully, laying their equipment out precisely before standing back, joining their fingers and beginning their casting. Hermione moved to watch, and Snape snapped at her to get back out of the way. Ron made a rude comment along Harry's palm, and Harry sighed, shaking his head.
The casting went smoothly enough and the potion changed colours at the right time. They worked together to bottle it carefully, and then cleaned their desk and cauldron out carefully. Snape tested the potion, sneered at them and swept back to his desk. Harry bit back a sigh. He thought they'd been pretty impressive, given that their use of the magic had been flawless, and the potion itself obviously worked. Resigned to a term of extra rations of Snape's sarcasm he congratulated Ron with a touch.
"That will be all," Snape growled, "You may leave. Potter, I want a word."
Ron hesitated, obviously reluctant to leave Harry behind with Snape. Hermione merely gathered her things together in silence. Harry smiled at his friends and walked to Snape's desk. The Potions master waited until the door shut behind them and then looked up, his face a blank mask.
"I take it you've recovered from the other day?" his voice was uninterested and cool. Harry wondered why he was bothering to ask if he didn't care about the answer.
"Yes, thank you Professor," Harry replied politely. He didn't offer any further information, nor did he inquire about Snape. Any attempts to 'make friends' would be met with extreme derision. He had no intention of letting Snape think that he was trying to curry favour with anyone.
"Get out, then," Snape turned away and Harry trudged over to the door, feeling a little disappointed. For a moment he thought that Snape might have been about to say thank you, or at least say something nice. Ron and Hermione were waiting just outside and Harry rolled his eyes at them.
"Relax, he just asked if I'd recovered," he shook his head, "That's all."
"I'm telling you, Harry, there's something strange going on with Snape," Ron took Harry's elbow, "In fact the whole school's gone positively weird."
"They're nervous about the Death Eaters," Hermione frowned as they headed up to the Great Hall for tea, "The attack on the train is a big deal. This is the first time most of the students have ever had to practice what we learn in Defence Against the Dark Arts. And the younger students were almost totally defenceless, which has got their parents really worried."
They reached the Great Hall in silence, and it seemed that the tension that had been hanging over the school since they'd survived the attack on the Express had reached breaking point. Several people shot them nasty looks, and Harry felt his gut clench. He couldn't concentrate on classes and the partnership and Ron if he also had to worry about defending himself from the student body in general.
"There's a huge house meeting tonight," Neville whispered as they sat down, "We're staying here after tea."
Harry's appetite fled.
It appeared that all four houses had decided to hold a meeting in the Great Hall, and it was also quickly apparent once the teachers had left that the topic up for discussion was Harry's continued attendance at the school. There had been a lot of press coverage in the Daily Prophet of the attacks that had occurred this year, and Rita Skeeter had led the way with malicious gossip and thinly veiled accusations. Nearly the whole school had read the articles, and Harry was not surprised that they had decided to take matters into their own hands.
Ron was standing at the head of the Gryffindor table, shouting at people that it wasn't Harry's fault, and they had no right to judge him for something he'd no control over. Hermione was going toe to toe with Cho Chang, who apparently felt it was best that Harry leave the school in order to save the rest of the students. Hermione was shouting that Harry wasn't the only target, and Millicent Bulstrode - who had been listening closely with a malignant look on her face - shrieked something about that being a lie, and if Harry hadn't been there the Death Eaters would never have attacked anyone. Harry shook his head and jumped up to stand on the Gryffindor table, drawing everyone's attention.
"This is exactly what Voldemort wants!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, and the name silenced his fellow students like a switch being thrown. They gaped up at him, and Harry took a deep breath.
"Look, old Tom Riddle wants us fighting amongst ourselves. He wants us so divided that we can't possibly work together against him," he continued in a quieter tone, "That's the very least of it - if he can, Tom Riddle probably wants Hogwarts shut down. Think about it - this is the place that teaches people to resist him, to think for themselves."
"The fact is that if you weren't here, then the Death Eaters wouldn't be attacking us!" Bulstrode stood up, a superior kind of smirk on her face. Harry shook his head, aware that the rest of the school was waiting for him to reply. He wasn't a speechmaker, and he hated that the only way to quell the rumours now was to do it like this.
"Millicent, if the sole aim of these attacks was to kill me, then I'd have died in their first attack," he held up a hand sharply when she made to speak, "I was standing off to one side of the common room, behind Hermione and Ron, waiting for them to finish their 'welcome to Gryffindor, we are the Prefects' speech. When the Death Eaters snuck in behind the seventh years I was completely vulnerable. They only had to cast the Avada Kedavra curse and I'd never have known what hit me."
"The fact is that you are the main target!" Millicent didn't sound so sure of herself, and Harry shook his head. People were whispering to each other, some nodding in agreement, hands waving as one or another made a point. He was number one on Voldemort's 'people to kill' list, but the attacks were not aimed solely at him.
"She's wrong," Ron stood up and they quieted to listen to him, "Tom's after all of us. We're the next line of defence against him, he needs to get rid of us now, before we learn how to kill him."
"Who's Tom?" Cho Chang asked despite herself, and Neville grinned, standing up and looking around. Harry felt such a sweep of relief that he and Ron weren't being left to stir the students out of their self-involved fears. If the school were shut down it would be a calamity. The next generation of possible fighters would be horribly unprepared for the task of defeating the Dark Lord.
"Its You-Know-Who's real name," the silence that followed that little announcement was stunned, and Harry bit his lip. Dumbledore had never told the students about Voldemort's past and he wasn't sure why, but Harry knew that they all had to know the truth. He walked to the end of the table and jumped down, moving up the steps to stand in front of the empty staff table.
"About fifty years ago... well maybe sixty, I'm not sure, Tom Marvolo Riddle was born. His mother died not long after, but lived long enough to call him Tom Riddle after his Muggle father, and Marvolo after his grandfather. His father denied his obligation, and Tom grew up in a Muggle Orphanage, coming to Hogwarts when he was eleven like the rest of us. He was put in Slytherin, and it turned out he was Slytherins Heir. He was a Prefect and he worked hard, but when he left school he got ensnared in the Dark Arts. He hated Muggles, and Muggle-borns and he hated that he hadn't managed to set the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets on the Muggle-borns. He started the Death Eaters and started killing to gain power. You all know he failed," Harry looked around rather shyly, "When we fought in the Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle showed me how he'd changed the letters of his name to Lord Voldemort."
The flinch was almost universal, and Harry did his best not to sigh in disgust. They had to get over their instinctive fear of that name - it was the only way they'd be able to defeat Voldemort in the future.
"Gryffindor calls him Tom Riddle instead," Ron said to the Hall, grinning up at Harry and tipping him a sly wink, "We're not going to give in to him."
The Gryffindor table all beamed and nodded, and there was another swell of quiet discussion.
"This is all well and good, but you have to admit that Potter is a major target," Malfoy spoke up, "He is the Boy Who Lived, and we all know that the Dark Lord is after him."
"You weren't listening were you?" Dean Thomas spoke up derisively, "They were on us before we even knew they were there - twice in fact, first when they burned our tower and second when they attacked the Ball. What do you think they're going to do, attack Harry when he knows they're there, or sneak up and kill him?"
"They haven't killed anyone - none of the Unforgivable Curses have been cast," Harry pointed out, his arms folded, "There's something else going on here - Riddle is a master at manipulating people and events to suit him. We can either do his dirty work for him, or stand together."
"They killed Diggory," Crabbe's words rolled across the Hall, and Harry felt himself pale. He lifted his chin and looked Crabbe in the eye. The fact that it was the son of a Death Eater levelling this charge did not escape him, and Harry wondered if some of his classmates were starting to question their parents' choices. He hoped so, that might make this whole scene worthwhile. In the meantime there was an accusation to answer, and unfortunately he was the only one who could.
"Yes, they did."
Ron thought that they might have been winning people over with their arguments for a while there. They reminded the other Houses that Gryffindor had fought to protect all of them, laying aside the usual House rivalry in the emergency. They had established that the main emotion running through the demands that Harry be expelled, or the Houses split from each other permanently for their own protection, was fear. The Prefects had managed to shoot down the most ridiculous rumours and reassure the more fearful students that they were not living with traitors and people who were about to murder them in their beds.
Millicent Bulstrode was too stupid to offer either himself or his friend much competition when it came to a debate, and the rest of the houses were at least listening. There were a few people talking together, mainly discussing what was being said. The other Prefects seemed happy to let Harry take the brunt of the students fear and anger, which made Ron a little mad until he realised that Harry was better qualified to answer the accusations being thrown around. He actually thought they were winning until Crabbe spoke up.
"They killed Diggory," Crabbe's words rolled across the Hall, and Ron watched with a sinking heart as his best friend went pale. He felt a flash of pride when Harry lifted his chin and looked Crabbe in the eye.
"Yes, they did."
The quiet words silenced another round of whispers, and Ron bit his lip as Harry began to speak haltingly of the night that Cedric Diggory was killed by Peter Pettigrew at Riddle's command. He always suspected that Harry had faced some torture, not to mention the responsibility that he must have felt that the student had died simply because he wasn't Harry. His heart grew cold as Harry described the way Voldemort had been returned to his body, and he sent all the strength he could to his shaky partner when the end of the tale came around.
The students sat in silence. There were a few in tears, and even the Slytherin table was obviously thinking about what had been said. Ron honestly couldn't tell what was going to happen now, but he knew that they had to make some kind of decision here. The school would not survive a rift between the Houses, and the teachers would not be able to force unity upon them. This was something they had to do for themselves.
"I don't know what Professor Dumbledore intends to do," Harry sighed at last, breaking the silence. Ron could see that the prospect of Hogwarts closing forever was truly depressing his partner, "I don't know how he'll keep you all safe. But I know that if we tear the school apart from the inside we're doing Riddle's work for him - and I don't want any part of that."
"So this is what we should do," Hermione spoke up suddenly, "We stick together. We abolish the House tables - everyone should mix in together at meals and lessons."
"What about Quidditch?" someone asked, while Ron admired the rather daring proposition. It would solve the immediate problem, though the threat of Tom Riddle would loom over them all until he was defeated forever. Harry laughed, drawing Ron's eyes once more. His partner looked so sexy up there, so strong and resolved.
"If you think I'm not going to compete the hardest I can in our next match against Hufflepuff, you need to wake up," the response had people laughing lightly, and Hermione sent him a slightly cross look. The mood had changed though; Ron thought they were winning here.
"To sum up," Ron spoke before she could, "We agree to unite the school in lessons and free time. We agree not to go off the deep end the next time Riddle makes a move against us. We agree to fight together."
"We agree!" Gryffindor put their hands up. They glared at the other Houses, daring them to take the challenge up, to reunite the school.
"We agree," to Ron's shock the Slytherin House was next, raising their hands unanimously. Ron had expected the students that had Death Eaters for parents would choose not to join their push for unity. Malfoy's hand was as high as anybody's and Ron made a mental note to keep an eye on the slimy git.
"We agree," Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff joined the consensus, and Ron smiled up at his very pale and relieved partner.
"You were marvellous," Ron licked around Harry's ear, and his partner snorted. They were lying on their bed, their clothes dropped in a pile by the door, stripped off in a hurry while they kissed frantically, bodies rubbing sensuously.
"Aren't you supposed to say that after you've shagged me?" Harry's hands were gripping Ron's naked hips. Ron laughed and leaned back, making his partner growl and reach up to yank him down again.
"I meant you were marvellous talking them into unifying the school," Ron sucked on Harry's shoulder, their hips pushing together in slow rhythm.
"Mmmmmm," Harry purred and wrapped a leg around him, more interested in the way their dicks were rubbing slowly together than any evaluation of his public speaking abilities. Ron gave up, moving to balance himself and drive the rhythm forward, sending them into a gasping, writhing frenzy that seemed to last forever and yet end too quickly.
"Marvellous," Harry gasped for breath and Ron snorted into his neck, slipping to one side just enough to let Harry breathe. Ron petted the sweat and fluid covered body he was laying on tenderly, reaching up to play with messy dark hair as well.
"This term hasn't been much fun, has it?" he muttered, and Harry sighed, catching the hand that was stroking his chest. The dark head turned on its pillow and Ron's fingers were massaged gently.
"The last five minutes were bloody good," green eyes twinkled at Ron, "We're together and that's good too. It's alright, Ron."
"Harry," Ron let go, rolled over and sat up, running a hand through his own hair, "You've been nearly killed, Snape's gone all bizarre on us, and the school wants to kick you out. How can that be alright?"
"Because you git," Harry sat up too and straddled Ron's lap easily, grabbing his startled friend by the ears and kissing him passionately. Ron clutched the warm body in his lap and moaned into the hot mouth that was trying to excavate his tonsils. Harry pulled back gasping and fixed him with a very solid look.
"I didn't die, and neither did you. Snape's always been twisted in some way, and the school isn't going to kick me out," he said firmly, and Ron grinned weakly. There was no resisting Harry when he was like this - so sexy, focussed and determined. He felt certain bits that Harry was sitting on perk up and take notice. From the look on Harry's face his partner had noticed too.
"Good point," Ron nodded, "Let's talk about something else."
"I wasn't planning on bloody talking," Harry growled and wriggled suggestively.
"Yeah? What were you planning?" Ron asked and laughed when Harry pounced on him, knocking him flat and giving a very detailed demonstration of his plan.
Harry followed his friend as Ron led the way over to the Hufflepuff table and sat down beside Justin Finch-Fletchley, stacking their plates while Harry fished out the money for the owl. Beth Dunn was sitting over at the Ravenclaw table, and Hermione had settled rather pointedly at the Slytherin table with Ginny, Neville, Seamus and Dean. A brief glance at the teacher's tables showed that the staff was rather bemused at this turn of events. Dumbledore was smiling a little though, and Harry turned his attention back to the people around him. They were nervous, that much was obvious, and one or two were seated in their habitual spots, glaring around defiantly.
"Morning Potter," Malfoy's voice sounded in his ear and Harry forced himself not to move as the Slytherin Prefect took the empty seat beside him. Thankfully the owl from the Daily Prophet landed then, hooting reproachfully at them for moving from their usual spot.
"Get used to it, we'll be moving around a lot," Harry told it firmly and paid, taking the paper and handing it to Ron, who was scraping eggs onto toast for them both. Harry was aware of the waiting presence next to him, and was also aware that Malfoy would use the slightest hint of reluctance on Harry's part - real or imagined - to sabotage their plan before it started.
"Morning Malfoy," Harry replied politely, glancing over at the pale sneering face, "What's in the paper, Ron?"
Their hands were knotted together, though Ron was doing his best not to make nasty comments that would force a reaction from Harry. They both knew that they'd be the ones under the most scrutiny - Harry because of who the students thought he was, and Ron because he was always at Harry's side. Harry took a bite of his eggs and toast, leaving Malfoy to his own devices.
"They're going to try and get the Seven Nations Cup put on next year instead," Ron spoke with his mouth full, but Harry was able to decipher that fairly easily after nearly nine months together. Malfoy, however, laughed unpleasantly, and Harry quelled his irritation with the boy.
"What was that, Weasley?" Malfoy laughed, and Crabbe and Goyle joined in with the noise. Malfoy's thugs had been made to sit across from them all. It was not a sight that was conducive to a healthy appetite, and Harry wondered spitefully if that was how Malfoy stayed so thin, despite all the sweets and things that his mother sent every week. Despite Harry's naming of Lucius Malfoy as a Death Eater there hadn't been any long-term changes in Malfoy's attitude or apparent circumstances.
"He said that the Department of Magical Games and Sports has rescheduled the Seven Nations Cup for next year," Harry translated. Malfoy's sneer evaporated and he leaned in for a look. Ron's disgust and sympathy rippled over Harry's palm, and he grinned at his partner lightly.
"Potter," Snape's voice sounded from behind them, and Harry felt the smile dry up as he turned to face the Potions master. The man was standing slightly to one side and holding a thin book in his hands.
"Yes Professor Snape?" Harry asked, dropping his toast onto the paper to take the book when Snape held it out.
"You and Weasley will have read this carefully by Sunday," Snape swept away without further conversation, and Harry sighed, handing Ron the book and picking his toast back up. Malfoy was staring at them curiously.
"You're really doing remedial potions?" he asked, and for once there didn't seem to be a sneer in his voice, which was odd because this was prime sneering material. Ron bristled anyway, and Harry soothed him with a soft caress.
"We asked Professor Snape to give us extra tuition this term," Harry replied in a flat voice, and Malfoy sneered finally, displaying the attitude that Harry had expected of him. Breakfast was over by then thankfully, and Harry went to Charms with only the front page read and not much appetite for dinner.
This practice of unity was going to be a lot harder than he thought if Malfoy was going to be so subtly undermining him every time they met.
The book that Professor Snape had given them was a handwritten journal. It looked well read - probably by Snape - and the first thing Ron did was make a copy of it for their own use. Madam Pince had helped him do it when he explained to her that he didn't want to risk anything happening to one of the teachers' personal books.
Harry had hit his borrowing limit at the library while Ron had worked with Madam Pince, collecting the advanced potion texts that they would need to understand what the journal was telling them, and Ron ended up going back for a series of spell books that tied in with the subject matter.
Hermione was fascinated by the journal, but had no time to read it, as the first and second years were being a little fractious in response to the sudden unity that the school was trying to practice. She was also working under the usual heavy end of year workload, revising for exams already, and nagging Harry and Ron about it. They also had a heavy homework load, Quidditch finals coming up, and Snape wasn't letting them off the potions homework either. Both teens were working late into the night in order to fully understand what the potion in the journal was trying to tell them, which meant they were low on sleep.
The match against Hufflepuff was one of the shortest in Hogwarts history, as Harry caught the snitch in the first fifteen seconds of the match in order to give himself and Ron more study time. They were due to see Snape first thing Sunday morning and hadn't finished reviewing the planning for the casting portion of brewing under the journals instructions. There was a slightly disappointed tone to the cheers from Gryffindor - no doubt his Housemates felt a little let down, as the quaffle hadn't even made it more than a third of the way down the pitch.
Ron and Harry hurried through the showers in the Gryffindor change rooms and then hurried back to their studies, taking their books to a dark corner of the library to avoid the rest of their House. The last match of the season for Gryffindor was just before the exams, as Hufflepuff would be playing Slytherin next for third place in the cup, and then Ravenclaw would play Gryffindor to decide second and first place.
Sunday morning was bright and Ron wished that they were allowed to go out and sit around the grounds to study like so many of their friends had. Instead he trailed Harry down to the dungeons, with Hermione in tow behind them. Snape met them in the usual classroom and waved them to seats.
"Well?" he held out a hand and Ron fished out the journal, returning it to the Professor before fishing out their copy and putting it in front of them. Snape scowled but didn't protest the copy - probably relieved that he wouldn't have to risk his in the brewing.
"It's a potion to make synthetic Phoenix tears," Ron tapped their copy in its dark blue cover, "Tears of the Phoenix has been designed for Healers to use under controlled circumstances to heal the worst magical maladies that the Wizarding world faces."
"Due to the fact that real Phoenix tears are unstable, and only last for a few seconds outside the body of the Phoenix - unless they are placed directly in a wound - their use by Healers has been limited. Supply cannot meet demand, as it takes considerable effort for the Phoenix to produce the tears. Additionally, Fawkes is the only Phoenix currently choosing to live with a Wizard, which means that the Healers have to petition for his assistance each time," Harry completed the summation of their research, and Ron took up the thread again.
"Tears of the Phoenix can only be brewed by use of Sympathetic Magic as it requires more strength than any one Wizard possesses, and multiple, simultaneous uses of magic as well. According to the journal it also requires favourable conjunctions of several natural forces, which occur once every two months. We are entering the beginning of that time now," he bit back a smile at the cold-eyed stare that Snape was directing them, and the excited gaze of Hermione. She probably didn't know that they could research like that, after years of nagging them to read more and study harder.
"Very well," Snape gestured sharply to the door that led into his private workspace. Slytherin students had been in there once or twice - Ron was fairly sure that Malfoy worked in there as Snape's assistant on a regular basis - but as far as Ron knew no one from their house had been inside.
There was a cauldron set over a low hearth, suspended in the middle of the round chamber by chains hanging from the ceiling. There was a bench nearby, scarred and pitted with years of use, which contained the ingredients necessary for the brewing of the potion. Ron conjured up a small bookstand to hold their copy of the journal and watched as Harry reviewed the ingredients.
They had decided last night that Harry would take care of the preparation and Ron would control the brewing, with both of them setting the wards they would need to control and protect the cauldron and their audience. If this potion worked they'd have to find a private place where they could brew it on a regular basis for St Mungo's - but that was in the future. They had to prove that they could brew it correctly first.
"We call on the four winds..." Ron raised his wand, pointing it at the cauldron and beginning the first of the incantations that this potion required.
The twelve crystal decanters glowed softly in the light from the torches, the miniature Phoenix's inside swirling and reforming over and over - proof that they had correctly followed the journals instructions. The potion itself was an iridescent white, and Harry whispered the last of the stasis sealing charms over the decanters before stepping back and letting go of their focus gently. Ron put an arm around Harry's waist and he leaned into the touch, tired but delighted that they had succeeded.
"Thank you," the voice was soft and sincere, and didn't sound like Snape at all. Harry blinked over at the Potions master and then nodded politely. Hermione moved over to them and hugged them both. Harry had caught a glimpse of her reading over Snape's shoulder as they brewed, so he knew that she had at least followed their progress if not understanding why they did it the way they did.
"You'd best go to the kitchens and eat," Snape moved forward, "I have already warned the house elf's to be watching for you. I will tell you tomorrow if the potion was potent."
Harry nodded and Ron stirred, leaning in to drop a kiss on his cheek before letting go and heading for the door. Harry heard his partner's stomach growl and grinned at Hermione, though he was starving too. Hermione rolled her eyes and fell into step with them.
"That was so..." she trailed off, and Harry took her hand without thinking, smiling at her when she glanced at him in astonishment. It felt good to reach out, and he knew that he was safe to do so with Hermione. She wouldn't hurt him, and she knew that his relationship with Ron was solid. She squeezed his fingers warmly.
"Impressive? Bloody brilliant? Wicked?" Ron tossed the suggestions over his shoulder as he led the way to the kitchen. Harry tipped Hermione a warning wink and added his own suggestion.
"Sexy!" Hermione agreed instantly while Ron stumbled in surprise and then turned around. He glared at their joined hands and came back to slip his arm around Harry's waist again.
"Sexy?" he purred in Harry's ear, and the dark haired boy felt a treacherous stir of interest below the waist. He flushed and cleared his throat while Hermione went into gales of laughter, stumbling on the flagstones and having to balance herself on the wall.
"Come on, I'm hungry," Harry told them both and Ron tickled his waist lightly as they reached the portrait with the bowl of fruit. Hermione tickled the pear and they went in. Dobby was waiting for them, and ushered them to a small table in a corner. The main hearth was burning merrily, and there was an empty stool sitting to one side of it.
"Dobby, what happened to Winky?" Harry asked, remembering the miserably ashamed house elf that had once served the late Barty Crouch. Dobby sighed sadly and shook his head.
"Winky went to Azkaban to stay with her masters son," he looked up at Harry unhappily, "Winky would not listen to Dobby, or to Professor Dumbledore. Poor Winky is in a very bad place."
"I'm sorry Dobby," Harry said rather uselessly, "I didn't know that they'd sent Crouch back to Azkaban. I thought that they'd put him in St Mungo's."
"Minister Fudge wouldn't let them!" Dobby looked positively incensed, "It was cruel!"
The other house elves were nodding in agreement, though none of them spoke up. Hermione had tears in her eyes, and Ron was sitting with his hands in his lap, his face rather pale.
"Is there anything we can do?" he asked, "Maybe get a petition going like we did to shut up that Skeeter skag."
Dobby shook his head and several of the house elves managed rather watery smiles.
"Master Wheezy is very kind," Dobby patted the redhead on the knee, "Winky has made her choice to stay with her master. We is having to accept that. Master Wheezy should eat before it gets cold."
Harry felt his appetite return after the first few mouthfuls and knew that Ron was feeling better when his friend's foot hooked around his ankle under the table.
On their regular Monday afternoon session, Professor Snape had sneered at them that the potion was 'adequate' and that they were expected in the Headmasters office. Ron had waited until they were halfway there before airing his opinion of their potion master.
"Ron," Harry shook his head. The redhead subsided, aware that Harry was pale and tired still, though Ron had woken feeling refreshed this morning. He hoped that Snape didn't have any other terribly difficult potions to brew between now and the end of term.
"Sorry mate," Ron shook his head, "Its just... we bust a gut to get that bloody stuff made up for him and he doesn't even... forget it, it's not important. You still feeling tired?"
"Yeah," Harry' response was kind of hesitant and Ron stopped him with a hand to his arm. He looked his friend over carefully and frowned. Harry was biting his lips to keep from crying out, his eyes miserable.
"What's wrong?" he asked bluntly, and Harry's fingers crept up to the scar hidden behind his messy fringe. Ron sighed and reached up to touch the scar himself, stopping when he heard footsteps. Malfoy appeared around the corner, alone for a change, and Ron bit back a scowl. This whole unity thing was starting to be a drag - it was easier to simply hate Malfoy than be friendly with him, but for Harry's sake he'd try. There had been no further call for his partner to be sent away from the school and with a bit of luck they'd heard the last of that stupid idea.
"What are you two doing here?" Malfoy asked them, and Ron rolled his eyes. The blonde git just never gave up. He sat with them at meals; he hung around them in the library. Ron didn't think it was out of any desire to become friends or turn away from his fathers Death Eater friends, he figured Malfoy was spying on them for his father and made sure not to give away any of their secrets when the Slytherin Prefect was near. This made for somewhat stilted mealtime conversations, but was better than the alternative. He and Harry had stopped discussing their personal life or plans in public altogether, speaking of the house and their future only when alone together behind a spelled door.
"We've been told to go to Professor Dumbledore," Ron replied, letting Malfoy think that they were in trouble. His idea succeeded when the pale eyes lit up gleefully, though Malfoy didn't make any comment on it. Harry simply turned and started walking again, and Ron followed along in his friends wake happily, part of him wishing that the uniform robes didn't hide the body of the wearer so effectively. When Malfoy walked along with them, Ron reversed that opinion, glad that the blonde didn't know what a sexy body was hidden under the billowing black cloth.
"We're here to see the Headmaster," Harry put a hand on the gargoyle that guarded Dumbledore's tower, as neither of them knew the password. Ron grinned when it nodded and stepped aside, revealing the moving stairs. Malfoy hung back, earning himself a nasty glare from the stone thing, as Ron and Harry disappeared up the tower. Once out of sight, Ron moved to hold Harry in his arms, reaching up warm fingers to massage the back of Harry's neck, trying to ease the pain.
"I wish I could do something for you," Ron fretted as Harry sighed and leaned into him heavily. He felt warm lips press a kiss to his neck and smiled into the dark hair. Touch was their most vital connection, and he was relieved that Harry could ask for it when he needed to. The top of the stairs approached and Ron turned Harry around enough to get him off safely, before heading them slowly for the door. He could hear Fawkes inside, trilling to the Headmaster, and the door opened as they reached it. Dumbledore looked very worried and Ron shuffled them forward, heading for the couch that they'd sat on to listen to Legales tell Harry about his estate.
"His scar is hurting him again," Ron got them settled, his fingers rubbing Harry's neck again and feeling a little of the tension seep away. Dumbledore made a humming noise and sat in the armchair opposite them, looking concerned. Harry sighed after a long moment and sat up, a little shaky but with more colour in his face than before.
"Riddle is angry. I think that he's discovered a traitor in his ranks," Harry told them shakily, "It's not Snape, though, I get the face of a woman."
"Is she in his hands?" Dumbledore leaned forward and Harry shook his head, clutching Ron's fingers. Dumbledore looked over at Fawkes who disappeared with a bright flash. Ron figured that the Phoenix was going to warn the spy, whoever she was, and smiled at his friend in encouragement.
"Professor Snape tells me that you have successfully brewed Tears of the Phoenix yesterday," Dumbledore smiled over at them, "That is an extraordinary accomplishment, boys. Tears of the Phoenix may be used to alleviate the bite of a werewolf, and I have persuaded the Healers at St Mungo's to contact Professor Lupin for trial treatments."
Ron felt Harry brighten beside him and beamed happily. Lupin was the last of the Marauders and Harry had always been a little concerned about his health. The life of a werewolf was a stressful one. Dumbledore conjured a tea tray onto the low table in front of them and Ron leaned over to make Harry a cup of tea. Harry didn't like to be fussed over as a rule, but Ron could usually get away with it.
"You wanted to see us, Headmaster?" Ron asked when he was sure that Harry was settled comfortably. Dumbledore was watching them with a twinkle in his eye and Ron wondered what was so amusing.
"Yes, I wanted to speak to you about your plans for the summer," the blue eyes crinkled at the corners, "I understand you're planning to build a house?"
"Yes," Harry nodded, "We're going to camp in the garden while its built, and live like Muggles for the holidays. Riddle won't find us there."
"An excellent plan," Dumbledore held up a hand and some of the tension Ron and Harry felt was eased. For a horrible moment Ron had thought that the Headmaster was going to veto their plans, "I have a few suggestions to make your holidays a little more comfortable."
"I'm knackered," Harry complained, throwing himself down onto the grass. Ron dropped his bag beside him and dropped down in an untidy heap, "Exams suck."
"You sure don't," Ron griped, and Harry rolled onto his back, fixing Ron with a weak glare. They'd been interrupted this morning and Ron had been in a foul mood all day. Harry's Tarot exam with Trelawny had been rather difficult as a result when it predicted a turbulent time with a lover, and she had become all interested and enthusiastic.
"That was not my choice," he reminded his friend, "As I recall I wanted to keep going and you got all paranoid."
Flynn had made a lot of noise to get them to open the window and Ron had been worried that their fellow Housemates had heard the racket. He'd lost interest in their bed play and by the time he'd been talked around the breakfast signal had sounded and Harry had reluctantly peeled himself away to get dressed. They couldn't afford to miss a meal, as they were both still being watched closely by their fellow students.
"Do I want to know?" Hermione asked and Harry laughed as Ron went bright red and shook his head frantically. Deciding to tease his lover just a little Harry sat up and pouted.
"He wouldn't let me play with my favourite toy," he whined to Hermione, who also went red when she realised what he meant and hit him in the arm. Harry flopped back onto the grass, rubbing his arm and laughing at their splutters.
"You'll get yours," Ron muttered and Hermione gasped, laughing so hard she joined Harry on the grass when Ron realised what he'd said and moaned, hiding his face.
"That's the plan!" Harry gasped out, and Hermione rolled so she was face down, screaming with laughter. Harry went into fresh convulsions watching her, and Ron shook his head, tears streaming down his face. The jokes weren't that funny, but the release felt good.
"Stop! Stop! Stop!" she shrieked, "I don't want to know!"
"Aw Hermy!" Ron wheezed, "Why not?"
She buried her face in the grass and howled, with Harry curling up to relieve the stitch in his side from laughter. Ron flopped onto his back, one out flung hand landing on Harry's. The sun was blocked out for a moment and Harry squinted up at the person standing over them.
"Something funny?" Cho Chang asked, and Harry sobered up a little, sitting up to regain his breath while Hermione hiccupped in laughter and Ron's laughter trailed off into a series of snorts.
"Not really," he wiped the tears from under his glasses and took a few shaky breaths, "Just something silly."
"Oh," Chang looked confused, but brushed that aside, "Can I talk to you Harry?"
"Sure," Harry nodded, and realised that she meant alone when she looked impatient. He got up, using Ron's shoulder as a crutch, letting his fingers reassure his partner that he'd be right back. He left his bag with his friends, sticking his hands in his pockets and walking along at Cho's side, wandering past other groups of students who had come out to enjoy the June sunshine.
They walked past the low to the ground window that let light into Snape's personal brewing chamber. He and Ron had brewed the Tears of the Phoenix twice since they'd first been given Snape's journal, and moved on to other potions that were just as difficult and complex. Harry was actually enjoying the extra lessons more than their usual class, perhaps because he was able to work so closely with Ron. Harry noticed that there were no other students around now, and looked at Cho who was biting her lip as she walked around the lake with him.
"You know, if you ask to speak to someone you usually need to actually talk to them," Harry prodded a little impatiently. They had to study tonight, and he knew that Cho was taking NEWTS this year, so her workload must have been enormous.
"Oh," she dithered a moment, glancing at him and flushing, "Um, I... I wanted to talk to you... about what you said in the Great Hall."
"When you were trying to get the rest of the school to kick me out," Harry nodded, not at all ashamed when she coloured at the jibe and gave him a miserable glance.
"You told us about..." Cho trailed off again. Harry realised what she was hinting at and sighed. He really didn't want to talk this over again.
"About Cedric," Harry kept his voice flat and unemotional, "About how he died and what Voldemort did to me."
"Yes," Cho's whisper was dry, and Harry shook his head in anger. He had told her last year he didn't want to discuss this, and still she was pushing.
"I said all I'm going to say that evening," he told her, stopping short and turning to face her, "Look, I'm sorry you lost your boyfriend, but I'm not going to relive that night for you over and over. I didn't exactly have fun the first time it happened, and every time someone makes me tell it I live through the whole thing over and again in my sleep for weeks. I know that's incredibly selfish of me, and I'm sorry but you'll just have to deal with it, ok?"
He stomped away from her wide eyes and pale face, heading back to his partner, the laughter of the afternoon wiped away by an ugly memory and past pain.
Ron didn't know what Cho Chang had said to Harry to make him look that grim, but he knew better than to force his partner to sit through a 'unified' dinner. He gave Hermione the high sign and Harry sat down at the Gryffindor table for dinner surrounded by his Housemates. Malfoy joined them at the Gryffindor table, but was far enough away not to be able to needle them with his oh so casual questions and subtle digs. Hermione was sitting opposite them with Neville, who was telling them about the offer Professor Sprout had made to let him work in the school greenhouses for a part of the summer holidays. The positive comments from the Gryffindor Housemates drowned out the snide comments from Malfoy and Harry seemed to revive a little over pudding.
Ron glanced up at the staff table as they were leaving and Hagrid beckoned him over. He handed Ron a slip of paper and the Gryffindor Prefect stuffed the parchment in his pocket with a grin. From the twinkle in the half giants eyes the parchment contained good news. He hoped it was something that would cheer Harry up, because the pale face and dark circles under the green eyes were beginning to alarm Ron.
"What are we looking at tonight?" Harry asked in a tired voice as they climbed the stairs and Ron shook his head. He thought that tonight should be spent together, cuddling if that was all Harry was in the mood for. Despite his earlier complaints about his current lack of a sex life, Ron was happy to just be with Harry.
"Charms," Hermione spoke over her shoulder and Neville groaned, shaking his head. The Charms work had gotten more and more intricate - and next year they were facing setting protective wards, a tricky proposition as Harry and Ron had learned. They split up to get their books and Ron pulled the piece of parchment out of his pocket.
"Hagrid wants to see us at ten," he told Harry, "He's cleared it with the Headmaster and we have to take this with us to keep Filch off our necks."
"Ok," Harry sighed and Ron glanced at the closed door. He leaned in close and gave Harry a gentle kiss, smiling against slightly chapped lips when Harry wrapped himself around Ron and held on tight, returning the kiss slowly. Ron's fingers offered to lock the door and hide in here until it was time to go see Hagrid, but Harry vetoed the idea, insisting that they study.
"Stuck with me," Ron muttered into Harry's ear, hanging on tightly, and Harry nodded. Ron held on for a moment more and then let go, letting Harry step back and pull his Charms books off the shelves.
They told Hermione and Neville about the appointment, and at ten precisely they walked out onto the front steps, moving down the path by the light of the full moon.
"Harry!" a voice called and Ron turned with his partner to look at the thin careworn man standing in front of Hagrid's hut. Ron broke into a huge grin, glancing up at the full moon and then back at his partner. Harry was glowing.
"It worked," he whispered and Ron nodded, turning to look at Remus Lupin, standing in the worn blue robes that he'd worn the last time they saw him, the full moon shining down and totally not affecting him at all.
"It worked!" Harry yelled and ran forward to hug the last of the Marauders. Lupin pounded Harry on the back, and Hagrid loomed from the shadows of his hut, beaming widely. Ron laughed and reached out to pat Lupin on the shoulder, genuinely pleased that their potion had been able to help the man.
"It worked!" Harry laughed, turning to hug Ron close and knocking him over, "It worked!"
"Geeze mate!" Ron hugged Harry back and wriggled out from under. Whatever Cho had said to Harry was totally obliterated by the smile on Harry's face, and the pride in his eyes. Their hard work had paid off and the reward was one of the best things that they could ever ask for. The end of year tests would be over in a few days and then they had the summer to look forward to.
Ron was shaken out of his thoughts when Harry and Hagrid seized a hand each, their other wrapped around Lupin's fingers. He danced in the circle with them, chanting 'it worked' over and over until they lost their breath and had to sit down, beaming at each other in the light of the full moon.
Return to Archive | next | previous