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 6 - Seventh Year - Term One
Hogwarts looked good in the morning sunlight, and the Gryffindor's tower was completed, the stonework around it cleaned of soot and smoke. It had been a rather depressing sight to see last year, and Harry was relieved to see his first true home back to its old self. Professor Dumbledore was standing on the front steps waiting for them, with Dobby beside him. Harry hastened his steps, Ron matching his stride easily as they floated their trunks and owl cages along behind them, their brooms in their protective bags slung over their backs. Lucky gambolled behind them, destined for Hagrid's hut. The pup would be welcomed by their friend, and Fang wouldn't mind the company - Harry had made sure of this on his birthday, sending Hedwig with a note asking the half-giant if he'd be interested in adopting their pup.
"Good morning, Professor," they called as they got within hailing distance. Dumbledore was looking splendid in his brilliantly coloured robes. Even his hair was gleaming in the sunlight.
"Good morning boys," Dumbledore beamed at them, "Welcome back."
Harry smiled at his Headmaster and then turned to say hello to Dobby, who was hopping from one foot to the other in excitement. The elf took charge of their trunks and brooms immediately, telling them he'd have them unpacked in no time, despite Harry's protests that he needn't bother. It had occurred to both boys that with the tower repaired their ability to share each others bed this year would be limited to school holidays. They'd promised each other to make the time to just be alone - the Room of Requirement would be seeing a lot of them this year - and to increase their finger talk. Hagrid appeared and was introduced to Lucky, the pup carried away in his pocket, Harry watching him go with a little twinge of regret.
"Time for some morning tea, I think," Dumbledore broke into Harry's thoughts, "And I asked you to come to school early for a reason, boys. I have a request to make of you both this year, that will require some effort on your part."
With those intriguing words he turned and led the way into the castle, Harry and Ron trailing along behind him, their curiosity aroused. They walked in silence to the Headmaster's office and sat on the small couch that rested beside the empty fireplace. Dumbledore conjured a tray of tea things, and they spent a few minutes in the mundane ritual of pouring and handing around the plate of scones that were on the tray.
"Now," Dumbledore smiled at them both, "I am sure that you followed the controversy over the Seven Nations Quidditch Cup last year. As you know there was some mention of it being rescheduled for this year, provided certain obstacles could be overcome."
"Mr Bagman has managed it?" Harry asked incredulously. Ludo Bagman was not his idea of a terribly honest, organised person. From what Harry knew of him, his staff did most of the organising and he took the credit for it.
"He did not, unfortunately," the Headmaster's tone was very dry, "However, the Department imposed upon Madam Hooch to assist them. You may not realise it, but Madam Hooch was once a Chaser for the England team."
"She retired injured after a bad smash from a bludger sent her ploughing into the ground," Ron supplied that little piece of information. Harry wasn't surprised his friend knew about it, Ron seemed to store a couple of encyclopaedia's worth of Quidditch information in his brain. Dumbledore nodded at them, smiling again and sipping his tea.
"Correct, Mr Weasley. Madam Hooch was able to organise two pitches for the three teams. The Chuddley Cannons will host New Zealand this year after Christmas, and Australia and Fiji will be hosted by Hogwarts."
"Yes!" Ron bounced on his cushion, jostling Harry, who was just as excited. Two International Quidditch teams at the school! That would be so wicked. They'd be able to see them practice and maybe even see them play each other, not to mention playing other teams.
"We will be housing them in the new Gryffindor tower," Dumbledore continued when he was sure he had their attention, "It is larger than the quarters that your House occupied last year, and a little more modern."
Harry grinned in relief. He and Ron would have their privacy again this year. He made a mental note to send Madam Hooch the largest bunch of flowers he could get his hands on as a thank you and gripped Ron's knee tightly. Ron was also grinning wildly, perfect understanding in his eyes. The Headmaster was pouring himself another cup of tea, and Harry took the chance to mouth 'love you' to his friend.
"Professor, how does having the teams at Hogwarts require effort on our parts?" Ron asked, moving closer to Harry on the couch in reply. Harry was recalled to business when the Headmaster passed around the scones again.
"Madam Hooch has quite a bit of work to do to ensure that the Cup goes off well. In order to give her that time, I have had to release her from her teaching duties. While I don't believe the House Quidditch teams will suffer too greatly in the long run from her absence, the first and second year students have no one to teach them their broom craft. You are two of the best fliers in the school, and Madam Hooch herself has recommended you to me to temporarily take her place. She will be able to resume her duties in the third term this year, but one term is not long enough to teach the students all they need to know."
"Us?" Harry gaped at the Wizard opposite him, feeling Ron's shock as clearly as if it were his own. Madam Hooch wanted them to teach the first and second years to fly? Was she mad? They were taking their NEWTs this year, as well as additional instruction from McGonagal and Dumbledore on their Sympathetic Magic.
"You will be excused from History of Magic to take one year each," Dumbledore nodded, watching them closely, "I would not make this request lightly. Madam Hooch will be here this afternoon to review the curriculum with you both, and return on Wednesday to look over your lesson plans. That will give you five days to plan them, if you start this afternoon."
/Let's do it/ Ron's confidence warmed Harry's fingers /Come on Harry, you know you love to fly, and we are good at it/
/Are you sure? What about all the other work we'll have to do this year// Harry looked him in the eye and couldn't restrain the smile that formed in response to the eager twinkle and supportive love he saw there.
/We'll cope/ Ron shrugged//and just think, no History of Magic//
/You're teaching the second years then/ Harry crossed his eyes at his friend who laughed aloud.
"We'll do it," Harry turned to the Headmaster, who beamed at them happily and nodded once. Harry settled back into the couch, leaning against Ron while Dumbledore explained some of the duties they were required to undertake as flying instructors.
The school stadium was being extended to accommodate members of the public, and both teens noticed that there were a number of Aurors around the place, reinforcing the schools security with the teachers assistance and setting up security on the stadium itself. Ron heard Professor Flitwick talking to Professor Sinistra about the Hogwarts Express, which would apparently be ferrying spectators to and from the matches. Anyone who simply Apparated to Hogsmeade would be denied entry at the stadium, as the tickets were charmed to disintegrate if anyone Apparated with them, and the same went for portkeys. The Floo network would also be shut down in Hogsmeade on match days, and there was going to be a very strict patrol to stop people flying in on brooms.
Ron had agreed to take the second years on, knowing that he would be better able to instruct them in the agility skills and long distance flight than Harry, who flew mainly on his considerable talent and instinct and had trouble explaining how some of the moves he pulled on the Quidditch pitch worked. His partner was more than capable of learning the advanced techniques and moves that Madam Hooch drilled all four Quidditch teams on, but once learned he seemed to lose his ability to explain them to anyone else. In addition, the first years hadn't seen Harry fly before, and wouldn't until the first match of the school season. That meant that they wouldn't be attempting to pull moves they'd seen him do last year. By the time the first match of the year was played, Harry would have his students thoroughly under his control, and be able to avoid any accidents.
Part of their duties consisted of sitting down with the four Heads of House to discuss the playing schedule for the school teams. With the second term eliminated entirely from their program, the teams would have to start training in the first week, and playing against each other on the second Saturday of term. Ron was astonished to find that the four Heads of House were rather... competitive over this issue, especially when it came to making sure that their House got whatever advantages were going and denying the other Houses the same advantages.
Ron had been very relieved when that meeting was over, and he and his friend could escape to the library, where they had taken to working on their lesson plans. Professor Snape had followed them there to ensure that they would be fair to all four houses in their lessons, as Harry and Ron were both allowed to deduct points for misbehaviour. Ron had been proud when Harry had informed their Potions master that they were working towards school unity, and that they would treat the students according to their behaviour, not their House.
Harry had needed some reassurance after that little encounter, and Ron dragged him off to their common room, pulling him down onto a couch and kissing him breathless. They were just starting to really get into it when there was a gasp from behind them. Harry stiffened under Ron, and not in a good way. Ron pulled back from his partner reluctantly and turned to meet the wide eyes of Neville Longbottom.
"Hello Neville," Ron sat up slowly and carefully, pulling Harry up too and slinging an arm around his blushing friend, "How was your summer?"
"Er... it was really great, thanks," Neville stammered, moving to sit in a chair opposite them. Ron squeezed Harry in reassurance; his partner was shaking a little with nerves. Even after a year he was still apt to panic when faced with discovery of his and Ron's relationship. Neville was looking at Harry curiously, and Ron saw the exact moment that the light went on for their friend.
"I didn't know that you two were... involved," Neville looked at Ron rather helplessly, and Ron winked at him. It would be best to get it over with in one go, so that Neville, who obviously wasn't too worried about them being gay, could reassure Harry that he was still his friend.
"We've been together for a year. Actually, Neville, the garden we asked you to plan is for our house. We're getting married in January," he said it gently, and Neville grinned.
"Congratulations!" Neville got up to shake their hands, and Ron relaxed a little when colour came flooding back into Harry's face. A ripple of fingers at Harry's waist had his partner smiling and inviting Neville to the wedding.
"That would be brilliant! Thanks, Ron, Harry! I'd love to come!" Neville laughed, "Are you going to be spreading the news, or is this to be kept quiet?"
"We're keeping it quiet," Ron told their friend and Neville nodded, sitting back down. The partners promised not to neck in the common room any more and told Neville about their summer. Neville was back at school early to help finish the experiments that Professor Sprout had started during the holidays with his help. They settled into the chairs to swap stories and gossip for a while, Ron very glad that if someone had to walk in on him and Harry it had been the non-judgemental Neville.
Madam Hooch had approved their lesson plans, and given Harry and Ron the keys to the broom cupboard that stored the school brooms and the storage sheds that would house the second year's brooms. School rules didn't allow the second years to keep their brooms in their dorms, after a memorable year when the second years all hopped onto their brooms and went for an unauthorised midnight jaunt over the lake. Albus Dumbledore had almost been expelled over that little stunt, as had several other rather prominent persons.
They were on their way to tea, grinning at each other happily when running footsteps sounded behind them. Professor McGonagal had hitched up her usually long and elegant robes and was running full bat along the library corridor. Harry had a very bad feeling about this, as their Head of House was usually dignity personified.
"Mr Potter!" she exclaimed, "You're to go to the Headmaster's office immediately! You too, Mr Weasley! Run, boys!"
Harry broke into a flat out sprint, Ron beside him, his mind whirling with a thousand and one questions. Without conscious thought he found his wand in his hand, and each corner was scrutinised as they approached it. McGonagal was racing beside them, barely out of breath as she maintained her cracking pace. The gargoyle leapt aside as they approached and Harry ran up the moving stairs, Ron a scant step behind him.
"Professor?" Harry burst into Dumbledore's study, and the Headmaster held up a calming hand as Ron crashed to a stop beside him, red faced and panting hard, Minerva McGonagal a close third. She was breathing quickly, but not unduly distressed by the sudden turn of speed that she'd shown. Harry wondered how she did it.
"There have been several attacks on the Muggle-born's family by the Death Eaters," Dumbledore's voice was clipped and urgent, holding Harry's complete attention, "Harry, they have also targeted the Dursley's. While your schoolmates managed to defend their families by breaking the decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry, the Dursley's were not so lucky."
Ron had moved to put an arm around Harry's waist, and the dark haired boy was grateful for the support. He didn't like the Dursley's at all, but he wouldn't wish harm on them, especially from Wizards. Magic was the thing they feared the most, and he could only imagine what had happened.
"Are they dead?" Ron's blunt and cold question drew Harry's dazed mind back to the situation. He shivered at the hate in Ron's voice - he knew it was on his behalf that the redhead hated that particular Muggle family and was sorry that he'd caused such a strong, unwelcome feeling in his friend. He looked over at Dumbledore for the answer and felt something in him lurch when the Headmaster hesitated.
"There was a death," Dumbledore said it gently and Ron grunted in Harry's ear as he took the dark haired boy's weight. Harry felt his partner haul him to a chair and grabbed at the old robes he was wearing, keeping him close. He'd once wished them all dead, in a moment of selfishness and anger, but he hadn't meant it.
"I didn't mean it!" he choked out and Ron wrapped his arms around his shoulders, holding tight and bending to kiss Harry's head. McGonagal crouched in his line of sight and put her hand on his knee.
"Mr Potter, no one would have thought you meant them any harm, no matter what your feelings on the matter were. An angry wish made in the heat of the moment is understandable. No one thinks you wanted this to happen. It is not your fault."
Professor McGonagal never lied - not even to make a hard moment more bearable. Harry covered her hand with his own and nodded against Ron's side, taking a few deep breaths before straightening to look up at his Headmaster once more.
"Who?" he asked quietly, and Dumbledore sighed. He looked very sad and old for a moment, making Harry worry for his health. When he spoke his voice was gentle, warm and soothing. Harry felt himself relax a little in response.
"Your Uncle was killed when the Death Eaters cast several bloodletting curses at once. Your Aunt Petunia is in St Mungo's at the moment, she has been the victim of several nasty curses, and of course she witnessed her husbands... demise. Your cousin returned to the house just as the Death Eaters were leaving. He received only minor injuries. Their house was severely damaged in the attack, and the Muggle fire brigade was able to quench the fires in the upper storey."
"May I... see them? What will happen to Dudley now? When will Aunt Petunia be released from the hospital? Will we be able to protect them from other attacks?" the questions fired from his mouth without any direction from his brain and Ron's arms tightened in response, his partner crooning softly under his breath to calm Harry down. It worked too. Harry felt a sense of peace creep over his racing thoughts.
"You're going to the hospital now," Dumbledore confirmed, "Professor McGonagal will accompany you, as I must see to the rest of our students. As for the rest... that will have to be addressed at a later date."
With that he walked to the fireplace and opened a box. Harry stood up and took Ron's hand, leading him to the fireplace and taking a pinch of the Floo powder. He'd just have to deal with things as they came, and hope that he'd be able to keep the last of his mothers' family safe.
Ron steadied Harry onto his feet as the Healer summoned them to Petunia Dursley's room. The hospital emergency department had been controlled chaos as Muggles and Muggle-born Witches and Wizards were brought in from the latest attacks. McGonagal had told them to wait in a corner out of the way while she made inquiries for them. Harry had turned and buried his face in Ron's neck, and the redhead had been horrified to feel several tears wet his skin.
"It's not your fault, mate," Ron had crooned and Harry shook his head, unable to deal with the issue right now. Eventually his partner had calmed down enough to agree to sit side by side on the floor - all the chairs were full. McGonagal had taken a seat nearby after telling them that the Healers would come and get them when they could visit.
Ron had never really spoken to, or even looked at Petunia Dursley. The one time he'd been in her presence without it being an emergency, she had been trying to protect her son from gaining a second tail. When he'd found Harry lying broken on the hall floor, he'd been too afraid for his friend to pay any attention to anyone else. The painfully thin and pale figure in the hospital bed was wrapped heavily in bandages and looked nothing like the sharp faced dark haired woman that Ron vaguely remembered.
Harry moaned in pained recognition and reached out a shaking hand to touch the blanket covering his aunt. Ron wrapped his arm around his friends' waist again and rubbed at the hip his hand was perched on.
"She's not in any pain," Ron reminded him, "The Healers said that they've put her into a deep magical sleep while the worst of all this heals. They said that she should make a full recovery, but it will take a while. That's good news, right?"
"Uncle Vernon won't recover," the dull words had Ron tensing in anger. His partner was determined to blame himself for this whole thing, just as these awful people had taught him to. They'd spent all of Harry's life blaming him for things beyond his control and the lesson had sunk in. He shook the body he was holding lightly, and growled low in his throat, much as his Animagus form would have.
"Unless you personally encouraged and planned this attack then it's not your fault. No one thinks it is, and anyone who says otherwise will answer to me," he informed Harry sharply, "Do you really think that I'd love you the way I do if you were capable of ordering this?"
Harry shook his head, his eyes wide in surprise. He turned into Ron's body, accepting the support Ron was offering gladly. They held each other for a long time, Ron rocking them side-to-side lightly, simply taking slow breaths and rubbing Harry's back. After a while his partner took a deep breath and leaned back to peck him on the lips.
"Come on," Harry let go reluctantly, "I suppose we need to go and deal with Dudley."
"I have a few ground rules before we go anywhere near your dear cousin," Ron straightened, and glanced at the unconscious woman in the bed, "You stay next to me at all times, and if I pull you behind me you stay there. I won't have him touching you, and I especially won't have him too close."
"Ron," the protest was half-hearted, but Ron glared until Harry agreed. He wasn't letting his future husband anywhere near the bully who had nearly killed him, and when he said as much he got a sweet kiss and a short cuddle that had him feeling all warm and agreeable - the exact opposite of how he'd wanted to feel when facing Harry's would be murderer. While he knew all of Harry's 'sweet spots' the same could be said of his partner, who wasn't averse to manipulating them for his own purposes.
Dudley Dursley was sitting up in his bed, hunched over and snarling at a nurse who was trying to get him to lie back. Ron's skin crawled at the sight of the youth, who seemed to have lost a lot of weight very quickly, leaving him with a slightly sagging look to his body. There was a lot of muscle there still, and Harry was a bowstring of tension beside him as his partner came face to face with his cousin for the first time in a year.
Ron noticed tensely that he couldn't see Dudley's right hand, the teen was hunched over it and refusing to let the nurse draw it out for her inspection. As he was still conscious and able to respond coherently the Healers had put him to bed and assigned a nurse to clean him up while they dealt with the more serious injuries that were coming in. The tingle along his skin increased to an outright creep when Dudley spotted Harry. Without even realising what he was doing, Ron pushed Harry behind him and pulled out his wand - a habitual and unnecessary movement - sending a stunning spell to the teen that was launching himself off the bed.
Harry was shouting, as was the nurse who had been pushed to one side, astonished when the spell bounced off Dudley harmlessly. Ron felt their bond snap to life and Harry cast the body-binding spell over his shoulder as Ron put a shield between them and the rampaging teen. The knife that had been concealed in his hand clattered to the floor and Dudley went flying backwards onto the bed. Ron conjured some magical ropes to tie Harry's cousin to the bed as the nurse hit some kind of alarm. Aurors and Healers converged on them from all directions and Ron pulled Harry out of the doorway, sandwiching them into a more defensible corner.
"He was under the effects of the Imperio curse," Healer Goodsby sat down next to Harry and took his hand, "He didn't have any choice over his actions. Muggles have no way to fight the curse at all - even some Wizards can't manage it."
"I know," Harry sighed, "It's alright Healer Goodsby, I'm not going to demand he get locked up or anything."
She smiled at him and brushed her fingers over his hand a few times before letting go. Once Harry had woken up last summer, Healer Goodsby had made a point of stopping by his bed a few times a day to say hello and just chat to him. She had treated him like a normal person instead of a victim, as one nurse had, or a hero as one of the orderlies had.
"Are you sure?" she asked seriously, "From what I know you'd have every right."
"He's lost his dad!" Harry gaped at her, "I couldn't possibly..."
She nodded and patted his hand, glancing at the door when Ron burst in, responding to the tone of Harry's words more than anything else. Harry got up and wrapped Ron in his arms. His partner had defended him, knowing almost right away that what Harry had assumed was a symptom of his own uneasy memories was in fact a spell where there should have been none.
"Stuck with me," the words sent a warm glow through Harry, who nodded into the neck he was hiding in and squeezed in reply. They let go after a moment and Harry sighed into Ron's skin before stepping back. His partner smelled good to him, the scent of warm bread and salt said safety to Harry, and could relax him almost as fast as a scalp massage or having Ron rub circles in the skin at the small of his back.
"If you're ready, Harry," Goodsby stood up as well, smiling at them in understanding, "We've fully removed the Imperio curse from your cousin, and checked to ensure that there has been no other attempts to tamper with his will or his memory. It's safe to see him now."
"Ok," Harry nodded, taking a deep breath, "Let's get it over with."
"Remember, you stay beside me," Ron's low whisper was reassuring and Harry made a mental note to shag his partner stupid at the first opportunity. They followed Goodsby down the hall to the room that Dudley had been taken to after he'd tried to attack Harry once more. Professor McGonagal was there already, speaking quietly to a nurse. She moved to Harry's other side immediately, and Harry felt a rush of gratitude for her unspoken support.
"Dudley?" he asked gently, and the boy in the bed turned over to face him. Dudley had lost a lot of weight - in fact he was almost the right weight for his height and build. There were a few sagging folds of skin that spoke of sudden weight loss, and the muscles under his skin looked to be newly conditioned. His eyes were empty though, and his face showed the fear and misery that he was feeling.
"Dudley?" Harry shifted from foot to foot helplessly, wanting to reach out to the other teen but knowing that his cousin would probably see that as a threat. Dudley's face creased a little and Harry sighed.
"Dudley, you're in a Wizards hospital called St Mungo's. You're safe here, no one will hurt you. The Healers tell me that you're going to be fine," Harry gave his cousin a hopeful smile, and received a blink in response.
"Dads dead," Dudley's voice was low and despondent, "Did you know?"
"Yes, they told me at school," Harry nodded, "I'm... very sorry Dudley. Your mother is here too, and she's going to be fine. The Healers have her in a deep sleep at the moment to help her heal."
Ron's fingers were stroking his lightly, not saying anything, just touching to remind him that his friend was there for him. Dudley shifted a little in the bed and Harry tensed for a second before relaxing again. It had been an instinctive response on his part - even lying in a hospital bed, Dudley could rouse some very potent memories of pain and humiliation.
"What's going to happen now?" Dudley asked, drawing his hands close to his chest and biting his lip. Harry looked helplessly at Professor McGonagal who offered him a little smile.
"We've made arrangements for you to stay at Hogwarts this term, until we are certain that it is safe for you to return home. Your school will be sending the work you need to study this term and one of the Professors will tutor you in the afternoons," she said gently. Dudley looked at her in confusion and Harry remembered his manners.
"Dudley, this is my Head of House, Professor McGonagal. She's the best teacher we've got. And this is my partner... Ron Weasley. You've met him before," he stroked Ron's fingers lovingly, and Ron smiled at him before nodding at Dudley in a cool manner. Dudley frowned, trying to figure out where he'd met the redhead before, and obviously failing to. That was ok with Harry, he didn't really want to share Ron with anyone, let alone Dudley Dursley.
"When do I... go to your school?" Dudley looked sadly up at Harry, and Harry looked in turn to his Head of House. She smiled at him gently before answering the question.
"You'll spend the night here Mr Dursley, and come to the school tomorrow. I will collect you in the morning," she told him, "Mr Potter will meet you there."
Harry smiled in relief that he wouldn't have to take care of Dudley tonight, wondering where his cousin was going to sleep and study.
Vernon Dursley's funeral was held on the last Saturday of the holidays, and was attended by his son and nephew. Ron stuck close to Harry throughout the ceremony, fascinated by the Muggle ceremony but not wanting to burden his friend with his questions. They had transfigured a set of Muggle clothes from dark robes in order to be appropriately dressed for the funeral.
Several of Petunia's friends were present, gossiping quietly in the background, and Vernon's boss came up to speak solemnly to Dudley. The Muggle teen was silent and withdrawn, as he'd been ever since his arrival in Dumbledore's office. Dumbledore had received him gently, and informed him that he would attend each of Harry's classes, where he would be expected to work on the assignments his teachers had sent him. Dumbledore had then dismissed the trio - naturally Ron was present for this meeting - and Harry had taken his cousin to see Madam Pomfrey for a brief check up before showing him to the small bed sit/bathroom that the castle had arranged opposite Wrestler. The Fat Lady was the portrait over the door and the Gryffindor's had greeted her very cheerfully. She had told Dudley that the password was 'courage' and Ron had barely stifled a snicker of amusement.
Once the church part of the ceremony was finished, and by this time Harry was vibrating like a tuning fork from all the testimonials people had offered about Vernon Dursley's generous nature and friendly demeanour, Ron had steered both his partner and his partners cousin to the car that would take them to the cemetery. Someone had evidently arranged all this for the Dursley's as Petunia was still asleep, and Dudley had been in no fit state to do it.
At the graveside Ron stood with a hand in the small of Harry's back, just resting it there as his partner watched his cousin grieve for the loss of a parent. Harry had kept his promise to Ron and let him protect him from Dudley's touch. Ron knew that eventually he'd have to let up on the overprotective behaviour, but right now all he wanted was to take Harry back to Potters Field and hide in their unfurnished house for a few years.
The priest finished reading from his book and Dudley stepped away from the fat lady with many chins that had been holding his hand to put a flower on the coffin as it was lowered. This woman had been glaring at Harry ever since she spotted him in the church, and Harry had actually shrunk back from the hate in her eyes. Ron glared at her now as she whispered in Dudley's ear, patting his shoulder gingerly.
"Ron," Harry sighed, "Stop that."
Ron started, realising his fingers were kneading angry thoughts into Harry's back. He snatched his hand away in horror, meeting Harry's eyes in apology.
"I'm sorry, mate," he whispered, "I didn't realise that I was..."
Harry offered him a small smile and took a flower from the Muggle who was offering them to the people around the grave. Ron took one at his gesture and followed Harry closely when his partner went to put the flower on the shiny black wood that now housed Vernon Dursley. Harry was pale but dry eyed and Ron was a little worried that his friend hadn't let himself feel whatever emotions were roiling in his eyes.
"Potter," the fat woman strode towards them, and Ron felt Harry stop himself from running away. He moved so he was standing almost in front of Harry, their shoulders overlapping protectively. Professor McGonagal, who had been in the background the whole time, looking very strange to Ron in her dark Muggle skirt and blouse, started making her way through the other mourners to their side.
"Hello Aunt Marge," Harry's voice was flat and emotionless. Ron noticed that he didn't look up at his so-called Aunt.
"I suppose you think that your free ride will continue now?" she snapped, her voice as ugly as her face, and Dudley shifted uneasily from foot to foot behind her. Ron felt anger course through the slender body behind him and wanted to cheer when his partner replied in a tone so cool and adult that the woman in front of him actually stepped back in surprise.
"I never had a free ride, Aunt Marge. I paid for my high school education myself, and if you think that my so-called family made my time with them enjoyable then think again. Being starved and almost beaten to death for the crime of existing is not a punishment that anyone could possibly earn. I'll wait for you by that tree Dudley, when you're ready to return to the school."
"What school?" Aunt Marge sputtered ignoring the accusations of abuse as Ron had somehow known she would, "You can't mean St Brutus's!"
"He does not," Ron could have cheered when McGonagal spoke up coldly, stepping in front of her students as if to protect them, "Harry's Headmaster has agreed to take Dudley in for a term until his mother is well enough to see to the family affairs. I'm sure you were told that the terrorists that attacked the Dursley family were targeting them deliberately. It may not be safe for your nephew to return to his normal school. As for the school you refer to as St Brutus's, to my knowledge it does not exist."
Ron tugged Harry away then, walking him over to the tree he had indicated and slinging his arm defiantly around his waist, glaring at any Muggle that looked at them strangely. This time tomorrow they would be in the Great Hall for the Sorting feast, surrounded by their friends and looking forward to their first day as teachers. Despite the attack Ron knew that Harry was still enthusiastic about the coming term, perhaps even more than he would normally have been as the green eyed boy reached for the normalcy of school to counteract the last few upsetting days.
Beth greeted them with a happy shout, running forward to fling her arms around Harry's waist. She'd grown in the holidays, and her white hair had been cut into a layered style that made her look as if she had a silken pelt on her head. Harry hugged her back and smiled when she craned her neck to look at him. He still felt so tired, and Ron was hovering close, trying to give him comfort without smothering.
The Great Hall was bustling with students as they sorted out their seating arrangements at their House tables, moving around the Hall to greet their friends from other Houses as well. The school had been lucky: none of their Muggle-born students had lost their parents or any other family member in the recent attacks. Professor Dumbledore had to work hard to get Fudge to pardon them all for the multiple breaches of the Decree for Restriction of Underage Wizardry.
All of this flashed through Harry's mind as he glanced back at the boy sitting stiffly in a new robe that Harry had sent Hedwig to Diagon Alley for. Dudley was alone at the Gryffindor table, staring at all the teens and children around him in astonishment. Harry hadn't slept too well last night worrying that his cousin would become a target for some of the more aggressive students. Most Wizards had no real contact with Muggles and the Slytherin House would especially enjoy making Dudley's time at Hogwarts even more miserable than normal. Being stuck in a magical place without magic must have been frightening to his cousin.
Ron had taken Harry aside this morning and put a hand over his heart, promising solemnly that he wouldn't do anything to make Dudley's stay here unpleasant or frightening, for Harry's sake. That had taken a weight off Harry's shoulders, as he'd been wondering if he could even ask his friend not to hurt Dudley without insulting him.
"Who's that?" Beth asked, following Harry's line of sight and Harry sighed. Dumbledore was going to explain some of the circumstances surrounding his cousin to the students, but Harry just knew that most of them would be asking him questions of their own about the whole deal.
"My cousin, Dudley," Harry rubbed her back, "Did you have a good summer?"
"Brilliant! We went to the Isle of Wight and camped out for three whole weeks!" Beth bounced in excitement, keeping a firm grip on Harry as she did, "Have you ever been camping?"
"Ron and I camped out for most of the summer," Harry grinned at her enthusiasm, "It was pretty wicked."
The bell that McGonagal kept on hand to get the students to settle quickly rang once and Harry let go of Beth, urging her to sit with her classmates while he and Ron headed back to sit with Dudley. Hermione and Neville were already there and Dean and Seamus were sitting opposite the Muggle, examining him with narrow eyes. With a sinking heart Harry realised that they had figured out who the stranger was and Gryffindor's outraged loyalty was up in arms.
"I'll talk to them," Ron whispered in Harry's ear and pushed him into Hermione's arms. She made him sit next to her, leaving a spot empty next to Dudley for Ron. Harry's sharp eyes spotted her Head Girl badge and he hugged her in congratulations.
"Well done Hermy," he whispered in her ear. She smiled at him and left her arm around his shoulders. Harry was aware that Dudley was watching him with curious eyes, and did his best not to frown at him. Ron was crouched behind Seamus and Dean, speaking quickly and quietly. The doors to the Great Hall opened and Ron scurried around to his seat as Professor Snape led in the new first years.
"Sorted, mate," Dean whispered across the table, with Seamus nodding his agreement. Harry slumped a little in relief. Neville wouldn't tease Dudley - he'd had too much experience on the wrong side of bullies to turn into one himself, and Hermione had already said hello to his cousin quite politely.
They watched the first years get themselves sorted, and then Snape took the Hat and stool away while Professor Dumbledore stood up. He surveyed them all for a long silent moment, his face unusually solemn.
"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts. I have a few start of year notices for you. Firstly, I am sure that you have noticed that Gryffindor has a guest this term. The young man is here as my guest, and yes, as the more perceptive of you have noticed, he is a Muggle. As such he is unable to defend himself magically, though he is a boxing champion in his own right. I leave it to those of you who know what Boxing is to enlighten your Housemates at a later date. I must emphasise to you all that our guest is to be treated with utmost courtesy at all times," the Headmaster looked them all over, and seemed satisfied that he had made his point. He smiled at them and the twinkle in his eyes ignited.
"On a happy note, I am pleased to welcome back Professor Lupin as our Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher," Dumbledore beamed at the former werewolf, who beamed back. Harry glanced up at the full moon shining from the ceiling, as did many of the students who remembered why Lupin had been forced to leave the school. Ron started a round of applause, which soon turned into cheers and yells from most of the students there. Harry was grinning his head off at the Marauder, who solemnly winked back at him. Snape looked disgusted at the whole thing, but Harry didn't care. He'd managed to help his fathers' friend and that went a long way to making him feel better.
"And finally," Dumbledore spoke over the last few claps, "I am sad to inform you that Madam Hooch is unable to join us until term three. Madam Hooch has been seconded to the Department of Magical Games and Sport in order to oversee the final details of the Seven Nations Cup. I realise that many of you have followed the story in the Daily Prophet, and I urge you all to read the Prophet thoroughly tomorrow morning."
There were whispered speculations all over the Hall and Harry looked down at his empty plate, trying not to smile. He caught sight of Ron, who was staring fixedly at the teachers' table in an effort to control his own expression. Professor McGonagal stood then, and Dumbledore gave her a little bow, sitting down and looking at her politely.
"The new Gryffindor tower was completed during the holidays, but members of my House will please note that they are to return to last years quarters. In addition the Fat Lady has been moved to the corridor wall opposite Wrestler. Please do not spend the entire night engaging her in conversation."
The Gryffindor table grinned at each other and shuffled a little on the benches. Dumbledore stood up and clapped his hands, uttering his usual 'let the feast begin'. The tables filled with food and Harry noticed that Dudley had startled badly, paling and almost falling off his bench. When he made no move to help himself, Ron grabbed his plate, put a bit of everything on it and put the plate back in front of him with a growled instruction to eat.
"Do I have to dish up for you too?" Ron asked his partner and Harry blinked at him, then grinned a little hesitantly. He shook his head and reached for the mashed potatoes.
Hermione and Ron introduced the first years to Wrestler, while Dudley looked on. The Muggle had already been given permission to enter the Gryffindor common room, as Dumbledore felt it would be best to force some interaction with others on the bully. It would also ease Harry's burden, something that Ron was wholeheartedly in favour of. Harry was inside already, ushering the first years to their welcome speech with Ginny. Although he didn't have a Prefect badge, Harry had fallen into the habit of doing the Prefects duties with Ron. No one in Gryffindor challenged his right to do so, mainly because Harry wasn't lording over them. He did most of the unglamorous tasks and didn't boast about it.
Once the last student was inside, Hermione followed them, leaving Ron and Dudley alone in the corridor. The Fat Lady was chatting to Neville, and Ron glanced at them before gesturing for Dudley to walk with him
"I'm only going to say this once, Mr Dursley," Ron growled, "You damn near killed my partner last year, so we won't ever be friends. But Harry doesn't need the aggravation right now, so I propose a truce. You behave like a gentleman at all times, and I'll do the same. The minute I see you making a move towards him that I don't like, and boxer or not, you'll be on your arse so fast you won't know what hit you. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes," Dudley's voice was low and Ron nodded once, turning and heading back towards the common room. His step faltered when the Muggle kept walking straight ahead, but Ron decided not to follow the teen. He was in his majority by Wizard standards, and there wasn't much trouble that he could get into at this time of night.
Hermione was sitting in their room with Harry. Dobby had given them the same room as last year, so it was almost like home to Ron. He shut and sealed the door firmly before throwing himself into Harry's lap, getting an elbow in the side and a squirm for his efforts. He didn't mind, just made himself comfortable. The way Harry's hands crept around his waist showed that he was more welcome than his partner's actions had indicated.
"Ok, I know that you two know why we're back here," Hermione fixed them with her best impersonation of McGonagal's glare and Ron shuddered. Harry pretended to hide beneath him, suppressed laughter tickling around Ron's waist.
"Hermy! We're your friends, don't glare like that," he protested, "Besides, what would Professor Dumbledore think to see his Head Girl treating the Prefects like that?"
"Spill it Ron," Hermione was unmoved and Ron heaved a big sigh. Harry's giggles were almost audible now, little riffs of laughter that were warming Ron's heart. He couldn't deal sternly with anyone when he had Harry making him feel like this, and gave up all pretence.
"Madam Hooch has organised for Gryffindor tower to become the headquarters of two of the teams for the Seven Nations Quidditch Cup," he grinned at her, "And because she can't do all that and teach, Harry and I will be teaching the first and second years for the next two terms."
Hermione squealed loudly enough to make the room echo and threw herself into Ron's lap. He caught her with a grin and Harry sighed.
"I need to be able to walk again at some point," he complained, pretending to suffer through Hermione's hug. Ron gave her a surreptitious wink and tilted his head at his partner. She seemed to catch on, because she raised her eyebrows at them both and wiggled a little.
"Are you saying that Hermy is too heavy?" he oofed when she thumped him, and Harry laughed. Ron caught Hermione's wondering look and reflected that Harry's laugh was a rare thing indeed if their best friend didn't recognise it. From the twinkle in the green eyes shining lovingly up at him, Harry was in the mood to play a little, and Ron welcomed this sign of returning good spirits.
"No, I'm saying that you are. Hermy is perfect," was the teasing response. Ron retaliated immediately, ticking the body trapped under his, and yelling when Hermione attacked him. The armchair became a flailing mass of arms and legs until they fell to the floor, red faced and out of breath.
Harry sat at the House table, butterflies whirling in his stomach. The rest of his House had History of Magic this morning, which meant he and Ron would be teaching their first lessons in little under an hour. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't notice the approaching trio.
"I assume that we're still practicing our 'do away with House pride' plan?"
Malfoy's greasy voice was like a hot poker on his skin, but Harry managed to look up calmly and say good morning to the blonde Slytherin, keeping all of his frustration inside. Malfoy settled into Ron's place, much to Harry's silent indignation. He stiffened when Goyle made Dudley shift further up, putting the Muggle next to him. Students all around the Hall were watching and Harry reached out to offer Dudley the toast rack as if the teen hadn't tried beating him into submission for most of their life.
If Malfoy was trying to put Harry off his breakfast he didn't succeed. Harry made himself take his normal serving and sighed when the owls with the morning post arrived. He made a mental note to ask Ron for the paper later, and started eating, hearing the first students discover the front page article that covered the Seven Nations Cup.
Ron entered the Hall - he'd been forced to stay behind to deal with a squabble among the third years, and sent Harry on ahead to start breakfast. His eyes narrowed when he saw who Harry was bracketed between, and before he could get over to the spot opposite his partner Justin Finch-Fletchley sat in it, waving his paper at Harry. The green-eyed teen forced a smile for his partner and then turned his attention to Justin's excited commentary.
"What's Quidditch?" Dudley's question was soft, but Malfoy heard it anyway and snorted into his pumpkin juice. Harry felt his cousin tense, and took a deep breath. The last thing he needed was to have Malfoy and Dudley at loggerheads this term. Better to step in now and set some ground rules.
"It's a bit like basketball, played on brooms with three hoops for each team," Harry explained, "There are a few more balls and some different rules, though. I'll get you a book on it. And Draco, if I were you I'd go see Madam Pomfrey about that cough - it doesn't sound healthy."
Malfoy gaped at him, and Justin blinked, a little startled at the tone Harry had used. He became aware that he'd used the same tone that had shut Madam Legales up so well, and bit down on a sigh. He really didn't want to turn into Percy, pompous mannerisms and condescending speech included. Making a mental note to keep a firmer grip on his emotions, Harry glanced at Dudley's empty plate.
"Come on, we've got to get going," Harry told his cousin and stood up, moving away from the table quickly. He heard Dudley get up to follow him and headed out to the large courtyard where Madam Hooch held flying lessons for the first years.
Once there he proceeded to the storage shed and unlocked it, getting his wand out and looking around. Dudley was sitting against the wall, pulling books out of his bag. There was also a shiny black pencil case and Harry stared at it for a moment before shaking his head. He'd become so used to using quills and ink that the Muggle made pens came as a surprise.
Turning his attention back to the shed, Harry flicked his wand and laid out the brooms in a double row, handles pointing in the way they had for his first lesson. He checked that everything was where it was supposed to be and then closed the shed door, locking it and clipping the key inside his robe. He moved to the middle of the field and held up his wand, facing the castle.
"Accio Firebolt," he said firmly, and waited for his broom to find him. He and Ron had both propped their brooms in their open bedroom window this morning, so as not to excite too much attention with their classmates. The Firebolt came racing around the corner and halted in front of him, almost humming with eagerness. Harry smiled and put his hand on the handle, rubbing his fingers over the gold script for a moment. Noise alerted him to his students' arrival and he turned, the broom in his hand to greet them.
"Right, everyone over here to start with," Harry informed them calmly, "I want a word with you all before we start."
He waited until they were standing in a clump in front of him and then nodded briskly. There was an even spread of Houses of course, and right now they were clumped together. With a bit of luck that would stop after a few weeks of spending their free time with each other and sharing meals together.
"Ok, my name is Harry and I'll be teaching you for the first two terms until Madam Hooch is back from the Seven Nations Cup. As I am your teacher I am able to add or subtract House points according to your behaviour. I expect you to do what you are told without argument or backchat, or you'll find that I have my own version of punishment that will make you beg for detentions. First off, who has ridden a broom before?"
Eight hands went up and Harry nodded. Five of them were Slytherins, which made sense. The Slytherin House tended to be the richest of the Purebloods, so it was likely that they would have their own brooms already.
"Fine," Harry gestured for them to put their hands down, "We're going to start with the basic features of all brooms."
He went on to explain about the cushioning spells and flight spells that even the most basic of brooms had, and then talked about how the broom was enchanted to read changes in your body weight to decipher what you wanted it to do.
Ten minutes later his class were standing beside their own brooms, their wand hand over the handle as they said:
Ron breathed deeply, taking in a lungful of his favourite smell - the wintergreen scent that said Harry. He was leaning back against the Transfiguration classroom wall, his partner pressed against him in a full body hug. Harry's head was hiding in Ron's shoulder, much the way he had the first time he'd reached out for comfort. Ron had his hands under Harry's robe, rubbing the small of Harry's back while the dark haired teen's fingers massaged the flesh at his waist. They were warm and their breathing was slow and peaceful.
Hermione was sitting in a desk, getting a start on her homework. Ron was glad that they had a friend who didn't mind that they cuddled together, as he hadn't had a chance to touch Harry since they got up this morning. The door that led to Professor McGonagal's study opened and Ron turned his head just enough to see the tall austere Witch enter the room and sweep over to her desk. She eyed them for a moment and then cleared her throat. Ron sighed into dark hair and dropped a kiss on Harry's temple, nuzzling to get him to lift his head.
"Come on mate, time to work," he whispered and Harry took a deep breath, lifting a slightly flushed face and rubbing his cheek against Ron's in an affectionate gesture before sighing and letting go. Ron smiled at him and went to sit in the desk in front of their teacher, tangling their fingers together and smiling up at their Head of House. She nodded once in acknowledgement and waved her wand at the board.
"We're going to start with some simple transfiguration spells that you have already mastered," she said, looking them over, "You must both be comfortable with the casting and the effects casting will have on your Magic. Unlike Charm work, where you are sending your Magic out in a simple command, the Transfiguration spells take more effort. The commands are not as simple, nor do they use a single step."
Ron listened carefully as McGonagal went on to outline the spells she wanted them to cast, one from each year of their schooling, starting out with a simple change from wood to metal and finishing with a tricky conversation of an inert material to a living, complex organism. Harry's fingers were absolutely still in his, a sure sign that his friend was focussed on his teacher and not his partner.
When Professor McGonagal handed over the matchstick they were to start with, Ron placed it on the table and looked over at his friend. Harry was frowning in thought, biting one of his lips and tapping his free fingers on his leg. Ron thought he looked adorable like that, and then focussed his mind on what they were doing.
/wands/ he suggested, and Harry nodded.
/we should probably stand back too, maybe get them to step back as well, this is going to require some power/ he agreed. Ron voiced their request, tugging Harry up and back until he felt that they would be safe enough if something went wrong. Hermione and McGonagal were standing behind the teacher's desk, watching them and the matchstick with equal curiosity.
/speak it aloud, I'll provide the focus/ Harry raised his eyebrows and Ron nodded. Their instincts for who would be the best caster for any particular spell had been honed in Charms, and developed neatly in Potions. They'd switch off for each transformation, depending on who had the strongest ability for each one.
Ron felt the bond warm and become an almost living presence in the room. Without any further communication he raised his wand and cast the first spell, smiling a little when the match turned into a needle. He then turned the needle into a spoon and then a teapot, and Harry took over, converting the teapot to a slightly glowing cauldron. They cast together to partially transform the cauldron's contents into a complex, multi-part, metallic fish.
The bond was humming and Ron felt tremors in Harry's fingers that spoke of rapidly approaching exhaustion. Ron grit his teeth, knowing that they had to either get this next part done quickly or fail entirely. They levelled their wands in perfect unison, converting the cauldron and fish to a crystal sculpture. The bond failed them before they could cast the final spell, draining away like water down a drain, all their energy leaving them in a rush. Ron slipped painfully to his knees, dimly aware that a sweat dripping Harry was bent double beside him. They were both gasping for breath, and pale, their hands shaking and their robes soaking wet.
"Ron!" Hermione's voice sounded in his ears and he felt her hands on his shoulders. He was too tired to look up at her, and closed his eyes, intending to gather his energies for a moment. He'd get up in a moment, he just needed to catch his breath...
Harry sighed, rolling onto his side. The hospital wings sheets were all too familiar to him, and he took a moment to get his thoughts in order before opening his eyes. Ron was in the next bed, he'd know that slight snore anywhere - he'd had it in his ear for the past year and intended to have Ron snore in his ear for the rest of their lives. He felt... drained, but Madam Pomfrey could give him a potion for that. He also felt... foolish. He and Ron had both failed to set up any safeguards for their bond, draining themselves so badly that they blacked out.
They had been casting as if they were individuals, not a bonded pair. Instead of allowing the Sympathetic Magic to eddy and pool, they had pulled the plug out of the bottom and drained it away. They had used their full strength to transfigure the simpler things, leaving themselves too little energy at the end.
"Harry?" Hermione's voice was tentative and Harry smiled for her, opening his eyes. He pushed up against his pillows until he was half sitting up. Madam Pomfrey was approaching with a tray and morning sunlight was slanting across the ward. They'd been in here all night, then.
"Good morning," Harry sighed, "Sorry, Hermy. Did we give you a scare?"
"Not really," she denied it, though her eyes said otherwise. He put out a hand and she took it with a little shake of her head. Madam Pomfrey handed over his potion and he drank it off in one gulp. Pepper Up potion might make you feel better, but as with all medicine it tasted awful.
"Thanks, Madam Pomfrey," Harry gave her cup back and waited until the steam stopped pouring out of his ears. He made a mental note to send Hedwig for more of the ingredients that made the potion - he had a feeling that he and Ron would need to be able to brew their own this year. Classes were even more intense than they had been in the fifth year, and they were teaching as well as playing for Gryffindor this year.
Ron rolled onto his side, and the school Matron bustled around to his side, pulling him up carefully and supervising as he drank the concoction with a grimace and a gag. Ron looked over at Harry with a doleful expression.
"I think I know what we did wrong," Harry offered and Ron grimaced again.
"Me too," his friend sighed, "Madam Pomfrey, may we go back to school today?"
"You may, though I want you to eat very large meals today. Not that it would be a change for you, Ronald Weasley, you usually eat enough for three people," the Matron was smiling as she said this, and Ron grinned back at her, pushing the blankets back and moving his legs to stand up.
"I'm a growing boy," he said cheekily, and she shook her head, rolling her eyes at him. Wagging a finger in his face she warned him that he'd start growing out instead of up if he wasn't careful, and discharged them both from her care.
It took them ten minutes to get dressed and retrieve their bags, meeting Hermione in the Great Hall. She'd saved them seats, and thankfully they weren't sitting with Malfoy this morning. Dudley was sitting at a corner of Gryffindor's table, mostly ignored by the students near him. Harry sighed and made a mental note to spend some time with his cousin. It wouldn't do to let the teen be isolated, especially after he'd lost his father to Wizards.
They started Tuesdays with double Divination, and Hermione went off to Arithmancy. Dudley trailed along behind them until they reached the ladder and Harry turned to look at his cousin.
"Um, Dudley, this is Divination. It's mainly about horoscopes and stuff. I know that your mum didn't think much of this stuff, but it would really help if you didn't, well, upset Professor Trelawny. She's... unusual for a Witch," he offered a weak smile and Dudley scowled.
"You really think I'm stupid enough to tick off a teacher?" he growled and Harry felt Ron bristle beside him in response. Dudley also noticed and rather surprisingly backed down. Feeling as if this was a huge mistake, Harry climbed the ladder, his cousin close behind him and Ron in the rear.
Professor Trelawny's classroom was as stuffy and over scented as always, and Harry led his group over to a trio of chairs near the window, painfully aware that Professor Trelawny was eyeing Dudley with extreme interest. To his relief she didn't say anything to them, merely turning to the class and adjusting her many shawls for a more dramatic effect.
"This year we will be covering many difficult topics, my dear children, including the art of scrying," her breathy voice wafted over them all, and Harry pulled out his book, opening it to the correct chapter without waiting for her to continue. He'd found that reading the chapter she was talking about was easier than listening to her long-winded descriptions of the process, and this year their book was particularly articulate.
"Mr Potter!" the insistent call was accompanied by a nudge of Dudley's foot on Harry's ankle. Harry looked up at the touch, realising that Trelawny was waiting for him beside the fireplace, a burning candle held out in one hand. Harry got up and walked to the front, reaching out a hand and wrapping his fingers lightly around the candle. Professor Trelawny didn't let go when he tugged and Harry resigned himself to being made into an example. He wondered how he was going to die this year, glancing back at Ron, who was smirking behind his hand. Dudley was also watching with fixed attention, ignoring the work in his lap.
"Now, Mr Potter," she purred, "I want you to concentrate on the flame. Unlike the Orb, candle scrying requires that the scryer focuses their mind very precisely."
Harry took a deep breath and nodded, then pulled the candle from her hand when she seemed to relax. Ignoring her startled blink and Ron's stifled snigger, Harry turned so he was facing the trapdoor, his eyes fixed on the unwavering flame. The heat from the candle was unusually intense and it caressed his face, drawing his attention. Mesmerised, he stared into the flame, the tower and the people around him slipping away almost without his notice.
There was an unusual double glint of copper in the flame in front of him and Harry focussed on it curiously. As he watched, it resolved into Fred and George, the twins pointing their wands and shouting at someone. They were in a street, or alley somewhere, and as he watched a stone wall beside them crumbled, falling down on them, burying them both. Harry shouted in horror and the vision slipped away, returning him to the classroom with a jolt as the candle fell to the floor and extinguished itself.
"Ron!" Harry stumbled forward, ignoring the rest of the students and grabbing for his partner, "The twins! We have to get to the twins!"
Ron was pale and shaking, but Harry ignored it, grabbing his friend by the hand and dragging him to the trap door. They had to get to Dumbledore - the Headmaster would be able to help them.
Ron had never been more terrified in his life. Not even finding Harry broken and bleeding in the Dursley's front hall could compare with the horror of watching his partner become someone else. One minute he had been sniggering at Harry as his poor friend was dragged up the front - Trelawny hated that Harry read the textbooks she assigned rather than listen to her waffling on, and the fact that he'd topped the class in Divinations, despite her coaching of Lavender and Parvati only rubbed salt into the wound. Ron had wondered idly how Harry was destined to die this year - Trelawny's predictions had ceased to scare him at all - and almost laughed out loud when Harry succeed in taking the candle away from her.
His friend had turned to face him, and Ron had to admit that Harry was being quite the showman - the slow deliberate movements and slow even breaths a nice mystical touch. Then Harry had let go of the candle, his face seeming to age, the candle floating in between his hands. Lavender had squealed in shock and Trelawny had stepped back in surprise. His friend's mouth moved soundlessly, but Ron thought he saw the pale lips form the words 'Fred and George'. Then the candle was on the floor and Harry was shouting about the twins. Ron followed his partner, abandoning their books and bags, clambering down the ladder and galloping along towards Dumbledore's office.
He didn't even have the breath to ask what Harry had seen, it was all he could do to keep his feet and keep pace with Harry. The gargoyle came in sight, and even as Ron acknowledged the relief he felt that help was at hand, it moved aside and Dumbledore stepped out, his sharp blue eyes skewering them immediately.
"Professor! Fred and George! They're under attack! The wall! It's going to crush them! We have to get to them now!" Harry panted, his voice high with panic, and Ron felt his skin crawl in horror. If Harry really was having a vision of the present then Ron wanted it acted on straight away. His visions in the past had all come true. Ron was hoping desperately that this one would not.
"This way," Dumbledore whirled and leapt back towards his office, Harry a close second. The Headmaster grabbed a box of Floo powder and threw a handful in, shouting 'Diagon Alley' before stepping into the green flames. Fawkes squawked and disappeared as well, leaving Ron hoping desperately that the Phoenix was also heading to his brothers aid. Harry was already stepping into the fireplace, and Ron took his own handful, panting the words out and whirling through the network.
Dumbledore was already running through the Leaky Cauldron, and Harry was hot on his heels. Ron gulped and followed them, praying under his breath as all three of them headed along the main causeway. Their appearance was causing a stir, and Ron saw several people pull their wands out of their robes, turning to scan the area around them. Aurors started appearing all over the place, and Ron skidded into Harry's back when there was an explosion from somewhere near Gringotts. People screamed and shouted, and Ron saw the twins shop at last.
There was a crack as Death Eaters in their robes and masks Disapparated and started shooting hexes and curses all over the street. Ron felt the bond snap to life as their shield blossomed around them. Fred leapt out into the street, his wand at the ready, George close behind. They were duelling with the nearest Death Eater, protecting their shop and several of the passer-by's who were panicking uselessly.
As Ron watched the twins deflected four spells into a nearby wall. Great big cracks appeared in it and it sagged a little. Neither of his brothers noticed, too busy fighting for the lives of the people around them. The wall shivered and started to give way. Ron pointed his wand and Harry roared:
The cracks sealed themselves up and the wall returned to its normal position. Ron squeezed Harry's hand and they started forward, casting shielding spells over the twins and the people closest. As suddenly as the attack started it was over, the Death Eaters that hadn't been injured Apparating away. Several of the Aurors were engaged in fighting a rather nasty fire in Quality Quidditch Supplies, and even as Ron and Harry hurried forward towards the twins, Healers started appearing to take care of the casualties.
Fred and George spotted them straight away and gaped at their brother and his fiancé. Ron was shaking badly as he grabbed them, hugging them tight and then checking them for injuries. Their protests and questions fell on deaf ears as he anxiously went over every inch of them for injuries.
"Ron," Harry's shaking hand on his arm brought him back to himself and he turned to face his partner with frightened eyes.
Harry watched as Ron checked the bewildered twins over from head to foot, ignoring their questions and exasperated demands for him to 'stop it ya daft pillock!'. Just as it looked like Fred was about to petrify his younger brother to calm him down, Harry stepped forward and put a hand on the redheads arm.
"Ron," he called gently and Ron flinched, swinging around to stare at him. Harry let go instantly and stepped back, feeling as if he'd been slapped in the face. Ron was scared of him, of what he'd just done. Even though he'd helped save the twins, his partner, his lover was afraid of him and his abilities. Feeling as though someone had just ripped his heart out and stomped on it, Harry backed away from the trio of brothers, his eyes flicking away from them.
"I'm going back to school," Harry stammered and turned, almost running in his haste to get away from them. He saw Dumbledore in the distance and hurried towards him, knowing that he'd better report that he was leaving to his Headmaster before he actually did.
"Harry, are the twins alright?" he asked, concern in his eyes. Harry nodded, trying to control himself long enough to get his mouth to work. His voice wasn't as steady as he would have liked, but it would have to do.
"They're fine. Ron's with them now. I'd... like to go back to school, Professor."
"Take the Floo back to my office and wait for me there," Dumbledore said firmly, "You're not to leave the office, Harry, is that understood?"
"Yes sir," Harry whispered and headed for the nearest fireplace, which happened to be in the back of Flourish and Blotts. The sales assistant was happy to let him use it, and Harry stepped out into the calm of the Headmaster's office only minutes later. The portraits on the wall were awake and watching him closely as he brushed his robes off while standing in the hearth, finally taking them off and bundling them up to avoid tracking soot through Dumbledore's rooms.
"What happened?" a sharp-eyed witch snapped, and Harry took a deep breath. It felt as if there was a massive weight on his chest and his eyes and nose were burning. He couldn't seem to stop shaking, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into a dark corner and hide for a while.
"The Death Eaters attacked Diagon Alley. I don't know if there were any deaths, but there were a few people hurt," his voice was thin and brittle, sounding most unlike himself. He walked to the door and placed his sooty robe on the floor next to it before walking aimlessly to the middle of the room. Fawkes popped into the room, gliding to his usual perch and Harry smiled at it. He felt tears spill over and run down his cheeks, and the next thing he knew he was sobbing uncontrollably. He staggered towards the nearest corner and huddled into it, burying his face in his arms.
Ron was frightened of him, had flinched away from his touch - their most vital connection was suddenly an unwelcome intrusion. He'd discovered another weird talent that he could perform and one that set him apart from the rest of his friends again. He was nothing more than a freak, an unlovable freak that frightened those around him. He felt Fawkes land on his foot, trilling softly. The Phoenix song failed to comfort him though and he simply curled up in a tighter ball, truly and utterly miserable - even more so than he had been when Cedric Diggory and Sirius had died.
The fireplace whooshed and Harry bit his lips, trying to get control of himself, wishing that he didn't have to, that he could just fall apart and let someone else worry about things for a while. He knew that he had to explain what had happened to Dumbledore and also find Dudley. His cousin already thought he was a freak, so it wouldn't be too hard to deal with him. He'd also have to make some kind of arrangement about the dorm - though he doubted that there was room to move him out of Ron's room. He could always sleep on the floor in Dudley's room. Dobby could get him a couple of blankets and maybe a pillow.
Swallowing desperately on the choked sobs and wiping at his face with both hands, Harry tried to straighten up. He knew that it would be impossible to hide his tears from the Headmaster, but he could at least face the man with some dignity. Fawkes weight left his foot and strong arms wrapped around him. The smell of warm, slightly salty bread wafted over him in a wave and Harry struggled against the clasp, pushing away as hard as he could, a keening noise pouring from his throat uncontrollably. His glasses slipped from his face, falling to the floor and skittering away as his hand struck them.
"Harry!" the yell in his ear shocked him into immobility, and he froze. Ron took advantage of his shock to wrap his long arms even more tightly around Harry. The redhead's fingers were stroking him gently and they were swaying slightly where they sat.
"Why did you run away?" Ron asked, sounding genuinely hurt and bewildered. Harry struggled for a moment in the tight grip, outraged, then slumped limply in the other teens grasp.
"You flinched," his voice was as dead as he felt inside, "You were scared of me. You think I'm a freak!"
The last part was shrieked at the top of his lungs but Ron merely tightened his arms and hauled Harry into his lap. Harry huddled there, needing the comfort and hating himself for it. Ron crooned softly and tears spilled over Harry's cheeks again. In a matter of seconds he was sobbing again, shaking uncontrollably.
"Why can't I get control of myself?" he wailed and Ron kissed his ear lightly.
"It's shock, I think," he murmured, "You've worked yourself into a pretty state, haven't you? Just take it easy, it's ok Harry. I've got you."
"You don't want me," Harry protested, "You're sc-scared."
"No I'm not you idiot," Ron replied, his voice sharp, "Harry, when you went into that trance I was frightened - not of you but of what was happening to you. I haven't forgotten last year and the hell that Tom Riddle played with your dreams and visions the year before that. I was frightened that Tom was at you again, that's all. When you grabbed me back there, I was scared that the twins had been hurt, that we'd been too late, that you'd been hurt and I hadn't noticed. Get this through your thick head, Harry. I. Love. You. Nothing will make me stop. We're getting married in January and making ourselves a family of our own. The only way you'll get rid of me is to kill me, Harry. Do you understand?"
Harry gasped for breath, feeling like he'd been deluged with ice water. Kill Ron? He could never! He grabbed the sooty robes his friend still wore and shook his head violently, trying to convey that he would never do that. Ron kissed his ear again and rocked them both slowly, his breathing a little harsh in the aftermath of his tirade. Harry felt a hand worm inside his uniform, rubbing the skin at the small of his back. A little spot of warmth started there and grew slowly, enveloping his whole body, slowing his own frantic heart and breaths, leaching away the tension in his frame until he was slumped into Ron, his hands still clutching the dark robes, his face tucked into Ron's neck.
"I love you," Ron whispered over and over again, in time with his fingers swirls, "I'm not frightened of you, I'm never leaving you."
Those soft words were all Harry could hear as he let the warmth take him away from everything, cocooning him in safe darkness.
Ron had been reluctant to leave the twins, even when Harry seemed to weird out on him a little and head back to school alone. Fred and George had reassured him that they were fine, and Dumbledore had found him helping them repair a cracked window. The Headmaster had spoken briefly to the twins and then told Ron that Harry was waiting in the study and would he please join his partner? Ron had been happy to by then, seeing that the Death Eaters were definitely gone and people were starting to get on with their normal day.
He'd found Harry in a corner of the room, crying his heart out, and Fawkes with his partner, trying futilely to reassure him. Harry had fought him off at first, and it had taken Ron some time to figure out what was upsetting his fiancé so badly. His heart broke a little when he realised that Harry was expecting to be thrown away again. He blamed himself for triggering that particular fear, and Dudley's presence for making Harry a little more susceptible to self-doubt than usual. Harry was slow to believe Ron's promises, but calmed down in the end. He went to sleep in Ron's lap, little sobs still marring his breathing.
There was a whoosh, and Ron looked up as Dumbledore stepped out of the fireplace. The white haired Headmaster's eyes widened in dismay when he spotted Ron's lapful of upset Harry. He walked over softly as Fawkes glided to his shoulder and crouched on the floor in front of them.
"He thought I was afraid of him. He thought I was leaving him," Ron blurted, his own face crumpling a little in misery, "I hurt him."
"Part of that would be from the shock, I think," Dumbledore said softly, reaching out a hand to stroke the messy dark head that was hiding on Ron's shoulder, "He's had a lot to deal with over the last week."
Ron nodded, watching the thin hand rub Harry's head almost tenderly. It came to him that Dumbledore cared about his lover almost like a parent would. Dumbledore sighed and called up a blanket, tucking it over them where they sat. He settled on the floor opposite them, Summoning Harry's glasses to him before putting his hands in his lap.
"Perhaps you can tell me what occurred?" Dumbledore asked quietly, and Ron nodded, his arms starting to tire from supporting Harry's dead weight. He wasn't about to complain, though. If this was what Harry needed then this is what he would get.
"We were in Divination. Last year Harry started reading the textbook instead of simply listening to Professor Trelawny, and she likes to make an example of him anyway. We were starting the art of scrying, using candles for our focal point. She called Harry up the front to try it first. He took the candle from her, and then next thing I know it's floating in the air between his outstretched hands. He's in some kind of trance, looking like someone else, and his lips are moving, but there's no sound. Then the candle drops to the floor and he's lunging across the room, shouting about the twins and a wall," Ron sighed, "I was so scared that Tom Riddle was messing with his head again, Professor. His dreams in fifth year were horrifying, and the visions weren't any better."
"I understand," Dumbledore nodded gently, "You came to me, and we went to Diagon Alley where you were successful in saving your brothers."
"I panicked," Ron said bitterly, "I needed to check that they were ok, and then Harry grabbed me to calm me down and I thought that maybe he'd been hurt and I hadn't noticed or something. His hand was shaking you see, and it's so unlike him to be that shaky unless he's sick or hurt in some way. But he thought I was afraid of him and he left."
"Potter was in a right state," one of the portraits confirmed, "Weasley managed to calm him down."
"I see," the Headmaster sighed, "Very well. I think it would be best if Harry gave up Divination, Ron. I realise that it's a NEWT subject for him, but in light of all this..."
"You'll have to talk to Harry about that," Ron shook his head, "It's his decision. I just want him to be happy and safe."
He whispered the last part into Harry's hair and felt his partner stir a little in response. Harry lifted tear blotched cheeks and Ron dropped a kiss on each red eye, crooning softly to comfort his partner.
"Stuck with me, Potter," he whispered, "Forever."
Harry sniffled a little and moved to sit up straight, staying within Ron's arms and warmth. He jumped when he spotted Dumbledore, and flushed in embarrassment. The Headmaster offered them a smile and reached out to pat Harry on a blanket covered hip.
"How do you feel, my boy?" he asked lightly and Harry forced a smile. Ron kissed his temple, and sped his fingers a little.
"Better," Ron knew Harry wouldn't lie to the Headmaster, and for a moment he thought he saw a flash of pain in the blue eyes opposite them. Before anyone could say anything else, the sharp-eyed Witch that had spoken up before interrupted them again.
"Albus, I think that there's something those two have to tell you," she said in a severe tone. Ron fought back the urge to glare at her, and sighed, shifting Harry's weight so his partner was closer. Harry curled into him again, seeking his scent and shelter. Ron rubbed a cheek in his partner's soft hair and looked Dumbledore in the eye.
"We were going to invite you properly, Professor," Ron said pointedly, glancing at the portrait for a moment, "Harry and I are getting married in the January hols."
Dumbledore smiled at them both and to Ron's surprise leaned over and gave them a hug. Harry made a soft noise and released one of his hands from Ron's robe to pat the nearest arm. Ron was very glad that Harry still had one adult in his life that he felt he could turn to despite Sirius' death.
"I would be delighted to come," he told them both, "I await your invitation eagerly. Now, perhaps it would be best if you retired to your dorm for the rest of the morning. You may join the school after dinner, I will send Dobby to you with a tray."
Ron nodded and took Harry's glasses as Dumbledore helped them up.
Harry had leaned heavily into Ron as the redhead guided them back to their room. Once inside with the door sealed Ron had put Harry on their bed and pulled off his shoes, pulling off his sooty robe and toeing off his own shoes before joining Harry on the bed. Harry had been unable to suppress a soft noise of need and curled into Ron's arms. He didn't know what to do to heal the breach in their relationship, he just knew he had to be close to his partner.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered and Ron kissed his temple. The loving contact eased a little of Harry's tension and he was able to unclench the fingers of one hand, smoothing Ron's school jumper with shaking fingers.
"Don't be sorry," Ron told him, "It was a misunderstanding. We're going to argue and misunderstand each other now and then Harry. We did before we started loving each other and we will after we're married. We'll probably still bicker and argue when they ship us off to the old Wizards Home."
"I don't want to argue," Harry bit his lip against the tears he felt threatening to fall once more, "I love you. I don't want to fight."
"It's ok to fight," Ron soothed, "Mum and Dad fight, and look how much they love each other. In fact I think that it's because they love each other that they fight. If they were totally indifferent to each other then they wouldn't have stayed together. I love you, and I care about you, but I don't expect you to agree with everything I say, and I don't think you should expect me to agree with you all the time either. If we can't be honest with each other then we'll be miserable. You know this, Harry, and I know that you remember the disagreements we've had since we became lovers. None of them were the end of the world."
Harry nodded, remembering the minor flashes of irritation and squabbles they'd had since that first summer. They'd even had a row during the building of their house and Ron had gone for a walk to cool off. They solved their disagreements by talking it over, sometimes rationally, sometimes at the top of their lungs. This was a pattern they'd started in their first year of friendship, and Harry couldn't imagine changing it now. Normally he was comforted by the fact that even though Ron was cross with him he still loved him. The argument that they'd had about telling Ron's parents had shown him that.
"So why do I feel so bad now?" Harry had to ask, knowing that the answer was not one he could see. Ron was the calm and rational one this time. Harry lifted his head and looked at the blue eyes that were smiling at him gently. He felt a warm glow somewhere in the middle of his chest and snuggled closer, an action his friend welcomed with a squeeze and a pat.
"Well," Ron's thoughts moved quickly over his face, "You've had a big shock with the whole scrying thing, and we went right from that into a battle with Death Eaters. You managed to save my brothers, and when I panicked you were already on edge. I jumped when you touched me, and that kicked off your own panic."
"It was a misunderstanding?" Harry half asked, half stated and Ron nodded solemnly, stroking his back and still thinking. Harry shifted so he could watch the thoughts and possibilities dance over his friend's face. Ron wasn't often this relaxed and open, preferring to keep his guard up in public. Harry loved watching this happen, it made him feel... honoured that his partner would show him this.
"I think I know how to make you feel better," Ron pecked Harry on the lips and wriggled out from under, sliding off the bed smoothly. Harry knew he was pouting but couldn't help it. Being held by Ron was making him feel a lot better and he didn't want to give it up. Ron returned with a sketchbook that he'd bought during the summer and the box of pencils that Harry had given him. Harry thought Ron was a great artist, though Ron had hotly disputed the point. All of his books and notes had doodles in the margins, as did the books that he read for pleasure. The books he and Harry shared had notes in the margins - they had been known to carry on whole conversations there.
"What are you doing?" Harry sat up obligingly. Ron piled the pillows up on the bed and rested his back against them, drawing Harry to rest between his legs, back to belly. He propped the sketchpad on Harry's knees and fished out a grey and yellow pencil.
"We're going to design our own wedding rings. Usually it's a gold band, like the Muggles wear, but I think we should make our own, like Hermione's bracelet," Ron explained, and Harry felt his heart lighten. The promise inherent in the suggestion reassured him like nothing else could. Bound by the promises and love that went into the design he felt that he could weather any argument with his partner.
"You're brilliant," he smiled and leaned back into Ron's warm embrace, taking the pencil and the love he was being offered.
"What do you want?" Dudley scowled at him and Harry sighed. He put the tray he was carrying down on the small table next to Dudley's armchair and stepped back, folding his arms and looking around the room. It was neat enough, and the furniture was good quality, but it wasn't the sort of place you expected to find Dudley 'give it to me now, I want it' Dursley. The computers and stereo and TV that haunted Dudley's room, not to mention the Playstation and all the rest of the 'toys' that his cousin was usually surrounded with were obviously missing.
"You didn't come to tea, and Hermione said she couldn't find you at dinner either," Harry replied reasonably, determined not to let his cousin get to him. He'd had enough turmoil today, between the scrying, the battle and the misunderstanding, and didn't need to get into a knock down drag out argument at this late stage.
"What do you care?" the sulky voice grated on Harry's tired nerves and he glared at the unlovely Muggle slouched in front of him. At times like this it was hard to remember how alone Dudley was while he grieved for his father and waited for his mother to recover. Surrounded by a world he couldn't fit into or control, Dudley was vulnerable and scared.
Harry had no comfort for him. His own life with the Dursley's offered no warm memories to share as a balm to Dudley's grief, there was no common friendship or camaraderie to bolster them. He'd been in Dudley's place so often - grieving for the dead, isolated and powerless - that Harry could understand the tendency to lash out. He'd never had the luxury of course, but he understood the need to express his misery somehow.
"Look, Dudley, I know this is going to be hard for you to understand, but you are family, and I take care of my family. That means I protect them as best I can, and make sure that they're generally ok. You need to eat, so stop your whining and get over here," Harry said it briskly and impersonally. Dudley gaped at him and got up off the bed where he was sulking.
"I almost killed you," he whispered, stepping forward. Harry's insides turned to ice for a moment, and he stepped back. Dudley flinched and Harry watched in a kind of sick fascination as his cousin wrapped his arms around his chest and tried to make himself small.
"That Headmaster of yours same to see us," the voice was low but perfectly understandable, "He was furious. Dad... he was yelling at him, screaming about how you were a freak, and dangerous to us and that he wouldn't have you back. Dumbledore froze him in place... mum was shrieking about how he'd better not hurt us and... he just looked at us like we were bugs. He said that on the whole, Wizards weren't interested in Muggles and it was people like us that were the reason why. He said that you were almost dead and... well he really let mum and dad have it. How you were a helpless baby when you came and deserved love and... he was almost crying I think."
Harry shook his head in denial. Dumbledore was a powerful man, and Harry had relied on this image of his Professor more than once in a tight spot. He didn't want to have that image destroyed - he needed it.
"He called me a would be murderer, and said that my parents weren't fit to raise a child," Dudley choked out, tears dripping from his chin, "He was right, Harry. I'm a rotten person. I could have killed you. I should have been locked up for what I did, but because you were being treated by your own kind there would be no proof for the police. I... I was so angry. I went to school and I worked hard. I tried so hard to be different, and I thought that if it worked, then it would stop bad things from happening. But it didn't and now Dad's dead and Mum's in a coma or something and I'm here where everyone stares at me and hates me."
"No one hates you, Dudley," Harry snapped, "Half the students here are pureblood's who have never seen someone who has no magical ability. They're just curious. They won't hurt you. I won't let them."
"Why would you defend me?" Dudley almost howled and Harry bit his lip. It was a good question. He owed his cousin nothing but hate and revulsion, but at the same time a small part of him was insisting that Harry treat him well. That part was reminding him that there was more to life than petty revenge, and that he had enough to do with killing Voldemort. That part was reminding him that despite the best efforts of the child in front of him - and even though they were the same age, Dudley now seemed much younger to Harry - Ron loved him and was marrying him this January.
"Because I've been where you are for most of my life, and I'm not about to inflict pain on you just because I can," Harry said quietly, "Because I've got an enemy who is so evil he makes you look like a Boy Scout. Because even though you've hated me all your life I can finally say with certainty that I am not unlovable, not unworthy, and not garbage. Because no matter what my life was like in your house, you're now in mine, and I simply will not stand for bullying, not even from myself."
There was a long silence while Dudley stared at him, and Harry sighed. He very much doubted that his cousin would ever understand, but he didn't care. He understood - finally! He understood - and that would have to be enough. He felt tired but there was a sense of peace that he usually associated with Ron hovering over him now. Harry had the urge to find his partner and express that peace as joyously and enthusiastically as he knew how.
"Eat something, Dudley. I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow," Harry turned and headed out of the portrait hole, glancing at Malfoy who was hanging around and being glared at by the Fat Lady and Wrestler.
"Were you looking for someone, Malfoy?" Harry asked politely, folding his hands in his robes. The blonde sneered at him and walked away. Harry shook his head and put his hand on Wrestler's head. He said goodnight to the Fat Lady and the gargoyle, going inside to find his Wheezy.
Much to Ron's relief things settled down after that. He and Harry got into the routine of learning and teaching and taking Quidditch practices and tuition from Professor McGonagal fairly easily. Harry disappeared for an afternoon with Professor Dumbledore and Professor Trelawny, and it was agreed that he would continue Divination, but any scrying he did would be in carefully controlled circumstances.
Their students were settling down well, and Ron was thoroughly enjoying the lessons. As Gryffindor wasn't slated to play Slytherin until the third week of term, they both had three clear weeks to impress their student's limits upon them. There would be no danger of his or Harry's class trying out Quidditch moves during lessons, though he thought that Beth Dunn would be the girl to watch when it came to Seeker trials next year. Harry managed to get a look at her flying when Ron kept her behind for a moment and agreed with Ron's assessment. Ron had made his recommendation to their Head of House, and she'd beamed at them both before offering them a piece of shortbread.
The first match of the season had been Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, as refereed by Professor McGonagal. Her name was also on the plaque that held James Potter's Seeker award. Most students didn't equate swift flight and a knowledge of Quidditch that could shame her students, with the slender, austere Transfiguration mistress. They'd had quite a shock. Dudley was absent for the first match of the season as Professor Sinistra had taken him to St Mungo's to visit his still sleeping mother, and Harry had enjoyed a day of not worrying about his cousin at all.
The second match was Slytherin versus Gryffindor, and Professor Sinistra had told Dudley that they would go and visit his mother on Sunday instead, so he could watch the match. She seemed to think that Dudley would find this a treat, and Ron wasn't game to ask how the Muggle felt about it, knowing that a poorly timed remark would only hurt Harry. Ginny had cornered Harry in the change rooms and whispered to him for a good ten minutes, disrupting Ron's usual treat of being able to fiddle Harry's robes and gear into place. Ron made a mental note to pout to his fiancé about this at a later stage and followed his sister out to the box where they all mounted their brooms.
Ron watched his partner zoom confidently to his usual spot and moved to hover in front of his goalposts as he always did. Professor Snape was refereeing this match and the Gryffindor team were warned to be on their best behaviour. They all knew he'd favour his own House, who would be playing as dirty as they could.
The look on Harry's face was blissful, and Ron stifled a snigger. Usually Harry only looked like that during sex. Ron wondered idly if it was possible to have sex on a broomstick and then called his attention back to the game. Ginny had the quaffle and Colin hit a bludger at the Chasers nearest her. When they were forced to duck she zoomed ahead and beat the Slytherin keeper for a goal through the third hoop.
The Slytherin Chasers grabbed the quaffle and tore up the pitch, only to lose the quaffle halfway when Alex Marshfall made a clever tackle. Minutes later the ball was soaring through Slytherins goal again and Ron grinned, the expression growing when he caught sight of Snape's face. Malfoy flew past the redhead, who ignored the sneer and slur from the blonde Seeker, knowing how desperate Malfoy was - desperate to beat Harry once before they graduated.
The crowd roared in disapproval when the Slytherin Beaters hit the third year Gryffindor Chaser instead of the bludger, and she went up to take the penalty. The score was thirty to nothing then, and Ron's breath caught when Harry suddenly exploded into motion, looping around and through the players, coming dangerously close to Slytherins who kicked out at him, his hand stretching out to catch the golden dot just in front of him.
Ron had to take his eyes off his partner as the Slytherins managed to get the quaffle up his end. He kicked the lumpy red ball easily to Ginny, who was off in a flash. The crowd roared again as Malfoy deliberately fouled Harry, who rolled under the other Seeker with a grimace, coming out of the roll directly in the path of a bludger which he only avoided by almost standing his broom on it's tail in the air. The bludger hit Malfoy's foot instead and Harry got out of the way of play, the snitch lost amongst all the movement.
Snape was forced to give another penalty for Malfoy's attempt at blurting, which Alex converted. Forty nothing and Slytherin were in possession of the quaffle. Ron saved that attempt by simply catching it and throwing it casually over his hoops to their third year. She zigzagged up the pitch with the Beaters providing cover for her, eventually making the score fifty nothing.
Harry zoomed forward and down suddenly, heading for the grass at such a speed that Ron's mouth went dry. Malfoy was heading for his partner, a tense look on his face, and Harry dipped down then up, making Malfoy overshoot, heading in totally the wrong direction. Ron's heart was in his mouth as Harry put his broom into a corkscrewing rise, his arm out and fingers outstretched. Moments later he was rising into the air, windblown and triumphant as he held the snitch in his fingers. To Ron's unbiased eyes, he was the sexiest man on the planet.
The crowd yelled in congratulations as Snape blew his whistle to signal the end of the match. A moment later people were booing and yelling as the disappointed Beaters whacked the two bludgers into Harry's body. Ron yelled inarticulately and zoomed forward to try and catch his partner as he fell, his broom lowering slowly to the ground as its rider fell off. Colin and Ginny almost had Harry stopped when Ron reached them. His friend was unconscious and pale. Ron came up from underneath, taking Harry into his arms in front of him and heading quickly towards the hospital windows.
Dudley seemed surprised to see Harry at breakfast on Monday, and Harry made a mental note to tell his cousin a little more about Wizarding medicine. The broken bones had been healed on the spot, but the bruises and internal damage had taken a little longer. Ron hadn't been inclined to let him out of bed on Sunday, not that Harry had minded. They'd spent it naked and sweaty, practicing the best kind of medicine.
"How is Aunt Petunia?" Harry asked as he took a place opposite his cousin. Slytherin had withdrawn to its own table in the light of pretty much universal condemnation after their Beaters attack on Harry. Ex-Beaters actually, Snape had no choice but to ban them from play. Harry made a note to go and sit at the Slytherin table for dinner, and helped himself to pumpkin juice and cereal.
"She's still asleep," Dudley sighed, "But the... Healers? The Healers said that they might be able to wake her up next week."
"Good," Harry nodded and turned his attention to Beth who was pressed against his side, "What's up Miss Dunn?"
She giggled a little, but reached up to touch the bruises still visible on his wrists and cheek. Her eyes were shadowed and Harry gave her a cautious one-armed hug. He was still very bruised, and moving slowly this morning, though a few days of Madam Pomfrey's bruise ointment would soon see him right. Ron had a lot of fun anointing Harry, almost too much, they'd nearly been late this morning.
"It's just bruising, the rest is all fixed," Harry reassured her and let go. He started spooning up the cereal quickly, needing to get finished so he could set up for today's lesson. Beth let go of him and turned her attention to the Hufflepuff next to her. Harry didn't know why she'd latched on to him and Ron, but it was a bit like having a little sister. He didn't mind. Dudley finished his toast, and Harry grinned, standing up and swallowing the last of his juice.
"Is that game always like that?" Dudley asked as they walked through the front doors, and Harry glanced at him curiously. Dudley sounded... intrigued.
"Pretty much," Harry nodded, "Although it's always worse when Slytherin play, because they like to play dirty, and their Seeker has never beaten me."
"How many games have you lost?" Dudley hitched his bag up, "And could you teach me to fly a broom?"
"I've never lost a game that I've been in from start to finish," Harry stated the fact quietly, "And I don't know if a broom would respond to your commands."
Seeing the disappointment on Dudley's face made Harry feel a little mean. This was the first thing that his cousin had shown avid interest in, and it should be encouraged at the least. They reached the courtyard that the first years were using and Harry tugged his cousin over to the equipment shed. He pulled a broom out and put it on the grass to one side.
"Do you remember what to do?" he asked, curious to see if his cousin had paid attention to his lessons at all. He knew that Dudley spent a lot of his time in Harry's classes dividing his attention between his assignments and the classes' activities. Nothing had been said about the scrying, although he had a feeling that Dudley and Ron had talked about it, at least briefly.
"Up!" Dudley put his hand out over the broom. It didn't even twitch. His shoulders slumped and Harry sighed.
"Keep trying, Neville's broom didn't listen to him too well either at first," Harry encouraged and turned away, "I've got to set up for my lesson, so I'll be back in a bit."
Just as the first years entered the courtyard, Dudley gave an excited yell as the broom rose slowly and lazily into his hand. Harry nodded to him, but couldn't take the time to teach the basics all over again. Dudley seemed to understand this, as he went to work on his own studies and Harry mentally picked a time to try and teach his cousin to fly.
They had managed to work out a way to manage their bond when transfiguring things, though they would never be able to manage wand less work for this subject, and they had to be in contact at all times. Once Professor McGonagal was sure they could manage the casting without hurting themselves, she started teaching them to transfigure objects from two-dimensional images to three-dimensional realities. She had warned them very sternly that they were never to attempt this with pictures of people or complex living organisms.
"This magic is very powerful, and borders on the Dark. There was an extremely powerful Witch in the past that attempted to perform this spell on a picture of her late husband. The results were horrific and the effort killed her as the spell attempted to transfer her life energy to him. You must promise me you will never attempt it," she eyed them sternly and Ron felt his partner's shudder.
"I promise," Ron said it simply, knowing that Harry would never be able to attempt it on his own, and would never attempt a spell that would risk Ron's life. Harry looked over at him, as if reading his mind. He smiled at Ron happily and added his promise. McGonagal started them on trying to transfigure a picture of a needle into an actual needle. Hermione was watching avidly, and by the end of the lesson they had managed to make the picture fade quite a bit.
"If we master this one, we'll be able to translate our rings from paper to reality," Ron said quietly as they headed to tea. He liked the idea that they would be solely responsible for the creation and design of their wedding bands. Harry nodded, looking a little washed out by the afternoon's lesson.
"You've designed..." Hermione trailed off discreetly and Ron nodded as they entered the Great Hall. Susan Bones waylaid them with a note, and Harry laughed when he read it, handing it over to Ron while still chuckling.
'Are you game to take Hannah and I to the Valentines Ball this year or did we scare you off?'
"I don't know, Harry," Ron pretended to look worried and anxious, "I'm not too keen on a repeat performance."
"I'll protect you," Hermione said briskly, handing the note back to Harry, who nodded and waved at the two girls, "There, there, Ronny."
Harry started laughing again, colour creeping into his cheeks. Ron was glad to see it. That was why he didn't protest too much when Hermione led him by the wrist to a table and sat him down, with Harry still laughing beside him. She dished up for him and then made as if to cut up his food as well. Harry was nearly crying with laughter by that point, much to Malfoy's surprise.
"Oi," Ron protested and took possession of his knife and fork, "Leave it out, Hermione!"
"It's not that funny, Potter," Malfoy's sneer wasn't pretty, and Harry straightened up, getting his laughter under control. Rom sighed in disappointment - the sound of Harry's laughter was addictive.
"Yes it was," Ron told the Slytherin who had come to sit opposite them. Harry stifled a giggle and started helping himself, offering the bowls he had in his hands to Malfoy politely once he was done. Ron kept an eye on Harry to ensure he was putting enough on his plate and then distracted them all by starting a discussion about their Charms homework.
During pudding, Harry seemed to remember something and twisted around, searching the Great Hall.
"What's wrong?" Ron asked, and Harry relaxed with a sigh.
"I was looking for Dudley, but it looks like Beth and her friends have been taking care of him," the green eyed boy shrugged and went back to his custard tart. Ron saw Malfoy's ears prick up at the mention of the Muggle and bit back a sigh of his own. Slytherin was particularly interested in Dudley Dursley, and as far as Ron was concerned it was a match made in Heaven. The bullies deserved each other.
"Why are you so concerned about the Muggle?" Malfoy probed, "What is he to you?"
"A guest of Gryffindor," Ron replied smartly, "Someone that we're supposed to be taking care of."
"But Potter's not a Prefect like us," Malfoy's sly voice was grating on Ron's nerves, "So why should he care one way or another what the Muggle is doing? It's a bit much, even for a Muggle lover like you, Weasley."
Ron put his spoon down slowly, aware of his friends' tension and the hand that Harry slipped onto his leg with a warning to calm down. He folded his arms and glared at Malfoy with impunity. The blonde git had something coming to him with his thinly veiled digs for information. To be honest, Ron had thought that Malfoy would be more discreet about it all.
"Are you doing this on purpose, or is it your idea of friendly conversation to insult your meal companions?" he asked in a quiet voice, "Every time we sit down to a meal with you, you spend the time making not so subtle digs. I would have thought that as a Prefect you'd know better than to go around trying to pick fights. Harry may not have a badge, but he certainly knows how to behave as a Prefect."
Malfoy flushed an ugly red and stood up, storming away from the table, Crabbe and Goyle following reluctantly, leaving behind their fourth helping of pudding. Harry shook his head, his fingers squeezing a very naughty message into Ron's thigh before letting go and Hermione rolled her eyes.
"You took a big risk, Ron," she muttered out of the corner of her mouth. Ron shrugged, his mouth too full to answer politely. The people at their table had been witnesses to the whole thing, and were whispering to each other quietly. That little confrontation would be all over the school by morning, Ron knew. Maybe it would start shutting up the nasty questions and whispers that the Slytherins always seemed to have ready to hand. If not it might at least inspire the other Houses to start telling the Slytherins where to get off.
Ron moaned softly as Harry's body opened to him in delicious heat and tension. If remarks like that at dinner got this kind of reward he'd just have to make them more often. Harry leaned forward and took Ron's lips in a hot, sweet kiss, suckling on his tongue until he arched his back against the pillows supporting it and squirmed for air.
His partner's hips began to move in a slow, seductive sway, long fingers whispering words of love and passion all over his heated, sweaty skin. Harry moaned as he moved, a low, tender sound of pleasure and Ron reached up to add his own fingers to their heated conversation.
He'd definitely have to speak out more often...
Harry spent about ten minutes making sure that Dudley knew what movements to perform to guide his broom safely, and then stood back, watching his cousin try to get the broom up into his hand again. Petunia Dursley slept on in her bed at St Mungo's and Professor McGonagal had given Harry permission to teach his cousin to ride a broom, providing he could get one to respond to him.
He and Ron had successfully pulled a match, a mirror and a small plain wooden box out of a picture this morning, and as a result Harry was feeling pretty good about things. The permission to teach Dudley to fly was an added bonus, and Ron had agreed to come along too, with the idea that if the broom got away from Dudley he'd be on hand to help Harry get it back under control. It was disconcerting to have the bond suddenly flare to life when you weren't present, and besides, Ron was still not too keen to let Harry spend time alone with Dudley.
Harry wasn't too keen to spend time alone with Dudley either, so he hadn't kicked up a fuss about it at all. He moved to be closer to Ron while he watched his cousin concentrate - his face screwed up in effort and going a little red. Ron had a book out - on closer inspection it was one of Harry's Defence books - and Harry turned his attention to that, reading over Ron's shoulder.
"I was thinking," Ron murmured softly, and pointed to a particular spell, "We ought to put that on the house before we move in. We could Apparate there this Christmas, seal the spell and then by the time Easter rolls around the spell would have truly settled in, and we can plant the garden without worrying about old Tom."
"Hmm," Harry nodded, leaning closer innocently. The days were getting nippy and they both wore Weasley jumpers under their robes just in case they ever got off the ground today, "We'd have to put the growth spell on the house first. The one in the book that Professor McGonagal asked us to get."
"The add-family one?" Ron frowned, "I don't think that's a good idea, mate. I'd rather be in charge of the additions to the house. We should definitely use the 'elastic walls' one, but..."
"Ok," Harry agreed, "You're right, and we can always put it on later if we change our minds. How about the..."
"Look!" Dudley shouted and Harry watched as the broom rose slowly into the air like it had the first time. Harry grinned at his partner and walked over to stand beside his cousin. He raised a hand and the Firebolt glided to his side, hovering at the perfect height for him to mount.
"Ok, I want you to mount the broom," Harry watched closely, "Grip the handle... no, no, you're not trying to wring someone's neck, straighten your wrists. The vee between your finger and thumb should be on the side of the handle, not on top. That's better. Now remember, you want the broom to go up and hover, so you kick off hard and then hold the handle parallel to the ground, with your weight squarely on the cushioning spell."
Dudley swallowed nervously and kicked off hard, shooting up into the air about six feet. He squealed in surprise but managed to level the broom out. Harry kicked off to match him while Ron shrunk the book he'd been reading to fit it in a pocket before joining them.
"Right, now you want to land, by pushing the broom handle down a little - gently! Keep your weight balanced!" Harry breathed a little easier when his cousin managed that. The sound of feet on the gravel warned him that they were about to have an audience, so he told Dudley to kick off again and once they were hovering he told his cousin to put the broom into motion by leaning forward a little and pulling the broom handle up so that they would gain height. Dudley leaned forward very cautiously and pulled the handle up. His broom rose steadily into the sky, wobbling a little as the Muggle tried to hook his feet into the right position. A glance at the courtyard they'd just left showed Draco Malfoy gaping up at them in pure disbelief.
"Lean forward a little more and pull your left foot up higher," Harry coached and watched as the broom steadied and sped up to a slow cruising speed. He only had one hand on his own broom, the other holding his wand. Harry had learned to fly one handed whilst training to catch the snitch, and this rate of speed was no challenge to him at all. His time teaching the first years to fly had made him a lot more articulate when it came to explaining methodology.
A glance ahead showed that they would clear the castle roof nicely and he decided that they should fly out over the lake. There were usually clear skies there and no one would be able to accuse him or Ron of trying to spy on someone's Quidditch practice.
"I want you to bank to the left until we're heading for the lake," Harry called over the slight breeze that was being caused by their movement. He saw Ron tighten his grip on his own broom, ready to take evasive action if the Muggle totally and utterly messed this up. Dudley managed it though, and soon they were over the water.
Once they'd done a lap of the lake, Harry called to Dudley that he should practice turning and changing height, then pulled back so that he would be behind his cousin and out of the way. Ron joined him, flying so close that it would only be a very short reach to touch him.
"He's not bad for a Muggle," Ron chuckled, "Of course, at this speed its no great challenge."
"I imagine this is fast enough," Harry said reprovingly, "If he stuffs up at this speed we've got time to straighten him out. You want him going full bat and crashing into the lake?"
"It would be entertaining," Ron wore what Harry privately called the 'Fred and George' look; a mixture of mischief and malice that sat oddly on his friend's normally warm and friendly face. Harry shook his head and decided not to encourage him with a response.
Dudley was zigzagging left to right steadily, rising into the air and then lowering towards the lake in regular movements. There was a rush of air and Harry whirled, pointing his wand at the person who'd just arrived and then quickly pointing it away again when he realised that Professor Snape was flying beside him on one of the Slytherin House Quidditch brooms.
"Sorry Professor!" Harry paled, sure that he was about to receive a detention and a few hundred points off Gryffindor. Snape merely sneered at him in a condescending manner and then gestured at Dudley.
"What do you think you're doing?" his voice was very cold, "Imagine, if you would, my surprise when Draco Malfoy comes to tell me that the great Harry Potter is teaching a Muggle to fly!"
"Professor McGonagal gave me permission to try after Dudley expressed an interest in learning. She didn't think we'd ever get him off the ground, but if we did we had permission to teach him the basics," Harry replied evenly, as if his heart wasn't thumping in his chest. Snape growled under his breath, and waved his arm again.
"Over the lake? Do you want him to drown?" he hissed and Harry shook his head, glancing at Ron for support. His partner moved so the Professor could see him as well and answered for Harry, his voice as respectful as possible when shouting over a small, wind tossed distance.
"He can swim, Professor, and we're going so slow that we'd have time to arrest any fall or uncontrolled dive."
"Be that as it may, you will return to solid ground immediately!" Snape didn't bother to sound respectful or polite, and Harry suppressed a sigh. He sped up, bringing his broom around so that he would approach Dudley from the front so as not to startle him. Once they were side by side, Harry called across that they were to return to the castle. Dudley whined a little about it until Snape shouted in his other ear. One hastily corrected ascent later, the Muggle headed obediently to the shore, following the black robed teacher with Harry and Ron on either side.
Ron took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Harry was leaning back against his chest, their tangled hands gripping several pencils. When they had told Hermione about their intention to design and transfigure their own wedding bands, she had been a little concerned that they would lose themselves in the trance that was necessary for the protection and binding spells essential for the design to be a true reflection of their entwined lives.
They would be essentially auto-writing, or in this case auto-drawing, and after what happened to Harry when it came to trances and visions, she had insisted on being present when they made the attempt in case something went wrong. They chose a Saturday when Gryffindor wasn't playing Quidditch and shut themselves up in their room.
Hermione was sitting in the chair they had conjured for her - an electric blue plush Edwardian armchair - her wide eyes on their faces. She looked a little teary, and her hands were knotted in her robes. She didn't look scared or sad, though, and Ron wondered what they had said aloud during the trance to affect her that way.
"Hermy?" Ron cleared his throat, "You ok?"
"Yes," the whisper was awed, and Ron smiled at her hesitantly before looking down at the pad on Harry's lap. It was empty, though the paper showed clearly that there had been three pictures on it. Harry was still and lax in Ron's arms, and a moment's thought reassured the redhead that his partner was simply tired from their casting.
"Where..." Ron trailed off and Hermione pointed to the mantle above the fireplace. There was a small, plain wooden box there, that hadn't been when all this started. Ron could sense the tingle of new magic coming from it, as well as powerful protection charms. The box was sealed against all tampering, and some instinct told Ron that it would only open during their nuptials.
Harry stirred and collected the pencils from Ron, sending the pad to the top of the bookcase where it normally sat, and the pencils back to their box. He then turned on his side, snuggled into Ron's chest and went to sleep, 'stepping back' as he practiced the Occlumency. Ron rolled his eyes and Hermione blinked a little, then laughed softly.
"He looks so peaceful," Hermione whispered and Ron snorted. Harry was only a light sleeper when he wasn't practicing Occlumency, in order to be able to wake quickly. Right now Dobby could dance about the room in a tea cosy, singing carols at the top of his lungs and Harry wouldn't wake.
"Relax," he said in his normal voice, "He's too tired to wake unless there's some emergency. You can speak normally."
"Oh," Hermione couldn't seem to take her eyes off the man cuddled into Ron's chest, "Will you be casting any more spells like that?"
"Uh... oh, you mean the translation spell? I think so. Harry said that if this worked we should try producing some amulets for the family. We were going to try to have them all ready by Christmas. Do you still want to supervise? You've got to be pretty busy right now," Ron knew that Hermione took a few more classes than he did, and took her studying seriously to boot.
"I'd rather you didn't try this alone," she bit her lip, "But I didn't realise how... well, how intimate this would be. You love each other so much..."
"We love you too, Hermy," Ron interrupted, "It's... it's just a different kind of love. You're our best friend."
The effort to articulate the feelings that he and Harry held for the Head Girl was well worth the effort when her smile lit up the room. Ron patted Harry's back and Summoned his chess set. There was no point in being bored while he acted as a combined mattress and teddy to his fiancé. Hermione levitated her armchair closer and they set a hover charm on the board so they could both reach it easily.
"Why won't she wake up?" Dudley frowned at the Healer and Harry shifted uneasily. Ron's arm snuck around his waist to soothe him, and he nodded at his partner in thanks. Life had reached an even more hectic pace lately, with the translation of the amulets for the Weasley family. Their mantle had gained six more boxes in the last few weeks, each with a name carved on the lid. From the magical signature on each box, Harry knew that only the intended recipient could open them. They would have to wait until Christmas to see what they had designed.
Healer Goodsby stood beside the Muggle, her hands folded at her waist. She was watching the teen closely, glancing up at Harry now and then. When they had first arrived at St Mungo's the Healer had kept herself between Harry and Dudley, but now that they were at Aunt Petunia's bedside she was focussing on Harry's cousin and his distress.
"We're sure that she will," Goodsby said gently, "Her injuries are completely healed, and the curses have been properly removed. I understand that some Muggles have been known to slip into a sleep like this. It's not a common condition with Wizards, we tend to wake as soon as whatever ails us has retreated."
"Lucky you," Dudley snapped, "That's no help to me!"
"Dudley," Harry beat Ron to it, but not by much, "Shouting at the Healers won't help."
"What will help then?" Dudley snapped at him, and Ron let go, moving to stand in front of Harry protectively, blocking him from his cousin's view. Harry placed his hand lightly in between Ron's shoulders, just touching lightly, letting Ron know he was all right.
"Dry up Dursley," Ron growled, sounding so much like Hagrid had that very first meeting that Harry laughed, his fingers explaining why before Ron could get angry with him, and the shock of hearing the words once directed at his father shut Dudley up.
"Healer Goodsby? Is there anything we can do?" Harry asked, not moving out of Ron's protection. She sighed and shook her head in regret. Dudley slumped and reached out to take his mothers hand.
"We can only wait for her to wake up," Goodsby replied, "We'll let Professor Dumbledore know the minute she does, so you can come see her."
Dudley nodded and Ron ushered Harry out of the ward, to give the Muggle some time alone with his mother, and put some space between Harry and his cousin. Harry leaned against the wall opposite the ward doors and smiled at his fiancé. From the tense look on Ron's face, the redhead was expecting Harry to make some kind of protest about his behaviour in there. Nothing was further from Harry's mind. There were times when it felt very good to be protected by someone else, and Harry had never had much experience of that as a child. Rather than discuss it though, he decided to change the subject to something much nicer. There was no one in the hallway with them at the moment, and no one would be able to sneak up on them.
"I gave the Headmaster his invitation this morning, and he's agreed to let us send the rest with the school owls tonight," he watched Ron's face light up, and smiled in response. Their wedding was approaching rapidly, and there was a lot to do if they were to be organised on time.
"Ok, we'll do it when the rest are asleep," Ron nodded, "We can hand Hermione, Neville, Hagrid, Remus and Professor McGonagal theirs as we see them tomorrow. Are you sure it's ok that people send their reply to Mum and Dad instead of us?"
"It makes sense," Harry nodded, "We wouldn't be able to explain all the owls to the rest of the school, and you know I don't want Malfoy nosing around it. The Death Eaters would be all over us."
"You're right," Ron came to lean against the wall, his hands in the pockets of his robe. He looked like he was thinking about something, and from the glances he was getting, Harry was betting that Ron wasn't too sure of his reaction.
"What if Dudley is still around then? The Healers can't say when his mother will wake, and..."
"Do you want him there?" Harry asked in surprise. He knew that Ron tolerated the Muggle for his sake, treating Dudley politely enough, like two strangers forced to work together. Ron sighed.
"He's your family," he shook his head, "I just thought... you might like to have your family there. I know that as a Muggle he won't understand... but the alternative is to leave him at the school for the Christmas holidays, and I think that Malfoy is staying too."
"We'll see," Harry said in a noncommittal voice. He didn't want to even think of Dudley's reaction to two men getting married. He'd heard enough of the Muggles comments about 'sissy boy queers' in his time at Privet Drive to know that the reaction wouldn't be a positive one. At the same time, leaving his cousin unsupervised at Hogwarts - the teachers didn't count - while Malfoy stalked him wasn't a good idea either. Ron cleared his throat, drawing Harry out of his circular thoughts, and he looked up at the redhead, who was going a little pink around the ears.
"We haven't discussed what we'll wear," Ron eyed the floor as if it might suddenly rise up and attack him. Harry frowned a little. He'd assumed that they would wear their formal robes; he certainly didn't have anything else worth wearing. The robes that Molly Weasley had bought him were nice enough for everyday wear, but not for a wedding. He'd had the formal ones repaired after the Valentines Ball, as he didn't fancy going shopping for a new set.
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, and Ron shifted a little, eyeing him nervously, "I thought we'd wear our formal robes."
"There is a tradition in the Weasley family that the couple getting married wear a particular set of robes," Ron rubbed a hand over his head, "Mum owled me this morning before you and Dudley came down to breakfast about it. She wants to know our sizes so she can get started making them."
"Oh," Harry looked at him blankly. To be honest, he was worried that Mrs Weasley was going to be stuck doing far too much for their wedding and wouldn't have time to enjoy herself. When he said as much to Ron, his partner grinned, shaking his head fondly.
"After all this time, you haven't figured Mum out," Ron chided in a teasing tone. Relieved that his friend wasn't upset by that, Harry looked inquiring and waited for him to continue.
"Harry, there's nothing she'd like more than to organise the whole thing for us. And you know that we have some time when the holidays start to help her out."
"I was thinking... don't go mental at me, ok?" Harry hesitated, and Ron folded his arms, hitting his partner with his own inquiring look. Harry grinned and took a deep breath, "I was thinking that we could ask Dobby to come. I know that might seem strange, but he is a friend, and he's done so much for us already..."
"Good idea," Ron nodded, reaching out to rub Harry's arm, "And knowing Dobby he'll be eager to help us out. We'll have to ask Professor Dumbledore's permission to take him away from Hogwarts, but we can easily do up another invitation for him to make it all official."
Harry sighed in relief and thanked Ron with a very brief kiss, pulling back when he heard the doors open. Healer Goodsby smiled at them as she led Dudley out into the hallway. They made arrangements for Dudley to continue his weekly visits and headed back to school. They had a lot to do, and not much time to do it.
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