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He looked at the majestic sight of Hogwart's and felt an inner tremble of fear.
The words of Madame Crustemple, his counselor came to his mind, reminding him that he was a person with his own value and reason for being.
After a deep inhale to brace himself, he stepped off the carriage and waited as the driver unloaded his trunk and bags.
"There you go mate, you're on your own now." The driver said cheerfully.
'On my own.' Ron thought to himself darkly and picked up what he could carry.
* * * * *
"Hi Percy, could? you take me to the Headmaster's office? I'm supposed to talk to him as soon as I get here." Ron asked shyly.
Percy looked at his youngest brother and tried to give a convincing smile as he nodded and led the way.
"You can leave your bags here, I'll watch over them." Percy said as he stood at the entrance to the Headmaster's office.
"Thank you." Ron said in a whisper.
Percy watched as Ron forced himself to walk up the stairs.
* * * * *
"Come in Mr. Weasley, have a seat. We'll be ready to begin in just a moment." Headmaster Dumbledore said with an irritating amount of cheer.
"Thank you Headmaster." Ron mumbled as he took a seat.
A moment later Ron heard movement behind him and saw Hermione, Harry, and two Slytherins walk into the room.
"I have already talked with the others about your return to Hogwart's and they offered to help you." Dumbledore said happily.
Ron looked in question at the four students seated in a row beside him.
"Your bed is just like you left it. We can get you moved back in before breakfast." Harry said with a friendly smile.
Ron couldn't find his voice so he nodded his acceptance.
"Is there anything else we need to do Headmaster?" The Slytherin with wings, Nightshade, asked.
"No my boy. I believe all is well. Just help young Mr. Weasley to catch up with the studies he missed. His professors understand his absence and are giving him time to come up to speed." Dumbledore said happily.
A long moment of silence fell over the room until Headmaster Dumbledore said, "Oh, yes, of course. You are excused."
A chorus of "Thank you Headmaster." Came from all present before they left the room.
* * * * *
"We can get his things Percy. Thank you for watching them." The winged Slytherin said as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
Ron couldn't hear what his brother said in reply, but he couldn't miss the dark glance that Percy gave him before he left.
"Is this everything you brought?" the other Slytherin, Malfoy, asked as they walked toward the stairs.
"No. My trunk is outside." Ron mumbled.
"Will you help me get it Harry?" Nightshade asked hopefully.
"Yeah. We'll meet you in the room Ron." Harry said as he hurried off with Nightshade.
Ron looked with question at Hermione.
"Come on Ron. We don't have a lot of time." Malfoy said seriously.
Ron followed reluctantly, wondering what had happened to change things so completely.
* * * * *
Silence fell over the Gryffindor common room as they entered.
"Harry will be here with Cherub in a few minutes with Ron's trunk." Hermione said to the group.
Fred and George Weasley looked at each other, then left the room without a word.
"I don't know where your room is Ron, would you lead the way?" Malfoy asked quietly.
Ron nodded in thought as he led the way to the room he had shared with Harry.
He opened the door, and for a moment, it was like he never left. Everything was exactly as he left it. Not one thing was moved from the time he was last here... not one thing.
"Harry doesn't live here anymore does he?" Ron asked as he led the way in.
"No. He sleeps at Slytherin. But he's going to sit with us in classes now." Hermione said, trying to sound cheerful.
Ron looked at her curiously, then started to unpack his bags.
"Do you need any help with that Ron?" Malfoy asked in a very civilized and helpful tone.
"No, thank you." Ron mumbled.
"Here's the trunk." Harry said as he backed into the room.
"It's heavier than it looks." Cherub said from the other end of the trunk.
"It's quite old. They made them heavier back then." Ron said automatically.
"It's getting late. Just put on your class robes and you can unpack the rest later." Harry said as he walked to his own wardrobe.
"What are you doing?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Putting on my Gryffindor robes. For the rest of the school day, I'll be representing Gryffindor." Harry said casually.
"But you came in wearing Slytherin colors." Ron said in confusion.
"I had to wear something." Harry said as he finished getting ready.
"Is everyone ready to go?" Hermione asked cheerily.
Nods of affirmation went around the group.
"Then we're off to breakfast. Draco, would you and Cherub like to join us at the Gryffindor table this morning?" Hermione asked pleasantly.
"We would be honored to accept. Perhaps you and Ron could sit at the Slytherin table with us at lunch." Draco said smoothly.
"They're going to sit with us?" Ron asked with a squeak.
"Of course. They're our friends." Hermione said with a smile.
"Since when?" Ron asked cautiously, and reached for his wand.
"Since we talked. Don't get all nervous about it Ron. No one is going to try and corrupt you or change your mind about anything. If you'll just act with proper courtesy and respect toward everyone, you'll get along fine." Hermione said seriously.
Ron nodded as he looked at the floor.
"We've been invited to sit at the Slytherin table at lunch today. Would you like to accept?" Hermione asked in a firm steady voice.
Ron looked hesitantly at Draco and said, "Yes, Thank you for inviting us Malfoy."
"Ron, my friends call me Draco."
Ron looked at Draco curiously.
Draco shrugged and said, "Whenever you're ready."
"By the way Ron, that goes for me too. You may call me Cherub." Nightshade said with a smile.
"Really?" Ron asked in disbelief.
"Sure. Come on. We don't want to miss breakfast." Cherub said and hurried out of the room.
"It's going to be fine Ron. We're all going to help you." Hermione said quietly.
* * * * *
The great hall was unusually quiet as everyone was watching the two Slytherins, Harry Potter and the expelled boy eating at the Gryffindor table.
"Ron, have you thought about how you're going to catch up on what you've missed?" Draco asked casually.
"Um, not really. I've kind of had other things on my mind." Ron said slowly.
"I can imagine." Draco said with a tone of sincerity.
"What we've been thinking is that we can get the best people in each subject to work with you and help get you up to speed on everything." Cherub said with a smile.
"That makes sense." Ron said cautiously.
"So that means Cherub will work with you in potions." Draco said seriously.
Ron looked at Cherub and nodded hesitantly.
Hermione will help? you in spell casting." Harry said next.
"Cherub equals my grades, but his technique is different than the professor's. It's better that I teach you." Hermione said with a superior smile.
Cherub flashed her a dirty look, but didn't say anything.
"Harry teaches you flying." Draco said happily.
Ron looked at Harry with surprise.
"Greg Goyle is going to work with you on transfigurations." Cherub said seriously.
"He's the best in the class." Hermione said in a whisper.
"And you'll just have to read the book for Dark Arts. Professor Quirrel's lectures haven't given us any information at all." Harry finished simply.
"When will we do all this?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Well, we'll have to get the professors to approve certain things, but if possible we'd like to do potions tonight, spell casting tomorrow, transfigurations on Thursday and flying during flying class each day this week." Draco said seriously.
"What about Wednesday?" Ron asked cautiously.
"There's a Quidditch game. Harry's going to be playing so we're all going to be there to cheer him on." Cherub said seriously.
Ron looked at Harry with wonder.
"I'm seeker." Harry said shyly.
Ron nodded, then thought to ask, "For which house?"
"Um, I'll have to get back to you on that." Harry said hesitantly.
Ron looked at Harry with surprise.
"I'm going to talk to the Gryffindor Quidditch team. If they'll take me on as seeker, I'll represent Gryffindor the rest of the term... most likely the rest of my time at Hogwart's. If they refuse, I'd be stupid to leave the Slytherin team where I'm already in the seeker position." Harry said, then smiled as the food appeared before them.
Ron noticed two girls get up from the Gryffindor table and walk to the Slytherin table.
"What's going on with that?" Ron asked Hermione curiously.
"Isn't it wonderful?" Hermione bubbled.
"I'm starting to feel like I'm going to pass out. Could you just tell me what's going on?" Ron asked in a pleading voice.
"Sure Ron. As long as you're willing to listen, I'll be happy to tell you anything you want to know." Hermione said seriously.
"That goes for all of us Ron. All we're asking is that if you ask a question, be willing to listen to the answer and try to understand." Cherub said seriously.
Harry and Draco nodded their agreement.
"Why are the Gryffindors and Slytherins sitting at each others tables?" Ron asked apprehensively.
"Because they want to." Draco said seriously.
"Because we've shown them that it's okay to have friends in other houses." Hermione said with a reproachful look at Draco.
"I didn't lie." Draco said in his defense.
"He's got you there Hermione." Harry said happily.
"Okay, so does this mean that the houses don't mean anything anymore?" Ron asked in confusion.
"No. Not at all. The houses still mean something, they just don't mean everything. We're allowed to have friends in other houses. We can visit with each other, study together... even get to know each other's family." Hermione finished with a smile at Cherub.
Ron gasped and looked from Hermione to Cherub and back.
Before Ron could ask, Hermione playfully slapped him on the shoulder and said, "Cherub is NOT my boyfriend. I met his younger brother this weekend."
Cherub looked from Draco to Harry and received a nod from each.
"Ron. I know there's a lot of new stuff happening at once, but... here's some more. Harry, Draco and I are boyfriends." Cherub said in a steady clear voice, so as not to be misunderstood.
"You... three... you can't... I mean... three..." Ron stammered, then fell silent.
"You broke him." Draco said in a considering voice.
"I suppose you could have done it better?" Cherub asked in playful gruffness.
"Well, you could have built up to it." Harry interjected.
"Oh yeah... Ron, nice weather we're having. How's your family? By the way I'm boyfriends with your best friend and worst enemy... I don't think it would have made much difference." Cherub said as he tried to hold in a smile.
"You..." Ron gasped.
"Do you think we need to take him to Madame Pomfrey or the Headmaster or something?" Harry asked with concern.
"I think he'll be fine in a minute. You've got to admit, he has had quite a few changes to deal with." Cherub said as he tilted his head and tried to look into Ron's eyes.
"What do you see?" Draco asked curiously.
"I don't think anybody's home." Cherub said hesitantly.
"Oh, don't worry about that, it's a Weasley thing, they all have that look." Draco said seriously.
Hermione gave Draco a slap on the arm, and not a playful one.
"I'm being good. Weasley jokes are fair game." Draco said with a scowl.
"Ron needs understanding and patience, not insults." Hermione said firmly.
"You help him your way and I'll help him mine." Draco said seriously.
"You're boyfriends?" Ron asked hesitantly.
"And he's back." Cherub said in a voice of relief.
"You were just worried you'd get in trouble for breaking him within half an hour of his arrival." Draco said snippily.
"No I wasn't! I was just... Okay...? maybe I was." Cherub said and sneered at Draco, which slowly morphed into a full smile.
"They're like this more and more often." Harry said with a shake of his head.
"Are you okay now Ron?" Hermione asked carefully.
"I need to sit down." Ron said in a distant voice.
"You are sitting down." Hermione said with concern.
Ron looked around with worry and his gaze stopped on Harry.
"You're really... like that?" Ron asked in a helpless voice.
"Like what?" Harry asked slowly.
"I think he means gay." Draco said frankly.
"Oh, um. I guess since I have two boyfriends... yeah. That would make me pretty gay, wouldn't it?" Harry asked in a considering voice.
"If you insist on wearing a label, then I suppose that one is as good as any." Cherub said in thought.
"But the three of you... you have... I mean... you stick your..." Ron trailed off helplessly.
"Let me get this one Cherub. Maybe we'll get him through breakfast without a coma." Harry said with a smile.
"Show me how it's done, boy-who-lived." Cherub said and sat back in his chair to watch.
"Ron." Harry began, trying to draw Ron's miniscule thread of attention.
"Cherub, Draco and I love each other." Harry said slowly.
"I have an idea what you were about to ask." Harry said as he held Ron's eyes.
"What the three of us do in private is no one else's business." Harry said carefully, trying to be sure that Ron was understanding.
"We. Are. In. Love. Please be happy for us. If you were in love I'd be happy for you." Harry said seriously.
Ron blinked twice, then hesitantly nodded.
"Two points for Potter. Well done." Draco said with a smile of appreciation.
"But you're... it's wrong. You can't." Ron said as he was becoming more and more agitated as he looked from person to person.
"Ron!" Harry said firmly.
Ron hesitantly turned his attention to Harry.
"Do you want me to be honest with you?" Harry asked seriously.
Ron hesitantly nodded.
"I thought so. That's why we told you. If there is to be any chance of us being friends, then we have to be honest." Harry said more quietly.
Ron nodded again.
"We're not asking you to be gay. We're not asking you to like the fact that we're gay. We're just asking you to deal with it and move on." Harry said seriously.
"How?" Ron asked in a whisper.
"Do you know now that I'm gay?" Harry asked carefully.
Ron hesitantly nodded.
"Do you know what that means between you and me?" Harry asked carefully.
Ron shook his head nervously.
"As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't have anything to do with the relationship between us. I have two boyfriends, the last thing I'm going to do is go looking for someone else. You're safe. What it means to you, only you can say." Harry said firmly.
"You'd better eat. It's getting late." Cherub said quickly.
"Thanks wings. The last thing I need is to be starving in DADA." Harry said and began quickly eating his food.
"Eat something Ron. It's probably going to be a difficult day." Hermione said with sympathy.
"It's going to get worse?" Ron asked with a whimper.
"There. Did you see it?" Draco said with excitement as he pointed at Ron.
"What?" Cherub asked curiously.
"It was the old Ron. I saw him." Draco said with certainty.
"Is that a good thing?" Cherub asked carefully.
Draco stopped all activity for an instant, then said, "I don't know."
"Ron. Everything is going to be fine.? We'll be having potions class next and you'll see." Harry said gently.
Ron nodded reflexively.
"Ron! Eat!" Hermione said firmly.
Ron immediately began to eat, watching Hermione cautiously out of the corner of his eye.
* * * * *
"Potter, there's a delivery for you at Gryffindor, we put it in your room." Percy said in the hallway after breakfast.
"Thank you Percy, that would be my painting." Harry said happily.
Percy gave his brother a cautious glance, then walked away.
"Your brother doesn't seem to be too supportive of you." Harry said as they walked toward the potions lab.
"I was kind of rude to my family after I got sent away." Ron said quietly.
"Wow. You'll have to tell me what you said sometime. I can think of a few people I'd like to stay away from me." Harry said as he led the way into the potions lab.
Ron looked at Harry with confusion at the statement.
"I'll talk to you again after class. Don't worry. You're teamed with Hermione." Harry said as he took his seat beside Draco.
"Good morning Class." Professor Snape said as he walked briskly into the room and directly to his desk, not expecting a response.
"Good Morning Professor." Hermione, Cherub, Draco and Harry said in unison.
Professor Snape looked at the students, then turned his face down toward his class notes to hide his smile.
"It appears that Mr. Weasley has rejoined our class after an extended absence. In the interest of helping Mr. Weasley, today we will review each lesson beginning with the second day. You may use your class notes and textbooks to aid your memory. Day two. Miss Granger?" Professor Snape asked in his cold, chopped tone.
Hermione smiled at Professor Snape and said in a clear, confident voice, "The preparation of an ingredient..."
* * * * *
"I can't believe how much we've learned in that class." Harry said to Hermione and Ron.
"And I understand every bit of it. It is amazing." Hermione said with a smile.
"I'm glad he decided to review today. I think I can catch up now." Ron said in wonder.
"Ron." Cherub called as he hurried to catch up to the group.
"Professor Snape gave his permission for us to use the potions lab tonight. We can go through the lessons you've missed and pick two or three potions to brew so you can get the practical experience." Cherub said quickly.
"Thanks." Ron said in surprise.
"No problem Ron. Just trying to help." Cherub said with a smile.
"Is there anything I need to know for spell casting?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Only to sit by Hermione. She steals the show, no one will even notice you." Cherub said in a conspiratorial whisper.
"And so could you if you'd do the spells the way the professor taught us to." Hermione said in a superior voice.
"I taught myself. I've been doing spell casting for years. Why should I learn a completely different way of doing something that I do already?" Cherub asked reasonably.
"You are NOT going to pull me into this argument with you. I'll do it my way and get the higher grade, while you stick to your moral high ground and get deductions for improper method." Hermione said snippily.
"I'll do that. I have enough successful spells to make up the difference." Cherub said, matching her tone.
Ron was looking back and forth, feeling like he wanted to run and hide from the sounds of bickering and fighting.
"Ron." Harry said quietly from beside him.
Ron turned and was surprised to see Harry standing with him and Cherub and Hermione ahead of them.
"You spaced out for a second there. Are you okay?" Harry asked with concern.
"Yes. Their fighting just bothered me." Ron said honestly.
"They've been doing that since yesterday afternoon. They're both brilliant students and love to pick at each others faults. It's kind of funny when you think about it." Harry said with a smile.
"You mean they weren't serious?" Ron asked hesitantly.
"No way. If Hermione were really serious, she'd be crying and if Cherub were really serious, he'd be talking in a... low... dangerous... voice." Harry said, demonstrating Cherub's icy angry voice.
Ron smiled at the demonstration.
"Come on, it's about time for class." Harry said and led the way.
* * * * *
"Just when I thought he couldn't get anymore boring, he does." Cherub said as he walked from the classroom, blinking his eyes.
"I think I've been conditioned to fall asleep at the sound of Professor Quirrel's voice. If he said 'good morning' to me in the hallway, I'd probably nod off." Hermione said in aggravation.
"I think I fell asleep with my eyes open." Draco said seriously.
"Harry, can I talk to you for a minute?" Ron asked suddenly.
"Sure Ron. Come to the dorm with me. I want to look at my painting." Harry said as he rubbed his forehead, trying to ease his throbbing headache.
"Remember that? we're eating at the Slytherin table today. We'll be saving you seats." Cherub said firmly.
"Got it wings. We'll be down in a few." Harry said, then changed direction to go to the Gryffindor rooms.
* * * * *
"Okay. What did you need to talk about Ron?" Harry asked when they were finally alone in the room.
"I'm not really sure what I'm trying to ask." Ron said as he flopped onto his bed.
Harry looked around the room and found the perfect place to hang his new painting.
"I guess what I want to know is why all of you are being so nice to me. I mean, is it an act?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Maybe a little." Harry said as he started unwrapping his painting.
"What?" Ron asked in confusion.
"Headmaster Dumbledore talked to us yesterday and told us you were coming back. He said that you would probably have trouble at first and it would be helpful if we could ease the way for you." Harry said as he looked at his painting with appreciation.
"So we talked last night and decided to treat you as if you were already our friend. We realize that you may choose not to be friends with all of us, but we thought that by showing you what it's like to be our friend, you might just decide to go along with it." Harry said, then took down the painting that was occupying the spot he wanted.
"But if you're just pretending... then its like you're lying to me." Ron said darkly.
"Ron. I'm telling you the truth right now. All of us have told you the truth all morning. We can't just say that we're friends and it be so. It takes commitment from both sides to make a friendship. The four of us are taking a chance and being open to the possibility of being your friend. All you have to do is decide if that's what you want. If it is, then be a friend in return." Harry said as he put the picture in place.
"Is this straight?" Harry asked as he backed away from the picture.
Ron looked at the picture and gasped.
"Ron?" Harry asked as he tried looking away, then at the picture again.
"It's a..." Ron said with wide eyes.
"It looks bigger than it did in the gallery." Harry said introspectively.
"Harry, it's a woman's... you know." Ron said in a whisper.
"Vagina." Harry said as he walked to the other side of the room to look at it.
"You can't hang that in here. You'll get us in trouble." Ron said with full worry.
"It's art. Just look at it. It's almost like it's alive." Harry said with a smile.
Ron glanced at the painting, then hid his face in his hands.
"Come on Ron. You're the straight guy, you're supposed to like looking at these things." Harry said as he took his morning class books out of his bag and laid them on the bed.
Ron spread his fingers to glance at the painting again, then closed them quickly.
"Come on. Everyone's waiting on us." Harry said happily and walked to the door.
"You're going to leave it like that? Someone might see it!" Ron said with concern.
"I thought about hanging it in the common room. But I'm afraid something might happen to it." Harry said seriously as he waited for Ron.
With one brief glance at the painting, Ron shuffled past it to the door.
* * * * *
"How are you doing Ron?" Cherub asked in a friendly tone.
"Fine I guess." Ron answered slowly.
"I think my painting bothered him." Harry said as he took his seat.
"You're not the only one." Cherub said in a mumble.
"Theodore, Goyle and Crabbe, this is Ron Weasley." Cherub said clearly.
"Hi Ron. Cherub told us you went a little bit crazy for a while. I'm glad you were able to get past it." Theodore Nott said frankly.
Ron looked at Theodore with wide eyes.
"Did you want us to not talk about it Ron? I mean, everyone knows you got booted and that you're back. No one that I've talked to thinks anything bad about you because of it." Cherub said honestly.
Ron looked at Cherub with disbelief.
"Ease up on Ron or you're going to put him into another one of those coma things." Draco said seriously.
Cherub rolled his eyes but let it go.
"Are you really doing okay Ron?" Hermione asked with concern.
Ron looked at her honest caring and said, "It's harder than I thought it was going to be. I thought I was ready to face everything, but I don't think I am."
"Well, you don't have to face it alone. We're here to help you, all you have to do is let us." Hermione said softly.
"If you'll just tell us what's giving you problems, we can work as a team to help you." Draco said seriously.
"You can count us in on that too." Theodore said, then looked at Crabbe and Goyle to receive nods of agreement.
"I feel like everyone's watching me." Ron said quietly.
"They are." Draco said as if it were obvious.
Ron looked at Draco with fear.
"He's not a Slytherin. He doesn't do the spotlight thing well." Harry said in a stage whisper.
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that." Draco said and looked down in concentration.
"Look Ron. No one is going to mess with you, mainly because you're with us. You've got the leaders of the first year students in the two strongest houses looking out for you. We've got you covered on making up what you've missed. All the professors are going to give you time to catch up. You've got a whole bunch of people right here who are willing to be your friends if you'll let them. What more do you want?" Cherub said seriously.
Before Ron could answer, the food appeared.
"A bit fancy for lunch." Draco said as he looked at the wide variety of food before them.
"I suppose it's good to switch it up a bit for the sake of variety." Cherub said in a considering voice.
"Quite a nice variety of fresh fruit today too." Harry said as he started making selections.
"Thank you Cherub." Ron said in a distant voice.
Cherub smiled and said, "No problem Ron. Now you'd best be getting some food before Granger takes all the good bits."
Ron looked at Hermione suspiciously, then started grabbing food as if he hadn't eaten in a week.
Several people at the Slytherin table laughed, more at the expression on Hermione's face than Ron's action.
Across the room at the Faculty table, two men sat side by side and smiled at the antics of the children.