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"While I'm here do you want to talk?" Eldon asked Ron quietly.
Ron thought for a moment, then said, "I don't know."
"I don't know if it will help, but I could tell you what Percy told me." Eldon offered cautiously.
"Yeah, I guess." Ron said quietly.
"Well, Percy said that he's your big brother the way that Charlie is with the twins. You and he have a special bond, that's why you telling his secrets hurt him so much." Eldon said in thought.
"I just told the truth. What's so wrong with that?" Ron asked defensively.
"What's wrong is that it wasn't your truth to tell. Percy knows that the only way you could have known that he was thinking of moving away and changing his name is if you read it in his journal. He never told anyone and never actually planned to do it. The journal was his way of getting his feelings worked out." Eldon said seriously.
"But he said he was ashamed of our family. He was even going to dye his hair." Ron said in a whine.
"Haven't you ever been ashamed of your family? I mean, I have." Eldon said simply.
"Yeah, I guess." Ron said in a mumble.
"Percy loves your parents and would never do anything to hurt them. But sometimes I guess being a Weasley isn't the easiest thing in the world to be." Eldon said frankly.
Ron gave a whole-hearted nod of agreement.
"He wrote those thoughts in his journal so he could put them in order and deal with them. When you read his journal without permission, you violated? his trust. When you told his secrets... you hurt him and your parents very much. He still loves you, but he's finding it very difficult to trust you." Eldon finished quietly.
"Yeah." Ron said in a whisper.
"Come on, this potion is done. Let's get this mess cleaned up so you can get out of here." Eldon said gently.
"Thanks for talking to me Widget." Ron said quietly.
"You know how Harry and the guys have kind of made you their friend?" Eldon asked slowly.
"Yeah." Ron answered hesitantly.
"Well, I'm their friend too, so I'd be happy to do this for them. But on top of that, I'm also Percy's friend. That means that everyone in this school who I call a friend wants you to be okay. And now that I'm getting to know you, I want that too." Eldon finished with a smile.
"Okay, thanks." Ron said shyly.
* * * * *
After a long silence, Lucious absently said, "It couldn't be that easy."
"Why not?" Draco asked simply.
Lucious turned away from the three boys and stared into a distant place of thought.
After a long moment of silence, Draco hesitantly asked, "Father?"
Lucious turned and looked at his son with sad, hollow eyes.
"What's wrong?" Draco asked with actual concern for his father.
"I gave up everything I wanted... for the family." Lucious said in a distant voice that was so low it could barely be heard.
Cherub began to realize what Lucious meant and said, "Your father must have faced a similar choice, and chosen his duty."
Draco looked at Cherub with disbelief, then looked again at his father.
Lucious shook his head to dispel the torrent of thoughts and said, "Those days are long since past. Regardless of what might have been, I am faced with the consequences of my choices."
"You mean me." Draco said in a dark tone.
Lucious looked at his son with an appraising eye and finally said, "Not all consequences are undesirable."
"Then you aren't going to disown me?" Draco asked cautiously.
Lucious thought for a moment, then said, "For the moment, let us say that I am not planning on your mother and I making a replacement for you. I need some time to? evaluate your situation and forecast the permutations. If I find no insurmountable problems, then I will endorse your relationship."
"Thank you Father." Draco said formally.
"However, I do expect you to at least equal Mr. Nightshade and Mr. Potter in their academic and athletic prowess. Your relationship is not adequate reason to allow others to surpass you. You are a Malfoy, anything less than excellence is unacceptable." Lucious said firmly.
Draco thought about the words, then reaffirmed his straight posture and said, "Yes Father. I understand."
Lucious gave a quick nod, then turned and walked to the door.
Cherub quickly dispelled the lock and silence spells to allow Mr. Malfoy to leave.
* * * * *
"Are you just about done?" Cherub asked as he walked into the potions lab.
"Finishing up the cleaning. Ronnie made the potion perfectly." Eldon said with a smile.
"Thanks for covering for me Widget. I really appreciate it." Cherub said as he started wiping down the countertop.
"Is everything okay?" Eldon asked with concern.
"You know, I think it is." Cherub said speculatively.
"I'm glad, it looked like it was going to get ugly there for a few minutes." Eldon said seriously.
"It had the potential to go that way, but Mr. Malfoy was willing to listen to reason. That made things a lot easier." Cherub said as he finished wiping the countertop and looked around.
"Are you just about done Ron?" Cherub asked as he walked to the wash sink.
"Just putting things away." Ron said casually.
"Thanks for cleaning up so well, Professor Snape is holding me responsible for the condition of the lab." Cherub said honestly.
Ron looked at Cherub curiously before asking, "Why did you call him dad?"
Cherub glanced at Eldon, then looked fully at Ron as he said, "That's something I would rather you didn't spread around."
Ron nodded seriously.
"Okay, Professor Snape is my brother's legal guardian. When we're alone, my brother and I call him dad. We've never really had a father so it makes us feel better... and I think Professor Snape likes it too." Cherub said quietly.
Ron thought about the words, then asked, "Why didn't you have a father?"
"I'll tell you about it sometime. But right now, I think you'd better be getting back to Gryffindor. We all have some studying to do for tomorrow's classes and you're the only one who has an excuse to be behind." Cherub said seriously as he led the way to the potions lab door.
Ron looked at Cherub curiously as he performed the locking spell.
"I use the potions lab for my advanced class so I have the lock." Cherub said at Ron's look.
Ron nodded as the group walked away from the lab.
* * * * *
"There you are!" Harry said happily as Ron walked into their room.
Ron looked at Harry with surprise as he said, "I thought you would be with your boyfriends."
"Well, I will be later, at least for a little while. But now it's time to study for classes." Harry said seriously.
"Really? I mean, I just thought you'd want to study with Cherub and Draco." Ron said hesitantly.
"I usually do, but since you need to study too, I decided to study with you. Unless you would rather study alone?" Harry asked with honest curiosity.
"No. I was just surprised, that's all. It'll be good to study together... Do you think Hermione could study with us?" Ron asked slowly.
"Not tonight. She has a spellcasting study group in the library. She'll probably be studying with you the rest of the week." Harry said as he gathered his books.
Ron looked up at the painting, then turned away to gather his own books.
"Did everything go okay in the potions lab?" Harry asked curiously.
"Um, yeah. All the potions stuff is fine... I just... I talked with Widget about Percy." Ron said quietly.
"Eldon told us that you kind of blew up at your parents and said some stuff to upset... well, pretty much your whole family. But that's all I know. If you want to talk about it, I won't mind." Harry said honestly.
Ron looked at Harry speculatively, then said, "No. I think I've talked about it enough for today. I think it would be nice to talk with someone who isn't involved in it for a while."
"Okay. Then let's get to some serious studying. Do you want to start with potions?" Harry asked with a smile.
"Sure." Ron said, happy to be able to think about something other than his problems for a while.
* * * * *
After the Spellcasting study group was over, the group of friends returned to their room in the Slytherin dorm.
"Guys, I was just wondering if everyone's okay with what's going on with Ron." Cherub asked as he looked up from his transfigurations book.
"Honestly, I'm not comfortable with him. If I weren't helping Harry, I wouldn't want to be around him." Draco said in thought.
"I know what you mean. He seems so... needy. It's hard for me to keep from telling him to behave with dignity and present himself to the world with self-assurance." Cherub said frankly.
"With low self-esteem it's nearly impossible for him to do that." Eldon chimed in.
Everyone looked at Eldon curiously.
"I don't think he had much self-esteem to begin with. Now that he's had a breakdown and isolated himself from his family, he has none." Eldon said seriously.
"So what can we do to snap him out of being so whiney and pathetic?" Theodore asked as he looked around the room.
Cherub smiled and said, "Don't hold it back T, tell us how you really feel."
"My father wouldn't let me leave the house if I behaved like that. The Nott family name is too important to him to allow anyone, even me, to disgrace it by publicly indulging in self-pity." Theodore said honestly.
"Do you think his parents ever taught him how to behave properly?" Crabbe asked curiously.
"My guess would be 'no'. I think he's been taught manners and such. But I think he's been denied any sense of etiquette, bearing, dignity or social grace." Theodore said seriously.
"But without an old bloodline or social status, how can he learn something like that? I mean, maybe he can't." Goyle said in thought.
"I've got an idea. But it's not something we can do ourselves." Draco said distantly.
"What have you got?" Cherub asked with interest.
"Just an idea. I need to talk with Headmaster Dumbledore to see if it's even possible." Draco answered with distraction.
"Is there any reason we can't do it right now?" Cherub asked casually.
"Would he be willing to speak to us this late?" Draco asked, directing his question to Eldon.
After a quick glance at the clock, Eldon said, "He would be in his room by now. But if it's something that could help Ron, he would probably welcome the interruption."
"Then let's go before it gets any later." Draco said with determination.
Cherub pulled Draco into a gentle hug and whispered, "I love you."
After a brief but firm kiss, Draco and Eldon left to talk to the Headmaster.
* * * * *
"It's watching me." Ron said as he glanced at the painting yet again.
"How could it be watching you? It doesn't even have eyes." Harry said as he looked at his painting with admiration.
"I don't know, but it's like no matter where I am in the room, it's following me." Ron said uncomfortably.
Harry looked at Ron curiously and said, "It's strange that you're bothered by a muggle painting when all through Hogwart's there are pictures that actually *do* look at you."
"Well, I think we're just about done here. I need to spend some time with Draco and Cherub." Harry said as he closed his classbooks.
"Are you going to spend the night down there?" Ron asked quietly.
"Yeah, unless you need me to be here." Harry said with distraction
Ron looked at Harry for a long silent minute, then said, "I have a lot to think about. Even though it would be nice to have you here with me tonight, I think I'd better take some time to think things through."
Harry nodded and said, "I'll see you in the morning Ron. Don't worry, you survived the first day. It gets easier from here."
"Yeah." Ron whispered and followed Harry to the door.
"Good night Ron. It's good to have you back." Harry said sincerely.
"Thanks Harry, I think it's good to be back." Ron said matching his tone.
Ron shut the door behind Harry, then walked to gather his class books for the following day.
"And you can stop watching me." Ron said firmly to the painting as he passed.
* * * * *
After a long meeting with the other faculty Heads of House, Professor Snape made the familiar journey down the corridor to check on his students before turning in for the night.
A whimper from the shadows almost went unnoticed, but Professor Snape did notice and walked over to investigate.
"Mr. Potter?" Professor Snape asked uncertainly.
Harry looked up at Professor Snape with desperate, helpless eyes.
"Come along, we're nearly to your room." Professor Snape said in his classroom voice.
Harry shakily gathered himself up and walked with Professor Snape the few remaining feet to the Slytherin rooms.
* * * * *
"What happened to Harry?" Pansy asked with immediate concern.
"Mr. Potter seemed to be in need of assistance. Help me get him to his room." Professor Snape said quickly.
Pansy immediately ran to Harry's other side and helped Professor Snape guide the incoherent boy to his bedroom.
* * * * *
"What's wrong with Harry?" Cherub asked as he ran to Professor Snape and Pansy to help Harry to his bed.
"I found him in this state in the corridor outside. Since I can detect no signs of physical or magical trauma, I thought perhaps your presence might be of most benefit to him." Professor Snape said slowly.
"Harry, tell me what's wrong." Draco said as he gathered Harry into his arms.
"Everything." Harry said in a whimper.
"Thank you Professor Snape. He's able to talk, so I think we'll be able to take care of him." Draco said seriously.
"Seek me out should you need my assistance." Professor Snape said regally as he allowed his expression of concern to fall away.
"We will. Thank you for helping Harry." Cherub said with a genuine smile.
Professor Snape gave an almost imperceptible nod and turned with a swish of his robes to exit.
"I'll be in the common room if you need me for anything." Pansy said in a timid voice.
Draco looked at her and gave a small smile of gratitude and a nod.
Pansy left the room quietly with one last concerned look back at Harry.
* * * * *
"What is it Harry? Can you tell me what's wrong?" Draco asked in a gentle voice.
"Everything. Classes, Gryffindor, Quidditch, Studies, Ron..." Harry trailed off as tears began to fall down his cheeks.
"Overload." Cherub said from Harry's other side.
"We should have seen it coming. Our little Gryffindor tries to take on the world single-handed. It's up to us to remind him that he doesn't have to do it alone." Draco said with tender eyes directed at Harry.
"I think I know what he needs right now." Cherub said quietly.
"You get the shirt and I'll get the pants." Draco said with a nod.
Cherub smiled as he realized that he and Draco were on the same wavelength.
"Do you guys want us to leave?" Theodore asked quietly from Crabbe's bed.
"Only if this is going to bother you. We're just going to cuddle with Harry for a while." Draco said as he pulled off Harry's shoes.
"Oh. Okay. But just say the word if you're uncomfortable with us being here." Theodore said cautiously.
"You got it T." Cherub said as he pulled off Harry's shirt.
"Pajamas?" Draco asked as he pulled down Harry's pants.
"No, just leave him in his boxers. I think he needs the contact." Cherub said seriously.
"Right." Draco said as he started to undress.
"What?" Harry asked in confusion as he watched Cherub and Draco removing their clothes.
"Don't worry Harry, everything is going to be fine." Cherub said in an assuring voice as he folded his pants.
"Why do I get stuck against the wall?" Draco asked as he crawled into the bed.
"Because my wings take up too much room. The only way all three of us can fit in one of these little beds is if I let my wings hang over the side." Cherub said as he snuggled into the bed beside Harry.
As soon as Harry was aware that he was sandwiched between his boyfriends, he immediately wriggled around so he could pull them both into a tight, desperate hug.
"We missed you too." Draco said gently.
"I was coming back here and... it's like everything caught up to me. It's too much. I can't do everything." Harry said as fresh tears began to fall.
"That's right Potter, you can't do everything." Draco said with tenderness in his voice.
"But *we* can." Cherub said, then pressed a kiss to Harry's cheek.
Harry shifted back to look at Draco and Cherub with question.
"All the pressure of studying and our extra duties is a lot to deal with. And now you're taking care of Ron on top of everything else and it's too much." Cherub explained quietly.
"But I didn't even see Ron until after he worked with you in the potions lab." Harry said in confusion.
"It's not Ron that's the problem. It's all of it. You're trying to go too many directions at once and now you're having a little meltdown." Draco said in a soft voice.
"That's right. You're trying to be everything to everyone and it's pulling you apart." Cherub said with concern.
"So what can we do to fix it?" Harry asked in a helpless whisper.
"This." Draco said and moved in for a gentle kiss.
When the kiss ended, Harry looked at Draco with confusion.
"Let me try." Cherub said with a smile, then started to nuzzle Harry's neck.
Harry's eyes rolled back as he felt a rush of arousal wash over his body.
"That's got it." Draco said with a smile.
"Now try again." Cherub said as he pulled away.
Draco gave Cherub an amused smile, then dove in to give Harry a full, deep kiss.
After a long minute of kissing, Draco pulled back and asked, "Feeling better?"
Harry got a goofy smile on his face as he said, "Feeling great."
"Good. I think we just need to take some time to ourselves like this and you'll be able to deal with everything else." Draco said as he drew his fingertips gently down Harry's chest.
"How does that help?" Harry asked in confusion.
"You've got to take a break from the stress Harry. You've got to take some time to enjoy the moment and indulge your feelings. I mean, you're a Gryffindor, you're going to do all those things because they need to be done. Nothing we say will change that." Cherub said gently.
"So we'll work it into our schedules that at certain times each day, we'll get together and just be together." Draco said as he looked deeply into Harry's eyes.
"Okay, I think I've got it. Sorry guys. I don't mean to be such a wimp." Harry said shyly.
"Draco can tell you that I wasn't very far from my own meltdown today. That's why it was so easy to tell what was wrong with you just now." Cherub said honestly.
"Why didn't you call me? I would have helped." Harry said with concern.
"That's our little Gryffindor." Draco said with a fond smile.
"Draco took care of me. Now all we have to do is make sure that there isn't going to be a next time for either of us. Let's make sure we set aside some time each day to be 'together time' for the three of us." Cherub said seriously.
"That sounds nice. Kind of like a little vacation in the middle of the day." Harry said with a peaceful look in his eyes.
"That's exactly what it is. We'll try it out tomorrow and see how it goes." Cherub said, then laid his head down and snuggled into Harry's side.
"We need a bigger bed." Draco said as he snuggled into Harry's other side.
"Aren't you guys going back to your own beds?" Harry asked in a soft voice as he enjoyed the sensation of being snuggled from both sides.
"No. We need this tonight. All of us." Draco said as he laid a gentle kiss on Harry's bare shoulder.
"T and the guys won't mind and I know Eldon will be okay with it." Cherub said as he closed his eyes.
"I love you both." Harry said in contentment as his eyes drifted shut.
Draco watched as Harry and Cherub drifted into sleep. Finally he gave into his own tiredness and drifted into a peaceful slumber.
* * * * *
"Good morning Ron, how are you doing today?" Cherub asked cheerfully as they met at the dining hall door.
"I'm good. Where are Harry and Draco?" Ron asked curiously.
"They'll be here in a minute. They're getting Harry's schedule for the day sorted out." Cherub said with a smile.
"Um, would you guys like to sit with me at the Gryffindor table?" Ron asked hesitantly.
Cherub looked at Ron curiously, and realized that Ron was poised for rejection, expecting the worst.
"Yes Ron. Thank you, we'd be happy to accept." Cherub said with a genuine smile.
Ron's answering smile in return was beaming with happiness and accomplishment.
"Good morning guys." Hermione said as she walked with Cherub and Ron to the Gryffindor table.
"Good morning. How are you today Hermione?" Cherub asked cheerfully.
"To tell you the truth, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. The schoolwork, study groups and everything are really weighing down on me. I couldn't get to sleep because I couldn't stop thinking about everything." Hermione said tiredly.
"It sounds like you need a vacation." Cherub said, considering just how much he should say to Hermione and Ron.
Hermione smiled at the statement and nodded in agreement.
Cherub noticed Harry and Draco walking into the room and waved to get their attention.
"Hey guys. How are you this morning?" Hermione asked as Harry and Draco approached.
"Really good." Harry said with a peaceful smile.
Hermione looked at Harry with surprise and said, "It looks like you got a good night of sleep. You actually look well rested."
Harry smiled at Draco and Cherub before saying, "I had the most relaxing sleep that I can remember."
"You'll have to tell me your secret..." Hermione trailed off as she realized what the looks they were exchanging meant.
"Ewww." Ron said as he also noticed the exchanged looks.
"There's nothing 'ewww' about it Ron. The three of us slept in the same bed. It was wonderful and comfortable and the best sleep I think I've ever had." Harry said firmly.
Ron looked at Harry with surprise.
"Ease up on Ron. We've never told him what we do and don't do, so it's not his fault that he jumped to the wrong conclusion." Cherub said seriously.
Harry looked at Cherub for a second in thought, then looked to Ron with apology.
"I'm sorry Ron. Cherub's right, you had no way of knowing." Harry said shyly.
"And just to keep from any further misunderstandings, all we do is kiss and hug each other a little. We love each other and that's how we show it." Cherub said frankly.
"Oh, okay. I guess that isn't too gross." Ron said in thought.
"No, it's really nice when you're feeling stressed out to have someone there to hold you and care about what you're feeling." Harry said with a soft smile.
"That sounds really nice." Hermione said in a distant voice.
"It is. I can't imagine trying to handle everything alone now that I've found these guys." Cherub said with a genuine smile directed at Draco and Harry.
"It gets pretty lonely trying to face everything by myself." Hermione said with a look of deep thought.
"I'll try to help if you want." Ron whispered hesitantly.
Hermione glanced at Ron to find a look of honest concern.
"I wouldn't want to add to your problems Ron." Hermione said quietly.
"I think my biggest problem is that I can't stop thinking about my problems. Maybe helping you with yours could give me a break from mine." Ron said hopefully.
Hermione gave a tentative smile and said, "We could give it a try."
Ron smiled, then realized that Harry, Draco and Cherub were watching them.
A moment of panic washed over Ron as he looked cautiously at his three friends.
Cherub gave a big smile and said, "Don't worry about it Ron. We'd never tease you about something like this."
"Except that I still owe you one big 'Ewww'." Harry said with a smile.
"I'll remember." Ron said with a relieved chuckle.
The food appeared and stopped any further conversation.