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"Is Widget in here?" The female voice asked from the door.
"Come in Karen." Eldon Widget said with a playful smile.
Karen Prang walked in with a look of fury in her eyes.
Widget held up his hands and said, "It's the rules of the room. First names only."
All the boys around the room laughed at the statement and Karen's surprised expression.
"Fine. We just got a message that you and... that one." She said pointing at Cherub.
"...And that one..." She said, indicating Harry.
"...are needed in the Headmaster's office." Karen said irritably.
"Their names are Cherub and Harry. We'll be right out." Eldon said calmly.
Karen gave a single nod of her head and left.
"She doesn't seem very friendly." Cherub observed.
"No. That's about as nice as she gets. But she's good at her job and takes it very seriously." Eldon said with a shrug.
"I guess we'd better get upstairs." Harry said as he stood.
"Make sure you have your wand handy. The halls aren't as safe as they used to be." Draco said firmly.
Harry nodded seriously and pulled his wand out.
"You too Eldon. They've already proven that they'll attack you." Theodore said in an uncharacteristic firm voice.
Eldon smiled and pulled out his wand.
"You guys watch your backs. I know they got the twins and Ron, but Percy might still be on the prowl." Draco said firmly.
"We'll be fine Draco. Why don't you guys start on the lessons while we're gone so we can cover what we'll need to know for tomorrow with you when we get back." Cherub suggested as he also pulled out his wand.
"Good idea, we're already behind on our studying." Draco said seriously.
"Come on. They're waiting." Eldon said as he led the way.
* * * * *
The group cautiously made their way to the Headmaster's office without incident.
Upon entering they were surprised to find all four Weasleys seated, glaring daggers at them.
"You sent for us Headmaster?" Eldon asked cautiously.
"Yes. Do come in and have a seat." Dumbledore said and gestured to a row of chairs before the desk.
All three boys noticed that nearly all the faculty were gathered in the room behind the row of chairs.
"This is an informal hearing to sort out the events of the past day." Dumbledore said in a thoughtful voice.
"Certain accusations have been made by the young men in defense of their actions that I feel should be addressed." Dumbledore said seriously and looked directly at Cherub.
"I'll do whatever I can to help." Cherub said carefully, not knowing what else to say.
"It has been suggested by Fred Weasley... or was it George? No matter, it was suggested that Mr. Nightshade has an allegiance to a dark wizard and is causing the disruptions of the past days to lure Mr. Potter into the service of... the dark one." Dumbledore said with difficulty.
Cherub's eyes went wide at the suggestion.
"What say you Mr. Nightshade?" Dumbledore prompted.
Cherub thought for a moment, then asked, "Am I being accused of some specific action?"
"No, not at all. We just wish to clear up this matter as expeditiously as possible, will you answer the question?" Dumbledore asked, a little more insistently.
"May I make a statement for the record before I answer?" Cherub asked carefully.
"This isn't a formal hearing. We're simply trying to determine the motives of the participants in the unpleasantness of the past days." Dumbledore said in a somewhat patronizing tone.
"May I make a formal statement for the record before I answer?" Cherub asked again, this time more forcefully.
"It is his right." Professor Snape said from the group of faculty observing the proceedings.
"Very well." Dumbledore said and glanced at Professor McGonigal. After a moment, she nodded to him that the events were being recorded.
"You may proceed with your formal statement Mr. Nightshade." Dumbledore said, much less pleasantly than usual.
"Thank you Headmaster. I simply wish to state for the record my objection to being asked to give testimony regarding my personal beliefs and affiliations. I believe such an action serves only to divide us and breed suspicion. If I can be asked to give such testimony without being accused of a crime and without the benefit of legal counsel, then how far are we from an inquisition that will end with pulling people from their houses and convicting them on nothing more than suspicion that they are in league with a force that is perceived to be evil. Laws are written down so that all who wish to see them can do so and understand what actions society judges to be illegal. When we are judged on our beliefs, rather than our actions, it becomes a matter of judging right thoughts from wrong ones. Who among us is qualified to make those judgments and who among us is willing to allow someone else to be the judge? This completes my statement. I will answer whatever questions you have for me." Cherub finished in a calm voice.
Dumbledore nodded to Professor McGonigal to stop recording, then asked, "Are you in league with the dark wizard known as Voldemort?"
Cherub thought about his answer carefully before saying, "No Headmaster. I have never to my knowledge met him and have sworn no allegiance to him."
"Have you orchestrated or been a party to any action to cause Mr. Harry Potter to abandon his previous affiliations in favor of Slytherin?" Dumbledore asked cautiously.
"Yes, I have been party to an action that resulted in Mr. Harry Potter abandoning Gryffindor house. The action took place this morning during the second class period on the flying field." Cherub said carefully.
"What did you do Mr. Nightshade?" Dumbledore asked darkly.
"I spoke honestly with Mr. Harry Potter about my thoughts and feelings about the similarities and differences in the houses. I believe that my choice to be open and honest with Mr. Potter may have contributed to his joining Slytherin when given the choice." Cherub said slowly.
"So in essence what you are saying is that you had a conversation with Mr. Potter, discussed your beliefs and after considering your statements he changed houses?" Dumbledore asked in confirmation.
"As far as my contribution to Mr. Potter's decision, yes. But I believe there were other factors of which I have little or no knowledge that also contributed to Mr. Potter's decision." Cherub said seriously.
"Then I suppose we should ask him. What do you say Mr. Potter? Would you explain your reasoning behind your choice of Slytherin over Gryffindor?" Dumbledore asked slowly.
"May I make a formal statement before I answer?" Harry asked calmly.
"I don't see why not. Minerva?" Dumbledore said with a helpless look at Professor McGonigal.
She nodded when the recording was started.
"I have taken no action by word or deed to cause injury to anyone. Yet I am here, asked to give testimony to justify my choice of houses. This entire proceeding would have been unnecessary if those who were offended by my choice had simply asked my reasoning. And I want it stated in the record that since my association with Mr. Nightshade and Mr. Malfoy became known to the Gryffindor house members, no one, not one of them has attempted to sit down and speak with me about my choice in a reasonable manner. If they had, we might not be here now. This concludes my statement." Harry said formally.
"Now will you explain your reasoning for joining Slytherin house?" Dumbledore asked slowly, not revealing any emotion.
"I am both a Gryffindor and a Slytherin. But beyond either of those, I am a person.? I was given a choice and true to my Gryffindor nature, did what I believed to be right. True to my Slytherin nature, I did what I believed to be in my best interest. And true to my human nature, I did what I wanted. What I believe is right is to go where I feel I belong, even if my friends don't agree with my choice. What I believe is in my best interest is to surround myself with the people who will empower me with their encouragement and respect. What I want is to live where I am allowed to think independently and encouraged to have as many friendships as possible. It happens that all three of those decisions led me to Slytherin house. The Gryffindors taunting me, attacking my friends and disrupting my classes only served as confirmation that I made the right choice." Harry said in thought.
"Well said Mr. Potter. I just have one further question, this for Mr. Widget." Dumbledore said and looked at Eldon carefully.
"Yes sir?" Eldon asked in a timid voice.
"Did you want to make a formal statement first?" Dumbledore asked cautiously.
"No sir, but thank you for offering." Eldon said with a smile.
"Mr. Widget. Can you give the reason for Mr. Percival Weasley's attack on you?" Dumbledore asked seriously.
"No sir. I've known Percy since we were both first years. Even though we've never been friends, I've always liked and respected him. All I can think of is that he was upset because a Gryffindor changed to Slytherin." Eldon said shyly.
"Why weren't you friends?" Dumbledore asked curiously.
"Because we're from different houses. Gryffindors hate Slytherin. In the past four years I've tried to be respectful and available but... there was always that barrier that I couldn't get past." Eldon said, letting a trace of the loneliness he felt slip out through his voice.
"I think we've heard enough. If there is nothing else, we will adjourn and the faculty will discuss the matter." Dumbledore said firmly.
"May I speak?" Percy Weasley asked cautiously.
"You have already made your statement, do you wish to modify your earlier remarks or add to them?" Dumbledore asked slowly.
"I just wanted to apologize to Widget. I'm sorry I hit you. I got mad..." Percy trailed off with a shrug.
"Do you accept Mr. Percival Weasley's apology Mr. Widget?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
"Of course I do. We all do stupid things sometimes, isn't that part of growing up?" Widget asked with a smile.
"An integral part Mr. Widget." Dumbledore said with a chuckle.
"May we speak?" One of the twins asked in a quiet voice.
"If you wish, but keep it brief." Dumbledore said in a cautious voice.
"We thought Nightshade was evil because he's different..." One twin started.
"...I mean, when you think of someone evil, he's what they look like." The other finished.
"But he's just a kid. A smart, stuck-up kid with wings. But just a kid." The first said.
"We got caught up in the ranting and raving about 'the-boy-who-lived' being corrupted by the demon." The second twin said frankly.
"We're sorry we tried to turn you into a duck. It wouldn't have hurt you." The first twin finished quickly.
"Yeah, and if we get to stay, we won't bother you anymore." The second said seriously.
Both twins fell silent.
"Mr. Nightshade?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
"I accept." Cherub said in an equal quiet tone.
"Anyone else?" Dumbledore asked, looking at Ron.
Ron glared at Harry and crossed his arms across his chest.
"Mr. Nightshade, Mr. Potter and Mr. Widget, you are free to go. You conducted yourselves well. I'm very proud of you all." Dumbledore said in a friendly voice.
"Thank you Headmaster." All the boys chorused in unison, then left the room.
* * * * *
"How did it go?" Draco asked as soon as Harry, Cherub and Eldon entered.
"It was weird. I think we were there to give the Weasleys a chance? to apologize." Cherub said carefully as he and Harry sat on Harry's bed.
"Did they?" Theodore asked curiously.
"Three out of four." Eldon said as he took a seat on Cherub's unoccupied bed.
"Let me guess. Ron didn't apologize." Draco said, already knowing from Harry's expression.
"I really thought we were friends." Harry said in a lost voice.
Cherub put his arm around Harry's shoulder to try and comfort him.
Draco saw Harry's distress and moved from his own bed to sit on Harry's other side.
"Is that all that happened?" Theodore asked uncomfortably.
Draco put an arm around Harry's waist, offering his own comfort.
"Yes, except for some long winded speeches from Harry and Cherub." Eldon said with a teasing smile.
"I thought I was on trial for believing differently from everyone else." Cherub said defensively.
"I agreed with everything you said Cherub. I just think you surprised the Professors. They probably expected a bunch of whining crying little boys pointing fingers and calling names. Instead they got a pint sized lawyer and philosopher." Eldon said with a laugh.
"You must have really put on a show." Draco said with a smile.
"They were both great. When Cherub demanded to be allowed to make a formal statement for the record, I thought Dumbledore was going to drop over from shock." Eldon said, now shaking with laughter.
"I'm sorry I missed it. All we've done is study potions and transfigurations. Really dry reading." Draco said honestly.
"Greg really understands the transfigurations stuff. If you get him to explain it to you, you'll probably learn it better than reading the book." Theodore said seriously.
"Greg?" Cherub asked curiously.
"Goyle. His first name is Greg. And Crabbe's first name is Vincent." Draco said informatively.
"Oh. I guess I didn't think to ask. Do you guys mind if I use your first names?" Cherub asked carefully.
"No problem. Thanks for asking." Greg said with a smile.
Draco got a serious look and said, "Everyone. We've never really discussed anything about dating or things like that, but I need to know if anyone would have a problem with two guys... as a couple. If you're going to get freaky about it, I need to know now."
Everyone looked around at each other and shook their heads.
"Then the rules of the room apply. I'll start. I'm not seeing anyone, honestly I never even thought about it until this week. I'm kind of interested in someone, but I don't know if he likes me back, I mean, that way." Draco said with uncharacteristic timidity.
"Just say it Draco." Harry said quietly.
"Cherub, I really like you. If you're interested... I mean, if you wanted to, I'd like to, you know, date and stuff." Draco said in a rambling meter.
Cherub got a look of surprise, then regret.
"I'm sorry Draco. I really like you, but I'm... I was going to ask Harry the same thing." Cherub said in a pained voice.
Harry chuckled and said in an almost childish voice, "I was going to ask Draco."
"So why don't you three date each other?" Theodore asked reasonably.
"What?" Draco asked in confusion.
"Well, you all three obviously care about each other. You've admitted your attraction. Give it a try. I think as long as all three of you are honest, you'll be fine." Theodore said with a smile.
"You really think that?" Goyle asked curiously.
"Yes. The three of them seem complete when they're together, don't you think?" Theodore asked seriously.
"Um. Then, would you, um, think about being our boyfriend?" Goyle asked shyly.
Theodore looked from Crabbe to Goyle and back.
"You really mean it?" Theodore asked cautiously.
Goyle nodded shyly, casting his eyes down.
Theodore lifted Goyle's chin with one finger and placed a feather-light kiss on his lips.
"Why aren't you guys doing that?" Eldon asked Harry, Draco and Cherub.
"Good question." Cherub said speculatively.
"I guess that's why he's the prefect." Harry said with a smile.
"Enough talk." Draco said and moved in to kiss Harry and a moment later Cherub.
"This isn't fair to you Eldon. We've all got someone but you don't." Theodore said after breaking his kiss with Crabbe.
"If the look in Percy Weasley's eyes was any clue, I don't think Eldon will be alone too much longer." Cherub said from his three-way embrace.
"Really?" Eldon asked in surprise.
"After you told him you liked and respected him, I'd be surprised if he doesn't ask you out as soon as the hearing lets out." Cherub said seriously.
"A Weasley." Draco said with a shake of his head.
"A person Draco. I agree with you about the importance of breeding and bloodlines. But I don't think that means Percy isn't a worthy person, I think it means that Percy has more challenges to face. He's made it to prefect of Gryffindor. I think he's due some respect for that accomplishment." Cherub said reasonably.
Draco thought about the words and finally said, "If I get the chance, I'll get to know the person. If he's worthy of respect, then I'll give him respect."
"That's my Draco." Cherub said happily and moved in for a kiss.
"Guys. Feeling left out here." Harry said as they were both leaning in front of Harry to kiss.
The kiss broke and Draco said, "We can't have that."
Cherub moved in to nuzzle Harry's neck while Draco kissed him gently on the mouth.
"I think I'll go into the common room. It's getting warm in here." Eldon said as he looked at the six boys kissing playfully.
"No. Sorry Eldon. Please don't go." Cherub said as he pulled out of the three-way embrace.
"It's fine Cherub. I have my own school work to do and I'm a few hours behind. You guys have fun." Eldon said and left the room.
"I hope it works out with him and Percy. He's such a good guy, I hate to think of him alone." Cherub said as he hugged Harry and Draco.
"No matter what Percy does, we'll make sure Eldon is okay. Now come here." Draco finished with a growl.
* * * * *
"Guys?" Eldon called from the doorway.
"Come in. We're just studying." Cherub said as he looked up from his book.
"I thought you'd all be making out." Eldon said in confusion.
"We had a good snog, then got to our studies. When the work is done, we'll have time for play." Draco said seriously.
"Oh. That makes sense. Professor Snape is in the common? room. He wants to speak with you." Eldon said with distraction.
"Who?" Cherub asked cautiously.
"Harry and Cherub, but I have a feeling that he's expecting all of you." Eldon said frankly.
"It's time for a break anyway." Cherub said and marked his place in his book.
* * * * *
"Gentlemen. I thought that with your involvement in the events today you'd be interested in the outcome." Professor Snape said seriously.
Complete silence fell over the room as everyone waited to hear the judgment.
"Mr. Percival Weasley has been removed from the prefect position of Gryffindor and been restricted to his room for one week." Professor Snape said without inflection.
Eldon closed his eyes and looked as if he were in pain.
"Mr. Frederick Weasley and Mr. George Weasley have been given a one week suspension and will be required to work with Mr. Filch for one month. In addition they will be on probation for the remainder of this school year." Professor Snape said formally.
Cherub nodded silently, feeling no joy in their punishment.
"Mr. Ronald Weasley has been expelled." Professor Snape said shortly.
Harry felt emptiness at the declaration.
"A total of two hundred points has been deducted from Gryffindor for allowing and encouraging such behavior in their house. It has been made clear this is the one and only warning they will receive and that any further actions taken against other houses will be dealt with in a more severe fashion." Professor Snape said firmly.
"Mr. Potter, your conduct during the hearing was outstanding and beyond what any of the faculty expected. After your display of proper conduct and maturity it has been decided that you will be allowed to try out for the Quidditch team for the seeker position. We had discussed it yesterday after Professor McGonigal witnessed your... unauthorized... flight with Mr. Malfoy but were concerned that you might not be sufficiently mature to deal with the added responsibilities. That is no longer a concern. Congratulations Mr. Potter." Professor Snape said formally.
"Mr. Nightshade. Your level of knowledge and skill with potions puts you in a unique position. I believe you still have things to learn in my class, but I am also aware that you should be encouraged to fulfill your potential with more advanced projects. To that end, the faculty have authorized a potions workshop for advanced students. Students from all houses and all years who exhibit an exceptional aptitude for potions will meet once a week to work on advanced projects that are not covered in the standard curriculum. As with Mr. Potter, your performance in the hearing assured the faculty that you would be of sufficient maturity to accept the additional responsibility. Congratulations Mr. Nightshade." Professor Snape said and nearly betrayed a smile of pride.
"Mr. Widget. Your ability to forgive someone who attacked you and convey your true thoughts of the incident impressed the faculty and most especially Headmaster Dumbledore. It was also noted that you have the respect? and loyalty of? those left in your charge.? Headmaster Dumbledore would like to have a meeting with you next week to discuss the possibility of your assuming the Head Boy position next semester, even though that position is normally held by a seventh year student. Such a thing is a rare honor, but I can think of no one more deserving. Congratulations Mr. Widget." Professor Snape said with dignity.
"Gentlemen. Your accomplishments and decorum have brought honor to Slytherin House. Please take full advantage of these opportunities, they are all too rare." Professor Snape said seriously.
Clapping started in the group of students gathered in the common room which broke into a full ovation.
After the clapping stopped, Eldon quietly asked, "Professor Snape. Is there anything we can do to get Percy his prefect job back? Another punishment? Anything else? I think Percy might base his entire self-worth on his being prefect. It's the only thing he's ever achieved."
"What do you suggest?" Professor Snape asked with concern.
"Honestly, I think he needs to be given a punishment that has a side effect of causing him to build his self-image. Give him a task, and when he's finished he'll have something to look at and say, 'I did that'." Eldon said in thought.
"An intriguing idea. Come with me to the headmaster and perhaps we can convince him of the merits of your plan before Percival is notified." Professor Snape said quickly and led the way out of the door.
* * * * *
"Do you guys mind if I sleep in here tonight?" Theodore asked quietly.
"No problem T. You're one of us. You can move in as far as I'm concerned." Draco said sleepily, cuddled between Harry and Cherub.
"I don't think we're ready for that step yet, but thanks for the offer." Theodore said happily.
"One week ago I couldn't have imagined being this happy." Cherub said as he enjoyed just being held.
"What was it like for you? You've never said." Draco asked quietly.
"I wasn't allowed to leave Dour Oaks, the mansion where I grew up. I've never been around anyone my own age before. I honestly didn't think I'd be able to relate to anyone my age. I've only ever talked with adults." Cherub said distantly.
"Well that's something we have in common. I've spent most of my life around adults and have been expected to behave as they do. I've had some casual friends like Crabbe and Goyle... I'm sorry guys, I'm just not used to using your first names." Draco said with distraction.
"All of you can call us by our last names if you want. It sounds more natural." Goyle said in a relaxed voice.
"Except T, I like it when you call me Vince." Crabbe said gently.
Goyle nodded in agreement.
"But as I was saying, I didn't have really close friendships with others my age. I seemed to relate better to adults." Draco said in thought.
"I was raised by my muggle relatives. They knew my parents were part of the wizarding world and hated them for it. As a result, they treated me horribly. I never really fit in with the muggle children I grew up around, I always felt different." Harry said, then snuggled tighter into Draco's embrace.
"Goyle and I have known each other since we can remember. We couldn't be closer if we were brothers." Crabbe said from the bed where he and Goyle were laying on either side of Theodore.
"We've considered ourselves boyfriends for about a year now, but we didn't really feel like sharing it with anyone until now." Goyle said as he stroked Theodore's hand gently.
"When you look like we do, people don't think that you might want someone to hold you at night or just listen to what you're thinking or feeling." Crabbe said darkly.
Theodore lifted Crabbe and Goyle's hands and kissed the back of each in turn before letting them fall and just relaxing.
A knock on the door interrupted the introspective moment.
"Do you guys mind if I come in?" Eldon asked as he opened the door an inch.
"Eldon, you don't have to knock and you're always welcomed to come in... as long as you aren't worried about what you might see." Draco said with a gentle smile.
"I'll remember that. I just wanted to let you guys know what's happening." Eldon said as he sat on Cherub's unoccupied bed.
Crabbe, Goyle and Theodore sat up on Crabbe's bed where they had been relaxing and waited with interest.
"Apparently, the faculty felt it was in everyone's best interest to have Ron removed from the? school immediately. He didn't even have a chance to pack his things. Elves were sent for his possessions and he was taken away in a carriage right after the hearing." Eldon said with intensity.
"I suppose that way he wouldn't have a chance to stir things up one last time before he left." Draco said speculatively.
"The twins seem to be grateful that they are being allowed to stay. From what I heard, they told the other Gryffindors that they made a mistake and are paying the price." Eldon said with contentment.
"I'm glad to hear it. I don't think I'll ever be friends with them, but it's good to hear that they're accepting responsibility." Cherub said seriously.
"What about Percy? Were you able to convince Dumbledore to let him keep his prefect position?" Theodore asked curiously.
"Professor Snape and I discussed our concerns with Headmaster Dumbledore and he decided to allow Percy to choose his punishment. He could either take the easy way out and give up his prefect position or take on the more difficult task of starting a first and second year inter-house Quidditch league. All the teams will be required to be mixed house and the focus will be on teamwork and fun. Hopefully they will learn the skills they will need to join the regular teams when they reach third year." Eldon said happily.
"I assume from your smile that he chose to start the junior Quidditch league. It sounds like a fitting punishment. To pay for his act of house based violence, he's being asked to promote inter-house relations." Cherub said with a nod of approval.
"He was happy to accept the responsibility. And the best part is that after we left Headmaster Dumbledore's office, Percy asked if I would like to work with him on the project." Eldon said and seemed almost to be floating with happiness.
"That's great Eldon. I hope it grows into something beyond business." Theodore said gently.
"I hope so too. It's a good start." Eldon said, unable to restrain his glee.
"Then I guess that after all the dramatic events of this day, everything worked out." Harry said in thought.
"It seems so. For a while I had the feeling that the houses were going to be at war with each other." Cherub said carefully.
"It could have gone that way. You have to give Dumbledore credit for the way he handled things. Even though it might not have seemed like it at the time, he was guiding events to turn out for the best for everyone involved." Eldon said seriously.
Cherub thought about the statement and couldn't help but agree.