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Birth of a Dancing Star

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Chapter 1: Reconciliation

 

The first time Molly saw Harry after the Battle of Hogwarts was at Fred's funeral. The mourners were leaving, and when she turned to wipe away the tears streaming down her cheeks, she spotted a pair of green eyes gazing at her from across the room, guilt and fear writ large in a pale face. Before she could so much as take a single step toward him, he turned on the spot and Disapparated.

 

The second time Molly saw Harry she was crossing Diagon Alley, George's shrunken school trunk in her pocket. A tingling feeling at the back of her neck made her pause, her hand on the door to Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and she turned to find the same terrified expression she'd seen three weeks earlier staring at her from in front of Gringotts. He vanished with a soft pop before she could call out to him, and her heart ached.

 

The third time Molly saw Harry was in the last place she expected. Apparating to the Burrow with arms filled with groceries, she found him sitting on the front step, shoulders drawn in, wand held loosely in the hands clasped between his knees. He looked up at her as though anticipating a reprimand. "Come inside, Harry," she said gently.

Taking the groceries from her without meeting her eyes, Harry nodded and followed her inside. "A cup of tea is just the ticket," she said as he set the bags down on the trestle table. "Wait for me out there," she continued with a nod of her head towards the living room. "Won't be but a moment, then we'll have a nice long chat."

"Alright," Harry replied quietly, tucking his wand into his pocket and wrapping his gangly arms around himself as if warding off the cold. He looked around as if expecting to see Weasleys popping out of every corner, but, for the moment, he and Molly were alone.

As Molly watched her lost lamb wander around the living room, seemingly soaking in the atmosphere, her warm brown eyes filled with maternal concern. After putting the kettle on, she quietly sent her Patronus to the Ministry. "The fledgling has returned to the nest. He needs you, dear."

Harry nearly jumped out of his skin when the Floo roared to life behind him a few minutes later. He turned swiftly, keeping his empty hands visible through force of habit, and took a shaky step back when Arthur Weasley stepped through.

Without a word, Arthur crossed over to Harry and gathered him up in strong arms, unsurprised when he felt the boy's shoulders begin to shake with the force of his tears. They stood that way for a long time, and Arthur continued to hold Harry close until the trembling went away.

"Better now?" Arthur asked gently as he stepped back to peer into Harry's tear-streaked face.

Harry nodded and removed his glasses to rub his red, swollen eyes. "I'm sorry," he said hoarsely, fixing his gaze on the tips of his boots.

Molly gave him a sympathetic smile. "I should think so—" Harry's head snapped up "—avoiding us like that, but Ron assures us you still think of us as family." She took his hand and guided him to a comfy chair near the fire, pressing a mug of tea into his hands and then sitting on the couch next to Arthur.

Harry sipped nervously at his tea, fidgeting for a moment before meeting their eyes. "I expect you're wondering why I've come," he began.

"Not really, dear," replied Molly.

"You've come," added Arthur, "to apologise, to, ah, discuss your sexuality, and to break up with Ginny. Somewhere in there, I expect you're a bit concerned about how Ronnie will take the news."

Half-rising with a strangled moan, Harry stood somewhere between collapse and flight as his teacup clattered to the floor and rolled a few inches away. He reached back, gripping the armrest before falling back into the chair and burying his face in the crook of his arm. This time when he lifted his head, he didn't bother to wipe away the tears.

"Harry, child, whatever is the matter?" exclaimed Molly, rushing over to pull him close to her bosom, hugging him in a way that only a mother could.

"You're not upset?" Harry whispered.

She held him at arm's length and looked him in the eye. "Only that you feel the need to apologise for anything." Patting his cheek, she thumbed away a tear before coming to her feet and Evanescoing the spilt tea. "I'll be right back with a fresh cup. Arthur?"

"Of course, dear." Arthur watched as Molly walked into the kitchen, and then turned back to Harry with an uncertain smile. "You'd think a man with seven sons would be better at this sort of thing." He took a deep breath. "About ten years ago, Charlie sat down in that very chair one night after dinner, said he was queer and burst into tears. I must admit, I was far more upset to see him cry over a thing like that than I was at the news. He thought that we would be disappointed in him for dashing our dreams, but once I convinced him that his mother and I had no plans for him other than his happiness, he seemed to realize that what he was really mourning was the loss of his own expectations.

"I believe, Harry, that that's what you're going through. You had an idea once about the rest of your life, did you not? You and Ron were going to be Aurors together, you were going to marry Ginevra and have more redheaded children who were going to grow up loved and wanted, and now you've discovered that that's not likely to happen. Am I close?"

A fresh cup of tea appeared in front of Harry. "Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," he said, gripping the saucer tightly. "How did you know that was one of the reasons I came?"

"Lots of little things," Molly replied as she returned to her seat. "The way your eyes followed Bill your first summer here, and then again when he visited for the Triwizard Tournament. I also heard about the way things went with that lovely Cho Chang, and, well, call it mother's intuition. Then, of course, Ron was positive you were obsessed with that wretched Malfoy boy, and Hermione was certain you were more attracted to your Half-blood Prince than you ever were to Ginny. Like I said, lots of little things."

Harry gulped his tea, his hands relaying his inner tension. "I had no idea I'd been so…" He fished for a decent word. "Obvious, I guess. And Ron's never said anything. All last year, all those nights when we wondered what was happening here and at Hogwarts, and he never even asked."

Arthur and Molly exchanged a look. "I doubt Ron knows, Harry," Arthur said carefully. "Though he does wonder why you've not been around to see Ginny. I expect it's because you're still blaming yourself for Fred." His voice barely wobbled on the name, though Molly's eyes glistened.

"I don't know how you can stand having me here," Harry said miserably. "It's all—"

"Your fault?" said Molly, dabbing at her eyes. "It isn't. None of it was. Yes, it was your life at the centre of it all, but Harry, don't you see? You'd never have sat on the sidelines if Voldemort had been trying to rid our world of you and Hermione and the other Half-bloods and Muggle-borns. You'd have fought regardless. And our Fred would have been there right beside you. His d-death wasn't meaningless." She offered up a brave smile. "Now I've only got to worry about his brother blowing himself up in that shop of theirs…his."

"As Fred's mum and dad, we're telling you we don't hold you responsible for what happened. It was war, son," Arthur said, his heart aching for the desolate young man sitting so forlorn before him. "Now, why don't you get yourself freshened up? Ron and Ginny will be back from Diagon Alley soon and I know they'll want to see you."

 

~*~

"Harry!"

Harry gave a small wave and a sickly smile as Ron stepped through the Floo, then found himself pulled into a one armed hug, complete with a slap on the back. "Good to see you, mate."

"Hi, Harry," echoed Ginny, who arrived with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Ginny," Harry replied awkwardly, his eyes skittering away as hers made contact. When he looked back, her eyes darted away.

"I reckon—"

"We need—"

They both stood staring at each other whilst Ron looked on in confusion.

"Right," Harry said. "Let's go outside. Ron, can you give us a minute?"

"Yeah, I'll just go see if Mum needs any help." It was a weak excuse; Ron had never volunteered to assist with dinner before.

Harry followed Ginny out into the garden, sitting to face her when she plopped down under an apple tree. He pulled up a blade of grass and began twirling it absently between his fingers, glancing up at her through his fringe. When he could stand the strained silence no longer, he blurted out, "I'm gay," at the precise moment she said "I'm back with—what?"

"What?" Harry blinked. "You're back with…Michael?" he ventured. Of all the blokes Ginny had dated whilst he was at Hogwarts, it was Michael Corner she went back to time and time again.

Ginny flashed the fiercely bright smile that Harry remembered so well, but this time it wasn't for him. "Yeah. Last year, whilst you and Ron and Hermione were on the run, Michael and I grew really…close. It was terrible there, what with Snape and the Carrows in charge." Ginny paused for a moment, a thought flitting across her face. "I don't know how he did it, actually."

Frowning, Harry asked, "How who did what?"

"How Snape managed to keep the Carrows from guessing he was on our side all along," Ginny answered with a knowing glint in her eye. "Luna knew, though no one believed her. Not really. Mostly 'cause she's Luna." She paused again before asking in her usual blunt manner, "You're sure you're gay?"

Harry nodded, averting his eyes once more.

"For Merlin's sake, Harry, it's nothing to be ashamed of," Ginny said with an indelicate snort. "Though Ron's likely to go mental. Give him some time and he'll get used to it."

Harry winced; Ron's reaction was something he'd been dreading. "I hope so. I don't want to lose my best mate over something I can't help."

"Between us, he gets weird when Charlie's around—which really bothers Charlie by the way—but Ron's got Hermione now, and we both know she'll knock some sense into him. Ron'll say a lot of stuff and it'll hurt, but it's your call whether to forgive him or not. He's got to grow up sometime."

For the first time in a long while, Harry laughed. "When did you get to be so brilliant?"

"I've always been brilliant," replied Ginny with a smile. "But when I was around you, I was thicker than a plank. Star-struck, actually. Forgive me?"

"Don't you mean scar-struck?" Harry asked with a wry grin, and now it was Ginny's turn to wince. "I never meant to lead you on, you know? It's just that, with all that was happening, I never really had a chance to figure things out."

Ginny's smile faded and some of the lustre leached from her eyes. "You never really had a chance. Full stop." Her gaze was steady and the look she gave him was affectionate; in that moment, Harry was reminded powerfully of her mother, and his. "Reckon we should go break the news to Ron?"

Harry sighed. "Reckon we should, yeah," he agreed, climbing to his feet and extending a hand to help her up.

Flush with determination and prepared for the battle ahead, Ginny set her jaw and laced her fingers through Harry's. "I've got your back, you know—and don't forget, I have the best Bat-Bogey Hex Slughorn ever saw." Harry gave her a grateful glance and a gentle squeeze of the hand, and they returned to the Burrow with smiles on their faces.

Upon their entry, Ron dropped the silverware onto the trestle table with a clatter and bounded over. "Patched things up, have you?" he asked, the anxious hope in his blue eyes unmistakable.

Harry shook his head and brushed a kiss on Ginny's cheek as he dropped her hand. "We've ended things, actually. She's my best mate's sister and a friend in her own right, but she's got Michael and she's happy."

Rounding on his sister, Ron bellowed, "How could you? When he was running all about England, starving and half-frozen to death, you were two-timing him with Michael Corner!"

Ignoring Ron's outburst, Ginny leaned up and returned Harry's kiss. "If you find yourself in need of a new best mate, you needn't look very far." Then, with a roll of her eyes, she disappeared into the kitchen, leaving an uncomfortable silence in her wake.

The two young men stared uneasily at each other for awhile until Ron finally broke the silence and said, "You know, she doesn't seem all that upset."

"No reason to be," Harry said lightly. "It was mutual. She's got Michael, and we both knew I'm not right for her."

"What are you on about? You're perfect for her," Ron scoffed. "You're Harry Potter, for Merlin's sake."

Harry blanched a bit, but he noted Ginny hovering in the background, wand at the ready. Yes, she definitely had his back.

"Do you want the bad news or the really bad news first?" he asked.

"I don't want any news. I want you to fix this," Ron replied, his budding anger reddening his cheeks.

Harry gestured towards the living room and made himself at home in the same chair he'd occupied earlier. He toyed with a loose thread on his ragtag jeans until Ron finally sat down.

"What does it mean to you, being best mates?" he asked Ron quietly.

Ron opened his mouth to speak, but flushed and fidgeted instead. "I bollixed things up in fourth year; we both know that. And I didn't do so well with that Horcrux either, leaving you and Hermione like I did. But I've learnt my lesson. I may not like it or understand it, but I'll support you no matter what."

Grateful that Ron couldn't hear his heart hammering in his chest or feel his nerves strangling him, Harry leaned forward, his green eyes trained on Ron's face. "Do you mean that? Even if I decide I don't want to be an Auror?"

"But…." Wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers, Ron gulped and nodded. "Even if you don't want to be an Auror." He gave a nervous laugh. "Reckon you've had your fill of Dark wizards," he said, and then a stray thought caused his eyes to narrow. "You're not thinking of becoming the next Dark Lord, are you? 'Cause if you are, mate, I expect I'd have to rethink supporting you."

"What? You don't want to be the next Lucius Malfoy?" Harry teased with a fleeting grin.

Ron gave a dramatic shudder. "Wouldn't mind having the Galleons, but then I'd have to put up with all that bowing and scraping." He dredged up a smile that did nothing to hide the growing worry in his eyes. "What's this about, Harry?"

Suddenly, that bit of thread was fascinating, and Harry wound it around his finger a few times before speaking. "I just need you to understand that my life isn't your life. We're best mates, and I'm hoping that won't ever change, but I'm not you, Ron. My life, my experiences, are always going to be a bit different from yours, and I don't want to lose you over something I don't have any control of."

"Did you get an owl from the Ministry or something?"

Harry shook his head impatiently. "I'm talking about friendship and the stupid stuff we've fought about. I've forgiven you for not believing me when I said I didn't put my name in the Cup and for deserting us during the hunt."

"I reckon the only thing I've not forgiven you for is the acromantulas," said Ron, "and that was Hagrid's doing more than anything. You're not planning to have an acromantula farm, are you?"

Harry shook his head, barely managing not to roll his eyes.

Ron sat for a few minutes and puzzled over everything Harry had said. "Alright, then. You're not with Ginny, you don't want to be an Auror and you're not going to raise acromantulas. Reckon there's not much you could say that could put me off you."

A strange gleam appeared in Harry's eyes. "Really," he drawled. He pretended to rack his brain to come up with something so outlandish that Ron would go off his nut; all the while his insides were churning like he'd been hit in the stomach with a Jelly Legs Jinx. "Care to test that?"

"Are we back to the next Dark Lord thing?" asked Ron, just in case. "Alright, alright. I'm trying to come up with something." He screwed his face up in concentration, regarding Harry much in the same way he might examine a chess board, trying to think four or five moves ahead.

"I'm madly and deeply in love with Severus Snape?" Harry offered as casually as he could manage.

Ron sat so still he may as well have been hit by a Body Bind Curse. Drawing in a deep, slow breath, he extended his hand. "See that? Steady as a rock," he said, then exhaled loudly, collapsing back into the couch. "Good one, mate. Almost had me with that one, you did. So, what's the really bad news that you don't want to tell me?"

"I'm madly and deeply in love with Severus Snape," Harry said quietly, every line in his body begging, pleading with his friend to try to understand.

Ron's jaw dropped. He added one plus one and came up with fruit basket. "But…but…. Bloody hell, Harry! You're a bloke! And he's…he's…Snape, for fuck's sake! Bastard of the first water, utter prick, and did I mention the Death Eater part? No? And he was a bloody Death Eater!" Ron stood and began pacing before Harry. "How can you be a bloody pouf, Harry? You're so normal!"

Harry burst into hysterical laughter, rising from his seat as Molly, Arthur and Ginny came storming in from various parts of the house. "When have I ever been normal, Ron?" he shouted over the sound of Ginny's hex and Molly scolding, "Ronald Bilius Weasley, I will not have that language in this house!"

Over the din, Arthur said wearily, "Ginevra, please remove that curse from your brother. Harry, sit yourself back down." Turning to his youngest son, he said sternly, "Ron, I'll have you know that you're no better than Percy. Not another word, before you say something you truly will regret."

Ron, swiping at the giant bogeys fluttering their bat-like wings, grumbled as Ginny countered each one, her eyes narrowed dangerously. "What's the bad news, then?" he muttered, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring defiantly at the others.

"The bad news," Harry said clearly, "is that I'm gay." The room fell silent and he shifted uncomfortably as he tried to get a sense of their moods.

"You mustn't think of it as good or bad, son," said Arthur after a long moment. "It's a part of you, the same way your green eyes are. It doesn't define you any more than being a Seeker does."

"He's queer, and he's in love with Snape!" Ron shouted as the last Bat Bogey vanished.

Three jaws dropped simultaneously and it seemed to Harry that all the air in the house had mysteriously vanished. As he fought to take a breath, Ginny suddenly giggled. Horrified, she slapped her hand over her mouth; but her dark eyes danced with mirth and, seconds later, she abandoned the fight as lost, giving herself over to tear-inducing laughter.

Not even remotely hysterical, it was filled with mirth, with joy, and the happiness bubbled out of her like a fountain until she calmed. Then, wiping the tears from her eyes as her family looked on in confusion, she came to her feet and stood before Harry, her face wreathed in smiles. "Harry Potter, I love you," she declared, yanking him to his feet and pulling him into a hug.

"He dumped you for Snape!" roared Ron as Harry tentatively returned her embrace.

Ginny released her hold on Harry and turned to her brother. "You really are thick as a post, Ron. I'll say this slowly so you have a fighting chance. Harry did not dump me." She enunciated each word so clearly that they shone like polished crystal. "After everything that's happened, after everything he's been through, he's found someone worth loving and I am overjoyed for him."

Stubborn as a bull when vexed, Ron continued to protest. "But it's Snape!"

Ginny's eyes flashed in a way that would make even Charlie nervous—and he worked with dragons, for Merlin's sake. "You weren't there last year, so you've no idea what you're on about," she growled in a voice so deadly that the hair on the back of Harry's neck stood. "For an entire year, Snape stood between the Death Eaters and us, and he still managed to make everyone believe he was on Voldemort's side.

"Do you know what he suggested to the Carrows as a form of detention?" she asked heatedly.

Ron shook his head, knowing better than to square off against Ginny with his parents ranged against him.

"He suggested we practice the Cruciatus Curse on the lower forms," she replied with a twisted grin.

Ron blanched, drawing in a breath to shout his outrage when Harry suddenly laughed.

"He's brilliant!" Harry crowed. "Pure genius! How long did it take you lot to figure it out?" he asked Ginny as she flashed a grin at him.

"A few weeks," she admitted. "We were furious with him, which was what he intended, of course. But the DA—well, Luna mostly—started noticing how he always overlooked all our tiny mutinies unless they happened right in front of him. Then he'd pick three or four Slytherins and have them throw hexes at us for awhile."

"Four on one, you mean?" asked Harry.

"Yeah," Ginny replied with a broad grin. "Turns out they were brilliant training exercises. Best Defence lessons we ever had. They hurt, of course, and most of us ended up in the Hospital Wing a few times, but it wasn't anything Madam Pomfrey couldn't sort out by the next day."

Ron's patience finally snapped. "Is anyone going to tell me what in the bloody hell is going on?"

As Arthur's brow furrowed, Molly brought up her wand and casually tossed off a silent spell. Soap bubbles began frothing from Ron's mouth and he gagged. "I warned you about your language," she said fiercely as a greenish tinge began to colour Ron's face.

"From what Ginny has said, Ron, it would seem that Professor Snape managed to turn Hogwarts into a training ground for the Order right under You-Know-Who's missing nose," said Arthur thoughtfully. "It was well done of him, and I rather think that he saved a number of lives that way."

When Ron began to choke on the bubbles, Molly ended the spell, knowing it was too much to hope that her son would ever learn to think before opening his mouth. After a bout of coughing, he wiped his mouth and streaming eyes. "But the Cruciatus—"

"I tried it on Bellatrix Lestrange," Harry interrupted. "At the Department of Mysteries, and it didn't work. You really have to mean it, Ron. You have to want that person writhing in agony, and as much as I hated Bellatrix for killing Sirius, I couldn't wish that on her. Not even most Slytherins would be able to perform it, and I can't see any Gryffindors managing it, especially against a little first year. He saved them, Ron, by being cleverer than everyone else."

The pride so evident in Harry's voice, the way his face shone and his eyes lit up when he spoke of Snape, brought the truth home to Ron in ways that mere words never could. "You really are in love with the git," he said in dawning comprehension.

"Yeah, I am," said Harry. "And I'd prefer it if you'd not refer to him that way. There's tonnes you don't know about him, things you've never suspected, but he's got more courage and more honour than anyone I know. Ginny seems to think Snape's worthy of me, but she's got it backwards. I can only hope that someday I'm worthy of him."

"Do you know how Severus feels about you?" Arthur asked gently.

"I've no idea, sir," admitted Harry. "But he tolerates me well enough now. I'm down to being insulted five or six times a day." He grinned, wondering if they had any idea how remarkable an achievement that really was.

Arthur's brow furrowed. "Severus Snape is a difficult man, Harry. You're old enough to make your own choices, true, but I would not wish to see you hurt."

"Oh, I've no doubt he'll hurt me," replied Harry, his smile deepening. "Repeatedly, most likely. Snape doesn't suffer fools gladly, and he's told me more than once that I'm every kind of fool there is."

"Then why, Harry?" Ron cried out, anguished.

Since their first journey to Hogwarts he and Ron had been best mates. He would never have been Sorted into Gryffindor if it hadn't been for Ron, so Harry knew that he owed him an answer. "Severus Snape will never lie to me," he said seriously. "He will never candy-coat anything to make it more palatable, and he won't let me rest on any laurels the Ministry might want to hand me. There aren't many lo…vers," he added, stumbling slightly over the word, "who will overlook the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing. He will. He does."

"Lovers!" Ron's face took on an expression Harry hadn't seen since they were twelve and Ron was belching slugs.

"No!" The word burst out of Harry with the force of an Expelliarmus. "Uh…" He blushed as four pairs of eyes looked at him with varying degrees of interest. "I mean…well, just because I'm in love with Snape doesn't mean he loves me back. Not entirely," he finished weakly.

"Too much information, mate," said Ron. He looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "And here I was looking forward to a quiet year." He levelled a desperate gaze at Harry. "Any chance you've stopped talking in your sleep? Any chance at all?"

"Err…" Harry felt his cheeks grow hot and Ron groaned. He gave Molly and Arthur a despairing glance, feeling caught between a rock and a hard place, not wanting to hide away a part of himself, but not wanting to lose Ron's friendship, either.

He found himself wishing he had listened to Snape. He'd known Ron was going to be somewhat intractable, but since Ron had grown up with Charlie, Harry figured that he might have outgrown any lingering unease he had about being around gay people.

Snape had responded, in no uncertain terms, that Ron was "about as likely to be accepting as Lovegood is to discover a Crumple-Horned Snorkack; here, make yourself useful and grind these lionfish spines into powder."

Arthur gave Ron a meaningful look. "Why don't you boys go upstairs?" he suggested. "I expect Harry has a lot to tell you, and he could probably use a friend right now."

Between his father's warning glance and the hope shining in Harry's eyes, Ron didn't have much of a choice. "D'you reckon you want Ginny to come, too?" he asked hopefully.

Ginny shook her head, her dark eyes narrowing as she placed her hands on her hips. "If you mean to hide behind me, then no, thank you." She took a step closer to Ron and poked a slender finger against his chest. "This is your best friend. You've shared a room with him for seven years. You broke into the Ministry and Gringotts together, and now you're getting shirty because he chases for the other team. It has nothing to do with you, so get over it."

Yes, Ginny definitely had his back and Harry was infinitely grateful for it. "Please, Ron? Can we just talk?" Pain and worry lingered behind the hope in Harry's eyes, waiting in the wings to see if they'd be needed on stage. He gnawed on the inside of his cheek, holding his breath in anticipation.

With a curt nod of his head, Ron headed up the stairs, his back ramrod straight, his shoulders rigid. When they were alone, he asked guardedly, "What'd you want to talk about?" edging past Harry to sit down on his bed. He immediately thought better of it and went to stand by the window instead.

"Don't be a prat, Ron," sighed Harry. "Did you think that I was going to try to snog you or something?"

"Of course not," glowered Ron. "It's just, well…"

"No, you just thought that, since I like blokes, I'd suddenly try something with you," concluded Harry. "Never mind that I've known I'm queer since before fourth year." Harry snorted. "That's like saying you'd try it with every witch you meet."

Ron's scowl deepened and he glared out the window, arms crossed defensively in front of him.

"Great. You're about as discriminating as a bloody Niffler." Harry sighed as he sank down on Ron's bed, his elbows on his knees, hands lightly clasped. He looked up at Ron, still standing like a sentinel near the corner. "You're my best mate. We've been friends since we were eleven, but right now I might as well be Malfoy. It's not like you don't know any queer people, Ron, so what is it?"

"Charlie's in Romania, isn't he?" said Ron with an odd note of relief underneath. "It's not like I'll be sharing a bedroom with him anytime soon, yeah? But you and me, we do stuff together, like Quidditch and hanging out…"

"And changing clothes and sharing the dorm with three other blokes," finished Harry in resignation. "Look, I've seen you naked loads of times. Same with Neville, Dean and Seamus. I don't get off on it, all right? I'm about as interested in you as you are in Ginny."

Ron said nothing.

"What do you have in common with Severus Snape?" asked Harry suddenly, thinking that perhaps if he chose another tack, Ron might finally get it through his thick skull that he would never see Ron as anything other than a friend.

"With that greasy…?" Ron gulped as Harry's eyes hardened. "Not a bloody thing," he muttered. "Who've you told? You know, about you being…that way?"

Harry sighed. Again. "Snape said you'd be…that way," he replied, mimicking Ron's tone almost exactly. "And not that it's any business of yours, but I've told about a dozen people. Adults mostly. Coming here to talk to your mum and dad was loads harder than telling Pomfrey or McGonagall."

"You told McGonagall you're queer?" said Ron in amazement, his curiosity propelling him off the wall and onto the bed. He sat near the head and leaned back against the headboard as Harry situated himself near the foot.

Harry nodded, his cheeks taking on a rosy hue. "I didn't mean to, not really. The whole thing was a bit of a disaster." He blew out a breath and gave Ron a wry grin. "You know that talk the Heads and Pomfrey gave us in sixth year? That part when Pomfrey pretty much says come talk to me if you're queer?"

"Is that what she meant when she said it might not pertain to some of us?"

"D'you really think I'm going to need to know any contraceptive charms?" said Harry as he arched an unconsciously Snapeish brow. "But she did teach me some charms that I should know if I ever want to shag anybody. Really, though, I'd much rather be shagged, the first time, at least. Then maybe I'd have a clue about it."

Ron's face turned a pasty greenish colour, and he swallowed heavily. "Not really sure I wanted that mental image."

"Was it me bent over a desk in Potions or actually in a bed with Snape?"

"Harry!" moaned Ron, covering his eyes as he scrunched up his face. He cracked an eye open. "You've really got it bad. Are you sure? I mean, really sure? Maybe you got hit with a curse or something."

"Why do people say that?" asked Harry. "Has anyone ever asked you if you're sure you like girls? There was that thing with Krum, you know. You were a bit obsessed, actually, so maybe I should question your sexuality. Have you ever snogged a bloke?" It wasn't a fair question, Harry knew, given that he hadn't either, but he wanted to—one in particular.

"But we're blokes. It's normal to like girls," argued Ron.

"I'm normal, too," said Harry. "Except for this stupid bloody scar and being Voldemort's Horcrux for most of my life. That's not normal for anybody. But I'm a perfectly normal wizard, Ron, who happens to be gay, same as your brother, and in love with Snape, which seriously, I hope Charlie isn't."

"Might make Christmas a bit awkward," said Ron with a pinched expression on his face. "I'm trying to be supportive here, okay? I can't help that being around people like you makes me really nervous, but I don't know how I'm supposed to be now."

The pain lurking in the background moved to centre stage. "People like me? Should I ask McGonagall if any of Dumbledore's old robes are lying about? Start speaking with a lisp? Paint my fingernails and wear make-up? How am I different, Ron?"

Ron gave Harry a searching look. "I'm being a prat again, aren't I?"

"Yeah, you really are," said Harry, his shoulders slumping in abject defeat. "Ginny said you'd say some hurtful things, but I don't think I realised just how hurtful they'd be. You look at me and instead of seeing 'Harry', you see GAY in flaming letters. I look at you and see 'Ron', though, really, I should see BIG FUCKING IDIOT.

"You can't imagine what it's like, seeing you and Hermione walking along holding hands, knowing that if I held hands with Snape or anybody else I liked, you'd sit there and pull faces. Knowing that if I was going to get married, you wouldn't want to be there for me. You'll pretend to be good with it as long as I'm not gay in front of you, but I am and I'm not willing to be anyone but myself, not even for you."

Harry got off the bed. "I wanted to tell you about how I fell in love with Snape, and what it was like to talk to McGonagall about next year, but I don't think you'll ever be ready to hear it. I'm going downstairs. I want to send a letter to Charlie and let him know that he and I have more in common than he thinks."

~*~

"I'm sending a letter off to Charlie," Harry told Molly a little while after his abbreviated conversation with Ron. "Would you like to include a note or something?" He pushed his glasses up his nose and held the unsealed envelope out to her.

"Come over here and keep an eye on these potatoes for me," said Molly as she reached for it. She grabbed parchment and quill and sat down at the long trestle table, giving Harry a reassuring smile as she scribbled out a note. "Here you are, dear," she said after she'd finished. "Are you staying for dinner? Hermione will be here."

Harry felt torn. On the one hand, he wanted desperately to speak with her. On the other hand, he was expected back at the castle for dinner and wanted to know that Snape hadn't suffered any setbacks during his absence.

"Set the table for six," said Molly, the warmth in her voice nearly bringing tears to Harry's eyes. "I take it that your conversation with Ron didn't go very well."

"Not really, no," admitted Harry, shaking his head. "He thinks I'm not normal." He turned and sat heavily at the end of one of the benches. "My uncle always called me a freak, but after seeing Remus transform the night we found out about Pettigrew, I figured I wasn't nearly as weird as he thought I was."

He looked at Molly with worried eyes. "But what am I? McGonagall says I've nothing to worry about, since there are all sorts of magical beings in the Wizarding world. She says that if vampires can have donor bonds and Veela can have soulmates, then a pair of witches or wizards who form a lasting relationship is nothing out of the ordinary."

"She's absolutely right," said Molly. "The plates are in the cupboard and they're not going to fly to the table themselves."

"Then why was Charlie so upset when he told you and Mr Weasley?" asked Harry as he stood up. Though perfectly capable of using magic to levitate the plates to the table, he preferred using Muggle methods for a chore such as this. It gave him time to think and something to do with his hands.

Molly gave him an understanding smile. "Charlie was afraid, Harry. That's all there was to it. He thought I'd be upset about not having grandchildren from him, and he was afraid that Arthur would see him as less than a man. But we didn't, Harry. He's a splendid young man and we're very proud of him. Captain of the Quidditch team, dragon tamer, member of the Order. How can we not be?"

"I like Charlie," said Harry as he laid out the silverware. "But really, Bill's more my type," he confessed with a shy smile. "I don't think Fleur would appreciate knowing that, though." He pulled six goblets out of a different cupboard and carried them over to the table. "I guess I just don't understand why Ron is the way he is, growing up with Charlie and all."

"I should think Bill would be flattered," said Molly as she checked on the steak and kidney pies baking in the oven. "As for Ron, he is simply confused. Think of it this way, Harry. Ron is terrified of spiders."

"With good reason," said Harry as he set a cup at each place.

"He was afraid of them before the two of you had your little adventure in the Forbidden Forest, as you well know," said Molly a bit sternly, as though finding it impossible not to scold Harry again for his part in their little misadventure during the Chamber of Secrets debacle. "But he couldn't understand why you weren't bothered by them. He still doesn't.

"It's the same thing with you being gay. He cannot imagine himself being attracted to men. The thought leaves him cold, so he cannot comprehend how you could be." She turned the oven heat up and closed the door. "Arthur had a talk with him when Charlie mentioned that Ron was avoiding him," she continued as if sensing Harry's next question. "Would you like us to speak with him again?"

Harry shook his head. "No. This is best left between us. I'm just hoping Hermione will make him see reason." He gazed earnestly at Molly. "I'm not a spider. Really, I'm not. Honestly, I'd much rather Ron not think about my sex life at all. Merlin knows I'm not keen on thinking about his."

"It will work out," said Molly with a warm smile. "Why don't you wait for Hermione in the living room? She should be here any minute."

Some of Harry's anxiety surged back in. His emotions were in a constant state of flux, like the ebb and flow of the tide without a moon to harness it. He'd been at the Burrow for only a few hours, and he was already exhausted. "Do you think…" he began, but before he could finish, the Floo erupted in a shower of green sparks. He clutched the table as his knees started to shake, but got a grip on himself and walked unsteadily towards the fireplace.

"Harry!" exclaimed Hermione as she ran over to throw her arms around him, nearly knocking him over in the process.

"How have you been? Have you spent the entire summer at Hogwarts? Why haven't you written? You do have a new owl, don't you? When are you starting Auror training? Where's Ron? I thought he'd be with you," she gushed, expelling questions by the dozen.

When Harry didn't answer, she stepped back to eye him critically. "What's the matter, Harry? You look like you've just been hit by a Bludger."

"There's never a Beater around when you need one," muttered Harry, his stomach in knots so tight he wondered if he'd ever be able to eat again. "Come with me." He took her by the hand and led her to the sofa, claiming for himself, once again, the chair he'd sat in earlier.

Bewildered, Hermione sat down, her eyes sweeping around the Burrow as if searching for clues. "What is it?" she asked as Harry gave her a grimace of a smile. "Harry, what's wrong?"

For reasons Harry couldn't quite fathom, telling Hermione was harder—by far—than telling Ron or any of the other Weasleys, and he didn't know what he'd do if Hermione rejected him. For a moment, he entertained the notion of running back to Hogwarts, grabbing his things and fleeing the country rather than confess, but he thought he should give her the benefit of the doubt. One thing was certain, this wasn't quicker or easier than falling asleep.

"There's no easy way to say this," he said, his voice pitched so low it barely made it across the small space between them. "So I'm just going to come right out with it." He took a deep breath and met her frightened brown eyes with pure terror. "I'm gay, Hermione."

Hermione stared at him blankly.

Wondering if she'd heard him, Harry repeated it louder and waited for a reaction.

She blinked. And blinked again, then again and again like a demented owl. Harry could nearly hear the gears in her head screech to an abrupt, messy halt.

"You do know what being gay means, right?" he asked when he couldn't stand it any longer.

"Yes, of course," she said absently, still blinking and staring as though adding powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood no longer resulted in Draught of the Living Death and she didn't know what to make of the contents of her cauldron. "I just…" She blew out a breath and finally looked at him.

"Does Ginny know?"

Harry nodded, not ready yet to release the breath he'd been holding. Hermione's reaction was not what he'd anticipated. "I think she was expecting it. She's back with Michael Corner and has been for awhile. I guess we'd both been keeping secrets."

"So, who is he?" she asked with a hard edge to her words that Harry had not heard in months.

Harry drew back in his chair and blinked. "What?"

"We spent nearly a year together, Harry," said Hermione angrily, building up a good head of steam and rolling right over him. "And for a good while it was just the two of us. Not once did you bother to tell me you're gay, or that you even thought you might be, and Merlin knows we talked about everything else, including what we were going to do when we'd finally defeated Voldemort. Marry Ginny, you said. Become an Auror, you said. Have children, you said. Are you still planning to be an Auror, or have you changed your mind about that as well?"

"I'm going back to Hogwarts," said Harry in a voice roughened by fear, almost reeling from the verbal attack. "I've not sorted out what I'm going to do after I finish. But I've never changed my mind about being gay; I've come to terms with it. I wanted to marry Ginny. I wanted to have kids of my own someday, but I can't be something I'm not. And I'm not straight. I'm not, Hermione."

"Which is why I want to know who he is," she demanded. "Because if you've known for awhile now and kept it secret, then you wouldn't have decided to tell us unless there's someone you fancy and were afraid we'd find out before you could say anything."

There were times Harry wished Hermione didn't know him as well as she did. "You're right," he said nervously. "There is somebody, but you have to listen to me first. I wanted to tell you, really I did, but it's not the easiest thing in the world to know how to say, and every time we started to talk about Ron and Ginny, you tried not to cry and it never seemed like it was the right moment to tell you, especially since your way of coping with everything was to do more research and, honestly, I didn't think you were carrying around spare volumes of Homosexuality in Wizarding Britain: A Guide Through The Ages." He finally paused to take a breath. "You weren't, were you? Carrying a book like that around?"

"Is that how you figured it out?" she growled, her eyes flashing. "From a book?"

"No!" Harry exclaimed, eyes wide, not comprehending how Hermione, of all people, could have gotten it so horribly wrong. His heart stammered and stumbled along, first sprinting, then skipping whole beats entirely whilst the confused signals coming from his brain continued to argue about whether he should turn tail and run or stand his ground and wait for Hermione to come to her senses. A part of him wished she'd just punch him like she had Malfoy and get it over with.

"Look," he entreated. "You do realise I can't make this go away, right? Not that I it want to; I'm fine with who I am. I'm still me, Hermione." He wiped sweaty palms on his trousers and wished her eyes would stop flashing quite so angrily.

Hermione snarled, a full-throated growl that had Harry wondering if were possible to Disapparate from a sitting position. "You are such a git. When did you know, how did you finally figure it out and when were you planning to tell me?"

Harry had a whole new appreciation for how Ron had felt when he'd rejoined them on their Horcrux Hunt. "Is that why you're mad at me? Because you didn't know?"

"Because you didn't tell me," screeched Hermione so loudly that Molly dashed from the kitchen. Moments later, Ron galumphed down the stairs, his heavy tread causing eddies of dust to swirl in the sunlight.

"Thought I heard your voice," said Ron as he stepped off the bottom stair. "Told you he's madly in love with Snape, did he? Reckoned you'd be a bit surprised."

There was a single, blessed moment of silence before the walls started shaking from the force of Hermione's roar. "With SNAPE?!" She leapt to her feet, eyes blazing, her bushy hair all but standing on end. "The one who's spent half your life demeaning and belittling you? That Snape?"

Arthur and Ginny came running again as Molly crossed protectively to Harry's side. "Now, see here, Hermione," said Arthur in his most reasonable, let's-not-start-a-war tone. "If Harry's in love with Severus, then he's in love with Severus."

"Mr Weasley," said Hermione, her voice as cutting and controlled as an executioner's axe, "Snape despises Harry and made his life almost unbearable for six long, nearly insufferable years, and if Harry fancies himself in love with someone who was every bit as vile to him as Voldemort himself, then he should be checked for curses, hexes and potions. Right this minute!"

"I think Harry can love whomever he chooses," snarled Ginny as she came to stand at Harry's other side, "thank you very much. He's spent more time with Snape than any of us, so maybe he knows something we don't. Did you ever consider that?"

The pit of Harry's stomach became an abyss, and his eyes stung. "It's because of Snape that we won, but that's neither here nor there," he said shakily. "You've not taken the time to get to know him, either of you. Ginny gets it, though." He rose unsteadily to his feet and stepped around Molly to get to the fireplace.

"I reckon you've got a bit to talk about," he said, pushing through the growing lump in the back of his throat. "And I'm not ready to hear it. I'm going home." His reddening eyes met Arthur's, drawing on the older man's quiet, understated strength. "I'll owl you tomorrow."

He was hugged in turn by Molly, Ginny and, to his surprise and relief, Arthur. Ron and Hermione watched from the safety of the couch, where they both sat in mulish silence. "I'll get your letter off to Charlie," said Molly as she patted his cheek. The gesture was far more comforting than Harry expected. "Don't worry, Harry, dear. It will all work out."

Harry offered a sickly smile as he reached into the container of Floo powder. "I'm sure it will," he said thickly. "The Three Broomsticks," he said as clearly as he was able, and as he stepped into the brilliant green fire, he heard Molly growl, "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves." Somehow he thought that wouldn't be the final word on the matter.