DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter series and all the characters associated with it are the property solely of J. K. Rowling, her agents and publishers. No infringement of any rights is intended from the creation of this story. Nor is any money being made from it.


Circles of Power

Part Two - In Harry Veritas

By Mad Martha

       

"It's not Ron's fault. I'm telling you, it wasn't him I could see it in his eyes."

Harry's voice was dull with shock and physical pain; his left ear was still ringing, and his face and neck were scorched painfully all along that side. His scar was also aching constantly. But worse than that by far was the mental anguish. His brain was running in circles like a demented squirrel, asking why, why, why, how, how, how?

He was not alone in asking those questions. Less than three hours after the incident, and he was seated in the oppressive but secure Auror Facility far beneath the Ministry of Magic building. Facing him across a table were Albus Dumbledore, Mad-Eye Moody and another senior Auror called Rufius Kisbie. And to one side, seated against the wall and clearly still in shock, were Arthur Weasley and Sirius Black.

"You'll forgive me my scepticism, laddie," Moody was saying, both his normal eye and the magical one fixed piercingly on Harry's face, "but you realise you're the only one who can testify to that. The use of the Imperius Curse if it was the Imperius Curse is a hard thing to prove one way or the other. As you already know."

Harry swallowed hard and nodded. Yes, he knew. All the Auror trainees did.

"I didn't expect to need witnesses," he managed, after a moment's struggle.

"That's understood. But our problem here, Potter, is twofold. Firstly, young Weasley's been trained in this very facility here to resist the Imperius Curse. His success rate is nearly as good as your own. And secondly secondly, he sat in front of me not an hour ago and swore to me under Veritaserum that he doesn't remember a thing. And you know yourself that the Imperius Curse just doesn't work like that, laddie. The victims always remember what they've done, even if they couldn't stop it happening."

Which was horribly true. Harry was convinced Ron must have been under someone's control almost certainly Voldemort's - but he had been fretting about the how ever since he woke up in the Auror Facility's tiny infirmary, surrounded by anxious friends.

Of course, the friend he had most wanted to see wasn't there. Ron was locked up in a secure cell elsewhere in the facility, pending the decision of the most senior Aurors.

"I think he did try to resist it," Harry said, a little desperately. "Just before he tried to curse me, he kept trying to make me go away - "

"What you think isn't good enough, Potter," Moody retorte.

Harry bit his lip angrily, fighting back a sharp response.

He and Moody had an awkward relationship. For obvious reasons neither of them had ever been the same after the Tri-Wizard Tournament six years previously; Harry's trust in his Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher had been irreparably damaged, and Moody, always a nervous man, had become one hundred percent more paranoid after his months of incarceration in his own magical trunk. It hadn't made for easy working conditions when Harry had applied to, and been accepted by, the Aurors for training.

"No one doubts that you are telling the truth, Harry," Dumbledore said quietly, after a period of tense silence.

"As you see it," Kisbie added discouragingly.

Harry had to focus on his breathing for a moment, or he felt sure he might have starting yelling or crying, or both. In the background, he was conscious of Sirius shifting in his seat restlessly. God only knew what his godfather was thinking right now.

"Ron has been my best friend since we both went to Hogwarts," he enunciated slowly. "That's nearly ten years. Why on earth would he suddenly decide to kill me? God knows, he's had enough opportunities in the past, and he wouldn't have needed one of the Unforgivable Curses to do it!"

"But your friendship hasn't always been entirely ... harmonious, has it?" Kisbie pointed out smoothly. "Young Mr. Weasley's temper is well known. Indeed, his strange mood yesterday was commented upon by your other friends "

"He was tired! He'd been flying all day "

" And am I not right in thinking that more than once there have been moments of unusual friction between the two of you? Perhaps to do with the fact that you, Mr. Potter, are a very wealthy man and Mr. Weasley is not?"

"Oh my God, you can't seriously be suggesting this is about money - "

Kisbie shuffled a handful of parchment sheets lying in his lap. "Then a year ago you didn't make a Will, Mr. Potter? A Will of which your friend Mr. Ronald Weasley is the main beneficiary?"

Harry buried his face in his hands. "It's not like that," he said, muffled. "You don't understand."

"Then make us understand, sir!" Kisbie snapped. "Explain to us how this very great friend of yours can one day come home to the lodgings you and your other friends share, and in the middle of the night attempt to put an end to your life in the very same manner that Voldemort ended the lives of your parents!"

Harry's head came up at this, and his green eyes blazed. "I can't explain how it happened!" he cried, anguished, "But I know Ron better than anyone in the world, and I know he wouldn't ever try to hurt me!"

It was the wrong thing to say.

"Think you know him better than his parents, do you, laddie?" Moody growled, and his magical eye swivelled around to fix on Arthur Weasley.

Harry froze.

It was one thing for the relationship between him and Ron to be known to their closest friends. It would have been hard, living in shared lodgings, for the others not to have known about it. But very few outside that privileged circle knew they were involved. It wasn't something they talked about or flaunted, and outside of their home they had never given any reason for people to assume they were anything other than best friends.

Fred and George Weasley knew about them; Harry's former girlfriend, Cho Chang knew, as did Hermione's on-off boyfriend, Viktor Krum. Harry suspected that the ever-perceptive Dumbledore might have guessed.

But Ron's parents didn't know. And nor, to the best of his knowledge, did Sirius.

The last thing Harry wanted was for them to find out under these circumstances. But on the other hand, if he didn't say something, there was a very strong chance that it would count against him and Ron both if it were to come out later.

Feeling trapped, Harry looked from one relentless face to another, until his eyes met the steady blue gaze of Dumbledore. For a moment the elderly professor studied his face thoughtfully. Then he sighed softly and stood up.

"Sirius, Arthur - I wonder if I might speak to you outside for a moment? Forgive me, gentlemen ."

And he quietly left the room, a puzzled Sirius and Mr. Weasley at his heels.

The door closed softly behind them, leaving Harry facing the two most senior Aurors in the Dark Force Defence League. He took a slow, shaky breath. Moody's normal eye was fixed on the door the other three men had just left by, but his magical orb was riveted to Harry's face as though he could read every thought rushing through the younger man's brain.

"Something you want to tell us that Arthur Weasley can't hear, Potter?" he asked sardonically.

       

"Harry - thank God!"

That was Hermione, but it was Ginny Weasley who hurled herself at him when he emerged, drained, from the interrogation room half an hour later. The others crowded around him.

"Harry, your face - "

"I'm fine," he said automatically, but his eyes were on the faces of his other friends.

Ginny, mercifully, hadn't been at home when it all happened, but the others - all dressed anyhow after being dragged out of bed, and Neville still covered in soot from the fireplace - were staring at him, pale and shocked. Neville, in particular, looked like he'd been hit between the eyes with a confusion charm, and his face was a greenish-white under the outdoorsy tan he always had these days.

"Neville - " Harry reached out to him, and the other wizard grabbed his hand like a lifeline. "I'm told you saved my life."

But Neville shook his head. "It was just luck, Harry." He tried to smile. "What do you know, the stunning spell even worked for me for once."

Harry nodded, and looked at Hermione. "Where've they got Ron?"

"In Cell 51," she said, and he winced. The ten cells in Row 50 were reserved for the most dangerous of Death Eaters, such as Lucius Malfoy and Walden Macnair. One was constantly being modified in the hopes that one day they might actually need it for Voldemort himself.

"They can't seriously be thinking of sending Ron to Azkaban, can they?" Seamus Finnigan asked quietly. "I mean, it's obvious that it wasn't him, he must have been under someone's control - "

"I don't know," Harry admitted. He hoped that he had provided a better argument in Ron's favour after Dumbledore's intervention - his admission of their relationship had been productive only of a snort from Moody and raised brows from Kisbie - but when they finally released him, he was still no wiser as to their ultimate decision.

"What I want to know is how Voldemort managed to modify the Imperius Curse to include a memory charm," Hermione said flatly, and Harry wanted to hug her for her loyalty and pragmatism.

"And how he managed to put the curse on Ron in the first place," he added.

"They're checking his broomstick now," Dean told him. "Hermione remembered him saying that he nearly went off course on the way back from Hogwarts yesterday. They're trying to see if he could have been diverted somehow, without him realising."

"That errand to Hogwarts was false," Hermione continued. "He was supposedly called to the school by Professor McGonagall to examine a suspect package, but when he got there she denied sending the message."

Harry stared. "So who sent it?"

Dean's face was grim. "No one knows."

"And what does Ron say about it?"

"He remembers getting the message and flying up to the school, and he remembers speaking to Professor McGonagall. But everything's a blank after he took off from Hogwarts."

"Unfortunately, he threw the message into the fire before he left," Hermione added, "which looks bad."

"Any of us would have done the same!" Harry protested. "Who hangs on to little bits of old parchment, especially when they come from someone you know?"

"Maybe you'll do so in the future then, Potter," Moody's voice said, making them all jump. He approached them slowly, magic eye swivelling dizzyingly and wooden leg thumping dully on the carpeted floor. "Maybe this'll prove a lesson to all of you."

Harry felt Ginny bridle angrily at his side and grabbed her arm warningly. Now was not a good time to indulge in fits of misplaced resentment.

"Will Ron be released, sir?" he asked, trying to keep his face as well as his voice calm and neutral.

Moody stared at him for a long moment, his normal eye very still but the magical one flicking from face to face. "We've been through his head, front, back and sideways," he said after a moment, "and found nothing there to say he's a danger to anyone. Doesn't mean he isn't a danger, but we've got as much as we're going to get from Weasley himself. And we've got your ringing endorsement of him, haven't we, Potter?"

This was said with a touch of sarcasm, but Harry refused to let it anger him. He waited, enduring the elderly Auror's x-ray stare.

"I can't let you take him home," Moody said finally, and for a wonder his tone seemed gentler and more kindly than any of them had ever heard it before. But Harry felt his shoulders slump despondently at the words.

"Look at it from our point of view, Potter," the Auror continued. "Less than six hours ago he tried to kill you. For what it's worth, I agree with you and your friends someone summoned him to Hogwarts to get a clear shot at him, and it worked. They got him under a powerful and unknown controlling curse, and if it hadn't been for Longbottom's timely intervention, you'd be dead, laddie, and Weasley would be lucky to get a trial before they sent him to Azkaban.

"No, he'll stay where he is for now, while we work out who did this to the pair of you. Now go home, all of you, and get some sleep. Potter, I'll expect you and Miss Granger back at your desks tomorrow, ready to help us work on this."

He was turning to go, when Harry said rather hopelessly, "Can I see him?"

Moody turned back and studied him for an unnerving moment. Then he sighed and jerked his head towards the door.

"Go on. Fifteen minutes, and no more."

       

When he had first been shown around the holding cells in the Auror Facility, Harry had been thoroughly approving of the chilly, dungeon-like rooms. This, he had thought, was little more than the Death Eaters deserved and at that they were still a little too cosy.

Now, hurrying down the cold, torch-lit steps, he was revising his opinion somewhat. Not that he had any objection to the idea of Voldemort or Lucius Malfoy mouldering down here while they awaited trial, but never in his worst nightmares had he imagined he would see Ron incarcerated in one of the cells or any of his friends, for that matter.

None of the cells had doors. Walking down Row 50 was like walking along a blank and faceless tunnel carved out of solid rock. In perverse wizard fashion, Cell 51 was at the far end of the passage, and it was guarded by two armed Aurors Harry knew only slightly. The flickering torch-light made the two figures in their hooded robes look a little sinister.

"Moody said I could speak to him for fifteen minutes," Harry told the one on the left, trying to suppress his anxiety.

The woman studied him for a moment, then glanced at her male colleague.

"We can't let you inside, Potter," the man told him, although not unsympathetically. "We still aren't sure what made him do it."

"I know that. But at least let me speak to him " he glanced between the two of them and grimaced, "and preferably in private."

"Now, you know we can't just leave you on your own with him," the woman pointed out.

"I know, I know! But can't you at least - " Harry flapped his hands helplessly, "I don't know move away a bit?"

The man gave him an exasperated look. "We'll go halfway down the passage, but mind you don't try letting him out or anything stupid like that! Kisbie will have all our heads if he escapes."

"I won't "

"Well, I hope not," the woman said tartly. "You've got a reputation for rule-breaking, Potter."

But she stepped back and let the other Auror tap the blank wall with his wand. A whole front section glowed white for a moment, and abruptly turned as clear as glass.

"Fifteen minutes," he told Harry sternly, and pointed to a large egg-timer that had suddenly appeared a few feet away, hanging in mid-air. Sand was already trickling through it.

The two Aurors retreated to a short distance away, and Harry stepped forward eagerly. The interior of the cell was as depressing as he remembered, with rough-hewn stone walls and a bare wooden bench against the wall that had to serve as both a bed and a seat. Ron was huddled on one end of it, his head in his hands, and didn't seem to have noticed his visitor.

"Ron!"

His head shot up and he stared disbelievingly for a moment; then he was dashing across the cell to the transparent wall.

"Harry "

He looked terrible, dishevelled and wretched, with blood-shot eyes. Harry put one hand out to touch him, only to be blocked by the nearly invisible barrier between them. He cursed it angrily, but Ron merely leaned against it, seeming to slump with relief.

"You're all right thank God, you're all right," he said.

"Yeah, but are you?" Harry demanded, studying his friend worriedly. "You look like hell "

Ron shook his head. "I'm fine better than I deserve," he added bitterly. "Harry, I swear I don't know what happened "

"Stop it! It's not your fault "

"Yeah, right. You nearly ended up a stiff, and they tell me there's a brand new, rustic-looking doorway from the living room through to the study ...."

"We don't have time for this," Harry told him sharply. "Ron, they've only given me fifteen minutes. Moody won't release you yet "

"I know. Dad was here a while ago with Dumbledore. Kisbie wanted me put in Azkaban for the duration, but Moody wouldn't let him "

"So you've got to tell me everything you remember, quickly."

Ron gave him a look that was more helpless and desperate than Harry had ever seen.

"That's just the point I don't remember a thing! I swear I thought someone was playing a bad joke on me when I woke up in here. The last thing I remember is getting back on my broom at Hogwarts. I don't even remember kicking off from the ground."

"Hermione said the message you got from Professor McGonagall was false," Harry prompted him.

"If it was, it was a bloody good forgery," Ron told him. He ran a hand through his wildly rumpled hair, looking baffled. "I mean, I saw her handwriting and signature enough times on my homework when we were kids, Harry it looked just like hers, I never even thought about it."

"Where did you leave your broom while you were at Hogwarts?"

"In the rack on the landing pad, of course. It wasn't there long I was in and out of the building in less than twenty minutes."

"It's not term time. Was there anyone around?"

"Not that I noticed "

"But it's not inconceivable that someone could have tampered with the broom while you were talking to McGonagall."

Ron looked doubtful. "Yeah, but it would have to be someone who's in and out of Hogwarts a lot, wouldn't it? The anti-intruder spells are wicked these days."

"I don't care," Harry said stubbornly, "it has to have been something done to your broom, Ron. Do you remember telling Hermione and me that you thought the compass was off yesterday?"

"I did?"

"Yes, when you got home "

But his friend shook his head, distressed.

"Harry, I'm sorry, I don't remember going home "

"Okay, forget that." Harry thought furiously for a second. "You told me that you flew up to Hogwarts because you were told not to Apparate something about a new anti-Apparition spell. Was that true?"

"Yes." Ron blinked, clearly trying to remember what little he could of the previous day. "It was in McGonagall's note. She said there had been an accident and it was better to fly rather than risk Apparating, even to Hogsmeade."

"Well, that's something we can check out."

"Yeah, but I burned the note." Ron smacked one hand into the other, furious with himself. "Moody made a big deal of that, but honestly, Harry, I never even thought "

"It's okay. I probably would have done the same." Harry tried to touch him a second time, forgetting the barrier, and swore when his hand smacked against it painfully.

"Two minutes, Potter," one of the Aurors called warningly.

"Dammit!" He glanced up at the egg-timer, but the sands were running out fast. "Ron, they're going to chuck me out in a minute. I'll come back tomorrow if I can. Is there anything you need?"

"Some fresh clothes?" Ron looked down at his rumpled robe and jeans, and made a face. "I don't want to live in these for a week or more."

"You're not going to be in here for a week or more if I can help it," Harry retorted. "I'll bring a couple of changes, though. And I'll see if Moody will let me bring you a book or a newspaper, or something."

"Thanks, Harry "

"Okay, time's up."

The Aurors were walking back up the passage.

Harry looked across at Ron, and felt a sudden, terrible wrench in his chest at the sight of his friend's pale, miserable face. Ron was trying to stay calm, but his eyes were frightened.

"I'll come back tomorrow," Harry promised him helplessly.

Ron nodded and reluctantly stepped back from the wall.

"You'd better go," he said, and swallowed.

"Time's up," the male Auror repeated, stepping between them. "Come on, Potter time to go."

Harry backed away ... then turned and ran down the passage, not wanting to see Ron's expression as they sealed up the wall.

 

End Part 2/30


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