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.

Author's Notes: My story "Requests Hour" ties into this chapter.


Circles of Power

Part Four - What Friends Are For

By Mad Martha

       

Under the circumstances, perhaps it was just as well that a message from Fred and George was waiting when Ron and Harry returned to their desks. A distraction was badly needed by both of them.

Ron - Got your tickets for the Cannons' match this weekend. Pop over and pick them up tonight, will you? - Fred

The owl was waiting impatiently for payment, so Ron scribbled a quick note in reply and gave the bird six Knuts.

"Well, that's something to do this weekend," he told Harry, managing a weak smile, "and Mum'll want us to go home after this, just in case Dad was lying to protect her, and we were both really sent to Azkaban."

Harry smiled back, but felt decidedly uneasy about visiting the Weasleys largely because it was dawning on him that he and Ron couldn't afford to put off telling them (and Sirius) about their relationship.

The circle of those who already knew about it had just been expanded to include two more; and the more who knew, the more chance there was of their families finding out in the worst possible way. Little as Harry relished the idea of breaking the news to any of them, he would rather it came from his mouth and Ron's than from the gossip pages of the Daily Prophet, who still had a somewhat unhealthy interest in "the boy who lived".

Fred and George already knew all about it, though, and apparently didn't give two hoots who their little brother slept with, so when they left the Ministry building at six, it was with a lighter heart that Harry followed Ron down Diagon Alley to the quirky little shop that housed Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.

The twins had set up their shop when they left school, with the Tri-Wizard Cup winnings Harry had forced upon them. Since then, they had been making a modest profit from their ever-inventive endeavours, which was no mean feat in a street that housed branches of both Gambol and Japes, and Zonko's. It wasn't what their mother had wanted for them, but Harry privately thought her ambition to see Fred and George working for the Ministry of Magic had always been desperately unrealistic. The twins had never been made for treading the straight and narrow path of their father and brothers.

The many-paned window of the shop-front was crammed with all manner of weird and wonderful things, from an extraordinary range of fake wands and realistically animated rubber insects, to the infamous Canary Creams and Ton-Tongue Toffees. Harry always flinched reflexively as he walked through the door, because you never knew what was going to land on your head and it was never the same joke twice.

Today he was whopped with a Zinger spell, which made every hair on his body stand on end something, he reflected ruefully, that was really rather redundant. Fortunately, the spine-tingling effect wore off in seconds, but it was enough to make the twins chortle happily.

Harry, they always said, was the best of good sports. It was a reputation he would rather not have had, but he bore their pranks with good grace.

After a day and night in the cells, and a traumatic encounter with the Seal of Honour, Ron was less appreciative and proceeded to tell his brothers so in a barrage of startlingly inventive language.

"Whew!" George said, amazed, when he paused to take a breath. "What's the matter with you? Anyone would think your best friend had just died ...."

"Funny you should say that," Harry commented dryly, and turned his head slightly so they could see the burns on the side of his face.

Fred's grin vanished faster than a dropped Galleon. "What the hell happened to you?"

"I did," Ron said tightly. "I nearly took his head off with the Avada Kedavra Curse."

"That's not funny!" George snapped, all the colour draining from his face.

"Damn right it's not," Harry agreed. He tried to keep the tone light. "The hole in the living room wall alone will take a pile to fix."

The twins looked from one of them to the other.

"Tell me this is a really bad joke," said Fred finally.

"'Fraid not." Harry leaned against the counter, and raised his brows at Ron. "Will you tell them, or will I?"

"I'm amazed they haven't read about it in the Daily Prophet already," he said bitterly. "Right up Rita Skeeter's alley, this is."

"Fudge's ban on the press reporting Death Eater activity is still in force," Harry reminded him. He turned back to the twins. "It's a long story ...."

       

" And they snapped your wand? Holy cow, Ron."

They were all sitting around the twins' tiny kitchen table, drinking coffee. George was suitably staggered by the report the two younger men had just finished giving them, and he hadn't even heard about the Seal on Ron's back by unspoken agreement Ron and Harry decided not to reveal this particular detail to his family. The rest of the story was bad enough, without them having to know that he potentially had a ticking time-bomb on his back.

"Actually, I'm amazed Mum hasn't been beating our door down about it," Fred commented. "She must be nearly doing her nut."

"Hard to say who she'll be more worried about, you or Harry," George agreed, with gallows humour.

"Well, since we're going to the Cannons' match on Saturday anyway, we'll be dropping into the Burrow tomorrow night," Ron replied. "She'll be able to cry over us then."

"Oh yeah. Come upstairs and I'll give you the tickets."

Ron and George disappeared to the flat over the shop, leaving Harry facing Fred across the table. The redhead was studying him with the kind of perceptiveness his mother never gave him credit for.

"Are you sure you're all right, Harry?"

"I'm fine," he replied, a little impatiently. "It's Ron you should be worrying about "

"Looks like you're doing that enough for George and me both already," Fred said dryly. "Life's pretty exciting for you Auror types, isn't it? Has Mad-Eye Moody got his teeth into a suitable victim yet, or are you all still looking for the person who did it?"

"It's Voldemort who did it," Harry said grimly. "I'd stake my life on it. And since we're always looking for him ...."

"But this mysterious character Ron was seen with in Wales what about him?"

"What about him?" Harry wrinkled his nose. "Investigations are ongoing," he said, doing a fair impression of Rufius Kisbie. "We've got a reasonable description from the witch who saw him, and it pretty much fits half the Aurors in the League."

"Nice one," Fred commented cynically. "So now we all have to put an armed guard on our broomsticks whenever we leave them anywhere and especially when we leave them somewhere familiar and secure. My life is complete."

"Constant vigilance, laddie," Harry intoned, and they grinned at each other.

"So how is Moody these days?"

"Wild-eyed and paranoid the usual." Harry took a swig of his coffee and enjoyed the bitter aftertaste for a moment. It was almost enough to banish the image of Moody's searching gaze raking over all the Aurors. "Speaking of how people are what kind of mood is your mum in these days?"

Fred's brows went up. "Wild-eyed and paranoid. Why are you asking? You'll be seeing her tomorrow."

Harry twitched. "I'm just wondering how receptive she'll be to another piece of bad news."

"How bad is bad?" Fred's eyes suddenly lit up. "Percy hasn't got Penelope pregnant, has he?"

"Eh?" Harry let out a surprised laugh. "No! At least, not that I'm aware of. What makes you think he'd tell me if he had?"

"Percy likes you."

"God knows why; I've seen him without his teeth in. No, it's just ... well, I think we're going to have to drop a bombshell on your mum tomorrow, and er tell her the big secret. Before someone else does."

Comprehension flooded Fred's face and he gave Harry one of the most evil grins he had ever seen.

"Harry, you really are the best of good eggs," he stated reverently. Then he hopped up and stuck his head around the door. "Oi, George! Fancy a trip to see Mum tomorrow?"

"Fred ...." Harry slumped back in his chair, wondering what on earth had possessed him to say anything to the twins, of all people.

Ron appeared around the door with George, looking puzzled.

"What do you want to go home for all of a sudden?" he demanded of his brother.

Fred looked across at Harry and began to chuckle. "For the entertainment, of course!" he said cryptically.

Ron looked at Harry. "What entertainment?"

"I'll tell you later," Harry sighed. Another conversation he wasn't relishing.

       

"Oh no. No, absolutely not, Harry."

Ron stepped out of the fireplace, slapping soot off his robes, and spun round to glare at his friend as he appeared.

"Did you hear me?"

"Yeah, I heard you. We'll just let your mum find out from Witch Weekly then, shall we?" said Harry, exasperated.

Ron's mouth worked silently for a moment, but he couldn't seem to think of a suitable reply.

"For what it's worth, I'm going to tell Sirius too," Harry continued. "In fact, if it makes you feel better I'll even tell the Dursleys."

"Harry ...." Ron flapped his arms helplessly. He looked appalled. "Harry, she's going to kill me already. This'll just about put the headstone on my grave."

"Look, I'm not exactly looking forward to it myself. The chances are she'll throw me out of the house and forbid me to ever cross her doorstep again. But Ron she and your dad deserve to know before someone makes a smutty joke about it in front of them at a Ministry dinner party." Which was all too hair-raisingly likely, considering some of the people currently working at the Ministry.

Silence. Ron turned away from him and was promptly confronted with the hole in the living room wall.

"What the hell is that!"

"Yeah, you're a crap decorator," Harry sighed.

"Oh my God ...."

Hermione caused a timely diversion by putting her head around the door.

"Oh good, I thought it sounded like you two. Harry, Sirius is here."

Suddenly it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Harry gulped.

Ron turned to look at him sharply, and let out an involuntary laugh at the look on his face. "Here's your chance to put your money where your mouth is!"

"Oh no - I'm not ready ...."

"Yeah, and like I'm going to be ready tomorrow?"

"Ready for what?" Hermione wanted to know, stepping inside the room properly.

Ron was still looking at Harry. "Coming out of the closet the Muggles call it, don't they?"

Her eyes widened. "You're never going to tell your parents?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"On whether my dearly beloved here breaks the news to his godfather in the next ten minutes." Ron folded his arms and studied Harry. "Well? You've gone all pale, by the way."

"You know, sometimes I just want to kick your rear all the way into the middle of next week," Harry told him without rancour. He drew himself upright and took a deep breath, looking at the door like it was a charging cockatrice. "Okay .... I'd better just get this over with."

He stalked out of the room and down the passage to the kitchen, Ron and Hermione trailing behind him.

Sirius was perching on the corner of the kitchen table, talking to Ginny, when Harry walked in. Dean was checking something under the grill and chatting to Seamus, who was leaning against the counter with a bottle of Butterbeer in his hand; and Neville was taking cutlery out of a drawer.

Great a full house. Harry's stomach started to somersault.

"Sirius!" He managed a smile when his godfather looked up. "I I'm glad you're here, I was hoping to talk to you about something."

Ron let out a tiny snort behind him.

"Ron!" Neville dropped the knives and forks with a noisy clatter. "You're back "

There was a sudden rush as everyone went to welcome Ron home. Harry met Sirius's eyes over their heads and stammered, "C-can I speak to you in private for a minute?"

"We'll go in the living room," Hermione said tactfully, and firmly herded the others out of the kitchen before anyone could protest.

The door shut quietly behind them, leaving Harry and Sirius alone.

Sirius folded his arms and studied his godson with a raised brow. Harry's panicky expression was not lost on him.

"So ... what's up?"

Harry's mouth had suddenly gone dry, and he could feel a trickle of cold sweat running down his spine. "I ah ...."

"Harry?" Sirius began to look concerned. "What's the problem?"

"I ... It .... It's about me and Ron," he blurted out, and instantly wished he could pull the clumsy words back. He closed his eyes in mortification; his face felt like a furnace.

"Oh, that," he heard Sirius say casually. "I already know."

Harry's eyes snapped open again, incredulous. "What? I I mean, you do?" He was shocked. "How? Who told you?"

"I've known more or less since the beginning, although if I hadn't," and Sirius snorted a laugh, "the look on your face when Moody asked how you thought you could know Ron better than his parents that would have given me a big clue! You looked exactly like James the time I found him half naked in the Quidditch Locker Room with your mother."

Harry opened his mouth and shut it again. His brain was trotting around in circles, and he couldn't sort out a single coherent thought from the tangled mess in his head.

"But you probably don't want to know about that," his godfather added, amused. "I mean, as far as kids are concerned, parents don't have sex, do they? Here, for heaven's sake sit down before you fall down "

And he hooked a foot around the leg of one of the chairs, dragging it forward. Harry collapsed onto it bonelessly.

"Sirius ...." He shook his head, not sure what to say. "I can't believe you've known all along. It's been three years."

"Well, I have to admit I wish you'd told me a long time ago," Sirius said. "I wish you'd told me right at the beginning, because it was obvious it was preying on your mind and talking about it to someone might have helped. But every time I wanted to say something, Moony would say No, let him talk about it in his own time "

"Moony knows about this too?"

"Moony worked it out first." Sirius gave him a humorous look. "The lupine nose he could smell Ron on you. Amongst other things."

Harry's face, which had been beginning to cool, heated up again. He had an idea that when he started this conversation he hadn't intended it to be about sex, or not explicitly. He had rather thought that Sirius would want to avoid the nasty details.

He should have known better. This, after all, was the man who had given him a copy of What Every Teenaged Wizard Needs To Know for his fifteenth birthday. Worse, inside the cover had been secreted a couple of copies of Hot Sorceress! and Playwitch. At the time Harry had still been young enough to be both mortified and obsessed with the idea of broomsticks as phallic objects. And Ron had been an absolute pest about the magazines from the moment he found out.

Harry finally found his voice again. "Aren't you I don't know disgusted or angry or something? I was sure you'd pitch a fit when I told you."

Sirius stared at him, bemused. "What, like You filthy pervert, never darken my doorstep again that sort of thing? Don't be silly! Yes, it peeves me a little that you didn't see fit to tell me three years ago, but Harry you can't seriously think I'd cast you off or something? You're my family in fact, we're pretty much all the family either of us has anymore. It doesn't matter to me who you sleep with, so long as you're happy. Especially after the rotten start you had in life."

Harry looked down at his hands for a moment. "I guess I just thought ... well, I know most men aren't very tolerant of this sort of thing."

"Finnigan, Thomas and Longbottom don't seem to have a problem with it," Sirius pointed out.

Harry snorted. "Yeah, but only within certain limits! We have a 'no public touching' rule, to spare their blushes. George and Fred Weasley know as well, but we really have a no-touching rule when they're around. They're pretty good about stuff, but I don't push my luck."

"Well, I don't think I'd particularly enjoy watching the pair of you make out on the kitchen table," his godfather said, rather testily, "but then I don't think I'd enjoy watching most people do that, despite what you might think!"

"Catching Mum and Dad in the Locker Room must have scarred you for life," Harry suggested, beginning to grin.

"Yeah. It was horrible. You'd have demanded financial compensation at regular intervals too."

Harry laughed and relaxed.

"I'll admit I was surprised when Moony told me, though," Sirius continued thoughtfully. He studied his godson's face, and shook his head, grinning. "I would never have pegged you as gay. Especially after that incident with Cho Chang."

"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?" Sirius had caught him in bed with Cho just before his seventeenth birthday, and had been teasing him about it ever since. "Actually, for what it's worth I don't know that I do prefer men. It just happens that the most important person in my life is male. And to be honest, I think I'd feel the same way about him even if he was a girl."

"If he was a girl, he really wouldn't be Ron," said Sirius dryly. Then he grinned. "Actually, if he was a girl, he'd be Ginny."

He cocked an eyebrow at Harry, who smiled enigmatically. Ginny's long-standing crush on him was one of those things people reminded you about for the rest of your life. But the fact that he had very briefly dated her in his last year at Hogwarts was nobody's business but theirs. Especially considering the embarrassing outcome.

"No, Sirius believe me, he wouldn't be Ginny. Not by a long shot."

       

Sirius's actual purpose for visiting was to ensure that all the various magical protections on the house were still working efficiently, and to boost them a little if necessary. The after-effects of the Avada Kedavra curse being cast under the roof were not to be underestimated; and although the house was a typical wizard residence on the inside, it was situated slap in the middle of a Muggle district of London. Risks could not be taken.

So Harry, Hermione and Seamus spent a couple of hours helping Sirius go over every spell, charm and incantation that had been laid on the roof, walls, doors and fireplace when they all first moved in, making sure there were no ruptures and, where necessary, removing the spell entirely and re-setting it.

It was late in the evening by the time they finished, and Harry in particular was drained from the effort. It didn't help that Ron had followed them around all evening, watching moodily as they worked, but unable to help.

At this point it was hard to say whether it was the Seal of Honour on his back or the loss of his wand that was weighing more heavily on him. Whatever the cause, his long face turned an exacting task into an extremely tiresome and difficult one, and Seamus in particular was quite tight-lipped with frustration when they finally called it a day. He disappeared off to bed almost as soon as they finished, and judging by the way Hermione quickly followed him Harry guessed she was probably feeling much the same, even though she was less inclined to show it.

Sirius lingered for a moment or two after they were gone. The house was quiet; it sounded like everyone else had turned in as well, except for Dean who had earlier mentioned having a date.

"How's your shoulder, Ron?" the older wizard asked, as soon as they were alone in the living room. "Does it still hurt?"

Ron shrugged and dug his hands in his pockets, hunching his shoulders. "It's okay," he said off-handedly. "It tingles a bit."

"Let me take a look - "

"No, why?" Instantly Ron was on the defensive, backing away.

Sirius's face showed nothing but kindly concern. "No matter what else the Seal is, you were still burned when it was being set. You have enough problems without it becoming infected."

It took some persuasion, but eventually Ron agreed to take his shirt off and let Sirius check the Seal. When it was revealed, Harry was surprised to see that it had sunk into the skin and muscle until it looked like nothing more than a lumpy tattoo - an animated tattoo. The phoenix was moving under the surface of Ron's skin, rustling its wings and preening its feathers exactly as Harry remembered the real Fawkes doing on his perch in Dumbledore's office. Minute but perfectly visible, its eyes were watching him.

Whatever magic the procedure involved had apparently healed the burn at the same time. There was only the faintest hint of red skin around the edges of the Seal, and Sirius pronounced himself satisfied.

"A couple of days, and you'll probably forget it's there," he told Ron, as the younger man pulled his shirt back on. "I'm not sure I agree with Moody's reasons for inflicting this on you, but I honestly don't think you'll have anything to worry about. It's a precaution, and I'm sure we'll be removing it again in no time."

"I don't care, I want it removed now," Ron said ten minutes later, when he and Harry were getting ready for bed.

"If the choice is between having you here with the Seal on your back, or having you back in that cell, then call me funny but I'd rather go with the Seal," Harry retorted. He watched Ron fold his clothes up and put them away with unusual neatness. "Moody said that if everything stayed quiet for a week or so, you could get a new wand."

"Good."

"Mind you, Ollivander will have something to say about the loss of your other one. He never forgets one of his creations."

"Yeah."

"He still gives Hagrid grief whenever he sees him."

"Great."

Ron crawled under the covers and lay very still for a while. His eyes would not meet Harry's.

"Don't, Ron."

And abruptly he exploded. "Don't what? For Christ's sake, Harry, can't you drop it?"

"I can't when it's obviously eating you alive," Harry told him helplessly. "You've got to get a handle on it and accept it, or you're going to go nuts - "

"Well, what do you expect? I've got this damn thing on my back and it's watching everything I do and say and think! Watching me and judging me and waiting for me to slip up ."

He sat up, dragging his hands through his hair, and Harry saw that he was shaking. They stared at each other across a vast expanse of dark blue quilt and paler blue pillows, and Ron seemed to practically chew at the inside of his lip with the tension of all the emotions he was feeling.

And then it all came boiling out.

"Why aren't you more afraid? How can you just sit there and look at me and and just behave like nothing happened, like we're just going to bed like normal . I tried to kill you! It could happen again, any time! Moody obviously thinks so, or he wouldn't have done this to me, and - dammit, Harry, say something! Scream at me or hit me or something, but don't just sit there and look at me like your dog just died and and ."

His breath hitched and the tumble of words came to a halt.

"Shit - " he whispered.

And he bent nearly double, hands clamped to his mouth, rocking back and forth in helpless grief and misery. Harry scrambled across the bed and grabbed him, pulling him into a rough embrace. Ron was crying, great racking, silent sobs that shook his whole body, his eyes squeezed shut and his hands balled into fists like a child. Harry was forcibly reminded of the night of the Tri-Wizard Cup third task, the night that Cedric Diggory was murdered. He too had screwed his whole body up tight in an effort to contain a misery that was too powerful for tears.

There was nothing he could do to help Ron except hold him and try to comfort him. Short of finding, capturing and punishing the wizard who had done this to him - and if that wizard was indeed Voldemort, then his chances of doing that were not high - he was helpless to do anything more.

Eventually Ron sobbed himself out. Limp and exhausted, he sprawled in Harry's arms, head tucked under his chin, and the pair let the comfortable silence sink into their bones.

After a while, Harry tugged the quilt out from under them and wrapped it round them both.

"Come on, lie down. You need to sleep."

Ron wasn't in a state to argue. He burrowed back under the covers and turned onto his side when Harry told him to, letting him spoon up against his back.

"Sorry," he mumbled after a moment.

"Stop apologising," Harry's voice said in his ear. "None of this is your fault. But I swear to you, Ron one day Voldemort will pay for everything he's done. One day ...."

 

End Part 4/30


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