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 Five - Wingardium Leviosa

By Mad Martha

       

Breakfast tended to be a chaotic experience, with seven people in varying degrees of 'rush' mode all charging in and out of the kitchen at the same time, making toast, pouring cereal, checking equipment and straightening robes as they went.

For a wonder, Neville was the first out of the house that morning; Harry galloped down the stairs just in time to see him vanishing up the chimney in the living room.

He charged into the kitchen, narrowly missing Dean with his bowl of cornflakes coming the other way, and squeezed past Hermione and Ginny to get to the toaster.

"You can have mine, Harry, I'm late," Ginny told him as he passed her. She was hurrying for the door, dragging a comb haphazardly through her hair as she went.

"Ginny, you can't go without breakfast, you'll be starving by midmorning!" Hermione protested, but the younger girl was already gone.

"Don't worry about it," Harry told her. He grabbed one of the slices of toast as it shot out of the toaster, slapped some of Ginny's favourite marmalade on it, and ran after her.

The living room was empty when he got there. Harry shrugged, grabbed a pinch of Floo powder from a jar on the mantelpiece and tossed it into the fireplace, and put the slice of toast in there too.

"St. Mungo's Hospital!" he shouted up the chimney, and the flames roared. The toast was gone.

When he returned to the kitchen, Dean and Seamus were just putting their dishes into the sink and Ron had made an appearance, shuffling into the kitchen looking like death warmed over.

"Toast?" Harry asked him, as Seamus and Dean said their goodbyes.

Ron shook his head and slumped down at the table, watching blearily as Hermione poured him a cup of coffee, lacing it heavily with milk and sugar.

"You look terrible," she told him bluntly. "Stay at home today and rest a bit."

"Can't do that "

"Why not? It's not like you and Harry have taken any time off sick so far. Besides, you'll be confined to desk duty anyway until you get your new wand."

Ron grunted.

"She's right," Harry told him. He took the seat next to Ron and grabbed the coffee pot, leaving his plate of toast between the two of them just in case his partner fancied any. "Read or catch up with your sleep or something."

"I'll go out of my mind, stuck here on my own." Ron rubbed his face with one hand and yawned hugely. He looked in better spirits than he had the night before, but only by a percentage point or two. "Besides, aren't I supposed to be under surveillance?"

"I don't think that's necessary," Hermione muttered uncomfortably, "under the circumstances."

"Yeah. If I get any evil ideas, I'm a dead man," Ron said, but without rancour. Without really thinking about it, he stole a piece of Harry's toast and bit into it.

"Not dead!" she protested.

"Nah," he mumbled around the toast. "Just knocked out and my brain extra crispy fried. Look, Hermione, what am I supposed to do? I'm not going to sit in the house all day on my own, kicking my heels, and if I go out in Diagon Alley people are going to talk."

"It's not that widely known what happened "

Ron rolled his eyes. "I'm not talking about that. You, me and Harry, we're all pretty well known to be Aurors. If I go wandering around Diagon Alley, even just window-shopping, people are going to start wondering why."

That was true. Even on a day off even last night, when Ron and Harry had walked the short distance from the Facility to Fred and George's shop people tended to look at them sidelong and nervously.

The three of them were silent for a moment.

"It's going to be just as bad at the Facility," Hermione pointed out reluctantly. "People need a day or two to recover from that that business yesterday, Ron. Everyone was a bit ...." She searched for a word.

"Freaked?" Harry supplied dryly, and she grimaced at the word.

"Unnerved. It wasn't by chance that so many Aurors were in the building at the time, you know. Moody made sure they were all there, like it was an object lesson or something."

Harry found he didn't fancy his toast anymore. He pushed the plate over to Ron and crossed his arms on the table.

"I can't remember most of what I read about the Seal," he admitted. "Remus said it hadn't been used in twenty years, so who was the last person who got stuck with it? And why?"

"I don't know," Hermione said, "but I do know that the Seal was historically used on suspected traitors and turncoats. People who claimed to have turned away from the Dark Arts and offered to turn spy for our side, that kind of thing."

"People like Snape, you mean," commented Ron, drinking his coffee.

Her eyes widened. "I don't know well, yes, I suppose so, but I never heard that he'd been subjected to the Seal."

"I doubt he'd be able to operate for us now, if he had and was still wearing it," Harry observed. He sat back. "This is pointless. Hermione, you're going to be late. Look, do me a favour, would you? Tell Moody or whoever that Ron's not feeling great and I've decided to stay at home today and keep an eye on him."

"Alright." She got up from the table and tugged at her robes slightly. "I'll see you both later then."

"Thanks," Harry said quietly.

"Yeah," Ron added, giving her an awkward smile.

When she was gone, he gave Harry a strange look. "Not that I'm not grateful, but what are you planning to do all day, while you're stuck in here with me?"

Harry could think of a number of replies to that, at least one of which involved bubble bath, but he could tell from his expression that Ron really wasn't in the mood. For a moment he was nonplussed, but then an idea began to take shape.

"We're not staying indoors," he said, and got up to put his dishes in the sink.

"But I thought we just agreed that Diagon Alley is a bad idea "

"I've got a better idea than that." Harry pointed his wand at the sink and the dishes began to wash themselves. He turned back to Ron. "Go get your robes off."

Ron gaped at him like a fish.

"What?" he demanded faintly. "Harry "

"Your Auror's robes, you prat. You're not going to need them where we're going. In fact, get changed." He gave his friend a critical look. "And try to dress more like a Muggle."

       

When they left the house the pair of them were dressed in jeans, with Harry wearing a dark green sweatshirt and Ron in a plain black t-shirt with a checked shirt. Dressing Muggle-style was not such an effort for their generation as it was for Ron's parents, and many younger witches and wizards routinely wore Muggle clothes, or variations thereof, under their wizard's robes.

It was the end of April and the day was unusually warm and sunny; when they arrived in Diagon Alley, via the Olde Bakehouse Cafe's fireplace, the place was buzzing with shoppers and loiterers. It caused a slight sensation when the pair stepped out from under the mantelpiece; Ron, on his own and without his Auror robes, would probably have only been recognised by one or two people who knew his family, but Harry (much to his own irritation) was still a celebrity in the wizarding world and merited a certain amount of restrained excitement.

They escaped, although not without difficulty, and ran across the street so that Harry could liberate some money from Gringotts. Then they headed for the Leaky Cauldron, Ron pestering Harry all the way to find out where they were going.

The Leaky Cauldron was as dark and smoky as ever inside. Tom the bartender beamed when he saw them walk through the concealed door at the back of the pub, but Harry wasn't stopping to chat; he waved a greeting and urged Ron onwards, towards the main entrance on the far side of the tap-room. They walked through the heavy door, and out onto the street on the other side of it

- the Muggle street otherwise known as Charing Cross Road.

       

"Two day tickets for zones 1 and 2, please," Harry requested the man inside the ticket office politely. He pushed a couple of five pound notes over the counter, and took the two little orange tickets when they were pushed back.

He handed one to Ron who accepted it gingerly, looking nervous.

"What does this do?" he asked, examining it curiously.

"It lets you use the Tube as much as you like, just for today." Harry watched him fingering the ticket, hiding his amusement. Ron had only been on the London Underground once before, when he was a child, and to him it was as alien as using Floo powder had been to Harry when he was twelve. "Don't lose it, and don't bend it or you might not be able to get through the barriers."

Seeing the alarmed look on his friend's face, he added, "Stick it in your shirt pocket when you're not using it. And treat it like a randomised portkey, if it makes you feel more comfortable."

"Huh." But Ron carefully stowed it away in his pocket, and looked at him expectantly. "Okay, where to?"

He was looking more cheerful already, Harry mused, as he considered the question. The ongoing, if mostly hidden, war against Voldemort had curbed both their appetites for adventure somewhat, but Ron still enjoyed novelty and he hadn't had much contact with the wider Muggle world so far.

Books, he decided. Shopping, particularly book shopping, was something fairly universal that wouldn't be too big a shock to his wizard friend's system. And he wanted to see Ron's reaction to Muggle literature. "Let's head out and see what we find."

Harry worked out a route that covered some of the Muggle sights from one of the Underground maps on the wall, and steered Ron down the maze of tiled passages to the first platform. From then on it was a wildly entertaining ride for both of them.

Ron really was unfamiliar with everything, from the disembodied voice telling him to mind the gap, to the advertisement posters lining the Tube tunnels. His reactions kept Harry in a constant state of mild hilarity. He had to be physically dragged away from a busker ("But he's not really playing, it's coming from that box by his feet ....") and prevented from peering over the edge of the platform in a way that clearly made their fellow passengers nervous.

"Don't, Ron, they think you're going to jump."

"Why, what would happen if I did?"

The escalators, which Harry had felt sure would be a problem, turned out to be no such thing ("Dumbledore has something like this up to his office"), although it was hard keeping him on one step, because he wanted to study the theatre and museum posters on the walls.

"They'd be more interesting if they moved. Haven't Muggles worked that out yet?"

He did think that the Tube was a slow and clumsy way to travel, and said so.

"I think most Londoners agree with you," Harry replied, watching the stations flash past. "But if you think this is slow, you should try the buses."

Ron looked ridiculously excited by the idea. "Can we?"

So they got off the train a couple of stops early. After a false start at the barrier, where Ron spooked when the machine snatched his ticket from his fingers and fairly threw the gates open, they were out on the street again and heading for the nearest bus stop.

This proved to be a mistake. Harry was used to using the Tube, but he had only ever used buses to get to and from his first Muggle school when he was a child. London buses were a whole different game of Quidditch from their country cousins in Surrey, and they ended up at St. Paul's Cathedral twice before they finally found the right bus on the right route.

"I see what you mean about buses," was Ron's assessment, when they finally arrived back in Charing Cross Road.

Foyles, Murder One, Waterstones, Blackwells .... Bookshops abounded. Harry, who had a weakness for Muggle-style thrillers, decided that killing two birds with one stone would be a good way to start. Which was how they came to be in the basement of Murder One, Harry propping himself up against a bookshelf, weak with laughter, as Ron got his first introduction to fantasy fiction.

"Harry, this is so much bollocks! Magic doesn't work like that "

"Of course. Muggles don't really believe in magic, remember?"

"So why do they write this crap? And look at this, whoever drew this has obviously never seen a real dragon."

"Let alone tried to steal a fake egg from it - "

"And they're all different! They're not even consistent, all the authors are saying magic works in different ways."

"That's because they're all trying to sell a lot of books about the same thing to an audience that gets bored very quickly."

"So why do they write it?" Ron was moving along a long table piled six and seven deep with paperback books, picking up one book after another and comparing the blurb on the back cover with the book in the next pile. He did approve of paperback books, which didn't exist as such in the wizarding world. "Dad says they go out of their way to avoid noticing magic, even when it happens right under their noses, so it seems a bit schizo of them to write loads of books on the subject. And get it wrong every time."

"I don't know why." Harry idly began to follow his example, turning books over and glancing down the covers. "I suppose it's like fairy tales for grown ups. Muggles live pretty, well, Muggle lives, after all. Must get boring."

"We've got an old book of fairy tales at home," Ron commented. "That weird squib cousin of Mum's gave it to us when we were kids. Half the stories in it are based on true events, and the other half are obviously meant to frighten kids into behaving. I mean, there is no chance that a real goblin would get away with demanding your first-born child as payment for anything these days. There are laws against it."

Harry grinned. Then he actually made sense of what he was reading on the back of the book he was holding, and snorted. "Oh, here look! This one's about trolls."

Ron grabbed a copy and flicked through it. "Pathetic. What does she mean, trolls don't actually live under bridges? The Greater Moorland Troll does ... where did she do her research, for crying out loud?"

"Ron, I don't think you research fantasy fiction ...."

"That's the problem with these people. Who is she, anyway?" He sneered at the name on the cover. "I'm tempted to write to her and give her a piece of my mind."

"That'd teach her," Harry agreed, "always supposing she could recover from the shock of having the letter delivered by Pigwidgeon in the first place."

Ron snickered and put the book down. He glanced along the row of bookshelves and sauntered over to one section he hadn't looked at yet.

"What are these?"

"Science fiction, I think."

"So what's that all about?"

Harry rolled his eyes and gave him a potted history of the subject.

"Sounds good." Ron pulled a copy of Citizen Of The Galaxy from the shelf and began to flick through it.

Fifteen minutes later they approached the till, Harry with a couple of Steven Saylor novels in his hand, and Ron carrying half a dozen science fiction classics. The queue was pretty long, which was as well because Ron suddenly realised something.

"Bugger. I don't have any Muggle money on me."

"Give 'em here, I'll pay." Harry held out his hand for the books, but Ron held back, getting a familiar look of discomfort on his face.

"No, it's okay. Give me a minute; I'll nip back to Gringotts and change some "

"How?" Harry demanded. "Do you even know the way back there from here?" Actually, it wasn't that far to the Leaky Cauldron, but he was willing to bet Ron didn't realise that. The redhead knew next to nothing of Central London.

"I'll Apparate. It won't take ten minutes."

"Ron ...." Harry realised that they were still standing in a line of Muggles, and pulled his friend out of the queue with a sigh. "You can't Apparate," he reminded him, dropping his voice. "You don't have a wand, remember?"

The look of cheerful good-humour Ron had been wearing for the last couple of hours abruptly vanished when he was reminded of the reason why they were wandering around Muggle London on a work day in the first place.

"I'll pay for them," Harry told him.

But Ron wasn't having it. "It's okay, I'll put them back."

"Ron, for crying out loud!" Harry grabbed his arm as he turned away. "It's just a couple of books!"

"It might be just a couple of books to you, but " Ron stopped abruptly, and tried to get a grip on his temper. A slow tide of colour rose in his face.

This was a really great place to rehash an old argument about money and possessions, Harry thought, exasperated. Although given all the other problems they were dealing with right now, it was somehow appropriate that this one would resurface too. But he could feel the interested stares of the shop's other customers on his back, so he dragged Ron behind a free-standing bookshelf.

"I've told you before," he said softly. "What's mine is yours."

From the look on his face, Ron was gritting his teeth. "Yeah, and I know you mean it, Harry, but that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with it."

"What will it take to make you comfortable?" Harry regarded him steadily. "Should I give the money away?"

Ron spluttered. "D-don't be stupid!"

"I'm not, I'm dead serious. I'd gift the lot to St. Mungo's tomorrow if I thought it might make both of us less uncomfortable whenever I buy you a present."

"Harry "

Harry folded his arms and stared at him. "Kisbie was really interested in the fact that you're the main beneficiary of my Will, you know." He paused, giving his friend time to digest this. "He seemed think you tried to kill me for my money. Pity he can't see the look on your face now."

Ron was horrified. "Harry, are you nuts? You can't do that "

"Why not? Who else would I leave it to? Sirius is already loaded, and if you think I'm leaving it to Cousin Dudley, you need treatment."

"But ... but ...." Ron cast around for an answer to this, and to Harry's amazement and utter delight he actually muttered something that sounded like "... kids ...".

He let out a peal of laughter before he could stop himself. "Crikey, Ron, are you telling me you're pregnant?"

The shop was suddenly plunged into a startled silence.

"Shut up, you idiot!" Ron hissed. His face was scarlet.

On the other side of the bookshelf, the sounds of normal business resumed but with a very distracted air about them.

Harry got himself under control, but with an effort. When he had finally calmed down, he gave Ron an affectionate look and shook his head. He pointed a finger at him.

"I don't want to have this conversation with you again."

"But you can't just keep "

"Yes, I can. Deal with that fact. If it makes you feel any better, you can always pay me back for the books later ... in trade."

"Huh?" Ron gave him a confused look, so Harry waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.

"You know trade."

If anything Ron went even redder, but he was grinning. "Bastard. You're on."

"Give me those ...." Harry took the books from him and marched around the bookcase to discover one solitary female customer left standing at the till and the two women standing behind it. They all goggled at him.

"What?" he demanded.

       

From Murder One they went to Waterstones where Ron, recovering his good spirits, behaved very childishly in the Gay and Lesbian section. It was with the greatest difficulty that Harry managed to drag him away from a really lurid gay romance novel, and into the Mind, Body and Spirit section, where they both enjoyed themselves by insulting the authors of a number of books on so-called astrology. After five years studying Divination under Professor Trelawney, they both felt they were entitled to.

After that, they had a leisurely lunch in a pizza place while they discussed wizard politics and the state of the upcoming election for Minister for Magic. In the wizarding world you got the vote at twenty-one, and since the election fell at the beginning of July Harry, at least, would not be able to vote this time around. Ron's birthday was in March, though, so he was already of age.

They were both vitally interested in the process, for whoever got the post of Minister for Magic would determine whether the current state of official denial remained in place about Voldemort's gathering forces. Cornelius Fudge had won the last four elections, and his fiercest critics were now becoming desperate. Professor Dumbledore was still refusing to stand in opposition to him and the list of alternative candidates was worryingly short.

"I can't believe that anyone would seriously want to vote for Marcellus Malfoy," Ron was saying, turning his side salad over with his fork idly. "I don't care what anyone says. His parents could have given him up at birth and he might never have crossed his brother's path, and I still wouldn't trust him. Any relative of Lucius Malfoy's is a bad egg."

"That's a bit harsh," Harry objected. "Even Dumbledore says that his mother was alright."

"One good relative does not a dynasty of angels make."

"True. What about Lewis Castell? He's got good form with the Ministry, and I know your dad likes him."

"The 'Muggles' Choice'?" Ron shook his head. "Hasn't got a hope, Harry. He'll be laughed off the podium during the debates. His collection of Muggle artefacts is almost as big as Dad's, and people just won't vote for someone whose interests are so ... so ... left of centre?"

"That just leaves Antonia Houpner-Merdie, and she gives me the creeps."

"Telling me," Ron said darkly. "She was the only candidate who asked for a tour of the Aurors' Facility, and Moody was on the twitch the whole time she was in the building."

Harry took a bite of his pizza and shook his head, thinking back to the incident.

"You know, it wouldn't surprise me if she turned out to be the real Death Eater among the candidates. Malfoy's always struck me as a stalking horse anyway."

"Whichever way you look at it, it's a bad set of choices," Ron agreed. "It might be that the best thing we can do is to vote for Fudge, under the circumstances. He might be bloody useless, but at least he's not actively trying to hand us all over to You-Know-Who."

"You mean the best thing you can do is vote for him," Harry reminded him, a bit testily. He'd been furious when he heard that the election had been set just two weeks before his birthday.

"Don't be in such a hurry to grow up, young Harry!" Ron intoned in a pompous tone exactly like that of Cornelius Fudge. "Your time will come!"

This was a reminder that only the month before Harry had chosen to express his annoyance rather vocally at a Ministry conference where Fudge and Dumbledore had been present, among a great many other important individuals. Fudge, at his most avuncular and patronising that day, had treated his indignant outburst as a very good joke. Harry, however, was still inclined to see the timing of the election as a conspiracy; as a minor, he was also forbidden to campaign on anyone's behalf.

Not that he could seriously see himself carrying a banner for any of the current candidates, but it was the principle of the thing.

"It's great, isn't it?" he commented bitterly. "I can enrol and train as an Auror, and presumably go off and get myself blown up by Voldemort in the process, but I can't vote for the person who gives me the orders."

Ron's eyes were dancing. "Yeah, it's tough being young."

Harry threw his last piece of garlic bread at him.

       

They left the cafe feeling pleasantly stuffed. Checking his watch, Harry saw that they had perhaps four hours before they really needed to head back to the student house. He wondered for a moment what to do next; then a glance in a nearby shop window full of movie posters gave him an idea.

One quick Tube journey and ten minutes' walk later, and they were standing in a queue outside a small cinema that just happened to be showing Star Wars.

Ron was intrigued. Harry's attempt at explaining what a cinema was about, and what movies were like, didn't really get the essential concept across to him, probably because there was no real equivalent in the wizarding world.

This was something that had baffled Harry when he first knew he was a wizard. Wizards had no cinemas, televisions or videos, and nothing remotely like them. Entertainment mostly came from books, magazines, varied home-grown pursuits, games and hobbies, and sports such as Quidditch. They also had the WWN or Wizard Wireless Network, a surprisingly well-developed radio system that bore only a superficial resemblance to Muggle radio.

It was strange, but Harry had discovered early on that he didn't miss the television nearly as much as he thought he would. The Weasleys gave him a wizard radio for his birthday when he was fifteen, which had meant he was less out of the loop for the two months of the summer holiday. And staying in the Weasley household had taught him that there was always something going on. Wizard families liked to party a lot. They tended to live in small, close-knit and rather isolated communities, so having a barbecue with the neighbours allowed everyone to socialise.

Still, he had been raised as a Muggle for most of the first eleven years of his life, and some things did produce a kind of vague yearning when he was confronted with them. The cinema was one.

They had a ten minute wait to get in, during which they chatted idly about the Cannons' match the next day, and wondered what Hermione had been doing while they were gone.

The queue had just started moving when Ron suddenly dug Harry in the ribs with his elbow and jerked his head at a similar queue opposite which was lined up waiting for a different film.

Harry peered around Ron's back. A couple of girls were standing opposite them, and they were eyeing him and Ron up, giggling and preening. It reminded him a little of Lavender and Parvati at school. These two were very pretty girls, but he wasn't interested and seriously doubted Ron was either.

He looked at Ron, who rolled his eyes and grinned. His barometer for female interest had always been more acute than Harry's, so Harry assumed the two girls were sending out those subtle signals that he generally missed and were trying to get their attention.

Then Ron did something wholly unexpected. He sidled closer to Harry and, very deliberately and obviously, took his hand.

The scandalised gasps and giggles followed the two of them into the cinema lobby.

The pair of them cracked up laughing as soon as they were out of sight and seriously annoyed the young woman in the ticket booth, who had to ask them three times before they sobered up and told her what tickets they wanted. Harry got popcorn and two large colas, and led Ron downstairs to the auditorium, where they found some decent seats.

"There's not many people in here," Ron observed as they sat down.

"Yeah, well this movie's out on video now," Harry replied absently.

"What's video?"

The lights were going down, so Harry quickly muttered, "I'll explain later."

"What happens now? Do we have to do anything?"

Like what? Harry wondered, trying not to laugh. "No. Just watch and try not to annoy people by making a noise."

"Oh."

So Ron sat in perfect, entranced silence as a series of advertisements and trailers were screened. Harry, glancing at him now and again, was tickled by his rapt and fascinated expression. Although it did give him a rather worrying idea of what might happen if a television was introduced to the student household, as Dean had been suggesting for some time now.

Ron only moved once, halfway through the movie, when Ben Kenobi was trying to instruct Luke Skywalker in using the Force. Then he leaned over and murmured quietly in Harry's ear, in a perfect imitation of an eleven-year-old Hermione:

"Wingardium leviooooosah!"

 

End Part 5/30


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