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 Twelve - Flying Feathers

By Mad Martha

       

Harry recognised the three men each standing, with hands linked, on a point of the triangle chiselled into the stone floor.

The first was Lucius Malfoy, his white-blond hair ghostly in the low light of the chamber.

The second was Voldemort, no longer quite human looking with red eyes like a lizard staring out unblinkingly from the unhealthy white skin of his face.

And the third was Ron, his bright red hair like a beacon and his face pale underneath the freckles. His jaw was set, his blue eyes grim and despairing.

The chant the three were performing was unfamiliar to Harry, although he recognised some of the words and cadences as being part of a power-raising rite. What the power was for he didn't need to ask. There was blood inside the triangle, poured out dark and glistening in the shape of a rune ... a rune Harry had learned off by heart many years before.

That single rune, utterly unique, encompassed his own name.

Voldemort was using Ron to raise power to kill him.

       

Harry awoke with a jolt; an experience that was becoming bitterly familiar to him.

Ever since Draco Malfoy had moved into the student house, he had been dreaming with increasing and painful regularity. It was reaching a point where a portion of almost every night, however short, was spent in the grip of a nightmare, which more often than not he had to be woken out of by Ron. It was making both of them bleary-eyed and irritable.

Harry's weak hope that Ron had escaped this one was shattered when a sleep-blurred voice said, "I wouldn't mind so much if we got something useful from these dreams."

He sighed and rolled over, burrowing against Ron's side in search of warmth; although more of the emotional variety than physical heat. "So much for dreaming true, huh?"

"What was it about this time?"

"You were helping Voldemort raise a spell to kill me."

"Nothing new then." Ron sighed deeply. "Nice image, Harry."

"Tell me about it," Harry mumbled unhappily. "What do you think it means?"

"Dunno. I'm trying not to think."

Predictive dreams are not literal, Harry told himself desperately. It's a metaphor for something else .... Unfortunately, he couldn't think of any good metaphors in connection with Voldemort.

"What about the triangle?" he asked.

"Three points to a triangle ... three wizards ...." Ron's voice caught on a yawn, and his voice was rough with exhaustion. "Um ... three's the most powerful number after nine, hence the saying 'all things come in threes'."

"It was a power-raising circle, if that isn't a stupid thing to say about a triangle "

"Three wizards constitute a working circle. Who was the strongest wizard out of the three?"

This wasn't as silly a question as it sounded. According to the books, when wizards worked as a group, personal power meant much less; theoretically even a very weak wizard might become more powerful than his peers when working in unison. Harry thought about it, trying to work out who was in control of the circle in his dream.

"You were," he said, mildly surprised.

"That's new, isn't it?" Ron blinked at him, trying to focus on the conversation despite being half asleep.

"Yeah ...." Harry frowned, wondering what the significance of this might be. "If you were the most powerful wizard in the circle, Voldemort wouldn't be able to do much to influence the way the spell worked, would he?"

"Depends on what support he could call upon from the third wizard. Who was it?"

"Lucius Malfoy."

"Ah."

"It isn't always him. Last time, it was Lestrange."

"They're both pretty strong wizards in their own right." Ron bit his lower lip. "I'm not."

"By comparison, maybe. But they're not Seers either, and nor is Voldemort. Don't sell yourself short." Harry shrugged slightly. "Besides, it was a dream." He sighed and sat up.

"What are you doing?" Ron asked.

"You know what Sirius said - I'd better write it down. Pass me my glasses, would you?"

Ron sighed and pulled himself upright. He reached across to the bedside table and felt for Harry's spectacles and his own wand, muttering "lumos" to the latter when he found it. The light made the gold moon and stars pattern on the bed curtains sparkle, and he sighed in disgust.

"These bloody curtains remind me of those stupid lampshades in Trelawney's classroom. I don't know what Ginny was thinking of."

Harry grinned as he pulled his glasses on and his focus went from fuzzy to clear. He slid off the end of the bed, pushing the curtains out of the way, and shuffled across to the chest of drawers, absently hitching up his pyjama bottoms as he went.

"You know what we forgot last night?" he said as he rummaged around for parchment and a quill.

"The privacy spell? It's not like it matters we haven't been getting up to anything lately. Too knackered."

Harry glanced across at Ron; the red-head was giving him a very wistful look. "Yeah, I've been thinking about that ...."

"Haven't we all?" Ron picked up the edge of the quilt and peered underneath. "Thinking is about as good as it gets at the moment."

Harry snorted a laugh and walked back to the bed, paper and pen in hand. "No, I meant that I've been thinking about the whole dreaming thing. Maybe it would be better if I slept on the living room sofa for a while."

"Eh? Don't be stupid."

"At least it would give you a break."

Ron looked up at the ceiling as if asking for patience. "You know, there's this whole rigmarole that includes the words "in sickness and in health" somewhere .... Besides, you're not safe sleeping on the sofa. There's no lock on the door."

Harry made a massive blot on the parchment and swore. "What?! You don't seriously think Ron, he's been living here for over two months now, and he hasn't made a single move on me!"

"That's what you think. He still looks at you, and it's still you that he talks to, if anyone. And in case you hadn't noticed, it's always you he sits next to at dinner."

"That's probably because everyone else goes out of their way not to sit next to him. Including you, I might add." Harry scratched out an outline of his dream onto the parchment, hoping his handwriting wouldn't be too bad to read the next day. The quilt wasn't the best of surfaces to lean on.

"I hadn't thought of that. I'll swap places with you tomorrow."

"Good please do. You can put up with his snarky little comments about everyone."

Ron gave him sharp look. "What kind of snarky comments?"

Harry shrugged, not sure he wanted to elaborate. "Oh, you know - the usual. The stuff he's been churning out for the last ten years, basically."

"Pureblood supremacy crap?"

"A bit. And other variations. Sometimes he comes out with comments about you and me, just for a change."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Harry wished he could take them back. Ron's eyes narrowed ominously at once.

"What kind of comments?"

"Just homophobic twaddle. Honestly, what do you expect? He made it quite clear what he thought of us before he ever moved in here."

"That's a bit rich, considering how he's behaving around you now!"

"Oh, he is not! And if he is, he's doing it to wind you up, the same way he tries to wind me up by humming " Harry caught himself just in time and turned his attention back to his parchment. But Ron wasn't to be put off.

"Go on! Wind you up by humming what?"

"Nothing. I'm probably over-reacting anyway. I mean, where would he have heard Muggle songs and musicals?"

"What?" Now Ron looked bewildered, on top of his indignation.

"He was humming "It's Harry I'm Planning To Marry" yesterday," Harry confessed reluctantly. Seeing Ron's puzzled expression, he added, "It's from a Doris Day musical Calamity Jane. Aunt Petunia used to watch old movies like that on TV during the afternoons."

From the look on Ron's face he was clearly torn between laughter and outrage. "Anything else?"

"Isn't that enough?" No way was Harry going to admit that Malfoy had been singing "Do Do Ron Ron" under his breath. Harry hated that song with a passion anyway, and he suspected Malfoy had picked up on his aggravation.

"Why don't you just belt him? That'd shut him up fast enough."

"Because I'd rather eat my dinner than plaster it all over the dining room during a brawl. And if you think Seamus wouldn't take the opportunity to turn it into a brawl, you're living on another planet!"

"I don't blame him; I wouldn't mind a pop at Malfoy myself. "It's Harry I'm Planning To Marry" cheeky git! He'd better not be getting ideas."

Harry gave him an amused look. "He's not making passes at me, Ron. Really and truly."

Ron gave him a long-suffering look in response. "Harry, you wouldn't notice a pass if it walked up wearing a big, flashing sign and goosed you in public."

"Actually, I have noticed." Like he could ignore Ron's foot teasing him under the quilt. "Stick a privacy spell on the door while I finish this, and I'll be with you."

Ron grinned. "About sodding time too!"

       

When Harry suggested that Ron take his seat next to Malfoy at the dinner table, he hadn't been serious. The two of them were far too adversarial, and the communal meal was often stressful enough, what with Seamus perpetually itching for an excuse to start a fight and Malfoy's soft-voiced little comments under the cover of general dinnertime noise. Not that the other housemates were any better. Apart from Ginny, who made it her business to stay well out of Malfoy's way, there wasn't one of them who didn't take every opportunity offered to stick the knife into their old enemy and twist it a little.

Harry felt like he was living in a guerrilla war-zone, and very often he was the only buffer that prevented the sniping exploding into full-scale violence.

Oh, there were brief lulls in the battle, when for as much as an hour or two the old enmities seemed to have been put to one side and they could all talk and even joke, albeit a little stiltedly. But it never lasted; someone would say something that rang a false note and almost instantly the walls would go back up and the gun turrets be manned again.

And this had been going on for nearly ten weeks.

Negotiation only went so far; you could talk to Hermione and Neville, and bargain with Dean, but there was no persuading Seamus or Ron to compromise. Seamus wasn't interested in ending the siege; he wanted payback for seven years of aggravation at school. And Harry had to proceed with extreme care with Ron lest it trigger a domestic quarrel.

So his feelings, when he saw Ron actually taking the seat next to Malfoy at dinner, could only be imagined. It was no comfort at all that Malfoy looked equally startled and uneasy at the unexpected change. Worse, Seamus's expression was as predatory as Harry had ever seen it.

All appetite for Dean's dinner of fish and chips promptly deserted him. Under the cover of everyone grabbing their chairs, Harry muttered to Ron "Swap seats with me."

"No, why? We agreed, didn't we?"

"Yeah, in the middle of the night when I wasn't thinking straight."

Ron's blue eyes were brimming with innocence. "Don't worry. I'm not going to start anything."

"It's not you I'm worried about ...."

"Eat your dinner."

It was useless. Harry prodded at his chips and even managed to force a couple down, but there was a solid lump in his stomach from anxiety. Catching his tension, most of the others were also silent, although Seamus kept up a cheerful running monologue about an incident at Gringotts involving fake diamonds.

Then it happened.

"I forgot the vinegar," Malfoy said very quietly; he'd set the table for Dean. He stood up. "I'll get it "

"Nah, I'm nearer I'll go." That was Seamus, suspiciously amiable.

Harry looked up, surprised and wary, just in time to catch the look Ron and Seamus exchanged. Then the sandy-haired Irishman was heading for the larder.

Harry gave up on his meal entirely and put his fork down. When Seamus returned, he held the vinegar bottle out to Malfoy casually.

"There you go ...."

From the resigned look on the blond youth's face, he had already realised there was something wrong with it, but he took it anyway. Harry had to lean right across Ron to snatch the bottle out of his fingers.

"Harry!"

"Hey - !"

"Manners, Harry ...." Seamus was giving him a tight smile that bordered on a glare.

"Yeah, for crying out loud, you don't even like vinegar ...." That was Ron.

A mantra was repeating over and over at the back of Harry's head: I will not fight with Ron, I will not fight with Ron .... Which unfortunately left only one other option.

Glaring back at Seamus, Harry said sharply, "What have you done to it?"

The sudden silence was profound.

Seamus's lip lifted in a sneer. "Well, hell, you're the mighty Auror. You tell me."

"Fine!" Harry flipped the lid of the bottle and shook a couple of drops onto the back of his hand. The vinegar had a very powerful, sharp scent of its own, but underneath he could just detect something else; an oily, slightly chemical smell. Probably nothing lethal, but whatever it was would surely ensure that anyone consuming it spent a few uncomfortable hours.

"What is it supposed to do?" he demanded. "Give him the trots?"

"Give me credit for a bit more imagination than that!" Seamus snapped back.

"Oh that's great that's really adult and mature of you!" Harry realised that his hands were shaking and clenched them together tightly.

"What is your problem, Harry?"

"My problem?"

Whether it was the disturbed nights that were shortening his temper, or the constant tensions in the household, or even the low level worry about Ron and Voldemort's interest in him, he didn't know. Perhaps it was an unlucky combination of the three; but Harry was ready to explode.

He tightened his grip on the vinegar bottle and pushed his chair back, standing up. Something in his face must have communicated his feelings to the others, for Hermione was also getting to her feet, her face alight with concern.

"Harry "

He waved her off and pushed past Ginny's chair, stalking out of the kitchen and down the passage to the back door.

At the rear of the house was a tiny brick yard with high walls on either side. Harry threw open the door, stepped outside and hurled the vinegar bottle at the opposite wall with all his strength. The crash it made was very satisfying, although the acid-yellow steam that arose from the liquid splattered so liberally down the wall only served as a reminder of why he had thrown it in the first place.

Turning on his heel, he went back inside and slammed the door behind him. The silence from the dining room as he walked back up the passage perversely made him angrier, and he knew if he went back in there now he would probably end up quarrelling with them all. So he kept walking.

Ron caught up with him just as he was taking a pinch of Floo powder from the jar on the living room mantelpiece. He looked really worried, but at that point Harry didn't really care.

"Harry, where are you going?"

"Out," he replied curtly.

"But "

"Leave me alone, Ron! I'll be back later."

"Harry!"

Harry lit the fire with a flick of his wand and tossed the pinch of dust into it.

"Godric's Hollow!" he snapped, and stepped into the green flames.

       

Godric's Hollow was the place where Harry's parents had gone into hiding, in an old, converted farmhouse. That building was gone, of course, reduced to rubble by the rebound of the curse that had been meant to kill him; he had been shown the ruins three years ago. But it was also the village where Remus Lupin and Sirius Black jointly owned a modest little house that, with typical perverse humour, Sirius had named "Two Hoots". It didn't happen often, but Harry had a habit of retreating there in moments of great stress, in much the same way as he had once sought refuge in Hagrid's cabin at Hogwarts.

He was huddled in the corner of their big, squashy sofa now, listening to the homely sounds of Lupin making tea, and plucking moodily at the fringe on a cushion. Sirius, sprawled casually in an armchair opposite, was watching him with overt amusement.

"I don't know why you don't just have a knock-down-and-drag-out fight with Ron," he commented. "It might clear the air a bit."

"I don't fight with Ron," Harry said shortly.

"Now, that's silly." Lupin was holding a mug of tea out to him over the back of the sofa. As soon as Harry had grasped it, he walked around to give Sirius his, then quietly sat on the other end of the sofa with his own. "Everyone fights with their other halves."

"I don't. Not with Ron."

Sirius and Lupin exchanged raised brows.

"So what do you call throwing a tantrum, smashing things, and storming out of the house?" the former asked mildly.

"I did not throw a tantrum!" Harry flushed indignantly. "I lost my temper, but "

"About time too," Lupin commented, interrupting him. "I'm staggered that you've managed to hang onto it for so long. Hermione's been worried sick about you, you know."

Harry gaped. "She has? Why?"

"She's been nagging me for weeks about the way you've ended up being the peacekeeper at home," Sirius put in. "She seems to think that you're on the verge of murdering someone possibly Ron, although she also seemed to think that wasn't such a bad idea."

"It's not Ron's fault that Malfoy is such a bloody irritating little git "

Sirius muttered a few choice comments about Malfoys in general and Draco in particular, but Lupin gave Harry a thoughtful look.

"But according to Hermione, he isn't being so very difficult. Certainly not as difficult as Seamus is, for example, or if you'll pardon me for saying so Ron. Or is Hermione reading the situation wrongly?"

Harry opened his mouth to protest ... and shut it again, not sure what to say. Absurdly, he wanted to defend both Ron and Malfoy. Which was surely the road to madness.

"I like young Ron," Lupin said thoughtfully into the silence, "but I can't imagine him being the easiest person to live with."

"I don't have any problems with Ron " Harry began.

"No, that's why you're sitting on our sofa, pulling a cushion apart." And Lupin firmly took the cushion away from him. "Well I've spent time with all the Weasley boys over the last few years, and of all of them I'd say that Ron and the twins are the ones who inherited Molly's temper. Not that Molly Weasley isn't the most wonderful, warm-hearted woman in Britain because she is but she's a very forceful and stubborn personality. As you know."

Harry grinned reluctantly at this.

Sirius leaned forward and put his mug on the coffee table between them. "Why don't you fight with Ron, Harry?"

Harry twitched. "Because I don't like fighting with him. I hate bad atmospheres."

"You've been living in a bad atmosphere for ten weeks now."

"Yeah, and it's murder ...."

"But it's not the same thing, is it? Why don't you want to tackle him about these things? You were prepared to face Seamus this evening why not Ron?"

"Ron didn't switch the vinegar "

"But he set Seamus up to do it, didn't he?"

Harry grimaced. "I don't know that but yes, it looked that way."

"But it was Seamus you blamed, and then you walked out rather than deal with Ron." Sirius sat back, watching him. "You've been friends with him for ten years now. Do you remember when you were fourteen and you had that bust up with him over the Tri-Wizard Cup? When I spoke to you before the first task, you were nearly frantic partly because you were facing a dragon the next day, but mostly because Ron wasn't talking to you."

"What's your point?" Harry asked him, quietly defensive.

"I'm getting there. You didn't have many friends before you met him, did you?"

Harry smiled ruefully in spite of himself. "Sirius, I didn't have any friends. Dudley saw to that."

"Quite. But you've been tight with Ron and Hermione ever since and now you're a hell of a lot tighter with Ron. But you're still reacting like a fourteen year-old to any unreasonable behaviour on his part."

"I repeat: What's your point?"

"I think what Sirius is getting at is that you've established a pattern of behaviour with Ron," Lupin put in, before Sirius could reply. "You didn't like falling out with him when you were a teenager and, consciously or unconsciously, you decided to avoid falling out with him in the future. So you back away from confrontations with him at any cost."

Harry was quiet for a moment, digesting this. "And how is that a bad thing?" he asked finally.

"It's bad if he knows you do it," Sirius observed, "and I'm sure he does."

"It's bad because he can use it to walk all over you," Lupin elaborated. "All he has to do is threaten a tantrum and you back down."

"He doesn't "

"I'm not suggesting he consciously sets out to manipulate you, Harry, but if the end result is the same, what does it matter?"

"It's not good to let him get his way all the time, Harry," Sirius said seriously. "Aside from the problems you're currently having, you're only going to get angry and resentful over time, until one day you really will have a fight with him and it could be the end of things between you."

Harry looked rather depressed at this assessment.

"So you're saying I've got to learn to stand up to him?" he asked reluctantly. The idea was conjuring up some rather unpalatable visions.

"Yes," Sirius said bluntly.

"No," Lupin contradicted. He gave his old friend a sharp glance. "I wouldn't recommend taking on someone with a temper like Ron's unless you really enjoy squabbling all the time. Some people don't mind living in strife," he said acidly, giving Sirius a meaningful look, "but if you prefer a quiet life, then you're going to have to learn how to manage him some other way. I suggest you take a leaf out of Arthur Weasley's book. I don't know if you've noticed, but even though Molly seems to rule the roost most of the time, it's Arthur who's master of the household despite appearances."

"I don't know that I want to be master of the household," Harry said uncomfortably. "I always thought it would be more of an equal partnership ...."

"It can't be an equal partnership if Ron's walking all over you," Sirius pointed out. "Besides, relationships very rarely work out that way, despite what you may have heard. Someone has to be steering the ship; it can't be run by a committee."

"And you're going to have to face up to the occasional quarrel in any case," Lupin added. "I imagine it'll happen the first time Ron realises he can't browbeat you into submission. And inevitably there are going to be occasions when the two of you feel strongly enough about something that neither of you will be prepared to back down. You're just going to have to accept that, Harry."

Harry grunted, still digesting all this and wondering if he felt up to going home to a potential fight.

"I'll make some more tea," Lupin suggested tactfully, and prised Harry's fingers from his mug.

"If I'd been having this conversation with your dad," Sirius commented idly, as his friend disappeared back into the kitchen, "it probably would have involved alcohol and a lot more swearing. You know, Harry, your problem is that you're too damned nice."

Harry smiled. "You think?"

"I know. You wouldn't be in such a silly position with all your friends now, if you weren't. I'm damned if I'd try and mediate with that lot." Sirius leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. "Alright, tell me the worst. What's dear Draco been up to?"

"Nothing. That's the stupidest part of it." Then Harry sighed and rolled his eyes. "Unless, of course, you count Ron's belief that Malfoy's putting the moves on me."

Sirius looked mildly horrified. "Oh my God!"

"But I don't think he is."

"Hm." Now Sirius was giving him a look of wary amusement. "So what makes Ron think he is?"

Harry decided not to mention that Ron was a jealous person; that was probably rather redundant after the conversation they had just had. He shrugged instead.

"He says that Malfoy keeps looking at me, and that he talks to me differently. He does talk to me more than to the others," he admitted.

"I'm not surprised," Lupin called from the kitchen. "You're probably the only one who doesn't get a dig in at every opportunity."

"I don't encourage him," Harry added quickly.

"Harry, if he wants to talk to you, let him," Sirius said, becoming serious. "We've been talking to him for over two months now, and there's still a mountain of information he isn't giving us. Even Veritaserum has limits, and besides, it's not safe to use that for prolonged periods. But if he feels comfortable talking to you ...."

"There's a slight problem with that," Harry said bluntly. "My other half gets very upset about it. I'll do what I can, but I'm not promising anything. It's a big enough strain living under the same roof as Malfoy."

Sirius looked as though he had mixed feelings about this, but he nodded. "Well, do your best. I'm surprised he's picked you of all people to latch onto, though."

"Stupid as it sounds, I think he might be lonely well, I would be if I was in his position. But I honestly haven't encouraged him. All I've done is lent him a few books and tried to stop the others killing him."

"Thereby becoming his champion by default," Lupin commented, coming to the kitchen door. "I imagine he's feeling very cut-off and lost, however arrogant he might appear, and that's a very emotional position to be in. If you've been nice to him, it's no wonder he's latched onto you."

"Great," Harry sighed, "just great."

       

The living room was dimly lit when Harry stepped out of the fireplace an hour or so later. This didn't surprise him, for it was late, but what did surprise him was finding Ron slumped in a huge beanbag at the side of the fireplace. The redhead was fast asleep, snoring softly, with his head at an uncomfortable angle over the back of the beanbag. The floor around him was scattered with sheets of parchment and open books.

Harry studied him for a moment, then shook his head and crouched down to pick up the papers. He was surprised to discover that they were his accumulated notes of the dreams he'd been having; and the books were all advanced volumes on interpretation. Ron had obviously been trying to work out patterns and meanings from his nightmares.

"Ron ...." he breathed, exasperated and affectionate.

"I was just wondering if I should try to move him."

Harry jumped and dropped all the papers. Draco Malfoy was standing in the doorway, looking ridiculously ordinary in pale blue pyjamas and a dark green dressing-gown. He was holding a glass of milk.

Harry stood up slowly. "Probably not a good idea, considering how he feels about you."

"Oh I don't know." Malfoy took a couple of hesitant steps inside the room. "Granger shouted at us all after you left, which resulted in some rather desperate attempts at bonding to placate her."

Harry raised a questioning brow at him.

"We all played Exploding Snap for a couple of hours," Malfoy elaborated.

"I hope someone took photos," Harry commented cynically, not sure whether to believe Malfoy or not. It sounded highly improbable.

"I think you gave Weasley a fright. Granger tried to make him go to bed, but he wouldn't listen."

"Yeah, well we don't fight much."

Harry gathered up the papers and books again. Ron continued to snore in his beanbag.

Malfoy tried once more. "I suppose I should thank you for preventing me taking any of that vinegar, but considering the rumpus it caused perhaps you would have been better leaving it alone."

"Self-sacrifice doesn't suit you, Malfoy," Harry told him rather sharply. He shoved the bundle of books and papers at his old nemesis. "Here, hold these for a minute."

He bent over Ron and patted his face lightly. "Ron ... Ron! Come on, wake up. Time for bed ...."

It took a couple of attempts, but eventually he woke the sleeper enough to haul him out of the beanbag and onto his feet. Ron rubbed the back of his neck, grimacing, and gave Harry a very bleary and anxious look.

"When did you come back?"

"About ten minutes ago. Come on, upstairs with you."

"What's he doing here?"

"I don't know."

"I was getting a drink," Malfoy said absently; he was flicking through Harry's notes on his dreams. "Still dreaming, Potter?"

"Yes." Harry grabbed the notes back irritably. "Why, are you?"

"As it happens, I am - "

"Well, don't tell me about it. Write it down and give it to Sirius."

The sharpness of his response brought an unexpected flash of hurt to Malfoy's face before his usual mask of bored indifference slipped back into place. Harry felt a twinge of guilt - and immediately felt angry with himself for feeling guilty. Then he looked at Ron and found that his friend was giving him a very worried look, which made him feel exasperated.

I'm too tired to deal with any of this, he realised. He gave Ron a gentle push. "Come on - bed. 'Night, Malfoy."

"Are you all right?" Ron asked him almost nervously, as they were climbing into bed.

"I'm fine." Harry sighed inwardly. "Look, I'm sorry I bailed out earlier, but if I'd stayed I probably would have belted Seamus."

"Oh." Ron hesitated and put the light out.

There was a long pause, in which Harry was very aware that Ron was lying there, thinking. He could practically hear the wheels turning in his head.

Here it comes, he thought ruefully.

"Sorry about this evening."

Ordinarily Harry would have simply accepted the apology and left it at that, no matter how annoyed he was. But tonight, thanks to his conversation with Sirius and Lupin, he was less inclined to do so.

"Sorry about the row in general, or sorry you put Seamus up to starting it?" he asked dryly.

The sudden, startled silence told him that Lupin had been right; Ron didn't expect Harry to challenge him. It was depressing to have first-hand evidence of the older man's theory, and a little unnerving because Harry really didn't want to fight.

The silence went on long enough that he began to wish he hadn't said anything. Finally, he leaned over Ron and switched the light back on. They stared at each other a little warily.

"I don't like Malfoy," Ron stated finally. His tone was definitely defensive.

Harry nodded mildly. "I'm glad you told me that. I might never have realised otherwise."

"Sarcasm is the last defence of the terminally humourless."

This was a direct quote from Hermione, who always uttered it with complete conviction, despite her own lethally sarcastic tongue.

"You only say that because you know you're in the wrong."

The blue eyes flashed with anger. "There you go again! Why are you always his big defender?"

"Because apparently someone needs to be!" Harry felt his stomach lurch unhappily at the sudden rise in tension, but did his best to ignore it. "What was in the vinegar, Ron?"

Ron glared. "Bubotuber pus. Diluted Bubotuber pus."

Harry hissed angrily through his teeth. "Great you were planning to give him boils and abscesses all through his digestive system? For crying out loud, did you think about how ill that would make him? Ron, there are Muggles who live every day of their lives with a naturally occurring condition like that. It's hideously painful and sometimes even life-threatening."

"You know what? I don't care!" Ron snapped furiously. "Think of some of the crap he's dished out to us over the years! I can think of at least three occasions when he tried to make you fall off your broom during Quidditch matches. Did he ever care how life-threatening that was? No, did he hell! Well, it's about time some of his curses came home to roost, Harry!"

Harry stared at him, incredulous. "Ron, we were kids none of us gave any thought to what we were doing "

"But he's not a kid now! How can you sit there and defend him when only months ago he would have happily handed you over to You-Know-Who?"

"How can you expect me to sit back and watch while you try to prove that two wrongs really do make a right? How can it be right to feed him something that could land him in St. Mungo's for a month? It doesn't matter who he is! Ron, there are two big differences between then and now: We're adults, and he can't defend himself. He doesn't even have a wand! It would be one thing to challenge him to a wizard duel, but to pick on him when he's a sitting duck makes you as big a bully as he ever was."

The silence that followed this was horrible.

Then Ron, stony-faced, reached out and switched the light out, pulling the quilt up to his chin and turning his back on Harry.

For several minutes Harry could do nothing but lie there and stare at the back of his head, trembling. He wondered why on earth he hadn't simply kept his mouth shut, and what was going to happen next.

Except that he knew exactly what was going to happen. Harry knew that he couldn't live in a poisonous atmosphere like this; if Ron was still ignoring him in the morning, he would be ready to do or say almost anything to make peace with him. And therein lay the heart of the problem.

It can't be an equal partnership if Ron's walking all over you, Sirius had said.

Harry was in the right, and he knew it; giving in to Ron on this issue couldn't possibly be healthy for them or their relationship.

Taking his courage in both hands, and telling his churning stomach to shut up, he sat up and resolutely switched the light back on. When Ron didn't move, he gave him a sharp shove.

"Hey don't you dare ignore me!" When there was no respond, he thumped him harder. "Damn it, you are not going to lie there and make me feel guilty, Ron! You started this you can damn well finish it."

Auror training made for great reflexes, which was just as well for Ron erupted from under the quilt, lashing out in his rage. Harry blocked the blow before he fully realised what had happened, and the pair of them were suddenly staring at each other from opposite sides of the bed, breathless, angry and accusing.

"What do you want from me, Harry?"

Harry flinched; Ron had all but yelled at him. "I want you to realise what you're doing!" he snapped back. "What is it going to take to make you see? Why did you get Seamus to do your dirty work yesterday, huh? Because you were scared that thing on your back would punish you if you did it yourself, weren't you?"

"What would you know about it?" Ron's voice cranked up a notch. The sudden hectic flush on his face told Harry that he had hit a nerve. "Do you have any idea what it's like, Harry? It's on my mind all the time will this or that set it off? What constitutes a wrong intention?"

Harry groaned. "Ron, if you think what you're doing is going to trigger it, then I'd say that's a pretty good indication!"

"You don't get it, do you! I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING WRONG! I'm being punished for something I haven't done, Harry, and have you any idea how much that pisses me off? And it's because of HIM!" Ron was thumping the quilt with his fist in a desperate attempt to get his feelings across.

"But it's not."

The three small words dropped like ice cubes between them. Ron sat back, aghast.

"How can you say that?"

"Because it's true and you know it." Harry stared back at him, searching his face desperately. "Ron, you've got to get past this. It wasn't really him. He jinxed your broom and palmed a ju-ju off onto you and that's all. Everything else was Voldemort. Voldemort is the real villain, not Malfoy; Malfoy was just a petty errand boy. You're taking your anger out on the wrong person and you're putting yourself at risk by doing it."

There were so many emotions running across Ron's face that it was impossible to tell which one was dominant. Finally, he slumped back against the pillows, looking drained and despondent.

"I want payback, Harry. I want to get this damn Seal off my back and ram it down someone's throat."

"But not Malfoy's. Just leave him alone, he's already suffering enough."

"Suffering! Him?" For a moment Harry thought that Ron was going to start again.

"He's in the same predicament, isn't he? He's wearing the Seal too. He has no wand, no friends, he's abandoned his family, and he's stuck in a house full of people who hate him, with nowhere to go. Bizarre as it might seem to you, Ron, yes, I think he might actually be suffering."

"Good." But the retort lacked force.

They sat in silence for a while, but to Harry's intense relief the animosity seemed to have gone. Ron, he noted, looked like he felt himself; utterly exhausted. Perhaps that explained why the senior Aurors emphasised a need to avoid anger when confronting an opponent. It certainly sapped your energy. Finally Ron looked up and met Harry's eyes. Even his freckles looked a bit faded.

"So was that our first real fight?" he asked.

"Looks like it."

"Crap. I'm not doing that again."

"Good. I'm not keen to try it again myself."

Ron wordlessly held out one hand to him, and Harry was quick to take it, lacing his fingers with Ron's. The red-head suddenly laughed weakly.

"I can't believe we had our first fight over Draco Malfoy. God, what a waste!"

Harry grinned. "I hope it's the last fight we have over him."

But Ron raised a brow at him. "I'm not promising anything!"

"Just ignore him, Ron, that's all I ask - "

"And how am I supposed to do that when he's lusting after something of mine?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "He is not!"

"Yeah, dream on. Well, I'll try to ignore him, but I'm warning you - I'll kill him if he tries anything!"

Harry snorted. "Fine. I'll hold your cloak!"

It wasn't until they had switched the light off and spooned up under the covers that Harry remembered something.

"Ron?"

"Yeah?"

"What's this about all of you playing Exploding Snap together?"

A sleepy snicker emanated from under the quilt. "Trust me - you don't want to know!"

       

Harry encountered a rather sheepish Seamus on his way to the bathroom the next morning. The Irishman clearly wasn't sure what to say to him as they passed each other in the doorway.

"Er - alright, Harry?" he managed.

Harry blinked at him, still half-asleep. "Yeah. You?"

"Er - yeah." Seamus lingered, preventing him from shutting the door. "Um is everything okay with you and Ron?"

"Fine, thanks."

"I just thought well, I thought I heard some yelling in the night - "

"Crap, did we forget the privacy spell again?" That was Ron, trying to push his way past him. "We're going to be on shopping duty for the next six months at this rate. Morning, Seamus. Mind if I shut the door?"

"What was that about?" he demanded of Harry, who was trying to get the shower to run at a reasonable temperature.

"He's developing a guilty conscience," Harry said, shrugging. "Don't worry, it won't hurt him. Here - hop in, it's just about right now ."

It was only when they emerged from the shower that they realised something odd appeared to be happening in the passage outside. They could hear a number of exclamations and giggles, punctuated by dull thuds.

Ron gave Harry a wide-eyed look. "Do I want to know what's going on out there?"

But before Harry could offer an opinion, someone hammered sharply on the door.

"Harry! Give us a hand here!"

"Ginny?" Harry pulled the door open and quickly ducked as something large and white came flying through. It hit Ron, who let out a stunned "oof".

It was a pillow and as Harry watched, bemused, several more went whizzing past the doorway, accompanied by yells and shrieks. A quick peek around the doorframe showed that Hermione and Ginny were holed up at the bend in the stairs at one end of the passage, while Neville and Seamus were ducking inside their bedroom doorways at the other. Magically assisted pillows were zooming up and down like bludgers. Dean was nowhere to be seen, but from the angle of some of the missiles, Harry suspected he was lurking on the landing above.

The fourth and final door on this floor, directly opposite the bathroom, suddenly opened and Malfoy appeared, half-dressed and frowning. An extra large, rather frilly pillow (probably one of Hermione's) narrowly missed him, making him leap back like a gazelle.

"What the hell - ?"

Ron sniggered. "Pillow fight!" he crowed and tossed his pillow out into the passage, giving a vigorous wave of his wand to send it flying in Neville's direction. An outraged yell proved that it had found its target.

Seamus fired another pillow from his end of the passage, which collided violently with one sent by Ginny from the stairs. Harry, peering around the bathroom door, gave a quick flick of his wand that sent one of the pillows, an ugly yellow monstrosity back towards Ginny and Hermione, while the other one shot directly up the stairs after Dean.

Shrieks, followed by more whizzing pillows. Malfoy, still foolishly standing in his doorway, opened his mouth to say something and promptly got the breath knocked out of him when Dean repelled Harry's pillow in his direction.

"Malfoy, either shut your door or join in!" Harry told him, trying not to laugh at the former Slytherin's stunned expression. The pillow, a smaller one with a fuzzy fun-fur cover, had nearly knocked him over. Neville's, Harry decided, looking at it. Ron leaned around him and flicked his wand at it; it wrenched itself out of Malfoy's arms and went speeding down the passage after its owner.

"Accio pillows!" Harry snapped, deciding to try and take control of the situation. It didn't work quite the way he expected; not only did the eight pillows from their bed in the attic come zooming to him at high speed, but also every other pillow in the game.

"Oh, well done!" exclaimed Ron sarcastically, as he frantically tried to fend them all off. Maniacal laughter from both ends of the passage told them that the others were enjoying their predicament. He grabbed two or three of the pillows and lobbed them across the passage at Malfoy. "Chuck these for me one at a time!"

Looking confused, the blond youth obeyed and Ron set about creating a little mayhem. Yells and stampeding footsteps told them that Ginny and Hermione had decided to take their end of the battle further down the stairs. Dean was still lobbing pillows from above, but Harry and Ron were at a distinct disadvantage in the bathroom.

"Bugger this," Harry told Ron, after warding off a quick succession of pillows from above. "Make a break for the stairs I'll cover you."

He gathered up five pillows in quick succession and used them to create a barrier to cover Ron as he dashed for the spot previously held by the girls. Then he sent them flying individually after the others at high speed.

Malfoy was still lingering in his doorway, clearly undecided about whether to join in or not. His expression seemed to suggest that this was a totally unfamiliar situation for him and he hadn't a clue how to react. Harry, wondering briefly what Slytherin House had been like if they hadn't had a decent wizard pillow fight every now and again, made the decision for him by leaping across the passage and grabbing him by the wrist, dragging him at a run to the top of the stairs where Ron was crouching behind the banister rail. The pair of them plopped down behind Ron breathlessly, and ducked as a hail of pillows came directly at them.

"Do I want to be here?" Malfoy demanded, just as Ron exclaimed "What did you bring him for?" The former sounded more intrigued than annoyed; Ron just looked perplexed.

Harry ignored them both and set about sending pillows ricocheting up and down the stairs. Battle was well and truly joined now, with big, squashy missiles flying left, right and centre. Grunts and yells were interspersed general mad giggling, and everyone was having tremendous fun everyone, that is, except Draco Malfoy, who huddled on the stairs behind Harry and Ron and watched the proceedings in astonishment.

"You are all absolutely mad," he said finally, "certifiable."

"Well, you're absolutely useless," Ron retorted, retrieving a pillow from the stair below him. "Can't you give us a hand here?"

"I don't have a wand, Weasley. What do you want me to do blow on them?"

"No, I - oh, give it here "

"Please tell me this isn't yours." Malfoy handed the pillow, clad in its bright orange Chudley Cannons pillow-slip, over to Ron with a raised brow. "Aren't you a little old for matching bed linen?"

"Shut up." Ron snatched the pillow from him and, with a sharp wrist movement that would have made Professor Flitwick proud, sent it whipping down the passage. "You're just lucky we didn't make you sleep with Neville's Martin Miggs stuff."

"Incoming fire!" Harry warned, and ducked behind the banisters.

Malfoy didn't move fast enough. What came hurtling around the corner wasn't a pillow at all it was a bolster from a double bed, and it hit him like an express train. With a startled grunt he fell forward, throwing out both hands to prevent himself tumbling down the stairs.

Exactly what happened then was unclear. Ron had just raised his wand to try and repel the bolster when Malfoy landed heavily on him and Harry. Harry lost his grip on the banister, and the three of them ended up in an untidy sprawl on the staircase.

"Oof!" Harry gasped, and was just about to tell the other two to get off him when he felt a hair-raising sensation across his skin literally hair-raising, somewhere between an electric shock and the first touch of a burn before it begins to hurt.

That was all the warning he had before he felt a surge of magical energy like a 1000 volt electrical charge across his nerves; extraordinary power of a kind he had never experienced before, that roared through him like a fireball.

It was excruciatingly painful; Harry would have screamed if only he had the breath to do so. As it was he was helpless to do anything as the power ran shrieking through his body, building and intensifying until he felt sure the pressure would burst his eardrums. Then it peaked

- and the power exploded out of him with an almighty BANG.

The world seemed to turn upside down for a moment, and he blacked out. Bare seconds later he came around again briefly, only to discover that he was lying on his back on the landing above and that something weird was happening to his vision everything had turned an odd pinkish colour and it seemed to be snowing.

Mercifully he passed out again, this time more thoroughly.

 

End Part 12/30

 

PotterBrother Hm. Regarding the rules, you might want to defer judgement! This is a long story after all. Anything could happen. And believe me, I'm very aware of what's going on inside the various characters' heads *smile*

Sally I'm glad people like the House Rules. I wrote them in a spare moment ages ago, just to amuse myself. They look better with the good fonts though. As for Harry and Ron ... well, let's just say that Harry doesn't have endless patience, that Ron is a possessive lad, and Draco is ... Draco. Expect more relationship stuff. This is definitely not The Lodger though! Will Draco be all right? Well ... you'll find out eventually.

LadyRose I just love Ron. And I love trapping him in a 'situation' with Draco because they really bring out the best in each other *chuckle*

SparkySparkles There'll be another update the day after tomorrow, don't worry! (Barring any horrid disasters *touches wood*) Glad you like Jealous!Ron, because he isn't going away.

Rainyday You'll like Seer!Ron's grandmother then .... It would be pretty funny if he did end up as a seer in the books, given the way he feels about Professor Trelawney! But no Harry/Ron/Draco love triangles? Darn .... *evil grin* (Seriously, you don't honestly think Ron or Draco would share, do you?)

Jen I'll be answering your e-mail very soon, but I'm glad you're enjoying it!

Mermaid Stick with me and you'll find out if Draco really likes Harry.

Becchan I can't recall off-hand if it says in the story that the House Rules are the result of Mrs. Weasley turning up one day, shortly after they all moved in, and finding them all living in squalor. I'll probably write that scene down one day, but basically she scared the living daylights out of them all. She hasn't seen the amended version of the rules though ....

PoisonSnakey Glad you liked it!

Nayako Stick around it gets more complicated!

Jadea Glad you're still enjoying it! I know it might seem a bit out of character for Harry to be nice to Malfoy, but I chose to take the view that he would grow up to be that way. But it is a fine line, I agree. The privacy spells are explained a little a bit later in the story.


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