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 Fifteen - Bedknobs And Broomsticks

By Mad Martha

       

The Hogwarts Express was standing at Platform Nine and Three Quarters, mingled smoke and steam drifting around it. The platform, normally heaving with parents and children with pets and school trunks, was empty except for Harry and his canvas duffel-bag. He was waiting for someone; who, he didn't know, only that it wasn't Ron or one of his other friends.

He felt like he'd been waiting for a very long time for these people, but he felt no impatience. Inside himself, he knew they would come at exactly the right moment and not before.

Then the smoke cleared and two figures walked down the platform towards him. He knew their faces, although he hadn't seen them since he was fourteen years old and had no memories of seeing them alive.

They were his parents.

Harry felt a huge smile break over his face, and experienced a surge of dizzying happiness at seeing them again. He abandoned his bag and ran to meet them.

His mother held out her hands to him, and she was laughing and crying at the same time. Harry swept her up into a hug, a little surprised at how small she seemed now that he was a fully-grown adult. It was a bigger surprise to be able to look his father in the eyes, and realise that he was actually an inch or so taller than him. Harry let go of his mother and was pulled into the kind of bone-crushing hug he got from Sirius.

"You've grown up, you've grown up ." his mother was saying, and there was mingled joy and sadness in the words.

His father released him, reluctantly it seemed to Harry, and gripped his shoulder hard, smiling proudly. "Sirius and Arthur are right. You've grown up exactly as we hoped."

"You've talked to them?" The idea didn't seem at all strange to Harry.

"Sometimes. And Dumbledore."

His mother reached out to touch his cheek. "Molly said you were growing up handsome."

"Mum!" Harry coloured a little, which made her laugh.

"I'm glad you came to see me off," he said to them. "It wouldn't have been the same else."

"Where else would we be on a day like this?"

But Harry felt a twinge of anxiety. "Will you be here when I come back?"

His father shook his head. "That I don't know. You've a long journey ahead there's a lot to be done."

Unease clouded Harry's good mood. "I don't know if I can do it, Dad. Everyone seems to expect so much, and I'm afraid of letting them down."

"You won't," his mother soothed. "We have every confidence in you."

But his father's eyes were grave. "It won't be easy, Harry. But you've got to try, do you understand? Not to try would be worse than trying and failing. Have faith in the people around you. Have faith in yourself."

"But what happens if I do fail?"

"I don't know that. No one can know. All we can do is move forward in the hope of better things."

His mother touched his arm, more urgently now. "Listen, Harry. There are things you should know about, things you can use - look in the house."

Harry stared at her in confusion. "But the house is gone," he said, thinking of the ruins of the cottage in Godric's Hollow.

"Only the walls were destroyed. Look in the house. It might make all the difference to you and your friends."

She looked past his shoulder then, and her face seemed to fill with sad resignation. "Time to go now, Harry."

He turned to look and saw a familiar figure with bright red hair standing near his bag at the edge of the platform. The door to one of the carriages was open.

Harry turned back to his parents. "That's Ron - "

His mother smiled and touched his face again gently. "I know. He'd better look after you."

His father gave him a firm nod. "Go on, now."

But Harry hesitated. "I don't want to leave you."

"Harry, you have no choice. We left you years ago. Now it's your turn to leave us."

His mother was beginning to cry again, but she patted his arm and stepped away when he would have hugged her. "No, go on. Quickly now - "

And before he could blink he was on the train, staring out of the carriage window as it pulled away from the station, watching as his parents vanished into the distance.

       

Harry drifted awake, warm, comfortable and content. Turning onto his side, he pulled a pillow further under his ear and tugged the sheets up under his chin. There was a light breeze wafting around his head

His eyes snapped open. What the hell ...?

He was lying in a magnificent king-sized, canopied, four-poster bed hung with pristine white curtains and draped in white bed-linen.

In the middle of the paddock above the Burrow.

Harry dragged himself upright and looked at the bed, aghast. He pinched himself, but nothing changed. It was undoubtedly a feather bed, piled high with pillows and sheets all bordered with delicate white lace frills, while the curtains and canopy foamed with lace edging. And still soundly asleep amongst all the ruffles was Ron, sprawled across the bed with his usual abandon.

"I don't believe this ...." Harry muttered. He grabbed Ron's shoulder and gave him a shake. "Ron ... Ron! Wake up."

"Nguh ... whah?" Ron managed to lift his head slightly, squinting. "Wassamarrer, Harry?"

"Open your eyes and take a look."

Ron blinked and looked around. His eyes widened, and he let out a sudden explosive snort of laughter and flopped face downwards among the pillows, giggling.

"It's not funny!" Harry said indignantly. "Where did it come from?"

"How should I know?" Ron's shoulders were shaking and little snorts were erupting from the frills. "W-we could have ... d-done with this ... last night!"

"Cut it out!" Harry slapped away a groping hand. He looked around helplessly. "Where are my clothes?"

"Oh, don't be boring! Since it's here, we might as well make use of it ...."

"Ron, it's a bloody great four-poster bed in the middle of your dad's paddock. Don't you think someone's going to notice and want to take a look?"

"It'd take a house dropping on most of my family to make them notice anything ...."

"In case you've forgotten, Fred and George are sleeping in your old room, which just happens to have a direct view over the paddock!" Harry froze, horrified. "Crap, I didn't think of that last night ...."

Ron tried hard to contain himself, but the look on Harry's face was too much for him and he went off into another peal of laughter. "Harry, you idiot, what does it matter?"

"Since when did you become an exhibitionist?" Harry was very put out. He dragged one of the top sheets off and wrapped it primly around himself, before hopping down from the bed (it was very high) and peering underneath it. He sighed with relief. "Thank God! All our clothes are under here."

"Pity. The toga-look suits you."

Harry's response was to toss his trousers and shirt at him. "Come on, get dressed!"

Ron groaned. "Why, for crying out loud? It's practically the crack of dawn!"

"We've got to try and get rid of this thing!"

"I don't see why. It's a really nice bed ... or it would be, without all these girly, lacy bits."

"It's in the middle of a paddock!"

"Oh God ...." Ron flopped onto his back and looked up at the canopy grumpily. "It's going to be one of those days, isn't it?"

       

In the event, all their attempts to dismiss the bed back to wherever it had come from failed. They were forced to tramp down to the house and enlist the help of more experienced hands.

The bed caused a lot of interest and amusement, especially with the Weasleys, all of whom insisted on at least sitting on it to test the mattress. Harry was only person who didn't seem to think it was funny; even Dumbledore, still wearing his night-cap and dressing gown, was hard put to suppress a smile at the sight of the frilly sheets and curtains.

"How unusual!" he commented. "What were you trying to produce?"

Ron's snigger did not improve Harry's mood.

"Nothing!" he cried, exasperated. "We were asleep!"

"Ah!" Dumbledore nodded. "That would explain it. Sleep is so rarely a passive activity."

"But we didn't do anything!"

"Of course not!" Sirius snickered. "That's why your signatures are all over it."

"I - what?"

Even Ron looked a bit surprised at this.

"But no wands ." Harry said feebly.

"Yes, I imagine that was the only thing that prevented you producing carpets, chandeliers and full room service as well," Dumbledore commented. "I'm rather impressed, gentlemen. You managed this particular feat even though one of your circle was a couple of hundred miles away. Tell me - if it's not an indelicate question - did either of you want a four-poster bed?"

"I didn't," said Ron at once. "I was quite comfortable where I was."

Harry was about to second this, when he suddenly remembered that his last waking thought had been of a feather bed. A slow tide of colour washed up his face.

"It was just a passing thought," he muttered. "I wasn't serious."

Dumbledore's eyes began to twinkle.

"Please don't tell me that every time Harry has a passing fancy for something, it's going to pop up in front of us," Ron said nervously, for once apparently innocent of innuendo.

"That could be embarrassing!" George said brightly. "Just think, he could - "

"George!" That was Mrs. Weasley.

"I don't think so," the professor put in calmly, "but it certainly calls for a little caution for a while. But before we go into that, I think perhaps we should remove this there is a proper place for feather beds, after all, and I can't help feeling that a paddock isn't it."

He looked expectantly at Harry and Ron, who both stared back blankly.

"That's the point," Harry said. "We've been trying to get rid of it for half an hour. It won't go!"

"Were you trying to banish it?" Mr Weasley asked. "Because I can't see any of Molly's blankets here, so perhaps you transfigured them."

"Into something as big as a bed?" Bill said doubtfully. "Is that possible? It's a pretty radical change in scale."

"Oh, I think we'll be surprised at what they're capable of," said Dumbledore cheerfully.

"I don't know about you, but I'm already as surprised as I can take," Ron muttered to Harry, who nodded gloomily.

"Well, a reverse transfiguration then, gentlemen, and since Harry appears to have been the source of this, perhaps it should be he who reverses the spell. Harry?"

He tried. He tried very hard.

The bed-linen changed colour a few times, before suddenly turning into leopard prints with bead hangings and mosquito nets in place of the curtains and canopy. Then the bedstead itself went from plain beech to heavy carved oak, to ornate mahogany and finally ebony inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The effect was rather startling with the animal prints and made the twins collapse with laughter.

"You know, I'm starting to think you've got a kinky streak," Ron told Harry, fighting a grin. "What's with the leopard-skin?"

"Fine! I give up," Harry retorted indignantly. "You try."

Ron did his best, but without success. He succeeded in turning the bedstead back into plain beech wood, but the bedding once again went through a number of odd transformations until everything finally appeared in lurid red silk ... but something odd had happened to the feather bed. Harry gave it a wary push with one hand and for the first time showed a hint of a grin.

"And you call me kinky now it's a waterbed!"

"A suggestion, if I may," Dumbledore said gently. He took Harry's empty left hand and placed it on Ron's shoulder. "Now try, Ron."

It almost worked. The giant four-poster bed disappeared ... to be replaced by a child's single, complete with Chudley Cannons quilt covers and pillowslips.

"Once more ...." Harry said hopefully, and Ron flicked his wand at the little bed.

It vanished, leaving behind it an untidy tangle of tartan blankets.

Harry sighed with relief.

"Well done!" the professor told them, beaming. "Now, I don't know about you, but I really feel I could eat a good breakfast."

"Do you feel knackered?" Ron asked Harry softly, as they gathered up the blankets and followed the others back to the house.

"Just a bit." Actually, Harry felt like someone had turned all his muscles to jelly. It felt like he'd just played a ten hour Quidditch match with no time out.

"I'm not surprised," Dumbledore told them kindly. "If young Draco had been here, the energy would have been magnified between the three of you, but without him you were forced to use your own strength."

"He wasn't here last night, but neither of us felt like we'd been clubbed when we woke up," Ron pointed out.

"Ah! Well, I would venture a guess that you overcame the distance between the three of you last night."

Harry blinked at the elderly wizard. "How?"

Dumbledore's beard twitched and his eyes were twinkling again. "Some activities are rather ... unifying, Harry. And I should think Draco will have something to say to you on that subject when you next see him, which is why we need to discuss precautions against anything like this happening again. Aside from the unexpected side-effects, it becomes rather tiresome for the person or persons who aren't actively involved."

When the implications of this sank in, Harry could feel himself turning scarlet.

"Being a wizard is so humiliating sometimes," he mumbled.

       

Breakfast was taken in shifts, as a number of people had spent the night with the Weasleys rather than risk Apparating home under the influence of Sirius's cocktails.

Harry was just finishing a large bowl of Dr. Dejeuner's Early-Bird Breakfast Cereal when the post arrived. Hedwig appeared, carrying a couple of envelopes for him, and Pigwidgeon flew in after her, apparently for no other reason than to prove to Ron that he could find him anywhere.

Seconds later they were followed by no less than four sturdy barn owls carrying a long, thin package addressed to Harry which they deposited on the kitchen table in front of him. He barely had a chance to look at the label before another four owls swooped in carrying a second parcel which was dropped in front of Ron.

Charlie, who was supervising his two-year-old twin daughters' breakfast, took one look and said, "That's a broomstick."

Ron poked the packaging with one finger, astonished. "Can't be. Who'd send me a broomstick?"

Harry was already pulling the wrapper off his. "Brilliant!" he said, reverently holding up the Nimbus Tsunami he'd ordered over two months previously. "It's about time this arrived." He glanced at Ron, who was staring, open-mouthed. "Aren't you going to open it?"

Ron made a funny gargling sound.

"I think I hate you," Charlie said feelingly, staring with a Quidditch player's lust at the racing broom. "You're going to fly that at our match, aren't you, you you wretch!"

Harry grinned.

Ron finally pulled himself together and began to unwrap his parcel with unsteady fingers. When the second, gleaming Nimbus Tsunami was revealed, he stared at it for a long time in silence. So long, that Harry began to get worried.

"Ron?"

"Harry ." For a moment, it seemed like Ron didn't know what to say. Then a rueful grin appeared. "This is a hell of a lot of trade!"

It took a moment for Harry to get the reference; then he nearly choked on his cereal. He had the ideal comeback though.

"Just don't let it smack you in the face the first time you try to ride it," he said slyly, referring to their first flying lesson with Madam Hooch at Hogwarts. Harry had been a natural from the moment he first stuck his hand out over the capricious old school broomstick and said "Up!", but Ron's initial attempt had nearly given him a black eye.

Ron's response to this got him a sharp reprimand from Charlie for swearing in front of the children.

       

Dumbledore's solution to the problem of 'accidentally' activating the power of their circle with Malfoy was a variation on the privacy spell they already used almost every day. He made them practice it for over an hour before he was satisfied that they both understood the charm, but admitted that there was only one way to find out if it was effective. He added that they would need to teach it to Draco at the first opportunity, to prevent the situation occurring in reverse.

"So ." Ron said casually, when they had said goodbye to the elderly professor. "Do you feel like flying home?"

Harry grinned at the barely-concealed anticipation in his friend's voice. "Yeah," he agreed. His smile slipped a little. "There's somewhere else I want to go first, though."

Ron gave him an odd look at this but didn't question him. Instead, they took their new brooms out to the paddock and had a couple of brief trial flights, just to make sure that they had the feel of them before trying a proper journey of any height and distance. They were followed by Charlie, Fred and George and it was inevitable that they would all end up trying the brooms out too, so it was past midday before Harry and Ron finally set off.

From the moment they kicked off from the ground, it was exhilarating. Harry remembered flying his original Firebolt for the first time, and how he had marvelled at its balance, the precision handling, the sheer speed of it.

The Tsunami made the Mark I Firebolt look like the old school Shooting Stars. It gained altitude with a speed and smoothness that left Harry's stomach somewhere back in the meadow and it was responsive to the lightest touch, making a quick sweep around the tree tops surrounding the Burrow feel more like a high-speed slalom across a pristine snowfield. Aware that Ron, although a competent flier, was unused to competition standard racing brooms, Harry kept a wary eye on him, but he needn't have worried; Ron was having the time of his life, and would probably have been whooping and yelling if the flight hadn't taken his breath away.

Finally, Harry signalled to him to slow down a little and fly in closer so he could speak to him. His friend's face was bright pink and his eyes were sparkling with excitement when he swooped in to pace Harry.

"This is brilliant!" he exclaimed, before Harry could speak. "Where are we going?"

"Godric's Hollow," Harry told him, "and activate the invisibility spell, Ron, or we'll get a citation from the Improper Use of Magic Office!"

Ron looked a little surprised at their destination, but was too keen to simply fly anywhere to question it. Godric's Hollow wasn't a long flight from Ottery St. Catchpole, but it was enough to get a really good feel for the brooms. He grinned.

"Last one there's a sissy!"

And with that he winked out of sight, and Harry was buffeted by the breeze of him taking off.

Chuckling, he followed.

       

It was gloriously sunny when they arrived in Godric's Hollow. Harry swooped into the village and ducked behind a useful stand of trees at the rear of Sirius and Lupin's house before he deactivated the invisibility spell. Seconds later, Ron flicked into sight a few feet away from him, looking windblown and cheerful.

Harry grinned at him. "Good flight?"

"That was the best ever." Ron looked around himself. "So, now we're here, why are we here?"

"Let's park the brooms at Sirius's place, and I'll show you."

So they left the brooms in the shed, and Harry led Ron out into the village. They walked for nearly fifteen minutes down the narrow country lane, past all the original cottages and more modern bungalows, until they came to a large plot of land right on the outskirts.

The old five-bar gate was damaged and the gravel driveway severely overgrown. The garden was worse, covered in weeds, ivy, overgrown rhododendrons and brambles. A number of other plants, none of which were to be seen in Muggle gardens, had taken a firm hold, their mysterious blooms wafting heavy perfume in the warm, summer air, and their seed pods weighed down with fruit. Head-high grasses showered the two of them with pollen and seeds, and vines grabbed at their shoes, as they pushed their way along a nearly invisible pathway. The place was buzzing with insect life.

Abruptly all that seemed to stop. Harry pushed his way out of the undergrowth and stepped into an area that had once been a building. Following him, Ron stifled an exclamation.

It was little more than concrete foundations, a couple of standing walls, and a lot of rubble. Nothing grew there, not even moss or lichens, and the sound of insects had stopped. But it hummed with magic, the residue of long-dead protection spells and an evil curse of such magnitude that Ron twitched uncomfortably under the pressure of it.

"This was your parents' house, wasn't it?" he said, more to break the uncomfortable silence than anything else.

"Yep. This is the house where I was born," Harry said quietly. He folded his arms and looked around. It hadn't changed much since the last time he had been here. "The plot of land still belongs to me," he continued idly, "but there's no point in trying to sell it or build anything here. It's tainted. Dumbledore asked the Unspeakables to find a way of cleansing it years ago, but nothing they've tried works."

Ron took a few wary steps into the ruins and looked around. "It's like the Avada Kedavra curse to the power of ten," he said softly. He reached out to one of the standing walls, but stopped just before his fingers could touch the stonework. "Harry, what the hell happened that night? Even You-Know-Who couldn't make that curse more powerful than it already is."

Harry shrugged. "All I know is that it rebounded from me and hit him, and when it did the whole house exploded. Hagrid says he found me in the rubble near where the front door would have been. I was still wearing my romper-suit, but everything else, including my cradle, was destroyed." He hesitated, then added with a little difficulty, "Sirius says my mum and dad's bodies were found in the back garden."

"Sirius was here, wasn't he?"

"He arrived just after Hagrid, and lent him his bike so that he could take me to Dumbledore."

Harry stepped past Ron and slowly began to walk through the ruins, in places turning the rubble over with his foot. He had no idea what he was looking for, but he couldn't shake the feeling that the words of his mother in his dream had been meant literally.

"So why have we come here?" Ron asked behind him. When Harry didn't respond, he tried again. "Is it some kind of pilgrimage because you're twenty-one today?"

Harry smiled at this. "No."

"What then?"

"I dreamt about my parents last night."

Ron looked at him a little doubtfully. "You dream about your parents a lot, Harry."

"Yeah, I know, but this was different."

"What happened?"

"They saw me off on the Hogwarts Express." Harry continued to pick through the rubble as he talked. "Dad was talking about the things I was going to have to do soon, and Mum kept telling me to come and look in the house because there was something important here that I'd need."

"Do you think this was another true-dream?"

"I have been having a lot of them lately."

"We can't be sure of that until some of them come true ."

"Some of them have come true. We have to work with Draco Malfoy, don't we?"

Ron grimaced. "It doesn't follow that this is a true-dream though, Harry. Especially since you dream about your mum and dad so often."

Harry tried not to feel annoyed. It was Ron's job to play devil's advocate in these situations, after all. "This one was different. I was grown up, for one thing. And my dad my dad said that I might not see them again, because I had to move on."

The red-head didn't know quite what to say to this.

"And my mum said you'd better look after me," Harry added, managing a grin for his friend.

Ron rolled his eyes. "I'm trying, but you keep doing dangerous things!" He wandered across the cracked ruin of the floor and peered through the remains of a doorway. "You can tell the Unspeakables have been here," he commented. "Can you feel the notice-me-not spells everywhere? I wonder why they bothered?"

"Godric's Hollow is a Muggle village," Harry said, following him through the doorway. "Sirius and Remus are the only wizards living here these days. If there are Muggle families around, the kids would be drawn to a place like this, so they probably put the spells up to prevent them hurting themselves. Especially since the curse residue is still really strong."

"Wizard kids would know better," Ron said. He crouched down and poked at something metallic sticking out of a pile of masonry. "Oh ."

"What?" Harry was at his side immediately.

Ron managed to ease the object out of the rubbish and held it up wordlessly.

It was the mangled remains of a child's mobile. The metal frame was still intact, although badly twisted, but only two of the charms, a tarnished moon and star, still hung from it. Harry took it from him, carefully brushing clinging dirt from the charms with his fingertips.

"Yours?"

"Yeah." Harry felt a lump forming in his throat. "I've seen it before. When Sirius brought me here a couple of years ago he created an illusion of parts of the house to show me what it was like. This was hanging above my cradle in the nursery."

"Think this is what you're looking for?"

"No." He didn't know how he knew, but he was positive it was something else. "Let's keep looking."

So they combed the remains of the building, turning over rubble and trying to find the remnants of what had once been a happy family home. There wasn't much left.

"The Aurors took a lot of stuff away for examination after the explosion," Harry said at one point, frustrated.

"Then it's probably still in storage at the Facility," Ron pointed out reasonably. "We can take a look on Monday."

"But Mum said it would be here."

"Harry ...."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Conscious of Ron's worried eyes on the back of his neck, Harry made an effort to relax. "I'm being stupid about this, aren't I?"

"No, but it's a lot to expect from a dream. You don't have a clue what you're looking for and even if you did, it's not like you even consciously remember living here, so your chances of finding whatever it is after twenty years are pretty low."

"I know. It's just ... well, I suppose I thought it would be obvious when I got here."

"It could still have been moved." Ron watched him, concerned. "Look, we'll take a look in the stores on Monday. If nothing there leaps out at you, I'll try looking in the crystal ball. In fact ...." He took the crushed mobile from Harry and ran his fingers over it lightly. "Yeah, I thought so. There's some good emotional residue on this. Let's take it with us and I'll try a reading on it tonight. Straight clairvoyancy is more Gran's area than mine, but if I can't get anything, we can owl it to her and see what she makes of it."

"Okay. Thanks." Harry felt some of the tension leaving him at the idea of positive action. "Maybe we should " He stopped; Ron's head had suddenly come up as though he was listening to something. "What?"

"There's someone here."

Harry turned and looked around, then walked across to the gap in the walls where the front door had once been, and looked out.

Perhaps twenty yards away, a youth stood in the middle of the overgrown garden path. He was tall and thin, like Ron, but had short black hair and was dressed in a Muggle-style black t-shirt and jeans. He was watching them suspiciously.

Harry stepped out of the building, folding his arms casually so that his hand could easily reach inside his sleeve for his wand if necessary.

"Can I help you?" he asked pleasantly.

The youth dug his hands into his jeans pockets and stared at him disconcertingly for a moment or two. He didn't look much younger than Harry himself, but there was something about him that made the hair stand up on the back of Harry's neck.

"You're trespassing," he said finally. He had the faintest trace of a local accent in his voice.

"Am I?" Harry glanced around very deliberately. "It looks deserted to me. Why, are you the owner?"

There was a pause while the youth continued to study him. Eventually he said, "Owners are dead."

"Really?"

"Died years ago. Gas explosion."

"Is that so?" Harry studied him back, wondering what it was about this Muggle that bothered him. Maybe it was the eyes. Harry didn't have much experience with mental illness, but the youth didn't look very stable.

The young man seemed to decide on something then, because he took his hands out of his pockets and took a few steps forward. "I'm Nick Curtis," he said. "I live in the village."

"Hello," Harry replied warily. He wasn't sure he wanted to reciprocate by giving this very strange stranger his name.

"I've seen you before," Nick continued. "You visit Mr. Black sometimes, don't you?"

Sirius is going to love this. He thinks the villagers ignore him. "That's right. He's my godfather."

"Ah." As if this information broke the ice, the youth grinned at him. "You'll be the one that lived, then."

Harry blinked in surprise, and heard Ron make a tiny sound behind him. "I'm sorry?"

"The baby! The owners' little boy. He lived when the house blew up."

"I suppose I am." Harry was astonished. "How did you know about that?"

"People talk," Nick said, shrugging. "So . You'll be looking to come back and rebuild the house, will you?"

"Not really. I work in London, so it wouldn't be practical." Harry wondered if all the locals were so inquisitive.

"Oh." The youth stared at him for a minute or two as though waiting for Harry to say more, but when he didn't, he shrugged again. "I'd best be off then. I was just checking, you know - seeing who was nosing around."

"Bye then." Harry watched as Nick reluctantly retreated back down the path and waited until he was well out of sight. Then he turned back to look at Ron. "Okay, that was weirder than some of Neville's girlfriends ."

Ron looked disturbed. "Yeah, but the big question is - how did he get past all the anti-Muggle spells?"

"More to the point, how did he know about me?" Ron gave him a questioning look. "Sirius told me the locals knew nothing about me or my parents, only that the house blew up, killing the two strangers who had just moved in. So how did he know?"

"I think we need to talk to Sirius about this. He didn't feel like an ordinary Muggle to me - that's what alerted me to him being in the garden in the first place."

"Yeah, but what was it about him that was so weird?" Harry wondered.

"You want me to pick just one thing about him out of a whole bunch that were weird?" Ron shook his head. "I don't know - maybe he wasn't a Muggle at all. I've heard about kids who are wizards but don't have enough magic to go to schools like Hogwarts. They can be born to Muggle families as much as wizard families, but they don't get any kind of magical education at all and sometimes they never even find out that they have magic."

Harry stared at him. "What happens to them?"

Ron shrugged. "Mostly they just grow up like other Muggles. The ones in wizard families go to other schools, but if they don't have much magic to start with they're not allowed to own a wand. Haven't you heard Neville say how worried his family were that he wouldn't have enough magic to go to Hogwarts? That's what could have happened to him, and if you come from a very old wizard family there's a big stigma attached to it."

"Why? It's not like it's the kid's fault!"

"Well, sometimes they can go a bit nuts," Ron said uncomfortably. "I mean, think about it. In some ways, only having a tiny bit of useless magic is worse than being a squib, who has no magic at all. And if you were born and brought up as a Muggle, and didn't know anything about magic anyway, the weird stuff that happened around you could easily drive you round the bend."

It made sense; and having been brought up in precisely those circumstances, he could well understand what Ron was saying. But it left a nasty taste in Harry's mouth, and he wondered what happened to those poor devils from old wizard families who somehow failed to match up to the standards set for them and went mad as a result.

"Well, this bloke didn't look too normal to me," he said after a moment. "Let's go and have a chat with Sirius about it."

       

"Nick Curtis? The name doesn't ring any bells, but it's not like I know any of the locals anyway." This was Lupin; Sirius was out when they arrived back at house.

"They seem to know you - or Sirius, anyway," Harry told him. "He said he'd seen me visiting Sirius before."

Lupin gave him a startled look. "How could he? You can't have been into the village more than twice since we've lived here."

"He knew who I was as well," Harry continued. "He didn't actually know my name - or I don't think he did - but he knew I survived the explosion in the house."

"What was really weird was that he referred to Harry as the one who lived," Ron pointed out. "That's a bit of a big coincidence, don't you think? But no way did he feel like a normal Muggle, professor, and we were wondering if he could be one of those kids who are born with just a bit of magic?"

Lupin considered it, looking disturbed. "It's possible, I suppose, but very unlikely. You get children with low levels of magic, but the ones who can't be trained at all are very rare, especially among Muggle families. And there certainly aren't any other wizard families around here for miles. But he shouldn't have been able to get into your parents' house at all, Harry - the place is covered with strong anti-Muggle spells to stop the local children having accidents."

There was a noise from out near the back door, and Sirius walked in. He was dressed in full Auror's robes and frowning slightly, but his expression lightened when he saw Harry.

"I thought you two must be here," he said, grinning. "I saw the new hot-rods in the shed."

"Want to try mine later?" Harry offered.

"I'm too old to enjoy riding a racing broom ."

"Yeah, right. Like you were too old to chat up all the best-looking women last night!"

"Ah, well there's old and there's old!" Sirius chuckled. "Yeah, I'd love to try it, but some other time maybe. We've got a bit of an incident in progress at the moment."

"Such as?" Harry saw the frown reappear and felt a twinge of unease. "What's happened now?"

"The Magical Law Enforcement Squad have asked us to consult on a possible kidnapping case," Sirius explained. "The family aren't being very co-operative and they have a certain reputation, so we've been asked to help."

"Is the victim anyone we know?" Lupin asked.

"She's someone Harry and Ron know, and young Malfoy more so. It's Pansy Parkinson."

"Malfoy's ex," Ron said at once. "Who the hell would have the bad taste to kidnap her?"

"We don't know for certain that she has been kidnapped, but she vanished nearly a week ago on her way home from a party and nobody admits to knowing anything."

"Who raised the alarm?" Harry asked.

"Her grandmother. We've been questioning her parents all afternoon, but the pair of them aren't saying much - not surprising, really. They were supporters of Voldemort the last time around, and Moody's been waiting for one of them to put a toe out of line for the last five years. They're not going to talk to him about anything if they can help it."

Harry was disturbed by this. He hadn't liked Pansy in the slightest, but the idea that her own parents were unwilling co-operate in a search for her was unpleasant.

"What about Malfoy?" he asked.

"He wasn't much help either." Sirius sighed. "He suggested that she might just have Apparated off to a friend's place and not bothered to tell anyone apparently it wouldn't be the first time. But he didn't sound convinced, and we've yet to find a friend of hers who'll admit to knowing where she is. So we're forced to consider another possibility."

There was a strained silence, broken reluctantly by Ron.

"You Know Who?" he said, his mouth twisting on the words.

"Making people disappear is an old trademark of his," Lupin said sombrely.

"But surely if she's one of his supporters "

"That doesn't mean much," Sirius interrupted curtly. "There were very few women in Voldemort's inner circle before, and I don't suppose that has changed. A very young and superficial witch of no outstanding ability would have little or no value to him in her own right."

"But her own parents!" Harry said before he could stop himself.

"Yes, well you've seen first hand what devoted Death Eater parents can be like," Lupin pointed out. "Young Malfoy is a case in point."

"So what do we do now?" Ron asked.

"Nothing," Sirius said grimly.

"But - "

"Ron, there's not much we can do except question her family and friends," Lupin put in. "The Magical Law Enforcement Squad will handle the bulk of enquiries until strong evidence comes to light of it being Death Eater activity."

"There is always the remote possibility that she fell foul of a Muggle attacker," Sirius admitted. "She was in a predominantly Muggle area when she went missing. We've passed certain information onto their authorities, just in case, but I have a bad feeling about this. Ron ."

"Get me something of hers to hold and I'll try the crystal ball," he said at once. "I remember her aura pretty well from school, so it shouldn't be too difficult to get a fix on her."

"Harry ." Sirius gave him an apologetic look. "I hate to ask you to do this, but I need you to talk to Draco and see what you can get from him about the Parkinsons. He won't talk willingly to me or anyone else, but he seems to be more comfortable around you. We need to know what Voldemort might want from Pansy, if it was him who took her."

"I'll try," Harry replied wryly, "but after last night he might never speak to me again."

"Eh?" Sirius and Lupin both stared at him, and Harry felt himself colouring up once more.

"Oh, it's a theory of Professor Dumbledore's," he said, wishing he hadn't mentioned it. It didn't help that Ron was chortling about it.

"A theory about what?" Lupin asked, surprised.

"Oh, of course - you weren't there this morning, were you?" Ron said, grinning. "Sirius saw it - Harry accidentally conjured up a four poster bed in Dad's paddock last night."

"A what?"

Sirius began to laugh. "A very large and frilly feather bed, Remus. Harry made the mistake of wishing for one late last night."

"How on earth did you manage that?" Lupin, to his credit, seemed more interested in the technical side of the incident.

"Wizard circle in action," Ron said, still grinning, although his ears were starting to turn red.

"But I took Draco back to the student house myself," Lupin said, confused. "How could you have been in contact - ?"

"That's Dumbledore's theory," Harry said, heartily embarrassed now. "Something we were doing might have um formed a spontaneous connection. Unfortunately, it probably involved Draco more than he would like."

There was a pause, during which Sirius's grin widened to a point where it must have been painful. Then the penny seemed to drop for Lupin. For a moment he looked both staggered and amused; then he shook his head wryly.

"Oh dear. I think you're going to be a little bit unpopular when you get home."

 

End Part 15/30

 

 

Author's Note: I'm really glad you all liked the party in Chapter 14. I don't think I've mentioned this before, but everyone I showed the first version of this story to (a VERY small handful of people!) seemed to have a favourite chapter. Chapter 5 "Wingardium Leviosa" seemed to be very popular, for example. But my favourite chapter is "Coming of Age", partly because of the party itself but also because I enjoyed writing the Harry/Ron interaction in it. Just thought you might like to know that and also that the relationship stuff will start to gear up a bit from here on.

Mary Caroline - I'm glad you're enjoying it and hope you will continue to do so!

SparkySparkles I don't think Percy was being mean as such I think he was just very shocked! I'm sure he'll come around eventually. As for who "tops" heh! Are you trying to make me blush? It won't work! They currently take it in turns, but I think as their relationship has developed there have been occasions when one has been more dominant than the other, and that could happen again *grin* The introduction of Draco to the situation will almost certainly force a few issues to a head.

PoisonSnakey I'm not an expert at Tarot myself, but the readings so far have been as accurate as I could make them, given my inexperience. I find the Tarot very interesting, but here's a useless snippet of information for you: I have a close friend whose grandmother really is a well-known medium, and she refuses to use Tarot cards because she says they're more dangerous to the user than Ouija boards.

LadyRose But Percy is tactless, don't you think? He actually tried to criticise his own father in The Goblet of Fire, which is pretty bad for someone of his age. Draco's non-reaction to the letter was purely because he only guessed who it was from, not what the contents were. And I think he also probably thought that if Harry didn't want to say anything to anyone about it, then that was his own business. As for the pendant and Grandmother Weasley's predictions, you'll see more about them later in the story.

Sally I swear it never occurred to me that someone might think the pendant was something dangerous! *laughs* No, it's genuinely a gift from Ron. Why am I being ambiguous? Because it's fun! And you're right, actually I would love to the give the game away and tell you everything. I have the biggest difficulty keeping my mouth shut! *wistful smile*

Jen There had to be a big party, because I always wanted one too and never got it! The importance of the charmed pendant will become clear, don't worry.

Quoth the Raven I'm glad it worked for you! It would be a bit strange for Voldemort not to say anything, don't you think? He's 'visited' all of Harry's birthdays since his eighteenth, after all. As for Percy fortunately for him, on this occasion it was Arthur who tore a strip off him, so he wasn't publicly humiliated as well. But that's largely because Arthur wanted it kept between the family, as Harry and Ron aren't fully out yet.

Beth Ann I remember you liking the cake very well! Pity such cakes don't really exist .... And poor old Percy, sometimes he can be such a clot! As for the leather trousers ... I have only one word for you on that subject, and that's "Seamus!". (But I'm still ignoring the interview-whammy!)

BGirl Welcome! I'm glad you're enjoying it!

PotterBrother You got it right in one *hands PotterBrother a chocolate frog* Well, it wouldn't be right for Harry not to have a party, would it?

Becchan - Have a chocolate frog too, for guessing right! Grandmother Weasley will make another appearance quite soon, and the fluff will continue to pop up at frequent intervals.

Mermaid Percy will get over it, in time he's just a bit stuffy, poor thing! Regarding Sirius and Remus, I'm glad you asked that. They're not a couple in this story, although it might superficially appear that way. The main reason they live together is convenience. Sirius originally bought the house after his re-trial, so that he would have somewhere for Harry to call home during school holidays (this happens near the end of Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts in my timeline). At the time, Lupin didn't really have anywhere permanent to live and not much money either, and it also happened to be convenient for the two of them, as Dumbledore's operatives, to be in the same place. So Lupin ended up living with Sirius, but it's platonic. As you can see from Harry's comment to Sirius at the end of this chapter, Sirius has a bit of an eye for the ladies *grin*

Whew! In case you hadn't noticed, we're halfway through, people! Everyone have a restorative Cauldron Cake and glass of pumpkin juice on me, because the chapters are about to get a bit longer and more intense.


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