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 Sixteen - Death And The Maiden

By Mad Martha

       

Being plagued by serious thoughts did not stop Harry or Ron enjoying their flight back to London on the new broomsticks.

"More fun than a crate full of Hagrid's Blast-Ended Skrewts," was Ron's happy assessment when they dismounted in the back yard of the student house, both wind-blown and on a speed-induced high.

"Definitely more fun than that," Harry retorted, but he was grinning widely. The thought of riding this broom during the Inter-Agency Quidditch match next month gave him a real tingle of anticipation.

The euphoria lasted precisely five minutes, which was how long it took them to rack up the brooms, remove their outer robes and wander through to the kitchen in search of a cold drink. Hermione and Seamus were there, clearing dishes from dinner.

Hermione looked up when they walked in and gave Harry an odd look of relief and anxiety. "You're home!"

"What's up?" Harry tossed his robe over the back of a chair, and looked at her.

"Harry, we need to have a chat before you speak to - "

"Potter, can I have a word?"

Harry looked around, surprised, and saw Malfoy standing in the kitchen doorway. One look at his face made his stomach drop, for the blond youth was wearing the most rigid expression he had ever seen.

Ron saw it too and at once took offence.

"What's your problem, Malfoy?" he demanded, bristling.

"Ron ." Harry touched his arm warningly, and gave Hermione a sharp look which she understood immediately. "Sure, Malfoy. Come into the study."

"Harry!" Ron protested, but Hermione and Seamus were already there, preventing him from following as Harry led Malfoy away.

"Quick thinking," Malfoy said curtly, when the study door was shut behind them. "Pity you didn't use a little of that last night."

"Yes, I wanted to speak to you about that. I believe we may owe you an apology - "

"May? There's no may about it! Excuse me, Potter, but I don't think it's too much to ask the pair of you to keep your revolting sex lives to yourselves!"

Whoa! Harry was startled by the naked fury on Malfoy's face. He was almost beside himself; so enraged that he was clearly having difficulty keeping it in check. But there was also something else going on, some kind of pain behind the rage, and seeing that was only thing that prevented Harry responding almost as intemperately as Ron would have done.

"Look," he said, in as conciliatory a tone as he could manage, "I'm sorry, but we had no idea that would happen. For what it's worth we did have a privacy spell up, but clearly it wasn't strong enough. Dumbledore's taught us a better one, and that should sort it out in future."

Malfoy wasn't appeased. "You don't get it, do you?" he hissed. "What - did the pair of you have a good laugh with Black and Weasley's family and the others when you found out what had happened? Understand me, Potter - if we were the last three people on earth, I would not want to be involved in some sick ménage à trois with the pair of you, especially one that I have absolutely sod all control over. It's bad enough that I'm stuck in this house with you and your pathetic little friends; worse that I'm in a position where I'm forced to work with you and Weasley towards the destruction of all my friends and family, with no recognition of what that means to me. But to be put through what happened last night frankly makes me think that perhaps I'd be better off with my father and the Dark Lord after all - at least they never subjected me to Jezebel and pretended it was for anything other than the deliberate entertainment of others!"

Harry stared at Malfoy, stunned. The grey eyes were blazing and the pale skin white to the point of translucency. Malfoy was so agitated that he had his arms tightly wrapped around his middle, as if to prevent himself lashing out. But the pose didn't look aggressive to Harry; it looked more like the defensive posture of a child who had been hit once and knew he was going to be hit again.

Then Malfoy's last statement registered.

Almost a year before, the Aurors had staged one of their periodic raids on Knockturn Alley. On this occasion the specified target had been someone trading in doctored snuff and tobacco, so one of the shops turned over had been a perfumier called the "Casbah Intoxica". The owner, a Veela, specialised in producing aphrodisiacs not the fake rhino-horn kind peddled by Muggles, but the wizard variety which not only worked but had varying degrees of dangerousness. Jezebel, a perfume concocted from a base of succubus musk, wasn't lethal but nevertheless came high on the danger list because of the victim's inability to control himself under its influence.

Harry, detailed to question the shop's owner (risky in itself, given what she was), had made the mistake of demanding that she open up her storerooms and refusing to take no for an answer. The Veela turned away for one second, supposedly to get her keys and when she turned back she was armed with a flask full of Jezebel, which she promptly threw at Harry.

In the two or three seconds before it took effect, he remembered thinking what a revoltingly sweet smell it had, like rotting honey. Then the arousal hit, with all the subtlety and sensuality of a sledgehammer to his groin.

He had been utterly helpless in its grip, and had it not been for Mad-Eye Moody's swift action he felt certain he would have raped someone anyone, and that was the worst part. The effects were so blinding as to make him incapable of recognising who was in front of him. All he had felt was an all-consuming, unthinking, and physically painful lust that had taken a full twenty-four hours to wear off.

"When were you subjected to Jezebel?" Harry asked Malfoy quietly.

"None of your fucking business."

One minute, raging fury; next, the shutters had gone up and an iceberg would have looked more emotional than Malfoy did then. Harry felt his own temper flare and wrestled it down. This was too serious to allow himself to be distracted from the subject.

"You brought it up, Malfoy. Now you can damn well tell me what you meant by that."

"Nothing just nothing. If you think I'm parading my private life in front of you for your amusement, you can think again." Malfoy's tone was bitter, raw and hateful, the voice of a thousand teenaged quarrels in the corridors of Hogwarts.

Harry wasn't having any of it. "If you think I would find anything remotely amusing about a certain perfume called Jezebel, then you're grossly mistaken. I've been dosed with that stuff "

"So I heard!" The sneer was back.

" And it was one of the worst experiences of my life," he continued doggedly. "Most of the other Aurors including Ron and Sirius seem to think it was funny. I don't blame them for that because unless you've experienced it, it's impossible to realise just how how terrifying it is. The humiliation alone is bad enough, but the the loss of control ...." Even after all this time, Harry had the greatest difficulty describing the incident which had been so hilarious to his colleagues and so mortifying to him, but he kept going, believing that it was the only way to get to the bottom of Malfoy's outburst. "Washing it off didn't make any difference. Moody ended up locking me in one of the cells overnight he didn't think it was funny either."

"Then imagine what it's like being dosed with it three nights in a row, with no escape," Malfoy said. His voice was cool, but it was evident that he was maintaining the artificial calm with an effort. "Imagine what it's like being the centre piece of someone's party when you're under its influence."

Harry felt physically sick at the idea.

"I can't imagine what that must have been like," he said, dry-mouthed. "But if you're suggesting what happened last night bore any resemblance to that, then I think you're being grossly unfair to Ron and me."

"How would you know?" Malfoy snapped. "You may not have chained me to a wall and sprayed me with aphrodisiac potions, Potter, but you didn't give me any choice about being involved in your little fun and games, did you? The harder I tried to free myself, the more I was dragged in."

Harry realised he was gritting his teeth. This was far, far more information about Malfoy's abuse at the hands of his father and Voldemort than he ever expected to hear, and frankly he didn't want to hear about it at all because he hadn't a clue how to deal with the information. He was horrified, and genuinely sorry for the other youth, and he regretted what had happened the night before more than ever, but there wasn't much he could do to put things right other than to apologise and promise not to make the mistake again. Especially since Malfoy, having dumped all this information into his lap, was now making it extremely difficult to give him sympathy or help.

What a mess, Harry thought tiredly. "Look, I've said I'm sorry and believe me, I didn't want this to happen any more than you did. It's not like either of us get a kick out of voyeurism, you know. We've got a better privacy spell now, and you have my full permission to hammer on our door and yell at us if it doesn't work. Beyond that, I don't know what you want from me."

"I want rid of you, Weasley and the rest of your gang," and Malfoy's voice dripped with venom. "I want out of this wretched little hovel, I want my wand back, and I want to get on with my life."

"Well, I'm very sorry!" Harry snapped back, losing patience with him. "There's not a lot I can do about any of that! For the time being at least you're stuck with Ron and me, so you'd better get used to it. I don't like it any better than you do, Malfoy, because I can't imagine anyone in the entire world I'd want to be stuck with less, except possibly Voldemort himself, but if I can live with it, then so can you!"

If he hadn't happened to be glaring at Malfoy as he said this, Harry would have missed the sudden flash of intense hurt and pain that crossed the blond youth's face. It was gone in a split second, but it was enough to make him regret having been so harsh.

Whatever his mouth might be saying, Malfoy was one very mixed-up individual under the hard, angry façade. Not for the first time in the last couple of months, Harry wondered just how much of his malicious exterior was a front to hide fear and insecurity. Admittedly, he had been a uniquely nasty and spiteful child, but given the things Harry now knew about Draco Malfoy especially this latest revelation he was inclined to cut the adult a great deal more slack.

"I'm sorry," he said, for what seemed like the umpteenth time. "I didn't mean that."

"Of course you did," Malfoy shot back at once, but the retort seemed to lack energy this time. "Why the hell wouldn't you mean it? It's not like we've ever been friends, after all. I've no illusions on that score, Potter."

"No," Harry agreed, but a little sadly. "But I did think that at least we'd stopped being enemies. And even if we were enemies, Malfoy, I wouldn't have deliberately used something like that as a weapon against you. Really and truly, neither of us knew that would happen. If you'd asked me a couple of days ago, I would have said it was impossible I think even Dumbledore was surprised."

There was a long silence. Then Malfoy sighed, and some of the tension seemed to go out of his body.

"I know that," he said. His voice was still curt, but it had definitely lost its edge. "I know enough about you to know that you don't have it in you to pull off a stunt like that deliberately. Weasley might, if he was pushed, but you wouldn't."

"Not if he really knew what it would do to you," Harry said sharply. "Give Ron a bit of credit, Malfoy he's neither malicious nor a sadist."

"I'll have to take your word for that. I'll absolve him of any malice last night, anyway."

"Thank you!" Harry knew his tone was acid but couldn't help it.

"Oh, give me a break, will you?" The snap was back in Malfoy's voice. "I didn't get any sleep last night, and then I was dragged out of bed this morning by your beloved godfather for yet another inquisition about my friends. I'm doing my best, Potter, but I'm not exactly on top form right now!"

"Fair enough," Harry replied, still trying to keep things amiable. "I didn't get a lot of sleep myself "

"I know you didn't." Malfoy gave him a look of mingled amusement and exasperation. "Oh, for heaven's sake, don't start blushing! You'd have something to blush about if you knew exactly how graphic my introduction to your love-life was."

"Wonderful." Harry wondered if it was possible to be more embarrassed than he had been today. "Don't tell Ron that he'll throw a fit."

"The likelihood of me telling Weasley anything and being believed is vanishingly small."

"Hm." Harry decided not to comment on that. "So, what did Sirius want you for?"

"To talk to me about my friends, as I said."

"Did he tell you about Pansy Parkinson?"

Malfoy's face had become unreadable again. "Yes, of course he did. He wanted to know where I thought she might be."

"And what did you tell him?"

"Is this another inquisition, Potter? I told him that I don't know which is the absolute truth, by the way. I haven't seen Pansy in months and consequently have no idea where she might be."

Harry looked at him. "She's been missing for a couple of weeks, none of her friends know where she is, and her parents don't want to talk about it. Speculate a little, Malfoy where do you think she might be?"

Malfoy shrugged. "Your guess would be as good as mine."

"Would Voldemort take her?"

"Possibly, although I can't imagine why. Her family aren't important enough in his circle to use her as a hostage, and she has nothing in her own right to interest him."

"Are you sure about that? Is she a Death Eater?"

Malfoy shrugged again. "She has the Dark Mark, certainly, but that's purely a symbol of loyalty to his cause. Quite honestly, Potter, I have no idea what has happened to her. Unkind as it might seem to you, Pansy is a nobody. She works in my uncle's constituency office, producing campaign material. Her only real interests appear to be shopping, gossiping with her friends and reading cheap women's magazines." He gave Harry a small, twisted smile. "For all I know, she could have been spirited away by your Auror friends as they've done with me."

"We don't make people disappear, Malfoy," Harry told him sharply. "You're here for your own safety something you were very keen on when you first turned up, remember?"

"My father won't wait forever to recover me, you know. At some point he's going to come for me, and all the barriers on this house won't stop him."

"Yes, well, we're not going to be here much longer," Harry said tiredly. "We'll being going up to Hogwarts in less than a week, and if he thinks he can whisk you out of there without a struggle, he's mistaken."

"I hope so," Malfoy said morosely. "I really do hope so, for all our sakes."

       

"Do you think Malfoy's telling the truth about Pansy?"

Ron was lying on his stomach across their bed, watching as Harry folded and hung up his clothes neatly.

"I don't see how he can be lying," Harry replied. "Let's face it; he hasn't been out of sight of one or other of us for a couple of months. Pansy only disappeared a couple of weeks ago. Besides, it didn't seem to me that he was lying."

"How could you tell?" Ron grumbled. "Were his lips moving?"

"I think he was too rattled." Harry slowly tucked his clothes away in the closet, wondering how much he should tell Ron of his conversation with Malfoy. You should tell him all of it, you idiot, he thought. Since when do you keep things from Ron?

You didn't tell him about the real effect Jezebel had on you, did you? You've let him laugh about it all this time.

That's different ....

You didn't tell him about the conversation you had with Malfoy when you were playing chess with him, either, the insidious little mental voice reminded him. Actually, you didn't tell him about the chess game at all, did you?

You shouldn't have done that. He won't like it much when you do tell him.

He'll like it even less if you don't tell him at all, and he finds out about it by accident.

How would that happen?

Well, let me think maybe Malfoy would tell him?

He wouldn't!

Yes, he would. Like a shot. Malfoy is still Malfoy, remember?

Bugger.

"Harry?" Ron was frowning at him. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Harry closed the closet door and went over to the bed, sitting on the edge of it pensively. Ron rolled over onto his side, watching him curiously.

"What's up?"

"Malfoy told me some stuff earlier not willingly, but I think he was too angry to mind what he was saying. It made me think a bit."

"Think about what?" Ron's brow furrowed. "What was he so pissed off about anyway?"

Harry smiled in spite of himself as he looked down at his friend. "What do you think? He wasn't too happy about getting involved in our impromptu wizard circle last night. Remember? He got a front row seat."

"Yeah, well I'm not exactly thrilled about him being involved either, but you don't hear me kicking up about it, do you?"

"It had a more powerful effect on him than either of us realised," Harry said slowly.

Ron gave him a suspicious look. "More powerful in what way?"

Harry sighed and leaned back against one of the bedposts. "I never told you what it was like getting dosed with Jezebel that time, did I?"

Ron sniggered softly. "I think it was pretty obvious, Harry!"

"Was it? Did Moody tell you why he locked me up for a whole day in one of the cells?"

"Well, no, but ...." Ron tilted his head to one side suddenly, studying Harry's face. His grin began to fade. "What's this got to do with Malfoy?"

"He locked me up to stop me attacking you," Harry continued doggedly, ignoring the question for the time being. "Well ... you, Sirius, Hermione - anyone really. I completely lost control. It was horrendous you've no idea. And talk about painful! There are good reasons why it takes a man a while to recover from an orgasm, Ron, and believe me, after about the sixth or seventh in a row, I more aware of that than I liked. I kept wanting to throw up, and I think I would have passed out if the damned potion would have let me. When it finally passed off, I felt like someone had kicked me in the balls with steel toe-capped boots. But that wasn't the worst part the worst was knowing that I could quite easily have raped someone; most likely you since you were only just outside the shop. I wouldn't have been able to stop myself."

Ron was staring at him, shocked. "Why didn't you tell me this before?" he asked, after several moments' stunned silence. "You let us all have a good laugh about it ...."

Harry shrugged. "I didn't particularly feel like talking about it at the time. Most of the seniors, like Sirius, were laughing and telling me to put it down to experience, and everyone else thought it was the funniest thing that Harry Potter should get socked with an aphrodisiac in public .... I thought if I stood there and said that I felt like I'd been raped, people probably wouldn't take it very well. Simeon Clare even told me it was a shame I didn't have a girlfriend because she would have thought her birthday had come early. All I could think was that I already had a boyfriend and he wouldn't like what would have happened if he'd been standing next to me when that damn potion took effect."

"You should have told me, Harry!"

The distress in Ron's voice made Harry flinch, although he understood the redhead's reaction.

"I'm telling you now," he pointed out.

"Yeah, but ...." Ron pushed one hand through his hair, looking baffled and upset. "I gave you hell that week because you kept pushing me away, and you never explained why. If I'd known "

"What could you have done?"

"I could have been there for you."

Harry closed his eyes briefly. It was such a simple phrase for Ron to use, but it meant so much. "Yeah, I realise that," he said quietly, after a pause. "I should have told you at the time, but I didn't. I'm sorry."

"Don't say that." Ron sat up and tugged on Harry's arm. "Come here, you great lug." He pulled Harry into an awkward embrace. "Don't keep stuff like this from me again, okay?"

"Okay." Harry rested his forehead against Ron's shoulder for a moment. He wondered if this meant he had to confess everything to Ron right now.

Ron took the decision away from him. "So tell me what this has to do with Malfoy."

They released each other reluctantly and Harry swung his legs up onto the bed, stretching out next to Ron. Trying to sound as factual as possible, he related what Malfoy had unexpectedly told him earlier about being subjected to Jezebel by his father and Voldemort.

Ron wrinkled his nose, looking uneasy and a little disgusted by these revelations. "Nasty," he commented. "Not that it doesn't confirm what I've always thought of Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort. Sick bastards."

"Yeah. I think it left Malfoy a bit ... traumatised, for want of a better word. He certainly didn't like being pulled into what we were doing last night."

"It's not like we did that deliberately!" Ron said sharply.

"No, but he wasn't thinking too clearly when he spoke to me. He calmed down eventually."

"Hm." Ron looked unconvinced but left it at that. "So what happens next?"

"I'll have to have another go at him about Pansy's parents I suppose," Harry replied. "It wasn't a good time to push him this evening, but Sirius will want more than he gave me today."

"Will he talk to you?"

Harry smiled faintly at Ron's sceptical tone. "Yeah, I think he will. He's talked to me before about other stuff he seems to be a bit less prickly when there's no one else around."

"Great. And when was the last time no one else was around?"

That sounded a bit aggressive. Harry eyed Ron warily. "Last week, when I had to stay at home? I played chess with him one afternoon."

There was a pause. Ron was giving him an unreadable look. "You did, did you?"

"Yeah. He's quite a good player."

"Yeah?"

"He's not as good as you, of course."

"Really?"

"Really. I beat him twice," Harry said in a small voice. He chanced a look at Ron and was relieved to see that his partner was fighting back a grin.

"I think you'll find there are a lot of things he's not as good at as me," the redhead informed him blandly.

"I'll take your word for it," Harry assured him fervently.

"You'd better!" Ron aimed a mock punch at Harry's arm and they launched into a wrestling match that ended with Ron pinning Harry to the bed, tickling him, and Harry yelling for mercy.

"Playing chess with him now, are you? Is that what they're calling it these days?" Ron finally let up and sat back, putting his hands on his hips. "He's got a bloody nerve!"

Harry laughed breathlessly. "Are you going to let me tell you about the weird conversation we had?"

"I dunno how queasy is it going to make me?"

They were interrupted by someone hammering on the door.

"Cut it out, you two!" Dean's voice roared from outside. "Use a bloody privacy spell!"

"BOG OFF!" Ron roared back, making Harry collapse into helpless laughter again. "Honestly, you can't even tickle someone around here without getting yelled at ...."

"I don't think it's the tickle that bothers them so much as the slap and tickle!"

"Yeah, well we'll get around to the slap and tickle later ... when you've told me all about this conversation."

Harry grinned up at him. "Are you going to sit on me all night?"

Ron raised a brow. "Is that a leading question?"

Harry began to laugh again, but he managed to push Ron off and dragged himself up a bit so that he was sitting back against the pillows. Ron settled himself next to him, half reclining against the pillows too, but propped up on one elbow so he could see Harry's face.

"So go on tell me about this famous conversation."

"He offered me some advice on my publicity problems," Harry said blandly.

"He did what?" Ron stared at him, clearly not sure if Harry was simply winding him up.

"Seriously. He'd make a good PR man, you know he knows all the moves."

"Yeah, I'm getting that impression! So what are the mighty guru's words of wisdom on you and Rita Skeeter?"

So Harry related the conversation he'd had with Malfoy over the breakfast table a week ago, finishing with his suggestion of doing a warts-and-all interview for one publication. Then he told Ron about the ideas he'd had for improving on that.

Ron digested this for a while. "It all depends on how far you're prepared to go," he said finally. "If the whole point is to get them off your back about things like who you're going to marry, then you're going to have to tell them gay, aren't you? Otherwise they'll still be bugging you for years to come."

"Realistically, they're not going to stop completely anyway," Harry admitted. "But I think Malfoy's point was that if I cover as much as I can in one interview and make it clear that I'm never going to do another interview for anyone, then maybe they'll back off a bit. I can't stop the likes of Rita Skeeter reporting on what I do, short of taking out an injunction against her " He paused and blinked at Ron. "Is that even possible against the wizard press? I know you can do it with Muggle newspapers."

Ron smiled. "Yeah, but you have to go through the Ministry and you have to have a really good reason to do it. Talk to Neville. I think his gran took out an injunction when he was a baby to stop the press hounding him. The only reason the same thing wasn't done for you was probably because your legal guardians were Muggles."

"So I wouldn't get one now because I'm an adult."

"You might, if it could be proved that she was interfering with your work as an Auror. But you'd have to prove it wasn't in the public interest for people to know."

"Huh. Well, anyway, spilling the beans won't stop her sniffing around, but it'll limit the damage she can do." Harry rolled onto his back and stared up at the canopy of the bed pensively. "Malfoy's main point which I agree with was that I wouldn't want someone like Rita Skeeter breaking the news in the press about you and me. And he's right about it coming out sooner or later, no matter how careful we are. We've been incredibly lucky so far."

"Does that bother you?" Ron's voice was very quiet.

Harry glanced at him, surprised. "Only inasmuch as I hate people prying into things that are no business of theirs. And I hate the idea of you being hounded because of it. Let's face it no matter how it's presented, there are going to be people who ... who aren't very kind about it, and some of them are going to turn on you."

Ron shrugged. "There are going to be people who turn on you because of it," he pointed out. "You're going to get a rough deal however it's presented."

"Yes, but I'd rather it was me who makes the decision when and how. Rather than shock-horror headlines saying stuff like Is the Boy Who Lived Queer? - do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah."

"So, are you game for it? Because I won't do it if you're not happy about it." Harry looked at him anxiously. "I'm not intending to name names, but people are going to work it out fast enough."

"The worst part is already over," Ron said calmly. "We told my parents, we told Sirius, and people like Moody know. So it's not like they can find anyone really important and cause a row, is it? And if you're prepared to stand up and admit you're gay in public, then I'm right there with you, obviously."

"It's a big step, though."

Ron looked at him. "Who are you trying to convince, me or you?"

"Both, probably," Harry admitted.

"So don't make the decision now. I don't suppose you were planning on doing this tomorrow, were you? Fine, wait until we get back from Hogwarts and see how you feel then."

Harry found himself smiling at Ron's matter-of-fact tone. The night they had broken into the Auror Facility to speak to Malfoy, the blond youth asked him if he always did as Ron told him, and he remembered saying "When it makes sense and it often does". This was clearly one of those occasions.

"In the meantime," the redhead continued casually, "how about a bit of that slap and tickle we were discussing a minute ago?"

Harry began to laugh.

       

For once Harry was having a normal dream normal inasmuch as it involved harvesting big blue pumpkins in Hagrid's pumpkin patch and chasing off the leprechauns that were trying to steal them. He was just starting to get really annoyed with Ron, who was sitting crossed legged on top of giant toadstool and giving him useless advice, when something woke him with a start.

For a moment he lay very still, wondering what had happened. Then he realised that Ron was sitting bolt upright next to him.

"Ron?" he murmured sleepily. He reached out a hand to pat his friend. "Are you okay?"

"No."

It took Harry a moment to register this, then he dragged himself up onto an elbow, squinting in the darkness. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know." Ron's voice was tense, frightened. "Something's happening we need to get up." And he was scrambling out of bed before Harry could protest.

Harry had barely got a foot out of bed before Ron was lighting the lamps and rummaging in the closet for his clothes. Wondering what the hell was going on, he found his spectacles and put them on, and followed Ron to the closet, watching as his friend scrambled into jeans and a shirt.

"Ron, will you tell me what's going on?"

"I don't know what's going on," Ron said curtly. Unlike Harry, he was wide awake, which was most unlike him. He found Harry's clothes and tossed them at him. "Come on get dressed. We have to wake the others."

"What? But "

Ron was already opening the bedroom door. He bounced off the privacy spell and swore, yanking his wand out of his sleeve so that he could take it down, and was off down the stairs before Harry could stop him. Swearing himself, Harry struggled into his jeans and a sweatshirt and hurried down the stairs after him.

Ron was already hammering on doors, yelling to the others to get up. Harry was left to try and explain what was going on to an irate Ginny and Dean as his partner ran down the next flight of stairs and began to hammer on Seamus and Neville's doors in turn.

"Vot is going on?" an indignant and heavily accented male voice demanded.

Harry turned to see Viktor Krum standing in Hermione's doorway with a sheet around his waist. Ordinarily this would be a prime opportunity for teasing Hermione, especially since Krum had most definitely not been in the house when he and Ron went to bed, but Harry was too frazzled to do more than note that it was him.

"I don't know. Ron's going nuts about something look, let's just get everyone up and see if we can work out what's going on."

Ginny made a few sharp comments about her brother, but reached for her dressing gown and wrapped it around herself. Krum disappeared back into Hermione's room, presumably to get some clothes on and rouse his girlfriend.

Harry hurried down the stairs, pushing past an outraged Dean, and hammered on Malfoy's door.

"Alright, alright, I'm awake ...." Malfoy pulled his door open and peered blearily at Harry. "What the hell is going on, Potter?"

"I don't " Harry stopped. Something was suddenly registering as very wrong to him. He looked up and saw Hermione and Krum standing in the middle of the stairs, both of them frozen in a listening position.

It was nothing audible. But suddenly Harry was aware that the background hum of the magical alarms on the house had stopped.

Malfoy sensed it too. He stared at Harry for a split second, white as a ghost, and Harry saw him swallow. "Oh shit ...."

"Everyone get downstairs now!" Ron all but shrieked from where he stood on the last flight of stairs.

No one needed telling twice, not even Neville or Malfoy.

They all stumbled into the living room and stared around at each other. Seamus had his arm around a strange girl with long blonde curls; she looked petrified. Harry didn't blame her; his own guts were freezing with dread. He exchanged glances with Krum, then looked across at Ron. His partner had that weird, fey look he sometimes got when he was locked into one of his crystal-gazing trances.

"Ron?"

Ron's eyes met his, but he was definitely off with the fairies somewhere. "It's coming," he muttered unhelpfully.

"Great," Dean said tensely. "What's coming and what do we do now?"

"The house alarms are gone," Harry said, his voice sounding very strange even to himself, "and Ron's going nuts about something. I think you should all get out of here now, before anything else happens."

"But "

"No arguments," Hermione said unexpectedly. "We're Aurors; you're not. Get out just in case, Dean."

Harry nodded, relieved at her support. "Neville, you take Ginny home to the Burrow and tell Mr. Weasley what's happening. He'll know who to contact. Dean, go to the Ministry and wake them up. Seamus " He hesitated. He had been intending to ask Seamus to get Sirius, but there was the girl to think of.

Seamus seemed to read his mind. "Nev, take Trudie to the Burrow with you and Ginny," he said. Trudie tried to protest, but he put a hand over her mouth. "No, go with Neville. The Burrow's safe." He looked across at Harry. "I'll go to Godric's Hollow."

"Yes. The Facility might know something's wrong already, but Sirius and Remus are at home tonight and won't."

Within moments, the five of them had gone through the fireplace, leaving Harry, Ron, Hermione, Malfoy and Krum together in the living room.

"Now what?" Malfoy whispered tensely. He kept looking up at the ceiling as though expecting Death Eaters to come crashing through it like paratroopers.

"I don't know." Harry grabbed Ron, giving him a gentle shake. "Ron, come back." When Ron's eyes remained confused and faraway, he shook him harder and gave him a slap. "Ron! Come back, we need you here."

A tiny gasp and Ron was suddenly back to full awareness. Harry hung onto him until he got his balance, then released him. "What was that all about?"

"Death Eaters on their way here "

Krum strode forward. "How many?" he demanded.

"Three maybe four."

Malfoy swore. "Potter, we have got to get out of here! They're coming for us, don't you see? Shit we're all three of us in one place, how bloody stupid is that?"

Harry looked across at Krum. "He's right. Viktor, can you get him out of here?"

"What! Potter "

"Shut up!" Harry told him curtly, and something in his expression silenced Malfoy. Harry turned back to Krum. "Ron, Hermione and I are bound to stay it's our job. But Malfoy's effectively a non-combatant and the Floo's fixed so he can't use it on his own. Can you get him to some place safe?"

Krum hesitated, then nodded.

"Good. Go."

Krum shot a quick, anxious glance at Hermione, then grabbed Malfoy and shoved him, protesting, into the fireplace and they were gone.

Just in time.

Like a brick crashing through an ice-covered lake, something punched through what was left of the house protections. Harry saw the spells on the walls briefly become visible as they buckled and tore, and felt the inner shriek of the charms as they were ripped apart. Magic, obscenely powerful magic with a signature wholly unlike his own, flowed through the house like hot breath and was gone again in a heartbeat. Then Harry felt a dull jangling across his nerves a remnant of the anti-Apparition spells letting him and the others know that someone, probably several someones, had just Apparated into the house.

He glanced to his left, catching Ron's eyes, then to the right, gathering up Hermione. She nodded to him.

They were Aurors. The oaths they had sworn when they began their training would not allow them to simply try and escape themselves when they knew there were Death Eaters nearby. It was their duty to try and apprehend them.

"Wands out, everyone," he said quietly, taking charge. "Hermione, you take this floor. Be careful. Make sure it's clear and set up wards to make it stays that way. Then follow me and Ron, but I want you to set up wards behind us. Okay?"

"Clear," she said softly. No arguments. Not in a hostile situation.

"Ron, we'll take it floor by floor. You've got my back."

"Clear." No arguments from him either. They had done this in training too many times.

Harry took a deep, slightly shaky breath.

"Let's go."

       

Harry wished he had thought to put his watch on. He guessed it was about two or three o'clock in the morning, for the darkness still had a silky, blanket-like silence to it, but it was impossible to be sure. The passages and stairs were lit only by the faint glow of street lights through the landing windows. It was just about enough for him to climb the stairs without tripping up, but he wasn't about to make any kind of light that would alert their unwanted guests to his approach. Instead, Harry set up a minor shield spell in front of himself that would alert him to the presence of any traps on the stairs.

Hermione peeled away from them as soon as they reached the bottom of the staircase and darted off to the left to secure the front door and passage. Harry waited long enough for her to come back and make her way along to the kitchen, then he started up the stairs as silently as he could.

They had done this a hundred times in training, but although Harry always felt nervous when he went into one of Moody's training mazes, it was nothing like the horrible, crawling anticipation of the real thing. If they encountered a Death Eater now, it wouldn't be Moody or Sirius or Lupin or any one of a dozen other Aurors in disguise who tackled them with a non-fatal, albeit rather painful, binding curse. This would be someone much more dangerous and they would probably be striking to kill.

Or, in Ron's case, to kidnap, which was why Harry was keeping him between himself and Hermione.

They reached the first landing without mishap, and Harry signed to Ron to watch the second flight of stairs while he checked out the rooms on this floor. He had barely checked the bathroom, however, before Ron was signalling to him frantically. He had heard something on the floor above.

Harry was torn. Standard procedure said he should finish checking this floor anyway, but there was no way he was sending Ron up those stairs alone. It wasn't a matter of sentiment; it was a basic risk assessment that said that, of the two of them, Ron was currently in more danger of attack than he was. Hermione was still checking the ground floor.

Not knowing what else to do, he left the first floor rooms and joined Ron at the foot of the stairs. They started to climb once more.

There was definitely someone upstairs; it wasn't so much a matter of audible sound but a feel of weight, breath and magic in the air. Skin crawling, Harry flattened his back against the wall and strained his eyes, trying to see in the gloom. There was even less light on this floor, where there was no landing window out onto the street.

He had barely reached the curve of the banister - ironically where he, Ron and Malfoy had been crouching when Dean's bolster set off its own chain of events - when there was a flash from one of the doorways.

Harry dropped, feeling the curse howl over his head, and heard it crack the plaster of the wall behind him as it struck. With admirable speed Ron cast a spell in response and a ball of brilliant blue-white light hurtled towards Hermione's bedroom door with the force of a rocket launcher, shattering it. There was a sharp gasp of pain from behind it, probably more from the flying splinters than the curse itself, but it was enough. Harry threw a full body-bind curse in the direction of the sound and had the satisfaction of hearing another gasp and a thud.

It didn't mean the intruder was fully petrified, of course, but he had been injured at the very least and that was enough. Harry hurtled up the last couple of steps, keeping low, and cast a stunning spell through the doorway just in case. Another flash of light came from somewhere in the region of Dean's room; Harry dodged it and sent a long stream of cold fire back, but the attacker was already out of the way and Harry did not want to follow them down to the end of the passage, where the tactical advantage was all on the other man's side. On the other hand, he didn't want to give them a chance to get away if he could help it.

A sudden display of fireworks from the floor below warned him that Hermione had encountered unexpected resistance, and focussed his mind sharply. What he needed was something to do his job for him something that would be less at risk being sent into the rooms at the end of the passage. Harry grimaced for a moment, but he had long learned the advantage in using his natural talents.

"Serpensortia," he whispered, pointing his wand at a spot on the floor two or three feet away.

Conjuring and handling snakes was a particular ability of Voldemort's, which was Harry's principal objection to it, but when it came to safeguarding himself and his friends, he was willing to use almost anything to hand.

The snake that flowed from the tip of his wand to land with a dull thud on the floor was a huge boa constrictor; deadly enough, but not poisonous and more easily controlled than its smaller, more temperamental cousins. The lidless yellow eyes fixed on Harry expectantly, and he forced back his natural dislike of the reptile.

"Seek. Find. Hold," he whispered to it, shuddering inwardly at the hissing Parseltongue syllables issuing from his lips. Short, to-the-point phrases were best with creatures that had such a radically different mindset to humans. "Go - " and he pointed down the passage.

With the barest flicker of a forked tongue, the giant serpent uncoiled itself and slithered away with eerie speed and silence. With any luck it would surprise the other Death Eater and get him in a tight grip before he could stop it.

Ron was wide-eyed when Harry turned back to him, his expression saying more loudly than words that he really didn't like it when his friend did things like that.

Me neither, Harry thought grimly. It had taken a long time for him to see that being a Parselmouth could be an advantage, and he still wasn't wholly convinced. Snakes were Voldemort's natural allies, and dealing with them was not only risky, but made Harry feel just the tiniest bit dirty. On the other hand, I don't like it when you take an unexpected walk on the Astral Plane either, Ron, but it was just as well you did tonight.

Then Ron turned away, scuttling back to the head of the stairs. Now it was Harry's turn to watch his friend's back as they tried to find a vantage point where they could help Hermione without putting themselves at extreme risk. She seemed to be holding her own nicely, although it was a little frightening to watch - her particular forte was fire, and for a moment it looked as if the whole of the first floor was in flames. Only the lack of real smoke clued Harry that this was witch-fire, although it probably looked real enough to her assailant.

The curses being cast were coming from two directions; Neville's room and Seamus's. It reminded Harry a little of the wizard pillow fight - and that gave him an idea. As far as he could tell, his room and Ron's had not been touched; he pointed his wand up the narrow attic stairs and snapped "Accio pillows!"

There were eight pillows on their king-size bed, and all eight came hurtling out at his command. Ron caught on to the idea at once; one benefit of the two of them being so close. He whipped control of four of the pillows from Harry at once and sent them down to Hermione. She sent the first two flying towards her assailants at top speed; they blasted them out of the air almost immediately, but that had been the merest distraction.

Harry, Ron and Hermione sent the final six pillows flying in three volleys of two, and at the last minute transfigured them into a hail of objects - hammers, knives, rocks, exploding dung-bombs. One Death Eater was instantly bludgeoned to the ground; the other dodged just in time and clearly decided to give up the fight. Harry felt the crude tingle across his skin as he Apparated out of the building, and a second tingle moments later told him that they had lost the other Death Eater on the floor above.

Watching Hermione walk through the cold witch-flames to examine the body of the second Death Eater they had caught was unnerving, and Harry stayed braced just in case, but she stunned the man without remorse, just in case, and left him where he was while she methodically checked the other rooms. Then she put out the artificial fires with a flick of her wand.

"All the door locks are dead," she called up to Harry softly, referring to the magically animated locks Bethany Bloom had installed when Malfoy moved in. "I can't open Malfoy's - it must have jammed shut when he left it."

"Figures," Ron said, equally softly. Malfoy's lock had been difficult from the start, being rude, defiant and uncooperative towards its owner - Bethany's idea of humour.

"Leave it for now," Harry said. "If we can't get in, then anyone inside probably can't get out either."

Turning away, he went to check on the second floor. Aside from the stunned and petrified body of the first Death Eater, there was nothing to find apart from the wreckage of Hermione's bedroom door and a number of scorch-marks on the walls from spent hexes. Even the snake appeared to have gone, which suggested that it might have hitched a ride with the Death Eater who got away.

Ron went up to check on their room and reported back that nothing had been touched. He was frowning as he came back down the stairs.

"Is it just me, or was that a remarkably pointless exercise on their part?" he asked. "They made all that effort, taking down the alarms and shields, just to fling a couple of curses at us and run away? And leaving behind two bodies?"

The same question had been bothering Harry, but he had other things on his mind. "Here, give me a hand to tie this one up and lug him downstairs ...."

By the time both the captives were dumped unceremoniously in the passage, it was obvious that Dean, Seamus and Neville had done their jobs. The first person to arrive was Arthur Weasley, swiftly followed down the chimney by Bill, but before either of them could do more than demand to know if everyone was all right, Sirius, Lupin and a dozen other Aurors, MLE officers and Ministry warlocks started Apparating into the living room.

"This is getting to be a habit," Hermione muttered irritably. "Why can't they all turn up when we actually need them, not ten minutes afterwards?"

The next hour was a confused mess of explanations, punctuated by searches and different people Apparating in and out of the house. Krum returned with Malfoy once the all-clear was given, and the captives were taken away to be revived and questioned, while the house was examined for damage. Harry had a sneaking feeling that none of them would get back to bed again that night, for Moody, when he arrived, had a particularly intent gleam in his normal eye as he examined everything.

For the time being, however, they all had something more important on their minds; Malfoy's bedroom door, which was still refusing to open. It was almost as if it had been fused into the frame.

Finally, Lupin made them all stand back and he used a severing charm to cut between the door and the frame, slicing open the lock and hinges in the process. The door, bereft of support, fell in at the merest push and Lupin stepped over it into the room.

When he emerged, a few seconds later, he was very pale.

"Alastor " he said tersely.

For a moment, Moody's magical eye went crazy, flicking back and forth from Lupin's face, to the empty door frame, to the other wizards gathered on the landing, and back to Lupin again. Then he and Sirius stepped forward, following the other man back into the room.

Harry didn't know what made him follow the senior Aurors to the doorway and look inside. It wasn't morbid curiosity, but more a nasty prickle up his spine that told him the answer to the mystery of the Death Eaters' attack lay beyond the threshold.

For a moment he couldn't see anything, for the other men were in the way. Then Lupin stepped back from the head of the bed.

At first Harry stared uncomprehendingly. The thing on the bed didn't look real; it was as stiff and posed as a mannequin in a shop window. Confused, his eyes drifted away from it and fixed on the wall above the head of the bed. Lurid red letters had been daubed across the faded wallpaper:

WAS IT GOOD FOR YOU TOO?

Then, as with a Magic Eye picture, his focus seemed to change and the figure on the bed made sense. Transfixed, Harry felt his stomach contract sharply and suddenly he felt quite light-headed. It was Pansy of course it was Pansy, how could he have thought it was anything or anyone else? But her face, her body ... she was a pitiful wreck compared to the vivacious, trouble-making girl he had known at Hogwarts. Laid out across Malfoy's bed in an obscene posture, her naked form was battered and bruised and covered in horrifying runes and symbols, some painted onto her body in inks and blood, others cut into the flesh as they had been on Malfoy himself. Her face, slack in death, was discoloured and the remains of her make-up was streaked around her eyes as though she had wept. There was a ligature mark around her neck, and welts around her wrists and ankles.

"Harry!"

That was Lupin's voice, sharp with dismay and concern, but it was Sirius who whipped around and seized his arm, pushing him from the room.

"Harry, no, don't look "

"It's Pansy," Harry heard himself say faintly. He couldn't seem to stop staring around Sirius's shoulder.

"I know. Just don't "

"Why is she there?" Why are you saying such stupid things? his mind demanded, but his voice seemed to be connected to a different part of his brain, a part that didn't want to connect the dots. "Why did they leave her there?"

"Why the hell do you think?"

Malfoy's voice was harsh, but held the same strange, shell-shocked note as Harry's. When Harry turned to look at him, he was leaning against the wall and for a moment his face looked utterly haggard with misery and self-loathing; then he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes for a second or two, and when he took them away again the cold, indifferent mask was back in place. "They put her there as a message to me, Potter. Why else would she be in my bed?"

He must have been standing behind his shoulder, Harry realised, when he looked through the door. And yet in the space of a heartbeat he was behaving as though it was an everyday occurrence. Sudden, unreasoning fury gripped him, and he had the blond youth pinned up against the wall before he was fully aware of his own intentions.

"Don't you dare stand there and act like this is nothing, Malfoy!"

"Harry, no!"

Hands grabbed at him, trying to drag them apart, but Harry refused to let go of the other youth's shirt, shaking him like a rag doll.

"She was your girlfriend! You treated her like shit for years, and she let you make a complete fool of her, and now she's dead because of you "

Somehow Krum and Sirius managed to prise his fingers from Malfoy and pull him away; released, Malfoy slid down the wall into a heap on the floor, where he sat staring up at Harry with empty eyes.

"Yeah," he said dully, "I treated her like shit because I thought if I did that, they might leave her alone. Good plan, don't you think, Potter? Pity it didn't work."

 

End Part 16/30

 

 

PotterBrother Glad you liked it. Regarding Harry's parents, I'm personally inclined to feel that he needs to break away from them at some point. So far, a lot of his life has been defined by his relationship to them, their sacrifice and Voldemort's role in it all. Harry needs to become his own person, don't you think? So far he's been labelled "The Boy Who Lived", "You do look remarkably like James, except for your eyes, you have Lily's eyes" stuff like that. Possibly only Ron and Hermione know the real Harry.

Nayako Yep, I'm a bit twisted *grin* Sorry about the Percy thing, but often people aren't very accepting of gay couples in real life, and especially not other men. I could see Percy being like that. He's a very buttoned-up sort of person and it just wouldn't do, don't you know.

SparkySparkles More on Nick Curtis later, but I think it's fair to say that they both did and didn't find what they were looking for *looks enigmatic again* Things that make me blush ... hm. Making stupid mistakes in public will make me blush I'm really quite shy in person (please ignore Beth Ann's laughter at that statement). Finding I've done something silly, like leave the L out of the word "Public" in an important legal document I've typed, will make me blush, especially if I only find out after I've handed it to that gorgeous London barrister with the words PUBIC INQUIRY emblazoned across the top ... (and yes, that has actually happened to me!).

Jen Thanks *grin* I enjoyed writing the bed, needless to say. Unfortunately, things are now back to square one again with Malfoy *evil chuckle*

Beth Ann I don't think you did miss it! I'm sure I remember you growling at me for abusing your poor Neville .... I should think by now that Harry thinks being a wizard is humiliating quite a lot of the time!

Sally I'm not running, but I am keeping a watchful eye on you *grin* You're taking GCSE Latin? Ooh, best of luck! I never got to take any of the interesting languages I had to plod through French and lump it. Urk. What does Malfoy feel when Harry and Ron get up close and personal .... Good question. It's mostly sensory (i.e. he experiences what they feel physically) although there is some emotional input, and how much he 'receives' depends on how emotionally intense it is for them. He can't read their minds, and they can't read each other's or his. It also doesn't happen every time the circle doesn't really work independently, it's just that they currently have no control over it. It could happen in reverse, although it would be less intense because there's only him involved (they wouldn't 'receive' from his partner). I haven't explored the full ramifications of the circle as much as I would like in this story I would love to look at what a linking like this means for Harry and Ron as a couple, for example, but if I'd gone into that in "Circles of Power" it would probably be 40 chapters long and still a work in progress!

Shorty Spooky Welcome! I'm glad you're enjoying it and hope you will continue to do so!

Ice Lupus - *grin* I suspect Draco's reaction isn't quite what you were expecting, but I hope it still works for you.


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