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 Seventeen - Curses And Clairvoyants

By Mad Martha

       

Harry stared up at the bedroom ceiling and tried to will himself to sleep, but despite his exhaustion it wasn't happening. It wasn't the right bedroom ceiling, and the bed beside him was empty.

Moody had put them all through a gruelling ten hours of questioning after the incident, during which every decision Harry had made was raked over and turned inside out. He had come in for some strong criticism, mostly for his decision to investigate the second floor before completing a check of the first. His explanation, that he had been trying to avoid putting Ron at unnecessary risk, had not gone down well; Moody had been of the opinion that his judgement was skewed because it was Ron and that he should have taken Hermione upstairs with him, leaving Ron to deal with the lower floor.

Hermione had come under fire for allowing Harry to take charge in the first place, when she would obviously have been the more objective commander; and the only one of them to come out of the affair with any kudos at all was Ron himself, for his swift action in alerting everyone and his efficient back-up of Harry. Even so, Moody had a few sharp comments to make about him allowing himself to be overwhelmed by the vision that had awoken him.

At the end of the process they were all wrung out and ready to drop. Then Moody dropped the final bombshell. Since the student house was currently unsafe, they would all be moved to temporary lodgings for the next few days - and Ron, Harry and Malfoy were to be split up, for their own safety. Malfoy would be kept at the Auror Facility until it was time to catch the train to Hogwarts; Ron was sent home to his parents' house; and Harry had to stay with Sirius and Lupin.

Harry sighed and turned over for the umpteenth time, thumping his pillow. This was his room - the room Sirius and Remus had given him for the long summer holiday he had spent with them before embarking on his final year at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, it didn't have entirely wonderful associations for Harry, for it had also been the most miserable summer holiday of his life, and that was saying something. He had fallen out with Ron a matter of days before they finished their sixth year, which was to set a pattern for their interaction throughout the holidays and well into the following school year.

Harry closed his eyes determinedly once more, only to open them again a few minutes later. The image of Pansy Parkinson's brutally defiled body would not be pushed to the back of his brain, no matter how hard he tried. If Ron had been with him, they could perhaps have talked it over and got past the worst of the shock, at least enough to sleep. As it was, it was early afternoon on a hot summer day and he was alone with his problem.

In the end he gave up and got up, dragging himself into the bathroom for a shower that did little either to wake him up or relax him. Gritty-eyed and irritable, Harry dressed and went downstairs to make himself some tea.

To his surprise Sirius was still at home, although he looked to be on the verge of leaving. He looked up as Harry walked through the living room and gave him a sharp, appraising glance.

"Are you all right? I thought you'd still be asleep."

"I couldn't sleep," Harry muttered.

Sirius followed him into the kitchen, watching as he put the kettle on to boil. "What's wrong?"

"Like I just said," Harry told him grumpily, "I couldn't sleep."

The older man leaned against the worktop, sighing. "I'm sorry you had to see the girl like that - "

"Why?" Harry snapped, before he could stop himself. "You keep telling us that we'll see worse things than dead bodies when we take up our assignments."

"That was pretty nasty even by Voldemort's usual standards," Sirius told him quietly. "Nasty enough to shock young Malfoy, and he's seen some gruesome things since he left school. Probably even before then, if the truth was known."

"So it was aimed at him." Harry scooped tea into the pot with controlled viciousness.

"Yes, although I would imagine it was intended to be seen by the widest possible audience. The only detail missing was the Dark Mark above the house, and I'm sure that was only forgotten because you surprised the Death Eaters before they could cast it." Sirius watched Harry for a moment or two before adding, "You shouldn't take what Moody said too much to heart, you know. He would have criticised any of us the same way, and you did extremely well even so. Considering how unprepared you all were, it's an excellent result to have captured two of them and taken no casualties yourself."

"He's not going to let Ron and I work together when we finish our training, though, is he?"

Sirius blinked. "What makes you say that?"

"He thinks my judgement is flawed where Ron's concerned."

"Do you think it is?"

Harry grimaced as he poured boiling water onto the tealeaves. "I don't know! How am I supposed to tell? I thought I was doing the right thing when I kept Ron between Hermione and me."

"And it wasn't necessarily the wrong thing to do, either. You made a judgement based on the circumstances as you saw them. With hindsight, perhaps you could have done better - it's Moody's job to point that out, so that next time you'll perhaps look at things differently. Like it's his job to point out that your judgement could be flawed where Ron is concerned."

"What? Just because I sleep with him?"

"But you don't just sleep with him, do you?" Sirius replied mildly. "We'd all be a lot less concerned about the pair of you if that was the case. But there's an emotional attachment between you, and you'd be more than human if that didn't affect the decisions you make where he's concerned."

Harry stared at him. "And that makes us a liability working together?"

Sirius chose not to answer him immediately, which was not reassuring. "Not necessarily," he said finally, "but it raises questions, certainly."

"What kind of questions?"

"How far will you go to protect Ron? How far would he go to protect you? Would the responsibility you feel for each other override your responsibility to your mission? Ultimately, Harry would you put others at risk because of your commitment to each other? Would you put the whole cause at risk because of it?" Sirius sighed at the look on Harry's face. "He's your Achilles' heel, Harry, and you're his. If Voldemort discovers that, it'll magnify the risk to the pair of you immeasurably."

"Then we've all got a problem," Harry said flatly, "because in case you've forgotten, Ron, Malfoy and I have just become an unholy threesome. You can't separate us forever - and judging by the other night, it wouldn't do you much good if you tried."

"I'll settle for keeping the three of you safe until I put you on the train to Hogwarts," Sirius advised him wearily. "The rest I leave to the experts. Now, if you'll be okay for a few hours, I have to go and hear what they found from Pansy's body. Moony'll be home shortly, so you won't be on your own for more than an hour or so."

"I'll be fine," Harry replied, subdued. "I'm going to try and get some of my thank-you notes written."

"I don't think Hedwig's going to thank you for that," his godfather said wryly.

       

Harry was meticulous about things like sending thank-you notes when he received presents; an admirable trait, but one which became a burden at times like this. During the first ten years that he lived with the Dursleys, he had never received anything from anyone that required a written response due to the Dursleys being his only relatives and him not having any friends. His first Christmas at Hogwarts, however, had brought a small selection of gifts from friends, including Ron's then largely unknown mother, and had started Harry in the habit of writing personal notes of thanks.

From then on, birthdays and Christmas had been transformed for him. Most boys of his age would have been severely disappointed to receive such a relatively meagre haul of gifts, but for Harry every single offering, from the Invisibility Cloak passed to him anonymously by Dumbledore to the smallest box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans given by a shy first year Gryffindor girl when he was sixteen, was wonderful.

The task of sending notes had not, then, been onerous. Admittedly, the number he sent seemed to increase with each passing year, but this year was unique. Harry devoutly hoped that the wizarding community had got it all out of their system, because he honestly didn't think he could cope with such a mammoth task again.

His wrist had just started to ache when Lupin walked in, looking weary. Harry abandoned his quill without regret and went to make some more tea, which the older man accepted with relief.

"What a day," he said, sipping the hot liquid.

"What happened?" Harry asked, concerned.

Lupin sighed. "Apart from having to witness the examination of poor Pansy Parkinson?" he asked dryly. Harry flinched. "That was the worst part, but it's been eventful all round."

"What happened with those Death Eaters we caught?"

"Nothing. They're dead."

Harry stared, shocked. "How?" he demanded.

"A slow-acting poison, we think. They probably took it before they set out and would have been given the antidote if they returned successfully." Lupin shook his head. "Effectively a suicide mission can you imagine? We didn't realise until it was too late. One was dead in his cell when Kisbie went in to question him, and the other died before the mediwizards could arrive."

"Do we know who they were?" Harry asked after a moment. He and Ron hadn't had time to unmask them after the battle at the house.

"Yes, unfortunately. One was a member of the Mcnair family and the other was Gregory Goyle. You knew him, didn't you?"

"He was a close friend of Malfoy's." Harry turned away, fiddling with his teaspoon. He had always detested Malfoy's thuggish friends but, like Pansy Parkinson, they had been schoolmates and contemporaries of his. Childhood disagreements were a far cry from violent death in adulthood.

"So here we go again," Lupin said very quietly, his tone morose. "Voldemort's filthy war .... And a bunch of youngsters caught up in it again, dying for causes they have no hope of understanding or benefiting from. That boy should have been starting out in a normal life, not aiding and abetting in the murder of a girl he went to school with."

"Goyle knew what he was getting into when he became a Death Eater," Harry said sharply.

"Did he?" Lupin's eyes were sad when they met the younger man's. "Do you really think he fully understood what it meant to pledge himself to Voldemort? Young Malfoy didn't, and he knew far more about it than his friends did. They're all far too young, Harry you're far too young to fully understand the issues here, and you have a better understanding of Voldemort's motivations than most. None of you should be involved in this at all not you, not Malfoy, not Ron or Hermione."

"If that's true, then why were we accepted for training as Aurors?" demanded Harry, shocked to hear his father's friend saying these things.

"Because we have no choice. We have to have as many soldiers in this war as possible."

This echoed a comment of Malfoy's too closely for Harry's comfort.

You're an Auror, Harry Potter, a foot-soldier in Dumbledore's war. The Muggles have a term for it: gun fodder ....

"I never agreed with any of you being accepted for training as Aurors," Lupin was saying, jerking Harry out of his thoughts. "You least of all. I know Sirius and I have never said this before, Harry there didn't seem to be much point but this is not what James and Lily would have wanted for you. I can say that with absolute certainty."

For several minutes Harry was too shocked to respond. This was the second intense conversation he'd had with one of his father's friends in less than two hours, and his sleep-deprived brain really wasn't up to the task right now. On the other hand, a natural opportunity to say such things might never come again.

"Yeah, well," he said finally, swallowing, "it's not exactly what I would have wanted, either, but under the circumstances it's what I need to do." He stared into his mug, aware that Lupin was studying him.

"What would you have wanted to do, if Voldemort wasn't an issue?" the older wizard asked.

Harry managed a smile. "Need you ask? I wanted to play Quidditch professionally. I always had this dream of playing for England."

Lupin smiled back. "James would have liked that. He would have liked it a lot."

"Yeah, well there's not much chance of that now, is there?"

"I wouldn't say that. You're just barely twenty-one I don't think there's a door that's closed to you at this point."

"I can't play professional Quidditch with Voldemort on the loose," Harry said flatly, and drained his mug. "Actually, I'm taking a risk every time I fly with the Angels." 'Angels' was the Aurors' team name.

"It adds a certain motivation towards catching him," Lupin suggested affably, trying to diffuse the tension.

For a moment they stared at each other, Harry incredulous. Then he saw the funny side and snickered. Lupin's sense of humour was weird.

"I'll remember that the next time I meet him." He never doubted that there would be a next time. "'Sorry, Voldemort, old man, but you're standing in the way of my career. Be a good chap and off yourself, would you?'"

Lupin laughed. He finished his tea and rubbed his face. "I'll never be able to sleep after all this. I think I'll spend some time trying to rescue the vegetable patch - those beans are going to be a complete loss otherwise."

"Need a hand?" Harry wasn't the world's most enthusiastic gardener, but it was preferable to his thank-you notes, at least for a while.

"You might regret offering when you see some of the weeds out there."

       

The garden was baking in the summer heat. Harry stripped down to his t-shirt and old cut-off jeans, and set about pulling weeds out of the herb garden, while Lupin tackled the bean patch. It was tough work, but it kept his mind nicely occupied for a while; the kind of weeds a wizard's garden developed required considerably more concentration than their Muggle counterparts.

He had been working steadily for nearly an hour, and was dirty, sunburned and sweating, when a tiny ball of feathers suddenly flew into the garden and hurtled around his head, twittering wildly. It was Pigwidgeon. Harry sat back on his heels and managed, with an effort, to persuade the tiny owl to come to his hands and give up the message he was carrying.

The scrap of parchment was from Ron, of course.

I'm going completely nuts here. Save me! When I'm not being nagged by Mum, Ginny and Merry, Millie and Molly are climbing all over me, calling me "Uncle Wonny".

Merry was Charlie's wife; Millie and Molly their two-year-old twin daughters. Harry laughed and stood up, brushing earth from his knees. He took the note inside and found a quill to scribble a quick reply on the back:

You never complain when I climb all over you.

He fastened the note to Pigwidgeon's leg and tossed him out of the window. Then he decided that since he was inside again, he might as well get cleaned up and start preparing dinner.

He'd just finished peeling the potatoes when an unexpected voice said, "It's a bit different when you climb all over me."

"Ron!" Harry whipped around, staring at his friend in astonishment. "How did you get here?"

"Down the chimney; how else?" Ron pinned him up against the kitchen worktop with a hand on either side of him. "You're sunburnt. What have you been doing?"

"Weeding. Ron, you shouldn't be here "

"Bugger that. I can't sleep and I've got nothing to do except be ordered around by my mother and sister all day." Ron's blue eyes were dark with irritation and something else. "I reckon I'm as safe here as anywhere else, so I might as well spend some time with you. I missed you." He dropped one hand and Harry felt him trailing a finger around the leg of his shorts. "What's with these?"

He shrugged, smiling faintly. "It's hot."

"That's one word for it." Ron leaned closer, pushing him back against the worktop.

This is not a good idea, Harry realised even as he let Ron kiss him. Unfortunately, hormones were a lot stronger than common sense at that moment, and he was all too willing to let go and enjoy himself.

It was stupid really. You would think they had been split up for a week, not a matter of hours. But what he had told Malfoy over their chess-game was perfectly true; he was hyper-aware of Ron's presence at all times, and being forcibly separated was difficult. Having Ron here now was like a long drink of cool water on a hot day to Harry.

How far they might have taken things was open to debate, had not Sirius's voice suddenly exclaimed, "What the HELL!"

They shot apart as though scalded. Harry felt the heat surge to his face and Ron looked as though he'd been dipped in a cauldron of boiling water, but Sirius Sirius was livid.

"What do the pair of you think you're playing at?" he roared.

Harry felt absurdly like a teenaged girl caught making out on the sofa with a boy her father disapproved of. It was almost as embarrassing as the time Neville had petrified the student house dinner-table with the words "Are you sleeping with Ron?"

Sirius rounded on Ron before either of them could say anything. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "The whole point of sending you away from Harry was to keep you safe! How can the pair of you be so stupid as to - "

"Sirius."

Lupin never had to raise his voice to utter a rebuke. Sirius took one look at his grave face and turned away, literally clutching at his hair with one hand in frustration.

Lupin stepped away from the back door, still covered in earth and carrying a rake in one hand, and gestured with calm authority to Ron. "Come on. Home with you."

Ron cast a frustrated look at Harry, but there was nothing else to be done. With great reluctance he took a pinch of Floo Powder from the bowl on the shelf and tossed it into the fireplace, stepping into the flames and muttering "The Burrow!" sullenly.

When he was gone, Harry braced himself for a round of recriminations. Sirius looked about ready to throw another fit. But Lupin merely raised his brows at the younger man.

"Not in the kitchen, Harry," he said calmly.

Harry had been expecting a lot of things, but not that. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, at loss for words, before feebly saying, "Okay ."

"You look like you need a shower. Go on."

This was definitely a dismissal, and one look at the other two men's faces told him he'd better not push his luck. He headed out of the room and up the stairs, taking them two at a time, until he reached the top and curiosity overcame him. Eavesdropping would normally have been beneath him, but he felt indignant enough about Sirius's extreme reaction not to care too much right now. He crouched on the top step and strained his ears, wondering what Lupin was going to say.

He had missed most of Sirius's initial bluster when he was running up the stairs, but Lupin's response was quite clear.

"For heaven's sake, Sirius, they're young! What on earth did you expect?"

"I expected a little more responsibility from the pair of them - "

"And of course you were so very responsible yourself at twenty-one, weren't you?"

"That was different!"

"Of course it was - it always is!" The irony in Lupin's voice was unmistakable.

"I didn't have Voldemort breathing down my neck - "

"Nonsense! We all had Voldemort breathing down our necks - the situation wasn't that different. So the risks are a little higher for Harry! What do you want to do? Lock him in an ivory tower? Well, you wouldn't have that right even if he was still a boy, which he's not. He's a grown man and has a right to decide for himself what risks he'll take."

Sirius said something that Harry couldn't make out, which brought a very audible sigh from his friend.

"Padfoot, old friend, I don't want to hurt your feelings but you're not his father. And I like to think that James would have reacted a little more sensibly a few minutes ago!"

Another indistinguishable comment from Sirius. Lupin's response was very sharp this time.

"Who do you think you're fooling? You didn't react that way when you caught him with Cho Chang, and he was barely seventeen then! And don't say that was different too! The only difference was the sex of his partner - "

Sirius's response was audible this time, and very annoyed. "Are you trying to tell me you wouldn't have been embarrassed, Remus?"

"Probably, but I hope I would have had the sense to make myself scarce, rather than making a scene like that. You've known for a long time that he and Ron are involved, and you've given a very good impression of not being bothered by it, so why - "

"It's one thing to know about it in the abstract, but quite another to be confronted with it!"

"Well, I suggest you get your head sorted out before you see Harry again, because I think that subtle distinction might be rather lost on him."

There was a pause, and Harry began to feel uncomfortable. He was beginning to wish he hadn't listened in on this conversation after all; this was an issue he didn't want to confront with someone who was as close to him as Sirius.

It was perfectly true that Sirius's reaction to catching him in flagrante with Cho had been miles away from this; not surprisingly he had thought it hugely funny and never stopped teasing Harry afterwards. But then, that was the typical red-blooded male reaction and if there was one thing Sirius was, it was your typical red-blooded male. He reminded Harry a lot of Seamus who, though an excellent person in every other respect, most definitely fell into the "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" category where relationships were concerned. In fact, the only thing stopping Sirius cutting a swathe through the witches now was the lingering taint of his years in Azkaban.

He supposed he should have been more surprised at his godfather's calm acceptance when he told him about his relationship with Ron, but he had been too relieved at the time to question it. But what Sirius said was quite true: there was a world of difference between knowing about something and actually seeing it with your own eyes. Sirius had just been brought face to face with the reality of Harry's sexuality and it was something he hadn't been prepared for.

Listeners never hear any good of themselves, Harry reminded himself. Very quietly, he stood up and went to his room.

It was only when he was stepping into the shower cubicle and caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror that he saw the ruddy brand on his neck. He touched it self-consciously, thinking it was hardly surprising that Sirius should overreact when he caught an eyeful of his godson being given a bloody great hickey by another man.

The mirror tutted at him severely, sounding just like Madam Pomfrey, the matron at Hogwarts. Harry ignored it and took his shower, feeling pensive. He supposed he was lucky Sirius hadn't walked in on anything more than a rather enthusiastic groping session. He didn't think they would have gone further than that neither of them was particularly interested in sex in odd places but you never knew.

When he returned to his room, draped in towels, Pigwidgeon was zooming around the ceiling. Harry made him wait while he dried off and pulled on some clean clothes, then he retrieved the message. Ron's handwriting, never very neat, was all over the place; evidence of his agitation.

What the hell was all that about?

He found a quill and wrote back:

Sirius just discovered that his godson has a sex life. I think maybe he thought we did quilting in the evenings.

Which was a little unkind to Sirius, but acid enough to tweak Ron's mercurial sense of humour. Harry waved the piece of parchment around for a moment to dry the ink, then rolled it up and secured it to the little owl's leg and let him out of the window.

He was reaching the stage now where he felt perhaps he ought to go back downstairs but his embarrassment wouldn't let him. Resisting the urge to bite his nails, Harry sprawled out on his bed and stared up at the ceiling, mentally poking at what he had overheard.

Perhaps half an hour later there was a knock at his bedroom door. He stared at it for a moment before calling, "Come in."

Sirius walked in. He looked every bit as prickly and defensive as Harry felt, which was not a good sign, but he didn't immediately launch into any angry reprimands, which was promising. Instead he walked over to the bed and sat down on the side of it.

"Make yourself at home!" Harry told him, heavy on the irony.

"Thank you, I have!" Sirius retorted, equally ironic. There was a moment of uneasy silence between them, then he muttered, "Sorry I shouted at you earlier." He was not good at making gracious apologies.

"S'alright." Harry wasn't great at accepting them either.

They stared at each other warily, neither wanting to be the first to look away. Finally, Harry rolled his eyes and sighed.

"I haven't grown an extra head, Sirius!" He decided to be blunt. "For crying out loud, we were just kissing. You got a bigger eyeful than that when you walked in on me and Cho!"

"Cho was a bit more attractive than Ron," his godfather pointed out.

At least he wasn't dithering around the subject.

"That depends on your point of view, doesn't it?"

"Hm." Sirius was still eyeing him a bit doubtfully.

"We really weren't going to go any further than that, you know," Harry told him.

"I'm glad about that. I don't know if I could ever have faced that set of saucepans again if you had."

Typical Sirius humour, and his godson was glad to hear it. But he sighed and rolled his eyes again melodramatically, just for appearances' sake.

"For someone who ragged me about Mum and Dad's sex life when I broke the sordid news to you, you're a bit squeamish, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but I distinctly remember telling you that I didn't fancy seeing the pair of you make out on the kitchen table!"

Harry stared at him, wide-eyed, for a moment before realising that this was literally quite true ... then he began to laugh. Sirius's ruffled expression reminded him of Hedwig when she was particularly offended about something.

The corner of Sirius's mouth twitched, but he gave Harry's leg a sharp prod. "That's all very well, but that's not the point - Ron shouldn't have been here, Harry."

"I know he shouldn't," Harry retorted, getting himself under control with an effort. "I didn't ask him to come; he just turned up. He was fed up of being nagged by his relatives, and I know how he feels!"

That earned him a slap on the knee. "Watch it!"

"Hey! Enough of the parental abuse!"

Sirius groaned. "All right, enough said! Don't do it again, or at least not where I can see you. Oh, and dinner's nearly ready." He stood up.

"Thanks." Harry sat up, giving him a thoughtful look. "Sirius, are you ... okay ... about me and Ron?"

His godfather gave him a sharp look and shrugged. "Yes ... yes, I am, really." Harry wasn't convinced and his face must have said so, because Sirius sighed and sat down again. "I am, Harry, honestly. I don't have a problem with it. I was just a bit ... taken by surprise, that's all."

Harry blinked and looked down at his hands. "I'm sorry."

"Why?" To his surprise, the older man reached out and gripped his shoulder hard, giving it an affectionate shake. "You wouldn't apologise if the situation were reversed, would you? Harry, it's hardly your fault if I have trouble getting my head around the subject."

Harry still wasn't convinced. "I think I took your acceptance of things for granted."

"I'd prefer to view that as a positive thing," Sirius said quietly. "If there's one thing I've noticed over the years, Harry, it's that you don't take very much for granted at all. If we've actually reached a point where you feel you can expect certain things from me as a right, then that's all to the good."

His godson wasn't entirely sure he bought into the reasoning behind that, but he decided to let it go. Sirius hadn't finished.

"I told you when we first had this discussion more than anything, I want you to be happy. If being with Ron is what makes you happy, then that's all there is to it."

       

By the time Harry finally fell back into his bed that evening he was tired beyond belief, worn out by the effects of an emotionally draining day as much as the lack of sleep from the night before. For a moment he lay staring up into the darkness, one hand flung out across the pillow that would normally be on Ron's side of the bed, then he shook his head slightly and resolutely closed his eyes.

He did not expect to dream, which of course was exactly what he did.

       

He was lying in a meadow full of long summer grasses heavy with pollen, the sun pouring down onto him and the sky impossibly blue. For a moment he blinked, wondering where exactly he was. Then he turned his head slightly and met a pair of familiar blue eyes.

Ron was grinning at him mischievously. He was sprawled out on his stomach in the grass beside Harry, twisting a couple of stalks together into a kind of rough corn-dolly.

"You took a while to get here, didn't you?" he said.

"That depends on where 'here' is," Harry replied. He gave his friend a curious look. "Is this someplace I know?"

"Yes and no." Ron sat up and offered Harry a hand, pulling him up too. They were sitting in a meadow above a small village; it looked vaguely familiar. "This is the Astral Plane."

"The what?"

Ron chuckled. "Did you think you were dreaming?"

"Well, considering that as far as I know I'm asleep ...."

"Sleep's a good time to go for a walk on the Astral Plane. How do you think I found out about those Death Eaters the other night? Someone was trying to mask them from me in the real world, but I still found them here." Ron looked pensive for a moment. "Good thing I was here, or we might never have known until it was too late."

Harry stared at him. "So what are we doing here now? And how did I get here? I don't know anything about the Astral Plane ...."

"Well ... I brought you here, to be honest. I wanted to talk to you and it seemed like the only way after the way Sirius reacted this afternoon."

"Oh ... okay. Is this safe?"

Ron shrugged. "Define 'safe' for me. You've got to be a bit careful, because the spirits wandering around here are mostly dead people and they tend to have things on their mind. And if you run into living ones they usually have an agenda, so - "

" it's better to avoid anyone else you encounter?"

"Something like that."

Harry gave him an odd look. "Isn't this where clairvoyants like your gran come to contact spirits?" Ron nodded. "You don't go in for clairvoyancy, though, so why do you come here?"

Ron's smile was not entirely easy. "I don't always have a choice, Harry. I can choose not to deliberately use the gift of clairvoyancy, but that doesn't make me any less clairvoyant. Does that make sense?"

Harry looked at him worriedly. "Are you telling me that you can't stop spirits contacting you?"

"Something like that. Because I haven't attempted to connect with a spirit-guide, they mostly ignore me. But sometimes I get pulled onto the Astral Plane by them usually when I'm asleep because there's something they're determined to tell me. That's what happened the other night. "

"Shit."

"Yeah. I don't like clairvoyancy. Talking to the dead is ... creepy. And it's one of those borderline gifts it's too close to necromancy for comfort. Someone with a strong gift of clairvoyancy can raise the dead really easily."

Harry was aware of that; necromancy had been covered in Defence Against the Dark Arts during their final year at Hogwarts. It was one of a number of areas of magic which, while not being inherently evil as such, were considered to have no good purpose and consequently were banned by the Ministry of Magic. Needless to say, it was highly attractive to Dark wizards as a result.

Despite the blazing sunshine Harry began to feel cold. "Could you do that?"

Ron nodded.

"Holy shit. How long have you known about this?"

A shrug. "As long as I've had the gift, really. That's why I've never bothered with clairvoyancy much - I think it's better to stay away from the whole thing. Gran doesn't agree with me - but then, she's not me, is she?"

Not for the first time, Harry was quietly impressed with the depth of Ron's self-knowledge. It occurred to him that of the two of them, Ron was probably going to make the better Auror in the long run. It wasn't simply a matter of their respective gifts, but also they way they used them. Ron's knowledge of his own abilities and how best they could be used was very acute; Harry, by contrast, was only too aware that while he was a strong wizard, he was really only an Auror because circumstances had pushed him in that direction. His natural gifts lay elsewhere.

Ron was watching the play of emotions across his face with a slight smile. "The trouble with the Astral Plane is that you tend to find yourself thinking about stuff a lot," he commented. "I spent a lot of time here during the last year of school, before we got together. I think maybe that's why I came around to the idea of being gay and attracted to my best mate quicker than you did."

Harry raised his brows at him but didn't dispute the statement. "So is that why we're here now - to think?"

"No, we're here to meet Gran actually. I sent her the mobile we found at your parent's place and she wants to talk to us about it."

He stood up and Harry followed him. Now he had a better perspective, he realised where he was. "That's Godric's Hollow down there."

"Yeah.. Come on - Gran's waiting for us at your mum and dad's place."

In a blink of an eye they were there, standing just outside the ruins of the walls. Harry flinched a little when he saw the remains of the building; it looked worse here, for the taint of the Avada Kedavra curse was clearer, hanging like a green shadow over everything.

Ron's grandmother was standing a few feet away, wearing a bright blue robe and watching Harry quietly. In her hands she held the mobile they had found - only now it was whole, and Harry saw that the charms hanging from it were moons and stars, suns, clouds and, below the others, broomsticks and Snitches. It was a Quidditch mobile.

The old lady smiled when she saw Harry's surprise. "Do you not remember what it looked like?" she asked him.

He shook his head. "I don't think Sirius could have remembered what it really looked like either, because it only had moons and stars on it when he showed me the illusion of the house."

"What can you get from it?" Ron asked his grandmother.

"Very strong vibrations, and not just from that filthy curse - there's some other kind of magic associated with this and the house," she said quietly, running her fingers over the object gently. Then she shook her head. "Well, let's see what the house was like ."

And to Harry's amazement the walls suddenly began to rebuild themselves, the green glow of Avada Kedavra retreating as rough old stonework rapidly extended itself upwards. Windows with painted wooden frames and shutters appeared, the front door developed a little trellis-work frame around it hung with roses, and a thatched roof grew over the whole. Weeds in the garden crept backwards until a neat gravel pathway and tidy little borders were revealed.

"Shall we go inside?"

Harry hesitated, but this was his home for heaven's sake . He put a hand on the front door and pushed it open.

After the heat outside, the stone-flagged passage just inside the house was cool and inviting. This went far beyond anything Sirius had been able to show Harry via illusion; he could stretch out his hand here and touch the sprigged wallpaper, see the tiny cracks in the ceiling when he looked up, and breathe in the scent of mingled pot pourri, herbs and magic that lingered in the air. Indeed, the smell alone made him close his eyes for one stunned second, for he remembered it. He had been told time and again at school, by Professors Snape and Sprout, that smell triggered the memory more acutely than any of the other senses combined, but it was only now that he was realising the truth of this.

There was a long woven rug down the length of the passage, and a narrow wooden table against the wall with a bunch of keys and a pot of quills standing on it. Harry touched the keys and picked them up, running his fingertips over the tooled leather key-ring with its worn Gryffindor shield on it. These keys surely belonged to his father.

"Harry," Ron said gently, "I know you want to look around, but we don't have long. Where would you have been the night your parents died?"

Harry shook off the spell of touching those keys with difficulty. He put them down and tried to think about Ron's question. "Um it was night-time, so I probably would have been in the nursery. Upstairs ."

"Okay, let's go."

There were framed photographs hanging on the walls when they climbed the steep wooden staircase. Many of the people Harry saw in these pictures he had already seen once before in his life, when he looked into the Mirror of Erised when he was a boy; they were relatives. Although it gave him a jolt to pass one picture and realise that it was of a much younger Aunt Petunia.

The first room they walked into on the second storey was clearly his parents' bedroom. A beautifully carved wooden sleigh-shaped bed dominated it, covered with a knitted bedspread in shades of blue. A matching wooden dressing table under the window was cluttered up with all sorts of knickknacks; his mother's make-up, items of jewellery, sets of cufflinks, a rolled up tie. A chair next to the bed had a worn brown robe tossed carelessly across it.

An odd squeaking noise made Harry jump and look around; Ron sheepishly held up a small stuffed animal that he had trodden upon.

"Yours?" he asked Harry with a grin.

"We're wasting time," Ron's grandmother warned them.

Harry reluctantly led the way out of the master bedroom - closing the door carefully behind him, although he knew that was irrational - and looked around. One other door stood open, like an invitation.

They walked inside and it was obvious that they had found their goal. This room was decorated in delicate shades of pastel blue, with traditional teddy-prints on the wallpaper, and it had soft, squashy furnishings. A magnificent wooden cradle stood in the centre of the room with Harry's mobile hanging above it; the cradle itself was carved all around the rim with letters of the alphabet. It was empty apart from the mattress, pillow and baby blankets, and a teddy bear that looked as though it had had at least one previous owner.

"Now that we're here, what do we do?" Harry asked quietly. He was finding all of this rather unsettling - this evidence of the happy, family home that should have been his, not just for a few short months but throughout his childhood and beyond.

"There are particularly strong spells on this room," Ron's grandmother said softly, looking around. "I can feel the vibrations - we need to look into this more deeply."

"How?" Harry was no clairvoyant and had never really understood the subject even though he studied Divination with Ron.

But Ron stilled him with a touch on the arm. "Leave it to Gran this is her area of expertise."

She was looking around the room, fingering the 'real' mobile in her hands. Then the room darkened and the door was blasted open with a rush of hot air and evil magic.

Harry jumped and felt Ron grab his arm again, as though to restrain him. The three of them were not alone in the room anymore; a young woman with long, dark auburn hair was standing over the cradle with a dark-haired baby in her arms. She was hunched protectively around her child with her back to the door, and her sweet face was a mask of terror.

The figure that strode confidently through the doorway was one of the many that haunted Harry's nightmares, even though the face of this particular incarnation was less familiar to him. The long black robes and hood could not hide the red lizard eyes of Voldemort, and his face more human then was twisted into a triumphant smile.

"Give me the boy!" he snapped at the young woman.

She quickly put the baby into the cradle, and turned to face her enemy, her body deliberately placed to block his view of her son.

"No, not Harry! Leave him alone, take me, kill me instead "

"Give him to me "

"No, please I'll do anything, just don't hurt Harry "

"Stand aside, you silly girl!"

"No - "

Voldemort raised his wand and Harry cried out, feeling Ron desperately hanging onto him as he tried to intervene. What good such an intervention could have done he didn't know, but it was an academic question.

"AVADA KEDAVRA!"

And there was the rush of green light, his earliest conscious memory, and his mother was falling ... falling ....

Harry didn't realise that he too had fallen to the floor, all the strength going out of him as he witnessed his mother's murder. His eyes were riveted on Voldemort, who kicked aside Lily Potter's body without a second thought and leaned over the cradle. Through the bars Harry could see himself, fifteen months old, sitting up and looking on quite placidly with nothing more than an expression of mild curiosity, as the most evil wizard the world had ever known bent over him and pointed his wand at him.

Horribly, Voldemort laughed, high pitched and cold as ice. "That's a good boy, Harry!" he said in a sing-song tone. "Sit quite still now, and soon it will all be over ... you'll never trouble me again ...."

He raised his wand again, and Harry could feel Ron hugging him tightly. But Harry wasn't afraid; he wanted to see this, wanted to know what had happened that night -

"Avada Kedavra!"

The rush of air, of green light, that high, cold laugh again ....

The curse struck.

And something strange happened. As Harry, Ron and Iris Weasley watched, astounded, the evil green glow seemed to flow rapidly over baby Harry's body and sink into his skin. Then, as fast as it had begun, the green light seemed to ooze out of him again and flow back towards Voldemort's wand. It happened so quickly that Harry felt sure that he would have missed it if he blinked.

Certainly it happened too fast for Voldemort to stop it. The wizard shrieked as the curse recoiled back through the wand and into him. He went rigid, his body jerking like a monstrous puppet for several moments.

Then the curse exploded back out of him not out of his wand, but literally out of him. As Harry watched in shock, Voldemort seemed to vaporise; there was no other word for it. But the curse itself didn't disappear. For a split second it seemed to hang in the air like a cloud of green gas which rapidly grew in size until it filled the room. The pressure in the air was horrifying, pressing outwards until the walls of the house gave way in a terrifying explosion

"STOP!"

The room suddenly reverted to sunlit and empty, leaving Harry huddled on the floor with Ron, trembling in reaction. Even Ron's grandmother was breathing irregularly, shaken by what they had just witnessed. It was she who had called a halt to the scene.

Ron spoke first. "Christ, Harry - how the hell did you survive that?"

Harry shook his head numbly, having difficulty processing what he had just seen. Voldemort's destruction was nothing - he was still staring at the spot where his mother's body had fallen. For years he had heard audio replay of the incident they had just witnessed including, sometimes, the sound of his father telling his mother to take the baby and run. But now he had visuals to go with the soundtrack and it was more horrifying than he had ever imagined. It was not simply witnessing her death; it was seeing Voldemort kick her body aside as though she was nothing but an object in his path. The callous indifference of the act made Harry shake to his marrow.

"This isn't what we're looking for," Iris Weasley stated, breaking into Harry's reverie. "We need to go back further and discover why the curse destroyed the house."

"Gran," said Ron, uneasily, "I don't think Harry's up to more - "

"No!" Harry interrupted him sharply. "We need to do it - I need to know, and we might never have another opportunity like this."

Ron's grandmother looked at him searchingly for a moment, then nodded. "Very well."

And the scene changed again.

It was another bright day. Sunlight poured through the nursery window, and Harry guessed that it must be summer there. Three adults were standing around the cradle, and he felt his chest begin to tighten with emotion as he identified them: his mother, his father and Sirius Black. Sirius looked so much younger and more carefree, lacking twenty years on his age and the lines of pain that the death of friends and years in Azkaban had carved into his face. Lily Potter was bright-faced and beautiful without the terror of the fatal confrontation with Voldemort. And her husband .

There was a good reason that people told Harry that he looked like his father; this was the face he saw in the mirror every morning. Harry's eyes searched the face of James Potter hungrily, taking in the easy grin and sparkle of a man who, despite being forced into hiding with his wife, was happy at least for this one moment.

Sirius was stretching up above the cradle; he was hanging up the mobile. "Remus hoped this might inspire little Harry to great things when he's older," he was joking. "We're depending on you two to produce an entire Quidditch team, you know!"

"Give us a chance!" James retorted, laughing. "Seven children? I'm not a Weasley, you know!"

"Produce your own Quidditch team, you wretch!" Lily told Sirius fondly.

"Who, me? Not likely! It's enough being godfather to this one." Sirius patted the side of the cradle, and his smile slipped slightly. "Have you boosted the protections on this house, James? You don't want to take any chances."

"Of course. Come and look for yourself - I suppose you'll want to report back to Dumbledore that you found everything secure."

"I'd better."

The two men exited the room, discussing protection spells, leaving Lily Potter behind with the baby. She watched them go, then very softly closed the door behind them; there was an oddly intent expression on her face. Harry, Ron and his grandmother watched as she quickly leaned over the side of the cradle, presumably checking on the sleeping baby; then she straightened up purposefully and pulled her wand out of her robes.

For the next ten minutes the three of them watched as she circled the room, casting a complex net of charms over the walls, floor, ceiling and windows of the nursery. Every so often she would pause and touch her wrist with the tip of the wand, drawing a drop of blood which she would touch to the corners of the room where the walls met the ceiling or floor, or onto the window frames as though pinning the spell to the fabric of the building with it.

The magic was incredibly advanced and complex. Harry could feel the spells sinking into the building itself, through the floors and into the foundations and beyond. Most of the charms he didn't even recognise. He could tell from the general feel of them that they were spells of power and protection, but this was magic-weaving of a complexity well beyond his current abilities - and Harry was no slouch with charms.

Finally, Lily Potter stood in the middle of the room and uttered a final incantation. The web of spells, which was so powerful as to be almost visible to the naked eye, suddenly sank away until the even the background vibrations were imperceptible.

Looking drained and a little worried, Harry's mother sagged where she stood for a moment. Then she went and opened the door again, and returned to the side of the cradle - just before her husband and his best friend returned.

The two men were talking earnestly about the Fidelius Charm, a conversation Harry realised had to precede Sirius's decision not to become his parents' secret keeper. Neither man seemed to realise that powerful magic had just been enacted in the room, and Lily didn't enlighten them.

The figures faded away, leaving Harry alone in the room with Ron and his grandmother.

"Your mother told you to look in the house?" Iris Weasley asked Harry directly.

"In my dream, yes .... She said there were things here I could use." Harry felt a little dazed. He was having difficulty coming to terms with all the things he had seen this evening, let alone processing the information.

"It doesn't have to be literal, you know," Ron told him. "Just because she used the word "things" doesn't mean she meant solid objects."

Harry shook his head. He felt indescribably tired and his brain was simply refusing to process everything. Ron's grandmother stepped over and touched his arm gently.

"Enough," she said firmly. "I don't think we'll find anything more here." A wave of her wand and the nursery disappeared. They were standing in the garden of the ruined house again. "Time to go home and sleep," she instructed the two of them. "Think about this in the morning, when you're more rested. Ronald, I think you - "

Ron threw up a hand suddenly, silencing her. A look of alarm crossed his face. "He's here again!"

"Who?"

"That bloke who was in the garden the other day "

Exhaustion forgotten, Harry was suddenly alert. He slipped his hand into his pocket and found his wand. "Where?"

Ron tilted his head to one side as though listening. "Round the back."

"You go that way and I'll take this ...."

"Boys "

"Wait here, Gran!"

They took off without waiting for her response, Harry taking the gravel path around the front of the house. The garden was just as overgrown here on the Astral Plane as it had been in reality; he soon found himself pushing aside tall, bushy grasses and brambles.

The rear garden was even more overgrown, but Harry saw at once where a path had been forced through the foliage. He remembered that there was a low wall bounding the property at the rear, with a small gate leading out onto a narrow lane. Without waiting for Ron, Harry plunged down the crude avenue that had been trampled through the tall weeds.

The old gate was hanging off its hinges with age. Harry pushed it aside with a rusty screech and ran out into the lane. It was shadier here, the tall Devon banks topped with sycamore trees on either side turning it almost into a tunnel of dappled light. There was no one to be seen.

Seconds later Ron also ran out, looking from one side to the other.

"Where is he?"

"Gone," Harry said, annoyed. "Look, are you sure he was here?"

"Positive. I'd know that aura anywhere."

"Damn. What the hell was he doing here?"

"Forget "what" and ask yourself "how"," the redhead said grimly. "If he has no magic, how the hell did he throw himself onto the Astral Plane?"

"Can't Muggles do that?"

"No. They only think they can. It takes magic, training and control."

"If he was here, he was spying on us," Harry said slowly.

Their eyes met uneasily.

"Then he was spying on us the other day, too."

"Shit ...."

"Come on, let's get back to Gran."

She was waiting for them where they had left her, her face grim. "Never do that again, Ronald!" she snapped when they approached. "This isn't the real world! What did you think you were going to do if you caught him? You can't hunt someone down here and hold them for questioning! And what have I told you about controlling your emotions? There are disturbed spirits here who could seriously hurt you both."

"He's a spy, Gran," Ron retorted, stubbornly. "We needed to know "

"Then go home and find him in the real world!" She huffed an exasperated sigh. "You should go home anyway. Harry isn't trained for this he's going to suffer for it in the morning."

Harry grimaced, guessing what that meant, but shook his head. "It was worth it, if only to find out that someone's watching this place."

Although what that could mean, he didn't know.

 

End Part 17/30

 

 

Mermaid Glad you liked the Aurors in action. And you'll get to see Harry and Ron working together again, don't worry!

Beth Ann It's funny how things work out, isn't it. I tend to feel that the most action-packed chapters in this story are also often the least significant, despite appearances .... I'm also coming to think that the Jezebel deserves a ficlet all of its own what do you reckon?

SparkySparkles Trust me, you weren't meant to like the end of the chapter *smile* And yes, Draco's had it rough lately but then, we're dealing with Death Eaters here. They aren't nice people.

Sally You want Harry to be unfaithful to Ron? Hm ... I think a few of the other reviewers might disagree with you! Me, I'm saying nothing, as usual. As for me being morbid, well I do tend to be wired in that direction! But it's not all morbidity, honest there's fluffy stuff mixed in with the rest of the action *grin*

PotterBrother What Harry knows of his parents in the books is largely connected to the whole Boy Who Lived thing. Ultimately, that's the one big thing he knows about them they died trying to save him from Voldemort. He knows a limited amount about James, thanks to Sirius and Lupin, but everything he knows about his mother can really be summed up by saying that she died saving Harry's life. That's why I say that they're part and parcel of the "Boy Who Lived" legend. Now, as he grows older presumably he'll learn more about them and that's good, because he needs to know about them as real people with lives outside of the situation with Voldemort. But ultimately it's all past history; they're dead and nothing will bring them back. They're a vital part of Harry's heritage, but he does need to move on and get about the business of living his own life. I'm not saying he should abandon his parents, I'm just saying that he needs to be able to resolve the issues of their deaths which is a large part of what facing Voldemort is about and put them into proper context. Not spend the rest of his life morbidly obsessing over them. (I suspect that we're both on the same page here, just looking at it from different angles!)

Harmoni There will be more on Lucius Malfoy later. As for the Death Eaters breaking into the house well, possibly I didn't make that scene very clear, but it wasn't 'about Pansy' as such. It would be more accurate to say that it was all about Draco, and someone who knew him very well was basically telling him that he could run but he couldn't hide.

Ice Lupus I don't think Draco would have been consciously plotting to protect Pansy so early on that would suggest that he thought there was something to protect her from, and clearly in Goblet of Fire he doesn't think anything like that; he thinks being a Death Eater is cool. I would imagine that he was old enough at that point to know that friends could be a weakness, though. And by the time he left school I'm sure he would understand that showing more than casual affection for Pansy could be very dangerous indeed. That doesn't necessarily show any early distrust/disaffection with Lucius; it's just a practical understanding of how his world works. He's seen how his father and the men around him operate and he's seen that sentiment doesn't come into it. It therefore makes sense that he would disguise any deep feelings lest they be used against him. Remember, in this story it's only relatively recently, say within the last year, that he's come to realise that his father sees him as something to be used rather than as his son/heir/partner.

PoisonSnakey You will definitely see the Quidditch game in due course, don't worry! I had great fun writing that .... Glad you enjoyed the battle *grin*

Nayako Careful, dear! You don't want to knock yourself out, not when there's more action to come ....

BGirl I like to think I have a few more twists in me yet *grin* I hope you keep enjoying it.

Jen Yes, Draco's had it a bit rough at the hands of Lucius and Voldemort. I'm glad you enjoyed the Harry/Ron scene, because I have great fun writing those parts *smile*


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