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.

Author's Notes: I tend to call this the "Mission Impossible" chapter, for reasons which will probably become obvious *grin*


Circles of Power

Part Eightteen - Nine And Three Quarters

By Mad Martha

       

Morning found Harry rummaging desperately in the bathroom medicine chest for headache potions. He had never suffered from migraines before but this one was a killer, the full experience - pain, nausea, flashing lights and light sensitivity. It had taken all his resolution to drag himself out of bed in search of a remedy, and he'd already had a close encounter with the toilet as a result.

If this is what Ron goes through every time he uses his Sight, it's a miracle he ever bothers, he thought grimly, and clenched his teeth against another lurch in his stomach.

"Are you all right?"

That was Lupin; Harry identified him purely by the sound of his voice, for when he tried to look at him all he could see was a haze of painful, coloured spots.

"No," he managed. "Bad head. Got any painkillers?"

"They're in the kitchen cupboard. Go back to bed and I'll bring you some."

In the end, he had to help Harry back to his bedroom door, though. Harry could hardly bear to open his eyes enough to see his way. Back in bed, he tried not to concentrate on the pounding ... weird how it seemed to be all on one side of his head. Even his teeth ached. The pain was so intense that he felt himself breaking out in a sweat.

There was a murmur of voices, then a gentle hand on his shoulder. He felt a cup pressed against his lips; he didn't want to swallow, with his stomach in such rebellion, and he coughed and spluttered as something truly foul was forced down his throat.

It took a couple of minutes, but the pain began to ease and his stomach stopped churning. Harry risked cracking his eyes open. The curtains were still pulled across the window, but there were no flashing, dancing spots in front of his eyes. Instead, he met the concerned face of Remus Lupin.

"That's the last time you help me in the garden on a hot day," the older wizard said mildly, "at least without a hat. How are you feeling?"

Harry gave the question careful consideration. "Not too bad," he said finally, with intense relief.

"Good. Stay put for a while that potion takes thirty minutes to work completely. I'm going to get dressed and start breakfast."

Lupin left, but Sirius was standing just inside the doorway, still in his pyjamas and looking concerned. "Are you sure you're alright? I didn't think you suffered from migraines."

"I don't," Harry muttered.

"Hm." Sirius apparently realised there was more going on here than met the eye, but he let it go, at least for a while. "Take it easy for a while."

"Right. No problem."

His godfather chuckled and left him alone.

       

Lupin had not been joking; the potion took exactly half an hour to work completely, at which time Harry felt the last vestiges of discomfort leave him completely. It was an immense relief to him.

All the same, he was left prey to some sobering thoughts as he finally took his shower and shaved. Ron never recovered so easily from his migraines, no matter what potions Harry forced him to take. Which meant that either Ron was being a drama queen (not wholly impossible, though unlikely) or his migraines were so bad that even the best potions were only partially effective on him.

The idea that anything could be worse than the headache he had woken up with was deeply unsettling to Harry. It was even more unsettling to think that Ron could voluntarily put himself through that kind of misery to do the kind of thing he had done last night.

Sirius and Lupin were lingering over their breakfast tea and newspapers when Harry slid into his seat at the table. Lupin put the Daily Prophet down for a moment to survey him critically.

"You're looking a lot better. Headache gone?"

"Totally, thanks." Harry helped himself to toast and marmalade.

Sirius was also scrutinising him critically. "What brought that on?" he wanted to know.

Harry eyed him warily. "What makes you think anything brought it on?"

"Because I know you and you've got that 'guilty teenaged shenanigans' look on your face."

"Hm." Harry munched on his toast and refused to be drawn on the subject.

"Hedwig brought you a message," Sirius said, giving up without a fight. He pushed the slip of paper across the table.

"Oh thanks." Harry unfolded it, knowing even before he did so that it would be from Ron.

How are you feeling this morning?

There were a lot of things Harry would have liked to have said in response to this innocent enquiry, but the piece of paper was far too small. He found a quill and scratched out a brief reply, stating blandly that he'd had the headache from hell when he first awoke, but he was fine now. Hedwig swooped down to his shoulder as he was doing so and accepted a crust from his toast while he finished.

When she'd taken the note, Harry brooded grimly over his other-planer adventures as he finished his breakfast. He badly wanted to know who the so-called Muggle interloper really was.

"Sirius, do you have a local telephone directory here?" he asked suddenly. He knew they had a telephone installed, although he'd never found out why.

"It's on the shelf underneath the telephone," Sirius said, surprised. "Why?"

"Just curious about something. 'Scuse me ...." Harry left the table and went to find the directory. It was pretty small, but this part of Devon wasn't heavily populated. He flicked through until he found the C's and ran his finger down the page. There were twelve entries for Curtis, one of whom was located in the Godric's Hollow area.

So it was entirely possible that this Nick Curtis (if that was his real name) did indeed live in Godric's Hollow as he claimed, in which case he was certainly Muggle-born.

Harry put the directory back and returned to the table, still brooding. Sirius was giving him a thoughtful look.

"Find what you were looking for?"

"Hm."

"Are you sure you're alright?"

"Yep." Harry hesitated, then said, "You remember that Muggle Ron and I met at the house the other day? Is there any way we could find out who he is?"

Sirius raised his brows. "Why would we want to?"

There was no getting around it; he was going to have to confess to his late-night walk upon the astral. "I, um, saw him again last night."

Lupin put his newspaper down sharply. "Where?"

Harry sighed. "On the Astral Plane."

"On the ...." Sirius stared at him. "What the hell were you doing on the Astral Plane?"

"Meeting Ron, I would imagine," Lupin observed dryly before Harry could reply.

"You make it sound like I was sneaking out to meet him behind the tool-shed," Harry said, aggrieved.

"Since the Astral Plane is supposedly not a great deal safer than the tool-shed, I'm not sure I see what difference it makes." Lupin gave him an exasperated look. "Well, that explains the migraine at least. Harry, why are you so determined to put yourself at risk? It is not safe for you to be meeting Ron at all at the moment. If you can find your way onto the Astral Plane, so can Lord Voldemort's Seers and somebody trained in clairvoyancy can inflict a lot of damage on you there."

"We met Ron's grandmother there," he said irritably. "She and Ron are pretty experienced in these things, you know."

"That's not the point!" Sirius snapped. "If Voldemort's agents find you there, there's an outside chance they can track you back to your physical location. What's so important that you would risk something like that?"

"Yeah, I can quite believe you'd think meeting my other half was unimportant in the grand scheme of things," Harry snapped back before he could stop himself.

"That's enough from the pair of you," Lupin said sharply, before Sirius could respond to the attack. "Harry, that was uncalled for. It seems to have escaped your notice that we're not just trying to keep you safe here, but Ron and Draco as well. We can't do that if even one of you is determined to thwart our efforts at every turn."

"We're not trying to thwart your efforts!" Harry said, exasperated. "We were trying to find something out when that bloke just appeared "

"Trying to find out what?" Sirius demanded.

"Something I dreamed about!"

Sirius sat back in his chair and folded his arms, just looking at his godson. Too late, Harry realised why he was looking so pissed off. He was supposed to keep a log of his dreams and turn it in to Sirius.

"I didn't have a chance to tell anyone," he said defensively, knowing even as he said it that it sounded a bit feeble. "It was the night after the party, and things were kind of busy the next day if you remember."

"You obviously told Ron!"

"Of course I told Ron! I tell him everything."

"Oh dear," Lupin murmured vaguely. He picked up his newspaper again, apparently leaving the argument to Sirius to sort out.

"So perhaps you should tell me about this dream now?" Sirius suggested with exaggerated patience.

But Harry really didn't want to. The subject of his parents was such a difficult one to broach with Sirius and Lupin at the best of times, and he couldn't help feeling protective of his dreams of them anyway. But Sirius wasn't going to be fobbed off.

"Mum told me to go and look in the house," Harry muttered, deeply uncomfortable with saying even that much. He focussed on his plate, pushing a bit of toast around it unhappily, and there was an awkward silence.

"To look for what?" Sirius asked finally.

"I don't know." Harry let out a frustrated sigh. "That's why we went to the house, to see if there was anything we could find. But there's not much left."

"Most of the stuff that could be identified is in storage at the Facility."

"That's what Ron said. We did find something though - a bit of an old kid's mobile, with moons and stars - "

Lupin put the newspaper down. He looked a bit odd. "I gave you that, when you were a baby."

Harry nodded quickly. "A Quidditch mobile! Ron's Gran did this thing well, I don't know what she did, but we saw Sirius hanging it up above my cradle." He glanced at his godfather warily. "You said something to Dad about producing a full Quidditch team and he told you he wasn't a Weasley ."

Sirius got up very abruptly, grabbing his plate and walking hastily out to the kitchen. Harry bit his lip and looked at Lupin, but although he looked grave he didn't appear to be unduly concerned.

"Give him a minute," he said quietly, seeing Harry's expression. "That was a difficult time for him."

Harry nodded, but didn't know what to say. Actually, there were very few things he could say on the subject that wouldn't be upsetting to his father's friends. "You weren't there," he said finally. "Sirius hung the mobile ."

Lupin nodded. "I don't remember exactly why - I had business elsewhere, or it was a full moon or something similar, I suppose. I imagine it was one of the reasons Sirius began to suspect I might be the traitor in our circle."

After a short while Sirius returned and quietly took his seat. He looked at Harry for a moment. "Just how much did Mrs. Weasley get from that mobile?" he asked.

"More than I was expecting," Harry replied, then he shrugged. "Not that I was expecting much at all, and certainly not what she did. We we saw how it happened. When Voldemort killed Mum." It was difficult admitting that, and he had to fix his eyes very firmly on the toast rack for a minute before he could continue. "Then we went back a bit further and saw you with Mum and Dad. There was other stuff."

"You saw how Voldemort was destroyed?" Lupin asked quickly.

"Yes, but I didn't really understand how it happened ."

Sirius let out a long breath. "Can you write all of this down? Everything you saw?"

"I suppose." Harry looked at them. "This is important, isn't it?"

"Important! My God ." Sirius rubbed his eyes. "Have you any idea how many clairvoyants have tried to do exactly what Ron's grandmother did last night? According to Moody, the Unspeakables spent years trying to work out what happened to Voldemort that night - they gave up in the end. And Mrs. Weasley managed to call all of that up from a broken child's mobile!"

"Did she?" Lupin asked softly. "Arabella Figg spent months working on some of the debris, including parts of Harry's cradle. All she got was residue from the curse. Why should that mobile be any different?"

The two men looked at Harry, who blinked under the scrutiny. "Don't look at me I haven't a clue how she made it happen. Ron would know, I suppose."

"We'll have to have a chat with him anyway Moody won't be satisfied with just your version of events." Lupin folded up his newspaper and put it beside his plate. "I'll go and see him before I go into the Facility."

Sirius caught sight of Harry's expression and snorted. "No, Harry you're coming with me!"

       

The storage rooms at the Aurors' Facility were located in a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Ministry buildings that looked like a cross between natural caves and older sections of the London Underground. (Simeon Clare, one of Harry's fellow trainees, swore that parts of the storage areas were in disused sections of the Tube and that he had seen the old signs on the walls but he liked to spin tall stories.) Harry felt reasonably certain that they had been built by the same individual who had designed the vaults at Gringotts, which probably meant that their original designer had been Merlin himself. They were cool and dry, and had that unnatural stillness and silence that came with being many hundreds of yards underground.

This was not a place you visited without a lamp, a location spell and letting someone know you were down there. Recording and maintenance of the stores was managed by the Unspeakables, but the storage areas were vast enough that you could wander for hours or possibly even days and not encounter another living soul. It was deeply unnerving. Harry preferred not to go down there without someone for company, but with Ron sequestered at the Burrow and the rest of his fellow trainees out on routine field training, he had no choice.

The location spell worked on the same principle as the Four Points Spell. He placed the little silver arrow on the flat of his palm and murmured "Point me" to it. The arrow swivelled to point down one of the many passages and Harry began to walk, at intervals checking the map one of the archivists had given him before he set out.

It was a wonder anyone ever found anything that had been stored here. The place was an immense stash of boxes, files, racks, shelves, drawers, bookcases, crates, barrels, and oddly shaped glass receptacles. It was like the world's most extraordinary junk shop. Harry had to walk for nearly an hour before he found the area designated as holding evidence from his parents' house, and then he had to start moving and shifting everything to find what he was looking for. There were three skip-like crates holding nothing but rubble, masonry, slates and broken beams from the fabric of the house itself.

Fortunately there was some semblance of order, in the form of careful labelling. He soon found the crates marked "kitchen", "master bedroom", "study" and most importantly "nursery".

The nursery box was full of blackened junk bits of wood that turned out to be the shattered remains of his cradle, scraps of cloth that might have been curtains, the tattered head of a soft toy. Harry needed no more evidence than the soot on his fingers to know that all of this had been at ground zero.

No wonder Ron had been stunned by his survival of the incident. Harry hadn't just survived the Avada Kedavra curse; he had survived the rebound as well, which may well have been the greater miracle that night.

Sifting through it all was time consuming and emotionally draining for him, especially since he still had no idea what he was looking for. Having Ron there would have been an enormous help, not just for moral support but also in his capacity as a psychic. Harry was reduced to running his fingers over every painful reminder of a lost childhood home and hoping he would get some kind of warning tingle or premonition.

Come on, Mum I need a little help here ....

More bits of cradle ... a broomstick-shaped charm from the mobile, twisted and blackened ... the cap from a bottle ... a baby's pacifier shaped like the head of an elephant ... the glass eye from a teddy bear or similar ... the shaped wooden handle from a drawer ... something long, thin, smooth and a little charred ....

Harry pulled the object out, holding it up to his lamp for a closer look. It couldn't be ....

It was.

No one who owned one of Ollivander's creations could fail to recognise the slim rod and handle of a magic wand made by the master wand-maker's own hands. It had been badly damaged by the explosion, the tip almost reduced to charcoal and great nicks taken out of the rod, but Harry felt the warm tingle of magic as soon as he ran his fingers down it. Willow, he thought, tracing the fine grain of the wood.

Before he had even consciously thought about it, Harry raised the wand in his right hand and brought it down through the air in one smooth swish. Golden sparks spluttered from the damaged tip.

"A nice wand for charm work," Mr. Ollivander's voice drifted back to him from ten years previously.

This was his mother's wand.

He had found what he was looking for.

       

Back in the office, Harry rummaged through the drawers in Ron's desk until he found one of the long, thin silk scarves he kept for holding or wrapping up psychically charged objects. It was the work of moments to wrap his mother's wand and stow it inside his robe. At this point Harry wasn't sure what he intended to do with it, but for some obscure reason he didn't want anyone to know he had it. He was even a little shocked that it had been in storage at all; wands didn't 'die' with their owners, and the usual procedure was to snap them and place them in the coffin with the deceased witch or wizard, to prevent them being used by anyone else.

Then, trying to act like he didn't have a guilty secret on his mind, he began to go through his in-tray on his desk. There were a few letters; a thick bundle of reports still dealing with the fall-out from the raid on Knockturn Alley; a training module that he was behind schedule with; a request from another Auror for notes on the Mundungus Fletcher incidents; and, unpleasantly, a copy of the preliminary report on Pansy Parkinson's death. Harry didn't feel up to dealing with the latter at all, and carefully stowed it away in a folder for perusal at a later date. He checked Ron's tray as well and found that it was equally full.

Well, if he was going to work, his partner could too instead of loafing around in his parents' garden, enjoying the sun. Smiling to himself, Harry scribbled a note to that effect and attached it to the thick pile of work, before securing the lot and giving it to one of the Facility's mail-owls. Then he sat down to try and clear some of his backlog.

It was early afternoon before he finished. Feeling his stomach rumble, Harry decided it was time to find Sirius and insist on being allowed to visit Florean Fortescue's for some lunch. He walked out into the main office and was surprised to find Sirius already there, with Draco Malfoy in tow.

After the Death Eater incident at the house, Malfoy had reverted to his usual surly, sarcastic self around Harry and Ron. Apparently he was still at odds with Harry, because his first comment upon seeing him was to ask Sirius: "What's it like having a poof for a godson, Black?"

Sirius's glare could have blistered paintwork, but his tone was studiedly affable. "I don't know, Malfoy. What's it like having a cold-blooded murderer for a father?"

Ouch. Malfoy scowled but fell silent.

Harry raised a brow at his godfather. "I was hoping for lunch, but not if you're going to fight."

"We're fine," Sirius replied blandly. "We've got an errand to run first. Want to come?"

"Doing what?" Harry asked warily.

"We're buying a wand."

Harry was a little surprised at this, but didn't question it. "Okay, but I want to visit Flourish and Blotts while you're in Ollivanders."

Sirius grumbled a little about security but finally agreed. They met up again three quarters of an hour later for lunch, during which Harry and Sirius chatted amiably and Malfoy maintained his stubborn and rather sulky silence, toying sullenly with a salad. Harry felt a certain amount of sympathy for him - it must have been an horrendous shock, seeing Pansy the way he had - but was impatient of his behaviour and hoped that he was not going to behave like this during their stay at Hogwarts.

When they got back to the Facility, Lupin was waiting for them.

"I have a message for you from Ron," he told Harry a little dryly, when they walked in.

Harry brightened immediately. "Yes?"

"He said to tell you that you're a pig, and he's leaving you and taking the children."

Harry laughed. "I love him too!"

       

Walking through King's Cross Station the next morning to the barrier between platforms nine and ten gave Harry a strong sense of déja vu. There were Muggles all over the place, none of them taking the slightest bit of notice of the three oddly-dressed men heading purposefully towards a solid wall.

"Harry, you go first," Sirius said tensely, glancing around at the commuters milling about on the platforms. "I'll follow with our friend here ...."

Harry nodded, and leaned casually against the barrier. He felt the odd but familiar sensation of sliding through the gateway, and moments later was walking out onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters. The gleaming red engine that was the Hogwarts Express was standing at the platform, little puffs of smoke and steam curling around its wheels. The only thing missing from the picture was the seething crowd of Hogwarts pupils, all of whom had arrived back in London a couple of weeks earlier.

Sirius appeared through the barrier with Malfoy, frowning and looking at his pocket watch.

"You'd better hurry up," he told the two younger men. "The train's almost ready to leave."

Malfoy coolly turned on his heel and stalked away to board the first carriage, without a word to the other two. Harry watched him go and gave Sirius a rueful smile.

"This is going to be fun. I wonder where Ron is?"

"Arthur was going to drop him off earlier, so he's probably already on board." Sirius fished in his robe and pulled out a long narrow box. "Here, you need to look after this. Give it to Dumbledore when you get there."

The box was stamped with the Ollivander logo.

"Is this Malfoy's new wand?"

"Yes. Dumbledore said he should have one, but Moody wasn't happy with the idea of him carrying it around."

Harry lifted the lid curiously and peered at the wand. "Is this made of holly?" he asked, surprised.

Sirius raised a brow. "Yes, it is holly and unicorn tail-hair. Why?"

"That's funny," Harry said slowly, replacing the lid. "My wand's holly too holly and phoenix feather." He blinked. "And so is Ron's, now I come to think of it holly and dragon heartstring. How weird is that?"

"Maybe it's not, under the circumstances. Anyway, you need to get moving. And Harry "

They looked at each other, and Sirius shook his head. He was looking stressed and worried, an expression that highlighted all the premature lines Azkaban had set in his face and briefly made him look ten years older than he really was.

He sighed quietly. "Just take care of yourself, will you? You're all the family I have."

Harry dumped his bags on the ground and stepped forward to hug his godfather fiercely. "You and Remus had better take care of yourselves too, while I'm gone. If anything happened to one of you, I don't know what I'd do."

Sirius gripped him tightly for a moment, then let him go. Harry stepped back, and grinned as an idea suddenly occurred to him.

"Besides, you realise that if we're family that makes you related to Aunt Petunia?"

Sirius let out a bark of horrified laughter. "Go on, get on that damned train already!"

Harry picked up his bag and the long dragon-hide case containing his Tsunami, and climbed aboard the first carriage. The door had barely slammed behind him before he heard the whistle and felt the first shudder of the train beginning to move. He leaned back out of the window.

For a moment there was that sense of déja vu again as Harry remembered his dream, of looking out from the train and watching as his parents vanished into the distance. Then it was gone again, and Sirius was raising his hand in farewell. Harry waved back silently and remained at the window until the train had pulled out of the station and he was no longer able to see the platform.

       

The Hogwarts Express normally had eight or nine carriages, to cope with an entire school full of children, but as it was only returning to the north to collect those teachers who would be spending the summer away from the school, there were only three carriages on this occasion.

Harry walked down the corridor, noting that Malfoy had chosen to sequester himself in the carriage and compartment nearest to the engine, and kept going. Ron, he suspected, would be in the farthest possible carriage from Malfoy; nor was he mistaken. The redhead was leaning out of the lowered compartment window when he walked in, and whipped around, grinning, when he heard Harry arrive.

"About time you turned up," he said.

Harry dumped his luggage on one of the seats, smiling, and hugged his partner tightly.

"I thought you were going to leave me and take the children?" he joked.

Ron chuckled. "Nah, I decided to leave the children instead. Literally. Charlie's kids are going to grow up like Fred and George, God help us. I was glad to get out of the house - Mum kept blaming me when slugs turned up in her saucepans. She said I was encouraging them." He released Harry with a trace of reluctance. "What's been going on? Lupin turned up yesterday and gave me a right bollocking."

"Didn't he tell you?" Harry flopped out on one of the seats and pushed his hair back off his face. "I just mentioned our trip onto the Astral Plane and he and Sirius went nuts. Apparently people have been trying for years to do what your Gran did the other night."

"I wish them the joy of Gran's reaction," Ron said acidly, taking the seat opposite. "She won't be too happy when a bunch of Aurors turn up on her doorstep, demanding to know what she was doing. I wrote some notes for them, but I'll bet you a Galleon that Moody won't be satisfied. Oh, and thanks so much for all that work yesterday." He gave Harry's knee a gentle poke with his foot.

"Why should I be the only one to sit around on a sunny day, writing reports on Mundungus Fletcher?"

"Hm. Did you read that report on Pansy?"

"No. Call me a coward, but I'm leaving it until the memory's a bit less fresh."

Ron nodded but didn't say anything further. His expression had turned a bit grim.

"You can always punish me for the work later," Harry suggested after a moment or two, when it seemed like his friend was brooding a little too much.

Ron looked up and grinned. "You're getting a bit saucy in your old age, aren't you?"

"I learned all I know about saucy stuff from this bloke I knew at school." Harry dragged his bag over the seat to him and rummaged around inside, extracting a couple of chocolate bars. "Apparently the lunch trolley won't be on today, so I grabbed some stuff from a shop at King's Cross for lunch. Here - "

Ron took the bar, raising a brow at the Twix logo. "You needn't have worried." He pointed to a sturdy wicker basket in the corner of the seat. "What do you think that is? Catch my mum letting us go without grub!"

"Corned beef sandwiches?" Harry asked, grinning.

"If it is, you can eat them! What about face-ache?"

"Malfoy? I bought enough for him too, but I don't know if he'll condescend to join us. He's in a hell of a mood."

"Just like old times then." Ron unwrapped the Twix and examined one of the unfamiliar bars suspiciously before biting into it. "Mmf! It's a bit like a Frankenfinger," he said, around a mouthful of biscuit crumbs and caramel.

"Without the sugar maggots," Harry said absently. Frankenfingers were a Honeydukes speciality - horridly realistic biscuit fingers wrapped in fluffy nougat and chocolate, with a hard toffee fingernail on the end. They came in a box of ten, surrounded by wriggling candy maggots. "You know, considering how paranoid Sirius and the others have been over the past couple of days, I'm amazed they allowed the three of us to travel up to Hogwarts on our own."

"They haven't. Casper Prewett's up front with the driver." Prewett was a senior Auror. "I reckon we're probably safe enough on the train. It's not like many people know we're going up to Hogwarts anyway." Ron stretched his long legs out and propped his feet up on the seat next to Harry.

Harry frowned. "The question is - is Voldemort one of the privileged few who know?"

"I knew I could rely on you to look on the bright side. Relax, will you?" Ron wriggled a little, getting comfortable. He patted the seat beside him. "Come and give your Uncle Ron a cuddle," he invited.

Harry raised a brow at him and hooked a finger into the collar of his robe, pulling it down slightly. The love-bite was still quite vivid.

"The last time I gave my Uncle Ron a cuddle I got bitten," he said pointedly.

His partner sniggered. "You didn't complain at the time!"

Which was perfectly true. "Just as well we didn't go any further. Sirius would have had a heart-attack."

"Hm. Has he got over that yet?"

"Just about." Harry decided to accept the invitation and joined Ron on the other seat. He sprawled out along the length of it, with his head on his partner's lap. "What do you reckon we're going to be doing at Hogwarts?"

"Dunno. If just touching each other causes explosions, I want to know how the hell we're ever supposed to be able to work together without killing someone."

"I meant to ask Hermione," Harry admitted, annoyed with himself. "Somehow I never got around to it."

"I did." Ron rummaged in one of his own bags and pulled out a bulky book. "She found this for me I was reading it yesterday, but it doesn't make much sense. You were always stronger on charms work. See what you make of it."

He gave it to Harry, who studied the cover doubtfully. Worn gold lettering said Circles And Cyclones: Using Wizardry In Combination And The Dangers Surrounding It. He glanced up at Ron, who had pulled out a smaller volume for himself - The Black Mirror: A History Of Clairvoyancy In The Dark Arts. It was tempting to ask questions about that, but Harry knew better than to ask Ron about certain aspects of the Sight. For one thing, he rarely understood the answers; and for another, there was a good chance that he might not like the answers.

He turned back to his own book and opened it, immersing himself in the introduction.

       

One thing I believe may hold the key to the success of certain wizarding partnerships, and that is this: One wizard must provide the technical knowledge; one the power; and the third shall be the focus and amplifier for the whole. Certainly this would seem to have held true for the two wizarding circles of which I have been privileged to be a part

The book had been written by the late Nicholas Flamel in the 1800s, a man who certainly had unusual experience of wizard circles even before his collaboration with Albus Dumbledore and Claudius Clare in the mid-twentieth century. The bulk of it seemed to be a scholarly work covering the history of known wizard circles down the centuries. The practicalities of working in a circle took up less than three chapters, although Flamel did advance a few theories as to why such circles occurred so rarely.

Like Dumbledore, Flamel believed that wizards were, by and large, born incapable of successfully melding their powers. Some of this, he theorised, was due to the natural incompatibility of one wizard's magical 'signature' with another's. But some of it also lay in the fact that compatible wizards might never meet each other; the odds of three (or, very rarely, more) compatible wizards all being in the same place at the same time were very small.

Flamel also believed that there was an element of incompatibility between wizards spilling over into the personalities of those involved. There is no creativity without conflict, alas! he wrote at one point, before launching into a scathing (and, to Harry's mind, wholly irrelevant) attack upon the 'troublesome' personality of Gertrude Tickitt, one erstwhile member of his first wizard circle.

Harry had to admit, though, that this particular theory fitted their current situation rather well, bearing in mind the long-standing hostilities between himself and Ron, and Malfoy. If conflict meant creativity, then he supposed it might even explain the feather bed.

Flamel's final theory talked of that essential third wizard in the group, the one who focussed and amplified. He believed that such wizards were born very rarely, making wizard circles otherwise impossible. However, he didn't offer an explanation for this theory, leaving Harry suspicious and puzzled by it.

If this theory was true, which of the three of them was the amplifier? Himself? Ron?

Malfoy?

It couldn't be a coincidence that the first, dangerous connection had been formed when Malfoy accidentally fell on top of him and Ron during the pillow-fight.

Ron stirred and sighed then, interrupting Harry's train of thought. He looked up at his friend; he was putting a bookmark between the pages and closing the book. He glanced down at Harry and smiled.

"Fancy some lunch? It's well past one o'clock."

"Good idea." Harry closed his own book and sat up, swinging his legs to the floor.

Ron gave a little sigh of relief, rubbing his thigh. "Ow! Dead leg ...."

"Why didn't you say so before? I'd have moved."

"No, it was nice."

They exchanged silly grins and Harry stood up, grabbing his bag. He unzipped it and began pulling out plastic packets of sandwiches, bottles of cola and fruit.

"I suppose I'd better go and see if his lordship will condescend to join us," Harry sighed. He squeezed past Ron, who was investigating the contents of Mrs. Weasley's basket, and walked out into the corridor.

The train appeared to be making good progress. The countryside they were passing through had changed from an urban landscape into rolling fields interspersed with very occasional farmhouses and buildings. Not for the first time, Harry wondered exactly what part of the Scottish Highlands Hogwarts was located in, and what route the train took to get there. He had flown there once, and it was quite a performance; you had to set a specific location-finding spell into the broomstick's in-built compass and trust the broom to take over at the right moment. And it was rather disconcerting to be flying over Aberdeen one moment, and then suddenly be somewhere else entirely.

Of course, he and Ron had flown there in Mr. Weasley's Ford Anglia once, following the train, but at twelve years old neither of them had thought of taking notes on the route.

The carriage was swaying gently as he walked down the corridor, and Harry felt the usual silly amusement at the way the carriages swayed in opposite directions to each other as he crossed over the links. When he reached the first carriage, Malfoy was standing in the corridor. He had lowered one of the windows and was resting his folded arms on it, staring out morosely while a brisk draft whipped his pale blond hair around messily. He had stopped gelling his hair up while he had been living with Harry and the others (out of necessity, for while the Aurors would pay his board while he lived at the student house, they stopped short of paying for unnecessary luxuries like hair-gel) and the effect had taken some of the harsh edge from his overall appearance. Harry privately thought it suited him better, making him look less like an extra from The Godfather, but he doubted this very self-controlled individual would agree.

Malfoy didn't look up when he approached, but he knew Harry was there.

"What do you want, Potter?" His tone was cool, uncaring, and Harry had to wrestle with the urge to snap back.

"Nothing. I came to see if you wanted some lunch."

At this, Malfoy straightened and turned to look at him. One pale brow lifted. "Lunch?"

"Yeah, you know the meal you eat at midday. We've got some sandwiches and stuff if you're hungry."

Malfoy managed to convey by body language alone that he wouldn't touch anything Harry and Ron were eating with a bargepole. "I'm not hungry."

"Suit yourself. It's going to be a long journey though."

"I do remember." The smooth voice dripped acid. "Why would you care?"

"I don't. I care about having to drag your sorry, fainting backside up to the castle from Hogsmeade Station!" Harry made a disgusted sound in his throat and turned away, heading back down the carriage. Why had he even bothered? He was a nasty, ungrateful, spoiled brat who

THUMP.

Harry stopped dead. What the hell was that? The noise had come from the roof of the carriage. He looked up, then turned around and looked at Malfoy. The blond youth was also looking up at the roof, puzzled.

Thump, THUMP.

The two of them stared at each other, wide-eyed. Then Malfoy glanced out of the carriage window. Harry's eyes followed his and saw what he was looking at. It was a brilliantly sunny day and the train was casting a dark shadow down the banks of the railway track as it moved.

Three lumpy shadows moved on the roof of the carriage where none should have been.

"Shit! CASPER!" Harry let out a roar that would have done a drill sergeant proud and pushed past Malfoy to try and get to the engine compartment. "Casper, we've got COMPANY!"

"Oh great, tell them where we all are, will you?" Malfoy gasped. "Potter, where's my wand?"

"Get out of my way, Malfoy!"

"Potter!"

Harry ignored him and wrenched the door open that led to the driver's compartment.

There was no one there.

He stared blankly for a split second, then stepped inside and looked around, disbelievingly. The cramped compartment was empty and there was no sign that anyone had ever been there. The train was hurtling along the tracks by itself.

Harry came closer to having a panic attack in that moment than he ever had in his entire life. No driver. No senior Auror. The three of them stuck on a runaway express train with three or more probable Death Eaters on the roof an express train that was set up with anti-Apparition spells to prevent silly Seventh Year pupils Apparating in and out of it for a joke.

He pushed his way back out of the driver's compartment, feeling himself begin to shake inside. Malfoy was staring up at the ceiling again, his face as pale as the night they had found Pansy in his bed. He looked at Harry.

"What are we going to do? Where's Prewett?"

"I don't know." Harry had to force the words out around the Ben Nevis-sized lump in his throat. "He's not there. The driver's gone too."

"What!"

"We've got to get down the other end of the train."

"You have to be kidding me "

"Ron's down there, you moron!" Harry tried to push past him, but Malfoy blocked the way.

"Do you think I give a shit where your boyfriend is? We have to "

Harry grabbed him by the front of his robe and shook him violently. "It's him they're after! I'm not leaving him down there on his own! And your fucking wand's down there in my bag! Now shut UP and come on "

He all but threw Malfoy out of his way and began to run down the swaying corridor, his brain swimming with a thousand conflicting thoughts. He didn't have a clue what they were going to do; all he could think of was to get to Ron before the Death Eaters did.

The door into the carriage exploded inwards with a burst of fireworks, sending glass and other shrapnel flying up the corridor. This time it was Malfoy who seized Harry and dragged him to safety in the nearest compartment.

"Do something, Potter!"

He pulled out his wand, but his mind was blank. Where the hell were all the defensive spells when you needed them? Malfoy was swearing unsteadily, his hands clamped painfully on Harry's shoulders.

"Call yourself a fucking Auror "

They could hear footsteps coming up the carriage. Harry seriously considered breaking the window and escaping that way, but it was a dangerous drop from a fast moving train, Ron would still be left in the end carriage, and there was no way of knowing what was waiting on the roof. He raised his wand.

And a spell came to him, a spell he couldn't ever remember having read about or learned.

"Griffinaris!"

Something big and golden exploded from the end of his wand, something with fur and feathers and wings for a moment he thought it was a hippogriff, but it was less than a quarter of the size. It was a griffin, with the body of a small lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Its tail lashed angrily as it crouched on the floor of the compartment, and it opened its beak to let out an ear-shattering screech before it launched itself out of the door.

There was a cry of alarm from the Death Eater, followed by a roar and a belch of flames from the griffin. The cries turned to shrieks and Harry could smell smoke and burning flesh.

Malfoy released him, more than a little startled. "Bloody hell, Potter, how did you do that? I could never get that spell to work "

"Never mind!" Now was not the time to admit that he had no idea how he did it. "Let's get out of here while we have a chance "

The corridor was on fire and the griffin had created absolute mayhem. Two Death Eaters were rolling in agony on the floor of the corridor, burning fiercely, and the carriage was filling rapidly with smoke. The griffin was screeching, enraged, trying to find a way out of the tightly enclosed space.

Coughing, Harry pointed his wand at the flames and managed to choke out "Pyrus finitum! Aquae!" The flames ignored his dampening spell, but a thick spray of water fountained from his wand, clearing a passage through them. Pulling his robe up around his head, Harry plunged through, jumping over the bodies of the two shrieking Death Eaters.

The griffin now stood in the way of them getting from one carriage to another. The creature was crouching low on the floor, staring at Harry with weird amber eyes and emitting a hair-raising growl. Harry levelled his wand at it warily.

"Finite incantatum!"

The griffin let out a startling roar and spewed flames at him; he flattened himself against the wall of the carriage just in time, but the hem of Malfoy's robes caught fire and he had to put the flames out with some agitated flapping. His language was appalling.

"Potter, do something!"

"Will you stop saying that? I don't notice you making any fancy moves!" Harry did the only thing he could think of and spat a curse at the nearest window, blasting the glass out of it. A sharp wind barrelled through, fanning the flames. "Go on, dammit fly out the window! Get lost!"

The griffin bounded towards the source of breeze, still screeching, and scrambled up to the window. For a moment it clung to the edge of the frame, feathers ruffling, then with a final shriek it launched itself out and flew away.

Harry bolted for the door out of the carriage, with Malfoy at his heels, and leapt across the link to the next. There was at least one Death Eater left, possibly more he had to get to Ron. They charged down the corridor and were just reaching the next door when Harry heard scrabbling on the roof above.

"Shit ...."

Making your way down the roof of a moving train could not be easy, as this Death Eater was evidently discovering. If Harry could get to him while he was still on the roof, it might swing the advantage their way and give Ron and Malfoy a chance to escape.

He swung around and grabbed Malfoy.

"Listen to me and don't argue," he said. "I'm going to distract the bloke or blokes on the roof. While I'm doing that, I want you to go into the next carriage to Ron and get your wand. Then I want the pair of you to separate the end carriage from the rest of the train. Got it?"

Malfoy gaped at him. "You want are you mad? Separate the carriages? What for?"

Harry badly wanted to slap the little git for wasting time. Hanging onto his patience with a thread, he explained, "When the end carriage is separated, it'll lose momentum and come to a halt. Then you and Ron can get the hell out of there and Apparate to safety. Understand?"

"But "

"This train has no driver, Malfoy! It's going to crash maybe not immediately, but very soon. This at least gives you and Ron a chance to escape."

"And what are you going to do, oh wise one?" Malfoy demanded acidly.

"I'll think of something, dammit. Once I'm on the roof, I can Apparate too."

"Always supposing our friends out there give you the option!" Malfoy's breath was coming very quickly, and the sarcasm was suddenly gone, leaving only earnestness behind in his face. "Harry, this isn't a game those men are not joking. If they can't capture you, they will kill you and without the slightest hesitation. Voldemort doesn't care anymore if he gets you alive or not."

"If I'm dead I won't care either," Harry retorted and shoved the other youth towards the door. "Now go!"

Malfoy looked like he might argue for a moment, but then he shook his head and wrenched the door open, plunging into the next carriage.

Harry watched him go, and braced himself for what he had to do next.

       

Now that he was poised to do it, Harry wasn't quite sure how he was going to get out of the carriage and onto the roof. The linkages between the carriages weren't like the ones on the trains in old movies, which were open; these were enclosed. Short of separating the carriages himself, Harry couldn't get out that way, and he didn't want to give the man on the roof enough warning that he could jump from one carriage to the next.

So he was going to have to go out of the window. A breath of hot air and smoke warned him that the fire in the first carriage was beginning to spread to the second, and it gave him the extra motivation he needed to get moving.

Levelling his wand at the nearest window, he murmured a soft disintegration charm. The glass crumbled into powder, leaving the frame empty and a brisk wind whipping through it. Harry leaned out of it precariously and looked up; there was a kind of ridge or guttering a couple of inches below roof level that might make a sufficient hand-hold. He ducked back into the carriage long enough to strip off his robe, which would only hamper his movements, stuck his wand securely into the waistband of his jeans, then pulled himself back out of the window frame.

The scramble that followed made him grateful that the Aurors put almost as much emphasis on physical training as they did on magical. Harry was young, fit and strong and had no fear of speed or heights, but this was unlike anything he had ever tried to do before. Trying to claw his way onto the roof of the carriage with the howling pressure of the wind battering at him and few hand-holds was beyond terrifying. Later he couldn't remember exactly how he managed it, for getting hold of the guttering was one thing but finding somewhere to put his feet was another entirely.

Somehow he managed it and dragged himself onto the roof. Then it was another battle to stay there. There were no hand-holds whatsoever, apart from a kind of ventilation chimney halfway down the carriage, and the wind pressure was incredible. He had to flatten himself against the roof just to prevent himself being blown off, and he was sure that one sharpish bend would see him thrown off anyway.

Ahead of him was the Death Eater he was looking for. Harry assumed he was using something like the Sticky-Foot charm, because although the wind was buffeting him viciously, he was upright and preparing to leap from the second carriage to the third.

Harry lifted his head and shouted to distract him. The wind whipped the words away at once, but the man must have heard something for he turned to look. The sudden grin on his face suggested that he found Harry's prone position very amusing.

Laugh it up, Harry thought grimly as he tried to drag himself up enough to get at his wand. Laugh as much as you like, so long as it gives the others time to escape.

He managed to raise himself enough to get his wand out before he flopped gracelessly back onto his belly, clinging to the smooth surface of the carriage roof with the bare fingertips of his left hand and the toes of his shoes.

I bet Buster Keaton never had this problem.

The appearance of a wand wiped the smile from his adversary's face. Abandoning any plans to jump carriages, the Death Eater turned to face Harry, swaying uncertainly with the movement of the train and the pressure of the wind.

Of course, Buster Keaton had the scriptwriters on his side ....

He managed to mutter the Sticky-Foot charm and dragged his knees up under him. The Death Eater levelled his wand at him. Harry was willing to bet that he wasn't about to conjure a flock of doves for his entertainment and made a supreme - and very risky - effort to get his right foot under himself.

The Death Eater shouted something he couldn't hear because of the wind.

Harry's right foot locked onto the smooth surface beneath him and gave him enough stability to sit up and raised his wand arm.

Too late.

The curse, a bright yellow blur, whirled towards him like a Catherine-wheel, moving far too fast to be deflected. Harry had one thought fixed in his mind as he braced himself for its impact: At least it's not the Avada Kedavra curse -

It struck him like a pile-driver, knocking him onto his back with one foot still stuck to the roof and the other painfully bent beneath him. A familiar acid-burn tingle travelled across his limbs.

Full body-bind - he wants to disable me -

There was a counter-curse. Unfortunately it had to be cast before the hex struck.

Then the tingling vanished. Harry, expecting to be numb from head to foot, was startled. Hey, what?

The curse hadn't worked.

Don't question it! Just lie still - he'll be coming to check on you any minute -

Harry forced himself to lie there rigidly - not easy with the jolting of the train - and wait. He couldn't hear a damn thing other than the whistling wind and rattle of the carriage on the tracks. He wondered anxiously if Ron and Malfoy had managed to get away.

This was reminiscent of one of those training exercises he had told Malfoy about; the one where Ron had played the Death Eater and nearly caught Harry by pretending a stunning spell had hit him when it hadn't.

Harry had almost fallen for it almost, but not quite.

A shadow fell across him, and Harry reacted without even consciously thinking about it. His wand whipped up to point at the man standing over him -

"STUPEFY!"

The curse was so close-range that it hurled the Death Eater backwards, wrenching him off his magically-assisted feet. Harry, scrambling to pull himself upright from the awkward position he lay in, was just in time to see the stunned body roll from the top of the train and crash into the thick bushes that lined the railway track on either side. In a split second it was left behind.

Bugger.

He would have liked another trussed up Death Eater to present to Moody to soften the old Auror's inevitable rant at him. Harry was in no doubt that his performance this time was pretty poor.

He managed to get both feet beneath him and looked down the length of the carriage towards the end; to his relief the third carriage had been separated and was slowly drifting away from its companions. Two figures were standing precariously in the doorway and Harry could see that Ron was shouting, although he couldn't hear a word of it because of the wind. He looked nearly frantic.

Seconds later, Harry realised why. Flames were roaring out of the carriage windows, and the first carriage was an inferno. He needed to get off the train, and quickly.

Fortunately, that was no longer a problem.

 

End Part 18/30

 

 

Jadea I don't often feel sympathy for Malfoy myself, so I know where you're coming from! I've definitely been a bit hard on him in this story ... although not as hard as I could have been *smile*

Jillian I hope you'll continue to enjoy this story. There's more tension yet to come ...

Beth Ann - Don't have any ideas for a Jezebel ficlet yet, but leave it with me you never know! I could do another of those back-story snippets I suppose .... As for Harry, I like it when he makes mistakes it makes him so much more human. I think that's one of the likeable things about him in the books.

LadyRose I found writing the parts where Harry watches his mother die rather difficult. My original idea was to write the whole incident from start to finish, complete with James taking on Voldemort, but I'm glad I didn't. Aside from anything else, I don't have any strong images of what James was like, despite us knowing more about him than Lily. But also writing the whole scene would be rather harrowing if it was done properly. Regarding Nick Curtis, he'll be back later *smile*

Nayako I think there's a lot of room for clairvoyancy to go wrong, don't you? My friend's gran objects to ouija boards because you can't pick and choose the spirit you'll call up, but personally I don't see how clairvoyancy would be much different, especially as you're using yourself as a channel. Not that I know much about these things, admittedly.

Sally Nick Curtis has a definite role to play, don't worry. Malfoy's around again, as you can see in fact, you'll be seeing a lot of him from now on. The next couple of chapters will settle some issues between the three. And as for Harry having no self-control around Ron well, of course not! Would you? I wouldn't *grin* It's the red hair, as any of my friends would tell you! Oh, and regarding your second review it took me a year to write *this* story. How long are you prepared to wait to see a prequel?! But I might might write a ficlet or two covering earlier events. I already have two written but they won't be posted until we get nearer the end of the story, because they won't make sense otherwise.

Sobriquet I wrote most of chapter 17 in the dark *grin* I'm glad you're enjoying the story.

Harmoni As I've said, he'll be back not just yet, but soon enough *smile*

Jen I'm glad you were taking note of what Lily was doing, because it has a certain importance. As for the Death Eaters, well it stands to reason that they would know some of them *smile*

SparkySparkles I would like to look more at Harry's relationship with Sirius and Lupin, because it's always interesting to see how he relates to adults who were close to his parents. Also, Sirius and Lupin are probably the nearest thing he has to wizard relatives (unless J. K. Rowling is about to surprise us by telling us more about James's family at last) so that makes them doubly important. And I like them as characters *smile*

PotterBrother An obsession with kitchens? Heh! Quite possibly! One of my hobbies is breadmaking, so I have a loving relationship with things like mixing bowls and work surfaces. But in fanfic Beth Ann would tell you that I actually have an obsession with bathrooms as you'll probably find out *grin* I don't know about a Jezebel ficlet being hilarious, but it would certainly be interesting to write.


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