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: This chapter is dedicated to the wonderful Brooke, who has sketched a picture of the wizard circle, to be found here: http://nar.worthytosay.net/art/cop.jpg. I'm really thrilled! I can't draw to save my life, so this is lovely!


Circles of Power

Part Twenty-One - The Seer, The Sage And The Warlock

By Mad Martha

       

The next morning, Harry awoke in his infirmary bed to yet another low voiced exchange.

"I don't see why you're being so pig-headed about it. I think I have a right to see it."

"Well, I don't. That information is confidential - "

"Then you shouldn't leave it lying around, should you?"

This was becoming tiresome. Harry opened his eyes with a sigh. "What are the pair of you arguing about now?"

Ron and Draco were standing at the foot of his bed, glaring at each other. They both jumped when he spoke and turned to look at him sharply.

Ron hurried around the end of the bed to his side. "Hey, how are you today?" he greeted Harry, smiling.

Harry considered the question for a moment. "Not too bad I think." He slowly pulled himself into a sitting position and looked at the two of them. "What's going on?"

Ron grimaced. "He wants to see the report on Pansy."

Harry looked at Draco in surprise. "What on earth would you want to see that for?"

Draco had his arms crossed over his chest and was looking particularly stubborn and uncooperative. "I have a right to know what was done to her."

"Not from confidential Auror files you don't!"

"Ron ." Harry rubbed his face, wishing he was not quite so groggy with sleep. "Draco, you saw her body. You can't possibly want to know more than that - I know I don't, and it's my job. Besides, Ron's right. The report is confidential, and we can't show it to you even if we wanted to."

"Great. Another cop-out."

"Draco!" Harry flopped back against his pillows wearily. "I'm not having an argument with you about it. Rules are rules - "

"And you're so well-known for following the rules!"

"- I didn't make them and I can't change them. If you're so desperate to see the report, send an owl to Sirius."

Silence. Harry sighed and looked at Ron. The redhead raised a brow at him and the corner of his mouth twitched, but all he said was, "Fancy some breakfast?"

"Yes please."

"I'll see what I can scrounge."

He hurried off, leaving Harry with a very sour-looking Draco. He studied him for a moment, but the blond youth didn't seem inclined to say anything or even look at him, which left him wondering why on earth he was even hanging around.

"How are you today?" he asked finally.

Draco shrugged. "I'm all right."

"Ron said you both got a bit mauled yesterday."

"He exaggerates."

Harry had to bite his tongue to stop himself saying something pretty sharp in response to that. In a patient tone he was far from feeling, he asked, "What's the matter?"

"Nothing."

"Then why are you lurking around my bed, looking so bloody miserable?" demanded Harry, exasperated.

Draco's head shot up and the look he gave him was so searing, so full of something that Harry felt like he'd been thumped in the stomach. For a moment he stared back, wide-eyed, shocked and totally pinioned by the emotion blazing in those grey eyes. Then Draco hastily looked away, freeing him.

Shit, Harry thought numbly, when the hell did that happen?

"You nearly got killed by that Rosamundi plant yesterday ."

Somehow Harry found his voice again.

"And I nearly got killed by Death Eaters the day before. I nearly get killed all the time - it's a feature of my life - "

Draco wasn't listening. "The vine got you too, did Weasley tell you? I lost control of it. If Professor Sprout hadn't been there - "

"Well, I never thought Dumbledore would let us be killed just to prove a point. Draco, no one's blaming you! You nearly got eaten yourself, in case you've forgotten."

"Not really. That particular plant had other things on it's mind, apparently."

Harry grinned; he couldn't help it. "So I heard."

"I suppose Weasley thought being groped by a man-eating vine was funny!" Draco was not amused.

"Laughing at it is better than the alternative," Harry pointed out. He shook his head at the other man's stubborn expression. "You were arguing with Ron last night. Why?"

"I was not ."

"Yes, you were. I overheard you. Why were you arguing?"

Draco snorted humourlessly. "Perhaps because he was being a complete prick as usual!"

"And you weren't?" Harry said sharply. "What were you arguing about?"

The look Draco gave him now was more controlled; his eyes were veiled. "He's a jealous little so-and-so, isn't he?"

"He can be, when he thinks he has reason. Stop giving me the run around - what did you do to set him off?"

The blond youth fiddled with the edge of the nearest floral screen. "Doesn't it get on your nerves?"

"No, people not answering my questions gets on my nerves!" Harry gave him an exasperated look. "Draco "

"All I did was come here during the evening to see how you were. Apparently I should have asked His Majesty's permission first. The way he tore into me, you'd have thought I was ravishing your unresisting body ...."

Harry looked at him and Draco flushed very slightly. Considering how fair-skinned he was, it equated with a full-scale blush on anyone else.

"You were winding him up, Draco."

"So?" He gave Harry a wry little half-smile. "Harry, if you're holding onto some notion about sufficient time and exposure making Weasley and me the best of friends, you're living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. It's not going to happen. There's too much history between us "

"Is this where you give me a load of bullshit about family rivalries and grudges passed down from one generation to the next?" Harry asked him blandly. "Spare me! That has to be the most pathetic excuse I've ever heard for two people refusing to get along. Like anyone really cares what his Cousin Peter seven times removed did to your Great-great-great-great-grandfather!"

"If you'd actually been brought up among other wizards, you wouldn't be so dismissive of family history," Draco said stiffly. "But in any case, it's nothing to do with that "

"I know it's not. And I think we need to talk about what it's really about, don't you?"

"No, I don't actually. I really don't think there's much point."

"There's a point when it's setting you and Ron at each other's throats as soon as my back's turned," Harry said, a little more sharply than he intended. "There's a point when the three of us have to somehow find a way of working together that won't kill one of us. And there's definitely a point when you keep looking at me like I'm your last hope for breakfast."

There was a stiff silence. Harry sighed and tried to modify his tone.

"Draco ... we've been here before. I really and truly don't want to hurt you, but you must realise that there is absolutely no chance of anything ever happening between you and me. Ron and I are a fixture, and there's not and never has been any room for third parties in our relationship not in any shape or form. I'm just not interested in other people."

"You already told me this - "

"Yes, but were you listening?" Harry demanded. "Are you listening to me now? Draco, be realistic! You don't love me - I'm willing to bet you don't even really fancy me. You're lonely and - "

"Don't presume to tell me how I feel!" Draco snapped savagely. "And I don't need your pity, Potter!"

"Good, because right now I'm finding it hard to feel anything but a strong urge to wring your neck!" Harry snapped back. "Whatever it is, get over it! Stop picking fights with Ron, and do me a favour - try to remember that if any of this goes wrong, it's probably me who'll die!"

He flopped back against his pillows, exhausted by the argument, and with that one of the screens was pulled aside and a forbidding Madam Pomfrey bustled up to him.

"I might have known I'd be seeing you again at some point," she said and picked up one of his wrists, feeling for his pulse. She gave him a sharp look and touched his forehead. "You're trembling and clammy . What have you been doing?"

"Nothing," Harry said unconvincingly. He was surprised at how drained he felt.

The matron looked at Draco suspiciously. He shifted uncomfortably under her glare.

"What have you been doing to him?" she demanded. "I warned you yesterday - he needs to rest and he's not to get over-excited. He got a dose of venom strong enough to knock out a dragon ."

Ron appeared around the screens then, carrying a large sack and with Dobby in tow. The House-elf was carrying a covered tray.

"What's going on?" the redhead wanted to know. He dumped the sack at the foot of Harry's bed with a grunt.

Madam Pomfrey sniffed disapprovingly. "He's being silly and getting himself all worked up about something," she said severely. She pinned Harry with a fierce eye. "If you don't calm down, I'll have to give you a potion and send the others away. Now eat your breakfast."

She glowered at them all and stalked off again.

"What's going on?" Ron repeated, looking at the two of them. He relieved Dobby of the breakfast tray and the House-elf, reduced to alarmed silence by Draco's glower, scampered off again without a word.

"Nothing," Harry sighed. He made himself sit up again so that Ron could give him the tray. "What's in the sack?"

"Something you ordered from Flourish and Blotts apparently. It took six of their biggest post-owls to deliver it."

"Oh! About time those turned up ...." Harry felt more interest in the sack, if he was honest, than he did in his breakfast now that it had arrived. He surveyed the plate of toast, bacon and eggs without enthusiasm. "Anyone fancy a slice of toast?"

"Excuse me, but you're supposed to be eating this yourself!" Ron scolded.

Draco snorted. "I'm going to leave if you're going to have a domestic quarrel!"

"No, don't," Harry said quickly. "Have a look through that sack for me, would you?"

"Why, what is it?"

"Believe it or not, I'm taking your advice."

The blond wizard shot him a rather odd look, but opened the sack and peered inside.

"I got Flourish and Blotts to send me a copy of every magazine and periodical they stock," Harry continued. "I thought if I could pick out one that didn't seem too hysterical, I could maybe persuade myself to do that interview after all ...."

"I knew I should have sent you my bill," Draco commented. He began pulling out handfuls of magazines and newspapers.

"Let's see!" Ron took a bunch of the magazines and sorted through them. "Harry, I'm warning you now - if you do an interview for Witch Weekly, I'll leave you."

"What would I talk to them about?" Harry scoffed. "My favourite recipe for sponge cake?" He began to eat his breakfast, feeling more cheerful.

"You'll never convince them that you're gay," was Draco's observation. He pulled out another handful. "Hm! I had no idea that Flourish and Blotts stocked copies of Playwizard. That's rather low-brow of them .... Are you thinking of doing a photo-shoot?"

"Not if it involves taking my clothes off. Besides, in case you haven't noticed you have to be good-looking before they'll photograph you."

Draco looked at Ron, all animosity temporarily erased. "Is he fishing for compliments?"

Ron sighed. "No. He actually believes that he's short and ugly."

The blond youth stared at Harry disbelievingly. "Every nubile woman in our world has been throwing herself at you since you were fourteen and you think you're ugly?"

Harry gave him an old-fashioned look and pushed his fringe back to expose his scar. "They only see this." Then he began to chuckle. "And I notice you didn't argue about me being short!"

It took Draco a moment or two to come up with a suitable retort. "There's a term for it, Harry," he managed finally, "Pocket Venus!"

Harry choked on his eggs and Ron had to thump his back.

"Transfiguration Today ... Potions Review ... Which Broomstick? those won't be interested. Teen Witch and Wizarding Hunks probably would be, but you'd have to tone down the content or every parent in Britain will be sending you hexes. What's this Cosmopolitan? I've never seen that one before ...."

"That's a Muggle magazine do Flourish and Blotts stock them?"

"Probably. It looks like they stock everything. These look like Muggle magazines too."

"Oh, let's see!" said Ron, intrigued.

Draco handed them over. "The pictures don't move," he commented disparagingly.

"Muggle photographs and pictures don't," Harry replied. He chewed another piece of toast thoughtfully. "Did Colin Creevey become a freelance photographer when he left school?" he asked suddenly. "I know he talked about it for ages "

"Yeah, he did," Ron said absently, flicking through one of the Muggle magazines. "He's got a studio above one of the shops in Diagon Alley. Ginny still sees him sometimes."

"Hm. If it has to involve photos, I don't suppose I'd mind Colin ...."

For the next hour, the three of them were engrossed in reading through the huge pile, all arguments forgotten.

"How much is two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, Harry?" Ron asked at one point.

"A quarter of a million," he replied without thinking.

"It's reassuring to be in the presence of such genius," Draco remarked sardonically.

Ron tweaked Harry's toes through the bedspread. "I meant, how much is it in Galleons, you prat!"

"God, how should I know? A lot, probably. I think the conversion rate is about seven Sickles to the pound at the moment."

"So that's ...." Ron flopped onto his back across the end of the bed and tried to work it out.

"Should I fetch Madam Pomfrey?" Draco asked, a moment or two later. "It looks like you might have strained something "

"Shut up. That's about ... one hundred and three thousand Galleons! Wow ...."

"What are you reading?" Harry asked suspiciously.

"There's a quiz in this magazine " Ron showed him.

It was a Muggle magazine devoted to games and crosswords, and in the middle pages was a giant, fold-out puzzle. It reminded Harry of the enormous, prize-winning Christmas crossword in the Little Whinging Gazette that his aunt and uncle always tried (and failed) to complete each year. This one looked more like a cross between an acrostic and Snakes and Ladders, although the clues seemed to be based on a chess game. No wonder Ron had latched onto it especially since those lucky few who could complete it would be entered into a prize draw with a share in a maximum prize of a quarter of a million pounds.

"Ron ...." Harry was reluctant to disillusion him. "Even if you complete it, the chances of you actually winning are "

"About a zillion to one," Draco murmured helpfully.

"Shut up, you. Ron, the people who buy these puzzle magazines do it as a hobby. They take it really seriously. People who do it as a one-off don't stand a chance ...."

Ron's face fell, and Harry felt like a total killjoy.

"How would you get the form to them anyway?" he pointed out, weakening. "I don't think they accept owl post ...."

"You get the Owl Post Office to do it for you," Draco commented, rolling his eyes. "I think they have an address where Muggle-style mail is dropped; then they relay it by normal mail. How on earth do you think the Ministry and places like Gringotts do business with the Muggle world?"

The redhead brightened. "Okay! Does anyone have a quill?"

       

"I feel like we've wasted a day," Harry commented softly, when he was curled up in bed with Ron that night.

Madam Pomfrey had released him just before dinner, on the understanding that he was to spend the evening resting. They had dinner with Professor Dumbledore, then spent the evening sprawled out on the sofas in the Gryffindor common room, looking through yet more magazines.

Ron spooned up a little closer to him and rested his chin on Harry's shoulder. "Why?"

"I don't know. I just have this weird feeling that things are starting to happen and we can't afford to mess around."

"Dumbledore didn't seem worried."

"No, but I worry about Dumbledore."

"Don't," Ron advised him. "Worry about whatever nightmare team-building task he's got in store for us tomorrow."

"I'm not going to drive myself crazy thinking about that. This is Dumbledore we're talking about! He doesn't think the way other people do."

"So don't worry about anything! Just sleep."

"I never 'just' sleep," Harry grumbled, but he dragged a pillow further under his ear, punched it a bit and tried to settle down.

Ron waited patiently until he'd stopped wriggling and wrapped himself around him again. "You're not a restful person, you know that?"

"Well, I don't seem to lead a very restful life. I spent ten of my first eleven years trying to outrun Dudley, and since then I seem to have spent it trying to outrun Voldemort one way or another. Something tells me that even if we got rid of him tomorrow, I'd still be trying to outrun something. It's a vicious pattern I'm stuck in."

"No, you're not. If we got rid of Voldemort tomorrow, you'd spend the rest of the summer in a hammock somewhere with me."

The idea charmed Harry. He turned over and said to Ron solemnly, "Let's get rid of Voldemort tomorrow."

Ron smiled. "Not if you don't get some sleep."

"Oh, alright." Harry turned over again, and Ron tucked himself around him once more.

There was a lengthy pause during which Ron began to drift off, only to be jerked awake by Harry suddenly saying, "I'm worried about Draco too."

Ron swallowed a sigh. "Why?"

"He gave me such a look this morning ."

"You're not responsible for Malfoy's facial contortions, Harry."

"It's not that I seriously think he fancies me but - "

"Harry."

"What?"

"You are not going to put the world to rights tonight. Okay? Forget about Dumbledore, Voldemort and Malfoy for now. You can deal with it all in the morning."

"Oh. Okay."

Harry heard Ron huff impatiently and grinned, waiting.

"And stop trying to wind me up, you annoying little git!"

Harry laughed softly. "'Night Ron!"

"Hmf!"

       

Harry awoke feeling surprisingly light-hearted and positive the next morning. Idly wondering what the day's programme would be, he took himself off to the bathroom and indulged in the luxury of a morning bath, instead of his normal hasty shower.

Ron wandered in while he was still submerged and daydreaming, but declined his invitation to join him with a sweet, if somewhat bleary smile and hopped into the nearest shower stall instead. He reappeared just after Harry had climbed out of the tub and watched interestedly as he set out his shaving kit. It had been a gift from someone for his birthday and Harry, a little amused at the old-fashioned set of brush, soap-bowl and razor, had been using it on and off ever since.

Much more amusing, however, was Ron's reaction; the redhead was even more intrigued by it than his partner was. He dried himself off this morning and got his own shaving kit out, keeping one eye on Harry the whole time.

Harry brushed the lather over his cheeks and tried to ignore the way Ron was looking at him. He wasn't sure if the redhead was flirting with him deliberately or not; Ron had always been an outrageous flirt, although Harry hadn't paid much attention until the day his friend had suddenly turned it on him.

"It's a bit of a performance, isn't it?" Ron said unexpectedly, as he smoothed a handful of Bubbleman's Self-Lathering Shaving Cream over the lower half of his face. His attention was barely on what he was doing, for he was following Harry's movements avidly. He had a thing about watching Harry shave, but rarely got a chance to indulge it. "If you did this every day, you'd never get to work on time." He dipped his safety razor in his basin to wet it and began to shave himself with quick, confident strokes.

It was true that using old-fashioned shaving soap and a brush was time-consuming, and expanded what was normally a swift and haphazard task into something closely approaching a ritual. But after his first dubious attempt, Harry had to admit that there was something rather enjoyable about working up the lather and swirling it onto his face with the brush.

"Obviously I'm not going to do this every day. But since time is something we seem to have a lot of at the moment ...." Harry let the sentence trail off and finished applying the soap. He rinsed the brush and picked up his razor, giving it a quick dip in the basin before making the first stroke along his jaw.

Not for the first time, he cursed having very dark hair. Black stubble was so unattractive, which meant he had to be absolutely religious about shaving and often did so twice in a day, depending on what he was doing. Not a problem that Ron had, although Neville had commiserated with Harry more than once on the miseries of a five o'clock shadow that often appeared significantly earlier than five o'clock.

He was tempted to suggest to Neville that he tried this method of shaving instead, the next time he saw him. Harry wasn't sure if it was his imagination, but he seemed to get a better result by using soap and a brush, although admittedly it might just be the new and wickedly sharp razor that had come with the set. He had never used a cutthroat-style razor before, but the extra care it took seemed to pay off. Whatever it was, it was certainly worth it if only for the lack of painful razor-burn.

Harry caught sight of Ron's rapt expression in the mirror and had to suppress a smile. What the hell was it that he found so fascinating about this simple act anyway?

"Breathe," he advised him, and laughed when the redhead jumped. It was lucky Ron was using a safety razor or he might have cut his own throat. He had been utterly transfixed. "You are seriously kinky," Harry told him, green eyes twinkling with amusement.

"Are you complaining?"

"No, although it beats me why this should be such a turn-on for you."

Ron's lips twitched but he finished shaving in silence, before suddenly saying, "I used to like watching my dad shave when I was a kid."

It was Harry's turn to nearly cut himself and he shot a glare at his innocently smiling partner. "Okay, let's not explore that train of thought."

"Just an observation!" Ron splashed water over his face liberally and dried off.

"Yeah, right ." Harry made his next stroke more cautiously. "I'm glad I never caught you staring like that at anyone when we were at school. I'm used to it now, but I think it probably would have freaked me out completely a few years ago."

"I wasn't interested back then. It was more fun watching Seamus secretly checking his chest for hair - that was good for a few laughs in the morning."

Harry had to put the razor down and grip the sides of the basin for a moment until he got himself under control.

"Look, will you piss off and get dressed, while I finish here!" he demanded finally, still shaking with suppressed laughter. "I'm going to die a messy death at this rate ."

Ron chuckled and gathered up his stuff. "See you in a minute!"

"Yeah, okay."

Harry finished shaving and rinsed off in peace and quiet. He was just towelling off and looking for his underwear when he heard the door open again behind him.

"What did you forget?" he asked, knowing Ron's penchant for leaving stuff lying around.

"To knock, apparently," a dry voice commented.

Harry shot upright, dragging a towel in front of himself rather belatedly. Draco was standing in the doorway, pyjama-clad and carrying his own towels and shaving kit, eyeing Harry with sly amusement.

"Nice broom, Potter."

"Piss off, Malfoy!"

There was nothing like being caught naked to reduce you to schoolboy-level insults. Harry was bitterly aware that he was absolutely scarlet and at a loss for something original to say. He had never been good at dealing with embarrassing situations with aplomb.

"Excuse me, but I was under the impression that this was a communal bathroom!" Draco sauntered in, closing the door nonchalantly behind him, and dumped his gear on a nearby bench.

"There are three other bathrooms! Why do you "

"This is the nearest one to our rooms. What's your problem, Harry? You didn't seem to be in a hurry to throw Weasley out!"

Harry spluttered indignantly. Unfortunately, he couldn't seem to come up with a single argument other than: "That was different!"

"Tut!" Draco was enjoying this entirely to much for Harry's comfort. "You know, you do blush beautifully. And in all sorts of unexpected places!"

"And you'll bleed in all sorts of unexpected places if you're not careful!" he snapped, recovering his tongue if not his poise. He looked around for his wand only to remember that he'd left it on the bedside table upstairs. Bugger. "This is not funny "

"On the contrary, it's hilarious. It's been a while since the boot's been on the other foot, hasn't it?" Draco folded his arms, deceptively casual, and Harry was acutely aware that the blond youth was holding his wand.

Harry forced himself to straighten up and tuck the damp towel back around his waist. It gave him at least the illusion of dignity. "What do you want, Draco?"

Draco leaned a hip against one of the basins and studied him for a moment. "Now that could be considered a leading question," he drawled. "What if I were to say "you", Harry?"

"I'd remind you that when I wanted to talk about this with you, you refused to discuss it, and that furthermore I told you then that I'm not available and not interested," Harry replied with curt precision. And isn't it just like you, Draco-bloody-Malfoy, to wait until you've got me cornered and at a disadvantage before you decide you'll talk about it? "What's more, I don't feel like discussing it now. So drop the attitude and turn around, please. I'd like to get dressed."

Draco smiled at him sweetly. "Oh please don't mind me! I'm very open minded."

"Somehow I doubt that!" No way was he going to drop the towel again in front of the other man and he wasn't about to amuse him by trying to struggle into his underwear with it still around him. "Screw it ...."

Harry grabbed his things in an untidy pile and stalked to the door, only to be stopped by the tip of Draco's wand lightly pressed to the hollow of his throat.

"Something I have found out about wizard circles," the blond wizard told him, still smiling, "is that the power balance can shift in the most unexpected directions. I'll be interested to discover just who out of the three of us has control of the circle won't you?"

"You're still wearing the Seal of Honour, Draco," Harry reminded him softly.

They stared at each other for a moment, cloudy grey eyes meeting forest green. Then something in Draco's expression changed, softened.

"I wouldn't hurt you, Harry you do know that, don't you?"

Harry blinked, a little surprised by the earnest tone. "No, I don't," he replied frankly, after a moment's consideration. "Little games like this don't exactly make me want to trust you."

"What do I have to do to make you trust me?"

"You can't make anyone trust you, Draco. Trust is earned ... and you just lost some credit." Harry very carefully pushed the wand away. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I want to get dressed."

       

The great hall that hosted every meal, feast and ball Hogwarts held was echoingly empty without the long tables, chairs and banners hanging on the walls. It was also distinctly odd to look up and see not only the rafters but also the ceiling, instead of the enchanted view of the sky outside. The charm was apparently taken down over the summer for maintenance reasons.

Harry was glad to see that Ron and Draco were as uneasy at the vast, empty space as he was. He hadn't said anything to either of them, but Hogwarts felt like an entirely different entity without its usual vast throng of students and teachers to give it warmth and life.

He had always felt that the castle was a living thing in some way unique to it alone, but it wasn't until now that he realised that it also seemed to have a personality. While its function as a school was being fulfilled, that personality was warm, benign, nurturing and homelike. But during the sleepy summer months, when it was empty of all but a very few residents, it became something else. Not necessarily unwelcoming, but different.

Standing with them in the centre of the room, Dumbledore seemed unaware of their unease, although Harry doubted that was the case. The elderly wizard let them get their bearings for a moment or two, then gently cleared his throat.

"Today I think we need to start looking at easing the three of you into combining your magic," he said, smiling at them. "From observing you, I have a fair idea which of you fulfils which role in the circle, but I would like to see you actually merge magics just to be sure. So we are going to try and recreate the circumstances under which you accidentally combined energies the first time."

Harry tensed at once. He couldn't help it; all he could remember of that first incident was the excruciating pain he had experienced. Dumbledore's eyes flicked to him for a moment as though aware of his thoughts, but the professor said nothing. He merely took a few steps back and waved his wand, producing a large pile of pillows, cushions and other soft, squashy objects of varying sizes, colours and patterns in front of them.

"Now, you will have noticed that we are in the largest enclosed space that the castle boasts," he continued calmly. "You need a little room to work in. You may also be aware that there are dampening spells in place around the walls, similar to those in many of the classrooms. They should prevent any excess eruptions of energy, although I seriously doubt that the effects of your working together today will be anything like the first, inadvertent explosion you experienced." This was directed very subtly at Harry.

"I would suggest that you start by doing exactly what you were doing on that day. You will probably need to be in physical contact, at least at first."

Dumbledore retreated to the edge of the room, and the three of them eyed each other uncertainly.

"Okay," Ron said a little nervously, "so what were we doing at the time?"

"Pillow fight," replied Harry, feeling his stomach begin to turn over despite Dumbledore's assurances. "Um I think you were trying some kind of repelling charm, right?"

"I was trying to keep out of the way," Draco put in dryly.

"Not very successfully!" Ron shot back at him.

There was a tiny pause and they all looked at each other.

"I think we need some help here," Harry decided. He looked across at Dumbledore, who was watching them with a tiny smile. "Um Professor, would you mind, er, throwing a few pillows at us?"

"Certainly!" he said with distinct enjoyment, and suddenly one of the larger pillows - really it was more like a big beanbag - levitated itself and hurtled towards Harry.

It happened so quickly that they had no time to really sort themselves out. Harry managed to repel the first couple of pillows by himself, and then it was suddenly like an action replay of the pillow fight - minus a few housemates and a couple of flights of stairs.

"You really do need to concentrate on merging your energies," the headmaster called, after five frantic minutes. He was effortlessly warding off any missiles sent his way.

Reluctantly, Harry gathered the other two with his eyes and reached out to touch Ron, clasping his elbow. Then he felt Draco put a hand on his shoulder. He supposed he had been expecting the same hair-raising burn of power along his nerves as he had felt the first time, so it was a distinct let-down when nothing happened. They continued banishing the cushions as they had before.

Dumbledore called a halt after a few minutes. "I think you're missing the point," he commented, rejoining them. "During that first incident, Draco wasn't actively involved, was he?"

"Well, no - he didn't have a wand," Ron replied.

"And I believe he was in physical contact with you and Harry both at the same time?"

Draco frowned. "How much use is this circle going to be if we all have to be touching each other at the same time?"

"Patience," the professor cautioned. "Naturally you won't always have to be in physical contact - as Harry and Ron proved on Harry's birthday. But until you become settled as a working circle, some element of physical contact will be needed, at least to establish a link between you. Physical contact can also enhance the power levels, you'll find. As you grow stronger as a group, the amount of energy you will be able to call upon will increase, but you will always find that the closer you are together physically, the more intensity you will be able to give to your work."

He stepped back again. "Try again. Only this time, try to recreate the circumstances exactly."

Ron looked at Harry and Draco and wiped sweating palms on the seat of his jeans. "I was casting a banishing charm, right? Okay then ."

Harry reluctantly reached out and cupped his elbow again, aware of the sticky heat of Ron's skin. It was hot even in the Great Hall, and they were all sweating. He watched Draco tuck his wand into his jeans pocket, and the blond youth laid a hand on each of their shoulders.

That was all the opportunity they had to prepare themselves before Dumbledore sent four cushions flying at them simultaneously.

Ron reacted almost on instinct, flicking his wand at the missiles -

- and there was a brilliant flash, leaving a pattern of coloured stars on the inside of Harry's eyelids.

This wasn't like the previous occasion. Harry felt the power surge up, but not painfully; this was more like the sensation you got riding over a humpbacked bridge at speed - an odd feeling of breathlessness and exhilaration, like pulling sharply out of a fast dive on his broomstick.

He didn't realise he'd squeezed his eyes shut until he heard a series of violent thumps and Ron's excited whoop. He cracked one eye open and then the other.

The four pillows were scattered against the opposite wall, two of them sagging in a pile of stuffing where they'd burst upon impact.

And he, Ron and Draco were still on their feet, unharmed.

Well, mostly.

"Ow!" Ron said to him pointedly. "Are you going to let go of my elbow anytime soon?"

"Sorry," Harry replied sheepishly, and released him. There was a little ring of livid finger-marks on the freckled skin, which he rubbed at guiltily. He hadn't realised he was gripping his friend so tightly. "Sorry - I'll kiss it better later."

"You'd better!" Then Ron grinned. "That was pretty cool! Did you see it?"

"Um ...."

"I'll get excited when we do something a little more spectacular than throw a few pillows around," Draco commented dryly. "I can do that on my own."

"Picky picky ...."

"That was more the thing, gentlemen." Dumbledore joined them again. "Now, let's try that again, only this time I want Draco to be the one actually casting the charm ...."

They spent the next hour banishing and summoning pillows, taking it in turns to be the one casting the charm. They all did rather well, but it quickly became clear that the best results were achieved when Ron was doing the casting, regardless of the spells they used. Considering that he had only ever been an average student in Charms, this was rather surprising.

Dumbledore, however, seemed unsurprised. He called a halt and conjured up four chairs, a small table and a tray of cold drinks.

"I think," he said, as they all sat down and took a glass, "we can safely say that of the three of you, Ron is the focus of the circle. I thought that might be the case, after the four-poster bed incident." He winked at Harry. "You'll recall that although it appeared to be Harry who accidentally transfigured the blankets into a bed, it was Ron who managed to reverse the process.

"Draco, you would appear to provide the arcane or knowledge element. Like Hermione Granger, you are often stronger in book learning than you are in practice, and I'm well aware that your father supplemented your education with elements that were not part of our standard syllabus. You told me that that on the Hogwarts Express Harry managed to use a charm one certainly not taught by Professor Flitwick - to conjure the griffin; a charm which you had never been successful with yourself. But Harry, of course, doesn't recall ever having learned it.

"And Harry not surprisingly, you appear to be the source of power behind the circle. You are an unusually powerful wizard and always have been, making up in strength what you occasionally lack in finesse."

Dumbledore sipped his drink and smiled gently at them. "You might be interested to know that according to the International Confederation of Wizards, the correct term for a wizard of your type, Harry, is a warlock a wizard whose magical power outstrips his technical skills. Your godfather, Sirius, falls into that category too. Draco, on the other hand, would be classified as a sage your exact polar opposite, in that his technical knowledge far outstrips the limits of his power."

"So what does that make me?" Ron wanted to know.

"What you have always been, my dear boy a Seer. Your magic is intimately entwined with your clairvoyant abilities."

"But does that have any bearing on me being the focus of the circle?"

The professor pondered this for a moment or two. "To be honest, I couldn't say," he admitted. "I wouldn't have thought so. Claudius Claudius Clare, that is, the focus of my circle certainly wasn't a Seer. In fact I was never able to establish exactly what it was that made Claudius the focus, and I'm quite sure that Nicholas didn't either. And his research into the subject was, of course, considerably more extensive than my own. All I can tell you, Ron, is that you have some innate ability to channel, control and refine the energies generated by the three of you."

Ron nodded, but Harry could tell that he was thinking furiously about this.

After a moment, the redhead said quietly, "So is this why Voldemort wants me, do you think?"

"It is possible," Dumbledore admitted soberly, "although how he could possibly have known that you are what you are is a mystery to me. Draco, you told us that your father and Lord Voldemort wanted you for a particular purpose, and when it became apparent that you would be of no use to them, they lost interest in you." Draco grimaced, but nodded. "Tell me, did they ever try to make you work in a wizard circle, or anything that resembled a wizard circle?"

"My father made me work with him on numerous occasions during my teens," Draco admitted. "And shortly before I left school, there was an occasion during the Easter holiday when the Dark Lord was staying at Malfoy Manor. He was certainly interested in working with groups of people, but I didn't think anything of it because they weren't doing anything like this they weren't trying to raise power, it looked more like research. He was very interested in old forms of magic that had been lost or that had fallen out of use partly, my father said, because one of the reasons he couldn't kill Harry when he was a boy was because of some old, lost form of magic. It was never fully explained to me, but that was when he started experimenting with the Enviolus curse."

"But Lord Voldemort never tried to work with you and your father, or something similar?"

Draco tensed. "Not until after I left school. He made me run through some of the ritual magic with him that I'd been working on with my father. We went over and over it for hours I did exactly what they told me to do, but Lord Voldemort wasn't happy and following that I was pushed to one side. Which is when my father when he started draining me."

"So he could have been trying to set up a wizard circle, but failed because you were not the focus he needed to make it work."

Harry was thinking about Nicholas Flamel's all but useless book on the subject. "So if it's just a matter of having a focus, then why have Ron and I never managed to create a circle with someone else Hermione, for example?"

"Because it isn't simply a matter of having a focus, my boy," Dumbledore replied, looking at him over the top of his spectacles. "All three of the wizards involved must be compatible in some way. What makes the focus-wizard so important is his rarity. There are probably a number of compatible groups of wizards in existence, but a very few individuals who are capable of acting as a focus. Indeed, it is possible that Ron is the only one currently in existence."

"But Nicholas Flamel's book seemed to suggest "

"Yes I'm afraid you had to know Nicholas to understand some of his trains of thought. Reading that book cold might well give you the impression that all a circle needs is the focus. And as that volume is the only treatise on the subject, it may well be where Lord Voldemort has taken his own information from."

"So even if Voldemort got hold of me, there's no guarantee that any wizard circle would work?" asked Ron hopefully.

"I really don't know," Dumbledore said calmly. "I would have thought it unlikely myself, but I would be unwilling to discount the possibility entirely."

"Better hope that it would work," Draco told Ron grimly. "Believe me, you don't want to find out what happens when he's thwarted."

Ron gave him a sharp look. "You think so? Well, considering that Harry's had dreams where I help Voldemort to use a wizard circle to kill him, I think I'd actually prefer the alternative."

"Gentlemen," the headmaster interjected gently, before a quarrel could start. "I think it's time we started again, don't you? This time shall we try a little transfiguration?"

       

They spent the rest of the morning working on various forms of wand-work, starting with the very basic elements they had all learned in their first year at Hogwarts, up to the more complicated subjects tackled in their final year. By lunchtime all three were exhausted.

They had their lunch with Dumbledore, where he gave them their next task ... which was something rather unexpected.

"Meditation?" Harry repeated rather doubtfully. He glanced involuntarily at Ron, and saw that the redhead was looking intrigued.

"I believe you covered it during your fifth year of Divination," the professor commented mildly.

"I didn't take Divination," Draco said at once. He looked a little suspicious, as though he suspected Dumbledore of having some nefarious ulterior motive for his suggestion.

"Ron and Harry will be able to teach you the basic techniques. What I am suggesting is that the three of you meditate together. I think you will find that it is an excellent method of increasing the link between the three of you and allowing you to operate as a circle without physical contact."

Of the three of them Ron was the least concerned by this idea, which was not, perhaps, unreasonable given that he had the most experience with the esoteric. He turned the idea over in his mind for a minute or two before asking, "What sort of meditation form did you have in mind, Professor?"

Dumbledore smiled at him. "As to that, I think I may safely rely upon your judgement. You should bear in mind what I said about strengthening the links between the three of you, though."

"Great," Draco said sourly, as they made their way back to Gryffindor Tower. "Now we're at the mercy of Weasley and whatever crackpot notions he picked up from Trelawney ...."

"Is that the best complaint you can come up with?" Harry demanded of him wearily. "Because if it is, why don't you just save your breath?"

"Whinge, whinge, whinge ." Ron chimed in lightly.

He gave the Fat Lady the password and climbed through the portrait hole. When the others followed him in, they found him looking around the common room thoughtfully.

"Not in here," he decided. "I don't think we could possibly get comfortable enough . And we all need to change into something looser-fitting."

"Why?" demanded Draco. He was standing in the middle of the common room floor with his arms crossed uncompromisingly.

"Because, you prat, you can't meditate successfully if your jeans are cutting you in half."

"Some of us wouldn't find our jeans cutting us in half if we didn't insist on wearing them so tight!" the blond youth retorted acidly. He started up the stairs, only to turn back at the last minute with a wicked gleam in his eye. "Trying to showcase what you don't have, Weasley?"

He disappeared up the stairs, leaving Ron to glare after him.

"Ignore him," Harry said soothingly. "I like you in those jeans."

"Hm." Ron still looked a little put out, but he shrugged. "I'm trying to think of the best place to do this - it needs to be fairly easy on your rear."

"I hesitate to suggest this, but how about the middle of our bed? It's big enough, especially if we all sit back to back."

"Good thinking."

Which was what they did.

While Ron was trying to explain the basic principles of meditation to a sceptical Draco, Harry couldn't help but reflect that this was one of the weirder weeks he had spent in his life. Considering that his life up to this point had included spending ten years sleeping in a Muggle cupboard, discovering that magic really did exist, shopping with a half-giant, speaking to snakes, tackling a nesting dragon, and being attacked constantly by the most evil wizard in the world, this was no mean feat. He wondered idly if his life would always be strange, and decided that it beat the alternatives.

Although if someone had told him five years ago that one day he would be sitting in the middle of an enormous bed, clad only in his boxer shorts and a t-shirt, back to back with a similarly clad Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy, and murmuring an ancient mantra as an aid to meditation, he suspected he would have sent them straight to Madam Pomfrey for a tonic.

As he began to let his mind drift peacefully, Harry's final thought was to wonder what was coming next. After man-eating plants, enhanced charms and transfiguration, and meditation, it was probably going to be something really good .

 

End Part 21/30

 

 

Ice Lupus Are you also a Trekkie or an X-Phile?! Your reviews are very technical .... I'm sorry; I thought the Astral Plane was a fairly universal concept. I'm not a medium or an expert in the paranormal or anything like that, so my explanation is definitely going to be a bit sketchy on details, but my understanding is that the Astral Plane is the spiritual plane as opposed to the physical plane a place where the spirit goes during dreams, dreamtime and during near-death experiences etc. Sometimes the dead reside there before 'moving on'. (If anyone has a more exact explanation, please feel free to jump in here!) As for the Astral Plane in the story, I made that up. Regarding your second review, and Ron's objectivity regarding Draco you sound like you think Ron isn't capable of being objective about someone he dislikes. He's training to be an Auror you think he isn't being trained to be objective in difficult situations? But he's also 21 years old, which is still young enough for some things to be harder for him to deal with than others. Dealing with Draco Malfoy is comparatively easy; he's being dealing with him since he was 11 years old. Dealing with the prospect of losing Dumbledore is different, and I would argue that much of the wizarding world would find that a hard concept to get to grips with; remember, Dumbledore is a statesman and major influence on the wizarding world. Moving on ... your analysis of wizarding insularity is very interesting and offers an insight into their society that I hadn't actually considered when I wrote that scene. I would demur a little regarding Ron's conservatism, though. He has, after all, had the benefit of a fairly enlightened upbringing by wizard standards (his father is Muggle-obsessed), and his two closest friends are Muggle-bred and Muggle-born respectively. That's bound to have had an impact on his thinking. You ask "Just why isn't Draco using his Slytherin manipulative skills on Ron?" Enlighten me. What Slytherin manipulative skills? I see little or no evidence in the books to suggest that he has any such skills. His father does. But as far as I can see, Canon!Draco is just an average spiteful bully and I don't necessarily subscribe to the fandom convention that an older Draco will be clever, witty and manipulative. Regarding your final question, I'm not sure what you're asking here and in any case I would prefer not to be too specific about Harry and Draco's relationship at this point, but I would refer you back to Remus Lupin's analysis of the situation in Chapter 12. Whew! I hope that answers at least some of your questions *grin*

Jadea I love angst but for me a good story will have at least some leavening of lighter or humorous moments to make it flow a little more easily .... Regarding the seventh year falling-out, it will be expanded upon nearer to the end of the story, but I have no plans to write the actual scene up (not at this time, anyway!). By the way, how is "Best Served Cold" these days? *makes big, hopeful puppy eyes* I love that fic ....

Quoth the Raven Dumbledore being an old and tired man was something that occurred to me when I first read The Goblet of Fire. He defeated one dark wizard (Grindelwald) when he was in his prime, and then he had to deal with another one 35-40 years later (Voldemort). Now, at the end of his life and when he should be able to relax a bit, he discovers that Voldemort is back again. It must be very disheartening for him, to say the least.

Sally Ron and Draco were arguing because Draco snuck in to see Harry when he thought Ron wasn't looking. Regarding Harry's speech, no, he isn't really one to talk much about his feelings. In fact there is a thread running through their relationship (which isn't always shown in this story) of problems relating to Harry's inability to express himself verbally and physically. I won't say more than that now, but I'm glad you picked up on it *smile*

PotterBrother Glad you liked the Harry/Ron stuff *smile* Yes, we are two thirds through ... wow. But don't worry, even after this story ends, I'm sure it won't be the last you see of them *winks*

Beth Ann It had to be man-eating plants. They give me the creeps *shudders* As for wizarding ancestry, it's that thing I have about family trees again *grin* It probably has something to do with my own huge, extended family and the near-impossibility of keeping track of everyone. I keep wondering if pureblood wizard families, like the Malfoys, keep studbooks or something to avoid interbreeding .... Now there's an idea for your Snape/Hermione fic!

Nayako I'm glad you're still enjoying it! (In spite of me accidentally missing out your review last time *guilty look*)

PoisonSnakey I did promise more fluff! And I had to put him in, it would be sacrilege not to include Dobby and Hagrid in a fic this large *smile*

SparkySparkles A request for something from Draco POV ... *ponders* Well, it won't be in this fic, but I'll definitely give it some thought. It would be interesting.

Jen There had to be some sap! As for you being 5' 3", there's nothing wrong with that. My mother is only 5' 2" but she still manages to put the fear of God into my older brother whenever she deems it necessary (he's 6' 6" and a policeman *grin*)


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