DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter series and all the characters associated with it are the property solely of J. K. Rowling, her agents and publishers. No infringement of any rights is intended from the creation of this story. Nor is any money being made from it.


Circles of Power

Part Twenty-Two - Hubble, Bubble

By Mad Martha

       

In a blink, it seemed, another week passed.

Following Dumbledore's instructions, the trio spent an hour of every afternoon meditating; initially together in physical contact, and then at slowly increasing distances.

Mornings were spent on wand-work. They were now quite successfully working without physical contact, an achievement that pleased even Draco (although he tried very hard to look as though he was unimpressed). Possibly this had something to do with the fact that they were now accomplishing between the three of them quite advanced magics that none of them had ever succeeded in before; spells that Harry and Ron had never learned, and that Draco himself had learned but had been unable to use until now.

The day they managed to construct the Exploding Snap card castle with each of them in a different part of the castle and the cards themselves in a fourth was a watershed, and a cause for celebration. A beaming Dumbledore congratulated them, then chased them out of the castle with the recommendation that they relax for a couple of hours, perhaps by playing Quidditch.

Which they did, although as Ron pointed out, it wasn't quite as much fun when you knew you could control the Bludgers and Snitch without even touching them. Even Draco chuckled at that. All the same, they had a riotous game followed by a leisurely flight around the castle grounds. The mood was so unusually harmonious that Ron even swapped brooms with Draco briefly so that the blond wizard could try out the Tsunami's paces.

They came back to earth with a bump when they returned to the castle, however, for Sirius was waiting for them on the main landing pad.

"What are you doing here?" Harry wanted to know, when they'd got the greetings over with. He shouldered his broom and let Sirius lead the way down the outside stairs to the courtyard below.

His godfather was looking as windblown as he, Ron and Draco were, and was carrying his own broom as though he'd just arrived.

"I've been in Pontypridd," Sirius said.

"What for?"

"We'll come to that in a minute. Remember your friend Nick Curtis? The Muggle kid with the abnormally long nose that he kept sticking into other people's business?"

"Yes, of course "

"We've been looking into him since you left it hasn't been easy. His Muggle relatives in Godric's Hollow weren't keen on talking about him."

"Why not?" That was Ron.

"Well, initially we thought it was because they knew he was a wizard and didn't want anything to do with him a bit like the Dursleys with Harry. So we ... applied a bit of pressure." Sirius raised a brow at them to imply that the 'pressure' had been magical in nature. "Turned out they'd been subjected to a memory charm. Anyway, they weren't sure where young Nick was, because he suddenly decided to up and go off somewhere with 'a friend' the day I put the three of you on the Hogwarts Express. Odd, isn't it?"

"Did you find out anything about him?" Harry asked.

"With a struggle. His parents didn't know anything about him having magic, which was no big surprise, but when I talked to the Ministry they confirmed that he's on the Register."

Harry blinked. "What register?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "There's a Register of Births that makes a note when a witch or wizard is born, no matter who the parents are. There's a similar register here at Hogwarts, but that only makes a note of children who have enough magic to qualify for schooling here. That's how you get your letter even when you're living in the depths of Surrey with the Muggles from hell, apparently."

"Anyway," Sirius broke in impatiently, "it proves that Nick Curtis has some magic, even though it wasn't enough for him to receive formal schooling. What was really interesting was the date his birth was registered. You told me he looked about your age, right?"

Ron nodded. "Early twenties at most, although I would have said late teens, personally."

"I thought it was odd when I met his parents, because they were in their seventies. He's actually a couple of years older than me."

Silence.

"If this man supposedly has no useable magic," Draco said, after a moment, "how on earth can he cast illusions and memory charms?"

"And take a walk on the Astral Plane?" added Ron.

"And what were you doing in Pontypridd?" Harry wanted to know.

Sirius reached into his robes and pulled out a photograph. "I wanted to show this to the witch who saw Ron the day when he was diverted by Voldemort's lackeys." He gave the picture to Harry. "It took some finding, but this is the real Nick Curtis. We got it from his Muggle employment records, although he's never held down a job for very long. They have these places where people go to find work - "

"Job centres," Harry supplied quietly.

"Right. We got it from one of those. He has some kind of mental condition that makes it difficult for him to work, apparently."

"I didn't think he looked very stable when we saw him."

Harry studied the picture. It was recognisably of the man he and Ron had seen in the grounds of the Potter family home, but easily twice the age. He passed the picture to Ron silently.

"Anyway, that's the man our witness saw with Ron that day," Sirius continued quietly, "which means he's probably the Death Eater who acted as a vessel for Voldemort when he took control of Ron."

Draco took the picture out of Ron's fingers and studied it, shaking his head. "He's no one I recognise," he said. "And it doesn't explain how a supposedly magic-less man could do all those things."

"It might," Sirius replied. "I need to talk to Dumbledore about it. But it's worrying that he's suddenly run off."

"He knew we saw him on the Astral Plane," Ron said. He was beginning to look upset. "He ran from us ...."

"Which begs the question of whether he saw what your grandmother was doing and passed the information on." Sirius sighed and took the picture back. "Just in case, we talked Iris into staying with your parents for a while, and we've increased the protections on the Burrow again. The last thing we need is for Voldemort to decide she knows something he doesn't about the night Harry's parents died."

"How long is "a while" though?" It was a rhetorical question; Ron folded his arms tightly over his chest and turned away as he said it. His face was tight with distress.

"I don't know. Possibly not long. Things are definitely hotting up you probably haven't had time to keep track of the news, but there have been more Death Eater attacks, in France and Holland. We thought Voldemort was still in England "

"He was, just before I escaped from him," Draco put in.

" but he might not be any longer. He has a lot of supporters in Germany and Eastern Europe. The information Viktor Krum has been passing to us is worrying, very worrying. Eastern Europe was Grindelwald's old stomping ground; they have a whole different attitude to the Dark Arts there." Sirius shook his head. "I need to talk to Dumbledore."

"What about here?" Harry demanded, as they walked through a side door and into one of the long, cloister-like passages of the castle. "Have there been more attacks?"

"There have been ... incidents," Sirius conceded, and Harry grimaced at the cautious phrase. He had been an Auror long enough to know what that meant.

Fear. Paranoia. People trying to choose sides. Threats.

Disappearances and deaths.

"Has Fudge admitted there's a problem yet?" Draco asked dryly.

"He's vacillating," Sirius said shortly. "Don't ask me how, but he actually got the Daily Prophet to report that the terrorist attacks in Diagon Alley were the work of a Muggle religious group. Amazing how no one asked how Muggles could have got into the Alley in the first place, or how they even knew it was there."

Draco let out a bark of mirthless laughter.

"You think that's funny?" Sirius demanded, nearly snapping at him. "The wizarding world doesn't need more excuses to blame Muggles for their own mistakes! Fudge has probably made things ten times worse now, because some people will actually join Voldemort thanks to that report. Arthur Weasley was nearly in tears when I saw him yesterday years of his hard work down the drain because the Minister can't get to grips with the real problem. My God! Voldemort must be laughing his head off at us. He doesn't need to do anything, just let Fudge get on with it for him."

"And what's Antonia Houpner-Merdie got to say on the subject?" asked Ron hurriedly.

"She put out a carefully-worded statement deploring the violence and asking what the Minister intends to do to raise security in Diagon Alley. So we currently have some of our more experienced Aurors being wasted on pointless guard-dog duty around the Alley." Sirius glanced over this shoulder at the three of them and his face was grim. "We need you back in London."

They continued on to the headmaster's office in silence. Harry gave the password to the stone gargoyle when they arrived and it leapt aside, allowing them to take the moving staircase up to the office above. It was Sirius who knocked and opened the door, however, and afterwards Harry wondered why he hadn't known, just from the sudden violent stiffening of his godfather's shoulders, who would be waiting for them inside that office.

For when he and the others stepped inside, it was to see Professor Snape sitting with Dumbledore in the armchairs before his desk.

       

Harry had been present at enough encounters between Sirius Black and Severus Snape to know that the violent antipathy they nursed for each other couldn't possibly be just because of a dangerous prank Sirius had once played on Snape when they were both schoolboys. It didn't even begin to explain the loathing Snape had for James Potter, who had rescued him from that prank; or why even now Sirius had to be physically restrained when he clapped eyes on the Potions Master. It didn't explain, either, why Snape was so vindictive towards Remus Lupin.

Trying to talk to the two surviving Marauders about it, however, was pointless; Lupin remained resolutely tight-lipped on the subject, while Sirius always talked his way around it. Consequently, Harry rather regretted not having a suitable opportunity to question Peter Pettigrew on the subject before the man committed suicide, for the mystery kept popping up at intervals to drive him nearly insane with curiosity.

Most of the time he shoved the problem to the back of his mind, but it was at times like this that he desperately wanted to know, because at the very least it would make handling the situation easier if he knew what had caused it in the first place.

Or possibly not; Dumbledore presumably knew all about it, but it hadn't increased his ability to control the two men. He still had to fall back upon his considerable authority as headmaster and the most powerful wizard currently living.

Today Harry was just in time to see Snape's expression turn to pure poison and hear Sirius say a word that impressed even him with its inventiveness and venom, before both men were in each other's faces.

With speed born of experience Ron seized the back of Sirius's robes, dragging him back, and Harry jammed himself into the minuscule gap between the two men, reasonably confident that neither one would attempt to hex the other while he was in the way. Well, Sirius wouldn't anyway; and if Snape did, then Harry was happy to let Sirius murder him.

Distance did not stop the flow of invective, however; only Dumbledore roaring "SILENCE!" achieved that.

A little breathless at the sudden excitement, Harry firmly pushed Sirius back even further and straightened up, glancing warily between the two men. Snape was like a pillar of black ice, only the glittering of his eyes and flared nostrils betraying his feelings, but Sirius was openly livid and visibly grinding his teeth. Harry caught sight of Draco, who was standing against the wall just inside the door. The blond youth's eyes were wide with astonishment at what he had just witnessed.

"Well!" Dumbledore said then, his voice grave with displeasure. "Not five minutes ago, I had the pleasing experience of telling Severus what achievements our three young friends here had made in less than two weeks, and not least the very great efforts they have all made to overcome longstanding differences between them. Needless to say, it is extremely disappointing to me that the same cannot be said of their elders. I am well aware by now, gentlemen, that you cannot be prevailed upon to put aside your disagreements, but I will remind you that my office is not a battleground and further that I will not tolerate the pair of you pursuing your private little feud at the expense of the cause we all serve. I hope I make myself clear!"

Whew! Harry thought, appalled. I'm glad that wasn't directed at me. It wasn't so much the words but the tone; Dumbledore was a master of voice control and nuance. The speech was enough to make Harry flush with discomfort; a quick glance at Ron and Draco showed that they too were a bit pink in the face. Sirius was a deep, unflattering magenta under his tan.

Snape, however, showed no reaction whatsoever other than to step back a few paces, his eyes never leaving Sirius's face.

"Very well," the headmaster continued coolly. "Sirius, I believe you have urgent matters to discuss with me. I will be with you in a moment. Gentlemen," and he turned to Harry, Ron and Draco, "as I mentioned, I have been discussing your progress with Professor Snape. The next stage of your training I think falls rather more in his province and so, if you will forgive me, I'll hand you over to him until I have concluded my business with Sirius."

Harry hoped his feelings upon hearing this weren't written as blatantly across his face as they were (albeit briefly) across Ron's. He suspected they were. His heart sank at the idea of having Snape as a tutor again, especially since the Potions Master's expression seemed to suggest that he was going to enjoy having control over Sirius's godson once more.

There was nothing to be done but bow to Dumbledore's judgement, though. Snape gathered the three of them up with a knife-like glance and swept to the door.

Sirius stopped Harry just as they were leaving. "I want to speak to you before I go," he said quietly.

Harry nodded and tried to grin. "Later."

       

It was like being back in a Potions detention again. The three of them, sweating and (in Harry and Ron's case, at least) resentful, sat at separate desks in the dungeon classroom, copying down notes on a complicated potion as Snape dictated.

Harry was finding it difficult to concentrate; his stomach was rumbling insistently, for they had missed lunch thanks to Snape dragging them off so abruptly. He supposed sourly that meals were an irrelevance to the austere Potions Master; but while one missed meal was hardly a disaster, it made him grumpy and restless. Oh well, it would be good practice if Voldemort got his hands on him again. It was unlikely that he would be much interested in feeding his captive regularly either, and even if he did, Harry didn't think it would be a good idea to eat anything offered to him by the dark wizard .

"You might consider paying attention, Mr. Potter," Snape's voice said suddenly, making him jump. The Potions Master was standing at his shoulder, having appeared there silently as he often had when Harry was a student. "You'll be making this potion later, and we wouldn't want any accidents befalling the three of you, would we?"

Harry glanced up at him, irritated at the blatant intimidation tactics Snape used, looming over him like some great, black crow. "I am paying attention," he said curtly. "It's hardly my fault if you speak too fast."

There was a tense pause, and he could feel Ron and Draco both looking at him with covert astonishment. Harry didn't care. His eyes were fixed on the Potions Master and he was silently daring him to say something.

Go on, you son of a bitch. Say it. Try to punish me, like you did when I was a kid, and see what I'll do. I'm a grown man and I don't have to take this shit from you any more.

There was a silent battle of wills, and Harry saw Snape stiffen. Quick as a flash, he reached out and twitched Harry's roll of parchment from him. There was another tense pause as he held it up to read - then dropped it back onto the desk negligently.

"Well, well, well!" he commented, and a sneer twisted his lean face. "Will wonders never cease? It would appear that you were indeed paying attention a pity you had to start now, instead of ten years ago."

He swept away to the front of the classroom, leaving Harry to grit his teeth and try not to destroy his quill when his hands clenched into fists. The Potions Master turned his attention to Draco and addressed the rest of his comments to him alone, as though Harry and Ron were two morons incapable of understanding him.

"You need to study the procedure for this potion very carefully before you attempt it." He picked up a small book bound in red leather, which he handed to the blond youth. "I've marked the relevant passages. That will be all."

And he turned away, walking through the door behind his desk into his private office.

The three of them stared at each other for a moment, then Draco gathered up his things and jerked his head towards the door.

"Come on ."

Ron heaved a huge sigh of relief when they left the room. "Merlin! I swear he gets worse. And I'm absolutely starving." He checked his watch. "Yep, it's nearly three o'clock. I'm surprised neither of you could hear my stomach, I thought it was going to start playing the 1812 Overture ."

But Draco was looking at Harry. "What on earth was that happy little confrontation about?" he asked. "For a minute there, I thought you were going to stick your wand up his nose or something."

Harry grinned unwillingly at the image, but he was still annoyed. "He pisses me off. He still treats me like I'm twelve years old, and I'm fed up of him transferring his 'feelings' for my Dad and Sirius onto me. He should get over it already."

"So should your beloved godfather," Draco pointed out, although in an unusually reasonable tone of voice, "but it looked to me like he was being just as pig-headed."

"That's just the way Sirius is."

"Well, bearing a particularly nasty grudge is the way Snape is. What's it all about, anyway?"

"God only knows," Harry sighed. "I've been trying to find out for years now. It started with a practical joke that went wrong when they were at school together, but there has to be something else to it because you saw what they're like."

Draco opened his mouth to ask another question, but was interrupted by Hedwig suddenly swooping down and landing on Harry's shoulder. She was carrying a note in her beak.

"Where've you been all day? Gossiping in the owlery?" Harry asked her affectionately, as he took the small, rather grubby sheet of paper. She hooted at him in a dignified way and ruffled her feathers a little. Harry opened the note and was pleased to see Hagrid's untidy handwriting. "Hagrid wants to know if we'll have a late lunch with him. I wonder how he knew?"

       

Walking through the door of Hagrid's hut, they were greeted by excited yelps. Two enormous pups tumbled out of a large, cut-down crate in the corner by the gamekeeper's bed and loped clumsily on huge paws to greet them.

Hagrid's faithful (if cowardly) boarhound Fang had finally met his Maker at Easter, and these were presumably his successors. Grinning, Harry bent to let them sniff his hands, but to everyone's surprise it was Draco who dropped to his knees and scooped them up, allowing them to lick his face and slobber on his shirt.

"What?" he demanded defensively, when he saw three surprised faces looking at him. "I always wanted a dog. My father wouldn't let me have one."

"Well, at least now we know what to get him for Christmas," Ron muttered to Harry as they sank into Hagrid's immense chairs. Harry gave him a rather surprised smile never would he have expected to Ron say that but didn't comment.

Hagrid himself continued to eye Draco rather fixedly for a moment or two, although whether this was due to the blond youth's unexpected weakness for puppies, or simply because it was Draco Malfoy, it was difficult to determine. Finally the half-giant seemed to give himself a little shake and turned to pouring tea into four only slightly chipped mugs.

It was a measure of how far he'd come that although Draco looked at his rough, pitcher-sized mug for a moment, he didn't actually say anything about it. They all looked a little suspiciously at the enormous plate of sandwiches that Hagrid laid out, though; thick slices of unidentified meat hung out of the bread. He caught them and his beard twitched in amusement.

"It's ham," he said firmly, eyes twinkling. "Never saw a stoat that big before, did yeh?"

"You never know what you're going to find in the Forbidden Forest," was Ron's opinion, but he picked up a sandwich and took a hearty bite out of it. "Mmf ... wha's the pickle, 'Agrid?" he mumbled around the mouthful.

Hagrid gave him a sidelong look, and Harry knew he was teasing now. "Finish yer sandwich an' I'll tell yeh."

The look of dismay on Ron's face was so comical that Harry snickered helplessly. He grabbed a sandwich himself, and after a moment's hesitation Draco followed suit. Hagrid relieved him of one of the pups, and took a seat himself.

"So what've yeh all bin up to, then?"

They spent a pleasant hour telling him about their work with Dumbledore and trying to wheedle him into telling them about his negotiations with the giants. In this they were largely unsuccessful, although Harry took some comfort in the fact that, so far as anyone could tell, the giants had not yet joined Voldemort's side. The best possible result, of course, would be if they joined Dumbledore's cause instead, but Hagrid did admit that he thought this unlikely.

"Too many people puttin' 'em down fer too long," he said, shaking his head. "Best we can 'ope fer is 'em stayin' out of it."

"Are things getting very bad, Hagrid?" Harry asked quietly.

"Bad enough," was the short reply. Hagrid busied himself for a moment, removing the empty sandwich plate, pouring more tea and producing another platter full of small fruit cakes. "There's more folks disappearin'. Some of 'em were under suspicion last time aroun'. Reckon they're joinin' 'im, wherever he is."

"Who are they?" Draco suddenly asked. He had been staying out of the conversation until now, and was currently on his knees again, rolling a small ball for the pups to chase.

Hagrid's eyes hardened slightly. "Never yeh mind," he said sharply. "Yer old man'll be with 'im already, I reckon."

Draco flushed slightly. "I was wondering about my mother, actually."

"She's still at Malfoy Manor, an' that's where she'll stay if she knows what's good fer 'er."

"She must be wondering where I am." Draco fiddled with the ball, not looking at the others.

"Well, let 'er wonder." But Hagrid's tone was merely gruff now. "Better fer both of yeh if she don't know. What she don't know she can't be made ter tell."

       

The afternoon was beginning to slide into evening when they left Hagrid's hut and walked slowly back up to the castle. Draco seemed disinclined to join in the rather desultory conversation between Harry and Ron, and they left him alone to his thoughts.

Harry had to admit to himself that it hadn't occurred to him that Draco's mother might be worrying about him, or vice versa. She hadn't struck him as being the motherly type on the one occasion he had seen her, but there were many ways of showing affection and just because Draco's family had always seemed to him to be the antithesis of Ron's didn't mean they didn't love each other. Although he suspected that Draco could well do without the kind of 'love' Lucius Malfoy appeared to feel for his son.

They were nearly at the main entrance when Sirius appeared on the gravel pathway from one of the side entrances. He spotted them and walked over.

"There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you."

"Sorry," Harry apologised. "We've been having lunch with Hagrid."

"Lunch? I wondered if Snape would let you eat before he took you off." Sirius dug out his pocket watch and glanced it. "I can't hang around much longer if I'm to be home before dark. Harry, walk with me?"

"Of course." Harry looked at Ron. "I'll catch up with you."

He turned around, and he and Sirius began to walk back through the gardens and down to the lake. Not much was said until they reached the lake edge and Sirius began to pick up stones, skipping them across the water.

"How's it going?" he asked Harry finally.

"Pretty good. Didn't Dumbledore tell you?"

"Yes, but I wanted to hear about it from you. Do you feel you're more in control of things now?"

That was an odd way of putting it, Harry thought. "I don't know about that. Everything we do here is buffered, isn't it? We won't really know what we're really capable of handling until we're using the circle for real."

"What about young Malfoy? Is he co-operating?"

"He's fine." Harry smiled a little wryly. "We'll be having a group wedding at the end of the summer want to be my best man?"

Sirius snorted a laugh. "Well, at least you're not all fighting like cats in a sack. When do you think you'll be back in London?"

"I don't know. Didn't Dumbledore say?" Harry sighed. "We can't stay here all summer. Besides, I have a Quidditch match the week after next."

"All Dumbledore will say is that you're making excellent progress." Sirius skipped another stone pensively.

"Look, what happens when we get back to London, anyway?" Harry wanted to know. "What are we going to do? We can't carry on the way we were, surely?"

"Oh no. If you're a working wizard circle, then that's how we need you to operate. That's why I asked if young Malfoy is co-operating a wizard circle is of no use to us if one member won't co-operate with the others."

Harry stared. "Are you saying that if we can all work together successfully, then Draco would work with us ... as an Auror?"

Sirius shrugged. "What else? We have to do something with him, and with the way things are going we really do need everyone we can lay our hands on. So, what do you think? Will he work with you and us?"

"I don't know I'll have to ask him, I suppose." Privately, he was very unsure indeed. It could go either way with Draco; his was not a simple personality, and Harry wasn't sure how much reliance they could place on him. He might say one thing one day, and change his mind the next. "Some kind of show of faith might be a good idea," he suggested.

"What did you have in mind?"

"Well ... he was asking about his mother today."

"We can't afford to let him pass owls back and forth to her, Harry," Sirius said bluntly. "She could be the most reliable person in the world which I'm afraid Narcissa Malfoy isn't and it would still be a terrible risk. We have no idea how much contact she still has with Lucius, or what kind of surveillance the Death Eaters have over her. She's pretty much under house arrest at the moment, but that's not worth much. We've had her under constant watch and turned the Manor over three times in the last couple of months."

"Did you find anything?"

"No. Doesn't mean there's nothing to find, though. I'd love to get Ron up there and see what he makes of the place, but that's not feasible at the moment."

"Some information about her, at least. Something I can tell him to reassure him. I think he's genuinely worried about her, and what his disappearance has done to her."

Sirius laughed humourlessly. "Yes, she's put on a couple of award-winning performances about that for our benefit! Lots of histrionics about her baby boy going missing funny how every other parent of a Death Eater clams up when their kids go missing, but Narcissa instantly points the finger at us. Makes you wonder just how she knows that Voldemort and Lucius don't have him. She forgets that I know what a cold piece of work she is, though." He glanced at Harry. "I leave it to you to judge whether Draco's really concerned about Narcissa you know him better than I do but I hope for his sake that he's under no illusions about what she's really like. But if you think it'll do some good, you can tell him from me that she was fine when I saw her two weeks ago. And yes, she was expressing concerns about his welfare, but we didn't tell her anything because we're still maintaining official denial about him. Will that do?"

"It'll have to, I suppose."

Sirius nodded. "I should get going."

They turned back.

"You'll never reach London before dark on a broomstick," Harry commented, as they began to climb the outer staircase that led to the landing pad.

"I'm not going to try. I'll just fly as far as Hogsmeade, then Apparate to Godric's Hollow."

"You're going home tonight?"

Sirius gave him a crooked smile. "It's a full moon."

Of course. He would be keeping Lupin company during his werewolf transformation. Being an Auror, it wasn't always possible for Sirius to be there, but Harry knew that if he could maintain the vigil with his friend, he always did. Having been in the house on a couple of occasions during a full moon, he knew that even though the Wolfsbane Potion made the transformation easier and less dangerous for Lupin, it was nevertheless unpleasant.

"I don't want to leave Remus on his own this time around if I can avoid it," Sirius continued unexpectedly, as they reached the landing pad. His lips tightened a little. "We picked up a couple of suspects for the Diagon Alley bombing a week ago. Definitely Death Eaters, although whether we can secure a conviction I don't know. But one of them had the nerve to tell Remus that if he would change sides, Voldemort could cure him. And he gave him some sickening spiel about how creatures like him would receive their true recognition when Voldemort came into power. Moody was practically hopping with joy, because any kind of rant like that just adds to our case against them, but Remus was pretty shaken up. He didn't say anything at the time, but he's been very quiet since."

"No one who knows Remus could possibly believe he would go over to Voldemort, no matter what he was offered!" Harry spluttered, revolted.

But Sirius's smile was bitter. "Plenty of people are ready to believe it, Harry. Think about it for a minute how many people do you know who are prepared to invite him to dinner? And that interview was typical. Any other Auror would be trusted to interview a suspect on his own, but not Remus because of what he is, there had to be a second witness present. His evidence would never be credited in court." The Animagus shook his head. "I'm telling you, Harry, if when we deal with Voldemort this time, things are going to have to change. We need to kick useless bigots like Fudge out of office and put decent men like Arthur Weasley and Lewis Castell in. And we need to tackle blind prejudice against people like Remus and Hagrid."

"Amen to that," Harry said soberly.

       

The potion Snape had made them copy down was called Restoria Vitae and was reputed to return life to the dying. It had not been brewed in over two hundred years. Where he had found the recipe Harry couldn't imagine, and why he should be hoarding it was an even bigger mystery. The potion in question could only be brewed by a wizard circle.

Unfortunately for the three of them it could also only be brewed during a full moon, which was why they were kneeling in a circle around a large cauldron in the middle of the night. They were also working in a light trance, so to avoid any mistakes in identity each of them was wearing a different colour robe; Harry a vibrant red, Draco a light blue, and Ron in a rather dramatic black.

Harry had argued about this initially: "This isn't how I saw it in my dream ."

"What you saw in your dream was probably influenced by what you knew of the situation at the time," Ron had retorted with maddening matter-of-factness. "This makes sense knowing what we know now."

Now they were on their knees by the cauldron, which was suspended by a chain from the ceiling over a fire in a pit below it. The room was one Harry had never been in before, a bare, circular stone place at the top of one of the towers, lit only by moonlight through arrow-loupes at regular intervals in the walls.

Most of the ingredients had been prepared and placed in the cauldron before it was hoisted over the fire; the rest could only be added during a ritual incantation. But before that could happen, they had to successfully build and maintain a mental link between the three of them under trance, which was why they were now holding their hands out over the hot steam above the cauldron, touching wand-tip to wand-tip.

The vapour given off by the ingredients already stewing in the pot was mildly psychoactive. As Harry felt himself sinking further and further under its influence, the outer edges of the room - where Dumbledore and Snape stood, being as unobtrusive as possible - blurred and became indistinct. All he could focus on was Ron, Draco and the cauldron beneath their hands and the sticky, golden threads he could see forming in the air between the three of them.

This is the link then, he thought vaguely, watching the threads with detached fascination. Almost at once he could see a tiny flaw in the connection - the threads binding him to Ron were a great deal strong than those between the two of them and Draco. The weakness probably wouldn't matter today, provided that they did everything right, but under other, more stressed circumstances .

We'll have to do something about that.

There was no obvious signal, but Harry knew the moment when they had to move. Thanks to the drugging properties of the vapours, it felt like he was trying to walk under water. Slowly, deliberately, each of them drew their wands back and stood up.

The threads between them held.

Although Ron would still act as the focus, by prior agreement Draco took the lead in this experiment. He had the greater knowledge and understanding of the potion recipe, and of the ritual they were following. Slipping his wand into his sleeve, he took a sprig of Rosemary from the pocket of his robe, tore a few pieces off it and sprinkled them into the potion, bruising the leaves between his fingers as he did so.

"Riordis."

Ron took a handful of coarse, brown powder - dried, ground up Mandrake root - from his pocket and sprinkled a pinch into the cauldron.

"Ciadis."

Finally, Harry himself held his clenched fist over the cauldron before opening it and releasing the single, very precious pinch of dust into the mixture. Powdered unicorn horn.

"Mierkisne."

The potion boiled up, releasing violent bursts of steam like the troubled surface of hot mud springs. Drawing their wands again, the three of them reached out above the potion, touching wand-tips once more. Then they each took a measured three steps anti-clockwise; the distance was marked out on the floor in white chalk to avoid mistakes, and still maintaining the contact between them lowered the wands slightly so that they were pointing downwards in an inverted pyramid shape.

("Macbeth's three wizards," Draco had commented, dryly humorous, when he explained the procedure to Harry and Ron earlier.)

"Riordis," Draco repeated.

"Ciadis."

"Mierkisne," Harry murmured and felt the power leap inside him, surging out along those sticky gold threads that linked the three of them together, down their wand arms, through their wands

- and into the potion that seethed inside the cauldron.

There was a flare of brilliant white light; Draco had warned them of this, and Harry closed his eyes reflexively against the painful glare, fighting to keep his wand arm steady. What he had not expected was the sudden wind that howled through the arrow-loupes into the room and whipped around them, grabbing at his robes and driving his hair up into spikes.

Then it was gone, and the fire beneath the cauldron had blown out. They were left in the eerily moonlit room with half a cauldron of glinting, silvery liquid and a very odd smell.

       

"'Interesting' ... . Is that the best he can do interesting? Ungrateful git."

"Stop complaining. That's probably the most positive comment we've ever had from Snape."

"Speak for yourselves. I always got good marks from him."

"Teacher's pet."

"Besides, he hasn't tested it yet ...."

Ron flung himself into one of the squashy armchairs in their little common room and gave Harry a jaundiced look. "What makes you think he'll be any more complimentary when he satisfies himself that it works? And do we get that potion back when he's finished with it? We made it, after all."

"Why, what are you planning to do with it?" Draco wanted to know. He also flopped out, looking drained.

"You never know. A potion like that could come in handy."

"Only if you're a mediwizard for the Chudley Cannons."

"That's a low blow even for you, Malfoy."

"Hey!" Harry intervened quickly. "Don't start name-calling just because you're tired."

"Tired doesn't begin to describe how I feel." Draco dragged himself back out of the chair's embrace. "I'm going to bed ...."

"No, you're not not yet. We need to talk."

Ron and Draco both stared at Harry with a mixture of disbelief and irritation.

"Come off it, Harry, I'm going cross-eyed here. Can't it wait?"

"No." Harry rubbed his eyes wearily and perched on the arm of a chair. "I'm so knackered, I'll forget about it if we don't talk about it now."

Ron groaned, but sat back. "Go on."

Draco merely looked resigned. "Spit it out, Potter."

Harry took a deep breath and plunged in. "Was I the only person who noticed that we had a problem?"

Ron peered at him owlishly. "Such as?"

"Such as the link worked, but there was a weakness at one point that I could see when we were under the trance."

Draco groaned. "I might have known you'd see that." He sighed and dragged himself upright again. "Why don't you just say it? What you're really saying is that I'm the problem, because the weakest point in the link was with me."

"Not necessarily," Harry replied as soothingly as he could. "If anything it lies with all three of us, because the weakness wouldn't be there if there wasn't a problem with the way we interact. Ron and I are very close; it stands to reason that we link together more easily. But we don't know you so well, and we're certainly not as close to you. And the three of us have history. We're not going to overcome that just by sharing quarters for a couple of weeks. But we need to do something about it, because it's going to be a danger point when we're doing this for real, rather than just as an experiment."

Draco raised one pale brow at him. "Who said anything about us doing this for real?"

"Sirius did. Things are getting bad fast, and he wanted to know if we could be replied upon as a team."

"And just who was your respected godfather speaking on behalf of?"

"The Aurors, in the first instance."

Draco looked amused at this. "They want me to work with the Aurors now?"

"You were planning on doing something else with your spare time?" asked Ron, blandly. "Going back to your father and Voldemort, maybe?"

"There's no need to be facetious."

"I learned everything I know about being facetious from you ."

"Leave it!" Harry warned his friend sharply. He turned back to Draco. "Look, forget about what everyone wants from us for now, and just assume that at some point we're going to have to link like that again. One thing's certain - I don't want to try anything as complicated as that potion again without trying to fix the link, because if it snaps at the wrong moment one of us could be killed."

Almost certainly me, he added silently. That first, painful surge of power between them was always at the back of his mind.

Ron was giving him a thoughtful look. "What are you suggesting?"

"I don't know. What would you suggest?" Harry ran an impatient hand through his hair, rumpling it wildly.

"Dumbledore wants us to try something similar tomorrow," Draco pointed out.

"No." Harry's tone was final. When the blond youth raised a questioning brow again, he elaborated, "I think we've gone beyond a stage where even Dumbledore can dictate how we manage ourselves. There's a weak spot in the link. We need time to work on that, for our own safety. So we're not trying anything tomorrow. Do you both agree?"

Ron nodded calmly, and after a brief pause Draco also inclined his head in agreement.

"Although I'm curious to know how you think we're going to overcome ten years of history in a day or so," he added.

"We won't know what we can do until we try," Ron said, before Harry could answer. "I have a suggestion."

"Indeed?"

"Yeah - you going to listen to it, or have you got some insightful comments of your own to make?"

Draco's mouth twitched slightly. "Fire away."

Ron was looking at Harry. "Remember when we finished school and we went away for a couple of weeks to sort ourselves out?"

In spite of his exhaustion, Harry's brows rose and he was hard put to suppress a smile. "No, I don't remember that - why would I remember that?"

His partner gave him a look. "Seriously."

"Yes, I remember. Of course I remember! Why?"

"We had some issues," Ron said pointedly, "and it didn't look like we were ever going to be able to talk about it normally, so in the end ."

"We got drunk." Harry dug his hands into the pockets of his jeans and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. "Okay. But what are you suggesting the three of us talk about when we're plastered?"

"Everything."

"Everything?" Draco shifted in his seat, the only visible sign that he was uneasy about this. "What do you mean, everything?"

"Life, the universe, magic, families - you know, everything," Ron replied. "The stuff people talk about to their close friends."

"Really." Now his tone was very dry. "I must have had a different breed of close friend, then, because I can't ever recall talking about those things to Goyle and Crabbe. Far too risky in our circle. Besides, I don't get drunk. It's undignified and you never know what the hell's going to come out of your mouth that you might regret later."

"That knocks that idea on the head then," Harry said with a sigh, "although considering what happened the last time we got drunk, it's probably just as well."

"And what was that?" Draco wanted to know.

"You must remember. It involved a four poster bed." Harry rubbed his face again. It had to be nearly three o'clock in the morning and he was starting to feel really light-headed. "Any other bright ideas?"

Silence.

"Great. So where do we go from here?"

"To bed, I would suggest," said Draco firmly, and he stood up.

"We'll give it some more thought in the morning," Harry decided. He stood up too, and offered a hand to Ron to pull him up out of his chair.

"You're assuming you'll see me before lunch," was the blond youth's retort as he crossed the room to his bedroom, but the comment was good-natured and Harry grinned.

"Come on, Ron . What are you doing?"

Ron had stopped beside the wide circular table and was looking at something - a small wooden box that had been standing in the middle of it. It was the box he kept his 'special' set of Tarot cards in.

He looked up at Harry and there was an arrested look on his face.

"I have an idea ."

 

End Part 22/30

 

Author's Note: Regarding Brooke's picture, for some reason the link keeps refusing to appear, so I'll just put it on the front page under my bio. *Sigh* Why are things so difficult on this site?

 

 

Ice Lupus I thought you might have been a Trekkie *grin* So was I ... a long time ago. Regarding Ron's objectivity about Draco, I was thinking back to my own experiences. I was bullied at school, but by the time I reached 21 I'd been working for five years and gained a different perspective on people. I don't love them, even to this day, but I can view them with objectivity, and I felt that Ron would probably be the same. *shrugs* I accept that my viewpoint may be invalid though. I think I would disagree with your view of Canon!Draco, but it's a matter of opinion. Anyway, I'm glad you liked the new chapter.

Sally Breathe and relax! I think it was just a bit slow loading. Sorry about that. Draco was a bit rude in the bathroom scene, but you know he's Draco and it wouldn't be like him not to try it on a little *smile*

Beth Ann Got to keep that boy in line *grin* Regarding my whammy not working, I would merely remind you of a certain modelling kit you purchased in Hobbycraft .... And I have a theory. Maybe instead of writing these things yourself, you just wait until I get impatient and write them for you .... Hah! I've worked out your evil plan!

SparkySparkles Glad you liked the shaving scene! Don't feel too badly for Draco, he'll be alright ....

Mamalaz Welcome! I'm glad you like it. Regarding Draco, don't worry, I have plans for him *laughs evilly*

Jen Glad this one worked for you *smile*

Lost and stund You wanted Ron to hit Draco with a frying pan? Well, I'm sure at that particular point in the story he would have been happy to oblige ....

LadyRose But doesn't everyone want to get into Harry's pants? *grin* As for Ron and Draco snogging, that's not really my ship! Can I recommend a couple of stories by Icarus? But you're right, it's about time one of them got to suffer the consequences for once.

Leenys Sorry about that, it is finished but I'm still in the process of posting it. Not much longer to go now. And if you want to e-mail me, by all means do so.

TheSeer Hello! I'm glad you're enjoying it. Regarding the Pansy scene I think the problem with that (and a couple of other things in the story overall) is that it was written when I still hadn't clarified the plot properly in my head. A good third of this story just 'developed' on its own before I started trying to tie everything down. Bear in mind that when I started writing it, I had no intention of posting it and so it didn't seem very important to map the story out. Regarding Moody, he came out of retirement to teach, didn't he? And given that Voldemort's back, I would think he would want to take action. That's just my personal opinion, though. I agree that he's not totally in character, though; he's a very difficult character to write. Regarding my knowledge of the paranormal ... hm. I've been interested in it for a long time, but not enough to do any serious studying of the subject. As for 'interesting friends', I have one friend whose grandmother happens to be a well known medium. But I don't think that qualifies me as an expert! In fact, generally speaking I'm a bit of a sceptic. Anyway, I'm glad most of what I wrote seemed about right. I hope you will keep reading *smile*


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