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-Four - Called To Order

By Mad Martha

       

Harry was dreaming again.

       

In his dream he walked down the centre of a deserted Diagon Alley. It was night-time and the shops were closed; even The Leaky Cauldron and the handful of restaurants in the street were shut up, and the street lamps were dimmed.

And yet there was light and movement. Handheld lamps flared, illuminating the agitated crowd outside the Ministry buildings, and the sound of many voices carried back to Harry as he approached. He walked up to them and through them as unseen as though he was draped in his invisibility cloak. And yet he wasn't. So far as they were concerned, he wasn't there.

He passed the ring of Aurors at the doorway, one of whom was his godfather, Sirius, and noted absently that to one side was his fellow junior Auror Simeon Clare. He was being sick in the gutter, leaning helplessly against the wall with tears streaming down his face as he did so. Remus Lupin stood beside him, one hand on his back, speaking quietly to him.

Something terrible had happened, but Harry had known that even as he walked down the street. Above the building that housed the Auror Facility and Department of Mysteries hung the ominous image of the Dark Mark, the brilliantly green skull shining malevolently in the darkness. A peculiar stench hung around the doorway too, one that seemed to comprise a mixture of fear and anger just below the more obvious and terrible smell of blood and viscera and worse.

Drifting past Sirius and the other Aurors, Harry slipped soundlessly through the doors and into the lobby.

The smell here was a hundred times worse, like that of a slaughterhouse. Had this not been a dream he would probably have been throwing his guts up like Simeon outside. There was blood everywhere, painted over the walls and floor in the fine spray of a severed artery. The magic mirror portal was dull and grey, giving no reflection for once, and leaning up against it were two bodies, a slightly built young woman and a heavy-set older man. From the unnatural positions and sagging postures Harry at first felt sure that the two people must be dead, but when he approached cautiously the eyes of one snapped open and looked directly at him.

It was Bethany Bloom, the Unspeakable doorkeeper of the Facility. Bizarrely, she was dressed in robes Harry remembered her wearing to the Sixth Year Yule Ball, the ones embroidered with oak leaf patterns. They were soaked with blood; her blood. Her dark chestnut hair had been braided up elaborately but the style was pulled apart, as though by a struggle, and it too was matted with drying blood.

Where the robes fell open at the front the matching gown, with its fitted bodice, was a ruin. Someone probably the man lying beside her, whom Harry had no difficulty in identifying as her father, Salmar Hawke had gutted her with a very large knife that even now lay in the middle of the lobby's mosaic floor. Her innards were practically hanging out in her lap and the source of all the blood had probably been the giant central vein leading to the heart. How she could possibly still be alive Harry didn't know. Yet she was, and when she saw him as no one else had done she moved and tried to speak.

Careless of the blood and mess surrounding her, Harry fell to his knees and took her hand.

"Bethany "

"Harry ...." Her voice was weak, choking, and laden with pain. "Harry, you ... you have to know "

"Hush, don't try "

"No, Harry! You have to know ... have to understand .... When I die, so will he ...." He left hand made a feeble movement towards the other body, but her strange amber eyes were fixed on Harry's urgently.

Harry stared. "But ... he's still alive?"

A grim smile crossed her pale lips. "Not for long ... not for long .... He couldn't kill me, Harry ... don't you see? It was the blood."

Harry shook his head, not understanding. "What do you mean?"

"You must see ... must understand .... It was all about the blood, Harry, all in the blood. The blood is the life. Remember what he did to me before. He ... made himself vulnerable to me. He came here ... to kill me. But he killed himself too. When I die ... he dies." A look of fierce joy crossed her face. "I'll be happy ... to take him with me!

"But you must remember, Harry ... it's all in the blood. The blood is the life."

       

Harry awoke with a jolt, his eyes staring blindly up at the canopy above the bed.

The blood is the life .... Blood, blood ... what was it about blood? What had Bethany said - ?

Bethany ....

Harry sat up so sharply that he woke Ron.

"Harry, what - ?" The redhead was a bleary-eyed mess, propping himself up on one elbow to squint at his partner in confusion. "What's the matter? Why are you Oh my God! What's he doing in here?"

Still peacefully slumbering on the other side of Ron was Draco. Harry felt a remote tickle of amusement at Ron's appalled expression before his dream caught up with him again. He lurched out of bed, feeling light-headed, and clutched at the bedpost for a moment.

"I have to see Dumbledore "

"Why?" Ron sat up properly, rubbing his face and groaning. "God, I feel like shit. Why are we all in here together?"

"I don't know. Draco probably found it easier to flop out in here." Harry looked around for his shoes, but all he could find were Ron's trainers. "Kipper boxes" Molly Weasley called them, with motherly amusement at her son's big feet.

"What's going on?" That was Draco, apparently waking up too although his eyes remained closed and he didn't move.

"I have to see Dumbledore," Harry repeated. "Something ...." He swallowed hard, remembering the dream image of Bethany with her stomach ripped open. "I think something horrible has happened." God, how he hoped it hadn't really happened.

Ron stared at him for a moment, then pulled himself to the end of the bed and let himself sort of drop over it, landing on his feet. Like Harry, he had to grab at the bedpost to keep himself upright. "Are those my trainers?"

"Well, they aren't mine." Harry finally located his own over by the window. How had they got there? Never mind, it wasn't important. He began to pull them on. "Draco, are you getting up?"

"Must I?" The blond youth sat up reluctantly. He looked unusually dishevelled and there were dark smudges under his eyes. "I feel like something died inside my head," he complained.

How odd, Harry thought bleakly, so do I. He felt very strange and detached, listening to the familiar bickering of the other two while he waited impatiently for them to sort themselves out.

"Please tell me I didn't sleep with the pair of you last night," moaned Draco.

"You didn't sleep with the pair of us last night," Ron said obligingly. "Of course it's a lie, but I'm sure you won't mind that."

"Ha ha. Very funny." Draco's method of getting up was no more elegant than theirs. He rolled over the side of the bed and only just managed to stop himself landing in a heap on the floor by grabbing at the bedside table. "Better make a note in your diary this is the first and last time in history that a Weasley sleeps with a Malfoy."

"Don't worry, I'll make sure everyone knows how boring it was." Ron was making heavy weather of tying his laces.

"Thank God I was out cold. I dread to think what the pair of you got up to."

"Precisely nothing," Harry put in suddenly, annoyed. "I'm not interested in putting on a performance for you or anyone else."

"Though it'd be worth it just once, to see your face," Ron chipped in.

"There are easier ways of making me throw up," Draco retorted.

"Excuse me, but I need to see Dumbledore," Harry interrupted, before the pair of them could take the sniping match any further.

"Why?" Draco was having almost as much trouble with his shoe laces as Ron.

Harry gritted his teeth. "Because I think something horrible has happened," he repeated, in a tone that got the attention of both of them. "Are you coming?"

No more bickering. Ron and Draco finished putting their shoes on and stood up, a little unsteadily.

"Good." Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "Let's go."

       

Dumbledore was standing in front of the fireplace in his office when the three of them arrived, talking gravely with Mad-Eye Moody's head, which was perched in the flames.

If he lived to be a hundred - which didn't seem very likely most days - Harry would never get used to this particular method of wizard communication.

Feeling a bit awkward, he hung back as Dumbledore said, "Yes, they've just arrived, Alastor. I'll tell them what has happened, but I don't anticipate them being with me for much longer. Until the end of the week, perhaps."

"As soon as you can let them go, we need them, Albus," the grizzled head of the elderly Auror replied, and the magical eye swung around in their direction although he didn't address them.

"Of course," the headmaster said soberly. "Until then, be careful."

Moody merely nodded and vanished with a loud pop. Dumbledore turned to look at them and sighed when he saw Harry's face.

"I see I have nothing to tell you, Harry. How did you know?"

"A dream," Harry said, and the sick misery surged up in his chest. "How - how did it happen?"

"How did what happen?" Draco interrupted, looking from one to the other of them. "Harry hasn't told us anything ."

"I regret to have to inform you that Bethany Bloom was murdered in the night," the headmaster said quietly. His eyes trailed over the three of them, resting briefly on Ron's stricken face before returning the Harry. "Her father accosted her at the Auror Facility entrance while she was on duty there. I won't upset you with the details."

"He stabbed her," Harry said. Stabbed her with a ritual knife, like he tried to do when she was sixteen. Looking at Dumbledore's face, he knew that the professor knew exactly how Bethany had died, but neither of them were going to relate that to Ron or Draco unless they had to.

"Yes. But she managed to fatally injure him in the process. They were both dead by the time assistance arrived."

Dumbledore was looking terribly old and tired again. He slowly walked to a chair and took a seat, waving them all into the chairs facing him. "It's at times like this that I truly wonder where mankind will end," he commented, a little bitterly. "She was his only surviving child and yet from the first hour of her birth he abused her. One cannot fathom what goes through the mind of such a man."

"He was insane," Draco put in curtly. "The whole family - "

"My dear boy, while it's perfectly true that there is instability in many members of the Hawke family, the condition is easily controlled by means of a simple potion. But Salmar himself was never conclusively diagnosed as suffering from it. He may well have used it as an excuse but the truth is that whatever sickness he suffered from, it was not an involuntary condition. He was as sane as Voldemort, and consequently had no more excuse for his behaviour other than an inexplicable wickedness in his nature."

This was the first time Harry had ever heard Dumbledore speak so; the first time the elderly wizard had ventured an opinion on the subject of Voldemort and his motivations.

There was a long silence.

Finally, Dumbledore stirred and looked at the three of them again. "Forgive me," he said. "I fear I'm brooding. Tell me about your venture with the Tarot cards. Was it a success?"

"I think so," Ron said, when Harry said nothing. "I haven't had a chance to look at the cards yet, but I'll show them to you as soon as we've - ah - tidied up a bit."

The table in Gryffindor common room had still been a mess when they hurried through that morning. The House-elves had cleaned around it but had apparently been unwilling to touch anything on it.

"Good good. Excellent." But it was clear that the professor's mind was on other things. "Very well. I suggest you all have breakfast and make your way to Professor Snape's classroom in, say, an hour. I believe he is ready to give his full analysis of your first potion, and to give you instructions on the next couple of projects he has in mind."

He looked up and gave the three of them a small smile. "As I'm sure you heard me say to Alastor Moody, we can't keep you all here forever. We need to bring our work together to a close by the end of the week so that the three of you can return to London where, unfortunately, you are sorely needed."

Guessing that this was a dismissal of sorts, Harry glanced at Draco and Ron and got up. "Will we see you later, Professor?" he asked uncertainly.

"Certainly! I hope to see you for dinner, if not for lunch."

"He's getting too old for this," Draco said unexpectedly, as they walked back to Gryffindor Tower in a morose silence.

"That's probably why Voldemort's waiting," Harry replied curtly. "He's hoping Dumbledore will just die of old age." He stopped in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady. "Puffskein." The picture swung open and they climbed inside.

"I need a shower," Draco muttered, and he disappeared up the stairs.

Harry helped Ron to tidy the table in the common room. They got rid of the stubs of the candles and empty ink bottles, and the twenty-two new Tarot cards were separated out from the redhead's own pack and wrapped up in a square of back silk. Even Ron didn't seem to want to linger and look at their work. "We'll worry about those later," was all he said, as he stowed them away in a slender wooden box with a sliding lid.

When they returned to their rooms at the top of the tower, Draco was sequestered in his own room with the door tightly shut. A trace of steam from one of the bathrooms and a scattering of toast crumbs among the breakfast dishes on the table showed that he had at least bathed and eaten. Apparently he wanted to keep himself to himself for a while.

Shrugging, Harry followed Ron's example and grabbed his towel and shaving kit, heading for the bathroom. No bath this morning; there wasn't time, and in any case he wasn't in the mood. He was a little surprised, though, when Ron stepped into the shower cubicle with him and matter-of-factly began to scrub his back for him.

"Tell me about this dream you had."

Harry felt his shoulders tense. "Ron ... you don't want to know how she died."

"I'll know anyway. We'll get the report, like we did with Pansy's murder."

Harry still hadn't been able to read that report. "I don't know for certain if I really saw exactly how she died. It ... didn't look right. She was dressed for a party, in her Yule Ball robes ...."

"Do you have any really good memories of her?"

That seemed like a strange thing to say. Harry turned to look at his friend; without his glasses everything tended to look a bit fuzzy around the edges, even up close, but Ron always stood out in sharp relief to him. Ron's face was sombre, his eyes sad.

"Um ... I remember the first time I saw her fly." Bethany had been a natural Animagus, from an inborn talent rather than a spell; it was rare, but it was a family trait among the Hawkes. Her Animagus form had been an owl. "And at the Sixth Year Yule Ball, when I finally got her to dance ...." It clicked. She had been wearing the same robes in his dream.

"It wasn't really about her death," Ron told him.

"So she was trying to tell me something, but I don't understand it."

"Tell me." Ron handed him the sponge and turned around so that Harry could scrub him.

"She kept saying the blood is the life." Harry swabbed his friend's shoulders and back, but his mind was not on the task. "She said that was how she killed her father. What does it mean?"

"Blood is life. She shared blood with her father, of course, but how that could kill him I don't know." Ron stuck his head under the stream of water for a moment, then began to rub shampoo into his hair. He was still thinking. "'The blood is the life' .... I've heard something like that before, but I can't remember where."

"Sounds Biblical," Harry remarked.

"Could be. Or maybe Jewish. They have a different kind of magic - Kabbalism. That's why there were no Jews at school with us. They have their own academies."

Harry was ashamed to admit that he had never even noticed. Hogwarts had always seemed to him to have a broad range of races attending.

"We'll look it up in the library later," Ron told him, as he began to rinse off.

       

In the event, they didn't get the opportunity. Their encounter with Snape that day took all day, starting with his brisk opinion of their potion ("It works") and swiftly followed by yet another never-ending stream of instructions for the next potions he wanted them to make. Ron recognised the first one.

"Isn't this the Polyjuice Potion?" he blurted out without thinking.

"It is." Snape gave him a narrow look, but Ron utterly failed to notice Harry's warning glare.

"But we're supposed to be leaving by the end of the week, and this takes two weeks to brew "

Sometimes, Harry reflected in exasperation, it seemed like Ron's body had grown up leaving his brain behind somewhere back in their second year at school, apparently. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Draco casting his eyes heavenward. They were both too far away to kick the redhead under the table, and besides it was already too late. The nasty little smile that crossed Snape's face was all too familiar.

"Would it be indelicate to ask where you came by that information, Mr. Weasley?" he asked silkily. "As the Polyjuice Potion is not covered in any syllabus in this school?"

Ron opened his mouth and shut it again. He glanced at Harry and a guilty flush crept across his cheeks. Snape also looked in Harry's direction and the cold black eyes seemed to spark with sinister pleasure.

"Boomslang skin," he murmured idly.

"Before you ask again," Harry said, sighing, "no, I really didn't steal it from your private stores. God, I can't believe you're still dredging this up after nearly ten years - "

"You would be surprised at what I remember, Mr. Potter. And I believe we have had this conversation before. Are you aware of what happens to a person who tries to lie under Veritaserum?"

Harry raised a brow at him. "Of course. I've tried it."

"Then you will be aware that it doesn't allow for shading of meanings, 'hair splitting' or 'grey areas' in your response."

"If you think I'm going to sit here and let you dose me with truth potions, just to satisfy your morbid curiosity, think again," Harry advised him coolly. He hoped Snape wouldn't push the issue though. The Polyjuice incident was irrelevant, but there were other things - specifically a small vial of poison he had lifted when he was sixteen that he really didn't want anyone to find out about. He was sure Snape had noticed its absence at some point, but had no idea if the man had connected it back to him. "I wasn't stupid enough to let you bully me into that when I was fourteen, let alone now," he continued, staring the older man in the eyes boldly. "I know the truth of the matter, and that's enough."

"For one person to know the truth isn't always enough, Mr. Potter, as your godfather would no doubt point out to you, were he here now." Snape was giving him an unnervingly narrow look in return. "A childhood prank which, so far as I can ascertain, appeared to have no purpose to it is an extraordinary reason to hold your tongue in adulthood. Indeed, your loyalty to Miss Granger might be considered somewhat perverse under the circumstances."

I wonder how he found out that Hermione took it? Or is that just a lucky guess? For a moment the two of them stared each other down, Snape's expression twistedly amused. Then Harry took the wind out of his sails entirely.

"If that's the case, then you won't mind telling me what the problem is between you and Sirius, will you?" he said, smiling at the sudden rigidity of the Potions Master's expression. "The real problem, that is."

For a moment Snape seemed to struggle with some baser instinct. Then he was himself again, seething with his usual suppressed rage and ill-will.

"Familiar as you may be with the Polyjuice Potion although I personally question that, considering that you don't have the ever-resourceful Miss Granger here with you today this second mixture will be something entirely new to you and will require the utmost care in its preparation. I would suggest you cease chattering and pay attention."

The three of them hadn't exchanged a single word until Ron's ill-judged comment. Eyeing Snape with annoyance, Harry picked up his quill again.

"Especially," Snape added coldly, "as this particular potion may well benefit someone close to you, Mr. Potter, if you are successful."

Confused, Harry studied the incantation. It looked oddly familiar, although the accompanying list of ingredients seemed wrong .... "Is this the Wolfsbane Potion?"

"One point to Gryffindor," said Snape, sardonically. "It is indeed a variation of the Wolfsbane Potion. Possibly a more permanent remedy for the condition ... if, as I said, you are successful."

A cure for Remus Lupin? Was that possible?

       

If Snape's intention had been to make Harry shut up and behave like a good little boy, then it worked magnificently. Having the carrot of a possible cure for Lupin's lycanthropy dangled in front of him was enough to ensure his, and Ron's, complete attention to the project. (Draco paid attention too, although more because he couldn't bear to be outshone by the other two in his star subject.)

Typically, Snape tortured Harry by making them go over the Polyjuice Potion first, and at tedious length.

"One of the primary reasons for the length of time involved in making the Polyjuice Potion is the need to ensure the proper stewing of certain resilient ingredients," he lectured coolly. "A strong and talented wizard may be able to reduce this period by the application of judicious magic, breaking down the ingredients more rapidly than would naturally occur. I myself have succeeded in reducing the simmering period by a whole week in the past." His smile was wintry. "A wizard circle should at least theoretically be able to concoct the potion in a matter of forty-eight hours or so. No doubt we will see."

The note of doubt in his voice made Harry raise his hackles, but he controlled the impulse to say something.

"He's just jealous," Ron muttered, under the cover of preparing all the ingredients and setting up the cauldron.

"You noticed that too?" Draco added dryly, in an undertone.

It was difficult to tell if their first attempt was successful. The primary problem was achieving and maintaining the link between them; without the drug-induced trance of their previous attempt, it was impossible to tell if the link was working fully now or not. But their magic seemed to combine satisfactorily, stewing the Bicorn horn and tougher plant fibres much more quickly than was normal.

After a brief inspection of the cauldron's contents, Snape sniffed and grudgingly decided that it was progressing well enough. They moved it to a lower flame on one side of the classroom, where it could simmer uninterrupted until the next morning.

Even more grudgingly, he permitted them to snatch half an hour for a quick lunch, before launching in on the new and improved Wolfsbane Potion.

The biggest problem with the original Wolfsbane Potion, and the reason why it was so difficult for Lupin himself to make it, was that it needed to be brewed and consumed during the five-day run up to the full moon. Nor did it keep for more than a week or so. This didn't wholly preclude a werewolf making it for himself, but Lupin had reluctantly explained to Harry once that his powers of concentration and ability to control his less human aspects were significantly reduced during that period. He was not an able potion-maker at the best of times, and several of the ingredients were potentially poisonous if incorrectly prepared, even to him. One minor slip could be lethal.

Snape's new potion replaced the one unstable ingredient, the pollen and stamens of the Moonsong flower, that needed to be prepared during the crucial five-day period, with something more stable; the dried root of the plant. He then rebalanced the ingredients by increasing the amount of Tincture of Mandrake, and had also tinkered with a few of the other ingredients. Harry, not a star potions student, wasn't sure why, although he understood that the Moonsong root would give the potion a longer shelf-life.

The inclusion of Moonsong in any form made him wince, though. The plant was hideously expensive, especially the vulnerable root, because it grew in just two locations in Europe here at Hogwarts, in Professor Sprout's greenhouses, and in the hidden, magical section of Kew Gardens where Neville worked. Harry had no idea how Lupin currently paid for his Wolfsbane Potion, but he strongly suspected that the much wealthier Sirius had something to do with it. Whether even that would be possible with this potentially much more expensive version of the potion was questionable.

And if it could only be made by a wizard circle, then matters became even more complicated. Although Harry would willingly make the potion every month for the rest of his life, for free, if it meant Lupin would be free of his curse.

So they prepared the ingredients, set up a cauldron again, pounded, mixed, stirred and simmered for a couple of hours. Then the three of them assembled around the cauldron, established the link between them and performed the incantation, focussing their combined power on the steaming potion.

Whether it worked was anyone's guess.

Like the Polyjuice Potion, it required several hours to stew and one final, essential ingredient a single hair from the subject. Harry didn't like to ask how Snape intended to get that single hair or how he would test the finished potion.

It was dark when they finally left the dungeons and dragged themselves, exhausted, back to Gryffindor Tower. Dinner had long since been and gone.

Dumbledore, however, had not forgotten them. A meal was waiting in their little private common room, plus three more cups of potion with another message propped against them.

Harry, Ron and Draco,

I suspect another restorative might be of assistance after your labours today. Drink it AFTER you have eaten and get a good night's rest. I will talk with you all later.

Albus Dumbledore

None of them questioned this, but ate thankfully and drank as instructed. It seemed to Harry that his potion tasted slightly different to the one they had drunk the other night, but considering the state he'd been in at the time, he knew he was probably imagining it. Feeling very sleepy, he bade Draco a good-night and followed Ron into their room, where the two of them collapsed thankfully into bed.

       

But despite the potion, Harry's sleep was not very restful. His dreams seemed determined to return, gruesomely, to Bethany Bloom's murder and he semi-awoke countless times with her desperate words ringing in his ears. Finally, feeling exasperated and hunted, Harry got up carefully, so as not to wake the peacefully slumbering Ron and got dressed.

The clock in the main common room had an ordinary face with numbers and two hands. It was barely two o'clock in the morning. Harry picked up a lantern from the mantelpiece, let himself out through the portrait hole, and headed for the library.

Prowling around in the dark like this reminded him of countless midnight adventures during his school days, mostly, it had to be admitted, under the security of his invisibility cloak. Hopefully it wasn't a mistake to have come without it tonight, although it wasn't as if Argus Filch, the cantankerous old caretaker, could say anything about the movements of a former pupil who was currently Dumbledore's guest. Come to think of it, Harry hadn't seen hide nor hair of Filch or his detestable cat, Mrs. Norris, since they had arrived at Hogwarts. Perhaps the man spent the summer elsewhere, possibly with family, although Harry's mind boggled at the idea of Filch being married, let alone having children.

The library was as still and silent as ever at this time of night, though like the rest of the castle it had a slightly different feel to it during the sleepy summer months. Harry softly murmured a charm Hermione had taught him during their Upper Sixth year and lamps all around the enormous chamber slowly glimmered into life.

The blood is the life .... Harry wanted to know what the significance of blood was, and why it could kill Bethany's father. Somehow he didn't think it was likely to be in those parts of the library that were open to ordinary students, so he made his way to the Restricted Section.

From his initial fumbling efforts as a first year student he had gradually learned how to effectively use the resources here. Now his fingers trailed lightly over the spines of the books, shelf after shelf, seeking out likely-looking volumes and dragging them out to one of the broad study tables in the middle of the room. He had quite a wall of books in front of him by the time he sat down to read.

Blood ... blood ... blood .... Blood in a thousand different varieties: dragon's blood, unicorn's blood, elf's blood, troll's blood, blood of bat, blood of hound, blood of toad, blood from a stone, human blood, Muggle blood, wizard blood ....

Blood magic.

Harry stopped, one finger resting on the index page, and took another quick peek at the cover of the tiny, fat volume. It was bound in a particularly ugly kind of leather that might, he thought nauseously, even be human skin, and the cover bore the title The Forbidden Artes in faded gilt letters. The print was very small and cramped, as though the printer had tried to squeeze as much information in as he possibly could, and to maximise on that still further there was an Expanding Charm on the pages so that several hundred more were bound into the covers than it should logically have been able to hold.

Dark magic. It figured. Harry located the relevant page and began to read.

       

"It's a little late for bedtime reading, don't you think?"

Harry jumped with a gasp and stared, heart hammering, at the figure in front of the table. It was Dumbledore peering at him over the top of his half-moon spectacles, his eyes twinkling.

"My boy, are you aware that it's past four o'clock in the morning?"

"Professor! You nearly gave me a heart-attack - !" Harry frowned, surprised to see that the elderly headmaster was fully dressed in his daytime robes. "What are you doing up, sir?"

Dumbledore chuckled and slowly took a seat on the opposite side of the table. "You are not the only night-owl, Harry. At my age, one needs less sleep. Besides, I might ask the same question of you did you not drink the potion I left for you?"

"It didn't seem to work," Harry told him apologetically. "I had some things on my mind, so I thought I might as well spend the time researching."

The professor examined one or two of the books and his brows rose. "Given the nature of your chosen study material, I'm surprised you haven't fallen asleep in spite of yourself."

Harry grinned a little. "Well ... I'll admit I've been wishing for Hermione to help me out here. Or even Draco, although I'm not about to go and wake him up. It's ... interesting though."

"Indeed? Have you found what you were looking for?"

"I hope so."

"Then the loss of sleep might not be considered wasted. Surprising what one can discover in the quiet hours of the night ...." Dumbledore seemed to ponder this for a moment, before looking up and meeting the younger wizard's eyes. A small, rueful smile crossed his lips. "Dear me! I do seem to ramble rather a lot these days, don't I?"

Harry smiled back. "I'm used to it Ron rambles all the time."

The headmaster chuckled and sat back in his chair. "May I ask you something, Harry? Something that has been on my mind for a little while?"

"Of course - "

"When you were a young man of fifteen, I'm afraid I rather offended you by refusing to let you join the ranks of a secret organisation of mine. I think my reasons for doing so may have seemed inadequate to you at the time."

Harry blinked. "You mean the Order of the Phoenix? Oh ... yes, I remember." He blushed. "I'd like to be able to tell you I've grown out of the habit of shooting my mouth off when I'm really annoyed about something, but I don't think I have. As Mr. Fudge can tell you."

Actually, he'd been more than annoyed about being excluded from the Order, especially when it took Sirius away on secret missions more and more frequently, and for longer and longer periods of time. And especially when it seemed he was being excluded from matters that intimately concerned him and his future. His anger about it had peaked around the time Peter Pettigrew had been caught, but by the time that whole incident was over including the excitement of Sirius's retrial and acquittal there had been other things to occupy Harry's mind. He'd simply got over it and never really thought much about it since, especially since he was now an Auror in training.

Dumbledore's lips twitched at the reference to Harry's annoyance at the timing of the elections, but was not deflected. "Perhaps you had good reason to be cross with me at the time. I think I was still in the habit of treating you as a child, despite ample evidence that you were anything but."

"You did what you thought was right," Harry replied, bemused. "I've always had the utmost respect for your judgement, Professor, even if I didn't like what you were saying."

"My judgement!" The elderly wizard chuckled softly. "My dear boy, I do hope you are not one of those members of our community who labour under the misapprehension that my wisdom and judgement are infallible!"

"Well ... no one's infallible," Harry said, grinning a little, "but your judgement is less fallible than most."

"You flatter me." Dumbledore twiddled his thumbs for a moment, gazing thoughtfully at one of the glowing lamps that hung from a bracket on the end of the nearest bookshelf. "If you could turn back the clock, Harry ... would you be so eager to join the Order of the Phoenix?"

Harry blinked at the question. If he could turn the clock back .... He knew more now about the work and ideals of the Order than he had when he was a boy. Most of the information had come from Sirius and Lupin, both from observing them and from occasional comments the two men had let slip. Set up, as it was, to be the ultimate opposition to Voldemort and his Death Eaters, the Order operated only on the highest of principles. "Which can set some pretty frustrating limits on what we can do," Lupin had said once. To this day Harry wasn't sure if he'd been meant to overhear that remark or not.

As with the comment Lupin had made only a couple of weeks ago, about how Harry's parents would not have wanted him to waste his life fighting Death Eaters, it had given him a lot to think about. And he had been thinking about it more and more lately.

Like it or lump it, Harry wasn't facing these things on his own any more. There had been a time when he felt that he was squaring up to the horror of Voldemort entirely alone, despite the supposed backing of people like Dumbledore. He had felt that way when Dumbledore gravely refused him admittance the Order of the Phoenix; as though the people who patently expected him to save them from the Dark Lord were somehow at the same time denying him help and support in the endeavour.

But as he grew older, things changed. The advent of his relationship with Ron had changed his perspective on the concept of being 'alone' with the problem, and working with people like Sirius as an Auror had broadened it further. Lately, working so closely and intensely with Ron and Draco had changed his viewpoint again.

He wasn't alone with the problem; for better or worse there were two other people in the equation now, people who could not be pushed away or ignored or left out of consideration. And now that he knew more of what the three of them were capable of together, Harry was beginning to wonder if he could afford to judge their little troika by other people's standards. Or whether he could afford to let other people dictate how they used their unique abilities.

Dumbledore was still patiently waiting for an answer.

To Harry it felt like he was about to make a tremendous, pivotal decision in his life; something that would forever change how he dealt with other people and they with him, the first real step into adulthood. It was an even more extraordinary moment because this would be the first time he had ever separated his aims from Dumbledore's.

But he did it anyway.

"No, Professor," he said quietly, "I don't think I would."

       

Dumbledore was gone, but for a while after he left Harry stared blindly at the opposite wall.

To his surprise, the headmaster hadn't been angry or offended, or even disappointed, by his reply. He merely sat there for a moment, looking at Harry, and then he smiled. In fact, he looked quite pleased.

"Do you know - I'm glad to hear it!"

Harry stared.

"But Professor ." His voice trailed off. He wasn't quite sure what to say.

"Yes, Harry?"

"You're not offended or anything, then?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "Good lord, no!" He saw Harry's puzzled face and smiled. "As I said, Harry, I've been in the habit, in the past, of treating you like a child when it should have been obvious that you were anything but. It's reassuring to see that not only are you not a boy anymore, but that you are confident enough in yourself to make decisions that are sometimes in opposition to the ideas of others." When Harry continued to stare at him, he added, "We have talked about you doubting yourself before, you know, when you first arrived here.

"You've changed a great deal in the last few weeks, Harry - you've grown up and, more to the point, you've grown into yourself. Don't be afraid of making decisions that others might not like. Don't be afraid to trust your own judgement."

Not sure what to say to this, Harry remained silent and after moment or two of thought, Dumbledore quietly got up.

"I shan't disturb you any longer, my boy. But do at least try to get an hour or so of sleep if you can." His eyes were twinkling again. "I believe Professor Snape is keen to test your potions tomorrow - or today I should say."

And he left as quietly as he had arrived.

But for a long while Harry was unable to do more than stare into space, pondering what the professor had said.

Was he more grown up than he had been when he arrived here at Hogwarts? Had he really changed so much in such a short space of time? Would it have made such a difference if he had never come here or if recent events simply hadn't occurred?

Yes, he realised, it would have. Not, perhaps, because of the last couple of weeks, although that had certainly had an impact. But he'd been changing since this whole strange scenario had begun, right from the moment Ron, influenced by Voldemort, had tried to kill him.

Was he old enough - mature enough - to strike out on his own now, without constantly referring back to the people who had supported and guided him since he was eleven years old?

No one could answer that question; only time would tell.

       

Before Dumbledore arrived Harry had been onto what seemed like a very promising line of research. With an effort he dragged himself back to it, uncomfortably aware of the rapidly approaching dawn. He didn't want to be here when Ron and Draco awoke, let alone for them to come looking for him.

Blood magic, Harry was discovering, was a hugely complicated subject. It could be very basic (swearing blood-brotherhood) to highly complex (spells that were anchored by the judicious application of blood). To say that blood was the essence of life was to grossly oversimplify the concept; blood had the most extraordinary powers of any substance known to man. The potential for its use in evil-doing was terrifying; consequently all blood-magic involving human blood was, by the definition of the International Confederation of Wizards, dark magic and therefore illegal. Hogwarts had not included blood-magic on its syllabus in over three hundred years, aside from passing references in Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Books on its use were still in existence, however, largely as reference manuals for persons such as Aurors who needed to identify blood-magic when they saw it.

Harry felt a fraction less guilty about researching it when he saw that.

The quantity of information was overwhelming, though, especially when he wasn't sure exactly what he needed to know. He skipped sections on the more harmless stuff (such as blood-brotherhood and blood-healing) and still had a great deal to work his way through.

Blood potions blood charms blood curses blood oracles blood sacrifice -

Harry stopped there and squinted at the pages warily. Some of the material was really stomach churning .

The Procurement Of Power Through Blood Ritual.

He twitched, remembering the sickening runes carved into Draco's skin when he first turned up on the doorstep of the student house. Was it possible that this had been some kind of blood ritual? Salmar Hawke had done something similar to Bethany, Harry remembered, during his abduction and attempted murder of her when she was sixteen. He bent to read further.

Should the seeker so desire to draw upon the power of another, as if of his own magicks, he shall first consume the living blood that he might then take unto himself a part of that individual and become as one with him .

Harry stopped again, feeling sick. Had Lucius Malfoy actually done .. that? Had he drunk Draco's blood? Had Salmar Hawke done so with Bethany? And if so, what possible reference could that have to Harry's situation? Reluctantly he continued reading.

Until he came to one tiny footnote:

Beware the wizard who shall take power unto himself thus, lest the giver's life force shall run out, for the blood is the life. The life of the seeker becomes unto one with the giver, and should the life of the giver run out then he shall take unto him the life of the seeker until both are dead.

Harry sat back, stunned. This, then, had been Bethany's dying message: That one who stole power through blood irrevocably bound his life to his victim's.

When Salmar Hawke fatally stabbed his daughter, he had actually stabbed himself as well. The shared blood had proven his downfall.

But surely he'd known this would happen when he performed the ritual in the first place? Harry stared down at the little book, puzzled. It was an ancient volume, probably several hundred years old, and had been tucked away almost invisibly between two much larger books in the corner of a bottom shelf. And Harry hadn't seen any other references to this subject in the other books he'd looked at.

Perhaps, quite simply, Hawke hadn't known. If this book was so old, and if blood-magic had been deemed illegal for so long, it was possible the knowledge was otherwise lost or incomplete.

Harry would have liked to call it a piece of luck that he had discovered the little book himself, but knowing what he now knew about blood magic and it's implications for him - he wasn't sure that luck was the word. Nevertheless, it was certainly an answer and one which he needed to consider in some detail.

He sat back in his chair with a sigh and glanced reflexively at his watch. It was nearly half past five and dawn was poking weak fingers of light through the long library windows. He ought to go back to Gryffindor Tower and try to get an hour or so of sleep.

Scanning the enormous heap of books that ought to be returned to their shelves, he stood up and, clumsy from being sat in one place for so long, he accidentally joggled the table. The little book, The Forbidden Artes, tumbled to the floor and its front cover, already damaged where it was bound to the spine, tore off completely. Harry swore softly and bent to pick it up.

Something inside the damaged cover flashed, catching his eye.

It was a beautifully illuminated bookplate bearing the school's coat of arms, one of a kind routinely stocked by Flourish and Blotts for Hogwarts students. It was clearly much newer than the book itself. Harry peered at it, surprised - and drew in a sharp breath.

Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.

This book belongs to

LILY EVANS

"If this book should chance to roam

box its ears and send it home"

Harry's eyes burned with shock. After a moment or two of staring, he mechanically fitted the cover back into place and fumbled for his wand, tapping it and whispering hoarsely "Reparo". The cover mended itself seamlessly, but Harry could not stop staring.

He owned so few things that had belonged to his parents - an invisibility cloak and a handful of photographs. Now, out of the blue, there was this but what in hell had he just discovered? What was a teenaged girl called Lily Evans, a bright and popular pupil, Head Girl in her day, doing with this - a book on the dark arts? An ugly book describing in detail all the worst possible elements of evil wizardry .

Harry straightened up, thinking hard.

He knew almost as little about his parents as he possessed things that had once belonged to them. And he knew far more about his father than he did about his mother; James Potter, the popular Gryffindor Seeker and Head Boy, Animagus and leader of the foursome known as the Gryffindor Marauders, who had married Lily Evans, the Head Girl.

Who had Lily Evans been?

Forgetting the rest of the books, Harry left his table and walked quickly down between row after row of shelves until he came to the back wall of the room. Hanging on the wall was an immense replica of the Hogwarts coat of arms carved out of wood, and beneath it were the four House Rolls containing chronological lists of students in their Houses. The rolls also contained brief details of each student's career at the school, which you could access if you were interested.

When Harry looked down at the Gryffindor list, it was displaying the previous year's intake. For a moment he struggled to recall his father's year group; then he quoted it softly to the Roll. It scrolled back to display that year.

Sirius Black

Antonia Diggle

Madeline Hook

Martin Inker

Remus Lupin

Peter Pettigrew

James Potter

Beth-Ann Quillers

Sophy Wigginbotham

No Lily Evans. Harry blinked at the list for a moment, for he knew she had been a Gryffindor Sirius and Remus had told him so. But now he came to think about it, no one had ever specifically said that she was in the same year as his father. He tried again, quoting the following year, and after a moment it scrolled into sight.

Leah Bickle

Lily Evans

Darius Minch

Peter Ollerinshaw

Adeline Potts

Alfred Potts

Aaron True

Sonia Tickelmore

Zoltan Wellesley-Blythe

"Open 'Lily Evans'," he said softly to the roll, and her entry slowly expanded.

Lily Evans: Prefect; Head Girl; Gryffindor Quidditch Team (Reserve Chaser); Gryffindor Debating Team (Captain); Member of the Advanced Charms Group; Member of the Advanced Potions Group; O.W.L.s in Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Arithmancy, History of Magic, Astronomy, Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology, Study of Ancient Runes, Defence Against the Dark Arts. N.E.W.T.s in Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Arithmancy, History of Magic, Herbology, Study of Ancient Runes, Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Bloody hell! Harry thought. She was another Hermione! There were a lot of surprises in the entry; no one had told him his mother was on the Reserve Quidditch team, for example. Harry himself had briefly been a member of the Advanced Charms Group that Professor Flitwick ran on Saturdays, until it got in the way of Quidditch practice. But -

Member of the Advanced Potions Group? Snape ran that these days, and Harry wouldn't have touched it for all the Galleons in Gringotts, but Snape had been in the same year as his father and had probably been a member of the Group himself back then ....

Which begged the question: How well did Snape know Harry's mother?

       

The nursery was full of summer light, as it had been the last time Harry was here. The dark-haired baby was in the cradle, playing with his toes; the Quidditch mobile swung lazily above him. In the background he could just about hear the far-off voices of his father and Sirius talking.

His mother was busy setting her enchantments on the walls, murmuring softly under her breath as she drew a tiny droplet of blood from her wrist with her wand.

"Mum?" Harry went to her side, watching her actions without understanding.

"What is it, Harry?" Her voice was distracted.

"What are you doing?"

"Setting protection spells so that he can't get to you." She drew another drop of blood and touched it to the wall, whispering something to it.

"I don't understand. This isn't normal magic we weren't taught this at school "

"I should hope not. We didn't give our lives to save you, just so that you could become a Death Eater." It was bizarre hearing such words coming out of the mouth of such an innocent-looking young woman. "Did you find my book?"

"Yes, but "

"Good, that should tell you what you need to know."

Harry was becoming frustrated. "Mum, can't you just tell me yourself? What were you doing with a book like that? What are you doing now? Is this what stopped Voldemort killing me?"

"He couldn't kill you, Harry that's what I died for, I couldn't let him touch you." Lily Potter didn't take her attention from her spells for one moment.

"But these spells "

"Harry, if you've read my book you must understand how significant blood is. Blood is life. I gave my life for you, don't you see? That's a more powerful magic than anything Voldemort could do because he would never give his own life for anything or anyone, do you understand?" For a brief moment she paused and her green eyes, so like Harry's own, bored into him. "That's the difference between us and him. We know there are more important things, things more important than our own lives." She shook her head slightly. "Your father understood that, but I never did quite make him understand that sometimes the end justifies the means. That's why I didn't tell him about this."

Harry thought he was beginning to understand what she was saying, but it didn't make him feel any easier. "That's ... a bit Slytherin of you. You were a Gryffindor!"

"You think Gryffindors can't be ruthless when they have to be?"

"I suppose." Certainly being a Gryffindor was no proof against turning bad, as Pettigrew had proven.

A tiny smile crossed her lips even as she continued with her spells. "It's all about the choices you make, Harry. I was ambitious, I wanted to be the best, but never at the expense of others."

"And were you?" Harry asked curiously. "Were you the best?"

"I was Head Girl, wasn't I? And I got what I wanted - I got your father. And I got you." She looked at him then, and her smile was brilliant. "And you were worth it, Harry. You were worth everything."

       

"Where were you last night?"

Harry dragged himself into his seat at the breakfast table, feeling like something that had been dredged up from the murky bottom of the lake. He'd had precisely one and a half hours of sleep. He blinked drearily at Ron and tried to nudge his brain up to speed.

"Hm?"

"Last night," Ron repeated, aggravated. "Where were you? You were gone half the night."

Harry stared at him, puzzled. "If you knew I was missing, why didn't you look for me?"

It made perfect sense in his head; it was only when the words were out of his mouth that he realised how accusatory they sounded.

Ron's annoyance visibly cranked up a notch. "I didn't come looking for you because I had somewhere else to be!" When Harry continued to look blank, he said, "The potions, you idiot! Those cups of potion Dumbledore left for us they had a Summoning Charm on them. One minute I was fast asleep, and the next bam! - I was standing in the middle of the staff room in my pyjamas!"

"And the other people in the room were undoubtedly grateful that he was wearing anything at all," Draco commented mildly, helping himself to toast and marmalade. "I know I was."

Harry could only concentrate on one thing at once. Brow furrowed, he stared at Ron. "But what were you doing there?"

"More to the point," Draco said, before Ron could respond, "why were you not there? Where were you?"

"In the library." Harry was still staring at Ron.

The redhead made an exasperated sound in his throat. "It was a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry. Some of them, anyway. Dumbledore summoned us there because he wanted to ask us to join them."

There was a pause.

"But Dumbledore was in the library with me."

"We know that! When you didn't turn up, he used the Marauders' Map and headed off to find you!"

"So that's what happened to the Map!" Harry was assailed by a sudden and endearing vision of Professor Dumbledore tapping the parchment with his wand and declaring "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good". The eccentric old headmaster had probably thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Draco let out a noisy sigh and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Let's focus on the important details, shall we?"

"Yeah, like what did the pair of you talk about?" Ron demanded. "He was gone for over half an hour, and when he came back he said you'd turned the offer down."

Harry squinted, trying to remember the exact details of his conversation with Dumbledore. "Was that what it was all about?"

"Harry!"

He looked at Ron; his friend was staring at him in patent bewilderment. "What?"

"Harry, did you really say no to him when he asked you to join the Order?"

"Well ... yes, I suppose I did."

"You suppose? But ...." Ron ran out of ideas and stared at him helplessly. "You were so desperate to join when you first found out about it."

Harry wasn't sure what to say. He was still too bemused at discovering the conversation in the night had a real purpose behind it. "Did he still ask you two to join?"

"Oh yes." Draco dished himself up some bacon and after a moment's consideration added a poached egg as well. "I suspect the enthusiasm was a little dampened where I was concerned, but you have to give them credit they still asked me."

"So what did you both say?"

"No," Ron told him flatly, and turned back to his own plate.

Harry stared. "No?"

"No."

"Er ... why?"

"For the most lunatic reason you could possibly imagine." A tiny smile was playing around the corners of Draco's mouth. "Because you said no."

"What!"

"I know! Barking mad, isn't it? I can't imagine what came over me, but I can assure you that it seemed to make perfect sense at the time."

"But ...." He rubbed at his temples fretfully; he had the most awful headache starting. "Who was there, then?"

"Dumbledore and Moody," Ron related around a mouthful of toast, "Sirius, Remus, Mundungus Fletcher, Dad, Mrs. Figg, a whole bunch of the senior Aurors and some people from the Ministry not Fudge, and not Percy, but Bill was there and a couple of goblins from Gringotts' Board of Directors, Hagrid, McGonagall, Flitwick and Sinistra "

"You made one glaring omission," Draco commented, and Harry noted the silky wickedness in his voice.

Ron scowled. "Yeah, go on - say it, since it seems to amuse you so much."

Harry looked from one to the other. "What are you talking about?"

Draco smiled. "What Ron was clearly not going to tell you was that your friend Granger was there."

"What!" yelped Harry, for the second time in five minutes. "But but ... she ... what?"

"Yeah, that's what I said," Ron grumbled. "Never a word to us, but she said she's been a member for nearly a year now. Krum's in on it too, although he wasn't there last night."

"Apparently we saw only a small representation of the entire Order," Draco put in. "I think I'm impressed. Lord Voldemort knows of their existence, of course, but I don't think he has any idea just how big the organisation really is. Let's hope no one takes it into their head to tell him, because his supporters might do something rash."

Harry was still trying to get his head around all of this. "So when you said 'no thanks', what happened?"

Ron shrugged. "They swore us to secrecy and sent us back to bed."

"I think some of them were a bit miffed," Draco added. He looked amused. "Granger certainly was. What did she say to you, Ron?"

He flushed. "Never mind. She'll get over it." He looked at Harry. "I still can't believe you said no. Why did you do it?"

Harry fiddled with his fork for a moment, recalling the conversation with Dumbledore. Then he thought of the dream of his mother and what she'd said about his father: "I never did quite make him understand that sometimes the end justifies the means ...."

And he thought of the things he'd read in that little book, The Forbidden Artes, a book which even now was hidden away in his bag under the bed a matter of feet away from where he was sitting. His stomach twisted.

Finally he said, "I did it because I couldn't help thinking that if I joined the Order of the Phoenix, I'd have to do what someone else was telling me and probably have very little say in the big decisions. And I've been thinking lately that I ought to take more responsibility for my problem with Voldemort not wait for someone to tell me how to deal with him."

There was a long pause and he became conscious that Ron and Draco were looking at him as though he'd eaten one of Fred and George's suspect sweets and suddenly exploded into a giant flamingo. The latter recovered first.

"Well, I think I've heard everything now," he commented dryly.

       

When the three of them arrived in the dungeons later that morning, it was to find Snape bottling the new Wolfsbane Potion, while Remus Lupin looked on thoughtfully from where he sat on the edge of a desk at the front of the classroom.

As the three of them walked in, Snape handed Lupin one of the bottles.

"You should take it in the same week-long period as the original mixture," he told the other man curtly. "I would be obliged if you would also keep notes on the effects."

"Thank you, Severus." Lupin stowed the bottle inside his robes. "I appreciate your efforts."

Snape's brows lifted. "The potion may have been of my devising, Lupin, but the actual effort in making it you owe to our new wizard circle."

"Indeed," and Lupin looked around, smiling when he saw them. "Then I'm grateful to all of you."

"You're going to test the new Wolfsbane Potion?" Harry asked him uneasily, taking a step forward.

"Of course." Lupin seemed quite unconcerned. "If it works as Severus believes it will, it'll be beyond price to me."

Harry looked at Snape. "You never did explain exactly what difference this potion will make."

Snape gave him a cool look. "It should enable the werewolf to retain human form as well as faculties during the full moon. There may be some urge to transform, but it should be controllable a little like the Animagus transformation."

"As I said," Lupin said, smiling, "beyond price, if it works."

Harry could certainly see that and part of him rejoiced at the possibility that his friend might finally have full control of his condition. But he was still suspicious.

"What if it doesn't work?" he demanded. "Is just one test subject sufficient?"

"As one test subject is all we currently have, it will have to be sufficient," was Snape's curt response.

"It'll work," Ron said unexpectedly.

The others looked at him, surprised; he looked a little surprised himself. While Harry, Snape and Lupin has been talking, he had stepped up to Snape's desk and quietly picked up one of the spare bottles of potion. He was handling it now, a slightly embarrassed smile on his lips

Draco broke the sudden silence.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," he told Ron, sounding exasperated. "It's creepy."

"Welcome to our world," Harry told him dryly.

Lupin chuckled and stood up. "I'll keep you informed, Severus, despite Ron's ringing endorsement."

"Oh no! Far be it for any of us to deny the Inner Eye." Snape was his usual offended, snappy self. "Perhaps Mr. Weasley would care to enlighten us as to the probable success of the other potion?"

"I'll leave you to it," Lupin said mildly. "Harry, may I have a quick word?"

They stepped out into the corridor, where Harry turned to his father's friend worriedly.

"Remus, are you sure you want to be a guinea-pig for this? It's a big risk "

"Not so very big, Harry. Believe me, Snape would have spent months, even years, working on this before he ever let you three near it. No matter how big his grudge against me, his pride won't let him make a mistake with one of his own concoctions." Lupin smiled. "Besides, Ron has already said it will work!"

"Ron still has a nearly thirty percent failure rate," Harry pointed out.

"Harry, I'm shocked!" Now the older man was laughing. "I'll pretend I didn't hear you of all people saying that!" Then he shook his head. "That's not what I wanted to talk to you about, anyway."

Harry pushed his hair out of his eyes, feeling uncomfortable. "Is this about last night?"

"You know, I'm sure we told Ron and Draco not to talk about it to anyone ...."

"Including me? Come off it!" he scoffed. Then he sobered. "Are you ... disappointed in me?"

"No," Lupin told him quietly. "Sirius was a little shocked, I think, but I promise I am nothing but proud of you." He hesitated, then continued, "It isn't always easy to go against what others expect of you, or what they think is best for you, but I think you've done the right thing."

"I'm glad you think so. Ron and Draco reckon I'm bonkers."

"And yet they still followed your lead," the other man pointed, smiling. "They obviously have faith in your judgement."

"I don't suppose many people will have after this," Harry commented gloomily.

"Well I won't lie to you. Some people Moody, for example won't take this well, especially considering your close association with Draco these days. Don't let that knock you off course. I think you have your own, very good reasons for going your own way, and what's more so does Dumbledore. You have to do what's right for you, Harry."

Harry bit his lip. "Let's just hope I am right."

 

End Part 24/30

 

Beth Ann - What is it with you and trousers? *grin* Anyway, I'm glad you think I conveyed the effort it took for them to make the cards, because I wasn't sure if that came across. Well, you remember how happy I was to write that chapter .

Sabrina - There are some non-fluffy H/R fics but admittedly you have to hunt for them. I'm not sure why that should be - they don't seem like a fluffy couple to me, and Ron in particular is anything but! But if I've introduced you to something new, then my work here is done *smile* I'm a great believer that most pairings can be made believable and readable if they're done properly. Regarding their relationship, it simply wouldn't be realistic for everyone to accept it, or even most people. The world isn't like that, and in any case it seems to me that the wizarding world is quite old-fashioned and prejudiced. Regarding Harry's height hm. I can't recall James Potter's height being mentioned in the books, but in any case he would be taller than Harry when he's a child! But if you say I made a mistake there, then I probably did. Oops. As for the Tarot cards .. heh! I tried making a pack once, when I was a teenager, because my mother wouldn't let me buy a pack. I think I managed just one card and got thoroughly fed up!

SparkySparkles - The use of the cards will probably have to wait for another story, as their sole function in this one was to help strengthen the bonds in the circle. But it's an interesting idea .

Sally - Me, very proper and grown up? *snorts tea over keyboard* Um possibly! But only at work. Did I weasel out of the Voldemort situation? Hm .

Quoth the Raven - I'll be honest. I didn't want to write Chapter 23, as I was impatient to get on with the rest of the story. But it needed to be done, so I'm glad it worked out - especially considering it was written with such bad grace *grin* I think they probably told Dumbledore what they were planning to do beforehand, although it wouldn't surprise me if he knew exactly what they were up to anyway. He's known them since they were kids; a man with his experience must be pretty good at reading people. As for Harry, it's typical of him to put them all to bed with such care, only to turn them all out again in such a hurry, don't you think?!

PotterBrother - You'd have felt even more ripped off if I hadn't written it *grin*

BGirl - Yes, we're getting close to the end now, aren't we? Doesn't seem possible *smile* Glad you're still enjoying it though.

Jen - Glad you enjoyed it! As for the drunk-fic maybe another time, eh?

Rainyday - Yep, Ron did that .. when he was young and stupid *grin* Actually, looking at him as a whole over the course of this story, I think he's probably quite courageous and determined in things that involve his gift. The Sight gives him terrible headaches, but he doesn't let that stop him. Mind you, it's a lot like chess. It's his "thing", the thing he's good at, compared to Harry being the Boy Who Lived and Hermione being the clever one. I can see him being very focussed on the things he knows he's good at, even in canon. A threesome with Hermione hm. Probably not, actually. There are factors I don't want to go into at this stage, but Ron's possessiveness would almost certainly scupper anything like that before it ever got started. He won't share Harry.

Ice Lupus - I'm curious. How on earth do you get hold of the new chapters so quickly?! You reviewed this time before even I could see the chapter on screen . Ron being contradictory - well, he's like that in the books! One minute very laid back and lazy, the next doing quite daring things. Snape and Sirius will be explained, I can assure you, although it might not be as dramatic as you think. But both men have had a long time to brood and other griefs have emerged in the meantime.

PoisonSnakey - Why was Dumbledore's note addressed only to Harry? Good question and one which I have no answer to! I think he has a special relationship with Harry, though, so maybe that's it. Glad you enjoyed it though.


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