Harry begins his search for the secret of Horcruxes, but stumbles into a secret war that is struggling for control of reality and magic itself.
Disclaimer: All non-original Harry Potter characters belong to JK Rowling and her affiliated companies. I'm just taking them out for some overdue cleaning.
The story has reached a halfway point - only another five more after this one. And don't forget now - this story isn't quite the Harry Potter world JKR created.
Our story thus far:
It is the day after Harry's birthday, and he can now finally legally perform magic. He is expected soon at the Weasleys, but first, he has a meeting planned with Professor Slughorn on the subject of Horcruxes. To Harry's dismay, Slughorn explains that Horcruxes are even more dangerous and disruptive than either Harry or Voldemort has so far realized, and Riddle unknowingly made a foolish mistake by creating so many Horcruxes. Slughorn further reveals to Harry that someone is monitoring his activities, preventing the Professor from explaining the situation fully. As a parting gift, he gives Harry the old diary of Grindelwald. After returning to Privet Drive, Harry receives a letter from Dumbledore written before he died, confirming much of what Slughorn had already said, but further mentioning a hidden and dangerous war, and that anyone could be suspect.
Shaken, Harry decides to follow Dumbledore's advice and goes to Diagon Alley, where he sneaks into Ollivander's abandoned wand shop, finding another hidden message from Dumbledore. He is surprised by the sudden appearance of Ollivander and Cho Chang, enough to be ambushed by a Stunning spell. Harry awakens to find himself in an unknown bed, and is told by Cho that he is under the influence of two Dark obsession curses, one focused on Ginny Weasley (artificially amplifying attraction), the other on Draco Malfoy (amplifying paranoia). A Healer arrives to remove the curses, and Harry passes out for the second time that day thanks to the Healer's efforts.
Later, the monitoring charm is redirected by Beatrice Zabini, and Harry finally gets some answers. He is told that reality is in fact made up of many sub-dimensions, each reflecting one aspect of the "combined" reality view people normally see. An ancient war between several groups has waged for millennia for control of these pure elements of reality. Apparently Ollivander, Beatrice Zabini, and Cho Chang and her father are part of a secret alliance called The Sustainers, dedicated to maintaining the ancient balance of reality. They are opposed by the Circle of Pure Chaos, the Order of Splitting Realities, the Dividers of Merging Realities, the Deciders of Power from Chaos, and the Shadows of Regenesis from Chaos.
Harry is given a mysterious bracelet that allows him, and only him, to travel between sub-dimensions and the main combined reality. The Sustainers tell him that he must find the pieces of the Horcruxes spread over the sub-dimensions and destroy them with the ones in the primary reality. It is only because of Harry's connection to Voldemort that he can travel between now the unstable realities. He is told that the creation of Horcruxes breaks apart the sub-dimensions, and each new one increased the instability exponentially. Now, reality itself threatens to be ripped apart.
Finally given a change to escape by using the bracelet, Harry deftly avoids further discussions and shifts back to the primary reality. It is now early in the evening. Now he has to decide exactly what he will do now. Harry decides to start by visiting one of the similar, more "stable" sub-dimensions. He finds himself at a slightly different sub-dimension, where he is dating Parvati Patil, Neville Longbottom is dating Hermione, and Luna Lovegood is somehow dating Ron.
Meanwhile, Ron accidentally finds a hidden box in Ginny's room, one with a mysterious Dark runic marking. He writes it down, with a reminder to ask Bill, only to be obliviated by Ginny moments later. Later, wandering around uselessly, Ron finds a note he doesn't remember writing, and asks Bill for advice. Bill realizes the significance of the mark, and uses a semi-legal charm to recover Ron's memory.
Now knowing that Ginny was the culprit, Bill and Ron hatch a plan to discover why Ginny has acted so strangely. Ginny's food is laced with a potion to reveal glamours, but nothing seems to happen... Luckily Bill has a backup plan, and casts a spell to write down any lingering curses or possible possessions. But exactly what has he found?
The Leaky Cauldron, just a bit East of the Primary Reality
Harry put his arm casually over the back of Parvati's chair, hoping he did not look as awkward as he felt. How different was this Harry from himself? They seemed to be friends with the same people, with the one exception of Parvati, but she was a Gryffindor at least. On the other hand, how different could things be if Ron and Luna, of all people, somehow starting dating? And Neville and Hermione... well, Neville seemed an improvement to Ron, in any event. He probably appreciated Hermione more than Ron; Neville would never try to make her jealous like Ron, right?
"Well, as you can imagine, I was quite surprised Harry had finally asked me to go the Ball," Parvati lit up excitedly as she told her favorite story. "I mean, I had been dropping hints for weeks, but you know how boys are. He probably missed every one."
Luna nodded with a smile. "Yes, Ronald is quite foolish in that regard."
"I doubt I'll ever completely understand Hermione." Neville chuckled with a sheepish grin.
Harry nodded, thinking about these responses. Ron was a fool around girls? Neville didn't understand Hermione? Maybe things weren't that different here after all.
"Harry's not as bad now, of course," Parvati said, smiling quite prettily at her apparent boyfriend. "Back then, though, I had to spell everything out. He was always so worried about what I thought; he would completely miss the subtext every time."
Parvati giggled. "I remember when Harry smashed his nose when I tried to kiss him once. He told Madame Pomfrey it was a Quidditch accident. He was so embarrassed!"
Harry reddened slightly. "Parvati!" He didn't have to fake his embarrassment at this particular story. "Why don't you finish telling them what happened after the Ball?"
"That one always gets Harry blushing," Parvati said with a smirk. "But all right, Harry, I'll continue the story. It's a good one, too."
Neville sighed. "That Ball was a mess for everyone. Ron kept alternating between staring at Hermione and glaring at me and Ginny. I wasn't sure what was making Hermione madder, to be honest. At least Krum seemed to enjoy her company, right? I mean, I was jealous of him too, but at least it didn't prevent me from trying to have a good time."
Luna patted Neville's hand. "It worked out for you in the end, Neville, didn't it? And now I'm the one stuck with Ronald," Luna said with a smile.
Parvati narrowed her eyes and looked at Luna. "Luna, I still don't know what you see in him. He's a total prat!"
Luna shrugged and looked unconcerned. "He's very enthusiastic."
Harry swallowed nervously, trying very hard not to think about what that could possibly mean.
Neville appeared not to have this discipline, and looked nauseated.
"Harry wasn't the perfect gentleman at first," Parvati continued, looking as if she was also trying to ignore Luna's latest uncomfortable comment. "He couldn't keep his eyes off that tramp." Parvati frowned, her lips tightening. "Well, I wasn't about to just sit there and take his idiocy, so I danced with some French boy, hoping to make Harry jealous, like I was feeling."
Harry shrugged and tried to think of something appropriate to say. "Well, obviously I had no idea how lucky I was to be with you." He held his breath, hoping this wouldn't seem out of character.
Parvati looked incredibly pleased and pecked Harry on the cheek. "You're so sweet, Harry. And so frightfully honest!"
Neville burst into laughter, and Harry joined in, relieved he had not slipped up.
The story continued on for some time after that, and Harry had difficulty paying attention to Parvati, who seemed to go on frequent tangents. Luna, it seemed, had no problems following the thread of conversation, but Harry took solace that Neville seemed as bored as he was at the exceedingly long history of their relationship.
"And that's basically it. We've had our ups and downs, but we've been together ever since!" Parvati beamed happily at Harry, who returned the grin a bit weakly.
Had he really just missed the entire story? It would probably be a bit churlish to ask her to summarize the whole thing again, and Harry didn't particularly feel like spending that much more time at this "almost, but not quite" reality.
Parvati snuggled up to Harry, who felt his face heat up slightly. He could easily feel the lithe curves of his "girlfriend's" form through her relatively thin summer robes. Well, maybe sticking around just a little while wouldn't be so awful.
But after a few minutes, Harry began to get the feeling that he was intruding on someone else. Interacting with Parvati and his friends was almost too easy, like it was just another part of him. It never seemed like he said anything suspicious or out of character, no matter how little he knew of this reality. On the other hand, that would fit the convoluted explanation he had received from the Balancers group.
Still, it seemed too much like he was "poaching" from himself, as odd a thought that might be even to him. He couldn't keep doing what seemed to amount to stealing from himself. Harry's finger hovered over the second green gem on his bracelet, and he hesitated a moment. He couldn't hold it more any longer, and activated the gem. Instantly, everything shifted, the same compressed sensation as the first times.
But when his vision restored, Harry gaped unconsciously. He was still at the Leaky Cauldron.
CHAPTER 5: PESTILENCE
Ron Weasley was bored. Frightfully bored, to be precise. He had been lying on his bed for hours of nothing, at least it seemed that way to his exaggerated perspective. An attempt at taking a short nap proved short-lived, as Ron could not help but think of the odd events of the day. In truth, Ron often felt that everything ran in extremes, either exceedingly fast, or frustratingly slow. In most of his classes, it often seemed as if the subject material was really easy or unbelievably difficult. So Ron always ended up relying on the only people who could stand his capricious personality, his overly-fastidious friend Hermione to lead him through things he couldn't understand, or his easily-distracted friend Harry to join Ron in alleviating his boredom.
Ron could never quite understand why he could never stay friends with people for long, and found himself growing exasperated even by his own family members. However, the one exception had been his older brother Bill, whom Ron had always been a touch afraid of. But Ron had his limit, and this was the first instance he could remember ever waiting any significant amount of time for Bill. Grumbling impatiently, Ron flipped out of bed, stumbling a bit before awkwardly getting to his feet.
He stepped into the hallway, and looked around, still cognizant of the sensitive subject matter they had been investigating. Ron didn't see anything in his brief glance, and was frankly far too impatient to finally get something done. He sneaked up the stairs to the attic and knocked softly, showing nearly unheard of restraint.
The door quickly opened, and Bill waved his brother inside, looking more nervous than Ron could ever remember of him. Ron froze, feeling his own nervousness magnified, and Bill was forced to drag Ron into the attic. Bill turned and muttered a quick warding charm on the door. He sighed and collapsed into a nearby chair.
"Bill, what's wrong?" Ron paced back and forth nervously. "I was just coming up here to find out what information you got on Ginny's possession. I know you told me you'd be down soon to talk, but I got impatient. I'm sorry, but..."
Bill held up a hand to forestall any further apology. "Don't worry about it, Ronnie. I didn't want to leave the attic right now anyway. I was just about to send a Patronus down to fetch you."
Ron looked stunned. "A Patronus? You can send messages with them? How?"
"It's not that complicated," Bill said dismissively. "Once you figure out how to achieve a corporeal form, transmitting a mental or verbal message is relatively simple. The Order uses them for official messages all the time."
"Why?" Ron asked. "I mean, instead of flooing somebody or using an owl?"
"Well, a Patronus can't be easily intercepted; in fact it's almost impossible, even with powerful magic. And you can't fake its signature, even if the form might be fluid or unstable. Let me just simplify it," Bill shook his head at Ron's dumbfounded expression. "A message can be sent with a Patronus that cannot be faked or intercepted except by ridiculously powerful magic, and only a few very rare wards are even known that can absorb the magical output of a corporeal Patronus. In short, they are reliable and safe ways to send a message to anyone reasonably close, within a couple hundred miles anyway."
"So what's your Patronus, then?" Ron asked with a grin. "Is it a cat or an owl? Or maybe a wo-" Ron broke off with a pale expression. "Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it Bill. I wasn't thinking of your, um, encounter with the werewolf."
Bill chuckled at Ron's frightened face. "Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Actually, you're right. A Patronus form reflects the strongest animal atavism a witch or wizard has as a part of themselves, and to be honest, the wolf really dominates in that way. It's probably the same for anyone in a similar situation."
Ron looked thoughtful. "Then why do you think Harry's Patronus is a stag? Could he have been bitten by a were-stag?"
Bill's jaw dropped. "A were-stag? Ron, what in Merlin's arse are you babbling about? There's no such thing."
"I'm just saying, there could be, right?"
"No, Ron," Bill grimaced and looked exasperated. "And would you mind terribly if we returned to what actually matters here? You remember, right, Ginny's little attack on you?"
Ron frowned and looked annoyed. "Yes, I haven't forgotten, Bill!" He growled this last bit angrily. "But you haven't exactly been the most supportive brother today, at least not completely."
Bill sighed. "Ron, what is that supposed to mean? It's not supportive when I help recover your Obliviated memory?"
"Not that, Bill," Ron hurried to clarify. "I meant that you keep ignoring me when I try to tell you about the other times I've been Obliviated. Why aren't you letting me tell you about it? I think it might be important."
"Yeah, about that," Bill grinned a bit rakishly. "I was worried you might not be 'yourself' like we were thinking about Ginny. To be honest, I thought you might be lying, if it wasn't you, that is. That doesn't sound quite right... Okay, let me start again. I was just making sure you weren't yourself like Ginny, but I couldn't be sure until I checked your food too. So sorry about that. Nothing came up - of course. I actually do want to know about the Obliviation problems. Was it Ginny the other times?"
Ron sat down on the floor and slumped against the wall. "Actually one of the times, it was her. But I've been Obliviated six times, near as I can tell."
"Six?" Bill interjected incredulously. "How long has this been going on? Is it someone we know?"
"Yeah... I knew all of them," Ron mumbled in a depressed tone. "Ginny twice, Snape twice, Dumbledore once, and McGonnagal once. Oh, and Lockhart did it once too. And I don't really get why they did it either."
Bill swallowed and looked worriedly back at his younger brother. "Well, that's all quite worrisome. We'll have to revisit the specifics later, but first, what were the circumstances of the first time Ginny Obliviated you?"
Ron shook his head and looked slightly amused. "Actually, it was just like this time in some ways. It was two years ago in Hogwarts, and I found her with the diary. I was shocked, considering that Harry told me he had given it back to Malfoy after he shoved a basilisk fang through it. I knew that it had possessed her before, but I thought it was useless, you can understand why I was so unnerved to see her with it again. So right then, she suddenly Obliviates me."
"The diary..." Bill rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You know, I didn't think much about it at the time. I guess I was too worried about Ginny. But historically, the caustic venom of the Basilisk is said to be among the most destructive substances known to exist, even to the point of being capable of destroying powerful magical objects. So really the diary could've been anything from mildly Dark, like a contained vampiric essence, to severely evil, like a multi-layered Horcrux."
Ron stared. "You know what a Horcrux is?" He asked in a shocked tone.
Bill glanced back sharply at Ron. "YOU know what a Horcrux is?" Bill retorted.
"Um," Ron looked back and forth nervously. "No."
Bill groaned. "Ron, that's seriously Dark magic. You need to tell me if you know anything about that subject, or anyone who's been experimenting with it. Please don't say it was Fred and George somehow stumbling onto the subject, this would be going too bloody far."
"I'm not really supposed to tell anyone," Ron protested with a weak grin. "I promised, you understand."
Bill's lips tightened. "Ron, unless this has something to do with You-Know-Who himself, I doubt there's anything you've come across that's outside my area of expertise."
Ron shrugged and rubbed his neck. He attempt to chuckle in a calm manner, but it only served to make him appear more nervous. "I wouldn't know anything about that," Ron remarked evasively.
"Ron, are you telling me... that diary might have been a Horcrux of You-Know-Who?" Bill looked shocked. "But how could you possibly have figured that out?"
"Um, well, I didn't personally figure that out," Ron began, quite unnerved at Bill's accurate conclusion. "And even if the diary was one of You-Know-Who's Horcruxes, wouldn't it have been destroyed by the basilisk fang, like you said? How could it keep on possessing Ginny all this time?"
"That's a good point, Ron." Bill frowned. "Even a broken Horcrux wouldn't... wait, did you say 'Horcruxes'? As in more than one? Ron, that's bloody insane!"
"It is?" Ron asked dumbfounded. "But I thought it was a way of becoming immortal, you know, like splitting your soul to keep yourself from dying, right?"
Bill's mouth hung open in shock. "Ron, where... where did you hear about this? Who told you what a Horcrux was?"
"Well, Harry told us," Ron said, looking uncomfortable. "I think Dumbledore told him about them last year, they did spend a lot of time together."
"Bloody hell." Bill closed his eyes and breathed in deeply before reopening his eyes. "Right. So I guess I shouldn't be too surprised at the most powerful Dark wizard in decades using some of the Darkest of magic. Even so, I've never even heard of someone trying to create multiple Horcruxes, let alone succeeding. Do you know how many he created, Ron? Did Harry mention any specifics?"
"I'm not sure I should be saying anything, really. I don't really remember all the details, that's Hermione's job."
Bill frowned. "Your friend Hermione also knows about this? Are you sure she's trustworthy?" He held up a hand as Ron started to open his mouth. "Never mind, it was a foolish question. I suppose Harry wouldn't be stupid enough to tell just anyone. Who else knows?"
"Just the three of us, after Dumbledore of course. And I guess, now you too." Ron looked pained. "Please don't tell them I said anything, it was supposed to be a secret."
Bill smiled slightly. "I understand, Ron. You all probably were planning to go on some secret mission to find and destroy all the Horcruxes, eh? Dumbledore spoke to Harry a great deal last year, you said? So he probably gave Harry some insight to where You-Know-Who hid his Horcruxes."
Ron goggled at his older brother. "Bill, how are you doing this?"
Bill chuckled a bit ruefully. "Experience, little brother. I've been doing this kind of thing quite a few years longer than you have, after all. But still, I wonder..." Bill shook his head abruptly, dismissing the wayward thoughts. "We're getting off track here. I found something very disturbing about Ginny, and this Horcrux business only adds complications to the whole business."
"So, um, what did you find then?" Ron asked, scratching his head.
"Nothing good, I'm afraid," Bill said soberly. "According to my investigative inquiry spell, Ginny is under some sort of external influence, although I'm not quite positive what that influence is."
"But do you have any idea at all?" Ron frowned. "Wasn't your spell supposed to explain what was going on then?"
"It's a bit technical, Ron," Bill explained. "I used a spell that references the Ministry of Magic Standards and Classifications, which is their extensive source of anything and everything magic and how exactly they define them. Basically it reported that Ginny is under some sort of influence, and evidence of energies consistent with enchantment magic performed actively on a magical person."
"So what do you mean by enchantment? Isn't that like just a charm or something?"
"Well, enchantments are charms, curses, whatever that maintain some lasting effect, whether or not it needs a separate energy source. Some spells will last forever unless cancelled or dispelled. In this case, and I'm being technical here for a minute, is designated as a spell of type under the Ministry's S&C Section 1.51 Subsection 7 - that is, mental magic specifically. The spell is defined as a type of E-5. Um." Bill paused for a moment. "Are you sure you want me to go into this, Ron? It gets a bit complicated."
Ron sighed. "You know, Bill, I'm bloody tired of not knowing anything about anything. Do you think I'm not capable of understanding this part then?"
Bill shook his head. "No, this part isn't that bad, really. Just a bit Ministry formal talk is all, but hardly anything like the advanced spellwork we've been dealing with already."
"Then just tell me," Ron begged earnestly. "And I'll ask for clarification if I don't get it, all right?"
Bill smiled and looked pleased. "Well, Ron, I'm impressed finally. I think I can handle that. I'm not the biggest fan of the Ministry definition process either, you understand, but it's the only way we have to deal with this business."
Ron nodded. "Right. So Ginny is affected by some enchantment? Or did you say mental magic?"
"A bit of both, Ron," Bill explained. "Remember, an enchantment just means there's a lasting effect over time, as opposed to some short-term or instantaneous effect. When I said E-5, that refers to the originator of the magic and the exact nature of that magic. Just to run down the list quickly, A through F, it goes A) Human, B) Humanoid, C) Corporeal, magical, D)..."
"Hold it," Ron broke in. "Corporeal? What's that? And what's a humanoid?"
"A humanoid is the Ministry word for any magical creature that isn't a human but has at least some traits in common. So goblins, elves, centaurs, etc would be humanoid, but ones like griffins, hippogriffs, acromantulas, those are called 'monsters' by the Ministry." Bill paused as he noticed Ron shivering suddenly. "Oh, sorry, forgot about the spiders, Ronnie. You really still afraid of them after all these years?"
"Well, sorry Bill," Ron snapped. "But forgive me if I still ain't a bit afraid still after having to face a hundred bloody acromantulas in the Forbidden Forest a few years ago."
Bill blinked. "You... what? Ron, when was this? How old were you?"
Ron scratched his head. "Let's see, the Anglia saved our arses that time, so that means it must've been our second year. Yeah, that sounds right. Of course, it turned out it wasn't even a spider roaming the school after all, but a basilisk. Merlin, I still don't really know everything that happened in the Chamber when Harry rescued Ginny. He doesn't really like to talk about it. Hey, do you think that this problem might be related to the Chamber of Secrets nonsense? It's got to be, with the diary and everything. Right?"
Bill rubbed his head and blinked a few more times. "Bloody hell, Ron. Okay, give me a second here to process all that. I know that Ginny was possessed by the diary and You-Know-Who, and that the Chamber was opened. Harry rescued her, that much I knew, but a basilisk? That was the danger at Hogwarts? Ron, why didn't you tell us?"
Ron looked away and shrugged. "I guess I thought you lot already knew. Sorry. Still, like I said, I don't know everything either. But what I said still makes sense, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, it does," Bill replied with a nod. "So what did the acro... You know what? I don't really want to know. At least now I know where Harry got the basilisk fang to puncture the diary."
Bill shook his head to clear it and continued. "So since we know You-Know-Who was possessing Ginny, and we further know that the diary was involved and was probably a Horcrux, we can certainly conjecture that the bloody thing had some lasting effect on Ginny. Merlin, Ron, what a bloody mess."
Ron looked pale, but attempted to rally himself. "Right, Bill, it is, isn't it then? So, um, you were saying? About corporal-whatsit?"
"Corporeal. And that just means substantial, like it has a physical strata connected, like a person or a statue."
"But not something like a ghost?"
Bill grinned. "Nicely done, Ronnie. You're exactly right. That's why we call ghosts incorporeal, because they don't have any physical form, although they can manipulate physical objects. So let's see, where was I? Corporeal, was it?"
"Right, so it was Corporeal, magical, then D) Corporeal, non-magic - that means something that has a physical form but isn't of magical origin, like an animal. That magical corporeal one is often used for monsters, like I mentioned earlier. And then there's E) Non-Corporeal, like ghosts and the like, and finally F) Unknown, Other, which just means the Ministry doesn't know what else could be involved. So in our case, it's something non-corporeal affecting Ginny."
"And you said a number, too, right? It was five, right? What does that mean?"
"That bit's a tad more complicated, Ron," Bill answered. "But let me see what I can explain. It refers to the nature of the magic, like whether it's bad or good or what have you. The first type is number one, or benign and static. Benign means not harmful, and static means the mental magic doesn't change for each time it's used. A good example would be Occlumency, which is a kind of mental magic to protect the mind."
"I've heard of that," Ron realized. "Harry was taking lessons with Snape to protect his mind since You-Know-Who was sending him visions. Okay, I got it. What about the opposite - I think it was called Legolamancy or something? Is that the same category?"
Bill's eye twitched and his fists clenched for a second. "Um, that's Legilimency, Ron. And I'm going to ignore the rest of that before I get a heart attack. Actually some of the passive forms of Legilimency actually do follow in that category, but not all. That kind of magic could potentially be used, among its masters, to severely damage someone's mind. The next category is called benign and dynamic, the same idea as before, harmless too. The difference is that the magic changes per use, so a good example would be Obliviation."
"That's harmless? What about Lockhart?" Ron asked.
"What about him?"
"He got Obliviated when he used my old broken wand to try and Obliviate us in my second year. Now he's in St. Mungo's. So how is that harmless?"
Bill chuckled tonelessly. "Damn it all, Ron, stop overloading me with disturbing information about your previous Hogwarts years. And anyway, I didn't choose the Ministry classifications, Ron. Besides, Obliviation usually is harmless. Like anything, bad circumstances can cause Obliviation to be bad for someone."
"Oh," Ron said. "Fair enough."
"So moving on then, we covered benign magic, but after that it gets a bit more sinister. The next category is called forceful and malignant magic, and after that unconscious and malignant. Let me clarify, because I know you'd ask about that anyway."
Bill grinned. "Malignant is the opposite of benign, it means harmful. And forceful means the magic was intentional and active; like someone purposefully trying something. And unconscious, as you might guess, is the opposite; magic that isn't intentionally activated but harmful nonetheless."
"And what's an example of those two?" Ron asked with a smirk.
"You don't really want to know in this case, Ron," Bill said seriously. "This is where it comes to the bizarre and Dark magic stuff. The kind of business You-Know-You would be capable of, and maybe what he did to Harry. Some of the magic that falls in these categories doesn't even have proper names, because they are unique each time."
Ron grimaced. "Fine, fine, whatever. So keeping track, I think, that's up to five then, innit?"
"Yes, which is called symbiotic magic. That means that the magic isn't just from one source onto a target, but that there's so kind of interaction, like the caster of the spell and the target of the spell are both doing something together."
"So let me see if I can summarize all that," Ron said, thinking carefully. "That means Ginny has been targeted by some kind of non-physical something that could be related to the diary Horcrux, with a kind of mental magic enchantment, meaning it lasts for some reasonable amount of time, and finally, is somehow involved with Ginny instead of just targeting her. Does that sound close?"
"Reasonably succinct, Ron," Bill nodded. "I'm impressed. That's just about right. Of course, I'm not really an expert in Horcruxes - it's a highly restricted area of magic that is difficult to learn any kind of information about. I've heard of some books that reference that type of magic, but they're all controlled by the Ministry - who as you might guess, don't like anyone learning anything at all about the subject."
"So now what?" Ron asked. "I mean, what do we do about Ginny?"
Bill shook his head ruefully. "To be honest, Ron, I have no bloody idea."
Behold, the hand of the Lord will be upon your livestock that is in the field, upon the horses, upon the donkeys, upon the camels, upon the cattle, and upon the sheep, a very severe pestilence.
The Leaky Cauldron, just a little bit more East of the Primary Reality than the last time
Harry bit his lip in annoyance. Did the bracelet even work correctly this time? Everything seemed the same; Parvati sitting next to him, uncomfortably close, and they still sat across the table from Neville and Luna. So what was the difference?
"That's very interesting," Harry managed to say, his mind racing.
Luna tilted her head and looked at Harry with an oddly curious expression. She nodded slightly, as though she had just seen something expected. Harry dismissed this, not really understanding her subtle mannerisms.
"So, um, Neville," Harry stuttered a bit, trying to get his thoughts in order. "When did you know that, um, she was the one? I mean, you know, the one for the relationship..."
Neville broke in, seeming to sense Harry's discomfort. "How did I know about Ginny?"
Harry blinked. So Ginny and Neville, as opposed to Hermione and Neville? That was a difference. But Parvati still clung closely to his side, so that was the same. That left what, if anything, was different with Luna, Ron, and Hermione.
"I don't think it was anything incredibly dramatic or anything." Neville explained. "Just after the Ball, we just went on another date, then another, and so on. I guess it just felt right after a year or so. Sort of like Hermione and Krum. Who would've guessed that would last, eh?" Neville chuckled.
Okay, so that was a bit different. But if Hermione was involved, was Ron still with Luna? Harry felt a burning curiosity that was almost painful. He had to know!
"Yeah, but what about Ron?"
Neville and Luna looked confusedly back at Harry. Parvati sighed and stroked Harry's arm, sending a not entirely unwelcome wave of warmth over his body.
"It's good of you to be able to talk about him," Parvati sniffed, her eyes watering slightly. "I know we all miss him terribly."
Harry paled as this latest bit of information penetrated. Miss him terribly? But that meant... oh no.
"Wow, um, yeah, I think about him all the time," Harry said, choking up a bit. Damn, this apparent "sub" Ron death was really starting to affect him. Harry cleared his throat and glanced at his watch nervously.
"Holy... damn, it's late! I was supposed to meet the Ord..., um, I mean, some of Aurors back at the Dursleys an hour ago!" Harry grimaced. With all the nonsense of the day, Harry had completely forgotten about his planned "escape" with the Order.
Parvati blinked in confusion. "But Harry, I don't understand. I thought you were already moved out."
With a sudden realization, Harry groaned. Of course! Who knew exactly what else had changed in this sub-dimension? It was the primary one where he planned to leave with the Order. Harry started to think about how to extricate himself from the conversation, when he suddenly realized it didn't matter.
"Oh, the hell with it," Harry grumbled, and focused his will on the three main yellow gems, which represented the primary reality. The sudden sensation of simultaneous compression and emptiness swept over Harry, but was quickly gone. He was back on the streets of Diagon Alley, the only difference the now completely darkened sky.
Harry grinned. Perhaps he was getting better at the whole switching business, but the transition that time had seemed almost pleasant. Harry shook his head to clear it. He had to get back to Privet Drive.
Moving quickly, Harry gathered himself and apparated back to Privet Drive, a block or so from the Dursleys. There were several Order members already on the lawn, and they didn't look too pleased. Harry hurried over to the lawn and paused, catching his breath.
Tonks whirled, her wand out in alert, but then her shoulders dropped when she recognized Harry. "Bloody hell, Harry, where have you been? We've been looking everywhere for you."
Harry smiled weakly and shrugged. "Sorry, Tonks. It's been a right nutters day, to be honest. Let me just grab my things and we can head over to Headquarters or wherever."
"We already packed up most of your things, Harry," Tonks explained. "In fact, I think all that's left is your bedding."
Mad-Eye Moody strode over, looked quite incensed. "You've been unbelievably foolish, Potter. You're very lucky you haven't been killed."
"You have no idea," Harry mumbled under his breath.
"What was that?" Moody demanded. "Stop your whispering! We evacuated the Dursleys hours ago, along with the rest of your precious knickknacks and books. You're incredibly late and you've endangered the lot of us! We still haven't heard from Bill or Fleur, so who knows what danger they might be in?"
Harry looked sheepishly back at Moody. "Sorry, Moody. Um, do you want me to apparate to HQ or someplace? Or do we have a portkey?"
Moody sniffed but looked slightly mollified. "At least you're thinking on your feet, Potter. I didn't realize you could apparate, but that won't be necessary. We were going to fly there, but since you've given us so much extra time, we actually were able to create a slipshod Portkey to the Tonks residence. Your things and your owl should already be there."
"The Tonks', eh?" Harry mused. "And Hedwig's there already? Great, let's get going then."
Moody snorted. "You're just lucky the Death Eaters didn't stick around here. Here, you and Nymphadora grab this kettle." Moody handed a rusty kettle to Tonks, who gestured to Harry. Harry quickly walked over and grabbed the kettle.
"All right, then," Moody said, grabbing a hold of the kettle. "Activate!"
Harry felt the familiar disorienting sensation of traveling through a Portkey, although compared to the bracelet's shifting through sub-dimensions, Harry found he could easily ignore any discomfort.
They arrived in the foyer of a small, pleasant house that seemed to convey a sense of warmth and odd familiarity to Harry. He grinned and looked over at Tonks.
"Nice digs, Tonks."
"Yeah, well, shove it, Potter. We've been quite inconvenienced by you tonight, so let me just show to your room for tonight only! Tomorrow we're moving you back to the Weasleys. The plan was originally for you to go there after we all got here, but we're all too knackered to care." Tonks grabbed Harry's arm a bit rudely and pulled him along as she maneuvered through the house.
Harry grinned despite himself. Some things never did change. "Tonks, listen, hold up a second."
Tonks stopped and looked at him tiredly.
"I really do apologize for the scheduling confusion. Entirely my fault, really." Harry smiled winsomely. "So ease up, will you?"
Tonks snorted and shook her head. "You're getting off easy this time, Harry. Come on, your room is right up here."
Tonks paused and gestured to a door. "All right, here's your bloody room, now get some rest. I'm going to go pass out." Tonks looked tiredly at Harry, but she winked. "Don't worry, things will be all right. Hey, don't forget to remind to tell you about my marriage tomorrow."
Harry goggled at this sudden non-sequitur. "What? Marriage? You mean to Remus?"
Tonks waved a finger in Harry's face and grinned slightly. "Tomorrow, Harry. Now, please, bugger off and go to sleep."
Harry laughed as Tonks walked away.
As soon as Tonks was out of sight, Harry quickly ducked into the room and scanned it quickly. He sighed in relief when he saw Hedwig in her cage.
Harry walked quickly over to the cage and reached under the paper, worrying a bit while trying not to disturb the sleeping Hedwig. But he breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled out Gridelwald's diary.
Harry grinned, feeling oddly wide awake and not at all ready for slumber. "You know, maybe I should get a little reading done before bed." Harry plopped down on the bed and opened the diary.
"He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence." - William Blake
"Hey, what about this?" Ron asked suddenly. "We Stun Ginny and force-feed her Veritaserum so she has to tell what's going on! It's foolproof."
"Ron..." Bill groaned. "I'm not a bloody Potions Master - Veritaserum is basically the most tightly controlled substance the Ministry deals with. And I don't think we should go asking Snape to borrow some of his stash. Somehow I don't think he'd take it very well."
Ron snorted in amusement but quickly calmed down. "True enough, Bill. Okay, so Veritaserum's out. Maybe if we Stun her then check out her room, then? Remember, I found that mysterious box with the rune mark on it. We still don't know what's even in it, if anything."
Bill's eyes shone with a renewed interest. "A crazy idea, Ron. But it's one that we might just be able to pull off, if we can use the element of surprise. You know, that runic mark you saw was bad news, Ron. You're lucky you didn't try to open the box."
"What?" Ron blanched. "What was it, some sort of trap?"
"That's right," Bill nodded. "A protection rune, which was probably properly charged up with some fairly insidious magic, would have done something pretty nasty to you. I recognized it as a variation on an old Gothic-Futhorc realignment, the Nied-Opandi Nam-Qetri inversion over a modified Hagl-Lagus standard cipher switch. Probably would've Obliviated you on the spot and slammed you with a Dark compulsion curse."
Bill rubbed his hands together eagerly. "But I've dealt with far worse in the tombs. That variation is almost old-school by now; experts have figured out the deconstructions and transformations of those variation classes decades ago. Still, a challenge is a challenge."
Ron grinned despite his bewilderment at Bill's sudden enthusiasm. "Well, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were right excited to confront Ginny just so you could break open her protection spell."
Bill laughed slightly. "Well, it's been a while since... wait. Ron, do you hear that?"
Ron perked up his ears and frowned. "No I don't - oh wait. You know, I hear a kind of high whistling. Is that what you mean?"
"Yeah, but what would..." Bill trailed off, his eyes widening in shock as a shimmer of energy rippled through the room, causing wavy distortions in the air. "The wards! Oh, bloody hell."
With a sound like an enormous parchment ripping in half, the door to the attic exploded inward, throwing Ron and Bill off their feet with the sheer force of the explosion.
Ginny walked through the broken doorframe, holding her wand aloft, her eyes burning and a manic grin on her face.
"Well, well, if it isn't my two favorite brothers."
The insidious boils erupt over their bodies, but who among them will be alive in the cleansing fire?
BLOOD FROGS LICE BEASTS PESTILENCE BOILS HAIL LOCUSTS DARKNESS DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN