During the train ride before third year Harry has a close encounter with a dementor that causes him to absorb the soul fragment within him, granting both knowledge and power. Features Harry with a ...
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"NOTHING!" Harry's outraged cry split the air of the cave. "That shouldn't be possible! Fairies are ALWAYS leaving clues about! It's part of their NATURE!"
Luna redirected her gaze to the rowboat held by naiads, still passively waiting for them to approach. "Yes, well, that does not appear to be the only rule that has gone out the window."
The boy blanched. "Good point." He drew in a deep breath. "Well, then are we out of options enough to use the polyjuice?"
They had called for Dobby, but either he couldn't hear or couldn't enter.
The pair looked over to Hermione, who'd calmed a great deal from her earlier bout of temper, and was sitting in a corner of the cave using abone needle and strands of her own hair to sew flowers and leaves together into an apron to replace her rapidly disintegrating clothes. That she had given up on the search for hidden writings before them spoke more about the desperation of their search than any hope of success.
If she had given up that's only because there were no other options left to try. If there was still a chance to find written clues, Hermione would still be looking for them. Ergo, they'd exhausted all real possibility of finding any and were now running on sheer emotional energy.
"It seems so odd, but many aspects of this are incomprehensible," Luna agreed. "It grows curiouser and curiouser all the time."
Harry snorted. "Sorry. In that moment you sounded a bit like Alice."
The blonde looked around herself, finding in her terror a moment of amusement. "Well, we seem to have found our own rabbit hole."
He looked at her, shocked. "I'm surprised you know that book."
"Don't be. It was about my grandmother. Alice later married a Lovegood."
"Why am I not surprised?" the boy wondered.
Hermione had to stifle a giggle, proving that she was listening in.
Luna went on as though she wasn't aware of it. "Gateways to Other Realms do exist, but they have become scarcer and scarcer. Wizards blame muggles and the spread of their technology, but really it is the Ministry of Magic closing all of them they can find - too dangerous, they say. Not governable by them is the true reason," she quipped. "This area was once thick with magic lakes and streams, enchanted islands and fortresses. So many in fact that it was far more famous for its magic places than its magic people, except for Merlin of course. They have never been fully mapped. It's impossible, as too many of them move around, or are disguised or protected one way or another. But the Ministry of Magic has labored tirelessly since the creation of the Statute of Secrecy to shut down all the ones they couldn't control. What do you think they have a Department of Mysteries for?"
Hermione stopped what she was doing to look at her seriously. "I was under the impression they had it to research new magic. That's what is says in..." she looked at the blonde's expression and paused. "Was that not the case?"
Luna shook her head. "No. Sadly not. The purpose of that department is to isolate and contain all of the things our current Ministry of Magic cannot control or understand. Research is a side goal, but the only publicly admitted one. They don't want most of the magical public to know they are effectively working to reduce the amount of magic in the world. But to their minds if it cannot be hidden from muggles, then it must be destroyed. And anything they do not control could, in theory, be found by muggles. Simple men have passed barriers seasoned wizards could not cross before."
"How do you know this?" the bookworm whispered, looking pale.
"My grandmother, Alice Lovegood? They have her in there."
Harry blinked at the hard undertones to Luna's soft voice. "You mean she is an Unspeakable? I thought they had oaths to stop them from talking about their work."
Now Luna looked angry. "No. She is not an Unspeakable. She is their victim. Once they'd finally heard of her story as one of the last recorded travelers to return from a journey to an Other Realm they sought her out and took her from her family to isolate and imprison her, presumably so they can study her - meaning, of course, performing all sorts of gruesome experiments."
She turned a hard gaze to Harry. "The acts they perform there are simply horrid, or, to put it another way, unspeakably vile. That is where those who work there get their name - not out of any great secrecy, but because what they do down in those secret chambers is so revolting and ugly no one would dare to speak of them. You ought to know, Voldemort was one for a while."
"Yes, I do." The boy nodded, looking guilty. "And sadly that is where he picked up most of his more vile habits. That's why I was shocked when you admitted they had your grandmother there. I thought you were saying she was one, and I couldn't picture it of one of your family."
In answer to Hermione's wide eyes, Luna calmly continued to explain,"Look it up in any dictionary, and you'll find that unspeakable, in general, means either indefinable or atrocious. More often than not it is the latter one, granting the word a very negative flavor overall. Some examples where people might most often say 'unspeakable' are for things like: 'atrocious taste', 'abominable workmanship', 'an awful voice', 'dreadful manners','a painful performance', or 'terrible handwriting'; 'an unspeakable odor came sweeping into the room', and so on. All those things might be defined as 'unspeakable'. And what they are doing to my grandmother are unspeakable tortures. But you do enough unspeakable things and you become an unspeakable person. And if enough people like you have your job, that becomes the job description."
Luna's voice was calm as anything even while her audiences' faces contorted in horror. She calmly raised an eyebrow and went on, "Then you make them stop telling people outside of the department what they do, and they forget why they gave you that name in the first place. Humans don't like to face things that are unpleasant, so they ignore or forget as often as they can."
"How do you know what they are doing to her?" Hermione whispered softly.
Luna sighed. "Because, among the many gifts she received on her many trips to Wonderland, my grandmother became a telepath. She is able to send us messages from time to time in her more lucid periods, between tortures."
Hermione looked soft and white and too scared to move.
Harry rubbed his brow underneath a conjured set of glasses. "It has long been my assertion that the ministry is filled, almost without exception, with incompetent morons striking for idiot and failing the tests. How they get ANYTHING done is beyond my understanding. But why is it that the only things they can do with any efficiency are all EVIL?"
Luna looked at him oddly, yet directly. "Because Dumbledore is in charge there and it takes on the same pattern he has imposed here at school? The good and respected purposes that institution was brought about to fill it cannot because it is too busy performing the vile deeds he'd rather it do?"
"Yes, that's right." Harry smiled wanly at himself in unhappy mockery."The same man who authored my childhood to be the stuff of nightmares, and who makes our education a sham, is also the one who is in control of our Ministry. How could I have forgotten?"
They all spent an unhappy moment pondering that.
"Laying all the treacheries of Dumbledore aside for a moment, we still have to get out of here," Harry reminded. "No matter what vulgar things he's got the Ministry up to, they won't matter to us if we're displaced by a century or two. And I don't know about the rest of you, but I am getting tired."
The girls looked at each other in shock.
Harry's last shoe finally gave up and fell off his foot in tatters.
By this point they were already wearing little more than rags. The slightest tug or pull would shred the clothes they were wearing, and most of them had acquired enough rents or holes the girls were in danger of indecency.
Harry wasn't, because he wore neck to toe armor, with the helmet in his pouches, but he wasn't looking forward to having the last of his wardrobe fall to pieces. Metal links might conceal, but they could also pinch tender flesh like nothing else. So once the last of the clothes he was using for padding inside came apart, he'd either bleed from pinching or submit to nudity.
Frankly he was not looking forward to being forced into such a situation.
"Under ordinary circumstances, the polyjuice experiment you propose doing is stupidly dangerous," Luna sighed, hefting a little shrug of her shoulders. "However these circumstances are far from ordinary, and considering our alternatives it may actually be our best option."
"How dangerous is it?" Hermione looked at her friends and asked quietly.
Harry sighed. "Well, you already know polyjuice is not intended for nonhuman transformations. When you used a hair from a cat you only partially changed because the potion didn't have the power to move you all of the way."
"But fairy magic is all about change," Luna continued softly. "Most of the art of Transfiguration as it is taught today is actually inherited from the Celts, who were far superior to the Romans in that area because of their study of fairies. About the most advanced Greco-Roman expression of that art was that performed by Circe, who changed men to pigs and back again - and even she was more a student of fairy lore on that subject than other Greeks."
"Flesh to flesh transfiguration is actually not as hard as some of the other materials they have us using, even as early students," Harry admitted."To give you an idea, most magical cultures had examples of people who could transform themselves into animals and back again."
Luna fixed her with an otherworldly gaze. "But only one could teach students how to change matchsticks to needles and back again, beetles into buttons, or other lessons we have already performed. Only one culture had that deep a knowledge of change, and they got it from the fey. We are lucky to have inherited that skill from those Romans who were so impressed by them that after they defeated the Celts they then studied those arts from them."
Harry was rubbing his eyes again. "So you get an idea of what a powder keg it is we are igniting when we take something designed for change, and charge it with actual substance from the body of a fairy creature. It would not be too extreme to compare it to throwing sticks of TNT onto a campfire. There is no question it will work. There is also no question but that we are unleashing something far beyond our control here."
Harry paused before continuing. "The only matter under debate is 'can we survive this'. And the answer to that would almost certainly be 'No'if the fey weren't also so unpredictable."
"So there is definitely a very slim chance we'll survive," Luna confirmed, before halting herself. "As what is the problem."
Harry nodded. He started speaking, then stopped himself. A full and detailed account of their dangers was enough to turn hair white, and wouldn't be useful in any case. Scaring themselves out of their wits could only make their problems worse. Best to summarize.
He rubbed his temples. "It's like a strange game of Russian Roulette. We could be perfectly fine. There is also a chance that we'll die. However, as the fey are generally inoffensive it is not so much our lives on the line, although those are most certainly at risk, as what form our bodies eventually wind up in. To 'survive' in this context means getting out of here and back to school in a form that can eventually be returned to normal."
"And while that is far from impossible, it is not likely either," Luna supplied before rushing ahead to reassure, "Having polyjuice charged to return us to ourselves multiplies our chances for a correct resolution, to where it is not unlikely we will be able to return to our birth forms, and even more likely we will achieve at least a close approximation thereof."
"But it does magnify our other risks," Harry admitted, suppressing agroan. "The shock stands a decent chance of killing us if we try to return that way. However if we can arrange to do it in the hospital wing Madam Pomphrey can almost certainly save us from that."
Hermione visibly thought this over, and after several more moments to process what they'd just said, she looked up at them. "This is also the only way I'm ever likely to see my family again, isn't it?"
"I'm afraid so, yes," Harry reluctantly agreed.
"Our list of options is rather thin," Luna admitted. "And whatever the risks of doing this are, we face all those same risks to just as great a degree by staying, with the added dangers of temporal displacement on top of them." Almost recovering her normal self, she fixed them both with an otherworldly smile. "Isn't it great how desperation can redefine your concept of danger?"
Just at that moment the fabric of Harry's robes failed and tore themselves off his shoulders, leaving him standing there in nothing but his potions belt and silver armor. Thankfully his inner wear was not as stressed, so he still had some padding between himself and getting pinched between metal links.
Watching their clothing rotting from magical overload accelerated by fairy magic reminded her they were under a delicate time crunch, and Hermione sighed, pulling on her apron of leaves before the rest of her own robes fully decayed off her body. "Well, I can see no other way. We ought to take the polyjuice to change into fairies. At least that gets us out of here and back to Hogwarts, where we can call on other resources."
"Agreed," Harry nodded, before steeling himself. "I'll go first. That way if it fails you two can explore other options."
Luna calmly shook her head. "No, because we'd have no way of knowing if you succeeded or not. We'd merely sit here and worry. Best if we all try to go at once. That way if one has trouble, at least there is a chance the others can offer some form of help."
No longer speaking, Harry raised up three bottles of polyjuice and added the hairs Hermione had stolen earlier. Too fine even to see individually, the hairs caused the most dramatic reactions in the potions, causing effervesance and multiple color shifts that didn't truly settle down.
Watching the bottles bubble, froth, foam and fizz like agitated soft drinks did not inspire any degree of confidence. That it never stopped, nor did the colors settle down from their constant shifting, didn't help.
"You've got the return potions ready?" Hermione nervously licked her lips, glancing up at him before returning to staring at the frothing multicolor potion she'd been given.
"Already charged those before we started to search." Harry waited asecond before admitting, "Actually, I charged three sets. That way we have spares in case of breakage or loss. I figure we can each carry potions charged for everyone in our group so there is no one failure point. You'd all hate it if we got out, but only you returned to Hogwarts while I got eaten by an augury or something - especially if I was the one carry all our potions."
Luna was nodding. "And if anyone goes mad and drops or dumps out all of the potions she is carrying, she'd still very much like a chance to return to normal. So we each carry a full set, so if any one of us retains her mind, we can all have a chance to be restored."
"We'd also have multiple chances to return to normal should we all get out and all of our polyjuice survive," Harry concluded. "We should also carry out spare hairs, wrapped around our bodies, so that leaves open achance for Madam Pomphrey to think up something we might not have."
He wordlessly handed around those bottles. The girls accepted them soberly. Then, as is she could no longer bear to consider the risks, Luna downed her fairy-charged polyjuice potion in a single swift motion, the others followed her example a heartbeat later.
Almost immediately each youth had disappeared in a cloud of sparkles, the last remnants of their disintegrating clothes falling into heaps around them.
"I can't believe I let myself get so stressed I forgot about that part,"Harry spoke from within the chestplate of his former armor.
"How are we going to carry out our return polyjuice potions?" Hermione's voice came from the puddle of her clothes, topped by the flowers and leaves of her makeshift apron.
"We aren't. Not by physical power anyway," Harry regretfully answered."The bottles are each larger than us." Poking his head out, he looked rather regretfully around the cave. "Likewise, there is no way for me to retain the sword of Gryffindor, or the other artifacts I carry. But they won't be the first treasures lost to a fairy mound."
A flower detached itself from a wall and gently drifted down, changing as it fell into a beautiful yet simple dress that settled onto and around Luna as she emerged from her own pile of former clothes.
"Change them," Luna ordered firmly. "You forget what we are now. Change the objects you want to carry out. Just pretend you have your wands."
Pausing a moment to consider, blushing at how they'd missed that after so long a discussion of fairies having such great powers of transformation, both her companions did so, casting shrinking and featherweight charms on their belongings, after having transfigured new clothes out of flowers and leaves.
They soon regretted doing so.
"Ow!" Harry doubled over in pain.
"That... hurts," Hermione cramped up rather badly herself.
"It can't be helped," Luna was shaking her head. "The system shock of our transformation was going to hurt in any case, it's just that it's getting to us slightly sooner now for having used fairy magic ourselves. And it will only get worse, so we'd best be on our way."
Nodding their agreement, in too much pain to speak, the other two flew up to the narrow opening that meant their escape. But Harry was in so much pain that he missed it, and smacked facefirst into the wall, while Hermione was so dizzy that she saw four openings to the little exit tunnel, and fluttered about trying to make sense of which one was real.
After much fumbling about the trio finally managed to get into the tunnel, but their strength was failing as rapidly as if they were bleeding to death. No one spoke of it, but they all knew what was going on. About halfway out a tunnel that seemed interminably long the shock of their transformation had exhausted what was left of their strength and they could no longer move.
The three polyjuiced fairies settled to the bottom of the passage, unable to fly any longer, and the stream that ran along the bottom of that tunnel obligingly carried their limp bodies back down its length and back into the cave again. But it did not stop there.
Exhausted, yet aware, the three students allowed themselves to be carried by the running water because they had no choice in the matter. Their bodies were exceptionally lightweight, so floated like leaves upon the water. But the stream did not end in the cave, and soon they got carried out toward the pond. Seeing they were helplessly approaching the realm of the naiads, Luna gasped out, "Harry, I love you. I just want you to know that before we die."
The boy was so weak it felt like strangling himself to spare the breath to answer, but answer he did. "Yeah. I was willing to marry you, but Ilove Hermione so much I was having second thoughts."
Unable to spare breath, and unsure what to answer, Hermione's shock saved her the confusion of trying to formulate a response just then.
Luna was the first to be swept by the small stream out onto the surface of the pond. Seeing a pale hand coming for her, she closed her eyes and waited for her doom, only to be surprised yet again by the improbable changing of the rules as she knew them, as the naiad to seize her kept her above the surface of the water. Resisting the temptation to drown her, the water nymph instead took Luna gently in hand and sped swiftly away across the lake, soon followed by two of her sisters bearing Hermione and Harry.
When they were deposited safely on the surface of the island and received no harm her surprise was complete.
"Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," she choked out a soft whisper, amused that everything she knew had just been invalidated.
"Don't tell me Dorothy going to Oz was a true story, as well." Hermione grumbled, no longer feeling it was funny.
"Alright. I won't," Luna replied cheerfully. "But if you ever want to read my great aunt's diaries they were far more complete than the muggle books."
Both other kids boggled. However, in moments they had strength enough to stand.
"Don't be deceived, we're all still in just as much shock as before,"Harry told them as they all wobbled to their feet. "But you can give even fatally ill patients enough drugs to get them on their feet, and something on this island is rejuvenating to our current fairy natures."
"That would be in keeping with it being a shrine to the Fairy Queen,"Luna agreed, pointing a short distance inland underneath the sheltering canopy of shrubs that from this angle rose over their heads like a tremendous forest.
At their feet was a path of small colored stones, winding beside a small trickle of water that made for a tiny stream.
"Follow the yellow brick road?" he asked with an unstable grin.
"Only about one stone in seven is any kind of yellow," Luna disapproved, as they all suited actions to words and began following the path up from the lake. The island was only about seventy paces across for a human, but for a group of inch-high fairies in their weakened condition it felt like a substantial march to cross the few yards they had to go before bushes obscured the surface of the lake and a small shrine hove into view.
There was a two inch high statue, perfectly detailed, standing upon a small pedestal before a silver bowl that was about palm sized for a human, big enough that all three could have bathed in it at the size they were now.
"So what happens now?" Harry asked, leaning heavily on a twig he'd taken to using as a walking stick.
"I am glad you asked."
The words were not audible, but they struck in their minds with such a forceful impression the trio gasped. An aromatic breeze drifted over the island. It smelled of rich soil and new blossoms, with just a hint of the sea.
The trio looked up to see the statue smiling down on them when it most certainly hadn't had that expression before.
I I I
Yes, this particular sequence has taken a very long time to get through, but you just don't convince bright, skilled people to stumble into bad situations quickly. Or if you do it's not believable.
And, well, since talking to the Fairy Queen is tantamount to suicide, nobody's ever done it and lived (or at least if they have it's not been recorded for fear of encouraging more people to try)... that's sort of a bad situation. And, well strong, intelligent, thinking characters try to resist anything they see as instant, certain death.
So getting them to do it, while leaving them their wits, takes some doing.
Oh, and before anyone asks, the naiads had been commanded by the Queen to bring them, unharmed, before her. You'll see why later. This chapter sort of overflowed, so loads of explanation got pushing into the next one.