Categories > Books > Harry Potter > The Ten Plagues

FROGS

by Jeram 0 Reviews

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. Harry finds a surprise waiting at Diagon Alley, and ...

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Bill Weasley,Cho,Fleur,Ginny,Harry,Ron - Warnings: [!!!] [?] - Published: 2011/01/30 - Updated: 2011/01/30 - 7276 words

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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.

Ron walked in a distracted daze through the yard, weaving between the chairs and decorations without really thinking about it. He stopped suddenly and looked around in confusion. He looked at the small bundle of flowers he was holding and glanced at the chairs. There was something he was supposed to do out here. Maybe arrange the flowers?

No, it wasn't that, Ron decided. His Mum would never have assigned him just an aesthetic responsibility; he just didn't quite have the eye for it. Ron dropped the flowers on a nearby chair and flopped onto another one, groaning in frustration. Why was he outside anyway? Ron tried to remember, but grew frustrated quickly as he continued to recall absolutely no good reason to be outside.

Ron sat up straight and gasped. Wait, maybe... could it be... almost had it there... But whatever that wayward thought might have been, it was gone equally as quickly. Ron cursed in annoyance and slouched over the chairs, stretching out over several in a vain attempt to relax. He started to pick at his clothes, fidgeting as he tried to ignore his growing impatience with his own memory.

An image of a scolding Hermione came wholly unbidden to his head, waving her finger and clucking her tongue. "If you'd only keep proper notes," the Imaginary-Hermione was saying. "You'd stop finding yourself in such nasty predicaments. I can't ever imagine forgetting something as important as what I was doing outside!"

"Damn it, Hermione, quit your bloody nagging!" Ron yelled out angrily. Ron winced, realizing he had just been a bit loud, and reddened a bit. "Fine, fine," Ron grumbled to himself. "Should've written a note, yeah, yeah."

Ron continued fidgeting with his clothing, and was utterly shocked to discover a note to himself in a pocket.

Of course, the note itself made no sense; it was just a random runic mark, which Ron knew next to nothing about, and the mysterious addition of "Ask Bill" in what was clearly Ron's less than impeccable handwriting. "Huh," Ron grunted. "I don't remember writing this." On the other hand, he reflected, who would go to the trouble of forging Ron's handwriting? Perhaps Hermione had somehow cast a spell on Ron to help his memory without Ron being aware of it.

Ron snickered at the all too easily imaginable possibility. He shrugged and put the note back in his pocket. He supposed Bill couldn't be that busy at this exact moment, as he was only strengthening the wards for his upcoming wedding. And Ron had a note.

Feeling a bit embarrassed about it, Ron nonetheless squelched the guilty impulse and trudged over to the border of the estate where Bill was directing the security efforts. Bill looked a bit frustrated, the worries of securing his upcoming nuptials giving him a bit of stress.

"I don't need to know the exact arithmantic configuration formula, Lawrence!" Bill berated a slight older lady in clipped tones. "Just tell me what the current degree of warding is holding at! We don't exactly have weeks of time left here."

"Um, sorry, Mr. Weasley," the nervous witch replied, fidgeting with her hair. "The, um, degree of warding is at about sixty percent over the SWL standard, and the complete charging should finish in a few hours."

Bill exhaled and closed his eyes. "Right, right. Just watch the limiters and don't overreach on any of the linked wards. We don't want to create any easy holes in the security grid."

"Um, right, Mr. Weasley." Lawrence backed away slowly, waiting a bit of distance before turning and walking quickly out of sight.

"Uh, Bill? Can I ask you a quick question?" Ron asked slowly.

Bill whirled angrily. "What do you want?" He blinked and his angry expression faded. Bill sighed heavily. "Sorry, Ron, didn't mean to snap at you there. Just right busy with all these plans and security measures. I want my wedding to be safe, don't I?"

Ron grinned and shrugged. "Yeah, I'd imagine so."

The older brother chuckled and stretched languidly. "So what's eating you, Ronnie?"

Ron frowned and pulled out his mysterious note, looking down at it. An odd sensation crept down his spine and Ron shuddered.

"Now what have you got there?" Bill asked with a rakish grin. "It seems to have got you in a bit of a twist or something. Give it here."

Feeling almost reluctant, Ron handed over his unknown note.

Chuckling again at his younger brother's nervous behavior, Bill glanced at the odd marking. He whipped his head back at Ron, and then carefully squinted back at the crude approximation of the runic mark.

"Ron..." Bill swallowed. "Ron, where did you see this?"

"Well, that's the thing - I don't quite remember that. Just found the note in my pocket, written in my handwriting."

"Ron, this is serious business here. If this marking is what I think it is, I need to know every detail you have."

"Well I don't bloody remember!" Ron yelled in exasperation. "You think I like not knowing what's going on? I just found the bloody thing!"

Bill glanced around suspiciously. "Ron, this isn't really the safest place to talk. Come on, we'll go to the attic. I have a good setup there already I've used in the past."

Ron blinked in surprise. "The attic? Really? I had no idea."

Bill grinned in spite of himself. "Yeah, well that's why it's been such a good spot for things I didn't want folks to know about. Don't worry, I'm sure we'll figure this out."

The two Weasleys quickly made their way back to the Burrow.

As the Burrow came into sight, Bill grasped Ron by the shoulder. He looked directly into the eyes of his younger brother.

"Ron, I don't know what's going on here, but it's not looking to be a pleasant romp in the park. Talk to no one about what we discover, understood?"

Ron gulped at Bill's intense expression. Now he remembered why Bill was the family member he respected the most, and hated the least. "Right, Bill, of course." Ron attempted to keep his voice steady. "Maybe we shouldn't be too obvious about running upstairs either, eh? You know, keep it quiet and all that."

Bill nodded thoughtfully. "You've got a point, Ronnie. Hold still." Bill held out his wand. "This will temporarily keep us from being easily discovered, like a bit more than a localized Notice-Me-Not charm. Absentis Acia."

Ron's skin prickled as a wave of icy cold energy spread over him. He looked down at himself, but couldn't see anything different. "Bill, are you sure it worked? I can still see myself."

Bill rolled his eyes, not bothering to hide his exasperation. "I know, Ron, the point is that no one else will notice you, not that you're invisible."

"Um, right, I knew that." Ron grinned weakly.

Ignoring this, Bill walked rapidly, but silently, over to open the back door. He waved Ron over in a hurried motion. A bit taken aback, Ron nonetheless quickly ran over to the house.

Bill moved inside and walked right through the crowded kitchen, avoiding the oblivious occupants almost gracefully. Ron boggled at his brother's brazenness, but followed carefully, nearly colliding several times with his mother. Ron finally reached the stairs and exhaled in relief, grinning widely. That short kitchen adventure had taken more energy than he had expected. Suddenly, he was knocked aside by Fred and George barreling past him, conspiring quietly while gesticulating wildly.

Ron froze. "Um, Bill, I think I got hit. Is the charm gone?"

Bill crossed his arms and looked down from halfway up the stairs, managing to appear both annoyed and supremely patient. "No, Ron, the charm doesn't keep you from getting smashed by Fred and George. But they didn't notice you. Now, enough of this whining. We're going upstairs."

CHAPTER TWO: FROGS

"Igh!" Harry grimaced and lifted up his boot. He had apparently stepped in something extremely disgusting, albeit wholly unfamiliar. Harry grimaced at the putrid glob of putrescence firmly attached to his once reasonably clean boots, one of the few luxury expenditures he had ever made. The disgusting mystery substance seemed oddly familiar, but Harry didn't particularly feel like dwelling on the possibilities.

His wand already out, Harry muttered "Scourgify", but the cleaning charm only had a minimal affect. Still a bit frustrated from an extremely confusing and somewhat depressing morning, Harry growled out "Scourgify" again with additional force, mostly cleaning his boots from the street grime. A third cleaning charm finished off the job, but the sight of the now clean and shining boot didn't really improve Harry's mood.

Sighing, Harry continued to walk down the late morning streets of Diagon Alley. The Alley was a bit empty; clearly the looming threat of Voldemort and company still kept away the more jittery of customers. Harry passed by Florean's boarded up ice cream parlour, and he stopped a moment to look over at one his old favorite places. Thinking back to his early morning meeting, he remembered Slughorn's mention of Fortescue and wondered if there was any significance to it. After a minute of standing there, staring at the abandoned shop, Harry shrugged in a futile gesture. If there was anything out of the ordinary or important to see, Harry had not noticed.

Frowning a bit, Harry absentmindedly walked past a few surprised people, each of whom did not really feel like causing a scene. Soon enough, Harry found himself in front of a very familiar storefront: Ollivander's wand shop. A grim sign hung in the doorway, proclaiming that the wandmaker was "Closed Until Further Notice". Harry's gaze swept over Ollivander's front window, old bittersweet memories resurfacing.

"It's funny how it looks so empty," Harry mused quietly. "Even with the shelves empty, it's still just like I remember. At least, it feels the same. I remember seeing that one wand on display... wonder what was so special about it, if anything." Harry smiled in fond remembrance as he looked back at the wand display. "Yes, just like... always?" Harry stopped short as he realized that the wand on display was back.

Harry frowned and scratched his head thoughtfully. "That's odd," he muttered. "Coulda sworn it wasn't there a minute ago." Now Harry was becoming intensely curious; he began to wonder if Dumbledore's instruction might be related to Ollivander's or even this disappearing and reappearing wand.

Harry looked around cautiously, but no one stood within clear eyesight. Holding his wand out, Harry carefully pushed at Ollivander's door, and was completely surprised when it swung open unimpeded. Harry hurried inside and shut the door behind him. He scanned the seemingly empty room and inched over to the window display. Not seeing anything suspicious in the apparently abandoned room, Harry quickly glanced down at the window display, and received yet another shock when instead of a wand, a small note was nestled in the display cushion.

Now a bit annoyed at all the trickery, Harry summoned the note without thinking about it. After catching it, Harry cursed softly. "Stupid git. That note could've been a trap - a portkey or worse." Grumbling at his own impatience, Harry unrolled the note to see a cryptic message, which Harry had somewhat expected at this point.

Don't loose this note - D (Faction One)

"Gee, thanks for the clear information Dumbledore," Harry smirked. He shook his head ruefully. Even in death, the late Headmaster was still playing games. Although the old man had never really done anything quite this mysterious before, at least as far as Harry could remember. He tucked away the note and suddenly felt a prickly sensation on the back of his neck.

Harry whirled, brandishing his wand, a protective spell on his lips. Before him stood the implacably stony-faced Ollivander, not looking surprised or alarmed in the slightest.

"Okay, so it looks like maybe you're not dead or missing after all, Ollivander." Harry smiled slightly at the wandmaker. "But just to be sure, why don't you tell me the adjective you used to describe my wand back when we first met."

Ollivander raised an eyebrow. "Playing the paranoid game, are we Mr. Potter? Very well, when we met, I recall quite clearly mentioning that the entire circumstance was 'most curious' - and I also recall that we were alone with Mr. Hagrid at the time, who was himself carrying a most curious umbrella. And do not worry - you needn't identify yourself, Mr. Potter, I am quite certain you are yourself today. Well, as much as you could be, in any event."

Harry started to puzzle that out, but quickly grew annoyed. He lowered his wand but kept a careful eye on the mysterious wandmaker. "Mr. Ollivander, not that I don't respect you or anything, but I'm quite a bit peeved at all this oddness and question mark after question mark. I don't suppose you could actually tell me what's going on, eh?"

"Actually, Mr. Potter, that was my plan," Ollivander replied, looking almost smug. "But first, we must move to a slightly more secure location. One never knows who might be listening, after all. And I made significant pains to ensure that no one would think to look for me here again."

Harry sighed. "Okay, but I want you to promise you'll actually give me real answers, not just another set of mysteries."

"Mr. Potter," Ollivander intoned in a voice so solemn, that if he didn't know better, Harry would have guessed was in jest. "I promise you that I shall endeavor to do my very best to tell you what you wish to know."

"Figures you'd qualify it," Harry sighed. "All right, let's get on with it. Where do we need to go?"

The sound of a throat clearing startled Harry, and he turned to the back of the store. Harry's jaw dropped and he spent a moment staring. "Hold it - Cho, is that you?" Harry now felt a bit put upon - who was going to show up next, Snape's dead mother?

"Aye, sorry about all this Harry," Cho responded in a subdued tone, clearly looking quite a bit embarrassed. "Really, we're just here to help you out. And I'm sorry about this."

"Sorry about what? And who's 'we'?" Harry demanded, his voice rising a bit.

"Stupefy."

The stunning spell came from somewhere behind him, and Harry was too distracted to dodge. Then everything went black.

Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest. - Bion

Ron sat across from Bill, who continued to carefully draw out notations in a circle of runic marks. The small circle in the attic surrounded Ron, but apparently Bill had still, after nearly an hour, not finished his precise work on the circle. Ron had no idea what the circle was for, though he did remember hearing or reading somewhere about magic circles being important for rituals or something to that effect.

"Bill, what's the point of this Respisoco ritual, or whatever it's called?" Ron whined impatiently. "You never really explained it."

Pausing his work, Bill sighed and looked up at his younger brother. "Ron, first, it's Respicio Rememini, and second, I've explained to you three times already."

"Well, your explanation was too complicated. I tried figuring it out, but I couldn't get it. Just... just one more time, in plain English, please?" Ron made an exaggeratedly pouting face, and Bill couldn't help but laugh.

"All right, Ronnie, you ickle girl, you. The point of the Respicio Rememini ritual is to retrieve your possibly Obliviated memory without the use of any Ministry-controlled spells or magic items. The circle up here is one I've used before for other minor rituals, but I need to carefully recalibrate the runic calculus to ensure that none of the extraneous leeched energy from your mind drains the surrounding perimeter alarms, or lets any unstable mental or physical energy..." Bill trailed off at Ron's blank expression.

Bill sighed and wiped his brow. "Ron, the circle is supposed to recover your memory. You clearly don't remember finding this Dark runic mark, so I'd like to find out why, and hopefully, where you found it in the first place."

Ron chuckled and shrugged. "There you go, was that so hard? You coulda said all that in the first place." Ron frowned as a thought occurred to him. "I remember that you already mentioned the mark was Dark, but how bad is it really? I mean, it's not like it burned my hand or anything, right?"

"Well, a scribbled mark on some paper is unlikely to do any real harm," Bill explained, leaning down to finish his work on the circle. "What makes a runic mark do any harm or good has partially to do with the process in what we call 'charging', that is, channeling energy in some way to accomplish what you want to do. For example, combining the old Futhark Fehu and Wunjô runes in certain ways, and by using certain kinds of somewhat powerful magic, could protect a treasure from being seen."

"Huh," Ron grunted. "I sort of get what you're saying, Bill, I think. So what kind of magic would be needed for the 'Dark' rune I wrote down?"

"Bad magic," Bill responded simply. "Could be dealing with sacrifices, death magic in some way, or potentially other Dark magics that, to be honest with you, I really don't feel like getting into." Bill sat up and dusted off his hands. "All right, I think we're done here. Try not to move for this part, right Ronnie?"

Ron grinned. "Now that we're actually doing something, I think I'll be right okay."

Bill concentrated and pointed his wand at the circle. He muttered something under his breath and the circle burst into coruscating light. Bill looked up at Ron. "You good, Ron?"

"Yeah, um, I guess," Ron winced at an unexpected flash of light. "Should I still stay still?"

"Yes, let me wait for the circle to finish charging, and then I can cast the final spell."

Ron nodded and sat up straight, attempting to keep perfectly still while strange energies seemed to push and pull at his head.

After an interminable minute or two, Bill finally raised his wand and incanted "Reciproco Detrimentum". Instantly a spike of pain shot through Ron's head, and he couldn't help gasping at the sudden increase in discomfort.

Ron's vision went white, and odd bits and pieces of memories flickered in and out of his consciousness. The images began to speed up, flashing by faster and faster, dizzying Ron and causing the room to spin around him. Not quite in his right mind, Ron started to stand, but a sudden burst of energy knocked him to the ground.

Ron had the strangest sensation of being watched without being watched, and he closed his eyes, quickly losing himself to a deep sleep.

And the frogs shall come up both upon you, and upon your people, and upon all your servants.

Harry sat up suddenly with a start. "What the...?" He found himself tucked into a fairly comfortable bed, but in a hospital or medical room that was completely unfamiliar. A quick glance around the room revealed that Harry was alone, although there was one closed door.

Moving very slowly, Harry felt around for his wand, but discovered he was wearing some sort of hospital gown or similar garment. His clothing and wand were nowhere in sight. Harry gritted his teeth, torn halfway between worry and fury. A small scratching sound came from the door, and Harry heard footsteps on the other side.

Harry looked around again, considering his available options. He considered hiding under the bed, but dismissed this as too cowardly and stupid. Harry decided to settle for glaring angrily, albeit impotently, at whoever walked in the room, and possibly also yelling at them. The frustration of a confusing morning still rankled with Harry, and the sudden ambush only made things worse.

The door opened a crack and Harry could see someone on the other side looking in.

"Having a good look, are you?" Harry snarled. "Please, I don't mind, I just love being stunned and thrown into a room in the middle of nowhere. Just brightens up my day."

The door opened and a nervous Cho Chang entered, holding Harry's folded clothing, his missing wand lying on top. "Um, I thought you might want these back."

Harry didn't quite know what to say. He sat there, considering, while Cho carefully put his belongings at the foot of the bed and inched back to the door. Harry shook his head. "Wait a moment," he said, holding up his hand.

"Harry, I really am sorry," Cho spoke softly. "But they insisted on it - said you couldn't see where we were going, at least not yet anyway."

"But why?" Harry asked plaintively. "If we're on the same side here, and you're trying to help me, why can't you just be straight with me? I've had enough of this mysterious double-talk for a lifetime."

Cho sighed. "Well, the others thought you might have some kind of monitoring spell on you, keeping track of what you saw or heard. Keeping you unconscious was the easiest way to make sure nothing was revealed before the spell could be countered. But when we got back, they did a quite comprehensive scan and found some very disturbing things. Charms and enchantments that were exceedingly dangerous, not to mention the monitoring spell."

"So I was being monitored after all?" Harry wasn't particularly surprised by this, considering how frequently he had heard it already. "You broke it, right?"

"Well, not exactly," Cho admitted sheepishly. "The other charms on you would make removing the monitoring spell possibly life-threatening. We couldn't take it off before these others were removed. That's why you're in here, in the warded room, to keep you comfortable while the counter spells are developed."

Harry frowned. "Developed? You mean they're not done? How long will I have to wait? And exactly what 'other' charms do I have to worry about now?"

Cho frowned and sat at the foot of the bed. "You had some lingering spell damage, from bad potions and hexes, things like that. But those have already been cured, easy enough to do, I would guess." She turned to look at Harry. "The real problem was two horrible bits of enchantment on you. Really awful."

"Okay..." Harry said slowly. "And you haven't taken them off yet?"

"Harry, I'm not really an expert on these things, but from what they told me, you have two different curses on you, each which could easily affect your mind and body." Cho flushed a bit as she spoke this last part. She turned away and looked down at her hands. "Sorry. Um, so the first curse is a kind of focused obsession spell, kind of like a variant on the classic bewitching charm."

"Wait, you mean someone gave me a love potion? But how is that possible? I haven't been really in love with anyone - only one who came close last year was..." Harry trailed off as Cho gave him a knowing look. "Right, well, I don't think Ginny drugged me."

Cho shook her head and smirked. "No, I don't think so either. The curse isn't like Amortentia, if you were under that kind of influence it'd be right easy to notice. Love potions and their ilk essentially force you to think about a target in an extremely positive way, to the point where even little thoughts of them would arouse you." Her face darkened. "No, this curse is worse, because unlike a love potion, which fades on its own, this curse only gets worse as time goes on."

Suddenly thinking of the story of Merope and Riddle Sr., Harry couldn't help but think something about the explanation was off. "Cho," he began. "What if you gave someone a love potion every so often, wouldn't that maintain the effect?"

Cho nodded. "Actually, you're right Harry. But even so, your personality would change almost instantly to think of essentially only the target, to the detriment of all else. No worries about studies, health, friends, nothing. Anyone who knew you would be able to notice the difference right away."

Harry recalled Ron's extreme reaction to Romilda Vane's attempted drugging and nodded slowly. Ron had seemed to only be able to talk about Romilda while under the love potion's influence, and it had been quite obvious something had been amiss.

Cho continued. "This curse affects your personality slightly differently, from what I was told. Now, I should first say I'm not exactly an expert in Dark curses, so I kind of have to trust what the medical people have told me." She glanced over at the door and sighed. "I know you're frustrated to be in the dark, Harry, but you should know you're not the only one. No one gets told more that what they 'simply must know'."

Harry grunted. "Yeah, well, I guess I can understand that. But please, just finish telling me about these curses!" The idea of someone controlling his thoughts or emotions seemed horrible beyond imagining to Harry. And if this curse would only get worse over time, who could tell what might happen?

"I know you don't think it was Ginny, and from what I understand about the process, I doubt she could be Dark or even knowledgeable enough to curse you." Cho looked a bit frustrated, almost as though she didn't quite want to admit this. "But no matter whoever created it, the target is Ginny."

Harry froze. Ginny? It didn't seem to make sense, not at all. After all, it was Harry who initiated their relationship after the Quidditch victory, wasn't it? On the other hand, that could've been the influence of this curse. There were too many questions. Harry needed answers.

"Fine, so someone cursed me to be obsessed with Ginny, is that it?" Harry asked this a bit curtly, but he couldn't quite help himself.

"Not exactly," Cho answered. "The curse influenced your emotions and feelings. Essentially you would find her extremely attractive, but any attraction to any other girl would be muted completely. You wouldn't necessarily believe yourself in love with her, but your thoughts would be 'pushed' in a certain direction, that is, to make sure her she comes first. Before thinking of yourself," she added as an afterthought.

"It could be as simple as wanting to protect her, but the feelings would get progressively harder to control. Soon you would suspect others of wishing or doing harm to her, and then you would start to believe it. Then you would start to believe it of yourself most of all."

Harry's face blanched. "And then?"

Cho looked solemn. "Then it would be a simple matter to control you. Merely suggesting an action to be positive or helpful to her would completely overwhelm you. You'd be unable to stop from carrying out the suggestion, whether it was to kill another, or even yourself."

"Are you saying this has happened before?" Harry asked, horrified by the idea.

"Yes, although it's hardly common. The rituals to enable this curse are far beyond even the most ardent of Dark wizards and witches." Cho looked disgusted. "I know Ravenclaws are supposed to be interested in the pursuit of knowledge and all that, but the idea of doing something like this makes my skin crawl." She shuddered.

Harry bit back a smile. "I'm sure there's plenty of non-crawl-inducing knowledge out there for you to discover."

Cho giggled and leaned forward. "Oh, Harry, you needn't worry. The healers are finishing up the potions right now, so you'll be in perfect shape in no time." Almost without thinking, she put her hand on Harry's and smiled at him.

Harry looked down blankly and then back up at Cho. "Um, okay, great," Harry said weakly.

Cho pulled her hand back instantly like she had been burnt. She looked down with a chagrined expression. "I'm sorry, Harry, I don't know what I was thinking. It was just a reflex. Please don't be mad."

Harry blinked. "Cho, I'm not mad, just... confused, I guess. I just want this curse to be gone, that's all." Harry didn't exactly feel anything at all when Cho touched him, but he wasn't sure of the reason. It was almost like a feeling of complete blankness had suddenly swept over him.

"The other curse is also an obsession spell, quite a bit less complicated, and not nearly as difficult to remove or cast in the first place." Cho kept her eyes firmly on the door, not looking at all in Harry's direction. "If the one targeted at Ginny wasn't there, it would've probably had worse effect, I think." She paused, her eyes flashing back at Harry for a brief second.

"So who was the target for this 'weaker' obsession curse?" Harry asked, trying to ignore Cho's erratic behavior. "A different girl?"

Cho looked a bit amused at this question. "Not unless you consider Draco Malfoy 'a different girl'."

Harry instantly felt extremely nauseated and gagged involuntarily. "You're putting me on, right? Right?" Harry pleaded with panic in his voice.

Cho laughed a bit and looked back at Harry. "Well, only a bit."

Instantly Harry felt innumerably better, and he settled back against the head of the bed, still sitting up. "Who was really the target?"

"Harry, the target was Malfoy - hold it!" Cho pointed a finger at Harry's mouth. "The curse isn't the same, okay? It artificially amplifies any paranoia or suspicion you had for him in the first place, and makes it difficult for you to stop thinking about him. But not an attraction!"

Cho sat back and smiled a bit sheepishly at Harry. "That's why we think the curses were from different sources. Since you had both curses simultaneously, probably created fairly close to each other, they each slightly dampened the effect of the other." She shook her head ruefully. "Of course, eventually they might cancel each other out, or at worst, potentially kill you or drive you mental."

Harry snorted. "Well, I guess I see why I'd want those removed." He frowned, thinking it over. Although he felt reasonably safe trusting Cho, she had helped in his ambush, even if her reasoning seemed sound. He'd almost have thought that maybe she could be someone under Polyjuice, but Ollivander seemed far too much like himself. And Ollivander was weird, but probably trustworthy.

Harry suddenly remembered Dumbledore's note and realized that the Headmaster had always spoken favorably of the wandmaker. Perhaps Dumbledore knew of the curses but could not do anything, for fear of revealing himself to these mysterious 'monitors'. There were a million reasons not to trust in Cho and her 'people', whoever they were, but she seemed to be telling him the truth.

In the end, Harry realized he could only truly trust his only instincts, and even if he had made mistakes in the past, he couldn't rely on others to protect him anymore. Feeling the matter settled, Harry decided he would go along with what Cho was saying, for now. Even if the answers he was getting were complete lies, it felt much better just knowing a bit more.

Lost in thought, Harry realized Cho had moved to the door, talking to someone on the other side. She turned to face him.

"Harry, one of the Healers would like to administer the antidotes. Is it okay if he comes in?" Cho stepped aside to reveal a middle-aged man with dark hair and a shortly trimmed beard.

Harry nodded, a bit too nervous to speak.

The Healer bowed his head and stepped forward holding a small bag. "Mr. Potter, I am Healer Cauldwell. I trust Miss Chang has informed you of the curses we must remove?"

"Yeah, she told me - two different types of obsessions, innit?"

Healer Cauldwell nodded and removed two small vials from his bag. "Correct, Mr. Potter. The two curses are derivatives of the classic obsession curse, commonly referred to as the Capio Coerco or Ardeo Coerco, depending on your interpretation."

Harry blinked. "All right. You mean they're related?"

"Yes, in many ways." The Healer continued as he set aside a few more tools. "Both curses stem from the same basic obsession spell. The less complicated one, I believe the one increasing paranoia, came first. We call that one the ritual of Ardeo Tormentum Coerco. As you might imagine, it refers to the torment of the victim. Here, drink this."

Harry accepted the vial and looked at it thoughtfully. It was a light blue in color and had no discernible odor. He glanced over at Cho, who was waiting by the entranceway.

"Harry, you can trust the Healer," she said, seeming to pick up on Harry's anxiousness. "He's an expert on curing Dark curses and the like. I hear he's been around for a while."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Harry answered with a grin. "But I'm wondering what exactly this is?"

"Don't forget," Cauldwell interjected. "The two curses do not play well together. This first potion acts as a bit of a separator, allowing us to remove each spell in turn."

Harry sighed and rolled the vial a bit. Finally, he shrugged and drank the potion quickly. The taste was surprisingly mild, albeit fairly heavy and smoky. Harry could remember many healing potions that had tasted far worse.

As if reading his mind, Caulwell smirked slightly. "Be a bit prepared for this next potion, Mr. Potter. It's quite a bit more offensive to the palate." The Healer handed Harry a larger vial, the smell causing Harry to gag almost instantly.

Oddly enough, this horrible odor felt familiar to Harry, at least more like what a healing potion ought to taste like. Bracing himself, Harry gulped down the offensive potion, and struggled to keep it down. A few tears came to his eyes, and a rush of itching swept over him.

"Wait a moment, Mr. Potter," the Healer said, getting to his feet. "Before you move much, there is still one more element to dispel this curse. Please ready yourself."

Eyes widening, Harry nodded, trying desperately to ignore the increasingly difficult to ignore sensations. It was getting to the point where Harry's skin seemed almost like it was about to crawl off.

Cauldwell held out his wand and waved it a complicated motion. He spoke several incomprehensible words, some of which grated on Harry's ears in a very strange way, causing him to cringe involuntarily. The Healer finished a long stream of syllables and pointed his wand directly at Harry's head.

"Extrico Incommodus Psoricus!"

A bubbling sensation spread over Harry, alleviating the awful discomfort. The feeling circled around and seemed to coalesce right behind his eyes. A not entirely unpleasant numbness spread through him, and Harry felt extremely relaxed, as if he was just about to fall asleep.

The numbness faded after a moment, and suddenly felt a sensation akin to glass breaking and he shuddered. Harry blinked and was astonished. It was as though a fog had been lifted from his thoughts, or a headache was removed that he had not realized was there. Everything seemed just a bit clearer, and Harry found his thoughts racing.

The events of the past year began racing through Harry's mind, piecing together the puzzling events he had experienced. Soon enough, Harry could see all the clues he had missed and situations he had completely misread. In hindsight, everything seemed obvious, and he could see how his own behavior had been erratic and oddly out of character. And yet, there was something remaining that seemed missing, almost like a smudge on a window that obscured his view.

Harry laughed when a sudden thought came to him. Now he understood why Snape had named his spell Mobilicorpus. Kind of clever, at least for a traitorous bat, Harry mused. But Snape... that was another question mark. Harry could recall the year fairly well at that point, but the facts seemed to point in two opposite directions. Either Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him, or he didn't. Neither one made complete sense.

Snape was an evil bastard, certainly, and killing didn't seem impossible for him - but Dumbledore seemed the one exception to Snape's extreme hatred of all things existing. On the other hand, why would Dumbledore want to die? Could he have been lethally poisoned from the debilitating potion? Or perhaps he wanted to redeem Draco or something equally stupid? No, that couldn't be it - clearly Dumbledore had some notion that time was running short, as he had indicated in his letter. He must have had some complicated and impossible to understand plan, as per usual.

"Harry?"

Cho's voice interrupted Harry's musings. She grinned a bit mischievously, leaned over and pinched his hand.

"Ow!" Harry pulled back his hand and glared at a now giggling Cho. "Very funny. How would you like it someone pinched... you?" Harry trailed off in confusion. Something odd had just happened, but Harry couldn't figure it out.

"Are you all right Harry?" Still grinning, Cho turned to the Healer. "Did everything go like it was supposed to?"

"I'm fine, Cho." Harry interjected. "Just thinking a bit. I guess my mind just felt clearer all of the sudden."

"Wow, Harry," Cho remarked tonelessly. "With all that thinking, you should have been in Ravenclaw." Cho looked blankly at Harry.

Harry's mouth twitched and he matched her expression.

No longer able to contain herself, Cho turned away and covered her mouth, attempting to hide her snickering.

"So anyway," Harry said loudly, turning back to the Healer. "I assume the antidote worked?"

Healer Cauldwell held out his wand and looked over Harry in concentration. He mumbled something under his breath and faint blue light glowed from the tip of his wand. Cauldwell nodded in satisfaction and the light faded.

"Mr. Potter, it appears the curse has been successfully removed. With your permission, I would like to continue and remove the final curse, the Ardeo Libidinor Coerco curse. That is the one that invokes lustful thoughts and prioritizes one woman above all else."

"Wait a minute," Harry replied, thinking of something. "Why was that curse so easy to remove if it was so Dark? After all, you only gave me a potion and spoke a fairly short incantation."

Cauldwell shrugged. "We were able to do much of the necessary work while you were unconscious. Only a few final steps are needed that require you to be awake and present. And I should note, knowing the proper way to create and administer both the potion and 'incantation' are hardly minor efforts, Mr. Potter. There is a reason I am a Healer, after all."

Harry nodded, chagrined. "Sorry, I guess that makes sense. So for this other curse," Harry started talking, trying to ignore the minor feeling of embarrassment. "I guess the solution is similar? Some sort of potion and spell, is that it?" He looked to Cho for confirmation.

Cho shook her head. "Harry, I'm in as much of the dark as you are, for the most part. I've never heard of these rituals before today, when they were partially explained to me. Healer, is the process very long?"

The Healer, engrossed in setting up a series of equipment and vials of potions, shook his head absently. "No, not long at all, just give a moment to finish setting up here."

Cho turned back to her and looked thoughtfully at him. "Harry, do you mind if I ask you a quick question before we begin?"

"Um, okay," Harry answered hesitantly. "What is it?"

"What..." Cho stopped and breathed in deeply, seeming to steel herself. "Harry, what do you think of Ginny Weasley?"

Harry sighed, not entirely surprised by the question. "Cho, it's complicated. I mean, it was complicated before I found out about this curse. Now I don't know what I really think."

Cho nodded and looked satisfied with the incomplete answer.

"Mr. Potter, are you ready?" Healer Cauldwell interrupted, holding out three vials, each a different color. Two were steaming in a disconcerting manner.

Harry swallowed and nodded his head once, bracing himself for the inevitable discomfort and possible pain. The Healer handed him the first potion, which Harry drank quickly, ignoring the blinding flash of pain on his tongue. Harry's eyes unfocused and his vision swam. Coughing a bit harshly, Harry accepted the next vial.

The second potion was not as bad, as it merely caused a wave of sensation to travel over him, leaving his skin overly sensitive. Harry almost thought he could feel the individual threads in the blanket, and the surprisingly intense feelings he felt merely from the movement of his clothes nearly caused him to jump.

Harry began shaking uncontrollably and he heard a loud gasp. Harry wondered what all the fuss was about, and when the room would decide to stop shaking. Something insubstantial seemed to pass over Harry, and he froze, unable to move. His jaw was forced open, and something was poured down his throat.

Harry, feeling unusually thirsty, gulped down the strange liquid, not really aware of his surroundings. Harry's body jerked once, twice, then settled down on the bed. Harry could see blurry shapes spinning around him, and he felt both relaxed and apprehensive. Where was he? And what was going to happen next?

The words weren't loud, but Harry could hear them easily, almost like someone was using a bullhorn. Of course, the words made no sense at all.

"Extrico Siccus Libidinitas!" A sudden pressure began to build up in Harry's chest, and he began to breathe rapidly. A loud wind seemed to blow in Harry's ears, and he thought he could hear the beating of his own heart.

Over the noise came the words. "Premo Magis Quam Tu Mastico!" Harry's teeth began to chatter, although he didn't particularly feel that cold. The wind seemed to die down, and then Harry couldn't hear anything at all.

Then the final whisper. The whispering, quieter than Harry could hear at first, began rising rapidly, growing louder and louder until Harry felt like yelling himself. He opened his mouth and said the words that came to him, just as they were being said.

"Canis Filius!" The triumphant cry rattled the air, and that's when things got weird. Bizarre visions and flashes swam before Harry's eyes, and he thought he heard mermaids arguing with a giant squid.

Harry saw red, only red, his vision surrounded by the unbroken color. Harry thought he could hear someone laughing, and he strained to hear it. Yeah, it was laughing. Someone laughing. Laughing without purpose, laughter as cold and black as the darkest winter's night imaginable. It was laughter that chilled Harry to the bone.

And it gave him righteous fury beyond all reckoning.

And the magicians did in like manner with their secret arts, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.

Ron sat up with a gasp, breathing heavily.

He remembered. He remembered everything.

Ron passed out, his head slamming against the wooden floor with a heavy thump.

Next time...

They arrive to drain your blood, but they are far too small to be seen by the naked eye.

Aseret HaMakot

BLOOD FROGS LICE BEASTS PESTILENCE BOILS HAIL LOCUSTS DARKNESS DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN
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