Categories > Books > Harry Potter > The Ten Plagues

LICE

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.

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Bill Weasley,Cho,Fleur,Ginny,Harry,Ron - Warnings: [!!!] [V] - Published: 2007/08/13 - Updated: 2011/01/30 - 6738 words

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Note: This is now considered a post-HBP AU story. DH spoilers are minimal... for now. Don't expect this story to follow canon.

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.

It was then, in that moment, I saw my enemy. Dancing around me, mocking me with its hideous laughter. I could feel the coldness and pure malice in those laughing taunts. It kind of made me wish I had a sword, so I could stick it through this abomination, this Merlin-cursed waste of space. I could think of no words sufficient to express my utter contempt and pure rage at my adversary.

Instead, I let loose with a primal scream of fury. I think I surprised the monster a bit. Probably expected me to shiver and curl up in a ball. And don't get me wrong, the true form of this malignant beast was more horrific than anything I had ever seen. But where some might cower from such terror, I reveled in it. I let the fear wash over me, permeating my skin, absorbing strength from my weakness.

Now I get it... the damned thing was there this whole bloody year! I am free from you now, cursed creation of something unholy. I have no idea where you came from, or even what the bloody hell you actually are. You certainly don't look human, but if you are some sort of cursed freak, why would you?

Blast it all, where's my sword? Or my wand, right. If I had my wand, I'd smash you to bits, you blighty little wanker. Oh what, you're scared now? The big bad shadowy horror is nervous of ickle me?

Oh, don't start running now, I'll rip your bloody head off! Or whatever you use for your mind... holding. Bloody hell, WHAT ARE YOU?

I'll get you, mark my words, I will. I just need to find my wand first.

Where's my wand? Where is my bloody wand?

Harry?

I always have my wand with me. Maybe I dropped it?

Harry, can you hear me?

Who said that? Enough of these distractions, where could I have left it?

"HARRY!"

Harry jolted forward, knocking his forehead into Cho Chang. Cho fell back from the bed, but managed to regain her balance, grabbing the open door.

Harry winced. "Oh, bugger... I'm sorry, Cho. I wasn't quite myself there. Are you alright?" Cho shook her head but smiled at Harry. "Harry Potter, if you weren't just recovering from a curse, I think we might've had words." Cho looked over Harry and nodded. "Well, you seem to be okay there - anything broken, maybe inside that poor head of yours?"

Harry rubbed his head and leaned back with a yawn. "I'm fine, really." He chuckled and smirked at Cho. "For some reason, I think I felt really angry after that last curse removal, but I don't really remember why, or at whom specifically. Where's the Healer?"

"He already looked you over, but told me to keep a watch for anything odd. After a few minutes, you suddenly started to look really angry, and your eyes were open, but I don't think you could see me. You wouldn't wake up at first, I tried yelling quite a bit." Cho smirked. "Apparently all I needed to do was smash you in the head."

"Oh, ha ha, laugh at the recovering patient." Harry sighed and stretched his arms. "You know, I do feel quite a bit better. Lighter, I guess. I think my mind's a bit clearer now, too. Suppose the cure worked, didn't it?"

"Yeah." Cho looked pensive and moved the door most of the way closed. "Harry, remember how I asked you a question before the curse was removed?"

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I believe I do. You feel like asking again?" Harry looked at Cho with an amused expression, feeling certain he knew what she wanted to ask.

"Right, of course," Cho mumbled. "Um, Harry, what do - what do you think about Ginny Weasley?" Cho turned away from Harry, her cheeks flaming red.

"She's just a friend," Harry replied without thinking about it. The careless answer surprised Harry. But as he thought about it, Harry realized the truth - Ginny really did seem more like a friend. More like a cousin or younger sister than anything else. As Harry began to consider the events of the past year, he began to feel a bit disturbed. His memories of snogging Ginny jarred incongruously with his current feelings of her as someone like a relative. After all, imagining Aunt Petunia...

Harry gritted his teeth and tried not to think about it too much, worried about upsetting his stomach. That line of thinking needed to end immediately. He looked at Cho, who was looking curiously at him.

Cho walked over to the bed and sat down near Harry's feet. She leaned forward with a thoughtful expression.

"Harry, I know things didn't end so well between us, and we didn't exactly talk last year. I know I was far too embarrassed to say anything. But you know, I wasn't sure where I stood with you, and then you started dating Ginny, and well, I tried dating one or two other boys." Cho continued talking nervously, her eyes flickering between Harry and the floor.

Harry's eyes swept over Cho's face, and he couldn't help but stare at the movement of her lips while she prattled on. He didn't quite remember her looking so... put together. Cho shifted a bit, crossing her legs, and Harry could see the material of her robes straining against her body as she moved. She still had the lean, athletic form that helped her become a Seeker, but she seemed completely, acutely feminine as Harry continued to watch her talk.

Cho broke off, noticing Harry's intent gaze, and she blinked, moving forward unconsciously. Harry suddenly became keenly aware of the thin material he wore under the blanket, and he felt a warm, pleasant heat spread through his body. He looked over at his ex-girlfriend, his thoughts oddly clear.

Cho licked her lips and moved closer, her hands brushing against Harry's legs. Harry held out his hand without really thinking about, and gently touched Cho's cheek. He didn't know how it happened, but suddenly they were inches apart. Harry could feel Cho's breath on his face, and he titled his head toward hers. At nearly the same time, they moved forward, and their lips met. A sensation like fire ran over Harry's skin, and his hands began to move of their own accord, brushing over Cho's back.

Their kiss deepened, and before he realized it, Harry was on his back, Cho on top of him, her hands over him almost angrily. Feeling lightheaded, Harry distantly considered that this was nothing like their last kiss. Everything seemed to slow down. Harry was unsure how much time had passed, when a hard sound interrupted them.

"Ahem!"

Harry and Cho broke apart with a sudden motion. Ollivander stood at the door, looking blankly at them. Harry could feel his face burning with embarrassment, and he could see that Cho fared no better.

"Mr. Potter, if you could get dressed, we would like to deal with that pesky monitoring spell, if that is reasonable to you."

"Um, yeah, of course," Harry answered in a choked voice. He coughed once and cleared his throat. "Right, just give me a minute to get dressed."

Ollivander turned to Cho, who was looking anywhere but at Harry. "Miss Chang, I believe your father would like to have a few words with you about the later meeting. You can meet up with Mr. Potter later."

Harry started and looked at Cho in shock. "Your father? He's part of this too?"

Cho looked at the floor. "Um, yeah, Harry. It's kind of a family thing, here. You'll... you'll find out the rest soon enough anyway. I'll see you a bit later, okay?" She looked up at Harry, her nervousness clearly evident.

Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Cho smiled slightly and walked out of the room in a rush.

Ollivander turned back to Harry, as though he was in the middle of a friendly conversation. "Mr. Potter, the door is unlocked. Please come out when you are ready, and I will escort you to the enchantment room." The wandmaker walked into the hall and closed the door behind him.

Harry groaned. What in the hell was he thinking?

CHAPTER 3: LICE

The following is an excerpt from the Honourable and Most Ancient Society of Original and Proper Balance of Reality and the Sustainers of the Scales - Training and Orientation Guidelines:

My fellow wizards and witches, you have been selected, by blood or deed, to be a part of a most wondrous and important legacy. Our society has stood for centuries of the ways first engendered long ago; the ways of Truth and Righteousness. Though our enemies believe in destruction and horrible change, we do not. Instead, we hold close our notions, unpopular though they may be, of the status quo and the balance of life and magic.

There are those who would decry our efforts as wasteful and useless, and still others who brazenly cry that WE seek to unbalance the right and proper way of things. Nonsense and ravings of lunatic fringes, of course, but unfortunately lunatics have power of their own. They believe strongly in their own misguided principles, desiring nothing more than the complete and utter annihilation of our reality.

Can you imagine it, my allies and friends? While we only wish to keep our world alive and growing, they wish to fracture it at the seams, breaking it into pieces. How can they believe such a terrifying prospect is the correct choice? It boggles the mind, certainly, and there is little doubt they use underhanded and diabolical maneuvers to achieve their goals. Brainwashing? Certainly. Cold-blooded murder? I'm afraid so.

But is murder the worst of their crimes? No, my friends, for they wish to rip apart the very essence of what is and recreate reality as they see fit. A ridiculous notion, of course, but who can truly understand fanaticism?

Those skeptics among you may wonder if our efforts are any better, that our questionable practices may be suspect or even evil. Nay, I reply with vehemence! We do not kill unnecessarily, or without proper cause. Rather, we do so only as a last resort.

Friends, do not forget the lesson of Atlantis. It was not us that caused that catastrophe. It was them.

Research our history if you prefer, or ask as many questions as you can imagine. I am confident you will soon realize the glory and importance of our work. My friends, I welcome you into our society. And never forget who we are - we are Verus Pondera Animadverto - The Sustainers of the Scales.

And the necromancers did likewise with their secret rites to bring out the lice, but they could not, and the lice were upon man and beast.

Harry sat on the uncomfortable chair, harnessed to metallic tubes protruding from the chair's arms and legs. Ollivander stood by the door, his typically implacable expression remaining unreadable as he spoke to some unseen person nearby. The wandmaker stepped aside to allow a woman to enter the room.

A middle-aged but striking witch entered, dressed in expensive robes and carrying a bundle of papers. She looked up at Harry and pursed her lips. Harry looked back and couldn't help but notice her uncommon beauty. The witch had dark skin and slanted dark brown eyes, and her well-fitted robes emphasized a lush but firm figure. Although she was clearly old enough to be Harry's mother, Harry felt a familiar warmth creeping up in his chest.

Firmly quashing the unwanted feelings, Harry smirked and shrugged his shoulders. "Hello, have we met?" He asked the witch in a flippant tone. "You know, you do look a bit familiar."

The attractive witch raised an elegant eyebrow. "I doubt it, Mr. Potter. We would not have been seen in the same social circles, I am sure. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Beatrice Zabini - perhaps you know my son? He is in the same year as you, is he not?"

Harry blinked in surprise. Now that he thought about it, Mrs. Zabini did strongly resemble her son, although they had not exactly been friends. Harry chuckled and shrugged again. "I'd extend my hand, but as you can see, that won't be possible at this moment."

"How polite of you," Beatrice murmured in a silky voice. She stepped closer to Harry and looked him over with an appraising eye. "I don't believe I've ever seen you this close before. You've grown up quite a bit since I last saw you, many years ago. I believe it was your third or fourth year at Hogsmeade - not that I had anything but a distant look, of course. But still, I was curious, as most of us are, as to what the 'famous' Harry Potter looked like."

Harry grimaced. "Well, now you've had a look. I'm not interested in becoming your next dead husband, so maybe you could back off a bit."

The Zabini matron then burst into laughter, surprising Harry. "Mr. Potter, I have no idea what rumors you may have heard, but trust me, the truth is far more interesting than the typical salacious gossip. You should know firsthand that what is commonly reported is not necessarily the complete or even accurate account of events."

Harry nodded begrudgingly. "Okay, you've made your point. Maybe you're not an evil black widow just looking for her next rich husband. I don't actually care." Harry's voice lowered and he scowled. "But I would like to know when I can get out of this bloody contraption. I feel like I'm going to have cramped joints for days."

"Not too much longer, Mr. Potter." Beatrice frowned thoughtfully and drew her wand. "You see, we still have to adjust your little monitoring spell. A slight problem, but I am certain we can handle it."

"Can't you just remove it already? Why are you being so bloody obtuse?"

"I am afraid it is not quite that simple, Mr. Potter," Ollivander interrupted unexpectedly.

Harry rolled his eyes, having almost expected the interjection at this point. "Of course it isn't, Mr. Ollivander. Well, darn, why don't you explain it then?"

Beatrice glanced over at Harry. "The short answer, Mr. Potter, is that we cannot just dispel the monitoring enchantment. That would alert the monitors that something is wrong, of course, and they would investigate. None of us wish that to happen, Mr. Potter."

"Of course," Harry grumbled. "So why don't you just redirect it or something? You know, just have it monitor someone else."

Mrs. Zabini blinked in surprise. "Actually, that is almost exactly what we were planning, Mr. Potter." She looked at Harry with a crooked smile. "Instead of monitoring you directly, we will slip another layer underneath the spell, in a matter of speaking. That layer will appear to be you, but without anything suspicious or worth noticing. You will be free to hear and read anything at all."

Harry smiled at this. "Well, it's about bloody time!" he said cheerfully. "Then let's get to it!"

Shaking her head amusedly, Beatrice waved her wand and conjured several glowing lights, hovering in a broken circle around Harry. Beatrice closed her eyes and breathed in and out deeply, forcing Harry to avert his eyes from the front of her robes. With a quick motion of her wand, she drew a glowing rune in the air.

Harry swallowed, remembering the traumatic experience he had already been through that morning. He still didn't completely remember everything from the curse breaking, but much of what he did recall was scarily disjointed and troubling.

"Firmitas fortitudo bucina." Beatrice incanted slowly, then slashed down her wand, causing the lights to increase in magnitude, growing increasingly brighter. "Agito expedio lucerna." The lights began to spin around Harry, who looked down to avoid the sudden feeling of dizziness. "Commuto occulo aeternus," Beatrice mumbled softly. "Aggenero extra lamina."

Harry glanced up, but only saw the same as earlier; the small brightly shining lights continuing to rapidly circle around him. Zabini began to draw additional runes in the air, only some of which were remotely familiar to Harry.

With a forceful tone, Zabini spoke several incomprehensible words, each one causing a slight but noticeable change to the circling lights. She held up her wand above her head and brought it down suddenly, while saying "Includo novus visio". Instantly the lights stopped moving, but instead of appearing as individual motes of light, they appeared as though blurred in motion.

After a few interminable seconds, the blurred lights shrunk and contracted, forming a layer of light over Harry's form. Harry could hear some additional spellwords, but the lights effectively blinded him from seeing anything else in the room. Before he realized it, the lights had faded away, and the room had returned to normal.

Beatrice waved her wand and the harnesses sprung open.

Harry stood up carefully, rubbing his sore wrists. He picked up his wand from a nearby table and looked back at Zabini and Ollivander. "Okay," he said in a determined voice. "So who's going to tell me what's going on?"

Zabini smirked. "Why yes, Mr. Potter, the spell has been dealt with. The monitoring spell should now only be witness to nothing at all."

Ollivander opened the door and looked back at Harry. "Mr. Potter, we will gather in a nearby meeting room to discuss the various issues at hand. I believe Miss Chang will escort you there."

A red-faced Cho entered the room, and waved slightly at Harry.

Harry sighed. If he didn't know better, he would've sworn Ollivander was trying to intentionally embarrass them.

Cho glanced quickly at Harry and set off at a brisk pace, pausing only briefly to let Harry catch up to her.

The two continued walking in silence, and Cho kept her gaze firmly ahead, taking care to stay a few steps ahead of Harry at all times.

After a minute of this, Harry began to feel a bit exasperated. He cleared his throat suddenly, causing Cho to look back, startled. "So, um, about this whole organization..."

Cho nodded and smiled slightly. "It does seem a bit mad all at once, doesn't it?"

Harry chuckled softly. "Yeah, I'm still not really getting what's going on at all. Um..." Harry paused, feeling a bit awkward at the sudden lull in their conversation. The fact that suddenly Cho couldn't seem to stop staring at him didn't exactly alleviate his nervousness.

"So... Oh, wait!" Harry grinned as he remembered something he had been thinking earlier. "You said it's a family thing, right? Is that how you got involved?"

"Yes, that's the idea, Harry," Cho answered. She signed and looked a bit pensive. "Most of us here are involved because of our family history. I was recruited, I guess you could say, right after I finished Hogwarts. They were only too happy to ask all sorts of questions about you."

"Wait a moment." Harry stopped walking, his eyes narrowing. "You've been answering questions about me? What kind of 'questions' exactly?"

Cho frowned. "Harry, I didn't tell them anything private - I promise! Only what they could've found out from anyone in the DA. I refused to tell them about any of our... more personal business." Cho blushed and looked at the floor.

Harry breathed in deeply, trying to calm himself. "Cho, I would like to believe you, I really would. But you know how I feel about my privacy, and people spreading rumors about me. Especially when it comes to things like this." Harry saw Cho's embarrassed expression and grimaced. "Please don't start crying on me now."

Cho whipped her head up and glared angrily at Harry. "Don't you dare, Harry Potter! You're complaining about damaging your reputation, but did you ever think about what might have happened to mine? Suddenly I was the girl who broke the Boy-Who-Lived's heart. Never mind what really happened or that you started dating someone else. I spent my last time at Hogwarts completely alienated from everyone I thought were my friends. And being called a 'leaky hose' was the least of the insults and taunts thrown at me."

Harry winced. If he was truly honest with himself, Cho's words really hit home. Being ostracized for baseless rumors was not exactly unfamiliar to him. And yet, he couldn't help but ask a burning question. "Well, I'm sorry - I do know how that is. But I thought you had moved on. Weren't you going with Corner or someone?"

"Corner was just a complete arse and a mistake," Cho retorted. "He was trying to take advantage of me by pretending to be sympathetic and understanding. After I refused to shag him, he dumped me." Cho looked away, a furious expression on her face.

"So you didn't, then?" Harry asked, unable to help himself. "Wait, forget I said that! It just slipped out."

Cho shook her head and looked at Harry with a disappointed expression. "Well, you're hardly the first person to 'slip up' when asking questions about my dating history. Believe me, Harry, I've gotten far worse questions about you. And you think I just told them everything? Or lied to make myself look better?"

Harry considered this for a moment. "You should just have told them to bugger off," he said with a small smirk. "That's what Ron always said I should do."

Cho laughed. "Why, Harry, have you been spying on me?" She looked a bit surprised at herself and covered her mouth with a hand.

"Cho, we don't..." Harry trailed off as she met his gaze. "We don't need to be antagonistic here. Just be honest with me, that's really all I ask." He stepped closer and tentatively put his hand on her shoulder. "I apologize for insulting you; you know no harm was intended, right?"

Smiling, Cho shook her head and rubbed her hand down Harry's hand with a seemingly unconscious motion. "By this point, Harry, I don't think I could ever stay mad at you for long." She moved up next to Harry, her robes brushing against him.

Harry thought he could almost feel her rapid heartbeat, and he found his own breath coming quicker. He watched Cho bite her lower lip self-consciously, and became transfixed by the sudden wetness of her mouth. Cho closed her eyes and leaned forward. Harry met her lips with his own, a sudden searing warmth instantly spreading through his body.

He could feel the heat pass between them, and he ran his hands down Cho's back almost roughly. Cho moaned and began groping at Harry's robes in a frenzied motion. He responded by reacting almost primitively, pushing her against the wall, kissing her with intense passion.

A short blast of light interrupted their embrace, and a spell forced the two apart.

An older Asian man, whom Harry guessed was Cho's father stood nearby, a stony expression on his face.

Harry realized his unflattering circumstances, and quickly readjusted his askew robes. He looked at Mr. Chang's face and gulped.

"Father, is everyone here for the meeting now?" Cho asked suddenly.

Her father nodded once and motioned to a nearby open door. He looked meaningfully at Harry and cleared his throat.

Harry hastened inside the room, trying not to think about just getting caught snogging someone's daughter. He sat at the first open chair he found and closed his eyes, forcing himself to breath slowly, calming himself. After a minute, he opened his eyes and glanced around the room.

He was sitting at a large table, across from Beatrice Zabini and Ollivander. Mr. Chang walked in the room and sat next to the wandmaker. Cho followed soon after, taking a chair near the door.

Beatrice chuckled throatily, and smirked at Harry with a knowing expression.

Harry glared back, not particularly caring for smug expressions. Ollivander's completely blank face was a pleasant contrast, for once. Of course, Harry tried to keep from looking at Cho or her father at all. It seemed like it was the day for acting without thinking. Harry felt his face burn a bit as he recalled what he had been doing a minute earlier.

"Mr. Potter, are you comfortable?" Ollivander asked suddenly, jolting Harry from his thoughts.

"Um, yes," Harry stammered. "I'm fine."

Mrs. Zabini breathed in deeply and sighed. "Then I suppose we should start at the beginning, if that's all right with you, Mr. Potter?"

Harry nodded. "So you'll be spokeswoman for your group?" he asked.

Beatrice shrugged her shoulders. "For our purposes, that is good enough." She leaned forward, her eyes gleaming with excitement. "Mr. Potter, I know you have a thousand and one questions for us, but I would like to tell you a bit of history first. I think it will answer most of your queries, and if not, you can ask afterwards."

"Whatever you want," Harry replied dismissively. "To be quite honest, I just want some answers. If you want to bore me with a history lesson, go right ahead. I'll try not to fall asleep in class." A giggle came from the other end of the room, but Harry ignored it, keeping his eyes on Zabini.

"Excellent. I shall try to keep from impersonating Binns too much." Mrs. Zabini smiled. "I don't get to tell this story often, in case you couldn't tell."

Harry smiled slightly and shrugged.

"To understand our current situation, you need to understand a bit of our history. The war we now fight is very old, going back several thousand years."

Harry settled back in his surprisingly comfortable chair, content for the moment to listen to Zabini spin her tale.

"Back then, most magic folk lived all over the world; we didn't really have much of a community or any organized efforts. But as you might imagine, soon enough bastions of magical power arose, small communities at first, but soon growing into larger groups and incorporating many cities. Although the occasional lone witch or wizard might live alone in a tower surrounded by wilderness, most of our kind were drawn to the most civilized areas.

"The first magical community of any significance was in Egypt, although quite a few wizards lived elsewhere. Of course, Egypt was hardly primarily magic folk, the magicians were an entirely separate caste. Oddly enough, the Muggles essentially worshiped many of the highly powerful wizards of that region. Many magic folk desired their own cities, and eventually there were three other areas of high magic concentration. Avalon, in what became the British Isles, attracted those interested in highly focused and structured magic. Xanadu, in the heart of the Asian continent, a chaotic jumble of power and insanity that somehow managed to work. And Atlantis, the gem of the sea, the island said to be powered by the pure elemental forces of air and water.

"Naturally, the Egyptian magicians were hardly inconsequential, although their arts tended to fall in the realm of what is now called necromancy. Now, before you jump up in protest, I should note that necromancy is not necessarily evil in nature, merely because it focuses so highly on the strange powers of death. In fact, the Egyptians were said to be the first and best to determine ways to lengthen one's life and bolster one's health."

Harry frowned as he considered this bit of history. Could the Egyptians life and death magic be related to the Horcruxes? And more importantly, was there something there that explained why he had survived the death curse?

"The four magical communities were not enemies, and trading occasionally occurred between them. In those days, any communication or travel, even magical, was limited. Most traders spent decades traveling between the continents, spreading words of distant lands and exotic magical powers. But soon a discovery would be made that would change everything.

"The Egyptians were first, to no one's surprise, of course. But the others weren't too far behind. After all, such an exciting discovery, one that changed what everything believed about reality, spread like wildfire. However, in truth, we were shortsighted. With all the wonder and excitement about the discovery, no one took enough notice of the potential dangers of using what we found."

"But what was the discovery?" Harry blurted out.

Mrs. Zabini looked back at Harry grimly. "That reality is, essentially, a lie. Not that it is false, far from it. But they discovered the very nature of what reality is, and how it is put together. The world we see and interact with is in fact not the true nature of things. Our perception of reality is our limitation; we see only what we are able to see. Harry, our reality is in fact something wonderful and terrible. It is the sum total of countless sub-realities, each different, each a key but vital part of the total."

"Wait... what?" Harry asked in confusion. "Our reality is the sum of other realities? What the hell does that mean?"

Beatrice looked over at Mr. Ollivander.

"Mr. Potter, think of it like a puzzle," Ollivander said. "The puzzle exists as the sum of many different unique, albeit similar, parts. Each part looks different, but when put together, they form one specific picture. That is the image we see, the 'complete' reality, if you will. For the most part, we are incapable of seeing those individual sub-realities that make up the whole."

Harry scratched his chin thoughtfully. "So, what do these sub-realities look like, if could see them?"

"Actually, most would look just like our world," Ollivander answered. "Of course, with quite minor to very significant differences. Each of us exists multiple times over many sub-realities, or 'dimensions', as we now call them. Every bit of your life and personality has its own dimension, but added all together, they form the world we all normally view."

"Okay," Harry said slowly. "So reality is an exceptionally complicated version of a puzzle, and all elements of the reality we see are actually these 'dimensions' you mentioned. And why does that matter? Can these dimensions be manipulated at all?"

"That's the key area of concern, Mr. Potter," Beatrice said. "It's because it is very possible indeed to manipulate those dimensions that the problems all started. Imagine that you can potentially eliminate a troubling part of someone's personality, or alter the magic holding together the wards of an ancient vault. All is possible if you can find the appropriate dimension. You could even hide valued treasures or hold secret conversations if you can limit your perceptions to only one specific dimension."

"Is that where we are now? In some random sub-reality?" Harry chuckled. "And here I thought it was just some place under the Fidelius."

Mrs. Zabini smirked. "You have the right of it, Mr. Potter. We couldn't just show you how we brought you here, because that might have been perceived by the ones monitoring you. But like I mentioned, such powerful magic is difficult and dangerous to use." She shook her head sadly. "More than once, people have been simply wiped out of existence, or made into complete Squibs by those abusing this wondrous truth of existence."

Harry wasn't sure how 'wondrous' this discovery was, but he didn't think voicing his potential objections would be wise at that point.

"But in any event, I shall continue. Each of the four communities continued their studies, discovering more every year. A new discovery might grant unspeakable power. But it wasn't long before the great tragedy occurred. It was the Egyptians, manipulating their own components of reality, that somehow managed to destroy their entire magical civilization. They left nothing behind but their centuries of books, artifacts, and of course, the occasional mummified criminal or two. All their magical people were simply gone, and no one there remembered anything about it. And those old relics and spells were extremely well hidden and protected; more are being discovered every year in excavations.

"Everyone was frightened then, the potential for such destruction, enough to wipe out all magical people in an entire country? It was unprecedented, even if no one was quite sure how they had managed to erase themselves. Naturally, each group completely disagreed on the proper approach. The Atlanteans believed that the separated dimensions presented an incredible danger, and thought everything should be merged into one singular reality, eliminating the temptation and potential for disruption. Xanadu, as could be expected from such chaotic folk, supported the idea that all the dimensions must break apart and become their own individual realities, unable to interact with any others.

"Finally, the people of Avalon believed in maintaining the balance that was already there, and that balance must be kept at all costs. As you can tell, these disparate views could not be more different. Vicious battles erupted between the groups, their frantic research only superseded by the intense desire to win. Merging, splitting, maintaining. It was only a matter of time before someone went too far. And that is how, in what we consider one of the greatest and most horrible efforts of those conflicts, the elemental force of air-over-water keeping Atlantis magically afloat was completely subverted. Altered, essentially, by manipulating one specific set of sub-realities."

Harry blinked. "Wait, you're saying Atlantis really was an island? And it sank? I thought that was just a myth."

Ollivander nodded. "Coming from a Muggle background, you'd be surprised how many ancient myths were based on fact. The destruction of Atlantis was a massive historical event, although the Muggles were not aware of the true extent of the destruction. The Atlanteans could tell that their magical support systems were about to fail, and nearly every citizen was evacuated to the continent."

"The refugees spread all over the world, really," Beatrice said with a shrug. "And stories of the struggle and its aftermath eventually spread to the Muggles. However, most settled in Avalon, retaining for the most part their original beliefs. Now it was even worse, with two completely disagreeing groups settling in the same community. The calamity of Atlantis was horrific in scope, and the war cooled down. But it never vanished; instead it was fought by the remaining radicals in the shadows."

Mrs. Zabini smirked at Harry. "That's how things went for centuries, keeping behind the scenes, gathering power, recruiting the trusted and talented. New magical institutions sprung up, schools and libraries, with organized governments following soon after. Young communities grew over the world, none aware of the forces who worked behind the scenes, hiding their ancient spells, research, and artifacts that could potentially change reality itself.

"And so we arrive in our own century. Near to the start of the century, as far as we can tell, two entirely new factions arose, completely unaware of our ancient struggle. These factions were founded by brilliant and genius wizards who helped rediscover this ancient secret of reality. So now we have six groups in total, but only the four derived from the original groups are aware of all the players."

She sighed ruefully. "I should interrupt her to admit that each faction is fairly self-aggrandizing, even in their names. But even so, they represent exceptional power and resources. The original groups from Avalon and Atlantis maintained their beliefs, for the most part. Avalon became the Sustainers of the Scales, those who desired to maintain the precious balance between dimensions. Atlantis, who desired the merging of everything, became the Vita Tribuo. And Xanadu split into two: the Order of the Twin Ideals, who desired to break all dimensions apart, and the Circle of Attainment, who are, to be quite frank, quite chaotic and confusing. Our intelligence seems to indicate that the Circle wants complete chaos, although we don't really understand what that means."

Harry chuckled despite himself. "The Order? The Circle? I see what you mean about self-important titles. Did these two newer factions use similarly ridiculous names? Or did they accidentally use the same secret group titles?"

Mr. Chang harrumphed and rolled his eyes.

"You could say that, Mr. Potter," Mrs. Zabini returned. "One group called themselves the Deciders, the Power over Chaos. And the other is called the Shadows, supporting their doctrine of Regenesis from Chaos."

"Wait, wait." Harry held up his hands in protest. "If these factions are as vicious enemies as you say, and the new people don't even know about you, how could you possibly know so much about them?"

Ollivander shook his head. "Just like they monitored you, Mr. Potter, we have the ability to monitor them. Although our methods are quite a bit more subtle and difficult to detect, of course."

Harry sighed. "So let me guess... putting together everything you've said, you guys must be these 'Sustainers', right? Dedicated to maintaining the balance of reality?"

Mrs. Zabini clapped slowly, an amused expression on her face. "Well done, Mr. Potter. We are indeed the Sustainers, who protect the foundation of reality. Every other faction seeks to change things, as if they know better than how reality should be? Surely that makes sense to you, Mr. Potter? Even with our somewhat underhanded methods in bringing you here, does our position not make the most sense?"

Harry felt the beginnings of a headache and rubbed his temples. "Yes, in theory that makes sense," he said. "But if one of the other factions kidnapped me, they might've been able to explain things in a logical way too. How do I know your version is the most valid one?"

Mrs. Zabini sighed and leaned back in her chair. "Unfortunately, you are quite right Mr. Potter. We don't have any explicit way to prove that we are correct. All we can ask is that you examine the facts and decide for yourself. There is a reason we brought you here, after all."

"Of course there is," Harry retorted, rolling his eyes. "And what might that reason be, exactly?"

Ollivander looked carefully at Harry. "Mr. Potter, do you know what a Horcrux is?"

Harry blanched. "What? What... what are you talking about?"

"No need to be evasive, Mr. Potter." Ollivander blinked. "We are aware that Headmaster Dumbledore spoke to you about them. But there is an area of concern that I do not think you are aware of."

Harry groaned. "Fine, let me guess, it has something to do with this reality puzzle business?"

"I'm afraid so," Ollivander said. "A Horcrux does not split one's soul, as is commonly believed. Instead, it splits your magical essence over the dimensions of reality. The creation of a Horcrux leaves a bit of your magic behind in one of the dimensions containing a part of you, but then severs that connection. If our intelligence is correct, Voldemort created at least six Horcruxes."

"I suppose anything's possible," Harry said evasively.

Ollivander raised an eyebrow. "Indeed, Mr. Potter. You see, what Voldemort could not have known, was that this true nature of Horcruxes breaks apart the elements of yourself and spreads them over the dimensions of reality. This has caused an exponential increase in instability over the dimensions, affecting our primary reality as well. We have been unable to even access most sub-realities anymore, only the ones we have already created strong connections to, such as here, are still accessible."

"What Mr. Ollivander is saying," Mrs. Zabini interjected. "Is that we cannot find the Horcruxes to destroy them. As far as we know, only one was successfully destroyed, by Dumbledore. And we think that in his effort, he fatally poisoned himself with dark and chaotic magic. And none of us is as powerful a wizard as Dumbledore."

"So, what are you saying?" Harry asked, getting an uneasy feeling.

"We're saying, Harry, that due to your connection with Voldemort, only you can shift to the sub-reality dimensions and collect the fragments of the Horcruxes to destroy them. Only you can save reality from destroying itself."

Harry groaned. Why was he not surprised?

Next time...

The monsters overrun those unprepared. And none are prepared.

Aseret HaMakot

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