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.
"Here, Ron, drink this." Bill handed a shivering Ron a warm mug of butterbeer.
Ron slurped it down quickly, letting the warmth spread over him. He sighed and looked at his older brother. "Bill, I don't know what to do. I'm confused."
Bill settled back in a nearby chair. He glanced around the attic, as if looking for something, then stopped with a shrug.
"Ron, just tell me what you remember. We can take it from there."
"It's - it's strange. I mean, I remember more than just this morning. I think I've been obliviated several times the past few years. I can't believe they did this to me."
"You can tell me about that later," Bill interjected. "First, let's take care of the Dark rune, okay?"
Ron nodded and sipped at his butterbeer. "It's mad, Bill. I walk into Ginny's room this morning, looking for the decorations she was supposed to make. Mum told me to look for her. But right after I found those decorations, I tripped on something and smashed into the wall. A hidden compartment, I think, popped open. I found this small box in there with that rune on it. I'll admit it, Bill; it kinda gave me a weird feeling."
Bill nodded and gestured for his brother to continue.
"I wrote down the mark on a piece of paper - I'm not sure why, exactly. I just had this feeling I needed to do something, but writing it down was all I could think of. You saw how I added the 'Ask Bill' bit. I guess I was thinking you were the expert on runes, you and Hermione, I suppose. Not to insult you or anything," Ron added hurriedly. "Hermione's bloody brilliant and studies all the time. I know she's studied runes before. That's basically where anything I've learned about runes has come from, Hermione jabbering about it while she's been studying."
Bill rolled his eyes. "I'm sure your friend is the latest incarnation of Ravenclaw herself, Ron. But you know, I sorta do this stuff for a living."
"I know, Bill!" Ron insisted. "But I might've asked her if she was here, she knows a lot."
"I really don't bloody care, Ron," Bill groaned. "Just finish telling me what happened."
"Right, of course, Bill." Ron slurped down the remainder of his drink in an effort to calm down. "And right then, Ginny appears, catching me in her room. She's angry at first, and then she looks at me with this freaky blank face. I try to apologize, but bam! She obliviates me. I would've ducked or something, but I wasn't rightly expecting my little sister to attack me!"
"Hmm." Bill rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, as far I can figure out from that, we have two possibilities. Either it was Ginny, or it wasn't."
"Huh?" Ron asked in utter befuddlement. "What, you don't think it was really her? Who else could it be?"
Bill shrugged. "Could be someone under Polyjuice, or some sort of illusion to trick you. On the other hand, if it was really Ginny, then the possibilities are just as bad. She might be under Imperius, possessed by someone or something, or worse, actually cognizant of what she was doing."
"Cognizant, Ron. It means aware. Suppose that Hermione would've known that, eh?" Bill smirked at Ron. But his expression quickly fell, and Bill frowned. "I guess we'll have to find out for sure before we do anything. I've got some potions stashed that will help. Don't tell anyone I have them. They weren't obtained through what would be considered legal channels."
Ron shook his head rapidly. "I won't say anything to anyone, Bill! I don't want the Ministry arresting you for helping me out. But these potions - what can they do?"
Bill's eyes shifted and he got up from his comfortable chair. He started pacing back and forth in the attic. "One is a revealing potion, Ministry controlled. The Ministry uses it to break illusion enchantments. It'll revert someone under Polyjuice, for example, to their true form. I've got another potion that I can use to determine if Ginny's possessed or being directed under Imperius. I can easily lace her food with it; I've got a few tricks up my sleeve."
Ron blinked in surprise. "Really? That sounds like something Fred or George might do."
Bill chuckled and he grinned. "Where do you think they first learned it?"
"I guess that's not a complete surprise," Ron said with a laugh. "Mum would probably kill you if she found out they learned anything from you."
"Well, I'll kill you if you slip up and tell her," Bill replied with a dark smile.
Ron gulped at this, not quite sure how serious Bill had meant that remark.
"I can cast the spells I need remotely. Probably need to use the Informative Explication adjustment on some standard enchanted Reception Scrolls," Bill muttered to himself. "Then I can use the potion sample to force automatic entry of any suspicious spells. Once it's applied, I'll get the updates I need to know for sure what's going on."
"Uh, Bill," Ron said, trying to get his brother's attention. "I don't have any idea what you're talking about. And don't you want to know the other times I've been obliviated? It was more than once!"
"Not now, Ron," Bill answered with a dismissive wave. "I need to get these spells and potions set up before Mum starts preparing supper. I think I remember her saying that we're eating with Fleur's family about six or so. That's only four hours from now."
"But, Bill..." Ron whined in annoyance. "Who else am I gonna tell about this? Let me at least tell who else obliviated me. It was-"
Bill held up a hand. "I said not now, Ron. You can stay up here if you like, but I've get to get started." He opened the attic door and left the attic, leaving Ron to stew by himself.
"Bloody Bill and his stupid 'potions'," Ron muttered angrily. "If he doesn't want to listen, fine. I'll just hide up here until he's done. Better than being asked to help out, anyway."
Ron sat back, clutching his empty mug. He looked out the attic window and frowned, hoping he hadn't forgotten anything else. Nah - what were the odds of that?
CHAPTER 4: BEASTS
Harry drummed his fingers on the table and glared at the gathered "Sustainers" sitting across from him. It seemed like this was yet another thing thrown at him. These Sustainers kidnapped him, knocking him out, insisted on secret after secret, and now he was supposed to be their hero? "So I've got to find these Horcruxes which are spread over the sub-dimensions of reality," he said with a slow drawl. "Then gather them all? And then destroy them?"
"Well, that's half of it," Mrs. Zabini said with a thoughtful expression. "You'll need to gather the ones in the standard, or 'combined' reality as well, so they can all be banished at the same time. But we can help you with that part, Harry. We've already been looking at potential hiding places, and we'll probably have them all scouted out by the time you finished gathering the Horcrux fragments."
"Fantastic," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "I'll find the missing Horcruxes, of which we don't have any idea where they are, even in the combined reality, and of course the 'fragment' Horcruxes, which are also Merlin-knows-where. I don't suppose you have any way to help me, or maybe point a finger in some general direction?"
"Harry, you don't have to be rude," Cho said suddenly from the corner. "They have a few ways to help you search. It's not like you'll be just running out on your own."
Harry's eyes narrowed as he looked back at Cho, wondering if the Sustainers had compromised her in some way. Had they tricked her into doing something she didn't want, or was she a willing participant? "Oh, is that right? And I guess you're volunteering to help out? Going to help me find them? Awfully convenient that we just happened to meet here, isn't it?"
Cho frowned and looked back at Harry angrily. "I don't know what you're implying, Harry, but we're on the same side here. And they're not letting me go with you at all. Something about it looking suspicious that we're suddenly together after we broke up."
"Great!" Harry said with obviously false cheer. "So what else did you actually tell them, then? Maybe Marietta wasn't the only 'sneak', eh?"
Cho stood up with an abrupt motion, a furious expression on her face. "Watch your mouth, Harry Potter! I don't know what's gotten into you, but you've gone too far!"
"Have I?" Harry asked sarcastically. "You know, I haven't forgotten how you took her side. How do I know you're not taking your little group's side over me?"
Cho clenched her fists and stalked over to Harry. "I didn't bloody tell them anything, Harry," she growled. Cho exhaled loudly and glared at him.
"And let me tell you something, they asked some extremely personal questions. Said it was my 'responsibility' to answer honestly and completely. And yet, I kept my mouth shut. Maybe I shouldn't have been so bloody respectful of your privacy!"
"Miss Chang." Beatrice cleared her throat loudly. "Please take your seat. I think I understand Harry's perspective here."
Harry turned his glare to the older woman. "Really? Do you? Did you really try to force her to tell secrets about me?"
Mrs. Zabini shrugged. "I couldn't say for certain, as I wasn't the one who asked her anything. But it wouldn't surprise me, it's standard procedure. And as much intelligence as we have been able to gather, we are quite aware that there's always more hidden. Perhaps if we had known more, Dumbledore might not have died."
"What?" Harry yelled. "Are you saying that because Cho didn't tell you details about our relationship, Dumbledore had to die? What the bloody hell is wrong with you?"
"Calm down, Mr. Potter," Mrs. Zabini said softly, her dark eyes flashing. "We didn't care about your kissing habits, or anything so irrelevant. But we were hoping to find out more about you, and your connection to the Horcruxes, if any. It wasn't until much later that we found out anything significant."
"Wait a minute," Harry said, thinking of something. "Was Dumbledore part of your organization? That doesn't seem like him."
"He wasn't part of our group," Ollivander replied. "But he did occasionally help us out when our paths met. In this case, we were both interested in stopping Voldemort and destroying his Horcruxes. Unfortunately, he retrieved one of them by himself, without asking for any assistance first. If he had, we probably could have provided help in destroying it."
Harry glanced over at Cho, who retaken her original chair. She looked at him sadly, looking like she was trying to hold in her emotions. Harry sighed, feeling a bit abashed at his rash behavior. It didn't seem quite fair to blame Cho for the actions of a group she was affiliated with because of her family.
But although much of what the "Sustainers" were saying seemed to make sense, Harry couldn't be sure how much was true and what was intended to manipulate him.
Perhaps it would be best if he went along with things for now, getting a better handle on what they were really all about. Once he had left their hidden sub-dimension and had some time to think, Harry decided he would consider all his options. He'd probably end up looking for the Horcruxes anyway. After all, there was no question that Voldemort was trying to kill him, and to defeat Voldemort, Harry was willing to go along with the Sustainers - for now.
But in the meantime, perhaps a bit of misdirection was in order.
"I apologize for my unseemly outburst," Harry said in his most sincere voice. It seemed to work, as Mrs. Zabini visibly relaxed, and her eyes no longer glinted quite so dangerously. "But you can understand my position, right? It's a lot to process, hearing that I alone am responsible for keeping reality alive. I'd like to ask you a question or two, if I may. I think that will help alleviate a few of my concerns."
Cho looked at Harry with an odd expression, but then smiled slightly, looking satisfied with something.
"Of course, Harry," Mrs. Zabini said smoothly. "Please, ask us whatever you want."
Harry put on an inquisitive face. Internally, he felt amused at himself. The chance for such theatrics were so rare, Harry hadn't realized how much fun manipulating others could be. He felt a sudden respect for Dumbledore and his various machinations.
"Madam Zabini, you had mentioned, I think, that this 'wondrous' discovery was rediscovered at the beginning of the century by two wizards, each of who formed their own secret alliance. I don't suppose you know who they are, by any chance?"
"You may be surprised to hear this, but we have a fairly good idea." Mrs. Zabini smiled brilliantly at Harry. "And please, call me Beatrice."
"Beatrice, then," Harry said in his most charming voice. "Please tell me who these brilliant wizards or witches were."
"One was a young man named Gellert Grindelwald..." Beatrice stopped and glanced at Ollivander. "Mr. Ollivander, you know this story better than most. Perhaps you could tell it?"
Ollivander nodded in response. "Of course, Mrs. Zabini." The wandmaker turned to Harry.
"Mr. Potter, the man who called himself Gellert Grindelwald was using actually using a pseudonym for his last name, hardly an unfamiliar tactic for those hiding their Dark inclinations. Of course, Grindelwald at least kept his first name, unlike Tom Riddle."
Harry started. "You know who he really is? I thought it was a secret."
Mrs. Zabini chuckled. "A secret that he has tried to hide from most others, perhaps. But our organization has been around for years, it was not exactly difficult for people at the time to realize that this person calling himself 'Voldemort' was the brilliant Slytherin from Hogwarts. And we had informants with the Death Eaters at the time, which is one of the ways we were able to discover much about him."
Harry shook his head ruefully. "Wow, so you must've had people spying all over the place. I heard that Riddle was an apprentice of Grindelwald's. Was that true?"
Ollivander shook his head. "No, that particular rumor is untrue, Mr. Potter. He had not graduated from Hogwarts for long before Grindelwald had been defeated. All of his followers had been recruited years before that." He paused and looked over at Harry with an inscrutable expression.
"Grindelwald was not actually the leader of a faction; they actually used his research and his resources to help their own cause. When he found out, of course, he was furious, but by then it was too late. It was soon after when he was defeated by Headmaster Dumbledore."
"How interesting," Harry remarked mildly, his mind racing furiously. "So Grindelwald found out about the truth of reality. Has anything been found of his research?"
"Unfortunately, it is primarily in the hands of the 'Shadows' group, the one I spoke of earlier," Mrs. Zabini said. "He was a brilliant man, if one of extremely Dark persuasion. Most of the Shadows group's advancement comes primarily from Grindelwald's studies. I should mention, Harry, if you find anything during your Horcrux search, any artifacts or spells of Grindelwald, be extremely careful. We don't know how far he came in his personal research. Make sure you give us anything suspicious, we'll know how to handle them."
Harry nodded, clearly remembering the mysteriously written diary of Grindelwald. Was it possible that it had intentionally been badly written, mainly to fool people into ignoring it? Harry decided to keep his possession of the journal a secret for now, as he didn't exactly want to give it up. "I'll be sure to do that, Beatrice. But what are the odds I'll find anything? I mean, Grindelwald never created any Horcruxes, did he?"
"Not as far as we know," Ollivander answered. "But even if he did, one person creating a Horcrux is only a relatively minor disruption of reality, in the long term. The six Horcruxes that Voldemort created each caused an exponential increase in instability. We believe that someone from one of the other groups influenced his decisions, perhaps showing him books on Horcruxes that explained its Dark elements without mention of anything about reality manipulation."
"Right," Harry said with another nod. "I guess that makes sense. If they're trying to disrupt things, this would be the perfect plan. Of course, the downside is all the people he's killed, but that wouldn't matter to them, would it?"
Mrs. Zabini nodded solemnly. "The achievement of their goal would be justified, even through the horrific means. The instability has been so rapid, we were completely unprepared for how fast things grew worse and worse. No one could have possibly imagined that anyone would attempt to create so many Horcruxes, and certainly not within such a relatively short amount of time."
"Let me ask you a question, before I forget," Harry began, a vague memory surfacing. "Could the difference between realities be as simple as whom I'm dating? Or is it deeper, like which house I'm in?"
"Both, really," Mrs. Zabini replied. "We tend to think of the set of sub-dimensions as a bit like a circle. Moving east or west from the combined or 'primary' view of reality, you begin to break apart into the base elements of existence. At first, the realities will appear much like the primary one, except for key differences that reflect elements of your life or personality, such as who you are married to. As you move farther down the line, in either direction, you begin to see differences like your house at Hogwarts, which reflects elements of your personality."
She paused and smirked. "Of course, if it is not within your personality to potentially be married to several different women, those sub-dimensions would not exist, for you anyway. And of course, then there is the most dangerous element of all: life and death."
Harry blinked. "What exactly do you mean by that? Are you talking about some sort of Dark magic?"
Mrs. Zabini shook her head in a rapid motion. "No, that's not what I was referring to, Harry. I meant that within the enormous set of sub-dimensions, there will be those in which you have died. Only the combination of all your aspects is the one we see in the primary reality view. Someone may have been killed or erased partially, but not completely. In fact, many of our ancient battles have only been fought in these sub-dimensions, where each death didn't eliminate a person completely, but only one aspect of them."
Harry frowned. "But what if that aspect is their ability to use magic? Would they become Squibs or worse in the primary reality?"
Ollivander nodded. "Precisely correct, Mr. Potter. Such practices are dangerous and terrible in scope, but they are not unheard of. Of course, with the current instability of reality, such actions are not available to any of the groups, for good or naught."
Harry swallowed, suddenly remembering an image of vanishing from existence. If it wasn't just a dream or idle memory, which aspect of him had disappeared? As he thought about it, more details emerged from his fragmented recollection, and he remembered something about sitting with different girls at the same table. The only thing he could now clearly recall was that it had been right after reading Grindelwald's diary. Could the brilliant Dark wizard have somehow put a spell into the pages of the journal itself? A spell that allowed Harry, in some limited way, to see into the sub-dimensions of his reality?
Whatever that journal might be or represent, Harry was suddenly quite glad it was safe at the Dursleys with the rest of his things. He made a mental note to retrieve it as soon as possible once he had left this 'private' sub-dimension of the Sustainers.
But that thought raised another important question.
"Well, now that you mention it, with the instability of reality and all, how will I be able to shift between realities? I mean, if you guys can't move between them, how could I?"
Mrs. Zabini nodded to Mr. Chang, who stood abruptly and walked out of the room.
"Harry, we have a secret magical device, one that can be used to shift between realities. Remember, the key is that you are always you; it is merely your perceptions that change. Ah, here we are." Beatrice took a small wooden box from the returning Mr. Chang. "Mr. Ollivander, if you will?"
Ollivander removed a hidden key from somewhere and unlocked the box. He removed a small but elegant bracelet from the box and handed it to Mrs. Zabini.
Mrs. Zabini leaned forward, allowing Harry to get a better look. The bracelet looked to be made out of brass-like material, and it was overlaid with white, pale gems in a complete circle. A small figure of an angry dog's head protruded from the edge of the bracelet, reminding Harry quite a bit of Sirius' Animagus form.
"Go ahead, Harry, put it on," Mrs. Zabini said, proffering the mysterious bracelet. "It's safe."
Cautiously, Harry accepted the bracelet and carefully slid it onto his left wrist. Almost instantly, the top three gems burst into a visible yellow light, while the two gems surrounding them on each side all glowed bright green. Several more gems lit up slightly, while the rest remained the same appearance. The exception was a single blue gem a few to the right.
"So what do the different lights mean?" Harry asked, feeling it to be the appropriately obvious question.
"The top three yellow lights represent the primary reality view." Mrs. Zabini pointed her hand up. "They are the three 'high-level' realities that are always merged, never apart. Those three together represent what we have been calling the 'primary' reality, the ones that contain everything else. The four green ones, two on each side, are the two east and two west sub-dimensions that are the most stable. Those are ones we can still access, even now.
"The blue gem you've noticed is where you are right now. All the lights that are lit indicate ones stable enough at the moment for you to shift to. You probably noticed it didn't light up at all until you put it on. Like we've said already, that is because it has been specifically keyed to work with you alone."
"So how do I move between them?" Harry asked. "And why can't anyone else use this bracelet?"
Mrs. Zabini pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Harry, you know how to apparate, correct?"
"Well, then, recall that it requires a bit of Will to work. Essentially, the bracelet works the same way. You press the desired location, indicated by the gem, and will yourself there. I think you'll be able to figure it out. Try it a bit with the more stable ones first to practice, but I think you'll get the idea." Beatrice frowned and looked Harry in the eye. "As to your other question, a quite valid one certainly, the answer is that it is your connection to Voldemort, and therefore his Horcruxes, that allows you greater access to the many sub-dimensions. We have added an additional spell to the bracelet to show you where the Horcruxes will be. If a gem lights up bright red, it means a sub-dimension with a Horcrux can be accessed by you. For us, no gems would ever be red."
Harry sighed and rotated his wrist, looking over the entire bracelet. "Hey, there are only fifteen or so gems here. That can't possibly be how many sub-dimensions there are, can there? Seems an awfully low number."
"Not in the slightest, Mr. Potter," Ollivander remarked. "But as your position changes, the gems will shift as well. But be forewarned - the further you shift, the more dangerous and different the sub-dimensions will be. We can only wonder how they may appear to you."
Harry felt his pulse quicken, and he grew excited. He attempted to keep his voice steady. Finally, a chance to escape! "It sounds like you've told me everything I need to know, right?"
"Well, for the most part," Mrs. Zabini said cautiously. "But there are a few other things we could talk about. We never finished that story about Grindelwald and Dumbledore."
"Oh, I'm sure you can tell me the rest later," Harry said dismissively, standing up suddenly. "I assume I can come back if I need any help? And after I get the Horcruxes?" He added as an afterthought.
"Very well," Mrs. Zabini said, looking apprehensive. "Harry, you don't need to rush into this! But, well, if you must go, please don't forget where we are, the position of the gem, I mean. If you shift there and go to Ollivander's, we'll find you."
"Sounds like a plan," Harry replied with a grin. He glanced around the room quickly. Ollivander looked back, a blank expression on his face as always. Beatrice appeared worried, while Mr. Chang merely looked annoyed, seemingly his default expression. And Cho smiled slightly, looking highly amused.
Harry decided that enough was enough. Dumbledore had been right in his original letter the entire time, he decided. This was just another group looking to control and take advantage of him. Well, if they made the mistake of giving him a way out too early, he wasn't going to let them take it back without a fight. He looked at the bracelet and focused on the three yellow gems, brushing his fingers across them. Thinking over what Mrs. Zabini had explained, Harry considered what he would need to do to activate the magical bracelet. Without realizing it, he suddenly knew exactly how.
Harry took a deep breath and pushed his Will at the gems. Suddenly, faster than he could blink, he was gone.
Courage without conscience is a wild beast - Robert Ingersoll
Dinner at the Burrow was always an event, even when the Weasleys had been a married couple with no children. Arthur had always been a very hard worker, and his work ethic had always impressed his wife. Molly had always been attracted to the resilience and good humor of her husband, but had constantly worried about living up to his expectations. Naturally, Arthur didn't particularly care one way or the other, but Molly had always been more than a bit neurotic in more ways than one.
So Molly responded the only way she knew how: by putting all her energy into creating the "perfect" home for her family. A job would be too difficult, and would get in the way of raising children and keeping order in her household.
She used the old cooking charms she had learned from her mother (which she had hated at the time), and managed to become more efficient than the average house elf at cooking large meals and cleaning her small house. She would never come close to the magnificent efficiency of the Hogwarts elves, but it was always something for Molly to endlessly strive for.
Arthur, not really understanding the scope of his wife's obsession, reacted normally, always being complimentary, always helping out whenever he could. And yet, he was always surprised when Molly regularly refused his help, telling him he needed the break from his rigorous work schedule. Of course, this was often true, but Molly's true motivation was that she felt the intense desire to prove herself worthy to her husband, who always remained completely oblivious, and frankly thought Molly seemed to work too hard.
There was a reason Percy had been so obsessed with working hard, with two parents who valued it so highly.
Of course, the current spread of sumptuous cuisine which the Weasleys shared with the Delacours was even more lavish than the typical Weasley feast. Fleur's mother Apolline was obsessed and determined to make a good impression as well, albeit for slightly different reasons than Mrs. Weasley.
Growing up half-veela, Apolline hated her heritage and the easy advantages it seemed to provide, as she could easily see the shallowness behind it. She yearned to show that she was more than the beautiful and enchanting half-veela everyone seemed to see.
She studied and pushed herself to her limit, becoming quite a talented witch in her own right, an example that Fleur would emulate for exactly the same reasons. Apolline loved her husband because of his easygoing and friendly nature, and the fact that he truly didn't seem to care about her heritage. But still, she had to show that she, more than others, was the perfect guest, and had nothing of the monstrous veela power she feared everyone suspected of her.
Perhaps it was foolish to sublimate such a key aspect of her, but Apolline still yearned to impress, and new in-laws were the perfect targets. So she and Mrs. Weasley ended up collaborating to create a sheer quantity and quality of food that even their ravenous families could not hope to finish.
But perhaps this wasn't helped by the fact that two who normally had the largest appetites barely ate anything at all. Bill ate nervously, constantly watching his sister for anything suspicious and becoming increasingly worried as nothing seemed to change. He was able to easily pass off the nervousness as worrying about impressing Fleur's parents, and Fleur was too distracted talking with her family to notice Bill picking at his food.
He waited and worried, hoping that his prepared recording spell would have the answers he needed. But as he waited, he considered another worrisome thought, one he had not shared with Ron. There was also the possibility, albeit slim, that Ron himself was someone else, so Bill had drugged his younger brother's food as well.
Ron hadn't eaten much of his food, looking quite nervous, but he had eaten enough that any glamours or similar spells should have revealed themselves.
For his part, Ron felt oddly like he couldn't eat another bite, something he could never remember experiencing. At first, he avoided looking at Ginny, but then wondered if that looked too suspicious, and started looking around the table in the most casual manner he could manage. As far as he could tell, Ginny didn't suspect anything was amiss, at least Ron hoped as much.
He could scarcely wait until Bill would tell him the results of his incomprehensible spell.
The rest of the meal passed in a blur, and before he knew it, Ron was up in his room, staring at his bright orange wall. It didn't seem quite fair that he had been obliviated more than once, that type of thing was fine for Muggles, but this had just been malicious.
Cursing under his breath, Ron fell back into his bed, exhausted from a stressful day. He hoped Bill would find something soon. Ron yawned and stretched. Maybe he would just rest his eyes, only for a minute.
In the attic, Bill looked over the results of his monitoring charm. He had complained of a headache and mentioned he had a pain relieving potion upstairs. Still busy with her setting up wedding even at this late hour, Fleur had readily accepted the excuse.
Bill frowned as he scanned the document. It displayed the results of his charm, updated automatically, similar in theory to the self-dictating quills. This variation displayed the results of a hidden diagnostic charm Bill can cast on Ginny.
"This couldn't possibly be right," Bill murmured. "Damn it, this is trouble."
And throughout the entire land of Egypt, the land was destroyed because of the swarms of wild beasts.
It was sensation akin in many ways to apparition, at least at first. Harry felt as though he had been compressed through a small space, smashed in on all sides. But then he had the oddest sensation of falling asleep, the world around him fading to darkness. The images of a dreamscape flashed before him, but in an instant, it was as though he had awoken from the deepest of sleeping. He thought he felt himself opening his eyes involuntarily, to see the familiar vision of Ollivander's wandmaking shop.
It all seemed to happen in a mere moment.
Shaking his head to clear it, Harry cautiously looked around. There was no obvious evidence of his recent kidnapping, and no one seemed to be hiding behind any of the many empty shelves. It was odd, Harry thought to himself. Throughout his 'interview' with the Sustainers, Harry had constantly been thinking that there was more to the story, and he could never tell what they weren't telling him.
And yet, the bracelet radiated with a power that Harry could easily feel; it seemed to resonate with his very being. The power of the mysterious artifact seemed obvious and clear to Harry; he knew it would work as he desired, at a level he could only begin to articulate. But much of what he had already experienced in a few hours was confusing to a severe degree.
Harry stepped outside and glanced up at the sun. It hung low in the sky; evening was rapidly approaching. Harry shook his in disbelief. He could hardly believe so much had changed only a day after his birthday, in fact, his mind boggled at the sheer ridiculousness of what had happened in a single day. Studying Runes, sending messages to the Order and his friends, visiting Slughorn... well, that had really started everything off right quick, hadn't it?
Wait... it was still the same day, wasn't it? Harry realized he couldn't be sure; it wasn't clear how long he had been unconscious. Harry quickly approached a nearby Auror on patrol and cleared his throat. The Auror looked back in annoyance, only to start when he noticed who it was.
"Listen, I'm not in trouble or anything," Harry said quickly. "I just want to know the date - it's important!"
"Um, it's August 1st, Mr. Potter," the Auror answered nervously. "Are you sure everything's all right?"
Harry signed in relief and shook his head. "No, that's exactly what I wanted to hear. Sorry to bother you, it's just been a long day, you understand."
The Auror smiled brightly. "Not at all, Mr. Potter. It was a pleasure to meet you. I'm Auror Herbert Lightfoot, I've heard a lot about you." Lightfoot extended a hand to Harry, who shook it with a grin.
"I'm sure you have, Herbert," Harry winked. "But as you probably also heard, I've got quite a bit on my plate, so I'm afraid I must get going. Have a good evening, Auror Lightfoot."
The Auror grinned and straightened his uniform. "Same to you, Mr. Potter."
As he walked down the road, Harry reflected on his brief encounter with the authorities. So it was still the same day, and yet, it seemed like the morning of practicing runic realignment was miles away. Harry wondered what the most effective test of his new bracelet might be; perhaps Zabini hadn't been mistaken in her suggestion to try the "stable" green gems.
Harry shrugged. It seemed as good an idea as any. He touched one of the glowing green gems and extended his Will. The sudden shift was almost unexpected, but after a moment, it was done. The scene had completely changed... he wasn't in Diagon Alley anymore. But it looked familiar... With a start, Harry realized he was now sitting in the Leaky Cauldron. He shook his head to clear it of the disoriented sensations.
"Harry, are you all right there?"
Harry's eyes widened as realized he had missed noticing his immediate surroundings. Parvati Patil sat next to him at the table, sitting across from Neville and Luna. Parvati put her hand on Harry's and looked pensive.
"Harry, what's wrong? You look almost drunk!" Parvati giggled after she said this.
Neville snorted. "You tease him too much, Parvati."
Harry whipped his head back at Neville, his mouth dropped open. What the...?
Neville blinked and leaned back in surprise. "What's wrong, Harry? You're not expecting us to start in, are you?"
Luna blinked and tilted her head. "You shouldn't be so shocked, Harry. It's not like Neville and I are a couple like you two." As usual, Luna had been shockingly perceptive.
A... couple? The words bounced around in Harry's head for a minute. Steeling himself, Harry forced himself to grin. He hadn't realized that shifting to sub-dimensions would be so jarring. What else could be different?
"So, um, now that I'm thinking about it..." Harry looked up at his friends and his apparent girlfriend. "Where are your significant others, anyway?" Harry held his breath, hoping that he shouldn't have already known this.
Neville frowned, drumming his fingers on the table. "Well, Ron's with his family for the meal with Fleur's folks, remember? And I think Hermione's at home with her parents, at least I assume so."
Harry kept himself from starting with only an enormous amount of will. Neville and Hermione? Ron and LUNA? The sheer impossibility of it seemed almost crazier than the complicated stories from the Sustainers. And yet, the obvious differences seemed to support what they had said, at least in part.
So some aspect of himself was dating Parvati; that didn't seem so unbelievable, even considering their disastrous Yule date. And Neville had certainly always seemed to have a crush on Hermione - maybe she had a small part of herself that liked him back. Luna, well, who could really predict who she was attracted to?
Although as he considered it, Harry was able to recall a few odd moments when Luna had seemed to be flirting with Ron. Maybe she liked the prat? And Ron... Well, Harry supposed Ron would date anyone who was interested and attractive enough. And since Hermione was taken, and perhaps so was Lavender, Luna probably seemed a reasonable alternative to Ron's warped sense of logic.
Harry chuckled and leaned back in his chair. It didn't seem all bad. Maybe he could find out exactly how things had gotten this way, or if it was just an odd manifestation of reality. Probably best to start with the obvious questions. But how to broach the subject? After all, if he had been dating Parvati here, she might not appreciate Harry just blatantly asking how they had met. Ah, wait a minute... Harry grinned as the perfect idea came to him.
Harry turned to Parvati. "Speaking of significant others, you know I was just thinking. Have you ever told these two the story of how we started dating?"
Parvati smiled brilliantly. "Actually, no! Ooh, you guys are going to love this story!"
Plague and pestilence come to swarm over those weak and pitiful creatures. None shall be spared, unless they are protected by the strong.
BLOOD FROGS LICE BEASTS PESTILENCE BOILS HAIL LOCUSTS DARKNESS DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN