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SIYE Time:21:19 on 29th April 2017


Trix
By GHL

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Humor
Warnings: Death, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence/Physical Abuse
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 98
Summary:

"But now old friends are acting strange..." - Joni Mitchell.

Voldemort is dead; Harry and Ginny are in love and living the dream. What's not to like, right? Then, a sudden rash of strange incidents piques Harry's anxiety. After years of war, are people just having difficulty adjusting to peace? Or is someone out there playing dirty 'trix'?

The story is set three months after the end of 'The Prevailing Counterpoint', and builds on characters and events elaborated therein. TPC is probably not required reading if you accept that Dumbledore and Snape are dead; that Lupin, Tonks and Fred are alive, and that Slytherins are fundamentally neurotic.


Hitcount: Story Total: 22868; Chapter Total: 1464
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:

Well, this chapter certainly proved interesting to write. I think I may be capturing the zany 'comdie noire' atmosphere that I'd intended for this story. Given that this is a bit of a canary in a coal mine, your comments would be helpful.

Also, a challenge to my dear readers: if any of you correctly identify the somewhat silly allusion to a line in MacBeth, then I promise to name or credit some exotic potion to you!





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Chapter 5. Black and Blue (Jan. 3-5, 1998)

Harry strode quickly through the darkened library, honing in on the only light and noise he could detect — a faint buzz of hushed voices that led him toward a far corner where a single dimly lit lamp painted an atmosphere of clandestine intrigue. He turned the aisle and spotted Ginny, Ryan, Jennifer, Lucia and Laura all huddled closely around an old tome, whispering animatedly, unaware of his approach.

Not wanting to startle them, Harry's vocalizing was soft. "Ahem."

Ryan raised his head from the huddle and met Harry's eye. "O b !" he declared gravely.

"Ah! And a very merry bassoon to you, Ryan!" Harry replied.

"No not 'oboe', Harry." Ryan either missed the humour or chose to ignore it. "O b is a dark faction within the West African Vodoun magical community."

Harry nodded, slightly chastened. "Oh."

"B !" added Ginny with a helpful smile. "None of the rest of us had ever heard of it, but Ryan is enlightening us. Apparently very little is known about O b magic in Europe, and the few mentions we've found in books suggest a shroud of mystery and misconception. The least apocryphal descriptions seem to be in this book written by a nineteenth century Danish wizard, Jens Tvivlender," Ginny explained, pointing at a dusty tome bound in faded green cloth. "Tvivlender traveled deep into the African interior off the Gold Coast in what is known as today as Ghana. He took cursory notes on indigenous magic and published a short text in 1857 cataloging some of the practices of the Vodunsi and Bokors that he interviewed."

Laura put aside her book. "Vodunsi are priestesses who practice the standard light Vodoun magic. Bokors seem to be like our dark wizards; they can do the same basic magic as the light priestesses, but have also concocted some fiendish dark sorcery."

Jennifer shuddered. "Very dark! Pitch black!"

"At least that's what's written." Ryan handed Harry a heavy comparative magic text open to a cursory article on sub-Saharan cultures. "Very few of Tvivlender's claims, especially the most shocking ones, have ever been conclusively verified by European wizards or witches, but if he was accurate, the Bokors may have had some of the most horrendous magical subjugation practices devised in the history of magic."

"Mind control." Harry's half-skimmed the page in front of him before gazing thoughtfully off into the flickering shadows.

"Exactly Harry!" Ginny nodded enthusiastically. "We've been dancing around something like this the whole time without realizing it. Imperius, confundus — nothing in our standard spellbooks seems to fit what we've been observing. But the Fugos gave us a tantalizing glimpse of how much more there is to learn if you break out of the standard bounds. I'm sure there's a great untold manifold of exotic wizardry out there that even Dumbledore probably never considered. Some of it could be amazing and wondrous, but there are bound to be very horrible things too."

"Point well taken." Harry returned his attention to Ginny. "So what set you on this trail? Were you catching those traces of mind magic this evening?"

"Yes." Ginny sighed. "I'm sure you felt how miserable Teri was, but there was something else. I assumed you were distracted with your story-telling responsibilities and may not have been sensing it, but I did, and..." She paused, chewing the bottom of her lip.

The students fell completely still in tense anticipation as Ginny remained in deep thought for a while with a troubled frown on her face. Harry studied her, wracking his memory for any disquieting sensations he might have experienced. He had certainly detected Teri's distress, but could not recall any other noticeable disturbances.

"For the most part, it was rather faint." Ginny hesitated again as she struggled to clearly explain the episode. "Yes, it began very subtly, but the more I looked for it, the closer the attention I paid, the more it seemed to... amplify." She shuddered slightly. "It was like following an unpleasant odor into the pantry, you track to down to one old jar, then you go to open it. In that moment, it was like..."

Unbidden, the vivid and disturbing memory raced back through Ginny's mind and she released a sharp, involuntary hiss. "That moment, just for an instant, it was like Bellatrix Lestrange was in the room with me."

Everyone stared at her. For a long moment, the only sound any of them heard was the ominous knell of their own heartbeats. Finally, Harry found his voice. "What was the sensation? What made you think of Bellatrix?"

Ginny's gaze locked onto Harry for a moment with a fierce intensity... then it slackened, replaced with weariness. "I know her magic, Harry. I know the whiny snarl of her voice; I know the foul smell of her breath. You're not the only one in here who's had a close brush with that deranged bitch," she said quietly. "Maybe it slipped your mind... I mean, so many desperate things have happened over the last while that you're entitled to lose track of the occasional crisis." Ginny met Harry's eyes again as he raced through his recollections, trying to connect with the right incident.

Harry gasped. "The Department of Mysteries!"

Ginny nodded solemnly and turned to face the four puzzled and alarmed students. "This was a couple of years ago. It was before Harry or I had picked up much common sense." She shrugged lamely. "You probably heard rumours and saw Harry's picture in the Prophet alongside Dumbledore and Fudge after that incident..."

"One of my stupidest impulses ever." Harry gritted his teeth,

"Yes and no." Ginny shook her head. "It served its purpose, didn't it? We wouldn't have won the war so quickly without the lessons you learned, Harry."

"Yes, I suppose." His tired sigh briefly masked a hard edge to his voice. "It was asinine; it killed my god-father, but it brought Riddle out into the open in the most lurid technicolour way possible for the sheepish Ministry and toady journalists..."

"Ah." Ryan nodded seriously. "But, fortunately you're not bitter."

Harry stared at his student for a long moment... then chuckled, and turned his focus back to Ginny. "Sorry for the theatrics, and sorry for forgetting the hell you went through that night. I can still remember my chest seizing up when I saw that filthy hag go to grab you."

Ginny gave Harry a regretful look. "Not my best moment, yeah? Nor was it for any of the rest of us — imperiling someone who shouldn't have actually needed saving in the first place."

Aware that she and Harry had lapsed into an almost private conversation in the midst of several students who were practically thrumming with curiosity, Ginny paused a moment to clear her mind of the horrific, grievous memory, and focus on a simple, useful narrative to share. She took a deep breath and scanned across the faces at the table. "You can get some basic facts from the Daily Prophet — I can't recall the exact date, but it was late June 1996. You'll glimpse a lot of holes in the story, though, because Dumbledore prevented the Ministry or the press from interrogating us. Consequently, we kept a lot of details to ourselves, and the Ministry suppressed a fair bit too. Among the various untold incidents from that night was a mad brawl with Death Eaters. Now, where was it that...?"

Harry sank into a seat. "Had we gotten into the Death Chamber...?"

"No, still in the Hall of Prophesy." Ginny shook her head. "One of the thugs grabbed for me in the frenzy, and Bellatrix honed in and threatened me with Cruciatus if Harry didn't hand over...well, let's just say 'some very valuable information'. The whole place was rife with evil characters, and there were doubtlessly several Death Eaters in the room with more magical prowess than Lestrange, but to me, in the heat of that horrid moment, the sheer venom of her hatred was absolutely breathtaking!" Ginny's description tapered to another quiet shudder.

"Ginny didn't cave," Harry hastened to add. "Her strength and defiance gave us the opening we needed. We were able to create a distraction and break the confrontation. After that, well... a lot of things happened... both good and awful... After the rubble settled, we were all shaken to the core, but she and I... and the other students... were all still alive."

Harry swallowed deeply, his eyes remote. "For some time after, I retreated into my own personal Hell, but I gradually found the strength to face and acknowledge the horrible repercussions of my wretchedly poor choices. Those admissions could have broken me, but instead, with the help of a dear friend, the contrition saved my life, transforming me into the person you see before you. And in that process of reawakening — I must admit that it took me a while to realize this — but it was really during that times when I began to recognize the sort of mettle that Ginny was made of. I began to understand how much she meant to me; realized that I needed to get to know her better, and somehow deep inside began to understand that I couldn't do everything all alone."

Harry's eyes fell expressionlessly to his folded hands. The group fell silent, as the dim lamp flickered; the stacks and shelves projected eerie, dancing shadows. Jennifer instinctively leaned into Ryan's chest, seeking her boyfriend's hand...

"So Bellatrix was forcing her will on Teri?" Harry asked, breaking the deathly stillness, but not yet looking up.

Ginny nodded. "I believe she was trying to. It may have been touch and go for a while, especially in that moment when her power suddenly surged, but I'm convinced that Teri was able to fight off the attack. I imagine..." Ginny shook her head off-handedly, dropping her tone. "I can only imagine that the struggle was very frightening and painful for the girl. And I got the sense that a part of her was already feeling weakened and demoralised over not being able to join the other children in enjoying the story-telling. If I'm guessing everything correctly, I believe that Teri wanted to attend, and Bellatrix really wanted her to be down there, but she somehow sensed that whatever Bellatrix told her to do would have been precisely the wrong thing."

"Wow," Harry nodded, raising his eyes. "Smart girl."

"Yes, it would seem so," Ginny agreed. "Anyway, I believe she somehow managed to fight off some sort of command to go down there. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it all meant. What was the plan? Why precisely was Teri instructed to go down there, and what would have happened if she hadn't been fighting back those commands?"

"Oi." Harry exhaled deeply and ran a hand through his hair. "I shudder to guess."

"But the good news," Ryan interjected, "is that Lestrange failed. Maybe she forced the girl to descend from third floor down to the balcony, but no further. That tells me that if Lestrange was attempting something like O b magic, she must be still a novice. I'm pretty certain that a Bokor adept would have been able to wrest control."

"Unless the girl has unusual magical powers," Lucia amended.

"Sure, as far as we know." Ryan shrugged. "There's nothing written here about how to resist Bocio impulsions, but like Imperius, it may be possible."

"Bocio?" Harry inquired.

"I assume that's the magical vehicle Lestrange is using. A Bocio a fetish or doll of some sort," Ryan explained. "It operates using sympathetic magic, and provides a conduit for the Bokor to command, harm or even kill a victim. Most critically, it works perfectly well over long distances."

"Sympathetic magic..." Harry stroked his chin. "By that term, you mean that this Bocio thing becomes a representative of the victim. Thus, if a Bokor does anything to the doll, the victim undergoes a sympathetic response?"

"Exactly." Ryan nodded. "The Bokor could theoretically use it for Confundus, Imperius, Cruciatus, Avada Kedavra, or any one of many more spells that we know about. Theoretically you could also use it for good magic like shield spells or wound healing, but I doubt we'll see much of that in this case. I should also add that the O b culture probably also provides other unique spells to throw into the mix."

Ginny frowned. "So you said that the good news was that Lestrange wasn't very good at this magic. What would you say is the bad news?"

"Basic logical stuff, but it still bothers me." Ryan consulted a scroll full of notes. "My first worry is that although Lestrange isn't very good at O b, she obviously knows more about it than we do. Secondly, if she's smart, then the whole time we're struggling to catch up, there's no reason why she might not also be working to refine her techniques... and possibly even learn more advanced ones."

"Errr... dare I ask for some examples of more advanced O b magic?" Harry fixed his student with an expression of foreboding and disquiet.

Ryan's held Harry's gaze for a long moment. "Well..." he began before pausing to clear his throat. His gaze alighted briefly upon the taut faces of his companions, then drifting reflectively across the tremulous brooding shadows... shadows that might as well be shrouding teeming swarms of imperceptible malevolence and morbidity. "Er, perhaps this discussion can wait until daylight," he suggested in a tone lacking his characteristic staunch stridency.

Despite lying in a bit on Sunday after their late night of tense deliberations, the sun had still not yet risen when Harry and Ginny awoke to go for a crisp morning run around the lake. They were joined by five members of the super seven group of stellar students from Harry's immensely successful defence studies practicum. After the long workout, the group gathered at the Interhouse Table for a late but spirited breakfast together which, like all good things, was now coming to an end.

"Ah!" Mary Jo sighed, pushing her plate away. "Time to get cracking, troops! Transfiguration essay awaits."

Jack groaned. "I suppose we have to, considering it's due tomorrow. Where are we meeting?

"Interhouse Commons?" Jennifer suggested.

Mary Jo, Jack and Sarah nodded. Sarah looked at her watch. "I'll go up to check on ickle sickie Quinn to see if he wants to come down. He's well enough now to be playing chess in the Ravenclaw common room, so he ought to be well enough to pull his weight on the essay."

Mary-Jo nodded. "Glad he's feeling better — Nick's had a fever ever since he got off the train last week."

"Nasty virus, isn't it?" Ginny gave Mary-Jo a concerned look. "Please give both of them our best, and let me know if they could use some pepper-up potion."

"I'll ask — thank you Ginny!" Mary-Jo replied.

Harry put aside his Daily Prophet. "Did you say this was a transfiguration essay? How does everyone feel about Professor Lupin in his new role?"

"He's great!" Sarah replied, with enthusiastic nods from Mary Jo and Jennifer.

Jack rolled his eyes. "I'll like him a lot better if he doesn't assign a two foot essay every week.,"

Harry laughed. "Don't worry, I'm sure he won't do that to you! He's generally a very hands-on instructor; I assume he just assigned the essay to get a feel for where everyone stands on the subject."

"I agree," Mary Jo rose to her feet. "Come on Trowers — quit dragging your feet. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can hit the Room of Requirement."

"Yes, boss lady." Jack smirked off-handedly to Ryan.

The four sixth-year students trundled off, leaving only Ryan. He turned to Harry and Ginny. "So you're heading over to the Manor today to work on the wards?"

Ginny nodded. "And that reminds me..." She quickly downed the last of her pumpkin juice. "We're supposed to meet Laura and Lucia in the Entrance Hall in two minutes."

"Oh. Right you are." Harry stood up and pushed his chair in. "What's your plan for the day, Ryan?"

"I have some vague ideas and questions on the project," Ryan replied as the three of them walked together out of the Great Hall. "I'm going to hit the library while it's quiet."

"That's wonderful — thank you for pushing ahead on this Ryan!" Ginny gave the student a quick smile. "I wish you luck and insight!"

"Thanks!" Ryan waved farewell to his two mentors and continued on his way.

Quietly traversing the empty hallway toward his destination, Ryan opened the library door carefully, and closed it behind himself without a sound. He paused for a moment to look and listen. Dead silence — just the way he liked it.

Ryan Jenkins was rarely seen in the library. In truth, he spent more time there than almost anyone else in the school, but it just happened that he visited most often when nobody else was around. A self-admitted freak of nature, Ryan rarely slept more than two or three hours per night, and at several times in his school career had gone more than 48 straight sleepless hours without any outward signs of stress. This combination — his love of the library and his night-owl schedule — had made him an ideal candidate for achieving some of Harry's most secret and sensitive research needs.

This particular project certainly counted as both secret and sensitive. The issues it broached went beyond unpleasant. Mere rumours of the subject matter could conceivably produce volatile over-reaction, and potentially even sew panic and hysteria. Furthermore, if the enemy learned someone was pursuing this research, the revelation could perturb the situation and drive Madame Lestrange to untold new sinister creativity. And it was hardly as if she wasn't already being frighteningly creative!

Ryan proceeded quickly and quietly to the peripheral wall of the library and worked his way along a cunning long-cut route toward the restricted section. All remained completely quiet around him as he moved briskly along the final open-section aisle and turned the corner into the realm of deepest mystery...

"Mr. Jenkins!" came a brusque female voice. "Where do you think you're going?"

Ryan groaned to himself — he knew that voice and the implications it held for his secrecy. He turned to face a rare person who spent even more time here than he did — Hogwarts Head Girl, Hermione Granger.

"Good morning, Ms. Granger." Ryan's tone, respectful but bland, was actually carefully honed to convey a conviction that he had done nothing wrong. "I was just about to pursue some details on a research project I've been assigned." He leveled a disaffected gaze at her in hopes that this plain, unspectacular truth might dissuade any further inquiry.

Hermione raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You've been assigned research requiring access to the restricted section?"

Ryan nodded. He reached into his pocket and preemptively handed her his permission form.

Hermione scrutinized it carefully. "So this is for Harry, is it? What does the project involve? This form is not very specific."

"Sorry, I'm not at liberty to elaborate," Ryan replied.

"You're not at liberty to discuss the fact that you're researching esoteric mind control methods, possibly originating in West Africa?" Hermione attempted, without much luck, to disguise a very smug expression.

Ryan maintained his steely composure, but he could sense that things were slipping away from him.

"And no," Hermione hastened to add, "in case your research advisor suspects me of using Legilimency, the truth is much more mundane. Several books in the forbidden section were re-shelved carelessly last night. I found one of them inserted upside down, and several more that were not pushed in precisely level with their immediate neighbours."

Ah, pish... Ryan's stoic facade finally eroded into a face of consternation. He couldn't help grumbling internally about Laura (sweet, brilliant, but the kid doesn't have a subtle bone in her body! ), and he also reserved a kick in his own tail for not checking to ensure she had put those books back exactly the way she found them. More than anything, though, Ryan's expression contained a bit of something that was very rare for him — astonishment. The last thing he might ever have expected to happen on this quiet Sunday morning was to come face to face with someone who might actually be even more detail-oriented and fastidious than he himself was!

However shocking that seemed, he banished the revelation from his mind and sighed. "There is a perfectly valid reason for the research, and ample justification for being very discreet about it."

"Oh yes, I'm fully aware there's a good reason for the research!" Hermione snapped. "What I don't see is any justification for is keeping me out of the loop on this. I was the one who alerted Harry to the problem in the first place, and it's my own bloody boyfriend at the center of the case!"

Ryan blinked. "Chess?! Er, I mean Ronald?"

"Yes, Ronald! " Hermione glared at the younger Slytherin impatiently. "Didn't Harry tell you about Ron's incident, or is he even keeping you out of the loop?!"

"I, er... Well, he didn't give all the names as such." Ryan shrugged. "I know a few, although for common decency, I'd rather not share the identity of the primary victim that Harry and Ginny are especially concerned about. Beyond that, we know of an Auror might also be targeted, as well as an indication of other people being affected, though it's not clear to me how many of them are believed to be direct targets, since some of them may only be experiencing secondary effects."

Hermione face froze; a tiny gasp escaped. "Wow!" Her voice (a whisper despite the library's deserted state) finally seemed to grasp the reason for Ryan's circumspection. "I had no idea there were others!"

"Well, now you know," Ryan grumbled, obviously conflicted by his disclosure. "Now please don't spread any of this to anyone. Things are rather dicey and may go on to become very grave very quickly. We could have an outright disaster on our hands if people start talking about it. Do you understand that?"

"Of course I understand — I'm Head Gi-" Suddenly Hermione caught her righteous indignation and stifled it. She stared at the boy for a moment, and sighed. "Sorry, what I really meant to say was that I do now understand your caution now. You're to be commended for being so discreet, but I'd like to hear more about the research."

Ryan stared at her. "Er, I don't quite know if...

Hermione shook her head vigourously. "I'm not prying. I swear my lips are sealed; I won't even tell Ron. What I'd like is to help with this, Ryan Jenkins. Trust me. I promise I'll clear it with Harry."

Ryan looked at her uncertainly. He knew that his mentors had been taking a hands-off approach toward Hermione recently. He also knew that Harry, in particular, had feuded with the girl in the past, but Ryan assumed that this was all well-mended and that Harry's reticence was probably aimed at trying to not distract the Head Girl from her never-ending NEWT revisions. Ryan was fairly confident of Hermione's integrity, prudence and intellect, remembering vividly the critical role she had fulfilled in the Battle of Hogwarts. In fact, her key contribution had been ingenious ward innovations — just the sort of thing that might really come in handy in dealing with the strange mind magic. Exhaling, he shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded. "Okay, if you can spare the time, then I can probably use the help."

Hermione exhaled. Her eyes brightened for a moment and the ghost of a smile crossed her lips before the standard no-nonsense face reasserted itself. "Very well then, what's the assumed mechanism of mind control?"

"Errr..." Ryan paused awkwardly, wondering whether he really ought to clear this arrangement with Harry or Ginny before going too far out on a limb.

Sensing his discomfort, Hermione coaxed a real smile onto her face to ease the tension. "Sorry for pushing on so briskly," she said earnestly. "It's just that I have a rare, precious, wide-open Sunday in front of me. If I was to get started helping you now, the two of us might make some rapid progress on this extremely critical project, wouldn't you agree?"

"All right, I guess. Makes sense to me."

"So what spell do you think is being used?" Hermione rephrased.

"Not a spell, exactly." Ryan gestured toward a table deep in the restricted section.. "That's probably what makes the magic so efficient, and makes it a real challenge to counteract."

"Okay, what is it, if not a spell?"

"Sympathetic magic," Ryan replied. "Some sort of charmed proxy that the perpetrator can use to manipulate the victim."

Hermione's eyes widened incredulously. "Huh? West African charmed proxy... like a voodoo doll? Harry thinks someone is practicing voodoo??"

"Uh, you mean Vodoun?" Ryan blinked at her in puzzlement.

"Voodoo, Vodoun — same thing, right?" Hermione shrugged. "Sub-Saharan sorcery, mysterious ethnobotany, little dolls with pins in them, and all that?"

"Where in Merlin's name are you getting this all from?" Ryan ran fingers through his hair, Potter-like. "I put in eight hours in the library scrounging for the tiniest scraps, and you waltz in here spouting stuff like you just read it off a Chocolate Frog Card?"

"Ummm." Hermione allowed a small, sheepish smile. "Er, well, would you believe Muggle fiction?"

That stopped Ryan in his tracks. "Oh," he said. After a moment, he thought the better of it and added, "Oh."

Hermione shuffled her feet. "Yes, I suppose that kicks the credibility down a bit... Muggles do tend to make up a lot of things,"

Ryan was frowning. "Well yes, but they do get some details right at times. I'm actually a bit of a Muggle enthusiast, you know?"

Hermione raised an eyebrow.

"Things like paint ball, physical fitness, battle tactics... Muggles really have those things down cold!" Ryan grinned. "You know, I've even seen, erm... moving pictures I think they're called?"

"Do tell?"

"Yeah, I saw 'Lawrence of Arabia' last summer," Ryan supplied with a grin. "Oh, and '300 Spartans'!"

Hermione rolled her eyes. She couldn't believe that she was standing in the library having a supposedly weighty conversation with a fifteen-year-old wizard prodigy about... war movies. "Yes, well I appreciate that." Hermione nodded with what earnestness she could muster. "In all honesty,though, I rather doubt Leonidas or T.E. Lawrence would be much help with the current problem."

"True." Ryan pursed his lips and shifted his mind back to more pressing issues. "What I was going to say is that the Muggle stuff you talked about a minute ago isn't completely off the mark. Bocio magic tends to work best if the fetish looks at least a bit like the target, so dolls do tend to work well. Also, the preparation may require exotic herbs of some sort, and I recall a brief mention of using silver needles to inflict highly localized pains or maladies."

"Really?"

"Yes, so I've been wrestling with this one question, and I was wondering...?" Ryan paused. He scanned Hermione's face to gauge whether she was likely to take this seriously.

"Yes?" Hermione prompted.

"I was wondering if the Muggles could explain how a Bocio becomes associated with its target? How would you make a fetish that affects me, instead of you, or Ronald or someone else?"

"Ah! Good question..." Hermione tapped her lips. "Let me think about that..."

Harry beamed gratefully at Ginny, Daphne, Laura, Lucia and Ted Nott who had all gathered in the demoralizing sleet to help add ward fortifications to the Dolwyddelan estate. He raised his hand to bring the modest smattering of conversation to an end. "Good morning, and thanks for braving the elements to come help! We have six wards and six people to set them, so with any luck we can all make our circuits in a couple hours and be sitting around a nice warm fire by lunch... which Daphne assumes me will be hot, hearty and delicious!"

Daphne grinned her agreement as she hopped in place to keep warm.

"Ginny will hand you each a scroll with the runes that Laura and Lucia have carefully crafted," Harry continued. "Please proceed around the perimeter of the front lawn and the meadow in back. Every hundred feet or less, please find a fixed permanent object — a large stone is best, but a sturdy tree will suffice. You will then anchor a ward to it by pointing your wand through the center of the rune and into the heart of the ward stone or ward tree. Because of the way the girls have crafted the runes, it will be possible to anchor each ward with the same simple incantation — 'Ad chirographum potestatem lapis'. Can everyone remember that?"

Ginny laughed as she opened her scroll. "They wrote it out for us right at the top of each parchment, Harry."

"Brilliant." Harry chuckled, smiling at Laura and Lucia. "I'd make a wisecrack about how little faith you two have in our memories, but anything that gets us out of this foul weather faster has my vote!"

"Let's spread out a bit so we're not getting in each others way," Ginny suggested. "Maybe Daphne, Laura and I can work clockwise while you three work counter?"

"Good idea," Harry agreed. He, Ted and Lucia began to trudge off in a westerly direction.

"Last one back to the house sucks doxy eggs!" Daphne called out teasingly to the departing trio.

Harry shook his head. "No way. The last one back has my deepest gratitude and sympathy!"

"Spoilsport!" she sang back in response. "Some day when you least expect it, I'm going to tickle every speck of decorum out of your courteous little soul!"

Harry laughed, though Ginny did not. She grumbled something under her breath — perhaps a reference to somebody's dead body — but fortunately her irritation didn't last. Within a few minutes she was once again joking with the two students as they leapfrogged each other around the perimeter, each casting their own unique wards.

Harry, Ted and Lucia were more taciturn; they all retreated into their own respective thoughts and went quietly about the assigned tasks at their own pace. Unsurprisingly, Harry proved to be the most efficient ward caster of the entire group by a substantial margin. Ted fell behind fairly quickly as he struggled with the spell, but even Lucia couldn't keep up, despite casting expertly, concentrating hard and moving briskly from site to site.

Within forty minutes, Harry had drifted completely out of sight of the others in the rolling terrain. In fact, he had already progressed around to the furthest reach of the back meadow. Carefully counting the paces to his next ward, he gazed ahead to a natural drainage gully that led from the meadow down to a mountain stream that edged itself along the southern and eastern fringes of the property on its circuitous path toward the Afon Lledr. Within the ravine he spied a large granite boulder likely deposited there by a glacier from some past millennium — a perfect immovable fixture on which to anchor a ward. He made his way downward, taking care not to skid on the loose stones

As he pulled out the parchment to cast the warding spell, Harry heard a rock clatter a bit to his left. He looked up and jumped! Standing twenty feet up the gully's path, staring obliquely away from him, shivering in a soaked black cloak, was Teri.

Harry thrust aside his momentary surprise and smiled amicably. "Hello Sugar Plum, what brings you out in this mess? You'll catch a chill!"

Teri only sniffled a bit. She said nothing and didn't meet Harry's eyes.

Harry took quick stock of his own clothing — a jumper and anorak — and debated whether he could spare one of them for the girl. He would be perfectly comfortable in either if he could only cast a thermal charm, however Flitwick had once warned him that such magic might interfere with ward casting. Suddenly Harry hit on the obvious solution — he had his miniaturized storage trunk along!

"Hey," he called to the girl. "Let me lend you an extra jumper. You can wear it as long as you need, and leave it at the house later. If it keeps you warm enough, you're more than welcome to come join me as I finish with the wards!" Without waiting for a response, he reached into his pocket, pulled out the chest and summoned from it one of Ginny's old Weasley Christmas jumpers that had been left in there for some forgotten reason. He laughed and held it up. "It may look a bit frumpy, but this jumper is toasty warm, and is guaranteed to hug you with love and good will." Extending it toward her, he began walking up the trough in her direction.

Speaking nothing and still not meeting his eyes, Teri raised her hand to stay him.

Harry paused in consternation. He noticed a distinct chill in the air that had nothing to do with the wind and sleet. A sensation of sorrow wafted past him, but it was weaker than yesterday evening. Harry also detected an unpleasant buzz in his ears, like a distant swarm of insects. He recognized it as similar to a subtle feeling he'd registered before at times in Teri's presence, but right now it was stronger — a lot stronger. He wondered if some sort of balance might have shifted in the girl's struggles...

Teri shuddered violently!

Harry bit his lip — the girl was in trouble! The quandary wrenching Harry's conscience was what he could do to protect the girl without actually endangering her. After a moment he knew he had to at least try. "Teri, I'm here to help." He sculpted his voice carefully to project empathetic calm. Placng the jumper down on a large stone, he pushed his normal senses to the background and began turning his thoughts toward her.

As Harry's eyelids closed, the vaguely unusual sight of a cloaked girl shivering in the sleety drizzle was replaced with an image of appalling turmoil. His imagination tuned to power signatures, Harry subconsciously translated the dynamic magical auras into a disorientingly vivid visual — seething currents of magic; a glowing sapphire core twisting and straining beneath a lurid swarm of black tendrils — writhing, clutching, choking.

"Go Mr. Harry!" The girl's voice sounded pained and desperate.

Stay, stay... come closer pretty little Potty...

"Go," Teri whimpered.

Come closer, itty baby Harry!

The black swarm grew denser, swelling with deranged, repugnant lust. The blue core flickered tremulously — engulfed, weakened, sliding desperately toward some perilous brink. On purest blind instinct, Harry surged forward, swathing the entire roiling mass with his power, willing his magic to pry the frigid black abomination away from Teri.

It worked immediately... but not as he intended.

The teeming mass leaped from Teri's blue core onto Harry; he was instantly beset by an atrocious violation which felt nearly exactly like countless spiders and maggots swarming every inch of his body, smothering him in a continuity of itches and scrapes, overlaid with icy, creeping slime. Having invited this revolting torture upon himself, Harry clenched himself into a tight fist, bracing against the nightmare, wracking his recoiling sensibilities for some viable means of defence.

And then came the first sting.

Harry gasped. He had never known anything quite like it — the pain was much more localized than any Cruciatus curse he'd ever experienced, but also sharper. Worse still, it was more than just pain! Unlike the mixture of burning, aching or throbbing that we know as pain, Harry felt an appalling sensation of tugging. He felt as though he had been punctured and some unknown vampirical force was sucking on the wound.

The second stab came — just as intense, but broader! With his eyes squeezed tightly shut, he had no idea whether there was any real physical wound on his body, but he was seized with the horrid image of blood and power spurting from his magical core.

He beat back the sickening pain and distracting imagery, and instead willed his aura back into firm cohesion. The first wound closed, and he felt the second puncture slow to a trickle. Not wanting to force the black swarm straight back onto Teri, Harry pushed against it cautiously, experimentally, and felt it begin to abate in places... but then came a third stab... a fourth... He clenched his teeth and prepared himself again to...

Fear not, mein lieber Potter...

"Tremelda?!" Harry whispered in astonishment.

You have the strength to endure. Put aside your struggles, and learn...

"Learn what? Learn how?" More and more stings and stabs were tearing into him, faster than he could close them, but Harry focused his every sensory resource toward a single goal — hearing the words of his dear, deceased mentor.

Each tendril of pain is a seed of knowledge...

Harry nodded in vague comprehension as he felt the spirit of his ancient friend withdraw. His current plight of vicious magical assault shifted back into focus — he counted at least a dozen punctures tearing and dispersing his magic and soul, but somehow the whole context seemed different now. From Tremelda, he had found confidence! He knew now that in magic and soul he had a tremendous, nearly inexhaustible reserve. Harry Potter would not to be threatened by some foul bitch's cruel jabs!

With this new-found composure, came renewed focus. Per Tremelda's advice, Harry ceased to struggle against the black menace, and instead reached his mind into it, seeking to understand its essence, its evil and the manner in which it inflicted damage and suffering. He identified one particularly sharp gaping wound in his soul and sought to embrace its every ghastly sensation — the acrid pungence of burning tar... the metallic taste of a bloodied lip... the ripping staccato of moisture spattering off hot grease... a hellacious perverse music of Bellatrix Lestrange shrieking in mortal combat...

Harry was still cataloging these abominable details when his friends reconnected with him. Ginny arrived first — a blast of vengeful anger from a super-heated kiln, roasting the blackness to instant dust. Then, moments later, came a second, more subtle presence... a fresh spring breeze rustling the grasses, cleansing the caustic air... sapphire blue...

"Harry... Harry... Harry..." Ginny's kept whispering it, over and over, as if her entire universe was embodied in a single word.

Harry exhaled.

Two other exhalations immediately followed, and Harry recognized them both. One breath of passion and utter relief emanated from two lips pressed to his temple, ruffling his hair. The second, a ragged sob, emerged from further down, sending a puff of mist up from his chest. He opened his eyes to find Teri clutching him, quivering faintly, a fold of his anorak clenched indelicately between the girl's chattering teeth. And wrapped protective around them both, of course, were Ginny's mothering arms; her breath and pitched heartbeat now beginning to subside from the brief but adrenalised battle.

"Is everyone all right?" The expression of concern came from somewhere above the ravine; Harry recognized Lucia's voice.

Ginny opened her mouth, not really knowing the best reply, but Harry beat her to it. "I think we're okay," he called back in a voice that sounded surprisingly normal. "Ginny and I will need to take a break from wards for a while to take Teri back to the house. Can the rest of you carry on without us?"

Lucia didn't answer immediately. Another pair of hurried footfalls announced the arrival of Laura and Daphne. "Are you sure you're well enough?" Daphne was panting; hoarse and slightly frantic.

Without releasing Ginny or Teri, Harry rose to his full height and aimed a passable smile toward the three students. "I won't lie and claim we all just had a pleasant amble through the arboretum, but..." He paused for a moment and glanced down at his body to confirm that it was not truly riddled with bloody gashes. "I believe we're all capable of walking back to the house without a fuss. Besides..." He grinned, "I would hate to cut short this pleasant outing you're all enjoying."

Daphne snarled and looked around for something to throw at Harry, but failing at that, she joined Lucia and Laura in a little laugh. The three students turned about and returned to their assigned routes, while Harry pulled Ginny's old Christmas jumper over the ice-like Teri. Taking the girl's hand, and accepting Ginny's, Harry led the way back to the house.

When the tilting and swirling floor began to regain some respect for fundamental physics, the witch rose shakily to her feet. The dimly lit chamber trembled as her gaze darted from the pair of smouldering reed fetishes to the blackened patches on the wall and ceiling. Turning slowly, her coal-black eyes fixed themselves on her companion — a wizard behind whose genteel, dispassionate face lurked an oddity — an odd complexion that seemed almost shimmery, subtly blurring and sharpening from moment to moment.

The witch seemed little bothered by the unusual optic effect... but the man's calmness seemed to utterly enrage her. The flesh on her sallow face pulled back; the room filled with a hissing noise for a moment, then...

"AAIIIIIAAGHHHH!" Shrieking in rage, she spat a mouthful of blood and a shattered upper incisor into the wizard's stoic face. Whipping out her wand, she spun about and lunged rapaciously toward a cabinet stacked with strange materials and oddments.

Faster than a striking snake, the wizard seized her wrist.

"Tut tut," he chided condescendingly. "We invested a lot of time on that collection, Bella. We will find it most helpful for our subsequent trials." He squeezed her wrist with a momentarily crushing strength that completely defied the deep lines on his face. As she winced in pain, the wizard took advantage of her distraction to casually, surreptitiously siphon the blood from his face and scourgify his collar. He gave her a mirthless smile. "Let us keep our faith, dear. Considering that the boy eliminated the Dark Lord, I believe that your experiment today actually went fairly well."

She stared at him, digesting the coldly purring words of consolation. Chest still heaving, and hair strewn with blood and mucus, Bellatrix nonetheless found the presence of mind to nod her assent.

"Live and learn," he said casually as he turned to walk from the chamber. "Soon we will determine what went wrong in our preparations, and adjust accordingly."

Bellatrix turned to watch his retreating form. Her wand hand twitched in a momentary petulant impulse, but she suppressed the urge to curse him. She hated that foul, manipulative vermin and she would deal with him one day... but for now she detested Harry Potter far more!

Once again the ray of bright afternoon sun crept onto the page of text Ginny was trying to read, and once again she moved the book into the shade so that the brilliant glare didn't smart her eyes.

Didn't this figure?? Saturday had been a bleak, drab day; Sunday had been utter piss, and now Monday was going to mock her with a flashy, cheery, March-like ebullience as she sat in the bleeding library all day. She sighed, tucked her hair behind her ears and scanned down the list of topics Harry had asked her to investigate. She had been able to come up with clear answers for all of the first six questions that Harry had scrawled out, but as far as she was concerned each of the details she had uncovered was just nibbling around the edges of the one real problem.

How could Bellatrix's magical aura barge past some of the nation's the most powerful wards, grapple out across untold distances, and invade another person?

It was possible that some other explanation existed, but both Harry and Ginny had explicitly agreed on something that most wizards would consider to be impossible. All of the evidence procured from their magical aura perception was suggesting that Bellatrix, from an unknown hiding place almost certainly quite distant from Dolwyddelan, had somehow uncovered a way to project part of her magical soul into her living, breathing and highly unwilling daughter.

In contrast with the basic enslavement enabled by O b magic, it seemed that Bellatrix must have stumbled onto something much more dynamic and devastating — the capacity to enter a victim, perceive things with the victim's own eyes and ears, and potentially even cast spells on the fly using the victim's own magic. Nobody who knew the circumstances — not Ginny, not Harry, not Ryan or even Hermione — could even begin to hypothesize how the witch was doing it. They had found no clear precedent. Riddle's diary had been capable of possession, but had required fairly frequent direct physical and mental contact to sustain a connection. Riddle had acquired a long-distance conduit to Harry through freakish accidental soul magic, but he had never truly been able to inflict his will on Harry through that nexus. Nothing else in the Hogwarts library suggested anything comparable and, while O b remained a topic of active interest to them, it did not go far enough on its own to shed light on what had happened with Teri.

The truth was out there somewhere though. Ginny knew that they had collectively dug up a lot of sketchy concepts in the past couple of days, and perhaps somewhere in that mess there were useful clues, but they had certainly not yet been able to fit any of the pieces together in a way that made any real sense.

With a groan of frustration, Ginny once again moved her materials from the pesky sunbeam and looked at the last item on her list. She blinked in confusion as she read it.

Req. mood restorative? Pls. check potion ingredient compendium for mild restoratives.

"What in Merlin's name are you going on about, Potter?" Ginny muttered to herself, massaging her aching temples. After re-reading the request to see if it made any more sense on the second and third passes, Ginny shrugged, and surrendered to illogic. She rose stiffly from the desk and made her way along a well practiced route to the potions aisle, where she located "Potions Ingredients and their Functions: A Master Index" by Fillette Fennisnake. Wrestling the tome off the shelf, she lugged it back to her desk and flipped through toward the restoratives section.

A fragment of parchment fluttered out of the book and landed on the floor.

Huh?? Ginny frowned at the scrap, now lying by her foot, and saw that it had handwriting on it. She bent down to retrieve it, then flattened it against her desk. The nondescript writing stated:

GMW — I have what you seek!

Meet me on the east ramparts at 3:00 p.m., January 5, 1998.

Come alone!

Ginny gaped. "GMW — is this addressed to me?!" Her accidental vocalisation drew a ripple of grumbles and titters from other nearby library denizens, but her focus remained ion the strange note. Bloody hell, this is today's date! She whipped out her watch to read the time.

It was 2:52 p.m.

Ginny pushed herself away from the desk and threw her head back, silently cursing as she wondered who it was from, what it was about, and whether or how she should respond to it. On one hand, without a solid grasp of whom she might be dealing with, there was always a risk. With most Death Eaters incarcerated or still determinedly in hiding, meeting a new contact or informant was less risky than it might have been a few months earlier, but on the other hand she had acquired a bit of fame since Riddle's death, so it could be some barmy fanatic.

She knew, of course, that if she simply ignored the note, curiosity would eat her alive...

Yes, the best plan would be to carefully investigate, but make certain that someone else knew where she was. Unfortunately Harry had said he was going to hole himself up in the Room of Requirement until four o'clock, hoping to meditatively unravel the finer details on what had happened yesterday in the meadow. In the extremely limited time left before 3:00 p.m., she had no idea if she could track down any of their other inner-circle colleagues to let them know where she was headed.

Her mind awhirl, Ginny rose from her chair and began walking mechanically toward the library door, uncertain exactly what she was about to get herself into.

"Hello Ginevra! You're looking quite peaky today — have you been collecting onummorbos too?"

Ginny stopped dead in her tracks and spun around. Bathed in sunlight, her head a glistening blonde halo, sat a placidly smiling Luna Lovegood.

Ginny met Luna's gaze and raised a finger inquiringly. "Hey, Luna...?" She paused as she wondered how, exactly, she was going to phrase the question.

"Oh, but of course I do, Ginevra," Luna's smile softened knowingly. "You hardly need to ask, don't you realise that?"

"I... uh what?"

"You hardly need ask," Luna repeated. "You should know very well by now that I've always admired your hands. Especially the fingers! I think you have the most graceful fingers in the whole school, and I'm certain Harry will adore that one." Luna pointed toward Ginny's raised hand.

"Oh! I, uh, thank you." Ginny lowered her finger self consciously. "But, I..."

"Oh, don't mention it! What are friends for, after all?" Luna responded in a tranquil voice.

"Thanks, thanks." Ginny nodded hurriedly before the conversation thread could be allowed to unravel further. "Uh, Luna, I'm headed up to the east ramparts..."

"Oh, thank heavens you've finally come to your senses!" Luna's eyes widened in concern. "A bit of sunshine will do wonders for the onummorbos. Half an hour up there, and the rest of you won't look nearly so washed-out when it comes time to show Harry your pretty finger."

"Oh yes, I'm sure!" Ginny agreed. "But if you don't see me back in the Great Hall by suppertime, could you please let Harry know where I went?"

"Certainly, Ginevra! I'll tell him you've gone up to the east ramparts to get a bit of sunshine." Luna beamed happily at her friend. "And I promise I won't spoil your surprise about the finger." The girl attempted a wink, although it came out as a bit of a twisted blink.

"Er, well, okay yes — that will do. Thank you Luna!" Ginny turned and hurried out of the library.

Luna frowned. "She needn't have run — there's still nearly an hour before sundown." She gazed up toward the sunny Gothic windows. "Ah well — the spirit of youth is oft misguided but ever so sweet!"

Whether sweet, misguided or otherwise, Ginny raced up twelve flights of stairs, tore down the seventh floor corridor past the Astronomy Tower, and through the archway onto the ramparts. Catching her breath, she scanned up and down the length of the walkway.

It was deserted.

Ginny stared at her watch. It was 3:02 p.m. "Oh come on! Two minutes! Surely you can spare two minutes!"

"Yes, I can do that," a familiar voice agreed, as two hands wound gently around her from behind.

"Oh bloody hell." Ginny rolled her eyes.

And then she began to laugh.

Harry's lips found the precise spot on her neck that always altered the pitch of her laughter... but before the breathing became ragged, he raised his face again to press warmly against her cheek and tightened his grip around her waist. In the golden, late afternoon sun and unseasonably mild south wind, Harry rocked Ginny in languid time to some unknown song.

"You tricked me," she murmured; the letter of her protest belied by a content smile.

"Hmmm?" Harry mused. "Are you suggesting that I don't have what you seek?"

"But..." Ginny's words drifted off in the breeze. She had to admit that her heart wasn't really invested in this debate; not when it had much more wonderful things to invest itself in right now. She pulled Harry's arms a bit tighter around herself and added her own little cadence to their peaceful sway.

"So you were looking for mood restoratives, right?" Harry smiled, and didn't wait for an answer. "Well, who needs a potion, when you have a little sunshine, fresh mild air and a bit of time alone with the one you love?"

"Mmmm mmmmm," Ginny replied thoughtfully.

Some time later, they watched the sun set — a great ball of hope and promise atop the distant southwest hills. For a while they found creative ways to keep each other warm as the evening chill set in... then they walked slowly back into the castle to resume their quest for truth and peace.


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