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𝕸𝖔𝖓𝖔𝖈𝖍𝖗𝖔𝖒𝖊


Act IV - Skin In The Game


Chapter 9: Aftermath


The moment Harry Potter came to his senses, he instantly regretted it.

He couldn't breathe. His heart was burning. His brain was pulsing. His very veins were searing him from the inside out. The mere functions of sight, smell or even thinking, were ignored to deal with the primary issue that was the pain pervading his nerves.

Seconds? MInutes? Hours? He had no idea how long his body endured the torture. The only thing that pierced through that veil that clouded his mind was the drive to deal with it. He even barely felt it as the metal traps holding him chained in place dissipated, as his body sagged down and he dropped down to his feet, only for Albus Dumbledore to hold him up halfway.

Even that action made him want to roll himself over and empty his stomach on the stone cold floor beneath.

"Harry…" breathed Albus Dumbledore. "You are finally awake."

It was an odd choice of words, but given how he had transformed into the demon, it wasn't that bad of a description.

"Professor, I —"

The man raised one hand to stop him. "Rest now, my boy. You have been through quite an ordeal."

Harry frowned, and ran a full self-diagnosis on himself. It was one of those ''Arry' things, as Fleur preferred to call it, that made him able to combine a weird mixture of magical sensing, his ability to sense the magic flowing through his body, some half-baked medical spells, and a whole lot of bizarre luck thrown in. The result was a sort of self-diagnosis mechanism that gave him brief details of what was wrong with him, and a rough idea of how long he could withstand the damage without really fucking things up.

Exhibit A. He now knew that other than the phantom pains he was still recovering from, nothing else seemed amiss. He was not wounded, or exuding fumes, and neither was his vision shifting to blurry monochromatic grey. The predatory instincts of his animagus form were safe behind his mental locks, and he could feel no sudden desire to tear or kill anyone within sight.

Which only made matters worse because he still had to deal with a Voldemort-possessed Hermione that could attack him any moment.

"Professor," he choked, trying to push himself up. "Voldemort —"

"Relax," soothed the Headmaster, keeping him from straining himself further. "He's gone now, and you needn't worry."

"Hermione —"

"Safe," said Dumbledore. "She is currently in magical stasis, and out of danger. The Diadem has been dealt with too. Once again you have saved the school and its students, Harry. Though if you keep straining yourself, I'm certain I'll be in danger from Madam Pomfrey's fearsome wrath."

Harry wasn't fooled by the man's subtle diversion. "What happened, professor? We won? No issues? No traps or fallouts?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "If there are any, they are beyond my knowledge. Miss Granger will be sent to St. Mungo's for advanced treatment. Alas, the effects of possession and exposure to dunamancy will have lasting effects on her mind. But other than that, everything is under control. Congratulations, my boy. You have finally undone the curse that has plagued Hogwarts and generations of students for decades."

A slow exhale escaped Harry's lips, and he turned his attention to his hands as if to expect something there that wasn't. Judging from his expression, that Albus Dumbledore credited the victory to him didn't seem to register at all.

"We… we won, huh? The curse… it's finally gone."

"It is a peculiar feeling, isn't it?" asked a voice that felt strange and familiar at the same time.

Harry looked up and…

Stared.

He had seen some pretty unique things in his short life as a wizard. From talking snakes to gentle giants to watching the magnificent castle bathing under the full moon for the first time, it had been one thing after another. His experiences at Hogwarts had kept altering his ideas for what constituted surreality for wizards, from the Chamber of Secrets to Voldemort returning from the dead, to the Sunken Vault and now the Prison of Possibilities.

But there was something about watching Luna Lovegood, wearing that diadem upon her head, her beautiful hazel eyes shining with unrestrained power and authority that stifled his breath. There was, around her, a humming throb of energy unlike anything he had ever sensed before, a power so ancient and terrible than the world had forgotten it's like. That power demanded his respect, his obedience, his adoration, and his abject terror. Even the blossoming warmth of Summer fire within him genuflected at the authority that stood before him, and suddenly, Harry knew what was happening.

He was in the presence of… How had Ignotus presented it? An Avatar of Fate.

The providence of a god.

The phantom pains coursing through his body all but vanished. For he could barely breathe, much less register them in the first place. Hell, he couldn't have moved if he'd wanted to.

So why was Dumbledore pretending that everything was normal? Like she was the same dotty fourth-year Ravenclaw? Could he not see her like he was?

He didn't even realise when he had slowly gotten up, despite the old man's efforts, his gaze fixed at the object of his unfettered attention.

"Harry Potter," said Luna. "Faint echoes of your existence and influence pervaded the Timestream before my Host stepped into Hogwarts, but the reason why had evaded me. Until now."

Her mouth was moving, but it was not her words. Her tone. Her accent. Her disposition. Everything felt strange, and more.

He regarded the shining Diadem on the girl's head, the aura around her, and chose his next words with great care.

"It seems… that Family Magic can, at times, choose a Host outside the family."

A small smile graced Luna's expression. "Does that surprise you, Vessel of Peverell? You who cited the Rites of Ascension in front of the entire Wizengamot?"

Harry opened his mouth and closed it again. She was right. Unlike the current days, wizard titles meant more than just an accident of their birth back in the old days. Being born and having the blood of a family wasn't enough to inherit a mantle, and instead, witches and wizards spent a lifetime building up actions and deeds to prove themselves worthy of something greater than themselves. Fulfil qualifications for future generations to inherit their powers, deeming them more important than blood.

At times, said qualifications came in the form of specific mindsets, one so very alien compared to the rest of the world that the person acted as a doorway for a specific form of magic to permeate the real world.

And others, like Luna, were simply born with the gift that twisted them to become acceptable vessels for the magic. Like Dunamancy.

"A Vessel…." he began.

Luna gave him a curt shake of her head. "She is no more a Vessel of the Ravenclaw line, than you are of Summer, Harry Potter. This form is merely adequate enough to channel the powers of the Diadem in her subconscious form, perhaps far more than any other in the last several centuries, but she is no Vessel."

Her words made a weird kind of sense within him. For all of Joshua's confidence about him being the Greengrass Vessel, Harry had been at odds with the idea. Given his powers, it made more sense that the power of Death had countered the blood curse, and not the mythical Greengrass Family Magic. Even when Summer's Fire had sheathed him, he had felt a strange dissonance between himself and the flames — they were his to use, but they did not belong to him.

He was merely a user, a retainer, holding onto it, until the rightful Vessel appeared. Why he was chosen for this role, he didn't know, but he was fairly sure that Luna and her dunamancy might have something to do with it.

And that led him to the obvious conclusion.

Luna Lovegood is the new Warden of the Prison of Possibilities.

She smiled again, and there was something almost innocent about it. "In her subconscious state, yes. Which is fitting, in its own way, for the Prison of Possibilities answers to one's subconscious desires."

If he didn't know that it was literally impossible to read his mind thanks to Death, he'd have assumed that she had just legilimized him.

"Harry?" said Dumbledore.

He blinked and looked at the man. There was a curious, and uncertain look in his eyes. He peered and squinted at him, as if he had done something weird.

"Yes, professor?"

"Who are you talking to?"

Harry stared at him for a silent second.

And then a few details floated together in his mind, and the bottom dropped all the way out of his stomach. He closed his eyes for a moment, activated his Death vision, and turned to look at Luna Lovegood.

The girl winked at him, and simply dissolved away, as did the surroundings, sliding away like paint being washed away by a stream of falling water. In its place, he could see the whitewashed walls on all four sides, and the smell of draughts and potions to his left. He wasn't inside the Room of Requirement, but lying in a bed in the Hospital Wing, with Albus Dumbledore seated right next to him.

But then Luna….

"Professor…" he asked, blinking as his sight returned to normal, meeting Albus Dumbledore's eyes reticently. "What happened to Luna Lovegood? Is she…"

"She's perfectly fine, Harry," assured the Headmaster. "She is currently asleep in the female wing. Wearing that Diadem was too exhausting for her, and she succumbed to it soon after."

Asleep? But then that projection… Was his mind playing tricks on him? No, it had seemed too real, too sentient, even for an illusion. Almost like a non-corporeal presence, a creation of thought and energy that was interacting with him. But if she was asleep….

It clicked.

So that's how it was.

"Harry? Is something the matter?"

"...No, professor. I was just seeing things." He said, and looked around. There on his bedside table was an assortment of flowers, candy gifts, and get-well cards from a surprisingly large number of students distributed across all four Houses. His wand was also on the table, its crimson sheen now intersected by thick bands of jet black, making it look just a little more like Dumbledore's infamous Deathstick.

Just the thought alone brought a frown on his face.

"The students were quite concerned about their Defence professor, it seems, " said Dumbledore. "Miss Greengrass was especially distraught after she was informed about you getting admitted to the Hospital Wing. She is in class right now, but has been quite rigid about leaving your side for the entire night. Poppy was not amused."

Harry smiled at the image of a stubborn Daphne talking smack to a furious Madam Pomfrey.

"Can I… can I leave, then?" He asked. "I feel fine."

And he did. Even the phantom pains were gone now.

"You'll be fine when I pronounce you as fine," snapped Madam Pomfrey, as the mediwitch bustled over and came into focus, casting several diagnosis charms on him. Knowing how she could be, he let the mediwitch have her way with him, as she prescribed him several days of rest, and near abstinence from casting any magic, alongwith naps enforced with sleeping draughts.

He glanced at Dumbledore, knowing fully well that the man would be taking him to Flamel Mansion and later, meet Apolline Delacour, and both events would probably need him to cast magic, but there was no need to say that to an irate Poppy Pomfrey.

"Uh, professor, about what happened up there…."

"What transpired inside the Room is a complete secret, Harry," said Dumbledore. "So naturally, the whole school knows. I've heard that you faced some monstrous beast shackled up on the seventh floor. I've heard that you and the curse-breakers had to fight some Egyptian mummy to get rid of the DADA curse. I've heard that Miss Granger was secretly in cahoots with Professor Umbridge to get you to resign from the DADA position. Admittedly, the last one was pretty far-fetched and surrealistically, the closest to the truth. My personal favourite so far has been the one where you transformed into a giant basilisk would have murdered the entire school if not for me, and both Miss Granger and Miss Lovegood being unfortunate victims of your ruthless assault."

Despite himself, Harry laughed, before a horrible thought came to him. "Professor, if you hadn't trapped me, I'd have —"

"Done nothing," said Dumbledore. "You cannot operate the Prison, remember? Even with your powers, you could not get out of the Room until someone from the inside allowed you to exit. I know. I ran the calculations."

Harry tilted his head slightly, unsure of what the man meant.

"Professor, what really happened to Voldemort?"

The Headmaster peered at him over his half-moon spectacles, and exhaled loudly. "I was hoping to avoid this conversation until you were healed and better, but it seems you will not be convinced otherwise."

"My best…." Harry began, only to hesitate for a moment. "Hermione was possessed by Voldemort, Professor. I fought him, and I certainly don't remember killing him, or saving her. What really happened, Professor?"

"Lord Voldemort lost to his greatest enemy," said Dumbledore. "Hubris."

"…hubris?"

"I have made it a point to exclusively study Lord Voldemort, Harry. For all his fearsome power, Lord Voldemort is cursed with some very serious shortcomings, one of which is his utmost faith in the fact that he, and he alone, is right. The idea that there might exist a different form of power and magic than the ones he chooses to believe in, is something he has always had trouble accepting."

That reminded him, quite uncomfortably, of Hermione. He decided not to dwell on that fact any further.

"When I fought Lord Voldemort inside the Room," said the Headmaster, stroking his lengthy beard gently. "I warned him that Miss Granger would be a terrible host. Her mind lacks the sort of flexibility one needs to practise Abstract magic. I'm sure, you must have noticed, how she was just spawning multiple facsimiles of the same opponents for you to fight, hoping that quantity might supplant her lack of flexibility."

The memory of endless spawns of Draco Malfoy attacking him from all sides came to mind. Same for the professors.

"I'm not certain why Miss Lovegood chose to walk into the Room right away, or what allowed her entry, but Lord Voldemort saw in her a potential to gain a perfect host."

A dunamantist. Wearing the Diadem of Ravenclaw. Inside Ravenclaw's Prison of Possibilities.

It was the perfect host. Had Voldemort succeeded, he might as well would've become a god.

"Unfortunately," said Dumbledore. "For all his plans, and his knowledge of the Abstract, Lord Voldemort didn't really understand. Understand what it meant to be a dunamantist. To be able to see through a thousand prospective futures, see through permutations and combinations of a near infinite array of possibilities… It is a power that few others could triumph over. But even far more terrifying is the suffering that the dunamantist must endure to go through that every breathing moment."

He took a deep breath. "Lord Voldemort possessed Luna Lovegood, hoping to use her mind, and her innate talent for himself. Had he known exactly what was about to happen, he would perhaps not have dared to come close to the girl. Instead, he placed the Diadem on Miss Lovegood's head, amplifying her innate dunamancy to exponential levels." He let out a throaty chuckle. "It destroyed his consciousness, freeing the Diadem of Ravenclaw of whatever curse he had tainted it with. So trust me, Harry. That bit of Voldemort is gone. For good."

Harry narrowed his eyes. Something about the Headmaster's choice of words told him that the old man was deliberately hiding something. But before he could ask, Poppy Pomfrey rushed in again, and gave Dumbledore a most stern gaze.

"You have outstayed your welcome, Headmaster," she remarked. "I'd ask you to leave and let my patient rest. It was worse enough that Potter got into trouble of his own. He certainly didn't need Albus Dumbledore to get him into more life-threatening situations."

The admonished look on the Headmaster's face made Harry laugh.

"I'm sorry, Poppy," he tried. "I was merely educating a student."

"Your only excuse is that you are the Headmaster of this school," Poppy shot back.

"Sometimes I wonder who's paying who," muttered Dumbledore, before turning to Harry and smiling. "I will let you rest now, my boy. Perhaps, if Poppy deems it wise, you can come visit this old man after dinner? I'm certain we have a few things to discuss, especially with your newest acquisition."

"My newest… what?" asked Harry, but the Headmaster just winked at him, no doubt using Pomfrey as a perfect excuse to avoid answering any further questions, and strode out of the room while whistling to a song that was probably as old as him, leaving Harry with a score of conflicting thoughts.

"Uh, Poppy—"

"No, Harry Potter, and if you even so much as try to escape, I'll break your bones myself and let you heal the normal way."

"Monster!"


"This is quite the repository of damning evidence, Yaxley."

Dolores Umbridge bit into her biscuit, as she scanned through the pages with a hawk-like focus. Corban Yaxley, Head of the Administrative Regulation Department that was in charge of the Ministry Archives, was one of the few 'purebloods' that she could trust to be loyal to the Ministry first and foremost. Unfortunately, his Department fell under the purview of the DMLE Director, which meant that any direct request that went through either had to pass through that bitch Bones's office, or had to come from someone so far up the ladder that it could effectively bypass her jurisdiction, namely — the Minister of Magic himself.

"I was most shocked myself, Madame Undersecretary," claimed Corban. "I knew that the old fool had his hands deep in the Ministry, but to seal records like that is… preposterous! He should be sent to Azkaban just for this."

Dolores heartily agreed. She had, quite painstakingly, heard every single thing the mudblood Granger had to say about this group she called the Order of the Phoenix. Initially, Dolores had been under the impression that she was just telling tales, or had been hoodwinked into believing that she was part of some secret organisation dedicated to stopping the 'Dark Lord'. Imagine her surprise when after going through pages and pages of old records, she had actually found details about this Order of the Phoenix, operating as a clandestine organisation, infiltrating the Ministry ranks in the seventies. A lot of them were Aurors, Unspeakables, Ministry Heads, Lords of known Houses, and of course, commoners, halfbloods and of course, mudbloods. A giant meshwork of eyes and ears that operated to pour intel into the one sink, the spider lying in patient wait at the centre of this web.

Albus Dumbledore himself.

"Breaking of Ministry protocols, going against confidentiality oaths, practice of Occlumency, altering criminal records, infiltration into Ministry positions…. This is just one thing after another," she groaned, shutting the large folder with a large thump. "And Bartemious Crouch Senior just sealed this file away?"

It was a pity that the fool was already dead, and Dolores was no necromancer. Or else she'd have raised him back as an inferius and sent him to Azkaban for his misdeeds.

And the names that had come up in the list….

Arthur Weasley, Head of Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Department.

Emmeline Vance, Obliviator.

Hestia Jones, practising attorney.

Daedalus Diggle, member of the Weather-Control Department.

Sturgis Podmore, member of the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad.

Just to name a few.

There were several others in the list that were long dead, including the mad Auror Alastor Moody, who had been found dead inside his own trunk on the night of the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament — just one of the ever-increasing list of criminal mysteries attributed to the Boy-Who-Lived and Albus Dumbledore.

"Is this enough to get the boy to Azkaban?" asked Corban suggestively. "My brother's soul wouldn't rest in peace until that brat got what he deserves."

He was talking about Cameron Yaxley, the former Head of the Department of Magical Transportation. One of the fourteen that were found dead on the night of the Third Task.

Another victim to Harry Potter's ruthless ambition to rise in power.

"Just this?" She murmured. "Definitely not. But this is a start. With little luck, we'll be able to apprehend all these criminals soon. I'd love to see Albus Dumbledore fight his way out of this one."

"And Potter —"

Dolores waved Corban's concerns off. "He's just a brat, Yaxley. I will admit he is powerful, and perhaps a tad too skilled for his age, but just a brat. Without Dumbledore, the Ministry will clip his wings. If he puts one toe out of the line —"

"Might be difficult after what's in the papers today."

Dolores arched an eyebrow. "Papers?"

With a flick of her wand, she summoned the morning's Prophet. On it, in bold capital headlines, was written —

CURSE ON THE DEFENCE AGAINST THE DARK ARTS POSITION BROKEN!

ALBUS DUMBLEDORE OFFERS ACCOLADES TO HARRY POTTER FOR HIS HEROIC DEEDS TO PROTECT THE FUTURE OF HOGWARTS AND ITS STUDENTS!

Dolores spat in surprise. The curse was gone? This soon? She had checked the Ministry records about this unsolved curse hampering the defence education at Hogwarts, but had found next to nothing except hearsay and occasional nomenographic alterations to the subject. That and a constant change of professors over the last several decades. None of the Ministry reports had any concrete evidence about the curse's origins.

To Dolores's sharp instincts, the entire thing screamed SCAM.

A great sham concocted by the sitting Headmaster that was obsessed with painting himself as Merlin reborn, while ensuring that the future progenies remained weak, dependent and in awe of his prowess.

And now he was carefully crafting his successor Harry Potter's image in the same way.

Truly, the man's manipulations and schemes knew no bounds.

But if the old man was claiming that the curse was truly gone then —

She checked the paper, specifically at the next article at the bottom of the page.

WILL HARRY POTTER RESIGN NOW THAT THE CURSE IS GONE?

The entire column was nothing except praises for Potter's acumen and his ability to teach the Defence class. Several students, several of whom had parents working in the upper echelons of the Ministry and the Wizengamot, had nothing but good things to say about Potter. There were references to the upcoming Inter-school Exchange event, which several people believed was due to Potter's efforts at improving international cooperation after the terrible ending of the Triwizard tournament.

Not one of them could see things the way it was. Potter had used the Rosier wedding as a tool to cut the Malfoys' influence short, and now, he was elevating himself to greater status by lying about conquering the DADA curse. Dolores had no doubt that if this Inter-School Exchange came to pass, Potter would become a permanent member of the staff, no matter what Dolores did.

But the worst bit was —

Two students, muggleborn Hermione Granger, and pureblood Luna Lovegood, were unsuspecting victims of the diabolical effects of the curse infecting the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. While the Hogwarts Matron refused to comment on the exact nature of either of their injuries, the Matron claimed that Miss Lovegood would shortly return to health. Muggleborn Hermione Granger on the other hand, is likely to be sent to St. Mungo's for advanced treatment.

Dolores's blood ran cold. The mudblood was being sent to St. Mungo's? If she was diagnosed and they found traces of the Imperius curse on her then….

"Madam Undersecretary?" asked Corban in surprise as Dolores pushed herself off the chair suddenly. "Is everything alright?"

"I — I need to return to Hogwarts immediately. Something… something's turned up." She hastily scratched something on her pad and handed it over to him. "Get this attested by the Minister and released before the end of the day. We are done with letting criminals escape justice."

Without waiting for Yaxley to leave, Dolores threw some powder into her Floo as it exploded in a burst of emerald flame.


An excerpt from the Evening Prophet…

MINISTRY OF MAGIC ISSUES CIRCULAR! ALL MINISTRY EMPLOYEES TO UNDERGO SECURITY CLEARANCE SCRUTINY!

MINISTRY OF MAGIC PASSES NEW EDUCATIONAL DECREE NUMBER TWENTY-SIX! ALL INCIDENTS RELATED TO THE CURSE ON THE DEFENCE AGAINST THE DARK ARTS POSITION TO BE CLASSIFIED UNDER THE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT!


AN: Yeah, there have been some delays in postings and missed updates lately. Some of it has been due to IRL stuff, others because a particular set of characters in Monochrome have been fucking up with my plans for this arc, which has been making writing a little difficult. But things are looking better, so hopefully, we will catch up on the delayed updates very quickly.

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