The Search for Life and Death

Into the Realm

THE SEARCH FOR LIFE AND DEATH

XVIII

Into the Realm

"Oh, Ginny, dear, are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine, Mum." Ginny hugged her mother back when the woman squeezed her tightly. "The dementors just made me… it all came back, but I'm okay now. Really."

In truth, the dementors had brought to the forefront of her mind every miserable thought of her first year at Hogwarts. Every moment of doubt, every instance of fear, and the growing comprehension that she had been the one attacking people. It had made her sick with fear all over again, but a little chocolate and a hug from her parents had fixed her up. The only fear she had left now was for the two boys left in the Hospital Wing.

Of their two groups (the Weasleys and those that went to Diagon Alley with Elena), Harry and Ron had suffered the worst from the dementor attack. It was hard to remember what had actually happened, because the dementors had done such a fine job of taking her back into her first year, but Ginny remembered Harry collapsing to the ground and twitching, while a dementor leaned over him. The creature had been reaching for its hood with long, scaly fingers, its mouth so close to Harry's…

And then Ron had come leaping out of nowhere, screaming something – Ginny didn't know what. She only remembered the dementor swooping away with a shriek after that, and wizards apparating into Diagon Alley by the dozens.

She had briefly seen Sirius, and watched him whisk Harry away, before Dumbledore had appeared by her side and used a Portkey to transfer her and Ron to the Hospital Wing. It had all been a blur of movement after that; people coming and going in the Hospital Wing, chocolate being passed around, potions administered, and then her parents appearing.

Ginny was glad her mum and dad were with her, but part of her wished she were still in the Hospital Wing, where she could be near Ron and Harry. She remembered how worried Sirius had looked, but he hadn't stayed with Harry, instead choosing to leave not long after Ginny and Ron had arrived in the Hospital Wing. She wondered where he was now, and if someone was keeping him informed on Harry's condition, and if Harry or Ron's conditions had changed.

She didn't dare mention her thoughts to her mother. Although her father had been angry when they heard about Remus and Sirius disappearing with Harry, her mother had been furious. And Ron, first not telling them his suspicions, and then being so flip with them. Ginny had rarely seen her blow up at her youngest brother like that, but she had held nothing back when it came to ranting about Remus and Sirius being unfit guardians. Ginny couldn't claim to know either Remus or Sirius very well, but she thought her mum was being far too harsh. She wondered if her parents' opinion of Remus and Sirius was what had kept the man from staying with Harry in the infirmary. If it was, that was very unfair.

"Mum, is it okay if I go to bed?"

"Of course, dear." Mrs. Weasley ran her hand over Ginny's hair and smiled down at her slightly. "You lie down and get some rest. Your father and I are going to see how Ron and Harry are doing."

Ginny nodded and got up from the couch she had been sitting on and went up the stairs to the Gryffindor fourth year girl's dormitory. As she stepped inside, she found that the house elves had been busy moving her trunk from the Burrow to Hogwarts, and everything, including her text books, was already at the base of one of the four poster beds.

Ginny sat down on her bed, but she didn't go to sleep. Instead, she opened her trunk and pulled out an old tome she had "borrowed" from the library at Grimmauld Place when she had been trying to find out who Aceso was.

Laying back on her pillows, Ginny opened her copy of The Ageless Arte of Borrowing Magick.

"Frostbite?"

"That is what Poppy has discovered is causing young Mister Weasley so much pain," Dumbledore commented lightly. It was clear he was trying to use his easy tone of voice to reassure Molly Weasley that her son was in no great danger, but he might have known it wouldn't be that simple.

"How in the world did Ronald manage to get frostbite on both of his arms?"

"I daresay it's an unusual occurrence," Dumbledore said, and glanced toward Madam Pomfrey's office. "Poppy has informed me that she detected no magical residue from a curse, and that this is easily taken care of with a salve that Severus is currently finishing brewing as we speak."

"But how do you explain something like this, Dumbledore?" Arthur asked, putting an arm around his wife to try and calm her.

"I would like to give you a simple explanation, Arthur, but I was not present in Diagon Alley when this occurred, and Elena was not with the boys when the dementors attacked."

Molly Weasley opened her mouth, surely to say something about that, but Arthur squeezed his arm around her and quickly said, "Well, of course, none of us were expecting an attack. Fred and George were running around, as well. I suppose we're lucky they were in Zonko's and away from the initial attack, or we might have had two more boys in here."

His words seemed to have taken Molly's thoughts elsewhere and the woman shuddered slightly at the thought of more of her children being in the infirmary because of those wretched creatures.

"How in the world, though… dementors in Diagon Alley?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "I haven't the faintest idea, Arthur. I've made some inquiries with some friends at the Ministry, but as of yet, I've received nothing to tell us how they managed to get there."

"It'll be in the papers."

"Oh, yes. I imagine the press has its hands full at the moment, preparing for tomorrow's edition of the Daily Prophet. I'm afraid we will have to consider the consequences this will have on those returning to the school. There are students who still need to buy their things."

"Yes. We need to get the rest of everyone's school supplies," Arthur noted, glancing toward the beds where his son and Harry were sleeping.

"I'm afraid I've gone and gotten ahead of myself in that regard," Dumbledore said, and though his words suggested it, the Headmaster sounded anything but sheepish. "You see, I was already in Diagon Alley, searching for anything that might suggest the reasons for the attack there, and I got it into my head to get the rest of the supplies young misters and miss Weasley, and mister Potter needed."

Arthur and Molly both looked startled by this, but Arthur managed to stammer, his ears beginning to turn red. "He-headmaster, you didn't have to—"

"I'm afraid it's an old man's folly. When I get these ideas in my head, I simply can't shake them. I suppose it's a sign of old age, but there's little to be done about it. The shopkeepers in Diagon Alley do have a no return policy, and I'd hate for these supplies to go to waste, so I'm afraid I'll have to ask your children to take them off my hands for me. I've had Minerva package them for me, and she'll be delivering them to everyone's room tomorrow morning."

Molly and Arthur looked like they wanted to argue, but were a little afraid to, and so didn't know what to say. Dumbledore, for his part, looked completely oblivious to their predicament and was gaily studying a bird fluttering outside of the Infirmary windows.

"I suppose… thank you, Headmaster."

"No, Arthur, Molly, thank you. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have people like you to take these things off my hands. Why, my office would be even more cluttered than it is at the moment, and I can't help but think I'm already testing the weight limits of the tower's floor…"

The sound of the Headmaster's voice eventually faded away like the footsteps moving with them, and the sound of a door closing told Ron that he could open his eyes safely, without being seen. Had his brothers been there, he might have made an excuse about not wanting to deal with his mother's fawning over him about his Prefect badge, but only because he was fairly sure that Harry had been unconscious since he arrived and hadn't heard anything his mother had said. He'd rather it stay that way.

Whether he had been conscious and Madam Pomfrey had chosen not to say anything, or if he had been in that halfway state between consciousness and slumber, Ron didn't know. What he did know was that he had heard his mum arguing with his dad about Sirius and Remus. He had heard a good bit of things, actually, some of which didn't make a whole lot of sense to him, like their talking about some sort of potion a bunch of people were taking that night and having Dumbledore oversee. But his mum's rant about Sirius and Remus and what she would do if Sirius dared to show up to see Harry had made him glad that his best friend wasn't awake to hear it. Ron was pretty sure the only reason he hadn't reacted like he had before was because he was just too tired to get worked up about it, and his arms hurt far too much to move.

Frostbite, Madam Pomfrey had said.

Ron looked down at his arms. They looked like he had been cooked over a fire, not frozen. His skin was dark, almost black, bubbled and charred and sick looking. Ron tried not to stare too long, as he imagined he could smell burning flesh (even though that didn't make a bit of sense) and it made his stomach roil. There was a spell surrounding his arms, faintly blue in color. Ron found that he couldn't move his arms and he realized it must be some kind of stasis spell Madam Pomfrey was using until Snape was finished making whatever that salve was that he would need.

The Frostbite must have been a result of jumping on that dementor. Ron remembered the pain that had shot through his arms when he'd done it, but he never would have expected to get Frostbite from it. What exactly were the dementors that they could cause that kind of reaction?

"A mystery for another time, my young friend."

What? Ron gasped, as the Hospital Wing around him began to fade. The color of the world around him dissolved, absorbed into the shining brightness that sought to consume him.

"Be not afraid, my chosen. Only seek that which you have been called to seek."

"Turris…"

"Come, my chosen, it is time, to fall into a world divine. Follow me to the Realm of Dreams, and seek and find by any means that which I know your heart desires. Sleep peacefully, as it all transpires…"

There were nine children who heard these words, echoing in their minds. Nine children, who felt the magic reverberate like a cymbal in their soul, and drag them down, down, down, into a world of slumber and light.

Lying in her bed in the fourth year Gryffindor girl's dormitory, Ginny's hand slipped on the pages of The Ageless Arte of Borrowing Magick, and she blinked sleepily. Beneath her cheek, a page displayed a young witch with wand held aloft. The woman pointed her wand at the sky and shouted mutely at the sky, as a stream of magic swirled downward, coalescing at her wand tip. Behind her, lightning flashed down, lighting up the picture.

Ginny saw none of this display, and after a few moments, the image stopped repeating itself and went still. Ginny Weasley slept on.

Sitting on her bed in the fifth year Gryffindor girl's dormitory, Hermione hugged Crookshank's to her chest tightly, as she thought of Ron and Harry, still in the Infirmary. The large, fluffy cat purred loudly in her arms, and dropped gracefully on his feet when Hermione's grip went slack and she relaxed against the wall. Purring, the half-kneazle circled lazily, before settling down next to the sleeping girl and taking a nap himself.

Fred and George were standing in the secret passage that ran to the back room in Honeydukes, trying to figure out if there was any way for a dementor to use the secret passage to gain access to Hogwarts the way that they were able to get out. Both of them yawned loudly at the same time, but were determined not to fall asleep, just as they had been determined to keep themselves busy in order to avoid worrying about their little brother.

A moment later, Fred collapsed to the ground, and George fell on top of them. George grumbled lightly under his breath, and Fred let out a great snore.

Draco, for all his great talk about being better than Potter, especially during third year after the dementors attacked the train, had no idea what to do with himself now that he was alone in the Slytherin Common Room. Potter was in the Infirmary due to the dementors, and Weasley… Weasley was there, too, though Draco was still more hung up on the fact that the weasel had been quite decent to him in Diagon Alley. More than decent, in fact.

He didn't have long to ponder this fact. A moment later, a light settled over him and Draco slipped sideways off the arm he had been sitting on and collapsed onto the couch cushions, fast asleep.

Neville was smiling to himself as he knelt in front of one of the newest additions to his greenhouse. The small plant had thin, tentacle-like vines that waved aimlessly. They would flower on the Winter Solstice and Neville couldn't wait to see them. For the moment, however, he was gently moving the rich soil with his hands, being sure that the plant was aptly covered.

A wave of drowsiness overcame him and Neville yawned widely. He briefly wondered if the soporific effects of the plant were actually active beyond its flowering stage, but hadn't time to consider it further, before he let out a loud snore and fell back on the grassy floor.

Lying on her back in the middle of a field, Luna smiled absently at the darkening sky. Around her, she could hear the wind blowing, birds chirping, and a soft chanting, echoing with the power of multiple voices speaking at once.

Luna let out a soft, happy laugh, and slipped off to sleep.

Lying unconscious in the Hospital Wing, Harry distantly felt his body take on a weightlessness, and then a bright light lit up his vision. A moment later, it faded, and Harry found himself standing in a circle of nine people. Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, Fred, George, Luna, and Malfoy all looked as confused as he did.

"The hunt… begins."

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