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Chapter 15 : Illusion
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Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, except the plot.
Harry surveyed the room. “Well, here we are.”
They sat in front of the Veil, gathered in a little semi-circle. The room was vast, and the floor on which they resided seemed to span for miles all around them. The space was familiar, as they had all been here before a few years prior. Despite the familiarity, it certainly felt different. The fall of Voldemort had brought a remarkable change of atmosphere within the Ministry – the room felt less like a locked cage, and the emptiness was cool and calm. Any paranoia that there had been was long gone.
Hermione carefully unclasped the case containing the Expugnolers; the click of each clasp popping open resounded with outstanding clarity throughout the room. Her eyes shifted nervously from the Veil to the case and she bit her lip. The trio had undoubtedly been in more pressing scenarios, but Hermione knew that the stakes were much higher for this one. They had all faced death before, but it had been forced, and they had been fighting back. In this instance, however, they could possibly be walking right into a fatal situation. In Granger’s book of logic, this scene was climbing right up the stupidity list. She looked up at Ron and Harry, and was instantly reminded of the facts – they had to do this. For the prophecy, for Sirius, for Harry. For happiness. They had to.
Harry stood and walked in a full circle around the Veil. It looked, as always, he assumed, like an empty archway to those with no impurities; to those who had not seen torture, who had not seen death. Oh, I envy you. Harry thought. Envious, he was, for he could no longer remember a time where there had been no loss. Yet there it was, standing tall, almost regally, purposefully, in the center of the wide platform on which they stood. Its rough edges were crumbling and seemingly fragile, but it was still. It did not crack, it did not fall. To the eye, a thin, filmy curtain was strewn between the two columns of the Veil. It seemed a dark mist, and it was dancing to the voices of those beyond the archway, appearing as a blanket of shadows suspended like a marionette. It fluttered and weaved, entering two separate worlds with each breath of the Earth, each small heave of existence. It connected the living with the dead, and it was magnificent.
He looked down at Ron and Hermione. “You guys ready?” he asked. Hermione flicked one of the vials and watched the glow swirl within the glass before looking up at Harry and nodding. Ron pushed himself up off the ground and walked over to Harry. Hermione passed the both of them a pair of Expugnolers.
Harry fiddled with the straps and loosened the buckles slowly, being careful not to drop the device while struggling with it in confusion. Ron was just the same – he stared at it in near disgust, piecing the contraption apart in his mind and trying to generally understand the anatomy of the Expugnolers. Hermione closed up the Expugnoler case and turned to face them, the pair of domes already positioned securely upon her face, the straps buckled safely behind her head. She expelled a heavy sigh before proceeding to untangle both Ron and Harry’s Expugnolers and assisting the pair in putting them on.
After everyone was settled, Hermione prepared her bag and checked her supplies while Ron cast a quick Leviosa on the Expugnoler case so they could spend less time bending down picking up glow and more time figuring out the act of instilling the glow into the domes of the Expugnolers themselves. Hermione reached into the case and removed all of the vials except the 15 they currently needed and closed her rucksack before placing it at her feet.
“So, we have enough for an hour to start with, and once we all can refill our glow supply quickly, we should be set.” She pulled out the first of her five vials and examined it. “Right. We have to pull out the cork and quickly place the vial over the hole in the centre of the dome to pour it in. Once the vial is empty, put the cork in the hole of the dome instead to stop it from escaping. Got it?”
Ron nodded yes and Harry picked up his own vial and observed the viscosity of the substance. “How quickly should this process be completed?” He asked nervously.
“Forty seconds maximum. We don’t know what we’ll be facing, Harry, we need to be able to protect ourselves and not waste time.” Hermione glanced at the vials. “As we need to use all of our five vials to be fully protected, make sure you balance the amount of glow equally between the domes.”
“So 2 ½ vials of glow each, basically.” Ron calculated.
Harry gave a small smile and elbowed Ron. “Good math, mate.”
“But remember, that only lasts an hour. We have to keep track of time to make sure we’ll be safe. I’ll probably signal you both when it’s time to refill.” Hermione added.
“It’s bothering me a bit that we’re not really prepared for anything else we might have to deal with. Who knows what’s over there?!” Ron exclaimed, eyeing the Veil with slight panic.
“Argilla.” Harry stated plainly, ignoring the fact that the question had been rhetorical.
Both Hermione and Ron looked at him. “What do you mean? Professor Argilla himself said that he didn’t know what had become of the Veil. If anything over there is violently dangerous, I’m sure it was an accident. He wouldn’t apply this kind of Dark Magic on purpose. Hardly anyone would.” Hermione explained sharply.
“Yeah mate, I mean, this is Argilla. You heard what he said. It’s gained power over time – it could be self-harvested danger.” Ron reasoned.
Harry looked solemnly at the Veil. “How could this have been a mistake?” His question faded off into nothing and neither of his two best friends replied. Hermione busied herself with the vials again.
“Alright, so we should all put our glow in at the same time so we’re all on the same schedule, and maybe we should link arms when we enter? Despite what’s over there, I think we should stick together.”
Harry and Ron nodded in agreement. They both found it difficult to know what to say – this was their first major endeavour that they had actually been able to plan for. It was obvious, however, that someone like Hermione thrived in an organized situation. Whether or not this fact would change when they began was unknown. (As most things usually were for the three of them.)
Harry and Ron joined Hermione and gathered around the levitating case and removed their first vials. Hermione looked up that them.
“Remember, when you’re pouring the glow in, close your eyes. It’s been sitting for a while in this vials, which means it’s diluted a fair bit, but we still need to be careful. We don’t want any unneeded injuries.” She looked pointedly at the two of them.
They all tipped the vials of glow into their Expugnolers at the same time, and it seemed to work well. The glow swirled in wispy spirals into the domes – it was as if it knew its purpose and was willing to serve accordingly. As soon as all 15 vials had been emptied, Hermione cast a quick transparency charm on the corks, which were plugging the centre of the domes, to improve all of their sight.
They approached the Veil at what seemed to be a slow pace, to Harry at least. The seconds were minutes and the minutes were hours and he was scared. They had survived so much, what if they died for this? What good would that be? He searched for the right word, for the right phrase, that would motivate them. He wanted that perfect sentence that would lighten the whole situation. But it wasn’t there, and Harry had no time to find it. His eyes met Hermione and Ron’s through the swirling green glow, which was already starting to take affect – he could still see the basic forms of his friends when he closed his eyes. They all gave firm nods before linking arms and moving in a quick walk towards the archway. Harry was on the far right, meaning he was entering first. He shifted the three of them sideways so they could fit through the Veil without getting stuck and faced the passageway through which they would venture. Instinctively, he held his breath and ducked his head as he closed his eyes, and he walked through, pulling Hermione and Ron after him. That was it. Time had stopped within the world, and they were gone.
The room was cold and Harry felt dead.
He lay curled up on the ground that was not there.
He was shivering and shivering and his whole self felt numb. He might have heard a loud shout, but he couldn’t feel his ears. Did he have ears? What was happening? The cry echoed louder this time, reverberating all around and through Harry, shaking him violently. It was himself, voicing the blatant pain he was feeling as he writhed around on the floor that did not exist. And he was burning; white-hot flames licked at his legs and he tried to kick them off, but he couldn’t feel his limbs. Did he have legs?
He heard another cry; this time, it seemed an octave or so higher than his own. A female voice. Hermione. Where was she? Where was Ron? Harry looked around him, and was instantly relieved to know that his eyes were unharmed. They were there, they were functioning, though the rest of him failed. But they were closed. Harry felt a burning sensation on his scalp and his hand, which he could not feel, jumped quickly to his head to protect his face from the flames. There they were, the Occulus Expugnolers, strapped tightly around his head. And it all came rushing back.
He was beyond the Veil, with Ron and Hermione. They were trying to rescue his prophecy. And Sirius. Where was Sirius? Where were Ron and Hermione?
Harry saw a hand grip forcefully around his forearm, barely avoiding the flames now engulfing his left hand. He had no feeling in his arm, however, and relied on his sight to discover the person now grabbing onto him. He used all of his strength to turn his head and his eyes met those of Ronald Weasley.
Ron’s face was pale and showed immense pain; he twitched violently as his fist tightened around Harry, trying to get his attention.
“Harry...” he rasped. “I...I can’t. Bring me...home. I want...I want to leave.” Ron choked out. His hands flung off of Harry and began clawing at this own chest. “It hurts...so...much.”
Harry wanted to relieve Ron of his pain; he wanted to see his friend happy and carefree again. But he couldn’t, there was no way.
“Ron...I know....you’re strong enough. We have to find...Hermione.” Harry’s strained voice came out it erratic gasps as frost clenched at his innards, the fire held back by the biting cold. Why did this hurt so much? Why was this pain present?
“Over there!” Ron exclaimed, in a rapid shout, which seemed to rob him of all strength. He collapsed back onto the non-existent floor, coughing and gasping for air. Harry heaved himself up onto his elbows, the burning on his exterior worsening, the fire climbing up his legs and down his back to meet. The pain of the heat was no match to that of the cold within him, which stung so sharply and clenched so tightly that it was if no oxygen existed and no warmth was ever present.
Harry followed Ron’s gaze and looked around. They were in a room; it was obvious that there were gray stone walls that extended infinitely alongside them, stretching endlessly before them. Harry turned slightly to see the Veil, looking the same as it always had, yet from the opposing side. The shadows still danced within it, and the fragile stone still stacked up precariously to join in the middle at the top, like any other archway. It looked so inviting; Harry nearly crawled back to it, just to make the agony subside. But then he heard Ron groan in pain and snapped back to reality. Harry shifted back, and observed the rest of the area.
There was a thin, floating mist swirling about them, almost like fog. It was light gray, and thickened the air noticeably. They could not see far in any direction, which explained why the walls seemed to fade into nothingness instead of just ending.
As he scanned the room with no floor and no ceiling, Harry began to understand. They were floating upon the gray mist, which swirled not only before them, but beneath them, remarkably solid. He tested his weight, and found no give below him. A sharp, sudden pain shot up his back as the fire burnt through his flesh and met the bone of his spine. He cried out in agony, twisting his body and pressing his back to the solid floating mist in an attempt to extinguish the fire. The cold closed tighter around his lungs and he gasped for air through heaving sobs.
“Harry!” he heard Ron call. “Where are you?” Ron’s voice sounded surprisingly normal and pain-free. Harry slowly turned his head to where Ron had been moments before, near death. He was gone. Harry was alone.
“Harry! You have to move. Just keep moving forward!” Ron shouted.
“I...I can’t.” Harry cried, groaning as the fire burnt deeper and the cold stung viciously.
“Try, Harry! Trust me!”
Harry rolled onto his stomach and pulled himself up onto all fours. He shouted in pain as his back arched in his new stance.
“Come on, Harry! You’re almost there!” Harry slowly dragged one leg after the other, digging his fingers into the cool mist which quickly hardened around his hands. He pushed himself forward, bit by bit, following Ron’s voice. When he thought he could move no more from the paralyzing agony, and when his voice was painfully hoarse from crying and shouting, it stopped. It all stopped.
The mist eased into a slower swirl, becoming more like calm clouds than a thick, impenetrable fog. Harry rolled over onto his side and revelled in the sudden release from torture. He looked down at his arms, to find them unscathed, and felt his back to realize that this spine was perfectly intact and his shirt unharmed. There were no marks left by the agony that he had just been experiencing moments ago. His breath slowed back to its normal pace, and looked to his side. Ron was kneeling next to him.
“Did it stop for you as well? The pain?” Ron asked. Harry nodded.
“Where’s Hermione?” Harry demanded. “Have you seen her?”
Ron shook his head. “I heard her crying a while back, when we were all being tortured.”
“So did I. Maybe she got the pain to stop, too?” Harry asked, slowly standing up. Ron stood as well.
Harry looked around and strained to see clearly through the fog. The room was bright white and dull gray and there was seemingly nothing around them. Nothing. No prophecy. No Sirius. No Hermione.
Harry blinked a few times, and his eyes stung. A wave of panic crashed over him.
“Ron? How long have we been in here?” he asked nervously.
“About an hour, but Harry, I really think that we should look for – oh no!” Ron’s hands automatically went to his Expugnolers, and felt that the corks in the domes were still intact. “We must be almost out of glow!”
“We have to find Hermione and make sure she’s alright. The glow’s with her, wherever she is, anyway.”
The two of them began walking around, not straying too far from one another. They called for her, hearing no reply. There was nothing around them but walls and fog, and soon their eyes would fail, and they would be in serious trouble.
“Hermione!” Harry shouted. “Hermione, where are you?”
“Harry, I found her!” Ron pointed a little ways away from where he was standing, beckoning for Harry to join him.
She was lying down on the solid mist, her sweater tied around her eyes like a blindfold. Harry kneeled down next to her, Ron following suit.
“Hermione, are you all right?!” Harry asked, panic evident in his voice.
“My eyes...my...eyes...burning...” she whimpered, clutching at her head, pressing the sweater against her face. Harry looked around her thin form and noticed her rucksack.
“Ron, I think we should refill our Expugnolers first so we all don’t go blind, agreed?”
“Definitely.” He replied, reaching for the bag. He extracted fifteen vials, and handed five to Harry. They quickly filled the domes with the glow and felt immense relief as the fluid green light swam around their eyes before they closed. Both Harry and Ron refocused their attention on Hermione.
“Harry, look!” Harry followed Ron’s gesture and saw Hermione’s Expugnolers, the domes cracked and the remaining glow dancing around the shattered glass.
“Hermione, what happened?” Ron asked.
“Tried...tried to...Apparate.” Hermione spoke in a broken whisper. “I fell...and they...they broke.”
“Are your eyes alright?” Ron shifted her blindfold slightly so it was more effective.
“They hurt...so much.” She cried quietly. “But I...I think I can still see...a bit.”
Ron glanced over at Harry, who was bent over the broken Expugnolers, mumbling multiple charms under his breath, trying to fix them.
“Don’t worry, Hermione. We’ll fix them.” Ron told her. She pressed her palms into her eyes over the blindfold, trying to make the burning stop.
“I’m so...careless.” Hermione said in between laboured breaths, so softly that neither Ron nor Harry could hear her.
“Occulus Reparo!” Harry said, the glass clinking together as the domes reformed. “There we go.” Harry exclaimed with evident relief. He handed them over to Ron, who removed Hermione’s blindfold and quickly placed the dome’s over her eyes. Harry carefully sat her upright while Ron secured the Expugnoler strap around her head. Harry removed the corks from the domes and retrieved her five new vials. As he watched the glow transfer from the vials to the domes, he was able to get a good look at Hermione’s eyes. They were both swollen half shut, and the part of the eye that was visible was an angry pink colour. Tears had left clear tracks on her cheeks, ending abruptly where the teardrop had fallen free from her face and landed at the base of the dome. Harry knew no healing charm to fix her eyes and felt useless to not be able to help her. The vials emptied into the domes and Ron swiftly replaced the corks while Harry placed the empty containers back in the rucksack.
The glow circled around her eyes and she slowly let them close. She moved her head around, trying to get a good look at everything.
“It’s...it’s alright. I can still see. My eyes...must’ve gotten irritated from the gray mist. They feel better now, though. I think...we should keep going. Are both of you okay?” As Hermione’s pain gradually subsided, she sounded very relieved and willing to continue, two signs that Harry and Ron were happy to see.
“Yes, yes we’re alright.” Harry and Ron nodded. “But why did it seem like we were dying before, and now we’re perfectly fine?” Harry asked.
“I think it’s because the Veil’s purpose has changed over time – it’s now a portal between the living and the dead. It probably brings about pain to its entrants to ensure that they’re dead.” Hermione reasoned.
“Then why are we still alive?” Ron questioned.
“I’m not sure – maybe the Expugnolers...the fog could be a poison that enters the body through the eyes. That’s probably why we’re safe.”
“Oh, so it would catch people off guard, then. No one would think to protect their eyes.” Harry added.
“We’re lucky you heard those voices, mate.”
Harry nodded at Ron’s comment. “But the voices also said we need to leave quickly, with both the prophecy and ‘a loved one’. I think we better keep going.”
Ron and Hermione both agreed and the two males helped Hermione stand. Ron took the liberty of carrying the rucksack for her, and Harry decided that it would be best for everyone to carry a few vials of their own in case they got separated again. They continued walking away from the Veil and deeper into the room until the walls got closer together and formed a narrow passage. They could not see very far down the corridor as the fog seemed to thicken considerably, but they ventured on all the same, ready to face whatever they would meet at the end of the hall.
The trio walked for what seemed like days, though in reality, it was mere minutes. Harry didn’t know what it was, but being beyond the Veil was one of the most disconcerting experiences of his life. He still had that sickening feeling that he was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and that there would be consequences for trespassing. He felt trapped and alone, though he was with his best friends. He was lost and confused, not knowing what to do. Despite all of this, he, Ron and Hermione powered on, forcing themselves to deal with whatever they would find, doing whatever they could to reach a common goal.
Harry forced himself to believe that Sirius was in fact in here somewhere, along with his prophecy. He wouldn’t be able to face himself if this was all a trap, if they were enduring this for nothing. He quickly erased the thought from his mind and brought himself back to reality.
Hermione nudged his arm. “Harry, look.” She pointed a little ways away and he saw the fog was thinning out and the walls were extending out to the left and right again. They had reached the end of the hall. The room in which they entered was clear and pure, and had both a ceiling and a floor, which domed down to the walls, creating a sphere. Harry realized quickly that the entire room was made of glass. The glass allowed a bright and golden light to shine seamlessly in from all angles, illuminating the room in its entirety. Looking down, he saw utter darkness, a complete and solid black. He raised his head upwards and saw that the ceiling was the same. Through Harry’s observations, he began to understand. They were in a floating glass sphere, suspended in nothingness. Turning to his right, he saw that there was a large, flaming ball outside of their bubble, illuminating everything. Harry, Ron and Hermione stood at the entrance to the inside of a crystal planet, blinded by a sun that was so bright it was dark. Going beyond the Veil had brought them to a separate world. Within this world, there was a sky with one sun and one planet, and it was brilliant.
Harry turned to look at Ron and Hermione, who were just as awestruck as he was. They said nothing at all to one another for a few moments, and took it all in.
“What...what is this place?” Ron asked incredulously. Hermione looked all around, searching for an answer. Her expression changed as she began to understand, and she gestured toward the centre of the room.
“See that little table over there?” They looked over to where she was pointing and saw a small wooden end table placed in the middle of the rounded base. There was a small ball of light the size of a marble floating above it, so bright it was almost invisible. “See the little light? It’s all an illusion.” She concluded. Silently, she brought out her wand and examined the room for a moment. Hermione aimed her wand at the levitating light source.
The floor, ceiling and walls of glass moved back and became less of a sphere and more of a cube. The edges of the room straightened out and the glass darkened and morphed into gray stone to form textured walls like those they had encountered previously. The magnificent sun was no longer visible, or maybe it had never existed at all. The hovering light broke open and spread around the room, lighting every corner in a soft, dull glow.
In a matter of seconds, Hermione had transformed the room by means of a powerful revealing charm, and Harry, Ron and Hermione now stood in an utterly different space. There was hardly anything in the room, as far as they could see, and they could find no other entrances or exits leading to other places. Harry took a small step forward and surveyed the room, squinting through the pale light.
This was no strange and beautiful solar system. This was a cold, dimly-lit room, similar to those in the dungeons of Hogwarts.
However, as far as Harry knew, the dungeons of Hogwarts did not have a large wooden throne in each room occupied by the likes of a sickly-white, half-dead Sirius Black.
A/N: Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please leave a review, as I thrive off of feedback! I’ll try and get the next chapter up as soon as possible!
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