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No Cure, No Pay

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It’s the first time she’s been allowed to go to Mulpepper’s alone.

Standing near the front door, just off centre to the left, Harriet Potter tightens her grip upon the handle of her basket and does her utmost best to focus on browsing the wares, to force herself to not acknowledge Millicent Bulstrode as she walks from counter to exit. Only once the girl has left, only once the chime of the door charm has silenced and no longer echoes around the room does Harry allow herself to give up the pretence of examining the Chinese Chomping Cabbage for the freshest selection, placing the required amount into her basket before moving further into the store. It’s not the first time she’s been allowed out on her own without an adult to accompany her, but it is the first time her parents are aware Remus isn’t shadowing her every footstep. She’d made her case by pointing out that the man had a life of his own (and a rather attractive red-head paying him attention too) and that she’d been going to Mulpepper’s for years and years. She would be fine.

It still doesn’t dislodge the bit of guilt that sits heavy behind her breastbone though. The acknowledgement that what easy going relationship she had with both her parents is gone, shattered to pieces so small it will take years to piece back together. It’s going to take a lot of effort and Harry is going to have to reach out, to keep trying and prove herself worthy of their trust. Because she hadn’t been, worthy of it, that is. Not with the secrets she has kept, with the schemes and plots and plans. Archie’s in almost as much trouble as she is. Almost . He, after all, hadn’t been living alone in the Alleys, just over in America instead. That’s what their parents think, and that is exactly what they will always know. It’s too dangerous for them to ever think otherwise.

Making her way over to a display of nux myristica, Harry begins flicking through the offerings. The thick consistency of its powdered form might be the answer she’s looking for when in regard to a new butter-base. A quick glance toward the door and Harry spots Margo standing on the opposite end of the street, a bright smile to her face as she offers a passer-by a bunch of flowers. With the strategic placement of dirt across one cheekbone, she looks the picture of working-class innocence, flogging flowers on the busiest street in Wizarding Britain. Only once she has gotten the coin for her flowers does she offer Harry a little wave, coupled with the signal that the King is busy at the moment and, if Harry wishes to speak to him, she’ll have to go find him for herself. Harry nods and turns back to the wares, making her way closer to the counter while trying to ignore the way Tate is looking at her. Ever since the ruse crumbled, no one has known how to look at her. Only Archie and Leo don’t look at her as if they’ve never seen her before, only Archie and Leo treat her like normal.

She refuses to let them know that their gazes affect her though.

“Hello, Mr Tate. How’s business today?” Tate looks her over with a smile, somehow softer and more subdued than the ones he’d once bestowed on her previously. She has, after all, only been back in person once before this, had only introduced him to her new (her actual) face last week.

“Going steady, Miss Potter. Shall I ring those up for you, or are you still browsing?”

“Just these today,” Harry confirms, placing her basket upon the counter so that Tate could inspect the contents and total it all up. Mulpepper’s still smells exactly the same, no matter what ingredients have filled up the ever rotating merchandise occupying the shelves. If she rises onto her tiptoes, then it even looks the same. With the modified Polyjuice wearing off, she’d lost two inches of Archie-influenced height and even now everything is just a little, off. She hasn’t had the opportunity to free-duel since the mess of the final task, hasn’t dared to push her dad with the idea and asking Remus to find time to duel with her when he’s already filling in as her escort the vast majority of the time seems unfair.

Tate makes a low, confused noise in the back of his throat and Harry glances up, taking note of the confusion on her face. He’s looking over her shoulder and Harry instinctively follows his gaze. What she sees makes her blood run cold. Outside, creeping through the air and looking altogether too solid, black tendrils coil and curl in a frightening replication of the Sleeping Sickness. Even though it’s been years, Harry can still recall the way the infection had moved, had slathered across the mindscape of her friends and oozed to surround their magical cores, held back only by the potent power every witch or wizard held at their centre. Just like last time, it seems to have no specific target in mind, looming along the street like an ominous cloud of ill fortune. There is no one outside that appears to be conscious.

It’ll get in through the gaps in the door, ’ Dom rumbles, alert and very much alarmed. Harry can hardly say she’s not in the same state; the Sleeping Sickness hadn’t been visible after all, hadn’t been a conscious mass that they’d been capable of seeing. Why would Riddle unleash it in the middle of Diagon when he knows that Dumbledore in the very least is aware of its connections to him? He wouldn’t be that blatantly obvious, that’s for sure. Where did it come from then?

How am I supposed to prevent it when only occlumency can hold it off? ’ True, Harry would say she is proficient enough at mind magics to hold off the original brand of insidious magic, maybe with Dom’s help she can power through this one too. But it’s a chance she’s unwilling to take and, using her magical sense, she can tell there’s a fair portion Sleeping Sickness that is spread out from the epicentre of thick black mass, streams of energy reaching out with grasping, greedy claws.

I know a ward to hold it off for some time while you find an alternative. Zuriel and I have clashed before, so it was necessary to devise a method to hold him off. Listen carefully. ’ Harry ignores Tate’s startled order that she move away from the front door, plucking up the stick of chalk he uses to write on the ‘deal of the day’ blackboard as she makes her way over. Half-conscious, she allows Dom control of her hand, allows him to begin scribing down the runes (no Ancient Runes that she recognises and Harry is trying not to pay them any more attention than she needs to, is trying not to acknowledge that she is knowingly allowing herself to become trapped withing a runic ward because this is Dom and he has to look out for her best interests) across the door and the floorboards. There are so many questions curling about in her head that she is trying not to get lost in, so many theories and concerns (is it a way to draw out the Rigel Black Child?) that she needs to shelf for the moment in order to get through the current crisis.

There’s something else mixed in with Zuriel’s magic, ’ Dom whispers as he finished up on the final rune. ‘ We need to go the back of the building and replicate those designs. Hurry.

“Sorry Mr Tate, I need to get to the back.” She doesn’t give Tate much time to protest, jumping over the counter because there’s no time to waste trying to unlock the little door. Harry bustles through the threshold, past the shelves that she hadn’t known existed until last year (she’s sure she spots part of a thunderbird’s beak for sale) until she’s at the back door that Tate must use for deliveries. From there, she relinquishes control to Dom again, allowing him to begin repeating the figures he’s used on the front door. All the while, her mind spins. The Sleeping Sickness is outside, very much visible and with an additional component added in. The people out in the street were all unconscious; no gradual infection like it had been at Hogwarts but a very heavy-handed assault. But why Diagon? Yes, it is summer but it is not yet past the point where Hogwarts letters have been sent out and everyone is shopping for their school supplies. Surely if the aim of this was to infect as many people as possible, then it would be more sensible to wait for a week? No, that cannot be the aim then. A scare tactic then? A more likely possibility, that’s for sure, but it still doesn’t sound right. Something isn’t adding up, she’s missing something.

“Miss Potter? What’s are you doing?” Dom releases his control of her arm just after Tate finishes speaking and Harry pours her magic into the runes, feeling the power swell beneath her fingertips, intangible but undeniably present.

“Protecting us, I hope,” Harry admits, feeling her magic swing through the room, sweeping out toward the other set of runes. When it meets them, it rises and falls, covering the building from the tip of the thatched roof to the broken tiles of the basement. A breath later and she can feel the first hungry tendrils of the Sleeping Sickness brush up against Dom’s barrier, splashing against it like sea water against a cliff-face. Yes, it will be able to erode it away, but not for some time. They have time now, time to make a plan, to prepare and come up with an actual defence.

“What was that thing outside? Will the people on the street be okay, or do we need to get them in here?”

“We can’t risk opening the ward to bring them in,” Harry says, a small pip of self-loathing opening up inside her veins as the words leave from between her lips. She cannot admit to knowing exactly what the Sleeping Sickness looks like after recognising it through sight alone because Harriet Potter has not been in a position to see it. The Rigel Black Child had. She wasn’t even one of the students of Hogwarts that was affected by it. True, she can claim after looking at it for a bit that it may very well be that, but that will mean reminding Tate of the duplicity that she has been involved in. “I have an idea of what it may be, but I need to get a better look.” Harry stands up, passing the stick of chalk back to Tate before she brushes the crumbly white reside from her fingertips. It is only when she turns around that Harry realises it is not just Tate and herself within Mulpepper’s.

Armed with a basket of his own and stocked with several ingredients from the back of the store that she has never been invited to see, Lestrange catches her eye and unpremeditatedly sneers at her. There’s a shallow moment where they both just stare at each other, registering the other’s presence, the fact they are face to face for the first time since the fallout (since Lestrange’s thesis came out) and they could say anything to each other. But Harry doesn’t have time for him, not right now. There are more important things brewing in her cauldron (completing the grocery shopping for her mother would be more important than him).

With her shoulders squared, Harry breezes down past the shelves of potions ingredients, out and over the counter again before she makes for the front. Behind the glass, now layered in the protective properties her magic has taken on under Dom’s runic instructions, the Sleeping Sickness continues to linger. The black centre is near pulsating, the tangle mass of wispy coils smearing itself across the walls of the neighbouring buildings. Then, there the section she cannot see, the parts of the Sleeping Sickness that had actually struck Hogwarts. She can feel it though, can sense the way it encompasses near enough the entire alley, having worked its way into the other shops and beyond.

“Mr Tate, do you have a Floo in the shop?” Harry asks, even though she well enough knows the answer. Having an active Floo in the same building as potentially reactive potion ingredients is just asking for trouble. She ignores Lestrange’s strangled ‘what the fuck is that’ in favour of Tate’s response. The expected negative and the anti-apparition wards make it near impossible to get out of Mulpepper’s without going through the altered Sleeping Sickness.

“Miss Potter, what is that?” Squatting down by the door, Harry angles her head back to peer up through the glass; above them; the sky is an inviting summer’s blue and there are a handful of owls still fluttering about. Which means people are still sending letters, though with the way the owls are twisting and twirling around above the street, she can conclude that everyone at Diagon is currently unconscious barring the three of them. That is… less than ideal. There’s nothing else for it, Tate needs to understand the severity of the situation and Harry cannot in good consciousness withhold the information just to avoid the reminder.

“I’m not completely certain but, based on the stories I heard, I’d wager a guess it’s the Sleeping Sickness that infected Hogwarts three years ago. Only, this one is very much visible.”

She lets that sit in the air between them for a moment, thoroughly ignoring Lestrange as he lingers over by the counter. She doesn’t look to see what face he’s pulling at the brief mention of a topic related to the Rigel Black Child, too busy thinking. It doesn’t make sense for this to be Riddle’s work; he gains nothing and it will, in fact, incriminate him with Dumbledore and all the others within the SOW party itself who are aware of the Sleeping Sickness. Following the fallout of the tournament, there’s no way he would do something like this. It’s not his style and whatever there is to gain from it, the falling out that comes about as a result of this super Sleeping Sickness cannot be worth it.

Last we saw, the Rod of Zuriel was in the possession of your enemy, ’ Dom muses, pulling up the memory of Riddle at Hogwarts, showing off the staff and she can still recall the malice that’s bled from its form, can still remember the thick horror that’d sat at the back of her throat as she realised just what the rod was associated with.

Last we saw, ’ Harry agrees because who is to say it hasn’t changed hands since then? True, she cannot imagine Riddle relinquishing the rod, even when it had been held up as a prize for the winner of the Triwizard Tournament. There is a curse she’s glad to have dodged. She’s still somewhat certain that Riddle had every intention of controlling her through some means using the artefact.

Not that I would have let him, ’ Dom says, sure and steady in the back of her head. Harry swallows past the lump in her throat, pushing back the thought that the very thing that has tormented her in first year now sleeps outside the door, waiting for their protections to fall. After all, there’s no point in figuring out the why when they have yet to deal with how to solve the issues. Whys can come later when it’s safe to conduct that thought experiment and/or investigation. The first thing to do would be to alert her family that she’s currently trapped in Diagon Alley with only Tate and Lestrange for company and that everyone else in unconscious. She’ll also have to pass on the warning not to send anyone until they can work a way around the Sleeping Sickness. Luckily enough…

Flipping open her potions bag, Harry shoves one hand in and draws out her mirror. “Archie.” There’s a moment of silence, a lack of response that has Harry worrying her lip between her teeth. The relief of the mirror being answered is short-lived when she realises it is not Archie who answers her call. Sirius stares up at her with wide eyes, surprised.

“Sirius? Where’s Archie?”

“Unconscious; some fog thing’s leaking through the floo. Some kind of mental attack; my occlumency is barely holding it off.”

“It’s leaking through the floo?” Harry repeats numbly. If it’s going through the floor (through any and all floos) then it’ll be getting into her own home too. Her parents, Addy. Swallowing around the lump in her throat and forcing down the instinctive calculations for the sheer amount of Snowhit Draught and Aurora's Breath that could be needed if the Sleeping Sickness is travelling through the whole floo network, Harry forces herself to focus. “I’m in Mulpepper’s. I’ve managed to put a ward up to hold it off but I’m not sure how long it’ll last. I don’t know— there’s so many people who could be affected, Sirius— I can’t—”

“Whatever you’re thinking, Harry, stop it. You knew the kid—” the Rigel Black Child, Sirius doesn’t say. “—more than anyone else except maybe Archie and the friends he made. Whatever he did, I know you can replicate it.” But she can’t. Because this Sleeping Sickness isn’t like the first one, this is stronger and it’s affecting so many people, affecting every person it’s come into contact with and not only young children. There are adult unconscious on the street before her and she can’t force them all away when the Sleeping Sickness is physically lingering there, waiting to snatch them up again. “Harry…” Harry snaps her gaze back to the mirror, feeling her heart jump into her throat. It’s just like with Draco, the way Sirius falls, caught by the Sickness. The mirror cuts out the moment Sirius’ magic is no longer feeding it, leaving dead silence and a reflective surface because there is no one conscious on the other end to keep the feed going. Harry sucks in a breath, leaning back against the wooden front door and wondering for a half second when she fell to her knees.

Right. Everyone with a floo network will have been affected; anyone not included in that number will be caught up in the Sleeping Sickness when they come to Diagon Alley for their supplies. She needs to prioritise, needs to focus. The first thing will be to come up with a permanent defence against the Sleeping Sickness outside; Dom’s wards won’t last forever; it blocks out unfamiliar magic but the longer it remains up, the more familiar it will become with the Sleeping Sickness until it can begin to leak through. Sirius’ occlumency isn’t shabby, so it stands to reason that perhaps others who have the skill and are well practised may be able to starve this off, though for how long, Harry cannot say. Once she has secured Mulpepper’s, the next step will be assessing how this different Sleeping Sickness is affecting the victims. That will mean pulling one of the infected into the shop from the outside which will require some delicate magic to ensure that it doesn’t spill over onto them. From there, she can either begin making the required potions to keep everyone in a state of good health— no, she won’t be able to supply the majority of wizarding Britain with Snowhit Draught and Aurora's Breath. Even she can’t make that many potions in the short amount of time that would be required… she thinks. More importantly, she’ll soon run out of ingredients, even if she had the entirety of Mulpepper’s supplies at her disposal. So, finding the source and destroying it would be the next step. And all before the people outside begin to die.

Dom hums, uncurling in her mind like a large housecat. ‘ I do so love a challenge ’.

 

-0

[ClClCl]

-0

 

 

He’s stuck. Stuck in Mulpepper’s because the very thing he’d laughed at the Hogwarts student for failing to deal with is outside the front door and he’s protected from it only by a halfblood’s magic. The halfblood he’s recently pissed off, though hell if he knows what in particular it was that finally pushed Potter over the edge. Part of him wants to know what it was, wants to be able to write it down for future reference in case he needs her to get lost and leave him alone again. Not that it appears he’ll need that knowledge. Aside from the blatant staring when she’d finally noticed his presence (thankfully after he’d recovered from the surprise of her tear through the back of Mulpepper’s like a madwoman on a mission, putting up a runic ward the likes of which he’s never seen before and pumping magic into it like it was nothing), Potter hasn’t so much as acknowledged him. The three questions he’s voiced aloud (not addressing her during it because he’s not desperate, he doesn’t need to know what’s going on in her head) hadn’t been answered. She’d not even looked at him when he’d spoken, instead giving all her attention to Tate or the mirror or the outside where that thing is lurking. Caelum can’t stop looking at it.

He'd known from the grapevine that no one had any idea what it actually was that’d been causing the first years (and some second years) to go unconscious that year in Hogwarts. He’d not paid too much attention, too awash with the fact he was far away from it all, safe and sound behind Durmstrang enchantments. But he’s pretty damn sure even a squib would’ve been able to look at that withering mass of malice and know that it was causing brats to fall unconscious. How funny it shows up again after the bastard Rigel Black Child has disappeared and isn’t around to help. Potter had identified it though, probably from talking to the imposter she claims to not know at all. She had, after all, gone right for the jugular at their last run in, accusing him of selling the Liberespirare potion right off the bat (true, but that’s beside the point) before following up with the mention of that potion. How was it his problem if someone else had used it to attack the little blood thief? Caelum had been asked to make the potion and so he had. In one stupid moment of weakness, he’d have thought Potter would have understood. He should have known how she’d react after her refusal to his suggestion of brewing Coquere Cerebrum together, just to see if they could. Though if she’d gone with that, he’d have had nothing to sell to the American mudblood’s friend and maybe they wouldn’t be in this position.

“What are you thinking, Miss Potter?” As irritating as Tate is, at least there’s someone else here. Oh, Caelum’s sure he could needle Potter into talking to him, but it would take so much effort and she’s being utterly ridiculous about it all. Potter’s currently seated upon the floor (how plebian) with her eyes closed, as if she’s meditating. How can she meditate in a time like this?

One poisonous green eye flicks open, skipping right over him (not that Caelum is situated in such a position that she’d be forced to look at him, he’s not desperate) to land on Tate.

“The ward isn’t going to last forever, so the most important thing is finding a way to hold back the Sleeping Sickness more permanently. From there, I need to assess how it’s affecting someone under the influence of it, which means I’ll have to devise a way of pulling a person in. If it’s anything like what hit Hogwarts previously, then there’s a very real chance people are going to start dying of dehydration before hunger and… the one who originally solved the problem isn’t around anymore to wake them. Not that doing so is any good unless we can destroy or contained the Sleeping Sickness first because it will just put people straight back under.”

People are going to die.

Caelum slowly slouches down further against the counter he’d been leaning against, swallowing around the lump in his throat. If this Sleeping Sickness isn’t dealt with, then people are going to start dying and Caelum knows it isn’t going to differentiate based on blood. It’d torn through them all at Hogwarts after all, no one had been safe. It’d slowly crept up through the year groups until the blood thief had stopped it. If it’s gotten through the floo system like Black’d said on the mirror, then the only people safe are those that don’t have a floo or venture out to Diagon Alley. It’s funny (in a way that’s not funny in the slightest) that the mudbloods will probably have the best chance at surviving this.

“Will anyone else have been able to stop this thing?” Tate asks and Potter thins her lips, reaching into her potions bag and— and pulling out a whole fucking cauldron. Followed by a stand, stirring rod and then ingredient after ingredient. Who is that prepared to be able to set up a temporary potion lab in the middle of nowhere?

“I don’t know,” Potter confesses, waving her hand and the familiar sense of a sterilisation spell wafts through the room. Potter continues as if she hasn’t just applied a difficult charm using wandless magic. “I think we should work under the assumption we are the only ones currently conscious though. Hoping for someone else to come and resolve the situation may result in inaction on our part that could make a difference. Though I suspect Professor Dumbledore and Master Snape could combat this themselves.” Yes, because Dumbledore is a magical freak of nature and Master Snape… Caelum isn’t sure why Potter thinks Snape would be able to combat this. It’s probably hero worship. After all, Potter hadn’t solved this problem with a potion, she’d done it with runes he’s never seen before. Caelum eyes the chalk drawn runes sceptically before he returns his attention to Potter, pushing down the knowledge that almost everyone he knows in England have their homes hooked up the floo and are very much in danger right now.

“And do you have a solve-all-cure in mind, halfblood?” Caelum spits out before he can help himself. Tate offers a scolding frown but Caelum brings him enough business that the man cannot verbally rebuke him. Not if he wants Caelum going elsewhere for his wares. Potter still doesn’t look at him, instead lighting the flame beneath her cauldron. For a second, Caelum is sure she’s going to keep ignoring him, is going to keep pretending he’s not here. But Potter has, among other things, two brain cells she can rub together; she can acknowledge he’s the only person here who’s going to be of some help to her. For a brat that’s been practically homeless for the past four years, she’s remarkably cool-headed in a crisis. Probably comes from dodging all the hags in those backwater alleys.

“The Sleeping Sickness attacks the mindscape through a form of legilimency; it’s why older children were less susceptible to it as they unconsciously begin to build occlumency barriers from the weakest mental attacks. Nothing that would stand up to a true legilimen, but the Sleeping Sickness is mindless in its possession.” Potter pauses in her speech, adding several ingredients to her potion that Caelum now recognises as the basic base she’d once mentioned to him. Might have been in letters, might have been during their tutoring sessions, he can’t say for certain. But he recognises it. She’s shaped imbuing a potion then. “Archie studied the notes he was given after it all happened. While the Rigel Black Child can core dive to drive the Sleeping Sickness out once it’s infected a person, occlumency was the key to holding it off. So, I can adjust my protection potion to include an element of occlumency magic, it should hold against the Sleeping Sickness back. We can apply it every twelve hours as necessary.” What goes unsaid is that having to apply it for multiple sets of twelve hours will mean everyone who is currently suffering from this thing will be in a very poor state indeed. More importantly though—

“Can you shaped imbue more than one spell?” It’s not something he can ever recall Potter mentioning, nor is it something that has crossed his mind prior to this particular moment. From the hard set to her mouth, he rather thinks Potter hasn’t had to consider it either.

“I guess we’ll find out. Can you imbue a Fortis shield?” Caelum scoffs in response, as if her even asking is an insult. He hasn’t, but it can’t be that hard, can it? Potter’s been doing it since her damn internship so it can’t be that difficult.

“And you have enough of an understanding to apply occlumency magic?” Caelum questions and his tone is doubtful. It wouldn’t surprise him though. Potter’s had all the time in the world to learn whatever the fuck she wants instead of having to jump through school hoops and interact with other people. She’d have been able to study anything she could get a book about and, given she’d been situated in Diagon Alley and had a Book of Gold name, chances are good whatever she wanted, she could get a hold of.

“More than enough.” And well, if she’s that sure, he’ll leave her to it then. When it all blows up in their faces, at least he’ll have the pleasure of laughing at her stupid do-gooder attitude. If Potter’s right and it’s just the three of them (Caelum near his mastery, Tate useless for anything other than ingredients, and Potter who seems to treat the magical laws of nature as nothing more than guidelines)... well, this is either going to go poorly or they’ll actually manage to kill off this ‘Sleeping Sickness’. Is he perhaps hoping they will succeed in doing what the bastard imposter failed to do by destroying this thing? Yes. And they will. Because he hasn’t failed at anything potion related since he was a very small child first learning. They will manage this and he’ll laugh in the face of anyone who says otherwise.

 

Five minutes (and zero potion explosions) later and they have a rudimentary solution to the weakening ward. Potter eyes the potion, does something with her magic before announcing she’s confident it’ll work. She then has them make six more, nevermind that Caelum is feeling the strain on his magic by the time they’re finished. Potter looks as if she’s done nothing more than brew up a boil-cure potion and is ready to do a thousand more, freak of nature that she is.

The tension between the two of them is still simmering away in the background but, as the only two useful people still awake in the immediate vicinity, they’re having to set it aside. Right now, he’s leaning against the counter again (not because he needs too but because it’s comfortable and he cannot be bothered to get a chair from the apartment upstairs, not that Tate has said they are welcomed to do so), watching as Potter goes about pouring two of the potions around the ground floor. Tate’s made himself useful by allowing them free rein to use any and all ingredients that they need. Given they’re the only thing standing between him and becoming an unconscious log like the rest of the population, that’s the bare minimum he should be doing right now. Caelum scrubs a hand down the side of his face, clocking Potter disappearing into the back to finish applying the potion. All too soon, the familiar glow of the Fortis shield blooms into existence around them, though they’ll have no way of knowing if it actually works until that first ward falls. And who knows when that’ll be happening. It wouldn’t surprise him if it did work though, because Potter’s a ridiculous halfblood who can create a completely new potion on the fly and adjust her magic enough that she can mix it with his and imbue a potion at the same time he is. How she’d even known when to stop filling it with occlumency magic is beyond him.

Come to think of it, why in the name of Merlin is she carting around an entire potions laboratory in her bag? Obviously she hadn’t had the security of a superior lab like he has at Dartmoor, but having to drag it around at her hip for the last four year surely can’t have been her solution to a workstation while she’d been hiding from civilised society? And having all the ingredients to hand to whip up a potion at the drop of a hat? It makes no logical sense and, despite his previous assumptions, Caelum is sure that there is some mite of logic in the halfblood. Somewhere.

Potter’s standing beside the front door again now, peering out through the glass into the street where the thing still remains, where all the people outside are still unconscious and show no signs of waking. Slowly, Caelum makes his way over to the shop front, looking out the window because, for all that they are trapped here together, he and Potter are not a team. She’d made that blatantly clear (“ Teaching you was a mistake.” ). What does he care when it comes to what Potter thinks? She’s the one who professed to wanting her technique to be used by all other potion masters. It would have only been a matter of time until someone used it in a way she disagreed with and she never once insisted on placing restrictions on how he could use her shaped imbuing. Besides, it’s only because they hadn’t been able to find the mystery shaped imbuing brewer in the Lower Alleys that Caelum had even been contacted.

“Miss Potter?!” Potter’s opened the front door. She hasn’t actually touched it, but it’s open and the ward she’d set up is now wavering. Caelum swallows around the lump in his throat, watching the crisp orange light that it had given off at first flicker and flutter.

“I’m going to pull one of the people affected over; they won’t be able to get through the Fortis shield, but I think I’ll be able to send my magic through the ground to run a few tests.” Send her magic through—

“That’s not how magic works, halfblood,” Caelum spits, folding his arms and watching Potter lift a single eyebrow, finally turning to look at him. That usual teasing smile that used to grace her lips just before she proved him wrong is absent. It’s like they’re right back in those early internship days, back when Potter had burned with a need to prove she was worthy of being there, back when she’d been nothing more than a stupidly small, scrappy little urchin.

“Maybe not your magic,” she says instead, turning back to face the door with one hand gesturing to the street outside. A moment later, one of the smaller bodies that’re laid out flat comes floating over, coming to rest just before the door. It’s a kid with curly red hair, a dress Caelum wouldn’t even allow Hestin to clean the floors with and a small wicker basket still held in her hand. Which—

“Why hasn’t she let go of the basket?” Because when people fall unconscious, their muscles relax. It’s the very reason that Aurora’s Breath was invented, to keep muscles from atrophying because the unconscious patient is no longer capable of tensing them. That does not look like what is happening here; to keep hold of something, the muscles cannot be lax. From the hard frown on Potter’s face, she’s aware of it too. The body of the girl is slowly lowered to the ground just outside the door and, with the sweep of Potter’s hand, the front door turns transparent. She’s not even using a wand and she wants him to believe that it’s her magic travelling through the floor to deal with this? Does her damn potion even have an opening beneath it? It seems like too large of a flaw to leave to chance.

“Her muscles aren’t relaxing,” Potter says with a frown, as if Caelum himself isn’t aware of this. Her eyes a closed but with a closer look at the way the girl’s body is lying upon the ground— well, she’s not even lying like she’d dropped unconscious either. It’s as if she’s closed her eyes still standing up. Potter’d said this was like the Sleeping Sickness but what the hell does she know; she’d been slumming it in the alleys when this was tearing through Hogwarts. From what little he’d bothered to read on the subject, the state this kid is in is all wrong.

The ever so helpful Tate chips in with the question of “what does that mean” and Caelum pushes down the urge to snap back he doesn’t fucking know, he’s not trained in healing, is he? Neither’s Potter come to think of it, it’d been his actual cousin on the healer’s course, not her. 

Fuck.

 

-0

[HpHpHp]

-0 

 

Margo isn’t breathing. This would be significantly more worrying if not for the all too familiar flavour of petrification magic that taints her small core. Ignoring the fact Lestrange has lost his temper in that brief moment of silence following Tate’s question (for a hot second, Harry genuinely thought he wouldn’t be responding to it) and is swearing up a storm, Harry focuses on the bit of magic she left outside the perimeter of the modified protection potion, directing it toward Margo again. It’s nothing like when she’d been near Draco when he’d been inflicted with the Sleeping Sickness. This, in fact, is very much not akin to the Sleeping Sickness at all. If it weren’t for the fact Harry could still feel Margo’s magical core, she’d have assumes the girl dead. Despite… despite her second year at Hogwarts, she’d never felt the need to look too much into the effects of petrification on the body. Yes, she’s aware it freezes the victim in time, that they are unaware of the passage of time until they’re treated with the Mandrake Restorative Draught. But she currently doesn’t have access to matured mandrakes, nevermind the fact that it’d be useless treating the people outside with the potion if they’re only going to fall prey to the modified Sleeping Sickness again.

Zuriel’s plague never had this affect before, ’ Dom whispers from the back of her mind and Harry knows he’s got the occlumency shields cranked up to maximum power, regardless of the fact that the modified Sleeping Sickness has yet to get through to them. There’s every chance that those with a mastery of occlumency have been able to fight off the affects of the Sleeping Sickness before them, but a small part of Harry points out it’s not the same. Nobody else has a version of Dom nestled in the back of their mind, a second conscious to hold down the mental fort. Maybe Professor Snape hasn’t been put under this quasi-petrification, but he might very well have been forced into a meditative state in order to hold it off and that is as good as useless. It may very well be down to her yet again to stop this thing. Her, Tate and Lestrange. In the worst case scenario, they could be the only people conscious at the moment.

I’m going to have the core dive to get a better look.

Yes, your consciousness should be able to travel along the connection of your magic to reach the girl. Be careful.

Looking over her shoulder at Tate (who is worrying his hands back and forth) and Lestrange (who is peering out of the window as if he’s expecting a solution to appear from the ether and save them), Harry swallows hard. It’s going to be a risk core diving with the two of them as witnesses, but it could be worse. It could be someone who has seen Rigel do it. At least these two wouldn’t have anything to compare it against and, as long as Harry doesn’t say what she’s doing, then there’s a good chance she’ll be able to get away with it.

Seating herself upon the floor, Harry lets her eyes slide closed, lets herself fall back into her mindscape. Dom, for once, is understanding of the present situation (if only because Zuriel is involved maybe) and he makes no attempts to show off the changes he’s made to her mindscape. There’s another pyramid, but Harry only takes note of it because she’s passing by, making her way toward her core. Everything blurs in her hurry to arrive at her destination until she’s reaching her hands into the familiar fire. Though it has been some time since she last needed to do it, reaching out through her core for Margo’s feels as easy as preparing a boil-cure.

Margo’s core is water natured. Stepping out through the compact centre of her magic, Harry lets her gaze sweep across her surroundings, unsurprised to find a field of wildflowers stretching out from the shallow river that her core presents itself as.

“Margo? Are you—” Harry cuts off, the rest of the sentence dying upon her tongue. Margo’s mental representation mirrors her physical self perfectly, right down to the riot of red curls that halos her head. Right down to the perfect stillness that is present outside of her mind. Harry approaches slowly, taking note of the fact the girl’s hand, while not holding anything, is still curled up as if there were a basket in her grasp. Only, in here, her eyes are open, staring sightlessly ahead. The fact there’s a mental representation at all is good, but Harry doesn’t have enough information to work with. It would make sense that the mental self is also petrified, if that is what has happened to anyone who has come into contact with this modified Sleeping Sickness. Their magic is still present but everything else is frozen in time and the brain needs to be making connections, needs to be in use for the metal avatar to be able to move as a result of coherent thought.

Cautiously, Harry approaches Margo’s frozen self, walking around her but the mental avatar doesn’t so much as twitch, well and truly frozen in time. Unable to look further into her condition where there is no response to any outside stimuli, Harry turns her attention to the swirling blackness that circles Margo’s mindscape, sprigs of grass, clumps of daffodils and daisies disappearing beneath the gluttonous darkness. Could she beat it back like the previous sickness? There’s no assurance that it will remove the petrification that currently ails Margo though. If she spends her time and magic completing that, only to surface and find out that there’s still a chance of others dying of dehydration… no, the best thing to do is to monitor Margo for a short period of time to see if any other body functions are still working or if this truly is a form of petrification. It would be better if it were; that would remove the time constraint of trying to cure this if those affected aren’t going to die of dehydration.

 

Harry surfaces from the core dive to find Lestrange just a little too close for comfort.

“Now’s not the time for a nap, halfblood.”

“Unless Durmstrang’s healing tract has made a few decades of advancements, then I’m certain your knowledge of healing doesn’t outstrip mine. Archie passed me all his notes from AIM and I am quite good at self studying.” He sneers, pretty face twisting up until it’s close to something that could one day be called ugly. It's such a shame that Lestrange’s appearance doesn’t reflect his personality, then he wouldn’t be able to trap people into conversation before they realise how absolutely vile he is. Like a fwooper; nice to look at, but it can drive you insane when it opens its mouth.

Turning her attention from Lestrange, Harry looks Margo over a second time, heart clenching. She doesn’t look like she’s in any pain, there’d been no reaction in her mindscape… but that doesn’t necessarily mean that other malicious magic isn’t afoot here.

“I think it’s a form of petrification; she’s not breathing but her magical core is still very much present. I’ll monitor her digestion for the next hour and then I’ll be able to say for certain.” Hearts could be temporarily stopped; blood could be halted through certain dark spells. But very few people ever cursed the digestive system. Too messy for some, too many organs involved to make creating a curse worthwhile. Cures for digestive track problems were particularly tricky, both regarding spellwork and alternative potion based treatments.

“And what were you checking just then, Miss Potter?” Why did Tate have to ask a difficult question like that?

Very much conscious of the fact Lestrange is blatantly listening in, Harry leans against the shopfront, letting her eyes trail over the vast array of potions ingredients that are spread out around the room. “It’s similar to how I shaped imbue my potions; I reached out with my magic to assess the girl’s condition and to see if there’s anything that is out of the ordinary. Magic moves through the body in a natural kind of flux so it’s easy to tell when something has upset it. With any luck, the thing outside will be petrifying people.”

“How is that lucky, halfblood.”

“Because petrification means their muscles won’t atrophy, they won’t be using water so will retain their current levels of hydration and won’t need to eat. It means we won’t have a time limit of three days in which to save the entirety of Wizarding Britain.” There. There’d been nothing there to potentially link her back to Rigel other than the vaguest hints and it would only make sense if someone were to investigate the happenings at Hogwarts, wouldn’t it?

“I think we should stop with the name calling,” Tate says suddenly, a frown crossing his lips as he looks Lestrange over. “Miss Potter’s working hard to try and solve this.” The unspoken ‘I haven’t seen you contributing, despite your so called superior blood’ goes unvoiced, though it is loud and clear in the room between the three of them. Something ugly passes behind Lestrange’s eyes. Perhaps he’s getting better at holding his tongue, perhaps he recognises the severity of the situation. Either way, he doesn’t bite out a nasty retort.

Turning back to her temporary little workstation, Harry eyes the two vials of modified protection potion. They’ll have to set a timer for eleven hours to pour out the second dose and it’ll take two to cover the ground floor of Mulpepper's. Which means, if they haven’t found a solution within the next twenty-four-ish hours, then they’ll need to brew up another batch. Which will mean working alongside Lestrange again so that she can imbue the occlumency magic while he sorts the Fortis spell. This hadn’t been how she planned to see if two different types of magic could be shaped imbued into a potion, and they’re in too perilous a predicament for Harry to waste what are potentially their only supplies by trying to do it solo. She may not want to work with Lestrange, but she also hadn’t wanted to be locked into Mulpepper’s with a super-strain of Sleeping Sickness prowling the main drag of Diagon Alley. If they make a double batch of it, then that would give them ample time to try coming up with another solution.

“Lestrange. Can you shaped imbue a double batch of the modified protection potion?” He snorts, blue eyes rolling before, with the flick of his wand, he transfigures a table out of a display for half price pixie wings.

“I’m not about to work on the floor like a destitute orphan.”

“Would you like me to charm the floor soft too?” Harry snarks, allowing her magic to shuffle all her equipment up onto the counter, swapping out her cauldron for the larger one she has stashed in her potions bag. The leather brim stretches wide for a moment to allow it to pass through before snapping back to its regular size. She’s half sure Lestrange grunts something about why she’s carrying that around in her bag, but Harry ignores him, too busy setting up. She acknowledges Tate’s offer to help themselves to all the ingredients they need with a low hum. It’s easy enough to throw together the basics of the base; it’s so familiar now that Harry could probably do it with her eyes closed and her fingers taped together.

Irritatingly enough, they’re soon falling into a routine, working side by side just like at Dartmoor, when they’d last brewed together. Part of her wants to point out the unusual location of their temporary potions lab; it isn’t in a tower like the one in Lestrange’s castle, but the storefront of Mulpepper’s can hardly be classified as below ground. The natural light will need to be accounted for on how it will influence the colour of the potion; were it any other brew, then Harry would have been paying a bit more attention to the proceedings. It’s another thing to discuss, but she’s sure Lestrange has thought of it already. A terrible person he may be, but he’s a good potioneer. It’s almost like she’s stepped back in time to their intern days, back when she’d had to weigh up sharing information with him in order to potentially advance the potions community. Only, this time, the information she has to share comes at a much greater personal risk instead of just a dislike for him (though that is thrown in there too) weighed against the knowledge people may very well die if she doesn’t share when it is required. There’ll be no hesitation; she’ll put herself at risk if it mean saving others (saving her family and friends). But if there’s another option, then she’ll be taking it.

Lestrange completes the next anticlockwise turn, still stuck with that awful habit of grunting when he’s got it right. Harry throws in the next ingredient and very adamantly does not mention it. There’s no need. It’ll only start an argument and she knows where he stands now. If it weren’t for the fact he’s stuck in here with her and not secreted away somewhere to wait this attack out, she’d accuse him of being involved. And part of her wants to ask. Part of her is still stuck on how, how respectfully he treated her technique in his first published piece. How he’d offered her the same regard that he would have done any other potions master, as if she weren’t a halfblood and he’d helped terrorists who think she doesn’t deserve the exist.

Without any conscious thought on her part, Harry’s mind ticks over to Sirius. Had her uncle done things he wasn’t proud of before he’d changed his political learnings? James had certainly alluded toward it but, knowing the man as she does, it’s so incredibly difficult to believe it. Be a hand if he ever reaches out? Harry takes over for the imbuing, allowing her magic to coil through the air and begin filling up the potion in the cauldron. It’s effortless now and she returns to her current conundrum. James, of all people, had tried to encourage her to offer Lestrange a friendly face if he should ever reach out. But this isn’t reaching out. This is just being lumped together in a doomsday scenario that would’ve had Mad Eye Moody crooning about it from the rooftops. She’s as prepared for a lot of eventualities and she does have some experience with the Sleeping Sickness. Whatever has been done to it… surely, she’ll be able to reverse engineer it and come up with some kind of solution? One that doesn’t have her core diving into every member of the public until she’s pushing her thirties. Nevermind the ammunition that would give Riddle if he ever found out.

“Are they done, brat?” Brat. That’d practically become a term of endearment between them before Lestrange had gone and thrown their friendship away.

“Yeah, they’re shaped imbued with occlumency magic now.” She’s familiar enough with Lestrange’s magic that she can twist her own into working alongside it. If this’d been another potioneer… well, she would have been forced to teach them shaped imbuing first before getting to know their magic enough to fix it. They could have already been unconscious before the problem was solved. So, while they may be at odds, it’s quite lucky she and Lestrange both happened to be at Mulpepper’s for the pre-Hogwarts rush sales.

Things may have run smoother with Master Snape though. Maybe.