A slight delay thanks to my lovely roommate who figured it was appropriate to interrupt me with nyan cat of all things while writing. I regret having a chromecast sometimes...
White spread around Harry as far as he could see. An odd sense of deja vu kicked in that took him a moment to place. It was very much like the plane of white he'd ended up on when he was a child. Back then it had looked a bit like King's Cross station but it had still been an endless world of white around the platform. Very ethereal and mysterious, it was hardly surprising he'd met someone like Dumbledore there honestly. The old man had always had a flair for the dramatic in life why would death have changed that?
This time though Harry didn't come alone. Standing by his side, fingers still intertwined around his was Luna. She gave him one of her airy smiles before releasing his hand and moving a few steps away.
"What is this place?" Harry was definitely curious. Before he'd assumed it was limbo, a sort of stopping place for the dead to gather themselves before moving on to their final destination. After having visited Hell quite a bit he'd assumed some part of his mind had just created the white space as a way for him to internally deal with the stress of the events his teenage mind had been forced to live. But here he was with another person who was proving that this space actually existed and blowing his theories out of the water.
Harry nearly jumped out of his skin at the vaguely familiar voice that certainly wasn't Luna's. He whipped around. Standing in front of him was a familiar head of bushy brown hair surrounding an apologetic smile. His mouth worked for a moment. "Hermione?"
She shook her head and Luna bounced over and stuck her arm clear through Hermione's abdomen.
"I've chosen a form you are familiar with and comfortable seeing." Not-Hermione informed him with another apologetic smile.
Flash backs of his conversation with Lucifer raced through his head. Harry was glad whoever this was hadn't chosen Ginny again, he wasn't sure he could stomach seeing his dead wife's form taken in such a way again. Guilt lanced through him too that he was glad he wasn't seeing her.
"If you're not her then who are you?"
"Magic." Luna said dreamily.
Hermione's head tilted to the side and she gave Harry a considering look. "She's not wrong, per se."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Magic?"
"Luna has always been... extra perceptional." Hermione seemed to struggle with finding the right word. "I am a physical manifestation of magical energy that she is subconsciously projecting."
The image certainly talked like Hermione.
"Luna has always had a profoundly deep link to magic itself as a raw medium, as most with the gift of true divination do." Harry nodded. "After the... incident... magic was altered to an overwhelming destruction and recreation of the universe created spaces like this one. Pocket dimensions."
"Okay..." Harry was mostly following the explanation. "So why isn't she explaining all this herself?"
The Luna he remembered had been a bit scatter brained, sure, but never indirect or elusive like she was being now.
Hermione's lips drew down, her eyes remorseful. "Luna has been trapped in this pocket dimension since the original incident." Hermione splayed her arms wide and the whiteness vanished. They were standing back inside the living room of his safe house but everything was slightly off. It was like watching everything through a slightly fuzzy tv screen. "She couldn't interact with your world directly. She settled for following you and giving you guidance through prophetic dreams when she felt major decisions in the casual nexus."
Harry felt nauseous suddenly. He looked at the blonde who was kneeling near Hermione and hugging her knees to her chest. She'd produced a sucker from somewhere and was happily sucking away at it. This woman had been stuck for millenia with absolutely zero contact outside of some sort of weird magical manifestation of her inner self. He'd been gallivanting around thinking his life had sucked but at least he could talk to someone who didn't know exactly what he was thinking every minute of every day.
"Something distorted when the 'apocalypse' failed to pass. Luna was able to slip out of this dimension and into the one you inhabited. She followed visions and intuition so she could meet up with you."
Harry ripped his eyes from Luna for a moment to fix Hermione's form with a hard stare. "Why look for me? Why help me at all?" he queried, sure they'd been friends once upon a time but it couldn't have been easy to watch someone else go about their life while you were trapped alone. He was surprised she hadn't grown to resent him. She could have gone anywhere once she was free. Why hadn't she high tailed it to some island and made a life for herself.
Hermione seemed to be struggling with verbalizing that answer. She was giving him a long, hard look. "That's... complicated."
"I'm all ears."
"You...and us... we're all linked." she motioned between the three of them for clarity. He didn't miss that she had noted herself as a separate entity in that moment. He was wondering just how much Luna was in this projection. "Like two sides of a coin..."
"No..." Luna interjected chirpily, shaking her head.
Hermione nodded, like they were talking telepathically. They probably were. "Right, more like...a lock and a key I suppose."
"A lock and key to what?" He didn't really have the patience for metaphors right that moment.
Weirdly the two women made eye contact before Hermione spoke again. "The souls."
Harry gave her a skeptical look. "The souls?" he glanced at Luna. She seemed a bit less manic for a moment.
"When the world went to hell and your magic destroyed everything..." she hesitated as a heated glare whipped her direction. "The world was scrapped but somehow your and Luna's inability to die saved the souls linked to your Earth."
Harry blinked, digesting that.
"The souls from that world were forced into another pocket dimension, also unable to touch the world around it." she finished and gave him a measuring look while she waited for his response.
Harry felt like his head was spinning. "Are you... are you telling me..." he felt pinpricks of tears stabbing at the back of his eyes but he wasn't about to break down right here. He shoved the feelings down. "that all of them are like this too? Are you telling me that all of the people from my world are stuck watching the world pass them by?"
"No, not quite." Hermione shook her head. "Their's is a slightly different situation. Where as Luna was stuck here alone with mild access to the Earth, they were mostly locked together. I have provided them with energy, sustenance, and a familiar setting. Some haven't even realized over the eons that they aren't living the same lives they always were."
"You provided them with things?"
"I am partially a manifestation of Luna's subconscious." she acknowledged with a nod. "But I am also largely a physical embodiment of the element you've always called Magic."
Harry didn't miss the small glint of her eyes as she shifted hers to his. "I'm still not sure why Luna came to find me." he pressed. "Even if my people still exist, even if I somehow hold the key to their release, why would it matter? Aren't they safer where they are? The last time they walked freely God sicked the arch angels on them. What would he create this time to correct his 'mistakes'?"
"They're not." Luna shook her head.
"Not safe." Not-Hermione clarified. "It's part of the reason we've sought you out. There are already actions in place that threaten the safety of not only the wizarding world, but this new world you live in as well. Without you Luna has seen that the world will fall again, and this time the cosmos will be consumed by darkness."
"You leave a guy alone for five minutes." Gabriel leaned again the wall, watching the living room dispassionately.
"Do you think they will return?" Castiel sounded skeptical at best.
"Give 'em a bit. I'm sure they're catching up on the old times and didn't want Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum to walk in on it." Gabriel nodded toward the wall that separated them from the Winchesters who'd just returned with supplies for everyone, including clothes for Harry apparently.
"That is entirely unpleasant."
Castiel and Gabriel swung their eyes to Harry as he shivered, having just shimmered back into existence. Gabriel was surprised to note the wizard was in fact shimmering like he'd just been doused in some sort glitter.
"Night at the strip clup cut short?" he couldn't help the words slipping from his mouth.
Harry gave him a perplexed look followed by irritated surprise as he seemed to catch sight of the glitter himself.
The angels caught sight of the peculiar blonde standing halfway across the room, examining Harry. Her comment seemed to be aimed at the glitter as well. Harry looked first at her, then at some point over her right shoulder before sighing and waving his hand. The glitter vanished.
"I take it you and goldilocks had the chance to catch up then?" Gabriel asked glancing between the two.
Harry gave a minute nod. He frowned as he surveyed the arch angel.
"Any chance you can cue us in on why she's here?"
"She hasn't been forthcoming with information." Castiel added.
Harry sighed again. "Prophecies, premonitions, the end of the world, etc. etc." he dropped his eyes and rubbed his brow like he was thinking. After a moment he met Gabriel's gaze with a questioning look. "Are you the last one?"
"The last one?" Gabriel repeated the words with confusion.
"Death took the second brother for his own." Luna muttered nonsensically.
"The last archangel." Harry asked hesitantly. He was looking at Gabriel guardedly, as if he expected the angel to blow up about being asked, or possibly the insinuation that Harry might have known that was coming. "Is Michael dead?"
Anger flashed bright in Gabriel's eyes confirming not only Harry's suspicion that Gabriel wouldn't take the question well but that Luna had been correct after all. "You knew it would happen?"
He shook his head and gave Gabriel a small frown. "She did."
Gabriel turned the glare on Luna, but Harry waved it off. "She didn't have a way to prevent it. Don't blame her for it."
"Exactly who is she?" Castiel piped in, curiosity coloring his tone.
"Her name is Luna. We knew each other as children."
"Whoa, you as a kid, that's hard to picture."
Harry paused for a moment before acknowledging the room's newest occupants. "Dean."
"Good to see you up again." Sam greeted, offering up a sack. Harry took it curiously and saw clothing and a wrapped sandwich inside.
"Well, up and not trying to blew people's heads off at least." Dean added cheerily.
"Tactful as ever..." Harry muttered, fist clenching a bit as he fought back a swell of anger.
He knew Sam had seen the movement when he looked up and they locked eyes. The younger Winchester wary, but there was a question in his gaze.
"So you two got to catch up a bit?" Dean asked looking between Harry and Luna. "What's she doing here then? I take it you speak her brand of crazy."
Sam grimaced and tried hard not to slap a hand to his face.
"That's... not easily explained." Harry rubbed his forehead. "Who all is here? I need to know what happened."
"We got attacked, you took one to the head, you were in Heaven, we tried to get you out of Heaven, you attacked Bobby, now you're here." Dean ticked things off on his fingers as he went along. "What else do you need to know?"
Harry stared at him for a long moment.
"I get the feeling you're needling for something specific." Gabriel piped up.
Harry shot a look his way. "Did Eve give the demons the location of Purgatory yet?"
The whole room seemed to reel at how specific the question was.
"That's what they were after..." Sam whispered almost to himself.
"That sounds like a yes." Harry sighed.
"If it is?" Castiel asked, head tilted in that curious way that made him seem like a small child that was playing at being grown up... or a confused puppy.
"Then we're already in the end game." Harry said very seriously.
"What end game?" Gabriel barked looking annoyed.
Harry looked at him, a tad startled by the outburst. Everyone else just grimaced. They'd been around the last few weeks. They'd seen the arch angel becoming more reserved and less like the flamboyant man child he usually was. Harry was blindsided by the normally chipper Gabriel's anger.
"This... is going to be a very difficult to explain thing." Harry blinked and averted his eyes from the arch angel's irked gaze. "I'd really rather only go over it once."
"So rally the troops?" Dean joked, lightening the mood somehow instead of setting it off for once.
"I'll grab Jesse and Eve." Sam offered, moving before anyone could offer to help.
"Ellen seems to already be coming down to investigate the disturbance." Castiel supplied, and sure enough Harry could vaguely hear the scuff of boots on hardwood down the hall, lighter than Sam's retreating footsteps near the stairs.
"I'll uh... grab Bobby then." Dean offered awkwardly when no one else said anything.
"It doesn't seem like this is going to be particularly good news." Castiel announced, offering Harry another of his odd evaluating looks.
"It's... not." Harry agreed after a long moment of indecision.
"Harry?" Ellen had appeared in the doorway and was looking at him with open relief. She obviously read enough in the atmosphere to know everything wasn't peachy at the moment but she seemed satisfied to see he wasn't at Death's door anymore and in fact seemed healthier than she'd seen him in a good while.
Some awkward shuffling breached the quiet before he could respond and Eve limped into the room supported by a grimacing Jesse and followed by a concerned Sam. Harry sighed as he and Eve made eye contact. It was enough to confirm his fears. She looked apologetic and empty. Eve never looked apologetic. He knew she had spilled the information just from the brief glance.
Just seconds later Dean returned with a gruff Bobby in tow as well rounding off their impromptu group.
"Since everyone's here." Harry began stiffly. "Here's what we're facing."
Harry talked for what felt like hours. He outlined everything Luna had supplied him with. The civil war in Heaven, the fight for power and souls, the sub dimensions and how Luna had supplied him with visions, and finally...last of all he told them about what he knew of his own people. He told them about their sub dimension in the middle of purgatory. He explained how somehow his continued existence on their mortal plane held down his own people's existence there and how Luna theorized that the two of them were some sort of lock on that dimension. Everyone listened with stony faces and rapt attention. When, finally he'd finished explaining everything he knew they sat for a few minutes in silence and thought it all through.
"This fight..." Harry clenched and then released his fist, feeling just a bit of his magic flow through his fingers in a warm way, as if reminding him that it was there to serve his purposes. "It's bigger than even the apocalypse was. This is bigger than Lucifer wiping out half the Earth. If this goes bad purgatory could rip itself in half. There's no telling what kind of damage could be done if the power contained by my people fell into the wrong hands." Luna nodded, or at least bobbed her head vaguely, next to him.
"So the demons are gunning for purgatory so they can... what? Find a better foot hold on Earth? Take over Heaven?" Sam asked, trying to wrap his head around the sheer magnitude of the fight they'd found themselves in.
"It's not really the demons I'd be concerned with." Gabriel butted in. Harry saw Eve's head perk up as if affronted by the casual dismissal of the group that had just held and tortured sensitive information out of her. "Whoever's up there trying to run things in the big house is our main concern."
"I'd say they're equally concerning." Jesse countered.
"In what way?" Gabriel snipped back.
"That's enough." Harry bit out and silence reclaimed the room. "We're fighting a war on two fronts again. Haven and Hell, they're both gunning for pretty much the same thing."
"So... what?" Dean spoke up. "We divide and conquer again? I don't know if you recall but it didn't go so well for us to divide off when we were facing just Lucifer and Micheal. I don't think it's going to go better with all of Heaven and Hell hoping we fail."
"Well we have to do something." Eve snapped.
"He's right." Harry stopped her with her mouth still open to add more to her insult. "If we try to tackle this like we did the apocalypse we're going to fail. We may have stopped the apocalypse but just barely and at high cost."
"What do you suggest then?" Ellen spoke calmly. She seemed the most level headed of the group perhaps save Bobby, but then Bobby had a way of being cantankerous at just the wrong moment.
"We know what they want, both of them. They have the same goals in mind, or at least similar enough to have to approach it from the same way." Harry pointed out. "So we need to be one step ahead of them."
"So we have to figure out how they're going to acquire the souls and then stop it?" Bobby spoke up. "Hate to burst your bubble but that's only gonna stop 'em for so long."
Harry glanced up at the older hunter and then to a point just beyond his shoulder. A small smile flitted over his face and Bobby chanced a quick glance to make sure no one was behind him before giving the wizard a pointed, but confused, stare. "So we make it impossible for them to get the souls."
That seemed to throw the entire group for a loop.
"You can do that?" Sam asked, unsure.
"We can do that." Harry corrected with a shake of his head. "I'm sure you've heard the saying that no man is an island. Powerful as I am I'm not capable of pulling this off without help."
"What exactly is it you want to do?"
Harry glanced sidelong at the humming blonde beside him. "We're going to create a new pocket universe to hide the souls."
Are we reaching? You're damn straight we're reaching. Harry's gonna create instead of destroy.
We approach the climax and conclusion of this story swiftly now. I'd like to say thank you to everyone still reading at this point. Especially those of you who follow update by slow update. You're all wonderful. I hope you'll enjoy the last of this series as I plan to put it to a rest after the conclusion of Square One. Ten years of writing on this has certainly killed some of the enthusiasm I once had going in. I will most likely go back and edit the original once done with this though. So look forward to a more polished Illusions at least. I'm rambling. Regardless, thank you and as always.
-'til next time