I fall onto my knees depositing Oliver as gently as my sore muscles will allow. Lavender and Susan have Padma and Dean beside them. We don’t want to do any more magic than necessary around this place because we don’t know if Hera’s phantoms would be attracted to it and we don’t know if there is a barrier between the living world we now stand in and the dead staleness within the cave of Ideon Andron. If those creatures of early evil have leave to pursue us beyond the hidden exit, we are done for. None of us has the strength to continue the fight.
"Snape... I heard his voice. We need to run, we need to get out here..." Padma mumbles, making no sense at all and clearly unable to get up, let alone run.Yeah, but Snape is a real man. I can kill a real man.
Padma’s obviously delirious. There are bats in the cave no doubt, but none that have a hooked nose and go by the name of Serverus Snape. I can’t help but wonder how he’d feel about my taking his dream job. Maybe one day I’ll get to ask him if he’s ever caught. I wonder where in the world he is now.
"Padma...Padma! Susan says, patting her face softly. I know how hard it is for Susan not to just pull out her wand and begin to start healing now but healing magic is strong as it is based a lot on emotion and we just can’t risk being detected. Plus I think it would take Susan to the end of her strength She’s been shaking ever since I found her after she’d just killed Rudolphus Lestrange.
I’ll never forget the haunted look in Susan eyes and it hasn’t changed since we escaped. I had hoped that the night air would do more than just chill us to the bone but the sulphur smells echoing from the cave overrides any fresh breezes that may have once blown in this cursed place. We can’t risk a magical fire and there is nothing of any size or substance to burn in a traditional campfire.
Lavender sits by Oliver, her hand on his forehead. "Oliver, no please," she sniffles. I stare for a minute at them, overwhelmed. No one but me is fit to Apparate to a safer place and if I try to Sidealong Apparate in the shape I’m in, I’m sure to Splinch us all. Even in perfect health, my record for Sidealong Apparation at the Academy was only four. There are six of us. I can’t do it one at a time because that would leave them more defenceless per evacuee. I have to be an MLE right now because it’s all I know to keep myself from losing control. I wish Ron was here.
I have no shirt. My spare I had given to Oliver and the one I’d worn was ripped from me in the River Styx. I don’t know what to do. Oliver is mumbling but he’s making less sense than even Padma and Dean. He’s in and out of consciousness and in very great pain during wakefulness. Oliver’s mumbling even when he had been more lucid in the labrynth has me worried. Legend has it that one loses their memory when dipped into the River Styx., gods lose their voice. Oliver is a man. What will he lose?
Lavender and Susan shiver as they have placed their cloaks around Padma and Oliver. Dean tries to take his sweater off to place on Oliver but he can’t get his arms over his head with the pain in his chest. The Enervation Charm we risked on Dean is wearing off. Susan takes me aside and tells me everyone is in danger of exposure and it’s likely only a matter of time before shock gets a firmer grip on the most grievously wounded.
There’s barely any moon. I hate this place.
"Susan, Harry told us that there are Order sympathisers in a tavern in that valley down there. I have to go get help. I don’t have a choice. Use magic only if you absolutely have to. I’ll try to get as far away as I can before Apparating so no magic is traced back to you guys here but if that happens...if that happens..."
"We’ll be fine, Justin," Susan tells me, kissing me and grabbing my hand only to let it go so I can leave. I try not to look back but when I do, I see her pale form looking down at her bare hand. Rings can be replaced, she can’t. I shiver from the cold and the sight of her.
My eye is now swollen shut and bursts of stars dance behind it, throwing me off balance against the black rocks and sky. If I could just lie down for a minute it might even be pretty. I think the potion that Artemis gave us has staved off the worst effects of the water from the River Styx but the further from the cave I get as my friends and my love shrink to tiny dots in my good eye, the less I seem to be able to concentrate on what I have to do. Lethe _ the river of forgetfulness.
"NO!" I shout and I know I have to concentrate. The pain helps me do that. Without it, I fear I will lose my way. I was never good at fighting mind charms.
I want to make it a half a kilometre away from my friends at least before I Apparate. Susan’s face is firmly in my mind: the way she looked when I showed up at Phoenix House with the stolen honey, the way my hockey jersey hugged her form when she took me to a game to surprise me, the smell of her bath oils and how sometimes I wouldn’t even let her towel off before I had to have her in my arms, the way I’d go to work with my uniform soaking wet from where she would splash me playfully, reminding me not to be late.
The river doesn’t want us to leave and it punishes us for getting away by trying to take away who we are. I hope that Oliver’s being unconscious is saving him from this fate. I hope his memories are not fading like mine. One isn’t supposed to come out of that river unchanged but I will be damned I let Hades have me now after I fought for so long against him so many times.Five
I count down from the nine lives I must have started with. If I could share what’s left with my friends and have but one more left for myself than this mission will have been a success. I trip over a stone near a ledge with a fifty foot drop and manage to catch myself. The solid stone ground bites into my hands. I change direction, walking parallel with the crevice now.
Before my eyes dances the image of Susan waving goodbye to me as I dropped her off on Platform nine and three quarters so she could finish her seventh year and I went on to the Academy instead. She fades, waving from my mind.
"Expecto Patronum!" I yell as loud as I can and I Apparate from that spot, hoping that I am far enough away not to attract phantoms. I land in the cobbled street of the old wizarding village Dean told me about when he’d consulted with Harry about our proceedings.
Mr Olivander told me my new wand was special and I have to trust him. Something good has to come of this. My Thestral holds my mind clear. I can picture my friends, I can smell Susan’s hair. It’s draining me but I keep my Thestral close. Just as it keeps Dementors and phantoms out, it keeps my memories inside.
I step into the pub holding my wand out like a leash for my Thestral.
"No pets," grumbles someone in broken English while his drunk companion tries to pet my Patronus.
"Yeah, no shirt, no shoes, no service," grumbles another, clearly North American person.
I hear a howl of pain as my Patronus bites a man who tried to hit it with a wine bottle. Its eyeless sockets turned menacingly toward him. This is one tough bunch of blokes but at least I know I have the right village. It’s clearly a wizarding pub.
I rest my head on the counter for a minute as those who cannot see my Patronus scramble to get out of its way and grope for whatever brushes by. It puts its bony head on the counter next to mine. I don’t have time to ponder what my wand has given me. This is more than a Corporeal Patronus.
I look down upon one of its hooves to see a golden circlet encrusted with the initial A
in diamondst. It looks like a bracelet. Artemis?
She told me she had a menagerie of magical beasts and that some of them were from the past life. She showed me dinosaurs and extinct creatures. She made my Patronus real and tangible.
The barman comes up and though he himself is dressed shabbily, gives me a dirty look.
"Hiccup," I lean in and say to him as this is the emergency distress call.
He continues to stare.OH!
I hiccup rudely and loudly and suddenly all around me wands are drawn and those who I’d thought to be drunk, stand up straight and the whole atmosphere changes to one of order as someone steps from the shadows.
"Quite an entrance, lad," growls a familiar voice that I haven’t heard since Ernie’s funeral.
I never thought I’d think of Mad Eye Moody as a sight for sore eyes, a sight that made your eyes sore, sure.
Moody tries to sit me down and have a look at my eye. He beckons over the barman who comes at me with a medical bag when only a moment ago he’d reeked of cheap alcohol and smoke.
"Mr Moody, we have to go save them," I blurt out as he places his gnarled old hand on my Patronuses’ skeletal head.
Within seconds, I’m wearing someone’s robe and three of Moody’s men stand ready for his orders. I try to talk them out of Apparating straight to where my friends lay wounded lest there be a further battle because of magical signature detection but Moody reassures me that there is no need to worry. The gleam in the eye that just rolled behind his face makes me believe him. hm, wonder if I can get one of those if my eye needs to come out?
Moody tries one last time to get me to go on to the hospital to wait for the others but I refuse. He won’t let me Apparate alone again but my Patronus goes back to my wand like a caged dog. Please don’t let us be too late...