Right... I upload the pre-beta version, and that same day, my Beta fixes the email problem, and I get the Beta read version back. Here's the final version of this chapter and before you ask, I'm already working on chapter 36. It's going to cover quite a bit, possibly up to the Yule holidays... but it's still not going to be that long, so it should be along soon. In the meantime, you should take a look at Shades of Grey... which is going to go much further than this story will, as far as AU goes.
This Chapter is Dedicated to my new Beta, Veena.
May thy Path be ever smooth and the wind always at thy back.
Desperation and Depression
Professor Dumbledore looked at the bodies littering the grounds of Hogwarts and started issuing orders crisply. "Mrs. Potter, Madame Xavier, take Professor Snape and May-ling to the Infirmary. Mr. Clearwater, rally your Phoenixes, collect Chimera and take them to the Infirmary. Mr. March, Miss Gebbs, take your teams out to that dust cloud and find James and Tiffany. I shall assume they need the Infirmary as well. Move, people."
People started moving. Professor Dumbledore might be a kindly man, but he'd been fighting Dark Wizards for nearly a century, and he could issue commands better than any Manticore team leader.
Miranda Xavier went to Professor Snape first. She cast a diagnostic spell and swore under her breath. The man's neck was broken. He was not dead yet, but it was a near thing. She started working on him, not stopping except to tell the two students who showed up with a stretcher to stand by.
Sonya and Richard had barely gathered their teams when a general call came over the rings. "Professor Hagrid is enroute from his cabin, and he has James and Tiffany." Sonya's team met him halfway, and put the two on stretchers, taking them to the Infirmary as the Grounds keeper continued to Professor Dumbledore. "Headmaster, I have to tell you something."
Albus Dumbledore paused. Hagrid had never sounded so formal or worried. "Come with me, Hagrid." The Headmaster took Hagrid off to one side from where he could keep an eye on the recovery efforts. "What is it, Hagrid?"
The big man handed the older Wizard a twisted and mangled amulet on a chain. "I've been hiding James and Tiffany in my cabin for four days, Sir. James had this in his hand when I found them."
Professor Dumbledore frowned, until he identified the thing in his hand. He looked at it and sighed. James' plan was very clear now. Impossible, but clear. If Chimera and James survived this bit of desperation, he was going to get a complete inventory of everything Manticore had. Professor Dumbledore closed his hand around the twisted remains of the Time Turner.
James had tried to use the Time Turner to go back far enough to do something about Ron's death, the Headmaster was as certain of that as if he'd planned it instead of James. That meant going back at least seven days. The problem was that a Time Turner could only send you back forty-eight hours at most.
Well, that was the theory anyway. James and Tiffany had gone back at least four days, something Albus had believed impossible. What he didn't understand was how James had expected to be able to do anything about the problem while the two of them were in linkshock.
He looked at Hagrid. "How did you know to hide them until now, Hagrid?"
Hagrid pulled a note from his pocket. "James and Tiffany had one of these in every pocket in their robes." He handed it to the Headmaster. "They also had a note for Chimera, but I haven't opened it, as the instructions say, 'Open only in case of emergency'. I think it may be time to open it." He handed a letter to the Headmaster.
Professor Dumbledore opened the first note.
"To whomever finds us and this;
If our work was correct, it is the 17th of June. If it is, send the message in this envelope to Sonya Gebbs by the fastest owl you can find. If it is the 18th, get this message to Professor Dumbledore, and ask him to send it by Fawkes. If it is any day after that, do nothing, we failed. We will remain unconscious until the 26th of June, when we need to return to the Infirmary. Whatever you do, do not allow any Manticore to know we are
here. We have done something risky, and they must not know what until after the 26th of June. Until that date, leave us to sleep, in physical contact. You will know when to return us to the Infirmary, because Madame Potter will be looking for us. After she starts looking, we can be returned at any time.
I repeat: No Manticore can know we are here. To assist you with that, take the yellow stone from my pocket and set it on a flat surface within two meters of us. Tap it twice with your fingers, and it should start glowing. If it doesn't, don't worry about it. I have no way to test this without letting anyone know about it.
Thank you for your assistance. If something goes wrong, get this note to Professor Dumbledore as soon as possible.
Albus Dumbledore sighed. The plan had been simple, and might have worked, except the Time Turner simply couldn't handle the amount of time they'd tried to go back. He went to the Infirmary, where he found Madame Potter working on Chimera. He caught her eye and told her what James and Tiffany had tried.
Ginny Potter cursed quite well, he decided a minute later. She stopped, looking at him. "And the worst bit is, I can't even hit him for risking Tiffany like this, because she'd feel it as well." She frowned. "You might want to find a Potions Master for this year as well. Professor Snape may not be able to teach."
This was the first Albus had heard of this. "What is wrong with him?" he asked, concerned about the man who served him for twenty years.
Ginny sighed. "When he hit the wall, his neck was broken. Miranda has him stabilized, but that is an extremely tricky injury. We were lucky that she was here for the other thing, and could treat him. I don't know if I could have kept him from being paralyzed for a year or more before I could heal him." Ginny looked at him, nervousness in her eyes. "What was that thing, Professor, and what was the bear shape? How did they do that to Professor Snape and the doors?"
Albus was about to answer her when another voice spoke. "That was a Spirit Guide and a manifestation of the Great Spirit. Rose asked them to help her reach her brother, offering them a future favour for their help." James' teacher, Terrence was standing in the doorway. "As for your doors, they were made of wood. After the Great Spirit broke the magic on them, the Spirit Guide simply poured more magic into them than they could hold, like over inflating a balloon."
The two of them looked at him. He looked at the headmaster. "Hello, Albus. I may have to skip our meeting tonight. The twins have stirred up many of the local spirits, and I might be busy tonight."
Albus smiled briefly. "I think busy might be an understatement. We will meet next week."
Terrence frowned at the bodies in the Infirmary. "What did James and Tiffany do? I could feel the power flows, but I could not tell what they were doing. I was on my way to investigate when I heard the explosion."
Professor Dumbledore told him what the Soulbonded had tried. Terrence frowned. "They were using the Soulbond to amplify their magic. We were experimenting with it, but I had not realized they could build that amount of power yet. I think James is hiding things from me."
Ginny Potter came up to them. "This morning's stupidity has cost them, Albus. Chimera is right back where they were two days ago, and suffering linkshock as well, and May-ling is added to the mix as well. At least Rose's broken shoulder will be fixed by this evening."
Professor Dumbledore sighed. "I thought you were keeping them asleep. How did they get out of the Infirmary, without being caught?"
Ginny frowned. "I don't know yet. I will be asking them that very question if they wake up."
The two men stared at her, as both of them caught the one important word in that statement. "If?" asked Professor Dumbledore.
Ginny blinked, and the headmaster realized she was on the verge of crying. "I can't find any sign of them. Brain activity is minimal, and higher functions are non-existent. Professor, right now, my daughter is not alive. We're keeping the bodies alive with magic, hoping to figure out how to fix this."
Miranda came out of the room where James and Tiffany's bodies lay. She joined the three standing there, hesitating. "Headmaster Dumbledore, may I speak with you?" She looked at Terrence. "Nothing personal, Sir, but I don't know you."
Professor Dumbledore held up his hand. "It is alright to talk in front of Mr. Terrence, Madame Xavier. He is James' teacher and well aware of everything they are doing."
Miranda nodded. "James and Tiffany are not in their bodies. I don't know what they did yet, and I need some help. I need a master of Legilimency and any information I can get about what they did, and how. Maybe I can reconstruct what they did, and what happened to them."
Professor Dumbledore nodded. "I can assist you with the Legilimency, and Mr. Terrence was just telling us about the technique they were using. It appears that they used their Soulbond and some sort of Shaman teaching to try and force a Time Turner to take them back at least seven days."
Miranda frowned. "What is a Time Turner, and why do you make that sound so bad?"
"A Time Turner is exactly what it sounds like, a way to turn back time. James and Tiffany were trying to go back in time and prevent Ron Stone's death in the Giantlands. In order to do so, they would have had to go back to the 17th of June, but a Time Turner can only go back two days maximum, or that was the theory. They managed to force the Time turner to go back four days."
Miranda nodded. "That explains the linkshock, and why it's not as bad as I thought it would be. They were actually only gone for a second or two, by Chimera's viewpoint. They, on the other hand, were out of the Link for four days. That's why they are in such bad shape, compared to the others."
She rubbed her eyes. "I'm going to need you and Mr. Terrence tomorrow, when I start investigating their new condition. Today, I'm going to try and reverse the ageing. I was worried about that, as I think the treatment will be painful for them, and I can't give them any potions during the treatment. But since they aren't feeling anything right now, I'll fix what I can, for now." She looked at Mr. Terrence. "I'll be wanting to talk to you, to get every detail you can tell me about what you taught them, and what they did. Please don't be hard to find when I need to talk to you."
Terrence smiled wryly. "And people wonder why I never got married." He looked at Miranda. "Ma'am," he said patiently, as if talking to a not too bright child, "I may be busy tonight. This little adventure has disturbed a great many local spirits, and as the only Shaman still conscious, it's my place to calm them, contain them or otherwise fix the their problems."
Miranda frowned at him. "The problems of ghosts are not important right now. Keeping those two children from joining them is."
Terrence just shook his head. "Wizards, I swear. You people are the most insular, self-absorbed race on the planet. Worse than Muggles, you are." He looked at Miranda. "The ghosts are the least of my worries today, Witch."
Professor Dumbledore smiled. He and Terrence had been meeting once a week or so, just to talk, and learn things from each other. Terrence was not a Wizard, or a Muggle. He was something in-between. Wizards were people with an inborn ability to do magic, Muggles were people who could not, but between those two groups was a small group of people, who could sense or see magic, but not manipulate it the way Wizards could. These people learned to do a difference kind of magic, called Ritual magic.
Magic had rules, as any Wizard knew. The right incantation and the right wand movement gave you the result you wanted. Ritual magic was based on those rules. Wizards could directly manipulate magic, but the others, including Shamans, Medicine Women and Druids could work with magic by setting up conditions so that the magic did what they wanted. They also used the Spirits of things, an area Albus was very interested in.
According the Terrence, everything in the world had a Spirit. Some were easy to find, some were harder, but if you could talk to the Spirits, you could ask them to do things for you. Most Wizards ignored this, since they could do those things without a Spirit to help, and that was what Terrence was complaining about.
Miranda's eyes flashed in anger. "Pardon me," she said sarcastically, "but I am only interested in the spirits of those two children. Are you going to help, or aren't your students that important?"
Terrence frowned at her. "That depends," he said quietly, "on just which Spirits they have awoken with this bit of foolishness. Some of the things that sleep in the Forbidden Forest are far too dangerous to be ignored even for James and Tiffany."
Ginny stared at him. "Excuse me," she said in disbelief, "but without those two, all of us will be under the foot of the Patient Child when he attacks."
Terrence nodded. "Yes, and?"
"I don't really want to be defeated before the war even starts." Ginny said.
Terrence shrugged. "A few years of evil humanity is not that important, in the long view. There are Spirits that slumber under the world you know, that can sink the very island we stand on, or destroy the world, if enough of them wake up. Compared to that, a thousand years of evil ruling over the world of men is nothing." He looked at the two women, who were staring at him in disbelief and shock. "Evil humans will always be defeated, sooner or later. Angry Spirits cracking the world in half is harder to put right again, which is why I'm more worried about what they might have woken. There are reasons those of us who work with the Spirits do so carefully."
Miranda blinked. "Fine. If you can find the time, will you at least join us for dinner? I can question you during dinner, and then you can go play with your spirits."
Terrence nodded. "I can do that. I can also make sure that you learn not to mock the Spirits, after this little annoyance is settled." Terrence left, and Albus sighed. Dinner was not going to be fun.
Professor Dumbledore went back to his office, and considered the day's events. He sighed. They should have known James would try to do something about Ron's death. Given the extremes that James would go to protecting people he liked, this morning's event was a given. You didn't even need Rose's sight to see James trying something.
Albus sat behind his desk, and sighed again. He was getting old, and not giving as much thought to things any more. He looked at the bookshelf and in response to his thought, one of the books floated over to him. Albus read his Prophecy again.
Harry Potter had his Prophecy, Manticore had theirs, and long ago, during the first few hectic days of the Grindelwald era, Albus had been given a Prophecy of his own. He had not known of it until nearly a decade later, when Grindelwald had already been gone for a year, but he wasn't worried about that part now. It was the final few lines that Albus read again.
"Three times will the Light call ere you fall,
and thrice will you answer that call.
Yet, twice only will you see the Darkness held."
Albus sighed. He was certain he would not see the end of this war, and he still had many things he wanted to do before he went on the next great adventure. Professor Dumbledore took out the list he'd started four years ago and checked it again.
Manticore was gathered in the large room in Manticore Tower. Sonya Gebbs was relaying what she'd learned from Madame Potter. "And that is all we know right now. I'll let you all know anything I learn. Until Chimera is back, we will continue to study as normal."
"Why? We can't win without them." Sonya glared in the direction of that comment.
"So what? Winning this war would be nice, but I will fight even if all of Chimera dies tonight." Sonya paced back and forth in front of the group. "Every life I save, every enemy I kill is a victory, and if I can make the enemy's cost high enough, I can help those who will come later, the ones that will defeat the Patient Child."
Sonya looked at the depressed and worried Manticores, and came to a decision. "When I was five, one of the giant tribes lured the Rangers at the Landis Bridge away from the bridge with a fake assault on a nearby town. When the main body of giants started across the bridge, one man barred their path while he sent an owl after the garrison."
Sonya's voice was quiet, and her eyes were far away as she recited a story she knew better than most. "We all know that one man cannot stop an entire tribe, and so did he."
Sonya reached back and stroked Savignon, riding high on her back to keep the tip from dragging the ground. "He also knew that if he did nothing, he would live, but Merlin only knows how many others would die. He made the choice to hold them back as long as he could. It cost the giants twenty-six dead to cross the bridge, and he managed to hold them long enough for the garrison to catch them barely five kilometers into the human lands."
"The giants were driven back across the border, and no civilians were hurt during the Landis Bridge Incident. One Ranger died, knowing he would die, so that he could save the people he was sworn to defend."
Sonya looked at the others. "We don't go into battle to live, or even to win. Those things are nice, and preferred, but the reason we fight is for our families and friends, all those people that cannot fight like we do."
"Look around you. All of you are trained, and you have seen that the people on each side of you can and will fight. Would you rather face a dark wizard with them, or any five random students from Hogwarts?" Sonya watched as the Manticores looked around. "Maybe Chimera will die, although I don't think they will. That will not make any difference in my actions though. I will fight the Patient Child because he is evil, period."
Sonya sighed. "Long ago, a wise man said that all that is needed for evil to win, is that good men do nothing. I may not win, I may not live, but I will not allow evil to happen to my family and friends without doing whatever I can."
Richard March stood up. "I have a more personal reason to fight. Ron was my friend, and I will not dishonor his memory by backing away now. He knew, as all of Sphinx did, that he might die in the Giantlands. James offered us the chance to go to Base Camp One with the Beauxbatons group, and we turned it down. We thought you, all of you were more important than dying, and we still believe that. I follow James, but I fight for all of you and my family."
Arthur Weasley was the next to stand. "I have heard some of you talking about quitting. Nearly fifty years ago, when Voldemort first came to power, few people fought him, and look what the cost was. Are you really willing to let the Patient Child be the next He Who Must Not Be Named?"
Mercy stood up as he sat down. "Tom Riddle was evil, in ways none of us truly understand, and I hope we never do. I made my vow in that hope, but I will still fight the Patient Child with everything I can do, within the limits of my vow, because to do any less would make me as evil as Voldemort."
Nearly thirty Manticores added their bit, telling everyone why they were fighting. Love, Family, Honour, the reasons were as varied as the Manticores who spoke.
Sonya finally reclaimed the floor, after the last Manticore that wanted to speak had stood up and said her bit. "James has always told us that Manticore is purely voluntary, and I will not change that. We do not have the bell here, but I will send an owl to Base Camp One tomorrow, asking for one. When it gets here, I will hang it in the courtyard outside the Tower."
Sonya was referring to the bell that hung at Base Camp, where the Manticores went for training. Ringing the bell would release you from all your oaths and remove you from Manticore. The Manticores looked at each other. Sonya came to a stop, facing the Manticores. "It is your choice, but I would think carefully about quitting if I were you. Death is to be avoided if possible, but if you quit, you'll never avoid wondering what might have been."
Jerrick stood up. "Sonya gave you one quote, and I have one as well. Before you quit, think about this and the reasoning behind it. 'A brave man dies a single death, a coward dies a thousand deaths.' Manticore will survive, no matter how many of you walk away. The question you have to ask yourself is simple. Can you look yourself in the mirror every morning if you leave?"
Jerrick looked at the others. "When the paper reports the death toll of Manticores, and you see names that you trained with, people you liked or fought with, will you be able to face yourself, knowing you might have made the difference between life and death for them?"
The group broke up, with friends talking to friends, or people going off to think about their options alone, each person seeking solace in their own way.
Sonya sat down and carefully cleaned and sharpened Savignon, the familiar ritual allowing her to think clearly.
Jerrick buried himself in the reports that had come in while Manticore was in the Giantlands, letting his thoughts wander in his subconscious mind until he was ready to face them.
The Weasley brothers flew out to the Pitch, and sat on top of the northern goals, talking quietly.
Mercy went to the Infirmary, losing herself in making simple potions, with the silent assistance of Diana Bray and Jayne Godfrey.
Richard March and Sphinx sat down to discuss the unassigned Manticores, trying to decide which two would replace their missing members.
Hufflepuff's Unicorn team sat down and started making a memorial for Ron, while they quietly discussed what they would do.
Dinner was silent, as Mercy reported that there were no changes in the status of Chimera, broken only by the intense talk of Terrence and Miranda Xavier at the head table.
Sonya told the Manticores that she expected to see them all for PT in the morning, and went to bed, waking in the night to find Savignon across the head of her bed, within easy reach.
The next morning, Mercy told everyone at PT that most of Chimera was awake and aware this morning, and that Miranda and Professor Dumbledore were working on James and Tiffany. By lunchtime, the Manticores had given up all pretense, and were outside the Infirmary, holding a silent vigil, waiting for Professor Dumbledore or Madame Potter to tell them what was going on.
In the Infirmary, Professor Dumbledore had tried to read James and Tiffany, only to find the defenses James had placed on Chimera. They were quite simple, and yet highly effective. The only way to read the minds of Chimera was to have a link with them, and use it. Any other attempt caused several things to happens, the least of which was a blast of Tiffany's Pyromancy.
Professor Dumbledore continued, using the Final Moments link to get into James' mind. As Miranda had told them, there was no sign of the pair in their conscious minds, and Professor Dumbledore reached further, into James' subconscious mind.
He entered the deepest regions of James' mind and was assaulted by images of death and despair. Professor Dumbledore reached, tightening the barriers around his mind, searching for the spark of life that was James.
As he searched for James, he saw the scenes James was seeing, flashes of moments when James had made mistakes that cost somebody else.
A Unicorn with a broken leg, struggling to escape from a cage.
Two little girls, being held by a wild-eyed Muggle with a gun.
Rose, lying on a floor, silent and still, bleeding profusely from her leg.
Ron Stone, laid out in Honour, with the weapons of giants around him.
A shadowy figure, standing above Chimera and casting a spell with the Draconian Codex.
All of these, and more, involving every mistake James had ever made filled his thoughts, the images flashing by continuously, assaulting the viewer with pictures and emotions, feelings of inadequacy and uselessness.
The Headmaster came out of James' mind. He simply didn't know how to find James in his own mind, but he knew who would. He stood up and went into the infirmary. Chimera was waiting there, watching the door. When Professor Dumbledore came out Rose went pale, and the rest were right behind her.
"Miss Evans, I find that I am in need of your assistance. Would you come with me, please?"
Rose got up with Madame Potter's assistance and the three of them went into the room where James and Tiffany lay. "I do not know Mr. Evans well enough to follow the threads of his mind to where ever the two of them are. You do, and I will help you enter his mind."
Rose reached with her twin link. The images and emotions sweeping through James flooded the link, threatening to overwhelm her until she felt another touch in her mind as May-ling and Melissa threw their support to her, giving her a place of safety in the tsunami spinning though her mind.
She reached for James, aware of Professor Dumbledore doing something, easing her passage into James' mind. She knew exactly what she was looking for and even so it took her several subjective hours to find it. May-ling was with her all the way, but Melissa stopped, providing an anchor for them both.
Rose could feel the connection to Melissa like a thin line, a brightly glowing string that she had to keep hold of, a lifeline back if she failed.
She found the place she was looking for finally. It was a not as she remembered it at all, even though she'd been here only once, in better days.
Then, it had been a representation of the area around their home in the Montana mountains, thick with trees and teeming with wildlife, James' vision of what he thought their home was.
Now, she barely recognized the place. Dry useless sand had replaced the loam of James' healthy mind, while the only plants in sight were thin, twisted things, with no signs of ever having lived. Rose blinked as she saw the movement in distance. She waited, hoping that James was coming to her, but it was a dog, one she recognized. Long ago, one of James' first rescued animals had been a large Labrador, left on the side of the road by an uncaring owner.
The dog had been hit by a car, and James had spent nearly an hour bringing the pain-maddened beast home. He' 'd gotten there, and nursed it for three days, hiding it from their parents, until it was too late. By the time he came to their mother for help, the dog couldn't be saved.
It had been the first animal in James' graveyard, although not the last. Here and now, though, it walked again, looking much as it had when James had buried it. Rose avoided it, as she had the scenes James was projecting of despair and death that Professor Dumbledore had seen.
She found a familiar place, the sloping hillside where the Evans house was in reality, and stopped. A shiver ran through her as she stared at the ruins of the house they'd grown up in. Rose sighed and reached for the Medicine Woman skills she'd been taught.
The Native American magic was vastly different from the Wizard magic, and she used it to create two broomsticks for herself and May-ling. Now that she knew where she was, she moved faster, funding James' refuge from the world easily. Halfway up the Daggerfall cliff was a small cave that James had found when he rescued an eagle chick from the top of the cliff after a poacher had killed the adults.
Since then, it had become James' hideaway, and Rose knew that she would find him there now. She flew to the cave, followed by May-ling and landed just inside it. She looked around with a frown. The cave was exactly as she remembered it, except for the two people laying on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
James and Tiffany didn't even look at the two girls that entered the cave.
They lay on their sides, facing each other but not touching. Rose frowned. "That can't be good," she said to May-ling. "Melissa thinks they reinforce the Soulbond by touching. Help me move them together."
The two girls put the couple together and Rose sat down next to James. "Brother mine, are you listening to me?" Rose reached with her link to James, aware of May-ling doing the same thing. "I have to tell you that you're scaring me a lot." Rose kept her voice low and casual, as if she was discussing the weather.
It was the link she was using to reach James, or try to. James and Tiffany were drowning in a sea of recriminations and depression. Reaching James through the swirling morass of feelings was the hardest thing Rose had ever done, forcing her to stretch the bond in ways she'd never considered before.
Some time later, it could have been minutes or days in the depressed wasteland that James was projecting, he began responding. It was just a twitch at first, as his arms went around Tiffany.
Rose shivered. She'd heard James in many moods, from the overwhelming joy when he saved something, to the utter rage that had exploded at the Junior Quidditch Finals the year before they came to Hogwarts, but this complete tonelessness was new. Rose had heard recorded computer voices with more life to them.
"No, you didn't." Rose disagreed with him.
The body at her feet finally did something besides clutch Tiffany. James looked at her with eyes that showed nothing, no emotion or even life. "Ron thought we would keep him safe. He's not safe, he's dead."
May-ling frowned. Rose was hiding something from both of them, and without opening up to James, she simply was not going to break the bleak shell of depression that surrounded him like a cloud. "James, listen to me."
James looked at her, and a flicker passed over his face. "You shouldn't be here."
May-ling snarled. Whatever she said next was lost on the others, as she reverted to her native Chinese, and none of the other understood a word of it. "I shouldn't?" she finally spoke in English again. "Bullshit, you egotistical bastard."
Rose blinked at the caustic tone May-ling was using. "Guess what, James? You're leading a war. People die in war, and you know it."
James finally responded with the first show of emotion they'd seen yet. "IN war, yes, but this wasn't about defeating the Patient Child, but about making us live longer, which isn't worth anyone's life."
"James, did you lose your mind, touching the Heart of the World? " May-ling started using short words and sentences, as if she was talking to an idiot, or a mentally deficient person. "You are one of the Eight. You are Soul Bonded to another of the Eight. If you two die, we lose. Is that what you want?"
May-ling took a deep breath and opened her mind to James, using the link Coyote had created between them. She poured a story down the link, one that had both the Soul Bonded going pale. "Yes, Ron died. More people will die in the war, James. You being there will keep some of them from dying, and it might keep the Patient Child from winning, and burying the world in blood and death for centuries to come. That is why Ron went with us, despite your offer, and why he'd be kicking your tush around the school right now if he could."
May-ling watched as James sat up, staring at her. He reached out, and pulled her into a hug. "I'm sorry, May-ling. No one should have to live through things like that."
May-ling closed her eyes against the memory she'd sent down the link. "But they will, many times over, if the Patient Child wins. We need you, James. Mourn for Ron, and mourn for all of us that lost a good friend, but come back with us. We need you, and we love you."
Rose threw her arms around James. "I can't replace you, James. I'm not strong enough to do the things you do." Rose looked down and then glanced at James, with the faintest ghost of a smile. "Besides, if you don't come back, that means I'm free to tell the Unicorn story."
James flushed, staring at Rose. Tiffany managed a wan smile as she thought about the lumbermen, causing James to frown at her. James stood up and helped Tiffany to her feet. The four barely fit in the mouth of the cave, looking out.
James stared at the desolation. "What the hell?"
Rose shrugged. "It's your mind, and it reflects how you feel."
James blinked. "My mind? What happened, exactly?"
Rose stared at him. "You broke our Time Turner trying to go back to save Ron."
James nodded. "Yes, I know that. What happened after that?"
Rose frowned as she thought about it. "You disappeared from the links, and Madame Potter is keeping your bodies alive with magic right now." She glared at James. "Speaking of that, James Amadeus Evans, if you ever cause me that much pain again, I will skin you alive."
James started to say something, only to be cut off by May-ling. "Amadeus? Your middle name is Amadeus?"
James sighed. "Yes."
May-ling nodded, and the other three could almost see her filing that bit of information away for future use. She looked at James. "While she is skinning you, I'll be salting the wounds. In two thousand years, I've never felt that kind of pain, and I will be most upset to do it again."
James shrugged. "It was the only chance. I had to try."
"We had to try." The three siblings turned to look at Tiffany, standing next to James. She looked at them. "James is not to blame for this. I could have stopped him, because he needed me to make it work, if it could. Don't blame him alone."
Rose and May-ling looked at each other, and then back at the Soulbonded. "We don't," said Rose, "but since you two are one very strange person, yelling at him is yelling at you."
"Not to mention that while you might have assisted him, we all know James was the driving force behind what you did." May-ling added.
Tiffany sighed. "He had the knowledge, but if I didn't know about something my father did in his third year at Hogwarts, we'd have never tried this. We're both to blame."
Rose and May-ling looked at each other again. "Your father had a Time Turner?" asked Rose with interest. "That's not in any of the books."
Tiffany frowned. "He didn't, but half of his stories aren't in the books, and he says this one is very secret. They changed time, after it had already happened."
James shrugged. "So? We were trying to do the same thing, only we failed." James' bitterness rose again.
Rose sighed. "Last."
James blinked, and stared at Rose. "Why?"
She turned to face him. "You want to protect the Manticores, out of respect and need, and that compassion you try to hide from everyone. Do you think maybe, just maybe, we might feel the way you do, but about you?" She sighed as his eyes went flat. "Not a word, until I'm done."
She stared at him, daring him to speak. "James, you great lummox, Manticore is following you into war. They know that, and they know that you would do anything to keep them safe. None of them are stupid. They can see you working all hours of the day and night, looking for ways to protect them. They can look at the things we've gotten for them, and they can count the cost. They know that you came to Hogwarts, knowing you might Soulbond, and be dead before you were thirty."
Rose took a deep breath. "They see you, and everything you've done for them, and they would follow you into hell, if you asked them to, because they know that you would do your best to keep them safe and alive, no matter what it cost you personally."
May-ling looked out of the cave. "When Rose came to us, and told us what this mission could do, she made it clear that it might not work, that there were so many variables and dangers, that she couldn't tell if it would work. Despite that, not a single Manticore hesitated."
She looked at him. "I wasn't your sister then, and I have years more pragmatic experience than anyone in Manticore, and I thought it was a good idea." May-ling reached out and touched his arm. "Even knowing what I know now, I would still go back. Ron knew the risks, and he made his choice as well. Don't sully that by second-guessing him."
Tiffany and James stared out over the mental image James was projecting and James turned to look at Tiffany as she thought something. He nodded, and looked back out over the landscape. He concentrated, and for just a second, it looked the way Rose remembered, green and lush, a wilderness paradise.
As soon as he stopped concentrating, it slipped back into the desert.
"You won't be able to make it what you want of it, until you come to terms with Ron's death." May-ling looked back blandly as the other turned to stare at her. "I may not have been allowed to use the skills I have learned, but I have studied magic for thousands of years. We are in James' sub-conscious mind, and it reflects his feelings, not his control of himself. Until he has dealt with the feelings Ron's passing have raised, it will likely be an ugly place."
James frowned at May-ling. "I refuse to believe that there is anything in my mind that I cannot control."
Rose sighed loudly. "Can we save the philosophical discourse for a time when we don't have to see things like that?"
The other three turned, and stared at the sky. Just above them were two flying things. Once, they might have been birds, but now they were something out of a nightmare. Completely featherless, and with other bits missing, they were flying as if those things were still there.
James hissed. "I know what those are, but I was not responsible for their deaths, so why are they here?"
May-ling looked at James. "Are you sure you don't feel some obligation about them?"
Rose jerked. "You do have an obligation regarding them, Brother mine."
James nodded. "Yes, I do. I am waiting for Coyote to call in that favour."
"Something I have no intention of doing any time soon, Moondancer."
All four spun at the unexpected voice. It had come from somewhere above them. They looked up, only to see a coyote standing on the sheer wall of the cliff. It grinned at them, its tongue lolling out of its mouth. "You have been most amusing, with your magic and the request to make the old bag your sister. I haven't needed a favour to stir things up. This thing you do, will also provide hours of amusement for any of us who watch."
He sat down and scratched behind one ear. "There are many who watch your people, Moondancer. Not all will help you, but some will as long as the show lasts." He grinned that coyote grin as he faded away. "The author is making it interesting anyway."
Tiffany sighed. "James, would you please explain in small words why you like that creature?"
Rose snorted. "Give it up. I've been asking that for years, and he can't explain it to me."
James was staring at where Coyote had been. "May-ling, you said this is my mind, right?"
May-ling nodded. "Yes, Professor Dumbledore used a form of projected legimilancy to push Rose further into your mind than she could get on her own, and Melissa and I followed them in."
James nodded absently as a smile grew on his face. "Coyote can do it, so can I."
Rose's eyes widened, and May-ling just looked blank, as Tiffany sighed. "James," said three voices at once, and in that second of hesitation, while the girls were looking at each other, James stepped back, out of the cave.
May-ling sighed. "James, this is your mind. You control most of it." She walked over and looked at the one hundred feet of nothing James stood on. "Of course you can fly here, just as you can fly in dreams."
James grinned, and started flying. Tiffany was the next to launch herself from the cave, trusting that James wouldn't let her fall either. May-ling and Rose watched them for a few minutes. "This will be good for them," May-ling said, "but how long can we stay?"
Rose looked at the metaphysical line that connected her to Melissa. "Not much longer, I think. The line is turning misty." She manifested the broomsticks they'd flown here on, and the two of them soon caught up with James and Tiffany. It wasn't difficult, since the Soulbonded had stopped flying and were just floating as they embraced.
"James, we have to go. Besides, " Rose said, smirking, "Tiffany isn't really here, it is a figment of your imagination and wouldn't you rather touch her for real?"
James frowned. "She is here. She's always in my mind." He looked at Tiffany shyly. "And my heart."
Tiffany smiled at him. "As are you, Teddy-bear."
Rose and May-ling looked at each other, and then at James. "Teddy-bear?" they chorused.
James turned and looked at them. "Dangerous."
Rose grinned. "Love."
May-ling just shrugged. "Favour."
The four of them started toward the feel of Melissa, with the three siblings still arguing about Tiffany's pet name for James. They soon found Melissa and stopped to stare. Melissa had been busy while she waited. There were nearly a dozen animals from James' memory around her, and all of them had been healed.
She looked up, and gently moved a couple of them aside. She looked at James and Tiffany, and they felt the slightest touch of her healing talent, as she accessed them. She touched May-ling next and then Rose.
None of the three saw fit to mention that Rose got a much more thorough check than the other three had. "Let's go back," Melissa said, and the scene around them faded out, replaced by the Infirmary.
May-ling blinked. "That was quite strange," she said calmly, as if taking a walk in someone else's mind were an everyday occurrence. She winced after she spoke. "I still have a headache though."
"Is everyone alright?"
The Chimeras jerked, as James' voice sounded in their heads for the first time since they'd touched the Heart of the World.
Smiles broke out everywhere, and the next few minute were babble across the Chimera link, as everyone tried to talk at once.
"Calm down," sent James, "Tiffany and I are not well yet, so Rose, you are in charge until we get out of the infirmary. Tell Sonya I said she could give the Manticores to you. She did an excellent job, given the circumstances, and I will be telling her myself as soon as I can."
Adam looked around, and got out of the bed. He went to the doors of the Infirmary. He opened one and looked out at the Manticores waiting there.
"They're awake, and James is already giving orders."
The cheer that rose from those simple words could be heard in Hogsmeade.
I hate this chapter, I really do. Depression and despair are foreign to me, and trying to project those emotions for dozens of people took me longer than any other chapter ever, and I am still not satisfied with it.
Fortunately, I have a Beta, (Again) and this one actually edits things for a living. I'm hoping she lasts longer than anyone else has as of yet... at least fifteen chapters.