Penname: Page of Cups

Email: AndromedanPrincess@hotmail.com

AOL Screen Name: AndromedanQueen

Title: The Prophecy of Absconditus

Pairing: Ron Weasley/Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter/Blaise Zabini

Rating: R

Summary: Wherein things aren't always what they seem.

Am not J.K.  Am tired of writing disclaimers.  Please refer to previous chapters.

Chapter Twenty-Four:  Into the Fray

There was nothing but pain.  It seared through his head, his heart, and he fought to breathe.  He convulsed forward, grabbed the closest body, and rested his forehead against their thigh.  Sweat covered his face, which had grown hot and unbearable.  Lifting his head, he fought to keep his vision, and blinked away the moisture that collected in his eyes.

"Someone grab him.  He's going to fall."

Ryan blinked, looked up to see Hero staring at him.  She pressed her hand to his forehead, pushed back the sweaty blond hair, and cupped his cheek.  A pair of strong arms hooked beneath his armpits and pulled him back, cradling him.  It was too warm; Ryan felt as if he were set to fire and left to burn.  He couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't breathe . . . Ryan felt the world shift and fade, rip out from beneath him.  He tried to grab hold, to not let go, but then he faded again, and Ryan struggled to regain consciousness.

"Bind me," he said.  His throat hissed and scratched as the words passed through his vocal cords.

"Are you sure?" said Alecto.  She walked into focus, the early light of the sun reflected off her face.

"I had a vision."

"Don't talk," said Bade.  "Do what he says.  Show us where to go."

"We need to go to the mountain.  It's the highest peak, and we need the central energy to channel closest to the heavens."

"He can't walk that far.  Can't you do it now?  Right here?"

"I'm afraid not.  You knew that from the start."

"But he can't walk that far."

Bade pressed his cheek against Ryan's and tilted his head to kiss him.

"I can do it.  Help me up."

"Ryan, no.  You can't."

"Yes, I can.  I'm not dying.  I'm --" Ryan swallowed, closed his eyes, and his head dropped back.  "I can do it.  Help me up."

"Lorenzo, can you help me get him?" said Hero.

"No!" said Bade.

Lorenzo reached out, his unseeing eyes blinking as he moved toward Ryan's labored breathing.  He seized one arm while Hero grabbed the other, and they hauled Ryan to his feet.  Bade let go without a struggle; he didn't want to damage Ryan further.  Alecto nodded, peered out the door, and whispered a spell as she touched the handle.

"The coast is clear.  Okay, Lorenzo . . . now."

A fly buzzing around the window froze.  Lorenzo hauled Ryan to a more secure position on his shoulder and unfroze his companions.  Bade stood behind Ryan, arms outstretched as they escaped from the prison.  They were on the top level with the highest security, but it meant little when Lorenzo froze time and unfroze his companions in every room they came across.  It was a long walk down the floors, and they emerged onto a warm, peaceful night in the city.

"I can walk," said Ryan.  "Lorenzo, concentrate on freezing when Alecto says.  Don't worry about me."

"I've got you," said Bade.  "I won't let you fall."

They hurried across the path and into the market area.  Ryan moved with deliberate footsteps as the sun stilled on its rise above the horizon, and water froze in the fountain's spouts.  Hero turned around and surveyed him, offered a smile, and then they passed through the market onto the south road.  Alecto commanded Lorenzo, and the companions froze for a second until Lorenzo could unfreeze them again.

"What made you change your mind?" said Hero.

They walked down the south road toward the base of Alecto's Hill.  With no one out in this area of the city, Lorenzo didn't have to freeze things so often.  Alecto glanced back at Hero's question.  Lorenzo and Bade, too, seemed to be listening.

"He said he had a vision," said Bade.

"Of what?"

"Life," said Ryan.  "In the future.  When we come back."

He coughed, buried his head in his shoulder, and forced his lungs to inhale.  A sharp sting seared through his ribs and into his heart.  His head felt dizzy, like it was ebbing in and out, and Ryan wanted to cry, only he found that he was too exhausted.  His pain, his weariness was too great for the emotion to drain.  Bade placed a hand on the small of his back and rubbed his thumb between his trousers and jerkin.

"And?"

"It didn't seem so bad."

"Did you still love me?" said Bade.  Ryan laughed, coughed, and Bade placed an arm around Ryan's waist.

"Very much.  Not at first.  We fought.  But then . . . We loved each other very much."  He turned to Hero and smiled.  "You were a guy."

"Pardon?" she said.

Bade snickered, and Hero reached behind Ryan to smack Bade over the head.

They turned onto the path to the oracle and fell silent.  Lorenzo stopped affecting time, and the sun continued its ascent into the sky.  Its rays fell upon the five companions as they worked their way though the country of Absconditus.   Ryan kept to his feet, refused to let them give out beneath him.  Bade stroked his hair, kissed his neck, and put most of Ryan's weight on himself.  Part of Ryan wanted to break free, to prove he could do it on his own, but Bade felt so comforting and kept his mind somewhat sensible.

The screaming started when they reached the base of the hill.  As they walked up the narrow path which wound around the hill, Ryan saw the city glow orange-red.  The tint spread from the fountain and he winced, trying to block out the pained cries.  This was what he had been afraid of, but things were supposed to turn out all right in the end.  This wasn't the end; it was only the beginning.  Another life waited, one with Bade, and one where they were free.  They could never be free so long as they stayed.  Why hadn't he accepted it sooner?

So many people below died, and though Ryan felt responsible, he pushed on.  More people would die if he didn't.  The karma would be out of balance and he'd have no way to set it right.

Fire engulfed the entire scene.  Ryan couldn't see through the smoke.  His head pounded and throbbed as he made his way farther up the mountain and his legs ached, begging to buckle beneath him.

"It won't be much longer," said Alecto.  He almost didn't understand.  The screaming below was too great; his head wasn't processing things the way it should.  Everything was fuzzy.

Ryan coughed, fell forward, and collapsed on the rocks.  His stomach churned and Ryan turned to the side, staining the rock with his vomit.  Sweat dripped from his brow, down his face, and into his eyes.  Everything was blurry.  He couldn't see.

"Ryan," said Bade.  His voice was soft, sweet, and he wrapped his arms around Ryan's body.  Ryan couldn't move.  The pain spread from his chest to his arms and legs.  "He isn't going anywhere.  I think -- I think he's dying."

"He isn't supposed to die yet," said Lorenzo.

"I warned you," said Alecto.  "You're going to have to carry him.  He can't die before the bind.  Hurry.  There isn't much time."

"Lorenzo, help me get him up."

Lorenzo's arms joined Bade's, and they hoisted him up.  Bade carried him from the front, Lorenzo helped from behind, the blind man following Bade's direction.  Bade whispered his love, how this would all be over soon and then they could have peace.  Ryan couldn't help but think that the peace would only be temporary; pain would happen again.  It always did.  Bade's hand ran over his dampened forehead and pushed away the sticky hair.  They shifted in footing and came out on the level ground at the top.  They spread him out on the stone.

"It's almost over, love," said Bade.  "Hold on just a little longer."

"I . . . love," said Ryan, no more than a hoarse whisper.  Bade covered Ryan's mouth with a finger and then moved it, replacing it with his lips for a brief second.  Bade pulled away and slipped his hand in Ryan's.  His weak, feeble fingers tried to curl around Bade's.

"Hero, take his other hand," said Alecto.  "You have to form a circle."

Hero's hand slipped into his.  With Bade on one side, Hero on the other, Ryan felt secure.  At least he felt as safe and secure as he was going to be when the town screamed while the fire raged, and Ryan lay dying on stone.  Alecto moved to the center and spoke a spell he didn't know in sharp, urgent consonants.

The pain spread farther.  Ryan tried to scream, and Bade's hand fell limp in his own.  On the other side, Hero struggled, screamed.  Ryan's lungs collapsed, and everything went black.

It wasn't the end.  Things were only beginning.

I was honestly intending to respond to all my reviewers seeing as how this is the end.  I'm too lazy to do this.  Instead, I will thank all of you for reading and/or reviewing this story.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed plotting/researching/writing it.

If you enjoy this story, please check out my other stories on my author page.  If you've read them and enjoy my work, look for my new short story, Hogwarts Slander, coming soon.  The next series project will be called Chasing Rainbows.  I'm not sure when it'll be up.  Keep your eyes open.

If you want a personal comment, please feel free to email or IM me.  And leave reviews.  I'll be checking in.

Once again, thank you.  It's been great.

-Erin