3:25 am – The Open Field – Unknown Location
Paolo caught up to Robert in three long strides, and tugged at Robert's robes. "Delfino, amico mio, we need to talk." Robert turned and glared at Paolo, anger now starting to course hotly through is veins.
Before Robert could tell Paolo not to touch him, Remus, Harry, and Snape approached.
"The Aurors need to know where we are," said Snape. He aimed his wand high in the air and shot red sparks from the end of it. They flew up toward the cloudless sky, and fanned out in firework-type patterns. "A beacon. They'll be here in no time."
"What's an Auror?" Robert asked.
"My dad was one," Harry said. "It's like a wizarding policeman. Like your CIA or FBI, or Scotland Yard. They hunt down the bad guys, so to speak, and put them in prison."
As Robert opened his mouth to comment "about time we got them involved," two wizards popped into view, their appearances ripping the air and making a loud "crack" noise. One was a tall, black man with a bald pate and a large gold earring.
The other was a statuesque and muscular woman. From what Robert could see in the dark, this woman had bright pink hair and wore a plethora of piercings in her ears, nose, and eyebrows. Despite her punkish appearance, Robert thought she was rather attractive.
"Wotcher, Harry!" the female Auror said. "Dumbledore said you might be needing us. What's the fuss?"
Harry pointed at the dementors and the dais where Blaise was bound and gagged. "Them, Tonks. We need to get Blaise Zabini away from them."
"And who's this handsome bloke?" Tonks asked.
"This is Professor Robert Langdon, Nymphadora," Remus introduced a now blushing Robert.
"Ah, c'mon Wolfman! How many times have I told you to call me Tonks?" she groaned. She winked at Robert, and held out a hand. "I'm Tonks, and this here's Kingsley Shacklebolt."
"Pleasure to meet you sir," said Kingsley silkily. He had a deep, baritone bass voice, smooth as melted chocolate.
"Pleasure's mine," Robert replied. "Remus, will you be all right here if I take Paolo aside for a moment?"
Remus smiled. "With Kingsley and Nymphadora here we are in good hands."
Tonks snorted. "Remus, you ruddy windbag!"
Robert turned back to Paolo. "Let's have that talk now, the Aurors are here. They can take care of things for five minutes."
Like Paolo did earlier, Robert put his arm around his friend's shoulder and walked him away from the group, into the darkness. "Paolo, level with me. What happened to you?"
Paolo sniffled and shook his head, no.
"Paolo, if you don't tell me I can't help you. Do you want to go to that Azkaban place for killing…."
"Of course not, Robert, but what choice did I have? I had to obey him! I had to do what he said! You-Know-Who was merciful to me, though – when I killed those people, Professor Matado and Professor Vector, I wouldn't do it. I refused, but he has ways. He… he…"
"What did he do, Paolo?"
"Imperius curse. The Imperius curse. I didn't know what I was doing! I didn't agree to those murders, but he literally, physically made me do them." Paolo lifted his hand to his mouth as if he were going to be sick.
"But how did he get to you in the first place?"
"He's been here all along! Stalking in and around my house! I got a note a few weeks ago that the other…" his voice caught, "…Death Eaters, wanted to see me. I allowed them into my house, into Victoria and Blaise's house…and they brought You-Know-Who." Paolo sobbed anew.
"I was horrified. I had never seen him since he came back two years ago. I broke away from him. I never wanted to go back, ever! When I was in America with you, my mark – the Dark Mark never once burned me. Never once showed up on my skin and I was thankful. But when I came back here. It flared up constantly. I had to wear long sleeve shirts every day to keep Victoria from seeing it!"
Robert just stared.
"He came into my house, Delfino! My house! He threatened me. Threatened my household. He said that his other faithful devoted servants were in Azkaban, and they deserved to rot there for their failure to get the prophecy! He said if I could get it for him, he would spare Victoria and Blaise! If not, he would feed them to his dementors – both of them."
"Why is the prophecy so important to Voldemort?"
"In his hands, that prophecy is his greatest weapon. Right now, Harry Potter and Dumbledore are the only ones who know what the real truth is – how the final confrontation between Harry and You-Know-Who will turn out. That puts Harry at a significant advantage. He had to get it somehow. He couldn't get it out of Dumbledore's head. He's been trying for two years now to get it from Harry, but Harry's too strong…too good an Occlumens."
Robert bit his lip. He suddenly felt very exposed, very threatened knowing that he was one of the few who was privy to the full prophecy.
Paolo started furtively into Robert's eyes. "You-Know-Who – he provided the cryptex to me, and said he'd make me start killing one after the other until the prophecy was revealed, and I could deliver it to him. That is why, Robert, the clues contained within the cryptices – that's why they constantly referred to the prophecy, on the chance that someone would say the entire thing in front of me."
"That's why you didn't want to leave Dumbledore's office! That's why you insisted that there was more to the solution of the puzzle than just those six words we gave you."
"Yes, Robert. I was so close. So very close to seeing my family to safety."
"But why bring me?" Robert asked. "Why did you have to put me in such danger, and in such a weird situation? Why expose the wizarding world to a Muggle like me?"
"I told you, Robert. Dumbledore asked me to! I couldn't refuse! I had no choice in that matter either. If I could have somehow kept you away I would have. I know you almost died tonight, more than once, and I regret that."
Robert felt his ire bubble up again. "Then why the hell did you put me in that Shack with Lupin? You know he could have torn me to shreds! Yes, Paolo, I almost did die, thanks to you! You are feeding me such a line of bull right now, Paolo, I can see right through it, and I'm not even a Legilimens, or whatever the hell you people call it!"
"I will make no more excuses, Robert. But know this. I was still under the Imperius Curse when I took you there. I had just finished bringing Lupin and chaining him up, and arranging his clothes and case with the blood. I was cursed every hour on the hour, and I could not avoid it. I have no idea how the Dark Lord did it, or why he felt he couldn't trust me to save the lives of my family. The Dark Lord was essentially acting through me right then. I have no memory whatsoever of bringing you up there. When Lupin said that he…"
"I still don't believe you, Paolo." Robert said, coolly.
"But, Delfino! I knew what was going to happen! I saw the clue that the Dark Lord was going to put in that cryptex – the Mickey Mouse clue – the Muggle will get the kiss clue. He also told me that he was going to 'use Lupin's presence' to his advantage!"
"So what? So you did purposefully take me there!"
"No, Bobby, don't you see? The Wolfsbane in the cryptex! I gave you your way out! I gave you a means to tame Lupin and to escape! I have also been dropping you hints as to the solution to that cryptex since we met at Hogsmeade station! The color of your robe, the explanations of the Slytherin symbols, the hints left with the bodies. I thought you, of all people, would certainly put all of that together, and I am happy that you did! Robert, I even gave you the very solution when we were trying to open the first puzzle. Air, earth, fire, water!"
Robert couldn't believe his ears. He glared at Paolo with increasing fury, increasing distrust, and a blossom of hatred. How could Paolo betray him like this? How could Paolo chance his only child for a silly prophecy? "I've heard enough, Paolo. Enough."
Robert turned and started to walk back toward the group, Paolo following closely, still muttering apologies and apoplectic explanations. Robert stopped and threw his arm out to stop Paolo. He pointed. "Look."
There was a mass blaze of red streaks, seemingly shooting out of wands on either side of the dais where Blaise stood, still struggling, and still screaming. "What the…"
Paolo's eyes became wide. "Stunning charms," he shouted. "There must be Death Eaters there."
The two ran toward the dais. As they got closer, Robert could see the ground littered with slumped bodies, their robes billowing out with the slight breeze now picking up. He did not recognize any of them. Robert looked around, peered through the darkness into the faces of those others around him. They were all shaken and panting, but they were all in one piece.
"Is everyone okay?" Robert asked.
"Yeah," Harry panted. "Except Snape and Kingsley. They both took stunners to the chest. They'll be all right soon enough, though."
Robert stepped over a Death Eater to examine Snape's limp form. As soon as he did so, an all-too-familiar feeling swept over his body, for the second time in an hour. Dementors.
He looked up. The entire swarm of dementors was now circling right above Harry, Tonks, Paolo, Remus, and Robert, forcing them into a tight circle themselves. One of the dementors broke free of the enclave and swooped toward Blaise.
Paolo rushed forward. "No!" He ran directly toward Blaise, and tried mightily to undo the bindings. They were too tight and too firm. Paolo looked up at the dementor. "If you want Blaise, you have to take me, first."
A second dementor, as if taking Paolo up on his offer, dove in next to the first. From behind, Robert saw the dementors lift long, talon-like hands and push back their hoods. The heads behind the hoods were skeletal and gray, covered with a scaly, leathery substance. Both dementors leaned in close to Blaise and Paolo each. Paolo's body shook violently in the presence of his dementor, his arms and legs failing madly as if he was suffering a grand mal seizure.
"The Kiss," Remus shouted. "No!" He raised his wand. "Expecto Patronum!"
Remus' Patronus, in the form of a large dog, loped over to the two dementors and chased them away, just like a real dog would chase a rabbit or a squirrel. As soon as the two dementors left, two more took their place, lowered their hoods, and leaned in for the kiss. Paolo's body was once again plunged into vigorous throes of pain.
Harry, in turn, tried with his Patronus. Just like Remus' dog, Harry's stag was only able to scatter a few dementors. Like before, two additional dementors swooped in to take their places.
Tonks, in her turn, tried also. Her lizard-like Patronus had the same effect, and two more dementors approached hungrily.
Remus swore loudly. "It's not enough! We need a stronger Patronus! We need more than one!" Remus eyed the skies again. "There are hundreds of them! In order to get rid of all of these dementors we will need a Patronus at least four times normal size."
"But how do you do that?" Robert asked.
Remus' eyes glinted briefly. "Not me, Robert….us." He pointed at each one of them – including Robert. "All four of us."
"What?" Robert startled. "I can't do that."
Tonks looked around on the ground. She spotted what she was looking for, aimed her wand at it, and said, "Accio wand!" Paolo's ebony wand shot up from the ground, and Tonks caught it deftly. "Here you go, Robert." She handed him the wand. "Have a go at it with us. Ever conjure a Patronus before?"
"Nymphadora," Remus said hastily. "Robert's a Muggle."
Tonks' eyes widened. "Well, then he'll just have to hang on to us then, won't he?"
"Robert, come stand here." Robert didn't move. "Come now, Robert, there's no time to lose! Those two dementors are going to suck the very life out of your friend and his son if you don't help us! There are hundreds of dementors up there just waiting to take their turn! We have to get rid of them all in one shot, or Blaise and Paolo are done for!"
Robert stared at the wand in his right hand, and then walked briskly toward Remus. "What the hell do I do?"
"When I give the signal; there's not much time. Robert, think of the happiest thought you possibly can. Dig deep into your memories, your experiences. Harry, Tonks and I will hold on to you. Even though you're a Muggle, I hope, that our combined magic will flow through to you, and you can add to it. If it doesn't work, it doesn't – but we can't say we hadn't tried, then right?"
Robert was still skeptical.
"Okay, then Robert, on the count of three, I want you to think of that thought, and we will together say the incantation, Expecto Patronum. Got it?"
"One. Two. Three…"
Suddenly, Robert felt his resolve, whatever there was of it, failing. He stumbled over his feet and felt himself falling with the weight of the terror welling up inside him. As Harry and Tonks caught him up, Robert sensed the remaining dementors, aware of the growing fight against them, dive lower. Robert could feel ten times their effect. He saw again all of the horrible images he saw before. His memory also flashed to the flaming death of the camerlengo Carlo Ventresca and the dead body of Professor Vector he saw earlier.
No, Robert…you need to think happy thoughts. Making love to Vittoria, being rescued from the well, getting his appointment to Harvard, playing in the water polo national championships and winning, his first publication, learning about and kneeling at the location of the Holy Grail. Yes, those would do fine. Those would be the memories.
Harry, Tonks, and Remus' wands produced blinding sheets of white light. But the shapes of the Patroni were different this time. There was no stag, no dog, no chameleon. Robert couldn't quite tell what animal was produced from what wand, but he could clearly make out a lion, a badger, and a large bird – a raven. Robert screwed up his eyes and thought harder about the memories. "Expecto Patronum," he repeated.
He felt heat flowing through his body, culminating and pooling up in his right hand. His own wand, Paolo's wand, began to shake violently. He opened his eyes and looked up. The wand in his hand was glowing brightly, producing the same white light, forming a shape in the air above them. But the shape was unexpected. It was not the snake, the fourth Hogwarts symbol. Robert's Patronus, instead, was a dolphin. A large, sleek, bottle-nosed dolphin.
Earth…air…fire…and now, water. Combined.
The four Patronuses did just that. They combined into a mishmash of all four creatures. It had the head of a lion, the body of a bird, the feet of a badger, and the flipper tail of a dolphin. And it was beautiful.
"A Chimera!" Remus bellowed, laughing loudly and boisterously. "A ruddy Chimera!" Remus laughed again. "Go, go, get 'em!"
The Chimera was four times the size of any of the Patronuses that they, individually, had conjured before. It dispelled each and every one of the dementors, scattering them in all four directions, including those that were hovering over Blaise and Paolo. The Chimera cantered and swooped for a good five minutes until, its work finished, it disappeared.
Harry, Tonks, and Remus were still laughing with amazement and awe. "Looks like you really can do magic after all, Robert," Harry said.
Robert laughed. Then he saw Paolo and Blaise, and the mirth drained immediately out of him. They were both limp, pale, and unconscious. Blaise was still hanging from the pole, looking like a beaten up scarecrow. Paolo was passed out on the ground beneath.
"Paolo…" Robert murmured, and crossed the field to the wall and post. He started at a fast walk, his pace quickening with every step to a full-out dash. While Blaise was stirring slightly, and moaning, Paolo lay stock-still, his eyes unmoving, vacant.
"Oh, God, no…." Robert screamed. "Paolo!" He reached the wall. Harry, Remus and Tonks, who had followed, stopped behind him.
"Cor," said Tonks. "That doesn't look good."
"Please, Remus. Look at Paolo, is he…?" Robert couldn't bring himself to say it. He knew "dead" wasn't the right word for it. "Has he been…the d-d-dementor, did it k-k-kiss?"
Harry and Tonks undid the bindings holding Blaise in place, and slid him carefully off of the post, Tonks cradling him in her strong arms on the ground. Robert, aghast, fell to his knees next to his friend. Remus genuflected on the opposite side, peering into Paolo's staring eyes.
Remus flickered his hands in front of Paolo's eyes. There was no reaction. No sign of life. The pupils were open wide and dilated. Robert lifted Paolo's wrist and felt for a pulse. Paolo's heart did beat, but weakly. His skin, however, had turned cold and the color had all but drained from his face. Even before Remus said, "Yes, Robert, he's gone," Robert knew. One of those things – those dementors – sucked Paolo's very soul from his body. He was now a vacant, empty shell.
Robert buried his face in his hands, his fingers curling against his forehead in grief. "Oh, God, Paolo." This was the very last thing Robert would have expected tonight, with all the wondrous things he saw and experienced. Not once did he think he would be grieving over the loss of a friend. Especially this friend. Tired as Robert was, overwhelmed as Robert was, he could not hold it in anymore. He could no longer put on a brave face. He could no longer keep up the façade of Gryffindor-like strength.
He had been transported to a strange world. He had been nearly killed by a werewolf. He had seen a horribly mangled dead body. He had been attacked by an unworldly creature called a dementor – twice. Moreover, he learned that one of his very best friends was a murderer. A cold-blooded murderer and was likely a psychopath. Robert was spent. He'd had enough.
Robert sucked in a long breath, shivered, and then let go. He let all of those fears and emotions building up over the past twenty-four hours come pouring out. The tears flowed freely, unencumbered, and naturally.
Robert had not cried this hard for a long time. A very long time.
Robert barely felt it when Tonks lifted him up and embraced him. "It's okay, Robert. I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry Robert." Remus joined the embrace, as did Harry. Robert couldn't stop the tears.
"Let it all out, Robert." Remus said. "Let it all out."
Robert pulled away from Tonks, and rubbed his robe sleeve over his soaked face. "What do we do with him now?"
"Dad?" Robert turned quickly. Blaise was now sitting up, rubbing his head. "What happened?"
Remus rushed to Blaise's side. "Here, eat this. This will help you feel better." Blaise eyed Remus with distrust. "It's chocolate, Zabini. Didn't you learn anything in my class third year? You were attacked by dementors."
Blaise ate the chocolate. Remus passed the remainder around to Harry and the others. Blaise spotted Robert. "Uncle Bobby?"
Robert sobbed through a feeble smile. "Yeah, Blaise my boy. It's me."
"How did I get here?" Blaise stood on wobbly legs. He slipped on a wet patch of grass, and Robert caught him deftly. "What are you doing here?"
"You don't remember?" Robert asked.
"No. I was in my room getting some chocolate frogs from my trunk, and next thing I know I'm here, with all of you." Blaise looked down and saw his father. "Dad!" Blaise rushed toward Paolo's body. "Dad! Merlin's beard, Uncle Bobby, what happened!"
"Blaise, I am so sorry. We were too late," said Harry.
"Too late for what?" Blaise was panic-stricken. "The dementors, they didn't – they – they…"
"Kissed him, yes, Blaise. Your father is gone." O Lame Saint…
Blaise grabbed fast to Robert's robes and buried his face in Robert's chest. Just as Robert did moments ago, Blaise keened with grief over the loss of his father. But he would not be able to mourn for long. There were other, more pressing problems to attend to. Harry, as he did in the Great Hall, bent over, clutching at his scar, and screaming in pain.
"Now, Potter, just how does one dispose of a body that has been separated for eternity from its soul by a dementor?" A cold, steely, emotionless voice wafted from behind the crumbling wall. "The answer is, thusly: Evanesco Corpus!" A dazzling blue light shot from behind the wall, hitting Paolo's body square in the chest, and disintegrating it, inch by inch, until there was nothing left. Not even a speck of dust.
Blaise screamed. "Father!!!" Robert embraced him tighter, holding him fast, keeping him from running toward the source of the vanishing spell.
Harry slowly looked up from behind his hands. His face still showed a grimace of pure torture, but Harry was strong. He stood straight and defiant despite the burning pain in his scar. Robert followed Harry's gaze, his eyes resting upon a tall, skeletal, hooded figure emerging from the shadows. The man – the thing – had glowing red eyes and pasty white hands. Those hands were holding a long, thin wand.
"I knew you would be here," Harry sneered, "Voldemort."
O Draconian Devil….
4:00 am – The Open Field – Unknown Location
Lord Voldemort. He was the most horrible, most feared wizard of all time. From the first time Robert heard about this man, he had trouble picturing what he would look like. At first, Robert thought he would look not much unlike Dumbledore – aged, bearded, and powerful – but dark where Dumbledore was light.
This person now walking toward them looked nothing like he had pictured. In fact, his appearance was so frightening, so incredibly disfigured, that Robert, even at his most creative, could not have imagined anything like him. Voldemort did not even look human – he wasn't human, couldn't be. He looked, Robert thought, like something out of a science fiction movie – something horrific, something purely evil.
Voldemort walked, no, floated forward toward the group. As he came closer, Robert could see the face within the hood. The skin on his face was devoid of color, just like the hands. It was stretched taut and thin over a broad, wide skull, the cheekbones protruding at a sharp, eerie angle. The nose was prominent in its absence – there were only two tiny slits where the nose should have been. Voldemort was the very image of death – a fleshless skull. Robert remembered then that yes, Voldemort was death – he essentially died in his attempt to kill Harry Potter sixteen years ago. This particular Voldemort, this body, was resurrected, reconstructed, recreated.
Robert gasped. The most prominent feature of the face was the eyes – the bright, glowing red eyes. As the man, or whatever it was, came even closer, Robert saw his pupils. There were dark, vertical slits – like the eyes of a snake, a serpent – Slytherin.
Robert wasn't sure if he was horrified by this man's presence or infuriated by it. He wasn't sure if he should turn tail and run or, despite his horror, rush at him, wrap his hands around his throat, and throttle Voldemort. However, he knew that to do so would be pure suicide, and it would do nothing to help the situation. Voldemort was not going to be killed by the bare hands of a mere Muggle.
Robert could not dispel his hatred, however. Because of this thing – this Voldemort – Robert's friend, and two other Hogwarts professors were dead. Not just dead, brutally and violently murdered. Not only that, he was nearly killed himself. Leaving this day aside, Robert knew that Voldemort had caused a great deal of strife, grief, and pain. He hoped someday, that Voldemort would pay dearly for it – hopefully at the hands of Harry Potter. For now, there was little Robert could do.
No one spoke for a long moment. No one moved. Not Remus, not Blaise, not Tonks, not Harry. Snape and Kingsley still lay on the ground, unconscious from the stunning spells. Voldemort laughed -- just laughed – a purely evil, tinny, high-pitched, resonant laugh. Then his face turned grave, the stare intense. "Potter," he bellowed. "You have denied me long enough. I want that prophecy – I demand your life, just like I claimed what was mine years ago – the lives of your father and mother!"
Harry stepped forward. He was visibly shaking, and angry, but stood his ground firmly. "You really are desperate, aren't you, Voldemort? Do you really fear me that much?"
"Ah, the boy uses my name – uses it to mock me. Not even my loyal Death Eaters would dare use my name for the fear of me. Such bravery, Potter, such unmitigated nerve. Your parents would have been proud!"
"Leave my parents out of this, Voldemort!" Voldemort's comment obviously hit a nerve.
The skin around Voldemort's mouth stretched in a mockery of a grin. "Ah, now I see – you are not so valiant after all, are you? This show, this attitude – it is pure stupidity, Potter! You still do not realize who you are trifling with, do you?" Harry scowled, his anger and ire increasing exponentially. "I will have that prophecy, Potter! Now!" He laughed, and aimed his wand at Harry. "Legilimens!"
For the fourth time that night, Harry bent over double with searing pain. He clawed and scratched desperately at the scar on his forehead. The scar burned red, and Robert saw small drips of blood ooze from the site. Harry screamed – a high-pitched, plaintive scream of combined terror, defiance, and pain. "NO! You will NOT have it! You will not have me!" He shouted through the pain, raising his wand skyward with a trembling hand. "PROTEGO!"
Harry straightened up immediately under the power of his own protection spell. The pain had disappeared, replaced by a steely resolve, a renewed bravery, and fierce, piercing stare. Like Voldemort's red eyes, Robert saw that Harry's eyes were now themselves glowing – a bright, intense green. Robert could not escape the significance. Fire – red – Voldemort's eyes. Water – green – Harry's eyes. Opposites – places switched. Harry's crimson fire glowed in Voldemort. Voldemort's verdant water glowed within Harry. It was as if each left part of the other that fateful night sixteen years ago.
A very unexpected sound reached Robert's ears, interrupting his thoughts. It was Blaise, and he was nearly growling with revulsion and loathing. "Leave him alone!" Blaise shouted. Robert couldn't believe Blaise's bravery. "Leave Harry the bloody hell alone! Haven't you tortured him, the rest of us, enough? My father died trying to get that prophecy you wanted! He taught me all my life to follow you, to be loyal to you – but in the end he saw you for what you really are! I hated him for it! I thought he was wrong! I thought he was betraying you, betraying our family! But now I see I was wrong!"
Robert grabbed Blaise by the arm and tried pulling him back, away from Voldemort, away from danger. Robert saw the smile on Voldemort's face stretch tauter – become broader. This reaction – this ire, this hatred – was just the reaction Voldemort was seeking. Blaise wrenched out of Robert's grasp and strode closer – dangerously closer – to the Dark Lord. "My father committed murder for you! He nearly killed his best friend to serve you. And this is how you repay him? This is how you treat those who are loyal to you?"
Silence once again dominated the atmosphere. The only sound was Blaise's deep, rapid breathing. Everyone, including Harry, stood transfixed, wide-eyed at Blaise. Robert was unsure if they admired his bravery, or fretted over the possible consequences of his sheer stupidity.
Those consequences came rapidly and without warning. Voldemort raised his wand in one swift move. "Crucio!"
The spell came flying out of Voldemort's wand. This, Robert thought, is a powerful one. Harry tried in vain to push Blaise out of the spell's path, but it made contact – hitting Blaise squarely in the face.
Blaise's skin glowed orange momentarily, and he crumpled to the ground. His face contorted in a horrifying mask of pain. For a long while Blaise produced no sound. He was unable to. The pain would not allow his body to function. Every muscle in Blaise's body seemed to contract and relax rapid-fire. His eyes lolled back into his head. Before Blaise passed out, he found his voice. That voice, however, did not belong to a normal human being. The scream rising from Blaise's throat was animalistic, basic, feral – the pain bringing out the very basic part of his subconscious.
Robert felt helpless. "What is that?"
Tonks knelt next to Blaise and caught him up in her arms. Voldemort released Blaise from the curse, but he was still in the violent throes of pain. The primal screams were still being pushed out from Blaise's very being.
"It's the Cruciatus Curse!" Remus yelled. "It is an unforgivable curse – like the Killing Curse. It causes horrible pain!" Blaise's screams finally ceased, and he lay nearly lifeless in Tonks' arms, breathing shallowly and rapidly.
Harry had enough. "Speaking of the Killing Curse…" He aimed his wand at Voldemort, who was now cackling with hateful mirth over Blaise's agony.
"Harry, no!" Tonks screamed. "Don't do it!"
Harry didn't hear her. He didn't care. He aimed his wand at Voldemort, took in a deep, great breath and bellowed, "Avada Kedavra!!" Harry's voice was, for lack of a better description, otherworldly. When the Killing Curse emanated from his wand, his preternaturally green eyes burned brighter, more intense.
An emerald-green streak of light shot from the end of Harry's wand, and combined with the glow from his eyes. The salvo headed directly towards Voldemort's heart. Voldemort did not flinch. He did not move. When the curse was mere inches from his chest, Voldemort raised his hand, and moved it to the side, deflecting the curse behind him. The green flash struck the broken farm wall and exploded it, sending shards of rock and mortar flying.
Harry swore loudly, his verdant eyes still alight.
"What did my dear Bella tell you about using the unforgivable curses, Potter? You have to mean to kill. I still don't think you have it in you, Potter. But it is encouraging to see that you are still resisting me. That you are becoming stronger. I see more and more of you in me each time we meet."
Harry bristled at the comparison. "I will never be anything like you, Voldemort."
"Tut, tut, dear boy. You cannot ignore it any longer, can you? Look at you. You have become quite the Occlumens, keeping me out of your mind and at bay, haven't you, Potter?" Voldemort lowered his wand. His red eyes flashed.
Voldemort stepped forward toward Snape, looking down his flattened nose at Snape's crumpled body. "Getting back to business, now, before Mr. Zabini so rudely interrupted us. I do see Snivellus here has taught you well – he taught you this Occlumency, didn't he, Potter."
Voldemort pulled back his leg and gave Severus a vicious kick in the stomach. Harry jumped. Robert heard the breath leave Severus' lungs. "Pathetic traitor."
Voldemort raised his wand again, aiming it directly at Snape's head. Voldemort began intoning the Killing Curse, "Avada…" But he was interrupted by Remus' quick reaction. Remus flicked his wand at Snape and bellowed, "Accio, Snape!"
Snape's limp body flew up off the ground and pelted toward Lupin, landing with a sickening thud at Lupin's feet. Voldemort's face contorted into a livid sneer.
"Ah, yes, I know you." He pointed. "You are the werewolf, Remus J. Lupin." Voldemort's red eyes moved, away from Remus, now traveling over Robert. "My faithful servant, Wormtail, has told me oh so much about you." Lupin's eyes twitched slightly.
Voldemort sneered. "Ah yes, the sufferance of betrayal is quite a demon to bear, isn't it, Lupin – or should I say, Moony? Yes. I see the hatred for Wormtail in your eyes. Most unbecoming of your – character. What would dear, dear Padfoot and Prongs say? Rest their souls."
Lupin remained resolute. He was not about to let Voldemort provoke him. He was not about to give up any more of his grief, anger, hatred, or any other emotions to Voldemort.
"Oh well," Voldemort continued, "I do see that your Muggle meal for this evening had quite easily evaded your capture. I provided you with a free dinner – such easy prey, Lupin, you should have accepted my…gift. Too bad."
Voldemort suddenly turned again toward Harry, apparently no longer finding Lupin amusing. "Potter! I am disappointed. I can see that you are as stubborn and obstinate as I always knew you were. I will not get that prophecy from you. I see that I will need to find other means of obtaining what I want."
Voldemort paused, looking from person to person, as if scanning each one – Remus, Harry, Tonks, Blaise – landing again upon Robert. Voldemort's face broke out into another vicious grin. "Well, I do believe I know where to obtain my prize!" He raised his wand, aimed, but said nothing.
It took a moment for Robert to realize what Voldemort was doing. Those same images that flashed through Robert's mind during the dementor attack returned in full force. All of the fear, all of the panic, all of the pain, all of the death – every horrible experience – everything, down to when he was turned down for a prom date in high school – they all came racing back. Voldemort was probing Robert's memories now. He was using the same spell he used on Harry only a few hours earlier. Legilimency.
Except Robert didn't know how to prevent it. He, unlike Harry, did not have magical abilities. He did not have the knowledge of Occlumency. He couldn't block the drilling, the invasion into his mind. Robert felt helpless – powerless to keep the truth of the prophecy away from Voldemort.
Robert clutched at the sides of his head, trying in vain to keep Voldemort out. "Get…out… of … my… head!" Robert screamed. But the torture only increased. The memories became more real, flashed brighter and longer.
Robert could now smell the burning flesh of the camerlengo, could smell the dampness of the abandoned well, could feel the rush of cold air and the impact of cold water when he fell from the helicopter. He could feel the burn on his flesh and in his hair when the anti-matter bomb exploded over his head. Robert, like Harry before, collapsed on the ground, writhing. "I…won't…let…you…have…it!" Robert hissed through gritted teeth.
The torture continued for what seemed hours. Tonks, Remus, and Harry gathered around Robert, trying in vain to hold him, to ease his pain. Robert opened his eyes and looked plaintively at Tonks. "Stop this, please. Stop this."
Harry and Remus exchanged glances. "Could he take a double spell?" Harry asked. Remus knew exactly what he was talking about. Remus nodded. The idea was perfect, and Remus knew it would work.
"Robert! Robert! Can you hear me?" Remus patted Robert's face. "Listen, Robert, on the count of three, can you think of the prophecy? Say it out loud in your head?" Remus asked.
Robert, the pain and his memories still flashing through his mind, gained enough control to nod his head.
Harry whispered. "Remus is going to perform the protection charm for you. At the same time Tonks is going to modify your memory. She's going to take the memory of the prophecy out of your mind. If that memory's gone, Voldemort will know, and he'll stop looking for it."
All Robert could do is nod his head. Tonks bent over, grasped Robert's hand, and whispered furtively in his ear. "I'm here, Robert. Just hang on. Please. Hang on."
Robert could no longer hear them. He tried, he wanted to more than anything, but he just couldn't. All he heard were screams -- horrific, bloodcurdling screams. All he felt was panic. All he smelled was burning flesh. All he tasted was blood. Robert saw Voldemort's face in his mind's eye. It was taunting him, demanding to know where the memory of the prophecy was. Robert's resolve under this pressure was quickly failing.
"Do it now! He can't hold on much longer!" Tonks screamed.
Remus raised his wand above Robert and said, "Protego!"
At the same time, Tonks aimed her wand at Robert's head. "Robert…are you ready? Do you have it in your mind?" Robert nodded weakly, barely able to focus. He thought quickly of the prophecy. Tonks whispered gently, "One, two, three…obliviate!"
Robert felt a searing heat in his head, quickly replaced by a comforting, soothing coolness. It was a sweet, sugary, thoughtless oblivion. Voldemort had been driven out. He was gone. Thankfully, and finally, gone, as was the memory of the prophecy.
Robert began to sit up, aided by Tonks. "Robert! Look out!"
One of the Death Eaters, who was previously unconscious, stirred, aimed his wand at Robert, and said weakly, "stupefy!" A shimmering red burst of light and sparks emanated from the Death Eater's wand – headed directly for Robert's chest. Tonks pushed Robert back onto the ground just in time, covering him with her body. The spell hit the ground behind Robert, leaving a charred scar in the earth.
The Death Eater scrambled up from the ground, and ran towards Voldemort. Tonks pushed up on her hands with the agility of a gymnast. She dashed after the Death Eater, throwing numerous hexes and curses, but he was gone.
"Damn and blast!" Tonks walked with long, annoyed strides back towards Robert. Before she reached Robert, however, something stopped her in her tracks, and she smiled broadly.
Robert still felt weak, still somewhat dazed by the memory modification. While he couldn't be sure, he could have sworn that he heard another loud crack, and saw the flowing-white robes and beard that could only belong to one wizard.
"Dumbledore." Robert breathed.
Harry wheeled around. His eyes made instant contact with Dumbledore's. Robert's head was still spinning, but he could tell – there was an unspoken communication between the two wizards. Each knew what the other was going to do, and they were going to do it – now. Both wizards nodded and started walking with determination toward Voldemort – they were on the attack! Dumbledore reached in his pocket and withdrew his wand, his eyes fixed upon Voldemort.
From the corner of his eye, Robert saw yet another hooded figure. He couldn't tell if it was another Auror, a Death Eater, or someone else. Before he could stand up to run or call for help, or whatever he would have to do to save his own skin, he heard the incantation again. "Stupefy!" Again, the red streaks shot from the hooded figure's wand directly at Robert.
Before the spell hit, however, Robert heard yet another voice. It was that same cold, evil, hollow voice that resonated in his own head for the past five minutes. Voldemort's voice. "Dumbledore!" he bellowed. "You have caused another death tonight! Avada Kedavra!"
A flash of green light mixed with the red. Both spells now streamed towards Robert. Robert's eyes widened in horror. There was nothing he could do to stop the spell from hitting him.
Robert felt a percussive impact – a rib-splitting kick to the chest. Robert heard Tonks scream, "My God, no! Robert!" The force of the spell threw Robert backwards and upwards. Like a rag-doll, Robert's body was literally thrown about ten feet into the air, and landed with a sickening thud, face down in the rotting muck.
Then, Robert lost it all. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Everything around him and within him went completely and utterly black.
P.S. Find Robert Langdon…
Unknown Time – Unknown Place
The noonday desert sun scorched overhead. Robert, having forgotten his sunglasses, shielded his eyes against the punishing glare. He heard laughter. Familiar, loving, wonderful laughter resonating from above.
"Hey! I can't see you!" He laughed. "Where are you?"
"Up here, Robert! I'm up here!" Her voice was teasing, taunting, and tantalizing – beautiful, with a hint of an Italian accent. "Climb up, you old man, and catch me before I make it to the top without you!"
Robert growled affectionately. "Old man? We'll see who's an old man!" He pumped his arms at his side and took the steep stone steps two at a time. The carved sandstone was gravelly and a bit slippery under his feet. "Woah!" His feet gave way slightly halfway up the Pyramid, and he had to wave his arms for balance and struggle to keep from falling back down the Pyramid's face.
Another woman, this one's voice tinged with a French accent, also yelled down at Robert. "Up here, Robert! I'm up here! Climb up, you old man, and catch me before I make it to the top without you!"
Robert's feet felt heavier, his arms like lead weights at his side. "Old man?" He panted. "We'll see… who's… an old man!" He shuffled his feet up the steps, one at a time now. With each step he felt like his weight was increasing by a factor of ten, or that gravity was tugging him earthward harder and harder. "Woah!"
He slipped again. Now he was three-quarters up the Pyramid's face. He fell a few steps, but managed to grip the edge of a step with his hands – but he knew he couldn't hold on for long. One finger at a time, his grip loosened, as if someone was prying his fingers away from the sandstone.
There was laughter yet again. This time, however, there was no mirth to it. It was hollow, metallic, and sinister –and this time, it was male. Someone else was laughing this time. "Up here, Robert!" the voice said, mockingly. "I'm up here! Climb up, you old man, and catch me before I…"
"Before you what?" Robert yelled, horrified.
"Before I turn my wand on these women and kill them!"
Robert's hand slipped again. "Wait, wait!" He cried. "Kill Vittoria? Kill Sophie? No! Stop! Please, stop!" His hands and feet failed him as he scrambled to reach the top of the Pyramid. With each step he managed to climb up, ten more steps appeared at the Pyramid's apex.
More laughter. Lower. More sinister. More menacing. Now, the laughter was filled with pure hate and loathing. The words were taunting. "Up here, Robert! Up here! Climb up before I…."
"No, no, no, stop! Don't do it! Please!" Robert cried.
There was a third woman, with a British, slightly cockney accent. "Up 'ere, Robert! I'm up 'ere! Climb up, you old man, and catch me before I die without you!" Tonks!!! No, please don't kill Tonks!
The sinister laughter continued. "See, you're too late, Langdon! Too late to save the women you care most about! And guess what, Langdon – Tonks will die along with them!"
Robert still couldn't see the top of the Pyramid. The sun was too bright. There was too much glare. He couldn't make it up the steps in time to save Vittoria, Sophie – and Tonks. Especially, Tonks. But he had to… he… had… to…
"Avada Kedavra!" A blinding flash of green violently overtook and replaced the sun's luminosity. Robert knew instantly that Vittoria, Sophie – and Tonks -- were dead.
Or were they?
Robert's rational mind took over. Even in his near unconscious state, Robert realized, thankfully, that he was only dreaming.
However, his mind regained the rest of its function slowly, incrementally, like a light on a dimmer switch. The "on" button was engaged, but the slider was at the very bottom, providing only a very dim light. As the dimmer was brought up, Robert's first physical sensation was a sharp, twangy pain in his right hand. As he instinctively balled up his fist, he could feel a long, thin tube-like object move within the vein on his hand. He also felt something sticky, like tape, pulling painfully on the hairs on the back of his hand as his skin moved underneath it.
What in the hell is this thing on my hand?
As the lights came on further, Robert's auditory function began to return. The first thing he heard was a muffled "beep…beep…beep…beep…" He had heard that sound before in much the same circumstance – waking up in a Roman hospital after falling hundreds of feet from a helicopter into the frigid Tibor River.
More light. "Vittoria? Where…am… I?" He tried to speak, but the words came out in a muffled jumble of consonants and a long 'aaaaah.' Robert's teeth felt incredibly dry and parched, and his tongue felt like it was filling up his entire mouth.
God, I'm thirsty.
He tried to move, but his body wouldn't cooperate. He twisted his torso slightly, but was deterred by a painful pinch around his pectoral area where an EKG monitor sticker pulled at Robert's chest hair.
Ouch, that hurts. Come to think of it, everything hurts.
Robert could hear voices. He couldn't decide if those voices were familiar or not. Some were younger, some older. Some male, some female. However, they were all distinctly British.
Robert definitely was nowhere near home -- nowhere near Boston. Where am I and how the hell did I end up in a British hospital? Why aren't I in Boston?
As Robert jogged further into wakefulness, he could distinguish more voices. Some were muttering concern, some were shouting orders. Doctors, maybe. Nurses? He heard some names. Harry… Kingsley… Remus. Tonks. Nymphadora Tonks.
Whoever they were, the sounds of their voices were pounding and ricocheting around Robert's head painfully. He tried raising his hands to cover his ears, but, again, his body wouldn't do what his brain was telling it to do.
Why can't I move?
Robert tried opening his eyes. He could move them, but the eyelids were sticky. Robert wondered how long he'd been out if his eyes were full of crust.
"He's coming around," a female voice said. "Quick, Harry, go and get the doctor!"
"Robert? Robert? Can you hear me? Say something, man!" Robert felt the side of his face being tapped and stroked and tapped again.
Yes, I can hear you and you don't have to shout! Robert tried speaking again. "Where am I?"
Robert felt a warm, welcoming breath on his cheek as the woman leaned in to whisper in his ear. "You're in a Muggle hospital, Robert. You took a nasty…" she paused. Robert could feel her pull away for a moment, as if she was looking around. "spell to the chest."
I took a what to the chest? "Muggle?" He still couldn't open his eyes. Robert felt the edge of a drinking straw on his mouth.
"S'okay, Robert, its just water. Have some. Doctor said it was okay."
Robert pursed his lips around the straw and drank heartily. It was cool, sweet, and yes, it did make him feel better.
"Yeah, you remember, don't ya, Robert? You took a stunner to the chest." She laid a hand gently on the offended area. Robert's skin spasmed involuntarily with pain. She jerked her hand back. Merlin's Beard, why does it hurt so much…. Did I just say, Merlin's Beard????
"Ooh, sorry about that, love. You nearly got picked off by the…" Robert felt the air stir as she raised her head again, "Killing Curse, but it just missed you."
"Why…what's a Killing…picked off?" Robert's mouth, thirst quenched, was able to function better. "What happened?"
The woman sighed. "Can you open your eyes, Robert?"
"No…stuck." He replied, still trying to move his hands.
Why the hell can't I move?
Robert heard the trickle of water as the woman soaked a cloth in the basin next to Robert's bed. "I'm going to wipe your eyes, Robert, okay?" Robert nodded. As with the cool drink of water, the cloth on his eyes was sheer ambrosia. "Better, there?"
Robert opened his eyes a fraction, and then clutched them shut at the bright light. He opened his left eye first, then blinked, and his right eye followed suit. He was in a hospital room. He could see a television on the wall, charts hanging from a bulletin board, and the sterile, white ceiling tiles and tracks from the bed curtains. He turned to his left, and saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life, he thought!
She had long, dark hair. Her skin was tanned and glowing, and her eyes were deep-set, large and brown. Even though Robert still had difficulty focusing, he could recognize this woman anywhere.
"Vittoria? Vittoria Vettra?" He blinked furtively, trying to regain focus. "Is that you? What are you doing here? I just had the most horrible dream about you…."
The woman daubed Robert's eyes again with the cloth and sighed. "No, Robert, I'm not Vittoria," she said. "I'm sorry if I look like someone you know. I can change that."
"What?" Robert's hand finally did his brain's bidding. Yes, finally! He reached up and scrubbed the water out of his eyes. "But…" He looked again. Yes, it was Vittoria! What the hell was she talking about, not Vittoria….oh wait, he thought, looking again. "Oh, sorry."
"This is the way I normally look. The way I was born, Robert. I couldn't come into a Muggle hospital with bright pink hair and piercings, now could I?" the woman smiled warmly. "But judging from some of the characters I saw here today maybe I wouldn't have looked so off."
"Pink hair?" Robert scrubbed at his hair, his head aching worse than ever now.
"Yeah, Robert, it's me, Tonks. Nymphadora Tonks! Remember me? I stayed with you all day, mate. You've been out since about 4:00 in the morning!"
"What time is it now?" Tonks? Wow, without all that crazy hair, she's beautiful.
"Well, that's not so long." Robert said.
"No, Robert. It is 6:50 am – but it's the next day. You've been in twilight for more than 24 hours."
Robert sat up. "What? What the hell happened?" He sat up too fast, in fact, and the room around him started spinning. He immediately felt an overwhelming vertigo. The bile rose in his throat and he thought for sure he was going to be sick.
"I told you," Tonks laid a hand gently on Robert's shoulder, calming him, and laying him back down on the pillow. The wave of nausea and dizziness passed mercifully. "You were hit square in the chest with a stunner. Normally we'd just let you rest it out -- shake it off – have a lie-in so to speak, but…"
"But what?" Robert asked. "Why am I in a hospital?"
"We lost your pulse. We thought it killed you, gave you a… what do they call it when your heart goes all funny and doesn't beat anymore or beats really dodgy-like?"
"A heart attack? A coronary?" Yes, Robert thought, Paolo said that before the night was through he would have one. And there. He had one. No wonder my chest feels like its on fire!
"That's it!" Tonks said. "Harry took one look at you, and knowing what he knows about Muggles, I mean he lives with the lot and all, he said he thought you had a heart attack. He said the best place for you would be at Casualty in a Muggle hospital. I'm not hot that I agreed with that, but we took you anyways. Harry said you'd have…er… medical records or a history or something like that … and that you'd probably prefer Muggle medical treatment than potions or anything they'd conjure up at St. Mungo's…"
"Okay, so where am I?" Tonks offered him another sip of water, which he accepted heartily. "Thanks."
"Don' mention it." She set the cup back on the bedside table. You're at Murrayfield Hospital in Edinburgh." Tonks smiled. "Hope we did you well by that one."
Robert looked around briefly. It looked like any other hospital in any other country. "I'm sure it's fine." Robert fell silent. The memories of the night before came flooding back into Robert's brain. "Tonks?"
He reached up slowly and took Tonks' hand. "I do remember you. Frankly, you look a lot better now than with that pink hair…."
"I'm a metamorphmagi," she paused as Robert looked wholly perplexed. "I can change my appearance at will. If you like the way I look now – my natural state. I'll stay this way."
"Thank you." Robert sighed, too weary for any more magical surprises. "What about Harry? I don't remember everything that happened." Robert dug the heel of his hand into his forehead, trying to force the memory back into focus. "Were we in some kind of fight or something?" Robert looked down. "How did I get this burn mark here?" He pointed to the left side of his chest.
"Again, Robert, that's where the stunning charm walloped you a good one." Tonks explained. "And yes, we were in a mighty row last night at that." She squeezed his hand. "But you were very brave, and a very good fighter, Robert. We really needed a bloke like you, and you came through top notch."
The memories came back even more. "There were murders…and a werewolf…and…a dolphin in the sky?"
"Shush!" Tonks laid a hand over Robert's mouth. "Careful, we're around too many Muggles!"
"Last thing I remember was….Oh, God." The recollection hit Robert like an anti-matter explosion. "Paolo. Paolo's dead, isn't he? Those things…those," he whispered, "dementors, and Voldemort…they killed him. And Voldemort tried something – I don't remember what – with me – in my head -- and it was painful as all hell!"
Tonks nodded. Robert searched his memory again and gasped. "But Blaise? What about Blaise, is he okay? Please tell me he's okay, Tonks! What about Snape? Remus? Harry, the others?"
"Snape, Remus and Harry are fine, Robert." Tonks smiled weakly. She reached out and gently moved an errant lock of hair out of Robert's eyes. She placed her hand gently atop Robert's.
She didn't mention Blaise. "What happened?"
"More Aurors came -- to back us up." Tonks began, still whispering. "Dumbledore was there too. You should have seen it, Robert. Never seen anything like it, I haven't. Dumbledore was ruddy amazing. He and Harry together. No wonder the proph…I mean, no wonder Dumbledore's so fond of Harry. The two of them…they fought off the rest of the Death Eaters. Then, they set their sights dead straight on to You-Know-Who."
"And what happened?" Robert tried to turn on his side to listen better, but the pain in his chest told him not to.
"I didn't see it. The spells coming from Harry's and Dumbledore's wands were too bright. No one saw anything other than flashes of red, blue, green. All we know is that Harry and Dumbledore walked right into the fray – took You-Know-Who straight on. We heard Harry scream a few times – couldn't tell if it was pain, panic, or just battle screams. Heard You-Know-Who yell some curses, too, but we couldn't tell what. For all we know, they went in there to chat it up a bit, but I doubt it. You know how it is -- three went in, two came out – Harry and Dumbledore. Dumbledore looked okay. Harry looked a little well…nutters, a bit dodgy in the head, I guess is the way to spit it. We've no idea what happened to You-Know-Who."
"Did you ask …"
"Yeah, we did. Harry ain't talking. Not so much as a bloody word since, in fact. Dumbledore's not talking either." She smiled. "So, Robert, you didn't miss much."
Robert decided to broach the subject again. Although, judging from Tonks' demeanor before, he did not think the news would be good. "And Blaise?" He braced himself.
"Robert. You're still overmuch too weak. Maybe this should wait…"
"Just by that reaction, I know it's not good, Tonks. Please." He squeezed her hand. "Out with it."
"Right before you went all wonky on us from the stunner, You-Know-Who invoked the Killing Curse and aimed it right at you."
"I guess I remember that. I remember seeing the green, if that's what that was." Robert said.
"It got all mixed up with the stunning charm from that Death Eater. It would have hit you, and would have probably killed you, but…" Tonks lowered her head.
"But what?" Robert still did not like where this was going.
"Blaise." Tears began forming in Tonks' brown eyes. "He used his wand. He separated the spells. I don't know how he did it or how he knew how to do it but, being just a student and all, but he drew the Killing Curse away from you and…" Her tears became more pronounced and she began sobbing.
"He took the curse himself?" Robert asked, shuddering with dread.
Tonks nodded her head. "Yes. Blaise took the curse himself. Hit him square in the face, it did." She sniffed.
Harry entered the room. "Yes, Mr. Langdon. Voldemort's curse killed him instantly."
Robert looked up at Harry, his eyes widening in horror. "Oh my God. Blaise." The tears flowed. "First Paolo, now Blaise. Oh my God!" For the second time in just over 24 hours, Robert cried. Tonks, just as before, held him fast and comforted him. Her touch felt warm, loving, and it did dispel some of Robert's grief and terror.
"Why the hell did he do that? Why in God's name…?"
Robert felt a sudden urge to pull away from Tonks. His grief and sadness instantly morphed into something hot and deadly. He felt – a fury now course through his body. "Damnit!!" Robert yelled as loud as his weakened voice would allow him. "God Damnit! What the hell did we go in there for? What the hell did we all put our lives on the line for? He committed suicide? What use was anything we did?"
"Don't talk that way, now, Robert." Tonks patted Robert's hand nervously, and touched his face. "It wasn't all for naught."
"Like hell it wasn't! Two murders. One dementor's kiss…so much death and destruction and fear – Blaise and Paolo are dead -- for what?"
Silence. Tonks looked at Harry pleadingly, and then at Robert. Harry's face set in a jumbled up expression of pride, worry, and resolve. His voice was a harsh whisper. "For everything," he said, cooly. "For my mum and dad. For Sirius. For Ron and Hermione, Cedric Diggory! This war, Robert. It's over. Voldemort's gone. He's finished -- for good this time."
Without another word, Harry Potter turned on his heels and burst out of the room.
5:00 pm – 5th September -- Murrayfield Hospital - Edinburgh
Robert had never felt more stir-crazy in his entire life. Thankfully, he had Tonks at his side nearly the entire five days he spent there. Time also passed thanks to the occasional visits from Harry, Remus and yes, even Severus Snape. At least Remus and Severus had the smarts and the decency to attempt to look like Muggles during their visits. Robert, having grown accustomed to Severus' flowing, billowing robes, and long greasy black hair almost did not recognize him with his hair in a neat ponytail, and dressed in a black sweater and pants.
Despite his doctor's overzealousness, "While there's seemingly nothing wrong with your heart, Mr. Langdon, we can't let you go just yet until we find out what exactly made it stop!" Robert kept his patience in check. However, he did make it a point to pester his doctor and nurse at least eight times a day, telling them he felt just fine, pointing at the normal EKG monitor, and asking innocently when he would be released.
The visits from the Hogwarts staff and students made his stay much more pleasurable and the time pass much quicker. Remus' first visit was perhaps the most memorable.
"I need something to get my brain working again," Robert said, clicking off the television. "How about we play some chess?"
"That sounds wonderful!" Remus beamed.
"There's a chess set in the side table there. I asked the nurse to bring it to me last night from the games room." Robert pointed.
Remus dug out the chess set, and set it out on the bed table. Remus set up the white pieces, and Robert black.
"Okay, Remus. You're white. You go first."
Remus stared hard at the chessboard. "King's Pawn to D4," he said, without lifting a hand. The piece did not move. "Pawn to D4," Remus repeated. He looked up at Robert in confusion. "Why didn't it move?"
"What do you mean? You're supposed to pick it up and move it yourself!" Remus was thoroughly confused. "What, do the chess pieces move by themselves where you come from?" Robert chuckled.
Remus looked abashed. He smacked himself on the forehead and nodded resignedly. "Right. Muggle chess. I forgot." He picked up the offending pawn and placed it with a flourish on the D4 square.
After a few moves, Robert moved his Knight to overtake one of Remus' Pawns. Robert placed his chess piece in the same square, swiftly removed the Pawn, and set it to the side of the Chessboard.
"Now that's boring." Remus said.
"Just taking the piece off the board like that. In my kind of Chess game your Knight would have pounded the pulp out of my Pawn!"
"Yeah, this is pretty boring in comparison, isn't it?" Robert mused. He looked up at Remus. "How's Harry?"
"Same as before." Remus said.
"I don't suppose you can tell me what happened out there?"
"I'm afraid I cannot. I know Tonks told you that neither Harry nor Dumbledore have been inclined to tell anyone what really happened. I'm in the same spot Tonks was in…all I saw were bright lights and spells flying."
Robert and Remus finished their game in silence, with Remus eventually taking Robert's King in a well thought-out checkmate. Robert was too distracted to care.
Just then Harry arrived, carrying a small package. "Hello, Mr. Langdon. How are you feeling today?" Harry asked cordially.
"Much better, and I'm ready to get the hell out of here, thank you."
"I'm really glad you're okay. You really had me worried for a while there." Harry smiled weakly. "I'm really sorry about Blaise, Mr. Langdon."
"Please, Harry, call me Robert." He sighed. "And thank you. The news was really hard to hear, but I know you did your best to save him. Sounds like you saved all of us."
Harry did not respond. His face showed no sign of emotion or reaction.
Robert thought of delving further into the past few days' events, but thought better of it. Harry was truly a strange young man, yet he was brave, noble, and admirable. Recalling what Robert saw of him on the train and witnessing his prowess on the field, he thought it best not to say anything to possibly provoke him.
Breaking the silence, Harry handed a small package to Robert. "Here. This is from Professor Dumbledore."
"Thanks." Robert said, accepting the package. He unwrapped it, and within the paper was a small cryptex. "Oh God, not another one – do I need to solve this now? There haven't been anymore threats, have there?" Robert sighed.
"No, no, nothing like that," Harry said. "It's a gift. Dumbledore thought it would be a…well, a memento…sort of. Here, he sent a note with it." Harry dug the note out of his jeans pocket and handed it over to Robert.
Robert unfolded the note and read.
If you should ever wish to return to Hogwarts, the contents of this cryptex, when touched, will bring you straight here – straight to this place if you feel you belong, where you are most welcome. Within this puzzle lies a small Portkey. All you need do is solve the puzzle to open it. The solution lies in your own magic.
Yours very sincerely,
Robert looked over the cryptex carefully. The carvings on the brass bands were normal, English letters. The green-tinged wood and patina-coated metal end caps of the small cylinder were decorated with water symbols – the Zodiac sign for Aquarius, the upside-down triangle Alchemaic symbol for water, the zig-zaggy Egyptian water Hieroglyph, the Christian shell symbol for baptism, and the Greek symbol for Aphrodite – the goddess born from the sea.
Robert figured out the cryptex immediately. There were seven rings. There were seven letters in the word describing Robert's own "magic," the word describing his Patronus. The solution was, "Dolphin." Robert simply locked the solution away in his memory, and resisted the urge to open the puzzle right then and there. There would be a time and a place to open it, Robert knew, and now was not that time.
"What is it?" Remus asked.
"It's an invitation to return to Hogwarts, whenever I want to." Robert smiled. "Thanks, Harry, for bringing this."
7th September – 5:45 pm – Hogwarts Grounds
Robert remained in the hospital for two more days. When, on 7th September, he was finally released, or, "sprung," as Robert put it, Tonks gathered his things for him, helped him out of the hospital, and saw him safely back to Hogwarts.
"Thanks for everything, Tonks." Robert said, blushing slightly. He walked closely beside Tonks as they strode up the school grounds toward the castle from the lake. Robert was under doctor's orders to start walking now that he was again able to. How better to start than with a tour of Hogwarts' grounds during the late daylight hours?
"I mean it," Robert continued, "I'm not sure why you stayed with me so much, Tonks. I really don't think I could have made it through that hospital stay without you. I hate those places, you know. Yes, Harry and Remus, and even Snape stopped by once in a while, but you were the only one to stay at my side constantly. Thanks for that."
"Stop prattling on about thanking me, you big wanker! Right, it's not like I had anything else to do, eh? Joking aside, Robert, it was my pleasure." She smiled subtly. "But, for the fifty millionth time, you're welcome for that."
Tonks put on a falsely pensive expression. "Oy, I'm not sure why I stayed either! Must be somethin' about you I like." She gave Robert a nudge on the shoulder. "Anyways, if it wasn't for you, Robert, we'd have never been rid of those dementors, right?"
Robert shrugged. "I guess so. It was all you guys, though – you and Remus and Harry. All that magic – it was you, not me. I'm still convinced that I have no magical talent in me. I'm just a plain old Muggle and that's what I'll always be."
Tonks lifted an eyebrow and pursed her lips. "Somehow, Robert, I don't really think so." She smiled. "I mean, you told me some really nutters stories there in hospital. Falling from a hilo, all that rot…there's gotta be something in you! I mean, you did have your own Patronus! That's some advanced magic, that is! Loads of fully-qualified wizards can't even conjure a Patronus!"
"How's Harry?" Robert asked, concerned, and changing the subject. Although it had only been two days since he last saw Harry, he continued to wonder how the events of that evening impacted this boy that Robert truly began to care about.
"Still not completely right in the head, I think. Gone a bit wonky. I can't put my finger on what's wrong with him but there's something well -- missing -- about the boy. Something that's not there. He seems almost -- lost." Tonks perked up suddenly. "But, his friends are right beside him, though. Hermione and Ron. They're two gems, they are. Ron's loyal to the bone, and Hermione's the cleverest witch of her age! They'll see Harry through all of this -- thick and thin, those two, don't you worry."
"He still won't talk about what happened?"
"Aw, no. Don't suppose anyone will ever find out what really happened with You-Know-Who and Dumbledore and Harry there. I can't even be sure he'll tell Ron and Hermione, and he tells them everything!"
"I'll try talking to Albus. Maybe he'll entrust the information to a Muggle."
"Ach, I'd be careful about what secrets Dumbledore offers to whisper in your ear anymore, Robert. Remember, the last one nearly got your brains turned to porridge by You-Know-Who!"
Robert rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I do," he smiled weakly. Robert pulled his freshly-cleaned wizard's robes tighter under his chin as the early evening September wind whipped and swirled in increasing intensity.
My robes, Robert thought, fingering the edge of the soft, downy wool. My – robes – my wizard's robes. Robert had forgotten all about his precious Harris Tweed. The Harris Tweed that Paolo transfigured for him. My God, it all seems a world away now – a lifetime ago. Hell, I guess even I've been transfigured!
Robert looked at Tonks with a new longing. Silly and sophomoric, he thought -- he had only just met her. She'd only been a player in a small fraction of his adventure, but she had been there through the worst of the times. She was by his side constantly, dutifully, and loyally.
Robert wondered how he could possibly return to Boston – return to his normal life -- leave this place, this world -- without taking at least a small part of it with him. But what part to take?
The idea illuminated in his mind like a Patronus charm.
"You know, Tonks, I'm going back to Boston in two days – after the funerals, and after I make sure Vickie's going to be okay. She's a real mess, but she's a strong woman – a strong witch, I mean. She has her family here to lean on. She really doesn't need me or my constant presence to remind her of what happened. Anyways, the Doctor gave me the okay to fly."
Tonks lowered her head slightly. "Aw, bloody hell, just as I was getting to know you and all." She blinked. "Always works out for me that way, doesn't it. I start getting attached and then…"
Attached? Is this really what I want to hear? "Tonks, I…" Robert interrupted. "I'm sorry. I know you spent a lot of time with me at the hospital – more than I ever could have expected. Much more. I know you are a great fighter, and a brilliant witch, but with Vol…"
Tonks cleared her throat.
"Sorry, with You-Know-Who gone, you may not even have a job to go back to…"
Tonks rolled her eyes this time. "Thanks for that reminder there, Robert. Just what I needed to make me feel better."
Yes, I think it was what I wanted to hear. "No, no, that's not what I meant." Robert said, flustered. He turned and faced Tonks, grasping her gently, yet firmly by the shoulders. God, it would be so easy for me to just lean over and kiss her… "I mean, maybe you could…If you wanted to…I mean…"
"What?" Tonks winced slightly, somewhat flummoxed.
"Look, Tonks, I know we hardly know each other, but when you feel something, you feel something, right? And I'm getting pretty old," he laughed, then paused. "You're supposed to disagree with me there, Tonks – about me getting old there."
"Oh, yeah! Oh, no, Robert, you're not old. Not old a whit." Tonks said in a false confident, mocking voice.
"Thank you. As I was saying, I'm getting damn old, and I know you're still pretty young, but opportunities like this… people…women… like you, Tonks… just don't come along very often, so…"
"You want me to go to…to Boston with you?" Tonks blinked.
Robert nodded silently.
"That's a ruddy forward thing to ask a girl you barely know, and who's ten years younger than you, now isn't it?"
Not quite the answer I was looking for… "Well, Tonks," he said, gripping her shoulders tighter. "What can I say or do to convince you?" He smiled. She raised her eyes up and to the left, and held her hand to her chin in a grinning mock expression of contemplation.
As Tonks opened her mouth to answer, Robert heard a booming voice from the front door of the school. "Robert! Robert Langdon!" It was Dumbledore. "May I have a word, please?"
Robert sighed. "Hold that thought, okay, Nymphadora?" He placed a finger to her lips. "Tell me when I come back, okay?"
"Okay," she said. "But the answer'll likely be yes! And Robert, don't think you can go calling me by my first name if I agree to go with you. It don't give you the right."
Robert smiled and turned, his heart light and his stomach now doing little flip-flops with excitement. In all the pain and tragedy of the past few days, the prospect of spending time with Tonks was a brilliant beacon of light. He skipped, as much as he was able, up the front staircase toward the entrance door. Dumbledore greeted him with a handshake and a pat on the back.
"It's good to see you up and about, and so full of energy, Robert. You had us all worried there for quite some time – especially being in that Muggle hospital – brutal their kind of medicine. Remus Lupin told me all about it -- electrical heart starting paddles, tubes in your veins, and needles and the like. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it."
"Well," said Robert. "It did the trick didn't it? I'm here, and I guess I'm lucky to be alive."
Dumbledore looked past Robert, and down the staircase at Tonks. "Looks like you are lucky in more than one way, Robert. Nymphadora Tonks is one of the good ones, and she has really taken a liking to you. She is truly one of the cleverest witches I have ever met, short of Hermione Granger. She's an excellent Auror, dedicated, loyal, and trustworthy to a fault. You would do well to see that she's happy."
Robert wondered why and how Dumbledore knew Robert's intentions toward Tonks. However, by now, Robert knew not to ask, not to second guess, and not to wonder. "If she'll have me, I promise to take excellent care of her."
"You know that Harry would tell you the same, but in not-so-subtle ways. You see, Tonks is the daughter of Sirius Black's favorite cousin, Andromeda. Tonks and Sirius had a kinship like no other, and that affection passed through Sirius to his godson, Harry."
"Ah," said Robert. "The Sirius factor. Understood." Robert paused. "Albus?"
"What happened back there?"
Dumbledore looked behind him. "Back where? I don't see anything." There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"No, I mean back in the field. With you and Harry and Voldemort?"
"Robert, I know now that I have endangered you far beyond your tolerance at this point. I cannot…"
"But -- Harry," Robert interrupted. "Tonks says there's something wrong with Harry. I've even seen it myself. He's, well, different. What is it?"
Dumbledore sighed. "What does one in your position as an art historian, for example, feel when a lifetime quest is over. Robert, how did you feel when you finally found the Holy Grail in Paris?"
"Happy," Robert said, "Relieved, joyful, fulfilled…"
"And then after a day or so?"
Robert thought hard. "Empty, I guess. Finished. As…as if there was nothing else to do…at least for a while…other than just talk about it."
"Then, you have your answer, Robert."
Robert pondered the impact of that. Harry had trained for seven of his nearly eighteen years to defeat the Dark Lord, Voldemort. He waited all that time for the opportunity, for the chance to take up arms and achieve his destiny – to fulfill the prophecy. Now that he's done it. What else was left for Harry Potter to do?
Robert hung his head. "I see. But there must be something else for Harry to do."
"Oh, there is." Dumbledore smiled, and laid a finger aside his nose. "There truly is. What Harry does not seem to understand at this moment, is that Voldemort is not truly gone. In spite of the celebrations, the pats on the back, the congratulations Harry may receive now, Voldemort never will truly be gone."
"What do you mean?"
"In Muggle politics, Robert, what happens when a dictator falls, or the head of a terrorist faction is killed or captured?"
"Someone steps in to take his place and the cycle begins again." At last, it dawned on Robert. Voldemort wasn't truly defeated. As long as there were Death Eaters loyal to him, unlike before when he was just weakened, he will live on. Robert knew the martyr syndrome well – and now he feared it would arise with force.
"So you see, Robert. Harry Potter's purpose in life is not extinguished, never will be. He still has the 'power the Dark Lord knows not…' and he will have it for the rest of his life."
"Power the what?" Robert asked.
"Oh, yes, I forgot. Tonks' well placed memory charm. Well, I for one will not expose you to danger and reiterate the prophecy to you. Harry was quite disappointed when he first found out you were not here to help us solve it. But now there's no need." Dumbledore paused, his eyebrows again raised, "or is there? Perhaps the prophecy is not yet completed. Hmmmm….interesting thoughts."
Dumbledore seemed lost in his own mind for a moment, then snapped out of it suddenly. "Well, Robert, it has been a pleasure knowing you. I do owe you a great deal of thanks and gratitude." Robert blushed slightly. He did not feel like he deserved any thanks.
Again, Robert felt as if Dumbledore were reading his mind. "I realize you may feel that your presence here was for naught, that nothing was prevented… but look at the miraculous end result. If it wasn't for you, if you weren't here to interpret all of those symbolic clues, then Blaise Zabini's death would truly have been in vain." Dumbledore paused. "I expect you will be at the funerals tomorrow and then heading back home to Boston?"
Robert shook his head. He was still reeling from Dumbledore's prior revelation. "Uh, yes. I will be."
"Well, then, safe journeys, Robert Langdon." Dumbledore shook his hand. "I do hope to see you again. Muggle or not, you are always welcome at Hogwarts."
"Thank you, sir. And thank you for the Cryptex."
"You are very welcome, Robert. And I meant what I said in the letter. You belong here, if you'll have it. If you do feel that longing to come back, simply open the puzzle, my friend, and the Portkey will transport you right into my office. You might give me quite a start should I be sleeping or daydreaming, thinking, or Merlin forbid, working, but I know, after the initial shock, I shall be most happy to see you."
Robert smiled and turned to leave.
"Oh, by the way, Robert," Dumbledore caught his attention. "I have one more token to pass on to you." He reached into his robe and pulled out a long, black wand. "This was Blaise's wand. Twelve inches. Ebony. Mermaid hair core. I'm sure he would want his 'Uncle Bobby' to have it, as a token of thanks. Victoria is in complete agreement."
Robert stared at the ebony shaft of wood. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his entire life. Robert felt tears flow for the third time in a week. "Thank you." Robert grasped the wand's handle with his right hand. It felt natural. It felt wonderful. He didn't want to let it go. It felt as if he had Blaise, or the memory of Blaise, right with him, to keep him company. "Thank you so much, Headmaster."
"Again, Robert, you are very welcome."
Dumbledore turned to return to the castle, and then turned back yet again. "Oh, Robert. One more thing."
"Are you sure you do not wish to stay on as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher? I hear you can conjure up quite a Patronus, Delfino! I do believe that you could teach our third years a thing or two about fighting off dementors."
"I think the only thing I qualify to teach is Defense Against the Bad Art, Headmaster!"
Dumbledore chuckled in response. "Perhaps, perhaps not. Oh well."
Again, Dumbledore made to leave, and again he turned back to Robert. "Oh, yes. I forgot. Old age, you know. Will you indulge me with one more 'one more thing' then, Robert."
"Hold that wand firmly and repeat after me."
"Just do as I say, young man. Repeat after me!"
Robert was mystified. "Okay."
Robert winced in confusion, but held tight to the wand. He repeated the phrase. "Lumos Maxima."
The reaction was instant and incredible. Robert gasped, the breath nearly knocked out of him. He almost dropped the wand. The thing, the wand – it… it glowed! The very tip of the wand in Robert's hand actually glowed – an immaculate and powerfully luminous white light – a light that split the growing dusk before it.
"What the…how did I…?" Did I just do what I think I did? Robert looked up at Dumbledore, his hand and his breath trembling. Please, please tell me I didn't do what I think I just did.
Dumbeldore's eyes twinkled, his half-moon glasses reflecting the dazzling wand light. "See, Robert. We all knew you had it in you. Defense Against the Dark Arts – just as I said!" Dumbledore smiled and turned his back to Robert. He trod quickly up the remaining steps, disappearing into the castle.
Robert stared in utter bewilderment as the light from Blaise's wand slowly, and gradually, faded.
P.S. Find "Robert Langdon..."