"Nico, wait!" Lupin shouted after him, but Nico wasn't paying attention anymore. The veil was cool to the touch and silky, but it seemed almost... alive. Nico wondered exactly why his father had the veil, as he didn't need it to go in and out of the Underworld himself. Perhaps someone from the wizarding world built it, he guessed. A long, dark tunnel stretched downwards into the black.
He turned and looked behind him, but the battle was blurred and swirling, like he was looking at it through a pair of low prescription glasses. He could still make out the forms of his friends and allies(Nico wouldn't go quite so far as to call Moody a friend), but they were distorted by the veil. He reached out a hand to brush against it, but it shocked his fingers. Jerking them away, Nico put his burnt fingers in his mouth, worried.
Sure, he could shadow travel out of the Underworld without any trouble, but shadow traveling tended to tear a person's soul away from their body a little more. Part of the reason it exhausted him so much was because it was slowly peeling back his soul like a sticker, and the easiest way to glue it back down was to sleep. Other people didn't feel it as badly as him, because they didn't put as much effort into it. If Sirius was already down here, shadow traveling while his soul was coming loose could rip it away and kill him once and for all.
He considered the options. Sirius could stay here and die with no hope of coming back to life... or he could try and rescue him, giving him a little bit of a chance. Nico faced the yawning mouth of the Underworld and dropped his bag next to the veil before marching down into the depths.
The closer he came to the bottom of the hole, the lighter it was growing. While many people imagined the Underworld as the darkest hell possible, it was actually rather like a city at night. The place had been industrialized by all the recent wars and deaths in the world that had forced them to expand quickly. Now Hades had stoplights and streetlamps and buildings that glowed white from their windows. Were it not for the skeletal people and faint, wispy ghosts occupying it, Nico would have thought it looked an awful lot like Las Angelos.
He spun around in a circle, looking for Sirius. The veil had dumped them just after the E-Z Death turnstiles, so he knew his friend hadn't been eaten by Cereberus. All sorts of other bad things that could happen in the Underworld ran through his head. The skeleton guards could catch him and execute him, the other spirits could sense his life and attack him, he could fall into Tartarus... Suddenly, a bony hand grabbed his shoulder. Nico spun around, startled. A skeleton in a World War Two uniform chattered its jaw and stared into his face. "Alive," it hissed, cocking its AK-47.
Nico held up his hands. "Hold on, buddy," he said. "I'm Hades's kid. You want to mess with the boss's son?" he asked, folding his arms and getting a stubborn look on his face.
The thing clacked its mandible up and down in affirmation, but it was much slower and it was lowering the tip of the gun. Good, Nico thought, it's getting confused.
"That's right," he said. "You shoot me and my dad will throw you straight into Tartarus. You don't want that, do you?"
Maybe it was his tone, or maybe the skeleton hated having to suck up to a little kid(which Nico could understand—if he had been the skeleton, he would probably have shot him, too). Either way, it lifted its gun and aimed it at Nico's face before unloading an entire clip at him. Nico ducked and rolled between its legs and came up, summoning his Stygian ice knife and stabbed it in the gut. It exploded in a wave of black flames and fell to the ground. Unfortunately, that seemed to sound an alarm. All around him, skeletons were turning around and charging towards him. The spirits in line for death were starting to get impatient, and were all beginning to shuffle through to the line for Judgment for Elysium.
"Why is this so hard?" Nico shouted at one, stabbing it in the ribcage. If it had been going to answer him, he would never know, because it was suddenly a cloud of black fire. He made towards Elysium, jumping over the dividers for the line into Judgment. Unlike ones commonly found in airports, these were ringed with barbed wire and Stygian ice. Were he not the son of Hades, he would have had his soul sucked out. Then again, if he weren't the son of Hades, he'd probably never had to come here in the first place. Even with his resistance to the Underworld ice, Nico still managed to cut a gash in his palm from the barbed wire. Wincing, Nico clenched his fist and looked back. The skeletons had stopped pursuing him. He wondered if they were allowed to open fire on paradise-like Elysium. The sandy beaches and the cottages made him almost long for death.
Now that he had lost those stupid guards, Nico spun around to try and find Sirius. As he was about to try and sneak back out of Elysium, he caught sight of a familiar mess of dark hair, moving as if in a trance towards two ghosts. He ran to catch him before he spoke with the ghosts. While Nico was allowed to communicate with the dead, he didn't think that Hades would approve of a mortal getting to do so.
Nico grabbed Sirius's shoulder and spun him around, appraising his soul. It was pulling away from his body quickly now, but nothing serious enough that a good sleep wouldn't fix it. Nico had noticed that Sirius's soul had been damaged for the longest time, and he was a little shocked to see that traveling to the Underworld was not the worst strain he had had on his spirit. "Are you okay?" he asked his friend. "We have to go, now."
Sirius turned his head and looked back at the two ghosts, who were now lovingly embracing each other. "But..." he said slowly, trying to catch their eyes. "I need to talk to them."
Nico hesitated and took a good look at the two ghosts. Where had he seen the man before? He reminded him of someone. He knew there was someone he knew just like him. "Who is that man, Sirius?"
His friend pulled away his arm and began to wander back towards them. "Lily and James Potter," he told Nico. Nico stopped. Harry's parents? He had sensed they were dead before, but meeting them in Elysium was a whole other thing. He wondered what they had done that qualified them for Elysium. "My old friends," he called out, and the ghosts looked up. Both of them smiled, and it was almost eerie how much Nico saw of Harry in James. Except for his eyes. He had his mother's eyes.
"Sirius," Lily said pleasantly. "I'm so sorry that you've died."
"Will you be joining us here?" James asked, eagerly. A mischievous light danced in his eyes. Nico thought that if he had been young today, he would have gotten along very well with the Stoll brothers. "Think of all the pranks we can pull now that you're down here, too!"
"No," Nico said, just as Sirius said, "Yes!" He pushed Sirius back so he could explain to the ghosts. "Sirius isn't actually dead yet. But if he stays, he will be."
Sirius seemed surprised by the news. "But I can't get back through that veil. So it's really only a matter of time, right?" Sirius waved a pair of burnt fingers that matched Nico's, and he realized he, too, had tried to cross back the other way.
Nico shook his head. "There are other ways we can try to get out. Like riding the ferry the other way. I can bribe Charon with enough gold that he'll do it, no questions asked."
James and Sirius both looked a little disappointed that they wouldn't be able to cause mayhem in the Underworld just yet, but Lily patted Sirius's cheek. "You'll have to take good care of Harry for us until you join us again," she said.
At the mention of Harry, James's eyes lit up. "How is our son?" he asked, wearing a sly grin. "Has he got a girlfriend yet?"
Nico pressed his palm against his forehead and sighed. All three of the adults looked at him. "I don't mean to rush the family reunion," he told them. "But Sirius is actually dying as we speak, and you two talking to a living mortal is totally forbidden. If Hades finds out, he could send you straight to the Fields of Punishment. Actually, more likely he would send all of us to the Fields."
Lily gave Sirius a gentle little hug. "Tell Harry we're proud of him," she said. James and Sirius bear hugged, which worried Nico. If Sirius could now touch ghosts, that meant he was getting closer and closer to being one. He grabbed his friend's arm and began hauling him. If they were lucky, Charon was lazing about on this side of the Styx. If not... He'd come up with a Plan B when the time came.
They arrived at the docks, but to Nico's dismay there wasn't a boat in sight. He swore in ancient Greek. For the first time, Sirius seemed to come out of his fog. "Hold on," he said slowly as Nico grabbed his arm and began dragging him back the other way, towards the veil. Maybe they could figure something out there. "This place is where dead people go. But you're not dead," he added.
"Brilliant deduction," Nico sighed. He didn't want to have this conversation with his friend right now. It wasn't the time or place to reveal he was a demigod. "I'm here to get you out, but we may have to try a much riskier method." He glanced at Sirius, who's soul was practically halfway out of his body. It looked like it didn't stick down to him very well anymore.
"This whole place feels like Azkaban," Sirius said, shivering. "It's cold and miserable."
Nico nodded. "Sounds like the Underworld," he told him. While he didn't know what an Azkaban was, he didn't think it was the right time to start demanding his friend tell him.
The long tunnel leading back up to the veil was in sight, but it was much steeper than he remembered. Nico tried to climb it, but he slid down the walls. It was slick and covered in bugs, nothing like when he had tried to walk down it. "What's going on here?" he demanded, hitting the wall with his fists.
Behind him, something moved. He spun around and pushed Sirius back, drawing his Stygian ice sword out of thin air. "Oh, please," Hades sniffed, snapping his fingers. The sword exploded into a million tiny fragments. "You couldn't hurt me with that thing if I threw myself onto the blade."
"Dad," he said, shocked.
"Dad?" Sirius asked, equally stunned. He looked Hades up and down. Well, mostly up, as the god had chosen to appear in his twelve foot form, and even six foot Sirius barely came to his waist. The immortal lord of the dead was in a more traditional robe today. His black, ragged toga had a silver border around the edge, and he had the helm of darkness under his arm, cocked confidently. In his other hand, he held a six foot long sword. "Oh," he said.
"You're not allowed to bring people back to life, Nico," Hades admonished. He sounded vaguely disappointed in his son, which just made Nico drop his gaze and clench his shoulders up around his ears. "Even I am not permitted to do as such. Although I do enjoy those zombie movies mortals love dearly."
"With all due respect, my lord," Nico said, "Sirius isn't dead yet."
Hades crouched down and stuck his face about two inches from Sirius's nose. "Barely," he remarked, bored. "If he stays, he'll die soon enough."
"It's not his time yet," Nico insisted. "Sir."
Hades pulled his head back up and sighed. "What will people think if I start letting mortals come back to life? Next thing you know, Zeus will be on my back, and then he'll replace me with some young fool. Bad enough that he always holds it over my head he won the lottery for the sky."
"This one was never dead," Nico pleaded. "I'll explain things to Zeus if he finds out, but Sirius won't be telling people where he was. Right?" He nudged his friend in the side, hard. Sirius winced and jumped, but he nodded, still staring at Hades with wide eyes.
Hades grumbled something incoherent about the Fields of Punishment. "I have to say, Nico, I'm surprised you finally developed a spine," he told him. Nico's eyes widened. While he knew to Sirius it probably sounded like an insult, his father had just praised him. What was going on? Hades looked like he was eating something sour. He snapped and the tunnel straightened back out. "You'll be able to get through the veil now, as well. Nico... I know other demigods may not be the kindest to you, and that you've got a lot of worries to carry on your back." He cleared his throat. "You'll be able to handle them. I'm proud of you."
Sirius jutted out his chin and stared up at Hades, looking just as intimidating. He didn't need to be past Hades's belt buckle to make him recoil in shock. "I dare say you ought to be!" he proclaimed. "You have a wonderful son, and he's done so many things that should make you respect him. And instead, you insult him about growing a spine? What an awful father you are!"
Nico winced. Sirius was trying to stand up for him, and while he appreciated the thought, he was convinced Sirius was about to get them both killed. Hades had originally been confused and slightly entertained by the impertinent mortal man, but now his face grew dark. His eyebrows drew together and he clenched his jaw. "What did you say to me, mortal?" he snarled, for the first time lifting the sword in a threatening way that showed he meant business.
Nico figured Sirius had about ten seconds before Hades lost his temper and began blowing things up, including Sirius. He didn't really like the idea of them getting so close to freedom and then winding up as nothing more than dust banished to the Fields of Punishment. Whatever goodwill Hades had been feeling moments before had vanished, and his black eyes were glowing with a frightening light. He spun Sirius's shoulder and gave him a good shove up the tunnel towards the veil.
The two of them were about halfway up before Hades let out a roar and a stalactite above them shattered and began raining down rocks on them. The entire tunnel began to rock and Nico lost his footing as something heavy hit him in the head from above. Nico caught it instinctively and found it was his backpack. It seemed like the tunnel was slowly tipping back down to its vertical position. Sirius grabbed his wrist before he could fall into the Underworld. His friend hauled him back to his feet and they scrabbled up the last few feet.
Now the veil was above them like the surface of a pool that they had just swum up to. Nico was clutching a brick that was sticking out of the frame at an odd angle, and Sirius had braced himself with his shoulders on one wall of the tunnel and his feet on the other. Hesitantly, Nico reached out a hand and touched the veil, praying to his father that his fingers weren't about to burned beyond belief. By some miracle, they went through. He let out a relieved hoot and plunged his arm up through the surface, feeling around for a grip on the outside to pull himself up with. Beside him, Sirius kicked his legs through, locking them both around the frame of the veil. Then the two of them pulled themselves up and through the veil.
The gravity change hit Nico like a sack of bricks. He went tumbling to the ground, but not back through the veil. Suddenly, down was what had previously been his left, and his right became his prior down. Next to him, Sirius had crawled back to his feet already and drawn his wand, but the fight seemed to have moved to a different location. Instead, there were only bodies lying on the floor. Nico did a quick headcount and was relieved to find Percy and Annabeth were not among them. Had Annabeth been revived, then? He said a quick prayer to whoever was listening.
"So that was your father?" Sirius asked, looking a bit white in the face. Nico glanced at him. In all the commotion, he had forgotten about how Sirius might be handling the whole, 'the Greek gods are real' thing. He gave him a sympathetic grin.
"Yep. Hades, lord of the dead," he said. "You were just in the Underworld there."
Sirius blinked, shocked. "I don't really know a whole lot about Greek mythology... It never was taught at Hogwarts, you see."
Nico shrugged. "As a mortal, you don't really need to. It's not like you'll be fighting of sphinxes in dark alleys or something."
But he shook his head. "Doesn't that make you... half god?"
"Well... when you say it like that..." Nico said, opening the orange backpack to make sure everything he needed was in there. "Let's not talk about this now, okay? We need to go find the others."
"Can't you contact your friends with the coins like you did for me?" Sirius asked.
Nico zipped the backpack and shook his head, striding towards the door. "We need a rainbow for that, and unless you know a spell for it, we aren't going to find one." He looked back at Sirius, who raised his hands apologetically. "Percy's probably locked in mortal combat right now. I think it would be a bad idea." He closed his eyes and tried to feel if there was any large source of death in this building besides the obviously large Department of Mysteries. It was hard, with all of the vibes swirling around him, and a portal to the Underworld literally in the next room, but suddenly something so huge and frighteningly zombie-like appeared on his radar. Nico let out his breath and tripped, snapping his eyes open.
"Nico?" Sirius asked. "Is everything alright?" Nico began to run down the hall. Behind him, he felt Sirius follow him. "What's going on?"
"There's someone here who should have died a long time ago," he explained breathlessly. "He's still alive somehow, though. And I know I recognize the spirit..." Nico rounded a corner and threw the backpack over his shoulder to free his hands, summoning up a Stygian ice sword.
"Nico?" Sirius demanded, catching his wrist. His voice was a bit anxious now. "Who do you recognize it from?"
"It's the same one that's stuck to Harry," Nico told him before throwing open a big pair of double doors. Across the floor, an elderly man and a pasty thing were locked in combat. Both of them were shooting spells back and forth like lightning, blocking equally quickly. Nico grabbed his shoulders. This thing was not supposed to be alive. How was it still here? Nobody was allowed to cheat death. Everyone would fail in the end.
Another door at the other end of the hall blew open and a group of official looking men marched in, instantly freezing. The pale creature snapped its head towards them before snarling ferociously and disappearing with a bang.
"He's back," the man at the head of them whispered, but it carried to the entire hall.
Nico's eyes widened. As in, left the Underworld? He winced in disgust. His father would not be pleased. Hopefully things would right themselves before Hades got involved.
"Sirius!" Harry yelled, running across the floor and tackling his godfather. "You're alive!"
"Your parents say hello," Sirius said, hugging him back. "Lily is so proud of you. James asked if you had a girlfriend."
Harry turned red and laughed before turning to Nico. "I don't know how I can thank you enough," he said, holding out his hand for Nico to shake.
Nico grinned, pulling the backpack off his shoulder and putting it in Harry's extended hand. "I kind of owed you one for borrowing your things. Besides, you're not the only one who likes him around." Harry unzipped the bag and pulled out a handful of his invisibility cloak. He gave Nico a wry smile.
Suddenly, a red jet of light flew past their heads. "Sirius Black!" one of the men on the other side of the room was yelling. "Give yourself up now!" They were all marching towards them in an angry pack. More spells and hexes flew past their heads.
"Come on," Nico said quickly, grabbing his friend's arm and dragging him along. Lupin followed after them, obviously feeling that he'd be better off not being caught in a place he didn't even work in the middle of the night. They ran out a random door and Lupin bounded up a flight of stairs, spinning a sharp corner. "You do know where we're going, right?" he asked hopefully.
"I'm taking us to where Percy and Annabeth are," Lupin said. "Other than that, no, not a clue." Somehow this didn't reassure Nico. He didn't know how they were all going to get out after this. Lupin suddenly dragged the two of them down a hallway and they all pressed into a little alcove, holding their breath.
Running feet soon caught up. "Where did he go?"
"I can't believe he took that little kid hostage!" another voice chimed in, sounding disgusted. "You go left. I'll go right." The man's footsteps were getting closer and closer to them, and a light was shining bright enough that Nico knew there was no hope of them being missed in the shadows.
Nico started to lift the tip of his sword, thinking if he just threatened him with it, he might turn away, but Lupin put a hand on his shoulder and pulled out his wand. He leaped into the hallway. "Imperio!" he cried. The man seized up. "Sirius Black went the other way," he told him.
"Black went that direction. I should follow him," the man said, nodding in a confused stupor. He turned jerkily and began to head back the direction his partner had gone. Sirius stepped into the hallway and waved at his retreating back.
"You guys!" Percy said, sounding relieved. Nico looked over his shoulder to see Percy coming down the hall with Annabeth over his shoulder. He checked over her anxiously. She wasn't conscious, but her life was pretty stable. She wouldn't be dying any time soon. "Can you get all of us out of here?"
Nico bit his lip. Aside from Sirius's and his souls, the others could totally shadow travel without dying. But Sirius was now practically a ghost, and Nico was... well, Nico. He didn't always have the tightest grip on life. While he was getting better at shadow traveling, the side effects were that his soul peeled away. And while he could stick it back on, just like any sticker that was stuck to more than one thing, it would eventually become linty and covered in cat hair, and lose its stickiness. Even so... Sirius could hardly stay here. He would risk it, but he wouldn't let his friend do the same. "Do you know any way to keep someone's soul in their body?" he asked Lupin.
Lupin bit his lip thoughtfully. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a squished lump of something in a piece of paper. "Eat it," he told Sirius, who opened it up. It was a melty square of chocolate. He broke it in half and handed Nico the other piece. Nico regarded it dubiously.
"Is it magic?" he asked, sniffing it.
Sirius popped it in his mouth and let out a hoot of laughter. "Nope. Just regular old chocolate," he said.
"It's good after dementor attacks. I figure dementors basically suck out your soul with their kiss, so it figures that it might be good for loose souls in general," Lupin explained. Nico ate it and to his surprise, felt much better. He glanced at Sirius. He felt a lot more alive now.
"Okay, I think we can make the trip," Nico said, reaching out to grab everyone. He yanked them towards a shadow in the corner of the room and they were suddenly flying through the shadow realm. For Sirius and Lupin, who had never shadow traveled before, this must have been a pretty traumatic experience, he figured. They were both wide eyed. He wanted to tell them to close their eyes, but Nico was starting to feel sick. The whole journey was nauseating.
When they touched down, Nico practically collapsed on the grass. He looked up to see Sirius turn into a dog and run eagerly in a circle. A butterfly flitted past and he snapped at it. For a moment, Nico was confused. Sirius was Padfoot? They would be having a talk when he wasn't half dead.
Lupin picked him up off the ground and looked to Percy. "What now?"
"Nico's brought us to camp, so he must want to sleep in his own bed tonight. You can go back to Europe when he wakes up," Percy said, grinning. "He might be a bit tired for awhile."
"Understandably so," Sirius laughed, turning back into a human. "Aren't you exhausted as well?"
Percy shrugged. "I've gotten used to being tired. It's a side effect of being invincible. We should probably let Chiron know you're here." Nico had dropped them right on the lawn of the Big House. When Lupin turned to take in the lava spewing climbing wall, he could see the whole camp. As painful a place as it could be sometimes, Nico loved camp. He wouldn't trade it for all the beaches of Elysium.
The door on the Big House flew open and Lupin turned back around. "Are you guys all okay?" Grover bleated, tromping down the stairs. "Nico? You're not dead, right?" The concern in his voice made Nico smile sleepily.
Things were looking up, but for now the only thing Nico really wanted to be looking at was the inside of his eyelids. He closed his eyes and let sleep take him.
A/N: Just want to mention to my readers how much I love y'all, because without you I would be like, nobody loves me, what am I thinking, I can't write. Seriously, I looked at my traffic stats one day and was all WHUT. You are amazing. Let's all be best friends, okay?
I attended the Harry Potter 7 part 2 midnight release in full costume and basically cried from about 45 minutes in to the closing credits #dehydratedwimp. Harry Potter will always be there to welcome us home.
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