Return of the Aurors
Chapter 12: Reality
By Anne B. Walsh
"Woo-hoo!" caroled Sirius Nigilles as his X-wing shot clear of the Death Star, flames licking at its shields. "We made it, guys!"
Silence on the com.
He spun the X-wing end for end. "Guys?"
The silence continued. No other ships emerged from the shaft.
Sirius tapped his com screen twice. "Artie," he said to the red-and-white R3-D2 astromech seated behind him. "Status report on my buddies."
Status of YT-1300 freighter Millennium Hawk unknown, the droid printed on the screen. Both other starfighters destroyed while escaping.
"Destroyed?" Sirius repeated numbly. "Are youâ€”no. That can’t be right. You saw it wrong, Artie, your camera’s acting up againâ€”"
Negative. My camera and the ship’s scanners agree. X-wing designated Red Two and Y-wing Gold Three were destroyed. No survivors, human or droid.
"They’re gone?" Sirius breathed. "And I didn’t even notice?"
The controlled explosions of X-wing Red Two and Y-wing Gold Three propelled us to the surface faster than we could have gone under our own power, Artie printed dispassionately. Scanners indicate that an explosion of destructive force occurred in a time and space this vessel would have occupied, if not for that extra propulsion.
Sirius closed his eyes, fighting tears. "They saved my life," he whispered, thinking of the warm smile Red Two always greeted him with, the sardonic tone with which she could pull him out of his most despondent moods, and the shy glances the pilot and gunner of Gold Three had begun to exchange over the last few weeks, the gentle teasing the squadrons had inflicted on them for finally noticing each other after all this time. "They saved my life with theirs, and I never even got a chance to say thank you..."
Artie beeped at him through the com panel until he opened his eyes again. Sensors indicate large explosions soon to occur in this area. We should attempt to locate the Millennium Hawk and return to the fleet.
"Right." Sirius drew one long breath, then kicked in the throttle and started around the perimeter of the Death Star, keeping a wary distance from the unpredictably erupting surface. Between checking the scanners for possible explosions and signs of the Hawk, keeping the X-wing on an even course, and dealing with the occasional suicidal TIE pilot, he was able to keep his emotions at bay for the moment.
Just until I’m back with the fleet, he told himself over and over. Just until I’m sure it won’t happen to me too.
I have to get myself home safe.
I’m the only one left now.
Neenie dropped the last few steps from the ladder with a grimace as she jarred her injured arm. A few steps took her into the Hawk’s lounge, where she stopped dead. A black-armored man cradled a woman in his arms, his glossy helmet bent low over her dark blond hair, the sobs shaking his shoulders audible even from here.
That looks so strange...
Banishing the thought, she hurried across the lounge and dropped to her knees beside them. "Drake," she said softly.
"Neenie?" Drake looked up from Luna, whose chest rose and fell with painful slowness. His gray eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears. "Neenie, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please forgive me, I didn’t mean toâ€”"
"Just tell me what happened," Neenie said, rearranging her legs so that she was sitting on one hip. "And take this thing off. Please." She rapped a knuckle against the helmet.
Drake winced. "I can’t. It’s stuck."
"Oh, forâ€”" Neenie got both hands under the helmet’s edges and yanked. Drake inhaled sharply, but the helmet came free. Neenie spun it across the room, not bothering to see where it came to rest. "Now. Explain."
I never really turned, Drake blurted silently, his eyes begging her to believe him. I didn’t, I swear I didn’t, you know I’d never do thatâ€”
What did you do to Grien, then? Neenie demanded.
I sent him home. He’s alive, he’s fine, he’s home and safe. I had to do something to convince the Emperor I was really on his sideâ€”I was hoping I could get close enough to him to kill him myself, but then you all showed up and I had to improviseâ€”
Neenie stared at her twin, unsure if she wanted more to hug him or shake him. She finally settled for screaming into his mind. Why didn’t you tell me?
Drake looked back down. "I couldn’t," he said out loud, a tear dropping from the end of his nose and joining its brothers on Luna’s blouse. "I did the same thing to Malius I did to Grien, pretended to kill him and actually sent him home, except I left his body where it was. Then I took the armor and claimed I wanted to be dark now, but the Emperor wanted to make sure. He was in my mind, trying to see if I was tricking him or not. He’s strong, so strongâ€”the only way I could fool him was by putting everything I had into blocking, and with that kind of shielding up, I couldn’t have heard you no matter what you did. I’m sorry you got hurt."
"I’m sorry I stole your lines. We’re even." Neenie laughed a little, shakily. "How is she?"
"Bad." Drake caressed the line of Luna’s jaw tenderly. "It was meant to kill, and she took it head-on. I was able to deflect a bit of it away, that’s the only reason she’s still aliveâ€”that and her stubbornnessâ€”"
Neenie blinked once, twice, as memories and thoughts her own and yet not her own began to return to her. "Aren’t we making a big fuss over nothing?" she said, starting to smile in relief. "I mean, it’s terrible that she’s been so badly hurt, but this isn’t really real for us..." She falteredâ€”her own arm where the lightning had got through her guard hurt as much as it ever had, and the bloodstain on her sleeve was still there. "Is it?"
"That’s what I’m afraid of," Drake said, his gaze still on Luna’s face. "I know the Emperor was trying to do something using Malius’ lightsaber as a focus. Something with the Force. I just don’t know if he managed it."
"What was he trying?" Neenie asked, though a tightening in her chest told her she might not like the answer.
"He was trying..." Drake stopped, rapped a knuckle twice against the floor, producing a hollow sound, then shut his eyes as if in pain. No. He wasn’t trying. He did it. He did it. And I helped him...
What did he do? Neenie asked, as gently as she could manage.
The floors are solid, Neenie. Falling hurts, getting hit by lightning hurts even more, and we can’t fix things like we should. Drake bent protectively over Luna. That only sounds like one thing to me, and I don’t like it at all...
Remus groaned, and then wished he hadn’t. He had a headache big enough for two heads.
Of course, it’s just possible...
Experimentally, he closed his connection with Danger.
The pain subsided. Slightly.
Whatever Sirius slipped in our drinks last night, I’m going to make him drink some of it straight. And then hit him over the head with a Beater’s bat.
He took three deep breaths, nerving himself up, and opened one eye.
Bedroom ceiling, night. Looks normal enough.
A few careful movements located Danger in her usual curl next to him, still asleep. Sirius and Aletha’s scents drifted in from their bedroom down the hall, the cubs’ from their two rooms along the way. Nothing seemed out of place.
But something is still the matter. Something’s happened that shouldn’t have...
A sharp, metallic odor invaded Hermione’s scent, and Remus was on his feet and in the girls’ room with his wand in his hand before he realized he was moving. His Kitten was twitching uneasily in her sleep, her eyes moving quickly back and forth under closed lids. Remus pulled back the duvet gently and found the source of the odorâ€”a deep, angry burn mark which had split and bled a bit at one side.
And how she’s been burned when she’s been lying here asleep all night...
Trouble, a groggy voice muttered. Trouble in dreamland.
And where have you been? Remus asked mock-indignantly, concealing his relief.
Recovering. I pulled us out just in time.
Just in time for what?
For keeping us alive. Danger’s sense changed abruptlyâ€”Remus had a feeling she’d discovered her headache. Ooooohhhhhhh...
Don’t do that aloud, you’ll only make it worse. Now what is this about living?
What do you remember of what we were doing last night?
Nothing at the moment. Should I?
Probably. For this to make sense, probably. The bedsprings squeaked in the other room. I’m getting up. We have to check on Sirius.
Why? Remus hurried, as quickly as he could for his pounding head, back to his bedroom to support Danger as she wobbled on her feet.
I didn’t get him out with us. Danger leaned against Remus’ proffered shoulder. Thank you, love. Several deep breaths of her own, and she took his hand and started down the hall. He was too deeply into his character, too much focused on what he was doingâ€”he was actually fighting me off, throwing me out of his head as a distractionâ€”he won’t have died, I’m sure, he was far enough ahead that he must have got out, but he was probably caught in what was happening...
Remus pushed Sirius and Aletha’s bedroom door open. I thought you might want to know that you’re not making any sense.
I will be. As soon as you remember where we were. Danger touched Sirius’ cheek, then his neck, and sighed with relief. He’s alive. Check Letha for me?
About to. Remus went to his sister’s side and shook her shoulder very gently. "Letha," he murmured, kneeling by her side rather than bend over. "Letha." A small and evil impulse came to him, and he acted on it. "You’re late for your shift."
"Shift? What?" Aletha came awake with a start, then gasped. "Oh, dear God, my head..."
"Lie still for a moment and take deep breaths." Remus kept his hand on her shoulder. "You’re not on call tonight, I just needed to wake you quickly."
Aletha growled lightly in the back of her throat. "Brothers."
"Yes, you have so many other ones to compare me to," Remus said lightly. "I’m sure I’m the best of the lot by far."
"In your dreams." Aletha inhaled and exhaled fully once or twice. "You’re right, that is a little better. Speaking of dreams, what happened to that one we were sharing? The one the cubs started to tease Ron, and everyone else got involved in for fun?"
"Of course, that’s what it was. â€˜Scar Wars’. I couldn’t remember, and my so very loving wife wouldn’t tell me." Remus lifted his head to give Danger a look, which she returned in kind. "I have no idea, really. The last thing I remember is..."
He had to think about it for a moment. "We’d moved between roles several times. I ended up flying a Y-wing, with Danger as rear gunner. You were in an X-wing ahead of us, and Sirius was leading. We’d just blown up the Death Star’s power generator, and we were on our way out... did you pull us because we were going to get caught, love?"
"No, though we were. I pulled us because..." Danger rubbed at her forehead. "There was a different kind of wave coming up behind us," she said. "I don’t know whether it was moving faster than the explosions, or whether it just started sooner. It was something I’d never seen before in a dream. And when I tried to touch it, change it or make it go around us, I couldn’t."
"You couldn’t?" Aletha accepted Remus’ hand to help her upright. "I thought you could manipulate anything in a dream, as long as it wasn’t being dreamed by someone who hated you and wanted to stop you. And Draco and Neenie were hosting thisâ€”I don’t think they count."
"Nor do I. Which means one of two things. Either someone who does hate me invaded the dream, or..." Danger stroked a finger down Sirius’ cheek again. "Or whatever that wave was, it wasn’t a dream thing."
Remus and Aletha met each other’s eyes. Aletha asked the question. "How could it be not a dream thing if it was in a dream?"
"I don’t know." Danger looked up at them. "But I think we need to find out. Go back in with me?"
"Of course," Remus said, pointing his wand at a section of floor and thinking a Softening Charm. Aletha simply lay down again beside Sirius, draping an arm over him.
Once Danger was curled up against him, Remus pointed his wand straight up and whispered the incantation for an area-effect sleepiness spell. Within a few moments, he was trotting down the aisle of the cinema where they had started the night watching "Scar Wars: Return of the Aurors". Danger was already running her hand up and down the screen, while Aletha sat in the center of the front row staring up at the image.
Remus followed his sister’s gaze and swallowed. The camera was tracking Sirius in his X-wing, his face set in lines of pain. As he watched, Sirius’ eyes dropped to a central panel in his cockpitâ€”the IFF screen, Remus recalled, which would show him any other ships in the area and Identify them Friend or Foeâ€”and his lips tightened as though he were holding back a sob.
Which he probably is. If he’s that far into the role, he has to think we’re all dead.
Suddenly, Sirius’ com crackled to life. "Red Leader, Red Leader, this is Millennium Hawk. Come in."
Sirius slammed his hand onto the com switch, his face alight with hope. "Red Leader acknowledging! Ron, is that you?"
"Nobody else! Sirius, you son of the Sith, how’d you get out of there alive?"
Sirius sucked air through his teeth, and Aletha hissed in sympathy. "Red Two and Gold Three went down," he answered quietly. "I was so focused I never even noticed it. Artie says they boosted me out, though. I wouldn’t have made it without them..."
He does think we’re dead, then. Wonderful.
Danger turned away from the screen. "I was right," she said, her eyes half-shut. "I didn’t want to be, but I was right."
"Right how?" Remus asked, but Aletha cut him off, waving urgently. Ron was speaking again over Sirius’ com.
"...aliveâ€”we got Drake out all right, but Luna took a hard hit. We’ve got to get her to the medics as fast as we can. Cover us? There’s just enough crazy TIEs out here..."
"No problem," Sirius said with the first smile they’d seen from him. "I was going that way anyway."
"Now talk," said Aletha to Danger as the scene switched to the purposefully chaotic interior of a Rebel ship. "What were you right about that you didn’t want to be?"
"The magic I pulled us out in front of." Danger waved at the screen. "It was definitely done by someone who hates me, and it wasn’t a dream thing. At least, its end result wasn’t."
"What do you mean?" Remus and Aletha asked in unison.
"Here." Danger held up the hand which had touched the screen. "Sniff."
Remus leaned forward, then recoiled. The rank, musty odor on his love’s fingers was horribly distinctive. "Voldemort," he said.
"Exactly. He got into this somehowâ€”probably as the Emperor, that would appeal to himâ€”and he brought along his own magic." Danger shook her head, almost admiringly. "I don’t know how he pulled it off, but he did..."
"What?" Aletha asked, biting off the T sharply.
"He found some kind of... I don’t know... pocket dimension, I want to say? Whatever it is, it’s rich in magic, and there’s nothing there. Absolutely nothing." Danger grimaced. "Or there was nothing there, until tonight."
"What are you saying, Danger?" Remus asked with all the calm he could muster.
"I’m saying that what we are watching here is no longer a dream." Danger turned to look up at the screen, which now showed a close-up of Draco bending over a half-conscious Luna. "It is another reality. Connected to ours, to the point where anything that happens to the people there is reproduced on the bodies they’ve left here, but separate and distinct. And I don’t know if we can get there, or even if we can contact them." She swallowed. "This may be the only way we’ll see Sirius or the cubs ever again."
Silence fell over the tiny cinema. Luna’s husky voice was clearly audible.
"Stay with me?"
"Forever," Draco whispered back.
"Word of an Auror." Draco laid a hand over his heart. "Where you go, there go I."
Luna smiled, squeezed Draco’s other hand gently, and closed her eyes.
No, you don't need to be worried. Not exactly. Just keep reading...