Chapter 25: The Living Daylights
When Tobias had first regained consciousness, two things had struck him at once. The first was that he was warm, unexpectedly warm. The second was that his left leg ached.
His eyes had been unwilling to flutter open, heavy and tired, but when they did he was in a gloomy room with bare wooden walls with a notable amount of sunlight streaming in through a window. It lit up the dust motes hanging in the air, giving everything a strange, funereal sort of sensation. But the door was closed, and the room was empty except for his bundle of a bed and a gown hanging off a hook on the wall.
Carefully he pulled the heavy covers - there were multiple blankets over him - off and tried to sit up. His muscles ached in protest at the movement and he braced himself, feeling for more hints of injury or damage. There was a goodly amount of stubble on his chin and he realised that his glasses were nowhere in sight, making the room a good deal fuzzier than perhaps it needed to be.
His body was a mess of brown and yellow bruises and a multitude of shallow cuts which were certainly not yet done healing. None of them looked more than superficial but they were numerous, and ached in protest at every movement.
And across his left thigh was a vicious, stitched up, deep red scar that screamed with pain worse than any other inch of him at even the faintest suggestion of movement.
Where the hell am I?
Recollection was fuzzy. He remembered pain, certainly. He remembered the sense of freezing and burning all at once; of icy water and of searing lungs. He remembered being blinded by light and cast into darkness.
He remembered Robb. He remembered Aurora.
With a grunt of frustration he tried to get to his feet, but his left leg gave way under him and he stumbled and collapsed into a heap on the floorboards. It was impossible to bite back a yelp of pain at the twist of his leg, and though he caught himself on his hands he felt his body scream in protest and for several long moments he just lay there, sprawled on the floor, fighting for breath and cohesion.
Slowly he managed to crawl across the room, not to the door, but to the window. He felt not just battered and pained but weak; moving all of two metres had never in his life been so difficult, and he barely managed to fight to sit upright enough to rest his elbows on the windowsil and peer out at the view beyond.
The sun was shining brightly, spilling golden rays not just into his room, but across the shimmering ocean that spread out as far as the eye could see beyond the window. But they were on land, a mixture of rock and sand tumbling down to the waves. After so many weeks in a Russian winter it looked positively balmy.
Footsteps rang out from beyond the door, and Tobias tried again to get to his feet in vain before the door swung open and in walked Will Rayner. He looked worn and tired, but much the same as he'd been when Tobias had last seen him - however long ago that had been.
He grinned at the sight of him, though it was a smile marred by a concerned furrow of the brow. 'You're awake! And up. You shouldn't be; let me help you get back into bed.'
'What...' Tobias didn't fight as strong hands helped him stumble to his feet and, mindful of putting weight on his throbbing left leg, he let himself be steered back into the bed he'd fallen out of.
'Lie down. The Healers said you oughtn't be running around just yet, but don't worry; you should be right as rain in just a few days. Or...' Will's gaze flickered to his leg. 'More or less.'
He let himself be bundled back into bed, surprised at how tired he was from that little exertion, but the moment Will straightened he lifted his head. 'What's happened?'
Will hesitated. 'That's... a big question.'
'Then give me a big answer. Let's start with: Where are we?'
The former Unspeakable sighed, before reaching to drag a wooden chair from the other side of the room and sitting himself down next to the bed. 'We're in the Mediterranean,' he said calmly. 'On one of the Greek islands the Muggles think is abandoned. It's a wizarding settlement protected by all sorts of charms and defences, not just against the non-magic types but anyone who might mean harm. We'll be safe here.'
Tobias rubbed his temples, frowning. 'Aurora. What...'
Will looked down. 'She's dead. Robb killed her.' He straightened a little. 'But he's dead, too. So far as we can tell, and the Ministry haven't made a peep to suggest otherwise. Considering everything, I bet they'd desperately want to show the world that he was alive and well if that were the case.'
'Then why aren't I dead?' he asked in confusion, remembering the array of ice and fire that had swarmed them all.
'As far as Britain is concerned, you are. So far we've had no reason to correct them.'
Tobias inhaled deeply. 'Can you start from the beginning? What happened that night?'
He sighed. 'A couple of Dark Magic users who'd been allied with the potion smuggling ring you took down helped sneak Idaeus Robb into the country, under the radar of their otherwise pretty good defences against incursions. We think the corruption went deeper than we'd previously assumed for them to beat the border guard, but... more on that later. It looks like the meeting between yourself and Dimitri was a fake to draw you into somewhere isolated.'
Tobias was more relieved than he'd expected at the confirmation that Dimitri hadn't sold him out; it wasn't as if he'd had much opportunity to reflect upon the notion of betrayal, but it had been a blow not just to his trust, but to his pride, if he'd been fooled so easily. 'And then came the ambush.'
'You fought, as you know. It looks like you had to have pissed Robb off quite a lot; he always did favour Fiendfyre, but it's so dangerous that even he wouldn't use it lightly. But in the past he's always had excellent control. It's a bit difficult to say for sure what happened, as you were unconscious and the others are dead. What broke the ice?'
He almost had to think about it for a moment. When he did remember, it came with the utter, despairing pain at the sight of Aurora's death - the kind of distress which had left him not caring, for a moment, that he'd been in danger of destroying them both so long as he had justice. Vengeance. 'That was me,' Tobias said, voice thick. 'He'd - he unleashed the Fiendfyre right at Aurora. She was dead within... seconds, if that. He was sending a wall of it at me; I smashed the ice to... I don't even know what I was trying to do.'
'It looks like it broke his concentration and knocked it out of control. When Dimitri and I got there it was like a storm of Fiendfyre and exploding ice. Robb was at ground zero; like Aurora we didn't find any physical remains, just... that lingering, magical trace of ash.'
'How did you two get there? How did Aurora get there?'
'Dimitri showed up at the apartment shortly after you left, and he and Aurora realised that you were probably in trouble if your meeting was a fake. She went straight to the park and sent Dimitri to fetch me. I don't know if it was the smartest thing to do...' Will rubbed his temples. 'Between the four of us we could have probably stopped Robb without anyone dying.'
Tobias shook his head, his gaze going to the ceiling as he blinked quickly. 'No,' he grunted. 'If she'd been any later, I'd have been dead.'
Will clenched a fist, and Tobias didn't need to ask why Dimitri and Aurora had sent for him instead of going together. The two of them were diplomats, administrators; talented at magic but hardly hardened by battle. Not only was Will a seasoned Unspeakable, but he was the man who'd locked up Idaeus Robb in the first place. Of all four of them, he'd have stood the best chance of winning the fight.
'When we got there,' Will continued after a beat, 'we had to try to subdue the mess. It looks like you were lucky to still be alive; we found you in the water, half-dead from cold, from the burns, from drowning, from blood loss... you were far away enough from Robb at the epicentre that the ice and falling in the water subdued the worst of the Fiendfyre. I had contacts down here in Greece; I didn't trust anyone in Russia enough to take you to Healers there. They've been caring for you here, and you've been out of it for a bit over a week, mostly from them keeping you that way so you didn't move and hurt yourself.'
'A week.' Tobias blinked. 'And, officially, I'm dead.'
He nodded. 'The Daily Prophet reported it very gleefully. It said your remains had been found alongside Robb's and Aurora's. Either they just wanted to assume that you were gone by dint of there being no more of a body for you than for the others, or... well, you bled an awful lot from that thigh wound. Might have been enough to confuse them when they had nobody's remains. What happened?' Will gestured to his leg.
'That was Robb,' he said, looking down. 'What's wrong with it? Why's it not healing up? Is it just a deeper wound?'
'The cuts and burns from the ice and fire were plenty bad enough,' said Will, shaking his head. 'But that one... it just wouldn't stop bleeding. Even when we knew the rest wasn't going to kill you we worried you might just bleed out from that. It took all sorts of charms to seal the wound up. Robb knows - knew - all sorts of horrendous dark curses. I wouldn't be surprised if that's something he used on you. The Healers probably know more; I was worried more about if you'd make it than any of the further details.'
Tobias looked up to meet his gaze, the gaze of the man who'd been the only real father his best friend had ever had. 'I'm all right,' he said, and was surprised to learn he meant it. 'And... if the Healers are on the case... I guess I should be grateful for being so lucky.'
'You are damnlucky,' said Will, and grinned a toothy grin which reminded him of Cal, enough to warm his heart a little. 'And we'll be safe here. They'd have a hell of a time getting through the island's defences. And they're not even looking for you.'
Will looked apprehensive, but unsurprised, yet before he could answer, the door swung open and in stepped Dimitri. The big man was in sunglasses, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and khakis, and looked surprisingly more at ease in this rather more temperate environment than he had even in his home country. Several rolls of paper were under one arm. 'Ah-ha! Brain Box Grey returns to us, alive, well, and awake. How are you feeling?'
Dimitri's grin was rather infectious, and Tobias gave an awkward nod. 'Terrible. But, alive.'
'That is the important part. You gave us something of a scare. But you are looking surprisingly healthy for a dead man, so all is well that ends well.' He grimaced. 'More or less.'
'Yeah.' Tobias dropped his gaze, brow furrowed as he tried to push back the thoughts of Aurora's last moments, seared into his memories with Fiendfyre. 'More or less.' He coughed, and straightened. 'So I know how I got here. What happens next?'
'We sit on a nice Mediterranean island and don't get hunted by Death Eaters,' said Will tensely. 'And let the world think you're dead.'
Tobias ignored him and looked to Dimitri. 'What happened in Russia?'
He made a face. 'I would not return there. It should not come as a surprise that Britain's change of governments is sending... ripples. Moscow thought that it would have collapsed by now. That it has not is proving... worrying.'
'We - and not just us, I mean to include Director Sergeyev and his team of experts in this - did not anticipate as strong a presence of Dark Magic users and sympathisers as there has turned out to be not just within the country, but within the government,' said Dimitri sheepishly. 'They have become bold with what has happened. Britain can and will support them, and so they have more freedom to act. The Federation will continue to combat them and what they do is still illegal, but such people are emerging from the woodwork.'
Tobias grimaced. 'It's worse than we thought.'
'It is. But they will be found. This may provide the opportunity many have waited for to properly uproot the Dark Magic in the country.' Dimitri nodded firmly, sounding a little like he was trying to convince himself. 'But it is true that Russia is not safe for you. If you were there and knowledge of your survival got out, then the Federation could not guarantee your safety. Not without keeping you under something like house arrest.'
'Security has become that difficult?'
'Perhaps not in general. But you are a target. Every Dark Magic practitioner in the country would be looking to kill you. You could not walk down the street without being at risk. The Federation believes they would be putting you in more danger by trying to offer you legitimate, protected asylum. Because we cannot guarantee your safety as much as we would like.' He gave a one-shouldered shrug.
'Then why are you here?' asked Tobias. 'Not that it's not nice to see you. But if Russia's decided I'm not safe there...'
'Russia has decided that you are dead.' Dimitri made a grimace which was half a smile. 'Only a handful of people in the Federation right now know you are alive, including Director Sergeyev. He was... displeased to learn how security had been breached under his supervision.'
'And there have been wider consequences,' said Will. 'Britain wasn't shy about admitting that it had sent people into a foreign country to "execute" one of their citizens to whom another government had offered asylum. If they were lacking friends and allies before, they're certainly lacking them now. Countries which weren't prepared to make a stand against Dark Magic are considerably more prepared to make a stand against a magical nation which acts like it can do whatever it wants internationally.'
'You are charting, my friend, all new territory in international magical relations!' declared Dimitri, now smirking. 'Which is why we are here, in Greece.'
Tobias waved a hand. 'You're going to have to jump back a bit with that explanation...'
'I came here because I knew it was safe,' said Will. 'We're still here because of Dimitri.'
'You are too kind. We are still here because of Director Sergeyev and his contacts.' Dimitri shrugged. 'Formally, I am not here. Formally, I am on a holiday. Paid leave. It is very nice. Unofficially, I have been asked by the Director to continue to help you and to keep an eye on you. On behalf of the Russian Federation, the Bulgarian government, the Greek government, and several others.'
Tobias frowned. 'What?'
'Congratulations,' said Will dryly. 'Keeping you alive has become an international conspiracy, solely to antagonise Britain. You couldn't get these governments to agree on magical economics and diplomacy, but the moment it comes to flipping off some Dark Wizards, suddenly everyone's on the same page.'
'And Britain really doesn't care about its international standing? They were that happy to crow about having invaded another sovereign territory in order to murder me?' Tobias blinked.
'And Aurora, who... was one of Britain's most notable international faces,' said Will with a grimace, and he patted his jacket down to pull out a folded newspaper. 'But yes, they were happy to crow about it. See for yourself.'
It was strange to see his own name on the headlines, but Tobias had got used to that as the Daily Prophet had decried his writings as those of a mad, violent dissident. What he had not got used to was a headline declaring he had been righteously executed on foreign soil.
It made everything all the more real. From the aches in his cuts, to the throbbing in his leg, to the beating of his heart... and to the recollection of Aurora's death, and the dim satisfaction twisting away in his gut at the knowledge that he had killed Idaeus Robb.
Some wizards said that to take a life was to split one's soul in half. All Tobias felt was a grim sense of vindication at a job well done.
'Are they really this stupid?' he asked instead.
'Yes,' said Dimitri. 'And no. They will make themselves even more hated internationally, that is true. But this is hated mostly by countries which already did not like them, and were already taking what subtle measures against them that they could manage.'
'Then again,' Tobias murmured, 'Thicknesse's Britain hasn't exactly sought the approval of countries which were anti-Dark Magic to begin with.'
'Exactly. Britain's enemies hate them more. Britain does not care. What Britain does care about is that the countries which are more positive about Dark Magic have seen Britain take a stand to pursue its agenda. And the countries which have nationals who are more positive about Dark Magic have seen this stand as well,' said Dimitri.
'And they're being riled up, like what's happened in Russia.' Tobias nodded to him.
'That is so. It is an indelicate game that they play. It is... polarising,' said Dimitri.
'But they believe their ideology will spread, and those who agree with them will rise to power,' said Will with a sigh. 'So they stand strong with their so-called principles.'
'They are still principles,' said Tobias, frowning at the Daily Prophet he held. 'Even if they're disgusting.' He looked up. 'Where are our press machines?'
'Er.' Dimitri scratched his nose, and he and Will exchanged glances. 'Moscow.'
'We need to get them here, then.'
Again Dimitri looked at Will, who rolled a shoulder. 'Tobias, you only just woke up. Isn't it a bit early to start committing yourself?'
'I'm not in so much pain that I'm not thinking clearly,' he said defensively. 'And it's not like I can't do my work from my bed. We have to get back to business.'
'I told you,' said Dimitri to Will. 'I told you he would not stop.'
Will sighed. 'I know.'
'You can stop talking about me like I'm either not here or a child any time, you know,' Tobias said testily. 'And you said this place is safe.'
'I did. It is.' Will rubbed his temples. 'But we thought Russia was safe.'
'I'll tell you where's not safe,' said Tobias. 'Britain. Because Thicknesse - You-Know-Who - is still in charge. Because they will not have stopped doing what they do since they "killed" me. In fact, that was a victory for them, even if it cost them Idaeus Robb. They will have been emboldened by taking me out, they will appear stronger and they will be stronger.'
'That doesn't mean you paint a target on yourself again, though.'
'My "death",' said Tobias, fighting to sit up a little straighter, 'has not just brought harm to Britain by emboldening Thicknesse's regime, it has also sparked up actions of Dark Magic sympathisers in Russia and abroad. Even regardless of the fact that the work we set out to do is not yet done, for me to sit here in Greece with my tail between my legs and pretend like I've done all I can is cowardly and it will continue to do harm.'
Will sighed. 'They'll come for you again.'
'And I will beat them again,' Tobias said. 'But for them to have so loudly declared that they have killed me, and for me to emerge alive and whole mere days later, is going to shake them to their core. It's going to show them as liars, and it's going to show them as weak, and it's going to bring hope to everyone for whom hope wavered when the Midnight Press stopped running.'
The Unspeakable dropped his gaze. 'You know what this makes you, Tobias,' he murmured, voice a little hoarse. 'In this war, you're not a man any more, or even an editor, or even an influential figure. The moment you stage a public resurrection, you become a symbol.'
'That job's already taken, and the symbol's name is Harry Potter. But I will be whatever I need to be to fight these people, Will. And so long as they are in power and I have air in my lungs, I will continue to fight.' Tobias nodded to Dimitri. 'Can you get our equipment down here?'
Dimitri's smile was lopsided, but pleased. 'It will take a couple of days. But yes.'
'Do it as quickly as you can. I want something in circulation as soon as possible. And I need the two of you to get something else for me, as well.'
Will frowned. 'What?'
Tobias sat up slowly, creakily, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He felt aching, he felt a bit sick, and he didn't think he could put any weight on his left leg, but he could sit up without passing out or vomiting. That would have to do.
'We'll need the latest copy of the Daily Prophet we can get our hands on,' he said. 'And a camera.'