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Chapter 13: Numb
I'm tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface
Don't know what you're expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
Numb – Linkin Park
A tap tap tap on the window awoke Araminta.
She groaned and rolling over, she saw a post owl hovering outside the window, its wings fluttering madly to keep level with it. Dragging herself out of bed, she grabbed a fistful of Knuts from the bedside table, and crossed to the window. She opened it and the owl thrust its newspaper-clad leg towards her. She untied the newspaper and placed several Knuts in the leather pouch on the owl’s leg. It nipped her finger lightly, then flew off.
She crossed back to her bed and sat down, leaning against the headboard and shook the Prophet open. She froze as her eyes fell on the headline.
MCKINNONS MURDERED BY DEATH EATERS.
Araminta closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the wall.
A few moments passed before she opened her eyes to read the article. Once she had finished it, she screwed the paper up in a ball and threw it across the room, then buried her head in shaking hands.
An hour later, she arrived at the Ministry of Magic, unsure how she got there. She knew that Gideon would almost certainly not be in, but had chosen to go to work herself anyway – partly to find out what was going on, and partly to give herself something to do.
The whole Ministry was quiet and sombre – the McKinnons had been a popular, likeable family – but the Auror department took this to another level. She had become so used to the friendly chatter between cubicles, but today it was deathly quiet. She shuddered slightly and drew her cloak tighter round her shoulders, as though the volume and temperature were linked.
Marlene’s cubicle was eerily empty, a stark reminder of the previous night’s events. Fabian’s, too, was unoccupied. Just as she reached hers and Gideon’s cubicle, a voice called her name.
She turned to see Moody standing outside his office, looking down the corridor at her.
“Can I have a word?”
She nodded numbly and continued up the corridor towards him. He stepped aside as she reached him, indicating that she enter the office. She did so, and he followed her inside.
“Sit down,” he barked, indicating the chair facing his desk. She sank into the chair, as he rounded his desk and sat down behind it. His face softened as he looked at her.
“You okay, Gamp?”
She nodded again, staring at the tabletop.
“You don’t have to be here, you know-”
“What, you gonna give half the Auror department time off?”
Her voice was hoarse. She swallowed, trying to clear the lump she hadn’t even realised was in her throat. When she spoke again, her voice was stronger.
“I barely knew her, sir. I don’t think it’s right for me to take time off.”
“It’s not a case of who knew her best, Gamp. It’s a case of who can and can’t cope with it while working.”
“I’m fine,” she insisted. “It’ll take my mind off things, being here. I’ll have nothing to do at home.”
He eyed her for a moment and then nodded.
“Very well,” he said. “As you’d expect, neither Prewett has showed – I’m not even sure which one of them you were planning on working with this week – so do you reckon you can hold the fort by yourself for a few days?”
“I’ll be fine, sir,” she said quietly.
“I’m glad to hear it. This isn’t the first death we’ve had in the Auror department, and sadly I doubt it’ll be the last.” He paused. “You’re down with the apprentices this week, so that shouldn’t be too strenuous – just be prepared for the kids being either more hesitant or more determined this week. It always happens after a death.”
She nodded and got to her feet. As she turned to leave, Moody spoke again.
“How old are you, Gamp?”
She turned back to face him.
“Same age as McKinnon...” He sighed and Araminta thought his expression suggested sorrow. It was, she considered, the first time she’d seen any true emotion from him. “That’s no age to die. It’s no age to be fighting, to have to worry about dying. You should be out having fun, seeing the world, not stuck in an office like this.” He paused again. “We’ll beat those bastards. Don’t you worry. I won’t rest until every last one of them is locked away in Azkaban.”
His words sent a chill down her spine.
“Thank you, sir,” she said quietly.
She left his cubicle and headed back to her own. For some inexplicable reason, she paused at Sirius’ and watched as he sorted through some paperwork. After a moment, he looked up, the expression on his face unreadable.
“I didn’t expect to see you in today,” he said.
“I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing...”
He looked at her in silence for a moment, before picking up his wand and waving it to move the pile of parchment from the second chair to the top of the filing cabinet in the corner of his cubicle.
“Sit down.” He gestured toward the chair.
She smiled gratefully and did as he said.
“You’re on the same cycle as me, aren’t you? Apprentices today?”
“I’m heading down in ten or so minutes, just got to sort out a few things first.” He turned back to the parchment. “The lovely Ivy comes in about half an hour, and Scrimgeour wants me to sort out Fabian’s paperwork for him. Kingsley’s going through Marlene’s. He’s in Dawlish’s office; he didn’t want to sit in Marlene’s...”
Araminta understood fully. She had been daunted by the prospect of sitting by herself in her and Gideon’s cubicle, and he was merely at home mourning. The thought of spending time in a dead colleague’s cubicle was enough to make her shudder.
“Thankfully,” Sirius continued, “Gideon seems to have shifted all of his, so that’s you off the hook.” He looked up at her again and smiled, albeit weakly. “You alright?”
She frowned slightly and looked down at her hands, which lay in her lap.
“It’s odd,” she said quietly. “I didn’t have the chance to get to know Marlene properly, though she was always very nice to me – and she didn’t have to be nice – I think it’s the proximity more than anything. She worked two cubicles down from me ... and the Death Eaters got her.”
“Unfortunately, the Death Eaters don’t spare people for being nice,” he said dryly. “But she was lovely, she truly was. I just feel so, so sorry for Fabian. The Prewetts don’t seem to have much luck when it comes to married life...” His voice tailed off and his face twisted into an unpleasant expression. But before Araminta could reply to the comment – not that she knew what she would have said – he continued. “I just hope that it wasn’t too drawn-out. Though given that my cousin was involved, that’s probably a very false hope.”
The mention of Bellatrix Lestrange made her shudder. It was odd, given how similar they looked, but she often forgot that Sirius was Bellatrix’s cousin. They were very alike, she mused now; both loyal to a fault, reckless, so confident that it bordered on arrogance ... but despite these similarities, they were so far removed from each other that Araminta found it hard to reconcile them. It seemed Gideon had been right when he’d said that there was, in fact, little difference between both ‘sides’ in this conflict.
She tried to push that thought from her mind. She didn’t want to think about Gideon at that moment.
“You’re not a fan of Ivy, then?” she asked, remembering what he’d said earlier and wanting to change the subject.
Sirius’ expression was a mixture of exasperation and relief; presumably he hadn’t wanted to dwell on the McKinnons’ fate either.
“Why on earth would I be a fan of her? Does she have any redeeming features?”
She forced herself not to laugh, as it would have seemed harsh. Not that she normally worried about niceties – indeed, it was often easier not to be nice – but she felt that mocking somebody who wasn’t there to defend themselves was slightly below the belt.
That, and there was much more fun to be had mocking someone to their face.
“I’m sure she’s a perfectly ... decent ... character...”
“Yeah, to her mother,” Sirius snorted. “I really don’t see how she’s of any use to the Hit Wizards-”
Footsteps approached their cubicle.
“Ssshh!” Araminta’s eyes were wide with alarm.
He clapped a hand over his mouth, though it wasn’t quite enough to cover his wide, sheepish grin. The footsteps reached their cubicle and passed it without stopping; they belonged to an aide to the Wizengamot.
They both let out relieved breaths. He caught her eye and somehow, inexplicably, they both found themselves in peals of infectious laughter. It was entirely inappropriate behaviour given the situation ... but it was what Araminta had needed. It was what they had both needed.
She was surprised to learn that she and Sirius actually got on quite well. They spent the day together, training the apprentices. Perhaps he’d wanted the chance to spend time with her without Gideon breathing down their necks and glowering at them; perhaps he felt she needed the company, given the previous day’s events. Either way, she wasn’t complaining.
He was remarkably funny, so it turned out; able to turn almost anything into a joke. It was a trait that she had seen, albeit very rarely, in Gideon himself. She wondered how Sirius could be so carefree, when Gideon was so moody all the time. Then again, for all she knew, maybe Sirius was moody, but making an effort not to show her that side of him.
Or maybe Gideon just didn’t like her. That was a high possibility, given all their arguing...
But he kissed you, said a sly voice in her head, one with which she’d already had numerous conflicts. Perhaps the issue isn’t that he hates you, but the opposite...
She tried to quash that voice. She’d tried her hardest not to think over that ... incident ... since it had occurred. Frankly, she was scared by the direction that her thoughts took when she did think about it.
She would freely admit – only to herself, mind – that Gideon was good-looking. She was only human, and female at that. And when he was being charming, or caring, he was impossible not to like. She enjoyed the attention, much as she hated this fact.
But whenever she thought about that moment, she also found herself remembering the feel of his hand on her cheek, of his body up against hers, his lips on hers...
She couldn’t let it happen again. That thought killed her inside, but she knew it was the right thing – no, the only thing - to do. It would only be cruel on him otherwise. She couldn’t lead him on that way. A couple of months ago, when she’d first met him, she wouldn’t have cared about such a thing, but she’d grown fond of him, though she was unwilling enough to admit this to herself and certainly refused to think it could be anything more, and so the thought of hurting him, of disappointing him, was one she disliked.
This reluctance to upset him made her feel guilty about spending the day with someone who had caused him so much anguish. And not just spending the day with Sirius, but enjoying it, enjoying the light relief he provided. Part of her had wanted to snap at him, to scream even, to tell him how much pain he’d caused Gideon ... but it was their business, not hers, and the more rational side of her reasoned that getting involved would only make things worse.
So she remained quiet, and allowed herself to laugh at Sirius’ quips and jokes, thankful for the distraction, and the fact that it allowed her to force all thoughts of Gideon from her head, even if only for a few blissful hours.
She anticipates his visit, expecting to be at the receiving end of his wrath as usual. She has disappointed him once again, she knows this much. And she also knows that she is sure to face the consequences.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he hisses. “You’ve gone bloody soft! No. No, you’ve always been soft, haven’t you? The Dark Lord thinks he knows better, he thinks you have your uses. I think he’s stark raving mad. You couldn’t even dispose of a filthy blood traitor, what use does that make you?”
“Perhaps you should consider the possibility that he appreciates my delicate talents more than you do,” she returns venomously. “There are more valued talents than just being able to wave a wand around and cause pain, you know-”
I think you need to start doing your job, or you’ll meet the same sticky end as your good-for-nothing parents!”
She breathes in sharply.
“What?” she hisses venomously.
He smirks sadistically.
“You mean, you don’t know?” He laughs in amusement. “Your parents didn’t want to play ball. I saw to it that they got what was coming to them.”
Her eyes widen.
“You – you killed my parents.”
His lip curls.
“You bastard,” she whispers, as tears well in her eyes. “YOU BASTARD!”
She lunges at him and his expression changes to one of shock as she pushes him back by the shoulders. He loses his balance and falls backwards. The back of his head meets the marble table behind him with a sickening crack. He slumps to the floor, unconscious. Blood oozes out of his wound.
She sinks to the floor, in fits of tears, and tucks her knees up to her chest.
“You bastard,” she sobs, burying her head into her knees and rocking backwards and forwards. “You bastard.”