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Frozen by water_lily43175

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 31
Word Count: 88,677
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Horror/Dark, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Dumbledore, Sirius, Moody, Lily, James, Molly, Bellatrix, Voldemort, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, Arthur/Molly, James/Lily, Sirius/OC

First Published: 02/12/2011
Last Chapter: 03/28/2014
Last Updated: 03/28/2014

Summary:
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Gideon has spent two years building up walls around him, but cannot escape from his past. Araminta is set on breaking down those walls, but is just as emotionless as he is, with a difficult past of her own, and she stirs up his intrigue. Their mutual curiosity threatens to destabilise them as they are forced to come face with all they've shut away.
Amidst that, there's a war to fight.


Chapter 1: We All Sleep Alone
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Somebody, somewhere turns off the lights
Somebody all alone faces the night
You got to be strong when you're out on your own
Cause sooner or later we all sleep alone


We All Sleep Alone – Cher 



Gideon raised his eyes from the Quidditch article in his hands as Alastor Moody stomped into his cubicle.

“Moody,” he greeted the older man, silently cursing his presence, which undoubtedly meant work. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Moody rapped on Gideon’s left foot – currently clad in a black dragon-hide boot and propped up, along with the right, on the desk – with his wand. Gideon rolled his eyes, removing his legs from the desk and setting his chair down on all four legs.

“At least look as if you’re working,” Moody grumbled. “I’ve got a job for you.”

“I’m ecstatic,” Gideon said dryly.

Moody rapped him round the head with a folder.

“New recruit,” he barked, dropping the folder onto Gideon’s desk. “Gamp!”

A young woman entered the cubicle; tall and svelte, with long, thick black hair. Her ice blue eyes fell on Gideon, who made no attempt to hide his gaze as he looked her casually up and down. At least the work was easy on his eyes.

“Gamp, this is Gideon Prewett, he’ll be your mentor. Prewett, Araminta Gamp. You’re to take her on your patrols, train her up.”

Moody turned to leave the cubicle and Gideon, an eyebrow raised in curiosity, spoke up.

“Why me? I’ve barely been qualified a year.”

“You’re one of our best.” Moody gave him a pointed look.

After he left, Gideon switched his focus back to the woman, snatched up the folder, swung his chair back on two legs, and placed his own on the table.

“Araminta.” He tried out the name. “Feel free to take a seat.” He indicated the seat on the other side of his desk with the folder and she obliged. “So, what’s that for short? Minty?” He smirked.

“You can call me Araminta,” she replied sharply, in a hostile tone.

His smirk faded slightly.

“Feisty.” He wiggled his eyebrows, and flicked the folder open. However his eyes remained on her. “So, have you finished training? You just beginning it? A year in?”

“You’d know if you just read the folder,” she replied in a clipped voice. “I’ve just finished training. The Ministry seem to want to give new Aurors as much experience as possible. It would seem as though they feel your numbers are diminishing.”

Gideon winced; they had certainly lost many members of the department over the last few years.

“How old are you?”

“Read the folder,” came the sharp reply.

“School?”

“Read-”

“-the folder. Yeah, yeah, I know.” Gideon threw the folder back onto the desk, irritated at her brisk attitude. “So, what kind of stuff am I required to do here? Are you just shadowing me?”

“You can probably find that in the folder,” she replied lazily, looking down at her nails. “That’s pretty much it. Idea is you show me the ropes. This involves going with you on patrol duties, and also doing all the boring office work.”

“Beautiful. I need someone to fill in my forms for me-”

“I’m not your secretary,” she snapped, getting to her feet. “I’ll be here at nine tomorrow morning.”

She swept out of the cubicle.

Gideon smirked again, the mischievous side of him looking forward to dealing with her the next day. Glancing at his watch, he realised he only had ten minutes until the Order meeting, so he got to his feet and shrugged his cloak on, tucking Araminta’s folder into it.

Several minutes, a brisk walk and an Apparition later, he found himself standing outside the old Potter house in Godric’s Hollow. The elderly Mr and Mrs Potter had allowed Dumbledore to use their house as Order Headquarters several years ago. When they’d died, their son James had inherited it and as he already had his own cottage around the corner, where he lived with his wife and young son, he had allowed it to remain as Headquarters.

Gideon rapped three times on the door and waited for it to open. After half a minute or so, it opened an inch or two, and half a face peered through the gap.

“Evening, Lils,” he grinned, relaxing as he always did at the sight of her vivid emerald eyes.

“What’s my Patronus?” she asked sharply.

“Doe.”

The door shut, and he heard a chain slide, before Lily pulled the door wide open.

“Evening, Gid,” she said, smiling back at him. “How are things?”

“Oh, same old,” he said airily, shrugging his cloak off as he stepped into the hallway; Lily shut the door behind him. “It’s just about surviving, right?”

Lily nodded. As she was currently in hiding and could only leave her own house to come around the corner to her parents-in-law’s old abode or to go to Hogwarts, he had no doubt that she understood.

“Come on through, we were just waiting for you.”

Gideon followed her through to the kitchen, where about twenty others sat round the large wooden table waiting for them. Lily took her seat beside her husband, and Gideon sat between Dorcas Meadows and two empty seats.

“Are we all here now?” Dumbledore asked.

“Marlene sends her apologies; her grandmother is still ill,” Lily said.

“Do we know that for sure?” Moody growled.

“Yes, we do,” Gideon snapped angrily before anyone else could say anything, eyes boring into Moody’s.

“I can assure you, Alastor, Miss McKinnon is no more a Death Eater than I am,” Dumbledore said calmly. “Now, I have word from Fabian and Dedalus.”

Gideon turned sharply to look at him.

“They have, regretfully, failed in their mission; as I previously suspected, the giants are still faithful to Voldemort. They are, however, both safe and well, and will be home within two weeks.”

Gideon sighed in relief at the knowledge that his twin was unscathed; he had heard nothing from him since he had left three months previously. Catching his eye across the table, Lily returned the happy smile he gave her.

The rest of the meeting passed much as usual; while the Order had succeeded in capturing the odd Death Eater, their numbers were being severely reduced and everyone knew they were running on borrowed time. The latest casualties were Hector Kettleburn and his wife and children.

After the meeting, Gideon was one of the several members who stayed for a meal which Lily had prepared. After eating, they retired to the living room. Gideon stretched out on a couch and set about flicking through Araminta’s folder.

“Here you are, mate.”

James Potter handed Gideon a tankard of mead.

“Cheers.” He took a swig of the mead, before placing it on the floor beside him. “Hey, James, how many people are homeschooled these days, would you say?”

James frowned, and sat down on an armchair opposite him. His son Harry stumbled across to him.

“I’m not sure,” he said slowly, picking Harry up and setting him on his lap. “It’s not common; naturally, most people send their kids to Hogwarts, and why not? It’s probably one of the safest places in the country – aside from the several hundred underage, half-educated, hormonal witches and wizards all living in close quarters, of course.” He paused. “I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t aware that there were homeschooled wizards and witches any more. Even Death Eaters send their children to Hogwarts.” He jerked his head in the direction of Sirius Black, who was lounged haughtily in another armchair, listening to their conversation.

“Some Death Eaters don’t like to send their kids to Hogwarts,” he chipped in. “Not with Dumbledore as head. The Carrows never went, if you remember.”

“That would explain a lot,” Gideon murmured; Sirius caught his eye and smirked a little, before looking down at the floor.

“Why are you interested?” James asked curiously, bouncing Harry on his knee.

“I have ... an apprentice, shall we say,” Gideon said in a mock pompous voice. “She’s British, but I’ve never met her before. Homeschooled, according to this.” He waved the folder, taking another swig of mead.

“An apprentice?” James frowned. “That’s new.”

“They want them trained up quicker, apparently,” Gideon explained. “We’re losing people faster than we can replace them.”

Sirius nodded. He too was a newly qualified Auror, but had not been assigned a mentor himself; he had gained enough skill and experience through the Order.

“What’s she like then, this apprentice?” James asked keenly. Always lively and mischievous, he hated being forced undercover and had taken to feverishly questioning others, like Sirius and Gideon, about even the most mundane goings-on as a way of living his life through them.

“Bloody gorgeous,” Gideon smirked. “Bit hot-tempered though. No nonsense with her. I’ll lighten her up a bit, no worries there. Name’s Araminta Gamp. Bit of a queer name.”

“Who are you to judge?” James raised an eyebrow.

“Fair point.” Gideon pulled a face and downed the rest of his mead.

Lily entered the room, and perched on the arm of James’s chair. He snaked his free arm round her waist, as hers wrapped round his neck; she lowered her head to kiss him, before planting a second kiss on Harry’s forehead. She then looked up at Gideon.

“Will you stay the night?” she offered. “I hate to think of you in your flat by yourself. Sirius is staying...”

“I’m fine, thanks, Lily,” Gideon interrupted, getting to his feet. He had been overcome with a sudden, yet all too familiar wave of bitterness. “I should be going. Thanks for dinner; I’ll see you at the next meeting.” He nodded awkwardly across the room at Sirius, before swiftly leaving.

Once at his own flat, he hurled the folder across his living room angrily, kicking a stray coffee table over. At the sight of Lily and James’s simple, yet touching display of affection, he had been swamped with the insane wave of jealousy that overwhelmed him every time he found himself in the company of a couple.

He bent down to pick up the photograph which had been knocked to the floor with the table. His eyes fell on the figure in the frame, and he inhaled a sharp breath, before throwing it across the room; it hit the wall and fell back to the floor with a smash.

Gideon slumped to the floor in tears. The feeling of loneliness seemed to increase with every week that passed. His life had become a mere waiting game; with little left to live for, it was just a case of seeing how long he could last as the odds against survival increased.


Chapter 2: Every Breath You Take
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Every breath you take, every move you make,
Every bond you break, every step you take,
I'll be watching you

Every Breath You Take – The Police



Gideon swept into his cubicle the next morning to find Araminta already sat at the chair she had occupied the previous day, her legs propped up on his desk. He knocked them off as he rounded the desk to sit down.

“Feet off the desk,” he ordered.

“You do it,” she countered.

“My desk.” He smirked at her; she glared back. “Why were you homeschooled?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Have you always been this nosy or does it come with age?”

“I’m just intrigued as to why your parents decided to keep you at home.”

She shrugged.

“Only child, they didn’t work, they wanted me at home. Why did you get sent to Hogwarts?”

“My parents wanted me out of the house.” He grinned; her face remained cold and emotionless. “Did your parents teach you themselves?”

“My mother was one of the best around at Potions,” Araminta replied. “And my father was remarkably gifted at wandwork. They didn’t see the need to send me off to be taught by strangers when they could do the job just as efficiently.”

“You should have come to Hogwarts; you’d have had a great time. You’d have been in my year. You’d have been enjoyed that.” He winked.

Even this procured no emotion. Gideon sighed, irritated at her unwillingness to talk.

He reached across to his in-tray and slapped the contents down in front of him on the desk. He flicked through the parchment, frustrated at the amount of office work that being an Auror brought. Aurors spent one week in three based in the office, followed by a week of patrols and another helping to train the apprentices. Gideon liked being out there in the battlefield, duelling with Death Eaters. He liked the feeling of actually doing something useful. This was why he had chosen Dark wizard-catching as a career, but he seemed to do more of this in his role as an Order member.

“Well?”

Gideon looked up; Araminta was looking at him expectantly. He suddenly realised he’d been sitting in silence for a good few minutes.

“Hope you’re not looking for a battle a day in this profession,” he said dryly, flicking through the parchment a second time. “Death Eater sightings enough for you?” He waved a sheet of parchment airily, before making to tuck it back into the pile; Araminta, however, reached out for it.

“May I look at it?” she asked politely.

Gideon frowned in surprise, but handed the parchment to her; Bellatrix Lestrange’s sightings, he observed as she took it from him. He then turned his attention back to the other documents, wondering for the umpteenth time what good their locations three months ago were when trying to catch them now.

“They’re only of use if you have a fucking Timeturner to hand,” he murmured out loud.

“Not necessarily.”

Gideon raised his head sharply at the sound of Araminta’s voice.

“Excuse me?” he said, not attempting to hide his shock. “Is the Ice Queen finally willingly entering into a conversation with somebody? Merlin’s left buttock, you do surprise me.”

Araminta remained emotionless.

“You can see patterns in their locations,” she said, slapping Bellatrix’s sightings back onto the desk. “For example, somewhere that they may go every two weeks. You can trace their movements and catch them unawares.”

He raised an eyebrow, mentally kicking himself for not having the nous to work that out himself.

“Well, aren’t you a clever one,” he commented casually, trying to cover his shame. He pulled the parchment towards him.

“There’s nothing there,” she chipped in as he began to scan the dates and places. “I was just making a generic point.”

Gideon turned his attention to the other sightings. He pulled them out of the pile and slid them across the desk to her.

“Have a look through them, then. Make yourself useful,” he said.

She scowled, but took the parchment.

Gideon sighed. He buried his head in his hands and massaged his temples. He had never been good at the paperwork side of things. That had always been-

No, he refused to let his mind drift like that. He turned his attention back to the paperwork in front of him, and, with a large sigh, began to make his way through it.

About ten minutes later, Araminta pushed a sheet of parchment under his nose. He frowned and picked it up. A list of times and places were written on it in large loopy writing.

“There are a few patterns to get you started,” she said, getting to her feet. “Don’t mind if I get a drink, do you?”

He waved a hand airily, intent on reading her list. He was still berating himself for his oversight. Some Auror he was turning out to be...

The rest of the day passed just as monotonously as Gideon had come to expect over the last few months. After her surprising moment of pleasantness, Araminta had withdrawn back into her icy shell, with little to say other than biting remarks. He had sent her home after two hours, bored with her presence and short of work for her to do.

What Moody expected her to pick up from this, I have no fucking clue, Gideon mused to himself.

It crossed his mind that maybe Moody was just trying to annoy him.

Wouldn’t surprise me, he thought to himself, scowling as he shrugged his cloak on.

A few minutes later, he Apparated into his flat, the prospect of another lonely evening facing him, as appealing as spending the night with a dozen Acromantula.

Would certainly add a bit of spice to my life though, he thought, before deciding that the risks weren’t worth it. He was probably best attempting to appease himself with the drab company of An Anthology of Eighteenth Century Charms instead.

Oh, to be a wizard, he thought to himself sarcastically.

***

The next few days passed in a blur, full merely of more paperwork, occasional visits from the pretty but irritating secretary from the Hit Wizard department, Ivy, and the rude frostiness of Araminta.

“She’s awful,” he moaned to James at the end of the week, frustrated that all his efforts to find out more about her had proved fruitless. “I still only know what it says in the folder about her; she won’t tell me a thing herself. She’s completely emotionless. It’s infuriating, I’ll tell you that for a fact.”

James cocked his head.

“But she’s still good-looking, right?”

“Makes no odds when she’s as responsive as a flobberworm,” Gideon scowled. “Mind, she has been helpful for one thing...”

He pulled the parchment she had written on out of his pocket; he had added to it with his own untidy scrawl.

“I’ve been looking through Death Eater sightings for patterns – her idea – and look what I’ve found.”

He handed the parchment to James, who frowned, scrutinising it.

“Hey, Pads!”

He turned in his chair; Sirius, who was standing at the other side of the room, deep in conversation with Dorcas, looked up. James beckoned him over.

“What do you make of this?” he asked, handing the parchment over.

“Wimbourne...” Sirius glanced up at James. “That’s just round the coast from here.”

“I grew up here, Sirius, I think I know my local geography,” James replied dryly. “What’s at Wimbourne though?”

“Well, the West Country has always been the traditional area for wizarding families, hasn’t it?” Sirius pointed out. “We’ve just spread along the south coast. Dorset is ridden with old pureblood families, most of which you’ll find are Death Eaters, or at least sympathetic to Voldemort. I’d wager that a Death Eater lives in Wimbourne, and they’re using the house as one of their meeting places. Seems a bit obvious, though.”

“Yes, well, Death Eaters aren’t always the sharpest tools in the box,” James observed.

Sirius nodded, eyes back on the parchment. After a few seconds, he looked up at Gideon.

“You’ve collected this? Which Death Eaters?”

“The Lestrange brothers, Dolohov, Avery, the Carrows, Malfoy, the Travers brothers-”

“The entire inner circle,” Sirius murmured. He looked back down at the list again. “If this is accurate, and they meet there every two weeks ... they should be there next on the twelfth.” He looked back up at Gideon. “I’d say this is worth pursuing.”

Gideon nodded stiffly.

“Order or Ministry?” he asked.

“I’d say Order.” Sirius drummed his fingers on the back of James’s chair. “We know the Ministry is being infiltrated; we just don’t know who by. The Auror Department could be saturated with Death Eaters; they’d get wind of an attempted raid and bugger off, or, worse, call for back-up and take us on.”

“But we don’t know that we can trust anyone anymore,” James interjected sombrely.

Gideon and Sirius both knew exactly what James was hinting at; several of the Order’s recent missions had been foiled by the Death Eaters. It was almost as though they knew what the Order’s plans were. The only explanation was that there was a traitor in their midst. People had their suspicions, but nobody knew for sure who they could trust any longer.

“We can work our way around that, Prongs; you know that.”

James and Sirius shared a look, before the former sighed.

“Very well,” he said. He turned to Gideon. “Tell Dumbledore at the meeting later. He’ll know what to do.”

***

She hurries down the moonlit road, darting into the shadows wherever possible. Her hood slips, but she pulls it up tighter. Her eyes scout her surroundings cautiously, in search of any other presence.

Suddenly, somebody grips her arm and pulls her into an alleyway. She gasps and her right hand flies to her wand.

“Have you got anything yet?” a male voice hisses.

She relaxes slightly at the familiar voice.

“Not yet-”

“Why the hell not?” he demands.

“Give me time!” she cries indignantly. “Though you need to change your meeting place; they’ve got their eyes on your movements and they’re getting suspicious-”

“And you need to do your fucking job!”

“You want information, don’t you? Well, I’m telling you what I know-”

“That’s not what I want!”

“I’ve not had long, give me a chance -”

“Try harder,” he spits. “We need to know now; we can’t just hang about until you decide to get your act together-”

“I’m fucking trying!” she interjects, frustrated.

“Well you’re not trying hard enough,” he hisses in her ear. “You get the information we need, tell me all their movements, or you’ll pay. And don’t think you can hide from me either. I know where to find you.”

He Disapparates with a pop.

She sinks to the ground, breathing shakily, and buries her head in her hands. 


Chapter 3: Don't Let Me Get Me
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Every day I fight a war against the mirror,
I can't take the person staring back at me,
I'm a hazard to myself,
Don't let me get me


Don’t Let Me Get Me – Pink



Araminta hated Mondays. There was nothing worse than having to drag herself back into work after the weekend and then spend the day working with people in just as foul a mood as she was.

And to top things off, you’re blessed with the wonderful presence of Gideon Prewett, she thought to herself, in an attempt to brighten her mood. It didn’t work, as the sarcasm only emphasised how miserable this particular Monday was.

She wasn’t entirely sure, she admitted to herself, why she disliked Gideon so much. After all, she’d barely known him a week – though she wouldn’t even go so far as to say she knew him. He was still only an acquaintance.

And one that succeeded in getting on her nerves, whether he intended to or not.

It wasn’t that she was trying to not get on with him, she reasoned, as she paused to have her wand tested in the Atrium. After all, it would only make things easier if they did get on. But somehow, his desire to know everything about her from the start had irked her. People had to earn her trust, they couldn’t just gain it by pure virtue of being her mentor.

Besides, she continued, he doesn’t need to know a thing. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him ... and he’s certainly better off not knowing some things.

“Eleven inches, chestnut, dragon heartstring?”

Araminta pulled herself out of her thoughts.

“Yes,” she replied, taking her wand back from the man behind the desk.

It would certainly be wise to keep herself out of those thoughts while she was in Gideon’s presence.

An unfamiliar female voice as she reached Gideon’s cubicle stopped her in her tracks.

“-complete disaster-”

“No it won’t, Marls; it’ll be fine and you know it.” Gideon’s own voice was reassuring.

Araminta frowned in confusion.

She turned the corner and poked her head into the cubicle. Gideon was lounging back on his office chair as usual, deep in conversation with a woman who was perched on his desk, with her back to Araminta.

The woman scoffed in disbelief at Gideon’s latest comment.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Gid; have you met my mother? I may be the bride, but you can sure as hell guarantee that as long as mother has a say, it’ll be her wedding, not mine-”

“You let her walk over you too much,” he said disapprovingly. His eyes fell on Araminta. “Ah, Minty!”

Araminta’s bad mood was just made worse.

The woman turned to face the door, blonde hair flying in all directions.

“Marls, this is Araminta, my apprentice. Araminta, this Marlene McKinnon, she’s a fellow Auror.”

Marlene smiled warmly. Araminta smiled back, much more weakly.

“Nice to meet you, Araminta!” Marlene got to her feet. “Well, I should be moving on,” she told Gideon. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from your riveting paperwork-”

“Don’t get too cocky, McKinnon, your desk is full to the ceiling of the stuff,” he replied cheekily.

“In that case, I’ll put it off a bit longer by going to see Sirius.”

Gideon scowled. Marlene’s expression softened and she sat back down on the desk, reaching an arm out to him. Araminta stiffened.

“Oh, Gid,” Marlene said softly, her thumb stroking his cheek gently. “Darling, don’t you think-”

“No.”

He glared at her. She sighed, leaned over and planted a soft kiss on his forehead, before getting up again.

“Dinner at mine tonight?” she suggested.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

He flashed a grin at her, which she returned.

“See you at seven, big boy. See you round, Araminta.”

Marlene swept out of the cubicle.

Araminta raised an eyebrow in curiosity, sitting down in the seat she now affectionately thought of as hers.

“Girlfriend?” she asked, slightly afraid of the answer.

Gideon let out an amused bark of laughter.

“Hardly! Future sister-in-law, more like. She’s marrying my brother,” he elaborated. “Well, she’s supposedly marrying him; they wed in four weeks’ time and he’s not back from Central Europe yet so Merlin knows how things are going to pan out.”

She cocked her head, ignoring the part of her that felt relieved.

“So, you’re having dinner with your brother’s fiancée? Wow, that’s romantic.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

Gideon sighed with exasperation.

“She’s my best mate, has been since we were six. It’s thanks to me that she’s even with Fabian. She’s at home by herself while Fabian’s away; I live alone. No point in us both being lonely when we don’t have to be. Besides, she’s a better cook than I am.”

Araminta frowned, suddenly intrigued.

“You live alone? I would’ve thought you’d have a girlfriend or something...”

“Why’s that?” Gideon smirked cheekily. “Clearly my good looks and charm-”

She scoffed, irritated with herself.

“Hardly.”

He eyed her curiously.

“Why, then?”

“You just ... didn’t strike me as the kind of person to be content with being single,” she said, finding it difficult to articulate her thoughts.

“Just in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in a little bit of a war right now,” he commented. “Not quite the climate to be starting out a relationship in.”

“So you just sit around on your own, being lonely, just because you’re scared?” She raised an eyebrow, surprised at his attitude; last week he had seemed so confident and assured.

“I’m not scared, I just-”

“You obviously are-”

“I’ve lost too many people, okay?” Gideon snapped, eyes flashing. “The more people I get close to, the more people I’ll lose in the end. It’s easier to just not get close any more, and just treasure the people I’ve got.”

Araminta was stunned. It was the last reply she would have expected. A moment passed before she found her voice.

“So you’d rather stay lonely than attempt to live your life? What happens if this war carries on? If You-Know-Who takes over? Then what are you going to do?”

Gideon’s deep blue eyes caught hers in an intense gaze.

“I’d rather die than live through a Voldemort-run regime,” he stated bluntly. He looked down at his desk.

“Your friends and family clearly mean so much to you,” she said dryly.

“My brother? Getting married. My best friend? Getting married. My sister? Already married with a brood. The friends from Hogwarts that I have left? Near enough all settled down with children. I’d feel awkward round them – I already do – and they don’t need me in order to live happily.”

“I doubt that,” she struck up quietly. She was intrigued by his inner torment, and unsure as to why she felt so desperate to know more about him, having scorned his same curiosity only half an hour previously.

He snorted. “And how would you know that?”

“Because ... just because somebody is married doesn’t mean that’s all they need to be happy. Everyone needs friends too, and I’m sure they count you as a treasured friend.” She paused, the part of her that wanted to know more fighting with the part of her that wished to remain aloof. The former part won out. “Have you ever had a girlfriend?”

“Yes, I had a girlfriend,” he said gruffly.

Araminta frowned; there was something curious about his phrasing-

“Look, we’ve got work to do,” he continued, turning to his in-tray.

“How many children does your sister have?” she asked, desperate to probe further.

He sighed with aggravation.

“Must you be at your most talkative at the only time I want to work?” He smiled slightly. “Six, with a seventh on the way.”

Six?”

“Molly wants a girl. Six boys. She’s hoping seventh time lucky.”

“How old are they?”

“Bill is ten, Charlie is eight, Percy is four, five in August, Fred and George – twins – are three, and complete menaces, and Ron is just one.”

“Quite a rabble, then.”

“She really wants a girl,” Gideon repeated. “Unfortunately, given that ambition, she chose the wrong man to marry; there haven’t been any Weasley girls for the last three or so generations.”

“How old is your sister?” Araminta asked curiously. “She must be a fair few years older than you, to have sons so old already-”

“Thirty-one,” he replied. “From what Fabian and I gathered, we were a mistake.” He grinned. “What about you, then? Any brothers or sis-”

“We should be getting on with some work,” she interrupted hastily, eyes dropping to the desk.

“No. No, we shouldn’t.”

Gideon placed his hand over her notes. She looked up at him, unsure whether she was irritated with him or with herself.

“What now?”

“I’ve told you what you want to know; you can’t just sit there and refuse to say a thing in return-”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise this was an exchange,” she sneered, berating herself for letting the conversation become so private. “You want to answer my questions; that’s fine. I don’t necessarily want to answer yours.”

“We’re meant to be working together, you can’t just sit there like a fucking clam!” he growled. “I’m not even asking you about your past, unlike you, probing about my relationship history; I’m just asking about your family, as you now know about every single one of my nephews-”

“I have none!” she cried, glaring at him. “My parents are dead. Does that make you happy? Do you feel like you can carry on with your life now?”

Filled with sudden rage, again at them both, she stood up sharply, knocking the chair over, and stormed out of the cubicle. Several heads were peering round their own cubicles, curious as to the source of the noise.

“What the fuck are you staring at?” she yelled at them.

She span round and stormed off round the corner, where she slumped against the wall. She let out an aggravated scream, furious with herself for losing her temper so quickly.

How the hell does he manage so get me so riled? she asked herself.

“That was quite impressive.”

Araminta looked up to see Sirius Black leaning casually against the opposite wall.

“If Gideon were more laid-back he’d be horizontal. I think I’m the only person he’s ever shouted at before, and that was only once.”

She glared at him.

“What do you want?” she demanded.

He smirked.

“I’ve just said, haven’t I? Gideon never yells at people. I was interested in the only other person who’s managed to get him to.” He paused. “I should introduce myself. Siri-”

“I know who you are,” she snapped. She scowled and looked down at her nails.

Sirius stood in silence for a moment, watching her.

“What?” she finally asked roughly, glaring up at him.

“I was hoping for an introduction,” he replied, the mirth in his voice obvious, despite his straight face.

She glared at him, infuriated.

“You know my name,” she spat.

“Do I?” He raised an eyebrow.

She let out a second aggravated shriek.

“Suit yourself.” He shrugged. “Anyway, feel free to keep on getting a rise out of Gideon; Merlin knows he needs a bit of excitement in his life. Aside from the odd laugh, he’s been emotionless and near enough lifeless for the past two or so years.” He paused. “And his patrol duty in Diagon Alley starts momentarily, so if you intend on going with him, I’d scuttle back round the corner.” He winked at her, before continuing down the corridor.

Araminta sighed exasperatedly, but pushed herself upright.

“Well this is fan-fucking-tastic,” she muttered to herself, as she headed back to the cubicle.

Gideon had his outdoor cloak on when she returned.

“Nice excursion?” he asked, in a pleasant voice which told Araminta that while he would not berate her for her outburst, he would not let her forget it easily either.

She contemplated several retorts, each more rude than the previous, but eventually settled for an icy glare, which, to her irritation, did not seem to bother him.

A few minutes later they were strolling down a very deserted Diagon Alley. Gideon had not said anything more to her, and the silence was uncomfortable.

They reached Gringotts and stationed themselves either side of the entrance.

The silence continued. She fidgeted awkwardly.

Gideon began whistling loudly. A Celestina Warbeck song, terribly out of tune.

Finally she cracked.

“Can’t you say something?” she burst out.

Gideon raised an eyebrow.

“Why?” he asked, amused.

“Well, we can stand in silence, then! What a wonderful idea.” Her voice oozed with sarcasm.

“If it’s a choice between silence and your rudeness, I know which I’m picking.” He took a deep breath and turned to face her. “Look, if you want to start being polite, then great. I’m up for having a good working relationship. Merlin knows I could do with an easy ride at work. But if you can’t cope with being civil, then we can both stand in silence.”

“Yeah, that’s a great idea. Let’s be best friends for life by Friday! What happy clappy mumbo jumbo rubbish.” She scowled, her temper rising again.

Gideon rolled his eyes.

“If you must be like that you can find someone else to mentor you.” He paused. “You knew exactly what I meant. Anything I’ve said in the past week, you’ve had an issue with. Is it that hard to at least try to be polite? I can’t imagine I’m that annoying.” He raised an eyebrow, glancing sideways at her.

“You have no idea,” she murmured, unable to stop herself.

Gideon heard her.

“What the hell is your problem?” he demanded, staring at her coldly; the intensity of his gaze made her shiver. He took a deep breath. “Suit yourself,” he continued, shrugging. “Fuck off.”

“I – what?”

“I said, fuck off.” He glared at her coldly. “Go on. Scat.”

Araminta hesitated, before scowling at him and Disapparating.

Once in her flat, she let out a loud scream.

Why must you be such an idiot at general social interaction, Gamp?

Picturing Gideon’s face on the wall, she threw every item possible across the living room at it. Then she sank to the floor.

I’m going to be in so much trouble.

 ***

“I just don’t get her. I mean, if we were arguing anything remotely sensible, I’d just put it down to a personality clash. But this ... it’s not a clash, it’s a fucking collision.”

Marlene raised an eyebrow.

“Knowing you,” she said over her wine glass, “you’ve done nothing to calm the situation-”

“Well what am I supposed to do?” He leaned forwards in his chair. “Seriously, I’ve tried not retaliating; it does nothing. I’ve tried arguing back; it does nothing. She’s just inherently rude.”

“You can swap with me if you want.” She took a sip of wine. “I’d sort her out.”

He snorted.

“You two would be in a full on cat fight within the hour,” he said dryly. “Who have you got, anyway?”

“Kingsley Shacklebolt. Remember him? Ravenclaw, year below us.”

He nodded.

“I remember. He was a good kid. Good laugh.” He paused. “I hope to Merlin she doesn’t turn up tomorrow.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Because we can really afford her not turning up.” She rolled her eyes. “Look, I really think you should be persevering with her. Wheezy would want-”

“I know what Wheezy would want,” he snapped, burying his head in his hands. He took a deep breath, before letting it out slowly, a chuckle escaping at the end. “Wheeza would have driven her out by now. Nothing like a straight-talking Auror to sort out such snobbery.”

“Indeed.” She reached across the table and squeezed his hand affectionately. “Things will work out, Gid. You’ll see.”


Chapter 4: Your Biggest Mistake
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It's a shame you don't know what you're running from,
Would your bones have to break and your lights turn off?
Would it take the end of time
To hear your heart's false start?

Your Biggest Mistake – Ellie Goulding



Araminta didn’t return to the office until Thursday, three days after her argument with Gideon. He glanced up as she reached the cubicle, then took a double take.

“Have you been run over by the Knight Bus?” he said, startled, forgetting that he was supposed to be angry with her.

“Fell down the stairs at home,” she replied hoarsely. She winced as she sat down.

“They must be some stairs; I’ve not come across many that leave handprints round someone’s neck,” he deadpanned, trying to hide his concern. He took up his wand. “Here.”

He cast a Concealment charm to hide her black eye and the yellowing bruises on her neck.

“Thanks,” she said quietly, her eyes fixed on the floor.

“Why didn’t you do that yourself?”

“Can’t do the charm.”

Her fingers were twisting nervously round her robes.

“Do you want a glass of water?” He got to his feet.

She nodded slightly.

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

On his way back to his cubicle with the glass, he stopped by Marlene’s.

“Someone’s beaten her up,” he said in a low voice.

She frowned quizzically.

“Did she say who?”

“She didn’t say anything at all. Fell down some stairs apparently. I’ve never come across any stairs with hands, and those are strangle marks around her neck.”

Marlene paled.

“Well she obviously doesn’t want you to know what happened, or she’d have told you,” she said after a moment. “Just ... keep an eye on her, I’d say. Why didn’t she conceal the bruises?”

“Didn’t know how to, apparently. I’ve done it for her.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Didn’t think you could perform such a charitable act.”

“Fuck you.”

Gideon turned to leave, greeting Kingsley, who was just arriving, on his way out.

Araminta was examining his in-tray when he returned.

“You won’t find anything interesting in there,” he said, setting the glass down in front of her.

“Thanks,” she said faintly, as he sat down in his chair. She paused. “I want to apologise, for Monday,” she continued stiffly. “I was out of order and ... and I apologise.”

Gideon looked at her tenderly.

“That’s okay,” he said softly. “Just ... don’t do it again. My work life is miserable enough without you joining in.”

A faint smile appeared on her face. She was, Gideon reflected, quite beautiful when she didn’t have the sour expression on her face.

“Listen,” he continued, reaching across the desk and taking her hand, “if you want to talk, about ... what happened-” he gestured towards her neck with his other hand – “then I can listen, and I’ll do what I can to help-”

“Giddy boy!”

Gideon sat back in his chair, removing his hand from Araminta’s. He crossed his arms lazily as his brother strolled into the room.

“You’ve barely been back twelve hours and already I’m wishing you were still away.” Gideon scowled, cursing his brother’s timing. “Giddy? We’ve been through this time and time again, Fabe, don’t call me Giddy!”

Fabian smirked.

“I think it has a lovely ring to it.” His turned his attention to Araminta. “And you must be Minty Gamp!” He scrutinised her. “Gid told me you were a looker, but I think he’s done you a disservice; bloody gorgeous would have been more accurate!”

“You’re getting married in three weeks,” Gideon chipped in, seeing a shy smile threaten to light up her face.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t look!” Fabian said in a sing-song voice.

“Marlene might beg to differ.”

“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Fabian winked at Araminta; her normally chalk-white cheeks tinged with pink. “Anyway, I should be off, apprentices to train!”

“Who’s your apprentice?” Gideon asked curiously, suddenly aware of the fact that he didn’t know who his twin had been assigned to.

“Don’t have one.” Fabian smirked. “Was meant to be Black.”

“That’s nothing to smirk about, Fabby, it means Moody didn’t think you good enough to train up somebody else. Now off you go, corrupt those youngsters.” Gideon waved an airy hand and Fabian scowled, before grinning and strolling off.

Gideon turned to Araminta.

“How is it that after two weeks with you I still hardly get a reaction from you, yet my engaged identical twin brother has you blushing after two minutes?” He shook his head in mock disgust. “Unbelievable.”

***

“Wish I could come,” James said wistfully.

“Mate, we’ll take one down for you.” Sirius patted him reassuringly on the back.

Gideon nodded in sympathy.

“It’s just a shame Pete has to miss out on this too,” James continued. “He’d enjoy a little raid.”

Their friend Peter wouldn’t be taking part in the raid as his mother was ill; as a result he’d missed the last week and a half of Order meetings.

“Hey ... where’s Remus?” Gideon suddenly noticed the absence of the fourth ‘Marauder’. The four of them were seldom apart, but he too had missed the most recent meetings.

James and Sirius looked nervous.

“He’s ill-”

“His rabbit-”

They both stopped talking at the same time, turning to look at each other in desperation.

“His rabbit is ill.” James turned back to face Gideon, fidgeting slightly.

“His rabbit?”

James nodded.

“It’s ill?”

Sirius copied the nod.

Gideon inwardly rolled his eyes, deciding not to pry further; it was clearly a ‘Marauder secret’. He turned to look for Marlene, who was in charge of the raid.

“His rabbit?” he heard Sirius hiss to James in exasperation as he walked off.

The scheduled raid on the Death Eaters’ meeting in Wimbourne took place on Friday night. Ten minutes before they were to leave, Marlene was still giving out orders, glancing every now and again at a sheet of parchment.

“Ah, Gideon!” she said as he reached her. “I’m pairing you with Sirius for this one-”

What?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Don’t give me that, Gideon. You both work well together, and you know it.”

Worked, Marlene. Worked. I’m not being paired with him-”

“You’re either paired with him or you don’t go, it’s as simple as that.” She folded her arms stubbornly. “It’s been two years, Gideon, can we not act with a little bit of maturity? Is that too much to ask?” She paused. “You can’t run from this all your life. Wheeza would want-”

“Will you stop telling me what Wheeza would want?” He glared at her angrily. “Just ... stop it, okay? Funnily enough, I think I know it for myself, without you having to tell me. And I’m not running from anything.” He took a deep breath. “I’ll work with Black. But Merlin forbid, if something goes wrong and it’s his fault again, like it was last time-”

“I’ve told you time and time again, Gideon, it was nobody’s fault! You have to let this go! You can’t fight alongside people if you’re constantly blaming them for simple mistakes-”

“You don’t cause people’s deaths then attribute them to a simple mistake.” Gideon’s voice was cold, harsh.

“Well it’s hardly as though he meant it, is it?” Marlene’s eyes bored into his. “Honestly, Gid, I love you, but you have to let go of this if you want to survive this war, because it will keep blinding your judgement.”

“And what if I don’t want to survive it?”

Her face crumpled.

“Then you shouldn’t be fighting at all,” she said quietly, before turning away and heading across the room to Dorcas.

“Wow, Prewett, you really know how to give a morale-boosting speech.”

Gideon closed his eyes at Sirius’s dry comment.

“Leave it, Black,” he retorted, not turning round. “Haven’t you done enough?”

Sirius let out a bark-like laugh.

“That’s right, blame it on everyone else-”

“Because you don’t do the same?”

Gideon spun around to glare at Sirius, who didn’t respond.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

***

Gideon crept through the undergrowth, having cast a Silencing Charm to minimise any noise. Sirius trailed him closely. To his left, he was aware of Moody and Emmeline Vance; to his right, Elphias Doge and Caradoc Dearborn.

A large house loomed ahead of them in the darkness. As they reached the edge of the trees, Gideon’s ears pricked up at the sound of quiet, murmured voices. Sirius had also heard them. He raised a hand and pointed at a spot to the left of the house’s wrought iron gates where two cloaked figures, barely visible in the night’s gloom, huddled in the shadows, talking to each other feverishly.

As they watched, two silent Stunners hit them, from the direction of Marlene and Fabian’s station. Gideon mentally congratulated them, and allowed his thoughts to wander to the argument he’d had with Marlene less than half an hour earlier. He scowled, as he remembered about how harsh he had been to poor old Marlene, who didn’t deserve any of his anger. All she had been trying to do was end his two-year-old feud with Sirius, which had caused a ridiculous number of confrontations ever since.

He had shocked himself with his suggestion that he didn’t want to live any more. His life had gone rapidly downhill in the previous two years, that much was true, but did he really want to end it all? He knew he’d die for the cause, he had known that for years, but being prepared to die and wanting to die were two completely separate things-

“PREWETT!”

Sirius flung himself at Gideon, knocking them both to the ground, as a green jet flew past them. Gideon swore, lifting the Silencing Charm from himself, as he focused back on the house. His lapse of concentration had meant that one of the arriving Death Eaters had not been Stunned, and, upon seeing the fate of his fellows, had immediately called for backup.

In short, all hell had broken loose.

***

“And Prewett does it again,” Sirius sneered, stomping into the kitchen, holding essence of dittany to his left forearm. “What a wonderful way to get us all almost killed-”

“Yeah, that’s right, Black, blame everyone else,” Gideon replied hotly, getting to his feet, amid the protests of Lily, who was attempting to mop up a gash down his cheek. “Because it would have been impossible for you to Stun Lestrange yourself. Nice spot of affection for your cousin-in-law there-”

“Are you suggesting I deliberately saved your life in order to let Lestrange go free, Prewett?” Sirius’s eyes flashed with anger. “Maybe I should’ve just left you in the curse’s path; it would have caused us a lot less trouble-”

“And maybe I shouldn’t have saved your fucking skin in Hogsmeade!” Gideon yelled back at him. “That sure would have saved a few more lives, without you around to fuck it up-”

“SHUT UP!”

Lily glared at them both.

“For Merlin’s sake, will you two stop blaming each other for everything? I’m sick of it! Nobody died tonight – don’t you say a word, Gideon Prewett – so both of you, just give it a rest!” She took a deep breath and forced Gideon back into the chair. “Besides, you caught Selwynn and Jugson, so-”

“We would have gotten them all if some oaf hadn’t missed his cue.”

“SIRIUS!”

Sirius stomped out of the kitchen. As he left, he passed Marlene in the doorway. The blonde folded her arms, glaring furiously at Gideon.

“I think you’ve got far too much on your mind,” she said. Unlike her facial expression, her voice was cold, but calm. “I’m telling Dumbledore I want you withdrawn from all Order missions for the next month. You’re not mentally up for it.”

“What?” he yelped, attempting to jump to his feet again; Lily forced him back down. “Marly, you can’t do that-”

“Watch me,” she hissed. “You could have gotten somebody killed out there, Gideon! I specifically stated the plan before we left; you missed your cue! We can’t afford lapses like that. You need some time away from the battlefield to sort your head out. And if you and Black can’t sort out your spat, then so help me I’ll murder you both.”

“Yeah, about Black, don’t you think you should be doing something about him?”

“I’m pulling Sirius out too. You’ve both become liabilities. I’m not having something like that happen again. We’d have had them all easily if you hadn’t missed that Stunner.”

She left the room.

Gideon slumped over the kitchen table in despair, despite Lily’s orders to sit upright.

“I’ve royally screwed it up,” he muttered furiously. “Why the hell can’t I do anything right?”

Lily stopped her ministrations.

“Oh, Gideon,” she said softly, stroking his head. “Honey, you’ve been through so much, we all have, it’s only understandable that you have an off day-”

“Not when it nearly kills people!” he protested in exasperation.

She sighed sadly.

“Look, I know you don’t like it, but Marlene’s right. You need a few weeks off to clear your head. You’ve just got far too much on your mind at the moment.”

Gideon felt something tugging on his leg. He sat up and looked down at the floor to see Harry’s emerald eyes, so like his mother’s, staring up at him, welling up with tears at the sight of somebody else’s unhappiness.

A tender smile spread across Gideon’s face as he bent down and picked Harry up, setting him down on his lap to face him.

“Hey, little man,” he said gently, as Lily continued to tend to his wound. “And how’s my favourite Potter?”

All of his worries were temporarily pushed to the back of his mind, as he listened to Harry’s baby chatter, accompanied with extravagant hand gestures involving his stuffed toy dog. Not for the first time, he felt a pang of jealousy for the life James Potter was able to live.

***

“What the hell were you playing at?”

"I don’t know what you mean-”

“You told them about our fucking meetings, you dirty wench!”

“I told you ... they found it out...” she says weakly.

His lip curls.

“I think you need to be taught a lesson,” he hisses venomously.

A third figure emerges from the shadows, caressing her wand lovingly, a sadistic smirk on her face.

“Somebody needs to be reminded of where their loyalties lie,” she says, as she aims her wand. “Crucio!”


Chapter 5: The Name of the Game
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I was an impossible case
No one ever could reach me
But I think I can see in your face
There's a lot you can teach me
So I wanna know...

The Name of the Game – ABBA



“You look a mess.”

“You’re one to talk.”

Gideon eyed Araminta worriedly. On top of her bruises from last week, she appeared to have fresh injuries.

“Stairs still not house-trained?” he asked light-heartedly. He collapsed into his chair and winced as he smacked his injured thigh.

“Not yet. What happened to you?”

“Got into a little play fight with Fabian,” Gideon replied smoothly, casting Concealment Charms over them both.

She raised an eyebrow.

“So were Black and McKinnon in a play fight of their own, or did they join in yours?”

He faltered.

“We’re Aurors, Minty, bumps and scrapes come with the job.”

As usual, she scowled at the nickname, but, unusually, did not complain about it.

“Anyway, today we’re training-”

“Morning!”

Marlene strolled into the cubicle.

Gideon rolled his eyes.

“What do you want, Marlene?” he scowled. “Come to tell me I’m not allowed to do my Auror duties now?”

“Don’t be stupid,” she snapped. “You can’t hold a grudge against me forever; it’s ridiculous. I did what I had to, you know that-”

“You’ve left us with wonky numbers now.”

“Sirius has been dropped too,” Marlene reminded him.

“We’re already short on numbers; you’ve just made it worse.”

“Well maybe that’ll help you get your act together.” Marlene pursed her lips. “Honestly, Gideon, I don’t understand you. Half the time you’re drowning in emotions, the other half the time you’re like a Death Eater.” Her expression softened. “Gid, I really think you just need to talk to someone about it. Me, Fabian, Lily, anyone! You’re one of our best, but at the moment you’re a mess.”

“I’m fine,” he growled, scowling. “And I’ll be even better if you just leave me alone and stop pretending to understand.”

“But-”

Go away!”

She sighed sadly and left the cubicle.

“What did she mean, ‘like a Death Eater’?”

Gideon jumped.He’d forgotten Araminta was there.

“Means emotionless. None of this heart-on-sleeve rubbish that us Gryffindors indulge in.” He paused. “You’d make a good Death Eater.” He smirked at his joke and her face twitched as she fought back a smile of her own. “Anyway, as I was saying, it’s apprentice training week. I’d like to think you know what this entails. If not I’m not entirely sure how you got here. So, you can either come along anyway, or join up with someone else for the week. There’s Fabian – as he’s not got an apprentice he’d be a good shout, but he’s on office week and I can’t see why anyone would pick two consecutive weeks of paperwork. Alternatively, there’s demon Marlene on patrols, but she’s got Shacklebolt as an apprentice already, so that might not be best. Your choice.”

“I don’t mind coming to the training,” she said softly. “I know a few people in the training programme from when I was there. It’ll be nice to see them.”

“Oh, great. You scaring them off training, that’s the last thing we want.” He grinned, then yelped, as he avoided an indignant punch from Araminta. “Alright, alright, I’m sorry!”

 ***

Gideon was relieved to see her bruises were healing later in the week, and also that no more had joined them. He would not have admitted it to anyone, but he was quite concerned about her wellbeing, and had taken to discretely examining the visible bruises before Concealing them in the mornings.

“You busy tomorrow?” he asked her on Friday, as they watched Gawain Robards duel Hestia Jones.

She frowned.

“No; why?”

“The third Saturday in June brings a little extra job for the Auror department,” he said. “The Aurors that work weekends don’t have the numbers for it, so it’s left to us Monday to Friday lot. Little extra money, bit of fun. Fabian, Marly and I have done it for the past four years. They don’t mind trainees being involved so long as there are full Aurors there too. Up for it?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Are you going to tell me what it is?”

“Not until you say yes.” He rocked backwards on his heels and smirked.

She sighed with exasperation.

Fine, I’ll do it,” she said. “Now, what have I let myself in for?”

He grinned.

“Hogwarts breaks up tomorrow. They need us to guard the route from the carriages to the train.”

Just then, Marlene’s panther Patronus bounded into the room and halted in front of Gideon.

“Death Eaters in Diagon Alley.”

***

“Fuck.”

Diagon Alley was, quite literally, on fire. As Gideon and Araminta watched from the archway behind the Leaky Cauldron, flames blew out the windows of the Apothecary. People were still trying to flee the scene, though many were ruthlessly felled by the Death Eaters who swarmed the alley. Among the crowd, Order members and Ministry workers duelled with the Death Eaters.

A green jet narrowly missed his head and his heart leapt into his mouth as he aimed his wand in the direction the spell had come from. Antonin Dolohov was standing there, unmasked, his thin mouth curled into an evil smile. He repeated the spell, but Gideon ducked and shot back four quick Stunners. Unlike his mentor Moody, he was not opposed to using the Killing Curse, but he wouldn’t use it when there were so many people around who could accidentally step into its path.

The Death Eaters, on the other hand, used it freely. They seemed to have no qualms about hitting one of their own, so long as they took down a few of the other side.

Not for nothing were Gideon and Fabian Prewett considered two of the best duellers in both the Ministry and the Order. Within a matter of seconds Gideon had Dolohov almost defeated. Just as Dolohov’s wand slipped from his grip, however, Crispin Travers jumped in to help him. Gideon swore loudly as Dolohov recovered his wand, and he found himself duelling both of them at the same time. For most people this was no mean feat, but Gideon was not most people. He was more than competent at duelling two people at once.

The flames were spreading further into the alley, and Gideon contemplated drawing Dolohov and Travers closer to Gringotts. Death Eaters were many things, but stupid they were not – except, he reasoned with himself, for the likes of the Carrows - they would not risk Gringotts as their own money was also in the vaults beneath. The flames were controlled to stay clear of the bank.

Another Death Eater, Dimitris Rosier, joined in the duel. Gideon’s heart pounded. He could hold his own against two Death Eaters, but three were a bit of a task, especially when two of them were Dolohov and Rosier, two of the earliest Death Eaters.

Therefore, he felt nothing but sheer relief when Sirius jumped into the duel, taking Dolohov for his own and also shooting the odd spell at Travers.

There was a loud bang and the building behind the Death Eaters blew up. They faltered and Gideon took his opportunity.

Avada Kedavra!”

Everyone in the vicinity turned as the green jet struck Rosier in the chest. He fell backwards, his back arched, and his wand flew out of his hand as he hit the ground, dead.

“RETREAT!”

The Death Eaters began to Dispparate away, but Gideon’s eyes were fixed on Rosier’s body.

“You’ll be on little Evan’s blacklist now. You don’t kill his daddy and get away with it.” Sirius brushed his hair out of his eyes. “Nice scalp though.”

Gideon nodded.

“Cheers for the help,” he replied awkwardly.

“No problem.”

Now that the Death Eaters had gone, they could assess the damage done to Diagon Alley. The building that had exploded was one of the many cafes littered along the cobbled street.

“There are enough cafes to get by, nobody will notice the loss of that one.”

“I’ll have you know there was a fit waitress worked there,” Sirius protested. “You might want to help your woman. It looks like Snape got her. She’s bleeding to death over there.”

Gideon turned his head sharply and saw Araminta sitting on the floor, holding her hand to her arm. Her eyes were shut and her face was paler than usual. A pang of horror shot through him as he hurried across and sank to his knees in front of her.

“Araminta?” he said gently. “You okay?”

“Does it look like I’m okay?” she murmured weakly. “Fucking stupid question...”

Gideon had to admit to himself that she was right.

“I live just round the corner. Do you reckon you can walk there?” He didn’t want to risk using Side-Along Apparition when she was already suffering from blood loss.

She nodded and tried to get to her feet. He took her good arm and helped her up, wrapping his arm round her waist to help her walk. After a couple of stumbles, he gave up, and picked her up with ease.

The Leaky Cauldron was full of injured Ministry workers, being tended to by Healers in lime green robes. Gideon swept through the pub and out into Muggle London.

“We’re getting a few strange looks,” he muttered to her, as they rounded the corner.

She simply moaned in response and buried her head into his shoulder.

Gideon kicked open the front door of the block of flats where he lived.

“At times like this, living on the top floor is a bad thing,” he said dryly, starting up the stairs. He began to feel the blood seeping through the sleeve of her robes, and quickened his pace.

He stopped at the top of the last flight of stairs and fumbled awkwardly in his pocket for his wand. He finally managed to pull it out of his pocket, and rapped three times on his door. It unlocked and he strode across the threshold, kicking the door shut behind him.

Araminta was almost unconscious. He laid her down on his sofa and hurried into the kitchen, and took his medical kit down from above the cupboard. All Aurors were expected to have a basic knowledge of Healing, so they could heal minor injuries during or immediately after a raid or other duel. He pulled out the Blood Replenishing Potion as he returned to the sitting room, and knelt down in front of Araminta.

“I need you to drink this,” he told her.

She moaned quietly in response, but did nothing else. He put the bottle to her lips and poured a small amount of the potion into her mouth. After a moment, she spluttered, attempting to push herself into a sitting position.

“Disgusting...” she whined, clutching her hand to her arm.

“Get your arm out of your robes,” Gideon instructed her, taking the bottle of essence of dittany out of the bag, along with some gauze.

Araminta winced and pulled her arm out of her sleeve. He shuddered when he saw the large, gaping cut oozing blood.

Tergeo,” he said, pointing his wand at her arm. The excess blood cleared, and he dripped the essence onto the cut, which hissed. She yelped loudly.

“Sorry,” he said, as he soaked the gauze in the essence. “Here; hold that to your arm. You’ll probably be scarred though.”

She smiled grimly and took the gauze.

“If it’s that or losing my arm, I’ll take the scar.”

He smiled at her and rocked back onto his heels.

“You shouldn’t feel bad about the cut. Snape’s a toughie to duel-”

“I was perfectly fine when it was just Snape. It was when Travers and Mulciber joined in that things got tricky,” she snapped. “How did you know I was duelling Snape?”

“Signature spell,” he replied. “Many a Muggleborn was bloodied up in my Seventh Year; until James and Sirius gave him a good lesson, that is. Casimir Travers, I assume?”

“Wha – yes, but how-”

“I had the other one,” he replied coolly.

The fireplace roared into green flames, and Lily’s head appeared in it.

“Gideon!” she cried, relieved. “Are you okay?” Her eyes fell on Araminta. “Oh...”

“Lily, this is Araminta, my apprentice. Araminta, this is Lily Potter. Lils, what are the rules on having your head stuck in someone else’s fireplace?”

Her hand appeared in the flames as she waved it airily, dismissing his comment.

“It’s fine. You should have let somebody know where you went, Gid, you had us all so worried!”

“Sorry, Lils, but Minty was bleeding to death-”

“Don’t call me that,” Araminta snapped.

He sighed in mock despair.

“I suppose it had to end somewhen,” he lamented. “He turned back to Lily. “How’s everyone else?”

“Oh, just bumps and scrapes,” she said. “You’ve taken Moody in the league table, you’ll be glad to know.”

Gideon grinned. Many years ago, the Order had set up a league with a points system, based on Death Eaters captured or killed. The more senior Death Eaters were worth more points, and captures were generally worth more than deaths. Members were also awarded more points if the circumstances were more challenging. In the midst of despair, the league was one of the few ways the Order got any amusement out of the war.

“Have I taken Fabian as well?” he asked eagerly.

Lily pulled a face.

“’Fraid not,” she said apologetically. “He took down Avery Senior. Got him from behind though; he was one of the ones controlling the flames. So you got more points than him, but you’re still behind him.”

He wrinkled his nose, disgruntled and turned back to Araminta.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” Lily chipped in.

He sighed in exasperation.

Yes, I know what I’m doing,” he replied, not turning to look at her. “Blood Replenishing Potion and essence of dittany. Simple.”

“Are you okay?” she continued.

“Right as rain,” he replied brightly. “No need to worry, Lils.”

She smiled slightly.

“You off to Hogwarts tomorrow?”

“Indeed I am.” He grinned, turning back to the fireplace.

Her smile grew.

“You really enjoy doing that, don’t you?”

“It’s nice to see the kids that were there when I was there. Even if it’s only the Fifth Year and above I’ll know now.”

“Give Arieda our love when you see her,” Lily said softly and smiled knowingly. “I’ve got to go, I can hear Harry crying. See you, Gid. Nice to meet you, Araminta.”

“See you, Lil,” he replied, as her head vanished.

“She’s James Potter’s wife, isn’t she?”

He looked back at Araminta as she spoke.

“That’s her,” he replied. “He’s one lucky man. How’s your arm?”

She pulled the gauze away. The cut had stopped bleeding, but was still open.

“On a bit longer, I think.” He leaned back on his elbows as she replaced the gauze. There was a slight pause, before she spoke.

“How ... how do you do that?”

“Do what?” He cocked his head to the side with curiosity.

“You ... you killed him.” She frowned, chewing on her bottom lip. “I can’t do that.”

Gideon attempted a shrug, but it proved awkward in his current position.

“It’s not easy, taking a life,” he said. “But ... well, it’s all part of the game, isn’t it? It’s all about staying alive, and if that means taking lives, then I’ll do that.”

Araminta sighed.

“I just feel substandard, not being able to do it. Everyone else can-”

“Lily can’t,” he interrupted. “Well, that’s not true; she has killed before, but only twice, and in those cases it was literally kill or be killed. I’ll admit, today I wasn’t in that situation, I had things more than under control, but sometimes ... well, sometimes it’s easier to kill them than to bring them in alive. Especially with Rosier. I could’ve disarmed and bound him, but if I did the Death Eaters wouldn’t have retreated. They’re not as fussed when another Muncher is only captured. A death scares them. They’re afraid they’ll be killed next. They’re wusses. They don’t care about killing other people, but it’s their own lives at risk…well, few of the would be willing to hang around when that’s a real possibility. The Lestranges would, and Rosier junior, and a few others, but most of them run. That was the advantage of killing Rosier. That and he wouldn’t have talked anyway. Easier to just kill him; gets him out of the way for good.”

He paused for a moment.

“Moody doesn’t kill, as a rule,” he continued. “He always likes bringing them in alive. If it were him instead of me, he’d have bound and gagged Rosier. To me, it’s not worth the risk. I want to see them dead, information or no information.”

She frowned.

“That sounds-”

“Savage? Ruthless?”

“No...” She frowned. “You ... It ... It’s like you’re driven by the need to defeat him...”

“I’ve told you, life under Voldemort’s regime isn’t worth living. If he’s not defeated, he’ll take the Ministry before long. And that thought’s so terrifying that I don’t like to even entertain it.”

She sighed.

“I just feel ... with what I’m doing, I should be able to kill...”

“Strictly speaking, an Auror is a Dark wizard catcher, not killer,” Gideon pointed out. “Look, killing is unnatural. I don’t like doing it. It’s only human to dislike it. Death Eaters like killing. Would you want to be comparable to a Death Eater?”

She sighed again.

“I hate this,” she said glumly. “All this hunting people down, and killing...”

“Nobody likes it,” Gideon said soothingly. “But that’s why we have to keep fighting, because the more we fight the more chance we have of ending this.”

She nodded numbly.

“Can ... can you help me?” she said, in barely a whisper.

“Help with what?”

She looked up at him; her eyes locked with his.

“Teach me how to kill someone,” she pleaded. “I can’t do it, and what happens if it’s my only defence; the only way to save me from being killed? Please, help me.”

He felt a pang of sympathy at her desperation.

“I – I can’t,” he replied, in the same quiet tone. “I can teach the theory, but I can’t teach someone how to actually do it. Nobody can.”

He inhaled sharply at the intensity of her gaze . He couldn’t understand the emotion in her eyes, but was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to hold her in his arms and tell her everything would be okay.

“I – I should go.”

She pulled her eyes away from him and struggled to her feet. He leapt up to help her, but she waved him away.

“I’m fine,” she said forcefully. She examined her arm, which had by now almost healed. “Can I Apparate from outside your door?”

“As long as there’s nobody there and you do it silently.”

She nodded, shrugging her arm back into her robes.

“Thank you for the help,” she said shyly, looking down at the floor. “Where shall I meet you tomorrow?”

He frowned, before remembering that she was also going to Hogwarts the next day.

“Here will be fine,” he replied. “Half nine, maybe? We’ll Apparate into Hogsmeade then walk around to the station, just to check nothing is out of the ordinary. Oh, and no need to wear Auror robes. That sound okay?”

She nodded.

“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said softly.

He saw her to the door, and watched as she Disapparated from the corridor outside. Then he shut the door and leaned against it, his head filled with emotion.


Chapter 6: Live and Let Die
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When you were young, and your heart was an open book
You used to say, "Live and let live"
But if this ever-changing world in which we live in, makes you give in and cry
Say live and let die

Live and Let Die  Paul McCartney



Araminta knocked on Gideon’s door, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She looked down at her clothes nervously. She didn’t have much Muggle clothing, but found robes uncomfortable and didn’t want to wear them if nobody else was. Luckily, she’d managed to find a pair of jeans and a top, and for once she was glad that she was used to robes; on a hot day like the one forecast, robes were incredibly uncomfortable, so she would most definitely be comfortable even in jeans.

“Who is it?” Gideon asked from the other side of the door.

She rolled her eyes.

“Merlin,” she replied sarcastically.

“Oh good, I’ve always wanted to meet him,” he said light-heartedly. “We need to come up with a couple of security questions. But I don’t know enough about you to come up with a good question.”

“How about, we prove it’s me first, then decide on a question later?” she suggested, leaning against the wall. “So. You’re an Auror, and you’re pretty good at duelling, but you don’t like the paperwork bit, especially when it comes to Death Eater sightings, which you think are pointless. You think of Marlene McKinnon as your best friend, even though she’s marrying your brother, and I get the impression that you and Sirius Black don’t quite see eye to eye. You have six nephews, and you hope it’s a niece on the way. Also, Lily Potter doesn’t seem to think much of your Healing skills.”

He laughed. “I think that pretty much proves it.”

She heard a chain sliding and a key turning; then the door opened. Gideon was standing inside, dressed in a shirt and jeans.

“Come in for a moment, I’ve not had breakfast yet.”

She stepped past him into the flat, and he shut the door behind her.

“Have a seat.” He gestured towards the kitchen table. “Do you want a drink?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” she replied, sitting down at the table. He sat opposite her, with a plate of toast and a steaming mug. She stared at her hands for a moment, as he ate.

“I wanted to be a dragon breeder when I was younger,” she said finally, looking up at him.

He frowned.

“What?”

She shrugged.

“You wanted a security question.”

He cocked his head.

“A dragon breeder?”

“I like animals,” she said simply. “And I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

“Until now.”

“Until now. Well, seven or so years ago. When my parents died. I changed my outlook on life, I guess.”

She was glad that Gideon didn’t press her any further. He got to his feet, gulping down his drink – she wasn’t sure why, but she suspected he was a coffee person – and put his mug and plate in the sink behind him.

“Ready to go?”

She got to her feet and followed him to the door. He pulled it open and they left the flat.

“We’ll Apparate from here,” he said quietly, using his wand to lock the door. “Do you know where you’re going?”

She shook her head. She’d hardly ever been to Hogsmeade.

“I’ll guide you.”

He held out an arm. She took it and they Disapparated.

They landed on a cobbled street; she stumbled, losing her footing, and grabbed hold of Gideon in order to keep herself upright.

“Steady on.” He grinned, amused.

She rolled her eyes, irritated with him – as she often was, she reflected. She scowled, now annoyed with herself.

The street was eerily quiet.

“It’s not usually as busy as Diagon Alley,” Gideon told her, “but it’s become even quieter as the war’s gotten worse. It was heaving here nine years or so ago, when I first started coming during the school term.”

“Is it a popular place for Hogwarts students?” Never having been to the school herself, she was intrigued.

“Oh, very popular. It was the only time we were allowed to leave the grounds. And there was an extra pull for guys too.” He smirked. “Barmaid who works at the Three Broomsticks is very good looking. I still think I got so, so close to pulling her.”

She raised an eye brow sceptically.

“Yes, because I’m sure she loves underage students.”

“She’s only six or so years older than me. Started working there in my Third Year, the first year I came to Hogsmeade. Her dad’s the landlord, she’ll inherit it when he retires. She’s sitting under a lot of money there.”

“Oh, so that’s where the attraction lies-”

“I told you, she’s good looking-”

“Oh, well that makes things better! You fancy her because she’s pretty, not because she’s rich. Nice to see your moral compass points north.”

He nudged her with his elbow.

“I sense a bit of jealousy.” His smirk grew.

She rolled her eyes.

“Hardly,” she said in a biting tone.

They had reached the edge of the village and she could see the castle ahead of them. The entrance gates were open and Aurors were milling around in front of them. She’d seen the castle before, but it still took her breath away every time she laid eyes on it.

“It’s so beautiful,” she murmured.

Gideon said nothing. He simply nodded in agreement.

They reached the gates. Marlene and Fabian were deep in conversation, off to one side and Sirius was talking to several other Aurors she’d seen before in the corridor at the Ministry, but didn’t know the names of.

Marlene looked up as they arrived.

“Finally!” she said in exasperation. “Take your time, why not! I’m putting you both up by the station.” She grinned at Gideon. “You’re on the boats.”

A large smile spread across his face.

“Off you guys go, then!”

Gideon took Araminta’s elbow and led her away from the gates.

“The station is on the other side of the castle,” he told her, as they set off round the perimeter of the castle grounds. “Most of the students get there by carriages, so some of the guys will be stationed along the route to check everything’s okay.”

“What are we doing, then?”

“There’s a fleet of boats which carries the First Years over the lake at the beginning of the year. It’s a tradition that’s lasted for centuries. At the end of the year, the First Years take the boats back to the platform. Then the boats go back for the Seventh Years.” He grinned again, but this time it looked pensive. “It’s quite moving, really, leaving the castle the same way you arrived all those years before, your last glimpse of it the same as your first...” He paused, and let out a chuckle. “The only thing is, the boats are made for four Firsties. It can be ... interesting ... getting the Seventh Years back across.”

Not for the first time, she felt a slight pang of sorrow that she’d never been to the school.

“Didn’t you ever want to come here?”

It was as though he could read her mind.

She shrugged.

“The choice was never mine. I’d grown up knowing I’d be homeschooled. My mother was, and she felt it was the best thing for me. The only thing I regretted was not being able to meet other people my age like other girls could. Still, I’ve a few family friends my age, so I don’t feel I missed out too much.”

But she knew the words were a lie. If he knew too, he said nothing, for which she was grateful.

A large red steam train was sitting by the platform at Hogsmeade station, waiting for the students. He led her past it, to a steep path through the trees behind the platform.

“We’ll stay at the top,” he told her. “Hagrid – the gamekeeper – will show them up the path. I don’t fancy walking down it.”

She smiled wryly, her eyes on the path that weaved away from them down the steep hillside. She was grateful to stay at the top.

“Do you normally stand here?” she asked.

“Actually, I’ve always been where the carriages stop,” he told her. “Clearly Marlene fancied a change this year.”

She looked back at the platform and saw several carriages approaching it. Seeing what was pulling them, she stiffened.

“You can see them?”

His voice was low, his tone tender.

She nodded and closed her eyes, trying to remove the image of the Thestrals from her head.

“You never told me they pulled them,” she said quietly, once the feeling of nausea had passed.

“You never asked.” He paused. “There used to be a time when nobody could see them; when few people knew the carriages were pulled by anything. They thought they were simply pulled by magic. And now ... it seems as though every other person you come across in the corridors can see them. It really is a horrific time for the wizarding world.”

She nodded sombrely, her eyes still closed.

“Just don’t look at them,” he said gently, placing a comforting hand on her lower back. “They can’t hurt you.”

She nodded again, deliberately turning away from the platform, and opened her eyes.

The sound of enthusiastic chatter alerted them to the arrival of the First Years, who reached the top of the path, deep in friendly chatter. Most of them glanced curiously at Gideon and Araminta as they passed them, save for one girl, tiny, with messy brown hair, who positively flung herself at Gideon and wrapped her arms tightly round his middle.

“Hey, Celine,” he chuckled. “I’ve missed you too.”

“I passed all my exams!” she said enthusiastically. “And Gryffindor won the House Cup! And the Quidditch Cup!”

“Nice to see you’re all keeping up the good work.” He grinned. “We haven’t lost either cup for eleven years, I’ll have you know.”

“Twelve now,” she corrected him. She turned her head and her eyes fell on Araminta.

“Celine, this is Araminta, she works with me,” he said, seeing the direction of her gaze. “Araminta, this is Celine, she’s Marlene’s younger sister.”

“Nice to meet you!” Celine beamed at Araminta, before turning to face the platform, which Araminta still had her back to. “Where is Marly?”

“Over by the carriages.” He waved his hand airily in that general direction.

“I’m gonna go say hi to her. See you later, Gid.”

She hugged him again and dashed off in the direction of the platform. The smile fell from Gideon’s face and was replaced with an expression of pain and anguish.

“Nobody should have to cope with this, let alone a twelve year old,” he said quietly. “She should be having fun, not having to worry every day about whether her sisters will survive to the next, or wondering whether her Muggle-born friends will make it through the summer holidays. And that ... that’s the most heartbreaking thing.”

She turned to follow his gaze, forgetting the Thestrals for a moment, and inhaled sharply in horror at the sight in front of her; Celine was feeding one of the Thestrals an apple and stroking its long nose.

“She can see them...”

“She was nine. She was in Diagon Alley with Marlene and their sister Sandrine – she graduated last year -  when Death Eaters attacked. She was young, but she knew what death was when she saw it.” He paused. “She could see Thestrals before she could turn a match to a needle, before she could levitate a feather. That’s not right.”

“The poor girl...” she breathed, filled with pity for Celine. “But she seems so carefree...”

“She’s twelve, she’s just finished her first year at Hogwarts and is going home; of course she’s happy and bouncy now. But the things she’s seen ... seeing a death is bad enough but when it’s at the hands of your own sister it leaves a scar that no Healing can treat.”

“She saw Marlene...”

“Worse. Sandrine. She was underage at the time; never cast the spell before in her life, but one of her friends was about to be murdered. If anything could motivate somebody to cast that spell, that would be it.”

Araminta chewed on her bottom lip.

“What’s she doing now? Sandrine?”

“Healer training. Before that incident, she was going to train to be an Auror. But after that ... well, it put her off a bit.” He paused, again. “She’s engaged, now. Marries in the autumn. She’d elope this second, as would Marlene, but it’s their parents’ dream to see their daughters have beautiful weddings, so that’s what they’re doing.”

Araminta looked down at the floor, turning away from the Thestrals.

“I ... I don’t think I’d realised just how much this war has affected families,” she said quietly.

He smiled sadly.

“I guess, if you’re more sheltered from it, you don’t notice things like that. You just assume it’s the people fighting who suffer. I don’t think there are many people in the Order who haven’t lost at least one family member due to the war. I suppose the McKinnons are one of the exceptions, and James’s parents died of natural causes, but that’s about it.”

“And what about you?” She looked up at him, curious.

He bit his lip and stared out across the lake.

“My parents,” he said slowly. “Killed shortly after Fabian and I left Hogwarts. At least they lived to see us pass all our exams.” He smiled painfully. “But they never even found out Molly was pregnant with Fred and George, let alone got to see them. All those kids have on the Prewett side is me and Fabian. The McKinnons are practically family, though, so there’s a small consolation.”

She chewed her own lip.

“Were they Aurors, your parents?”

“Dad was. Mum didn’t work. She didn’t need to. They just got caught out one day. It was round about the time Voldemort stepped up his crusade. Before that we all knew something was happening, but we never expected he’d turn on purebloods. Mum and Dad were always outspoken against the Death Eaters, so it was too risky for Voldemort to let them live, I guess.”

More chatter began to filter its way up through the trees, but this time it was mixed with laughter and sobs.

“Here they come.” Gideon grinned.

The students coming towards them were much older than the first years and appeared to know Gideon . Several of the boys nodded or grinned at him and he greeted them in return, while, to Araminta’s disgust, a number of the girls gazed at him with what seemed like adoration.

“This lot were Third Years, my last year,” he informed her, when the stream of people had died down to a trickle. “Good kids. Mostly,” he added, as a couple of boys passing shot him looks of disgust and near hatred. “Ah, here we go...”

He was looking in the direction of a blonde girl, making her way up the path with several others. She raised a hand to wipe her eyes and threw her head back with laughter, probably in response to something one of her friends said. The girl looked up towards them and seemed to notice Gideon. She turned and said something to her friends, then jogged up the path.

“What have I told you about not looking too eager for a boy?” Gideon grinned and raised an eyebrow, as she flung her arms around his neck. He laughed and hugged her back. “Good to see you too, Ari.” He planted a kiss on her head. Araminta scowled.

“I’ve missed you, Gid,” she replied, pulling away and wiping her eyes again. “You said you’d visit, you jerk!”

He raised his hands in protest.

“I said I’d visit if I found the time. Being an Auror is a full-time commitment, I’ll have you know.”

“Yeah, yeah. You were just scared of Scott.”

“No, I was not scared of – okay, I was scared of Scott.” He glanced over the girl’s shoulder at a boy who was standing a few feet away from them, glaring at him menacingly. “But he’s a lot bigger than me, and determined to protect his girlfriend, so-”

“I’ve told you, I’m not his girlfriend.” She rolled her eyes.

“It’s not me you need to tell that, it’s him,” Gideon pointed out. “Anyway, Ari, this is Araminta Gamp, my understudy at the Ministry. Araminta, this is Arieda, a good friend of mine.”

I can see that, Araminta thought dryly. She swallowed down that response, replacing it with a more polite one. “Nice to meet you,” she said stiffly, forcing a smile.

“Gideon’s mentioned you in his letters a lot,” Arieda replied, with a grin. “He was right; you’re very pretty.”

He groaned and threw his head back.

“Stop twisting things I say! Merlin, Ari, you don’t half know how to whip up trouble.” He punched her lightly in the arm. “Anyway, Lily told me to give you her love. I think she expects you to visit in the next couple of days.”

“Then I’ll do that.” Arieda turned back to Gideon. “How you doing?” she asked him cautiously.

“Fine,” he replied, with a shrug of his shoulders.

She sighed. “I can always tell when you’re lying.”

“Arieda!”

The boy behind her was looking irritated.

She rolled her eyes.

“I’ve gotta go, but I’ll see you soon.” She stood up on tiptoes and planted a kiss on Gideon’s cheek.

“You trying to get me killed?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

She grinned.

“You’ll have to come for dinner some time, see my flat,” she said.

“You’re moving in with Sophie, right?” She nodded and he continued. “No way. Have you seen the way she looks at me as though I’m a piece of meat?”

“Well, you are quite a looker,” she reasoned. “She’s not that bad any more, and you know it, now stop being so mean.”

Arieda!”

She sighed with frustration.

“See you later.” She smiled. “Nice meeting you, Araminta!”

She turned to join her friend, who looked extremely annoyed.

“Just a friend?” Araminta asked Gideon who was watching Arieda walk off.

“Huh?” He turned to look at her. “Oh, yeah. Just friends. I’ve known her since she was eight. She’s a great girl.”

Araminta raised an eyebrow and turned back to the path. The last few Seventh Years were reaching the top of it.

“Are we done now, then?” she asked, tapping a foot absent-mindedly on the ground. “That seemed fairly easy.”

“It’s fine when there isn’t any trouble, but if we didn’t do this, then there undoubtedly would be. That the last of you, Jane?” he called out to one of the girls passing them.

“Yeah, we’re the last.” She smiled at him and followed her friends towards the carriages.

“Another admirer?” Araminta asked lightly as they followed the Seventh Years to the platform.

“Sister of a friend,” he replied gruffly, watching as Jane greeted Sirius with a hug and kissed his cheek.

“Who’s the friend?” she asked curiously, as the last of the carriages vanished around the corner.

“Dead,” Gideon replied hollowly.

She winced.

“Sorry,” she said quietly.

“S’okay. Most people I knew from Hogwarts are dead now, anyway.”

The matter-of-fact way he said it sent a shiver up her spine.

Most of the students had boarded the train and the Seventh Years were collecting their luggage from the large pile on the platform or glancing around the platform, as though soaking up their surroundings before they left the school for the last time. Arieda was talking to Marlene, as Fabian lifted a trunk that Araminta presumed to be hers onto the train. Sirius and Jane crossed the platform to join them. Gideon bristled as Arieda greeted Sirius.

“What’s your problem with him?”

The words slipped out before she could stop them.

“What?”

Gideon was frowning as he turned to face her.

“Don’t go pretending nothing’s up between you. Every time he’s either in the vicinity or mentioned you sort of ... stiffen up. And I can tell, you hate that Arieda’s talking to him. So what’s happened? Why do you dislike him so much?”

His frown deepened.

“He’s a bone-headed idiot, that’s what’s wrong with him.” He scowled. “Too big for his boots, too arrogant for words ... thinks he’s superior to everyone else. He may not agree with his family about killing Muggles, but he sure as hell thinks he’s better than them.”

It was her turn to frown.

“He doesn’t seem that bad,” she reasoned. “Granted, he’s an arrogant shit, but I don’t really think it’s because of his family.”

Gideon snorted.

“Trust me. I’ve known him for years. He seems to think he’s entitled to respect just because he’s a Black and that his rejection of the family values should earn him even more respect.”

She chewed on her lip, as she watched Arieda and Jane boarding the train.

“Well, Marlene doesn’t seem to have a problem with him.”

“Marlene likes to give people the benefit of the doubt.” He scowled, as Sirius waved at the girls before turning and walking away. At this, Gideon strolled across the platform towards Marlene and Fabian. Araminta followed him.

Marlene turned as they approached.

“We’re off to the Three Broomsticks for lunch; do you two want to come?” she asked.

Araminta opened her mouth to agree, but Gideon got in before her.

“Who else is going?” he asked.

Marlene sighed with aggravation, but was distracted by the conductor’s whistle. She, Gideon and Fabian turned to the train to wave at Arieda and Celine, both of whom were standing at the door of the carriage.

Well?”

Marlene closed her eyes. She looked irritated.

“I asked Sirius if he wanted to join us,” she said, in a tone which made it clear she would not be revoking this invitation.

“In that case, thank you for the invitation, but I have fresh bread at home that needs eating.”

Gideon made as if to Disapparate, but Marlene grabbed his sleeve before he could vanish.

“Gideon, you are being a complete adolescent. Just grow up! I get what you’ve been through, I really do, but to be so tied up on it still is ridiculous-”

He pulled his arm out of her grip.

“If you think it’s so ridiculous, then I’ll do you a favour by not forcing you to put up with me,” he snarled, before Disapparating with a loud pop.

The three of them stood in silence for a moment. Then Marlene turned to Fabian and opened her mouth.

“Don’t ask,” he said flatly before she could speak. “I have no idea why he’s still like this.”

She frowned.

“I swear to Merlin, you’d better not ever end up like this,” she told him firmly.

He shook his head.

Trust me, I won’t,” he said darkly.

She smiled slightly and turned to Araminta.

“Will you come?” she asked her.

Without Gideon, the only person in the group she really knew, she was less sure.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to intrude...” she began nervously.

“Nonsense! We’d love you to come!”

Fabian nodded in agreement, and she caved in.

“Okay.”

“Brilliant!” Marlene beamed. “Now we just need to round up Sirius-”

“Here.”

He appeared at Fabian’s side.

“You okay?” Marlene asked him.

“Right as rain.” He grinned slightly. “Where’s Gideon?”

She faltered.

“He had to go ... something about fresh bread...”

Sirius’s smile fell and he looked so dejected that Araminta felt a pang of sympathy for him. Whatever had happened between them, Sirius was clearly as keen to try and resolve it as Gideon was to leave well enough alone.

“Sorry, Marls, I-”

“Don’t blame yourself, Sirius, he’s being an idiot.” Marlene’s tone was short. It was clear that she was irritated with her friend. “Anyway, let’s not allow him to put a dampener on things, we haven’t had lunch out in a while, and none of us have had the chance to talk to Araminta much yet. How are things going?” She turned her attention to Araminta as they left the station and headed back towards the village.

Araminta shrugged.

“It’s okay, I suppose...”

“Still think it’s the right career choice?”

She bit her lip.

“Things were ... a bit slow ... until yesterday.”

Fabian nodded in understanding.

“It’s like that in the Auror office. You can go three months with nothing, and then have five raids in a row. The Death Eaters don’t tend to think of us Aurors when they schedule their attacks, funnily enough. How’s it going with Gideon as a mentor?”

“He ... knows his stuff.” Araminta paused again. “But he can be...”

“Difficult?” Marlene laughed hollowly. “He has massive mood swings, has done for a good two years or so now. It’s what the war does to people, when their lives start being pulled to pieces. It’s even had an effect on Sirius here; I haven’t found an Ever-Bashing Boomerang in my in-tray for months now.”

“Stocks are low, Marlene, I have to save them for more worthy victims,” Sirius said.

“Like?”

“The Hit Wizard office. Their secretary drives me nuts – so do half that sub-department, come to think of it. Just a shame I can’t see their reactions. I think it would be a bit too obvious if I were there every time they found one, especially as I’ve got no business there.”

“You weren’t responsible for that Dungbomb in MLE the other month, were you?” Fabian asked curiously.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sirius replied smoothly.

“I’ve heard that one before,” Marlene said, grinning. “Mostly when Louisa was trying to put you and James in detention for blowing up the potatoes in the Great Hall, or something of that kind.”

“I told you, those potatoes were blown up by the Slytherins,” Sirius protested.

“Pray tell me, when does anyone trigger a bowl of potatoes to blow up in their own face?”

“Double bluff? Those snakes were always looking for an excuse to get us in detention.”

“Yes, and they were hardly short of a reason.”

“You’re not sticking up for the Slytherins, are you now, Marlene?” Sirius sounded surprised.

“I can’t think of any group of people more deserving of potatoes in their faces, Sirius,” she said dryly. “But dungbombs in MLE is a slightly different issue, and if you get caught-”

“Innocent until proven guilty. Without proof they can’t find me guilty and what proof is there? None. It’s not like I keep dungbombs about my person. Aside from anything else you find you lose friends very quickly that way.”

Fabian let out a loud laugh, Marlene giggled, and Araminta smiled slightly.

“So, what did you think of Hogwarts, Araminta?” Marlene asked, as they reached the edge of Hogsmeade.

“It looks really nice,” she said slowly.

“You were homeschooled, weren’t you?” Fabian said.

She nodded.

“My parents wanted me close by, and they taught me themselves. I’ve never been as close to the school as I have today.”

“It’s the most amazing place I’ve ever been to,” Marlene gushed. “It felt so homely right from the start. And the grounds are massive, too. It’s a great place, and in such a beautiful location.” She paused. “Do you ever wish you’d gone to Hogwarts?

It was like déjà vu, Araminta thought wryly.

“Never thought about it,” she said, hoping they wouldn’t see she was lying – or that if they did, they’d leave it, as Gideon had. He was learning, she realised, when to leave something alone. She supposed he’d learned that probing didn’t get him anywhere and only led to an argument.

They reached the Three Broomsticks. Fabian held the door open for the other three and followed them inside. Marlene made a beeline for a table in the corner.

“We always sat here when we were students,” Fabian grinned, taking a seat beside her. Araminta sat opposite. Sirius had gone to the bar.

“Ah, Rosmerta’s looking rather stunning, as always,” Fabian continued, glancing across to the bar. Marlene rolled her eyes. “Gid’s missing out, she’s gone for low-cut today. And she’ll smash Sirius’s face into the counter if he doesn’t look up,” he added. “He has no subtlety at all sometimes.”

“Well, it’s hardly as though the male species was created with subtlety in mind,” Marlene commented. “Sirius Black just takes all male traits and exaggerates them beyond belief.”

“But you get on with him?”

Araminta was intrigued to know what Marlene thought of him.

“He’s a good kid,” she said, nodding. “We shared the same common room for six years, and while there were times he and James Potter could drive me round the twist – and did, with glee – most of the time we got on perfectly fine. It was hard not to get on with them at school, unless you signed up to the pureblood supremacy bollocks or you were Lily Evans.” She looked up as Sirius slid into the seat next to Araminta and her hands deftly stopped the tankard he slid across the table to her.

“On the house,” he said, pushing two more towards Araminta and Fabian, who took them. “Did I hear Mrs Potter’s name mentioned in conversation?”

“I was just telling Araminta about how you and Potter were complete nuisances at school, impossible to like...” Marlene had a mischievous grin upon her face.

“Oh, come on, McKinnon, are you telling me that you still believe Lils didn’t like James for all those years?” Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Even I can see it was all a pretence, and I’m hardly the expert at girls and their emotions.”

“Yes, well, dense is also a strong male character trait,” she said, smirking. “All hate aside, she still didn’t get on with you two for a good few years though, did she?”

“Well, I admit, turning her hair blue on the second day of First Year did cause a bit of friction, but nothing that wasn’t easily resolved,” Sirius said breezily. “And now look where we are, they’re happily married and I have a godson. See, I knew what I was doing the whole time.”

Fabian snorted in disagreement.

“Suit yourself.” Sirius shrugged. “But I still maintain it’s where you slipped up, Prewett; your woman would have looked lovely with bright pink locks and you’d have been married years ago.”

“I beg to differ. Pink looks awful with my complexion,” Marlene cut in.

“And I really don’t think demonstrating my excellent use of a colour-changing charm would have sped things up,” Fabian finished.

“How long have you two been together?” Araminta asked curiously.

“Three years or so,” Marlene replied. “Had a fling at school, back around Fifth Year, broke it off, then got back together in Auror training. We’d have eloped last year but Mother likes the big weddings, even in these troubled times.” She shook her head in resignation. “Got her paws all over this one, and Sandrine’s too, by all accounts. That reminds me.” She plunged her hand into her pocket, pulling out an envelope and handing it to Araminta, who frowned, before taking it. “And I won’t accept no for an answer,” she added in a stern voice.

Araminta opened the envelope and saw an invitation to Marlene and Fabian’s wedding, in two Saturdays’ time.

“You’re having it at Hogwarts?” She was surprised.

“There’s nowhere else safe to have it,” Marlene explained, scowling. “See, as I keep telling Mum, if she’d let us elope, it would have been no problem, but Fabian and I live in a small flat with no garden, and Mum and Dad’s house is in the middle of the city too, so we can’t hold a big wedding there, and the only other safe places have Fidelius charms on them, so they’re completely out of the question. Luckily – or not, as the case may be – Dumbledore caved in to Mum. She can be very persuasive when she wants to be.” Her scowl deepened. “Anyway, I expect to see you there. Just Apparate into Hogsmeade and walk up to the gates. They’ll be open.”

Araminta nodded, touched at the invitation.

“I – thank you,” she said, not sure of what else to say.

Marlene waved a hand airily.

“It’s meant to be a celebration, the more the merrier,” she said. “You are coming, Sirius?”

“You think I’d pass up a shindig like this?”

“Shindig?” Marlene raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been learning too much vocabulary from Jane. Or was that a Mary-ism?”

“That one was a Mary,” he replied with a grin. “Anyway, I’ll order our food, shall I?”

***

“What the fuck were you playing at? Why didn’t you tell me what you were doing?” she demands.

“Why should I have?” he hisses.

“You nearly killed me!”

“It missed you, didn’t it?”

“Only just! If I hadn’t ducked, I wouldn’t be here right now!”

“Well let that be a lesson for you,” he snarls. “We need information? Do you have any yet?”

She inhales sharply.

“Not yet-”

“If you don’t get us information soon, you’re as good as dead,” he spits.

He Disapparates with a quiet pop, leaving her breathing sharply, as she asks herself desperately what she should do.


Chapter 7: You've Got a Friend In Me
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When the road looks rough ahead
And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed
Just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you've got a friend in me

You’ve Got a Friend In Me – Randy Newman



Araminta was glad to see Gideon in a better mood on Monday morning. If he’d been anybody else, she’d have said he was back to his normal self, but in the time she’d been with him, Gideon had been moody as often as he’d been cheerful, so she wasn’t sure which was his normal mood. From what Marlene had said on Saturday, however, it sounded as if he hadn’t always been such a grouch, so his current mood was probably a more accurate reflection of his true self. 

Of course, he wasn’t truly cheery. For one thing, it was Monday, a day when nobody could be truly happy. And this Monday marked the start of an office week, which was the part of his job Gideon seemed to dread the most. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were expecting a visit at half past ten – which meant they’d only half an hour to go, Araminta realised, with a shudder – from the Hit Wizard’s Secretary, Ivy. Judging by Sirius comments about the boomerangs, he shared Gideon’s ill-feeling towards her, so at least they probably weren’t just caused by some petty falling out or grudge.

Araminta had to agree with them. Ivy drove her up the wall every time she visited their cubicle – for it was most definitely theirs now, at least for as long as she remained under his tutorage – to the point that she was tempted to find herself in need of a drink at precisely twenty-eight minutes past ten and then stop off somewhere, maybe Fabian’s cubicle, until about thirty-six minutes past. Eight minutes ought to be enough time to rid the cubicle of both Ivy and the depressing atmosphere she brought to it.

Gideon looked at his watch and scowled, realising they had only twenty-seven minutes of peace left. He sighed with aggravation and began to filter through the paperwork he was to give Ivy in return for what he needed from her.

Maybe she wouldn’t need that drink after all. Facing Ivy was definitely a better option than facing Gideon’s fury if she managed to escape her.

After all, it was a Monday.

She looked around the cubicle. The walls were covered with articles related to the Death Eaters and other propaganda. The only exception was a map of the British Isles and even that had various colour-coded pins stuck in it, pointing out locations of importance to the war effort. The South coast was littered with black pins, especially around Dorset. They probably marked Death Eater residences. Red pins, she had come to understand, marked the locations of bigger raids from recent years, yellow pins the minor ones. Blue and green pins were also used. She had considered that one of those might be identifying safe houses, but then disregarded the possibility. If she could see the map, then so could anybody else, which would make it easy for a spy to identify them, leading to a Death Eater attack. She was yet to figure out what they did stand for, but she was working on it. She’d considered asking Gideon, but had decided against it, as she suspected he’d either refuse to answer or laugh at her for her inability to work it out for herself. She certainly didn’t want that.

She had found it surprising that Gideon didn’t have any personal photos in his cubicle, but she hadn’t been in any others, so she didn’t know if it was just him or if it was common with all Aurors. Was it part of an attempt to keep work and private lives apart? Was it an attempt to remain secretive?

Or was it simply a lack of wall space? The cubicles were small; it was a squeeze for her and Gideon to both work in theirs. She had often asked herself why they had been given such small cubicles. These were undoubtedly some of the most important employees of the Ministry, at least in the current climate, and so surely deserved more room than the Quidditch season planners?

Admittedly, she didn’t know how much space other sub-departments throughout the Ministry had, but if they agreed with her thoughts that the Aurors deserved the most space – at least after the Minister and his personal staff on Level One - she dreaded to think what size offices the other departments would have.

She knew that Gideon’s brother-in-law, Arthur Weasley worked in an office not much bigger than a broom cupboard, in the two-man Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. Rather unfairly in Araminta’s opinion, their department was given little attention by the head honchos of the Ministry, despite the fact that their job was fairly important, considering there was a group of people at large who were persecuting Muggles. The Ministry might be fighting against Dark Magic and Muggle-killing, but there seemed to be little actual empathy for Muggles.

Oh, to be a witch.

She sighed pensively, gaining Gideon’s attention. 

“Something wrong?” He frowned.

“Huh?” She turned to look at him, dragging herself out of her thoughts. “Oh ... no. Just thinking.”

“You do that. Don’t worry about me, sorting through all this paperwork. You just sit there and plan your next holiday...”

“Crete, I was thinking.” She smirked slightly.

“Crete? Egypt, now there’s somewhere to go.” He put down his quill and focused his attention on her.

“You been?”

He nodded.

“Once. Few years ago. Completely different type of civilisation there, it’s incredible. The history’s pretty damn interesting too. It’s a shame, our History of Magic teacher at Hogwarts wasn’t up to much. He made the subject seem dire, but I’ve always been interested in that kind of thing. That’s partly why I went to Egypt.”

“Mother loved her history. We’d often just spend the whole day studying history, which obviously interfered with the schedule we were supposed to be following. Father was never happy; it ate into his Transfiguration time. We always planned to go on holiday to Egypt one day, but it never came to be.” She frowned slightly.

“I’ve gotten our Billy interested in Egypt.” He grinned, and she racked her brains to try to remember who ‘our Billy’ was – his oldest nephew, she remembered. “He loves the idea of all these tombs, with all sorts of ancient curses on them. He’s decided that’s what he wants to do when he’s older. I’m not sure Molly’s best pleased with that idea, she’d prefer he pick a ... safer job-”

“Like being an Auror?”

He laughed slightly.

“I think she’d love if all her kids worked in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. I hope they don’t though; it’s a dire place on Level Five. I didn’t say that,” he added, pointing his quill threateningly at her. “They do a very important job, even if I fail to see the appeal in it.” He put his quill down again. “No, MLE is where I like to be. The aspect of law which I’m interested in is enforcing it, not coming to international agreements on it. Cauldron thickness? Give me a break.” He rolled his eyes and looked down at his watch. “Shit. Five minute heads-up.”

She groaned and re-contemplated needing a drink.

“Why is it us she comes to?” she asked.

“She goes to somebody on office duty once or twice a week,” he said. “So sometimes – like this week – I’m one of the people she deals with, other weeks it’s other people. As for how she picks who to deal with in the office, I don’t know. It’s not on a seniority basis, or she’d go to Moody or Scrimgeour before me. Sometimes I think it just depends who she’s in the mood to irritate. Or maybe it’s just a matter of whether she’s looking for eye candy that week.”

“Because it’s naturally you that she’d go to-”

“You trying to tell me you’d rather go for Moody?”

She conceded that he had a point here.

“I don’t get why you always have so much paperwork for each other, though.” 

“We deal with Dark wizards. The Hit Wizards handle criminals. Near enough all the Dark wizards we deal with are criminals – Dark magic is illegal so it’s not unusual for them to be breaking the law. Some criminal activity goes first to the Hit Wizards before they realise it’s Auror stuff, and some activity comes to us which is more their area. So we swap it over once or twice a week. Unfortunately, the Auror Department doesn’t get to have a secretary, so we personally have to deal with – ah, Ivy, how lovely to see you!”

It was easy for Araminta to see through Gideon’s cheerful tone. She suppressed another groan as the subject of last night’s nightmares swept into the cubicle, an over-charming smile on her face and a large stack of parchment in her hands.

“Morning, Gideon!” she said brightly, dumping the parchment down on the desk with a heavy thump. “We’ve got quite a lot for you this week, I’m afraid...”

“No worries, my lovely assistant here can sort through it for me-”

“It’s apprentice, and if you think you’re loading me up with your dirty work, you can think again, Prewett,” Araminta said with a scowl.

Ivy tittered and the scowl deepened. The drink idea really shouldn’t have been placed on the backburner...

Gideon gathered up the relevant paperwork, filling out the last few bits that he hadn’t reached. Ivy didn’t seem to mind the wait; she stood in front of the desk, twisting oddly. Araminta’s eyes widened as she realised what she was doing. She’d craned her neck in an attempt to read the document on top of Gideon’s in-tray. Araminta reached out and slapped her hand across the top of it, to hide it from her view. Ivy turned to look at her and smirked, her expression otherwise unreadable.

“Here you are, Ivy.”

Gideon lifted up a much smaller pile of parchment, holding it out to Ivy, who took it in both arms. 

“Thank you, Gideon!” she said in that same infuriating voice. Her earlier smile returned, replacing the smirk. “Have a nice day!”

“And you...” he said half-heartedly as she turned and swept out of the cubicle. He then slumped in his seat and exhaled loudly. 

And look what she’s brought us...” 

He tailed off and looked at Araminta, who still had her hand on the in-tray. 

“Something wrong?” 

She removed her hand slowly, frowning. 

“How do you know you can trust her?” she asked. 

“How do I know I can trust you?” he shot back. 

“Well, to get into Auror training every candidate has to undergo a rigorous security check which uncovers even the dirtiest of secrets, so if I had anything to hide I wouldn’t be here now,” she replied straight away. “I’m sure the Hit Wizards have a similar procedure, but I can’t imagine becoming a secretary requires such an ordeal...” 

Gideon smirked and cocked his head. 

“Has anyone told you you’d make a good Auror?” he said light-heartedly, as he pulled the stack of parchment towards him. 

“Well, isn’t that a coincidence, seeing as, you know, I am one,” she said, smiling slightly. “What makes you say that, anyway? 

“Suspicion of everyone. And the ability to think quickly on your feet. Or backside,” he added. “Bloody hell...” He had started flicking through the paperwork. 

“You know,” Araminta said, crossing her arms on the desk and leaning forwards, “you told me the other week that I’d make a good Death Eater. Now you say I’ll be a good Auror. Which one, Prewett?” 

He shrugged. 

“Both?” 

He looked up at her and pushed the paperwork to one side. 

“I said you’d be a good Death Eater because of the whole unemotional front you had going on at first-” 

She had to admit she’d been lax – she’d let that drop far too easily. 

“You have the same issue with emotion,” she chipped in. 

He hesitated for a moment. 

“Don’t deny it, half the time you lock everything away, just like Marlene said.” 

He eyed her. It was clear he didn’t like what she’d said. 

“That may be so, but it’s beside the point,” he said. “The point is, whatever your side in this war, if you’re going to fight, you can’t let your emotion cloud your judgement...” He scowled for some reason. “Also, you have to be quick on your feet. You have to be loyal. You have to know what you’re fighting for. It’s just...” He hesitated again. 

“The only difference is that Death Eaters have this whole bigoted, sadistic thing going on,” she finished quietly. 

He sat in silence for a moment, just looking at her. 

“Yeah,” he said eventually. “Yeah, I guess that sums it up.”

***

It isn’t him this time. It’s his brother. She isn’t sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, but resents that her information is still being relayed through messengers. 

“Well?” 

“They’re planning a raid on Malfoy Manor next week,” she says. “Perhaps the Tuesday; perhaps later. They are also close to sniffing you out. It would be wise to move to a different place.” 

He stares at her for a moment, processing her information. 

“That is useful,” he says finally. “Do you have any addresses for us yet?” 

She shakes her head. 

“Sorry. It’s difficult to find out these things-” 

“I know that, but you understand the importance of such information. Time is of the essence.” 

She nods, hearing the urgency in his voice, but appreciating the lack of anger and violence. Whatever the reason for the change, she hopes it will remain that way. 

"You are aware of the Prewett wedding on Saturday week?” 

“We have been informed of this,” he says. “It will be difficult to do anything there. Dumbledore will be present and security tight.” 

“Of course.” 

“You are still unsuspected?” 

“I thought I may have been discovered ... but things have remained calm, and I’m keeping a low profile, so hopefully the suspicion has passed.” 

He nods approvingly. 

“Ensure it stays that way,” he says. “If you are discovered, the Ministry will become more suspicious and look elsewhere ... and we’ve placed others there who we want to remain unsuspected.” 

She says nothing, merely nodding in agreement. 

“Is there anything else?" 

She hesitates. 

“Can you come in future?” 

It spills out unintended. 

He smirks slightly. 

“Having a change of heart, are we?” He chuckles and runs his thumb across her cheek. She suppresses a shiver. “You would do well to keep those feelings at bay, my dear-” 

“That’s not what I mean,” she snaps and pushes his hand away. “It’s just ... you are more understanding-” 

“You have information for us today,” he says, his voice hard. “If I come to see you again and you don’t have information, I may not be so understanding.” His smile returns. “But, of course, I have no doubt that you will have more for me next time. You are one of our best, after all.” 

She shifts from one leg to the other awkwardly, wishing she hadn’t spoken at all. 

“I can tell him you are unhappy, if you like?” 

She shakes her head. 

“It won’t help things.” 

But she suspects he will tell anyway. He’s not one to shy away from an opportunity to cause chaos. 

He takes her hand in his and lifts it to his lips, kissing it. 

“Then I’ll see you soon.” 

He Disapparates silently, and she touches the spot on her skin that his lips touched. At least he shows her the respect she deserves, she thinks to herself. Maybe he will not tell of her discomfort? 

She smiles slightly, and Disapparates. 

***

“Marlene says you’ve been invited to the wedding on Saturday.” 

Araminta turned her gaze from the cobbled street outside the pub window back to Gideon. 

“Yeah, I have,” she replied quietly. 

He cleared his throat. 

“Do you want to meet me beforehand?” he asked her, chewing his lip. “I mean, you’ve not been in the grounds before, and...” 

She cocked her head. 

“I thought you didn’t date?” she said, amused. “Or did Marlene put you up to this?” 

“Of course it’s not a date. I’m best man, and everyone knows that the best man’s date is the chief bridesmaid.” He hesitated and frowned. “That’s Sandy, which might not work.” He shrugged. “Anyway...” He looked sheepish suddenly and raised a hand to the back of his neck. “I was wondering if you could do me a favour?” 

“It depends what this favour is.”

“Well...” He shifted in his chair. “See, Molly’s a bridesmaid. And it’s bad enough having to look after six kids, especially when two of them are Fred and George, when she and Arthur are both there to keep an them. But as she’s a bridesmaid, Arthur’s got to handle them by himself...” 

“I can help look after them, if he wants,” she volunteered, seeing the question hanging in the air, and preferring to offer to help rather than wait for his request. She knew he’d feel he was making her if that were the case, whereas this way she was able to show her willingness to help, because she was willing. She liked children and from what she had heard from Gideon, Fabian and Marlene, his six nephews all sounded charming, even Fred and George. 

“Are you sure?” He still looked nervous. “I mean, I know you haven’t met any of them before, and-” 

“It’s fine, really.” She smiled at him. “I’d love to help.” 

He looked relieved. 

“Molly’s been worrying about it for weeks now,” he said. “She knows what Fred and George are like, but they can’t leave them at home – babysitters aside, Marlene won’t let them. I don’t think she realises what she gets herself into sometimes.” He shook his head and downed his butterbeer. “Another?” 

He gestured to her tankard, which was empty too. 

“You just want an excuse to talk to Rosmerta.” She smiled and handed him her tankard. “Go on then.”

He winked at her, and sauntered off to the bar. 

She shook her head at his antics and turned back to the window. At least he was happier today. The day before, he’d been an absolute nightmare. Tuesday’s planned raid on the Malfoy Manor had been thwarted by the Death Eaters, who had anticipated their arrival, so he’d been absolutely furious. He didn’t trust easily, Araminta had come to realise, so the thought of anyone abusing that trust maddened him. 

At least this was their patrol week and not an office week, she thought. He had needed to get away from things to cool down, and she couldn’t think of a better place to do that than Hogsmeade, where they were stationed for the week. 

Of course, if Moody, or worse, the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement Bartemius Crouch, found out how much time their patrol was spending around the Three Broomsticks, she doubted they’d be best pleased.
 
Gideon sat back down, with two full tankards. She took hers, thanking him and smiling. 

“Know what you’re wearing for the wedding?” he asked. 

“I expect I have something in my wardrobe,” she replied. “You excited about it then? Everyone else seems to be.” 

She was right. There was – or had been, before Tuesday night – an excited buzz about the department, caused entirely by the prospect of the wedding in two days’ time, which the entire corridor would be attending. 

“I can hardly leave anybody out,” Marlene had reasoned the other day when Gideon asked why she’d invited Dawlish, an Auror with whom he seemed to share a mutual dislike. Mind, there were several witches and warlocks he seemed to share similar sentiments with, Araminta thought. 

“I can’t wait until it’s over.” He scowled. 

She frowned. 

“Why? Aren’t you happy for them?” 

“Yes, but I’m sick to the teeth of Marly moaning about everything from the marquee to the napkins.” He rolled his eyes. “And, funnily enough, when you’re feeling rather alone in this world, a wedding isn’t quite the thing you need to cheer you up.” 

She shrugged, as she was used to his moods by now. 

“I’ll be there,” she joked.

“I haven’t quite worked out if that’s a good or a bad thing,” he deadpanned. He smiled at her, and she smiled back. 

Yes, she decided, she definitely liked him better when he was in a cheery mood.


Chapter 8: Everybody Hurts
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When your day is long 
And the night, the night is yours alone 
When you're sure you've had enough of this life 
Well hang on

Everybody Hurts - R.E.M



Hogsmeade was bustling with activity. The Three Broomsticks was full to the brim with wedding guests, who were taking the opportunity to eat out before the wedding ceremony began. The other shops were also open, with guests perusing them to fill the time before the wedding began. Notices in every window told shoppers that the shops would be shut that afternoon – most, if not all of the shopkeepers had been invited to the wedding. People were arriving regularly in the village; as the castle was heavily warded, most were using it as an Apparition point.

Araminta had arrived twenty minutes earlier, and as she had another ten minutes before she was to meet Gideon at the gates, she was using the time to go a spot of window shopping in Gladrags Wizardwear. She wasn’t planning on buying anything. For a start, she’d have to keep it with her throughout the afternoon and evening. She had, however, seen a nice set of blue dress robes that had taken her fancy, so she was planning on visiting the store in Diagon Alley at the next opportunity and buying them there. One could never have too many sets of dress robes, as she reminded herself every time she spent her money on some.

Today, however, she had plumped for a dress – red and knee-length, a number she was particularly fond of – and a matching jacket. She’d chosen a pair of flat shoes over heels, as she generally dressed to be practical. As she walked up the cobbled street towards the Hogwarts gates, she congratulated herself for this wardrobe decision, as several guests in front of her were having difficulties in their shoes.

She snickered, and looked up at the gates, which were just coming into view. Ahead of her, a constant stream of people headed towards the castle and a lone figure stood beside one of the gates, his red hair giving his identity away.

“Well, don’t you look dapper,” she said dryly as she reached him.

Gideon grinned.

“Nice to have a woman younger than fifty tell me that,” he said. “I think they like a younger man.”

She rolled her eyes, choosing not to reply to his comment, as she turned to look at the Hogwarts grounds for the first time.

“It’s so beautiful...”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

She jumped; she hadn’t realised she’d spoken aloud.

“Well, shall we?”

He extended an arm. She rolled her eyes a second time.

“Is this formality really required?” she asked, taking his arm nevertheless.

“My mother would roll in her grave if she thought I wasn’t acting gentlemanly enough,” he said as they joined the throng entering the grounds. “You look nice, by the way. I didn’t realise you owned anything other than black.”

“That’s because you’ve only seen me at work, you jerk.” She scowled. “Just in case you weren’t aware, the dress code is black robes.”

He sighed heavily.

“In one of those moods, are you?”

She didn’t answer, taking in the grounds instead.

Her gaze was, of course, immediately drawn to the castle, which was massive. She’d seen it through the gates and trees two weeks ago, but from inside the grounds, it seemed so much bigger. It was almost daunting.

In the foreground was the large lake, across which the First and Seventh Years had travelled to leave the school. It was in this direction that Gideon was leading her. A large marquee was set up beside the lake, and the trail of people she had followed up the cobbled Hogsmeade street were now making their way across the grounds ahead of her and into it.

“You’re in the front row,” Gideon told her as they entered. “In an ideal world we wouldn’t have the kids at the front, especially Fred and George, but given that we’re pretty short on family members, we’ve not really got another option.”

She winced slightly at his carefree mention of his deceased parents.

“I can’t express how grateful I am to you for agreeing to do this,” he continued. “I sincerely apologise in advance for anything the twins do.”

She smiled slightly.

“I’m sure I’ll manage with them,” she said, as they walked up the aisle to the front, noticing a few familiar faces from the Ministry scattered around the marquee.

“Here we are,” he said as they reached the front row of seats. “Araminta, this is Arthur, my brother-in-law. Arthur, this is Araminta, my apprentice at the Auror office.”

A red-haired, slightly balding, bespectacled man looked up and got to his feet, holding his hand out in greeting.

“It’s nice to meet you, Araminta,” he said.

She took his hand and shook it.

“And you,” she replied with a small smile.

“And this is Percy,” Gideon continued, pointing at the small boy sitting beside Arthur. “Then Bill, with Ron-” An older boy, with a small child on his lap – “then Fred, Charlie and George.” Fred and George were identical, mischievous looking toddlers, while the older Charlie had the misfortune of being placed between them. All the children looked at Araminta, who smiled weakly at them.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the oldest – Bill, she remembered – spoke up.

“You’re sitting on the end, next to George.” Gideon looked at her apologetically. “Anyway, I need to get going; Fabian’s a quivering wreck.”

Araminta smiled slightly at the irony of the usually unflappable Fabian having to be calmed down by Gideon, who was certainly the more emotionally vulnerable of the two.

“I’ll come and rescue you later,” he joked, before turning to leave them.

“I can’t thank you enough for this,” Arthur said, still standing in front of his chair. “We really do appreciate it. It’s not so bad managing all six of them when Molly’s here too, but she really didn’t want to let Marlene down...”

“It’s fine, don’t worry,” she replied, smiling awkwardly.

“Fred and George are the main problem,” he continued. “Bill and Charlie are old enough to know to behave, and Percy is never any trouble. The twins seem to have developed a troublesome streak from somewhere, though. They’re perfectly polite and respectful to adults, they’re not an issue in that respect, they can just be quite mischievous at times. I’ve told them that this isn’t the time or place for it, and I think they appreciate that this is Fabian and Marlene’s big day, but just in case they do start to misbehave, don’t hesitate in telling them to be quiet. I’m sure they’ll listen to you.”

She smiled weakly.

“I hope so,” she said.

He sat down and she crossed the row to sit too. George and Charlie peered up at her inquisitively.

“Are you Uncle Gideon’s girlfriend?” Charlie asked.

She felt her cheeks heat up.

“No, I just work with him,” she replied.

He cocked his head to the side.

“So, you’re an Auror?” he said. “Isn’t that a bit boring?”

“Someone has to do it.” She smiled slightly. “It can be fun, sometimes.”

“Did you always want to be an Auror when you were younger though?” he pressed.

She hesitated.

“No, I didn’t,” she admitted. “I wanted to be a dragon breeder when I was younger.”

“A dragon breeder?”

His eyes widened. Bill, on the other side of Fred, groaned.

“Charlie’s obsessed with animals,” he told her.

“What’s your favourite breed of dragon?” Charlie asked eagerly, as if to back up this statement.

She smiled at his enthusiasm.

“I think the Swedish Short-Snout is the prettiest,” she said. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, presumably at the idea of judging dragons based on what they looked like. “But the Hungarian Horntail is fascinating too.”

He grinned. Clearly her second remark had redeemed her.

“Same here,” he said. “I like the Horntail. Did you know it can shoot flames up to fifty feet?”

Bill sighed.

“Don’t bore her, Charlie,” he said, sounding as though he had adopted the role of ensuring his younger brothers toed the line.

“Don’t worry, I don’t find it boring at all,” she said. “I love animals. What others do you like?” She turned back to Charlie.

“Nifflers,” he said. “I think they’re really cool. And hippogriffs. But mostly dragons.”

Araminta was distracted by a movement in the corner of her eye. She looked up to see Gideon and Fabian stand up at the front of the marquee. Gideon looked across at her and winked; she smiled back, before turning again to his nephews.

“Now, I’ve been told that you two can be trouble,” she said, pointing first at George, then Fred. “You’d better not be trouble today, or I won’t be happy, and you don’t want to make me unhappy.”

They both grinned nervously, clearly unsure of how serious she was. Bill smirked knowingly at her and she winked at him before turning to look over her shoulder at the activity behind her. She was slightly surprised – though on reflection, she wasn’t sure why – to see Sirius sitting in the row behind, with the girl he’d been talking to at Hogwarts on the last day, Jane.

To his right sat a short plump man, with a taller man, who looked prematurely aged beside him. A man with jet-black, messy hair and round glasses and a redheaded woman whom she recognised as Lily Potter sat at the end of the row, a child about Ron’s age on her lap. She assumed that the man with her was therefore James.

Marlene’s arrival, on the arm of a man Araminta guessed was her father, interrupted her musings. Her bridesmaids followed her up the aisle, one a younger blonde woman, so like Marlene that Araminta assumed she must be her sister, Sandrine. Celine and a heavily pregnant red-haired woman who could only have been Molly Weasley were behind her and bringing up the rear, to Araminta’s surprise, was the girl Gideon had been talking to by the lake two weeks ago, Arieda.

Once Marlene had reached Fabian, whose grin was as wide as hers, the small, tufty-haired man who was standing in front of them cleared his throat.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today...”

A movement by the lake caught Araminta’s eye, drawing her attention away from the ceremony. Two figures, one female and one male, were sitting at the lake’s edge. The female seemed to be trying to comfort the male. As she watched, the man got up and turned away from the woman. As he turned his head, Araminta saw it was Sirius. The woman also got to her feet and Araminta recognised her as Jane.

Araminta frowned, wondering what they were talking about, and how they’d managed to leave the marquee without her noticing. After all, she’d seen them sitting behind her not two minutes previously. She hoped that Gideon hadn’t seen that Sirius had left; their relationship was already volatile enough, without Sirius skipping Fabian’s wedding ceremony. She glanced back at the front of the marquee, and was relieved to see that Gideon’s eyes were on his brother and best friend.

As the ceremony came to an end, she peeked back at the lake. Sirius had sunk to his knees on the grass and Jane was sitting next to him, with her arm draped around his shoulders. He raised a hand to his face and wiped his cheeks fiercely. Araminta turned away, feeling rather as though she was prying on a private moment, as her conscience overrode her curiosity.

People were beginning to stand and make their way to Fabian and Marlene to offer their congratulations. Next to her, George jumped to his feet and darted round Charlie to get to Fred. She wondered whether she was still supposed to be minding them, but then Gideon caught her eye and beckoned her to him; she obliged , having to dodge a table that materialised in her path on the way.

“How were the kids?” he asked, when she reached him.

“They were fine, actually,” she said. “Charlie and I had a bit of a chat about dragons...”

He groaned.

“Never start Charlie off on dragons,” he said in a dramatic voice. He grinned, making it clear that he was joking. “You might be able to meet some people today, if we manage to catch them ... ah, Lils!” He reached his arm out and slipped it round the passing Lily Potter’s waist, pulling her to his side. “Remember my glamorous apprentice, Araminta? I believe you've already had the pleasure of meeting, when your head was in my fireplace."

Lily laughed.

“It's the place to be, is your hearth; didn't you know?” She grinned and turned back to Araminta. “It’s very nice to finally meet you in person, Araminta. We’ve heard a lot about you.”

Araminta blinked, unsure of what to say.

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s all nice,” Lily added. “I’ve heard you’re an incredibly good dueller. And Sirius agrees, too – ah, here he is!”

To Araminta’s dismay, Lily pulled him into the conversation. He was looking sullen, evidence of his earlier scene by the lake.

“We were just talking about Araminta’s duelling skill,” Lily said to him. “What do you think, is she better than our master dueller Gideon?”

Araminta wasn’t quite sure what Lily was trying to achieve by involving the two men in the same conversation. She could feel the tension in the air between them.

“Well, she’s not lost her head yet, that’s a start,” Sirius said cuttingly.

“Sirius...” Lily said warningly.

“She’s not fallen for any traps yet, either,” Gideon said in a cool tone, examining his fingernails.

Gideon-”

“Well, at least I don’t-”

“Come on, Sirius, let’s go and congratulate the bride and groom,” Lily interrupted in a loud voice, before taking him by the elbow. “It was nice to meet you, Araminta!”

She dragged Sirius off towards Marlene and Fabian.

Gideon opened his mouth to say something, but Araminta cut across him.

“What the hell is wrong with you two?” she said furiously.

“It’s none of your business-”

“You can’t even have a civilised conversation at a wedding, of course it’s my business!” she said. “You’re making this the business of everyone who has to listen to you arguing, and quite frankly it’s already wearing on me. Whatever it is, you just need to resolve it and move on-”

“Oh, stop talking about things you don’t know about,” he snapped.

She pursed her lips and glared at him.

“Fine,” she said shortly. “You’re obviously in one of those moods again. I’ll leave you to sulk in peace.”

She turned and stormed away, furious with him once again. As she swerved around another table on her way out, she nearly walked into someone.

“Sorry...” she began.

“No worries, it was my fault,” said a deep male voice.

Looking up, she found herself looking into the hazel eyes of James Potter.

“I don’t believe we’ve met. James Potter.”

“Araminta Gamp.”

His eyes widened, but before he could say anything, the baby he was holding to his side let out a nonsensical gabble, prodding his father’s cheek.

“And this is Harry,” James said, gesturing towards the boy.

“How old is he?” she asked.

“Eleven months,” he said promptly. “So, you’re Gideon’s bird, then?”

“I’m not anyone’s ‘bird’, let alone his,” she said shortly, the reference to Gideon stoking her anger.

He grinned, not looking at all guilty.

“How’s it going working with him?” he asked.

She shrugged, her anger dissipating. It was impossible to remain angry in the presence of someone so laid back.

“Okay,” she said. “It depends on what day it is, I guess. Or what side of bed he woke up on. Or what he had for breakfast. Or what robes he’s wearing. Or-”

His grin widened.

“He can have quite the mood swing if he wants to,” he said. His smile faltered. “Bit of a shame, really; he used to be a laugh all the time. He’s not quite the same any more. You never know, maybe a few tiffs with you will sort him out?”

“How do you-”

“Oh, Gid’s told us all about your numerous disagreements.” James’ smile returned.

She frowned, disgruntled.

“We wouldn’t have these ‘disagreements’ if he wasn’t so moody all the time,” she said.

He shrugged.

“He’s struggling. He doesn’t want people to realise - he’s a very proud man - but even he can’t hide it. As much as he wants us to win, he’s losing hope. And the longer this goes on, the more people we lose, the less there is keeping people going. All he has left are his brother and sister, and his refusal to go down without a fight.”

“But you seem fine...”

“I’m not Gideon,” he reminded her. “He’s been through far much more than I have. And I have a beautiful wife and a gorgeous baby boy to cheer me up when things seem bad. Yeah, we’re all hurting. But some of us hurt more than others.” He paused. “Go easy on him. Because I think he’s getting close to breaking point.”

But as James walked away to find his wife, Araminta couldn’t help but wonder whether Gideon had already broken.


***

She found him sitting by the lake; a desolate figure, staring out across the expanse of water. He didn’t move as she sat down beside him, slipping her hand into his in a gesture most unlike her. She squeezed it slightly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have gotten angry. You were right, it’s not my business.”

He didn’t talk for a long time. She wondered whether she should leave him, but just as she was about to get to her feet, he squeezed her hand back.

“You don’t need to apologise,” he said, his gaze still fixed on the lake. “I should be apologising. I’ve been a miserable prat right from the start. I’m dragging you down with me, and I shouldn’t be.”

“It’ll all be okay,” she said quietly, unsure of where the words were coming from. “In the end, it’ll all work out.”

As she spoke, he shook his head.

“But it won’t.”

“Stop telling yourself that. Let yourself believe, if only just for today, that maybe things will get better. Because that’s the only way that they will.”

He laughed hollowly.

“You think I haven’t tried-”

“Then try again,” she said firmly. “For me. Try for me.”

He turned to face her, his eyes, so full of anguish, holding hers in a gaze so deep her breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t bring herself to break the gaze.

And at that point, a fleeting, crazy thought, sprung up in her mind. Perhaps Gideon was reaching breaking point. Perhaps he was already there. But perhaps, just perhaps, she could help him to piece himself back together.


Chapter 9: Russian Roulette
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And you can see my heart beating,
You can see it through my chest,
Said I'm terrified but I'm not leaving,
I know that I must pass this test

Russian Roulette – Rihanna




She shifts nervously in the dark, waiting. The dread is heightened this time, it seems – perhaps because she does not know which brother she is to see. She is still not sure who is better – less outright anger is clearly good, but one’s emotions can be played with in more ways than one, and she’s not sure if the subtler approach suits her or will hurt her more.

A small pop disturbs the quiet, and the tip of a wand presses against her neck.

“It’s me,” she breathes, holding out her wrist.

The wand tip falls.

“You’ll be glad to know that your beloved couldn’t make it again.” It is the softer voice, the one that she has been praying to hear, yet fearing at the same time. “Naturally, I had a hand in that, so your gratitude is expected at this point.”

“I – yes,” she breathes. “Thank you...”

“You realise that I cannot come every time, though?” He pauses. “If he realises that you dread his visits, he will use your fear against him, and I am sure you want that as little as I do.”

The kind sentiments puzzle her, but she does not complain.

“So, do you have anything more?” he presses.

“They have clamped down hard over the past week. They are more suspicious, more alert, as a result of the failure of last week’s raid. I am still safe, they haven’t even considered me as a threat, but it is nigh on impossible to gain much information at the moment.”

His eyes remain on her for a moment, his expression unreadable.

“You realise that others would not take this lack of information well?”

She nods fearfully.

“You are lucky, then, that I am here and not ... someone else. You would do well to find something before your next visit, for I doubt I will be able to ensure it is me, and I am much more tolerant than some others. You understand that?”

She nods again.

“I can only do so much,” he continues.

“I ... I appreciate  your...”

In the moonlight, she can see his lips curl into a slight smile.

“I care about your wellbeing,” he breathes, as he raises a hand to her face. “He underestimates you; he doesn’t see you for who you are, doesn’t see the potential.”

“And you do?”

“My dear, how else would I know that there is something he cannot see?”

She does not look away from his gaze, she cannot.

“Look after yourself, now,” he whispers. “Make sure you have something by the end of the week, for I cannot look after you all the time.”

He presses his lips to hers, then pulls away and Disapparates with a swish of his cloak. She widens her eyes and brings her hand to her lips.

What the hell just happened?

***

At work the following week, Gideon acted as if their conversation beside the lake at the wedding had never happened.  Araminta was relieved to say the least; she wasn’t sure that she was comfortable with how their relationship, which was only supposed to be a work-based one, was progressing. She felt so vulnerable in his company, as though he could see right through her; it was a feeling she’d never had before and one that she wasn’t at all at ease with. She’d been taught to keep her emotions in check at all times, and never to let anyone in – surely it made her weak? But there was something about Gideon that drew her to him, and it was beginning to both scare and frustrate her.

Luckily for her, he seemed to have had the same thought process, and for the first half of the week they’d had little interaction of any sort – though this was possibly aided by the rotation policy that meant that they were both with the Auror trainees this week. Araminta had learned that this was Gideon’s favourite week on the job as it meant an all-too-rare moment away from the battlefield that was the wizarding world, a chance for him to get away from the ongoing war, to forget its existence, and  throw himself into full-on duelling with eager participants – eager until they’d been thoroughly beaten by him, that was.

There was something quite captivating about watching Gideon duel. Araminta had always known that he was a remarkably gifted man with a wand – bits of knowledge like that travelled the wizarding grapevines to reach even the most distant branches – but she hadn’t had the chance to really watch him in action before now, and she relished the opportunity. From her vantage point on the sidelines she was able to observe him closely, to spot his strengths and weaknesses – the latter admittedly few and far between – and to watch him doing something he so clearly loved, with a smile on his face and a liveliness in his eyes that were so rarely seen. She had come to regret those moments when he stopped duelling, when he was forced back into the reality that was the outside world, when the darkness returned to his life.

She was toying with the idea of telling him what she’d observed about his duelling technique. The trouble with the idea was that it would involve interacting with him, something she was doing her best to avoid.

Midway through the week, she bit the bullet and approached him as they broke for lunch.

“Sometimes you leave your left side unguarded, you know.”

 She stopped short of complimenting any of the techniques he was good at.

He frowned and mopped his brow with a towel.

“I know,” he said gruffly. “I’m used to having-” He cut himself off mid-sentence. “I’m used to duelling with someone else,” he finished.

“Well, you should work on it. You can’t always guarantee you’ll have someone else with you-”

“I know,” he repeated angrily, scowling. “You think I haven’t been told this already?”

“There’s no need to get angry with me; I was just trying to help-”

“I’m sorry.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “You’re right, I do. And I know it’s a problem.” He bit his lip and glanced across the room. “Robards got himself tangled up in a right mess just there, didn’t he?” He grinned roguishly. “Nearly had him on the floor after thirty seconds.”

“He didn’t have very good reflexes,” she agreed. Gawain Robards was one of the trainees, and Gideon didn’t seem too fond of him. Quelle surprise. “Are you coming to get food?”

He shook his head and led her out of the training room.

“Na, I’ve got some reports to read through in my cubicle. You don’t need to worry about them, it’s fine. That’s to say, you can come and look at them if you want, but you don’t need to, they’re quite boring-”

“It’s fine.” She hid a smile, amused at his ramblings. “I’ll let you have them to yourself. Sure you don’t want any food?”

“I’ll be fine.” He winked at her. “Nice to know you care though.”

“Oh, shut up.” She rolled her eyes. “It wouldn’t look good for me if my mentor collapsed from a lack of food, would it?”

He grinned.

“Rule number one for staying alive: put yourself first. You seem to be doing well at that one.”

“Well, I’m still standing, aren’t I?” She allowed herself a small smile. “Shall I see you back at the training room, then?”

“It’s a date.” He winked again, before walking off.

She shook her head slightly, still smiling herself, as she headed towards the fireplaces in the Atrium. Half-way down the hall, she spotted a pair of familiar figures, and her smile was replaced by a frown.

“Araminta!” Arieda spotted her and beckoned her over to join her and Sirius. “How are you?”

“I – I’m fine. You?”

“I’m great, thanks! Just finalising my Auror application,” Arieda said.

“I didn’t realise you wanted to be an Auror...”

“Seems like the right thing to do, in the current climate. Sirius was just telling me not to, though. I think he thinks I’m not up for it-”

“Of course I don’t!” Sirius protested. “You’ll be accepted no worries, the Ministry will snap someone like you up in a heartbeat-”

“Nothing to do with your diminishing numbers?” Arieda pulled a wry face.

“Nothing at all to do with that, at all you’re the ideal candidate for an Auror in any conditions – but that’s just why I don’t think you should apply. Aurors don’t exactly have a high life expectancy...”

“Trust me, Sirius, I know that all too well. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do my bit. If anything, it makes me want to play my part even more. I like to think I have a lot to offer.”

“You do, but-”

“But that’s just the way it is, isn’t it?” Arieda smiled sympathetically. “I’ll be fine, Sirius. I’m a big girl, I can look after myself. Besides, the programme is three years, which means I won’t be out doing official Auror stuff for a long time yet, and you never know what can happen in three years.”

 “That doesn’t mean that nothing can happen.”

They shared a knowing look and she sighed loudly.

“You’re beginning to sound like my father, Sirius. What do you think, Araminta?”

Araminta was slightly taken-aback at being included in the conversation.

“I – I think you should do what you want to do,” she said. “I don’t know how good you are at duelling, or how you measure up in terms of the attributes they’re looking for, but if it’s what you want to do, then do it...”

“Even if it involves putting your life on the line?” Sirius interjected.

Araminta looked at him, puzzled.

“Well, you’re in exactly the same profession, aren’t you? Doing the exact same thing? Surely you should understand why someone would want to risk their life in such a way-”

“Yes, but I’ve always known I was going to do this; I mean, look at my family-”

“So, because I’m Muggleborn, which means my family aren’t raving mad Muggle haters, I shouldn’t be willing to put my life on the line?” Arieda cocked her head to the side.

“No, I just...” He sighed with aggravation. “Look, you’ve got one hell of a life ahead of you; I just don’t want to see you waste it, that’s all-”

“I could say the same thing for you, don’t you think? You’re only twenty-one; that’s by no means over the hill. And you’ve got everything going for you, still. Honestly, you and Gideon are both the same. It’s like you think your lives ended two years ago and you’re both sacrificial lambs in this cause but nobody else should be allowed to risk their lives.” Arieda smiled sadly and shook her head slightly. “I appreciate your concern, Sirius, but I’m doing this regardless of what you say. Anyway, I really need to go and get some food. Do you want to go get a bite to eat, Araminta?”

Araminta hesitated. She didn’t really want to say yes. There was something about Arieda that she wasn’t keen on. It puzzled her, as Arieda was by no means annoying or unlikeable ... but there was something there nevertheless that made Araminta unwilling to spend time with her. Still, saying no would probably be too rude.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Marvellous!” Arieda beamed. “I guess you’re heading back to your office, Sirius? I’ll see you later, nice to chat to you.” She kissed his cheek, then turned towards the fireplaces.

For a split second, an odd expression crossed Sirius’ face, but he turned away before Araminta could work it out. She shook her head, and followed Arieda through the nearest fireplace, into Muggle London.

“He worries too much,” the younger girl sighed as Araminta fell into step with her. “They all do, really. In fact, I think Gideon is the only one who truly understands ... which is odd, in a way ... but then, thinking about it I guess it’s not. He knows what it’s like to want something so badly, to be willing to do anything to help achieve that aim...”

“You really want You-Know-Who gone, then?”

“Of course I do. His followers killed my sister, what more motivation does someone need? That’s why Gid’s okay with me applying to be an Auror, even if it is going to reduce my life expectancy drastically. But the others – Fabe especially – think I shouldn’t. They don’t want to lose anyone else. Which is understandable. I mean, they’re already risking their own lives as Aurors. They don’t want anyone else joining those ranks. They’d rather I picked a safer profession. But ... because they’re Aurors, it just makes it sound so ... hypocritical, you know? Like, they’re allowed to die for the cause, but I’m not...”

“I guess it’s just that they care about the people they love.” Araminta gave a slight shrug, feeling a bit awkward that Arieda, someone she’d only met twice, was pouring all this out to her.

“I know, and that’s why I sort of feel guilty ... I mean, I’m putting them all through so much agony by throwing myself onto the flames to join them. It’s like playing Russian roulette, isn’t it, becoming an Auror in these times?”

Araminta was completely clueless as to what Arieda meant, but said nothing, letting her continue.

“I won’t deny that the thought of risking my life does scare me; of course it does, doesn’t it scare everyone? But at the same time, I have to do this. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I just sat back and let others, like Gid, and Fabe and Marlene, put themselves in danger every damned day without a second thought.” She clenched her fists. “Sometimes I feel like they forget that I’m not that seven-year-old girl any more. I mean, I’m eighteen! I’m old enough to do what I want to do. More to the point, I’m old enough to make the same decisions that they made at this age.” She paused. “It’s almost worse coming from Sirius. That really makes me feel guilty. I mean, Gideon, Fabian and Marlene all think they have to be older siblings to me. In some ways they are – but even then, it doesn’t mean that they have to try to run my life for me. Sirius ... he says it all as a friend. And that makes it harder to hear, in a way ... it’s like he means it. Not that the others don’t, but ... it makes me feel more guilty, having to tell him that I’m willing to risk my life like this.” Another pause. “But maybe they’re right? I mean, they’ve all been through so much already. Maybe it’s not fair to have them worrying about me as well as everybody else? Maybe I’m just being selfish-”

“I really don’t think that applying to become an Auror can be termed as a selfish act,” Araminta said, a wry smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I think you should just ignore what they say. They obviously care about your wellbeing, but you could be killed at any time regardless of what profession you choose. I mean – you could get caught up in a riot purely unintentionally, or even something less war-related than that. Nothing is certain in life, as they say.”

Arieda nodded, gazing down.

“You’re right.” She looked up at her companion. “I’m sorry, I’ve just totally poured out all my woes to you. I didn’t mean to, it’s just, I needed to get it off my chest, you know, and-”

“It’s fine.” Araminta shrugged. “I can see why you’d be annoyed. I’d hate to be told not to do what I wanted to.”

“Were your parents and friends cool with you becoming an Auror?”

“My parents died when I was fifteen, and I didn’t really have many friends, I was homeschooled...”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Arieda sounded slightly sheepish.

“It’s okay, you weren’t to know,” Araminta said dully.

They fell silent. Araminta wasn’t sure where they were headed, or even if they were headed anywhere. She herself hadn’t been too fussed about eating, despite what she’d said to Gideon earlier; she’d just wanted to get out. It seemed that Arieda had had the same feeling.

“So, how are things, working with Gideon?” Arieda asked a few minutes later.

“So-so. Depends on what mood he’s in. If he’s in a good mood, he’s nice enough, but if not, he’s a nightmare.”

Arieda sighed.

“He’s been like that for the best part of two years now. He just can’t bring himself to move on, you know? I mean, it was heartbreaking, of course; I understand that better than anyone ... but, the rest of us have managed, and he just ... well, hasn’t.”

Araminta frowned.

“Moved on from what?”

“Louisa’s death, of course.”

“Who?”

Arieda stopped in her tracks. Araminta walked on a couple of steps before realising, grinding to a halt and turning back to face her.

“You mean, he’s not told you?” Arieda looked thunderstruck.

“Not told me about who?”

With Arieda’s next words, it was as though the ground vanished from beneath Araminta’s feet; as though an ice cold hand had seized her heart and squeezed tight.

“My sister ... his wife.”


Chapter 10: Frozen
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You're so consumed with how much you get
You waste your time with hate and regret
You're broken
When your heart's not open
Frozen – Madonna



It only took Gideon ten minutes at most to flick through the reports in his office. Once he was finished, he headed back to the training room. He found his cubicle claustrophobic, and tended to avoid spending time there when he could.

The training room was otherwise empty when he reached it. He decided to do some duelling practice on the Wall, which – as the name suggested – was a wall one could bounce spells off, so as to practice duelling without requiring company. Most people stuck to less harmful spells, so as to avoid Stunning themselves or worse, but Gideon relished the added risk, and used a wide array of hexes and curses..

After a few minutes, a movement out of the corner of his eye attracted his attention. He dodged to avoid his rebounding full Body Bind, which headed towards the door. Araminta yelped and ducked. The curse shot over her head into the corridor and crashed into the stone wall opposite.

“That was a close shave-” Gideon tailed off, the smile vanishing from his face, as he noticed how angry she looked. What had he done this time?

“Who’s Louisa?” she demanded.

His blood ran cold.

“I – what?”

“You heard me perfectly fine.” She crossed her arms and glared at him. “And you’re going to tell me who Louisa is, and just why you’d omitted all mention of her before now.”

He closed his eyes in resignation.

“Not now,” he said. “Not here.”

“I don’t give a damn where, Gideon, but you’re going to bloody well tell me now, or so help me, I’ll go back to Arieda and get her to continue her story.”

“Arieda told you about her?” he growled.

“Arieda assumed you’d already told me about her poor deceased sister. Imagine her shock when she found out that I wasn’t even aware that she’d had a sister, let alone that you were married to her!”

“Yes, well, it’s not something I like talking about, funnily enough-”

That won’t get you out of it, Prewett.”

He sighed with aggravation.

“Look, I’ll tell you, okay? Just ... not here. Later, after work, we’ll go back to mine, and I’ll tell you-”

“Alternatively we go back to yours now and you tell me. Actually, there’s no ‘alternatively’ about it; that’s what we’re going to do. It doesn’t bother me whether you get there consciously or not; you’re going to tell me everything I need to know right now-”

“Fine!” he snapped.

Crossing the room, he grabbed her wrist in a vice-like grip, and dragged her towards the atrium, ignoring her yelping protests. He led her to the fireplaces and pushed her none-too-gently towards the nearest one. She glared at him and rubbed her wrist, but stepped into the fireplace. He followed her, finding her waiting for him in the public toilets used by the Ministry. He took her wrist again and Disapparated, hearing her yelp as he vanished.

They materialised in his flat, where she yanked her wrist out of his grip.

“No need to be so rough,” she spat.

“And there’s no need for you to be so rude and impatient! What need was there for me to tell you about Louisa, anyway? She’s dead; she’s irrelevant to you-”

“Hardly, if you’re moping around like this all the time because of her!” She gestured towards him. “And don’t you go telling me it’s not because of her; Arieda told me that it was, and it’s blatantly obvious now that she was right. So, what the hell is it about her that’s got you so miserable still?”

“You mean I need more reason than purely losing the love of my life?”

“You’re acting as though she died two weeks ago, not two years ago. Now stop protesting and just tell me what happened.”

He sighed again and fell back into the overstuffed sofa behind him. Now he’d stopped yelling, all his memories of Louisa came flooding back into the forefront of his mind, memories that he’d tried so hard to keep at bay...

“She was Fabian’s best friend at school,” he said dully, staring at his hands. “Marly and I, we were always inseparable, even before Hogwarts ... but, once we’d gotten there, and met Wheeza, she and Fabian became just as close. I was always loud and boisterous at school; Marlene was the same, whereas Fabian and Wheeza were quieter types. We never really gave her the time of day, until our Fourth Year when she hexed a Slytherin who’d been bullying a Hufflepuff First Year. And at that moment, I fell in love with the girl.”

He closed his eyes and rested his forehead in his palms, savouring the memories now, letting himself fall into them...

“We married straight out of school. It was a quiet affair, nothing fussy. We applied to become Aurors together. And we just made the perfect double act. During Auror training, I was the better dueller, but she was far superior when it came to the paperwork side of things; I’m terrible at it, and always relied on her to help me through. We duelled well together, and were always paired together during missions. People say that you shouldn’t mix your personal life with your working life, but we just ... we worked. That’s why I have a weak left side when I’m duelling by myself. For years, she was always there, right by my side ... and then she was gone...”

He could see her now, on their wedding day, as vivid as though it were happening right in front of him. That golden-blonde hair, those warm brown eyes, that dress...

He opened his eyes and shook his head, trying to force her image out of his mind, to bring himself back to reality, and continue the story.

“I was the year above Sirius at school. We always got on well, though. He was dating a girl in his year, called Mary. Mary MacDonald. Once they’d graduated, they were paired with Louisa and me on missions. It was the ideal grouping ... at least for a year.”

He drew in a shuddering breath, as the memories of that day started gushing into his mind, replacing those of happier times.

“It was the seventh of July, nineteen-seventy-nine. Over two years ago now. I can still remember it as though it were only yesterday. We ... we were sent to Hogsmeade. The Death Eaters were raiding the village. We split up; Wheeza and Mary went one way, Sirius and I the other.”

He squeezed his eyes shut again, twisting his fingers round his robes. The events of that day had already replayed in his mind too many times and now, they ran again. He watched his actions, trying to stop himself as he always did... but of course, he couldn’t, he never could, and he was forced to watch the trainwreck unfold before him once more...

“It was a trap. A set up. I fell for it. Sirius told me they were trying to lure us, but I didn’t listen, I went forwards anyway...”

He stifled a sob.

“Sirius nearly died. I only just managed to save him. We got out alive, then went to find the girls.”

He buried his head in his hands, gripping his hair in his fingers, as though physical pain would help ease the emotional pain, though he knew all too well that it never worked.

“We were too late. They’d ... they’d...”

A sob escaped from him and he squeezed his fingers tighter in desperate frustration.

“I relive it all the time. If only, if only I hadn’t been so damn proud, if only I’d listened to Sirius when he’d told me it was a trap...”

He swallowed.

“He blames me for Mary’s death. And how could he not? If we’d have gotten to them sooner, we could have saved them. I could have saved them...”

He tailed off, knowing that if he said any more he would dissolve into tears. He had cried too many of those in the past two years.

He felt the cushion sink ever so slightly, and sensed Araminta’s presence next to him. He felt a hand settle awkwardly on his shoulder.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she said quietly. “The Death Eaters’ traps are hard to spot, easy to fall for. You shouldn’t beat yourself up over it, or you’ll never move on, and you have to, you need to move on...” Her voice grew stronger, louder. “That’s why you’re so messed up all of the time. You can’t move on, because you won’t let yourself. Marlene was right; you’re either full of emotion or a completely empty shell. You’re trying not to get close with anyone, because you’re afraid you’ll lose more people you love, so you’re trying to be emotionless, but at the same time you still love Louisa, and you’re still so ridden with guilt and sorrow-”

“Since when do you care?”

He raised his head sharply and glared at her through bloodshot eyes.

“Why should you give a fuck? More to the point, how do you think you can even begin to understand someone else’s emotion when you’re emotionless yourself-”

“Nobody can truly be emotionless, Gideon,” she replied quietly. “I think you of all people should know that.”

He bit his lip and glanced down at his lap.

“You don’t understand,” he said, in nothing more than a whisper. “She was my everything. She was the reason I woke in the mornings, the reason I came home at night, the reason I fought. She made this war bearable. Without her, I have nothing, and it’s just getting worse.”

“How can you say you have nothing? You have Fabian, and Marlene, and-”

“Have you ever been in love, Araminta?” He looked back up at her.

She shook her head.

He got to his feet, running his hands through his hair once more.

“Then you couldn’t possibly understand.” He paced in front of the sofa. “Every time I see Fabian and Marlene, I’m reminded of what Louisa and I had. James and Lily remind me of what we could have had, what we would have had. And Sirius reminds me of what I’ve done, the pain I’ve caused both of us, and the hatred he now feels for me because I all but killed his girlfriend.” He stopped in his tracks, and his eyes bore into Araminta’s, so different from Louisa’s, so ice cold. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to live like this? To have to go through it all every day, knowing that there’s a slim chance I’ll even come out of this war alive, and that even if I do, the life ahead of me is nothing without Louisa. You can’t even begin to understand how all that feels.”

Araminta stood up herself, reached out and took his hands in hers. He let her, not in the mood to argue or be angry with her any longer.

“Why won’t you talk to anyone about this?” she asked him. “Why do you let yourself struggle with it?”

“I don’t want to burden anyone else.”

 He looked away again; she raised a hand and turned his face back towards her.

“You told me,” she observed.

He frowned.

“I never meant to. You made me tell you. I don’t want to trouble anyone ... it’s not as though people are short of things to worry about...” He hesitated. “There’s ... there’s something about you ... it’s just so easy for me to get sucked in, to find myself telling you things, even though my head’s saying no...” He tailed off, confused.

They fell into silence. Oddly for them, for the situation, it wasn’t an awkward one.

“You need to forgive yourself,” she said eventually, her voice quiet. “The way I see it, you’re currently your own worst enemy; you can’t move on from her until you forgive yourself, and you need to move on.”

His eyes welled with tears; he blinked them away furiously.

“Why do I need to? It’s not like I have anything to live for-”

“Yes, you do. Your friends, your family, they need you, regardless of what you say. And besides, you’ll feel better for it. At the moment, you’re in a vicious cycle. Your guilt over her death won’t let you move on, and because you can’t come to terms with her death, you’re reminded of  it all the time, and it makes you feel more guilty, which makes you mourn her more...”

It was as though she could see into his soul. It unnerved him how well she seemed to understand.

He removed his hands from hers and turned his back on her.

“Why? He demanded of the mantelpiece. “Why should I have to move on?”

“Because as long as you’re alive, you have to actually live. It’s not just about surviving, you know. Otherwise, you’re just stuck in a miserable existence...”

“You seem to know all too well about that.”

“This conversation is about you, not me,” she said shortly, letting him know that she was done with being sympathetic. “Well, I’ve said my piece. And for the record, I think Arieda is much more of a credit to Louisa’s memory than you are. At least she’s still living. You moping around like this ... it’s a disgrace to her memory.”

He span round angrily, but was met only with a quiet pop, and thin air.

***

Her heart fills with trepidation as she sees who awaits her this time.

“Miss me?”

She tries to hide her disappointment at the harsh voice, and the fists that accompany it.

“Got me anything yet?”

She draws a breath in sharply, dreading his reaction.

“They ... they are holding their cards close to their chests...”

“I don’t care,” he hisses, his spittle landing on her cheeks. “Your job is to scout out the information we want, no matter how closely guarded it is. You’re meant to be good at this, so start proving it.”

“I told you-”

“I know what you told me. I’ve told you already, I don’t accept failure.”

She realises, with a sinking heart, that she has no other option.

“What do you have?” he growls.

“I have ... the address...”

“What is it?”

She tells him.

He lets out a cold laugh.

“You have finally proved your worth. Next time,” he hisses, “don’t hold back information.”

He Disapparates.

She sinks to the floor where she remains for several minutes, as tears escape from her closed eyes.

A faint pop reaches her ears and her heart contracts with fear. A figure crouches over her, lays a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry.”

Her heart jumps at the soft tone.

“If I’d known how bad he would be, I would have come with him...”

He trails off, and settles himself against the wall. He reaches out and pulls her head into his lap, stroking her hair comfortingly. She squeezes her eyes tight shut, and cries.


Chapter 11: Too Much Love Will Kill You
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A/N: Just a warning that this chapter tackles more serious, sensitive issues than those previously.

Too much love will kill you
If you can't make up your mind
Torn between a lover and the love you leave behind
Too Much Love Will Kill You - Queen



Gideon was abruptly woken early on Saturday morning by Marlene.

“What is it?” he asked groggily.

“Get out of bed, quick!” She tugged the covers off him.

He rolled over and looked at the time on his watch.

“Marls, it’s half two...”

“You think Voldemort gives a damn what time he kills someone?” She pulled at his arm. “Come on!”

At the mention of Voldemort, he snapped into action.

“Who’s getting killed?” he asked sharply.

You, if you don’t get up! He’s found out your address, he could be here at any moment, come on!”

What?” He jumped out of bed and grabbed some clothes. “Since when? How do you know?”

“Dorcas got a message from Dumbledore a couple of minutes ago. It said we had to get you out and to be prepared for them to turn up while we’re here.” She started packing up his belongings. “We need to go straight to Headquarters. Dumbledore’s finding you somewhere else to stay as we speak.”

Once dressed, Gideon took up his wand and helped her pack the rest of his belongings up into the trunks she had procured.

“What about the furniture? My bed, and-”

“Not important, now come on!”

She chivvied him into the living room. Fabian, Sirius, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew and Emmeline Vance were all gathered there, and seemed to have packed everything apart from the large furniture.

“We’re taking a Portkey,” Emmeline said, gesturing towards the large book that sat on the table in front of them. “Can everyone reach it? Make sure you’ve all got a hold of everything.”

Gideon edged forwards and planted a finger on the spine of the book; that would be enough. His other hand gripped his trunk tightly. At either side of him, Marlene and Remus each had a firm palm on the book.

“Ready?” Emmeline said. “Okay, let’s go.”

She tapped the book three times with her wand. It activated immediately, emitting a blue glow. Gideon braced himself for the unpleasant experience of travelling by Portkey. He wasn’t at all fond of this mode of transportation.

They landed in the hallway of the large house in Godric’s Hollow. As usual, Gideon landed on his rear end. Marlene, who had seemingly been blessed with magnificent balance, laughed as she helped him to his feet.

“Your sympathy overwhelms me.” He pulled a face.

“Oh, shush. You need more practice, Gid!”

She followed Fabian into the kitchen, and Gideon followed her, leaving his trunk in the hall with the rest of his things. It was only now that the situation began to dawn on him; Voldemort had found out where he lived. He’d had to leave his home. He’d not been there long, admittedly, and the place hardly held any fond memories, but even so it was an unsettling thought, especially as he had nowhere else to go.

Arieda was already in the kitchen, ladling out soup from a large saucepan into bowls. She placed one of them in front of him as he sat down.

“Thanks, Ari,” he said feebly, attempting a smile.

“Did you get out okay?” she asked concernedly.

“We had to leave the bigger things,” Marlene said. “I’m loath to go back for them; the Death Eaters could turn up at any time. But we’ve got all of the important things, at least.”

“The question is, how did You-Know-Who find out where he lived?”

Emmeline asked the question that nobody else had wanted to say out loud.

Gideon glanced around the table, at his fellow Order members. He knew the Order suspected a traitor and that that was one way Voldemort could have found out where he lived , but he didn’t want to believe that any of the people sitting eating soup with him could possibly have turned him in...

“That’s not important right now,” Marlene said quietly. “What is important is that Gideon got out safety. Now, we just need to hope that Dumbledore can find him somewhere else and make it safe.”

“Is he doing that now?” Arieda asked.

Marlene nodded.

“Moody and Dorcas are helping him.”

The conversation soon swung round to Fabian and Marlene’s wedding. Gideon ate his soup quietly and didn’t join in. Once he’d finished, he took the bowl to the sink to wash it. Arieda joined him there.

“Can I have a word?” she asked quietly.

He followed her out of the kitchen, and across the hall into the empty living room. He shut the door behind them as she sat down gingerly in one of the armchairs.

“How – how did things go with Araminta?” She sounded nervous.

He shrugged and a scowl crossed his face at the thought of her.

“I’m sorry,” she said hurriedly. “I didn’t mean to tell her – I mean, I thought she already knew about Wheeza. I thought you’d have told her-”

“Why would I have told her?” he said shortly.

“Because it’s clearly still playing on your mind!” She sighed with irritation. “I knew you were struggling to deal with it all, but I didn’t realise it was this bad...” She reached out and took his hand in hers. “Gid, we all miss her, we really do. But she wouldn’t want you to mope around like this, you know that, don’t you? Imagine if the tables were turned? Would you want her to just give up, if it was you who had died?”

He didn’t answer, knowing that it would only prove her right.

“You’d want her to carry on living her life, to carry on fighting,” Arieda continued. “That’s what I’m trying to do, what Fabe and Marly are trying to do, and it’s what you need to do too-”

“But it’s easier for you guys than it is for me!” Gideon said in frustration. “Fabian and Marlene, they have each other, and you ... you’ve been at Hogwarts, with your mates, you’ve been sheltered from it-”

“I’d hardly say that,” she said sharply. “I may not have been fighting with you guys, but I’ve still been well aware of everything that’s been going on, I’ve still had to worry about you guys, risking your lives all the time ... I wouldn’t say it’s been an easy ride. But the fact remains, I’ve not let Louisa’s death completely derail me in the way that you have-”

“You weren’t there, Ari,” he choked out, blinking away the tears that welled in his eyes. “You didn’t have to see her body, didn’t have to hear them crow about it, you don’t have to play it back in your head all the time, don’t have to deal with the guilt-”

“Don’t be daft, it wasn’t your fault.” She reached out to take his other hand.  “Nobody blames you, you know. She knew she was risking her life; she considered it to be worth the risk. She was willing to lay down her life if it meant that there was a chance of Voldemort being defeated, a chance to end this discrimination against Muggle-borns... she was willing to lay her life down for you, Gideon. And at the moment you’re not really paying her memory much respect...”

“Araminta said that,” Gideon frowned, staring at the floor.

“Did she?” Arieda sounded surprised. “That sounds very ... in-depth...”

“She comes out with surprising stuff sometimes,” he said wryly. “It’s just ... it’s easy for you to say all this, but it’s a lot harder for me to just do it, you know? It doesn’t change the fact that she’s dead, and at the moment there’s not much to be happy about...”

“Well, then, maybe we’ll  have to find things to be happy about?” She reached up and tilted his chin up so she could look into his eyes. “You know you can always come to me if you need to talk about something. Always.”

“I’m not sure your boyfriend would like that...” he began, pulling a face.

“Oh, stop it, he’s not my boyfriend and you know it!” She swatted at his arm light-heartedly.

“I don’t think he knows-”

His ribbing was interrupted by loud voices from next door. Heading back to the kitchen, they found Dorcas Meadowes seated at the table and Moody hovering in the doorway.

“Ah, Prewett!” Moody said gruffly as Gideon and Arieda joined them. “We’ve found you another place. Not too far from where you were before. We’ve put all the wards in place, so it should be safe for you to move all your things there. We can take you now-”

“We can go in the morning,” Dorcas interrupted in her quiet, measured voice. “Right now, we should all get some sleep. Besides, Gideon can hardly sleep on the floor, can he? There are rooms upstairs we can crash in.”

“Very well.” Moody nodded. “Well, I’ll be off then. Thanks for the help, Meadowes. Good to see you’re okay, Prewett.” And with that, he was gone with a quiet pop.

“Always one for socialising, is Mad-Eye.” Dorcas shook her head slightly. “Good soup, Arieda. Hope we’ve signed you up as the full-time chef.”

Arieda took the comment in the humorous way in which it was intended.

“Part-time chef, part-time hostess. I made a few beds up earlier, if anyone is planning on staying here...”

“I’ll take you up on that offer. Means I’m here in the morning. Thanks very much.”

“No problem.” Arieda smiled, and glanced round the room at the others – Marlene, Fabian and Sirius. Remus and Peter had clearly already left. “Will you guys be staying?”

All three made noises of assent.

“I’ll head up now, actually,” Marlene said. “See you all in the morning. Coming, Fabe?”

He nodded and followed his wife out of the kitchen. She ruffled Gideon’s hair fondly as she passed him, and Fabian shot him a wink – their way of saying they were glad he was still alive.

“First floor, on the left!” Arieda called out after them.

“Thanks!” Marlene replied.

Gideon stayed in the kitchen a while longer, but when Dorcas departed for bed he decided to follow, not wanting to stay downstairs with Sirius – even if Arieda was there, and shooting a pleading glance at him as he said goodnight.

Lying in bed, he could hear Arieda and Sirius’ murmured voices from the kitchen below. He sighed to himself, hating that she got on with the younger man so well, hating that the Death Eaters had managed to drive such a wedge between him and Sirius, hating that they’d allowed them to do so. But, no matter how much Marlene, or Arieda, or even Lily, begged, he couldn’t give in; he couldn’t swallow his pride and approach Sirius to try to resolve their issue. Too much had happened since then and it was no longer as simple as it might have been. Besides, Sirius clearly loathed him for what he had done, and that wasn’t likely to change. Perhaps it was all best left alone...

Those unpleasant thoughts about tragic moments past kept him awake, long after the voices had ceased and the lights had all gone off outside his door.

***

He is so angry that he doesn’t summon her to their usual meeting place. Instead, he turns up at her house, Apparating inside instead of affording her respect by knocking at the front door. But then, when has he ever shown her respect?

“Who did you tell?” he growls. “Which bastard did you tell?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about...” she says.

“Yes you do!” he spits in her face. “Who did you tell about the address, you little wench?”

“I ... didn’t tell anyone...”

“I don’t believe you,” he growls.

“Prove it,” she hisses.

He glares at her, curling his lip. She knows that with no proof to hand, he cannot pin the blame on her.

But he doesn’t need proof to use his fists – or, more importantly, to cause a different type of pain.

Even after he has left, leaving her broken and bruised once more, she does not let a single tear fall. She refuses to let him make her cry again.

***

Marlene slunk into Gideon’s cubicle on Tuesday morning, before Araminta arrived.

“They raided your old place last night, apparently,” she murmured. “It seems as though they ... took your absence badly.”

“What do you mean?” He frowned.

She placed her hands on the edge of his desk to steady herself.

“It’s horrible,” she said, disgusted, “really horrible...”

“What happened, Marlene?” he said urgently. His stomach contracted.

“They ... you know the family who lived next to you? That Muggle family?”

“The couple with two young boys? They always bring me a slice of cake or a bit of whatever it is they’ve baked. Well, I guess they won’t any more...”

“No,” she said, “no, they won’t...”

Gideon hoped against hope that the conclusion he’d come to was wrong.

“Oh Merlin-”

“I wish I could say that it was quick, and that they didn’t suffer...”

He felt as though his breakfast was about to come back up.

“Don’t,” he interrupted. “I ... don’t say it...”

“I’m so sorry...”

She reached out and squeezed his hand lightly. As she turned to leave, he looked up and saw Araminta standing behind her, looking horrified. She’d clearly heard most or all of the conversation.

“Morning, Araminta,” Marlene said flatly, attempting a smile, before she left for her own cubicle.

“How old were the boys?” Araminta asked quietly, as she sat down in her chair.

“Two and four,” he said dully. He lowered his head into his hand and looked down at his desk.

“That ... that’s awful...”

 “And it’s my fault.”

“No, it isn’t-”

“If I hadn’t been their neighbour, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said fiercely, snapping his head up to glare at her, as though she’d caused the damage. “It’s because of me that they’re ... they’re...”

He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.

“You really have a blame syndrome, don’t you?” she said quietly. “You need to stop thinking that everything is your fault.”

He opened his mouth to respond, but the sight of a bruise on her neck, which even the high neck of her clothing couldn’t hide, distracted him.

“What happened?” he said sharply.

“I – what?” Apparently unconsciously, her hand found the bruise. “Oh – nothing, just Auror stuff-”

“I don’t believe you,” he challenged her.

“Well, that’s your problem, not mine-”

“It’s your problem if you won’t tell me what’s going on!” he demanded in a low voice, reaching over to take her hand in his. “Look, if someone’s hurting you, you have to let me know. I don’t want to see you being hurt-”

“You can’t help,” she said curtly, tugging her hand away.

“So there is someone.” He sat back in his chair triumphantly.

“And how do you jump to that conclusion, pray tell?”

“Because otherwise, you wouldn’t tell me that I can’t help.”

She held his gaze for a few moments, before looking down, her face impassive.

“We’re not talking about this-”

“Until lunch time,” he finished.

She opened her mouth to argue, but closed it again, seeming to give in.

She said nothing else all morning, getting through the paperwork that had become her responsibility in silence. She didn’t even react when the Hit Wizard Secretary, Ivy, paid them a visit. Ivy herself seemed quieter than normal, but then again, the whole department seemed sombre today, after the horrific news of what had happened overnight to his Muggle neighbours.

The moment that lunchtime ticked around, Gideon rose to his feet and set down his quill. Araminta continued writing. She seemed to be trying to ignore him.

“We can go somewhere more private if you want,” he said quietly, “but we are having this conversation-”

“There’s no conversation to have,” she said in a dull tone.

“So help me, Gamp, I will remove you from this bloody cubicle by force if I have to, but you are going to come with me and you are going to give me some answers-”

“I can’t!” she said firmly. Her eyes were still firmly glued to her parchment, though she had stopped writing.

He reached down and removed the quill from her grasp, throwing it down on the desk, and grabbed her wrist; she hissed and drew it away from his touch.

“Fine,” she said furiously, standing up abruptly. “We’ll have this confrontation somewhere else, because I sure as hell don’t want to cause a scene, but you still won’t bloody well get anywhere.”

She stormed out of the cubicle ahead of him. He sighed furiously, before following her through the corridors of Level Two to the lifts. They made their way to the Atrium in silence; there were too many people there for him to say anything, and she was remaining firmly tight-lipped. He nearly lost her in the crowd in the Atrium as she headed to the fireplaces, but just managed to catch a glimpse of her as one of them whisked her away. He followed her into it, to find her waiting for him at the other end.

“Where are we going this time, O Nosy One?” She scowled and held out her arm.

He didn’t respond. Instead, he took her arm and Disapparated.

As he’d planned, they Apparated into the living room of his new flat. She blinked, looking surprised.

“For a start, I’m not nosy, I’m concerned-”

“And yet, when I pressed you for answers last week, you were adamant that I had no business poking my nose in where it clearly wasn’t wanted. Hypocrite much-”

“But you got your bloody answers, and now I want mine-”

“And you can’t have them!” she screamed at him, breathing heavily.

The outburst took him slightly by surprise, and he did not reply. She glanced at her surroundings.

“New place?”

“Stupid question.”

“I was just making an observation-”

“Trying to change the topic of conversation, more like, and it won’t work.” He stepped closer to her. She responded by taking a few hurried steps backwards. “Look, I assure you, I’m not being nosy. I’m just worried. For weeks now, almost since the moment you started working with me, I’ve had to Conceal these bruises you turn up at work with, and I’ve not prodded until now-”

She let out a hollow laugh.

“Well, not that much. But the point is you can’t keep it a secret. Someone’s doing this to you, and you can’t just continue letting them do it. You can tell me; I promise I won’t do anything if you don’t want me to, but I just want to help. I don’t want to see you hurt...”

She shook her head, her eyes welling up with tears. He advanced again, and this time she retreated until her back was pressed against the wall behind her. She let out an odd squeaking noise.

“I can’t.” Her voice was nothing more than a whisper.

“But why? Please, Araminta, all I want to do is to help you. Look, if you’re worried about your safety then I can protect you, I promise, but you have to trust me...”

A stray tear ran down her cheek. He raised a hand to her face and stroked it away gently with his thumb. She shuddered slightly at the contact, a reaction which only served to fuel him further.

“Please, let me help you...”

“I can’t tell you,” she breathed, squeezing her eyes tight shut. This caused several tears to escape, leaving tracks down her cheeks. He wiped them away softly and brought his other hand up to cup her face. She inhaled sharply, her eyes still closed.

Please...”

His face was mere inches from hers. He could see the tears clinging to her eyelashes, feel her soft breath on his face. Before he knew what he was doing, his brain several steps behind his actions, he tipped her head up, closed the gap fully, and his lips found hers.

She let out a quiet noise of surprise, before responding, kissing him back, raising a shaking hand to his shoulder, the other then joining it round his neck, pulling him closer; he stepped towards her, pressing her against the wall, his hands falling from her face, finding her waist-

She broke away suddenly, her hands finding his shoulders again, this time to push him away; he stumbled backwards in surprise. She was breathing heavily and she looked frantic.  Her hands gripped her hair and more tears spilled over her eyelids-

“I can’t,” she said once more, her voice shaking. “I can’t, I can’t-”

He tried to approach her again, hoping to calm her down.

“Don’t touch me!” she said shrilly. She tried to back away from him, but found the wall once more. “Don’t ... just don’t...”

She took a couple of deep, calming breaths, before she Disapparated with a loud POP.

He stared at the spot where she had stood just moments before, his hand subconsciously finding his mouth. Then his legs finally gave out and he fell into the armchair behind him.

“Merlin’s beard,” he muttered to himself, once he had regained the capacity to speak. He closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands, trying to rid himself of the image of Araminta looking so distressed, so tortured...

But that image was replaced by the image of him kissing her, of her kissing him back – except in his head the scene continued; she pulled him closer, running her hands through his hair, and his lips left hers, finding her neck, his hand brushed a blonde tendril away...

Blonde.

Louisa.

He sat bolt upright, and stared again at the spot where he and Araminta had kissed moments before.

“Fuck.”


Chapter 12: Congratulations
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My words they don't come out right
But I’ll try to say I’m happy for you
Congratulations – Blue October



Gideon was disappointed, but not surprised, when Araminta didn’t return to work for the rest of the week after their encounter. Trying to avoid resolving an emotional confrontation seemed to be a habit of hers.

Not that he hadn’t adopted a similar ploy, he grudgingly admitted to himself.

The following Monday, Moody called him into his office.

“Gamp’s asked to work with your brother this week,” he told him.

Gideon blinked in surprise.

“Oh,” was all he could say.

“Prewett, do you and Gamp have a problem with each other?”

“Not at all,” he replied hurriedly.

“Because if you do, then this can become a permanent arrangement. This kind of tension is hardly conducive to a good working environment in our department.” Moody looked at him pointedly, and he knew that the statement wasn’t only referring to his working relationship with Araminta but also to his and Sirius’.

“There’s no problem at all, sir,” he said smoothly.

Moody eyed him beadily.

“Very well,” he said eventually and nodded. “Off you go, then. You’re on Diagon Alley this week. And that doesn’t mean sampling the ale in the Leaky Cauldron all day,” he added warningly.

Gideon grinned sheepishly and left the office.

On the way back to his cubicle, he nearly walked straight into someone.

“Oh, sorry-” he began, before he realised that it was Araminta.

She ducked her head and tried to pass by quickly.

“Wait.” He reached out to hold her arm loosely. “You’re avoiding me.”

She pursed her lips.

“Don’t be daft-”

“If you’re not ignoring me, then why did you take three and a half days off work, and why are you now working with Fabian?”

“Because I’m fed up of your questions-”

“So you are avoiding me.”

“Do you ever take a hint?”

“I’m just concerned, can’t you see that-”

“Well I don’t want your concern! I’m fine-”

“You’re doing a funny impression of it,” he snarled.

“And you’re doing a funny impression of being concerned right now.”

“Well, excuse me for being frustrated with the lack of answers I’m getting!”

“I don’t have to answer to you, Prewett-”

“When I’m your mentor, it’s my job to know if something’s troubling you.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit,” she snapped. “It’s not your business-”

“It is when I’ve just had a bollocking from Moody about my working relationships!” he interrupted.

“You think I haven’t had the same one?”

“I’m glad to hear that, seeing as right now it’s you who’s causing the problem, not me-”

“As I’ve said,” she replied in a bored tone, “if you weren’t so damn nosy in the first place, there wouldn’t be a problem-”

“Oh, don’t be so childish,” he snapped.

She glared at him coldly.

“How dare you call me childish,” she hissed. “You have no idea what I’ve gone through-”

“Because you won’t tell me,” he said dully.

“Because it’s not your business,” she replied just as dully.

“But it is,” he insisted, but his voice was gentler now. Subconsciously, he brought his free hand up to her other arm. “Something, or someone, is hurting you, and it’s obviously affecting you, and I want to help you! As ... as a friend. But I can’t help you unless you tell me what the problem is.”

“I-” She faltered. “I can’t,” she said finally, her tone resigned. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.”

She pulled away from his grip and walked away, leaving him feeling just as frustrated as before.

***

Araminta enjoyed spending the week with Fabian. It was remarkable just how different to his twin he was. He was much less prone to sulking and his conversation was usually more light-hearted. Araminta was glad to join in with this. Aside from anything else, it helped her take her mind off ... things.

He had naturally inquired into the situation between her and Gideon, but she’d shot him down so ferociously that he had hurriedly backtracked, and hadn’t dared to go near the topic since.

Mid-week, Marlene appeared in the training room shortly before lunch.

“Lunch at the Leaky?” she said to Fabian.

“Sounds good,” he said, pocketing his wand. He had just well and truly thrashed Robards in a duel, and Araminta was struggling to decide which brother was the better dueller. “Fancy coming, Minty?”

She ignored the nickname, which he had insisted on calling her by all week. The truth was that she’d didn’t really mind it when it came from somebody who didn’t appear to be trying to wind her up.

“I wouldn’t want to intrude...” she said slowly.

 “Don’t be daft, of course you wouldn’t be intruding. We want you to come. Arieda and Gideon are coming too...” Marlene tailed off, clearly realising that she faced an uphill battle if she wanted to get Araminta and Gideon in the same establishment.

“No Shacklebolt?” Fabian interjected.

“Na, he’s got some date or something.” Marlene shrugged. “Clearly we cramp his style. So, you will come, won’t you, Araminta?”

She hesitated. On the one hand, she was touched that they seemed to want her there so much, but on the other, she couldn’t help but wonder if Marlene was doing this deliberately, to try to get her and Gideon in the same place.

“Did you ask anyone else?” Fabian asked, taking the heat off her for a moment.

“Well, I asked Sirius, but you know what he’s like when Gid is involved...” Marlene sighed with aggravation. “Anyway, you’re both coming and that’s that.”

With that, she left.

“She loves to organise people, does that woman,” Fabian said fondly. “Don’t you worry, Minty. If my dolt of a brother bugs you, I’ll tell him off.” He grinned, an infectious grin which she couldn’t help but mirror.

All the same, she seized the opportunity to talk to Sirius when they passed in the corridor at the start of their lunch break.

“Are you coming to the pub for lunch?” she asked him. She ignored the pang of guilt in her stomach – she knew how much of a part Sirius had played in Gideon’s mental torture, so trying to use Sirius to avoid him felt like a betrayal.

“Gideon won’t go if I go.” He sounded slightly morose.

That was exactly what she’d been hoping for.

“That’s not your fault.” She shrugged.

He shook his head.

“They’re his family. He deserves to spend his time with them. I hope you have a good time, though.”

With that, he walked off.

***

Araminta wondered if Fabian had warned Gideon not to try and talk to her. Or maybe he’d come to that decision himself. She wasn’t too fussed either way; she was just glad that for once she was being left in peace.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last for long. While Gideon and Fabian were chatting with the barman and Marlene was talking to a few people on the other side of the pub, Arieda seized her chance to pry.

“What’s going on with you and Gideon?” she asked curiously.

Araminta frowned.

“How do you mean?”

Arieda raised an eyebrow.

“You can’t play the ignorant card. I could cut the tension between you with a knife! He keeps shooting you worried looks, and you are trying your best to not look at him. And I saw you two chatting at the beginning of the week. Something’s going on with you both.”

“He’s just being a nosy little-”

“Watch what you say; idiot or not, he’s still my mate, and I won’t have you insulting him in front of me.”

“But you can call him an idiot?”

“Like I say, he’s my mate. I sincerely doubt you consider him one of yours, or you wouldn’t treat him like you do.”

Araminta’s blood boiled.

“What do you mean-”

“You know what I mean,” Arieda said sharply. “You gave him hell over the whole Louisa thing. I’ll concede that he should have told you about her in the first place, but still, it’s a sore topic, and he’s been through a lot-”

“He’s not the only one!” Araminta said loudly. “And it would be nice if people would stop acting as though he’s the only person who’s allowed to suffer-”

“We don’t.” Arieda’s voice grew quieter. “But people deal with things in different ways, and that’s the key here. You forget that when Gideon lost a wife, I lost a sister. Of course I don’t think he’s the only person suffering in this war. But he’s horrendous at dealing with loss and guilt. So it doesn’t really help when you’re so blunt with him, especially when you’re punishing him for being concerned about you.”

Hearing it put like that increased the guilt Araminta felt, but she refused to show it.

“I really don’t see why you’ve the right to tell me how I should react to him poking his nose in my business,” she said coldly. Before she could stop herself, she blurted out the question that had been on her mind. “You’re not in love with him, are you?”

Arieda snorted and rolled her eyes.

“In love with the sister’s husband, oh, how clichéd.” She sounded disgusted. “Of course I’m not, but he’s a damn good mate and I’m sure as hell not going to have you hurt him.”

Araminta was suitably abashed.

“I – I’m sorry,” she said, trying her hardest to ignore how relieved that response made her. “It’s just ... you do seem to care for him a lot ...  more than Marlene does, and she’s meant to be his best friend...”

A dark look flashed across Arieda’s face. It didn’t suit her.

“Yes, well, Marlene clearly has better things to worry about right now,” she said bitterly. “Like her precious husband.”

The realisation hit Araminta like a sledgehammer.

“Merlin’s beard,” she breathed. “You’re in love with Fabian, aren’t you?”

Arieda’s expression was a mixture of embarrassment, fury and sorrow.

“In love with the sister’s best mate; less romantic than the husband but a damn sight more acceptable,” she said softly. “Or at least, it was until Marlene asked me to be a bridesmaid. It should have been Louisa. Marlene was chief bridesmaid at her wedding. But obviously, she couldn’t do it, so Marlene asked me ... and I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t let him down. So, I had to endure it, pretend I was happy for them, that I wanted this for them...” She rested her forehead in the heels of her hands and stared down at the table. “And it was hell,” she finished, her tone as bitter as before, which sounded so wrong from her.

Araminta licked her lips nervously, unsure of what to say.

“Does ... does he know?”

“Of course not,” she snapped. She raised her head sharply to look at her companion. “Nobody knows. Except for you, now. Not even my best friend knows. And that’s how it’s staying,” she added warningly.

“Of – of course.” Araminta was slightly startled. “I won’t tell a soul.”

“Good,” Arieda said firmly. Her expression softened and she smiled faintly. “We’re a right pair, aren’t we?” She shook her head and clasped both hands round her tankard of butterbeer.

Araminta felt a pang of sorrow for her. At first, she’d seemed so carefree, so innocent ... and yet, it turned out she had just as many inner demons as everyone else in the end.

***

She flinches as he Apparates into her flat. But this time, he does not look angry. Instead, he has a sadistic smile on his face.

“I’ve got a little treat for you,” he says. He grips her arm firmly and pulls her to her feet. “Come on. You’ll enjoy this.”

He draws his wand and she flinches again, but when he waves it, it doesn’t inflict the pain she expects. Instead, she feels the sudden weight of the black robes on her shoulders, and a mask materialises across her face. He draws her hood up. His smirk is still present.

“We’d better not keep them waiting,” he says, as his hand finds her arm again.

She twists as he does, her eyes squeezed tightly shut in anticipation of the uncomfortable sensation of Apparating. Once they reach their destination, she opens her eyes gingerly.

“You’ll need your wand,” he says, raising his own mask to his face, and drawing his own hood up.

Her intestines feel like they are tied in knots as she stares at the scene before her. The house, so similar to those either side of it – aside from the screams being emitted from it, and the green skull floating ominously above it.

“Hurry up, or we’ll miss all the fun,” he barks and pushes her towards the house. She stumbles forwards, but rights herself, then marches determinedly towards the door. She refuses to let him push her around in such a manner.

The screams grow louder as she enters the house. Two robed figures stand in the hall, taking guard. She walks past them, heading for the source of the screams, and grinds to a halt in the doorway of the living room as the scene comes into view.

The main screaming is coming from the youngest girl, who is being subjected to the excruciating pain of the Cruciatus Curse supplied by its best exponent. Her parents plead, begging for mercy; but Bellatrix Lestrange does not do mercy, and does not relent.

“Oh, shut up,” Casimir Travers snarls from the doorway.

She is pushed aside roughly as her tormentor aims his wand at the father.

Avada Kedavra!” he spits.

The green jet hits the father square in the chest.

“NO!” screams the mother, as the middle daughter lets out an ear-splitting scream.

Bellatrix lifts the curse on the youngest daughter, whose cries still continue, and spins to face Travers.

“I was enjoying that!” she fumes.

“We don’t have all night; the Order will be here before long,” he snaps in return.

Bellatrix’s lip curls.

“Very well,” she says. “Karkaroff, Crispin, do your business. But – wait.” A smirk crosses her face. “Save the eldest girl. I have plans for her.”

The youngest girl first; then the middle daughter; then the mother, all three are felled by green jets, cast in a callously carefree manner.

The eldest daughter stands defiantly. She has remained silent throughout. Bellatrix grabs her by the hair and drags her across the room, towards the doorway, then forces her to her knees.

Travers lets out a cruel laugh, as he realises Bellatrix’s plan.

You can have this one, my dear,” Bellatrix says venomously. “I’m sure you’ll take great pleasure in it.”

Her heart sinks, as her eyes fall to meet those of their last remaining prisoner, which show sorrow, anger, pride – but not defeat. Because, she knows, Marlene McKinnon will not allow herself to be defeated, not even in her last moments.

“They’re coming!” a voice barks from outside. A warning. They begin to Disapparate, but Travers takes a firm hold of her arm, preventing her from escaping her duty.

“Do it,” Bellatrix hisses, still forcing Marlene’s neck back.

“What’s this,” Marlene says faintly, in a slightly jeering tone. “A Death Eater who can’t kill? Don’t you have the bottle?”

“Shut it, wench!” Bellatrix barks. She yanks Marlene’s head back further. “For Salazar’s sake, woman, do it, before the Order get here!”

Her hand shaking, she raises her wand and aims it at Marlene’s heart. The words are there, on the tip of her tongue, but she cannot say them, she cannot do it...

Travers’ grip tightens painfully.

“Do it, or you will face the consequences,” he hisses in her ear.

She closes her eyes. She cannot bear the thought of him hurting her again...

And yet, as she opens her eyes again, she still cannot cast the curse. Her hand trembles; in her head she begs, pleads, for someone to save her from this nightmare-

They burst into the room. Gideon Prewett first, followed by Fabian. Their wands are drawn, their mouths open to cast their curses.

Avada Kedavra!”

Marlene slumps to the ground, felled by Travers’ curse.

Fabian lets out an anguished cry, and turns his wand on his wife’s killer.

She takes her opportunity and wrenches her arm from Travers’ grasp. She Disapparates away from the scene, away from the pain which she has just seen.

But the tortured faces of Gideon and Fabian Prewett remain imprinted in her mind for hours, and not even sleep will let her escape her nightmares.


Chapter 13: Numb
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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




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.

“Oh, Marlene...”

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.

“Gamp!”

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.

“Twenty-two.”

“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.

She shrugged.

“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?”

She nodded.

“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.”


Chapter 14: Need You Now
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And I wonder if I ever cross your mind
For me it happens all the time

Need You Now – Lady Antebellum



He felt numb.

It had happened again. Of course it had happened again. He had such luck, it seemed.

At first he’d been angry. Fuming. That anger had soon turned into grief, followed by guilt, and now this horrendous feeling of nothing. Of emptiness.

It had been his fault. He knew that much. If he hadn’t argued with Marlene that day, she wouldn’t have gone to visit her parents, and she’d still be here now. Instead, their last conversation had been the most horrendous argument...

All because of Araminta. Araminta, and her infuriating air of secrecy, and the way she seemed so blissfully oblivious to the affect she had on him. Thanks to her, he’d argued with his best friend, and once again been the cause of someone’s death.

He felt a surge of hatred at the thought of her. Hatred that she still refused to tell him anything. Hatred that she’d kissed him back but was now doing all she could to avoid him. Hatred that she hadn’t come to see him yet. She knew where he lived, she knew Marlene had been his best friend; why was she not here?

But mostly, he hated himself, and the fact that despite all he’d been through since Louisa had died, that no matter how much he’d tried not to let himself fall further down that slippery slope, no matter how emotionless he tried to be, it was when Araminta was around that he felt most alive.

***

Unsurprisingly, both Gideon and Fabian’s cubicles were still empty on Tuesday. Araminta winced as she passed Marlene’s, its emptiness serving as a ringing reminder of the McKinnons’ demise.

She walked straight past Sirius’s cubicle, resisting the temptation to so much as glance in to see if he was there. She refused to let anything or anyone distract her from her destination. And as much as she was dreading this, as much as she craved sympathy and support, she knew she had to do this by herself.

Besides, she doubted Sirius’ presence would provide much comfort, if any. After all, he barely knew her, he had no reason to even try to understand her.

And he wasn’t Gideon.

She walked right up the corridor to Moody’s office and knocked softly on the door.

“Enter!”

He looked up from his desk as she opened the door.

“Gamp!” he barked. “Thought you were working with Black this week?” He frowned, and looked at her more closely. “You alright?”

“I’m fine, sir,” she replied, smiling weakly. She crossed the room to the desk, took her wand out of her pocket and placed it on the desk, the handle facing him. He looked at her quizzically. “I was hoping to speak to Professor Dumbledore, sir, and I was wondering if you could arrange a meeting with him for me this afternoon? I don’t know any way of getting in touch with him other than owl, and that’s both slow and risky...”

He frowned.

“Anything you have to say to Dumbledore, you can say to me.”

“I-” She hesitated. “It’s about the McKinnons, sir-”

“In which case you can definitely tell me.” His expression hardened. “Gamp, do you know something?”

“I...” She faltered again. “I have to speak to Professor Dumbledore, sir. It concerns...”

She looked around the office, but wasn’t satisfied. She took a slip of parchment and a quill from the desk and wrote four words on the parchment in minute writing, then slid it across the desk for him to read.

Order of the Phoenix.

His eyes widened as he read what she’d written. He picked up his wand and set fire to the parchment. Then he vanished the ashes it created. He got to his feet and grabbed his cloak.

“He is only approachable by Floo through a safe connection, or by one’s presence at the gates,” he said quietly. He pulled his cloak over his shoulders and picked up her wand and slid it into his cloak pocket. “In these times, I no longer trust my own fireplace. That means a trip to Hogsmeade. Come with me.”

He led her down the corridor, back past the empty cubicles. He barked at Scrimgeour, his second-in-command, to take charge of the department while he was out. He whisked her to the Atrium as quickly as possible, refusing to allow either of them to engage in conversation with anybody else. When they reached the fireplaces, he turned to face her.

“I know of few other witches or wizards who would sacrifice their wand as you did,” he told her quietly. “It suggests to me that I can trust you – and let me tell you now, Gamp, there are very few people I trust these days. I hope that trust is not misplaced.”

“I assure you, sir, it is not,” she replied calmly. Her eyes met his – to look away would suggest she were hiding something.

He nodded sharply.

“Wait for me just outside. Do not go anywhere.”

She nodded back at him, and stepped into one of the fireplaces.

He was quick behind her, and took her arm none-too-gently in his.

 “I’m taking you Side-Along, to make sure you actually get there,” he hissed.

He tightened his grip on her arm and spun on the spot; she allowed herself to spin with him, as they Disapparated, landing at the top of Hogsmeade High Street.

She had to hand it to Moody, she thought, as he pushed her forwards, forcing her to walk in front of him; despite the fact that he had her wand, that she had been the one to give it to him willingly, he still refused to allow her to Apparate by herself, or walk beside or behind him. She supposed that was why he was still alive, though. After all, he had surely beaten the average life expectancy for an Auror by at least twenty years.

They reached the gates to the school, and Moody pulled his own wand out of his cloak and shot a Patronus through the gates. It was too fast for her to identify its form.

After a few minutes, a tall, lumbering figure she vaguely recognised from the wedding as being that of the gamekeeper, Hagrid, approached the gates.

“Professor Dumbledore says ter go straight ter his office, sir, says there’s no password at the moment,” he told Moody as he opened the gates.

“Thank you, Hagrid,” Moody replied brusquely, pushing Araminta through the gates.

The walk through the grounds to the castle was a silent one, which she didn’t mind; she liked having the chance to admire the grounds. The main door swung open for them as they reached it. She craned her neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the Great Hall as they passed it, but Moody refused to slow up, so she turned her focus back to the marble staircase in front of them.

She had no idea where she was going, and so allowed Moody to steer her, along corridors and up flights of stairs, until they came to a gargoyle. It jumped to the side as they approached it, and the wall behind split into two, revealing a moving spiral staircase. She stepped onto it before Moody could nudge her forwards. He stepped on behind her, and it took them up to a door with a griffin-shaped knocker on it. The door swung open before she could knock.

She gasped, seeing the room behind the door. Her eyes darted from one instrument to another, her mind working at triple speed to try and determine their purposes.

Moody steered her forwards to the large desk and sat her in the seat in front of it, before placing her wand on the desk, with the handle pointing away from her.

She finally looked at the man behind the desk.

Albus Dumbledore was sitting back in his seat, his elbows on the arms and his fingers pressed together under his chin. His eyes were on her, his expression unreadable.

“Dumbledore, this is Araminta Gamp, an Auror in my department,” Moody said gruffly. “She works under Gideon Prewett. She says she has information regarding the McKinnon murders.”

Dumbledore leaned forwards, and picked up her wand.

“This is yours?” he asked.

She nodded.

“She handed it to me the moment she walked into my office, Dumbledore,” Moody said. “I’ve not had one witch or wizard before do that.”

Dumbledore’s eyes widened.

“Interesting...” He looked back up at her. “Why did you do that?”

“I knew I would be asked to surrender it at some point; there was no reason for me not to do so straight away.” Her voice was calm, but her intestines felt like they had pulled themselves into a tight knot.

Dumbledore said nothing for a moment, but placed the wand back on his desk.

“Alastor.” He looked up at the Head Auror. “Would you leave us please?”

“No,” she said suddenly, surprising even herself. The two men looked intrigued as they turned to her “I ... I mean, I don’t mind if he stays,” she explained. “I have no doubt you will wish to consult him yourself. My only wish is that I be allowed to talk without interruption.”

Dumbledore stared at her for a moment with those piercing blue eyes, before nodding.

“Very well,” he said, raising his own wand. Araminta flinched, but he was merely closing the door behind her. He placed it down on the desk, then placed his elbows on the desk and rested his chin on his fingertips.

“You may speak,” he said.

She drew a deep, shuddering breath, and looked down at the carpet, before raising her head to look directly into his eyes.

“You are the head of the Order of the Phoenix,” she stated.

 He nodded.

“You are aware of the network of spies, belonging not just to your Order, but to the Ministry, and also to Lord Voldemort?”

Another nod.

“I have information for you, with regard to one of his spies in the Ministry,” she continued. “One in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I know who it is.”

She paused.

“Go on,” Dumbledore said, inclining his head.

She drew a deep breath, before holding out her left arm and pulling up the sleeve.

“It is me.”


Chapter 15: Rootless
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Lower case society
Tied to no community
A kingdom without a king
With no sense of belonging

Rootless – Marina and the Diamonds



Moody drew his wand and aimed it straight at Araminta’s heart.

Dumbledore, however, did not move a jolt, though his eyes were fixed on the Dark Mark on her forearm.

He then looked up at her.

“Why are you here?” he asked quietly.

She left her arm fall, and the sleeve covered the ugly mark.

“I want to join the Order,” she stated, knowing that beating about the bush would not do her any good. “I no longer wish to serve the Dark Lord. I offer you my services as a spy in the Dark Lord’s camp.”

Dumbledore didn’t speak. He merely stared at her. She knew he was a very powerful Legilimens, and realised that in order for him to believe her, she had to show him that she had nothing to hide. For the first time in years, she dropped her mental barriers, allowing him full access to her mind, in the hope that he would believe her.

After several minutes, he leaned back in his chair.

“Why?” he asked.

He already knew her motives, he had seen them in her mind, but she knew he wanted to hear them from her mouth anyway.

“My parents died when I was fifteen,” she stated. “I wasn’t there, I only saw their bodies when I arrived home. The Dark Lord and several of his servants were there. He told me that the Order had killed them. I believed him. My family is an extension of the Black family, and therefore believe in the theory of pureblood supremacy. I believed that my parents were supporters of the Dark Lord. They were never Death Eaters, but I believed that they intended for me to become one. I had no reason to believe otherwise; my entire childhood was spent with others who felt the same about Muggles and I had no reason not to believe the Dark Lord when he said the Order murdered my parents.”

She paused to collect her thoughts. Moody’s wand was still trained on her.

“The Dark Lord took responsibility of me, taught me Dark magic, and branded his mark on me. He then sent me to Europe to gain the support of the giants on his behalf. Last summer, he charged me with the job of becoming a spy for him, in the Auror department. We faked proof of two years’ training in France, and I did the last year here. Then I became Gideon Prewett’s apprentice at the beginning of June. My job was to leak information relating to the Death Eaters back to them – such as any planned raids. I leaked the information regarding the Malfoy Manor raid back to the Dark Lord. I was also charged with discovering Gideon Prewett’s address, and relaying that back to him.

“But that-” She swallowed, realising her throat was suddenly dry. “That’s where it started to go wrong, I guess.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “It took three weeks for me to find out where he lived, but I ... I withheld that information for another three weeks.” She opened her eyes again, and saw Dumbledore still watching her. His expression had changed, but it was still unreadable. “I don’t quite know why I kept it quiet,” she continued, “but I was eventually forced to give it up. Gideon moved house the next day. I ... I know who your spy in the Death Eaters is. I informed that spy that the Dark Lord knew the address, and ensured you were told as soon as possible. I used the Confundus Charm so that the leak could not be traced back to me.”

She paused again.

“It has caused confusion amongst the Dark Lord’s closest circle. Only a select few were told of the discovery of the address, and so he no longer fully trusts any of them. Your spy, of course, was not among those told, and so is safe from suspicion. He does not suspect me, either ... I think he trusts me beyond doubt. He believes I know of no other way. That is why he chose me to work undercover in the Auror department, alongside the Prewetts, Marlene McKinnon, Sirius Black, the most loyal members of the Order of the Phoenix. He believes I cannot be swayed.”

She laughed, hollowly.

“And now here I am...” She bit her lip, before continuing. “After that, I stopped giving away information so freely. I ... I’m not sure why, but I think that maybe ...  maybe it was because, for the two months I have worked with him, Gideon Prewett has shown me nothing but kindness, kindness of a sort that I seldom receive from those in the Dark Lord’s circle. And ... I know I am one of his most trusted, I know he trusts me with information that he does not even trust the Lestranges with, but in the seven years I have been his protégée, he has never treated me nearly as well as Gideon, and Fabian, and Marlene-” She choked over Marlene’s name. She closed her eyes again, trying to collect herself, to swallow the lump in her throat.

“Here.”

She looked up, as Dumbledore placed a glass of water on the desk in front of her.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. She took a sip of water.

She was silent for a moment or two, then said, “I married Casimir Travers when I was seventeen. It was an arranged marriage, of course. He has been my main link with the Dark Lord, and ... he has been ... heavy-handed ... in extracting information. He made me make the Unbreakable Vow, to prevent me from telling anyone how he was treating me. I wasn’t even allowed to hide the injuries. It’s the kind of thing he would have found amusing.”

Finally being able to tell her story after all the weeks she’d had to remain tight-lipped out of literal self-preservation, brought indescribable relief.

“When I stopped giving him information, he grew angry. He came to see me on Sunday night. He ... he took me to a house. Several other Death Eaters were there already.”

She raised her eyes, from the glass in her lap, to meet Dumbledore’s.

“I did not give the McKinnons’ address to the Dark Lord,” she said clearly. “I did not know where Marlene’s parents lived. You have a spy in your Order. It was he, or she, who gave that address to the Dark Lord, I believe. But I assure you, it was not me ... I need you to believe me...”

Moody made a noise deep in his throat. She jumped; she had forgotten he was there.

“I believe you, Miss Gamp,” Dumbledore said quietly.

Moody stepped forwards and opened his mouth to speak. Dumbledore raised a hand and Moody stepped backwards and shut his mouth again.

“Continue.” Dumbledore turned back to her.

She drew a deep breath.

“I was forced to watch as the family was tortured and ... and killed.” Her voice was growing shaky. “They left Marlene till last. Bellatrix and Travers ordered me to kill her. I have never been able to kill. They knew that. They wanted to punish me for my lack of information, they wanted to watch me as I did it, to see the look on her face when she realised my betrayal...”

She closed her eyes, but the image of Marlene’s terrified but defiant face lay behind her eyelids, and so she opened them again. A tear ran down her cheek.

“I couldn’t do it,” she said. “And then ... the Order came ... Gideon and Fabian ... and  ... and I took my chance, and Disapparated.”

She took a gulp of water, and placed the glass on the desk.

“I went to work on Monday. I had to keep up my facade. But the night before, I couldn’t sleep ... I didn’t know what to do. I guess it only hit home, what I’d done, once somebody had died. And I don’t know why it bothered me, because I’ve done this before, that’s why the Dark Lord chose me for this, because he knows I can do it, without second guessing and doubting myself...”

She rested her forehead in her hands.

“Travers came to visit me yesterday,” she told the floor. “He was ... livid. I’ve never seen him so mad. He ...” She took a deep breath. “He told me that he killed my parents. The Dark Lord had ordered my parents’ deaths seven years ago, they’d never supported this mass genocide, they hadn’t wanted me to join him, they’d refused to allow him to recruit me, and so he ordered their deaths, to get them out of the way, and Travers was one of the ones who did it, he and Bellatrix-”

She lifted her head sharply and looked back at Dumbledore. Tears were streaking down her cheeks.

“I thought I was fighting to avenge them,” she choked. “All this ... the recruiting, the spying ... I thought ... it was for them. And now I see ... I was working for the man who’d killed them. I was doing what ... what they dreaded me doing. I’ve been played, played for a complete fool, and I won’t do it, I won’t work for him, I refuse, I can’t betray Gideon any longer, I can’t put him in this danger, he deserves so much better, he’s already lost his wife, and now he’s lost his best friend, and I feel that it’s all my fault...”

She dissolved into tears, unable to control herself any longer.

Dumbledore conjured a box of tissues and slid them across the desk. She took a handful and wiped her eyes with them, trying to suppress the tears.

 “I ... I’m sorry,” she said once she had managed to compose herself, wiping a tear from her cheek. “I didn’t mean to cry...”

“It is perfectly fine.” Dumbledore paused. “You wish to become a spy for the Order? You do not wish to leave Lord Voldemort’s service?”

She breathed in deeply.

“I could do,” she said. “But ... to do so would mean signing my death sentence. The other option is to remain in his service, to keep up the facade of spying for him in the Auror department, but to become a spy for you, for the Order of the Phoenix. I can tell you right now that the Dark Lord is stepping up his search for the Potters and the Longbottoms. I don’t know why, but he wants them dead. They need to be placed under the greatest protection you have available. I can tell you that he wants Dorcas Meadowes dead too. He has Death Eaters on the lookout for her. There is most definitely a Death Eater in the Department of Mysteries. I can also tell you that the Death Eaters have a meeting place just around the corner from the house you raided in Wimbourne in mid-June. In the next month or two, they plan to attack Diagon Alley again. And I can also tell you that if you were to venture to a spot not far from said meeting-place in Wimbourne, you will find the dead body of Casimir Travers, awaiting discovery by the Death Eaters. He died last night, and I believe your Order will be held responsible for that death. I hope you can forgive me for that.”

There was a twinkle in one of Dumbledore’s eyes.

“May I ask who his assassin was?” he said gently.

“My coffee table,” she replied. “It is made of marble. I assure you, sir, it was a complete accident, I did not intend it to happen-”

He raised a hand and she fell silent.

“You do not need to explain.” He paused. “You say that discovering your parents’ fate has changed your mind...”

“I think I was already having second thoughts about everything,” she said quietly. “I kept Gideon’s address secret for weeks. After the raid on Diagon Alley, he took me back to his flat to treat an injury to my arm, from Snape’s curse, Sectumsempra, but it felt like a betrayal, giving up his address when he had shown me such kindness.”

“I can’t think of many Death Eaters that would have kept that information quiet, injury or no injury.” Moody finally spoke.

“I duelled not only Snape, but Mulciber and my husband that day. They all knew who I was, that I was one of them. There was no reason for them all to duel me. I guess it was partly anger that fuelled it. After that, though ... both Prewetts and Marlene were so ... so nice to me. I know it sounds daft, me apparently changing my mind because of niceties ... but that’s the way it is, I guess. And then I met Arieda, who is such a lovely girl, and I found out that she’s Muggleborn. It’s one thing getting on with purebloods who believe in equality, but it took the discovery that Muggleborns aren’t really any different from purebloods to make me realise that Muggles are ... just non-magical people. That there’s no real reason to persecute them. And that made me think ... well, why persecute them? Of course, the argument is that they’d would persecute us if they knew magic existed, but surely using magic against them just fuels that? And the argument about Muggleborns stealing magic... well, how do Squibs exist? It ... it’s all ridiculous, once you get out of the stifling pureblood circle and are able to see things for yourself. And then I learned about Louisa ... she was more gifted at magic than some of my fellow Death Eaters are!”

She frowned.

“It took a while, I guess, for me to realise that I’d come to that conclusion. I only twigged it for sure on Sunday night, and then learning about my parents last night gave me that final shove in the right direction. And so, here I am, at your mercy...”

She tailed off, feeling much less confident about her fate than she had been. She’d hoped that Dumbledore would believe her, that he would trust her ... but why should he? He had no reason to. After all, who would put their trust in someone who claimed to be changing sides?

But if he didn’t believe her, she didn’t know where that would leave her – except in a cell in Azkaban.

After a moment’s silence, Dumbledore cleared his throat. “You know that we have a spy in the Order.”

She nodded.

“Therefore you will understand when I say that if I was to accept your request, nobody outside this room would learn of the arrangement. We could continue as though you were simply an Auror, with no connections to either the Order or Lord Voldemort.”

She nodded.

“Very well.” He leaned back in his chair and turned to Moody. “Alastor, do you see any reason why we should not trust Miss Gamp?”

Moody stepped forwards, looking pensieve.

“If you trust her, Dumbledore, I can’t argue; you know I trust your judgement. But I don’t like the idea of a spy in the Auror department...”

“Well, I’ve been there for two months now, so the cat’s already amongst the pixies.” Araminta shrugged and then cowered slightly in her seat as Moody glared at her.

“If I were to agree, it would be on the basis that you would only reveal to Voldemort the information that I allowed you to,” he said.

“Of course, sir.”

“And I will have a very close eye on you.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less, sir.”

“Very well.” He nodded, and turned back to Dumbledore. “I’d suggest one other person knowing, though. We need to know that Gamp is safe. I am her boss, social calls from me would immediately raise suspicion. I would suggest that a member of the Order whom the Death Eaters know is an acquaintance of Gamp’s is told of this arrangement. That way, it wouldn’t look so suspicious.”

Dumbledore nodded slowly.

“I do not think that Mr Prewett would be a good choice at this present moment in time. Either of them,” he added. “That leaves Mr Black-”

Araminta winced. She didn’t have a problem with Sirius herself, especially not after their interaction the previous day, but she didn’t think Gideon would take too kindly to her seeing more of him.

“Or perhaps not.” Dumbledore smiled slightly. “Very well .. that leaves Miss Platt then, I believe?”

She frowned.

“I’m sorry ... who?”

“Arieda Platt,” Moody grunted. “She’s meant to be in Auror training, Dumbledore, but she’s got a few days off, she’s with the Prewetts at the moment.”

Of course. She hadn’t known Arieda’s surname and hadn’t considered that she might be a member of the Order, but now it seemed blindingly obvious that she should be.

She nodded.

“She will hear me out before judging, too, unlike ... others.” At least, she hoped she would, and that Marlene’s death wouldn’t cloud her judgement.

Dumbledore nodded, and she wondered if he knew that she had been about to say Gideon’s name.

“Very well, then.” He turned to the perch beside him, which a magnificent phoenix sat upon. “Fawkes?”

The phoenix chirped, and vanished in a burst of flames.

“She will be here momentarily,” Dumbledore said in a pleasant tone of voice such as one might use when discussing the Quidditch results.

Araminta twitched slightly in her seat, the nervousness growing inside her. If she ever hoped to get Gideon on side, she needed Arieda to understand her. She didn’t think she could keep this secret from him for much longer.

“What kind of skills do you offer Voldemort?” Moody growled.

She was slightly taken-aback at the question.

“Recruitment and persuasion, mostly. I recruited the giants several years ago. The Dark Lord himself has trained me in both Occlumency and Legilimency-”

“Naturally,” Dumbledore murmured. They both turned to face him. “My apologies,” he added with a wave of his hand. “Do continue.”

She nodded, slightly unsettled, and turned back to her boss.

“I’m quite gifted with the Imperius curse too. I can duel, but he prefers not to use me in that capacity. He would rather keep my existence quiet, so that I can go undetected. I’ve done spying before too ... better than I managed this time-” she added hurriedly. It was odd; despite her desperation for them to see that she had had a change of heart, she didn’t think she could bear the thought of them thinking she was bad at her job.

A flash of flame interrupted the conversation and Arieda appeared in the office.  She looked slightly bewildered, and even more so when she saw Araminta.

“You wanted to see me, Professor?” she asked, turning to Dumbledore.

He gave a slight smile and his eyes twinkled.

“You sound like you are still one of my pupils,” he said. “I hope I haven’t called for you at a bad moment-”

“Nothing particularly bad. I was with Fabian. He’s ... not good ... but he’ll manage without me for a few minutes, and I assume this is something important...”

“It is. I was rather hoping you would assist us with a certain matter. You are, after all, the best candidate for the job...”

“Okay ... what is this job, exactly?”

Dumbledore gestured towards Araminta, which caught Arieda’s attention.

“The floor is yours,” he said.

Araminta took a deep breath, and silently cursed Dumbledore. It had been hard enough having to tell him her story.  Arieda, a young woman who seemed to like her and who knew more than she ought to about her issues with Gideon, was a different prospect.

“I ... I’ve been spying. For the Dark Lord. In the Auror department. But ... I want to join the Order, to help your cause...”

Arieda had heard the words, but it didn’t seem as though they’d properly sunk in.

“I ... you ... what?” Then, as she began to process the information, “you’ve been spying ... on Gideon...”

“The Auror department as a whole,” Araminta corrected – it sounded like less of a betrayal of Gideon’s trust that way. “But I’ve changed my mind-”

“You’ve been working for You-Know-Who this whole time?  You’ve been working for You-Know-Who-”

“Well, yes, but I don’t want to any more, and I didn’t pass much information to him-”

“That’s beside the point.” Arieda’s voice was stronger, angrier. “You’ve been working in the Auror department, with Gideon, under false pretences. You’ve led him on, you’ve led us all on ... Marlene invited you to her wedding-” Saying her name seemed to trigger something. “You did it, didn’t you? You betrayed her, you told your scum Death Eater pals where her parents lived, you led her to her death-”

“No!” Araminta was desperate for Arieda to understand, before she’d totally convinced herself of those assumptions. “I didn’t betray Marlene. I didn’t even know where she and Fabian lived, let alone where her parents lived, or that she’d be there. The first I knew of it was when I was taken there the other night-”

It was the wrong thing to say.

“You were there?”

“I didn’t do anything! I couldn’t do anything-”

“You could have stopped them! If you really have changed your mind, you’d have done something-”

“It wouldn’t have achieved anything, except I’d have ended up dead too!”

“Well, maybe that would have been better than this.”

“But I can help! I want to help, that’s the point! I can give you information about the Dark Lord-”

“What, like you’re giving him information about us?”

“I’ve barely told him anything! And what I have told him has been near useless! Where do you think the tip about Gideon’s address came from?”

“The same place that the initial leak came from, I expect,” she sneered, her lip curling. She turned back to Dumbledore. “You believe this tosh?”

“I do, Arieda,” he said, resting his chin on his fingertips. “And I would like to think that I am a good judge of character.”

Araminta did not think Dumbledore had meant it to be a snub, but Arieda seemed abashed regardless.

“I...” She wrinkled her nose. “Of course. But...”

She fell silent, seeming unsure of what to think or say.

“Miss Gamp wishes to become a spy for the Order,” Dumbledore continued, taking advantage of her silence. “I have accepted this offer. She is to continue working in the Auror department, but she needs a go-between, somebody whose presence would not be too suspicious for the Death Eaters. I was rather hoping you might be able to do this for us. You are, after all, the ideal candidate.”

Worded this way, Araminta thought, it would be impossible for Arieda to say no.

“I...” She still looked unwilling. “I suppose I can...”

“Wonderful.” He smiled. “Now, if you will excuse me, I believe the House Elves are baking treacle tart for lunch, and I would feel much more at ease if someone were to taste it before it is served. Alastor?”

It may have been phrased as a query, but his intentions were clear to everybody.

Moody nodded.

“I’ll be seeing you in the office tomorrow morning, Gamp. Take the rest of the day off. You’ll be no use to anyone right now.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said quietly.

Dumbledore and Moody left the office, leaving the two women alone to talk.

Araminta seized the opportunity to begin before Arieda could.

“It’s all I’ve ever known,” she said quietly. “My parents were from pureblooded families, and I grew up in that environment. I had no reason to believe any differently. I thought my parents had been killed by the Order. But now I’ve found out that the Dark Lord ordered their deaths...”

“So you’ve changed your mind just like that?” Arieda raised an eyebrow.

“My mind was already changing! I don’t know exactly when, or why, but when I found out about my parents, it was as if things all fell into place. I think I’d been having reservations for weeks. And I want to help you. I promise you, I’m telling the honest truth...”

Arieda said nothing for a moment, but sat down cross-legged on the floor. A slight movement in the corner of Araminta’s eye drew her attention to the wall; it was only now that she noticed the portraits adorning them. She scowled as she saw that they were all inconspicuously eavesdropping on their conversation. It was probably one of the reasons why Dumbledore had been so content to leave them to themselves.

 “I wish I could just believe you like Dumbledore does,” Arieda said now. “Because I really did grow to like you, and I don’t like the thought of you working for You-Know-Who. I thought more of you than that. But...” She hesitated for a moment. “You’ve got to see how dodgy this all looks. I mean, Marlene and her family were killed two days ago. And ... I just don’t know what to think.” She frowned. “I mean, you say that it’s because of your parents – wait, why were they killed?”

“They didn’t want me to join the Dark Lord. Tried to stop him recruiting me. That’s why they had me home-schooled, apparently; so they could prevent me from going down that path...”

“Well, that worked well.”

“You think I don’t realise that?” Araminta snapped. In truth, it wasn’t Arieda she was angry with, but herself. She had let her parents down in the biggest way possible, she hadn’t truly listened to them, and in the end they’d died in vain...

“To my mind, the best thing to do would have been to send you to Hogwarts. You’d have had more exposure to us second-rate witches and wizards that way. I mean, look at Sirius.”

“I know,” she said dully, not letting herself rise at the dig.

“I can understand, though. The whole thing about wanting to avenge a loved one’s death. I can see how that can be a motivating factor. I guess it just doesn’t sit easy with me that that’s the only reason though, if it is. I mean, that you can have done all you’ve done and then just change your mind like that-”

“What do you mean, ‘all I’ve done’? You have no idea what I’ve done! Or haven’t done, as the case may be! I’ve only ever killed once, and even then I had no choice and she would have died anyway. I’m not like Bellatrix, I don’t see the need to torture anyone and everyone. I don’t take pleasure out of other people’s pain. How dare you assume I’m just as bad as them!” She rose to her feet, finally letting her anger get the better of her. “You have no idea what I’ve been through, and yet you sit there and judge!”

“I-” Arieda looked as though she was about to defend herself, but then her shoulders sagged. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Araminta fell back into her chair, taken aback by the meekness of the response.

“I guess I’ve never had to question what I believe,” Arieda continued. “I’m a Muggleborn; of course I’m against You-Know-Who. And then Louisa was killed fighting his followers ... well, it’s obvious what side I’m on, isn’t it? And ... and we all praise Sirius for having the strength of character to deviate from the path he was supposed to be on...” She chewed her lip. “So, you tell me what you learn, and I tell the Order? Is that the arrangement?”

“I think so.”

“Where am I supposed to say I’ve got the information from? I’m assuming I can’t go telling the rest of the Order about you; otherwise I wouldn’t need to be the go-between...” She sighed heavily. “Another spanner in the works. You know, I was kind of hoping I could rely on you to help me out.”

“How do you mean?”

“Marlene is dead.” She paused. “Gideon and Fabian, they’re both grieving. I need someone to help me, because I can’t be with them both at the same time. I’d hoped you could go to see Gideon. But now...”

“I still can, if you want,” she offered.

Arieda shook her head.

“That ... would not be the best idea.” She bit her lip. “Gideon ... I fear he’s become a little ... dependant. On you. And given this turn of events ... well, I don’t think you’re good for him.”

Araminta’s blood boiled.

“I’m not good enough for him, am I?” she said angrily. “So now you’ve found out who I am, you suddenly change your mind-”

“I didn’t say you weren’t good enough for him,” Arieda said wearily. “I said you weren’t good for him. That doesn’t mean you don’t reach the standards I think he ought to set, it means you’re ... not compatible. And given your position, I don’t think it’s wise, for either of you to become too close. It’s too dangerous.”

“These are dangerous times,” she pointed out.

“Look, it wouldn’t be a good idea, okay? He’s already being hunted by the Death Eaters, and the closer you two become, the harder you’re going to find it to keep up this facade. If the Death Eaters find out you’re not their woman, you’ll go straight to the top of their hit list. It’s not a good idea to keep seeing Gideon.”

Araminta’s temper was simmering again.

“But then who else does he have? As you seem to have prioritised Fabian over him-”

“It’s not like that,” Arieda snapped. She took a few breaths, before continuing. “How can anyone decide whether a wife or best friend is more important? The love of a partner or the lifelong love of a friend? Nobody can decide that, so there is no easy way to decide whether Gid or Fabe needs me more. But I’ve had to choose, because there is nobody else who is close enough to either of them to fully understand them, to understand what they’re going through.” She paused. “Except you.” She looked down at her hands.

“But you don’t want me to see Gideon,” Araminta said. “Who’s he been with?”

“Lily. Molly wanted to help, but I don’t want to put any added stress on her, not when she’s so close to giving birth. But ... while Lily is a wonderful woman, she can’t help him enough.”

Arieda looked up at the older woman.

“See, my reasoning, is that ... Fabian’s better with his emotions that Gideon is. He always has been. And I know that he’ll take a few days, maybe a week, to deal with it, and then he’ll be okay ... not properly, but okay enough to return to work. Gideon ... it’s not so easy. I guarantee Fabe will be back at work before Gid. But, if I don’t help Fabe now, he won’t find it so easy. Whereas I know Gideon will be almost as bad, even if I do help him. So ... I’m with Fabian, just until he can get back on his feet, and then I can turn my attention to Gideon. Basically, I guess it’s a case of prioritising Fabian short-term so as to prioritise Gideon long-term. It’s the only way to do it.”

Araminta hesitated for a moment, before speaking up.

“But what’s wrong with me going to see him? Just for a couple of hours. If you think I’ll help him-”

“I’m not sacrificing either of you, to death or each other, just so he’s a bit happier for a couple of hours. It’s not worth the risk. And don’t look at me like that,” she added as Araminta glared at her, “I know what I’m talking about. Yes, he’s finally accepting Louisa’s death, but at what price? You’ve already become too close, I’m not risking it any longer.”

Araminta laughed hollowly.

“You know, you sound just like Gideon. ‘Don’t get close to people, it’ll hurt more when you lose them.’ What kind of life is that, anyway?”

“What kind of life is killing Muggleborns?” Arieda shot back, as she stood up. Araminta stood also, clenching her fists. “It’s not a case of him living, it’s a case of who it is he’s getting close to. He’s become obsessed – no, dependant – on you! And it can’t go on like this! Because that way, sooner or later he’ll find out who you really are, and then it’ll all be a massive mess. And then you’ll decide not to spy any more, and we’ll all end up putting our lives on the line to keep you alive. So I apologise if you want to go to see him, but I can’t let you do that.”

“So you want to just keep this a secret? You don’t want me to tell him anything? You think I should lie to him even more?”

“Don’t go making your life choices my issues! It’s not my fault you decided to join You-Know-Who, and it’s not my fault that you and Gideon have gotten yourselves into this mess. But I sure as hell am not going to stand back and watch you mess his life up even more! If you’d confided in him before all this, then he may well have been much more understanding, but as it is you haven’t got a chance-”

“How could I have told him? There was nothing to tell; I thought I was still the Dark Lord’s woman! Not to mention the Unbreakable Vow I had to make-”

What?”

“Casimir Travers. He was my go-between while I’ve been spying. He was the one who’s been injuring me. We had some twisted wedding vows...”

Arieda stared at her, seeming lost for words.

“So, yes. I could have told him. And then promptly died on his floor. That would have gotten the point across, wouldn’t it?”

“Bloody hell...” Arieda shook her head. “You Death Eaters are twisted... Either way, the fact still remains, Gideon is vulnerable as hell, you tell him you’re a spy and he’ll take that seriously badly.”

“I know,” Araminta murmured. “But what about once he’s ... better ... I could see him, help him out, then ... tell him ... once he’s better...” She tailed off, the idea sounding horrendously bad now it was vocalised.

“Yeah. You see my point?”

“But I can’t not tell him! He was already doing all he could to get it out of me...”

“Just tell him it was an abusive relationship that you’re now out of.” Arieda shrugged. “There’s no reason for him to disbelieve it.”

“I just don’t like the thought of lying to him...”

“You’ve been making a living out of lying; you ought to be used to it by now.”

“But ... it’s different...”

“Because you’re in love with Gideon. Yeah, I’ve gathered that,” she said dryly, rolling her eyes.

Araminta frowned.

“I’m not in love with him-”

“Well there’s something there, that’s for sure. If you’d like to make your mind up as to what it is fairly soon, it would make things much easier for me.” She paused, and massaged her temples with her fingertips. “Look, I’m sorry if I’m being blunt. It’s just, it’s hard to adjust to. It’s not an ideal situation to be in. I’ve been trying to look after Gideon for two years now, and then you came along and he started getting better, and just as I was beginning to think you were a saviour of sorts, it turns out that you could end up making him worse than before. It’s not exactly a good thing, even if the Order are gaining another spy in You-Know-Who’s camp.” She chewed on her lip. “Anyway, I should be getting back to Fabian...”

“Of course.” Araminta nodded. “I ... thank you. For ... for believing me.”

Areida smiled weakly.

“Don’t go thanking me just yet. I’m still not entirely sure what I think right now. Just  ... look after yourself. And stay away from Gideon, at least for the moment.” She headed to the mantelpiece. “I don’t suppose any of you nosy portraits want to tell me where Dumbledore keeps his Floo powder?”

“I say; you youth these days are ever so rude-” began one of the portraits, whom Araminta recognised as one of her ancestors, Phineas Nigellus.

“In the urn to the right of the griffin on the mantelpiece, dear,” said a witch with long silver ringlets.

“Thanks!” Arieda took a pinch of the powder and threw it into the roaring fire, turning the flames green. She stepped into the fire, saying something inaudible, and was whisked away by the flames.

Araminta sat back down on the chair, with a thump. She wasn’t quite sure how to feel. She’d been worried that Dumbledore wouldn’t believe her, so surely she should be happy now that he did?

But instead, she felt disappointment – no, sadness – at Arieda’s reaction. Not that she would necessarily have expected the younger girl to welcome her into the fold with open arms ... but the hostility was still difficult to cope with.

It was odd. Since her parents had died, Araminta had felt alone, with no family or friends – for the Death Eaters certainly did not count as either. But it was only now, with the blinkers off, that she felt as though she had nowhere to belong; that she was well and truly rootless.


Chapter 16: Save the Hero
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I’m left with no shoulder
But everybody wants to lean on me
I guess I’m their soldier
But who’s gonna be mine

Save the Hero - Beyonce



Araminta was surprised at how nervous she felt when she reached work the next day. Beforehand, she hadn’t given much thought to the consequences of telling someone her secret, but now she was immensely paranoid. She found herself questioning the motives of everyone who so much as glanced her way, and interpreting the looks they gave her as anything from mild curiosity to outright anger. She knew it was daft; it was hardly likely that Moody would have told anyone in the twenty-three hours since he’d left Dumbledore’s office. Nevertheless, she found herself surreptitiously holding her left arm to her side, in case her sleeve dared to rise up and reveal the Dark Mark she had been so carefully hiding. She could almost feel it throbbing – not because the Dark Lord was summoning her, but because its presence was on her mind more than ever before.

Sirius was already in the training room when she reached it.

“Alright?” he said brightly. “Could’ve done with you yesterday; I had to put up with Dawlish’s company and he’s not much of a conversationalist.”

It was the closest to both sympathy and a compliment that she’d get from him and she was glad of it. Things may have changed between her and Moody, and definitely had between her and Arieda, but his words were a reassuring reminder that, as far as anyone else was aware, nothing had changed at all.

She hadn’t thought much about what she was doing when she’d gone to Dumbledore. All that was on her mind was what she’d learnt about her parents’ fate. She’d acted on raw, blind emotion, and done the only thing that had come to her at the time. Now she’d had some time to let things sink in, her actions frankly scared her. That she had acted with so much determination and conviction ... she’d rarely, if ever, done that before, and she wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Not that she regretted what she’d done. After all, it was what her parents would have wanted her to do. She’d done what was right.

The thought that she’d spent the last seven years working for the man who had ordered their deaths was a sickening one. She’d never felt huge loyalty towards the Death Eaters – most Death Eaters didn’t have much loyalty to one another; all there ever was between them was a shared belief in the cause – but she had felt some towards the Dark Lord, who had taken her under his wing when her parents died and continued her education. Now that she knew he’d only done it for his own reasons, that loyalty had been wiped out, trumped by her loyalty to her dead parents , which nothing could vanquish.

She’d been alone for seven years. She had nobody to fight for, except the memories of her parents. And she was determined never to let them down again.

***

During their lunch break, some news arrived which helped to raise the spirits of the miserable department.

“Karkaroff’s been captured!” Kingsley Shacklebolt told them excitedly when they reached the Atrium.

Karkaroff?”

“Moody’s been tracking him for six months,” Sirius said, the awe in his voice unmistakeable. “He’s finally got him?”

“Brought him in for questioning earlier,” Kingsley said, his grin mirroring Sirius’.

Sirius laughed triumphantly.

“This fight is far from over yet!” he said, his eyes gleaming.

Araminta found it hard to share in their happiness. The capture was good for the Ministry and the Order, particularly as Karkaroff had evaded them for so long, but what would the response be? The Dark Lord would not be pleased, that much was certain. And this, on top of the death of Casimir Travers, which they were sure to discover soon...

She felt sure of one thing. The Dark Lord would seek retribution for these two blows.

***

She wasn’t surprised when her wrist burned black that evening.

“For the love of Salazar, can a woman not eat these days?” she muttered with irritation, taking the pan of stew she had been heating off the stove. The Dark Lord certainly wouldn’t wait for anything or anybody, not even an angry stomach.

Trepidation overcame her irritation. She hadn’t been summoned in months. The Dark Lord preferred to keep his distance from her, so that her actions wouldn’t be traced back to him. Her summons had to be a response, either to Karkaroff’s capture or the discovery of Travers’ body. She wasn’t sure which she’d prefer.

Of course, it was possible that it was both. That would not be a recipe for a good evening.

Once she’d conjured her robes and mask and checked that her mental defences were in place, she Disapparated, allowing the Mark to take her wherever she was required.

‘Wherever’ turned out to be the house in Wimbourne, which she suspected the Averys owned and which had recently become their headquarters. After all, even an evil overlord needed somewhere to sleep.

Araminta was extremely disappointed to see Bellatrix already present when she arrived. As usual her mask was off; she didn’t care he knew her identity. Indeed, she was almost as well-known a figure as the Dark Lord himself so there was little point of her ever donning a mask.

Araminta had put her own mask on only out of uncertainty over who would be present. Most, if not all, of the inner circle knew of her existence – the Dark Lord felt he could trust them all, or at least had done at the time they had become aware of her role. He had become more wary recently, she had gathered through the grapevine.

“Ah, our porcelain doll has chosen to grace us with her presence.”

There were two things about Bellatrix which particularly irritated Araminta. One of them was her uncanny knack of identifying her even with a cloak and mask on. The other was her insistence on calling her their ‘porcelain doll’, which she knew was not just a comment on her complexion, but a jibe at her perceived fragility. Unfortunately, her refusal to kill Marlene hadn’t done anything to change this perception.

“Bellatrix,” she replied in clipped tones, removing her mask, whose presence had now been rendered pointless. But every cloud had a silver lining, she considered; they weren’t at all comfortable to wear.

“I assume you’ve heard the terrible news?” Bellatrix continued, her tone making it clear that the news hadn’t moved her at all.

Araminta wasn’t sure if Bellatrix expected her to be upset or if she was trying to catch her out by seeing if she was less upset than she should be. Either way, she had more than an inkling as to what news Bellatrix was referring to.

“What news?” she asked innocently.

“You mean, you don’t know?” Bellatrix’s eyes widened in mock sympathy. “Oh, that’s so awful-”

“Enough, Bella.”

For a split second, an irritated expression crossed Bellatrix’s face, before being replaced by the simpering expression she normally wore around the Dark Lord, who’d just swept into the room. Behind him was a man whose presence caused Araminta’s heart to sink.

Crispin.

With all the goings-on between her and Gideon, and with Casimir Travers, she’d completely forgotten about his younger brother – and, more specifically, about the intimacy he’d shown towards her.

She pushed those thoughts out of her mind, and sank into a low bow in synchronisation with her fellow Death Eaters.

“We have received some bad news,” the Dark Lord said, ignoring their actions. “On a patrol of the local area earlier today, Bellatrix found the dead body of Casimir Travers. It is obviously the Order’s doing, and we will not allow them to get away with such a callous act.”

It didn’t seem to occur to him – indeed, any of them – that breaking into an Order member’s flat at the dead of night in an attempt to take him unawares and dispose of him in the simplest way possible was just as callous, Araminta thought wryly.

Crispin, who was still standing beside the Dark Lord, seemed unmoved by the news. This didn’t surprise Araminta. He was one of many victims of the ‘heir and a spare’ mantra which many pureblood families followed. It meant he’d had to stand by and watch as his brother got the money and the girl. Once upon a time she’d felt sorry for him, but as she looked at him now, all she could remember was the callous way he’d killed Sandrine McKinnon three days previously, and all she felt towards him now was disgust and loathing.

She was slightly nervous of what he might do now that his brother was out of the picture. Regardless of he really felt towards her, there was the distinct possibility that he would now want to marry her himself. After all, there was nothing purebloods liked more than trophy wives. She didn’t think she could bear the prospect of another arranged pureblood marriage to a Travers.

On top of that, Casimir, as the eldest son, had recently inherited most of his parents’ wealth. That would now be hers, she realised. Crispin, however, had inherited very little, so would certainly benefit from marrying her.

She bit her lip, as it dawned on her that there were only two ways she could get out of such a situation. The first would be to denounce the Dark Lord – which would make her a most unsuitable wife - but she’d already ruled that out. The second was to rely on the Dark Lord to help her cause. The fact that she was overage and had no parents to organise her life for her was irrelevant if he thought a marriage necessary.

Bugger.

The Dark Lord was still talking; she tuned back into him.

“...we will stop at nothing to punish them for what they have done. I intend on stepping up our campaign. I have received information on Dorcas Meadowes’ whereabouts, and I plan to utilise this information as soon as possible. We were thwarted by the Order when Gideon Prewett evaded us, but I hope it will only be a matter of time before we find him and his brother.” Araminta sensed the Dark Lord’s gaze on her, and double-checked her mental defences; it wouldn’t do for him to find out that she had already been to his new residence. “We have dealt them a severe blow by wiping out the McKinnons; I am told that the Prewetts are both miserably grieving...”

The comment was rewarded, as he had clearly hoped, by cruel laughter from the Death Eaters. Araminta felt her blood boil.

“My Lord,” she spoke up, stepping forwards. “I have news from the Auror department, I don’t know if you’ve heard...”

She hadn’t planned on telling him, hadn’t wanted to anger him further, but after that dig at Gideon and Fabian she wanted to annoy him. Besides, it would possibly be too unrealistic if she hadn’t heard about Karkaroff. After the weekend’s events, it would be best to get back in his good books by providing him with as much information as possible, even if it was bad.

“Good news?” the Dark Lord asked.

“Sadly not. Moody has captured Karkaroff.”

The room filled with groans and curses.

“I knew he’d get himself caught one day, the oaf,” Bellatrix declared.

“This is, indeed, most unfortunate,” the Dark Lord said slowly. “We will need to recalculate accordingly...”

Araminta would normally have zoned out at this point. Such conversations didn’t involve her, as her role never changed, and none of the other Death Eaters’ jobs affected her. This time, however, she listened carefully to everything said, intending to deliver the information back to Moody.

Once the Dark Lord had finished barking out his instructions, he dismissed everyone else but requested that Araminta stay.

Her stomach churned as she approached him.

“My Lord?”

“You have done well so far, Araminta,” he began. She mentally winced; ‘well’ was not a compliment. “Unfortunately, the Order were one step ahead of us and moved Prewett; if they hadn’t, we’d have disposed of him.”

And she’d have achieved one of her main aims within the first two months, she considered wryly.

“You can find out more, though. I need you to find out more. Travers’ death changes things.” He paused. “I want to you bring all information straight to me in the future.”

“My Lord?”

“Somebody told the Order that we knew of his address. This is unacceptable, and unforgiveable. You are one of the few people I know I can trust.”

“Thank you, my Lord. But how will I contact you?”

The Dark Lord tended to be unreachable except when he summoned his followers to him.

“I will call for you twice a week. If you have anything more urgent, then you will go through Bella. She can be reached easily once you know how.”

She hid another wince. The Dark Lord liked to encourage rivalry amongst his followers; it generally led to competition between them, ending in better results. She and Bellatrix, as the two most powerful women within the Death Eaters, and two of the Dark Lord’s most trusted lieutenants, were obvious candidates for rivalry, and it was clear to Araminta that Bellatrix felt threatened by her. This would certainly convince Bellatrix she had the upper hand.

“You may go now,” the Dark Lord finished.

Araminta didn’t need to be told twice. She nodded in gratitude, then took a step backwards and Disapparated.

Once back at her flat, she fell into her sofa, running her hair through her hands. Her head hurt. Never before had she had to be so careful to keep her thoughts to herself. There were people in the Ministry who could perform Legilimency, so she naturally kept her defences up at all times, but this was the first time she’d ever had to hide anything from a Legilimens as gifted as the Dark Lord. Indeed, perhaps only Dumbledore was more gifted than him. The hardest part had been trying to keep her confrontation with Travers, her conversation with Dumbledore and that incident with Gideon locked away, without letting him see she was hiding anything. She’d never had to hide anything from the Dark Lord before, so doing so now would look ridiculously suspicious.

She hadn’t realised just how hard this would be. She hadn’t expected it to be easy, but nor had she expected that one day would test her to her limit. Added to that, she now had to see the Dark Lord twice a week, which would only challenge her resolve more. She was beginning to wonder if she had it in her. But she couldn’t give up. Failure wasn’t an option; too many people were relying on her. She groaned in aggravation, leaning forwards and burying her head in her hands.

Right now, all she wanted to do was to see Gideon. She hated that fact, hated how vulnerable it made her feel. And she hated the thought of poor old Gideon, alone in his flat, mourning the loss of his best friend in the world. But she had made a promise to Arieda, and the evening’s events had just proven how hard this double-crossing would be. Letting herself get more involved with him would only make things worse. And she couldn’t, she wouldn’t, let herself put Gideon in any more danger.

It was the least he deserved.


Chapter 17: Fernando
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They were closer now Fernando
Every hour every minute seemed to last eternally
I was so afraid Fernando
We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die

Fernando - ABBA



Early the following week, Araminta passed Fabian’s cubicle as usual on the way to hers, and performed a double take, glancing into the cubicle a second time to check that her eyes hadn’t deceived her.

“Fabian?”

He looked up from his desk and smiled at her. It wasn’t a true smile though, not reaching his eyes.

“Araminta,” he said.

She hesitated for a moment, feeling she should say something, but not sure what. Asking if he was okay seemed a daft question, and a ‘sorry for your loss’ line might not be the best either; she had learned from experience that a grieving person often really didn’t want to hear that line from all and sundry.

Though part of her felt that she had more reason to be sorry than most others.

“It’s good to see you,” she said eventually. Both harmless and true.

“It’s good to be back,” he replied. “Makes it feel as though I’m doing something, you know? I can’t just sit around at home, it’s not going to help things.”

She nodded in agreement, and took a step into the cubicle.

“She was a lovely woman,” she said quietly. “I’m glad I got the chance to meet her.”

“I’m glad you did, too.” He smiled again. “But ... life goes on, doesn’t it? And it’s not as though You-Know-Who’s going to call a ceasefire until I fancy getting off my ass again. So ... here I am.”

She admired this get-up-and-go spirit in him. It seemed Arieda had been right when she’d said that he would be the first of the two brothers back up on his feet again.

“How – how’s Gideon?”

He shrugged.

“I don’t know. I’ve not seen him yet. Didn’t think it would help matters. I might go to see him later, though.” He frowned. “Haven’t you been to see him?”

“I ... I wasn’t sure if I should...”

“I think it would help a lot. He thinks a lot of you, you know.”

The words might have been comforting if she didn’t feel as if she was double-crossing Gideon. As it was, they just made her feel nauseous. She now felt doubly bad because Fabian had clearly expected her to have spent some time with Gideon. And she could hardly tell Fabian why she hadn’t visited him.

“Are you meant to be in the office this week?” he asked her now.

 “I think so. At least, that’s the rota that Gideon should be on...”

“Well, if you fancy something more exciting, I’m on patrols in Hogsmeade this week. Moody might let you swap if you want.”

He was clearly trying for a light-hearted tone, but Araminta could hear the message underneath. He wanted the company. She felt touched that he was seeking her out, and normally would have said yes in a trice, but now she thought that being around him when she was trying to avoid his brother would just make things more awkward. He’d already all but told her to visit Gideon and there was really no excuse she could give for not doing so.

“I – maybe. I need to talk to Moody anyway, so I’ll see what he says. When are you leaving?”

He glanced at his watch. It was a gold, very ornate piece; his parents had clearly followed the tradition of giving a young wizard a watch for his seventeenth birthday.

 “In about half an hour or so, I think. I can put it off for another twenty minutes, but not too much longer. Death Eaters and rogues don’t tend to be all that considerate of Aurors and their working hours.”

She gave a slight laugh at his half-attempt at a joke.

“I’ll pop back in when I’ve seen Moody, then.”

He nodded.

“See you in a mo!”

She hadn’t lied to Fabian; she had needed to visit Moody. The plans that the Dark Lord had laid out at their meeting would be extremely useful knowledge to the Auror department.

He wasn’t in his office when she reached it, but arrived a couple of minutes later.

“I have information,” she whispered, so faintly that she barely made a sound.

He nodded ever so slightly, and opened his office door. She crossed the threshold and he followed, shutting the door behind them and performing numerous non-verbal spells which she assumed were to make sure that nobody heard anything.

“I met with the Dark Lord last week,” she said quietly; despite the charms and wards, she felt a need to keep her voice low. “He summoned the entire inner circle to see him. He wasn’t too happy about Travers’ death, and then I told him about Karkaroff and he was even more irritated...”

She reeled off the various jobs which he had assigned to his minions.

“And he wants me to see him directly, twice a week, now that Travers is dead. I don’t think he trusts anybody enough to use them as a go-between. Though he has assigned Bellatrix Lestrange to be a messenger if needed. I don’t think you’d be able to use that information to catch her though; it would be too obvious that the leak had come from me.”

“Quite,” he murmured. “But you’ll be seeing Voldemort twice a week?” She shuddered involuntarily at the name, as she always did. “That’s good, it means you can get more information from him...”

She pulled a face.

“Yes, but it also means more exposure to him, which means I’ll have to work harder to keep him out of my head and myself safe.”

“Very true. You gonna manage that, Gamp? I’d hate for you to crumble under pressure.”

“So would I, sir; I think the next thing I’d see would be a flash of green and then no more,” she said dryly. She wasn’t sure whether to be touched at his attempt at compassion or irritated at the blasé manner in which he’d made the comment. “It’s going to be hard, but I think I’ll manage. I have to manage, don’t I?”

He nodded slowly.

“Just ... don’t get carried away with it all. If you find you’re in over your head, then for Merlin’s sake say something, alright? It wouldn’t do for you to have a breakdown on my watch.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Anything else?”

“Just one request, if that’s okay.” After their conversation, she felt thoroughly downtrodden, and really didn’t fancy spending the day by herself. She’d bite the bullet, and regret the consequences later. “Can I join Fabian on patrols today? I think he’d like the company.”

He surveyed her for a moment.

“Alright,” he grunted. “But if the paperwork begins to mount up I might have to haul you back into the office tomorrow.”

She nodded.

“Of course. Thank you, sir.”

As she headed back to Fabian’s cubicle, a hand seized her wrist and pulled her into a corner. Her right arm flew to her wand, before she saw it was Arieda.

“Are you trying to scare me half to death-”

“Quiet,” Arieda hissed, stuffing a ball of parchment into her hand. “Come after seven tonight.”

With that, she hurried back down the corridor.

Araminta blinked in confusion, but unrolled the parchment. There was an address written on it, which she assumed was Arieda’s. She screwed the parchment back up, and stuffed it safely into a pocket in her robes, then carried on down the corridor as though nothing had happened.

***

She had been right. Spending the day with Fabian hadn’t helped matters.

Ordinarily, she would have enjoyed the day. Fabian seemed to have reached the stage of grieving where talking helped, so he had spent the day telling her numerous stories about their Hogwarts days. Gideon had told her little of this, as he avoided all conversation involving Louisa, so Araminta thoroughly enjoyed hearing all the stories, even if they did trigger that now familiar pang of regret that she’d never attended Hogwarts herself.

But all day she’d been plagued by guilt. She couldn’t help but let her thoughts drift to Gideon. Fabian thought she’d do him good. Arieda thought she’d only cause harm. She truly had no idea what to do; she wanted to help him, but she didn’t know which option would hurt him more.

That evening, she visited the address that Arieda had given her. As she knocked on the door, she realised that they would have the same problem that she and Gideon had had – they had no security question.

“Declare yourself.” Arieda’s voice was shaking slightly.

“My name is Araminta Gamp, I’m an Auror, I work with Gideon Prewett...” She closed her eyes, trying to think of something an imposter wouldn’t know to say. She hit on it with a slight smile. “You don’t like the roast beef in the Leaky Cauldron; you think it’s far inferior to the roast beef at Hogwarts. It’s too dry and the gravy is too thick.”

“Although you never know how many people I’ve ranted about that to,” Arieda replied dryly, clearly satisfied that she wasn’t an imposer. She opened her door to let Araminta in.

One of the first things Araminta noticed was the two empty dinner plates on the coffee table.

 “Anyone else here?”

“My flatmate’s gone to work,” Arieda replied, shutting and locking the door. “She’s in Healer training and she’s on nights this week. That’s why I said after seven. Sophie’s not in the Order, so it’s best to try to keep her in the dark, for her safety as much as anything else.”

“Does she not know about the Order?”

“She must know it exists and that I’m in it, but she’s not said anything about it and to be honest, I’d like it to stay that way. It’s nice to have a break from it all, somewhere I can get away from it and pretend it’s not going on, you know?”

Araminta nodded numbly.

“Why did you want me to come round?”

Arieda shrugged.

“Figured you should find out where I live sooner rather than later. Feel free to sit down. Do you want a drink?”

“Tea would be nice, thanks.”

Arieda picked up the two dirty plates and vanished into the kitchen.

Araminta sat down slowly on the sofa, and picked up the Daily Prophet, noticing that day’s date at the top of it. She turned to the back, to read the Quidditch articles.

“I don’t know why I still bother with that rag,” she heard Arieda say, a few minutes later.

Looking up, she saw that the younger woman had returned, with two mugs. She set the paper aside and took the mug Arieda held out to her, murmering her thanks. Arieda sank into the chair opposite.

“Why do you, then?” Araminta asked.

“Force of habit. And to get the Quidditch scores; that’s just about the one thing you can rely on to be accurate these days. The Ministry like to pretend things aren’t as bad as they really are. I don’t see what they achieve that way but I guess they think it makes them look better.”

“But the Ministry isn’t the Prophet...”

Arieda snorted.

“They may as well be. They’ve always had a stranglehold over what the Prophet reports.”

“They mentioned the McKinnons...”

“Yes, well, they could hardly keep that quiet, could they? The McKinnons were a popular family, and the Prophet would just have looked stupid if they hadn’t reported it. There are a lot of things that they can get away with not reporting but really should.”

“Surely everyone takes the Prophet’s news with a pinch of salt, then?”

“Some people like to pretend nothing is wrong. They’re not prepared to consider the consequences of what’s going on. They like to bury their heads in the sand. Generally they’re people who this conflict hasn’t affected yet – the type who think that if it doesn’t affect them, it’s not important – or people who don’t want to get involved, people who don’t quite fancy risking their lives, thank you very much, but who feel guilty if they have to think about what’s going on.”

“You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”

“Some of my acquaintances at school. Even when some of us were losing relatives, other people would try to ignore it all. Just didn’t want to get involved.”

“I can see how people could be hesitant to get involved to the extent that you are, though...”

“Yes, and that reluctance is sometimes fine. It’s the people who point-blank refuse to see what’s right in front of them who annoy me. I mean, take Sophie. She’s not in the Order. Does that mean she’s in denial about what’s going on? Of course not. So that’s not a problem. Do I think she’d have something to offer the Order? Well, yes ... I mean, our numbers are diminishing, and it’s not all about the foot-soldiers ... but would she sign up if she had the opportunity?  I’m not so sure that she would.”

“You think she’s not prepared to face death?”

Areida hesitated.

“Not necessarily. I mean, who is prepared to face death?”

“Gideon seems to suggest he is-”

“Gideon is a fool.” Arieda scowled. “He thinks he’s prepared. He thinks he has nothing more to live for, that he has given all he can. Well, that’s no mentality to have if you ask me, especially not if you’re fighting. Surely the aim is to stay alive? Surely we fight because we want something better in this world, something better for us to live in?”

“But ... surely, in fighting, we all risk sacrificing our lives?”

“Yes, but I don’t have to be prepared to die, do I?”

Though the question posed seemed to be a rhetorical one, she wondered if Arieda was looking for an answer, if she’d asked herself that very same question, to no avail, and wanted another opinion on it.

“I know I could die, but that doesn’t mean I’m prepared. Being prepared to die suggests you see nothing more in living ... I’d like to think I can give more. And besides...” Her voice shook slightly, “dying is rather final, is it not? It’s not like you can try it out, then decide it’s not for you and take it back. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s a scary thought.” Her hands tightened around her mug.

“Are you scared of dying?”

Arieda bit her lip.

“Surely, once someone stops being scared of dying, that means they’re prepared to?” She frowned. “I think Gideon is scared of dying. I don’t think he can possibly be prepared. And if he really is ... well, what does that say about us? About me, about Fabian. If we’re not enough to keep him alive...”

She paused again.

“I worry about him. I have done for a while now. At first, after Louisa’s death, I just assumed his ... his moods, his anger, his depression ... were due to his grieving. What else could they have been? I left it at that. I was still mourning myself. But then ... I don’t know when I got over her death. I don’t think I properly have, if I’m honest with you. I just accepted it and knew I had to move on. Because that’s what happens, life moves on, and you have to move on with it, you can’t halt and expect everything else to halt with you. I moved on, Marly and Fabe moved on, but he didn’t.

“The worst bit is that we expected him and Sirius to confide in each other, to get each other through the grief. James, Lily, Remus and Peter hoped the same. After all, they’d been such good friends, and they’d been together when Wheeza and Mary died, none of us could possibly understand what either of them had been through, only they knew, and we thought that sharing that experience would help them ... but it didn’t. I don’t know why, but it pushed them away from each other, and that’s the most heartbreaking bit, because Sirius has been able to move on in a way that Gideon hasn’t, and I really think that Sirius could have helped him, if only they hadn’t alienated each other.

“I guess it was last summer that it really hit me that something was wrong. I only came home for Christmas in my Sixth Year and I didn’t see him then. I stayed at Hogwarts for Easter, it helped ease the pain. I saw Gid a few times, he came to Hogsmeade for a couple of visits, and then helped patrol the carriages at the end of the year – he and Wheeza always did the carriages, so they could see me, that’s why he did the boats this year – but those visits were too short for me to really notice something was wrong. I just assumed that seeing me reminded him of her, and the pain was still quite raw – we looked rather alike, you see.

“But that summer, I saw more of him, and I visited Marly, and Fabe, and Molly ... and they all told me the same thing; that he was getting worse. They were worried that he’d lost all motivation to live, to fight. I saw him a few times, when he wasn’t working, and tried to cheer him up, but he wouldn’t have it. I told him, we all told him, that he had to move on, that we had all done so, and he had to as well or things wouldn’t get better ... but he wouldn’t listen.

“I was so worried about going back to school for Seventh Year. I nearly didn’t. I was scared about Gid, about whether he’d be able to cope. I told him, the night before I went back, that I was going to drop out of school, move in with him, try to help him. I thought that if he’d someone with him, to keep him occupied, he’d have less time to think, and so he’d get better-”

“You were willing to do that?” Araminta was surprised.

“He’s like a big brother to me, he always has been. I can’t bear to see him so upset; he’s a ghost of the person he used to be. All I wanted was for him to move on, to get better. I think my threat dropping out made him realise that something was wrong, that he had to try to move on, because he promised me he’d be okay. He forced me to go back. I told him that if he was still like that over Christmas, that I wouldn’t return in January. And ... well, he was better, obviously, or I wouldn’t have gone back ... but he still wasn’t back to anywhere near normal.

“So I was so surprised, not having seen him since Christmas, to see how happy he was in June. He may not have seemed that to you, but ... well, he was almost back to normal, the way he was when Louisa was still alive. And it’s you that’s done that, it has to be.”

Arieda’s eyes were fixed on her. She looked completely convinced.

I know of nothing else that has changed in that time, apart from you. You make him happy. And I think ... you give him a reason to carry on, or a distraction on from things, or ... well, I don’t know. But that’s why you can’t tell him that you’re a spy, because I know exactly what he’ll do. He’ll jump to the obvious conclusion that you gave Voldemort the McKinnons’ address, and then it’s spiral from that. He’ll decide that you were involved in Louisa’s death and he’ll never trust you again, and then he’ll just be sent right back to square one again. And ... I don’t think anybody else can help him.”

She broke off, and looked down into her mug.

Araminta chewed her lip.

“How is he?”

“As bad as ever,” Arieda said glumly. “Fabian was going to pop round to see him at some point today. I hope to Merlin that he helps, because I don’t feel like I am. I spent most of this afternoon with him, but didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere.”

“Why were you at the Ministry this morning?” Araminta asked frowning.

“Moody wanted me in. I’ve already had a week off, and that’s a week more than he’d like. So I went in for the morning, then popped back to Gideon’s at lunch time.”

“Fabian thinks I should see him.”

“Fabian doesn’t know the truth. He doesn’t know the risks involved with you seeing him. I’ve told you this already-”

“But surely it’s worth the risk if it might help him? I mean, you’ve already said that you think I’ve helped him; what’s the point in trying not to damage that, if it means you make me distance myself from him and hurt him more?”

“To Gideon, nothing is worse than a betrayal of trust and this would be a betrayal of huge proportions. It’s not happening.” She sighed sadly. “It’s all a massive mess. And it’s all your bloody Lord’s fault-”

“He’s not my Lord,” Araminta said sharply.

“Sorry.” Arieda had the grace to look sheepish.

“S’okay.” She paused. “Aside from this ... aside from Gideon, and the worry about dying, how are you finding it?”

“Oh, it’s a barrel of laughs.” Arieda scowled into her tea. “You know, six years ago, I was twelve. I’d just finished my First Year at Hogwarts, and I was still learning about the magical world, learning things that amazed me, captivated me. I thought I had the most wonderful life ahead of me ... I could do anything, couldn’t I? I could play Quidditch if I wanted to, I could work in Egypt breaking curses, I could have some of the most incredible jobs ... I had friends, so many friends ... I had no cares in the world. Voldemort was only just beginning his rise to power, and I was too young, too naive, to fully comprehend it anyway. What was there not to love about being a witch?

“And yet now, here I am, forced to cower away in my house every night to stay safe, instead of going out. I’m in Auror training – don’t get me wrong, being an Auror interests me, but I can state quite firmly that there are other careers I’d have much rathered; I’m only doing Auror training because of the lack of Aurors there are right now. A few of my friends didn’t even survive last summer, some didn’t make the previous summer, and I have to worry for my own life, as a Muggleborn, and for those of my Muggle family. My sister is dead, one of my closest friends is still a mess because of it, the man I love is grieving the death of his wife ... and yet I’m still not prepared to die.”

Her eyes, firmly fixed on Araminta, were begging, pleading for an answer.

“What have I done to deserve this? What have any of us done, to deserve such lives?”

Araminta had no answer.

***

Now, he hurt.

Arieda had told him that he couldn’t mourn forever. That life went on, and so should he. If anything, that made things worse. It was as though nobody else cared that Marlene was dead. As though her death meant nothing to anyone but him. As though she was just another victim in this war.

And still Araminta hadn’t come.

Did she really care so little? After all he’d told her, all he’d confided in her, did she really not think she should visit?

He took a swig of Firewhisky. Right now, it was his only friend, the only thing he could rely on. Arieda had told him he was relying on it too much, but he didn’t care any more.

A quiet pop disturbed the quiet. He peered through the dark, trying to sit up, to reach for his wand-

“Come on. You won’t get anywhere by lying around drinking all day.”

She took the bottle from him; he relinquished his grip on it without a fight. She sat next to him and pulled his head onto her shoulder. He closed his eyes, breathing in her scent.

“She wouldn’t want you to just sit around like this, you know,” she said quietly, running her hand through his hair. “She deserves more than this. You should use her death as motivation to fight on, instead of letting yourself drown in such misery.”

She said no more. He didn’t need her to. Her mere presence was comfort enough.


Chapter 18: This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)
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Who are we to be emotional?
Who are we to play with hearts and throw away it all?
Who are we to turn each other’s heads?

This Love (Will Be Your Downfall) – Ellie Goulding



Gideon wasn’t entirely sure how he’d managed to muster up the enthusiasm to come back to work.

Actually, that was a lie. He knew exactly how he’d managed to muster up the enthusiasm. The part of his mind that lived to torment and infuriate him was thoroughly enjoying telling him just why he was back in his office, two days after a certain someone had visited him. The other part of his mind however, was furiously trying to deny this, insisting that it was simply the right time for him to come back, that it was time to stop moping about Marlene’s death.

He still wasn’t sure exactly what it was about Araminta that had him so ... well, hooked. But he hated it. He hated that he felt so dependent upon her. He had never felt like that about anyone before, not even Louisa But then, she had always been there, so he’d never had to crave her presence.

Until she’d died.

That was another thing. He hated the guilt he felt every time he thought of Araminta. He’d been with Louisa for years; she’d died for him, and now here he was going gaga over another woman like an utter idiot.

He felt even worse when Araminta arrived, because when she saw him and her face lit up with a smile like nothing he’d ever seen from her before, all he could think was that he’d never seen a sight more beautiful.

***

The expression on her face was a sheepish one when he addressed the issue of the mounting paperwork on his desk.

“I was going to sort it all out,” she said hurriedly. “I’ve not neglected it, it’s just I’ve been ... elsewhere ... I swear, I had no idea you’d be in at all this week; I wouldn’t have left it if I had-”

“It’s fine.” He grinned and divided the pile in two, slapping half of it down in front of her. “You can help me sort it out now.”

She grimaced.

“How do you cope with the excitement?” she muttered dryly.

“The company can help,” he said without thinking.

She glanced up at him for a moment, and her cheeks tinged with pink, before she ducked her head in what he assumed was embarrassment. He grinned to himself, and turned back to his own paperwork.

As the day went on, she began acting odder and odder. She seemed very jumpy and nervous, and she kept looking up as if she were going to say something, only to bury her head back in the paperwork in front of her. She was getting through it much more quickly than he was, he noticed with slight irritation. Though he supposed he could always palm some of his pile off on her once she finished hers.

It was perhaps the first time since she’d started working with him that she had no visible signs of bruising on her. He’d wanted to say something on the subject but decided against it, as he didn’t want her to get angry with him again.

Eventually she seemed to pluck up the courage to speak.

“I need to talk to you later,” she said quietly.

He frowned.

“What about?”

She shook her head, her eyes wide.

“Later,” she murmured. She turned back to her paperwork, making it clear that she would say no more about the matter at that moment.

He looked at her for a moment in confusion, before shrugging it off, and setting aside a roll of parchment which needed to go to the Hit Wizards.

But his mind was already working on overdrive, trying to work out just what she felt the need to tell him. Was he finally going to get the answers he’d been looking for? And if so, what had changed for her to be willing to tell him without prompting?

He said no more to her about it, but he mentioned it to Arieda when he bumped into her by the training rooms while running an errand for Moody.

“Do you fancy dinner at the Leaky later?” she asked. “Figured we’ve not done that in a while...”

He hesitated. “Can we make it tomorrow? I’m busy later.”

She frowned.

“Busy? What on earth with?”

“I’m not sure exactly. Araminta says she wants to talk to me about something. I’m not sure what, so I don’t know how long it’ll take and I don’t want to rush her...”

Arieda’s expression seemed to harden.

“She wants to talk to you about something?”

“Platt!”

Rufus Scrimgeour, who was helping with the apprentices this week, poked his head out of the training room doorway. Arieda looked torn, but had no choice but to follow her superior back into the training room.

Gideon frowned slightly at her mysterious behaviour, but thought little of it as he headed back to his cubicle, anticipation growing at the thought of whatever it was Araminta had to tell him.

***

It didn’t take him long to realise that actually, he hadn’t wanted to know what she had to tell him at all.

He Apparated back to his flat with her as soon as they were finished at the office. She looked more nervous than he thought he’d ever seen her before.

“So, there’s something I’ve not been entirely honest with you about.” She looked down at the floor and fiddled with her left cuff. “But I want you to hear me out, and not get mad or jump to conclusions...”

She tailed off, chewing on her bottom lip.

“I can’t hear you out if you don’t talk,” he pointed out lightly.

She closed her eyes, looking nauseous and mumbled something so quietly that he couldn’t quite hear it.

“I didn’t catch that,” he prompted. “You can say what it is, you know; I won’t bite...”

Then she repeated herself, and he wished he hadn’t heard it.

“I’ve been working for the Dark Lord...”

For a moment, he just stared at her. He was speechless. He’d heard the words but they hadn’t quite sunk in yet; his brain hadn’t managed to process them. When it did, shock rendered him short of words.

“You’ve...”

“I’ve been working as a spy for him, in the Auror Department.” Her voice was shaking. “But I’ve changed my mind...”

Denial now took over from shock, and failed to expand his vocabulary spectrum.

“You’re joking...”

“You really think I’d joke about this?” Her facial expression conveyed desperation. She seemed to be pleading for him to believe her. “It’s not exactly a joking matter, is it? I’m not proud of it; it disgusts me to think I’ve been working for someone like him, he...”

She was still talking, her voice growing quicker now, as though she was desperate to get the words out, but he had stopped listening. The red mist was coming down, and the anger brought with it deafness to what she was saying and, finally, a torrent of words.

“You’ve been spying on me?” His heart thundered loudly. “For Voldemort?” She shuddered at the name. Seeing her fear of her master’s name only fuelled his anger. “You work for him and you have the cheek to stand in front of me in my house and  - you’ve had the cheek to LIE TO ME AND PRETEND YOU’RE SOMEONE YOU’RE NOT?”

“I’m not working for him any more, I’ve changed sides-”

“That doesn’t make a jot of difference! Yeah, sure, you’ve changed sides, so that makes everything okay, that makes up for everything you’ve done-”

“I haven’t even done anything!” she cried, flinging her arms in the air in exasperation. “If you’d hear me out, you’d know-”

Haven’t done anything? You’ve led me on for weeks – no, months! Pretended you’re some poor, naive, fragile little thing, made me open up to you, made me fall for you, and ALL THIS TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING FOR THE GUY WE’RE TRYING TO HUNT!”

“He killed my parents!” she said desperately, talking over him. “He made me believe your Order had done it, what else was I to do-”

“The right thing!”

“What, and fight for the people I thought had killed the only family I ever had? You know what it’s like, when you lose someone you’re close to, you just want to avenge them ... your parents ... Louisa ... Marlene...”

The names triggered something in his brain.

“Marlene,” he said, chest heavily. “Lou – you did it, didn’t you? You gave Marlene up to your scum mates-”

“I didn’t know where her parents lived!”

“-you were there!” His eyes widened, as the realisation hit him. He’d seen it replayed over and over again ... Bellatrix holding Marlene’s head back ... Travers saying the words ... and a third hooded figure, Disapparating ... “You were there! SHE TRUSTED YOU! And this is how you repaid her! And you were there in Hogsmeade too, weren’t you? When you ... when your lot ... when Louisa...”

“No, I wasn’t,” she pleaded, tears running down her face, “please, just listen to me, hear me out-”

But Gideon was done listening. He didn’t want to hear any more, he couldn’t hear any more...

And then he remembered that he was a wizard, and that he had a wand, and that he could cause pain, and he drew his wand, wanting to cause Araminta pain, wanting her to feel the pain that he felt-

Expelliarmus!”

The force of the Disarming spell didn’t just rip his wand from his hand, but sent him flying backwards into the wall. His vision went black for a moment. He winced, as his hand found the back of his head.

“Sirius!” he heard a female voice cry. “How strong?”

“It wasn’t meant to be that strong,” a male voice replied guiltily.

Hearing Sirius’ voice enraged Gideon more; he stumbled to his feet, his vision coming back enough for him to make out three fuzzy outlines.

“Black, you bastard-”

“Told you he wouldn’t like me appearing...”

Gideon blinked a couple of times, and his living room came back into focus. His eyes widened as he saw Arieda, holding back a tearful Araminta.

“What the hell is this all about?” he snarled.

“I couldn’t let you hurt her!” Arieda looked apologetic. “Gid, please, just calm down-”

“Calm down? Calm down? She’s in cahoots with Voldemort, and you want me to calm down-”

“Otherwise, you’ll do something you’ll regret.” Her voice was measured, and her hands were still on Araminta’s forearms.

“I wouldn’t regret a thing.” His lip curled slightly and he glared at Araminta. “Where’s my wand?” His gaze turned to Sirius, whose wand was still trained on him and who held a second wand in his left hand. “Black, give me my wand back-”

He stumbled forwards, but Sirius’ wand arm held firm.

“Don’t make me stun you, Gideon,” he said warningly.

“Yeah,” Gideon said, breathing faster again, “cause you would, wouldn’t you? And you’d love it. Payback for Mary’s death, right? Cause it was clearly all my fault-”

“Gideon, shut up,” Arieda snapped.

He turned his attention back to her.

“And what the hell are you playing at? She’s prancing around with a bloody Mark on her arm; you should be handing her in to the Ministry, not protecting her – give me my damn wand, Black!”

He lunged for Sirius, who shot a spell at him. He ducked from it and seized Sirius’ wand arm, trying to disarm him.

Araminta shrieked in alarm, but Sirius grunted, twisted his arm around and forced Gideon to let go.

Incarcerous!”

Gideon fell to the floor, as thick cords snaked round his arms and legs.

“You bastard-”

“I had to,” Sirius said, panting. “It’s for your own good. You’d have gone for her otherwise and you’d have regretted it...”

Gideon noticed that the two women had vanished.

“Where are they?” he snarled.

“I don’t know.”

“And you ... you believe her claptrap?”

“I’ve not heard a word of her ‘claptrap’. Arieda just told me she needed reinforcement.” He paused. “I’ll release you, but only if you promise you won’t try to hit out at me again, or try to find Araminta...”

Gideon slumped his shoulders; the fight had gone out of him. He didn’t care any longer. All he could think of was Marlene’s face when he and Fabian had stormed into her parents’ living room, and the figure that had Disapparated ... Araminta ... who had visited him only days ago, when he’d been so upset at Marlene’s death ... and had been there, in Death Eater robes, when she’d died.

***

 “What the bloody hell was that all about?”

Araminta ignored Arieda, instead preferring to aim a kick at her coffee table.

“And I’d appreciate if you didn’t break my furniture.” A wave of Arieda’s wand fixed the table, and a second reset the items on top of it. “Vase on the mantelpiece is breakable if you must, but this is all your doing, so I don’t see how you can be angry with anyone other than yourself.”

Araminta span round to glare at her.

My fault?”

“I told you not to tell him!” Arieda glared back. “I told you he wouldn’t take it well, that he’d jump to conclusions about Wheeza and Marly, but did you listen? No! Why did you have to tell him?”

“He had to know!” Her voice was growing louder and shakier.

“Fabian doesn’t know. James doesn’t know. Lily doesn’t know. Sirius doesn’t – didn’t – know. What’s the difference?”

“I don’t lo-”

She fell silent, refusing to finish that sentence.

Where did that come from? she asked herself, as she sat down on the chair behind her and raised her shaking hands to her face.

“I don’t care what they do or don’t know,” she clarified. “I was working with Gideon for two months, he deserves to know-”

“If you’d kept him in the dark, it wouldn’t have made any difference. He didn’t need to know. It doesn’t benefit him; it doesn’t benefit either of you. The last thing he needs to hear when he’s grieving the death of his best friend is that someone he thought he could trust had been working against them. You were his one constant, his comforting presence, and now he thinks he can’t trust you any more-”

“But he can! That’s what I was trying to tell him, if only he’d listen,” she said, trying to quash the feelings of guilt inside her.

“He won’t, you know as well as I do that he won’t listen while Louisa’s and Marlene’s deaths are in the forefront of his mind.”

Araminta squeezed her eyes shut.

“You know,” she said, “sometimes I wish I were a flobberworm. Much less hassle.”

“Flobberworms are asexual, you’d have no fun at all.” Arieda got up in response to a knock on the door. “I expect that’s Sirius, wanting answers. Gideon wouldn’t have knocked.”

At that moment, Araminta wasn’t sure who she’d rather face.

Sirius accompanied Arieda into the room and shot a curious look at Araminta, who shifted in her seat uncomfortably.

“Take a seat” Arieda gestured at another of the armchairs.

He sat down and she lounged back on her settee.

“How is he?” she asked.

He shrugged.

He shrugged. “Seems to have calmed down. Stopped threatening to hurt anyone and anything he could get his hands on, at any rate. I hid his wand before he left, so even if he does decide to hunt anyone down, he’ll have to find it first and hopefully that will give him time to calm down...”

Arieda snorted.

“And there was me thinking you knew him well, Sirius,” she said dryly. “Thanks for the help, though. I wouldn’t have gotten him away from Araminta myself.”

“It was no trouble.”

He turned to Araminta. There were a mixture of emotions on his face ... curiosity, suspicion and ... exasperation?

 “I should have worked it out,” he said, sounding frustrated. “One of my great-aunts was called Araminta, and there are Gamps in the extended family ... I should have known you were from the same lot.”

“I was worried you’d figure it out,” she admitted, relieved that he didn’t seem too angry with her. “But you didn’t, thankfully.”

A wry smile twisted at the corner of his mouth.

“So, were you actually a Death Eater, then?”

She thought that she would explode with gratitude at his use of the past tense. Although Arieda had accepted her change of heart, she could tell the younger woman didn’t truly approve of her. Sirius’ words, so meaningless, showed that finally, somebody other than Dumbledore truly believed her. And Sirius hadn’t probed her memories, hadn’t even heard her story from her mouth.

 “I was, yes. I ... I thought the Order killed my parents when I was fifteen. I found out recently that it was the Dark Lord all along ... so, I’m working for the Order now. I was placed in your department as a spy for the Dark Lord, but I’ve now become a spy for Dumbledore ... for you guys.”

“Welcome to the fold.” He smiled warmly and she couldn’t help but return it. “Who knows? I’m assuming Gideon didn’t?”

She shook her head.

“I told him today. That was what caused his ... anger. Arieda told me I shouldn’t, but ... I couldn’t keep him in the dark any longer. And Arieda knows, obviously, and Dumbledore, and Moody, and now you.”

“And it’s confidential knowledge, so don’t go shouting it about,” Arieda chipped in.

“I’d gathered that,” he said wryly. “My lips are sealed, don’t worry. Anyway, I should be going.” He got to his feet.

“Thanks for the help,” Arieda said gratefully. “I really appreciate it.”

“If I can’t help a damsel in distress every now and again, then I’m a poor Auror.” He grinned. “Don’t worry, I can see myself out,” he added as she half-rose from her chair.

He turned to Araminta.

“Don’t let Gideon’s reaction get you down. He’ll come round soon, don’t worry. He’s just not quite as rational as he once was. It’ll all be okay in the end.” He paused. “And look after yourself. I wouldn’t like to think of what Voldemort might do to you if he found out you weren’t his woman.”

His concern brought tears to her eyes.

“I will,” she said quietly, smiling faintly.

He nodded, then turned on his heel and was gone.

“He ... he believed me.” Araminta blinked; a couple of tears ran down her cheeks. She wiped them away, embarrassed.

 “I thought he might believe you.” Arieda smiled happily.

“I didn’t.”

“You’re more similar than you realise.” She got to her feet. “Tea?”

Araminta nodded numbly, and Arieda headed out to the kitchen. She leaned forwards in the chair, her hands covering her face.

Why does everything have to be so complicated?

A few moments later, a hand fell onto her back.

“I’m sorry,” Arieda said gently. “Really, I am. If I could change anything, make him see sense, I would. But ... you know how irrational he is. I don’t think there’s anything that can be done. Just ... wait, I guess...”

“For how long?” Araminta laughed bitterly through her hands. “I can’t see him coming round too quickly.”

“For as long as it takes, I guess.” Arieda pulled Araminta’s hair back out of her face. “Until then, all you can do is try to get on with things. Keep your head down, try to stay out of trouble. Maybe that way he’ll see the truth.”

Araminta sat up and turned to face Arieda, who was perched on the arm of the chair.

“And what if he doesn’t?” Her voice was almost a whisper, her eyes pleading.

Arieda looked apologetic.

“Then I guess he’ll never truly understand it.” She paused. “You will carry on, won’t you? You ... you won’t turn your back on us?”

Araminta laughed bitterly.

“Even if I did, you’d know exactly who I am and come straight after me, I’d hardly gain from it.” She cocked her head, considering Arieda’s words again. “You ... you’re serious, aren’t you? You think that if Gideon doesn’t believe me, I’ll stop working for the Order. I – how can you think that?”

She rose to her feet sharply, her anger rising; Arieda’s hand fell away from her back. “Is that what you think? You think that I’m spying on the Dark Lord, risking my life, not just merely for a man, but for one who doesn’t believe me? What will it take for you to trust me-”

“I do trust you!” Arieda reached forwards and took Araminta’s hands in her own. “I helped you just now with Gideon, didn’t I?”

“Not that it would have looked good to Dumbledore if you hadn’t, given that you’re meant to be my minder-”

“I’m only meant to be the go-between,” Areida reminded her. “Look, it’s not that I don’t trust you, really. It’s just, I think you underestimate the affect that Gideon has had on your decision, and I don’t want you to be upset at his reaction...”

Araminta shook her head slowly.

“I would have turned against the Dark Lord even without him.” She was calm again now. “It’s just ... then I would have been fighting purely for revenge. And you’re right; that’s not enough. Pure revenge, wanting to get them back for what they’ve done ... that shouldn’t be anyone’s sole reason for fighting. Because ... it makes us no better than them, right? Gideon ... he helped me understand that the reason they fight is wrong. That the beliefs they have are wrong. That this pureblood elitism is nonsense...”

Arieda’s face split into a wide smile.

“You really think that?” The happiness in her voice was unmistakeable.

“Of course. How can I not see that now?”

Areida actually laughed.

“Did I say something?” Araminta said uneasily.

“No, it’s not that. It’s just ... it’s always nice to be told you’re not scum, especially by a member of a pureblood family as old as time itself.” She paused. “Anyway, I’ll make that tea, shall I?” She got to her feet, passing Araminta on her way to the kitchen. She stopped in the doorway, and turned back to face her.

“I mean it, you know. About Gideon. He’ll see, in time. It’s just, that’s what he needs right now. Time. Time to think things over. Then, he’ll see.”


Chapter 19: Little Lies
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No more broken hearts
We're better off apart, let's give it a try

Little Lies – Fleetwood Mac



And so, Gideon and Araminta started avoiding each other once again. They had probably spent more time ignoring each other than they had actually talking to each other in the past few weeks, Gideon thought wryly.

At least she’d managed to do most of his paperwork before dropping her bombshell, he considered at the end of a very quiet morning in his cubicle.

This time, Araminta hadn’t opted to spend her day with Fabian on patrols, or even with Sirius in his cubicle up the corridor. Gideon was at least glad of this; he thought that would probably push him over the edge.

Instead, she was in the training room, helping out with the apprentices. Scrimgeour’s team had been a member down since Marlene had died, and Moody had clearly decided she could be trusted enough to work without a mentor. Either that, or he trusted that Scrimgeour’s presence would be enough to keep her in line.

Of course, Arieda was also in the training room. Gideon wasn’t sure why, but somehow she already knew about Araminta. And not only that, but she seemed fine with it. In fact, the two seemed to have become thick as thieves. This was perhaps the thing that pissed him off the most about the whole debacle and as a result, he had been steadfastly ignoring Arieda for most of the week too.

No. Nothing could quite top the fact that he had trusted Araminta – and he rarely trusted anyone these days – and she had thrown it back in his face. He couldn’t quite believe that he’d been so stupid, that he hadn’t noticed something was amiss ... and he felt foolish. When he thought of everything he’d said to her, the way he’d told her that he was there for her, while all along she’d been spying on him ... she must have been laughing behind his back the whole time. He’d been entirely ridiculous.

He scowled, and glared at his quill so intensely that it burst into flames on his desk. He jumped and hurriedly put out the fire with his wand. Wordlessly, he Vanished the ashes, now even more annoyed than before.

He needed to buy a new quill now. And that had been his favourite.

“Thanks a bunch, Gamp,” he muttered angrily.

***

On Sunday, he was forced to see Arieda again. An impromptu Order meeting had been called, and she cornered him while they were waiting for Dumbledore to arrive.

“You can’t ignore me forever, you know.”

“I can bloody well try,” he replied, glaring at her.

“It won’t benefit you,” she shrugged. “And besides, be mad at her, sure, but you don’t need to take it out on me. I told her that telling you was a bad idea...”

“You told her not to tell me?” His eyes widened.

“Yeah. I mean, what did it gain? You didn’t need to know, did you? You were perfectly content not knowing-”

“Of course I needed to know!” he snapped.

She smirked, and he realised that he’d fallen hook, line and sinker into her trap.

“Then you shouldn’t be mad at her,” she said simply. “She’s done all she could-”

“But she’s a Death Eater!”

“Keep your voice down, idiot,” she hissed, glancing furtively around them. “She was a Death Eater. And even then, she never did any of this front-line fighting stuff; she’s always been a spy. She says she hasn’t killed, and I believe her. She says she was forced to go to Marlene’s parents’ house, that she had no idea it was happening, and that they tried to make her kill Marlene but she couldn’t...”

And that moment replayed in Gideon’s mind once more.

“But that doesn’t change the fact that she joined him-”

She thought the Order killed her parents! What would you do in those circumstances? Not to mention, she believed the blood supremacy argument at the time. She didn’t have a choice-”

“People always have choices.”

“She didn’t have a realistic choice. Why should she join the people she thought killed her parents? Especially when she thought that her parents wanted her to join Voldemort. The moment she found out the truth, she acted. You can’t have an issue with anything she’s done-”

“But she lied, Ari,” he insisted. “I trusted her, and it was misplaced-”

“Again, she had no choice. It may have been misplaced trust at the time, but now it’s not. It was hardly as though she could make sure you didn’t trust her, was it? And I promise you, she’s loyal as anything now. Do you really think I’d trust her otherwise?”

“So, she’s loyal. You trust her. Great. That still doesn’t make everything better...”

And then he remembered how he had kissed her, and how she’d kissed him back ... it was a memory that he’d replayed over and over again, trying to work out how it had happened, what it had meant ... and now it had become even more complicated.

Dumbledore arrived before Arieda could reply. They followed the rest of the Order into the kitchen and took their seats around the large table.

“Is everyone here?” Dumbledore said. He looked slightly saddened; the glint in his eye, that was so often present even in these dark times, was gone.

“Everyone but Dorcas.” Lily glanced round the table and did a quick head count.

Dumbledore looked at her sadly, and the reason for the meeting became clear.

“Dorcas has long been a target of Voldemort’s,” he said slowly. “Unfortunately, last night he caught up with her.”

Gasps and groans echoed round the table. Gideon himself felt a pang of sorrow for the older woman, whom he had gotten on well with at times, and who had been one of the Order’s best and most loyal servants.

“She had been placed under the highest protection possible, but Voldemort managed to get to her regardless.”

Dumbledore didn’t say it outright, but Gideon could tell what he was hinting at.

Someone had given away Dorcas’ location to Voldemort.

He looked pointedly across the table at Arieda. He could tell, from the resigned expression on her face, that she understood his expression.

There was no chance of him trusting Araminta.

***

He stayed at the house for a long time after the meeting had finished. He didn’t want to return to his flat. It didn’t feel like home. He hadn’t lived anywhere that had felt like home since his and Louisa’s marital home, which he’d been forced to leave not long after her death. The old Potter house, still furnished as it had been when they had lived here, felt far more homely, even if it had no full-time residents.

To his relief, Arieda had left once the meeting finished. He wasn’t sure where she’d gone, but he didn’t care; it meant he didn’t have to talk to her, which he was grateful for.

He sat with Fabian, Lily and James. Their conversation entirely avoided the present, all of them needing some time when they didn’t have to confront the outside world. Instead, they reminisced about their days at Hogwarts. Most of their stories involved Louisa and Marlene.

And oddly, it didn’t hurt. When Louisa had died, Gideon had tried not to think of her. He’d assumed that doing so would have hurt more. But now, talking about her and Marlene helped. It was helping him to heal. It was something he needed.

He was the last to leave. He’d stayed behind to clear up the tankards they’d used, opting to do so the Muggle way so as to take longer.

Just as he was about to Disapparate, he heard quiet voices in the hallway. He frowned, crossing the kitchen to the door, but it opened before he reached it.

He stopped in his tracks as his eyes fell on Dumbledore – and behind him, Arieda and Araminta.

“Gideon.” There was a slight note of surprise in Dumbledore’s voice. “Is anybody else here?”

“No, I’m the last,” he said, trying his hardest not to look at Araminta.

“Good, good,” Dumbledore said. He didn’t question whether Gideon knew about Araminta; he evidently already knew. He turned to look at her. “You may come here whenever you like, but I suggest you only do so if you need to. This house is under the best protective spells I can offer, so you’ll be safe from Voldemort here, but I cannot promise there won’t be Order members here, so it’s best to avoid it if possible, if we want to keep your role quiet. Unless you have any more questions, I’ll be leaving now. It is getting late, and the House Elves have saved me some of the roast beef they served earlier.”

Despite his mood, Gideon couldn’t prevent a smile teasing the corners of his mouth on seeing Arieda’s facial expression as she thought of the Hogwarts roast beef.

Dumbledore left, and the three of them remained in an awkward silence.

Arieda was the first to break it.

“So, I’ll be going now...” she said uneasily. “If you need me, you know where to find me.”

Araminta nodded, looking as though she wanted her to leave about as much as Gideon did – which was not at all – and Arieda too left.

Araminta turned back to Gideon and opened her mouth to speak, but he cut in.

“Don’t bother, I don’t want to hear a word you have to say,” he said bitterly.

“Gideon, please...” She took a step forwards. “Please, hear me out-”

“What? You’re going to tell me all about how you didn’t mean to deceive me?” His eyes flashed with anger. “Every single word you said to me was a lie, why should I believe this is any different?”

“I never lied to you,” she said quietly, her voice shaking.

He scoffed.

“How can you have the audacity to say you never lied to me, after you’ve been caught spying for Voldemort?”

She shuddered at her master’s name, but continued nevertheless.

“I may have withheld the truth,” she said, her eyes fixed on his, “but I never lied to you.”

His lip curled.

“I don’t care if you lied or not, Travers-”

“It’s Gamp,” she interrupted fiercely. “I didn’t take his name-”

“I don’t care, you still married the bastard.” He paused. “All I’ve been living for, for the past two years, is to avenge my wife’s death. Your scum husband was the one who killed her. And you had to take the crown for yourself. You won’t even let me avenge her death properly.” His glare intensified. “I don’t know why you’re bothering. Dumbledore may believe you’ve changed allegiances, but I can’t forgive what you did. I still don’t think you have changed sides-”

“Do you think I’d lie to Dumbledore?” She crossed her arms defiantly. “I lied to the Dark Lord for you. I held your address back for as long as was possible for me, and when I finally had to tell him, I made sure Dumbledore found out you were in danger so you could move house. And you think I don’t have it in me to change sides?”

“If you’re looking for gratitude-”

“Trust me, if I were looking for gratitude from you I’d be a fool.”

There was another pause.

“So why have you changed sides then?” He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t get me wrong, you seem like the kind of person to change sides on a whim, but that would be to join the winning side, and I wouldn’t say we’re winning right now.”

She ignored the snub.

“I changed sides when I found out the truth about my parents,” she said quietly. “I used to think they wanted me to join the Dark Lord’s followers, and I thought the Order had killed them. Now I know that they never intended for me to become a Death Eater, that it was Travers who killed them-”

“So let’s get this straight. You join Voldemort to get revenge on the Order for the deaths of your parents, but then you discover that it was Voldemort’s supporters who killed your parents, so you switch sides to join the Order to get revenge on the Death Eaters. So you don’t believe in any of what we’re fighting for here, you just want revenge-”

“Isn’t that what you want?” Araminta shot back at him.

“I’m different. I’ve always been against the pureblood supremacy theory, I’ve always fought for the Order, I’ve just got more motivation to do it now. You switch sides depending on who you need to get back at-”

“Doesn’t everyone need a reason to fight?” she reasoned. “Besides, who says I’m not against the pureblood supremacy theory too? Okay, so I may have believed in it, but I can see now that it was a load of nonsense-”

“You expect me to believe that?”

“If I believed it, I wouldn’t even look at Arieda if I didn’t have to,” she said in clipped tones.

“And this is supposed to make up for you betraying me?”

“I didn’t betray you and I didn’t give up Marlene!” she said furiously.

“So who else did then?” His voice was nearly a shout.

“I don’t know!” she replied, as loudly as he. “You’ve got a traitor in your ranks, you all know that, right? It must have been them. I didn’t know where her parents lived, I never even learned where she lived-”

“But if you did you’d have handed the address over-”

“My mission was to provide information about the Auror Department, and to hand you over to the Dark Lord.” Her voice was suddenly calm and quiet again. “I kept your address from him for weeks. I only told him when they were getting suspicious about my apparent lack of information. I made sure you were safe. I would never have given Marlene’s address over if I’d found it out. Everything I did, everything I’m doing now, it’s all for you. If you can’t believe that ... then maybe I need to try harder to prove it.”

His face was unemotional.

“Don’t waste your time on that,” he said after a moment. “It’s no good you acting now, after Marlene’s died. It won’t bring her back. If you really meant to help us, you would have told us you were Voldemort’s spy the minute you realised you weren’t cut out for following him, not left it for us to find out-”

“And how was I meant to tell you that?” She paused, her eyes pleading with him to believe her. “You wouldn’t have listened to me; you’d have handed me over in a heartbeat.”

“Do you really think that?”

“I know that,” she said furiously. “Because to you, there is nothing worse than being a Death Eater. To you, once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater. Even now you can’t recognise that I’ve switched-”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ve clearly not given you enough credit. You should obviously be rewarded for joining Voldemort, for taking the easy option; after all, Louisa and Marlene giving their lives in the fight against him is nothing in comparison-”

“All you Order members, you’re all the same!” She was shaking with frustration. “You, Moody, Arieda, you all think you’ve got the moral high ground because you chose to fight against the Dark Lord from the start. Do you have any idea how hard it is for someone to admit they were wrong, and switch sides, to the underdog? No, you clearly don’t, because you always make the right decisions in life, don’t you? What do I have to do to make you see that I’ve genuinely joined the Order? Save your life again? Die for you? What?”

She drew in a shuddering breath.

Gideon stared at her for a moment, his eyes emotionless.

“Just ... just leave me. You’ve done more than enough. Just leave me to mourn in peace.”

He turned and left the room.


Chapter 20: A Real Hero
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Back against the wall and odds
With the strength of a will and a cause
Your pursuits are called outstanding
You're emotionally complex

A Real Hero - College



Araminta had continued to hope Gideon would come round, feeling certain that he would, eventually. After all, both Arieda and Sirius had seemed so certain of it.

But two weeks had passed since she’d told him of her role as a spy, and she’d only talked to him once since – the confrontation at the Order of the Phoenix’s Headquarters. Since then, he’d managed to avoid her spectacularly. She’d switched rotas for good now, taking up Marlene’s empty space on Scrimgeour’s team while Kingsley Shacklebolt had been moved to work with Fabian.

She had been surprised at first that Moody had allowed her to change rotas. Indeed, they did need someone to fill Marlene’s slot, but it meant that she was working on her own and she had half-expected him to want somebody keeping an eye on her. However, his main reservation had in fact been for her safety.

“Voldemort wanted you to spy on Prewett,” he said gruffly. “What’s he going to say if he finds out we’ve promoted you?”

She shrugged.

“I’ll tell him that I had no choice. I’ll have to. I can’t keep working with Gideon; he hates me.”

Moody said the same as Arieda and Sirius.

“He’ll come round...”

“He hasn’t yet,” she pointed out. “I’ll be fine.”

He eyed her for a moment, his expression unreadable.

“I’m not having you on patrol by yourself,” he said. “For your own safety. You can patrol with Dawlish and Williamson.”

She managed to restrain herself from pulling a face.

“And for Merlin’s sake, keep out of Prewett’s way if possible. The last thing we need is for you two to cause a scene in the middle of the MLE.”

She nodded, not wanting to point out that she would hardly be the one causing a scene. But he hadn’t finished.

“I’ll be having a word with Prewett, too. If something’s good enough for Dumbledore, it should bloody well be good enough for him.”

Araminta didn’t say that she thought it was the element of misplaced trust that seemed to be bothering Gideon the most, something that would be entirely unaffected by the reminder of Dumbledore’s trust in her.

“Is that all?” she said.

He nodded.

“That’s all,” he said. “Off you go, then. And look after yourself, we can’t afford to lose another Auror.”

She smiled wryly, and left his office.

***

The thing that hurt most was that she couldn’t even talk to Gideon about his sister. She’d heard from Fabian that Molly had given birth to a daughter (“So she’d better bloody stop procreating now, because I can’t afford to buy presents for any more nieces or nephews!”) and had wanted to talk to him about it, but she couldn’t even do that.

It was horrible.

She had, however, seen pictures of little Ginevra, as Arieda had visited a few times. She had offered to take Araminta with her on her next visit, but she had declined. For one thing, she thought her presence at the house of a family who were clearly very removed from the Order and the war in general would be a bad move; she certainly didn’t want to endanger them.

For another, it would probably push Gideon over the edge.

She knew that, on top of everything else she’d done, her association with Arieda was annoying him further. In fact, he was evidently annoyed with both of them on that count. She was immensely glad, though, that Arieda had finally seemed to accept her decision, and she was now more friendly than she had been before she had found out.

She’d also provided much needed support. For Araminta’s role as a spy was proving to be much harder than she had anticipated. She would have been able to cope, if it wasn’t for her one-on-one meetings with the Dark Lord, which meant she had to work harder than ever before at keeping her thoughts and memories private. It was beginning to take its toll. She felt exhausted all the time, and was beginning to wonder whether she was cut out for this.

“Of course you are,” Arieda reassured her one evening, after a particularly testing visit. “Put it this way. He clearly thinks a lot of you, if he trusts you so much...”

Araminta pulled a face.

“Thanks for reminding me of that,” she said dryly.

“You don’t feel guilty, do you?”

“Not particularly ... it’s just odd, working against someone who taught me so much and so obviously trusts me. But then, he taught me what he did for his own ends, and he trusts me because he doesn’t think I could possibly think for myself. Which means he doesn’t think much of me...”

“I’d say it’s the opposite. He thinks you’re strong-minded enough to not be swayed-”

“I’d rather believe the former, thanks.”

“But it’s good. I mean, if he thinks you’re strong-minded ... it’s your morals where he underestimates you. Your morals, and your humanity, and your heart. You’re a far stronger woman than he sees. And that’s why you can do this.”

Araminta smiled faintly, feeling slightly better about the situation.

***

At the end of that week came her most testing challenge yet.

“I’ve heard something that saddens me greatly,” the Dark Lord said softly, his red eyes boring into her. “Is it true that you are no longer working with Gideon Prewett?”

Her heart sank.

“Yes, my Lord,” she said, bowing her head slightly. “Moody decided to promote me, to take McKinnon’s spot. I had no choice but to agree...”

“Araminta, I do not punish people unnecessarily.” She kept her thoughts on that firmly behind her mental shield. “I also value you very much. You have talent, there is no doubting that, and a knack at procuring information.”

She was waiting for the ‘but’.

“But you have failed to get me Gideon Prewett. I have to admit, this disappoints me. I had faith in you. I thought you would be able to hand him to me on a silver platter.” He paused. “Clearly, I have overestimated you.

“We have disposed of Meadowes. This is a step forwards. But that was not thanks to you. Your information has dried up somewhat...”

“I find out little in the Auror office, my Lord.” She looked up at him earnestly. “The paperwork is of past events, it tells me very little, and if they are planning anything then I am not privy to it-”

“This is why I planted you in that Department under Prewett’s watch,” he said slowly. “You were finding out much more when you were working with him. This is a disappointment, Araminta.”

She knew what was coming. She had seen it before, mostly with Avery. But she had never been on the receiving end of a Cruciatus Curse cast by the Dark Lord.

And no matter how much she braced herself, nothing could prepare her for the bone-cracking pain that hit her moments later.

***

Lily had encouraged Gideon, Fabian, Arieda and Sirius to assemble at Headquarters for dinner with her and James. Gideon really hadn’t fancied seeing Arieda or Sirius, but, fearing Lily’s wrath, he had reluctantly taken up her offer.

So he found himself sitting in the living room with Arieda after dinner, an awkward silence between them. Fabian had left early to meet up with Marlene’s sister Sandrine’s fiancé, and Lily, James and Sirius had remained in the kitchen. He suspected Lily had planned this in an attempt to make him and Arieda talk.

She spoke first.

“Look, I know I’ve upset you, Gid, and I’m really sorry. I won’t excuse what I’m doing. I genuinely trust her, and she needs support and friendship right now. But ... I miss you.”

He didn’t respond.

Please, Gid, don’t ignore me...”

She was interrupted by the front door banging open.

“Who on earth is that?” she said, frowning.

Gideon half-rose from his chair, but, hearing the others reach the hall first, sank back into it. But when their voices rose, sounding frantic, he leapt up from his chair. Arieda followed suit.

The door to the living room opened.

“-needs Arieda,” Sirius was saying, as he held the door open. “Will here do, Lil?”

“It’ll have to ... careful, James-”

Gideon’s heart leapt to his throat. James followed Lily into the room, cradling an unconscious and bloody woman in his arms. Both Potters seemed slightly bemused at the situation, but were unfazed. Arieda dashed forwards, producing her wand, and James laid the woman down on the treatment table that she had just conjured. The woman’s head rolled to the side, and Gideon’s stomach churned.

“Araminta!”

“I need my old Healing bag.” Lily, who’d studied Healing before going into hiding with James, swept her hair back into a bun with her wand. “It’s in my room.”

James nodded, and left the room.

“Arieda, she’ll need some clean clothes.”

Arieda followed James.

“Gideon-”

“I’m helping you,” he said stoutly, stepping forwards.

“Leave, Gideon,” she said firmly, stripping Araminta of her cloak.

“Lil, I want to help-”

“You’re not helping me!” she snapped suddenly.

She took a deep breath, and turned to face him.

“Leave, please.” Her voice was quiet, pleading.

“Come on, leave them to it.”

A hand rested on Gideon’s shoulder, and nudged him towards the door. He sighed, but allowed himself to be steered out of the room, and into the kitchen across from the hall.

“You’ll just get in the way,” Sirius said quietly. He shut the door behind them and Gideon sank into one of the chairs, and lowered his head into his hands. A series of clinking noises told him that Sirius was getting glasses out of one of the cupboards.

“What’s happened to her?”

“Can’t say for sure. Looks like prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus though.”

Gideon yelped, and raised his head, as Sirius slammed a glass of firewhisky down in front of him, another in his own hand.

“Why would they torture her? They think she’s one of them!” A horrible thought dawned on him. “You – you don’t think they’ve found her out, do you?”

“If they’d found her out, she’d be dead,” Sirius said dryly. He tipped his firewhisky down his throat, pulling a face as he swallowed. “No, it’s more likely Voldemort doesn’t think she’s getting information quickly enough. Drink,” he added, topping up his glass.

Gideon looked down at his own glass, and pushed it away.

“I want to help her,” he said firmly. He started to get to his feet.

Sirius rolled his eyes, and leaned back against the kitchen counter.

“For a start, you have minimal Healing expertise. Secondly, I hardly think you’re in the right mental state to help her. Trust me, she’s much better in Lily’s care.”

Gideon sat back down heavily.

“You don’t get it,” he said. “I knew you wouldn’t. I have to help her. It’s my fault she’s like that, I didn’t believe her, she thought she had to prove herself to me-”

Sirius snorted.

“Merlin, I didn’t think you were that big-headed,” he said. “You think this is about you? It’s never been about you. You underestimate her entirely. It’s so, so much bigger than that, so much bigger than you. She’s doing this because she wants to, because she believes it’s the right thing. One of these days, you’ll recognise her loyalty, and her bravery, without having to credit it to yourself. Now drink your bloody firewhisky.”

Gideon glared at him, but couldn’t find the words for what he wanted to say, so he settled for pouring the alcohol down his throat, wincing as it burned. Sirius grinned slightly, refilling the glass as Gideon set it back on the table.

“Why do you care so much about her motives?” he asked, staring at the glass.

Sirius paused for a moment.

“Because I know what it’s like, living with the presumption you’ll become something, just because it’s what’s expected of you. And I know how much it takes to turn your back on that, to become somebody different despite being raised with those expectations. I had the opportunity to see what else I could become, because of other people: James; Remus; Peter; Mary.” His voice cracked. “She’s never had that, before now. She assumed her parents expected her to become a Death Eater. Being homeschooled, she never met anybody outside that circle. She never had the chance to see what else she could be. If you did anything, you nudged her in the right direction. In the end, she took the same path as me. She’s just a few years behind, that’s all.”

Gideon frowned.

“But it’s all too late for her,” he said quietly. “No matter what she thinks, she’s a Death Eater now. She can’t back out from that.”

“And how is she worse off than us? At least she’s not on their death list-”

“Yet.”

“So they find her out. What happens? They’ll want her dead. Is that really so different from us?”

Gideon exhaled deeply.

“Is there any point in this? We’re all going to die in the end.”

“It’s not about what happens to us. It’s about what we do in the time we’ve got.”

Gideon looked up at Sirius, who was downing his second glass.

“We’re not going to win this war, are we?”

Sirius frowned.

“With that attitude?”

Gideon sighed, and downed his own firewhisky.

Just then, Arieda entered the kitchen. Gideon sat up sharply, and Sirius pushed himself up away from the counter.

“How is she?” Gideon asked urgently.

“Still unconscious,” she replied, filling a pitcher with water. “Lily’s cleaned her up. She doesn’t seem to have any lasting injuries. She’ll just be exhausted for a few days.”

“Can I see her?”

She turned to face him, raising an eyebrow.

“She’s unconscious, Gid, she’s hardly going to be massively responsive,” she said dryly. “Let her rest, you can see her later.”

She took the glass that Sirius was holding out to her, and smiled in gratitude, before leaving the room.

Sirius filled up their glasses for a third time.

“Why are you so concerned about her?” he asked quietly.

Gideon ignored the question, trying not to confront its answer. Instead, he concentrated on emptying his glass yet again.

“You love her.”

Gideon shook his head slowly, staring down at the table.

“I love Louisa,” he said adamantly.

“You can love more than one person in your lifetime,” Sirius said quietly. “And why hide from it? Merlin knows we could all do with a bit of love and happiness; it’s not as though we know long we’ve got left.”

Gideon squeezed his eyes tight shut.

“But ... she’s nothing like Wheezy. Nothing like her...”

“Sometimes, we fall in love with those who compliment us. Other times, we fall for those we see ourselves in. And I’ve not met anyone more like you than Araminta is. You’re both loyal to a fault, both far too feisty and hot-headed for your own good, and both ridiculously scared of love. Just let it happen.”

He downed his firewhisky, set the glass down on the counter behind him, and crossed the kitchen to the door.

“Sirius-” Gideon began, turning in his seat to face the door.

But he was gone.


Chapter 21: Quiet
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I'm not yours, and you're not mine
But we can sit and pass the time
No fighting wars, no ringing chimes
We're just feeling fine

Quiet - Lights



He stared at the door, asking himself what on earth he was doing here. It was quite a nice door, he observed; oak, heavily knotted, not unlike the kind of doors his parents had had in the house he grew up in.

He shook his head in disgust.

Doors?” he muttered to himself scathingly. “Pull yourself together, Prewett.”

After a last glance up and down the corridor, he knocked softly on the door. After a few seconds passed with no reply, he slowly turned the knob and pushed the door open.

Araminta was lying in bed, curled up on her right hand side, facing the door. A few unruly black curls hung over her face, but they weren’t enough to completely hide the scratches and bruises on her face.

He quietly shut the door behind him, and crossed the room to sit down on the bed beside her. He gently brushed the hair away from her face, and ran his thumb across her scratched cheek.

Her eyes flickered open, and she slowly rolled over onto her back, lifted her hand and placed it over his.

“Did I wake you?” he asked her.

“I was half awake anyway,” she replied hoarsely. She smiled slightly, pushed herself up against her pillows, and drew her knees up under her chin.

“How are you feeling?”

She shrugged slightly.

“Been better.”

He took a deep breath.

“Listen – I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you earlier. I should have believed you, trusted you and Dumbledore, and instead I-”

She raised a hand, and he fell quiet.

“It’s okay,” she replied. “I’d probably have done the same if I were you.”

“But I had no reason to treat you the way I did-”

“You’d just suffered from a massive loss. It was the reaction I should have been expecting, if I’m honest. I shouldn’t have expected you to just forgive me and pretend all was well.”

He frowned. He’d been dreading another argument with her, but now he thought he’d prefer that to the way she waved aside his apologies as though his actions had been acceptable.

“Well ... can I get you anything?”

She looked across the room, out of the window.

“Can I go outside?” she asked. “I haven’t been outside in a while.”

He winced at the almost carefree manner in which she touched upon her ordeal.

“Sure you can.” He got to his feet. “I’ll take you now if you want?”

“That would be nice.” She smiled gratefully, and pushed aside her covers. “I’ll need to get dressed first, but then could we sit outside for a bit?”

“That’ll be fine. I’ll wait for you just outside the door.”

He left the room, shutting the door behind him.

A few minutes later, she emerged, in jeans and a top, and a cloak slung over her shoulders. Her hair was pulled back from her face, which only served to emphasise the extent of her injuries.

She was very wobbly on her feet, as might be expected from somebody who’d been hit with the Cruciatus curse and spent a day in bed, and she’d taken a firm grip round Gideon’s arm before they’d reached the stairs.

“Are you sure you’re well enough to go outside?” he asked as he helped her down the staircase.

“I’m fine,” she said stubbornly. “I’m just short of energy. I can’t stay inside any longer.” She paused. “Besides, I’ve not been in the garden before. It looks stunning, though.”

“Oh, it is. Mrs Potter was a very fond gardener, by all accounts. James and Lily were married out there. I can’t think of many places better.”

He led her outside and down the garden. They stopped under the large willow beside a small fish pond.

“Does it look as good from the outside as it does from through the window?” he asked as they sat down against the trunk.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed. “I grew up in a large house, with a garden that wasn’t quite as big as this, but was still fairly large. It was never maintained nearly as well though; it was mostly left to grow wild.”

He nodded, turning to look at her.

“What – what happened to you?” he asked gingerly. “Did Voldemort discover that you’ve turned?”

“If he had, I’d be dead,” Araminta replied, echoing Sirius’s words from the night before. “No, he’s just frustrated that things aren’t being done as quick as he’d like, and, as he usually does, he picked a scapegoat. It just happened to be me this time.”

Her fists clenched, and her mouth hardened.

“He picked me. I used to be his favourite, his right-hand woman. I was his prodigy, you know, he took it upon himself to carry on teaching me after my parents died; I guess he saw potential in me. Naturally, he ditched most things, and just taught me Dark magic, Occlumency and Legilimency. He trusted me with one of the most important jobs he had lined up. And now, that bitch Bellatrix has smarmed up to him, convinced him I’m not doing well enough, and I’m just target practice for him, like the Averys of this world.”

She scowled, and pulled a clump of grass out of the ground.

“What job?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“And here was me thinking you were clever,” she said. “Tracking you, of course. What else would it be? You’re in his top five targets in the Order. He can’t let a dueller as good as you carry on prancing around like you are.”

His jaw dropped.

Me?” He paused. “But-” he stopped again. “Who else is a top target?”

“Well, Fabian, naturally. Marlene was, I think. Dumbledore, Moody and Black. For some reason, the Potters and the Longbottoms are high on his list too. I don’t see why as they don’t fight any more, but he obviously has his reasons.”

Gideon nodded, thinking of Lily and James, and Alice and Frank. Both couples were, of course, in hiding. Dumbledore had suspected they were targets of Voldemort’s; it seemed as though he was right.

“What other spies does Voldemort have?” he asked her.

“Well, no one Death Eater knows all others, so if a Death Eater turns traitor, he or she can’t give everybody away,” she explained. “I can tell you all the Death Eaters I know, but that’s mostly useless, as you know them all already. But I know for a fact that he has a spy in the Order-”

 “We know that already,” Gideon nodded.

“Do you have any idea who it is?” she asked him.

He frowned.

“I think James and Sirius have an idea,” he said slowly. “It’s awful – I think they suspect Remus – Lupin, that is. I’m not sure why but he’s rarely involved in Order business any more, and every time I ask them why he’s not around, they both look shifty. They’re the ones that would normally keep him up to date with Order meetings and the like, you see. I think they’re already guarding a secret of his; every now and again he’d miss a meeting. But it’s more frequent now and they seem more guarded. I can’t possibly see it, myself, but then ... to think that anyone within the Order is betraying us ... it’s a horrible thought.”

She nodded solemnly.

“Well, I’ve not seen him around anywhere,” she said. “That’s not to say that he’s not involved, of course. I am on the lookout for anyone, though, and I have the advantage that few of the Order know I’ve turned, so the traitor won’t necessarily be on their guard with me.”

“Who does know?” Gideon asked.

“You, Dumbledore, Moody, Arieda, Sirius, and now Lily and James, are the only ones, I think,” she replied. “And I can’t believe that any of you are the traitor.”

He shook his head.

“They’re the ones I trust most,” he said slowly. “You’ll just have to keep your head down while you’re here.”

She nodded.

“I am, don’t worry,” she said. “Anyway, you were asking about other spies that the Dark Lord has. Aside from the one in the Order, there are a couple in the Ministry, including somebody close to the Minister, I believe, though I’m not sure who it is. There’s at least one other, I think, though I have no idea what department.”

“Anybody tailing Fabian, or Sirius?”

She shook her head.

“Not that I’m aware of; unless Shacklebolt is working for the Dark Lord.” She smiled slightly. “I doubt that, though. So no, just you.”

“I hardly see how I’m that special-”

“Well, the theory was that I could discover not just where you lived, but also where Fabian and Marlene lived, and potentially others. Obviously things haven’t exactly worked out for the Dark Lord though.” She smiled wryly.

“Why didn’t you give away my address?” he asked. “You found out where I lived before the wedding, before you found out about Louisa, before ... well, anything, really. Why, at that stage, did you decide not to say anything?”

She frowned.

“The part of me that wanted to deny everything else tried to reason that there was more I could find out; that I could get Fabian’s address, get the McKinnon’s address, get more information. But the real reason, I guess, was that you were just too nice to me from the start, infuriating questioning and flirtation aside. Few people, since my parents died, have treated me like a real person. The Dark Lord was the only one who came close, but even then I knew that I was just one of his servants, even if his plans were for me to become one of his most trusted and most skilled followers. His recent actions have just come to prove the point that at the end of the day, I’m dispensable. You were nice to me from the start, and I guess I just craved a relationship in which I would be treated as an equal, not a servant to be bossed around everywhere. Even Travers thought I was of less importance than him, despite my ranking higher in the Dark Lord’s eyes, and my role as spy. I was his wife, therefore I was his to order around, to do his bidding. All those times I turned up at the Ministry with bruises, those were from Travers. He forbade me from putting a Concealment charm on them; I could have done it easily if not for that.”

Her voice cracked and Gideon awkwardly wrapped his arm round her shoulders, squeezing her tightly and, he hoped, comfortingly.

“I had to tell him your address in the end, obviously,” she continued. “I couldn’t keep things quiet from him for much longer; he was growing suspicious. So I told him, then I tried to figure out how to let you know you were in immediate danger without making my role obvious. Luckily, I know who his spy in the Dark Lord’s ranks is, so I told them that the Dark Lord had discovered your location, and had them alert Dumbledore.”

“Wait – so, you didn’t tell him yourself?”

“How could I? It would give the game away. I was still in limbo at that point; I had become so fed up with Travers’ treatment of me, and was questioning the whole theory of pureblood supremacy, thanks to people like Arieda and Lily, who are two of the nicest people I could ever dream of meeting – and of course you, with your ability to treat absolutely everyone the same, despite their background, despite their name. That, added to the fact that I simply didn’t want to hand over you, or Fabian, or Marlene, meant that I tried to put off doing so for as long as possible. I’d thought of switching sides at that point, but just didn’t know how, or when, or even if I was sure about it. After all, it was all I knew, all I’d been brought up to believe. It was only when I was forced to join in with the raid on the McKinnons’ house, to watch...” She brushed a tear away, “...to watch as Marlene, and Sandrine, and Celine...”

She buried her head in her hands.

“I just couldn’t, I couldn’t do it any longer. But Marlene had just died, so I could hardly tell you then what I was thinking. Maybe if I’d told you before then, who I really was, maybe things would have been different, but not after that.

“And then I found out about my parents, that while they may have believed in a hierarchy, they’d never advocated mass genocide, they’d never wanted to join the Dark Lord, or wanted me to either, that it was he who ordered their deaths, not the Order, and that was it. How could I fight for the same person who’d ordered their deaths? I realise now, of course, that they’d dropped me so many hints; I just didn’t pick them up. I thought they’d taught me Dark magic too, but they hadn’t at all; they knew such magic, of course they did, but they barely taught me any of it. They wanted me to escape from it all. They just believed that through being homeschooled, I would escape the corruption, and they were wrong, so wrong. They should have sent me to Hogwarts because I’m certain, certain, that after seven years of being in the same year as you, and Fabian, and Marlene, and Louisa, I would have seen that there is no hierarchy. It took you barely two weeks to begin to turn my head, as a twenty-two year old indoctrinated Death Eater; what chance would an eleven year old, still naive Araminta have?”

 “Sirius said something along those lines,” Gideon said quietly. “Said that you’ve made exactly the same choice as him, just a bit further down the line...”

He mentally kicked himself. He’d spent weeks – no, months – working with Araminta. He should have known her well enough by that point, surely? And yet Sirius, all along, had understood her far better than he had, had given her the credit she deserved.

“I don’t hold it against you, you know.” She was now making a daisy chain. “I should have known you’d react like that. I abused your trust; it was the least I deserved.”

“You didn’t abuse it,” he argued. “You could hardly stop me from trusting you and still do your job, could you? You were doing what you had to. And you’re just lucky that you didn’t do anything too bad-”

“I dunno; I think I cocked up your raid on Malfoy Manor pretty spectacularly.”

“That – that was you?”

“Course it was. It was there, plain to see, on the top of your files. So naturally, I told the Dark Lord. I’ve told him a few snippets like that. But I haven’t delivered you to him, which is where I’ve failed him.”

They fell silent for a moment. Araminta concentrated on making the chain.

Gideon finally broke the silence to ask something that had been bugging him

 “How did you not know I was married to Louisa before I told you? I mean, she was in the Order too, she was a regular dueller for us, how did you not know of her?”

“I was abroad,” she replied. “I only returned for the last year of Auror training.”

“Where were you?”

“Eastern Europe, wooing those giants that Fabian was with the other month. I’m afraid we beat him to the punch rather. I’m pretty good at international relations, you see – not that you’d believe it based on my interactions with you.”

They both grinned wryly.

“How do you know he was with the giants?” he asked curiously.

“I knew he was in the Order, and what the rough aims of the Order were, so when you told me he was in Eastern Europe it was easy to put two and two together. I told the Dark Lord that little snippet of information. I was only a week in by then, so it made no difference to me.”

“When did you do your Auror training then?”

She turned to face him, a sly grin crossing her face.

“You forget, I’m a Death Eater,” she said. “A few Imperius and Confundus charms here and there, a couple of forged documents, and it was all too easy to pretend I’d done the first two years in France. I had to do the last year here though; it was the only way I could get into the Auror department. I only returned last summer. The Dark Lord briefed me on all the Order members, and naturally Louisa wasn’t one of them. They never told me about her at all, so I had no way of knowing. It came as a bit of a shock, I’ll tell you. I suspected there was something you were keeping back, but I didn’t expect a marriage of all things.”

“It’s the age of eloping,” he reminded her.

“That it is,” she conceded. “But you have to remember, I was married at seventeen in an arranged marriage; to me the concept of marrying for love was – still is, to some extent – a bewildering one. I couldn’t imagine somebody doing so at such a young age.

“But now, having seen Marlene and Fabian, and Lily and James, and Molly and Arthur, I see what marriage is really about. It’s not about convenience, about names, or reputation, or money. It’s about love, about that willingness to do anything for the one you love, whatever that entails, and knowing they’d do the same for you in a heartbeat, and knowing that whatever you’ve done, whatever you say, whatever mood you’re in, you’ve always got that one constant in your life, that one person who’ll never judge you for it.

“It’s such a wonderful emotion, and yet the Dark Lord shuts it out, disregards it. That’s where he’s most wrong, I think, because if he embraced that emotion, and the resulting ability to care for others, to have proper friendships, he may not be the way he is now, and we may not be in this awful predicament.”

He let her words wash over him.

“Have you ever been in love?” he asked her.

He’d asked her before, but that was when she’d been spying on him, before she had opened up, so he was unsure if she’d told the truth.

“I once thought I was,” she said, her eyes still fixed on the pond. “Then I thought I was wrong, then I changed my mind again. I loved my parents, of course, but I don’t think that’s the same kind of love.”

“No,” he murmured, “it isn’t.”

They fell into a peaceful silence. He threaded his fingers through her black, messy curls and considered just how much he’d missed her presence. Only now that she was sitting next to him did he really realise how much he had. It had been nearly a month, he calculated, since Marlene’s death, and it was only now, when it was clear to him that she was serious about spying for the Order, that he realised his anger towards her had been slowly dissipating over the last few weeks.

Before she’d arrived at the Ministry he had been wallowing in grief and guilt, not knowing what shape his life was to take without Louisa. Her arrival had broken the monotony of his routine, and somehow she’d encouraged him to move on. When she’d told him about her true identity, he’d jumped to such awful conclusions, and he’d fallen backwards, back into that pit of despair which had become all too familiar to him. He needed her, he realised with a jolt, to give his life some meaning. With her help, he could drag himself out of that pit, and continue stumbling forwards; without her ... well, he was a mess.

They’d both become dependent on one another to some extent, he supposed, as he turned towards the pond, without really seeing it. She’d always had the capacity to fight on the side of the Order, but she’d needed to see the world through someone else’s eyes – through ­his eyes – to realise that her childhood environment had led her in the wrong direction.

What a kick in the teeth it would be for old Volders if he were ever to find out that it was effectively his doing that cost him one of his greatest followers...

“What will you do now?” he asked her suddenly, as his thoughts drifted in that direction.

“I shall return to the Dark Lord when he next requires my services,” she replied calmly.

He yelped.

“After all he’s done to you?” he cried. “You’d go back to that?”

“I have to,” she said, in that same calm voice. “The Order needs spies in the Dark Lord’s camp. I’m one of the closest to him. I can’t just back out now that I’ve created that opportunity. Besides, so long as I keep my pretence up, I’m safer now than I would be if I backed out; the Dark Lord thinks I’m still loyal to him. With Dumbledore’s help, I can lead false trails easier than before ... and besides, by teaching me Legilimency, the Dark Lord has given me all the tools I need to deceive him. After all, who better to teach me how to keep him out of my mind than himself? He really should have thought of that before he taught me it to such a high standard...”

“But he tortured you!”

“Hopefully I’ll be able to give him more information now, and ease the pressure on myself. Obviously I can’t just feed him duff information or he’ll get suspicious, but at least if I give him, say, your address, I can tell you when an attack is planned, and the Order can be as ready as it’s possible to be without giving away that you’ve a spy yourselves. Really, Gideon,” she said, turning to face him again. “I’m not that scared about it. I know you’re worried, but I’m in the perfect situation here in terms of the Order. And if I left him, I’d have to go into hiding like the Potters. Things are bad enough as they are now, but that really would be awful. They barely cope cooped up like that, and they have each other and little Harry. I’d be on my own. I’d doubt I’d last three days without going insane.”

“You wouldn’t be on your own. You think I’d let you sit alone all day, every day? Of course I wouldn’t. Besides, who else am I going to play chess with?”

She laughed, a rare sound.

“You have such a good heart,” she said, resting her head upon his shoulder. “It’s just a shame you’re so hot-headed.”

“I resent that remark.” He poked her in the shoulder and she squirmed. “Are you busy tomorrow?”

“It depends on what the Dark Lord has planned for me,” she replied dryly. “Why?”

“I have a little niece I’d like you to meet.”

“You want me to meet her?” She raised her head to look up at him, the expression on her face unmistakeably one of joy.

“Sure.” He grinned at her. “Besides, Molly keeps asking me about you. So does Arthur, for that matter, but then I think he likes the way the kids looked up to you at the wedding. Anything for a bit of time off from parenting, eh?”

She laughed, and set her head back on his shoulder, then took his right arm and set it in her lap, fixing the daisy chain round it.

There was another pause.

“You know, I think I could stay here forever, and never grow tired of it,” she finally said quietly.

He silently agreed – though he thought he could stay in this moment forever and it wouldn’t be long enough.


Chapter 22: Alone
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Till now I always got by on my own
I never really cared until I met you
And now it chills me to the bone
Alone - Heart



The next morning, Gideon woke Araminta with a tray of breakfast.

“You didn’t have to...”

“I didn’t. Arieda did.” He grinned, and waited until she sat up, then placed the tray on her lap. “How’re you feeling?”

“Better still, thanks,” she replied. “Really, I’m fine now. I’ll go back home later. Dumbledore said I shouldn’t be here when I don’t need to be...”

“Are you sure?” he asked with concern. “You can stay if you want to; we can keep you out of the way of everyone else, and I can stay too-”

“I’m fine,” she insisted. “Besides, I should really go back home; some Death Eaters are quite sociable, you know, they like to visit...”

That just made him feel more worried.

“Oh, don’t worry, they won’t do anything,” she said reassuringly. “They’ll do more if I’m not there when they expect me to be.”

He nodded, trying to ignore the disappointment in the pit of his stomach.

“You know where to find me if you ever need me,” he reminded her.

She smiled softly.

“I know,” she said.

He left her in her room to eat and get dressed, and settled down in the kitchen to wait for her.

It wasn’t long before Arieda joined him.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Yeah, it’s all good.”

She said nothing for a moment, just looked at him.

“I’m glad,” she said. “She needs you. She has me, I know, but ... I’m not you. She’s strong-willed as anything, and she won’t flake under pressure ... but she’s finding it really tough. She’s seeing Voldemort himself twice a week, and it’s taking all she’s got to keep this up. But ... she needs people there for her, to remind her that she’s not alone, to help her through it. She needs you.”

This only exacerbated his guilt.

“I’ve been awful to her,” he groaned, burying his head in his hands.

“Don’t be daft, of course you haven’t – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. Look, I didn’t exactly expect you to take her news well. I told her you wouldn’t, but she told you anyway, even though I said it was a bad idea. It’s good now that you do understand, but I didn’t think it worth the risk. And it’s not like I took it well when she first told me. The only reason I didn’t completely flip is because Dumbledore was there, and he believed her, and ... well, if we can’t trust Dumbledore these days, who can we trust? It still didn’t sit right with me for a while though. I mean, all I knew was that she’d found out the truth about her parents and wanted revenge on their killers. For all I knew, she still thought of me as scum. It wasn’t until after she’d told you that I realised she wants to fight for us, and not just against Voldemort. So, you shouldn’t feel bad. Your reaction was only natural.”

“You still stopped me hurting her-”

“She’s spying for us. I’m her go-between. Regardless of what she says, that still makes me responsible for her safety. I couldn’t have you going for her. Besides, you would have felt terrible if you’d done something. And I don’t think it would have helped her any either...”

He clenched his fists in anger, as he thought of the abuse that she had suffered at the hands of Travers. Perhaps she had deserved to be the one to take him out in the end.

“And you’re here for her now. That’s all that matters.”

He nodded, determined that from now on, he would be there for Araminta no matter what.

***

“Are you sure they won’t hate me?”

Gideon laughed.

“Araminta, they don’t even know that you have anything to do with Voldemort. They’re not in the Order, they don’t even know what it is. I didn’t tell them a thing about you. Trust me, you have no need to worry.”

She frowned.

“Why didn’t you say anything? You hated me a week ago.”

He shrugged.

“I don’t think I wanted them to know. Molly really liked you when she met you, you know. She thought you were really good with the kids – and they liked you, which is always a bonus. Besides, the less they know about anything, the better.”

“Why don’t they know about the Order?” she asked curiously.

“It was only set up in my Fourth Year, after Molly had had Bill and Charlie. Voldemort wasn’t quite so powerful then, and we weren’t so short on numbers. Dumbledore couldn’t bear to bring them into it when the boys were so young. Things have become more desperate since, which is why people like the Potters and Longbottoms remained involved since having children, but Dumbledore still doesn’t like recruiting people who already have children. He tries to make sure that those who do play less of a front-line role, so to speak, giving them lower-profile roles instead. He says there’s no prioritisation either way, but it’s obvious that us single, childless men and women are given the more dangerous jobs. And he’s right,” he added, “the fewer people that are dependent upon someone, the more disposable they are-”

“Don’t say that,” Araminta cut in sharply. “Of course you’re not disposable.”

“That’s the way it is. And I can’t say I disagree. If James were killed on a mission I could have been on instead, I’d feel so bad that I’d cost Harry his father, and Lily her husband, when I’m wifeless and childless. And I know that if Louisa were still alive, if we’d had children, other people would want to sacrifice themselves so as my kids wouldn’t suffer. It’s just human nature, isn’t it?”

She fell silent.

They were crossing the large, overgrown garden behind the Burrow, sidestepping the odd gnome and fanged geranium.

“I used to de-gnome the garden at home when I was younger,” she said quietly. “It was oddly therapeutic.” She booted away a gnome that had crossed her path; it flew nearly ten feet before landing with a splash in the large pond.

He snickered.

“Nice aim.”

They reached the front door, and he rapped three times on it. The quiet murmur of voices inside tailed off, and was replaced with the sound of chair legs scraping against the floor, and footsteps heading towards the door.

“Who is it?” Arthur’s voice called.

“Gideon,” he replied. “With a guest.”

“What were the first Chocolate Frog cards we swapped?”

Gideon felt Araminta’s bemused gaze on him, and fought back a grin.

“You gave me Hengist of Woodcroft, in exchange for one of my countless Agrippas.”

Arthur pulled the door open, and they entered the kitchen.

“It’s her,” Gideon affirmed, as Arthur opened his mouth. The older man nodded, and shut the door behind them.

Chocolate Frog cards?” Araminta muttered to him as Arthur led them through to the kitchen .

“It’s an ideal question. Nobody would even think to research that kind of thing.” He grinned at her and she rolled her eyes, but she looked amused all the same.

Molly was sitting at the kitchen table, cradling a baby in her arms. She stood up as they approached her.

“Gideon, what a lovely surprise! Why didn’t you say you were coming? And Araminta! I wasn’t expecting you! How are you? Oh, how wonderful! I’ll just put the kettle on-”

“I’ve got it,” Gideon grinned, crossing to the sink. “Sit down, Mol, stop faffing.”

Molly sat back down in her chair, and indicated that Araminta sit next to her.

“You haven’t seen our newest arrival.” She beamed, and held the little girl out to Araminta, who took her in her arms.

“She’s so beautiful,” she breathed, looking down at the baby. “I’m so pleased for you that she’s a girl.”

“So am I; maybe they can finally stop being such baby machines,” Gideon joked, as he set the kettle down on the stove. “I’ve got more than enough nephews to buy birthday and Christmas presents for as it is. The only trouble now is that I have no idea what to buy for a baby girl.”

“I’ll help you with that when the time comes,” Araminta said absentmindedly, her eyes still on the baby in question. “I hear you called her Ginevra?”

“Ginevra Molly, yes.” Molly smiled proudly. “Every time I became pregnant, Marlene reminded us that as Billy’s middle name is Arthur, our first born girl should have the middle name Molly. And Louisa, Gideon’s wife – you know about Louisa?”

“I do, yes.” Araminta raised her head from Ginevra, and her eyes flashed across the room to Gideon for a moment, before turning to Molly.

“Yes, well she always said that her first-born would be called Ginevra, so, given all she did for us, it seemed only right. We asked Gideon and Arieda if they were okay with it first, naturally-”

“And we said yes straight away.” Gideon smiled at his sister.

“It seemed like a fitting tribute to them both, really. They were such wonderful aunties to our children, and such incredible women, it seemed the right thing to do-”

Molly trailed off, her eyes welling up. Both Gideon and Arthur moved to comfort her but, to Gideon’s astonishment and pride, Araminta reached across and took Molly’s hand in her own, squeezing it lightly.

“It’s a lovely gesture,” she said quietly. “And I’m sure they’re both truly honoured.”

“Thank you, dear. I hope they are.” Molly pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes with it. “Oh dear, I am being silly. I’m sorry, you didn’t come to put up with an old woman’s tears-”

“Mol, if thirty-one is old, then we’re all in trouble,” Gideon put in, trying to lighten the atmosphere – and redirect the conversation away from Louisa.

“I may as well be sixty-one, for all that bringing up six boys has done,” she replied, with a slight shake of her head.

After a cup of tea and a few minutes of light-hearted chatter about nothing in particular, Araminta was dragged off by Charlie to see his drawings of dragons.

“Araminta hasn’t come here to see your pictures, dear, don’t bother her-”

“It’s fine,” Araminta reassured her. “I’d love to see them.”

Gideon grinned. She caught his eye, and smiled back, before Charlie tugged her out of the room.

“She’s so good with them,” Molly said. “Even the twins like her, and that’s no mean feat.”

“She’s certainly one of a kind,” he agreed.

“How are you doing?” she asked him, a concerned tone to her voice.

He didn’t even bother to say he was fine. His sister had always been far too perceptive.

“As good as I can be,” he said, trying to avoid eye contact.

Molly might not have been in the Order, but she wasn’t unaware of what was happening. Although she didn’t know about the Order, she knew he was an Auror, and she knew what he’d been through. That was all she needed to know.

“I hate to see you so downtrodden,” she said, reaching across and taking his hand in hers, and squeezing it comfortingly. “I’m not even going to pretend that I know how you feel, but what I will say is that you mustn’t give up.” She paused. “Araminta must be one special girl.”

He frowned, finally looking at her.

“What do you mean?”

She smiled slightly.

“You think I haven’t noticed the way you look at her? It’s like you just forget everything, as though you have no cares in the world. It’s as though she’s the only thing that matters.”

It was what he’d been trying to avoid, trying to deny, for weeks. But hearing it from his sister, who had always been there for him and would never dream of lying to him, finally made it all real.

Arieda had said that Araminta needed him. In reality, it was he who needed her.


Chapter 23: Devotion
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Devotion save me now
I don't wanna stray from the hallowed ground
I'll turn temptation down
I'm asking you to take me to safety this time
Devotion - Hurts



Generally, Araminta enjoyed working with the apprentices. The only downside of working here was that one found oneself quite removed from the rest of the Auror department, and so could miss out on news.

This might have happened to Araminta mid-week, if Gawain Robards, one of the apprentices, hadn’t been sent on an errand to the Auror office and brought the news back to the training room with him.

“Evan Rosier’s dead!”

“What?” came the chorus from most of the room.

“Rosier’s dead! They were attacking a house in Manchester, Moody and a few others headed up to capture them. They’ve brought in Crispin Travers and Mulciber but Rosier wasn’t having any of it. He took a huge chunk out of Moody’s nose, Moody’s bleeding all over the place but says he’s not getting it checked out until he knows Travers and Mulciber have been properly taken care of-”

Scrimgeour sighed, irritated.

“The fool. I’ll have to go up and help out, and send him off to St. Mungo’s as well. Dawlish, hold the fort.”

If things hadn’t been so exciting, Araminta might have scorned at Scrimgeour’s choice of deputy. As it was, she was too busy trying to find out what had happened to worry about such trifles. Her main point of interest was, of course, her brother-in-law’s fate.

“Moody’s been tracking Rosier for a while,” Robards said, clearly thriving on the attention. “He detected that he was in Manchester with a couple of others, and on top of that someone tipped the MLE off earlier about a disturbance. Moody took his whole team up, and they managed to bring in both Travers and Mulciber. Rosier’s duelling was vicious, apparently; he was throwing Killing Curses about all over the place. Moody had no choice but to use his extended powers.”

Araminta shuddered slightly. Under normal circumstances, the Aurors weren’t allowed to kill Death Eaters, or use any of the Unforgiveable Curses for that matter. The Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Bartemius Crouch, had removed that restriction in the wake of the Dark Lord’s rise to power. The policy didn’t quite sit right with her, though here it seemed to have saved Moody’s life.

“Crouch and Prewett are interrogating Travers and Mulciber right now,” Robards finished.

“Does he mean Gideon?” Araminta asked Arieda quietly, as Robards was flooded with questions by the others, Aurors and apprentices alike.

“Yeah. Gideon’s on Moody’s team, remember? Fabian’s out on patrols this week.”

“Do you think that’s ... wise?”

“Gideon’s one of the best interrogators in the Auror office. At least, he was. My parents work in Muggle Law Enforcement, you see. Louisa learned their tactics, and Gideon in turn picked it all up from her. He had the ideal temperament when he first started out, you know. So laid-back, never used to rise to anything ... it’s the kind of attitude you need when you’re trying to get answers out of Death Eaters whose only form of defence is to antagonise the questioner. That’s why Marlene wasn’t an interrogator; she was always more hot-headed than Gideon.”

“But Travers was one of the ones at Marlene’s parents’ house ... he was the one who killed Sandrine ... do you really think Gideon is the best person to be interrogating him?”

“Crouch is there too,” Arieda pointed out.

“Well, yes, but Crouch seems a little...”

“Unhinged? Yeah, I agree with you. I don’t like these sweeping powers he’s handing out to all and sundry. He seems too determined to capture Death Eaters, you know? But Gideon will be fine. The pain’s not so raw now. Plus, he’s sorted things out with you, which will have helped. He’s a big champion of due process, he’ll behave himself.”

Araminta felt sick at the thought of what Crouch might do to her if he found out about her role as a spy. Moody might be as anti-Dark magic as it was possible to be, but he at least was capable of recognising redemption – and listening to Dumbledore. Crouch, however, seemed devoted to hunting down Death Eaters, to the point where he had become blinded by his hatred of Dark magic, and she often wondered whether he was really the best choice to be the Head of the MLE. In peacetime, he probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow so powerful; checks and balances seemed to go out of the window in times of conflict.

Her thoughts then turned to Travers. Her first reaction to the news of his capture had been sheer joy. She had been trying so hard to evade him over the past few weeks, both out of fear over what he might have said to her, and fear that she might not have been able to contain herself. Whenever she’d so much as thought of him, she’d been reminded of the callous, carefree way he’d turned his wand on Sandrine McKinnon. He may have been gentler to her than Casimir was, but when it came to Muggleborns and blood traitors he was exactly like his brother, and it utterly sickened her.

Of course, now she would have to try to avoid him here. She wasn’t sure where the interrogations took place, though she was certain that it wasn’t up on Level Two – at least, not the area of Level Two that she worked in. But she didn’t know whether she could trust him – or indeed herself –not to blow her cover if they were to run into each other.

She wondered how Gideon was coping with interrogating him. Arieda had seemed confident that he would be fine, but she was still worried. He seemed so hell-bent on avenging Louisa and Marlene’s deaths, that she wondered whether his rationality would be heard over the top of the cries for vengeance, which often seemed to be the only thing that drove him on.

It wasn’t healthy. And it worried her.

***

Gideon was having a fabulous time.

This had always been the best part of being an Auror. Yes, the duelling was exhilarating, and the thrill of the chase was always rewarding, but there was nothing he liked more than winding up a Death Eater who couldn’t respond.

“It’s quite simple, Travers,” he said lazily, propping his dragon-hide boots up on the table in between him and the Death Eater. Crouch looked disapprovingly at him, but he ignored it. “We’re not leaving until we get some answers, and I’m sure that even murderous slimeballs like you need sleep and food every now and again. And I’m more than willing to stay here for as long as it takes, because if I’m here past nine this evening, then the Ministry will pay for my dinner, and if I’m here until past midnight then I get tomorrow off.”

Crouch’s disapproving glare grew more intense.

“Not to mention, we make notes of how well behaved our Dark wizards are in the interrogation process. If you behave well here, you might have half a chance of getting out of Azkaban in the next sixty years. But if you decide to be a nuisance, we’ll have you banged up until the end of eternity. You’ve got nothing to lose by talking, because we’ve already got a lifetime of evidence against you, but you can help yourself a little bit. Not to mention, you’ll be rid of me much earlier that way, and I can’t imagine that prolonged exposure to me is too desirable.”

Travers’ lip curled, but he remained silent. Gideon could tell that he was getting pissed off, though, which satisfied him.

“So, let’s try this again. Were you at the house of Mr and Mrs McKinnon on the twenty-sixth of July this year?”

“Those filthy blood traitors got what they deserved-”

“I’m inclined to take that as a yes.” He watched as the Quick Quotes quill scribbled down everything that they were saying, having struggled to keep up with his monologue.

“And you’re even worse, with that filthy Muggle wife of yours-”

“Indeed I am, although at least our sproglets would have had the right number of digits. But you did your best to take care of that one, didn’t you?”

He was tempted to add to Travers that his next target was his widowed sister-in-law, whose pedigree was undoubtedly far better than Louisa’s, but he restrained himself. Regardless of the fact that Travers’ next destination would be Azkaban regardless of what he said here, advising him that Araminta was anything other than Voldemort’s woman was a bad idea. Not to mention that he didn’t fancy having that comment recorded in the Ministry’s archives.

There was also the added issue that Crouch would have her strung up by her ankles quicker than he could say ‘Quidditch’.

“Were you there for that one, too?” he added, turning his own attention back to his deceased wife. “If you weren’t, you missed a cracking social event. Hogsmeade’s a fantastic venue for it, you know.”

He wasn’t quite sure how he could be so blasé about Louisa’s death when only months before he hadn’t been able to so much as think of her without getting depressed. He enjoyed watching a tic develop in Travers’ neck, and seeing the fascinating array of colours that his face was experimenting with.

“Your brother was there, wasn’t he?” he continued. “I seem to remember, he was one of the idiotic ones who took his mask off. Then again, at least he isn’t a coward. Or wasn’t, should I say? I hear you’re the last of the lot now? The last of a legacy, eh?”

Perhaps it was cruel, to poke fun at Travers’ losses. But then, it was no secret that he had never liked his brother, and after all he’d done it was the least he deserved.

“I bet you did that, didn’t you?” Travers snarled, looking angry.

“Nope, not me. I’d love to take the credit for that, but sadly, I can’t. Not that it matters much either way; he’s out of the way now.”

Travers scowled, but then clutched his left wrist with his right. Gideon’s eyes followed the action.

“Your master calling for you, is he?” he said coolly.

The Auror department had learned a few years back what the Dark Marks were. It had often been suggested that a captured Death Eater could be used to take a team of Aurors to Voldemort himself, but often those talks had come to nothing. It was far too risky to transport even the most experienced Aurors to an unknown location, in unknown circumstances.

“Right, then.” Gideon got down to business – Travers wasn’t going to say any more, and he was getting tired of this rigmarole – though his feet remained propped up on the table. “Crispin Travers, you are hereby charged with numerous crimes against humanity, including the extensive use of all three Unforgiveable Curses, the persecution of Muggles and, more specifically your involvement in the deaths of the McKinnons, the Abbotts, the Fawcetts, the Derwents, the Cauldwells, Louisa Prewett, Mary MacDonald and my parents to boot. As such, you are sentenced to lifetime imprisonment in Azkaban. Get him out of my sight, boys.”

The burly Hit Wizards who were standing either side of the door to the interrogation room stepped forwards and seized Travers by the elbows, pulling him upright. They marched him out of the room and down the corridor, where Gideon knew that they would be joined by Dementors who would then take Travers to Azkaban. Hhe stayed in the interrogation room for as long as possible to avoid them, collecting up the parchment and quill from the table.

“Nice work, Prewett,” Crouch said briefly, before leaving. Gideon was glad for this; he didn’t quite see eye to eye with Crouch, whose presence often unnerved him. He was more than happy to be left alone to his thoughts.

Because Travers’ Dark Mark call had alarmed him. Voldemort would surely have found out by now that his Death Eaters had been captured, and there would be no reason for him to summon a captured Death Eater – unless he had summoned everyone.

Which meant that Araminta was once more being summoned to the lion’s den.

***

Araminta, however, wasn’t worried.

She was pissed off.

It was alright for the Dark Lord. He was his own employer, he could choose his own working hours.

Ministry employees, like her, couldn’t. She’d been home for barely ten minutes, and had just started to cook her dinner when her Mark burned. She tipped her food away, irritated, and conjured up her robes. She really wasn’t in the mood to face the Dark Lord, especially given that he was likely to be beyond angry.

And she was hungry.

She arrived at the house in Wimbourne with an irritated crack, and got a sense of satisfaction from seeing Bellatrix jump at her arrival.

The Dark Lord was, indeed, livid. To lose three Death Eaters in one day, especially three as powerful and feared as Rosier, Travers and Mulciber, was a devastating blow, and he was in a murderous mood.

“I want results!” he snapped at them. “I want the Prewetts. I want Black. I want Fenwick. I want Dearborn. I want the mudblood Platt. None of you are delivering! In the past four weeks, we’ve disposed of one Order member and her family. We’ve lost four people. This is not good enough.”

It was Avery who took the punishment. It was always Avery.

Araminta was relieved that the Dark Lord wouldn’t use her as the scapegoat, not in front of everyone else. It would undermine her authority within the ranks, and the Dark Lord was a big fan of making sure his minions knew where they stood. There was no chance that he would dare to undermine the authority of one of his best spies in front of mere foot soldiers.

But the ‘entertainment’ was short-lived.

“My Lord!”

Lucius Malfoy burst into the room. Araminta was surprised; she hadn’t realised that he hadn’t been present, and now wondered why that was.

“Malfoy.” The Dark Lord looked irritated as he raised the curse on a relieved Avery.

“The Order have found Mulciber’s place! They’re raiding it now, they’re taking all sorts-”

If the Dark Lord was livid before, he was now apoplectic with rage.

“Bellatrix! Take a team, ambush them. Take as many people as possible. The rest of you, get the hell out of here. We will reconvene here in two days’ time to assess the situation.”

He swept out of the room.

Araminta didn’t need telling twice. Knowing that she wouldn’t be chosen by Bellatrix, she Disapparated as quickly as she could, her stomach growling with approval.

Once home, she whipped up a hot meal, trying to keep her thoughts away from the Dark Lord and the Order. The Dark Lord was scary when he was angry, and nobody was safe from his wrath. And thinking of the Order – and more specifically, who was at Mulciber’s house – would only make her worry about Gideon and Arieda, who were most probably both partaking in the raid.

Instead, she mulled over the orders that the Dark Lord had given them. He very rarely planned meetings, instead opting to call them as and when he saw fit. She suspected he liked being deliberately awkward.

But he had specifically told them to return to the house in two nights’ time...

She smirked. She could do something with this information.


Chapter 24: Saviour
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I just wanna run to you
And break off the chains
And throw them away

Saviour - Lights



“This is going to require everyone we’ve got. If their entire inner circle will be there...”

“But surely it’s too good an opportunity to miss? All of them assembled in one place, totally unprepared for an ambush...”

“We’ll have to make sure we know how to get through their wards. We need to take them by surprise, and the best way of doing that is by Apparating in, right on top of them.”

“I’d rather not land right on top of a Death Eater, thanks.”

“Not literally, you idiot!”

“Wish I could come.” James sounded morose and wishful, as he bounced Harry on his knee.

His comment prompted a series of sympathetic responses.

“I wish you could be there too, mate.”

“Are you kidding? You’ll be sitting here, cosy as anything, with your feet up, while we’re risking our lives! You can quit moaning, Potter!”

The small group was assembled round the kitchen table at the Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters. Moody was leading proceedings, looking positively alarming with half of his nose gone, though the wound was thankfully now much cleaner than it had been earlier that day. He was joined by Gideon, Arieda and Sirius, who were all cut and bruised from the evening’s earlier events, James and Lily, who were both still valued tacticians for the Order, and Araminta, who felt slightly uncomfortable sitting amongst so many of the Dark Lord’s main targets. She found it utterly fascinating listening to them plan the raid on the house in Wimbourne.

Sirius then turned to her, reminding her why she was there – they needed an insider’s knowledge in order to perfect the operation.

“Can you tell us where you’ll all be standing in the room?”

The drawings they were poring over included the accurate floor plan of the house she’d drawn up for them and she’d already identified the room they would meet in.

James snorted.

“What, you think they’ll have to stand in a particular place?”

“Yes, actually,” she cut in quietly.

He stared at her, gobsmacked.

“The Dark Lord is very big on hierarchy,” she said. “We all have to stand in a circle around him. I get to stand next to my best friend, Bellatrix.”

Sirius snickered.

“Good to know it’s not just us blood traitors she doesn’t get on with,” he said. “In that case, let us know where you all stand, so we can plan our Apparition points accordingly. I really don’t fancy landing on top of Amycus Carrow.”

Everyone shuddered at the thought.

“How many of you will there be?” Arieda asked.

Araminta attempted a quick mental count.

“About ... thirty or so, perhaps?”

“Do we have those numbers?” Lily said worriedly. “Especially if Voldemort himself will be there...”

“We can gather up enough people easily,” Gideon said confidently. “Remember, we’ll have the element of surprise here. We can come up with a plan of action, to counteract any weaknesses we have.”

“We’ve lost two of our best duellers recently,” Lily reminded him.

“Don’t you want us to take more of them down?”

“Not at the expense of any of you.”

“We’ll have the numbers,” Moody said confidently. “Prewett is right, we can come up with a plan to help us along, but don’t expect things to stick to plan for very long.”

“Right. So, if you’ll all be assembled in a circle...”

They planned all night and Araminta was truly exhausted the next day. If it wasn’t for the adrenaline that ran through her at the thought of the next day’s events, she thought she might have fallen asleep on her feet. She was both excited and terrified in equal measure.

If this went well ... it would be a huge step forwards for the Ministry and the Order.

If it went wrong ... the Order could be decimated.

And it would be her fault.

***

Everything went according to plan.

The Death Eaters all arrived as expected. Araminta’s Dark Mark had burned; clearly the Dark Lord didn’t trust his inner circle to arrange their social diaries accordingly, and wanted to be certain that they would turn up. Either that, or he wanted to make sure that Avery had no excuse for not attending the Dark Lord’s Cruciatus Curse practice session – for that was clearly how the night would progress.

Or at least, it was how both the Dark Lord and Avery expected it would progress.

They assembled in the circle which Araminta had described to the Order. She had pointed out her own position, so they would know which hooded figure was their woman. Not that they could let it be seen that they were avoiding her, but they could at least avoid aiming serious spells at her. Of course, not all of the Order knew of her existence, so she would have to be vigilant, but they had managed to arrange things so that she would not be exposed to any oblivious Order members, at least in the early part of the raid, while there was half a chance that things would pan out as planned. For this reason, Arieda had been assigned the Apparating position behind her.

Araminta felt sure that Bellatrix, standing only inches to her left, would be able to hear her heart, so loudly was it thudding. She tried to remain calm, as she watched the Dark Lord address them all once more. He was somewhat mellower than their last encounter, though still immensely annoyed – for the Order had escaped near enough unscathed from the raid at Mulciber’s house, having taken with them most of the Dark objects that Mulciber had stashed away.

He wouldn’t remain mellow for long, though.

A series of pops echoed around the room, and there was no time for the Death Eaters to work out what was happening before the twenty-five Order members began emitting jets of spells from their wands. Some of them hit their marks, and hooded figures slumped to the floor. Others missed, as the sharper Death Eaters had the reflexes to dodge their attacks. Wands were drawn, and Araminta spun to face Arieda, and shot a Stunner at her.

Arieda had been chosen as the Order member to mark her, because they had already duelled each other on numerous occasions in the training room at the Ministry. They had become reasonably familiar with each other’s technique, and so were able to evade each other’s spells without it appearing too obvious.

But they weren’t duelling for long, before Jugson cut in on the duel, and an arm yanked Araminta back, out of Arieda’s aim.

“Get out of here,” Bellatrix hissed to her. “Quick, before they recognise you. I’ll cover for you.”

Araminta could have thought of many she’d prefer to have cover her back than Bellatrix, but she Disapparated away without arguing. As several of the closest Order members knew who she was, she was only at risk of being hit by a spell that missed its mark, anyway.

And besides, she wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to leave the scene as soon as possible. Her last, terrifying glimpse of the scene before she span and Disapparated was that of her fellow Death Eater engaging Gideon in a duel.

She landed neatly in the middle of her flat, with a calmness that belied the panic within. She didn’t stay at her flat long, only staying to remove her robes, before she Disapparated a second time. This time she landed on the doorstep of the Order’s headquarters. She rapped on the door three times.

The door opened a crack, and Lily peered out.

“Who is it?”

“Araminta-”

“Childhood ambition?” Lily shot back immediately.

“Dragon breeder. Patronus?”

“Doe.”

Lily pulled the door open enough for her to slip through, then shut it firmly, sliding the locks and chains across.

“What’s happening?” she said sharply, as she led Araminta into the living room, where James was sitting on the floor playing with Harry. “We didn’t expect you so early...”

“Bellatrix sent me away, thank Merlin,” she replied. Lily sat on the floor beside her husband and son, and Araminta sat down opposite them with her back against a sofa and her knees tucked up under her chin. “She was worried about my cover being blown. As I left, she was beginning to duel Gideon...”

Her voice tailed off.

“He’ll be okay,” James said, sensing her worry. “He’s one of the finest duellers around.”

“But Bellatrix is terrifying, and has no reservations.”

“He’ll be fine,” he reiterated.

Araminta wasn’t sure if he truly believed his own statement, or if he was just trying to keep all of them calm. Either way, she tried to convince herself that Gideon would be able to hold his own, that he would be okay. Because if anything happened to him, she didn’t think she would be able to forgive herself.

“It’s lucky that Bellatrix gave you the opportunity to leave,” Lily said quietly.

She seemed to have picked up Araminta’s worry and dread over the evening’s proceedings, and her reluctance to duel people. Duelling really wasn’t her forte in the first place, especially not in that situation.

She nodded her agreement.

“Of course, it’s because she sees me as near enough useless. If she thought my presence would help, she’d have made me stay. But she thinks I’m absolutely useless in that sense, so she’d rather I not be there.”

“Maybe she thinks you’re too good a spy to have your cover compromised?” James suggested.

“More likely she thinks that she has more chance of staying in the Dark Lord’s good books if she makes it look as though she’s worried about my wellbeing,” Araminta pointed out dryly. At that moment, her stomach let out a small rumble.

“Are you hungry?” Lily asked. “You should have said! I’ll whip you up something; what do you want? Soup? Stew?”

She was already on her feet.

“Oh, I’m fine-” Araminta began, embarrassed.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t have eaten since lunch time. It’s really not a problem, it’ll give me something to do.”

Araminta hesitated for a moment, before giving in.

“Stew would be lovely, thanks.”

Lily beamed, and headed off to the kitchen.

“I love your wife,” Araminta mused, watching as Harry crawled across the floor towards her.

“So do I, surprisingly enough,” James replied with a grin.

Harry reached her, and held up his teddy bear to show her.

“Hey, buddy,” she said, slightly uncomfortably. She wasn’t used to interacting with children, and had only managed with the Weasley children because she and Charlie shared a love of dragons. “What’ve you got?”

He didn’t reply – at least, not with words she recognised. He reeled off a stream of baby talk, reaching up and putting one hand on her knee.

“He probably wants to sit on your lap,” James suggested.

She slid her legs down onto the floor, and Harry crawled across to sit on her lap, as James had predicted. He held up the teddy once more, and she took it from him, smiling slightly as it brought back memories of her own favourite childhood toy.

“It must be nice,” she said quietly, as Harry yawned and leaned his head on her chest, “to have a family ... something worth living for...”

“Everybody has something to live for,” he replied. A slight smile played at the corners of his mouth as he watched his son. “You definitely do, from what I gather. Your life is hardly over already, is it?”

“It may as well be. The minute the Dark Lord discovers me, I’m a corpse.”

“Who says he’ll discover you? Who says we won’t win this war first? We’ve taken out more of his minions than he has of ours recently...”

“That’s just a drop in the ocean, though. He has ridiculous power ... I don’t know of anyone who can stop him.” Her eyes were still on Harry, whose eyelids had drooped. She gently set the teddy bear back on his lap.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t still have something to live for,” James prompted.

She knew what he was getting at. She hadn’t missed the not-so-furtive looks he’d given her and Gideon two nights before – he clearly hadn’t picked up the art of subtlety from his wife.

But she didn’t know what to reply. She had no idea what she and Gideon had – if they even had anything. Nothing along those lines had been said by either of them since they’d reconciled the previous weekend. She wasn’t even sure what she had to say. What did she want?

She wanted him, of course; by now, she knew that all too well. But she was scared. Scared of falling too hard. Scared of losing him. Scared of the pain.

She didn’t tell James any of this, but he seemed to pick up on some of what was torturing her.

“What have you got to lose?” he suggested. “Or, think of it this way; what could you lose if you don’t do anything?”

She didn’t want to think of that. She was already petrified that Gideon wouldn’t come out of this raid alive. She didn’t know what she wanted to say to him, but she did know that if she’d missed her chance to say something ... well, she didn’t want to think about it.

“Take the plunge,” James continued. “I promise you, you won’t regret it.”

She looked up, and met his gaze.

She almost found it painful to be around James Potter sometimes. Here was a young man who had already been through so much – he and Lily had escaped the Dark Lord three times, she knew that much – and yet he had such a pure heart, and simply radiated love and compassion. It hadn’t escaped her notice that he was immensely frustrated at being cooped up in a house, but he didn’t let this get the better of him. Instead, he seemed to have adopted the role of keeping everyone else’s spirits up, keeping them motivated, encouraging them to keep fighting, keep living. And while she could possibly look at him, with a family of his own, and wonder what grounds he had to think he had it bad in this war, all she saw was a man who loved, and cared, and stood up for what was right, regardless of the consequences.

The sheer emotion of it all was almost enough to bring her to tears.

***

The time crawled by. Seconds felt like minutes, and minutes like hours. Lily had taken Harry off to bed, and the three of them sat in near silence for what felt like an eternity, just waiting.

It was all they could do. And Araminta hated it.

Finally, finally, there was news.

Lily answered the door when the knock sounded. Araminta didn’t move from her spot. She was too scared at what she might find were she to venture to the hall.

Instead, the news came to her, in the shape of a battered, bruised, but very much alive Arieda.

“Thank Merlin,” Araminta breathed as she stumbled into the room and fell into a chair.

“No deaths,” she said wearily, “which is something of a miracle. Some of the Death Eaters fled early on, the cowards; that gave us a better chance. We nailed Jugson and Rowle. Moody and Fabian are at the Ministry with them, trying to get them banged up.”

Araminta let out a huge sigh of relief.

“You were duelling Jugson, weren’t you?” she said.

Arieda nodded, looking as though she was trying to prevent a smug smile from spreading across her face.

“He was my scalp. I’m on the points board now,” she added triumphantly.

James stood up, presumably to take care of the tally in question.

“Where’s Gideon?” Araminta asked, unable to bear the suspense any longer.

“Kitchen. Needs putting back together. Lily’s with him. Everyone else is elsewhere, so you’re safe-”

Araminta was already half-way across the room.

“Be a darling and bring us some Pepperup, would you?” Arieda called out after her, too tired to move.

“Will do,” she replied, not breaking stride.

Arieda seemed to have exaggerated slightly about Gideon needing to be put back together. He looked incredibly pale and there was blood seeping through his shirt, but he seemed to be in one piece, which was much better than the possibilities Araminta had been envisaging.

“Gideon,” she breathed in relief, halting in the doorway.

He glanced up at her, his eyes looking slightly unfocused, and a smile spread across his face.

“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” he murmured.

“Are you okay?”

“M’fine, just need closing up.” He gestured towards the blood stain on his shirt.

Lily bustled back into the kitchen from the door at the other end of the room, armed with her Healing bag.

“Arieda was asking for some Pepperup potion,” Araminta spoke up as Lily set her bag down on the table and began taking out numerous bottles.

“I’ve got one here, do you want to...” She tailed off, looking up at Araminta. “I’ll take it in to her. I’ll give her some stew as well; I saved some earlier. Do you think you can patch Gideon up? He’s not too bad, he just needs a Blood Replenishment and some essence of dittany...”

“Preferably before he faints,” Gideon spoke up, his eyes now closed.

“I’ve got it covered,” Araminta said hurriedly, approaching the table.

Lily nodded, and left them, pulling the door closed behind her.

Araminta wasn’t an idiot. She knew exactly what Lily was doing, and she felt a swell of gratitude towards her.

“Here,” she said, finding the Blood Replenishing Potion and unstoppering the bottle. “Get that down your throat.”

He took it gratefully, and took several gulps, pulling a face.

“Disgusting...”

“It’s got blood in it; what do you expect?” She found the dittany, and some gauze, and set them down on the table in front of her.

“Turnabout is fair play, eh?” he murmured, as she began to unbutton his shirt, her hands shaking slightly – she scornfully told herself to get her act together. “I seem to remember having to heal you like this a few months back...”

She smiled slightly.

“I doubt this was Snape’s doing, though,” she said.

“No,” he agreed. “If he’d gotten me with that spell of his, I’d have run out of the red stuff by now.”

She winced as she pulled his shirt open, to reveal the gaping wound across his stomach which was leaking blood.

“S’all changed since then though, hasn’t it?” he continued. “You were just some new Auror then ... and you hated my guts...”

“I never hated your guts,” she corrected, damping the gauze with the dittany. She placed it on the wound and he hissed with pain. “Sorry.”

“S’alright. Doesn’t hurt that much, anyway. And you did hate me-”

“I never hated you. You annoyed me, but I never hated you. If anything, I hated myself because I didn’t hate you.” She kept her eyes firmly on the wound, trying to avoid eye contact.

“Knew you couldn’t resist the charm.”

She suspected that he was smirking, and had to fight to prevent a smile from spreading across her own face.

“You don’t have any charm.”

“Sure, keep telling yourself that...”

They fell silent. It was a contented silence, one shared between two people who had so much to say to one another, and yet couldn’t quite bring themselves to say it, both too scared to take the plunge.

She gently lifted the gauze away to check on the wound’s progress, and saw that a layer of new skin had grown across the gash. She drew her wand and siphoned the rest of the blood away.

“All better,” she said quietly, still trying to avoid eye contact. “Just be careful how you move, or you’ll pull it open again.”

“Will do,” he said, his voice sounding stronger. “Thank you.”

“Just returning the favour.”

She didn’t move away. If anything, she moved closer, though she didn’t notice herself stepping forwards. She brought her hand back up, and ran her thumb gently across the wound. He drew in a shuddering breath. She looked up at him, worried.

“Does it hurt?”

“No,” he replied in a slightly husky tone. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

He reached out, took her elbows and pulled her closer, and pressed his lips to hers.

Their first kiss had been desperate, passionate, furious. This one was gentler, sweeter, and yet more meaningful. His arms found her waist, and pulled her closer, and she suppressed a slight shudder at the contact. She entwined her fingers in his hair, needing to feel him, to taste him, not wanting the moment to end-

The knock on the front door wasn’t enough to break them apart, nor was the sound of it opening. But Fabian’s voice floating through from the hallway was.

She stumbled backwards, her eyes wide in panic.

“The other door,” Gideon said breathlessly, “there’s a back set of stairs ... go up to your room, I’ll meet you there in a moment...”

She didn’t need telling twice. She positively ran across the kitchen and slipped through the door, pulling it to just as she heard Fabian greeting his brother. She let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding in, and darted up the back flight of stairs to the top floor, where the room she’d had previously slept in was located.

It was only once she was safely behind the door, once she had fallen back onto the bed, that she let herself think over what had just happened. She took a few deep breaths, trying to slow down her heart, which was pounding even faster than when she’d been standing beside Bellatrix earlier that evening. It was hard to believe, given all that had happened since, that that had been mere hours ago...

He had kissed her again. He was alive. She wondered whether his reaction had simply been because of that, if he was merely happy to have survived another day, and hadn’t actually meant to kiss her...

But all she could do was wait for him to come to see her, as he’d said he would. She couldn’t go searching for him, not with Fabian and possibly other Order members wondering around downstairs. The pessimistic part of her mind wondered whether he’d come to find her at all.

She rolled over, and groaned into her pillow in aggravation.

But, true to his word, he did come to see her. She sat up abruptly as he knocked on the door and entered. He was wearing a clean shirt; she tried to quash the most inappropriate pang of disappointment. He crossed the room, and sat down on the bed next to her. She noticed that her hands were shaking slightly, and crossed her arms firmly to hide it.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Fine. Fabian just wanted to check I was alright. He’s gone now, so you’ve got free roam of the place again. Sirius is here though, he turned up just as I was coming upstairs.”

“And he’s okay?”

Gideon’s expression seemed to sour ever so slightly.

“He’s fine. Few scrapes here and there. Arieda’s patching him up.”

She let out a huge sigh of relief.

“I was so worried...” she said quietly, staring down at the quilt.

“What, that I’d come back with only one arm?” he joked, clearly trying to lighten the mood.

“That you wouldn’t come back at all,” she said quietly. Her voice cracked.

He didn’t say anything for a moment. She couldn’t bring herself to look up at him, too embarrassed by the sudden outpouring of emotion.

And then his hand found her chin, and tilted her head upwards. He was leaning towards her, their faces barely inches apart.

“You can’t get rid of me that easily,” he breathed.

Then he kissed her again, frantically, intensely, his free hand resting on her thigh, his other cupping her cheek, then sliding down, enveloping her waist. Her hands reached up and grabbed his collar, pulling him closer still-

Too close. His weight began to press against her, and she pulled away, placing her hands on his shoulders and trying to push him back.

“Wha-” he began, looking bemused, but shuffled backwards.

She closed her eyes, and tried to calm her breathing, trying to forget the memories that his touch had triggered, of the pain that Travers had caused...

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t ... I...”

She shook her head, her eyes still tightly shut.

“It’s not you,” she said. “It’s ... I just can’t, I...”

He seemed to misunderstand.

“Because you’re spying? Nobody needs to find out...”

She shook her head again, and opened her eyes. His expression was a mixture of concern, guilt and desire.

“No, it’s not that,” she began. She realised that getting more involved with him might not be the best idea, but at this point she really didn’t care. She couldn’t keep herself away from him any longer. “It ... it’s...”

She couldn’t tell him. She didn’t know how to. Luckily, he guessed without her needing to say anything.

“Bloody hell,” he said, his face losing the colour that it had regained only moments before. “Travers, he ... what the hell did he do to you?”

“I was his wife, he was just-”

“No,” he said firmly, his hands clenching into fists. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence. He had no right to so much as lay a finger on you; just because you were his wife, it didn’t make you his property-”

He broke off abruptly, standing up and pacing across the room.

“He’s lucky you got to him first,” he said fiercely, breathing heavily. “If he was still alive, then I’d ... I’d...”

He seemed to be struggling to find a fate appropriate for Travers.

“Gideon, please, just calm down-”

“Calm down? Calm down? He treated you as his plaything and you want me to calm down?”

“It’s not a big issue-”

Not a big issue? He fucking hurt you, and it’s not a big issue?”

“I just want to forget about it!” she said, her hands shaking again. “He’s dead now, he can’t do anything-”

“That doesn’t heal the damage he’s already done,” he said gruffly, though he was calmer now. He sat back down next to her, and took her quivering hands in his. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise ... I didn’t mean to push you...”

She shook her head, just wanting the conversation to be over.

“You didn’t,” she said quietly. “It’s fine, it’s just me being stupid-”

“You are not being stupid,” he said firmly. He brought her hands up to his lips, and kissed them gently.

“I promise you, I will never hurt you. Ever.”

His voice was filled with such passion and sincerity, and his gaze with such intensity, that it brought her to tears. He smiled gently, and wiped the tears away with his thumb, then leant in to kiss her gently.

And there, in his tender embrace, Araminta wondered if she was finally learning what it felt like to be loved.


Chapter 25: I Run to You
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I run my life, or is it running me
Run from my past
I run too fast
Or too slow it seems

I Run to You – Lady Antebellum



“You seem happy,” Arieda mused to Gideon at the breakfast table next morning.

He blinked in surprise.

“Shouldn’t I be?”

She smiled.

“You haven’t been happy since Louisa died. Not like this, anyway. It’s like the old you is finally back.”

He frowned.

“I never left...”

Her smile turned slightly sad.

“You did,” she sighed. “Oh, you really did. You may not have realised it, but we noticed. It’s as though you didn’t want to bother us, didn’t want to be a burden, but ... oh, Gid, you’re never a burden. If anything, trying to deal with everything by yourself made it harder for us, because we just felt as though we couldn’t help...”

“But ... you were mourning too, you’d just lost your sister...”

Exactly. We could have helped each other through it...”

He groaned, and his head fell into his hands, as he realised the impact of what he’d done.

“Merlin, Ari, I’m so sorry...”

“Oh, don’t apologise, Gid ... heck, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad! It’s just, I’ve been wanting to say this to you for so long, but I never thought it was the right time. But now, you seem ... well, content. Happy. And it’s a relief to see.”

He nodded in agreement.

“Yeah. Things are ... yeah, they’re good.” He paused. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with Sirius lately.”

He’d noticed this for a while now, but every time he’d thought of bringing it up, something had happened to distract him. Mentioning it now, he wasn’t sure himself if he meant it as an accusation or a mere observation.

“Yes, I have,” she said defiantly. “And what about it? He just wants the company – and so do I, for that matter. Are you going to try to tell me I’m not allowed to talk to him?”

“I – don’t be daft, of course I’m not!” he said indignantly. “I just ... you know he doesn’t like me-”

“I know nothing of the sort. He’s not said a thing to me about you, and I haven’t brought it up either. He’s lonely, Gideon. He doesn’t know who to trust anymore, apart from James and Lily, and there’s only so much time he can spend with them ... I mean, why do you spend time with me?”

“But you’re a friend, Ari, you always have been; that’s why I spend time with you-”

“And he and I can’t be? You forget, I was year mates with Mary’s sister.”

“Does he still see Jane?”

“Sometimes.” She paused. “She’s not as involved with everything as we are. It makes things awkward. He just needs company, Gid! Are you really going to begrudge him that?”

Despite all the bad blood between him and Sirius, her words stirred feelings of utter guilt and self-loathing in him. She was right. In the end, they were all struggling through the same war; they all needed comfort and support from each other. And who was he to deny Sirius a friend?

***

He’d been wondering if the Order would face a backlash after the raid and Death Eater captures of the previous week. It seemed unlikely that Voldemort would let them get away with their audacious stunt.

They hadn’t expected him to hit quite as hard as he did, though.

It was Fabian who told him the news on Monday morning, when he arrived at the Ministry to find out where he would be patrolling.

“They’ve gotten Edgar,” he said gloomily.

Gideon stared at him.

“What?” he said, horrified.

“Edgar Bones. Death Eaters copped him and his family last night.”

Gideon’s heart sank.

Before heading off on his patrols, he scouted out Araminta, in her cubicle, not wanting to spend the evening on his own. She’d looked just as sombre as he felt. Perhaps she anticipated another summons from Voldemort.

“Did you know him well?” she asked him that evening, as they played a game of chess. “Edgar Bones, I mean.”

“Reasonably well.” He watched as his knight took out her bishop. “He was a couple of years above me at school. Hufflepuff. I got to know him a bit more through the Order, though. He saved my life a couple of times...”

She didn’t say anything for a moment. She just concentrated on the chess, something that perhaps he should have been doing, as she took his queen and both rooks in quick succession.

“I’ve always wondered what Hogwarts house I would have been in,” she said quietly, as he deliberated over how to get himself out of the hole he found himself in.

He looked up, all thoughts of chess forgotten.

“I’m sure you can find out, you know,” he said. “I can ask Dumbledore-”

She shook her head.

“Don’t be daft,” she said. “He has far more important things to be worrying about.”

“You’d be surprised.” He moved his knight. “He likes to concern himself with small trifles.”

“There are small trifles, and then there are completely pointless requests.” She looked up at him. “Don’t worry; I’m sure the curiosity won’t kill me.” She moved her queen triumphantly. “Checkmate.”

“Bugger,” he muttered, as her queen toppled his king. He paused a moment, fearing that the question he wanted to ask might upset her.

“There’s something that’s been bothering me,” he began tentatively.

She looked up from the chess board, frowning.

“What is it?”

“You said you couldn’t kill.”

She nodded.

“I can’t. I said, I only ever told you the truth.”

He cocked his head in confusion.

“But ... you’re a Death Eater. How can a Death Eater not kill?”

She shrugged.

“I guess my parents installed too large a sense of morality in me.”

“I can’t imagine Voldemort takes too kindly to servants who can’t kill.”

“Follower, not servant.”

“There’s a difference?”

“A small one.” She paused. “Besides, my value isn’t in my duelling. He has people like Bellatrix to murder and pillage. I told you already, my speciality is in more delicate arts. Hence why I’m the spy.” Another pause. “I can do near enough anything else. I know more Dark magic than you could even imagine. I can torture someone easily. But there’s a difference between causing someone pain, and actually killing them.” She swallowed.

“So you’ve never killed anyone?”

She said nothing, but looked down at her hands, which were knotted together tightly on the table between them.

“Aside from Travers, obviously,” he added.

“But that was unintentional. I pushed at him in rage; I didn’t anticipate the oaf cracking his head open and bleeding to death. That was his fault.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “In order...” She hesitated. “In order for someone to prove themselves a worthy Death Eater, one has to kill. It’s part of the ... ‘training routine’, to coin a phrase. Every wannabe Death Eater has to undergo as cruel a security regime as that of the Ministry – crueller, because the Dark Lord has followers like Bellatrix who thrive on putting people through such terrible treatment. And of course, he’s not one to shy away from it himself,” she added.

“I was lucky. I didn’t have to endure it. The Dark Lord started training me when I was fifteen. He as good as brainwashed me, I guess. I think he thought putting me through the regime was pointless; my loyalty had already been proven – after all, who else was I to be loyal to? I knew nothing else at the time. I wanted to avenge my parents’ deaths, and he was incredibly cunning in hiding the true manner of their deaths, to stir up that feeling of revenge that set me against the Ministry and the Order, even without any true feelings of hatred towards Muggles or Muggleborns.

 “But while I may have been exempt from the security checks, I still had to prove myself in other ways. I still had to prove I could use the Unforgivables, for instance.”

She closed her eyes, and her hands knotted tighter. He reached forwards, his hands enveloping hers, and that simple touch seemed to give her the strength to continue.

“She was eight. A Muggle, of course. Her parents and older brother had already been killed by the others. The Dark Lord left the girl to me.”

Another pause. Gideon’s heart went cold.

“He knew, he knew that was my weakness. And I knew that if I didn’t succeed this time, I would be punished, and put through that same routine time and time again until I succeeded.”

She bit her lip, her eyes still clamped shut.

“I told myself that I was doing it out of mercy. She’d seen those deaths, right in front of her. She didn’t understand who the people in masks with sticks were, what the green light meant, but I think she knew it was something bad, and...” Her voice cracked.

“You did what you had to do,” he said quietly, hoping his words could ease her mental torment. “She would have died anyway.”

She nodded.

“That’s what I told myself-”

She stopped mid-sentence, and reached for her wrist, her eyes wide. His hands fell away from hers.

“Is he summoning you?” he said sharply.

She nodded, her face draining of all colour.

“Have you seen him since we raided the house?”

This time she shook her head.

“I – I have to go,” she said, her voice trembling slightly.

“Be careful,” he said, as she got to her feet. He felt as though he should say something else, but had no idea what to say. “Come ... come back here afterwards. So I know you’re okay.”

She nodded again, and Disapparated with a loud pop.

His hands shook as he put away the chess set, trying to distract himself from thinking about how her audience with Voldemort was going. Afterwards, he set about tidying the entire flat – even though there was barely anything to tidy away. Then, when he could find nothing else to do, he sat down with a book, but he couldn’t concentrate on it. His mind strayed from the words on the page, until he eventually gave up, put the book to one side, and resorted to pacing up and down the room, his hands in his hair.

It crossed his mind that she must have been going through the same thing on the night of the raid as he was now. It was no wonder she’d seemed so relieved to see him. He’d thought she was overreacting when she’d said how worried she’d been about what might have happened to him, and now he found himself wondering the same thing, wondering when she’d come come back, if she would-

No. He couldn’t let himself think that. She’d be fine, surely she would? Voldemort hadn’t found her out yet...

But then, someone had given away the Death Eaters’ location to the Order. If Voldemort suspected it had been her...

He groaned, and fell back into the chair, his head in his hands.

She finally returned, after what felt like an eternity. She Apparated into his flat with a loud pop, landing in a sobbing heap on the floor. She’d clearly come straight from her encounter with Voldemort, as she was still in her Death Eater robes. Gideon’s stomach churned, as he slid off the chair and onto the floor beside her, pulled her into his lap and held her as she cried.

Once her tears had subsided, he tentatively posed the question.

“What happened?”

“He tortured me again,” she said in a shuddering whisper.

He pushed her hood back.

“Why?”

“He’s angry. And he wants your head. So he took it out on me.”

“Oh, Merlin,” he breathed, holding her closer. “I’m so sorry...”

“Don’t be daft, it’s hardly as though you can just sacrifice yourself.”

“But I hate to see him hurting you like this! And ... I can’t do anything about it...”

“You’re already helping,” she murmured, looking up at him. “Just ... just by being here...”

She’d not been the one to initiate contact before. But this time, she reached up, and pulled his head down to meet hers in a feverish kiss. He responded in kind, careful of where he placed his hands, not wanting to hurt her when she was already in a fragile state – but she pressed herself forwards, slid her hands under his shirt, and he was the one to pull away.

“Araminta...”

“Please,” she breathed against his lips, her hands trembling.

He shook his head.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, trying not to let her touch distract him.

“You won’t.” She looked up at him, her eyes pleading, as though the intimacy was the only way she could forget her ordeal.

His self-restraint was beginning to waver.

“What if you regret it?”

“I won’t, I promise, I...”

Her gaze, so needing, so desperate, swept away the last of his self-restraint, and he kissed her, holding her to him tightly, as though his touch could somehow heal her pain.

And afterwards, as she fell into a peaceful sleep, her limbs still intertwined with his under the blanket which he had conjured, he gently brushed the hair back out of her face, and vowed to himself that even if he couldn’t stop her being tortured, even if he couldn’t prevent the pain, he would do everything he possibly could to try to make it go away.

 


Chapter 26: I Believe In You
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I don't believe you know me, although you know my name
I don't believe the faults I have are only mine to blame
I don't believe that magic is only in the mind
I don't believe I'd love somebody just to pass the time

I Believe In You – Kylie Minogue



As they’d agreed during the week, Araminta Apparated into Gideon’s flat on Saturday morning. Common courtesy might declare Apparating directly into someone’s premises the height of rudeness, but he’d practically ordered her to do so, having grown ridiculously paranoid about her safety in the past week. She knew it was because he cared about her, but it was beginning to get slightly stifling, possibly because she wasn’t used to having someone worry so much about her.

She had – on the surface – been irritated with him when he’d dropped by her cubicle in the week to tell her that he had arranged with Dumbledore for her to try on the Sorting Hat.

“And it has to be this Saturday,” he’d pointed out, “because the new term starts on Sunday and we can’t really turn up at Hogwarts when it’s full of students.”

Possibly, her irritation had been slightly unfair. In reality, it had been borne from embarrassment that he had gone to Dumbledore with such a request, especially when she had specifically asked him not to.

But mostly, she was touched that he’d gone to such lengths for her. She couldn’t deny that she was curious about what she’d find out about herself, but she really hadn’t thought it that important. That he had thought it important enough to ask Dumbledore if they could visit Hogwarts, meant a lot to her.

He was just finishing his breakfast in his small kitchen when she arrived. She wasn’t really sure that she liked this flat. She hadn’t spent much time at his previous one, but it had felt more like his home than this. It was as though he’d given up on making his residences homely, as though he anticipated having to move again, and didn’t see a point in making his flat comfortable to live in. The thought saddened her.

It took him a moment to notice her.

“Dragon keeper,” she said lazily before he could get the question out. “Should I ask you for your Chocolate Frog card history?”

He grinned, the reaction enough to confirm to her that it was him.

“I’ve still got loads of Agrippas if you want one, you know.”

She pulled a face.

“I think they produced twice as many of him as anyone else; I have loads from when I collected them. I never had anyone to swap with, either...”

“That must have been awful, having to resort to buying more Chocolate Frogs just to get the cards you were missing.”

“I can’t say I’m too fond of them now,” she admitted.

“Blasphemy.” He shook his head. “Do you want anything to eat, by the way, or have you already eaten?”

“I’m good, thanks.” She didn’t want to hover here too long. Part of her was growing nervous, and wanted to get the visit over and done with as quickly as possible.

She wasn’t sure if Gideon had picked up on this, or whether he merely sought to be away from his flat, but he didn’t seem keen to hesitate any longer than necessary.

They Apparated to Hogsmeade, which was almost entirely deserted, a sign of the fear amongst people of the threat which the Dark Lord posed. It was a far cry from the bustling crowd which had descended upon it only two months previously, for Fabian and Marlene’s wedding. That was a sobering thought in itself, that Fabian was already a widower only weeks after getting married.

They walked up to the school gates in a companionable silence. Araminta was glad for this, as she wasn’t really in the mood for a deep and meaningful conversation, and they were far past the point of small talk.

At the gates, Gideon conjured a Patronus; a fox, which dashed off up the grounds.

“I wish I could conjure a Patronus...” she said wistfully.

He looked at her, frowning.

“Can you not?”

She shook her head, avoiding his gaze.

“Of course not,” she said. “I was never taught to. Why would I have been? I don’t think the Dark Lord can conjure one. I doubt I’d be able to-”

“Why on earth not?” he cut in sharply.

“From what I understand of patronuses, you have to be able to feel happiness, and love, and...”

“And you think you can’t?”

“I-” She hesitated. “I don’t know. I’ve never even tried it before. I don’t know if I even have a memory strong enough to conjure one...”

She was relieved when the gamekeeper, Hagrid, appeared at the gates, cutting their awkward conversation short. He tried to engage Gideon in friendly conversation as they walked through the grounds, but Gideon seemed lost in his thoughts, and so Hagrid soon gave up and trudged back to his hut.

Araminta was grateful to pass through the school more slowly, enabling her to halt in the doorway to the Great Hall and take it in properly for a moment. They reached the gargoyle on the Seventh floor which led to Dumbledore’s office, and Gideon said “Acid Pops.”

She looked at him oddly as the gargoyle leapt aside.

“How did you know that?”

“He told me the other day. He’s not here at the moment, apparently. Says he’ll be back tomorrow. He’s trusting us to behave, so don’t go letting me down. After you.”

He gestured towards the staircase, and she stepped forwards onto it; he followed her.

She still found herself in awe of Dumbledore’s office upon her second visit, and allowed herself to get distracted by the various instruments in it. Gideon, on the other hand, barely glanced at them, instead heading straight to the shelf behind the desk which the tatty Sorting Hat sat on.

“Come on, then,” he said cheerily. “You can be a rebel, and sit in Dumbledore’s seat, if you want.”

She smiled slightly, crossing the office in trepidation. She sat down gingerly and let him put the Hat onto her head, feeling like a bit of a fool.

“No need to worry, my dear, most people look rather fetching when wearing me.”

She jumped at the voice in her ear.

“Now then, I don’t remember you from any Sorting I’ve done ... did you not attend Hogwarts? No, I see now, you were homeschooled ... and I suppose you want to know where I’d Sort you? Well ... this is difficult, any twenty-two year old is going to have a complex mind, and yours is especially so. Where to start ... yes, I see courage there, immense courage, and a great deal of nerve. You have a clever mind, but to be wise one has to be more than just smart, so I don’t think you would belong in Ravenclaw. I see great ambition there, and a willingness to do near enough anything to achieve those ambitions ... yes, there is cunning there, you would have done well in Slytherin...”

She shuddered slightly.

“But you have shown great bravery and self-sacrifice in your life, so if I had to Sort you today, I would most definitely place you in Gryffindor.”

She could not prevent the smile from spreading across her face.

“However,” he continued – her heart sank – “as I have said, a twenty-two year old mind is complex, very complex ... much more developed than an eleven year old mind, more mature. It therefore does not necessarily follow that I would have put you there eleven years ago. It may be difficult to decipher what attributes you have always had, and which you have developed ... your bravery has emerged recently, very recently, strong emotion can do that, along with a desperate need to achieve something ... which takes us back to your Slytherin attributes. Those are much more entrenched ... yes, I think that you would have been placed in Slytherin if I had Sorted you at eleven.”

Her shoulders drooped, as she was told exactly what she hadn’t wanted to hear. After all she had done, and with the amount she hated the Dark Lord and his aims, she was still placed in Slytherin?

“My dear, you listen to the prejudiced too much, and look upon the belittled house that is Slytherin with a closed mind. Being a Slytherin is nothing to be ashamed of. As I have said, courage and ambition, Gryffindor and Slytherin, are so often, as you yourself show, so tightly woven together that it is near impossible to separate them. Each one drives the other one on. Indeed, you would not be you without that cunning and ambition. It is a common misconception, sadly started unintentionally by Salazar Slytherin himself, that all Slytherins must be Dark witches and wizards with anti-Muggle sentiments. It is, like the others, a mighty house, one to be proud of. Just because you would have made a good Slytherin does not mean that you cannot go on to become a great witch, fighting on the side of the light. Indeed, without that cunning, you would not be able to do your job at all, and so it really is nothing to be ashamed of. You must remember that, and embrace your Slytherin side, for it is what makes you who you are.”

She frowned, as the Hat’s words sunk in. It was true, she had only heard bad things of Slytherin house, from the Prewetts and Sirius amongst others, and they, though wonderful people, all had the ability to be very close-minded.

She knew, she realised as the thought sunk in, that Slytherins could be good; was Snape not an example? Had she not seen his thoughts, accidentally, that split second the other month when he’d let his guard drop? Hadn’t he proved his true loyalties by alerting Dumbledore when she’d told him the Dark Lord had found out Gideon’s address?

“Severus Snape was a very interesting character to Sort,” the Hat supplied, listening to her thoughts. “I expected great things to come from him; he had a thirst to prove himself to those who doubted him. I see this in you, too. But first and foremost, you must believe in yourself.”

She removed the Hat before it could say anything else.

“All done?” Gideon smiled at her, a smile which she couldn’t return. “I might try it on, see what it has to say about me.”

She nodded, and handed the Hat to him as she got to her feet. He didn’t bother to sit down as he pulled it on. She held back a scowl at the sight of him wearing the Hat; ‘fetching’ wouldn’t be the word she’d have used. Bastard material, she thought to herself as she turned away and headed back to the curious instruments, trying to distract herself from what the Hat had just told her.

Gideon didn’t spend too long with the Hat.

“Ready to go?” he said after a minute or two. She looked up and saw him replacing the Hat on the shelf. She didn’t reply, but merely turned on her heel and headed for the door, sensing him following her.

“What’s your verdict then?” he asked her as they reached the bottom of the staircase, the gargoyle leaping back into place behind them.

“Not here,” she murmured.

She felt his confused gaze on her, but said nothing more as they left the castle and its grounds.

“You coming back to mine for a bit?” he asked gently as the school gates closed behind them.

She nodded, and then Disapparated.

He Apparated into his flat moments after she did. He opened his mouth to speak, but she got there before him.

“What did it say about you?”

“Oh, Gryffindor.” He frowned slightly.

“You’re not disappointed, are you?”

He laughed.

“Course not! I was half-hoping for something different though, to show that I’m no longer my eleven year old self, I guess. But then, Gryffindor’s where I belong, and I’d have been disappointed if it had said I no longer did ... I can’t have my cake and eat it, can I? But it did say that there’s less Ravenclaw in me now than there was. Apparently I’m not as wise as I was. I don’t quite understand that-”

“Being wise isn’t just being knowledgeable when it comes to wielding a wand,” she supplied, having understood the Hat fully when it had made the same remark to her. “To be wise, you have to be able to judge people without prejudice, to be able to come to the right decision without being rash or assuming things. I guess you – and I – are guilty of all of those things. No, I know you are.”

He scowled slightly.

“But I guess the war has changed you, like it has everyone,” she added. “Sometimes you have to be rash; sometimes you don’t have the time to think things over.”

 “I guess...” He tailed off. “Still,” he continued brightly, “least he didn’t tell me Hufflepuff, now that would have been depressing-”

She laughed hollowly.

“There again with your prejudice. I’d have done anything to have been told Hufflepuff.”

He frowned again.

“I’m lost on both counts,” he said. “Why Hufflepuff? And what did the Hat say to you, anyway?”

“Hufflepuff’s trait is loyalty, right?”

She didn’t have to say any more; he nodded in understanding straight away, and opened his mouth to speak.

“It didn’t even mention loyalty,” she continued bitterly. “Knowledge, yes – but not wise enough for Ravenclaw – bravery and courage enough to make me a Gryffindor now, the cunning and ambition to make a First Year me a Slytherin, but no sodding LOYALTY!” She punched the wall, furious with both herself and the Hat. “And then,” she continued, pulling her throbbing fist to her chest – definitely no wisdom – “you have to go and criticise the one house I wanted, because you think that being true to one’s self just makes you a duffer-”

She sank to the floor, fighting back tears.

“Hey,” he said gently, sitting down beside her and wrapping an arm round her shoulders. “Where’s all this anger come from? And ... do you think that we don’t think you’re loyal?”

“I’ve been trained by the Dark Lord. He took me under his wing, I was his protégée, I should be grateful for all he’s done for me. But instead, I turn against him, to fight alongside the people I was fighting against ... where’s the loyalty there? It’s fickleness, that’s what it is-”

“How can you even begin to think that?” He pulled her tighter into his side, taking her bruised hand in his and stroking the knuckles gently. “Araminta, you’re one of the most loyal people I know, and your ability to change sides just emphasises that. Surely, only true loyalty to a cause can lead to you joining the Order? Because that’s certainly what I see it as-”

“You didn’t at first.”

“I’m a prejudiced dick, we’ve already established this.”

“You’re only saying this because it’s me, and I have a strange affinity with your mattress. If it were anyone else-”

“I’d be saying the same thing to them now.”

“Even my husband?”

His arm stiffened.

“That’s different-”

“There we go. You were never shagging him, you’d never have considered it, so therefore you wouldn’t have-”

“No, that’s not why.” His voice was sharp, forceful. “It’s because he genuinely meant what he did-”

“I thought I did-”

“You were brainwashed-”

“So was he!” She glared at him, breathing heavily. “We’ve all been! The only reason, the only reason why you, and James, and Marlene, and all the other purebloods in the Order, don’t believe in pureblood supremacy, is because your parents didn’t. Us? We were brought up to believe the exact opposite-”

“For a start, never refer to yourself as one of the Death Eaters. You’re not one of them. Secondly, upbringing isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to beliefs. You ought to know that. Take Sirius. Exactly the same upbringing as all of the others in nutjob families, and yet everyone knows where he stands. Against them. Because he had the humanity to recognise that it’s wrong. You? You’re the same. You had the-”

“I only changed sides when I found out about my parents’ deaths. You were right all along. I just fight the people I believe are responsible. That’s what’s changed, that’s all-”

“You were arguing the exact opposite to me not four weeks ago.” Gideon raised an eyebrow. “Do you honestly believe that’s the only reason you switched sides? After everything you’ve argued, everything you’ve admitted, after acknowledging your reluctance began long before you found out about your parents, do you honestly doubt yourself that much? Do you honestly think you don’t have the capability to change sides, or that changing makes you a weaker person, who doesn’t know who she stands for? Because that’s a load of bollocks, and you know it.” He paused, frowning slightly. “Or are you purely in this for revenge? Because if that’s what’s driving you, then great. It’s part of what keeps me going, so I’d be a hypocrite to tell you otherwise. But if that is all it’s about, and you’ve been having us all on-”

“I don’t know!” She turned away from his gaze, and buried her head in his chest. “I thought I knew what I was doing, why I was fighting, but now ... the Hat says I’m not loyal-”

“Did it say you weren’t, or did it just not say you were?”

She frowned into his chest.

“They’re the same thing-”

“No. Really, they’re not. It didn’t mention loyalty to me, are you going to tell me I’m not? Because I’d like to think I am-”

“You’re loyal to a fault.”

“Well, there you go then.” He paused. “If all of this worry is just because of the Hat...”

“I don’t know.” She sighed. “I don’t do emotion. I’m either happy or sad, that’s as far as it should go. It’s as far as I want to comprehend. I don’t want this love bollocks, or anything else, to come into it, because then I have to try to understand it, and I don’t get it-”

“Nobody does.” He stroked her hair a few times. “That’s half the joy of it. If everyone understood love, we wouldn’t be fighting, and we wouldn’t be here debating it. Look. Let’s simplify things. Do you think that Muggleborns and Muggles are below purebloods?”

“No-”

“Do you think killing them is right?”

“No-”

“Well, that’s good enough for me.”

She pulled her head up, looking up at him.

“You don’t mean that.”

“I bloody well do.”

He leant down and planted a soft kiss on her lips.

“I believe in you. I don’t give a damn about what a scrap of fabric thinks. I don’t give a damn how many Dark Marks you have, how many times you’ve used the Cruciatus, how many Death Eaters you know, how many spells you’ve learned from Voldemort. You’re one of the most loyal people I know, and I think you’d have made a fine Hufflepuff. I’d trust you with my life, and I sure as hell know that I’d die for you. What does it matter what other people think? I believe in you, Araminta Gamp, and I’ll never stop.”


Chapter 27: The Power of Love
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When the chips are down I'll be around
With my undying, death-defying love for you

The Power of Love – Frankie Goes to Hollywood



Things were spiralling downhill.

Nobody liked to say anything, as everybody wanted to keep their spirits up for everyone else. Nobody wanted to be the person to lose faith, to appear to be giving up.

Araminta was finding it doubly – no, triply hard. Because she not only had to witness the Aurors and the Order losing hope, but also the Dark Lord gaining hope, gaining confidence, and with that came yet more murderous intent.

And all the while, her mental defences were being tested to the limit. It would only take one slip, and her cover would be blown. She found that hard enough in normal conversation with the Dark Lord, but the moment he turned his wand on her, the moment she felt that bone-cracking pain, it was all she could do to keep those defences up, to keep herself safe.

To keep Gideon safe.

She was trying her utmost to hide her struggles from Gideon. It was hard. Ridiculously hard. Some nights, after she’d been with the Dark Lord, all she wanted to do was to seek him out, to have him hold her and reassure her that everything would be okay. But she couldn’t indulge herself. He already had too much on his mind, she couldn’t give him something else to worry about. She’d already turned to him too much, she couldn’t keep on doing so.

Unfortunately for her, Arieda was far more perceptive than he was.

“You can’t just lock it all up, you know,” she said quietly one evening.

“I have to. He ... he can’t ... he has enough to worry about...”

“He’d worry more if he thought you were trying to cope without his help,” Arieda reasoned. “Yes, he’s fragile, but ... aren’t we all? You don’t have to be invincible, you know. You don’t have to deal with this by yourself.”

Araminta closed her eyes tightly, and shook her head.

It was remarkable, how a young woman who’d known her for mere months could know more about her than a Legilimens who had trained her for seven years.

“You don’t have to do this on your own,” Arieda said quietly. “I know you’re not used to having someone care about you, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from it now. It doesn’t make you weak to show emotion. It makes you stronger, it allows you to learn to deal with it, learn to channel it into hope, into positivity. Otherwise, you’ll just bury yourself with this mental torture, and it will catch up with you in the end.”

Araminta opened her eyes, her resolve beginning to crumble with Arieda’s words.

“But Gideon-”

“Is already far stronger than he was a few months ago. You’ve helped him, Araminta. Now let him help you.”

***

It was Gideon himself who brought her the latest bad news.

“Caradoc Dearborn’s gone missing,” he said quietly, cornering her before she headed out to her patrols. “Nobody’s seen him in days, and it looks like there was a disturbance at his house ... but there’s no sign of him.”

She groaned, her head dropping.

“I feel utterly useless,” she muttered, turning away from him.

She felt his hand on her shoulder.

“What do you mean?” he asked gently.

“I should have been able to stop this. And the Bones’ deaths. And Dorcas Meadowes’... what good am I if I can’t give you that kind of information?”

“You can only feed us information you know,” he pointed out.

That didn’t comfort her.

“Look ... I’ve got to go, or Moody will have my head, but ... we’ll talk about this later, okay? Come round mine after work, and we’ll talk.”

His hand dropped from her shoulder and found her hand. He squeezed it lightly, and headed off to the training room.

Unfortunately, the Dark Lord had other plans for her.

“My Lord,” she murmured, falling into a low bow. “You wanted to see me?”

“I am a tolerant man, Araminta,” he said and her heart sank. “I have endured weeks without news from you. I’d hate to accuse you of letting me down, because I have always been able to rely on you, but this is a severe disappointment. I expected more of you. I want Gideon Prewett’s head, Araminta, and you have gotten me close to it once. ‘Close’ isn’t good enough, nor is ‘once’.”

She didn’t even try to justify herself.

***

She headed back to her own flat before visiting Gideon, knowing he didn’t like to see her in her Death Eater robes. It also gave her enough time to try to compose herself, in the hope that he wouldn’t realise she’d been tortured again.

But her Apparition was off-kilter and he seemed to guess the reason straight away.

He forced her through the security question regime, which he’d only neglected the once, and then crossed the room, to pull her into his embrace.

“You’ve just been to see him,” he murmured. “I can tell. What happened?”

“Nothing. He’s just angry-”

He pulled away, holding her out at arms’ length.

“If by ‘nothing’ you mean you’ve been tortured again-”

“it was nothing! I’m fine, Gideon, really-”

“Well you don’t look ‘fine’ to me. I hate when you try to hide it from me like this! You think I want to be kept in the dark? Do you have any idea how much it hurts to know you’re not telling me something?”

“Why don’t you go and ask the Dark Lord to torture you? Then you can come back and we’ll chat about how much it hurts,” she snapped. She tried to turn away, not wanting to hear what he had to say to her.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m just trying to help, but I can’t if you won’t let me-”

“Who said I wanted your help?”

“You may not want it, but you sure as hell need it! Look at what this is doing to you, what he’s doing to you-”

“And how do you think you can help?” She whirled back round to face him, growing angry. “You can’t, Gideon. This is my battle-”

“But you don’t have to face it alone-”

“Yes I do!” she cried, her chest heaving. “How are you supposed to help me? I can hardly take you along with me to hold my hand, can I?”

“I can do more than you’re letting me-”

“No, you can’t! You don’t get it, do you? He’s angry with me because I can’t get him the information he wants! You can’t stop him from being angry, you can’t-”

“I think I can,” he said, his voice calmer now.

She stared at him, her breathing loud and ragged, as his comment sunk in.

“No,” she said flatly. “Absolutely no way. You are not offering yourself up as bait-”

“Why not? Because you’re the only one who’s allowed to put her life on the line here?”

“No, because-”

“You honestly think I’m going to be content with letting you put yourself in danger while I sit on the sidelines and watch you suffer?”

“Do you really think I’m going to be content with watching you put your life on the line for me?”

The words came out before she could stop them. Her eyes widened slightly.

Comprehension dawned on his face.

“Araminta...” he said slowly. He stepped forwards, his hands clasping her arms. “You don’t have to do this alone, you know. I can help you. I want to help you. But I can’t unless you let me...”

She closed her eyes, and shook her head.

“I can’t...”

His grip tightened on her arms.

“You don’t get it,” he said fiercely. “I need to help you-”

“I can’t watch you put yourself in more danger-”

“And I can’t lose you!”

His voice was loud, passionate.

She fell silent, and her eyes welled with tears at his raw emotion.

“I can’t lose you,” he said again, more quietly this time. His grip loosened, and he rested his forehead against hers, his eyes closed. “I need you. I’ve lost too many people already. I can’t lose you too.”

***

It was with a leaden heart that Araminta attended the next Death Eater meeting; that she stepped forwards, hands trembling, and announced Gideon’s location to the Dark Lord.

She smiled, a maniacal smile which she hadn’t brought about for a long time.

“Marvellous,” he hissed gleefully. “Bellatrix, you will lead this one. I want Gideon Prewett disposed of once and for all.”

And Araminta was forced to stand, and listen despairingly, as the Dark Lord plotted the downfall of the man she cared about so much. She wondered if Gideon had exhausted all of his luck; if this time, after four years of successful evasion, the Dark Lord would finally catch up with him.


Chapter 28: Toy Soldiers
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Step by step, heart to heart
Left, right, left, we all fall down
Like toy soldiers

Toy Soldiers - Martika



“How do you do this?” Araminta asked James bitterly.

“A lot of practice,” he replied glumly.

She closed her eyes, and leant her forehead against the window.

“I can’t stand it,” she said. “Not being able to help ... just having to wait, not knowing what might happen...”

She turned to face him and Lily.

“How long have you two been in hiding?”

“Two years, now,” Lily said quietly.

Two years. Two years of not fighting, of having to sit on the sidelines...

“It wasn’t so bad at first,” Lily continued, her eyes on her son. “We could still leave the house, visit other people, go to Diagon Alley ... Voldemort wasn’t as strong back then. But as time has passed, as he’s grown stronger, as we’ve lost more and more people, we’ve become more restricted. It’s not so bad, we have each other at least, but ... watching your friends put themselves in danger every day, and being unable to do the same ... I feel utterly useless. And guilty, that we’re sitting cosy at home while everyone else fights. They must resent us so much...”

“They don’t,” Araminta said firmly. “They really don’t. They...”

She tailed off.

“They pity us,” James said dully. “Being cooped up, like this, while they’re free to fight...”

She shook her head.

“I think some of them wish they had what you two have,” she said. “It’s so easy for the loneliness to get to people these days...”

James and Lily shared a fierce, tender look, and she knew that, however much they might hate being shut away from the world, they would both choose a lifetime of being in hiding together over one of fighting alone.

After all, who wouldn’t?

She sank to the floor, pulling her knees up and resting her chin on them.

“He’ll come back,” Lily said confidently.

“You don’t know that.”

“They’re well prepared. They’re good fighters.”

“So are the Death Eaters.”

“He has something to fight for.”

Araminta looked up, met the younger woman’s gaze, and knew that she meant her.

“He shouldn’t have had to do this." Her voice was trembling. “He shouldn’t have had to put his life on the line for me...”

“We’re all in this war together,” James spoke up. “You’re one of us. And you shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of this. You’re not alone, you know.”

She bit her lip.

“But, I’m not even doing anything,” she said after a moment. “That’s the worst thing. All these people who’ve been killed since I joined ... I should have been able to stop them, and I didn’t...”

“Don’t be daft,” he said. “It’s not your fault any of our members have died, far from it. You’ve given us lots of information; it’s not your fault if Voldemort doesn’t tell you everything.”

This still didn’t help to ease her guilt.

“We caught Jugson and Rowle,” Lily reminded her. “That was thanks to your tip-off. And we suffered no casualties there.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that Gideon’s offered himself up as bait in the riskiest operation thinkable,” she shot back. “The Death Eaters aren’t taking this lightly, you know. They’ve sent in their biggest hitters. Bellatrix is heading it up, and Dolohov was mentioned too...”

“But they haven’t sent in that many people,” James pointed out. “You told us yourself they only sent five. Voldemort is too confident, he doesn’t think he needs that many people to kill a man in his sleep, even if it is Gideon Prewett.  He won’t expect our guys to be lying in wait...”

The word ‘kill’ sent a shiver up Araminta’s spine.

What was happening right now? Were they still fighting? Had the Order’s reinforcements gotten to Gideon’s flat in time?

Or was it all over? Had the Death Eaters claimed their scalp?

She buried her head in her knees in agony.

James sighed heavily.

“This is silly. We can’t all just sit here on the floor and mope. Come on, I’ve got a horrendously smelly set of Gobstones that might take our minds off things...”

They each played two games against each other, with James emerging as the overall victor – and yet, there was still no news.

“It’s only because the pieces like you,” Lily grumbled, trying to siphon the stones’ fluid off her clothes. “You always win against me-”

“And it’s all down to the pieces, of course, and nothing to do with my superior skill,” he grinned, putting them away.

“Superior skill my ass. I always beat you at Hogwarts. It’s no good, I’m going to have to have a shower to get rid of this smell...”

Araminta thought that sounded like a good idea, and headed upstairs to take a shower herself. She wasn’t sure how long she stood under the piping hot water, completely lost in her miserable thoughts, but by the time she turned off the water, the smell of the Gobstones had long gone.

She didn’t care what James and Lily had tried to say to her. It didn’t matter how willing Gideon had been to do this. If something happened to him, it would be entirely her fault, and she didn’t know if she would be able to forgive herself.

She took her time getting dressed, wanting to put off going back downstairs for as long as possible. She liked the Potters, but sometimes – through no fault of their own – their presence was too much for her. Sometimes, it reminded her too much of how alone she felt. This was definitely one of those times.

She pulled the bedroom door open – and nearly fainted in shock.

For there, on the landing, stood a bruised, bloody, exhausted but most definitely alive Gideon.

She didn’t move for a moment. She just stood there, drinking in his presence, utterly lost for words. Then she stumbled forwards, wrapped her arms around him, and buried her head in his shoulder. He pulled her close, and kissed the top of her head. Neither of them said anything. Neither of them needed to say anything.

And then, finally, Araminta ended the moment, as she raised her head, and kissed him.

“Never,” she breathed, “never make me do this again.”

***

The plan, to Gideon’s evident delight, had worked exactly as he’d intended. It succeeded in diverting the Dark Lord’s frustration from Araminta and to her immense glee, at Bellatrix. He’d summoned them all the night after the failed raid, absolutely livid with the five Death Eaters who’d failed to kill Gideon as he’d hoped they would.

Araminta couldn’t have wished for a better outcome. Bellatrix’s arrogance, in not calling in reinforcements when the Order had arrived, just in time to save Gideon, had brought about the Death Eaters’ failure, as they’d been forced to retreat.

And despite that her loyalties now lay elsewhere, despite that she had realised that the Dark Lord had only ever trained her for his own ends, Araminta still felt a sense of smugness as she watched Bellatrix, the woman who’d usurped her position within his ranks, get a taste of her own medicine.

***

The late night meetings meant that Araminta was often tired the next morning. While patrols and apprentice training helped to wake her up fairly sharpish of a morning, office work did the exact opposite job.

So when Fabian visited her cubicle the next morning, looking mildly worried, it took a moment for his words to sink in.

“I – what do you mean, not turned up?”

“She’s not here. She’s never been late before. I was wondering if you knew something I didn’t? She’s not caught up in something else, is she?”

“Not that I know of.” She frowned and got to her feet. “Maybe we should pop round hers, check she’s okay? She’s possibly just overslept or something...”

On the way out they passed Sirius, preparing to leave for his patrols, and she halted at his cubicle.

“You’ve not kidnapped Arieda, have you?” She tried to sound light-hearted.

He looked bemused.

“No ... why?”

“She’s not showed up this morning. I expect it’s nothing, we’re just off to check in at hers,” she added as his expression turned to one of horror. “It’ll be fine. You should be heading off to patrols...”

She couldn’t quash the feeling of dread, no matter how hard she tried to hide it from both Fabian and Sirius. She couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to Arieda, who had once been her only friend in the world...

But the moment they both Apparated to Arieda’s flat, and the moment her eyes fell on the front door, which had evidently been blasted aside, all of her hope vanished.

“Oh, no...”

Fabian drew his wand, and cautiously entered the flat, Araminta following behind.

And then he stopped dead in his tracks. She stepped round him, and let out a gasp, hand flying to her mouth.

She had clearly been tortured, and horrifically so. The Death Eaters would have wanted to inflict as much pain as possible on the Muggleborn who had already thwarted them far too many times. It was obvious who the instigator had been.

Tears began to roll down Araminta’s cheeks, and she did nothing to brush them away.

Fabian draped an arm round her shoulders and squeezed tightly, though it did little to comfort her. He was shaking slightly, and she glanced up to see his lips were pursed together, and a stray tear was running down his cheek. She buried her head into his chest, unable to look at Arieda’s broken body any longer.

A loud crack echoed around them. She raised her head and saw Sirius standing before them, looking both desolate and hopeful at once. His eyes darted round, before they fell on Arieda’s dead body and all hope in his expression vanished, to be replaced with pure anguish – and at that moment, Araminta understood, and wondered how she could possibly not have realised it before.

She watched, heartbroken, as Sirius fell to his knees at Arieda’s side, tears falling freely, and pulled her head into his lap. She felt a surge of self-hatred – it was her fault; she had been the cause of the Death Eaters’ fury, of Bellatrix’s fury and embarrassment, it was her fault they’d sought such brutal revenge on the Order, and if only she hadn’t let them put their lives on the line for her, she would have prevented Sirius Black having to mourn, once again, the loss of a woman he loved.


Chapter 29: Born to Die
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Lost but now I am found
I can see but once I was blind
I was so confused as a little child
Born to Die – Lana Del Rey



Gideon's patrol was relatively uneventful. Then again, Hogsmeade patrols generally were. One of the only times he'd ever had any trouble was when a few Hogwarts students had snuck out of school for the day. He'd let them go; their troublemaking ways had reminded him of his and Marlene's school days.

Of course, Hogsmeade had also been the site of his wife's death. That patrol had gone horrendously wrong...

He returned to his flat – his third in six months – to find a tearful Araminta waiting for him.

"What's happened?" he asked sharply.

Even in her emotional state, she drew her wand, and pointed it at him shakily.

"I swapped Hengist of Woodcroft with an Agrippa, now what's wrong-"

"Ask me the question!" she said in a hysterical voice.

"Araminta-"

"Just do it!"

He sighed, aggravated. "What did you want to be when you were younger?"

"Dragon breeder," she said in barely a whisper, her voice cracking.

She let her wand fall to the floor, and sank into the chair behind her. He crossed the room and knelt down in front of her.

"What's wrong? What's happened?"

She closed her eyes, her hand over her mouth, and shook her head.

"Please, tell me..."

She took a deep, shuddering breath.

"Oh, Merlin, I'm so sorry, Gid, it's my fault, it shouldn't have happened..."

"I'm sure it's not your fault-"

Her hands gripped her hair agonisingly. She took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself.

"It – it's Arieda..."

Gideon's heart turned to lead.

"What ... what's happened?" he whispered.

Though he had a horrible feeling he already knew.

"We ... we went to find her this morning ... me and Fabian ... she hadn't turned up for Auror training ... we went to her flat ... only, they'd gotten there first..."

He didn't need to ask who she meant by 'they'.

"No," he murmured, burying his head in Araminta's lap. "Oh, Arieda..."

Her face swam into his vision, so young, so innocent ... she had always been like a sister to him, long before he'd married Louisa; he'd always sworn to do what he could to keep her safe, and now he had failed her...

"I'm sorry," Araminta said chokingly. "It's my fault, if you hadn't lured them to yours then they wouldn't have been so mad, and you did it because of me..."

"No," he said firmly, raising his head to look up at her tearstained face. "Don't you dare blame yourself, it wasn't your fault, she was one of their targets anyway ... if anything it was my fault, I should have been looking out for her, I should have been protecting her, I could have stopped this-"

"How, by being her bodyguard? You ... you couldn't ... they would have been too determined ... and then you'd just have died as well..."

Her words, spelling out Arieda's fate so clearly, were more than he could take. He wanted to stay strong, for Araminta, but he couldn't fight back his own tears any longer. She slid off the chair and sank to the floor beside him, enveloping him in her arms.

And instead of one of them trying to keep their emotions at bay and comfort the other, this time they cried together, mourning the loss of a woman they had both loved and needed so much.

***

From then on, time passed in a blur for Araminta. She hadn't realised just how much she'd relied on Arieda to keep her spirits up. Now she was gone, she had little to spur her on, to keep her going. She had Gideon, of course, but he'd been through so much already, and there were only so many times he could pick himself up and dust himself off. Together, they endured the pain, but there was little else they could do for one another now.

The Dark Lord hadn't summoned her again, which was a relief, as she really didn't know how she'd have handled another interrogation from him. She was also relieved to not have to see any of the other Death Eaters, especially Bellatrix.

Her peace was short-lived though, as Bellatrix Apparated into her flat one morning late in September.

"We're going to Gringotts," she announced by way of a greeting.

Araminta stared at her numbly.

"I have to go to work..."

"Not this morning, you don't," Bellatrix replied promptly. "Come on!"

"Why do you need me?"

"Because," Bellatrix smirked, "you speak Goblin."

Moments later they were passing through the Leaky Cauldron. Bellatrix had had Araminta Disillusion her – that was one of her strengths – and her silhouette was barely visible as they headed towards Gringotts. Araminta's stomach was churning, her intestines tying themselves into knots. She had no idea what Bellatrix planned for her to do, but she was certain she wouldn't enjoy it.

They reached the bank – and Araminta ground to a halt.

Somehow, the Death Eaters had infiltrated already. The goblins were being held at wand point, the Aurors on patrol lying dead just inside the door.

"Take the spell off," Bellatrix ordered.

Araminta removed the Disillusionment charm with a shaking hand. Bellatrix then took her by the elbow and led her across the main hall to where Dolohov stood, his wand at the head goblin's throat.

"We want to get into some of the vaults," Bellatrix stated, "and they won't tell us how to get past their security. They need persuading."

And Araminta, as Bellatrix knew only too well, was particularly gifted at persuasion.

But as she looked down at the goblin, looked into his eyes, she knew that even she would have no chance here. The goblins may have been neutral once, but the Dark Lord had slain too many of their numbers for them to give in now.

"Are you really stupid enough to think that mere persuasion will get you into the vaults?" the goblin sneered in his own tongue.

"What did it say?" Bellatrix said sharply.

Araminta didn't reply to her.

"They will kill you if they don't get the answer they want," she told the goblin in the same language.

He raised his head defiantly.

"I would rather die than give away such secrets," he said. "You can kill every single one of us, but you still won't succeed."

Her reply was interrupted by a scuffle at the doors.

"Aurors!" Bellatrix cried.

Dolohov released the goblin, who dropped to the floor, and he turned to face the wave of Aurors flooding into the main hall. Araminta made as if to turn round, but Bellatrix yanked her back, conjuring up a hood and a mask.

"You're not blowing your cover," she hissed. "And don't you dare think about leaving, either; you can fight this time."

She darted off, to engage Fabian in a duel.

Araminta sucked in her breath sharply, but didn't have much time to ponder over her predicament as she was forced to duck to avoid a Stunner. She span round and saw that her attacker was Sirius. She groaned, and raised her wand to conjure a strong Shield Charm. It blocked the barrage of spells that he sent her way, giving her a couple of seconds to try to work out what she could do.

She was a perfectly adept dueller, and was sure that she could match Sirius, but she really didn't fancy taking any chances, especially not when he was so anguished. But she couldn't think of any way to give away her identity to him, without any of the Death Eaters discovering that she wasn't their woman.

Luckily, Sirius helped her out. The last of his barrage of Stunners broke through her Shield, forcing her to duck and the sudden movement dislodged the mask just enough to show him it was her. His eyes widened slightly in shock, and in his moment's hesitation, she replaced the mask.

He sent another stream of spells her way – but they were ever so slightly weaker, ever so slightly off-target, and her job became slightly easier.

She was half-aware of what else was going on around her, aware of Gideon duelling Dolohov, a duel that seemed to be merging with Fabian and Bellatrix's. She tried not to let any of it distract her from her own duel.

But as the number of robed figures duelling the Prewetts increased from two to four, and then five, she found it harder and harder to concentrate. And then Malfoy felled Dawlish. Sirius whirled round, ending their mock-duel, to take on Malfoy before he too joined the duel against Gideon and Fabian. Araminta was left duel-less, and unable to tear her eyes away from the scene before her.

One of Dolohov's spells caught Fabian's left arm. He let out a cry of anguish, but continued to fire spells at his opponents fiercely with his right, while holding the injured arm limply at his side. One of his spells met its target, and the hooded figure slumped to the floor. Now it was Bellatrix's turn to let out the scream, as she turned upon Fabian furiously.

Araminta could tell what was to happen a split second before it did, and raised her hand to her mouth to mask her scream as the green jet hit Fabian squarely in the chest; he fell to the floor like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

Gideon let out a heart-wrenching roar, his spells escalating in frequency and power, fuelled by the anger caused by his brother's death, hunting for revenge, and Araminta knew he would not last long without backup, yet everyone else was struggling in duels of their own, and she could not bring herself to move; it was as though she had been placed under a Body-Bind.

It seemed to happen in slow motion. Araminta could see it coming, but was powerless to stop it, as Gideon twisted to dodge a spell, ducked, weaved – and then was caught by a second green jet from Bellatrix's wand. The force of the curse threw his head back and his arms up; his wand spun out of his right hand into the air, landing several feet away, as he fell to the ground beside his brother.

It was as though the spell had been broken; Araminta stumbled forwards across the main hall, speeding up into a desperate run, as a terrible scream rent the air, and she was half-way towards him before she realised it was her own scream, that tears were streaming down her cheeks, and she was shaking with emotion, and as she fell to the floor beside Gideon she gave in to her tears, letting out a stream of racking sobs.

"Gideon," she murmured through her tears, pulling her head into his lap, "please, please, be okay, please, wake up ... please, you can't be dead-"

She choked over the word, stroking his cheek gently, before slapping it as though it would awaken him.

"Please, you can't leave me, I need you, I love you..."

His eyes stared up at her, glazed, unfocused, and she gently shut his eyelids, oblivious to the scene around her, the retreating Death Eaters, the Ministry enforcements arriving too late to save Gideon and Fabian. And then she let out a scream of anguish, of rage, before she broke down again, falling across his chest, ignoring the cries of her name from the others around her, and wishing that someone would take her too, so she could be with Gideon once more.


Chapter 30: Oh, Maker
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So much hurt on this earth
But you loved me, and I really dared to love you too
Perhaps what I mean to say
Is that it's amazing that your love was mine

Oh, Maker – Janelle Monae



Araminta drew a deep breath, before nervously knocking on the door.

A minute or two passed before it opened, and Arthur Weasley’s weary-looking face peered through the crack.

“Declare yourself!” he said nervously.

“I’m Araminta Gamp-” she began, before falling silent. “You ... you don’t know enough about me for me to be able to prove who I am.” She swallowed. “Um ... You are Arthur Weasley, married to Molly Weasley née Prewett-” she nearly stumbled over the name, but carried on – “you have seven children; William, age ten, Charlie, age eight, Percy, age five, Fred and George, twins, age three, Ronald, age one, and Ginevra Molly, born in August, the first Weasley girl in generations-”

“Okay, I believe you.” He smiled slightly. “I – I don’t really think now is the best time to visit-”

“I know, but I wanted to see Molly.”

He sighed.

“She’s not holding up too well,” he warned, as he pulled the door open. “I’m surprised,” he added, as she crossed the threshold, “that you remember all of our children’s names and ages. I struggle sometimes.”

She tried – and failed – to raise a smile.

“I have a good memory,” she said quietly.

Molly was sitting in the living room, surrounded by photos.

“Someone here to see you, love,” Arthur said gently.

He left them to it, closing the door quietly behind him.

Molly looked up from the photos, and let out the tiniest of gasps.

“Araminta...” she said quietly. “I ... I was just looking through the family albums ... they always were a troublesome pair, you know ... I guess that’s where Fred and George get it from...”

She got to her feet.

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

Araminta wasn’t necessarily in the mood for tea, but she didn’t object, not wanting to upset Molly further. She followed the older woman into the kitchen, and took a seat at the table as Molly busied herself with the teapot. The pot rattled against the lid as her hands shook.

“I always knew this might happen,” she said thickly, standing against the stove with her back to Araminta. “I’m no fool, I knew what danger they were in. I guess in a way they were lucky to live so long, given that poor Louisa and Marlene – oh!”

There was an almighty smash as Molly dropped the lid, and it fell to the floor, shattering into hundreds of pieces.

“Here, let me-”

Araminta got to her feet, as Molly dissolved into hysterical tears.

“Oh, Molly...”

Araminta dashed round the table and awkwardly put an arm round Molly’s shoulders, pulling out the nearest chair for her to sit in. She sank into an adjacent chair, and wrapped both arms round Molly as she sobbed into her shoulder. Soon she couldn’t tell which tears were Molly’s and which were her own.

***

“You really meant something to him, you know,” Molly said thickly, taking Araminta’s free hand in hers. With her other hand, she clumsily took a sip of the tea she’d made.

She paused.

“He really withdrew into himself when Louisa died, but you ... you put the life back into him again, and I can’t thank you enough for that. Without you, I doubt he’d have coped with Marlene’s death in the way he did, and it would have been so sad if he hadn’t lived to see his little niece.” Her voice cracked; Araminta squeezed her hand comfortingly, and she continued. “I think he loved you, dear, I really do. And after all you did for him, all you did to help him, I can’t think of anyone who deserved that love more.”

Araminta looked down into her teacup guiltily, thinking of all the arguments she and Gideon had had, and how she’d deceived him so cruelly when she’d been an active Death Eater.

“I don’t think I deserved it.” Her voice was almost a whisper.

Molly frowned slightly

“Don’t be silly, dear, why on earth wouldn’t you have deserved it?”

But she didn’t know. Of course she didn’t. And she couldn’t know, not even now that Araminta had well and truly walked away from it all. The betrayal would surely break her heart.

Araminta closed her eyes, forcing back the tears.

“I never loved anybody before I met Gideon,” she said quietly. “But he ... he saw something in me that nobody else, not even I, could see. And that-” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Your brothers were wonderful people.” She looked back up at Molly. “I really feel honoured to have known them.”

“As do I,” Molly murmured in response.

Araminta suddenly remembered why she’d come. She plunged her hand into her pocket, and pulled out a slightly dented watch.

“This was Fabian’s,” she said, sliding it across the table. “He ... he was wearing it when ... I think he’d want you to have it.”

Molly picked up the watch, and smiled fondly.

“He always was careless with his things,” she said, running her thumb across the dent.

She looked up and met Araminta’s gaze; the younger woman waited in trepidation for the question she’d been dreading, the one she knew not how to reply to – but Molly, with an understanding only two women united by grief could share, merely smiled, and squeezed her hand again.

It was funny, Araminta mused to herself, as her other hand found Gideon’s watch in her robes pocket, how two people like her and Gideon, so alike yet so different, one of them scared of love, the other unaware of it, could have become so dependent upon one another. Yet, in a way, it made sense ... he had taught her how to open her heart, how to love, how to tell the difference between right and wrong, and she had helped him accept his grief and his losses and move on, to keep fighting.

And in return, I shall keep fighting, for you, she thought as she closed her eyes. Even when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and shut out the world, I’ll keep fighting. For you, for Fabian, for Marlene, for Arieda, and for everyone else who has given their lives for this war. I promise you that.

It’s the least you deserve.


Chapter 31: Illuminated
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A/N: I'd just like to say a huge thank you to anyone who has left a review for this fic. It's the first multi-chaptered story I've ever completed, and your support is hugely appreciated. This one's for you guys. 



Time waits for no one,
So do you want to waste some time, oh, oh tonight
Don’t be afraid of tomorrow,
Just take my hand, I’ll make it feel so much better tonight

Illuminated - Hurts



The guard raised his eyebrow curiously.

“You wanna see ‘im?” he said in a surprised tone.

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” Araminta snapped, her ice blue eyes boring into the man.

The corner of his mouth lifted in a hostile smirk.

“Cell twenty-seven. You go’ ten minutes.”

She nodded briefly, before passing his desk and heading down the corridor in which the Ministry cells were. She raised a shaking hand to brush the hair out of her face, and asked herself why she was doing such a thing. The only answer she could come up with was that something, something, did not feel right. Things didn’t add up. And the only way to solve the mystery was...

She halted in front of cell twenty-seven, and peered through the bars into the dark space behind. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw him. Barely sixteen hours since things had kicked off and already his face was gaunt and pale, and his eyes lifeless.

Or perhaps he had lost the will to live weeks, months before, and she just hadn’t noticed.

He looked up sharply at the sound of her footsteps.

“Araminta,” he said in a surprised tone, scrambling to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

He approached the bars, and wrapped his hands round them. She subconsciously took a step backwards.

“Why did you do it?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. “How could you do it?”

He grinned, the same maniacal grin that had adorned his face only two hours previously.

“How could you do it?”

Of all the responses she had expected, this was not one of them. She fell silent, and frowned down at the floor.

She then took a deep, shuddering breath, raising her head to look him in the eye.

“Why did you hate Gideon so much?” Her heart ached as his name passed through her lips; it was the first time she’d mentioned him in weeks.

Sirius cocked an eyebrow.

“I didn’t hate him,” he said hollowly.

“Well you certainly acted like you did,” she snapped suddenly. “He died thinking you hated him.”

He looked crestfallen; he sank to the floor, and crossed his legs. She imitated him, and shuffled closer to the bars.

“I had a girlfriend,” he stated suddenly. “Her name was Mary...” His face lit up as he said her name, and she saw a glimpse of the youthful, handsome man he must have been before the war ravaged hearts and families. “I loved her so, so much. She was beautiful, funny, and so wonderful. I never asked her, but I always knew that one day, once the war was over, I’d marry her.” He sighed sorrowfully. “I should have asked her when I had the chance...”

He tailed off, fiercely wiping a stray tear from his cheek. He drew in a shuddering breath, before continuing.

“The four of us – Mary, Gideon, his wife Louisa and I – went on several Order missions together. We all worked well together, you see. But then, one of them...” He paused again. “It was my fault, all my fault. If I hadn’t been such a rash fool, they’d both have lived...”

His eyes, once blue, now cavernous black, met Araminta’s.

“Mary was pregnant.  She had told me that morning. I was to have a child...”

He swallowed, and looked back down at the concrete floor.

“Gideon and I blamed each other for Mary and Louisa’s deaths in the immediate aftermath. We were both convinced it was the other’s fault, and said some awful things ... when I knew, deep down inside, that it wasn’t his fault, but mine. If I’d acted sooner, I’d still have had a girlfriend and a child, and he’d still have had a wife...”

Another pause.

“You have no idea how many times I’ve lain in bed at night and gone over the night again, wishing I’d acted that split-second earlier. And ... and every time I saw Gideon, at Order meetings, at the Ministry, I’d be reminded of that guilt, that I was responsible for the deaths of three people...”

He raised his shaking hands to his face.

“He was such an incredible man, he never had a bad word to say for anyone, and Louisa ... she was such a beautiful young woman ... they had their lives ahead of them, and in one rash move, I lost them both that future ... and every time I saw him since I’d see the hatred in his eyes, hatred caused by what I’d done-”

“He didn’t hate you,” she cut in, in a croaky, tearful voice. “He ... he blamed himself, Sirius. He thought he’d brought about their deaths. He never hated you, he hated himself, and every time he saw you, that guilt just came back to haunt him yet more ... but he never blamed you.”

She reached out a hand through the bars and grasped his, in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. He looked up at her, his eyes swimming with tears and emotion.

“I – thank you,” he said hoarsely. “Thank you for telling me this.”

“You loved Arieda.”

He closed his eyes, a resigned expression on his face.

“She was ... she was there. She was always there for me. But ... she loved Fabian.”

“You knew?”

“I guessed.” He opened his eyes. “When you watch someone that much, you pick up things like that.”

Her heart ached for him.

And then she frowned, remembering why he was here, why she was here, and wondering why she was comforting him...

“How could you betray Lily and James? Betray us?”

Footsteps sounded down the corridor.

His eyes widened.

“I didn’t betray them! I could never do that! After Mary died, they were all I had left ... they were my family ... I loved them, I could never betray them...”

And as she held his gaze, Araminta knew he was telling the truth.

“Get up!”

The guards had reached them. Araminta and Sirius both scrambled to their feet, on either side of the bars; she stepped aside as one of the guards slid the bars open.

“It’s Azkaban time for you, Black,” he sneered.

His eyes filled with fear.

“A-Azkaban?” he whispered.

Azkaban?” Araminta repeated. “But – but he hasn’t had a trial yet! You can’t send him to Azkaban without a trial­-”

Another one of the guards turned to look at her, a smirk on his face.

“This madman doesn’t need a trial for us to know he’s guilty.”

Sirius’s jaw dropped.

Two of the guards grabbed hold of his arms and pulled him out of the cell.

“Wait!” Araminta burst out. “Can you give us another couple of minutes?”

The guard who had spoken laughed evilly.

“You’ve had your ten minutes,” he said cruelly. “Can’t keep the dementors waiting!”

Araminta reached out and took Sirius’s hand, and squeezed it gently.

“It’ll be okay,” she said in almost a whisper, not believing her own words.

The guards pulled him forwards, yanking his hand out of hers.

“Sirius!” She yelled after them. “Who did it?”

He half-turned his head.

“Peter Pettigrew!”

Her heart went cold.

***

A hand grabs her arm and tugs her into the alley.

“Well, well, well,” a cold voice says. “Look who it is. The traitor.”

She does not reach for her wand.

Nobody notices the flash of green light that illuminates the alley, or hears the thump as a comatose body hits the floor. Nobody hears the evil cackle of an avenged Death Eater, or sees her scuttle away triumphantly to hunt down her next victim.


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