Chapter 23 : A Very Unmerry Christmas
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((Disclaimer: I still don't own Harry Potter or any of its awesome-ness.))
It was horrible from the very start. Of course, I'd already known that it would be; but that certainly didn't stop it from being horrible from the very start.
My mom almost immediately had my brother and I enveloped in her arms, kissing and hugging and telling us in her best mommy voice how much she'd missed her little babies while we were away. And I would have pushed her off me, begrudingly folded my arms and complained about the fact we were in public, for Merlin's sake, if it weren't for the fact that my dearest mum was the only thing standing between my cold-hearted father and my possibly soon-to-be cold, dead body.
My father had almost certainly seen me and Sirius, and regardless of the fact that you couldn't see it, he was absolutely irate. If weren't for my dear old mummy, and the hundreds of witnesses lingering around the platform, I'd probably already be dead. Of course, there weren't going to be hundreds of witnesses once we were home, and my dear old mummy wasn't really much help when it came to defying her husband, but...
Okay, so maybe poking my angry dragon of a father in the eye wasn't exactly the smartest thing to do. But I was upset that he was dragging me away from Sirius, and I had to get back at him somehow.
Finally, we managed to get going, all four of us Disapparating on the spot, materializing with a small pop on the frosty front drive of our slightly larger than average house. My father shot the house a look he usually saved for me: one of disappointment and shame; though the house had five large bedrooms, three full bathrooms, and plenty of living space, my father was always wishing longingly for a manor, a mansion, a palace, with huge grounds that he would never see because he never went outside anyways. I once asked my father what the point in all that was; he just snapped at me and told me not to ask such stupid questions.
But apparently, I ask a lot of stupid questions.
We were in the yard for approximately five seconds before something snagged in my hair and began pulling me towards the house. It wasn't hard to figure out that this something was my father's hand, even before I looked up to see his angry countenance staring down at me as he pulled me roughly by my hair to the house. Which wasn't very nice. I almost reached for my wand out of reflex, but I knew that would only make everything worse. And anyways, I kind of expected something like this. Especially since I antagonized him.
But... it wasn't like he was going to kill me, really. Right?
Right. Half an hour later, I was almost feeling like I got off lucky. I got off with only a few bruises and hex marks. There were a few moments when my father gripped his wand tightly, his knuckles white, his mouth opened as if to say those two words. But they never came. Thankfully.
Having accomplished his punishment, my father held out his hand to me expectantly. "Your wand," he ordered. I gaped at him.
"M-my wand? But--"
"Now," he snapped. I considered telling him where he could shove it; only the pain reminded me that I should think twice about that. So with a malicious glare at the ground, I took my wand from my pocket and placed it gingerly in his waiting hand. For a second I thought he was going to snap it in half; I think he thought so too. But instead, my wand disappeared inside his robes. And without another word to me, my father disappeared as well.
It was a few minutes after that that I finally decided that was really all. After I had accepted this, I made my way to my room, opening the door to my bedroom and collapsing on the bed. Suddenly so tired, but constantly reminded by the pain that I should probably take actions to prevent swelling and soreness. I'd thought my father was above using the Cruciatus Curse, at least on me. But apparently not; it was what now made my muscles sore: clenching my muscles (as if that would help relieve that terrible pain) had clearly not been the correct choice. Of course, with the Cruciatus Curse, I wasn't really sure if there was a correct choice.
But it doesn't matter, I reminded myself. It's over. Done with.
The voice laughed in my head as I drifted into sleep.
An hour later, I woke from my light sleep when my brother entered the room. I blinked the tiredness from my eyes, looking blearily at what Apollo was holding in his arms. Noticing my glance, he held them up.
"Mum was worried about you," he said simply. "She whipped up this salve, for your bruises, and this potion that should reduce any pain. She didn't tell dad 'bout them either." He sat down on the end of my bed, crosslegged, and held out one of the bottles, his eyes blue eyes meeting my own. "You know, if you just hadn't-"
"I know," I interrupted, accepting the bottle and pulling out the stopper. A foul odor met my nose, like a mixture of the guys dirty socks and burning. "Ugh..." I groaned, holding it away from me. Apollo laughed.
"That's the pain potion. You have to drink that one." I gave him a look of disbelief.
"You can't be serious. Mum doesn't really expect me to drink this?" He gave me an expectant look and I glared at him, placing the potion in my nightstand with a shake of my head. "I don't think so. Maybe some other time. The pain isn't that bad." Apollo rolled his eyes and handed me the second bottle (which still smelled funny, like overripe fruit, but significantly better than the potion). I spread a little of it on the marks on my arms, but my brother rolled his eyes and grabbed the bottle back.
"You're so stupid," he told me, glopping on a whole lot more and rubbing it in gently.
"Thanks, Olly," I told him sarcastically, making no effort to take the salve back. The salve was instantly effective, soothing the aches. I winced as he applied the purple cream to the swelling on my left cheekbone, right below my eye. "All right then... next time, I'll try to not to aggravate him... as much." Apollo rolled his eyes and put the cap back on the bottle.
"Right. Well, just be careful. I've got this bad feeling that he let you off way too easy. He's got something on his mind, and whatever it is, it might not be so good for you."
"Pfft," I replied, but I didn't dare admit that I had the same feeling. Of course, there wasn't much I could hide from my twin brother. He glared at my nonchalance. "What? Argh, it's not like I can get out of it, Olly. I'm already here, at your insistance; it's not like I can just bail. Same results. And anyways, whatever it is, I can handle it just fine."
"Temmy-" I cut him off with a determine scowl. He sighed, knowing it was useless to argue with me. "Fine. Fine, but still. Be careful, Temmy. Don't keep baiting him like we both know you're trying to. It'll probably end badly. For you."
"Right. I'll keep that in mind. In the meantime, I feel loads better, and I should probably go let mum know I'm still alive, hm?"
Apollo rolled his eyes and nodded. "Before she does something irrational."
He followed me down the stairs, sticking close by defensively, as if he would really jump in for me if something (or perhaps someone) attacked me. Well, I couldn't deny that his company was at least slightly more comforting than being alone. But, predictably, when my mom basically glomped me downstairs in the kitchen, where she was busily developing more potions, Apollo disappeared before I could say "EEP." Not surprised in the least, I let my mom embrace me for about five minutes, before she realized one of her potions, one I recognized as a Dreamless Sleep Potion by it's purple color, was letting off a slight vapor.
Before I could escape, she spoke to me from her many cauldrons. "So, I thought you weren't dating Sirius Black." The blue eyes I had inherited from her were narrowed at me suspiciously. I sighed; I should have realized that she would confront me about Sirius too, in her own way.
"I wasn't, but now I am. Don't see why it matters so much."
She smiled at me. "Well, if he weren't a blood traitor, and if you weren't a blood traitor, perhaps it wouldn't. Unfortunately, you refuse to see the world on the same level as the rest of your family, so..." She shrugged, giving the purple potion one last stir and putting out the flames beneath it. Coming back over to me where I leaned against the wall (near to the door in case I got a chance to flee), she placed a gentle hand on the bruise on my face, looking sad at my stubborn pout. "You're so like you're great aunt Diane. A blood traitor if our family ever saw one, but so loved at the same time. Willing to fight, and stand up for herself."
"And what's wrong with that?" I asked defensively, scowling at her as she shifted attention to a green potion that I didn't recognize which was boiling rapidly.
"Normally? Nothing. But in these days, it can be a very dangerous attitude to have. As Di herself proved." My mother looked up at me sadly. "Artemis... I just don't want you to end up like her."
I frowned, knowing what she meant, but refusing to acknowledge it. For some reason, it even made me a little angry. "What? Loved by everyone? Surrounded by people she cares about and loves? Dying for a cause she believed in?"
"Dead," my mother snapped, silencing me with the anger that Lucretia Gaunt very rarely displayed. "I don't want my beautiful daughter, blood traitor or not, dead. And mixing yourself up with the friends that you keep, dating Sirius Black, maintaining this stubbornly pro-Muggle attitude... you will be. I know that it's your life to live, Artemis; I know you get to make your own choices, get to date whoever you want, be friends with whoever you want. I'm not trying to make your decisions for you; I'm just asking you to think about them. Just consider the consequences of your actions. And the effects those actions have on everyone else." And with these final words, a point to the door, and a distinct look that told me our conversation was over, she sent me from the kitchen, leaving her to concoct her potions in peace, and leaving me to do exactly what she'd said.
As the days wore on and Christmas crept slowly closer, I did everything in my power to avoid everyone. And it was proving impossibly difficult.
My father (who always seemed to be waiting right around the corner), always ready to go off on me for any misstep at all and to taunt me with the fact that he was currently in possession of my wand, was the worst. Therefore, he was the one I tried hardest to avoid. An encounter with him almost assuredly resulted in another minor bruise or other injury to add to my collection.
My mother, on the other hand, inspired guilt. Everytime she saw me, her look of disappointment was almost enough to bring tears to my eyes (I honestly hadn't thought I'd valued her opinion and feelings for me so much; turns out I did). She seemed to know without asking that I'd thought about what she'd said--and came up with the same conclusion I'd come to before: I'd rather be happy and dead than friendless and alive. And anyways, it was too late to switch sides. Everyone already knew I was a blood traitor; they'd know something was up if I came back acting like someone else entirely.
My brother actually proved to be the hardest one to avoid, though that may have been because I didn't really try too hard to do so. In fact, after a day had passed, I discovered that hanging out with my brother in his room, or outside in the snow, proved to be a much more effective strategy in avoiding my parents. (My parents had no reason to bother Apollo; since I was constantly with him, it seemed they also had no reason to bother me. It was a lot easier than sneaking around the place trying not to run into anyone else.)
The only actual time that everyone was together was during dinner (most of the time cooked by me, since I didn't really have much to do and my mum had her potions to brew). Years ago, my mother had declared that dinner would be held as a family, since we never really had any "family time" to speak of. Of course, to me, it was a time to be dreaded. Usually, my father was in a bad mood, my mother was falsely cheerful (or maybe she actually was happy?), and my brother and I chatted about what was going on at school, or what we'd been doing as we lounged around the house.
These days, the dinner table was completely silent. I didn't speak unless spoken to, trying to heed the warnings of Apollo and my mum. My brother and mother couldn't possibly be truly cheery anymore; they continuously looked from my father to me to their plates in a cycle, all nerves. It was probably the most awkward I'd ever felt in my own house before. And it certainly didn't get any better as the days wore on.
As to the mysterious guests my father had referenced in his letter: he absolutely refused to say who and when they were coming. Just that they'd show up when they showed up and to butt out if I knew what was good for me. Which I did.
Finally Christmas Eve came. The morning dawned bright, and my mother charged me with preparing our dinner while she worked and my father went about his own business. Shockingly, my brother volunteered to help me, pointing out that without my wand the task would probably take all day long. So Apollo got to work with his wand, and I set about cutting vegetables in a very muggle fashion.
I was halfway through the potatoes before I accidentally cut myself (yup, that's why I typically use my wand). I cursed angrily as the metal bit into my skin, red blood staining its silver.
"You should be more careful, Artemis Gaunt; muggle ways of doing things can be so... dangerous..." the high voice said, sounding quite thrilled at the sight of my blood.
Fuck off, I told it forcefully. Beside me, my brother froze, presumably at the amount of blood now gushing from my palm.
"It seems you could do well to learn a little... respect."
And I realized: the voice was lacking its usual airy, vague, back of the head feel. It didn't sound so... unreal. Which could only mean one thing. I whirled around to face the origin of the voice I'd been hearing all these months, almost falling over myself due to my momentum but catching myself at the last minute. Only to stagger back into the counter behind me anyways. The bowl full of the potatoes I'd been cutting clattered to the floor, but I didn't care.
I'd heard of him. Of course I had: the fear he inspired, his horrid cruelty. It was all part of my life in some way or another. But seeing him here, right in front of me, in my own kitchen no less, was thousands of times more frightening than any of the stories. His scarlet eyes seemed to peer into my soul from the stretch of his ghost white skin. His nose was flattened and slitted, looking more like a snake than a man, and his thin lips were twisted up into a horrible grin. His long fingers were curled around his wand, and he was giving me the chance to take him in before cursing me.
Or maybe this time he would kill me? He'd tried multiple times to get me to kill myself through what was clearly was the Blood Bond Apollo and I had researched many months ago. So maybe he'd finally decided to come get rid of his blood traitor cousin (first cousin once removed, to be technical) before she escaped back to Hogwarts (the only place, it was rumored, that he was afraid to go).
I swallowed, only barely able to stop the fearful squeak, trying to think of what I should do, knowing every second spent debating was costing me my escape.
You can't escape... he told me quietly; but his lips didn't move. It was in my head; he was in my head. He could see everything, and, suddenly, he was in everything. Every thought, every memory, everywhere I looked: he was there. Omnipresent and powerful and relentless.
It was just like when I'd stabbed my arm: everything went black around me as I panicked, a yell, my yell, echoing in the back of my mind, echoing off the woodpaneled walls of the kitchen.
"Get out!" I screamed, closing my eyes (though I couldn't see anyways) and covering my ears, as though by blocking the Dark Lord from my reality I could break his magic, could repel him from my mind. "Get out, get out, GET OUT!"
Voldemort laughed, high and cold, and a wave of pain hit me, greater even than when I'd broken my nose playing Quidditch. My yell changed mid-"GET" to a high scream. It only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like eternity; my eyes snapped open as the pain faded. Everything was crystal clear now: my brother's ice blue eyes were frosty; I could see every grain of the wood paneling reflected in them. His warm arm around my waist (the only thing keeping me standing at this point) felt like solid ice. He seemed to notice that my limbs had turned to figurative jelly, because his other arm soon joined the first in keeping me upright. We both turned to Voldemort, expectantly awaiting his next curse. He just laughed again.
At that moment, the kitchen door burst open, and I couldn't decide if I was horrified or glad to see my parents enter (probably drawn by my scream).
"Ah, my-my Lord!" my father said, bringing his hands together nervously as he took in the scene. "Y-you've arrived! And you've found them, too. What would you like-"
"Lock her in the basement. I'll deal with her later."
My father's expression brightened considerably, no longer bearing any trace of nervousness. Apparently, Lord Voldemort was the expected guest. "Excellent, Lord. I'll do that now." And ignoring the confused expressions of my brother and mother, my father took me away from my brother, dragging me by my hair for the second time that week, down the stairs, down to the basement, down into darkness.
I've always hated the basement. With its cold stone walls, and its tiny little windows (windows too small and too high up to actually do anything with), it always reminded me of being buried alive.
But at this point, being buried alive would probably be preferable to being upstairs with Lord Voldemort himself. Actually, really being buried alive would probably be better than being within ten miles of the place at the moment. After all, I was locked in the basement, presumably so that: one, I couldn't escape; two, they could torture and kill me. Or something like that. I couldn't Disapparate, due to the charms my parents had cast on the place to prevent such a thing. What made the situation so much better (ha, sarcasm!) was that my own father was just giving me to Voldemort, even knowing that I would probably end up dead.
Okay, maybe it wasn't so unbelievable. After all, he did pretty much loathe me. But giving up his only daughter to be slaughtered? That was a lot lower than I thought he'd ever sink. My mother was the only thing that stopped him from losing his temper and killing me himself, but she'd looked as surprised as me to find Lord Voldemort in her kitchen. Surprised, and afraid.
I guess my father had finally found a way to work around my mother, to get rid of his blood traitor Gryffindor daughter and have the blame be on someone other than him. Well, good for him; but I was in trouble. What had Voldemort meant by "deal with her"? Kill me? Torture me? Interrogate me? What did I have? What use was I to the great Lord Voldemort?
I sighed, looking around for what seemed like the millionth time. As if some escape route I had never seen in all my years living here would appear out of nowhere. Predictably, none did. I could probably have fit through the window... except I was much too short to reach. The rest of the basement was underground, so blowing up the wall (or something equally aggressive) wouldn't be wise at all. The only door was shut and locked. And I had no wand.
So... I was screwed. Royally. I'm not one to give up, but I know when I can win. And I can't win right now. So the best thing to do would be to bide my time, wait it out, and do anything I could to survive. But even that wouldn't work.
Because not only was Voldemort renowned for his use of Legilimency, he had the added advantage of the Blood Bond he had created between us (Merlin only knows when or how). Voldemort could read my every thought. If only I'd studied Occlumency more, learned to block Legilimens, maybe I'd stand a chance. Something about clearing your mind. That was quite impossible to do, with all my questions, my fears, my failed attempts at thinking up an escape running through my mind.
Of course, this would all be easier if I knew what it was that he wanted with me. I was basically just a typical seventeen year old witch. What use could I possibly be to him, except maybe as some form of entertainment? Some new toy to torture until he found something newer. Or maybe he really did just want to kill me. Just to prove that there were no exceptions to his victims.
Stop it, I told myself angrily, shaking my head. Thinking this way isn't helping me. I need to focus. Find a way out of this situation.
Just then, the door opened, so silently that I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been facing it. There he stood, scarlet eyes narrowed, thin lips curled into an evil smile. Wordlessly, he waved his wand, and I cringed, awaiting the flash of green of a Killing Curse. Instead, there was a thud behind me. Glancing back quickly, I couldn't help but gape at it.
It was a chair.
A very ordinary looking chair at that. Realizing I wasn't being very smart, being dumbfounded a chair, I turned back to Voldemort. He gestured at the chair as if inviting me to sit. I just stared at him, suspicious. The chair probably wasn't as ordinary as it looked. And anyways, if I had a choice in the matter, I'd rather be standing.
"Sit," he commanded when he realized I didn't plan on sitting on the chair he'd been oh-so-kind enough to create for me. His order did what I myself wouldn't. A force like a wave knocked me backwards into the chair. In fact, it nearly knocked the chair itself over. It was at a forty-five degree angle when it caught itself, repositioning itself (and me) upright as ropes materialized and tightened around my wrists and ankles. Bound to the chair.
Well, that was just great. At least I wasn't dead. Yet.
For the next five minutes, Voldemort and I just stared at each other. Even though my life was probably on the line here, I knew I appeared stubborn, my lips pursed tightly, my eyes narrowed slightly, my breathing slightly faster than usual. He, however, was extremely difficult to read. That same smile stayed on his face as he slowly walked around me, fiddling with his wand, looking as though he were appraising my value. As if I was some purchase he wanted, but wasn't sure he could use. Junk that may still have one use left in it.
And as much as the look bothered me, there wasn't really much I could do about it. After all, what was I going to say? "Hey Voldemort, stop looking at me like I'm property, cause I'm not." Yeah, that would turn out well. Anyways, whatever "value" he judged me at probably decided whether I lived or died. So instead, I just maintained my stubborn glare.
Which didn't appear to be what he wanted. He raised his wand, seeming to come to the worst conclusion, and I closed my eyes, thinking this was really it this time, waiting for the Killing Curse to end my life.
It was excrutiating. The spell hit me full in the chest, and for a second I actually was pretty sure I was dead. But a second later I realized he'd tricked me again as pain spread through my entire body. As the pain faded, I wondered vaguely if this was what a Muggle felt when they were electrocuted (Mira had told me all about electricity, back in first year). Except they probably didn't have to listen to Voldemort's laughter afterwards.
But I wasn't dead. That was a plus, right?
I tried desprately to slow my breathing, stop panting. Voldemort just kept laughing. And it was making me angry. What was so bloody funny anyways? If he was going to kill me, why the bloody hell didn't he just get it over with. But he hit me with another "Crucio," and another one right after. Laughing, and laughing, and laughing some more while I screamed or tried to recover.
"What do you want from me?" I panted, after about the tenth time, before he could use the curse again. But it didn't even seem to faze him; he ignored me completely and cast the spell anyways. When the pain faded, I changed my question. "What do you want from us?" I could see the spell on his tongue, but I carried on anyways, "Why do you do this? Torture and kill? What are you after?"
I didn't expect him to stop, didn't even really think he was listening to me. To my surprise, he burst out in another round of laughter. And then cursed me again.
When the pain went away, I was even more surprised to hear him answer.
"Immortality," Voldemort breathed.
I was dumbfounded. "Immortality? At the cost of all that life... how ironic," I said with a thoughtful smile (it wasn't funny. but for some reason, I couldn't keep the smile from my face). "But why? What use is immortality when anyone you care about would be gone?"
I must have forgotten who I was talking to. Clearly, because Voldemort laughed and laughed. As if the idea of loved ones was a joke.
"Accomplishment!" he snapped, his laughter ending as he came closer. "The ability to bring my every dream and goal to fruition. To live forever in a world I can create through fear. And to eliminate the entire Muggle population. That's just a few reasons. You can't tell me that you don't see it. That you don't have something, some goal or dream that you would trade every life of everyone you knew to accomplish. You can't lie to me, Artemis Gaunt," he hissed, drawing closer, his face maybe two inches from my own, meeting my eyes with his scarlet. "I can see inside you. I can see everything. I can help you. You only have to join me. Work for me. Do everything that I ask, and you can have everything you've ever dreamed of."
I stared at him. In utter disbelief. Was he asking me to be a Death Eater? One of his horrible servants? The very group who had killed my Great Aunt Di, my uncle Charles and cousin Zach. Who tortured Muggles and ran rampant across the world spreading despair. This time, even though I knew it would bring me pain, knew that I was basically asking for death, I laughed.
"Well, since you put that way, let me just say this: You, My Lord," I spat, "are probably going to be facing quite the bad karma in the remainder of your not-so-immortal lifetime, and I for one want no part of it. You... can torture me, even kill me, but I... will never, ever join you! So go ahead, kill me. Knock me out of the picture. But just remember, Tom Riddle, that no matter how many obstacles you knock out of the way on your quest for immortality, others will just keep popping up. So, sorry, I guess. But you're going to lose, mate." And I laughed.
I wasn't at all surprised when the pain hit. Actually, I'd almost expected him to just kill me instead. But now it was my turn to laugh: so I did. I laughed and laughed and laughed.
Voldemort didn't seem to find me as funny as I'd found him. In fact, he was infuriated. I could feel it through the Blood Bond. And even though I knew that any chance I'd had of surviving the encounter had dropped from Very Slim down to None, I have to admit that I was pleased with myself. At least I'd gone out with a bang. Sort of.
Miraculously, though, I was still alive for now; locked in my room, but alive nonetheless. I lay in my soft bed, staring up at the ceiling while my enitre body throbbed painfully from the torturing. I sighed and groaned as I pulled my body into a small ball.
“Fuck,” I sighed to myself, wondering how I’d gotten myself into this mess and how I was going to get myself out of it. Frankly, I was very lucky to be in my room and not locked in the basement, cold and starving to death. I reckoned my brother and mother had something to do with that, but I still considered myself very fortunate. Staring at the sky blue color of my bedroom wall, I again tried to think of a way, any way, to escape. “Fuck,” I said again when I came to the same conclusion: there was none.
But there had to be; if I didn’t get out, I wouldn’t last through Christmas break. Come on, I told myself firmly, think! I knew this house better than him; I knew the surrounding lands, I had to know some way out of here. Cursing myself for not being more of a sneaky child when I was younger and still had the chance, I stretched out again, feeling my muscles complain angrily at me. Think, think...
Still nothing. “Fuck,” I growled a third time, narrowing my eyes at my ceiling. “Why the bloody hell is this happening to me?”
Because you’re fucking stupid and you didn't stay with Sirius, I answered myself mentally. If you had any brains at all, you’d focus on getting out of this mess and not worrying about how it happened.
But it did me no good. I had no way out. It was like my father had been preparing for this day since the day I was born: The No-Apparate charms, the cold depressing basement, the small windows, and my second floor bedroom, as well as never letting me keep my own broomstick in my room (he forced me to keep it in the downstairs closet). I was trapped. And sooner or later, I'd also be dead.
The next day progressed exactly the same: I was escorted by my gleeful father to the basement, and fed a meager breakfast, lunch, dinner between torturing. As my father escorted me back to my bedroom that night, I caught sight of my brother, who mouthed "Merry Christmas" sadly while my father wasn't looking. I almost laughed, but barely held it in. Merry Christmas, indeed, I thought to myself, giving Apollo a sad smile in thanks.
It was the day after Christmas that I got a surprise: Voldemort had departed on business for the day (you can just imagine the kind), leaving my father to do his dirty work. Luckily (and I'm not really sure if I'm being sarcastic or not, funnily enough), Voldemort came back in the middle of the day, resuming where my father had left off. But Voldemort I wasn't afraid to talk to. Since, you know, I'd already signed my own death warrant (in other words: even though I didn't want to die, I'd kind of accepted that Voldemort was going to kill me).
"So, I've been thinking," I panted, "about what you said. About immortality." Voldemort kept his wand raised, but he seemed to imply that I should continue. "I don't understand how killing all those people gets you immortality. What do they have to do with each other? How does it work?"
Voldemort laughed (which I'd expected him to) and lowered his wand, coming to stand before me (which I'd not expected him to). He took my chin in his long pale fingers, forcing me to look at him.
"Do you know what happens to the soul when one commits a murder?" he asked quietly, a cold smile on his thin lips. I shook my head (as much as I could with him grasping my chin, anyways). He laughed. "And that is why you couldn't possibly understand. I could kill you right now, you know; I could kill you without a single regret."
"Then why don't you?" I asked, the sound coming out more as a breath. Voldemort cackled, raising his wand and pointing it straight between my eyes.
"You'd rather die then? All you have to do is beg; beg, Artemis, beg for death. I'd be all too happy to give it to you..."
My eyes widened and my breath caught in fear. Would I rather die? Merlin, no! I'd rather live! And anyways, there was no way I was going to beg Voldemort to kill me. I wasn't going to lose my dignity right here at the end. He was trying to break me. For some reason or another, he was trying to break down my resolve. Maybe he'd thought of some other use for me; or maybe he just wanted to get as much entertainment out of me as possible. But if that was the case, if he was trying to bring me down mentally, he was going fail miserably. I wasn't going to give in.
Voldemort seemed to draw my answer from my silence, or perhaps he just read my thoughts; either way, the pain hit me full on in the face.
If only they knew, I thought dully, wondering why I hadn't really pondered it before as the pain receded and my agonized scream died. If only my friends knew where I was, the hell that Voldemort was putting me through. But then, what would they do? I asked myself, panting even as the wand was raised against me once again.
No, it was better that they had no clue. Better that they lived in happy bliss with their families while I suffered, even for this short period of time. After all, this was Voldemort we were talking about. Any attempt at rescue would just result in more pain and suffering.
So it was good that they didn’t know, I told myself wearily as the pain tore through me once again, another scream escaping me. Because they didn’t know, they couldn’t get hurt, and that was just fine with me. It didn’t matter that I was enduring such pain and torture; it was worth it as long as they were safe.
I clenched my teeth together, cutting off the scream midway, even though the pain was still horrendous. His high cold laugh echoed off the bare walls now that it had no yell to cover it; my pain was causing him amusement, but I was done being his entertainment. No one was coming to rescue me; no one knew I needed rescuing. But I could picture the way their expressions would be if they knew.
It’s not so bad, I told them with an anguished smile, trying to erase the horrified looks on the faces in my mind. It hardly hurts at all; you get used to it, I lied. No problem. There’s no need to cry over it; it’s not going away, but it’s not so bad, really. Besides, I’m not going to give him the pleasure. He thinks I’m weak, but we know better, right? I’m stronger than I look. I can deal with this.
It was all I could do to keep telling myself that.
But the longer this went on, the more the anger started to rise. Why couldn't my friends help me? What was stopping them? I was the one tied up; I was the one being tortured! And where were they? All cozied up with their families, as if I didn't even exist. As if I wasn't important to them. Wasn't I? Did they care for me?
Of course not, the voice in my head insisted. Voldemort smiled. What are friends but people who want from you? Who want to change you? If they truly cared about you, then where are they now? Why aren't they here?
Another clenched scream, more anger building up. Anger and frustration at myself as well as my friends.
But it wasn't my fault, another, more grounded voice told me. And my friends couldn't help me without knowing where I was and what was happening. No, all of this was Voldemort's fault. He was the one who deserved the anger. He was the one I should direct my frustrations at.
Three more days passed, and I spent most of it going between being furious that I had no one to rescue me and being glad that I wasn't causing any of my school friends troubles. My jaw ached from clenching it so tightly for so long, along with every other muscle in my body. Voldemort's cold laughter was actually hurting my ears, and each second spent here was increasingly hellish. But I still had nowhere to go.
And then, a happy break came along: Voldemort again vanished, on some sort of sinister business of his. And instead of my father, my brother was the one who entered.
I was in shock. Apollo was going to torture me now? I could understand my father; he'd hated me since I was eleven and I'd certainly given him no reason not to. But Apollo?
But then I realized that my brother wasn't supposed to be here: not only could I feel his anxiety and fear, but I could see it on his face, in the way he kept glancing at the door as he quickly walked to my chair. I opened my mouth to ask him what he was doing, why he was doing it, and tell him to get out before he got caught, but Apollo silenced me with a look as he pulled his wand from his pocket. Without a word, the bindings of the chair receded, and Apollo grabbed my arm and pulled me up roughly, still glancing around nervously. He began dragging me towards the door, and it occured to me that he was attempting to rescue me.
I pulled him to a stop and hissed, "What are you doing, Apollo?" before he could silence me again. Apollo rolled his eyes, huffed, and glared at me.
"What the bloody hell does it look like, Temmy?" He tugged my arm, but I stopped him again.
"But he'll know it was you! Apollo, he'll kill you! I can't let you..."
"You dummy, I know that!" Apollo snapped impatiently, tugging again hard enough to get me to the door. "That's why we're both going. Now come on, before he gets back, or before Dad shows up."
I stared at my brother for a second before nodding and allowing myself to be hauled from the room and down the hallway. Up the stairs, a short turn right, and an instant step back into the shadows.
Showing great skill in Divination, my brother had accurately predicted my father coming down the next hallway; or perhaps Apollo was just good at cursing us. Either way, my brother and I pressed into the darkness of the small side-hallway where my father reluctantly allow my mother to display her sarcophagus (long story. Maybe I'll tell you sometime) as my father walked passed and down the stairs. When he was out of sight, my brother cursed and pushed me out and down the hall towards the door. And then turned down the passage leading directly away from it.
Confused, I stopped, looking at Apollo questioningly only to receive another curse.
"Temmy, we don't have time for this! Do you really want to go all the way across the yard, in plain view? Just trust me, Artemis! Any minute, Dad's--"
Well, at this point, Apollo's words were drowned out by my father's furious scream, and it was quite obvious what my father was. With no further explanation, my brother began dragging me rapidly down the hall; of course, at this point, the dragging wasn't entirely necessary. We were halfway down the hall when the first spell knocked me flat on my face. Fortunately for me, it wasn't the Killing Curse, or even the Cruciatus Curse. All it did was knock me over and take my breath away. My brother, who had stopped and turned to try to help me back up, wasn't so lucky. He hit his knees, his scream tearing at my ears more than my own ever had.
"Stop it!" I screamed, lunging toward my twin, not able to bear the sight of him: his writhing and his screaming were doing more to torture me than my week of hell had. The spell abated, but I still clung to my brother, afraid to turn to face my father, afraid to release Apollo in case my father attacked him again. Instead, I closed my eyes tight and held my brother tighter, waiting for another curse. No curse hit me, though there was a sharp zzzing and the smell of burning hair as the spell was deflected. I looked over my brother's head at my mother.
Her beauty was astounding in her fury. At least, she'd never looked more beautiful to me than right now. Wand raised, back straight and proud, long black hair down around her shoulders, and her ice blue eyes shining with ire, she looked ready to kick some ass. A flick of her head told me that she wanted me to move, and now. With no hesitation, my brother and I were out of her way as quickly as possible. As my hobbling brother and I passed her, she muttered, "Go, quickly. To the Potters'. I'll catch up."
Ignoring my confusion this time, I nodded, assured by her fiery eyes.
"Move, Lucretia," my father warned in a quiet but commanding tone. I can only assume, since I was focused on getting down the hallway to the door with my fatigued self and recovering brother, that she didn't, since the next thing my father said was "You know she can't be allowed to leave. If we let her go... the Dark Lord will kill all of us. Now move."
My mother made an indignant noise, and there was another zzzing as someone tried to cast on the other. "Then our lives, our blood, will be on your hands, Marcus."
He growled, then screamed, "You can't take them from me! They don't belong to you! You think you can just take them away? They're mine! MINE!" Another curse deflected, more angry screams and curses. I resisted the urge to turn and look; we were almost to the door.
"I should have taken them a long time ago," my mother responded angrily. "I should have listened to Aunt Di when she told me what she knew you were capable of. She said you would be the end of Artemis all along. I guess I just didn't believe... that you could kill your own daughter," she hissed, speaking through the sound of combat. I could reach it now; my fingers were an inch away...
"Artemis!" my father screamed, ignoring my mother completely now, sounding almost like he had before he hated me, like he had when I thought he'd cared. Maybe that was why I turned around, or maybe it was because I just wanted to see him one last time, even as much as I hated him.
The last thing I saw before his curse hit me full in the face was his lifeless body dropping to the floor.
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