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Chapter 24 : Somewhere Safe
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I was getting so very tired of seeing black, I thought dully in the back of my head; however, there were certainly more important things on my mind. Like perhaps the fact that I seemed to be blind. That seemed important, right? Was I unconscious?
No, I was still upright. And anyways, I could hear my brother cursing loudly next to me still, now supporting me instead of the other way around. He seemed to have recovered enough from my father's curse. My mother's soft voice joined in, asking if I was all right, if I was in any pain. But, other than the fact that I couldn't see, nothing felt wrong. I told her so, but she seemed the opposite of relieved as my brother led us through the door I'd been trying to open when my father had cursed me.
My father... the thought of him brought back what I'd almost forgotten when everything went dark. My father... had been killed by his own wife, by my mother herself. She'd never really had much of a temper. But I guess everyone has to snap sometime. At the moment, though, it was shocking; my mother? And my father?
I felt a chair beneath me and thankfully sank into it, only to jump back up when my mother snapped, "No! We don't have time for rest; we can rest when we're somewhere safe. Your father... may have somehow contacted You-Know-Who. We need to leave, and quickly. Artemis, are you sure-"
"I'm fine, mum," I insisted, nodding blindly where I thought she was. My brother gently turned my head to my mother's direction.
"Nice job reassuring her, Temmy," he sighed. "But... where are we going?" he asked, turning his attention back to my mother.
My mother paused where she was rummaging through her potions cabinet, then returned to her searching. "Somewhere safe," she replied, "somewhere he won't follow. Think of the first place you would go; and then go somewhere else. Apollo, dear, find the Floo Powder."
"But Mother, what's the hurry? Father's gone, and You-Know-Who--"
"Will probably be here soon," I interrupted. "Trust me, Olly, always assume the worst when it comes to this stuff; things turn out much better that way." I could almost feel Apollo's rolling eyes, definitely heard him huff loudly and go off to find the pot of Floo Powder.
My mother, meanwhile, seemed to find whatever she’d been searching for. I felt her hand on mine, placing a warm vial in my hand, roughly the size of a small lemon. Then her hands were on my face, turning my head up towards the light, probably appraising the damage.
“I’m so sorry, Artemis,” she muttered, caressing my cheek with her soft hands. “I’m so sorry that I couldn’t protect you. And that I didn’t have the courage to do what I should have done in the very beginning.” She sighed, long and slow, then patted my head and left me again. “That potion should restore your sight, but it needs to be drank at midnight, outside beneath the moon, next to the tallest tree you can find.”
I nodded, then paused. “But how can I see which--” I cut myself off, or rather the overwhelming anger in my head cut me off; Voldemort had arrived, and there was no more time for chatting as my brother cried, “AHA!”
“Excellent. Artemis, you go first. Go where I told you to, and stay there. Find a way to contact Dumbledore.” The way that my mother was talking, quickly, urgently, implied that she knew the sudden criticality of our situation. “Apollo, you follow her; she’s going to need your help.”
“And you’ll be right behind us?” I asked her as she shunted my brother and I towards the fireplace.
“Yes,” she said. “Now go,” she insisted, thrusting my hand into the pot and ensuring I got a decent handful.
So I went.
James and Sirius were unusually quiet today: instead of doing something loud and rambunctious, they were sitting in James’ parents living room playing chess. And as much as this shocked James’ parents, James and Sirius had their reasons.
Sirius was in no normal mood. He was worried. Certainly too worried to focus on trivial things. In fact, he was hardly paying attention to the game, and he was astonished he hadn’t lost already. As it was, James was quickly becoming disinterested, more concerned about Sirius than about winning the game; and Sirius? Well, Sirius was too worried about Artemis to worry about anything else.
She hadn’t been responding to his letters. As a matter of fact, Sirius hadn’t heard from her since that day at King’s Cross. Was she ignoring him? Sirius had a feeling that that wasn’t the case: Something was wrong. But Sirius had no idea what to do about it. So instead, he sat around playing chess with James.
After about an hour with no winner, the pair finally gave in. James had just opened his mouth to console his friend for what felt like the hundredth time when something flew out of the fireplace and into the suit of armor James’ father had seen fit to place there. The clattering was enough to have both wizards on their feet, wands drawn, in less than a second. With a look between them, they crept forward together, wands pointed at the moaning creature; and then they recognized the dark black hair and slender limbs.
“Artemis,” Sirius gasped, jamming his wand back inside of his pocket as he leapt to her side.
“S-Sirius?” she stuttered as he wrapped her in his arms, looking relieved. But something seemed off about her. Something was different. Looking at her closely over Sirius’ shoulder, James though he knew what: her ice blues eyes focused on nothing as she nestled into Sirius’ neck. Slowly, James reached out a hand, waving it back and forth before here eyes. She didn’t respond.
“Oh, Merlin,” James muttered, taking a step back. “She can’t s--”
A second someone stumbled out of the fireplace, colliding with James and sending both of them to the ground. For a second, both of them were too surprised to move; but then Apollo Gaunt seemed to realize that he should get off of James. He stood and brushed himself off, then reached out a hand to James.
“Sorry, Potter.” He started to go to his sister, but James grabbed his arm.
“What are you doing here?” James asked, glaring at him. “And what’s wrong with Ar? Why can’t she see?”
Apollo looked slowly to his sister. “Artemis?” Artemis’ eyes focused slightly, turning towards the sound. “You still have the potion?” She nodded, opening her hand to reveal small blue vial their mother had given her. Apollo looked back to James. “Her eyes will be fine. I’d be more worried about her mind.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my mind,” she said stubbornly as Sirius finally let her draw back slightly so he could see her properly. “I’m fine.”
Apollo snorted. “You are not fine! You’ve been tortured for the past week. You’re anything but fine!”
Both James and Sirius looked from Apollo’s frustrated face to Artemis’ stubborn one. “T-tortured?” Sirius whispered, looking at Artemis guiltily. She gave a curt nod. “I knew it! I knew you shouldn’t have gone home. I knew something was up when you just up and changed your mind like that!” Artemis grimaced and looked at the floor, but this just seemed to make Sirius even angrier. “You knew that too, didn’t you? You knew something bad was going to happen, but you went home anyways!” He shook his head at her angrily, looking more like he wanted to strangle her. “You are so stupid!” he yelled, standing up and starting for the door.
Artemis, however, did not seem to take kindly to being referred to as such. She got to her feet as well, pointing where she probably thought that he was but was actually too far to the left and much too high. “You think I knew this was going to happen? How the bloody hell would I be expected to know that Lord-Fucking-Voldemort was going to show up at my house on Christmas Eve? How was I supposed to know that my father would just hand me over to him? You bloody arse!”
“I’m on you’re right, you dumbass!”
James sighed and automatically tuned them out, turning his attention to Apollo, who looked rather alarmed. “Oh, don’t worry about them,” James told him with an exasperated shake of the head. “That’s pretty much typical. Anyways, you never really answered my question. Why are you here?”
Apollo seemed to accept James’ statement; he stopped watching the two arguing and turned to face James. “I helped her escape. I couldn’t very well just stay. He would have killed me. But...” He paused, glancing at Artemis again with a small smile. “I couldn’t watch her be in so much pain. She says she’s fine, but you and I both know: you don’t get tortured by Lord Voldemort for a whole week and come out completely sane.”
“I guess...” James looked at her too; at the moment she appeared to be pulling out some of her hair in fury as Sirius slammed the door shut behind him. She took a deep breath, then stopped as if remembering something.
“Apollo? Where’s mum?” she asked softly, as if already knowing the answer. Apollo froze then looked down. Slowly, he shook his head. Of course, Artemis couldn’t see this, but she seemed to draw the answer from his silence anyway. In any case, her eyes widened and she fell to her knees, looking shocked, and then looking distraught and shaking her head rapidly. “No, no, she can’t be! She said... she said she’d be right behind us....”
Apollo sighed and knelt next to her; James was right behind him. “Artemis...”
James thought for sure that she was about to start crying. When she looked up, however, it was with a sad smile on her face. “Overprotective and overaffectionate to the very end. Are you... are you sure she’s dead?”
Apollo nodded, placing a hand on her back and rubbing it consolingly. “Yes... he reached the kitchen right as I left. I saw...” He went silent, watching the waterworks start. To James’ surprise, though, it was his shoulder she started crying on. Apollo just continued rubbing her back, looking thoughtful. “We need to contact Dumbledore,” he said finally, staring across his sister’s head at James. “I think it’s best if she just stays here with you, given her state.”
“I’m fine,” Artemis said, but it was muffled by James shoulder, so the two men decided to ignore it.
“I’ll go back to Hogwarts,” Apollo continued, as if he’d never been interrupted. “I’ll see if Dumbledore’s there. If he’s not, I’m sure someone will know where he is. Just... take care of her.”
James looked down at Artemis’ tangled black hair on his shoulder. Then he looked back at Apollo and nodded. Apollo smiled at him, and for a second the two felt like friends; but the moment was quickly over as Apollo got to his feet. “She needs to take that potion at midnight, under the moon and next to the tallest tree in the area, to get her sight back.” James nodded again. “Take good care of her,” Apollo muttered, looking down at his sister again; then he turned on the spot, vanishing into thin air.
Leaving James feeling relatively awkward with Artemis still crying on his shoulder. For a few minutes, James wasn’t sure what to do. So he just patted her back and let her cry. Eventually, he said, “Don’t worry, Ar. Everything will be all right. And... Well, don’t worry about Sirius either; he’s just really relieved. He’s been so worried all week.”
Artemis sniffled and nodded, pulling back and smiling at James. “S-sorry, James. I-I didn’t mean to cry all over you...”
James grinned. “Not to worry! What are friends for? I’m just... I’m curious, Ar: Why’d you cry on my shoulder? ‘Stead of your brother’s?”
“Huh? Oh, well... see, Apollo’s all for comforting me when I’m feeling down, but he says me crying just makes him want to hex me,” Artemis said brightly. James stared at her for a second, then smiled and shook his head in amazement. The two were so... strange, but he could tell they cared about each other. Just like Sirius and Artemis.
Speaking of Sirius...
Sirius burst back into the room, almost as loudly as he’d gone out. He paused when he saw James and Artemis kneeling on the floor together, then looked around for Apollo. He seemed to decide it didn’t matter much, however, as he came and joined the two on the floor, a huge grin on his face.
“I’ve found it!” he exclaimed simply. When James and Artemis continued to stare at him blankly, he just rolled his eyes, his grin unfaltering. “The tallest tree!” he explained. “That’s where you need to drink that potion of yours, right? Well, I’ve found it!”
James beamed at him. “Excellent, Pads! See, Ar, everything’s going to be fine!”
Artemis sniffed loudly a couple times, then threw herself onto Sirius. Tears had begun pouring from her eyes again. “You’re such an arse!” she bawled. Sirius just grinned and held his girlfriend close to him.
The snow crunched under my feet as we walked, the only thing besides the biting cold against my face that gave me a clue as to the winter weather. Of course, my friends were not nearly as deprived as I; they had already ensured that I was bundled in at least fifteen layers of clothing before we’d left James’.
Then again, all the layers at least provided a good deal of cushioning for when I collided with... well, just about everything.
“Aha!” Sirius said at last. “Here we are.”
“Really?” I asked skeptically. “It sounds awfully... busy.” And indeed, it did: the sounds of late night Muggle life was all around us. Their loud metal cars roaring nearby, the humming of the electric lights that Mira had tried to explain to me, the sounds of people walking nearby.
“Yeah, well, sod off. It’s not exactly where I pictured it either, but this is the tallest tree for at least a few miles. So shut up and deal with it,” Sirius ordered, punching my upper arm playfully. I tried to punch him back--
And missed completely. I sighed. “I really hope this stuff works. My mum... she was a genius with potions, but... she was in a hurry....”
Neither James nor Sirius answered me; whether that was because they were too busy arguing whether this tree was the tallest or the one across the way was, or because they just didn’t want to contemplate such a situation was beyond me.
I sighed again. “What time is it?” The two paused in their argument.
“Eleven twenty-three,” one of them replied. “We’ve still got a little while.” I nodded and reached for the tree, huffing when my hands met empty air. Someone snorted, and I had a feeling I knew which of them it was.
“Oh, sod off, Sirius! It’s not my fault!”
“I know that, but you have no idea how hilarious it is to see you like this!” he laughed, but before I could rant at him, he took my hand and helped me lean against the tree without falling on my ass. I still glared in what I thought was his direction, but figured his helping me was more that I could possibly hope for in the way of an apology for laughing at me.
“Thanks,” I scowled, pouting. “I’m so glad I could provide you with some entertainment.” He just laughed at me some more. I huffed some more, pouting and folding my arms. For a few moments, the three of us just stood in relative silence, listening to the Muggles going about their business.
Finally: “Artemis, can you... can you tell us what happened?” James asked softly.
“James!” Sirius snapped, putting an around my shoulder and pulling me closer to him. “She doesn’t want to talk about that!”
“Sirius!” James retorted. “She’s going to have to talk about it sooner or later. If not now, she’ll have to tell Dumbledore when he gets here.” He paused for a second, and when he continued he sounded more calm than before. “Anyways, how can we help her if we’re not even sure what happened to her?”
Sirius didn’t seem to have a valid comeback for this, but he continued to scowl at his best friend, keeping his arm around me as if that would protect me from the harsh reality of the situation. Of course, no valid comeback seemed not to make much a difference to him, as he and James began bickering some more, this time over whether or not I should talk about what had happened to me. As for me, I let Sirius go for me; I actually didn’t feel like talking to anyone about what had happened, not even Sirius and James. Thinking about it made me think about my parents, which reminded me...
No, stop thinking about it, Ar, I told myself, shutting my eyes tight and tuning out their conversation. Which was impossibly difficult to do, as they were now yelling at each other over my head. And probably attracting the attention of all the Muggles on the street. I opened my eyes again (which of course did nothing) and scowled.
“Sirius, she has to--”
“Just shut up, James! What she needs is to--”
“Sirius! James!” I screamed. Silence. Yeah, Muggles were definitely staring now, if they hadn’t already been. “You two are both arses, now would you just shut up and stop attracting attention? For Merlin’s sake, we’ve probably attracted the attention of every bloody Muggle in the entire town, maybe even the entire country!” I pouted and put my hands in my pockets, rubbing my thumb against the smooth glass of the vial contained there. “What time is it?” I asked sourly after a few minutes of sheepish silence.
I sighed. “We got here way too early.” Another awkward silence ensued. Sirius’ arm was still tense around me, his breathing loud in my ear. But somehow, even through all his argument with James, I could feel his own curiosity, his concern for me, burning just below the surface.
No, I told myself again. I didn’t want to think about it! I didn’t want to think about how the past week had ended. I wanted to pretend that nothing had happened. And once I got my sight back, maybe I could. Once we got back to Hogwarts, it would be easy to just pretend like Christmas vacation had never happened. I squeezed my eyes shut again, burying my face in Sirius’ shoulder.
I must have started to doze off, because it felt like only minutes later that Sirius was whispering in my ear, “Only two minutes left. You have the potion still, right?”
I nodded groggily, blinking the sleep from my sightless eyes and reaching into my pocket for the vial. Sirius breathed a sigh of relief in my face, but I didn’t care at the moment. His breath smelled like peppermint anyways.
“All right... the moon is out, we’re under the tallest tree in the town, and.... it’s midnight,” James said, placing a hand on my arm softly. “It’s time.”
Sirius took the vial from me and pulled out the stopper with a pop. Then he returned it to my hand and I drank it.
It was so small that it only took a single swallow. It was pretty tasteless, though it did have a hint of mint; it was ice cold as it went down, and I shivered. The three of us waited expectantly.
“Well?” James finally said, after no response from me. “Did it work?”
I pursed my lips tightly together. “Just give it a minute,” I snapped. “It’ll work.” I hoped. My mother had been in a rush. But... I trusted her. Besides Professor Slughorn, she was the best potions master I knew. Hell, she might even have been better. She might have been frantic, but she wouldn’t have given me the potion if she hadn’t been sure. “It’ll work,” I repeated.
Two hours later, James had gone to inform his parents that I was decidedly the most stubborn person alive (i.e. to tell them that Sirius and I were still sitting underneath that stupid tree waiting for my sight to come back), Sirius was asleep on my shoulder, and I was almost ready to admit defeat and go back to James’. The cold had finally gotten through my many layers; I shivered and worried about Sirius, who had only one coat on, not fifteen.
It was time to give up, I acknowledged sadly. Before Sirius froze solid to my arm. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, willing myself to wake up Sirius and leave before we got any more pathetic than we already were at the moment. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then turned towards Sirius, opening my eyes and muttering, “Sirius, wake up.” But I stopped short.
It was blurry and dim... but I could make out Sirius’ head of shaggy black hair against... was that a bright pink coat?
Oh, I was going to kill them. See if they ever dressed me again. I mean, a bright pink coat, for Merlin’s sake!
But I supposed that could wait. It may be blurry and dim, but the fact that I could see anything again was way more important than the fact that I was wearing the poofy-est bright pink coat that I could imagine.
“Sirius,” I said again, smiling as he groaned and buried his face deeper in the pink.
“Wake up, you dumbass,” I told him, shrugging the shoulder he was on. He lifted his head and scowled at me. I stuck my tongue at him. “Come on,” I said, standing up and dusting off my butt. “It’s time to go back to James’.”
Sirius stared at me. “But what about... can you see?” he asked excitedly, standing up and almost headbutting me in the process.
“Er, in a manner of speaking,” I replied, smiling as he took my face between his hands and peered at me intently. “I can’t really tell if you have eyes, but I can see you. Better, right?” He was silent for a minute, and I really couldn’t make out his face yet, so I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
“Better, yes. But... is it still working, do you think? Still getting better?” he asked, and his tone revealed the doubt that I couldn’t see.
“I’m sure it is,” I replied defiantly; after all, it had worked thus far, even if it had taken two hours. I’m pretty sure that he glared at me, but... well, you know.
Sirius sighed. “All right... Back to James’ then?”
I nodded. “Back to James’.”
As Sirius took my hand, I looked up at the bright spot in the sky that was the moon, but all my thoughts were on his warm protective hand in mine.
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