Chapter 21 : Ch. 20 - Curiosity Killed The Cat
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Ch. 20 - Curiosity Killed The Cat
I was missing the first Quidditch match of the season something that I have never, in my six years at Hogwart’s, done. I may not have joined the house team until this year, but Quidditch was an essential part of my life, I lived for summer leagues and when it came time for Hogwart’s Quidditch to commence I was one of the most enthusiastic audience members. I used to attend the Slytherin practices because Evan played as a Chaser on the team and Rudolphus was the captain, and as bizarre as it seemed Rudolphus valued my opinions of the team and their performance. So in a way, I was an honorary member of the Slytherin team.
Of course more than once they tried to convince me to steal the Gryffindor playbook, or at least copy all of the plays down. My blood may have made me a perfect candidate for Slytherin, but I was a Gryffindor through and through and loyal to my house, only this year had I become loyal to the people in my house.
Fortunately, the first Quidditch match of the season (Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin) allowed me the perfect opportunity and ample time to sneak into Hogsmeade to buy Andromeda and Ted’s Hogwart’s Express tickets and get back to the castle. Since I couldn’t lie and tell everyone that I was sick, suffering from menstrual issues or otherwise incapacitated I simply woke up before everyone else and disappeared, holing myself up in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Luckily enough for me the sulking spirit was haunting some other part of the castle for the duration of my stay.
“Dissendio,” I muttered, tapping the back of the one-eyed witch’s hump with my wand.
There’s a horrible grating and grinding sound of stone against stone that sets my hair raising and I have to look around just to make sure no one’s coming my way. Using the wall behind me, I kicked myself up onto the edge of the opening that revealed itself and dropped into the secret passageway. Unfortunately, the drop was a bit longer than I expected and my knees buckled as soon as I landed on my feet which sent me collapsing onto cold, damp earth.
Standing, I brushed my hands on my jeans as the hump slid shut behind me, encapsulating me in darkness so thick I probably wouldn’t have been able to see my hand at the end of my nose. Taking a deep breath, I brought my hands together in front of me touching my fingertips together. I repressed a shiver as it slid down my spine, fleeing the goosebumps rise on my arms and my veins begin to hum and pulse with magic. The space between my hands grew warm and crackled, sending small jolts of electricity back up through my palms.
After a minute or so, I pulled my hands apart and opened my eyes. In my right hand, I was holding an apple sized ball of light showing me that the passage I stood in was about six feet wide and eight feet high. Bringing my arm back, I swung it forward throwing the ball of light as far as I could down the passage. It faded and went out before it reached the end of the passage.
With a sigh, I took my wand out of my pocket and lit the end of it before beginning my trudge through the passage under Hogwart’s. Sirius and James told me the passage would let me out in Honeyduke’s cellar and once I got out, all I had to do was sneak out the back door for the sweets shop. I wondered how long it would take the two of them to realize I was using the match as my excuse to sneak into Hogsmeade - probably not long at all if they already hadn’t.
Of course when I asked the two master pranksters of a way to sneak into Hogsmeade they wanted to know why I needed to know such a thing. Did I tell them? Of course not, I told Andromeda I wouldn’t tell anyone and it hadn’t been a lie so I was bound to keep my word. My curse made me far more honorable than I actually was because more than anything I wanted to tell someone, Andromeda was in over her head and probably so was I.
I was so lost in thought that I missed the fact that the ground had started an upward slant and tripped when my foot caught on a step. Grunting, I hauled myself up and shone the light of my wand ahead seeing that the steps stopped abruptly when they met the ceiling. I climbed the stairs and set my wand down when I reached the top, bracing my shoulder against the trap door above me.
“Oh come on!” I groaned, using all the strength behind my legs as leverage to push the trap door.
Finally, with a final shove and a seriously unladylike grunt, the trap door opened and I was able to slide it aside. I set my wand between my teeth as I lifted myself out of the hole before turning and putting the trap door back in its place. I froze in horror when I heard the door to the cellar opening followed by a sliver of light piercing the darkness. Of course of all times someone had to come down it was while I was down there.
I darted behind a stack of crates, my back against the wall of the stairs. I could hear my heartbeat thundering in my chest and began taking shallow even breaths as I gripped my wand tightly in my hand. A rotund man with a shiny balding head waddled into my view once he reached the end of the stairs and rounded into the room. It seemed the obstacle of the stairs was a bit much for him because he paused, placing his hand on his chest in an attempt to steady his breath. Once he assured himself that he was not going to keel over he strode over to the opposite side of the room and bent over a few boxes to look through them.
As quietly as I could, I stepped from my not so secure hiding place since all he had to do was turn around and he’d see me. Taking over large steps to close the distance between myself and the stairs, I kept one eye on the man as I slid under the rope railing before I took the last half of the stairs two at a time. I found myself in the store room and all I had to do was turn around to find the back door.
The weather, if a tad on the chill side, was perfect for a Quidditch match. There was almost no wind which would ensure that the quaffles flew straight, and there wasn’t very much sun which would heighten the Seekers’ visibility. It was sure to be an interesting match, I just hoped it lasted long enough for me to do what I needed to get done and get back to the castle.
Even though I had a deadline to be back to the castle, I walked through Hogsmeade at an easygoing pace just enjoying being by myself for a little while. Alone time, and I mean true alone time, was something that I was greatly missing ever since James and Sirius’ entrance into my life (bringing with them my new friends); just time to be by myself with my thoughts without the knowledge that in five maybe ten minutes someone was going to intrude on it. At those times during meals, or even in the Common Room when I disappeared into my own thoughts, when the conversation was not pertinent to me nor required my input, I was always asked if something was wrong or if I was okay. Surely they assumed that I was thinking of something depressing that warranted my sudden silence and were trying to save me from myself before I had an emotional breakdown.
Don’t get me wrong, I had come to love all of them but they could be a bit overwhelming. They always had to know what you were doing, with whom, when and how long it would take. It was something I wasn’t accustomed to, and when you refused to tell them those things they got irritable and suspicious. I was so used to keeping most of myself to myself, playing a part, biding my time until I could break away from it all.
“Miss? Can I help you?”
I shook my head bringing me out of my thoughts. I hadn’t noticed that the person standing in front of me at the ticket office had moved. I took a step forward casting the clerk an apologetic smile, “Sorry. Uhm, I just need two tickets to King’s Cross Station for the first weekend in November.”
The clerk nodded and began typing away on what looked like a muggle typewriter. “Round trip?”
“Andromeda Black and Ted Tonks.”
A few more clicking noises, followed by the sound of the parchment she had been typing on being pulled from the typewriter. She folded the paper and then tore it in half before she turned to me and told me how much to pay. I slid the coins over to her and she handed over the tickets with a smile.
“Thank you,” I told her, pocketing the tickets and turning to walk away.
I was heading back toward the village smiling and feeling accomplished with myself, cutting across a side street to get to the main road because I had decided I’d like a butterbeer before I headed back. I was whistling absently to myself and was just about to open the door to The Three Broomsticks when I spotted them. Three figures making their way down the street in my direction, two I recognized instantly - Bellatrix and Regulus, but the third I didn’t recognize because the hood of his traveling cloak was pulled up to hide his face, but it definitely was a he if his stature was any indication.
Whether it was my panic or my curiosity that made me move into the alleyway, I’ll never know. But I stood in the shadow of the building as the three of them walked, catching a snippet of their conversation.
“So? What’s He like?” Bellatrix demanded, her voice breathy with excitement.
The man between the two cousins chuckled as he stopped and tilted his head back, almost in awe, “He’s everything we were promised and so much more. It’s truly inspiring, He leaves no room for doubt that our cause will succeed.”
“And when will we get to meet Him, show him that we’re ready to stand beside Him?” Bellatrix wondered.
My heart began to beat forcefully behind my ribs. They were talking about Voldemort, they had to have been and the person with them was no doubt a Death Eater. Bella was looking at the man with a look I had never seen before. I always knew Bella was a little… off, but the look in her eyes now confirmed it. Her dark eyes held a sick gleam as they regarded the stranger, a feral twisted light shining from within.
I watched Regulus tilt his head slightly to the side before he leaned over to his companions and whispered something I couldn’t hear. Stuffing his hands in the pocket of his slacks, he turned and stalked off somewhere I couldn’t see him.
The stranger shrugged, turning his attention back to Bella. “All in good time, you’ll be able to prove yourself to Him. He’s been talking of taking one of you under His wing personally, He hears the goings on here at Hogwart’s, thinks many of you have potential.”
Her eyes brightened, “Potential?”
“But it takes much more than that,” he cut across her harshly. “You must have the strength and fortitude to do whatever it is He wishes you to do, raise your wand to anyone without second guessing yourself. He demands devotion to the fullest extent… Tell me have you ever used an Unforgivable?”
I never heard Bellatrix’s answer.
I couldn’t help the yelp of pain that escaped my mouth as I was roughly pulled backwards by a handful of my own hair. My back hit a firm chest as my head wrenched back, and my assailant’s hand came and closed around my neck but applied no pressure.
“You’re missing the first Quidditch match Elaina, never thought I’d see the day,” came Regulus’ harsh whisper in my ear.
I squirmed in his grasp, and he loosened his grip on my hair releasing the painful pressure on my scalp but did not remove his hand. His other hand roamed down my neck, over my shoulder and arm until it came to where my wand was protruding from my back pocket. I felt the slim piece of wood slide out of my pocket as my heart began to race wildly.
“What are you doing here, Elaina? You’re damn lucky I’m the one who found you, you know that?” he said.
“What are you doing here Regulus? Shouldn’t you be at the Quidditch match, you are the Seeker and all,” I replied.
He tightened his grip momentarily causing me to hiss in pain and bring my hand up to grip his wrist. “It’s none of your business.”
“You think so? You’re walking around Hogsmeade cavorting with someone I assume to be a Death Eater from the conversation I was hearing, so I think it’s my business.”
I felt his mouth move against my ear to say something, but his cousin’s voice cut him off. “Regulus, what’s taking you so long?” Bella’s shadow, along with the shadow of the cloaked man were approaching the alleyway.
“Just keep your mouth shut so I can think of a way to get you out of this,” Regulus whispered hurriedly, his voice laced with desperation and authority. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Bellatrix’s dreamy smile grew into one of sickening glee when she breached the mouth of the alley and took in the scene before her. “Looks like your curiosity is finally getting you into some trouble, Elaina.”
“Hello Elaina, it’s been awhile,” the cloaked stranger said as he stepped into the shadow of the alley.
“Do I know you?” I wondered.
Two long pale hands came up and pulled back the hood of the traveling cloak revealing a pale young man with sandy blond hair and a harsh, pointed face. I did know him actually, he graduated a year ahead of me and his father was the current Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement - Barty Crouch Jr. How ironic.
I waited for the shock at discovering Barty was a Death Eater to come but it didn’t. I remembered him being one of the most enthusiastic about joining Voldemort after he got out of Hogwart’s. He would boast that he had gone around practicing the Unforgivables on the critters he would find skirting the outer tree line of the Forbidden Forest. He always made me uneasy when he was around, it was something about the way he would look at a person, as though he were imagining what it look like if he were to torture them.
“Well done Regulus,” Barty said to him over my shoulder. Then he turned his attention to me, “Why don’t you look surprised?”
“Because honestly I’m not. What’s the matter Barty, did Daddy not love you enough, or did he finally realize what a deranged, little psychopath you really are?”
The punch that landed on the side of my face felt like it rocked my eye from its socket and suddenly the only thing I could taste was blood between my teeth, but the shock kept me from feeling the pain of it. I imagined my lip was now swelling to the size of a small mouse and I could feel blood dripping down my chin.
“She was eavesdropping no doubt,” Bella surmised. “Can we kill her?”
I felt Regulus’ hand in my hair tighten again, and resisted the urge to wince in pain. He hadn’t done it on purpose this time. Barty shook his head, “No, the Dark Lord wouldn’t like that very much; unnecessary spillage of magical blood goes against His cause, and besides He’s been lamenting the fact that we lost the Van Buren bloodline the night her family was killed, He’ll be overjoyed to know one still lives.”
“We can’t just let her go!” Bella cried, outraged.
“We’re not,” Barty told her, his voice eerily calm. “You said you’ve never used an Unforgivable, Bellatrix… well, here’s your chance to practice.”
I felt Regulus’ heart speed up against my back and mine did as well. It was suddenly hard to breathe, knowing that in a moment Bella would undoubtedly subject me to the Cruciatus Curse. I could already feel the fear slide down my spine, my brain was telling me to struggle against Regulus’ hold on me because I knew he wouldn’t put up much of a fight to help me get away, but I was not about to look weak by letting them know I was scared.
She turned to look at Barty like he was a god in human form before she fumbled inside her robes for her wand. And I saw my opportunity. I bent my knees and jumped up as I threw my weight backwards, using Regulus as leverage, and kicking my right leg out so it caught Barty in the chin as Regulus and I toppled backwards.
I landed on top of him with a grunt as he groaned in pain beneath me, having no doubt hit his head. Rolling off of him as quickly as I could, I turned and just as he was sitting back up punched him with as much force as I could manage. I heard a sickening crack as my family’s ring made contact with his cheekbone before he fell back down, the combined injuries of his head and my punch rendering him unconscious.
I reached out for my wand from where it had fallen a few inches from his hand, but a booted foot came and crushed my wrist against the cobblestones. The tip of Barty’s wand came to press into the hollow of my throat, “That was a mistake, Elaina.”
“Now can we kill her?” Bellatrix asked impatiently.
Barty sighed, “Oh dear Bella, you have so much to learn. Death should be a release, not a punishment.”
It was hard to swallow around the way my heart was cramped in my throat and I felt like I wanted to be sick. Why couldn’t I have just walked into The Three Broomsticks and let them be on their way? I could hear Barty and Bellatrix wondering what to do with me, or rather, to me while I was outstretching my fingers as his foot dug my wrist against the cobblestones. My fear made it hard to focus, but my wand twitched and shuddered a few feet from me and that seemed to spurn me on a little more. I took a deep breath, and tried to clear my mind of panic. All it took was a brief flash of clarity through my mind and my wand slid along the ground and into my hand.
Knowing it would hurt like hell, I did it anyway. I violently ripped my wrist out from under Barty’s foot making him lose his balance, gritting my teeth against the stones and pebbles as they tore through my skin. I cast a shield charm with my left hand hearing Bella’s curse, which would have no doubt incapacitated me, smash against it with the sound of shattering glass. The stunner I sent toward Barty as I jumped to my feet hit him soundly in the face, and threw him against the wall where he collapsed.
As I spun to face Bellatrix, I disarmed her, catching her wand in my free hand before stunning her. Her face bore a look of utter surprise as she collapsed. With a sigh, I lowered my wand and looked at my wrist where the exposed second layer of my skin was burning. I stood there for a moment waiting for my heart to stop racing, picking out small pebbles and brushing away the dirt and blood.
I heard the shifting of fabric, followed by a groan and as I spun around to once again send Barty into the realm of unconsciousness, a scarlet jet streaked past the side of my head and hit him squarely in the chest.
Twirling around to face the new person who walked into the alley, I sighed as I dropped my wand to my side. “So you followed me, did you?”
Sirius stood at the end of the alley with his wand still raised. His chest was heaving with his ragged breath as if he had run for awhile and the fierce look on his face was rather frightening. He didn’t say anything as he lowered his wand and entered the alley, stepping over Bella’s unconscious body to stand in front of me.
Sirius glanced around at the three unconscious bodies surrounding us before he looked back to me. One hand came up and he gripped my chin tightly between his forefinger and thumb, turning my head this way and that to get a better look at my split lip and the bruise forming along my cheek.
“Are you alright?” He wondered, his voice tight.
I tried to shake my head out of his hand, but his grip just tightened making me unable to do so. “I’m fine, I‘m far from a damsel in distress.”
“You’re lucky they didn’t kill you,” Sirius retorted as he released my chin.
“I think death would have been the least of my worries,” I replied.
I stepped around Sirius up to where Bellatrix was laying. I crouched down, placing the tip of my wand to Bellatrix’s forehead, muttered a spell under my breath and closed my eyes. A moment later, the blacks of the inside of my eyelids were flickering with Bella’s most recent memories. I took my time removing the scene in the alley from her memory and replacing it with a false one that started the moment Regulus walked away from her and Barty on the main road. It was shaky at best and it would probably break in a few weeks time, but for the moment it was going to have to do.
Opening my eyes, I watched as a silvery stream leaked out of Bella’s ears and dissolved into the ground beneath her. “What did you do to her?” I heard Sirius ask behind me.
“Altered her memory,” I replied, turning to perform the same spell on Barty as well.
“… Since when can you alter someone’s memory, Elaina?” he demanded. “That’s really advanced magic.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Sirius,” I started. “But there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
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