Chapter 8 : Everybody Hurts
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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.
“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.
“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?”
“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, she 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. She 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...”
“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."
“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.
“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.”
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’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.
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