Chapter 9 : Russian Roulette
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You can see it through my chest,
Said I'm terrified but I'm not leaving,
I know that I must pass this test
Russian Roulette – Rihanna
She shifts nervously in the dark, waiting. The dread is heightened this time, it seems – perhaps because she does not know which brother she is to see. She is still not sure who is better – less outright anger is clearly good, but one’s emotions can be played with in more ways than one, and she’s not sure if the subtler approach suits her or will hurt her more.
A small pop disturbs the quiet, and the tip of a wand presses against her neck.
“It’s me,” she breathes, holding out her wrist.
The wand tip falls.
“You’ll be glad to know that your beloved couldn’t make it again.” It is the softer voice, the one that she has been praying to hear, yet fearing at the same time. “Naturally, I had a hand in that, so your gratitude is expected at this point.”
“I – yes,” she breathes. “Thank you...”
“You realise that I cannot come every time, though?” He pauses. “If he realises that you dread his visits, he will use your fear against him, and I am sure you want that as little as I do.”
The kind sentiments puzzle her, but she does not complain.
“So, do you have anything more?” he presses.
“They have clamped down hard over the past week. They are more suspicious, more alert, as a result of the failure of last week’s raid. I am still safe, they haven’t even considered me as a threat, but it is nigh on impossible to gain much information at the moment.”
His eyes remain on her for a moment, his expression unreadable.
“You realise that others would not take this lack of information well?”
She nods fearfully.
“You are lucky, then, that I am here and not ... someone else. You would do well to find something before your next visit, for I doubt I will be able to ensure it is me, and I am much more tolerant than some others. You understand that?”
She nods again.
“I can only do so much,” he continues.
“I ... I appreciate your...”
In the moonlight, she can see his lips curl into a slight smile.
“I care about your wellbeing,” he breathes, as he raises a hand to her face. “He underestimates you; he doesn’t see you for who you are, doesn’t see the potential.”
“And you do?”
“My dear, how else would I know that there is something he cannot see?”
She does not look away from his gaze, she cannot.
“Look after yourself, now,” he whispers. “Make sure you have something by the end of the week, for I cannot look after you all the time.”
He presses his lips to hers, then pulls away and Disapparates with a swish of his cloak. She widens her eyes and brings her hand to her lips.
What the hell just happened?
At work the following week, Gideon acted as if their conversation beside the lake at the wedding had never happened. Araminta was relieved to say the least; she wasn’t sure that she was comfortable with how their relationship, which was only supposed to be a work-based one, was progressing. She felt so vulnerable in his company, as though he could see right through her; it was a feeling she’d never had before and one that she wasn’t at all at ease with. She’d been taught to keep her emotions in check at all times, and never to let anyone in – surely it made her weak? But there was something about Gideon that drew her to him, and it was beginning to both scare and frustrate her.
Luckily for her, he seemed to have had the same thought process, and for the first half of the week they’d had little interaction of any sort – though this was possibly aided by the rotation policy that meant that they were both with the Auror trainees this week. Araminta had learned that this was Gideon’s favourite week on the job as it meant an all-too-rare moment away from the battlefield that was the wizarding world, a chance for him to get away from the ongoing war, to forget its existence, and throw himself into full-on duelling with eager participants – eager until they’d been thoroughly beaten by him, that was.
There was something quite captivating about watching Gideon duel. Araminta had always known that he was a remarkably gifted man with a wand – bits of knowledge like that travelled the wizarding grapevines to reach even the most distant branches – but she hadn’t had the chance to really watch him in action before now, and she relished the opportunity. From her vantage point on the sidelines she was able to observe him closely, to spot his strengths and weaknesses – the latter admittedly few and far between – and to watch him doing something he so clearly loved, with a smile on his face and a liveliness in his eyes that were so rarely seen. She had come to regret those moments when he stopped duelling, when he was forced back into the reality that was the outside world, when the darkness returned to his life.
She was toying with the idea of telling him what she’d observed about his duelling technique. The trouble with the idea was that it would involve interacting with him, something she was doing her best to avoid.
Midway through the week, she bit the bullet and approached him as they broke for lunch.
“Sometimes you leave your left side unguarded, you know.”
She stopped short of complimenting any of the techniques he was good at.
He frowned and mopped his brow with a towel.
“I know,” he said gruffly. “I’m used to having-” He cut himself off mid-sentence. “I’m used to duelling with someone else,” he finished.
“Well, you should work on it. You can’t always guarantee you’ll have someone else with you-”
“I know,” he repeated angrily, scowling. “You think I haven’t been told this already?”
“There’s no need to get angry with me; I was just trying to help-”
“I’m sorry.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “You’re right, I do. And I know it’s a problem.” He bit his lip and glanced across the room. “Robards got himself tangled up in a right mess just there, didn’t he?” He grinned roguishly. “Nearly had him on the floor after thirty seconds.”
“He didn’t have very good reflexes,” she agreed. Gawain Robards was one of the trainees, and Gideon didn’t seem too fond of him. Quelle surprise. “Are you coming to get food?”
He shook his head and led her out of the training room.
“Na, I’ve got some reports to read through in my cubicle. You don’t need to worry about them, it’s fine. That’s to say, you can come and look at them if you want, but you don’t need to, they’re quite boring-”
“It’s fine.” She hid a smile, amused at his ramblings. “I’ll let you have them to yourself. Sure you don’t want any food?”
“I’ll be fine.” He winked at her. “Nice to know you care though.”
“Oh, shut up.” She rolled her eyes. “It wouldn’t look good for me if my mentor collapsed from a lack of food, would it?”
“Rule number one for staying alive: put yourself first. You seem to be doing well at that one.”
“Well, I’m still standing, aren’t I?” She allowed herself a small smile. “Shall I see you back at the training room, then?”
“It’s a date.” He winked again, before walking off.
She shook her head slightly, still smiling herself, as she headed towards the fireplaces in the Atrium. Half-way down the hall, she spotted a pair of familiar figures, and her smile was replaced by a frown.
“Araminta!” Arieda spotted her and beckoned her over to join her and Sirius. “How are you?”
“I – I’m fine. You?”
“I’m great, thanks! Just finalising my Auror application,” Arieda said.
“I didn’t realise you wanted to be an Auror...”
“Seems like the right thing to do, in the current climate. Sirius was just telling me not to, though. I think he thinks I’m not up for it-”
“Of course I don’t!” Sirius protested. “You’ll be accepted no worries, the Ministry will snap someone like you up in a heartbeat-”
“Nothing to do with your diminishing numbers?” Arieda pulled a wry face.
“Nothing at all to do with that, at all you’re the ideal candidate for an Auror in any conditions – but that’s just why I don’t think you should apply. Aurors don’t exactly have a high life expectancy...”
“Trust me, Sirius, I know that all too well. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do my bit. If anything, it makes me want to play my part even more. I like to think I have a lot to offer.”
“You do, but-”
“But that’s just the way it is, isn’t it?” Arieda smiled sympathetically. “I’ll be fine, Sirius. I’m a big girl, I can look after myself. Besides, the programme is three years, which means I won’t be out doing official Auror stuff for a long time yet, and you never know what can happen in three years.”
“That doesn’t mean that nothing can happen.”
They shared a knowing look and she sighed loudly.
“You’re beginning to sound like my father, Sirius. What do you think, Araminta?”
Araminta was slightly taken-aback at being included in the conversation.
“I – I think you should do what you want to do,” she said. “I don’t know how good you are at duelling, or how you measure up in terms of the attributes they’re looking for, but if it’s what you want to do, then do it...”
“Even if it involves putting your life on the line?” Sirius interjected.
Araminta looked at him, puzzled.
“Well, you’re in exactly the same profession, aren’t you? Doing the exact same thing? Surely you should understand why someone would want to risk their life in such a way-”
“Yes, but I’ve always known I was going to do this; I mean, look at my family-”
“So, because I’m Muggleborn, which means my family aren’t raving mad Muggle haters, I shouldn’t be willing to put my life on the line?” Arieda cocked her head to the side.
“No, I just...” He sighed with aggravation. “Look, you’ve got one hell of a life ahead of you; I just don’t want to see you waste it, that’s all-”
“I could say the same thing for you, don’t you think? You’re only twenty-one; that’s by no means over the hill. And you’ve got everything going for you, still. Honestly, you and Gideon are both the same. It’s like you think your lives ended two years ago and you’re both sacrificial lambs in this cause but nobody else should be allowed to risk their lives.” Arieda smiled sadly and shook her head slightly. “I appreciate your concern, Sirius, but I’m doing this regardless of what you say. Anyway, I really need to go and get some food. Do you want to go get a bite to eat, Araminta?”
Araminta hesitated. She didn’t really want to say yes. There was something about Arieda that she wasn’t keen on. It puzzled her, as Arieda was by no means annoying or unlikeable ... but there was something there nevertheless that made Araminta unwilling to spend time with her. Still, saying no would probably be too rude.
“Marvellous!” Arieda beamed. “I guess you’re heading back to your office, Sirius? I’ll see you later, nice to chat to you.” She kissed his cheek, then turned towards the fireplaces.
For a split second, an odd expression crossed Sirius’ face, but he turned away before Araminta could work it out. She shook her head, and followed Arieda through the nearest fireplace, into Muggle London.
“He worries too much,” the younger girl sighed as Araminta fell into step with her. “They all do, really. In fact, I think Gideon is the only one who truly understands ... which is odd, in a way ... but then, thinking about it I guess it’s not. He knows what it’s like to want something so badly, to be willing to do anything to help achieve that aim...”
“You really want You-Know-Who gone, then?”
“Of course I do. His followers killed my sister, what more motivation does someone need? That’s why Gid’s okay with me applying to be an Auror, even if it is going to reduce my life expectancy drastically. But the others – Fabe especially – think I shouldn’t. They don’t want to lose anyone else. Which is understandable. I mean, they’re already risking their own lives as Aurors. They don’t want anyone else joining those ranks. They’d rather I picked a safer profession. But ... because they’re Aurors, it just makes it sound so ... hypocritical, you know? Like, they’re allowed to die for the cause, but I’m not...”
“I guess it’s just that they care about the people they love.” Araminta gave a slight shrug, feeling a bit awkward that Arieda, someone she’d only met twice, was pouring all this out to her.
“I know, and that’s why I sort of feel guilty ... I mean, I’m putting them all through so much agony by throwing myself onto the flames to join them. It’s like playing Russian roulette, isn’t it, becoming an Auror in these times?”
Araminta was completely clueless as to what Arieda meant, but said nothing, letting her continue.
“I won’t deny that the thought of risking my life does scare me; of course it does, doesn’t it scare everyone? But at the same time, I have to do this. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I just sat back and let others, like Gid, and Fabe and Marlene, put themselves in danger every damned day without a second thought.” She clenched her fists. “Sometimes I feel like they forget that I’m not that seven-year-old girl any more. I mean, I’m eighteen! I’m old enough to do what I want to do. More to the point, I’m old enough to make the same decisions that they made at this age.” She paused. “It’s almost worse coming from Sirius. That really makes me feel guilty. I mean, Gideon, Fabian and Marlene all think they have to be older siblings to me. In some ways they are – but even then, it doesn’t mean that they have to try to run my life for me. Sirius ... he says it all as a friend. And that makes it harder to hear, in a way ... it’s like he means it. Not that the others don’t, but ... it makes me feel more guilty, having to tell him that I’m willing to risk my life like this.” Another pause. “But maybe they’re right? I mean, they’ve all been through so much already. Maybe it’s not fair to have them worrying about me as well as everybody else? Maybe I’m just being selfish-”
“I really don’t think that applying to become an Auror can be termed as a selfish act,” Araminta said, a wry smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I think you should just ignore what they say. They obviously care about your wellbeing, but you could be killed at any time regardless of what profession you choose. I mean – you could get caught up in a riot purely unintentionally, or even something less war-related than that. Nothing is certain in life, as they say.”
Arieda nodded, gazing down.
“You’re right.” She looked up at her companion. “I’m sorry, I’ve just totally poured out all my woes to you. I didn’t mean to, it’s just, I needed to get it off my chest, you know, and-”
“It’s fine.” Araminta shrugged. “I can see why you’d be annoyed. I’d hate to be told not to do what I wanted to.”
“Were your parents and friends cool with you becoming an Auror?”
“My parents died when I was fifteen, and I didn’t really have many friends, I was homeschooled...”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Arieda sounded slightly sheepish.
“It’s okay, you weren’t to know,” Araminta said dully.
They fell silent. Araminta wasn’t sure where they were headed, or even if they were headed anywhere. She herself hadn’t been too fussed about eating, despite what she’d said to Gideon earlier; she’d just wanted to get out. It seemed that Arieda had had the same feeling.
“So, how are things, working with Gideon?” Arieda asked a few minutes later.
“So-so. Depends on what mood he’s in. If he’s in a good mood, he’s nice enough, but if not, he’s a nightmare.”
“He’s been like that for the best part of two years now. He just can’t bring himself to move on, you know? I mean, it was heartbreaking, of course; I understand that better than anyone ... but, the rest of us have managed, and he just ... well, hasn’t.”
“Moved on from what?”
“Louisa’s death, of course.”
Arieda stopped in her tracks. Araminta walked on a couple of steps before realising, grinding to a halt and turning back to face her.
“You mean, he’s not told you?” Arieda looked thunderstruck.
“Not told me about who?”
With Arieda’s next words, it was as though the ground vanished from beneath Araminta’s feet; as though an ice cold hand had seized her heart and squeezed tight.
“My sister ... his wife.”
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