Chapter 12 : Cold, Shaking, Seething
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 24|
Background: Font color:
Victus: Cedric Diggory, Tonks Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Rufus Scrimgeour, Fred Weasley
Mortuus: Vincent Crabbe, Colin Creevey, James Potter, Lily Potter, Severus Snape
From the moment Tonks’s face touched the curling silver froth within the Pensieve, she could feel winter’s chill coating her throat, forming ice crystals on her fingers and in the strands of her hair. It crept up all around her while simultaneously pulling her down, down, down; dragging her deeper into its smoggy depths. She was falling, standing, and also sitting still – three contradictory poses – and before she could figure out which one was real, the many pairs of eyes all around her had blinked, now hanging in blackness as stars.
The stars rocked back and forth as the ground shifted beneath her feet. Cold air lashed at her exposed skin. Tonks’s hands slithered up to her shoulders, feeling the weather-beaten flesh there under long, skinny fingers. Looking down, she saw that she wore only a moldy old towel fastened into a toga of sorts. Her ears had grown – long, drooping, and sprouting with cottony hair – while the rest of her had shrunk at least three feet.
“Tibbus,” someone growled at her, “What are you doing? Didn’t I just order you to go down and clean the lavatories? There’s vomit everywhere.” It was a beast of a man with only one eye. The eyebrow over his missing eye smeared down across a blank expanse of translucent skin, fused with eyelashes sewn onto his cheek. “Someone’s got to mop up after these seasick brutes.”
“Yes – yes of course, sir.” The man stalked away, muttering to himself, and Tonks tentatively took a step in the opposite direction. One decoy down, twenty-nine to go. Remembering what Ptolemy had said about opponents being spaced evenly apart from each other, she tried to memorize each face as she passed them, so that she could file them into the decoy category. There were men, women, goblins, and even a few children. She never saw another elf. But I wouldn’t, would I? Good, obedient elves are never seen or heard. Realizing that wandering around in the open would probably make her a bit more conspicuous, Tonks drifted off through a door with round windows on both panels. Once inside, there was a white metal stairway leading up to her right, and another one spiraling down to the left.
Up, of course. You’ll be wanting a bird’s-eye view. She was so busy darting up the steps that she failed to hear the clomping of someone turning up the landing from below. Even if she had paid attention, however, she would not have seen anyone. Lily Potter was searching for a door that would lead to one of the decks, feeling ill from the toss and sway of the ocean’s bowels. Besides being dressed like a forty-year-old woman wearing a gentleman’s tailcoat and a ridiculously inappropriate corset dress that was little more than lingerie, she was of course invisible to Tonks. Those on opposite teams could not see one another.
Lily peered through the circular window on a swinging door, relieved that this memory took place at night. Judging by the brightness of the stars and the moon’s position, she estimated that it was probably close to one in the morning. Her relief stammered a bit – while darkness would help to obscure her, the presence of anyone at all would be twice as meaningful to the four other people on her team. Most on board the ship would surely be sleeping by now, which meant there would be few crowds to blend into. Every person must be counted as a suspect, an enemy. No one would pass unnoticed.
Now there was just the matter of her appearance.
She bit down on her lip and quietly peeled off her gaudy scarlet stockings, flipping them inside-out so that the backwards pattern looked even cheaper and low-class than before. It enraged her that the committee had chosen such a passenger for her to replace, and knew they’d done it on purpose to try to level out the playing field. She was used to going into rounds with intentionally-delegated disadvantages, so this didn’t surprise her. It was the dead of winter, and the air was freezing enough without being clothed in lacy rags, but she could not let this show. Lily understood the importance of becoming someone she was not.
She yanked two buttons off of her coat and scuffed her shoes against the door frame. When she was certain that she looked as atrocious as possible, Lily arranged her rose-painted lips into a wide, infectious grin, pushed through the door, and sashayed down the deck as fast as her heels could carry her. No one would approach her, no one would touch her. If she wasn’t trying to fly under the radar, then no one had any reason to think this woman was Mrs. Potter. She was ostentatious, and therefore hidden.
She passed a man in round, wire-rimmed glasses and close-cropped gray hair, winking brazenly at him before locating somewhere obvious, yet easily ignored to sit and wait. On the very top deck, tucked into the mast’s rigging, a small troupe of tables sat alongside a shroud spun from venom-green silk. An aging fop with wine stains on his doublet sat at one, sipping champagne from a flute. His gold pocket watch was held up to one eye as his other watched the approaching woman with a knowing gleam. He smiled and the watch clicked, transforming into a shining gold coin. He pushed it across the table with two ring-adorned fingers as Lily sat down.
Out of the forty people on the Admiral Murman, he might have been one of the four she was destined to destroy. Her sly smile stalled for a moment, reading his gaze with practiced precision. If he wasn’t a decoy, he might try to attack her before she attacked him. Was it better to jinx him and see what happened? If she froze for five minutes in her present position, no one might notice. She would seem quite normal, seated opposite a drunken dandy as if waiting for him to make her an offer.
“Vat keeps you awake at such an hour?” he inquired in a husky voice, tipping the brim of his bowler hat in greeting.
Lily kept her expression neutral, crossing her legs under the table. “I couldn’t sleep,” she replied. “Saw you from across the way and thought you looked like you could use some company.” She paused. “Could you call a drink over for me?”
He blinked. “Of course.” He snapped his fingers at an elf scurrying by. “Elf! Fetch my friend a drink.” The elf squeaked a reply and disappeared with a pop. “Excuse me, dear madam. Vould you mind my asking your name? You sound very…” – he twirled his fingers near one ear, procuring another shining gold medallion – “foreign.”
She eyed him steadily. “You sound Bulgarian.”
He nodded in concurrence. “I am.”
“It’s very interesting, then, that your watch was engraved with the Serbian coat of arms. Do you have family in Serbia?”
The man studied her. “I do not know vat you are talking about.” He spun his medallion in his fingers and it, too, transfigured into a pocket watch. “This is Bulgarian.”
Lily’s heart beat in her throat. “Are you sure about that?”
His gaze dropped sharply to her left hand, which was resting over the first coin. It did not tremble. Lily opened up her mouth again, ready to ask him what his favorite city in Bulgaria might be, but was interrupted by the groaning of an empty chair to her right, situated directly between herself and the man. The chair was moving away from the table as if a ghost had pulled it out. It then creaked back into place, admitting an unseen third member to their party.
Neither Lily nor the man moved. The chair continued to creak as someone inside it shifted their weight. The Bulgarian’s champagne flute floated towards an undetectable mouth and the bubbly liquid began to drain into thin air.
Both Lily and the gentleman struggled to come up with an acceptable reaction; their equally nervous body language was enough to give away that neither was a decoy. Both swiftly pulled out their wands, about to fire, when the ground slipped out from underneath them. Their table flipped, doing a cartwheel in midair, as all three people sitting there were spilled all over the deck.
Gravity was turning, writhing to eject them from the ship. Lily wiped the hair out of her face with one arm, pointing her wand all around, but couldn’t stop smashing into other people long enough to be sure of a direct hit on the gentleman. Who was he? Crabbe? Creevey? But no, she knew it couldn’t be either of them.
She already knew his identity; she’d known it the second words issued from his lips.
The Admiral Murman was sinking at a slanted angle, sending various passengers on the top deck rolling downward to the bow. Nearby, every other table except for Lily’s had remained attached to the floorboards, secured with iron grips. Lily shrieked as a torrent of water sloshed over the deck and soaked her; at the same time, white-hot gossamer threads were forming all around the ship in a protective bubble, converging with each other in one huge dome. As the ship slipped further and further underwater, the bubble expanded to encompass every inch of it. The threads flickered, individual jagged streaks of lightning. Soon, with the ocean rushing past their filmy veneer, close enough to the railing for Lily to reach out with her hand and touch it if she so desired, she found that she could barely even see her hands in front of her own face.
Lanterns lit up the deck one by one, hissing with a ghoulish blaze in the green-tinged underworld. Seawater rushed past, murmuring with the sounds of its creatures. Condensation speckled tabletops and the railings now, and even the thin handles of wobbling lanterns, rising into puddles that reeked of mold. The ship had righted itself, the Captain barreling along twenty feet below the ocean’s surface. A huge light bulb directly below the bowsprit spurned to life; it was the oil-burning lamp of a lighthouse, rotating with flash after flash of cerulean blue as the ship burrowed into clouds of murky darkness at the speed of a freight train.
Lily kicked off her shoes so that she could more easily maintain her balance, sliding one hand along the rail as she picked her way toward the other end of the ship. Her fingers traipsed over something sticky, binding them together, and she jumped away from the railing. Dense, jet-black webbing clung between the four bars that encircled the ship. They had to have been woven by acromantulas of some spooky breed, and she fretfully began to imagine milky eyes and clicking pincers. She wiped her glued-together fingers onto her coat, trying to flex them apart, while maintaining a healthy distance from the railing.
Dim lamplight shuddered all around her, turning on and off like the flashes of a camera. It burned projections of green flames into her retinas, following her tunnel vision everywhere she looked. She stopped for a second, pawing in frustration at her eyes. By the time she’d collected herself enough to both walk and see, she’d lost sight of her enemy amidst a swarm of slick black cloaks. The livewire bubble acted as canvas on a drum, throwing their reverberating voices back at them in echoing quivers.
“Too much turbulence!” someone yelled over the blast of a whistle. “Where’s Bronstad?” The shadow of a colossal sea monster temporarily cloaked the ship in dark blurs as it swam overhead, its tentacles thumping against the enchanted shield with dull knocks. The ocean’s pressure was powerful, sealing humidity inside the bubble like a hot spring.
Someone replied to him in a harsh string of Hungarian, ripping off their grease-saturated gloves and pitching them onto a tabletop. In the very middle of the swarm, one man tapped another on the shoulder and spoke to him.
“We need more fuel, Captain.”
The man who’d been stopped stared blankly back at him.
“Fosberg wants to take her back up,” the sailing master reported, scuffing his boots heavily against the floor to rid them of a squelching grime that reeked of squid carcasses. He held up a corroded lantern in one hand that was lit by a phosphorescent phantom caged inside, like a hinkypunk but far more otherworldly. The phantom was small and soft-bodied with incandescent vermilion flesh, no discernible eyes, and a wide slit for a mouth that sucked at the air with whistling gasps. Blood-colored ooze seeped through cracks between the lantern’s glass walls and hinges, dripping all over the floor. The substance stuck to the soles of shoes and left residue stamped behind wherever people walked, enabling everyone’s footprints to glow in the dark. “It takes less fuel to operate along top, but I figure we can probably make it to Bear Island instead of Kolguyev to refill, if you want to keep at this speed.”
Captain Bronstad nodded, his coal-black eyes inscrutable. Bathed in the phantom’s wicked red light, he embodied the illusion of being without a soul, as the Captain was always rumored to be.
“Keep straight!” the sailing master shouted. Several men huddling in a corner, puffing on pipes and taking swigs of gin, scowled hatefully at Bronstad. Bronstad didn’t notice. He kept walking, ignoring his men without apology, because he wasn’t Bronstad at all.
He was Cedric Diggory.
He’d had the opportunity already to attack both Fred (who was part of the rigging crew; Fred had been doing his job so thoroughly that he might have forgotten he was in a tournament) and Pettigrew (who kept going round in circles, getting too close to people), but had refrained. Cedric might not be the captain of a ship, but he’d once been the captain of a Quidditch team, and he knew a thing or two about not pointing out weaknesses in those he meant to conquer to his other foes – or at least not straight away. It was all in the timing, in the careful calculation.
As Cedric saw it, his biggest threats were Tonks Lupin and Rufus Scrimgeour. Both were important people, both had received training in how to fight. They knew quite a lot about magical combat; therefore, it was imperative to throw them out of the races as early as possible, leaving Cedric with weaker foes like Fred and Pettigrew for later on. They were already easy enough to spot, since neither had bothered to mask their voices with accents, and there were numerous times he could have hexed either one of them.
His biggest opportunity was when Fred had accidentally walked right through a ghost while performing charms to silence his footsteps, which evidently fell under the category of attacking a decoy since he had his wand out. While others failed to notice the man frozen in place for several minutes, Cedric was able to keenly observe the goings-on all around him with patience, and did not strike. What would it have accomplished if he had? It would have left Cedric stuck with some bloodthirsty witch or wizard for the rest of June, thereby decreasing his chances of winning.
Just like Fred, Mr. Diggory greatly enjoyed a tough challenge. He genuinely looked forward to seeing what made his teammates tick, and skillfully deciding the best courses of action without leaping too quickly. So when he caught sight of the boatswain once again being shouldered about by a group of men speaking an eclectic mix of Russian and Swedish, he still did not stir.
Peter, who of course was the boatswain, had other things on his mind besides the endless questions being pelted at him in a tongue he didn’t understand. He was busy laying a trap.
The task of nicking someone’s wallet was quite a tricky one since he couldn’t risk pulling his wand on one of the decoys. He would have to rely on sleight of hand, which was admittedly not his forte. Peter followed a trail of crimson footprints made by a batch of men, ducking after them through a pair of door. Once inside, they swerved to the left in a mechanical marching formation, boots thudding in perfect synchronization. He would have to work fast if he wanted to avoid drawing attention to himself.
Very carefully, and hoping ardently that this didn’t constitute as an attack on a decoy, Peter slipped three fingers into a man’s back pocket and eased out a pouch heavy with gold and a rather large key. The man stopped for a moment to reach around and scratch his back, but didn’t pay Peter any mind. Peter stopped on the second landing while the rest of the men continued onward, closing his eyes and leaning against a wall. Sweat dotted his ginger eyebrows, running down the creases in his face with salt and black grease. Maybe I won’t have to lose, after all…
That’s what they thought would happen, didn’t they? Sirius and James and Remus. They thought that by forcing Peter to sign up for the Devil’s Duel so that he could serve his penance, he would end up in last place. Maybe James was hoping it would come down between Lily and Peter so that everyone could watch the infamous Mrs. Potter rip Peter’s soul limb from limb. He deserved to put himself at risk, they’d said. He deserved a little bit of danger after everything he’d put them through. Maybe, just like they’d always done ever since their Hogwarts days, the three other men had quite underestimated Peter Pettigrew.
One of the men further down was hollering at someone else in another language. They’d apparently come to a bewitched door that required a key to be unlocked – the very thing Peter had just stolen. Disbelieving of his luck, Peter took the stairs three at a time to run back to the top deck, and then transformed into a rat. Safely muted under the shadows of a broken table, Peter watched with beady eyes as a man in a brass-button jacket kicked the door open, wand brandished.
The man shoved people out of his way, eyes aglow with green mist as he scanned the scrubbed wooden deck. Walking against the grain, his mouth set in a sneer and his wand aloft over a horde of heads, he made for an obvious target, indeed. He looked every bit the type of gormless idiot who might stomp instead of creep, yell instead of listen; he looked like he could be someone so absorbed in winning a tournament that he decided to aggressively search for his competitors instead of waiting for them to happen by.
And Peter knew that someone else would be watching for this type of idiot. They would be counting on it, probably desperate for it by now. Peter had waited just long enough to set his plan in motion that the other people on his team would be anxious enough to fidget, wondering when someone else would vanquish yet another someone else without them having to get involved themselves.
It wasn’t long before someone took the bait.
That 'someone' came in the form of a small, sprightly cabin boy, his slick-backed hair now falling into his eyes. There was a wide, spreading stain of champagne on his white jacket lapel as though he'd been taking a sip of it just as the ship descended underwater, throwing him off-balance. He staggered forward, shoulders hunched with his eyes shifting from side to side. They finally locked on the crewman who was tearing up the place looking for his missing key and money pouch, and a serrated sort of smile formed on his pallid face. It was Rufus Scrimgeour, who'd been scouring the boat with fierce intensity, listening for familiar voices he hoped might present themselves. He'd been waiting impatiently for someone foolish and aggressive to slip out of the woodwork, someone rash like Fred Weasley. He knew the Weasleys; their lot couldn't sit still even if they were paralyzed. In his knowledgeable opinion, it was only a matter of time before Fred exposed himself.
Ahh, yes, Mr. Weasley, Rufus thought with a feral grin. I’ve got you now, you flaunting little pillock. His hand scraped around in his pocket and he triumphantly aimed his wand at the man’s chest. “Petrificus Totalus!”
Instead of the enraged crewman and suspected Weasley falling rigid, however, Rufus found that he himself could no longer move. His heart sank, realizing that he'd been wrong. Now he would have to stand there for five horrible minutes, utterly susceptible to his four enemies lurking around the ship. Not twenty seconds lapsed before a rather sizable rat wormed its way out from underneath a chair that had just been tipped over seemingly by no one – doubling, tripling, quadrupling in size – until he sprang upwards like a contortionist, face to face with Rufus. He met him with a mocking smirk that matched the one frozen on Rufus’s face.
“Which one are you?” he asked. There was no response, as Rufus’s tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. “Remus’s wife?” He jerked his wand. “Expulso.”
Rufus was thrown high into the air, still stiff as a board. His eyes were watering in pain; he’d landed with his head cracked against the railing, most likely fracturing his skull. Peter’s eyes were bright with victory, a broad smile twisting his face. He could feel Remus’s and Sirius’s repugnance from their perches in the stadium beyond, looking down on their old friend Wormtail.
Wormtail. Of all the things I could have been called. Of all the animals I could have turned into. Wormtail.
“EXPULSO!” he roared again, and this time, Scrimgeour was hoisted off the ship altogether. The curse thrust him right through the massive Bubble-Head Charm with a guttural ripping noise. A throng of merpeople following the Admiral Murman’s slipstream squealed and scattered, voicing their ire as they escaped into an underwater tomb of Muggle naval mines, their outlines soon bogged down with silt. Rufus’s body briefly snagged in a current flowing in the opposite direction of the ship before abruptly disappearing. And then Peter, with his vindictive grin, and Tonks, who was trailing a decoy she believed to be Fred, and the real Fred, who had raised his wand at Cedric with a jinx inching up his throat like an oath – all vanished as well.
The crewman patted at his suddenly heavy pocket, discovering his money and key.
“We need a repairman over here!” someone called. The crowd from twenty or so minutes ago had long dispersed, having finally returned to their beds. A scant assortment of night owl passengers and crew members trickled over, scratching their heads when they saw the slash in the bubble. Water had begun to spray into the boat.
“Stubborn Alrik,” someone muttered. “Should’ve brought her to the surface as soon as we knew our fuel was running low. Now we’ve got a leak to deal with on top of everything else.”
“Don’t got much of a choice but to raise the boat,” the ghost of a witch chipped in. She was doubled over in a crow’s nest, way up high, both hands cupping her foggy mouth. Not too far from her head, one of the sails was threatening to snap under an assault of wind. That sail was crafted from a thestral’s wing, the bones clearly visible through thin, inky skin. Dragon wings had been utilized for the larger sails instead of thestral. “Lars, go tell Laakso. Be quick about it, before this tear gets bigger.”
Minutes later, the tear had eaten up another six feet, and ocean water was surging onto the deck. The ship’s bow was beginning to crank upward, everyone and everything within the Admiral Murman that wasn’t latched to the rails tumbling toward the sinking stern. Among the tumbling were Vincent, who was a lowly swab, and Colin, who was a goblin. Up until the ship upended him, he was making a rather convincing portrayal of a goblin scratching down coordinates in a logbook. It was all Lily Potter could manage to not go toppling along the tilted deck with them. Only experience and brutal determination prevented gravity from winning.
Lily grasped the leg of a table with both hands, grimacing as she heaved herself up in a tightly-coiled ball next to it. She hoped that someone else might fall off the ship altogether due to the abrupt swing in axis, but so far her teammates were showing a remarkable aptitude for endurance.
The ship’s speed boosted, propelling heavenward while the passengers clung to various pieces of furniture for dear life. Down in the cabins, a hundred people slept peacefully, blissfully unaware. The sea spurted all around them, inviting rivers of water to cascade down the front end of the ship all the way to the back and over the stern’s railings, pouring also through holes now beginning to puncture the Bubble-Head charm with sizzling static pops. Lily found herself much too close to a rip in the force field for comfort; it sprayed at her with such inexorable power that she couldn’t even blink against it. She tried to turn away, the rims of her eyes pink and burning. Someone was scrabbling around at the table opposite her, digging the toes of their shoes into cracks between floorboards for purchase.
The Murman screeched in protest, a choir of grinding machinery down in steerage clanging up stairways and into Lily’s ears. Water flooded past, gurgling loudly; a two-headed octopus landed somewhere near Lily’s ankle but was promptly crushed by the elbow of a somersaulting goblin. Lily squinted through the mist, trying to discern whether or not that goblin could be someone she knew – for she surmised that those used to the ups and downs of a ship of this sort would have the wits to hunker down somewhere sheltered – but she couldn’t see anything except for the man stranded under a nearby table. He was watching her, too, quite closely, through his round-rimmed spectacles.
Lily’s eyes wandered up to his short gray hair and then back down to his mouth, which had gone slack. The ship broke the surface just then with a mighty splash, rendering every ear deaf to all noise except for the spit of angry seawater. Stars popped into being all around them. The night was cold and dark – freezing when wet – with a swollen white moon rising formidably behind the man’s head. Looming over Lily, the Dark Horse nebula lay silhouetted against glittering star clouds. She looked so lonely and remote far beneath it, waiting painfully for him to make a move. She was trapped. The nebula horse seemed to kick, toss its mane.
Her teeth were chattering. Her clothing was waterlogged, twice as heavy as usual and sticking to her skin like elastic. Her lips had gone frightfully blue, eyes wide with dread as she gazed back at him. A deer in the headlights.
She looked so terrified just then, so guilty. He didn’t quite understand why, but he couldn’t dwell on it for long. This woman was not Lily, but then again she was, and he’d missed her – oh, how he had missed her, it burned up his ribcage with Fiendfyre – but if only he could see her eyes, her real eyes…
This had been his one concern, his only reason for entering the races. He’d wanted to draw her out into the open so that she would have to talk to him. He was not afraid of what consequences that might bring. Severus was no stranger to risk.
Her face softened, bloodless lips parting to respond. He could feel her building up something strong from deep down inside, pushing it up and up. She closed her eyes. “Severus, I’m –”
There was a whispering rush of wind and topaz radiance, and suddenly Lily was blasted sideways onto the floor, revolving with sickening crunches as she rolled until the ship leveled itself out over the ravenous black waves. The ship was coursing smoothly along now, above the surface like any other ordinary ship, but water still soaked every inch of the top deck. An elegantly-dressed older man in a bowler hat jumped down from one of the wooden beams holding up a mast, muscles tightly clenched. His eyes appraised Lily’s form, limp as death, with miserable conviction. Severus could not move. He could not talk. He could not think.
That woman did not resemble Severus’s beloved Lily in physical features, but in unconsciousness she lay just as slumped, just as defeated, as she had so many years ago on the carpet of Harry’s bedroom. The image of her death had plagued his dreams for thousands of damp, screaming nights, and here it was again. He was drowning face-down in ethereal flashes of the past and could not bring himself to realize that she wasn’t really dead.
The gentleman who’d attacked her strode forth to kneel at her side, scooping her body into his arms. He cradled her to his chest and smoothed away the stringy brown fringe plastered to her eyebrows, planting a soft kiss on her forehead. He then walked over to the railing, whispering something to her in a low, soothing tone. Severus closed his eyes, blinking away the hot, surprised tears. He didn’t watch, but he could still hear the awful sound it made when she was dropped into the ocean. How cold Lily must be down there in the deep, in the dark…
Severus’s eyes snapped up to the gentleman, who was piercing him with a scathing look. Severus felt his face crumple with fury, instantly hating this man more than he ever had in his life. This would mark the second time James Potter took Lily from him.
As they were all wiped away, dissolving from the memory of Captain Alrik Bronstad, Severus had only one thought, and that was that Lily did not belong to him. She was still gone forever, out of his reach; he could die for her a thousand times over and she would still not want him. He thought he’d felt it before in his heart, in fissures and snaps and aches, but that was nothing.
This must be what it feels like to be dead.
And then there were eight!
What did you think of the first round? I’m very excited to get to the other ones. Since there will be fewer people to feature as each round passes, I’ll be able to give all of the contestants increasingly more face-time, which I couldn’t really do in this chapter because then it would have taken ages for the plot to move forward.
Also, I want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of my lovely reviewers. You guys are awesome. :)
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Other Similar Stories