I’m left with no shoulder
But everybody wants to lean on me
I guess I’m their soldier
But who’s gonna be mine Save the Hero - Beyonce
Araminta was surprised at how nervous she felt when she reached work the next day. Beforehand, she hadn’t given much thought to the consequences of telling someone her secret, but now she was immensely paranoid. She found herself questioning the motives of everyone who so much as glanced her way, and interpreting the looks they gave her as anything from mild curiosity to outright anger. She knew it was daft; it was hardly likely that Moody would have told anyone in the twenty-three hours since he’d left Dumbledore’s office. Nevertheless, she found herself surreptitiously holding her left arm to her side, in case her sleeve dared to rise up and reveal the Dark Mark she had been so carefully hiding. She could almost feel it throbbing – not because the Dark Lord was summoning her, but because its presence was on her mind more than ever before.
Sirius was already in the training room when she reached it.
“Alright?” he said brightly. “Could’ve done with you yesterday; I had to put up with Dawlish’s company and he’s not much of a conversationalist.”
It was the closest to both sympathy and a compliment that she’d get from him and she was glad of it. Things may have changed between her and Moody, and definitely had between her and Arieda, but his words were a reassuring reminder that, as far as anyone else was aware, nothing had changed at all.
She hadn’t thought much about what she was doing when she’d gone to Dumbledore. All that was on her mind was what she’d learnt about her parents’ fate. She’d acted on raw, blind emotion, and done the only thing that had come to her at the time. Now she’d had some time to let things sink in, her actions frankly scared her. That she had acted with so much determination and conviction ... she’d rarely, if ever, done that before, and she wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Not that she regretted what she’d done. After all, it was what her parents would have wanted her to do. She’d done what was right.
The thought that she’d spent the last seven years working for the man who had ordered their deaths was a sickening one. She’d never felt huge loyalty towards the Death Eaters – most Death Eaters didn’t have much loyalty to one another; all there ever was between them was a shared belief in the cause – but she had felt some towards the Dark Lord, who had taken her under his wing when her parents died and continued her education. Now that she knew he’d only done it for his own reasons, that loyalty had been wiped out, trumped by her loyalty to her dead parents , which nothing could vanquish.
She’d been alone for seven years. She had nobody to fight for, except the memories of her parents. And she was determined never to let them down again.
During their lunch break, some news arrived which helped to raise the spirits of the miserable department.
“Karkaroff’s been captured!” Kingsley Shacklebolt told them excitedly when they reached the Atrium.
“Moody’s been tracking him for six months,” Sirius said, the awe in his voice unmistakeable. “He’s finally got him?”
“Brought him in for questioning earlier,” Kingsley said, his grin mirroring Sirius’.
Sirius laughed triumphantly.
“This fight is far from over yet!” he said, his eyes gleaming.
Araminta found it hard to share in their happiness. The capture was good for the Ministry and the Order, particularly as Karkaroff had evaded them for so long, but what would the response be? The Dark Lord would not be pleased, that much was certain. And this, on top of the death of Casimir Travers, which they were sure to discover soon...
She felt sure of one thing. The Dark Lord would seek retribution for these two blows.
She wasn’t surprised when her wrist burned black that evening.
“For the love of Salazar, can a woman not eat these days?” she muttered with irritation, taking the pan of stew she had been heating off the stove. The Dark Lord certainly wouldn’t wait for anything or anybody, not even an angry stomach.
Trepidation overcame her irritation. She hadn’t been summoned in months. The Dark Lord preferred to keep his distance from her, so that her actions wouldn’t be traced back to him. Her summons had to be a response, either to Karkaroff’s capture or the discovery of Travers’ body. She wasn’t sure which she’d prefer.
Of course, it was possible that it was both. That would not be a recipe for a good evening.
Once she’d conjured her robes and mask and checked that her mental defences were in place, she Disapparated, allowing the Mark to take her wherever she was required.
‘Wherever’ turned out to be the house in Wimbourne, which she suspected the Averys owned and which had recently become their headquarters. After all, even an evil overlord needed somewhere to sleep.
Araminta was extremely disappointed to see Bellatrix already present when she arrived. As usual her mask was off; she didn’t care he knew her identity. Indeed, she was almost as well-known a figure as the Dark Lord himself so there was little point of her ever donning a mask.
Araminta had put her own mask on only out of uncertainty over who would be present. Most, if not all, of the inner circle knew of her existence – the Dark Lord felt he could trust them all, or at least had done at the time they had become aware of her role. He had become more wary recently, she had gathered through the grapevine.
“Ah, our porcelain doll has chosen to grace us with her presence.”
There were two things about Bellatrix which particularly irritated Araminta. One of them was her uncanny knack of identifying her even with a cloak and mask on. The other was her insistence on calling her their ‘porcelain doll’, which she knew was not just a comment on her complexion, but a jibe at her perceived fragility. Unfortunately, her refusal to kill Marlene hadn’t done anything to change this perception.
“Bellatrix,” she replied in clipped tones, removing her mask, whose presence had now been rendered pointless. But every cloud had a silver lining, she considered; they weren’t at all comfortable to wear.
“I assume you’ve heard the terrible news?” Bellatrix continued, her tone making it clear that the news hadn’t moved her at all.
Araminta wasn’t sure if Bellatrix expected her to be upset or if she was trying to catch her out by seeing if she was less upset than she should be. Either way, she had more than an inkling as to what news Bellatrix was referring to.
“What news?” she asked innocently.
“You mean, you don’t know?” Bellatrix’s eyes widened in mock sympathy. “Oh, that’s so awful-”
For a split second, an irritated expression crossed Bellatrix’s face, before being replaced by the simpering expression she normally wore around the Dark Lord, who’d just swept into the room. Behind him was a man whose presence caused Araminta’s heart to sink.
With all the goings-on between her and Gideon, and with Casimir Travers, she’d completely forgotten about his younger brother – and, more specifically, about the intimacy he’d shown towards her.
She pushed those thoughts out of her mind, and sank into a low bow in synchronisation with her fellow Death Eaters.
“We have received some bad news,” the Dark Lord said, ignoring their actions. “On a patrol of the local area earlier today, Bellatrix found the dead body of Casimir Travers. It is obviously the Order’s doing, and we will not allow them to get away with such a callous act.”
It didn’t seem to occur to him – indeed, any of them – that breaking into an Order member’s flat at the dead of night in an attempt to take him unawares and dispose of him in the simplest way possible was just as callous, Araminta thought wryly.
Crispin, who was still standing beside the Dark Lord, seemed unmoved by the news. This didn’t surprise Araminta. He was one of many victims of the ‘heir and a spare’ mantra which many pureblood families followed. It meant he’d had to stand by and watch as his brother got the money and the girl. Once upon a time she’d felt sorry for him, but as she looked at him now, all she could remember was the callous way he’d killed Sandrine McKinnon three days previously, and all she felt towards him now was disgust and loathing.
She was slightly nervous of what he might do now that his brother was out of the picture. Regardless of he really felt towards her, there was the distinct possibility that he would now want to marry her himself. After all, there was nothing purebloods liked more than trophy wives. She didn’t think she could bear the prospect of another arranged pureblood marriage to a Travers.
On top of that, Casimir, as the eldest son, had recently inherited most of his parents’ wealth. That would now be hers, she realised. Crispin, however, had inherited very little, so would certainly benefit from marrying her.
She bit her lip, as it dawned on her that there were only two ways she could get out of such a situation. The first would be to denounce the Dark Lord – which would make her a most unsuitable wife - but she’d already ruled that out. The second was to rely on the Dark Lord to help her cause. The fact that she was overage and had no parents to organise her life for her was irrelevant if he thought a marriage necessary.
The Dark Lord was still talking; she tuned back into him.
“...we will stop at nothing to punish them for what they have done. I intend on stepping up our campaign. I have received information on Dorcas Meadowes’ whereabouts, and I plan to utilise this information as soon as possible. We were thwarted by the Order when Gideon Prewett evaded us, but I hope it will only be a matter of time before we find him and his brother.” Araminta sensed the Dark Lord’s gaze on her, and double-checked her mental defences; it wouldn’t do for him to find out that she had already been to his new residence. “We have dealt them a severe blow by wiping out the McKinnons; I am told that the Prewetts are both miserably grieving...”
The comment was rewarded, as he had clearly hoped, by cruel laughter from the Death Eaters. Araminta felt her blood boil.
“My Lord,” she spoke up, stepping forwards. “I have news from the Auror department, I don’t know if you’ve heard...”
She hadn’t planned on telling him, hadn’t wanted to anger him further, but after that dig at Gideon and Fabian she wanted to annoy him. Besides, it would possibly be too unrealistic if she hadn’t heard about Karkaroff. After the weekend’s events, it would be best to get back in his good books by providing him with as much information as possible, even if it was bad.
“Good news?” the Dark Lord asked.
“Sadly not. Moody has captured Karkaroff.”
The room filled with groans and curses.
“I knew he’d get himself caught one day, the oaf,” Bellatrix declared.
“This is, indeed, most unfortunate,” the Dark Lord said slowly. “We will need to recalculate accordingly...”
Araminta would normally have zoned out at this point. Such conversations didn’t involve her, as her role never changed, and none of the other Death Eaters’ jobs affected her. This time, however, she listened carefully to everything said, intending to deliver the information back to Moody.
Once the Dark Lord had finished barking out his instructions, he dismissed everyone else but requested that Araminta stay.
Her stomach churned as she approached him.
“You have done well so far, Araminta,” he began. She mentally winced; ‘well’ was not a compliment. “Unfortunately, the Order were one step ahead of us and moved Prewett; if they hadn’t, we’d have disposed of him.”
And she’d have achieved one of her main aims within the first two months, she considered wryly.
“You can find out more, though. I need you to find out more. Travers’ death changes things.” He paused. “I want to you bring all information straight to me in the future.”
“Somebody told the Order that we knew of his address. This is unacceptable, and unforgiveable. You are one of the few people I know I can trust.”
“Thank you, my Lord. But how will I contact you?”
The Dark Lord tended to be unreachable except when he summoned his followers to him.
“I will call for you twice a week. If you have anything more urgent, then you will go through Bella. She can be reached easily once you know how.”
She hid another wince. The Dark Lord liked to encourage rivalry amongst his followers; it generally led to competition between them, ending in better results. She and Bellatrix, as the two most powerful women within the Death Eaters, and two of the Dark Lord’s most trusted lieutenants, were obvious candidates for rivalry, and it was clear to Araminta that Bellatrix felt threatened by her. This would certainly convince Bellatrix she had the upper hand.
“You may go now,” the Dark Lord finished.
Araminta didn’t need to be told twice. She nodded in gratitude, then took a step backwards and Disapparated.
Once back at her flat, she fell into her sofa, running her hair through her hands. Her head hurt. Never before had she had to be so careful to keep her thoughts to herself. There were people in the Ministry who could perform Legilimency, so she naturally kept her defences up at all times, but this was the first time she’d ever had to hide anything from a Legilimens as gifted as the Dark Lord. Indeed, perhaps only Dumbledore was more gifted than him. The hardest part had been trying to keep her confrontation with Travers, her conversation with Dumbledore and that incident with Gideon locked away, without letting him see she was hiding anything. She’d never had to hide anything from the Dark Lord before, so doing so now would look ridiculously suspicious.
She hadn’t realised just how hard this would be. She hadn’t expected it to be easy, but nor had she expected that one day would test her to her limit. Added to that, she now had to see the Dark Lord twice a week, which would only challenge her resolve more. She was beginning to wonder if she had it in her. But she couldn’t give up. Failure wasn’t an option; too many people were relying on her. She groaned in aggravation, leaning forwards and burying her head in her hands.
Right now, all she wanted to do was to see Gideon. She hated that fact, hated how vulnerable it made her feel. And she hated the thought of poor old Gideon, alone in his flat, mourning the loss of his best friend in the world. But she had made a promise to Arieda, and the evening’s events had just proven how hard this double-crossing would be. Letting herself get more involved with him would only make things worse. And she couldn’t, she wouldn’t, let herself put Gideon in any more danger.