Chapter 20 : A Real Hero
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With the strength of a will and a cause
Your pursuits are called outstanding
You're emotionally complex
A Real Hero - College
Araminta had continued to hope Gideon would come round, feeling certain that he would, eventually. After all, both Arieda and Sirius had seemed so certain of it.
But two weeks had passed since she’d told him of her role as a spy, and she’d only talked to him once since – the confrontation at the Order of the Phoenix’s Headquarters. Since then, he’d managed to avoid her spectacularly. She’d switched rotas for good now, taking up Marlene’s empty space on Scrimgeour’s team while Kingsley Shacklebolt had been moved to work with Fabian.
She had been surprised at first that Moody had allowed her to change rotas. Indeed, they did need someone to fill Marlene’s slot, but it meant that she was working on her own and she had half-expected him to want somebody keeping an eye on her. However, his main reservation had in fact been for her safety.
“Voldemort wanted you to spy on Prewett,” he said gruffly. “What’s he going to say if he finds out we’ve promoted you?”
“I’ll tell him that I had no choice. I’ll have to. I can’t keep working with Gideon; he hates me.”
Moody said the same as Arieda and Sirius.
“He’ll come round...”
“He hasn’t yet,” she pointed out. “I’ll be fine.”
He eyed her for a moment, his expression unreadable.
“I’m not having you on patrol by yourself,” he said. “For your own safety. You can patrol with Dawlish and Williamson.”
She managed to restrain herself from pulling a face.
“And for Merlin’s sake, keep out of Prewett’s way if possible. The last thing we need is for you two to cause a scene in the middle of the MLE.”
She nodded, not wanting to point out that she would hardly be the one causing a scene. But he hadn’t finished.
“I’ll be having a word with Prewett, too. If something’s good enough for Dumbledore, it should bloody well be good enough for him.”
Araminta didn’t say that she thought it was the element of misplaced trust that seemed to be bothering Gideon the most, something that would be entirely unaffected by the reminder of Dumbledore’s trust in her.
“Is that all?” she said.
“That’s all,” he said. “Off you go, then. And look after yourself, we can’t afford to lose another Auror.”
She smiled wryly, and left his office.
The thing that hurt most was that she couldn’t even talk to Gideon about his sister. She’d heard from Fabian that Molly had given birth to a daughter (“So she’d better bloody stop procreating now, because I can’t afford to buy presents for any more nieces or nephews!”) and had wanted to talk to him about it, but she couldn’t even do that.
It was horrible.
She had, however, seen pictures of little Ginevra, as Arieda had visited a few times. She had offered to take Araminta with her on her next visit, but she had declined. For one thing, she thought her presence at the house of a family who were clearly very removed from the Order and the war in general would be a bad move; she certainly didn’t want to endanger them.
For another, it would probably push Gideon over the edge.
She knew that, on top of everything else she’d done, her association with Arieda was annoying him further. In fact, he was evidently annoyed with both of them on that count. She was immensely glad, though, that Arieda had finally seemed to accept her decision, and she was now more friendly than she had been before she had found out.
She’d also provided much needed support. For Araminta’s role as a spy was proving to be much harder than she had anticipated. She would have been able to cope, if it wasn’t for her one-on-one meetings with the Dark Lord, which meant she had to work harder than ever before at keeping her thoughts and memories private. It was beginning to take its toll. She felt exhausted all the time, and was beginning to wonder whether she was cut out for this.
“Of course you are,” Arieda reassured her one evening, after a particularly testing visit. “Put it this way. He clearly thinks a lot of you, if he trusts you so much...”
Araminta pulled a face.
“Thanks for reminding me of that,” she said dryly.
“You don’t feel guilty, do you?”
“Not particularly ... it’s just odd, working against someone who taught me so much and so obviously trusts me. But then, he taught me what he did for his own ends, and he trusts me because he doesn’t think I could possibly think for myself. Which means he doesn’t think much of me...”
“I’d say it’s the opposite. He thinks you’re strong-minded enough to not be swayed-”
“I’d rather believe the former, thanks.”
“But it’s good. I mean, if he thinks you’re strong-minded ... it’s your morals where he underestimates you. Your morals, and your humanity, and your heart. You’re a far stronger woman than he sees. And that’s why you can do this.”
Araminta smiled faintly, feeling slightly better about the situation.
At the end of that week came her most testing challenge yet.
“I’ve heard something that saddens me greatly,” the Dark Lord said softly, his red eyes boring into her. “Is it true that you are no longer working with Gideon Prewett?”
Her heart sank.
“Yes, my Lord,” she said, bowing her head slightly. “Moody decided to promote me, to take McKinnon’s spot. I had no choice but to agree...”
“Araminta, I do not punish people unnecessarily.” She kept her thoughts on that firmly behind her mental shield. “I also value you very much. You have talent, there is no doubting that, and a knack at procuring information.”
She was waiting for the ‘but’.
“But you have failed to get me Gideon Prewett. I have to admit, this disappoints me. I had faith in you. I thought you would be able to hand him to me on a silver platter.” He paused. “Clearly, I have overestimated you.
“We have disposed of Meadowes. This is a step forwards. But that was not thanks to you. Your information has dried up somewhat...”
“I find out little in the Auror office, my Lord.” She looked up at him earnestly. “The paperwork is of past events, it tells me very little, and if they are planning anything then I am not privy to it-”
“This is why I planted you in that Department under Prewett’s watch,” he said slowly. “You were finding out much more when you were working with him. This is a disappointment, Araminta.”
She knew what was coming. She had seen it before, mostly with Avery. But she had never been on the receiving end of a Cruciatus Curse cast by the Dark Lord.
And no matter how much she braced herself, nothing could prepare her for the bone-cracking pain that hit her moments later.
Lily had encouraged Gideon, Fabian, Arieda and Sirius to assemble at Headquarters for dinner with her and James. Gideon really hadn’t fancied seeing Arieda or Sirius, but, fearing Lily’s wrath, he had reluctantly taken up her offer.
So he found himself sitting in the living room with Arieda after dinner, an awkward silence between them. Fabian had left early to meet up with Marlene’s sister Sandrine’s fiancé, and Lily, James and Sirius had remained in the kitchen. He suspected Lily had planned this in an attempt to make him and Arieda talk.
She spoke first.
“Look, I know I’ve upset you, Gid, and I’m really sorry. I won’t excuse what I’m doing. I genuinely trust her, and she needs support and friendship right now. But ... I miss you.”
He didn’t respond.
“Please, Gid, don’t ignore me...”
She was interrupted by the front door banging open.
“Who on earth is that?” she said, frowning.
Gideon half-rose from his chair, but, hearing the others reach the hall first, sank back into it. But when their voices rose, sounding frantic, he leapt up from his chair. Arieda followed suit.
The door to the living room opened.
“-needs Arieda,” Sirius was saying, as he held the door open. “Will here do, Lil?”
“It’ll have to ... careful, James-”
Gideon’s heart leapt to his throat. James followed Lily into the room, cradling an unconscious and bloody woman in his arms. Both Potters seemed slightly bemused at the situation, but were unfazed. Arieda dashed forwards, producing her wand, and James laid the woman down on the treatment table that she had just conjured. The woman’s head rolled to the side, and Gideon’s stomach churned.
“I need my old Healing bag.” Lily, who’d studied Healing before going into hiding with James, swept her hair back into a bun with her wand. “It’s in my room.”
James nodded, and left the room.
“Arieda, she’ll need some clean clothes.”
Arieda followed James.
“I’m helping you,” he said stoutly, stepping forwards.
“Leave, Gideon,” she said firmly, stripping Araminta of her cloak.
“Lil, I want to help-”
“You’re not helping me!” she snapped suddenly.
She took a deep breath, and turned to face him.
“Leave, please.” Her voice was quiet, pleading.
“Come on, leave them to it.”
A hand rested on Gideon’s shoulder, and nudged him towards the door. He sighed, but allowed himself to be steered out of the room, and into the kitchen across from the hall.
“You’ll just get in the way,” Sirius said quietly. He shut the door behind them and Gideon sank into one of the chairs, and lowered his head into his hands. A series of clinking noises told him that Sirius was getting glasses out of one of the cupboards.
“What’s happened to her?”
“Can’t say for sure. Looks like prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus though.”
Gideon yelped, and raised his head, as Sirius slammed a glass of firewhisky down in front of him, another in his own hand.
“Why would they torture her? They think she’s one of them!” A horrible thought dawned on him. “You – you don’t think they’ve found her out, do you?”
“If they’d found her out, she’d be dead,” Sirius said dryly. He tipped his firewhisky down his throat, pulling a face as he swallowed. “No, it’s more likely Voldemort doesn’t think she’s getting information quickly enough. Drink,” he added, topping up his glass.
Gideon looked down at his own glass, and pushed it away.
“I want to help her,” he said firmly. He started to get to his feet.
Sirius rolled his eyes, and leaned back against the kitchen counter.
“For a start, you have minimal Healing expertise. Secondly, I hardly think you’re in the right mental state to help her. Trust me, she’s much better in Lily’s care.”
Gideon sat back down heavily.
“You don’t get it,” he said. “I knew you wouldn’t. I have to help her. It’s my fault she’s like that, I didn’t believe her, she thought she had to prove herself to me-”
“Merlin, I didn’t think you were that big-headed,” he said. “You think this is about you? It’s never been about you. You underestimate her entirely. It’s so, so much bigger than that, so much bigger than you. She’s doing this because she wants to, because she believes it’s the right thing. One of these days, you’ll recognise her loyalty, and her bravery, without having to credit it to yourself. Now drink your bloody firewhisky.”
Gideon glared at him, but couldn’t find the words for what he wanted to say, so he settled for pouring the alcohol down his throat, wincing as it burned. Sirius grinned slightly, refilling the glass as Gideon set it back on the table.
“Why do you care so much about her motives?” he asked, staring at the glass.
Sirius paused for a moment.
“Because I know what it’s like, living with the presumption you’ll become something, just because it’s what’s expected of you. And I know how much it takes to turn your back on that, to become somebody different despite being raised with those expectations. I had the opportunity to see what else I could become, because of other people: James; Remus; Peter; Mary.” His voice cracked. “She’s never had that, before now. She assumed her parents expected her to become a Death Eater. Being homeschooled, she never met anybody outside that circle. She never had the chance to see what else she could be. If you did anything, you nudged her in the right direction. In the end, she took the same path as me. She’s just a few years behind, that’s all.”
“But it’s all too late for her,” he said quietly. “No matter what she thinks, she’s a Death Eater now. She can’t back out from that.”
“And how is she worse off than us? At least she’s not on their death list-”
“So they find her out. What happens? They’ll want her dead. Is that really so different from us?”
Gideon exhaled deeply.
“Is there any point in this? We’re all going to die in the end.”
“It’s not about what happens to us. It’s about what we do in the time we’ve got.”
Gideon looked up at Sirius, who was downing his second glass.
“We’re not going to win this war, are we?”
“With that attitude?”
Gideon sighed, and downed his own firewhisky.
Just then, Arieda entered the kitchen. Gideon sat up sharply, and Sirius pushed himself up away from the counter.
“How is she?” Gideon asked urgently.
“Still unconscious,” she replied, filling a pitcher with water. “Lily’s cleaned her up. She doesn’t seem to have any lasting injuries. She’ll just be exhausted for a few days.”
“Can I see her?”
She turned to face him, raising an eyebrow.
“She’s unconscious, Gid, she’s hardly going to be massively responsive,” she said dryly. “Let her rest, you can see her later.”
She took the glass that Sirius was holding out to her, and smiled in gratitude, before leaving the room.
Sirius filled up their glasses for a third time.
“Why are you so concerned about her?” he asked quietly.
Gideon ignored the question, trying not to confront its answer. Instead, he concentrated on emptying his glass yet again.
“You love her.”
Gideon shook his head slowly, staring down at the table.
“I love Louisa,” he said adamantly.
“You can love more than one person in your lifetime,” Sirius said quietly. “And why hide from it? Merlin knows we could all do with a bit of love and happiness; it’s not as though we know long we’ve got left.”
Gideon squeezed his eyes tight shut.
“But ... she’s nothing like Wheezy. Nothing like her...”
“Sometimes, we fall in love with those who compliment us. Other times, we fall for those we see ourselves in. And I’ve not met anyone more like you than Araminta is. You’re both loyal to a fault, both far too feisty and hot-headed for your own good, and both ridiculously scared of love. Just let it happen.”
He downed his firewhisky, set the glass down on the counter behind him, and crossed the kitchen to the door.
“Sirius-” Gideon began, turning in his seat to face the door.
But he was gone.
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