I just wanna run to you
And break off the chains
And throw them away Saviour - Lights
“This is going to require everyone we’ve got. If their entire inner circle will be there...”
“But surely it’s too good an opportunity to miss? All of them assembled in one place, totally unprepared for an ambush...”
“We’ll have to make sure we know how to get through their wards. We need to take them by surprise, and the best way of doing that is by Apparating in, right on top of them.”
“I’d rather not land right on top of a Death Eater, thanks.”
“Not literally, you idiot!”
“Wish I could come.” James sounded morose and wishful, as he bounced Harry on his knee.
His comment prompted a series of sympathetic responses.
“I wish you could be there too, mate.”
“Are you kidding? You’ll be sitting here, cosy as anything, with your feet up, while we’re risking our lives! You can quit moaning, Potter!”
The small group was assembled round the kitchen table at the Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters. Moody was leading proceedings, looking positively alarming with half of his nose gone, though the wound was thankfully now much cleaner than it had been earlier that day. He was joined by Gideon, Arieda and Sirius, who were all cut and bruised from the evening’s earlier events, James and Lily, who were both still valued tacticians for the Order, and Araminta, who felt slightly uncomfortable sitting amongst so many of the Dark Lord’s main targets. She found it utterly fascinating listening to them plan the raid on the house in Wimbourne.
Sirius then turned to her, reminding her why she was there – they needed an insider’s knowledge in order to perfect the operation.
“Can you tell us where you’ll all be standing in the room?”
The drawings they were poring over included the accurate floor plan of the house she’d drawn up for them and she’d already identified the room they would meet in.
“What, you think they’ll have to stand in a particular place?”
“Yes, actually,” she cut in quietly.
He stared at her, gobsmacked.
“The Dark Lord is very big on hierarchy,” she said. “We all have to stand in a circle around him. I get to stand next to my best friend, Bellatrix.”
“Good to know it’s not just us blood traitors she doesn’t get on with,” he said. “In that case, let us know where you all stand, so we can plan our Apparition points accordingly. I really don’t fancy landing on top of Amycus Carrow.”
Everyone shuddered at the thought.
“How many of you will there be?” Arieda asked.
Araminta attempted a quick mental count.
“About ... thirty or so, perhaps?”
“Do we have those numbers?” Lily said worriedly. “Especially if Voldemort himself will be there...”
“We can gather up enough people easily,” Gideon said confidently. “Remember, we’ll have the element of surprise here. We can come up with a plan of action, to counteract any weaknesses we have.”
“We’ve lost two of our best duellers recently,” Lily reminded him.
“Don’t you want us to take more of them down?”
“Not at the expense of any of you.”
“We’ll have the numbers,” Moody said confidently. “Prewett is right, we can come up with a plan to help us along, but don’t expect things to stick to plan for very long.”
“Right. So, if you’ll all be assembled in a circle...”
They planned all night and Araminta was truly exhausted the next day. If it wasn’t for the adrenaline that ran through her at the thought of the next day’s events, she thought she might have fallen asleep on her feet. She was both excited and terrified in equal measure.
If this went well ... it would be a huge step forwards for the Ministry and the Order.
If it went wrong ... the Order could be decimated.
And it would be her fault.
Everything went according to plan.
The Death Eaters all arrived as expected. Araminta’s Dark Mark had burned; clearly the Dark Lord didn’t trust his inner circle to arrange their social diaries accordingly, and wanted to be certain that they would turn up. Either that, or he wanted to make sure that Avery had no excuse for not attending the Dark Lord’s Cruciatus Curse practice session – for that was clearly how the night would progress.
Or at least, it was how both the Dark Lord and Avery expected it would progress.
They assembled in the circle which Araminta had described to the Order. She had pointed out her own position, so they would know which hooded figure was their woman. Not that they could let it be seen that they were avoiding her, but they could at least avoid aiming serious spells at her. Of course, not all of the Order knew of her existence, so she would have to be vigilant, but they had managed to arrange things so that she would not be exposed to any oblivious Order members, at least in the early part of the raid, while there was half a chance that things would pan out as planned. For this reason, Arieda had been assigned the Apparating position behind her.
Araminta felt sure that Bellatrix, standing only inches to her left, would be able to hear her heart, so loudly was it thudding. She tried to remain calm, as she watched the Dark Lord address them all once more. He was somewhat mellower than their last encounter, though still immensely annoyed – for the Order had escaped near enough unscathed from the raid at Mulciber’s house, having taken with them most of the Dark objects that Mulciber had stashed away.
He wouldn’t remain mellow for long, though.
A series of pops echoed around the room, and there was no time for the Death Eaters to work out what was happening before the twenty-five Order members began emitting jets of spells from their wants. Some of them hit their marks, and hooded figures slumped to the floor. Others missed, as the sharper Death Eaters had the reflexes to dodge their attacks. Wands were drawn, and Araminta spun to face Arieda, and shot a Stunner at her.
Arieda had been chosen as the Order member to mark her, because they had already duelled each other on numerous occasions in the training room at the Ministry. They had become reasonably familiar with each other’s technique, and so were able to evade each other’s spells without it appearing too obvious.
But they weren’t duelling for long, before Jugson cut in on the duel, and an arm yanked Araminta back, out of Arieda’s aim.
“Get out of here,” Bellatrix hissed to her. “Quick, before they recognise you. I’ll cover for you.”
Araminta could have thought of many she’d prefer to have cover her back than Bellatrix, but she Disapparated away without arguing. As several of the closest Order members knew who she was, she was only at risk of being hit by a spell that missed its mark, anyway.
And besides, she wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to leave the scene as soon as possible. Her last, terrifying glimpse of the scene before she span and Disapparated was that of her fellow Death Eater engaging Gideon in a duel.
She landed neatly in the middle of her flat, with a calmness that belied the panic within. She didn’t stay at her flat long, only staying to remove her robes, before she Disapparated a second time. This time she landed on the doorstep of the Order’s headquarters. She rapped on the door three times.
The door opened a crack, and Lily peered out.
“Who is it?”
“Childhood ambition?” Lily shot back immediately.
“Dragon breeder. Patronus?”
Lily pulled the door open enough for her to slip through, then shut it firmly, sliding the locks and chains across.
“What’s happening?” she said sharply, as she led Araminta into the living room, where James was sitting on the floor playing with Harry. “We didn’t expect you so early...”
“Bellatrix sent me away, thank Merlin,” she replied. Lily sat on the floor beside her husband and son, and Araminta sat down opposite them with her back against a sofa and her knees tucked up under her chin. “She was worried about my cover being blown. As I left, she was beginning to duel Gideon...”
Her voice tailed off.
“He’ll be okay,” James said, sensing her worry. “He’s one of the finest duellers around.”
“But Bellatrix is terrifying, and has no reservations.”
“He’ll be fine,” he reiterated.
Araminta wasn’t sure if he truly believed his own statement, or if he was just trying to keep all of them calm. Either way, she tried to convince herself that Gideon would be able to hold his own, that he would be okay. Because if anything happened to him, she didn’t think she would be able to forgive herself.
“It’s lucky that Bellatrix gave you the opportunity to leave,” Lily said quietly.
She seemed to have picked up Araminta’s worry and dread over the evening’s proceedings, and her reluctance to duel people. Duelling really wasn’t her forte in the first place, especially not in that situation.
She nodded her agreement.
“Of course, it’s because she sees me as near enough useless. If she thought my presence would help, she’d have made me stay. But she thinks I’m absolutely useless in that sense, so she’d rather I not be there.”
“Maybe she thinks you’re too good a spy to have your cover compromised?” James suggested.
“More likely she thinks that she has more chance of staying in the Dark Lord’s good books if she makes it look as though she’s worried about my wellbeing,” Araminta pointed out dryly. At that moment, her stomach let out a small rumble.
“Are you hungry?” Lily asked. “You should have said! I’ll whip you up something; what do you want? Soup? Stew?”
She was already on her feet.
“Oh, I’m fine-” Araminta began, embarrassed.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t have eaten since lunch time. It’s really not a problem, it’ll give me something to do.”
Araminta hesitated for a moment, before giving in.
“Stew would be lovely, thanks.”
Lily beamed, and headed off to the kitchen.
“I love your wife,” Araminta mused, watching as Harry crawled across the floor towards her.
“So do I, surprisingly enough,” James replied with a grin.
Harry reached her, and held up his teddy bear to show her.
“Hey, buddy,” she said, slightly uncomfortably. She wasn’t used to interacting with children, and had only managed with the Weasley children because she and Charlie shared a love of dragons. “What’ve you got?”
He didn’t reply – at least, not with words she recognised. He reeled off a stream of baby talk, reaching up and putting one hand on her knee.
“He probably wants to sit on your lap,” James suggested.
She slid her legs down onto the floor, and Harry crawled across to sit on her lap, as James had predicted. He held up the teddy once more, and she took it from him, smiling slightly as it brought back memories of her own favourite childhood toy.
“It must be nice,” she said quietly, as Harry yawned and leaned his head on her chest, “to have a family ... something worth living for...”
“Everybody has something to live for,” he replied. A slight smile played at the corners of his mouth as he watched his son. “You definitely do, from what I gather. Your life is hardly over already, is it?”
“It may as well be. The minute the Dark Lord discovers me, I’m a corpse.”
“Who says he’ll discover you? Who says we won’t win this war first? We’ve taken out more of his minions than he has of ours recently...”
“That’s just a drop in the ocean, though. He has ridiculous power ... I don’t know of anyone who can stop him.” Her eyes were still on Harry, whose eyelids had drooped. She gently set the teddy bear back on his lap.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t still have something to live for,” James prompted.
She knew what he was getting at. She hadn’t missed the not-so-furtive looks he’d given her and Gideon two nights before – he clearly hadn’t picked up the art of subtlety from his wife.
But she didn’t know what to reply. She had no idea what she and Gideon had – if they even had anything. Nothing along those lines had been said by either of them since they’d reconciled the previous weekend. She wasn’t even sure what she had to say. What did she want?
She wanted him, of course; by now, she knew that all too well. But she was scared. Scared of falling too hard. Scared of losing him. Scared of the pain.
She didn’t tell James any of this, but he seemed to pick up on some of what was torturing her.
“What have you got to lose?” he suggested. “Or, think of it this way; what could you lose if you don’t do anything?”
She didn’t want to think of that. She was already petrified that Gideon wouldn’t come out of this raid alive. She didn’t know what she wanted to say to him, but she did know that if she’d missed her chance to say something ... well, she didn’t want to think about it.
“Take the plunge,” James continued. “I promise you, you won’t regret it.”
She looked up, and met his gaze.
She almost found it painful to be around James Potter sometimes. Here was a young man who had already been through so much – he and Lily had escaped the Dark Lord three times, she knew that much – and yet he had such a pure heart, and simply radiated love and compassion. It hadn’t escaped her notice that he was immensely frustrated at being cooped up in a house, but he didn’t let this get the better of him. Instead, he seemed to have adopted the role of keeping everyone else’s spirits up, keeping them motivated, encouraging them to keep fighting, keep living. And while she could possibly look at him, with a family of his own, and wonder what grounds he had to think he had it bad in this war, all she saw was a man who loved, and cared, and stood up for what was right, regardless of the consequences.
The sheer emotion of it all was almost enough to bring her to tears.
The time crawled by. Seconds felt like minutes, and minutes like hours. Lily had taken Harry off to bed, and the three of them sat in near silence for what felt like an eternity, just waiting.
It was all they could do. And Araminta hated it.
Finally, finally, there was news.
Lily answered the door when the knock sounded. Araminta didn’t move from her spot. She was too scared at what she might find were she to venture to the hall.
Instead, the news came to her, in the shape of a battered, bruised, but very much alive Arieda.
“Thank Merlin,” Araminta breathed as she stumbled into the room and fell into a chair.
“No deaths,” she said wearily, “which is something of a miracle. Some of the Death Eaters fled early on, the cowards; that gave us a better chance. We nailed Jugson and Rowle. Moody and Fabian are at the Ministry with them, trying to get them banged up.”
Araminta let out a huge sigh of relief.
“You were duelling Jugson, weren’t you?” she said.
Arieda nodded, looking as though she was trying to prevent a smug smile from spreading across her face.
“He was my scalp. I’m on the points board now,” she added triumphantly.
James stood up, presumably to take care of the tally in question.
“Where’s Gideon?” Araminta asked, unable to bear the suspense any longer.
“Kitchen. Needs putting back together. Lily’s with him. Everyone else is elsewhere, so you’re safe-”
Araminta was already half-way across the room.
“Be a darling and bring us some Pepperup, would you?” Arieda called out after her, too tired to move.
“Will do,” she replied, not breaking stride.
Arieda seemed to have exaggerated slightly about Gideon needing to be put back together. He looked incredibly pale and there was blood seeping through his shirt, but he seemed to be in one piece, which was much better than the possibilities Araminta had been envisaging.
“Gideon,” she breathed in relief, halting in the doorway.
He glanced up at her, his eyes looking slightly unfocused, and a smile spread across his face.
“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” he murmured.
“Are you okay?”
“M’fine, just need closing up.” He gestured towards the blood stain on his shirt.
Lily bustled back into the kitchen from the door at the other end of the room, armed with her Healing bag.
“Arieda was asking for some Pepperup potion,” Araminta spoke up as Lily set her bag down on the table and began taking out numerous bottles.
“I’ve got one here, do you want to...” She tailed off, looking up at Araminta. “I’ll take it in to her. I’ll give her some stew as well; I saved some earlier. Do you think you can patch Gideon up? He’s not too bad, he just needs a Blood Replenishment and some essence of dittany...”
“Preferably before he faints,” Gideon spoke up, his eyes now closed.
“I’ve got it covered,” Araminta said hurriedly, approaching the table.
Lily nodded, and left them, pulling the door closed behind her.
Araminta wasn’t an idiot. She knew exactly what Lily was doing, and she felt a swell of gratitude towards her.
“Here,” she said, finding the Blood Replenishing Potion and unstoppering the bottle. “Get that down your throat.”
He took it gratefully, and took several gulps, pulling a face.
“It’s got blood in it; what do you expect?” She found the dittany, and some gauze, and set them down on the table in front of her.
“Turnabout is fair play, eh?” he murmured, as she began to unbutton his shirt, her hands shaking slightly – she scornfully told herself to get her act together. “I seem to remember having to heal you like this a few months back...”
She smiled slightly.
“I doubt this was Snape’s doing, though,” she said.
“No,” he agreed. “If he’d gotten me with that spell of his, I’d have run out of the red stuff by now.”
She winced as she pulled his shirt open, to reveal the gaping wound across his stomach which was leaking blood.
“S’all changed since then though, hasn’t it?” he continued. “You were just some new Auror then ... and you hated my guts...”
“I never hated your guts,” she corrected, damping the gauze with the dittany. She placed it on the wound and he hissed with pain. “Sorry.”
“S’alright. Doesn’t hurt that much, anyway. And you did hate me-”
“I never hated you. You annoyed me, but I never hated you. If anything, I hated myself because I didn’t hate you.” She kept her eyes firmly on the wound, trying to avoid eye contact.
“Knew you couldn’t resist the charm.”
She suspected that he was smirking, and had to fight to prevent a smile from spreading across her own face.
“You don’t have any charm.”
“Sure, keep telling yourself that...”
They fell silent. It was a contented silence, one shared between two people who had so much to say to one another, and yet couldn’t quite bring themselves to say it, both too scared to take the plunge.
She gently lifted the gauze away to check on the wound’s progress, and saw that a layer of new skin had grown across the gash. She drew her wand and siphoned the rest of the blood away.
“All better,” she said quietly, still trying to avoid eye contact. “Just be careful how you move, or you’ll pull it open again.”
“Will do,” he said, his voice sounding stronger. “Thank you.”
“Just returning the favour.”
She didn’t move away. If anything, she moved closer, though she didn’t notice herself stepping forwards. She brought her hand back up, and ran her thumb gently across the wound. He drew in a shuddering breath. She looked up at him, worried.
“Does it hurt?”
“No,” he replied in a slightly husky tone. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”
He reached out, took her elbows and pulled her closer, and pressed his lips to hers.
Their first kiss had been desperate, passionate, furious. This one was gentler, sweeter, and yet more meaningful. His arms found her waist, and pulled her closer, and she suppressed a slight shudder at the contact. She entwined her fingers in his hair, needing to feel him, to taste him, not wanting the moment to end-
The knock on the front door wasn’t enough to break them apart, nor was the sound of it opening. But Fabian’s voice floating through from the hallway was.
She stumbled backwards, her eyes wide in panic.
“The other door,” Gideon said breathlessly, “there’s a back set of stairs ... go up to your room, I’ll meet you there in a moment...”
She didn’t need telling twice. She positively ran across the kitchen and slipped through the door, pulling it to just as she heard Fabian greeting his brother. She let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding in, and darted up the back flight of stairs to the top floor, where the room she’d had previously slept in was located.
It was only once she was safely behind the door, once she had fallen back onto the bed, that she let herself think over what had just happened. She took a few deep breaths, trying to slow down her heart, which was pounding even faster than when she’d been standing beside Bellatrix earlier that evening. It was hard to believe, given all that had happened since, that that had been mere hours ago...
He had kissed her again. He was alive. She wondered whether his reaction had simply been because of that, if he was merely happy to have survived another day, and hadn’t actually meant to kiss her...
But all she could do was wait for him to come to see her, as he’d said he would. She couldn’t go searching for him, not with Fabian and possibly other Order members wondering around downstairs. The pessimistic part of her mind wondered whether he’d come to find her at all.
She rolled over, and groaned into her pillow in aggravation.
But, true to his word, he did come to see her. She sat up abruptly as he knocked on the door and entered. He was wearing a clean shirt; she tried to quash the most inappropriate pang of disappointment. He crossed the room, and sat down on the bed next to her. She noticed that her hands were shaking slightly, and crossed her arms firmly to hide it.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Fine. Fabian just wanted to check I was alright. He’s gone now, so you’ve got free roam of the place again. Sirius is here though, he turned up just as I was coming upstairs.”
“And he’s okay?”
Gideon’s expression seemed to sour ever so slightly.
“He’s fine. Few scrapes here and there. Arieda’s patching him up.”
She let out a huge sigh of relief.
“I was so worried...” she said quietly, staring down at the quilt.
“What, that I’d come back with only one arm?” he joked, clearly trying to lighten the mood.
“That you wouldn’t come back at all,” she said quietly. Her voice cracked.
He didn’t say anything for a moment. She couldn’t bring herself to look up at him, too embarrassed by the sudden outpouring of emotion.
And then his hand found her chin, and tilted her head upwards. He was leaning towards her, their faces barely inches apart.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily,” he breathed.
Then he kissed her again, frantically, intensely, his free hand resting on her thigh, his other cupping her cheek, then sliding down, enveloping her waist. Her hands reached up and grabbed his collar, pulling him closer still-
Too close. His weight began to press against her, and she pulled away, placing her hands on his shoulders and trying to push him back.
“Wha-” he began, looking bemused, but shuffled backwards.
She closed her eyes, and tried to calm her breathing, trying to forget the memories that his touch had triggered, of the pain that Travers had caused...
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t ... I...”
She shook her head, her eyes still tightly shut.
“It’s not you,” she said. “It’s ... I just can’t, I...”
He seemed to misunderstand.
“Because you’re spying? Nobody needs to find out...”
She shook her head again, and opened her eyes. His expression was a mixture of concern, guilt and desire.
“No, it’s not that,” she began. She realised that getting more involved with him might not be the best idea, but at this point she really didn’t care. She couldn’t keep herself away from him any longer. “It ... it’s...”
She couldn’t tell him. She didn’t know how to. Luckily, he guessed without her needing to say anything.
“Bloody hell,” he said, his face losing the colour that it had regained only moments before. “Travers, he ... what the hell did he do to you?”
“I was his wife, he was just-”
“No,” he said firmly, his hands clenching into fists. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence. He had no right to so much as lay a finger on you; just because you were his wife, it didn’t make you his property-”
He broke off abruptly, standing up and pacing across the room.
“He’s lucky you got to him first,” he said fiercely, breathing heavily. “If he was still alive, then I’d ... I’d...”
He seemed to be struggling to find a fate appropriate for Travers.
“Gideon, please, just calm down-”
“Calm down? Calm down? He treated you as his plaything and you want me to calm down?”
“It’s not a big issue-”
“Not a big issue? He fucking hurt you, and it’s not a big issue?”
“I just want to forget about it!” she said, her hands shaking again. “He’s dead now, he can’t do anything-”
“That doesn’t heal the damage he’s already done,” he said gruffly, though he was calmer now. He sat back down next to her, and took her quivering hands in his. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise ... I didn’t mean to push you...”
She shook her head, just wanting the conversation to be over.
“You didn’t,” she said quietly. “It’s fine, it’s just me being stupid-”
“You are not being stupid,” he said firmly. He brought her hands up to his lips, and kissed them gently.
“I promise you, I will never hurt you. Ever.”
His voice was filled with such passion and sincerity, and his gaze with such intensity, that it brought her to tears. He smiled gently, and wiped the tears away with his thumb, then leant in to kiss her gently.
And there, in his tender embrace, Araminta wondered if she was finally learning what it felt like to be loved.