Chapter 28 : Toy Soldiers
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Left, right, left, we all fall down
Like toy soldiers
Toy Soldiers - Martika
“How do you do this?” Araminta asked James bitterly.
“A lot of practice,” he replied glumly.
She closed her eyes, and leant her forehead against the window.
“I can’t stand it,” she said. “Not being able to help ... just having to wait, not knowing what might happen...”
She turned to face him and Lily.
“How long have you two been in hiding?”
“Two years, now,” Lily said quietly.
Two years. Two years of not fighting, of having to sit on the sidelines...
“It wasn’t so bad at first,” Lily continued, her eyes on her son. “We could still leave the house, visit other people, go to Diagon Alley ... Voldemort wasn’t as strong back then. But as time has passed, as he’s grown stronger, as we’ve lost more and more people, we’ve become more restricted. It’s not so bad, we have each other at least, but ... watching your friends put themselves in danger every day, and being unable to do the same ... I feel utterly useless. And guilty, that we’re sitting cosy at home while everyone else fights. They must resent us so much...”
“They don’t,” Araminta said firmly. “They really don’t. They...”
She tailed off.
“They pity us,” James said dully. “Being cooped up, like this, while they’re free to fight...”
She shook her head.
“I think some of them wish they had what you two have,” she said. “It’s so easy for the loneliness to get to people these days...”
James and Lily shared a fierce, tender look, and she knew that, however much they might hate being shut away from the world, they would both choose a lifetime of being in hiding together over one of fighting alone.
After all, who wouldn’t?
She sank to the floor, pulling her knees up and resting her chin on them.
“He’ll come back,” Lily said confidently.
“You don’t know that.”
“They’re well prepared. They’re good fighters.”
“So are the Death Eaters.”
“He has something to fight for.”
Araminta looked up, met the younger woman’s gaze, and knew that she meant her.
“He shouldn’t have had to do this." Her voice was trembling. “He shouldn’t have had to put his life on the line for me...”
“We’re all in this war together,” James spoke up. “You’re one of us. And you shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of this. You’re not alone, you know.”
She bit her lip.
“But, I’m not even doing anything,” she said after a moment. “That’s the worst thing. All these people who’ve been killed since I joined ... I should have been able to stop them, and I didn’t...”
“Don’t be daft,” he said. “It’s not your fault any of our members have died, far from it. You’ve given us lots of information; it’s not your fault if Voldemort doesn’t tell you everything.”
This still didn’t help to ease her guilt.
“We caught Jugson and Rowle,” Lily reminded her. “That was thanks to your tip-off. And we suffered no casualties there.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that Gideon’s offered himself up as bait in the riskiest operation thinkable,” she shot back. “The Death Eaters aren’t taking this lightly, you know. They’ve sent in their biggest hitters. Bellatrix is heading it up, and Dolohov was mentioned too...”
“But they haven’t sent in that many people,” James pointed out. “You told us yourself they only sent five. Voldemort is too confident, he doesn’t think he needs that many people to kill a man in his sleep, even if it is Gideon Prewett. He won’t expect our guys to be lying in wait...”
The word ‘kill’ sent a shiver up Araminta’s spine.
What was happening right now? Were they still fighting? Had the Order’s reinforcements gotten to Gideon’s flat in time?
Or was it all over? Had the Death Eaters claimed their scalp?
She buried her head in her knees in agony.
James sighed heavily.
“This is silly. We can’t all just sit here on the floor and mope. Come on, I’ve got a horrendously smelly set of Gobstones that might take our minds off things...”
They each played two games against each other, with James emerging as the overall victor – and yet, there was still no news.
“It’s only because the pieces like you,” Lily grumbled, trying to siphon the stones’ fluid off her clothes. “You always win against me-”
“And it’s all down to the pieces, of course, and nothing to do with my superior skill,” he grinned, putting them away.
“Superior skill my ass. I always beat you at Hogwarts. It’s no good, I’m going to have to have a shower to get rid of this smell...”
Araminta thought that sounded like a good idea, and headed upstairs to take a shower herself. She wasn’t sure how long she stood under the piping hot water, completely lost in her miserable thoughts, but by the time she turned off the water, the smell of the Gobstones had long gone.
She didn’t care what James and Lily had tried to say to her. It didn’t matter how willing Gideon had been to do this. If something happened to him, it would be entirely her fault, and she didn’t know if she would be able to forgive herself.
She took her time getting dressed, wanting to put off going back downstairs for as long as possible. She liked the Potters, but sometimes – through no fault of their own – their presence was too much for her. Sometimes, it reminded her too much of how alone she felt. This was definitely one of those times.
She pulled the bedroom door open – and nearly fainted in shock.
For there, on the landing, stood a bruised, bloody, exhausted but most definitely alive Gideon.
She didn’t move for a moment. She just stood there, drinking in his presence, utterly lost for words. Then she stumbled forwards, wrapped her arms around him, and buried her head in his shoulder. He pulled her close, and kissed the top of her head. Neither of them said anything. Neither of them needed to say anything.
And then, finally, Araminta ended the moment, as she raised her head, and kissed him.
“Never,” she breathed, “never make me do this again.”
The plan, to Gideon’s evident delight, had worked exactly as he’d intended. It succeeded in diverting the Dark Lord’s frustration from Araminta and to her immense glee, at Bellatrix. He’d summoned them all the night after the failed raid, absolutely livid with the five Death Eaters who’d failed to kill Gideon as he’d hoped they would.
Araminta couldn’t have wished for a better outcome. Bellatrix’s arrogance, in not calling in reinforcements when the Order had arrived, just in time to save Gideon, had brought about the Death Eaters’ failure, as they’d been forced to retreat.
And despite that her loyalties now lay elsewhere, despite that she had realised that the Dark Lord had only ever trained her for his own ends, Araminta still felt a sense of smugness as she watched Bellatrix, the woman who’d usurped her position within his ranks, get a taste of her own medicine.
The late night meetings meant that Araminta was often tired the next morning. While patrols and apprentice training helped to wake her up fairly sharpish of a morning, office work did the exact opposite job.
So when Fabian visited her cubicle the next morning, looking mildly worried, it took a moment for his words to sink in.
“I – what do you mean, not turned up?”
“She’s not here. She’s never been late before. I was wondering if you knew something I didn’t? She’s not caught up in something else, is she?”
“Not that I know of.” She frowned and got to her feet. “Maybe we should pop round hers, check she’s okay? She’s possibly just overslept or something...”
On the way out they passed Sirius, preparing to leave for his patrols, and she halted at his cubicle.
“You’ve not kidnapped Arieda, have you?” She tried to sound light-hearted.
He looked bemused.
“No ... why?”
“She’s not showed up this morning. I expect it’s nothing, we’re just off to check in at hers,” she added as his expression turned to one of horror. “It’ll be fine. You should be heading off to patrols...”
She couldn’t quash the feeling of dread, no matter how hard she tried to hide it from both Fabian and Sirius. She couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to Arieda, who had once been her only friend in the world...
But the moment they both Apparated to Arieda’s flat, and the moment her eyes fell on the front door, which had evidently been blasted aside, all of her hope vanished.
Fabian drew his wand, and cautiously entered the flat, Araminta following behind.
And then he stopped dead in his tracks. She stepped round him, and let out a gasp, hand flying to her mouth.
She had clearly been tortured, and horrifically so. The Death Eaters would have wanted to inflict as much pain as possible on the Muggleborn who had already thwarted them far too many times. It was obvious who the instigator had been.
Tears began to roll down Araminta’s cheeks, and she did nothing to brush them away.
Fabian draped an arm round her shoulders and squeezed tightly, though it did little to comfort her. He was shaking slightly, and she glanced up to see his lips were pursed together, and a stray tear was running down his cheek. She buried her head into his chest, unable to look at Arieda’s broken body any longer.
A loud crack echoed around them. She raised her head and saw Sirius standing before them, looking both desolate and hopeful at once. His eyes darted round, before they fell on Arieda’s dead body and all hope in his expression vanished, to be replaced with pure anguish – and at that moment, Araminta understood, and wondered how she could possibly not have realised it before.
She watched, heartbroken, as Sirius fell to his knees at Arieda’s side, tears falling freely, and pulled her head into his lap. She felt a surge of self-hatred – it was her fault; she had been the cause of the Death Eaters’ fury, of Bellatrix’s fury and embarrassment, it was her fault they’d sought such brutal revenge on the Order, and if only she hadn’t let them put their lives on the line for her, she would have prevented Sirius Black having to mourn, once again, the loss of a woman he loved.
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