Chapter 5 : Je ne t'aime plus
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Amazing CI by abendrot. @TDA
Caen, France, 1941.
"Camille, I need to speak to you."
She looks up from the coat she is mending, alarmed by the tone of her fiancé's voice. He is standing just outside the kitchen window, hair sticking out at strange angles.
"Maman," Camille shouts towards the depths of the house, "I'm leaving with Xavier, I'll be back before curfew!"
If her mother says something in reply, Camille does not hear it as she is already out. The expression on Xavier's face makes her nervous, and she mechanically runs her finger around the silver band circling her finger. After a long, stretched silence, she catches him by the arm and forces him to look at her.
"What is it?"
He bites his lip, obviously in pain, before allowing the words to cascade out of his mouth. " This isn't possible anymore. I'm breaking off our engagement."
Camille's mouth drops open, then rapidly snaps shut again, angrily. "And why is that?"
"I've met someone else."
Xavier wants nothing more to tear his eyes away from those of the woman he loves, but if he does, she will know that he is lying, and he cannot afford that. He is doing this to protect her, so that once he joins the resistance, she will not be targeted by association to him. So he holds her gaze unfalteringly, until she is the one to look away first.
"But I love you," she finally says, fidgeting with the sleeve of her dress.
"And I don't anymore. I need to leave," Xavier says briskly, hating himself more with each word. "Here's your medallion." He unclasps the thin golden chain from around his neck and holds it out for her to take, but she pushes it to the centre of his palm and closes his fingers around it.
"Keep it." She inhales sharply, about to say something, but decides against it, closing her eyes tightly. They are full of tears when she opens them again, and without a word, she runs away, holding back her sobs until she is out of earshot.
But of course, she does not manage, and a single, choked sound makes its way to Xavier's ears. He almost runs after her to tell her everything, but the bells of the nearby church chime deeply four times: it is time for him to meet Jean Marchais once more in order to confirm his wish of joining.
Six months later, Camille is recruited too.
It has been raining for days, thin watery wisps that look innocuous yet permeate through everything, chilling everyone to the bone despite the multiple layers of clothes – and this, after all, is only the beginning of November.
Astrid sighs as she tidies her classroom wandlessly. Today is the first of the November, day of the dead, but she has nowhere nearby to mourn those she loves. Besides, most of her family has been spared, except Apolline, but Astrid pushes her out of her thoughts mechanically. Grieving is sufficiently painful already.
Though she adores teaching, Astrid is homesick for Caen. During the day, with the children bubbling by her side, ink stains on their fingers and ghosts of smiles on their faces – they've all seen too much already, and have grown up faster than they should have – Astrid is at peace, keeping nostalgia at bay. When night comes plummeting down, tarnishing the pink stains of twilight, it is an entirely different matter.
She feels alone without Camille and Johanna's discussions, without the morning brief on who is to do what during the day, without the comforting presence of magic. Nightmares seize her regularly, and she lies motionless in her bed, eyes wide open, waiting for the sun to rise once more, and for the pattern to repeat itself.
She writes the date of tomorrow on the board, Mardi 2 Novembre 1943, and leaves the classroom, unsure of what to do now. The children have been given a day off, and it is the first time she finds herself in a situation where she has nothing to correct, nothing to prepare. After a moment of indecision, she throws her coat over her shoulder, twists her blond hair into a bun, and very nearly skips down the stairs into the streets of Paris. She hasn't strolled them aimlessly since long before the war, but still feels at home as she makes her way down the champ de Mars to the Eiffel tower, even though everything has changed.
Her family left Paris in 1930, when she was eleven, moving closer to George Alban's factories in Brittany. Her father's word was the one everyone followed, and there had been no discussion. She and Apolline had gone to the Muggle school in Rennes, then she had studied to become a teacher, and was sent to Caen with her diploma in August 1939. The war had started, she had joined the resistance, and that was that.
Despite the multiple soldiers scattered everywhere, Astrid smiles as the tower comes into view for the first time in years. She watches it from afar, lone figure on the street, porcelain doll amidst the crumbling buildings, and it belongs only to her.
During the rest of the afternoon, Astrid treks up and around the city of lights, each corner bringing up new memories. Eventually, she makes her way back to the school, where all entry is denied. This does not happen often, but there are moments when a solider decides to be zealous. Today is apparently one of these moments.
"I've got an ausweis," she repeats for the fourth time, practically shoving the slim piece of paper in the German soldier's face. "I work here, do you understand?"
Stoutly, the man shakes his head again, refusing to let her pass, and Astrid groans in frustration.
"Listen, I need to be back inside before curfew. I live here, just there." She points to the teacher's quarters just across the courtyard, but again, she is greeted with refusal.
"Oh, pour l'amour du ciel!" Astrid throws up her hands. "Call your superior then! Deine Lieutenant!"
Said lieutenant - the soldier Astrid noticed on the day of her arrival - has apparently heard her shouting, and is now making his way to the barrier, looking positively furious. In a couple of strides, he is at the gate, glowering at his subordinate and telling him off in German. After a few minutes, the first soldier stalks off meekly, and the lieutenant turns to Astrid apologetically.
"Please excuse him, he arrived only a few days ago and must not have noticed you yet."
His French is flawless, barely a trace of German accent lingering on his words.
Astrid smiles, slightly tightly. "No, please excuse me for losing my temper."
"Nonsense," the gate opens as the lieutenant speaks. "Your ausweis is perfectly valid and you should have been allowed to enter."
He steps aside, making room for Astrid to walk in. She smiles genuinely this time."Thank you, Monsieur…?"
"Moi de même."
They exchange a smile at the pompous formality of their words. A shout in German makes Maximilian shake his head.
"Pardon me, duty calls." With a slight bow, he departs, while Astrid hurries inside, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.
Xavier blows into his hands, attempting to warm them. Jean's instructions are clear: no magic, except if it is defensive or used to Apparate. This restriction makes the mission even less comfortable: Xavier is perched on the low, sturdy branches of a maple tree, the rough bark grinding against his back.
"Xavier," Camille's voice breaks the silence. "Are you alright?" She is seated a few branches above, and if Xavier looks up he can see her dark figure precariously perched on a bough.
"Cold," he replies honestly. "Nothing I can't cope with."
There is a shuffling, the sound of cracking twigs, and Camille drops out of the sky in front of him. Carefully, she lowers herself across from Xavier, legs on either side of the branch to avoid falling off.
"I can't believe Jean doesn't want us to use our wands, he could at least have let us use a heating charm before we left."
"I'm sure he believes it'll forge your character," Xavier replies drily. Camille laughs quietly in agreement, and Xavier smiles at the sound. He has found it difficult, to say the least, to be working with Camille for all this time, and any occasion for complicity is very much welcome by him.
"What are you thinking about?" she whispers.
He debates about lying for a moment, but decides against it. This may well be the only time they will ever discuss their history. "Us."
Silence. Then: "There is nothing to think about. What happened did because it had to." Her voice, originally steely, softens toward the end of her sentence. "I was furious with you, you know. But I've understood and accepted that it was for the best."
"It wasn't and you know that."
She sighs. "Please, Xavier, let me keep my illusions. Losing you was painful enough already with a good reason."
Again, it is silent, as both Camille and Xavier lose themselves to a moment two years ago, but that seems much further away.
"Have you ever thought of what our life could be like if it wasn't for the war?"
Xavier looks up at Camille, surprised by the question. "I thought we had a silent agreement not to dwell on dreams."
"I was just trying to keep us both awake."
He grins. "In that case… I'm not sure, really. We would probably both be married already, you would be expecting your first or your second child, I would be waiting for my wife to deliver and hoping it's a boy while working some low job at the Ministry."
Camille smiles too. "In that case, the war isn't that bad: I certainly wouldn't want children yet."
"I just… I don't know, I've always wanted something better for myself than simply raising children. Something special, that I'd be the first to achieve, and that I'd be remembered for in the future, but now here I am, and the odds of me making it out of this war alive are very limited."
Her shoulders sag at the thought, but she shakes her head ruefully immediately. "Right, I think I'll go back up to my nest."
"You can stay here, if you'd like," Xavier offers. "I'm sorry if I made this awkward."
"You didn't, I just want to lean against something. My back is killing me."
Xavier hesitates, but Camille's pained face as she stands up slowly convinces him. "Don't be ridiculous, it'll be worse if you climb back up. Come here."
She cocks her head to the side, smirking slightly, eyebrows raised, but nonetheless crawls over to him, settling herself against his chest. Their ankles tangle as they shift about, trying to find a reasonably comfortable position, and eventually Xavier's arms end up around Camille's middle, securing them both in place.
"You know," she laughs quietly, "as soon as we get back to Caen I'm cursing your hands off. Don't think I don't know your true motivations: if you get even slightly inappropriate your body will be found in small pieces scattered around France before the sun rises."
He chuckles, chest rumbling against her back, and holds her just a little tighter. "I won't try anything."
The rest of his sentence is unspoken. She hears it anyway. Not when we've finally forgiven one another.
Camille had always felt complete with Xavier. She used to know him by heart. The things he liked: apples, the earth after rain, Gustave Flaubert. The things he disliked too: disloyalty, coffee, wet socks. They had an argument? They talked about it and got over it. He knew when she wasn't feeling well, and vice-versa. They poked fun at one another, called each other names, hexed each other. She'd hit him on the head with a book once, so forcefully he'd seen stars for a minute and the binding had cracked. But she'd loved him viscerally, entirely, so badly it had hurt sometimes just to look at him, as if her heart was about to burst out of her chest.
She'd been numbed when he'd left her. Empty. Incapable of feeling anything except the huge hole he'd torn out of her heart. She'd believed his lies about another woman, and never expected to see him again. He wasn't her contact, Jean was. Seeing Xavier again had almost made her reconsider her decision of joining the resistance, but she certainly wasn't going to let him ruin her dreams again. Then had come scathing looks, cold shoulders, and stiff politeness. She'd done everything she could to avoid missions with him.
Until a few weeks ago. He'd made memories she'd done everything to forget about resurface, and now she was sitting in his arms.
A rustling in the dark just under their feet makes Camille and Xavier stiffen. She turns slowly to him, finger raised to her lips. He nods, and she crawls out his arms, checking that the dagger inside her boot is still in place. Once that much is certain, she clings to the branch steadily, before manoeuvring herself around it until she is hanging upside down with a clear vision of the ground and of the road. A couple of meters away, four or five men in civilian wear are grouped, passing papers and muttering inaudibly.
Camille hoists herself up again, Xavier catching her hand to help her.
"I'm not sure," she murmurs. "I can't hear what language they're speaking in."
"Don't move," Xavier commands, rummaging through his pockets. He victoriously pulls out a large stone, which he throws onto the road with all his might. The clatter resounds distinctly, and all other noises cease, save for a hissed scheisse clearly heard by the tree's occupants.
"German," Xavier spits in a low voice. "Ready?" His pistol gleams slightly in his hand.
Camille nods, knowing that he can see her movements in the dark, and crouches on the branch, ready to jump off immediately after Xavier.
They land almost simultaneously, thudding as they hit the ground. Xavier fires immediately, catching one man in the leg. He topples over screaming while Xavier shoots again and again. One of the targets drops dead on the spot, the other wheezes and attempts to fight back, stumbling forward in their direction. Camille catches him as he arrives, raises her dagger, and he stops wheezing altogether.
There is only one man left, pistol drawn. He shoots with medical precision, the bullets flying once to Camille, then to Xavier, narrowly missing his abdomen once, twice, three times. Then there is a shout of pain, the sound of metal against asphalt, and Xavier falls to the ground.
"Non!" Camille roars, heat clouding her vision. The pistol is aimed directly at her now, and almost unaware of what she is doing, the dagger slips out of her fingers and lodges itself into her enemy's body. Still dizzy, she grabs Xavier's pistol off the road and fires once.
Everything is silent.
Breathing rapidly, she whips out her wand, summons the contents of the men's pockets which she slips into her own, magically enlarged. Another swish, and the corpses vanish into thin air.
Then she hurries to Xavier's limp form, holds his hand tightly, turns on her heel and Disapparates.
A/N: I know, I'm horrible to end this here, sorry! I'm not too sure about this chapter, but the queue was so short I had to seize the occasion.
Right. What did you think of Astrid? What about Maximilian? Camille and Xavier -- too rushed? The final scene?
Also, my revision and exam period starts soon, which means updates will be even more sporadic than usual. If I do update, it'll be Reason to Fight -- I've realised that as a stressed-out student this is an excellent emotional outlet. This also means that responding to reviews will take even more time than usual too, so I apologise for that as well. In any case, things will be slow until the 28th of June.
Sorry about this kilometrical note, please leave me a review to let me know your thoughts ♥
Mardi 2 Novembre 1943. Tuesday 2nd of November 1943.
Ausweis. Literally, passport in German -- historically though, an ausweis was a permit and its possessors had access to certain zones.
Pour l'amour du ciel! For heaven's sake!
Deine lieutenant. Your lieutenant.
Enchanté. Pleased to meet you.
Moi de même. As am I.
Je ne t'aime plus. I don't love you anymore.
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