Chapter 7 : L'Envolée
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I don't usually have notes at the start of chapters, but this one is for MissMdsty, AlPotterFan, teh tarik and siriusly89 who nominated Reason to Fight as Most Original Story, and for all of you who voted and made it win. It tied with Over the Edge by Arithmancy_Wiz, and I still haven't fully grasped the thought of actually having a Dobby. Thank you all so, so much! ♥
It rains again, and Astrid sighs. She hates the weather, she hates the loneliness, she hates feeling useless.
A letter is discarded on the desk in front of her. Goldberg wants her to come to the Ministry to discuss mission details.
Mission details, mon oeil. Not on a Friday evening at eight.
In a fit of irritation, she points her wand at the parchment and watches it burst into flames. Then she throws her coat on, uncaring of the downpour, and leaves her room after hiding her wand under her mattress. It isn't safe, but magic no longer provides solace. If anything, it helps keep her a prisoner of the situation she is in. She feels trapped everywhere, like a mouse surrounded by cats – even getting soaked is better than staying in between the four walls she loathes even more than before.
Several hours later, as dusk begins to drop, she isn't so sure of this anymore. Her hat has flown off, her hair drips down her back, her shoes are soaked. She must look more like a drowned animal than like a Veela, and her grandmother is probably turning in her grave at her neglected appearance.
To add to that, she has no idea where she is.
Try to think positive, she chastises herself, at least it has stopped raining.
The sound of a car behind her makes her jump, and when it slows to a stop next to her she freezes, even though every nerve in her body is screaming for her to run.
A wave of relief washes over her. "Lieutenant Schröder."
"Whatever are you doing so far from the school?"
"Walking," she replies with as much dignity as she can muster.
Maximilian looks amused, though he does not comment. "Would you like to do so to go back, or may I offer you a ride?" The door to the passenger seat is already opened.
It is a battle between comfort and patriotism, but Astrid's toes squelching in her shoes decide for her. "Thank you."
Once she is seated, her eyes automatically flit around the car, gathering details. The brake, the pedals, the steering wheel, anything is valuable to sabotage, just in case.
Warm air begins to creep through the small space as they drive through the streets of Paris in silence. They do not exchange a word until the Eiffel tower comes into view.
"Are you enjoying your work as a teacher?"
"Oh yes, very much so, although the children are easily distracted by the practices."
Maximilian smiles, slightly sadly. "It is unfortunate, I think, that we had to use the school as a casern. Children should not have to live with the war more than they already do."
"It's a little late for these moral questionings, isn't it?" Astrid's voice comes out a lot sharper than intended.
"The French aren't the only ones to suffer from the war," Maximilian responds immediately, defensive. "And I am not to blame for what is happening – I, like you, am only trying to survive, and my men are to me what your students are to you. Each of their torments affects me personally, and similarly to you I hope they will all make it out alive. You may turn your nose up at us all you want, but in our eyes you are the ones in the wrong."
Astrid snaps her mouth shut, and barely hides her scowl until they pull into the courtyard. Struck by a reminder of her education, she briefly nods her thanks before leaving, but nothing more.
Another piece of parchment lies neatly folded on her desk. Paul Goldberg is an insistent man.
Almost unconsciously – perhaps because she is furious, perhaps because she just wants to leave her Nazi hell hole for an evening – Astrid neatly pens two lone words in response, the ink swirls of her writing dancing on the paper.
Mornings always seem bleak to Simon. He has tried to keep up with time, to no avail: is it November? December? Or are we already in 1944? Only the frost-covered ground and the early setting sun allow him to determine that winter has come by once more.
Surviving has become even more difficult. Bread is dry as sandpaper, cutting the thin lips of those who eat it open. Better eat the bread, nonetheless. No one knows what else there will be to ingest. The soup, too, has worsened: it is water now, barely heated. Only those who fight obtain a little more – the potato peels at the bottom of the pot, for example, and even that is considered a privilege – and Simon does not want to fight anymore.
Security has been reinforced. A while ago, someone managed to contact his wife. Both were killed. Nearing the women's barracks is impossible. Simon has had no news of his family for weeks, and he doubts any of them are still alive. Why bother surviving then? If it is to come back to empty houses and hollow hearts, he prefers to die.
His only hope is in his new affectation: he has been assigned to building new barracks in the women's camp. Today is his first day, and he has hidden and kept his bread for the past three days. It will, he hopes, allow him to find out if any other Ziegler is still alive.
Several hours later, even under the midday sun, hopes and body temperatures have dramatically decreased. Simon grumbles from his perch on the ceiling beams, hammering another plank onto the so called roof. The work is difficult. Nowhere as difficult as the work of the disciplinary commando, running around all day long to test the Nazi's shoes, because nothing is as difficult as that, but still difficult enough. The elements that make the roof have to be hauled up and the entire structure seems like it will topple like a card castle with every movement.
As always, Simon grits his teeth and says nothing. He won't desperately try to survive, but there is no way he'll die an animal.
Camille sighs as the potato she has picked up is stale again. With an exasperated huff, she rifles through the pile, finds one that is untainted and points her wand at it.
A satisfied smile appears on her face as she repeats the spell, more and more edible potatoes appearing on the table in front of her.
The sound of a door slamming shut makes her raise her head in alarm, wand at the ready. None of her friends should be back yet: Johanna and Jean have left to the ministry to file a report concerning the destruction of the Kommandantur; Xavier is on an espionage mission.
Yet it is Xavier who walks in, blood staining the collar of his shirt. The outline of his eye is slowly turning blue, and he is clutching his nose with his left hand.
"Our target has been gotten rid of," he replies to Camille's unasked question. "I didn't do it, he was shot before my eyes, and I got caught in the rush that followed. Can you do anything for my nose?"
"Of course," she leads him to a chair and gently removes his hand. His nose has swelled and is standing out at the wrong angle, blood dripping from it.
"Appealing, isn't it?" Xavier comments drily, wincing as Camille dabs at his nose with a damp cloth she has conjured.
"Very, you look dashing. Don't move, this may be a little painful. Episkey."
With a sickening crack, Xavier's nose resumes its rightful place. He wrinkles it a little, experimenting with the success of Camille's spell, and smiles.
"Perfect, thank you."
She gives him a small smile in return, and presses the cloth more firmly to his face, wiping the blood away.
Once she is done, she begins to remove her hand, but Xavier puts his on hers, both resting on his cheek.
"I never ask you this, but is everything all right?"
"As well as it can be in such times as these," she replies quietly, her thumb unconsciously stroking the skin beneath his eye.
There is a moment of silence during which they are both lost in each other's touch, craving for more but not daring to break the fragile peace they have briefly found together, when a silvery heron soars into the room.
"Everything is alright. Will give more information when able to do so; have learnt nothing today, except that they're even bigger bastards than I first thought."
The bird speaks in Astrid's voice, and dissolves into the air once it has delivered its message. Camille goes back to her meagre dinner preparations automatically, behaving as though her interaction with Xavier has never taken place.
She will never admit it, but she misses Astrid. Ever since she is gone, the atmosphere in the apartment seems tenser, less comforting. It is only now that Camille realises that Astrid was the peace-keeper, the cement between the five young adults who are a little more submerged by the situation every day.
Xavier notices the pause in Camille's movements and the tears of exhaustion that have formed in her eyes. Without a word, he takes the knife out of her shaking hand and sets it on the table. The dull thud of metal against wood rouses Camille out of her thoughts, and she lifts her head up to look at Xavier, who pushes a lock of her hair behind her ear.
"We're going to be all right, all of us," he promises.
And for once, Camille believes him.
It takes him a moment to acknowledge the wispy figure dragging herself along. She moves slowly, as if afraid of breaking, but at the same time hurries down the muddy path in fear of punishment for being too slow. She is a dragonfly, wings fluttering desperately to keep herself aflight; however, she also brings out the dragon in the name, the stiff set of her mouth and steely eyes warning those that cross her path: she will do what is necessary to outlive every single one of them.
Then she is pushed over by another prisoner, the contents of the filthy bucket she carries sloshing over onto her shoes, and suddenly she becomes a child again: hopeless, helpless, and terrified, lost in a world she cannot understand. She is disposable.
Seeing Sarah without Esther is strange, unheard of before. Simon tries to think back to a time where such an event was possible, but nothing comes to mind. Esther was Sarah's hero.
"You there," he hisses as quietly as possible to a woman passing by. "An extra ration of bread if you get the girl who cleans the toilets to come here."
The woman frown is visible even from Simon's spot. "Bread first."
He drops a piece to the ground, which she hastily seizes and hides inside her sleeve. Now is the moment where everything can go wrong, should this woman run to the soldiers to inform them of an attempt at communication.
For all he knows, Simon has just made the biggest mistake of his entire life.
"Who are you, and whatever do you want?" A rushed whisper greets his ears. Peering through the beams, he can only just make out his sister's silhouette beneath him. She looks up, and her eyes widen in shock. "Simon?"
"Are you alright? Where's Esther? Do you know about mama?"
"I'm surviving. Esther, she… they… Oh, Simon, it was horrible!"
Glancing around, Simon slides off his perch to the ground inside the half-constructed barrack. Hammer still in hand, he pretends to help build the walls and inches closer to Sarah.
"Please get me out of here, Si," she whispers. "I don't want to finish like Esther."
"Tell me what happened to her, I need to know." His voice is insistent, causing something in his sister to break. Her hands tighten around the toilet brush she is holding instinctively.
"You know how some of the prisoners get… needy, right? That also happens on the men's side?" Simon nods curtly, horrified that his thirteen year old sister is the one telling him this. "A woman in our barrack went after another, but she didn't want to and she fought back. Esther got caught in the middle of the fight." Sarah takes a deep breath, holding back her tears. "The Kapo tried to calm everything down, but the women were completely mad, and eventually the soldiers arrived because of the noise."
Simon catches his sister's wrist. Her entire body is shaking.
"They didn't bother with proof." Sarah's eyes are now closed tightly like those of a child trying to forget a nightmare. "Esther was the first to be taken out. She screamed she was innocent, and they laughed and spat in her face before shooting her in the courtyard. The bodies stayed there for five days, Simon, five days, to serve as an example!" She coughs, unable to hold back the choking sobs. "I don't want to die like that, I don't want to die at all, I'm scared and please, please, please save me, Simon… Je t'en supplie…"
Her last words break off the tip of her tongue. Simon is about to pull her into his arms, no matter how many risks that makes him take, when his attention is caught by something else.
In Sarah's stained hand, against her grimy nails, the toilet brush is emitting light but definite sparks.
Simon gently eases it out of her grasp, and immediately feels a response, like an electric current throbbing through his veins.
"There's a wand in here," he whispers, eyes wide.
"It doesn't make sense, but there's a wand hidden inside the handle."
Shuffling and shouting can suddenly be heard outside: Simon's disappearance from his spot has been noticed and reported.
"That means I can Apparate, that we can Apparate!"
The noise comes closer.
Sarah latches onto her brother's arm without a moment of hesitation. "Get us out of here."
He turns on the spot, thinking of only one destination.
Away from this hell-hole.
Everything spins out of view.
A/N: I HAVE BEEN WANTING TO POST THIS FOR AGES, GAH. I did originally plan to respond to all reviews before that, but as the queue was only a day short, here you are!
Thoughts on Astrid, talking back to Nazis and meeting Goldberg?
Thoughts on Camille and Xavier?
THOUGHTS ON SIMON AND SARAH?!
Also, massive thanks to Jenny and Sian for review bombing me ♥
Mon oeil. Literally, 'my eye', but here used in the same way as 'my big toe' or 'my arse'.
Avec plaisir. With pleasure.
Je t'en supplie. I beg of you.
L'Envolée. The Flight
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