When I was only five, I asked my aunt how my parents had died. Even then, young as I was, I knew it was a question whose answer I would not want to know, and not only for the undue rage and still-seething hatred it would elicit from Petunia. There were no pictures of them in the house, nor were their names uttered in anything but anger – when their names were uttered at all, - and I half thought because of this that they'd been like me, a child kept out of sight, left in the dark, spidery recesses of a cupboard-under-the-stairs, ill-fed and prayed-for only to die. Was there some dark secret, I wondered, some secret mutation of genes or curse of fate lurking in my shadowed family tree? For surly these abominable things – these cupboards and whale-clothes, these slave-like chores and loveless days – were only fit for an abomination like myself, and no family, however inbred with walrus and whale, would treat any child worthy of love like they treated me.
I don't know what I expected as an answer. Perhaps this curse, this disease caused the monstrosities like myself who seemed human enough to die young, having lived only long enough to bequeath their shame to their child. More realistically, I expected to be told my mother was mentally ill and killed herself at some point in my infancy, that she'd never shared the name of my father, or else he'd never been tracked down, perhaps dying in a drug deal gone wrong or shived while languishing in some prison. My imagination was no less wild as a child, and fuelled by the sounds of gruesome, unsolved crimes on the Dursleys' favourite programme, Crimewatch UK.
In her shrill voice, grown tighter with anger, I remember her shouting at me, asking why I cared about no-good degenerates like them, but telling me they had gotten themselves killed in a car accident, which is where I supposed the explosive, sickly light that haunted my dreams came from. I was relieved – I remember that clearly – that they'd not fallen victim to the frightful noises that would pervade my own cell late at night as it echoed with macabre sharpness from the living room into my ears on Thursday nights.
Thereafter I was filled with the guilt of a child who survived what their parents failed to and found strange ways to blame their deaths on myself. I constructed the picture of a father who drank too much, who worked late to support his ill-fated family and stayed out later to avoid it, who was forced into marrying my mother after he got her pregnant by my grandparents, whose pictures occurred only twice in the entirety of the house, both of which are sepia-coloured with age. My mother I pictured then a brilliant child who fell in with the wrong crowd, got into drugs and drink, and dropped out of school when she got pregnant with me; as someone who tried to clean herself up after I was born. I imagined that I started crying in the car while they were on the way to get nappies or something of the kind for me, or fighting about how I won't shut up, when the car runs off the road into an electrical pole, or is sideswiped as he runs a red light in his distraction. I felt that I was never supposed to have survived, that I was just some junkie's daughter, and it was my mother, at least, who should have lived. That she was the one with promise and a future that I stole from her simply by being born and then, later, by living. For the longest time I thought this was why my aunt hated me, because I'd taken her big sister, who'd she'd idolized throughout her childhood, from her forever.
When I learned the truth, that my parents had been brave people, hopelessly in love with each other, that my father had been a little spoiled by brilliant in every way imaginable, that my mother was that intelligent woman I'd dreamed of and who'd sacrificed herself for me, I'd like to say the guilt did anything else but quicken within me, kicking with small but slowly lethal feet my insides, gestating to the state it has currently become. After all, what gifts have I that could have kept me from dying that night thirteen-and-a-half years ago? None, which means it was a fact of chance that kept me alive to die this day, a one-in-a-trillion thing, and, if she'd let Voldemort kill me like he wanted, when his wand turned next on her it could have been her chance.
What point does a child have in living? A year or so of life, a few odd months? I was just a handful of experiences, useless in the world without someone to take care of me; someone to run to when scared and hurt; someone who might take a vested interest in seeing me continue on. But she… she as brilliant, at her prime, only twenty-one; she could have gone on to do great things – the ordinary do not become Mind Healers – and marry again and have other babies with her emerald eyes; she didn't deserve to die. Not like this.
Not when her sacrifice is useless now, and there is a deep pain in the back of my eyes, especially painful at my lightning-bolt scar, which may well be ripping open and bleeding my life-stuff upon this soft ground, damp as it is from a recent rain. I struggle to hold onto my wand as I press a palm to the source of my blindness, but feel it quickly slip from my fingers, a useless twig in the cemetery earth. The echo of a cloaked and rounded man carrying the strangest bundle I've ever seen is burned into my retinas, and it is all I can to struggle – pointlessly – away from the direction I last remember seeing him.
A voice out of nightmares interrupted my pain, hissing through a mouthful of certainly sharp, inhuman teeth. "Kill the spare," it ordered before the pain skyrocketed and I fell, a useless lump, to the ground as a flash of sickly green light I knew all too well surrounded me.
But it was not me the inescapable curse had hit or the soft, baby's breath of grass and squelching mud that arrested my landing. I knew before I could open my eyes that the clammy, already cold thing that had once been a boy at the cusp of adulthood, handsome and kind and with everything going for him was now just another lifeless corpse in a field full of lifeless corpses. I opened them anyway, and with a numbness that does not dissipate the more times you find yourself facing it, and stared into his dead gray eyes as I lay sprawled across the body that had been so full of effervescent energy and so full of him a moment before.
Cedric Diggory was dead.
The pain was tolerable – because I had to tolerate it now if I was not to make my parents' sacrifice worthless, Cedric's murder a nonsensical footnote to my life's end – now. I groped blindly in this dark and moonless night for my wand, even the feeble starlight blocked by the great yew tree I'd been portkeyed under. I thought blindly of spells that I could use, knowing full well that without my wand I'd be as hopeless as any other fourteen-year-old girl in a strange, dark place.
If it'd been Hermione and Ron I'd practiced with for this bloody thing, it'd been Snape who had trained me. There were only so many spells of the correct disposition that three Fourth Years could find in their school library and learn to use, correctly, in a month's time. A wellspring of knowledge, I'd only questioned him once – I could understand learning a basic shield charm like protego, but some of the stronger ones seemed like just learning them was asking for trouble.
"The more spells you know," he'd said, his voice silky smooth as always, his dark eyes catching mine as he spoke. I remember the tingling sensation that exploded from every inch of me and way my knees felt like they were hit by a good jelly-legs curse just from that look, that voice. I shamelessly basked in his attention, wanting it as often as possible, making excuses to be around him to myself, one's that I'd never dare utter to anyone if asked on my death bed, and couldn't help but notice that, as he spoke, his voice grew more ardent as he spoke – a change so subtle I'd not have noticed it half-a-year earlier – the rest of this thought, "the more options you have. The more options you have in a crisis, the more likely you'll come out of it in one piece." It was not only because I found no flaw in his reasoning that I never brought the fact up again. No, because I could have sworn with all my heart that he was vested in some way in seeing that I came out of this last task alive, and I'm talking about more then the flack he'd be sure to receive from our illustrious Headmaster.
It was thanks to his foresighted prudence that my mind was running, between the painful throbs of my heart, through lists of spells not nominally in a schoolgirl's arsenal. Proficio, a shielding spell that could block both arrows and strong hexes; artafyrus, a lesser hellfire curse; the flinging curse, iaceo: these are the first that come to mind.
But it is dark, hopelessly so, and the pain darkens further what little I might have seen. Before I can grasp my only weapon, I find myself hoisted to my feet and dragged the short distance to a tombstone, where I only have an instant to grasp the knowledge of my fate before being slammed against the cold, rough stone, for, above the garland of flowers carved thereon, is a single set of words
followed by a pair of dates falling in the earlier part of the century.
I knew in that instant, as hands that shook bound me tightly, so tightly that even as I fought against him in my haze they grew tighter and cut more deeply than even he'd intended, who'd been trying to kill me all year long, who'd spurred somehow this set of events that had ended so cataclysmically for a handsome boy who'd tried to help me and shared our Pyrrhic victory at my insistence. A voice, ghostly familiar, brought the words up through memory, "They told me at the orphanage she lived just long enough to name me – Tom after my father, Marvolo after my grandfather."
I was tied to the grave of Voldemort's Muggle father, and the man who'd I'd kept alive when he'd led the murderer straight to my parents was the one who'd imprisoned me here.
Slowly, thought the pain was extraordinary, it became clear just how much I did not want to be here. Dust, chalky white in the pale light of the moon, rose from the grave upon which I stood. A hand, severed by its mate, joined it in a caldron that could have dwarfed even Ron as the gross stump it had once been joined to bleed freely over the graves of the late Charles Burr, esquire, and Sarah Chickering. I shivered in disgust and fear. I thought back desperately if Snape had ever said a thing about escaping captivity without magic in our lessons together, if anything I'd ever learned might serve me now. The futility of traditional education! A wished to God and Merlin that I'd a chance to tell Hermione just how worthless books were, Ron how stupid games were, Dumbledore the idea of fairness and sportsmanship were in this life, with words as colourful and varying as could be.
Strapped to that gravestone, I thought of just how short my life has actually been thus far. I thought of the snow falling off a tree in the bright, golden morning after a storm, and how the light caught the powdery flakes; I thought of Hermione, Ron, and I when things were still good between us and we were still young and carefree, and friends who could take on trolls and not ever be parted; I thought of a ruby sunset, as seen from the tower on a cool spring evening, illuminating the reborn plants below and hitting the Quidditch stands just so; I thought of my talks with Snape and the times when I thought he might say something wonderful, or he stood close enough to feel his overwhelming presence intimately, and the wonderful tingling, soaring feeling I got every time he looked at me a certain way that may or may not have actually ever meant anything; I thought of flying through the air on a warm afternoon, the exhilarating feeling of falling, of soaring, of making a fast turn into the wind, the illogical fear lessening in the pit of your stomach; I thought of a Weasley family dinner, with good food and better company and laughter and happiness and everything that is good and bright and nothing like the orderly, predictable, madding perfection of Azkaban South – I thought of how beautiful they were, how alive, how these snippets of life were the times when the world was most alive around me, and how I'd not even noticed it until now, ages later, and how I'd give all my heart and all my soul to see such wonderful things again. Tied to that stone I thought of all the things I'd never done and all the things I most certainly wanted to still do.
Men of Harlech stop your dreaming;
can't you see their spearpoints gleaming?
I vowed I would make it out of this alive, and so when Wormtail, that traitor, who has a place waiting for him in Antenora where his kind belong, approached me next with breath ragged and heavy with pain, I try to fight him. I am small and toothpick-esque from years of malnutrition and he that leathery look of one who has lost a great deal of weight in a short amount of time, but even with that there is easily a difference of fifty pounds between us and over half-a-foot in our heights. Even if I'd been free and motile I'd have failed to harm him in any way if our battle was only physical.
His eyes are beady and rat-like still as he takes his knife, still sticky and sickly warm with his own blood, and thrusts it into the crook of my right elbow, drawing it down slowly as my blood flows into his on the subtle knife. I do not scream – I will not give them that pleasure – but a hiss of pain escapes me. It sounds snakelike to my ears.
If I could lie back, I'd think of England, but as I'm bound facing the giant cauldron, I am forced to watch as he flicks three drops – just three, all this trouble just for three – into the bizarre concoction. I pray the thing within it drowns, the thing the thing that had ordered Cedric's death, but it doesn't. It's not alive enough to die, not now and never has been, and rises aching minutes of hoping against all hope, man-sized again and only vaguely human, all the features of him serpentine.
Lord Voldemort, a creature for whom nightmares failed to find words, was risen.
Words failed me.
Thoughts failed me.
I was acting on instinct now, forming a plan. I have to get my wand. Once I have that, I am powerful. Maybe not enough to survive for long, but enough to do something. Enough to cause the police to come – there had to be a city near a graveyard of this size – and I could flee in the distraction. Enough to disable Wormtail and hope his master isn't willing to follow after me alone.
But I'm still held captive by the grave of the man who spawned this monster. My wand is who-knows-where in the madness of the night, which seems to understand that tonight's the night for it to go all out, blacking out all but the brightest of stars and clinging in its utter emptiness.
It fills a moment later with the arrival of a score or so of men clad in long black robes and masks of bone white. Some are still clutching their left arms, where the Dark Mark is branded on them as on Wormtail, whose was used to call them here.
I suddenly very much wish Snape was here, even if that meant he was a true Death Eater and loathes Muggle-borns and their half-blood children, even if that means he could never like me like I like him, and that sooner or later he'll be bound to say something snarky in our arguments to this effect and break my heart, because if he was here that meant he could save me. With greater force, I wish that he will not show, because that means he is true to the Light and will not die a traitor's tortuous death here tonight, and because I – dare I think it, even now at the rattling of the spears, when destinies are completed? – love him and do not want to see his end. Because, when I escape this, it means… it means…
They are gathered now, talking of things I know, things I've guessed. But it is rebirthing party, and it has never been said Voldemort wasn't charismatic. You don't draw crowds to you with a face like his, after all. He gesticulated with his words, a southern preacher at his pulpit, the lawyer at the bar, the man who stirs the crowd to froth and then releases them out on the unsuspecting world.
I try to listen, but my mind is moving molasses-speed through simple thoughts. This man is singularly responsible for the deaths of untold numbers. He killed my parents and people like them for no reason at all except that he could. Killed boys like Cedric because they were in the way. And I am close enough now that I could place one good spell and end it all, at last, for real this time, and afford those souls some justice and my own a purpose in its death.
I know the curse, the ironic spell. It would be over quickly. It would not be murder so much as the putting down of a rapid, wild beast. I must have enough hate within me that it would work…
But he is not a beast, even when he brings a finger to caress the air above my cheek – an intimate gesture I have wished his spy would do at times, but sends only waves of disgust and sickness through me, – nor when he touches that skin and fails to burn as Quirell did, and it is that trace of humanity however small a shred, that keeps me from seriously entertaining this thought. Basilisks are inhuman, designed only to kill. Grindylows are animals that cannot be reasoned with if it comes to a fight. But men can choose their fates… even a Dark Lord might be redeemed one day…
Can't you see their warriors' pennants
streaming to this battlefield?
They ringed us, the Death Eaters, as he talked to them, extolling on his master plan, but still I paid no heed. I did not care what his plan was. I needed to get out of this. I am fourteen years old and in… like… will not die like this.
A wand is placed into my hand. It's my own, I knew this instinctively, as easily as breathing, and my bonds cut. The minions leave me alone – their eyes are on their risen master, whose red, cat-like ones are on mine. The thought of red and green, Christmas colours, runs sickly through my head for an instant before I push it away.
"Have you been taught how to duel, Harry Potter?" the monster asks using that stupid nickname. There should be crippling fear within me, a disabling sense of impending death. I register both dimly, but feel the epinephrine course stronger.
Men of Harlech stand ye steady;
It cannot be ever said ye for the battle were not ready.
Battle hymns played in my head. I gripped my want all the tighter, Snape's teachings readied.
Stand and never yield!
) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) (
The night was filled with spell fire as they chased me. It was my one chance, that was all to escape – the strange connection between our wands had given me that, at least – and I flung curses over my shoulder as if there were no tomorrow at my pursuers. If I failed, there'd not be.
"Artafyrus!" I shouted, "Impedimenta! Deprimo! Expelliarmus! Expelliarmus!" ducking behind gravestones that collapsed into rubble when twisting, burning spellfire hit them. Looking back to aim a, "Dirumpi!" at the nearest body possible as I ran, I did not see right away what tripped me, only feel its waxen, unresponsive flesh.
The cup had to be nearby, that was all I knew, and I summoned it with all the magic left in my body, catching it by the handle and riding it back to the stands alive with cheering, the handsome boy's body entangled around my own.
The grass we landed in with soft and dry, recently mowed or charmed to shortness, whatever wizards do with grass. It was heady and alive after the pallid death-scent of the graveyard, mouldy and crumbling even before it reached my nose; this grass is alive, is growing, is the hope that there really is no death – because the grass in my nostrils, whose scent envelopes me even as the screaming starts to stream down the stand and footsteps thump and thud against the loamy earth in their haste to make it to us, is the hope of life after death. I giggle a little at this – a clear sign I'm entering shock – because I can't make sense of it, how karmicly anyone can return as grass, and feel the world spin a little even as I lay still.
The noise is overwhelming. Some girls are in hysterics. I envy them their freedom.
Dumbledore is the first to reach me, his aged hand touching my shoulder and turning me face up, where I can see the sidereal beauty above me for an instant before his face pops into view. It is sideways, which is an odd angle for anyone with a beard to be at, and I barely manage to whisper, "He's back. He's back. Voldemort," before loosing another giggle. I focus my attention on stifling them.
When I realize a moment later I'm still clutching Cedric's body, I try and fail to scuttle away. "He killed him…" Merlin, oh Merlin, he killed him, "Wormtail killed him… Couldn't stop it… didn't know…"
Snape is beside me then, Dumbledore and Mr. Lime Green Bowler Hat moving away, I don't know or care where. All I know is I keep telling him I'm sorry for some reason, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry over and over again, and he's saying things that even I know aren't true about how it'll all be okay, but I want to believe him because his voice is the most amazing thing I think I've ever heard. He brings an arm around me, another behind me, and brings me slowly into a half-sitting position. I feel the cool press of glass against my lips and drink willingly before he finishes telling me it's a calming drought, and feel him probing the various cuts and bruises I've sustained in my escape and the third task ages before. His long fingers are nothing like Voldemort's as they brush my skin expertly, pronouncing none of them life-threatening. It lingers though on the long mark Wormtail made down my arm. It's growing cold, my arm, and from the sound of the bastard cut something important like a tendon or major vein that I worsened in my duel, but nothing that can't be healed by a mediwizard in a trice.
I kill feel pumped up, disbelieving the battle's over. My limbs, to my shock, are shuddering, and Snape loosens me from his grasp only to conjure a cloak to wrap around me as we wait for Dumbledore to return.
Moody comes up, insisting I should be brought to the hospital wing. I'm not sure where mediwizards fall under Constant Vigilance, but it seems to me like Moody would sooner suffer through his injuries then take senses-dulling potions.
"Dumbledore said to stay…" I say thickly, not sure if the Headmaster did but unwilling to leave the quasi-embrace Snape has me in, helping me to stay sitting up as, apparently, laying sprawled out on the ground might give people the idea I'm dead or something.
Cedric's dead and I still thought that. I'm disgusting, I'm wretched. I'm monstrous-
Snape just cursed Moody flat on his back with a stunner. I don't think that's ever happened before, Moody being caught off guard like that. I wonder what he said that pushed the Potions Master over the edge. But, if my arm had been burning all night-
"Sir!" I suddenly remember, "There's a Death East- I mean, Death Eater at Hogwarts! There's a Death Eater here – they put my name in the Goblet of Fire, they made sure I had to-"
"Don't worry, Éléonore," he tried his calming voice on me again, sitting beside me on what was once my beautiful Quidditch field, "Karakoff fled the moment he felt the mark flare. He won't be troubling you again." There was a tone to his words that made me think that, if he tried, Snape would have words to say about it, and most of those words would be ones he taught to me over the last month.
I sink further into him, shamelessly taking what comfort I can from him, even if he'll never, ever, return what I feel for him. I think my shoulders are shaking, and it takes me a moment to realize I'm not sobbing, as I should be, but hyperventilating.
Voldemort's back, the monster is back, and it's all my fault… I should have known, I should have found a way to keep from competing, I should have just stood at the entrance and waited for someone else to reach cup…
Cedric's dead, and it's all my fault because I shouldn't have forced him to take the cup with me… I should have known what was about to happen and jumped in front of him… I should have tried harder to keep my wand in hand when Wormtail first approached…
I saw the ghosts of my parents tonight. They said they loved me.
If I'd just let Sirius and Remus kill their once-friend a year ago, none of this would ever have happened – maybe he'd still have come back, but at least I'd not have had to be in this trice-cursed tournament, and maybe Cedric would still be alive and happy and the true champion of this game, and he could have gone on to marry Cho and they could have had beautiful kids and he could be in the ministry with his father who I can hear crying out futilely that it can't be his son dead there, as well it shouldn't, but if wishes were fishes the oceans would have been filled long ago.
If I'd never been born, Voldemort would never have tried to kill me…
If I'd been less noble, less Gryffindor…
I gave into quiet sobs then, and if anyone remaining in the stands thought it was odd to see Snape the Perpetual Git comforting The Girl-Who-Lived, there were more important things to worry about now.
I almost fell backwards when he suddenly jumped away. Of course, I thought, he's noticed what's going on and is disgusted he let it go on this long, being human and all… but he wasn't running away in abject horror from what he'd been doing a moment later, no, he was standing over the stunned form of Moody. But it wasn't Moody at all: it was Bartemius Crouch – Junior, to be specific – a face I recognized only from an escapade in Dumbledore's pensive.
A Death Eater.
Not Karakoff, but a true Death Eater.
I – along with my classmates, most of whom I'm not modest when I say couldn't take on a dung beetle, let alone a Dark Lord's flunky – had been in a classroom on a regular basis with a Death Eater, and not a reformed one like Snape, no, but a real, live, evil-incarnate Death Eater who'd helped torture pour Neville's parents into their beds in St. Mungo's.
I lost it then.
My wand suddenly in my hand, and I'm shouting, "Confringo!" at still stunned Junior. A hedge begins to burn nearby.
Snape bats my curse away from the unfortunately not burned man with barely a thought.
"Reducto," I try this time, and a divot forms in the ground near his feet.
"Éléonore, stop this-"
"Culteris," a handful of branches fall from a hedge as if they've been severed by a single knife-swipe.
"This maggot's not worth-"
"I don't care!" I shout at him, waving my wand madly and having nothing but red-gold sparks fly from it. "He tried to get me killed. I'll kill him."
"Didn't you just hear me?" I shout again. If there are any eyes left in the stands, they are on me now, "He put my name in the cup. When the dragon failed to kill me, he tried Grindylows. He sent me into the maze and let Cedric die!"
Shouting back, "It's not worth becoming a killer over!"
I take a step closer to him, wobbly and bleeding and dizzy, but drawing myself up to my full height, however little that was, I came nearer this man who probably knew more ways to kill someone with a deck of cards then was really necessary, this man who I loved fruitlessly. "Yes," I insisted, "it is."
My clarity on this fact may have surprised him, but he took a step forward too. "No, it isn't."
A stride again; he was less than a yard from me now. "Yes, it is."
He crossed that miniscule distance and was right up next to me so that I could feel his heart pounding with anger and excitement and fear, and he no doubted could mine as it thudded in and out of my chest, "No," he repeated, "it's not."
I was so angry at him I didn't know what to do but poke him in the chest with my wand. He restrained my hands, his own strong and sure on my upper arms, and I don't know what might have happened if we hadn't both seen the form stirring out of our peripherals. Almost as one we pointed our wands at the impostor and (myself vocally) cast a stunner on him. The blonde slunk back into the earth beside the eyeball now slowly and sickly spinning beside him.
That was all I needed right then, and I vomited all over our shoes at the sight.