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The Sunday Massacre by SweetSorrow
Chapter 2: The Man Who Eats the Walls
He is sitting lazily in front of the telly, his neck bent backwards, his head resting against the wall. His spindly legs are stretched out, crossed at the ankle, and his naked feet are sitting very comfortably on the table. The face I remembered to be clean and sharp is now gaunt and grey. Dark bruises look as though they’ve been painted underneath his eyes, which have become ghostly wounds in his head. His hair is a pile of twigs and brambles. He looks dead.
But he is not, and he lets the remote drop from the spidery thing he has for a hand, and he stands, his face unsure as he looks at me, stuck and frozen in the place I’ve Apparated. Everything feels suddenly bare.
“Oh, you!” I move quickly, letting my bag drop on the floor, and I throw my arms around him. I feel him flinch, and I realize how frail his body is, but he is here. I let my eyes close, the empty white of the walls around me turning into a much warmer black, and I breathe against him. After a moment, his own arms snake around my waist, his hands locking at the small of my back. The side of his face digs into my scalp, and his head feels pleasantly heavy.
I stay silent, not knowing whether to yell at him or to fawn over him. I don’t know which he deserves more.
I wonder if he’s smiling.
“You remember me.” His voice is quiet and throaty, deteriorated like the rest of him. It sounds amused, the way it used to sound.
“Of course I do.”
His chest rises and falls as though it is shivering. Chuckles fall from his nose in airy gusts. They are soft, and they spill off the back of my neck. “Still pining for me, then?”
I think of a pine tree, a tall one, its needles sticking out like spears. “Certainly,” I reply, smirking. I move my cheek from his shoulder and shift to face him. “You didn’t expect anything less, I’m sure.”
He snorts. It sounds harsh, as though it’s hurt him.
I stand there for a moment, my lips burning, my eyes travelling rapidly over his haunted face. “What the hell are you doing here, Emory?”
He shrugs weakly. “I saw your name in the Prophet, which was convenient enough to describe where you live,” he explains as though it’s unimportant. “And I was looking for a place to stay, and seeing as you’re the only person on the damn planet who would do me such a favour, I decided I’d stop by for a little visit.”
My eyebrows raise. “You want to stay here?”
“I’m going to,” he affirms tersely, his gaze strong, as though he is trying to control me.
“Emory…” I let my hands fall from his shoulders, expecting him to move away, but he keeps his wrists locked firmly around my hips. “That’s hardly your decision…You can’t just arrive here and expect me to welcome—”
“But you don’t want me to go.” It is a statement. His voice is low. My words stop, and I look at him, my eyes flashing back and forth between his. He is dangerously close.
“No,” I answer at last, looking down. I feel like a skeleton.
His lips twitch. “Good.” He sounds content, and he drops his arms as though it’s finally safe to release me. I step away obediently.
“Where have you been?” I croak.
He hesitates, trapping air inside his mouth. The two dark holes in his head travel over me, considering me. The television groans in the background. “I’ve been about.”
My face screws up in an angry astonishment. “Rubbish. You’ve been gone for two damn years.”
Frustration bubbles to the surface of his skin, presenting itself on his withered face. “I’ve had things to do.” He turns from me, his hand reaching toward his pocket.
“I don’t believe you.”
I can see his jaw tense. “It’s none of your concern.” He draws his wand, and for a minute, I’m afraid he is going to hex me. He flicks it instead at a small bag he had left by the couch. It lifts into the air, hovering before him. It reminds me of a marionette. I feel like gagging.
I am beginning to grow as frustrated as he seems to be. He is ignoring me, which he isn’t supposed to be doing. He is supposed to be as excited to see me as I am to see him. He is not supposed to have harsh words and biting eyes that are already ripping chunks of my skin away.
“Emory, I thought you’d died.”
The bag falters in the air, as though it’s stumbled.
“Well, I’m here now, am I not?” he says lightly.
My voice raises. “Just admit you could have at least written me.”
He turns back to me again, his eyes red with annoyance. “I didn’t write, darling, because I didn’t have an owl,” he says caustically. “And I assure you even if I did, I was far too busy to write in the first place.”
Complete stupidity compels me to open my mouth again. “What the hell could you possibly have been doing that kept you so unbelievably busy you couldn’t even write something as simple as ‘Don’t worry, I’m alive,’ because frankly—”
“You ask a lot of damn questions, don’t you?” he fires, loud as me now. I stop, pushing my lips together firmly. His bag has lingered closer to me, and I realize how easily he could send it hurtling toward my head. “Now, should I send this straight to the bedroom, or do you have any place else you like you store luggage?” He breaks into an uneven, lingering grin, and I feel somewhat relieved.
“Well, I haven’t got another set of drawers…” I look at him weakly, but he ignores me and sends the bag tumbling past my face, shooting for the bedroom door. It lands on the bed with a puffy clunk.
“That’s all right,” he says pleasantly. I want to laugh. “I’ll use yours. I haven’t got much. It’ll fit.”
As much as I want to tell him off, I clench my teeth together, too afraid to fight him. I let him lope past me, and my eyes follow him as he disappears into the kitchen. I hear the door to the refrigerator open with a creaky protest. The noise that comes out of my mouth sounds like a balloon deflating, and I go after him. I come to a halt at the entrance and lean on the side of the doorframe. His head is gone, buried deep within the contents of my refrigerator, and his arms are flailing about, making bottles clink together as though he is conducting an orchestra.
“Damn, Tinkers…what the hell do you have in here besides milk?” he says, extracting his head. He turns to me, a frown smothered across his face the way jam is smeared on bread.
But I hardly see the frown. “You called me Tinkers,” I say, the corners of my mouth drawing up.
“I did…” he responds slowly, looking at me carefully. “Why, do you fancy I call you Tiger Lily?” he adds with a fluffy sarcasm that reminds me of some kind of french dessert.
I snicker, folding my arms across my chest. “No, Tinkers is fine. It’s wonderful, in fact,” I assure him, watching as he dips his head back into the refrigerator to hide a sly, triumphant grin. “I just haven’t heard it in a while…” And it is a relieving thing to hear. Emory’s version of my name is far more appealing than Oscar’s numerous ones, which never fail to make me think of unicorns and tea parties. At least Emory doesn’t say it as though he’s trying to hold a conversation with a newborn puppy.
“Aha!” he exclaims grandly, popping out of the refrigerator with a giddy look on his face. There is a small can in his hand, and he is holding it victoriously, as though it is a prize of some sort. My eyebrows rise considerably.
“You’re going to drink that? It’s eleven o’clock in the morning,” I say incredulously.
He shrugs, opening the can. “I haven’t had a beer in months.” He puts the metal to his lips and tips his head back, slurping and gulping at the liquid like it’s a fountain of youth. “Besides,” he says, slapping the can down on the counter, “it’s a celebration, isn’t it? I’m here now.” He spreads his arms as though he’s finished a brilliant performance and expects applause. “Haven’t you missed me?”
I don’t know why he doesn’t incense me. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Painfully.” He kicks the refrigerator door shut, slurps again at the ugly can of beer, and reaches up to open the cupboards. I try not to let it bother me.
“And you’ve missed me just as much, I’m sure?” I shoot at him playfully.
Boxes of food scrape around as he digs through them. “I haven’t had the time to miss anyone,” he explains simply. He pulls out a neat, red box of biscuits. “But if I had, you might have gotten a mention.” He looks at me now, seeming pleased.
“Right then.” I move my eyes to the floor and shift my weight to my feet. My arms swing down and hang awkwardly at my sides. “I’d best be off.” As much as I’d rather not leave, I don’t fancy the idea of Drabbleblatt deciding my head will be his next chew toy. “Just…try not to eat the walls, too…” I say, looking warily at the crumbs spewing out of his mouth.
He shrugs, swallowing the large mass in his mouth with noticeable difficulty.
“You promise you’ll be here when I get back?”
He looks at me, but out of reassurance or annoyance I can’t tell. “Just go, Tinkers.”
I do as he says, but I can’t help wondering if he wants to get rid of me. Perhaps there’s some woman he picked up earlier that morning hiding in my wardrobe, waiting until she hears the door shutting behind me to jump out and continue tickling him and purring at him. I leave hesitantly, too surprised by his sudden appearance to trust that he’ll stay, and shut the door as quietly as I can.
I follow the stairs to the lobby quickly, wary of the time I’ve been away from Flourish and Blotts, but hopeful for any bit of information about what the hell happened in the flat upstairs. The space is eerily silent, though the crowd is considerably larger. People are walking about nervously, not knowing exactly where to go, taking careful steps as though the floor will open up beneath them if they set their feet down too forcefully. Some faces hold a blankness that makes me want to look away, while others hold a sombre look of excitement that reaps around when something dramatic and mysterious occurs. The majority, however, carry a heavy devastation, their eyes downcast, huddled in small groups of heads buried in circles.
I walk past them awkwardly, feeling like I’ve been misplaced. The ceilings seem lower and the walls seem tighter, and yet there is an unbelievable amount of space between everyone, as though no one wants to touch the other.
“Some disease, I heard it was,” a woman says enthusiastically to her friends as I pass their small group. “Killed her and her little boy! Just like that!”
Others have similar ideas. The words ‘carbon monoxide’ and ‘poison’ float around, burrowing themselves in my ears. Of course, they aren’t the right words, just the ones the Muggle police had released. I turn around, moving instead toward the stairs, to flat one hundred seventy-two. The door is locked, but after knocking a few times, it opens. A face peeks out and a hurried hand beckons me in, and I slip through to the quiet space inside.
“I was waiting for you to show,” the face says, speaking quietly. “You’re all right, then?” Her voice is sincere and comforting.
“Yeah,” I reply, nodding, watching as she moves dark hair away from her eyes. I notice the dark circles that are never usually there. “Yeah, I’m fine. I didn’t have any idea anything had even happened. I Apparated straight to work. Didn’t hear anything until I got a hold of the paper…”
She shakes her head, looking over at a small girl sitting at a small table who is trying to eat a bowl of soup with her fingers. “We saw the Dark Mark,” she says abruptly.
My eyes widen. “You did?”
“Well, Bert did,” she says, lowering her voice so her daughter won’t hear. “Eliza had woken up, so Bert went to take her out in the pushchair to make her go back to sleep…And he came straight back yelling ‘Helen! Helen!’” She throws her arms in the air, waving them in a frantic imitation of her husband.
I stand quietly, waiting for her to continue. “We alerted the Ministry, and they told us not to worry, but I’ve been worried anyway…”
Pressure ripples through my shoulders like knots. “You reckon they were after one of us?” I ask nervously.
Helen’s eyebrows twist, her eyes becoming fearful. “I’ve been asking myself the same thing.” She takes a shaky breath, looking to Eliza again. “I just can’t imagine…” She shakes her head again, this time more violently, trying to make thoughts fall out of her mind. “It’s not like You-Know-Who to make a mistake, though, if it was supposed to be one of us. But I don’t know what he wants with all of these Muggles.”
She looks upset by this, and I wait for her to calm, and I can tell she feels as small as I feel. “D’you think you’re going to leave?” I inquire hesitantly, feeling like the light coming from the window is too bright.
She groans, her body tipping backwards until she rests against the wall. “I want to, but Bert doesn’t fancy us going to stay with his mother. And he says the Ministry can offer us full protection here, so we’d be safer if we didn’t go anywhere, but—”
There is a loud clattering, which is moulds into the bouncing shrieks of Eliza’s crying. I turn my head to see a messy, overturned bowl of soup and a beautiful orange painting across the girl’s shirt.
“Mummy!” she cries, holding her soup-stained hands in the air and kicking her feet in frustration.
Helen rolls her eyes and walks quickly to her child. She kneels down and grabs the girls flailing hands. “Shush, Lizey. Oooh, yes, that’s hot, I know. Look!” She pulls out her wand and waves it in front of Eliza’s face. “Look what Mummy has! Watch!” She moves it around in the air, and the girl calms as the liquid disappears. “See? All better!”
I use this as an excuse to leave. I catch Helen’s eye and gesture to the door. She nods, saying quickly, “Oh, Mirabelle, I’ve got a Sneakoscope by the door there, see?” She extends a large arm to a stubby table that looks to have been carved by an elephant. A fruit bowl sits upon it, which holds numerous clips and keys. I spot the Sneakoscope among the pile and grab it. “That one,” Helen affirms. “Take it. Bert’s bringing home twenty, he said. Good thing to have with everything happening.”
I thank her and slip outside as Eliza begins crying again. I put the odd top-like object in my handbag, and I think of Emory. My stomach lurches. He is like a new toy—a horrifying, beautiful, exciting one I cannot get out of my head. He is in my home. He is waiting for me. I wonder if it’s a trick.
And when I open the door to the dusty air of Flourish and Blotts and hear Drabbleblatt’s angry “Miss Carter!” said as though he’s an old woman trying to give me detention upon my obvious and illegal return, it only bothers me because staying late at work would give Emory more time to escape.