Chapter 1 : Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
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My friends say I’m insane. I prefer to think of myself as…passionate. About acting, among other things. My name is Monique Christine Elizabeth Louis Johnson III, but quite obviously I will not force you to call me that. In fact, I highly suggest that for your safety and personal wellbeing you don’t call me that.
Monique is just fine, thanks.
Of course, there are some people who choose to call me Mon (feel free to add an “i” to the end if you like, even though it makes me sound like a complete tart and possible hussy). These are, coincidentally, the same people who call me insane. Funny how that works.
If you were paying any attention at all (I hope I didn’t lose you during my long and hideous name) you would know that I love acting. Plays, musicals, you name it. And I’m a pretty fab actress, in my humble, completely-100%-non-biased opinion.
Well, anyway, I’ve been in every play since the second grade. One of my personal favorites was the one we performed in third grade. I was a rock, if I recall correctly, and a damn good one too! So you see, I am tres versatile, and also bloody amazing. Not.
I am seventeen, and bursting forth with womanhood (as I’m constantly trying to tell Ms. Jenkins, the cranky lady who bullies us all at The Orphy. How is it legal for her to still insist I keep my hair in limp plaits down my back, and wear a frilly little dress and tie when I am this full of maturity?). I have one more year of The Fire-Filled Pit of Everything Naff (that is to say, my school) left, sadly, but I’m pretty happy with my life at this moment in time (“pretty” being the principal term there). Let me just say this; it’s a good thing I’m such a fab actress, because I get terrible grades. And I have also been known to get into some pretty nasty fights. But not to worry, the police only got involved three of the times, so it’s all jolly-good. I’ve got my own theatre, and I’m putting on a play now called “Death of the Dark Arts”. It’s quite—erm—creative, and full of darkness and mystery, if I do say so myself.
Which I do.
I’ve always had a sort of obsession with magic. Fairies, unicorns, anything that can either fly, turn toads into princes (without having to kiss them), or pull cute little bunnies out of hats. I love it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some girly-girl who has a pink room with Tinkerbelles all over the place; in fact, my room in The Orphanage is painted black, and not at all cute and cuddly. Just wanted to make sure you knew that.
“Jonas, I told you not to use that color light!” I snap at Jonas London, my personal lights bloke. He shines the brightest white ones into my eyes. Ah, how we love each other. As bestest pallies, of course.
“Fine, miss bossy knickers. You’re not a very good girlie-mate, you know.”
“Yes, green would go much better. White makes me look washed out.” I say, ignorez-vousing him completely whilst firmly striding across the stage to fix a rumple in the black velvet curtains.
“Fine, fine, already! Jeez! But green makes you look like a witch, I hope you know…” he grumbles, and the light shining down on the stage changes to a shamrock green.
“That is le point, you silly twit! Ooh, that looks perfect, thanks loads, Jonas! Have I ever told you how very much I love you?” He suddenly looks a bit on the sullen side.
“Don’t tease me, Mon. And anyway, you only love me because I’m your only mate. Plus, I fix your lights.” I raise my eyebrows at him; he turns a shade of pink that’s actually quite lovely.
“Fix my lights, do you? You naughty wanker, you. Oh, and by the way, you are not my only mate, I’ll have you know.” I say, somewhat huffily.
“Name one other person you consider a friend, and who considers you one back.” He challenges, smirking. I’ll show him.
“Er…well, there’s Lucy, Frieda, and Terry at The Orphy…and I suppose I could say Andrew is a close friend as well…” Oh, bugger. This is truly pathetic. I am trying desperately to wrack my brains for more acquaintances of the matey variety, but no other names come to mind. Ah, well, I guess I will just have to live with the fact that if I were to die right now, only a couple people would bother coming to my funeral. Possibly only one.
“Lucy and Frieda are both babies, Monique. As in, not even two years old yet.”
“So?” I ask defensively. “What is your point?”
“And Terry is a dog.”
“Get on with it, then! I’m still not seeing your point here, you know. I am not as intelligent as you are.”
“Andrew was just recently sent to the Loony Bin; he went ‘round the twist ages ago.”
“Sometimes the loony ones are the best pals, you know.”
“Wouldn’t I know it,” he chuckles, shaking his head. “And my point was, I am your only true pal, and that is the only reason you say you love me.”
“Plus, you know, you fix my lights.”
This is getting us nowhere, I can see, so I try and change the subject.
“Okaaayy, then…maybe move that light over a bit, huh? Thanks.”
Perfect! Now, for the actors. Speaking of which…
“Jonas, where are all my actors? They were supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago!” I’m on the verge of a full-fledged nervous breakdown by this point. And trust me, me freaking out is not a pretty sight. I don’t think Jonas has ever been quite the same since my last one.
“No idea. Hey, are we going to run through this, or what?”
“OH, THAT IS A BRILLIANT IDEA, JONAS. WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT??? OH YES, BECAUSE THE ACTORS. AREN’T. HERE. You moron! I guess I could act out all the parts…”
“Calm down, princess. Just practice your lines for now. Please?” Jonas looks tired. I sigh, slowly nodding.
“Oh, put a sock in it, you sod! You wouldn’t know what a good spell was if it bit you in the arse! You couldn’t hurt a fly.” I draw my “wand” from my billowing robe pockets. I sewed them myself, since hiring a seamstress is way too expensive. They’re a deep blue, the color of my eyes.
“Do you wish to duel, so I can prove to you my power? Do you wish to die at my hands?” I imagine the M.I.A. actor Jerry’s response to this in my head. ‘I wish nothing of the sort, Celeste. Please, let’s just think this through!’
“I don’t think so, Connor. There’s no bloody way you’re leaving here alive. Unlike you, I am not afraid to kill people. I am not afraid to kill you.” ‘Oh, really? You would really kill me? We made love, Celeste…’
“You---you could never make love. You’re a hateful, conniving sunuva—“
“Bravo. Brava.” A chill suddenly makes its way down my spine. I turn slowly.
“Who are you? Are you the new actor we hired? Excellent! Here, stand over there.” Ignoring his odd attire, I drag him over to a white line on the stage. His skin is oddly scabby, with a greenish hue to it. Odd. Whoever did his makeup is one heck of an artist. He snatches his arm out of mine, knocking me away from him.
“Do you know who I am?” his voice is a high, breathy hiss.
“Improv! Very good, very good. Now we get into a duel, okay?” I draw my wand, aiming it at his chest. He draws his own. My, he is prepared.
“A mudblood half-breed like you must learn their place in this world. Filth.” He flicks the wand, and a searing pain gashes through my leg.
“T-that was unnecessary! Good acting, but that’s beside the point. Just ease up a bit, okay? Oh, Gods, that was painful…” I look down, and see blood collecting in a puddle at my feet. I look nervously up to where Jonas is supposed to be standing. ‘Supposed’ being the key word here.
“Jonas?” I ask, a little freaked out now. He wouldn’t leave without my permission, would he? No. Well, maybe. But he wouldn’t now, not today. He knows I need him!
“Your friend is dead.” The ugly thing in front of me hisses. I’m starting to think he’s not acting.
“Go away if you don’t want to be in my play. Do you even know what this play is? It’s to prove to the regular people out there that magic does exist. Good and bad.”
“Oh, really, now?” He sneers, seemingly amused.
“Yes, really, and if you are going to ruin it, get the bloody hell out of my theater!” I take an aggressive step towards him, and draw my wand. He must take this as a threat (why? It’s just a piece of wood…) because he flicks his own wand, and I’m suddenly soaring backwards, then crashing into the wall. The curtain falls, trapping the odd man and me underneath it. I scramble out from under it, my back and head throbbing in pain. He blows it off (the curtain, that is, not my head) in a cloud of dark smoke and sparkles (oooh, shiny…). I cough, the smoke burning my eyes and leaving me a bit dusty.
“What the bleeding hell did you do that for? What do you want?” I shudder, half terrified and half brassed off about this freaky prat coming and destroying my theater. But mostly brassed off.
Ignoring me completely, he starts talking, his eyes flickering lazily about the room. “Funny I should even be down in this part of London at all. As it were, I was just heading to a dear…confidant…for a nice cup of tea,” he chuckles ironically at this, “when I passed this lovely theatre. I do so love the arts, you know.”
“I bet you do! The dark ones, especially, right?” I sneer. Pssh. This guy is a pushover; I can take him. He’s just like any other guy, cocky and over-confident in his stick. Only, his is wooden, and he carries it around in a pocket. Oh, hahaha, I do amaze myself with my ability to still be all funny and full of, erm, funniness, even when I’m just about to fight a creepy guy who may or may not be wearing tights and a cape.
“As I was saying, I was just passing your lovely theatre and saw what show you are producing. ‘Death of the Dark Arts’. How very…catchy.” I puff out my chest pompously, nodding my head in agreement.
“I couldn’t agree more. You do seem to have quite good taste…well, in play names, not clothes, although that can hardly be your fault—“ I’m cut off very rudely by a flash of light, and then a sharp pain in my arm. The nerve! I have been cut off one too many times by this—this—this lunatic! It’s time to take action. I straighten myself up, to my full height of five feet, seven inches, and roll up the sleeves of my robe, preparing for a fight.
“What are you doing?” he asks, and I think I hear a bit of curiosity in his voice. Or is it loathing?
“I’m preparing for our fight, where I will kick your sorry arse to Liverpool and back. Come on, and get ready for the buffing up of a lifetime, you pansy.”
“You are either very brave or very foolish, muggle-spawn. Either way, you are about to die.”
“Can we say ‘cliché’? Ooh, God, that was lame. ‘Either way, you are about to die.’” I shake with laughter. What a laugh and a half! But seriously, where are all of my actors? And—hold it—who’s lurking there, back stage, behind creepy green-dude? Could it be Jonas?? My heart races with hope. All I have to do is distract this guy. Hmmmmm. I know one of the light ropes is a yard or two behind me; you know, the ones they had to use to set them (the lights) up…maybe I could make the lights have a little tipsy?? T’would be an awful shame, though, after all Jonas’s hard work…ah, well.
I slowly edge my way backwards as I keep trying to talk to him, keep him distracted. When I’m within tugging distance of the rope I lunge for it with all of my might, and quickly jerk it free from its foothold. The whole light fixture comes spiraling down to earth, headed straight for the freak’s head. He blasts it away with that obnoxious stick what’s-it of his (I know a place I’d love to shove that thing) and the debris is flying everywhere, great billows of smoke and sparks of electricity everywhere. Oh, how nice, now my theatre is on fire. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. How ‘bout the third option: RUN! I hightail it out of there, the smoke tearing at my throat, and making my eyes run with tears. I cough and splutter, trying to find my way to the exit. It’s beyond chaos, with things flying and exploding all around me, and swearing, and then someone grabs me roughly, covering my mouth with their hands. I struggle (okay, I’m pretty scared now), kicking and thrusting, trying to get away from him. I manage to sink my fist into his face at least once. He grunts, throwing me over his shoulder. He turns three times on the spot, and suddenly I’m thrown head first into a whole new, terrifyingly foreign world.
I feel terribly dizzy; I have no idea what’s going on, or where I am, or how I got here. We’re in a dark alleyway, but I can’t see where the man is facing, since he’s holding me backwards. I bet this is all a dream. Maybe I can even write a play about it later! Now that’s an idea!
Now he’s moving again, walking forwards. We go through a doorway; he kicks the door closed behind him, turning for a second, so that I have a glimpse of a long hallway, with ugly little heads mounted to the wall. I wonder if this is some kind of funeral home or something? No…it’s much too big for that, by the looks of it. This is some weird dream!
“Kreacher!” The man who’s holding me calls loudly. Maybe he’s a bit on the loony side. What the--? There’s a crack, and a hideous creature appears out of nowhere. I can just see it if I turn my head a certain way. It’s short and dirty, with bat-like ears and a snout for a nose. It’s wearing what looks like a tea cozy tied around its middle.
This settles it, then. I am officially insane. I always suspected as much, but now I have proof; I am seeing little people wearing tea cozies, with hair growing out of their ears. Even for me, this is crazy.
“Kreacher, please make sure the others are distracted. Get them all away from my room; they can’t see me come in, especially with this. Can you do that?” The man’s voice is surprisingly gentle, and suddenly I have a feeling he’s quite young. That doesn’t erase the fact that he just called me a “this”, though.
“Master.” The thing bows, then disappears with another loud crack.
“Let me go, you blasted arsehole! Let me down, or I’ll really let you have it! I can kick your arse to Scotland and back, if you like!” In these kinds of situations, I find that violence certainly is the answer.
“This is for your own safety, stupid muggle! Now shut up, or we’re both dead!”
“At least tell me who you are!” I plead, whispering.
“Regulus Black. Now shut the bloody Hell up.”
“Regulus? What kind of farcical name is that? What are you, a bloody laxative? And what kind of a mother names her kid ‘Regulus’ anyway?” He stops in his tracks; I can feel him shaking.
“SHUT. UP. NOW.” I scowl, but stay silent. After a moment, Regulus starts walking again. His feet are quiet on the floor, so as not to be heard, and his grip on me tightens slightly. I watch as we pass through a large kitchen, where an ugly, hairy leg stands, probably for an umbrella stand or something. What, erm, eccentric visions I am having...I can’t believe all of this has been stored up in my subconscious and hasn’t come out until now!
We’re just starting up the steps when he trips, letting go of me for a moment. I tumble down the steps, each step giving me a new bruise, I’m sure. But of course, this is the sad thing they call my life. I land in a heap at the bottom of them (Geez! Who makes stone steps any more? I wouldn’t be surprised if this gives me a concussion). I feel my vision fading around the edges, I’m in so much pain, but I force myself to stand, and run as fast as I can (which is not very fast considering my injured leg and, you know, me falling down a staircase and landing on my head) to the hall we came out of, then through the front door.
The night air is freezing cold, but I keep running, crying from the immense pain, my robes torn and dirty from the struggle. Wham! I crash into something, and am knocked backwards. Gasping, I look up. It’s Regulus…except…
“Why can’t you let me go home, huh? I can take care of myself fanks, without your bloody help! Just let me go back home! Unless you want another black…eye…” My words fade in my throat when I notice that this bloke doesn’t have a black eye. “You’re not Regulus!” I say stupidly. But honestly, you can’t expect me to form normal, coherent sentences when this man is standing in front of me. He is pretty groovy looking, and all that.
“No, I’m not Regulus. I’m Sirius,” he says, sounding highly insulted. “So, what did my little brother do to you?” I narrow my eyes, glaring up at the newcomer. I recognize my chance. I stand on wobbly legs, vision still blurred, and look Sirius dead in the eyes (bloody hell, he’s got pretty eyes…shut up brain, shutup!).
“Help me go home. Please, I just want to go home. And he won’t…”
“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL WERE YOU THINKING? DO YOU WANT ME TO KILL YOU, YOU LITTLE—“ Regulus stops dead when he sees his brother.
“Sirius. What are you doing back?” Regulus sneers, a horrible look on his face.
“I need something from my room; I forgot it there when I left.” Phwoar, he’s a bad liar. I don’t even know him and I can tell he’s fibbing.
“Erm—I hate to break up this little family reunion, but I’m soaking wet, and in quite a lot of pain, so could you please just take me home?” I ask impatiently. The two boys look at me.
“I told you, you can’t go home. Ever.” Regulus smirks, grabbing my arm again. I gasp; he’s touched my bruise.
“Let her go, you bastard. What the bloody hell are you forcing her to stay here for? You wouldn’t really—“ Sirius looks suddenly horrorstruck. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“Well…not in the way you’re implying, but yes. Like I said, I’m in quite a lot of pain at the moment. So—“
“She. Nearly. Knocked. Out. The. Dark. Lord.” Regulus hisses, eyes wild. I bet this is some kind of cult or something.
“What? You’re kidding! And how’d you manage that?”
“Erm…a giant light fixture nearly fell on top of him. I gave your brother that lovely black eye as well. I can be quite fierce, so you’d better let me go home, or else—“
“Just Apparate, why don’t you!” Sirius says.
“Apparate? What are you on about?”
“She’s a muggle, Sirius.”
“He thinks she’s a witch, I think. He called her a mudblood.” Sirius flinches at these words.
“Why did he want to kill her, though?”
“She tried to duel him.”
“I haven’t been this happy since Argus Filch was attacked by those nifflers in the dead of night!” Sirius says, looking positively gleeful. “A muggle beat him! HAH!” Nifflers? Filch?
Yup, this is definitely a cult.
“Listen, I am not stupid, okay?” (lie), “I know an insult when I hear one! What the bloody hell is ‘muggle’ supposed to mean, anyway? If it means wimp, then you’re wrong. I could beat the snot out of you in a heartbeat!” I shake my fist at the two boys angrily. They have the indecency to start laughing, the prats.
“What’s so funny? You want a piece of me, eh?!?” I fling myself at Sirius, knocking him to the ground. My fist connects with his face for a sweet moment, before I’m thrown off him.
“Fight like a real man!” I cry out angrily. “Use fists, you bloody cupcake! Don’t hide behind whatever you’re using to push me off! I don’t know what you’re doing, or what’s going on, but you have some serious explaining to do!” I’m breathing hard, adrenaline pumping through my veins, making the pain ebb away a bit. I stand, stepping as close to Regulus as I dare. He cringes, as if I’m some sort of dirty animal. “Go on, Laxative Lad, what are you and Cupcake hiding?” Now it’s my turn to smirk. He looks livid.
“Come here.” He grabs my arm tightly; I gasp, the pain suddenly coming back in full tilt. He’s dragging me back to his house, and not gently either.
“Let her come with me to Hogwarts, Regulus. She’ll be safe there.” Sirius says. I can practically see the wheels turning in Regulus’s head.
“I can take her there myself.” He sneers finally.
“But how do you think our dear old mum will react when she realizes you have a muggle in the house?” Sirius asks bitterly. “She can come with me to James’s place, and then we’ll all go down to Hogwarts.”
“Fine. And by the way, don’t think I care what happens to her. She just looks so much like…like Reyna…” Regulus’s voice hitches in his chest, and he lets me go. “Go on, then. Go with the traitor. But don’t trust him. He’s as fowl as they come.” He gives his older brother a disgusted look before stomping off into the house. Suddenly, I have an idea. It’s time for my brilliant escape plan. And my final one.
“What about that thing you came to pick up? Shouldn’t you go get it?” I say, looking hopefully up at Sirius. He grins lopsidedly at me.
“Nah, it can wait. Nice try, though. Come here. We’re going to the Potters’.”
“Erm…at the risk of sounding dim, is this really the time for ceramic shopping?” I ask skeptically. He shakes his head, laughing, and then I am once again flying to a new, alien place.
I think I may be quite possibly bonkers.