Chapter 1 : Fragile Bones
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She sat on the window seat, with her cheek pressed against the frosty glass, her thin arms wrapped around her legs. Outside, the large poplar trees in the yard swayed slightly in the wind, shedding their orange-brown leaves. Winter was on its way.
The room was cold. Amelia shivered, and pulled the thin blanket up around her shoulders, though it didn’t help. She didn’t think she could ever be warm again, not with the icy coldness that was spreading from her heart.
Three weeks. Three weeks since her parents had died – no, been murdered – and she could not get their faces from her mind. There was her mother with her long, fair hair and smiling eyes. Her warm hands that were always helping and the smell of baking – of fresh bread and blueberry muffins – always lingering each time she stepped inside.
Her father’s face smiled at her, too. He was the bravest man Amelia had ever know with his dark hair, flecked with grey, dark brows and the long scar that ran the length if his face. His skin was always rough from all the time he spent outside. He had been an excellent Quidditch player in his day.
Amelia felt a single tear sliding down her cheek, and impatiently wiped it away with her sleeve. It didn’t do to dwell on the past and forget to live. Some things could never be returned, never be replaced. But how could she continue to live when everything that she loved was gone?
The evening light continued to fade until the room was dark and lonely. A single candle stood on the bedside table, wax dripping as the flame flickered, creating strange shadows over the room. Twisted, strange shadows that lingered in the corners, sending shivers up Amelia’s spine.
This house that she had been sent to live in – Uncle Alfred’s home – it was full of shadows. They were everywhere. And it was always so quiet and empty. There was no warm chatter, no laughter. No stone fireplaces roaring with flames and no crowds of people who were all happy to be together, because they didn’t know how long their happiness might last. It wasn’t home.
More than anything, Amelia wanted to go home. But that was impossible now. Like her parents, her home was gone. Burnt to the ground. She was just lucky she hadn’t been inside it when…
She took a deep breath and looked towards the ceiling, refusing to let the salty water climb out the corners of her eyes again. She had always been so firm, so sure-footed. She never cried. But now, everything had changed.
How long had it been since she had left this room? She couldn’t remember. Every say, every long, monotonous day she sat here, because she couldn’t bear to leave. Couldn’t bear to go outside. Uncle Alfred was her mother’s brother but she didn’t know him. She’d met him once, when she was a young child. He’d given her a large stuffed teddy bear, with brown fur and a ribbon tied around its neck. She hadn’t seen him after that, until now. He’d always sent her a card for her birthday and a box of chocolates for Christmas, but that was it.
Now he was her only family. And the bear had burnt, along with the house.
A breeze swept into the room, under the gap in the door. A shiver went up Amelia’s spine. This house was so big and cold. It was too big for one person, and Uncle Alfred had always lived alone, until now. She knew she should’ve been more grateful to her uncle for taking her in, no questions asked. But she hadn’t even been able to bring herself to talk to him, or even look at him.
She’d only heard his voice. It was deep and rough. Intimidating.
Amelia hated feeling intimidated.
Slowly, deliberately, she pushed the blanket away from her slim body. Ever since her parents’ death, she’d hardly eaten. Her thin arms were as fragile as cobwebs and her blonde hair seemed to have lost its glow. As she walked across the room, the marble floor freezing beneath her bare feet, her legs trembled. She had no energy anymore. No life.
She placed a small hand on the brass door knob and opened the door slowly, peering out into the house beyond. The corridors twisted and turned like a dangerous labyrinth. There were flickering lamps on the walls, casting a dim light but most of the rooms remained in darkness.
Holding her breath, as though that would stop her from making any sound at all, Amelia crept through the labyrinth of the house, ignoring the chill that had settled over her body, making ever hair on her neck stand on end. The white nightgown that she had been wearing for weeks swirled against her ankles as she walked, raised up on the tips of her toes.
The Great staircase creaked as she wandered downstairs and she was reminded, painfully, of Hogwarts. A castle so very different from this place. There, it was always warm even in the winter. Warmth came from the people who dwelled there, not the place itself. Amelia had realised that over the past few weeks.
It was slightly lighter downstairs, and the long scarlet carpet running along the corridor was warm beneath Amelia’s feet. She suddenly wondered where her uncle was. Was he home? Would he have told her if he had gone out?
Surely he would’ve. Then again, she had ignored him the entire time she had been here. Maybe he thought that was the way she liked it. Alone.
She didn’t know why she kept walking down the long, narrow corridor. It was almost as if her feet were carrying her, against her own will. But suddenly she knew she didn’t want to go back to that room. She’d spent enough time there, remembering her parents, longing for the life she once had. Now, it was time to be free.
There was a huge set of doors at the very end of the corridor. They were made of a dark red oak and were pushed open slightly. Warm, comfortable light spilled from within. Her heart pounding nervously inside her chest, Amelia continued walking and pushed open the doors, not sure what she was about to find.
Her eyes widened and she stopped just inside the doorway, looking around in every direction.
It was a library. And not just a library, but the most magnificent one Amelia had ever seen. It was even better than the one at Hogwarts. Every single wall was covered in shelves – shelves which stretched all the way to the roof. And these shelves were crammed full of books of all shapes and sizes, most of which looked extremely old – fat and covered in dust. There was a huge bay window at the far side of the room which overlooked a view of the river that wound through the property. An ancient grandfather clock ticked steadily away in the corner. In the centre of the room was an ornate glass case, holding the most prized books, and two squashy chintz armchairs, a small coffee table between the two of them. There was a glowing lamp on the table and a tall glass of butterbeer. A thick, leather bound book lay in the middle of this table, a strip of fabric marking a single page.
It was a book lover’s heaven. The most glorious room Amelia had been in. She had always loved to read – loved to open a book and get lost between the pages, to find herself in another world. Her mother had loved books too, especially ones with happy endings. Amelia and her mother had spent many hours together, in front of the fire, reading books filled with adventures – handsome knights, fierce dragons, beautiful mermaids (quite unlike those in the Black Lake) and dark magicians.
“Heroes always have happy endings in books,” her mother had often said. “That’s what makes them so great. We root for good. We hope that they defeat evil.”
“Do heroes ever have happy endings in real life?” a young Amelia had asked, looking up at her mother with big dark eyes.
Her mother had hesitated for only a fraction of a second before answer; “Of course they do. But they have to work hard. You’ll always be a hard worker, won’t you Amelia?”
She had nodded, eager to please her mother. “Yes!” she had said, smiling toothily. “And when I go to Hogwarts I’ll be the best witch there!”
Her mother had laughed, and kissed the top of her fair blonde head. “Of course you will be,” she had said. “I believe in you.”
Amelia looked around, but she was the only one in the room. For the first time in weeks there was a glimmer in her heart that hadn’t been there before. A glimmer of happiness. Of hope.
She was surrounded by friends – and that’s what books were, weren;t they? They opened their pages to you, told you their darkest secrets and they were always there for you. They never lied or cheated. They never did anything bad. And they were always there.
Amelia cautiously sat down on one of the armchairs, and curled her legs up underneath her. She picked up the book on the table and looked at it critically. The gold print on the front cover was peeling and faded, so much so that she couldn’t make out what it said, so she opened to the first page.
Someone had written, in a scrawling hand, a note at the very bottom of the page:
‘Dearest Adrienne,’ it read, and Amelia’s heart gave a funny little jolt as she read her mother’s name, ‘Happy birthday my beautiful girl. I hope you treasure this book with all your heart. Love, dad.’
Amelia felt tears welling up in her eyes all over again. There were not many things of her parents left in this world – when the house had been set alight, most things had been destroyed. But not this book. This book was a remaining relic of her mother’s love, of her passion. And so she turned the leaf-thin page and began to read.
As she read, the despair inside of her slowly faded. She forgot why she was feeling sad, forgot who she was and all that had happened to her. All the mattered were the characters between the pages.
The night grew older but Amelia did not feel tired. No. She hadn’t felt this awake for a long time. Different things made different people happy. Different things made different people feel alive. Some people played Quidditch and some people participated in Wizard’s Duels. Some people liked to paint.
But Amelia loved to read.
She didn’t hear the library doors as they creaked open a fraction, and didn’t hear as Uncle Alfred slowly came into the room, holding a large mug of hot chocolate. He stopped quite suddenly when he saw Amelia curled up in his arm chair and his weary eyes brightened.
As she sat there, her eyes wide with excitement as she flipped through the pages, she looked just like her mother. They had the same hair, the same way of sitting, even the same inquisitive expressions on their faces. More than anything, Alfred wished that his niece would talk to him, confide in him. He missed his sister more than anything in the world and knew that Amelia felt the same.
But he couldn’t bring himself to talk to her. The day she had arrived she had looked so…broken. She hadn’t even looked at him. And he knew, knew that he could never be them. He could never be Robert and Adrienne, even if he tried. He should’ve been there when Amelia was growing up, shouldn’t have locked himself away in this big house, with nothing but his work and books for company. He should’ve spent more time with his family.
And now he was paying the price for his foolishness.
At last, he found the courage to step forward, to declare his presence. But what should he say? He didn’t want to startle the poor girl, or upset her.
And then he saw what she was reading. The book that had been sitting on the table in front of her. Her mother’s book.
“Read and be curious,” he said. “And if someone says to you: ‘Things are this way. You can’t change it’ – don’t believe a word.”
Amelia almost dropped the book with fright at the sound of her uncle’s voice. She hadn’t heard that voice for three weeks, but it sounded exactly the same as she remembered. She turned around slowly and saw that he was standing right behind her. He was a big man with grey hair and a slightly hooked nose. He didn’t really resemble her mother at all. But if you looked closely, something about the shape of his eyes…
“My mother used to say that,” Amelia found herself saying, staring at her uncle nervously.
To her surprise, he smiled slightly and walked forwards, dropping down into the armchair in front of her. Up close, he looked a lot less intimidating. Gentle almost. “I know,” he said. “I am her brother, you know.” He paused slightly. Amelia thought that he looked as though he was trying to pluck up the courage to say something else. “You look just like her, you know,” he said, and Amelia looked down, no longer able to meet his eye. Something was pounding in her throat. “This was always her favourite room in the house. She could spend hours here.”
“I think I could, too,” Amelia said, still looking down at her flimsy white dressing gown. “I do love books.”
“So did she,” said Uncle Alfred. “So do I. I guess it’s something our family has in common.”
There was a silence between them. The grandfather clock ticked loudly, rhythmically and Amelia suddenly felt exhausted. It had been a long time since she’d had a proper night’s sleep. Somewhere in the distance an owl hooted, giving some indication that the night really was upon them, that it was late.
Amelia raised her head to look at her uncle. Something about the way he talked reminded her so much of her mother. She hadn’t noticed it before. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to. She’d been too caught up in her own grief to realize that she wasn’t the only one who had lost a loved one. Uncle Alfred had too.
“She was right, you know,” Uncle Alfred said suddenly.
“Right about what?”
“That you should never listen to what anyone else says. If someone says to you that things are a certain way and you can’t change them, they’re wrong. Books have taught me that much.”
“My parents are dead,” Amelia said, her voice breaking. “They killed them. There’s nothing I can do to change that.”
“Maybe not,” Uncle Alfred said, and his voice had a great undercurrent of sadness. “But what you can do is make sure that they didn’t die for nothing.”
“How can I possibly do that?” Amelia asked despairingly. People were mysteriously disappearing daily. There were reports of Muggles and muggleborns being found dead…darkness was approaching and there was nothing any of them could do to stop it. They were too strong. His followers.
“You can keep fighting,” Uncle Alfred said, as though reading her thoughts. “Don’t give up hope, Amelia.”
“Even if all hope is lost?”
“You know as well as I do that isn’t true. There is still resistance and there always will be. Good always wins.”
Amelia found herself smiling slightly. Once again, he sounded like her mother. She thought about her own brother, Edgar and pain rose up inside of her once again. She had no idea where he was, no idea if she’d ever see him again. He had been forced to go into hiding, forced to lose all contact with the outside world. She had been so close with him. Just like Uncle Alfred had been close with her mother. “Good only wins in stories,” she said.
Uncle Alfred shook his head. “I don’t think that’s true,” he said. “There are many good people in this world, Amelia. You know many good people. Don’t give up. Keep fighting – I know that you are an excellent witch.”
“I once promised my mother that I’d always work hard,” Amelia said. “So that’s what I did.”
“You’ll make your parents proud,” Uncle Alfred said quietly and Amelia’s lower lip began to tremble. She wondered whether it would ever be get easier, living without them. “And you’ll make me proud, too. I know you will.”
This time, Amelia couldn’t stop the salty tears than ran down her cheeks. “I’m sorry I ignored you uncle,” she whispered.
Uncle Alfred smiled slightly. “You have nothing to apologise for,” he said. To Amelia’s surprise, he passed her the mug of hot chocolate he was carrying. It was warm in her hands. “Hot chocolate always makes me feel better,” he said.
As Amelia slowly drank the frothy, chocolatey drink, a warmth spread throughout her entire body. In didn’t completely eradicate the darkness but it gave her strength. She knew her parents would be so disappointed if she lost hope, because of them. If she stopped living life.
She would continue to fight until good won, just like in all the best stories.
She would continue to fight for her parents.
A/N: This was an extremely spur of the moment one-shot, written for the Cornelia Funke Challenge - I was given her awesome quote: "Read and be curious. And if somebody says to you: 'Things are this way. You can't change it' - don't believe a word."
Please leave a review, telling me what you think.