Chapter 5 : A Message and a Mess
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When the owl saw me, it stopped its antics; it landed on the side of my bed and held out its leg, to which a letter was tied. I gaped at my roommates, completely nonplussed.
Mandy spoke up. “It was at the window just now, pecking at it and going mad, so we opened the window to let it in. When it couldn’t get through your bed hangings, it went after us instead. That letter must be something important, I guess.”
“Er… okay,” I said, and took the letter from the owl, which was clicking its beak impatiently. After I’d untied the letter, the owl soared dizzily out the open window.
Alanna walked back to her bed and sank down upon it, her hands in her tousled blonde hair. “This is the most stressful morning I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “I woke up thinking I’d have to worry about Charms, but I almost got mauled by a rogue owl. And would someone close that bloody window? It’s freezing in here!”
I ignored her and unrolled the bit of parchment, and Mandy jumped on my bed to try and read the letter over my shoulder.
“Who’s it from?” she asked.
I recognized the perfect handwriting at once. It was from my older brother. “Nathan,” I told Mandy, who slid off my bed to let me read the letter. I hadn’t talked to Nathan in a long time.
How’s school going? You haven’t written for a while. Hope everything is great at school. I’m busy with my Ministry job, of course, but I’m enjoying it a lot. Dad’s been telling me I spend too much time at work. The Dark Lord is gaining power so I should be focusing on more important matters than the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, because things are changing... I’ve found my place now, and I think Mum and Dad are finally beginning to choose a side in all this mess. Do you like my new owl? She’s new, her name is Bellona. She gets lost sometimes, hope she got there all right!
It was true; with all my assignments, I had completely forgotten to write to my brother. I smiled, glad he was still maintaining correspondence. Then all of a sudden panic struck me like lightning, and my smile faded. Which side did he mean? There had been subtle tension in the family on this topic for years, and I now wondered if it were because they were supporting the other side. Given Nathan’s mention of the ‘Dark Lord’, and Dad’s dislike of Muggles, I worried what exactly Nathan was getting involved in. I hadn’t the faintest idea how to respond to the letter, so I dressed quickly, grabbed the parchment in one hand and headed for the door.
“Wait,” said Mandy. “Where are you going?” She glanced anxiously at me. “Do you want to talk?”
I looked behind her and saw my other roommates still chatting and laughing. “Um, I don’t know…”
“Let’s go for a walk,” suggested Mandy, linking her arm through mine and leading me out of the dormitory.
This early in the morning, no one stopped us. We walked out onto the castle grounds, the brisk wind whipping my hair around, chilling my face. I pulled my jacket a little tighter around myself, and sighed slowly. I watched the little white cloud of my breath linger in the cold air a few moments before dissipating. I wished I had my scarf, but it was currently residing in the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory, and one of them had probably put a hex on it in case they ever felt like giving it back.
“So what happened?” Mandy asked cautiously. I handed her the crumpled parchment in my fist and said nothing. I slipped my hands in my coat pockets and looked resolutely at the frosty grass I was walking on. We continued in silence as Mandy read the letter, until she said, “So?”
“So, there’s something fishy about it.” Mandy looked at the letter again. I said, “I know this sounds silly, but… what if my parents are involved with the war? He’s never cared before, but it says there, Dad’s telling Nathan there are more important things than work, even though Nathan works with the law enforcement. Nathan’s job is pretty important, especially with all the Dark stuff that keeps happening nowadays!”
Mandy looked thoughtful. “I suppose,” she said. “But, I don’t think so. You and Nathan have always been really close, you know he would never support Voldemort. And as for your parents… I don’t know, it’s possible.”
“Do you think I should do anything, or am I just getting paranoid about nothing?”
“Well, you could write back and—”
“Oh yeah, I’ll say, ‘Dear Nathan, Are you working for Voldemort? Love, Melanie.’ Yup, a good letter, right there.” I said sardonically.
“Something a little more subtle, maybe…”
I sighed. “What would I do if they were involved? I would be kicked out of the school; they don’t want a Death Eater’s daughter here… Mandy, be honest, do you think anyone in my family is working for Voldemort?”
Mandy was the only person I dared mention Voldemort’s name to. It had started to become taboo to say the name; instead people referred to him as ‘You-Know-Who,’ and there were people like my father who called him ‘The Dark Lord’, but those both seemed like unnecessarily presumptuous titles to me.
“It’s hard to say,” she admitted softly as I braced myself for bad news, “but… it wouldn’t be surprising if they’d finally picked a side, after the war has been going on this long.”
I nodded stoically, and Mandy continued in a lighter tone. “Don’t spend time worrying about it, though, because you don’t know. Write to Nathan as if nothing happened, see if he seems different. Oooh, tell him how many muggle-born friends you have. See how he reacts to that!”
I forced a laugh. Mandy was trying her best to cheer me up. Well, I would at least find out when I went home for Christmas. It was a long time until then, but the weather certainly didn’t indicate that. I looked at the lake, which already had a thin layer of ice forming near its banks. The middle was still rippling with the frigid wind.
“Let’s go inside,” said Mandy. “I’m cold. Plus, we have to see Remus’s friends’ prank. I wonder if everyone else is awake yet.”
I felt better after getting my worries out. I walked with Mandy into the Great Hall in better spirits. The first thing I noticed was how dark it seemed. The windows were entirely covered with a thick layer of green vines. As I watched, the vines lengthened and spread immensely. It was like it had been sped up about a hundred times faster than normal. There were lots of flowers, too. The whole Hall smelled like them. I noticed a lot of lilies scattered along the Gryffindor table. That must have been James’ idea – as if he thought that Lily would approve of their behaviour more if he did that – but she would probably just continue thinking James an arrogant git. I glanced at the other tables, which were each covered with their individual flower type, and winding around the Slytherin table was some prickly thing that must have been poisonous. Apart from the lethal-looking Slytherin vine, everything looked almost pretty. Which was nice, but what kind of prank was that?
Mandy and I stayed there for a few moments, taking in our surroundings. I looked up, and immediately a huge clump of flowers fell from the ceiling and landed on Mandy and me; they spewed out pollen everywhere, causing me to sneeze. Mandy picked up some flowers, but then distrustfully held them out at arm’s length. “Come on, let’s go,” I said after she had examined them a bit, and we headed towards the door, the ever-increasing vines tangling around the doorway threatening to trip us. As soon as we got into the corridor, Mandy shoved her flowers into my hand, and bent down to tie her shoe. I looked around as I waited for her, and was surprised when I saw the Gryffindor boys standing in a clump about five feet away from us.
“Well, look who it is,” I said.
Mandy looked up. “Ha! Caught in the act! Not as good as you thought you were, huh?” She laughed, and stood up.
They turned around to face us, surprise evident in their faces as well.
“So, this is your lame attempt at a prank?” I asked. “Flowers?”
“You’re calling this lame?” asked James. “If you’re not aware, Filch is allergic to most of those flowers, and you may have noticed that the vines grow extremely fast.”
“How do you know what flowers Filch is allergic to?” asked Mandy with a smirk. “You’re making this up.”
“No, he’s not,” I said archly, “he really does know Filch’s flower preferences. Because he gives flowers to Filch all the time.”
“Well, of course. You don’t?” James played along. “That’s quite rude of you.”
“So if you’ll notice,” said Sirius, “our prank just keeps getting better! Wait till an hour from now.” He laughed. “And it’s much better than yours because everyone goes to the Great Hall in the morning, but not everyone stops by the broom closets.”
Yeah, well, he’d probably know – he’d have spent enough time in broom closets with various girls through the years, as a broom closet afforded a bit of privacy making it an ideal place for a snog.
“So what do you think?” Remus asked. “We have made this entire room unusable for the day, and yours just affected a closet.”
“Fascinating, but I still think we won,” I said.
“That is still to be determined,” said Remus, smirking.
“So why are you all just hanging around?” Mandy asked. “Are you waiting for Filch to come by? That’s stupid, he’ll catch you.”
“That’s none of your business, is it?” said Sirius. He had a mischievous glint in his eyes, like always.
“Fine,” I said, and spun around to leave, but a vine had curled out of the Great Hall and wound itself around my ankle, and I tripped, scattering Mandy’s stupid flowers all over Sirius’s feet. Why did I always end up on the floor?
“Sorry,” I muttered irritably as I stood up, kicking a few of the flowers aside.
“It’s all right, I understand you can’t help falling for me,” said Sirius, grinning at his own cleverness. “But you know, you could have just given the flowers to me, you didn’t have to bow down at my feet.”
I snorted. “You idiot, I would never give you flowers unless they were poison oak.”
I left the flowers on the floor; Mandy could pick them up if she really wanted them. All I wanted was to get away from that vicious vine in the Great Hall as soon as possible, which had made breakfast an impossible task in the overgrown, jungle-like Hall. I would probably go to the kitchens instead. But when I turned around to tell Mandy, I saw Filch instead.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading! And I do love reviews (praise, criticism, or vegetables thrown in my general direction are all equally welcome), so if you feel inclined to review I'd be very happy :)
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