Chapter 20 : Over the Edge
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I set Mercury’s cage on top of my trunk, and he hooted and clicked his beak, reminding me that he’d been in his cage all day and must want to fly around a bit. Once I opened his cage, he flapped around my room until I’d got the window open, and then he soared off. My trunk continued to sit in the middle of my floor; I was far too tired to consider unpacking it at the moment.
I eventually walked downstairs to get some food. Mum was in the kitchen, a few of her carpentry tools and a half-built birdhouse lying on the wooden table, and Dad was in the adjoining living room reading the newspaper. “It’s good to have you back,” Mum said as I walked in, giving me a tight hug. “Have you got all your stuff unpacked yet? I don’t want you leaving your clothes all over the floor like you did last summer.”
“Er, not quite,” I admitted. “Almost.” Overstatement of the century… It was fortunate Mum wasn’t very good at Legilimency.
“Nathan’s at work, but he should be home soon,” said Mum. “I know he’s missed you too. He’s been promoted at work, he’s doing so well. We’re so proud of him.”
“Any idea yet what you want to do after Hogwarts?” Dad asked, shaking his newspaper to get a large fly off of it.
“I want to do research into how magic works,” I said. “An Unspeakable, I guess.”
Dad started to rattle off some other potential careers, but Mum cut him off. “We’ll have time for that later. Melanie, I was about to start making scones to welcome you home! I’ve even got currants.”
I grinned. The fly continued to buzz around Dad’s head, and he looked up from the newspaper and pointed his wand at the fly. “Avada Kedavra,” he said casually, and the fly dropped dead on the arm of the sofa. He flicked his wand and the fly sailed over into the rubbish bin on the other side of the room.
“Conway, I wish you wouldn’t do that in the house,” said Mum. “What if Melanie had been standing over there?”
When I heard the sound of the front door opening, I ran into the hallway to find Nathan there; I grinned and ran to greet him. “Hey!” I said excitedly.
“You’re back!” he said, smiling and hugging me. “Hope the train ride home wasn’t too long.”
“Not too bad, how was work?”
“Great, although exhausting. They made me go in on a Saturday! I never thought I’d be jealous of Dad’s job, but he never has to work weekends.”
Dad worked at a small company that made cauldrons, and could basically take time off whenever he wanted.
“Well, you are in the Ministry, you signed up for hard work!” I said.
“They didn’t say that explicitly in my job description.”
I laughed. Nathan was just the same as he had ever been. How could I have suspected him of being on the other side? I’d freaked myself out over nothing, and then our minimal communication during the year hadn’t helped. I was really glad to see him again.
The following day Nathan and I played Quidditch. Each of us was simultaneously Chaser, Beater and Keeper. So when Nathan had the Quaffle, depending on where he was on the field, I had to either hit the Bludger at him (we were only using one), or block the goal hoop. We didn’t use a Snitch – we simply finished when we got tired of playing three Quidditch team positions.
Nathan had work again on Monday, which meant it was just me home alone with my parents. Dad and I would sometimes try to put chirping charms on Mum’s birdhouse, or Mum would teach me how to cook. But in the past few years things had started to get odd with them; they’d expressed mild dislike of Muggles, and their offhand comments about the war became more critical of the side resisting Voldemort. It made me uneasy. Last summer I had spent a lot more time in the garden, and actually managed to keep most of my vegetables alive – at least, the ones that weren’t eaten by slugs.
So when Nathan left for work, I went into nearby Liverpool, aimlessly strolling through the Muggle part of town. Eventually I walked into a music shop, where I tried to play some chords on a guitar. It reminded me of those carefree days when Archie Summerby and I would sing and play music together with his fellow Hufflepuffs. I tried to recall some of the chords he’d taught me, but it had been over a year since then. Last I’d heard from him, he was in Peru.
Guitars were expensive, and I didn’t have Muggle money anyway. But Rachel had said the tin whistle wasn’t too hard, so I contemplated learning how to play an instrument over the summer.
Other than on the weekends, Nathan wasn’t around much, because he worked during the week, and then after work would usually spend time with Lucius Malfoy and his other friends. So I spent a lot of time at that guitar shop, and at home sometimes I attempted painting, and at other times tended to the tomatoes and courgettes in my small patch of garden behind the house. I also browsed through my parents’ small library for any information on the science of magic, as that spark that had arisen during one Ancient Runes assignment had not yet faded. But I couldn’t find much.
One day I received an owl from Mandy asking me to go see Star Wars with her. I laughed aloud; I could just imagine Mr Macintosh had talked about it so often that Mandy had finally told him she’d go.
I wrote back to her and we planned out when and where to meet, so the next day I was about to leave when Mum stopped me. “Where are you going?” she asked suspiciously.
“London,” I said.
“I’m meeting a friend.” I couldn’t tell her I was going to see Mandy; neither of my parents liked her; they thought her very low-class. Besides, the two of us were about to go into a Muggle cinema and watch a Muggle film, something they would probably not approve of.
“Who? When will you be back? Why are you dressed like that? You look like a Muggle!”
“I’ll be back in a few hours, and I dressed like this because obviously I can’t run around looking like a witch when there are Muggles around!”
She didn’t look pleased, but said, “Have a good time. And be careful out there in the city.”
“Thanks.” I grabbed a handful of Floo Powder, threw it into the fireplace, and said, “The Leaky Cauldron!”
I appeared in the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron and met Mandy who had Apparated there, and then we left and went out into Muggle London. We got ice cream at a shop, which was an interesting venture because I tried to pay with a Sickle and the woman at the shop just stared at me until Mandy saw what had happened and pulled out her Muggle money. She told the woman I was foreign, and paid for my ice cream. I couldn’t believe I’d been so stupid as to try to use my wizarding money – I just hadn’t thought at all about it.
After this minor mishap, we spent a while pretending to be Muggles, and as usual discussed typical Muggle things like airplanes and dishwashing machines as we walked to the cinema.
We both enjoyed the film. Muggle technology never ceased to amaze me – the wizarding world didn’t have anything quite like the movies! As we left, Mandy and I discussed when would be best for me to stay with her at her house. I didn’t know how I’d run it by my parents without them instantly saying no, but I’d deal with that later. We decided that I’d go over in a couple of weeks, which would hopefully give me enough time to convince my parents.
One day at the beginning of July I was sitting on the sofa, skimming through the Daily Prophet, and saw an article called “Death Eaters Identified,” written by Leonora Macintosh – Mandy’s mum. The article discussed how people should take extra care to make sure their friends and family were not under the Imperius curse, and how your seemingly friendly coworker could be a Death Eater and you might not even know it. It even listed, as exclusive new information, a few Death Eaters by name, and I saw Henry Avery on the list: Charlotte’s father. Most of the other names I didn’t know, although there were a few Dad had mentioned as people he knew and liked.
“Are you reading the rubbish that woman wrote about Death Eaters?” Dad asked, noticing me reading the paper.
“Yeah, I’m reading it.” I refrained from divulging any opinions about it – every time I went home, it seemed things got a little more intense. It was obvious to me now: Dad was clearly not ambivalent about the war anymore. And the worst part was that I wasn’t ambivalent either. We had both picked sides now – opposite sides.
“That woman is terrible,” said Dad. “She has no idea what she’s talking about, and clearly doesn’t understand anything about the Death Eaters. She has no business writing any of that.”
“Hmm,” I said noncommittally, and turned the page. The next article was a detailed and dramatic account of the private life of the didgeridoo player in the Hobgoblins, and my eyes drifted over the page without actually reading anything.
It dawned on me that the way I acted with my family mirrored the way Althea reacted to bullies like Vanessa. But unlike her situation, the problem wouldn’t go away if I ignored it – the problem was my own family. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself in this case, because I didn’t know what was right; I was afraid of what would happen if they realised, as I had, that we were truly on opposite sides. But it couldn’t last forever this way with the war only getting more intense; at some point, I would need to stand up for myself.
Nathan was at home the following day. As I was eating breakfast, he walked into the kitchen, yawning and rubbing his eyes – he had clearly just tumbled out of bed. “Morning,” he yawned, and walked over to a cabinet, reached up and got a bowl. I saw a dark shape on his left wrist peeking out from underneath his sleeve; Nathan had apparently started his teenage rebellion years a bit late and gotten a tattoo. He saw me staring at it and moved his arm so I couldn’t see it anymore. I rolled my eyes. “Where are the cornflakes?” he asked.
“They’re out on the table,” I said. He was very clearly still asleep. “What are you up to today – after you’ve actually woken up, that is?”
“Let’s play Quidditch,” he suggested, coming over to the table and pouring cornflakes into the bowl.
“Sure! I’m totally going to win because you’re asleep.”
After I finished breakfast, I brought my broom downstairs and leaned it against the wall in the front hallway. I read the Daily Prophet while I waited for Nathan, and he took his time, writing a letter to someone after he had finished eating. “I’m going to fall asleep if you keep writing that letter,” I told him eventually. “It’s got to be the length of a novel by now.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I’m just about finished,” he said, and walked into the front hallway to get his owl, Bellona, whose cage was on a shelf just off the entryway. As he tied the letter onto her leg, I got a better look at his wrist. I could only see half of the design, but it looked eerily familiar… I grabbed his wrist and yanked the sleeve up, exposing the black outline of a skull and snake.
Nathan let go of his owl and drew his arm away from me sharply. Bellona screeched and flapped around our heads, but I ignored her.
“What is that, Nathan?” I asked, nonplussed. “You decided to get a tattoo of the Dark Mark? You-Know-Who’s symbol? What the hell is that all about?”
“It’s nothing,” he said, tugging his sleeve back down.
“You’re trying to show your support for Voldemort?”
“I told you, it’s nothing,” he insisted. “Did you get your broom yet? We were going to play Quidditch.”
I wasn’t about to let him change the topic so quickly. “Nathan, are you a Death Eater?” He didn’t even have to respond; the instant I asked it, I knew. I closed my eyes in horror, and turned away, speechless.
I couldn’t believe it. I thought I knew him. My own brother, whom I had been so close to when we were growing up, whom I’d always looked up to, was now a Death Eater. He was the one who’d encouraged me to stand up for my beliefs – and here he was doing the same thing, but it was to support Voldemort. I felt like he’d personally betrayed me. How long had this been going on?
“Melanie, what’s wrong?” His voice faltered.
I stared back at him. What kind of question was that? “What’s bloody wrong?” I repeated hysterically. “You’re working for Voldemort!”
Nathan flinched. “Look, I—”
I laughed mirthlessly, interrupting him. I didn’t care what he had to say – whatever explanation he had, it was never going to be enough. “Don’t want to hear his name, huh? He’s The Dark Lord to you? Voldemort Voldemort Voldemort.”
The commotion drew my parents from the living room into the hallway, but I just kept talking. “All this time you’ve been telling me about your Ministry job, but you just failed to mention that in your spare time you’ve been running around killing innocent people!”
My voice remained surprisingly steady and cold, but my eyes prickled with tears. I turned to face my parents and finally let loose on my family words I didn’t even know I had. “Why did you have to pick a side? We would all be better off if we stayed out of it! But over these past few years you’ve become strangers to me, following Voldemort!” I cried. “And you only support him because you’re afraid not to! He just wants power for himself, he doesn’t give a damn about anyone else!”
I had never been so rude to him before – I couldn’t believe what I was saying. But it was all coming out now; I was past the point of no return.
Dad’s face turned a dark maroon colour, and I took a few steps up the staircase away from him. He grabbed my Cleansweep from where it leant against the wall, and then threw it forcefully onto the floor.
“NOW YOU LISTEN TO ME!” he shouted. “Your brother was good enough to tell us about the Dark Lord, who we’ve come to respect; he has power you can’t even dream of! Nathan is doing great things and making changes in the world, while you just hang around at Muggle cinemas with your disappointing, common Mudblood friends.”
“Granddad Omar and Grandmum Astrid are both Muggle-born, and some of the nicest people I know!” I argued defensively. “What do you have against Muggle-borns, but you support all the violence Nathan’s getting involved in?”
“You want to talk about violence?” Dad asked. “You weren’t alive then, but the Muggles put us through hell in the forties, with their bombs and their bloodshed, killing off thousands of innocents who had nothing to do with their politics and war. My best friend died when the Muggles bombed his town. And that is the side you’re supporting now.”
I kept silent this time. My parents ignored me as they began to argue, while Nathan’s owl Bellona continued to flap around the room and screech, angry that she had been forgotten with a letter tied on to her foot. I couldn’t believe Nathan; he was the reason my parents had stopped ignoring the war and had joined the support of the other side. I missed a lot when I was away at school.
“Stop it,” Mum insisted. “I know we can’t all agree, but she’s our daughter, Conway! You’re both being unreasonable! Melanie, why did you bring this up at all?”
Even Nathan didn’t come to my defense. I started to edge back up the stairs again as Dad paced agitatedly, ranting about how my foolish perspective was splitting up the family… When I’d run back up the rest of the stairs to the top landing, I heard Mum’s voice call, “Not so fast!”
I paused reluctantly, and she came around the corner into view. “Come back down here, this isn’t finished,” Mum insisted as I walked slowly back down the stairs, clutching the railing so tightly my knuckles were white. “While you’re here this summer,” she said, “I don’t want to hear another word about politics, it’s important work Nathan is doing for the Dark Lord, and he’ll be rewarded for it. You should be proud of your brother! Let us know when you’ve come around. And yes, Conway, that means no politics from you either. We simply won’t discuss it.”
“Karima, it’s not that simple,” Dad told Mum, and I agreed with him for once.
“We can’t stay quiet forever,” I said. “This is only going to get worse, and you know it. The war is nowhere near over; it won’t just go away if we ignore it.”
“Just stay out of it!” Mum insisted.
“No,” I said quietly.
Dad pointed his wand at the front door, which swung open with a bang. It crashed into the wall and knocked a picture onto the floor. The frame shattered and the subject of the painting screeched and ran out of sight in the frame to take refuge in another painting down the hall. “There you go. You’re so keen to disassociate yourself from us, then leave!” he cried.
I looked at Mum and Dad, and then over at Nathan, who refused to meet my eyes. How much I wanted to say to him, to all of them, that would not mean anything anymore. As I stood there, completely at a loss for what to do and feeling more alone than I even thought possible, a loud crack interrupted the tense moment. I turned around, and there was Mandy, her face red and blotchy, and her arms wildly reaching out at the banister. Mum, her head surprisingly clear, reached out to steady Mandy. It was then that I realised Mandy was balanced on her right leg; half her left one was missing.
“What happened?” I gasped, staring at her bloody stump of a leg. “Where’s your leg? What are you doing here?”
“Death Eaters,” she sobbed. “There’s – someone attacked – everything’s destroyed – Death Eaters…”
My own family problems, which five minutes ago I had thought were going to ruin my whole summer, were trivial compared to whatever had happened to Mandy. She was shaking violently. “What happened, Mandy? Did Death Eaters attack you? Is that why your leg is missing?”
She shook her head. “I wasn’t attacked – I think I – I Splinched myself… b-but my parents are gone, I don’t… I don’t know what happened…”
“Okay… Are the Death Eaters gone? Should we go to your house?” I looked at her for a response, and she nodded dazedly.
“But we’re not Apparating. I can’t…”
“Don’t go to her house, she needs to go to St. Mungo’s. She’s in shock,” said Dad flatly. I had forgotten he was still there.
“I’ll bring you there,” said Nathan. But he was a Death Eater, part of the same group who had put Mandy in this state in the first place.
Mandy protested feebly. “No… my house first. I Splinched myself.”
I took this to mean that the rest of her leg was still at her house. “Just hold on to my arm,” I told her, “I’ll bring you by Side-Along-Apparition.” I held on to her tightly, and then, taking a deep breath, summoned my trunk and owl cage downstairs; at that moment I knew I wouldn’t be returning to the house for the summer. Mandy needed someone – she’d come to me for help, and whatever happened I would be with her, but there was no way we could stay at my house when a Death Eater lived there too, not after what had happened to her. Home was a place where I felt the full effects of the war suffocating me, and it was too much. I couldn’t face it alone, not like this, me against my family. Dad had told me to leave, and I took the request seriously.
As my belongings whizzed down the stairs, Mum watched warily. “You’re leaving?” she asked, and I nodded. She frowned, but then let Mercury out of his cage, and put a Shrinking Charm on the empty owl cage and my broomstick so she could consolidate everything into my trunk for me. Mercury flew out the door – he’d find me eventually.
“Th – thanks, Mum,” I stuttered, overcome with guilt as Mum gave me a hug. I didn’t know what was the right thing to do anymore. I couldn’t stay here afraid and miserable all summer and subjecting my best friend to it too, but Mum really was trying. I was the worst daughter.
“If you need to go to her house, you have to Apparate us, Melanie,” said Dad gruffly. “I don’t know where it is. But I can get you to St Mungo’s after.”
I didn’t want to have to rely on them, but accepting help from my family was perhaps the only way to make sure Mandy would be okay. So I nodded. “Thank you.” And with my trunk in one hand, Mandy’s hand in the other, and Dad’s hand gripping my arm, I spun and Apparated us away.
The scene that met my eyes was worse than I could have imagined. It was no wonder Mandy had Splinched herself; she had been too distraught to think clearly. Mandy’s beautiful, perfect house was reduced to piles of ashes, still smouldering. The big tree in her garden that we had loved to sit under was lying on its side, uprooted and charred. The whole place was unrecognizable. I saw what looked like her dog lying amidst a pile of rubble, its legs sticking out at odd angles.
“Oh Merlin, Mandy, I’m so sorry,” I whispered. She was no longer in hysterics, or even crying but she sat on my trunk and just stared blankly at the remains of her house, absently picking at the letters M.R.H. on the trunk. There were a million questions I wanted to ask her, but she wasn’t in a state to answer questions or even speak at all. I wished I could do something as we simply watched the smoke continue to rise from the debris. As I stood there, my hand still on her arm, I spotted the other half of her leg in the garden.
I went over to pick it up, and carried it back to Mandy. She ignored it. Dad, who’d been standing awkwardly a few feet away from Mandy, approached us again. “You have to get that leg back on now,” he said, and we spun away again, this time reappearing in front of an old, forgotten-looking department store called Purge and Dowse Ltd., on the corner of a street. In the window display were various dummies wearing outdated things.
“This is it,” said Dad. I tried the cobwebby door, but it was locked, and Alohomora did nothing, but then I turned to see Dad speaking with one of the dummies behind the window. The dummy nodded and moved her hand as if beckoning us in, and with my other arm still supporting Mandy, we walked in through the window.
We were now in a clean looking reception area. The dummies had vanished, but in the center of the room was a desk, behind which an irritated-looking wizard sat in a chair. When we approached the desk I said very quickly, “My friend Splinched herself and her leg’s come off and—”
“Fourth floor,” the wizard grunted. “Read the sign,” and then pointed to a sign, which I did not read because he had just told us where to go. I left my trunk in the lobby, and with Mandy’s arm around my shoulder, we hobbled over to the lift. The Healers took Mandy into a room and I waited outside with Dad. They didn’t take long to fix her leg, but I knew it would be a while before she would really be all right – after all, she’d been through quite a shock today.
“We didn’t have time to finish that conversation,” said Dad finally, as we stood outside the door to Mandy’s room. “I know things got tense at home, but I hope you’ll reconsider your decision to leave. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“No, I don’t,” I admitted. “But… we’re on opposite sides now, can’t you see that? I’m alone and I… I don’t feel safe there. You saw what they did to Mandy. The same people Nathan’s involved with. And Mandy doesn’t have anywhere to go – she can’t stay with us after that, so I’m going with her. She needs me right now.”
Dad scowled, and for a second I thought he was going to say it was because of my poor choice in friends. But what he finally said was even worse to hear. “I’ve failed as a parent, then.”
I stared at the floor, unable to speak due to the lump in my throat, and Dad finally said, “Why don’t you stay with your grandparents? Your mum and I don’t want to leave you two stranded. Omar and Astrid’s flat is small, but they know the owners of the Leaky Cauldron personally, so I’m sure you’d be able to stay there free if nothing else. I’ll tell them you’re coming by.”
“Okay,” I said in a small voice. “Thank you.”
He continued standing there for a moment, and as neither of us had any idea what else to say, he turned down the corridor and left. I remained there, crying and waiting for Mandy, wanting nothing more than to wake up and find out the day had all been nothing but a bad dream.
When Mandy came back out, with her leg reattached as good as new, I gave her a hug and we walked silently together back down to the reception area. We found my trunk again and we both sat on it, wondering where on earth to go from here.
Eeep, super intense chapter... What did you think? Your reviews make me so happy. Thanks for reading!
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