Chapter 20 : Over the Edge
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I set Aquilo’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. I opened his cage and he flapped around my room until I’d got the window open, and 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, 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. I can only hope you’re as successful once you leave Hogwarts.”
Dad said, “I think you can be, if you stop hanging around with Mudbloods and other riffraff and make real friends who will help you on your way to success, rather than associate you with Muggles. Nathan is very well connected, because he’s in with circles of people who matter. You have potential, I can tell, but you’re just not using it.” He shook his newspaper to get a large fly off of it.
“And you’ll want to do much better on your N.E.W.T.s than you did on your O.W.L.s,” Mum suggested. “But enough of that for now. I was just about to start making scones to welcome you home!”
“Right,” I said vacantly.
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?”
I decided it was about time to head back upstairs. As soon as I left the room and walked into the hallway, the front door opened and Nathan was 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! Right now I’m pretty jealous of Dad, he can just work whenever he feels like it. I don’t think he’s done anything this week.”
Dad was the co-owner of a company that made cauldrons, and could 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. In general, small talk with them was easy and occasionally pleasant. 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, as if they were aligning with Voldemort’s aims, and 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. And 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 how magic actually worked, 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.
“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. Dealing with people like Elliott Jasper over the years at Hogwarts had given me the strength to stand up for myself, and I could do it at school. But it was totally different with my family. It took a different kind of strength. I had never been very good at holding in my emotions, and it took everything I had to keep quiet, but I was afraid of what would happen if they realised, as I had, that we were truly on opposite sides. But it had gone too far now, and I was tired of living a lie at home; I needed to finally 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 was about ten times higher in pitch than usual. I turned to face my parents and finally let loose on my family words I didn't even know I had. “Over these past few years you’ve become strangers to me, following Voldemort!” I shrieked. “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! All his Death Eaters, like you,” I pointed menacingly at Nathan, “just play around with Unforgivable Curses! I can’t take it anymore!”
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.
My father roared with rage, his face a dark maroon colour, and I leapt 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, while you hang around with your disappointing, common Mudblood friends.”
“Granddad Bill is Muggle-born, and he’s one 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.”
“I used to respect you so much, but it’s all gone now,” I announced, fighting back tears. “I’ve been so tolerant, but I shouldn’t have to be – you’re my family! I just can’t believe this.”
“You’ve been tolerant?” Dad asked. “How do you think it’s been for us?”
Next to my parents, Nathan was watching me, his face impassive. How was this the loving family of my childhood?
“I have nothing to say to you,” I finally said.
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. Leave!” he cried, when I hesitated.
“I’m going,” I said. I walked down the last couple of stairs, and Mum rushed over to me and hugged me. After she released me, she turned to Dad and said softly, “Please, Conway, you’ll regret this later.”
“It’s her own choice as much as it is mine,” he said. He faced me again. “Go!” he thundered, as I looked at Nathan, who refused to meet my eyes. I turned around, picked up my Cleansweep from the floor, and walked out the door, leaving my family behind. It was so hard to leave Nathan; I wanted to run back to him and tell him to reconsider what he was doing, but he’d made his decision of loyalties years ago. The door slammed behind me, and I didn’t bother to hold in my tears any longer.
I had thought living in that house every summer was bad enough – but now I didn’t even have a place I could call home. I couldn’t believe how yesterday I had been thinking it was time I spoke up; I wished I had just kept my stupid mouth shut. It was barely two weeks into the summer and I was alone, kicked out of my own house, with almost no money and no idea what to do.
I walked down the front garden, and when I was just at the street I remembered all my luggage was still in my room. “Accio trunk!” I said shakily, and my trunk crashed loudly through my window, sending glass everywhere, and flew out to me. I then summoned Aquilo’s cage, which soared through the hole in the window and landed on the trunk. Then I just sat down at the side of the road with all my things, completely at a loss for what to do.
I considered going to Mandy’s house to stay – I hoped it would be fine if I showed up earlier than we’d planned. I knew she and her family would be as welcoming and kind as always, but I’d never stayed there for an entire summer before, only a week every now and then. Suddenly I heard the crack of Apparating coming from inside my house, a scream, and some more shouting. Then the door was thrown open, Mandy hopped out on one leg, and the door slammed again.
“Mandy!” I called, shocked. She looked up and saw me at the edge of our garden and attempted to hop towards me, but collapsed after a few jumps. I ran back to the house to join her and was horrified when I saw her up close – half her left leg was missing, and her face was red and blotchy; she had clearly been crying.
“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 gone – 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…”
“Just hold on to my arm, I’ll bring you by Side-Along-Apparition.” I summoned my trunk, broomstick and owl cage over to where Mandy and I were standing; as I wouldn’t be returning for the summer, I decided to take all my belongings with me. I opened Aquilo’s cage to let him out, and put a Shrinking Charm on my broom and Aquilo’s empty cage and put them into my trunk. I then grasped my trunk in one hand and Mandy’s arm in the other, and Apparated to Mandy’s house.
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 unrecognisable. 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 sat on my trunk and just stared blankly at the remains of her house. 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. I had no idea how to reattach it, and if Mandy knew how she certainly wouldn’t be able to do anything about it at the moment. “We need to go to St. Mungo’s,” I said. “I know your leg is probably the least of your concerns, but you have to get it back on. Can we go?”
She didn’t respond. She was no longer in hysterics, or even crying, but she just continued looking at her house, absently picking at the initials M.R.H. on the side of my trunk. “Hold on to my hand,” I said, and then realised I hadn’t the faintest idea where St. Mungo’s was. What would happen if I Apparated somewhere without knowing its location? Would we end up floating in nothingness for the rest of time? We had very little time and no idea what to do. I tried to think of a way to get there – we couldn’t fly there, or Apparate…
Finally I recalled one option that ordinarily I would never take, as Nathan had warned me about it, but times called for desperate measures. I flung out my left hand, as if about to hitchhike into nowhere, and then a huge, three-levelled, bright purple bus drove up out of thin air and wildly screeched to a halt in front of us. Above the windscreen it said “The Knight Bus.” The doors opened, and out came a middle-aged wizard with a long, twirly grey moustache.
“Hello there, welcome to the Knight Bus! Emergency transportation for stranded witches and wizards, just hold out your wand hand and we’ll take you wherever you need to go! My name is—” But whoever he was, we never found out, because when he saw the ruins of Mandy’s house, he stopped speaking and stared open-mouthed out of the door.
“Do you know where St. Mungo’s is?” I asked urgently. “We have to get there right away but we don’t know where it is!”
He looked back at us. “Er – yes, that’s in London, that is. Ten Sickles each, or if you want hot chocolate it’s—”
“Do we look like we want hot chocolate, you idiot?” I snapped. “Look at her leg! We just need to get to St. Mungo’s!” Mandy and I got onto the bus with difficulty and I searched my bag for money. I withdrew a Galleon and a large handful of Sickles from my trunk and thrust it at him. “Here, just get us there as soon as possible!”
The driver squinted at us, and then looked back to the front of the bus, still squinting. Suddenly the bus rocketed forward with such force that Mandy and I slid off our seats. This bus now seemed like it wasn’t the best idea – but it was the only thing we had. I looked out of the window and saw a lamppost lean out of the way of the bus barreling on by; the squinting driver must have been practically blind. The bus swerved and we slid sideways on our seats. And just as suddenly, the bus stopped, and my trunk slid forward about six feet.
“St. Mungo’s!” announced the conductor. He must have noticed how lost we felt, because he pointed out of the bus door towards an old, forgotten-looking building on the corner of a street.
“Thanks!” I said, and I hurriedly collected my things and we got off the bus. We were in front of a somewhat old department store called Purge and Dowse Ltd. In the window display were various dummies wearing outdated things.
“I guess this is it,” I told Mandy. I tried the cobwebby door, but it was locked, and Alohomora did nothing. I couldn’t remember exactly what Nathan had told me about St. Mungo’s a long time ago, but I recalled that you went in through the window. So I went back to the window and tried to walk through it. One of the dummies behind the window tilted her head, and I asked her if this was the way in. She 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 centre of the room was a desk, behind which an irritated-looking wizard sat in a chair. We walked up to the desk and 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. 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.
When she 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, and then wondered where 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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