Chapter 21 : Why So Sirius
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Eventually (I had no idea how much later), Mandy asked me, “Why do you have your trunk with you? What was going on at your house?”
“Erm… you Apparated in during a huge row,” I explained. “Nathan joined the Death Eaters.” I didn’t go into the details; there’d be time for that later if she wanted to hear it, after we’d fully processed everything that had happened today.
She looked up at me, startled. “Really? I’m… I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to Apparate into the house, but I was…” She shook her head, and took a deep breath. “I had just come back from visiting my Muggle cousins for a few days, and I saw my house and looked around, I couldn’t find my parents anywhere – everything was so destroyed, I have no idea where they were, or if they were in the house… I don’t know if they’re…” She stopped talking again, unable to continue, but I seized on the dim ray of hope in what she’d just said.
“Mandy, if they weren’t there, they could have gotten away. They might be safe.”
“You think so? I hope you’re right…” She sighed. “What should we do now?”
I thought a moment. “I guess we should find somewhere to stay tonight… Do you think you’ll go back to your cousins’ place?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “They haven’t heard yet… and I really don’t want to have to explain everything to them, that’d be too much right now. Especially because they haven’t any idea who Voldemort is… But I have nowhere else… What about you?”
“Probably the Leaky Cauldron,” I said. There was an inn there, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to afford it for the rest of the summer. At the moment, however, I couldn’t think of anything else.
But I remembered the bag Dad had given me, and showed Mandy – there was a decent pile of Galleons in there, enough to start us off well. So eventually we decided we’d both go to the Leaky Cauldron for the night. Mandy thought she might then stay with her cousins after a few days, and I’d look for a job in Diagon Alley. Mandy offered me a place to stay at her cousins’ house, but I’d never met them and felt I’d be an intruder after something this serious happening to their family.
That night, I slept for probably about an hour, and I could hear Mandy in the other bed tossing and turning all night as well. It was a very long night.
The following morning an owl arrived at our window for Mandy. She took the letter, unrolled it, and said “It’s from Charlotte!” I went over to read it.
Can we meet today? There’s something you need to know, I’d like to see you as soon as possible. It’s good news. Can you meet me in the Leaky Cauldron this afternoon?
“I wonder what that’s about,” I said. “Lucky you’re already at the Leaky Cauldron.”
“Good news…” said Mandy. “Maybe she knows something. It doesn’t seem like typical Charlotte gossip stories; she’d have written that out in the letter.”
So at two in the afternoon we went downstairs to meet her. We waited about five minutes, and then she walked in, carrying a bag of oranges and already sporting an impressive summer tan. Although she’d said she had good news, she did not look happy.
“Hey,” she greeted us as we walked to a table in the corner. We didn’t bother with any small talk, and Charlotte got right to the point. “I heard about what happened, and… Mandy, your parents are still alive. I’m sure of it.”
“How… how do you know?” she asked, wringing her hands under the table.
Charlotte sighed. “Well… please don’t be angry with me… I know because my father was involved,” she said quietly. “He saw what your mum wrote in the Daily Prophet, he was furious about it. And his friend works at the Ministry and knew where your house was, so the next day they went over to destroy the house. Father came back angry because he said he didn’t even get anyone. No one was there. So your parents are alive.”
“But… I haven’t heard anything from them,” said Mandy.
“Maybe they don’t think it’s safe yet, because they’re worried they’re being tracked,” I suggested. “Or they don’t have a way to send you anything. It’s been less than a day.”
Mandy nodded slowly, and then looked back at Charlotte, who implored, “Don’t hold this against me, I didn’t even know he was doing it until after he came back!”
“I could never hold it against you,” said Mandy. “It’s not your fault. And you’ve just told me exactly what I needed to hear! They’re all right!”
Charlotte nodded, and eventually looked over at me. “How come you’re here too, Mel?” she asked. “I thought you’d be home.”
I sighed and briefly explained what had happened, and how Nathan was a Death Eater.
She stared at me. “I’m sorry,” she said, and then looked out the window as she continued to speak. “I know you had been close… And now you’ll never be able to trust him anymore… Lester knew Father was going to your house, Mandy… and he knows you’re my friend. And he did nothing about it.”
“How can you stand being in that house with them?” I asked. “I couldn’t last a day at my house when I found out.”
“They’re my family, Melanie,” she said, turning back to look at us. “Sometimes I don’t understand them, but I love them. I should probably be headed back now, I said I was going out to buy fruit and if I’m gone too much longer, Lester will probably figure out where I’ve gone. I just had to come and tell you. I’m really, really sorry, both of you. Keep in touch, let me know how you’re doing…”
We said our quick goodbyes, and she hugged us briefly and walked out the door.
I continued staring at the door she’d just walked through, dazed. But Mandy was considerably more cheerful now that she knew her parents were still alive. “I’m so glad she came by,” she said. “I don’t know when I would have heard otherwise.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You’ve been through so much, I’m glad your parents are all right.”
“I guess I just have to wait to hear from them…” she trailed off into thought. After a moment’s silence, she said, “You’re going to be all alone here, and after everything that’s happened, you shouldn’t have to spend the rest of the summer staying at the Leaky Cauldron alone. I don’t think I’m going to stay with my cousins after all. It’ll be all right.”
Throughout the next week, Mandy and I continued living in our small room above the Leaky Cauldron. I got a job at old Ferdinand Fortescue’s ice cream parlor dishing ice cream for a few hours a day. He didn’t really need another person working there so it wasn’t much of a job, but it was better than nothing. Mandy was still looking for a job, although when the Leaky Cauldron got busy she helped out there a bit. The innkeeper at the Leaky Cauldron was letting us stay on cheaply because she knew we were going through a hard time.
After work one day in the middle of the week I went off to take the Apparition Test. I was pretty confident about it, considering I’d just successfully (albeit illegally) Apparated a few days ago to go to Mandy’s house. I passed the test, and afterwards happily Apparated back into our room in the Leaky Cauldron to tell Mandy, if she was back yet.
Despite my insistence that Dad’s gift could support us through the summer, Mandy had planned to go to Gringotts that day to get money so she could help pay for the room and buy some clothes. She didn’t have any extra clothes with her and had been using mine instead, although they were huge on her as she was rather short.
When I got back, however, she had already returned from Gringotts and was sitting on her bed with a piece of parchment in her hands. The parchment was flimsy and no longer folded; it looked like she’d been holding it all day. She looked up as I Apparated into the room. “You passed!” she cried. “Congratulations, I knew you would! And – look – I got a letter from my parents!”
“Great!” I said, hurrying over to look at the letter. “What did they say?”
“They said they hope I’m all right, and that they’re fine, although obviously shaken up… they’re currently out of the country, and worried they’re being tracked, but they might be back by the end of the summer!”
Another owl drifted in, and at first I thought it might be another letter for Mandy, but then I realised it was Nathan’s owl, Bellona. I hastily grabbed the letter off her leg and she swooped out the window again. Mercury, who had found us again a few days ago and was now back in his cage, clicked his beak in annoyance. Apparently, according to Mercury, just because I’d received a letter meant that he deserved Owl Treats, despite the fact that he had not been the one delivering the letter. I distractedly threw an Owl Treat at his cage as I unrolled Nathan’s letter. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading, but I couldn’t even get through the whole thing.
I don’t know where you are, but I hope you’re doing well. I miss having you around. I’m so sorry you got kicked out of the house, I reckon Dad feels awful about it. He’s been really quiet and sad lately. But you have to understand this is what I’ve decided to do, and of course I haven’t been killing anyone like you accused me of, I can’t believe you’d suggest something like that. I’m proud of the work I’m doing to get wizards the respect they deserve and I wish you could see that. . . blah, blah. It went on for another paragraph or so, but I didn’t bother with it. I crumpled the letter and threw it across the room.
“Only another month and a half,” said Mandy, noticing me. “Then we’re back at Hogwarts where everything is normal again.”
But it wouldn’t be normal, not until I got used to a new definition of normal. I got a letter from my parents a few days later, saying they loved me and they were worried about me, and hoped I’d come back home. However, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted my family to be whole again, but I knew nothing would have changed if I went back; we had crossed a line. Although I still believed there was enough good in Nathan to eventually turn his back on Voldemort, perhaps it would just take time, and I’d spend that time here in London. I was struggling, but I had Mandy’s invaluable support, and the space to think with a clear head, and it meant the world.
One very hot afternoon two weeks later, I was dishing ice cream at the shop, and the queue extended way out the door as people wanted relief from the heat. It was almost the end of my shift and I was getting a bit tired, when I heard a very familiar voice.
“What’s she doing here?”
Surprised, I looked up from the pumpkin ice cream I was dishing, and saw the speaker, the second person in line. It was James, and standing next to him was Sirius. I handed a large cone of ice cream to the girl at the counter, and then James and Sirius moved up.
Sirius grinned. “Well look at you, we just came to get ice cream and found something else sweet instead.”
I rolled my eyes so exuberantly that I thought for a second that they’d get lost in the back of my skull. Honestly, if I spent any more time around Sirius, my eye muscles would suffer.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“What does it look like, we’re in line for ice cream, aren’t we?”
“I didn’t know you were working here,” said James. “Do you get free ice cream?”
“Sometimes,” I laughed. “Anyway, what kind of ice cream would you like, James?” Sirius started to say something, but I interrupted. “I know you were next, Sirius, but because of your cheeky comments you’ll have to wait now.”
When I handed them their ice cream, they tried to get it for free, insisting that’s what a good friend would do. “Isn’t there at least a discount, like fifty percent off if you’re a charismatic, great-looking guy?” Sirius asked, and ran a hand through his hair in a dramatic manner.
I laughed. “Well there is, but you don’t qualify.”
They gave up and paid for their ice cream, and then left. I kept dishing ice cream, but my mind was not on my job; I kept staring out the window every so often to see if James and Sirius were still here in Diagon Alley. It was nice to see a friendly face, and I hoped they would still be around when I got off work in half an hour.
Half an hour later, when the queue for ice cream had mostly disappeared, I left work and went out into the street. I walked down to Gambol and Japes joke shop to see if Sirius and James were there; it seemed like a logical place for them to be, but they weren’t there. With another brief unsuccessful stop into Quality Quidditch Supplies, I headed back to the Leaky Cauldron. They had probably left Diagon Alley by now.
But, lo and behold, when I entered the Leaky Cauldron I found Mandy, James and Sirius sitting at a table together, and I went over to join them.
“Mel!” cried Mandy, waving me over. “Look who I found!”
“I know, I saw them when I was at work. They tried to convince me to give them free ice cream!”
“Well it was worth a try,” said James. “You never know unless you ask.”
“What have you been up to all day?” I asked as I pulled over a chair and sat down.
“Just wandering around,” said Sirius. “We met up with Remus and Peter this morning, and then each of them had stuff to go to in the middle of the afternoon so we just hung around. And then we ran into you.”
James added, “And I’m glad we found you – Mandy told us what happened! I’m really sorry, both of you.”
“It’s all right,” I mumbled.
“And she just said you’ve been staying in the Leaky Cauldron,” James continued. “Do you two want to come stay at my house instead? There’s loads of space – and you’re my friends, you can’t spend your whole summer dishing ice cream. You’re supposed to enjoy summer.”
“Er, well… I don’t know,” I said. That was a long time to stay – wouldn’t they get tired of us? Would it be weird?
But at the same time, Mandy said, “Thanks, we’d love to.”
After a brief discussion it was decided that Mandy and I would stay at James’s house. I quickly went back to the ice cream shop and let Mr. Fortescue know I was leaving for the summer, while Mandy talked to Sally at the Leaky Cauldron to sort everything out with our room. Afterwards, we went up to our room to get all our stuff out; it didn’t take long to pack everything up again. As I packed the last few things in my trunk, I found the crumpled parchment that had been Nathan’s letter to me – and probably the last I would hear from him. I smoothed out the letter and looked at it again sadly, then put it in my suitcase.
When we were all ready, we walked outside the Leaky Cauldron, and James told us, “You two don’t know where my house is, so let’s just all hold on to each other,” and we all grabbed hands and disappeared.
We Apparated onto the front lawn of James’s family’s house. The house was huge and looked very well taken care of. James led us in, dragging my trunk behind him; I stared all around at the carved wooden door, the high-ceilinged entryway, the ornate rug… it was very elegant.
“Like it?” asked James, smirking. I realised he had been watching me, and I closed my mouth and stopped staring around, embarrassed.
I heard some footsteps and then a grey-haired woman appeared from a hallway, smiling and wearing a flour-dusted apron. “James, Sirius, you’re back,” she said warmly. “Did you have a good day in London?”
“Yeah,” said James. “Mum, these are my friends from Hogwarts, Mandy and Melanie – we ran into them in Diagon Alley.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said as I shook her hand.
“I’m glad to meet you too,” she said. “Sorry about the flour on my hands, love.”
“Is it okay if they stay here for the rest of the summer?” asked James. “In one of the upstairs rooms or something?”
“Oh… well… yes, of course, we have a guest room upstairs,” she said, letting go from shaking Mandy’s hand. “How about the end one on the upstairs hall.”
“Okay,” said James, and pointed his wand at my trunk and Mandy’s bag. “Locomotor Trunk,” he said, and indicated for Mandy and me to follow him up the stairs. We passed a few doorways and then at the last one, James opened the door and told us, “This one will be yours.”
It was a spacious, sunny room with a large window, and I loved it immediately. James dropped off our belongings in the middle of the floor, while I walked over to the window and looked out at the sun above the neat hedgerow. When we all went back downstairs, Sirius was talking in low tones to Mr and Mrs Potter, who both looked surprised. Sirius saw us coming and finished speaking.
“Sirius just explained everything, I’m so sorry about what happened,” said Mrs Potter sincerely as we reached the landing again. “Of course you can stay here as long as you like.” She clasped my hand again in both of hers.
“Thanks, Mrs Potter,” I said.
“Oh you don’t need to call me that, it sounds so formal,” said Mrs Potter, her hazel eyes twinkling as she laughed and let go of my hand. “Please just call me Catherine.”
“You’re so kind to let us stay here, thank you so much,” said Mandy. “We had been staying in the Leaky Cauldron, it was lucky James turned up!”
“Yes, I’m glad too,” said Catherine. “Please make yourselves at home!” She turned to James, who was walking around the corner, and asked, with a look of amusement, “Aren’t you going to show them around, James?”
“Oh, yeah,” said James. “Well, this is the living room. And here’s the kitchen…” He led us all around both levels of the house, with all high ceilings and carved bookshelves and framed paintings, and then when he pointed out the garage, Sirius insisted we go in. James laughed, and said, “They won’t care about that.”
“Sure they will,” said Sirius. We followed him into the garage, which contained a nice-looking silver car that would never pass for a Muggle one. It looked classy but at the same time very obviously magical, and had all sorts of funny magical instruments on it. Along the outer wall of the garage were neat piles of old magical artefacts. And in the middle of the floor, surrounded by spanners and rags and all sorts of cleaning and maintenance tools, was a shiny black motorbike.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?” asked Sirius. “A Muggle motorbike, I’ve wanted one my entire life and I finally got one.”
“His pride and joy,” said James. “He’s spent so much time in here polishing it I’ve almost forgotten he’s been here.”
“It’s nice,” I said. I didn’t know if that was true really – I knew nothing about motorcycles, and I’d certainly never refer to one as being gorgeous, but that was clearly what he wanted to hear.
“Anyway, that’s that,” said James as we walked back into the living room and met up with James’s dad again. “You’ve seen pretty much everything now.”
James’s mum came in from the kitchen. “James, Sirius, why don’t you come set the table for dinner.”
“Do you need more help cooking?” I asked, as James and Sirius walked into the kitchen.
“Oh no dear, you don’t have to, our house-elf Tibby has finished most of the cooking, and it’ll only be a few more minutes anyway.” She smiled and went back to the kitchen.
“So are you two in the same year at Hogwarts as James and Sirius are?” asked Mr. Potter.
“Yes… although, we’re Slytherins,” said Mandy.
Mr. Potter looked surprised, but interested. He then asked if either of us played Quidditch, and so we ended up talking about Quidditch for a few minutes – until James came out of the kitchen, a wooden spoon still in hand, and eagerly started throwing in his thoughts about Puddlemere United.
“James,” his mum’s voice called lightly from the kitchen.
James disappeared back into the kitchen, and Mr Potter said, “You probably hear enough about Quidditch from James at school, don’t you? I shouldn’t have brought it up.” He laughed. “Did you read the Daily Prophet story today about that witch who just invented the rocket stilts?”
“Ernest, Melanie, Mandy… Dinner is in a few minutes,” said Mrs. Potter from in the doorway of the kitchen. We went in, where James was pointing his wand at a stack of plates moving towards the table, and Sirius was setting out cutlery. It was sort of a funny sight; I giggled as Sirius re-folded a napkin that had turned out messy, and went to help.
I was sitting on the sofa in the living room. We’d had an excellent dinner, and then sat around talking for a while, and now I was pretty sure I was the only one still downstairs, if not the only one still awake. Mandy had gone up to our room a little while ago, but I wasn’t really tired. So I just sat there on the sofa, staring at the patterns on the rug, my arms wrapped around my knees (my mother had always told me it was rude to put my feet on the furniture, but right now no one was around to see it).
Away from the cheeriness of having everyone around, I had started thinking over everything that had happened. Somehow, being back in an environment with people all around, enjoying themselves and being friendly and supportive, emphasised what I’d lost, and even more, what I’d never had. I knew the situation was beyond my control, but I couldn’t help being upset about it.
It was so nice for James to have let us stay. His parents were the nicest people. I was jealous. I wondered why my parents couldn’t have been like this, so easygoing and friendly, when my once-loving family had turned sour and isolating, had developed a rift that was too deep to heal. Why?
I was interrupted from my solitude when I heard “Hey!” and turned just as Sirius leapt over the back of the sofa and sat right next to me. “See, isn’t this better than being at home? I might even let you test out my bike sometime… Maybe. It pays to get kicked out of the house, doesn’t it?”
If he had said this to me when I wasn’t already upset, I’d think nothing of it, but his timing could not have been worse. I turned away from him. “Sirius, you’ve never taken anything seriously in your life, everything is a joke for you, but this is not funny. My brother is a Death Eater and my parents are on his side. I’m essentially alone now.”
“Should I just leave you here to feel sorry for yourself?” he asked with a smirk.
I frowned. “Stop it. You couldn’t even begin to understand.” I hated that my voice was shaking, and I turned away from him to prevent him seeing the tears welling up in my eyes. This was the last thing I needed, for him to see me wretched and miserable, utterly at my worst.
There was a short silence, then he said, in an entirely different tone of voice, “Actually, I do understand.”
“Oh, please,” I said. “You’re a popular Gryffindor with a perfect life and a perfect family, so how could you possibly expect me to believe that?”
“Are you joking?” Sirius asked slowly. “A perfect family? You do know who my family is, right?”
I had completely forgotten. As I had only ever known Sirius at Hogwarts, where he was a rebellious and proud Gryffindor, I never really associated Sirius with any of the rest of the Blacks. But his family did have a reputation for being uptight about blood purity, and no doubt he felt out of place there.
“They disowned me, you know,” Sirius told me. “I ran away from home last summer.”
“Oh… er… I’m sorry…” I was shocked – too surprised to continue trying to get him to leave. I quickly wiped the tears from my eyes and turned to look at him. “Really? You ran away from home?”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m living here.”
“Oh – I thought you were just visiting.”
He didn’t respond, but shrugged and stood up as if he were about to leave. I was intrigued; he had never said anything before about running away from home. Somewhere behind the carefree side of him he displayed to everyone, he had gone through a lot, even if he tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal. I prompted him by asking, “Were you disowned because you ran away?”
“Yes, I’m sure that was part of it,” he said as he started to walk away. “But they probably would have done it anyway, they never cared about me… Well I’ll leave you alone now.”
“Wait,” I said, aware that this was a complete reversal of five minutes ago; now it was me wanting to talk with him, and it seemed he didn’t want to anymore. But I kept going anyway. “Why did you run away?”
He hesitated in the doorway uncomfortably, as if trying to decide whether to continue walking out of the room or to talk to me. I decided maybe it was a hopeless venture, because Sirius wasn’t the type of person to open up about his feelings, so I said, “Never mind, it’s all right if you don’t want to tell me, I shouldn’t have asked such a personal question.”
“It’s okay,” he said, looking at me with an oddly calculating expression. Then he sat down again, this time at the other end of the sofa, and sat sideways on it so we were facing each other. “I just could never handle the lot of them. I’m the only person in my family to have become a Gryffindor, and my parents thought it was a huge disgrace to the family. They practically believe they’re like royalty, being a pureblood family and all that, and they wanted me to act like it. But I didn’t buy it.”
“Wow,” I said. “My parents didn’t care about it all until recently, when they started to align with Voldemort, because Nathan convinced them, I think. And I realised I’d picked a side too, and it wasn’t theirs. At first I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me, to try to avoid a fight… but then I found out about Nathan, and I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
He nodded, and half-smiled. “I was the opposite, I wore my Gryffindor scarf all the time at home and made it so clear I wasn’t like them. And they hated it. I wasn’t the son they wanted me to be – I was only a disappointment to them, so they sort of gave up on me and ignored me most of the time, as if they forgot I existed. My mum always said Regulus was such a good son… the better son… and you’ve seen who his friends are, they’re probably all Death Eaters in training.”
“You think Regulus is going to become a Death Eater?”
“I don’t know. He’s been raised to think they’re great… I’ve tried to talk to him sometimes, to stop him before he gets in too deep, but it always ends in fighting.” His eyes took on a faraway, shuttered look, so I didn’t push him further, but I had the feeling that it still bothered him more than he let on.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be. It was awful, but James’ parents are wonderful, and I’m much happier here than I ever was at home.”
I nodded. “My brother Nathan and I were really close, and now… I think that was the biggest shock for me. I don’t know what to do anymore, where to go.”
“Well, you’re not alone,” he said. He was being so sweet and caring – something I hadn’t even thought he was capable of.
“Thanks,” I said quietly. I sniffed and he looked up at me, and I wiped my eyes again. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
“Come here,” he said, and reached out his arm across the back of the sofa. I slid on over and when I was close enough he gave me a hug. I laughed weakly into his shoulder.
When he let go, he put his arm on the back of the sofa again, and I continued leaning against his shoulder. “I can’t believe I just told you all that,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t usually talk about it.”
“Well I’m glad you did, I thought I was the only one…”
We weren’t so different after all. Both of us had been alienated by our families, and now here we were, essentially homeless and living at James’s house. We seemed to have formed an unspoken connection.
We sat there for a while. Sirius had his arm around my shoulders and we were sitting very close to each other, talking and joking; it was very comfortable and relaxed after I’d finally calmed down about everything. And it was nice that we were able to confide in one another – I admitted that I still missed my family, and he told me about his favourite cousin Andromeda, who had married a Muggleborn and set the family in uproar.
“So, I was wondering,” Sirius asked eventually, “how did you end up in Slytherin?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing! Well, I was eleven and very impressionable, so I requested the house my family had been in. And I had the independence and resourcefulness and disregard for rules and Merlin knows what else the hat sees in Slytherins. Oh and speaking of Merlin, he was a Slytherin. It’s not that bad, you know, most Slytherins are fine – we just have a bad reputation because of the ones like Mulciber.” I shrugged. “It’s just a label anyway. I think there’s a little of each of the houses in everyone, though, don’t you?”
“Don’t forget Voldemort, he was a Slytherin too,” said Sirius with a smirk. I rolled my eyes. “Don’t get me wrong,” Sirius continued, “nothing against Slytherins in general, I’m glad you’re happy with it. Personally, I think Gryffindor’s got one up on Slytherin because lions are so much more impressive than snakes, and Gryffindors are just cooler... well, I suppose Merlin is all right… but yeah, I guess you could be right, it’s a label.”
I snorted. “Remind me again why we’re friends?”
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Disclaimer: The chapter title is a pun on the Joker’s line in The Dark Knight, owned by WB/Legendary Pictures/DC Comics.
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