Chapter 35 : The Long Road
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We were going on as best we could. The loss of Charlotte still hurt me immensely, but with each passing day it became just a little easier to bear. I always sat on her favourite side of the table at meals now, in a way because I knew she would want someone to be entertained by the people in the Hall when she could not do it herself. And she would have been pleased at the sight today: someone at the Hufflepuff table had produced a number of straws, connected them, and was trying to drink pumpkin juice from someone else’s cup at the neighbouring Ravenclaw table.
At breakfast Mandy and I would always read the Daily Prophet like it was our job. We had to know what was going on – and it was never good. The Dark Mark set above a house in Kent, seven people at the Ministry of Magic found to be under the Imperius Curse, a disappearance… “Nothing new,” said Mandy.
“How do we know who to trust anymore?” I asked her. “Look at this, one of the people under the Imperius Curse – his family had no idea! He would just go to work, sometimes kill Muggles, and return to his family and they couldn’t tell anything was wrong with him! How do I know you’re not under the Imperius Curse?”
“You don’t know,” said Mandy, shrugging. “I’m not, of course, but how can you be sure I’m telling the truth?”
“Well, I think we’re safe here at Hogwarts, but this is all going to be real in three months.” I looked up at her from the pages of the Prophet. “It’s going to be especially hard for you, you know – because you’re naturally such a trusting person.”
“I’ll need to keep a Sneakoscope in my pocket at all times,” she said.
I laughed. “Bet that’ll be great. It will whistle all the time and you’ll get kicked out of your job for disrupting the workplace.”
“No, it’d be well practical.” Mandy looked up and then started whistling. “See, it’d be like that. I’m a human Sneakoscope,” she explained. “Someone untrustworthy just walked by.”
I laughed; Vanessa Saltz had just walked by to sit at the Ravenclaw table. She had finally given up on trying to interfere with me and Sirius, as we were back together and contrary to her predictions, he hadn’t gotten bored of me yet. So Vanessa was now dating Nick Smith, the haughty blond-haired Hufflepuff Chaser with an upturned nose, who thought he was too cool for Hogwarts. He wouldn’t give the time of day to anyone he didn’t deem worthy of talking to. Apparently Vanessa somehow met his standards… so really, since they were both awful, they were perfect for each other. Perfect because they were too busy with each other for her to stick her nose in my business.
“Thanks for that,” I said. Mandy smiled and then picked up the Daily Prophet again so we could continue reading the news.
It was certainly odd to think about just how much had changed since last year. To think that I had once been so scared to stand up for myself, and my main worry had been petty house rivalry. I had grown up so much in the past two years. Now, of course, my worst troubles were the same as those of the entire wizarding world: Voldemort. We were at war. People were dying, people I knew. And no one knew when it would end.
The past year and a half had also provided me with some of the greatest friends I could ever ask for. People who used to play tricks on me all the time when I didn’t know them – and now, I knew the Marauders’ biggest secret… or what I assumed to be their biggest secret. I’d learned over the years that they were no strangers to keeping secrets, and as far as I knew there could be many more. But they’d entrusted me with the knowledge that they were Animagi (and illegal ones at that, because they weren’t registered with the Ministry), and I’d promised to keep their secret.
So life went on, and often I was able to enjoy it again. Despite all I had lost and all the grief I’d been through, I was in love. Love – which seemed like it had no place in a time like this, but it was what gave me hope and brought the light back to my world. Life was meant to be lived and loved to the fullest, and when Sirius finally led me up to the empty Gryffindor dormitory one evening, we did exactly that; afterwards I stayed comfortably wrapped in the warmth of his arms until morning, where everything was right in the world.
It was an odd balance between being happy in love, and on the threshold of war, but that was life now. Sometimes I’d find myself wondering about the future… or if I would even have a future at all – after what I’d seen last month, I couldn’t be too sure. But in the meantime, my relationships were strengthened with the people who were still here. Hector and Althea and I began to spend long hours together in the library intensely discussing the war and politics. The slightly frosty friendship between Alanna and Rachel and myself finally turned warmer, as we had seen how short and fragile life was. And sometimes, I’d wonder what my brother was doing, out there serving Voldemort with that anxious look on his face.
One day in the second week of March I saw Nathan’s owl fluttering above the table at breakfast; I was shocked Nathan would have the gall to write to me after showing up in Hogsmeade with Voldemort and then fleeing after my friend’s death. I opened the letter anyway, not really sure what to expect.
Melanie, I’m so sorry about everything that happened, he’d written. I hope you’re okay. I don’t want that battle to be the last thing you remember of me, so would you come to Hogsmeade tomorrow at 3 to meet me? It’ll probably be the last time I’ll see you for a long while. I won’t have anyone else with me. Don’t tell anyone you’re meeting me. I know you’ll be thinking this is a trap, but it isn’t. Please, trust me, even though I know I don’t deserve it.
Despite Nathan’s request that I not tell anyone, I immediately showed the letter to Mandy, who was seated next to me. “Who does he think he is?” she asked angrily. “Of course you’re not going.”
It seemed like nothing but a bad idea to sneak out of the safety of Hogwarts to meet up with a Death Eater. But I remembered seeing how terrified Nathan had been after he’d watched Lester kill Charlotte, and I thought maybe he’d changed. Or maybe I was just wishing it so strongly that I’d managed to convince myself it was so. Either way, I wanted to give him a chance. He was still my brother.
“I think I might, actually,” I admitted. “I know, it’s probably a trap. But… something tells me it isn’t. I can’t really explain it. But I think it’s different.”
She looked at me sceptically. “Okay… I suppose you do know him better than I do, so only you can say, but… be careful! I don’t want this to be a repeat of Valentine’s Day.”
Sirius had the same reaction later that day when I told him about Nathan’s letter. “You are not going into Hogsmeade to meet a Death Eater,” he said protectively. “Please don’t. It’s too reckless.”
The irony of Sirius advising me not to be reckless was not lost on me. “But what if he’s changed?” I asked. “It might be honest. What does he mean I won’t see him for a while? I have to know.”
“But right after what happened to Charlotte—” Sirius argued, then stopped, glancing at me uneasily as he mentioned Charlotte, and when I didn’t stop him from talking about her, he continued. “She was just meeting her brother too.”
I knew he’d try to play that card. And it was a valid worry – even I was unsure if it was a good idea. “I know,” I said. “But I think I’ll regret it if I don’t go. I’m not going along with his rules though; I already told you and Mandy, and he said to tell no one. What if it were Regulus, and you thought he might have changed? Wouldn’t you want to talk to him?”
He watched me silently for a moment, then said, “Let me go with you, then. If you have to go, at least don’t go alone. It’ll be much safer to have people with you and people who know where you are.”
“I’d love that, actually,” I said. “Thank you.” So in the end I decided I’d go there with Sirius, and Nathan would just have to deal with it. And Mandy, James, Remus, and Peter were all going to be hiding nearby, waiting around in case something happened. Sirius had told his three best friends of my plans and they’d all felt as he had – that if I must go, I should at least have support. And anyone who got on the wrong side of those four often ended up hurting for it, so I figured I was in very good hands. I had completely disregarded Nathan’s requests about not telling anyone, but he’d have to be crazy to expect me to comply with something like that given what had happened last time I’d seen him.
So at a quarter past two the following day, I went to the one-eyed witch statue in the third floor corridor with Sirius and snuck out through the tunnel. It seemed much longer this time, now that I was not looking forward to what awaited me at the other end. With each step I took, I became more nervous that I was walking into an ambush. But we kept walking.
We snuck out through Honeydukes and began walking up the High Street. I clung to Sirius’s hand, and with my other hand I gripped my wand in my pocket. After a few minutes, I saw a lone figure standing between Scrivenshaft’s and Gladrags, and pointed him out to Sirius. We approached cautiously, listening for the sound of movement in case anyone jumped out at us.
Nathan looked up as we walked up to meet him. Sirius had his wand drawn, watching Nathan with a stony look of distrust.
“So where are your reinforcements?” I asked Nathan without preamble. “Other Death Eaters around the corner?”
“No, just me, like I promised,” he said, eyeing Sirius warily, his eyes lingering over our clasped hands, before looking back to me. “But you brought someone else along.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to be walking into a trap,” I said bluntly. “So whatever you have to say, you can say in front of him too. I don’t trust you anymore, Nathan.”
He smiled grimly. “I expected that. I was just trying to ensure that as few people as possible knew I was here.”
“Why? What’s this all about?” I asked. “I really shouldn’t be here, it’s not safe. I almost didn’t come, after what happened last time.”
Nathan looked ashamed. “I know, I am so sorry about that, I really am. I can’t imagine… I only asked to meet today because I wanted to say goodbye.”
“I’m leaving,” said Nathan. “I’m leaving the Death Eaters, I’m leaving the Dark Lord. I’m leaving England, probably forever.”
“Where will you go?” I whispered.
“You can’t say because you don’t know where, or because you don’t want to tell me?”
“I shouldn’t tell you, because that’s not smart – if I told you, the Dark Lord would come after you and torture you to get the information, and then come kill me. I can’t have them find me. The fewer people who know where I am, the safer it is for me.”
“I’m not telling Voldemort anything,” I said. Nathan flinched when I said the name. Even as one of Voldemort’s Death Eaters, he was afraid to hear his master’s name. “But if you can’t tell me, it’s fine… Will I ever see you again?”
Nathan sighed. “I hope so. I’m sorry things turned out like this, I just got caught up…” He sadly looked off at the horizon past me, and I realised how old and tired he looked now. “If it helps,” he continued, “I’m going to be with my friend Habib Al-Sahhar. If you write to him, your owl will find me. Don’t address anything to me though, in case the Ministry is checking letters – because you know they’re all infiltrated with the Dark L – with You-Know-Who’s people now.”
“Won’t he have ways to find you?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but I hope not,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, though; nothing could convince me to stay around. I want nothing to do with them anymore. I just had to get out.”
It really did seem Nathan was telling the truth. And he had no idea what was to become of him when he left. I finally let go of Sirius’s hand and hugged Nathan tightly. “Good luck,” I told him.
“Thanks. I’ll need it,” he said, releasing me. Then he turned to face Sirius, his eyes narrowed. “You take care of my sister,” he said.
For the first time since we’d arrived in Hogsmeade, Sirius gave up his effort at an intimidating glare at Nathan, and his lips formed the hint of a smile. “Of course,” he said.
Nathan looked at me one last time, then Apparated away. To where, I had no idea. Even Nathan had no idea what lay ahead of him. I might never see him again, or if I did, it could be years away. But he had gotten out. He was free.
Sirius and I left the narrow alley and met up with Mandy, James, Peter, and Remus outside Honeydukes. “What did Nathan have to say?” Mandy asked.
“He left the Death Eaters,” I told her. “But I’m not to contact him in case Voldemort is trying to find him.”
“Good for him,” said Mandy, impressed. “That’s brave. And you always said there was still good in him.”
“I just hope he’s all right,” I said. “I can’t imagine it’s easy for a Death Eater to just leave Voldemort and get away with it…”
“Well if he’s smart enough to leave the Death Eaters, he’s smart enough to know how to stay away from them,” Mandy suggested. “Let’s go to the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer, it’s freezing out here.”
“Good idea,” said Sirius, and all six of us went inside. We stayed in the Three Broomsticks for a while, and they all tried to ease my worries about Nathan. There was nothing I could do, after all. Maybe I’d find out in a few years what had happened.
After Quidditch practise one day later that week, I spotted the four Gryffindors walking out of Filch’s office as I passed by in the corridor. I grinned as I approached them. “What’d you do this time, Head Boy?” I teased James, who was closest.
Then I noticed they looked a bit more subdued than usual, and I hoped it wasn’t something serious. “What happened?” I asked again, though without the grin this time.
But I didn’t find out, for at that moment Filch stepped out from his office as well, his eyes popping when he saw the scores of muddy footprints on the floor from the Slytherin Quidditch team, but only one muddy person: me. The rest of them must have gone into the Great Hall already. Thus, Filch decided that my presence at the scene of the mud merited a detention for befouling the castle.
This cheered the boys up considerably, and as they walked away laughing I gave them a rude hand gesture and followed Filch into his office to receive my punishment, the whole time reflecting that James must have had the right idea the time I’d seen him flying through the corridors after his Quidditch practise – he hadn’t gotten mud on the floors.
I discovered soon afterwards what had upset the boys. When I sat with the Gryffindors at dinner, they were lamenting the loss of their map.
“Not that map of Hogwarts you drew?” I asked, shocked.
“Yes,” said Remus. “Fortunately, he doesn’t know how it works. James cleared it just before Filch showed up, so it just looks like a big piece of parchment, but Filch knew something was up the way we were all gathered around it.”
“He confiscated it,” Peter added.
“I’m sorry,” I said, knowing how much they loved that map. “I don’t suppose you could just make another one…”
“If it were that easy, everyone would have one,” said James.
“Hey, it’s not all that bad, is it?” I asked. “I mean, there aren’t that many weeks left of school. And you already know all the secret passages out of Hogwarts by now, all the shortcut tunnels…”
“But it helped let us know where people were,” Sirius argued. “It was the most useful thing we ever invented. We just looked at it a bit too late this time – we saw Filch coming and cleared the map, but it was too late, he was right there.”
“And we reckon Filch knows about one of the tunnels now,” said James. “We were standing just outside that one on the second floor when he found us.”
“Well, knowing you four, I’m sure you’ll find a way to create mischief without it,” I said consolingly. “You do still have an Invisibility Cloak, after all.”
“And it could be worse,” said Remus with a smile. “After all, you have a detention tonight, and we don’t.”
“You don’t?” I thought for sure Filch had given them a detention out of habit if nothing else.
Sirius laughed. “We weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said. “He was suspicious of us and took the map, but he can hardly give out a detention for standing around; that’s not against the rules.”
For my detention I had to clean the disgusting floor in Filch’s office without magic. Worst of all, he was there watching me, so I couldn’t sneak a cleaning spell in there like I had been prepared to do, after learning from my detention with Sirius last year that it was fine to use magic when we were told not to. Filch wanted his floor to be as shiny as the polished manacles he still kept on the wall, so I was there a while. The Marauders were at least lucky that they didn’t have to do this too, and had only lost a map.
The last Saturday of March we left for the Easter holiday. As we walked out to the horseless carriages to take us to the train at Hogsmeade Station, I did a double take upon realising I could now see the thestrals pulling them. Their bodies looked like skeletal winged horses, but the faces looked distinctly dragonish. The one nearest me turned to look at me, its white eyes shining. It might not have scared me so much if I didn’t now associate them with Charlotte’s death, but I knew that was why I could see them. The curiosity I used to feel about them when they were still invisible was gone now. I shuddered and walked past the thestral into the carriage it pulled.
Luckily, my friends pushed the thought of the thestral out of my mind, when far too many of us tried to squeeze into one carriage. Much hilarity ensued as our carriage trundled down the hill, several of us sitting on others’ laps. It was fortunate that Hogsmeade Station was not far from Hogwarts, so we were able to leave the carriages again before everyone’s legs fell asleep.
Once on the train, the Head Boy and Girl had to patrol the corridors with all the prefects. So with Lily, James, and Remus gone, Peter, Sirius, and I got a compartment together. Mandy was sitting with Roderick in another compartment, and as soon as Peter realised he would be left alone with Sirius and me, he scurried off to find somewhere else to sit. Although amusing, this suited Sirius and me quite well and we enjoyed having the compartment to ourselves until James, Lily, and Remus all finished their train patrol and joined us in our compartment; Peter returned too after he saw that everyone else was back.
Eventually the sky began to grow dark, and the familiar rhythmic noise of the train changed as we slowed down. We arrived at King’s Cross, and it was time for me to say goodbye to everyone and then find Mandy, who I was staying with for Easter.
“I’m not going to see you for two whole weeks,” I told Sirius with disappointment after I’d lugged my trunk down from the storage rack. He reached up to get his trunk too, but I ducked under his arm, facing him, threw my arms around his neck and kissed him. Sirius rapidly abandoned all thought of getting his trunk.
When we finally separated I opened my eyes to see three Hufflepuff girls staring at us through the door. I rather wished the door didn’t have such a large window in it.
“It doesn’t have to be two weeks,” he said. “You could always come stay with me for a few days.”
“You know I’d love to, but…” I sighed. “Charlotte was Mandy’s best friend too, and we need some time together for just us. I’m not leaving her alone over the holiday.”
He nodded. “Then I’d better give you something to remember me by,” he said with a grin, “so you don’t forget me over those two weeks.” He cupped my face in his hands.
“It’d be hard to forget you,” I murmured, laughing, and we continued our goodbye, enjoying the last few minutes we had of each other’s company.
We were finally snapped back to reality when we heard Mandy’s voice coming from outside. “Get off the damn train,” she shouted from the platform. “Everyone’s left!”
I laughed; it sounded like Mandy was channelling Charlotte’s spirit, as Mandy had never really been one to yell things like that. Sirius reluctantly got his trunk, then we stepped out of our compartment and made our way off the train to find James impatiently pacing around waiting for Sirius (Lily must have already left with her family), and Mandy looking rather bored. Sirius and I waited until the last possible moment to let go of each other’s hands, and then we went on our separate ways for the Easter holiday.
“Sorry,” I told Mandy, though I wasn’t actually sorry I’d spent so long on the train saying goodbye to Sirius.
“It’s all right,” she said as we walked through the gate into the Muggle world to meet her parents. “I only aged about ten years waiting for you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Are you filling the sarcasm void in our friendship now that Charlotte’s not around to do it?” I asked.
“I think she’d approve,” Mandy said with a slight smile.
“I know she would,” I agreed.
It obviously still hurt that Charlotte was gone, but we had reached the point now when we were able to talk about her now without breaking down. I knew we’d never truly get over her death, but we were able to move on with our lives. And she’d always be with us in some way or another; in our memories, as a best friend, as an inspiration for us to defeat Voldemort.
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