Chapter 1: “DEAD” (Mark)
“Like... dead dead?”
Her hands are trembling slightly - as is her voice, although I can tell she’s making an effort to keep her tone as casual as possible. Still, she can’t hide her emotion completely. Not from me, anyway. Not when we’ve known each other since first year, when we were young and eager and... well, innocent, I guess.
A lot has changed since then.
”Proper dead?” she presses. “Not, like, living dead? ‘Cause I thought...”
”Jan- “ I cut in.
“...he’d be, like, a ghost or something, or...”
”...he’s out there hiding somewhere, maybe...”
”Jan. Look. He’s-“
”...or this is - this isn’t a joke, right? Some sick joke? ‘Cos it’s not funny.”
Thank God the Hufflepuff common room’s empty, because her voice is getting higher with every word, and she’s given up all attempts at whispering. I try not to look at her face - the desperate hope in her eyes is unsettling me - so instead I look at her hands. Clenching. Unclenching. Sharp neon-pink nails scraping against the yellow cushions. Scritch. Scratch. I don’t know what’s worse, the scratching or the look in her eyes.
I assure her it isn’t a joke. That doesn’t give her any comfort.
”He’s not just... missing? Or...”
”Not missing. Dead.”
”Dead,” I repeat firmly.
Finally it sinks in. Her hands fall limp against the cushions. When I look up, the hopeful, pleading expression has completely gone from her face. I once saw a picture in the Daily Prophet of a witch in Azkaban, a woman convicted of murder, who had been given to the Dementors just a few hours before the photo was taken. Jan’s face has the same sort of look to it - as if the light of her soul has just been snuffed out. “Oh,” she says.
No expression in her voice. Just, “oh”.
Then, “God,” she says. “Oh, God.”
”Exactly,” I say grimly.
She’s silent again for a few moments. It’s that time in the evening when the fading sunlight shines warmly through the little round windows. One of the house-elves must have lit the fire before we snuck in here earlier, and it’s still burning away comfortably... so why does the room feel so cold?
Eventually she looks up at me and asks the question which - well, to be honest, it’s the only question I’ve been asking myself, too.
”Mark...what are we going to do?”
Chapter 2: “CONVERSATION WITH MY SILENT BOYFRIEND” (Leah)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if everyone was immortal?
I mean, if nobody ever died, well, on the face of it most people would be like “hey that’s pretty awesome, I can live forever,” but I mean, what if you really considered life without death?
For one thing, the entire process of ‘life’ would be completely devalued. The beautiful transitory moments and the memories that people hold on to - all of that would mean virtually nothing when you can repeat those moments and those memories as many times as you want, over and over and over, until you get sick of repeating them, and then you’ve lost the beauty and the wonder of doing all of those things for the first time, you know what I mean? Everything would be - everything would be totally meaningless.
And then obviously people age, they deteriorate, they get sick, they suffer, and I mean, there’s got to be an end to it all, you know? That’s what I never understood about the Dark Lord - Voldemort - or whatever we’re supposed to call him now. (Some people are still calling him You-Know-Who or He Who Must Not Be Named - like it even matters now! I guess that’s one of those things that never changes.) Anyway, my point is, how does it make any sense? Believing that evil and suffering are better than death? Surely suffering is the worst thing in the world, the one thing that nobody wants to endure, because it is suffering - the whole point of suffering is that it’s horrible. Why would you not want to die, just so you could live and suffer?
And even if everyone lived forever, our planet would be ruined eventually - even if we stopped global warming and sea level rise and deforestation and all that - because eventually the Sun would blow up, or the Moon would crash into the Earth, or something like that, and then we would all end up floating around the universe like bits of frozen, undying space junk. So, yeah, immortality is probably not as great as it sounds.
I tell all of this to Phil whilst we’re sat on the hillside overlooking the Black Lake. (The view up here is sublime, absolutely sublime - you can see for miles.) I hoped that maybe he would make some sort of comment about the whole ‘what-if-everyone-was-immortal’ thing - either “Yeah, that’s right, Leah, I totally understand what you mean”, or “Bloody hell, Leah, that’s pretty morbid.” Any kind of response would do.
But of course he says nothing.
He’s barely spoken to me for weeks now. I don’t know what’s up with him - maybe I did something to offend him, or maybe something’s happened to him that I don’t know about, or maybe he’s just... changed somehow. All he seems interested in is food. You’d never guess that someone so thin and lanky would be so obsessed with eating, but then you’ve probably never met Phil Nott. He’s eating right now, nibbling round the edges of a pumpkin pasty, carefully chewing off the crimped pastry crust before he starts on the pumpkin-filled centre.
“Phil,” I say.
He doesn’t look up from his pasty. So I try again.
”Phil. You haven’t been listening to a word I said, have you?”
Nothing. Not even a vague glance in my direction. So I try again.
”Phi-i-il! Is it because I talk too much? Is that it?”
Still nothing. He starts peeling flakes of pastry off and eating them one by one.
I’m not a patient person at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. So I... well, I kind of lose it.
”God dammit, Phil, that’s it, isn’t it, you think I talk too much, that’s why you’re always ignoring me, isn’t it, you’re thinking, you’re thinking “Leah talks too much, I wish she’d shut up once in a while,” so shameful, so awful, so stupid, so, so, murder me, Phil. Murder me, poison me, send me to Azkaban, curse my tongue to the roof of my mouth, rip my teeth out with a pair of rusty pliers, so I talk too much, Phil, what a crime, what a sin, what a stupid, evil... Ridiculous, Phil, ridiculous, because you’re not perfect either, all right?”
As soon as I say it, I wish I hadn’t. But I can’t unsay it. “You’re... You’re not exactly popular, are you, you know? There. I admit it. You’re a bit...”
A bit what? Infuriating? Sociopathic? Oh, Merlin’s beard, how do I explain it without offending him?
”You’re not exactly...”
But the word I’m searching for never arrives, because at that moment, I spot two black-robed, yellow-scarfed figures hurrying up the hill towards us. As they approach us, the two figures reveal themselves as Mark Láirén and a rather pink-faced Janet Macmillan.
”We need to talk,” says Mark, slowing to a jog as he reaches the top of the hill.
”What is it?”
Jan arrives just behind him, panting slightly. “We really... need to... talk.”
Both of them look anxious. More than usual, I mean. Something serious is going on here.
Phil swallows the last morsel of pumpkin pasty and gets up leisurely. Stood at full height next to the two fifth-years, he looks like a mountain beside two insignificant little molehills. “What have you done now?”
Mark pales. “Something bad. Something really bad.”
I may not be very good at reading other people’s emotions, but I could tell from Mark’s face and his voice that it was indeed Something Really Bad. Something so bad that he had been forced to come to Phil for help. Mark never asks anyone for help, let alone Phil.
I sink my head into my hands. “Oh, shit.”