Two Lost Souls Swimming In a Fish Bowl
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
She was furious. It was hard to put in words, this myriad of emotions so unlike her composed, analytical self: on the one hand, raging fury at what had happened, that one of the people she thought she knew best had turned into someone who felt like a stranger to her; that someone whom she had been convinced was good, and thoroughly so, had done something so utterly outside of Minerva's range of the credible and understandable. But there was also disappointment, a feeling like a dead fish against (inside?) her stomach, clammy and reeking. And this sadness, like a dark blanket over her head.
Sitting in the Great Hall at Hogwarts at breakfast, staring at the Daily Prophet headlines of this morning, November 22nd, 1980, Minerva felt such intense waves of emotion crash over her that she couldn't quite take them in; for a moment, she felt numb, almost paralysed. Then she pushed the paper away from her and ate her porridge, thinking about her upcoming lessons – the fifth years would need a lot more work on cross-species switches, and the first years were driving her mad this year, being the particularly untalented, yet havoc-prone lot they were. The printed headline lingered on the edges of her consciousness, but there were more pressing issues, now. She pushed all feeling away from her and did as she always did in times of crisis: she focused on the most obvious, the most pressing thing to do. Today, this was dabbing her mouth with her napkin and striding through the Great Hall, not wasting a glance at the newspaper headline:
UNBREAKABLE CURSES BILL PASSED
Wizengamot unexpectedly passes Auror's Enabling Bill, Bones Believed to be Turnaround Voter
All day, she had resisted the temptation to scream, rage, shrink into a corner and shudder with dry sobs at what had happened, at what the world had made of Amelia Bones. She had betrayed then all; there was no better way to put it. She had betrayed everything Hogwarts and Minerva stood for, betrayed it in a stupid attempt to save lives that would only create more hate, more death in these bloodstained times. Minerva couldn't even begin to understand how Amelia Bones, the woman she had known and loved since their very first week at Hogwarts together, could have been responsible for the passing of the Auror's Enabling Bill, a new law that would allow Aurors to use all sorts of unethical and illegal magic, including the Unforgivable Curses, against Death Eaters or Death Eater suspects. It was wrong under every possible definition, and it reeked of Barty Crouch and his love for absolutes, obvious enemies, and power. But Amelia knew all this. They had talked about it just a few weeks ago, over drinks in the Bones' house in London, and had agreed that the Bill was counterproductive, unethical and unlikely to be passed. Amelia, who had been voted into the Wizengamot just six months ago, had been anticipating her first law passing, and how she would proudly call "Nay," a voice of righteousness amongst the scared and the power-hungry Ministry officials in the court. What had gone wrong? Where had this decisive woman gone, where had Minerva McGonagall's best friend gone, and who was this unmerciful stranger she had been replaced with?
Rain was pounding against the windows and walls of Hogwarts, particularly, it seemed, Minerva's study, where she sat, despite the lateness of the hour, hunched over her desk, marking papers. By the light of the two candles on either corner of her desk, her seventh years' Ethics Of Transfiguration essays looked like old and precious documents. But, Minerva mused as she pulled over a new essay, these were not valuable scientific studies, oh no.
She glanced at the new scroll, entitled "Some Things Can Change: A Study and Discussion of the Ethical Use of Human Transfiguration from the Habana Uprising to Today". These essays were the mark of how an entire generation had been poisoned by a war it should not have been fighting. Minerva recognized the neat, tight hand of Alinesse Fenwick, who, she knew, would use the Habana Uprising, an obscure event of magical history, to argue that a widely considered unethical use of Transfiguration may have saved her big brother's life. She shuddered as she remembered bright, brave Benji Fenwick, whose own Ethics of Transfiguration essay had been entitled "A Case For Switching Jinxes". She had only graded it two years ago, a copy of it was probably still neatly achieved in her file cabinet, for it had been an excellent essay – and now bright, brave Benji Fenwick was no more, and the use of the spells he had once argued for had not saved him. Just like Dorcas Meadows, who once argued for the use of Transfiguration in duels, had been murdered without even a chance to fight, just like Gideon Prewett –"Survival is Always Ethical: An Argument in Favor of Human/Object Transfiguration in Battle" – had not survived long enough to turn his killers into anything.
Once upon a happier time, the Ethics essay had been Minerva's favorite assignment of the school year. In theory, it was a scientific project that required students to research spells and events of magical history in great detail, describe the magic, and discuss the ethical component of transfiguration. In theory, the project covered seven years of magical education and was as much a test of character as it was of knowledge. But, in light of the dark world outside, in the past four years the essays had turned into emotional, unscientific and, upon occasion, horrifying arguments for the use of – well, anything, when fighting the Dark Arts. "Survival is always ethical," indeed. The essays were also increasingly turning into a listing of the toll this war had taken on the students and magic Britain in general, for those with the shrillest arguments, calling for limitless magic against the Dark Arts in emotional and badly written, tear-stained essays were those who had lost a parent, a sibling or a friend to this war.
Then it hit her like half a dozen stunning spells to the chest. Suddenly, she understood. She understood what had happened, she could see before her the precise moment in which the old Amelia, full of principle and righteousness had disappeared, like a wisp of smoke. It had been two weeks ago, on a cold, clear day, on the Magical Cemetery in London. Four mahogany coffins, decorated in white and yellow flowers in the small, round chapel. It had been a cold day, the icy ground had crunched under her feet as Minerva hurried over the cemetery, past graves on which the funeral flowers had frozen like ice crystals and the newly dug up earth was covered in a thin sheet of ice. Upon entering the chapel, she didn't even look at the crowd of pale-faced, red-eyed people already seated, but hurried directly up to an erect figure in handsome black robes, sitting in the first row as still as a statue.
Amelia Bones was not crying, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, wringing her hands or sobbing. She was very pale and very, very composed as she turned to look at her oldest friend. Minerva crouched down next to her, laying a hand on her shoulder.
"Amelia, I…" At a complete loss for words, Minerva grasped her friends' hands, cold as ice, and squeezed them tightly.
"'Nerva, don't…" For a moment, Amelia's voice shook, but she steadied it quickly. "Thank you for coming."
"Of course I came, it's…Amelia, if there's anything you need, or if you want me to…" Amelia shook her head, and Minerva fell silent at once.
"Thank you. But I…" Again, she fell silent, not giving her voice a chance to shake. "I should start…you know."
"Yes, I suppose." With a last, earnest squeeze of the hand, Minerva rose. "Steady, Amelia," she whispered, and she thought she a saw tear glisten in her eyes as Amelia Bones rose and addressed the congregation assembled, conducting the Requiem for her baby brother, Edgar Bones, his wife Agnes, and their children, Abigal and Ella. Edgar Bones – as a child he had followed her around whenever she visited Amelia's house; he had been one of the few people who had supported her decision to go back to Hogwarts as a teacher. Agnes, kind and soft-spoken, had been in Minerva's very first teaching class, the only student who had given her respect, right from the beginning. And the children, Abigail, barely five, as much her own goddaughter as Amelia's, and Ella, just a baby, falling asleep on Minerva's lap in one moment, and the next… and the next…
It had all gone so quickly, Minerva thought, two weeks later, as she pulled her shawl around her shoulders and stared out of the window, stared at the angry curtains of rain, as though they could answer the burning question of why. One moment, it seemed, they were all sitting in the Bones' big kitchen, in the house Amelia shared with the youngest of her brothers and his wife. Ever since old Mr. and Mrs. Bones' had had died, and their oldest and youngest child had moved into the splendid London townhouse together, these nights in their kitchen had been the closest Minerva had come to experience family, the way she imagined it must be. It had always been like this, with Amelia. She had swooped into Minerva's orderly world, started calling her nicknames (something neither she nor her parents had or would ever permit), made her laugh and filled her with a sense of warmth where she had never known herself to be cold, before. Like those nights, Fridays, usually, something she never had known she had been missing, until now. The babies crying and playing together in the kitchen, the familiar smell of wood, Amelia's cluttered work parchments in the hall, one of Agnes' signature pies in the oven and a lively, giggling discussion on the table. At some point the candles burned down, Ella fell asleep on Minerva's lap while Abigal, insisting she was not tired, slumped over against her mother's chair, and Minerva, realizing she was too tired, too happy and too full of elf-made wine to apparate anywhere tonight, would follow Amelia into her room, temporarily transfigure her desk into a splendid four poster bed and fall asleep. Waking up, gazing into Amelia's sleeping face, she had always wondered how she could not have missed these nights before. And now, it seemed, she would have to go back to life without them, go back to the life that had existed before finding her family. But, she thought, staring until the darkness until it hurt, there was someone out these who had not only lost their Friday nights and the illusion of a family, but actually lost a brother, and they were alone, tonight, and had just passed a thoroughly foolish law.
Furiously wiping her cheeks, Minerva threw a pinch of Floo Powder into the dying embers of her fire, and, moments later, stepped out of the fireplace in the Bones' kitchen.
"Amelia?" No answer. For a second, she was filled with fear, cold, naked panic, knowing, in a split second of clarity, that Edgar had not been the worst of it. "Amelia?!" She called again, her voice shaking. This time she heard it, a small, muffled voice coming from upstairs. Minerva hurried through the hallway of this house that seemed more familiar to her than her own childhood home. She practically raced up the stairs, and almost knocked over Amelia, who was standing at the top of the stairs.
"Amelia!" she gasped. "Amelia, I…"
"Oh, dear," Amelia grimaced. "I knew I wouldn't get out of this one."
"Amelia, I'm so sorry I…what?!"
"Oh, come on," she almost smiled, explaining dryly: "You're here to lecture me about the Bill, aren't you? You're here to tell me off for abandoning my principles and getting that law past the Winzengamot- right?"
"No!" Minerva protested, indignantly. "No, I can assure you I'm not!"
Amelia raised her eyebrows at her. "You're not?!"
"No! I'm…well…" She was fishing for words again, grasping them out of the myriad emotions boiling inside her since this morning, from rage to disbelief, then to tenderness and pity.
"You mean you're not mad about me about the Bill?"
"Well…I was," she admitted. "I was quite furious, actually. But then…I think I know why you did it. I…I think I understood something. Amelia," and now the words were tumbling out of her like a waterfall, all the composure of the venerable Hogwarts professor melting away as she became an awkward girl of fifteen all over again. "It's so terrible about Edgar, I'm so dreadfully sorry. I should have been here, I should have been with you, you shouldn't have been in this house all by yourself, I'm so sorry. And I know why you voted for that Bill, I know how you feel – you think you could have stopped it, you those laws can save someone else's baby brother, and I understand it, and I'm so, so sorry, and…"
"'Nerva," Amelia interrupted her, her voice shaking. "Don't. Don't do that." And for the first time, Amelia was allowing herself to break down; the sobs and tears escape her. And with the shaking of her shoulders, she spilled not only tears but also words of rage she had been keeping inside her for fourteen days. "Don't apologize for something that's not your fault. You didn't do it. You didn't murder two beautiful baby girls in their beds. You didn't force their mother to watch you as you murdered them, and then Imperio her so you could take have her before murdering her. You didn't torture my brother, my baby brother, until he screamed for mercy, crying like a baby, and then they killed him like they killed the babies, slaughtered him like they slaughtered Agnes. You didn't throw away their bodies like used dishcloths – but they did! Minerva, that's what they did! It's…they aren't humans, 'Nerva, do you understand that? They are monsters, and…and… and…" She couldn't go on, her voice was drowning in tears and sobs. Minerva opened her arms and pulled her close, rocking her and stroking her as she might have done with little Ella. And now she was crying too, and they were clutching each other, sinking down on the stone floor of this big, empty house, weeping and holding on to each other so their own tears might not wash them away. They held onto each other, speaking words gentle words of comfort through their own tears, until they had cried and comforted away each other's sorrow.
"It just hurts so much," Amelia whispered, leaning against Minerva's warm body.
"I know," she replied, holding on to Amelia's hand, as though she feared she might be blown away otherwise. A church bell chimed outside. It was three in the morning.
"You should get going," Amelia sighed, attempting to rise.
"No," Minerva said simply. "I'm not leaving you alone for the next couple of weeks. You'll have to arrange yourself with me, my dear."
"I think I can do that," Amelia whispered, almost smiling through her tears.
"I should think so," Minerva replied, gently. "Come, we should get some sleep." She hoisted herself up, pulling her friend up by the hand. They walked along the corridor, into Amelia's bedroom, the ludicrous mix of regency tapestries and Muggle posters they had once found so stylish familiar, even in the gloom. As they had done hundreds of times – at Hogwarts, when one of them was haunted by heartbreak or a mean dream; during Minerva's stays at the Bones' house during vacation; on long nights studying for Amelia's application test for the Ministry; coming home from concerts in Diagon Alley what felt like a life time ago… all these nights had ended in the two of them arranging themselves in Amelia's bed, the warmth of each other's bodies as constant and comforting as the moon outside the window. The sensation of their cold feet touching under the warm covers, the familiar outline of the shapes of Amelia's desk and curtains in the darkness of the room, and her best friend's deep, earthy smell in her nose was all that Minerva needed to know they would be all right.
"Thanks," Amelia mumbled, arranging herself in Minerva's lap, drifting off into sleep like an exhausted child. "For everything…" Her voice died away, replaced with deep, healing breaths of sleep.
"You're welcome," Minerva whispered, running her fingers through Amelia's hair, graying at the roots now. She felt like she knew this side of Amelia's head, the temples where the skin was particularly soft, the tightly shut eyes and fluttering eyelashes, now embedded in an ever-growing spider net of wrinkles, better than anything else in the word. Closing her eyes, she nestled her head against her friend's, and, feeling her soft, warm breath against the side of her cheek, she drifted off into sleep.