Chapter 1 : The Forging of Ways
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His heart bashes da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, like a kettledrummer in his chest, punching his ears and surging icy blood through his veins. He skids on the Persian rug at the foot of the staircase and scrabbles desperately up the steps on all-fours like a monkey, barely able to feel his hands and feet.
‘Taddie! Taaadiiiie …’ his elder sister’s voice comes up faintly after him – but faintly; a small spall of hope breaks off from the rock of fear in his stomach.
‘Taddeus …’ Tristessa’s soughing is barely discernible now, as Taddeus reaches the head of the stairs and sprints down a faded hallway lined with portraits of stern, white-blond ancestors.
Uncle Scorpius, little Taddeus thinks desperately. I have to get to Uncle Scorpius!
And there it is at the end of the hallway: his uncle’s study door. His legs burn and his throat stings as he pants, spurning faster, his timpani heart all he can hear, all that exists, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.
Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.
The door, just get to the door …
Almost there! Five doors to go, four doors to go, three doors―
Taddeus gasps with rasping horror and skids to a halt so abruptly that his feet tangle up and he trips face-first onto the faded red carpet, burning his elbows and knees. Petrified, he stays face-down, too scared to move – like a possum playing dead.
Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.
There is a quiet chuckle above him, followed by soft, deliberate footsteps.
He should have known. He should have known!
His elder brother Tarquin’s feet stop an inch from Taddeus’s face on the floor. Hurrying footsteps sound down the hallway, coming from the stairs. Fear clenches tighter in his stomach.
‘You get him?’ Tristessa calls.
‘Got him!’ Tarquin calls back.
Oh no – if they are able to shout to one another, it means that there are no adults around to hear, that Uncle Scorpius is not in his study. Taddeus squeezes his eyes shut tight. Tarquin gives him a kick in the stomach, knocking a huff of air from his lungs.
‘Little ferret thought he’d go to the grown-ups.’ Not even looking at her face, Taddeus can tell that Tristessa is sneering.
‘Little snitch,’ Tarquin says in a repulsed voice. ‘Get up!’ he snaps at Taddeus, who, though stiff and gorgonized with terror, forces his limbs to obey, knowing it would be much worse for him if he does not.
Tristessa joins Tarquin as their youngest brother gets shakily to his feet. Taddeus stares at the faded carpet, clutching his stomach, dreading the worst and feeling faint.
‘Right,’ Tristessa says in a delicately gleeful voice, ‘now that we have you, I’d like you to apologise.’
Apologise? What for? What has he done now? Taddeus wonders wildly. He cannot think of anything since last Tuesday, when he was threatened into apologising for accidentally spilling orange juice over Tarquin at breakfast. He’s been so careful since then!
Tristessa and Tarquin enjoy their little brother’s silent terror.
‘I’m waiting,’ Tristessa says in a sing-song voice, and begins fiddling with the pink ribbon in her hair; she got it for her thirteenth birthday last week and has not stopped wearing it, not even to bed.
Taddeus raises his eyes from the floor, knowing that they like eye contact when he is forced to apologise, and says in a quavery voice, ‘I’m sorry, Tristessa.’
She gives a mocking smile. ‘Apology accepted. Will you ever do it again?’
Pause. Taddeus looks to the floor and then up again. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.
‘No,’ he says quietly, ‘I promise.’
Tristessa’s smile turns unrecognisably angelic.
‘Good,’ she says with benignity, as if she is a nun blessing a devotee. She turns on her heel and proceeds the way she came, towards the staircase.
Tremulous relief trickles through little Taddeus: it is over, it was not even that bad. But the relief is short-lived.
On his way past to follow Tristessa, Tarquin bashes into Taddeus, hurtling him roughly at the wall. Taddeus’s back slams against the wall and the back of his head clonks against the cold, hard, faded frame of some ancestor.
The silver haired Malfoy hisses, but Taddeus does not hear, as pain such as he has never experienced slices through his brain like a demolition ball. He sees black and flops in an unconscious heap to the floor.
He is dreaming – he has to be dreaming. This cannot be real because Timeus has not had a smile on his face for a long time – ever since Tristessa and Tarquin got back from Hogwarts for the summer holidays, and Taddeus knows why: he is going next.
Poor Timeus, who hates and despises their eldest siblings with a passion stronger than Taddeus even, is going to Hogwarts this year; he has been frowning for weeks.
Now, though, he is smiling, smiling jubilantly at the kitchen bench as he scoops a pile of Chocolate Frogs towards himself.
‘You’ll have to do better than that, guys,’ he says gloatingly, opening a packet and taking a relishing bite of Chocolate Frog. ‘Mmm,’ he says, closing his eyes and licking his lips.
‘Another round!’ their cousin Genie demands, her grey Malfoy eyes blazing.
Timeus shakes his head, sighs and says, ‘If you must …’ generously putting the pile of Frogs back into the centre.
Genie hands the Every Flavour Bean box around and each of them take a Bean. The game of Who’s the Liar begins. How the game is played is this:
Firstly, everyone takes a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean and holds it up so that the others can see. Then each person puts the Bean in their mouth and takes turns in telling the others which flavour they have, without swallowing it. The aim of the game is to make the others believe that you have a nice flavour. Taddeus and Timeus Lestrange made this game up with their cousin Genie Malfoy, and they play it whatever chance they get.
This round, Taddeus is lucky and gets a Ginger Newt flavoured Bean, so he simply tells the others his nice flavour without having to lie. Timeus gets the once-in-a-blue-moon chilli flavoured Bean and spits it to the floor the second after he puts it in his mouth. Genie, unfortunately, simply cannot pretend that her lemon Bean is not sour. Her eyes water and her face flushes as she says in a choking voice, ‘Pineapple – it’s pineapple, I swear!’ Needless to say, no one believes her.
Timeus and Genie put a Frog each on the bench, then they all take a Bean for the next round.
All of a sudden, there is a great thundering crash! like a demolition ball bashing into a brick wall. Taddeus looks to his elder brother, but Timeus is no longer here, neither is Genie.
Suddenly, he is alone at the dinner table in the magnificent salon of Malfoy Manor. His insides turn cold; Tristessa and Tarquin, wearing emerald coronets, are gliding towards him with bright red eyes, pulling out their wands―
‘He’s waking up!’ a familiar voice shouts, sending warm comforting waves throughout his body; as long as that voice is near him, he will be alright. ‘Uncle Scorpius! Uncle Scorpius! He’s waking up!’ Timeus shouts again.
Taddeus forces his eyes open. An almighty throb pulses through his brain, making him gasp and reach for the back of his head, where a prominent egg has risen.
Through watering eyes, he realises that he is in Uncle Scorpius’s study, lying on the studded leather sofa. He recognises the handsome mahogany walls and the desk with the chipped, gilded lamp; he recognises the faded portraits of Great-Uncle Draco and the Malfoy cousins, little Genie standing on tip-toes to be seen. He turns his head and the demolition ball swings at his head again.
‘Ah!’ he gasps, closing his eyes at the pain.
‘Tad!’ Timeus shouts.
Taddeus opens his eyes and painfully looks to his left. Timeus sits by the leather sofa, looking even more louring than is usual of late.
‘What happened?’ he hisses in a dangerous voice.
‘N-nothing,’ Taddeus stutters.
The last thing he needs is another stupid revengeful gesture from Timeus; Tristessa and Tarquin never let him hear the end of his favourite brother’s heroisms. Not long after their parents had first deposited the four Lestrange siblings at Malfoy Manor for the summer holidays, Tristessa had pushed Taddeus into the koi pond in the gardens. Timeus happened to see this, and after helping a drenched and pond-smelling Taddeus out, he went fishing in said pond, caught several koi, and hid them all in Tristessa’s bed that night.
Taddeus had begged Timeus not to, and with good reason, for although Timeus had admitted proudly to the crime after Tristessa’s screams trembled the foundations of the Manor, demanding to know the culprit, she had taken most of her anger out on Taddeus – with the aid of Tarquin’s muscle, of course.
Taddeus had not told anyone, not shown Timeus the bruises, but diligently hid the beating, afraid of another “for weaselling”.
Timeus is not one to give up easily, however, and he is surprisingly perceptive for so brash and stubborn a child. It is obvious that Taddeus’d had no accident this time, that the egg on his head is the result of something more sinister.
‘Tell me, Tad,’ Timeus presses, as the brothers hear muffled footsteps outside the study door.
Taddeus is spared answering as the door opens and Uncle Scorpius comes inside, his argent presence occluding the impending interrogation. Timeus falls silent, expression brooding.
Uncle Scorpius kneels by his nephew on the sofa and presses a damp cloth to the back of his head. Immediately, relief spirals inside Taddeus’s brain and he closes his eyes in ecstasy. The pain recedes to nothing. After a moment, Taddeus’s head is clear, the lump gone, and it is as if Tarquin had never pushed him over.
He sits up and swings his legs off the sofa, the leather squawking underneath him. His head spins like a merry-go-round, blurring the office into a rush of colours.
‘Whoa, take it easy,’ says Timeus, still with the louring expression on his face. Taddeus squints his eyes, determined to focus.
‘He’ll be fine,’ smiles Uncle Scorpius.
‘Thankee, Uncle Scorp,’ Taddeus says, his words slurred together. Then he turns to Timeus. ‘You owe me Chockee Fwog.’
Timeus makes a wry disbelieving face and glances at Uncle Scorpius before replying. ‘Uh – why?’
‘'Coz you got da chilli Bean,’ Taddeus says in his slurred voice. He frowns and clears his throat, determined to get his words clear. ‘Genie got pineapple – I mean, lemon – she said it was pineapple, but she looked like she was eat’n pine cones so we didn’t believe her. I wonder what pine cone tastes like, probably painfuller than chilli, even. Anyway, I won, but then the thunder came and you two disappeared and then – then – then …’
Suddenly he remembers two pairs of advancing red eyes, two emerald crowns gleaming dangerously.
‘Tad?’ Timeus says in a wary voice, his face worried.
‘Alright there, mate,’ says Uncle Scorpius gently, and hefts Taddeus from the sofa with a groan of leather, who promptly passes out in his uncle’s arms.
Taddeus, Timeus and Genie have time to play one last game of Who’s the Liar before Mr and Mrs Lestrange arrive to collect their four children home again. Taddeus is very glum, because this is the final bit of the holidays and he will be alone without Timeus for the first time in his life very soon. Timeus is even more surly than usual, because he does not want to go home to get ready for his first year of Hogwarts.
Diagon Alley is awful, thinks a sullen Taddeus as he follows his parents and older siblings along the cobbled streets, his first time in the magical alley.
They are here to buy Timeus his new school things. Every purchase sends a spiral of anxiety down Taddeus’s spine, the fact of Timeus going to boarding school and leaving him becoming more and more tangible with every new textbook, every new potion ingredient, like a bubble of nothingness getting bigger and bigger and threatening to swallow him whole.
Many people stare as the Lestranges pass, and though the others seem used to it, enduring the hostile looks with supremely oblivious expressions, Taddeus finds it unnerving and frightening. He walks closer to Timeus than he normally would do.
Lestrange is not a popular name. Two generations after the War and still the stigma of evil clings to Lestrange like a cloak of bad odour. Taddeus remembers the first time his mum and dad had sat he and Timeus down and explained the War with the Dark Lord. It was explained that people will treat them differently because members of their family, including their grandfather Rabastan Lestrange, had done things so horrific that their parents refused to disclose any details. Rabastan did not marry, they told the boys, but he was with a woman during the brief spells he had escaped Azkaban. Their grandmother is dead now, but Dad told the brothers that she was a tough woman, stubborn, and refused to believe that Rabastan was as wicked and profane as the wizarding world believes him to be. In any case, she bore two sons and a daughter to Rabastan, obstinately giving them the name Lestrange as proof of her conviction. Her children never had the chance to meet their father, who died in The Battle of Hogwarts.
Tristessa and Tarquin do not talk about their social status within Hogwarts, but the oldest Lestrange cousins seem perfectly cool and at ease whenever the topic comes up. Taddeus and Timeus are nervous to say the least about the whole affair.
August thirty-first, Taddeus sneaks into Timeus’s bedroom after bedtime and they play a quiet game of Who’s the Liar on the floor in the dark.
‘Beurgghh!’ Taddeus exclaims as quietly as he can, so as not to wake anyone and alert their parents – but it is difficult after thirty heated seconds of keeping a cat food flavoured Bean in his mouth.
Needless to say, Timeus concludes that Taddeus had not told the truth about his flavour.
‘I thought you liked strawberry ice-cream,’ he says drily as Taddeus spits the glob of puce into the bin next to them.
‘Cat food … that was disgusting,’ Taddeus says in a faint voice, wiping his tongue on his sleeve.
‘Still, you held on a while,’ Timeus whispers, laughing, then swallows his own Bean. ‘I almost feel bad about winning the Frog after that mammoth effort …’ But he grins with devilment as he watches Taddeus slap a Chocolate Frog packet onto the carpet between them. ‘So, what happened when you hit your head at Uncle’s?’ Timeus abruptly shoots. He has been firing this question at Taddeus every spare chance possible, but his little brother is keeping his lips tightly sealed. Taddeus still has no idea why Tristessa had made him apologise that day, why the incident had even happened. He does not like to think on it.
‘I’ve told you a million times,’ he replies, his eyes on the box of Every Flavour Beans as Timeus pulls out two more for the next round, ‘I tripped and bumped my head on Abraxus.’
Timeus hands Taddeus a bright orange Bean, hopefully the same flavour as its colour – Taddeus does not think he can handle another gross one; the cat food is still reminiscing on his taste buds.
‘You know you don’t have to cover up to me, right?’ Timeus says.
‘I know,’ Taddeus says simply. He puts his Bean onto his tongue. Oh God, it’s disgusting – curry flavour; Taddeus hates curry. ‘Tangelo,’ he says confidently.
Timeus delicately puts his purple Bean onto his tongue. His eye twitches. Then his other eye twitches. His nostrils flare. ‘Grape,’ he says in a neutral voice.
Taddeus waits and waits and waits, the curry simmering disgustingly on his tongue. The brothers analyse each other. A minute passes, two minutes of tensile silence, two and a half minutes … Just when Taddeus is about to cave―
‘Bleargharhar,’ Timeus coughs, spitting out the glob of dark purple. He slaps a Frog into the middle, shuddering.
Taddeus spits his orange glob into the bin. ‘What was it?’ he asks, trying not to retch.
‘Prune,’ Timeus shudders again.
‘Mine was curry,’ Taddeus grimaces. Timeus raises his eyebrows, impressed; it is common knowledge that his little brother has a passionate hate for Indian food. ‘Are you scared about tomorrow?’ Taddeus suddenly asks in a careful voice.
‘It’ll be OK, won’t it?’ Taddeus asks in a small voice.
Timeus shrugs, peering at his brother’s eyes through the gloom. ‘Only if I stay away from Tris and Tarry,’ he says darkly.
‘But,’ Taddeus starts tentatively, ‘Mum and Dad always say that sticking together―’
Timeus scoffs humourlessly. ‘You really think sticking with Tris and Tarry is a good thing? Honestly, those two give you more bruises than a Beater!’
Taddeus shuffles uncomfortably, the memory of the awful red eyes ever-ambient in a nimbus of dread that constantly clings to his brain. He hears the demolition ball swinging ominously on its tether. He tries to push it all away for the moment. ‘But still―’
‘Still what?’ Timeus snaps. ‘Can’t you see that those two aren’t king and queen of the universe? They’re pathetic, beating up on you all the time – and you letting them! It’s disgusting, Tad!’ Suddenly Timeus is on his feet, talking as loud as is possible without waking anyone, rampaging in a furious whisper. ‘I’m sick of everyone thinking I’m evil just by looking at my last name! But you know what? I deserve it! Not because of Rabastan or Bellatrix or Rodolphus, but because of Tris and Tarry! They’re acting just like – like –’ But it seems Timeus has not got it in him to liken his brother and sister to Death Eaters. He growls. ‘And we’re related to them. I’ll never be like them,’ he says with disgust.
‘But they’re not as bad as our grandfather,’ Taddeus says softly.
‘They’re going the same way,’ Timeus replies grimly. There is silence for a while, then – ‘I hate this family,’ he says in a voice dripping with hate and shame. ‘If I get into Slytherin tomorrow, I’m leaving Hogwarts.’
Taddeus looks at his brother in fear. Mum, Dad and all their aunts and uncles always tell them to ‘Never be ashamed of who you are. We have a horrible darkness in our heritage, but it’s in the past. It’s up to us to redeem ourselves and make a better future.’ Taddeus has never considered getting into any other house but Slytherin. All the family is in the serpent’s house, almost in ironic defiance against the hateful stigma with which they are branded.
It is with a heavy heart that Taddeus bids his brother and closest friend goodbye next morning at Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Somewhere in his heart he feels that this is the change of a lifetime. Nothing will ever be the same after this. As the last of the steam dissipates into nothingness, the sound of the Hogwarts Express chugging fainter and fainter, Taddeus turns with his parents back to the iron archway and steps into the Muggle world, feeling more alone than he has ever felt before.
Two years ago there had been three of them left, Taddeus thinks as he follows Mum and Dad to the abandoned alleyway where they will Apparate back home. Two years ago it had been Tristessa leaving three of them behind. Then last year Tarquin had gone with her, leaving just Timeus and Taddeus for the best year he has ever had; just he and Timeus with no terrorising king and queen. But now Timeus is gone too, leaving Taddeus alone. All alone. And somewhere inside, he can just feel it, Timeus is going to be alone this year as well.
His intuitions prove correct.
That night as Mum is serving up slices of roast beef onto their dinner plates, Dad is opening a letter that has just arrived. No doubt it is Tristessa’s traditional first letter from school, informing of which cousin got into which House. Up until tonight, it has always been Slytherin, Slytherin, Slytherin. Last year their cousins Adrian and Yvonne had got into Slytherin with Tarquin. The year before, Tristessa had got into Slytherin with some girl King, whose parents are friends of the family.
Tonight, Dad announces to this year’s remaining two at the dinner table, that―
‘Ppfffsshhhht!’ he spits out his mouthful of wine.
‘Horatius!’ Mum exclaims with shock, mopping red droplets from her face with a napkin.
Taddeus uses the tablecloth to wipe wine from his arms. His heart pelts faster.
What is it? What is it? What is it?
If I get into Slytherin, I’m leaving Hogwarts …
‘Timeus,’ Dad says in a voice of pure astonishment, ‘he’s in Gryffindor.’
Genie and her little brother and sister come to stay at Taddeus’s house this spring and celebrate his eleventh birthday; it is the first time Timeus has not been around to celebrate it – he does not even send a card. No doubt he is quite preoccupied, what with the whole getting into Gryffindor thing and all; still, Taddeus cannot help but feel a painful pang at the thought that he would forget.
Taddeus and Genie spend all their time together, playing Who’s the Liar or talking about Timeus, wondering, wondering, how the first Gryffindor Lestrange is faring along with the Potters and Weasleys. They wonder how Tristessa and Tarquin, indeed all of their family at Hogwarts, are coping with the situation; whenever Taddeus and Genie venture to query their parents, they get obfuscating replies, lies obvious even to the eleven year olds, who are old hats at deciphering faces concealing unpleasant things.
After Genie’s father, Uncle Sophos, collects she and her younger siblings home for winter, Taddeus spirals into daily whirlpools of emptiness and sadness, going around and around and around and eventuating sucked into the eye at night time, coming face to face with Tristessa and Tarquin’s advancing red eyes in his nightmares.
Christmas cannot come fast enough. Every year, the Lestranges and Malfoys have their holidays at Malfoy Manor. Taddeus can hardly wait. Not only will he and Genie see each another again, but they will both get to see Timeus for the first time in months. They are eager to say the least to hear of his first term being a Gryffindor.
Come the holidays, Tristessa, Tarquin and Timeus are supposed to go straight from King’s Cross to Malfoy Manor with their cousins, where Taddeus and Mum and Dad will come later that day. Taddeus is excited and slightly nervous to finally be able to ask Timeus how his term has been. But he is devastatingly disappointed ...
The first day of Christmas holidays everyone is here in the Malfoys' salon, including all the family children; there are over a dozen of them in total, the oldest seventeen, the youngest five. But there is someone missing. No matter how many times Taddeus scans his eyes about the sumptuous salon, over the leather lounges and mahogany tables, he cannot make out Timeus within the masses under the light of the chandelier.
Genie spots Taddeus from her place by the Christmas tree and darts through the kids playing Gobstones on the floor. She has a troubled look on her pale face.
‘Hi Tad!’ she says overenthusiastically, meeting him just inside the door. ‘We’re all feeling the presents and we think Yorrick’s getting a toucan – one of his parcels keeps shaking and honking!’ she gabbles on.
‘Where’s―’ Taddeus starts, but Genie talks over the top of him.
‘And Eligius reckons he’s getting that talking watch he saw at Diagon Alley, because one of his presents keeps saying “it’s dark, time for bed” but that’s only because it’s wrapped up and it’s obviously dark in the parcel. Still, I’d hoped he wouldn’t guess what it is, I wanted to surprise―’
‘Shut up, Genie,’ Taddeus says firmly. ‘Tell me, where’s Timeus?’
Genie’s face falls. Anxiety swoops over Taddeus’s belly, brushing it with icy wings.
‘What?’ he presses urgently. But he finds out exactly what, because at that precise moment, Tristessa, sitting in a corner with Tarquin and some Malfoy aunts and uncles, starts loudly vituperating his favourite brother.
‘Milo?’ she scoffs loudly. ‘I mean – Milo? Who does he thing he is, changing his name? It’s not like anyone’s going to forget which family he’s from – it’s impossible! And he just – refused – to look at us the whole term! Little prig thinks he’s better than us―’
‘Language, Tris,’ Uncle Sophos says sternly, but his voice is troubled. He looks over his shoulder, perhaps trying to spot Mum and Dad to stop the tirade.
‘Sorry, Uncle,’ Tristessa says arbitrarily, then barrels on. ‘He’s been telling all the lions how disgusting we are, how much he hates us. Ha!’ she sounds derisively. ‘As if bagging us is enough to get him in their good books. What a little – argh! – snitch! What a little traitor! Argh!’ she shouts in anger. Uncle Sophos opens his mouth, but Tristessa goes on before he can intervene again. ‘What a little coward! Milo thinks we’re not worth the slime on his boots! Well, he’s worth less than the beetle I stood on this morning―’
‘Tristessa – Taddeus – NO!’ someone shouts.
Taddeus can now fully appreciate how Timeus feels all those times witnessing Tristessa and Tarquin harassing his little brother. Well – that is, if Timeus feels this:
A spiky dragon, previously lying dormant inside his heart, opens a wary eye at the first sign of trouble, then the other eye as it gets worse and worse. Soon, steam shoots angrily from the dragon’s nostrils, heating his heart to a sweaty, clammy, uncomfortably sweltering temperature. Then the steam turns into sparks of jolting fire, zapping and prickling insistently. Suddenly, in a blind and unquenchable rage, the dragon disembogues a blast of flames, charring everything to a searing heat and impelling him into action.
Taddeus had been experiencing the dragon of wrath grumbling inside its cave, everything around him turning to blurry nothingness as Tristessa vituperated his best friend and favourite brother. As she had been saying ‘… he’s worth less than the beetle I stood on this morning,’ Taddeus’s dragon had beat its wings and risen into the air, spurting furious flames in every direction.
‘Tristessa – Taddeus – NO!’ that someone had shouted, but Taddeus did not really hear; it only sounded like a dull drum beat in his ears as he had dived for Tristessa, knocking her backwards off her lounge and onto the faded carpet.
Oddly, though his dragon is roaring with almost painful ire, it is also terrified to its very core. Taddeus is scared of Tristessa, scared of the consequences she and Tarquin will no doubt plot for him afterwards, and scared most of all of what his sister is saying: that Timeus is gone, that Timeus hates them all, maybe even Taddeus too … But in a backwards way, the terror freshly etched on his bones seems only to fuel the attack. All he knows is that he has never felt this savage in all his life. The dragon, every week of his life opening an eye or huffing a vexed breath of steam, has always been subdued by Taddeus, too afraid to ever create a blaze. But now that Timeus is gone …
‘Ah!’ Tristessa screams breathlessly. ‘Get – off – ARGH!’
Taddeus, sitting on his sister, is whacking every inch of her he can reach. One of her flailing arms catches him in the face, but he does not even feel the blow or the warm blood that pours from his nose. He tastes it in his mouth, though, and in a feral way it spurns him further. He now has no compunction in bashing the tyrant who has made his existence a torment since before he can remember.
People around him are shouting, but he does not hear them. Tristessa’s blackened eyes glitter maliciously up at him. To her credit, she does not seem afraid at all. Then again, Taddeus thinks detachedly, how frightening can a little eleven year old be? Especially a little eleven year old who she has been beating up her entire life. As this thought stabs through him, he gives a particularly hard punch to Tristessa’s abdomen. She gives a soft ‘Oof!’
Someone’s hands grab him from behind. He struggles against them, but they are too strong. Another pair of hands grab him around the middle. It is Uncle Scorpius.
‘Stop it, Tad,’ he is saying, eyes wide and peremptory.
Taddeus becomes aware that he is sobbing. There are no tears on his face, but his chest heaves up and down as words punch out of his mouth; jumbled things like ‘Not a coward,’ ‘You’re the cowards,’ ‘He doesn’t hate us, he doesn’t, he doesn’t!’
His limbs go limp as the ones holding him drag him bodily from the room. Mum and Dad appear and converge upon Tristessa on the floor.
Sound comes back into his ears; the younger cousins are chattering fearfully and the adults are fussing and talking loudly. Tarquin, standing aside with a ferocious look in his eyes, glares at Taddeus as he passes through the door with his captors.
Something is missing, Taddeus thinks idly, weirdly calm and collected. As his uncles frogmarch him into a dark spare room, Taddeus recognises that it was the usual judder of fear that jars into his being: usually if Tarquin looks at him like that, Taddeus runs for the hills. Now, however, he feels quite … impervious, incongruously calm after the bright fury that had just been ablaze.
Uncle Scorpius lights the room with a wave of his wand. Little drops of fire appear upon the candelabras, flickering idly as Uncle Sophos, the other who must have been restraining Taddeus, puts his nephew into a chair by a desk.
‘Here,’ he says gently, pulling a handkerchief from his robes and dabbing it under Taddeus’s nose, which gives a throb of pain at his uncle’s touch.
‘Ah!’ he gasps.
Uncle Sophos merely looks grim, forcing Taddeus’s hand up to hold the handkerchief in place. ‘I’ll go get your Mum and Dad,’ he says softly, then straightens and leaves the room.
Taddeus holds the handkerchief to his clogged, throbbing nose and focuses on the candelabra upon the desk, one with entwining serpents engraved upon the spires. He thinks of Mum and Dad, of Tristessa and Tarquin back in the salon, and feels a familiar cold swoop of dread brush over his heart, dousing the dragon in its cave; the resulting steam transforms into trickling dribbles of sickening panic, threading throughout Taddeus’s entire body. He determinedly keeps his gaze away from Uncle Scorpius.
‘You alright?’ his uncle’s voice sounds from next to him. Taddeus feels him kneel down by the chair.
He keeps his eyes fixed on the twining serpents. ‘I’m fine, thank you.’
‘What was all that about?’ Uncle Scorpius asks gently.
And Taddeus turns his stare from the grim candelabra to look at his uncle kneeling beside him, his hair silver gilt and his pale skin seeming to glow in the candlelight. Taddeus sees himself reflected in Uncle Scorpius’s grey eyes: swart, dark-haired, the total opposite … except his eyes – they share the same eyes. Uncle Scorpius won’t laugh or scoff …
‘Timeus always sticks up for me, Uncle,’ he says. ‘I had to stick up for him.’
Uncle Scorpius’s lips twitch, but his eyes are sad.
‘Is he really not coming home?’ Taddeus whispers.
Uncle Scorpius nods. ‘No, he isn’t.’
‘Why?’ He did not mean for his question to be a wail, but it came out like that. It sounded pathetic, like a crying kitten.
Uncle Scorpius sighs, eyes pondering.
‘Does he hate u― me?’ Taddeus dares to quiver out. He had almost asked if Timeus hates “us”, but he already knows for a fact that there are a good number of them his brother hates, Tristessa and Tarquin inherently included. There are a few older Lestrange cousins, the ones in their final years at Hogwarts, who Timeus especially despises; but there are some, like Genie, like himself, that Timeus does not hate … or Taddeus had thought.
‘No, he doesn’t hate you,’ Uncle Scorpius says sharply. ‘I have it on good authority.’
Good authority? Taddeus vaguely wonders if his uncle is a spy. Does he have people posted at school to watch over the family? That is stupid. But if he did … what would he see? Would he know why Timeus seems to hate them all now, why he won’t talk to his little brother anymore?
‘He’s just …’ Uncle Scorpius starts, then pauses, choosing his words carefully. ‘He’s just testing his wings for the first time. He’s still your brother, Taddie,’ he smiles, patting Taddeus on the shoulder.
The door bursts open and in walks Mum and Dad, absolutely livid. Following behind is Tristessa, both eyes black, nose bloody, and a cut on her lip.
Whoa, Taddeus thinks. He had not meant to make her look that beat up. Improves her looks, though, he imagines Timeus’s voice saying. He supresses a grin.
‘There is nothing to smirk about, young man,’ Dad says sternly, eyes flashing.
Taddeus looks to the floor. He has never been in trouble with his parents before, only with Tristessa and Tarquin … the experience is quite different; Mum and Dad do not beat up on him, for one.
In the end, his only punishments are: leaving his nose unhealed by magic (he has to wear a stupid brace on his face like the ones Muggles are given by their Healers; admittedly, the pain is not bad, but he looks ridiculous - he does not care what Uncle Scorpius says about Muggle ingenuity), no dessert until Christmas, and an apology to Tristessa that he will have to deliver at dinner in front of everyone. His stomach flips when Mum and Dad adjure the latter.
‘We’re very disappointed in you, Taddeus,’ says Mum in a heavy voice. Tristessa is leaning on the wall behind them, smirking. ‘I’ve never known you to have such a temper.’
‘Sorry, Mum,’ Taddeus mumbles shamefacedly. He hopes that his parents won’t hate him after this. Panic flutters in the pit of his stomach. He looks up. ‘Don’t hate me, please,’ he says desperately.
‘We don’t hate you, son,’ says Dad, shaking his head. He turns to Tristessa, hovering almost boredly in the background – which is odd, seeing as though she just got pummelled. Shouldn’t she be enjoying watching Taddeus suffer the consequences? She's making up her own consequences for you, says a chilly voice in Taddeus’s head, and his stomach disappears entirely. The dragon of wrath is a faded dream.
‘Get back to the salon,’ Dad tells Tristessa, and she disappears out the door. ‘Scorp, would you mind fixing Tris?’ he turns to Uncle Scorpius, who has been silent the entire session. Taddeus had almost forgotten his presence.
‘Sure,’ Uncle Scorpius replies. He pats Taddeus on the shoulder a last time, then exits.
She's making up her own consequences for you …
That night, when Mum and Dad announce to the entire family, almost thirty of them lined along the polished dinner table, that Taddeus will now give a formal apology, there is a warm and impressed murmur of approval from the adults, several raised eyebrows and slight smirks from the teenagers, and uncomprehending or bored expressions from the younger children. Taddeus looks at Genie, her face stony and brooding, before standing and giving his speech in a voice as steady as he can make it.
He apologises to Uncle Scorpius and Aunt Vivian, Uncle Sophos and Aunt Tia, for, as a guest, rudely bringing such unseemly discord into their home, to which said aunts and uncles smile and raise their glasses. He apologises to his cousins for displaying such bad behaviour and for setting a poor example to the youngsters. Then he turns to Tristessa. Something gluggy and rancid bubbles in the pit of his stomach. All he can manage is, ‘I’m sorry, Tristessa,’ in a tight voice.
There is a smattering of applause and a few of the adults congratulate him. Tristessa and Tarquin smile evilly at him from across the table.
It is the worst holiday in Taddeus’s living memory. Not only has Aunt Vivian and Tia put he and Tarquin together in the usual bedroom, meaning that Taddeus must endure daily hits and threats that are heightened to charging effect (most likely educed by the fiasco in the salon), but Taddeus does not hear from Timeus at all. No one does.
Amongst the feelings of perpetual dread of Tristessa and Tarquin (who have, quite disconcertingly, not approached him at all about the incident in the salon), as well as the unexplainable bouts of fleeting guilt that flutter above his head occasionally – guilt at Lord knows what – Taddeus feels sad, lonely and utterly betrayed.
Why has Timeus not written to him, divulged even the smallest ounce of correspondence, at least to tell him if he is doing alright at Hogwarts? Why has he changed his name to Milo (which is, in fact, his middle name)? Why has Taddeus not received a birthday card or gift (guilty as he feels wondering it)? And why, why has nothing, NOTHING been explained to him? Mum and Dad had never told him that Timeus is not coming home for the holidays. Why? Why did he have to find out from his uncle?
Then there are the smarting thoughts of Timeus himself.
Timeus has always been there for Taddeus, but now all of a sudden he cannot seem to stand the thought of him. Taddeus’s dragon huffs and splutters sparks at the very thought of Timeus these days, not assuaged by the secret present Tristessa and Tarquin give him when no one is watching on Christmas night …
After Christmas dessert, a large fruit cake with pools and pools of custard, the family adjourns to the salon. The adults drink their glasses of wine or brandy whilst chatting in that familiar, lazed manner only family can do, and the children play on the floor with their new presents, flying about on miniature broomsticks or furtively sneaking another sweet into their mouth. The teenagers hang in a corner of the room, chatting coolly.
Taddeus decides to go to bed, his head so full of spiralling agonies that he cannot concentrate on his conversation with Genie and Yorrick (who did not get a toucan for Christmas). He bids goodnight and happy Christmas to everyone in the room – taking quite a long time, due to the sheer number of them – and then goes upstairs.
He is heading across the second floor corridor when he hears footsteps behind him. Instinctively, before turning around or hearing the whispered greeting, he knows who it is.
‘Taddie,’ Tristessa’s favourite tormenting whisper flutters into his ears.
He stops and turns around. The two face him, side by side, with exactly the same grim smile on their faces.
This is it, Taddeus thinks with resigned dread. His comeuppance has finally arrived. This is for hitting her in the salon. This will be their revenge. There is no escape, none, as always when they are two together against one – him. Taddeus will simply have to endure what must be endured, then run away when they let him go before they can change their minds.
‘Merry Christmas, bro,’ Tarquin says, leering. ‘It’s so good to be around family at Christmas-time, don’t you think?’
Taddeus does not know what answer Tarquin wants, so remains silent.
‘I said,’ Tarquin says, all trace of humour gone, ‘don’t you think?’
‘Yes,’ Taddeus replies immediately in a quiet voice.
‘Pardon?’ says Tristessa sweetly.
‘Yes,’ Taddeus says louder.
Tarquin takes a step closer and Taddeus forces his feet to stay put – they do not like it when you show signs of wanting to retreat; it incenses them, like a fly daring to tremble in its silken casing, having the impertinence to rudely shake the whole web.
‘We’d like to have a little chat about the day we got back from school,’ Tarquin says in a gravelly voice, like a growling animal. Taddeus’s insides quiver.
‘It started such a lovely day,’ Tristessa begins in a light, dulcet voice, the exact opposite of Tarquin. ‘We’d just left school, we said merry Christmas to our friends, we came here and greeted our family.’
‘Yes, it was such a lovely day,’ Tarquin growls softly.
‘Quite,’ Tristessa whips, her flowery voice turning curt. Her eyebrows raise and she fiddles with the pink ribbon in her hair. Taddeus hates that pink ribbon. He watches it twine through her fingers as she speaks, her tone becoming more and more menacing. ‘I suppose, there was the tiny problem of Timeus – oh, sorry,’ she says scathingly, ‘– Milo. He was a bit of a black spot on the whole day, not coming home for Christmas and all. I was just telling our aunts and uncles about it, wasn’t I, Tarry –’ she turns to Tarquin, who nods ‘– and then something happened …’ She trails off, putting a finger to her chin and looking up at the ceiling as if trying to remember something. ‘What was it? I can’t quite remember … Tarry?’ She turns to Tarquin, who, antithetical to his sister’s demeanour, has been as tense as she is at ease; he has not taken his eyes off Taddeus this whole time.
‘I think I remember,’ Tarquin replies, sneering.
Taddeus determinedly looks at the ribbon in Tristessa’s hair, the pink curling around the dark brown.
A few moments pass, then – ‘Oh, yes,’ Tristessa hisses, turning her eyes from the ceiling to bore into Taddeus’s, ‘I remember.’
Taddeus frosts over with verglas, his insides turning glacially cold. He cannot move. He can barely feel his own body. He looks quite calmly at his elder sister, however, trying not to show fear for as long as he can.
He holds himself steady, trying not to tremble, as Tristessa takes a step forward to join Tarquin looking down upon him.
‘Let’s make one thing clear,’ she says in a deep voice, one reserved for those truly terrifying times when―
She takes another step, grabbing Taddeus by the neck of his dressing gown. Horror winds in dizzying spirals throughout his body, but he stares back at her without flinching. She touches one finger to the black pouch beneath his left eye, still bruised from her blow that day in the salon.
‘We are Lestranges,’ she says quietly, so quietly that Taddeus is sure that Tarquin, standing a only foot away, cannot hear a word. But he is also sure that Tarquin knows exactly what his sister is saying anyway.
Tristessa shakes Taddeus by his dressing gown, rattling his teeth in his jaw. Her finger presses down harder on his eye and he winces. She continues with her teeth bared. ‘We are Lestranges,’ she repeats with poisonous surety. ‘Timeus’s always been a sodding weirdo, always against us, but we never thought he’d do this. He’s betrayed us, do you understand? Understand?’ She shakes the neck of his dressing gown again, making his head jerk from side to side and up and down; she seems to take this as an acceptable response. ‘We’re family,’ she hisses, ‘we have to stick together. Mum and Dad say so. Ice, Carry and Mina say so. Everyone says so,’ she says with glowing cheeks.
Isidore, Icarus and Ismene Lestrange are the eldest of all the family’s children, three that Timeus has expressed the most derision over. Isidore is in his last year at Hogwarts, and Taddeus has heard that people at school call Icarus and Ismene The Ickies, though he is careful only to mention this around Timeus and Genie.
‘Timeus has betrayed this family. He’s fallen in step with the self-righteous sods who blacken our name when we haven’t done anything wrong, when all our family’s done is try to fix things.’ There is an erubescent sheen on her face now, an almost feverish glint in her eyes. Taddeus wonders if she is mad.
Tarquin steps to stand by Tristessa and takes a fistful of Taddeus’s dressing gown as well.
‘Do you know what he’s calling us?’ he growls, leaning forward until his nose is almost touching Taddeus’s. The action makes Tristessa’s finger on Taddeus’s eye socket slip away, nicking the soft skin and scratching an inch-long cut.
‘N-no,’ Taddeus replies to Tarquin, not even feeling the cut under his eye. He only feels the blood drain from his veins to fill up his heart, which is pounding fit to explode – da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. The demolition ball swings anticipatorily on its tether, creaking ominously.
‘He calls us dirt! He’s the one leading the attack, spreading rumours, telling lies about us. All to save his own reputation. All to fit in!’ Tarquin growls angrily, and squashes his nose onto Taddeus’s.
All he can see is Tarquin’s eyes before his; there is nothing, nothing, nothing else but those dark Lestrange eyes (eyes that Taddeus has not inherited). He feels Tarquin’s clammy breath fanning invasively across his face, smelling faintly of rum and raisins from the Christmas cake. He holds his breath, feeling his legs wobble beneath him.
Tristessa speaks from somewhere outside Taddeus’s face-full of Tarquin.
‘You know he’s betrayed you too, Taddie,’ her voice sounds lazily.
Taddeus’s heart belts faster, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. He is too afraid to speak, but even if he does – what can he say? Anything he says will incriminate him further – Tristessa and Tarquin have a gift for twisting words to suit their purpose. All he knows is that he will not believe a word they say: Timeus would never betray him.
Almost as if Tristessa knows exactly what is going through his head, she goes on with, ‘The first chance he got, he deserted us. That means he deserted you too, Taddie.’
He has not! Taddeus thinks defiantly, but with an acidic trickle of guilt worming its way through his intestines. Hasn’t he been thinking exactly that since the holidays began?
Is it true?
Hearing Tristessa say it aloud, far from spurring Taddeus to believe to opposite (as he and Timeus tend to do with any stance that their elder siblings take), she rather concretes what he has been dwelling on and fearing for four months.
‘He hasn’t written,’ Tristessa says in a soft, toxic voice, seeming to ride the frequency of his thoughts. ‘He didn’t even remember your birthday. He hasn’t told you anything, hasn’t told you how it feels to be free. To be free of the family by betraying us. By betraying you. Where’s your hero now, Taddie? He’s in Gryffindor Tower having the time of his life without us. Laughing at us. He doesn’t care a sodding bit about any of us.’
Tarquin releases him roughly and shoves him away. Taddeus trips dizzily, then takes a long, long breath of air. Has he been holding his breath this whole time? He feels hot water in his eyes, threatening to boil over. But he refuses to cry in front of them.
He looks up to see Tristessa and Tarquin looking carefully at him, like they are analysing him. He waits for their next move.
Tristessa heaves a dramatic sigh. ‘Will you ever betray the family, Taddie?’ she asks, the gravity of the question juxtaposed incongruously against the tone in which she had spoken it: a tone suggesting that she had asked something as trivial as what he thinks the weather will be like tomorrow.
Taddeus squints his eyes, wondering how to answer. His heart thunders da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, sending blood pulsing with guilt and shame throughout his being. Guilt at half believing Tristessa’s words, shame at not sticking up for his brother, the one person who has always stood up for him. But will he ever be there for Taddeus again? Does he hate the family so much that even his little brother has become a hateful redolence? He has not written, after all, and he has forgotten Taddeus’s birthday. It’s as if he does not give a damn anymore.
‘It’s killing Mum and Dad, you know,’ Tristessa says sadly, eyes still trained on Taddeus, watching his every expression. ‘They’re so upset. They just want their son to love them, to be OK.’
‘And what's he done?’ Tarquin sneers. ‘Gone and told the world he hates them.’
‘Would you ever break Mum and Dad’s hearts like that, Tad?’ Tristessa asks, words playful and insouciant, again totally inappropriate to the question they formed.
‘No,’ Taddeus finds his mouth saying. It comes out as a strangled croak.
‘Good,’ Tristessa purrs, smiling in that benign way she does, utterly masking the viper within.
‘Don’t betray the family, Tad,’ Tarquin says darkly. ‘We’d get you for it, and you’d deserve it.’
Taddeus takes another long, long breath. How long hasn’t he been breathing?
‘Now,’ says Tristessa primly, rolling up the sleeves of her dressing gown and giving Tarquin a meaningful look, who then follows suit.
Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.
At the back of his brain, the distant sound of a thundering crash rumbles like a roaring beast, followed by the creaking sound of the demolition ball’s tether.
‘This,’ Tristessa says neatly, with a sweet smile on her face, ‘will teach you some respect.’
And before Taddeus can move an inch, Tarquin’s fist makes square contact with his chest, winding him completely. He falls to his knees.
‘Not the face, remember,’ Tristessa mutters out the side of her mouth.
They advance together and for a second, Taddeus’s nightmare comes alive; his elder siblings’ faces blur for a fraction of a moment, their eyes gleaming red, glittering emerald flashing on their foreheads, ready to unleash their private hell.
Ask your mum and dad if I can come over soon, coz I want to see Tim again (and you, of course – *cough, cough*).
Let me know ASAP,
From Genie ☼
Hogwarts does not let you stay over the summer holidays, but if that were not the case, Timeus would definitely never come home again. He has not been home since September last year, and from the scurrilous reports that Tristessa writes home (not to mention her hour-long rants when she comes back for holidays) Taddeus gathers that Timeus would much rather be away at school than home with any of his family.
But Taddeus does not think about Timeus anymore. Whenever his mind wanders and happens to stumble over some memory or association with his brother (which happens about half a dozen times hourly), he quickly turns to something for distraction.
He spends a lot of his time with Genie, whether at Malfoy Manor or at his own house hidden in the brush of Seascale. The two have come to an unspoken agreement: do not talk about Timeus. They stopped their conjecturing after that fateful day in the salon which earned Taddeus his worst ever beating.
As he crumples Genie’s letter in his hand, he feels a swoop of annoyance at her for breaking their silent agreement. He had got out of bed this morning doing quite well not thinking about his brother, particularly considering what day it is, but as he sits at the breakfast table with Mum and Dad and the morning post, everything comes rushing past the barriers in his brain.
Timeus is coming home today.
‘Who’s it from, dear?’ Mum asks as the butters her toast.
‘Genie,’ Taddeus mutters.
Dad scoffs good-humouredly as he rifles through his morning letters. ‘She just went home, the little gamine! What can you two have to say to each other after the twelve hours you’ve been separated?’
‘She wants to come over,’ Taddeus replies, in a sudden bad mood.
‘What’s wrong with that? You don’t have to look so grumpy,’ Mum says, taking a bite of her over-buttered toast; Mum loves butter.
‘I’m not grumpy,’ says Taddeus dully.
‘They’re finally sick of each other,’ Dad says sagely, ripping open a letter.
‘No we’re not,’ Taddeus replies, pouring some orange juice.
‘I think it’ll be nice,’ Mum says, a glob of butter sliding down her chin. Taddeus watches its progress as she continues. ‘She hasn’t seen –’ she breaks off, a small crease appearing on her brow. ‘Well – it’ll be nice to catch up,’ she finishes awkwardly.
‘Maybe it’ll be better if we wait a day or two,’ Dad says slowly, looking up from the letter. ‘You know, so that gives us a bit of time with …’ He trails off.
‘A bit of time to talk to Tim?’ Taddeus pipes up, interested. His parents never talk about Timeus anymore. Now that he is coming home and the barriers stopping Taddeus thinking about him are down, perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing getting info – especially since it has been so scarce from the get go.
Mum and Dad exchange glances.
‘Yes,’ Dad says, smiling tightly. ‘Just to have a chat and a catch-up.’
‘You could have had a chat and a catch-up at Christmas,’ Taddeus says baldly. ‘Or at Easter. Or you could have written to him. Why did you let him stay at Hogwarts, anyway? Why didn’t you make him come home?’ he demands. He only just realises how angry with he is at his parents for these crimes.
‘It was his choice,’ Mum says gently. That damn glob of butter is on her neck now.
‘But you could have forced him home and made it all better!’ Taddeus exclaims.
‘Settle down, young man,’ Dad says sternly, and Taddeus fiddles idly with his goblet. ‘Listen,’ he says rationally, ‘you know how hard-headed Timmy is, yes?’
Taddeus continues to fiddle with his goblet.
Mum leans forward. ‘So imagine how angry he would’ve been if we forced him home – how much angrier he’d be with – with all of us.’
‘It wouldn’t’ve fixed anything, Tad, it would’ve made things worse,’ Dad says slowly, as if Taddeus is a slow-learning, mentally-impaired four year old.
Taddeus shakes his head. He does not care how angry Timeus would have got, as long as he was home and they all had time to fix everything – and Mum and Dad should think the same! Now that Timeus has been at Hogwarts a whole year, though … How hard will it be to sway him now? Will he ever love his family again?
And then the grey whirlpool of sadness starts churning, so Taddeus shuts down his thinking completely.
‘Anyway,’ Dad says loudly, exchanging a glance with Mum, ‘how’d you like to come to the station today―’
‘No thanks, Dad,’ Taddeus replies dully, pushing his goblet of orange juice away from him. ‘May I be excused?’
Taddeus sits up in bed, groggy, and wonders if he is still dreaming.
‘Argh! Gedoff, Genie! Get off, get off!’
He is not dreaming. The dulcet dialogue is coming from outside his bedroom door, and no! – it is Timeus’s voice.
There comes a great hammering on his door, like a rhinoceros is barging against it, trying to get in.
‘Tad!’ Genie’s voice yells. ‘Open up, Tad!’
‘This is stupid― ow-ow-ow, alright already!’ Timeus’s voice comes.
‘Taddeus Caelum Lestrange, I know you’re in there! Open up RIGHT NOW! I’m fixing this once and for all!’ Genie shouts.
The door rattles on its hinges. Thank goodness Taddeus had locked it last night. Genie must be determined – she has not used his middle name in a long, long time (their middle names are usually reserved for lying discrepancies during Who’s the Liar).
She has Timeus forcibly in tow by the sounds of it (‘Argh! Not the hair, not the hair, you shrew! Not the― argh! I’m sorry, I’m sorry! You’re not a shrew – you’re a lovely―’ ‘Shut it, Timmy!’) and she sounds as determined as he has ever heard her. The fact that she has Timeus can mean only one thing – the thing she has been threatening to do since she arrived last week: making peace between them.
Taddeus, who has not spoken to Timeus since he came back from Hogwarts for the summer, is now panicking. He desperately looks for an escape.
Window? Too high, he would break a bone.
Closet? She would find him too easily.
Under the bed? As above.
He is trapped.
‘OPEN – THIS – DOOR!’
‘Alright, alright, keep your knickers on!’ Taddeus calls in a croaky morning voice.
He slides out of bed and unclicks the lock on his door. It bashes open and Genie marches inside in a huff, dragging a pyjama-clad Timeus by his earlobe, who is bent double.
‘You can let go now!’ he says angrily.
Genie obliges. There are pink patches on her pale cheeks and her steely eyes flash. ‘Now,’ she says. ‘Talk.’
Taddeus is looking at the door, wondering at his chances of escape. Timeus, red-faced, is looking at the floor.
When no one says anything, Genie puts her hands on her hips. Uh-oh.
‘This is stupid!’ she cries, making both boys jump. ‘We have to at least talk about it!’
‘I’ve tried!’ Timeus shouts, looking up. ‘It’s not my fault!’
A ripple of anger sweeps through Taddeus’s abdomen. ‘So now you’re ready to talk? How about the last ten months! Why didn’t you want to talk then?’
He obviously had not expected Taddeus to talk – he looks a bit surprised. ‘I …’ he begins awkwardly.
Taddeus notes with satisfaction that his brother looks uncomfortable, even a little ashamed. Good, he thinks savagely.
‘You didn’t even remember my birthday,’ he snarls. ‘And merry Christmas, by the way. Thanks for not bothering to let me know you weren’t going to be around. Happy Easter, while I’m at it.’
‘Look, Tad, I’m sorry,’ Timeus starts, looking guilty. ‘I just had so much on my mind―’
‘We were so worried!’ Genie suddenly shouts at Timeus. ‘You have no idea! No one was telling us what was going on – the Potters could have eaten you alive for all we knew!’
‘Hey!’ Timeus says indignantly. ‘They’re actually really nice, for your information―’
‘I don’t care how nice they are!’ Genie says. ‘From what I hear, they only like you coz you’ve been spending the year telling everyone how awful we all are!’
Timeus blushes. ‘I didn’t talk about you guys―’
‘No,’ Taddeus snaps, ‘only about Mum and Dad and all the family! They’ve been so upset, Tim, you have no idea!’
Timeus looks angrier. ‘Actually, I do have an idea! You know what they said to me when I got home? They sat me down and asked what I’ve been saying about them at school. They didn’t ask how I’m doing, they didn’t care to ask how my year’s been. They have no idea how hard it’s been. A Lestrange in Gryffindor! Can you imagine what I’ve been copping – from my own house and the Slytherins?’
‘Well, you haven’t spoken to any of us about anything! How can you have a go at Mum and Dad for doing the same to you?’ Taddeus replies nastily.
Something in Timeus’s eyes shifts. ‘So that’s why you haven’t been talking to me? You’ve been giving me a dose of my own medicine? Sorry, but I had a few other matters to deal with at school. I didn’t have time to worry about you, cushioned up at home, not a care in the world―’
‘Actually he did have a care in the world,’ says Genie with scorching asperity. ‘I’ve never seen him so worried, Timmy,’ she snarls. ‘And he had to put up with Tris and Tarry on his own―’
‘Shut up, Genie!’ Taddeus snaps. He does not want Timeus to think he’s a weakling, that he cannot handle himself, that he needs his elder brother at all. And how does she know about what he goes through with his oldest siblings?
Timeus looks worried, then angrier than before. ‘What happened?’ he says quickly.
‘Nothing,’ Taddeus says sharply. ‘Nothing that you’d care about, anyway.’
‘Oi!’ Timeus shouts indignantly. ‘That’s so unfair!’
‘No, you know what’s unfair?’ Taddeus shouts, the dragon in his heart spitting sparks every which way. Timeus has no chance to answer. ‘You,’ Taddeus growls. ‘You waltz around telling the world how evil the family is, when you know we’re not―’
‘I know you’re not,’ Timeus starts, but Taddeus is on a roll, all his buried thoughts and feelings spilling out of his mouth in a rush.
‘Oh, you know I‘m not? Well thanks for letting me know – I’ve spent the entire year thinking you hate me―’
‘How could you think that―?’
‘Pretty easily, actually,’ Genie mutters. ‘Seeing as you didn’t want to talk to us at all.’
‘You could have written too, you know,’ Timeus says fractiously.
‘Like we thought you wanted us to write!’ Taddeus scoffs. ‘We thought you hated us! Like you hate the rest of the family, who haven’t done anything wrong―’
‘How can you say they haven’t done anything wrong?’ Timeus demands. ‘There isn’t a week that goes by that you don’t get belted by Tris and Tarry!’
Taddeus shuffles his feet.
‘And The Ickies, who thing they’re royalty – it’s sick.,’ Timeus goes on. ‘And Mum and Dad – don’t get me started!’ he spits scathingly. ‘They showed how much they cared for me the second I got into Gryffindor. They didn’t even want me to come home for the holidays!’
‘No, you didn’t want to come home for the holidays,’ Genie counters.
‘Mum and Dad just didn’t want to make you more upset by forcing you―’ Taddeus starts.
‘Oh, please,’ Timeus scoffs. ‘Is that what they told you? They just didn’t want me to have more bad things to say about the family – “My mean, mean parents are forcing me home!” – the only thing they care about is reputation. They were ashamed of me.’
‘You didn’t give them much of a choice, even if that’s true!’ Genie says. ‘And, by the way, reputation is the only thing you seem to care about as well,’ she adds drily.
‘What?’ he replies in a revolted voice. ‘I couldn’t care less what the family thinks of me!’
‘But you care what the Gryffindors think,’ Taddeus puts in, suddenly feeling exhausted and quite sad. It is too early in the morning. He wants to crawl back into bed.
Timeus rounds on Taddeus, with the air of being ready for a fight, but he seems to deflate as he looks closer at Taddeus’s face.
‘Yes, I care what they think,’ he says softly. ‘Because they’re amazing, Taddie – they’re real! They’re not pretentious and cruel. You should get into Gryffindor, Tad. You belong there.’
Something flips in Taddeus’s chest. ‘No,’ he says automatically. ‘I won’t. I don’t.’
‘Tad,’ says Timeus, taking a step forward, ‘you don’t have to do everything they say.’
By “they”, Taddeus knows that his brother is talking about the family, about Mum and Dad, and about – about―
The sound of the creaking tether sounds in his ears. The memory of the punches and whacks and kicks and their eyes in his nightmares, those blood-red heralds of misery … the crack of thunder as the demolition ball bashes into his head …
‘I know,’ he replies shakily.
Timeus looks confused. ‘So why―?’
‘Because you don’t have to get into Gryffindor to not be evil,’ Taddeus says more bravely than he feels. ‘I’ll never be like you, Tim.’
Timeus blanches. ‘Don’t follow those two, Tad, don’t! You’re not a real Lestrange, you’re not bad! Those two―’
‘How could you think that of me?’ Taddeus snaps. ‘I’ll never be like them! I’m a real Lestrange, but I’m not evil!’
‘I’m getting into Slytherin,’ Genie says stoutly.
‘I’m going to Slytherin, too,’ Taddeus says. ‘I’m not hurting Mum and Dad and Uncle Scorpius and everyone else even more than you already have.’
Timeus looks utterly lost. ‘I thought you’d be with me,’ he says to Taddeus. ‘I thought you’d be the only one –’ He turns away, hiding his face. When he turns around again, he looks angrier than ever. ‘Fine,’ he spits, then runs out of the room.
‘I’m sorry, Milo,’ Taddeus says under his breath, hot water filling his eyes. He feels a droplet spill, running warm down his cheek and settling on his lips. The salty taste is disgusting and he brushes his eyes angrily with his hands.
Genie sighs and puts a hand on his shoulder.
Taddeus and Genie stand side by side much closer together than they would do under normal circumstances, but the Hogwarts Sorting Ceremony is no run-of-the-mill circumstance – at least, not for the first-years being sorted. They are up to surnames starting with F, the Ls coming ever closer …
He keeps clenching and unclenching his fists, tension tightening and tightening in his chest, his heart a bouncing rubber ball, rebounding spastically off the sides of his ribcage, pounding a stressful melody: Slytherin or Gryffindor, Slytherin or Gryffindor, Slytherin or Gryffindor, Slytherin or Gryffindor?
He is full of vexatious suspense. All of his family are in Slytherin – what will Tris and Tarry do to him if he does not get into the serpent’s house? Not that it should matter what they think, he reminds himself – but still … Will Mum and Dad never speak to him again, treat him differently, more distantly, like they treat Milo these days?
You should get into Gryffindor, Tad. You belong there … Milo’s words from a hundred years ago. His heart gives a painful jolt when that sentence wafts tauntingly across his mind. He wishes with all his heart that he can be sorted into the perfect house, one that will make his family proud and one that will allow him to sit next to his brother, whom (though he would never admit it to himself) he misses sorely.
‘Feather, Delyth!’ reads the extremely ancient fat man with a white walrus moustache and the folds of skin of his immense cheeks sagging so low that they touch his shoulders. Professor Slughorn. Taddeus has never seen anyone else like him.
A first-year steps forward, a tall skinny girl with bronze skin and ebony hair so glossy that it reflects the light of the floating candles above nearly as clearly as glass. When she turns and sits on the stool, Taddeus almost forgets his anxiety. She is very, very pretty.
The jaw in Delyth Feather’s long face is set hard and her lips are pressed together – she is angry. She looks like she is searching the crowd of first-years for someone, her eyes wide and roving. They settle on a student near the front who Taddeus cannot see, then she snatches the Hat from Professor Slughorn, jams it angrily onto her head, and clenches her fists.
Five minutes pass. Five minutes.
‘Is this normal?’ Taddeus had whispered to Genie after two minutes – all of the other first-years had taken thirty seconds to sort at the longest. The rest of the Great Hall is murmuring with quiet talk as well.
‘Maybe there’s been a mistake,’ Genie whispered back.
At about three minutes, the chant began.
‘Hatstall! Hatstall! Hatstall! Hatstall!’ the students of Hogwarts chant loudly.
And after five minutes – ‘GRYFFINDOR!’ the Hat shouts, to tumultuous applause.
Professor Slughorn quickly takes the Hat from Delyth Feather’s head. She does not look happy, in fact it looks like her every step to the Gryffindor table is painful. Taddeus watches her as she takes a seat – right next to Milo. For a second his and Milo’s eyes connect, then Taddeus quickly looks to the front of the Hall again as the next person is read out.
‘Feather, Levi!’ Professor Slughorn calls.
The person Delyth Feather must have been looking at before she put the Hat on moves away from the crowd of first-years and up to the stool. He has the same bronze skin and ebony hair. Twins.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Genie says exasperatedly after two minutes pass and Levi is still sitting on the stool. The chant begins again.
At the end of five more minutes, the Hat shouts, ‘SLYTHERIN!’
It takes one second, a second of complete silence as the Hall works through the Hat’s decision, before applause begins, but in that second of silence, Taddeus turns his head to the Gryffindor table to see Delyth standing up, a look of absolute anguish on her face. Just as the ovation begins, her lips form a circle, as if they are saying the word no.
He looks back to the stool. Levi Feather is standing, the Hat removed from his head. His eyes move to the Gryffindor table and he gives a small smile to Delyth; whether the smile is real or not, Taddeus cannot tell from this distance, but he guesses that it is fake. He knows exactly how the twins feel.
A weight has pressed on his chest, feeling almost like guilt … like he is responsible for Levi being separated from his twin.
Four more first-years are sorted, including a boy called Hamish, part of the King family, whose parents are friends with the Lestranges; he gets into Slytherin.
‘Lestrange, Taddeus!’ Professor Slughorn calls. There is a swift, quiet murmur from the audience. Genie nudges his shoulder comfortingly.
Taddeus, his legs made of wood, totters up to the stool. His eyes scan the Gryffindor table, but he cannot find Milo within the mass of black before the Hat settles on his head and he sees nothing.
‘Well, here’s a pickle,’ says a small voice in his ear.
Oh no, Taddeus thinks, please do not take as long as the Feathers, please.
‘That will depend,’ the voice says.
‘Depend on what?’ Taddeus thinks with foreboding. Will he have to do some kind of mental wrestling match with the Hat?
‘It will depend on whether you see the truth of yourself sooner or … much later.’
What truth? Taddeus wonders.
‘The truth of that fire in your heart, that latent volcano of bravery that far overshadows your oldest brother and sister.’
What on earth does this Hat mean? Just hurry up and say Slytherin already!
‘So Slytherin is what you would prefer, is it?’ the small voice asks in a weighty, knowing tone.
‘Yes,’ Taddeus thinks quickly. ‘Slytherin, please. If – if you don’t mind.’
‘I see differently to you, it seems,’ the Hat says. ‘I rather believe you belong in the other.’
Taddeus somehow knows that “the other” means Gryffindor.
‘All you have to do,’ the Hat says, ‘is say yes. Say you agree with me and I will put you in your suited house.’
He keeps his lips shut, he keeps his mind silent. He refuses to answer.
‘Are you sure?’ the voice says.
‘I’m positive,’ Taddeus thinks with all his might, but there is a gluggy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He could so easily say yes … what is to stop him?
‘Will you say?’ the voice asks. ‘Will you say which you really do prefer?’
Nothing. Taddeus focuses on the blackness of the inside of the Hat.
‘No? Then I will say this for you,’ the small voice says, then, ‘SLYTHERIN!’
Relief, warm, feathery relief washes over him as the Hat is taken off his head and he rushes to the Slytherin table, which is applauding much louder than the rest of the Hall.
Tristessa and Tarquin stand up and wave from the far end of the table, looking proud. He gets a weird feeling – pride, as well (something entirely new to him). The gluggy feeling in his stomach begins to bubble … since when does he feel positive emotions directly related to Tristessa and Tarquin’s actions?
He finds a seat quite far away from his eldest siblings, next to Levi Feather. The boy does not even realise, his eyes staring blankly ahead. Taddeus, feeling that weight of guilt, a pang of empathy, holds out his hand to the boy.
‘Taddeus Lestrange,’ he says politely.
The boy looks up, jerking out of his reverie.
‘Levi,’ he replies, taking the offered hand.
Taddeus smiles. It will be alright.