Chapter 7 : The fault
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Glasgow, January 1966
“Mrs Barrett… wouldn’t you like to hold your son?”
The winter wind whistled through the cracks in the poorly isolated, old house as the midwife reached out the little bundle towards the crying woman in the bed. The new mother shook her head vigorously and moaned in pain, and the midwife stared at her in surprise.
“He’s beautiful,” she tried to persuade her. “He’s all cleaned up now, and I think he’s ready to meet his mother.”
“No,” cried Mrs Barrett. “No, it’s all his fault! It’s all his fault!”
The midwife looked down at the little boy as he began wailing as well, and she started rocking him gently while walking over to window of the small, dark bedroom. The timber floor creaked under her feet and she shivered in the cold as the smooth skin on her forearms turned into goose bumps. Outside the window, a snow storm was raging, making it impossible to see as far as to the house across the street – all of it was just a blur of white, and the midwife dreaded having to step outside and make her way home in just a little while. Never in her life had she regretted not getting a driver’s license as badly as she did in that moment.
“It’s nicer in the summer,” she whispered to the baby. “The view, I mean.”
It wasn’t entirely true, of course. Yes, in her opinion, Glasgow was quite lovely in the summer, but the view from this window was probably better when it was impossible to distinguish. Mrs Barrett lived in the shabbiest street you could find, with houses so old that they were barely liveable, especially in the winter. In each little alley, there were at least two or three people sleeping on the ground, either drunk out of their minds or half beaten to death; stray cats, exuding a horrible smell, overflowing garbage cans and litter covered the narrow street, and the midwife was relieved that it was all blocked from her sight at the moment. Once again, she glanced down at the newborn and apologized inwardly for the fact that he had been born here, that this was the place where he would grow up, and that the woman in the bed was the one who would raise him.
Turning back to the woman in question, the midwife decided to give it another try. “Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to hold him? I’ll show you how to feed him, how to-”
“I’m tired,” Mrs Barrett interrupted. “Put him in the cot. I’ll feed him in the morning.”
“You have take care of him,” the midwife continued. “He’s a newborn, and he needs your constant care. He can’t do anything for himself, and since you’re his mother, you have to do it for him.”
“It’s his fault,” muttered the woman under her breath, as if she hadn’t heard a word. “He did it.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs Barrett, but what exactly are you talking about?”
“That it’s his fault. He drove him away; already before he was born he did. And now I’m stuck with him, aren’t I?”
The baby began crying, louder this time, and this set his mother off again.
“Shut him up, shut him up!” she yelled, pressing her hands against her ears. “I don’t want to hear him! It’s all his fault!”
Easterhouse, Glasgow, October 1971
Five-year-old Neil Barrett had been told to stay out of his mother’s bedroom, but his rumbling, empty stomach had been bugging him for what felt like hours, and so he was heading towards it, determined to get his mother and her friend Thomas to fix him something to eat. Besides, the ugly, old doll they had given him to keep him occupied had lost one arm almost instantly, and after that he had lost all interest in it.
He reached up and turned the doorknob. “Mummy, I’m hungry!”
“What the hell?”
His mother and Thomas flew to their feet and rushed towards the door. Suddenly gripped by fear, Neil Barrett took a few steps back until he tripped over the threshold and fell. It didn’t really hurt, but he couldn’t stop himself from crying anyway – Thomas looked so angry, and his mother’s eyes were narrowed.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay out of my room?” she yelled. “How hard is it to understand?”
“It’snotmyfault,” Neil cried. “Not… my… fault!”
“I thought you said the kid wouldn’t bother us anymore,” said Thomas to his mother, who was just pulling on her pink silk robe. “Do you know what? I don’t have time for this rubbish. I’ll see myself out.”
As he rushed past the little boy, Mrs Barrett sank to the floor and began crying. Neil crawled over to her and wrapped his arms around her knees; for once, she allowed him to, and they cried together while the man gathered his things.
“Why are you sad?” Neil asked his mother.
“Because Thomas is mean to us,” she whispered.
Neil furrowed his eyebrows. As his mother’s friend returned into the room and bent down to pick up his watch, which laid on the floor under the coffee table, the little boy closed his eyes. Just as Thomas’ fingers closed around the cheap piece of jewellery, it lit up. The glowing metal cut into the man’s skin as he instinctively threw it across the room and screamed in agony.
“Damn it!” he yelled. “My hand, my hand!”
Mrs Barrett had risen to her feet, and now, she was staring at the watch, which had landed on the rug by the couch and burnt a hole in it; smoke was rising from the red fabric as if there had been a fire there.
“What was that?” she said in shock.
“It was your psycho son, wasn’t it?” Thomas yelled. “I’ve been telling you, he does these strange things! Wasn’t it you, boy?”
Neil nodded. “Yes. Because you were be mean to us.”
“Of course it wasn’t him!” his mother argued. “That’s impossible. Let me get you some ice for your hand…”
She reached out towards her friend, but he shied away.
“I’m done with you,” he said. “You and your messed up kid. This is all just too weird for me, okay?”
And as the door slammed behind him a few seconds later, Mrs Barrett began crying again. Her tears were painted black by mascara, and they coloured her protruding cheekbones, the lines around her mouth, and her sharp jawline. This time, however, she wanted no comfort from her child; when he tried to wrap his arms around her skinny legs, she moved away from him.
“Do you realise what you have done?” she said. “It’s your fault that he left, because you do those strange things! I told you to stop it, didn’t I?”
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, March 1978
Professor Slughorn stopped next to Neil Barrett’s place in the classroom, scratched his lip just above the thick moustache and bent over his cauldron to take a look at its contents.
“Looks like you’ve misread the instruction,” he said. “See, right there,“ his thick finger landed on the textbook that lay open on the table, “it says that you should stir it while waiting for it to heat up. Otherwise, it will end up like this: thickened and, I must admit, unfixable. Pay more attention next time, Mr Barrett.”
A boy next to him, dressed in blue in accordance to his house colours, laughed. “It’s because he’s a Mudblood,” he said whisperingly, but just loud enough for Barrett to hear. “They can’t do anything right, that lot.” He walked up to the other boy and looked down into the cauldron. “Can’t you tell that you’re just wasting our professors’ time? You’ll never learn anything, will you? You are just a worthless-”
“Shut up,” Barrett mumbled. “Shut up!”
And he took a leap forward and pushed the boy, who fell backwards and hit the cauldron. It fell to the floor with a loud bang and its content leaked out all over his legs; he screamed as red boils popped up all over his fair skin, and Professor Slughorn rushed over to them.
“Mr Barrett!” he said, his voice full of surprise. “Never in my years as a Professor… go to the Headmaster, right now! And I want to see you in detention every night for the rest of this month. Do you hear me?”
“It wasn’t me,” Barrett tried to defend himself. “It wasn’t my fault, I…”
“Yes it was.” The girl who spoke crossed her arms over her chest. “Joseph was just talking to him. It was Barrett who pushed him and made the cauldron fall.”
50 years later
“Anything else, sir?”
The middle-aged woman behind the counter smiled as she handed him the two books, and a headline behind her caught his eyes.
“The Daily Prophet, please.”
“Of course. That will be four Galleons.”
She accepted his money and handed him the newspaper. Just as he was about to take it from her hand, she froze and let out a surprised sound.
“Isn’t that you on the front page?”
Barrett tore it from her grip. “Yes.”
He scurried out of there before she had time to ask any more questions, and he snuck into the little coffee shop next door to read the article in peace; it was a quiet place, rarely had any customers. In fact, it was a miracle to him that the owners hadn’t shut it down and sold the place. They’d probably get a fair amount of Galleons for it too, considering its location in the centre of Diagon Alley.
“The usual?” called the waitress from across the room, and he nodded before unfolding the newspaper to read the front-page article.
BARRETT TO BLAME?
- Murder rates continuously rising since Harry Potter’s retirement
Neil Barrett, 62, replaced Harry Potter as Head Auror in the beginning of May this year. Having served in the Auror Office since his graduation from Hogwarts, Barrett was chosen for his experience and dedication to work. Since his taking over, however, Wizarding Great Britain has seen an unusual rise in murder rates, and it seems we can no longer rely on our Auror Office to keep us safe. But why is this happening, and why now?
“For one thing, Barrett is over 60 years old,” says Meredith Cropper, 24, from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. “He learned his job back when Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters were still around. That’s the kind of experience he’s got. These are different times, and the crimes that occur in peace are a lot different.”
Cropper isn’t the only one who thinks that a little young blood would have done the office good. Seamus Finnigan, 48, is an Auror who teaches the young Trainees, and he agrees with her:
“I think that a new, fresh addition would have been a better alternative,” he says. “Having worked with the new Trainees for nearly twenty five years, I know that many of them would be perfectly capable for the job. You don’t have to be fifty or sixty to know how the Office works. So yes, I think that it can be one of the reasons why things are spiralling down in Great Britain at the moment… Harry (ed. note: Potter) was one thing, because he is who he is, but I think it’s difficult for a man of Barrett’s age to fill his shoes.”
Barrett stopped reading as the waitress approached him with his regular cup of coffee (strong, with two spoons of sugar) balancing on a little tray. He thanked her, took a sip and snorted at the article while debating whether finishing it would be worth it or not.
“It’s not my fault,” he said out loud. “It’s not my fault that people want to kill each other. It’s not. I can’t help it. It’s not like I can know that they’re going to…”
The waitress, a rather pretty girl had it not been for her terrible posture and her brown, crooked teeth, turned her head to look at him. “I’m sorry, did you say something?”
Barrett met her eyes. “No. Nothing important.”
And then he continued reading.
A/N: I hadn't actually planned to make a whole chapter out of Barrett's story, but after finishing it, it just really seemed like a complete chapter to me, despite how short it is. Anyway, I hope that you can understand his behaviour a little better now, and his deseperate need to prove himself, since he's always been questioned. So now that he's finally in a leader position, he's willing to do anything it takes to keep it that way. Please let me know what you thought of it - it would really mean the world to me.
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