Chapter 1 : Prologue (1991): Dozens of Little Televisions
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Author's Warning: This story was largely inspired by both the book The Casual Vacancy, as well as the television show Skins, and it includes many of the same controversial themes (if not all of them). Sex is implied, drugs are prevalent, and Rock and Roll is involved.
SOPHIE had made the decision to slip out before dawn. It was a cold, callous thing to do—and that was precisely what Sophie wanted. Two weeks prior she'd been chucked by her first boyfriend, Stuart, on the basis that, according to their interconnected network of friends, Sophie had been "needy." It had been with superior smirks that those friends closest to Sophie relayed every detail they had heard. That she'd clung to him. That she'd rung too often. That she'd said, after only a fortnight of solid dating, that she loved him.
Sophie stung with humiliation, and wanted nothing more now than to eschew her old self. To rebrand herself as mature, aloof, and mysterious. It was with these dazzling images in mind, then, that Sophie decided to creep out in the early hours, leaving that strange, sleeping boy to wake up alone.
The sky was just edging toward the deep electric blue that just proceeds first light, so having decided, it was time for Sophie to get moving. She’d slept an hour at most, if you could call it sleep. Lying in a foreign room, in a foreign bed, beside an unfamiliar boy made it impossible for Sophie to relax. And the strangeness of the night and his behavior—really, of him—had kept her on edge.
It had been late when they’d gotten to Tristan’s house the night before. They spent at least two hours sharing a spliff, chain-smoking, and listening to records with the volume turned way down before anything started. Sophie resented how Tristan seemed reluctant to make a move, and how much more interested he’d been in the nearly inaudible music. His dry mouth had tasted like stale lager and cigarettes.
Sophie stole a last look at Tristan, his dark hair rendered a mess of cowlicks, before ever so slowly disengaging herself from the tangled covers. The moment she was out and standing he appeared to stir, seeming to sense her presence vanish. Sophie stayed perfectly still until she was sure he would remain asleep.
He wasn’t particularly good looking, she decided. Tristan had a weak chin, a small mouth, and round, feverish eyes. But he’d been witty, and a little dark. And getting off with a boy who went to school abroad was an ideal scenario. Sophie was already rehearsing the story she would tell her mates (a story that would, invariably, get back to Stuart). Yet, standing there in Tristan’s grey Joy Division t-shirt, still as a statue so as not to wake him, Sophie let herself admit that it had been a confusing night.
She glanced around the room he’d hastily cleaned only a few hours before. Clothing appeared to have been torn off hangers and surfaces had been unceremoniously swept off into an over-sized, overstuffed, old fashioned looking trunk. He’d made her wait in the hall while he’d crashed around his room on (what Sophie had imagined) was a massive dirty-pants-and-dirty-books-hiding expedition. He’d even gone so far as to clear off entire bookshelves.
And Tristan had tried to prevent Sophie from seeing any of his house. He'd insisted she close her eyes while he snuck her in, which made it incredibly difficult to avoid making noise and being discovered by his parents—which he insisted would be disastrous. Yet, once inside his room, he produced a spliff and an overflowing ashtray. Sophie would never be so bold as to smoke in her bedroom.
Perhaps, she mused, his parents were drug addicts of some kind. Junkies who didn’t care what their kid smoked in his room. That would explain why he was so adamant that she didn’t see any of his house—maybe he’d been ashamed of the needles, or whatever other contraband addicts left lying around. That would at least explain, she thought, Tristan’s brooding nature (a tendency she'd initially found alluring).
But Sophie wasn’t convinced by this explanation. What sorts of junkies sent their children to prestigious schools in Switzerland? And Tristan appeared far too well cared for. The snacks he’d brought up from his kitchen (on a trip downstairs he’d expressly forbidden her from joining) suggested his parents kept a well-stocked pantry. From what little glimpses she had stolen of his house, it appeared tidy and typically lower middle-class. Hardly a den of squalid inequity like the ones in the BBC specials she'd seen on addiction.
The sky was getting lighter, and Sophie needed to use the toilet urgently. No matter what Tristan’s domestic situation, she definitely wanted to escape this house before his mysterious parents rose. She dressed in a hurry; uncomfortably aware that her clothes reeked of smoke, and of how much she needed a shower. Sophie scanned Tristan’s room for any sign of deodorant, but saw none. With as much delicacy as she could muster, Sophie unlatched Tristan’s door, turned the knob, and pushed—careful not to let it creak. She dared open it only enough to let herself out, and after checking she had all of her things, closed it with as much care. She was surprised by how fresh the air was on the other side of the door. The mingling tobacco and cannabis stink from last night seemed not to want to cross the threshold.
Tristan’s room was just off the stairs, and his short hall ended with an open door leading to a study, sporting a state of the art Macintosh. Definitely not junkies, then. The hall turned a corner to the left, beyond which was the probable location of the toilet, as well as the danger zone of his parents’ bedroom. Sophie slipped her ankle boots back off, and padded down the hall as silently as she could. She turned the corner, and flinched—startled. Just beyond the bend was a riot of motion.
The way other families would hang family portraits in clusters along their halls, Tristan’s parents had installed dozens of little televisions. They seemed to be playing loops of people just waving, or standing around and smiling, but all the small movements added up to a stunning overall effect.
Sophie’s mind went into overdrive trying to figure this new piece of information into the mystery. Were they artists? Incredibly wealthy? Engineers of some kind? As her thoughts flitted helplessly from explanation to explanation, she started to notice how strange the technology truly was. The little screens looked nothing like televisions, and seemed to hang flat against the wall like no telly or computer she’d ever seen. Having completely forgotten about her need for a toilet or her fear of waking Tristan’s parents, Sophie approached one of the devices playing a (very boring) video. It looked like Tristan, maybe six years old, sullenly sitting before the camera, tugging uncomfortably at his clothes and half-heartedly playing with bits of dust on the carpet.
It looked just exactly like a framed photograph, only the subject was moving. Sophie found that with incredible ease, she could remove it from the wall. It wasn’t wired in or anything, just hanging on a nail! She inspected the back, which looked like any normal picture frame she’d ever seen, down to the metal prongs to hold the photo in its cardboard backing. She turned the thing over to examine it’s front again, and dropped it out of shock—the image was still moving.
Sophie heard the glass shatter, and then her own startled voice. Other noises followed—scraping and clamoring—but she was engrossed in the strange thing she’d just dropped. The video (for Sophie still imagined it in those terms) of young-Tristan had fallen face up and seemed to respond to having been dropped. The child looked startled, and blinked up at her from the floor.
Sophie’s head jerked up, and traded stunned expressions with Tristan’s mother. Still in her nightdress and without a robe, she looked about mid-thirties. Her face was still young and pretty, if rumpled by sleep, but her mousy hair was prematurely grayed. She had the wild looking eyes of the suddenly woken and terrified, which darted rapidly between Sophie and the wreckage on the hall carpet.
“Tell me,” the woman gulped. “Tell me you’re not—tell me you go to school with Tristan.” Tristan's mum was taking short, measured breaths.
Sophie was taken aback. Rather than consider what the woman’s request might mean, her eyes drifted back down to child-Tristan on the floor. Whatever was playing the still-moving image had slipped partially out of the shattered glass. It was as thin as paper, otherwise indistinguishable from an ordinary photograph.
“I—” began Sophie, avoiding the woman’s blood-shot eyes. “I go to school here in London with Amy, and Amy… Amy went to primary school with Tristan, yeah? I know Tristan… I know him through Amy,” she stammered, not sure what information precisely was being solicited.
“Eddie!” called the woman, appearing more scared than angry. “Eddie! Tristan!"
Tristan’s mother stepped over the shards of glass and gently took Sophie’s arm, leading her back down the hall and around the corner.
“I’m sorry,” she continued. “I don’t mean to frighten you, you aren’t in any trouble it’s just… it’s just Tristan hadn’t told us anyone was staying over.” The woman's voice was becoming more calm as she began to take charge.
As they approached the stairway Tristan’s mother rapped on his door and gestured for Sophie to proceed down the stairs. Tristan’s face appeared groggily, but grew somber at once. His mother said nothing, and continued to lead Sophie down the stairs. Sophie glanced up to see ‘Eddie’ emerge from around the corner in a robe, his light hair a mess from sleep, a mask of confusion on what appeared an otherwise kindly face.
Tristan’s mother steered Sophie into a sitting room that appeared equal parts average and bizarre, as though someone from the middle-ages had decorated with an Ikea catalogue. Modern looking chairs and sofas were arranged in front of the fireplace, but feathered quills, ink-wells, and scrolls of parchment littered the coffee table. Flanking the hearth were two bookshelves, housing both glossy paperbacks and ancient, leather-bound volumes. On the mantle Sophie saw a number of strange instruments, like the clever toys that decorated office desks, only antique looking. Last of all, Sophie let herself puzzle over the fireplace where hung, what appeared to be, a large, pewter cauldron.
“There then, have a seat, I’ll make you a cup of tea.” Tristan’s mother headed off to the kitchen, but turned back just as quickly, clearly frantic. “I’m so sorry, where are my manners, I’m Mary. What’s your name dear?”
“Sophie,” Sophie said, inflecting her own name like a question.
“Sophie, lovely,” Mary replied absently.
Tristan’s still-bewildered father paused at the edge of the sitting room.
“This this is my husband. Tristan’s father,” Mary added unnecessarily.
“Eddie,” the man added kindly.
“Eddie dear,” said Mary, “why don’t you have a seat too, I’ll make you a cup of tea as well.”
Mary strode back toward the kitchen and Sophie heard her whisper angrily up the stairs at her son. Sophie got the distinct impression Eddie was meant to watch her, lest Sophie flee.
“So sorry, Sophie, for all the anxiousness,” said Eddie. “You see, my wife and I do very confidential work for the government. Developing technology and that. Tristan knows we’ve got loads of—oh thank you dear.” Mary was back already with two mugs of steaming tea. She seemed to consider, frowning slightly, before handing each of them a mug. “Anyway,” Eddie went on. “We’ve got loads of stuff round the house, confidential government projects, all very hush-hush.”
Sophie listened politely, blowing on her tea, but still utterly bewildered by Eddie’s casual tone.
“Those moving… photographs?”
“Yes, those for one. Microchip computer technology, amazing what we can do these days.”
Sophie sipped her tea, enveloped by a great and sudden sense of calm. Eddie started explaining more about wireless communication and covert cellular devices, and with each sip, Sophie’s unease and curiosity faded. Mary took a quill from the table and slipped out of the room while Sophie leaned back into her armchair. The glorious dawn was streaming through the sitting room curtains.
Sophie heard a gentle ‘hoot’ sound from the kitchen, a window sliding open, and a rustle of feathers, but didn’t register the noise. Her attention was now absorbed in the motes of dust glittering delicately in the morning light.
* * *
TRISTAN had been sitting on the top step for outside of forty-five minutes, head in his hands, reeling over his mistake. He’d broken the Statute of Secrecy in a big way by bringing a muggle into a wizarding household. While overwhelmed by his guilt, furious jabs of injustice broke through the surface. His father was a muggle, after all. Eddie lived in the house, and made tea in the same kitchen where Tristan’s mother stocked first aid potions. His father’s landscaping business only got those huge contracts because, Tristan suspected, Mary charmed the flowers into blooming year round, and hexed away the snails.
But it was stupid—inexcusably, illegally stupid—for Tristan to bring Sophie over. But how could they expect him to live one life at Hogwarts, another in muggle London, and keep the two apart? He’d gone fifteen years (well, nine, he conceded) living a double life and respecting the Statute. He’d gone all the way through muggle primary school lying about his family and never being able to have mates round. Was it so wrong for him to, for once, want to do something normal?
He’d met Sophie at Amy’s party the night before and she’d been interested in him. Not interested in the curious, prying way everyone else was—including Amy. Sophie didn’t ask probing questions about his ‘school in Switzerland’ or what his mother did for a living; they’d talked about music and films, and she seemed perfectly content letting Tristan wear his protective shroud of secrecy. He’d never meant to bring her to his house, but what was he supposed to do?
Tristan had had a lot to drink on top of other things, and around eleven, he started to feel like he might start talking too much. Instead, Tristan had decided to do the smart thing and walk home, but Sophie had said she fancied a walk as well. It’s not like Tristan could have just said ‘no,’ even if he wasn’t dull enough to think she really only fancied a walk.
And it had been Sophie who’d suggested they walk through the park, and then that they sit on a bench and spark a spliff. And when Tristan had said ‘well my house is this way,’ she had replied, ‘I’ll walk you.’ And when they were at his door she’d snogged him, and they’d snogged for a long time. And when Sophie had asked him if he would show her his room, Tristan knew she didn’t want to see it just because no one else had—but because he would be in it.
The doorbell rang, and Tristan watched his mother rush to answer.
“Arnie, thank you so much for coming. This is just—you’re a lifesaver, really. I didn’t know what else to do,” Mary gushed.
“All part of the job, Mary, no need to fuss. You’ve done plenty of favors for me over the years, and boys will be boys, eh?” Mr. Peasegood chortled. “Best to take care of this without too much of a mess anyway. If we let it go it could get very complicated indeed, and no one in Reversals or Enforcement would appreciate the paperwork, I can tell you.”
Tristan recognized Mr. Peasegood, an Obliviator from the Ministry, and felt a stab of misery. He’d known what to expect, but the reality was humiliating and devastating in equal parts.
“So where’s this girl? Sophie? Is it? You’ve given her something to calm her down?” asked Mr. Peasegood.
Tristan crept down a few steps to get a clear line of sight.
“Yes, yes, she’s just here in the sitting room. Eddie’s been watching her, rattling on about MI6 and muggle technology,” Mary said.
“Hah!” barked Mr. Peasgood, clapping Eddie on the back. “Good man.”
Eddie smiled back at the Obliviator good-naturedly.
“So,” started Mr. Peasegood. “Sophie. You met Tristan at a girl named Amy’s house?”
“Yeah,” replied Sophie dully.
“And then you came back here, and you saw strange pictures?” Mr. Peasegood took out his wand.
“Uh-huh.” Sophie was slouching in her armchair, gazing absently at some fixed point in space.
“That was some strong stuff, Mary,” Mr. Peasegood muttered out of the corner of his mouth.
“And were you drinking at this party, Sophie?”
“Ok,” Mr. Peasegood turned his wand on her. “So last night, you made the mistake of drinking too much, and felt quite sick. Tristan here, the gentleman that he is, took care of you. You woke up and found nothing unusual in his house. Now Mary is going to drive you back to this Amy-girl’s. Do you understand?”
Tristan would have been crying, if he ever cried. Had it been his nature, Tristan would have felt immense self-pity for his lot in life. Instead, he found himself mired by self-loathing, eyes dry. Especially so, as Tristan had accidentally slept in his contacts.
Tristan felt the urge to rush the Obliviator and insist that not everything from last night be forgotten. Then again, Tristan suspected that Mr. Peasegood was not completely oblivious. This was Tristan's punishment for acting so foolishly.
No further punishment was necessary from Tristan’s parents; it would have been redundant to ground him. Mary might have lectured at him for sneaking a girl in, or for drinking at the party, but seeing him lying motionless on his bed, dark eyes fixed on his ceiling, made it impossible.
Tristan spent the remaining three weeks of the summer holidays silently imprisoned in his bedroom, chain-smoking with abandon, and rarely getting up off his bed. Tristan’s record player, which was usually at full volume whenever he was home, remained silent and untouched. Mary wondered if maybe she and Eddie should stop bringing him up trays of food, just to get him to do something, but worried that he might not eat at all if she did. Tristan had always been prone to depression, even as young as six.
He showed no interest even in going to Diagon Alley for the coming term’s supplies. The year before he’d been incredibly keen to make the trip alone, but two weeks after Sophie’s memory modification, he merely shrugged when Mary offered to do his shopping for him. She was glad to see that, on the last day of August, Tristan went ‘out’ (for he offered no other explanation), but Mary privately suspected that he might have simply run out of tobacco and papers. He was gone for much of the day, and despite the fact that neither Mary nor Eddie had voiced their concerns, they both exhaled with relief when he returned home several hours later.
Sophie rang once, the day after she had left his house, when Tristan’s parents had been at work. She had said that she was embarrassed that he had had to take care of her and thanked him for being such a gentleman, and was grateful that his mum hadn’t told her mum what happened. Tristan thought about the proverb about trees falling in forests and whether they made sounds. Before, it had seemed obvious that they did, whether or not anyone was around to hear. Now, the answer seemed less sure. If Sophie didn’t remember, did it even count at all?
“Sure, no problem,” was all Tristan said, and they rung off.
End Notes: Arnold Peasegood is a character first mentioned in GoF, as one of the Obliviators at the 1994 Quidditch World Cup. Because the Wizarding World is finite in number, I tried to recycle as many briefly-named characters from Rowling's writing as I possibly could. Tristan's mum is Mary MacDonald, mentioned in OotP and DH.
Special thanks to Marauderfan for catching some temporal errors, and to Newgenerationlover, who was my first review ever! You guys are the best!
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