Chapter 10 : War Children
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TRISTAN had three times started a letter to Emily apologizing for avoiding her and explaining himself, and had three times torn the parchment to shreds.
He was chain-smoking out his window on the last Saturday before the winter holidays, and his dormitory was mercifully empty. Every time he looked at one of his thirty one posters, he felt a pang of misery for his broken stereo. But he tried to avoid facing that raw wound head on. It felt as though he’d lost a loyal and beloved friend.
Two friends, once he thought about Laurel, but Tristan tried not to think about Laurel. He hated to admit it, but a secret part of him was relieved that she was out of the castle. He tried to reason that she was getting the help she needed—but knew that was bollocks. Tristan was being a coward.
Needing a change of scenery, he resolved to head out to the grounds and maybe spark a spliff. He’d almost polished off the stash Emily had given him for his birthday, but he figured he’d be stocking back up again in London—though nothing he’d get in London could compare to Lucas’ home grown supply. He stubbed out the last of his roll-up on the windowsill and cleared the smoke from the room before heading out of the dungeons.
The massive groundskeeper was heaving the last of twelve Christmas trees into place in the Great Hall, and Flitwick was using his wand to string up yards of fairy lights. Tristan stopped briefly to admire the effect before seeing Snape slither around the corner.
Tristan had skived off potions class all last week, and turned to avoid his professor. It didn’t work, though, and Snape was coming straight at him.
“Join me in my office, Mr. Bryce,” commanded the potions master, without bothering to stop as he continued his trajectory down the stairs.
For a wild moment, Tristan considered just running, but obliged instead, turning back toward the dungeons. Snape held the door open for Tristan, and indicated that he should sit. Tristan had never been in this office; shelves of menacing jars decorated the walls of the windowless cavern and the air was stale.
“Tea?” offered Snape, too polite, as he busied himself with a kettle.
Tristan was confused—he’d been expecting Snape to lecture him about skipping classes, not politely offer tea. Perhaps, thought Tristan, this was some bizarre intimidation tactic. If it was, it was working.
“No thanks, professor,” replied Tristan. Snape set a teacup in front of him anyway.
“I hear from Miss Madley that you’ve taken ill,” observed Snape.
“Yeah, I… I’ve been ill,” Tristan said, kicking himself.
“And Madam Pomfrey’s Pepper-Up potion has had no effect?” continued Snape.
Tristan didn’t know exactly how to respond--besides simply repeating whatever his interrogator had just said.
“I am inclined to suspect,” began Snape, taking a sip of his own tea. “That this illness of yours is not confined to the body.”
Tristan was dumb-founded. He had no idea what exactly Snape was playing at.
“Don’t look so worried,” added Snape. “I did not ask you here to punish you. I merely thought you might want to talk.”
Snape's attempt at warmth was more unsettling than his usual disdain. Tristan wondered why on earth he’d want to share his feelings with him, of all people.
“This has been a difficult year for many of us, with so many war children starting school. There are recognizable names from both sides. Bones, Goyle… Potter,” Snape spat the name, and sank into a thoughtful silence. “Yes, it’s been a difficult year,” repeated Snape, rousing himself from his short reverie. “Not least of all, for you, what with the trouble Miss Braithwaite has had.”
“Thank you for your concern,” said Tristan warily. “But I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“Quite a few recognizable names—more than any year before,” mused Snape. “Longbottom. For instance.”
Tristan felt his stomach drop, his eyes focused on the tea rapidly growing cold in his hands.
MARY was sitting on the sofa, sipping tea from one of their ‘Bryce Landscaping’ mugs. Her husband was at work, but Mary had boxing day off. Music pounded from her son’s room, and even though this particular song wasn’t to her taste, she found the racket comforting. She missed Tristan terribly when he was away at school, and she and Eddie worried to no end.
This term seemed to be shaping out to be the worst he’d had yet. Tristan didn’t write home anymore, unless he grudgingly scrawled back a few lines to one of the notes they enclosed when they sent him fresh contact lenses. Either way, she had gathered from a kind letter from Emily that one of his friends had developed a real problem with Recreational Magic—which Emily insisted Tristan had never tried—and that Tristan had been the victim of some bullies. Mary took Emily’s advice, and purchased him a new battery operated stereo for Christmas.
She’d been so glad when her son had made friends at school; Mary was worried sick when he’d been sorted into Slytherin. Then again, she thought, it seemed typical that the sorting would go how it did—Tristan had never had it easy.
Even his name had been an unfortunate accident accident. Tristan, “Child of Sorrow.” An unpleasant nickname, and Mary had wanted to rechristen him something nice. But Tristan stuck like nothing else would, and then it was too late.
Mary had been in that exact chair, twenty-four years old, holding Tristan in her arms for the first time after taking him home from the hospital. He hadn’t liked being touched.
By age six Tristan was developmentally behind; barely speaking, much less starting to read. He was a sullen child, easily upset, and prone to violent outbursts. But, with relentless affection and limitless patience, things started to change. He managed to catch up, even excel, at primary school. He began playing, making tepid friendships, and overall grew to be more like a normal child.
Then, only a few years later, he was whisked off to Hogwarts where Mary could no longer look after him.
The blaring from Tristan’s room stopped.
“Tristan, dear,” she called up, before he could turn his record over.
“What,” he called down.
“Would you come sit with me a moment?”
Tristan didn’t respond, but she heard him stomp down the stairs a few minutes later while she fixed tea in the kitchen.
“What?” he said again, collapsing at the scrubbed wooden table.
Mary sat down a mug of tea for him, and took her place opposite.
“I know this isn’t something anyone wants to talk about with their mother, but I’m truly sorry about what happened this summer,” she said. “With Sophie,” she added, probably unnecessarily.
Tristan took his tea and said nothing.
“I wish she’d been a witch, or you’d been a muggle, and we could have just lectured and grounded you like normal parents, because the truth is,” she took a deep breath. “The truth is I honestly don’t care. At least, not enough to think it’s all right what happened. I hope you understand that I didn’t feel I had a choice.”
“You had a choice,” Tristan said under his breath.
“How do you mean?” asked Mary.
“You had a bloody choice!” he hollered, pushing himself up from the table.
“And what should I have done, then?” Mary shot back, defensively.
“Not modified her memory,” shouted Tristan as he stormed back up the stairs, slamming his door behind him.
TRISTAN heard a knock on his door through the pounding music; he’d been listening to Nevermind on repeat since the twenty-fifth. More bloody presents, he thought to himself.
He wondered how his mum had known to get it for him on vinyl, and wondered again whether Emily was secretly writing to her some of those times when she borrowed Siouxsie.
“What,” Tristan barked, after his father—from the sound of it—knocked a second time.
“Can I come in?” asked Eddie from the other side of the door.
“Whatever,” answered Tristan.
His father pushed open the door, and sat down on the edge of his son’s bed, turning down the music as he did.
“Fancy the record then, eh?” Eddie said, referencing the near constant blare of Nirvana from Tristan’s room.
Tristan lit another fag with the end of his last.
“You know I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” entreated Eddie, without any conviction.
“Can I help you?” asked Tristan, hearing the brattiness of his own voice. He took a deep drag and tried for a smoke ring. He knew his parents were past the point of trying to intervene.
“Now, your mother would prefer I didn’t say anything, but I’m worried about the sound of this—of this ‘recreational magic.’ Mary got something about it from the school. It seems one of your friends had quite a problem with it,” said Eddie.
Emily, thought Tristan.
“I’m not getting hexed anymore, don’t worry,” said Tristan flatly.
“Anymore?” inquired Eddie.
“Yeah. I was. A bit. I've stopped. After Laurel hexed-out,” said Tristan.
“Now, ‘hexed-out,’ that’s like, it’s like overdosing?” asked Eddie, trying to understand.
“Pretty much,” said Tristan, wanting very much for the conversation to be over. “And self-spelling is like shooting up. That’s what she’d been doing. Anything else?”
“And were you ‘self-spelling’ as well?” asked Eddie, struggling to keep the worry from his voice, avoiding accusations.
“No. Never,” lied Tristan. He tapped a long tower of ash into an empty pumpkin juice bottle.
“Do you have any idea why she’d do that? That self-spelling?” asked Eddie, no longer interrogating, but concerned.
“I don’t know,” sighed Tristan heavily as he sat up. “Why does anyone get addicted to any drug? I guess she preferred it to having to be normal.”
Tristan stood up, and twisted the volume knob on his record player until it was deafening, indicating that it was time for his father to go. Eddie took the hint and left the room, leaving the door open behind him.
Tristan was overcome by a sudden and fierce desire to self-spell after all, and decided instead to leave his house. He threw a few tapes and a book into his rucksack, pushed his headphones over his ears, and pulled on his coat. He pressed play as he opened his bedroom door, and tossed his ebony wand onto his bed before heading down the stairs and out the house.
Tristan’s dealer lived in a council house in Dalston with his mother. He was a shaggy man in his late twenties who, Tristan now realized, quite resembled Kurt Cobain. People called him ‘Spider,’ owing to a tattoo of a web on his neck. Spider let Tristan in and led him into his cluttered sitting room. The dealer sat down on his sofa before thinking to stash a mirror (on it, a few lines of white powder, a plastic baggie, and a razor) under the coffee table. Tristan slouched into the adjacent armchair.
“Cheers mate,” Spider said as Tristan passed him a rumpled ball of banknotes, and exchanged them for a bag of weed. Without preamble, he passed Tristan a Sega controller, and took a rip from his bong. Tristan took the bong second, and after setting it down on the coffee-table, pressed start on the game. He and Spider spent the next few hours smoking bong, and taking turns running the blue hedgehog through a series of environments in order to collect gold rings.
It was dark when Tristan rang home from a payphone in SoHo to tell his parents he wouldn’t make it for supper. He lit a fag, heading north up Charing Cross. He had taken a line ‘for the road’ from Spider. It made him feel jittery, weak, and sweaty. Tristan had never tried smack before—it was a lot like Laurel’s charm blend, which was a scary thought.
Amy, his neighbor since he was six, was waiting for him with a few mates outside the pub.
“All right Tristan,” she called.
“All right Amy,” he replied, and stamped out his cigarette.
“Tristan, you know David and Claire,” she said, and David and Claire waved hello. “This is Louise, Stuart, and Paul. Everyone, this is my mate Tristan.”
“Cheers,” said Tristan, taking each of their hands in turn.
They took a big table in the back of the pub and Tristan lit another fag while Louise went to the bar to order their pints. He didn’t feel much like drinking, but thought it would be awkward not to.
“Tristan goes to school in Belgium,” Amy informed the group.
“I thought you said Switzerland?” Claire asked him.
“Whatever,” said Tristan.
Louise returned to the table, followed in quick succession by a barmaid balancing a tray of seven pints. Stuart, who towered over Tristan by at least a dozen centimeters, leaned in toward him.
“So I got it from Amy that Soph slept over yours last summer,” said Stuart. “She says she blacked out—doesn’t remember a lot from that night.”
“Nothing happened,” said Tristan, gulping his beer. “She slept on the couch and was sick in a bucket, that’s it.”
“Good,” replied Stuart. “And thanks for taking care of her, mate. She’s my girlfriend, you know.”
“Oh,” said Tristan, gulping his lager.
“We were on a bit of a break at the time. The way she told it when I asked, I reckon she was trying to make me jealous. Get me to take her back n’ all that,” said Stuart.
“Well, glad it’s been cleared up,” said Tristan. “Whatever she remembers, that’s what happened.”
Tristan returned home just before dawn. A letter lay on his bed beside his wand, and Siouxsie was back on her perch, so he guessed it was from Emily.
Hope your holiday is going well! Get anything good for Christmas?
Anyway, I understand why you don’t want to come Sunday, but I really, really think you ought to reconsider, I know Laurel would be happy to see you. From what I get from Isobel she isn’t allowed owls in her ward, and I bet it’s depressing as shite. Also, Isobel’s been working on the most amazing present for you! You won’t believe what she’s managed. I won’t say anything else about it so I don’t give it away, but it’s bloody BRILLIANT.
Also, also, Lucas gave me “Slaughterhouse 5” for Christmas and I’m almost done. I might like it better even than “Breakfast of Champions,” but probably not. They’re both ace.
Emily Sunshine Madley
PS, I nearly forgot the best thing! My sister Laura got upset the other day because Lucas wouldn’t give her one of his biscuits (for obvious reasons) and a teapot exploded! I haven’t said anything to anyone yet, but it’s not the first time something like this has happened, so I’m thinking she’ll get an owl when she turns 11! Fingers crossed!
Tristan smiled to himself. Emily’s family loved that she was a witch, and he was sure they’d be delighted to have another in the family. Being such big hippies, they practically lived like wizards as it was. Tristan grabbed a parchment and quill, and scribbled down his response.
Go Laura! Make sure she arrives at Hogwarts a Hufflepuff.
As for Sunday, I’m sure. It really doesn’t seem right to me that I go, after everything I did to help her along. Give her a hug from me. I feel terrible whenever I think what it must be like for her there.
I got “Nevermind” on vinyl and I’m making a new tape of it. I also got a new stereo. I wonder how mum knew to get them. I’m still working on “Brief History of Time,” it’s slow going but I’m loving it. It’s giving me loads of ideas for a Muggle Studies paper I might do. I also started reading a lot of Kafka, he’s incredible.
Say hi to Isobel for me, and thank her in advance for whatever it is she’s doing. I found a muggle book on runes that I think she’d find interesting. I’m not sure what to get for Laurel, let me know if you think of anything.
Also, I had an awkward run in with Sophie’s boyfriend tonight. Obviously, I went with the Ministry’s story. The bloke was a bloody giant anyway, and I didn’t much fancy a row (been leaving my wand at home).
He hesitated, quill poised, before finishing a swooping signature with his full name.
1. Apparently, Sega hadn't come out with a two-player version of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. (PS I did not invent/do not own any rights to Sonic the Hedgehog)
2. Laura Madley was named in GoF, and Sorted into Hufflepuff.
3. The CI text is, as always, a lyric from "Tristan" by Patrick Wolf.
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