Chapter 17 : The Disappearing Room
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TRISTAN gazed out the window at the lake. February was nearly spent and the weather remained steadily bitter, as if it had dropped into an unpleasant lull and had simply given up there. His mind was far from McGonagall’s lecture, already considering the Care of Magical Creatures class he would be attending within an hour’s time.
It had been nearly five weeks since he’d almost kissed Emily by the lake. She didn’t ignore him outright, and maintained a civil attitude during when he couldn't be avoided, but all familiarity had vanished. When Tristan had written Emily that note, after Laurel had passed over her contraband, he hadn’t actually expected Emily to stay away from him. He had been sure, and selfishly comforted, that Emily would remain his friend.
But Tristan wasn’t daft enough to think that his note was the sole reason that she’d severed contact. In fact, it probably hadn’t had any effect on her decision at all. Tristan had noticed that Emily had also stopped hanging around Isobel and Laurel, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine what might have inspired the change.
Over the past month, Emily had taken to spending her time with her fellow Hufflepuffs, and try as he might to ignore it, Tristan experienced a surge of jealousy whenever he saw her with Cedric Diggory. Surely, he thought, nothing would happen between them. At the same time, he realized he had no reason to be so sure. It wasn’t his business, either way; Emily was probably better off in the company of the Hufflepuffs. What she did and whom she did it with was her decision, and Tristan’s only choice was to try to accept that... Cedric is a bit younger though, Tristan thought, not her style.
He kicked himself for thinking it.
As he slouched through the castle after Transfiguration, Tristan crossed paths with Isobel and Laurel. Isobel averted her eyes while Laurel grimaced. He and Laurel still spoke, but it was always covert, even if she tried to pretend it wasn’t.
"One bag is one galleon," George explained. Tristan and the twins were huddled together in Cadogan's Corridor. "All outdoor grown, premium quality kush."
"Yeah, I know Lucas' stuff," Tristan replied. The price and quality were familiar to him, but Tristan enjoyed drawing out the sale anyway.
The Weasley twins had remained friendly with Tristan, but clearly wanted to stay neutral about whatever had broken apart his most notorious clique. They spent the most time with Emily, who they'd gone into business with. Emily had been receiving almost weekly shipments from her older brother over breakfast, which she parceled out to the twins to sell.
"I'll take the lot," Tristan replied, after making a show of examining the bag.
"You bought a full ounce last week!" Fred looked dumbstruck. "You can't have been through it already!"
The twins may have been working with Emily, but they saw Tristan nearly as much.
Tristan paid the twins handsomely for the spliff before they made their leave of him. It was true, he still had most of an ounce still buried in his trunk--but buying off the twins meant having contact with people. And, however indirectly, contact with Emily. Without his friends, Tristan's world had become incredibly small. He marveled at his own selfishness in the months past, and how little he'd appreciated their all being together when they were.
He’d even gone to the last Quidditch game, just for something to do. The match had been short; Gryffindor beat Hufflepuff in what had seemed like a matter of seconds, which wasn't surprising. Weekly Hufflepuff practices seemed to involve more smoking with Emily than actual flying.
Tristan had got to see Snape on a broom though, which was something.
For what it was worth, Tristan still spent his free evenings in the corridor, but with only the mad little knight for company. Tristan amused himself by describing various muggle technologies to the medieval portrait, whose reactions were alternately impressive and absurd. Once, at the mention of the World Wide Web, Sir Cadogan had declared war on ‘Sir H. Titipee,’ and torn off on his squat pony.
“Don’t forget about Lord Colon Slash-slash,” Tristan had called after him, but there was no one left to appreciate the terrible joke.
Saturday was Emily’s birthday, which should have been perfect. It was made all the more perfect because, falling as it did on the 29th of February, she only had a proper birthday once every four years. It should have been huge. And after everything she’d done for Tristan when he’d turned sixteen, it should have been him to make it special. But Tristan had single-handedly destroyed everything, and had lost any right to participate in the anniversary of Emily’s birth. He’d started writing her a birthday note, which soon stretched on to cover a lengthy scroll of parchment, but ultimately discarded it. She clearly wanted to be left alone, and it would have been unfair of him to deny her that after everything he’d done.
Tristan was sitting by the lake sampling the stolen Draught of Tranquility from a flask in a sort of private, somber birthday celebration. The potion was indeed a successful sedative, and all the dark and thorny thoughts that had been roiling inside of him for the last several weeks seemed to float away. It was like taking a vacation from himself, and he felt the sensation of floating, suspended, in some cleansing water that washed away all of the bad. His mind had just begun to drift pleasantly when Laurel found him.
“Hiya,” she said, too brightly.
Since they were out by the lake, she must have assumed they could pretend like nothing was wrong. At that precise moment, it felt like nothing was. Laurel perched herself on an adjacent rock, and the two of them shared a spliff.
“Where’s Isobel,” Tristan asked, exhaling.
“We aren’t conjoined twins, you know. We can go places separately,” Laurel rolled her eyes.
“Could have fooled me,” Tristan quipped back.
“Oh, she’s gone after Emily,” Laurel sighed, stretching, and trying not to seem upset. “It won’t work though. Em’s furious with her.”
“Why Isobel?” Tristan croaked, inhaling, the passing the joint to Laurel.
“I suppose,” she considered. “It’s easier to be mad at her, that way she doesn’t have to be mad at you.”
Tristan closed his eyes, feeling the sting of that sentiment. This was what he appreciated about Laurel: their friendship was destructive, and messed up in a thousand different ways, but it was always honest. Nothing was left to implication, nothing was concealed, and they never said anything except what they really meant.
“Destroying the evidence then?” Laurel asked, peering into Tristan’s flask. She took a swig, scrunching up her nose as she did. “It’s the bubbles that get you,” she coughed.
Before long they’d polished off the remainder of the potion in his flask, and shortly after that, Tristan began feeling ill. The marijuana on top of the draught, of which he’d had far above the recommended dose, made him feel nauseous and disorientation. He tumbled off his rock, hoping to walk it off, but retched instead. Laurel insisted on performing Alacratus, to even him out. The charm was somewhat successful in countering the effects of too much potion, and his train of thought started running faster--but the thoughts they carried were still dim.
LAUREL and Tristan had fallen into it again. She’d managed to convince him to give her a cheer, and then had insisted he do one too so that ‘it wouldn’t be weird’ that she did. Her thoughts were, as they always were when she cheered, immediate and wild. Once again, Laurel and Tristan’s better judgment had lost.
They tore through the castle, stoned and feverish, searching for privacy. But the castle was fighting back. Stairwells switched more rapidly than usual, and familiar hallways spat them out in unexpected passages. Hogwarts antagonized the intruders like a body battling an infection. Laurel and Tristan might have left the castle as students, but they’d returned as manic lust monsters.
“I would live outside. I don’t need walls. I’ll live in a bubble, one that takes the air in but takes the cold out, and stops the rain--” Tristan was babbling disjointed half-thoughts.
“Show some decency you putrid excuses for magicians,” screeched the portrait of a hairy warlock.
They stumbled toward the stairs to Cadogan’s Corridor, but remembered that Isobel would be there and doubled back, hitting a dead end.
“I would live in your bubble. We could all live there. And we could have a bubble kitchen, with a bubble ice-box, that uses all the cold from the air that we took out--” Laurel’s mouth was on autopilot.
“You besmirch the illustrious founders of Hogwarts with your wickedness” seethed a painting of a matronly old witch, clearly offended by the wild students’ haphazard snogging.
Laurel, cackling, dragged Tristan by the hand back the way they’d come. He was feral; eyes shining, delirious. His every gesture sweeping and untamed.
“Maybe there’s a spell to wash your brain. Lather it up and wring it out, and take out all the bits you don’t need.”
“Swine! Buffoons! Lacking basic dignity and decorum!”
“What’s the opposite wanting? Not satisfaction, or just ‘not-wanting’--like, the inverse of desire itself?”
“How dare you terrorize this most noble institution!”
They found a door, beyond it, a room, but they didn’t take in much of their surroundings. Tristan and Laurel had left themselves out by the lake a long time ago.
Tristan was gone when Laurel woke up. She should have been hurt, but was tepidly glad to have the privacy. At that moment, Laurel couldn’t feel much of anything.
What was that? She demanded of herself, trying to piece together what she’d done. She’d scared herself.
“Kiss me like it’s the first time,” Laurel says, wanting something clean. Tristan does. He summons a slow sweetness, an unexpected tenderness. It’s almost perverse in its intimacy. “That’s how you should have kissed Emily.” She admits, but she doesn’t know why.
“Fuck Emily,” Tristan says.
Never before had Laurel felt so out of control. The girl of a few hours ago had seemed like someone else entirely.
Laurel adjusted her robes, and took in the room for the first time. It seemed to like some sort of storage space. A massive old mirror, nearly as tall as the ceiling, stood in the middle of the room on a pair of gilt, clawed feet. Laurel decided it was as good a place as any to have a fag, and began rummaging in her pocket for rizlas. Just before she could light her cigarette with her wand, the door creaked open. Laurel froze.
Framed by the doorway was none other than the headmaster himself. And there was Laurel: sitting on the dusty floor in the early hours of the morning, a roll-up hanging from her lips, squinting up against the light streaming in from the bright corridor beyond.
“Miss Braithewaite, what a pleasant surprise,” Dumbledore said in a cheery voice as he strode into the room.
Laurel was stunned. She’d never spoken personally to the headmaster, and was shocked that he even knew her name. Then again, after her hex out and subsequent committal to St. Mungo’s, it was unlikely he hadn’t heard of her. Her shame was devastating, and she hastened to hide her cigarette.
“Er,” she said, not sure where to start explaining herself.
“I was under the foolish impression that students would be unable to access this room,” Dumbledore said in a light voice. “Absolutely my fault, to be sure.”
“I’m sorry, I was just—” but Laurel didn’t know what she was ‘just...’
“You see,” Dumbledore went on, apparently unconcerned with her reasons for trespassing. “It’s the mirror,” he said, casting a glance at the ancient looking-glass in its ornate frame. “I’ve been trying to find a temporary place where it is out of the way of students. And I dare say,” he added confidentially. “I seem to be failing spectacularly.”
The two were silent for a moment, Dumbledore looking in deep thought.
“Would you like to see how it works?” he asked after the pause, eyes twinkling.
“Er,” Laurel replied, still wondering when exactly she would get in trouble.
“Take a look,” the Headmaster said, beckoning her in front of the mirror. “What do you see?”
“Myself, I guess,” Laurel replied.
“Ah, but do you recognize any differences?” Dumbledore inquired.
“Not really,” she responded, examining her odd, inexact reflection.
“So am I to understand,” he began curiously. “That when you look into the mirror, it functions as any other mirror would?”
“Well no,” Laurel replied. “Not exactly. I mean, it’s not just a reflection.”
“And what would you say the difference is?”
“I dunno, I guess,” Laurel thought for a moment. When she pushed a strand of hair, her ‘reflection’ mimicked the motion; but it wasn’t quite her mirror image. It was smiling, for one. “I suppose I just look, you know, happier?”
“Fascinating,” Dumbledore exclaimed. “You see, Laurel, when I look into the mirror, I see a great number of things. I see myself in the context of a very different life. A life in which I have not made the same mistakes. I see,” he explained. “The life I believe I would have, had I been a much wiser man.”
Laurel was struck by the very notion that a wiser man than Dumbledore might exist; she’d read his chocolate frog card.
“Do you understand why this makes you so unique?” he asked of Laurel.
She shook her head, thoroughly lost.
“This mirror reveals the deepest desire of whomever should look into it. Some will see themselves surrounded by riches, others will see themselves as more beautiful than they believe themselves to be. It seems that what you desire is something incredibly pure, but also infinitely more complicated. According to the mirror, which I must tell you is very accurate, your greatest desire is simply to be happy. This is to say, Miss Braithewaite, that in all other areas of your life, you are otherwise content.”
Laurel considered the headmasters words. They sounded stunningly incorrect.
“Now while that may seem a simple thing, the great flaw of this mirror is that it provides no instruction,” Dumbledore stopped. “Yes…” he mused to himself. “It would be vastly improved if it provided some instruction…”
Dumbledore trailed off and contemplated for some time. Laurel thought it best not to interrupt.
“Now,” he said, his attention snapping back to Laurel. “In my old age, many have accused me of having lost a marble or two, but if I am not mistaken, you are in Ravenclaw House?”
“Yeah,” replied Laurel.
“Ah, a picture grows clear,” Dumbledore clapped his hands together. “It is an unfortunate hazard among many young Ravenclaws that they seek always to achieve, being as they are, under such a great deal of pressure to perform spectacular things. As such, students too often fail to find satisfaction. While dissatisfaction can be a powerful motivation, and many have been fueled by it to accomplish greatness, we must always stop to appreciate our little victories. Why just today, I determined the most brilliant method of devising passwords for my office,” Dumbledore leaned in, and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “They are all names of sweets,” he confided with a wink. “You see that way, even if I forget, I have a good shot at a guess." Dumbledore winked. "Quite a small victory indeed!”
Laurel wasn’t sure whether everything the Headmaster had said was some subtle brilliance, or if he’d indeed lost quite a large sum of marbles.
“Now, it is rather late, and I must suggest that you trot along to bed. As it is well past curfew, I should like to offer to walk you. It is your choice, but I don’t imagine that Argus Filch would be so bold as to dock me any House Points.”
Laurel accepted his offer, stunned, and the unlikely duo made their way together towards the Ravenclaw tower--silent, apart from the Headmaster’s humming. At the top of the spiral staircase, Laurel tapped the bronze eagle knocker against the heavy door. The eagle sprang to life.
“What is the source of meaning?” requested the eagle.
Laurel glanced at Dumbledore, and an answer came to her instantly.
“Interpretation,” she declared.
“True,” agreed the eagle, and the door swung open obligingly.
Without stopping to think, Laurel turned around and hugged the headmaster around the waist. He did not appear upset or surprised when she did, and gave her a warm pat on the back.
“Goodnight,” Dumbledore said, waving Laurel through the door.
Isobel was still awake when Laurel climbed up to the dormitory, sitting up on her bed and worriedly gnawing on a fingernail. Laurel produced her wand, and offered it to her friend.
“I think you should take this,” Laurel said, determined. “You can give it back to me before lessons and things, but it’s too much temptation to have it on me all the time.”
Isobel took the Laurel Wand, but said nothing—her face betrayed her respect and appreciation. With that, Laurel climbed into her own bed, and closed the hangings around herself.
TRISTAN woke up several times on Sunday, but determined to repeatedly roll back into sleep. He wanted nothing more than to put off facing the events of the previous evening. It was already sunset when he lost the war against wakefulness, but he still lay in his bed for a long time. He’d crept out of that supply room the night before in order to find the gent’s, but hadn’t been able to locate the room again after. Tristan had checked behind every door on the seventh floor, but failed to discover Laurel behind any of them. That unfamiliar room seemed to have vanished entirely. He'd wandered, distressed, until well after curfew before resigning to his dormitory.
Tristan experienced a cold shiver when he remembered the strange, enchanted object he’d passed when he’d taken his unintentional leave of Laurel. He’d expected it to be a mirror, but rather than a reflection, it offered the image of someone else entirely. The other sixteen-year-old boy on the other side of the glass had reflected Tristan's every gesture, as a mirror would, but did not resemble Tristan in the least. Something about it had disturbed him—a familiarity in the foreign double’s features. Tristan had seen, he’d thought, something of his mother and father, the Bryce’s, in that otherwise unfamilliar face: the crinkle of Mary’s smiling eyes, Eddie’s nose. It wasn't the first magical object Tristan had encountered whose purpose he didn’t understand, but he was struck by how the ancient ‘mirror’ appeared to take images directly from Tristan’s own mind. He hadn’t the faintest idea what it meant.
Having finally grown too uncomfortable to remain in bed, Tristan reluctantly climbed out of his four poster and began dressing himself for what little remained of the day. Over the past weeks, Tristan had taken to sleeping twelve hours or more. Some nights he went to bed as early as seven, but still woke up exhausted and rushed for his morning classes. He’d managed to sleep twenty hours straight through the previous weekend, and decided that doing so was far preferable to existing in reality--even if his dreams were tortured and anxious.
Tristan sat double potions with the Hufflepuffs the following Monday, casting sideways glances at Emily, who was working a few tables down with Amisha Singh and Gemma Cauldwell. Without her, Tristan had the Hobson’s choice of either partnering with a Slytherin, or concocting his Confusing and Befuddlement Draught alone. Snape hadn’t protested to Tristan’s working without a partner the past several weeks. Despite Tristan's abysmal potion-making, the professor reserved any harsh criticism. At least, Tristan thought, Snape was finally forced to recognize that Emily had been the one responsible for their old team’s prior success, even if he withheld any praise.
Distracted, Tristan tipped too much sneezewort into his bubbling cauldron. The potion immediately went opaque black, and began issuing a peppery steam that made his eyes water. Tristan frantically leafed through his Encyclopedia of Potions, and Snape swept across the dungeons toward his sneezing student, eyeing the ruined draught.
“A half scoop of powdered Moonstone and one drop syrup of Hellebore to set it right,” Snape determined in a low voice. “Be sure to turn down the heat as you stir in the scurvy-grass, lest it combust.”
Snape slid back across the classroom, and Tristan rummaged through his potions supplies for the ingredients the professor had suggested. A handful of Hufflepuffs, and even a few Slytherins, glared at Tristan over their shoulders as he measured out his Moonstone. His face grew red and hot. Were a Hufflepuff to have made the same mistake, Snape surely would have curled his lip and hurled abuse at the student—not helpfully suggested how to fix the error. The injustice of Snape’s favoritism felt like a spotlight, and Tristan shrunk, embarrassed, at the attention it attracted. Turning down the heat below his cauldron, Tristan was relieved to see that his potion had stopped issuing any acrid vapors, but remained outraged at Snape’s bias nonetheless. Emily, Tristan noted to himself without meaning to, had finished brewing a perfect potion, and bagan stoppering a sample in a delicate glass phial. She hadn’t shot any backward glances at Tristan.
Near the end of the class, while the students milled about replacing potions ingredients and scouring cauldrons, there came a knock at the dungeons. Snape, who was examining Archie Summerbee’s sample at his desk, rose to answer the door. It creaked open to reveal the miserable person of Argus Filch.
The Potions Master and the Hogwarts Caretaker exchanged a few hushed words, attracting curious glances from the students. Mrs. Norris was winding her way around Filch’s ankles, her eyes fixed, disturbingly, on Tristan. While no expert on the facial expressions of cats, Tristan could have sworn that she looked triumphant.
“Please remain behind after class,” Snape hissed as he passed Tristan’s work table.
Ten minutes later the students filed out past Filch and his terrible cat, who hovered expectantly outside the dungeon door. Tristan remained, conspicuously, in his seat, having to endure each curious pair of eyes slide over him as the other students made their way past him to lunch.
To Tristan’s horror, even Emily spared him a sideways glance.
“Mr. Bryce,” Snape approached Tristan after the dungeon had been vacated. “Over the past few weeks, Argus has discovered that many of the rule breakers he has searched have been carrying a certain substance. The students claimed it to be a potion ingredient, but after several such interactions, he wisely sought my counsel.”
Tristan’s mouth went dry. He was certain he knew precisely what this ‘certain substance’ might be, but didn’t know what it had to do with him.
“Professor Sprout has identified the material,” Snape went on. “And Professor Burbage has confirmed that it is, in fact, an illegal muggle substance of immense psychoactive potency.”
There came a pregnant pause. Snape was glaring down at Tristan, expectantly, and Tristan wasn’t sure what exactly Snape expected him to say.
“Well,” began Tristan, insolently. “I wouldn’t say immense.” It was all he could manage.
Was Tristan being accused of using said ‘muggle substance’? Well, he did. A lot. Mystery solved.
“And I checked,” Tristan added. “Marijuana hasn’t even been classified as illegal by the Ministry.”
“Oh you've checked, have you?” Snape flashed dangerously. “So you think that entitles you to distribute this material among your fellow students?”
Tristan was taken aback. So they thought that he was the one responsible for the sudden influx of marijuana into Hogwarts...
“While you were checking ‘marijuana’s,’ legal status, did you go so far as to check the Hogwarts rules?” Snape spat. “Were you surprised to discover that all intoxicating compounds, regardless of legal status, are banned for students at Hogwarts?”
Tristan could only blink, still trying to absorb the charges laid before him.
“This is a school,” Snape concluded in a furious whisper.
Tristan had to watch while Filch searched his dormitory for evidence. The caretaker unceremoniously flung aside cassette tapes and novels before he found Tristan’s stash. Weeks of excessive purchases from the Weasley twins had left Tristan with a damning quantity weed. Professor Sprout, who had been brought along to identify any contraband, examined the contents of the plastic bag briefly before offering Snape a curt nod.
“Is that all of it?” Snape demanded of Tristan.
“Yeah,” Tristan gulped. “I reckon.”
“Keep searching,” Snape commanded, and Filch renewed his forage through Tristan’s possessions.
Filch set aside an innocuous seeming item and Tristan flinched. Snape saw Tristan’s moment of panic, and his eyes slid over to the empty glass bottle that had once resided in his own potion stores.
Why had Tristan been so careless? In the weeks since Laurel had entrusted Tristan with the contraband, he’d been sure to hide it under Higgs’ bed in the event that this precise situation might occur. Indeed, the remainder of the potion was still concealed there in Tristan’s flask. But he’d stupidly left the empty bottle in his trunk. Tristan could have kicked himself.
“Mr. Bryce,” said Snape icily. “I believe I may recognize that bottle. Am I mistaken?”
Tristan could have lied. He could say that he just happened to have the same bottle, just as he could deny selling weed to the students of Hogwarts. Tristan wasn’t guilty on either charge, but that wouldn’t do. While they might not suspect Emily immediately, they would figure it out eventually. Either that, or they would go after Laurel. Surely she was next on their list of suspects, and any search through her belongings would certainly reveal some amount of evidence. What’s more, she was already suspected of having stolen the potion, and Snape might correctly deduce that she’d passed it on to Tristan to hide.
After everything this year, Laurel would surely be expelled if Tristan denied the crimes he was innocent of. Even if Laurel didn’t get blamed for dealing drugs, the truth about Emily and the twins would most definitely surface--and the twins’ record was hardly clean. Tristan had never considered it before, but it suddenly occurred to him how very illegal it probably was for Lucas, a muggle, to ship marijuana internationally via owl to his younger sister’s school.
“I take it from your silence that I am correct,” said Snape. “Did you steal the potion yourself, or did someone else?”
“I nicked it,” Tristan replied. “Ages ago.”
“And the marijuana?” piped up Professor Sprout. “How did it come to enter the school?”
“Just in my trunk. I bought it in London.”
“Are we to believe you acted alone on both counts?” Snape asked.
The potions master looked angry—furious—but also disappointed.
“Haven’t you noticed?” Tristan exploded. “I haven’t got any friends any more!”
MARY finished her lunch in the Ministry of Magic cafeteria and crossed the vast gleaming lobby toward the lifts. She was disappointed to see Lucius Malfoy waiting as well, and hoped privately to get a separate carriage. Mary wasn’t so lucky, and found herself speeding down the many levels alongside the unpleasant aristocrat.
Lucius found any reason he could to slink around the Ministry and throw the weight of his influence at unsuspecting clerks. Mary knew him from her days at the Division for Magical Education, when Lucius was bidding for the position of Hogwarts governor—a position he won. Confined to such a small space with the pompous wizard, Mary privately wondered if Lucius ever suspected...
Shortly after the end of the Wizarding War, Mary transferred to the Child Protection Office at the Ministry. There were so many orphans, and an increased demand for Social Workers. Twenty-four years old and idealistic, Mary spent several fulfilling months reuniting children with aunts and grandparents. Occasionally, Mary saw truly distressing cases, but none so much as little 'Tristan.'
After the arrest of his remaining family, Aurors had discovered the little boy in the decaying manor. Six years old, small for his age, and showing signs of severe neglect and chronic abuse. He'd been filthy and underfed, kept in a windowless room and confined to a magically enhanced playpen. Healers soon discovered that inadequate access to light had permanently damaged his vision. He spent his time in Ministry custody as an inpatient at St. Mungo's.
Shortly after being discovered, a woman came asking after him--adamant that he should come into her care. The witch's interest in the boy had caused a screaming row between Mary and her supervisor, and Mary had nearly been fired over it. Luckily, Tristan's case was confidential, and the Child Welfare office could not confirm or deny that he was in custody at all.
“The family have money, a good home, and their own child appears to be perfectly well looked after,” Mary’s boss, Mrs. Kim, had shouted. “And What’s more, they actually want him. Few families want to adopt older children, and Tristan's condition is especially poor. Caring for him would be a massive undertaking for any family. In these cases, we try to locate the closest living relatives, and they are it.”
“They’re only tenuously related! And there seems to be a lot of unanswered questions about the father’s loyalty during the war,” Mary had insisted.
“He has been acquitted of all charges by the Wizengamot,” Mrs. Kim replied coolly.
“And I’m sure that proves his innocence,” Mary scoffed. “We both know that they’re dark wizards. How could you think that they could possibly provide a good environment for him, after everything he's been through?”
“Mary, you can’t expect our office to make decisions based solely on your suspicions,” Mrs. Kim huffed. “From what I could tell, that woman seemed to exhibit genuine affection for the child, and that’s the best we can ask for.”
Mary cast about for a more convincing, less sentimental, argument.
“The Ministry has already determined that it’s in Tristan’s best interest to undergo a change of identity,” Mary began calmly. “And we both know that that won’t be possible in their care.” Mrs. Kim paused thoughtfully. Mary had offered a solid point against the placement. “And if ‘genuine affection’ is your only criterion for a decent home, Eddie and I can take him. Tristan already knows me, it’ll ease his transition.”
With that, Ministry adoption papers were produced, signatures were gathered, and Tristan Bryce entered the world.
Standing in the Ministry lift beside Lucius Malfoy, Mary couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy for the Malfoys. The adoption of ten years previous had been quiet, and with Tristan's identity under government protection, Narcissa never found out what had happened. As far as the Malfoys knew, Tristan might have died from neglect.
Mary’s sympathy didn’t last, however. Surely Lucius would have put the pieces together if he ever bothered to ask about Mary’s son, but the haughty wizard had no interest in the child of a muggle and mudblood. He had never even asked Tristan’s age.
“Mary,” Lucius bowed his head almost imperceptably, rousing her from her memories, as the lift made a bumpy stop on Mary’s floor.
“Lucius,” she replied, nodding back. Such was the extent of their interactions.
Mary pushed her office door open, and found her secretary, Sandra, looking nervous.
“Any messages?” Mary inquired, and Sandra dithered at her desk.
“Yes,” Sandra said as she rifled through a stack of parchment. “One from Hogwarts,” Sandra blushed. “It’s about your son.”
“Is he alright?” Mary started, suddenly overwhelmed with worry as a thousand familiar fears flooded her.
“Yes,” began Sandra tentatively. “He’s in trouble.” The secretary’s embarrassment deepened. “He’s been suspended.”
Fifteen minutes later Mary was marching, furious, toward the colossal castle from Hogsmeade. It had been over sixteen years since Mary had traced this path, and she’d never imagined she would be making this trip under these circumstances. Or perhaps that wasn’t true, she supposed. After all, she and Eddie had been laissez-faire in their parenting, and were probably overly permissive of their son. He smoked openly in his room, went out into the city at all hours, and they never stopped him. It was her own fault if Mary’s son was getting into trouble at school.
To be sure, Mary’s heart had broken into a million pieces when Tristan had first come home smelling of tobacco; when she’d started finding loose rolling papers in his room, and circular burns in his clothing. She and Eddie had lectured, had tried putting their feet down, and had told him how much they hated it, but nothing would do. Eventually, they could only manage to grit their teeth disapprovingly, and eventually he stopped trying even to hide it. Mary was at a particular loss to tell him he shouldn’t smoke, and Tristan seized every opportunity to throw her sentiments back at her.
It’s just that Mary had always had more patience with Tristan’s behavior than, perhaps, if he’d been her natural son. Considering the trauma he’d experienced during the first years of his life, Tristan had managed to grow up so well. Some depression and some behavioral problems were, Mary reasoned, to be expected. As such, Tristan had grown expert at grasping any liberty his parents offered, expanding it well beyond what they’d intended. Mary painfully wondered if she’d inadvertently held him to too low a standard; if she'd damaged her already fragile son.
Surely, Mary and Eddie had done the best they could, and they loved him unconditionally. Surely she’d given him a better life than the Malfoys would have. Mary’s resolve strengthened. She reasoned that it was far worse to grow up to be prejudiced and spoiled, than it was to sell marijuana. Then again, if Tristan had fashioned himself a drug dealer by age sixteen, where might he be ten years down the road?
Minerva McGonagall met Mary at the Hogwarts gates.
“Professor,” Mary called, seeing the familiar face.
It was a comfort, even in Mary’s shame, to see her old Head of House. McGonagall grasped Mary’s hand in both of hers, and offered a sympathetic squeeze.
“Mary dear, it is good to see you, despite the circumstances,” the deputy headmistress said, leading Mary to the castle.
“Yes,” Mary agreed weakly. “Although I do wish the circumstances were different, professor.”
TRISTAN was grounded. His parents had never tried the punishment, and were hazy about how to enforce it. Theoretically, Tristan was to remain in his room and do his coursework independently, and he wasn’t to leave the house. But both of his parents worked during the day, and Tristan was left unsupervised most of the time.
For the first few days Tristan hadn’t subverted the penalty in any way, save for their ‘no smoking’ rule. He’d expected to be expelled from school merely to be suspended. He’d fully anticipated his parents might disown him, only to be grounded. While he hadn’t stolen the potion, he did drink it. While he hadn’t the sold the drugs, he did use them.
Not to mention the other many crimes of which his parents and the school were ignorant. Tristan determined that the disciplinary action he now faced was relatively mild, and resigned himself to endure it.
For the first few days.
By Friday, Tristan’s confinement had become excruciating. He marveled at his luck: somehow, his world had managed to become even smaller still. His legs ached for lack of use, and being stuck inside was making him cagey and anxious. Even during the coldest of winter, Tristan relished his time out of doors.
I’ve spent enough time stuck inside for a lifetime, Tristan thought to himself. He couldn’t help it.
Men and women in cloaks, touching tattoos, smiling terrible smiles, if they look at you at all. Darkness, solitude, and physical pain so great you forget who you are, that you have a name, or that you even exist in three-dimensions. Every nerve in your body catching fire and screaming out at once...
Tristan crumpled, hyperventilating, one hand steadying himself on the back of his desk chair. Just as soon as he could stand again, he was out the door.
He walked for several blocks, fast. He walked away from his house, and if he walked quickly enough, he might outrun his terror. He had already crossed Waterloo Bridge before his breathing returned to normal. Now he actually had to pick a destination, if he didn’t, he might suffer another attack. He needed to keep moving, but he needed purpose to do so. He was near a tube station, and decided his favorite record shop was as good a destination as any. Soon, he was zooming north on the Picaddilly line toward Holloway.
Once back above ground, Tristan made his way up Hornsey Road, almost to Seven Sisters, and into the shop. The owner, Rob, wasn’t in, which was a shame. Rob was always keen to recommend new records and discuss various bands. The two employees were less interested in the teenage boy, and their attitudes tended toward smug and superior. Tristan flipped through the boxes of used vinyl, enjoying a half hours browsing before the shop employees grew bored of talking music with each other, and rounded their attention on him.
Dick, the more assertive of the shop employees, spent several minutes abusing Tristan for his interest in Nirvana, before shoving the entire Pixies discography into his arms. With a pang, Tristan thought of Emily.
While Barry, the more polite employee, rang up Tristan’s purchases—four full length albums and one EP—Tristan gathered some courage.
“Do you think I could get an application as well?” Tristan asked.
“To work here?” Dick demanded from the blues section.
“Yeah,” Tristan replied weakly. “It’s just, I’ve been suspended from school, and I’ll probably fail all my exams.”
“Why were you suspended?” Barry was curious.
“Selling drugs,” Tristan admitted, hoping to appear more grown-up and edgy.
“What kind?” Dick’s voice rang out again.
Dick rolled his eyes, and Barry raised his eyebrows.
After grilling Tristan about his all time top five favorite records, and criticizing his choices, Dick informed Tristan that his interests were too narrow and too ‘obvious.’ Barry explained that business hadn’t been great, and that the owner couldn’t afford to hire new staff. Tristan slouched, discouraged, out of the shop, a paper bag of records under his arm. Why bother with the interview if they weren’t hiring, he seethed as he boarded the tube back home. Apparently, there really weren’t any options in the muggle world for an accused drug dealer with no qualifications.
End Note: The record store Tristan visits is Champion Vinyl--officially making this story (probably the first ever) Harry Potter/High Fidelity crossover fic. All rights belong to Nick Hornby, except for the Rowling stuff (obv).
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