Calm and serene.
Those were the words Holly would later use to describe the main room of Madame Rosa’s Tea House. The moment you entered you were greeted by the sweet smell of tea and cinnamon, as well as the serene tones of an enchanted sitar hanging on the wall and playing itself. The wallpapers depicted a beautiful forest landscape where artfully painted animals frolicked about and occasionally stopped to look at you with curious interest. And witches in colourful clothes were lounging on thick pillows and pouffes around low tables, occasionally calling for one of the self-moving kettles to come over to them and pour more tea into their cups.
The atmosphere was so calm, in fact, that the shopkeeper, a pink-clad witch, was fast asleep at the counter, and barely even stirred when they entered.
“All righ’ there, Rosa?” said Hagrid cheerfully. “We’re here for the one o’ clock. Party room ready?”
Without opening her eyes or showing any signs of waking up, the witch lifted an arm and pointed towards a door at the other end of the room.
“Is she all right?” said Holly, looking back at her as they moved towards the indicated door.
“Ah, she’s fine,” said Hagrid. “Rosa’s so good at her job, she can do it in her sleep.”
“That’s one way of coping with a boring job, I suppose,” said Dean.
“C’mon, it’s through here.” Hagrid led them all through the door and down a short corridor towards another door. “Ev’ryone must be wonderin’ wha’s keeping us.”
“Who’s everyone?” said Holly.
“Party guests,” said Hagrid. He reached out an enormous hand to open the second door. “S’meant to be your birthday party, after all!”
The second door swung open to reveal…
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HOLLY!”
A crowd of people were gathered in a large and brightly coloured room, most of them just as redheaded as Ronnie and Molly, most of them dressed in outlandish clothes… and most of them familiar; Holly immediately recognized the Weasley coven, also known as Ronnie’s family. Her father, her coven-mothers and all her sisters. (One of whom was transgender, whatever that was.)
Mr Dumbledore wasn’t there, but before Holly had the time to feel disappointed about that, she found herself surrounded by excited, chattering girls. A little girl, a few years younger than her (and with blonde rather than red hair) was already hugging her, while a taller bespectacled girl was shaking her hand with a rather self-important look on her face, and at least three more girls were jumping up and down.
Six of them spontaneously started singing a birthday song – but they couldn’t agree on which song to sing, so the entire thing ended up as a confusing mix between the traditional “Happy Birthday to You” and two other songs that Holly had never heard before. The entire thing was energetic, but impossible to follow and rather overwhelming…
Luckily, Ronnie was there, and seemed to have caught on to how overwhelmed Holly felt, because she calmy grabbed her by the shoulders and led her out of the confusing mass of people and over to a table at the end of the room.
“Give them some space to breathe, girls!” Molly commanded from behind them. “Marlyssa, I told you not to cling. Ginny, you don’t have to yell. I heard that, Fred!”
“That wasn’t me, it was George,” said one of the girls innocently.
“Me? It was Percy!”
“Don’t call me Percy, Georgina!”
“Don’t mind them, they’re just excited,” said Ronnie. “Look, there’s cake!”
One look at the table made Holly’s jaw drop in amazement. Never – not even at Dudley’s birthday parties – had she seen so many party foods gathered on one table. There was jelly and ice cream. There were pies and sausage rolls. There were sandwiches and crisps and ice puddings and chocolates and pitchers filled with bubbling beverages. And at the centre of the table, there was indeed cake — an absolutely enormous cake bearing the letters HAPPY BIRTHDAY HOLLY!
All of a sudden, Holly remembered how hungry she was.
Hermione, looking a little out of breath, joined Holly and Ronnie by the table. “Charming family you have, Ronnie,” she said, though it was impossible to say if she actually meant it or not. “When you’ve got the time, would you mind helping me rescue Dean from your sisters? One of them has cornered him.”
And just as she’d said, a rather overwhelmed-looking Dean was looking a little uncomfortable as one of Ronnie’s sisters, a rather pretty girl around the same age as him, was getting very close.
“Bugger,” Ronnie swore, before calling out: “Ellie, back off! He’s just a boy, you’ve seen boys before!”
“Not up close!” came the immediate answer – but then ‘Ellie’ was gently but firmly grabbed by the shoulders by one of the mothers and led away from Dean.
Holly briefly wondered if this was some kind of Weasley family tactic to get people away from places you didn’t want them to be… but decided not to ask. At the moment, cake seemed a lot more important.
“Come on!” said Ronnie, as everyone else began gathering around the table. “Birthday girl gets the first helping!”
Holly had never had a birthday party just for her before, but she thought she’d at least partly made up for it with this one. All those wonderful things to eat… she must have put on several pounds all in one go. And then there were all the songs and stories, all the people–.
It took her quite some time to sort out all of Ronnie’s sisters, because they were so many and kept talking over one another, but after a while she thought she had enough on them to make a little mental list:
Will: Oldest sister. Already an adult.
Charlene: Likes animals, especially dragons.
Anna: Smiles all the time. Smart.
Persephone: Wears glasses like me. Don’t call her Percy!
Fred and George: Twins. Fred’s taller. They joke around a lot and start Hogwarts this September.
Ellie: Very pretty, and knows it. Very interested in Dean.
Nella: One of two blondes. Shy, doesn’t talk much.
Ginny: Small but loud. Likes sports.
Marlyssa: The other blonde. (Probably the same birth mother.) Wants to hug everybody.
Lydia: Youngest sister (apart from Dolly, who was born just a few hours ago and isn’t here).
(Which was the transgender one, Holly wasn’t sure, and something told her it wasn’t a good idea to ask.)
Of the Weasley parents, there was Arthur who was the father, and four mothers… well, really five, but the fifth one was resting after having given birth. Holly of course already knew Molly; the other three mothers were Mandy (stern-faced but with kind eyes), Frankie (calm and laid-back) and Alice (blonde and cuddly; easy to see who Nella’s and Marlyssa’s birth mother was!)
Holly wondered a little just how long it would take to get to know every single member of the Weasley coven, especially since they kept talking about other relatives – some of which belonged to other covens and some of which didn’t.
One person they kept talking about was named Sissy, but Holly never quite understood who that was or exactly how she was related to them – only that a couple of the younger girls were disappointed she hadn’t wanted to come to the party, but the adults assured them that Sissy was far too busy fussing over Flora-Mum and the new baby.
At one point Holly asked Ronnie how she managed to keep track of all her family members, but Ronnie just shrugged and said “if they live in the same house as me, they’re probably family” – and that was pretty much the end of that explanation.
One thing that really surprised Holly was how interested they all were in her. Well, the older girls kept their distance a little, but that was older girls for you. Everyone else was full of questions, about what it was like to live with Muggles, about whether she remembered her parents at all, about whether she was ever upset about not having several mothers.
Surprisingly, nobody asked her about Tom Riddle or the night her parents died… at least not until Ginny looked at her and asked, somewhat nervously: “Do you have… you know, the scar?”
“You know about my scar?” said Holly.
Ginny blushed. “Everyone knows about your scar,” she said. “I just wondered if it was really there and what it felt like and… you know.”
Holly hesitated, but only for a moment. A slight thrilling sensation rose in her stomach when she thought about how Aunt Petuna would go spare if she knew about this. She quickly pulled up her shirt to give the girl a peek at her bare belly.
It’s really there… like a lightning bolt,” said Ginny, awed. “Does it hurt?”
“It doesn’t really do anything,” said Holly. “I don’t even remember how I got it. I think I was asleep when it happened,” she added, thinking back on Mr Dumbledore’s story.
“I know how you got it!” said the girl helpfully. “It was Tom Riddle –”
“Ginny!” The stern voice came from one of the Weasley mothers, whom Holly had forgotten the name of. “Did you forget what we talked about?”
As Holly quickly pulled her shirt back down, Ginny gave her coven-mother an innocent look. “No, Mandy-Mum, I haven’t.”
“Well, then, don’t bother Holly with all this!”
Holly wanted to say that Ginny wasn’t bothering her, but at that point there was a bit of a stir at the other end of the room. Holly looked up just in time to see Dean hurrying out of the door. Several of the others turned to look as well, most of them with puzzled expressions.
“’Ere now, where’s he goin’?” said Hagrid.
“He said he needed the toilet,” said Hermione with a small frown.
“Ah… tha’s all right, then. Does he know where it is?”
“I don’t know,” said Hermione. “It’s odd, though… he looked upset. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him upset. He’s usually so calm…”
“He was talking to Ellie,” said Ronnie. She turned to look at her sister. “What did you say to him?”
“I… nothing, really.” Ellie bit her lip.
“I just told him that, you know, if the Ministry decided to take him away from his Muggle family, he could come and live with us.”
“Take him away from his Muggle family?!” Hermione exclaimed, alarmed.
“I was joking!” said Ellie defensively. “Mostly.”
“But then he didn’t know what I was talking about, so… everyone knows the story about Tom Riddle, right? I thought he knew it too! So I told him…”
“Elaine,” said Arthur. “You didn’t tell him about Tom Riddle, did you?”
Ellie squirmed. “No. Yes. A bit.”
There was a collective groan. “That was horribly thoughtless of you,” Arthur sighed. “Didn’t it occur to you at all that he might take it the wrong way?”
“Well, it did when he ran out the door…”
“Ruddy…!” Hagrid was over at the door in two long strides. “I’ll go after ‘im, make sure he don’ do anything stupid. You lot stay here, I’ll be back in a mo’!”
He rushed out the door. Alice and Frankie looked at each other, nodded, and hurried out after him. The door closed behind them.
For a brief moment, the room was deathly quiet. Everyone was staring at Ellie, expressions varying from shocked to outraged to disbelieving. Only Hermione looked confused – which Holly was secretly grateful for, since that meant she wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand what had just happened.
“Excuse me,” said Hermione, clearly trying to keep her voice steady. “Hello? Would anyone mind explaining what’s going on to those of us who haven’t grown up with tales of Tom Riddle the Terrorist? What does he have to do with Dean? And more importantly, what does he have to do with you taking Dean away from his family?”
There was another silence, this one more awkward. Finally, Arthur, who seemed to notice that nobody else was leaping for the chance to explain, said: “Well, nothing directly. It’s just that he grew up in the Muggle world.”
“So?” said Hermione. “Holly and I did too!”
“Yes, but it’s not quite the same for girls,” said Arthur. “Muggle-born girls aren’t common, but they’re not unheard of. When it comes to Muggle-born boys, though… here in Britain, at least, we’ve only had one of them before.”
“Oh!” Something clicked in Holly’s head. “Tom Riddle was Muggle-born! That’s why Molly and Hagrid didn’t want me to tell anyone that Dean was too! If they found out, they’d think Dean was a terrorist!”
“That’s… one reason, yes,” said Molly carefully. “But it wasn’t the main one.”
“Well, what, then?!” Hermione’s patience was clearly running out.
The Weasleys all looked at one another. This time, it was Mandy who spoke up. “Try to imagine this,” she said. “The Accidental Magical Reversal Squad goes out on what they think is a routine mission to a Muggle orphanage. Some Muggle-born orphan has caused a bit of a commotion, and they’re going down to reverse the magic, give the Muggle-born the standard ‘you’re a witch’ talk… but when they arrive at the orphanage they find out that the Muggle-born is a young boy. There has never been a documented case of a Muggle-born boy in Great Britain, and yet here one is. How do you think they react?”
“Er,” said Holly, a little surprised at the question, but trying to think about it. “I suppose they were very… surprised?”
“Surprised doesn’t begin to cover it,” said Mandy. “They encountered something they hadn’t seen before – a young wizard who wasn’t growing up in the safety of a coven – and they panicked. Without even pausing to consider whether they were doing the right thing, they took the boy from the orphanage and had him adopted by a coven. For good measure, they erased the memories of the staff and the other orphans so that nobody would remember he had even been there.”
“Erase their memories?” Holly repeated. “But… they were Muggles! Mr Dumbledore said we shouldn’t use magic on Muggles unless it was an emergency!”
“And he’s right,” said Mandy. “But we are supposed to keep magic a secret from the Muggles. Sometimes needs must. I know it seems cruel, but sometimes erasing the occasional memory is the only way.”
“But…” said Holly helplessly. And realized she didn’t know what else to say. She herself probably wouldn’t have minded being taken away from the Dursleys, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon might not even have minded forgetting that she existed… but then, she thought about Dudley and how he really did seem to be doing better lately. If his memories were erased, wouldn’t he just go back to the mean and obnoxious bully he used to be? Was that even fair?
“So you’re not only going to take him away from his parents, you’re going to erase their memories about him!” said Hermione, her voice shrill.
“Calm, calm,” said Mandy. “It won’t come to that. I was Muggle-born myself. We have a plan – well, Dumbledore has a plan. We were going to go through it when he arrived.” She gave Ellie a stern look. “We’re going to have a little talk about this when we come home.”
“But Mandy-Mum…” Ellie pleaded.
“But me no buts! Let’s just hope that the poor boy doesn’t get into any trouble before Hagrid, Alice and Frankie find him.”
Dean knew as soon as he exited the tea house that he’d done something phenomenally stupid.
He was an eight year old boy, alone in a district where boys weren’t supposed to be wandering around alone. Anyone who saw him would take an immediate interest in him – not to mention, they were all witches with magical powers. All he could do was put people to sleep… and he already knew from experience that he wouldn’t be able to do it to an adult witch. Much less an entire district of them. What exactly did he think he could do?
But he had to do something. Being a wizard sounded awesome, even with that entire bothersome “you have to marry several women when you’re grown up” thing… that was so far in the future it didn’t even seem real. But if it was going to put his family in danger, he wanted no part of it.
His parents, his sisters. They were going to have their memories erased, because of him. He had to at least warn them. He felt a little bad for abandoning Hermione and Holly… but they’d be all right. They were girls, after all.
Of course, he didn’t have any money. But he was in London. He knew how to get around, even if he usually wasn’t on his own this far from home. He felt certain, though, that if he could get out of the witching district and back to Charing Cross Road, he could make it home to West Ham from there – sneak onto the underground, maybe – and then he could wait for his parents to come home from work. And then… he’d have to see what he’d do then. They were going to be surprised to see him home from camp a week early, they probably wouldn’t believe him when he told them about the witches… but he had to try.
There weren’t that many people about at the moment… a few witches were looking in the shop windows, and a couple of them were relaxing by the fountain, but nobody seemed to have noticed him yet.
If he avoided going straight across Hexagon Square and instead stuck to the edges, he wouldn’t be as visible.
He steeled himself and began a brisk walk (don’t run, that’ll just call more attention to you!) towards Diagon Alley, past the many shops surrounding the square.
Florencia’s Ice Cream Parlour, Sugarplum Sweet Shop, Fakery Bakery, Friendly Carnivore Meat Market, Succubus’s Delight… this last shop had black windows that were impossible to see though, and — of all the bad luck — just as Dean went past it, the door opened and an alarmingly familiar woman stepped out.
“Well, now, what have we here? A young man, braving the witching district all on his own?” The woman stepped out and blocked his path. Her gold dress gleamed in the sunlight. “Did you run away from the Weasleys, boy?”
“Er.” Dean took a step back, at a loss for words.
“We didn’t get to talk at all earlier. In case you forgot, my name is Narcissa. Narcissa Malfoy of the Black line.”
“Right… um… Dracaena’s mother.”
“Birth mother, my dear. Were you looking for Dracaena?”
“Er, no – sorry, I’m in a hurry.”
“Don’t say another word. Those Weasleys can be so uncouth. I don’t blame you for wanting to get away from them. Come on, you can hide from them in here.”
And before he even knew what was happening, she had grabbed him by the hand and pulled him into the shop.
The interior of the shop was dominated by black and pink. Black walls, dark pink ceiling, black and white checkered floor, shelves and highlights in various shades of pink. On display all around were various pieces of cosmetics and lingerie… and a mannequin that looked disturbingly like Narcissa (same skin tone, same hair, even same build and features) posing in a see-through lacy bodysuit that left very little to the imagination. Dean hurriedly looked away.
Narcissa smiled at him. It was a friendly smile – but there was something about it that Dean didn’t like. “Oh, don’t mind the mannequin,” she said sweetly. “I just wanted to see what I’d look like in that get-up. You’re right, it’s not quite me. Thank you, that’ll be all.”
These last words were apparently directed at the mannequin, because it immediately shifted and turned into a blank, pure white, featureless doll, bodysuit and hair gone.
“Now, you’re a little young to be in this shop, so let’s just stay here by the entrance and not make too much noise,” said Narcissa. “Don’t worry, the windows are enchanted so that nobody can see us from the outside… and the shopkeeper won’t bother us as long as we don’t go further into the shop. I am one of the main investors in this place, after all.”
Dean looked out the window. From the outside it had been impossible to see through; from the inside he had a perfect view of Hexagon Square. And there he saw Hagrid, accompanied by two of the Weasley mothers, all three of them looking around.
What was he going to do? He could run out of the shop and join them, but then all chances of getting home to warn his family would be lost – they’d never let him out of their sight again. On the other hand, if he stayed here he was stuck with Narcissa, who was really starting to freak him out.
“Now… Dean, was it?” said Narcissa. “I didn’t catch your coven name. You’re not with the Weasleys, and you’re obviously not a Potter… James died long before he could have a son. So, who’s your coven?”
“Er – My name is Dean Thomas.” At the moment, Dean couldn’t think of any other different surnames than ‘Smith,’ and he had a feeling Narcissa wouldn’t have bought that.
“Thomas? I don’t believe I know the coven.”
“We’re from overseas.” Dean was impressed at how easy the lie came out. “Just visiting!”
“Really? You speak with such a marked London accent. I was certain you must be a local… hard though it is to accept the possibility that there’s a wizard my own daughter’s age around that I didn’t know about.”
“My mother – my birth mother was a Muggle-born from London.” Dean cast a nervous glance out the window. He couldn’t see Hagrid or the Weasleys anymore. “That’s why we’re visiting, to see where she grew up. Now, er, I’m really in a hurry, so –”
“Oh, you’re not in such a hurry that you can’t have a civil conversation.” Narcissa’s voice was gentle, but there was a core of steel there; this wasn’t the tone of someone who tolerated excuses or contradictions. “If what you’re saying is true, then I’ll be more than happy to escort you back to your coven… but there are a few questions I really need you to answer first.”
Dean acted on pure instinct. He pulled his foot back as if he was going to kick her – and when she reflexively pulled back, he tore the door open and stormed out into the sunlight.
He almost collided with a man in a colourful outfit, who had to take a step back to avoid being run down.
“Oh – Dean,” said the man, surprisingly unshaken after the almost-collision. “It’s Dean, isn’t it? I just ran into Hagrid, he was looking for you.”
“Um –” Once again, Dean was at a loss for words.
“Dumbledore!” Narcissa was standing in the doorway. Her pretty face had taken on an almost ugly quality.
Dumbledore, Dean thought. So this was the famous Mr Dumbledore – Holly’s Mr Dumbledore, the one that everyone kept talking about. Apart from the colourful outfit, he didn’t look particularly impressive.
“Ah, hello, Narcissa,” Mr Dumbledore said politely.
Narcissa sneered, but spoke in a calm and almost pleasant tone: “Do you know this young man? If so, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that I find him running around all alone with no adult supervision… not even a sister or two to keep an eye on him.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure yet,” said Mr Dumbledore. “But I was on my way to meet him, so – happy coincidence that we should bump into one another.” He smiled at Dean. “Oh, I do beg your pardon. Albus Dumbledore, at your service.” He held out a hand for Dean to shake.
A little confused, Dean took it.
“So, what is your connection with this boy, Dumbledore?” said Narcissa. Her eyes narrowed in suspicioun. “Dean, my dear… I would be careful about trusting that man if I were you. Albus Dumbledore isn’t exactly what we call respectable. He’s a dangerous influence.”
“There are those who call me that,” said Mr Dumbledore calmly. “I prefer to think of myself as someone who encourages people to think for themselves rather than get too hung up in what’s respectable and what isn’t. But since you ask… young Dean here is part of a new program I’m involved with. We’re hoping to rekindle the old apprenticeship tradition.”
“Er –” Dean was starting to feel like he’d been shoved into some sort of stage play and was the only one who didn’t have the script. What were they talking about?
“Apprenticeship?” Narcissa repeated, and then laughed. It wasn’t a nice laugh. “Dumbledore, do you honestly think the Ministry would allow you – you, of all wizards – to take an apprentice?”
“Probably not,” said Mr Dumbledore. “As you say, I’m hardly what you call respectable. However, my old friend Nicolas is quite respectable – and he’s old enough that he’s had apprentices before. He’s quite ready to take on a new one. Oh, by the way, while I remember – your sister Bellatrix. Did you know she was back in the country?”
Narcissa hesitated, but only for a moment. Then, the world’s fakest smile spread on her lips. “Why, Dumbledore,” she said. “Bella’s a wanted fugitive. If I had any idea of where she was, don’t you think I would have done my duty as a good citizen and reported it to the Aurors?”
“You haven’t heard from her, then?”
“I haven’t had so much as an owl post.”
“In that case, I’ll be sure to give her your love the next time I see her.” Mr Dumbledore smiled brilliantly. “Oh – and here comes Hagrid, along with Alice and Francine. If you don’t trust me with the boy, Narcissa, I trust you have no objections if two Aurors are also present? ”
Narcissa looked at the approaching trio. “I’m not sure if I trust any Weasleys with a boy,” she said, though her voice had lost a lot of its strength. “After what they did to their own son…”
“Their daughter is much happier now, Narcissa, and that’s all that should matter,” said Dumbledore.
“I’m only looking out for the boy’s wellbeing, Dumbledore.”
“Oh, I have no doubt. And I suppose you could tell me why you would drag a young boy like Dean into a place like Succubus’s Delight? I was under the impression that children weren’t allowed in that shop.”
“I…” Narcissa hesitated again. “You must be mistaken, I didn’t drag him…”
“Really? My mistake, then,” said Dumbledore. “Ah, Hagrid. And Alice and Francine. As you can see, Dean has been found.”
There was a slam of the door as Narcissa apparently decided to retreat into the shop.
“Are yeh all right?” Hagrid hurried over to Dean. “Look, abou’ what Ellie said – it’s not like that, we’re not goin’ ter – we had a plan – ”
“What did Narcissa want?” said Francine, looking at the closed door.
“She… I’m not sure,” said Dean. “She asked me about my coven, and… Never mind that!” he snapped as he remembered why he had been in that situation in the first place. “You didn’t tell me you were going to take me away from my family! And erase their memories of me!”
“Because we’re not going to do that,” said Alice soothingly. “I get that you’re worried about your family, Dean, but you don’t have the whole story.”
“What is the whole story?” Dean asked, not quite ready to trust her just yet.
“Well – it’s true that Tom Riddle was discovered living in the Muggle world, and that the Ministry panicked and took him to be adopted by a coven,” said Alice. “But Tom Riddle lived in an orphanage. You have a family. It’s not the same. Nobody would want to –”
“Be honest with the boy, my love,” said Frankie. She placed an arm around Alice’s waist and gave her a one-armed hug. “The truth is, Dean, there are plenty of people in the Ministry who would take you away from your Muggle family. You’re a boy, and that means you’re valuable. Too many witches don’t trust Muggles with anything, or anyone, of value. It’s stupid, I know, and if I could change their minds, I would… but since I can’t, we’ll have to do the next best thing.”
“We – we had a plan,” said Alice. “That is, Dumbledore had a plan. I — I don’t think we can get Ministry to agree to let you grow up with your Muggle family, at least not unsupervised… the culture shock is bad enough for Muggle-born girls, but for a boy… you haven’t begun to see the witching world, you don’t know what the social expectations are…”
“Perhaps I should take over,” said Mr Dumbledore. “I have been in touch with my old friend Nicolas Flamel, and if you agree to it, he would be happy to take you on as his apprentice – at least until you’re old enough for Hogwarts.”
“Okay,” said Dean. “Just… one question. What’s an apprentice?”
“In general, it’s someone who learns a trade from an employer,” said Mr Dumbledore. “In this instance though, it’s more like a personal student. We will have to talk to your parents about all this, but I believe we can arrange it so that you won’t have to leave your family. This is probably not the place to talk about it, though….” He looked around. “Would you be willing to come back to Madame Rosa’s with us and hear us out? I did promise Holly I would be there for her birthday party, and I’m already dreadfully late.”
“Mmm…” Dean wasn’t a hundred percent sure if he really should trust any of this. But it didn’t seem like he had any alternatives. If Mr Dumbledore really was sincere, and he certainly seemed a lot more sincere than Narcissa had, then going along with him might be the best bet. “All right then.”
“Oh!” said Hagrid. “Before we do, can we make a quick detour? I wan’ ter get Holly her birthday present. I know jus’ what ter get her!”