SOPHIE had made the decision to slip out before dawn. It was a cold,
callous thing to do—and that was precisely what she wanted. Two weeks
prior she'd been chucked by her first boyfriend, Stuart, on the basis
that (according to their interconnected network of friends) she'd been
"needy." It had been with superior smirks that those friends closest to
her 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.
The humiliation of it still stung, and so she wanted nothing more now than to eschew her old self. To be rebranded as mature, aloof, and mysterious. It was with these dazzling images in mind then that Sophie had decided to creep out in the early hours, leaving that strange, sleeping boy to wake up alone.
The sky was already edging toward the deep electric blue that just proceeds first light and it was time to get moving. She’d slept an hour at most, if you could call it sleep. Mostly she’d stared at the collage of polaroids crusting the wall. They all seemed to have been taken in the same Highland meadow, possibly on the same day. One of three girls featured in every photo, each wearing the same odd, baggy black dress. Sophie’s eyes had retraced the smudged calligraphy beneath each picture a thousand times while the chest beside her rose and fell in tedious rhythm. 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 and they'd spent at least two hours sharing a spliffs and listening to records with the volume turned way down before anything started. She’d resented how reluctant he’d seemed 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 disengaging herself from the tangled covers. It took several slow, halting movements before she was free in the bed. Then he began to stir. It was almost as if he’d felt her presence vanish. She held still until she was certain he would remain asleep.
Tristan wasn’t particularly good looking, she decided. He had a weak chin, 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 hoping to spot some deodorant, but found none. 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.
Even stranger, he’d tried to stop her from seeing any of his house when he first snuck her in. He'd insisted she close her eyes the whole time, which made it almost impossible to avoid making noise and being discovered by his parents (which he’d 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 whether or not their kids smoked. That might 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? The idea also gave some explanation for his 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 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's parched lips were screaming for water. Regardless of Tristan’s domestic situation, she definitely wanted to escape this house before his mysterious parents rose. She dressed in a hurry; uncomfortably aware of how much her clothes reeked of smoke and how much she needed a shower. Perhaps, she thought, she could lift a bit of his mum's deodorant if it was on display in the loo. That would at least partially abate her shame as she walked back to Amy's house.
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. A wave of fresh air from the other side of the door came as a shock. 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. Slipping her ankle boots back off, she padded down the hall as quiet as she could.
She turned the corner and flinched. 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 water and 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 and sullen. He did little more than tug at his clothes and half-heartedly play with flecks of lint on the carpet.
The object seemed just 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! The back even 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 its front again, then released 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 of young-Tristan had fallen face up. It looked startled, blinking up at her from the floor as though noticing it had been dropped.
Sophie’s head jerked up as she 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 took short, measured breaths. “Tell me you’re not—tell me you go to school with Tristan.”
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—” Sophie avoided 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… through Amy?”
“Eddie!” the woman called, appearing more scared than angry. “Eddie! Tristan!"
Tristan’s mother stepped over the shards of glass and took Sophie’s arm in a gentle hand, leading her back down the hall and around the corner.
“I’m sorry,” she continued, her voice firm yet kind as she took control. “I don’t mean to frighten you and you aren’t in any trouble it’s just… it’s just Tristan hadn’t told us anyone was staying over.”
As they approached the stairway she rapped on his door and gestured for Sophie to proceed down the steps. Tristan’s groggy face emerged before growing somber at once. His mother said nothing and continued to lead Sophie down the stairs. Glancing up she saw ‘Eddie’ turn the corner in a bathrobe, his light hair a mess from sleep and a mask of confusion on what appeared an otherwise friendly 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 catalog. Modern-looking chairs and sofas had been arranged in front of the fireplace while feathered quills, ink-wells, and scrolls of parchment littered the coffee table. Two bookshelves flanked the hearth, 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. “I’m so sorry, where are my manners, I’m Mary. What’s your name dear?”
“Sophie, lovely,” Mary replied absently as Tristan’s still-bewildered father paused at the edge of the sitting room.
“This is my husband. Tristan’s father,” Mary added unnecessarily.
“Eddie.” He smiled.
“Eddie dear, 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 hiss something up the stairs at her son. Sophie got the distinct impression Eddie was meant to watch her lest she flee.
“So sorry, Sophie, for all the anxiousness,” Eddie said. “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 steaming mugs, pausing for a moment to consider each with a frown before passing them over. “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 felt baffled 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 drink and sighed despite herself, feeling her long-tense muscles begin to relax. Eddie started explaining more about wireless communication and covert cellular devices and with each sip her unease and curiosity faded. A warm calm began to envelope her. Mary took a quill from the table and slipped out of the room while Sophie leaned back into her armchair. The beginning of a laugh began as she reflected on the baroque writing utensil but her mind soon wandered. A glorious dawn streamed in through the sitting room curtains.
There followed sounds of a gentle ‘hoot’ from the kitchen, a window sliding open, and a rustle of feathers, but Sophie didn’t register the noise. Her attention was 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, as he reeled 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 still 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.
It was stupid, though—inexcusably, illegally stupid—for Tristan to bring Sophie over. But how could his parents 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 hadn’t asked probing questions about his ‘school in Switzerland’ or what his mother did for a living. The pair of them had talked about music and films and she’d seemed perfectly content to let 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 after midnight he’d started to feel like he might start talking too much. Instead, he‘d decided to do the smart thing and walk home. Then Sophie'd said she fancied a walk as well. It’s not like he 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’d 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.”
“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?” He wiped his feet on the mat before stepping into the house. “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 Arnold Peasegood as an Obliviator from the Ministry and felt another 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?”
“Yes, yes, she’s just here,” Mary said, showing him into the sitting room. “Eddie’s been watching her, rattling on about MI6 and Muggle technology,”
Tristan crept down a step to get a clear line of sight.
“Hah! Good man.” Mr. Peasegood clapped Eddie on the back before directing his attention to the matter at hand. “So, Sophie. You met Tristan at a girl named Amy’s house?”
“Yeah,” she replied in a dull voice.
“And then you came back here, and you saw strange pictures?” The obliviator took out his wand.
“Uh-huh.” Sophie was slouching in her armchair and gazing absently at some fixed point in space.
“That was some strong stuff, Mary,” he muttered out 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, 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, he would have felt immense self-pity for his lot in life. Instead, he found himself mired by self-loathing, eyes dry. Especially so, as he’d accidentally slept in his contacts.
Tristan felt the urge to pounce the Obliviator and insist that not everything from the previous night be forgotten. Then again, he suspected that Mr. Peasegood was not completely oblivious. This was Tristan's punishment for acting so foolishly.
A curl of smoke twisted up through the air toward the ceiling. Tristan
had looked at little else in the week since Sophie had been obliviated.
The record player, which usually blasted at full volume whenever he was
home, sat silent and untouched in the corner and trays of food lay
stacked in a heap beside his bed. His parents hadn’t bothered grounding
him. To do so would have been redundant. Tristan had barely left his bed
“Bring him a tray?” his mum’s voice floated up from the kitchen.
“He’ll just stay in there if we keep bringing him food. Let him come down when he gets hungry.”
Tristan could imagine his father’s shrug, his mother’s bitten lip.
“I dunno,” Mary’s distant voice sighed. “You know how his appetite gets when he’s like this. Remember back when he was six?”
Tristan glanced at his cigarette, tipped with three centimeters of cylindrical ash, and realized it had gone out. It had been his last one.
Dressing for the first time in a week, he seized his headphones and rucksack and stepped out of the smokey bedroom into the hall.
“That you, son?” Eddie called as footfalls creaked on the stairs.
Who else would it bloody be? Tristan thought.
“Where are you off to, then?” Mary asked in too bright a voice.
“Out,” was all Tristan said as the door snapped shut behind him.
The sun blazed bright and he squinted, accustomed to the gloom in his bedroom. He needed enough tobacco, papers, and spliff to last at least the first few weeks at Hogwarts. But only so much could get passed off as ‘potions ingredients’ before Filch got suspicious.
It was fully dark by the time he returned home, rucksack stuffed with contraband and the last of his summer allowance spent. His parents were sat up in the sitting room but none of the lamps were lit, as though they hadn’t noticed that the sun was set.
“Did you have a nice day?” Mary tried, but Tristan only shrugged as he set up the stairs. Then the phone rang and he stopped in his tracks, listening hard while Eddie picked up.
“Oh hi Dan, yeah we’re booked for tomorrow…”
Just his dad’s co-worker. Tristan’s heart sank and he slammed his bedroom door without meaning to. It had been stupid to think that the phone had been for him. Sophie wouldn’t be ringing again.
He’d spoken to her once, the day after she’d left his house, while his parents were at work. She’d said she was embarrassed he’d had to take care of her, thanked him for being such a gentleman, and was grateful that his mum hadn’t told her mum what happened. She spoke to him like one might speak to a near-stranger and Tristan thought about the proverb about trees falling in forests and whether or not they made sounds. Before, it had seemed obvious that they did, even if no one 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 he said before they rung off.