It had been a long time since Benjy Fenwick had been able to walk through the front room without stepping on a laughing doll or stubbing his toe on something pink and frilly. The girls had plenty of toys and gadgets, that was for sure. What they were in need of, now more than ever, was a mother. That was the one thing he hadn’t been able to give them in the last nine years. There hadn’t been time for food shopping most days, let alone finding a suitable companion who didn’t mind being an immediate mother to twin girls. As lovely as they were, they were still a handful.
“Papa, she took my favourite shirt.”
“No, I didn’t! This is my shirt.”
Benjy massaged his pounding temple. Lately, not a day had gone by that he hadn’t dealt with a headache. It might have been the stress of making sure the girls were ready for their initial trip to Hogwarts. Or it might have been the owls that were flying non-stop through the upstairs window. As soon as he was able to send one away, a new one took its place on the perch.
“Pavarti, give Padma back the shirt. You should have one just like it hanging in your closet.”
The small girl tore off the shirt, throwing it at her sister before collapsing in the corner, her face already soaked with silent tears. “You always take her side. What if that had been my shirt? You don’t know.”
“I do know, sweetest.”
Taking a deep breath to clear his head of everything but the little girl in need of his help, Benjy sank down beside her. A few years ago, she would have thrown herself onto his lap and buried her head in his shoulder. Now, his little girls were discovering they were able to stand on their own. It saddened him even as it encouraged him for what was to come. How did parents let their children go when they sent them off to school? He wondered where his own had gotten the courage to let six of their children leave them behind as they found their own lives.
“I know that wasn’t your shirt because I saw yours on the floor of your closet this morning and I told you to pick it up. Do you remember me asking you to do that?” She nodded, a new sullen look taking root on her face. “If that had been your shirt, it would have been wrinkled. Padma has been hanging up her clothes when I ask her. That is how I know the difference in your shirt versus hers.”
The irrefutable evidence didn’t set well with the ten year old. Her mood was quickly spreading to her sister. If he let this go on much longer, he’d have two sulky girls to contend with. There were other ways he wanted to spend his day.
“If you want to wear your shirt that looks like Padma’s, go get it and I’ll iron it for you.” It was the closest thing he could come to a compromise without ruining the last year of discipline. But he still had more to offer to sweeten the deal. “Then we’ll go down to the corner for chips.”
Both girls cheered, their previous mood forgotten. They ran off in the direction of their shared room, Padma promising to help pick up the rest of the clothes in the closet while Parvati offered the loan of one of her hair ribbons to decorate her sister’s hair. It did his heart good to see them still getting along with each other. He’d never been nice to his sisters, something that hurt his heart if he thought about it too much. The chances he’d been given to make it right had long since been used up.
Two of them were dead. Belle, the twins’ mother and his twin sister, had been taken from him once by a man who was able to give her the world, something he had never forgiven her for. The second time, a more permanent deliniation from his life, by the demon in a man’s body that he’d helped dispatch nine years ago. Bea, the oldest, had gotten in the way of an angry dragon.
That left only one sister alive but Becca was traveling nearly all the time now, moving too fast for the past to find her. She stopped by to visit the girls from time to time but had very few words to spare for her brother. The rest of his siblings, Blake and Brady, the other set of twins in his generation, were nearby and had done what they could to help him in the early days of his sudden fatherhood, but his relationship with his brothers had always been different than that he’d had with his sisters.
He was brought out of his memories by a shriek of laughter. This was one of the good, if a bit ear-splitting, sounds that the girls made. They were happy. He wasn’t going to yell at them and ruin the hard work of the last twenty minutes.
No, he took that back. He was going to yell at them, using his most father-knows-best voice. “Better hurry or I’m going to get chips without you.”
That did the trick. Instead of bringing him her wrinkled shirt, both girls came out in new outfits. They were dressed in the frilly white outfits his mother had brought them on her last visit. At the time, he’d never thought the girls would wear them but here they were.
“Don’t both of you look a pretty picture. Ready to go.”
In unison, just like the old days, they replied, “Yes, Papa.”
It did a father’s heart good to hear them, even if he wasn’t really their father. Times like this reminded him of that fact more than others. As much as they were his life, this was not how things were meant to be. They should have had a mother and a father, a set of people that would love them more than any other person on the face of the planet. He should only have been Uncle Benjy to them, the man who flitted in and out of their lives with presents now and then.
“Papa?” Padma was looking concerned. Well she should since he was standing there, one arm in his coat and the other posed to slide into the other opening. In his thoughts of what should have been, he’d stood completely still. “Are we going?”
“Of course.” He shook away the bad thoughts, sliding completely into the here and now. “Come on, then. We’ve got chips to eat.”
The walk down to the corner shop was uneventful to some people’s way of thinking but Benjy was beginning to find himself concentrating on even these small moments, storing them away in his memory for those times he’d be without his girls. That time was coming faster than he’d imagined when he was changing their diapers and convincing them to quit taking their dolls for a walk in the park, literally. They’d scared enough Muggles in those early days before he’d funneled their latent magic into other areas.
“I can eat a hundred chips,” Padma gushed, swinging her arms over her head in her excitement.
“I can eat a thousand,” Parvarti retorted.
“A hundred thousand.”
“A thousand billion.”
And so it went until they crossed over the front step and into the land that time forgot. Benjy was amazed that nothing had changed in the last nine years since he’d lived in this flat. The layout, the poorly written menus, the napkin holders – everything was the same. He wouldn’t have been surprised if the napkins themselves were the same.
They were normally the only people there when they visited. It was a surprise the shop made enough in overhead to keep the lights on. Today, however, there was a whole group of people sitting at the tables. Benjy didn’t give them a second glance as he herded his charges into place.
“What will you have, ladies?” the man behind the counter asked, his smile as pleasant as always. He was one of the few adults the girls enjoyed visiting because he was always happy to see them and rarely had anything but a kind word to say.
Benjy waited for them to give their order, a discussion breaking out over what to dip them in which always changed the size of chip they got. As there wasn’t anyone else waiting in line, he let them continue on without trying to make them hurry along. It wouldn’t do any good even if he wanted to.
With most of his attention still on the girls, Benjy turned toward the people sitting at the table. He’d noted their presence as he’d walked in but only to confirm that they wouldn’t be irritated by two small girls who still had the power to empty out any resturant in town with just one shrill scream. Now he wondered who he’d missed that he might know. The list of his close friends and confidants were very small these days.
It was a surprise to turn around and see Dorcas standing in front of him. She was still short, coming barely to his shoulders but she wasn’t the little girl he remembered. Not that she’d really been that much younger than he was. In fact, she’d been a year ahead of him while they were at Hogwarts. It was hard to think of her as anything other than little Dorcas Meadows, the feisty witch with a penchant for big spells that went bang.
Now she was here in front of him, her arms outstretched as if she meant to hug him but wasn’t sure how he’d react. Taking a deep breath, Benjy beat her to it before the already long pause turned into an awkward pause.
“Dorcas! How are you? What are you doing in this area of the city?”
She pulled back, taking a step away from him but her smile was still huge. Her eyes still glittered with the same surpressed laughter. “I’m meeting Alice and the boys here. They’ve been in Corsica for the last month and this is their first day back in town.” Dorcas searched for something more to say on the subject but seemed to lose her words. He remembered other times when she’d do the same thing, shrugging her shoulders as if to say, I hope you got all you could from that exchange because I don’t have much more to say on the subject.
“Alice and Sirius live around here?”
“No. I normally meet her for lunch in the city.” She shook her head so that black strands danced around her head. There was some silver in it now, reminding him of just how much she must see in his hair, as well. “I live two blocks that way. It’s really just around the corner.”
The way she was pointing was in the exact opposite direction of the way he and the girls had come. Still, four blocks wasn’t much. Why hadn’t they run into each other more often? He felt guilty for not being out in his community more often. It wasn’t that he was a recluse but he had to admit that he was something of a homebody these days. If he was like this while the girls were at home, what was he going to be like when they were at school? He didn’t even try to hide from the hurt that thought caused him. Better he came to grips with it now so that it didn’t decimate him when the time came to say goodbye to them.
It became apparent that he’d been silent for too long when Dorcas backed away to a respectable distance, as if she was suddenly unsure if she should be standing so close. She had been one of his closest friends in school, both of them excited to be doing something to help when they’d joined the Order of the Phoenix but something had changed inside him the day that Rajeev and Belle had died. Life became more precious. He’d had his own run-in with death but he couldn’t afford to keep trying out outlast the Death Eaters now that he had two lives that were depending on him.
All that to say that he didn’t want Dorcas to think that his silence was in any way her fault. It had been so long since he’d intentionally talked to an adult that wasn’t in someway connected to Padma and Parvati that he wasn’t sure how to continue on without them. It was no excuse but still he couldn’t find any words to say that weren’t full of stammering and stuttering.
“Papa, you need to order.” Padma pulled at his arm, her soft voice full of authority as if he was a wayward child and she was the parent. “Paul is waiting for you before he finishes our order and Parvati is so very hungry.”
Dorcas’s eyes were wide with wonder. “The twins? Oh my, how they’ve grown.”
The few other times an adult had gushed over the twins, they had gone from pleasant to icy. Now as he waited for the inevitable poor response to his old friend’s statement, he began to wish he’d been a better parent and gotten the girls out in society more. There was no getting around that they wouldn’t have some of the same refinement as many of their classmates.
But he didn’t need to worry. Padma was all smiles. “Do you know our Papa?” she asked excitedly. One of her small hands latched onto the woman’s arm, shaking it to emphasis her words. “He’s told us stories but we’ve never met any of his friends from before he was our Papa. Parvati, come here.”
“I want my chips,” was the answer from the front counter.
“Parvati.” This was a command and one that was answered quickly. Padma took one of her sister’s hands and put it up next to hers on Dorcas’s arm. “Padma, this is one of Papa’s friends.”
A look was exchanged between the two girls, one that was unique between the twins. Benjy didn’t like where this was headed. He’d seen that same look in the girls’ eyes the last few times they’d visited the booksellers. A younger female had taken over duties from the previous owner, an old woman who had gone south for her health. Their sudden interest in books was suddenly a little more understandable.
“Padma. Parvati. This is Dorcas Meadows. We went to school together.”
“Did you know our Mother and Father?” Parvati asked. Benjy didn’t like that he was being ignored by all three girls.
“Your mother, Belle, was several years ahead of me but I did know her. Your father, I’m sorry to say, was not a man I knew well. We only met once or twice.”
“My Papa just got a new broom for his birthday. Do you like to fly?”
“Padma-“ Benjy could think of nothing to stop Padma’s line of questioning. He’d mentioned, several times, that he wanted to use the broom that he’d bought himself for his birthday but he hadn’t thought the girls had paid attention to him. Amazing what they heard when he thought he was being ignored once again.
“I just want to know if your friend-“
“Dorcas,” the older woman reminded her.
“I wanted to know if Dorcas likes to fly. You always complain that you don’t have anyone to go up with since we aren’t allowed on our brooms until we get to school. Here is your chance, Papa. We’ll have chips and then you can go out.”
There was a single second of silence before the excuses started to fly.
“I really can’t-“
“You shouldn’t just assume-“
“-leave my friends without-“
“-anything. She might have-“
“-at least telling them-“
“-things she needs to do. Besides-“
“I want my chips,” Parvati cried in the middle of the confusion.
Another moment of silence interrupted by another familiar voice crying his name. A headache was beginning to form behind Benjy’s eyes as Alice swept forward and pulled him into a tight embrace. “Dorcas told me she had a secret to tell but I never would have believed that she’d found you after all these years. Where have you been hiding yourself away from us all?”
“He lives just down the road,” Dorcas told her, still a bit distracted as she tried to sort out the people that were suddenly surrounding her. Two little girls on her left and now two little boys on her right, both the spot-on image of their father. “And he isn’t the news I had for you. Meeting him was purely coincidental.”
“The girls like the chips here.”
“Really?” Alice looked around her, no doubt taking in the peeling wallpaper and cracked floor tiles. From the look of the jewelry around her neck and wrist, she wasn’t as nearly at home in this type of eating establishment as Benjy and the girls. “Well, I suppose the boys won’t mind a treat. Reggie. Dade. Go find a table that’s… large enough for all of us to sit at.” The word clean was implied, hanging between them in the way Benjy remembered Alice speaking when she was out of her element.
“Let me get this, Alice. My treat. Girls, take Mrs. Black to our table.” And don’t give away any more of our secrets while you’re at it, he wanted to add but kept his mouth shut, turning toward the counter where Paul waited patiently for this new influx of customers to order.
“Never had this many customers in one day the entire time I’ve had this shop.” Paul rubbed at the counter with a questionably-clean rag. “I’ve got your usual order ready if that’s what you want.”
“I’ll take my usual with two more just like it. And double the girls’ order.”
He’d tried to ignore the fact that Dorcas has followed him up to the counter but she laid her hand on his arm to gain his attention. Since he was acutely aware of her now, she didn’t really have to do anything but he felt as if he did a good job of looking surprised to see her.
“I don’t know what your usual is but I’m sure that Alice would rather have some tea.”
“Tea. Gotcha.” Paul rearranged the numbers on the tally sheet. “And you?”
Benjy was bowled over by the huge smile Dorcas gave the man behind the counter, wishing it could have been directed at him. “I’ll take his usual. I’m always up for a challenge.” She turned toward him when she heard his snicker. “What? I’ll have you know I haven’t changed all that much since the last time you saw me.”
“Which, if I remember correctly, was right after you ate that entire bag of crisps. How long were you sick?”
She glared but there was a hint of a smile still ghosting around her lips. “Two days, no thanks to you. The least you could have done, as my friend, was to tell me what Gideon and Fabian had planned. Those things were laced with more Unga Root than should be legal.”
“Do you ever see him?” Benjy pulled back his hand before he could rub the back of his neck where he could still feel the sting of the malignant curse that had nearly decapitated him if not for the saving grace of Fabian Prewett.
“Gideon? No. No one has. He’s been a recluse since the battle. Losing his brother and sister within two hours of each other really hit him hard. But he wasn’t the only person to completely break away, was he?”
“I couldn’t abandon them.”
She looked around him to where the girls were beguiling the boys and their mother. “I can understand that but that doesn’t mean you needed to walk away without telling us where you were. You put up a protection spell that even I had never seen before, Benjy. None of us could get through it and your family was no help. You completely disappeared.”
“I couldn’t abandon them,” he said again, emphasising different words this time. “Belle was there that day because she was worried about me. I was being her selfish little brother, putting himself in danger for no good reason. I killed them, Dorcas. Both of them.”
“You did no such thing. And it wasn’t for nothing. It was for the safety of the rest of the world, Muggle and wizard alike.”
“It was a foolish game and people died.” He was parroting the words Belle had said that day, not surprising considering how often he thought about what he might have done differently.
Dorcas leaned in close, her light eyes alight with righteous fury. “How many didn’t?” she hissed, spitting out the words with abandon now that he’d found the wrong buttons to push. “How many people did we save because of our foolish game? And how many people gave their lives for the cause because they believed deeply in what we doing? You mock their deaths by acting like we were wrong for what we did. For hiding. The Benjy Fenwick I knew would never have hid away from reality like this. Do you plan on sending the girls to Hogwarts? If you do, you should open your eyes and ears once again. There are people sliding into places of power that could be very bad for them. And, in turn, for the rest of us. They may have to make some tough choices.”
He’d heard whispers to that affect but hadn’t given them any notice. People were always worried when the Headmaster changed hands, as it had every other year since he could remember. The world had lost a strong force when Albus Dumbledore died trying to destroy Lord Voldemort.
“They’re only children.” But he knew he didn’t really believe that they would be exempt from a war if the Dark Lord rose again. He just hadn’t thought it would be so early. James and Sirius hadn’t approached him until he was seventeen. That had seemed like a perfect age to take on evil but he was sure his parents would have thought differently.
“Weren’t we all? That doesn’t seem to matter. Especially if they elect Carrow as Headmaster.”
“They wouldn’t,” Benjy gasped. That name made his insides shudder and this time he couldn’t stop himself from rubbing the pebbly skin on his neck. “I hadn’t heard who they were talking about putting into that position.”
Dorcas turned back to the counter to pick up the order of food that Paul had set out. Without looking too closely at the coins he set out, Benjy paid and walked slowly back to the table. He knew he should have been angry that she was pushing at him about the girls, but he wasn’t. Instead, Benjy found himself strangely calm about the situation. It had something to do with Dorcas being the one doing the pushing. She’s always been able to convince him of things that no one could.
“Papa, did you know that Reggie is our age?” Parvati asked, her face bright with the delight of discovering someone new to be her friend. Her sister was not nearly as happy with these circumstances, taking her order of chips and eating them sullenly with only occasional glares up at the boys across the table. “We’ll be at school together.”
Alice smiled serenely at Benjy but there was something watchful in her gaze as if she knew the direction of the conversation he’d just had with Dorcas. “What a delight that the children will be there together. There will be quite a group of Order children.”
“We’re not Order children,” Padma commented.
Benjy put a heavy hand on her shoulder. “Yes, you are.” Now was not the time for the story but if Dorcas was telling the truth, they would need to be prepared. Here he’d been worried that they wouldn’t be polite enough to their elders when the real worry was that they wouldn’t be on the lookout for people who might mean them harm.
“What does that mean?”
He looked to Alice and then Dorcas for guidance but both women were waiting for him to answer as he saw fit. They were his responsibility, after all.
“Do you remember talking about how your parents died? And how I got my scars?” That had been an interesting conversation but he’d tried not to shy away from the more difficult topics with the twins. When they both nodded, he continued as well as he could with the emotion creeping through his chest. “I was in a group called the Order of the Phoenix and we fought evil men and women.”
“The ones who killed Father and Mother?”
“Yes. The very same. But we didn’t succeed quite a well as we would have liked. The evil is still with us. And now you, and the other children of the Order, will need to be prepared.”
Shain climbed onto the table in his excitement. His bright eyes were a nearly exact replica of his father’s, scary enough in a teenager but chilling in an adolescent. “They’ll be coming for us, my papa says. We need to be prepared.”
“I don’t think I want to go to school anymore,” Parvati whispered.
“Shain, don’t scare her,” Reggie scolded. He reached across the table and took Parvati’s hands in his own. “Don’t worry. Me and Harry will protect you. Won’t we, Mum?”
Alice smoothed his hair down with a hand that Benjy noticed shook slightly. He wasn’t alone in his fear for his children. “Yes, Regulus. You and Harry will keep them all safe while Alshain and Vega will keep Mummy and Daddy safe at home.” She looked up at Benjy, tears pooling in her eyes even though he could tell she was fighting to keep them back. “You should come for dinner some night, Benjy. There are things you should be aware of.”
“I told him about Carrow,” Dorcas whispered. “I’m sorry that I sprang it on you but it’s important that we’re ready this time. They’re organized this time around. It’s high time we were, too.”
A shiver ran from the tips of his ears all the way to the heels of his feet. He really had thought he could hide forever, keeping the girls with him so that they never had to deal with the things that he had to deal with as a sixteen year old. They had years still but he didn’t think it would matter. Whether he liked it or not, they would be up against evil. Even if he decided to keep them away from Hogwarts, it would find them. Their very being was a threat to the men who killed their parents. Better they were prepared.
It was more than obvious that he had a lot to learn before the girls left home. With a deep breath, he also realized that he needed to quit hiding from the world around him. He was a fighter, not a quitter. The only way he was going to protect Padma and Parvati was if he was on the front lines with them. Time to get back into training for the real world.
And time to get back to other things, as well. Having Dorcas enter his life after he thought he’d lost her was a gift that he shouldn’t throw away. Not again. He wasn’t exactly sure how to go about keeping her in his life until he realized the twins had given him the perfect opportunity.
He turned to Dorcas and, after taking a deep breath, said quickly, “If you don’t mind, I think I’d like to ask you myself if you’d like to go flying tonight. I’m rusty and you’re the best person to get me back into fighting shape.”
She blinked, taken by surprise at the turn the conversation had suddenly taken. “I would be honoured.”
“Would you?” he muttered under his breath so that only she could hear him. “I’ll just bet you’d love to see me crash my first time up.”
Dorcas laughed, clearing away any of his assumptions that she might be upset with him. “Yes. Yes, I would. It’s about time I get to be the better flyer.”
“Perfect!” Alice clapped her hands together, a single tear escaping from her eye. “The girls can come over to our house. I’m sure the boys would love to entertain them.”
Both sets of nearly identical dark eyes looked up at him, each with a mixture of fear and excitement as they waited for his reply. He hugged them both tight to his chest, wishing that he’d been able to take them slowly into the world of intrigue and evil instead of this whirlwind afternoon. They seemed so small but Alice and Dorcas were right. They weren’t too old to start fighting for the world they deserved; the world their parents hadn’t been able to give them. “Would you like that?”
Padma, ever the realist, looked up at him with sombre eyes. “I don’t think we have a choice, Papa. I think we need to friend these boys. Don’t you think that would be a good?”
“I think that would be very good. What do you think, Parvati?”
When his other daughter nodded into his shirt, refusing to look up, he took it as a good sign. She hadn’t, after all, had a meltdown that desolved into screaming and tears. He could tell that they were all going to have troubles with this new reality but both of the girls were showing quite a bit of maturity considering what they were being asked to do.
With a heart heavy with this new burden but lighter than it had been in years, Benjy smiled at first Alice and then Dorcas. He was relieved to see that his old friend was smiling back at him. There was a good possibility they could find an ending to that beginning they had so many years ago. He take whatever he could get and to hell with all the rest.