She was on her knees in front of him, adjusting his brand new robes. He stood very still, allowing her to concentrate, watching her eyes as they carefully scanned for any imperfections.
‘Perfect,’ she told him, finally satisfied with his appearance. Leaning forwards, she kissed his forehead. ‘What a handsome boy you are, Theodore. You look so very smart in your school uniform. We have only one more thing to do before we leave for King’s Cross Station; we must go and speak to your father.’
‘Won’t Pater be busy, Mama?’ asked Theodore anxiously. He’d been warned that this might happen, but he hadn’t quite believed it.
‘Your father is always busy. He is a very important man, and always has a great deal to do, but his instructions were very clear, Theodore. He wants to speak to you. This is a momentous day, so he has made a few moments to see you. Hogwarts! The past eleven years have flown by.’ Theodore’s mother stood, carefully adjusted her own robes, and held out her hand. ‘You must pay careful attention to what he has to tell you. Come along.’
‘Yes, Mama,’ said Theodore. As he took his mother’s hand, her long, slender fingers encircled and enclosed his hand, and squeezed it reassuringly.
Araminta Nott led her son down two flights of stairs, along several dark wood panelled corridors, up a flight of stairs, and down another corridor. They marched in sober silence through the labyrinthine passageways of Pennerley Hall, portraits watching them all the way. To Theodore’s surprise, instead of rudely asking him where he thought he was going—as they had on the only occasion he’d dared attempt to approach his father’s study—many of the portraits were muttering words of encouragement.
‘Takes me back, lad, I started there in 1693.’
When they reached the imposing eight-panelled door to the study, his mother knocked. To Theodore’s amazement, she didn’t wait, but simply opened the door and walked straight in. Theodore prepared himself for an angry outburst that didn’t come.
‘I have brought our son to see you, Thornton,’ said Araminta. She stopped abruptly fifteen feet away from the desk.
Thornton Nott looked up from his papers and turned to the house elf standing at his elbow. ‘Leave us, Skribell,’ he ordered. ‘We’ll finish this later.’
‘Yes Master,’ murmured Skribell softly. ‘Good morning, Mistress, good morning, young Master Theodore.’
‘Hello, Skribell,’ said Theodore, smiling shyly. The house elf beamed, bowed low, and vanished.
Thornton Nott looked at his wife and son, frowned, and stared pointedly at their joined hands. Araminta released Theodore’s hand, gently shaking herself free of his nervous grip. Theodore stared at his father. He knew better than to try to maintain his grip on his mother. Uncertain what he should do with his dangling hands, he clasped them behind his back.
‘You mollycoddle the boy, Araminta,’ said Thornton Nott severely. He stared down his nose at his now very nervous son. ‘Don’t just stand there. Come forward, Theodore, let me see you,’ he ordered.
With a worried look up at his mother, Theodore did as he was told. He stepped nervously towards the leather topped mahogany desk, behind which his father sat in a throne-like chair.
‘This is Nott business, Araminta,’ Thornton told his wife pointedly. She nodded and strode silently from the room.
For the first time in his eleven years of life, Theodore was alone with his father. His eyes flickered around the room, taking in bookshelves, cabinets, chests and wand boxes. With a scrape of wood on wood, Theodore’s father pushed back his chair and stood. To Theodore’s amazement, he walked around his desk and strode purposefully towards his son. Theodore braced himself for the encounter.
‘So, you’re off to Hogwarts for your first year!’ said Thornton Nott. ‘About time, too. It seems like you’ve been under my feet forever.’
‘Sorry, Pater,’ said Theodore.
‘Sorry!’ said his father severely. ‘Why are you sorry?
‘I don’t know, Pater, I thought…’
‘No, Theodore, you didn’t think at all. You spoke without thinking. Never do it again. Never speak without thinking, and never apologise, not even to me. If you make a mistake, put it right. You are a Nott, so you must act like one.’
Thornton Nott stared down at his son. Theodore lifted his head, set his jaw, and determinedly stared back.
‘You will meet all sorts at Hogwarts, Theodore. Some of them will believe that they are in some way superior to you. They are not, but it won’t hurt if you allow them to think otherwise. You will respect your teachers and you will respect your fellow pupils, provided that they respect you. If they do not, you will not react, but you must write and tell me; immediately! You will not mix with riffraff or, worse, Mudbloods.’ Thornton Nott spoke precisely and firmly, still staring into Theodore’s eyes. ‘You are about to leave Pennerley Hall, Theodore, and you will not be back until Christmas. Tell me who you are.’
This, Theodore realised was the moment, he knew exactly what he had to say. He knew the words by rote. ‘I am Theodore Cai, of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Nott, Pater. We are the progeny of the seneschal; we are the offspring of the foster brother. We hold the key to the treasures of the once and future king, of Arthur, friend of Merlin. We are noble, and we are ancient. But no one other than a male of the line of Nott can know this. Not spouse, nor lover, not friend, nor enemy. This is our secret, and no one must know it. To the world, I am Theodore Nott of Pennerley Hall.’
‘Good boy,’ said his father. ‘I see that you have remembered your lessons. Skribell has taught you well. At school, you will come under the influence of others. You have lessons to learn, but you must always remember who you are.’
‘Which house do you hope for?’ Thornton asked.
‘Ravenclaw, Pater, like you,’ said Theodore. He chose his words carefully, as this was a topic on which he had not been briefed by either Skribell or his mother. ‘Although I think that Mama’s house, Slytherin, would also be acceptable.’
‘My father, and his father before him, were in Slytherin House, Theodore,’ said Thornton. To Theodore’s surprise, his father sounded almost wistful. ‘Most Notts are placed in Slytherin. I was the aberration; I was the first Nott in Ravenclaw for almost two centuries. Your grandfather told me that it was because I was too clever by half. I now believe that he was correct.’
Theodore remained silent and deferential, realising that his father had fallen into an unusually contemplative mood.
‘You can rest assured that Slytherin certainly would not disappoint me. At least they keep out the riff-raff, unlike Ravenclaw and the others. A Slytherin’s blood is pure, Theodore, unlike that of the other houses.’
‘I will give you some advice, Theodore. It is the advice my father gave me when I first went to Hogwarts, over forty years ago. You must remember it, for you must tell your own son this when he reaches his eleventh year. You are a Nott, you are beholden to…’ Thornton Nott paused, his face momentarily failing to mask a look of regret. ‘…you are beholden to no one. Choose both your friends and your enemies wisely. It is best to strive to have neither, because friendship makes a fool of the wisest men and making enemies brings conflict, which can lead to calamity.’
‘Make neither friends, nor enemies,’ said Theodore slowly. ‘Pater, what do I do if someone wants to be my friend?’
‘It is likely that they will want no such thing, Theodore,’ Thornton Nott said. ‘It is likely that they will merely wish to ingratiate themselves, to get something for themselves.’
‘I understand,’ said Theodore, although he didn’t, not really. He had, however, been advised by everyone to simply agree with his father.
‘Remember this, Theodore; whatever nobility and breeding anyone else claims, you are a Nott, your blood is the purest of pure, and the House of Nott is strong.’ Thornton Nott hesitated. Theodore held his breath, realising that his father was about to reveal something really important. ‘I will admit that we are not well respected at the moment, but we remain strong.’
‘Not respected, Pater, why not?’ Theodore asked.
‘Because, my son, I made a mistake; I disregarded my father’s advice. It was a long time ago, before you were born. I placed my trust in a man; I became beholden to him. He was a man who promised me more wealth and more power. He offered unimaginable power, and I believed in him. I trusted him. Trust is a dangerous thing, Theodore, and although you would not want this man as an enemy, there was—I very soon discovered—little benefit in having him as a friend. Do you know who it is that I am talking about?’
Theodore nodded, and tried to swallow a lump the size of an orange which had appeared in his throat. ‘You are talking about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Pater,’ Theodore concentrated, spoke firmly, and managed to keep the stammer from his voice. The rumours, it seemed, were true, despite what his mother had assured him.
‘Well done, Theodore. The Dark Lord, that’s what we called him. I tell you this in confidence, Theodore. You must say nothing to anyone. Not even to your mother. I will be very angry if you tell anyone.’
‘What happened, Pater?’ Theodore asked.
‘You know the story. The Dark Lord rose, and then fell. He tried to destroy a baby, a child who was mere months younger than you, a boy named Harry Potter. Instead, somehow, the baby destroyed the man. Like all of my former “friends”, I have always denied my allegiance to the Dark Lord. However, the rumours persist. Rumours bring attention with them.’ Thornton Nott paused, and firmly shook his head. Theodore took this as an indication that attention was a bad thing.
‘As you grow, you will learn,’ Thornton Nott continued. ‘It will take years for me to rebuild the respect we deserve, perhaps I won’t achieve it. You are my son and heir; you are the future of the Notts. You must know our secrets, the light and the dark. When you are older I will tell you even the ones your mother does not know,’ Thornton fixed his son with a fear inducing stare. ‘The ones she can never know!’ Stepping back, he waved his hand in dismissal. ‘Now, leave me; I have much to do. Your mother awaits you outside. She will take you to by Floo to our apartment near St Pancras. I will not wish you luck, or good fortune, because a Nott makes his own luck and gathers his own fortune. Fare well, Theodore. Make me proud.’
‘Yes, Pater. Goodbye, Pater.’