Patroclus takes in a deep breath, air filling his thin chest before he releases it in a streaming gust from between his pursed lips. He moves his head side to side trying to extinguish all eleven of the candles stabbed into the chalky white frosting of the cake. He pushes the air out of his lungs as forcefully as he can, determined to blow them all out. He watches as each flame bends backward before snuffing out. There is only one left, a bit apart from the others. The flame sways and flickers but Patroclus can feel his lungs emptying and the little finger of fire stubbornly lingers.
There are a couple of “aww’s” from some of the children gathered around him and nothing but a disappointed glower from his father. Because Patroclus can’t even manage to blow out the candles on his own birthday cake.
“No wish for you,” Clysonymus taunts, his pudgy face twisted into a mocking sneer.
Patroclus lowers his eyes and takes in another breath and blows out the final candle without looking. He is fairly sure Clysonymus came to his party with the sole wish of making him miserable.
Truth be told, Patroclus did not even want to have a birthday party. It had been his father’s insistence that this pitiful event was being held. Menoetius was a politician and a politician’s son was expected to host social events.
In this—and so many other ways—Patroclus is a grave disappointment.
Only a few of his classmates are in attendance. He suspects that this is only because their parents had insisted because they wished to garner favor with Menoetius. Patroclus does not have any friends. He has always felt different from his peers, he has always been apart from them. He doesn’t know what it is but they can all seem to sense it.
The crowd moves over to open presents at his father’s suggestion and Patroclus follows, feeling no excitement.
Patroclus unwraps the gifts doing his best to keep a smile upon his face and thank the givers. In this, he is at least not an embarrassment. Though, he does not feel that his father is even remotely impressed with him.
The children descend upon the open gifts upon Clysonymus’ suggestion. Patroclus does not even offer a token complaint. None of the others ask him to join them as they scamper off to play with his gifts or the activities that his father has provided for them.
Patroclus glances over to his father and sees the man’s lip curl in disgust before he turns and walks off to join the other adults.
Patroclus looks at the table where the gifts had been and takes the only one that remains. It is some dice game. He takes it behind the hedge of rose bushes his mother loves to sit by.
He wishes that his mother was allowed to be here with him. She never really speaks but she’s always kind to him and sometimes she sings to him. But if there is anyone who is more of a disappointment to Menoetius it is Patroclus’ mother. Patroclus does not understand what happened to her but he knows that whatever it was has left the woman somewhat…simple.
Patroclus does not mind. He likes sitting with her in this spot saying nothing with only the bees and roses to keep them company.
Now it is only him as his mother is confined upstairs in her room.
Patroclus is pleasantly surprised to find the game is one that he can play alone. It involves rolling the dice into the felt lined box trying to roll the appropriate combination of numbers so he can flip down each of the numbered wooden pegs.
He’s actually getting close to winning, he just needs a seven and a one, when a shadow is cast over the box. He glances up and sees Clysonymus looming over him, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Give me that game.” The boy commands. “I want to play it with Amita.”
Normally Patroclus would have just given in. He’s not entirely sure what gets into him. Maybe it’s the fact that this is his birthday party; maybe it’s the fact that he’s tired of Clysonymus constantly bullying him; maybe he’s fed up with this awful day; maybe he’s high on too much birthday cake. Whatever the case, Patroclus pulls the box closer to himself and shakes his head.
The larger boy frowns down at him, his hands go down to his sides and ball into fleshy balls. “I’m not asking.”
“I said, ‘no’.” Patroclus retorts. “It’s mine.”
Clysonymus’ face goes a splotchy red, “I gave it to you.”
“It’s my birthday.” Patroclus persists.
“No one cares! No one even wanted to come to your stupid birthday party because no one even likes you!” He reaches down and grabs for the box.
Patroclus grabs for it on reflex and the two of them become locked in a tug of war.
“Give it!” Clysonymus snarls.
They both pull until there is a sudden crackle as one edge of the box rips free and then Clysonymus stumbles back.
“You broke it!” He yells.
“You broke it!” Patroclus retorts, angrier than he can ever remember being. He feels weird, he feels warm all over, like something is roiling just underneath his skin. It feels like all of his hairs are standing up on end. He feels stronger.
Clysonymus’ fist comes up and he aims it at Patroclus’ face.
That warm feeling inside of him explodes forward and out of him. It’s strange. It sloshes forward like a wave, tilting him forward. He feels dizzy.
He hears a scream and sees Clysonymus fall backwards. Tears are streaming down his face and he is clutching his leg. Patroclus blinks at him in confusion.
“My leg! He broke my leg!” The boy is screaming as the adults all rush over and bend over him.
Patroclus starts to push to his feet. His father’s dark eyes find him and Patroclus feels fear cramp sickeningly in his gut.
~ o ~ o ~
Patroclus is grounded. He is confined to his room. He is not even allowed to go downstairs for dinner, all his meals are brought up to his bedroom. Clysonymus was taken to the hospital after their fight and his leg was indeed broken, bent at an odd angle. Menoetius had said that parts of the bone seemed to be missing altogether somehow and that some kind of implant would be needed. It was as if part of the bone had disappeared.
When questioned, Patroclus had insisted that he did not know what happened but the adults concluded that he must have kicked the other boy.
Clysonymus continues to insist Patroclus hit him with his mind.
There is talk of some kind of disciplinary action outside of a grounding. Patroclus has heard his father on the phone talking to military boarding schools. He knows that this is the perfect excuse for his father to be rid of him.
Patroclus has never been wanted.
He takes a book from his shelf and goes to sit at the bench below his window and is looking outside when he sees a man appear suddenly in the middle of the street. He rubs at his eyes with the knuckles of his hands because the man actually just appeared out of thin air. But even after a vigorous rub, the man is still there. He is tall and broad in chest and shoulders, he walks with a stately gait that for some reason seems odd to Patroclus. He walks right up to their front yard and Patroclus startles when the man glances up and gives him a polite nod.
He hears the doorbell ring and then the mysterious man is admitted inside of his home.
Patroclus runs to his door and grips the knob. He bites his bottom lip as he turns it slowly trying to open the door silently. It creeks some on the hinges and his teeth dig so hard into his lip that it draws a line of pain and he fears he may have drawn blood. He hears his father’s voice booming but it does not sound like it is directed at him. He slinks through the hall and down the first few steps to peer over the ledge and spy upon his father and stranger in their lounge.
Menoetius is sputtering in anger at the strange man. “How dare you come into my home spouting such nonsense! I should call the police and have you removed.”
“I assure you, sir,” the stranger replies calmly in a deep voice that rolls throughout the house like distant thunder. “I am quite serious. I am here on behalf of the Pelion Academy of Magic to enroll your son Patroclus and explain the world of wizarding to him and his family.”
Patroclus barely surpasses a gasp, unwilling to believe what he is hearing. This has to be some kind of prank. This man has to be mad.
“Preposterous!” Menoetius booms.
The stranger sighs, the sound is exasperated and seems to come up all the way from his feet. He pulls out a long length of wood that Patroclus can only describe as a wand. Menoetius pulls back as the big man sweeps the wand in a few flowing gestures. The air around him glimmers and suddenly the whole bottom half of the man elongates, transforming into the body and legs of a horse.
This time Patroclus is unable to suppress the squeak of surprise and terror that scurries up and out his throat. Thankfully, his father is in equal shock and does not hear as he takes a few quick steps backward.
“M—m—monster…” he gasps out.
“No,” the human-horse-hybrid replies slowly, as though speaking to someone who is particularly thick. “Centaur…but you may call me Chiron. Now that we have an understanding, shall we have a proper conversation?” His eyes glance up to Patroclus’ hiding place. “All of us,” he swishes and flicks with his wand and says: “Wingardium Leviosa.”
To Patroclus’ horror, he is lifted up into the air with a startled yelp. The centaur moves his wand like a conductor before an orchestra, guiding Patroclus down onto one of the sofas. Patroclus casts a horrified stare at his father who is no longer cowering but frowning up at the centaur fiercely.
~ o ~ o ~
Chiron magics some tea and little cucumber sandwiches over to them as he patiently explains the world of magic and the school that trains them. Patroclus is silent the whole time, shock numbing him and leaving his ears ringing. Suddenly things begin to make sense to him: Clysonymus’ leg and a dozen other strange events that dotted his life that he could never really explain; his perpetual sense of being different from his peers. It all finally makes sense.
“What will happen to Clysonymus?” Patroclus asks.
“The Accidental Magic Division has dispatched two agents to both deal with the loss of bone and alter the boy’s memory.” Chiron replies evenly.
“And he would need to leave?” Menoetius asks, clearly concerned with something wholly different. “He would go to live at this…school?”
Chiron, who has returned himself to his hulking human form sips politely at his tea before nodding.
“He would join this—” he sneers. “Wizarding community after—away from our world.”
Chiron’s eyes narrow as he places the teacup on its saucer but he nods. “If the boy so chooses,” Chiron turns his head to Patroclus, his expression questioning. “What do you say, Patroclus, would you like to come to Pelion?”
Patroclus looks at his father who’s frown is contemptuous as alway. He thinks of all the classmates ignore him and his lunches spent alone with no one to talk or play with; he thinks of the boarding schools his father has been looking into. He realizes this is his chance. This is his chance to go somewhere where he has the chance to truly belong. It may be a long shot but it’s a shot.
“Take him.” Menoetius dismisses with a flippant wave of his hand
“There is the matter of the boy’s supplies and—”
“I will pay it all.” Menoetius continues. “I just want him gone.”
Chiron closes his eyes and places his teacup onto its saucer with a soft clink. “I see…very well.” Once more his depthless brown eyes are upon Patroclus. “Pack a trunk of clothes and anything else you might require and meet me at the front door in an hour.”
Patroclus looks to his father who points his finger up to his bedroom. “Do as this creature says.”
Chiron snorts an affronted breath but otherwise, his composure remains intact as he lifts his teacup for another delicate sip.
The look in his father’s eyes is what finally gets Patroclus to scurry up from the couch and up the stairs. He rushes into his room and quickly begins tugging clothes out his drawers and closet and tossing them into a traveling trunk. The reality of it all still whirls around him. He is going away, he is going to learn magic! He cannot remember ever being so excited.
He’s tugging the trunk out of his room when it hits him. There is one person he will miss.
He drops his trunk and turns and runs back down the hallway. He pulls up short in front of his mother’s bedroom door. He takes a deep breath and pulls it open and steps inside. His mother is sitting in her rocking chair swaying forward and back softly. She is doing nothing but staring out the window, her eyes far away.
Patroclus step in front of her and takes one of her hands in his own. Her eyes drift to him for a moment before going back out the window.
“I’m going away for a while, Mother,” Patroclus says. “I imagine I won’t be back till next summer. I’m going to school…to learn…to learn something amazing.”
She does not answer. She almost never does. She begins to hum softly to herself in the same rhythm as her steady rocking. It is a familiar tune, if not a known one, she has hummed it as long as Patroclus can remember.
Patroclus sighs and presses a kiss to the back of her hand and she continues to hum to herself. He places her hand back on the arm of the rocking chair and turns to leave when he catches sight of her violin mounted on the wall.
He remembers that she used to play. He remembers how alive her eyes had been when she did. She has not touched the instrument since she changed. Before he knows what he’s doing Patroclus snatches the instrument from the wall. His mother does not even glance his way. He casts one last look at her before leaving and shutting the door behind him.
He opens his trunk and places the violin inside, nestling it among his clothes. He does not play but perhaps he can learn. All he knows is that he wants to take something with him, some piece of his mother, and he knows that she will not miss it.
When he gets to the top of the stairs Chiron uses the same spell he used to levitate Patroclus to float the trunk down to the front door.
Patroclus hurries down after it.
“Let’s go.” Chiron says, opening the door.
“Will not be seeing us off.” Chiron’s tone is steady but he places a hand on his shoulder.
Despite his fear of the centaur earlier, the gesture is comforting.
He knows that he should not be surprised.
They walk down the drive and out past the lawn. Chiron carries the trunk as though it is but a tiny parcel. He places his hand on his shoulder once again.
“Stay close.” Once more the wand is out and moving. “And it might be best if you were to shut your eyes.”
Patroclus casts one last look at his house from over his shoulder. There is no one there to see him go. The world lurches around him and it all blurs and twists about. His stomach feels as though it is being wrung out and then everything goes black. He feels as though his chest is being constricted and there is a violent pressure in his head.
He feels like he is going to be pulled inside out.