Hugo glared at the wall of his room, frustration bubbling in his gut. His door was open just a crack, and the low, indistinct murmur of the telly floated up the stairs to rub salt in his wounds. His dad, Rose, and Victoire had all watched a movie after dinner, and Hugo had not been allowed to join them. He had been sent up to his room, because he said that he didn't like staying home all day with Victoire and that he thought she was mean. His dad had been furious and had demanded he apologise, but Hugo had only been telling the truth! When he'd refused to apologise, he'd been sent upstairs for the rest of the night.
The movie had ended what felt like hours ago now, though it sounded like his dad and Victoire had stayed downstairs to keep watching after they'd sent Rose up to bed. Rose had stopped by his room on her way up, her tone annoying and condescending as she told him that he needed to stop being such a brat to their cousin. That was easy for her to say. Victoire loved her. They were always braiding each other's hair or painting their nails or doing something else equally stupid.
Hugo ground his teeth and fought the urge to scream. He wished his mum wasn't away on a business trip. Of course, even if she was here, it probably wouldn't make a bit of difference. His parents always presented a united front and they always took Victoire's side. Why was he the only one who saw how awful she was? It was so unfair!
Everything had been fine until Victoire had come to live with them a few months ago.
"Isn't it exciting, sweetie?" his mum had said as she'd sorted through the boring stack of papers she always brought home from work. "Your cousin is coming to stay with us for a few months while she completes an Astronomy certification at the institute in town. She'll be gone every other evening, but while she's here, she's very generously offered to watch you and your sister while your father and I are at work." His mum had smiled at him and ruffled his hair affectionately. "Won't that be nice?"
Hugo hadn't thought it sounded particularly nice, but he'd been happy that he didn't have to go back to the Muggle school his parents had been sending him before. You couldn't even do magic there! Still, he wasn't completely sold on Victoire. His mum kept going on about Victoire was his cousin, and how nice it would be for her to know that him and Rose would be with family, but Victoire wasn't really his cousin. Cousins were supposed to be the same age as him, like Lily or Fred or Lucy. Victoire had never played Aurors and Dark Wizards with him, she'd never climbed the trees with him in the Burrow's backyard, or pretended to be a dragon, laying waste to everything in their path. She was an adult, and not even a cool one like Uncle Fred or Aunt Ginny.
He wasn't as over the moon about the prospect of this new babysitter as his parents were, but he hadn't expected things to go so immediately and terribly wrong.
She'd shown up the next afternoon, her bright blond hair practically glowing in the sun. Hugo had never seen hair like that on anybody else, and something about it gave him the shivers. It didn't look natural. Apparently he was the only one that felt that way, because Rose wouldn't shut up about how pretty Victoire was, with her long legs, slim waist, and flawless skin. She wore short skirts that showed off those legs, and blouses that seemed a lot lower than the ones Hugo's mum wore. Her chest was bigger than Hugo's mum's as well, and Hugo didn't like the way his dad always seemed to be staring at the way it jiggled when she laughed.
Worse, was the fact that Victoire seemed hellbent on ruining Hugo's summer. She didn't like loud noises, as it distracted from her studies, and she refused to let him leave the property and explore the country—for his own safety, she said. Rose loved her, of course, because she let Rose read as much as she liked and didn't force her to play outside like the school did. Plus, Victoire let Rose look through her fancy telescope, and they were always whispering about girly stuff. The one time Hugo touched Victoire's telescope, something shiny and golden had fallen off. It was an accident, honest, and he'd tried to fix it, but Victoire hadn't cared. He'd been forbidden from touching any of her things, and confined to his room for a week. It was so dumb! He wouldn't have even looked twice at her stupid telescope if he'd just been allowed to go and play in the woods down the lane.
She was the worst, but his parents wouldn't hear a word against her. Just like Rose, they seemed to love her. His mum was grateful for the help, and Victoire was always asking her for career advice, which made Hugo's mum giggle and flush—so embarrassing. Even worse was how Victoire was with his dad, always laughing at his jokes and touching his arm. His dad's chest would puff out, and his voice would go all funny and deep. Even his walk changed when she was around, making him look like one of the roosters that were always strutting around the farm down the road. Hugo didn't like it. It was like looking at a stranger, like some scary monster had taken over his dad's body.
His dad started coming home earlier than he used to, finding Victoire wherever she was and talking with her for hours. They'd go for walks around the property, sometimes with Rose smiling at Victoire's side, and Hugo's chest felt like there was something clawing at it from the inside. Hugo would stare at the window at them, at the flash of his dad's hand brushing against Victoire's lower back, the way she would lean close as they spoke, and the claws would dig at him until he wanted to scream. He wasn't sure why, but he knew it was wrong. Victoire was wrong.
When Victoire was around, it was like Hugo didn't even exist. She was stealing his family from him, refusing to let him have any fun, and it just wasn't fair!
His hands squeezed into fists at his sides as his stomach rumbled. He'd been sent upstairs without pudding, and he was starving. Hugo thought of Grandma Molly's chocolate cake, the one she'd brought over yesterday afternoon, huge and round and covered with a thick, fudgy frosting. His mouth watered. Maybe his dad and Victoire weren't even down there anymore. He could still hear the faint sounds of the television, but his dad fell asleep in front of the telly all the time. Hugo couldn't remember if tonight was one of Victoire's nights at the Astronomy Institute, but if it was, then she'd likely already left.
Hugo got out of bed and crept down the stairs, skipping the creaky third step and pausing at the bottom. He peaked around the corner into the living room. The room was lit with a ghostly white-blue glow from the telly, but it was completely empty. Hugo grinned in relief and hurried towards the kitchen, thoughts already filled with cake.
Soft light tumbled from the archway to the kitchen, but that didn't worry Hugo—his parents always kept a light or two on in the kitchen. What did worry Hugo was the faint sound of heavy breathing, a sort of panting noise, like when Hugo ran too fast across the backyard. He slowed, keeping to the shadows and peering around the edge of the wall into the faint light in the kitchen.
The first thing he noticed was that Victoire was sitting—no lying—down on the table, which wasn't allowed. He looked around for his dad, feeling a glimmer of anticipation. Finally, his dad would have to see that Victoire was bad. Maybe he'd even punish her.
It took him awhile to realise that his dad was actually sitting at the end of the table. Hugo couldn't tell at first because his dad was bent over, Victoire's skirt flipped over his head. Hugo wasn't sure what he was doing, but now that the initial hope of Victoire getting into trouble had passed, he registered that she was gasping and moaning. Her hands gripped the edge of the table in a white-knuckled grip, and her body kept spasming, as if in pain. She got louder, and Hugo didn't know if his daddy was hurting her or trying to help her, but he knew that something about the scene made his skin crawl and his stomach shrink.
Somehow he knew he shouldn't be there, shouldn't be watching whatever it was he was watching. He thought about turning back down the hall, but then Victoire shuddered and yelled. Hugo almost ran into the room to make sure she was all right, even though he didn't like her. But his dad was standing up, a scary grin stretching his face as he fiddled around with his belt and dragged her down the table towards him. Hugo winced as his ears registered her high-pitched giggle that turned into a squeaky moan as she wrapped her pale legs wrapped around his dad's waist. He pushed and she arched. Her blond hair spilled across the tabletop as they began to rock, the sturdy wooden legs groaning with their weight.
The sense of wrongness tingled through him. Hugo's fingers trembled and his stomach roiled as he watched. His daddy shouldn't be doing this with Victoire. Hugo thought of his mum, and he felt a flash of bitter confusion and helpless anger. He wanted to run and hide, pretend he'd never seen any of this. He wanted to turn back time to before Victoire had ever come to their house and ruined Hugo's life. Only one of those things was possible though, so he turned tail and dashed up the stairs, Victoire's breathy cries and his dad's grunts echoing in his ears.
He dove into bed and wrapped the covers tight around himself, burying his head beneath a pillow. Hugo squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force sleep, hoping to banish the images dancing behind his eyelids.
Maybe things would be better in the morning.