Who: Robards family
Where: 6 Helga’s Hill Road
When: 7 November 2001, late
Tali had just gotten into bed when he heard the tapping at his window. He froze. What the hell was that? He sat up and glanced down at Watson. Watson looked up at the window quizzically but did not bark.
Should have got a Rottweiler, Tali thought.
His feet hit the floor and inched over to the window. The tapping continued. Tali made sure his wand was handy, took a deep breath and pulled open the curtain.
Idris’s face was pressed against the glass.
“Oh, fucking hell,” said Tali, who had totally not fallen back into bed from shock.
Idris’s stony expression remained unchanged. “Took you long enough,” came the muffled voice. “Need to talk to you. Open the window.” He rapped on it again, impatient.
Tali complied with a sigh. “At this hour? How do you even know where I live?”
“I latched onto the lingering whiff of insecurity and inferiority from outside Tattered and followed it until I found the source,” drawled Idris. “Come on. Mum wants us.”
“Oh. OK. Let me get dressed.” He put his wand down.
Idris rolled his eyes. “Don’t bother. It’s just family.” He leaned in through the window, took hold of Tali’s arm and Apparated them both away.
Now they were in the light of the kitchen Tali could see Idris was also in sleepwear. Mind you, the dark green dressing gown he was wearing looked better that some dress robes. Cary was already seated in boxers and a loose bathrobe. Tali leant against the wall and folded his arms. Gee, Idris could have at least waited for him to pull a shirt on. Only Cecilia looked like she hadn’t just risen from bed.
“Where’s Dad?” he asked.
“That’s the million-galleon question,” said Cary.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, maybe he went out without telling anyone where he was going and hasn’t decided to come back yet,” said Idris.
Tali frowned. “Why would he do that?”
“Apparently someone put Imperius on him successfully yesterday,” said Cecilia with a sigh this time. It was late and she had already rolled her eyes enough while recounting the same story to Cary and Idris.
“Really?” That did seem rather unbelievable to Tali, who always felt his father infallible. “Well, he probably didn’t like that,” he opined cautiously.
Idris snorted. “Understatement of the year.”
“But I don’t see how that leads him to—”
“He told Mum and Mum suggested maybe it was a sign he should retire,” Cary chimed in, trying to hide a small smirk. Cecilia shot Cary a dirty look. What, was it all her fault now?
“Oooh, he probably really didn’t like that.”
“I take my earlier comment back. That is the understatement of the year.”
“Boys…” said Cecilia in a warning tone. She put her hands up. “It was an offhand remark anyway, but I don’t see what’s so bad about it. He clearly doesn’t like being Head more than being a regular Auror and you’d think a man who survived two wars unscathed would want to quit before his luck ran out.”
“What would he do in retirement, though?” Idris remarked.
“Maybe he could spend some more time with his children.”
All three of his children laughed as one.
“We’re adults now,” said Idris. “Your job is done.”
“Excuse me. As long as we’re both still alive my job is not done,” said Cecilia archly. God, boys. And right now she felt she had four of them. At times it was a miracle she hadn’t drowned in testosterone and posturing.
“Any idea where he’s gone?”
“You want us to fetch him? I’m not going traipsing around Britain on a hunch.”
“Might not even be in Britain.”
“Exactly. Or he might be right outside, invisible, eavesdropping and snickering.”
Cecilia considered this. Plausible. “Cary, go check.”
“Can we rule any places out?”
Idris and Tali furrowed their brows. “Space,” said Tali. “I’m quite sure he’s not in space.”
“Well done, that only leaves the rest of Earth,” said Cecilia. “I know… he probably went wherever he is out of his own free will, but that doesn’t give me a great deal of comfort,” she muttered. Where was he? Probably doing something dumb like picking fights with giants again or trying to capture a Lethifold.
“I need a cigarette,” she declared, and rose from her seat. Idris followed her outside. Tali was about to do likewise, until he remembered outside was bloody cold.
“I’ll just… hang on, I’ll just grab something to wear, OK?” he said. He ran upstairs to Cary’s room. Where did he keep his… oh, on the bed and the floor mostly. Right. Tali picked up a woolly grey item and shook it out. It was a jumper. He slipped it on and went back down.
Idris scowled at Tali as he approached. “God, Tali, did you forget what you were going to do as soon as you were alone? What were you doing?”
“It’s been an age and you didn’t even get dressed.”
“What?” Tali looked down at his bare chest and got a fright. His bare chest?
Cary had just come down the side path. He grinned as he caught sight of Tali. “Nice jumper.”
“Well you’re either wearing my special invisible jumper or the cold bows before you.”
“Invisible jumper?” Tali panicked. He put a hand on his stomach, no, not his stomach, but the same wooley material he’d felt just minutes earlier. “It wasn’t invisible when I put it on!”
“Yeah, it only turns clear when the temperature drops,” explained Cary. “Picked it up in Iceland. My favourite souvenir. Stay warm while others admire the view and think you laugh in the face of snow. Lots of gawkers. Their eyes are transfixed,” he laughed.
Cecilia snorted. Posturing. She wasn’t sure if she was impressed with the chutzpah or not. Wonder where Cary got that from. Oh yes, the currently missing member of their family.
“Was your father skulking in the bushes, Cary?”
“Cool, now that we’ve ruled out Number 6, maybe we should go check the rest of the street,” drawled Idris. “This is pointless,” he added, blowing out a stream of smoke. “He could be anywhere. I say we go home and call his colleagues tomorrow if he hasn’t shown up by morning.”
A sudden roar of frustration filled the air. Three pairs of eyes swivelled in the direction of Cary, who came stomping out from behind the shed.
“HE TOOK MY MOTORBIKE.”
“Shush, Cary, you’ll wake the neighbours.”
“The motorbike that Mum pushed into the river, remember? I dredged it out. Been working on to restore it. Do you know how hard it is to keep something so big invisible every day?” Cary let out another cry of anger before throwing himself down and choosing to lie flat on his back in defeat. “I am utterly depressed,” he declared.
“You’re utterly depressed? My husband has probably fallen to his death by attempting to leap over a canyon on a motorcycle,” said Cecilia darkly. Yes, she remembered dumping the motorbike in the river. She also remembered why she did it, too; to prevent something like the mentioned scenario from happening. Death by a Muggle contraption. What an indignity! She’d be too embarrassed to invite any friends to the funeral.
Motorcycles were on Cecilia’s list of Most Hated Muggle Things, only second to the song ‘Cecilia’ by Simon & Garfunkel. Never mind death, if Gawain sang that one more time they were getting divorced.
“Why would he do something like that?” asked Tali.
“Someone Imperioed him yesterday, remember?” said Cecilia with a long eye roll. “I don’t see the shame in it, exactly. He can’t be expected to be invincible all the time. I mean, Moody was trapped in a box for a whole year and nobody thinks any worse of him. Sometimes these things just happen. But no, your father just can’t accept there are some things in the world that are beyond his control. Demonstrating that gravity is something that only affects other people puts the score back in his favour.”
“Don’t laugh. You all suffer the same problem. You all try to bend the universe to your will and when it eventually backfires you throw a tantrum, or go on an extended sulk, or fall to pieces.”
Idris was no longer smiling. He folded his arms. “Mum, I know that. Yeah, I’m always trying to get my way. But I don’t see why you’re making it sound like a bad thing.”
“Didn’t say getting your way was a bad thing,” said Cecilia wearily. She stubbed her cigarette out on the wall and immediately lit another. “But in some instances it’s simply impossible.”
Idris smirked. “Like what?”
“Like your little love affair with the Mayor’s daughter,” replied Cecilia. “Of course, I call it that, but it’s not got much to do with love, is it?”
Idris remained silent.
“I know you chase her because she lives in huge manor and will inherit a sizable sum of money. But how do you know the manor will be hers? Samuel’s not going to die any time soon. Think of the years, months, days, hours, minutes he has to change his mind,” said Cecilia. “And what if something happens to that manor? In this town I wouldn’t be surprised if we were suddenly hit with an earthquake and it disappeared down a giant sinkhole.”
Idris’s jaw was tight. “That’s nonsense. Besides, don’t you think that’s a little hypocritical for someone who—”
“I’m not sure you even like her,” said Cecilia, her gaze at Idris constant.
Idris put a hand to his temple. “What is your point?”
“I think you would be better off with someone else. Happier.”
“Better off?” Idris was incredulous. “There is no better off! Helga’s is a bloody weird town full of bloody weirdos.” He took deep breaths. His mother being at odds with him was not something he was accustomed to. “I’m going now,” he said in a low voice. “Unlike the rest of you I actually have someone waiting for me. Don’t talk to me about love. It will happen. Goodnight.” He shot all of them a frosty look and departed.
Cecilia broke the ensuing silence. “How charming. He thinks he’s going to fall in love through sheer force of will. See what I mean? Suffering the same problem. Also, stubborn.”
“Don’t laugh. When I said you all suffer, I meant you all.”
“Yes, you. He’s trying to will love into existence and you’re trying to will it out. You’ll both fail.”
“I’m trying to what…?”
“Your little potion,” replied Cecilia. “You found your feelings inconvenient so you thought you’d just make them go away, disappear, die.” She paused. “Of course, that’s quite impossible. But boy did you try. You probably got as closest as it’s possible to go.”
Tali was dumbfounded.
“I know it ended a couple of days ago. I read your paper — probably shouldn’t leave things lying around if you don’t want them read, by the way — and it’s not bad. I’ve certainly read worse. You might even have a shot at getting it published during the low season.”
“And I think you haven’t got any of it left. How was yesterday?” Cecilia asked innocently.
“Fine,” said Tali in a high-pitched tone. “Absolutely fine!” He certainly did not spend yesterday falling to pieces. Or Sunday decamping to the coast on an extended sulk. Astoria prevented that. She prevented him from something that he wasn’t going to do anyway. All perfectly sound.
Though he was going to go on an extended sulk right now if she didn’t stop questioning.
Spend near two galleons on something I have no intention of using, thought Tali. “Even better,” he forced through gritted teeth.
Cecilia let out a quiet chuckle. “Stubborn.” Tali looked so downtrodden that she softened her expression. She extinguished her latest cigarette and went over to put a hand on his cheek.
“Don’t feel bad, darling. You can’t bend everything to your will. Some forces are just beyond your control.” She gave him a smile. “If it helps, I think your contingency plan was very clever.”
Tali was wary again. “Contingency plan?”
“Yes, invite her to be your research partner. You get to spend time with her, she gets to see you play to your strengths, and if your first plan doesn’t work out at the end of all that posturing there’s a chance she might just fall into your arms anyway.”
Tali’s face burned. Nobody had fallen into anybody’s arms.
“I don’t posture,” he stated emphatically.
“Not macho posturing. More akin to whatever passes for posturing in Ravenclaw. All ‘look at me with my fearsome brain and well-endowed vocabulary’.” Cecilia gave a moment’s pause to regard him. “You’re pretty meek generally so you could stand to do more of it without being seen as obnoxious.”
Tali looked a little dazed. She patted his cheek again. “Oh, don’t be upset about it. It’s not your fault. You got it from your father.”
Of course, Tali was reeling from being informed he had several personality flaws he wasn’t aware of, but also being told they were the same flaws as his father… well, now they had something in common. It was oddly gratifying. The only previous thing he “got” from Gawain was a vague physical resemblance.
Cary clicked his fingers. “Hey, if you’re quite done, I’ve had a brainwave. I think I know where Dad has gone.”
Cecilia looked down. Why was Cary still on the ground? Oh, right, stubbornness. “Oh?”
“He took the motorcycle, right? So he’s probably gone to the Isle of Man.”
“Why? What’s there?”
“Snaefell Mountain Course, home to the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world.”
“Tight, twisting streets close to stone walls and buildings. Over 200 corners. Over 200 riders have died.”
Cecilia groaned. “Naturally.”
“He has stolen my idea. I was planning to tackle it myself,” said Cary with a sigh.
“Don’t you dare.”
“At a leisurely pace! I didn’t say I was going to race,” said Cary, fingers crossed below his back. “There’s some nice scenery.”
The back door swung open and Gawain poked his head out. “My, what are you all doing outside in the middle of the night? Tali, why aren’t you wearing anything? Cary, why are you on the floor?”
Cary leapt to his feet. “Where’s my motorbike?”
“Hidden and locked. If you can find it and unlock all the charms you can have it.”
Cecilia strode towards the door. She pushed Gawain hard in the chest. “YOU, GET INSIDE NOW.”
“Shall we make ourselves scarce?”
Cary nodded. “I’m going to find my motorbike. Wish me luck.” He jogged off.
“In the dark?” Tali yelled after his brother’s retreating back. A beam of light appeared and dimmed. Well, at least Cary had his wand, which was more than Tali could boast.
He yawned. A short walk home and then it was time for bed again. He started ambling down the street.