This story was written for The Houses Competition, Year 6, Round 7 and Challenges.
Class: Head of House
Prompt: 2. [First Line] They say I'm a traitor. Maybe I am. All I know is I did what I had to do.
Word Count: 2989 words (Google docs and wordcounterdotnet)
Challenge prompt: THC Challenge #2 - Family is the core that keeps us together, but can also rip us apart. Center a story about a family dynamic that is both good and bad.
Betas: VeeGrahams, KeepSmiling1
Notes: AU. I've played with Horace's birth date (using estimates provided by the Potter Wiki), and well as his birth heritage (since it's only confirmed he's either half or pureblood after the books; I believe it's plausible from the way he speaks to Harry about Hermione that he knows Muggleborns are capable of much more because of the head canon in this story, and that he is not surprised Muggleborns can do well but that he's met others). His father was part of the first Boer War to fit in with the age. I was hoping for another character originally that would fit the time frame, but I do believe Horace makes the most sense given his canon reluctance to do the right thing. The last name provided, Broadbent, is a nod to Jim Broadbent, who plays Slughorn in the movies.
If you can't tell already, I adore history; I hope you enjoy this story. Xx
What I had to do
They say I'm a traitor. Maybe I am. All I know is I did what I had to do.
"Sorry, professor? You think I'm being a traitor? I thought so."
I blink at the boy in front of me, having forgotten he was even there. I'd been too lost in the sepia photograph in my hand, staring at the smiling youth in a Muggle soldier's uniform, that I hadn't realised I'd spoken aloud.
I watch as he twists his hands in his lap. He's a Muggleborn like me and not bad at Potions. I'm not sure why he came to me, though; usually, it's Minerva who handles these things. I suppose she's probably too wrapped up in trying to control Severus; that man has given 'traitor' a whole new definition. At least the greasy git can admit what he is.
But no, I did what I had to do… Perhaps my story will help the lad?
"Mr Creevey, allow me to enlighten you with a tale." I look away from the boy's hopeful face, staring back at the photograph. "It's about a young boy who had to make a decision similar to the one you're facing now. It all began many, many years ago…"
"You know sighing won't work."
I look across the kitchen table at my mother, who is staring into her teacup. It's the fifth time in two minutes she's huffed.
"I just would've thought… Never mind..." She sighs again.
She scrapes back her chair and walks over to the cupboard. She picks up a tattered photograph; it's so worn that I'm surprised it doesn't fall apart under her touch. She then turns back to us, her eyes growing misty as she brushes a thumb over the picture.
"Your father looked so handsome in his uniform. So proud he was, serving our country," she says. "He was only nineteen, like you."
It takes all my strength not to roll my eyes. She's told the story about Father's involvement in the Boer War over and over again since the Great War began. She's probably been telling it since Father passed three years ago, but since I was away at Hogwarts, it would've been my brother who copped it.
Somehow, I don't think Simon would've minded her long renditions of his heroism.
"When I'm of age, I'm going to sign up. Johnny and Fred will, too; we've made a pact. We might even see if they'll let us go now. I look eighteen, don't I?" he says, putting down the newspaper. He's positioned it so that I can see the advertisement showing a Muggle soldier going off to war with a huge smile.
Mother ruffles his hair. "You're such a good boy, Simon. Your father would be proud," she says, giving me a meaningful look.
I don't think it's that she wants to send me off to my death. I think she just misses Father so much that she wants us to be him. After all, the Broadbents are supposed to be a family of heroes—not unemployed men who can't get a job in either the magical or Muggle world.
Mother had paid a visit to Mrs Anders earlier this morning. I have no doubt in my mind that the wretched woman filled Mother's head with stories about how wonderful her son was for joining the war effort.
It's not my fight, though. I don't belong in the Muggle world, not anymore; I'm certainly not going to die for their causes.
"You do know it's not as glorious as everyone claims it to be, right? Take the Smiths; Mrs Smith is going to have to raise the twins without a father now. Or what about Cedric O'Donoghue? Mrs O'Donoghue can deny it, but all the man does is sit there, shaking, and it's not because he's cold. He's seen the true horrors of war."
"Not this again," my brother mutters.
Mother massages her temple. "Yes, but at least they did their part for this kingdom."
"I'd much rather die in war than be a coward. Not going is like being a traitor to England—you're no better than the Hun," Simon says.
"They also probably saw their comrades being blown to little pieces," I continue, ignoring my brother's comparison of me to the enemy. "They don't put that sort of stuff in the paper, nor talk about how they make everyone wear the same, smelly, wet socks for months on end, or eat rats for dinner, or freeze to death in the trenches."
"That's simply not true, and you know it." Mother places her hands on her hips.
This time, I really do have to roll my eyes. "Do I? I've heard Redcaps hang around the battlefields, feeding on the carcasses of fallen soldiers. They like fresh meat, you know."
Simon doesn't seem perturbed; in fact, his eyes light up with excitement. I've told him about the creatures before. He'll probably want to sign up now more than ever just to see one in action.
"Don't be crass," Mother says, wrinkling her nose. She then rubs her arm. "What's a red hat again?"
"Redcap. A little gnome-like creature that carries around a club and bashes in its victims' skulls." Even I'm terrified of them, but I'm not about to admit that.
Mother's face pales, and she quickly focuses back on the photograph. "Yes, well, I suppose Conrad won't know if you boys are soldiers or not, anyway."
I watch as she places the photograph back on the cupboard, her eyes growing misty again. Something inside me churns, almost akin to guilt, but I squash it down. It really isn't my war to fight.
"I don't know if I have enough stamps for that. Maybe we could get—"
I glare at the passing truck; it's packed to the brim with over-excited, uniformed men. There's no reason for them to be showing off like that. Still, I suppose they should get to have their fun before they take themselves to their graves in France.
"Sorry, Mother? What was that?" I ask, turning back to her.
Her eyes are fixed longingly on the truck, as are my brother's. He's already tried twice now to sneak off to the nearby enlistment hall.
Mother suddenly turns away and grabs my arm, pulling me along the street.
She's not quick enough, for the people I'm assuming she's avoiding soon catch up. I smile at a very pretty lady dressed in a nurse's uniform as she saunters closer. Leaning up on her toes, she places a white feather in my pocket.
"And what are you doing for your country?"
My brother's face flushes. "It's a sign of cowardice," he whispers, taking a few steps away from us.
I take the feather out of my pocket and press it back into the woman's hand. As pretty as she is, she's not worth dying for.
"No thanks, love, but if I wanted a feather, I have an owl at home with plenty of them."
She blinks in confusion. Her companion, a slightly older woman who is definitely not worth dying for, grabs her elbow and ushers her away, glaring at me as she does.
"There's nothing wrong with being a conscientious objector!" I call after them.
Around me, Muggles stop and stare. Some gasp, pressing their hands to their mouths as though I'd just vowed to murder their king; others glower like they want to murder me. Some whisper furiously, including Mrs Anders and her friend, who both look equally offended and smug.
"That's not funny," Simon hisses, looking like he very much wants to punch me.
It's Mother's expression that wipes the smirk off my face, though. Her cheeks are red as she stares down at her shoes, probably wishing the cobblestones would swallow her.
She doesn't say much as we head home. There's no shouting, no admonishments for having embarrassed her, not even a sigh. There are just quiet 'yes's or 'no's in answer to mundane questions, like if she would like a cup of tea. I'd rather she yelled.
That familiar swell of guilt surges again, and it's much harder to push it down. When I walk through the door, I head straight to my bedroom; I have an application to fill out.
"The uniform suits you."
It's probably one of the nicest things Simon has said to me all year. I grimace at him as I sit in the stiff chair, my eyes trained on the camera. It's not usual in the Muggle world to smile in photographs—I was teased quite a bit for frowning in my Hogwarts graduation portrait—but I try to anyway. I want my mother to think I'm happy and brave. It's hard, though, when I know the truth; at least this picture won't move, revealing my true feelings.
When the photograph is finally taken and we head back to our house, I'm tempted to rip it up. Mother stops me, though, pulling me in for a tight embrace before I even cross the threshold.
"Oh, my baby boy!" Her tears soak my uniform, but I let her hold me as I gently rub her back.
Her hands shake as she takes the photograph and wanders into the kitchen; I slowly follow. I fiddle with the ties on my bag as she places it on the shelf next to Father's photograph, the guilt almost making it unbearable to function.
"He'd be so proud of you," she says.
I wish she wouldn't say that.
"Are you sure we can't come with you to the station?" Simon asks.
I know he's probably going to try and hop aboard the train, but it's not the only reason I shake my head. "No, I'll get there quicker if I Apparate. Besides, I want to make a good first impression with the general, and I can't do that if you're slobbering all over me." I try to joke, but Mother clutches me again.
"You take care now, and write every single day, you hear me? Drink plenty of water, and listen to what your commander says, and share the biscuits I send you with your new friends, okay?"
"Yes, Mother," I manage to say. "I'll send Bertie. They'll think he's like a messenger pigeon."
My owl will certainly be sending her letters; that promise, I can keep.
She lets me go, then hugs me, then lets me go, then hugs me again until I lose track of how many times we go through the motions. Simon comes to my rescue, stepping forward and extending his hand.
"Best of luck, Horace. Go run those Huns to the ground," he says as I clasp his hand. The pride in his voice is too much. "I won't be far behind you."
"Look after Mother, okay?" I say, a lump rising in my throat.
I heave my bag over my shoulder and head straight for the door before I lose my resolve. Mother hurries after me.
Just before I turn on the spot, ready to Apparate to King's Cross, I see her tear-stained face and, worse still, the sparkle of pride in her eyes.
"You're my hero," she calls as the darkness engulfs me.
The train station is conveniently packed to the brim with uniformed men and teary-eyed women waving handkerchiefs. It allows me to head straight through to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters unnoticed.
I stand out more on the other side of the barrier, even though the atmosphere is just as frantic. As parents rush to board their children, I'm conscious that a few people are staring. It's probably the fact that I'm still in my uniform.
"Filthy Muggles. They're always fighting amongst themselves."
"Is he the new professor? I hope he's not strict."
"He looks too young. Wasn't he at school a few years ago?"
The whispers follow me as I board the train, find an empty carriage, and set down my bag. I can't help but stare out the window, wishing that my mother and Simon could've waved me off like the other proud parents standing on the platform.
I turn away, blinking furiously, glad that the new headmaster, Headmaster Black, has bought my false reasonings for wanting to join his staff so suddenly. If he knew I'd betrayed my family, let alone the country, he'd have denied my application. Or maybe, because I'm now claiming to be related to an old Pureblood chum of mine, he wouldn't really care.
The candle on my desk is slowly burning towards its holder as I finally finish grading. I can't retire just yet, though, and pull a fresh piece of parchment towards me.
Nothing has changed per my last correspondence. We are heading to help at the Somme in the next few days, so expect another letter then.
I find it best to not use too many details; the more I put in, the more chance I have of getting it wrong. Adding more authenticity to the letter, I black out 'the Somme' and rub a little dirt across the paper. I then seal, open, and then re-seal the envelope. Bertie isn't too pleased to have to deliver the letter when he could be out hunting, but he takes off out the window after a little push.
I know Mother will write back soon, and I don't look forward to it. Pretending to be her hero is much harder than I'd ever thought it would be, but at least I'm alive, living my life how I want to.
I stare at the front door; it's been years since I'd last saw it. Behind it, my mother is probably going about her daily chores. It's about the time she usually starts sweeping the kitchen.
My body itches—or rather, the body belonging to the unsuspecting soldier whose hairs I'd swiped moments ago—as I push myself to knock. I know I could probably return once the stupid war ends—if the war ends—but my lies are finally catching up with me. Simon has gotten his wish and has been sent to the continent, and it's only a matter of time before he realises no one has heard of Horace Broadbent. With my luck, one of them will come searching for me in my world, and they'll confirm that I'm nothing but the coward they'd always thought I was.
No, this way is better; this way, they'll remember me how they want to.
I rap on the door, my old friend, Guilt, returning.
"Yes?" Mother asks, opening the door. Her smile falters as I take off my hat, and she clutches her heart. "What's happened?"
"Mrs Broadbent? I have news of your son, Horace. I'm afraid he's been killed in action. I'm—I'm very sorry…"
My words trail off as a lump blocks my throat. Mother's face pales. A second stretches into what feels like hours before my words truly sink in. She crumples to the ground, sobbing into her hands.
"My baby boy! Oh, my brave, beautiful boy!"
My heart clenches, and it takes all my willpower not to tell her it's me. How could I do this to her? Was my freedom really worth it?
I step back as someone comes hopping to the door. I almost don't recognise him beneath the unshaven jaw, bandaged eye, or crutches he uses to support his one leg, but in my heart, I know it's Simon.
He takes one look at Mother and all the strength he seems to have built up dissipates. He looks at me, gazing into my eyes. For a brief moment, I think that maybe, just maybe, he knows it's me in here. His eyes seem to scream 'traitor,' but it's a fleeting look, and he's soon back to comforting Mother.
"Thank you, Officer," Simon says, shutting the door.
I turn on my heel, my eyes stinging. It had to be done.
My eyes are blurry as I stare at the picture of me in my uniform. I should've let the auctioneers throw it out rather than save it—after all, with Simon soon succumbing to his injuries, Mother had had no one to pass property onto when she'd eventually passed—but I couldn't. It served as a reminder of what I'd done, not that I could forget the betrayal so clear in my brother's eyes…
"So, you mean you were a traitor?" Colin pipes up.
I'm surprised at his audacity—he's a wiry, timid little thing—but more so that he'd picked up on who the boy was. I'd changed my surname; both to help Horace Broadbent disappear forever, and to not stain my father's name further. Perhaps I have Traitor stamped across my forehead?
I sigh. "Yes, in that I betrayed the most important people to me. I did what I had to, though; Mother died thinking I was a war hero, and my brother could be proud of me."
Even saying it aloud, I'm not sure I believe it anymore. It's not the first time I've betrayed someone out of fear.
"But you weren't a hero."
"You have me there, Mr Creevey. I'm not a hero. My point is, you should do what you have to do. Whether you join this little rebellion Mr Longbottom has going against the Carrows or you keep your head down, do what you have to do."
Colin's fair brows knit together as he mulls over my words. Suddenly, he smiles and stands up.
"You know what, Professor? You're right. I'm not going to be a traitor," he says, heading towards the door. "I'm going to be a proper hero."
As he shuts the door, I look back at the photograph, staring into my youthful eyes so much like my brother's.
They, too, say I'm a traitor, and this time, I know I am. Did I really do what I had to do?