Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to someone else. Any character you do not recognize belongs to me. I do not make money from this story.
Laura looked up at the big house as she climbed out of her car. It didn't seem quite so daunting this time around, and she wondered if that was because she knew what to expect or if her mind was just blowing her first impression out of proportion.
Either way, this evening the house seemed beautiful, refined, and welcoming. She rang the doorbell and waited, shivering slightly in the cold. There was snow on the ground, and she was definitely not dressed to be out in the weather, winter coat notwithstanding.
Rosie opened the door with a welcoming smile and beckoned her in. "Coat?" she offered. "Shoes?"
"Thank you," Laura handed her coat to the woman and slipped her shoes off into the indicated corner. Having expected it this time, she'd taken care to wear thick, warm socks. Not that it was really necessary, she noted. The house was pleasantly warm, and smelled strongly of mulled cider.
She followed Rosie out to the sitting room where Naomi and Gabriel sat reading together in a window seat. Laura smiled warmly at the picturesque scene. The older girl cradled the little boy in her lap, and was coaching him softly, murmuring in his ear. Her little brother looked happy in her arms, and was reading the story in halting French. They were dressed in matching white turtlenecks and they had a dark green blanket coiled around them.
"Hello," Laura greeted, breaking into the scene with a small pang of regret.
They looked up at her, and Gabriel smiled in greeting. He'd grown, Laura noted with pleasure, and had reached a healthy weight for a boy his size, though he was still quite small for his age. His hair was slicked back and he was wearing a little pair of glasses perched on the end of his nose.
"Bonjour," he replied, waving, but making no move to leave the circle of his sister's arms. Naomi nodded slightly in acknowledgement but said nothing.
"Do you remember me, Gabriel?"
"You're Laura," he said seriously, regarding her with curious green eyes. "You're here to make sure I'm happy with Mama and Ami."
"Yes, I am," she smiled broadly, blue eyes crinkling up in the face of the child's guileless statement. "And are you happy?" she asked, lifting her eyebrows and encouraging him to tell the truth.
"Very much, thank you," he replied.
"What're you reading?" she asked, walking further into the room.
"La Belle et la Bête," he replied, excitedly. "J'adore le livre!"
"You're learning French?" she asked, smiling and holding up a forestalling hand. She didn't speak a word of the language, and was impressed that the boy was learning it. Of course, it had sounded as though French and English were spoken interchangeably in this household, so she probably shouldn't be too surprised.
"Mama and Ami and Rosie are teaching me," he said happily. His sister's arms tightened reflexively, then loosened.
"Laura, hello." Laura spun in surprise. She hadn't heard anyone come up behind her! Sarai gave her a knowing smile and walked over to join her children by the window. Like the children, she was dressed in white, though her sari was also patterned with gold. They looked striking together, Laura noted.
"Thank you so much for having me," Laura smiled, recovering quickly. "I've been looking forward to seeing Gabriel again."
Sarai smiled and stroked her son's head. "I don't blame you. Reuben's a good boy." The boy beamed at the praise, leaning into the affectionate touch. "Please, sit down. Dinner will be ready soon."
Laura sat on the couch, and was quickly joined by the others. She made small-talk easily, trying to figure out details of their lives from dropped hints. Everything she heard pointed toward happiness and domestic bliss. Gabriel – or Brie, as his sister was now calling him – had only good things to say about his family.
They had only been talking for fifteen minutes or so when they heard the front door open. Sarai stood gracefully as a very tall man entered the room. Very tall, Laura noted, and very handsome. He entered the room with an easy grace, and the children both hurried to greet him. He swept Gabriel up into his arms, resting the boy on his hip while he used his other arm to envelope Naomi in a hug. He stooped down to kiss the forehead of the much shorter white-haired woman, and they all spoke together in French.
Laura felt very out of place.
The feeling passed quickly, however, as the man let go of the children and followed Sarai further into the sitting room. Laura stood and smiled, hoping she didn't look too awkward. The man assessed her coldly, and suddenly she knew exactly where Naomi had learned to be so emotionless.
"This is Laura Cervantes," Sarai introduced with a cool smile. "She is Gabriel's… social worker." The man looked unimpressed. "Laura, this is my older brother Akshay."
"It's a pleasure," she smiled, sticking out her hand. He took it, but let go quickly. He promptly proceeded to ignore her in favor of speaking to the children in French.
The sudden change in dynamics surprised and intrigued Laura. Around this man, Naomi was downright open. Laura could see hero-worship in the girl's eyes, and she wasn't sure if that ought to worry her. Gabriel seemed to regard the man as something too good to be true, and seemed bent on maintaining physical contact. The man allowed it with good humor, despite his unwelcoming attitude toward Laura.
Apparently Akshay had no intention of staying, as he handed both children small boxes, said something to his sister in a language that Laura didn't recognize, then left. He didn't even nod in her general direction, she noted with faint bemusement.
The children opened their presents with far more decorum than most kids she'd encountered. On the revelation that the gifts were sweets, they both relinquished them to their mother without any words needing to be spoken, though Laura suspected that might have something to do with her presence.
Soon Rosie called them in to dinner, and Laura was given the rather unique experience of being waited on in a private home. The meal was very good, but then, she'd expected it to be. Dinner conversation was also quite easy, and curious questions were exchanged until it was time for Laura to leave.
It wasn't until later, when she was lying in bed and thinking over the evening, that she realized just how masterfully the conversation had been orchestrated. It had seemed so natural at the time, but now she realized that every time she asked a truly personal question, she had been expertly diverted. Not one of the mal Théas had outright refused to answer a question, but the more she thought about it, the more Laura realized she hadn't found out.
Sarai was a teacher, but Laura didn't know where she taught or what subject. Naomi was 12 and attended boarding school, but like Sarai, hadn't said where. When asked what her favorite subject in school was, she had skillfully turned the conversation toward her plan to become a doctor. Gabriel had been as masterful as the two women, Laura grimaced, though he used a different approach. One look from those big, sorrowful green eyes and any questions were quickly forgotten in an attempt to make him smile.
She'd been duped. Masterfully. And, she thought as she drifted off to sleep, she couldn't quite bring herself to care.
"(I can't understand your preoccupation with those Muggles, Rai. I think I've indulged you a bit too much. I let you go to a Muggle school and have mudblood friends. I let you buy Muggle property and live in a Muggle house. I even let you teach Muggle Studies! All of this and what is my thanks? You invite Muggles in for dinner!)"
Rai watched as her brother drummed his fingers on his desk. His cheek was ticking slightly, and his dark eyes smoldered. When he'd called her to his office, she'd been expecting some sort of rebuke for letting a Muggle so near the children – but she hadn't been expecting a litany of her so-called sins.
She arched an eyebrow.
Shay sighed and leaned back, scarred face twisting in a grimace. "(Look, Rai. You are my baby sister. I tolerate a lot from you and you know it. But I have my limits, and entertaining Muggles in your home is way outside them.)"
Rai remained silent for a moment, considering her reply. It was never prudent to simply tell the Head of the Family to stuff it – especially when the Lord was someone like Shay. Or worse, actually was General Akshay mal Théa. As he had said, he tolerated a lot of her oddities with a smile – up to and including the discovery of a young sphinx in the family castle that she had smuggled in from Egypt – and she didn't want to have that privilege taken away.
Oh, she wouldn't change, of course – but it was always better to have the Head of Family's blessing.
"(I want Reuben,)" she finally stated, regarding her brother with intelligent black eyes. "(And I want him unquestionably, so when they find out where he is…)" she trailed off, leaving the rest to her brother's imagination. He grimaced.
"(I still don't see how that Muggle fits into this.)"
"(She's a social worker, Shay. She had to come make sure Reuben is in a good situation now.)"
"(Why couldn't you just adopt the brat magically?)" he scowled. She smiled inwardly – the battle was won, and now she just needed to wipe out the survivors.
"(Because his guardians were Muggle, Shay, and the Old Man is a powerful and manipulative. If I don't cover the basis, then I leave him with some small right to the boy. And even without a right, we run the risk of him trying to kidnap Reuben if he ever finds out where he is. I want to be completely and indisputably right if I have to draw and quarter him for stealing my son.)" She said the last part fiercely, face twisting into a look very similar to the one her brother wore into battle.
Shay smiled involuntarily. If he understood anything unequivocally, it was politics, legality, and homicide. He nodded to his sister, whose face fell back into a more dignified expression.
"(Very well. But I don't want it to happen again.)"
Rai stood, bowed slightly and left. She waited until she was outside the manor to let her triumphant smile spread. Rai 26, Shay 3.
Brie smiled at Rosie as she placed a breakfast plate in front of him. He murmured a thank you, to which she ruffled his hair fondly. It was an action that would probably have been punished in another family – Rosie was only a servant, after all – but she was more like a friend then anything else. At least she was to Brie, who understood perfectly what it was like to be always working for other people.
He still couldn't quite believe that he had been rescued. Subconsciously the 6 year old was still half convinced that this was a dream, and he would wake up back in his cupboard after one of his old blackouts. That, more than anything, was what was allowing him to adjust so easily. If he was going to wake up back with the Big Man, he wanted to enjoy being loved and cherished by a real family.
A real family. Just like he'd always wanted.
Of course, he didn't think that even in his wildest dreams would he be able to dream up a family like the one he'd gotten. It was in these moments of clarity that he melted back down into a scared little boy, shivering and refusing to let anyone touch him. Because then he would realize that it wasn't a dream, but if it wasn't a dream than it was real but it couldn't be real because he was happy how could he be happy because the Big Man would beat him when he tried to ask questions and he deserved to be beaten because he was a bad little Freak and –
But it is a dream, he told himself firmly, shaking himself out of the downward spiral. So he should enjoy it while it lasted.
Because he would never be able to dream up a family like this again. Ever.
He remembered the first time he'd seen Mama Rai. She had seemed ten feet taller than anyone around her, a vengeful goddess wrapped in colorful cloth. She had been angry at the Big Man, and said things to make him look very very small. And then she had turned to him. She had smiled at him, and said "come to me, child." And he'd gone, because she was an angel, come to answer his prayers – and even as she said angry things to the Big Man, she held his hand gently and stood between him and his tormenter.
The Woman who lived with the Big Man, the one who sometimes fed him and sometimes didn't, used to talk about God when she spoke to him at all. She said that God would deliver his children from the hands of evil and He would smite the devil. She always said the Freak was a devil to be smited, and would hit him in the name of her God.
But Mama had come, his very own angel. His very own goddess. And she had smote the devil and carried him home in her arms, even though he was filthy and she didn't look as though even her feet ever touched dirt.
Later he wondered why an angel looked like she did, and when he'd asked, she'd laughed. She'd let his curious fingers explore her expressive golden face and finger the beautiful green and blue cloth that fell around her like ocean waves. (Not that Brie had ever seen the ocean, though Mama promised to take him when it was warmer. He'd seen pictures, though.)
She was the most beautiful woman that Brie had ever seen. Her eyebrows were white like her funny spiky hair, and she admitted that she dyed them with a potion. Between her eyebrows has a little red dot that Brie was afraid to touch. She called it a bindi, and told him it was painted on, but that it wouldn't smear if he touched it. Her chin was pointed, her nose straight, and she wore a little diamond on one side of her nose. He'd asked her what it was, and she told him it was a sign that she was married, though she wasn't married anymore. He'd asked her why half of her ear was missing, and she'd grinned at him conspiratorially. "A dragon bit it off," she'd told him with a little smile. He wasn't sure he believed her, and looked at her skeptically. She'd promised to tell him the story someday.
She had a pretty laugh, and he'd wanted to make her laugh more. She had a pretty smile, too. He told her she always looked surprised when she smiled, and that had made her smile – and her eyes had looked surprised. That had made him laugh, too. She had big black eyes, and he'd stared at them for a very long time. He'd never met someone with black eyes before. She stared right back, and told him she'd never met anyone with green eyes like his, either. He said he'd rather have black eyes. Like his new Mama. She had hugged him, and it was the very first hug he could ever remember, and he very nearly he cried. But he was 5, and a big boy, and if he cried the Big Man would find him.
He had met Ami three days after being put into the little hospital room. She had walked in while Mama was out talking to the doctors. He'd stared at her, and asked her if she was an angel too. She had said no, she wasn't, and had looked at him with cold brown eyes. Her face looked like a statue of one of the angels in The Woman's church, the angel of Death. He'd told her so, and she looked curious, so he told her about The Woman and her God. Ami had come in and sat on the bed and listened as if she really cared. And that made Brie feel very special, because Mama Rai was the only one who had ever acted like she cared what he said.
Ami had been the one to explain that she and her Mama didn't believe in the Christian God. She said they followed a religion called Hinduism, and she had told him beautiful stories of the gods and goddesses until he fell asleep. When he'd woken up the next day, Ami was sitting in a chair by his bed, reading. She'd noticed him looking, and she'd smiled at him, and it was like the statue of Death came alive. She stroked back his hair and talked with him some more, and after that, even though she didn't smile at him very often, her eyes were always happy to see him, and that was all that mattered.
He'd been there for a week or so when he met Uncle. Uncle was huge, but not huge like the Big Man. He hadn't seemed very happy with Brie at first, but later, after Mama took him home, Uncle had come to visit. He had knelt down next to Brie, put his big strong hands on Brie's tiny shoulders, and looked him straight in the eye. He'd said, "Gabriel, you are my sister's son. You are the son of my family, and I protect my own." It was the second time since the start of the dream that Brie almost cried.
Rosie was his first friend. She helped him and taught him about the house, even though, in the beginning, they couldn't speak the same language. She started teaching him French. When Mama Rai and Ami went off to school, he stayed with Rosie, who taught him everything he would need to know. He told her once, on a weekday, while Mama and Ami were gone, that when he grew up he wanted to marry her. She had laughed and patted him, and told him that she was sure he could find someone better than her. He told her that there was no one in the world better than her, and she kissed him on the forehead and said he was a very sweet little boy, and she'd wait for him to grow up if that's what he wanted.
Now it was Christmas break, and Mama and Ami were home for a whole three weeks. There was snow everywhere, and when Ami took him outside to play, it had been so cold he couldn't feel his nose. Mama had laughed and took out her stick, said a funny word, and tapped him on the nose. Suddenly he could feel his nose again, and he'd been amazed. She explained magic to him, and he had nodded in acceptance. After all, whatever his Mama said was true, because she never lied.
She had ruffled his hair, and said that no, she would never, ever lie to him. She also said that if he wanted, after Christmas was over she would bring him to live in the school where she worked. He had said yes, thank you, and that he'd like that very much. She told him that growing up, Ami had lived with her there, too, and that if he should ask her about it before they left.
Ami told him all about the mansion called the Salem Academy, and told him about all the secret passage ways and hiding spots. She also told him which teachers to watch out for, and which students would play nicely with him. She told him about her special friend, Audric, who spoke French like they did. He was in his fourth year, and if Brie told him that his sister Ami sent him, then Audric would play with him too.
And so Christmas crept up on them, catching the new family up in the holiday cheer. It was going to be Gabriel's first real Christmas, and his girls were determined to make it the best ever. He made presents for all of them, and Rosie took him shopping so that he could pick out special things. He really couldn't wait.
A/N: That last bit wasn't quite stream of conscious or anything, but it's definitely supposed to be from the point of view of a six year old.
Someone asked about Rosie's language thing: She only speaks French. The pigeon English that she uses for Laura's benefit is stuff that she's memorized for when her mistress has English company. It's a bit like how, when you visit France, you learn to ask where the bathroom is – only Rosie learned words like 'coat' and 'shoes' and 'this way, please, thank you'. Hope that makes more sense to you.