The Sugar Quill
Author: Elsha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Risk Worth Taking  Chapter: Default
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A Risk Worth Taking

The house was quiet.

It seemed like a minor miracle to Theo: he and Anne were alone, finally, with their daughter. Even if he was the only one of them still awake – and that, too, was surprising. Anne was simply worn out, and he had packed her off to bed a couple of hours ago, but little Berenice had only just shut her eyes. The members of Theo and Anne’s extended family more experienced in matters of child-raising had gleefully predicted many sleepless nights for them, but Theo thought it was rather unfair of his daughter to try and fulfil that prediction straight away.

Still, after countless trips pacing round the bedroom, she had finally shut her eyes. Theo eyed the bed longingly. It was unfair to wish that Anne was the one awake and pacing when she had gone through childbirth less than two days ago, but right now he wanted nothing more than to put Berenice to bed and curl up in his nice warm bed with his nice warm wife and sleep.

There was a whimper from his arms. Theo began to rock his daughter again in alarmed reflex.

The whimper grew louder. Theo took one last, wistful look at the bed and hurried out the door before it turned into a full-blown cry.

He made it half-way down the stairs before that happened. In the silence of the house, it was enough to make him wince. He’d been so close. Why had he and Anne thought children were a good idea, anyway? Your life wasn’t your own. And it had only taken him two days to come to this conclusion. Surely you were supposed to get more of a honeymoon period than that.

Evidently not. His daughter was now wailing again, without the slightest bit of evidence as to why. Theo selected a door at random, and found himself in the living room.

“Here we are. Scream all you want, Anne won’t hear you. I don’t suppose you want to be contrary and quiet down now? No? I didn’t think so.”

He resumed the steady pace around the room he’d been using upstairs.

“Shhh. Shhh. There’s nothing to be upset about, little one. You were fed not so long ago and you’ve been changed and it’s nearly the middle of the night. Surely it’s time to think about sleeping.”

To tell the truth, he was more than a little worried about this whole parenthood thing. There was so much to do. Of course, plenty of people wanted to offer you advice, but somehow that didn’t make it any easier.

He stopped the pacing, since it didn’t seem to help, in front of the piano. He eyed it for a moment, then shook his head. Even if playing calmed her down, he couldn’t play all night.

One of the photos on top had fallen over. He shifted Berenice into one arm to right it.

“Hmph. Probably your Aunt Terry did this, you know. She goes through rooms like a whirlwind. I dread the day when we leave her to babysit you. She’s nicknamed you already, you know that? Calling you Brenna all the time. I don’t see what’s wrong with your proper name.”

There was silence for a minute, but only to allow Bre – Berenice to draw breath.

“Maybe your Aunt Nic will look after you,”Theo continued helplessly, “she’s much more sensible. Not that you’re short on relatives, really. You’re very lucky, you know that.”

He looked at the photo he’d righted, really looked. All of the photos along the piano top were of family, of one sort or another – over there, his O’Neill cousins, an unnervingly lifeless Muggle shot of Anne’s siblings on the far left – but this one….this one was of his father. The figure in the frame brushed himself off, as if he’d been tipped over, and settled himself on the couch in the middle of the picture.

Berenice was reduced to sobs, now, so Theo brought her closer to the photos. Maybe the movement would distract her. She certainly distracted the photos.

“This is your family. You see, there are a lot of them. This one here….this is your grandfather. Eric. Eric Nott. I….I don’t suppose you’re ever going to see him, outside of this.”

It was a long-acknowledged fact. Theo had walked away from his father years ago, now. That last argument – or conversation? He wasn’t sure which – that last…confrontation, amidst the ruins of battle, was locked away in a corner of his mind that he did not care to visit very often. Living in the house of his ancestors, he’d come to terms with the ghosts of his family. But his father was not a ghost, and the remembrance of that was too painful.

Right now, it struck him like a physical blow, as he looked from the photograph of his father – peering down at the child in Theo’s arms – to his daughter. If his father was here in the flesh, he would….what? Theo wasn’t sure. And he didn’t want to speculate.

Brenna – no, Berenice – scowled up at him, face red with howling, and he found the words pouring out in explanation. “I never saw very much of my grandparents, either. They died when I was very little. But it never seemed fair. I wonder if you’ll think it’s fair? I can’t really explain why, not now. Maybe later. I don’t know how I’m going to.”

It wasn’t something you could explain, and he’d given up trying long ago. Everyone who’d ever asked wanted simple answers: good, bad, right, wrong, black, white, love, hate. The war had been so much about blood and family that the concept of choosing to leave your family seemed inconceivable to most people. The only ones who really did understand were those who’d done the same: his aunt Monique, her husband, even, to an extent, Anne. Would his daughter? Family would have a different meaning to her than it did to him. He’d grown up with so little of it, and she had so much. Odd, how you could envy a newborn baby. In a way, though, Theo did so. 

He wondered, in a distant way, whether he would have found the courage to do so, if family had meant more than his father. A father he’d barely seen for two years, before coming to the decision to flee.

Then again – one of the countless Weasley children had left his family, hadn’t he? So maybe it wasn’t about numbers. Maybe he just hadn’t been close enough to his father.

Bren - Berenice was now only giving the occasional sobbing hiccup. He smoothed her few strands of hair back gently. How to make sure she never found the distance to leave him and Anne? Never wanted to?

Abruptly, he turned and left the living room. His father’s picture seemed almost…accusing.

Brenna gurgled up at him, apparently having decided crying was getting her nowhere. Theo peered into the kitchen, across the hall. The last embers of the fire had burned down to almost nothing, leaving the large table in the middle shadowed.

“See that?” he told Brenna. “I bet you’ll be playing forts under there in no time. As long as you stay away from the fire. I burnt myself in that. Of course, it was only once. Maybe it’ll teach you a lesson, too. Then again, I bet we’d get even more howling than we’ve had tonight, and that’s probably not worth it.”

His father had picked him up, when he’d put his hand in the embers of the fire, and told him off, and got cold water to put it in, and bandaged it. It hadn’t been a serious burn – just enough to hurt. No. He’d loved his father then. When you were four, your father seemed to make up most of the world. There had been nothing wrong…not then. It was when children grew older, then, that you had to look out for them the most.

He got a toothless smile, as if to distract him from his musings. “Oh, yes, you little fiend, you’re probably plotting right now to wake us up at some ungodly hour of the morning. Good thing your mother’s getting some sleep right now.”

On cue, Brenna’s eyelids drifted down. Theo began to rock her gently.

“Sshshsshshsh. That’s right. Off to sleep.” He backed out of the kitchen into the hallway.

His daughter’s eyes were fully closed now. Theo lowered himself onto the bottom stair, not wanting to disturb her until she was well asleep, even if it meant sitting in the chill and looming dark of the hallway. The night didn’t frighten Theo. It was harmless. Darkness could come in daylight, in sun or storm, summer or winter. Mere night wasn’t worth being scared of.

He touched the rounded edge of the step, worn by time and feet. He remembered, as in a dream, trying to climb those steps when they had been almost as big as him; he remembered, barely, warm arms sweeping him up and his mother’s voice scolding him. And his father’s voice.

He’s just a child, Addie, he isn’t trying to scare you.”

“I know that, Eric. But don’t you run away on me like that, Theodore, do you hear me? In this house, we might never find you again! Oh, stop grinning, both of you, it’s not that funny.”

Maybe Brenna would do the same, and he and Anne would be chasing her around. It seemed likely.

Maybe, one day, Brenna would come to a point where she could hurt him the way…

That was what plagued him tonight; the absolute love that he’d felt the moment he’d seen his daughter. And the knowledge, somewhere, that apart from the mundane worries of parenting lurked the fear that it might not be enough. That once he had had parents who had stood not two feet from where he was now, who had loved him the way he loved Brenna, loved each other the way he loved Anne, and it hadn’t been enough. That one was dead, and the other dead to him.

The lurking fear that he could, inadvertently, force his child into the same choice. Right now he couldn’t see how, or why, but Eric Nott had not foreseen his son’s defection until the very moment Theo had faced him and spelt it out. Theo wanted to prevent anything like that, ever, and he didn’t know how.

Anne, with her family who had stuck by her through war and magic and everything else, wouldn’t feel that way. She would sympathise, oh, she’d do that, but she wouldn’t feel it in her gut, the simple knowledge that failure was possible. He’d never felt quite this helpless before. His own life, he could control, to some extent. But another’s? He couldn’t make Brenna want to not disagree. He couldn’t make her think the same way he did. The idea of it sent shivers down his spine. There was no way he could repeat his father’s mistake, not ever.

Without thinking about it very much, he rose and crossed the hallway to the old formal dining room that they very rarely entered. There was another family member to be consulted here.

He juggled Brenna for a second to light one of the candles on the sideboard. Fortunately, she didn’t stir.

The woman in the portrait at the far end of the room blinked in the light.

“What are you doing here so late, young Eric?”

“Theodore,” Theo reminded her automatically. Althea Nott’s portrait tended to confuse the names of the various generations of her descendants. He’d learned to ignore it.

She hmphed. “Thedore, Eric, Karl; it’s all the same to me. I’m only a memory.”

She said that more often than not, too, and it made Theo wonder. No other portrait he’d seen was quite so aware that it was merely paint and magic.

“I thought you’d like to see my daughter,” he said quietly. “Don’t wake, her, please, she’s only just got to sleep.”

“They do that. You won’t be sleeping much these next few months – or your poor wife won’t, more like. A girl, you say?”

“That’s right. Bre - Berenice.” Theo held her up for Althea’s disinterested examination.

“It looks healthy enough, I suppose.”

“Thanks so much,” he said dryly. “Althea…can I ask a question?”

“I’m only –“

“I know, I know. It’s why I ask, in a way. Althea…” he hesitated. “You always got on well with your son, didn’t you?”

“I suppose I did. We had our disagreements, but nothing like your trouble. Wars. Pointless things.”

“How do you make sure they won’t leave you?”

He said it quickly, before he could stop himself. Althea paused, bereft of her usual quick responses.

Theo glanced at Brenna. She was sound asleep, now, hand curled around the edge of the blanket. He lifted a finger and ran it down the side of her cheek. She was so soft, and small, and delicate. And beautiful, even if he was biased. How did children grow from this to adults? He knew it happened. Jan’s Evan had just started Hogwarts, and he’d been little more than a toddler when Theo had first met him. Right now, he just couldn’t work out how the change occurred.

“You can’t.”

Althea’s voice caught him by surprise, and he looked up again. “What?”

“You can’t stop them leaving you, Theodore. It’s what children do. You can’t stop them doing anything, really, anything that matters, not without crushing them.” A pause. “You take what you’re given.”

“Thank you.” Theo didn’t think he could stand Althea’s dark gaze for one moment longer. Portrait or no, she intimidated him sometimes.

He half-fled upstairs, and stopped on the landing to reassure himself that Brenna was still sound asleep.

You take what you’re given.

The other part of what had him restless tonight was guilt. Guilt at finally understanding precisely how much he must have hurt his father on the day of the battle. It almost made him want to run to him, even in Azkaban, and say No, Dad, I’m sorry, I understand now, I didn’t want to hurt you like that, I didn’t want to leave. Forgive me.

But he’d said that, hadn’t he? He’d told his father he loved him. He’d…said everything. If he went, now, if he told him about Brenna, his father wouldn’t want to know. After all, she was a half-blood. Less than human. No grandchild of Eric Nott’s.

His father might be in Azkaban, but Theo could hear still the words, mocking him. He shut them out.

You take what you’re given.

Those bridges were burnt. These ones were just being built. He couldn’t give up before he’d started, not for something like this.

He ascended the second flight slowly, cautiously, even his breathing barely audible, though the house was silent. Brenna stayed asleep all the way, right into the bedroom. She stirred as he laid her in the cradle, but only to release the edge of the blanket as he tucked it around her. He stopped a moment, looking down on her. The miracle hadn’t faded, even after two days, - the miracle of having a daughter who was something like him and something like Anne, and yet her own person. The miracle of family.

From the bed came an unidentifiable noise, which Theo interpreted as Anne’s semi-conscious version of “Where have you been and why are you waking me up now, just come to bed.”

“Just putting Bren – Bere – oh, drat. Just putting her to sleep,” he said in low tones. Another mumble, which probably translated to “Yes, all right, I’m going back to sleep now too.”

Theo bent over to kiss Brenna on the forehead. For a wonder, even that didn’t wake her.

“Good night, little one,” he whispered.

Just as he was getting into bed, Anne’s eyes flicked open. “Is she asleep?”

“Yes. Aren’t you?”

“Oh, definitely. G’night.”

“Good night, Anne,” Theo chuckled, draping an arm over her, and pulling the blanket up. It was chilly tonight. The only response was the steady breathing of the deeply asleep.

Perhaps family was a gamble. But, after all, you had to try.

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