They were in a cramped sitting room, with regimentally striped wallpaper that had yellowed slightly with age. The corners had peeled back slightly, and the furniture was somewhat shabby with wear. The leather sofa and chairs had seen better days, and were rubbed thin on the corners, and the coal fire kicked out a minimal glow of amber heat.
A small boy sat in the corner, his back to the wall, totally engrossed in a library book. He looked as worn as the room. His hair flopped forwards as he bent over the pages, absorbing the content within.
“Oh, you were totally gorgeous,” Hope said.
“What do you mean ‘were’? I still am!”
Hope’s eyes flickered over the younger version of her friend and, to her horror, noticed bruises on his wrists and up his shins. They ranged from a dark purple to a yellowish green. His face was pale and dark smudges encircled his eyes belying a lack of sleep. Instinctively, Hope squeezed his hand harder, and was pleased to feel him respond.
“This is where you grew up?”
“No, it’s just a random room I imagined for the sake of it. You do ask some stupid questions sometimes! It’s not as fancy as your parents’ place, I know, but I was born in the room right above this one.”
The sound of angry voices interrupted them, and Matthew guided Hope towards the window. His younger self looked up, clearly startled by the noise and he screwed his dark eyes tightly shut and lifted his hands to his ears as if to block out the sounds. The voices rose. Hope could identify a man’s voice in a gruff bellowing roar, and a woman’s tones, much higher pitched and fearful.
“You had reporters, I got this,” Matthew said, sounding very matter-of-fact about it all.
Some glass shattered violently somewhere in another room and there was a savage bark of fury that made them both jump. The small boy whimpered, then simply scrunched his eyes more tightly closed and shuffled further backwards into the corner.
Hope looked at her Matthew in astonishment. After all this time, he’d never said a thing to any of them about his parents. She hadn’t known. She felt a warm surge of protective anger. He shouldn’t have had to live with this. If only he’d said something…
The door crashed open and a woman flew inside, half staggering and half falling onto an armchair. She glanced back over her shoulder, her eyes wide with fear. Matthew looked very like her; his hair had settled into the same chocolate shade. Hope had met her on several occasions, but could never remember her looking as gaunt as she did in this memory.
“I’m sorry,” the woman quavered. “I didn’t mean to…”
A torrent of cursing shook the room, and a thickset man strode inside, slamming the escape route behind him. Hope chewed on her lip, glancing anxiously at Matthew, wondering whether she should lift him out of this memory all together. He was watching intently, an expression of pure hatred stamped on his features.
“You never mean to do anything, do you, bitch?” he roared, his face turning purple in his fury. “You’re worthless. You’re a disgusting piece of…”
“Matt,” Hope tugged his hand, feeling more uncomfortable by the second. “Please…?”
“I’ve kept all this from you for far too long,” he said quietly, but Hope could feel the tension coiled inside his body. He was quivering with an anger of his own. “It’s always been too easy to pretend this never happened, but it did. I want you to know.”
The burly man, she couldn’t even begin to comprehend that this was Matthew’s father, had dragged his wife up to her feet, and she dangled half-standing, half in mid-air as if her knees were too limp to support her weight. Hope could see her soundless tears, and her insides wrung together, knowing that there was nothing she could do to help.
He struck her hard across the face, sending her flying once more. The sound cracked through the room, and the younger Matthew cried out. Hope saw his terrified expression and clung more tightly to the older Matthew’s hand.
“Please, John, no!” she begged, a dark red welt stinging viciously across her cheek. Her husband glared in the direction of their son, his fists balled. “Matthew, go to your room. Quickly! Everything’s all right…”
“Stop your twittering, woman!” he bellowed, but she was back on her feet, trying in vain to push him back. “He’s as useless as you are. Feeble in the head. Look at him… reading!” He spat the word with disgust. “It’s about time someone taught him to be a real man. Get on your feet, boy. Now!”
“Leave him alone. What has he done? Punish me.” She blanched and added, “And I didn’t put that bet on for you. I was busy scrubbing the scullery like I promised I would. I didn’t get time. I’ve got your original stake right here.” She reached into her pocket and produced the money, offering the jumble of coins and notes pitifully to him. “Leave our Matthew out of this, please?”
The younger Matthew silently stood, leaving his library book tucked neatly beneath the chair. His brown eyes never left his mother’s face, watching silently under brooding dark eyebrows.
“You did what?” his father roared, aghast at the new revelation. “Woman, that bloody horse came in! That’s hundreds of pounds you’ve cost me. You’re nothing but a whore, a …”
“Watch carefully,” the older Matthew whispered in Hope’s ear, distracting her from the foul accusations.
“I’ve a bloody good mind to kill you!” His father’s huge hand reached for the poker, and he swung it upwards in one swift stroke.
The young Matthew stood stock still, concentrating ferociously on the scene before him. Just as his father swept the heavy brass poker towards his cringing wife, the golden metal seemed to melt, and coiled instantly into the shape of a boa-constrictor. It looped back round and wrapped itself firmly round John Belford’s arm, hissing menacingly.
At the lack of physical contact, Matthew’s father glanced down at his hand, entirely bemused about what had gone wrong. His gaze was met by the unblinking eyes of a snake, and a forked tongue rattling at him. He screamed, or would have done if his throat had not suddenly turned desert-dry, and began to dance around the room frantically shaking his arm to try and dislodge this most terrifying creature from his person.
Hope saw the shocked expression on the little boy’s face and broke into a smile. “How very Slytherin of you,” she teased gently.
“I couldn’t believe what I’d been imagining had actually happened,” Matthew confessed. “He deserved it all right. It’s his biggest phobia. By the way, I always wondered, what is that snake actually saying?”
“Oh, so now you want me to translate,” Hope laughed.
After her O.W.L.s Hope had managed to persuade her dad to give her a crash course in what he laughingly referred to as “Parseltongue for tourists”. Being in Slytherin, she’d thought it had been the epitome of cool to return to school with such useful snakey phrases as “Can you pass the apple pie, please?” and “Would you be good enough to tell me what time the train to Madrid departs from Platform Two?”
After about three weeks of driving her fellow students insane with all the hissing, Matthew had cast a silencing charm on her, refusing to remove it until she’d written a promise not to do it again.
“After all,” he’d said, “you could be telling everyone how much you admire their backsides and no one in the castle would be any the wiser. Whilst I can appreciate the finer beauty of Elena Gladstone’s, I really don’t want to think about you chatting up Snape.”
The memory made her smile widen, and she concentrated on the snake. It was wrapping itself round John Belford’s writhing waist and slithering upwards towards his shoulders. She blotted out his cries for help. Parseltongue didn’t come naturally to her like it did to her dad, and she was loath to admit just how much hard work it had taken to learn any of it at all.
“Daddy!” the snake hissed. “Daddy! What’s wrong?”
With a howl of horror that broke through Hope’s thoughts, John Belford stampeded towards the door, trying his best to rip the snake from his flesh. He made it as far as the hallway, and the kitchen door slammed shut before him, preventing his escape.
For a first bit of magic, Hope was mightily impressed.
“How about a hug, Dad?” the snake hissed, curling his coils around the burly man’s torso and squeezing. “Don’t you love me?”
Hope sniggered. “The snake thinks your dad is his dad,” she explained. “He’s after a hug.”
Matthew roared with laughter so hard that tears sprang into his eyes. “Really? That’s fantastic! We heard that the snake followed him around for months afterwards. Explains a lot. Brilliant!”
As the mother and Matthew of memory stood watching, their mouths agape, the older Matthew and Hope moved to watch the howling man wrestle with the kitchen door. He flung the snake to the floor and fled out into the night, pursued by the hissing calls of, “Dad! Dad! Come back, Dad!”
Hope collapsed against Matthew giggling madly. “He so deserved that.”
“He did,” he said, sobering from his hysterical laughter. “That was pretty much the last we ever saw of him. He didn’t even come back to get his clothes.”
Hope glanced back into the living room, where a wide-eyed little boy was buried in his mother’s arms.
“I imagined it, and it happened,” he whispered, barely daring to believe it. “The snake was my fault.”
His mum tearfully cupped his face in her hands and kissed his forehead. “Sometimes dreams can come true,” she said softly. “I don’t know what caused it, sweetheart, but he’s gone now and he won’t dare show his face again after that. I love you.”
“He’s never going to hurt you again,” the little boy said staunchly. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t.”
“It’s just you and me now,” she said, wiping the grimy tears from her face. She hugged him closer. “Just you and me.”
Hope turned to look at Matthew to see him smiling sadly at the little scene.
“Time to go back,” he said, and reached for her. She took his hand gladly, and together they faded into the mist of the pensieve and back into the living room of the little cottage in Hogsmeade.
Hope sat back on her knees and stared at him. The transfiguration he had done had been very funny, but she hadn’t known how horrendous his home life had been. Before she knew what she was doing, she’d almost bowled him over by burying him in a huge hug.
“Umph!” he said, eloquently through a mouthful of her hair. “What’s this for?” His arms slid around her waist and he hugged her back.
“I never knew,” she whispered, feeling oddly close to tears. “Why did you never tell me?”
He held her more tightly and sighed. “I did yell at you once for complaining about your dad being over protective. I can remember telling you that you didn’t know how lucky you were having a dad who cares so much about you.”
“I remember,” she said wretchedly.
“Mostly I didn’t say anything because Hogwarts was a whole new life. It was good to leave those memories behind and start again. No one knows, apart from you.”
“I’ll never tell anyone,” she promised, hugging him again.
The door behind them clicked open, and they sprang apart.
“Were you kissing?” an inquisitive little voice demanded.
Hope groaned inwardly. Of all times for her little sister to wander downstairs, that had to be just about the worst. Hadn’t her mother said she had to stay in her room? Wasn’t there such a thing as privacy in this house?
Matthew winked at her and then turned to Holly. “Yeah,” he said with relish.
“Tongues and everything,” Hope picked up his teasing with equal glee as her sister went pale. “Really sloppy.”
“Ewww!” Holly wrinkled her nose. “That’s gross! I’ll never do anything like that with a boy!”
“Just you wait until you’re older!” her sister said mischievously.
“You could watch and learn,” Matthew chuckled, taking Hope in his arms with surprising ease. He leaned in as if to kiss her. Hope’s heart skipped a nervous beat. He wasn’t actually going to, was he?
There was a shriek of pure horror and a cry of “My eyes! I’m scarred!” and both Matthew and Hope burst out laughing.
Hope scrambled to her feet. “Okay, Squidge. What exactly were you after? Mum threatened to kill you if you bothered us tonight.”
Holly pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows in a way strangely reminiscent of their granny. “I think you need supervision!”
“And I think you need to go to bed,” Hope insisted, resisting the urge to throttle her sibling. “Come on, I’ll take you up, and let you have some of that chocolate cake that Mum’s been stashing behind the bags of flour.”
“I’ve eaten that already,” Holly replied chirpily. “Mum really should find a new hiding place for it. But I’ll go if you give me a glass of wine.”
“Not on your life!” Hope exclaimed. “You. Bed. Now!” She dropped her voice into a threatening hiss, “Or I’ll tell Matthew all about that time you wet your pants at the sight of a teeny tiny little pygmy puff.”
“Failing that, she can come with us to see your next memory,” Matthew called over, with a wicked grin. “I want to see your first kiss.”
“I’m off to bed,” said Holly promptly and vanished back into the hallway. “G’Night.”
Hope laughed. “I knew I liked you for a reason. I’ll just go and make sure she’s actually gone to bed. Do you want to snaffle the remnants of the cake for us, assuming she’s not pigged out on the lot?”
She disappeared upstairs herself, checking that everything was secure. Her parents’ door lay ajar, dark and uninviting; her own room was deserted as well. She knocked firmly on Holly’s door, and turned the handle to let herself in.
“I mean it, Holly,” she said, watching her little sister finish wriggling into her nightdress. “It’s bed time, and if I see you downstairs again I’ll hex you so fast you’ll be extracting yourself from your own navel for the next three weeks. Got it?”
“Yeah,” Holly said. “You want a quiet night with your boyfriend for some snogging. I’ve got it.”
“Matthew’s not my boyfriend,” Hope said, ruffling her sister’s hair and tucking her into her bed. “He’s my friend. You know that. We were only teasing you downstairs.”
“Right,” her sister retorted sceptically.
“Right,” Hope was firm. “Good night. Sleep well. And I don’t want to see you again before the morning.”
She collected the abandoned dinner plates, blew Holly’s candles out, and let herself out of her sister’s bedroom, closing the door behind her. She listened carefully, identifying a slight squeaking of springs indicating that Holly actually was settling down to sleep, and quietly crept back downstairs again.
Matthew was on his knees, stoking the fire into a roaring blaze, and the chocolate cake lay on a plate beside him. She watched him for a moment, oddly pleased that they’d had this time to share together. All of the stupid awkwardness of the past four months had gone, and she appreciated that it must have taken him a lot of guts to show her that memory of his dad.
She shivered suddenly, not knowing how Matthew could have gone through all that and still turned out to be such a wonderful friend.
“Knut for your thoughts,” he said quietly, not even bothering to turn round.
“You’d have made a great Auror,” she smirked, collapsing into an armchair directly opposite him.
“I’ll stick to patching them back together again,” he joked. “St Mungo’s is plenty dangerous enough for me, thanks very much! You know we had a loose werewolf in there last full moon?”
“I’ve told you before to shave before you go to work.”
“Har-de-har! More likely to be you with PMS.”
“I’d have caused more damage,” she laughed. “Anyway, were you serious about seeing that kiss, or was that just a suggestion to get rid of Holly?”
Matthew looked steadily at her, his dark brown eyes glowing softly in the firelight. “Deadly serious,” he said with a theatrical sweep of his arm. “Unless, of course, it was a traumatic experience. Show me the poor boy you first snogged. I’ve no idea who it is, but he deserves complete sympathy. Please let me know he survived the encounter.”
She grinned impishly, an idea tickling the back of her mind with delicious delight. “He may have been scarred for life. It’s difficult to tell these days.”
“You mean you still know him? I have to see this!”
The silvery memory was easy to extract from her head and it merged into the bowl with the other past moments that swam before them. She bit her lip and glanced sideways at Matthew.
“Promise you won’t hold this against me.”
“I’ll still respect you in the morning,” he laughed, and they merged at once into the light of Hope’s memory.