A/N: I have begun the process of editing this story. For new readers, this hopefully means that your experience with this story will be the best possible. For re-readers, this means a few new surprises, but there will be few changes to the fabric of the story.
Enjoy the story!
Disclaimer: The characters in this story that you do not recognize belong to me. Everything else belongs to JK Rowling. The only profit I earn from the making of this story is experience.
Laura looked up at the big house with a vague sense of unease. She'd been in this business for three years now, and this was the first time she'd been sent to a place that screamed 'refined wealth' as loudly as this one did. It wasn't ostentatious – in some ways she would feel a lot better if it were – no, it was tasteful and deceptively simple. A custom design, blending modern lines with gothic details.
A far cry from the trailer parks she usually visited.
She looked over her shoulder, stalling for time before she summoned enough courage to ring the doorbell. A perfectly kept lawn spread out in front of the house. Beyond it was a stretch of pine trees, shielding the house from the road. The long private drive curved into the trees, making the house seem completely isolated.
A shiver ran up Laura's spine, and she turned back to the door. Steeling her courage, she rang the doorbell and waited. Within the space of a few heart beats, the door opened to reveal a well-dressed young woman. Laura estimated that she was in her early twenties. She wore pressed slacks and a white blouse, and her brown hair was swept into an elegant bun. In the back of her mind, Laura felt a bit disappointed – for some reason she'd had the vague notion that some sort of fairy princess would open the door.
"Hello, I'm Laura Cervantes," she introduced, pasting on a bright smile as she stuck out her hand.
The woman smiled back and shook her hand, though she made no move to invite Laura in. "Can I help you?" The words were stilted and enunciated, with the quality of a memorized passage to them, bizarrely enough.
"Er, yes. I was sent here by Social Services…"
The brunette seemed to take a moment to think through the statement, then nodded and smiled, stepping back to allow Laura through the doorway. "Please come in."
Laura stepped in, and heard the door click shut behind her. She barely noticed as the brunette walked forward. The inside of the house was even more spectacular than the outside. The roof of the entrance hall was high and vaulted, easily 12 feet tall. Sunlight flooded the house through skylights and full length windows. Warm golden wood and clean white accents gave an air of hospitality and space.
"Your shoes, please." Laura turned to the smiling brunette, startled out of her inspection.
"Oh, er, right." She slipped out of her pumps and put them in the corner where the woman indicated. For the first time she noticed that the woman wore no shoes either. Laura was quickly becoming bemused by the situation. It was really a far cry from her usual cases, and a far cry from any situation she'd been in before.
The woman – Laura was beginning to suspect that she was a servant of some sort – led her into a sitting room and gestured for her to take a seat on one of the impressive white leather couches. Laura obliged, though she felt slightly awkward about doing so.
"Tea? Coffee?" Laura wondered if the woman was fluent in English.
"Tea would be lovely, thank you." As the woman bustled off, Laura turned her attention to inspecting the room and mentally reviewing the case file.
It was an odd case. Three months ago the woman who owned this house – Ms Sarai A. mal Théa – had adopted a little boy under strange circumstances. Ms mal Théa had come across a large man beating a boy, and had informed the man that if he touched the child again she would retaliate. She had then called the boy to her, and he had gone willingly. The man had – in front of witnesses – foresworn the child and left, returning to England before anyone had the chance to protest.
Over the next month, mal Théa had taken the boy into her home and filed for adoption. The courts had granted it with the stipulation that a Social Worker be allowed to inspect the living situation at any time. The woman had agreed readily and had taken the boy.
Someone was supposed to have checked up on the new family weeks ago, but cases had piled up that were deemed far more pressing than this one. Laura had been the first person with the time, so her superiors had handed her the file and sent her out the door.
She looked around the room again and began noting signs of imperfection with a slight sense of relief. The coffee table had a slight chip on one edge. There was a child's hand print on one of the windows that you could see when the sun hit just right. One of the pictures above the mantle was crooked.
Attention captured by the pictures, Laura stood and walked over to look at them more closely. One was obviously a family portrait, taken recently, as the boy was in the picture. Harry? She thought that was his name, but she also remembered something about a name change, so she wasn't certain. The file had been disgustingly short of information.
There were three people in the picture; a woman and two children. The woman must be Sarai mal Théa, Laura noted with interest. She was small, around the same size as the older child, with black eyes carefully lined in kohl. She had dark skin and spiky white hair. The woman was wearing a dark sari, which surprised Laura. She wouldn't have guessed that the woman was Indian from the file.
On the woman's left stood a beautiful young girl, 12 or 13, Laura guessed. She had long curling black hair and amber eyes. Her resemblance to Sarai left no doubt that this was the daughter, Naomi. She was neatly dressed in a pink blazer and appeared completely uninterested in the camera.
The third figure was the little boy Laura had been sent to check on. He stared out at the camera with the arresting green eyes. His hair was as black as the girl's and had been carefully slicked back. His skin was remarkably pale against the soft brown complexions of the women in the picture. A livid scar ran diagonally across his face from his forehead, down across the bridge of his nose, and disappearing under his jaw. There was a place on his forehead that looked like someone had splattered acid on it, and Laura felt her heart go out to him. He was dressed in a suit, and sat contentedly on the woman's lap, holding one of her hands. He looked around 4, but Laura knew from her files that he had recently turned 6.
After another moment she tore her gaze away in order to look at the other pictures. The most striking thing they had in common, Laura noted with interest, was that they were all annoyingly attractive. Weren't there any ugly people in this family? Maybe they just didn't display those family members on the mantel, she thought, vaguely amused by the preposterous idea.
The first portrait was of an Indian man – obviously related to Sarai – together with a petite blonde woman, an infant, a teenage boy, and a young girl. Like the older woman, the girl was obviously not a blood relative. Maybe she was a cousin or another adoptee? She was too young to be the boy's serious girlfriend, which was the only other reason Laura could think of for her to be present in the family portrait.
A second portrait was of a woman who appeared to be another relative of Sarai. She stood beside a distinguished looking gentleman with pale skin and short salt and pepper hair. They were both wearing what looked like academic robes, though Laura's recollection of her own college graduation was too vague to be sure. There were two young adults standing with them, a boy and a girl, the girl heavily pregnant. Laura was fairly confident that these two were boyfriend and girlfriend, and she noted with pleasure that the family seemed to accept the girlfriend into their family despite their son's apparent indiscretion. The older gentleman had a toddler perched on his knee, a little boy who Laura guessed was a surprise addition to the family.
There were more pictures hanging above the mantle, but a polite cough caught her attention, and she turned toward the newcomer with a little smile. The brunette smiled back at her, carrying in the tea service.
"I like that picture," came a quiet voice near the entryway. Laura looked toward the other door in surprise as the girl from the first picture stepped into the room and nodded slightly toward the family portrait. "It was taken two weeks ago for Gabriel's birthday."
"Ah," Laura said blankly. The girl looked over at her, amber eyes taking her in and dismissing her. The woman felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. "Um, I'm Laura Cervantes, I'm the case worker assigned-"
"To my brother. Yes. Rosie told me." The girl walked further into the room and settled gracefully into the white armchair. She accepted a cup of tea from the brunette – Rosie – without looking away from Laura. "Please sit," she said, voice cold. Laura complied, accepting a cup of tea with a murmured 'thank you.' The girl said something to the brunette in another language – French, Laura guessed – and the woman replied brightly, then left. The girl turned back to Laura.
"I am Naomi mal Théa. I apologize that my mother and Gabriel are not here at present, but they did not know you were coming." Was that a hint of disapproval? If it was, it was gone quickly, replaced by an emotionless chill that left Laura on edge. "Rosie is calling mother now and they should arrive soon. Until then, is there any part of this… inspection, that I can take care of?"
Laura forced herself to swallow her tea and set down the cup before she spilled. She could deal with raging drunks, trailer trash, and lying criminals – she could work with one creepy little girl.
"It's nice to meet you, Naomi," Laura began, forcing herself to meet the cold brown eyes. "Yes, in fact, there are some things that can be done while we're waiting." She opened her briefcase and pulled out a pen and the pertinent file. "Can you maybe show me around? Especially your… new brother's room?"
Laura blinked, staring at the girl, eyebrow raised. "Excuse me?"
"We have several simple rules in this house, and one is that private areas are just that. Private. Not even mother will enter Gabriel's room without his permission."
"Oh." Laura frowned thoughtfully, then nodded as she jotted it down in her notes. It was an interesting rule to have. "Well, can you tell me any other family rules?"
Naomi starred at her for a moment, then gave a tiny nod of approval. "We eat meals as a family. We are responsible for picking up after ourselves, and keeping our private areas clean. Rosie is not allowed to clean our rooms." The girl paused as Laura wrote that down. She definitely approved of the children needing to pick up after themselves.
"Lying is not tolerated in this house, nor is shirking duties. Both are punishable offenses." Laura frowned slightly and opened her mouth to ask what sort of punishment, but Naomi beat her to it. "My punishments usually include house arrest without privileges. So far we have not had to think up an alternative for Gabriel." A slight smile flickered on the girl's face, the first real sign of emotion Laura had seen. "He's a good boy," Naomi said fondly.
"Does your mother ever hit you or your brother?" Laura asked, matter of factly.
The girl didn't look scandalized. "No," she said.
"Physically punish you in any way?" Laura pressed. She didn't think it was the case, but she had to ask.
"The only crime worth a slap from Mother," the girl told her calmly, "is a slap to another family member. Were I to hit Gabriel, she would likely slap me."
Laura nodded and wrote that down. Life as this girl described it seemed oddly ideal. Every child's dream, really. A beautiful house, fair rules, plenty of money…
"Do you love your mother?"
"Yes." And despite the closed expression and all-around creepiness of the girl, Laura couldn't help but believe her.
"What about your father?" That was one point that was bugging Laura. Nowhere was there a mention of a Mr. mal Théa, and in the conversation with this girl she continually mentioned her mother, but nothing about her father. There was nothing in the paperwork about Sarai being a single mother.
"I have never met him," the girl said coolly, looking out the window. Laura shivered as she imagined the temperature lowering a few degrees.
"In the paperwork-"
"My uncle signed with my mother," Naomi broke in. "He helps support us financially, and is the only father figure I – or Gabriel – will ever need."
Laura wrote that down too.
Nearly forty five minutes after entering the mal Théa home, the object of her inquiry finally arrived. Laura was depressingly grateful. Naomi was one of the most polite children she'd ever met, but she was also extremely cold, and Laura couldn't be happier for a break in company.
The sound of the door opening in the entryway attracted both her attention and Naomi's. They rose to their feet as an elegant woman came into the sitting room, draped in a dark blue sari. Her eyes were even more remarkable in real life than they had been in the picture. She stared silently at Laura for a moment before she fully entered the room.
"Ms Cervantes?" The woman had a distinctly French lilt to her voice, a far cry from the Indian accent Laura had come to expect.
"Just Laura is fine," Laura smiled brightly and held out her hand. The tiny woman – she couldn't be more than 5'3" – shook it, running her eyes over Laura in much the same way her daughter had an hour earlier. She turned away to greet her daughter with a kiss on each cheek, and Laura was once again struck by the strong familial resemblance.
The mal Théas had a brief conversation in French, then Naomi nodded deeply to her mother and left without another word. Sarai turned back to Laura.
"Laura. My daughter says that you two talked for some time already. What more can I do for you?"
"Well, Ms mal Théa," Laura began.
"Sarai," the woman interrupted with a quirked eyebrow. "We are all friends here." The tone was somewhat arrogant, with a strong trace of underlying amusement. Laura has relieved to note that she wasn't as emotionless as her daughter seemed to be, though the casual arrogance was likely to become annoying very quickly.
"Sarai, then," Laura nodded. "I was hoping you could show me around? I can't stay much longer, but I'd like to talk to Gabriel and see the house."
Sarai nodded, then led Laura on a whirl-wind tour. The house either wasn't as big as she'd thought it was, or quite a bit had been left out of the tour.
The bedrooms upstairs were last.
"That is my room," Sarai nodded toward the first closed door. "Naomi's room," was the second. "This is Reuben's bedroom."
Laura blinked. Reuben? Was there another member of the family that no one had mentioned? But Sarai was knocking on the door. A soft "come in," led to the opening of the door.
The room was mid-sized, around the size of the bedroom Laura shared with her husband, actually. It was darker than the other rooms she'd been shown, a rich dark green substituted for white, and the wood was a bit darker. It reminded Laura of a cool forest cave.
There were several shelves lined with books and an open wooden chest revealed a small army of stuffed animals. Toy soldiers were carefully arranged on the floor between the little boy, Gabriel, and Naomi. They had apparently been continuing a game where they had left off, though they didn't appear at all surprised to see the two adults.
"Hello," Gabriel said softly, looking up at Laura with emotive green eyes. The scars on his face stood out boldly against the pale skin, and Laura felt her heart squeeze in sympathetic pain. Whatever had caused those must've been horrible.
"Hello," she smiled, kneeling down so head was on the same level as his. "I'm Laura."
"I'm Gabriel," he replied politely, though he didn't reach out to shake her offered hand. She withdrew it, not offended.
"How are you, Gabriel?"
"Very well, thank you."
"Do you think we could talk, just you and me?" The boy's eyes flicked to his mother, then to his sister. Slowly – almost reluctantly – he nodded. The other women tactfully withdrew, though Sarai pointedly left the door open. "So," Laura smiled as she settled down.
The boy remained silent, watching her warily. Without his new family in the room, he seemed to shrink down – and he hadn't been a large boy to begin with.
"So, how do you like it here?"
"It's wonderful," Gabriel said softly, black hair falling into his eyes.
So much for getting him to start talking on his own. "Gabriel. That's a very pretty name."
"Thank you," the comment won a smile out of the little boy. "Mama let me choose it myself. She told me that it's the name of one of the angels of the Christian God, and that it means strong man of god."
"Your mother called you Reuben, out in the hall. Why is that, Gabriel?"
If her previous comment had made the boy smile, this comment made him glow. "It's part of my middle name," he told her with a sweet smile. "Mama chose it. It means 'behold, a son.'"
It was a good choice, Laura noted. If there was one thing she knew about kids who had suffered abuse, it was that they thrived on loving attention and affirmation. With a name like that, every time his new 'mama' called him Reuben, she affirmed that he was her son. Laura approved.
"Part of your middle name?" she inquired.
"My name is Gabriel Reuben-Amrit mal Théa," he said, his chin lifting in an imitation of the arrogance displayed by his mother and sister. Laura grinned.
"What does Amrit mean?" She was tickled that this little boy knew what his names meant. It showed a lot of thought went into this, and that he had been part of it. After all, hadn't he just told her that he had chosen the name Gabriel?
"It means immortal," he said with a smile. "Ami named me that. She said I needed a proper Indian name, too."
Ami being his sister? For some reason Laura had trouble seeing the cold girl she had spoken with allowing nicknames. But then, she noted, when she'd entered the room the girl had been playing soldiers with her new little brother, so there was probably a lot that she wasn't seeing.
"What do you think of your new sister?" Laura asked curiously. It was apparently a good topic of conversation, because the boy grinned widely and bounced slightly.
"She's awesome! She's really nice, and kind, and helpful, and absolutely perfect! She plays with me all the time." Laura tried but failed to transpose this description onto the girl that she had just met. Gabriel was still talking. "I always used to want a sister just like her, and now I have one!"
"Not a brother?" Most little boys would rather have brothers. Gabriel's face closed and he shook his head sharply. From one breath to the next he went from an excited six year old to the strange, ethereal child she had seen in the picture, old beyond his years.
Time for a change in topic.
"What do you think about your new mama?" She asked instead.
The rest of the interview was subdued. The smiles she won were fleeting, and none of them reached his eyes. He spoke fondly of his new mother, and seemed just as enamored with her as he had been of Naomi – he was merely far more subdued in expressing it.
As Laura said her goodbyes and promised to visit again in a few months – this time not a surprise visit – she wondered again about the odd dynamics of the little family. In her car, pulling away from the dream house, she began reviewing everything under a microscope.
The daughter was closed, cold, and gave Laura the heebie jeebies. And yet, when Gabriel talked about her, it was like he was talking about someone entirely different. Why was that? And, more importantly, what had made Naomi into the girl that had spoken to Laura over tea? Would that same emotional suicide take place in Gabriel, given enough time?
Or had it already happened? Laura thought over the interview with the little boy. No, she decided. His oddness was easily attributed to being a recent victim of abuse. Three months was hardly enough to cure him and return him to a healthy state of mind for a little boy his age.
What about the mother? Sarai had impressed Laura. Back on the interstate, Laura decided not to worry. There was nothing inherently bad about the situation, and everything pointed toward it being a perfectly healthy – even ideal – environment to raise children. If she decided things weren't working out the next time she visited, then she would do something about it. Until then, she had more pressing cases to worry about.
A/N: Laura Cervantes is a Muggle with no knowledge of the Wizarding World.
Gabriel is Harry Potter. The lightning bolt scar is marred by the acid burn and the larger scar across his face. It's there, but even under close examination a person would be hard pressed to find it without knowing what they're looking for.
Sarai and her family live in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, though that isn't specifically where she "obtained" Harry. More on those circumstances later.
On the pictures: The first family portrait was Sarai, Naomi, and Harry. The second was Sarai's older brother Akshay and his family; his wife Genevieve, their infant daughter Fayette, their son Didier, and his wife Amarante. The last picture is of Sarai's older sister Miriam Defayne, her husband Claudius, and their son Renaud, his wife Aurelie, their son Levi, and their unborn son Rance. If you don't get it now, that's okay – they will get an actual introduction later in the story.