The Black Sheep
Chapter 1: Squib or Muggle?
The rain came down in sheets, covering the old mini-van and road effortlessly. The squeaking, creaking windshield wipers had barely cleared the window before the view was blocked again. Mr. Robert Gage was bent forward over the steering wheel, squinting as if it would help him to see the road better. In the passenger seat, his wife, Evelyn, was gripping the handle on the door.
"Honey…maybe we should pull over somewhere." Her chocolate brown eyes were wide and her long, straight black hair frazzled. She looked pale, though she normally had a very healthy, lightly tanned complexion.
"Nonsense, I've driven in worse than this!" Robert was the cover image of the word "nerd." He had freckles, thick glasses, and thin balding blond hair. His eyes, however, were bright and vibrant blue, reflecting all the life and spirit he had.
"That would have to be a hurricane, dad," said Ethan from the back seat, a tanned boy with dark hair like his mother's, though his black eyes were unlike his father's or mother's. He was nestled uncomfortably between his two little sisters—he tried to emphasize that they were younger by SIX YEARS when they insisted he sit in the middle on the way home.
"I'm from New Orleans, son, we grow up knowin' this stuff!" he exclaimed proudly, but Evelyn looked far from convinced. In fact, she looked even more terrified!
To Ethan's left Lethia, a pale skinned, pale haired little beauty looked up from her sketchbook, the brown eyes that matched her mother's trying to gaze through the window as rain drops raced along it. She could only make out the blurred colors and lights of passing cars and buildings.
Ethan took this chance to peer over at the sketchpad. She was doodling some of the things they had seen today. It was Lethia and Jessica's tenth birthday and the fraternal twins had decided on the zoo in London. Unfortunately, the storm had rolled in hours earlier than their father's ultimate country weather senses had predicted.
It wasn't long before Lethia noticed her brother's prying eyes. "E'tan!" she exclaimed, pressing the sketchbook to her chest and hugging it tightly. She had used the nickname she always used for him. When she was first learning to talk, she had been unable to say "Ethan" and instead called him "E'tan." She had just never corrected herself, not that he minded.
Ethan smiled. "What? I can't look?"
"You know you can only look when the piece is finished!" she scolded, holding up one finger as a reproving mother would.
"But that means that I'll never get to see your sketches, Lethy," Ethan fake pouted. He knew he would get to see them anyway.
Lethia sat up straight, sticking her nose up in the air to feign a haughty manner. "Then, brother, you will just have to live with it."
"Oh lord, stop it," Jessica groaned from Ethan's right. She had her face leaned against the cool glass of the window, her arms lying uselessly in her lap. "You two remind me of Full House and it's sickening." Jessica was the spitting image of Lethia, but her skin was much tanner. Jessica spent more time outside than her twin did.
"I think it's sweet, Jessie," Evelyn said, taking any chance to distract herself from her husband's driving. Still, she was looking pale with fright. Everyone's bottoms came off their seats as their dad drifted onto the side of the road and jerked back, hitting a pothole rather hard.
"Don't bother, mom. Jess is going through her Darlene stage," Ethan explained.
"Huh?" Jessica asked, emphasizing the caveman question with the size of her mouth, letting her bottom lip hang to the side.
Evelyn blinked and turned to look at Ethan. "Dar…lene…stage?"
"Oh! I know!" Robert exclaimed happily, clapping his hands against the top of the steering wheel. Each time his palms hit the leather their mother hopped with fear, the rest of the color draining from her face until her skin should have been transparent. "Roseanne!"
Lethia giggled and Jessica rolled her eyes, going back to staring listlessly out the window.
Evelyn sighed, visibly relaxing in her chair. This car ride seemed to be taking more out of her than giving birth to three children had. "This family watches too much of the tele."
"I agree." Jessica sat up straight, the cheek that had been pressed against the window pale with cold. "Most of us in this car are magic folk, why do we use so much muggle stuff?"
Ethan rolled his eyes. "Do you know who built the zoo? Muggles. You enjoyed that, didn't you?"
Jessica inhaled sharply, setting her shoulders. "That's different!"
"Oh please you two…don't start that now…" Evelyn begged, slumping further into her chair. This forty-five minute ride back to Knightsbridge was going to be the death of her. For the rest of the excruciating ride Ethan and Jess argued back and forth about this and that, whether Coke was better than Pepsi, and whether the rumored new Nintendo game system would be able to trump the classic Super Nintendo.
Evelyn was the first one out of the car when they pulled into the driveway of their simple, two-story suburban home, Robert following muttering about how his driving was safer than hers and about the hurricane of '85. Lethia and Jessica made a show of running and screaming through the rain all two yards to the steps leading up to the little porch. Ethan walked casually, letting himself get soaked. He needed a shower anyway. Katie, his girlfriend of almost two years, used to tell him she loved it when it rained because he finally was cleaned off. He didn't think he was that dirty…He was sixteen! It was a rite of passage.
He hung up his coat with the rest of the family's and plopped down on his usual spot on the couch, still in his wet clothes. He kicked on his Super Nintendo and slumped into his "I plan to play this game for hours" position, one elbow on the armrest and the rest of his body sprawled out until he was almost in the floor.
"Don't get too comfortable, Ethan, dinner will be done soon," Evelyn said as she pulled out her wand. With a few flicks, she set the appliances and utensils in the kitchen working to make homemade spaghetti and meatballs. The mail lying on the table also came to her hand. She looked at the cover of the Daily Prophet before passing it to an eagerly awaiting Lethia, then she began to sort through the assortment of muggle bills and owl delivered letters.
"You have your supplies list from Hogwarts, dear," she said, tossing the letter so that it landed on his lap. Ethan just grunted in response and left the letter lying in his lap.
Lethia dropped down on the couch next to him, clutching the Daily Prophet eagerly. The picture on the back was of a couple newly married with newts jumping from the bride's bun as she ran from the church. "E'tan, will you take me with you to Diagon Alley this year?"
Evelyn turned around in the archway connecting the living room and kitchen, glancing from Ethan to Robert who had stopped reading the muggle paper.
Ethan felt all eyes on him and swallowed, unsure of what to say. "I don't know Lethy…If you're not careful you can get lost or hurt really easily there." He spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully. His heartbeat had quickened and he would have felt more comfortable taking a potions exam at that moment.
Lethia's expression fell as she realized that her chances to go where slimming down drastically from her previous hopes. "But you can protect me!"
"Sweetie, Ethan should only be worried about getting the right supplies, and he'll be running into his friends…" Robert said in a tone that was placating, but not condescending.
"I'm ten years old now! I can handle myself!" Lethia's lower lip quivered. "Why is that I never get to do any of the wizarding stuff?"
Because you may be a Squib, Ethan thought sadly. She had never said it outright, but he was pretty sure that his mother would be ashamed to have a Squib in the family. However, she isn't ashamed of muggles (or she wouldn't have married the mugglest of them all, Robert the account) so she treats Lethia like a muggle. Keeping it fair between her and Jessica, who has shown her abilities already, had been hard. Jessica's magical potential first showed itself when she was not even walking yet, when she caused all the presents under the Christmas tree to unwrap themselves.
Before Ethan could think of something to say, Jessica came in from the kitchen and said, "It's because you don't have any magic, stupid!"
"Jessica!" Evelyn scolded but it was too late, the damage had been done. Lethia's eyes widened and immediately filled with tears. Without a word, she jumped up, ran upstairs to Ethan's room and locked herself in. She never went to her room because it was shared with Jessica.
Ethan sighed and turned off the SNES. He stood up and walked around the couch, flicking Jessica in the forehead as he walked by. "Good going, git." Before his mother could get onto him, he was up the stairs in four giant steps. He stood outside his own door and knocked on it. "Lethy, let me in."
"No!" came a weak voice and then a sniffle from within.
"It's my room, and you can't keep me locked out of it."
"Yes I can!"
Ethan sighed and crossed his arms, waiting for a few moments to see if she would let him in or not. When she didn't, he said, "How are we supposed to have our Full House-esque bonding moment if you don't let me in?"
He was met with silence for a few moments longer and then he heard the soft padding of her bare feet across the floor and the click of the lock being turned. He reached out and opened the door, peering in before entering. Lethia was sitting on his low, twin-sized bed, her legs pulled up to her chest. She was still wiggling back onto the bed from getting up.
Ethan walked in and sat next to her, glancing around his room as if he expected something to be different. It was a small room, but it served him well. His desk sat at the only window, piled up with books and video game guides alike. His bed was against the wall, next to the tall wardrobe where he kept the few outfits he owned; after all, he only wore jeans and T-shirts with Quidditch teams on them. His Hogwarts trunk, a beat up black box, sat in the corner, open to show it's guts consisting of old books, robes, a broom, and an assortment of other things. Above that hung his owl's cage, empty at the moment. His wand was always in his pocket even though he couldn't legally do magic outside of school. His room wasn't much, but he loved it. Especially his collection of Quidditch posters that covered the gray walls.
"Jess is right, you know," Lethia said quietly, sucking air through her nose to try to stifle her sniffling. "I don't have any magic…"
"So what?" Ethan said. It would be cruel to tell her she might develop it when more than likely she wouldn't. "You don't need magic. Look at dad; he's perfectly fine without it."
Lethia sighed and unfolded her knees, sitting cross-legged and hanging her head. "I know that, and it's not that. It's that I really, really want to have magic. It would be so cool. All the things I could do…" She looked up at Ethan. "I'm so jealous of you and Jess, and she rubs it in my face."
"Well, you'll probably be able to see all sorts of things that regular people can't see. So in a way, you do have a gift." He smiled at her, a true, happy smile that he reserved for her. "You can draw all those cool things and make lots of money on them!"
Lethia smiled a little at him. "That's true…"
"And you never know, there's a slight chance you could develop magic someday," Ethan said carefully, unsure if he should really be telling her, so he added, "but it's very slight."
"I'll be hoping," Lethia said and smiled a little more, though she looked sad. "But I won't count on it."
Ethan didn't know what to say, so he just pulled her to him in a giant bear hug. After awhile Lethia started wiggling, complaining about not being able to breathe.
"Look, Lethy. When Jess gets a letter and has to go to Diagon Ally, there will be no stopping mom and dad from you coming." Ethan patted her on the head. "And I'll get you some cool wizard trinkets and show you around myself."
"Deal." Lethia grinned.
Before anymore could be said or promised a scream came from downstairs. He could hear things falling over and someone running down the hallway of the first floor. Ethan and Lethia jumped up and ran out to the top of the stairs.
Robert's armchair was turned over and his coffee mug broken on the floor. Standing in the living room was Jessica, laughing so hard she was about to fall over. Evelyn had disappeared from the room, probably chasing down her husband. Sitting on the hearth on the fireplace was a little brownish boreal owl, covered from head to toe in soot from the chimney.
"Oh, Sandy!" Lethia cooed and ran down the stairs, immediately scooping the dirty owl up. "How many times do we have to tell you to come to the window?"
Ethan shook his head, finally coming down the stairs. "I think he knows that dad is terrified of birds so he does it to make his entrance more dramatic."
Sandy, which was just a nickname Lethia gave him, chirruped and ruffled his feathers, sending ash everywhere. He had a pink and purple scarf wrapped around his tiny head that hadn't been there when he left.
"Oh lord, what did Katie do to you, Santa?" Ethan asked, using his proper name, and reached out to him. He untied the letter from his leg and unrolled it. It was from Katie:
Have you gotten your letter yet? The list of books looks scary! We're in for a hard year. When are you going to Diagon Ally? I'll try to be there the same day so I can make sure you get the right stuff. Haha!
Oh, have you read today's Daily Prophet? Apparently, Harry Potter is in a lot of trouble with the Ministry. I wonder what happened. The paper is saying he's just seeking attention and they're saying horrible things about Dumbledore!
Oh, why don't you let Sandy wear the scarf I made him? He really likes it!
"E'tan, Sandy's wearing lipstick!"
"What!" Ethan looked closely at his happily chirping owl to see pink smudges on his beak. "Katie's trying to turn my owl gay!"
"Aw, I think he looks sweet." Lethia laughed and carried him into the kitchen to clean him off. Once he was happily wearing his now cleaned and dried scarf, he trotted up stairs by flying to the bottom step and then hopping his way up. Ethan shook his head at his silly bird and watched him go to his room.
"He's in my room now, Dad!" Ethan called down the hallway. After a few moments, a timid Robert peered around the corner, Evelyn at his elbow patting him on the shoulder.
"Really, Ethan, you need to train that bird of yours to come to your window," Evelyn said reprovingly.
"I tried, he prefers the chimney! I think he knows it freaks dad out."
"Freak me out?" Robert shook his head, putting on a brave face. "He doesn't freak me out!"
A hoot came from upstairs and Robert immediately turned pale and would have bolted but Evelyn held fast to him.
Ethan smiled nervously. "See?"
Evelyn just pursed her lips and glared at her son. He shrugged and, shoving his letter into his pocket, headed upstairs. After feeding and giving Santa water, he sat at his desk and cleared off enough room for him to write Katie back:
I'm going alone this year because Lethy got upset. I was thinking maybe the first week of August. I was hoping I could come stay with you in London for the rest of the summer? Mom won't mind, and she can convince my dad. Let me know.
Oh, and stop dressing up Santa like a girl! HE'S A BOY!