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Tea & Poison by apondinabluebox

Format: Short story
Chapters: 1
Word Count: 5,453
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild violence, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark, Mystery
Characters: OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, OC/OC

First Published: 05/05/2014
Last Chapter: 05/07/2014
Last Updated: 05/07/2014

Chained to her home by a society she despises, a mother mourns her child. On the front steps of Hogwarts, a man faces a destiny he does not want to live. And in the moonlight's shadow, a young girl discovers that rushing to conclusions can have terrible consequences.

FIRST PLACE: Lostmyheart’s Horror Story challenge!
HONOURABLE MENTION: patronus_charm’s Second Person POV challenge!
Written for red_headed_juliet’s Peter and Wendy Quote challenge!

Chapter 1: Ella
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Elladora, Elladora, a voice is singing, and you freeze in mid-motion, your hand clutching onto the banister. You remember that that woman who calls herself your mother used to sing your name many years ago, when she was teaching you, Phineas and Isla to dance. It was the perfect rhythm for most tunes when there were no musicians available to create background music, as well as a constant reminder of your significance. However, she has not sung your name for years now, nor does the voice sound like hers. You can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman, and though the tone in which your name is called out is sweet, there is a bitter edge to it — like the moistness of lemon cake contrasting with the sour undertone of citrus — and you don’t know who would address you in such an improper manner.

“Mother?” you call out, just in case it is her. Although the woman refuses to communicate these days, she may have had a change of heart. In response, you hear the voice again, mocking you with every syllable. Elladora, Elladora, repeating your name over and over again. You doubt that your siblings would behave in such an inappropriate fashion, but you call out their names regardless. “Phineas? Isla? Are you there?”

“Elladora?” For a moment you blink, afraid that you are hallucinating the deep voice coming from downstairs, but within moments Phineas approaches the bottom of the staircase, looking up at you with a frown. “Is something the matter?”

You open your mouth to explain about the strange voice that you can hear, but before you’ve uttered the words, you see one of the house-elves scurry past Phineas and open the front door with a bow, permitting Mother and Isla into your family home. You can’t help being surprised; there are only four members of your family, after your father passed away several months before Isla’s birth, so who can possibly be singing your name?

As if thinking of the voice has summoned it, you hear it again: Elladora, Elladora, except this time it does not sound far away but as if the singer is approaching you. You tense, hesitating to turn around, your knuckles white from gripping onto the banister so tightly it hurts your hand. Who could be so cruel as to play such a nasty joke upon you? All it would take for you to discover that is if you turned around to witness the speaker, and yet you continue to stare downstairs. What if it is someone you know? Or worse, what if there is no-one there?

When you feel the sensation of a hand touching your shoulder, your heart beats more rapidly than ever before. Phineas is watching you, and yet his expression does not betray any surprise or puzzlement at the presence of someone who is not supposed to be here, so you run down the stairs with such speed that halfway down, you slip in one of your heels and end up tumbling down the rest of the staircase.

Once you’ve landed upon the hallway floor, you’re aware of Phineas shouting for the house-elves to fetch some kind of Healing potion that you vaguely recall the name of, but aren’t sure of its particular purpose, while Isla kneels upon the floor next to you, her vividly red hair a stark contrast to the muted colours of the dresses you both wear.

“Are you hurt?” she whimpers, abandoning all the self-restraint that she ought to possess. “Do we need to send for a Healer?”

You shake your head as you sit up tentatively, your body already beginning to ache as blood rushes to the areas where the corners of the steps dug into your skin, slowly forming ugly bruises that you know will mar your porcelain skin.

“No,” you whisper, though you don’t think you would have the strength to argue if she insisted on sending for a medi-witch — Phineas will rightly not allow her to summon a Healer, since they are required to file parchmentwork whenever they make a home visit, and though medical records are supposed to be confidential, you know that some of your late father’s friends have their fingers in the pie of St Mungo’s and they boast of accessing that information.

“Isla, escort our mother to the drawing room this instant,” Phineas instructs, proffering his arm to help you up.

Disobediently, Isla remains standing where she is, her lips contorted into a pout. “You could at least say please.”

“Do as you are told!” he shouts.

It is sudden and abrupt, and combined with your proximity to his roaring voice, is enough to make you sway in dizziness. Fortunately, Phineas’ grip upon you is firm and you are able to regain your composure. Out of the corner of your eye, you see Isla flinch in surprise before meekly acquiescing to Phineas’ request while looking at you imploringly. However, you are not in the least tempted to defend her: you have learnt to do as you are told, to keep your personal feelings for yourself alone and not burden them upon others, and not to question what your superiors say. Isla is only two years younger than you; she ought to know her place and accept it, but she refuses to.

Quickly, Phineas guides you into the room that used to be your father’s private meeting room on the ground floor, where he brought unexpected visitors who he did not want in his study or wandering through Grimmauld Place. With a flick of his wand, one of the armchairs is moved from near the empty fireplace to a halt near you, and you take a seat obligingly.

“Whatever happened to make you rush down the stairs?” he asks.

You look up at Phineas, carefully surveying his expression. His hair is a mass of uneatable dark curls that he resents, while his beard has been trimmed attractively. Once upon a time, you used to consider him your brother. You used to play out in the gardens with him, never caring when the wind undid the ribbons in your wavy brunette hair or when the hems of your dresses became frayed from accidentally being trodden upon on one occasion too many. And when it rained, you hid in the nooks and crannies of your home, playing hide and seek and giggling whenever his too-large feet or his habit of sneezing in dusty places gave away his hiding place.

Those were the happy days.

And now you look at him and you see nothing but a stranger; a man who willingly shouts at his younger sister and banishes his mother from the room without a second thought. You look at him and you see in his eyes a shade of anger and disgust that your brother never possessed. This is not the Phineas you used to dance with when the woman taught you how to dance — this is not the boy whose shoes you insisted on standing on because he kept treading on your toes.

Elladora, Elladora, the voice sings once more, and this time you’re sure it’s certainly not Phineas. Nor is it likely to be the woman or the girl; the man in front of you would be more likely to get angry at them instead of consoling his mother for the upset she surely has sustained from seeing someone fall down the stairs, or teasing his sister for playing practical jokes just like he used to do as a child. Is this voice in your mind? Is the sound of your name repeating itself — Elladora, Elladora — just a figment of your imagination that’s twisted itself wrong?

“I lost my senses momentarily,” you lie, the untruth falling from your lips as smoothly as the receding tide falls from a beach. “I mistakenly thought I heard a frightening sound, but now that I have had the time to reflect, it was most likely the sound of wind whistling from an open window or one of the house-elves Disapparating.”

Phineas seems to accept this explanation, nodding stiffly. “If you are certain that nothing is wrong, Elladora, I have a friend who I have arranged to visit this afternoon. Furthermore, while I have your attention, I give you notice of my intentions to invite a young lady to our ball on Friday. I hope that you will ensure that the house-elves are particularly stringent with their cooking and the ingredients they select, and ensure that the desserts include chocolate in some shape or form — I hear that Miss Flint has a penchant for chocolate.”

You gasp in horror. “Phineas! Mother hates the Flints! I know that she would consider inviting Ursula to be a personal insult against her!”

The woman has a long-running feud with Ursula’s aunt and late mother, and this feud has bled over to Ursula and Isla. While the woman is determined to ensure that Isla is the most dazzling young lady presented during the season, after losing her own glory to Ursula’s late mother, Ursula’s aunt is determined to ensure that the woman does not succeed. You can’t help but have concerns over Ursula’s heightened ability to destroy Isla’s debutante ball if she is present at the event, but if Phineas insists that she must be present, then you will be the most welcoming member of your family when she comes on Friday.

“I know that, Elladora, but I have my reasons for inviting Ursula,” Phineas answers.

Unlike a few minutes earlier with Isla, he does not shout at you for your outburst. You’re tempted to believe that it is because he is making allowances for your tumble, but you know the truth is more likely to be your obedience. You have listened to the woman closely when she brought you up, and understand that decisions are made for the greater good of your family not through emotion, but through employing rationale and banishing emotion from the situation. Therefore, you argue with the man of the house only exceptionally rarely, a stark contrast to the impertinent redhead of the family.

“Very well, Phineas,” you answer.

He leaves the room, pausing at the doorway to turn and nod in acknowledgment at you. After taking several minutes’ rest where you do nothing but allow your lungs to inhale and exhale air softly, taking the time to compose yourself before you stand up, proceed to exit the room and ascend the stairs. Barely a minute later, you find yourself outside the drawing room where the woman and the girl are supposed to be. You can’t call them your family, after all; they don’t behave like family members should, with the possible exception of Isla — but she brings so much trouble to your feet that it’s hardly worthwhile considering her a relative, let alone a sister.

When you open the door, the woman is sitting in the corner with some embroidery, while Isla is absent. You notice that she has not been supplied with a pot of tea and you raise your hand to snap your fingers — your individual way of summoning the house-elves, since you can never recall their names — when the woman breaks free from her self-inflicted mutism.

“Your sister offered me tea, and I chose to decline.”

You stare at her suspiciously; Isla is the favourite, after all, so you would not be surprised if the woman confessed to lying to avoid getting her youngest child into trouble. However, you decide to allow her the benefit of the doubt and enter the room, drawn to the appeal of the family tapestry on the wall. Carefully, you trace the gold lines than bind each family member together. You find your father’s name, Cygnus Black, 1829 — 1851, and entangled with his name in two double gold lines is the woman’s maiden name.

Ella Max.

You follow the single gold lines that begin from the double connecting your parents. The first leads to your oldest brother, Sirius Black, 1845 — 1853, while the second leads you to Phineas Nigellus Black, 1847 —. You aren’t sure of the reason behind Phineas’ middle name being the Latin translation of your surname, although you have heard the rumours: that Sirius is not your father’s child, and that Phineas was bestowed with the middle name Nigellus as confirmation of his paternity — proof that he is a true Black, intended to be embedded deep within the tapestry as a warning to future generations. After all, your father was only sixteen at the time of Sirius’ conception — old enough to legally impregnate a girl if he so wished, but young enough that it would certainly raise eyebrows — and the timing between their wedding and his birth do not correlate to nine months or more. The woman insists that Sirius was a child born before he was ready to enter the world, but no-one can escape the rumours.

The third line leads to your name. Elladora, Elladora, Elladora Black, 1850 — but this time you ignore the voice. It must be a rambling strand of insanity in the deep recesses of your mind, and you think that if you ignore it, it will return from whence it came. Instead, you focus carefully upon the letters; the symbolism of your name.

Ella, after the woman who gave birth to you. Dora, a Greek name meaning “gift”. Elladora, Elladora, you are her gift.

You are not a child, conceived out of duty, born from necessity and cared for with love. You are her gift, a possession to be handed over to your father so that he may boast of having a daughter. Even though he died a year later, the etymology of your name continues to haunt you.

The fourth and final line leads to Isla Black, 1852 —. Born months after your father’s death, she shares the same misfortune of Sirius of being suspected to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is made worse by her flame-coloured hair, which is a stark contrast to you and Phineas with your dark hair and eyes, and her name not following the family tradition of being a constellation. Yours does not, either, but there is a valid reason for it, unlike hers. The woman claims that Isla is named for two Scottish rivers, because while grieving the loss of your father, she resided in a cosy manor near the River Isla.

“I can hear the voice too, Elladora,” the woman says suddenly. “I can hear him, but he’s not calling me by my name and that’s how I know who is he is. He calls me Mummy. The voice — the voice belongs to Sirius.”

You whirl around in horror, unable to believe your mother’s preposterous fantasy. However, when you look at her, she is bent low over her embroidery.

“Mother?” you query, your heart racing as you wonder why she is behaving as if she did not say anything at all.

She looks up at you, smiling timidly. “Yes, Elladora?”

You stare at her carefully, right into her eyes — there’s a saying that eyes are the windows to a person’s soul, after all — but you can see nothing except surprise and confusion. Nevertheless, you cannot resist the urge to ask.

“Did you say something, Mother?”

“No, my darling,” she answers.

You want to tell her that you are not her darling and that she is not your mother — you looked the word up in an dictionary from your father’s study when you were little, and according to it, a mother is someone who gives birth to a child, who nurtures the child and prepares it for adulthood. You are an adult now; therefore, the woman no longer needs to prepare you, and thus ends her responsibilities as a mother. Ergo, she is not a mother — but Phineas does not see it that way, and has ordered you to address her by the incorrect title.

You give her a false smile while one hand reaches up to rub at your forehead tentatively. “It appears that I must have a headache. Will you be quite all right by yourself if I retire to my bedroom for a nap?”

“Of course, Elladora,” she says.

You are halfway down the corridor when you remember the information that Phineas told you earlier, so you turn and retrace your steps. As it has been mere seconds since you left the room, and you would have heard if someone had entered the room while you were in the hallway, you do not knock on the door. Instead, you grab the handle and turn before pushing, to witness the woman sitting with her back to the door, her embroidery forgotten, as she converses with someone who is not there.

“I’m concerned about them both, Sirius,” she is saying, and you don’t need the logic of a genius to know that she believes herself capable of conversing with your late brother.

Without uttering the words that you intended to, you close the door quietly and rest your back against the wood. This is no time to reflect on whether the woman is a lunatic or disturbed in the mind; the only question is what may be done now. Phineas must be informed, of course; as the man of the house, it is necessary for him to know. You suspect you’ll keep this a secret from Isla — although she possesses good intentions, her lips have been known to become loose when she is enraged by little trivialities such as not addressing the house-elves by name which then escalate into arguments.

St Mungo’s is definitely not an option; her admittance would become public, and the shame it would bring upon the Black heritage is too horrendous to even contemplate. Nor is the possibility of keeping her confined to home viable — a madwoman in the attic would not be appealing to potential brides for Phineas and interested suitors for Isla and, although you concede this matter grudgingly, yourself. At present, she seems to be concealing her insanity well if you have not learnt of it until now, and even then quite by accident. It may be possible to continue living as you are, while keeping a close eye on the woman.

You will continue to pretend, just as you have always done.

The subject of Ursula Flint and her attendance at Isla’s debutante ball is resurrected at dinner two nights later. As predicted, the woman does not take the news well: she lets out such a loud shrill that you notice a passing house-elf covering its ears to muffle the sound. Phineas is not pleased. You watch as he attempts to reason with the woman, a stranger with her sunken eyes and fine hair that is nothing like the mother you recall as a child. His dinner has been abandoned to grow cold in favour of explaining the reason for Ursula’s invitation in the hope that it will calm the woman.

You almost choke on your mouthful of duck a l’orange as you hear that Ursula Flint will not be introduced to high society this season, nor any season in future, because she is with child and is claiming that Phineas is the father.

Naturally, Phineas claims that he has only ever behaved impeccably to Ursula and every unmarried pure-blooded woman seeking his affections, although you cannot help surveying him with suspicion. The woman, however, seems not to care. She wails and whimpers to such an extent that you’re forced to make your excuses and leave the table before your minor headache escalates into a full-blown migraine.

Once you’re back into your bedroom, you can’t help glancing at your sheaf of parchment and inkwell upon your desk. It is Phineas in charge of the official correspondence, and you do not converse with your old school friends often, so your stationery is left unused the majority of the time. You wonder how the woman would react if you were to fulfil the desire burning within you. Cry? Scream? Confess to speaking to your dead brother when she is alone? You can’t resist half-heartedly hoping that she will confess; Phineas did not believe you when you told him, but perhaps hearing the truth from the Hippogriff’s mouth will convince him otherwise.

You begin to walk towards your bed with the intention of collecting your nightclothes from underneath your pillow and getting changed so that you may have an early night, but halfway there you abruptly change direction and sit at your desk instead. With a sense of familiarity — you’ve missed writing letters — you pick up your quill and begin to write.

Dear Miss Flint,

I apologize for the brevity of my letter, but I am writing in a restricted time frame. I am of the understanding that in light of recent news,
— you don’t want to give any information away, lest the letter is intercepted or foolishly left on a dressing table and read by a disobedient house-elf or nosy friend — my brother has extended to you an invitation to join the festivities of Isla’s debutante ball on Friday. I am aware that due to a disagreement between my mother and your aunt, you may feel uncomfortable at the prospect of visiting Grimmauld Place alone. While it is not my place to extend invitations, — those can only be done by the man of the house or the host of the ball, and while you could persuade Phineas or Isla to invite Ursula Flint’s aunt, you’re sure that would be a step too far; you want to unsettle the woman, not turn her into a raving lunatic — I am writing to you to offer you my personal guarantee that you will feel comfortable in our home, by way of keeping you companionship for the duration of the evening, not to mention Phineas’ presence, of course.

I hope that this letter finds you well, and that you consider my offer agreeable. Please inform me of your intentions at your earliest convenience; I may need to make other arrangements if I am asked to spend the evening socializing with a prospective suitor.
— You don’t have any prospective suitors at present, of course; they all flock to Isla like moths to a burning flame, but you must appear as if you do or people will wonder why you do not.

With kindest regards,

Elladora Black

Once the letter is completed, you place your quill upon the desk, survey your words carefully and then place the parchment into an envelope before sealing it with a wax imprint of the Black family crest. Satisfied, you snap your fingers; immediately, a house-elf appears and you thrust the envelope into its grubby fingers.

“Send this letter to Ursula Flint immediately,” you instruct. “Do not use our fastest owl; I don’t want her to receive it until morning — if she gets woken from her sleep by one of our owls tapping at her window, Phineas will never forgive me.”

The house-elf bows before promptly Disapparating. You rise from your chair and approach your bed, but just as you place your hand underneath your pillow to retrieve your nightclothes, you realize something quite strange. You cannot hear the sound of the mysterious voice singing your name, and you wonder if it is because you defied the woman’s wishes by corresponding with Ursula Flint. If you think over it carefully, you’re fairly certain you didn’t hear the voice when you informed Phineas of her lunacy. It seems that the key to keeping the voice quiet is your rebellion.

You smile. Perhaps you’ve found a way to silence the voice after all.

You’re standing in the middle of your father’s study, having excused yourself from Ursula Flint’s presence for a few minutes — you’re quite sure, after spending two full hours in her company, that there is no way Phineas can be the father of her child. The man’s never possessed much patience at the best of times, and Ursula’s high-pitched voice is immensely grating on your nerves, not to mention her adoration for chocolate. It’s quite clear to you how no-one’s noticed her pregnancy so far — her rotund appearance is successfully masking the signs of a child growing in her womb.

When you hear the door open behind you, you turn around to see who has dared to enter the room. You’re surprised when you see the woman standing in the doorway; you had no idea that she frequents this room.

“Elladora,” she says, closing the door behind her. “Are you growing tired of these societal events too?”

You nod, but nothing more, leaving your feelings open to interpretation. If anyone dares to accuse you of agreeing with the woman’s claim — although you can’t help feeling that she has a point — you can say that you were simply nodding in acknowledgment of her presence.

“I’m so tired,” she sighs, walking around you and sitting into the chair behind the desk that used to be your father’s.

“Perhaps you should retire to bed,” you suggest. “No-one would complain if you did; allowances are made for a woman of your years.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t mean physically tired. I mean tired of those sadistic, evil cows — tired of their tea and poison; tired of how they think that they can control the world.”

You aren’t sure what to comment upon first: her blatant rudeness of some important women in society, her insane babbling about tea and poison, or her misconception that those important women control the world. You know that they do not control it, though they pretend to. They are pawns, easily manipulated to think that they are in control when the true reality is, through careful wording and impeccable mannerisms, it is people like you, who hide behind the scenes. However, you do not have to say anything because the woman sighs as she bends over the desk, her palms splayed upon the mahogany wood.

“I hate them all.”

“Mother,” you cry softly; you know that even for her, this is a step too far.

“Tea and poison, Elladora. That’s the true currency of the world, not Galleons and Sickles and Knuts. It’s how people’s fates are determined, isn’t it? By rich old fishwives sitting around their tables with a pot of tea, sipping at their cups with their pinky fingers sticking out —”

“— Mother! —”

“— judging you as they whisper to each other, little words of poison that get repeated over and over until someone starts believing their lies and then the poison takes root, gnawing away at happy marriages, stealing innocent childhoods, destroying everything that makes life worth living.”

She stands up and approaches you, cupping your face in her hands. At such close proximity, you can smell the stench of alcohol on her breath. Who allowed her to drink? You were busy entertaining Ursula Flint all evening, so why didn’t Phineas stop her? Why didn’t Isla warn you?

“Sirius is your father’s son, and Isla is your father’s daughter,” she says, gasping for breath as she becomes increasedly agitated. “I don’t know why my firstborn boy came early, or why my baby girl has red hair — my grandfather was Irish, maybe it’s in the family blood? I don’t know, I don’t know, but neither do they!”

You’re about to push her off you when you hear the door being opened without even being knocked upon. Immediately, you look towards the doorway to see who it is, and realize that Isla is present.

“Mother wants to speak to you,” she announces.

Confused, you look back at where the woman stood in front of you just moments ago, but she is not there. Bewildered, you spin around but you cannot see anyone.

The woman is not there. You are the room’s sole occupant.

Elladora, Elladora, the voice croons, tempting you towards the darkest shadows of the attic. You shake your head and try to ignore it; you’re worried about your sanity after Isla’s ball, and you have no particular desire to be admitted to St Mungo’s.

“Is something the matter, Elladora?” Isla asks, kneeling on the floor opposite you.

“No, no,” you lie. “I just got some cobwebs in my hair.”

Isla nods, accepting your words. You adjust your position on the cushion you’re sitting on and resume sifting through the woman’s correspondence. Phineas has just revealed that the family are in financial straits, and you’re sure you recall an elderly great-uncle with a fortune among the woman’s family lineage. She’s chosen to employ mutism once more, refusing to divulge any information about her relatives, and so you and Isla are in the attic where all her parchmentwork has been stored.

You don’t like the attic — wait, is that a spider out of the corner of your eye? Or is it a shadow? You aren’t quite sure. A part of you is tempted to investigate, but you force yourself to remain still. If it is a spider and you send it scurrying in Isla’s direction, her screams will be heard all over London.

Suddenly, she stiffens before looking up at you. “Yes?”

Frowning in confusion, you stare at her. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Oh,” she answers, quickly looking down. After a pause, she speaks once more. “I thought I heard my name being sung, like how Mother used to sing your name when we were children.”

You are both thankful for her disregard of societal etiquette and resentful of it. While it is some comfort to learn that you are not insane — it would be impossible for you and Isla to show exactly the same symptoms — you can’t help but feel unnerved that all you can hear is Elladora, Elladora, and not the young girl’s name.

And then you do.

Elladora, Elladora, Isla, Isla.

Without warning, Isla grabs onto your dress robes in fear, clinging to the material so tightly that you’re concerned she’s going to rip a tear in the silk — Twilfitt and Tatting’s charge quite expensive fees for repairs to torn clothing, and you doubt you can afford such fees at present. There is the sound of whimpering, and you are reminded that the redhead is still two years younger than you; unlike you, she is not used to feeling the sensation of fear.

“Have you ever heard the voice before?” you whisper to her.

She does not say anything, but nods.

“Has it ever said anything except your name?”

She shakes her head.

Elladora, Elladora, Isla, Isla.

And then it does.

She’s going to die.

Author's Note: So this is my first attempt at something creepy, and I'm really hoping I was successful, since this story is for the Lostmyheart's Horror Story challenge :P (and Kiana's Second Person POV challenge too! There's also the Peter & Wendy quote challenge, but that's in a future chapter ^.^) I wrote this entire chapter in one (very long) go by pulling an all-nighter, so I owe several cakes, cookies and Oreo truffles to Tanya/WriteYourHeartOut for staying up with me and racing me all night so I wouldn't fall asleep ♥ As a thank you, I hereby dedicate this chapter to her ♥

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one-shot -- did I scare you? -- and on how you feel I've written the Blacks here. BTW, the info about Cygnus and Ella came from the HP Wiki, which I know isn't always reliable but they sourced the info from the OotP movie, and according to its director, David Yates, JKR gave the movie people a Black family tree dating back eight generations, while the one that's on the Lexicon (who source their info directly from the books / JKR interviews etc) only dates back to six generations. There's a discrepancy, as the Wiki says that Isla was older than Elladora while the Lexicon says she was the youngest. I'm going with the Lexicon version, since it's more reliable, but yeah I just wanted to give you guys a heads-up in case anyone spotted it :P

Ending the monster A/N now... by the way, the little grey box down there says "Hi! Feed me1" ;)