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Dagger of Doubt

Grace has Victory




Jealousy injures us with the dagger of self-doubt.
~Leslie Grimutter

I've spent most of my life walking
under that hovering cloud, jealousy,
whose acid raindrops blurred my vision
and burned holes in my heart.
~Astrid Alauda

Jealousy is an awkward homage that inferiority renders to merit.
~Madeleine de Puisieux



Chapter One

The Boy who Surpassed

The 1980s

The three candles were burning like stars in the dark room. They lit up the exciting pile of parcels stacked next to the jelly and the balloons hovering over the ice-cream. It was my birthday, and my grandparents and the Muggle neighbours were singing for me.

Mum moved the birthday cake towards me and led the countdown:
"Three – two – "

Huff! The lights had vanished; the room was pitch-black. Someone had blown out my candles for me.

I wanted to cry.

In the darkness, Dad's voice cut over the giggling. "Oh, Roger, that wasn't funny!" But Dad was talking with a smile in his voice, as if it was funny really, and my cousin Susan was laughing out loud.

The candles sprang to life again; Mum had re-lit them. "There you are, Tracey. This time you can do it."

"I'm holding onto Roger," said Dad.

Mum counted down again, and this time I blew. Each candle flickered and died because I had blown on it. But no-one had been singing this time; it didn't seem quite like a birthday. There was a lump in my throat when the kitchen lights switched on. Dad wasn't even looking at the cake; he was grinning at Roger, who was climbing all over his shoulders.

I don't remember what happened after that; I expect Mum cut the cake, and we all ate it. What I most remember is that hollow feeling in my chest, being all alone in that crowd of people, because they were all paying attention to Roger. Even on my third birthday, that hollow feeling wasn't new. I already knew that people would always pay more attention to Roger.

* * * * * * *

My brother Roger arrived in the world eighteen months before I did, which meant he was about eighteen times more important. When Roger started going to the Muggle infants' school down the road, Mum and I went with him nearly every day to help the teacher. Mum listened to readers and repaired books; she organised cake sales; she went on the school excursions and helped out with the art and music lessons. So we knew very well that Roger was learning to read faster than any other child in reception.

"Mrs Davies, he's very clever," said the teacher. "You need to be sure to give him plenty to read."

Mum and Dad couldn't afford to buy books, but they visited the local library at least once a week. Whenever the grandparents came to visit, they set Roger to reading out loud. The teacher gave him plenty, too; if visitors came to her classroom, she was sure to exhibit Roger as her successful student.

"That's an amazing performance for a five-year-old," said Dad. "Roger really is a clever boy – a born Ravenclaw."

What none of them seemed to notice was that I was learning to read too. I wasn't quite as fast as Roger, but I was only three years old! I was left to play with the same wooden letters and flashcards as all the school children, and I learned to put them together to make words as swiftly as any of them. My parents didn't even notice until they overheard me trying to spell out the words on a cereal packet.

"Kell – oggs – corn – flacks. Dad, what are cornflacks?"

"Stupid, they're cornflakes," corrected Roger.

"Tracey can read almost as well as Roger," said Dad to Mum. "Fancy that!"

And that was all they ever said about my reading. They just weren't surprised that I could learn as quickly as Roger could.

His drawings were more important than mine, too. When I could only scribble, he drew beautiful battleships and aeroplanes, which Mum proudly stuck on the fridge and showed off to the neighbours.
"He's a true artist," adults said again and again. "I can't believe he's only five years old!"

My first real, recognisable picture was of a dragon. It had a long head with big teeth, four stumpy legs with claws, and a tail that curled around a hoard of diamonds. I coloured it bright red. Dad admired my picture, but Mum looked horrified.

"Mummy, will you put it on the fridge?" I asked.

"Darling, we can't. We can't put pictures of dragons where the neighbours might see them. It's a lovely picture, but I need to take it away."

"You don't like my dragon," I said, my lip trembling.

"Tracey, I – "

"Look what I've been drawing!" interrupted Roger, waving around a picture of a cement-mixer flanked by two smiling Muggle builders.

Mum and Dad were immediately distracted by Roger's wonderful artwork. It was such a clever picture and it must go straight on the fridge for everyone to see.

I decided then and there never to draw another picture. I never found out where Mum hid my first real drawing, the beautiful red dragon; I only knew it wasn't good enough to be stuck on the fridge next to Roger's pictures. I was too young to understand that my parents needed to hide all signs of magic from the neighbours, and Mum was far too pure-blooded to know that Muggle children draw pictures of dragons too.

One Christmas Grandma and Grandpa Bones took us to the Magical Menagerie to buy a pet. I held onto their hands chattering away about the animals I admired.

"A Jarvey!" I suggested. "They're so clever. Or a Kneazle? The Puffskein is pretty too. Oh, and look at that Krup…"

"I want a spaniel," said Roger.

The next minute, Grandma and Grandpa bought us a spaniel. They also bought a Puffskein for our pure-blooded cousins in Godric's Hollow, but they just didn't hear that I wanted one too.

Roger smirked over the head of his new spaniel and said, "Cheer up, Tracey. If you don't want to share the dog, perhaps they'll buy you a goldfish."

Roger was always a step ahead. When Dad brought home a second-hand Shooting Star, Roger took about ten minutes to fly it up to the roof of the garden shed. Dad laughed and clapped and warned him not to let the neighbours see.

A week later, I flew the Shooting Star up to the chimney-pot. Dad was furious and sent me to my room for the rest of the day "because you know very well that you shouldn't let the neighbours see."

Roger brought a trumpet home from school and soon showed talent. Late at night, I was kept awake by his blasting of Three Blind Mice and Polly Put the Kettle On. When Roger went out with his friends, I sneaked into his room and opened the trumpet-case. The brass was so shiny that I hesitated to lift it out. But I did lift it out and I took a blow.

Nothing happened. I wasn't strong enough to make any noise at all with Roger's trumpet. So I put it back and tiptoed out. He never knew I had been in his room.

(The bedroom situation was another difficulty between us. Our house had only two bedrooms. When Roger complained that he was too old to share with his little sister, Mum and Dad moved me out to the airing cupboard in the hall. They took out the shelves, put in a window and moved the bathroom wall so that the cupboard was just large enough to take a bed. But it was still a cupboard and not a proper bedroom. They could have easily used magic to make the room larger inside than out, but they said we had so many Muggle neighbours that we'd end up being caught. So Roger had a proper bedroom all to himself and I was stuck with a cupboard.)

Anyway, I knew I would never be able to play the trumpet, so I took up the recorder instead. Bad mistake! Roger complained that the sound was "screechy," and Mum told both grandmothers, "Of course, the recorder is a very easy instrument to play."

I handed my recorder back to the school band and said I wanted to play the violin. Roger was even ruder about the violin.

"Whose Kneazle are you torturing, Tracey? Your fiddle sounds like a strangled tiger."

Mum said to Aunt Amelia, "Of course, the violin is a very difficult instrument to play well. We can't expect Tracey to sound pleasant overnight."

The next day, Dad took me to Roger's band practice. "Don't they sound fantastic?" he said. "You'd never guess they've only been playing for six months. Those Muggles could be all Ravenclaws."
The day after, I handed my violin back to the school band. "I've realised I don't really have time to practise properly. But I'd like to join the choir."

For the first three weeks, school choir was fun. I could sing in tune, and we all sounded very good without needing any out-of-hours practice. Then Roger decided that he wanted to join the choir too.

"Don't!" I begged him. "You have your trumpet and I have the choir."

"And now I have a trumpet and the choir," he replied, smirking. "If you want to get away from me so badly, you can be the one to leave!"

The boys in the back row all complained that their sisters sang like dying dogs, so Roger complained along with the rest; and they read Beano comics and wrote their names on chair-backs more than they sang. Despite this, Roger was chosen to sing the solo at the school concert. Mum, Dad and all the grandparents clapped their hands sore for him. They didn't notice me, invisible with the ordinary choir.

* * * * * * *

I don't remember when Roger first did magic. I only remember that he was always casting catchy little spells. Lights flashed, colours changed and music hummed out of nowhere almost as often as Roger laughed.

I do remember Dad asking, "Tracey has done magic, hasn't she?"

"Yes, of course," Mum replied. "Twice, no, three times. She once exploded an empty kettle because she was full of magical fury, and she does tend to bounce well when she wants to escape from Roger."

"That's all right, then," said Dad. "I hadn't noticed. So she's a Ravenclaw too? Talking of kettles, shall I make a cup of tea?"

I definitely, definitely remember the day when Roger's Hogwarts letter came. We were playing football down at the local park, rather cross and bored because our parents couldn't afford to take us away on holiday that year, when a great, grey owl swooped down towards us. The Muggle children screamed in terror, and I knew better than to tell them that it was "just an owl". Roger reached out and extracted the scroll from the owl's talons.

"Roger, you are brave!" cried the boy next door. "You touched that owl!!"

"Why didn't it peck you?" asked the girl across the road.

"I'm surprised it let you," said the boy round the corner. "But why did you pick up that dead mouse it was carrying?"

"That wasn't a mouse; owls hunt at night," Roger reminded them. "It's just a scrap of paper. Bye!"

"Oh. Are you leaving? Aren't you going to show us the owl's scrap of paper?"

"Come on, Roger. Show us the paper!"

Roger grinned, waved and ran off towards home. I pelted after him, knowing what the scroll must be.

"It's arrived!" Roger yelled. "Mum! My Hogwarts letter! Ravenclaw, here I come!"

"Hush – remember the neighbours," Mum reminded him, but she wasn't really annoyed. She was so proud that Roger had been invited to Hogwarts, even though she had expected it all his life. "Oh, this is wonderful, Roger. Let's hope it's Ravenclaw for you – but Hufflepuff and Gryffindor are good houses too. Tracey, run down to the corner shop and buy some ice-cream. We must have a celebration tea!"

By the time Dad came home, the tea-table was loaded with ham and salmon rolls, ice cream, lemonade and chocolate cake. It was just like a birthday party. Then we had to tell the story all over again for Dad. Listen to this – Roger is actually going to Hogwarts!

Before tea was over, the Floo rattled, and Grand-Aunt Amelia strode into our living room. "The Hogwarts letters have arrived, haven't they?" she announced. "The Diggory boy has one, so I expect Roger's has come too."

Roger waved his parchment in the air. "It's here!" he shouted. "I'm going to Hogwarts!"

Aunt Amelia surveyed him majestically through her monocle. "You have certainly grown, Roger. I think you'd be taller than Cedric Diggory by now. Oh... hello, Tracey. I imagine you're very proud of your brother."

After Roger had whirled through the Floo to show his letter to Grandma and Grandpa Bones, Dad and I went into the kitchen to do the washing up so that Aunt Amelia could discuss the family with Mum.

"Your Roger really is a handsome boy, Pamela." Chink went Aunt Amelia's tea-cup. "It strikes me every time I see him."

Mum's cup chinked too. "We can hardly believe it ourselves, Aunt Amelia. It isn't as if Brian or I would win any beauty contests. But Roger really does seem to have inherited the best from both families. The hair and eyes are all Davies, but he definitely has the Bones family's distinguished nose and chin!"

"Roger and Tracey look quite startlingly alike, don't they?" mused Aunt Amelia. "Yes, you could certainly say that Tracey is a very handsome girl. Those wonderful sapphire eyes!"

Handsome?

Roger was handsome, and I looked like Roger, so of course I was handsome too. But somehow I knew it was all wrong for a girl to be called handsome.

I dropped the tea towel and raced upstairs to stare in Mum's full-length mirror. I wasn't tall, but I saw that I had Roger's stocky, well-proportioned frame, just as handsome people did. My face was the same shape as Roger's face too. In fact, we both looked like Aunt Amelia. We had her strong jaw-line and prominent chin; I saw that it was a boy's chin. We had Aunt Amelia's sweeping, slightly turned-up nose, but in my girl's face, Roger's "distinguished" nose looked huge, and its tip looked very turned-up.

"You're 'andsome, Ducky," said the mirror. "Those deep-set, dark-blue eyes and those golden lights in the chestnut curls – awful 'andsome they are."

"I want to grow my hair long," I grumbled. The problem was, my hair had had never seemed to grow much past my chin before becoming a complete mess.

"Take my advice, dearie," said the mirror. "The only way to keep that lovely 'air lovely is to keep it short."

"It's nearly as short as a boy's," I whined. "And I have a boy's face, just like Roger's."

"That's what makes you 'andsome, Ducky. Just like Roger."

Aunt Amelia was handsome, and she had never married. I knew then why it was bad to be a handsome girl. It meant that I was never, ever going to be pretty.

* * * * * * *

Of course we had to make all the fuss of shopping for Roger's school supplies in Diagon Alley. We had to buy the books (second-hand), the uniform (second-hand), the potions kit (brand new) and the wand (very new indeed). The spaniel had recently died, so Roger wanted a new pet; and since we couldn't afford an owl, he had to settle for a baby Puffskein. Puffskeins had been forbidden to us as long as we had lived among Muggles, but of course it would be different at Hogwarts.

There was nothing new for me, not so much as a hair ribbon.

At last Roger's new possessions were packed away in Dad's old school trunk, and we waved him off at King's Cross Station for his journey on the Hogwarts Express. And Roger was gone.

Gone! For two whole years, I was going to be home alone. People would stop comparing me with Roger. Mum and Dad would pay some attention to me.

"Thank goodness our children are growing up," said Mum. "Now that Roger's safely at Hogwarts, it's time I found myself a job."

"But, Mum…" I couldn't contain my dismay. "I'm still at home! I don't go to Hogwarts yet!"

"But you're quite competent to look after yourself for a couple of hours a day," she replied placidly. "You know very well that lots of your friends have working mothers. And you also know that we have bills to pay!"

Mum took only two days to find a full-time clerical post at St Mungo's Hospital. The work sounded boring: writing letters, organising patients' records, filing, a little reception work, a great deal of running around to make coffee for Healers. But Mum and Dad were perfectly happy with the change.

I wasn't. Mum deserted my school, for she no longer had the time to help with excursions and cake stalls. Now that Roger was no longer a pupil there, the school had apparently lost its importance to her. Every day I came home from that Muggle junior school to an empty house. Sometimes Mum left me notes, describing the household tasks she wanted me to finish. Sometimes I was too annoyed to bother doing them; I would go out to play in the street or sit and read.

"Can't Tracey play inside the house?" asked Dad. "She isn't safe on the streets."

"Why do we have to live in London?" I grumbled. "I want to go and live in Godric's Hollow or Tinworth. Village families all help each other, so I could play at their houses instead of being home alone or out on the streets."

Dad tried to be patient as he explained. "You know why, Tracey. My parents are getting old and we have to stay near them. Besides, it would be too expensive to move."

Grandma and Grandpa Davies were only about sixty, but they had already become ridiculously old, even allowing that they were both Muggles. They were slow-moving, slow-thinking and hard of hearing; no amount of Muggle or magical medicine seemed to unstiffen their joints or unfatten their stomachs. Dad said it was because they had been born in something called a Depression and had had deprived childhoods. For this reason, we all had to live three streets away and always be checking up on them.

"If you want to be around other wizards after school," said Mum, "why don't you Floo over to Susan's house?"

"I did that last week," I said. "I can't do it every day."

The truth was, I could only take so much of playing with my cousin Susan. Her house was much nicer than ours, with a shiny kitchen and a large, flowery garden, and I didn't want to be reminded that in my own poky little house, I didn't even have a proper bedroom. Susan's little brother was well-behaved, so she didn't understand how annoying it was to live with Roger. The adults all admired Susan: she was handy with the sewing machine; she could bake about fifty different kinds of biscuit; and her pristine collections of peg dolls, postcards and sea-shells were all displayed in apple-pie order. She was Aunt Amelia's favourite, and that wasn't fair either.

Susan herself was calm and modest (unlike certain of our relatives) and I quite liked her. She didn't seem to know that she was prettier than I was, and she did know that I was better at maths and English.

"I always go to Tracey when I want help with homework," she told the family.

"I expect Susan will be coming here tomorrow," I concluded. "She has a history project due, and I know all about those Muggle railways. I think my teacher will set the same project next month, so I'll take a copy of Susan's to hand in. I'm doing half the work, so that won't be cheating, will it? Mum, can we try to have the house tidy before she comes? I'm so embarrassed that Susan sees the plaster peeling off our ceiling."

Mum sighed. "I've had a long day, Tracey. I'm too tired to cook dinner and clean up and help you with your homework. If the ceiling matters to you, can't you take a feather duster to it?"

"Mum, it would be much quicker to do it with magic! Can't you teach me one little, tiny spell?"

"Of course I can't. Listen, I'll dust off the cobwebs, but you'll have to ask Dad to help with your homework."

Dad had always had a tiring day too. He was a shoefitter at Cobbler's and he spent his days measuring feet and cutting leather. He made a start on helping me with my maths, but after ten minutes, he said the numbers were dancing in front of his eyes.

"Ravenclaws are independent learners," he reminded me. "You're old enough to show some Ravenclaw spirit and think the rest of that maths through for yourself."

I knew I was about to lose his attention for the evening. "Do I have to do it all by myself?"

"Roger hasn't anyone to help him with his homework any more," Mum reminded me. "If you don't want to do homework, why don't you write to your brother?"

"Because Roger doesn't own the world," I muttered to myself, even though I knew he probably did. Even when he was at the other end of the country, I could never escape him, and he was still more important than I was.

"I don't want to be in Ravenclaw," I announced.

Both parents looked surprised. "What made you say that? Our family is always in Ravenclaw."

"Then it's time for a change, isn't it? I am not going to hang around with Roger once I'm at Hogwarts. I'm going to make new friends who couldn't care less about him."

Mum sighed. "We've all had a long day, Tracey. Can't you stop your bickering now that Roger's not even home to provide half the fight? If you don't grow up a bit, they might not bother to send you any Hogwarts letter at all!"

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