It sits at the edge of woodlands, in the shadow of the trees, at the end of a long and winding path. Close to two dozen goats and sheep wander through the surrounding pasture, occasionally herded along by an aging donkey. Gnomes infest the boundary hedges, though cause little trouble unless provoked, along with rabbits and the occasional hedgehog. The sound of bees is loud in the air, with three large hives sat in the courtyard between the small grouped buildings. Chickens strut between the buildings, pecking at the dirt and occasionally flying into bouncing, cackling panic when one of the more intrepid gnomes attempts to ride one.
Inside the small thatched cottage is a kitchen like something out of a Regency novel. A long wooden table in the centre, made seemingly larger by the single pair of mismatched chairs that bookend it; a small open fireplace under a great stone mantle, opposite a cast iron Victorian range; pots and pans and utensils hanging from nails on the undecorated walls; a great long drying rack, from which hung bundles and bunches of herbs and flowers, even the occasional handful of feathers or other materials. The scent of lavender and mint is thick in the air, the source obvious as green and growing things are dotted everywhere inside the homely cottage. Plants creep across the crown glass windows, while potted herbs sit on the sills and fill the air with smell of growth.
Dusty jars sit in the belfast sink, waiting to be cleaned out and put to use. Others litter the surfaces and shelves, some sparkling empty in the light but more filled with jams and pickles and preserves and honey. An entire shelf of honey in differing shades, all with the same neat label stuck to the glass. A tawny owl, almost spherical in soft repose, sits atop a wooden saddle rack attached to the wall, high and out of the daylight.
At that great long table, in one of those mismatched chairs, sits a man. In dark worn clothes, with dark shaggy hair and a dark bristling beard, he could almost be a silhouette, a cut-out of black against the picturesque scene. He hunches over his work, tall frame tucked into an uncomfortable coil; his body language gives the impression of fear even as his appearance gives that of strength, of size. His brow is furrowed as he focuses on the scratch of the quill against the small parchment slips; labels for jars, each one written out in an elegant archaic hand. This is not a man who spends much time in the world, but care is taken with these labels, with the product of his labours.
Tighearnán Ward is not a name well known, or easy to pronounce; the few people who claim his acquaintance would be surprised at his having a forename at all. Most just call him Ward, if they deign to use a given name at all. It’s not the name that goes on the labels - that honour belongs to Papplewick Farm - but appears on the handwritten invoices that get sent out with every order. Ward is not a man who wants to be known; he sells his jams and his honey, herbs and plants, feathers and other such supplies needed for potions and spells… but he does not want reknown. Money enough to feed himself and the various creatures he shares the farm with, that’s all he wants.
He learnt a long time ago that the world was too loud, too full, and too unkind.
Asphodel Attaway was 19 years old and an undeniable cad - but he was also trying. He had met Cian Ward only a year before and was instantly attracted to her pragmatism, her brash and honest nature, and her complete failure to be either impressed or intimidated by… well, anything. Including him. At 31, she was over ten years his senior and part of a well established family that would proudly trace their line back to an old pureblood family - even in those days the line might have been a few miles long and a more than a little muddy, but they were quietly proud of their beginnings, all the same.
Brash and honest she may have been, but Asphodel discovered that his ‘dear little farmer’ was completely weak to flattery. Coming from a small community and a large family of less forthright (and therefore comparatively more attractive) siblings, she had not been inundated with romantic offers. With several younger relatives already engaged or married, she wasn’t often courted with any real intentions beyond currying favour with the family business. A compliment on her chosen outfit would have her blushing; a remark on her fine blue eyes would have her pressing a smile into his cheek, hiding the pure pleasure such comments brought. Murmurs of beauty and grace and charm, to a woman who had heard all her life that she was handsome, practical, dependable. It was such compliments that led to their current predicament - Cian with her hands clawing at the blankets she was nested in, and Asphodel like a shadow in the doorway.
The midwife would not allow him in the room - he was a man, and not even a husband at that - so Cian did not even have the comfort of his hand in hers. In a way, Ward's life began as it meant to go on; an absent father, a dedicated mother, and judgement.
Asphodel got a job working in the little village apothecary and would often have care of his son during the day, when Cian was working on the family farm. Ward was a quiet child, a shy weight on his father’s hip as Asphodel greeted stone-faced customers with forced cheer. He was not liked in the village, was not welcomed, but for Cian’s sake he was tolerated.
They were engaged - a ploy, really, to save face as the wedding was constantly being planned but never prepared. The distance between them was already great, but as time passed it only grew - her pragmatism became disinterest to his mind, her honesty became criticism, and her doting affection for their son became waning attraction to himself. The age difference, the disapproval of her family, his own thwarted ambitions all became less obstacles to overcome, and more justification for what happened next.
Cian was not a woman easily surprised, nor was she overly romantic in nature - when she became pregnant, she knew that she would be raising her child alone. Asphodel was little more than a child himself, and she never thought his interest in his son would last. When she was told - with airs of practised sympathy and pitying expressions - that he had caught the Knight Bus in the small hours, she was not upset or shocked or even terribly sad.
They had not, after all, planned any sort of permanence, so it was not a great trauma for either mother or child. Ward was barely two years old, and would retain little memory of his father.
Her family, while judgemental of the circumstances around Ward’s birth, were not entirely unfeeling. Cian’s parents, her aunts and her uncles, never really warmed to the boy, with his pale skin and his father’s dark hair, but then it was never likely - born on the wrong side of the sheets, as he was. Her parents would hesitate before taking their grandson on their knee, but they at least responded when the boy babbled softly up at them.
Cian’s siblings were kinder, but out of love for her - it often fell flat when they reached out to the shy Ward, encouraging their own children into including him, but would watch with hawkish eyes the mop of dark hair in a sea of blonde and brown. He was a curiosity to his cousins, who didn’t yet understand why the adults eyes would linger on him so often - they weren’t unkind, of course, but he had no true friends in them.
The family acted love well enough that Ward never doubted them, not until he was older and was something much worse that a mere bastard.
The children in the village were another story, of course. With no familial bonds to keep them in check and with parents who did not care enough for Cian to overlook her son’s parentage, they were the stuff of Ward's nightmares. Even as a small child, he was determined to be useful - he would always seek to please, to help his mother or uncles, to fetch and carry - and this would often see him walking through the back fields and little woods to the nearby villages, list of shopping folded neatly and tucked carefully into his pocket. It was on these occasions that he would often be targeted by the local children - usually older and certainly louder.
For all that he was at the mercy of his peers, and overheard many a comment about himself that he wasn't supposed to, Ward was never one to complain or cry over his lot. He wanted to be useful, to be more than a burden; to his mind this meant causing the least fuss, needing the least care. It was this early-learned stoicism that led to the many measures he took to keep his troubles from his mother, from his aunts and uncles.
Ward learnt to wear an extra jumper; it provided extra padding against bruises and was easily shed at the door so his mother wouldn't see the dirt he had been pushed in. He learnt to run fast without breathing like he was dying, because if he ran into the apothecary heaving like a bellows then they would know, they would all know. He learnt that sphagnum moss would stop the bleeding where he had fallen and cut his hands, that the stream behind the stables was cold enough to ease the ankle he turned on the fall. He learnt a lot of names for himself that his mother would turn pale at if he ever repeated them - which he never did, more than once anyway.
Ward was a fast learner and, from an early age, knew a great many things - including his place.
Ward was loved fiercely by his mother and never doubted that love, even when everyone else called him a monster. Cian was devoted to her son and his schooling; she would endure the barely restrained insults from the ministry officials, as well the entirely unrestrained comments of her neighbours, with a calm smile and a strong right hand respectively. The family learnt not to speak on the subject of her son - she was, after all, running the family business and no one understood her worth more than them - but nor were they supportive.
When Cian began courting the groom of one of her regular clients, she was quick to introduce him to her son and gauge his reactions, his prejudices. Luckily for them both, Hogan Mulligan was a sweet man and treated the twelve year old werewolf kindly and with care; having grown up in the urban sprawl of Belfast and travelled across the world with various employers, he was more open-minded than most.
They married soon after, both being too pragmatic to draw out the inevitable. Ward was his mother’s ‘best little man’ at their handfasting, and rang his little branch of bells enthusiastically. He watched his aunts as they braided ribbons and lace into his mother’s hair, and was allowed to help Hogan plait a single blue ribbon into his own. It was clumsy and lopsided, but the indulgence earned his future step-father a bright and beaming smile - a rare sight.
Hogan took Cian’s name and moved onto the family farm, bringing his skills to work as head groom. Cian had completely taken over the running of the place from her parents, despite not being the oldest - they had valued talent, and she was certainly the best qualified. Her older brothers and sister felt no irritation at working for her - they had their own homes on the family land, and knew that she knew their trade best.
Ward was fourteen when his half-brother was born, and he was besotted. He was the first to hold the baby after his parents, staring down with unconcealed awe at the squirming lump. From the day of Bearach’s birth, Ward was never far away from his little brother - volunteering to hold him, burp him, change him, hanging over the edge of his crib to murmur secrets or hum tunes. As the baby grew and was weaned, Ward became his natural babysitter as his mother got back to the business of running the farm, and he was never more serious than he was about the responsibility he was given.
Two years after Bearach came the twins Fionn and Aodh; then Caoimhe - the first and last girl - arrived three years after that; finally, two years later brought the last child of their union, Onchú. Ward loved them all, and they adored him. He helped raised them after all, spending almost all his time as their diligent and dedicated protector. It didn’t matter that he was so very different to them - dark where they were blonde, pale and scarred where they were tanned and freckled, and absent for days out of the month.
He was their ‘biggest brother’; they were everything to him.
Ward was nine years old and returning from a late visit to the village post office - his mother was writing with an Abraxan breeder in France who wanted one of their best stallions for stud, and he had been charged with making sure her latest negotiation was sent express. He had wasted some time fussing over the Great Horned Owl as he fixed the small note to her leg, and night was already falling when he left and started back towards the farm. It was a well-travelled road through a magically protected village, brightly lit by moonlight, and Ward felt no fear.
It happened very quickly, and he was lucky to survive it at all.
He was maybe fifty yards from home when the werewolf burst from the trees that lined the road to the farm. Jaws bit down over his shoulder, practically engulfing half of his small torso, and he was shaken violently. His screams managed to wake the farmstead, and family poured out of every building - it took only a handful to drive the werewolf off and, he would learn later, put it down. The damage was severe and more than one blood relation thought about simply letting nature run its course, but Cian was a fierce and devoted mother.
Within minutes, his shoulder was wrapped up tight and the rest of him bundled in a horse blanket. His mother carried him back to the house, through the fireplace, straight to St Mungos. The staff were careful and professional, if not kind. It was obvious from their manner, and the stares from other patients already becoming cold and wary, that an injured child rapidly became something else in their eyes. Something dangerous. Cian was given pamphlets and a healer dispassionately walked her through what this would mean for her son, the registration process and how to make sure he was safe during full moons. Not 'keep him safe', but always 'make sure'.
It was the first time Ward can remember seeing his mother cry. He came round slowly, at first confused at crisp white sheets where there should have been badly-crocheted blankets, and then his attention drawn to his mother sat by the bedside. It wasn’t often Cian Ward let herself fall apart and when she did, it was only because it was easier then to pull herself together. When she did, it was always private. Until her son woke up from a random attack that had changed (and possibly ruined) his whole future, and asked her if she was alright.
She didn’t answer - it was still late at night and such conversations were always easier in the daylight. She just told him to get some rest, moved to lie on the small bed alongside him, and stroked her fingers through his dark hair until he was asleep again.
Daylight didn’t make it easier.
Then Ward was six, and one of his cousins locked him in the pantry. When the door was finally opened by a fairly-apologetic uncle, the small window nestled in the high corner of the room had been shattered by an encroaching ivy, that seemed to have grown almost five times in size in order to reach down to the frightened boy. Ward was curled up at the back of the room, exhausted after an hour or so of trying to heave open the heavy door, and hadn’t noticed a thing. Other small examples of magic were to follow; never with the same power or frequency as those of his cousins, but it became generally agreed that Ward would, eventually, go to Hogwarts like his mother.
The bite changed that, of course.
The letter from Hogwarts never came. Instead there was a man from the ministry with cold hands and condescending tone, to tell them that Ward would have to be home-schooled or sent abroad to a school with ‘more accommodating standards of safety’. It wasn’t a matter of discrimination, he opined when Cian naturally argued on behalf of her son, but a matter of ensuring the safety of both Ward and the other students. There was only one real choice in a family so close knit - Ward would be home-schooled, which meant weekly visits from a ministry official and one supervised day a month (about which Cian would be given only two days notice). It meant Cian working early mornings and afternoons on the farm, while late mornings and the evenings were devoted to Ward’s lessons. It meant currying favour with her neighbours, those who had talents beyond her own that would make better subject tutors. It meant long days and longer nights, as she prepared lessons and homework for her son.
Diagon Alley was pandemonium; more people than he had ever seen, even at village events and meetings, and then some. He stuck close to his mother’s side, flinching back from the close press of strangers and hiding under the sleeve of her robes when she stopped to talk to vendors. Working with animals, his family and their neighbours had adopted simpler clothes for practicality a long time ago - wrangling fractious winged horses became a lot easier when you didn’t have to worry about tripping over your robe hems - but his mother would often pull out her carefully wrapped robes for special occasions. Travelling to London was certainly special, and he had spent a good five minutes petting the soft green fabrics before they had stepped into the fireplace.
The vendor behind the high desk in Ollivanders was a strange and intense woman, terrifying to a small child who did everything he could to avoid being the centre of anyone’s attention. The way she raised her eyebrow made Ward wand to tug on his mother’s hand and leave, to scurry back to his home and it’s stables, to a place where he could fade into the background and belong. It wasn’t the first time he had been subject to scrutiny - illegitimate and inhuman, he had long since accepted the stares and censure as his lot in life - but it was the first time he had felt like someone was looking past him, into him. He was already found wanting enough, without having someone judge his soul.
The wand that chose him, with little more than a soft glow as though the unicorn hair inside was alight, was twelve inches and pale, with hardly any bend in it’s thin shape. It was knobbly but felt smooth under his small and already-calloused hands; almost fragile in the same way his brother had felt when he was first put into his arms. Ward felt like one careless move could break it, like the saleswoman could sense that childish fear and was strangely pleased by it.
”A contradictory wood is hawthorn, and prone to disaster in the hands of the untalented… but then magic is not the only talent, and the wand chooses the wizard after all. Take great care.” The last was said as the she leant close to Ward, sending him shuffling back against his mother’s legs, away from those quicksilver eyes and dire pronouncements.
Ward wondered about what school might have been like but, in the end, he was too used to the safety of home to mourn the loss. He didn't want to leave for a castle that wouldn’t echo with his baby brother’s laughter, that wouldn’t smell warm like peat and animal, that he wouldn’t know every inch of, that wasn’t home. It wasn’t perfect - his aunts and uncles were scared of him and were glad that their own children would be going away to school; the people in the village didn’t like to be near him and would talk like he was an affliction his family had to suffer; and his parents looks so tired sometimes, so weary and run down.
Cian was a proud woman - she knew never to admit doubt but to just bear the weight and carry on - and Ward was his mother’s son. He saw her determination and set his shoulders, certain in that he would follow her lead anywhere.
His days were filled with lessons and chores; he was very rarely without something to do, whether it was tending to the the strawberry patch or helping much out stable, or even just picking through the back fields for hag stones. He watched his aunts and uncles as they trained up the yearlings, watched his mother help their mares through birth, watched the older horses mill round the pasture with clipped wings hanging heavy at their sides - he watched it all with the reassurance that he had a place here, that he had purpose.
Full moons were terrible. His mother would take him off to one of the outbuildings and he would lock himself into the cellar to wait it out. Cian would sit outside the door all night, listening to the howls and snarls through the wood of the animal that had taken her son away. He would come back in the morning, and she would be there. Ward would unlock the door with small hands that shook from exhaustion, let his mother gather him up on her hip and talk him away to have his wounds seen to. Sleep usually followed, tucked up in the safe expanse of his mother’s bed.
His stepfather was happy to help with his schooling; this tutoring would often happen in the stables, with Ward sat on the manger edge while Hogan groomed the occupant and talked through a subject at the same time. He would take lessons when Cian was needed elsewhere, working steadily through her notes and plans. When this happened during an official visitation, the man from the ministry complained - citing an ‘unacceptable interruption to the… boy’s educational routine’ - but he couldn’t deny that conventional students had more than one teacher. Hogan was a quiet man but there were times when his calm voice would go terribly cold, like still water suddenly becoming ice - asking the man why he shouldn’t contribute to his son’s education was one of those times.
Ward’s childhood wasn’t lonely, though it might have looked that way to an outsider. He had his mother, even as his aunts and uncles avoided him and his cousins were told to give him a wide berth. He had his step-father, who always had a kind word and an encouraging smile for him. He had an entire herd that he considered family: stallions, mares, yearlings, geldings, and foals; Aethonans and Granians, with even a couple of Abraxans put out to pasture. One of his uncles had an elderly Crup that was once the terror of the barn rats, but was now content to simply nap in the tack room and accept the quiet company of a studious child.
Summers were the worst, as he grew up. The village children would be home from school, providing more and more reason for him to stay at the farm and out of sight. He was no longer just a mistake, a shame that their parents would mutter about - now he was a beast that they were warned about, something dangerous and wrong. What had been snide teasing became verbal abuse; where before he had been pushed down or chased, now he was dodging stones and being thrown into the old mill pond. They might have stopped, had he ever shown any sign of being the uncontrolled violent animal that he was supposed to be… but he didn’t, because he wasn’t. He was the same small, pale boy that they had always tormented and reacted in the same way as he always had; endure it until you can run away.
His education, such as it was, came to an end when he was but fifteen.
It had been something of a battle to get him that far - the officials from the Ministry were never encouraging or complimentary, suggesting on more than one occasion that perhaps he was better suited to a life without magic. At fifteen, he was due to sit for his O.W.Ls - his mother was insistent, despite the effort it took to organise and the cost of various inducements to the right people. They had to go over to London, to the Ministry itself, and take a room in the Leaky Cauldron so that they could complete the two week period. Ward was sat in a cavernous room to take his exams; the Ministry staff who oversaw his written exams and those who swept in to administer his practical were not obviously discriminatory. They were perfunctory in their conversation with him, as though they had to underline at every turn what a pointless exercise they thought it was, what a waste of their precious time. They avoided getting within three or four feet of the small nervous boy. They never turned their backs on him. He had six years of understanding; they did not need to be obvious.
Ward had never been magically talented and, with the constraints on his education, his grades reflected that. Only two passing grades and neither one enough to be considered at N.E.W.T level; the rest mostly Ds and Ts. His mother was proud of him - she would never be otherwise, but it was made quietly clear that further education was not possible. Ward took it as well as he could - his failure was another stone in the hands of his peers, but he could still help on the farm with the meagre magic he had mastered.
He could still be useful; a little disappointment and shame couldn’t take that away from him. It never had before.
For ten years, he had done his best and given all he had. He had helped raise his siblings, worked on the farm until he had calloused hands and a body bound in thick muscle. Years of fixing dinners, changing nappies, placating tantrums; of feeding, training, mucking out, grooming, foaling; of weeding the flower beds and harvesting herbs. He had introduced a hive of bees and begun to collect his own honey; he had cultivated his own plot of the garden, and began brewing his own potions, making his own poultices; he had even bought an owl for his own, a plump tawny that he named Shannon. He had also watched his siblings board the train to school, watched his cousins curry favour with buyers and breeders, watched his mother struggle more and more each month with the sight of his monthly injuries.
It was for the best. There were whispers, there always had been - but now he was no longer a child, they were more anger than pity. Anger that could too easily become outright hatred.
The boys and girls who had thrown stones at Ward in their childhood were grown now, and stones had turned to glares and sharpened comments. He could have borne that, he had lived with worse… but they had started to talk about his family. About his mother, his step-father, their children. He didn’t want his siblings, as they grew, trying to understand what they overheard in their lessons or on the streets in town. He didn’t want them to come home, asking his mother why people were looking at them funny. They didn’t deserve any of it - not like he did. It was his lot, not theirs.
So he left.
He had already spent the money he had been given trust of on his 21st birthday; on a small run-down farm to the north, across the Shannon estuary and tucked back in the country, safely isolated from anyone and everyone. It had a small barn with a decent-sized hayloft and a couple of box stalls in need of repair; a pair of barn owls were already in residence, but he left them well alone to dine well off the rats that skittered across the stone floor.
The original 17th century farmhouse that the land was attached to had burned down in the early 19th century, but a small crofter’s cottage remained; the barn had been built nearby in the early 30s, but in keeping with the rustic nature of the original. In short, it was a far cry from the modern farm he had left behind.
The cottage was small: upstairs was a single large bedroom, while the downstairs was largely open-plan with only two small enclosed rooms. The kitchen took up more than half the ground floor at the back of the house, with a small box room to the front and an even smaller water closet - clearly a new installation, as it contained only a toilet and sink. A copper bathtub was tucked away in the corner of the upstairs bedroom, along with a family of unconcerned bats.
It took near a full month to get everything the way he wanted it. He cleaned up the house and the barn, fixed up the box stalls, cleared out the courtyard. The small garden space was cleared and weeded, divided into different sections for herbs and vegetables and flowers; there would be a greenhouse, one day, and a trellis for climbing plants.
One of the box stalls was, in the very first week, reinforced with iron and fitted with a heavy bolt… on the inside.
Ward has lived at Papplewick Farm, in isolation and near-peace, for over ten years. It isn’t an easy life: the nights are cold enough in the winter to see him sleeping in the barn with the animals; the work of the day is long and hard even for someone born to it; and each full moon is as terrible and lonely as those in his childhood. There is no one waiting on the other side of a door, to pick him up and see to his wounds - to make him feel safe again.
He receives letters every week from his family; his mother and step-father, and all his siblings. Pages and pages, always with a scolding note not to overfeed their owls again. His siblings are mostly grown, now. Only the two youngest are still at Hogwarts, while the older three make their own way. Ward sends back thick letters, along with jars of whatever he’s made that week, and vague overtures to visit soon. They don’t take him at his word - he only ever returns for the winter solstice, weighed down with gifts and stories, and only then if it’s not a full moon.
The family farm does well, without him. His mother insists it would be just the same had he never left, but he has learnt by now that bullheaded optimism only goes so far - even that of his mother.
Once a month, he walks into the nearby village, braves both the curious and condemning stares, and takes the Floo over to London. He has to meet with a Control Officer at the Ministry, since all the laws changed in recent years. Though his appearance is rough and rural, he doesn’t look particularly out of place among the crowds of Diagon Alley; perhaps his height might garner a few glances, the scars on what little skin he shows drawing unwanted attention. London is no small community, where everyone knows your family and your business… and the skeletons in your closet or, in his case, the cellar. Maybe he looks a little wild to the city folk, but - for the most part - it’s a human sort of wildness; a scruffy beard and soil-blacked fingers, a too-honest manner born of living with nothing but animals for conversation.
There have been occasions, in the last year or so, where eyes have passed over him and caught. On the scars, on the shaking on his hands so soon after a full moon, on his visits to the Beast Division of the Ministry. Looks have become words, and words have become blows. Ward has more than once slept off injuries in an alleyway, cleaning himself up as best he can before getting the Floo back home.
He doesn’t stay in the city - he has no reason to, after all. Evening sees him walking the long country lane back to his small farm: wooly heads lift as he climbs the gate, then just as quickly return to their grazing; fat, feathery shapes bob and weave underfoot as he heads for the house; the low hum of the hives is a welcoming familiarity as he passes them. It’s home; too quiet and empty sometimes, often smothering in its isolation… but home, nonetheless.
If Ward had grown up differently - if his family had accepted him, if he had never been bitten, if he had gone to school - then maybe home would not have been enough. He might have resented the solitude, the silences; he might have needed more, sought out the company of others, been a man with many friends.
He didn’t, so he is what he is and he lives as he lives. On a good day, he considers himself content.
Perhaps not happy, but content.
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