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Chapter 2 : The Mysterious Visitor
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Annie stayed still on the sofa for a moment, a quiet, distant look in her eyes. Both boys watched her carefully. Finally, she rose and said, "If we're having company tomorrow, I guess I'd better get started on the laundry."
Washing clothes was, traditionally, a Sunday chore. But, when company was expected, a grandmother's visit, for instance, they would start the process Saturday afternoon. Patrick shot a questioning look over to his older brother. "Does that mean you're going to this wizard school?"
Liam shrugged. "I don't think she's made up her mind yet. Looks like she's thinking about it."
"Do you want to go?" Liam shrugged again, not wanting to get his hopes up. "I want to go," said Patrick decisively. "I can do everything you can do. When I'm eleven, they'd better invite me."
Liam didn't answer, but got up and went to find his mother. He helped her gather and sort the clothes. When the first load was started, he also worked alongside her preparing supper.
Liam was a good cook - he had a knack for it. He was always curious as to how spices and sauces interacted with different meats and vegetables. When Annie turned her back, he would often add an extra dash of something to the pot. The times his experiments went badly were rare - he most often improved upon the original recipe.
While he stirred a pot of sauce for the noodles boiling alongside, his mother made a quick call. "Charlie? It's Ann. There's someone coming over tomorrow to see Liam. Yes, from one of the schools. Lakewood Prep. It's a very prestigious school, I hear. I was wondering if you'd come over and hear the presentation, too . . . Oh, I see. Well, we'll fill you in when you get back then." The call wrapped up abruptly.
"Is he traveling?" asked Liam.
"Yes. I knew he'd gone to the Continent for business, but I thought he was coming back last night. I don't see why he couldn't make the effort to be here," she added with an edge of bitterness in her voice.
Patrick, who'd just come into the kitchen to check on the progress of the meal, asked, "Is he with a French girl?"
"Patrick, that's none of your business," she snapped, which to the boys was as good as a 'yes.'
"How come you said 'Lakewood,'" asked Liam quietly, "and not 'Hogwarts?'"
"I don't know why I did. It didn't seem right too. They're so secretive, with their magic paper, and their fake school name . . . ." She was lost in thought again.
"Do you really think there are people out there, people like me and Patty, who can do real magic?"
"I guess I've always known that there were," she answered. She shook away her distant thoughts. "Let's not talk about this now. Patty, set the table. It's time for supper."
They had a quiet dinner, just the three of them. Afterwards, Liam and Patrick washed the dishes, then returned to their racing game. It was later that night, as Annie was tucking him into bed, that Liam was able to broach the subject again.
"Did you know any magic people when you were younger?"
"I don't know, Liam. When Charlie and I were little, there was this eccentric uncle of ours, sort of a black sheep of the family, but I don't think he was anything other than a dotty old man." She let out a heavy sigh. "When you were just a toddler, and Patty was a baby, there was . . . a bad year. Some strange things happened - sad, terrible things. People don't talk about it anymore. I guess they've forgotten . . . ."
She smiled, and ran her hand through her son's hair. "Not tonight, Liam. I don't want to trouble your sleep with all of this. Get some rest, and we'll see what the morning brings us."
Liam's sleep was filled with the images from the secret brochure. He dreamed of flying on a broomstick around the castle and the lake, and in another, he gazed into a steaming cauldron, which turned into a crystal ball which showed him hazy figures, shrouded in mist.
In the morning after breakfast, the three of them bustled around, cleaning the house. Liam even put away his race track. In the event that the visitor wanted to see his room, Liam wanted to make a good impression.
This did not take all morning, however, and there was a good bit of time in which Liam and his mother were sitting around, nervously watching the clock. Patrick quickly gave up on them and found a football game to watch.
Around twelve, Annie asked, "Shall I feed you two lunch, or are we waiting for this visitor?"
Liam shrugged, but Patrick spoke right up. "I'm hungry. I would like my lunch now, please!"
It was just the distraction they were needing. Annie made sandwiches while Liam set the table. By the time they were done eating and everything was cleaned up, it was nearly one. Liam went to the front room to wait. There was a worn sofa overlooking a plate glass window, showing a view of the front yard and the walkway up to the door.
Patrick joined him on the sofa. "Do you think he'll fly here on a broom?"
"I don't think so. Like Mum said, these people are awfully secretive."
"An Aston Martin, then?" suggested the younger brother. "Or maybe a Bentley?"
The boys were both disappointed when the car that pulled up to their drive was a dilapidated Toyota hatchback. The man who got out was in a plain grey suit, and he had a attaché case. He looked for all the world like a traveling salesman.
"No style at all, that one," said Patrick, referring more to the car than the man.
"It's a disguise," said Liam as he watched the man make his way up the walk. "I bet if we touch it, it'll turn to a Lotus Elise."
As the man approached the door, the boys ran to the entryway. Patrick opened the door just as the man pushed the bell. "Hello there!" said the man in a loud, jolly voice.
The two boys stared at the man suspiciously. Even up close, there was nothing about him that seemed at all magical. He was a balding, slightly overweight middle-aged man. "Are you from Hogwarts?" asked Liam.
"No, I'm from Ministry. But, it's good to know you've cracked our little code. Turned the trick, as we say. Well, done. You must be Liam."
"And I'm Patrick and I can do everything he can do!"
"Yes, Patrick," said the man. "You're in our file." Annie came down the hallway just then. She had been washing dishes, and she was drying her hands on a towel as she walked. "Mrs. Wren," said the man, nodding his head to her. "Good afternoon. Glyn Harkenborough, at your service."
This was not her name, but nobody corrected him. "Good afternoon," she answered. "Please come in."
"Yes, thank you. These things are best discussed in doors." He stepped over the threshold, and Patrick closed the door behind him.
As soon as he had, the younger boy blurted out, "Does your car fly? Does it turn into a sports car? Do you fly on a broom?"
"Heavens, lad," said Harkenborough chuckling. "Can't be flying about on a broom, right in the middle of a Muggle village, now can we? What would the neighbors think? As for the car, well, it's standard Ministry issue. A fancy sports car would be out of the question, budgets being as they are."
No one had extended a hand in greeting to the man. Liam thought his mother looked nervous, but she was putting on a good show for the stranger. "Would you like some tea?" she asked.
"Yes, please," he said. "That would be splendid."
"Would you prefer Earl Grey or Lemon Ginger?"
"Earl Grey would be fine, thank you."
The four of them went back to the kitchen. Annie had a pot ready, along with some cream and sugar. Harkenborough sat down at one of the ends and, setting his attaché case on the floor beside him, took from it a thin file. He set the file on the table in front of him and took a quick look at its contents before closing it again. Annie poured him a cupful.
Harkenborough spent a moment pressing his tea bag, then he took a sip without adding any cream or sugar. The boys sat on either side of him and Annie, with a steaming cup in her own hand, sat at the opposite end.
There was a nervous alertness in Annie's eyes, but she did not speak. Harkenborough looked around the table and asked, "Is this everyone? The father, a Mr. Sean Wren, I believe? Will he be coming?"
"No," answered Annie, curtly.
"Does the father possess any magical abilities that you know of?"
"I didn't believe so, but I thought I should ask." He took a quick peek at his file again. "The record also mentions a Charles Keats."
"He will not be here, either."
"He's spending the weekend with a French girl," added Patrick, earning dark looks from his mother and brother.
The stranger gracefully ignored this comment. "Well, then, let's begin." Turning to Liam, he said, "Mr. Liam Wren, I am here to recommend to you Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the finest Wizarding school in the world, I might add. It is also my great honour to formally welcome you into the Magical Community of Great Britain."
Liam was silent a moment longer as he weighed which of his questions to ask first. "You went to this school, too?"
"Of course I did. I was there during Dippet's tenure. Like many who go on to careers in government, I was a Ravenclaw. And that brings me to my next topic. Though there didn't appear to be any magical lineage here, I did an extra bit of research and turned up someone. He also went to Hogwarts, Class of '33, I believe. Incidentally, he too was a Ravenclaw: Barnabus Hexwood."
"Uncle Barney?" exclaimed Annie.
"You remember old Hexwood, do you?" said Harkenborough. "Excellent. Makes things easier." The man reached into his attaché case and drew out a worn book and a long leather pouch. "He's been gone for many years now, of course. Most of Hexwood's possessions went to his friends. He was never married, nor did he have any known offspring. He did, however, have relatives outside the Magical Community, so he left a provision in his will that the first wizard to come from that line shall get these items here."
The man handed the book to Liam. The cover was sturdy but worn, and the pages had a well-turned look. Liam glanced at the title, One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, before setting it aside.
With a flourish, the man drew from the leather pouch a long wooden stick. "Hexwood's wand," he said, presenting it to Liam. "I haven't had the time to research it properly, but if we asked the right people the right questions, we may discover its elements. The wood is spuce, clearly, and it's ten inches long, but what lies at its core I simply couldn't tell you."
Liam looked at the wand with some suspicion. He thought of the phony magician that came to friend Tim's birthday party years ago. That man had a magic wand, too, but all of his magic was fake. Liam picked it up and looked at it briefly before setting it aside.
The man bent down into his case one last time, and drew out a small leather bag. "And finally, a bit of a legacy. Have you ever seen wizard coins, Mrs. Wren?"
"Possibly," she said softly.
Harkenborough reached into the bag and drew out three different coins. "Gold Galleons, Silver Sickles, and Copper Knuts."
Annie reached across the table and took the small Knut from him. "These I have seen," she said, a wistful smile on her lips. "Uncle Barny gave me one when I was just a girl. I may still have it somewhere."
Liam looked doubtfully at the small bag of coins. "How much money is that?"
"There's enough Galleons here to put you through school, certainly."
"What about my other son," asked Annie. "Patrick has got abilities that are similar to Liam's."
"Yes, he's down in the file as well. When he turns eleven, he'll be getting his letter, no doubt about that."
"I can't be certain that my circumstances will be all that different three years from now. I don't think I could afford to pay any sort of tuition for my sons to go to this school. And, aren't there books and things to buy, as well?"
"I'm not really the one to ask, but I believe there are still scholarships available. The endowment isn't what it was, but we're building it back up. The castle was refurbished recently, you see."
Leaning forward on her elbows, her hands up by her chin, Annie asked, "Was it damaged in the war?"
The question caught everyone by surprise, particularly Harkenborough. "You recall the war?" he exclaimed. "Goodness me. That is certainly not in the records." He opened the file and make a note on the paper. "Yes, there was a war, and yes, the castle was damaged in one of the battles.
"But, it's long over, and the good guys won, as we say. Nothing to worry about. The campus is perfectly safe, now."
"And what exactly is in that file?" asked Annie, a sharp edge in her voice now. "How long have you people been spying on my sons?"
"Mrs. Wren, please!" said Harkenborough. "Spying is such a harsh word. We do keep an eye out for magical children so that, when they are old enough, like Liam here, they can be brought into the fold. But there's nothing nefarious about it."
"So, how long have you been 'keeping an eye out' for Liam?"
Harkenborough checked his records. "He came to our attention in 2001."
Something occurred to Liam just then, and he was about to speak, but a look from his mother quelled him. "I see," she said. "Yet, you waited until now to reach out to us?"
"It's traditional to do so, when a magical child is growing up in a Muggle, or non-magical family."
"Why all the secrecy? What if we had thrown that Lakewood brochure out before one of the boys had handled it?"
"Well," said Harkenborough with a chuckle, "I would have had some explaining to do."
"So, you were coming anyway. Today, ready or not, here you come, Mr. Rumplestiltskin. Now that my son's eleven, you want to take him from me."
"Mrs. Wren!" pleaded Harkenborough, "it's not like that at all. Liam will have to go to secondary school somewhere. At Hogwarts, his talents will be developed to the fullest. But, he will always be your son. He will come home at holidays and for the summer, just as he would if he were going to any secondary school."
He tried to blunt the angry look in her eyes with a kindly smile. "There's an Orientation Day at Diagon Alley, in London, on July 10th." He pushed a paper across the table to her.
"There are directions on this sheet on how to get there. It may help you put your mind at ease if you met some of the other mothers, and saw the children gathering their supplies, preparing for school."
Annie took the paper and looked at it without saying anything. "Will you consider coming?" asked Harkenborough.
"Yes, I'll consider it."
Harkenborough seemed to realize that this was all the assurance he was going to get from Liam's mother. He rose and gathered his things. "Thank you for the tea, Mrs. Wren. There is a number on the paper there, if you have any questions, but I do encourage you to come to orientation."
"I will consider it," she answered, her voice cool and stern.
Harkenborough gave Liam a nod. "Either way, lad, those things are yours."
"Thank you, sir."
"Good day to you all." Harkenborough slipped out of the house, and drove away in his dilapidated Toyota without a look back.
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