Chapter 1 : Signs Of The Time
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A warm glow of light emanated from a window on the ground floor of the home. Through the window, an elderly couple could be seen. The woman wore spectacles and was thin and frail in appearance with her silver hair tied in a loose bun. The man, also wearing eyeglasses and a bit portly in stature, had a clean-shaven face and a balding head with gray hair. The couple busied themselves preparing breakfast. The aroma of bacon, eggs and coffee filled the room. They moved slowly, deliberately and with a certain amount of stiffness in their steps. Each performed their specific tasks to complete the meal preparations as they routinely did almost every morning. Their motions were like a choreographed dance; each knew how the other would move as they performed in flawless precision and grace. Then, with breakfast trays ready and resting on a small cart, the woman took hold of her cane. She slowly shuffled through a door leading out of the room and onto the east-facing porch of the home. The man followed slowly behind pushing the cart.
With a small flick of a wand in the woman's hand, a bubble of the cold morning air that surrounded them began to warm. The cart was positioned beside a table that was set along the railing of the porch. From here, the distant mountain peaks could be seen silhouetted in the pale morning glow. Carefully hooking the cane over her arm, the woman lifted the trays onto the small table that had a chair on each end. The elderly man helped the woman seat herself and then seated himself opposite from her on the other chair.
He picked up a slice of toast and with his brow furrowed in concentration, began spreading jelly on it with the knife in his shaking hand. The woman took a sip of her coffee and smiled.
"You're doing better today," she said.
"A little," he said still concentrating on the toast. "It's easier in the morning."
Looking up at her he said, "How are you feeling?"
"A little weak yet from the last treatment but I do feel stronger today."
With the knife in his hand, he pointed out across the field to the eastern sky and said, "The comet is getting really close to the sun now."
"Yes, the newspapers are giving it a lot of attention." she said. "Some say it's an omen of death for a king or nobleman. Others say it means an eminent attack of heavenly beings on the evil people of the earth. The reporters for the papers are interviewing different centaurs for opinions. There is a great ongoing debate about the comet, what it means and what might happen."
He smiled and said, "Well, according to a computer website, the orbit will end and the comet will fall into the sun. This is the last time that comet will be seen."
"That's such a shame." she sighed. "It's really a beautiful sight. So bright, and the tails fan out like giant silver feathers."
There was mostly silence between them as they ate breakfast and listened to the dawn of a new day. The stars were slowly fading from view and the birds were beginning to sing in the trees.
"Time to come home." said a gentle voice barely louder than a whisper.
Their motions of eating breakfast abruptly froze. A chilled feeling of uncertainty quickly spread and they looked at each other across the table. Each face showed deep concentration for a long moment as they listened to try and hear more.
In a hushed voice she said, "That voice, just now?"
"Yeah, I heard it yesterday too. I thought it was just some party conversation."
"I couldn't hear it very well over the party noise," she said. "But now that I've heard it properly..."
"Yeah ... I think I know that voice too."
"Something like this happened to Molly. She said that it was Arthur calling to her. It happened just a few days before she … died."
"I've heard voices in my head before but this was ... different. There was a presence."
They looked at each other for another moment and then silently continued their breakfast, still listening. The only sound was the beating of wings as birds began to visit the feeder a short distance away. After a short while, she leaned back in her chair and looked toward the orange glow in the sky.
"Look!" she said pointing toward the brightening eastern sky. He looked out across the field and watched as a lone bird circled silently. It drifted slowly toward the row of trees lining the path and landed in one of the trees about fifty yards away.
"Is that one of this year's hatchlings still here?" she asked. "Will and Kate nested late this year and this one should be moving on before it gets any colder."
These were the names they had given to a pair of nesting hawks. The pair had returned for the last two seasons. They watched each day as the nest was built and the family raised. This year, the young had taken their first flights just a week ago. The next day, there was no sign of them or the parent birds.
The first time the hawks were spotted, they had nested across the field by the woods. It became a daily activity for the elderly couple to pack a picnic lunch and walk closer to see them better. But this year, the walk was too difficult for her to complete. So a telescope for him and binoculars for her allowed them to watch from the porch. Her health had slowly worsened over time. At first she said it was just the normal aches and pains of the elderly. But the day she doubled over in pain, he insisted on taking her first to a magical healer and then to a muggle doctor. Both were now giving her treatments.
He stood and walked a short distance to the telescope that was mounted on the railing. Placing his trembling hands on the base of the telescope, it moved to point toward the tree. His shaking hands could do very little magic now due to poor control of the necessary gestures and flourshes. The ability to perform magic had always been special and having it taken slowly away from him had been depressing and frustrating. In time, he reluctantly accepted that this was part of his life now and did only the simplest of magic.
He peered into the eyepiece. After a moment, he looked back at her and said, "It's hard to see in this early light but I don't think it's a hawk. It looks more like a falcon. But this one has red feathers on its head. I've never seen anything like it around here."
He again looked through the telescope. After a moment, still looking at the bird in the tree, he said, "There's something about that bird. Take a look at it."
She took the binoculars from a storage drawer and looked through them toward the tree. While she gazed, he reseated himself across from her. After another moment, she put the binoculars down on the table. With an expression of annoyance on her face, she looked at him and said, "Yes, there is something familiar about it but I can't place it. Do we know anyone who's animagus is a red headed falcon?"
"None that I can remember."
Reaching for her cup, she said, "Well, maybe we'll think or remember something later."
She took a sip of coffee and looked up at the wall space above the kitchen door. Golden letters still hung above the door proclaiming "Happy 60th Bonding Anniversary! Harry and Hermione".
Her gaze returned to a gentle old face looking across the table at her. "It's hard to believe it has been that long," said Harry.
"Where did all the time go?" she said with a sigh. "It seems like only yesterday we moved into this house and started our family."
He said with a smile, "And by the number of people that were at the party here yesterday, the family has grown quite large over all those years."
She smiled warmly and said, "Little baby Alyssa is so cute."
"Yeah, she'll be a real heart breaker when she gets older," he said with a grin.
She took another sip of coffee and said, "So many happy days and fond memories."
"Tell me one of your memories."
She put down her cup and thought for a moment. Then she said, "Remember the day when I was reading about dragons? ..."
She placed the book on the small table in front of her and then leaned back into the sofa with a thoughtful expression on her face. There was silence in the home library except for the faint ticking of a clock just above the door. The walls of the room were lined with bookcases that reached from the floor to the high second floor ceiling. In the center of the ceiling, sunlight streamed in through a skylight. A ceiling fan slowly turned and gently circulated the air in the room.
The room was comfortable, cozy and warm. Amid the seemingly thousands of thick books on the shelves there were also cherished pictures of family and friends. Mementos from travels and special times were also present. This was her inner sanctum; the place where she would go when she needed time to be by herself and close out the rest of the world for a while.
There was a gentle knock on the door. She looked up and saw Harry with his head poked into the room through the partway-open door. Her warm smile at him was the only invitation he needed and he entered the room. His footfalls made no sound on the thick carpet as he walked over to the sofa where she was seated. He gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek, sat down and placed his arm around her shoulders. In his free hand was a small piece of parchment just delivered by morning owl.
Hermione recognized the handwriting. Looking at him, she raised an eyebrow and said, "They've only been gone three days and we've already got an owl?"
He grinned and began to read aloud.
"Dearest, understanding, Mum and Dad,
Just a quick owl to let you know that James and I are safely back at Hogwarts for start of term. I'm happily getting reacquainted with all of my now fourth year Hogwarts friends. Just to prepare you, umm... you 'might' get an owl from the head mistress. I had to use Aunt Ginny's hex on a fifth year Slytherin who was threatening me. He had a 'misunderstanding' about me being a Potter. So, like you always say Mum, I helped him learn. He understands much better now. James had a 'friendly' talk with him also. I lost Ravenclaw ten points. :(
Love you both, Rose."
Hermione rolled her eyes and said, "She takes after her father." They both grinned broadly.
Looking at the letter he said, "Still the same old Hogwarts."
"Yes it is." she said also looking at the letter with a soft smile.
"The kids can take care of themselves," said Harry.
"Yes, they certainly can."
Smiling, Harry looked at Hermione and said in a tone of satisfaction, "I'm a very proud father."
"And I'm an equally proud mother." They both laughed.
After a moment, he looked at the book on the table and said, "What were you reading?"
"One of the books we collected from your parents' home. It's a book about dragons and their magical abilities. I was reading about the Ukrainian Ironbelly. It's a very fascinating dragon."
Harry thought for a moment and said, "Isn't that the same breed of dragon we helped free during our escape from Gringotts?"
"Yes, it is. I was just thinking about what the goblins did to that dragon and how it seemed to know we were helping it. I think that is why it flew so low over the water and close to shore for us. Somehow it knew we needed its help as much as it need ours."
"That was ... about eighteen years ago. Do you think it's still around?"
"I read that the Ukrainian Ironbelly breed is rumored to live for a thousand years but no one really knows for sure. Some folk songs suggest it lives forever. It is noted for its intelligence and wisdom. That's what makes it all the worse what the goblins did to it."
"So are you looking to get a dragon egg like Hagrid did?" he said smiling.
She smiled, "No silly. But I would like to know whatever became of that dragon."
He thought for a moment and said, "We could go to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. As someone in the MBI, I'll be able to get any information they might have about it."
She beamed a smile and said, "Let's do it then. I'll get my bag."
They arrived at the DRCMC. Harry had a brief word with the records clerk and then he and Hermione walked into the storage room. There were hundreds of dusty file cabinets in rows with narrow aisles separating them. Harry led the way to a row in the back of the room that the records clerk had mentioned to him. There, they began opening drawers and leafing through the file folders.
"Honestly, you'd think they would have improved their record keeping by now." she said tersely.
"I looked up something here before," said Harry. "Anything older than about ten years still hasn't been brought up to the newer standards."
"Here it is!" said Hermione happily pulling out a folder labeled 'Gringotts Dragon'.
"What does it say?" asked Harry.
She shuffled through the papers in the folder for a moment. Then she read aloud, "The dragon was last seen flying north after breaking out of Gringotts. Witnesses said that it appeared to be carrying more than one person on its back. The alleged individuals were too far away to be identified. The dragon's tracking collar was found in the rubble outside the vault it was guarding. A follow-up search was not done due to a shortage of department personnel. Gringotts bank reported twenty thousand galleons of damage and filed a request for compensation with the Ministry of Magic. The request was denied."
In a low voice Harry said, "So you, Ron and me are the only ones who know the dragon's last whereabouts?"
She whispered back, "I think so."
In a quiet voice he said, "Well, that's not much to go on but it's a place to start. I hope you packed warm hooded coats in your bag. That area will be windy and cold this time of year."
She tilted her head a bit and just looked at him with a pressed lip smile.
Harry grinned and shook his head in self-amusement. "Sorry, I know better than that." They replaced the folder and walked toward the exit door.
With a loud pop, they apparated onto a small hill above a lake. A cold wind blew and the sky was gray and overcast. There was a light dusting of fine snow on the ground. Hermione quickly pull two heavy hooded coats from her bag. They each put on a coat and pulled the hood up over their head. Then, they slowly turned and surveyed their surroundings. It felt vaguely familiar.
After a moment, he turned to her and said in a loud voice over the wind, "I think we should look on the far side of the lake below the mountain. There may be caves by that sheer cliff."
"That seems like the best plan to me also, she replied in a loud voice. "How do we get there? By broom?"
"Yeah. It's going to be dangerous flying in this wind, especially once we are close to the cliff. The mountain will cause a lot of unpredictable turbulence."
She nodded and reaching into her bag, withdrew a broom and handed it to him. She withdrew a second broom and then secured the bag inside her coat. After pulling flying gloves onto their hands, they mounted the brooms and kicked off.
It was a very bumpy ride as they started out across the lake. There were small waves in the water below them and some were capped with white foam. Strong downdrafts pushed them very close to the water at times. It took all their concentration to steer their course toward the cliff. Harry could see Hermione looking a little green but she pressed on. After about ten minutes, the wind sheers became very strong as they neared the cliff. At one point, he veered sharply away narrowly avoiding a mid air collision with her. Then, the wind and turbulence quickly calmed and the ride smoothed as they flew very close to the cliff face. They stopped and hovered to get their bearings.
"That was a nauseating ride," she said with a sick expression on her face. "There were a few times I felt like I would lose my lunch."
"You and me both. Let's rest a bit."
They were hovering about twenty feet above the water. Looking along the base of the cliff, it appeared to be sheer solid rock descending into the watery depths.
She pointed up and said, "Harry, just up over there. It looks to be part of a ledge."
He nodded and said, "Ready to give it a closer look?"
She took a deep breath and then began to glide slowly upward. He followed her closely. As they neared the ledge, they both began to feel disorientated. They stopped, backed away and hovered side by side.
"There's a confundus charm here; trying to keep us away," said Hermione. "There are probably other charms as well. We'll need to use a strong shielding charm to have any chance of getting past them."
The both took out their wands and pointed them at each other. Harry said, "On three then; one, two, three."
"Protego Maxima" they said together. A transparent bubble encircled them. The air rippled and momentarily distorted the vision of their surroundings.
They stowed their wands and after looking at each other, slowly moved forward. There was a brief buzzing sound but they passed through it and reached the ledge where they landed and dismounted from their brooms. The ledge, about three feet wide, was now fully visible and wound its way toward an opening in the rock. It was a sheer drop to the cold water two hundred feet below. With wands at the ready, they cautiously moved forward. As they reached the edge of the opening, a deep raspy voice was heard.
"Leave this place or suffer the consequences. This is your only warning."
They froze on the spot. Then Hermione called out, "We seek the dragon that helped us escape Gringotts many years ago. Can you tell us where we might find it?"
There was no reply. After a moment, Harry took a step forward and said, "We mean it no harm. We are not here to capture it."
There was a low rumble and Hermione grabbed Harry's arm and quickly pulled him back. A jet of flame narrowly missed him as they both staggered backwards.
Recovering, she called out in desperation, "Please, we only want to talk. What can we do to show our sincerity?"
The deep hollow voice said impatiently, "Nothing that you are capable of; only a spiritual sign. I tell you for the last time, leave while you still can."
She thought to Harry, "I know what we need to do. We have to show the gryffin; it's a spiritual sign. A simple lumos will do. Ready?"
Pointing their wands toward the opening of the cave, they touched the wand tips and together said "Lumos!"
The wand tips glowed briefly and a vaporous image of a bright golden colored gryffin formed. It floated toward the opening and disappeared into the cave.
They looked alternately at each other and the cave opening waiting anxiously. For the next few moments, nothing happened. Then, the image of the gryffin floated out of the cave and returned to them. As it reached them, it dissolved into the air.
She called out in a gently pleading voice, "We just want to thank you properly. Please trust us."
After a short pause, the gruff voice responded, "You may enter."
They looked at each other in apprehension. This is what they had hoped to hear but now, they had to trust the voice as much as it had to trust them. Hermione looked at Harry and nodded. He let out a deep breath and took her firmly by the hand. He stepped forward with Hermione just behind him into the opening of the cave and looked in. From the darkness at the back of the cave two eyes glowed and looked back at them.
There was a long agonizing moment of silence between them. Then the voice said, "I remember you. Where is the third?"
Harry said, "He is not with us today. Just the two of us are here. I am Harry and this is Hermione."
The voice said, "I am слойка (Sloyka) and pleased to meet those who helped me escape the goblins."
"May we see you better?" asked Hermione. "We truly mean you no harm."
Torches along the walls of the cave slowly erupted in flames. The light revealed the same immense fifty-foot long dragon they remembered. It lay feebly on the floor of the cave breathing heavily and seemed to be in pain. It was covered with wounds from the escape and still wearing some of the chains and manacles that dug into its neck and legs.
With a shocked expression Hermione said, "Oh you poor thing! How have you endured all these years like that?!"
"Time passes much differently for me. I have slept for a week of my time and just awoke this morning."
Harry said, "May we remove the remaining restraints and tend to your wounds?"
"Yes, that would be kind of you."
He began working on removing the remaining restraints while Hermione tended to the dragon's wounds. She needed to conjure many extra vials of Essence of Dittany. The dragon lay quietly and began to breath easier as the pain it was experiencing subsided.
Harry thought to Hermione, "Can dragons be helped by an ennervate charm?"
"I don't know. We'll have to ask."
"Sloyka" said Harry, "May we use an ennervate charm on you? It will help you regain some of your strength."
"You are kind but I think your magic is not that powerful."
"We have some special extraordinary magical power available to us." said Hermione. "Do you trust that we only want to help you?"
"Will you trust me with your safety being in a cave with a strong dragon?"
They looked at each other carefully considering the dragon's words. Then, looking at the dragon, Harry said, "Yes, we will."
"Then so will I trust you."
Standing before the dragon, they extended their wands over the dragon's head. The wand tips touched and they said together, "Ennervate!"
The golden gryffin appeared and settled onto the dragon's head. They both felt a throbbing sensation as magical energy drained from them. After a moment, they began to waver, weakened from the great strain upon them. Harry put his free arm around Hermione and they struggled to remain steady.
"Enough." said the dragon.
Their wands separated and Harry and Hermione dropped to their hands and knees exhausted and breathing deeply.
"Thank you" said the dragon. "I feel much better. Now, I will help you."
The dragon turned its head and looked at them as they knelt in front of him. They both looked up at the dragon's eyes. Then, a warm yellowish glow, like sunlight, emanated from the dragon's eyes and enveloped each of them. A warm tingling sensation spread throughout their bodies. It felt like they were being recharged by an inner glow of energy. Their strength returned and a feeling of well being settled inside each of them.
Hermione smiled and said, "Thanks" as they both got to their feet again.
Harry said, "You seem not as weak as we initially thought."
The dragon said, "You are both kind and compassionate. When I saw the gryffin, I thought could trust you. But I needed to be sure; please forgive me. I am the last of my kind."
A small table appeared in front of Harry and Hermione containing biscuits and tea.
"Please, eat and drink." said the dragon.
Hermione asked, "Can we get anything for you to eat?"
"My normal sustenance comes from the sun, even on a gray day such as today. I do not need to eat food so long as I am not too deeply shielded from its energy."
After seating themselves, they poured tea and Harry said, "Tell us, how did you come to be in captivity at Gringotts?"
"Long ago, I was trapped and captured by a group of men in a distant land. They said I was destroying the crops and killing their livestock for food. None of what they said was true. They wanted a tale they could tell and boast of the harrowing danger of their deed. They were about to slay me when one in their group spoke. He told them that a live dragon could fetch a large sum of money from the goblins. That man saved my life. On the day I was sold to the goblins, I saw the man in the crowd weeping as they carried me away."
"Did you ever see that man again?" asked Hermione.
"Just once, about a year later when he passed by me in the goblin bank. He was with another man and goblin going to a vault. He called out to me how very sorry he was. The others laughed at him saying it was better that a dangerous creature like a dragon was safely locked away for good."
"Did this all happen at Gringotts?" asked Harry.
"I have been sold many times to different banks. I was always kept in the deepest darkest vaults away from the sunlight. Without the sun, I was weak and forced to eat whatever they gave me."
"That is so cruel and barbaric." said Hermione as her face turned a shade of red. "It's the kind of injustice we've always fought against. We feel so very sorry for you and wish we could have helped you sooner."
"Thank you," said the dragon. "Tell me now, how did you happen to be near that vault at Gringotts?"
They talked for hours not noticing the passage of time. The dragon was quite entertaining and told them many tales from more pleasant parts of his very interesting and long life. At the ripe old age of nine hundred and fifty-four, he had lived and traveled to just about every place one could in this world. He had been a friend to magic and muggle folk from all walks of life. As he told stories, he would sometimes act out parts of the story using different voices and sound effects. There was much merriment and laughter in the cave.
Much later, Harry looked toward the cave entrance and saw that the light of day was turning to dusk. He turned back to the dragon and said, "Sloyka, it is getting dark and we must be going. This has been the most enjoyable day for us in a very long time. We hope to be able to visit with you again from time to time."
"That would be very nice," said the dragon. "I so enjoyed your company. This is my home now and where I will be. You are always welcome. Send the image of the gryffin ahead so I know it is you."
Harry said, "And please call on us in the same way if you ever need our help." The dragon nodded.
"Sloyka" said Hermione, "How long will you stay here? Won't you get lonely?"
"Mostly, I will rest now. Only one charge left for me to do; carry the two of you on when you are ready to leave this life."
Harry and Hermione looked at each other quizzically in disbelief. The dragon gently laughed and said, "Put it out of your minds. That is a very many years in your future. When that time nears, you will know what to do."
Harry and Hermione collected their brooms and put them back into the bag. Then, after bidding a final farewell, they disapparated and returned to their home in Godric's Hollow.
"How long do you think it's been since we last visited with him?" asked Harry.
"I don't know, maybe four of five years? It was difficult for us to get there the last time. Remember? Even then, our magic wasn't what it use to be. And the cold and damp made our joints ache. I think he knew it would be our last visit."
There was silence for a while as they gazed out across the yard. The sun was up now and hung just above the peaks of the distant mountains.
"Did you enjoy the party yesterday?" asked Harry.
"I enjoyed seeing everyone and I love them all very much. But it was so tiring for me. I was so sorry to have to go to our room and lie down. I hope no one was offended."
"They understood. It was hard for me too. Especially in keeping up with some of the conversations. Their words came so fast and sometimes I didn't hear or understand right away. By the time I did understand, they had moved on to another topic. I caught myself trying to make the same point about something that was already discussed."
Hermione said, "I sometimes feel treated a bit like a child. They think that something might be too hard for me now and so they do it for me. I know they mean well and are just trying to help but I still want to do things. Sometimes I think it would have been better not to have told them about our medical problems."
He said, "And they only know the generalities. Imagine what it would be like for us if they knew all the details. We'd hear a lot more 'We'll do it. You just enjoy retirement and take it easy.'"
With a distant gaze on her face, she said in a quiet voice, "That seems to be all we ever do now; it's rather boring. I miss being involved at the Ministry and working to make a difference. We used our knowledge and special magic to help others have a better life."
After a long moment of silence, he looked at her and quietly said, "Does it seem to you like we're just waiting around to die?"
She looked back at him and said in a quiet voice, "Yes, it does." After a short pause she looked into his eyes and said, "Do you remember when we discussed this all those years ago?"
He looked into her eyes and said, "Yeah, I do. You even found the spell."
After another moment, he said, "Hermione, we've both been thinking about this off and on for the last year or so. I don't think either of us can keep our thoughts private from each other anymore."
"Very true." she said. "That particular ability is working very well between us." She looked at him with concern and said, "I hope some of my more frustrated thoughts have not offended you. If they have, I am very sorry."
"I'm sure you have gotten your share from me too. I am also very sorry. But now more than ever, we need to be totally honest with each other. There is nothing you could think or say that would stop me from loving you."
"I feel the same about you Harry."
She looked deeply into his green eyes, the ones that provided the most intimate connection they shared. Her special Harry, her soulmate, was there and still warming her heart. His eyes always made her feel that she was the most important person in the entire world. But now, they were also looking tired. The sense of purpose, which had been there throughout his life, was mostly absent now.
She said, "Harry ... do you think the day you'd want to make that decision is getting close?"
He looked back into her eyes, the same ones that had shown him so many years ago, that she was his one and only, his soulmate. They had given him strength and always told him that he was her most cherished and truest love. But over the last few months, he had seen them grow weary of all the things she now had to endure to hold onto her life.
"Yes, he said. "I can't think of anything else I want to experience. Even if I did, there is very little, magical or muggle, that I can do in my condition. All of the important things that people might want to know about me are in the biographies that have already been written. There is nothing more to add."
After a short pause, he asked, "Hermione, what do you think?"
"I think the time is close too. It's been years since anyone contacted me from the Ministry. They have young bright people now making discoveries and regulating the wizarding world. All of my work is available in the Department of Mysteries library and the Wizengamot records archive. I haven't been able to contribute anything new for twenty years; just a few minor revisions to my earlier research."
They were both quiet. The he said, "What about our kids and their families?"
"That ... is the most difficult and heart wrenching part." she said. "We both love them all so dearly."
He said in a gentle voice, "Nothing will ever change that. But their sorrow is inevitable, whether we decide today, in six months or not at all and let nature take its course."
She signed softly and said, "How do we decide when it's the right time to move on?"
They were quiet for a long time. There was a slight uneasy feeling that flowed over into each of them from the other. The ability to share feelings, a result of their Vinculi Spiritu marriage bond, was still working well between them. They had each felt the others uneasiness over the previous months when these types of thoughts had been on one or the other's mind. But somehow, each time, the uneasy feeling was less. Somehow, it was working itself into an answer to their question.
She glanced at the clock through the kitchen window. Then she said, "We have a date with Neville this morning for tea. He felt so bad about not being able to attend the party yesterday. We'd better get breakfast cleared up and start getting ready. Neville said he would be here at ten."
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