Thank you so much for reading my fic yesterday! I decided to post the next section of it for you. Please let me know what you think….
Many miles from Mr. Smudgeworth’s beach, the rain had already fallen over a quaint village filled with identical thatched-roof cottages, a few places of business, and a small church with an unobtrusive steeple. Apart from the foggy streetlamps at each corner, the lights had all been turned out but for one house whose front window still shone.
A carefully-pruned tree stood outside this window, and in it perched a large crow who was trying to sleep. The light was distracting him, and every now and then a tall, stern-faced woman in a nightdress appeared in the window to look out at the street. Now the crow opened one eye and found the woman once again in the window, looking rather more concerned than before.
Inside the house, Mrs. Naiadina Featherley paced to and fro. Returning from the window, she seated herself on a sturdy wooden sofa and drummed her fingers on the armrest. After a few seconds, however, she seemed to grow tired of this and walked further into the dwelling, out of sight now of the crow.
Mrs. Featherley climbed a set of curving stairs and entered a modest-sized bedroom, wherein a tiny child with mouse-brown hair lay in a bed much too large for her holding a flashlight and reading a book. The child looked up, startled at the sudden appearance of Mrs. Featherley in the doorway.
“Astrid,” said Mrs. Featherley, with a hint of impatience, “what did I tell you before?”
The child appeared to concentrate and consider her words carefully before she spoke. “You said, ‘Impressive though it may be that a child of your age is so keenly devouring storybooks, your parents will have my head if they return to find you still awake.’ Sorry, Auntie ‘Dina.”
Mrs. Featherley blinked. “Yes, well. I’ll just be taking that book and that odd little light-making device.” She strode to the bed and took the objects out of the child’s hands.
The light seemed to come from Astrid’s eyes now as she replied, “It’s called a flashlight! It makes light without a wand, and you don’t even have to cast a spell! You just push this ‘ere button, see?”
“That’s fascinating, Astrid, but now you must get some sleep.” She pulled the covers over the girl, who placed her head cooperatively on the pillow.
“I love you.”
Mrs. Featherley smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you, too,” she said. “Good night.” She left the room and returned downstairs, still carrying the book and the flashlight. After another glance out the window, she sat back down on the sofa, picked up the book, and studied the cover. It had a shiny golden spine and was titled, The Poky Little Puppy. She opened the book and began to read, even chuckling once or twice.
Outside the window, the crow had all but decided to seek out a new roost for the remainder of the night, when there came a sound from nearby like a faint pop. An official-looking man wearing a dark cloak and a very grim expression appeared in the yard. The crow, resigned now to his sleepless night, peered down at the man, who hesitated briefly, sighing and shuffling from one foot to the other before straightening, clasping his hands behind his back, and striding forward. He hesitated once more at the door to the Featherleys’ home before knocking.
Inside, Mrs. Featherley, now examining the flashlight in some confusion, jumped up, startled. Reaching down, she grasped a robe from the sofa to cover her nightdress, and hurried to the door. She practically flung the door open and then froze when she saw the person who stood there.
“Barty!” she said, in something akin to disbelief.
“Ah, Naiadina,” the man said. “Terribly sorry to disturb you at this hour, but I’m here on Ministry business. Er…might I come in?”
“Of course,” said Mrs. Featherley, clutching her robe about her and stepping aside to allow him room.
“Where is Harold? Sleeping?” said the man called Barty.
“No,” came another male voice from the stairwell. “No,” he said with a yawn, moving to stand beside his wife, “I’m up. What’s this about, then, Crouch?”
“Well, I’ve got a spot of bad news, I’m afraid.” Mr. Crouch reached up to stroke a small black mustache.
“My sister and her husband?” said Mrs. Featherley.
“It might help if we were seated,” said Mr. Crouch.
“Barty, has something happened to my sister?” Mrs. Featherley stood rigidly in place.
Mr. Crouch looked back and forth between them and sighed again. “Not long ago, I was in my office when I received a visit from one Niles Smudgeworth. You’re familiar with the man?” He hesitated as the Featherleys nodded their agreement. “Yes, well…Niles was all out of sorts. In tears. Could hardly speak for the blubbering.” He cleared his throat. “It seems Niles was in the presence of your sister and her husband earlier tonight, at a beach over in Blackpool.”
“Yes, they went to an event there tonight, but they should have returned hours ago,” said Mrs. Featherley.
“It seems they got into a spot of trouble on the way back to their Portkey.”
No one spoke.
“Killed. Both of them,” Mr. Crouch went on.
Mrs. Featherley screamed. Outside, the crow, exasperated, finally took off, heading for the church steeple and a bit of rest.
Inside, Mr. Featherley assisted his wife into a chair before saying, “When you say ‘killed’….”
“I mean murdered,” said Mr. Crouch. “By, so he says, Niles Smudgeworth himself.”
“That’s not possible,” Mr. Featherley said. “Niles is a family friend. He would never harm them. In fact, Niles wouldn’t harm a mosquito if it was biting him.”
“Yes, well, he claims to have been under the Imperius Curse.”
A deathly silence fell over the room.
“You’re saying,” said Mr. Featherley, “you’re saying that this is the work of…of him.” He gave a small shudder.
“It very much appears so.”
“So…it’s happened,” said Mrs. Featherley, wiping away her tears. “It has happened to us.”
There was another silence.
“These are…dark times we live in, Naiadina. Lord Voldemort”—he spoke the name with disgust—“is ruthless in his treatment of Muggles. He would go to any length—well. Let us just say it’s a good job your sister and brother-in-law weren’t tortured, as well. Yours is not the first grieving family. No, not by far. Nor will it be the last, I fear, but the Ministry is doing everything it can to stop him, as well you know. This…pestilence…must be wiped out. The trouble is, it’s damned near impossible to tell who is innocent and who is lying.”
“So, Niles…” Mr. Featherley began.
“…Will be held in custody until we can hold trial. I daresay he’ll be let off, but in the meantime, you must trust no one. Now, I came straightaway. I’m terribly sorry to be the bearer of such bad tidings, but we have another important matter we must discuss. I understand Mr. and Mrs. Hastings have a young daughter?”
Mrs. Featherley sniffed. “Astrid, yes.”
“We will take her, of course,” Mr. Featherley said. He placed an arm around Mrs. Featherley’s shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze.
“Yes, of course,” said Mrs. Featherley, “we have always wanted one of our own. My sister’s child—I couldn’t give her up.”
“Very well,” said Mr. Crouch. “Only let me strongly caution you, for your safety and the child’s—raise her as your own. I would keep the death of her birth parents quiet. Astrid will fare much better if she is believed to be of pure blood. That is to say…if word got around that her parents had been murdered by—well, You-Know-Who…it could be very dangerous for her. Now, I am prepared to use my connections at the Ministry to alter her birth records and Obliviate those who do not need to know—including myself. I shall require your full cooperation. Astrid must never know the truth about what happened to her parents.”
“She will be our own,” said Mrs. Featherley without hesitation. “We will tell no one. We can work out a way to explain the situation to her.”
“Splendid,” said Mr. Crouch. “That brings my business here to an end. I will leave you to it, then. Harold, take the morning off if you need to. Naiadina.” He bowed his head.
After Mr. Crouch had gone, Mrs. Featherley looked up at her husband.
“Let her sleep,” he said. “We can break it to her in the morning.”
“Oh, Harold,” said Mrs. Featherley, resting her head against his shoulder as the tears fell.
At the top of the stairs, Astrid, who had climbed out of bed immediately after Mr. Featherley had done and had overheard everything, wept silent, terrified tears of her own.