For as long as Holly could remember, it had been her habit to roll over in her bed as soon as she woke, and cuddle up to her stuffed hippogriff – an early and much loved present from her Uncle Charlie. Habit took over once more, but instead of a large stuffed toy, wedged securely against her bedroom wall, her half-asleep arms encountered nothing but fresh air.
The dull thud her slight form made by landing unexpectedly on Chelsea's floor would not have been enough to wake her friend, but the stream of invective which followed certainly did the trick. Once she realised where she had woken up, Holly had time to be grateful that her mum was back home in Hogsmeade, and couldn't hear the language coming from her youngest daughter's mouth. Her mother might complain, but really it was her own fault for having so many brothers who had no qualms about using their colourful turn of phrase in Holly's presence.
Chelsea's tousled head appeared over the edge of her own bed, white teeth flashing a wide grin in her friendly dark face. "Is this some strange magical morning ritual I should learn for Hogwarts?" she asked with a yawn.
Holly grabbed the pillow, which had followed her down from the bed, and threw it at her friend. "Ha-ha. You wait 'till you're waking up in a strange bed, and there's empty space where you're expecting a wall to be!"
Chelsea laughed. "Won't worry Simon and me. We're used to waking up in strange rooms from going away with Mum when she was filming. Our friends at school were all jealous that we got to stay in posh hotels in exotic locations. They would never believe us when we told them it was really boring for kids!"
Holly felt her curiosity welling up inside her. Hope kept telling her how lucky she was that their parents took her to places outside of Hogsmeade for holidays and things, but really, she had nothing to compare with Simon and Chelsea's travels. From their chattering before going to sleep last night, she had learned that the twins were on first name terms with Hotel managers from Los Angeles to Sydney, and lots of places in between. It made Holly's nodding acquaintances in a few Wizarding resorts seem very tame in comparison.
"What was your favourite place, then?" she asked.
Chelsea pulled a face. "To be honest, in a lot of places all we got to see was an airport, a limousine and an Hotel! I think the most fun we had was in Cairo. One of the receptionists had children our age, and Mum let us go and visit her home out in the countryside. That was really great, and we made friends with some of the local children whilst Mum was filming. We must have been there for about five weeks all told, and we were right next to the Valley of the Kings, where all the tombs are."
"That's funny." Holly frowned. "Well, not funny, amusing: sort of funny, co-incidence."
Chelsea's grin widened. "Elucidate, young lady."
Holly grinned back. "Elucidate? What kind of word is that?"
"It means explain in more detail. That was a line Mum used in her last film. I made Simon go and look it up in a dictionary."
Holly decided she would 'elucidate' for Chelsea. "My mum's family were very poor when she was growing up, but one year, they won a big prize, and spent it on a holiday to Egypt. Mum's eldest brother was a curse-breaker, and worked there looking for treasure in old tombs. Mum thought Egypt was wonderful."
Chelsea looked confused. "I thought all the pyramids and tombs had been robbed out ages ago!"
Holly replied scornfully. "Pyramids! They were just window-dressing for the Muggles! If you really want to hide things away, there's not much point putting a gazillion tons of rock on top, like a big 'X marks the spot' sign, is there? A lot of the real treasures, and the ancient secrets, are still hidden away somewhere."
Chelsea considered this for a moment. "That makes sense. So is your uncle still out there, looking for treasure?"
Holly put her chin in her hands and looked up at her friend. It was refreshing to meet somebody who didn't already know her family history intimately. "I never knew my Uncle Bill. He died long before I was born, during the wizarding war that made my parents famous."
Chelsea looked surprised. "Oh! Do you want to 'elucidate' about that as well?"
"Nah. You can learn all about it at Hogwarts." Holly pulled a face. "I really don't know how I'm going to cope with all that. When your parents are part of the syllabus for 'History of Magic', and your sister is reckoned to be the most powerful witch alive today, it would be easy to get an inferiority complex!"
"Yeah, but your 'powerful' sister couldn't reverse that spell you did on her bottle of wine, could she?" asked Chelsea, sceptically.
Holly was unconvinced. "Well, maybe, but I've no idea how I did that! I've only done five spells in my life. I tried to learn them from an old spell book of Hope's I found. And even then, two of them went wrong!" She sighed deeply from her heart. "People are going to expect me to be wonderful, just because I'm a Potter. But I'm not! I'm just plain, ordinary, Holly. Small for my age, no special powers and no great magical talents. The only thing I am really good at is flying."
Chelsea snorted. "Ooh, goody. Let's have a self-pity battle!" Her cheeky grin took away any sting from the words. "Look at me. Dad's the most senior black policeman in the country, a highly respected pillar of the community, and Mum is a famous actress, recognized everywhere she goes. I've got a lot to live up to as well, and I know absolutely nothing about magic. The only thing I am really good at is Karate, and I have to practice for an hour a day."
"It's a Martial Art, and exercise regime." Now it was Chelsea's turn to sigh. "Look, I'm not telling you this to win the self-pity battle, but I was born with a hip defect. I have to exercise regularly or it will seize up. A Physiotherapist suggested either dancing or Karate would be the best forms of exercise, and I chose Karate. Even now, my hip will sometimes go all stiff and painful, and I can't walk properly for a few days." She looked pleadingly at Holly. "I don't usually tell anybody about my hip problem, and when it does flare up I can always pass it off as a Karate injury. Please don't talk about it at Hogwarts. I get enough name-calling for being black, without getting teased for being a cripple as well!"
Holly was genuinely puzzled. "Why should you get called names for being black? What difference does the colour of your skin make?"
Chelsea gazed down intently, assessing Holly in silence for a few seconds. "You really mean that, don't you? Holly, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!"
* * *
As they ran down to breakfast, the girls' self-pity battle degenerated into a giggling game. Holly's final theatrical wail of, "My birthday's on Christmas day, so I only get one lot of presents," was countered by Chelsea's mournful, "That's nothing, every Christmas we have to visit our Granny Martha in Jamaica, and that's REALLY scary!"
Holly's laughter subsided as they erupted into the Dining Room. Her mother had already arrived from Hogsmeade, and was sitting next to Sophie Mayer. Holly smiled widely. "'Morning, Mum. Good morning, Mrs Mayer." She found herself staring intently at the plate in front of her. "Hello, Simon."
Simon was equally monosyllabic. "'Morning," he muttered, all his attention focussed on his glass of orange juice.
Their mothers were sharing a knowing smile, but Chelsea was exasperated.
She threw her hands up. "Now why should two people who normally can't shut up to save their lives, suddenly go all quiet just because they're in the same room together?" She fixed Simon with a gimlet-eyed glare. "Simon Mayer, brother of mine, look at me!" Once she had his attention she turned to Holly. "Holly Potter, new best friend, and sharer of my deepest secrets, look at me!"
She crossed her arms. "Right, let's sort this out. Simon, do you fancy Holly, who is the pretty redhead you are trying to avoid looking at, even though she is only sitting four feet to your left?"
Simon looked mortified, but managed to speak. "Yes. Yes, I do. I think she's wonderful."
Holly felt herself start to blush as soon as Chelsea turned to look at her.
"So, Holly. What do you think of my idiot brother? Despite all you have seen so far, he is actually capable of stringing sentences together when he isn't overcome with shyness."
Holly's blush deepened, but she managed to turn to look Simon straight in the eyes. She still stammered slightly. "I th..think he's quite c..cute, really."
Chelsea nodded decisively. "Good. Now that we've got that sorted out, can we please eat a normal breakfast?" She immediately started tucking into her bacon and eggs, before adding as an afterthought, "Oh, and you two can hold hands, or something, while we go to the train, if you like."
* * *
A few miles away another new friendship was being cemented over a breakfast table. Harry Potter and Vince Mayer had been comparing notes from their night's work at the British Museum. Vince Mayer paused with his knife and fork poised above a heaped plate of bacon, sausages, fried eggs and beans. "Don't tell Sophie I've had this for breakfast, please? She worries about my cholesterol, and if we were at home right now, I'd be having to make appreciative noises over a bowl of muesli and some fruit!"
Harry smiled back. "Your secret is safe with me, as long as you don't tell Ginny about me drinking coffee that hasn't been decaffeinated."
"A right couple of rebels, aren't we?" came a muffled answer past a mouthful of sausage.
As soon as the urgent business of refuelling was completed, the two men made sure they couldn't be overheard before returning to their discussion.
"Right, then," said Vince, "so, a few days after our children get wands with Egyptian names, a piece of stone of no intrinsic value whatsoever is stolen. A guard is found dead, without a mark on him, the security cameras have been wiped blank, and the photograph of the piece of stone in the museum records has also been removed. From your observations, the killing and removal of the records was done with magic. Coincidence?"
Harry sighed. "No. I don't think it's a coincidence, any more than you do."
Vince Mayer was into investigator mode. His questions were clipped and precise. "I noticed you never took your wand out, even when we were alone. Are you sure magic was used?"
Harry nodded. "My wand was up my sleeve, Not ideal, but sufficient to trace previous spell work. The guard was killed with an "'Avada Kedavra" ' curse. I haven't heard of that being used in years and years."
"So that's unusual then. Are there other killing curses?"
"No, that's the only one," Harry explained. "It can always be traced back to the person who cast the spell, and using it means automatic life imprisonment. I don't understand why they didn't use a memory modifying charm instead. That guard would never have remembered seeing them."
Vince Mayer's eyes narrowed. "So, we're looking for someone with no regard for human life. You said 'them', do you think there was more than one person?"
"Definitely more than one, but no more than five. That's as close as I can tell from the traces they left." Harry was beginning to appreciate Vince Mayer's skills. Like Kingsley Shacklebolt, he pursued every tiny morsel of information.
"You know," Vince said reflectively, "if they hadn't killed that guard, there wouldn't have been any real investigation to speak of. A lump of old stone gets stolen – it's hardly going to register as the crime of the century, is it? It makes me wonder if any similar stones have already been stolen."
Harry's eyes widened. That was a possibility he wouldn't even have considered. "I will get the Ministry to check their records. Can you do the same with Police records?"
"I already put the request in, before we came to breakfast."
* * *
Holly decided she had never been anywhere so overwhelmingly… Muggle… as Kings Cross station before.
So many people, hurrying and scurrying urgently around her. All the noise and bustle was a culture shock for a girl brought up in the quiet, peaceful village life of Hogsmeade.
She hurried to keep up with her father, who had arrived back with Mr Mayer just in time to join them on the taxi ride to the station. She found herself alongside Simon as they followed their respective fathers, who were pushing their heavily laden trolleys ahead of them.
Holly had steadfastly avoided any physical contact with Simon after Chelsea's teasing over the breakfast table, but now, almost unconsciously, she slipped her hand into his. She felt him freeze for an instant, and she caught her breath as she realized what she had done.
Simon started to smile, and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "You've probably never been anywhere like this before, have you?"
Holly smiled back and shook her head.
"Don't worry, we won't get lost." He started to pull her along. "Just stick with me, and everything will be fine. I'll look after you."
Holly decided it was time to re-assert herself. She didn't want to appear weak and helpless. "I don't need looking after, I'm just not used to big crowds, that's all. At least you aren't falling over things anymore, and Chelsea was right about stringing sentences together, although your grammar might need a little work."
Simon grinned, unabashed. "So, it's right what they say about redheads having fiery tempers, then?"
Holly snapped back, "Keep this up, and you'll find out before we even reach the train!" But she made no effort to remove her hand from Simon's warm grip. Almost against her will, a small smile started to play around her lips. She had tried to sound cross, but her heart wasn't really in it. This felt too nice for her to be angry about it.
* * *
As they approached the magical barrier to Platform nine and three quarters, her mother started organising them for the passage through. "Harry, Vince, you two go through first with the trolleys. Holly, Simon… Oh good, you're already holding hands… that will make it easier. You two go next; then Sophie, Chelsea and I will follow behind you. Hurry now!"
It was at times like these, rapping out orders for family and friends alike, that Mum really sounded just like Granny, thought Holly. It would take a very brave man to argue with mum in this mood, and everybody meekly fell into line to follow her instructions.
She felt Simon flinch as their fathers disappeared through an apparently solid wall. "Do we have to do that? What happens if it doesn't work?"
Holly grinned impishly. "Don't worry, I'll look after you!" she mimicked his words out on the station concourse, as she pulled him along.
Seconds later, they were standing in front of a gleaming scarlet train. "Whoa!" Simon breathed.