Thank you very much everyone who has read or commented on this project. In response to Achim’s curiousity, I’m sharing another excerpt. This time we are formally introduced to Grim and Midas.
“Grimalkin,” Thistlewaite repeated. “You don’t call a fine ginger tom like this Grimalkin, surely. That’s what witches in stories call their familiars.”
Lestrange didn’t smile. “My Uncle had a … peculiar sense of humour.”
“And what joke is it that has you so shaken?”
Lestrange still held the letter, but he didn’t so much as glance at it. “I should have seen it sooner. The last time I visited my Uncle, he was feeding a ginger tomcat from his own plate! I thought it a spoilt beast, plump and with a fine coat. I would not have recognized him, if it hadn’t been for the magpie.”
“Magpie?” Thistlewaite looked again to Midas, who tilted his head as if the conversation was entirely foreign to him.
“Indeed.” Lestrange leaned back against the door, his arms folded. “Housecats, no matter how sleek or how spoilt, are a dime a dozen, but it is not every day you see a magpie so tame that it will come when called or perch on its master’s wrist to accept crumbs.”
My tail twitched, and I saw Midas’s feather’s rise. We both had a reply to make to that, but we were silent. Even though we knew by now that it was useless, hope kept us clinging on to the last wreckage of our rapidly sinking ship.
“No,” Lestrange continued, driving our ship merrily against the rocks. “I remember the magpie very well.”
“But even if they are, as you say, your Uncle’s pets, how do you explain their arrival here?” Thistlewaite protested. “I never heard of a homing-magpie, or a blood-cat!”
“If you would be good enough to let me explain?” Lestrange did not appear to be any happier with Thistlewaite’s silence. “It appears these creatures are my Uncle’s familiars.”
“I told you that I hadn’t looked at the letter, my mind was too confused. Perhaps it would be more apt to say that I looked at the letter and was confused. But now things begin to make a strange sort of sense — but no! It is too utterly, incredibly absurd!”
Thistlewaite scratched my ears absently. “I have to admit that I am no less confused, old bean.”
“Then see what you make of this.” Lestrange unfolded the letter and began to read. “Nephew. I won’t bore you with any protestations of fondness, because as you know as well as I, we neither saw enough of each other to be fond. Still, I have watched your progress from afar, conscious of a young man’s need to make his own way in the world and desirous not to be construed as a meddling old busybody. If there is one thing in this world that I cannot stand, it is a busybody. If I erred too far in the other direction, my lad, you will have to forgive me.
“Still, on the strength of what I have seen, I am leaving to you a most important commission. I entrust to you, and you alone, the two most valuable objects in my possession. You protest that this is highly irregular, that you haven’t even heard my will read. You will soon understand why I do not delay. I have instructed my lawyers to hand this letter to you — and only you — the moment they hear of my demise as the charges I leave to your care will not be content to wait meekly till you can take over their wellbeing. In fact, I fancy they will seek you out and try to convince you of my unfairness and cruelty in depriving them of their rightful freedom and they will try to impress you on the necessity of you granting them it.” Lestrange’s hand clenched tightly around the paper he held. “Don’t be fooled by them! As my heir, you alone can free them of the debt they owe the Lestrange clan, and for that reason alone they will serve you as faithfully as the best human servant.”
“Come now,” Thistlewaite chided. “Toby, this is preposterous! You can’t really think—”
“The cat, Grimalkin.” Lestrange continued resolutely, turning the page. “He is a sluggard and a glutton. You will have to chide him into action, but once roused, there is no better fighter on your side. He will guard you against magical attack and warn you of mortal peril. So long as he is by your side, you need never fear for your safety. He knows no fear, and will meet any danger. Be sure not to leave any food unguarded when he is in the house as he will eat anything he can get his paws on. A high pantry shelf is no guard against his cunning, and you must warn your housemaids against his ingratiating ways. Above all else, do not give him cream. It disagrees most terribly with his digestive system. He is fond of all manner of fowls, and his favourite treat is goose liver pâté.”
My tail twitched. Well, at least he had remembered the pâté.
“Pâté! That’s a bit much! How are we, a pair of junior schoolmasters, to afford pâté?”
“The magpie, Midas, is, as you may infer from his name, insatiably greedy although it is not sweetmeats that catch his eye, but trinkets. He must be watched, else he will steal your — or your guests’ — shiny objects for his own collections. He has stolen rings, brooches, earrings, necklaces, cufflinks, small glasses, and on one memorable occasion, a coronet. Of the pair, he is the more intelligent, and thus the more troublesome. If there is any trouble, it is a sure bet that it is Midas at the bottom of it.”
I flicked an ear, glancing through my half-lidded eyes to see how Midas took this.
His feathers were all puffed out, and he did not hop about. I thought he was still but a second glance revealed that he shook with suppressed rage. Despite the knowledge that we were both in trouble, I smirked. My nose still smarted from where Midas had pecked me.
“That said, Midas will make you a valuable servant. His principal gift, and the one that makes him so very valuable, is his talent in finding things. Tell him once to seek it and it is as good as found, Midas has never once failed me. Besides this, he is very knowledgeable in the magical arts, and can instruct you in many of the basics. You will need his knowledge to make the most of your inheritance, and Grim’s strength to protect it.” Lestrange took a deep breath. “I am sure you find my charge to you strange and burdensome, but I must beg you, do not abandon them — and above all, do not free them! For all their faults, they have come to be like children to me. An old man’s fancy that I am sure you mock, but as you spend time with them, you will understand that like naughty children, they will connive at much mischief and get into trouble if left to themselves. Nephew, I beseech you — for their sakes, if not mine, take them as your responsibility. I remain, your Uncle. Fabian Lestrange.”
There was a long silence.
I stretched, and jumped down from Thistlewaite’s lap, stalking towards the chair on which Midas perched. “Well that’s torn it.”