‘Where have you been the last week?’ Amrita demanded at school ‘I’ve hardly seen you.’
‘I know. I’m sorry.’
‘We’ve got English again today, did you do the homework?’
Valorie looked at her. ‘Homework?’
‘You were supposed to answer that question about the poem we’ve been doing? Didn’t you write it down?’
‘No.’ Valorie groaned. ‘I don’t want to do it. Let him shout at me, I don’t care.’
‘Are you sure?’
Valorie was worn out. She had Facebook stuff to deal with, she had Charley’s sessions – which weren’t getting any easier – and her parents were still disputing. It was getting rather stressful.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ Amrita said, ‘maybe I should have a nickname. I’ve never had one.’
‘Really?’ Valorie asked, looking wearily at her friend.
‘No. My mum always calls me Amrita, my brothers do, and my sister does… I need a nickname.’
‘Amri?’ Valorie put.
‘That’s pretty cool,’ Amrita said after some consideration. ‘From now on, you have to call me Amri, ok?’
‘Absolutement, Mon Capitan,’ Valorie said, and gave a salute. ‘C’mon, let’s go to the canteen, I’m starving.’
‘You look really tired. Is anything wrong?’
‘Oh, just millions of tiny little things. Nothing big.’
Mr Faulkner shouted at her for not doing the homework, and gave her a ten-minute detention after school.
‘As this… is a first… offence…’ he drawled, ‘I… will not… contact… your… tutor. Will you… do… the homework… by… tomorrow?’
‘Yes,’ Valorie answered curtly.
Mr Faulkner let her go. Amrita was waiting outside the classroom for her.
‘Did you die in there or something?’ she asked.
‘I mean, I know it’s boring, but you were nearly asleep most of the lesson. You didn’t even talk to me.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. I’ll play consequences with you tomorrow.’
‘I was so bored,’ Amrita complained. ‘I needed to talk to someone, but you were having a snooze.’
‘Are you going to go to sleep next lesson?’
‘I dunno. Maybe, what does it matter?’
Amrita cleared her throat. ‘Would you mind if I sat next to somebody else? You know, someone I can actually talk to?’
Valorie yawned. ‘I suppose so. I’d walk home with you, but I’m in a hurry. I’ve got to see…’
‘Don’t tell me,’ Amrita said, sounded dejected. ‘Charley.’
‘I’ll see you later, Amri,’ Valorie said, too tired to care, and slumped off.
Charley wasn’t in. Valorie sat on the doorstep waiting for him. When Charley did arrive with bags of shopping, she was fast asleep.
‘My goodness,’ Charley japed. ‘A vagrant.’
Valorie woke up. ‘Is that my new name now?’
‘Could be. Are you up for today’s session?’
Valorie stood up, and took two of Charley’s bags. ‘Suppose so. Nice tent, by the way.’
Charley pretended to be indignant. ‘I think it’s very comfortable,’ he said, swirling his kaftan.
‘Oh well. It’s a nice baggy garment. I’d be more worried if it actually fit you.’
Charley waved her inside, and then followed Valorie into the kitchen. Valorie thought she heard him mutter ‘Peasant.’
The kitchen smelt of air freshener. Eddie was already in there, drinking a cup of tea.
‘Hello again,’ she said to Valorie.
‘Hi,’ Valorie said, waving, before whispering to Charley, ‘She’s still here?’
‘She’s just a friend.’
‘Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.’
Eddie went pink. ‘Charley’s been showing me how to walk through a wall today. I did alright the first time, but then I got stuck.’
‘That was embarrassing,’ Charley said. ‘I had to pull her back out again. OK Valorie, today we’re going to go over your grabbing skills one last time, and then I think we’ll take a break from that and explore your teleportation skills.’
‘Have you had the chance to practice much at home?’
‘Oh please. I can barely get my homework done on time as it is.’
Charley leaned as far back against the sofa as was possible without actually sitting down.
‘I do worry about your education suffering as a result of our sessions. I mean, you are awfully young to begin Wizarding.’
‘That’s not fair. You told me you started when you were five.’
‘True, but remember we had no TV and we were very very bored as children.’
‘Can we get on with it please?’
Charley sighed. ‘I guess so. Oh, by the way, I got a few very special moths in today. Do you want to see them afterwards?’
‘I’d be delighted.’
‘OK. Look into my eyes.’
The session went quite well – Valorie was definitely improving as far as manoeuvrability was concerned – but she was still unable to pick up anything without teleporting. Charley promised not to force any more torturous practices on her for the next few weeks.
‘We do have to come back to it at some point, remember.’
‘I know. So can I see your special moths?’
Valorie followed Charley as he cannoned up the stairs. They entered Charley’s bedroom, which was painted bright yellow and smelt of incense.
Inside a largish tank fluttered two moths.
‘That’s it?’ Valorie exclaimed. ‘They look like ordinary moths to me, what makes these so special?’
Charley grinned. ‘These are Oak Processionary moths. They’re very dangerous because the caterpillars have toxins in the bristles on their backs. If the toxins are inhaled, one can suffer respiratory distress, and even anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.’
‘Wow. That’s one deadly moth. Do you have any caterpillars?’
‘Not of these ones, no.’
Valorie watched the moths flutter around, occasionally nibbling at the bark that Charley had left for them.
‘Why do you have such an interest in insects?’
Charley looked at her. ‘I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘I’ve always found them fascinating. So much simpler than humans, and yet so much more complex.’
Valorie could only nod.