The next morning, Valorie woke up, barely able to open her eyes. They’d been glued shut during the night. She picked the grit off slowly and painfully. Then she sat up, eyes still watering, and tried to think.
What was her plan for today?
She remembered Charley, and her heart sank.
Her mother was already thumping about downstairs, trying to prepare for her exam. Valorie didn’t want to face that situation again, and it was cold out there, and her duvet was warm.
But she got up anyway, put on a dressing gown and went downstairs.
Her mother was sitting at the table, staring down at a textbook. Her eyes weren’t moving very much, however, so Valorie couldn’t be sure if she was reading or not.
Valorie padded across the cold kitchen floor, over to her mum, and hugged.
Mrs Morse hugged her back.
‘Thanks for helping me with my revision,’ she said.
‘You’re welcome,’ Valorie said.
The hug carried on for about a minute, then Valorie broke it up. She put some bread in the toaster, set it to 4, and waited.
There was a bit of a silence.
‘Why do they have a setting that burns the toast?’
Mrs Morse laughed.
‘I don’t know. Maybe some people like their toast burned.’
‘I don’t know. Oh, and the high setting is good for doing potato waffles.’
Valorie looked up. ‘Aren’t you supposed to do those in the oven?’
‘Technically, yeah, but it’s quicker in the toaster.’
‘Makes a mess.’
‘I know. That’s why I don’t do it often.’
There was another silence.
‘Do you want a cup of tea?’
‘Yeah, thanks Val. Just a quick one before I go.’
Valorie made one. While the kettle was boiling, her toast popped up, and she took it out and buttered it.
‘Val… what do you do before an exam? You know, to calm yourself down a bit.’
‘Er… I usually eat something substantial. Before the exam, I chew gum to keep my mouth busy.’
‘I see. Maybe I’ll do that then. Could you pass me my cigarettes?’
‘Sure, where are they?’
‘On the microwave.’
Valorie could tell her mum was trying to be brave. She smiled at her as she gave her the cigarettes.
Valorie bit into her toast, finished making the tea and handed it over.
‘I’ve got to go and get ready for school, Mum.’
‘OK,’ Mrs Morse said. ‘Have a lovely day then, Val.’
‘You too, Mum. Good luck.’
They shared another hug, and then Valorie left with her toast.
Back in her room, her many alarms were ringing. She switched them all off. She noticed she had a new message on her phone. It was from Eddie.
‘Got your voicemail this morning. Very concerned. Please come down to canal, same place as before, to meet a few friends of mine. We’re going to get Charley. Will have to skip school though, sorry. Loves Ed x x x’
Valorie replied, saying she’d be able to meet them. Her mother was going into university; her father would probably be asleep all day. They would never know.
Valorie began to pack her schoolbag, not sure what she’d need for the day. She packed money (she’d managed to save £12.92), some food (she had some Mars Bars under the bed, in case of emergencies, like if Mum or Dad forgot to cook dinner), a torch, a change of clothing, a green paperclip that Amrita had given to her as a lucky charm, and her keys.
Her phone in her pocket, she waited until her mother left the house.
After ten minutes, her mother came back in for her handbag.
Valorie waited another ten minutes. Then another ten minutes. When she was sure she wasn’t going to come back, Valorie got her bag and left the house.
It was very chilly outside, so she took her army jacket with her. It wasn’t a real army jacket; it just looked like one. Her single surviving grandma had given it to her last Christmas. It was one of her favourite items of clothing. She trotted along, very cold, feeling hungry. The toast hadn’t been very much, and she was craving a bacon sandwich with tomato sauce.
Finally, she saw Eddie. Eddie stood leaning against the canal railings, well wrapped up, holding a sausage and egg muffin. Valorie looked at her enviously.
‘Where’d you get that?’
‘There’s a place down my street that does them,’ Eddie said, biting into it. Brown sauce and egg yolk oozed out the sides. Valorie moaned.
‘I want one.’
‘Well, you can’t have one. Are you warm enough?’
Valorie’s teeth chattered. ‘Y-y-yes.’
Behind Eddie stood a group of people. Two men, one woman, all wrapped up warm and huddled together.
‘Eddie, I’d like you to meet some friends of mine. They all signed up for your group this morning. They’re here to help us get Charley back.’
The tallest one among them stepped forward.
‘I’m Simon,’ he said, shaking Valorie’s hand. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘Simon’s a Wizard,’ Eddie added. ‘He can track down people, no matter where they are, as long as he knows them.’
‘D-D-Does he know Ch-Charley?’
‘Fortunately for us, I do.’
Another man stepped forward. He had blonde hair, a lighter colour than Eddie’s, and he wore glasses.
‘My name’s…’ he paused, looking embarrassed. ‘… Hermes.’
Valorie managed not to laugh.
‘Hermes is a Mortal,’ Eddie explained, ‘but he comes from a family of Wizards. Most of his family’s names come from Greek or Roman mythology.’
‘I s-s-s-see,’ Valorie said, and shook Hermes’ hand.
The woman stepped forward. She had bright pink hair and lots of piercings in her ears, nose and mouth.
‘Ruby,’ she said, and pumped Valorie’s arm up and down so hard she thought it was going to come off.
‘Ruby can make herself invisible, as well as anyone she touches,’ Eddie said. ‘She can also pick locks, so she’s going to prove quite useful today.’
Valorie nodded politely at them all.
‘I wish we had more time to get to know each other better,’ Eddie said, gesticulating a bit more than usual. ‘Last names, jobs, favourite kinds of pasta, whatever. But I have a feeling Charley needs us, so…’ she rubbed her hands together. ‘Shall we get cracking, then?’
Everyone nodded, and they walked over to Eddie’s ugly yellow car.
‘Will we all fit in there?’ Valorie asked doubtfully.
‘I think so. We’ll all just have to budge up a bit. We could have taken your van really, Si. Lots of room in there.’
Valorie looked at Simon. ‘You have a van?’
‘Yeah,’ he answered.
‘No reason, really. My dad gave it to me.’
Hermes reached the door and opened it.
‘Ladies first,’ he smiled, and Ruby and Valorie clambered in. Valorie took the middle seat, and Hermes squashed in beside her. She couldn’t locate her seatbelt, but she was firmly wedged in between these two people anyway, so what did it matter?
Simon sat in the front.
‘I’m sensing he’s been taken to…’
Simon took a map out from under the seat, and placed a finger over Luton. He shut his eyes, and the finger slid over to –
‘He’s being held at one of the hotels there. When we get nearer I’ll know which one.’
Eddie nodded. ‘Fasten your seatbelts everybody.’
The journey took several hours. Hermes fell asleep for twenty minutes, but an ‘accidental’ swerve of the car jerked him back into consciousness.
Eventually, Valorie looked out the window, beginning to see the signs for famous locations.
Simon looked like he was concentrating.
‘Charley’s being held at some sort of hotel… drive around for a bit, maybe I’ll get the name of it.’
Eddie drove around. Valorie sat up in her seat, leaning forward to see out the window. She’d only been to London once before, when she was six. She wanted to remember all this.
‘OK. I’ve got it. The Dandelion and Goat, near… er… ah! Belgrave Road. Where are we now?’
‘I can find Belgrave road… wish I’d brought the sat-nav.’
Valorie kept looking out the window. They drew up to a nice looking hotel, about eight or nine floors, with ‘The Dandelion and Goat’ emblazoned above the front entrance. Below it was a picture of a bearded goat happily chewing on a dandelion (hence the name).
‘This is it,’ Simon said. ‘I think they’re holding him somewhere on the third floor, but I’m not certain.’
‘OK. Everybody out.’
Hermes and Ruby got out. Valorie got out on Ruby’s side and they reached the pavement.
‘Seems like an odd place for a couple of Government officials to stay,’ Hermes remarked. ‘You’d think they’d have chosen somewhere more swanky.’
‘At least it’s low-key,’ Eddie said.
‘Will they just let us into the room?’ Valorie asked dubiously.
‘I don’t know,’ Eddie said. ‘Let’s go in and see.’
They entered. The interior was nice, comfortable looking. Valorie admired her surroundings as the five of them approached the desk.
‘Hi,’ said the man behind the desk, ‘My name’s Kevin, how can I help you?’
‘Hello,’ Eddie said, taking charge. ‘Are there any free rooms on floor three?’
Kevin checked. ‘Yes, there are. How many night do you want to stay for?’
Simon stood up straighter. ‘Room 32.’
‘Is room 32 available?’
Kevin frowned slightly. ‘That room is occupied, and I’m afraid access is strictly limited. Now, would you like a room, or –’
But they were already making their way up the flights of stairs.
Valorie struggled to keep up with the others. The stairs were quite steep and difficult to sprint up, but she kept going.
She could hear footsteps behind them, and quickened her pace. At the right floor, Hermes hurried them all in through the door, blocking it off with a chair.
Simon quickly located the room, somehow drawn to it like a magnet. While Eddie watched the door, Ruby stepped forwards, slid a hairpin from her hair, and began fiddling with the lock.
There was a loud banging coming from the other side of the hall door. Valorie kept glancing at it nervously.
And then the lock clicked and they burst in –