Later that week, Valorie found herself back at Charley’s house. It was all over – Adam was dead, the families had been notified, and everyone else had returned home.
The night after the battle, most of the surviving Wizards had returned to the Common to celebrate their victory. Valorie hadn’t been able to attend, however – she was grounded. Her parents were quite angry that she had snuck out to try and fight Adam Quinn, and had insisted on keeping her in the house, under their watchful gaze, for an entire week.
‘I’m writing into school, telling them you’ve got flu,’ her mother had said, somewhat irritably. ‘I hope you’ll use this time to catch up on your schoolwork.’
Valorie, of course, had agreed. She didn’t mind being grounded too much. She spent the first few days of that week completing her homework. The geography assessment took an entire day to complete, but it was a relief to see it finished.
‘It does seem a bit silly,’ her father had said to her. ‘What do roller coasters have to do with Geography?’
Then she’d spent the rest of the week tidying her room, washing the car, hovering the living room, and whatever else she could think of to occupy her time. Anything to take her mind off the events of the battle on the Common.
Valorie knew she couldn’t avoid the thought of it forever, but for now she wanted to push it from her mind.
Charley had called her a few times, letting her know what was happening in the outside world. He had contacted most of the Wizards’ families, and one by one, they had journeyed to the United Kingdom to collect the bodies of their loved ones.
Christophe had been collected by his family the day after the battle. He was given a good funeral, Charley assured her, as was his cousin.
Valorie tried not to think about this, either. Thinking about Christophe was still painful. She had made a plaque to remember him by. She had framed the copper coin he had asked her to take, and written a short message underneath. ‘To the memory of Christophe Auguste, who bravely fought against Adam Quinn in battle, and died.’ Not exactly poetic, but it was the best Valorie could do.
Eddie had also called, mainly to ask how she was, and tell her how Hermes was doing.
‘He’s here, actually. I’ll put him on.’
‘Thanks. Hi, Hermes.’
‘Hello, Valorie! How are you?’
‘Not too bad. I finally got that stupid Geography done. How’s your eye?’
‘Still not looking good, I’m afraid. Hurts like the Dickens and I still can’t see. But I can’t complain. I’ve still got the other one.’
‘If you speak to Charley, could you tell him it’s OK and I’m not angry with him? He won’t answer my calls for some reason.’
Valorie agreed. ‘Sure.’
Soon enough, sooner than Valorie had expected, the week was over. She returned to school. She struggled to pay attention during English – the work was incredibly dull – but she had decided to stick at it. They’d be getting a new teacher in the spring, with any luck.
At the end of the day, she said goodbye to Mr Faulkner and walked out the school gates, catching up with Amrita.
‘Oh, hello. How are you? Still feeling fluey?’
‘Amri, you know I didn’t have flu.’
‘It’s not fair. I could do with a week off school. While you were away we had this awful English assignment to do.’
‘Oh yeah? What was it about?’
‘It was about this poem about potatoes. It’s the dullest thing you’ll ever read.’
‘Could have been worse.’
‘You wait till you see it,’ Amrita said. ‘It’s ghastly.’
‘Oh, well I’m sure you’ll enjoy giving me the homework, won’t you?’
Amrita grinned evilly. ‘Yeah! Torture time, buddy.’
‘Oh no, save me from the potatoes of doom!’
‘Oh no, I’m dyyyyyiiiiiiiing… blearaaaaaaaaagh.’
‘OK, that’s enough Val, people are staring.’
‘OK.’ Valorie laughed for the first time in days. ‘I’ve gotta go now.’
‘See you tomorrow,’ Amrita said. Valorie was about to turn away towards Charley’s house, and then she remembered something.
‘Oh, Amri, I forgot to tell you!’
‘What?’ she said, stepping towards her.
‘You know we were talking about those koi carp in the canal?’
‘I saw them. From about three feet away.’
‘No. I saw them when I fell in. I knew it was them because they were all orangey.’
‘Wow! How big were they?’
‘About this big.’
‘That’s really cool.’
‘It wasn’t cool. It was bloody freezing. Bye Amri.’
They parted. Feeling decidedly more cheerful, Valorie walked to Charley’s door. She knocked.
Charley answered. Today he wore a floor-length yellow poncho and baggy blue trousers.
‘Hello. Pyjama party?’
‘Ha ha, very funny. Come in then.’
Valorie stepped in, grinning. The insects were all back in their cages. She peered in at them, and they made chirping noises.
‘How’s things?’ she asked.
Charley stood just in front of the comfy purple sofa.
‘Adam’s been buried – in an unmarked grave, naturally. His parents have been found – in Vancouver.’
‘Canada. They’re going to return to their own house, and hopefully replace some of the money that Adam used up.’
Charley leaned backwards over the sofa without actually sitting down. This annoyed Valorie, but she resisted the urge to push him over.
‘Anything else I should know?’ she asked.
‘You’re never going to believe this, but O’Hanlon has been promoted.’
Charley sighed wearily. ‘Yes, indeed. His bosses decided they liked the way HE dealt with Adam’s mad rampage, so he’s become the new head of Magical Management. Mind you, he has agreed to forget about the Wizard Watch List.’
‘That’s good, I suppose. But why?’
‘The entire purpose of the Watch List was to catalogue the Wizards in the UK, as well as prevent Wizards from meeting each other. But now it’s already been done. We have contacts all over the world now, and I think the Government is going to be a lot more considerate towards us from now on.’
‘So they’re going to be nice now, in case we call up our minions and attack? That’s nice.’
‘They still don’t entirely trust us. But we’re getting there.’
‘Now,’ Charley said, looking suddenly uncomfortable. ‘The reason that you are here. The lesson.’
‘Yes. We should probably start now.’
Charley stood still, waiting for her.
‘Take a seat,’ she said warmly, pulling out the chair for him.
Charley sat in front of the computer. ‘This is humiliating. My ego is the lowest it’s ever been, which by most people’s standards is still considerably high.’
‘I should be teaching you, not the other way round.’
‘Uh-huh. Could you press the on button please?’
Grudgingly, Charley pressed it. The computer made a pinging noise to say hello, then asked him for a password.
‘I’ve chosen the password ‘Leaping Mantis,’ Charley informed her as he typed it in slowly. ‘So you know what it is, should you need to use my computer.’
The computer took about five minutes to load. Charley stared forlornly at the screen.
‘How could this thing possibly be of any use to me?’
‘Well, maybe you could use it to talk to Eddie and the rest of them online. Or, you could type up your insect articles yourself instead of sending your handwritten notes off to a friend who’ll do it for you.’
‘He doesn’t mind.’
‘Trust me, once you get used to typing, it’s really a lot easier.’
Charley nodded uncertainly.
‘OK. Now to use the Internet for the first time ever. Exciting.’
‘Yay,’ Charley said gloomily.
‘Just click on that icon there.’
Charley clicked. A page flashed up.
‘OK, click on ‘Images.’ OK. What picture do you want for your background?’
‘Er… I don’t know.’
‘You could have a pattern, or a picture of your family…’
‘No thank you.’
‘Or your favourite band, insects, whatever.’
Charley typed in the word insect, and after much scrolling down the page, chose a picture of an ant crawling on a leaf.
‘How do I make this my background?’ he asked.
‘Right click on the picture and click ‘Set as desktop background’, and it should work.’
Charley clicked it. His background was an ant crawling on a leaf. He said nothing, but looked rather pleased.
‘I’m expecting a new insect delivery soon,’ he said, swivelling on the chair to face her. ‘Have you heard of Darwin’s Beetle?’
‘Erm… no. Type it into Images, maybe I’ll recognise it.’
Charley typed it in. Several pictures appeared.
‘No,’ Valorie said. ‘I don’t recognise it.’
Charley looked important. ‘The male Darwin beetle has massive jaws, as you can see. When he wants to mate with a female, who is inevitably at the top of a very tall tree, he climbs up it. He uses those jaws to fight off any other males he finds. He wins, uses his jaws to pick the other beetle up, and throws them out of the tree.’
‘Er… Killing it?’
‘No – beetles have very strong armour. Anyway, the beetle finds the female, mates with her… and then throws her out of the tree as well.’
‘What a charming insect.’
‘I know. That is no way to treat a lady on your first date. Anyway, I thought when it comes round I’d introduce you. I’ve ordered a female, so it won’t have the huge jaws, but it’ll be far less aggressive. Most of my insects are female.’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘Yes. Otherwise they’d be constantly trying to kill each other. My mantises are female, and as such can be quite brutal to their prey. I’m sure you remember that documentary we watched about what female praying mantises do to their males?’
Valorie shuddered. ‘I remember.’
There was a silence.
‘For God’s Sake, Charley, can’t you bring yourself to sit on that sofa at least once?’
‘It’s my sofa,’ Charley said defensively, folding his arms. ‘I’ll do as I wish with it.’
‘I promise,’ Valorie said sincerely, ‘that if you sit on that sofa at least once, I will never bug you about it again.’
Charley considered this carefully.
‘You do bug me a lot about it… Erm… well, OK. But just this once.’
‘Of course,’ Valorie smiled dazzlingly.
Charley crossed to the sofa and cautiously parked himself upon it.
Valorie held her breath. Charley took a few moments to adjust to the feeling, then reclined back into the sofa, let his aching muscles sink down into it.
‘Ahhhh,’ he said. ‘You know, normally I’m not much for sitting down. Always felt a bit strange. But I must admit,’ he said, wriggling further into the sofa, ‘this is very comfy indeed.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It is.’