"Well, you were a long time."
I couldn't tell if Teritt was seriously annoyed as I returned to the armchair in which I had previously been sitting. There was something guarded about his expression.
"I take full responsibility," Edward said, sitting beside his boyfriend. He grinned cheekily at him. "So what are you going to do about it?"
Edward's humour seemed to calm Teritt down. I guessed that if something ever happened, Edward would frown and look tense. I didn't believe he could be the sort that would try to cover up a misdeed.
"Everything I can," Teritt replied, eyes glinting like a cat's.
"So do you believe me now?" Lor asked, directing the question at me. He sounded bored.
I nodded. I brought out the letter from a pocket I'd slipped it into during the walk up to my house.
Tearing open the envelope, watching with admiration as my fingers seemed to melt into the haematite-coloured paper, I drew out a rectangle of creamy card which had a gold border around the elegant hand-writing upon it.
Dear Miss Howler,
We are pleased to inform you that you are warmly invited to attend the Lupin Scuela Academy for Selected Students. At L. S. A. S. S., we are keen to provide the pupils with many opportunities one would struggle to find at other schools. In a close, familial environment, we guarantee that you will have many new experiences and that you will form bonds that will serve you well in the future.
Overleaf are provided details of the school's next taster day. We hope you can attend as it will surely show you what words cannot convey.
Should you choose to attend L. S. A. S. S., we can promise you will never regret the decision.
L. Ironclaw, Headteacher
L. Stell, Deputy Head
M. Naevar, Receptionist
Above each of the names at the base of the letter was a neat signature, the first in black ink, the second in deep blue and the third in startling crimson.
"Are those the school colours?" I wondered aloud, glancing at the reverse side of the letter and then up before handing the letter to Dad who was hovering over my right shoulder. "Black, blue and red, I mean?"
"Yeah, but there's no uniform," Edward answered.
"Black represents the night," Teritt added; "blue lapis lazuli, which is a powerful stone for Moon Children; and ...well, red is pretty evident."
"Blood?" I asked, slightly sceptical of my own assumption.
"The life source of thine enemies," Edward quoted, not meeting my gaze.
"Their heart, too," Lor said cheerfully.
Edward glanced up. "I prefer to think of it as the heart of the brave wolf, actually." He looked at me. "Don't worry about it, Penny - it just links in with our history."
"And hunting excursions are strictly optional," Lor added.
"What?!" I exclaimed, horrified. "What are hunting excursions?"
Edward looked maddened by Lor's comment.
"Do you want to tell Lupo we failed because you told her about hunting trips?" he asked, nearly shouting.
Teritt appeared to remain calm.
"Maybe he wants to let Dave be second," he said, shrugging.
This seemed to provoke Lor - he growled, sending my heart into frightened palpitations.
"Then apologise and tell her she shouldn't be put off," Edward said.
Lor looked at me and there was intrigue in his eyes, telling me my reaction was of great interest to him. My heart fluttered at his intent gaze but I chided it because within his dark brown eyes there was no hint of an apology.
"I'm sorry," he said. "And don't worry about the hunting trips - they only serve to aid us with survival in the wild in case we get so poor as humans that our only option for living healthily is to become wolves."
"So you don't get pleasure from the knowledge you're hurting innocent woodland creatures?" I tested.
"No animal is innocent," Lor replied "but no: the thrill of the kill is due to the animal instinct."
I nodded, now calmer than before.
"Are there details on the LSASS open day on that letter?" Edward asked.
My dad looked up from reading it.
"Oh yes - they're overleaf." He turned the card and read out, "Friday 28th October."
"Wow, that's just next week," I said.
Lor snorted. "Yup. Organised just for you."
"What d'you mean?" I asked, surprised and amused.
"The Alpha wanted to invite you when he found you were a Moon Child, so he organised a taster day for the week after you found out. If you're not able to attend next week, he'll move it to another day."
"But what about the other students?" I asked.
"There aren't any," Teritt replied. "The Alpha recruits them one at a time. Didn't you wonder why this was all so near your birthday?"
I stared at him.
"You knew when my birthday was?"
"The Alpha did," Edward replied.
"Will I get to meet him?" I asked.
Lor gave a shrug.
"It depends if he's in school that day."
"I hope he isn't. I don't like it when he comes in. It's fine talking about him when he's out of town and thinking of the great things he does for us but ... when it comes to him actually being there within the school grounds, I feel uncomfortable."
"Why?" I inquired curiously.
Edward glanced at my dad. Teritt chuckled whilst Lor was frowning.
"I'll tell you another time," he said, looking back at me.
Dad looked as though he understood. He nodded at Edward and I thought his cheeks were a little red.
"So, d'you think you'll come?" Teritt asked, still smiling from whatever he found funny.
"I'll see what I think of the taster day," I told the three guys. "What time is it?" The question was directed at my dad.
He glanced back at the letter.
"Ten till four."
I smiled. "Brilliant. It's so lucky I'm on half term." To Edward, I said, "When did you have yours?"
"This week," Edward replied, and I noticed a big grin had appeared on his face when I had said the word ‘Brilliant'.
"Oh no - we've got school tomorrow," Teritt groaned.
"Well, I don't know about you but I have a Free," Lor said, looking like he was ready to leave. He looked in my direction. "Do you have any questions?"
"Oh, I have one," I replied. There was one thought that had been lingering on my mind during the conversation but that I hadn't had a chance to voice. "How exactly did the Alpha find me?"
Lor smiled. "That is a great question." He relaxed into the chair. "It's an incredibly magical process," he said, his eyes glinting in amusement. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Teritt grin and Ed roll his eyes. "Basically, every once in a while, he howls to a full moon and receives a mental picture of the faces of the Moon Children. He tracks down the ones he can find - though he only invites them to Lupin Scuela if they're over 16. That's why he waited till your sixteenth birthday. I take it you recognised Ed when he gave you the invitation."
"Oh, yes, I did," I said, remembering.
"Well, he, Teritt and the guy in the year above used to visit your park to report what you looked like to Alpha - to check you were the right girl - because he found out your dad was a werewolf."
I thought back to the times I'd seen the boys' picnics and found it strange to think they'd been watching me.
"Is my name on some kind of record then?" Dad asked, his brow furrowed slightly.
Lor shrugged. "Only the werewolf census."
Dad nodded, though still frowning a little.
"And why can't I turn?" I asked, remembering what Ed had said in the garden.
"Ah, you need to be bitten," Lor replied, grinning. "You have the right blood but you need wolf saliva inside of you to activate the chemicals."
"Oh, yuk," I said, recoiling from the image.
Dad's frown deepened. I was extremely glad that Lor wasn't the only guy in the house. Things would have been much more awkward if he had been.
"So what if you don't have this certain type of blood?" I asked, though I was half-scared to inquire in case I didn't like the answer.
"It hurts. Nothing else happens."
"And..." I hesitated, even more nervous about how my next question would be answered, "do werewolves ever attack people randomly?"
"Only if they hold some kind of a grudge against them," Lor said casually. "But It's against the law so they get locked away for it."
"That's a relief," I murmured, sighing slightly.
"Any other questions?"
I shook my head. "At least, not for now."
Lor rose to his feet. He looked at my dad. "Thank you for letting us into your house, Mr Howler. If either you or your daughter have any other queries, don't hesitate to ring the number on the letter."
Edward and Teritt stood up too. Both thanked my dad and the three left together.
"So, you were a Moon Child," I said to my dad as I heard the front door close.
"I still am but we were called something different in the days that I belonged to a pack. And ... it's not the sort of thing you discuss with your daughter."
He smiled wryly. I thought better than to ask why.
"Why didn't you tell me?" My tone was calm in its curiosity: non-accusatory.
"I didn't know," my dad replied simply, shrugging his shoulders. "A werewolf baby looks no different to a human baby in most circumstances and one can't exactly ask a doctor to perform tests like that. If we had, you'd have ended up in a lab."
I frowned. "Not fun."
"Not fun at all," he agreed.
"Ah well, I suppose I should take these groceries to Mum," I said, nudging the bag with my feet. "Can I talk to her about this?"
Dad shook his head.
"She knows what I am but she'd freak out if she found out that you were one too. Just tell her you got invited to an open day at that school, show her the letter and tell her you'd be interested in going. It's what's best for her, really."
And so, I walked to the kitchen, groceries in one hand, letter in the other. I didn't question Dad's judgement: he'd spoken with a kind tone which showed evident concern when he'd given it. And hopefully the lie wouldn't be too large a one to live by.