Before No. 4

31st October 1981- 8.00pm

The old man looked at the cottage, part of the upper floor was simply gone; obliterated in a massive explosion that had sent debris flying all over the garden and into the road.

He watched as the Fire Brigade cleared the road of debris and then as more of them helped the ambulance crew bring two bodies out of the cottage. 

Taking several deep breaths, he steadied himself and started to walk towards the cottage, stopping for a moment he stared into the ambulance at the covered bodies and gently shook his head.

“Excuse me sir, but are you ok? Did you know the people who lived there?” asked one of the Firemen.

The old man stared at the Fireman for a few moments gathering his thoughts and then said, “Yes, my great-niece, her husband and their little boy.”

“Little boy?”

“Yes, he is about a year old.”

“I’m very sorry sir, there must be some mistake, there was no little boy in the house when we searched it.”

“Do you know what happened?”

“No sir, at first we thought it was a gas leak but when we checked there was no gas connexion to the cottage and there is nothing else obvious that would have caused it.”

The old man took another deep breath.

“Would you like to sit down, the vicar’s opened the church and he’s making tea, let me walk you over there.” 

“Thank you.”

They walked the short distance to the church and entered quietly; it was busy with people milling around and talking in hushed tones trying to be helpful but not really knowing what to do in the face of such a tragedy. The old man sat in a pew about halfway down the aisle and sighed.

“Are you sure you’re ok sir?”

The old man nodded, “Just a lot to take in.”

“I’ll get you a cup of tea, do you take sugar?”

“No thank you, no milk either.”

With this the Fireman walked towards the vestry and returned a few minutes later with two mugs of tea and handed one to the old man and sat next to him.

“Thank you.”

“I’m sorry about your family sir, I asked my chief about the little boy and he said that one of the neighbours said that his uncle arrived just after it had happened and he ran into the cottage and retrieved the little boy but by the time we’d arrived he had gone.”

“Did they say if he was a big man?”

The Fireman thought for a minute.

“As a matter of fact, yes they did.”

“A big man, very tall with a large beard?”

“That’s right, is there a problem?” he said starting to sound worried.

The old man smiled briefly and said “No, no that was his uncle, the boy is safe.”

There was a shout from the vestry and the Fireman stood up.

“Sorry sir, but I have to go.”

“Thank you for your help, you have been most kind.”

With that the Fireman left the church and a few minutes later the old man heard the fire engine drive away. He looked up and saw that only he and the vicar remained and the vicar was walking around turning off the lights, the old man stood up and walked towards the door; he stopped and dropped a large gold coin into the collection box and then left the church.

Frost crunched under his feet as he crossed the churchyard and he paused for a moment and looked up at the cloudless inky black sky and the twinkling stars and single tear rolled down his cheek. 

The street was empty and shrouded in silence. As he reached the ruined cottage, he pushed open the gate and walked up to the front door. From one of his pockets he took a small metal tool and applied it to the lock, it made four small marks that glowed briefly, he then pushed the door open and walked into the cottage. The ground floor was mostly undamaged, and it took him only a few minutes to find what he had come for, both of them were lying on the floor, together, under a chair. He picked them up and from an inside pocket he withdrew a long narrow box and placed them carefully in it, it glowed briefly as he returned it to his inside pocket.

The front door closed behind him as he left the cottage and the four little marks around the lock glowed for a moment and the lock clicked. 

As he walked back down the street towards the church, he reached into his waistcoat pocket and drew out an unusual gold pocket watch on a heavy gold chain. At the opposite end of the chain from the watch was a small gold hourglass enclosed in a gold ring; it spun freely in the ring and as he looked at it started to spin very rapidly, and the old man faded into the darkness.

31st October 1976 – 8.00pm

It was warm in the hut and the security guard was asleep and remained completely undisturbed as the old man opened the squeaky gate and walked past the hut and down the muddy road.

He stopped at the corner of the road and consulted a map. The building site was massive, and it was full of identical roads and identical houses all in varying stages of completion; he looked left and then right, turned the map around, studied it again and turned left. The houses on this road were mostly unfinished and he walked very carefully as there was no lighting on the site and he had no desire to attract attention to himself by knocking anything over. Stopping at the next junction he consulted the map again and this time he turned right. 

This road was shorter than the others and most of the houses were either complete or very nearly complete and about halfway along he stopped and looked at one of the houses, consulted the map for the final time and then folded it up and put it in his pocket. 

He walked towards the house and as he reached the front door, he withdrew from a pocket the same small metal tool, he had used earlier, and applied it to the lock; it made four small marks which glowed briefly and the lock clicked and the door silently swung open. He stepped inside and the door swung closed behind him.

As he stood in the hallway his watch gave a quiet ‘ting’; he checked the unusual dial and headed for the staircase. When he reached the top of the stairs his watch gave another more insistent ‘ting’ and quickly looking around he located the room he wanted, entered it and knelt down. 

The loose floorboard lifted easily, and he placed it to one side; he then reached into an inside pocket and withdrew the long narrow box; he held it for a moment and watched the box glow. Then reaching into the hole under the floorboards he placed the box at the furthest extent of his reach and then nudged it a fraction further with the tips of his fingers.

After slipping the floorboard back into place he stood up and his watch started to ‘ting’ very rapidly; as he walked quickly down the stairs the front door opened for him and as he crossed the threshold it closed, and the four small marks glowed briefly, and the lock clicked.

The security guard was still asleep as he left the building site and with a sigh of relief, he looked back in the direction he had come from and for a moment he thought he saw black shadows moving across the sky. He shrugged his shoulders, if it was who he suspected, they were too late and with that he turned and disappeared.

 

Disclaimer: I don’t need to tell anyone who has read this far that the protagonist and locations used in this short story do not belong to me, they are the creation and property of JK Rowling. I am a fan of her work and simply wanted to know if I could take one of my favourite fictional characters and create a short story around them.