Eilidh floo'd home almost immediately that day; usually she might have stayed and talked to Mr Leckie, or went out with some of the other summer-staff. But she wasn't really in the mood, so by five past five she was standing in the livingroom, blinking at the odd scene before her.
Her parents were, of course, busy people. Her father worked in London as the director of a large broomstick-accessories company, and her mother was doing research into the properties on non-magical animal by-products in healing potions. During sumer it wasn't uncommon for neither to be home before seven. But today they were both home, sitting at the large polished table at the other end of the room, gazing down at something that Eilidh couldn't see for the sofa.
"Oh, Eilidh!" said her mother, looking up. "I was hoping you'd be early - come and meet your new brother."
The fosterling, Eilidh though, Of course! How could I forget?
For the past year or so, her parents had been talking very seriously about taking in a Muggle-born child to raise. It had finally been finalised in April, and today had been set as the happy day. Such a happy day, of course, that Eilidh had managed to forget all about it.
She walked towards the table, hugged her beaming parents and looked down at the new addition to the family.
He was small, about four years old, with huge eyes and pouty lips. His hair was cut ridiculously short, like a Muggle gardener or housekeeper. Eilidh didn't really know much about children, so she couldn't say whether he was unusually short or tall or fat or thin, but he looked -- lovely. Adorable. He was gazing right at her with wide eyes and an expression of - well, she wasn't sure what. She supposed that today had been full of a hundred and one new and strange things, and that she was just another.
"Hiya, wee man," she said to him, bending down to his own height. "What's your name?"
He didn't answer. Her father chuckled. "Herbert," he said. Eilidh winced - poor kid! "I think he's feeling a bit shy. This is your new sister, Herbert, say hello."
"Hello there, Herby-man," Eilidh said, taking his hand and shaking it mock-solemly. "I'm Eilidh. I'll look after you."
The little boy's expression remained as serious as ever. Then, as if he was doing something of great importance which he must not get wrong, he said "Aaay-lay."
"That's right." His accent was English, Eilidh noticed; he sounded like her friend Kassie. "I'm Aaay-lay and you're Herb-ay." She looked up at her parents, still holding his hand lightly. "Have you got a place at a school for him yet?"
"It's rather complicated," her mother said, sighing. "He's amazingly talented. Well above average for a magical-born child of his age, never mind Muggle. He'd get into any school he wanted. But, well... he is Muggle-born, and we've only just got him; it'll take him more than a few months to get used to living around magic."
"And us," added her father, who looked dazed with happiness.
Eilidh found she was glad. She sat down on the cold floor, and without any prompting Herbert sat in her lap. It odd: she'd never particularly liked children under twelve, or had anything to do with them; but she really didn't want this strange serious child to be packed off to school any time soon. He laid his head against her chest and closed his eyes, and she felt her heart swelling.
"He's lovely. He's the lovliest thing I've ever seen in my life."
Her parents looked at each other and smiled.
"Yes. We were hoping you'd feel that way."