‘Take me away from here,’ whispered Meggie, ‘please take me away from here.’
She let her finger run along the lines, over the rough, sandy paper, while her eyes followed the letters to another, colder place, in another time, to a house without locked doors and black-jacketed thugs. A moment after the fairy’s entrance the window was blown open, whispered Meggie, hearing the sound of the window creaking as it opened, blown open by the breathing of the little stars, and Peter dropped in. He had carried Tinker Bell part of the way, and his hand was still messy with the fairy dust. Fairies, thought Meggie. I can see why Dustfinger misses the fairies. No, that was not allowed. She mustn’t think of Dustfinger, only of Tinker Bell and Peter Pan, and Wendy lying in her bed, knowing nothing yet of the strange boy who had flown into her room dressed in leaves and cobwebs. ‘Tinker Bell,’ he called softly, after making sure that the children were asleep. ‘Tink, where are you?’ She was in a jug for the moment, and liking it extremely; she had never been in a jug before. Tinker Bell. Meggie whispered the name twice; she had always liked the sound of it, you clicked your tongue against your teeth, and then there was the soft B sound slipping out of your lips like a kiss. ‘Oh, do come out of that jug, and tell me, do you know where they put my shadow?’ The loveliest tinkle as of golden bells answered him. It is the fairy language. You ordinary children can never hear it, but if you were to hear it you would know that you had heard it once before. If I could fly like Tinker Bell, thought Meggie, I could simply climb out on the windowsill and fly away. I wouldn’t have to worry about the snakes, and I’d find Mo before he gets here. He must have lost the way. Yes, that must be it. But suppose something had happened to him … Meggie shook her head as if to drive away the bad thoughts that had wormed their way into her mind yet again. Tink said that the shadow was in the big box, she whispered. She meant the chest of drawers, and Peter jumped at the drawers, scattering their contents to the ground with both hands …
Meggie stopped. There was something bright in the room. She switched the torch off, but the light was still there, a thousand times brighter than the night-lights … and when it came to rest for a second, whispered Meggie, you saw it was a … She did not speak the word aloud. She just followed the light with her eyes as it flew round the room, very fast, faster than a glow-worm and much larger.
‘Fenoglio!’ She couldn’t hear any sound from the guard outside the door. Perhaps he’d gone to sleep. Meggie leaned over the side of the bunk until she could touch Fenoglio’s shoulder. ‘Fenoglio, look!’ She shook him until he finally opened his eyes. Suppose the little creature flew out of the window?
Meggie slid down from the top bunk, and shut the window so quickly that she almost caught one of the shimmering wings in it. The fairy, alarmed, whirred away. Meggie thought she heard an indignant chirrup.
Fenoglio stared at the shining little creature, his eyes heavy with sleep. ‘What is it?’ he asked hoarsely. ‘A mutated glow-worm?’
Meggie went back to the bed without taking her eyes off the fairy, who was darting faster and faster round the little room like a lost butterfly, up to the ceiling, back to the door, over to the window again. She kept returning to the window. Meggie put the book on Fenoglio’s lap.
‘Peter Pan.’ He looked at the book, then at the fairy, then at the book again.
‘I didn’t mean to do it!’ whispered Meggie. ‘Really I didn’t.’
The fairy kept colliding with the window again and again.
‘No!’ Meggie hurried over to her. ‘You mustn’t go out! You don’t understand.’ It was a fairy, no longer than your hand, but still growing. It was a girl called Tinker Bell, exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf.
‘Someone’s coming!’ Fenoglio sat up in such a hurry that he hit his head on the top bunk. He was right. Out in the corridor footsteps were approaching, rapid, firm footsteps. Meggie retreated to the window. What did it mean? It was the middle of the night. Perhaps Mo’s arrived, she thought, Mo is here. Although she didn’t want to feel glad of it, her heart leaped with joy.
‘Hide her!’ whispered Fenoglio. ‘Quick, hide her!’
Meggie looked at him, confused. Of course. The fairy. They mustn’t find her. Meggie tried to catch Tinker Bell, but the fairy slipped through her fingers and whirred up to the ceiling, where she hovered like a light made of invisible glass.
The footsteps were very close now. ‘Call that keeping watch?’ It was Basta’s voice. Meggie heard a hollow groan; he had probably woken the guard with a kick. ‘Unlock that door, and get a move on. I don’t have forever.’
Someone put a key in the lock. ‘That’s the wrong one, you dozy idiot! Capricorn wants to see the girl, and I shall tell him why he’s had to wait so long.’
Meggie climbed up on her bed. The bunk swayed alarmingly as she stood on it. ‘Tinker Bell!’ she whispered. ‘Please! Come here!’ But as she reached out her hand, the fairy flew back to the window – and Basta opened the door.
‘Hey, where did that come from?’ he asked, standing in the doorway. ‘It’s years since I saw one of those fluttery things.’
Meggie and Fenoglio said nothing – what was there to say?
‘You needn’t think you can wriggle out of telling me!’ Basta took off his jacket and went slowly over to the window, holding it in his left hand. ‘You stand in the doorway in case it gets away from me!’ he told the guard. ‘And if you let it get past you I shall slice off your ears.’
‘Leave her alone!’ Meggie slid hastily down from the bed again, but Basta moved faster. He threw his jacket. Tinker Bell’s light disappeared, snuffed out like a candle. There was a faint twitching under the jacket as it fell to the floor. Basta picked it up carefully, holding it together like a sack, went over to Meggie and stopped in front of her. ‘Well, sweetheart, let’s hear your story,’ he said in a menacingly quiet voice. ‘Where did that fairy come from?’
‘I don’t know!’ uttered Meggie without looking at him. ‘She – she was just suddenly here.’
Basta looked at the guard. ‘Ever seen anything like a fairy in these parts?’ he asked.
The guard raised the newspaper, to which a couple of dusty moth wings were still clinging, and slapped the door frame with it, smiling broadly. ‘No, but if I did I’d know what to do about it!’ he said.
‘You’re right, those little creatures are as troublesome as midges. But they’re supposed to bring luck.’ Basta turned back to Meggie. ‘Now then, out with it! Where did she come from? I’m not asking you again.’
Meggie couldn’t help it: her eyes strayed to the book that Fenoglio had dropped. Basta followed her glance, and picked it up.
‘Well, fancy that!’ he murmured as he looked at the picture on the cover. The artist had produced a good likeness of Tinker Bell. In real life she was a little paler and a little smaller than the picture suggested, but of course Basta still recognised her. He whistled softly through his teeth, then held the book close to Meggie’s face. ‘Don’t try telling me the old man read her out of this!’ he said. ‘You did it. I’ll bet my knife you did it. Did your father teach you how, or have you just inherited the knack from him? Well, it comes to the same thing.’ He stuck the book in his waistband and grasped Meggie’s arm. ‘Come along, we’re going to tell Capricorn about this. I was really supposed to fetch you just to meet an old acquaintance, but I’m sure Capricorn will have no objection to hearing such interesting news.’