Catterborough Woodhouse, Bellatrix' ancestral home, was much like she remembered it. In fact, it was exactly like the remembered it. Things didn't tend to change much in the wizarding world and the only apparent difference her ancestral home showed outwardly were some newly placed ivy vines. This didn't change when she stepped inside of the foyer where fulls heads of servant staff were waiting to greet her. Sebastian, the family butler, was there, looking aged rather gracefully. Mrs Miggins, the rotund family chef with her warm smile who much liked to sample her own cooking was still there, grayer, of course. Three maids, all of them new faces, were obviously three sisters in their early twenties. Then there was Mr. Graves, their head gardener who would never take off his flat cap for any reason. No house-elves. Seemed as if Manchester Blacks' hiring practices hadn't changed either.
"Miss Bellatrix," spoke Sebastian. "On behalf of all of us, may I say we are so delighted to have you return to Catterborough Woodhouse."
"Thank you," Bellatrix nodded. Truth be told, there was plenty of worries for her right now. Though it was wonderful to know that both her sisters were alive and well, she wondered if this would also be the case for her parents and her other family? What about oncle? What about her annoying cousins? Andie had been frustratingly tight-lipped during the trip home. And then there was the matter of being ripped from Hermione's grasp: when would she see her again?
Thankfully, she had the affection of her sisters: Cissy hadn't been able to let go of her during the carriage ride to the manor. She still had Cissy's arm hooked through hers.
"Bella," said Andromeda. Wordlessly, Sebastian moved to take their coats. "Father is waiting for us in the main parlour."
Bellatrix nodded: so, at least father was alive. This is, what would this mean for her? Sure, she loved her father, but this is the same man whom had wanted to flog her off to Lestrange. If he planned to do that again now that she had returned...
Her happy mood at returning to her beloved childhood home mixed with said anxiety and slowly she felt herself walking stiffly through the corridors of her home, an awkward silence forming between her and them. Her sisters seemed to catch on to what Bellatrix was thinking. It was Cissy who turned to her first. "You'll find that a lot of things have changed in your absence."
Bellatrix snapped her head towards her and gave her a brief nod and smile. The silence remained until they reached the parlour. Again, the parlour looked almost exactly the same as she had remembered it: high ceiling, cozy divans surrounding an ancient table with a marble surface while non-enchanted paintings of prominent Black ancestors lined the wall.
What had changed, however, was father.
Merlin above, she had never seen her father this... frail.
Cygnus Black was a far cry from the powerful, larger-than-life wizard he had been in his earlier days. He had never been a man with bulk, but today he seemed much thinner than was healthy. His had the beginnings of a beard, looking as if he didn't bother to shave every day, which would have been unheard of thirty years ago. It gave him a bit of an unkempt look. The moment he saw her, however, there was a light in his eyes. He struggled to get up out of his favourite chair, leaning on a cane.
A cane. Her father had a cursed wound on his leg from the war, which caused him to have a permanent limp. If he needed a cane, the situation seemed to have worsened for him. Still, Bellatrix rushed to him and welcomed his embrace, being careful not to knock him to the ground.
Merlin, even his most heart-felt embrace felt so… weak.
"Oh, my precious girl," Cygnus Black stammered in a shaky voice. "I... I didn't want to believe it when I first heard..."
Sebastian helped her father sit down safely again, while she and her sisters each took a seat at the divan. She couldn't help but notice that Andie sat down at the head of the table, demanding a position of prestige, much like her father had in the past.
Her father chuckled, apparently having seen Bellatrix' change of expression. "Andromeda is now the head of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black and has fulfilled that role superbly for the last fifteen years after I could no longer muster the strength and will to do so. With ours being the only extant Black family line left in Britain, a great burden rests on her shoulders. One she has managed beyond expectations."
"Thank you, father," said Andie. "I had plenty of help, though. And we are not the only Blacks left in the world. The Montana Blacks would have word with you."
"Modesty still is your biggest shortcoming, my dear," laughed Cygnus. A weak, rasping laugh.
The only extant... that would mean. Her cousins Sirius and Regulus, as well as aunt Walburga and uncle Orion... were no longer around. Truth be told, she didn't really have much love for the two annoying lads, but she'd never wanted them dead. It also meant they died young. It was then that Bellatrix noticed a rather prominent absence; one which did frighten her to the core. "Maman," Bellatrix asked, unable to keep the fright out of her voice. "Where is maman? She isn't... She can't be..."
The room was suddenly getting smaller and suffocating. Maman… Maman couldn't be dead… but if she was still alive, why wasn't here shere? And where was oncle? Would he be dead too?
Cissy patted her hand. "Maman is... very much alive," she spoke, in Bellatrix' instant relief. "But she is... fragile."
"Indeed," said Andie. "We've been shielding her from the news. Thank Merlin she wasn't listening to the wireless. We'll need to... ease your return into her. Oncle is looking after her right now."
Relief. Instant relief. But it raised more questions than it gave answers.
Noticing the questioning look, Cygnus motioned to Sebastian to fetch something. While the butler left the room, he bent forward. "My dear, when you disappeared over thirty-three years ago, you made a lasting impression on the wizarding world. You are the daughter of a great house, wizarding royalty in all but name. Your disappearance made waves. Naturally, we contacted the school and the Ministry when you went missing."
"We saw you in the forest," said Andie. "You're not as subtle as you think, Bella. Cissy and I watched you at the strange magic pool when you disappeared."
"But nobody believed us," said Cissy, not being able to mask a brief glare at her frail father. "We were two young girls so lost in grief and fear for our missing sister that we fled into our own fantasies. Or, that's what the DMLE officers kept telling us."
Cygnus nodded. "For what it's worth, you have been vindicated," said Cygnus. "At the time, though, it was not something we considered. We simply couldn't corroborate the story. Still, the fact remained that you had gone missing. For weeks the Forbidden Forest was turned upside down by the largest search-party in the history of the wizarding world. Your story was broadly painted in headlines all over the wizarding press. People came from other countries to help search for the 'poor missing girl'."
"As the weeks dragged on," said Andromeda. "There were more and more speculations. Theories. Some outlandish, some more reasonable."
"One newspaper claimed that you had been kidnapped by goblins to become their king's trophy wife," chuckled Cissy. "Ludicrous, of course, but it caused a bit of racial tensions for a while."
"As time passed," said Andromeda. "It was obvious to all of us that you weren't returning. Not anytime soon, at least."
"More crackpot theories emerged," said Narcissa. "But three prevailing theories remained. First, you made an elaborate escape plan to flee from your arranged marriage and covered all your tracks expertly. Which does sound like something you might do."
Bellatrix put her fingers to her lips. "It does. And I did consider it."
"Second, closely related to the first," said Narcissa. "Is the theory that you ran off with a secret lover to start a new life elsewhere."
"Hah, actually rather close to the truth, that one," Bellatrix said.
Andromeda pursed her lips. "The emergence of that theory might have been my fault. You mentioned a girl by the name of Hermione and I had been looking into her. I was young at the time and didn't cover my tracks properly. Though I did manage to keep the name to myself, my actions were noticed by the press and they ran with that angle. I have since learned from that mistake."
"The third," said her father. "became the most prevalent and likely one, especially after it was revealed that Headmaster Dumbledore had recruited you to spy on the Dark Lord. The theory goes that Rodolphus Lestrange found out about your activities, murdered you and buried you in an unmarked grave in the Forbidden Forest."
Andromeda nodded. "When the first wizarding war started and more and more atrocities came to light, that theory became more and more likely. Though Lestrange was eventually captured, he has always denied your murder."
"As murderers tend to," said Cygnus. "That man is not innocent by any means, but with your return, it is proved that he was never responsible for your death. Up until today, I never believed him. I believed that the eldest of my three fierce daughters had her life snuffed out and her remains tossed into a shallow grave."
Tears were in his eyes now. "Part of me expects to start awake in bed in a few moments, and all of this a dream. To say I was incensed at your apparent murder is an understatement. I cut off all ties with the Lestrange family and... though I never openly supported the Dark Lord, I did support him financially. I withdrew my funds and my support, much to his chagrin."
That made Bellatrix laugh. "Seriously?! You funded a charlatan with a circus tent?"
"Hah," Andie snorted. "Father's money likely paid for that circus tent."
"He sent representatives, of course," Cygnus snorted. "Tried to mend the situation. Claimed Lestrange never committed the murder. Claimed they searched the Forbidden Forest as well. Claimed they tried to find you, without success. Then came the pleas to keep fighting for a pure wizarding world. When that didn't work, came the threats. I, naturally, showed them the door and told the Dark Lord that if he wanted to see the biggest threat to wizarding kind, he would only have to look in the mirror."
A silence fell over the gathered family and, at first, Bellatrix felt the awkwardness as all three of her family members here seemed lost in their own thoughts. There was more to this story in the years that followed her disappearance, but all of them seemed reluctant to talk about it. Cissy seemed particularly agitated.
"A father should never have to bury his children," Cygnus spoke with a crack in his voice. "It put things in... perspective."
"You'll find a lot of things have changed for and in our family," Andie chuckled. "Like I told you in the carriage."
"Though I thoroughly believed you to be dead," said Cygnus. "Your sisters and your mother never gave up hope. Never stopped hoping."
It was then that Sebastian returned with what looked to be a gramophone player. Her father gave the butler a nod and he put a vinyl record. Andromeda took her hand while Cissy sat closer to her, which made Bellatrix wonder what was going to be played. It was soon revealed to be a radio recording. Her father reached over to squeeze her hand. "Bellatrix," he started. "What you are about to hear will likely shock and sadden you. But it is not meant to make you feel guilt. It is to make you understand the fragile state your poor maman is in and just how careful we're going to have to be."
"Bellatrix," sounded the tearful voice of her mother through the copper horn of the device. "Please, chouchou. If you are hearing this, know that your family misses you. Your sisters miss you. Please, Bellatrix. We won't uphold the marriage contract with the Lestranges. I promise you this, chouchou. You will be free to do with your life as you please. There's no reason for you to keep running away from your family. S'il te plait, come home!"
It took a few moments for Bellatrix to realize just what she was hearing, but when she did she found herself trembling. What she had heard was the terrified and shaky voice of a grieving, desperate mother.
"Maman never really got over it," said Cissy. "None of us did, I suppose. She never stopped searching until she became unable to. She... blamed herself and father for pushing you into an arranged marriage that ended up with you either running away or murdered. There were times when we had to collect maman from the Forbidden Forest in the dead of night, walking around holding a lantern and crying out your name."
"Now you see why we have to ease maman into your return," Andie said. "Oncle Achille is with her now, preparing her for it. With any luck you'll see her tomorrow."
The mental image of her poor mother roaming the dangerous forest forlorn and alone in the dead of night became too much to bear. Though the room she was in was exceedingly large, the walls still felt as if they were rushing in on her as the full weight of realization what her absence had done to her family crushed down upon her. Her hands started to shake and her breathing increased sharply. Apparently her sisters had anticipated this and shuffled closer to her.
"Hey," Andie let a hand run over her back. "None of that. It was never your fault."
"I'm so sorry," sniffed Bellatrix. "I... I didn't want for any of this to happen. To just... leave without an explanation. I... wanted to come back. I wanted to explain. I... when Hermione told me what would happen to me, I..."
"Ah, yes," Andie replied, her voice growing much colder. "Her."
Bellatrix gave her a questioning look.
"I am not convinced of her good intentions," said Andie, with a cold, harsh stare though not aimed at her. "Not in the slightest!"
"Andie," Cissy hissed. "Not now!"
"My three girls together again," said Cygnus. "Fiery and full of life. As it should be. You'll be happy to know I cancelled Andromeda and Narcissa's arranged marriages, though our Cissy married her intended anyway. By choice, of course."
"Yeah," Bellatrix frowned. "I met my nephew and I heard I have a niece. What was her name? Nymphadora? Who is your husband?"
"Ted Tonks," replied Andromeda. "You haven't met him yet, because he is visiting family in Wales. I sent out an owl and he'll be returning shortly."
"Tonks," said Bellatrix, thinking it over. "That's not a pure-blood wizarding name I recognize."
"That's because he isn't a pure-blood wizard," chuckled Cygnus. "Our Andromeda dropped this bombshell on us when she came of age and spoke of her intent to marry Ted Tonks when she'd turn twenty."
Bellatrix frowned. "No disowning?"
Cygnus shook his head. "No. Your mother threatened to leave me if I exiled her, but there was no need for it. I was not in the mood to lose another daughter. And I'm glad that I didn't, for now I have two wonderful grandchildren to dote over. Nymphadora is quite delightful."
"One of the reasons why she's as lazy as a sloth," Narcissa rolled her eyes. "For Merlin's sake, it's two in the afternoon and she still isn't up?! I worry about that girl..."
Andromeda narrowed her eyes. "Cissy…"
"Fine!" Narcissa held up her hand.
Bellatrix chuckled. "Sounds like not having me in your lives made it better from the way you tell it," she said. She had meant it to be a joke, but her sisters certainly weren't laughing.
"Don't say that!" Andie huffed. "You don't know that. Nobody can know that! Wonder why? Because you skipped thirty-three years! Nothing else could have happened, because you simply weren't there for it to happen!. How can anything your Hermione whispered in your ear be true when she herself can't know because she was the one who caused you to skip those years in the first place?!"
Bellatrix frowned and rubbed her chin. "Is... is that how time-travel even works?"
"I believe Hermione is using you for her own devices and I urge you…"
"Andie!" Cissy hissed again. "NOT NOW!"
This caused Andie to grumble, but Bellatrix definitely took note of this reaction. Yes, Andie mistrusted Hermione. That much was obvious.
"Girls, girls, please," spoke Cygnus. "I, for one, would like to hear Bella's side of the story. Bella, what happened to you? Where have you been the past thirty-three years?"
Ah, now it was her turn. While tea and biscuits were being served by Sebastian, Bellatrix sat up straight to tell her grand tale. And tell she did. She started with finding a magic pool in the middle of the forest in the dead of night, meeting Hermione and learning she was a girl from the future. She talked about their chats, their hopes, their dreams. How they slowly developed feelings for each other. How, together, they had find a way to breach the surface of the pool and meet up in a realm far beyond anything imagined. She described the adventures they had had, the dangers they had endured and the love they had found. The story ended after they arrived in this year, in 2001.
Apparently, she had spoke with some adoration for Hermione and it didn't pass unnoticed that Andromeda was getting increasingly agitated whenever the brown-haired witch was mentioned.
"Well," said her father after taking in the story. "I would very much like to meet this Hermione."
"So would I..." spoke Andromeda, almost under her breath with a tone that was almost a snarl.
"It's a shame that I left all the journals and samples with Hermione, but I do have plenty of photographs," said Bellatrix. "And I do have some other proof, at least," she added, reaching for her pack.
Instantly, Cissy froze up and shifted a little away from her. She reached into her pack and lifted out Zipper. The wasp has been sleeping and rather drowsily flapped his wings. However, the moment he realized there was sugar to be had, he buzzed over to the tea service and started lazily snacking on lumps of sugar.
"I take it that is the giant wasp from your story?" asked her father, studying the wasp intently as it ate.
"He's a friend," said Bellatrix. "And he'll be staying with me."
Bellatrix adopted a tone which strongly suggested this was non-negotiable. Meanwhile, Cissy was starting to fan herself with her hands.
"Pfft, don't be such a baby," Bellatrix pouted.
Cygnus checked the clock. "Ah, it is already five o'clock," said her father. "Your incredible tale has enthralled us for hours, Bella. I assume you might like to rest and wash up before dinner. We have left your old room exactly as it was. We can talk more over dinner, as a family."
"In concur," said Andromeda. "The Black sisters are together again and this cause for celebration. Feast and champagne it is. That should please Draco and Nymphadora. Will Lucius come over as well, Cissy?"
"I'll make sure he does," said Cissy. "Though it feels wrong to leave maman out of the celebration."
"We'll just have to do it again tomorrow evening," Andie chuckled. "Sebastian, would you kindly escort Bellatrix to her room?"
That caused Bellatrix to frown and cross her arms. "Andie, I've lived here for seventeen years. I think I remember where my room is!" she pouted.
Andie chuckled at that. "I'm certain you do, Bella, but it is for maman's sake. She sometimes wanders the mansion aimlessly and we don't want to risk maman seeing you before we're prepared. When you arrive at the East wing, we ask that you stay there for the moment. Please. For maman's sake."
Bellatrix nodded. She was feeling quite tired and enjoying her own bed sounded rather good. She got up from her seat and joined Sebastian at the door with Zipper lazily buzzing along behind her. It was then that she realized that she was the only one who had gotten up from her divan. After turning around, she could see that none of the others have left their seats nor were intending to.
"This way, miss Bellatrix," said Sebastian as he closed the double sliding doors behind her. It was obvious that her family wanted to speak. And, it was also obvious that those words were not intended for her to hear. Almost instinctively, she stepped towards the double doors and was about to lay her ear on the wood when Sebastian scraped his throat.
"Ah," she smirked. "I don't suppose I could order you to let me drop some eaves?"
Sebastian gave her a brief smile. "I'm quite afraid that mistress Andromeda's orders, as Head of the Household, quite supersede yours by a not insignificant margin."
"Fair enough," Bellatrix sighed. The two of them walked through the corridors and talked a little about current events. Bellatrix had, after all, missed thirty-three years of history. On the walk to the East wing, Sebastian filled her in on a couple of things and promised to bring her some current history books and newspapers for her to read after dinner. And so, Bellatrix was left to her own devices while Zipper started to explore the room and found perch on the ceiling.
Her old room was almost exactly the same. It was as if she had stepped right into a time-capsule and she found it quite welcoming to find such a familiar sight. She let out a sigh and let herself fall onto the bed, among the army of plushies still gathered around her pillow. It was still bouncy and soft. Odd how a bed could feel so much like home. She rolled to her back and looked around the room: all her posters were still there and Eleanor Snowbell was still prominently displayed over her fireplace. She took out her wand, aimed at the fireplace and soon a cozy crackling fire lit up the room with pleasant warmth.
Now, if only she could have Hermione lain out on the bed with her, that would have been perfect.
Two things occurred to her. One was just how much she missed Hermione: they hadn't been apart from each other in weeks and certainly not since they had started to explore their feelings. Now that it was quiet and she had time to think, Hermione's absence was palpable.
And then there was the matter of her family. In particularly, maman. After hearing about just how fragile her mental state was, she was getting more and more worried about tomorrow. Worse yet, she felt responsible for said mental state and felt her heart constrict with guilt. Merlin, the sound of her maman's voice on the the recording. The desperation. The sadness. The fear. It was heart-rending.
She looked at her pack and fished out the handmirror. She almost contacted Hermione to talk to her, but decided against it: she was probably still with her parents and those were likely as overjoyed to have her back like her own family. They'd talk again later that evening, certainly.
Bellatrix realized she was still wearing the school uniform she'd been given, so she hopped out of bed and headed to the closet. Delighted to see that all her clothes were still there, she picked out a nice black sequin with matching cloak. After twirling around and making it swish for a bit, she felt much better. She went to the other side of her closet to pick out something nice from her considerable collection of hats.
Curious, however, were the sounds coming from the edge of hearing. Soon enough, she discovered they weren't sounds at all, but rather vibrations. In fact, all her hats seemed to be vibrating in their cubbies. It seemed as if someone was using a silencing charm, but the sounds were still so loud that the vibrations weren't blocked anymore. Bellatrix decided that she should investigate. She got off the bed and exited to the common room, feeling the vibrations and trying to trace it back to its source. She passed through the common room… the old sofas where she and her sisters had spent so much time chatting and gossipping in the past were still there, much to her delight. After following the vibrations for a bit, they seemed to be coming from Andie's old room.
Curious as she was, she threw caution into the wind and simply opened the door.
Instantly, her ears were assaulted by the sounds of muggle music and the word 'THUNDERSTRUCK!' was etched in her mind through battered eardrums. Andie's old room was a far cry from the soft pastel clad girl's room: now, the walls were painted a fierce red and dark black while posters of men and women clad in leather and wielding guitars adorned every wall. Above the chronically unmade bed, where once hung the sisters' hidden poster of the Beatles, now hung a large black poster sporting only the letters 'AC-DC'.
Muggle music playing in the house without a riot breaking out? Things really had changed for House Black.
Another thing was that the room was filled with a rather odd smelling smoke. It made Bellatrix cough loudly and wave around her. Producer of said smoke was sat in a beanbag near the window. It was a girl, older than her, clad in the same leather and jeans much like her muggle musicians were. What stood out most was her hair, shoulder length and five different seemingly shifting colours while barely covering ears which were filled with far too many silver rings through the entire upper helix to count quickly. There was an oddly shaped cigarette in her mouth, one she took out of her mouth before puffing more smoke into the air. The girl noticed her, scrunched up her face in a stare and then pointed in her general direction. "I know you from somewhere…" she muttered.
"WHAT?!" Bellatrix yelled, almost tripping over something on this impossibly cluttered floor.
The girl turned down the radio. Just a little.
"I know you from somewhere," the girl repeated.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my sister's room?!" Bellatrix demanded.
"Sister?" the girl frowned, but then her eyes lit up before laughing merrily. "Ah, you're my runaway older younger aunt! My mum told me you were coming. Nymphadora Black. Pleased to meet you."
"Nymphadora?" asked Bellatrix. "That's an usual name."
Nymphadora's hair turned a single colour, that of blood red, as she glowered. "Hey! I'm proud of my name! I'll make you a deal: you don't make fun of it, and you will leave this room without squinting. I'm normally very mellow, as long as you don't make fun of my name!"
Bellatrix crossed her arms. "I'd like to see you try! And I never said your name was bad. Come on, you are talking to someone named 'Bellatrix'. I know all about usual names and bastards making fun of those."
Nymphadora chuckled. "I like you," she replied. "Come. Share a spliff with me."
The curly-haired witch warily strolled over to Nymphadora, waving away some smoke around her with her hand while suppressing a cough. "So has mum been lording over you already?" Nymphadora asked.
"She's certainly... assertive," said Bellatrix. "Much more assertive than I remember."
Nymphadora handed her a lit cigarette. Of course, Bellatrix had tried a cigarette a few times, back at Hogwarts. So she took it in her fingers and took a puff... only to immediately cough up a lung. As she hacked up more and more, Nymphadora chuckled.
"Okay, this is definitely not tobacco," Bellatrix grimaced, sighing through her nose while squeezing her eyes shut.
"Hah, you just came in from the 60s," smirked Nymphadora. "I thought you more experienced than this. Then again, this is my own personal mix and it might be a bit... advanced. Next time, I'll make you a nice mix with some beginner strains. It'll help you relax. And trust me, you're gonna need it. The entire wizarding world is about fall over itself and right on top of you. So many people will want to know your story, auntie. You've had more 'sightings' than Elvis Presley."
"Don't remind me," said Bellatrix. "I'm more worried about maman. The rest of the world can get stuffed."
Nymphadora took another puff of smoke and laughed. "Yeah, I can respect that. And nan... yeah. I worry about her too. She turned your room into somewhat of a museum, you know?"
"Did she?" Bellatrix asked. "Does she... go there sometimes?"
"Quite a lot," Nymphadora sighed. "Hear her crying sometimes. Go in to hug her. Calls me Bellatrix. I never bother to correct her. She cries. I try to keep my eyes dry. Doesn't always work. She knows I'm not you when she gets like that, I think. But I'm happy to play along."
Bellatrix closed her eyes and sighed. "Fuck," she muttered.
"Yeah," she replied, taking another puff. "I sometimes do go in there to randomly shift objects around. Drives the maids crazy."
The grin on her face said it all. Bellatrix handed her back the spliff, which Nymphadora took and swiftly puffed on. More smoke was produced. "Today is surreal."
"Quite," replied Bellatrix. "I've become the aunt of two people who are older than me."
Nymphadora laughed. "My long lost aunt returning to from the dead is one thing. But to find out she's also fucking the girl whose parents are suing the ministry? That makes it mind-blowing."
Bellatrix pursed her lips, waving more smoke away. "What is up with that, anyway?"
"Hm, long story," said Nymphadora and pointed to a small mini-fridge near the bed. "Tell you after dinner. When we have our bellies full and we have room for cold beer and... special brownies."
"Chocolate brownies?" Bellatrix asked eagerly. Some alcohol mixed with some sweet treats sounded very nice right about now.
Nymphadora gave her an odd look. "Sure, whatever floats your boat."
At that moment, Zipper came flying in through the still opened door. The moment the giant wasp hit the smoke, he started flying around in circles. Circles which became ever more erratic, until the wasp angrily started to chase his own stinger. The circles became more frantic, accompanied by angry buzzing until he finally lost control and crash-landed onto Nymphadora's unmade bed and promptly fell asleep.
"Hah!" Nymphadora laughed before taking another puff. "Cool bug."
Yes, so far, Nymphadora was already endlessly more agreeable than Sirius. Again, it made her wonder just what had happened to him. Some gossip with her niece would keep her busy until dinner, at least.