Who: Gawain, Cecilia, Idris and Taliesyn Robards
Where: Tali’s cottage
When: 17 July 2001, afternoon
It was afternoon when the Robards convened. Cecilia and Idris arrived together, voices low, heads bent to the ground, and briefcase in tow. They ushered in without a word and sat down around the small kitchen table. Gawain filled them in while Tali poured everyone tea. The cups mostly lay untouched.
“Are you sure it’s real?” Cecilia asked.
Gawain gave a curt nod. “I’ve enquired everywhere using all the resources I have. It is definitely Cary’s finger—” Cecilia and Tali flinched, while Idris remained unmoved, “—and the note definitely came from Atlantis. Look.”
Gawain scrunched the note up and dunked it in his tea cup. He fished it out and unwrapped it. The note smoothed back into perfect form and looked crisp and dry. “Special ink and paper.”
He continued. “I’ve spoken to TerrorTours. They said the reason they did not raise the alarm when he did not return is because the rest of his tour group arrived home safely, and he had previously informed them he would be staying on to finetune the tour itinerary. I have spoken to members of his group and they confirm he bade them farewell on the island of Santorini on July 10th. Independent reports confirm their accounts.”
“Is there a chance—”
“Don’t,” said Cecilia. Idris looked startled to be interrupted. Tali, too, looked startled that Cecilia had shushed him, a once in a lifetime occurrence.
Gawain sensed they had already quarrelled that morning. His guess would be that his wife wanted Cary back by whatever means necessary and that his eldest son wanted Cary back by whatever means necessary unless those means meant handing over all the family savings and then some.
“I’m trying to be optimistic, here,” said Idris defensively. “It could be a prank. Idiotic, obviously, if that’s the case, but surely the best scenario.”
“Cary wouldn’t do that,” said Tali. “Who would cut off his own finger for a prank?”
“I don’t know, maybe the kind of person who would go wandering into Atlantis for a lark,” muttered Idris, but Cecilia, already tuned to the hum of discontent, picked it up.
All you needed for raising boys was a perfect ear-flicking charm. “Oh, don’t be grotesque, Idris,” snapped Cecilia. “This is not Cary’s fault.”
Idris dearly looked like he wanted to say that it was indeed Cary’s fault, but a hand from Gawain on his shoulder checked him.
“I just don’t think we should be running in to hand over a fortune. There are no guarantees. We’ll probably lose all our money and get a fingerless Cary back, or a corp—” he was stopped by a stabbing pain on his shoulder. After a few seconds of intense misery he wrenched himself away from Gawain’s grip and sought refuge on the other side of the room.
“Oh, what’s your brilliant plan, then? Give them the money, they give us Cary?”
Tali frowned. “Don’t see what’s wrong with that. They could be reasonable businessmen…”
“For fuck’s sake, how stupidly naive are you?” Idris exploded. “These are not reasonable businessmen. Once you give them the money, they’ve just going to stiff you. They’ve got no incentive to hand over anything. They might take you hostage as well. Or they might just kill you, which also handily gets rid of any witnesses.”
“I agree with Tali,” said Cecilia.
Idris was aghast. “Mum, you can’t be serious—”
“Oh, don’t patronise me,” she answered, throwing Idris a warning look. “No, of course, I am not ‘stupidly naive’ as you so charmingly put it. But may I remind you a small chance is better than no chance, and if I find out that it’s all gone wrong because you were being cheap then frankly you are dead t—”
She couldn’t finish the metaphor. It was too painful.
Gawain moved to put a comforting arm around his wife.
“Do we even have the money? And how are you going to get it to them? I don’t think they take cheque.”
“No, of course not, they’re reasonable businessmen.” Idris bit back a retort thanking Merlin for Tali finally joining the real world. He grabbed his briefcase and swung into onto the table. It clicked open and revealed a bounty of galleons.
Tali leaned in for a closer look. “Wow! Where did you get those?”
“St Mungo’s wishing well,” said Idris. “I fished them out one by one.”
“They’re very shiny.”
“Yes, because they were washed clean by the wat— oh, forget it.” He snapped it shut again and put it away. “The truth is I went straight to Gringott’s and withdraw all the savings we had. It was not enough so I had to take out an emergency loan — at exorbitant rates, I might add — to make up the shortfall, but it’s all there now. So, please, go on about how cheap I am. I am perfectly aware it may come to this but I simply wish to avoid it if possible, that’s all.”
Cecilia held out her arms and Idris was welcomed back into the family fold.
Gawain was taking a second, closer look. “Good work, Idris. Get them down to the Ministry and we might be able to put a trace on some of these. If we have to give it up we’ll know if they’re used later.”
“So who’s going?”
Gawain hesitated. “Just me.”
“I’ve decided not to involve anyone at work. Official foreign policy is that we don’t negotiate with terrorists and we definitely don’t pay ransoms, it only encourages them.”
“Which is true,” added Idris.
“Their advice would be to stall and then hope they give up or collapse with light pressure.” He shrugged. “I can’t say it’s never worked but it takes time, and I’m not prepared to wait months for them to maybe possibly figure out Cary’s not worth keeping.”
“I’m coming with you,” said Idris.
Gawain looked to Cecilia.
“Oh, Gawain, no,” she pleaded.
“Why not?” demanded Idris, emboldened. It must have been the sight of all those galleons. “You need at least some back-up. I can handle it.”
Idris beamed. “You won’t regret it.” He turned serious. “Let me do the talking, OK? It leaves you—”
“—free to keep an eye on the environment,” said Gawain, nodding. Truth was, he had always planned to take Idris along, if Idris was willing. There was no-one else he’d sooner trust.
“What are these?” Idris asked, pointing to some papers Gawain had brought out.
“ID papers. For the purposes of this exercise we’re not related and neither of us are related to Cary. They’re tailored so you won’t have any trouble remembering.”
“Nice,” remarked Idris, reading his documents. “And I’m to assume you made these up in the last two minutes?” He arched an eyebrow.
Gawain was a split second too slow with his reply, earning a slap on the arm from Cecilia.
“You were always going to take him!” she said accusingly, though the anger and worry had largely dissipated from her mood. Things looked as upbeat as they could be, given the circumstances. There was a plan in moment and she had to give them credit for their preparedness.
“Of course I was, the boy’s not an idiot.”
“Hey, Dad, what if Cary gives us away?”
Gawain moved closer to Idris and dropped his voice. “He won’t. My theory is that he hasn’t given them any information, or why would they wait almost a whole week before sending a ransom note? It was pure luck that Miss Greengrass owled.” His voice dropped further. “Obviously don’t tell your mother but I think he was going to bide his time and see if he could get himself out. But we can’t leave him now that our hand’s been forced.”
Gawain beckoned Idris toward the sitting room. “Come, I’ve got some disguise aids to show you. And I’m going to teach you some basic voiceless signals. There’s a charm to enhance your peripheral vision as well…”
“Cozy, aren’t they?” said Tali, who had been left out of the discussion. It was an annoying reminder that when Gawain and Idris weren’t subconsciously jostling for dominance they made a formidable tag team.
“Oh, you don’t want to go with them,” said Cecilia, reaching over to pat Tali’s arm. “You’d be killed.”
This was not comforting to Tali in more ways than one. He’d be killed but apparently Idris would do just fine, thanks, and would be in no danger at all.
They had wandered back in, still talking animatedly. Gawain was telling Idris about a spell to make your eyes have a mild hypnotic effect. “Here, try it on Tali.”
Idris turned his gaze across and Tali immediately felt like he needed to lie down. His eyelids were starting to droop. He fought hard against it, blinking continuously.
“A drunk effect used to be the norm,” explained Gawain. “But we phased it out because while it led them to make poor decisions it did also make some of them super aggressive. Sleepy is better.”
Tali’s head was now on the table. Idris laughed and picked up the note by his brother’s ear. “Are we still going with the girlfriend ruse?” he asked.
Cecilia raised an eyebrow. “How do you know it’s a ruse?”
Idris rolled his eyes. Because as if Astoria would attach herself to someone who is stupid enough to get themselves kidnapped was what he didn’t say.
Because Astoria is basically you 30 years ago was the next thing that failed to pass from thought to speech.
“It’s not true. She must have written to him and the kidnappers just went for the most likely scenario.”
“Yeah, we’re going for it,” started Gawain, packing up all the documents. He snatched the note from Idris and put it in an inner robe pocket. “No point in trying to show that they’re wrong about something. Remember, we’re not supposed to look like the party with the upper hand.”
Idris nodded. “I say we’re ready.”
“Not so fast,” said Cecilia. She rose from her seat and gave Idris a big hug. The enormity of the situation hit him and he regretted volunteering so readily. What was he thinking? He wasn’t a trained Auror, not even a Hit Wizard, and here he was off to rescue his brother from some quite possibly murderous men with a tonne of money (literally, if he hadn’t put it in a Featherlight case). What if he accidentally dropped it into the sea? What if he got the hiccups during a life-or-death negotiation? These were not the kind of thoughts he wanted to be having.
“Give them the money.” Cecilia said.
“If I have to,” he replied, “I will be compliant.”
“Good.” She gave him a smile. He smiled back weakly.
“And if I have to,” interjected Gawain monotonously, “I will kill anyone who stands in our way.”
This brought unexpected laughter and cheered Idris up enormously. Alright, this would be a piece of cake. Cary back by teatime and hell, they might even make the dinner reservation.