Unofficial Portkey Archive

Alice Evans and the Prisoner of Azkaban by hermy_madness

Alice Evans and the Prisoner of Azkaban



"Thanks Hermione," Harry said for the millionth time since regaining consciousness as he looked at the broomstick propped next to his bed. "I don't know what I would have done if the Whomping Willow had gotten hold of my Nimbus."

"It's alright," Hermione flushed yet again at his thanks.

"You'd have just had to use one of the old Shooting Stars from the broom shed mate." Harry, who other than looking a bit peaky seemed entirely recovered from his latest near death experience, grimaced at Ron's suggestion.

"Yeah well if it hadn't been for Hermione -"

"Harry, for goodness sake will you please stop going on about it!" Hermione smiled warmly at him, but seemed keen to change the topic. As Alice stood watching the pair of them she instantly decided on two things, first of all she was going to have to find out what Hermione was up to, there were too many unexplained things going on this term, secondly she and Ron needed to get their act together and force their friends to admit their feelings somehow. To do either of these things she wanted to talk to Hermione on her own, a feat which proved nigh on impossible as her friend spent almost the entire weekend in the Hospital Wing hovering anxiously over Harry and only leaving when Madame Pomfrey practically threw them out.

It wasn't until after classes on Monday that she finally got her opportunity. Alice and Hermione had gone up to the dormitory to get rid of their bags before dinner, they were the only ones there and seeing her friend take far more books out of her bag than she really should have needed for the day prompted Alice to ask. "Hermione…"

"Yes?" Her friend looked up at her from between a curtain of bushy hair.

"Why do you have so many books with you? You didn't have half of those classes today, you couldn't have. I know something's going on… Please tell me."

For one long minute Hermione remained bent double over her books before slowly, ever so slowly, straightening up. "Nothing's going on. Why would you think that?" With a sudden brilliant smile, that somehow didn't quite reach her guarded eyes, she very obviously tried to change the subject. "Come on the boys will be waiting for us, we'd better go down to dinner." She took a step towards the door.

"Hermione Jane Granger!" Alice suddenly moved so that she was blocking her way, her voice rising as she did so. "There's something you aren't telling me I want to know what it is. You've been behaving weirdly all term: disappearing every two seconds," she began counting things off on her fingers, "forgetting things, staying up till all hours of the night, avoiding me… And I know for a fact that you've been lying to me, because I can tell by the look on your face. So spill; what's been going on?" It took a lot to get Alice angry, but right now she could feel the heat simmering under her skin and pulsing through her veins like a heartbeat. How could Hermione keep her in the dark? They were meant to be best friends who told each other everything and something was clearly going on.

It was with an effort that she swallowed her temper and took a deep breath as Hermione stared at her for an agonized second. Eventually her friend's gaze slipped to her shoes and she began worrying at her lip - the way she did whenever she was anxious.

"Hermione," Alice warned.

"I - I promised I wouldn't tell."

Alice just continued to stare at her, one eyebrow raised questioningly.

"Oh, alright!" Hermione flopped down onto her bed in resignation. "I'll tell you but you have to promise, not to tell anyone. I mean it Alice, you can't even tell Harry and Ron - or the twins."

"Ok." Alice was frowning now, what could possibly merit so much secrecy?


"I promise," she put her hand over her heart as she said it before going to sit next to her friend. "Now what is it?"

Reluctantly Hermione reached a hand up to her neck and caught the end of the fine gold chain that she was wearing. Pulling it over her head she handed it to Alice, revealing what had been hanging on the end of it.

"Is this…?"

"Yes, it's a Time Turner. I've been using it all term."

Alice could feel shock, like a rush of water quickly extinguish the heat of her earlier anger. Suddenly she understood everything - well, almost everything. "I've read about these - they're really rare, not to mention powerful and dangerous. How did you get it?" Abruptly realisation struck. "Is this what McGonagall wanted to talk to you about at the start of term? She wanted to give you this?"

Hermione nodded without a word.

"And you have been going to more than one class at a time? Ron was just kidding when he said that at the start of term."

"McGonagall said they only gave it to me because I was an exceptional pupil and that I wasn't allowed to tell anyone about it, not even you three. You can't tell her I told you or they'll take it away." She looked at her friend with pleading eyes.

Slowly Alice nodded, still allowing all the implications to sink in. "That was how you knew where Harry's broom was, and how you reappeared so quickly! I'm right aren't I?"

"When I ran back into the stadium I went back an hour and watched the game again - it was even worse watching him fall from ground level and knowing I couldn't help him. Then I saw where the broom had gone and I followed it to the tree. Then I had to use the Time Turner again to get back to the pitch so that no one would notice I had gone. If you thought something was weird, why didn't you say anything at the time?"

"Well I'm saying it now." All her anger at her friend had vanished now that she understood. "Besides I wanted to wait till you were on your own before I spoke to you about it." She examined the Time Turner more closely and an idea occurred to her which could potentially lead her to resolve the second thing she had decided on after the Quidditch match. "Is it not illegal to use a Time Turner for anything other than the express, Ministry sanctioned, purpose for which it was given?" Alice finally asked mischievously as she held it up and watched it twirl on its slender golden chain.

Hermione blushed again. "Well… yes, but as you said Harry would have been devastated if his broom had been damaged!" Her rapid protestations told Alice she had hit the nail on the head.

"Oh, definitely! But you took an awful risk for him." By now Hermione's face rather resembled the colour of her bed spread.

"He's our friend," she mumbled, "friends help each other out."

"Of course." With a slight smile Alice deliberately changed the subject. "So how exactly does this thing work? Do you have to say a spell, or…?"

With her gaze fixed firmly on the Time Turner Alice saw Hermione glance up sharply from the corner of her eye. "You have to turn it - once for each hour you want to travel backwards… or forwards, but I haven't done that, it's too tricky."

"Is it difficult? Trying not to bump into yourself I mean?"

"A bit, it's not so bad if you remember where you went; it's more complicated trying to not let other people see you twice, especially if it would be impossible to explain logically." She seemed to relax as the conversation was steered away from Harry and her motivations for breaking wizarding law to save the broom.

"It's really pretty," Alice ran a finger along the delicate, curling frame of the hour glass and watched as the sand inside the glass shimmered as it caught the light.

Hermione nodded, visibly more comfortable again. "Yes, McGonagall said it was quite old and -"

Confident that her friend's guard was down Alice suddenly switched her gaze away from the Time Turner so that she was looking her directly in the eye. "Hermione, do you fancy Harry?"

Stunned into momentary silence Hermione gaped at her speechlessly for a moment as the colour rapidly flooded back into her cheeks. "I - I…" Alice arched an eyebrow at her in her best impression of McGonagall whenever she wanted to extract an answer from a reluctant pupil. After a moment Hermione ducked her head and mumbled a response.

"Sorry I didn't hear that," Alice began to grin, she knew she was being a little mean, but she was only teasing and Hermione would do exactly the same if their positions were reversed.

"Alright, yes!" Her friend suddenly answered loudly. She then proceeded to watch in bemusement as Alice laughed delightedly and jumped up to punch the air.

"I knew it!"

Hermione's face seemed about to burst into flame as she plucked awkwardly at a loose thread in the bedspread. "How?" She sounded more perplexed than Alice had ever heard her. "How did you know?"

"Hermione," Alice was half amused, half exasperated, "it was really obvious. Anyone watching the two of you together could tell." As her friend looked up at her in alarm she gave her a hug and a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Harry feels exactly the same way."

At her words Hermione's face seemed to light up for a split second before her guard came down again and she looked at Alice suspiciously. "Are you sure?"

"Positive. If you just spoke to him about it you would see I'm right."

"No!" She looked terror-stricken at the very thought of it. "No, I can't do that."

"If you just -"

"No." Hermione was firm now, all her embarrassment seemed to have evaporated. "I can't tell him - and I'm not arguing about it." She overrode her friend's protestations with a decisive wave of her hand. "I'm going down to dinner." She walked towards the door throwing a last remark back over her shoulder as she went. "And don't you dare mention a word of this to Harry."

As she listened to her friend's footsteps receding down the spiral staircase Alice groaned and flopped backwards onto the bed. Really Hermione was infuriating sometimes. Getting her to admit her feelings for Harry was all well and good, but what purpose would it serve if she refused to act upon them? It was like taking two steps forward and four steps back. This would require some careful thought.

However over the next few weeks it seemed that no amount of gentle prodding or persuasion on Alice's part would induce Hermione to tell the one person about her crush that really ought to know about it: Harry. Instead she focused her energies on helping Alice find her way back into the secret room in Library. Alice suspected her friend was deliberately trying to distract her, but she didn't want to push the issue of Harry and end up having a fight over it. Funnily enough however, Harry ended up being the solution to their dilemma.

"Here, I got it." Hermione appeared through the portrait hole clutching the Invisibility Cloak.

"Did you tell him what we wanted it for?" Alice asked as the hastened along the corridor to the Library.

"Yes, but the minute I mentioned books I think they both stopped listening." Hermione grinned. "I believe Ron's exact words were `Who cares about a bunch of mouldy old textbooks?'"

"Boys are bizarre."

When they reached the Library they paused and made sure no one was coming before pulling the cloak over them. "This would be so much easier if I still had the Map," Alice complained.

"You do remember which bookcase it was don't you?" Hermione sounded concerned for a moment.

Nodding Alice began to creep slowly into the Library with her best friend shuffling cautiously beside her. It was late again and so they didn't have to worry too much about bumping into the odd pupil that was still wandering around. As she had said to Hermione, she had no trouble finding the spot where the cupboard was; the only thing they had to be wary of was anyone approaching when the tried to open it. Alice kept lookout whilst Hermione whispered the spell and the two girls quickly slipped inside.

As the lights of their wands fell across the shelves Alice allowed her friend a moment just to take in the scene, she looked as if her birthday had come early. It was a while before she spoke.

"Wow," was all that she managed eventually.

"It's great isn't it?" Alice beamed, glad that her friend appreciated it as much as she did. "I was thinking too that we might find some things in here to help with Hagrid's case."

"Of course," Hermione reverently picked up half of an ancient looking book that appeared to be contemplating disintegrating entirely. "We'll have to be careful no one spots us taking any of this out of the Library though." Apparently her concern over breaking school rules didn't apply when it came to books. The two girls looked at each other, their eyes lighting up with excitement, and grinned conspiratorially.

Over the next few weeks however the four of them were so busy they barely had time to eat. The teachers began piling on the homework in the run up to Christmas, which was especially affecting Hermione although neither of them could tell the boys why. Coupled with that they were all spending as much time as they could looking up cases in the Library which might help Hagrid keep his job, all in all it had left very little time for the girls to sneak books from the cupboard to peruse. Much to her dismay Hermione had all but given up trying to read any of the notebooks stored there, with attending every single class available at Hogwarts she just didn't have the time. However when Alice suggested she scale back her own visits the idea was met with stern protest.

"You might find something useful!"

And so she kept reading, but just as life was beginning to adopt a natural, if rather work laden, rhythm they were rather forcefully reminded that sometimes the Universe had other plans. It was in the middle of Herbology and Alice was just helping Neville re-pot a particularly irritating Flutterby bush when Professor McGonagall appeared at the door to the Greenhouse. After conversing in whispers with Professor Sprout for a moment she beckoned to Alice; perplexed she put down her trowel and crossed the greenhouse towards the teacher.

"Miss Evans, I'm afraid I'm going to have to borrow you for a moment. Mr Carne is back at the school and he wants to talk to a few of the students again; your name was on his list." Alice felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. What could he possibly want? With a horrible sense of foreboding she followed McGonagall across the grounds. "Don't look so nervous Miss Evans, they only want to ask you a few more questions. I'm sure you'll be fine."

"They, professor?"

Professor McGonagall grimaced as she realised her slip. "Yes… Mr Carne has a guest with him this time. The senior undersecretary to the Minister for Magic, her name is Dolores Umbridge - there's no need to look so alarmed Miss Evans, I'm sure she doesn't bite." Alice would have been slightly reassured by this if McGonagall hadn't looked as though she herself wasn't quite confident of the last point.

As they continued walking in silence Alice tried to mentally arrange her thoughts so that she could construct a better argument in Hagrid's defence than she had last time. But no matter how hard she tried her mind kept skipping back to the question of why they wanted to speak to her in the first place. Was it because she hadn't been very confident last time? Did Carne think that she wasn't a very reliable witness? Surely not, if he felt she was unreliable then wouldn't it be better to speak to someone who seemed more sure of what had happened? There was always the possibility that she had been selected at random of course. Then there was the question of why Fudge's office was involved, surely it wasn't serious enough to warrant that? Then again Malfoy's father was meant to be quite high up; perhaps he had contacts at the Ministry and had pushed the case to prominence?

When they reached McGonagall's office Alice saw with a jolt that Pansy Parkinson was just leaving, a look of smug satisfaction plastered all over her pug-like face.

"In you go then Miss Evans," McGonagall gave her a gentle push when it seemed that her legs wouldn't start themselves. She knocked.

"Enter." Feeling like she had just been transported into a cheap horror movie Alice pushed open the solid wooden door. On the other side, rather than a zombie or a solemn butler, was Carne sitting in exactly the same spot as he had been last time she had seen him. Next to him was a woman who Alice could only assume was Dolores Umbridge. Taking in her outfit Alice blinked for a second; that was rather a lot of pink, and was that… a bow in her hair? What was she? Six?

"Miss Evans." She wasn't sure if Carne's grunt was intended to be a greeting or simply him introducing her.

"Do sit down dear," Umbridge waved her towards the free seat. "We just want to have a little chat."

Alice sat obediently.

"Now dear," the woman was clearly going to take the lead this time round, "I believe you've spoken to Mr Carne before, is that correct?" When Alice nodded she smiled slightly, though it really looked more like a wince, and continued. "And am I right in saying that when you spoke to him you described Professor Hagrid's teaching as `enthusiastic'? What did you mean by that?" The whole time that she was speaking she never took her protuberant eyes from Alice's face, not even to blink, it was rather disconcerting, not to mention off putting.

"Erm…" Alice really wished she would stop staring, "well I - he clearly loves his job," she stammered eventually feeling her face start to flare up in competition with Umbridge's offensively pink dress.

"Yes, yes my dear," her inquisitor waved a hand dismissively, "and while that's lovely I want to know how he teaches. Is he disciplined? Is he efficient? Is he effective?"

Alice didn't know what to say and she cast a desperate look in Carne's direction hoping that somehow, although he hadn't yet proved to be an ally, he would aid her. No help was forthcoming, Carne simply shifted awkwardly in his seat trying with limited success to conceal the boredom on his face. Alice switched her eyes back to Umbridge's face. She was still staring unblinkingly at her. What should she say? If she was brutally honest then there was a part of her that knew the answer to all those questions was No, but did that necessarily mean that Hagrid wasn't a good teacher.

"He - he has a different style Miss Um -"

"Ma'am will do dear."

Alice blinked. Was she serious? She gazed for a moment at her face which was still frozen into an unnatural smile. Apparently she was. "Yes ma'am. Well he has a very different style," she could feel her tongue trying to wrap itself in knots, "it's very… hands on."

"Yes. So I can see. Back to the question of his teaching though," she wasn't going to give up the point easily; she might look like a toad, but she was like a dog with a bone now. "I just want you to give me a yes or no answer; that's simple enough isn't it?" Her voice was laced with a sugary quality that was clearly meant to be reassuring. Alice gulped. "Would you say that Professor Hagrid's lessons are well thought out and planned?"

What should she say? All those guilty thoughts and criticisms of Hagrid's class she had had since the accident came back to haunt her. But it was Hagrid, she couldn't tell on him like that, it would be a betrayal. "Yes," she squeaked eventually, "of course."

"Are you sure dear?" Umbridge looked sceptical as she made some notes. "You seem rather hesitant."

"No!" Alice could feel tears pricking behind her eyes as she began to get flustered.

"No, they aren't well thought out?" Another note was added.

Alice looked horrified for a moment. "No I meant: no I wasn't hesitant, I still mean yes to the question!" She cursed her own incoherence, why was she so awkward? They were only asking simple questions.

"Hmmm," Umbridge's pink lips pursed as her face folded up into a frown.

"Perhaps," they both looked across sharply as Carne suddenly spoke, "the beast?" He looked questioningly at Umbridge.

"Ah yes," her face seemed to light up again. "Miss Evans, how did you feel during the class at being asked to approach and deal with a Hippogriff? Several other students have told me it was quite frightening - that they didn't feel at all ready. What were your thoughts?"

"Well it was a bit scary at first, but once we went up to them it was fine." Surely there was nothing wrong with the truth here?

"So you did find it intimidating?" Umbridge closed in on the first half of her statement just as it dawned on Alice that there might be some other agenda at work here. The woman seemed very keen to have her condemn Hagrid.

"No… I… once we approached them I realised there was nothing to be scared of."

"Since you did feel anxious do you feel you were bullied by Professor Hagrid into dealing with dangerous creatures?"

"No." By this stage Alice's face was hot enough to fry an egg on. A combination of embarrassment, anxiousness at the poor job she was doing defending Hagrid, and anger at the woman for trying to make her say something she didn't mean had turned her entire head into a tomato once again. She tried to blink back the tears that had crept to the edges of her eyes but all that succeeded in doing was knocking them down her face. Angrily she brushed them aside.

"I know dear, it's all very upsetting," Umbridge cooed in that overly honeyed voice. "Let's not distress you any further by bringing it all back up. You can go now, we have everything we need."

"But -"

"Off you pop," she waved a pudgy hand towards the door without a second glance at Alice.

With a horrible feeling that something awful had happened, though she wasn't quite sure what, a rather shell shocked Alice complied.

On her return to the Greenhouse her friends all wanted to know what had gone on and when she told them she had been re-questioned they all glanced at each other in concern. Catching their looks only made Alice feel worse. It was difficult explaining to them what she had said when they asked her later on though; for one thing she couldn't quite remember herself and for another they kept interrupting each other trying to make sure that she had said the right things. In the end she pretended she had a headache and escaped up to her bed.

As she had learned over three years however, there was no running away from things at Hogwarts, and although no one mentioned the previous afternoon initially when she went down to breakfast they were all soon reminded of it. Just as she was pouring herself a goblet of Pumpkin juice the owl post arrived in a clatter of shifting plates and a flurry of feathered bodies. As always Hermione received a copy of the Daily Prophet.

"Oh honestly," she huffed after taking one look at the front page. "These journalists are just vultures, what's this ones name?… Rita Skeeter, well, I don't think very much of her."

"Hermione, what are you on about?" Ron raised his eyebrows at her inquisitively before shovelling some bacon into his mouth.

"Hagrid's case." That got their attention. "It's all over the paper; that and the fact they were interviewing pupils." She sniffed in irritation.

"What does it say?" Harry peered over her shoulder at the newspaper.

"Ministry sources, who wish to remain unnamed," Hermione quoted, "have reported that pupils feel Care of Magical Creatures classes are `different' to their other lessons and have hinted that they feel bullied by their teacher. Poor Hagrid!" She exclaimed. "Who would say that about him?"

Horrified Alice grabbed the paper from her and quickly scanned the rest of the article.

It has also been said that their seems to be a complete lack of discipline and order in Professor Hagrid's lessons with other pupils expressing the opinion that educational qualities at the school as a whole were suffering. When questioned on events in the class some pupils were so distressed by the professors `style' that they were visibly upset and reduced to tears -

Alice stopped reading at this point. That foul woman had twisted everything she had said and done, there was no doubt that the unnamed source was either Umbridge or Carne, who else would have blabbed all that?

Seeing Alice's flustered face and trembling hands as she clutched the paper, Hermione became concerned. "Alice are you alright?"

"It's me," her stomach churned uncomfortably as she looked up at her friends, "the pupil she talks about in the article, it's me."

Instantly the atmosphere at the table changed. All three of her friends were staring at her with a mixture of disappointment, animosity and bewilderment. To avoid their gaze Alice looked back at the paper.

"What do you mean it was you?" Harry sounded incredulous. "You said all that stuff about Hagrid being a bully and undisciplined and…" he scanned the article again, "how the education at the school was suffering?"

"No!" Alice exclaimed, "I never said that last bit."

"But you said the rest of it then?" Ron shook his head in disappointment. "How could you? Hagrid's our friend!"

"No I didn't," how could they think she would do something like that? "At least I didn't mean to, she twisted everything I said."

"But why did you say anything that could have been misconstrued at all? Why didn't you just tell them that Hagrid is a great teacher, that nothing would have happened if Malfoy wasn't a twit and that Buckbeak was never going to be dangerous?"

"Because I got flustered alright, and you know how I get when I talk to strangers and because I -" She stopped before she said something that she would regret.

"Because you what?" Harry was angry at her now, she could tell. "You think it was partly Hagrid's fault don't you?"

"No!" She looked from one to the other trying to get them to see her point, but they knew her too well, they could see the lie in her eyes. "Well not really," she said eventually, she might as well tell the truth if they thought badly of her anyway. "But he was the teacher, and it shouldn't have happened. But," she rushed to continue as they all visibly stiffened, "I would never have said so to Umbridge. I tried to defend him I honestly did!"

"Yeah well obviously not hard enough."

Everyone was silent for a moment as they all avoided each others gaze and Alice found herself staring at her unfinished breakfast. Suddenly she wasn't very hungry anymore. They sat like that for a few moments more, the atmosphere thick enough to cut through with a knife and no one saying anything. Around them the normal chatter and revelry of a typical Hogwarts morning ensued unmolested, reinforcing the unnaturalness of the four friends' unease. Eventually she couldn't stand it anymore.

"I might just…" Before her sentence was finished Alice was on her feet and walking away from the table, trying not to walk too quickly so that it looked as though she was running away. The minute she was outside though she slipped into a convenient cupboard in the Great Hall and burst into tears.

Over the next few weeks Alice wasn't sure what she would have done if Fred and George hadn't taken pity on her and let her tag along with them, or if Neville hadn't been so good a friend and stuck by her. As it was she was still miserable because after their fight Hermione, Harry and Ron all refused to speak to her, but it would have been a whole lot worse if she had been on her own. Hagrid had been remarkably understanding about the episode too, which only served to make her feel even more guilty about how she had behaved during her interview. If only she had asserted herself more, rather than letting Umbridge and Carne walk all over her. Still there was nothing she could do about that now, she could only try and atone for it. And atone she did.

Since her friends were giving her the silent treatment she had plenty of spare time in which to help Hagrid research for his inquiry. Gathering every book on wizarding law, animal attacks, student injuries and old reports that she could lay her hands on, she would stay up late into the night reading and taking notes. Once in a while Fred and George would drag her out of the Library to help them in some prank or other, largely, she suspected, these were designed with the sole purpose of making her laugh rather than anyone else, but more often than not she was to be found at a table in the Library or the corner of the common room flicking through dusty tomes. The discovery of the secret stash in the Library proved very useful in this as it was full of old inspectors reports on Hogwarts and jottings made by Healers who treated, amongst other things, injuries sustained by those who dealt with magical creatures. Of course with these she had to trawl through a lot of information that was irrelevant to her enquiry, but they were usually still interesting irrelevancies nonetheless.

One night she sat reading just such an account of a Healers day to day life in St Mungo's and pondering how privileged she must be to read a book like this, so packed full of wonderful experiences, that no one else had read. The fire had almost burnt out and everyone else had long since gone to bed when she reached the end of a page and felt all the feeling leave her body. Surely she couldn't have read that last sentence correctly could she? She squinted in the dim light and then lit the page with her wand just to make sure as she read the passage over again trying to control the shaking hands that held the tatty notebook. The section had been a fairly generic one about a student sent to St Mungo's after falling foul of a classmate in Potions, but there was nothing to suggest it would contain anything too far out of the ordinary. Then that one sentence. That one sentence that had shattered everything.

Popped round to see Lily Potter today to consult about a possible case of poisoning as she's one of the most highly qualified Healers I've ever met. James was there with the kids too, not that they really have anywhere else to go. Hiding all the time must be hard. It's so nice to see her though as we haven't had a proper catch up in a while. The children have grown so much since I last saw them and Harry has become a positive terror, he won't sit still for a minute I don't know how Lily manages, at least his sister is better behaved.

And that was it, that one paragraph had blown everything out of the water. Never mind the fact that there was a rare snippet of information about Harry's parents and his early childhood. Those three words kids, children, both of which were in the plural and most importantly that word: sister. Harry had had a sister?! Why did none of them know about this? More importantly why didn't Harry? Why had no one told him?

Then an even more crucial question occurred to her. How on earth was she going to tell him?

A/N: Well there you go, finally we are getting to it - not that most of you haven't already figured out where this is going, it's not meant to be that big a secret! Also I know in the last book it said Hermione's middle name was Jean but I think Jane fits better so… deal with it! Also the cupboard Alice cries in is the same one Harry and Hermione hide from themselves in at the end of PoA - just for interest. On a slightly more technical note I won't be updating for the next few weeks as I'm going to be away - hence this update so soon after my last one, I thought I would leave you on a cliffhanger. I'm evil like that!