before we could look through the chain link.

The school playground and gym had been built on a concrete platform that bridged the two sets of tracks. From the footbridge, and in keeping with the overall design scheme, they looked almost exactly like the entrance to a pair of U-boat pens.

‘Down there,’ said Abigail and pointed to the left-hand tunnel.

‘You went down on the tracks?’ asked Lesley.

‘I was careful,’ said Abigail.

Lesley wasn’t happy and neither was I. Railways are lethal. Sixty people a year step out onto the tracks and get themselves killed – the only upside being that when this happens they become the property of the British Transport Police, and not my problem.

Before doing something really stupid, such as walking out onto a railway track, your well trained police officer is required to make a risk assessment. Proper procedure would have been to call up the BTP and have them send a safety qualified search team who might, or might not, shut the line as a further precaution to allow me and Abigail to go looking for a ghost. The downside of not calling the BTP would be that, should anything happen to Abigail, it would effectively be the end of my career and probably, because her father was an old-fashioned West African patriarch, my life as well.

The downside of calling them would be explaining what I was looking for, and having them laugh at me. Like young men from the dawn of time I decided to choose the risk of death over certain humiliation.

Lesley said we should check the timetables at least.

‘It’s Sunday,’ said Abigail. ‘They’re doing engineering works all day.’

‘How do you know?’ asked Lesley.

‘Because I checked,’ said Abigail. ‘Why did your face fall off?’

‘Because I opened my mouth too wide,’ said Lesley.

‘How do we get down there?’ I asked quickly.

There were council estates built on the cheap railway land either side of the tracks. Behind the 1950s tower block on the north side was a patch of sodden grass, lined with bushes, and behind these a chain-link fence. A kid- sized tunnel through the bushes led to a hole in the fence and the tracks beyond.

We crouched down and followed Abigail through. Lesley sniggered as a couple of wet branches smacked me in the face. She paused to check the hole in the fence.

‘It hasn’t been cut,’ she said. ‘Looks like wear and tear – foxes maybe.’

There was a scattering of damp crisp packets and coke cans that had washed up against the fence line – Lesley pushed them around with the toe of her shoe. ‘The junkies haven’t found this place yet,’ she said. ‘No needles.’ She looked at Abigail. ‘How did you know this was here?’

‘You can see the hole from up on the footbridge.’

Keeping as far from the tracks as we could, we made our way under the footbridge and headed for the concrete mouth of the tunnel under the school. Graffiti covered the walls up to head height. Carefully sprayed balloon letters in faded primary colours overlaid by cruder taggers using anything from spray paints to felt tip pens. Despite a couple of swastikas, I didn’t think that Admiral Donitz would have been impressed.

It kept the drizzle off our heads, though. There was a piss smell but too acrid to be human – foxes I thought. The flat ceiling, concrete walls and the sheer width that it covered meant it felt more like an abandoned warehouse than a tunnel.

‘Where was it?’ I asked.

‘In the middle where it’s dark,’ said Abigail.

Of course, I thought.

Lesley asked Abigail what she thought she was doing coming down here in the first place.

‘I wanted to see the Hogwarts Express,’ she said.

Not the real one, Abigail was quick to point out. Because it’s a fictional train innit? So obviously it’s not going to be the real Hogwarts Express. But her friend Kara who lived in a flat that overlooked the tracks said that every once in a while she saw a steam locomotive – because that’s what you’re supposed to call them – which she thought was the train they used for the Hogwarts Express.

‘You know?’ she said. ‘In the movies.’

‘And you couldn’t watch this from the bridge?’ asked Lesley.

‘Goes past too fast,’ she said. ‘I need to count the wheels because in the movies it’s a GWR 4900 Class 5972 which is 4–6–0 configuration.’

‘I didn’t know you’re a trainspotter,’ I said.

‘I’m not,’ said Abigail and punched me in the arm. ‘That’s about collecting numbers while this was about verifying a theory.’

‘Did you see the train?’ asked Lesley.

‘No,’ she said. ‘I saw a ghost. Which is why I came looking for Peter.’

I asked where she’d seen the ghost and she showed us the chalk lines she’d drawn.

‘And you’re sure this is where it appeared?’ I asked.

He appeared,’ said Abigail. ‘I keep telling you it’s a he.’

‘He’s not here now,’ I said.

‘Course he isn’t,’ said Abigail. ‘If he were here all the time then someone else would have reported him by now.’

It was a good point and I made a mental note to check the reports when I got back to the Folly. I’d found a service room off the mundane library that contained filing cabinets full of papers from before World War Two. Amongst them, notebooks filled with handwritten ghost sightings – as far as I could tell ghost-spotting had been the hobby of choice amongst adolescent wizards-to-be.

‘Did you take a picture?’ asked Lesley.

‘I had my phone ready and everything for the train,’ said Abigail. ‘But by the time I thought of taking a picture he’d gone.’

‘Feel anything?’ Lesley asked me.

There’d been a chill when I’d stepped into the spot where the ghost had stood, a whiff of butane that cut through the fox urine and wet concrete, a Muttley-the-dog snigger and the hollow chest roar of a really big diesel engine.

Magic leaves an imprint on its surroundings. The technical term we use is vestigia. Stone absorbs it best and living things the least. Concrete’s almost as good as stone but even so the traces can be faint and almost indistinguishable from the artefacts of your own imagination. Learning which is which is a key skill if you want to practise magic. The chill was probably the weather and the snigger, real or imagined, originated with Abigail. The smell of propane and the diesel roar hinted at a familiar tragedy.

‘Well?’ asked Lesley. I’m better at vestigium than she is and not just because I’ve been apprenticed longer than her.

‘Something’s here,’ I said. ‘You want to make a light?’

Lesley pulled the battery out of her mobile and told Abigail to follow suit.

‘Because,’ I said when the girl hesitated, ‘the magic will destroy the chips if they’re connected up. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s your phone.’

Abigail pulled out last year’s Ericsson, cracked it open with practised ease and removed the battery. I nodded at Lesley – my phone has a manual switch I’d retrofitted with the help of one of my cousins who’s been cracking mobiles since he was twelve.

Lesley held out her hand, said the magic word and conjured a golf-ball-sized globe of light that hovered above her open palm. The magic word in this case was Lux and the colloquial name for the spell is a werelight – it’s the first spell you ever learn. Lesley’s werelight cast a pearly light that threw soft-edged shadows against the tunnel’s concrete walls.

‘Whoa!’ said Abigail. ‘You guys can do magic.’

‘There he is,’ said Lesley.

A young man appeared by the wall. He was white, in his late teens or early twenties with a shock of unnaturally blond hair gelled into spikes. He was dressed in cheap white trainers, jeans and a donkey jacket. He was holding a can of spray paint in his hand and was using it to carefully describe an arc on the concrete. The hiss

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