"And so he reached for the red ribbon his wife had worn round her neck for so many years," Hermione recited, watching the candlelight flicker over her children's rapt faces— Rose's eyes wide and bright, Hugo's brows knit with worry.
"As she slept, he pulled the knot... and pulled... and when the ribbon came loose and fell away..."
She let them hold their breaths. Hugo's hand gripped hers tightly.
"...his wife's head fell off."
A beat. Hugo shuddered.
Rose's face transformed from delight into scrunched indignance. "That's it? That's not scary at all! I've seen Nick's head fall off a billion times! Nearly off, anyway..."
Hermione put her arm round Hugo as he cuddled up against her on the sofa. "Well, I thought that story was scary when I was little." In another life, faintly remembered, when scary stories were just pretend.
"Tell a really scary one," Rose urged, resting her head against Hermione's other shoulder.
"Should I?" She glanced down at Hugo; he nodded eagerly, though he snuggled closer. Her children were still innocent enough to want to play with fear, to taste the shock of it and then hurry back to Mum.
Hermione was so glad of that.