This story serves as a kind of prequel to my story 'My Secret'. I wanted to explore the changing nature of the friendship between Mary, Dickon, and Colin, so decided to write a story based two years after the Secret Garden was discovered. I don't know if this will be a one-shot or will develop into something else, but I thought I'd put it up anyway and let my readers decide if I should leave it here or continue it... anyway, please let me know your thoughts, and happy reading.

Part 1: An afternoon in the Garden

'Dickon! catch!'

Dickon looked up just in time to see Miss Mary running towards him, a huge grin on her face. A second later, he felt something small and hard hit him square on the forehead.

'Ow!' he said, sitting up and rubbing his head with his hand, as the young girl hurried to sit down next to him, giggling as she did so. He continued rubbing his head and broke into an annoyed grin. The he couldn't help himself, and began to laugh too.

'You were meant to catch it, silly', she said to him. 'Here, go on then.'

She had picked up a rosy red apple off the ground near his feet and was holding it out to him, making no attempt to hide her mirth.

He smiled too, and turned the ripe fruit in his hands before taking a bite and nodding his approval.

'This is good – tha' hasn't been to the kitchen gardens again, has tha?'

She only smiled slyly, and took a bite out of her own apple.

The laughter of a young man was heard from beyond the walls of the garden.

'Dickon! Mary! are you in here?'

A few seconds later, Dickon saw Colin Craven come pelting around the corner, his arms full of the rosy fruit that Mary had just offered him.

'I only just managed to escape from old Ben Weatherstaff!' he said, grinning and dropping down next to them on the ground. 'But look what I got! spoils of war.'

Dickon grinned.

'I managed to get so much more this time, and he almost caught me.' He placed the apples on the lawn next to the other children before selecting the biggest and juciest one for himself.

'Aye, old Ben has been wonderin' where all tha' fruit has been goin.'

Colin looked up in alarm.

'You wouldn't tell him, would you Dickon?'

'Hmm... I don't know...' He said slowly and thoughtfully, turning the apple over in his hand as if deep in thought. He was playing his part, and he knew it, but a small part of him enjoyed teasing the young boy sitting next to him.

'We did bring you an Apple, Dickon.' Mary pointed out, raising her eyebrow in mock seriousness.

'And I had to brave the perils of the kitchen gardens to get it for you.' Colin added hastily, the look of panic still present in his eyes.

'Well, in that case, I mun be grateful for tha efforts. But don't let old Ben catch tha. I once heard that he tanned the hide off a young man for stealin' off his apple trees.'

He tried to maintain a straight face, but couldn't hold it, after seeing the shocked expressions on the faces of the two young people sitting next to him. He decided it would be wise to change the subject.

'I brought Soot into tha' Garden today. I thought thee would like ta' see him.'

Mary's face broke into a huge smile.

'Oh yes Dickon! yes please.'

'And tha' Colin?' he asked.

'Well... I was hoping you'd bring the Fox cub back, like you did last time. But seeing as you don't have him...' Dickon knew the young boy at the age of twelve thought Fox cubs were far more exciting than Ravens.

'I'll go get him then.'

He walked off a few paces and whistled sharply. A squawk was soon heard, and then the children heard a flutter of wings. Dickon returned with the young raven perched firmly on his shoulder. He was smiling and murmering quietly to the bird as it stood on his shoulder as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Dickon's relaxed, easy-going manner with all animals – and more frequently with people – was evident.

Mary was the first to express her delight at seeing the bird.

'Oh Dickon! can I hold him, please?'

'Of course tha can, Miss Mary.'

He gently removed the Raven from his shoulder, and passed it over to her, placing Soot on her arm. She looked at Soot with a mixture of wonder and pleasure.

'I wonder if he thinks that we are birds, just like him, Dickon?'

'I don't know, perhaps he does.'

'I wish I was a bird.' she said dreamily, looking at Soot. 'If I were, I could fly anywhere I wanted to.' Dickon noticed her look up at the sky with longing in her blue eyes.

'Let me hold him after you, Mary.' Colin interjected, moving closer so he could stroke the bird. A living, breathing Raven was no fox cub, but it was still exciting.

Dickon remembered something he had been planning to ask the young man.

'I heard tha might be going to live in London, Colin' Dickon queried, as he gently took the bird and passed it over to Colin.

'Oh yes, that. Well Father has begun to make arrangements about it. He said perhaps at the beginning of next year.' The boy seemed non-plussed about it, so Dickon didn't press the matter any further. Colin Craven could be very stoic about some things, Dickon decided. Even at the age of 12, Colin had an air of superiority about him. But that isn't surprising, Dickon mused, given that he had spent almost his whole life telling other people what to do. Still, he genuinely liked the young man, and in the past two years they had become good friends. However, deep down inside, Dickon knew that their friendship wouldn't be able to last forever. He was, after all, merely a working class lad, unlike Colin who had been born into the gentry. As it had been impressed upon him again and again, such friendhips would never work.

Miss Mary was also a good friend of his, and someone he knew he could trust. He looked at the girl standing in front of him – still small for her twelve years and thought back to when they had first met, when she had been a sickly, spoilt girl. She still has that streak in her, he mused, but she cannot be called 'spoilt' now. More strong willed, than anything else. He watched her laugh as Soot moved down Colin's arm, frightening the boy. She is lovely when she smiles, he thought to himself.

'Ow! Dickon! I think he's about to peck me!' Colin yelled, breaking Dickon's thoughts.

'He only wants tha to feed him. Here.' Dickon reached out and took the young bird from Colin, then reached into his pocket and found a crust of bread for the Raven to nibble on.

Mary reached up and took the crust of bread from Dickon and held it out for Soot. Soot reached down and pecked it, making Mary flinch slightly.

'Just calmly, Miss Mary. He's not going t' hurt tha.'

She stood steadily after that, and fed the bird the rest of the bread. The stood together, side by side, Colin having wandered off to inspect the spoils of the afternoon.

The sun shone brightly on the garden, and Dickon felt it warm his skin through his loose shirt. If only things could be like this always, he thought. He had been thinking a lot recently, about his friendship with the other children as they began to deviate away from childhood. Although only fourteen years old, Dickon could feel the responsibilities of adulthood were only just around the corner – and it frightened him. He had seen his older siblings go from being carefree children to adults weighed down with the obligations that came with it, and he didn't feel ready to make the transition into adulthood yet. More than anything, he wished that he could spend the remainder of his days on the Moor, free to roam and explore – with his Mother's cottage to come home to, and the Secret Garden to tend and enjoy. He pushed the thought of growing up from his mind. Surely it would be a few years before he had to worry about anything, he thought, before turning his attention back to his friends.