|SIYE Time:15:14 on 17th December 2018|
Strangers at Drakeshaugh
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Drama, Fluff, General, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Summary: The locals in a sleepy corner of the Cheviot Hills are surprised to discover that they have new neighbours. Who are the strangers at Drakeshaugh?
Hitcount: Story Total: 190129; Chapter Total: 8017
Awards: View Trophy Room
Amelíe is a star. She turned this chapter round in twelve hours! Without her you wouldn't have seen if for a few days. Soraya subsequently added additional polish.
A Confusion of Weasleys
The girl’s outburst in French was followed by the sound of several confused voices from inside the house.
‘What you say?’ Henry asked, looking up at the girl. ‘Can’t you talk proper?’
‘Henry!’ I scolded him sharply.
Before the girl could answer a tall blonde woman appeared in the doorway. The woman was obviously the girl’s mother. She was–I estimated–about my age, but she was slim, elegant and beautiful. Her long, loose hair was as straight and fair as her daughter’s. She somehow managed to look poised and chic despite the fact that she was wearing a rather shabby floral apron over her stylish dress. She looked at me, then down at Henry and she smiled.
‘Hello, I am Fleur Weasley and zis is my daughter Victoire,’ she began. She smiled fondly down at the girl. ‘I apologise for her lapse into French. You are not who she was expecting to see, and she believes that, by speaking French, she is keeping what she says secret.’ She turned to her daughter and her expression became serious. ‘It is very impolite, Victoire; you must use English.’
The girl, Victoire, nodded, but she was barely paying attention to her mother. She was staring at me with probing curiosity. I was certain that my clothing–jeans and an old cardigan–did not meet her approval.
‘We were expecting my bruzzer-in-law, Charlie,’ the woman added. Her accent was definitely French, but the faint hint of a West Country accent in her English turned her words into a melodic drawl.
‘I’m interrupting,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry. You’re obviously having a family get-together. I’m Jacqui Charlton; this is my son Henry. He’s James’s friend from school. He insisted that James was expecting him this afternoon. Henry was obviously making it up. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Please apologise to Ginny for me.’ I turned to leave.
‘I wasn’t making it up, Mummy!’ Henry insisted. His lower lip was trembling as he fought back his tears. ‘Where’s James? He said I could come and play with him on Sunday. An’ it’s Sunday. He promised!’
‘I really do not know where James is, Henri,’ the woman said. She used the French version of his name. ‘He is outside in the woods somewhere.’ She then turned to me and added, ‘I am very pleased to meet you, Jacqui. Ginny has told us all about you.’
As if on cue, Ginny’s head appeared around the door. She was trying to hide her annoyance at my unannounced arrival behind a puzzled expression, but she wasn’t trying hard enough and I sensed her exasperation.
‘Hello, Ginny.’ I began, once again, to embarrassedly blurt out a rapid apology. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that you were having a family gathering. Henry told me that James had invited him down here for the afternoon. I would have phoned to check, but I don’t have your number. I’m really sorry. We’ll just leave.’
‘James said I could come an’ play on his rope swing, ‘cos we dint go swimbling ‘esterday,’ insisted Henry stubbornly. Ginny’s expression softened as she stared down at an unrepentant and wet-eyed Henry.
‘You and James are very much alike, Henry,’ she said, sighing. She hunkered down and looked into Henry’s face. ‘James should not have invited you without asking me first, Henry, and he did not tell me that he’d asked you to come here. I’m a little bit cross with him, but that’s not your fault. As you’re here, you can go and see him for a few minutes. James, and Al and Lily are with their cousins. They are playing at the swing, next to the stream. Victoire knows where they are, so she can take you. But you can’t stay long, Henry; I’m sorry.’
‘There’s no need, Ginny, we’ll just go…’ I began.
‘It’s fine, Jacqui,’ Ginny assured me. ‘It’s not your fault. Henry certainly believes that he’s been invited, doesn’t he? I’ll speak to James about it later and find out what, exactly, he said. Victoire, would you show Henry where the little ones are playing, please?’
Victoire looked up at her mother, who nodded.
‘Yes, Aunt Ginny,’ Victoire said in perfect English. ‘It’s this way, Henry.’
She trotted off obediently, leading Henry around the side of the house.
‘Audrey’s keeping an eye on the sauce for you, Fleur,’ Ginny said. Fleur sucked in a worried breath.
‘Pardon me,’ said Fleur. The dazzling smile she gave me as she excused herself allowed her to display a set of teeth which were whiter and more even than any toothpaste advertisement. She turned and floated gracefully back toward the kitchen, looking so glamorously unreal that I almost expected to hear a musical accompaniment.
Her performance seemed a little redundant to me, as there were no men to impress. I wondered what Mike would make of her.
‘That was Fleur, my brother, Bill’s wife,’ said Ginny. She was grinning; she’d been watching me as I watched Fleur. ‘You get used to her, eventually,’ she added.
‘How many decades does it take?’ I asked.
Ginny chuckled. ‘Come in, Jacqui. I’ve just made a pot of coffee. You’ve already met Fleur, and now that you’re here, you might as well meet the family.’
‘You’ve got your family here, haven’t you? We’re intruding. I should just go!’
Ginny waved my protests away. There was a smile in her eyes. ‘You’ll meet them all next weekend and forewarned is forearmed. Come in, have a coffee, and that will give James and Henry a little time to play together. Henry’s the innocent party in this, unlike James. I’ll wait until after you’ve gone before I give James a piece of my mind,’ she said. ‘You’re right, Jacqui; this is a family party, and James had no right to ask anyone here, not even his new best friend. I wanted to have my family around for a meal, to show them the house before the party.’
‘I’m so sorry, Ginny,’ I said again. ‘But please don’t put all of the blame on James. I’m sure Henry played a part; he insisted on coming. I should have said no. I would have, but he was adamant, and to be far to him, Henry did say something to me on Friday outside school. I wasn’t paying any attention because Annie was desperate for the loo and you were busy with the invitations and…’
‘It’s fine, Jacqui, don’t worry,’ Ginny declared. ‘This certainly sounds like something those two would cook up between themselves.’
I was grateful for her interruption; Mike says I talk rubbish when I panic and sometimes I think he’s right. I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts.
‘I would have phoned,’ I repeated. ‘But I don’t have a number for you.’
‘That’s easily rectified,’ said Ginny. ‘Come in and I’ll write my telephone number down for you.’
I followed her into the kitchen where five women were drinking coffee and gossiping. All conversation stopped when I entered. They stared at me, and I stared back.
Fleur had returned to the stove, where she was casting a careful eye over a large pot. Ginny’s mum, who was also at the stove, waved cheerily at me and smiled.
‘Hello, dear. The blackberries are nice and ripe now, aren’t they?’ Molly Weasley asked.
I nodded rather foolishly and wondered what on earth she was talking about. Then I remembered that she’d been discussing jam-making with me when I’d seen her more than a week earlier.
‘Yes,’ I said, grateful to have a topic of conversation. ‘How are the apples doing?’
‘Starting to fall, dear.’ Molly smiled. ‘It looks like Ginny and Harry will have a good crop.’
‘Everyone, this is Jacqui Charlton,’ said Ginny, cutting across her mother, who was obviously preparing for a long conversation about jam making. ‘Her son, Henry, goes to school with James, and it seems that we can’t keep them apart.’
I carefully examined the three women I hadn’t seen before.
An earnest-looking long-nosed woman sat at the kitchen table. Her red-brown hair was long, straight and tied into a ponytail; she wore wire-rimmed spectacles not unlike Harry’s. The woman’s very long dress was decidedly unfashionable, and she looked at me curiously. It was almost as if I were a creature from another planet. At least they aren’t all like Fleur, I thought gratefully.
Standing immediately behind the bespectacled woman was a slender woman of average height. Her brown hair was a wild mane. She wore black trousers, a white blouse, a bright purple cardigan and an expression of studious curiosity.
The third stranger was tall, dark and elegant. Her hair was ornately braided and she wore a short, brightly patterned dress. Giving me an open and cheerful smile, she waved cheerfully and the bangles on her arms jangled. She was perching on the edge of the kitchen table idly swinging a leg.
‘You know Mum, and you’ve just met Fleur,’ Ginny said. ‘These are the other Weasley wives, my sisters-in-law.
The bespectacled woman nodded a greeting and whispered an almost inaudible. ‘Hello.’
‘Hello, Jacqui.’ She stood, strode across the kitchen, and shook my hand firmly. ‘Welcome to the madhouse. We’re all hiding in the kitchen, grabbing a bit of peace and quiet while we can. We’ve told the menfolk that we’re very busy, but as we’ve left them in charge of the kids, it’s simply a matter of time before there’s a disaster.’
‘And finally, Hermione, whose birthday we celebrated yesterday,’ concluded Ginny.
The brown-haired woman smiled. She, too, came over and shook my hand. When she moved, I noticed the huge cake on the workbench behind her. It was a massive rectangular slab and it had been iced to look like a book. Someone had dropped a tea towel over the top of the title and the spine. All I could read were the words “A History — Happy 30th Birthday Hermione”.
‘Hello, Jacqui,’ said Hermione. ‘Ginny has told us all about you and Henry.’
‘Happy thirtieth birthday for yesterday, Hermione,’ I said. ‘I think I’ve met your children, Rose and Hugo. Mrs–Molly–was looking after them, when, er … well … that was the last time I arrived here unannounced.’ I felt myself blushing and there was another awkward silence.
Angelina grinned. ‘Good for you!’ she said. ‘Keep the Potters on their toes.’
‘Um,’ I began. Ginny saved me.
Would you like a coffee, Jacqui?’ she asked.
‘Yes, please, Ginny,’ I said, feeling embarrassed and rather overwhelmed.
Ginny was pouring me a mug of coffee when the kitchen door burst open. A booming male voice said, ‘I’m in paradise. A room full of beautiful ladies. But where’s my little princess?’
I turned to the door and saw a powerfully built man in his late thirties. He wore a green t-shirt and faded blue jeans, his red hair was long and untidy, and he had the calloused hands and firm muscles of a manual worker.
‘Victoire is outside, Charlie,’ said Fleur, while the other women chorused their hellos.
Charlie was striding purposefully around the table. He grabbed Audrey by the shoulders and kissed her full on the lips. My initial assumption was that she was his wife, but from her blushing, squealing reaction, it seemed not.
‘Good to see you, Audrey,’ he said. He dropped her, turned and moved determinedly toward Angelina, who threw open her arms and rushed to meet him. She flung her arms around him and sighed dramatically, collapsing into him.
‘Oh, Charles, darling Charles, George is such a bore; let’s run away together,’ she said. Angelina was a couple of inches taller than he was, and it was his turn to look startled, until she burst out laughing. ‘Good to see you, Charlie; Ginny was worried that you wouldn’t make it,’ Angelina said. In the background, Molly Weasley was shaking her head at them. They hugged and kissed briefly.
Charlie released her and moved on to Hermione. ‘Happy birthday, Hermione,’ he said, there was an assessing look between them and then he leaned forward and she politely pecked his cheek.
‘Thanks, Charlie,’ she said as he handed her a carefully wrapped present. ‘I’ll open this later.’ She glanced meaningfully at me as she spoke.
Charlie strode rapidly toward me and I found myself being given a breathtaking hug.
‘Hello, lovely lady who I don’t know,’ said Charlie. ‘Do you work with…?’
‘Jacqui lives just up the valley, Charlie,’ Ginny interrupted. ‘Her son goes to school with James.’
‘Ah,’ said Charlie. He released me and re-examined me, an expression of curiosity and uncertainty furrowed over his forehead.
While I was puzzling over the significance of the emphasis Ginny had used, and Charlie’s reaction to it, he said, ‘Hello, Jacqui, I’m Charlie, the prodigal Weasley.’ He winked at me and stepped past me to Fleur.
‘Ma belle, Fleur,’ he began.
‘You cannot speak French, Charlie; do not try,’ she interrupted him and then she bent forward, embraced him, and kissed him on both cheeks before gently brushing her lips against his.
‘Nice place, little sis!’ he said. Ginny hugged and kissed him.
‘Thanks, Charlie, I’m glad you could make it,’ Ginny told him.
‘Good afternoon, Mother. You look more radiant every day,’ he finished. He grabbed Molly’s hand, bowed and kissed it.
Molly Weasley smiled indulgently at him, pulled him into a hug and then stepped back and examined him carefully.
‘Your hair needs cutting, Charlie,’ she announced.
‘If you cut it, I’ll just regrow it, Mum,’ he said. ‘Now, where’s my goddaughter?’
‘Playing in the stream with the other kids, I expect,’ said Ginny.
‘What about my brothers, and that daft speccy kid you married?’ Charlie asked.
‘I’ve just told you, Charlie. The kids are all playing in the stream,’ said Ginny.
‘Burn,’ I corrected her without thinking. Everyone fell silent and looked at me, all except Charlie, who for some reason examined his arms.
I was about to explain, but Ginny suddenly understood. ‘The stream is called Drakestone Burn,’ she stopped, allowing me to speak.
‘That was rude of me, sorry, Ginny. But it’s always been the burn, not the stream. I was raised in Redesdale, between Spithope Burn and Hawks Burn. It’s a stupid thing to be picky about, but to me, it’s the burn. I’m interrupting, and you can call it what you like. I’ll shut up, sorry,’ I said, realising that I was probably making a fool of myself again.
‘You need to learn the language, Ginny,’ said Angelina mischievously. ‘After all, you decided to move north.’
‘There’s nowt wrong wi’ t’ north, Angelina,’ Audrey said firmly, surprising the others and revealing a Yorkshire accent I hadn’t picked up, because she’d only said one word.
‘You tell them, Audrey.’ Charlie grinned. ‘Perce would be proud of you!’
Audrey blushed, but I smiled gratefully at her.
‘Where you’re from, it would be a beck, wouldn’t it?’ I asked.
‘Aye,’ Audrey agreed.
The others were laughing at us, and I didn’t want to get into a silly north/south argument, so I tried to change the subject. ‘How many kids is my Henry meeting? Are any of them yours, Audrey?’ I asked.
‘There are…’ Audrey hesitated as she calculated.
‘Twelve,’ Hermione interrupted. ‘Nine Weasleys and three Potters. You’ve already met my two, Rose and Hugo.’
‘Mine are Molly and Lucy,’ said Audrey.
‘I’m guilty of Fred and Roxanne, but I plead extenuating circumstances,’ said Angelina, smiling.
‘Victoire, Dominique and Louis are my petit angels,’ added Fleur, who was now adding a large quantity of white wine to whatever was in the pot on the stove.
Ginny arrived at my side and handed me the mug of coffee she’d poured just before Charlie arrived. He made a hopeful face, she waved him away.
‘Help yourself, Charlie, it’s in the cafetière,’ Ginny told him.
‘Do you get together often?’ I asked Ginny. ‘A dozen kids and a similar number of adults, it’s no wonder you’ve got such a large kitchen table.’
I looked at the table and blinked. It seemed to be even bigger than I remembered. I was about to make a comment, but before I could speak, Hermione pounced on me.
‘School,’ she said forcefully. ‘Can I ask you a few questions about school, Jacqui? I went to school in Hampshire, and it seems to be different up here.’
Hermione was inquisitive and determined, and she seemed to retain everything I told her. I was left puzzled by some of her questions, but that’s because I wasn’t paying her as much attention as I should have been. On the other side of the table, Charlie was asking Ginny about Greyback.
I tried to listen to both conversations but failed. Ginny said something about Greyback having nothing to do with it, and that Harry now believed that it was a pure blood plot. At least, I thought that’s what she said. I glanced across at Ginny and Charlie, but I could hear no more; it was as if something was interfering with my hearing.
I gave up and returned my attention to Hermione. She wanted to know everything: class sizes, mixed age classes and what the boys were being taught. She seemed to know a lot more about the expected achievement levels at Key Stage One than I did, and she was a little surprised when I told her that I hadn’t thought about those tests at all.
‘Henry isn’t even five, Hermione; the tests are more than two years away,’ I told her. ‘I’m certainly not going to worry him about them now.’
Both Angelina and Ginny thought my remarks were funny but, from her expression, I suspected that I’d offended Hermione. I was about to apologise, but Ginny took my empty cup from my hand and asked, ‘Shall we go down to the burnand see the kids, Jacqui?’
Despite the teasing emphasis she used, I picked up the undercurrent of a polite hint in her words.
‘It’s time Henry and I were leaving,’ I said. I glanced at my watch; I’d already been at Drakeshaugh for almost three-quarters of an hour.
‘Goodbye, everyone; I expect I’ll meet you all again next week,’ I said. ‘Oh, I almost forgot, Ginny, you mentioned a phone number.’
‘I’ll do it now,’ Ginny said. She produced a notepad and a pencil from a kitchen drawer and scribbled something on it. I followed her from Drakeshaugh to a round of farewells and good wishes. Everyone was polite, but there was no doubt that they were glad to see me go. Charlie followed us out.
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Charlie. ‘I haven’t seen my princess yet.’
‘I hope that Hermione didn’t bore you,’ said Ginny as we walked across the yard and into the trees. ‘She can be a little intense sometimes, especially about education.’ She handed me the square of paper and I read the number.
Ginny: 44669 768837
‘That’s an unusual phone number,’ I said. ‘Why doesn’t it start with a zero? If it’s a mobile number, shouldn’t it be oh-seven-something?’
Ginny simply shrugged.
‘The number was issued by Harry’s office; you’d better ask him,’ she said. ‘And please, whatever you do, do not give my telephone number to anyone else.’
We walked around the side of the house and towards the noise of children playing. A few stepping stones were set into the lawn; they led to a gap in the bushes. When we entered the trees, the environment changed immediately.
The branches were swaying in the wind, casting dancing shadows across the rough and rather muddy track. The leaves were turning, and some were already blowing from the trees. We followed the track as it snaked its way through the woods. Charlie was keeping a couple of paces behind us. I had to turn and check to make sure he was still there, because he was moving surprisingly quietly.
‘I won’t call unannounced again, Ginny.’ I promised. ‘The next time Henry tells me he’s invited I’ll phone up and check.’
‘I’ll do the same,’ Ginny assured me. ‘You can give me your number at school tomorrow. I won’t remember it now.’
‘I’ve got pen and paper in the car,’ I said. ‘I’ll write it down for you before we leave.’
When we walked into the large clearing, my screaming son and an equally loud James were both dangling from the rope swing in a tangle of limbs. The rope was hanging from the stout branch of a horse chestnut tree, and the kids were being well supervised by half-a-dozen men.
I was struck by the astonishing number of redheads. More than half of the children, and every adult male other than Harry had red hair, although some had more red, and some more hair, than others.
‘Here’s your mum, Henry,’ I heard Harry say. ‘It must be time for you to leave.’
‘Nooo…’ Henry wailed.
‘Mummy, no,’ James added his voice to Henry’s protest.
‘You can have a few more minutes while I introduce Henry’s mum to your uncles,’ Ginny called across the clearing.
That was all she had the chance to say. The moment Charlie entered the clearing behind us Victoire spotted him. She left the others and ran into his open arms.
‘Uncle Charlie,’ she squealed excitedly.
‘Princess Victoire,’ he shouted.
As the oldest, and until then most aloof of Molly’s grandchildren sprinted past us and leapt into her uncle’s outstretched arms. He lifted her above his head and swung her around. As she shouted in delight, the other children ran screaming in Victoire’s wake. Charlie Weasley was engulfed in a sea of tiny people, all of whom seemed to be asking for sweets and presents and, for some reason, galleons. As I turned my attention back to the rest of Ginny’s family, I wondered if Charlie was a seaman.
Ginny’s brothers were a disparate bunch. Charlie was the shortest. The tallest, and most gangling, was involved in an earnest, arm-waving, discussion with Harry. Harry and the tall man were left to supervise James and Henry, while the other four men moved to greet us.
As they strode towards me, I tried to guess which man belonged to which wife. I also tried not to stare at two of them: the one with the scarred face, and the one with the missing ear.
One of the men was easy, the oldest was obviously Ginny’s dad. A thin, bespectacled and almost bald man, with only a fine fringe of red hair at the sides and back, he seemed to be very excited at the prospect of meeting me. Next to him was another balding and bespectacled man. I was struck by the resemblance between the younger man and his father. It seemed inconceivable that the younger balding man was Fleur’s husband, and it was almost as unlikely that he was Angelina’s. Was this Hermione’s Ron, I wondered?
‘Jacqui, this is my dad, Arthur,’ Ginny began.
‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, a real pleasure.’ Ginny’s dad beamed and shook my hand enthusiastically. ‘Did you drive here? In a motor car? With an engine?’
‘Er, yes,’ I stammered.
‘How exciting!’ he said. He looked so animated that I wondered if there was something wrong with him.
‘Dad,’ said Ginny warningly. ‘And this is Percy…’
‘Audrey’s husband,’ I said. I should have guessed from Percy’s rather odd clothing. ‘Hello Percy.’
‘Pleased to meet you, Jacqui.’ Percy shook my hand rather nervously.
‘My turn, Perce,’ the one-eared man said as he elbowed Percy aside. ‘Did you guess about Audrey, or were you told? I’m George; do you know who my missus is?’ Other than Charlie, George was the shortest of the brothers. This was the creator of the cleaning towel. He didn’t look like an inventor. He shook my hand warmly; I tried to concentrate on his cheery smile and to ignore his missing ear, which kept drawing my eye. It wasn’t easy, but he seemed to be a jolly type, so I risked teasing him.
‘You’re married to Angelina. She thinks you’re boring and wants to run away with Charlie,’ I told him. He looked at me in stunned surprise for a second, and then he burst out laughing.
‘You had me there for a minute,’ he said loudly. ‘I like you, Jacqui!’ He looked as though he meant it, too. ‘Charlie,’ George called. ‘Have you been trying to snog my missus again?’ He patted my shoulder, chuckled and strode over to Charlie, leaving me facing the tall, scar-faced man.
‘I’m Bill,’ he said. He glanced over his shoulder at the two boys on the rope swing. ‘James and your son certainly seem to have hit it off, don’t they? They remind me a bit of Ron and Harry, sticking together like glue, through thick and thin.’
It had been difficult to ignore George’s missing ear, but it was impossible to ignore Bill’s scars as they were across his face. They reminded me of the claw marks on Harry’s chest. I tried to concentrate on the less-scarred side of his face and realised what a good-looking man he’d once been.
‘And I’m Ron,’ the tallest of Ginny’s brothers said as he strolled over from the swing and shook my hand. He turned to his brother. ‘Except Harry and me were eleven when we first met, Bill, not four.’
I looked at both Bill and Ron curiously. They were, I estimated, the youngest and oldest of Ginny’s brothers. Uncle Ron was Rose’s daddy so, by elimination, Bill must be Fleur’s husband. Harry was the last to arrive, he was holding a surly James by one hand, and a gloomy Henry by the other.
‘It’s time for us to go, Henry,’ I told my son. He looked unhappy about it, but I caught his eye and glanced towards Harry and Ginny. Thankfully, for once, he caught my hint.
‘Thank you for lettin’ us stay and play, Mr an’ Mrs Potter,’ he said.
‘There’s only one of you, Henry. It’s me, not us,’ I corrected.
‘You’re welcome, Henry,’ said Harry.
‘I’ll walk you back to your car, Jacqui, and get that phone number from you,’ said Ginny.
‘And it’s time you lot were getting inside; you need to get washed before dinner,’ said Harry.
Henry and I were followed back into the yard by the crowd of kids and dads, and Uncle Charlie. I scribbled down our phone number for Ginny, thanked her, and her family, and drove out of the yard. I was halfway home when I realised that the blue Mini was the only other car in the yard, apart from Harry’s. They could not have all arrived in the Mini. How on earth had they all got there? I pondered the answer to that question all the way home, barely listening to Henry’s excited chattering. Harry could have collected them, I supposed, but Charlie arrived after me. How had he got there?
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