|SIYE Time:7:21 on 23rd February 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
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: 169999; Chapter Total: 5469
Awards: View Trophy Room
Thanks as always to Amelie for her beta work, and welcome to Sara, too.
As I drove Henry to school on Tuesday morning, I saw Ginny on the road ahead. She was walking towards us, away from the school, and had almost reached the lane leading back to Drakeshaugh. I wasn’t late, so she must have been very early; arriving at the school as it opened. Ginny was pushing the buggy containing Al and Lily up the hill. I tooted as I approached them, and all three gave me a cheerful wave as I passed.
I was a little surprised to see Ginny doing the morning school run, as I’d become used to the Potters’ routine. Apart from the very first day, Harry regularly dropped James off in the morning before driving to work.
After a day spent dealing with a very crabby Annie, I drove down to school to collect Henry. Annie, whose crabbiness I had put down to the fact that her back teeth were finally coming through, fell asleep in the car. After I’d parked, I spotted Ginny’s unmistakeable hair in the crowd of mums by the gate. Because of the way they shared the school run, I had expected to see Harry. I wondered where he was, and my curiosity got the better of me. Also, I wanted to confirm that I was still expected for coffee the following day.
In a moment of madness I decided that it would be a good idea to carry my still sleeping daughter down to the school gate. My attempt to lift Annie from her car seat without disturbing her failed, of course, and she woke up feeling fractious. She wailed, moaned and squirmed in my arms, desperate to get back to sleep, but I convinced myself that I’d be able to calm her.
Ginny was speaking to several of the other mums when I arrived at the gates. Mary was not among them. She was still pointedly ignoring Ginny. As I strolled over to join the group I was struggling with Annie, trying to persuade her to quieten down. Unfortunately, when I attempted to join in the conversation, my daughter decided to show me who was boss by having a tantrum.
The only thing Ginny managed to tell me was that she’d heard from Luna and Rolf, and that they had arrived safely in Stockholm. Apparently the taxi taking Rolf and Luna to the airport had arrived minutes after Ginny had returned to Drakeshaugh. Ginny was obviously embarrassed by her slip the previous day, when she’d said Sweden instead of airport: so embarrassed, in fact, that she felt the need to tell me the flight times.
Annie was wailing in my ear, so I missed most of Ginny’s detailed explanation, but I really wasn’t that interested. Annie was proving particularly peevish, and I could see that her antics were annoying some of the other mums. They weren’t doing my temper much good either, so I moved to one side and tried to calm her. She was still mewling when Henry and James arrived. Deciding that the best thing was to get her home, I confirmed with Ginny that we were still meeting for coffee the following morning, noted Mary’s frown of disapproval when she overheard, and left.
As I drove home, Annie again fell asleep. When I pulled into the yard I wisely left her in her car seat. I kept an eye on her through the kitchen window while I prepared the vegetables, and rescued her when she finally stirred. She was a different girl when she finally woke, and she “helped” me to set the table for our evening meal while Henry watched CBeebies.
Over our meal, Henry told us that James was cross, because his Mummy had made him hide some of his toys.
‘Hide them?’ I asked. Why?’
‘Because you’re gonna visit termorra,’ Henry told me.
I was strangely comforted by the fact that, like me, Ginny felt the need to tidy her house before visitors. I was so cheerful during the evening that, after we had put the kids to bed, Mike began to tease me. He joked that it was obvious that my upcoming “day out with a girlfriend” was much more important to me than he was.
‘True,’ I told him. ‘The kids come first, and then Ginny, and then my Mum, then Dad, and then my sister, and then there is Auntie…’ I got no further, because he picked up a cushion and threw it at me. What followed was our first cushion fight in years. It was a bit muffled, because we didn’t want to wake the kids, but we were giggling like children when we finally went to bed.
I was still in a good mood when I drove down to school on Wednesday morning. The weather was bright and clear. It was almost unseasonably warm for the last day of September, hardly an Indian summer, but certainly warm and pleasant. The sky was the palest of blues, and the clouds were faint wisps of white. Henry, who was sitting behind me, was happily chattering, telling me some long and complicated story about a nasty, greasy-haired wizard who had, according to James, chopped off James’s Uncle George’s ear. I smiled and nodded, and said, ‘I see,’ in all the right places, all the while wondering how many different crazy stories George had told his nephews and nieces.
When I reached the school, I pulled up directly behind Harry’s Range Rover. He was wearing the white shirt, grey tie, and black trousers he always seemed to wear to work. In deference to the warm weather, the long black coat was missing.
Harry was lifting James out of the car when I arrived, and I gave them both a cheery wave. James waved back, but Harry’s response was a cursory, almost curt, nod of recognition.
Hi, Harry, hello, James,’ I called cheerfully as I freed both Annie and Henry from their seats. Harry was slow to answer. He looked tense, and a little impatient.
‘Hello, Jacqui. Ginny’s expecting you, she should be ready by now,’ he said, sounding a little exasperated. He picked up James’s school bag, turned on his heels and walked rapidly towards the school. ‘Come along, James. Don’t dawdle,’ he ordered, reaching out his hand. James glanced over his shoulder at Henry, but took Harry’s hand and trotted obediently alongside his father.
I said nothing, but simply swept Annie into my arms and hurried Henry along the path towards the school gates. I decided not to mention Henry’s crazy story about George’s ear, as there was an air about Harry which worried me. He was obviously moody, and he seemed to be under a lot of pressure. I chivvied Henry along. He didn’t need much encouragement, as he wanted to catch up to James.
As we dashed after Harry, I finally realised what was bugging him, and my heart lurched. My biggest worry of the day had been about what I should wear during my visit to Drakeshaugh; Harry had a killer to catch. I tried, and failed, to remember when the moon was next full, when the Sheffield killer would strike again.
‘Do you want me to take James into school, Harry?’ I asked when we caught up to Harry just inside the gates. ‘I’m sure that you’re very busy. Do you need to get to work?’
‘No, thanks, I… Yes, I do, really. Would you mind?’ he asked hesitantly.
He was torn between the desire to ensure that his son was safely ensconced in class, and a need to get to work.
‘Not at all,’ I assured him. ‘Is that okay, James?’
James nodded, and the relief on Harry’s face was plain to see. I wondered what difference five minutes would make.
‘Thanks, Jacqui,’ he said. He crouched down and turned his attention to James. ‘Henry’s mum will make sure you’re okay, James. You have a good day at school, okay?’ Harry hugged his eldest, ruffled his hair, and stood.
‘I hopes you catches the bad man, Daddy,’ James said seriously.
‘So do I, James. So do I,’ replied Harry sincerely. ‘Be good, bye.’ With that, he turned and strode rapidly out from the school.
I herded the kids into the classroom, hung up both Henry’s and James’s coats for them, and looked in on them to make sure that they were both settled at their table. James was telling Henry another story, this one was about the man his daddy was going to catch, a man who, James explained in all seriousness, was “just pretending” to be a werewolf.
‘Of course he’s just pretending, because werewolves aren’t real,’ I assured Henry.
James opened his mouth, and for a moment I thought that he was going to contradict me. Instead he closed his mouth with a clatter of teeth and stared at me. James screwed up his face and gave a shrug which seemed to start at his fingertips and ripple up his arms before reaching his shoulders like a breaking wave. The extravagant shrug, and James’s disdainful look, told me that I was dealing with a boy who certainly knew more about werewolves than a mere adult like me. I smiled at him, marvelling at the certainty of childhood. After saying goodbye to the boys, I took Annie by the hand, and left to make my way to Drakeshaugh.
Ginny, who was wearing khaki shorts and a green t-shirt, was standing in the yard when I arrived. She was holding Al and Lily firmly by the hand. The two younger Potter children began to jump and wave the moment I drove through the open gate and into the yard. As I parked I noticed another change to the place. A brand new coop and run had been installed since the party, and inside the stained wood barrier half-a-dozen buff Orpingtons clucked and pecked.
Ginny released her two youngest children the moment I had switched off the engine. They were alongside the car when I opened the door and, even before Annie’s feet had touched the ground they were busy telling her the exciting news.
‘We got hens, Annie,’ Al shouted the moment I opened my door. ‘Look!’ He helpfully pointed in the direction of the coop.
Annie, however, was not impressed. She looked across at the coop warily.
‘Hello, Jacqui,’ said Ginny, as I placed Annie on the ground between Al and Lily. ‘Al has already told you the latest exciting news from the Potter family.’
‘Hello, Ginny,’ I said, ‘Orpingtons. A good choice, particularly if you’re going to keep them outside over the winter. When did you get them?’
‘Sunday,’ Ginny said. ‘Mum and Dad have always kept chickens, and Harry was quite keen when Mum suggested it. And you’re right, they are Orpingtons; you know your hens.’
‘I’m a farmer’s daughter. I know my sheep, too. I’m a woman of many talents. I can tell you the difference between a Cheviot and a Border Leicester,’ I told her, laughing. ‘I don’t know why, but I assumed that you were both townies,’ I added apologetically. ‘I know you’re from Devon, but I also know that you both moved here from central London. I simply–well, you’re obviously a country girl. Have the hens settled? Are you getting eggs yet?’ As I spoke the two Potter children took Annie’s hands and led her towards the henhouse.
‘I was brought up in rural Devon,’ Ginny said. ‘Harry was… Well, let’s just say he didn’t see much of the countryside while he was growing up.’ She frowned in thought for a moment, and then brightened up. ‘Yes, Harry and I lived in London after we married, but only because that’s where his house was. Now we’re here, I think that we should have moved out of the city sooner. Harry loved The Burrow–Mum and Dad’s house–and this place is a bit like it, but better, because it’s ours. It’s perfect for the kids. We got our first egg yesterday, and we’re about to find out whether there are any today.’
‘Me-me-me!’ Lily squealed.
‘I’ll collect the eggs,’ said Ginny firmly. ‘We don’t want the chickens to think that your little girl’s fingers are fat juicy worms, Lilyloo. They might gobble them up.’
Annie whimpered, curled her hands into fists, and took a step backwards. Ginny pulled an apologetic face “Sorry” she mouthed, before whispering, ‘Lily is likely to drop, or crush, any eggs we find.’
‘They’re only hens, Annie,’ I reassured my daughter as she continued to look hesitantly towards the birds. ‘Granddad Wake has hens, too, remember? That’s where the eggs come from.’
Still a little uncertain, Annie nodded. She, along with Al and Lily, gazed warily through the fence at the birds. I pointed out the slightly different sizes and colours to my daughter and tried to make her feel at ease as Ginny carried out a rapid and efficient search for eggs.
‘Three!’ she said, lifting up three decent sized brown eggs and showing them to the kids. ‘That’s better than yesterday. You could each have a boiled egg for lunch. Would you like that, Annie?’
‘An’ solders,’ Annie said, nodding.
‘Lunch?’ I said. ‘I didn’t realise that we were staying for lunch, Ginny. You invited me for coffee. I thought…’
‘Do you have other plans?’ Ginny asked as she led us past the outbuilding which housed Harry’s bike.
‘Housework,’ I told her. ‘And playing with Annie.’
‘You can play with Annie here,’ said Ginny. ‘And housework can wait, can’t it?’
‘I suppose so,’ I said.
We rounded the corner and reached the large, sheltered lawn. On the lawn were a wooden slide, two tricycles, and a large box which, on closer inspection, I discovered contained a collection of soft toys and balls.
‘Want Raggedy Maggie,’ said Annie.
‘Raggedy Maggie is at home, Annie,’ I reminded her. ‘But there are lots of other toys here. I’m sure you’ll find something to play with.’
Al, Annie and Lily wandered across the lawn and began to play. Ginny and I sat on the bench by the back door, watching the kids, and gossiping.
I told her about my parents, and about growing up in the hills. She told me about her family, and I discovered that Harry had been a regular visitor to Ginny’s parents’ house since he was twelve. Ginny was, it seemed to me, in a confiding mood, so I reciprocated. I told her all about Mike and me, from how we first met to the day we moved to Lintzgarth. Ginny admitted that she and Harry had first kissed when she was fifteen.
‘We’ve been together ever since,’ she said cheerfully.
We chatted about holidays, kids, and motorbikes. Ginny told me that the first time she’d ever been on the back of Harry’s bike they had travelled from her parents’ house in Devon to visit Harry’s aunt and uncle in Surrey, and had then ridden all the way to Newcastle to visit Harry’s cousin.
‘All in one day?’ I asked, astonished. ‘Mike broke me in gently. We did no more than thirty miles on our first date. I’m surprised you ever tried it again. Three hundred miles as a pillion is a very long way for your first ride. Even when Mike and I rode around Europe, I found that the excitement wore off after two or three hours.’
‘I was getting a bit fed up by the time we got there,’ Ginny admitted. ‘But there is something exhilarating about hanging on to your bloke and flying over the ground at speed, isn’t there?’
‘Yes,’ I admitted.
We played with the kids in the sunshine, and fed them juice and cake while we drank our mid-morning coffee. The three little ones played well together. Al was gentle with the girls, and rather quiet. He was nothing like Henry, and from what I’d seen of James, Al was nothing like his brother, either. When Ginny went inside to prepare lunch, I simply sat in the sunshine and watched the children play.
We all ate our lunch at the table on the patio. The kids had soft boiled eggs with toast soldiers, as Annie had requested. Ginny had baked a red onion focaccia to complement our salad. It smelled wonderful, and both Al and Annie tried it and declared it acceptable. I thought it was delicious, and I asked Ginny for the recipe. We were still finishing our salad when Al, very politely, asked if he could leave the table. Annie and Lily followed suit, and they were allowed to leave and return to the garden. The kids were on their best behaviour, the weather was perfect, and Ginny and I were having a good gossip. It seemed almost too good to be true.
‘Are we still okay to go swimming on Saturday?’ I asked innocently.
Ginny’s face fell. She shrugged helplessly. ‘I honestly don’t know, Jacqui,’ she said. ‘James is very keen to go. He and Henry seem to have been talking about it, making arrangements. Al has asked me, too. But…’ Ginny stared into my eyes, and I could see the worry etched across her face. The curtain of normality was suddenly drawn back, revealing the anxiety hidden behind it. Ginny’s face, and Harry’s behaviour, sparked something, and I finally realised what it was.
‘Harry’s case,’ I said. ‘Something has gone wrong, hasn’t it? When I saw him this morning I could tell that he was…’ I hesitated, unwilling to use the first word–stroppy–which came to mind.
‘He was furious when he left here this morning,’ Ginny supplied. ‘He’s not good at hiding it, is he? I hope he wasn’t rude to you.’
‘No,’ I assured her. ‘What’s happened?’ I realised what I was asking, and hastily added, ‘You don’t have to tell me.’
Ginny hesitated. ‘Don’t tell anyone else,’ she said. ‘Not even Mike.’
‘Okay,’ I agreed.
‘Harry was at work for over twelve hours yesterday, organising surveillance on Gaheris… Bother, please forget that I told you that name …on a prime suspect. When he finally got back, late last night, I made him promise that he would take James to school this morning. I needed to make sure that everything was ready for your arrival. This morning, during breakfast, Harry got an urgent call to say that they had lost the suspect. He was seen walking in to his place of work, but then he vanished.’
‘If he’s a prime suspect, why didn’t they simply arrest him?’ I asked.
Ginny curled her lip angrily. ‘Because Gah… Damn! Because the suspect is very well connected, he’s…’ She hesitated for a moment, and decided to continue. ‘He’s the brother of Harry’s predecessor, so the Minister wants a cast iron case before Harry makes a move. Unfortunately, at the moment there is no evidence at all against him. He doesn’t have an alibi for the two previous killings, and he’s involved on the periphery of the case, but…’ Ginny shrugged, and threw out her arms in a gesture of helplessness.
I waited, and after a few seconds Ginny continued.
‘Harry isn’t convinced of his guilt,’ said Ginny. She stared at me, almost daring me to ask why, but I didn’t push. ‘Everyone is trying to force Harry to concentrate on this one man. He doesn’t want to. Harry is really good at his job,’ she added staunchly. ‘I know he’s not perfect, but after all these years, they should listen to him.’
‘So,’ I said. ‘Unless they manage to find this Gaheris…’
Ginny glared, so I tried again.
‘Unless they find this suspect, Harry will be working on Saturday,’ I said. ‘And you don’t drive.’
‘Yes.’ Ginny nodded. ‘The moon is full in the early hours of Sunday morning. So from dusk on Saturday dusk until dawn on Sunday is going to be the critical time. I expect that by now Harry will have cancelled all leave for his staff, and he’ll be getting ready for a busy weekend. James was really looking forward to going to the pool, but…’
‘We can take you,’ I volunteered. ‘I know that Harry will be busy, and you’ll be worried, I expect. But that’s no reason to disrupt the kids’ lives, is it? We’ve got two cars. Mike and I can take you, and all of the kids easily enough.’ I stared into Ginny’s troubled face. ‘Or, if you need to be here for Harry, we can simply take your kids, or even just James. Whatever you think is best. Just ask, and we’ll help.’
‘Thanks, Jacqui.’ Ginny reached across the table and squeezed my arm in gratitude. ‘Now, did you want that focaccia recipe?’
With that, Ginny signalled that the serious conversation was over, and that there would be no more talk about Harry’s case. She gave me the recipe and we spent the afternoon being normal, playing with the children and gossiping about friends, family, and their housewarming party. That was when I finally remembered to ask Ginny about buying fireworks for Henry’s birthday party.
‘Henry was born on Guy Fawkes night,’ I explained. ‘On his first birthday he was a bit scared of the fireworks, so I told him that everyone was celebrating his birthday. Now, he expects fireworks, and your brothers’ display at your housewarming was brilliant.’
‘I’ll speak to Ron and George,’ Ginny promised. ‘We should be able to get you something reasonably spectacular, and reasonably priced.’
By two o’clock we’d decided that there was little point in me returning home, so I stayed at Drakeshaugh for another hour, until just before school closed. I gave Ginny, and the kids, a lift down to school to collect Henry and James. When we arrived, Mary finally made her move.
‘Full moon is Saturday night, Mrs Potter,’ Mary boomed. ‘I hope that your husband is doing his job.’
‘He is,’ said Ginny.
‘So, we can expect an arrest in the next few days, can we?’ Mary asked.
‘I am not going to make a promise I can’t keep, Mrs Saville,’ Ginny told her.
‘It would be terrible if someone else died, wouldn’t it?’ said Mary, pressing her attack.
‘It is always terrible when someone dies,’ Ginny snapped. ‘I know that, and Harry knows it, too!’
‘If anyone else dies, Mary,’ I said firmly. ‘Then the guilty person is the killer, this “werewolf” character. It certainly won’t be Harry’s fault!’
Al, who had been listening to the conversation, burst into tears, and Ginny turned to tend to her son. I saw a glint of triumph in Mary’s eyes, but ignored it, and crouched down to help Ginny. My friend had just calmed her son and dried his tears when the kids began to pour out of the classroom. Mary collected her daughter, Helen, and strode haughtily away as Ginny and I listened to our sons plans for Saturday, and exchanged a worried glance.
That evening, I broke my promise to Ginny. After extracting a solemn promise from Mike that he wouldn’t breathe a word to anyone, I told him everything.
‘Not a soul, Michael,’ I ordered. ‘Or else.’
‘Cross my heart and hope to die,’ he assured me. We spent much of the evening discussing, not the case, but how we could get everyone to the pool.
The following morning Mike came back into our bedroom before going to work. It was something he never did. He always gave me an extra half hour in bed, because there was no need for me to be up as early as he was.
‘Sorry, Jacques,’ he said. ‘But I think that you’d better come downstairs now. It’s the headlines on the Breakfast News, and forewarned is forearmed.’
‘What?’ I mumbled stupidly.
‘A young couple have gone missing in Sheffield,’ he said. ‘The police believe that they may have been kidnapped by “The Werewolf” and they have issued a photograph of a man they want to interview in connection with the crimes. He’s called Gaheris Robards, and he’s a museum curator in his sixties. He looks pretty harmless to me, but they are saying that he’s armed and extremely dangerous.’
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