|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: 169997; Chapter Total: 5051
Awards: View Trophy Room
Harry’s car was at the end of the long line of vehicles snaking away from the school. James was standing next to it, looking at his father. As I slowed down to park directly behind the Range Rover, James spotted me and dashed up the road towards us. Harry, who had his phone to his ear, immediately shouted a warning to his son.
Fortunately, James heeded his father’s words. He slid to a halt, waiting impatiently on the path until I’d parked the car. The moment I turned off the engine he dashed forwards, shouting and waving to Henry through the window. My son, desperate to be with his friend, was struggling to escape from his car seat. Annie stared at the boy outside the car, sniffed, and said, ‘Dames.’
‘James, silly,’ Henry told her dismissively. He gave her a despairing shake of his head which I recognised as my own.
As I walked around my car and stepped onto the footpath, James moved back to allow me to open the passenger door. ‘Hello, James,’ I said.
‘Hello, Henry’s mummy,’ he replied cheerfully as I opened the door and pulled the seat forward. ‘We’re gonna go swimming wiff you on Sat’day.’
‘Are you?’ I asked as I leaned into the car to release Henry, who was trying, unsuccessfully, to unbuckle himself.
‘Hurry up, Mummy,’ my son said impatiently.
‘This will be easier if you just sit still for a moment,’ I told him crossly. To my surprise, he moved his hands from the belt and stopped squirming, making my job simple. The moment I freed Henry, he squeezed past me and scrambled out from the car. James was immediately at his side.
‘Keep on the path,’ I reminded the boys as I climbed into the car and unfastened Annie’s harness.
The boys acknowledged my instructions with a nod and began to make their way towards the school gates already engrossed in a rapid and excited conversation. I lifted Annie from the car and tried to settle her on my hip, but she struggled and protested, making it obvious that she wanted to be on the ground. After warning her to stand still, I put her down and picked up Henry’s bag and coat. Then, taking Annie’s hand, I led her slowly towards the school gates.
Harry, who had just replaced his phone in his trouser pocket, was lifting James’s coat from the back seat of his car. He spoke to the boys as they passed him, but didn’t follow them. Instead, he waited for Annie and me to reach him. As I approached I noticed that he looked rather tense.
‘Morning, Jacqui,’ Harry said as he closed the rear door of the Range Rover.
‘Hello, Harry,’ I said.
‘Bordig, bordig,’ Annie squeaked snottily, waving at Harry.
‘Morning, Annie,’ said Harry. The tension on his face vanished for a moment as he beamed down at her and returned her wave.
‘Addie,’ she agreed happily.
After I’d found a tissue, and made Annie blow her nose, we followed our sons into school. The boys were some distance ahead.
‘Sorry about yesterday,’ said Harry quietly.
‘There’s nothing to apologise for,’ I assured him. ‘I can’t begin to comprehend the pressure you must be under. The cop-shows always make catching murderers look easy, Chief Inspector Barnaby can do it in an hour or two! But this is real life. You must be very busy, and under a lot of pressure.’
‘I am,’ he agreed solemnly. Harry seemed lost in thought, but as we walked on, my curiosity got the better of me.
‘Yesterday, when Ginny and I were in the garden, she accidentally let slip about your prime suspect,’ I said. ‘I saw the news this morning. Ginny asked me not to say anything about Gaheris Robards, and I wouldn’t have. But this morning his picture was on Breakfast News, so it can’t be a secret any longer.’
Harry gave a weary shrug. ‘We call releasing a name and image “the Sirius Gambit”, and I can’t remember it ever doing any good,’ he said gloomily.
‘At least we know who you’re looking for,’ I continued. ‘Everyone in the country knows. Are you close to finding him? Or can’t you say?’
Harry’s face fell into a frown and his eyes blazed. He took a deep breath, and spoke. ‘Ginny and I talked about the case last night.’ He hesitated.
‘You don’t have to tell me anything, Harry,’ I told him. ‘I’m curious, obviously, but…’
‘The case is now political,’ Harry admitted, frowning. ‘Decisions are being made above my head.’ He didn’t add “and I think they’re wrong”, but it wasn’t necessary; it was obvious in the tone of his voice.
‘Robards is not my prime suspect, in fact I’m worried that he may simply be another victim,’ Harry continued firmly. ‘And I’m afraid that there may already be two more.’ His face creased in worry. ‘The order to release his name was given by the Minister.’ He shrugged and continued. Harry was staring into the distance, and it seemed to me that he wasn’t really talking to me, but simply thinking aloud. ‘It might work. And it will certainly give the real killer one less disguise to use. But, from yesterday, I no longer have a prime suspect. I can’t say more than that, but I’m going to Sheffield, and I’m likely to be very busy for the next few days. I might not get home.’ He paused. ‘About Saturday … ’
‘The offer still stands,’ I assured him. ‘Mike and I discussed it last night. You’re going to be away, and I’m sure you’d like the kids to be kept busy over the weekend, so we’d be happy to help. Anyway, James has already told Henry that he’s coming swimming with us. Mike can take the boys, and I can take Ginny and the girls.’
‘I told James he could go if you agreed to take him,’ said Harry, shaking his head in annoyance. ‘He shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry about him assuming things.’
‘Don’t be,’ I told him ‘When the kids get an idea fixed in their heads, they can go on and on about it until they drive everyone mad. Sometimes it’s easiest to simply do what they want. A few weeks ago Henry managed to persuade me that James had invited him to Drakeshaugh, and we arrived unannounced, remember? You should have told us to bug… to go away, but you didn’t. I owe you.’
Harry chuckled at my slip. ‘James had invited him. He simply “forgot” to tell us. You don’t owe us anything, Jacqui,’ he said firmly. ‘I hope that we’re not going to start keeping account of good turns. But I am extremely grateful. I expect I’ll be in Sheffield, or London, for most of the weekend and I don’t want to leave Ginny alone with the kids.’
I must have given him a look, because he shook his head and laughed.
‘That sounds like I don’t trust her, doesn’t it? She can cope, of course she can, but I doubt I’ll be around much, and James is really keen on going swimming with Henry, and…’ He stopped, turned to face me, and gave me an appreciative look. ‘And happy kids make for happy parents. Thank you, and thank Mike, too,’ he said. ‘I’ll let Ginny know, and she can discuss details with you this afternoon.’
‘Do you want to leave?’ I asked. ‘It’s a long drive to Sheffield. We can sort the boys out, can’t we Annie?’
‘Sort boys,’ Annie agreed. She sneezed, and I wiped her nose again.
‘I’m sure you can, Annie,’ Harry told her. ‘But a couple of minutes won’t make any difference, Jacqui. I can...’
‘Harry!’ a vaguely familiar female voice called from Harry’s pocket.
He rolled his eyes, gave me an apologetic look, hauled out his phone, lifted it to his ear and said, ‘Morning, Polly.’
I immediately pictured the broad-shouldered Goth I’d met in the sports centre car park a few weeks earlier.
‘Wotcher, boss,’ Polly Protheroe said. ‘Hope I’m not interrupting anything, but you’d best get here sharpish-like. Big Den’s located the site, and you won’t like what we’ve found here. Fenella and Dacia have just arrived with all their gear, and we’ve contacted Spider’s team. He’s at the Sheffield central nick, but he’s on his way… Here he is now… We’ve decided not to tell the coppers yet…’
They were the last words I heard.
Although I desperately wanted to listen, I knew that I shouldn’t so, while Polly Protheroe was talking, I reached over and lifted James’s coat from Harry’s hand. He rather reluctantly released it, and I waved goodbye to him. He gave me a wave, and an apologetic look, then turned away to take the call in private.
Henry and James had made their own way into the classroom, and they were sitting at their table. All I had to do was hang up their coats. It took me only a few minutes, but when I walked slowly out from the school, Annie still trotting at my side, there was no sign of Harry. I walked down to the gate and looked up the street to where Harry’s car had been parked. It was gone.
‘He’s left, looking very worried. He’s probably fighting to keep his job,’ said Mary smugly as she strode past me, heading for her own car, a sleek, black BMW.
‘I’m sure he’s worried about the potential victims, not his job,’ I said confidently. I was forced to address Mary’s back, as she didn’t stop walking. She didn’t even break stride, she simply shrugged dismissively to assure me that my riposte hadn’t troubled her.
‘Not job,’ Annie confirmed loudly.
‘Good girl, Annie. You tell her,’ I said, smiling down at my daughter.
‘Yes,’ she confirmed, nodding so wildly that it seemed likely her head would fall off. ‘I tells her.’
Annie and I had a good day; it was clear and bright, so we spent most of our time in the garden. In the morning, I mowed the lawn, Annie followed behind me, she was pushing an empty pushchair while making lawnmower noises. After lunch she played with Raggedy Maggie and, later, bounced on the trampoline while I weeded the borders, and the vegetable plot. I had almost finished when she decided that she wanted to help me. Her “assistance” slowed me down considerably.
I was wondering whether it was time to stop weeding and get ready to leave for school, when I heard the phone ringing. Grabbing Annie and lifting her into my arms, I carried her inside, deposited her on the kitchen floor, and left my muddy garden clogs on the doormat. By the time I reached the phone, the answer machine had begun. I found myself talking over Mike saying: “Hello, the Charltons aren’t in, leave a message after the beep and we’ll get back to you, unless you’re an annoying automated message like me.”
‘Hello,’ I said as Mike rambled on in the background. ‘I was in the garden, sorry.’
‘Jacqui?’ Ginny asked. She sounded confused by the fact she was hearing two voices. ‘Is that really you?’
As Ginny said my name, Mike finally finished talking and the beep sounded.
‘Yes it’s me,’ I said. ‘Sorry, I was in the garden and I wasn’t quick enough.’
‘Quick enough?’ queried Ginny.
‘Quick enough to pick up before the answer machine kicked in,’ I explained. ‘What can I do for you, Ginny?’
‘You’ve been in the garden,’ Ginny said. Her tone told me that she’d rather I’d been doing something else.
‘Yes, I was weeding,’ I admitted, unsure where the conversation was going.
‘So, you haven’t been watching the telly-vision,’ said Ginny, disappointedly. From her tone, I wondered if she thought that I spent all day watching television. Then I remembered that the Potters didn’t own one, and recalled the headlines on Breakfast News.
‘I don’t watch much daytime telly. What have I missed?’ I asked, suddenly concerned. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Harry called me a few minutes ago. They’ve found two more bodies in Sheffield,’ Ginny told me sadly.
‘Oh, no!’ I said. Annie, who had been happily running around the kitchen depositing the mud from her wellies all over the clean tiles, seemed to pick up something from my tone. She stood in attentive and worried silence, watching me speak. ‘Is it the young couple who were reported missing on this morning’s news?’ I asked.
As I spoke, Annie examined her muddy hands and decided that it would be a good idea to wipe them on her t-shirt. I grimaced, and waved at her, silently trying to stop her. It didn’t work.
‘Yes,’ said Ginny. ‘I was wondering if the news had broken. Harry said that the Mu… that the police had been informed and they were going to hold a press conference.’
‘Hang on.’ I transferred the phone to my left hand, picked up the remote control, and turned on the kitchen television. ‘I’ll check now,’ I told her as I flicked through the programme guide to find BBC News 24.
‘We are just receiving an update from our reporter in Sheffield,’ the announcer said. ‘We’ll go live to the press conference at Police Headquarters. Sophie…’
‘It’s on now,’ I said. ‘Just hang on a minute, Ginny.’
I could hear Ginny’s breathing as I listened to the news bulletin. The image cut from the reporter and a camera panned around the room before coming to rest on the Superintendent in charge of the case. As it did so, I briefly saw Harry. He was next to a wall, talking to crop-haired Trudi Corner. Like Harry, Trudi was in a long black coat. They both looked tense.
I’d been listening to the policeman for a few minutes when Ginny spoke. ‘What’s happening?’ she asked.
‘I’ve just seen Harry and Trudi Corner,’ I said. ‘But only for a second, when the camera panned over them. The police haven’t really said much: “the bodies of a man and a woman, both in their early twenties, have been found in an empty industrial unit in the Burngreave area of Sheffield.” And, other than the fact that they are “undertaking urgent enquiries”, that’s about it. They are refusing to confirm that the bodies are of that young couple named this morning. But that’s to be expected, isn’t it?’
‘Is it?’ Ginny asked.
‘Yes,’ I told her, wondering why she didn’t know. ‘They can’t, and won’t confirm anything until they’ve contacted next of kin and had the identities formally confirmed.’ I said. ‘But, obviously, Harry already knows. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone that you’ve told me.
The Superintendent began taking questions, so I tried to listen and talk to Ginny at the same time.
‘The reporters are asking whether it’s the same killer,’ I said. ‘The police say “all available evidence indicates that it is”. The BBC have asked who found the bodies, and why they were killed before the full moon. The police said that the bodies were found because of a new lead, and that investigations are continuing. I really don’t think they are going to say anything else, Ginny. It looks like it will all be “following several lines of enquiry” stuff. How’s Harry? Why have they found two bodies now? The full moon isn’t until Saturday night, and that’s when the other victims were killed, isn’t it?’
‘That’s what everybody thought, until yesterday,’ said Ginny. ‘Harry’s fine, thanks for asking. They had a breakthrough this morning, but...’
‘At the school gates, he got a call from that… from Polly Protheroe,’ I said. ‘Oh no… She was telling him, wasn’t she? I heard her say something about “Big Den” and “you won’t like it”.’
‘Big Den is Polly’s nickname for Dennis Creevey,’ said Ginny. ‘He made the breakthrough, and he, Polly, and Trudi found the bodies.’ There was sadness in her voice as she spoke the final word. ‘Harry hoped...’
‘I’m sure we all hoped, Ginny,’ I said. ‘But I’m sure Harry’s people did their best, and they aren’t the ones doing the killing. But now it’s been on the news, and someone at the school gates is bound to have heard about it. There will be a lot of gossip and questions. What do you want me to do, Ginny? You don’t have to go. I could collect James and bring him back to Drakeshaugh for you.’
‘Do you really think I’m frightened of anything Mary Saville might say to me?’ asked Ginny fiercely.
‘No, not at all,’ I protested, realising I’d misjudged her mood. ‘It’s just–well–you’ll have Al and Lily with you; an argument with Mary might upset them. I can just ignore her.’
‘You’re right,’ said Ginny. She paused. ‘Would you come here and look after Al and Lily? I’ll walk down to school and collect Henry and James and bring them back here, if that’s okay.’
‘I suppose so,’ I said hesitantly.
‘Is there a problem?’ she asked.
‘No,’ I assured her. ‘Not really,’ I corrected myself. ‘Except, if I’m honest, I’d like to be a spectator,’ I admitted.
Ginny laughed. ‘But, you’ll do it anyway?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ I told her. I looked up at the kitchen clock. ‘I’d better get ready to leave. I’ll get to Drakeshaugh as quickly as I can. Bye, Ginny.’
‘Right, Annie,’ I said. ‘We’re going to Drakeshaugh.’
‘Yay,’ she said.
‘After we’ve washed your hands and changed your t-shirt. You are a dirty little girl.’
‘Well,’ I said, as Ginny turned to give a final wave before vanished over the crest. ‘What shall we do now?’
Al, Annie and Lily looked uncertainly at each other. ‘Make a train track, please,’ Al suggested.
‘Twain,’ Lily agreed.
‘A train track?’ I asked. ‘You’ll have to show me, Al.’
He led me into the cavernous living room, and I suddenly realised what an honour I’d been granted. I was alone in Drakeshaugh. Well, not actually alone, because the kids were with me, but Ginny had trusted me enough to leave me in her house, with her kids. I could make an excuse to the kids, and snoop. I wouldn’t of course, but for a moment I fantasised about exploring the house. Then I felt guilty about even considering doing such a thing. And then I had a paranoid panic about the entire house being subjected to hidden camera surveillance.
‘There,’ said Al, bringing me back to reality. He pointed to a large wooden box at the rear of the living room, at the end next to the large windows. The living room was almost like two rooms. The sofas and chairs were clustered around the fireplace, and the area around them was tidy. The, much larger, rear of the room was cluttered with toys and bricks I had to watch my feet as I made my way towards the box.
‘Shouldn’t we tidy some of these other toys away, before we get anything else out?’ I asked.
‘No, ‘s alright,’ said Al. ‘Mummy does it wiffa wave of a wand, when we’s gonna bed.’
‘Good old Mummy,’ I said sardonically.
The place was a lot less tidy than I like, so I had to fight the urge to disagree. I reminded myself that I was a guest, and shouldn’t interfere in Ginny’s household arrangements. If she wanted to spend hours tidying up after the kids were in bed, it was up to her. Deciding not to press it, I lifted the box lid, and helped Al, Annie and Lily lift out the sections of wooden railway track. We were all kneeling on the floor assembling a long and complex track when Harry’s voice rang out over the room.
‘Ginny.’ His voice was clear and it sounded close. I looked in the direction of the sound, expecting to see him, but the room was empty. After that one word, there was silence.
‘Daddy,’ said Al. He stood, trotted towards the large mirror hanging on the wall, and looked hopefully up at it. It was strange, but it had sounded to me as if Harry’s voice had come from somewhere near the mirror.
‘Daddy’s not here, Al,’ I said. ‘And he certainly isn’t in the mirror.’
Al ignored me. ‘Mummy’s gone at school, Daddy,’ he told the mirror. He got no reply, of course, and after a minute he turned and walked back to me.
‘Daddy very busy,’ he told me sadly.
‘He is, Al,’ I agreed, giving him a hug. ‘Shall we finish making the train track?’
He nodded, and we got back to work. Lily found a wooden carriage and simply pushed it back and forth along the completed section of track while Annie, Al and I fitted bridges and points and even a turntable into the wooden rails winding their way across the floor.
When we had used the last piece of track, Al trotted back to the box and picked out a bright red steam train. As he carefully connected a couple of carriages to it, he patiently explained to me that the train was taking Teddy to school.
‘Whose Teddy?’ I asked. ‘Is it your Teddy going to school, Al? He must be a very clever bear.’
Al looked at me as though I was mad. ‘Not Teddy bear,’ he told me. ‘Just Teddy!’ His face creased and his eyebrows narrowed. I watched as he tried to work out how to explain something which was plainly obvious to him to an uncomprehending adult.
‘Is Teddy a person?’ I asked as the door opened and Ginny ushered James and Henry into the room. Al nodded.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Hello, Mummy.’ He sounded relieved.
‘Hi, Ginny,’ I said.
‘Hello Jacqui. Teddy Lupin is Harry’s godson,’ Ginny called from the door. ‘You’ve made a train to take Teddy to school, haven’t you Al?’
He nodded enthusiastically, and I suddenly understood. I remembered the rather imperious woman with the unusual name, (Anastasia Tonks?) I’d met at the Potter’s housewarming party.
‘Oh, yes,’ I said. ‘I remember meeting his grandmother last weekend. How did it go at the school gates?’
Ginny grinned. ‘There’s not much to say, but I have some news. Do you have time for a cuppa?’ she asked.
I checked my watch; it was almost quarter past four, the time I’d usually be arriving home. I hadn’t given our dinner a thought, there was nothing prepared, and Mike would be home a little after six. However, I was desperate to hear what Ginny had to say. Deciding that I’d simply grab something from the freezer, I nodded.
‘Yes, thanks. I’ve got plenty of time.’ I lied.
‘Great, I’ll go and make a pot of tea, and I’ll bring some juice for the kids,’ said Ginny. Before heading for the kitchen, she turned to James, who was whispering something to Henry. ‘James Potter,’ she said firmly. ‘If you want to go swimming on Saturday, neither you, nor Henry will destroy Al’s train track. Not even accidentally.’
James opened his eyes wide, and set his face into something which he obviously hoped was an expression of innocence. Unfortunately, his attempt to pretend that he’d never even considered doing such a thing was blatantly false.
I stared accusingly at Henry, who looked at the floor and did his “you’ve caught me” foot shuffle. ‘Best behaviour, Henry,’ I told him. He nodded, as did James, and they walked over to join the younger kids.
Ginny soon returned. After supervising the kids with their juice she and I settled into the armchairs, each nursing a steaming mug of tea. The kids were playing happily behind us.
‘Well?’ I asked.
‘Mary is not my friend,’ she said. ‘But it seems that a lot of the others are getting sick of her, too.’
‘Really?’ I said.
Ginny nodded. ‘When I arrived it was obvious that she was talking about the murders. The moment she saw me, she turned up the volume. “Two young people brutally murdered,” she said.’ Ginny’s impersonation of Mary’s imperious drawl was amazingly accurate. ‘“And whose fault was it?” I didn’t have time to say anything. One of the women standing close to her said, “The person who killed them, of course.” And most people agreed with her. Mary was flabbergasted’
‘Crikey! Do you know who spoke?’ I asked.
‘She was at the party, but I’ve forgotten her name,’ said Ginny apologetically. ‘She’s short, even smaller than I am, and dark haired. I think she might be called Sarah.’
‘Sara Hutchinson,’ I said promptly. ‘Her daughter is a year older than the boys and she’s got another girl who is Annie’s age.’
‘I was going to thank her, but Harry called,’ said Ginny.
‘I heard his voice here, while you were out,’ I interrupted her as I remembered. ‘Al was really funny. He walked up to the mirror on the wall and tried to talk to his daddy.’
Ginny’s mouth formed an “O”, and she was silent for a moment. ‘That’s because, it’s because… You heard Harry say my name, didn’t you?’
I nodded, and drank some of my tea.
‘Our mobile telephones, mine and Harry’s, are linked to the house telephone, which is in my study,’ she said. ‘And there’s a microphone behind the mirror, it relays the ringing tone from the house telephone in here.’
‘I think you mean a speaker, not a microphone,’ I told her, smiling. ‘Unless you’ve got the place bugged.’
‘Speaker, yes,’ she said, looking a little confused. ‘Sorry Jacqui, I’m not concentrating. I was thinking about Harry’s phone call. He told me that they’ve finally got a break in the case. It looks like the place Dennis found is the killer’s lair. They found a lot of stuff there, and they think they’re close to finding Robards. Because, as you’ve heard, my ringing tone is Harry saying my name everyone outside school knew I’d been speaking to him. When I’d finished … Sara … asked me if I had any news, so I told them that there was a breakthrough, and because of it Harry won’t be home for a few days. Mary didn’t know what to say, but she didn’t look happy.’
‘I can imagine it. Face like a bulldog chewing a wasp,’ I suggested, and Ginny laughed.
‘Good one,’ she said. ‘There’s not much more to tell you, Jacqui. I was going to have a word with Mary, but the kids came out. Mary grabbed her daughter and scarpered, and everyone else wanted to talk to me.’
‘I expect Harry is a lot happier than he was this morning,’ I said.
‘He’s still got a lot to do,’ Ginny told me. ‘And he likes to keep control of things, particularly when it’s getting critical. I don’t think I’ll see much of him for the next few days. And that reminds me... About Saturday...’
‘Harry’s already asked,’ I said. ‘Mike and I can take you swimming, we’ve already discussed it.’
‘Thanks, Jacqui,’ said Ginny. ‘You can all come to dinner when we get back.’
‘There’s no need,’ I protested.
‘You’re going to have to pick us up, and drop us off,’ she reminded me. ‘So you can stay for a meal, too, unless you have other plans.’
‘No other plans,’ said Henry eagerly. ‘We can come after swimberling, can’t we?’
I gave Ginny an apologetic look. ‘Okay, but please let me bring starters.’
‘An’ chocolate buns,’ James suggested hopefully.
‘And chocolate buns,’ I said over Ginny’s protests. I checked my watch, and gulped down the last of my tea. ‘We’ll have to go home now, Henry. I need to make dinner. Will pizza and chips be okay?’
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