|SIYE Time:11:22 on 20th March 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: 171095; Chapter Total: 3567
Awards: View Trophy Room
24 Uninvited Visitors
There was a desperate expression on the young woman’s face. As I looked into her worryingly blank eyes, I wondered if there was something seriously wrong with her.
She’d told me that she didn’t know who she was. My knowledge of amnesia was restricted to what I’d read in crime fiction, so I knew that it almost certainly wasn’t accurate. Was she suffering from a head injury? Perhaps it was a mental, not a physical trauma? A desperation brought on by amnesia might, possibly, explain why she was trying to threaten me with a stick.
‘You really don’t know who you are?’ I asked, as I cautiously took another step towards her.
The girl in the red puffer jacket shook her head. ‘Who are you, and where are Harry and Ginny Potter?’ she demanded. She raised the stick higher and pointed it at me threateningly. My suspicions were confirmed, she was obviously suffering some severe mental anguish. I stopped moving, because I didn’t want to upset or confuse her.
I tried to formulate a suitable, calming response. Before I could speak, a rapidly spinning bright red ball, about a foot in diameter, hurtled out from the kitchen door. I’d noticed that the door was open, but somehow I’d failed to see Ginny standing there. With a painful-sounding thud, the red ball hit the girl on her right hand and knocked the stick from it. She squealed in pain.
The still spinning ball bounced upwards before falling gracefully to the ground. Given its size, and the speed at which Ginny had thrown it, the way in which the ball seemed to float gently to the ground was surprising. It almost seemed to be moving in slow motion. As my attention had been focused on the startled young woman, I assumed that it was simply an optical illusion.
‘Ginny Potter is right here,’ my friend hissed angrily. ‘And Harry Potter will be here very soon, too.’
Still whimpering and rubbing her hand, the girl turned towards this new voice. She stared in stunned surprise at Ginny. It seemed to me that the girl recognised Ginny, but from Ginny’s expression, it was obvious that the opposite wasn’t true. The girl stared in open-mouthed awe. Ginny took the opportunity to stride rapidly up to the girl and place her foot on the stick. The girl gave a fear-filled squeak. She was obviously very attached to the thing, another sign she was delusional.
‘Please don’t break it,’ the girl begged.
‘Then don’t threaten my friend,’ Ginny said firmly. Her next words were obviously for my benefit; although despite that, she did not take her eyes off the young woman, not even for an instant. ‘Don’t worry, Jacqui, Harry’s just been on the telephone, he’ll be home in about ten minutes.’
‘If you need him, Mike is even closer,’ I said staunchly, knowing that one shout from me would bring my husband running. ‘Do you want me to call for him?’ I wondered why Ginny had emphasised the word telephone, but the girl was taking up most of my attention.
‘I think we’re okay, thanks, Jacqui,’ said Ginny, still staring at the girl. ‘You aren’t going to cause any trouble in front of my neighbour, are you?’
‘Neighbour! Is she a...’ the girl began. She stared at Mike’s car, and at mine, then stared at Ginny in surprise. Ginny had her back to me, but I could tell from the way her hair rippled that she’d given a brief nod. The girl lapsed into silence, gave me a curious glance, and then appeared to dismiss me from her mind.
‘I’m sorry, Mrs Potter, I didn’t know. I didn’t recognise her, so thought this might be a trap or...’ She shrugged helplessly. ‘I didn’t know what else to do or where else to go.’
‘We’ll start again,’ said Ginny, magnanimously. ‘You can start by telling me who you are, what you want, and how you got this address?’
The girl’s face fell. ‘You don’t know me, either?’ she asked. ‘I thought… I hoped that I might be called Trudi Corner.’
‘You’re not,’ I said in surprise.
The girl stared at me. ‘She knows Trudi Corner?’ The astonishment in her voice would have been obvious even to Henry.
‘I wouldn’t say “knows,” I’ve met her once,’ I said, walking forwards to join them.
‘You can pick that up,’ Ginny told the girl as I closed on them. She took her foot off the stick. ‘But put it away and don’t try anything stupid.’
The girl bent down and picked up the stick. She hastily pushed it back into her coat pocket before I reached them. As I approached, she assessed me, a cat-curious expression on her face.
‘Sorry if I, erm, frightened you, erm, Jacqui,’ the girl told me.
‘You didn’t,’ I told her.
She slumped in despair. From the way she was blinking, it looked as though she was attempting to prevent tears from flowing.
‘You’re not lying, are you? You really don’t know who I am?’ she asked us desperately. ‘But, I don’t understand. If I’m not Trudi Corner, why did I find this hidden inside my boot?’
Reaching into the back pocket of her jeans, she carefully pulled out a carefully folded piece of thick parchment. As she began to unfold it, both Ginny and I recognised it. That was the first time I heard Ginny really swear.
The girl held up the parchment for us to read.
Harry, Ginny, James, Albus, and Lily now live at:
Drakeshaugh, Harbottle, Coquetdale, Northumberland.
We’d like to invite:
Michael and Trudi Corner
to join us at 5:00pm on Saturday 26th September 2009
as we welcome new neighbours, old friends, and family to our new home.
No gifts, please.
We look forward to seeing you.
‘Where in Mer… Where did you get that?’ Ginny demanded angrily.
‘I told you, I found it inside my boot,’ the girl protested. She began to sob.
‘You said you were hungry, would you like a bread cake?’ I asked her.
The girl nodded eagerly.
‘You’ve come from Sheffield, haven’t you?’ I asked her. She nodded again.
Ginny gasped, and thrust her hand into the pocket of her jeans. I assumed that she was looking for her phone. ‘Have you walked all of the way?’ Ginny asked.
‘Not all the way, no,’ she told Ginny. ‘But how did you know where I came from?’ the girl asked me.
Surprise had momentarily stopped the tears from flowing, but they remained in her eyes, barely held in check by the dam of her eyelids. I offered her the plate. She took a bun, demolished it in two hastily chewed mouthfuls, and reached for a second one. ‘Ta muchly,’ she mumbled.
‘Nowt’s the bother,’ I told her, smiling.
I turned to Ginny; she gave me a brief quizzical glance, but continued to watch the girl like a hawk.
‘Bread cakes, that’s what gave you away,’ I told the girl. ‘That’s what they call bread buns in Sheffield, and that’s what you called them when you saw me. You’re a Yorkshire lass. You don’t have much of an accent, but it’s still there, and it comes out when you’re worried.’
‘Aye,’ the girl gave me a rather watery smile.
We were already close, but Ginny moved forwards until she was almost toe to toe with the girl and stared up into her eyes. ‘What’s the first thing you remember?’ she asked.
‘Wunning,’ the girl mumbled as she hastily swallowed her second bun. She appeared to be caught in Ginny’s gaze, almost hypnotised. ‘I was running, but I didn’t know why I was running, so I stopped. When I looked round, there was an old man lying on the ground. He was struggling with someone else, a much younger man. I wanted go back and help the old man, but he shouted “Keep running!” so I ran.’
‘Where was this?’ Ginny asked.
‘Burngreave, in Sheffield,’ the girl said, confirming my deduction. ‘I was frightened and confused, and I couldn’t remember anything, so I ran! Whoever the old man was fighting didn’t chase me, but I kept running until I got into the city centre.’
Ginny stepped back. The girl blinked and dabbed at the corner of her eyes with her cuff.
‘And?’ Ginny asked.
‘I didn’t know what to do so I, erm,’ she gave me a wary look and turned her attention back to Ginny. ‘I sneaked into a hotel, and found an empty room.’
‘Why didn’t you go to the police?’ I asked her, my disapproval obvious in my voice.
She looked at me as if I were mad. ‘I didn’t know who I was! I was tired and frightened and I couldn’t remember anything! So, I found a room. I needed somewhere to hide while I gathered my thoughts.’ The girl’s lips quivered and the tears once again welled up in her eyes. ‘I was tired and my feet were sore and it was late, it was after midnight.’
She sniffled and stared earnestly into Ginny’s eyes. ‘I went for a shower, and when I took off my boots, I found that invitation pushed inside. I thought–I hoped–that I might be Trudi Corner. But that didn’t help, because I didn’t know who Trudi Corner was or where she lived. When I started thinking about things ... about what was going on ... when I was in the shower ... I got really frightened. I didn’t know who the old man was, or the other man, the younger man, either. I spent the night in the room, but I didn’t sleep. I just wondered and worried.’
After a long pause, she continued. ‘I thought about trying to find out who Trudi was, and where she lived. But then I persuaded myself that the man I’d been running away from was Michael. I didn’t know. I stilldon’t know. All I had was your address, and although I’d forgotten almost everything about myself, I knew who Harry and Ginny Potter were. I hoped that Mr Potter could help me.’
‘He will,’ Ginny promised. ‘Come inside, and we’ll find out what your name is.’ Taking the girl by the elbow, she led her into the house. As they walked towards the door, Ginny scanned the area. She even looked up into the sky. I followed behind, wondering whether the mystery had come to me.
Once inside, Ginny opened the door to the study and led the girl inside. Opening a drawer in the desk, she pulled out a piece of parchment and began to unfold it. Feeling a little uncomfortable, I waited at the door. I confirmed what I’d thought I’d seen previously, there was a quill and inkwell on the desk, and then looked around the room.
The only window was behind the desk. There was a large wooden chest on the floor and the walls were covered with photographs and paintings; for an instant, I thought that they were moving. I stared.
One of the paintings was of a couple in their late sixties, and I could have sworn that the bespectacled man, a relative of Harry’s from his appearance, had turned to look at me. I was staring at him, wondering what I’d just seen, when I heard a noise which sounded like someone clearing their throat. It, too, appeared to come from the painting. Ginny glanced at the painting, followed the man’s gaze, and realised I was standing in the doorway.
‘Your cup of tea is in the kitchen, Jacqui,’ Ginny reminded me. Her words were polite, but firm, and her hint wasn’t exactly lightweight. I took it and left her to look after our unexpected visitor. As I turned away, the study door closed.
My tea was still warm, but not hot. I leaned against the bench, drank it quickly, and looked out of the window, pondering the implications of the sudden arrival of the girl. A killer pretending to be a wolf, and now the sudden arrival of a woman in a red hood! I was living in a fairy tale.
Mike was right; the Potters had certainly enlivened our lives.
I had almost finished my tea; I was thinking back over my discussion with Ginny on the way back from the pool, and our unexpected visitor, when Harry’s car drove into the yard. He’d obviously been travelling fast, which wasn’t surprising, but he wasn’t alone in the car, which was. The car was heading straight towards the red ball, which Ginny had forgotten to pick up. Putting down my mug, I hurried towards the back door.
‘Harry’s here, Ginny,’ I shouted through the study door as I opened the door into the yard.
‘Thanks, Jacqui,’ she called. The door opened. ‘Wait here, Frances,’ Ginny told the girl, who was sitting in an upright chair at the desk. The girl, Frances, nodded.
I wondered how Ginny had discovered Little Red Riding Hood’s name. Ginny’s uninvited guest had removed her coat, and there was no visible sign of a head injury. Leaving Frances in the study, Ginny followed me out into the yard in time to see Harry and his companions hastily disembark.
All wore the same long black coats and alert expressions which I’d first seen on Terry Boot and his companion when I’d first encountered them. The male was a skinny six-footer in his forties; his goatee didn’t disguise his lack of a proper chin. The smaller of the two women was barely out of her teens; she was slightly built, raven-haired, red-lipped, and deathly pale. The taller woman was, I thought, about my age; she was blonde, thin, and rather austere-looking.
‘Everything okay?’ Harry asked Ginny anxiously.
‘Fine,’ Ginny assured him. ‘Her name is Frances Sidebotham, she’s from Sheffield, she’s lost her memory, and she found us because she had Michael and Trudi’s invitation to our housewarming party hidden in her boot.’
‘Frances Sidebotham.’ Harry pondered the name, and then recognition flashed in his eyes. ‘Security!’ he announced.
Harry’s colleagues were all looking at me warily. I was about to introduce myself when he noticed.
‘This isn’t Frances, this is our neighbour, Jacqui Charlton,’ he told the trio.
Ginny looked at me, grinned, and turned to the blonde woman. ‘Yes, this is my new friend, Jacqui. Jacqui, this is Susan Bones and her team. I’ve put Frances in the study,’ Ginny informed her. The trio relaxed. ‘I’m surprised to see you all here. I thought you three were still in Tr… in Romania,’ she added.
‘Just got back.’ Susan’s voice was as severe and clipped as her hair. ‘Closed the case yesterday.’ She turned to Harry. ‘We should interview this woman immediately, Harry.’
Her words were lost in the tumult almost before they left her mouth, because the kids arrived, shouting and squealing.
‘Daddy!’ Al shouted excitedly.
‘Daddy, Daddy!’ Lily echoed from some distance behind her brother.
‘Quid-ish,’ said James, running towards the red ball.
‘Wha’d’yer say?’ Henry asked him curiously.
‘Lots o’ peoples,’ Annie observed.
‘We’s gone an’ swimmed wiff Annie an’ Lily, an everyone,’ Al told his dad as the kids continued to close. ‘An’ I didn’t get drowned! Not once.’
The Potter kids dashed across the yard towards us, closely followed by my two. My husband, who was carrying the tray of drinks, brought up the rear. Harry swept Al into his arms and made a fuss of him. Ginny scooped up the ball before James could reach it.
‘No more games! Dinner is almost ready, James,’ she said.
‘Hi, Al, and hello, little Lily-loo,’ Harry said as his daughter arrived and wrapped her arms around his leg.
‘Hello, Harry,’ Mike said. ‘Were we expecting you? I hope you warned Ginny that you were coming to dinner and bringing extra guests.’ He turned to the strangers. ‘Some of these kids are mine,’ he told them cheerfully. ‘You’ll have to figure out which ones for yourself. They’ve got me reet discombobulated.’
‘Wait until they hit their teens,’ the man with the goatee said. ‘My eldest is...’
‘We have a suspect to interview,’ Susan said brusquely, trying to bring the man back to the matter at hand.
‘Suspect?’ asked Mike. He looked at me. ‘What’s going on?’
‘It’s nothing, really, Mike,’ Ginny began.
‘Do you remember passing Little Red Riding Hood on the road?’ I asked him, as Ginny spoke. When he nodded, I said, ‘She’s here.’
‘Really?’ Henry asked. ‘Really real Little Red Riding Hood? Fort it’s just a story.’
‘Red who, what story?’ James asked.
I could see that the slim blonde was becoming exasperated. Her boss, who still held his younger son, had now hunkered down to talk to Lily, and the mysterious girl in the study–Frances Sidebotham, I reminded myself–seemed all but forgotten in the chaos created by the kids. Fortunately, Ginny took charge.
‘Kids–and Mike and Jacqui–dinner is almost ready. I’d like you all inside, now. Kids, go and wash your hands for dinner. And can everyone who’s been to the rope swing please take off your muddy shoes off before you go into the kitchen.’ Lily stretched her hands up at her father in an unmistakeable gesture. ‘No, Lily, Daddy won’t carry you. He has work to do!’ Ginny added.
‘Hungry!’ James decided. He and Henry dashed into the house. Al freed himself from his father’s grip and ran after the two older boys; Ginny sighed and gave chase.
‘Shoes off!’ she reminded them.
Mike was holding Annie’s hand and following close behind Ginny.
‘I think Mike is hungry, too,’ I told Harry as we walked towards the door. Despite Ginny’s words, Harry had picked up his daughter and was carrying her towards the door. ‘Would you like me to take Lily?’
‘Is that okay?’ Harry wasn’t asking me, I realised, but the little red-head in his arms.
Lily assessed me carefully and nodded. Harry chucked her chin, kissed her forehead, and passed her over. Looking into the hallway, I realised that it was full of kids struggling with their shoes. I decided to wait outside, and to remove Lily’s before we entered. They had buckles, so it wasn’t easy.
‘Let me help,’ the raven-haired girl offered.
‘Shouldn’t you be going to speak to Ginny’s uninvited guest?’ I asked.
Harry had squeezed past the kids and opened the study door. He was ushering Susan and the goatee man into the study.
‘Probably,’ she admitted, but she helped me anyway. As she deftly pulled off one of Lily’s shoes, her hand briefly touched mine. It was like being brushed by an icicle.
‘You’re cold,’ I said, shivering from her touch.
‘I have very poor circulation,’ she said. ‘It’s my curse,’ she added, giving me a sharp-toothed smile.
Harry looked across at us, and directed a quizzical gaze towards the raven-haired girl. In response, she tilted her head towards the door.
‘Ginny!’ he called.
‘What?’ Ginny asked, lifting her head. She was crouched in the floor next to the door into the kitchen, helping Al to remove his shoes.
There was an assessing look between Harry and his wife; it was followed by a moment’s silence before Ginny replied. ‘Oh yeah! Okay.’
‘Come in, Camelia,’ Harry told the girl.
‘Nice to meet you, Jacqui,’ Camelia said. ‘But now, I must go to work.’ She handed me Lily’s shoes, smiled again, and threaded her way through the crowded hall and into the study.
Camelia’s English was perfect, almost too perfect. There wasn’t even the slightest trace of an accent, but there was something about the precise way she spoke which made me think that she wasn’t British. I guessed that she was Eastern European, possibly from one of the former Soviet States. Perhaps that explained her hesitation at the door; perhaps it was a cultural thing. Why else would she wait to be invited in? It was such an old-fashioned attitude.
I spent the next few minutes in the Potter’s cloakroom with Mike, Annie, and Lily. While we were digging the mud from underneath the girls’ fingernails, I tried to tell my husband what had been happening on.
‘Blimey,’ Mike said. ‘It’s lucky Harry was almost home.’
‘And even luckier that he had three colleagues with him,’ I said, wonderingly. ‘It’s like magic, incredible! A stranger arrives here, and Harry turns up with three of his people only minutes later. Why on earth was he bringing them here?’
‘Coincidence!’ said Mike. ‘Or, perhaps he does it all the time,’ he added teasingly.
‘Huh,’ I snorted dismissively. ‘Don’t you ever try that with me, Mike. You can’t simply bring three workmates home without letting me know.’
‘I know,’ he said, grinning. ‘You need three days advance warning so you can plan and panic, and clean the house from top to bottom at least twice.’
‘Oh, shut up,’ I snapped, knowing he was right.
I was still wondering about Harry’s remarkably rapid arrival when Mike and I carried Annie and Lily back into the kitchen. The more I thought about it, the more peculiar it all seemed. I encountered a mysterious stranger in the grounds of Drakeshaugh, and Harry “just happened” to be on his way home with three obviously capable colleagues. Unbelievable though it was, what could it be but another fortunate coincidence? Equally as puzzling, I realised, was the way in which Ginny had, almost instantly, been able to discover the girl’s name.
Mike and I sat the girls on booster seats before finding places for ourselves. A steaming casserole dish full of hotpot was on the table. The three boys were already sitting at the table, shuffling impatiently, and waiting to be fed. Ginny was putting the plates on the table. An extra place had been set for Harry, who was looking down into his telephone. As I placed Lily in her seat, I tried to listen to Harry’s phone conversation.
‘Kilmarnock?’ Harry asked, glancing across at me. ‘That sounds good. It should be far enough from Sheffield. Thanks, Justin. Send the address to Susan. They were going to head north after they’d dropped me off here.’
‘Sit down, please,’ Ginny told me. I did, but I kept listening to Harry.
‘My pleasure, old boy.’ The voice emanating from Harry’s phone was extremely well-spoken, almost certainly public school posh. ‘I’ll do it now, and I’ll send the invoice through the usual channels. I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me who you want to hide, are you?’
‘No,’ said Harry cheerfully. ‘What time is it where you are? I’m sorry I got you out of bed for this.’
‘It’s a good thing you did. It’s ten a.m. here in Portland. I forgot to set my alarm and I have an investor’s meeting at eleven. I’ll see you at the reunion next weekend, if you can make it. Chow.’
‘Hungry!’ James reminded his mother.
‘Do I have time to go upstairs and get changed before we eat?’ Harry asked.
‘If you’re quick,’ Ginny told him. As he hurried from the room, she lifted Henry’s plate and served him some hotpot. ‘Here you are, Henry,’ she said.
James gave a moan of hunger and looked covetously at Henry’s plate. ‘Guests first,’ his mother said firmly as she placed the next plate in front of Annie.
‘Ignore me, and serve James–and Al and Lily,’ said Mike. ‘I wouldn’t want your kids to starve to death on my account.’
‘They won’t,’ said Ginny with a smile. Nevertheless, she served the kids first.
We were all sitting and eating when Harry returned to the kitchen. He was eagerly heading for the table, but he didn’t reach it. Seconds after he entered, the door into the hall opened and Susan walked in.
‘We’re ready to leave, Harry,’ she said. ‘Nothing I’ve tried has ... jogged ... Frances’s memory. Dominic and I will drive her to the safe house. Once we’re there, I’ll contact Mosby from the Obli...’ She stopped mid-sentence and glanced at me before continuing. ‘I won’t make a formal request. The fewer people who know, the better.’
‘Mosby?’ Harry asked.
‘We need an expert; I trust Mosby,’ Susan said.
‘What about Ministry security? Have you checked…’
‘It’s six o’clock on Saturday evening, Harry,’ Susan said. ‘I planned to ask Camelia to go in tomorrow. I’ll be in touch later, when we reach our destination.’ She again looked at me.
‘Do you want something to eat before you leave, Susan?’ Ginny asked.
‘No thanks, Ginny,’ the blonde said. She looked at the kids, and at Mike and me. ‘You have guests. We won’t intrude.’
‘I thought that’s what you’d say,’ said Ginny. She stood, walked over to the wooden breadboard on the kitchen bench, and picked up a large paper bag. ‘I’ve made some sandwiches for your journey. I know that Frances is hungry; I don’t think she’s eaten much, if anything, today.’
For a moment I thought that Susan was going to refuse, but, after a moment’s hesitation, she took the bag. ‘Thanks, Ginny,’ said Susan gratefully. She turned to her boss. ‘We’ll get the car back to you tomorrow, Harry. Goodbye.’ With that, she was gone.
‘I’ll see you out,’ Harry called, following her to the door.
‘Sorry about this, Jacqui,’ apologised Ginny. ‘This was supposed to be a quiet, family day.’
‘We’re getting used to you,’ said Mike, laughing. ‘But, really, Ginny, it was never going to be quiet. Five kids and quiet? Impossible! We can take a forgetful stranger and yet more mysterious people in black in our stride, can’t we, Jacqui?’
‘Yes,’ I assured Ginny. ‘Any idea who Frances is, or whether she’s involved in Harry’s case?’
‘That reminds me, I haven’t even seen this mystery woman,’ Mike added. He craned his neck to look out of the kitchen window.
‘Harry recognised her,’ Ginny admitted. ‘She works at the Ministry. I’ve no doubt that finding out how she got the invitation and what she knows will be a priority for Susan’s team.’
‘Surely Michael and Trudi will know how she got their invitation,’ I said eagerly. ‘They may know a lot more about her, too.’
‘They might,’ said Harry as he re-entered the room. Ginny immediately began to serve him some food. ‘But we don’t talk about work at the dinner table. I try not to bring work home at all,’ he added firmly.
‘You didn’t,’ I said. ‘Work arrived unannounced.’
‘True,’ said Harry. ‘But now it’s left.’
With those words it was clear to me that there would be no further discussion about the mysterious Frances Sidebotham. I’d intended to ask about Harry’s staff, particularly about the origins of Camelia, but I knew that it would be pointless. I searched for a new subject to break the silence, but I didn’t need to as Mike beat me to it.
‘This hotpot is great, Ginny,’ he told her.
The talk turned to food, and to our trip to the pool. Both James and Al wanted to tell their father what he’d missed at the pool and–with interruptions from Henry, Annie, and Lily, and explanations from Ginny–they were still remembering things to tell their dad when I helped Ginny to clear the table. James broke off his detailed explanation of my attempts to teach him the breaststroke leg kick in order to ask his mother a very important question.
‘What’s for pudding?’
‘Eve’s pudding and custard, James,’ Ginny told him.
‘Great,’ said Mike.
‘He’ll be moving in with you next,’ I murmured to Ginny as I stacked the dirty plates in the sink. ‘Mike’s favourite meat is lamb, and he’s very fond of anything containing cooked apples. Has he been dropping hints?’
Dessert was soon served, and almost as quickly, it was over. Ginny refused my offer to help her with the enormous pile of dirty dishes, and she drove everyone out from the kitchen and up into their enormous living room. She joined us after a few minutes, having made a pot of tea. By the time she arrived with the laden tray, the kids were rummaging through the building bricks and soft toys at the back of the room. They were playing happily together, so I left them to it. Mike and I sat on the larger of the two black leather sofas. Ginny joined Harry on the smaller one.
As the sun set, casting long shadows through the room, the kids continued to shout and play. Harry, Ginny, Mike, and I sat around the blazing fire, talking motorbikes and holidays. As the room got darker, the lights came on automatically, a new innovation Harry told us. Despite Mike’s questions, Harry was a little vague on the technical details.
It was almost nine-thirty when we finally left. We’d talked for hours about all sorts of things, but not the werewolf case. I’d been enjoying myself and had lost track of time. When I realised how late it was, I suggested that we leave immediately. The boys protested; the girls did not. Lily was almost asleep, and so was Annie. We hastily gathered up our kids and prepared to leave. I took charge of Annie, leaving Mike to deal with a loudly protesting Henry.
‘He’s over-tired, sorry,’ I told Ginny as I strapped Annie into her car seat. She smiled, nodded, and pointed to Lily, who had fallen asleep in Harry’s arms.
‘Thanks for a great day, Jacqui. You, too, Mike,’ said Ginny.
‘Thanks for the meal,’ Mike told her. I added my agreement to my husband’s words.
The Potters watched us leave, waving until we’d driven out onto the lane. It took only moments for Annie to fall asleep.
I followed Mike down to the gate which led out onto the main road. He pulled aside, opened the gate, and waved me through it. As I turned onto the valley road, a cloud of bats fluttered in front of the full moon.
When I arrived home, and unlocked the door, there were bats swooping through the field opposite. I’d seen bats before, of course, but never in so large a swarm.
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