SIYE Time:15:13 on 17th December 2018

Strangers at Drakeshaugh
By Northumbrian

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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Drama, Fluff, General, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Rating: PG
Reviews: 848
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: 190127; Chapter Total: 4561
Awards: View Trophy Room


Waning Gibbous

As I opened the passenger door to release my daughter from her seatbelt, I was illuminated by the lights of Mike’s car. He pulled up the drive and swung his car around to park alongside mine. Neither the crunch of tyres on gravel nor the bright glare of halogen headlamps streaming across her face was enough to make Annie stir. She was sound asleep and ragdoll limp, and I was still struggling to lift her from her seat when Mike opened his door.

‘Sparko?’ he asked.

‘Totally zonked,’ I agreed.

‘I’ll get her, if you like,’ Mike offered. ‘Henry’s still awake; he’ll be easier for you.’


After giving him a peck on the cheek, I walked around his car, opened the passenger door, and released a very drowsy Henry from his car seat.

Mike, meanwhile, had tenderly lifted Annie from my car. He was carrying her in the crook of one arm. His other hand was a steadying influence on the back of her head, which was resting on his shoulder. Her flailing arm grabbed him around the neck.

‘Zannysleep?’ Henry mumbled as he pushed himself out from his seat and dropped down into the floor well.

‘Yes, Annie’s asleep,’ I confirmed. ‘And it you won’t be long before you join her in the land of nod, Henry.’

‘Mabitired,’ he admitted.

‘You’re a lot tired,’ I said knowledgeably. My son only admitted to tiredness when he was about to collapse. ‘It’s been another busy day, hasn’t it, Henry?’

‘Mmm,’ he agreed.

I held out my hand and, somewhat to my surprise, he took it before jumping down from the car. Smiling down at him, I led him slowly towards the kitchen door. He tried to smile back, but his attempt was interrupted by a yawn as big and round as the full moon hovering above the hills.

‘I’ll help you to get ready for bed,’ I said as we stepped through the door and into the welcoming light of the kitchen.

Once I’d closed the door, and we were safely inside Lintzgarth, I felt much calmer. That surprised me, as I hadn’t realised I’d been anxious. As I shook off my worries, I looked back on another long and rather peculiar day. Days with the Potters were always exiting and a little bizarre; I wondered if I’d ever get used to them. Perhaps when Harry’s case was finally solved things might become a little more normal.

Slipping out of my shoes, I placed them next to Mike’s muddy boots before kneeling down to help Henry out of his trainers. Even Henry’s socks were muddy from his exploration of the woods around Drakeshaugh, and I hoped the he hadn’t spread too much dirt around Ginny’s home. I made him take his socks off before chivvying him upstairs.

Annie’s bedroom door was open, and when I looked in, Mike was carefully negotiating Annie’s floppy head through the neck of her pyjama top.

‘Absolutely exhausted, bless her,’ Mike whispered.

He grinned happily as he gently teased her hair out through the neck hole. Carefully lifting her up the bed, he pulled the sheets over her and kissed her forehead.

‘Night-night, little Annie,’ he whispered.

While Mike retrieved her clothes from the bottom of her bed, I led Henry into her room. I leaned over the bed and gave her a goodnight kiss. To my surprise, Henry pulled himself onto her bed and kissed her cheek. I glanced at Mike, who gave me a wide-eyed, hands-in-the-air, pantomime of astonishment. For our son, such a show of tenderness towards his sister was almost unheard of.

‘Night-night,’ he whispered.

‘I’ll put these in the laundry basket,’ Mike murmured, lifting Annie’s clothes by way of explanation as we all left Annie’s room. ‘Then I’ll go down and put the kettle on. I assume that you’ll be wanting a cuppa?’

‘Thanks,’ I nodded.

He closed Annie’s bedroom door, brushed my cheek with his fingertips, turned, and tiptoed downstairs.

A few minutes later, Henry was standing naked in front of me, and still trying to tell me all about the woods they’d explored with Mike.

‘An’ I found a holler tree,’ he told me.

‘Hollow,’ I corrected. ‘Arms up.’ Henry dutifully raised his arms, and I pulled his pyjama top over his head. ‘Peekaboo,’ I added when his head reappeared through the hole.

‘An’ we played onna swing, even Annie an’ Lily!’ Henry continued. Dismissing my peekaboo as childish and apparently unable to stop talking, he refused to be distracted from his story. ‘An’ we found a ‘normous branch what had fallen offa tree. An’ Daddy said he’d ask Harry if we could have it for my birfday bonfire.’ He paused, deep in thought. ‘I thinks he forgetted,’ he concluded sadly.

‘Harry had some visitors, remember,’ I said. ‘Those people from his work. Daddy probably thought Harry was too busy. I’ll ask Ginny on Monday.’ As I spoke, I wondered how big this “branch” was, and how we could transport it from Drakeshaugh to Lintzgarth.

‘Yes,’ said Henry, his mouth narrowed as he remembered something else. ‘’Cept James said he fort a birfday bonfire would be great, an’ he wants a birfday bonfire an’ all. An’ his birfday is first! But Daddy said p’raps we could share it, or find more wood, ’cos there’s lots lying about, ’cos it’s a forest.’

‘James’ birthday is first. When is it?’ I asked. That was news! I knew that Henry and James must be close in age, both with birthdays between September and December, but I hadn’t realised how close they were. Ginny hadn’t mentioned anything about birthdays to me.

Henry shrugged. ‘Soon,’ he told me. ‘But not termorra, orra nexday,’ he added helpfully.

‘I’ll find out,’ I said. ‘We’ll have to make him a card, won’t we?’

‘Yeah.’ Henry nodded so hard that he almost overbalanced.

‘Feet!’ I ordered once he’d steadied himself. I held up his pyjama trousers and he lifted one leg and pushed it inside. As he did so, he put his arms on my shoulders to steady himself. Then, to my surprise, he slid his arms around my neck and hugged me.

‘I love you, Mummy,’ he said as I helped him by pulling the trouser cuff over his foot.

‘And I love you, Henry,’ I said happily. ‘Other leg, please.’ Still holding me around the neck, he obeyed.

‘I love you more than you love me,’ he told me as I pulled up his trousers.

He released me, stepped back, and I stared into his face and smiled. It was typical of him. He had turned his comment into a contest. ‘Really? How much do you love me?’ I asked, straightening his pyjamas and ruffling his hair.

‘This much,’ he said, releasing me and holding his arms as far apart as possible.

‘Ah, but I love you this much!’ I said teasingly. I held my hands as far apart as possible. He looked at my outstretched arms, then at his own, and frowned. I watched him think, saw an idea spark behind his eyes, and waited.

‘I love you double this much,’ he said, trying to stretch his arms even farther apart. ‘An’ that’s more than you love me.’

I decided not to respond in kind. If I had, we’d have been there all night. ‘Thank you, Henry,’ I told him, giving him a hug.

After kissing his cheek I lifted him up into my arms and carried him along to the bathroom.

‘Teeth!’ I said, picking up his toothbrush. I squeezed a little toothpaste onto it and turned on the tap. ‘I’ll do them, okay?’

Henry nodded and then yawned; I took the opportunity his wide-open mouth presented.

‘Then wee-wee, wash, and bed,’ I told him. His lack of protest showed me how tired he was.

After I’d tucked Henry into bed and said goodnight to him, I gave him a kiss and, at his request, promised I’d send Daddy up to say “night-night”. I was fairly sure that Mike would be too late, as Henry’s eyes had closed before I’d left the room.

When I entered the living room, Mike was sitting on the sofa, the teapot in his hand. He’d just finished pouring me a cuppa.

‘I heard you on the stairs,’ he said when I thanked him. When I passed on Henry’s request, he leapt to his feet and went up to see him.

Alone in the living room, I noticed that Mike hadn’t closed the living room curtains. The night sky was cloudless, and the bright full moon was bleaching out some of the weaker stars. As I looked out of the window, I again saw the bats. This time they were fluttering through the trees in the fields opposite. For some reason their continued presence unsettled me. I closed the curtains, but that didn’t ease my concern. They were out of sight, but still not out of mind. I was pacing back and forth in front of the curtains when Mike came back downstairs.

‘I wonder,’ I began when he entered the room.

‘And wander in front of the window, like a wandering window wonderer,’ said Mike flippantly. He saw my expression. ‘Sorry, what’s up, Jacqui?’ he asked concernedly.

‘I don’t know,’ I admitted. ‘It’s just a feeling, a prickle on the back of my neck. I feel like we’re being watched. Did you see the bats as we left Drakeshaugh? I think they followed us here, and that they’re watching the house.’

‘Come on, Jacqui,’ he said. ‘You’ve got Harry’s werewolf murder mystery to keep you occupied; you don’t need a vampire, too. Werewolves and vampires!’ He gave me a look of despair, shook his head, and then grinned. ‘That reminds me, Being Human is coming back for a second series early next year.’

‘How do you know?’ I asked.

‘Our new admin lass–Sophie–has a cast photo as her screensaver. I made some stupid comment to her.’

‘Stupid comment? You? Never!’ I said sarcastically.

He ignored me and pressed on. ‘I said something about it being the only fantasy series I’d ever persuaded you to watch, and that’s when she told me. It’s obvious that she’s a huge fan of the programme,’ he was still smiling. ‘Actually, I think she’s a big fan of Mitchell. You’ve got a rival!’ He winked at me as he flopped down in the sofa and picked up his mug of tea.

I tried to put on an expression that would indicate to my husband that the dishy vampire character wasn’t the only reason I watched.

‘I’m pretty sure that if vampires were real, we’d know about it. And anyway, we’re in no danger in here. They can’t get in unless we invite them, remember?’ Mike smiled as he spoke.

‘That young girl, Camelia,’ I said worriedly. ‘She stopped outside Drakeshaugh and waited to be invited into the house!’

‘Come on, Jacqui,’ said Mike. ‘You can’t be serious. What’re you saying? Harry has a teenage vampire on his payroll? She was outside in daylight.’

‘She might not be a teenager, she could be hundreds of years old,’ I protested. ‘And Mitchell goes out in the daylight!’ Mike laughed, and I realised how silly I sounded.

‘True, but if you’d watched Near Dark, or John Carpenter’s Vampires, or even Buffy with me, then you’d know that vampires catch fire if they’re outside in daylight,’ Mike said. He stopped and stared. ‘I’ve got it! American vampires are different to British ones, and this is the daftest conversation we’ve had in years!’ He was still chuckling, and I was smiling too. ‘You saw some bats, Jacqui. There are a lot of bats around here, you know that. There are roosts in a lot of the old barns.’

‘I suppose,’ I said, finally acknowledging that he was right. The conversation we were having was becoming more and more ridiculous. ‘But you started it! I didn’t say anything to you about vampires, only about bats,’ I added. My attempt to deflect some of the blame for my flight of fancy onto Mike didn’t work.

‘Bats following us home!’ he reminded me. ‘Which is not normal bat behaviour, is it? But don’t worry, I’ll protect you, my darling. I’ll be your Batman!’

I laughed, sat next to him, and picked up my mug. ‘Another good day,’ I said.

‘Another good day, this time with little red riding hood and a vampire to go with Harry’s werewolf,’ Mike said. ‘What an exciting life we lead, all we need now is a ghost.’

‘James’ birthday is coming up!’ I said abruptly, remembering my conversation with Henry. ‘I don’t suppose you know when.’

‘Actually, my darling, I do,’ he said smugly. I was impressed, until he added the word, ‘Probably.’

‘So you don’t,’ I accused.

‘S’on furzeday,’ Mike told me. He failed in his attempt to capture James’ accent, but it was close enough that I knew he was giving me a direct quote. ‘I’m assuming that it’s Thursday coming. I put the “probably” there because my informant was a boy aged almost-five. A boy who is, so far as I can tell, no more reliable than the only other almost-five-year-old boy I know. In fact, when we were driving back from the pool, James told me that his daddy’s car could fly. On that basis he may be even less reliable than Henry.’

‘I’d better check with Ginny,’ I said.

‘Yup,’ he agreed, putting his arm around my shoulder.

Sunday started fraught and fractious. Despite a good sleep, Annie was grumpy when she woke. She had good reason; her nose was running like a tap. The affection Henry had displayed towards her the previous evening had fled, and he lacked any sympathy for his snotty sister. He teased her unmercifully, particularly when she sneezed. Eventually, he wound her up to the point that–while they were playing with the bricks–she threw one at him. Before I could scold her, he’d thumped her.

I, of course, shouted, and then both kids were crying. Mike dashed in from the garden to help me deal with them. He removed Henry and gave him a severe talking to, while I dealt with Annie.

After I’d dosed Annie with Calpol, she began to pick up a little. At eleven we strapped the kids into Mike’s car and set off for Hawksburn. Both kids had calmed down, their argument forgotten. They even sang on the journey, although Annie’s cold gave her a lot of pronunciation problems.

As we drove through Otterburn, I phoned my parents to let them know that we were close and to warn them about Annie’s cold. Dad was holding the gate open when we arrived, and Mum was at the front door. They completely ignored my warnings about Annie’s cold, and she was first fussed over by Mum and then passed on to Dad, who cradled her on his hip. She sneezed, and he wiped her nose with a rather grubby looking hankie, which–knowing my father–had almost certainly been used to clean up worse things. My mother tried to fuss over Henry, but he ignored her. This was because the first thing Dad had done when we arrived was give my son seven spent cartridges.

‘They’re from army guns, Henry,’ Dad had said, ignoring my protests. ‘I found them up on the tops. He indicated the hills behind the house, where his sheep were grazing. The flock, a scattering of distant white spots, moved slowly over green.

‘From army guns!’ Henry told Mike knowledgeably, as if Mike hadn’t heard my father’s words.

‘I didn’t know that. What are they made of?’ Mike asked. ‘Is that gold?’ He placed his left hand next to the cartridge, and compared the colour with that of his wedding ring.

‘Gold,’ said Henry. ‘Yes, gold! Gold, Mummy!’

‘It’s brass, Henry,’ I told him. ‘It’s not gold. There’s a big difference.’

Despite my best efforts, Henry would not be parted from his “bullets”. I looked pleadingly at Mike, but he refused to back me up.

‘They’re spent, Jacqui,’ he said quietly, siding with my dad. ‘They’re not bullets, and they aren’t dangerous; they’re simply bits of old metal, and they’re keeping him happy.’

It was true, they were. I gave up and followed my parents into the house. We would be eating in the large guest dining room, because Mum’s guests were going to be out in the hills all day. Although Hawksburn is a working farm, the beasts don’t generate much money, so Mum and Dad–or at least Mum–supplement their income by running a five-bedroom bed & breakfast place. They do okay from it, particularly in the summer.

When we walked through the guest dining room and into the kitchen, I noticed that the largest table was already set. The sauce boat full of mint sauce was enough of a clue. Before we’d entered the kitchen and smelt the unmistakeable aroma, I already knew we’d be having roast lamb for lunch. Fortunately, Mike didn’t let slip that we’d had lamb hotpot the previous evening. Instead, an hour later, when lunch was served, he praised Mum to the rafters for the meal.

‘Creep,’ I told him.

‘Really, Jacqui, there’s no need to be like that,’ Mum scolded me.

‘Yeah,’ Henry agreed with his father. ‘This is great, Granny. Better ’n Mummy’s dinners.’

‘I wouldn’t say that,’ said Mike loyally, staring earnestly into my eyes. He then turned and winked at my mother. ‘At times like this, it’s difficult to know whether I should side with my wife or my mother-in-law. No man should have to make a decision like that, should they, Jack?’ While my dad chuckled, and Mum beamed, Mike turned to Henry. ‘You need to learn some tact, son,’ he said.

‘What’s tact?’ Henry asked.

‘There’s no point in asking your father,’ I said. ‘He has no idea.’

By the time Mike finished laughing, Henry had forgotten that he was waiting for an answer.

After lunch the kids went out into the fields with “Granddad Wake” to help with the beasts. There was little for them to do, as most of the low fields were empty. The majority of the flock was up in the hills, Dad was training a new dog–although to be correct, Jessie was a bitch. She was a Border collie, of course.

I watched for a few minutes as my kids, and Jessie, listened carefully to Dad. He tried to teach them all the difference between “come by” and “away to me”, using some of the oldest and most docile of his ewes. Jessie, as was expected from the smartest and most useful breed of dog on the planet, was a fast learner. She was much quicker than my children.

I went inside and, after we’d helped Mum with the dishes, Mike and I spent an hour or two telling her about our new friends, the Potters. Dad and the kids didn’t come back inside until I called to let them know that tea was almost ready. Jessie had, of course, been left outside in her shed. She was a working dog, not a pet.

Mum’s guests arrived back in dribs and drabs, the first at a little after four and the last at six. By then we’d finished our tea and were almost ready to leave, and mum was preparing evening meals for the three couples who’d ordered them. As both kids desperately needed a bath before bed, and Mum had guests to cater for, we made our excuses and left.

‘Wonder what James’s done today,’ Henry asked as we drove home past the track leading up to Drakeshaugh.

‘An’ Al an’ Lily,’ Annie added.

She sneezed, and I leaned around to wipe the increasingly sticky snots from her face, I decided that, after her bath, I’d give her another dose of Calpol.

‘Today I’s got some bullets, an’ I’s learned to be a shepherd,’ said Henry proudly. ‘Bet James can’t shepherd, and hain’t got no bullets,’ he added.

Monday was an overcast and chilly day. Autumn had dug its gloomy claws into the valley, and as I looked up into the grey sky, I knew that it wasn’t going to release its grip any time soon. The weather was continuing to turn, and the days were shortening with an unstoppable inevitability. The clouds that had arrived overnight were low enough to hide the hilltops behind a dank grey shroud. In the valley bottom, the trees were shading to orange and red, while on the hillside their evergreen neighbours marched unchanging up the hills and into the grey.

Henry was bright as a button over breakfast; Annie, however, was listless, whinging, and even snottier than she’d been the previous evening. Worried, I checked her temperature. It was normal, so I decided that it was simply a cold. She complained, coughed, and sneezed all the way down to the school, and I got Henry into his classroom as quickly as I could. As a consequence, I didn’t see Harry.

It was one of those days where Annie demanded, and got, my full attention. Her nose was bunged up, she sniffed constantly, and if I didn’t follow her around with a tissue to blow her nose, she simply wiped it on her sleeve.

I continued to dose Annie regularly. The medicine bottle was emptying fast, so I texted Mike and asked him to buy some more. It was certainly helping to ease her symptoms.

When I went down to collect Henry, Annie fell asleep in her car seat. Unable to leave her, I simply stood next to the car and looked down towards the school gates. Ginny was already standing at the gates, chatting to a couple of the other mums. When she looked up the road towards me, I pointed at the car, put my palms together at the side of my head, and rested my cheek on them. Ginny smiled, said something to the women she’d been talking to, and pushed Al and Lily up the hill in their pushchair.

‘Annie has a cold,’ I said. ‘She was probably starting with it on Saturday at the pool. Fortunately Henry seems to have escaped. Are your kids all okay?’

‘They’re fine,’ Ginny assured me. ‘They were all a little sniffly yesterday, but I dosed them with Pepper-up…’ she halted.

‘Pe-pru-po-shun,’ said Al helpfully, his green eyes wide and bright.

‘It’s, um, an old folk-remedy of Mum’s,’ Ginny explained. ‘It seems to have done the trick.’

‘Good, good,’ I said. ‘I was going to ask if you, Al, and Lily wanted to come up to Lintzgarth for lunch on Wednesday. It’s up to you, because I really don’t want to spread Annie’s germs around. We could wait and see how she is tomorrow. It seems to be going quickly. She’s passed runny, snotty, and sticky and she seems to be moving on to the crusty stage.’

‘I’m pretty sure that we’ll be okay,’ Ginny said, pulling a face at my description. ‘But I’ll confirm things with Harry and let you know.’

‘Great,’ I said happily. ‘Oh! And there’s something else I wanted to ask you. I hope you don’t think I’m being nosey, Ginny, but…’

‘The case is going okay,’ Ginny said. ‘Harry’s got several new leads, and Frances–the lady in the red coat who turned up unexpectedly–is being treated for her amnesia. I’d be grateful if you didn’t mention anything about her to anyone, Jacqui. Harry... the police are keeping her existence secret. He’s... they’re hoping that, once she’s recovered, she’ll be able to provide them with even more information. As for Robards…’

I waved her into silence. ‘Thanks for the update,’ I said. ‘But that’s not actually what I wanted to ask you.’

Ginny looked surprised, and a little worried.

‘I was only going to ask about James’ birthday,’ I assured her. ‘He’s told Henry that it’s very soon; Henry wants to make a card.’

‘Furzeday,’ Al told me eagerly. ‘James is gonna be five year.’ He held up a hand, fingers spread out, just in case I didn’t know how big a number five was.

‘Furdy,’ Lily squeaked and nodded. ‘James fife.’

‘Thanks, kids.’ Ginny ruffled Al’s hair and squeezed Lily’s shoulder. ‘They’re right, it’s Thursday,’ Ginny confirmed. ‘The eighth of October. And Henry’s is the fifth of November, bonfire night, exactly four weeks later.’

‘Thursday,’ I said. Mike had been right. James’ birthday was only three days away. I wondered when I’d be able to get somewhere to buy James a present, and what we could get him. ‘Right, thanks.’

Despite the fact that we were a long way from the gates, Ginny moved a little closer to me. ‘I hadn’t given it any thought,’ she confessed. Seeing my expression, she laughed. ‘I mean, we’ve given it a lot of thought. We’ve bought and wrapped his presents, and there will be a family party for him at Mum’s on Sunday, but I haven’t given this a thought.’ She pointed down to the school. I don’t know what’s expected of me on Thursday.’

‘Nothing,’ I assured her.

‘Nothing?’ she asked uncertainly. ‘Harry’s told me about his cousin’s birthdays. He got trips away to the zoo and other places, and a party at a burger place, or wherever he wanted to go.’ She hesitated, and then confessed. ‘We were thinking about inviting his classmates for a party at Drakeshaugh on Thursday. But after last Saturday...’

‘That’s your decision, Ginny,’ I advised her. ‘You can do as much, or as little, as you want. Will it help if I tell you what I intend to do for Henry?’

‘Yes.’ Ginny gave me a grateful smile.

‘I’m planning on asking James, and all of his family, to Henry’s birthday bonfire at Lintzgarth.’ I said with a smile. ‘Henry’s grandparents will be there, too. But that’s all. Henry isn’t really close to any of the other kids at school, and personally I don’t see the point in hosting a party for kids who aren’t really his friends. Mary always organised big parties for her kids, but she decided who would be invited, not the kids. I really don’t want to get involved in that nonsense.’

‘Thanks.’ Gratitude lit up Ginny’s face. ‘I asked James who he wanted to invite, and he said “Henry” and no one else. In my family birthday parties have always been family-only affairs. It was hectic enough with all of my brothers, but these days, when you include all the cousins...’ she rolled her eyes. That’s more than enough! I don’t think my mum would be prepared to help with a repeat kids’ party so soon after our housewarming party. Which reminds me, do you still have the invitation to our party?’

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘It’s in my “scrapbook” pile. It will join Henry’s birthday cards and other memories in the scrapbook, when I get around to it.’

‘Oh,’ Ginny looked rather embarrassed. ‘I was... um... would you be upset if I asked for it back?’

‘If you want it, you can have it,’ I said. Suspecting the reason for her request, I tried–and failed–to keep the hurt from my voice. ‘But I hope that you trust me to keep it safe, Ginny. I’m not going to give it away to some random stranger, you know! Are you going to ask everyone else who was invited to hand them back? Mary will certainly have something to say about that!’ Ginny’s embarrassment was turning to annoyance; I was being rather tactless, and I suspected the request had come from Harry, not her.

I changed tack. ‘Of course, with Harry’s job, I suppose that you’ve got to be careful about who you give your address to. Do you think that’s what happened? Did Michael and Trudi give their invitation to that girl?’ I hesitated, as my brain finally caught up. ‘You think that the girl–Frances–has seen the killer, and Harry is worried that the killer knows where you live!’

Ginny glanced worriedly down at Al and Lily, who’d both been listening carefully, and gave an almost imperceptible nod. I wondered how to apologise, my reply had started sharply, and then I’d made a real blunder.

‘Sorry,’ I whispered.

‘There are times when I hate Harry’s job,’ said Ginny passionately. ‘Yes, we’re a little worried about security, but you’re right. If we can’t trust our friends, Jacqui, who can we trust? I’ll talk to Harry about it when he gets back from Sheffield. Would you like to come to Drakeshaugh tomorrow morning, after you’ve dropped Henry off at school? We can discuss... stuff, then.’

‘You don’t always have to invite me to Drakeshaugh,’ I protested. ‘If Annie’s okay, you can come to Lintzgarth tomorrow, instead of Wednesday. I know it’s a bit of a faff shifting the car seats about, and it’ll be a bit of a squeeze in the Micra, but I don’t mind, honestly.’

‘It’s a date,’ said Ginny.

‘Great, I’ll pick you up after I’ve dropped James off at school,’ I said. ‘Or is that too early?’

‘It’ll be fine,’ she assured me.

‘Oh, and I need to ask you about wood,’ I said.

‘Inspector Wood?’ she asked sharply.

‘Timber,’ I said in confusion, as I tried to remember who Inspector Wood was. ‘Wood for burning, for a bonfire, for Henry’s birthday.’

Wood was the policewoman from the television. Why would Ginny think I was asking about her? I was about to ask, but it was too late, Henry and James were running up the path towards us, and they wouldn’t shut up.

James was extremely happy, because Henry had given him a bullet. Ginny looked horrified, and carefully removed the brass shell from her son’s hand.

I put my head in my hand and shook my head. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t know he’d taken them to school. There’s nothing to worry about, Ginny. It’s a spent cartridge, not a bullet; it’s perfectly harmless. Honest!’

Ginny accepted my apologies, carefully examined the empty cartridge, and gave it back to James. We agreed that, unless Annie was really unwell, I would call at Drakeshaugh in the morning, and drive them up to Lintzgarth. With that, we parted.
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