|SIYE Time:16:28 on 21st September 2018|
Strangers at Drakeshaugh
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Drama, Fluff, General, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Summary: The locals in a sleepy corner of the Cheviot Hills are surprised to discover that they have new neighbours. Who are the strangers at Drakeshaugh?
Hitcount: Story Total: 184863; Chapter Total: 2011
Awards: View Trophy Room
The half-term holiday began with half-hearted autumnal weather: unable to reach cold, wet, and horrible, it settled for chilly, damp, and unpleasant. The forecaster warned that the dreary drizzle wouldn’t clear until Sunday evening. Fortunately, the weather wouldn’t affect our plans for the weekend.
After lunch, I phoned Ginny to let her know we were on our way. Minutes later I was following Mike through the not-quite-rain. When we arrived at Drakeshaugh, Ginny and her kids were ready and waiting for us. As Mike fastened the Potter boys alongside Henry in his car, I helped Ginny to strap Lily into mine, next to Annie. Ten minutes later, we were heading for the pool.
During the journey, Ginny and I took the opportunity to plan the half-term week. Because her parents were in France, my offer to babysit the three young Potters on the Friday–when Harry and Ginny would be attending Polly Protheroe’s funeral–was gratefully accepted. After finalising those arrangements, we planned the other days, too.
Mike and I had a longstanding arrangement to visit his parents in Stocksfield on the Sunday, but as the Potters were also visiting relatives, that wasn’t an issue. Ginny offered to host us every other day. I refused, of course, and countered with an invitation to Lintzgarth. It was no use; Ginny reminded me that she was without a car and could only visit by walking up the valley with all three kids. I reluctantly backed down. By the time we reached Alnwick, we had the week roughly planned.
‘What about next Saturday?’ I asked, trying to complete our plans for half-term.
‘Ron and Hermione are bringing Rosie and Hugo up to see us next Saturday,’ Ginny began.
‘Oh, fine. You don’t have to come swimming with us every Saturday,’ I assured her, not wanting to make her think I was being pushy.
‘Let me finish, will you?’ Ginny scolded me teasingly, a smile on her lips. ‘I was going to ask if they could come, too.’
‘Sorry,’ I said sheepishly, ‘of course they can.’
We spent most of the journey back home discussing the kids progress in the water. Ginny was particularly pleased with Al, who had managed to splash his way from her arms to the poolside with neither buoyancy aids nor assistance–a distance of two metres. We had passed through Thropton, and I was explaining strokes and teaching techniques to Ginny, when Annie burst into song. She’d been happily sitting behind us, trying to teach Lily nursery rhymes, but for some reason she decided that she’d entertain us with one of the songs I’d played and sung to her earlier in the week.
‘Aah ca tell ye just exactly where Ah larnt this tune it was at Rowston, at the are vists upper.’
‘At the harvest supper,’ I corrected her. With my help, she got most of the words. By the time we reached the track to Drakeshaugh, Annie and I were trying to persuade Ginny and Lily to join in the chorus.
We succeeded, but I soon realised that Ginny couldn’t hold a note even if her life depended on it. As a consequence, I found myself singing all the louder.
‘You really have a good voice,’ Ginny told me. ‘Unlike me.’
‘It’s simply practice,’ I assured her.
Sunday’s visit to Mike’s parents’ house was rather fraught. I’ve always been a little nervous around my very opinionated father-in-law, and we weren’t my in-laws’ only guests. I had to face Mike’s equally formidable sister, Lucy. She had travelled up from London to show off her fiancé to the family. His name was Richard, and he was a tall, tanned, toffee-nosed twit from West Thurrock. I took an almost instant dislike to him.
We got off on the wrong foot, as he appeared to have little idea where he was, and I was probably too forceful in correcting his mistaken belief that he was somewhere near Leeds. As the afternoon progressed, things didn’t improve. He obviously had no experience with kids, and insisted on calling Henry and Annie “the little man and the little lady”. Not only was learning their names too much trouble for him, he compounded the issue by calling me Jaqueline rather than Jacqui. That annoyed me more than it should.
Henry didn’t like him, either, and he’s worse than me when it comes to hiding his true feelings. When Richard scolded him for running around the lounge pretending to be an aeroplane, Henry’s response was to call him “Mr Nasty”. I attempted to apologise on Henry’s behalf, but it’s difficult to apologise for your child’s words when you actually agree with his assessment. Fortunately, Mike came to my rescue and proved that he’d been paying attention.
‘Now then, Hen,’ Mike said, sweeping our son into his arms. ‘You really shouldn’t call your Aunt Lucy’s boyfriend names; it’s rude. I apologise on his behalf, Dick!’
My husband can be a cheeky sod. His final word walked the tightrope between innocent abbreviation and deliberate insult. I knew which one it was, and when Mike fired a surreptitious wink at me, I had to stifle a snigger.
‘It’s Richard,’ Richard told Mike pompously.
‘Sorry, abbreviations are my default, aren’t they, Jacqui?’
‘I usually only get Michael when I’ve done something wrong,’ Mike continued.
Smiling, I nodded again.
‘You’re not a Dick, then?’ Mike asked. ‘What about Rick, Rich, Richie, Ricky, or Dicky?’
‘I’ll try to remember that,’ said Mike politely. ‘It might be difficult, because you look like a Dick to me.’
While I was coughing, and Richard was looking for a polite rejoinder, Mike dropped to his hands and knees and yelled ‘Horsey.’
Henry jumped on his dad’s back and they proceeded to gallop around the lounge making horse-noises. Then, of course, Annie had to have a turn. By the time Mike had finished, the kids were squealing and shouting, Mike’s parents were laughing at their grandchildren, and Richard was sulking. The atmosphere remained strained for the remainder of the afternoon.
On Monday, the local weather forecaster on BBC Breakfast assured me that the drizzle would clear by nine. Unfortunately, she hadn’t told the clouds. It was still murky and mizzling at half past when I arrived at Drakeshaugh with Henry and Annie. The kids went straight up to the living room to play. After a brief hello, I left Ginny to make coffee and followed the kids to keep an eye on them. It wasn’t long before Ginny arrived with coffees for us, apple juice for the kids, and a plate full of freshly baked ginger biscuits. As we drank, the kids played indoor tig, and I entertained Ginny with the story of our visit to Mike’s parents.
Fortunately, by the time we’d finished our coffees and tidied up, the skies finally cleared. It was still a little overcast, but the ground was drying, so Ginny and I took the kids out for a walk. We strolled down the track to the road and then walked along to the Harbottle Castle car park.
Despite its proximity to both Drakeshaugh and Lintzgarth, neither Ginny nor I had taken our children to visit the castle. I’d visited the snaggle-toothed old ruin, of course, but not for many years. When we arrived, Ginny didn’t head directly for the gate. Instead, she walked over the grass to a recently erected standing stone in the car park that I knew little about. The curious kids followed her, and I brought up the rear. At James’ request, Ginny read aloud the words carved onto the stone.
‘The Sad Castle. Who made me into a ruin like an old city? Was it the soldiers who rode out on horseback? Was it my old enemy the Scots? Or was it those border reivers? Perhaps it was just the centuries passing.’
After Ginny’s recitation of the poem, the kids had a lot of questions. The first–“what’s a century?”–was easy enough to answer, but it was followed by “How many centuries has it been here? What’s a border reiver? Are the Scots still enemies? What soldiers?”
‘I wish Mike was here. He knows more about this stuff than I do,’ I admitted to Ginny as we tried to provide the kids with answers. I answered those questions I could. ‘No, the Scots aren’t our enemies, and the reivers were bandits, cattle thieves, and murderers. I can’t answer your other questions, sorry. Perhaps there’s something on that board.’ I pointed at the gate, next to which was an explanatory board.
The kids ran ahead to find out. However, none of them could read more than a few words, so they had to content themselves with looking at the weather-worn pictures until we arrived. When we did, Ginny managed to answer another question.
‘The castle was built about eight-hundred and fifty years ago,’ she said. ‘King Henry the second asked a man named Odinel de Umfreville to build it. But now most of it has gone.’
Ginny opened the gate, and we led the kids across to the earth mounds and fragments of wall. As I looked around, I remembered something else. ‘I think it was a motte and bailey castle.’ I said, remembering a conversation I’d once had with Mike. That was a mistake.
‘What’s a motte and bailey castle?’ asked James.
‘It’s…’ Not wanting to mislead him, I hesitated. ‘It’s something to do with the way it was designed and built, I think. People who are cleverer than me can tell you how the design of castles changed over the years, and which bits were built when.’
‘Really?’ James stared at the broken walls we were approaching, and then looked back at me. ‘Wasn’t it all built at once?’ he asked.
‘Probably not. There have been people in these hills for thousands and thousands of years, James. You can still see the evidence, if you know where to look. Unfortunately, I don’t,’ I admitted, preventing the question I could see forming on his lips. ‘If you want to know more, ask Henry’s dad when you see him. He knows more about this stuff than me. But, yes, the way the walls are built, the shape of an arch–although there aren’t any arches here–they’re clues for the people who know what to look for.’
‘Clues! Daddy find clues,’ Al told me knowledgeably.
‘He does,’ Ginny agreed. ‘But Daddy is looking for clues to find out what happened in the last few days and weeks. The people Jacqui…’ she paused, gave me a thoughtful look, and continued. ‘The people Aunt Jacqui is talking about are looking for clues to find out what happened long, long ago.’
While I smiled my thanks to Ginny for making me an honorary aunt, Lily was pondering.
‘Long ’go, when G’an-ma little girl?’ Lily asked.
‘Long before that, Lily,’ said Ginny with a smile. ‘Long before Grandma’s Grandma was little.’
Lily immediately found a flaw in that statement. ‘G’an-ma not have G’an-ma,’ she observed.
‘Older than Grandma?’ Al added, showing that he, too, was struggling with the concept.
Ginny was saved from a long explanation because we were closing on the ruins, and Henry chose that moment to shout, ‘I’m the king of the castle!’
The kids took off up the hill in a bid to be the first to reach the top. James who was neck and neck with Henry when they set off, slowed down when he reached the first remnants of stonework. As a consequence, Henry won easily. It didn’t matter, because the kids soon lost interest in the game and came back down to examine the weathered stones.
We spent the remainder of the morning, and the early part of the afternoon, at the castle. We clambered onto the walls, ran up and down the mounds, made up stories about life in the castle, and played hide and seek. When we returned to Drakeshaugh for lunch, Henry and James were busy trying to decide which of them was going to starve to death first. Annie and Lily had run themselves ragged and were so tired that Ginny and I had to carry them down the road. Al, bless him, simply followed the two older boys in stoic silence.
We’d only just entered the track up to Drakeshaugh and cleared the stile when I spotted the black clouds lurking behind the hills. Ginny spotted them, too.
We quickened our pace, but the rain reached us just as we reached the gravel yard, forcing us to turn our rapid walk into a trot. While it was only a matter of thirty metres or so, I was breathless when we reached the kitchen door.
‘I used to be fit,’ I said. As I spoke, I knew that I should be taking more exercise. ‘I used to swim four or five times a week. Now all I do is watch the kids swimming, and it shows.’ I patted my belly.
‘I’m slowing down, too,’ Ginny admitted. ‘We should try to get more exercise. It isn’t easy with this lot, is it?’
We spent the stormy afternoon indoors, playing with the kids and planning what we could do if the weather didn’t improve. As we were leaving, I took the opportunity to ask Ginny about the case. Pelias Hume’s name continued to appear on the news, along with the warnings not to approach him, but all the reports said was that police were “following a number of leads.” Other than the fact that the police, and Harry, had everyone available looking for Hume, Ginny could add no more.
Fortunately, Monday’s afternoon storm finally cleared the air. Tuesday morning was chill, but dry. We kept to our original plans, and took the kids out blackberrying. By lunchtime, we had purple-stained and thorn-prickled fingers and dozens of bags full of juicy berries. We’d had a couple of minor mishaps, too. Annie had somehow managed to crush a blackberry onto her forehead and had rubbed the sticky remains into her hair. Al, in an attempt to reach a particularly large clump of berries, had fallen headfirst into the straggling thorns. His extraction had been difficult, as his clothes were caught in the brambles.
Despite his misadventure, and the bloody scratches on his cheeks, Al remained cheerful. The scratches didn’t bother him, he simply wondered if he’d end up with “a scar like Daddy’s.” When we got back to Drakeshaugh, I cleaned up Annie in the kitchen sink while Ginny took Al to the downstairs loo. He was disappointed when he returned, because there wasn’t a mark on his face.
After lunch, we wandered through the woods surrounding Drakeshaugh. We set the kids looking for apple trees, easily identifiable because of the windfall apples surrounding them. When they found them, we gave the branches a shake, and collected almost every fresh apple that fell. Only those that were rotten or bird-eaten were discarded, and there weren’t many of those.
By the time we arrived on Wednesday morning Ginny had already sliced most if the apples. We had a very productive day. The kids alternated between playing games in the kitchen and “helping” Ginny and I. We were boiling up the blackberries and apples, together with lemon juice and sugar, in an enormous copper.
It was safer, and easier, when we didn’t have to worry about the kids. After lunch, to make life easier for ourselves, Ginny and I sent the kids out to look for more apples in Drakeshaugh Woods. They were under strict instructions not to leave the woods, and they all made a solemn promise. We didn’t need the apples, but the kids’ absence gave us the opportunity to strain the boiling hot sludge through muslin bags.
When I took Henry and Annie home that evening, Ginny’s kitchen was a mess. The muslin bags were carefully strung from the rafters above the kitchen table, and the slowly dripping jelly was being collected in jam jars. The smell was truly wonderful. I wanted to stay and help, but I had to get home to prepare our evening meal for Mike’s arrival.
Courtesy of our children, Ginny also had another large basket full of apples. She had no use for them, and was busy jam-making, so I offered to take them home with me. That evening, while I made dinner, I also made four apple pies.
On Thursday, I took two of the fresh apple pies to Drakeshaugh, a present for Ginny. In return, she offered me twenty jars of homemade blackberry jelly. Her final total was, she assured me, more than forty. I protested, then offered to take ten. She was having none of it, claiming that I’d done half of the work. My arguments were to no avail. I managed to barter her down to fifteen, but she fed us all crumpets–toasted on the fire–with butter and the fresh home-made jelly, and Henry intervened.
‘Is this really what we made?’ Henry asked, licking the jam off the top of the crumpet.
‘It is, Henry,’ Ginny told him.
‘It’s very nice, Mummy,’ he told me pointedly.
‘Take twenty jars,’ Ginny took the opportunity to reopen the discussion.
We finally settled on eighteen.
Mike had been at work all week, but had managed to wangle himself a day’s leave on Friday. I was grateful for his presence because, despite my offer to the Potters, the half-term week had shown me that five excitable kids were a lot of work, even with two people. Friday’s forecast was for good, if windy, weather for the entire day. A glance out of the kitchen window assured me of its accuracy. Almost every tree I could see was shaking itself free of its leaves and the only clouds in the clear, pale blue, sky were high wisps of white hurrying through the upper atmosphere.
On Thursday evening Mike and I had planned for both wet and dry weather, and over breakfast the following morning we finalised our plans. Given the weather, we would definitely take the kids out for a walk. We were tidying up the kitchen and discussing “just in case” routes when the Potters arrived.
‘Right on time,’ Mike observed.
I glanced at the kitchen clock in time to see the second hand sweep up to mark the hour. Harry and Ginny waved as he pulled his car up next to our kitchen door.
‘Potters are here,’ I called, while hanging up the tea towel.
Yelling excitedly, Annie and Henry scampered through from the living room. They didn’t stop; Mike had opened the door, and gone out to help the Potters unload kids and bags. Our kids followed him into the yard. I was the last one out. When I reached the car, the Potter kids were dancing around Henry and Annie and chattering excitedly.
Harry and Ginny were already dressed for the funeral. Ginny looked stunning in a plain, sleeveless, knee-length sheath dress. Harry was in black trousers, a white shirt, and a black tie. The waistcoat he wore was, I thought, inappropriately bright with its wide stripes of blue and yellow. Mike had taken a large bag from the back of the Potters’ car, and Harry held two more.
‘Are they staying for a week?’ Mike asked cheerfully.
‘I’ve probably overdone it,’ Ginny admitted. ‘There’s a complete change of clothes for each of them. Jacqui said you were thinking about taking them out for a walk. If it rains, you might need them, but otherwise just put them out of the way and forget about them.’
Mike’s attention was fixed on the car boot, and he didn’t appear to be listening to Ginny. ‘Nice coat, Harry,’ he said.
‘Mike!’ I said sharply. ‘Ginny’s talking to you.’
‘Complete change of clothes in case they get wet, probably won’t need them. I heard.’ Mike winked at Ginny as he spoke. ‘The homburg must be yours, Ginny, it looks a bit small for Harry. Which means that the top hat is yours.’
‘You’re right,’ said Ginny, smiling.
Mike was still staring into the back of Harry’s car, much more interested in what remained than in the bags of children’s clothes. Curious, I strolled around to take a look. The black jacket and homburg hat were obviously Ginny’s, but Mike was much more interested in the purple frock coat and matching top hat.
‘You should try those on, Harry,’ Mike suggested.
Harry shook his head. ‘I’ll take these inside,’ he said. ‘And then we’ll have to go, won’t we…’
His voice tailed off. Ginny had reached into the car, donned the homburg, and tipped it to a jaunty angle. Harry seemed lost for words. When she picked up the top hat and sashayed over to him, he silently tipped his head and allowed her to put it on him.
‘Polly’s instructions,’ Harry told us, as Mike used his phone to photograph the Potters. ‘Right down to the feathers.’
‘She obviously knew what she wanted,’ Mike told him cheerfully. ‘Didn’t you want to go full-on gothic, too, Ginny?’
‘Polly’s instructions apply only to Harry and the pallbearers,’ she told him. ‘I expect I’ll blend in with the Mu-jority of the other mourners.’
‘Mind your hat on the door, Harry’ said Mike. Harry ducked as he followed my husband into the kitchen, although he didn’t need to.
‘Thanks for looking after the kids, Jacqui,’ said Ginny. She strolled over and hugged me. ‘Thanks a lot.’
‘You’re very welcome,’ I said. ‘The hat suits you,’ I added in a whisper as we embraced.
‘Harry really likes it,’ she muttered. As we separated, she gave me a broad grin.
We need to get going, Ginny.’ Harry sounded nervous as he returned to her side.
Ginny’s grin vanished, and she turned to look after her husband. His face was pale and sorrowful; he looked like what he was, a man going to a funeral.
‘Behave yourselves,’ Ginny reminded her children. Taking off her hat, she took Harry’s from him, kissed his chin, and hugged him.
‘Yes, be good, kids,’ Harry ordered when they parted.
‘We will, Daddy,’ said James seriously. His brother and sister nodded.
‘And thanks, Charltons,’ Harry added. He already had his door open, and his mind was obviously elsewhere.
We watched them climb into the car and encouraged the kids to wave and shout “bye-bye” as the Potters left for the airport.
‘Harry looks worried,’ Mike observed.
‘He’s doing the reading at Polly’s funeral, a funeral he’s had to organise because she has no next of kin, and he’s doing it wearing a purple top hat festooned with raven feathers. On top of all that, despite the posters and the manhunt, the police still haven’t caught Pelias Hume.’
‘True,’ Mike admitted. ‘But I have to say, that’s a helluva hat and waistcoat. Not sure about his coat though. I think Polly might have been having him on about the gothic gear.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Purple frock coat and that top hat?’ Mike’s eyes twinkled. ‘I reckon he’s less goth, more Willy Wonka!’
I laughed, and once the image was in my head, I couldn’t get rid of it.
Within half an hour of Harry and Ginny’s departure, we were on the move. Mike and I each carried a daysack. The picnic lunch I’d made–three bottles of water, two flasks of tea, and our lightweight waterproofs–were divided fairly evenly between us. Mike had taken the odd bottle of water.
After making certain that laces were fastened, and everyone was ready to go exploring, Mike and I herded the kids out from Lintzgarth and along the road towards the pub. Because it was half-term, there were a few families in the car park. There was even a moving car on the road. After passing the pub, and crossing the green, we took the footbridge over Hosedon Burn and set off along the old drover’s road.
Although we’d taken Henry and Annie along the same route before, Annie had been in her baby carrier, strapped to Mike’s chest. Henry had been so small that he’d forgotten. It was new to them all. They had no idea where we were going, but it didn’t seem to bother them. They were simply happy to be outdoors. Once we’d passed the last farm on Clennell Street, Mike explained that we would be visiting a hill fort. Henry and James got excited, until he pointed to the low grass-covered hill in the distance.
‘It’s called Castle Hills,’ Mike told them in an attempt to rekindle some excitement.
‘Can’t see no castle,’ observed Al.
‘Where’s the fort?’ Henry asked.
‘Where’s the other hill?’ James asked.
‘You’re right, Al, and those are good questions, Henry and James,’ Mike began. He rubbed his hands happily. He was definitely in his element.
‘The fort was built in the iron age, more than two and a half thousand years ago, Henry. That makes it about three times as old as Harbottle Castle, and there’s not much of Harbottle left, is there?’
‘No,’ Henry agreed.
‘Well there’s even less of the fort left. There are a few old stones up there, but a lot of them are buried in the grass. The place is so old that no one knows what it was called when it was built. These days, people call it Castle Hills, and that’s the name on the map. But, as clever Al has just said, there’s no castle, and as James noticed, there’s only one hill. So why is it called Castle Hills? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. Perhaps, one day, one of you will solve it.’
‘Yeah,’ James nodded.
As we walked, Mike continued to entertain the kids with tales of Clennell Street–the old drover’s road we were walking along. He also tried to explain the history of Castle Hills, and of Camp Knowe–a second hill fort that lay on the other side of the Alwin valley. The kids were getting bored, so he moved on to tales of the legendary Arthur who–he claimed–had ruled not from the lands around Cornwall, but from the hills of Northumberland.
By the time we began the ascent to Castle Hills fort, he was telling them about distant Yeavering Bell, and Gefrin. Mike’s very fond of tales of the old kingdoms, of Bernicia and Northumbria. The kids were enjoying Mike’s stories, and in no hurry to reach the summit. Neither were we. Despite the fact that there’s not much to see when you get there, I’ve alway found the approach to the ancient hill fort oddly inspiring. It was well after noon when we reached the summit and, thanks to Mike’s tales, the kids had become Anglo-Saxon warriors.
Once inside the fort making camp, and eating our banquet, was essential. It was while we were feasting on sandwiches and crisps that Henry, James, and Al remembered their questions about Harbottle Castle. Mike, prepared to go into a lot more details about motte and bailey castles than the kids could understand, began with an enthusiastic but poorly received lecture. Fortunately, when he realised that he was losing their attention, he changed direction. He returned to tall tales of the people who’d inhabited the hills long before the Saxons had arrived. I was fairly certain that his stories of the Britons, the people who the Roman Emperor Hadrian had built a great wall to keep out, bore little relation to historical fact, but the kids lapped them up.
After lunch, we made our way downhill. We headed north for a few hundred yards before leaving Clennell Street to head across to the River Alwin. Once across the river, we made our way back downstream. James was completely turned around by the journey, and was surprised to realise that we were somehow back in Alwinton. The sun was dropping down towards the hills when we arrived at Lintzgarth.
While Mike supervised the kids in the garden, I began to prepare our meal. The salad leaves at our back door were sparse and weather-beaten, and very few tomatoes remained in our greenhouse. We were even running short of onions and radishes. Despite this, there was enough for a fresh side-salad. As I worked, I wondered how Polly’s funeral had gone. The day had flown over; in fact the second weekend was upon us. The entire week of half-term week had flown by in a flurry of busy, happy days.
It was six o’clock, and getting dark outside, when Mike and I settled the kids down for their evening meal. I’d made a rigatoni sausage bake, and I was serving a large portion to James when I heard the crunch of car tyres on gravel. Mike was standing next to the sink. He’d poured the vinaigrette I’d made over the salad and was still busy tossing it. He glanced out of the window and confirmed my deduction.
‘Your mum and dad are here, Potters,’ he announced.
‘Yay!’ Al announced.
‘Mmm,’ said Lily. Unable to wait for the salad, she was already chewing her pasta, and spreading the sauce around her face. As I looked at the five hungry kids, I wondered how Ginny’s mum had coped with seven.
‘I’m not going home yet!’ James told us firmly. Fork clutched tightly in his hand, he was staring covetously at the plate I still held.
‘Not!’ Henry agreed.
‘Quite right, boys,’ Mike told them as he walked over to the table. ‘Don’t ever let anything as boring as parents get between you and a good bit of scran.’
‘Scran?’ James asked.
‘Scran, nosh, grub, din-dins,’ Mike spoke as though he were imparting ancient and important knowledge. ‘The stuff you’re eating, or about to eat. Here you go, Lily.’ Strolling over to the table, he added some of the diced tomato, leaf, red onion, and radish salad to her plate. He was serving Henry when our outside light came on. By then, I’d finished serving the kids, so I dashed across to the kitchen door. I opened it just as Harry was raising a hand to knock.
‘Come in, come in,’ I said. ‘We’ve just served the kids their dinner. Have you eaten? Do you want something?’
Ginny shook her head.
‘Not for me, thanks. There was a huge spread at Polly’s wake,’ Harry told me. ‘Hello, kids, have you had a good day?’
‘Bin see a fort,’ Al said.
‘An’ walked,’ Lily added. ‘An’ walked.’
‘Hundreds of miles!’ James added. ‘So we’s hungery!’
‘Hungry,’ I corrected.
‘For wor scran,’ Henry added.
‘Nosh,’ said Annie happily.
‘Henry’s dad knows all ’bout Merlin.’ James comment came from nowhere, but Ginny’s look of astonishment surprised me.
‘Really?’ Harry smiled. ‘And Arthur, and the knights of the round table, I assume?’
‘An’ ancient Britons, an’ Romans, an’ angular Saxons,’ Henry added. ‘My daddy’s clever.’
‘So’s mine,’ James told my son. Mike and Harry grinned at each other.
‘Would you like a cuppa?’ I asked.
‘I’ll make it,’ Ginny offered. ‘You’re all eating. I can manage to boil a kettle, and I can see your collection of tea caddies and teapots.’
I really wanted to ask Harry and Ginny about the funeral, but I didn’t get the opportunity. Both during and after the meal the kids were telling them about the walk and all the places we’d explored.
‘Sounds like you’ve had a great day,’ said Ginny.
‘How was yours?’ I asked.
She and Harry exchanged a meaningful glance. ‘Interesting,’ Ginny told me. ‘Harry fitted right in, but I was decidedly underdressed.’
‘You’ve changed.’ I realised. The Potters were both in jeans and sweatshirts.
‘We called in at Drakeshaugh on the way,’ Ginny admitted. ‘We took the opportunity to get out of our funeral clothes, didn’t we, Harry?’
Harry nodded, and I tried to figure out what the “say no more” look he was giving Ginny meant.
Mike broke the ensuing silence by saying, ‘I understand that we’ll be seeing Ron, Hermione, Rose, and Hugo tomorrow. Will you need a lift, Ginny?’
‘No,’ Harry replied for his wife. ‘I have … something … to do in the morning, but after that, I’m taking the weekend off.’
‘How’s the manhunt going?’ Mike asked him. ‘There’s been nothing much on the news. No sightings of him?’
‘There have been a lot of sightings,’ Harry admitted. ‘That’s one of the problems. He’s been seen in Truro and Thurso, and almost everywhere between. But I’m hoping that Polly–that information from Polly–will help us find him.’
‘Let’s hope,’ Mike said sympathetically.
‘Thanks for the cuppa,’ Ginny said. ‘But we really should get back home. We’re having visitors tomorrow, and we’ve a lot to do. Come along, kids.’
There were protests, of course, but Ginny overrode them, and fifteen minutes later it was just the four of us. The house felt strangely empty.
‘Phew,’ said Mike. ‘And tomorrow, we’ll see Ron and Hermione, too. What a busy life we lead. Grand scran, by the way, Jacqui. I’ll go and pack the dishwasher, shall I?’
‘Thanks,’ I said.
‘! Go To Top ‘!