Baking Buns and a Barmy Blonde
That evening, over Sunday dinner, Mike and I tried to discuss my latest visit to the Potters’ house. I wasn’t able to tell him much because Henry insisted on talking about the rope swing, and the woods, and the kids, and what fun he’d had. He loudly and enthusiastically confirmed the sheer size of Ginny’s family.
‘Fred ‘n Dominic is funny, ‘n Molly ‘n Victor is bossy; the others is all right,’ he said, firmly announcing his assessment of the kids. I thought back to the names I’d been told in the Drakeshaugh kitchen. Fred belonged to Angelina and George; Molly was Audrey’s, but the others? I racked my brains and smiled when I realised.
‘Victor?’ I asked Henry. I was certain that I knew who “Victor” was; I was fairly certain about “Dominic”, too.
‘The big girl,’ he told me. I smiled at Henry. Mike looked at me quizzically.
‘It’s Victoire, not Victor, and I think that Dominic is probably her sister, Dominique,’ I said. ‘They are French names, Henry; their mother is French.’
Henry shrugged dismissively; however, it was obvious that the information had piqued Mike’s interest. He gave me a curious look.
‘Their “Maman” is tall, blonde, and called Fleur.’ I answered my husband’s unspoken question.
‘Va-va-voom?’ he asked, raising his eyebrows.
‘Trés chic, and with a couple of extra va-va’s,’ I told him. He burst out laughing. I spent most of the meal trying, with Henry’s “help”, to tell him my impressions of Ginny’s family.
‘And Harry has no one?’ Mike asked when we’d finished.
‘No,’ I confirmed. ‘No parents, no brothers, no sisters. There’s a cousin, I think, but Harry is definitely outnumbered by Ginny’s lot. I think he originally met Ginny through her brother, Ron.’
We continued to chat after dinner, but we had to stop when the kids’ bedtime approached. While I bathed them, Mike tackled the kitchen. Once the kids had each been told a story and were tucked up and settled, I returned to the living room. Mike had been watching a football match, but he switched it off when I collapsed onto the sofa.
‘Another good weekend,’ he said.
‘Good? Purple vomit, and I gatecrashed a private family party at the Potters,’ I told him. He simply laughed.
‘That’s what I said, another good weekend,’ he repeated. ‘Admit it, Jacqui; things are a lot livelier around here than they were before the Potters arrived. And you like it.’
‘I suppose I do, at least, most of it. But not the purple vomit,’ I told him. ‘I still haven’t forgiven you for giving Annie all that juice.’
‘What you need, my darling, is a drink,’ he said. He strolled through into the dining room and returned with the bottle of wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, which we’d opened with our roast chicken dinner. The bottle was still almost half full. Mike poured me an extremely generous glass and sat back in his armchair before pouring the remainder into his glass.
As we drank, I told him about Charlie’s arrival, and the mysterious lack of cars. Mike, of course, had a reasonable explanation. It was so obvious that I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself.
‘Charlie must’ve arrived by taxi,’ said Mike. ‘Perhaps they all did, unless Harry collected them. Didn’t you say that Ginny’s mum flew up here the other week? She lives in Devon, doesn’t she?’
‘Yes.’ I nodded.
‘Well, then, they either caught the Bristol to Newcastle plane or took a cross country train. Whichever they did, they must’ve come the rest of the way by taxi, unless Harry collected them.’ Mike spoke with absolute certainty. I must have looked disappointed because he burst out laughing.
‘What was your theory, Jacqui?’ he asked. ‘Do you think that they “beamed down” like on Star Trek? They came by taxi! It’s obvious.’ He slid from his armchair, knelt on the floor in front of me and put his hands on my shoulders. ‘Isn’t it?’ He looked into my eye and smiled.
‘I suppose it is, yes,’ I admitted.
He kissed my nose and teasingly told me, ‘It’s a good job you’ve got a clear-headed and sensible husband, Jacqui. All those books you read make you see a mystery even when there isn’t one.’
I went to bed early. Mike was right; it had been another interesting day, and a tiring one. The wine had gone to my head, too.
I didn’t see Harry the following morning; once again, James was already settled in the classroom when I got there. I’d hoped to speak to Harry because, over breakfast, I’d been worrying about the events of the previous afternoon. I’d arrived at Drakeshaugh unannounced twice, and both times, I’d interrupted something. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a guilty thought (“you weren’t invited”) wormed its way through my brain, making me feel uneasy.
As I walked out from the school, I decided that I needed to do something to apologise to Harry and Ginny. It wasn’t until I was driving back home with Annie that I decided what to do. I would bake.
‘Today, we’re going to make chocolate buns, Annie,’ I told my daughter the moment we walked into the kitchen.
‘I likes chocklick bun,’ said Annie happily, clapping her hands and dancing.
‘And I’m going to give some to Mrs Potter when we see her at school this afternoon,’ I said.
‘Oh,’ said Annie, frowning. She knew what she liked, and what she didn’t like; and she didn’t like the idea of sharing chocolate. But, honestly, who does?
‘I’ll make lots,’ I assured her.
Annie and I had an enjoyably messy morning. We made four dozen buns, although I had barely enough butter for the buttercream icing. It took me some time to tidy the kitchen and find a tin for the buns; by then, it was time for lunch. Afterwards, as a special treat for both of us, we scraped both the cake mix and icing bowls clean. By the time we’d finished, Annie was up to her elbows in cake mixture and buttercream; she was sticky, but very happy.
When I carried her upstairs to clean her up, I discovered she’d somehow managed to get chocolate icing on her knickers (and it was a relief to realise that’s what it was). She was so sticky that I stripped her, put her in the bath, and found her a complete change of clothes. We had a splashing time, and spent ages playing with her bath toys. By the time I’d got her ready it was almost time for me to leave for school, and it was raining.
While I’d been in the bathroom, thick clouds had darkened the day, a bright morning had become a dull and dingy afternoon and the rain was relentlessly hurling itself against the windows. It was no weather for walking anywhere. I looked at the sky, at the tin of buns, and at the weather, and I decided to ring Ginny.
I was convinced that the phone number she’d given me wouldn’t work. I really didn’t expect to be connected; I don’t know why, unless it was because the number was so strange. Nevertheless, I punched the numbers into the handset and waited.
I didn’t get a ringing tone. There were several seconds of silence and then, just as I was about to hang up, a polite female voice said, ‘Connecting you now, please hold the line.’ Then, once again, there was utter silence. I waited uneasily for several more seconds before anything happened.
‘Hello, Jacqui,’ said Ginny.
‘Hi, Ginny,’ I spoke in a breathless rush. ‘I’m sorry for ringing, but it’s hoying it down… I mean, chucking it down…’ (I decided it would be best to translate the word) ‘…with rain here, and I don’t suppose that it’s any different at Drakeshaugh. I wondered if you’d like a lift down to school. I can’t bring you back, of course; the car will be full with you, Al and Lily, never mind James and Henry, but at least we can wait outside school in the car, keep dry. Al could use Henry’s seat and his original baby seat is in our garage; it’s a bit grubby, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It should be fine for Lily; we aren’t going far after all.’
When I stopped speaking, there was another echoing silence.
‘Ginny?’ I said.
‘I’m still here,’ she said. ‘It’s nice of you to offer, Jacqui, very thoughtful of you to telephone…’
There was another pause while she considered my offer.
‘Will you be able to fit the buggy in your boot? Your car isn’t very big, is it?’ she said.
‘It’s big enough for a buggy. I’m sure that we can manage,’ I told her.
‘Okay, why not?’ said Ginny. ‘I’ll expect you in—how long—a quarter of an hour?’
‘That sounds about right,’ I said.
I bundled Annie into her raincoat, grabbed the cake tin, threw my Barbour jacket over my head and carried Annie out to the car. I got her into the passenger seat easily enough, but it took me a few minutes longer than I expected to fasten Henry’s old rear-facing baby seat behind Annie and clean the cobwebs from it. As a consequence, I was a little delayed in setting off for Drakeshaugh.
Annie and I splashed our way down the valley happily singing nursery rhymes. The landscape was a grey blur of rain and the road was a fast-flowing river. It was proper rain, bold rain, the type rain which noisily lets you know that it’s out to soak you. Even with my wipers at their fastest setting, it was difficult to keep the windscreen clear. Personally, I prefer that sort of weather to those sneaky little showers and drizzle; they try to pretend that they’re not really going to get you wet.
When I pulled in to the gravel yard in front of Drakeshaugh, Ginny opened the back door and beckoned me inside. By the time I’d unstrapped Annie and collected the cake tin, she had vanished. I ran across to the open door, carrying Annie, ‘Wheeeeee’, under one arm. I had the cake tin in the other hand. Once inside the small entrance hall, I took off my coat, which was already dripping, and hung it on one of the hooks.
I closed the back door behind me, and rather cautiously, walked into the kitchen. Al and Lily were chasing each other around the table, laughing. They dashed up to Annie, shouting greetings.
Hi Jacqui,’ said Ginny over the racket. ‘I’m not quite ready, sorry. I had another call after yours and I’ve only just broken the connection.’
What an odd way to say “hung up”, I thought.
‘No problem,’ I said. ‘I’m usually very early for school; we have plenty of time.’ I noticed that Ginny was looking at the tin I was holding. ‘Oh, and I’ve made these for you. I interrupted your family gathering yesterday; I’m sorry. These are to apologise. You can give me the tin back any time. No rush.’
I handed it to Ginny. She gave a polite smile and opened it. The smell of chocolate escaped and filled the room; it was so powerful that it immediately attracted the kids attention.
‘Chocklick, my hellups Moomee, bacon,’ Annie mispronounced proudly.
Fortunately, Ginny had a mother’s ear and was able to decipher Annie’s statement without my help. ‘You helped your mummy when she was baking; what a clever girl,’ said Ginny. Annie beamed. ‘We like chocolate; thank you, Annie. And thank you, Jacqui; thank you very much. But there’s no need to apologise; James confessed. He did invite Henry, and he didn’t tell us. And thanks for the offer of a lift, too.’ She gave me a dazzlingly grateful smile.
While Ginny fastened Al into his coat, I did the same for Lily. It took two trips to get the three kids strapped into the car and to get Ginny’s double buggy into the boot. While we worked, the rain continued to lash at us relentlessly.
As I drove down to the school, I asked Ginny how her family gathering had gone. We chatted about her family all the way down to the school.
It was still raining when I parked the car, so we simply stayed in it, sheltering from the rain and talking. I discovered that: Bill was a banker; Percy and his wife were civil servants; Ron and George were in business together, and; Charlie worked abroad on some sort of animal conservation project; Ginny was so vague about the details of Charlie’s job that I suspected she didn’t really know. Charlie was home for the week. Ginny also confirmed that her family would, as I’d suspected, be helping her with the catering.
That was when the kids started appearing. With the rain, the confusion of getting Henry into the car, my keeping an eye on the Potter kids while Ginny unfolded her buggy and everything else that was going on, we didn’t have time for any more chat. I watched Ginny trudging off into the rain with a pang of guilt. They’d probably be soaked to the skin by the time they got home. But I simply couldn’t squeeze them all into the car. I knew that Ginny couldn’t drive. I wondered if, faced with our weather, she would learn. The Potters were certainly wealthy enough to have a second car.
The following morning, I saw Harry only briefly.
‘Hi, Jacqui,’ he said as he dashed out from the school. I said ‘Hi,’ back, but then he was gone.
That evening was glorious: the sun was back and the previous day’s storm was no more than a memory, and a slightly higher than normal river. Ginny and I were discussing the party with some of the other mums, and Ginny was collecting acceptance letters from them, and from several kids.
Henry and James were two of the last to leave the school. They were, as always, side by side when they dashed up to us. Unusually, however, James ignored his mother and ran straight up to me.
‘Hello, Henry’s mum; has you got more of them chocolate buns?’ he asked.
‘James!’ Ginny pulled an apologetic face at me.
‘No, but I can bake more if you liked them, James,’ I told him. He nodded happily.
‘They were a big hit with the kids, Jacqui,’ Ginny told me politely, before staring at James in annoyance. ‘You can’t simply demand things from people, James,’ she told her son.
‘Wasn’t a demand, was compling meant,’ said James. ‘They was very nice.’
‘They were,’ Ginny agreed. ‘And I’m sure Jacqui appreciates your compliment, James. Poor Harry didn’t get home quickly enough, so he only got one.’
‘I’ll bake some more,’ I said. ‘But I’ll need to buy the ingredients. I’m glad you liked them, James. If the kids all liked them, I could even bake a big batch for your party, Ginny.’
‘Yay!’ shouted James.
‘That would be great, if you don’t mind. I think we have plenty of food, but Mum’s panicking, and if I tell her you’re helping, too…’ said Ginny, smiling. I knew what she meant, as my mother would be exactly the same. Ginny hesitated for a moment, and lowered her voice. ‘Are you doing anything on Thursday, Jacqui? Would you and Annie like to have lunch with us? We can discuss the party, and swimming, then.’
‘Yes, please,’ I squeaked. I suspected that there was rather too much enthusiasm in my voice.
We arranged that I’d arrive at noon, and we were still agreeing details when Mary arrived. She glared at me as she handed Ginny a pale blue envelope.
‘Thank you so much for the invitation, Ginny,’ said Mary. ‘My husband and I are very busy, but we’ve managed to find some time for you on Saturday.’
‘I’m honoured,’ said Ginny. There was no trace of sarcasm in her voice, but she perfectly mimicked Mary’s pompous tone. ‘I do hope that you didn’t have to cancel anything; after all, we aren’t important.’
I had a coughing fit. It was either that or I would burst out laughing, and I still wasn’t ready to laugh at Mary in public.
I told Mike what had happened as soon as he got home. I was so ridiculously excited by the invitation to lunch at Drakeshaugh that I dashed outside to tell him before he’d even finished parking his car. He grabbed me around the waist and kissed me.
‘Great! Make friends, go out, enjoy yourself,’ he told me. ‘I love to see you happy, Jacqui; you’re gorgeous when you’re happy. I’m beginning to think we must have been in a bit of a rut.’
I kissed him back, but Henry arrived at the kitchen door and protested, so we had to part.
Wednesday dragged, although Ginny and I did manage to make arrangements for our trip to the swimming pool. When Thursday finally arrived it was another rainy day. I was ready to leave at eleven, but we’d agreed that I’d arrive at twelve.
I paced; I sat; I failed to read; I simply could not settle. Finally, I got angry with Annie over absolutely nothing and made her cry. It took me ages to calm her down, and by the time I did, it was almost twelve, and I was a few minutes late leaving.
When I reached Drakeshaugh, Ginny was once again waiting for me at the kitchen door. It was as though she’d known exactly when I would arrive. Annie had calmed down, and I’d been talking to her all of the way down the valley. She had somehow caught my excitement and she excitedly refused to be carried. We held hands and dashed into the house through a squally shower which flapped at our coats as we ran. At least Annie ran; I only needed to do a brisk walk to keep up with her. We said our hellos to Ginny, took off our coats, and followed her into the warm, welcoming and surprisingly empty kitchen.
‘Where are Al and Lily?’ I asked.
‘They’re up in the lounge,’ Ginny told me. ‘One of my old school friends is looking after them. She will be at the party too. I wanted you to meet her first. She was one of my bridesmaids and is Lily’s godmother. I do hope that you’ll like her.’
For the first time since I’d met her, Ginny seemed to be rather nervous. ‘Luna is a… she’s… well… she’s… she’s … Luna.’ Ginny shrugged. It seemed that she’d finally decided that no further explanation was necessary, or perhaps possible, so she simply led Annie and me from the kitchen through the small hallway and up the stairs into the lounge.
‘And this,’ a voice sang, ‘is a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. No one has ever seen one, Lily, Al, but one day, I will.’
The woman, Luna, was sitting on the sofa, a large book on her lap. Al sat on one knee and Lily on the other. Luna’s feet were bare and her toenails were each painted a different colour. She wore brown paisley culottes and a yellow checked blouse, an interesting choice. Her blonde hair was piled in a bun and it was held in place by a stick of wood that was almost a foot long. She stared at me with wide, unblinking, grey eyes.
‘Lo, Henrysmum,’ said Al.
‘Hello, Al, and Lily, and hello,’ I said to the blonde. ‘You must be Luna, I’m Jacqui.’
‘Yes, I’m Luna Lovegood. Jacqui, that’s an unusual name, isn’t it?’ she asked.
‘Not like yours,’ I told her, trying to keep my face straight.
‘Really?’ she said. ‘I’m surprised that you think so. I don’t know anyone else called Luna, and Daddy and Uncle Andy are the only Lovegoods I know.’
‘Irony is wasted on Luna, as is sarcasm,’ Ginny told me. ‘Honesty works.’
‘Oh, were you trying to be funny?’ Luna asked me.
‘It seems I failed,’ I told her.
‘Yes,’ Luna agreed. ‘Perhaps you need more practice.’
Ginny burst out laughing, and so did I. I had no choice, really. It was obvious from her clothes and her conversation that Luna was one of those people for whom social conventions don’t exist.
‘What’s a Snorkack?’ I asked. ‘I’ve never heard of it.’ I looked curiously at the book on Luna’s lap, but I couldn’t make out the title.
‘Oh,’ said Luna. ‘I was just telling Al and Lily a story, that’s all.’
‘Ah,’ I said. ‘It’s like the Gruffalo; there are so many wonderful children’s stories, aren’t there?’
‘A Gruffalo?’ asked Luna.
‘Gruffalo,’ said Al. He jumped from Luna’s lap, dashed to a bookcase untidily stacked with colourful books and returned with that very book. ‘Read,’ he demanded.
‘Yay, Guffalluff!’ Annie agreed. Luna looked curiously at the book.
‘It was part of Al’s Christmas present from Hermione’s parents, Luna,’ Ginny said. ‘Would you like to read it to the kids? Jacqui and I will get lunch ready, if that’s okay?’
‘This looks very interesting,’ said Luna, sounding excited. She lifted Lily from her knee, sat her on the floor and slid from the sofa to sit alongside her. Al and Annie sat too, and looked up expectantly at Luna. She opened the book, prodded the illustration, watched it, shrugged and began to read.
I went into the kitchen with Ginny and helped her prepare a salad and sandwiches.
‘First impressions?’ Ginny asked.
‘She ploughs her own furrow,’ I said. Ginny looked a little puzzled. ‘She goes her own way,’ I explained. ‘She strikes me as nice, but unconventional.’ I lowered my voice. ‘I’m not trying to be rude, but is she extremely clever, or is she simply eccentric?’
‘Both.’ Ginny laughed.
We called them down for lunch. Luna and Ginny chatted about who would be at the party on Saturday. Several names were mentioned: Dennis, Neville and Hannah, and several others. Luna seemed to know them all.
The rain stopped, so after lunch, we walked through the woods. Luna remained barefoot; her only concession to the cool breeze was to put on a blue and yellow cardigan which looked like it had been badly hand-knitted by a giant. When I said so, she shook her head and corrected me in a way only Luna could.
‘Only a half-giant,’ she said. ‘He’s called Rubeus.’
Luna was like that, I discovered. Her conversation crazily banged, chimed and bounced from topic to topic like the ball in a pinball machine. When we walked into the clearing next to Drakeshaugh Burn, Ginny made some flippant remark about the stream being a burn.
‘You didn’t study Ancient Runes, Ginny,’ said Luna disapprovingly. ‘If you had, you’d know that the word is perfectly acceptable. It’s derived from old English “burna”; it is a fresh water spring.’
Luna strode ahead of us, and Ginny turned to me and pulled a “that’s me told” face.
‘I’ve decided. After that remark, I like your friend Lune,’ I said, smiling. Ginny laughed, and so did I.
Luna, meanwhile, had stepped into the burn, cupped her hands in the water and was noisily slurping the water from her hands. ‘Good, fresh and cold,’ she announced.
Of course, once Luna had drunk from the stream, the kids had to drink too. Ginny joined them, but when offered, I declined.
‘The last time I drank from a burn I was thirteen,’ I said. ‘That was Spithope Burn, not far from my parent’s farm. Then I walked upstream and found a dead sheep in the water.’
‘Eugh!’ The kids all pulled faces.
‘Were you ill afterwards?’ Luna asked.
‘No,’ I admitted.
‘So the water was pure anyway,’ said Luna. ‘That’s a silly reason not to drink.’ It was my turn to pull a “that’s me told” face at Ginny. I gave in, scooped up some water and drank it. Luna was right; it was sweet, and so cold that it made my teeth tingle.
The kids all wanted to play on the rope swing. They needed careful supervision, especially Lily, who seemed to be completely fearless. We spent the afternoon playing with the kids and gossiping. The three kids seemed to be quite happy playing together. Al was gentle and quiet. It seemed to me that he was trying to look after the girls, too.
While the kids were playing, I took the opportunity to ask Ginny what she’d be wearing, and what Harry would be wearing. ‘Mike hates wearing a suit outside work,’ I said, worriedly.
‘We’re having a party, not a dinner party, Jacqui,’ Ginny reassured me. ‘Harry will be casual. You don’t think that anyone will turn up in evening dress or a ballgown, do you? We’ve invited the kids! I’m expecting at least one jelly or trifle related crisis and at least one temper tantrum.’
‘That may well be Mary,’ I said. Ginny laughed.
‘Just wear whatever you’re comfortable wearing,’ Ginny assured me. ‘There’s probably no need to buy something new.’
‘Probably?’ I asked. That single word alerted me. ‘What about you?’
‘I’ve bought a new dress,’ she admitted. ‘I’m the hostess, Jacqui; I want to look my best.’
‘I’m a guest; so do I,’ I said determinedly. ‘I’d thought about wearing trousers and a jacket; it’s practical. But … a new dress … I could probably persuade Mike. I’d have to go into town tomorrow, but I couldn’t take Annie into town. I’ll ask my mum…’
‘If you want to go shopping for a new dress tomorrow, Jacqui, you could leave Annie with me,’ Ginny offered. ‘Luna and I can look after three kids as easily as two.’
‘I couldn’t impose…’ I began.
‘Don’t be silly, Jacqui,’ said Ginny. ‘Would you like to come back again tomorrow, Annie?’
‘Yay,’ said Annie.
‘When do you need to leave to collect James, Ginny?’ Luna asked.
Ginny and I checked our watches.
‘Now,’ we chorused.
I half-heartedly tried to turn down Ginny’s babysitting offer as we hurriedly prepared to leave. Luna agreed to stay at Drakeshaugh and look after Al and Lily. I once again gave Ginny a lift down to school, and we discussed plans for the following day.
‘I’ll have to talk to Mike about it,’ I said. ‘Are you sure that you don’t mind?’
‘Jacqui,’ said Ginny seriously. ‘We haven’t known each other for long, but do you really think that I’d volunteer to do something if I didn’t want to do it?’
‘Thank you. I’ll telephone tonight and let you know,’ I promised.
‘Tell Mike that he owes you a new dress,’ Ginny suggested.
‘Purple vomit,’ I said immediately, and I was forced to tell Ginny the story.