Interlude: Three Families
Approximately three hundred miles south of Drakeshaugh at the other end of England, a bright blue Mini was being packed.
The enclosed and sheltered yard in which the car stood was paved in red brick. The bricks were old, possibly as old as the adjacent house, and they were carefully laid in a herringbone pattern. The yard was large enough to accommodate at least half a dozen vehicles but the Mini stood alone.
At one side of the yard was a large white-painted and thatch-roofed house. A timber plaque affixed to the solid oak front door proclaimed the property to be “The Roost”. At the opposite side of the yard to the house, there was a well-trimmed privet hedge which stood some eight feet tall. The top of the hedge was perfectly flat; it was as though someone had flown a broom at that particular height and magically sliced off all of the upward growing branches.
The only break in the hedge was a white wooden gate which led out from the yard and onto a rough track known as Green Lane. The track’s name doubled as its description; Green Lane was narrow, grassy and hemmed in by hedges for its entire length. From The Roost, it wound its way eastwards between fields for a little over a quarter of a mile, before joining Halfpenny Lane, in the village Oakford Fitzpayne, in the County of Dorset.
The Roost was the only house on Green Lane, and no-one drove to it, at least no-one other than the owner of the Mini (and, occasionally, her parents). It was as though the other residents of Oakford Fitzpayne had forgotten that The Roost existed. There was a very good reason for this. They had.
The Mini’s owner was using her wand to levitate a large trunk towards the open boot of her car. There was absolutely no way it would fit into the available space, but that obvious fact didn’t bother the woman. She was not alone in the yard. The Mini’s passenger door was open too, and a tall red-haired man was leaning into the back of the car; he was busy fastening two children into their car seats. Once that task was completed, he stepped out from the car and watched as his wife neatly fitted the trunk into the boot.
‘We’re spending one whole night away from home, Hermione,’ Ron Weasley said. ‘Are you sure that you’ve packed enough stuff?’
Hermione pulled out a list from the pocket of her jeans and glanced anxiously at it. Ron wisely turned away from his wife before rolling his eyes despairingly.
‘There are four sets of swimming things in the bag in the car, Ron,’ began Hermione. ‘In the trunk I’ve got party clothes for this evening, nightclothes and three complete changes of clothes for tomorrow. I’ve also got buckets and spades JUST in case we go to the beach with my mum and dad tomorrow. Rose has Raggedy-Maggie and Hugo has Scarecrow-Sam. I’ve packed two cases of Dom Perignon, because we’ll need something to toast Harry and Ginny’s new home; the Muggle guests will expect some fizz, and Harry will have forgotten, because he has a lot other things on his mind. There are a dozen bottles of lemonade, too. I’ve made a dozen pizzas for the kids, and finally, there are fifty-seven tuna, mayonnaise and sweetcorn sandwiches in a preserving-box to keep them fresh,’ Hermione told him as she squeezed the trunk into the car and closed the boot lid. There was a noticeable and dangerously sharp edge to her final words.
‘You counted the sandwiches?’ asked Ron worriedly.
‘I made sixty,’ Hermione told him, her eyebrows meeting accusingly above her nose.
Ron ducked his head back inside the car. ‘Uh-oh, we’re in trouble, Rosie,’ he told his daughter. ‘You were right; Mummy counted the sandwiches.’ He straightened up and smiled at his wife. She was trying to be angry with him, but he’d had years of experience of that, and it was obvious from her expression that she wasn’t really trying very hard. He was safe. ‘They’re for a party, Hermione,’ he explained. ‘Rosie and I decided to test them; we wanted to make sure that they were tasty enough for Harry and Ginny’s guests, didn’t we?’
‘Tasty-tasty, dust ike Mummy,’ Rosie squeaked.
Hermione pulled a face as she tried not to smile. ‘She’s picking new words up very quickly, Ron. You’d better be very careful what you say in front of her.’
‘True,’ said Ron. ‘But you are tasty, Hermione. I tell you that all the time.’ He stepped up to her, gave her a casual hug, absent-mindedly bent forwards and kissed the top of her head.
She looked up at him in mock-exasperation and sighed. ‘If the kids are strapped in, Ron, it’s time we left.’
‘I’ll lock up,’ said Ron. He drew his wand and cast the usual protection spells over their home. Climbing into the passenger seat, he turned to Hermione. ‘I could drive,’ he offered, smiling. ‘I can, you know; I drove Dad’s car when I was twelve.’
‘And you crashed it into a tree,’ she reminded him. ‘We’re not going straight to Drakeshaugh remember, Ron. We’ll be driving on Muggle roads when we get there. You know that it’s illegal for you to drive on roads until you pass your Muggle driving test. So, if you want to drive the car, you know what you need to do! Take some lessons and … pass … your … driving … test.’ She forcefully emphasised every word.
‘I’ll try to find some time for lessons soon,’ he promised her half-heartedly.
‘You could easily find time, Ron, but I know you; you won’t. You’ve been saying “soon” since before we were married. You’ve been saying it for … ten years, probably,’ she said. ‘Honestly, Ron, I won’t be surprised if Rose passes her driving test before you do! Now, fasten your seatbelt. It’s time we left.’
Ron grinned and obeyed. Hermione pulled a mirror from her jacket pocket and fastened it into the cradle on the dashboard. Satisfied that it was secure, she reached forwards and switched on the Invisibility Booster. The Mini vanished.
‘Ready, Rose, Hugo?’ she asked.
She looked at the mirror and spoke. ‘Portkey Office.’
‘Mrs Weasley,’ a young woman’s face appeared in the mirror. ‘You have a Portkey booked for one o’clock, from Oakford Fitzpayne to the sky above Alnmouth. It is now twelve fifty-eight; are you ready to depart?’
‘We are, yes.’
‘Your Portkey is now logged and authorised. Enjoy your trip.’
‘Thank you. We will,’ Hermione said. She pulled out her wand, touched the steering wheel and said, ‘Portus.’
Ron felt the familiar jerk in his stomach. Hugo squeaked in surprise. Rosie said ‘Wheeee!’
Suddenly, they were in mid air, hovering above a river as it meandered its way across a wide and sandy beach into the sea.
‘Seaside,’ Rose squeaked excitedly as she peered out of the window. ‘And sand, lots ’n lots of sand!’
‘’We might go to the seaside tomorrow, Rose, with Grammy and Dan-dad,’ said Hermione. ‘But now, we’re going to go to meet them at the swimming pool, and we’re going swimming with Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny.’
‘An’ Dames an’ Al an’ Lily,’ said Rose.
‘James,’ Hermione corrected.
‘Djames,’ said Rose, struggling to sound the “J”.
‘And Harry’s new Muggle friends, too. And Aunt Loony, probably,’ Ron added.
‘Luna,’ Hermione corrected him automatically.
‘That’s the road we want, Hermione.’ He pointed inland and to the north.
Hermione flew north eastwards until she reached the road. She dropped down until they were flying low above it, waiting until there was no traffic in sight before gently bringing the car to a landing on the road and switching off the Invisibility Booster.
They continued to drive along unfamiliar roads, Ron with a Muggle roadmap on his lap. They soon found their way inland to the outskirts of Alnwick, the large town which was their destination. After only one wrong turning, and a very minor exchange of cross words between husband and wife, Ron successfully navigated them into the swimming pool car park.
‘There’s Uncle Harry,’ said Ron, pointing to the entrance as they drove through the car park.
‘An’ Dames-Djames an’ ’is fren’ Hennerry,’ said Rosie.
‘And that must be Henry’s dad,’ said Ron, pointing at the thickset man in the group, the only person he didn’t recognise.
Hermione pulled into a parking space. Ron grabbed the bag containing their swimming things and began to help Hugo from his car seat while Hermione unbuckled Rose.
‘I’ll just get in touch with Mum and Dad, let them know we’ve arrived,’ Hermione said.
‘I’m surprised that they want to watch the kids swimming, but I’m glad they’re here for the party. Harry and Ginny have invited a lot of Muggle neighbours. A few Muggles and Muggle-borns who know what’s really going on will help divert suspicion, I hope.’ Ron shook his head in disbelief. ‘I really don’t believe Harry and Ginny; they’re having a party in four hours, and they’ve decided to come to the swimming pool first. I know that they promised the kids, but…’
‘They missed out on swimming last weekend because it was my birthday, Ron. And Harry will almost certainly be at work all next weekend,’ Hermione reminded him.
‘Full moon, I know,’ said Ron. ‘But…’
‘We’ll only be here for an hour, Ron,’ said Hermione. ‘We’ll be at Drakeshaugh only a few minutes later, unlike the Charltons, and Mum and Dad. They will have to drive, but we’ll have at least two hours at Drakeshaugh before the party starts; that’s definitely long enough to get changed and organised. Just before we left home I spoke to Ginny to confirm that they’d arrived here. She told me that your mum and Kreacher have both taken charge of the catering. Ginny was glad to be out of the way until one of them wins.’
‘There will never be a winner in that contest,’ said Ron. ‘That’s not a fight; it’s irresistible force and immovable object!’
‘Perhaps Fleur will be able to keep the peace,’ suggested Hermione, making her husband splutter with laughter. ‘You take Hugo and the bag, Ron. Rose, you stay with me for a moment. I’m going to talk to Grammy and Dan-dad; they’re going to Uncle Harry’s party so they’re staying in a hotel close by. We’ll be staying in the same hotel tonight, too.’
Rose nodded wisely. ‘I say hello to Grammy and Dan-dad with you, Mummy,’ she announced.
‘That’s right, Rose. Good girl,’ Hermione said. ‘They’re coming to watch you swim.
Ron shouldered the bag, grabbed Hugo’s hand and led his son across the car park. As they walked towards the pool, Ron took stock of Harry and Ginny’s new Muggle friends. Jacqui Charlton was about Audrey’s height; she was taller than Ginny and Hermione, but not as tall as Fleur or Angelina. She was a broad-shouldered woman whose straight dark-brown hair reached down to her collarbone. Her husband, Mike, was a six-footer, he too was broad-shouldered and was taller than Harry, but not quite as tall as Ron. Mike was a little paunchy and his short, straw-coloured hair was beginning to recede. The little girl, Annie, was in her father’s arms and her hair was fairer that his. The boy, James’s friend Henry, was stocky and brown-haired, and he and James were whispering to each other.
‘Hello, Potters. Hi, Jacqui,’ said Ron. He was met by a chorus of hellos. Releasing Hugo into the clustering kids, Ron held out his hand to the straw-haired man. ‘You must be Jacqui’s husband, Mike. I’m Ron Weasley, Ginny’s brother.’
‘I can tell,’ Mike looked up at Ron, and then down at Ginny, who was almost a foot shorter than her brother. ‘Although—did they stretch you, or shrink her?’ Mike asked.
‘Michael!’ Jacqui snapped. ‘I’m so sorry, Ron.’
Ron simply laughed. ‘That’s okay. When you meet my mum and dad, you’ll understand, Mike.’ Ron saw Jacqui’s eyes light up in understanding. She, of course, had met them both, Ron remembered.
‘Yes, you will,’ Jacqui told her husband firmly. She was no longer looking at Ron, but instead looked over his shoulder.
‘Hello, everyone,’ said Hermione from behind Ron. ‘Mum and Dad will be here soon; they said we should just get changed.’
‘Mike, this is my wife, Hermione.’ Ron performed the introduction. Mike and Hermione shook hands and exchanged a polite greeting.
‘Swimble time,’ Henry and James reminded the adults.
‘Swimming time,’ Rose corrected them.
‘You’re right, it is. We should go and get changed,’ Harry agreed. ‘We need to leave, to get back to Drakeshaugh, in an hour. Do you know why, Rosie?’
‘Another party, but not Mummy’s birthday,’ said Rosie knowingly.
‘That’s my girl,’ said Ron proudly.
The three couples made their way to the changing rooms with a crowd of excited children. James was busily boasting about his swimming skills to Rose, but she was ignoring him and chattering to Al.
‘No Luna?’ Ron asked, looking around.
‘She’s helping Mum, and everyone else, with the catering,’ said Ginny. ‘We asked her if she’d like to come with us last night, when we were making final arrangements with Mike and Jacqui. She said no.’
‘She said that there were too many comicals in the water at a swimming pool,’ said Jacqui, smiling.
‘There’ll be one less comical…’ Ron and Mike began together. They stopped and grinned at each other.
Ron waved his hand, indicating that Mike should finish the sentence.
‘…if she isn’t in the water,’ Mike finished.
‘So, you’ve met Luna,’ Ron observed.
‘Yes, Jacqui got a flat tyre and I was forced to call at Drakeshaugh last night to rescue her and get her back to the car once I’d changed the wheel. That’s when we discussed plans for this swimming trip,’ Mike confirmed.
‘Good old Luna; she’s unique,’ said Ron.
‘We all are,’ said Jacqui.
‘But Luna’s the most unique-est person I’ve ever met,’ Mike added
Ron laughed and they entered the changing room. Mike grinned and seemed prepared to continue the conversation.
‘We should go and get changed,’ Harry reminded everyone. ‘We can’t stay for a long time today, kids.’
‘Party!’ James shouted. ‘An’ Uncle George’s fireworks!’ The other kids cheered.
By the time the families were changed and had herded their children onto the poolside, Hermione’s parents had arrived. While Hermione performed the introductions Ron had a hasty word with Harry.
‘You’re mad, Harry,’ said Ron. ‘You’re busy at work and it’s the full moon next weekend. Why on earth would you organise your housewarming party for today, and then arrange to go swimming, too?’
‘The party is this weekend because the full moon is next Sunday, Ron,’ Harry told him. ‘And the weekend afterwards, it’s James’s birthday. Once we’d decided to have a housewarming party, it was either this weekend or November! James likes swimming. It’s good for him; it’s good for us all, and I won’t be able to bring Ginny and the kids next weekend.’
‘How’s the case going?’ asked Ron in an undertone.
‘Not as badly as the press think. But not as well as I’d like,’ Harry began. He was about to say more, but the introductions were over and the kids, and the Charltons were ready to head into the pool.
Swimming in an enclosed public pool was a new experience for Ron. He’d been in pools before, but splashing around in an open air pool while on holiday wasn’t the same, especially as, on this occasion, Jacqui seemed to be taking charge. Harry and Ginny seemed to be okay with that, and to Ron’s surprise, Hermione was letting Jacqui take control, too. His wife was even taking advice from Jacqui.
‘Getting their faces into the water is really important, Hermione,’ Jacqui explained earnestly. ‘If you want them to swim and not to panic, they need to have confidence that they will float, and that opening their eyes in the water won’t do them any harm.’
While Jacqui, Ginny and Hermione were concentrating on the five younger kids, Harry and Mike had taken James and Henry out into the deeper water. Ron found himself without anything to do, so he simply floated at the edge of the pool and watched. Jacqui had suggested that James and Henry practise doing forward rolls, which, under the watchful eyes of their fathers, they were doing.
‘What on earth is the point of that?’ Ron called over to Harry. Harry merely shrugged and glanced at Jacqui.
Jacqui slid gracefully alongside Ron, and he was struck by how at home she appeared in the water.
‘I’ll show you, Ron,’ Jacqui told him. ‘Follow me.’ She rolled forwards off her feet and put her face into the water. With four quick strokes she sped away from him and into the middle of the pool. Feeling a little wary, he splashed his way clumsily behind her.
When he reached her, Jacqui was treading water. She was barely making a wave. Ron knew that he wouldn’t be so graceful. Fortunately, by standing on his tiptoes, he could still touch the bottom of the pool. Harry, James, Mike and Henry splashed over to join them. They were all treading water, even James, who was managing quite well. Jacqui looked at the sides of the pool as if to get her bearings, before looking down at the thin line of darker tiles below her.
‘I’m a little out of practice,’ Jacqui apologised. ‘But you might want to watch this, Henry, and you too, James. This is why you need to learn how to do forward rolls.’
She waited until a couple of giggling teens got out of her way and glanced around to make certain that no one else was approaching. She set off at speed, doing a powerful freestyle as she swam rapidly towards the end of the pool. She made no attempt to slow down; in fact, she continued to accelerate. At the last minute, she rolled; her legs lifted out of the water and she seemed to twist. Suddenly, to Ron’s surprise, she was pushing off the wall and powering back towards them. She took two powerful underwater pulls, surfaced just in front of them, and pulled herself to a halt.
‘Wow, Mum,’ said Henry, impressed. ‘That was brilliant! I bet you can beat anyone in a race.’
‘That’s what the forward roll is for,’ said Jacqui a little breathlessly. ‘But I’m slow, Henry. I’m faster than your dad, but that’s not fast.’
After that demonstration, Ron was happy to allow Jacqui to instruct Rose and Al in addition to her own children and James. He simply relaxed and watched the kids as they followed Jacqui’s instructions. Rose was soon enjoying herself, and so was Al. They even raced each other. To Ron’s disappointment, Al won.
When it was time to leave, Harry confirmed the plans with the Charltons.
‘We’re heading straight home, Mike,’ Harry said. ‘We’ll shower and change there, and we’ll see you at Drakeshaugh later. There’s no rush; just arrive when you can.’
‘Jacqui is keen to get there as soon as possible, before any of the other school mums,’ Mike Charlton muttered, as he nodded in understanding. He lifted his daughter from the water and began to ease off her armbands.
The moment they climbed out from the water, Hermione’s parents announced their intention to depart.
‘We’ll go and see if we can help Molly,’ said Jean Granger cheerfully. ‘See you all soon. What clever children you are, and what a good teacher you are, Jacqui. Hermione was always scared of the water when she was small.’
Jacqui Charlton, obviously embarrassed by the praise, mumbled her thanks as she led her son into the changing area. The others followed closely behind.
The moment the Charltons disappeared into the shower area to get ready for the party, the Potters and Weasleys exchanged a knowing glance. Each family found a large cubicle. They were magically dried and dressed before there was any sign of the Charltons emerging from the showers. They shouted their goodbyes to be answered by shouted replies, and naked Henry, who trotted out to say goodbye to James.
‘See you soon, James,’ he yelled after them as the Potters and Weasleys left.
‘D’you mind if I travel with Harry?’ Ron asked both his wife and his sister as they left the pool and walked across the car park.
‘Fine,’ said Ginny. ‘You don’t mind, do you, Harry? That way, I’ll be there sooner. Hermione has a Portkey booked.’
‘Okay,’ Hermione agreed.
‘The flight is only fifteen minutes, Ginny,’ said Harry. ‘We won’t be far behind you.’
‘Are you still having problems with Lily?’ Hermione asked.
‘When did you last take her by Portkey?’ Ron added.
‘When we moved up here, last month,’ said Ginny. ‘I brought Lily and the boys to Drakeshaugh by Portkey. The Floo Network Authority was being inefficient about relocating our secure connection, as usual. I had no choice. Lily puked everywhere and she was still unwell the following day.’
‘Some little ones simply don’t like it,’ said Hermione sympathetically.
‘Hugo doesn’t have a problem,’ said Ron, failing to keep the smugness from his voice.
‘I think we’ll have at least an hour to get ourselves organised before the Charltons will arrive at Drakeshaugh,’ said Harry evenly, ignoring his friend’s comment. ‘We’ll easily beat your mum and dad too, Hermione.’
‘Are the Charltons really intending to get showered and changed, ready for the party, at the pool?’ Hermione asked.
Harry nodded. ‘They’d have to drive past Drakeshaugh to go home and change and we told them last night that, if that’s what they wanted to do, it was fine. Jacqui has made a big batch of chocolate cakes for the kids, so she needs to be there before the other guests. It simply means that the magic will stop a little earlier. I’ve got the gate alarmed so we’ll know when the Muggles are approaching. Jacqui doesn’t seem to think that it will be a problem to get ready here.’
‘Public showers,’ said Ron with a shudder.
‘Mike and Ginny told me about Jacqui’s flat tyre, Harry,’ said Hermione.
‘Yes, I drove back down with Mike and we changed the tyre together,’ said Harry. ‘That was an interesting experience. Mike knows a lot more about Sirius’s bike than I do. He asked me all sorts of technical questions about it. And Jacqui doesn’t miss anything, so we’re going to have to be very careful today.’
‘The Grangers and Dennis and Lesley Creevey will help. That’s three Muggles and a Muggle-born who know the truth, and how to behave. But it’s time to leave, Harry,’ Ginny reminded her husband. He kissed her, and they climbed into their separate cars and set off.
‘How’s the investigation going, Harry?’ asked Ron the moment they were in the air.
Harry turned on a recording of nursery rhymes, waited until his children were singing along and then limited the noise to the back of the car before replying.
‘As I said, not as well as I’d like,’ he admitted. ‘Dacia Skoll has had a look at the victims and carried out a lot of tests. There is no saliva or any other human or animal material in the wounds, but the injuries certainly look like wolf bites. However,’ he added, pausing to emphasise the significance of his words, ‘although there is no other obvious cause of death, bleeding appears to have been minimal.’
‘So, they were killed first, and then mauled?’ asked Ron. ‘Was it the Killing Curse?’
‘We think so, Ron. The wounds are bad, but it looks very much like the Avada Kedavra, disguised by post-mortem bites. Dacia reckoned that someone had taken a cast of a wolf’s jaw and was using it to apply the bite injuries after death. She’s managed to recreate the jaw from the bite marks.’
‘Wolf, or werewolf?’ asked Ron eagerly. Harry grinned at his friend and chuckled.
‘Sometimes I think you want your old job back, retired-Auror Weasley,’ he said. ‘We can manage without you, you know.’
‘Wolf, or werewolf?’ Ron repeated.
‘It’s difficult to tell; you know that,’ said Harry. ‘But, actually, we know that it’s a werewolf.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Ron. ‘A werewolf could, and would, simply bite the victims. Why take a cast of their own jaw? It gives you a lead, and proof. And the teeth can’t be from a dead werewolf, because they revert to human form when the moon sets.’
‘All true, Ron, almost. We managed to figure that out without your help, which is why Polly and her team have been removed from the watch on Doxine Gray and moved to the Marvellous Magical Menagerie.’
‘That old museum in west London, the one with all of the stuffed magical creatures?’ asked Ron. ‘Mum and Dad took Ginny and me there when were little. It was rubbish. The dragon was okay, I suppose, but the rest of the stuff looked like it had been there forever.’
That’s because it had, Ron. Most of it dates back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when laws, and sensibilities, were different. There is a two-hundred-year-old stuffed werewolf on display. Amber Skoll knew that, and she told me about it, during the case discussions. Amber is really annoyed that it’s still there, so is her mum.’
‘I’m surprised Dacia didn’t demand its removal,’ said Ron.
‘She did,’ Harry told him. ‘Amber and Dacia both want it removed. Lavender will too when they tell her. It’s like stuffing a person and putting them on display.’
‘Creepy,’ Ron agreed.
‘We don’t know who the werewolf was, but she was killed in 1776, preserved before moonset and stuffed.’
‘Nasty,’ said Ron.
‘And, unfortunately, she’s going to have to stay there until we solve this case. I sent Amber and Al Webb over to check it out. Al decided that it would be a good idea to go in incognito. It was a good idea. They managed to get a cast of the jaws, and they match the wounds. A werewolf who’s been dead for two-hundred-and-fifty years is guilty of mauling our victims.’
‘Sounds like you’re doing okay to me,’ said Ron, impressed.
‘I’m now confident that it isn’t a werewolf, Ron. You were right, it’s simply someone who is trying to blame the werewolves, but we’ll be mounting a raid on Doxine Gray on Monday anyway.’
‘The stuffed werewolf is inside a glass display cabinet, Ron. Al and Amber spoke to the director, a man called Hereward Wallace. There are only two dozen people working at the Menagerie, and only eight of them have access to the display cases. We now have nine suspects.
‘I’m not discounting the director. Mr Wallace was investigated and cleared after the battle. But our files say “insufficient evidence”, not “cleared of all charges.” I have two Aurors assigned to watch each one of the nine, but we’re raiding Doxine’s place to throw the real suspects off the scent.’
‘Good luck, mate.’
‘We’re here, kids,’ Harry announced, and he brought the car down into the yard outside Drakeshaugh and switched off the Invisibility Booster.