Nosh and Natter
There was a sudden change in the atmosphere. An expectant hush fell over the room and everyone looked towards the door. Somehow, Ron’s final word, “ready,” seemed to be filled with much more serious connotations than simply “the food’s on the table and the house is tidy.” For some reason I was reminded of one of my mother’s favourite films, The Sting.
Harry took Ginny’s hand, and they strolled casually towards their open front door to greet the first arrivals. Before they reached it Amanda Berry, in a very short and figure-hugging dress, tripped daintily into the room with her two children at her side.
I checked my watch. It was exactly ten to five. From Amanda’s surprised expression, I was certain that she had expected to be the Potters’ first guest, and that she would have them to herself for a few minutes. The cavernous and impressive living room was enough to create a sense of wonder in anyone. When also faced with more than half of Ginny’s family, and a similar number of “old friends”, the usually self-confident Amanda was reduced to an inarticulate stutter.
‘Oh, er, I…I, um, I was going to apologise for being a few minutes early,’ Amanda told Ginny, as she rapidly regained her composure. ‘But I see that I’m far from the first to arrive.’ She spotted me, the lone familiar face among the horde of strangers, and gave me a false smile. Harry and Ginny greeted her warmly, and then introduced her to everyone else.
There was no sign of her husband, and I realised that I’d never actually seen him. In response to a question from Ginny, Amanda told us that he worked on the rigs, and was currently in the middle of the North Sea.
I felt a little sorry for Amanda. She was, after all, facing a roomful of total strangers, every one of whom seemed to be very interested in everything she was saying. Daniel and Phoebe, Amanda’s two children, were staying close to their mother and looking nervously around the room. The only other kids in the room, apart from Siân Finnigan and the Longbottoms’ baby, were Dean and Frankie’s two boys and Victoire Weasley.
Daniel, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets, was slouching untidily and gazing curiously at Bradley and Ethan Thomas. The two little Thomas boys were looking back shyly. Daniel’s sister, Phoebe, who was in a bright blue party dress, had engaged Victoire in a staring-down-the-nose contest. They were sizing each other up with that attempt at aloof seriousness which girls who have almost, or only just, reached a double-figure age seem to think makes them appear more mature.
As I watched Phoebe and Victoire trying to decide whether or not to deign to talk to each other, I realised rather guiltily that I’d forgotten my own children. They had dashed off with the Potter and Weasley kids, and I hadn’t given them a thought since. I was wondering whether to check on them when the noise levels in the room suddenly rose. I saw Amanda’s eyes once again widen and I looked over my shoulder to see Audrey herding the missing Weasley men, all of the children, and several other adults, into the room. Despite the sudden influx, the room was still nowhere near full.
James and Henry dashed across the room and dragged Daniel Berry away from his mother. One glance at my son told me that he was okay, and that he would not thank me if I fussed over him. He and James were side by side and laughing.
While James and Henry were talking to Daniel, George and Angelina’s son, Fred, and another boy had wandered over to talk to Dean and Frankie’s two boys. The second boy had a tousled mop of untidy red-blonde hair and already muddy dungarees. Fred, too, was muddy.
‘Oh, Dominique,’ I heard Fleur murmur despairingly. Curious, I followed her eyes and realised that the dirty dungaree-wearer wasn’t in fact, a boy. At that age it’s often difficult to tell, but I was amazed that Fleur’s younger daughter had been allowed to have such short hair, and wear such boyish clothes. Bill, however, had followed the kids across the room. He happily ruffled Dominique’s hair and spoke to Frankie Thomas. Within moments the two Thomas boys went over to join the other children.
I sought out Annie. She was happily tagging along with the younger kids, the toddlers and pre-schoolers. She was alongside Al, Lily, Rose and Hugo Weasley, Haresh Rathod, and a girl who could only belong to George and Angelina. I fought for the girl’s name … Roxanne.
The younger kids were being watched over by Ginny’s parents, Hermione’s parents, and a tall, imperious-looking woman whose thick black hair was streaked with silver. To assuage my guilt, I strolled over to make certain Annie was happy. I knew that, unlike Henry, she would always be happy to see me.
‘Hello again,’ I said, smiling at Molly and Arthur Weasley, and John and Jean Granger before crouching down in front of my daughter. ‘Are you okay, Annie?’ I asked.
‘’Es, we’sgonnaplaygamesoon, Mammy,’ she told me excitedly. ‘Inna big forest!’
‘That’s nice,’ I told her.
‘Harry and Ginny have organised a treasure hunt and other games for the children, Jacqui,’ Molly told me.
‘So, you’re Jacqui,’ the tall woman said brusquely.
I looked up into her heavily hooded dark eyes. She gazed inscrutably down at me through long lashes.
‘I wondered…’ she said no more, but her eyes darted away from me and I knew, without looking, that her dismissive gaze had momentarily rested on Amanda.
‘I … yes … Jacqui Charlton,’ I said. I held out my hand and it was very firmly shaken.
The woman was, I estimated, in her mid fifties. She wore a smart wrap dress in green and white, and an aloof expression.
‘Andromeda Tonks,’ the woman told me, before turning her attention back to Ginny’s mother. ‘These things can be so difficult, you know, Molly,’ said Andromeda. She sounded rather irritated. ‘I can remember one occasion when we invited Ted’s family to our place.’ She shook her head sadly and glanced meaningfully towards me. ‘I’d best say no more.’
Annoyed by the woman’s attitude, I fussed over Annie, Al and Lily, for a few minutes. They seemed to be happy enough. I assured Annie that I would not be far away, and then took my leave, still wondering who on earth Andromeda Tonks was.
By the time I’d found Mike, who was still talking football with Dean Thomas, more cars had arrived. I listened to Mike’s football conversation for a few minutes, but soon got bored and simply moved aside and watched as everyone else arrived. Within the next fifteen confusing and increasingly crowded minutes, the other local families entered, looked around in surprise, spoke to Harry and Ginny, and then greeted the people they knew.
Amanda was certainly glad to see some familiar faces. When Mary arrived, at a little after ten past, she scuttled over to her friend’s side. I watched Mary and Amanda as their eyes flicked around the room. Their gaze lingered longest on the people I was sure they would be calling “the ethnics”, although they also stared at long-haired Michael, who was still waving his hands in an excited discussion with Terry Boot.
Mary Saville was at her elegant best. She wore a smart black dress, and her hair was an ornate pile which must have taken her hairdresser hours. I was suddenly self-conscious about my own hastily washed hair. I’d managed to remove the smell of the swimming pool, and I’d brushed and blow-dried it, but that was all.
Mary’s husband, Robert, was a round-faced and balding man who sported a combover. His belly had long ago ensured that he would never again be able to see his belt, and it was doubtful that he’d be able to fasten the jacket he was wearing. Like Michael Corner, he wore a suit, but there the resemblance ended. Robert’s suit was expensive, his shirt and tie bright and colourful. Somehow long-haired Michael managed to look more stylish in a shabby old suit than Robert did in an obviously expensive one.
Robert Saville was one of those men who could easily manage to look unkempt, even when wearing a smart business suit. It was a skill which many men, including my father, possessed. But at least my father didn’t sport a ridiculous hairstyle.
I’d seen Mary’s husband at the school gates a couple of times, but he’d never got out of the car. All I knew was that he owned and ran a haulage business which he’d built up from nothing. According to the gossip, he was as self-important as a self-made-man could be. He muttered something to Mary, and she looked over towards me, obviously identifying me to him. I smiled at them, and then pointedly turned my attention to our hosts.
Harry and Ginny were still standing side by side at the door and greeting the final few arrivals, talking to children and parents alike. By about quarter past, it was obvious that the last of their guests had arrived. After a short conversation with Harry and Ginny, the last arrivals, a ruddy faced and weather-beaten farmer, his wife, and their two young kids strolled into the centre of the room. I recognised the little girl as one of the kids who arrived by bus from one of the farms up the dale.
All I knew about her was what I’d learned from Henry: she sat at the same table as Henry and James, she was called Jo, and she was a girl. Henry seemed to think that any more information, even a surname, was unnecessary.
The room was filling with the buzz of dozens of conversations as friends both old and new met and mingled. As I watched, I noticed that Phoebe Berry had been joined by Mary’s daughter, Helen, and that now both girls were busily staring at Victoire Weasley. I was amused to realise that, with almost identical expressions, their mothers were now sizing up Fleur. Robert Saville and several of the other men were obviously smitten by the elegant French blonde. Many of them were also casting glances towards Ginny. Mary’s husband’s head was swivelling as he tried to watch them both.
As I continued to observe the crowds, I was startled by an arm sliding around my waist.
‘Hello, gorgeous,’ my husband said. ‘Old Bobby Saville’s never been subtle, has he?’
‘He’s trying to decide which of the two is most beautiful,’ I said.
‘A mistake many people make,’ said Mike knowledgeably. ‘There is absolutely no point. You might as well ask: which is most beautiful; a lioness, a single rose, or an MV Augusta F3?’
I stared up at him, trying to reconcile my usually down to earth husband with this half-baked romantic. He grinned stupidly.
‘What on earth are you talking about, Mike?’ I asked.
‘Beauty is different things, my darling,’ he told me. I wondered if he’d been drinking. ‘Fleur is a fragrant and delicate rose, although I suspect she has thorns, the sharpest being that scarily scarred husband of hers; Ginny is the graceful lioness, and I know she has claws; and you…’
‘I’m a motorbike!’ I said, unaccountably annoyed. I saw the wicked gleam in his eye. ‘Don’t you dare make a ride joke, Michael Charlton!’ I hissed, feeling myself blushing.
He laughed. ‘Sleek, powerful and exciting,’ he told me. I smiled. ‘But needing to be steered,’ he added. I slapped his arm, and then remembered something else he’d said.
‘Bobby Saville?’ I asked. ‘Do you know Mary’s husband?’
‘We’ve done some contract work for him; at least, we’ve done some work for S.T.S. … Saville Transport Services,’ Mike told me. ‘I should have realised Mary was his wife. Bobby is a difficult man to deal with, but he’s a real character. I could tell you some stories…’
‘Quiet,’ George bellowed at the top of his voice. The conversations all stopped and a startled silence descended. ‘Our host and hostess want to say a few words,’ George announced.
Everyone turned to face Harry and Ginny, but before they could speak James, obviously in answer to a question from Henry, knowledgeably said, ‘He means my Mummy and Daddy.’
Harry and Ginny were standing in front of the fireplace. Harry’s hand was resting easily on his wife’s shoulder; Ginny’s arm encircled her husband’s waist. They looked happy, and their relaxed contentment seemed to percolate through the crowd. They drew everyone’s eye, captivating us as they waited for the laughter brought about by their son’s remark to die down.
‘Thank you, James,’ said Harry.
‘Wuz just splainin’ fo’ Henry, Daddy,’ said James.
‘We guessed,’ said Harry. He looked around the room, watching us all. ‘Hello, all. Ginny and I would like to thank you for coming,’ Harry began. He was halted by a gentle squeeze from Ginny.
‘Sorry, Harry,’ Ginny interrupted. ‘This isn’t going to be a smooth speech, folks. I can see a strange young man skulking around outside our front door. For some reason he seems unwilling to enter.’ She turned toward the still open front door and raised her voice. ‘Don’t worry about interrupting Harry, Rolf,’ she called. She turned to Luna and winked.
‘Rolf!’ Luna dashed across to the door.
‘Luna’s got a boyfriend! Luna’s… Oof!’ George Weasley’s childish chant was halted when Angelina elbowed him in the ribs. Dean, Seamus and Ron, who had begun to join in, were similarly silenced.
The young man who entered was no taller than me. He was fair of skin, fair of hair, and barely out of his teens. He was wearing a pair of blue jeans, a dress shirt, a colourful cravat, and an old fashioned leather bomber jacket. It seemed to me that Luna had found herself a kindred spirit. From his dress, Rolf appeared to be as eccentric as she was.
‘I’m sorry I’m late, sir,’ he began, addressing Harry.
‘For goodness sake, Rolf,’ said Luna. ‘It’s only Harry, there’s no need to call him sir! Sorry for the interruption, Harry. Please continue, you and Ginny can tell us how nice it is to see us all.’ She motioned for him to continue.
‘Thanks,’ Harry smiled. ‘Luna has pretty much summarised my speech. I only wanted to say thank you all for coming. Ginny and I would like to welcome you all: family, and friends old and new, to Drakeshaugh, to our new home.’
‘Yes, welcome, everyone. Make yourselves at home,’ said Ginny. ‘One other thing, because I’ve already been asked, I’ll tell you that the loos are at the top of the stairs, and also at the bottom of the stairs.’ Ginny waved an arm towards the corner of the room.
‘Also, we’ve organised some games for the kids outside, but that’s for later,’ said Harry.
‘But first, as you can see, there is plenty of food, and drinks, too,’ added Ginny seamlessly. They were remarkably good at it. I got the impression that they could finish each others sentences. ‘Please, help yourselves. The buffet is open. Make sure that you get there before Ron does!’ The Potters’ friends and family all laughed.
At Ginny’s final words, people had begun to move forwards. As an orderly queue began to form, I found myself being dragged into it by my always hungry husband. We ended up in front of Parindra and Parvati Rathod, and behind the Dean and Frankie Thomas. Mary and her husband were in front of Dean and Frankie.
‘Have you known the Potters for long?’ Mary asked Frankie, doing her very best to sound polite. ‘Where did you meet them?’
‘I, er,’ Frankie began, but Dean took over.
‘Harry and I went to school together,’ Dean began. He stepped sideways so that he could see me, too, caught my eye, and grinned at me. ‘Harry doesn’t like to admit it…’ he continued, looking around conspiratorially. I wondered what on earth he was going to say. ‘We’re all public schoolboys. I hope you won’t think badly of us, just because we went to a posh school, to the same posh school. I shared a dormitory with Harry, Ron, Seamus and Neville for years, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.’ He gave Mary a gleaming smile. ‘I suppose that you could say that we’re Harry’s “old boy network”.’
‘And old girls,’ Parvati supplied from behind me. ‘I was in the same year as Harry and Dean and the others, too.’
‘That reminds me,’ Dean said. ‘Where’s Padma?’
‘She’s working, Dean,’ she said. ‘She’s looking after the RANDOM system for Michael. She’s trying to fix it, and it needs to be watched constantly.’ Parvati turned to Mike and me. ‘Padma is my twin,’ she explained. ‘She’s a … scientist … she works with Michael.’
‘An Unspeakably good one, just like Michael,’ said Dean.
Parvati glared at him.
‘RANDOM system?’ my husband asked. ‘Will it help us win the National Lottery?’
‘It’s a…computery thing,’ Parvati stopped. ‘Only Padma can explain it.’
‘Or Michael?’ my husband asked.
‘Yes, but don’t ask him, please,’ Parvati begged.
‘Not unless you really want a boring lecture on probability theory, predictions, and the randomness of human behaviour,’ said Dean. ‘There are only two other people in the room who have any idea what he’s talking about.’
I followed Dean’s gaze as he looked at Michael and Terry, who were still involved in an intense discussion. Terry’s wife had abandoned them, and was now talking to Luna and her boyfriend. Michael’s wife, too, had left them to it. She stood alone in the centre of the room, silently watching everyone. I remembered that Ginny had told me Terry was one of the cleverest people she knew.
Dean then looked towards the Longbottoms. Ron’s wife was with them, busily cooing over their baby daughter.
‘Terry Boot, and Professor Longbottom?’ I asked. Dean and Parvati both burst out laughing.
‘Neville?’ Dean chuckled. ‘No, Neville’s a plant man, a herb … alist. Hermione is the Arithma … the mathematical genius.’
‘The all-round genius,’ Parvati said. ‘She was top of the class, Hermione.’
As we continued to shuffle closer to the food, Parvati looked over to Trudi Corner. She strode over.
‘Problem, Parvati?’ she asked.
‘No, but I mentioned that Padma is busy helping Michael with the RANDOM system, Trudi,’ Parvati admitted.
The short-haired woman stared at us. I was struck by how physically fit she looked. She appeared to be bounding with energy.
‘It’s a computer system,’ Trudi told us. ‘Related Abstractions of Non-deterministic Distributions to an Ordered Mean … RANDOM. I don’t fully understand it. Michael is the mathematician, not me. It can be used to make predictions, or, at least, determine probabilities. We’re hoping, Harry is hoping, that it will help us.’
‘Clutching at straws,’ sneered Robert Saville. ‘Wasting taxpayers’ money.’
‘Using every resource available to us,’ said Trudi. ‘We’ve had some success with the RANDOM system in the past. It can see patterns and probabilities which even the cleverest of people can’t. Even if all it does is tell us where not to look, it will be useful. The system can certainly outthink an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ She glared at Bobby Saville. ‘I’m not sure that you can waste money if you’re trying to save lives. How much is a life worth?’
Trudi spoke mildly, but she had subtly changed her stance; she was a weapon, loaded and ready to fire. Robert Saville stared angrily at her, his face reddening.
‘Let’s all calm down, shall we?’ Mike suggested. ‘Hello, Bobby. I’m Mike Charlton, I dealt with your appeal to the Traffic Commissioners, remember?’
Trudi turned and left us, and Mike successfully diverted Bobby’s anti-government diatribe to a subject he knew well, the bureaucrats who monitored his business. We had almost reached the table when a voice called from the doorway.
‘Hello everyone, sorry we’re late. Come along, Mark, don’t dawdle.’
The woman who swanned into the room wasn’t very tall; her husband, however, was almost Ron’s height. Mark, I thought, where have I heard that name before? The woman’s curly brown hair tumbled over her shoulders and cascaded down her back as though she’d stepped from a pre-Raphaelite painting. She wore a knee-length pink lace dress and a “look at me, everyone” smile.
The man, Mark, was thin and angular and almost nondescript. He, however, seemed to be attracting the most attention, at least the bundle of pink frills he was carrying was.
‘Lavender, when did you get out of hospital? How are you?’ Parvati called, waving wildly.
Lavender tapped toward us on pink platform shoes, and Parvati’s shout finally brought forth a memory. The lacy pink creature who was now embracing Parvati as “her bestest friend in the world”, and petulantly ordering her husband to “let Parvati see little Violet, Marky, let her hold her,” was, in fact, Harry’s werewolf expert. I looked at her again. It seemed very unlikely to me, but, I reminded myself, Harry also employed a Goth named Polly, and Dennis Creevey, a little man who looked like he’d blow away in a strong breeze.
It was, however, impossible to dislike a baby. I gave in, and I, too, cooed over the tiny, pink-faced newborn. Amazingly, so did Mary. We left the queue, along with Parvati and her friend, giving instructions to our husbands to collect food for us, too. Mike and Bobby discussed business, and Parindra and the Thomases discussed kids, while they all filled plates from the laden tables.
Lavender, it turned out, was one of those mothers who seemed to be unable to understand that other people have had babies too. She insisted on telling us things we already knew, and was astonished that we’d had the same experiences with our own newborns. When Mark and Lavender Moon left us to greet the Potters, and the Longbottoms and their equally new baby, I found myself exchanging an exasperated glance with Mary.
Mike arrived with two plates, each filled with mountains of delicious home-cooked food.
‘The kids are all served, and they’re eating outside,’ Mike told me. As people began to eat, the room quietened down. Mike and I found a seat next to Dennis and Lesley Creevey. As we ate, my curiosity got the better of me.
‘Does that woman,’ I nodded towards the Potters, Longbottoms and Moons, ‘Lavender, really work for Harry?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ Dennis assured me. ‘She’ll be a miss. She will be away for at least nine months on maternity leave.’ He looked at my face and laughed. ‘Lavender is as tough as they come, and everyone always underestimates her,’ he said. ‘You really wouldn’t believe some of the things she’s done.’
I pressed Dennis, but he would not say any more. I watched the kids as they scampered in and out getting seconds, and dessert, and trampling mud in from outside.
We had eaten, and Mike had gone back for seconds, when there was one of those sudden lulls in the conversation, the loud buzz dropped to a low hum in which everyone could hear my son’s voice as he loudly asked a question.
‘What happened to your ear, Uncle George?’ Henry said. The silence in the room was suddenly absolute. I cringed, and, like everyone else, I stared at George Weasley, wondering how he’d react. Henry was with James and Daniel Barry, and the three boys were staring at George Weasley, who was sitting between his wife, and Fleur. I wondered whether there was a hole I could hide in.
George’s jaw dropped, his eyes widened, and his eyebrows shot up as he pantomimed surprise. ‘It hasn’t fallen off, has it?’ he asked. He cautiously raised his hand and tugged at his ear. ‘It’s still there,’ he said, wiping imaginary sweat from his forehead. ‘Are you trying to trick me, Henry?’
‘Not that ear,’ said Henry with all the exasperation he could muster. ‘I meant the other one.’
George handed his plate to his wife, slid off the bench, and hunkered down in front of my son. He stared into his eyes. The room remained silent, but George paid us no attention. He was concentrating on Henry and, like everyone else, I realised that I was now watching a performance.
‘You can’t fool me, Henry,’ said George, looking very serious. ‘This is the only ear I have.’ He tugged it again.
‘But why?’ Henry asked, unwilling to be put off. I blamed Mike; no matter how preposterous Mike’s answers, Henry had learned that, if he wanted an answer, he had to persevere.
‘Well,’ said George. ‘It’s a long story, and it starts the way all good stories start. Do you want to hear it?’
‘Yes, please,’ said Henry, nodding vigorously. I took a crumb of comfort from the fact that Henry had remembered to say please. Across the room, the other children were nodding and moving towards George. Ginny, however, was glaring at her brother; he caught her gaze and winked at her.
‘Once upon a time,’ George began, ‘I had two ears, just like you.’ He reached forwards and tugged first Henry’s right ear, and then his left. There was a tinkling noise, and a ten pence coin fell to the floor.
‘Wow!’ George cried. ‘You’ve got a magic ear, Henry, just like I had.’
‘What?’ asked Henry. ‘How’d you do that?’ He twisted around to follow the path of the coin as it rolled across the floor.
Daniel Barry was quickest; he stepped forwards and snatched the coin. ‘Mine,’ he announced triumphantly. I realised that Henry was about to argue. So did George. He peered into Henry’s ear.
‘It looks like there are a lot more coins there, Henry,’ George said, diverting him. ‘Hold your hand here.’ He guided Henry’s left hand up to just below his left ear and held it there with his right hand. With his left hand, George reached around behind Henry’s head. He took hold of Henry’s earlobe and tugged. A small coin fell into Henry’s hand.
‘Don’t move,’ George warned as Henry began to hop excitedly from foot to foot. Henry instantly stopped moving, I had never seen him stand so still. George continued; a tug, a coin, a tug, a coin, on and on until Henry’s little hand was full of coins. When George stopped, Henry carefully lowered his hand and examined the pile of coins. The entire room applauded.
‘Nice one, George,’ Ron called.
‘How’d you do that?’ Henry asked again.
‘I didn’t do anything, Henry,’ said George, once again peering into Henry’s ear. ‘You have an ear that’s completely full of money, just like I had. There is still a lot more in there!’ He looked around the room, caught my eye, and grinned wickedly. I realised what was coming next.
‘Would you like to get some more?’ asked George.
‘Yes, please,’ said Henry.
‘Well, there’s an easy way to get it all out,’ George said. ‘Does anyone have a knife?’
‘No!’ Henry shouted, covering his ear with his empty hand.
‘No?’ asked George. ‘Are you sure, Henry?’
Henry nodded, an awkward thing to do while clasping one hand to his ear while trying not to drop any of the coins in the other.
‘You’re probably wise,’ said George seriously. ‘If you chop it off, you will only get curious little boys asking you what happened to it, and…’ George looked down and I, along with everyone else noticed a black lace hanging from Henry’s pocket. George tugged at the lace, and pulled out a small leather drawstring bag.
‘That’s useful,’ said George. ‘You can keep your money in this bag. Do you always keep a money bag in your pocket, Henry? Is it to keep all the money when it falls out of your ear?’
Henry looked at the bag, and at the collection of coins in his hand.
‘Not my bag. You’re doing magic,’ said Henry wisely.
‘Actually, Henry, what I’m doing is called prestidigitation,’ said George, ‘which is a much more impressive word. Can you say it?’
‘It,’ said Henry promptly, thanks to Mike’s constant teasing. George roared with laughter.
‘Well done, Henry, and thank you,’ said George. He helped Henry to place the coins into the bag, stood and took a bow, receiving his well-deserved round of applause with a flourish. I began moving towards my son before the applause died down.
‘George Weasley, card tricks, conjuring and confusion, a speciality,’ he called. ‘Thank you, and now… I’ve always wanted to try one of the bigger tricks. Ladies, step forwards if you’re prepared to let me saw you in half.’ He turned to face me. ‘Jacqui!’
I stopped midstride, but it was too late. ‘No!’ I said, holding my hands up in horror.
He smiled. ‘Gotcha,’ he said. I joined in the laughter.
George walked across and hugged me. ‘Serves you right,’ he said. ‘I haven’t forgotten that crack you made about Charlie and Angelina the other week.’
‘I can’t let Henry keep your money,’ I said.
‘Of course you can,’ he said, ‘I don’t want it back.’ He put his hands on my shoulders and stared into my eyes. ‘James set him up, I know that, but he called me Uncle George, and I liked that, too. It’s nice to be a crazy uncle. So Henry can keep the money, and the money bag. And, because I still haven’t answered his question and I know he’ll ask you later… When I was young and stupid I thought that I’d live forever. I volunteered for a dangerous job. I ended up in a fight, and that’s when I lost my ear.’
His eyes blazed, and suddenly I was looking at a different person. ‘I’d do it again,’ he said with an almost insane passion. ‘In fact, I’d give my other ear, and a limb or two, if I could change just one part of the past.’ He grinned manically, and my worry must have shown on my face.
‘Sorry, Jacqui,’ he apologised. ‘I’m not often like that, not any more, but … well… It’s at times like this that I miss … Never mind.’ He gave me an apologetic look. ‘I’m off to play with the other kids. That always cheers me up.’ He turned on his heels and left me pondering what on earth he was talking about.