I was concerned and a little confused by George's final outburst, but as I had no idea what to say to him, I simply let him leave. As I watched him walk outside into the garden, I studied the slump of his shoulders. It seemed obvious that he was haunted by some past event, and it appeared to be associated with the loss of his ear. I wondered whether, despite George's jokes and tricks, Henry's question had been the trigger.
Mike was at my side the moment George left. 'Are you okay, Jacques?' my husband asked me. 'For a moment there I thought that he was going to burst into tears, or explode.'
'Something's bothering him,' I said. 'But I've no idea what it is, not really.'
Still worried about him, I peered out through the open door. George's demeanour had changed again. He was back to normal, at least, as normal as any of the Potters' friends and family were. He'd sat down at a large picnic table on the patio and pulled out a pack of cards. The moment he did so, he was surrounded by laughing and shouting children. George the entertainer was back, and the kids were avidly watching his flamboyant card-shuffling.
'He said that playing with kids cheered him up,' I told Mike. 'He looks okay, now.'
'Yeah,' Mike agreed. 'He's really good at magic, isn't he?'
'Yes,' I said. 'Although I wouldn't want him to try to saw me in half,'
'Neither would I,' Mike told me.
'I hope he'll be okay,' I said, peering out into the garden.
'Don't worry about my George. I don't,' said Angelina as she appeared behind us. 'He gets a little depressed sometimes, but the bad days aren't frequent, and the moments pass quickly. He'll be okay.'
Mike, Angelina and I stood in the doorway and watched as Harry, Ginny, and George began to organise the children. George was giving each of the children a card. They were, at least in theory, being randomly sorted into teams based on the card. As I watched, I saw that James and Henry were each brandishing an ace, signifying that they had been placed in the same team. I suspected that their pairing was not by chance; after all it seemed to me that George could easily fix the cards, and therefore the teams.
The Potters had prepared several games in the woods and while George dealt out the cards, Harry and Ginny explained their plans to the kids. They paid particular attention to James and Henry's classmates.
As I watched the cluster of kids, I realised that Victoire wasn't with the other children, and neither were Phoebe Berry or Helen Saville. The three girls were a little older than the other children, but only by a couple of years. I turned my head, and saw that all three were still in the living room. They were standing in a huddle, gossiping. They had obviously decided that they were too mature to join in with outdoor games. As I watched then, Bill strolled over and spoke to his daughter. He appeared to be attempting to persuade Victoire to join the younger kids. She lifted her nose in the air, and shook her head with the determination of someone preparing to have a tantrum if she didn't get her own way. Bill left the girls, and I returned my gaze to the younger kids.
Once the kids had been split into teams, Harry, Ginny and George handed control over to Molly. I listened as she carefully explained that there were coloured ribbons hanging on trees throughout the woods. The teams were being asked to find ribbons of a specific colour, and there was a prize, a box of chocolates, for the winning team. Molly was being assisted by her husband, Hermione's parents, and the mysterious Andromeda. I was surprised how remarkably relaxed Andromeda was around the children.
'You're very well organised,' I said to Angelina.
'Do you think so?' she asked. 'I'll let you into a secret, Jacqui, it's all an illusion. We're like swans on a lake. It looks like we're gliding along serenely, but underwater, where you can't see, there's a lot of frantic paddling going on.'
I laughed. Everything certainly seemed to be going smoothly, although Dominique, her hands thrust deep into the pockets of her dungarees, was eyeing James's school friends suspiciously. The Weasley children were clustered together and were chattering happily amongst themselves. The dark and freckled Fred was laughing with slender and fair Louis. Roxanne was explaining something to Lily and Hugo.
'Your two seem to get along really well with their cousins. Do you meet up often?' I asked.
'All the time,' said Angelina. 'Once a fortnight, Molly invites everyone around for Sunday lunch. Charlie isn't often there, of course, and he spoils all of the kids rotten when he does turn up. Charlie will be out there somewhere, right now, keeping an eye on them all. But Molly and Arthur see most of us, and we see each other, every couple of weeks. I really don't know how Molly does it, especially now that she has a dozen grandchildren as well as her children and in-laws. But she's always had a lot of kids around her. Two are enough for me, I've no idea how she managed to cope with seven.'
'Seven?' I asked, surprised. I'd thought I had Ginny's family sorted. She had five older brothers; Bill, Charlie, Percy, George, and Ron.
Angelina gave me a look I couldn't make out, it seemed to be halfway between regret and annoyance. She realised that she'd given something away, but the sharpness of her glance told me "you're prying into things which don't concern you".
'George was a twin, his brother … died,' said Angelina shortly. Her expression made it clear that she was not going to say more. It seemed that the wound was still raw, even for her. I said nothing, I had dozens of questions, but it was obvious that they would not be welcomed. Instead, I again looked outside, trying to find my own children.
Annie was obviously enjoying herself with Rose and Al, and James and Henry were surrounded by a huddle of classmates and cousins, and Molly was talking earnestly to them. Whatever she was saying, it was holding their attention, and I was happy to leave them to get on with it.
'She is wonderful with the little ones, isn't she?' I said to Angelina, nodding towards her mother-in-law and returning to a safer subject. She smiled. Partly, I thought, in thanks for the fact that I hadn't pressed her about George's twin.
'Yes. I don't know what we'd do without her,' she said. 'A grandmother who is prepared to look after her grandchildren while we're all at work is priceless.'
'She doesn't look after all of them, does she?' I asked, astonished.
'No, only half of them, and even then she doesn't have them all at the same time,' said Angelina. 'I think that twelve might be too many, even for Molly. Most days she has four of them. She has Rose and Hugo four days a week, Fred and Roxy for three days, and Molly and Lucy for two.' Angelina leaned towards me conspiratorially and whispered, 'To be honest, I think that Molly was a little upset when Fleur decided to give up work and look after her three. Then Ginny went and did the same thing.'
'Harry and Ginny live a long way from the rest of you now,' I said, surprised. 'And they used to live in London, so there's no way Ginny could drop off the kids in Devon, is there? The rest of you must all live very close to each other to be able to use Molly as a babysitter.'
'Yes, we must, mustn't we?' said Angelina. For some reason she looked a little panicked by my observation. 'Excuse me, I need to check something with the family,' she added, and she went off to talk to Audrey, Percy, Ron, and Hermione. Almost as soon as she started talking they all looked across at me, it was obvious that I was the topic of their conversation.
'She's a bit intense, isn't she?' said Mike.
'Is she?' I said. 'I think this party has been a bit of a strain on them all. Ginny organised it very quickly. She has dragged her family all the way up north for two weekends in a row.' As I spoke I was struck by a sudden worry. 'Oh, no! I'll bet that she was simply going to have a quiet family housewarming party last weekend, and that's all. I hope that she didn't organise this simply because of your flippant suggestion at the barbecue, Mike. I hope that they aren't blaming us for forcing them to have a party.'
'That's silly, Jacqui,' Mike assured me. 'I've only known Ginny a few weeks, and so have you. But do you really think that we could pressure her into doing something she didn't want to do?' He put his arm around my shoulder, and hugged me.
'I suppose you're right,' I said fretfully. Then I thought seriously about it. 'No, I know you're right,' I admitted, slipping my arm around his waist. He kissed the side of my head, and then began to chuckle.
'Talking about people who do exactly what they want…' Mike said. He gently pulled me around so that I was facing into the room and he nodded across to the opposite wall. Luna and her very young man were talking to Mary and Robert Saville. They had the Savilles backed against the wall, and both Luna and Rolf were waving their arms as they spoke. Mary looked absolutely terrified. Robert was merely bewildered.
'Do you think we should go and help?' I asked Mike.
'Don't bother,' a male voice said from over my shoulder. 'Take it from me, Luna doesn't need any help.'
Mike burst out laughing, and I turned to face Ron and Hermione.
'Are you enjoying yourselves?' Hermione asked.
'Yes, thanks,' I said. 'Are you?'
'We always do,' said Ron. 'Especially at parties like this, where we can offload the little monsters on Mum and Dad, and talk to grown-ups.'
'Ron!' scolded Hermione.
'Grown-ups? Speak for yourself,' said Mike.
Ron chuckled. 'Yeah, when the kids aren't around, we don't have to act all sensible and mature, do we?' he asked. My husband grinned, and squeezed my bottom.
'Mike,' I hissed, mortified. He simply laughed.
'You never act "all sensible and mature", Ron,' said Hermione. 'But it iis/i nice, and relaxing, to know that the grandparents are looking after them.'
'And Mrs Tonks, whoever she is,' I added.
Hermione smiled. 'Andromeda Tonks is our adopted Aunt,' she said. 'Adopted by Harry first, and then Ginny, and the rest of the Weasleys. Over the years she's become part of the family. She lost her husband eleven years ago, and her daughter and son-in-law only a few weeks later. Andromeda was left to bring up her grandson, Teddy, alone.'
'Poor woman,' I said, reassessing my opinion of her in light of this information. Perhaps her brusqueness was her shield.
'Yes,' Hermione agreed. 'Teddy was only a few months old when his parents … died, and Harry is Teddy's godfather. He's done his best to help her.'
'Teddy?' I asked, looking out into the garden. The kids, however, had scattered into the trees and there was no one in sight. 'Is he here?'
'No, and he's very unhappy because he isn't,' Hermione told me. 'He's never been here, and now everyone else in his adopted family has. Teddy is eleven, and he went off to boarding school in September. Andromeda won't admit it, but she misses him.'
Mike had been silent, pondering everything he'd heard.
'You seem to have had a rough time, all of you,' he said sympathetically. 'Harry's parents were killed when he was little. Mrs Tonks's family were killed, and George's twin died, too! That's a lot of deaths. And then there's Harry's scars, and George's ear, and your brother Bill, and at the pool I noticed some strange scars on your arms, Ron. It's … ow ... bloody hell, Jacqui.'
My, 'Sorry,' was addressed to more Ron and Hermione than to Mike. They had looked more and more concerned as my oafish husband listed all of the misfortunes which had befallen Harry and Ginny's family.
The, 'Mike,' that followed immediately after my apology was said between clenched teeth as I glared at him.
'Did I accidentally dig my heel into your foot?' I added. He had the good grace to look embarrassed. Sometimes, when he's nervous, he lets his mouth run away.
'Yeah, well, we had a rough few years, but that's all in the past,' said Ron firmly.
'I'm so sorry.' I began again.
'Don't be,' Hermione assured me, putting on a brave face. 'That was years ago, these days, things are okay.'
'Only okay?' asked Ron. He grinned at me, and threw an arm around his wife. 'I thought this was our "happily ever after", Hermione. Aren't you happy? What can I do to make you happy?'
Hermione rolled her eyes despairingly, but she still hugged him, and gave me a contented smile.
'I hope you're paying attention, Mike,' I said, I put my hands on my hips and gave him a mock glare. 'Why aren't you trying to make me happy?'
'Because you are happy, Jacqui,' he told me. 'You're happier than you've been for ages. You love the bustle and the chatter, and you like watching the kids enjoy themselves. And here's Henry back.'
We all looked out of the door and watched as Henry handed a ribbon to Andromeda Tonks, turned, and ran back into the forest.
That was when it happened. There was a loud shriek from behind us. The comforting background murmur of dozens of conversations halted instantly, and everyone turned and stared at the source of the noise. Phoebe Berry was crying. It was obvious why, she was covered in trifle. It looked like someone had upended the unfinished bowl of trifle over her head. The obvious culprit was Victoire, who was looking worriedly at her parents. But it was impossible, because Victoire was standing next to the window, and the trifle had been several yards away at the other end of the table.
Harry, Ginny, Bill, Fleur, Mary and Amanda dashed across, and tried to make sense of the arguments and counter arguments the three girls were making. Victoire claimed that Phoebe had called her names, Phoebe claimed that Victoire had called iher/i names, and that someone had thrown the trifle at her. Interestingly, Phoebe didn't blame Victoire. Helen Saville, who had been standing with the other two girls, claimed that the trifle had flown off the table all by itself.
One result of the commotion was that the Savilles managed to escape from Luna and Rolf. Mary strode over and gave her daughter a stern talking to, telling her not to make up silly stories. Unfortunately she only succeeded in making Helen cry. Harry, in an attempt to calm things down, led all three Savilles downstairs into the kitchen.
To my surprise Fleur followed Harry, but she soon returned. Fleur was carrying what looked like the magenta cloth I'd seen the day I'd first met Ginny, or something very like it. It seemed to soak up the mess from the floor with remarkable ease.
While all this was going on, Ginny took both Phoebe and her mother upstairs to clean up. Victoire, too, was led away. She was taken outside by Bill and it seemed to me that, rather like the Savilles, he was a lot more angry with his daughter than was appropriate. After all, Victoire couldn't have thrown it.
The mess was cleaned up quickly, but the peculiar incident was the talking point for some time. Ron and Hermione tried to simply dismiss it as "one of those things", but exactly how the trifle and Phoebe had managed to meet without anyone being responsible was a mystery. I watched Bill return without Victoire. She had "decided to help Uncle Charlie organise the little kids." At least, that's what he told Fleur.
Despite much questioning, no one admitted to throwing the trifle and when someone flippantly suggested a ghost, Luna disagreed. Luna believed in ghosts—something which didn't surprise anyone in the room—but she "knew" that they were incapable of picking things up. Of course, being Luna, she had an alternative theory. It was her opinion that the incident had happened simply because the girls were not being very nice to each other. Luna was firmly of the belief that, if people were nice, things like that wouldn't happen. Something I could agree with. But then she blamed a poltergeist; a creature which, she claimed, was spontaneously created whenever children argued. That was when she lost me, and everyone else.
'I've said it before, and I'll say it again,' Ron whispered to me as the excitement finally began to die down. 'Luna is bonkers, but in a really great way.'
'She's certainly got a very active imagination,' I said.
As things returned to normal, Hermione again began questioning us about schools and schooling. It was quite some time before she finally ran out of questions, but by then we'd been joined by Percy and Audrey. Percy, who it seemed to me had a tendency to pontificate, wanted to discuss some Ministry contract with Ron, so Mike and I made our excuses, and began to move around the room.
We spoke to several of the parents of Henry's classmates and finally managed to identify the parents of Jo and Catriona, the two five-year-old girls who shared a table with Henry and James. While we were talking to them, Ginny, Amanda and Phoebe returned. So did Harry, but he was alone. There was no sign of the Savilles.
Harry had a quick word with Ginny, Amanda, and Phoebe, and then strode over to join us.
'What's happened to the Savilles?' Jo's mum asked Harry.
'They said that they had to leave,' Harry told her. To me, his shrug appeared to say "but I didn't believe them". He looked candidly into Jo's mum's eyes. 'They had another appointment, apparently. I tried to persuade them to stay, but young Helen Saville wasn't happy. Helen is a little older than the other kids, apart from Phoebe and Victoire, and she has decided that this place is haunted. I couldn't persuade her to stay, but I think—I hope—that I've persuaded her parents to let it rest.'
I was about to ask Harry what he thought had happened during the trifle incident, but the pink and fragrant Lavender arrived. Her eyes were full of fire and the tottering and feminine flounce she'd used when she'd arrived had turned into a prowling lope. She looked more like a wild beast than a pampered princess.
'Trudi has just told me, Harry,' began Lavender angrily. 'It's inhuman. I don't care about the bloody case, you can't leave a body…'
'Not here, Lavender,' Harry told her sharply. 'Come with me, we can discuss this in private.' He gave us an apologetic glance as he led the fuming Lavender away from us, and back down the stairs to the kitchen.
The moment Harry left Amanda Berry and her daughter joined us. She greeted us like long-lost friends and began singing Ginny's praises.
'Ginny is a miracle-worker,' she told us. Her opinion was based on the fact that Ginny had somehow managed to clean and dry Phoebe's party dress while Amanda had been helping Phoebe to clean up. Amanda was bursting to tell us something, that was obvious.
'The master bedroom is really magnificent. Ginny let Phoebe and I use the en suite to tidy up,' Amanda told us, in a confidential tone. 'Have you seen it, Jacqui?' she asked, almost gloatingly. Her smile told me that she was certain that I had not and that, finally, she knew something about the Potters that I didn't. I politely acknowledged the fact.
'They have a huge four-poster bed, with curtains and everything,' said Amanda gleefully. Mike took my hand and gave it a calming squeeze. 'There are lots of photographs on the walls too. There's one of a huge castle, and one of Harry's parents, too. He looks a lot like his dad. The en suite is massive. The bath is easily big enough for two, isn't it Pheobe?'
'Yes, Mummy,' Phoebe confirmed.
We listened to Amanda for some time, as she continued to compliment Ginny, and to politely tell me about the décor, and photographs. She did not really have a lot to say, but she certainly made the most of the fact that she'd seen a part of the house which I had not. While she was speaking, I saw Lavender return, but there was no sign of Harry. It was some time before Amanda finally ran out of things to tell us. When she did I made my excuses, and dragged Mike across the room to join another little group.
George and Angelina, and Lavender Moon and her husband, were talking to Dennis and Lesley Creevey. Angelina was terrifying poor Lesley with tales of the birth of her eldest, Fred, which had involved cutting and pulling. At the same time George was winding Dennis up with graphic descriptions of blood and gore. Lavender, meanwhile, was piling on the misery by talking about her own, recent, birthing problems. It seemed that a long healed scar had been causing her problems, and at a little over eight months, it began to split. Little Violet, I discovered, had arrived prematurely via an emergency Caesarean section. Mark Moon, who was still carrying Violet, did little more than look anxious and nod in agreement. As I listened, I could see how worried Lesley was becoming.
'I had no problems, at all, Lesley,' I said, trying to be a calming influence. 'Most births are straightforward, you know. I didn't even see a doctor. We opted for a home birth, and hired a birthing pool.'
'So did Hermione,' said Angelina.
'We talked about a home birth,' said Lesley. Dennis nodded in agreement. 'But the midwife persuaded us to go to hospital, because it will be my first,' she told me.
'My midwife was a bit concerned when I insisted on a home birth for Henry, for the same reason,' I said. 'First child and all that, but I put up a fight. She gave in because we were living in town at the time, so it was only a short ride from the RVI—the Royal Victoria Infirmary,' I explained when she looked puzzled. 'Our midwife admitted that there is no real risk in a home birth.''
'No risk at all?' asked Dennis worriedly, and I realised that although Lesley was keen on a home birth, he was not.
'Well, sometimes there are problems,' I told him. 'But I did the research,' I turned to his wife, 'so long as you're getting your check-ups, and provided that you're fit and healthy, which it seems to me you are, Lesley, you aren't likely to have any problems.'
'We're only fifteen minutes from Queen Charlotte's, Dennis,' said Lesley.
I glanced at Mike and, for once, he realised what I wanted him to say.
'I was like you, Dennis,' Mike admitted. 'I was worried about the idea of a home birth, but it was great.' He was grinning like a lunatic at the memories. 'It's so much less clinical. And the midwife made me feel useful. I reckon that if we'd been in the hospital I'd have been standing around like a spare prick at a wedding. Instead, I filled the pool, helped Jacqui, and did whatever the midwife asked me to do. Jacqui did all of the hard work of course, as usual.' He grinned and hugged me. 'She swore like a trooper, too. Very creative, she was. It was great. We never saw the inside of a hospital.'
'Everything went okay?' Dennis asked.
'Henry took his time,' I admitted. 'And it wasn't exactly pain free, but the midwife will bring a canister of Entonox with her. It can't have been bad, because we did it the second time, too. I was in and out of the pool several times with Henry, but then, you really don't know what to expect when it's your first. Annie was very quick. Out almost before we knew it.'
'She was born with hair the colour of Harry's,' said Mike wistfully. 'It was very long, too. Within two days it all fell out and she was as bald as a coot for weeks, poor little thing. When it grew back, she was a blonde.'
'So, don't listen to George,' I said.
'Spoilsport,' said George. He and the others had been listening in silence to my description. 'A man's got to be allowed to wind up his friends, you know.'
'But not tae the point you're worrying the Mum-to-be,' said Lavender's husband forcefully. He pulled her in close to him. 'I'm bloody glad we got to St Mungo's in time, and the hospital is always an option if there's a problem.'
'My lovely Emmsy,' Lavender simpered, throwing her arms around his waist and batting her eyelashes at him.
George pretended to vomit, Angelina merely rolled her eyes. Mark and Lavender ignored them.
'Yes, but…' George began. He got no further, because the kids returned.
As I looked out through the still open door, I realised that it was dusk. I checked my watch, and discovered that it was a little after seven in the evening, almost Annie's bedtime. The hours had flown over!
The children all streamed back inside, chattering happily and all proudly clutching bags of sweets. Several of them looked a little untidy, and most of them tracked mud into room, but Harry and Ginny didn't appear to be bothered.
Like everyone else in the place, Mike and I found ourselves listening to our children as they described their adventures in the woods. They had played several games, including what—given the number of kids involved—must have been a completely chaotic game of musical bumps.
Henry had collared me, and he would not shut up. He was gabbling away, nineteen-to-the dozen, and I could barely follow what he was telling me. "Him'n'James" had got lost, they had been on a great adventure, they had got lots of sweeties, and they had climbed a tree. I could not get a word in edgeways.
Annie, meanwhile, was treating Mike to a similar outpouring of excitement. And she was even less intelligible than her brother.
Ron Weasley rapped loudly on one of the tables. He was obviously preparing to make an announcement, and everyone fell silent and turned to face him.
'Just in case anyone doesn't know, I'm Ron Weasley, the best looking of Ginny's brothers…'
His brothers and their wives noisily disagreed.
'And I've known Harry for years. On behalf of everyone, I'd just like to say thanks to Harry and Ginny for inviting us here today.'
Everyone began to clap, but he motioned us into silence.
'I'd also like to wish them a happy and prosperous future in their new home, here in the far north. And I think that it's about time that we toasted them. There's champagne for the grown-ups, and juice for the kids, please, help yourselves to a glass.' Ron motioned to the stairs to the kitchen, where the Corners, the Creeveys, Victoire, Phoebe Berry, and Luna and her boyfriend stood with trays laden with drinks.
There was a good natured scramble towards the drinks, and soon, everyone was holding a glass. Hermione was ushering Harry, Ginny, and their children across the room towards Ron.
'To the Potters, may all your days be happy ones,' said Ron.
'The Potters,' we all chorused.
'Thanks, Ron,' Harry began. Ginny stepped alongside him and took his hand.
'Yes, thanks Ron, and thank you all for coming,' Ginny said. 'We hope that you've enjoyed yourselves, especially the children. Have you?'
The kids began to cheer, and we all joined in. Unfortunately, the noise disturbed both Violet Moon and Florence Longbottom, and the two babies began to howl unhappily. Their parents took the babies out, heading down to the kitchen.
'I'm glad to hear it,' said Harry. 'As we've just been noisily reminded, there are some very small children here. Some of you, I know, will be anxious to leave. However, Ron has just told me that he and George have brought some fireworks along with them. So we'll be rounding the evening off with a firework display.'
'Yay! Weasleys' Wildfire Whiz-bangs,' James shouted. 'Bestest inna world.' He was jumping with excitement.
James wasn't wrong. The display was louder and more colourful than anything I'd ever seen before, better, even, than the professional display I'd seen at the Millennium. Ron and George were treated to an ovation when they finally returned from the woods.
After the fireworks, the party seemed to have naturally reached its end. The kids, especially the littlest ones, like Lily and Annie, were flagging. The Moons and the Longbottoms had left before the fireworks, and several other families were preparing to leave. I tried to persuade Ginny to let me help tidy up, but she was adamant that she could manage.
'Harry will help, once he's got the kids to bed,' she said, 'And so will the family. It's a party, Jacqui, you don't tidy up after someone else's party.'
'But you help your friends,' Mike told her. 'I'm capable of wielding a tea towel, too.'
'Not with Annie asleep in your arms,' she told him. 'But thanks for the offer, and thanks for making us welcome.' She hugged Mike, hugged me and strolled outside to wave off some of the departing guests.
Dennis Creevey was standing in the darkness by his car chatting to several dads about it. His wife loomed out of the darkness, politely thanked Ginny, and then hugged me.
'Thank you Jacqui,' she whispered. 'Thanks for what you said. You've no idea how wonderful it is to have a normal conversation.'
With that, she waddled over to her husband, and clambered cumbersomely into the little sports car. They waved cheerfully, and Dennis roared off into the night.
'What a nice couple,' I said.
'It's time we left, too, Jacqui,' Mike told me. He nodded towards Henry, whose eyes were heavy. Annie was already asleep in his arms.