'Henry,' As I drove home, I glanced in the mirror to make certain that he was paying attention, 'Those bullets Granddad gave you—how many did you take to school?'

'Dust one, for James,' he told me. 'Cos James is my friend, an' it's good to share, you said!'

It was true, I was always telling him that it was good to share, but that was when he was refusing to let his sister play with his toys.

'When did you give it to him?'

'At first break. An' Miss din't see me do it,' he added proudly, showing a level of foresight and cunning that rather alarmed me.

'Why didn't you want Miss to see you do it?' I asked the question simply to see if my suspicions were correct.

'If she'd a saw it, she'd a constipated it!'

Despite my annoyance, I came close to laughing. 'I think you mean confiscated, Henry.'

'Confiscated, okay,' he said thoughtfully. 'So what's constipated then?'

'You'd better ask your dad,' I told him, not wanting to get involved in that conversation. 'He's the expert on big words.'

I should have scolded him, told him that giving a bullet casing to his friend was not a good idea, but I didn't. There was a lot to do at home and a telling off would likely result in a tearful journey home. I said nothing to Henry; instead I resolved to have words with my dad, and Mike.

When we got back to the house, I plonked the kids in front of the telly, turned it onto CBeebies, and left them to it. As I busied myself preparing Lintzgarth to receive visitors, I wondered why I'd allowed Ginny to change my plans. I had planned on spending the whole of Tuesday getting the house ready for her visit. Instead, I had only hours.

Fortunately, Henry and Annie were happy enough. I managed to get most of the essential work done without interruption, and at no greater cost than finding myself constantly singing "What's the story in Balamory, wouldn't you like to know?"

When Mike got home the damned song was still rattling around in my head, but that was a small price to pay because the house—apart from the kitchen—was clean and tidy. After he'd fussed over the kids and given me a quick kiss of greeting, we had a whispered conversation about bullets and constipation. He was still laughing when he went upstairs to change out of his work suit. The kids were sitting up at the table and I'd started serving the spaghetti Bolognaise when he returned.

'I thought you were going to invite Ginny up here on Wednesday, not tomorrow,' he said as he sprinkled parmesan over the top of his Bolognese.

'What makes you think plans have changed?' I demanded.

He laughed. 'It's obvious from the smells, Jacqui.' He sniffed, and shook his head. 'The Bolognese has smothered it in here, but the rest of the house smells of bleach, polish, and air freshener. You've blitzed the place again, which is your prerogative, of course.' He could see me bristling, so held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. 'I expect that you'll be collecting them from Drakeshaugh. D'you want to borrow the big car?'

I considered his offer. The Freelander wasn't a car I liked to drive, as I always worried about parking. It was so big, and I was never sure where the back end was. My Micra was much more manoeuvrable, and a lot more fun to drive. However, it was a sensible suggestion as the Freelander was a lot more spacious. After a moment's hesitation, I agreed.

It took some time for me to remove the Bolognese sauce from Annie. The stuff on her face was due to her enthusiastic eating technique, and spaghetti. I should have cooked penne instead. She couldn't explain how there was some sauce the back of her neck. It was simply another of life's little mysteries.

When we finally managed to get the kids to bed, I went straight into our fourth bedroom—the one we call the computer room—and started to look for a present for James. It didn't take me long to find something, but delivery was going to be a problem. Tiptoeing downstairs so as not to wake the kids, I startled Mike when I entered the kitchen. He'd loaded the dishwasher and set it going, and was busy wiping down the table.

'Thanks,' I said.

He heard the surprise in my voice and grinned. 'I live to serve,' he told me, a twinkle in his eye. 'Found anything?'

'Lego fire engine, twelve quid, is that too much?' I asked anxiously.

He shook his head. 'It'll be fine Jacqui. Do Peters' have it in stock?'

I shrugged. 'I've no idea; their website is terrible, so I gave up. The Catalogue Store has it. Could you collect it tomorrow?' I asked.

'There isn't a Catalogue Store in Morpeth,' he reminded me.

'I know; that's why I'm here. I'm still online: Ashington, Blyth, or Cramlington, I have to select a store option for collection. Which one? It's up to you.'

'Ashington's easiest,' he began. He opened his mouth, shook his head, and gave me one of his dopey looks. 'No it isn't!' he exclaimed. 'I'm visiting one of the solicitors' offices in Cramlington tomorrow. I've a conveyancing meeting at one o'clock, so I'll be in the mall anyway. I can pick it up there, no problem.'

'Thanks,' I said.

Dashing back upstairs, I placed the order and printed it out.

After giving Mike his instructions, and threatening him with dire consequences should he forget to collect James' birthday gift, I got to work preparing lunch for the following day and thoroughly cleaning the kitchen. Mike retired to the lounge and kept out of my way.

I had settled Henry into his classroom and was on my way back to the Freelander when I saw Harry and James. Annie, who was very much better than I'd dared hope, was toddling slowly along at my side. She saw them too.

'Dames!' Annie announced, waving. She still sounded a little bunged up, but she was almost back to normal. 'Eh, oh, Dames.'

'Hi, Annie,' said James. 'Hello, Henry's Mum.'

'Hello, Annie; hello, Jacqui,' said Harry politely.

The smile on his mouth didn't extend to his eyes. It was the smile of a person who has nothing to be happy about. There was no doubt that Harry was on edge; I was certain that the case was still getting him down. Although I wanted to ask him, I didn't. It didn't seem to be the right moment, and besides, I knew that I'd be able to ask Ginny.

Although I said no more than, 'Hello,' I tried to show him some sympathy in my expression. It must have worked because, for an instant, a true smile flashed across his face.

'I hope you have a good day,' he said. 'Ginny's expecting you.'

'Analanlily,' Annie suggested hopefully.

'Yes, Annie, Al and Lily are expecting you.' Reaching down, he ruffled my daughter's hair and smiled down at her.

'I hope you have a good day, too, Harry,' I said.

He shrugged helplessly. 'I'll try,' he replied. Turning away, he continued towards the school, James at his side.

Turning Mike's car around was a little difficult for me, but I managed to do it without hitting anything and mere minutes later I was pulling into the gravel yard of Drakeshaugh. The Potters must have heard me approach, because they were waiting for me at the door. Ginny had the kids' car seats at her side. She didn't wave hello, but that was because she had Al in one hand and Lily in the other, ensuring that they didn't dash into my path.

It took us some time to fix the seats into the car, partly because we were chatting about Annie's cold—and how quickly it had cleared up—but mostly because neither of us had any idea what we were doing. We eventually got the seats and the kids safely fastened in, and we set off for Lintzgarth. As I drove up the valley, I worried that I'd forgotten to tidy the kitchen. Had I put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher?

Ginny looked across and saw my expression. 'Everything okay, Jacqui?' she asked.

'Harry seemed a little down when I saw him at school,' I said, feeling slightly guilty about using him as an excuse for the concern she'd seen on my face.

'It's the case,' said Ginny. 'He's frustrated. They're having no luck getting Frances' memory back, and they're certain she's got vital information.'

'I always thought that amnesia was simply a cheap trick used by crime novelists,' I said. 'Something used to tantalise the readers. But she really had forgotten, hadn't she? You could see it in her eyes.'

'Harry's been involved in memory loss cases a few times,' said Ginny. 'In one case a man's memories were altered to the point where he confessed to a crime he hadn't committed.' She paused thoughtfully. 'And Harry eventually solved that one, so there's no reason why he shouldn't figure this one out, eventually.'

I was fascinated by the scenario she'd described. I was about to ask her about it, but before I could speak, a female voice rang out from Ginny's bag. 'Ginny... Ginny... Ginny...' The voice repeated itself like an echo, and it seemed vaguely familiar to me. While I was trying to place it, Ginny scrabbled through her handbag and pulled out a phone just like Harry's. As I wondered about the weird ringtone, Ginny spoke.

'Hello, Lavender,' she said.

Lavender Moon! Harry's werewolf expert, the woman in the lacy pink dress who'd arrived late to the Potter's housewarming party. That was why I recognised the voice!

'Where are you? We've just App...'

'I'm in Jacqui's car, the kids and I are spending the day with her, at her place.'

'Ah, we've just arrived at Drakeshaugh.'

'We?' Ginny sounded surprised. She was staring down into the phone and it seemed to me that she was actually looking at Lavender.

'I've brought Parvati and Padma with me,' the woman said. 'We wanted to talk to you, well Padma did,' Lavender paused. 'It's about Michael.' The name was accompanied by an "of course it is" sigh. 'It's complicated and... is Jacqui listening?' she asked suspiciously.

'Yes,' I said sharply, unhappy about the tone of Lavender's voice. 'Ginny's sitting right next to me and her phone seems to be on speaker mode. It's impossible for me not to hear everything you say.' Realising that I was beginning to sound a little bitchy, I bit my tongue. There was something about the woman that annoyed me enough to make me snappy; I tried to work out what it was.

'Could you call back later this afternoon?' Ginny suggested.

Lintzgarth and Drakeshaugh are relatively close to each other, little more than a mile. But they're a long way from any large town. We're about half-an-hour from Alnwick and almost an hour from Newcastle, and I was certain that none of Ginny's visitors lived even as close as Newcastle. For a moment I wondered what time they'd set off to visit, and why they hadn't phoned first. It didn't matter, they were at Drakeshaugh; I did the only thing I could.

'They must've travelled a long way just to discover that you're not in, Ginny,' I reminded my friend. 'I suppose they thought you'd be at home with the kids. It must be urgent.' I turned onto our driveway. 'They can come here.' I raised my voice to ensure that I'd be heard. 'If you want to drive a mile further up the valley, and keep left where the road forks—I think it's signed Blindburn—we're at Lintzgarth. It's the first house on the right after the fork; the name's carved above the front door, you can't miss it.'

'There's no need, Jacqui,' Ginny protested.

'It is rather urgent, Ginny,' Lavender said.

'They must've been driving for at least an hour to get here; you can't simply send them away,' I reminded Ginny as I pulled on the handbrake. 'I'll go and put the kettle on.'

'Polly put a kettle on, all have tea,' Annie sang.

I laughed. 'Quite right,' I said.

'Okay,' said Ginny, rather reluctantly. 'See you in ten minutes, Lavender.'

'What was that all about?' I asked as we freed the kids from their seatbelts and let them out into the back garden.

Ginny shrugged in bewilderment. 'If it was only Lavender, it might simply be a whim,' she said.

Al, Annie, and Lily dashed across to the plastic slide at the far end of the lawn. Although Ginny was looking at them, she wasn't really watching them, she was confused and concerned.

'But she's with Parvati and Padma, and they want to talk about Michael?' Ginny asked herself aloud. 'Why me? Why at home? Why don't they simply go and see Harry?'

'I'll put the kettle on,' I said. 'Tea? What about Lavender, and Parvati, and ... Padma? Is she a friend of Parvati's? What will they drink? Will tea be okay? We can keep an eye on the kids from the kitchen window. Do you want to go back out onto the road? I don't suppose that your friends could miss us, but...'

'They'll find us, Jacqui, don't worry,' Ginny told me as she followed me into the kitchen. 'Padma and Parvati are sisters—twins.'

As we walked indoors, I looked anxiously around the room, but apart from my breakfast mug, which I'd left on the draining board, the place was tidy enough. Relieved, I put the mug in the dishwasher, filled the kettle, and switched it on. Ginny was smiling at me.

'Spotless,' she assured me. Her comment flustered me. Because of Mike's remarks the first time they'd visited, she seemed to think I was some sort of cleanliness freak. I'm not. I don't clean everything, every day.

'I've got everyday tea, Earl Grey, Himalayan Darjeeling, Assam, and I have Jasmine, if you think they'd prefer green tea?' I prattled. Trying to cover my embarrassment, I waved my hand along the shelf full of caddies. 'I've coffee too, somewhere. I don't know what I've got in the way of biscuits, either. I was going to make chocolate buns today.'

'Tea will be fine,' Ginny assured me.

I opened the cupboard door and lifted the biggest of my teapots down from the top shelf. It doesn't get much use because we rarely have a lot of visitors. I was reaching for the mugs when the doorbell rang.

'That was fast!' I exclaimed in surprise. 'I don't see how they can possibly have driven here so quickly.'

'Perhaps they were already on the road when they called,' said Ginny. She was trying to look unconcerned, but she failed to keep the annoyance from her voice. 'Would you like me to answer the door for you?' She was already heading towards the living room so I let her go, but I switched off the kettle so that I could hear what was being said.

'The key's in the door,' I called after her. Moments later I heard it turn in the lock.

'Morning, pet.' The voice was male, and confused; I recognised it immediately. 'Tea man.'

I reached for my handbag, which was hidden under the coats hanging on the back door, and searched for my purse.

'Tea man?' Ginny asked. It was as if the words didn't make any sense to her.

'Aye, that's right, bonny lass,' I heard him say. His voice slow and slightly suspicious. I finally found my purse and dashed through the house to join them at the front door.

Ginny was staring in confusion at the cheerful, rosy cheeked, and rather dumpy little man standing on my front step, basket in hand. He stared back at Ginny as each wondered who the other was. My tea man had one of the most unwise hair dyes I'd ever seen. In all the years he'd been calling, it had never changed. Blacker than the blackest hair I'd ever seen, the unnatural colour would have looked out of place on a much younger man, and Darren was in his sixties. The colour looked preposterous on his weather-wrinkled features. His appearance always made me smile, but he was a lovely man.

'Morning, Darren. You're early,' I said.

'Nobody in at the last couple o' stops, pet,' he told me. He was still looking at Ginny, so I put him out of his misery.

'This is Ginny Potter; she's moved into Drakeshaugh. I'm surprised that you haven't called in to see her.'

His eyes lit up, 'I keep forgetting, sorry, hinny,' he told her with a smile. Lifting up his basket, he showed her its colourful contents and began his sales pitch. 'Tea and more, to your door. I get up here every fowerth Tuesday. Would you like a leaflet? We do tea, loose and teabags; coffee, fresh and instant; biscuits...'

'She can see, Darren,' I told him. 'Just leave a leaflet. I'll take the usual, please. And, as I'm expecting more visitors, I'd better have a packet of ginger snaps, and some of those fruit and lemon biscuits. I'll take some chocolate mallows, too.'

As I spoke, he handed me my order regular order and pulled the biscuits I'd asked for from his basket.

'There y'are, hinny,' he said, handing a leaflet to Ginny.

While she examined it, he tapped away at the little machine he'd pulled from his belt. 'That's eleven pund an' ten pee,' he told me. I sorted through my purse and managed to find the exact amount for him.

'Thanks a lot, pet,' he said gratefully. He then turned to Ginny. 'If yez wants owt, hinny, the phone number's on the back. Gi' the office a ring an I'll call the next time I'm rund.' He turned back to me. 'See yez in fower weeks, pet.'

Giving us a cheerful nod, he turned and headed down the path.

'Hinny?' Ginny asked me as we watched Darren open the back of his van and restock his basket before his next call.

'It's a term of endearment,' I told her. 'Like pet, and bonnie lass, and easier than trying to remember the name of every customer. Darren never misses the opportunity to find new customers. I'm surprised that he hasn't called on you. He hears all the gossip from every customer in the valley, too.'

'Perhaps he didn't know we'd moved in,' Ginny suggested.

'He knew,' I said. 'I told him myself the last time he called, but I needn't have bothered. He'd already been told by some of his other customers. Like I say, he knows all the gossip, and now he's going to have even more to spread.' I looked meaningfully over the lawn to the road.

As I'd been speaking a bright red VW Beetle Cabriolet had pulled up directly in front of Darren's van (which was, of course, a VW Caddy). The driver's door of the Beetle opened, and Lavender Moon slid out and waved to us. She wore a figure-hugging, pale blue cashmere sweater, a navy A-line skirt, and high-heeled blue suede ankle boots. It was, in my opinion, an unnecessarily glamorous outfit for a visit to a friend.

The two women who were with her looked similar, though they weren't identical. They were dressed very differently to Lavender, and each other. Doctor Rathod—Parvati—wore a smart black trouser suit and a green blouse, while her twin was in jeans and a rather shapeless pullover. I immediately decided that I would like Padma. Ginny, whose attire was similar to both Padma's and mine, seemed to know what I was thinking.

'It's just the way she is,' Ginny murmured in my ear. 'It's just Lavender!'

As we watched, Darren spoke to the three new arrivals, nodded politely, and got into his van.

'Welcome to Lintzgarth, ladies,' I said as the trio trooped up the path to my front door.

I was sitting outside, on the bench by the back door, and I was flanked by Lavender and Parvati. We were drinking Darjeeling tea and eating the biscuits I'd bought from Darren. Padma and Ginny were in my living room "having a quiet chat," and I was convinced that Lavender and Parvati were sitting outside with me simply to ensure that I didn't hear anything I shouldn't.

For twenty minutes we'd been watching the three kids as they played on the slide, and then played ball. I'd been letting Lavender's chatter wash over me. I'd heard how her husband "darling Emmsy" had taken their "lovely little Violet" up to Kirkcudbright to see his mother, and also about her journey up from her home in Robin Hood's Bay. The woman could talk for England. I couldn't get a word in edgeways, and Parvati didn't even try.

Rather than listen to Lavender, I listened to my daughter as she tried to explain the rules of football to Al and Lily. When I'd offered the biscuits to the kids, Al had asked what the mallows were. In some ways Ginny's kids were surprisingly ignorant.

Annie had taken it upon herself to explain about the biscuits, too. She 'd told Al that they were chocklick wiff white sticky inside, and demonstrated by unwrapping one and biting it in half. In the process she had managed to smear chocolate and soft white mallow all around her face.

As she ran past me, chasing the ball, I noticed that, despite my best efforts, she was still rather grubby. I did nothing about it, as she was happily playing with Al and Lily and I didn't want to interrupt their game.

When Annie caught up to the ball, she miss-kicked it and fell over. Picking herself up, she wiped her muddy hands on her shorts. Beside me Lavender shuddered, and I immediately decided against scolding her.

'It's only dirt,' I said. 'It'll wash.'

'I don't think I'll allow Violet to get so dirty and... sticky,' said Lavender, shuddering.

I bristled, but held my tongue.

'Pay no attention to her, Jacqui,' Parvati told me, smiling impishly. 'Lavender believes that she'll be able to exercise complete control over her baby, but I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that Violet will turn into a scruffy little tomboy like Dominique Weasley.'

'I won't allow that!' Lavender was scandalised by her friend's suggestion.

'D'you really think that Fleur allowed it?' Parvati asked.

'Henry thought that Dom was a boy,' I said, joining in with Parvati's teasing of her friend.

'So did Rani,' Parvati said. She leaned forwards to get a better look at Lavender, and with a straight face, said, 'Mark may even encourage her to be a tomboy. I'm sure he won't want to go through what you put your father through.'

'Oh shut up,' Lavender snapped. 'You're supposed to be my best friend.'

'And that's why I can tell you what I think!' Parvati chuckled. Lavender appeared unimpressed.

'We all worry our fathers at some point, don't we?' I said, trying to move the conversation on. 'And our mothers, too. Mum hated the idea of me riding a motorbike.' I looked across at the kids, who were still playing ball. 'I wonder what those three will get up to when they're older?'

'Who knows?' said Parvati.

'Violet will be...' Lavender began, reaching across to take another ginger biscuit from the plate I'd put on the patio table.

'Violet will be what she wants to be,' Parvati interrupted, taking one of the fruit and lemon biscuits. 'These are really good, Jacqui.'

'It's a pity you saw the tea man,' I said. 'Now I can't claim to have baked them myself.' Both women laughed.

Seeing the adults eating was enough for the kids. They all stopped playing and trotted across to the table.

'Can I have another chocolate mallow, please?' Al asked.

'An' me, an' all,' said Annie.

'An me,' Lily added.

'Of course you can. I helped them unwrap the mallows, and watched them scamper off again.

'Kids, eh?' I asked. 'The strangest thing about being a parent is that you suddenly realise that one day you'll be faced with your kids doing something you don't approve of. And worse, that it's something you did yourself when you were young.'

Lavender stared at me, open mouthed. 'I hope that Violet never...' She stared into space. 'Or... Oh!'

Parvati burst out laughing. 'Welcome to motherhood, Lavender. I'm glad that it's finally hitting home. Thanks for that, Jacqui.'

We were still gossiping when Padma and Ginny finally finished their chat and came out into the garden. I asked Ginny's friends if they wanted to stay for lunch, but they politely declined.

We talked for a while, but a little more than two hours after their unexpected arrival, we were waving them off. I'd barely spoken to Padma.

Although I desperately wanted to know what was going on, I didn't dare ask Ginny. Besides, the kids were demanding our attention. It wasn't until half-past-twelve, when I was making the sandwiches for lunch, that I even broached the subject of the visitors.

'Padma isn't married,' I said. I'd gleamed that much from my conversation with Parvati and Lavender.

'No,' Ginny agreed.

'There's time,' I said. 'She's what? Twenty-nine, thirty? She can't be much older than that.'

'Thirty,' Ginny told me.

'Plenty of time to find Mister right,' I said. Ginny gave me an odd look. 'Or Miss right, or stay single, if that's her choice,' I added hastily.

Ginny laughed. 'You should take a leaf out of Lavender's book, Jacqui,' she advised. 'She says what she thinks and doesn't care what other people think of her.'

'So does your friend Luna,' I said as I opened the fridge. As I lifted the bowl of sandwich filling I'd made from the shelf, I had another panic. I held up the bowl, allowing Ginny to see its contents. 'In the confusion of our visitors, I forgot to ask about lunch. Will tuna, mayonnaise, and sweetcorn be okay for the kids' butties?'

'Fine, I'm sure,' Ginny assured me before returning to the other topic of conversation. 'You're a nice person, Jacqui. You've made us welcome, and you shouldn't be afraid to speak your mind, like you did yesterday.'

'Yesterday?' I wondered what I'd said.

'I spoke to Harry about the party invitations. You were right, trying to get them back from everyone will cause more trouble, and simply invite more gossip about us. There's no reason to assume that your invitation, or anyone else's, will end up in the hands of the wrong people.'

'She was invited, wasn't she?' I asked as I sliced the brown loaf.

Ginny nodded. 'I knew she wouldn't come,' she told me. 'She found her Mister right years ago. But he ignored her and married someone else. He was, and still is, oblivious to her feelings. He doesn't even notice her. She might as well be wearing an invisibility cloak.'

'That's an odd turn of phrase,' I observed. 'Is it a West Country expression?'

Ginny shrugged, and it was her turn to look a little embarrassed. 'It's something Mum used to say. I picked it up from her.'

While she'd been talking, I thought back to Lavender's original call.

'Michael,' I said. 'It's Michael, isn't it?'

Ginny nodded. 'Keep this up and I'll be recommending you for a job in Harry's office.' She sounded almost serious, but I knew that she was joking.

'Padma's fancied him since school, but he's never, ever, noticed her. For some reason she's never been able to move on. But now she's convinced herself that there's something wrong with him; she says that he's not himself, that he's changed. She thinks someone is ... controlling him.'

'Controlling him? How?'

'I've no idea,' said Ginny. I wasn't certain that she was being completely honest with me, but I didn't press her.

'Surely his wife would have noticed?'

'That's exactly what I said!' Ginny was triumphant. 'I told Padma that if, something was wrong, Trudi would have noticed. But Padma thinks Trudi is behind it. After all, who else could it be? Michael spends every night at home with his wife, and every day in his ... laboratory. He works alone, always has. Padma says he won't let anyone, not even her, or Terry, into the RANDOM room when he's running a prediction. Terry and Michael have been friends forever, and Padma and Terry are the only ones who fully understand Michael's system.'

'That's why she spoke to you,' I said as the morning's events finally fell into place. 'She doesn't want to contact Harry directly, because she doesn't want Trudi to know that she's suspicious.'

Ginny nodded. 'I think it's all wishful thinking, but I'm going to tell Harry as soon as he gets home tonight.'

'But why would Trudi interfere with a case she's working on, unless...' I stopped, unable to believe what I was suggesting.

'Exactly,' said Ginny. 'It's nonsense. It has to be nonsense. Harry recommended Trudi for the job.'

'When's lunch? I'm hungry!' Annie announced from the kitchen door. Al and Lily were with her, so Ginny and I had no alternative but to end our discussion.