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The Grand Tour by PendleWizard
Chapter 1: Empty and Full
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I've always had a soft spot for Molly and Arthur. They are the bedrock on which the Weasley clan is built and yet they are normally minor characters. I thought they deserved some fun!
Molly Weasley was stood at her range cooking dinner when a streak of silver entered the kitchen, resolved itself into a weasel and spoke in her husband's voice:
“I'm just doing a couple of errands on my way home, so I'll be about half an hour late.”
Momentarily, she was annoyed with Arthur for delaying his return when he knew dinner would be ready, but her annoyance was swiftly replaced with gratitude. Arthur was always so thoughtful. He knew that, even after all this time she still feared attack or catastrophe. Even as the patronus had appeared she had, for a split second, feared the worst. Her head knew that not only had Voldemort and his followers been utterly defeated, but the entire ministry had been rebuilt, by Kinglsey and his successors, to have equality, justice and openness at its heart. Indeed her own family were on the front line of that. And yet...And yet... her heart couldn't quite believe it was all over. Occasionally she watched Harry rubbing his scar. She knew it was an empty ritual these days, but she recognised that it meant that he, too, could not quite let go of the past. She doubted any of them could.
She waved her wand at the stove so that the fire died down and set a spoon to stir the cauldron intermittently. She summoned a small teapot and her best china cup and saucer from a top shelf, warmed the pot with her wand, added tea leaves and then filled it with a jet of boiling water. After letting it stand for two minutes so the tea was perfectly brewed, she went and sat in her habitual armchair on the right hand side of the fireplace in the parlour. She toyed with the wireless controls momentarily, but hastily switched it off. It was time for Muggles Tonight, the daily report of news from the muggle world. In principle she thought it a good idea, but in practice it all seemed so depressing that she suspected it reinforced most people's prejudices rather than challenged them. And what was Quantitative Easing, anyway?
Instead she picked up her library book. Hermione very kindly took her to her local muggle library and allowed her to get stuff out on her card, but Molly wished that she didn't somehow always end up with books that were worthier or meatier than she would have preferred. For all Hermione insisted that Pride and Prejudice was highly relevant for the magical world of the early twenty-first century, Molly was finding it heavy going. The problem was that Hermione was always so enthusiastic that Molly was swept along and somehow accepted her recommendations, however dull she suspected they were going to be. Molly would longingly gaze at all the books by Catherine Cookson and Maeve Binchy, with their gaudy covers and hyperbolic blurb, but Hermione had been so dismissive when she'd first mentioned them that she had never dared suggest she actually borrowed one. She had a feeling that Hermione wouldn't let her ticket be soiled with such things. Molly supposed that the answer would be for her to join the library in Ottermouth, their nearest town, but she wasn't entirely sure how she would go about it. When she'd tentatively suggested it to Hermione once, the younger witch had been adamant that it was no trouble for Molly to use her ticket, and that was the end of that. She wondered if she could offer to take Hugo and Rose to the library for Hermione, but wasn't sure if you could borrow Catherine Cookson on a child's card.
She heard a faint pop, followed by footsteps on the flagstones. The back door opened and Arthur walked in, beaming. She walked through to the kitchen and gave him a kiss of greeting, but he could not hug her because his hands were full. A carrier bag was in his left, whilst his right was behind his back.
“What are you hiding, Arthur Weasley?” she asked suspiciously.
“Flowers!” he declared triumphantly, producing a large bouquet. “I got them from a stall in Trafalgar Square.”
“Flowers?! I've got a garden full of flowers! And I could conjure myself some, if I were minded to!” He tone was somewhat annoyed.
“But not these flowers! The seller said they're from Kenya. Imagine that: they've been flown all the way from Africa on a plane, just for you!”
She looked at his eager expression, laughed and ruffled his hair. You would have thought that he himself had flown halfway across the world to get the flowers for her. Indeed, she knew he would gladly have swapped places with the blooms just to ride in an aeroplane, even if it had meant sitting in an unpressurised hold with his feet in a bucket of water.
“You daft imp!” she smiled at him. “They're beautiful – thank you. Dinner will be ready in five minutes.”
When it was just the two of them, the didn't eat in the dining room, but rather at one end of the kitchen table; Molly at the end nearest the stove and Arthur beside her.
“Well? What were you doing in Trafalgar Square, apart from buying me flowers?” she asked.
“I needed to go to Gringotts and I fancied the walk. I do love watching all the muggles.”
“Arthur Weasley! They are not animals in a zoo for you to gawk at!” she scolded, although she was smiling. “What if they saw you looking at them?”
“They never see me. They don't see anything. They're looking at their phones or listening to music. They're trying to hail taxis or catch buses. They're blind to anything around them – the architecture, the flashing signs, the wonder and busy-ness of everything. They certainly don't see a middle-aged wizard quietly walking along.”
“I suppose not.”
“You know, even after all this time, I still can't get used to having so much gold in our vault! Now we just have our two middle-aged mouths to feed instead of nine hungry teenage ones!”
“I'd swap all the gold in there to have a full house again!” she retorted, suddenly serious. “Life is so quiet without them all!”
“Not that quiet,” her husband answered, gently. “Someone's here most weekends, not to mention all the child-minding you do!”
“I know! I'm an ungrateful old hag. Twelve beautiful, lively grand children. Six happy successful children, five of whom have a loving wife or a husband. It's just...”
“I know,” said Arthur, smiling at her. When you've brought up Fred and George, anything else seems quiet.”
Fred. They would never meet his wife or his children; or see what Weasley's Wheezes would have become with him at its joint helm. They would never again hear his jokes. They felt his absence every day. At the same time, after nearly a decade, they no longer felt the raw pain. The scar was familiar and weathered, like George's ear or Bill's face. And if someone is still in your thoughts, they are never truly gone.
Dinner was eaten and they had washed up. There was no need for talk or discussion between them as they did it. They had done the task together so often that they knew exactly what each of them would do, how they would do it and where they would stand. The two worked as one. Afterwards, Arthur lit the fire in the parlour, the magical flames heating the room far quicker than muggle ones would; whilst Molly made coffee. Molly levitated the tray onto a small table. They sat down in their habitual armchairs either side of the fire.
“Accio carrier bag!” said Arthur and the bag he'd been carrying on his arrival zipped into his hand. It was emblazoned John Frenzy's – The Newsagents.
“I got you something else,” he said, pulling a magazine out of the bag.
“Railways Today?” she laughed.
“Sorry! That one's mine. These are yours.”
She flicked through the train magazine before handing it back.
“Some of these views are wonderful! Is that where we went on the Hogwarts Express?”
He took it from her and looked: “Glenfinnan Viaduct. It could be. We certainly went over a curved viaduct like that. I don't rightly know. We never paid that much attention to where we went, did we? It was all about chatting with friends or eating as much as we could from the snack trolley. The world beyond the train windows didn't interest us much.”
He had got her Eloquent Stones – the History Monthly and Country Alive. She began to flick through the glossy pictures of castles and mediaeval market halls, rolling hills and lush valleys. What a beautiful country they lived in and how little of it they'd actually explored.
She looked up at Arthur, deep in an article. He was still as handsome as he had been when they first met, she thought. He wore glasses now and they both needed a few more candles to be able to read easily. His hair was still a brilliant red, if a little thinner than of old. He was still as tall and slender. He still had that boyish enthusiasm and joy. Most incredibly, though, he still loved her, completely and unconditionally. She had been a bit plump even in her youth. Since then, six pregnancies and a hard life had taken their toll. She could not see her body as beautiful, yet he did. He saw, not the fat and the wrinkles, but their love and shared experiences and all her many qualities. When she looked in the mirror, she saw a dumpy middle-aged witch; he saw a veela.
For a long time it had frustrated her that he didn't change, that he was the same laid-back Arthur who didn't push himself. It was only as she watched the older generation, she realised that people didn't change, rather they became more-so. Those in their dotage seemed to distil into the quintessence of themselves. Indeed, what she saw as Arthur's faults were merely the reflections of his qualities. A go-getting, hard-nosed Arthur would not have been as gentle, loving and fun. And he would probably have married some leggy blonde witch with ten NEWTs in any case.
He was her friend above all else. He had been her friend long before he was her lover. Their contemporaries had recognised them as a couple long before they had themselves and indeed neither of them was entirely sure when they had crossed the dividing line. Their friendship was the bedrock of their marriage, the place from which their love and physical attraction sprouted. It was friendship that had got them through hardship and tragedy. It was friendship which kept them smiling and united.
He looked up at her and smiled: “Shall I make the cocoa?”
While he was gone, she sneaked a look at his other magazine, Narrow Boating.
“Caught you!” he smiled, as he returned with the mugs.
“What's this, Arthur? This Bingley five-rise? It looks like that boat is going into the ground!”
He looked at the picture that was puzzling her:
“These are canals – muggle-made rivers. They have to be completely flat or the water would all run out. To get the boats up and down hill, they use what they call locks. They're like a big tank with gates at either end. The gates have flaps in them, called paddles, to let the water in and out. When the lock is full, the boat can come in from the higher level. They let most of the water out and then the boat is at the lower level. To go uphill, they just refill the empty lock from above. Normally, there is a bit of canal between each lock, but at Bingley it is what they call a staircase – the top gate of one is the bottom of the next. There are five locks, all in a row. It's incredible, isn't it? All built with picks and shovels – no magic, no big machines, no eckletricity. It's ingenious!”
“We've never been to any of these places, Arthur. Bingley or Glenfinnan or..” she glanced at the cover of Eloquent Stones, “...Bath.”
“We've never needed to – we don't know people in these places.”
“But Muggles don't need to go to all these places, they do it for fun. They take their trains and narrow boats and cars. The article I was just reading had a quote from a muggle author called Robert Louis Stevenson: To travel hopefully is better than to arrive. Witches and wizards don't travel. We just move instantly from place to place. Sometimes we are as blind to our surroundings as your muggles on the Charing Cross Road. We can create almost what we want with magic, so we don't see the skill and effort the muggles put in. And we don't heed the beauty in nature.”
“I've been trying to tell you that for forty years!” he laughed.
“I want to see some of these places, Arthur.”
“Maybe we should take a holiday. I mean, I don't think we've had a proper one since we went to Egypt. After all, if we feel at such a loose end, these days!”
“But we're not at a loose end! What about the grand children!”
“I'm sure our children could manage without us for a week!”
“And the money!”
“I told you – we have much more of that than we've ever had.”
“A holiday,” she said thoughtfully. “Where? When?”
“I don't know,” he replied. “It'll be something to think about on these dark winter evenings.”
Pride and Prejudice is by Jane Austen
To travel hopefully is better than to arrive is a quote from Virginibus Puerisque by Robert Louis Stevenson
Catherine Cookson was the most borrowed author in British libraries for 17 years. She wrote slightly raunchy historic novels.
Maeve Binchy was an Irish writer of gentle novels about small town Irish life.
The magazine titles are to the best of my knowledge fictitious and I apologise if I've inadvertently used a real one.
A narrow boat is one designed to fit the locks of British narrow canals built by the engineer James Brindley. These have a maximum size of 70ft x 7ft (approx 21m x 2.1m).
Chapter 2: A Burrow Christmas
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On Christmas morning, Molly was ensconced in the kitchen cooking dinner. As had become the pattern over several years, she was helped by Harry and Fleur. Having spent much of his childhood hungry, not to mention the year of near-starvation on the run, Harry had been determined to learn to cook. Under Molly's expert tutelage, he had become competent and now was quite adventurous. Fleur and Molly may have had their differences in the past, but of all Molly's daughters in law, she was the most traditional when it came to a wife's role. The three of them had reached an accommodation as to who did what in the kitchen and turned a blind eye to each other's perceived eccentricities when it came to seasoning. They were now a well-oiled machine, especially when it came to Christmas Dinner. If they needed help, they asked for it, otherwise the others generally knew to leave them well alone.
Victoire came into the kitchen: “Please can I help? The boys are being annoying.”
“Zat is what boys do, ma cherie,” replied her mum. “Get used to eet.”
“Actually, they probably find you pretty weird too!” smiled Harry.
“And at some point in your teens,” added Molly, “They'll become the most fascinating thing in the whole world!”
Victoire screwed her face up: “Euch! Gross!”
Molly smiled at her eldest grand-daughter. She had shot up and thinned out over the last few months; she was no longer a little girl. Her speech and mannerisms were changing, too – her mum no longer got unflinching respect and acquiescence. She was bilingual, effortlessly switching between English and French. No, thought Molly as she caught a note of Cornish burr in her voice, actually she was trilingual, able to converse with her friends at the village school without drawing attention to her difference.
“You could take these biscuits in, sugar-lump,” She said. “And tell the grown-ups that if they want a coffee, someone will need to come and make it.”
“Okay, granny!” She exited with the tray.
“How is she doing at school, Fleur?” asked Molly.
Fleur gave a Gallic shrug: “Academically, she is fine. “I worry about friendships. It is such a leetle school, and so is ze village. Everyone knows everyone else. I sink everyone is suspicious of us.” She looked at Molly's face. “No, I don't mean zey realise we are magical, zey think everyone from east of ze Tamar is rather odd and they're not even zat sure of anyone from beyond Bodmin! Zey don't like off-comers. I sink zey sink we are stand-offish, but I can't invite her friends round, can I? It would be too 'ard to de-magic ze 'ouse! We don't use ze shop zat much, or catch ze bus. Bill doesn't work locally. What about James, 'Arry? 'E's just started school 'asn't 'e?”
Living in a big city is very different to a small village. There are all different sorts of people – races, nationalities, lifestyles, clothing. I think I could turn up in my dress robes and no-one would even notice!”
They were all sat down for dinner. Molly looked round the crowded dining room and asked herself for the millionth time how muggles managed without magic, before reminding herself that most muggles probably didn't have seven children and twelve grand children. She had felt complete when she finally got the daughter she'd always wanted, but it seemed to her that her pleasure in her family increased with every year. Her children and their partners were all well into adulthood, forging their own lives. And the next generation was fast growing up. Each time she saw the children they seemed to have changed. Victoire was on the cusp of adolescence. She looked at Arthur, at the head of the table. He was in his element, carving the turkey with aplomb and basking in the joy of being in the midst of his family. Next to him sat Fleur, helping to serve out the roasties. Beside her her were Victoire and Dominique.
“How do you like muggle school?” Arthur asked the younger girl.
“Don't be silly, granddad!” she laughed. “They're not muggles, they're Cornish.”
Ah! That was how Bill and Fleur explained the difference between their daughters and the locals, without resorting to language which could cause problems if used outside the house. Next came little Louis, being fed by Bill. Ten years had weathered Bill's injuries. He would never be called handsome, but his wounds now seemed to add character. He too glowed in the warmth of the love of his family. Percy was the one who worried Molly the most. He was the quietest and still never looked entirely comfortable. She knew that her other sons muttered about his wife, Audrey, but she was clearly what he needed. She was on his wavelength in a way that the rest of them were not, and yet she challenged him and mellowed him. Between them sat little Lucy, impeccably behaved and not spilling any dinner, in a marked contrast to her more boisterous cousins.
Angelina was as different to Audrey as could be, but she was just as perfect a match for George as Audrey was for Percy. Her raucous laugh could be heard the length of the table and her pearly teeth flashed. She was the person to parry his jokes and the only one able to keep him in check. Next to her was Fred The Younger, grinning mischievously and apparently set to step into his father's (or perhaps his namesake's) shoes. Roxanne sat in a high chair next to her dad. At the very end of the row, between George and Molly herself (who was at the foot of the table), was a high stool on which sat a large teddy bear, in one of Fred the Elder's old Christmas jumpers and a party hat. This had been Fred's bear when he was very small. In the aftermath of his death, George had rescued it from the depths of the loft and it had gone everywhere with him. Now, he was much less in evidence. Fred-the-Ted spent most of his times in his erstwhile owner's old bed at the Burrow, but always had place of honour on family occasions and none of them would dream to question why valuable space was taken up with a soft toy. George had charmed him to speak in Fred's voice and he would say the punchlines of some of George's jokes and even make quips of his own.
Molly wondered what family would be sat round her table, had the war not happened. Fred would still be with them. George and Bill would still be whole. But what else would be different? All of her children's relationships were moulded by the war. Would they have married and had children so quickly? Would they even have chosen the same partners? Shared grief had brought Angelina and George together. Would Angelina have married Fred instead? Who would George be with then? Would the shop have been so successful? Fred and George had been doing very well with it, of course, but the combination of the release of tension after the war, George's drive and the collective help of the rest of the family had really propelled it to success.
With the exception of the seats at either end, the rest of the other side of the table was taken up with the Potters and the Greasleys. The place nearest Molly was filled by her namesake, with, at her request, Hermione on the opposite side of her. Everyone had thought it cute that she had been so eager to sit in this particular place, but it was clear to her granny that she had an ulterior motive. She was well away from the censorious gaze of her parents and was therefore free to sneakily read a muggle book called The Little House on the Prairie which was balanced in her lap. Granny wouldn't grass her up and as for Auntie Hermione, well, as she'd given her the book, she could hardly complain! In fact, she kept surreptitiously glancing at it herself, even though she knew it off by heart from her own childhood.
Harry and Ginny sat together in the centre of the side – the only couple to do so. Molly was sure that no-one had planned it, neither the couple themselves nor anyone else, but it just somehow happened, as it always did. When they had first got together, Molly had feared that their love was too intense to last. It was, after all, a relationship that had alternated between prolonged absence and intense togetherness. She had worried that if absence made the heart grow fonder, then the novelty of being together would quickly wear off, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, the trials of the war had sealed their love. They had already experienced the worst that could happen. They knew that whatever life threw at them, they could cope with it. Furthermore, nothing could be worse than being parted again. Whatever difficulties they faced, they would face them together, because the alternative was unthinkable.
There love was a paradox, Molly felt. It had a depth and maturity that belied their years and yet, they were still madly in love, like a pair of besotted teenagers. After so many years, they still could not believe their good fortune to be together. Harry was just as big a one for romantic gestures as Arthur was, indeed she suspected it was he who had given her husband the idea of buying flowers. Their whole relationship reminded Molly of hers and Arthur's. They were friends, lovers, partners, co-parents. They worked to each other's strengths and compensated for their weaknesses. They were truly bonded – two had become one.
But it was more complex than that. Just because they were together, as were Ron and Hermione, it did not mean that the friendship between the four of them had diminished. Rather, it had evolved. They were happy to work as couples, by gender or red-heads and non-redheads. Their children had grown up more as siblings than cousins. The day's seating arrangement proved that; the children sitting where they wanted, not heeding which adult they were nearest to. Molly still thought of Ron, Ginny, Harry and Hermione as the Young Ones and they were all her children in a way that Fleur, Audrey and Angelina could never be, much as she loved them. Harry had never known proper familial love before he had met the Weasleys. Hermione had, but her parents were in Australia and in any case they were Muggles. Molly had a bond with Hermione that her own mum could never have.
Hermione and Ron were sat at opposite ends of the row. Theirs was a more complex, volatile relationship. Ron was too like his father and that worried Molly. She knew only too well from personal experience how frustrating it could be to have a husband who didn't push himself. She feared that he could never be enough for a feisty, ambitious woman like Hermione. She could also see though, that he loved her fiercely, and her him. They seemed, still, to specialise in spectacular rows and even more spectacular makings-up. So far today, things seemed to be going smoothly. There was none of the sniper fire of barbed comments that could presage a major conflict between them.
That left Charlie. Alone of her children he was unmarried, indeed apparently single. She had been delighted when he went to Romania after he left Hogwarts, that he was able to do the thing he really wanted to. She had assumed that it was a phase he was going through and, after a few years, he would return to the UK, get a nice steady job (maybe at Pendle Polytechnic – the wizarding university - or at the Ministry), settle down and find a nice girl. When he didn't, she consoled herself that he'd meet a nice Romanian girl, or maybe a fellow dracologist. She waited expectantly for the mention of someone special in his letters, or for him to bring someone home, but to no avail. Maybe his tastes were a bit different: A vampire maybe (he lived on the edge of Transylvania after all!) or perhaps he was gay. Not that she and Arthur would mind who he brought home, as long as he was happy. She had dropped hints to this effect to him, but he just laughed. She had gently probed her other children, in case they knew any more, but they assured her that they didn't. Now Charlie was fast approaching middle age and Molly had to accept that he was highly likely to remain single. He did however, seem happy. Indeed, as glad as he was to be home, he always got itchy feet after a few days. She was sad that it seemed likely that he would never become a dad, but he made a wonderful uncle. He treated them as his equals; he behaved just as he was with them and took them just as they were, and they all loved him for it. He had been talking to Ron, but now turned to his father:
“What's that new certificate on the chimney breast, dad?”
“That's my Long Service Award” Arthur said proudly. “I've been at the Ministry for forty years!”
“It must be your fortieth wedding anniversary soon, then,” said Bill.
“I suppose it must.”
“We must celebrate it!” said George (and Fred-the-Ted).
“Well, I suppose a family get-together would be nice,” said Molly.
“You'll be getting your three-month sabbatical too, father,” said Percy. “And the thousand Galleon bonus. What will you do with that?”
“I don't know. It would be nice to go on a little holiday.”
“Where?” asked Bill. “You liked Egypt.”
“Come and see me in Romania,” suggested Charlie.
“We'd quite like to stay in Britain and go on a muggle holiday,” said Molly. “There's so much we've never visited. The problem with magical travel is that you go straight from place to place – you never see the bit in the middle. It's not like the muggles who can look out of the car or train window.”
“We've never been on a train since we left Hogwarts!” exclaimed Arthur. “And there's buses and boats and all sorts too!”
The meal was over and the washing up was done. The very youngest of the clan were having their afternoon nap and their elder siblings were engaged in a very noisy game in the garden with Granny, Granddad and Uncle Charlie. Their parents were sat in the parlour, drinking coffee and enjoying half an hour's relative peace.
“So: what are we going to do about this wedding anniversary?” asked Bill. “Surely, we can't just have a party?”
“The thing is, we'd probably have done that anyway,” said Ginny. “And it wouldn't be much of a party for mum because she'd be doing all the work.”
“We could all do the catering,” suggested Harry.
“Are you offering to be the one to tell her she can't go in her own kitchen?” asked George. “I know you faced Old Voldy and everything, but mum's in a completely different league!”
“Point taken! Ginny's bad enough and I know where she gets it from. Ow!” he added, as she cuffed him.
“Serves you right!” she retorted. “Anyway, it would be sheer cruelty to try and keep mum out of her own kitchen. People get sent to Azkaban for less!”
“Arthur gets 'is sabbatical, but what about Molly?” mused Fleur. “She will still 'ave to look after ze grandchildren.”
“Dad will help her, I s'pose,” said Ron.
“She might not consider that a help!” retorted Hermione.
“They want a holiday, too,” pointed out Percy.
“They won't see much of the country in a week,” said Audrey.
“Why not make it the full three months, then?” suggested Harry.”They both get a break from their ordinary lives and hopefully visit a lot of the places the want to see. Arthur will still get his normal wages as well as the bonus and we can all chip in, whatever we can afford. Ginny and I are very comfortable – we could put in a lot. They would be able to have lots of fun that way.”
“What about our children, though?” asked Angelina. “Molly will worry about them.”
“Surely we can juggle the childcare between the ten of us?” asked Ginny. “We all work different hours. Fleur and I don't do anything like full-time at the moment. We can just mix-and-match the childcare. All of us put too much on mum. I know she loves it, but it will do us good to manage without her for a bit.”
“What are we suggesting?” asked Bill. “That we book them weeks or fortnights in different muggle resorts?”
“I think they want what's called a road trip,” said Audrey. “Take a train or a bus to somewhere, explore it and then move on. There are places called Bed and Breakfasts – you basically stay in someone's house. I'm sure they'd love that.”
“That would take an awful lot of organising,” mused Hermione. “And full muggle-awareness training. It will take months to plan.”
“Best to do it in the summer, anyway,” suggested George. That gives us plenty of time.”
“It doesn't need too much planning,” pondered Harry. “You can just turn up and get on buses and trains. Trains are a bit cheaper if you book in advance, but if we're funding it, why should they worry about that?”
“Most towns have a Tourist Information Centre,” explained Audrey. “They can tell them about buses and even book them somewhere to stay.”
“But a lot of booking and timetables and all the rest of it is online now,” said Hermione. “On computers,” she added, seeing the looks of incomprehension on some of her in-laws' faces.
“It'll be a nightmare to sort all that!” exclaimed Ron. “I find computers hard enough – I don't know what dad will make of them.”
“But that's part of the present,” said Harry. “Your mum and dad give so much love, time and care to all of us. It's time for us to pay that back. We all have skills – we can each play our part. And there are still some paper timetables available.”
“What do we think then?” asked Bill. “Does this sound like a good idea?”
There were firm nods all round.
Even relative peace never lasts long at the Burrow, except perhaps in Ginny's former room in the attic, which was commandeered as a quiet haven by the three eldest girls: Victoire, Dominique and Molly who were all absorbed in their books. Groupings in rooms ebbed and flowed. The cousins formed themselves into different, fluctuating friendship groups and alliances, supervised loosely by one or more of their parents, whose main priority was knowing the whereabouts and activities of Fred and James at any one time. A steady flow of food and drink emitted from the kitchen, counter-balanced by empty crockery going the other way. It wasn't until after tea, with Ginny, Angelina and Fleur overseeing bath-time and Ron, Percy and George doing the washing up, that some of the middle generation were finally able to sit down with Charlie, Arthur and Molly to discuss their idea.
“We were talking about this holiday idea of yours earlier,” Bill said to his parents. “What exactly had you got in mind?”
“I don't know exactly, mi'dear,” said Molly, taking some of her magazines out of the rack. “There are so many beautiful places in this country. Look: York, Bath, Edinburgh. And so much beautiful countryside: All the bits we passed through on the Hogwarts Express, of course; the Cotswolds; Snowdonia; we don't even know Devon and Cornwall properly”
“We'd like to enjoy the travelling too,” put in Arthur, pulling some of his own magazines out of the box. “Have you seen that the Muggles have a train that can actually tilt round corners? There are ferries to the islands. And buses. We could even go on a plane!”
“You are not getting me on a plane, Arthur Weasley!”
“All of that's going to take a lot longer than a week!” said Bill.
“I know, mi'dear, but it's nice to dream. I'm sure we'd be very happy spending a week in York or somewhere.”
“Why not take the whole three months?” suggested Harry.
“We couldn't” exclaimed Molly. “Think of the cost! And who'd look after the children? And feed the chickens?”
“You've got your thousand Galleons,” said Harry, “And we'd all love to put some money in, too.”
“We couldn't ask you to do that,” said Arthur.
“You're not,” countered Harry. “We're offering. You do so much for us and have done for years. After the Battle of Hogwarts, you invited me and Hermione to join your family. Well, this is what families do. We're all pretty comfortably off. Ginny and I have so much we scarcely know what to do with it! Let us spoil you, for once. Sorry, Charlie – we didn't have chance to discuss this with you!”
Charlie shrugged: “Sounds a good idea to me. I don't have much to spend my money on in Romania!”
“As for all the things you normally do, we'll cover them between us,” said Hermione. “We'll rota out the childcare. And it's easy enough for one of us to apparate or take the floo down here to see to the chickens. We are witches and wizards, you know.”
“But we wouldn't see you all for three months!” said Molly.
“Why not?” asked Bill. “You said you want to see Cornwall – come and stay with us! Ginny still has her Snowdonia retreat from her Harpies days. You'd probably want a few days in London, so visit George or Perce. And we might like to join you in some of these places, too. And what about visiting some of your friends: Mrs Longbottom lives in the shadow of Pendle Hill, doesn't she?”
“And the Malfoys live near Stonehenge,” added Hermione, smirking.
“Well, that's a thought,” said Arthur, grinning back at her.
“It's very kind of you,” said Molly, doubtfully.
“We want to!” reiterated Harry.
“We don't know how to catch buses or ferries - “
“Or planes!” added Arthur, winking at his wife.
“That's part of the present, too,” said Audrey. “Harry and Hermione were brought up by Muggles. I'm half-blood, but we lived within the Muggle world. We can plan. We can research. We can train you.”
“I think we might enjoy that bit almost as much as you enjoy the actual trip,” said Hermione.
“That's what worries me!” said Arthur, with a wink “What do you think, Molls?”
“I...I...It sounds a lovely idea, if you think we can manage it. When?”
“That's up to you,” said Bill. Start in May or June, maybe, to get the best of the summer weather? And that means some of it would coincide with the school holidays, although you might think that was a bad thing. Is there any limit on when you can take your sabbatical, dad?”
“I don't think so,” Arthur replied.
“Why don't you think about dates and anywhere you'd especially like to go?” suggested Hermione. “We'll go away and think about practicalities and the suggestions you've already made”
Ginny's voice rang out down the stairs: “James Sirius Potter! Stop that NOW!”
“I think I'd better see if they need help!” said Harry.
Cornwall, where Bill and family live, is the southwestern-most county of England. If Great Britain is a cross-legged man, Cornwall is the lower leg. It adjoins one other county only – Devon (where Arthur and Molly live) and most of the border is made up of the River Tamar. Cornwall is a long way from anyway, except parts of Devon. Some locals write their addresses as “Cornwall, near England,” and they are only half joking. It has lost its traditional industry (mining) and has a conflicted relationship with tourism which provides low-paid seasonal jobs whilst raising house prices. Many Cornish are therefore very suspicious of off-comers, even muggle ones! Bodmin is in about the middle of the county.
Pendle Hill, in the county of Lancashire (north of Manchester) is famous for witchcraft. The most notorious witch trials of the 17th century concerned the Pendle Witches.
Little House on the Prarie is by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Chapter 3: A Council of War
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“I think it's absolutely mental!” said Ron. “There's no way mum and dad will cope with being muggles for three months!”
“Perhaps you should have said that at Christmas when we first discussed it!” said Hermione, frostily.
“I did, actually, but as usual no-one listened to ickle-Wonnikins.”
“If you don't want us to treat you like a spoilt toddler, maybe you shouldn't act like one” interjected George.
“I think we all need to calm down,” said Bill in a measured voice, sounding uncannily like his father.
It was a Friday evening in mid-January and all of the middle generation who weren't on childcare duties had gathered after work at George and Angelina's flat above the shop: Bill; Percy and Audrey (whose daughters were at their after-school club); George (with Angelina joining in when she could and keeping them supplied with tea and cake); Ron and Hermione; and Harry. Ginny was at home, looking after the Greasley offspring as well as her own. Charlie of course was in Romania.
“Actually,” said Harry, calmly, “I think your dad can cope with a lot more than you give him credit for. He does work in Muggle Relations. And I think he slips out into the ordinary world quite a lot. Yes, I know he gets his terms muddled up sometimes, but that's because he isn't using them regularly with people. With practice, he'll get more confident. Hermione and I used to get flustered and confused when we first joined this world.”
“What about mum, though?” spat Ron, his ears going pink. “She struggles just on the Underground.”
“I don't think anyone actually likes the Tube, Ron,” said Audrey. “A lot of people find it hard, especially if they don't use it often. Public transport outside London is often slower, friendlier and less crowded.”
“What are we actually trying to do?” asked Hermione, getting out quill and parchment.
“Plan a holiday,” said Ron, rolling his eyes.
She gave him an Old Fashioned Look: “I know that Ron, but how are we doing it? Are we setting it up in the simplest way possible, to just enable Molly and Arthur to have a holiday, and put in whatever support we need to in order to make it work, or are we going for full-scale mugglificaction?”
“I think it probably needs to be a bit of both, doesn't it?” ruminated Harry. “I mean they need to be able to function. They don't want to have to send us a patronus every time they need to change trains or want to look up a bus timetable.”
“This is their holiday, not ours,” said Audrey, thoughtfully. “Your dad loves interacting with the Mainstream world, even if he doesn't always get it right. And did you see Molly with those magazines at Christmas? I think they want to be able to do this themselves. Of course they need help and support and training, but I think actually they'll surprise us.”
“At the very least that means a mobile phone then,” said Hermione.
“I can't see what's wrong with them sending us a patronus,” said George.
“They can't if they're on a crowded train,”, countered Hermione. “Anyway, if they have what's called a smartphone they can look up the information they need without asking us.”
“A mobile is becoming necessary just to function in the mainstream world,” remarked Audrey. “Everyone has one, even teenagers and some children.”
“Half of Victoire's classmates have 'em,” said Bill. “They can't actually get a signal in our village, but they do have them!”
“They'll possibly need a laptop, too,” mused Hermione. “So they're going to need electricity somehow to charge these things, and a bank account.”
“Woah!” said Ron, holding his hand up like a policeman stopping traffic. “This is all getting very complicated. Dad won't manage any of that.”
“My dad does, Ron,” said Audrey, gently.
“Yeah, but he's a muggle.”
“No he isn't. He's a wizard who married someone who is non-magical.”
“But he lives as a muggle. How's dad meant to adapt?”
“Percy has managed it,” said Audrey, smiling at her husband.
Hermione observed the tender look that passed between them. Their bond seemed almost as strong as Molly and Arthur's, or even Harry and Ginny's. She felt a momentary pang of jealousy. Her relationship with Ron was very different. Audrey was her natural ally within the clan – quiet, studious and with some muggle heritage. Yet somehow, they had never gelled. Of course, she, Ron, Harry and Ginny had been close friends ever since their earliest school days and their experiences during the war had bonded them closer still. It was inevitable that they should gravitate towards each other, and to George too, who was closest to their age and whom they felt protective towards. Then, when children had come along, the age and temperaments of them had reinforced their parents' closeness. Percy and Audrey's girls were nearer in age (if not temperament) to Bill and Fleur's offspring.
It was more than that, though. Hermione had respected Percy at school and seen a reflection of herself in him. All of them had been shocked when he had disowned them, but seen through the prism of her own early career, she did understand it. She had seen early on that in order to be listened to in the Ministry, you had to be taken seriously. You had to play the game. However much people liked Arthur, he had long been seen as a joke. He didn't play by the rules and so he was easily dismissed. She could understand how frustrating Percy would find that; how he felt handicapped by it. Percy's superiors in the early days had realised that and used it to their own ends. Hermione knew, too, that the Ministry was its own small and all-consuming world. It was very easy to be caught up by its idiosyncrasies and prejudices. That had probably been even more the case when Percy first joined. Most Ministry employees have a loyalty to the Ministry itself – to law, order and stability – irrespective of who is in charge. The Death Eaters' infiltration of it was insidious. It took many people a long time to realise that it was now completely opposed to those virtues and by the time they did, it was almost impossible to escape. Percy was not the only one thus caught. Ron's view of Percy, however, was seen through the prism of his own childhood. To him, Percy had always seemed aloof, pompous and sanctimonious. He seemed to exist purely to curtail Ron's fun. His perceived treachery had simply reinforced Ron's view of him and, even now, Ron couldn't quite forgive or forget. His actions still seemed to conform to type and even his wife seemed to fit the picture: her shyness he saw as aloofness, her seriousness as arrogance.
Hermione resolved to get to know her sister in law better. They were the ones with the relevant skills for this project in any case.
“So: What do we need to do?” she asked, brandishing her parchment once more.
“We need to establish what sort of itinerary is practical,” said Percy. “How the trains and things work. I think their wish list might be a bit optimistic, even for three months. I'll look into that.”
“Can you come up with some sort of cost, Perce?” asked Bill. “Then we can get an idea of what we all need to put in.”
“I'll speak to mum and dad about what technology they think will be appropriate for Molly and Arthur,” offered Audrey.
“I'll look into the utilities, bank accounts and so on,” said Hermione.
“I think we ought to liaise with each other, Hermione,” suggested Audrey. “Perhaps we could meet for a coffee when we've done a bit of research.”
“Good idea!” smiled the other witch.
Percy pulled his watch out of his pocket: “Is that the time? We'll be late for picking the girls up. I'll have to tell the club I was stuck in traffic.”
“Aren't you going to Apparate, Perce?” asked Bill.
“Yes, but being a muggle school, they don't know that!”
“Percy!” said George, in an approximation of his mother's outrage.
“All's fair in love and war. Parenting is a bit of both!” insisted Percy.
“I'll see you at home, sweetie,” said Audrey. I'll get the dinner on.”
“Do you two want to stay for dinner?” Harry asked Ron and Hermione.
“Won't Ginny mind?” asked Hermione.
“I doubt it. I'll just send her a pat.”
A few seconds later, Ginny sent her reply: Shall we have a takeaway?
They all laughed.
“My wife has many wonderful qualities, but being a domestic goddess is not one of them!” quipped Harry. “What do we fancy?”
“Indian?” suggested Hermione.
Audrey got her phone out: “We like this one in Birmingham.”
“Birmingham?!” said Ron, incredulously.
“You can apparate can't you? You can be home with it quicker than most muggle locals! And you can use a warming charm. You can even place the order using this app, if you like. It'll tell you when to collect it, so you don't need to go until it's ready.”
“You know, Ron,” mused Harry. “There might be something in this muggle technology lark.”
“Muggle technology and magic – just think what we can do with the two together!” proclaimed Hermione. “Would Ginny like a plain or Peshwari naan, Harry?”
This chapter has been quite hard to write, as it is necessary but something of a filler. I am very aware that the first three chapters have been a lot of sitting around and chatting. The next ones should be a lot livelier! Chapter 4 just needs a bit of fettling and should be up fairly soon.
We'll be seeing a lot more of Audrey. I hope you will like her.
JKR used the proverb All's fair in love and war and its add-on in chapter 20 of Deathly Hallows, but it is common use in English and I didn't (consciously) copy from her.
Chapter 4: Molly on a Mission
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If it had been Hermione who had dropped the children off at the Burrow that morning, then Molly probably wouldn't have attempted it. She would have asked her advice and probably been persuaded to do it differently, wait until she was around to help, or quite possibly not do it at all. Hermione would also have so tightly timetabled the whole day that there was no room for extra-curricular activities. However, it had been Ron who had stepped out of the fireplace, lolloped into the kitchen is if he were still resident, purloined a piece of bacon (which Molly had actually cooked for herself), given her a rough hug, ruffled the hair of his offspring (much to the consternation of Rose) and disappeared whence he came.
“Now, sugar lumps!” said Molly in a voice far cheerier than she felt, “What are you going to have for breakfast?”
“Wizzibrek!” said Hugo enthusiastically.
She mixed up some of the gloopy cereal, magicked a napkin around his neck and left him do do his worst.
“Would you like some bacon like me? Egg? Mushroom?”
“Not egg. Sausage please.”
Molly ended up cooking a much grander breakfast for all of them than she had intended. She was now sat eating it, one eye on her grand children and one on the book which she had charmed to hover at the right height to read easily. She gave it the sort of look that could quail even Fred and George at their worst, but being an inanimate object, of course it had no effect. It was one Hermione had 'recommended' and it had been nominated for some prestigious muggle prize Molly had never heard of. And it was translated from Spanish. To be fair, it was a good book and she was enjoying it when she was able to sit down and read it in a concentrated manner in the evening. It was not the book to read in snatches when trying to supervise two fractious toddlers, though.
She looked out of the window. The rain was blowing in sheets across the back garden. There would be no playing outside today. She opened the worn, beaded bag Hermione used for the children's things. Hmmm. Ron must have packed it. Hermione would have included sufficient activities for spending winter at the South Pole, but he was always somewhat minimalist, not yet having grasped that Quidditch is not a panacea, especially for two pre-schoolers in February. She sighed: time for Granny Molly to look in the loft and her bits box. Her library book stared at her provocatively at her and an idea that had been simmering in the back of her mind for months came forward onto the front plate and began to boil: the library! It was where muggle children went on wet days, sometimes with their grandparents. Molly had seen them. There was even story time and things, wasn't there?
The plan, if that wasn't too ambitious a term had been like fiendfyre, constantly changing shape. Should she simply ask Hermione for Rose and Hugo's cards, in which case Hermione might offer to lend her hers (or equally just say to wait until the weekend)? Or should she try and join in her own right? If so, where? Space and distance mean nothing to a witch – it would be quicker for Molly to apparate to Hermione's library than it would be for the muggles to walk there from the adjacent car park, but if Molly were to join there, then the library staff knew her and the children and she would still be inextricably linked with Hermione. In any case, she had not been able to ask Hermione for the cards this morning. It had better be Ottermouth,then. Molly wondered whether each library had its own cards or whether one ticket would allow her to use them all. She supposed she could get books out for the little ones on hers.
“What are we going to do today, granny?” asked Rose.
“I'm not sure, Rosie. I'm just thinking.”
Come on, Molly! You can do this!She told herself. You see lots of muggles in the library using it quite happily, many older than you. You've brought up seven children, killed the most dangerous witch of recent years (if not all time) and know many spells the muggles can't even conceive of, never mind do. You've got books out before – it can't be that hard!
“Shall we go to the library?” she suggested.
“Libee!” agreed Hugo.
They were ready to go, swathed in coats and hats, with Molly in her muggle finest (Hugo and Rose were in muggle clothes anyway).
“Right!” said Molly, brightly. “Are we ready to go? Have you apparated with mummy and daddy before?”
“What's that?” asked Rose.
“When you disappear from one place and reappear somewhere else. It's a bit uncomfy, but it's very quick.”
“Yes, I think so,” said Rose.
Hugo looked uncertain.
“Hughie, you will go on my shoulders. Rosie, hold very tight to my hand, OK? Ready?”
They nodded. Molly concentrated very hard on Ottermouth library. She had been to the town remarkably few times over the years, but remembered the library as an imposing Victorian building on Marine Square. There was an alleyway down the side that would make a good apparition point. She experienced the familiar darkness and squeezing sensation and were instantly transported to the location she'd envisioned. Rose looked very worried and still hung onto her hand tightly. Hugo was whimpering.
“You can let go now, Rosie m'dear. Come on Hughie, it's all over. Down you get.”
“Blimey! Were did you spring from?”
A workman had just turned round, having got something out of his van and was very surprised to see them standing here.
“I wouldn't bring kiddies down here, lover. It's not a very nice place.”
The Three Weasleys and the man walked round the side of the building.
“Er, we were just going to the library,” Molly, replied uncertainly.
“Library? Not been here for years. 'Ere, Gav!” he shouted to another man just coming out of the building, “Where's the library these days?”
“Down Foregate, isn't it?” suggested Gav.
“Do you know where that is, lover? Straight down here, then second right. It's in one corner of the big car park.”
“Granny, this isn't our library,” said Rosie, in a puzzled voice.
“No, I thought we'd come to granny's library for a change, only they seemed to have moved it. Come on, Hughie, back on my shoulders. Hold tight to my hand, Rosie. Off we go!”
They set off down the road. Rose pressed the button on the pedestrian crossing and they waited for the green man, as they did when they went with Hermione. Molly regretted not having asked to borrow the buggy, but she never had need for it normally. She had no idea how far it was to Fore Gate. The weather was biting. Molly grasped her wand within her hand bag and managed to cast silent warming charms on them all.
“Are we nearly there yet?” whined Rose.
“I'm sure it can't be far, sugar-lump,” said Molly, more in hope than expectation. It was quite a long way for short legs. At last, however, the car park came into sight and soon after that, they spied the library. Rose, who was flagging, sped up a little.
They walked into the library.
“It's quite small,” said Rose, critically.
“I'm sure they've got plenty of story books for you, sugar-lump. Why don't you and Hugo go and take a look. I need to go and speak to the ladies. Stay in sight, though.”
Molly took a deep breath and walked up to the desk. It was staffed by two friendly looking women about her own age.
“Can we help you?” smiled the white-haired librarian.
“Er...My grand children are members of their local library. Can they get books out here?”
“Where do they live? If you're a member of Devon Libraries, you can get books out anywhere in the county.”
“No, they're not in Devon, they're in London.”
“Ooh! Are they having a little holiday?” asked the other librarian with aggressively short grey hair. “How lovely!”
“No, I'm just looking after them while their mum's at work,” said Molly, in a puzzled tone.
“It must still seem like a holiday to them, though,” insisted Grey. “A few days with grandma at the seaside. Even if it isn't exactly seaside weather!”
Molly was about to explain they were only here for the day, but stopped herself. It suddenly struck her that Muggles probably wouldn't come from London to Devon just for the day. She had no idea how long that sort of journey would take them. She would have to find out, if they were going to do this muggle travelling.
“In that case, you could get them membership of this library, or just get stuff out on your own card for them,” explained White.
“Actually, I'm not a member. I wanted to ask how I can join.”
Grey got a leaflet from under the counter. “Just fill this in and bring it back with two forms of ID.”
“Identity – proof of address. There's a list on the back.”
She looked with dismay at the long, incomprehensible list.
“I don't have any of this with me today,” she said.
“Never mind, said White. “Take it home, fill it in and bring it back. We can issue you with a card as soon as you do.”
At this moment, Rose and Hugo appeared, both carrying armfuls of books. They were both beaming.
“Oh dear!” said Molly. “I'm sorry, sugar-lumps, but we can't get these out today.”
“Why not?” asked Rose with an expression disconcertingly like her mother's.
“The nice lady said I need to fill in this form, and bring her some other bits and pieces back first,” explained Molly.
“She's not a nice lady, she's a nasty lady!” countered Rose, giving White Hermione's mummy-is-cross look.
Hugo started to snivel. Molly suddenly remembered that she had brought some muggle money with her, not knowing if she needed to pay to join.
“I tell you what, sugar-lumps,” she said, brightly, “I'm sure we passed a bookshop on the way up. Why don't we see if there's anything in there you like.”
“Oh there's lots of nice books in there!” said Grey, who was trying not to laugh at Rose's milk-curdling expression. “I'm sure you'll find just the right book.”
“And I expect grandma will bring you back soon!” added White.
“Come on then!” said Molly brightly and led them outside. The weather was still abysmal, so under the disguise of adjusting Rose's coat, she hastily recast their warming charms.
“Up you come Hughie!” she said, lifting him back onto her shoulders.
“I want a carry!” demanded Rose.
“I'm sorry, Rosey Posey. I've only got one set of shoulders. You'll have to be a big girl and walk.”
“I'm too tired,” she retorted, flatly.
Molly looked desperately up and down the road: “Ooh! I can see a baker's over there. Let's get a treat.”
She got them each a sausage roll, which did them all a world of good, although she was itching to cast a tergeo spell over her hair so she could remove Hugo's pastry crumbs from it.
They had a happy time in the bookshop, although she had to be very firm to restrict Rose to one book and Molly was fairly sure it was one Hermione would have vetoed had she been there. Molly treated herself to a Catherine Cookson, which she was looking forward to reading. A few doors down from the bookshop was a branch of John Frenzy's, so she got Arthur the latest copy of his railway magazine. It was now only a few dozen yards back to the apparition point behind the old library. She tightened her grip on Rose, twisted on the spot and they were returned to the Burrow once more.
“Well, mi'dears,” she said. “That's been quite an adventure! I'll charm up some soup for lunch!
Hermione stepped out of the grate into the Burrow's parlour and was most surprised not to be immediately assailed by her children.
“Hello, monsters!” she said. “What have you got there?”
“New book!” said Rose, not looking up.
“So I can see,” siad Hermione, grimacing slightly at the title. “Where did that come from?”
“Granny got it for us because the nasty library lady wouldn't let us get any books out.”
“I didn't know granny was going to the library today. I don't think she had your tickets.”
“This was granny's library. The nasty lady wouldn't let her have a ticket.”
“Granny's library?” This wasn't making sense. “Is granny in the kitchen?”
Hermione walked over to the other room.
“Oh, hello mi' dear!” said Molly, looking up from the sink. “Have you had a good day?”
“Hello. It was very busy. What's all this about the library?”
“I've been hexed by the very first spell,” said Molly ruefully. “I took the children down to Ottermouth and tried to join the library, but they wouldn't let me. I need ID, whatever that is. She gave me a long list.”
“ID? Just to join a library?” exclaimed Ron, who had just stepped out of the grate and come through the door behind Hermione. “I'm not sure we even needed that when we opened a bank account, did we?”
“Librarians can be a bit protective of their books – Look at Madam Pince!” said Hermione.
“Look at this list!” exclaimed Molly, rummaging through a pile of papers on her worktop and finding the brightly coloured leaflet. “I don't know what most of these things are, never mind have them: Passport, driving licence, bank statement, utility bill.”
“What's a futility bill?” asked Ron.
“It shows how much attention you pay to the running of the house!” scolded Hermione. “Gas, electricity, phone bill. That sort of thing.”
Arthur joined them from the scullery, where he had been washing his hands. He smelt distinctly of engine oil.
“We're never going to manage this trip of we have to show ID every time we want to buy a train ticket or get on a bus!” said Molly anxiously.
Hermione laughed, gently: “You won't have to, honestly. It's just for important things.”
“Didn't you say we're going to need a phone and a computer and things?” asked Arthur. “Won't they give us these futility bills?”
“It depends a bit on what sort of phone you have – you can just have a mobile phone that you top up – you buy vouchers to pay for it – so that wouldn't give you a bill. But the computer and the phone need electricity. They have batteries that need recharging, even if you don't plug them in all the time. We're going to need to think how we do that.”
“We could always do that for them,” suggested Ron.
“No, m'dear,” said Molly, as she began to ladle dinner out onto their plates. “That is very kind of you, but we want to be independent. If we're going to have these things, we need to be able to deal with them ourselves.” She added, smiling: “We managed to survive for many years before we had our children and their spouses to help us, you know!”
“So we need to get eckletricity into the Burrow, then,” reasoned Arthur.
“Oh no, Arthur! Not in the house! It's bad enough having those bits of engine in your shed.” Molly sounded quite distressed.
“You could do what we do,” suggested Ron, “And have a small Muggle place as well as a magical one. Somewhere to present a Muggle face to the world and watch telly.”
“That sounds complicated,” said Molly.
“And expensive,” added Arthur.
“And, presumably I'd have to clean it without magic! We were only trying to have a holiday! We didn't realise it would be this difficult”
“I don't think it has to be difficult,” said Hermione, reassuringly, “And I suspect once we get one thing in place, the rest will become easier. I think I'll look into bank accounts. You'll need one of those, whatever we do and that will give you a good proof of identity. This dinner looks lovely, Molly. Shall I carry these through?”
The Otter is a real river in East Devon, an area I know reasonably well. I have used a fair bit of artistic licence over the places, but the intention is to give a real Devonian feel and I hope it will work. Location-wise, Otterton is Budleigh Salterton, but I think it's probably more Sidmouth in character. We know Ottery St Catchpole is a village, so I am going to make it an amalgam of Tipton St John and Venn Ottery, rather than Ottery St Mary, which is actually a small town.
Chapter 5: There's a Hole In My Bucket
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It was Saturday morning. Hermione and Audrey were sat in the snug at the Leaky Cauldron, drinking coffees.
“This feels very naughty!” said Audrey, taking a sip of hers
“Percy doesn't mind you coming, surely? I mean: it's his parents we're doing this for.”
“No! Not at all! Actually, he and the girls are at Music Centre this morning – instrument lessons, ensembles, that sort of thing. Percy even sings in the choir – he's a very fine tenor, you know. It's just, whenever I'm out without the girls and it's not for work, I feel a bit like I'm bunking off!”
Hermione laughed: “I know exactly what you mean. Social life – what's that? It doesn't help,” she continued more seriously, “That the Ministry still has such an old-fashioned approach to family life. An employer that size ought to provide childcare.”
“Yes – we still have a lot to learn from the mainstream world, don't we? I don't know what Percy and I would do without the wrap-around care at the girls' primary school.”
“And as a family, how would we all cope without Molly?”
“Quite. Talking of whom: how are you getting on? Are these bank accounts?” She asked, pointing to some pamphlets Hermione had put on the table.
Hermione winced: “I seem to hit a brick wall at every turn. Do you know the song: I've a Hole in my Bucket?”
“It's like that: round and round in circles. Everyone wants ID, but to get each piece of ID, you need to have ID to start with. I tried to open them a bank account, but they all need two proofs of identity.”
Audrey picked up one of the leaflets: “What – even the Griffin? We're with them and I'm sure we didn't need all that.”
“So are we and I don't think we did, either. There's been new laws since then – it's called the Money Laundering Regulations. Ron thought I was talking about when I put his wallet through the wash.”
“Percy knows that if he leaves his wallet in his trousers, I pocket the contents. And he often does the washing anyway. I hope you don't mind me saying, Hermione, but sometimes Ron can be remarkably, unaware.”
Hermione laughed too: “Do you mean about muggle life or housekeeping?”
“I'm doing my best to train him, but it's an uphill struggle! Anyway, our first problem was the library. Opening a bank account was supposed to be part of the solution.”
“Yes, Molly wanted to join. I'm not sure why. I told her she could get stuff out on my card.”
“It must be a bit embarrassing having to use her daughter in law's card. She might want to borrow something you wouldn't approve of!”
“Molly?” Hermione looked scandalised. “What like?”
“I don't know, but you wouldn't want to have to get approval for all your book borrowings, would you? I remember the sense of freedom when I could finally go to the library on my own and borrow Enid Blyton.”
“Enid Blyton?!” Hermione's tone could not have been more shocked if Audrey had said that her nine year old self had borrowed the Joy of Sex.
“Yes. Mum insisted I borrowed wholesome stuff like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Arthur Ransome.”
“I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder!”
“They were OK, but you have to have a bit of crap too, don't you? Like buying a bag of penny sweets.”
“My parents are dentists. I've never ever had a penny sweet.”
Now it was Audrey's turn to be shocked: “What?! Didn't your grandparents ever buy you a sneaky bag?”
“No! I wouldn't have let them!”
Audrey laughed: “I thought my childhood was strict! Anyway...back to this library card.”
“Yes. She tried to join and they needed two proofs of address. They gave her a long list, but of course she had none of it.”
“That's why my mum has always insisted that dad's name is on one utility bill.”
“That's a good idea. Perhaps I ought to get Ron to do that...or maybe not! Anyway, the library wasn't all bad news. Molly coped really well. Perhaps too well!”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Audrey, intrigued.
“The children were quite upset that they couldn't get any books out. She said – how did she put it? - Rose pulled a face that looked so like me that she got her out of there before she could tell the librarian off. I'm not quite sure what she meant!”
Audrey laughed: “Your daughter can be very authoritative can't she?”
“That's one way of putting it! Anyway, Molly had spotted a bookshop, so she took them there and let them choose a book.”
“You say that like it's a bad thing!”
“A book is a good thing, but Rose chose an Amble and Emily book!”
“Your face! I bet that's what Rose looked like!”
“You're teasing me!”
“Only a little. What's wrong with Amble and Emily?”
“They're hardly AA Milne, are they? I never let her have them out of the library. And I'm sure Molly knew that.”
“She was trying to stave off a major meltdown. I expect she thought it was one battle she didn't want to fight. Anyway, it's part of a grandparent's job to buy treats you wouldn't. Like me and the Enid Blyton. You could always suggest she keeps it at the Burrow!”
Hermione smiled: “Now that's a good idea! She got them a sausage roll each, too. I didn't think she even knew what they were!”
“See! I told you they would surprise us! It's a bit of a pain about the library, though. Molly and Arthur need a mainstream identity.”
Hermione looked at he sister in law: “You never say muggle.”
“No. I find it derogatory. And they're the majority, not us.”
“You're right, of course, it just seems another battle to fight. We've only just got everyone to stop saying mudblood!”
“Everyone except you!”
“I'm allowed to say it – I am one! “Anyway, I'm proud of my heritage – aren't you?”
“Of course I am!”
“I suggested that they got a mug- I mean mainstream flat, but they don't seem keen. They think it's too much work and expense. It all seems to be getting too complicated and difficult. Perhaps we need to give up.”
“Don't say that! Percy's done all his research!”
“What's he researched?”
“Everything! He's got computer spreadsheets and an enchanted map of the whole country with a little Molly and Arthur walking all over it. There are computer scans of parchment and geminis of timetable leaflets. He's found out about every one-day transport ticket and discount entrance card between Lands End and John O'Groats. He's even watched a documentary about trains on BBC4 and he never watches telly!”
“Goodness! That must have kept him busy!”
Audrey winked at Hermione: “A busy Percy is a happy Percy. Perhaps we just need to keep it simple – give them cash and print them out a schedule.”
“I thought we want to give them independence. And at the very least they ought to take a mobile phone with them, which means they need somewhere to charge it.”
Hannah Longbottom, née Abbot, the landlady of the Leaky Cauldron came over.
“Are these dead?” she asked, picking up their empty cups. “You two look glum.”
“Puzzled, rather than glum,” said Hermione. “We're trying to work out how to give Ron's parents access to the ...muggle world.” She blushed slightly as she said the word, but thought Hannah wouldn't understand Mainstream.
“Have you spoken to Dean?” asked Hannah.
“Yeah. He's a builder and specialises in crossover stuff. If he can't help you, he'll know a man who can.”
“Thanks. I'll send him an owl.” She turned to Audrey: “ He was a Gryffindor in my year and had...Non-magical heritage. I've a feeling his stepdad was a builder.”
“Do you want another coffee, or do you need to get back?” asked Audrey.
“Why not? Ron's taken the children over to Harry's. We often meet up at the weekend if Ginny's working – it helps to dilute the affects of James.”
“I'll bring them over to you,” said Hannah, going back to the bar.
“Ron's - what did you call it – unawareness – is probably my fault,” Hermione continued.
“No it isn't!” said Audrey sternly. “Why do we witches always blame ourselves for wizards' failings? It's up to Ron to learn, just as Percy has!”
“Harry had such an awful upbringing with his relatives that he was desperate to escape it. He spent every holiday he could in the magic world – at school initially, then increasingly with the Weasleys. I came too for friendship's sake. And the magical world was all so new to me. It fascinated me, especially staying at the Burrow with a real magical family. Ron had no desire to experience the mainstream world – to him it was just a weird obsession of his dad. I was happy to go along with that – the magical world was where I increasingly felt at home. Then of course we all became caught up in the War. Afterwards, my parents stayed in Australia. They didn't quite disown me, but they were very hurt by what I'd done to them. My home was here – in England and in the magical world. Molly and Arthur offered both Harry and me a home. We became honorary Weasleys long before we married into the family. I lost most of my links to the mainstream world. And life has been – and still is – so full-on that, given Ron's reluctance, it is usually easier and quicker to do things myself. You seem to have done better with Percy, though.”
“I suppose my situation is the opposite of yours. My father's family was a very Old one. They were horrified at his marrying out. They drove him away – mum and dad decided to live within the mainstream world. He just wanted a quiet life with the woman he loved He was an accomplished potioneer, so he got his registration and set himself up as an apothecary, where he could keep his head down and choose his clientele. He even did some work as a non-magical herbalist, using his magical knowledge with non magical plants.
When I came along, they carried on as they always had. Dad did hidden magic. He had a wand pocket inside his trouser legs. I just accepted that he could do things I couldn't - I mean, all dads have special powers, don't they?”
“Yes,” said Hermione, smiling. “Everyone thinks their dads are a bit magical when they're small.”
“I didn't give any thought to the fact that we always seemed to be able to jump to the front of the queue or that our takeaway never went cold. I wasn't specifically told about magic until about the age of 7. That was when my own magic started to appear, when I became aware of dad's magic and when I was capable of understanding the Statute of Secrecy. My dad taught me ways to let out my magic that wouldn't arouse suspicion. I grew up seeing magic as a tool – a special skill that I had – but not as a separate world. There was mainstream stuff that was just as fascinating!
“When I reached 11, it was clear that I needed to go to magical school in order to learn to control and harness my powers, but dad didn't want to send me to Hogwarts. He wanted to keep me clear of what he called the Pure Blood nonsense and he thought that Dumbledore was dangerous – that he was stirring up trouble. I got sent to a nice small witches' school. After NEWTs, I went into the Ministry. Dad wasn't keen, but I got top grades in arithmancy, so Magical Revenue was the best place. It was probably the safest place to be – even Voldemort needed taxes!
“I first met Percy after the war. It was at Muggle Awareness Training organised by Shacklebolt.”
“Muggle?” teased Hermione.
“That's what it was called. It was the Minister's word not mine. Percy was struggling to come to terms with how to operate in the new reality. He could see that there needed to be better relations with the wider world, but was uncomfortable with his father's amused bemusement. It fascinated him that I lived in both worlds. I took him home to meet my parents – before we were actually going out together! - and my dad showed him how he integrated magical and mainstream. Percy was blown away! Then dad got broadband and Percy realised that this was a power far greater than anything in the magical world. I mean, when we were on dial-up, we'd often get owl post quicker than emails – Percy used to jokingly call owls O-mail. But with an always-on connection, they became near instant. Percy could see that it was no longer about understanding, it was about survival. We used to use secrecy to protect us; now we needed knowledge.”
She looked at her watch: “Goodness! Is that the time? I said I'd pick up something nice for lunch. The girls will be starving – Percy's really strict about biscuits!”
“Harry is doing mine, so it's bound to be nice!” boasted Hermione, “But if I'm late he's worse than Molly!”
“I can imagine!” laughed Audrey.
“I've really enjoyed this morning. Thanks.”
“So have I. You must all come over to us one Saturday. I know we're not as exciting as the Potters...”
“Sometimes the Potters can be too exciting! Rose loves playing with Albus, but James can be a bit much sometimes. The two young ones still play alongside each other rather than with, if you know what I mean. It will do Rose good to spend some time with Molly and Lucy – she could do with a good female role model.”
“Percy worries that our two don't have one. I mean we go over to Bill and Fleur's sometimes, but Victoire is growing up so fast, isn't she? Apparently, half her class have boyfriends!”
“But she's only nine!”
“Precisely. And Percy thinks she'll end up talking Cornish!”
The two witches walked over to the bar and settled their bill, then went out into the yard to apparate.
“I'll send you an owl with dates when we're free!” said Hermione, just before she disappeared.
“Lovely!” came the reply.
A few nights later, Harry was sat with Hermione and Ron in their magical house's drawing room, when the fire glowed emerald green and Dean Thomas stepped out of the flames.
“A'right? Don' mind if I bring someone along, only he's got expertise we might need?”
“Of course not,” replied Hermione.
Dean stuck his head back in the green flames: “Den? It's OK. They said you can come.”
Dean removed his head and a few seconds later, Dennis Creavey stepped out onto the hearth.
“You remember Dennis, dontcha? He's a sparky – an electrician,” he added, seeing Ron's blank look.
“Hi Dennis,” they all chorused.
“So,” said Dean, “Hermione's owl said you're trying to mugglify Ron's parents a bit. The easiest way is to get them a muggle pied a terre. It doesn't have to be big and it doesn't have to be posh, as long as it has a letter box, a fuse box and the internet.”
“That's what the rest of us have done,” said Hermione, “But Molly and Arthur don't seem keen. How difficult would it be to introduce a muggle element to their existing property?”
Both tradeswizards sucked air in through their teeth.
“You know what muggles are like, Hermione,” said Dennis. “They love their rules, they love their forms and they love their taxes.”
“The first thing you know, we'll have a whacking great council tax bill and we'll be trying to get Building Regulations approval for somewhere that's held up by spellwork,” added Dean.
Hermione sighed: “I knew it! Everywhere we turn we hit barriers! This is looking impossible!”
“Hey!” said Dennis, gently. “This doesn't sound like the Hermione Granger I knew at school.”
“Nothing's impossible,” said Dean, “It just needs a bit of thought. Where do they live, anyway?”
“Ottery St Catchpole, Devon,” said Ron.
“Course they do!” replied Dean. “Not far from Luna's old man. So we're talking what: socking great manor house with a garden by Wandability Brown and hot and cold running house elves?”
“We're not the Malfoys!” snapped Ron.
“Never said you were, mate,” countered Dean, gently.
“But they must have a bit of land,” interjected Dennis. “I've never met an Old Family which didn't.”
“Not really,” insisted Ron.
“A paddock, an orchard and a bit of a smallholding,” said Harry.
Dennis and Dean looked at each other: “Smallholding!” they chorused.
“Harry, my mate, you've just said the magic word which makes most of your muggle problems disappear!” beamed Dean. “Above a certain acreage – and Ron's parents' place sounds plenty big enough – and it counts as agricultural. They won't be liable for property taxes and they won't need planning permission. We'll just have to get it past Building Regs.”
“But the Burrow won't manage that! You've never seen anywhere more dependent on spellwork!” exclaimed Hermione.
“That's the beauty of this scheme,” continued Dean, “We won't have to. Just put a muggle-friendly building – let's call it a workshop – on one out-of-the-way corner of their land. Somewhere to put a letter box and for Den to get his wires into without having a hissy fit. They can have their telephone line and internet and whatever they want their leccy for – telly, power tools, a washing machine or whatever.”
“Of course, if Mrs Weasley wants to watch TV in bed, it's more complicated,” said Dennis, “Not least because magical buildings have a habit of changing shape regularly – it plays havoc with the wiring. And we can do things to counter magical interference, but it's all at a price.”
“Den – they'll just to what the rest of us do and hang a wifi router and an extension lead out the window!” said Dean, winking.
“I'll pretend I didn't hear that!”
“There's all sorts of modular buildings available now,” said Dean.
“Sheds to you and me!” said Dennis, winking.
"Philistine! They'll be able to have whatever Muggle accessories they like for a fairly modest cost.”
“How much?” asked Harry.
Dennis and Dean shared a look.
“We'll do our bit for mates' rates,” said Dean. “Least we can do. That leaves the Building Regs and the cost of the building itself.”
“Couldn't we just magic something?” asked Ron.
“It would cause more problems than it would solve,” relied Dennis. “The whole point is to have a muggle building to enable them to access the muggle world. It only needs to be very basic.”
“The cost of that bit depends on what they have,” added Dean. “The problem is, most people start off with the idea for a simple shed, then they see the brochures and want Buckingham Palace made out of lapboard. Then they wonder why the price has tripled!”
“Please send any bills directly to me,” said Harry. “Arthur chooses what he wants, but we're covering the cost.”
“Fine. I think we probably need to give this Burrow the once over. When would be a good time?”
“At least one of us needs to be there,” said Hermione, “Otherwise Arthur will want Hogwarts made out of lapboard, complete with all the secret passages! We're going to be there this Saturday, if that's any good?”
“Fancy a trip down to Devon on Saturday, Den?” asked Dean.
“What about the match?”
“I've a radio in the van, ain' I?”
“What match?” asked Ron.
“Football. His team against my team – the Baggies versus the Hammers at home.”
“West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United,” explained Dennis.
“We wouldn't want you to miss it!” said Hermione.
“Nah! It's no prob. I'll probably get to hear more of it if we're here than if I'm at home – Luna's bound to have a job lined up for me!”
“We'll see you Saturday, then!” said Ron.
The Joy of Sex is by Dr Alex Comfort.
Enid Blyton was a prolific children's author who wrote over 700 books, including the Noddy and Famous Five series.
Arthur Ransome wrote the Swallows and Amazons series of books of the adventures of a group of children who go sailing, mainly in the English Lake District. They are, in my opinion, the best children's stories of all time (yes – even better than Harry Potter!)
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie series, based on her own childhood.
Amble and Emily are entirely fictitious
We're not fictitious. We're two soft toy monkeys who live in Pendle Wizard's wardrobe with our son, Nicholas.
Signed Amble and Emily
Chapter 6: Building Sheds, Building Bridges
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Saturday afternoon in Ottery St Catchpole was mild but damp and grey. Local resident, Philip Woodbury was walking his dog, Towser. As they turned into Long Lane, Philip spotted a white van pulled into a gateway. A group of five people were stood next to it, talking animatedly. On the side of the van, it said D Thomas – Master Builder.
Not again! Sighed Philip to himself. Soon there'll be some great monstrosity of a house on that plot, totally inappropriate for the area. It'll be occupied by two off-comers who care nothing for the area, contribute nothing to the community and drive up and down the lanes at top speed in two enormous four-by-fours without any idea of how to pass on a narrow road.
On these occasions, Philip tended to forget that, whilst he and Barbara had now lived in Ottery St Catchpole for twenty years, they could hardly be called locals. And whilst they had bought an existing house, they had altered and extended it so much that it might as well have been a new-build.
He walked a little closer and could see the group a little better now. Four men and one woman, one man much older than the others – about his own age, in fact. One of the others appeared to be his son, for they were so alike and the woman might well be the latter's what did one call it nowadays? Partner. Such a clinical word for what should be such a human and beautiful thing. The other two wore the universal uniform of workmen: logoed sweatshirts and those trousers with dozens of pockets in.
What on earth is the older man wearing? It could almost be an old-fashioned teacher's gown, although those were always black, surely? He doesn't look like a teacher – certainly not the sort who would robe up at the weekend. A hippy, then? He doesn't look hippyish – too well-groomed and normal-looking, apart from the odd robes. Is he in some sort of cult? Possibly, although the others don't appear to be in it. Perhaps at weekends he just likes to dress up and call himself King Arthur. No, the younger couple must be Arthur and Guinevere, surely, jeans and fleeces notwithstanding. That would make the older man Uther.
Perhaps they were planning to build a castle, I mean house, for Young Arthur and Guinevere. His eyes went back to the van. A London phone number. Not even a local firm. Bang goes any chance of considerate builders and sympathetic architecture. Of course, being a muggle, Philip couldn't see the symbol of a chimney with Dean's floo address next to it, underneath his email address.
He was almost upon them now. Time to find out what they were up to. He donned his Chairman of the Parish Council persona and approached them:
“Good afternoon! It's quite mild for the time of year, isn't it?”
“Erm, yes! Good afternoon! It, er is! Mild I mean!” 'Uther' seemed totally flustered to be spoken to.
“I'm Philip Woodbury. I live at St Catchpole's Barton, on the Ottermouth Road.”
Not Pendragon, then.
“We live just over there.” Arthur waved his arm in a vague arc that took in most of the village. “This is my son, Ron and his wife Hermione.”
“Do you live locally, too?”
“London, mainly,” said Hermione. “We're both in the Civil Service.”
“So was I for many years, until I got out. An under-rated profession. Are those your children I can hear?”
“Yes. Rose and Hugo. They love coming down here to see their grandparents. They're lucky enough to be able to do it quite often.”
And now you want your own place so you can be here even more.
Are you having some building work done, Arthur?”
“Yes, erm - “
“Just a workshop,” said Hermione, in a reassuring voice.
Clever! Build something innocuous that doesn't need Planning Permission and Abra Cadabra! The site goes from Green Field to Brown Field and it will be easier to get PP for the house.
“Just somewhere for dad to get out from under mum's feet,” added Ron.
“We all need one of those, don't we!” joked Philip.
“Don' worry, guv'nor! By the time we've finished, you won' know it's ere,” chipped in Dean.
“That's what they all say!” retorted Philip.
“Yeah, but they don't all install secrecy charms as standard,” said Dean under his breath.
“You're working a bit far from home, aren't you?” asked Philip.
“Dean's a friend of the family,” explained Hermione.
Aren't they always.
“Got to take the work wherever we can get it these days, guv,” replied Dean.
“Really? I thought good builders were always in demand. They are down here, anyway.”
“Well, our main work is a bit niche, guv. But give us a bell if you need anything doing. Any friend of the Weasleys is a friend of ours.”
Dean produced a business card, as if by magic thought Philip. Dennis did the same.
“How big is this workshop going to be?” asked Philip.
“Er, we were just discussing that before you appeared,” said Arthur, still sounding nervous.
Just to prove the point, Dean's tape measure, which had been quietly working its way round the field, returned to him, furled itself up and jumped into his pocket.
“My word!” said a shocked Philip. “That's a handy little gadget!”
“Special trade one, guv,” explained Dean. “You won't get one of these down the DIY warehouse.”
Dennis was eyeing the telegraph pole: “What's your broadband speed like down here, mate?”
Philip laughed ruefully. “Broadband speed is a bit of an oxymoron round here. You'd be better off staying in the city.”
“But I already live here!” said Arthur, rather indignantly. “I've lived here for forty years!”
Bugger! He's lived here longer than me! “Have you really? I don't think I've seen you about.”
“We, er, haven't had much time to get involved in the village. We'd seven children to bring up.”
“Seven! My word! That must have kept you busy! They must be all grown up now, though, or do your grandchildren occupy you instead? We're always looking for fresh blood at village events, you know. The Flower and Produce Show, even the parish council. You'd be very welcome if you wanted to join in. Back to the broadband: What speeds do you get now, Arthur?”
“Er, I don't have it yet.”
“That's what this workshop is about. We're just trying to drag dad into the twenty-first century,” explained Ron.
“Bypassing the nineteenth and twentieth,” added Hermione, sotto voce.
Towser let out a bark.
“Sorry old boy, I'm ignoring you down there,” said Philip, giving the dog a pat. “Well, it's lovely to have met you all, but Towser and I had better finish our walk. I hope I might see you around, Arthur. Cheerio!”
He strode off down the road.
“Phew!” exclaimed Arthur once he was out of earshot. I thought he would never go!”
“He was only being friendly, Arthur,” assured Hermione.
“He's what's called a NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard. He just wants to check you're not planning on building an enormous palace like the one he lives in,” chuckled Dean.
“How do you know he lives in a palace?” asked Arthur.
“Just a hunch. I've met his sort before. And St Catchpole's Barton doesn't sound like a two up, two down hovel.”
“He saw me in my robes!” protested Arthur.
“I wouldn't worry, guv. You see all sorts these days. You should take a stroll through the middle of Romford some time.”
“But this isn't Romford!” protested Hermione.
“Nah, but I still wouldn't worry, Hermione. Woodbury seemed like a man of the world,” insisted Dean.
“He saw your tape measure!” squeaked Hermione.
“Special Trade One indeed!” laughed Dennis. “They'll give him a funny look when he goes into his local builder's merchants and asks for that!”
“I dunno. There's all sorts of fancy measuring tools nowadays,” ruminated Dean. “They'll probably give him something with a laser in it. My tape measure is quite mild in comparison!”
“Well? What do you think, Dean?” asked Arthur, nodding towards the field.
“It's up to you really, Guv. 'Ave a good look on the internet and see if there's anything you fancy. Oh! 'Ang on! You ain't got the internet yet. I've got some brochures in the van you can look at. ”
He walked over to his vehicle and plipped his key to open it, much to the delight of Arthur.
“Only, don't go mad!” insisted Dennis with a chuckle. “You only need somewhere basic.”
“'Ere, Arthur! You can lock it if you like!” Dean threw him his keys with a laugh. “Just press the top button – the one with a little picture of a padlock on. Gently! That's it!”
“I'd get that key off him quick, Dean!” laughed Ron. “Or he'll wear the battery out playing with it!”
Arthur handed the key back, a little regretfully.
“Here you are, guv,” said Dean, passing Arthur a handful of brochures. “I think I've left the best ones at home, though. Can I give Luna a quick floo?”
“Of course! Come back to the house. I think Molly would feel highly disappointed if she didn't have the opportunity to ply you with tea and cake at the very least!”
They walked back to the Burrow, via the orchard where Molly was supervising the children. A thestral, which had pulled Dean's van from the East End to Devon, was tethered out of sight, grazing on a chicken Arthur had provided.
They all went and sat in the Weasley's parlour.
“Now, boys,” said Mrs Weasley, looking at Dean and Dennis. “I hope you'll stay for dinner.”
“No ta, Mrs Weasley. Luna's expecting me,” declined Dean.
“You must have a cup of tea at least!” insisted Molly.
Dean and Dennis thought it wise not to protest.
“Is it alright if I borrow your fireplace, Arthur?” asked Dean.
Dean threw a handful of floo powder into the flames and knelt, putting his head into it.
“Luna! Loo! Are you there, gal? Nip into the office and grab the brochures out of my in-tray, will you sweetheart? The ones of wooden buildings. Ta.”
Dean returned to the saggy sofa and Molly reappeared with a tray of tea and cakes. She wanded the cups to everyone and then handed the cake round menacingly.
Just then, the flames glowed green again and Luna's head appeared.
“Hi everyone!” she beamed. “Are these the right ones, Dean?”
“Ta, darlin! Perfect!” he said through a mouthful of cake.
“What are you eating? You'll spoil your tea!” she scolded.
“Only being polite, darlin'.”
“Would you like a slice, Luna?” offered Molly. “It's lemon drizzle!”
“Not for me, thanks, Mrs Weasley. Don't be late, Dean!”
“Let's look at the brochures, then,” said Arthur. “Come on, Molly. Sit next to me so you can see too.”
“It's hard to imagine them in our paddock,” she said, doubtfully. “How big they'd be.”
“Why don't I leave these with you, then you can have a good look and a think,” suggested Dean. “Just give me a quick hoot when you've decided.”
He drained his cup.
“Had we better be getting back, Den?”
“What time is it?” asked Dennis, looking at his watch. “Blimey! Final whistle will have gone!”
He got his phone out: “Boggart! Can't get a signal.”
“Let me try,” said Dean, grabbing his. He swiped the relevant app, with Arthur looking on intrigued. “Oh dear!” he said, grinning. “Oh dear oh dear!”
“Go on!” said Dennis, grimacing.
“Looks like the beers are on you tonight, mate! Five-one!”
“Five-one?” asked Arthur with a puzzled tone. “That doesn't sound too bad.”
“It's football, not quidditch,” said Dean. “We slaughtered them. Away too. I reckon you'll be going down this season.”
“Don't rub it in! Don't we know it!” said Dennis. “Had we better get this hoss rigged up?”
“We'll come and watch the lane and cast a muggle-repelling charm or two,” said Hermione.
Philip was on his way back,. It was almost dark.
That van's still there. It'll be a long way back to London in that rattletrap.
As he was about to turn into the lane, he had a sudden urge to read the parish noticeboard, straining to see in the dusk, even though he had put most of the posters up himself. When he looked up, the van had gone.
Strange! I never heard it go. I wouldn't have thought a van like that would be that quiet.
He never looked up to see it rising into the air, pulled by the thestral. A moment later, it had disappeared behind a cloud.
A parish council is the lowest tier of local government in England, mainly in rural areas. They generally cover a village or small town. They have very little actual power and generally look after things like playing fields and public toilets. They are consulted on planning matters. These are civil parishes i.e. they are nothing to do with the church, despite their name (they are called Communities in Scotland and Wales).
Chapter 7: A Sunday Stroll
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Sunday lunch was over and Molly and Arthur had washed up. They were now sat in the parlour drinking coffee.
“Shall we go for a little walk?” suggested Arthur.
They put on their shoes and muggle coats. The went through the garden gate into the lane. Molly turned left, as if to do their normal round, which took them away from the village and along a green lane.
“Let's go this way for a change,” suggested Arthur, turning right.
“But I'm not dressed for it! You've put your muggle clothes on, you crafty so-and-so!”
“No-one will see under your coat. They'll just think you're wearing a long dress. There's no-one to see, anyway.”
They walked down the lane. The hedges were high and thick, so it was impossible to see what lay beyond them. They came to a five-bar gate, with a letter box on it.
“See!” said Arthur. “That's what ours will be like. A big hedge, a gate and a letter box. No-one will know we're there.”
“I can't picture it, Arthur. I feel like I'm being swept along and I'm the only one who doesn't understand it all. Dean rattled away at nineteen to the dozen and Hermione was very - “
“Yes. She always is very,” said Arthur. “That's why we're going for this little walk. Lots of muggles have little outside buildings – sheds, garages, summer houses and Merlin knows what else. It will give us a better idea of what we're looking at.”
“But if they're all hidden behind hedges like that one, we won't be able to see them.”
“Not all of them are.”
“The muggles won't want us staring in at them. This isn't the Charing Cross Road.”
“We won't be staring in at them. We're just a middle aged couple out for a walk and admiring our neighbours' beautiful houses. There's nothing wrong with that.”
They linked arms and strolled amicably down the lane. It was a crisp February day. The bone-chilling dampness of the previous day was gone. The wintry sunshine lifted their spirits and the combination of good winter coats and a warming charm kept them snug. Molly smiled at her husband and he lent towards her and kissed her tenderly.
“Honestly, Arthur! Look at us – we're like a couple of teenagers!”
“Hardly – we'd be snogging behind the bus shelter if we were! Of course, if you're feeling nostalgic...”
She gave him a friendly elbow in the ribs: “We've a nice warm parlour with a comfortable sofa waiting for us at home. The days of skulking behind bus stops are a distant memory, thank Avalon!”
“Yes, we don't even stumble upon our children doing it, these days.”
As they dropped down into the village, the first few houses were mainly new-builds and were hidden behind high hedges or fences. Gradually, though, there were a few with more open vistas.
“That's nice,” said Arthur, pointing at an octagonal wooden summer house.
“But not practical for us,” pointed out Molly.
“I know that. I was just looking.”
Molly paused at an imposing stone garage.
“Now who's being impractical!” teased Arthur. “And I don't know how much something like that would cost.”
“How much is this all going to cost, Arthur?” she asked worriedly.
“Hmmm. Everyone goes very coy whenever I try to ask them. Ron just says 'don't worry – it's all under control' which is a phrase guaranteed to strike fear into any parent's heart.”
They passed the school and the Memorial Hall and crossed the bridge into the centre of the village. There was the garage which seemed to have gone from selling current cars to classic cars by the expedient of never changing the models in its window, the village stores and the pub. They were now at the start of the Ottermouth Road.
“How far are we going, Arthur?”
“I think there's a path off to the right just up here that loops back to the church and the river. Shall we take that?”
The very last house, just opposite the footpath, was a large strawberry pink confection, with a gravel forecourt. A man was outside, washing two cars. He looked up, saw them and raised an arm in greeting. It was Philip.
“Hello there!” he called genially. “Out for a stroll?”
“Hello,” replied Arthur. “We were taking advantage of the fine weather.”
“Yes, it's an improvement on yesterday, isn't it? A bit chilly, though.”
“Oh, we don't feel the cold,” answered Molly, adding silently thanks to our warming charms.
“Mr Woodbury, this is my wife, Molly. Molly, this is Mr Woodbury who talked to us in the lane yesterday.”
“Oh, do call me Philip. Pleased to meet you. How did you get on with your builder?”
“He gave us a lot to think about,” answered Arthur. “That's partly why we're having this walk. We want to get a bit of inspiration.”
“I tell you what. Why don't you come round the back and see my office? I am rather proud of it.”
“We wouldn't want to disturb your car washing,” said Molly, nervously.
“Not at all! I'm more or less finished.”
He led the way round the side of the house and into the back garden. Molly had to stifle a gasp. Through his job, Arthur had been to a number of muggle dwellings, but she had only limited experience of them. The magical world still didn't have much of what might be termed an affluent middle class and certainly not one that used land for pleasure. There were the wealthy old families like the Malfoys with their manors and well laid out parkland of course, but many witches and wizards used their magic to create space where there was none. Where there was land, it was used like the Weasleys did; for privacy, for food production and above all for quidditch. The idea of a spacious pleasure garden was a new concept for her. Whatever Woodbury had done after he had left the civil service, he had clearly prospered. There was a sweeping lawn, elegant flower beds, a number of mature shrubs and even a small pond. In the middle was a small octagonal summer house similar to the one they'd seen earlier. At the back, built into the hillside, was what Philip termed his office, although it was far grander than that. The upper floor, which was obviously longer than the lower one, housed the garage. The main part of the lower floor contained the office, but there were also a couple of sheds and storerooms.
Philip led them inside. It was something of a hybrid of a traditional study and a modern office. He had a built in bench and shelving for his computer and its accessories. Arthur was intrigued to see the phone and the router blinking away. There was also a comfortable seating area. Large windows gave good light even in February, whilst an efficient heating system provided warmth and led both Weasleys to silently cancel their warming charms. It was both comfortable and functional. Arthur and Molly shared a secret smile – even if this wasn't exactly what they were looking for, it certainly showed them what could be done. Arthur was enchanted by the idea that a muggle building could have one floor larger than another (and indeed opening onto a completely different road) and he took delight in going up the steps to the garage (although he was thwarted by the up and over door).
The door from the garden opened and a woman walked in. She was about the same age as Philip and had dyed chestnut hair in a bob. She was quite tall and reasonably slender and wore a smart woollen dress.
“This is where you're hiding, Philip. I thought you were washing the car!” she teased.
“I'm sorry. We've distracted him,” apologised Molly.
“Darling, this is Arthur who I met yesterday and his good lady wife, Molly. This is my better half, Barbara.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she said. “Don't worry, Molly. He always gets distracted by something when he's doing the cars. Chair of the Parish Council? You would think he was King of England the way he gives audiences!”
“They're thinking of having an outdoor workshop built. I was just showing them what we've done.”
“That's your excuse! Shall I put the kettle on? Come on, Molly. Come into my nice warm kitchen and leave the boys to their toys.”
“If you're sure it's not too much trouble?”
“Not at all. I've a batch of flapjacks just due to come out of the oven.”
Barbara strode across the garden. Molly trotted along in her wake, surreptitiously transfiguring her robe into something more akin to Barbara's dress.
“Those smell lovely!” exclaimed Molly as they entered the kitchen.
“Oh, they're just an old standby I can knock up in a few minutes. Do you enjoy baking, Molly?”
The two women chatted amicably for several minutes, bonding over their love of cooking and pride in their families. Molly was enthralled by the various gadgets Barbara used. If she was a bit vague about the implements and techniques she used herself, Barbara wasn't surprised. Most competent cooks were. There was only one main misunderstanding.
“What sort of cooker do you have?” asked Barbara.
“Just a range,” replied Molly.
“Just a range! Now I know you're a serious cook. I'm still on my dear old Aga, not that I'd part from it.”
Molly wondered silently why someone would prefer her blackened old stove to the cream enamel device in the other woman's kitchen, not realising that the word range had very different meanings for each of them.
“Let's take these through. If the boys don't reappear in a minute, we'd better go and rescue your husband before Philip bores him to death.”
“I'm sure he'll be absolutely fascinated,” Molly replied truthfully.
At that moment, the men came in from the garden.
“It was nice to meet your son and his wife yesterday,” Philip said. “Did they have a good journey back to London?”
“Erm, yes. I think so” replied Arthur.
“Which way did they go – A303 or M5?”
“I don't honestly know.”
“It's not so bad this time of year, I suppose. It's the summer when the roads get blocked.”
“Philip!” chided his wife. “Not everyone is as obsessed with roads as you are!”
“I only thought if they're doing that journey regularly, it must get tiresome, especially with small children.”
“Oh, I think they have their methods!” said Molly, Such as apparition and the floo.
“What did you think of Philip's office, Arthur?” asked Barbara.
“Very nice. It's given me a lot of ideas.”
“I don't think we'll have somewhere quite that grand, though” added Molly, more to her husband than anyone else. “We were only talking about a wooden building.”
“You need to speak to Mike Tomlinson, then,” suggested Philip. “Do you know Mike and Alison, from Church Cottage? They used a local firm, over the other side of Long Ottery. Totally bespoke – let them design exactly what they wanted. They're very pleased with it.”
“Yes, she told us all about it at the WI,” concurred Barbara. “You ought to join the WI, Molly.”
“Witches' Institute,” joked Philip. “The local coven meets on the third Monday of the month in the hall.”
“Witches' Institute?” queried Molly. Had they guessed? Surely they couldn't be magical or she and Arthur would know them.
“Philip! Don't be naughty!” scolded his wife. “I'll tell Alison you called it that!”
“No! Don't do that! She might never give me a slice of Victoria Sandwich again!”
“It's the Women's Institute, Molly. Philip has to have his little joke. We have cookery demonstrations, guest speakers, that sort of thing. We do a lot of baking. You'd enjoy it, I'm sure.”
“I'll think about it.”
“It's starting to go a little dark already,” said Barbara. “Roll on next month when the clocks go forward! Let me put the light on.”
She got up and pressed the switch. The sudden bright light momentarily surprised Molly. Fortunately, the Woodburys were looking the other way.
Arthur, if we're going to use this footpath, don't you think we ought to be going?”
Arthur looked at the clock on the mantle piece, not daring to get his wizard's watch out: “Yes, we'd better get a move on.”
“That will take you right past Mike and Alison's” said Philip. “You could take a peek at their shed as you pass.”
“You need to finish the cars, Philip,” chided his wife. “And there's the dog to walk.”
“Yes. They haven't invented self-cleaning ones, yet.”
Molly caught sight of Arthur's face at the idea of self-cleaning cars and shot him a stern look: Don't even think about it, Arthur Weasley!
“Well, it's lovely to have met you both,” said Barbara. “Do think about the WI, Molly. We could always do with new members. Just ignore Philip. He's only jealous because it's the one organisation in the village he's not allowed to be chairman of.”
They said their goodbyes and the Weasleys set off up the footpath.
“He's a rum old cove, isn't he?” commented Philip.
“A rum old cove?” repeated his wife, mockingly. “What a quaint expression!”
“You know what I mean! There's something a bit naïve about them, child-like even. You should have seen him over my computer!”
“You have that effect on everyone when you get going!” she teased. “Molly seemed to know her stuff about cooking, anyway. She was a bit tight-lipped at times, but I got the impression she just didn't want to give away any of her trade secrets. I have a feeling that she'll turn out to have a recipe for Dundee Cake that's been handed down through five generations and a light touch with her Victoria Sponge to outshine Alison's.”
“Oh – we're allowed to be rude about Alison again now, are we?”
“There's a difference between wanting someone knocked down a peg or two and accusing them of witchcraft, Philip!”
“That's the other thing: did you see her face when I mentioned witches?”
“Well, that joke is wearing very thin, if it was ever funny to start with. And some people are a bit sensitive about witchcraft and so on, aren't they. Not everyone thinks its all make-believe. Perhaps they're devout Christians or something.”
“I did wonder if they were in some sort of cult. He was wearing the most peculiar get-up yesterday.”
“It would be none of our business if they were. They're grown adults. There was one rum thing, though, to use your word. I could have sworn Molly was wearing some sort of floor-length dress with an odd pattern when she arrived, but when we got in the kitchen it was a perfectly normal dress. It must have been a trick of the light.”
“A dress with a rising hemline. I like the sound of that! You'll have to ask her where she got it!”
“My hems are high enough already, you dirty old man!”
“Less of the old!”
“I notice you don't deny the dirty bit! Now come on! Get this poor dog out for its walk before it starts crossing its legs!”
“What was all this about the Witches' Institute?” asked Molly. “They must have guessed!”
“I don't think so,” replied Arthur, thoughtfully. “There wasn't anything loaded about the comment and he didn't follow it up. I think it was just a joke. Muggles are funny – they don't believe in magic and yet it comes into their culture in all sorts of odd ways. Look at Halloween! I'm sure it's fine.”
“If you say so,” she said, doubtfully.
She shivered and they recast their warming charms. The track wasn't quite wide enough to be a green lane, but perhaps it had been considered as such in the packhorse era. It was certainly a rather superior path. It was straight and well-made, with high hedges either side. A couple of field-lengths beyond that, they climbed over a stile and took another, muddier one across the fields towards the church.
“Philip's office was quite impressive, wasn't it!” declared Arthur.
“Yes,” replied Molly doubtfully, “But far too grand for our needs.”
“Yes, but it gives us an idea of what is possible. Having an upstairs that opened onto another road was so clever!”
“But we don't need an upstairs, or to open onto another road.”
“I know we don't. I just meant the clever use of space.”
“It was certainly very warm. Those big windows made it so bright. And as for the electric light in the house...will we be able to have that, Arthur?”
“Of course! That's a big part of the reason we're doing this – to get eckletricity.
“You know what I mean!”
“Good. Neither of us are getting any younger and there's a limit to how many candles we can have burning at once. A nice bright light like that would be a real treat. You know, I'm not bothered about washing machines or food processors or any of the strange machines Barbara showed me – I can do all that with spells – but decent lighting – now, that really would be something!”
They went though a kissing gate, pausing for a quick smooch over the top of it as tradition dictates and passed into a track which skirted the back of the churchyard. Church Cottage was obvious by its location, although Cottage was perhaps a misnomer. Like St Catchpole's Barton it had been extended and gentrified beyond recognition. The shed abutted the track. Arthur peered through the window. Unfortunately, the owner happened to look out at the same time. The garden gate opened and he appeared.
“Can I help you?” he said in a less than friendly voice.
“Hello!” said Arthur, brightly, “I was just admiring your shed.”
“It's a garage.”
“Garage, then. We're just contemplating building something similar and are looking for ideas. Philip Woodbury told us how pleased you are with yours.”
“Oh, His Majesty recommended us did he?” he man answered, a smile now playing on his lips and an amused tone appearing in his voice. “He'll be giving us a crest to put up soon and a sign saying By Appointment to the Chairman of The Parish Council.”
Arthur and Molly smiled nervously.
“I'm just on the way out, but you can have a quick look, if you like.” He led them through the gate. “It probably doesn't look that special to you, but the point is that they were able to give us exactly what we wanted when no-one else could. Everyone else does standard products off the shelf. You can see how awkward this site is – we needed to fit it in round the tree.”
They went inside. He was right – it was a fairly ordinary garage with a storeroom to one side. It was outside that the genius showed – it was understated and elegant and fitted perfectly into its site.
“I think I've thrown all the bumph away now,” he continued, “But you're probably best visiting their showroom. Do you call it a showroom if it's outside? You know what I mean, anyway. They're called Otterly Outbuildings. It's the far side of Long Ottery on the Honiton Road. They've got dozens of examples on show and their consultants are really helpful. Understood what we wanted better than we did. They're not cheap, but then it's a lot of money to spend on something that isn't quite right.”
They left the building and went back into the lane.
“I hope that's helped. Sorry I was a bit brief but I really do have to go out.”
“Not at all,” said Arthur, smiling. You've been very helpful.”
Just then, Philip and Towser appeared from the opposite direction. Philip was wearing a head torch that Arthur quietly admired.
“Ah, good! You've met Molly and Arthur!” he said by way of greeting.
“Oh is that their names? I found them trampling all over my flower-beds,” Mike parried, winking at Molly who was looking horrified. “Have you started selling tickets to my garden, now Philip?”
“Just being neighbourly. I'm glad I've seen you, anyway, Mike. I've got a couple of parish council items I need to discuss.”
“No time, Philip. I'm dashing to Tesbury's before they shut. Sunday opening and all that.”
“We'd better make a move, too,” said Arthur, making a swift exit before they could be further embroiled in Mike and Philip's banter.”
They walked onto the lane and turned towards home. They trudged in silence for a while, then Arthur said:
“I did like the look of that.”
“It's still not quite what we're looking for, though.”
“You heard him. They can do whatever we want. The cleverness of both places we saw today was the way the outside fits the site beautifully whilst giving the inside they need. I don't think I quite understood that before. Magical buildings don't need to do that. Whenever we've needed another room for the Burrow, we've just added it. It doesn't matter what the outside looks like because only we can see it and it doesn't matter whether it can stand up because we just use spells. Then there's Grimauld Place – a compact town house on the outside and a vast sprawl of rooms inside. I think we need to visit this Otterly Outbuildings.”
“That man – Mike was it? – said they weren't cheap. Can we afford it?”
“We'll have to see what price they quote us, but I think we should have enough money to pay for it, with this bonus that's coming. I think Mike was right when he said that if you're paying so much out, you need to get it right. I know we only set out to have a holiday, but the more we look into having this building, the more important it feels, maybe more important than the trip. You saw Dean and Dennis on their phones yesterday. Philip was very similar with his computer today. These muggles can do things with these contraptions that we just can't do with magic. I think we have to go ahead with this.”
“You're probably right, but it's all so new to me. The children did say they'd contribute towards the holiday.”
They walked on in silence. At last they reached the end of Long Lane and the noticeboard that Philip had been so interested in the previous day.
“See!” Arthur said triumphantly. “Women's Institute, Ottery St Catchpole Branch. Chairwoman Alison Tomlinson. Secretary Barbara Woodbury. Meet third Monday of the month in the Memorial Hall. Philip was just yanking our broom.”
They carried on back towards the Burrow.
“You've gone quiet, Arthur.”
“Why don't we go to Otterly Outbuildings on Saturday and see what they can do?”
“But what about Dean?”
“He was going to order the building in from somewhere, anyway. I don't suppose he'll mind where we get it from. Anyway, he isn't going to get a choice. This is our shed, worskshop, office or whatever you want to call it. We'll do it our way. The children want what's best for us, I'm sure, but we're the best judges of that.”
She stopped in the middle of the lane, hugged her husband tightly and kissed his lips softly.
“What was that for?” he asked her.
“I love you, Arthur Weasley!”
“I love you, too. Let's get back to this sofa!”
A green lane is an unmade track, possibly used by farmers or just as a bridleway.
The WI is a real organisation, much as described in this chapter. It was formed in 1915, originally to revitalise rural communities and encourage food production, but is now the largest women's voluntary organisation in the UK [Source: WI website]. Most villages have a WI, but it is no long entirely rural or so twee.
I suspect that discussing which road to take ad nauseam is a peculiarly English quirk. The M5 is the motorway (free way/autobahn/whatever), which is longer but in theory quicker, whereas the A303 is an ordinary main road, with quite a bit of dual carriageway (particularly nearer London), but also long, winding single carriageway stretches which create bottlenecks. Both roads get horrendously snarled in summer. [Sorry – I think I've just turned into a road bore!]
Chapter 8: Guerilla Tactics
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Arthur was very busy for the next week. As soon as they got back from the Sunday walk, he went up to the paddock, using the last vestiges of daylight to look at its contours and corners in a completely new way. Then he cast a muggle-repelling charm at either end and conjured a ghostly box shape which he rotated, stretched and moved around the field. After dinner, he lit as many lamps and candles as he could, took over the kitchen table, and covered it in parchment, sketching and scribbling outlines. Even when Molly made cocoa and he went to sit with her in the parlour, he was still working. He didn't dare ask her outright what she wanted from the new building because he knew she would simply issue a tirade of what she didn't want. Instead, by gently probing her about their afternoon walk, he began to form an idea of what she'd liked about the buildings they'd seen. It was perhaps slightly surprising what they both liked. Above all, they wanted heat and light. They also wanted somewhere that was stylish and orderly. The Burrow's idiosyncrasies were its very charm. It was quite literally built on love; each generation of Weasleys having added layers of spells to create somewhere comfortable for their family. The new building would present a respectable front to the world, somewhere they could even invite Philip and Barbara without feeling uncomfortable.
On Monday, Arthur sent Dean an owl, politely asking whether it would be convenient for him to visit them the following evening. Arthur didn't deem it necessary to inform his children of the meeting.
“You're going to have to stop feeding me up like this, Mrs Weasley,” said Dean through a mouthful of cake, “Or Luna is going to ban me from coming!”
“Nonsense!” beamed Molly. “You've been hard at work all day.”
“Well, it does seem a long time since lunch,” he replied, taking another mouthful. “Anyway, 'ow can I 'elp ya? 'Ave you chosen a shed yet?”
“Yes and no,” replied Arthur, nervously eyeing the plate of cake and wondering what Molly would say if he were to take a piece. “We've got an idea of what we want, but we've a couple of questions first.”
“Do we have to choose a building from one of your catalogues, or can we find our own?” asked Arthur. “Someone has recommended a local firm to us.”
“Phil the Nimby?” asked Dean. “Get it from wherever you like, guv. Probably best if you tell me what you want and let me order it for you, though. I'll probably be able to get a trade discount, see.”
“It was sort of Philip,” replied Arthur. “He told us that one of his friends had been pleased with his shed and then we went to look at it. We don't have a brochure yet.”
“Sounds like you're well in there! Next thing you know, Phil will think this whole project was his own idea in the first place. You can't beat keeping the neighbours on side.”
“What information will they need? You took measurements and things, didn't you?”
“'Alf a mo.”
Dean got a piece of graph paper out of his briefcase and then geminied it.
“All the measurements you need are on 'ere, guv. It's all in metric cos that's what they use nowadays, but would you prefer imperial?”
“Er...I don't tend to use either, to be honest. I just do it by eye and use my wand to alter it.”
“Don't we all! Unfortunately, if we're doing muggle work, we need to measure it proper. You can use conversio to swap between the two measurements.”
“This paper is impressive, Dean,” said Arthur, admiringly.
“It's just bog standard graph paper. You'll get it in any stationer's. Each square on the paper represents a bigger square on the ground – so two centimetres equate to one metre on this one.”
“How much is this all going to cost, Dean?” asked Molly.
He shrugged: “How long is a piece of Spellotape? Obviously the building itself is the biggest part. Give me yer paper, guv.”
He wrote a few figures on the back of Arthur's gemini.
“That's the building regs fee,” he explained. “It's in Sterling, so divide by five to get a rough guess in Galleons. What sort of building are you going for, guv? Just a basic box?”
“Accio parchment!” said Arthur, pointing his wand at the sideboard. “Three rooms, something like that.” He passed the sheet to Dean.
Dean let out a low whistle and wrote another figure on the paper: “Nice! Off the top of my head, around this much for me. I dunno about Dennis. You'll need to discuss what electrics you want with him. Once you've spoken to the building people, I'll give Harry a hoot with my quote.”
“Harry?” asked Molly, incredulously.
“Yeah. He told me to send it to him. Come to think of it, you don't need to worry too much about the cost, do ya? I thought your children were paying for it?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, sternly. “It's our shed!”
He held his hands up in surrender: “Woah! Hold your hippogriffs! Don't hex the owl! I'm only going on what I was told. Call me old-fashioned, but I've made it my policy never to argue with an auror. And Hermione and Ginny are just as scary.”
“She gets it from her mother!” she hissed, menacingly.
“Don't worry Dean,” said Arthur, smiling reassuringly. “I think there's just been a bit of a misunderstanding. Send your quote to Harry as planned and we'll speak to him. Now, we mustn't keep you. I'm sure Luna's got your tea on the table.”
Dean laughed: “Yeah, and she's scarier than Ginny when she gets going. Laters!”
With that, he stepped into the fireplace.
“Arthur...” began, but he rested his hand gently on her arm.
“It can all be sorted, Molly. Why don't we go to this place on Saturday and see what they've got to say. If we offer to pay them direct, I can't see them objecting.”
“But Dean said he could probably get us a discount.”
Arthur waved his hand dismissively: “Pah! I know this sort of place. It'll be like negotiating with Mundungus Fletcher. They probably offer everyone a discount and it ends up with you paying more than it started off as! Anyway, as long as we can afford it, does it matter if Dean could have saved us a couple of Galleons?”
“What?” he asked.
“You've just reminded me where George gets it from!”
She kissed him tenderly: “ I love you, Arthur Weasley.
“I love you, too,” he replied.
He leant in to give her another kiss, but his stomach gurgled.
She laughed: “Alright. I get the message! Love can wait – it's time for dinner!”
On Wednesday, Arthur was late home again. He went to Gringotts and spoke to a wizened old goblin on the muggle exchange counter. On the way, he went into John Frenzy's. This time, he didn't buy any magazines. Instead, he purchased graph paper, pens, pencils and rulers, not to mention a head-torch like Philip's that caught his eye.
That evening, by the light of the torch, he painstakingly drew out his plans for the building, occasionally using his wand to conjure shadowy shapes to represent what he was drawing.
Molly came in to make the cocoa. Suddenly, she was transported back to the Gryffindor common room of their youth, when she would watch her boyfriend utterly engrossed in his Muggle Studies NEWT homework. He and Charity Burbage had been the only class members ; indeed they were the first NEWT level students for years. They had only been allowed to do it on the understanding that they would be largely self-taught. He still came out with an O. There was something incredibly sexy about his utter concentration. Back in the 21st century, she leant over his shoulder to see what he was doing, put her arms round his neck and kissed his cheek.
She was watching him with a smile all the time they were drinking.
He drained his cup: “Bedtime, I think.”
“How tired are you?” she asked with a glint in her eye.
“Not that tired!” he replied with a grin.
“Come on then!”
Hand in hand, they went up to bed, rejoicing that the days of worrying about either muffliato or contraception had long gone.
On Saturday morning, they donned their muggle best and apparated to the car park of Otterly Outbuildings. Since they didn't know the layout of the place, they disillusioned themselves first. As they rematerialised, Arthur planted a kiss on Molly's lips.
“Oi! What are you playing at?” she whispered.
“Just checking you're still there,” he replied.
“That's your excuse!”
He held her hand and led them round to a secluded corner by the bins where they could re-illusion themselves. They then walked back to the main entrance and strolled among the mind-boggling array of buildings. There were play houses like Swiss cottages and even a tree-house, which Arthur looked at longingly.
“You're not getting me up there, Arthur Weasley,” Molly chided sternly.
“I was wondering about the grandchildren.”
“James and Freddy get up to enough mischief on the ground without encouraging them skywards! Anyway, this is meant to be for us.”
They wandered on. Arthur was rather taken by the plastic sheds, but Molly wasn't.
“Oh no, Arthur! I wouldn't know what to do with it. And I don't think they look very smart.”
“Come to think of it, we didn't see many in the village. Maybe you're right.”
I don't think Philip would approve!”
There were big buildings and small ones, simple ones and ornate ones. Arthur walked round with a look of upmost concentration on his face, taking in all the details. Molly looked too, but her eyes and mind were elsewhere as well, taking in their fellow browsers.
“I feel very conspicuous, Arthur,” she whispered. “I'm sure everyone will know what we are.”
“How can they, luv? We're dressed as muggles.”
“We're not dressed like Hermione and Harry, are we?”
“Neither are these people! Anyway, they've come to look at the sheds, not us.”
“The men, maybe, but women are capable of multi-tasking.”
“Look – I walk down the Charing Cross Road all the time and no-one notices me.”
“But this isn't the Charing Cross Road! At Christmas, Harry and Fleur were saying how much easier it is to go unnoticed in London than a small village like Tinmouth.”
“But this isn't Tinmouth, either. People have driven here from all over. They're not interested in us, honestly.”
“If you say so,” she replied, doubtfully.
They had lunch in the café, talking over what they had seen. Molly was becoming more forthcoming. Arthur put his graph paper on the table, looked round nervously and aimed his wand at it from under the table to erase some of the lines. He redrew them, the wand on his knee allowing him to do just as neat a job freehand as if he had had all his equipment with him.
He showed his finished work to Molly.
“I can't make handle or twig of it,” she said. “Will it have big windows like that summer house we saw.”
“Yes. In the central room. Then there's a workshop for me - “
She raised an amused eyebrow at him.
“- and a room for you.”
“What's that for?”
“Whatever you like. I'm going to ask Dean about putting pumbling in.”
“I said I don't want a washing machine or anything, Arthur.”
“I know you did, luv, but it would be easier to put the pipes in from the start than add them afterwards. Anyway, I thought we could have a toilet down there, too.”
She looked at it a bit more, then pushed it back to Arthur.
“Are you happy with it then?” he asked.
“If you say it's what we want, I'll take your word for it.”
“Shall we go and speak to someone, then?”
“I suppose so.”
They entered the main building and approached the desk of a man, which bore a plaque stating Mike Musgrave – Design Consultant. If Mike was at all surprised by the Weasley's attire, he was too much of a professional to show it.
“Good morning sir, madam. How can I help you?”
Arthur produced his graph paper.
“This is very impressive, Mr?”
“Weasley. Arthur Weasley.”
And this is your good lady?”
“Molly,” she said.
“Yes, this is very impressive, Arthur. I wish all our customers were as thorough. So you want picture windows in the centre and a door at the side? Toilet in the rear left corner? Yes, this all looks straightforward. Have you looked around our show buildings here? What style you would like?”
Arthur looked at Molly.
“We quite like the Balmoral,” she said.
“Yes, I think that would complement this design very well. Now we can offer a full package of design, although you've basically done that already, manufacture and erection.”
“Actually we have a builder we were hoping to use,” said Arthur. “Is that a problem?”
“Not at all! Not at all! If you could just give me their details, we'll liaise with them. “
“Here's his card” said Arthur, hoping that the Floo Address was only visible to wizards.
“Thanks. I should have your quote done in a couple of days. What's the best way to contact you – email?”
“Erm, I don't have email at the moment,” stuttered Arthur.
“Not a problem! Not everyone does. Just give me your postal address and I'll also give you a ring with the basic cost.”
Molly gave Arthur a panicked look.
“It's probably best if I give you my work details,” replied Arthur. “We're a bit all over the place at the moment.”
PO Box 101
“Great! And the phone?”
“020 5500 1011”
“You work in London, then? But the building is going somewhere local, I take it?”
“Yes. It's on Long Lane in Ottery St Catchpole.”
“I'm afraid I don't know. It's just a field at the moment, you see.”
“No problem. Our guys should be able to find it easily enough. How far up Long Lane is it?”
“The first gate on the left as you come out of the village.”
“Great. Well I'll be in touch then, Mr Weasley.” He shook their hands firmly.
“I hadn't thought about addresses” worrited Molly, as they walked out. “Will it be alright giving your work one?”
“I'd have thought so. It's a good job I work in the Muggle Liaison Office. There's an awful lot in the Ministry who don't have a phone. I'm sure there's some who don't even know where the post room is.”
They walked round the side of the building to bin alcove in order to apparate home.
“And keep your hands to yourself this time, Arthur Weasley!” she chided, with a grin.
“You're no fun!”
Sorry for the delay in posting. It's been a combination of real life getting in the way (how dare it!), hitting a bit of a block on this chapter and my muse heading off in various other directions. Unfortunately, my head makes up stories far faster than my fingers can type them. Hopefully, the next chapter will follow a bit more speedily.
Chapter 9: Burrow Meadows
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Dean had finished early on site and had spent a large part of the afternoon at home, catching up on paperwork. He had finally had the email from Otterly Outbuildings, meaning he could complete Harry's quotation. Unfortunately, it hadn't quite said what he'd been expecting.
Luna's voice rang shrill and clear up the stairwell: “Dean! I'm serving up!”
“'Alf a mo, darlin'. I just need to give 'Arry a quick hoot.”
Dean stared accusingly at the message from Otterly Outbuildings, which was sat defiantly on his computer screen. When he'd phoned them to query it, Mike had described Mr Weasley as a character. Dean couldn't argue with that! Despite himself, he chuckled now at what Mike had told him. He just wished that some of his customers weren't characters. All he wanted was to be able to quote a fair price, do a good job, be supplied with reasonable amounts of tea and biscuits and get paid promptly at the end – that wasn't too much to ask, was it? Harry wasn't going to be happy, and when Harry Potter wasn't happy, you knew about it. It was always a mistake working for friends. It was almost impossible to avoid people you knew in the magical world, though.
He typed the last details into his quote and printed it out. He read through it ruefully, rolled it up into a size suitable for posting and then opened the window and called to his owl, Bovis. That was another thing: why couldn't wizards use email like everyone else! He tied it to Bovis's leg: “'Ere you are, boy. Take this straight to 'Arry Potter. Let's 'ope 'e's heard the adage Don't hex the owl.”
The owl hooted in assent and set off into the evening gloom.
Plimpy and dirigible plum pie may not be to everyone's taste, but Dean generally enjoyed it. He had quite adventurous tastes, Luna's cooking was immeasurably better than her dad's and frankly, after a hard day on site, Dean was prepared to eat practically anything. Tonight, however, his mind was not on food. He kept glancing anxiously at the window.
“What's the matter, Dean?” asked Luna.
“I'm half expecting an answer from Harry.”
She laughed: “He won't reply yet. They'll be in the middle of eating. Not everyone's as keen as you, Dean Thomas!”
But she was wrong. Just as she was about to serve out seconds, there was a gentle tap at the window. Dean opened it with his wand. Bovis came in and held out his leg, hooting dolefully. Clearly, Harry hadn't literally hexed the owl, but had come close. Dean wondered if you could buy owl-sized ear defenders. He took the note off and read it, frowning.
“No more for me, Loo. I need to go over to Harry's.”
“It can wait until we've finished, surely?”
“Nope. I've been summoned. Best get it over with.”
He walked over to the chimney (a false one Dean had built especially for flooing) and took a pinch of powder from the earthenware jar on the mantle piece.
“Give them my love!”
“I don't think it will be that sort of meeting, gal.”
After a brief, dizzying journey, he stepped out of the hearth into the kitchen of 12 Grimauld Place. Kreacher bowed low:
“Master is waiting for you in the drawing room, Mr Dean.”
Not a cosy chat round the kitchen table, then. Not a surprise, but hardly an auspicious omen. The elderly elf led him upstairs, shuffling and wheezing. He opened the door to the drawing room and bowed:
“Mr Dean, Master.”
He exited backwards. Dean heard him cross the hallway and enter another room:
“Mr Dean is here, Mistress. I shall look after the children so you can attend the meeting.”
“Thank you Kreacher.”
Ginny came into the room and sat on the sofa with Harry, Hermione and Ron. Dean found himself sat in a chair facing them.
It's like a boggarting interrogation He thought to himself.
“Thanks for coming,” Harry said curtly. “We're a bit puzzled by your quote. It seems rather low.”
Dean laughed nervously: “That's not a complaint I get often! I did explain that Den and I would do it at mates' rates. Dan the plumber has given you a good price, too. I don't know if you know him – he was a Hufflepuff in Den's year. To be honest, I laid it on thick about how much work you were going to give him. “
“We get all the bits in Galleons. It's the Sterling part we don't understand. There doesn't seem to be a price for the actual building.”
Dean fidgeted with is collar: “Well, you see, that bit is er, prepaid.”
“What do you mean, prepaid? I thought I made it clear that all invoices were to come to me.”
“Guv?! Since when have I been guv?”
“Since you started treating me like the prime suspect. Shouldn't I be under Caution or somefink?”
“He has a point Harry,” interjected Ginny. “You're not at work now!”
“I don't think Harry knows the difference! I pity Lily when she starts seeing boys!” laughed Ron.
“Because you're going to be the most laid back dad ever! Yeah, right!” countered Ginny.
“Honestly! The girls aren't even in school yet!” chided Hermione. “Stop worrying about their love lives. Not that will be any of your business when the time comes.”
“I am worried about that Oscar at playgroup. He keeps looking at Rose funny,” commented Ron.
“He's three, Ron! He's only interested in Granny Molly's cake!”
“He'd make a good Weasley, then!” whispered Harry.
“ Back to this shed,” continued Hermione. “What happened, Dean?”
“Well, remember that Phil geezer who was snooping around in when I came to measure up?”
“Oh yes! The man with the black Labrador!” replied Hermione.
“Who's this?” asked Harry.
“A neighbour,” explained Dean. “Chairman of the parish council and Merlin knows what else. I think he was worried we were about to erect Windsor Castle on the plot.”
“Don't give dad any ideas!”muttered Ron.
“Anyway, he recommended some place local and the guvnor... I mean Mr Weasley... I mean Ron's old man got very keen.
“I still don't understand why you couldn't have dealt with that firm yourself and let us have the bill as planned,” asked Harry.
“The guvnor didn't give us the chance, mate. Asked me if it was OK to use this firm. Said he was going to have a mooch at their display models. Next thing I know, I'm getting an email saying it's paid in full.”
“But how did he pay for it?” asked Hermione. “They don't even have a bank account.”
Dean chuckled: “According to Mike at the shed place, he walked into the showroom, slapped three grand on the counter and asked: 'Any discount for cash?'”
Three grand what?” asked Ron.
“Three thousand pounds, Ron,” explained Hermione. “Honestly! You can't walk round with that sort of money in your back pocket. He could have been mugged!”
“He's a wizard, Hermione,” retorted Ron. “I bet his money was safer than one of those security vans muggles use.”
Harry started laughing.
“I always knew he'd surprise us!” he said. “You're dad always does things his own way!”
“The important thing is that they get what they want,” said Ginny.
“Look,” said Dean. “I'm a builder, not a relationship counsellor. I don't care who pays me as long as someone does. But it's the guvnor's shed and from what I've seen he's done a boggarting good job designing it. Mike was well impressed!
“He would say that!” interjected Harry.
“Harry, I'm a builder. I know salesman's flannel when I hear it. The guvnor turned up with a clear idea of what they wanted and everything drawn out on graph paper. That's better than most muggles would.”
“You're right, Dean. I'm sorry if I went off the deep end a bit,” apologised Harry.
“No prob, Mate.”
Dean stuck his hand out and Harry shook it.
“What's he getting for his three grand, anyway?” asked Harry.
“Hogwarts complete with the secret passages!” replied Dean with a wink.
Hermione put her head in her hands.
“I exaggerate a little. A very presentable three room structure with a workshop, kitchen and a cross between an office and a sun room. Couldn't have designed it better myself.”
“Do you want to stay for some pudding, Dean?” asked Ginny.
“I ought to be getting back. Luna's got mine waiting for me. I don't want to be told off by her and all! She's suspicious you're paying me in cake as it is!”
He headed towards the door.
“Bye, Dean!” they chorused.
“Send our love to Luna!” added Ginny.
“Oh yeah! She sends hers to you, too.”
He closed the door and headed back downstairs to the floo.
“They really need a bank account!” declared Hermione.
“Hmmm,” responded Harry. “There's no rush is there?”
“But they can't go round with cash like that in their pockets! They might get arrested! Not everywhere will take cash like that. They certainly can't pay for stuff online with it.”
“No,” replied Harry smugly. “They can't. We'll have to do it for them.”
“Clever, mate!” said Ron appreciatively.
“Harry, I don't think it's that simple,” said Ginny. “I mean he's already managed to buy his shed with cash.”
“Yes, I know, but - “
“This is dad we're talking about.”
“I know that.”
“My dad. George's dad. The man who's been hiding illegally modified muggle gear from mum for the last forty years. He's a Weasley through and through. If he hits a barrier, he just goes round it!”
A few days later, Ottery St Catchpole was disturbed from its early morning slumber by the throaty roar of Dean's van. (The thestral had been left tethered on a secluded corner of the common with a sheep's carcass to graze on and a disillusionment charm). By ten o'clock they had erected an amenity hut and made a good start on the footings for the new building.
Molly came towards them across the field.
“Ooh! You have done a lot!” she declared. “Would you like a cup of coffee, boys?”
“No thanks, Mrs W,” said Dean. “We're going to knock off for the day now. We can't be seen doing too much at once or the muggles will get suspicious. Once they can see we've started, we can use concealment charms and make a bit more progress.”
“If you're sure. I have just made some biscuits.”
“Oh well! It would be rude to refuse. Come on lads!”
They downed tools and trooped across to the Burrow.
And the muggles were very interested in their progress. Towser found his walks taking him down Long Lane far more frequently than hitherto, and they always stopped in the Weasleys' gateway for Philip to peer over the top.
There's never anyone here!” he thought, “But they're certainly getting on well. Never any noise or mess either. I must use them next time I need a job doing.”
A few weeks later, the village was disturbed again by a low loader backing gingerly down the lane. Arthur, Molly and Dean watched nervously as the driver expertly manoeuvred the panels off his lorry with his crane, stacking them up neatly ready for use.
“The next thing I'll need is a name for this place, so I can register your address with the council,” said Dean. “There's no house numbers down here, is there?”
“A name?” asked Arthur. “What like?”
“Whatever you like, within reason, guv.” He gave Arthur a wink: “Burrow Barton?”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Molly. “Too pretentious.”
“People often name their houses after what they've obliterated to build them,” laughed Dean.
“Well, it's built in our paddock,” answered Arthur.
“Nah! Burrow Paddock doesn't work, somehow,” countered Dean.
“Burrow Meadows?” suggested Molly.
“I like it!” concurred Arthur. “Burrow Meadows it is!”
“Sorted!” said Dean. “I'll get onto them. Once we've got your address, we can get you power and whatever else your need.”
It puzzled Philip that he never saw a crane at Burrow Meadows. Surely they weren't manhandling all the panels, were they? However they were doing it, they were making quick work of it. The building quickly took shape, despite his rarely spotting anyone on site.
The shell was up and watertight before he saw Dean again.
“Ah! There you are!” he said brightly. “You never seem to be here when I go past.”
“I told you guv,” replied Dean. You'll hardly know we're here.”
“I'm amazed you've got it up so quickly.”
Dean tapped his nose knowingly: “Molly Weasley's cake! You'll be surprised what you can get done when you've eaten a slice! 'Ere! 'Ave a piece. We get in trouble if we don't send the plate back empty and the missus is complaining I'm putting on weight.”
He passed a plate over to Philip.
“I say! This is delicious! We really must get her involved with the Flower and Produce Show.”
He looked over at the building: “It does look smart.”
“Yeah. That's down to Arthur's design, really. And the Otterly Outbuildings people. I just screw it all together.”
“More than that, surely? Anyway, I've mentioned your name to a couple at the other end of the village, who are thinking of having an extension built. Said what a good job you were doing.”
“Very kind of you!”
It seemed to Molly that, given they were employing someone to construct the shed, she and Arthur still had an awful lot they had to do. Leaving aside the constant supply of tea and cakes (and however much Dean made a show of protesting, he never actually said no), they seemed to have to make constant decisions about light fittings or taps or which side to hang a door. Dean, Dennis and Dan were constantly arriving at the back door of the Burrow with a tray of empty cups and a string of questions.
Once the men had gone home for the day, she had taken to spending a few minutes in Burrow Meadows before Arthur came home. She would breathe deeply the scent of new wood and gaze out of the big window at the rolling hills beyond. Although it was not constructed magically, it seemed to her as if it had its own magic. It felt as if it were alive. The Burrow had been the perfect place to raise a family, but the Meadows represented her hopes and dreams for the next phase of her life. She had initially resisted putting a sink in what was meant to be her room, on the grounds that this place was meant to be a refuge from her work, but she had reluctantly conceded its usefulness. Why would they want to return to the Burrow every time they wanted a cup of tea? She had struggled to envisage the three dimensional reality from the two dimensional plans. Even when they walked round Otterly Outbuildings and Arthur had said “We'll take this bit from this one and that bit from that one,” she couldn't put the jigsaw together. Now though, it was real. She could imagine herself sitting in there. She slowly began to divine how she would use the space: an airy place to sew and knit; and somewhere to store her wool and cloth. For Molly, making clothes for her family was as much pleasure as it was work.
They had finished their dinner. She and Arthur were in the Meadows, sat at the plastic table and garden chairs that Dean's men had put in there and looking at electrical fitting brochures under the temporary lighting that Dean had installed.
“It's so beautiful in here,” she said. “It seems a shame to start cutting holes in the woodwork for light switches and cluttering up the place with furniture.”
“That was kind of the point of the place,” he teased. “What shall we do, get Dean to build another one for us to actually use and just keep this one for show?”
“No, silly! It's exactly what we wanted. I just don't want it filling up with clutter like the house.”
“I know. It's beautiful and we don't want to submerge that beneath practicality.”
He flicked through the brochures: “What about these? They're not too blingy.”
“Blingy?! What sort of a word is that?”
“It's one of Dean's.”
“I thought it was!”
It means, you know, ostentatious. Sparkly. Like a flashing light. Bling bling!” he pulsed his hands .
“Lights don't make a noise!”
“I know. You're right...” He took a deep breath. “What about these? I think they'd fit in well.”
She laughed. “Yes. They're perfect. Honestly! Sometimes I think muggles speak an entirely different language.”
“Dean certainly does!”
There was a gentle knock on the door and Hermione came in, casting tergeo to clean the mud of her shoes.
“This is where you're hiding!” she said. “Gosh! It is coming on well, isn't it. It almost looks finished.”
“We were just choosing some sockets,” explained Arthur. “Molly doesn't want anything too...” he grinned at his wife,” ...blingy.
“Blingy!” exclaimed Hermione.
“Arthur has been spending too much time with Dean and is starting to talk like him,” explained Molly. “It means sparkly, apparently. Bling bling,” she added in a deadpan voice, 'flashing' her hands.
“I know it does,” she said, laughing. “Honestly! You two are full of surprises lately. What with going and buying this place with cash! Whatever made you do it? Muggles don't use cash like that any more.”
“I asked my financial advisor the best way to do it and that's what he recommended,” replied Arthur, gently.
“Your financial advisor?” she repeated incredulously.
“Yes. I went to speak the the Muggle Exchange desk in Gringott's. Groknak said –”
“Oh him!” she interrupted disdainfully. “I've dealt with him before. Real Old School. I'm surprised he didn't tell you to spit on the salesman's feet and swear in Gobbledygook!”
“I couldn't – Molly was with me,” he replied, winking.
“Gringott's need to update their advice,” she said. “It' just not the done thing to carry big wads of cash round.”
“Mike at the shed place accepted it perfectly happily!” countered Molly.
“Well, maybe he was a little taken aback,” qualified Arthur. “But that didn't stop him accepting it. And he did give us a good discount, just like Groknak said he would.”
“How much?” asked Hermione, weakly.
“It should have been much nearer to four thousand,” replied Arthur. “Three thousand, eight hundred and something, I think. Dean said he didn't think he could have got it cheaper.”
“Ay... eight hundred!” stammered Hermione. “OK. That's a pretty good discount. But please don't do it again. It's suspicious. Criminals and terrorists – ”
“What's a terrorist?” asked Arthur.
“Sort of like a muggle Death Eater. Someone who uses fear, violence and death go get political change. Criminals and terrorists will use their 'dirty' money – money they've got through crime – to buy something expensive like property and then sell it again to get clean money. It's called money laundering.”
“Well, we didn't get arrested. We got a bargain,” countered Molly. “And how are we meant to pay for things the muggle way if we don't have a muggle bank account?”
“We'll happily pay for you,” said Hermione, soothingly. “Harry – ”
“It's not Harry's shed, it's ours,” said Molly, firmly.
You are all being very kind and generous,” said Arthur, “But we want to be able to do things for ourselves. And you said you'd pay for the holiday. That will be enough, without all these other things on top. Now, how do we get a bank account?”
“That's sort of why I'm here,” said Hermione, producing a whole load of leaflets from her hand bag. “We need proof of your address to open that – money laundering regs again – and the best way to do that will be with your utility bills – electricity, phone and that sort of thing. Now Dean has registered your address with the council and Royal Mail have given it a post code, you can start appplying for things.”
Arthur started browsing: “Griffin Bank... Podmore's Bank...”
“Oh no! Those are the wrong ones. They're the banks. Hang onto those until we're ready if you like. We're with the Griffin. Audrey and Percy are too, I think. Podmore's also looks good. It's the ones underneath you need.”
Arthur passed one leaflet to Molly and opened up another himself. They read them carefully.
“How are we meant to choose between them?” Arthur asked. “Is one company's eckletricity better than another's?”
“No! It's all the same electricity. It comes down to price really.”
“I can't make handle or twig of these tariffs,” said Molly, frowning. “They seem very complicated and they all seem to charge in different ways.”
“The problem is,” replied Hermione, “That we don't actually know how much electricity you're going to use. It might be best just to pick one and then review it when we've a better idea of usage. They do recommend you change every couple of years anyway.”
“But won't that mean digging the road up again?” asked Molly.
“No! They'll use the same wires.”
“And how do we know which firm our neighbours use?” asked Arthur.
“But they might use a different one to us! All the wires are joined together – Dennis showed me. How does the eckletricity know which house to go to?”
Hermione laughed and then stopped herself. “It doesn't work like that! Let's say your with, I don't know, English Gas.”
“But we were talking about electricity!” interjected Molly.
“I know, but they supply electricity too. Anyway, They will make a contract with a generating company, or probably several companies, for enough electricity to supply all their customers. Then that company will put that amount of power into the grid.”
“What's the grid?” asked Arthur.
“The wires all over the country that carry the electricity. And if your neighbour's with, say, Powerforce, they'll do the same, so there is enough electricity for everyone, no matter which company you're with.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Arthur. “We're all getting exactly the same eckletricity but paying different amounts to different companies.”
“Yes,” replied Hermione.
“Wouldn't it be simpler just to have one company?” asked Molly.
“Well, that's how it used to work,” answered Hermione, “But the government thought it would bring down the prices if there was more competition.”
“And has it?”
“I don't know. The price still seems to go up and up. Still we don't know what it would be if there was still a monopoly.”
“The muggles do seem to know how to complicate things, don't they?” commented Molly.
In her unofficial role as Muggle Ambassador to the Weasleys, Hermione felt obliged to reply:
“Wizards make things just as complicated!”
But secretly, she agreed with Molly.
Being under caution is the British equivalent of being read your rights.
Guv/guvnor – Governor ie an informal term of respect.
Mooch – wander about aimlessly
Geezer – guy
Mates' rates – an especially low price given to friends
Old man – dad
Chapter 10: Sofa, so good!
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On the first Sunday of every month, the clan had dinner together at the Burrow. Charlie was excused, being in Romania, but everyone else was expected to attend. Harry usually made the starter and Fleur the pudding, whilst Molly did the roast and all the trimmings as only she could. At the April gathering, they were joined by Dennis, Dan, Dean and Luna, to celebrate the completion of Burrow Meadows.
Dinner had been eaten and the washing up done. The adults were gathered in the parlour drinking coffee whilst the children were getting increasingly fidgety. Outside, the April sun shone warm and blossom decked the trees of the orchard.
“I think we need to get these monsters outside for some fresh air,” suggested Hermione. “It's a beautiful day outside.”
“Would now be a good time to show you how everything works up at the shed, Mr Weasley?” asked
“Actually, if you're doing that, I've got some things to go through with you too,” added Hermione.
“Oh I see!” teased George. “You suggest we take the kids out and then get out of doing it! Come on, Ange, we know where our duties lie.”
“I'll help too,” offered Ginny. “Are you coming, Harry?”
“I er, think Hermione might need my help,” demurred Harry.
“Shall we all go up there?” suggested Bill. “I haven't seen it properly yet.”
“You know, the Meadows is meant to be your dad's and my special place,” countered Molly. “It's not just an extension of the Burrow for you lot to gallumph around in and mess up.”
“Oh come on, mum,” wheedled George. “You've got to give us all the guided tour. We'll be good.”
“And most of the trouble makers are staying outside!” laughed Harry.
“Who are you calling a trouble maker?” asked Ginny sternly with her hands on her hips.
“You! That's why I married you.”
“Anyway, it takes one to know one!” laughed George.
Those who kept wellies at the Burrow donned them and everyone else cast water repelling charms. They all trooped outside. Ginny fetched a quaffle from the broom shed and George started to lead the youngsters towards the orchard but Dean called out to him:
“George! The 'oss is in there. Better go up the paddock. ”
Whilst the children and more energetic adults started their game, the rest of them went into the building and Dean hastily stretched his plastic table and multiplied the chairs.
“It just needs some proper furniture now, father,” said Percy.
“'Ere! Are you insulting my table!” quipped Dean.
“It's on our to do list,” replied Arthur, “But Hermione says we shouldn't buy anything else until we have a muggle bank account.”
Harry looked at Hermione. She took a laptop out of her capacious shoulder bag, made even more capacious by an undetectable extension charm.
“What furniture are you looking for, Arthur?” asked Harry, trying to sound casual.
“We're not entirely sure. A desk and things for in here. A sofa.”
“A small sofa,” interjected Molly. “Just big enough for Arthur and me. And a little table.”
“Is the Wifi working yet, Dennis?” asked Hermione.
“Yep,” he answered. “The router is on the window sill and the password is on the back.”
“What's wifi?” asked Arthur.
“It's how the computer talks to the internet,” explained Hermione.
“What's the internet?” asked Molly.
“It's lots of computers all joined together, all over the world,” continued Hermione. “It means that when you get yours you can send emails – like letters but without the owls – buy things, look things up, share pictures and things with friends, all sorts. There's a big network of cables joining them together. One will go to your telephone exchange and then the signal goes down the copper phone wire to this hut. That box by the window is called a router. It's wireless – ”
“Like the wireless in the house.”
“Same principle, different use,” said Dennis.
“As I was saying,” continued Hermione, “The router is wireless, so it has a wire into the phone socket but talks to the computers by radio signal. When you get a printer, that should be wireless, too.”
“It all sounds very complicated,” commented Molly.
“Not really. You don't need to worry about the mechanics of it, just that the computer will be able to connect to other things without plugging it in.”
“How will it get its eckletricity then?” asked Arthur.
“You'll still need to plug it into the electricity to charge up, but not the phone line. And it will run off the battery for quite a while.”
She started up her laptop and connected to the internet, with Molly and Arthur looking on avidly.
“This is called a search engine,” she explained. “You type in what you're looking for into this box, then it finds the most suitable websites for you. The more precise you can be, the more accurate results it will produce. So we type...sofas east devon... and accio! there's your list. So we pick one that sounds hopeful, click on it and...ooh, these look nice.”
Arthur and Molly were soon absorbed in looking at furniture.
“So which is your favourite?” asked Hermione.
“What about this blue one?” asked Arthur. “Nice and cosy!”
“Da-ad!” spluttered Ron. “Too much information!”
“What your father means, dear,” said Molly, looking steely-eyed, “Is that there's room for us and no-one else.”
“You really are serious about this no-one's allowed in business, aren't you?” said an aghast Ron.
“Yes. My goodness! Is that the price? We can't afford that!”
“Don't forget it's in Sterling, Molly,” interjected Harry. “You need to divide it by five to get it into Galleons.”
“Shall we look at tables now?” asked Hermione, hastily bookmarking the page. “Arthur, why don't you swap places with me and have a go?”
And so Arthur made his first tentative forays onto the Worldwide Web, slowly and tentatively at first because he was unfamiliar with the QWERTY layout (or indeed any keyboard at all). Before long, he had identified some suitable furniture (on the same site as the sofa) and Hermione hastily bookmarked it. She could see Harry hovering with his debit card in his hand.
“Now, I've got something for you two,” she said to the older couple.
She opened her bag again and pulled something out.
“Oh Harry, you might need this,” she said handing it to him.
“You carry a printer with you?” he replied, laughing.
“Why not? It doesn't weigh anything or take up any space in an enchanted bag, does it? And it comes in handy sometimes.”
“Combining the best of muggle and magical,” stated Arthur, approvingly.
She reached into her bag again and pulled out a brightly coloured plastic box. She put it on the table and opened it.
“This is a simple filing box,” she explained. “I've put in all the important paperwork about this place – your electricity contract, letter from the council exempting you from Council Tax, confirmation of your address and postcode from Royal Mail, that sort of thing. I've even had these cards printed for you with your address on.”
Molly took a little card:
Molly and Arthur Weasley
Ottery St Catchpole
Tel: 01393 560795
“There you are!” said Dean, triumphantly. “You've got a post code! You exist!”
“Post code?” asked Molly, puzzled. “Is that so muggles can't steal each other's post?”
“Not that sort of code!” smiled Hermione. “It's just a simple way of expressing your address in just a few letters and numbers.”
“It's very clever,” said Dean. “Originally it was so that machines could sort the post, but it has all sorts of other uses now. Any company who needs to find where you live uses it. And people put it in their satnavs – the special computers that muggles find their way with.”
“Yes – Mike the shed asked for it.”
“'Ere, let me show you,” offered Dean. “What's your postcode? Ah! EX25 3TA. So:
EX will be a big town. I'm guessing Exeter. EX25 will be your post town – the one in capitals on your card, so Long Ottery. 3 is probably this village and surrounding area and TA will be this lane or part of it. That's an over-simplification of it, especially in the towns, but it should give you the gist. Add your house name or number and anyone can pinpoint you. Clever, eh?”
“Molly, will you be in on Tuesday?” asked Harry.
“I should be, midear,” she replied.
The printer started chuntering and two pieces of paper shot out.
“Why do you ask?”
“That's when your furniture is coming. Between one and four, although they'll give you a ring to confirm on the day.”
“Furniture! What furniture?” she asked, aghast.
“The furniture you've just picked and we've ordered,” he replied, triumphantly.
“But I'm not sure we want that. It's too expensive.”
“That's what it costs. Anyway, I've just paid for it.”
“How? We haven't got one of those bank cards and I don't suppose you can post Galleons into that computer of yours.”
“You haven't got a bank card, but I have!” he said, grinning.
“Oh Harry!” she said despairingly. “Anyway, how can they ring us? We haven't got a phone yet.”
Hermione rifled in her bag: “Good job I bought a spare one with me, isn't it?”
“We do need a bank account soon,” said Arthur, thoughtfully. “We can't keep relying on your kindness. I assume we now have all the proofs of address me need?”
“Yes, I said I'd help you, didn't I?” replied Hermione.
Harry scowled at her.
“Actually, I'm not sure when I'm free. I'll have to check my diary – I'm very busy at the moment.”
“Are you?” asked Molly, drily.
“When you've got your bank account sorted, I'll arrange for you to meet up with mum and dad,” offered Audrey. “They can guide you through the technology, although you've made a good start already.”
“Right! What about this desk?” asked Harry, brightly.
“Actually,” replied Arthur, “I'm not exactly sure what we want.”
“We can look online.”
“I think we need to go and see them for ourselves. These muggle pictures don't turn round so we can look at them properly. And it would be useful to talk to someone, like we did with the shed.”
“What about these?” persisted Harry, getting another site up on the computer.
“No, dear. We want to go and look for ourselves,” said Molly, rather firmly.
There was a slightly awkward silence.
It was broken by James bursting through the door and entering at a run.
“James Sirius Potter!” roared Molly. “Boots off!”
“I need a wee!” he replied, jiggling and squirming. “Where's the loo, granny?”
He wriggled his foot in a desperate attempt to free his boot. It flew across the room and Harry caught it with his seeker's reflexes.
“Into the other room sugar-lump, through the door at the back and then its on the left”
“OK, granny,” he replied, a little doubtfully.
“Do you know which is your left hand, Jamie?” asked his dad.
He studied his hands carefully.
He skittled into the other room.
“We were going to show you how everything works, weren't we?” said Dennis.
“Oh yes!” responded Arthur enthusiastically.
Dean, Dan and Dennis started to show Arthur fuse boxes, stop taps and other such innovations.
James returned, looking worried.
“Granny! Someone's stolen your loo! I opened the door and it was just a little empty room!”
“Really?” said a shocked Molly. “I hope this isn't George's doing. He always worries me when he's out of sight.”
“I think there's probably a simpler explanation,” smiled Arthur. “Show me your left hand, James.”
He looked solemnly at them again and waved his right in the air.
“Ah!” said Arthur. “I think we've found the problem.”
“Try your other left!” laughed Harry.
The home-care tutorial continued. James reappeared and put his boots back on. He was about to exit when the door opened from the other side and all the others trooped back in.
“Oh!” he complained.
“Boots!” bellowed Molly and various parents started casting hasty cleaning and drying spells.
“Pouff!” sighed George, sinking into a plastic chair. “I'm exhausted.”
“It's always such a pleasure to see my children being run ragged by their own offspring,” smiled Arthur. “It makes the years of them doing the same to me seem worthwhile!”
“I think we're probably all ready for a biscuit and drink,” suggested Molly. “Shall we return to the house?”
“That's not fair!” wailed Victoire. “We haven't had chance to see this place properly yet.”
“Can't we have it up here, mum?” asked Ginny.
“We'd have to cart everything up here from the house,” said Molly, reluctantly.
Dean shared a significant look with Dennis.
“What are you planning to use – ” Dennis shot a sideways look at James, “ – James's special toilet for?”
“Hey!” exclaimed James, indignantly.
“I don't know yet,” replied Molly.
“To be honest, it just seemed a sensible use of an odd corner,” added Arthur.
“Then I've got a suggestion,” continued Dennis. “What about turning it into a portal? It will work a bit like a muggle lift – touch your wand to the panel and you can shuttle between the house and here. I can even put a repeater in for the phone and the doorbell, so you can hear them in the house.”
“But I thought we couldn't have anything magical up here,” pointed out Molly.
“That's the beauty of the way Den does them,” explained Dean. “it's all self-contained in a box on the wall. It will look completely unremarkable to any muggle who happens to see it and it can only be activated by a wand, so no-one's going to use it who shouldn't whether they are a muggle or a young wizard!”
He looked meaningfully at James and Fred.
“But you did say it was my cupboard!” protested James, cheekily.
Dennis rummaged in his trouser pockets, which seemed to be as roomy as Hermione's bag. He brought out a small grey metal box and a plastic square.
“That's a mounting box and a blanking plate,” he explained. “Normally the plate is used when, say we've removed a socket or switch. This one will just hide the magical gubbins. I just need something to do that bit.”
He rummaged again and brought out a nut and bolt.
“Basically, it's a pair of twinned portkeys, one at either end.
“Geminii,” he said and swirled his wand over the three objects. Copies appeared. He pointed the wand at the two bolts:
The bolts momentarily glowed blue.
“Give me the other set, Den and I'll do the other end,” offered Dean.
“Are you sure you know what you're doing mate?” teased Dennis.
“I do if the geezer who taught me showed me right!” retorted Dean.
“But that was me!”
“Precisely. Anyway, I'll probably need to make a few adjustments to the house. I'm not letting you loose on those!”
He turned to Molly:
“Come on missus! We can have it sorted by the time you've boiled the kettle!”
“I'll come and help you, mother,” offered Percy.
The three of them left the shed. Molly started off across the paddock, but Dean called to her:
“'Ang on Mrs W! I need to get a few bits from mi van. Can we go down the road?”
As they walked over to the gate they saw Philip, Barbara and Towser looking over (or in Towser's case through) it.
“Oh no!”whispered Molly. “And I'm in my robes.”
“Who's that?” asked Percy.
“A neighbour. Mr Nosey. Very nice, but...” Dean trailed off.
“Hello there!” hailed Philip, waving his arm. “Working on a Sunday, Dean? Don't you ever stop?”
“It's pleasure today, guv,” replied Dean, scrabbling in the back of his van for a screwdriver. “Mrs W very kindly invited us for lunch, and you don't turn down one of her roasts if you know what's good for you!”
“That doesn't look like pleasure,” replied Philip, looking at the screwdriver.
“Just a bit of snagging, guv. Five minute job.”
“It is looking lovely,” commented Barbara. “Philip's been giving me a blow by blow account of its progress.”
“I bet he has” remarked Dean, sotto voce.
“I'd love to see inside, if it wasn't too much trouble,” requested Barbara.
“Oh!” demurred Molly. “We've got all the family here.”
“We wouldn't want to intrude.”
Molly thought for a moment. Isn't this partly why we've built this place? To enable us to interact with muggles? And they've seen my robes now, anyway.
“We were about to have a cup of tea,” she replied. “Do join us.”
“If you're sure.”
“The more the merrier!” agreed Percy.
They all went through the gate into the paddock and shut it behind them.
“Oh, I'd better introduce you,” said Molly. “This is my son, Percy. Percy these are Philip and Barbara who live at the far end of the village. Your dad got a lot of inspiration for this place from their summer house.”
Philip seemed to swell slightly at this last comment.
“If you two boys carry on down to the house, I'll take Philip and Barbara into the Meadows, then follow you down,” suggested Molly.
“Where shall I tie Towser?” asked Philip.
“They could let him run free in here, couldn't they, Mother?” suggested Percy. “It's secure enough and the children are all inside now.”
“What about -” she nodded towards the orchard.
“The oss? They'll not bother each other,” Dean assured them.
“Towser's used to horses, aren't you boy?” said Philip, giving the dog a furfle.
Dean and Percy set off towards the house. Philip unclipped Towser's lead and he ran excitedly around the field. The three older adults went into the hut.
Both new arrivals and incumbants were momentarily disconcerted by their entry into the Meadows. Philip and Barbara hadn't quite appreciated what Molly meant by all the family. Fortuitously, their initial surprise gave the clan time to whisk assorted wands out of sight and usher two toddlers on toy brooms into Arthur's empty workshop.
“Everyone! These are our neighbours Philip and Barbara Woodbury. I've invited them to join us for a cup of tea. Arthur, can you do the introductions? I need to go and put the kettle on.”
“Can I help?” offered Barbara.
“No, it's alright. There are plenty of willing hands here, if I need them and Percy will have everything under control.”
“Mrs Weasley?” asked Dennis. “Tell Dean it's all ready at this end.”
There's no such thing as just a cup of tea at the Burrow, especially when there are visitors. Percy was already wanding cakes and delectables onto plates when Molly arrived and she was soon whipping up some extra scones and other delights, waving her wand around the kitchen as if conducting an orchestra. This was Molly on her home turf, doing what she did best. Far from helping, Barbara's presence would have been a hindrance since it would have prevented her from using magic.
Dean created an exact copy of James's cupboard, accessed through a door in the outside wall of the scullery, which had been magically extended for the purpose.
“All done here, Missus!” he said, triumphantly.
“Dennis said he's done the other end.”
“Better test this out, then. What's your number – I'll give them a bell.”
She passed him a card and he dialled the number.
Brrr-Brrr! ... Brrr Brrr! The bell in the scullery cupboard was ringing.
Dean put his phone on speaker.
“Hello?” Arthur's voice sounded both puzzled and excited.
“It's Dean, guv. Just giving things a road test. Get one of the kids to go outside and ring the bell, too.”
There was the thud of footsteps and then the doorbell was audible, both from the scullery and down the phone line.
“Job done!” said Dean, proudly.
“Arthur, could you ask Harry to come down and help? I could do with some of his savouries.”
“Will do. Harry? Molly says can you just fetch a couple of bits from James's cupboard?”
A few seconds later, Harry stepped into the scullery and took up his station on the opposite side to Molly. Dean and Percy wanded a load of trays into the cupboard and got into it, closely followed by Harry. In the privacy of Molly's room, they hastily rearranged themselves to be carrying things the muggle way and entered the main room.
“Come on monsters! Time to wash your hands!” declared Hermione.
“Jamie, come and help me get things from your cupboard,” suggested Harry.
“It is your cupboard!” he replied with a wink.
“Oh yeah!” he replied, grinning. “Come on Fred. You can help too.”
“Keen to lend a hand, aren't they?” commented Barbara.
“You'd be surprised!” replied Arthur, drily.
“That must be some cupboard! There's an awful lot of stuff coming out of it!” said Philip.
“Good design, see,” said Dean.
“Talking of good design, what an enormous table!” mentioned Barbara, pointing at the plastic form that Arthur had managed to extend even further when the Woodbury's backs were turned.
“Special trade one, guv!” explained Dean.
“It always is with you, Dean!” laughed Philip.
“You've got to have the right tools for the job.”
Arthur decided to change the subject.
“I'm glad I've seen you, Philip. I did rather admire your computer bench and things. You don't happen to remember who did it for you, do you?”
“It was a chap over Clyst St Catchpole way. I can't remember his name off the top of my head. I'll look it up and then drop it through your door. Remind me where you live again?”
“It's a bit difficult to find,” said Arthur. “It'll be easiest to drop it off here. You pass often on your walks, don't you?”
Harry realised he had been out-manoevred. If his face were a wand, Arthur and Philip would have been lying dead on the floor. Dean noticed:
“I know a good joiner you can use, guv. He'll give you a good rate.”
“Now, now, Dean,” chided Philip smilingly. “Leave some of the work for the local boys.”
Molly shared a triumphant smile with Arthur.
Tea was a convivial affair. Victoire and Dominique, vivacious, confident and used to conversing with muggles, sat either side of the Woodburys and used all the charm they could muster. (Their Veela-influenced looks probably helped, too). The muggles were utterly enchanted. Around them, the Weasley family tea was in full flow, only slightly hindered by the inability to use or mention magic. Even Towser was supplied with a bowl of water and the bone from the joint which he enjoyed enthusiastically.
It was Towser who brought proceedings to a close, barking manically.
“What has got into that dog?” asked Barbara.
They all looked out of the window.
“Oh my!” exclaimed Hermione.
“Looks like 'e's met the 'oss!” chuckled Dean.
“I'll go!” said Luna, running across the paddock to the gate from the orchard. The thestral's head was leaning over it and Towser (who had seen a few dead rats in his time) was barking furiously at it.
“She's good with animals,” said Dean affectionately.
Luna produced a piece of string and brought the dog back to the assembled throng.
“I think it's time we were going,” said Barbara decisively. “Thank you so much for a delicious tea. And it was lovely to meet you all. Molly, you must join the WI. Third Monday of the month at eight o'clock in the hall. I'll get Philip to bring you a copy of the programme when he gives you details of this joiner.”
Philip attached Towser's proper lead to his collar and they set off down the lane.
“That was close!” exclaimed Molly. I hope they didn't see the thestral.”
“It just looks like a normal horse from the front,” replied Arthur. “I'm sure we got away with it.”
“I'm sure Philip suspects something,” worrited Molly.
“I doubt it,” interjected Hermione. “You've got to remember that muggles are far more obvious to us than we are to them.”
“How do you mean?” asked Molly.
The thing is, they greatly outnumber us and they're very diverse.”
“We're diverse. There's hags and warlocks and – ”
“Yes, but if you go to some gathering of us, you probably know or at least know of everyone else in the room.”
“I'm normally related to half of them!” laughed Arthur.
“Well, yes. The point is, anyone unfamiliar sticks out and you are on the look out for anything suspicious. You'd spot a muggle instantly. It's not like that for muggles. They don't expect to know everyone they meet and there are all sorts of weird characters. “
“Are you saying we're weird?” asked Molly sternly.
“What my dear sister means,” interjected Audrey whilst giving Hermione a loving squeeze, “Is that they don't equate different with magic.”
“It's true,” added Fleur. “In our village zere is an 'ippy. 'E floats around in strange robes and mutters all sorts of weird incantations, but 'e is about as magical as Philippe.”
“The other thing,” said Audrey, “Is that we know they exist, but they don't know we do.”
“Of course they know we exist!” countered Molly. “Look at Halloween.”
But that's all make-believe,” said Hermione. “Mainly based on muggle stories and films.”
“And the ones who do believe are like me, aren't they?” suggested Luna.
“How do you mean midear?” asked Molly.
“How do you react when Loo tells you about some new creature?” asked Dean.
There was an awkward silence.
“Come on!” We're all friends here,” encouraged Dean.
“I know what you all think,” added Luna.
“Well, I tend to disbelieve it unless I get proof to the contrary,” said Harry.
“Exactly!” said Dean. “The sort who believe in magic believe in all sorts of things, much of which seems highly dubious. Everyone else will treat everything they say as rubbish, whether it is or not.”
“Like ze 'ippy,” remarked Fleur. “If 'e saw me 'anging ze washing out wiz my wand, even if he told ze 'ole village, zey wouldn't believe im. 'E 'as told zem too many strange sings over ze years.”
“The thing is,” said Hermione, “People – all people – see what they expect to see to a certain extent.”
“How do you mean midear?” asked Molly.
Hermione took a quill and parchment out of her bag and wrote: W--ch
“What word have I written?” she asked.
They all looked over her shoulder.
“Witch!” said Lucy proudly.
“Very good! It could also be which or even watch. Molly, have you ever seen Merlin's face in a tree stump?”
“Of course I have.”
“It's not really Merlin's face, is it? It's just a pattern in the wood.”
“Well, actually –” began Luna.
“Muggles see faces like that,” interrupted Dean, hastily, “But they don't think it's Merlin. It's Jesus or some cartoon character.”
“Exactly. We see it as Merlin. They see it as Jesus. In fact it's just a random pattern. Our brain does it all the time: finding patterns, filling in gaps, extrapolating. You can spot someone's ear or the way they stand across a crowded room and know it's them. It's a very useful trait – ”,
“I know it's useful. We brought up Fred and George, remember?” laughed Arthur. “That was a game we played very frequently.”
“The thing is, no-one else would recognise George by his ear – ”
“I think they might!” interjected George to general laughter.
“OK. Bad example. Ron's ear, then. Something that's obvious to someone who knows what they're looking at, isn't obvious to someone else. And that other person will subconsciously be trying to find a logical explanation. So, if we see red sparks, we know it's someone doing magic. A muggle will think it's shooting stars.”
Aurors use that technique all the time,” explained Harry. “Yes, we use spells and potions to disguise ourselves, but more often than not its just acting in a way not to make people suspicious.”
“It's how I make my living,” added Dean. “Look the part, act the part and make sure you pay them a compliment or two. And if you accidentally do something magical – ”
“It's a special trade one!” laughed Arthur.
“Exactly. Old man Woodbury knows there's something odd going on, but it fits with the part I'm playing and he likes me. Magic hasn't entered his head. Why would it? It's an unlikely and illogical possibility as far as he's concerned.”
“Actually, I think he was more concerned about seeing how much food he could shovel in,” quipped Harry.
“Yes, he was giving Ron a run for his money!” joked Hermione.
“Oi! I heard that!”
“Barbara asked how I made my cakes so light. I told her it was all in the wrist action,” laughed Molly, pretending to swish her wand.
“Molly!” exclaimed Harry admiringly. “I didn't know you had it in you!”
“Talking of food, are we having our tea now?” asked James.
“What do you think we've just had?” laughed Harry.
“That was just a snack, wasn't it? Aren't we having our proper tea now?”
Arthur laughed: “You're a chip off the old block and no mistake!”
Where are their cars?” asked Philip as they trudged down the lane. “I can only see Dean's van.”
“They're probably all at the house.”
“That's the other thing: where is this famous house? From where I saw Molly going, it must back onto their land down here somewhere, but I can't see anything but thick hedges.
“Maybe they like their privacy.”
“Do you think there even is a house?”
“Molly went somewhere to fetch that food. Anyway, does it matter if there isn't? They're pleasant and friendly and their land is tidy. What they do in private is their own affair.”
“I noticed that Arthur and Guinevere were in fancy dress again,” he chuckled.
“Her name's Molly,” she replied sternly. “When did you get so provincial?”
“Provincial? That's a bit harsh!”
“Is it? You're like the old boys who lived in the village when we first came, who thought someone from Exeter was a foreigner.”
“They thought someone from Ottermouth was a foreigner and even those at the far end of the village were a bit suspect!”
“What do you think the Weasleys are saying about us, now we've gone?”
“Nothing, I hope.”
“Exactly. We should do them the same courtesy. All I saw was a large, vibrant and close-knit family. Whatever the eccentricities of the older two, they seem to have produced well adjusted, down to earth children with pleasant spouses and delightful offspring of their own.”
“The two sat next to us were certainly very personable. I suspect young Victoire is either going to be the next woman Prime Minister or a criminal mastermind.”
“And I'll tell you something else, Molly can cook.”
“Those little pasties were something else!”
She looked at him disapprovingly: “Ye-es. I noticed you had three. Actually Harry made those.”
“The son in law.”
“Which one?” he laughed.
She looked witheringly at him: “She only has one. Six sons and one daughter. She didn't say as much, but I think they must have been trying for a girl.”
“Six sons? I only counted four. That seemed more than enough with wives and children.”
“Do keep up, Philip. Charlie works in Romania – conservation work of some sort, I think. And Fred died – I didn't enquire how. Tragic accident of some sort, I think. He was the twin of George.”
“Ah yes! I like him – he's a bit of a card. So Harry must be the one with the unruly black hair and a serious expression?”
“That's right. I didn't quite catch what he did.”
“Security services of some sort, he said, I don't quite know what. He was a bit vague.”
“It's probably true then. It's the ones who brag about their exploits who are fake. You don't think he works at the commando place on the coast, do you?”
“It's possible. Anyway, enough of this tittle-tattle...”
“You started it!”
“The serious question is: who bakes the better cake: Molly or Alison?”
Barbara's eyes lit up: “We-ell! I'd need to see them side-by-side and probably do a blind tasting because I'm biased...”
“I've never tasted sponge quite like Molly's. Unbelievably light. I don't know how she does it. Wrist action she said, but I could beat a cake batter until my wrist fell off and it still wouldn't come out like that. Probably find out she adds a secret ingredient like coal dust or cannabis. Either that or she uses black magic.”
Philip guffawed heartily, startling the long-suffering Towser: “Now you're just being silly!
“Phew!” exclaimed Molly, sinking onto the sofa. “That's a relief!”
“Yes,” agreed Arthur. “It's always a pleasure to see the family, and an even bigger delight when they go home!”
“I feel a nervous wreck after dealing with Philip and Barbara.”
“You did fine. Wrist action indeed!” he laughed. “Anyway, I'm very glad they came, assuming he drops off the details of this joiner.”
“Are you sure you don't want Harry to find you a desk on the internet?” she asked with a grin.
He grimaced apologetically: “No. Perhaps not this time. Not until we get our own computer and muggle bank account, anyway.”
“I don't know when that will be. Hermione and Harry seem to be up to something.”
“Yes. The amount of unspoken messages going between them, I'm surprised they need to use phones!”
“Oh Arthur! We're never going to be ready to go away in June. There's still too much to do! It's April already and we haven't even finished the shed. We haven't got a bank account yet or been on a bus. We haven't got a phone – ”
“We've got the one Hermione's lent us.”
“Yes, but that just plugs into the wall. We need the sort they all have that they take everywhere with them. Do they call them mobiles?”
“Ah yes! That's it.”
“We need one of those. And probably a computer. And if Hermione and Harry are going to start playing silly-beggars...”
Arthur thought for a moment.
“Ok: What about next Saturday we try and slay two dragons with one spell?”
“We'll take the bus down into Ottermouth and open a bank account. We've got all the paperwork we need in her fancy folder thing, haven't we. We could even join the library if you like.”
“But we don't know what to do! Hermione was supposed to be helping us.”
“We've got the leaflets she gave us. She's told us the best banks to go to. And I'm sure there'll be some very helpful muggle – I mean person – behind the counter who will explain things to us, just like Mike the shed did.”
“But what about the bus?”
“We've caught the Knight Bus before. It can't be that different except that you have to go to a proper bus stop and we probably won't feel quite so queasy when we get off. There's a bus stop in the middle of the village – I've seen it. It'll be fine, honestly”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, pondering.
“Arthur?” she said with a mischievous grin.
“This does all feel a bit...naughty. Like we're bunking off.”
He grinned back at her. “Yes, it does. Good, innit?”
I just want to say a big thank you to Kayt for all her lovely reviews.
Chapter 11 was written out of synch so should follow post haste.
Chapter 11: Banking on a Bus
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
“Are you ready?” asked Arthur.
Molly looked at him anxiously and rifled through her handbag: “Electricity bill. Telephone bill. Letter from the Council. Library form. Muggle money. Do we need anything else?”
Arthur smiled at her lovingly: “I don't think so. Shall we go, then? Shame the weather's not better. It's raining cats and mice, as the muggles say. Still, I suppose it won't hurt to cast a water repelling charm.”
“We could apparate. There's a handy alley next to the old library.”
“We're meant to be getting practice of using buses, remember? Anyway, the bank is at the other end of town, I think,”
“I just wish I didn't feel so conspicuous.”
“You're fine. We could always ask Hermione about clothes.”
“I don't like to ask Hermione about every little thing. Anyway, as you said, older muggles often dress differently to younger ones.”
“Honestly, I don't think you need to worry. We're wrapped up against the weather, anyway. I think most muggles will look the same as us.”
“But they won't have warming charms!” she replied, a ghost of a smile appearing.
They locked the house magically and sploshed down the lane towards the village. It was Saturday morning and they were attempting to open a bank account, although Molly was slightly sceptical they'd manage it, given how problematic it had been even to join the library.
There was a bus stop opposite the pub. Arthur perused the timetable carefully.
“Strange. The bus only seems to run Tuesdays and Fridays. And we'd have missed it even if it was the right day. There's more than that, surely?”
They stood at the stop for a few minutes, uncertain what to do. Molly began to cast around for a suitable apparition point. A man came out of the shop.
“Waiting for a bus?” he asked. “You'll be waiting there a long while! The main route runs past the Cross.”
“The cross?” asked Arthur.
“Ottery Cross. Where this road meets the main Long Ottery – Ottermouth one.”
“Thanks.” He gave the man a smile.
They trudged through the village and up the hill, past Philip's house.
“Why is everything muggle so complicated?” grumbled Molly.
“Anything is complicated when you haven't done it before,” replied Arthur. “We'll get the hang of everything, you'll see.”
They reached the crossroads and found the stop they needed on the other side of the road. Arthur studied the timetable.
“This is better. There's two an hour.”
“That still doesn't sound that many.”
“It's better than two a week! I think we've just missed one. Never mind. We'll just have to wait.”
“In the rain.”
“Not in the rain. There's a nice little brick shelter. And I'm sure we can think of a way of keeping warm.” He looked at her mischievously.
“Arthur Weasley! Behave yourself.”
“I was thinking of a heating charm!”
“Of course you were!” she replied, drily.
She peered at the timetable.
“Arthur, what does it mean by 13:48. There is no thirteen o'clock.”
“I've no idea. We'll ask Hermione – she'll know.”
“I know she'll know. That doesn't mean I want to ask her every time! We need to work things out for ourselves.”
A car came up the road from the village, turned onto theirs and pulled up beside them. The window opened and Barbara's head appeared.
“Can I give you a lift anywhere?” she asked. “I'm going into Ottermouth if that helps, and I don't mind taking the scenic route.”
“That's very kind of you!” said Arthur enthusiastically.
“But we're taking the bus for a change!” said Molly, firmly.
“If you're sure. It would be no trouble!”
“I don't think we've long to wait now,” said Molly. “And we're wrapped up warm.” She paused. “I don't suppose you'd know?”
“There's a bus time written here as 13:48. There are only twelve hours!”
“It's called the twenty-four hour clock. They use it a lot on timetables and things so you can tell which is the morning and which is the afternoon. The hours are numbered one to twenty-four from midnight, so times in the morning are written normally, then one pm is thirteen, two is fourteen and so on. Easy when you get used to it. So 13:48 is 1:48 in the afternoon”
“I see. Thank you. That's very helpful.”
Another car swept passed them, tooting violently as it went.
“I'm not stopped in a very good place here. I'd better go, if you're sure you don't want a lift.”
“No. We're fine.”
She drove off.
“We could have had a lift!” said Arthur, a bit wistfully.
“I thought we were meant to be using the bus!”
“A car is still muggle transport.”
“I'm not sure I trust you to keep your hands to yourself!”
“Molly!” he said indignantly. “I only have eyes for you!”
“I meant all the knobs and buttons. I saw you eyeing them through the window!”
“You know me too well!”
“I ought to by now!”
They shared a smile and he slipped his hand into hers. Time together was always a pleasure, even in a draughty bus stop.
“I think it's coming!” said Arthur, standing and putting his hand out.
The bus stopped and the pneumatic doors swooshed open, to Arthur's delight. They climbed on. Molly took a twenty pound note out of her purse.
“Two to Ottermouth, please,” she said. “Where do you stop?”
“We come down the Long Ottery Road. Market Hall. Outside John Frenzy's. Marine Square. Any of those any good to you?”
“The Market Hall sounds perfect.”
He pressed some buttons and two tickets shot out.
“Six eighty, please. Have you got anything smaller, lover? I'm a bit short of change.”
She took out a five pound note and then fumbled with the change, trying to find the exact money.
“You've two pounds there, lover. They'll be fine. I'd be quite glad of them, actually – everyone seems to have had notes this morning.”
She gratefully extracted the two coins and handed them over.
“Perfect!” He he said, handing her her change. “Don't forget your tickets!”
Arthur tore the tickets off the machine and they made their way down the bus, stumbling as it set off. They found seats and sat down. His eyes darted everywhere, taking in both the view from the window and the happenings with the bus. He jumped when the indicators beeped and gasped excitedly when someone rang the bell and the Bus Stopping sign was illuminated.
The man behind them tapped Arthur on the shoulder: “Enjoying yourself, are you?”
“We don't travel by bus very often,” replied Molly earnestly.
“You have to get your pleasure where you can, I always say. And I'm lucky because I've got a twirly pass so it doesn't cost me a thing!” He flashed a little red and white card at them.
The bus was coming into the outskirts of Ottermouth and more people were getting on. Many of them were elderly and seemed to have twirly passes, whatever they were. Molly began to peer anxiously out of the window as they got closer to the Market Hall.
“How do we make it stop?” she whispered worriedly.
Fortunately, Arthur had been watching. As they got nearer, he rang the bell and they made their way down the bus to the front, swaying alarmingly as the bus lurched about.
“You're best waiting till it stops before you stand up,” the driver said to them as they got off. “I'll not drive off with you trapped on board.”
They looked around and saw the Griffin Bank, which Hermione had recommended, just a dozen yards down the road. It had plate glass windows and a brash illuminated sign. There were gaudy posters in the window, which Molly eyed suspiciously.
There was a young man in a shiny suit sat a table labelled Welcome Desk just by the door. He smiled at them as they passed.
“How can I help you today?” he asked.
“We need to open a bank account,” said Arthur.
“Great! Take a seat. What sort of account are you after?”
How can there be more than one sort of account? wondered Arthur. At Gringott's, you just had your vault and that was that.
“Just an ordinary one,” he said.
“What do you want to do with it?”
“Pay bills and that sort of thing. You can have a little plastic card to pay for things in shops, can't you?”
“That's called a current account. We have several different ones to choose from, so there's sure to be one that's just right for you.”
The young man was both enthusiastic and knowledgable. He had been on a course. He was also on an incentive to upgrade people to the more lucrative forms of account. He talked at great speed for twenty minutes, offering them ones which included things such as breakdown cover or travel insurance, none of which the Weasleys had heard of, much less needed. He then moved onto savings products.
Arthur glanced at Molly. He could see the telltale signs of anxiety. He was sure she had understood even less than him, which was quite an achievement. He smiled at the bank worker:
“This is all very interesting. I think we'd better take these away and go and think about it.”
He scooped up the leaflets.
“Great! Why don't you give me your phone number and I can ring you later in the week when you've had chance to mull it over?”
Arthur grimaced apologetically: “It probably sounds silly, but we've only just got our phone and I can't remember the number yet.”
He saw Molly reaching into her handbag for a card with their number on it and discreetly nudged her to stop.
“No problem. Email, then?”
Arthur pulled another face: “Same problem, I'm afraid. But we know where you are, so I'm sure we'll pop back in when we're ready.”
He stood up and led Molly out of the bank.
“Arthur, I've got our phone number with us.”
“I know you have. Do you want that man ringing us up every five minutes.?”
“No I don't! He might as well have been talking Gobbledygook, for all I understood what he was saying.”
Arthur laughed: “If it had been Gobbledygook, I might actually have understood a word or two! Let's try somewhere else.”
Podmore's Bank, which Hermione had also suggested, was only a few doors down, but it was closed on Saturdays.
“This is hopeless!” said Molly. “It's the library all over again! We might have to give up and try again when Hermione can come with us.”
“I thought you wanted to do things for yourself. Come on – third time lucky! Or do you want to go for a coffee and get your strength back?”
“No! Let's get it over with.”
They wandered down towards Marine Square. Arthur pointed: There was an old-fashioned frontage with a bow window and an understated sign reading Wessex Bank – Proud to serve Devon and Cornwall.
“That looks hopeful,” he said. “Let's try there.”
“It's not one Hermione gave us information about.”
“I thought we wanted to do this for ourselves. We fought off the grinning pixie in the Griffin, I'm sure we can cope here. We only have to say No, thank you and walk out if we're not happy.
The branch wasn't as big as the Griffin and it didn't have a Welcome Desk, but there was a a friendly looking women who was old enough to be the grinning pixie's mother sitting at one of the counters.
“Good morning, my dears,” she said with a smile. “What can I do for you?”
“We need to open an account,” explained Arthur. “Is it called a raisin account? Something to do with dried fruit, anyway.”
“I think you mean a current account,” she said. “Hold on and we'll go somewhere quieter.” She shouted into the back recesses: “Tracey! Can you cover the counter for a minute? I'm helping a customer.”
A woman, presumably Tracey, appeared and opened the other position. The door next to the counter opened and the friendly woman appeared.
“Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly!” she said, and led them into a small office.
“So you want a current account – to pay bills, get money out, have a debit card to use in shops, that sort of thing?”
“Yes!” said Arthur.
“But we need a straightforward one!” added Molly.
The lady smiled. “We don't do complicated at the Wessex. We leave that to the big boys. Right! Where's a form? Here we are! Let's take a few details. And have you got anything to prove who you are? It's a pain, I know, but it's supposed to be for our protection. I mean, who around here is going to want to blow anywhere up!”
“She obviously hasn't met George!” muttered Arthur.
Twenty minutes later (although it felt less), they left with the account open and the first deposit made. They had been promised that the cards and stationery they needed would follow shortly “But if there's any problem come and have another chat and I'll sort them out!” the bank clerk had promised.
“That's better!” said Arthur. “Much more our sort of place. Now what about a cup of coffee?”
“You and your stomach, Arthur Weasley! It's a wonder you're not as wide as you are tall! Can we go to the library first? It's just down here. I feel I'm on a loaf, as Dean would say.”
“I think you mean a roll!”
The library was busy, but after waiting a few minutes, they were able to speak to the white-haired lady who Molly had spoken to last time. They gave her the completed form, along with their ID. She even signed Arthur up at the same time.
“Here are your cards,” she said. “You can take books out straight away. You can have up to 8.”
Molly headed straight over to the romances, whilst Arthur found a round Britain travel guide and a book about the railways of Devon.
As they came out and walked across the car park back towards the town centre, they saw Barbara putting things into the boot of her car.
“Hello!” called Arthur. “ We were just going for a coffee. Would you like to join us?”
“Why not! And I can give you a lift back afterwards.”
“That would be very kind!” beamed Arthur.
Molly surreptitiously poked him in the ribs.
Barbara's car turned off the Long Ottery Road towards the village.
“Can I offer you both lunch?” she asked.
Arthur was in the front seat, so couldn't see Molly, but could feel her eyes boring into his back.
“That's very kind of you,” he replied, “But we need to get back.”
“I understand. Did Philip ever give you that address you wanted?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Pop in for a minute, then, and I'll get it for you. I'll grab a WI programme for you at the same time, Molly.”
They went into the house and stood in the hall while she ran upstairs. Towser pottered out of the lounge and Arthur chucked him under the chin.
“Hello, boy,” he said affectionately. “No bones for you today, I'm afraid.”
Molly looked about her. The last time they'd visited, they had come in the back way and therefore hadn't used this hall before. It seemed to be trying to be Malfoy Manor, but in a tiny fraction of the space. There were opulent carpets, a chandelier and a grand staircase sweeping upwards. For a moment, she thought it ridiculous, but then remembered Arthur's words that the cleverness of muggle buildings lay in how they maximised the use of space. The Woodburys house wasn't as big as Malfoy Manor, but they'd got the ambiance as close to it as possible. She examined their electrical fittings with a practised eye. Not to her taste, but they'd clearly been carefully chosen to fit with the style. She smiled to herself at the idea of Malfoy Manor having electricity. Even though it was ninety miles away, she thought she could hear the whirring of massed ranks of Malfoy ancestors turning in their graves at the very thought. Perhaps she and Arthur weren't so ramshackle and backward, after all!
Philip came downstairs, with Barbara close behind.
“Hello there!” he said, waving a piece of paper. “I've got the details of the joiner chap you wanted.”
“Thanks,” replied Arthur, taking it from him.
“Barbara's got the programme for the coven meetings, too.”
“Philip!” scolded Barbara. “Refer to them as that again and I shall have to start calling you Phil!”
“Steady on old girl!” he spluttered. “You know I can't stand Phil!”
“The same goes for calling me Old Girl!” she added, warningly.
“Quite right, sorry old...I mean darling. It just slipped out. Now,” he continued more brightly, “I wanted to thank you two for a lovely afternoon last Sunday. We must have a return match some time. Perhaps not the whole tribe though!”
“That would be very nice,” replied Molly.
“You'd be welcome to stay for lunch now, if you like. I've got plenty,” interjected Barbara.
“It's very kind, but I think we need to get back,” replied Arthur.
“I'll just run you home, then.”
“No need. It's a beautiful day. We'll enjoy the walk.”
“Not in your car today?” enquired Philip.
He's obsessed with his car! Thought Molly. “Which one he has, which way to go. Moaning about the amount of traffic and the price of petrol. It had been his constant conversation gambit on Sunday, one which the family had coped with with varying degrees of proficiency. Percy had characteristically parried with a homily on the folly of using a car in London. Dean had said in his own inimitable style I've got a clever back way, guv. Neither of these ripostes suited Molly and in any case she still lacked the knowledge of muggle ways to execute either of those. She needed her own response and it suddenly struck her that the truth, or at least a portion of it, might actually be the most effective.
“Today was a practice run. We've a couple of big anniversaries coming up this year and we're planning on touring all round the country by public transport.”
“I say! What a marvellous idea!” Philip sounded genuinely impressed. “So many of those of us our age get stuck in a rut, don't we? We do the same old things and stay in our comfort zone. We might mumble wistfully about doing something different, but we seldom do. Well done you!”
“I think we've become spoilt by foreign travel,” added Barbara. “It's most people's reflex reaction whenever a holiday is suggested. There are so many places we haven't been in this country. Where are you planning to go?”
“It's not all finalised yet,” explained Arthur, rather understating the situation. “Percy's working on a plan for us.”
“The children are being so generous and helpful,” interjected Molly. “Sometimes too helpful!”
“I can imagine!” smiled Barbara.
“Burrow Meadows is another part of the anniversary celebrations,” added Arthur. “As you say, we're getting ourselves out of a rut.”
“I do think public transport is the way to do it,” expounded Barbara. “You'll get lovely views. You miss so much tootling up the motorway, don't you? One bit of hard shoulder looks pretty much like the rest.”
“I must say I admire your courage,” Philip confessed. “I think the last time I went on a bus the engines were still at the front. I don't think I'd know where to start.”
“You must come and tell the WI all about it when you get back,” insisted Barbara. “Even if you decide not to join us. It would be just up our street.”
“And if there's any way we can help, let us know,” added Philip. “it sounds like you're bigger experts on buses than we are, but if you need a lift somewhere or whatever, you only need to ask.”
Unwittingly, Molly had hit the jackpot. The trip was something Philip could relate to; admire even. More than that, it provided a rational explanation for actions of theirs that otherwise lacked one. Philip mentally moved them from the Oddity box to the Loveable Eccentric one. He no longer found it necessary to question their foibles and he never mentioned King Arthur again.
Molly didn't see Hermione until Tuesday when she came to pick the children up. She was itching to tell her all of their achievements. The younger woman had barely walked into the kitchen of the Burrow, before her mother in law started brandishing leaflets in her face.
“We've opened a bank account!” she declared triumphantly.
“Well done! Oh! You've joined the Wessex. I thought you were going to the Griffin?”
“We didn't like the Griffin!” she replied firmly. “The boy was too pushy.”
“Boy?” said Hermione amusedly. “Do you mean a bank clerk?”
“He barely looked old enough to hold a wand!”
“I'm sure he was properly trained,” chided Hermione.
“He rattled on at nineteen to the dozen about all sorts of things we don't need.”
“I'm sure if you'd explained what you needed...”
“His mouth seemed to work better than his ears.”
“I could always come and help you, you know. I did say I would.”
“You were busy. We're quite happy with the Wessex, thank you. The lady in there was very helpful.”
“But the Wessex is tiny! I don't even know where our nearest branch is.”
“They've branches in both Ottermouth and Long Ottery, which is more than the Griffin does! And we explained about out trip and she told us we could get money out anywhere by sticking a pin in a hole in the wall. I presume they must poke the notes onto the end of it. I always wondered why muggles used paper money instead of gold.”
Hermione laughed: “It's not that sort of pin. It's a PIN number – Personal Identification Number. And the hole in the wall is just a machine that gives you money. They have them outside banks and also in a lot of shops now. It's also called a cash machine or an ATM.” She got her bank card out of her handbag. “You put a special card like this into the machine, type in your PIN so it knows it's you and then tell it how much money you want.”
“But of course it's me! It's my card.”
“It's in case your card gets lost or stolen. No-one else can use it unless they know your PIN. When you get your card, I'll show you how to use it, if you like.”
“The lady at the bank is going to help us. She also said she can set up...what did she call them...Direct Debits! So we can put a little bit towards our electricity bill every month without having to take it somewhere to pay it.”
“Yes. That will be much easier. Your bills are normally cheaper if you do it that way, too.”
“We went on the bus. Maybe you know, Hermione: What's a twirly pass? A man on the bus had one. Said it meant he could use it for free.”
“I've no idea. I'll have to ask Audrey.”
“And we've joined the library!” she added, waving a book in the air.
“Goodness! You have been busy! Catherine Cookson – ” Hermione wrinkled her nose involuntarily. “That's not your normal reading matter.”
“I fancied a change. You can borrow it if you like,” she added sweetly.
“That's … er ... kind” replied Hermione, trying not to show her horror, “But I've just been to the library.”
“We got a lift back in Barbara's car,” explained Arthur, who had just come in through the back door.
“Yes,” said Molly sternly. “I thought we were meant to be taking the bus!”
“We took the bus on the way there. And it's still muggle transport. We weren't cheating. And I didn't press any of the buttons!”
“And we went for a coffee with her when I'd already said I didn't want one.”
"No you didn't! You said you wanted to wait until we'd been to the library, which we did. Anyway, I thought we deserved a treat after all we'd achieved.”
Molly looked lovingly at her husband and smiled. “Yes. I think we probably did.”
Chapter 12: Journey of Discovery
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
“Arthur! The phone's ringing!”
“Answer it then! I'm on the loo!”
“I don't know how!”
Just pick it up and say hello!”
“And then what?”
“Just carry on the conversation as if they were standing next to you!”
“What – nod my head and wave my hands a lot?”
“Now you're just being facetious! I've never known you stuck for words before!”
Arthur came down stairs at a trot, still doing up his trousers. He ran for the portal.
He dashed through it and ran for the phone, now with pride of place on the new table. As he got there, it stopped.
He stepped back through the portal.
“Who was it?” she asked.
“I've no idea. They rang off before I got there.”
“Oh, I'm sorry, Arthur. I panicked.”
“Don't worry. Perhaps we ought to get one of those answering machines.”
“What are they?”
“If the person's not in, you just leave a message and then they can ring you back. I rang the joiner earlier and he had one.”
“Come on Molly. Lesson time!”
They passed through the portal again and Arthur picked up the phone.
“Hello. Arthur Weasley speaking.”
“Hello Arthur. This is Tobias Merryweather – Audrey's dad. How are you?”
“Very well. And you?”
“Mustn't grumble. I've just had Aud on the phone. She was telling me all about this marvellous trip of yours. I gather my son in law's planning a route for you.”
“Yes. I do hope he doesn't get carried away. Percy is rather over-enthusiastic!”
I can't think where he gets it from! Muttered Molly.
“Anyway, I gather you need help buying some tech. Are you free this Saturday?”
“Hang on. I'll just check with Molly.”
“Check what?” she asked.
“Whether we're free to see the Merryweathers on Saturday.”
“I don't see why not. None of the children are coming. It's the Canons-Harpies game isn't it?”
“Oh yes. Tobias? That's fine. We're off duty this weekend. What had you got in mind?”
“Why don't you come for elevenses, we'll talk about what you need, then after lunch we can go and buy it. We can then have a training session and you can go home after supper. How does that sound?”
Arthur summoned parchment and quill, tucked the phone under his chin and wrote a quick explanation for Molly. She nodded in approval.
“We wouldn't want to put you to any trouble.”
“Not at all! It'll give us chance to have a good gossip about our offspring and gloat over the grandchildren. You'll be coming magically, I take it?”
“This time, anyway!”
“We're not on the floo. Dulcie doesn't like the idea of coal dust on her carpets. I keep telling her I'd only need to do a vanishing spell, but...Anyway, our address. We're at 12 Nottingham Road, Short Eaton. It's near Nottingham, as you might have guessed from the address.”
“Do we need the postcode?”
“Are you apparating or transfiguring yourselves into a parcel? No, you don't need the postcode. Mind you, that's an idea. I've never thought of apparating to a postcode. Still, it would be a bit embarrassing if you got it wrong – you could end up hundreds of miles out! Anyway, apparate into the garage. There's a caterwauling charm set up so I'll know you're here.”
“Great. See you Saturday, then.
Molly put down her mid-morning cup of coffee:
Come on, Molly. You can do this!
She stepped through the portal, walked over to the phone and picked it up.
“Mrs Weasley? Hello. My name is Jem the Joiner. You husband left me a message about a desk he wants building.”
“Oh yes! That's right!” Am I talking at the right volume?Arthur just talked normally, didn't he?
“I ought to come round to have a chat about what you want and measure up. When would be a good time?”
“Oh, er, well, it's Arthur's project really and he's at work during the day.”
“No prob. What about tonight? Say, seven o'clock?”
“That should be OK. I'll just have to check with Arthur.”
“Just give me a call back if there's a problem. Now, where are you?”
“Long Lane in Ottery St Catchpole. It's a new wooden building on the left as you come out of the village.”
“Oh yes! Erm EX25 3TA.”
“Gotcha! See you tonight, unless I hear otherwise.”
“OK. Thanks for calling. Goodbye!”
“Not at all! Goodbye.”
She put the phone down.
Call him back indeed! How am I meant to do that?
She got her wand out ready to send Arthur a patronus, but stopped.
“Stop looking at me like that!” she said to the phone. “I know I ought to try and ring him in case I have to call the joiner. Oh well! Here goes! Don't blame me if I get it wrong!”
Arthur had stuck up a list of useful numbers above the phone. She ran her finger down the list until she found his. She picked up the receiver.
She put the phone down in shock.
What was that? Was it meant to make that noise?
“Hello? Hello?” she said into it.
No-one there. It sounds a happy noise – like a cat purring. Perhaps it's meant to make that noise?
She tried again, carefully dialling the number. Some characters appeared on the little screen. It took her a moment to realise that they were numbers, all made out of straight lines. It began to ring:
Well, that was the noise their phone made when it was ringing. It must be right.
“MLO. Arthur Weasley speaking.”
“Arthur, it's Molly.”
“Molly! Why are you ringing. Is everything alright?”
“Yes Arthur,” she replied smugly. “It is. The joiner rang to say he wanted to come and see us tonight. Is that alright?”
“Yes, fine, but why didn't you just send a patronus like you normally do?”
“I thought I might need to phone him back and I ought to practice on someone I knew, first.”
“Good idea. Well done!” he said proudly.
Arthur read the parchment carefully:
“12 Nottingham Road, Short Eaton,” he said decisively. “Are you ready then, Molly?”
“Are you sure you wouldn't like me to put stamps on you and post you?” she teased.
“It would take too long! Ready?”
They twisted on the spot and found themselves in a large, dingy room, full of boxes and bicycles.
“Are you sure this is right?” she asked. “Don't muggles keep cars in their garages?”
“I think I can hear a bell ringing,” said Arthur, thoughtfully.
The bell stopped and a moment later, Toby Merryweather stepped through the door. He was a portly man with glasses and a halo of brown hair.
“Arthur! Molly! You found us, then?”
“Yes,” replied Arthur. “Molly was worried because she couldn't see a car.”
Toby laughed: “I haven't met a muggle yet who keeps their car in their garage. They generally fill them with junk they can't fit in anywhere else. Come through. I think Dulcie's already got the kettle on.”
They found themselves in a small utility room and passed into a modest kitchen. Toby's wife, Dulcie, was putting mugs onto the worktop. She was the spitting image of her daughter: tall and slender with her chestnut hair in a plait. Even now, it only had one or two grey hairs in it.
“Magicians!” she tutted. “Why do you always have to do things the hard way? What's wrong with using the front door, like everyone else!”
“Please ignore my wife,” smiled Toby. “She gets a bee in her bonnet sometimes.”
“Sorry,” she said. “Hello, you two! Lovely to see you again. It's just, why do magicians always make everything so complicated?”
“That's what Molly says about muggles!” laughed Arthur.
“I dare say both look peculiar to an outsider,” commented Toby.
“Undoubtedly,” concurred Dulcie. “Now: tea or coffee?”
They carried their drinks through to the lounge and sat down.
“Now,” said Toby decisively, “What exactly are you looking to buy?”
“That's the problem,” replied Arthur. “We don't really know.”
“Hermione rattles on about a dozen things at once and we get totally confused,” added Molly.
“That's the trouble with these young women,” smiled Toby. “Audrey's just the same. They've grown up with all this technology and they fail to appreciate that it's all new and strange to us wrinklies, especially us magical wrinklies. What are you trying to do?”
“Stop the children treating us like toddlers,” said Molly, drily.
“I don't think you'll ever do that,” replied Toby. “For the first eight years of their life, they don't think you can do wrong, for the next eight they don't think you can do right and once they get children of their own, they just treat you like two extra members of their brood!”
“We need to be able to interact with the muggle world without calling on the children for help,” explained Arthur. “You seem to need a computer to do that.”
“To order our own furniture without them taking over!” added Molly.
“Ye-es,” We heard about that,” commented Toby. “I gather Harry got carried away.”
“He always does,” replied Molly.
“You know, I do admire you both for doing all this,” exclaimed Dulcie. “Toby did it, but he had to.”
“And I was younger and the technology was simpler and I had my wife to help me.”
“Percy's done it,” stated Arthur.
“True,” replied Toby, “And it's one of the things I admire him for. But again, he's younger and he had a strong motive.”
“You two needn't have done all this,” added Dulcie. “You could have just got some ordinary money out of that strange bank of yours and booked a coach tour. You didn't have to go for the Full Monty.”
“Now they tell us!” complained Molly.
“So,” said Toby firmly, “ A computer of some sort,”
“And one of these phones you can look things up on,” said Arthur.
“A smartphone,” interjected Dulcie.
“Some of them look pretty scruffy to me!” countered Molly.
“No! Smart in the American sense. Clever. They're basically a small computer.”
“If they're a computer, do we still need a big one as well?” asked Arthur.
“Need is a funny word when it comes to computing,” ruminated Toby. “You could argue you don't need any of it. It's about having the right tools for the job. There's a pay-off between size and ease of use. I mean I can type on my phone but it's very fiddly. Great for looking things up on the move, but less handy for typing a long report.”
“Of course, size is less of an issue if you can do an undetectable extension charm!” added Molly, conspiratorially.
“Here we go again!” said Dulcie in mock indignation. “Adding complications! You magicians just have to fiddle, don't you!”
“If we didn't fiddle, nothing would ever improve,” mused Arthur. “How much fiddling did it take to invent these computers and clever-phones?”
“Good point!” agreed Toby. “If no-one had ever fiddled, we'd still be sitting on our haunches in caves, chewing on lumps of raw meat.
“We seem to have strayed again,” said Arthur. “We'll have to be guided by you to some extent. We've picked up ideas from here and there, but we don't know what we don't know about.”
“That's a very good point,” said Dulcie. “Toby's your man for that. He's a great enthusiast but he realises not everyone has his knowledge. And is there anything else we can help with? Something not technology-related, perhaps?”
Relief flooded into Molly. Now was her chance to sort what had been bothering her:
“I've been worrying about our clothes,” she said.
“Ah yes!” laughed Toby. “Did you know that magicians, policemen and nuns all have something in common? They're all instantly spottable in plain clothes!”
“Oh! I knew it!” worrited Molly.
“Toby! Behave!” scolded Dulcie, before continuing more gently. “An ordinary person won't think you're magical, Molly. It won't even cross their mind. They'll just think your dress style is a bit erm, individual.”
“Thank goodness for that.”
“The girls said something similar,” interjected Arthur. “We don't stand out to you like you do to us.”
“Would you like us to look at clothes as well, then Molly?” asked Dulcie.
Dulcie looked at Toby: “Meadowcroft, then?”
“I think we'd better, if we're going for the full muggle makeover.”
“Toby! You know I don't like that word!”
“What – makeover?”
“What's Meadowcroft?” asked Arthur.
“The biggest shopping complex in the known universe!” answered Toby. “About forty minutes' drive away. If we'd just wanted your tech bits we could have managed with the local retail park, but with everything else, we'd be better at Meadowcroft.”
“Our builder, Dean told us things are normally named after what they were built on top of,” commented Molly. “Our new building is called Burrow Meadows.”
“It's a long time since there were any meadows around there!” laughed Toby. I think there was a steelworks there previously! I suppose that might have been built on the meadows, though.”
“Do we have to take the car?” asked Molly. Can't we just apparate?”
“No way!” exclaimed Dulcie. “I have no intention of having my innards squeezed through a straw when there's a perfectly comfortable car available!”
“But you said it will take forty minutes!” exclaimed Molly.
“You're going to have to get used to travel taking time if you're going on this trip,” Toby pointed out gently. “It'll be useful having the car to put things in, anyway.”
“Silly question, but you have got money with you?” asked Duclie.
“Muggle money?” clarified Molly.
“Well, you're not going to get far with those giant salvers you call coins!” laughed Dulcie. “And Molly? It's just called money. It's what the majority of people in this country use. You don't need the other word.”
There was a slightly awkward silence.
“We've got our bank cards!” said Arthur excitedly.
“We don't actually know how to use them but we have got them!” added Molly with a laugh.
“Then we can give you a tutorial,” replied Toby, enthusiastically. “Has everyone drunk up? Shall we go?”
They stood up and went outside.
“You've got the longest legs, Arthur,” said Dulcie. “You go in the front with Toby. Molly and I will be fine in the back.”
“Don't you start pressing any buttons, Arthur Weasley!” warned Molly.
“I've heard you can get a bit over-excited, Arthur,” laughed Toby. “I'd better give you the pre-flight safety briefing.”
“Pre-flight?” exclaimed Molly. “Is this a flying car?”
“Cars don't fly, Molly,” countered Dulcie. “It it flies it's an aeroplane.”
“I used to own a flying car,” replied Arthur wistfully. “It was a Ford Angular.”
“I think you mean Anglia, old bean.”
“Magical complications!” muttered Dulcie, before continuing: “Pre-flight is just a turn of phrase. When you fly you get an explanation of the safety features and what to do in the event of a crash. I think Toby's going to do something similar.”
“Do they crash often?” asked Molly worriedly.
“Not at all!” replied Toby. “It's just that, if they did, they wouldn't have time to tell you what to do. Anyway, all I was going to say Arthur was that I have to concentrate when I'm driving, just like you do when you apparate. And whereas if you splinch yourself you only injure yourself, were I to crash the car I could hurt everyone in it and whoever we hit.”
The Weasleys got into the car rather sombrely and sat in silence as Toby drove out of their drive and onto the main road.
“The village is always a bit busy on a Saturday,” explained Toby as they weaved through heavy traffic. Hopefully the motorway will be better.”
Arthur nodded solemnly.
“You are allowed to speak, old fruit.”
“You said we mustn't disturb you,” replied Arthur.
“I more meant pulling on the handbrake unexpectedly! I'll tell you if I really need to concentrate.”
“OK. What's the motorway?”
“It's a special road that allows us to drive faster. Here in town, there are pedestrians, bicycles, horses and all sorts. There's a speed limit of thirty miles an hour. Also, there's people turning on and off the road, so in reality we probably average half that speed. A motorway is designed to drive long distances quickly and safely. Only motor vehicles are allowed on there, hence the name. There's at least two lanes in each direction and normally three or even four. There are very few junctions and they're designed so all the traffic keeps going. They're also dual carriageway – the opposite directions are kept separate from each other. You'll see when we get there.”
They left the built up area and found themselves on a road with two lanes in each direction.
“Is this the motorway?” asked Arthur.
“No. This is just an ordinary dual carriageway. Green signs rather than blue. Bikes can still come on here, like that madman there, and there are normal junctions. That's the roundabout for the motorway up there.”
Molly looked for a merry-go-round, but instead saw a circular road. Toby flicked a stalk on the side of his steering wheel and a little green arrow flashed on the dashboard. She noticed that the car in front had a flashing orange light and wondered if that's what the stalk tuned on. They queued until there was a space in the traffic then drove round the island.
“I need to concentrate now!” warned Toby.
They turned off the island onto a sloping road and Toby sped up as he drove down it. Molly gasped involuntarily at the herd of vehicles galloping down the road (or that was how it seemed to her), but Toby expertly guided his car into a gap and they had joined the stream of traffic.
“Aaand relax!” he said triumphantly. “That little bit of road is called a slip road. It gets us up to speed so we can join the motorway easily. Now we can relax for half an hour or so.”
“Relax!” exclaimed Molly. “How?”
She had never seen so many cars in one place, nor gone so fast by mechanical means.
“I'm starting to wonder if this expedition was a good idea if this is what it's like to travel by bus.”
“You'd be very lucky to get a bus going this fast!” laughed Dulcie. “Anyway, I imagine most of your long-distance travel will be by train and that feels a lot more civilised, somehow.”
They drove on happily for a number of miles, but suddenly met a queue of traffic. Molly could see orange and white traffic cones which reminded her of jazzy witches' hats, blocking off one of the lanes.
“Here we go!” sighed Toby. “There always has to be roadworks somewhere. And not a worker in sight.”
“So much for a special road that allows us to go faster!” commented Molly acerbically. “If we'd apparated, we could probably have been home by now.”
“Really!” retorted Dulcie. “Does everything magical work perfectly every time? And does the magical world ever attempt to mend and improve things or does it just go as it always has for the last thousand years?”
There was a tense silence. Molly was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. It was true that she had started the last exchange. It was also true that a certain amount of magical versus muggle banter seemed to be how Toby and Dulcie related to each other. Perhaps it was even a sign of how relaxed they were with Molly and Arthur that they felt able to indulge in it with them. At the same time, there seemed an edge to it. If they were to spend the rest of the day together, the air needed clearing:
“Considering you're married to a wizard, you seem to have a remarkably low opinion of our world,” she commented.
“Forgive me, Molly. At times I have a rather dark sense of humour. It's the result of spending forty years in a marriage where we have to treat each other as a dirty secret.”
“I don't think it's all humour,” pressed Molly.
“No, it isn't. Are all your comments just humorous? I don't find a lot about the magical world funny. When Toby married me, his family disowned him. Our daughters have never met them. Audrey is looked down upon because of her parentage and Esmée, well she doesn't even exist in your world does she? In living memory you have fought two wars because of a madman who thought he could eradicate most of British society. And on top of that, whenever I meet someone magical I have to put up with them saying that perfectly normal everyday things are peculiar or inferior. So excuse me if I don't think your world is all sweetness and light”.
“There was a lot wrong in our world,” said Arthur, in his soft, calm voice. “An awful lot wrong. But things have changed beyond recognition in the last ten years.”
“I'm sure they have changed Arthur, but not beyond recognition or we wouldn't be having this conversation. Every magician I've ever met still says muggle, as if the ordinary people of this country are somehow different and peculiar. There's no such thing as the muggle world! It is the same world that you are all part of. Saying that word is like a toddler covering over their eyes and thinking no-one can see them! I am delighted beyond measure that you're taking this trip but why isn't everyone else? Why, at the end of the first decade of the third millennium, is the ordinary world such a big deal?”
“I am sorry,” said Molly, gravely. “I am truly sorry. All you say is true. And I do find your world – the ordinary world – strange and difficult. I am not used to it, but I am trying. I am sure we will both make a lot of mistakes and use the wrong words, but please give us a chance.”
Dulcie gave her a wobbly smile and squeezed her hand: “I will, Molly. Of course I will. I'm sorry – I shouldn't have let rip like that, but there aren't many people I can do that to. Toby gets it in the neck too often. I just don't think anyone thinks how offensive some of the words are: I mean Squib! I have two daughters. Both are intelligent, personable and talented. They are both doing well in their chosen fields. One is magical and one is not. Both seem happy and fulfilled, yet Esmée is derided by your world just because she doesn't have magic. Called a squib – just like a dud firework. She's not a dud anything!”
Both witches' eyes were streaming with tears. Molly squeezed the other woman's hand tightly.
“Of course she's not! Do you think we would love Molly or Lucy or any of our grandchildren less if they weren't magical? We love all our daughters in law, for who they are not what they are. When we first met Hermione she was this little twelve year old muggle-born, I mean of non-magical heritage. She seemed so lost and alone in our world, so she became a second daughter to us.. We wouldn't have condemned any of our sons for marrying out.”
“What if your daughter had married out?”
Arthur laughed: “She's married to Harry Potter and there wasn't any doubt that was going to happen from about the age of twelve!”
“We can't change the world by ourselves,” added Molly. “We all of us try, every day, in all we do, but we can't – ”
“Wave a magic wand?” suggested Dulcie and they all erupted into giggles.
“The Chinese have a saying,” contributed Toby: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Every time we challenge someone's action, change our language, or embark on a mad journey round the country by bus, we're taking steps towards building a better understanding. None of us can do it on our own, but together we get closer to the destination. Talking of destinations, that's the end of the roadworks. Won't be long now. Arthur – I know you're itching to press some buttons. The square in front of you is the stereo. There's a box of CDs by your feet or you can put the radio on. Fiddle to your heart's content – you can't break it! There's no Wizard Wireless Network, though.”
“You say that like it's a bad thing!” laughed Arthur.
The next few minutes passed with Arthur tuning in to a bewildering array of stations, most of which were met with howls of protest from both women on the back seat. Suddenly, a vast domed edifice of glass and steel appeared on their left.
“Good gracious!” exclaimed Molly. What's that – some sort of temple?”
“A temple to the god of money,” replied Toby. “That's where we're going.”
They pulled off the motorway and drove into the car park. After a few minutes they found a space and Toby parked.
“How will we ever find the car again?” asked Molly.
“The car park is divided into coloured zones and each of those has numbered sections, so all we have to do is remember we're in Orange Four,” explained Toby.
“That's the theory,” countered Dulcie, grinning at Molly. “In reality, he forgets and can't find it even though he casts a spell when he thinks I'm not looking!”
“It's hard to do properly when you're breathing down my neck,” he protested, winking at Arthur.
“Well, some of us manage to find the car perfectly easily without waving a stick in the air!” she retorted.
Sorry for the delay in posting. The chapter became enormous and then I got rather bogged down in the latter half of it, so I have split it in two. My mind has also gone off on various tangents, so I've done a whole load of non-Grand Tour fragments as well.
Only a few chapters until they set off now. If anyone's got any ideas of where they'd like them to go, let me know!
Chapter 13: Muggle Makeover
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
They walked companionably over to the mall entrance. Molly gasped as they went in and saw the array of shops.
“It makes Diagon Alley look like...” she faltered.
“I'm saying nothing!” parried Dulcie. “Would it make sense to split up? You chaps go off on your own and meet us in the Atrium for lunch? You've both got bank cards, I take it?”
“Yes,” replied Molly. “Will we need cash as well?”
“It wouldn't hurt.”
“Do they have one of those holes in the wall we've been told about? I know the theory, but we haven't actually used one.”
“There's a branch of the Griffin just along here,” replied Toby. “We can use that.”
“Does it matter that we're in the Wessex?” asked Arthur.
“It shouldn't do, these days,” answered Toby.
Arthur and Molly were both patiently helped to use the cash machine. As they walked away from it, Molly started chuckling.
“What's so funny?” asked Dulcie.
Dulcie looked over the top of her glasses and pretended to be stern: “Come on! Share it with the whole class.”
“You'll think me very silly!”
“Of course I won't.”
“It's just when the bank clerk told us we could get money out of a hole in the wall with a pin, I took her literally.
Dulcie laughed gently: “English is such a confusing language, isn't it! I'm amazed anyone ever manages to learn it!”
Both pairs had an amiable time fitting out the Weasleys. Molly and Dulcie had come to something of an accommodation and each managed to laugh gently at the eccentricities of their own culture. They all arrived in the food court at the same time (the men having got sidetracked in a model shop on the way from the department store). Both the Weasleys were wearing their new clothes.
“Where do you fancy?” asked Toby.
“We don't know what any of these places are!” replied Molly.
“How does it work?” asked Arthur.
“All the places around the edge are eateries of some sort. Sandwiches, pizza, burgers, you name it. National chains, mainly, but some are independents. We order from whichever we like and then sit in the middle to eat.”
“I've got a casserole in the slow cooker for dinner, so shall we just have a sandwich now?” suggested Dulcie.
Arthur and Molly nodded.
“What about Buttyriffic?” suggested Toby. “I've eaten there before and it was quite palatable.”
Molly and Arthur, being totally unfamiliar with all the different concessions, were happy to acquiesce. The Merryweathers guided them through the process of choosing bread, filling and salad and what a Meal Deal was. They faltered a little at the till, and Toby had produced his card and silently indicated the four trays to the assistant before either of them had chance to notice, never mind object.
“What about paying?” asked Arthur.
“I dealt with it,” replied Toby. “Today is our treat. After all, we had said we'd have lunch at ours. You'll be paying out enough as it is.”
“You look very dapper, Arthur, I must say,” admired Dulcie, craftily diverting the conversation away from money.
“And you look enchanting, Molly,” concurred Toby.
“I couldn't persuade her into trousers, though.”
“No. I'm quite happy with the dresses and skirts.”
“You might find trousers more practical. Lots of women wear them. Most, even.”
“I've never found my robes impractical and I'm sure I'll find the skirts the same, especially once I've added a few pockets.”
“Now you've got your clothes, what are you going to carry them in?” asked Toby.
“We hadn't thought,” replied Arthur.
“We'll probably just cast an extension spell on my handbag,” added Molly.
“If you're trying to blend in, you'll need some sort of bag,” pointed out Dulcie. “You'll look a bit odd if you tell people you're on a big trip and you've nothing but a handbag.”
“It doesn't have to be big or heavy,” added Toby. “There's nothing non-magical folk like better than an efficient bit of packing, so it can be improbably small and improbably light, but it has to exist. When I do it, I cast a partial extension charm so it has some weight but nothing like it ought to.”
“OK, I'll have to come clean,” admitted Dulcie. “Those charms were our salvation when we flew on holiday. I don't know how people manage when they have to keep within the 20 kilo weight limit!”
“I thought magic just complicated things!” Molly replied with a twinkle in her eye.
As quick as a flash, Dulcie retorted:” Most magic complicates things. The extension thingy simplifies things. Frankly, if you've two grumpy children, four heavy cases and an overcrowded airport with no trolleys, you'll do anything to make life easier. As long as it doesn't degenerate into flying suitcases or talking handbags or-”
“She's no fun!” said Toby, with a wink.
“Making use of space is a big thing for mug- I mean non magical people, isn't it?” commented Arthur, desperately trying to steer the conversation onto safer ground. “Whether it's a bag that holds everything or a building shaped for a particular location. That's what we learnt building the Meadows.”
“Your new building sounds fantastic,” commented Dulcie. We'd love to see it.”
“You must come and visit!” replied Molly.
“As long as I don't have to squeeze through your magic straw!”
“No! You can park in the gateway, like Dean does...How long will it take you to drive from yours to ours?”
“About four hours with a following wind.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Molly. “That long! You must come for the weekend!”
“We wouldn't want to impose on you,” replied Dulcie.
“Not at all! It would be our pleasure!” responded Molly, adding conspiratorially: “I'll be able to inflict magic on you all weekend!”
Dulcie stuck her tongue out then gave Molly a big grin.
“Actually, that might be rather fun,” commented Toby. “It'd be interesting to see the way you do things. I always have to be on my best behaviour at home!”
“Since when?” exclaimed Dulcie.
They ate their sandwiches, Molly and Arthur looking avidly around them.
“What on earth have those people got?” asked Molly, pointing at a family with polystyrene boxes.
“I think they're burgers,” replied Dulcie.
“I don't think they look very nice!” Molly replied in rather too loud a voice as the family started to eat.
“Shh!” whispered Dulcie, trying not to laugh. “I agree with you, but try not to speak too loud!”
“And what's in those funny triangles?”
“Why aren't they on a nice plate, like ours?”
“It keeps the cost down, because they don't have to wash the plates up,” explained Toby. “It's also quicker because they can be made in advance. That's probably done off-site in a factory.”
“They sound disgusting!” declared Molly, causing a few heads to turn. “Why would anyone want to eat them? They haven't even got preservation charms!”
“They keep them refrigerated and they have other ways of preserving them,” explained Toby. “There's a pay-off between speed, price and taste. A lot of these people just want a quick, cheap bite to eat. There are restaurants here if people want a more relaxed, tasty meal.”
“It's about marketing, too,” added Dulcie. Everyone knows what Burger Boss, Spud-U-Luv and Sand-Witch are. They've got branches everywhere, so people know exactly what they're getting and roughly what it will cost. They know they won't get haute-cuisine but neither will it be inedible.”
“That's a matter of opinion!” muttered Molly.
“The good thing is, you know exactly what they are so you can avoid them if you wish,” pointed out Toby.
“I think we ought to insist they try a Big Boss just once, for the experience!” laughed Dulcie.
“Have you?” asked Molly, darkly.
“Once, I think, when the girls were small and we were desperate,” replied Dulcie. “I haven't felt the need to repeat the experience.”
They finished their meal and then went on a hunt for suitable luggage. After traipsing around various shops and looking at a mind-boggling array of suitcases and holdalls, they settled on two small rucksacks, which seemed practical and convenient enough for Molly whilst passing Dulcie's inconspicuousness test.
“Just the tech stuff now!” exclaimed Toby, cheerfully.
“Just!” exclaimed Molly. “That was the main purpose of the trip and we haven't started yet!”
“There's a big retail park round the corner that will be the best place for all that,” replied Toby. “You can rest in the car while we drive round. You could even wait in the car while we get it, if you like.”
“No! If I'm going to have to use this stuff, I ought to know what we're buying.”
They exited the mall and started walking towards the carpark.
“Now where did we leave the car?” asked Toby. “Pink something, wasn't it? Perhaps I just need to...”
His hand reached into his wand pocket.
“Orange Four!” the other three chorused.
“Now, I've an idea to put to you. Two actually,” said Toby as they drove round to the retail park. “By the time we've done this and driven home, I don't think I'll be in any fit state to teach you how to use this stuff and you probably won't be in any fit state to learn.”
“You're probably right,” agreed Arthur.
“Why don't you ask Percy to explain it to you?” suggested Toby. “He's very proud of how good he is with this stuff. He's a fantastic teacher, too. Have you seen him with the girls? He's so calm and patient.”
“He takes after his father,” replied, Molly, lovingly. “I always lost patience and took over!”
“You said you had two ideas,” he interjected.
“Yes, well don't hex the owl, but Percy's quite keen to pay for some of this stuff.”
“Not this again!” exclaimed Molly.
“I don't think he's paid for anything yet, has he? I have a soft spot for young Percy. He's exactly what Audrey needs, he's a model father to the girls and I couldn't ask for a better son-in-law. It's never easy being the middle child and I think Percy has it doubly hard because he's the studious one in a family of doers. I'm not sure his talents are always appreciated.”
“I've always worried about Percy,” agreed Molly. “He has always felt a bit out of place and I think wartime resentments run deep.”
“Computers are something he excels in,” reiterated Toby. This is his chance to shine. Let it be his gift to you: his expertise and his money.”
“It strikes me you've enough to pay for,” added Dulcie. “Let the family share the load, if they want to. That card of yours must be melting after all its use today!”
“Do they do that?” asked Molly, worriedly.
“It's just an expression!” laughed Dulcie.
They parked and went into the computer superstore.
“Merlin's beard!” gasped Arthur. “Where in Avalon do we start.”
“Here,” replied Toby. “As I said this morning, there's something of a pay-off between ease of use and size. At this end we have desktops. Like the name suggests, it sits on your desk permanently. The advantage is that, because they don't need to worry about size and weight, it can be designed totally with ease of use and performance in mind. The downside is that you have to go to it and not the other way round.”
“We have our portal,” countered Arthur. “It's only like going into the next room.”
“Great when you're at home, less good if you're visiting us in Nottingham. So we move onto laptops. Like the name suggests – ”
“They sit on your lap?” interjected Molly.
“Well, quite. It's basically a portable version of the PC. Screen and keyboard are built-in and it has a tracker pad rather than a mouse.”
“Mouse?” asked Molly.
“This thing,” replied Dulcie, waving one that was attached to the neighbouring PC. “Because, allegedly, it looks like a mouse. Can't see it? No, me neither! Lots of computer jargon is like that: it started as an in-joke in a lab somewhere and now its passed into general usage long after the joke ceased to be funny, if it ever was to start with.”
“As I was saying,” continued Toby, “This can do more-or-less everything that can do. It can even connect wirelessly to printers and the like. Did you say you get into your annex via a portal? I've not tried, but you may even find your wifi will work through that, so you can access the internet from the comfort of your front room.”
“But we've just had a desk specially built!” protested Molly.
“Nothing to stop you sitting at the desk with the laptop, it's just you don't have to.”
“We've better lighting in the Meadow,” pointed out Arthur.
“I've got a laptop and and PC, but I had the latter first. I probably won't replace it when it dies.”
“Hermione has one a bit like this and I found it easy enough to use,” commented Arthur.
“I'm glad you did because I found it bewildering!” retorted Molly. “And why are the letters in such funny places?”
“It's based on a typewriter keyboard,” explained Dulcie. “The letters are positioned in the best places for typing common words.”
“Will we be doing much typing?” asked Molly. “And I watched Harry printing things out – pressing keys to get little lists or squares to appear. I wouldn't know where to start!”
“That's where young Percy comes in!” replied Toby.
“Perhaps we need to move on to the tablets,” suggested Dulcie.
They walked further down the aisle.
“Where's the rest of it?” asked Arthur with a puzzled expression.
Dulcie laughed: “That's all you need! The screen covers the whole thing.”
“But there's no keyboard!”
“You can bring one up with the push of a button, but you don't need one as much. It works in an entirely different way. Look – I'll show you!”
Dulcie reached into her handbag and brought out her own tablet.
“You sweep, you tap and you pinch. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.”
“I like the look of that!” exclaimed Molly. “It's like casting spell” she added in a whisper.
“Would you like a go? Why don't we take a picture of Arthur?”
“It can take photos?”
“Yes. The laptop can too, actually, but it's obviously a bit cumbersome to whip that out for a quick snap. A smartphone can too, come to that.”
“What about developing them?” asked Arthur.
“No need to!” replied Toby. “You can just print them out at home on your ordinary printer. Actually, a lot of people don't bother now. You can just show them on the screen, or send copies to your friends. You can take hundreds too and just keep the decent ones – it's not like the old days when you only got 24 exposures on an expensive roll of film.”
Dulcie showed the screen to Molly.
“Muggle picture!” she replied with a grin. “It doesn't move!”
I knew you were going to say that,” replied Dulcie with an equal smile. So:”
She pressed another icon and Molly saw herself saying Muggle picture.
“Oh! I like this!” exclaimed Molly.
“Any of these machines will allow you to take photos, Molly,” advised Toby.
“But not by casting spells!” she countered.
“The smartphones work the same way, actually,” he added. “They're basically a smaller version of the tablet with the ability to phone as well.”
“Oh,are they?” asked Arthur, worriedly.
“Come and have a go, Arthur. It's easy,” suggested Molly. “If I can do it, anyone can.”
He dutifully watched as she showed him, lines of concentration etched into his face.
“You try,” she said and handed it to him.
“Where's the little cross?” he asked. “How do I shut this window?”
“There isn't one, old fruit,” explained Toby. “It's a different operating system entirely. It's all about hand gestures, or you can use this button to go home.”
“But we haven't finished here yet!” protested Molly.
Toby laughed: “No! Not literally. The screen you see at the start is called the home screen.”
Arthur tried heroically for a few minutes, but finally had to give up.
“You'll get there in the end, Arthur,” said Dulcie encouragingly.
“You know, I'm not sure I will.”
“Really, you're going to need either a smartphone or a tablet when you're on the move and possibly both,” pointed out Toby. “At least the screen is bigger on the tablet.”
“I'd be fine with a laptop.”
“It's not really practical,” commented Dulcie.
“Don't forget it will be in a extended bag.”
“That doesn't really help when you're trying to manoeuvre it on the move, or on a crowded train,” Dulcie pointed out. “Look, perhaps you need both. A laptop for when you're at home or in a hotel room, and a tablet for on the move.”
“We can't do that!” exclaimed Molly. “Have you seen how expensive they are?”
“Don't forget the price is in Pounds,” pointed out Toby.
“Yes, I know it is!” she snapped. “It's still sixty Galleons. I'll manage with the laptop. I'm sure I'll get used to it in time.
Dulcie and Toby shared a look.
“Your choice,” said Toby. “That just leaves a phone. Well, you probably need one each, really.”
“Why?” asked Arthur. “We'll be together.”
“What if you have to split up in an emergency?” replied Dulcie. “And there's an argument for having a smartphone and a simple one, particularly as Arthur isn't that comfortable with the technology. Look: I've got a suggestion. We're all getting tired and this shop's not the best place for phones anyway. There's a supermarket on the other side of the retail park that will probably have some good deals. Why don't I walk over there and sort you out two phones? The basic one will only cost buttons anyway. You stay here with Toby and sort out your laptop? It'll get it done in a fraction of the time.”
They were back at the Merryweathers' at last and were sat in their lounge with a welcome cup of tea. Both women took a sip and sighed contentedly.
Dulcie laughed: “Well, that's one thing we certainly agree on: the almost miraculous reviving qualities of tea.”
“I think we can call that a good day's work,” said Toby contentedly.
“Lots more ticks for the list,” agreed Arthur. “We've got clothes, phones and a computer. Not to mention travelling on the motorway, using a cash machine and eating in a mug-I mean ordinary café.”
“What have you left to do?” asked Toby.
“Not a lot after today,” replied Arthur cheerfully. “We need to get the route finalised, of course. Apart from that, I think it's just travelling by train.”
“Can I make another suggestion?”
“Rather than just riding on a train, why don't you have a mini-expedition? Visit one of your children, say. See what it's like when you put everything together and go somewhere specific.”
“We could visit Percy and Audrey!” replied Arthur, excitedly.
“You could,” said Dulcie, gently, “But you might be better going to someone outside London.”
“Why?” asked Molly.
“London is a completely different cauldron of pimplies,” explained Toby. “it has its own challenges, but in many ways is more straightforward than the rest of the country.”
“How do you mean?” asked Arthur.
“London's public transport has more money spent on it than the rest of the country put together,” replied Dulcie, bitterly. “It's cheap, plentiful, frequent and well organised. If you miss a bus, there's another one along in a minute, or you can take the tube, or the train instead. There's always a plan B. And often it's as quick, or even quicker, than taking the car.”
“What's the problem in the rest of the country?” asked Arthur.
“Today's trip is a good example,” answered Toby. “Going by car, we left when we wanted and came back when we wanted. We drove door to door by the most efficient route possible – out to the motorway and then straight up. I haven't researched the route by public transport, but I imagine it would be bus into Nottingham, which is rather going back on ourselves, a train up to Sheffield and another to Meadowcroft. And at each change you'd need to wait for a connection and possibly walk from the train station to the bus station, or whatever.”
“Aren't they next to each other?” asked Molly, surprised.
“Don't be silly!” laughed Duclie. “That would be too easy.”
“Why ever not?” asked Arthr.
“The great god Competition,” replied Toby. It's meant to make things easier, but doesn't.”
“Hermione said something similar about the utility companies,” commented Molly.
“And Meadowcroft has its own station, but not everywhere you want to go will,” pointed out Dulcie.
“How much longer would it take by public transport, do you think?” asked Arthur.
“No idea, old fruit. I tell you what: why don't we have a look now, as a sort of tutorial. Then you'll know which websites to look at if you decide to plan this foray.”
“Well, I ought to put the veg on,” said Dulcie, standing up. “Why don't you come and keep me company, Molly, while the boys are playing.
“Only if I can help,” she replied. “I don't like watching other people work.”
The two women walked through into the kitchen.
“There's not much to do, really,” said Dulcie. “It's been simmering in the slow cooker all day. Would you cut some broccoli up for me?”
Dulcie took a chopping board off a hook: “Choose your weapon!” she joked, pointing at a knife block.
Molly selected a knife. She reached for her wand, but stopped herself. She was in Dulcie's kitchen and would do it Dulcie's way. Slowly and carefully, she chopped the vegetable. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the other woman slicing a French Stick, her knife going almost as fast as Molly could have done with magic. Dulcie finished way before Molly, but waited patiently until she had finished.
“When was the last time you cooked without magic?” she asked.
Molly thought for a moment: “Probably the night before my seventeenth birthday! Of course, I taught the children to cook without magic.”
“What if they were sq...I mean non-magical? What if we find ourselves in a situation where we can't use magic? How can we understand mug...I mean non-magical people if we don't know how they use things. And most importantly of all,” she concluded, with a twinkle in her eye, “I didn't want to give them the excuse that they couldn't help me because they weren't allowed to do magic!”
“From what Percy told us, that never stopped the twins doing anything.”
“Only when it suited them!” added Molly, drily.
“I don't think there's much more we can do until the veg cooks. Molly, I've got a little something for you.”
She reached into her bag and brought out a rectangular box.
“What is is?”
“I can't possibly take this.”
“It's one that the supermarket makes. Cheap and cheerful but it will do everything you need it to. It didn't cost much, honestly. A fraction of what the ones we looked at.”
“It's too generous.”
“No it isn't. Do you think you will use it?”
Molly thought for a moment:“Yes, I do.”
“Well, then. It's worth every penny. I don't think you will use that laptop. The thing about marriage is that you play to each other's strengths. Inevitable, I suppose. The trouble is that sometimes, if one of you is better at something than the other, then they always do it and you never do, or vice versa. It can lead to frustrations on both sides. Take driving: Toby always drives because I'm the better navigator – well, you saw his sense of direction today! The thing is, I like driving, too, but I rarely get to do it when I'm with Toby and when he does let me drive, it's only on the boring motorway. I bet there's similar things in your marriage.”
“Arthur is like Toby ," continued Dulcie. "He's a great enthusiast. He'll have that laptop out and switched on before you've even thought about it. I want you to be able to enjoy this holiday, Molly. I want you to be able to participate, not just sit back passively whilst Arthur does everything. It's more than that, though. I'm sure your holiday will be lovely, but once it's over, you'll just be left with memories and photographs. Using a computer is a skill for life, and it's a skill I think every witch and wizard needs. In the agricultural age, you had more knowledge than us. That's why there was all the fear and persecution. In the industrial age, I would suggest that the knowledge was different but equal. Now, though, I think the mainstream society is way ahead of the magical one and is advancing all the time. Why should our granddaughters learn magic when they've got all that technology has to offer?”
Molly looked at the other woman in shock. It was true they had had a rather turbulent day, but she thought they had come to an understanding. Asking why the girls should bother with magic was like asking why they should bother with breathing. Eventually she stammered:
“But they're witches! Of course they'll bother with magic!”
“Oh Molly! Your face!” she replied gently. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean it unkindly. I wasn't trying to shock you. It was a genuine question: what can magic give them that technology can't?”
Molly thought for a moment. She decided to take the other woman at her word. What could magic do that muggles couldn't? The short answer was that she didn't know. The more she saw of the muggle world, the more she realised how little she knew. She thought back over the day: the (largely) efficient motorways, the sumptuous shopping centre, muggles in all their rich variety shopping and enjoying themselves. Conventional wisdom was that muggles got by without magic, but the reality was that muggles had things that worked at least as well. Indeed Molly herself would gladly have replaced the white knuckle ride through the Gringott's vaults with a quick visit to the cash machine. Finally, she settled on something that she knew only magic could do and that hopefully would lighten the atmosphere a little:
“Instant travel,” she replied. “Floo, portkeys...” she raised an eyebrow, “...apparition.”
The two women grinned at each other.
“OK. Fair point. But why do they need to travel at all?”
“Pardon? I thought that's what your trains and motorways were for.”
“Of course they'll need to travel sometimes, but so many things we used to have to do face to face we can now do over the internet. You can do so much with your little tablet: video calls so you can talk face to face with someone on the other side of the world; emails which let you send letters, pictures and goodness knows what else instantly; shopping online and getting it delivered the next day; looking up answers to virtually any question you could ask. By the time they're old enough to apparate on their own, Lucy and little Molly will be wedded to their phones like all their generation are. I don't want to end up as their favourite granny just because I'm the only one they can contact easily.”
She smiled reassuringly at Molly. Molly nodded solemnly. She could hear the truth in what she was being told, however uncomfortable it was.
“The world is changing so fast,” Dulcie continued. “When I was a girl, we didn't even have a telephone. Unusual perhaps, even then, but certainly not unheard of. I didn't know what a computer was. By the time Audrey and Esmée came along, we had a single phone in the hall. What we'd now call a landline. No such thing as mobiles, texts or even an answerphone. Their school had one computer which lived in a special room, but it wasn't connected to anything other than a printer. We still did most things by post or in person. Now, everyone has a computer, probably several. At school, they're no longer a prized possession that the children get to go on if they're lucky, but just an everyday tool. Your little tablet has a million times the capability of those early personal computers. A million! It can connect to the internet almost wherever you are. I can do my banking in my pyjamas at 3am if I want to – I can't remember the last time I went into a bank. Half the things that used to be science fiction are day to day reality and there's other innovations we'd never even dreamt of when I was small.”
“What's science fiction?” asked Molly.
“Sort of fairy stories set in the future. That pace of change isn't going to decrease and the way we live our lives is altering beyond recognition as a result. The mainstream world will soon be as alien and terrifying to you as the magical one used to be to us. You'll be left behind.”
“How will our world ever adjust?” cried Molly. “Yes, some of us will, but as a society, we hate change.”
“Well, you've done it before,” replied Dulcie reassuringly. “Look at all the Victorian technology that's been adapted: steam trains and lifts and goodness knows what else. It's just the rest of the world has moved on a bit since then! And I hate to say it, but it's going to take a couple of mad meddlers like our husbands to combine the best of both worlds.”
Dinner was a convivial affair and they had a pleasant evening chatting about their children and sharing anecdotes and gossip. The gulf between the two worlds was not mentioned again and the trip itself only came back into conversation right at the end.
“Did you find out how long it would take to get to Meadowcroft on public transport?” asked Molly.
“About fifty percent longer than by car,” replied Arthur.
“The thing is, added Toby, “I don't think it really matters how long it takes you. The journey is as an important part of this holiday as the destination. Just enjoy the ride, as they say.”
It was late when they finally got back to the Burrow. As they drank their cocoa, Arthur rabbited happily away about all they'd seen and done that day, but Molly scarcely heard a word, much less responded. She had a lot to think about.
Butty is a northern English word for sandwich. Historically, the word apparently also meant friend or workmate. I don't know if the two uses are related! Buttyriffic is typical of the punning names used for sandwich shops and other retail outlets in the UK.
Chapter 14: Food for Thought
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At about the same time that the Merryweathers were treating Arthur and Molly to lunch in Meadowcroft, their daughter and her family were entertaining Hermione and her children in their North London semi. As they ate their lunch, Hermione watched the unfolding scene somewhat wistfully. It was how she had always imagined her own homelife would be, but somehow it never was. Molly and Lucy did as they were told, ate neatly and helped with age-appropriate chores. She knew that her two were younger, as Ron was quick to remind her whenever she attempted to keep up standards, but she wasn't sure they'd ever be old enough in his eyes to be disciplined; indeed he seemed to find Rose's tantrums funny. As to housework, Ron himself seemed to labour under the misapprehension that they had a house-elf, so she was onto a loser before she started. On the rare occasions that he cooked, it took half the day to make and the other half to clear up. It seemed to result in more work for her not less and yet she was expected to appear inordinately grateful. The contrast with Audrey and Percy was stark. She and Audrey had prepared lunch because Percy and the girls were at music centre, but he would be making dinner. This was apparently the normal arrangement on a Saturday and entirely unremarkable.
Lunch was finished and cleared away. The girls had whisked Rose off upstairs and Percy was playing some educational game with Hugh. The two witches were relaxing in the living room, drinking coffee.
“I hope you don't think we're odd having a dishwasher when we could just as easily cast cleansing spells?” asked Audrey.
“It hadn't even crossed my mind,” Hermione replied truthfully. “I was just thinking what a soothing noise it makes – a bit like when you come across a milking parlour on a country walk.”
“I hadn't thought of that! I suppose it does. It was already installed when we bought the house and it seemed more hassle to remove it than to leave it in situ. The advantage is we can get the girls to load it.”
“That's a good point. I wonder if I could persuade Ron to get one? The trouble is that growing up with Arthur has rather clouded his view of machinery.”
“We don't use it when either set of parents visit!” laughed Audrey. “Fortunately, with it being built-in, it is out of sight and out of mind. Actually, dad is fairly well behaved. Mum's instilled into him Magic Needs A Magician; Gadgets Need An Electrician. I'm hoping she might mention that to Arthur when they visit.”
“Oh yes! That's today, isn't it!”
“Yes. I'm hoping she might message me at some point. Where has Ron gone?”
“The Harpies are playing the Canons at the Stadiwm Eryri today. It's been a tradition going back to Ginny's playing days that most of the family meet up and hire a box. I think Ginny still gets it at staff rates. It's an excuse for everyone to relive their childhoods, not that Ron has ever left his!”
“Wouldn't you rather be there?”
“I'm glad of an excuse not to go, to be honest. The children get over-excited and the adults get rowdy and drink too much butter-beer. It's like being back in the Gryffindor Common Room without being able to retreat to the library.”
“Percy always says that the Gryffindor common room was rather tiresome. He makes me think I didn't miss anything, not going to Hogwarts.”
“Was there really never a suggestion that you might?”
“No. Mum didn't really want me to go away to boarding school at all, but there were no day schools close enough to Nottingham. She thought Hogwarts sounded too... erm... robust and insisted I went somewhere small and homely.”
“Isn't any school a day school when you can travel magically?”
“I suspect most headteachers would take a dim view of a pupil arriving in their hearth every morning. In any case, my parents aren't on the floo, so dad would have had to bring me side-along every day and that wouldn't really have been practical. And whilst dad never said it out loud, I think he realised I needed to be immersed in the magical world. We lived largely in mainstream society. Dad went off to work in Diagon Alley every morning, but what child pays much attention to the jobs their parents do? Dad had been to Hogwarts, of course, but if anything that had set him against it. He'd been in the nasty house. Sizzlepuff? They all have such funny names, don't they?”
“I think you mean Slytherin!” laughed Hermione.
“Yes! That must be it. He feared I'd end up there, too. He said Hogwarts mirrored too much what went on in the wider world. And he strongly disliked Dumbledore. Sorry – I know he is everyone else's hero.”
“We're not naïve,” replied Hermione earnestly. “He was a flawed genius. I'm still angry about how he used people – Harry especially – but on the other hand, if he hadn't done what he did, the war might have been lost. Harry himself accepts that.”
“Dad didn't think headmasters should play politics, much less have a private army.”
“That was just ministry propaganda!” countered Hermione. “He never had an army.”
“Really? What was the Order of the Phoenix, then? I understood it was people who acted as aurors but reported to Dumbledore and not the Ministry. That's a private army if ever I've heard it.”
Hermione stared open-mouthed for a minute. Although her views of the Second Wizarding War had matured over the years, she had still clung to the notion that the Order had been the Good Guys. The idea that someone could disapprove of them and yet wish to see Voldemort overthrown somehow shocked her.
“We...we seem to have got sidetracked,” she managed to stammer. “What was your school like, then?”
“Small, all-witches' school. Friendly – claustrophobically friendly at times. In hindsight, there was too much teenage oestrogen flying around.”
“Whereas Hogwarts had that plus too much testosterone!” laughed Hermione.
“Probably. Are anyone's teenage years fun? You would have thought that by now they'd have found a way to put us to sleep at 11 and revive us when we're 20 and have morphed into civilised human beings!”
“That sounds appealing.”
“What about your schooling? Did you consider anywhere apart from Hogwarts?”
“No. Not once I got my Hogwarts letter. The thing was, we didn't even know I was magical until that point.”
“Really? Surely you must have done magic before then?”
“Yes, of course I did, but we didn't realise what it was. We just thought I was a bit accident prone. My parents are dentists. Rational scientists. Very down to earth. There's a logical explanation for everything. Heck – we didn't even have the tooth fairy.”
“Don't mention the tooth fairy!” wailed Audrey.
“Why not?” asked Hermione, puzzled.
“The endless angst-filled discussions Percy and I had about it! I mean – the one fairy ordinary people believe in and it doesn't actually exist. So: what do you do? Have the one child in the class who doesn't have it?”
“I was that child!” wailed Hermione. “And the one to announce proudly to a whole room of shocked infants that there was no such thing as Father Christmas!”
“Gosh! That must have made you popular!”
“I think we had death threats! Mum and dad certainly lost a few patients as a result.”
“Yes, well, you can see our dilemma, then. On the other hand, how do you tell a six year old that you can talk about some fairies at school, but not others? And it didn't help that the first tooth came out at about the same time as we had Merlin's Sickle.”
“Merlin's what?! Why does this keep happening?” she cried in anguish. “Nearly twenty years I've been in the magical world. Two decades and I still get tripped up by stuff I don't know! Stuff that's not in the books. And I ask Ron, but he just says What do you want to know? How the hell am I supposed to know what I want to know if I don't already know it? Aaargh?!”
“Oh Hermione!” her friend replied kindly. “I feel your pain. Maybe you, Harry and I should gang up and have an evening talking about children's TV, fairy stories and pop music?”
Hermione smiled weakly: “Actually, we might struggle to find something in common. My parents were quite strict for a long time. No adverts and no cartoons. I saw an awful lot of wildlife documentaries. And Harry was kept locked in his cupboard a lot of the time. So go on: what's Merlin's Sickle?”
“It's a bit like the tooth fairy. You get it when you do your first magic. In my case, I think they held off as long as they could and only did it when they couldn't pass my magic off as an accident any more.”
“So your parents do this, do they? What – hide it under your pillow?”
“Hide it wherever they like. I think dad levitated mine in with his wand, unseen of course. It was when he finally told me I was magical. He took me to Diagon Alley and showed me all the sights. He explained that I was like him and Esmée was like mum. Then we went to Fortescue's and bought a sundae with my sickle.”
“My word! That seems cheap!”
“I think dad must have paid the rest, although I didn't realise at the time.”
“Actually, from what I remember of Florean Fortescue, it's quite possible that he only charged you a sickle when he heard what it was for. Harry once got free sundaes all summer. Was there any animosity between you and your sister because of your magic?”
“No. Not at all. Mum and dad were always careful to say we both had different talents. She was brilliant at drawing, for example. And mum has quite a...complicated relationship with magic. With our lifestyle, magic often felt more of a curse than a blessing. It was both a shock and a delight to go to school and mix with people from all-magical households and discover that magic was fun! They all seemed to get into such exciting scrapes!”
“Was there animosity between the ... erm ... all magical households and the rest?”
“No. Not really. It was as different as can be to Hogwarts.”
“How do you mean?”
“Hogwarts is the school for the elite – Eton with magic. It peddles the elite's prejudices. My school was very ordinary. A lot of the pupils were day girls from the local area.”
“Where was it?”
“Pendle. The oldest magical area in the country. More witches and wizards than anywhere outside London, apparently, although everyone forgets that because they're spread out through the countryside, apart from a few in Netherthwaite.”
“Where?” she asked incredulously.
“Netherthwaite, well the Spinners' End neighbourhood of Netherthwaite, anyway. It's a town about as far as you can go in Lancashire without being in Yorkshire.”
“Oh! Of Course! I've heard of Spinners' End. Go on.”
Most families had a bit of non-magical blood in them somewhere. It was generally considered a good thing. Let's just say you could tell the families that didn't. Pure their blood certainly wasn't!” She pulled a crazy face. “We generally took the rise out of them.”
Both women laughed.
“If your parents had that attitude to the supernatural, I'm surprised they let you go to Hogwarts at all!” commented Audrey.
“Dad's attitude was Show me the evidence and I'll believe it. Well, he was shown the evidence. Muggleborns – sorry. You know what I mean – don't just get a letter. Minerva McGonagall came to visit. She was Deputy Head. She was such an archetypal teacher that they couldn't but trust her. She did some magic then talked about things they could understand, like book lists, homework timetables and exam pass rates. I suppose we could have looked for another school, but we didn't know where to start and Hogwarts seemed to fit the bill.”
“Where would you have gone if you hadn't been magical?”
“I was due to be a day girl at a small local private school. Very naice, if you know what I mean. Green gingham dresses, straw boaters and a Jolly Hockeysticks headmistress with a booming laugh. In hindsight it was down at heel and probably too small to be viable. I think it closed soon afterwards.”
“It sounds uncannily like the school I went to, without the magic of course!”
“I had been desperate to go there. At my primary school I'd been teased as being posh, just because I was studious and didn't speak with a broad Fordbridge accent. I'd every reason to assume that the comprehensive my school fed into would be the same. Of course, I'd have still stood out because of my so-called clumsiness. The relief when we found out I was magical! At last I was going somewhere where I'd fit in! And when I got there, I found I was still a misfit because my parents weren't magical. As if I could do anything about that!”
“You should have come to my school. We really didn't care about that. I mean, you were considered elite just because you had the conventional number of fingers and toes!”
“You do realise that if I'd not gone to school with Ron and Harry, it could have changed the entire outcome of the war” she replied, only half joking.
Percy came in, with Hugo trotting eagerly in his wake.
“I was going to do biscuit and drinks for everyone,” he said. “After that, I probably ought to start cooking tea. I was going to make vegetable curry. Is that alright for the children. Hermione? It's very mild.”
“Ours loved it from the word go,” reassured Audrey.
“I expect they'll be fine, especially if they see their big cousins eating it,” concurred Hermione.
She turned to her son: “You'd better stay with mummy now, Hugo. Uncle Percy needs to cook dinner.
“Hugo help!” the boy insisted, grabbing hold of his uncle's trouser leg.
“Of course you can help!” smiled Percy. “Just stay with mummy one minute while I get the girls.”
Once they had all imbibed, the girls returned upstairs and Percy and Hugo installed themselves in the kitchen.
Hermione sighed: “How did you end up with the only domesticated Weasley, Audrey?”
“He had to be!” she said with pride. “You know what happened. He suddenly found himself living on his own on a small budget. He went into Flourish and Blott's and bought every cookery book in the place. He even used to watch cookery programmes through the windows of television showrooms. I think that was a bit of a mixed success.”
“Because they didn't use wands?”
“Because the sound wasn't turned up!”
“We all love Molly, but I don't think she did her children any favours.”
“Possibly not,” replied Hermione, equitably. “She did try, but with seven children – nine with Harry and me – it was often quicker for her to do it herself. And Ron always takes the easy way out!”
Audrey looked at her friend steadily: “Hermione, is everything alright between you and Ron?”
She shrugged: “We bump along as we always do and I s'pose that's part of the problem. Nothing ever changes. Sometimes it feels like I'm a single parent with three children rather than a co-parent of two. I look at you and Percy or Harry and Ginny and I wonder why our marriage isn't like that.”
“Every marriage is different, mi duck, and every marriage has its ups and downs. I worry Percy and I are too alike sometimes. I mean Ginny and Harry, or Bill and Fleur complement each other, don't they? We tend to have the same weaknesses. We can rub each other up the wrong way, sometimes.”
“It doesn't show.”
“Neither of us are ones for washing our dirty linen in public. We tend to go in for brooding sulks. Your way is probably better. At least it clears the air.”
“It would be, if things actually changed,” remarked Hermione.
They sat in silence for a few moments, Audrey looking thoughtfully at her sister in law.
“What?” asked Hermione.
“Nothing... I mean... I can't ask that!”
“Of course you can...” she paused and grinned at her friend, “...mi duck!”
“Don't tease! Blame my upbringing. It's a North Midland thing.”
“So what are you thinking?” she insisted.
“It's very nosey. You'll probably hex me.”
“I'm curious now! I'll definitely hex you if don't ask me!” she replied, waving her wand and trying to look menacing.
“OK...” she took a deep breath. “...It's just I've often wondered: The three of you have been friends since school, haven't you? You, Harry and Ron, I mean?”
“Yep. They rescued me from a mountain troll in first year, like the True Gryffindors they are!”
“And the four of you are still extraordinarily close, especially you and Harry. Why did you end up with Ron and not him? Oh hex my lips shut, Hermione! I can't ask you that!”
“Of course you can! Ron couldn't have married Ginny, could he?” laughed Hermione. “I know the Weasleys are close but...”
“They're not from Pendle!” finished Audrey with a laugh. She continued more seriously. “You're not the only two witches in the world, though. Ron could have found someone else.”
“Ginny,” said Hermione with a melancholy laugh. “At the age of 10, a truculent Ginevra Weasley accompanies her mother to Kings Cross to see her brothers onto the train. On the platform they come across The Boy Who Lived, looking like a Victorian urchin. It was like discovering your brother was going to school with – I dunno – Robin Hood. And not just at school with him, but best mates. Harry spent an ever increasing amount of time at the Burrow, so Harry became a large part of Ginny's life, too. She seamlessly segued from living in her own personal fairy tale to a teenage crush to true love. Harry never stood a chance. And the boys were, well...” she laughed mischievously. “...Let's just say they were late developers. By the time they actually realised we were female, Ginny had morphed into this striking young woman. Funny, feisty and fit, in both senses of that word. Why would Harry even look at me? Frumpy, self-righteous, constantly weighed down literally and metaphorically, because I was doing more subjects than there were hours in the day for.”
“Would you have liked him to look at you?” she asked gently.
“Ginny and I were like sisters. I slept in her room at the Burrow. I didn't even allow myself to consider it. Could you have stolen a man from Esmée?”
“Fortunately, we have very different tastes, but I get your point. No. I couldn't.”
“And then the war happened and it wasn't exactly conducive to anyone's love life, was it? Afterwards, we were all caught up in the euphoria and Harry and Ginny were quickly married. And I do love Ron, Audrey. He's funny. Obliging when he can see what the problem is. Faithful in his own way.”
“In his own way? He hasn't cheated on you, has he?”
“Not like that. It's just I can't ever forget that he abandoned us when we were on the run. Abandoned me. I know he came back and I know he'd reached his limit, but...”
Audrey briefly squeezed her hand.
“That's the bit I don't get. I mean, you and Harry stayed together when Ron left. You were on the very edge of survival, from what I understand. That must have been very intense. It would be very easy for something to have happened between you. Natural, almost.”
“Something did happen?” she enquired softly.
Hermione nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“A Christmas kiss. It was very, very nearly much more. We were at rock bottom. We hadn't even realised it was Christmas Day. Voldemort lured us into a trap. Harry nearly died. I got him out but his wand was destroyed in the process, or at least we thought it was.
She laughed heartily.
“You know how attached Harry is to his wand. I sometimes think that if he had to choose between it and Ginny...well, let's just say it would be a close call!”
Audrey pursed her lips and pretended to look stern over the top of her glasses: “You naughty girl!”
“I thought he was going to kill me,” Hermione continued seriously. “I went to bed for a bit, just to give us some space and allow him to calm down. When I got up...he'd made Christmas. He'd found a tree and scoured the windswept hillside we were on for greenery. He cooked this amazing meal out of pretty much nothing.”
Audrey laughed: “That sounds like Harry!”
“We put on our dress robes.”
“Dress robes!” she exclaimed with a laugh. “You went on the run with dress robes?”
“The Ministry fell when we were in the middle of Bill and Fleur's wedding. We didn't have chance to change, so we had them with us plus our normal jeans and jumpers, but nothing you'd call smart casual. I wanted to dress up and make it feel festive.”
And you didn't even have a Weasley Jumper.”
“Precisely. We talked - trivial stuff mainly. All about our childhood Christmases, but it was stuff Ginny and Ron wouldn't understand. The glorious naffness of it all.”
“Yes, witches and wizards don't really get kitsch, do they?”
No. We danced.”
“Don't tell me you had a five-piece band stashed in your famous beaded bag!” she laughed.
“No. I just sang. We wrapped our arms around each other and we kissed. A soft, Christmas kiss. The sort you'd have under the mistletoe, except we didn't have any. It became more passionate. And then he led me into the bedroom.”
Hermione gave her melancholy laugh again: “The bit they never put in the romantic novels. That condom moment.”
“The brightest witch of the age uses condoms?” laughed Audrey. “Wouldn't a quick wave of you wand have been better?”
“I don't use them now! We were on the run from Voldemort for goodness' sake. Family planning wasn't exactly high up my list. Mum had packed them.”
“Goodness! That's very...erm... enlightened of her!”
“I told you she's very down to earth!” laughed Hermione. “She doesn't have any concept of magical camping. She thought we'd all be squashed together in a tiny tent and one thing would inevitably lead to another. And to be honest, I'd rather played down the running for our lives aspect. I think she thought we were on a jolly Swallows and Amazons-style quest.”
“I must re-read the books! I don't remember any night-time fumblings!”
“Oh I don't know!” she laughed. “I always thought John had a bit of a crush on Nancy at the very least.”
“But I'm sure he'd have jumped in the cold lake if he'd had any dishonourable thoughts!”
“Probably! Anyway, by the time I'd fumbled with the foil sachet, Harry had come to his senses. The irony is that I was so underweight that I hadn't had a period for months. We could have bonked to our hearts content without any repercussions. Anyway, Ron came back the next day and that was that. I'd missed my chance. He never knew the real reason I was so angry with him!”
“Oh Hermione! I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have pried!”
“Actually, it was a relief to say it out loud after all this time.”
“You've never told anyone? Not even Ron?”
“Especially not Ron! And Harry never mentioned it again, either. Anyway,” she said more brightly, “Your turn now. What skeletons do you have in your cupboard?”
“None!” she laughed in reply. “It's all very boring and you know most of it anyway. I never even looked at a boy before I left school. It was very sheltered.”
“Not even a crush on the games mistress or a glamorous sixth former?” teased Hermione.
“Certainly not! How did you describe yourself: frumpy, self-righteous and doing too many subjects? That was me! When I left school, adjusting to life in the adult world was complicated enough without adding a boyfriend in as well, not that I'd have known where to start looking. I mean where does a serious, shy witch who hates pubs and parties look for a soulmate?”
“Er, go on the run from Voldemort?” laughed Hermione.
“Funnily enough, that didn't appeal! Then of course the war started and as you said that didn't do much for anyone's love life. I just kept my head down and got on with my job as unobtrusively as possible.”
“Did you meet much prejudice?”
She shrugged: “Not really. Magical Revenue is quite an egalitarian department. After all, everyone hates the tax witch! Your blood status doesn't come into it! Then after the war, I've already told you what happened. Percy and I were on the same training course. The course itself was rather a waste of time. No-one likes having extra work forced on them do they? Attitudes ranged from apathy through amused contempt to downright hostility. And to be fair, the teaching was pretty appalling. The leader was from the Arthur Weasley School of Non-magical Knowledge. It was all misinterpretation and mispronunciation. It didn't have seemed to have occurred to anyone to ask someone who grew up in the mainstream world!”
“To be fair, it wouldn't necessarily have helped. Lots of us immerse ourselves in the magical world as soon as we start secondary school. We don't have an adult understanding of how the rest of society works. Your upbringing was really rather unusual.”
“Anyway, you know what Percy's like. He's passionate and conscientious. He wanted to know more. And, well, I rather got up on my high hippogriff. There they were, waffling on about all this stuff as if it were unusual and groundbreaking when I'd been doing it all my life! As the only two who were vaguely interested in the course, it was inevitable that Percy and I should end up talking. He was trying to reconcile the conventional wisdom that those without magic were somehow inferior and Arthur's viewpoint which, although pro-muggle was still misguided and condescending, with what he was starting to see was the reality. I mean, Arthur's got a shed full of gadgets but none of them actually work!”
“Actually,” interrupted Hermione, “That's just what he wants you to think. Many of them do, often heavily... erm... modified.”
“Oh Lor!” I hope he and dad don't start talking!”
“I thought your mum had him well-trained?”
“It's called the Eleventh Commandment, Hermione.”
“Thou shalt not get caught! If Arthur invites him to go and look at his plug collection, anything might happen!”
Both women giggled uproariously. At that moment, Audrey's phone pinged.
“Do you mind if I check this?” she asked.
“Not at all!”
She looked at the message and gasped: “Goodness! Look at this, Hermione!”
She took the phone from her and looked at the photo: “Good gracious! What a makeover! You'd hardly recognise them! I thought they were supposed to be getting the computer today?”
“It sounds like they done all sorts. Mum and dad have taken them to Meadowcroft – you know – the big shopping complex.”
“Can you forward that to me? I must show Ron. I don't know if he'll be amused or horrified!”
“Thanks. So: where were we? Oh yes! You and Percy on the Muggle-awareness course.”
“Yes, well our discussions continued after the session had ended. He was hungry for knowledge, but each time he asked a question, every third word needed explaining. Then I had to explain the explanation and the explanation of the explanation! In the end, it was easier just to show him! I took him for rides on the tube, trips to the cinema, that sort of thing. I suppose they were like dates really, although we just went as friends. We found we had a lot in common. Then I took him to meet my parents and see how they did things. He and dad hit it off straight away. Dad said he was the first quiet Gryffindor he'd ever met.”
“Yes, cos Slytherins are well known for being quiet and thoughtful,” she retorted sarcastically.
“Don't start! I get fed up of all this Hogwarts house nonsense. You meet someone for the first time and the first thing they ask you is What house were you in? as if that conveys something fundamental about you. I mean, they've been working for far longer than they were at school. Why should your house matter? It really fells them when I reply Parlick.”
“Was that your house?”
“Yes. They were Parlick, Fairsnape, Easington and Pendle. Named after local hills.”
“And did each house represent any particular qualities?” Hermione asked tentatively.
“No! It's just a house. A way of subdividing us into smaller groups and instilling a bit of pride. Nothing more. The Revenue did some research into the correlation between Hogwarts House and tax evasion a couple of years ago. Do you know what they found?”
“Nothing! There is absolutely no correlation whatsoever.”
“What an odd thing to do research into!”
“We just got fed up of all the lame house-based excuses. What are the four houses again?”
“Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.”
“Ah yes! We get things like I'm a Gryffindor, we're too honourable to cheat. I'm a Hufflepuff, we're too stupid to cheat. I'm a Ravenclaw, we're too clever to get caught,or even You're only picking on me because I'm a Slytherin.
Hermione chuckled: “They would say that, wouldn't they!”
“Yes! ” exclaimed Audrey angrily, half rising out of her seat. “They would, because they're conniving tax dodgers who won't admit they've done anything wrong, not because of where they slept twenty years ago! I mean, what sort of a name is Hufflepuff anyway? It sounds like a breakfast cereal!”
“Where as – what was it? Parlick – sounds like a skin complaint!”
The two women collapsed laughing.
“You know, I've been looking forward to today for ages,” Hermione finally managed to say. “The chance for some proper grown-up conversation for once. Look at us! We've descended into stroppy teenagers! We'll be saying My dad is bigger than your dad next!”
The thing is, I didn't really do the the stroppy teenager thing the first time round. I took myself far too seriously!”
“So did I!”
“I sometimes think I reached peak maturity at about the age of 18 and it's been all downhill since then!”
Hermione finally managed to calm herself down: “How did you and Percy finally get together then?”
“I don't know, really. We'd been friends for a few months and then decided we'd like to take it to the next level. Getting engaged was the same; we just talked about it and decided we'd like to spend the rest of our lives together. Neither of us got down on one knee or anything.”
“Percy was your first love then? Has that ever bothered you? I mean, have you ever wondered what you might have missed out on? Oh ignore me, Audrey. That's very intrusive of me!”
“I asked for that really, considering the way I questioned you! Yes he was my first love and no, it doesn't bother me. On the contrary, I feel exceedingly grateful that I hit the jackpot first time. As I said before, I didn't really know where to start looking for a boyfriend. And Percy's my friend above all else. As for the physical side, it's called love-making for a reason, isn't it? I think Percy and I have become better lovers as time has gone on. If he got run over by the proverbial bus tomorrow, I wouldn't know where to start. I'm not even sure I'd want to. The thought of getting to know someone from scratch is terrifying, frankly. What about you? Was Ron the first?”
“More or less. I had a holiday romance with...” she went bright scarlet, “...Viktor Krum.”
“You say that name as if I ought to know it.”
Hermione burst out laughing: “Oh Audrey! I think I'm in love with you!”
“What did I say?”
“You must be the only person in the entire Weasley clan who doesn't know who he is! He's one of the most famous quidditch players of recent years. He was Seeker for Bulgaria at the 'ninety four World Cup. Caught the snitch but they still lost. I got to know him because they held the Trwizard Tournament at Hogwarts that year and he was chosen as the Durmstrang Champion. All we did was kiss and hold hands. We had quite a deep intellectual connection. He was surprisingly intelligent and thoughtful for a quidditch player. We wrote to each other for a while, but then it petered out. Then I had a Christmas snog with a Troll called Cormac McLaggen. He had hands like a Venomous Tentacular, but I fled before he could go too far. Ron was my first proper boyfriend. And although we'd been friends for years, we seemed to go very quickly from first kiss to engagement. It felt right and I'm not saying it wasn't, I just wonder if we'd be better at everything if we'd had more experience. At least then I could say Ron was the best of the lot. On the physical side, he's still a lot like a Venomous Tentacular! And apart from those months on the run, Ron has never really had to fend for himself. He had his mother, then Hogwarts and now me. Perhaps we should both have done a lot more growing up before we married. I sometimes wish...” she trailed off.
“I mean, you spend thirteen years at school learning all this stuff you'll never ever use again and yet you learn nothing about the important stuff. Relationships and babies and all that sort of thing. When you leave the maternity unit at St Mungo's, they check your baby is securely strapped in its apparition harness and then that's it! You're on your own!”
“It would be quite something to have on your CV, wouldn't it!” teased Audrey. “OWL grade E in snogging but only P in nappy changing and vomit-cleaning. What do you think you'd need to do for the NEWT sex practical? And would you get to choose your partner? What if no-one picked you – it would be worse than PE when no-one wanted you on their team!”
“Or worse, you'd be paired up with someone you'd normally avoid!”
“What like Larry McCormack or whatever you said his name was.”
“Cormac McLaggen. Actually, he was in the year above, but yes.”
“And what would we have done at a single sex school?”
“Anyway, that wasn't quite what I meant!” said Hermione, going red.
“I know. I'm sorry. My sense of humour will get me in trouble one day!” She squeezed Hermione's arm and smiled consolingly: “Look, everyone's marriage has ups and downs. I'm sure things will work themselves out.”
The boys bustled in from the kitchen. Hermione was amazed at how clean and tidy Hugo was. He normally couldn't even look at a bowl of food without getting it plastered all over himself.
Percy looked at Hermione: “Mummy, Hugo has been ever so helpful, but it's time for him to come back in here now. Dinner is very nearly ready.”
“Oh what a helpful boy! Come and sit with mummy. Is there time for a quick story, Uncle Percy?”
“A very quick one. Audrey, could you call the girls, please?”
“Of course, sweetie. By the way, mum's sent a message. She said the computer cost four hundred quid and is that alright?”
“That doesn't sound much! Is that everything?”
“Just the laptop and peripherals, I think. She says she dealt with the phones and a cheap tablet for your mum herself, but they didn't come to much.”
She went into the hall to call the girls.
“What's this?” asked Hermione.
“It sounds like Audrey's dad has persuaded my parents to let me pay for the computer,” explained Percy.
“How?! They got really stroppy with Harry when he tried something similar.”
“Because Toby's an apothecary and not an auror.”
“Harry's a very good auror!” she protested.
“Indeed, but he sometimes forgets that when he's not at work, it's not illegal to say no to him! Toby spends his life persuading people to take his advice. He opens doors by admiring their paintwork. Harry just blasts them off their hinges!”
Slightly against her better nature, Hermione found herself laughing.
The girls trooped in.
“We've all washed our hands mummy, and now we're going to lay the table,” declared Rose proudly.
“Very good!” smiled Hermione.
They all sat up at the table and Percy served up his curry.
“What's this?” asked Rose, wrinkling her nose.
“Uncle Percy's special curry. It's very nice. Try some!”
She took a mouthful and chewed it thoughtfully.
“Not sure!” she said, putting another forkful in her mouth.
Hermione said nothing, but noticed that subsequent forkfuls followed rapidly.
“This is very nice!” said Rose in somewhat surprised tone. “Did Uncle Percy really make this?”
“Yes!” laughed Hermione. “Why shouldn't he?”
“Daddy doesn't make things like this.”
“No, but he cooks other things, doesn't he.”
“Yes, but they're all greasy and horrid.”
Spousal loyalty prevented Hermione from replying.
Hermione was quiet as the meal progressed. She found herself watching her brother-in-law, who it seemed was quite capable of simultaneously looking after a child and cooking a meal. She wouldn't dare suggest Ron did it (nor was she quite sure she would trust him to). Harry too could rustle up a mean curry (albeit probably meaty and adult-only) and did not consider either cooking or childcare (or indeed both together) to be an onerous imposition. Both Harry and Percy seemed to be in marriages that were partnerships in a way hers simply wasn't.
She hadn't thought about the Christmas on the run for years. She had just quietly got on with her life. What would have happened if that kiss had been more? Despite the desperate situation they'd been in, she had in a strange way enjoyed it. Companionably getting on with the minutiae of daily life. They'd had remarkably few rows. It was true he had strong opinions and wasn't afraid to tell her she was wrong on occasion, but surely that was how relationships were supposed to work? Ron's passivity seemed to bring out her rather more unpleasant side. She could see herself becoming some sort of fish-wife. She had been so dismissive of Molly when she was younger and considered her to be the author of her own misfortune. Now she could feel herself turning into her.
As the meal progressed, Audrey found herself observing her sister-in-law with a tenacity that would have impressed the Chief Auror himself. She found herself frowning at what she saw.
The account of the Christmas kiss is a précy of my one-shot Not Quite Sisterly.
Swallows and Amazons is written by Arthur Ransome and published by Jonathan Cape
Naice is a parody of an upper class person saying nice. The implication is of someone/thing genteel and well-heeled.
Stadiwm Eryri is Welsh for Snowdonia Stadium. To my mind, Holyhead would be a singularly difficult place to hide a quidditch ground, given that it is a seaport on a rather flat island. I think that it would be located in the seclusion of the mountains of the nearby Snowdonia National Park.
Jolly Hockeysticks: Well to do and exuberantly enthusiastic, as you would find in a headmistress or PE teacher in a posh school.
Quid: pounds sterling.