Chapter 23: Back to the Burrow

"HUGO!" Mum bellowed up the stairs for the fifth time.

"All right, all right!" Came a voice from the depths of his bedroom or 'pit' as I fondly call it.

Dad sighed, his case levitating behind him and helpfully bumping into his head every few seconds to remind him we were late.

"Come on Hugo, we want to get there in time for Christmas!" I said irritably. Hugo appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Christmas is a week today, Rose. It wouldn't even take that long for dad to drive us there," Hugo snapped back, stomping down the stairs.

"There's nothing wrong with your father keeping to the speed limit Hugo!" Mum reproached as she fussed over him, tucking his collar down at the back. Dad rolled his eyes, batting away his suitcase.

"18th of December, Off to The Burrow for Christmas!" A squeaky voice chirruped delightedly from the kitchen as we walked towards it.

Mum smiled happily and waved her wand at her magical talking diary – Hugo thought it would be a good present for last Christmas, apparently mum has had to rescue it from the fireplace at least three times, not that dad has a clue why…

"Rose, you first", Dad said, pushing me unceremoniously into the fireplace and throwing floo powder over me. I whirled into existence to see James in a very festive jumper and a pair of felt reindeer ears on his head waiting in a chair in front of me, looking excited.

"Oh, it's only you." He said, hugging me in a greeting anyway.

"Who were you expecting, bloody Tutankhamen?!" I huffed, dragging making my suitcase whiz up the stairs to Uncle Percy's old room, hoping it didn't hit anyone en route.

"I was waiting for Sarah actually." He said, ignoring my tone and slapping Hugo on the back as he appeared. Louis appeared from the dining room and ran to Hugo.

"Hu, you've got to come and see this! Mum let me open one of my schoolbooks early and it's got the coolest smoke spell in the world!" He said breathlessly. An enthused-looking Hugo followed him up to Uncle Bill's old room, where they sleep.

"I was never that sad at their age." James said shaking his head in disappointment. Dad laughed as he stepped out of the fireplace and mum batted James on the arm reproachfully, while still smiling at him. Ginny poked her head round the corner.

"Hermione, Ron, come on; we've just cracked open one of Uncle Billius' ancient brandies!" She said, waving her wand at mum and dad's suitcase, which popped out of existence. Mum and dad disappeared into the lounge, dad rubbing his hands together.

"You do realise that Sarah introduced Danny to her parents the other day… it's not just a fling, James." I said, channelling Dom with my bluntness once our parents were safely out of the room.

"She's my friend." He replied doggedly.

I raised an eyebrow at him.

"She said if I couldn't be her friend then I couldn't be her anything, and I need her, Rose!" James said desperately.

God his love life is confusing. And that's coming from ME.

"And I can't let that happen. At least if we're friends there's a chance of being with her again. No friendship, no chance." He pleaded desperately.

"Fine, fine," I said, putting my hands up in surrender. "Who else is here then?" I asked, sitting down at the kitchen table opposite James.

"Becky arrived at about 9 o' clock this morning and granddad didn't let her parents leave until he'd shown them his fuse collection. Albus and her have been concocting some vile-smelling potion in his room for ages, I just left them to it. When Dom arrived she went and joined them, all power to her I say." James said, counting everyone off his fingers.

"Where are nana and granddad then?" I asked. Nana would usually have pushed some juice into my hands by now or told me that I should stop biting my nails.

"They've gone to the Ministry for something, I don't know" James said airily, waving a hand.

At least I could be with someone who knew about me for a while; it had been tiring being at home and refusing dad's offer of a firewhiskey without arousing suspicion. As if he had read my mind, James turned his eyes from the hearth.

"I take it you haven't told your parents?" He asked.

"Yeah actually, I was having breakfast this morning when I said 'morning mum, dad, guess what I've been up to? I'll give you a clue; it will make me a lot fatter and grumpier than usual!'" I said sarcastically, scowling and resting my head in my hands.

"Hormones playing up are they?" James asked deliberately patronizingly, eyebrows raised.

I immediately softened.

"Sorry, I don't know why-" I managed to say before the fire burst into life and Sarah spun into view, snuggled up in hoodies, gloves and a scarf.

"You're late!" James exclaimed, reindeer ears wobbling fretfully as soon as she stepped out, blinking and dizzy. Travelling by floo was not a preference of Sarah's.

"Yes, well I had Danny over last night to stay, he only just left" She explained, hanging her scarf over the back of a chair and plopping down next to me. James' face immediately hardened and he looked like he'd rather not have known.

"Thought you weren't seeing him again til the end of the holidays?" He said accusingly.

"Yeah, well mum invited him over to get to know him better. Don't think she likes him much" She said, looking confused. James brightened.

"Aww, why's that then?" He said positively gleefully.

"God knows." She shrugged, looking down to unbutton her coat, while James mimed evil laughter at me.

He never gives up.

"When's lunch nana?" James asked over his shoulder to our grandmother.

The whole gang was sat around the huge table, Sarah and Hugo were playing exploding snap, Becky was inspecting her nails while Dom painted them, and Albus had his nose stuck in a book as ever. Scorpius was writing a letter, his owl perched patiently on his shoulder and opposite him Lily was warming her hands on the open fire.

"You're not having yours here Jamie," she replied mysteriously without looking at us as she stirred a huge pot on the stove.

"Is this because of last Christmas? Because I promise I won't start a food fight with Uncle Ron, please don't make me eat in the garden again?" James implored with wide eyes.

"No love, you're all having a packed lunch." She replied over her shoulder, smiling slightly.

I do not like the way this is going…

"Molly you aren't telling them are you!" Granddad called from what sounded like the garden.

"No Arthur, that pleasure is all yours" Nana called back to him as mum and Aunt Ginny slipped into the room, smiling.

"Right kids, get outside. Your Granddad has a special surprise for you!" Nana Molly said as she bustled around the gallons of tomato soup she was making for lunch. "Out of the kitchen, now, chop chop!" She added when we looked at her quizzically, wiping her hands on her ancient flowery apron and chivvying us all outside.

We all looked at each other and mum and Aunt Ginny gave each other an amused look, scaring me even more.

"Hello guys, gather round now, gather round!" Granddad called from the middle of the garden. We all did as instructed, as Mum and Ginny watched from the doorway, laughing together. I did not like the look of this.

"Right, I've got a special treat for you lot this holiday. Tonight, you will start here, in Ottery St. Catchpole, make your way up and over Stoatshead hill, stopping along the way to sleep every night and then over here in this kind of marshland area, until you reach a cabin. Here you will stay for a night and then take the Portkey back home just in time for Christmas Day!" Granddad said merrily, with the air of giving us a real treat. We gaped at him.

"That route has to be 30 miles long!" James exclaimed, looking at the map Granddad was holding up. He seemed to have drawn a long, squiggly line which we supposed to follow and there was a big 'X' where the cabin was.

"That's exactly right Jay! And that is why I bought you these!" Granddad replied, gesturing at two two-man tents and one four-man tent at his feet.

"What do we do with them though if we're walking across moorland?" Albus asked logically.

"Well, a 30 mile route approximately, should technically take you about 6 days, if you walk five miles per day." Granddad said. So, if you start today after lunch you can make it to Stoatshead hill ready to set up your tents for the night! Oh and no magic allowed! I shall know if you don't adhere to that!" Granddad beamed around at us all, and we stared at him. His face fell after a moment.

"Well if you don't want to go, it doesn't matter; I just thought it would be a nice thing for you older kids to do before Christmas…" He said, making to grab the tents to take them back inside.

"Don't move Granddad. Of course we'll go!" I said quickly, and everyone nodded, smiling tensely.

"Brilliant! Now go upstairs and pack your backpacks! Scruffy clothes only!" He called, smiling and leaving the tents where they were.

An hour later, we were all downstairs and ready to go, having packed the essentials. James, Albus, Scorpius, Becky, Dom, Sarah, Lily, Hugo, Roxy, Louis and I were sat at the wooden dining table, waiting for Granddad to do whatever he was doing.

"I'm so proud of you lot agreeing to go like that. It was a very nice thing to do for your Granddad." Nana said quietly to us while the man himself pottered around outside in the garden.

"Right!" Granddad exclaimed, coming into the kitchen. "I hope you're all ready, and Rose, your mum said she'd shrink the bags and make them less heavy or something" He said, looking around the room for mum.

"Yeah, she went with dad to the Ministry to set up a Portkey." I replied.

"Oh yes, well I think she did it before she left." Granddad said, as he looked around at us all, now dressed and made-up, with our scruffy clothes on and ready to go.

"Yes, Arthur, she did. You watched her, remember?" Nana said absentmindedly from the bookshelf, where she was rearranging her cooking books.

"Ahh yes, I do. Um, now what…" He trailed off. "Right, yes. Hugo and Louis, you'll be going with Roxy and her friend on a different, shorter route and you'll be led by Fred and his girlfriend Suzie –who have already left by the way- because there aren't enough tents to go around. Is that OK?" Granddad asked anxiously.

"Yeah, that's fine." Hugo and Louis said together, looking mischievous. They were plotting something, I just knew it. I thanked Merlin we weren't going to be on the same route; they'd probably put bugs in our tent…or worse.

"Behave yourselves." Aunt Fleur said sharply from the doorway, although she smiled.

"So, I think that's it. James, you're the leader - you have the map, off you go!" Granddad said. We all got to our feet with a loud scraping of chairs, and began making our way outside.

"By the way, there are pairs of wellies outside for all of you in the right sizes!" Nana called, knowing Granddad would forget we were all barefoot. We shoved on wellies after much confusion about the right sizes and then trudged back inside.

"Bye, everyone!" I called. Nana Molly rushed over and handed us all a cheese and ham roll.

"Just in case you get peckish on the way up" She beamed. "There are a few litres of water in your bag each as well, so ration yourselves! And remember – no magic! Your Grandfather will know whether you've stuck to that little rule!" She winked, before hugging us all and bustling into the living room, leaving me speechless.

Uncle Harry then came into the room, carrying handfuls of what looked like small, plastic squares.

"Muggle pedometers I picked up at the Ministry" He explained, handing them out. "Just so you know how far you actually have walked per day. I think your Granddad marked on the map where you should be stopping to set up camp but you never know. It might be interesting to see how far you walked in a day." He shrugged, before hugging the family members and waving to the others.

He hugged Sarah, too, which didn't surprise me. She and James had been together for over a year and in that time Sarah had stayed at the Potter's house probably more than I had. Harry had liked her a hundred times more than any of his other girlfriends, probably because she treated him more like her boyfriend's father than a celebrity.

And because she took a genuine interest in his collection of golden snitches. And when you like Uncle Harry's collection of snitches, you're his friend for life.

Ginny had loved her too probably because Sarah was a lot like her – they didn't take any shit, loved quidditch and weren't pathetic, wimpy girly-girls. And also because she had a female other than Lily to watch soppy films and drink wine with on the Friday nights that Sarah stayed over.

At that moment, interrupting my little train of thought, mum and dad arrived in the fireplace, holding hands with their elbows tucked right in.

"Thank god we caught you before we left. We wanted to say goodbye!" Mum smiled as dad brushed the soot from her clothes.

"Well, we'll see you Christmas morning!" Mum said, hugging us each in turn, while my dad hugged the girls and clapped a hand on the shoulder of the boys.

"Right well, I'd better go before you lot. Happy hour is about to start!" Dad said, before one last smile at all of us. "Have a good time; don't get in too much trouble. And if you shift, don't be seen! Oh, Harry, are you coming to open the pub with me?" He added to Uncle Harry, who nodded. The pair left, waving one last time and walking outside before apparating.

Aunt Ginny came ambling into the room in her slippers, two glasses in her hands. She handed one to mum.

"Mulled Mead." She explained. Mum looked at her watch.

"Gin, it's only two o clock in the afternoon…" Mum said, as she took a sip. Ginny shrugged and Lily rolled her eyes at Sarah, who disguised a laugh with a fake sneeze.

"It's five o clock somewhere." Ginny grinned. "Plus, the kids are off and then men are all at work! It's just me, you, mum, Angie and Fleur." She winked. Mum took a bigger swig and grinned at Ginny.

What great mother figures we have.

"You two are like an advert for alcoholism," James said.

As if he needs an advert anyway.

"But we're off, before it gets dark. God knows how long it'll take to set up the tents…" He sighed.

"All right loves. Take care" Aunt Ginny said as she worked her way around, hugging everyone at random. And with a few more 'goodbyes' and 'take cares' and 'James what's that moving in your rucksack!?' we made our way up the drive and towards Stoatshead hill. This was going to be a long six days.