Everyone in Godric's Hollow knows the Potters have... talents. It was all fairly obvious within a week after Harry and Ron and Hermione first appeared, because no one had even properly noticed before that there was another house on Holly Lane. All right, so it's the last house, and the hedges are fairly high, and it was a ruin then, and set back a bit from the road, almost in the field behind, and mostly surrounded by trees.
But still. No one knew there was a house there?
And it was the end of May when they moved in. By August, the place was done up perfectly, in a messy, home-y way.
No builder works so fast. Three teenagers certainly don't.
God alone knew what their jobs were, because no one in the village did. Hermione said once she had a year of some boarding school left, and I remember how she glared at the boys, like a hint, and how they laughed at her and each other. She did vanish after that, but even a year later whatever job she got seemed to take up a lot of her time. It never seemed to bother any of them, how much they worked. They started coming in to the Hollows of an evening sometime during the first summer and autumn, looking a bit hesitant and awkward, and even when I was nineteen I noticed how, at first, they would jump at small things - a glass being shattered, a door slamming.
I don't remember how we got to be friends. It just sort of happend. I know Nick had just turned eighteen and I'd taken him for his first official pint down the pub, but I don't actually remember what happened.
No, it's not because of how much we drank. Twenty years just does stuff to your memories.
What I do remember, though, is the start of the Feud With The Dread Mrs Packenham. And she is sort of dread. Moved here after her husband died and is the sort of person who thinks it's a high and lonely destiny to be Chairperson of the Godric's Hollow Resident's Association. Prods people with her walking-stick, writes the Vicar's sermons for him and deplores the state of Our Great Nation, Now Sunk So Low, by which she means the fact that the Hollows Inn hasn't closed down yet. As soon as the articles in the newspapers started about village pubs closing down she gave a single piercing cry of joy and ran to picket outside poor Graham's place. DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING.
Anyway, it was New Year's, and they threw a party - Harry, Ron and Hermione I mean. Nick and I were invited too, and a couple of our friends. For some reason that raised eyebrows among their friends; I remember how they glanced at each other when we arrived: bearing booze of course. I didn't really notice at the time because of the pretty redhead attached to Harry; that made me laugh. I'd been sort of attracted to him at first, even if he was the same age as my rotten brother, but that went away. By New Year's I was pretty convinced he was gay or asexual. No pass made at him had been even considered. (I don't know why it had never occurred to me that he might be spoken for. He didn't act spoken for, I guess - not awkward or anything... just disinterested, p'raps a bit dense, and sometimes rudely so. It was downright hilarious to have to make excuses for him to Nadia afterwards.)
"Secret girlfriend?" I asked him cheerfully.
"Hardly," said the redhead. "We've both just had... a bit of stuff going on."
Harry was quite good at hiding the scars on the back of his hand in the pub: he'd lift his glass with the other one, turn his palm upwards. The redhead had scars as well, all up her arms, but she was flaunting them.
Twenty years later, I've never asked about them. I was afraid to and I still am. How young we were, and yet how obvious it was that they were so much older than me.
I said something silly, and she said her name was Ginny, and the party swept on - raucously, stupidly loud and gleeful. Looking back on it, the exuberance probably had a lot to do with those scars. Near everyone had at least one, many the same thin white lines that Ginny sported on her forearms, though few as extensive as hers. I remember the strange slang they used and how cheerfully ignorant most of them were about anything that even remotely resembled pop culture, and how a good few of them had names Nick and I considered old-fashioned if not downright odd. The clocks ticked nearer to midnight and the drinks kept flowing - there were some amazing drinks there I'd never tasted before and have only ever had since at Harry's. Outside it was crisp and cold, with a smattering of snow. I remember how Harry and Ron and Hermione drew close to each other every now and again and stepped apart from the others, just for a sec.
"This time last year was pretty bad," said a girl called Lavender, whose scars were the worst I'd seen yet, clearly visible through her thin shirt despite the cardigan thrown over the top. She smiled, a thin, bitter smile. "In some ways they didn't exactly have the worst of it. In a lot of others they did."
Afraid to ask, despite all the Dutch courage I should have had by then, and no curiosity whatsoever, then or now.
Anyway, at five to midnight, Ron's brother George climbed onto a chair and got yelled at from all sides.
"Garden!" he bellowed above the contemptuous din. "Garden, now! It is my very great pride and delight to inform you that Weasley's -" he glanced at me, and then carried on "- Weasley's Wizard Wheezes has a very great treat in store for the whole bloody lot of you. Grab your drinks and move!"
Everybody did. I have not ever taken either of the W-words into my mouth in connection with my friends. But, well, some stuff's obvious. It has become clear to me that George was not using it that day as old-fashioned slang for 'brilliant'.
Out in the front garden, there was a box set up. It was an odd box, in stripes bright red and gold and yellow and black and blue and bronze, and there seemed to be nothing in it.
Beside me, Ron was holding something in his hand and squinting.
Over the roofs of the village, a firework went up. The long rocket-whine coincided with the first heavy stroke of the church bell, ringing in midnight and the New Year, and it exploded in red and gold. The second rocket was a sunburst of yellow. The third was stars of bronze and blue. The fourth was red and gold again, and so on, one rocket exploding as the next faded away, until with each burst of light you could see the smoke of them hanging against the stars and the bells rolled out slow and sonorous in contrast to the sharp high whine and bang of the rockets, and then, as the bells faded away shimmering over the village, George pointed something at the box on the front lawn, and it blew up in all the colours of the rainbow: a blazing conflagration, and out of its fires a great bird rose whose wings dripped flame and whose eyes were green. It rose easily to hover above the garden and the lane and even the trees and the rooftops of the houses, as everyone clapped and shouted and whooped.
Then it blew up again in the most spectacular show yet. My cold hands were sore with clapping; Nick's jaw hung open in astonishment. It was gorgeous, and beautiful, and a work of art, and they had invited us to see it. I felt weirdly honoured and drunkenly affectionate.
But, you say, we wanted to hear about the beginning of the Feud. We're sure the fireworks were spectacularly lovely...
The Dread Mrs Packenham wasn't. You see, the Phoenix had exploded level with her house, more or less, and it rained ash and dust onto the end of her drive for the rest of the night. Everyone else in the lane was delighted at the show, ash notwithstanding, and after all George and Ron did clear the stuff up the next morning.
But not Mrs Packenham. A slight once given, never forgotten. Of course, the fact that they got dust on her roses as well as the gravel drive might have had something to do with it.
Which brings us to today.
"Look, it's a very nice giant stuffed penguin. I know that. My point is" - what the hell is my point, they won't listen - "you can't leave it on the Dread Mrs Packenham's roof."
There is a certain shuffling, and a stiffening of spines. "I don't see why not," says Jim obstinately.
"The Vicar laughed," adds Al.
"Mrs Packenham will not," I say.
There is no argument they can make which will refute this. It is a Fact.
"But," says Lily, and inwardly I groan: will no God in Heaven ever let me catch a break? "Mrs Packenham's not here."
I fling a hand up and point at the penguin. "You cannot seriously believe that people won't notice this. The minute she gets home she will be told. As the matter stands, it's still dark and you've got a chance to take the thing down before anyone notices. I don't even know how you got it up there in the first place."
"Te-" says Al, and gets his foot stomped on by his brother.
Teddy. Teddy Lupin, hair-dyer extraordinaire and bane of my existence. If that boy would just stop spoiling this lot rotten and allow his calmer, smarter, better nature to rule him when he's in Godric's Hollow, my life would be a lot less interesting. I posited this to Harry once with the notion that he might have some small influence over his godson, but he just looked glum. "If that were all it took..." he said darkly.
I am not fool enough to believe that Teddy Lupin does not have certain talents of his own.
"Remind me," I say grimly, "to have a word with our Teddy."
On the up side, I've met his Gran, and she likes me.
"Now, will one of you please fetch that thing down?"
They glare at me. I glare back. I am immune to small-Potter-glares. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, they are not yet immune to mine.
It's a losing battle and we all know it. Rearguard action.
"I don't think Harry and Ginny would be too happy to learn you've been putting up giant stuffed penguins all over the place while they were having dinner down the pub."
All right, all right, it's a pathetic one. There are times I feel a bit sorry for the Dread Mrs Packenham. I can't imagine what it must be like to live in relatively close proximity to a house full of five people who are incessantly, carelessly, cheerfully, deliberately, noisily happy.
But Lady Luck's grown fond of me today, or taken pity at least, and round the end of the street two familiar figures appear.
Potters move quick, but so do I, and if you've got one you've got them all. It's one of those moments when I feel vindicated in my belief that they are not, in fact, budding juvenile delinquents who need locking away. I put my hand on Al's shoulder and he neither twists away nor lashes out, and his siblings won't leave him.
If I'd missed they'd've been gone like a flash, but I didn't.
Ginny's laughing as they draw near, and Harry has an arm around her shoulders, head bent close to hers. For a few seconds the picture they make is very lovely, and I think of going home to Shaz with longing. Then Harry looks up.
"Nice penguin," he calls.
"I like the colour," says Ginny. "Bright sunshine yellow. Lovely."
I want to tap my foot at them. They are sarcastic, irresponsible parents who are totally lacking in discipline.
One thing true, one thing a filthy lie, one thing true... but only when they want it to be.
"Sorry about this, Sal," says Ginny.
"Not at all," I say, supremely calm.
"We'll, um." Harry pauses. They've both had a couple, they're a bit flushed. "We'll take it from here."
I pat Al's shoulder. He looks up at me. "Nothing blew up," he says, straight-faced.
"No," I say, and swallow a grin. "Nothing blew up. That doesn't mean you three shouldn't come with health warnings."
"Tell me about it," says Ginny, grinning.
I slip past them and march off; shift nearly done and home at last. Behind me, there's the sound of a shamefaced explanation and Harry's annoyed exclamation of "Teddy!"
Ginny says something that sounds like evian go. I look back when I reach the street corner, and the penguin, impressive though it was, is gone.
Talented, like I said.