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A Dartmoor Eclogue, Part Two - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
A Dartmoor Eclogue, Part Two

 

There had been a time, Dudley well recalled, when he would have shut his mind to Harry’s world, or seen it as a horror, the backward half-look over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror; a time when he had thought it, if he could believe it at all, a world that scryed omens, fiddled with pentagrams, conversed with spirits in the Edgware Road, driven by dæmonic, chthonic Powers; where chill fingers of yew curled down upon the leaves full of children, and the dancers were gone under the sea, gone under the hill, and deceit waited in a bramble, on the edge of a grimpen.  How could he have guessed, how was he to have known until he knew, the stillness, the light answering light in the flash of the kingfisher’s wing, the deep lane, shuttered with branches, that led insistently to the trim village, the dignified and commodious sacrament, the sharp compassion of the healer’s art?  How known or hoped for the laughter in the garden, the lifetime burning in every moment, redeemed from fire by fire? 

 

Dudley felt these deep-registered notes, as a man feels sounds too deep upon the scale for him to hear, great notes that move his bones within him: felt them, knew them in his heart, without his being able to articulate them.  Yet in his halting way, sitting with Albus Severus beneath a stag’s-head oak, he tried, haltingly, to convey something of this sense.  Al – so like Harry and so unlike, a chance to begin again and to do right, to expiate a bullying childhood – Al was of all of them his not-so-secret favourite, to Harry’s discreetly unvoiced and wry-smiling delight.

 

‘I can see that,’ said Al, judiciously.  His current years were such that he was at the age of unremitting candour and preternatural gravity – a stage that Jamie had managed wholly to miss.  Of course, Al was a Ravenclaw, to boot, as Jamie was the quintessence of titrated Gryffindor and Lily was currently engaged in setting Slytherin, and the remnants of its pre-War reputation as suspect and making, altogether by the ears.  With Harriet busily setting out to show precisely why she had been sorted into Hufflepuff, the Evans strain in the lineage was definitely showing its paces in this new generation.  ‘Teddy, of course –’ Al’s worship of Teddy was never concealed, at any age, and in fact any such attempt would have been doomed from the start – ‘is rather like Harry, or perhaps the other way ’round.’  Al was also now of the age to insist on addressing everyone solely by Christian names, save at school, where different conventions prevailed.  ‘Wasn’t immersed in it from the first, as Andy did rather keep him in cotton-wool as a puling infant.’  Al was looking particularly owlish as he donned the mantle of the sage.  ‘So of course he badly wants to know everything about his people and his place.  Well, you of all people see why that’s so for Harry.’  Dudley carefully refrained from wincing at that too-true statement.

 

‘Or I suppose,’ mused Al, ‘it may be a Black thing.  Scorpius’s a bit taken that way, and from what Andy and Cissy say, Sundays chez Black were devoted less to Morning Prayer – or Mass, I suppose, they being RC – than simple, straightforward ancestor worship.  But I rather suspect Ted Tonks – Andy’s husband, you know, who was killed in the War – and Nymphadora – Teddy’s mum: she was killed in the War – would’ve thought it silly.  Well, she would have done, Ted, by all accounts, ’d thought it non-U.  I mean, look at Justin, he’s never bothered his head about what his people did in Charles 1st’s time or any of that rot, he knows he’s a Finch-Fletchley and that’s all he wants to know.  Or –’

 

And here Al broke off, for they could both hear Harry, sternly, albeit without raising his voice to any parade-ground and square-bashing bellow, ticking off Jamie.  ‘… don’t care what the devil they do, they’ve a long history of being aristocrats-behaving-badly.  We are –’ and Al, with a wry grin very like Harry’s in other moods, repeated along with his distant father what were surely well-worn words ‘– a Service family.’

 

Al turned to Dudley once more.  ‘Well, you see what I mean.  I expect Jamie’s done something like Vanishing the ham.  Torrid summer or no torrid summer, one can have too many slices of cold ham for luncheon, day upon weary day.  But that’s Jamie.’

 

‘I notice,’ said Dudley, ‘you still call him, “Jamie”….’

 

Al stared at him, shocked by Dudley’s being so unutterably thick.  ‘Well. Yeah.  Gets right up his nose.’

 

‘Ah.’

 

‘He’s spent his Hogwarts years insisting on being called “James” by anyone who doesn’t call him, “Potter” – thumped a few people, when wanted.  Hopeless, of course.  He thinks he wishes to be an Auror.’  Al shook his head over his brother’s naïveté.  ‘Given the structure of the commands, he’s more likely than not to end up in a regiment from the Celtic Fringe, and be doomed to be “Jamie” until he dies.  He never was awfully clever at seeing things in advance.

 

‘Take Quidditch, though.   I’m not altogether hopeless on a broom myself, you know.’  Al’s casual tone was not quite good enough; what was more, even Dudley knew, had seen and understood, that Al could have been a better flyer and a better Seeker even than Harry had been – or Ginny, to be sure.  ‘But it’s not on.  So long as no one calls him by name, Jamie can pass amongst all the other Weasleys, so it’s not an issue if he plays.  And Lily’s not bad at all, really; she can’t make her mind up to it, just now, with Molly going on about how unladylike it is and Hermione torn between equality for Witches and her disdain for sports and unintellectual pursuits and Mum –’ Al flushed – ‘I mean, and Ginny pushing her.  But can you imagine if I went in for Quidditch?  I’ve enough people wanting me to be Harry redux, or seeing me as that and assuming.  Bloody cheek, really.  All this wanting to know if you’re more like your great-uncle or your old granny’s Squib cousin or what not.  Rubbish, if you ask me.  I suppose, though, if it makes Harry happy….  Bugger!  Is that Mum calling us to the feed?’

_____________________________________________________

As they sat in the leaf-dappled noon beneath the ancient oaks, the inevitable cold ham before them, Dudley surveyed his wonderfully – he could admit that now – eccentric family and friends.  A stranger, out of earshot, looking upon them, might not at first have seen anything odd, bar the extraordinary number of gingers.  Simply a gathering of family and friends, eating a summer luncheon out of doors in the West Country.  Vernon, Dudley fancied, would no doubt have expected the very food and drink to involve dancing toadstools and boiling cauldrons.  As things stood, the only criticism even Petunia might have made of the table was its superior extravagance and the presence of food far above the reaches of her Privet Drive kitchen.  For the cold ham that was Jamie’s bane was by no means unaccompanied.  There was a cold roast of beef, and had an observer come nearer, he should have seen it slice itself to the desired thickness.  There was chicken chaud-froid and a raised ham and veal pie that raised and levitated to the diner’s plate upon request, a galantine of chicken that seemed never to run out, and gondolas of melon and ham that bobbed and rowed to plates, singing tuneful Venetian catches and glees.  There were chilled soups and proper salads, great wheels of cheese, a hot soup (broad bean and bacon), boiled eggs and angels on horseback (Dudley had been present when Lily’s earliest instance of accidental magic, some years before, had transformed a dish of devils on horseback to angels thereon: Lily’s utter loathing of prunes had begun early and was likely to persist for the next century or so); asparagus rolls and gentlemen’s morsels, mushrooms in a score of preparations, jugged steak, cress sandwiches, a rabbit cider hot pot that Ron Weasley was defending against all comers, Coronation chicken, a Somerset fish pie, a smoked trout pâté, carrots in green-butter, tiny and tender new potatoes in dill sauce, sliced cucumber, scones and jam and clotted cream, summer pudding, queen of puddings, tea, Pimm’s, lashings of cider, and – the only thing that would have puzzled a Muggle – butterbeer in inexhaustible amounts.

 

Gravely munching his healthful and non-fattening salad beneath Elspeth’s watchful eye, Dudley considered the odd fact that the two worlds considered themselves so very different, and were at bottom so very alike.  This facile observation – true enough in its way, and yet at the end, so very misleading – was brushed aside when Andromeda tapped her spoon against the side of her glass of Bollinger.  (Teddy had been all of four years in age before he had twigged – loudly, vocally, innocently, and in the most public forum possible – to the fact that what Grandmother was downing was not in fact ‘a special sort of elderflower barley water, Teddy, dear’: Andromeda was even yet hearing about that error from time to time, usually when Teddy had decided that the best way of diverting her from his own scrapes was to back-foot her, pre-emptively.)

 

They looked at her attentively, most of them, like nestlings open-mouthed to the return of the parent bird with something tasty.  Even the children (Jamie, who had been staring mutinously at his plate a few moments before, trying wandlessly to vanish the ham, his hair glinting ruddily in the sunlight, his hazel eyes expressive of a mortal loathing of Yet More Ham; Al, so unnervingly Harry in miniature, distracted from making Scorpius Malfoy, so new an addition to the establishment of regular guests, feel at home, and Scorpius himself, whose equally unnerving resemblance to his father and grandfather, Dudley could not yet recognise; little Lily, whose startling combination of Weasley-red tresses and emerald Evans eyes anomalously rendered her the most classically Scots-appearing person at table, Ernie and Minerva included; stout, sensible, douce Hugo, who looked suspiciously like the more mischievous sort of Weasley or Prewett but wasn’t, and earnest, bookish Rose, who, by and large, was earnest and bookish and above suspicion, and could be the most dangerous prankster of the generation when the mood was upon her; devilishly handsome Freddie, already a heartbreaker, and coolly elegant Roxanne, who was as horrifically clever as Rose when she wished; Teddy, come now to man’s estate, and as solemn when bent upon merriment as when engrossed in research, and his doting Victoire, for a smile from whom men would sack cities; and all the rest) – even the children were listening avidly: Andy never spoke save to come out with something bracing, shattering, or portentous.  Only Hermione, Ginny, Molly, Cissy, Minerva, and old Filius Flitwick looked on with the sort of smug assurance that betrayed that they had already been let in on the news.  Several of the others had been also, but were better at keeping their countenances and unwilling to reveal their foreknowledge even now.

 

‘Harry – and I must apologise in advance for what I must say, Dudley, dear – Harry, those utterly dreadful Muggles who’d the raising of you, did you, amongst many other disservices, a grave disservice in keeping your family history from you.’

 

‘Hear.  Hear,’ said Dudley, quite firmly.

 

‘Thank you, Dudley.  I may as well say at once, Harry, that we in our world did you no better service, in not bothering to tell you about your parents and yourself: although I trust that Sirius, had he been spared to us, or Remus, should have done so soon as time permitted.  The – is there a problem, Tony?’

 

Tony Goldstein was staring sternly at the table before him, his wand in hand.  ‘Yes, Andromeda, there is.  It’s this ham –’

 

‘Oh, dear,’ cried Ginny, as her eldest child muttered something to the effect that he could’ve warned them all that the ham was possessed.  Two house-elves appeared and wrestled the trencher and the cold ham upon it into submission, although it kept trying to break free and throw itself upon Tony’s and Eleanor’s plates.  ‘That charm is always so fiddly, here, I’ll –’

 

Harry, with a sort of exasperated patience, waved a negligent hand and stilled the ham.  ‘Sorry, Eleanor, Tony.  Forgive the implied insult, if you would: the plates are only Semi-Sentient Salvers, after all, and can sense only that they’ve failed to serve a guest.  Don’t know treyf from tent-pegs.  George, make a note, and fix the damned things before you start selling them to innocent customers rather than inveigling your long-suffering family into testing them.

 

‘Sorry: go on, Aunt Andy.  If you must.’  Harry was clearly less than inspired by the prospect of being forcibly initiated into the grand traditions of the Potters.

 

Andromeda favoured him with the sort of look he’d become long since accustomed to from Minerva and from Hermione.  ‘I shall. Now.  Over the past few years, all of us – and I must thank you all for your contributions – have laboured mightily to put Harry fully in possession of his inheritance and his heritage, and Harry has kindly suffered it, apparently for the sake of the children.’

 

As Scorpius looked at Al in some confusion, although only Al could have known whether its source was that Aunt Andy thought ‘the children’ gave a three-Knut dam, or that Harry evidently did not, Harry spoke and corrected the misapprehension.  ‘I am not in fact unappreciative of the effort, Andy, and I very much regret if I’ve been disobliging.  But there were enough of those involved who ought damn’ well have known I don’t particularly like, or learn from, being lectured: I didn’t at Hogwarts, I didn’t as a cadet at Norsworthy, I didn’t at Staff College at Bradninch, and I didn’t when I took leave and went up to university at Domdaniel.  The material Remus collected was a doddle for me – Remus was always able to teach me something.  All of it has been valuable … as I’ve gone through it at my own pace.  And I’m greatly obliged to all of you.  However –’

 

Hermione’s smile was positively feral.  With a sinking sensation, Harry recognised that he’d walked into ambush.  Nev shook his head, and smiled compassionately, commiseratingly, in his direction.  Narcissa simply winced: even now, Harry’s Slytherin sensibilities were all too severely suppressed in him, and Andy had trapped him with pathetic ease.

 

‘Yes, dear.’  By her tone, she might have been speaking to Teddy – a decade before.  ‘We’ve found you a member of the Potter family to go and see and stop with and have speech of.’

 

‘Living?’  Dudley blinked, and then realised that, in a world of animated portraits and what not, Harry’s question had been perfectly rational, and perfectly natural as well, as clearly it had taken the combined wits of the cleverest people in the Wizarding world several years to run whoever it was to earth, and everyone had hitherto thought that there were no Potters living of the prior generations, they having a tendency to die heroically at what were, for Wizards and Witches, comparatively unripe years.

 

Andromeda’s hesitation was almost imperceptible.  ‘Very much so.  Now, if you don’t object, Hermione is wanted to cast a spell that will determine who best to accompany you.’  The which Hermione, neatly, precisely, and still rather smugly, promptly did.

 

A blue, dancing flame appeared over the heads of those chosen, to Hermione’s initial (and even now rather smug) satisfaction: over Harry, naturally; over Ron, predictably enough; over Charlie (and not, thankfully, over George), most acceptably; and over Neville, quite satisfactorily.  Hermione’s smile became a trifle strained when the flame appeared above the head of one Rubeus Hagrid, although, she supposed, it was quite reasonable under the circumstances.  Her face betrayed a certain surprise when everyone began looking fixedly at Dudley, who was beginning to feel uneasily that he’d been roped in to a project he wanted no part of and couldn’t possibly understand.  Her demeanour waxed markedly impatient as she noticed that the charm had failed to select a single academical person and, worse still, had failed to select a single Witch.  She appeared to relax slightly when one last flame appeared, flickering with a rich blue, and began to approach Narcissa Malfoy, around whose fair poll it then circled indecisively for a moment.  When it split and its other half appeared, alarmingly, near Scorpius, Hermione frowned.  When the two halves of the blue glede rejoined and streaked purposefully off towards the eastwards, she fell into her chair, bereft of speech. 

 

And when a markedly displeased and bewildered Draco Malfoy unintentionally Apparated in, beating ineffectually at a flame of electric blue spinning furiously above his head, and for a long moment unaware that he had suddenly appeared – and in a undignified attitude, at that – in the presence of acquaintances (they were hardly friends) whose invitation he had declined, and in full sight of his mother and his son, who were giving him twin looks of glacial annoyance, Hermione emitted a strangled noise that suggested a duck that had been suddenly and unexpectedly Banished to a Tory MP’s pond.

 

Harry, having had long experience of the inventive ways in which the Fates delighted in buggering up his life, could only laugh, brokenly, as the clamour rose about him on every side.

_____________________________________________________

Hermione – who was a dear, really, but whose abiding belief in her own cleverness could occasionally create problems for her and everyone else in earshot – had still had her nose badly out of joint and had contributed little to the furore that had ensued.  It had fallen to Minerva to state, crisply and with absolute finality, that the spell had done what it had done and they’d best live with it (Percy, whose memory was longer and more intrusive even than his Weasley nose and more prominently displayed than his Weasley hair, and always at the worst of all possible moments, had made an unfortunate reference to Binding Magical Contracts and the Goblet of Fire, which had neither pleased nor persuaded anyone), and Luna had answered the question that Hermione was as yet too browned off to ask by talking of the Male Principle (and the Potters, historically, had always produced an uncommonly high number of sons and remarkably few daughters, even as had the Weasleys), and Hagrid and Charlie, bless them, had simply started selecting and gathering what gear they thought would be wanted: with the result that, without quite knowing how they’d acceded to the mad idea, Harry, a bemused Dudley, and a mutinously temperamental Draco Malfoy found themselves, not a week after, Apparating in to the Royal Magical Military Academy Norsworthy, the Wizarding Sandhurst, in the upper reaches of the River Meavy, accompanied by a dragon-tamer, a half-giant Fellow in Magizoology, and the world’s foremost academic Herbologist.

 

This was familiar enough territory to Harry and Ron, for self-evident reasons.  Draco surveyed the area with distaste (‘not enough peacocks’ was Ron’s whispered verdict, to which Harry replied, ‘just the one’, with a nod in Malfoy’s direction); Neville, with interest; and Hagrid, with satisfaction, breathing deeply of the aromatic, conifer-scented and resinous air.  Charlie’s reaction was dispassionate: there were, after all, no dragons (not their natural habitat thereabouts); Dudley’s, curious, a trifle taken aback, and uneasy to the extent that he felt himself in unwonted and unwelcome sympathy with Malfoy’s evident displeasure.

 

It was a very short bit of Apparating to Two Bridges, but Harry, Hagrid, and Charlie insisted that the day was so fine that they owed it to themselves to walk.  The others found this idea worthwhile if only for the look of absolute and helpless horror that it was met with on Malfoy’s part.  Yet there was no help for it, and in that cool, blue early morn, they set out, at the pace set by two hardened Aurors who were sensible of their half-giant friend’s natural stride.  Even the new, improved Dudley, kept up to the mark by Elspeth and kept in training by an incredibly active daughter, was soon beginning to find the pace a bit hot, and his envy of Neville’s easy rolling along – pipe lit and eyes sparkling: the years had made Neville, for all his tweedy, doctorally-gowned shabbiness and his scholar’s stoop, a very fit and athletic man, far removed from the podgy lad he’d been at the age of eleven years – was mitigated only by his rather wicked pleasure in Malfoy’s incessant whinging.  They slogged across the tors towards Tor Royal beside the Devonport Leat – Princetown, and HMP Princetown, was not a place in which they wished to become entangled – with Nev audibly botanising all the way.

 

They took their elevenses on the bank of the Blackbrook, beneath the ancient cists north of the bridge.  It was a fine day, disturbed only by the moaning of a blistered Malfoy: a reed bunting took a vocal interest in their presence.

 

They strode – or limped, as the case might be – into Two Bridges not so very long after, for all the leisureliness of their later walking (even Hagrid had concluded that coddling Malfoy was less trouble than listening to another diatribe), and secured accommodations for the night.  The next day bid fair to be abiding fair; they would simply be forced to trust to charms and the magic of the Tor to hide them from Muggle eyes.  They spent the afternoon with several OS maps, and took a walk ’round the village, paying particular attention to the pub.  Afterwards, they eat heartily, guiltily admitted that Molly nor Ginny could have bettered the meal (Malfoy professed to find it plebeian; Dudley was privately seized with guilt, as his empty plate winked back at him, as Elspeth would never have approved the menu; and Ron declined, loyally, to comment upon Hermione’s notorious lack of competence in the kitchen: Hagrid thought Hermione a brilliant cook, of course, but Hagrid’s standard of cookery was all too well known), had a last pint or four of scrumpy, and, yawning, bade one another goodnight. 

 

After Harry had retired – indeed, after they had all done, ostensibly at least – Malfoy, for all his complaints of being utterly knocked up by the slog (he’d made out that it was the next thing to Boney’s retreat from Moscow, although it hadn’t so much as fagged the others in the slightest), took it upon himself to knock up both Weasleys.

 

‘Are we mad?’  Ron refused to take the question as rhetorical, and pointed out rather acidly that he and Charlie must have been to accept the Ferret as a companion on this trip, much less to let him drag them out of their beds and jaw at them; but Malfoy was not to be diverted.

 

‘Do you two thickies realise what we’re let in for tomorrow?  We are being told off to go up on the Tor, between Crockern and Parson’s Cot, by the Pillow Mounds, and head straight into Old Crockern’s parlour and – if we’re spared – up to Wistman’s Wood!  Adders are the least of it, and the place is crawling with them!  The Spirit of the Moor himself, the Wild Hunt, the Wisht Hounds – the Wood’s their bloody kennels, damn it all – magic older than Merlin?  All to find some Potter no one’s ever met who is supposed – supposed – to live on those godforsaken wastes and has never been seen?  And we’re walking into this with no support bar a savage, a Longbottom, a muscle-bound Muggle, and you two?  It’s madness!  We’re all going to die!’

 

You are if you don’t belt up, go to bed, and let honest folk sleep,’ said Harry, from the doorway, in which he stood more tousled than ever and considerably grumpier.  ‘And I’ll thank you not to speak that way of Nev, Hagrid, and my cousin, is that clear?  Excellent.  Now go to bed, all of you.  And do try not to cower, tomorrow: after all, I’ll be there, that should be a reasonable pledge of your safety.’  Harry did not quite slam the door.  As Charlie and Ron left Malfoy’s room, with but one withering glance apiece, Ron took great pleasure in supplying the deficiency: the report the door made could have been made by cannon.


 

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