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


 

The morning did indeed break fair: breaking, spilling down, like the chrism of anointing: a blue and gold morn, jewelled and delicate.  After a hearty breakfast (Dudley manfully confined himself to what he thought he could walk off: Elspeth would slaughter him without compunction if he let himself return to the old days of greed and gluttony, and he’d a daughter to think of), they set off for what ought to have been a short journey.

 

Being Wizards, and able to conceal their presence from other walkers – and, what was more, being able to walk upon the land and leave it undisturbed – they were under no obligation to hold to the paths.  They did do at first, steeping out briskly upon the footpath that followed the West Dart to Crockern Farm.

 

The rhôs pastures and valley mires of Dartmoor are famously a haunt of snipe.  Unfortunately, all the glories of a summer morning upon Dartmoor were not sufficient to still the sniping between Harry and Malfoy.  The latter’s incessant whinging brought out the worst in Harry, as it had ever done, causing him to revert to the intolerant and, withal, priggish and censorious schoolboy he had once been.  Malfoy’s complaints and doubts were met with fiercer and fiercer insults, to Malfoy’s stamina, courage (or evident lack thereof, as Harry increasingly pointedly insisted), and unmanly softness (‘you go about posing as an angler at least, if not a shooting and hunting man, but you’re about as outdoors a chap as a suburban clerk, aren’t you, for all your posturing as the lord of the manor’: Harry’s increased and adult sophistication made him much more cutting, when he reverted to adolescent sledging, than ever he had been when adolescent).  Malfoy in turn was at his most waspish, and the years had honed his already cutting tongue into something lethal.  Dudley, who didn’t feel he’d the right to say anything to Harry, was becoming uneasy; Hagrid was beginning audibly to disapprove of the both of them; Nev, whose post-War stature (no one ever forgot, nowadays, the Neville who’d defied Voldemort in the darkest hour, let alone the Carrows before him, and slain Nagini) sufficed to give him the gravitas to slap even Harry down, was on the verge of doing so; Charlie, who had never really formed a personal opinion of Draco and who, through long residence abroad from an early age, held no particular views on Malfoys as such,  was drawing breath to tell the both of them off, and even Ron was on the verge of suggesting that Harry was going a bit far in barracking the Ferret, when it happened.

 

‘– and if you’re frightened of running into some danger, you little –’

 

‘Oh, no,’ sneered Malfoy, fatally adding, ‘of course not, we shouldn’t be at all worried, we’re with you –’

 

– And that inadvertent reminder, that unwitting echo of some of Albus Dumbledore’s last words, was the crisis point.  Ron, forgetting his disapproval of Harry’s being rather a shit just now, drew his wand to hex Malfoy into the West Dart, and then seriatim into the Devonport Leat, the Blackbrook, and the Cowsic, but Harry, snapping like a rope pulled too taut at last, was before him, with a punch to the jaw that sent Malfoy sprawling.

 

Malfoy, to give him his due, came up again, boiling, prepared to give as good as he’d got, but Hagrid was swifter still, seizing both of them by the collars and shaking them as a terrier shakes a rat.  ‘That’ll be more’n enough o’ that!  Nobbut vules, the both on yer, actin’ like misbelievin’ chillurn, and worser, Al nor Scorpius’d make damn’ zammies o’ theyselves this-a-way, no more sense ’n a brace o’ billy-buttonses.  An’ yeh do want ter walk small and careful-loike and not be brawlin’ loike common hedge-wizards, on the very thresh-yold o’ Old Crockern’s house.  You two come along o’ me, an’ no nunny-fudgin’.  Mebbe the air’ll clear yer wits up-along, we get ourseln away from thick yere plashy ground an’ all they rhynes.’  And he shoved them, not too gently, before him as they turned eastwards and began to trudge up the slopes towards Crockern Tor.

 

As they ascended the stiff slope past the Pillow Mounds, it was Dudley, in a dead heat with Nev, who noticed the increasing oddity of the scene.  Neville was professionally attuned to the natural order and to magic; Dudley was disturbed and set on edge by the oddly fierce dispute of a few moments before, sensing in a way he could not hope to articulate that there was some malign influence at work, driving Harry and Malfoy to savage one another: an influence that could not be explained away by an old, schoolboy rivalry, however deep.  Hagrid and Charlie and Ron were too much occupied with preventing another such outburst to see the first signs that something very odd was going on. 

 

Nev and Dudley were not.  Their shared glance was one of alarm.  It is not uncommon for ground mist and fog to wrap the West in an impenetrable blanket above and without which only the high moors, Bodmin, Dartmoor, and Exmoor, stand free.  It is not altogether unknown for the lower elevations of the moor itself to be suddenly swathed in mist and impenetrable fog, whilst the tors ride above it in a keener air of their own.  Yet the sudden cutting off of the site of their quest from all mortal ken, by a fog that was in no way natural, one almost palpable, and the sudden knowledge that they were alone in what had been, but a moment before, a not deserted landscape, was more than ominous.  Hagrid was not far behind them in noticing.  The birdsong had stilled.  An utter silence enveloped them, in which their own sounds, increasingly tentative as they slowed to a halt, sounded oddly.

 

And the landscape itself was as suddenly and ominously changed.  The turf, the clitter, the tors, the sky, all were as they had been, yet changed utterly, like a scene in a dream of fever.  The turf was no longer the field they knew, Muggle or Magical; its whites were white of bone, its greens the oozing green of putrescent corruption.  The characteristic pattern of moorland vegetation was now like the last fleece on the carcase of a dead and rotting moorland sheep.  The grey granite of the tors, the blocks of protruding clitter and the growan, were like bones poking through the decaying hide of a fallen Dartmoor pony.  And all the reds and browns and purples of the moorland were now visible only as blood.

 

They were suddenly and utterly alone.

_____________________________________________________

Some forty miles away, a Griffin Priors, an alarm spell was ringing.  Hermione was the first to reach the scrying stone; Asteria Malfoy, who had necessarily stopped at the Potter demesne – not that she minded: it was Draco who had been difficult about it all this time, only relenting so far as to allow Scorpius to stop with the Potters when Narcissa had put her dainty foot very firmly down – who was the second.  Hermione’s first reaction was to fire-call Kingsley; Asteria stayed her course.

 

‘My dear!  They’re with Harry.  Of course they don’t want aid or reinforcement.’

 

‘Asteria, I do realise that most people regard Harry Potter as some mythically heroic figure, but I do know him – Harry, the real Harry – perhaps rather better than do you, dear –’

 

‘Yes,’ said Asteria, coolly.  ‘Precisely.  You cannot forget the schoolboy, the hesitant youth who didn’t wish to be a hero.  But he’s not that Harry any longer.  He’s a very senior Auror, the most powerful Wizard alive, and the Master of the Hallows.  I’ve not seen him as you’ve done, and that’s an advantage to me.  I’ve seen him only in his triumph – and as reflected in my husband’s eyes.  Ginny, darling, you mustn’t tell anyone, but Draco secretly hero-worships your husband.’  Asteria smiled.

 

Lot of that going about,’ said Ginny, with an answering smile.

 

‘Yes,’ said Narcissa, ‘but Draco was one of the first, and always quite hopeless at hiding it as well as he thought.’

 

‘We’re missing the wood for the trees, aren’t we.’  Ginny did not make it a question, and Hermione, her mouth open in a small, surprised ‘o’, did not take it as one.  Molly, Andy, Cissy, and Aster merely smiled, and Luna shrugged and blamed it upon the nargles in the metaphorical wood.

 

‘Oh, very well,’ said Hermione, the least bit crossly, and trying very hard not to think uncharitable thoughts of Luna.  ‘We shall watch, and wait.’

_____________________________________________________

Forbs and weeds, fescue and bindweeds; thistle, burdock, and flax; bracken and wort.  Heather, gorse, bilberry, and broom.  The chest-wound lung-shot carmine of stabbing, needled bell-heather in flower, beneath which the day-shy grayling, like chips of bark from a dead tree felled in anger, camouflaged, hid from light of sun, and upon which the hallucinatory silver-studded blue fearfully fluttered and, fugitive, fed, both as ephemeral as all butterflies are, born but to die as swiftly as hope.  Hidden away from the eye of the day, also, the nightjar lurked; the stonechat and perhaps the Dartford warbler, rare and far from his kindlier home, were silent, daunted presences in the silent, daunting landscape. 

 

The ling, the vulgar heather, like old blood on a rusted blade, its flowers hangdog, head-bowed, dreading to face an honest sun.

 

Wet-glistening raw-meat visceral round-leaved sundew, a carnivore in ambush.

 

Bastard asphodel, the bog asphodel, yellow as cowardice, death of sheep.

 

The dried venous-blood colour of purple moor-grass.

 

The grey-green grime of lichen.

 

Tormentil, cowering down, its jaundiced flowers crouching to ward off a blow.

 

A cutting wind, a sterile air, flaying, a scalpel, inhuman, dispassionate, an air too pure to be borne.

 

A blue enamelled sky, screwed down, clamped and hammered shut, from zenith to horizon, like the inner lid of a sarcophagus above the face of a corpse, its sun like the one burning bulb of an interrogation room.

 

This was Crockern Tor and the Littaford Tors, the caput of the Stannaries, the ancient land of Dart-y-moor.

 

This was fear.

 

Awe.

 

Numinous terror.

 

At the Ministry, some one hundred miles and eighty to the eastwards, the reports were beginning to come in.  Dartmoor was a place of concentrated magic, and on several watch lists; in the highest pitch of summer, especially, it was crawling with Muggle trippers and tourists, as well, like so many emmet-ants.  When, as now, a moor-fog unforeseen equally by the Muggle Met Office and the Ministry’s Neph Office, suddenly arose, cutting off a distinct area of highly magical ground, the Ministry went immediately upon high alert.

 

The only thing that stayed Kingsley’s hand, and Arthur’s, and Seamus’s in the Department of Mysteries, was the knowledge that – as was by now commonplace when sudden and inexplicable magical occurrences befell – Harry was at the centre of the happening.  Even so, they would have sent reinforcements, on the off chance that Harry wanted them, had not Hermione fire-called them immediately to intervene.

_____________________________________________________

‘Warned yeh,’ said Hagrid, quite curtly.  ‘Playing up that-away in Old Crockern’s front garden.  Wish Fang were here.’

 

They were no longer alone in the ominously silent land.  An old man was approaching them, tall and unstooped by age.  He wore a cloak of West of England cloth, grey and grim as the tor behind him; his long, white beard, which reached to his waist, rivalled Dumbledore’s.  His eyes and brow were shaded and occulted by the shadow of his broad-brimmed hat, blue-black and battered.  In his hand was a staff, not as walkers and ramblers use; and circling lazily above him, purposeful, menacing, their calls harsh and cold, flapped two great carrion crows.

 

He raised his head and stared at them, challenging, keen, with the glint of a single eye.

 

‘And what, my fine young fellows – and yon gentle giant – do you think yourselves to be doing upon my land.’

 

Charlie and Ron had already gone for their wands.  It was far too late.  Wandlessly and wordlessly they, with Nev and Hagrid, were Petrified where they stood.  ‘No.  No, this won’t do at all,’ said the old man.  ‘Yours is not the test.’

 

He bent his glare upon Harry and Draco.  ‘Well?  Or will you displease me further by standing there, all dumb insolence?  Eh?’

 

‘I don’t,’ said Harry, with an icy and a foreboding calm, ‘know who precisely you think you are – it’s not Wednesday, after all –’ (far away at Griffin Priors, the watchers at the scrying stone gasped or groaned or smiled, and Hermione made to stand and go and call for help, until Molly gestured her back into her seat) – ‘but this is public land.’

 

The old man laughed, unpleasantly.  ‘My land.  I do assure you, mine.  And has been for a mort of years, as some country-folk do say.  I’ll ask it again – I’ve all the time in the world – who are you, eh?’

 

‘It’s for you to introduce yourself,’ said Harry, implacably.  He was, Dudley knew, playing for time: for whoever this – creature – was, he seemed not to notice the eminently Muggle Dudley Dursley, and Dudley was taking full advantage of the fact, circling quietly and slowly ’round to get behind the bugger.  Magical he might be, but Dudley was determined to see if he were impervious to a Muggle rugger tackle and the scientific application of a Muggle boxer’s fists.  He exchanged a quick glance with Malfoy, who was still and wary, doing nothing to divert the old bugger’s attention from Harry, and took another cautious step to the side.

 

‘Still playing up in my front garden, I see,’ said the old man.  ‘The Saxons saw me as you see me.  But I was here before them, boy.  What time the Druids held court upon Bard-dun –’ and here he gestured across the now hidden vale to the fog-screened Beardown Tors, north and west of them, and the menhir of Beardown Man – ‘in the bard Essara’s day, they called me “Belenus”, and saw me thus.’  His appearance transformed, swift as quicksilver, into that of a naked warrior in the prime of life, his long, unbound hair as red as any Weasley’s.   ‘And Brai and Essara they drove away, for speaking of the Lord Christ, when the bards called Belenus a god.  My land, I say: for when men glimpse me now, they see me as you see me now.’  The old man transformed once more, into a very old man indeed, yet clean-shaven, and as well-muscled as the warrior of moments before; yet now his hair was grey as granite, his face weathered, his eyes like pools in the peat, fathomless, the wells of the River Dart, and his shaggy brows like reeds hanging over the pools.  ‘Whom else would you meet, then, on Old Crockern’s Tor, save Old Crockern?’

_____________________________________________________

Miles away, at Griffin Priors, where Godric’s Hollow sheltered by its park, Aunt Andromeda turned her gaze from the scrying stone, and spoke, briefly and to the point.

 

‘Bugger.’

_____________________________________________________

Dudley was in position now.  Harry nodded, and answered.  ‘And I, perhaps, am he whom you would not expect or wish to meet.  Sorcerer, Auror, and Master of the Hallows, I stand.  Now, Dudley!’

 

Dudley was already in motion.  And as he hit Old Crockern in the small of his back with a hard and driving shoulder, Draco drew his wand and threw himself before Harry, casting first a shield on Harry – not on himself – and then a stunner.  ‘You’ll go through me first, damn you,’ said Draco through clenched teeth.  The old man – Crockern, the ‘gurt sperrit of the moors’ – vanished.  Dudley, already plunging through the space where the Old Crockern had stood, was stunned by Draco’s spell as he fell.  And behind his prone body, Old Crockern reappeared, laughing.

 

Harry’s spell took him in the midst of his glee, and laid him flat.  With a sigh, Harry reversed the Stunner, helped Dudley up, cast a healing charm, and turned, half-smiling, to Draco.  ‘Thank you.  That was very courageous.’

 

‘But futile.’  Draco was seething, angry with everyone and everything, but most of all with himself.

 

‘Not at all.  Well done,’ said Harry, ‘well done indeed.’  He cast Finite upon Ron, Neville, Charlie, and Hagrid.  ‘Only – well, that’s thing about the Hallows.  They own you. Whenever they seem to think I want them, the Elder Wand, the Ring, and the Cloak show up.  The Cloak’s in my rucksack, with the sandwiches and the flasks.’  Harry gestured with his wand hand, which, they all now realised, held a wand that was assuredly not his own holly-and-phoenix-feather one, and upon which hand a ring he’d not been wearing earlier now glinted.  ‘And that is why you should not be afraid when I’m on strength: I’ve the tools.  But it was well done, all the same.’

 

‘So it was,’ said a cheerful voice from behind them.  ‘Professor Hagrid; Professor Longbottom.  Mr Weasley and Mr Weasley: my apologies.  Mr Dursley: well done.  There’s magic and more than magic in you, you know.  Mr Malfoy?  Very well done indeed.  You two, and Mr Potter, have passed my test.  I welcome you to Crockern Tor.’

 

They had turned, and the man who stood before them now was different again.  He was an old man, yet hale and fit, of middling stature.  His eyes were peaty brown, like the waters of the infant Dart, but his trim brows were now black and moulded precisely as Harry’s were.  And his thick mop of hair, mostly white, yet still showing strands of its earlier sable, was as unruly as Harry’s own, and in the same fashion.  He was dressed on ancient, shabby, gentlemanly tweeds, and the lineaments of his face were indisputably Harry’s own, as they had been James Potter’s before him.  ‘Well, grandson?  Grandsons all, in a way.  Come along.  After all, it was your purpose to meet and stop with and have speech of me, was it not?’

 

And as he smiled upon them, the unnatural fog that had hedged and trammelled them fell away, and a glory of light and colour returned to the land, and all things were restored to their proper nature.

 

‘I’m sorry,’ said Harry, ‘we were here to meet the last of the Potters, bar me and my family.’

 

‘And so you have done, to be sure.’  Old Crockern clicked his tongue.  ‘Dear, oh, dear, this will never do: aren’t “crocker” and “potter” the same, after all?  Close your mouth, Mr Malfoy, that stunned look has never worked on any of your face and family, it never deceived anyone when your great-grandmother – at some removes – Morgan le Fay tried it on.’

 

They had fallen in beside him, unconsciously, walking northwards beneath a flawless sky.  The crows were fled now, and dunlin and plover, whinchat and skylark, took riotous grace in the clean air.  About them on every side, the bugle and the asphodel, the milkwort and the gorse, flourished in pure colours, violet and imperial purple, periwinkle, gamboges and gilt. 

 

Heather, clad in Tyrian, its flower-heads bowed in prayer.

 

The moor-grass in its vestments, celebratory, imperial, lines delicate and pure.

 

Bilberry, where soon the berries would gleam, blue as the Navy and the wine-dark sea.

 

The hare’s-tail cotton-grass, white and pure as summer clouds, as cosy as a well-worn comforter in a grandmother’s house.

 

A bracing wind, a purer air, fleet and clean and free.

 

Lichen and moss, celadon and sea-green.

 

Bedstraw, all cream and pear.

 

‘We’ll stop at my place by the wood, shall we?  And I’ll not say no to some of those sandwiches and that flask of tea.’

 

‘W- Wistman’s Wood?’  Draco was beginning to feel the bite of old doubts and fears.

 

‘Where else?  The Wood of the Wise, the Wood of Wizards.  One waxes fond of home after many years.’

 

Harry was shaking his head.  ‘And just how long have you been here?’

 

‘Well, now, that would be telling.  There’s no denying I’m a long-lived fellow.  Just about as old as Dartymoor.  And of course, well, one sees the children off, and the generations come and go….  It’s been many a generation since we’ve had a green-eyed Potter.  You’d be descended of my – well, I left off numbering wives a long time ago.  I’ve been a widower more times than you’ve had hot dinners.  Belesama – she was a dryad, of course: in fact, a hamadryad, which is how I lost her.  No relation to the river-nymph of that name, up Humber way: I always married close to home, amongst folk I knew.  Well, that’s longer ago than I care to think.  A daughter of hers – the Dumnoni and the folk in what’s now Wales were still one in those days: they called me “Beli Mawr” then – well, as I was saying, our daughter Branwen married across Severn, married Sabrina’s son, in fact: I’m not surprised the Evanses kept those eyes.  Mind, now, I’m not referring to the Branwen who was Llyr’s daughter, the one who married the Irishman.  So you see –’

 

‘I’m sorry.’  Harry was polite, but implacable.  ‘What precisely are you?  Sir.’

 

‘My dear grandson!  If you’re fretting over Horcruces, don’t.  There’s not a Wizard in Britain – nor a Muggle, come to that – who’s altogether human, you know.  Not that I’m a god or any of that rubbish, and I always tried to discourage the Druids on that score, not that they listened, they were on to a good thing, you know, power and place … where was I?  Ah.  Yes.  Well.  I can’t really explain it fully, you know.  It is what it is. But there you have it.  I’m as Christian as the abbot yonder, any quarter-day.  We’re simply … an older people.  We were the first, well before the Phoenicians came here for tin: the oldest craft and mystery.  Potters.  Just as there were some like us in the Forest of Dean – your father’s people, Rubeus, of course; not poor Fridwulfa’s.  Your friend the Wolf, Harry my lad, had explained it much better, had he been spared to us – but here we are.’

 

And there they were, at Wistman’s Wood, a dwarfed forest of oaks, with some holly, willow, and rowan, set amidst lichened clitter.  Had they come upon it in other company, it might have seemed even to Neville a dread and uncanny place; standing before it at merry Crockern’s side, it charmed them, a sort of bonsai garden in the English manner.  ‘You’ll want to meet the hounds – they’re really quite affectionate, save to their quarry, of course: best pack in Britain, and I’m proud to have been Master for so long – but luncheon first, I think.  Mind the adders – Harry can talk them down, eh?  You can relearn the tongue, you know, it wasn’t all Tom Riddle, dear boy, and if Albus could learn Mermish, well….  But come along.’  And he led them past Wistmans’ Wood to an ageless hall, anciently hidden from Muggle eyes, which Dudley was surprised to find that he could see.

 

‘The, ah, usual offices are down that corridor, you’ll want to wash.  And then, remote descendants all in your degree – yes, even you, Neville, and you Weasleys – we’ll have luncheon, and I’ll tell you all about it.’

_____________________________________________________

They were, in the end, three days together with Old Mr Potter, Crockern of the Tor, who dinned more knowledge into their heads – Dudley’s included – than three generations of Ravenclaws should have managed.

 

And when they returned to Griffin Priors, all of them thick as thieves (Malfoy included: he and Harry were now appallingly amicable), Harry at once apologised to Hermione, Andromeda, Minerva, and the rest, for doubting them, and having resisted their tuition.  They were not mollified by the recollection of that handsome apology, in the ensuing months – months embittered by Horace Slughorn’s loudly unspoken ‘I told you so’ – when they heard, as they far too frequently did, Harry’s latest maxim, now equally familiar in his speech as the old ‘we are a Service family’ saw: ‘that’s not the Potter way’: to which the children, quite as much as Aunt Andy, soon found themselves thinking, ‘Oh, bugger’ (whereat Harry, inwardly laughing, never once permitted himself to smile, even when catching Ginny’s amused eye).

_____________________________________________________

FINITE

_____________________________________________________

 

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5 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
tekalynn From: tekalynn Date: May 25th, 2009 08:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, bravo!
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 25th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thankee.

Trust you're enjoying the holiday.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: May 25th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
As ever, I enjoyed this very much (Old Crockern somehow reminds me a little of the badger in The Sword in the Stone as well, and more straightforwardly, of Kipling's Puck).
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 25th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, thank you.

D'you know, I hadn't realised that the badger-don was in my mind until you pointed it out?

I've been letting this steep in my mind ever since The Demon Bowler. I'm glad you liked it.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: May 25th, 2009 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh, thank you.

Ah, I did think of The Demon Bowler...

hadn't realised that the badger-don was in my mind until you pointed it out?

I have had similar experiences.

Edited at 2009-05-25 05:59 pm (UTC)
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