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3. of Drink Up Thy Zider annotated - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
3. of Drink Up Thy Zider annotated

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Draco Malfoy had been on the verge of a nerve-storm for months. It was oddly comforting – not that he would admit it under Crucio, much less an overdose of Veritaserum – that his fate was now in hands other than his own.

As he tried – and failed – to pack in any rational manner, he felt himself increasingly resigned to whatever his fate might be. He shouldn’t have shown as much fight as he had done, in the years since Aster, his beloved Star, his Stella, had been murdered at King’s Cross, had it not been for his son. There was an odd comfort, now, in reverting to the powerlessness and passivity, the quietism, that he’d come almost to embrace during the last years of Voldemort’s terror. His mother, if the worst came to pass, could and would look after Scorpius, quite probably better than had Draco ever done. Aunt Andromeda, and Teddy for that matter, would doubtless pitch in: it was a comfort to reflect that his mad Aunt Bella was gone, and his formidable Aunt Andy restored to the family. As far as Scorpius’ future went, the lad would be kept safe and be cared for: even Potter and his blasted band would see to that, the more as Scorpius and the middle Potter sprog were so inseparably amicable. And flighty though Pansy was – and still more, Blaise, although Justin was far more a steadying influence on Blaise than Theo could manage to be upon Pansy – his friends would do their part, he knew. Perhaps, after all, it was best this way: Scorpius might benefit, in the end, from his father’s final removal from his life, from all that came of being Draco’s son and Lucius’ grandson....

‘Draco!’ Pansy swept into the room like a force of chaotic nature. ‘What in buggery are you doing, sitting here holding a sock, sunk in a brown study, and making no effort towards packing, we leave within the half-hour! Self-pity is for Dufflepuffs and whinging Gryffindors, darling, do come along! Up, up!’ With a quick spell, she had him packed and ready to go, the better to berate him for the half-hour before the Portkey was scheduled to whisk them to Devon.

Evidently this also, Draco reflected, was his fate.

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‘... the fête. Well, then, that’s sorted. Any further business? Right, then, as you were.’ Harry was brisk, but kindly. ‘I should also tell you, by the way, that some old school acquaintances –’ he carefully did not say, ‘friends’ – ‘will be stopping with me for a time. Theo Nott’s wife will be here – Theo will be delayed, he’s sitting, very complex fraud case – and you’ll recall ... well, damn me, here he is.’

Blaise Zabini sauntered negligently into the room as upon a Milan catwalk, preceded by a flustered parlour maid. (Curiously, no one in the district thought it odd that the rectory still had servants. The Muggle-Worthy Excuses lot really had done yeoman work.) The fête committee, and the district generally, did indeed recall the outrageously camp Blaise, and his much more sensible civil partner, a Finch-Fletchley very much out of the best stable. A general, if slightly constrained, murmur of greeting rose and fell as Blaise blew kisses to the assembled villagers. ‘Harry, love, simply shattering news. I must beg your help.’

With a humorous quirk of his mouth that might almost have been a smile (at a distance, with the light behind him),[1] Harry rose. ‘You’ll excuse me my further attendance, I trust. Come along, Blaise, and I’ll hear your tale of woe over a drink.’

‘We’ll want several,’ said Blaise, unwontedly glum.

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George Weasley, who had made a virtue, like Nelson, of his disability, preferred to turn a deaf, not to say tin, ear – as he referred to his Moody-esque replacement auricle, also known as the ‘auricle of Delphi’ – to the recurrent and inevitable cock-ups of even a reformed and post-bellum Ministry. When, however, his firm was touched in the chequebook, he and Ron could be implacable. George might, as he remarked, have had a tin ear even before the War for music, but he could certainly distinguish when something sounded a trifle off.

‘Ron! Try not to bugger things up for an hour, won’t you? I’d best pop down to glorious Devon and have a word with Our Harry!’

‘Right,’ called Ron from the workroom, ‘just don’t flirt with the poor bugger, and make sure he remembers he’s dining with me and Hermione Thursday week!’

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‘Sherry?’

‘Best not. If I begin, I’ll be swilling from the decanter. No, no cider, either, thanks, Harry, darling.’

Harry snorted. Blaise would always be Blaise. He noticed that his guest was trying not to stare about him with his usual fascinated horror: the Etruscan Room[2] always put Zabini off his stroke, which was precisely what Harry intended.

‘What a very odd person Robert Adam was,’ said Blaise, as he always did.

Off-balance Slytherins were easier to deal with, Harry had long since learnt. He struck before Blaise could gather himself. ‘You’re the one who stopped here with wild claims of an emergency, Blaise. Shall we get to the point?’

‘Yes. Well. It’s Draco, I’m afraid.’

Harry carefully did not react. He’d come, rather grudgingly, to respect his fellow survivor of the War, who, with him, had lost a wife in the King’s Cross attack, and Al and Scorpius were remarkably close, but he didn’t particularly like Malfoy, even now. Nevertheless, the respect, tinged with no small amount of frustrated lust, that Malfoy had managed to earn from him, meant that Harry couldn’t dismiss the matter out of hand.

‘Well, then, I suppose you’d best begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop.’[3] The retired, rather pottering Potter whom his South Hams neighbours knew was no more, and in his place was once more the Harry Potter who had saved the world and remade it a better place.

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It had amused George Weasley no end – and he was tiresomely vocal in observing as much – to find his financial partner and erstwhile brother-in-law closeted (George had a weakness for low puns) with Blaise-Zabini-of-all-people.

His amusement ceased when first his news and Zabini’s began to mesh, in what could already be discerned, however fragmentarily, to be a very ugly pattern.

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Stewart Ackerley – ‘Acker’[4] to everyone in ETS – met Pansy and Draco at the Halt, to which Portkeys to ETS were invariably directed. This was a surprise to Draco, who, naturally, could not precisely recall who Acker was, as the younger Ravenclaw had been beneath his notice in the old, unhappy days, but who, equally naturally, vaguely remembered him as having been at Hogwarts. It was still more of a surprise to find that Acker had met them with a pony-trap – a pony-trap, of all antiquated conveyances – at the disused halt. (Naturally, no one in the Evelakes, let alone Cleave St Urith, ever thought to wonder at the arrival of visitors by a rail line that had been lopped yonks before by Dr Beeching’s famous Axe. Really, the Muggle-Worthy Excuses lot had exceeded themselves in this.) Draco, even now unable to bid a long farewell to his glory days as a banker, found himself musing on rail shares and the investment possibilities of niche carriagemaking.

‘Mrs Nott. Malfoy. Welcome to Evelake Pomeroy and Evelake Tout Saints with Cleave St Urith – don’t worry, no one ever bothers to mention Pomeroy after the first conversation, and the district’s simply “ETS” in common parlance. Ready? Very well. As you clearly don’t recall me, I’m Stewart Ackerley. “Acker” hereabouts. Up you come. Mind your head – ah, well, a charm will put that right. You’re stopping at Evelake, of course – yes. You and Mr Justice Nott have – hold up. Bloody sheep. Hi! Shift yourself, you woolly, silly bugger! (Not you, Malfoy, the sheep.) There – Notts in Rose Cottage, you, Malfoy, in Wistaria Cottage. We take the following left here – you see we’ve still elms, no ghastly Dutch diseases here in ETS, well, there’d not be, would there – ah, yes, you can see the church tower, it is rather fine, isn’t it. On your right, pray observe –’

Pansy, who had been striving to conceal an antic mood since their arrival, was not listening. No more was Draco, but Pansy was at least observing, as Draco ought to have done but did not. Wizarding London, from Knockturn to the industrial works on Dye Urn Alley to the Wizarding Docklands of the subterranean Fleet Basin and the Isle of Crups, was even now several generations behind its Muggle counterpart in attaining to a cleaner air. Wizarding London’s peasoupers and London particulars were infamous, if in both senses atmospheric, fit even now for a Holmes and a Watson to chase about in. Here, though, the air was clean and sparkling, redolent of meadow and hedgebank and green, growing stuff, and laced through with a winey scent as of apples – surely not yet ripe, so early in the year – apples, yes, yet fined into something more, wine-like and heady. It was a measure, Pansy thought, of poor dear Draco’s misery, that he was oblivious to the stirring sweetness of these country airs and blind to the vibrant verdancy that rioted all about them: so like to the rural scenes of gentility in which his childhood paths had lain, before crueller realities had stained and shadowed them.

As the pony-trap rattled along, between the South Devon hedgebanks that make of every South Hams road a sunken lane, and Ackerley rattled with it, Draco turned betrayed eyes upon his friend, who was serene, not to say smug, under his reproachful gaze. ‘What in buggery are you playing at, Pans?’

His attempts to be quiet were set at naught by Pansy’s penetrating reply. ‘Darling, you’ve no idea how jammy you are, they never take PGs here, you’re an exception.’ And Acker chimed in: ‘She’s quite right, Malfoy, you should be honoured. Sir Harry never takes PGs, even in July, which is our slack time.’

Draco growled.

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There comes a point in the lives of all the Great and the Good at which it is almost impossible, without positive incivility, to escape the trappings of the honours system, even in these thin and piping times. One may be less than civil towards the government of the day; one cannot well be ungracious towards the monarch. Harry did not relish his K; but he well knew that, a junior member of the House of Windsor having been at Platform 9 3/4 on the day of the terror attack (a Hufflepuff, naturally, and, as an RC, safely outwith the line of succession) and Harry having saved his life amongst all the others, a KCVO had been inevitable, and one could only accept it with what grace one could muster. He had even acceded, despite his private feelings, to its being gazetted – there is some precedent for it – as having been awarded previously and only latterly disclosed, as the Sovereign had in fact been bent upon granting him an honour since the end of Riddle’s Rebellion and the Wizarding Restoration; that this meant that Ginny could be and was buried (to her family’s sorrowing gratification) as Ginevra, Lady Potter, was a source of purely private anguish to which Harry never referred, even as her gravestone bore mute witness by that recited honour to his own failure to save her with the others at King’s Cross upon that bitter day.

It had at the least made it easier for the Muggle-Worthy Excuses Committee to create a Muggle-worthy ‘legend’ – to use the old intelligence jargon – for Harry in interacting with the Muggle world upon his retirement from the Active List. As Acker was driving Pansy and Draco towards his lands, Harry was preparing to leave those lands and go up to London, in full view of his unsuspecting neighbours, who found it perfectly natural that Sir Harry Potter KCVO – in full, as he had been gazetted to the Muggle world, ‘Lt Col HJ Evans-Black-Potter, late the Intelligence Corps: appointment revealed; effective 15 June 2020’ (the ever-discreet Chancery and Secretariat, in publishing the Honours List, had simply noted him as ‘Ministry of Defence’) – should be going up to town, every scant inch the officer-and-gentleman. (Unquestionably had the chaps from Muggle-Worthy Excuses done well.) The wider Wizarding world found it equally unexceptionable, and rather belated, in fact, that Harry Potter should have had his K from the re-acknowledged monarch of Wizards as of Muggles, along with the proper honours upon leaving appointment that were rightly due the late Chief of the Magical General Staff: Chancellor of the University of Domdaniel; Governor of Azkaban and Constable of the Black Tower; Ranger of Savernake Forest; Warden of the Sept Ports; Lord Warden of the Alchemical Stannaries; Magical Lord Lieutenant of Devon (and Muggle DL thereof).[5]

Perhaps the only two Wizards in the world who were made uneasy by the honour were Harry, to whom it was a standing reproach of his failure to save Ginny from attack, and Draco Malfoy, whose blood pressure spiked whenever he was reminded of any of the honours that had been heaped upon Harry, and who could not conceive that Harry did not relish them and swank about parading them to all and sundry, as Draco should assuredly have done had the boot been on the other foot.

‘I say, Malfoy,’ said the annoyingly garrulous Ackerley, ‘you look a bit off-colour. Mind your BP,[6] we’ve always a slight delay in getting you a Mediwizard or a Healer, here – though I will say the Cottage Hospital’s[7] rather competent, as Muggles go, Harry saved it for us, well, he would do, wouldn’t he, he is our County Councillor for the Muggles, and what’s the point in being in the cabinet and on the Audit and Farms Estate Committees if a councillor can’t sway a vote or two, eh?’

Ackerley was doubtless going to continue to enlarge upon the many good deeds of Sir Harry as a county councillor (including his efforts on the Environmental & Regulatory Services and Highways & Transportation Committees) as they rattled onwards in the tunnel-like lanes, claustrophobically hedgebanked, stayed and buttressed with blackthorn and ash and field maple; it was only the sharp feel of Pansy’s talons digging into his forearm that kept Draco from casting a Silencio on the logorrhoeic bugger.

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As Draco was perforce listening to Ackerley rabbit on about the District Nurse – ‘broad-shouldered, top-heavy woman, you’ll recognise her instantly, shaped like a jar of Virol[8] –’ Harry, having been briefed by George and Blaise, was arranging an appointment for the Sunday – and business hours be damned – with Sir Bennett Goldstein as he awaited the arrival of a rousted-from-his-weekend Minister of Magic.

‘Harry! My dear fellow! And on a Saturday – what sudden emergency brings you up to town from your blameless retirement?’ For the Minister, a retread not of Harry’s party, whose relations with Harry had been uneasy since well before the War, Harry’s mere presence was a political emergency whenever it occurred, and his unease was by no means well concealed.

‘Minister. For once, the emergency is not by definition “sudden” – is it. What the devil are you and poor Sir Bennett Goldstein playing at?’

‘You – damn it, you’re not authorised to know that!’

‘Bugger that. I’m –’

‘You, Potter, are a retired Ch- –’

‘Don’t be more of a fool than you can help, Robards. I am, as you say, no longer Chief of the Magical General Staff. And yes, it was I who oversaw the reorganisation of the Royal Corps of Aurors into a real military force and the MLE into a legitimate police agency – whilst, I might say because, you lot were fortunately in Opposition at the time, and for damned good reason, too. Yet I did so, with the willing assistance of many, many others, all because I and they wouldn’t – and shan’t – brook any further the old secrecy regime and the hole-and-corner attitude of the former Ministry: your role in which, I may add, has served to keep you and yours on the Opposition benches until quite recently. And although I may be on the Retired List, I remind you that I am a member of HM Magical Privy Council, a hereditary seated in the Moot, and entirely capable of bringing your ministry down on a vote of confidence.’

‘So you are, Potter – and that means you should damn well realise the gravity of the situation. Who blabbed? Malfoy? No, I suppose he can’t have done, not under those spells. It doesn’t matter – or not just now, although I must warn you that I shall find out who leaked to you and there shall be prosecutions –’

‘Don’t make me laugh, Gawain, I’m a Privy Counsellor, I’ve a right to the information.’

‘Then you damned well want to have the maturity to understand its import! Goldstein and I agreed this response because the whole bloody economy could go under if word gets out – and you tell me it has done! That little shit of a Malfoy –’

‘Has rights you’re perfectly willing to trample underfoot! I’ve two words for you on that heading: Sirius Black! But set that aside – for now, although I must warn you you’ll pay that score, and it may be a trifle over! Christ, I don’t even like the little sod, but the principle of the thing shall be maintained! If you’ve forgotten your oaths, I’ve not ceased to remember mine! Now sit down and belt up, Robards, and try to wrap your tiny mind around the primary and most exigent point, won’t you: there’s an attack upon the economy of the realm, it’s of a size and character that threatens the State, and its magnitude therefore suggests a State actor – whilst you bugger about suspecting one rather junior merchant wanker, constructing a cover-up, and even at your advanced age buggering off a for a dirty weekend, no doubt! What part of the Realm is under attack do you not grasp, you drivelling idiot?’

The colour drained from Robards’ face as the obvious implications set in. ‘Oh, bugger.’

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[1] Gilbert & Sullivan, Trial by Jury.

[3] The Red King, to Alice, as reported by Lewis Carroll.

[4] As in Bilk. An old West Country term for friend, pal, mucker.

[5] DL: Deputy (Lord) Lieutenant; the appointments listed are mirrors of Muggle appointments.

[6] Blood pressure.

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