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

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The Rector – vast, beefy, and muscularly Christian in tweeds as green as a first-year Hufflepuff and as hairy as Hagrid – hailed Acker and his passengers. ‘Ackerley! These Harry’s guests? Hmm. Unprepossessing lot. Make your numbers!’[1]

Pansy as well as Draco was too outraged to speak. Acker took the Rector very much in stride. ‘So they are, Rector. Pansy, wife to Mr Justice Nott –’

‘Ah, the judicious Theo, eh?’

‘– and Draco Malfoy.’

‘Yes, I rather thought he’d be one of that lot from the look of him. Hmm. I, as you’ll have gathered, am the incumbent of this parish. Simon Vickers,’ said he, sketching what might charitably be called a nod in place of a bow.

You are the rector?’ Draco was clearly boggled by so un-clerical a cleric.

‘Unless that gash fool in Exeter has evolved yet another pig’s ear of an “action plan for new pastoral structures” of which I’ve mercifully yet to hear, yes. Bishop Sexton, I ask you: Sexton by name and almost competent to be a sexton by office. Wet, subliterate, redbrick, socialist ass. The lower deck mind put on the bridge and granted a commission, it’s appalling.’

Pansy sniggered, and turned implausibly innocent eyes upon Stewart Ackerley. ‘Your bishop is Sexton and your rector is Vickers? Is there a vicar nearby, by any chance?’

‘Ha,’ said the Rector. ‘That puling prat in his palace – not that the silly bastard’ll have anything to do with it: offices in some hole and lives ostentatiously poorly in a council flat, says (incessantly) he’ll not set foot in “a palace mortared with the blood of the poor” – useless bugger thinks we’ve a “team ministry” here, whatever that is when it’s at home. Thank God the Archdeacon’s not quite so great a fool, although pretty poor even as archdeacons go – useless swine, archdeacons, as a class, and ours is hardly the brightest Aldis lamp in stores. Pomeroy’s been effectively reduced to a hamlet since the Black Death, but, yes, I’ve a junior in my –’ and here the Rector’s voice dripped scorn – ‘“team ministry”, if you like. As far as I am concerned, Warden’s my curate: some poor damned bugger wants to take Cleave St Urith, after all, I can’t be trotting over every day to deal with the inbred Janners.[2] Sound man, Warden, although a bit temperamental. Damn it, you’d think a little Christian charity, a gill[3] of meekness, would be the least you expect of a Christian priest, but there it is: Warden’s sound enough, but a damned rude bugger with it.’

Draco was beyond speech. Pansy was nearly so, but only from suppressing laughter. ‘So – I do hope I have this correctly – the Bishop is Sexton, the Rector is Vickers, the Curate is Warden? I hardly dare ask: who are your wardens?’

The Rector stared at her. ‘Well, damn it all, of course Potter’s one. Serves with Bell. If you want the whole establishment, I can give it out – I don’t suppose this means you’re at all a churchwoman, but one must live in hope. On strength, we’ve the wardens, Bell and Potter; the Tower Captain[4] – we’ve a damned decent ring, of six, naturally, the standard “Devon ring”[5] – is Graves; and the sexton is George Abbott. D’you want the sidesmen as well?’

‘Oh, no,’ said Pansy, her lips quirking despite her best efforts. ‘As a point of idle curiosity, though – would the Archdeacon by any chance be named Dean?’[6]

‘Naturally,’ said the Rector, ‘though I’ll be buggered if I can tell how you chance to know that.’

‘Oh,’ smiled Pansy, ‘just – magic, I suppose.’

The Rector snorted. ‘I don’t recall hearing that you possessed any talent for Divination, madam.’

It was now Pansy’s turn to stare.

The Rector smiled, evilly. ‘Ah. Always a comforting sight, Old Slytherins confounded by an Old Hufflepuff. Do leave off gaping like one of my damned yokel parishioners, Malfoy. If either of you do happen to set foot in the church, you’ll be surprised to see how little damaged it has been over the years. You may then perhaps reflect upon how previous Old Hufflepuffs of this parish have confounded incomers, not least by returning baffling answers as to who, hereabouts, is who. Good day to you. Acker. You may as well get them on to their cottages, Harry may be back at any moment.’ And, chuckling audibly, the Rector strode ponderously away, a bull looking for another innocent and incautious walker whom he might toss over a stile.

All things considered, securing the district had ever been an absolute doddle for the Muggle-Worthy Excuses lads.

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Teddy reflected, often, that only his namesake grandfather’s legacy had made it at all possible to understand his godfather’s character. Ted the Tinker Tonks, that in all ways Churchillian figure, fat, tippling, slovenly, courageous, uxorious, and magniloquent, had left his grandson a complete set of Kipling. (Like his father, Teddy Lupin was most comfortable with the natural order when it was safely mediated through literature, the white paper obscuring its redness in tooth and claw.) And Uncle Harry in his various moods and facets, Teddy held (at length, closely argued, and on occasion with footnotes), was Kiplingesque in the extreme. The Muggle-Worthy Excuses Committee, on which Teddy had from time to time served – the Ministry were hardly prepared to let a promising young historian, who moved in both worlds, was exceeding well-connected, was the scion of war heroes, had the Blacks and Harry and the Weasleys behind him, and was a Metamorphmagus to boot, go to waste – the Muggle-Worthy Excuses Committee had done rather better than most of them knew in creating Harry’s legend for use amongst the Muggles. There had, to be sure, been passages in Uncle Harry’s life, Teddy well knew, that were straight out of Stalky[7] (and wouldn’t Severus Snape have been furious to see himself cast as King);[8] more often than not, however, in these days, the distinction Teddy saw in his beloved godfather was between the Bhagat – and Sir Purun Dass, KCIE, re-emerging in emergency from the hermit’s anchor-hold.[9]

And so, as Harry strode in to the Saturday peace of the Burrow at a military pace that seemed almost to conjure the strains of the quick march ‘The Rose and Laurel’,[10] Teddy thought to himself, Yes. ‘He was no longer a holy man, but Sir Purun Dass, KCIE, Prime Minister of no small State, a man accustomed to command, going out to save life’: Uncle Harry has left his orchards, and the balloon has assuredly gone up.

‘Mornin’, Tedders. Get George – now. If you please.’

Andromeda’s grandson was long familiar with the voice of command.

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As Harry, in the Otterys and in London, was mobilising his personal and private army, the Grimmauld Place Irregulars: Ron as Q,[11] George, Teddy, and not a few others: Pansy and Draco were being made free of Harry’s bounds.

Draco was still shaken from his encounter with the turbulent priest.[12] ‘I hope we shan’t meet the curate,’ he said quietly to Pansy.

Not quietly enough: Acker was always keen of hearing. ‘Oh, don’t fret over that, Geoff Warden’s a lamb. Rector thinks him rude because he won’t allow himself to be ridden over roughshod. Anyone – bar Harry, of course – who stands up to Rector gains a character for rudeness – with the Rector, mind: no one else.’

‘I’m amazed,’ said Pansy, ‘you’re not all atheists.’

‘Because of Rector, d’you mean? Nonsense. He’s a good man, and forever doing good by stealth – so, naturally, everyone knows of it. As for his manner ... we’re all well aware, he’s a clergyman, certainly, but for a damned long time of it he was a naval officer first and foremost. Conducts Morning Prayer in a sort of foretop-carrying hail –’ Ackerley, like Harry, was not nautical, but in South Devon even more than in the inland counties of England, no Englishman will admit to ignorance of the sea, however obvious it is to others – ‘but, there, what’s that to do with doctrine, after all. No, I’d say we’re a fairly well-churched district.’

Draco was on the verge of an acidulated reply when the pony-trap rounded a blind and hedgebanked corner, and he was rendered, albeit temporarily (he was, after all, Draco Malfoy), mute.

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On any Saturday at tea-time, the Burrow was the hub of British Wizard-dom, simply by virtue of its being the Weasley caput and Harry’s long home. It required a situation of great gravity indeed to take George Weasley away from his mother’s table, his wife’s embrace, and his children’s mischief (for Freddie had trained up his much younger siblings in the way they should not go, and they nor he had departed from it). On this day, he was hastening away within five minutes if Harry’s having sent Teddy in to summons him.

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‘Good God,’ said Draco. ‘Those things are the size of erumpents.’ I wonder – are these beasts sold to the gentry and priced in guineas?

‘And so very ginger,’ breathed Pansy.

‘I know. Weasley cattle. How ghastly.’

‘They are,’ said a rather dry and all-too-well-known voice form behind them, ‘South Devons. As one might expect, in South Devon. Malfoy. Parkin- – Mrs Nott, rather. Welcome to Evelake. Thank you, Stewart, for bringing them up. I regret I left you, perforce, with the baby.’

‘Not to worry, Harry. You’ll – right, then. I’ll slope off and actually run the place, then, rather than play coachman and porter.’

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A month and a fortnight after the absolute destruction of the terror movement that had been responsible for the King’s Cross attack and its contemporaneous episodes of treason, with the deaths or executions of the last of those involved, Field-Auror Marshal the Rt Hon. Harry Potter, OM, MPC, Chief of the Magical General Staff, Grand Sorcerer, MMA (Domd), and honorary or corresponding member of more learned and scientific societies than will ever do any good in this world or the next,[13] left the Active List, withdrew from public life, handed over command of the Royal Corps of Aurors to another, and buried himself in the South Hams to make cider. If he had then had any notion of living quietly, the world forgetting, by the world forgot,[14] the world, which refused to forget, soon disabused him of the notion.

Nevertheless, although he performed such public duties as his position required, he insisted with adamantine resolution that he was simply a rural landholder who happened to make cider and otherwise sell the excess produce of his lands (which distinction, not that Harry gave a tuppenny-dam, preserved his gentle status and did not condemn him to being In Trade, to the great relief of his more thoroughly conventional friends, relations, and neighbours).

This polite fiction was in fact believed in by no one save Harry himself. Harry, however, was well-known to be the least bit stubborn, as the fates of various actual or aspiring Dark Wizards attested. Not even the fact that he had once again single-handedly set the Ministry by the ears – a Ministry, moreover, in which the government of the day was no longer of his party, for the first time in a many a long, post-War year – and was effectively running the country just now from a purely private estate, impinged upon his self-characterisation. (After all, as Harry would doubtless have noted had he considered the issue at all, Dumbledore had been a school headmaster whilst conducting the only effective military operations against Voldemort for many years.)

Horace Slughorn was not so easily fooled. When George Weasley appeared unannounced to seek his advice, he welcomed it, and him: the surviving Weasley Twin was quite the clever lad, if unorthodox, and if George Weasley wished to consult him in making a new potion for a new Wheeze, Horace Slughorn was more than prepared to listen, to assist, and to accept with becoming self-deprecation the ensuing hefty fee that commonly followed.

When, however, George Weasley began to set out what this visit was in aid of, Horace became alarmed.

‘My dear Weasley! Dangerous thing, getting mixed up with the Ministry! I’m surprised you’ve not the elementary prudence to walk wide of them, very dangerous work, you know –’

George laughed. ‘Merlin, Professor, no, you’d not have me here begging your wisdom for that lot.’

‘I should hope not, dear boy. Always wanting others to put themselves out at the sharp end, and very poor at protecting them. Or, ah, paying, if I may mention such a vulgar consideration.’

‘Too right, Professor. You’re spot on – acute as ever, sir.’ George was of a Disraelian mind in negotiation: flattery never hurts, and when it comes to sybaritic old beaks with an exaggerated self-regard, you want to lay it on with a trowel. ‘I’d never come to you on behalf of that shower. On Harry’s, on the other hand ...’

‘Ah.’ Horace settled himself more plumply and bonelessly in his chair, no longer braced and wary. ‘The good Harry, I admit, reserves his questions for matters of serious import, and, I’m very glad to say, always looks after one – in all senses.’ Slughorn was quite prepared to listen now: Harry never left anyone who helped him hanging, and paid promptly and in sound coin, whether it be in Galleons, or influence, or the little social favours that lubricate life’s engines.

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Evelake Farm – to give it the unassuming name on which Harry always insisted – exuded an uncanny peacefulness that not even Draco Malfoy could resist. He and Potter had perforce become civil in the years since the War, and still more so since each had lost his wife to the sharp yet all too severe spasm of terror set off by those who called themselves the Dispossessed. The markedly close friendship that had grown up between Scorpius and the middle Potterspawn – Draco, both as a father and as a Malfoy, refused to consider the implications of that closeness between the two youths, both now having attained their majorities and left school – had also forced the two fathers into a semblance of amity. Yet these had not sufficed, any more than had his despair, to render Draco accepting of Potter, of Potter’s success, of his attempts to be civil, of his very existence. Surely some magic was at work here, forcing him to endure in comparative silence the machinations of his friends in dragging him here, and the revelation that, for all their promises, he would not only be forced to accept Potter’s charity, but to suffer his insipid, cloying presence.

It was typical of Potter, after all, to have ostentatiously turned his back on power and place and preferment, on honours and glory and all the glittering prizes the world persisted in throwing at the feet of the purblind bugger, and to make some grand gesture of renunciation. For what? More praise, no doubt, and a character for humility, and as a bid for sympathy for the poor, brave widower and all his nauseous sacrifices. He’d been given on a plate everything Draco had sought and been bred to expect and been denied, and he had the gall, the arrogance, to spurn it? To bury himself in orchard and arable, in bluebell woods, in woods of oak and ash and hazel coppice? It made Draco want to smash things, preferably beginning with Potter’s hideously scarred face. How dare Potter act in this simpering fashion, damn him. Who did he think he was? How dare he succeed where Draco had failed? And why was it always Potter, damn it? Why was it Potter who must always occupy Draco’s thoughts?

And what magic was here at work to keep him from storming off in a temper, and returning to London to await his fate?

Excellent questions all, said a painfully familiar voice. Perhaps it’s the cider you’ve been downing since you settled into this charming cottage, rather than any magic.

‘Damn it,’ groaned Draco, audibly, ‘why must my conscience always sound like Mummy?’

‘Does it really, darling? How delightful.’

Draco stood – so hastily as almost to upset the small table with the cream tea and what he had thought a light and apple-tinctured cordial-aperitif – and whirled to face the source of that reply, with a sense of utter horror.

Mother?

‘Hullo, dear. Oh, don’t be alarmed, you’d not spoken most of that pitiable wallowing: you really must keep up your Occlumency, darling. How are you finding your charming cottage? It’s lovely, really, the way in which the cottages are subtly tinted in the cob (it is cob, isn’t it? Or is it stuccoed rubble?)[15] and picked out as to windows and doors with the shades appropriate to their floral names, although I must say that I quite envy you yours, with the annexe, slate’s such a nice change from all this elaborate thatch, isn’t it, and the fashion in which the slate roof is brought down to within a foot of the ground almost dormers that exquisite Tudor bay window, doesn’t it –’

‘MOTHER!’

‘Yes, darling?’

‘Why are you here – have you taken a post as a tour guide for Potter, or am I to expect that he shall become my stepfather?’

‘Don’t be absurd, darling, you cannot possibly imagine that I should take a ... job ... and, scrumptious though dear Harry is –’

Draco made a tiny, hopeless noise, like a small mammal caught by a large predator.

‘– it would hardly be fair to Scorpius and dear Albie, would it, now that they’re, shall we say, Special Friends. Not that I should flatter myself to imagine that our lovely host should be at all interested in an elderly gentlewitch of my years in any case –’

‘Mother. Please. Leave off prating. I was given to understand that you were at home and Scorpius stopping with you, and now I find you here, where I should prefer not be – don’t tell me, you’ve been dragged here to witness my humiliation and Potter’s cold charity, it’s really too much –’

‘Draco. Darling. Perhaps you oughtn’t indulge quite so much in Harry’s cider, it appears to have robbed you at once of your wits and of your dignity. Dearest Al very kindly invited Scorpius to stop for a fortnight, and most graciously extended the invitation to me as well. I am in Lavender Cottage, which is very nearly as nice as yours – I am so pleased Harry insisted that Wistaria Cottage use the proper spelling, poor Caspar Wistar was very ill-served by Nuttall’s misspelling his name,[16] you’d not imagine, precision in spellcasting being so terribly important, that a wizard could make so annoying an error –’

Draco whimpered, and fell back into his chair, forgetting even to offer Narcissa a seat.

‘– and of course, Al and Scorpius are ensconced in Al’s wing at Aveline House, Scorpius I’m quite sure will be delighted that you are here –’

How long Draco’s agony might have gone on would never be known, as his mother’s carefully calibrated attempts to drive him utterly spare were interrupted by a weathered old fellow in blue, bearing a message.

‘Begging your pardon, Mrs Malfoy, and yours, sir – is it Mr Draco Malfoy? Ah, that’s good – begging your pardons both, the Rector’s compliments, and he’s broken out the gin pen’ant and hopes as you’ll join him at the Rectory.’

‘Why, of course, Mr Tarr. We shall be delighted. Half an hour? Lovely, dear.’

Mr Tarr was barely out of earshot before Draco pitched a truly remarkable fit. ‘– without so much as asking, damn it all! And who in buggery is this Tarr creature –’

‘A very respectable person, Draco, the Rector’s old boatswain or something equally nautical, and now his butler and general factotum. John Tarr[17] comes of a very old and respectable family hereabouts, I’m told, and you shall respect that, and him, and the Rector, am I understood? Now desist from this ghastly behaviour and go and change.’

Draco might now be in his own middle age, and a father, but – as the late Lucius had learnt, in the end, to his cost – at the end of the day, Narcissa Malfoy’s word was and would ever be law, and woe betide him who dared challenge it. As a son with a strong sense of self-preservation, if not always a dutiful one, Draco, chastened, slunk away to do precisely as his Mummy had instructed. It was by far his safest course.

Narcissa, amusing herself by counting backward in French, had reached quatre when she heard the audible dropping of the penny as her son stopped at the top of stairs and cried, ‘WHAT? That was cider?’

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[1] Naval slang for ‘identify yourselves’.

[2] In (naval) context, ‘local, yokelish, Devon landlubbers’.

[3] A quarter of a pint (Imperial measure). Called as ‘jill’.

[4] Captain of the bell-ringers.

[5] A standard Devon ring is a ring of six bells.

[6] So: the rector (not the vicar) is Vickers; the bishop (not the sexton) is Sexton; the curate (not the churchwarden) is Warden; the churchwarden (serving with Sir Harry; not the tower captain) is Bell; the tower captain (not the sexton) is Graves; the sexton (not an abbot) is Abbott; and the archdeacon (not the dean) is Dean.

[7] Stalky & Co. You’ve no excuse for not having read it. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3006/3006-h/3006-h.htm.

[8] He really is.

[11] Quartermaster, and in the James Bond sense.

[12] Shades of Thomas Becket.

[13] Again filched from Kipling and ‘The Miracle of Purun Bhagat’.

[14] Pope, ‘Eloisa to Abelard’.

[15] Stuccoed rubble, actually.

[17] Known, naturally, as Jack Tarr.

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