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

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‘But my dear fellow,’ said Horace Slughorn to the portrait of Severus Snape, ‘the malaclaw would not respond to a runic trigger, surely.’

‘Oh, I suppose not,’ said Snape, wearily. ‘I wonder –’ his voice quickened ‘– the Dark Lord had a means of triggering a taboo upon his name from afar: do you think –?’

‘Yes!’ Slughorn was prey to an answering excitement. ‘You may very well be on to something! An excellent suggestion, dear boy, excellent!’

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It was the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, and the Eve of St Swithin’s Day, in the Church of St Margaret ante Porcos. The Credo and the Second Set of Responses, the collects and the anthem (‘The Call’, RVW),[1] did not stir him. Unlike Harry, he had had no ear for the G major Stanford Nunc dimittis and its odd consonance with the ‘Nimrod’ variation of so many remembranced marches past the Cenotaph. Nor had he attended to the prayers, for Sovereign or for Church, or even that for rain, inserted by the canny Rector – ‘Send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honour’: for in the Scrumpy Belt, a moderate shower on St Swithin’s Day is welcomed, as ‘St Swithin a-blessin’ o’ they apples’ – nor yet to John Chrysostom’s prayer and the concluding Grace. Even as the closing hymn (‘Praise, my soul the King of heaven’)[2] and the concluding organ voluntary (the D minor Postlude:[3] nothing – neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature[4] – would wean the Rector from his love of Charles Villiers Stanford’s music) resounded through the ancient church that housed as its chalice the Grail itself, he sat stonily, revolving desperate plans in his mind. House elves; house elves were the key. And Muggle trippers. Was there a farm shop? Surely there was. It would hurt Potter a trifle, but that was of no moment: the bugger ever landed upon his feet. It would hurt Albus Severus, in passing, for as brief a time, and thus, to his regret, Scorpius; but it was all for Scorpius’ greater good. Someday, perhaps – when Scorpius and Albus weren’t huddled together, as they’d been at tea, with Blaise-and-Justin and Dean-and-Seamus, in a sort of poofs’ coven – someday, he would explain, and make Scorpius to see why he had done as he knew he must do. For now, he must hold his course, a daring pilot in extremity, master of his fate and captain of –

‘Draco!’

‘Mother.’

‘If you wish to sit here wool-gathering, by all means go to. Harry is escorting me back to the house. We dine in half an hour – no need, I’m told, to dress.’

‘Of course, mother.’ He waited for them to leave before he rose and walked slowly back to Aveline House in the velvet night. It would be an interesting few days of cat and mouse, he reflected, permitting himself, in the solitude of darkness, a feral and feline smile.

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Draco had borne himself with uncommon meekness through the ordeal of dinner – the Rector had made one of the party, grumbling about the service music: ‘Bloody Avent, always after me to let him play Frank Bridge[5] every bloody Sunday! I’m all for a little variety myself, but, no, I’m saddled, for my sins, with a monomaniac for an organist, damn it all’ – and retired reasonably early and reasonably satisfied with his plans. He had begun as he meant to go on, the perfect guest, and thus allowed to wander about and observe and gather what information he could barter.

And so, at two in the morning on St Swithin’s Day, he made no demur when an excited Scorpius and Albie – wearing, he noted without reaction, what were clearly one another’s pyjamas, hastily donned, and both of them smelling rather of sex despite an apparent hasty washing – had pounded upon his door and dragged him to the Caroline stable block to greet a new litter of Crups, one of which had long been promised to Hubert Henry Ackerley. He merely smiled indulgently when Hubert Henry arrived and solemnly inspected the puppies, declaring that he would choose when they were a little older, and that he would choose a dog and name him ‘Swithin’; and as he smiled, he noted carefully that Muggles, Squibs, and Wizards were all present, mixing without regard to magical state, and that once again, in all the Potter ménage, human servants and human farm labourers were conspicuous by their absence. The Muggle-Worthy Excuses lot – or, possibly, as it was Potter they were dealing with, the Office of Disinformation – had, Draco reflected, done yeoman work here.

It was a suspect coincidence, Gawain Robards would later have cause to reflect, that Harry Potter – whom, as Draco rightly guessed, the Ministry in general and Robards and his party in particular feared as they had never feared Voldemort, and sought ceaselessly to smear, refusing to credit that he was simply a retired officer turned gentleman farmer, with no political ambitions – it was, Robards would say afterwards, highly suspect that Potter should have had so many witnesses to his innocent presence in South Devon at two ack emma (Robards prided himself on his staying up to date with modish Muggle slang)[6] on Monday, 15 July. For it was at that hour, in Troisvierges, that the offices of the British delegation to the ICW, and certain file-rooms of the Finance Secretariat and Court of Auditors of the ICW itself, were rocked by a series of dungbomb explosions, and, in the ensuing confusion, quite comprehensively ransacked. The only clue, left tauntingly at the scene, was a Chocolate Frog card: Number 101 in the old numbering, bearing the image and exploits of Albus Dumbledore.

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St Swithin’s Day dawned bright and fair.

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The head of the ICW in the current rotation, His Excellency Herr Doktor-Doktor-Ministerpräsident Georg Junius Kotzendorffer von Bamberg, a pureblood product of Durmstrang and considered by the Prussians to qualify as a Grand Sorcerer, was not the most courageous of men. On the other hand, being far from foolhardy, he was no fool.

The Head of Security for the ICW, the Bulgarian Wizard Milan Gavrail Vodenicharov, preserved a stern countenance as his temporary chief responded unexpectedly to his report.

‘We do nothing. You hear? Nothing.’

‘Are the English, then, at war with us all? How have we annoyed the good Potter?’ Just as the Spanish and most of Europe, in the Armada year, spoke of Drake as if he alone were the English fleet, so too was Harry’s name something of a synecdoche for the British magical government, for all his private estate.

‘You do not, truly, wish to know. For now, we do nothing. We watch, and wait.’

Entering his protest upon the record, Vodenicharov strode stiffly away to his own offices. It was only there, behind highly sophisticated wards, that he permitted himself a small smile. I must send an owl to Cousin Viktor. He’ll be quite pleased, I imagine.

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Between ten and eleven that morning, a gentle shower fell upon Evelake. Everyone in the district was pleased: St Swithin had blessed the apples. (Draco, having swiftly educated himself on the topic of St Swithin’s weather-lore, had challenged Potter for encouraging Hubert Henry in an absurd superstition, only to be told, ‘Very well, you explain the meteorological and nephomantic[7] influences of the jet stream to an eight-year-old Wizardling, Malfoy’, at which everyone else, including the traitorous Narcissa, had had a right merry laugh at his expense. No wonder his hairline was playing up.)

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The game of cat and mouse was afoot.[8] Draco by now had the measure of Potter: he damned well ought to have done, he reflected, after all these years. Although unexpectedly possessed of some small portion of low cunning, Potter was, poor silly fool, a Gryffindor through and through. He trusted to the charm he affected not to possess, and to his abominable, infuriating luck. He could hardly hope to stand, Draco thought – forgetting for the moment the minatory fate of Tom Riddle – against Slytherin guile and Slytherin planning. Least of all without that idiot savant of a grandmaster Weasel on side.

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The Krums and the Delacours – particularly the older generation – were tired and stiff and smugly satisfied, even if the reek of dungbombs did have an unpleasant tendency to linger. They’d not had this much fun in years.

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The game of cat and mouse was afoot. Harry knew his Draco: it had been inexcusable had he not done, by now, after all these years. Malfoy was witty and fatally impressed with his own cleverness. He was clever enough to have been an Old Ravenclaw, and braver by far than he admitted or knew. His loyalty to his family was positively that of an Old Hufflepuff. He had become, as he had grown in years if not in grace, a markedly hard worker when he wished to be, and quite surprisingly good with his hands – Harry tried not to dwell on that thought, recalling instead with some rue a certain Vanishing Cabinet. And as a plotter and subtle spider, an Old Slytherin mastermind, Draco Malfoy, quite bluntly, couldn’t scheme for toffee.

For one thing, he invariably left a flank unguarded and in the air – Harry again paused to chide himself for that inadvertently Freudian imagery – as witness the fact that Draco had forgotten, or had failed to realise, that Narcissa, who yet ruled her family with a whim of iron, was firmly in Harry’s camp, as indeed were all Draco’s acquaintance, from Blaise to Pansy.

Which reminded him: Theo would arrive later today, stringy, severe, and never quite out of his robes and horsehair. Now would be a good time to go and see what Draco was trying to ferret out this morning.

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The game was afoot. Shim – as Albie sometimes called his lover, from his initials, commonly in retaliation to his nostalgic use of Albie’s school name of ‘the Asp’, generally followed by the comment that he’d been a waste of a fine Slytherin – and Albie were manning the estate shop.

‘Hsst,’ whispered Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy, ‘the Shim’: ‘d’you think that one’s a Wizard trying to pass?’

‘Why ask me?’ Al grinned. ‘I’ve gaydar, not wizdar.’

‘But the way he’s dressed!’

‘Tasteless, I grant you, but not to the point I’d say he’s a Wizard failing to blend in. I think,’ said Al, dramatically, ‘that the poor man’s ... I know it’s awful ... but I think, from the style, he’s heterosexual.

‘Ass,’ said Scorpius, irritably. ‘Oh, God, here he comes, waddling up.... Good morning. Are you being served?’

‘You sound like Mr Humphries,’ Al stage-whispered.

The Muggle – for a Muggle he was, and built rather upon the lines of John Prescott – laughed. ‘Nay, lad,’ said he, in tones as richly Northern as Uncle Nev’s. ‘Takin’ summat back from holiday, Taste o’ Devon, y’know. What d’you suggest, then?’

‘Was it cider you were thinking of?’ Al was a model of angelic helpfulness.

‘Aye. T’missus hast apple cakes and such already, bought just now.’

‘Ah, yes. Lovely woman, I remember the purchase. We make a range of ciders: still, dry, sparkling, semi-sweet –’

‘I’m after summat stronger. The real farmhouse taste, sithee, as you lot are allus banging on about.’

‘Scrumpy, in fact. We can certainly suit you. There’s the farmhouse modern extraction process, Orange Elephant –’

‘Ay-oop, lad. Owdonabit. Pink elephants are an old joke, but orange?’

‘You may have noticed our herd of South Devon cattle?’

‘Aye, that I have lad. Fine looking beasts, and big with it.’

‘Well, the common country name for South Devons is “the orange elephant”, you see.’

‘Boogger me. I can see that. And there’s another, then?’

‘Indeed there is. It’s traditionally pressed, with the apple pomace in straw, which gives rather a different cider again. Of course, you may have heard all the scrumpy jokes, and that many a scrumpy’s named for the farm rats, although I assure you we are a highly hygienic operation. Even so, tradition’s tradition, so....’

‘That’s the one, then, the traditional stuff.’

‘Old Wormtail it is, then.’

Draco, pretending not to listen from where he had gone to ground amidst the preserves (absurdly priced, the City chap in him could not help but observe) in order to spy out the land, nearly choked.

‘I take it you’re planning to share with your mates at home – yes, quite. You’ll want a manucube, or bag in box, to prevent air and spoilage: draw it off by the glass, you know. The manucube’s 15 litres – bloody Frogs, if you’ll excuse the comment –’

‘I’m with ye, lad. That’s what, three and a quarter gallon? Two – no, three – of t’manny-cubes, then, do us up proper.’

‘Excellent. That will be ninety quid.’

‘And worth it, I trust. I’m not a near-going man, but yon’s a bit steep, ain’t it.’

‘I’m certain you’ll be very satisfied. So much so that, when you do want more, we do ship – here you are, with tariffs all correct.’

You’re a fine-spoken lad and no mistake. Good grammar school hereabouts, then?’

‘There is indeed, just past the Jacobean almshouses, although I’m afraid we went to school in a little place in Scotland. You see,’ said Al, apologetically, ‘my father rather happens to own all this.’

All this, lad?’ The man paused, then laughed richly, from his belly. ‘Ah, t’duchess’ll be fair chuffed! Never thought I’d see the day, two public school lads being polite to me in a shop. Make it four manny-cubes, then, lad, you’ve earnt it.’

Draco perforce waited until yet another customer – city-bred, discerning, and clearly a Wizard – had been dealt with (a dozen of the single-variety Slack ma Girdle,[9] which was a prominent part of the blend called ‘Aberforth’s Goat’, and a jug of Orange Erumpent, which was the name under which Orange Elephant passed when sold to Wizards). Then he all but seized his son and Albie by their collars. ‘Are you mad? Selling Wizarding produce to Wizards and Muggles with hardly a change of label?’ There were not as many sibilants in the sentences as Draco should have liked, but he managed to hiss fairly impressively nonetheless. ‘And “Old Wormtail” at that? Merlin, you are mad!’

‘Harry has all the necessary licences, Father. Muggle and Ministry. For these, for the cider brandy, for the country wines,[10] and for the vineyard and real ale brewery he’s planning.’ Damn, thought Draco: that’s one angle of attack foreclosed. ‘As well as the jams, pickle, preserves, chutney, fruits, cakes, breads, pies –’

Al was not disposed to let his lover ramble on: Draco was keeping a queue of paying customers from forming. ‘As for Wormtail, sir, Dad says the little bastard hasn’t paid his life-debts to this family yet, and if he must do so posthumously, so be it. Dad’s an old dear, really, but you don’t want to cross him.’

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The game was afoot.[11] Monday at the Ministry, Ernie Macmillan reflected, and the panic in the ministerial dovecotes, was shaping very satisfactorily.

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The game was afoot. Draco, still in high dudgeon, found his host in one of the many orchards, up a long ladder with his head in the leaves and branches of an ancient Killerton Sharp. Wobbling about contentedly, a British Lop[12] sow was munching a scatter of small, immature apples that had been removed from the trees and cast down. Pausing for a moment – he couldn’t possibly resist – to admire Harry’s truly magnificent arse (how had he gone on for all these years not realising he was at the very least bisexual? Draco was unsparing of his own prior blindness), he hailed Harry.

Annoyingly, the bugger neither fell out of the tree nor indeed discernibly startled.

‘Malfoy. Curious to learn the art of apple-growing and cidering?’

‘Not particularly, no. Potter, why is my son working in a shop?’

‘Presumably to keep his boyfriend happy.’ Draco was momentarily seized by the visual recollection of his son and Albus. It could so easily have been his fate and Harry’s, long ago; his pulse quickened as he imagined it. (How, how, had he been so long in denial, he wondered, self-castigatingly.) ‘Don’t fret, I don’t pay either of the cheeky wee buggers. It amuses Al to play at shopkeepers. Forgive my not coming down; I’ve a job of work in hand.’

Draco shook his head to clear it of the visual memory of Harry’s hands. How, how in, well, buggery, had he not known he fancied men, all this time? ‘And why, Potter, pray, are you stripping perfectly sound apples from your own trees before they’re ripe and casting them before swine?’[13]

Harry’s reply was calculatedly neutral. Malfoy couldn’t possibly see his smile. ‘One must sometimes cull, Malfoy. The best that are left grow stronger and better. Not so different to what I did as an Auror, really.’

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The game was afoot. At teatime, Theo – who, if he were an apple, would assuredly have been a full bittersharp – and Pansy collared Draco, whilst Narcissa cornered Harry.

‘Tell me,’ he asked her. ‘How do you see Draco’s taking his recent epiphany?’

She sighed. ‘He’s surprisingly conventional, you know. Bankers. And I shouldn’t be at all surprised if he were suddenly fretting over seeing attractive men everywhere: Blaise and Justin, Seamus and Dean.... And of course, Neville, who has certainly grown into a fine specimen, although hopelessly married and resolutely – a clever Witch can always tell – heterosexual.’

‘Let it never be said you’re not clever. Seamus always says of Freddie – George’s son, you know – who is quite as rampantly heterosexual as Our Nev, that it’s a waste of a fine, fit lad. At which Dean slaps his bum and they’re not seen for the rest of the night.’

Narcissa laughed. ‘I expect you will wind Draco up in similar ways, when you two come to your senses.’

‘Cissy....’

‘Darling boy, he’ll never resist you. Indeed, in his frustrated way, in all his years of denial, he never could resist you. And Heaven knows he’s in want of it: since Aster died, he’s lived a positively monastic life, although we can now understand why he never sought a second.’

‘Draco, monastic? Narcissa, you surprise me.’

‘You know, darling boy, your tone had been the same had you spoonerised that: “Draco, narcissistic? Mona, you surprise me”.’

Harry chortled.

‘And you, darling boy? I find it odd that you should have gone through so many casual lovers.’

‘Ah. Well, they weren’t casual to me. Serial domesticity, really: my children – particularly Lily, who seems to attract beaux in the way windfalls attract wasps (the country folk persist in saying, “wopses”, in good Wessex, which Blaise is quite put out by) – my children tell me I was made for monogamy, what Lily, rather too dismissively for my peace of mind, calls “bread and cheese and kisses”.’

Narcissa smiled. Harry would assuredly do for Draco. ‘None of the women measured up to Ginny, and none of the lads to –?’

Her tone had been gentle and her concern genuine; Harry did not object to answering her. ‘None of them were fit to cast a charm in Ginny’s presence. And the lads, I suppose, I was measuring against Draco. You see, I know some fine Wizards, of all persuasions, and some superb Muggles. Quite fit ones, so far as that goes. But the only one I can see myself not being bored by out of bed happens to be your intolerably prickly son, you see.’

‘I do see. You’ve always thirsted for challenge, darling boy. He’ll give you that.’

‘Were I to win him, yes, but I consider that less likely than you appear to do.’

‘Consider that another challenge, darling boy.’

Harry’s grin made her regret that she couldn’t snaffle him up for her second, herself. ‘Oh, I do, Cissy. I do indeed.’

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