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Part 11, annotated Drink Up Thy Zider - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
Part 11, annotated Drink Up Thy Zider

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The game was assuredly afoot. Stout, sensible, douce Hugo, Hubert Henry’s particular hero, who looked suspiciously like the more mischievous sort of Weasley or Prewett but wasn’t – just as earnest, bookish Rose, who, by and large, was earnest and bookish and above suspicion, could be the most dangerous prankster of the generation when the mood was upon her – had rather shocked his doting family when he had announced he was taking a gap Summer. When it had transpired that Hugo’s idea of Summertime fun was to observe with assiduity the minutiæ of ICW procedure in Troisvierges, his Uncle Percy had been quite pleased – albeit not as pleased as had been Ernie Macmillan. Ernie was already smoothing Young Hugo’s way into the Sibylline Service as Ernie’s protégé. He was also determined that the ‘well-known clubman and social lion, Ogden’s director Seamus Finnigan’, shouldn’t recruit Hugo: for Seamus was in fact nowadays ‘E’, the Chief Unspeakable, in succession to Mundungus Fletcher, whose wartime field exploits, under deep cover as a petty blackguard, were the stuff of legend, and Algie Croaker – another cadet of the ‘Crockern-Crocker-Potter’ connexion – who had been Dung’s immediate successor.

Ernie had already arranged that Hugo should be home by Friday, to make one of his staff for what promised to be a marvellous afternoon in Sir Bennett Goldstein’s boardroom.

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The game was very much afoot. ‘Christ,’ said Draco, ‘it’s like a mediæval torture device.’

‘Have one at home, do you? Your father’s, no doubt.’

‘Potter –’

Harry sniggered. ‘Right, then. Pulper, scratter, call it what you will. The elves run it quite competently. And we’ve a horse-powered – quite literally – mill that does the same work, for the most traditional marques, it’s amazing that people will pay over the usual tariff for added authenticity, as if they imbibed it when they gargled our cider. Or were you thinking I kept Shire horses for my health?’

‘Hardly for profit, I should think. In fact, speaking as a banker, I’m appalled. This cannot possibly turn a profit.’

‘It doesn’t, as such. Then again, I’m not in it for a profit. Look here, Malfoy. Have you any idea at all why I spend my time growing apples and fruits and raising rare breeds and whatnot?’

‘Not the foggiest. Do you?’

‘Yes, and it’s not therapy for the wounded warrior and widower, if that was in your mind. If you knew bugger-all about cattle, you’d have observed that my strain of South Devons are bred to be once again what the breed were before overspecialisation: trebly useful, as milch-cows, beef cattle, and draught animals. Orchard management, hardy rare breeds with characteristics long bred out of commercial food or wool beasts, DIY cidering – I do more for such places as the diocese in Tanzania than put a few pence in the plate. Nev, Rubeus, even Aberforth and all his goats: we’re engaged, in fact, in trialing methods and breeds for rural self-sufficiency and sustainability in the poorer parts of the world, Muggle and magical alike. We are in fact a registered charity. I damned well don’t want the money – as you, as my banker, damned well ought to know.’

Your banker!’

‘How remarkably fiduciary of you not to have given way to your unbridled curiosity, Malfoy. I am, you’ll be pleased to hear, a major shareholder in Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes: in fact, I gave them the starting funding. And nine in ten of the Trusts you have managed are in fact mine.’

Draco was speechless.

‘So,’ said Harry, briskly, ‘you may as well leave off this “master of my fate and captain of my soul”[1] rubbish that has you refusing the help you’re damned well going to take, you stubborn bugger. My interests are involved quite as much as yours, and, what’s more, we’re neither of us the actual targets of the plot, although it no doubt amused them to clip us a glancing blow. You’ll see on the Friday. The fact remains that a damned numerous company of people who don’t particularly like you and whom you particularly dislike are not going to stand aside and see you fitted up for this, and it’s nothing to do with you.’

‘You could easily have saved yourself, Potter. Why are you saving me?’

‘There are three sorts of apple one wants in a blended cider. Sweet. Bittersweet. And sharp or bittersharp. I prefer single variety cider, from a bittersharp apple, fully fermented out and matured. It’s an acquired taste and a bugger of a nuisance, but, like the old local varieties of apples that are the only ones I use, it’s worth it, and worth saving. That will do to be going on with.

‘Now, you want to see how we press the pomace, and how we ferment the juice and, for some ciders, keeve it.’

Their sons, Disillusioned in form but still the rather romantic schoolboys they had so lately been, not yet disillusioned by life, watched in awe. Harry was good.

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The game was at last afoot. Theo Nott, looking more than ever like a moulting heron standing by an icy pool and glumly not really expecting any prey, had heard rumours enough – after all, it was not as if the matter could possibly come before him – retailed by his remarkably underhanded, shabby, cunning, and gossip-thirsty clerk, an ancient Wizard named Uckbrough.[2] (Which surname, as Harry could have told one, was highly suggestive of whence the family came: Ugborough is one of the better-known South Hams villages, and popular with trippers.) Moreover, of course, Pansy had an insatiable nose for secrets and a tongue like a cow-bell. On balance, Theo reflected, Young Mr Clearwater, Harry, and Company – very much (he suspected shrewdly, and correctly) precisely as Bennett Goldstein had intended all along – were poised to make certain gentlewizards in the Ministry, in the City, and at the ICW, wish they had never been born.

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The game was assuredly afoot, and Harry was intent upon bringing down his prey. ‘Rack and cloth – or in some instances, rack and straw – pressing, you see.’

Draco was pensive. ‘Your charities would benefit if you didn’t run this quite so much as a large-scale private amusement, a hobby.’

‘Not really: it’s the trials that matter, not the profit from the side endeavours. Trials always matter most.’

‘Damn it, you know what I mean.’

‘Acker’s a first-rate mind, but he’s my estate manager as a favour to me, and very much faute de mieux. I don’t wish to be the Wizarding Gaymers or Bulmers, or even Thatchers, let alone the West Country, ooh-arr zoider equivalent to Ogdens. The cider we drink this year comes from last year’s apples. To do what you suggest, I’d want a manager, able to learn farming and orcharding and cidering, skilled with his hands and with a keen financial mind, and capable of planning ahead. Know anyone of that kidney?’

‘Potter –’

‘You know, it’s rubbish to say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You were an utter shit at school. So was my father. Yet – every pip in every apple is a reshuffle of the genetic pack of cards. Many, perhaps most, of our best apple cultivars began as wildings, chance-discovered. And even the ripest windfall apple hasn’t reached its potential: it’s still converting starches into sugars even after it’s left the parent tree, which is why we store them a bit. We must do, before we can know their potential. They’re ready when ... they yield to a touch.’

Draco’s breathing was shallow, and his eyes, dilated.

‘Potential is what I deal in, Draco. And potential is always worth saving.’

Scorpius and Al, those surreptitious watchers, were beyond comment.

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The game was assuredly afoot. One of the hardest-won victories of the Restoration had been the creation of a truly independent Sibylline Service: not even the imposition of a rational scheme of taxation had been quite so bitterly fought. Yet won it had been, and Ernie Macmillan was busily preparing for what bade fair to be a remarkable Friday afternoon indeed.

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The game was assuredly afoot.

‘You speak as if Friday’s a formality.’

‘It is. It’s done and dusted, sorted, a doddle.’

‘And yet you seem to be suggesting I should work for you.’

‘Once you’re cleared, yes. If you like. And I don’t want you to work for me: you’ve been doing that, though you’d’ve cut up rough had you realised. I don’t want or wish an employee, a steward, an estate manager. If you don’t choose to stay in London ... Draco, I want a – partner.’

Scorpius and Al were hard pressed to remain silent: the term was fraught with multiple meanings.

Obviously, Draco also had heard them in Harry’s tone. His mind raced as fiercely as did his heart. London had always drawn him, Old Father Thames with his magic reaching well into Wilts to summons strivers to break their hearts in London far. It had been a dream, of vindication, of success; a revisiting of certain glimpses of the moon, upon the scenes of his late father’s illusory triumphs and trumpery victories. And yet.... Here, in this sheltered vale of the West, where other rivers ran, hasting from ancient sources upon sorcerous Dartmoor to the Channel’s chop and the innumerable laughter of the waves, he had found peace.

‘I don’t know what to say.’

‘An assent would be exceeding welcome.’

‘Harry....’

‘Damn it, man! We’ve been the fixed pole around which one another’s lives have revolved for thirty years. Take it that I mean what I say – in all senses.’

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The game was assuredly afoot. Narcissa had called at the Rectory, and ruthlessly turned the conversation to church music, apparently for the express purpose of telling the Rector what an excellent addition to the tenors Draco was to make in the coming years.

‘During his respectable years, in the first part of the interwar period, Lucius sent Draco to a choir school as his pre-Hogwarts prepper. Partly, I think, he believed that it looked well, and fortunately, my son was an accomplished treble and remains a highly competent tenor even today. Yet, also – my late husband was by no means a churchman, of course –’

‘I shouldn’t have thought so, no.’

‘But, like all Malfoys, he had an eye – and ear – for beauty.’

The Rector’s appraising look was rather more Old Salt than clerical.

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The game was fleet, the chase was hot.

‘We can’t know that I’ll not be bloody crucified on Friday!’

‘I can! If I’m wrong –’

‘Which has certainly never happened before, has it!’

‘Not when’s it mattered! Except when it did, and I lost those I loved.’ Harry fiercely and visibly shook off his sadness: Draco could still strike for the heart, damn him. ‘But, damn it, if I’m wrong, then you needn’t accept my offer, and may save your blasted pride! But at least don’t waste your time any further in this damned silly plan to sell me to the Ministry for using Wizarding methods in products sold to Muggles! Do you think I’m such a fool as not to have obtained clearance? My God, Malfoy, the number of licensings a man wants simply to distil anything in both worlds would parchment over half Hogsmeade, d’you imagine I failed to obtain them?’

‘Sell you to the Ministry, Potter?’ Draco essayed a scoffing laugh that didn’t quite come off.

‘Do you deny you had the thought?’

‘Yes!’

‘Draco –’

‘All right! No! I did think it! Damn it, I have a SON!

Harry’s voice was gentle in response. ‘Yes. You do. And a fine one, whom I shall be proud to call my son-in-law. Did you think I didn’t know your loyalty? Or admire it? Can you imagine I’d not forgive it? You were always your bravest – and you are brave – when your family is threatened, or you think it to be. I’m a father, after all: I know. I’ve been rousted from sleep at ungodly hours and peed on when changing a nappy –’

‘Worth it, though. The way they smell after a bath, their first broom –’

‘Oh, yes: even when they’re old enough to know better and still believe they can earwig in under the wonkiest of Disillusionment Charms, in the presence of the Master of the Hallows, right, lads?’

‘Oh, bugger,’ said Albie, quite audibly.

Harry revealed them wandlessly as they stood, blushing faintly and as faintly defiant. Draco had torn strips off their hides with his tongue, had he not, fatally, stopped to glare at them – and thus seen them. They were eavesdropping, after all, out of an overmastering concern, for him and for Harry alike. They were prepared to take the consequences, buoyed by a sense of their own righteousness. (How often, if then in enmity and not alliance, had he and Potter done the same as schoolboys....) And seeing them, caught out and yet faintly defiant precisely because they knew they had erred only from an excess of love, and were in some sort in the right, he saw with sudden clarity that these lads were what he and Harry might have been. He saw as well, as if in the fables he had heard of the Mirror of Erised, that he and Harry might yet be what Albie and Scorpius prefigured. With a sudden, hot shiver of desire, he imagined what changes maturity might have wrought in Harry’s body since the days he had been Al’s age, what delights were hidden beneath Harry’s diffidence and his gentlemanly tweeds. Being an Old Slytherin – being, what was rather more, a father – he let none of this show upon the face he turned upon the miscreants, although what Harry guessed was beyond speculation.

‘You may as well hear the rest, then,’ said Draco, with a fatherly grimness that suggested neither Al nor Scorpius was too old for condign punishment. ‘Harry, you’ll not be turfing Stewart and Orla out on my account. Certainly not before Hubert Henry goes to Hogwarts.’

‘I can put you up at Aveline.’ Harry’s attempt at looking innocent was an abject failure.

‘Cheek. You are not going to – harry – me into this, Potter. I’ll not be chivvied.’

‘Draco –’

‘Harry: why are you lot not overrun with returning trippers and people coming to stay, incomers turning the place into some bloody airy-fairy artist’s colony?’

Harry, unlike the lads, understood this seemingly inconsequent question. ‘Ostensibly? Trippers commonly decide to keep their Secret Vacation Spot to themselves. For Ministry consumption? The usual charms, although they’ve some candy-floss name for them now: they’re still Muggle-Repelling Charms, and I still distrust them. In fact, though? In fact ... you’re aware, I suppose, of the rumours about the Hallows.’

‘That now that they’ve a master, they more or less own you, and not contrariwise? That whenever those three pieces of sentient magical tat think you’re in want of them, the Ring – whole and unmarred – and the Wand – however many times you replace it where it was – appear on your person along with that damned Cloak? Those rumours? Why, yes, Harry, yes, I have, as it happens, heard those rumours.’

‘And you thought you’d throw him to the werewolves to save yourself, and get by with it, Father? Daft!’ Scorpius wilted under his father’s glare. ‘Sorry, I’ll leave off talking now.’

‘The Hallows are powerful, and wayward, if you like; whimsical, at the least. More so than the Sword and the Hat. Now, imagine what the Grail is like. That is the test that determines who stays here in the Vale of Evelake, who goes, who returns: yes. The Muggle-Worthy Excuses lot had a cushy job of it here. Well spotted.’

‘And you seriously consider that I will be allowed to stay?’

Harry, greatly daring, stepped forward and gathered Draco into a loose embrace. Glimpsing once more a stunned Al and Scorpius, seeing in them a prefiguration of what he and Harry might be to one another, Draco unexpectedly failed to bridle and push Harry away. ‘Draco ... even the finest cider wants time to condition and mature, in cask or in bottle. Remember: what matters is potential. And you have that. You’re the first person since Ginny – Witch or Wizard, or Muggle of either sex – not the first I’ve bedded, or wished to do, but the first I’ve ever contemplated wishing to wake up to, for what should be a good six decades at the least.’

The world hung poised and silent for a long moment. Al nor Scorpius dared breathe.

‘You’ll have to woo me, Potter,’ said Draco, warningly. ‘I’m not going to shag on the first date.’

‘What constitutes a date?’

‘Buy me a drink and we’ll talk.’ Perhaps, Draco thought, dreams may come true.

Harry wandlessly summoned two pint glasses and a bottle of cider. ‘Albie; Scorpius. Bugger off.’

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[1] Henley again. Poor Draco really does want to keep up his occlumency.

[2] Who, as all Rumpole fans will recognise, is close kin to Guthrie Featherstone’s clerk.

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