‘The Minister will see you now, Harry, dear.’
‘Thank you, Belisama.’ Harry was not in fact able to answer the grandmotherly secretary more fully, or indeed to rise from his chair, before Kingsley himself strode out to welcome him. ‘Harry! Do come in!’ Kingsley was exceptionally jovial, unconscionably affable, and unnervingly quick to throw an arm across Harry’s shoulders and propel him firmly towards the ministerial sanctum.
Harry recognised immediately that he was soon to be given a particularly shit task.
‘Harry,’ said Kingsley, disarmingly (Harry was in fact by now contemplating disarming him and doing a runner), ‘I want your help. A little task abroad. A doddle.’
‘No doubt.’ When pressed, Harry could attain to the dryness of the late and not altogether lamented Severus Snape.
‘No, really, it is.’ Kingsley’s smile was indulgent. ‘You’d not credit the number of volunteers who’ve besieged me for what is rather clearly a junket. It’s because of the trust and confidence I repose in you – not least to treat this seriously, firmly, and rapidly, and not spin it out into a cushy, Ministry-funded holiday – that I ask your aid.’
Bugger, thought Harry. I had hoped that with Dumbledore gone, I shouldn’t fall so easily for this sort of appeal.
‘It’s Vancouver: the Winter Games.’
‘What possible interest –’
‘I know, I know. And please don’t think I at all mean to blur the hard-won distinction between law enforcement and Aurory: we certainly want not to go back to that. The Canadians, however –’
‘With respect, Minister, the Canadians have a perfectly competent Ministry of their own –’
‘Yes: and the same gracious lady as Sovereign as do we. It’s a commonplace Commonwealth matter, you know. As the host country, it fell to our Canadian counterparts to deal with the ramifications when certain Olympic athletes began accusing others of having a magical advantage.’
‘Then send Justin, he’s the relevant Minister of State at the MFCO. Or if it’s all that serious, send the Foreign Secretary herself.’
‘Oh, I assure you, Finch-Fletchley was the first to volunteer: positively gagging for it.’
‘My dear Harry, accusations of magically enhanced competition? Not really Justin’s pigeon, is it.’
‘Ron’s perfectly able to represent Magical Games and Sports, he can take an appointment. The shops aren’t that busy, surely, and I know quite as well as you do that there’s nothing portentous going forward in Equipment and Support. After all, when he’s not posing as a captain of industry and acting in fact as QMG, Ron does edit Wizden’s.’ Harry was referring to Wizden’s Quidditchers’ Almanack. the inspiration – with a slight change of name and elision of the initial possessive apostrophe, in the interest of avoiding legal complications – for its Muggle counterpart, the cricketing statistics bible.
Harry noted with pleasure that Kingsley was becoming a trifle impatient with him: far preferable, Harry considered, to the earlier and suspect bonhomie he’d assumed. ‘Although the mission is not precisely diplomatic, it does require some diplomacy, Harry. And Ron has less of that even than you. Moreover, Weasley is precisely not the sort whom one might find volunteering for this billet, and in fact would refuse it. Might it be clearer to you were I to note that the allegations – which have now spread past the initial claim – involve accusations of magical cheating on the part of male skaters?’
Harry was too angry to answer.
‘Oh, damn it, Potter. That Aster-Greengrass-as-was developed a pash on your wife, and that Ginny reciprocated it, was always going to be an open secret. That both marriages have remained intact and the situation … discreet … for the sake of the sprogs, is admirable. I don’t know and I cannot be arsed to care if you have or haven’t found mutual solace with your counterpart, and I make certain that the Ministry gossips are kept firmly to a whisper. The fact remains, you’re likely to be less of a shit about the mission than Weasley would be.’
‘Ta,’ said Harry, icily. ‘Mind, it does explain why Justin was so quick to volunteer. In fact, I can guess at most of those who begged to go. Would details be too much to ask?’
Kingsley carefully did not show any triumph. He didn’t at all care to have had to stoop to these tactics, but Potter – deservedly, in some sense – did tend to be an over-mighty subject, and Kingsley had a government to carry on. ‘The initial accusation was levelled by one of the Oriental athletes against an American skater, who, it was suggested, Might Be a Werewolf, O the Horror.’
‘A Yank male skater? The rather, er, effeminate one with the appalling, if naïve, nostalgia for the KGB and the Comintern?’
‘No, no. Speed skating, not that silliness in sequins. It was – is, rather – the very quick one with the Oriental father.’
‘And it’s spread, since: disgruntled athletes who failed of their ambitions – shocking lack of the sporting ethos in this lot, but, then, they’re not British or Commonwealth chaps, I don’t suppose they can help it – in any event those who’ve been disappointed of their hopes are seeing trolls in bobsleds and Veela on the ice and other assorted balls. The Canadians wish to tamp this down before it becomes an open scandal –’
‘And as you’ve so kindly insinuated, I’m experienced in tamping down open scandal, yes.’ Harry was tart.
Kingsley was equally tart in response: wholly the Minister now, driving where he could not coax. ‘What you are usefully skilled in, Brigadier-Auror, is in overawing opposition, and, should this not be in fact rubbish retailed by poor sports, in dealing with emergencies. You leave tomorrow. Whom do you wish to have detailed to you as a team?’
Harry was, when it came to it, a highly disciplined Auror. He would argue a proposal; an order was to be obeyed. ‘I shan’t hear the end of it, no doubt, in light of what we’ve alluded to; nevertheless, I’ve no choice but to ask that the Unspeakables second Malfoy to me. If there are Veela, I should be remiss were I not to put Dennis Creevey on strength.’ Gabrielle’s husband, for all his mousy and painfully extrovert integument, was both utterly fearless and highly experienced in – and unaffected by – the ways and charms of his wife’s people. ‘I really don’t see turning Rubeus loose upon the innocent Muggles of BC … damn it, though, there’s no one else –’
‘Mrs Scamander has, you know, occasionally assisted the Ministry.’
‘Right. That will answer. Luna, then: I think we four suffice.’
‘I should think so indeed. Tomorrow, please, here: I’ll give you your elevenses – God knows when you’ll next see a decent cuppa, or real biscuits – and then your Portkey. I’ll see to it that your team are assembled.’
The next morning found Harry, Draco, Den, and Luna portkeying by stages to Vancouver, via Garvagh, Akranes, Qaqortoq, St John’s, LaSalle, and Lloydminster. Judging by the appallingly early hour at which they therefore arrived at Vancouver, it appeared that the morning had not cared greatly for what it had found in them.
They were met all the same at this ungodly hour by the Wizarding Lieutenant Governor, Sir Euan Antrobus-Erskine KCB DSO OBC (as is commonly the case, the Wizarding realms of the Commonwealth are far more tightly bound to the UK than are their Muggle counterparts in these thin and piping times), and the Deputy Commissioner of E Division, the Royal Canadian Wizarding Police, John Ross Chattan-Mackintosh OOM. Draco, typically, immediately began making up to Sir Euan, whilst Harry, immaculate in No. 1 dress uniform even at this hour, as immediately found a kindred spirit in the Deputy Commissioner.
Fortified by the inevitable North American coffee – even in Canada, that pernicious American drink has become popular in place of honest tea – they swiftly agreed their division of tasks, and as swiftly set Den and Luna to their tasks in the guises of, respectively, a BBC cameraman and a journalist for the News of the Screws. Harry and Draco were impossible to disguise or conceal, and would go about their business as openly as the International Statute of Secrecy (Reformed) 2002 would permit.
Several hours later after a rest that had become irresistible, Harry and Draco, garlanded with passes that not even visiting royalty were possessed of, were in the throngs of hangers-on and athletes that crowded the Olympic Village. Harry had long admitted to himself that, had he, like Dumbledore, become a schoolmaster after his defeat of a Dark Lord, he might have retained a faith in human innocence; having instead spent his life on the sharp end, he was inclined instead – and recognised and guarded against the tendency – to look upon the mass of humanity with a doubtful eye. (Draco, of course, simply surveyed lesser mortals with disdain.) This far, Harry had not been terribly impressed: the country ’round was pleasant in a sort of Disneyfied fashion that seemed to have been cleverly designed to evoke bits of Scotland, some of the West of Ireland, and the pining fjords of Scandinavia, but he felt a certain falsity in it that was more than the anomalously unwintry weather. It was if the land protested its use, and the presence of pallid Europeans who had shouldered the First Nations aside. Vancouver, also, exuded a chiming and rhyming air of having been prettified and falsified for the Olympic Games: there was a desperate feel to its attempt at being well-scrubbed, and a certain totalitarian note in how it seemed to have bundled its poor and its ill-served forcibly out of sight. And of course the Canadians they’d met … frightfully polite, hopelessly innocent and confiding, relentlessly bien-pensant people: only in his uniformed and governmental counterparts had Harry discovered the Canadian spirit of Vimy Ridge and of Dieppe. As an old Auror and a very senior officer, Harry had long hated war, and not least because it took the best and bravest, and disproportionately left behind those who must be, in Mill’s terms, made and kept free by the exertions of others.
The same uneasy unreality afflicted the Olympic Village. When Harry saw, or thought he saw, a familiar face in the crush, he was glad of it.
‘I say, there’s Carswell MP. Oi! Douglas!’
As the man with the curious under-bite minced towards them, it was immediately clear that he was not in fact a Tory Member – and was a much younger man, and a Yank to boot.
He surveyed them coolly. ‘Mmmm,’ purred he. ‘Actually, my name’s Paris – every celebrity should have a blond friend named “Paris” – but you two can call me whatever you like, and I shall call you “Daddy”.’
‘Er. Terribly sorry, thought you were someone we knew.’
‘I can be whoever you like, sweetcakes.’
‘Ah. Most kind of you. Er. In that event, perhaps you might be our guide: we’re looking for the United States skaters.’
Paris sighed dramatically. ‘They always are. I’m forever the BFF, and never the boyfriend – it’s a curse. I suppose you’re Johnny’s fans?’
Malfoy intervened at this point, and the tone of his voice was very much the same as that which he generally directed towards Blaise when Blaise was camping it more than commonly. ‘Specifically, the speed skaters, on a matter of governmental business: we are from the British Ministry.’
‘Oh! They’re in an entirely different part of this bijou little camp. I can show you – walk this way.’
Harry affected not to hear Draco’s sotto voce, ‘Couldn’t walk that way if I tried.’
Den Creevey, who had glamoured his wand to resemble a video camera and was thoroughly and at all points in the guise of a BBC cameraman, had already cast sufficient revelatory charms to know that few if any of the athletes were of mixed magical ancestry. Luna, for her part – having inevitably wandered well away from the Olympics as such and become immediate friends with a First Nations herb-woman – was becoming quite certain, really, that there was little trace of magic in by far the majority of the competitors.
Paris – it struck Harry as ominous that the lad’s surname sounded like, and perhaps was, ‘Childers’: next thing one knew, one should find him running illegal wands into Ireland in a small ketch – had left them at the gates of the compound (‘rather an inert compound,’ had Draco muttered) that housed the US men’s speed skaters, departing with the wistful comment that, ‘Well, it’s not quite up to Johnny’s standard, but Apolo does have a really nice ass: play nicely, daddies.’ Fortunately for Harry’s peace of mind, they were soon joined by an RCWP Superintendent, seconded to the Muggle RCMP, and a Special Agent of the Americans’ Federal Bureau of Ensorcellation, kitted out with faultless FBI credentials from his Muggle counterpart agency. The four soon ran the unjustly accused American speed skater to ground.
‘Sorry to trouble you, sir. We’re a trifle concerned for security and your safety, you know – you’ve had death threats before, I think? No, no,’ said the bluff and fatherly Superintendent MacPhee, ‘we must take these things seriously, you know. And so we do: so much so, eh?, that we even prayed in aid the Mother Country’s expertise. Brigadier Porteous and Mr Malford have a few questions they’d like to put to you, if you don’t mind.’
The American gave the two Britons a rueful and self-deprecating – but not, Harry considered, a suspiciously toothy or infectious – smile. Werewolf, my arse, thought Harry, and faintly felt Draco, beside him, imperfectly Occluding his thoughts, thinking something presumably similar, of which Harry could catch only the words werewolf and arse.
‘Quite,’ said Harry. ‘You will be attending the Closing Ceremonies?’
‘Oh, of course. I mean, you have to, right?’
‘Full moon that night,’ said Draco, his eyes watchful.
The skater looked puzzled; then his face cleared. ‘Oh. All the crazies out, huh? Well, I still plan to be there. Gotta show the respect, you know.’
‘Indeed one must,’ said Harry. ‘Now, a few brief queries – we shan’t detain you.’ And he proceeded to ask about several past dates, at roughly monthly intervals. The answers clearly satisfied him. ‘Right, then. I think we can preserve you from any stalking.’ Draco shot him a speaking look. ‘And with that, we’ll leave you to your sport. Best of British luck, young man.’
Harry turned in the doorway and asked one final question. ‘I say: would you tell me again the name of the competitor who seems to have such a down on you?’
They dined that night with Den and Luna, and received their reports, which were almost uniformly negative. Certainly there were athletes present – mostly American and Canadian, those countries, like the Anzacs, having long been more relaxed regarding intermarriage than had the European states – who were not altogether human, and there were Squibs and Wizards scattered amidst the Muggles, but it was clear that no rules had been infringed, no illegal enhancements used, and no active magical powers employed in the competition. (Passive magical power arising from intermixtures of blood was beyond their remit.) Measures had been agreed to end the backbiting and accusations, and to protect those athletes who had been victimised and against whom factitious outrage had been incited. It had indeed been, as Kingsley had expected, a doddle.
Den excused himself to go for a few pints with the Beeb cameramen, who – as they were discreetly charmed to do – had hailed him as a mate of long standing. Luna, before taking leave to go on a moonlight nature walk with some shamans she had managed already to befriend, stopped and spoke quietly to Harry and Draco.
‘We needn’t leave until quite late tomorrow, you know. You’ve a night before you for your fun.’
Harry goggled at her; Draco looked pointedly away.
‘Oh, really,’ said Luna, in tones of mild reproach. ‘Asteria had always wanted someone masterful to look up to; you, Draco, after the War, were in want of being cared for, of having someone else take the lead for a time. As for you, Harry, dear, well, through no fault of your own, Ginny had always been rather a beggar-maid to your King Cophetua. Someone who wanted to worship her and knew of her role in the Hogwarts Resistance – well. Oh, don’t look at me with that expression, dear, I know you always tried to treat her as an equal. I also know what even dear Kingsley only guesses. You two deserve some peace, and I think you make a lovely couple, really. I’ll call for you about eleven, then? Good night, dears, and have fun.’ As she fluttered away, more like a large nocturnal moth than ever, she murmured, ‘Oh, and Den left you, well – a final report in your rooms….’
When they entered their suite, with its two bedrooms for ostensibly separate use, they were alarmed to see that a visitor was awaiting them: a willowy figure-skater with hair as dark and as unfortunate as Harry’s own, a nose that showed what Snape’s had been meant to be had it been properly proportioned, and a kit comprised of Capri pants with a ‘Hello Kitty’ motif appliquéd upon them and a very tight shirt covered in paste and sequins, bearing the legend, ‘Johnny, Are You Weir?’. He did not quail at the sight of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy with wands trained steadily upon him. Rather, he pouted. ‘You might have come to me,’ said he. ‘I could have spared you several hours of work.’
‘And you are?’
The visitor gestured to his shirtfront.
‘More pertinently,’ said Harry, grimly, ‘how did you access this suite?’
Their visitor sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘Den said he’d left a note.’
So he had done. Harry scanned it – it was quite brief – and passed it to Draco.
‘You’re a male Veela.’
‘Yes, yes. I know – but honestly, darling, I only turn it on when I’m skating with Stéphane for fun, I’d never use it in competition. And I could have saved you ever so much time if you’d only asked: everyone knows, all the athletes, I mean, who is and who isn’t. Well, magical, too. And that little South Korean bitch is utterly full of shit, there isn’t a dangerous Being or Beast in these Games at all. Unless you want me to be dangerous?’
Harry, who was by his own admission the straightest and blandest bisexual Wizard in the United Kingdom and Her Majesty’s other realms and territories beyond the seas, noticed that the mannerisms that had at first seemed annoyingly effeminate were increasingly fluid and fluent, instinct with beauty that was no whit the less masculine for its androgynous grace. He hadn’t time to notice anything further, as their guest was now saying, throatily and seductively, ‘I suppose, as I’ve cost you so much wasted time, I could make it up to you,’ and Draco was pulling him rather forcefully into the next room.
‘Harry, don’t be a fool. I know you’re relatively immune to Veela, but we’re not all of us so bloody-minded.’ Draco shook his head as if to clear it.
‘Yes, all right, but we can’t simply toss him out, we’ll want to take him back to the Village discreetly, I shouldn’t want him to be disqualified or some damned thing for assisting us with our enquiries –’
‘Potter, you adorably thick moron.’ Draco was whispering hotly in his ear. ‘I don’t want to chuck him out, you fool, I want us to take him up on his offer.’
‘Veela. Third best arse on the planet, behind mine and yours. Threesome. Now.’ Draco, damn the man, had put his tongue in Harry’s ear, which always ended their arguments quite effectively by the simple expedient of shutting Harry’s brain function down quite comprehensively.
The next morning, a rather hollow-eyed and drained, if irrepressibly smug, Harry and Draco asked their Canadian and Yank counterparts to escort the figure skater back to the athletes’ compound with many thanks for his assistance with their enquiries. Den and Luna carefully kept their faces blank, although inwardly cheering (and in Luna’s case, imagining rather a lot, though her fantasies were not a patch on what had actually transpired).
By the time they had returned to London, it was rather late in the day to report to Kingsley. They minuted their success and arranged to meet the Minister just before luncheon the next day. As they turned in, Draco looked at Harry admiringly. ‘I don’t know which was the more impressive. Your performance in bed, or your tempering justice with mercy on finding that some of the competitors, whether technically in breach of the rules or no, had special advantages.’
Harry dragged him down into their own comfortable bed. ‘I’ll happily demonstrate the prowess yet again – I shouldn’t wish it thought to have been a one-off. As for bending the rules of sport … my dear Draco, it was only the Olympics, you know. Not as if it were the Ashes.’
The next forenoon, Draco was already seated in Kingsley’s office when Harry, to the consternation of everyone and with his usual disregard for the putatively impossible, Apparated into it. He handed a sputtering Kingsley a Muggle CD, and laid out a spread of Chinese takeaway with the flick of his wand.
‘We came bearing gifts,’ said he.
‘Long way to go for takeaway,’ said Kingsley, warily.
‘This? Oh, I braved Muggle Soho for it just now, in the rain. I hope you like beef chow mein.’
Kingsley looked at him strangely. ‘And a Warren Zevon CD – I’ve heard of him, he was popular what time your father and Black and Remus were marauding about.’
‘Yes. Well worth a listen. Particularly before the next time you send us out chasing werewolves on the bare word of someone named Lee Ho-Suk.’