The annual knawel had set its last flowers and gone to seed. The seed-pods that give bird’s-foot its name had begun to swell, displacing the red-veined creamy flowers of August. The yellow flowerets even of black medick had begun to become lost in the swathes of gold and tawny that were over-painting the greens of the Summertide. Dense-flowered fumitory, too, no longer pointed the chalk downlands with bursts of fuchsia, magenta, and cerise. Cornsalads had spent themselves, their neighbouring spurges almost alone bearing the floral banner yet aloft. The equinox had not yet come once more to proclaim as herald the accession of Autumn and the passing of the Green King of Summer; yet the robin was gathering her sway, the cuckoo long silent, and field-mouse and harvest-mouse were busying themselves already. The first intimations of the great clouds and gatherings that are the starlings’s response to their Harvest Home were being adumbrated in the still, blue sky, and swallows were displaying their first premonitory restlessness. The first King Edward potatoes were waiting their butter and salt to accompany the Sunday joint, and children had on Saturday picked brambles in every hedgerow.
The parishioners of Sutton Littlecombe, poised between the sun-drunk somnolence of Summertide and the gilt glories and sharp labour of the harvest time, sat calmly in the cool and shadowed nave, their thoughts upon the tilth and pasture, the cornlands and the flocks, of their terrestrial Eden, demi-Paradise, and all unknowing of who it was that dwelt amongst them and what dread challenge drew near them. The Revd Mr Priday – ‘Call-me-Bill’ – had gone away on holiday, and a certain holiday atmosphere had in turn fallen upon the parish in the absence of his bleating earnestness and his unremitting right-thinking and obtrusive mateyness. The parish were perfectly willing to sit decorously and remove their thoughts to other interests for so long as it pleased old Canon Broddside to give them, in place of Call-me-Bill’s taking his text from SS Tony, Ming, Bono, and Zac, forty solid Edwardian minutes of orthodox theology and reasoned discourse. It all made for a change, after all, and that was always interesting.
In the choir, amidst their fellow choristers, Harry, safely ensconced amongst the other basses, and Draco, languidly adorning the tenors, were mostly considering the remaining intricacies of the service music for the day – Ireland in C – with occasional meditations upon, firstly, the vast improvement the new organs had made, secondly, the piquancy of having so many incognito Wizards and Witches larding the worshippers, and, thirdly, the reason why their friends and old schoolfellows were in attendance of a Sunday, that being the imminent commencement of the only nominally friendly Sunday forty-over match between the Sutton Littlecombe Second XI, of which they were ornaments, and the hated-enemy-of-the-week from Christian Malford.
‘…the thousand names, the innumerable synecdoches, for God, attest to his transcendence. The omnipotent creator of all things is, in the old sense, terrible, awful – a term now so debased that it must be replaced with the American term, “awesome”, which, I am given to understand, is used by the American Nonconformists equally for God, surfboards, and what I am told are called “burritos”, whatever those may be. And yet – ’
Of the magical folk seated in the congregation, dutifully supporting Harry and Draco in their capacity as their hosts and as choristers, although, naturally, really present only to watch them on the pitch so soon as this ordeal should be over, only Luna, who of all of them seemed least attentive to old Canon Broddside – she had already twice referred to him, over breakfast, as ‘Canon Chudleigh’ – was, with, to a lesser degree, Justin, paying any mind to the sermon at all. Beside her, Neville, whose opinion of liturgy and sermon was precisely what one would expect of a stalwart of the Pendle Hill Society of Friends (Wizarding Meeting), was studying the ornament of pew and pillar, hammer-beam angel-roof and clerestory, and wincing at the crudity of the botany portrayed.
‘…but we are concerned rather with the immanence of God. The highest, the remote, the creator of all things, the transcendent, became immanent, for he was made man. The Incarnation hallowed forever our mere created flesh. God descended from a throne immeasurably remote and took on our flesh and dwelt amongst us. Before the Incarnation, he could be addressed, referred to, only by indirection, as befitted his transcendence. After the Incarnation, we are allowed to call him “Abba”, Father. And so you may see…’
Justin, who had been brought up in the odour of the Establishment as a good, solid, East Anglian Low Churchman, kept his own counsel as to the more Anglo-Catholic strains in old Canon Broddside’s sermon, but he was at least comforted by its length, logic, and orthodoxy, all of which were he felt sadly out of fashion in the all-too-modern C of E. Blaise, for his part, elegantly bored as he sat with negligent grace next his Justin, was reflecting upon how fortunate the Wizarding dispensation within his own communion was, to have not been bound by Vatican II and its abandonment of Latin and liturgical propriety, without which, frankly, one might as well be C of E, which at least could yet attain to a dignity long lost in the Muggle Roman church with the abandonment of the Tridentine rite.
‘…yet, if there is now an immanent and personal God to whom we may have recourse, so too must we remember that there is a personal devil. For we fight against powers and principalities…’
Ginny, for her part, with Hermione, Molly, and Aunt Andromeda, was exclusively absorbed in keeping a minatory eye upon the gaggle of children whose capacity for mischief was adequately indicated by their possession, in varying degrees, of Black, Potter, Lupin, Tonks, Weasley, and indeed Malfoy blood. Powers and principalities were all very well, but when it came to a daily personal struggle against Original Sin, old Canon Broddside wanted to try managing this lot before he stood up in a pulpit and began gassing on….
‘…evil, of course, in many guises. All of us strive against it, and of course, there are those in this congregation whose vocation and service it is to confront evil in its most fearsome manifestations on a daily basis…’
The Brigadier, attending upon his aunt, Lady P, and rather hoping that the village cricket would in some wise compensate for the annoyances inherent in stopping with his aunt for the weekend – he had, within ten minutes of tea on Friday, regretted not pleading pressure of work and remaining at Shrivenham – tended to take that remark of old Canon Broddside’s as being to his address, and that of the other secret warriors whom it was his task to train; and of those whom he had not trained but whom he recognised and approved, such as Potter, and Malfoy, and Weasley, and that long Lancashire lad Professor Longbottom, all of whom were by way of being favourites of the formidable Lady P as well. A few pews back and over on the decani side, Old Gryffindor Jack Sloper exchanged the ghost of a wink with his Muggle – but well-informed – uncle, the churchwarden, who had done so much to draw both Harry and Draco into the life of the parish, from vestry to ringing to the choir. They knew, if old Canon Broddside did not, just how personal a struggle with some of the forces of evil certain of those in the choir and the nave had fought.
‘…as we all may call God our father, we are likewise one family. The Church, the company of all believers, may be conceived under many names and metaphors: the Bride of Christ, the People of God: yet what I most wish to impress upon you are two conceits. The Church upon earth, the living members of the Body, is the Church Militant, an army. And the Church is also a family, and all of us are to one another brothers and sisters in Christ.’
George Weasley, in his pew, with Percy at his side like a bodyguard, appeared to be turning a deaf and artificial ear to old Canon Broddside; yet Arthur, a pew behind, knew better. If, Arthur reflected, Our George seemed to be turning an artificial ear to old Canon Broddside, it was akin to Nelson’s putting his sceletope – no, that wasn’t right, was it? Ah. Yes. ‘Tellus Scope’ – to his blind eye: George knew what the message was, and was going his own way. And in truth, George was reflecting upon brothers and brotherhood, and how he might persuade Percy that Percy had more than atoned for his manifold sins and trespasses, and need no longer make a vocation and a penance of attempting to smooth George’s way, of coddling George to an extent even Molly would be incapable of, of trying to make himself over to be George’s lost Fred. It was desperately good and loving and penitent of Percy, but it was past time it was ended, as much for George’s sake as for poor old Perce’s.
‘I need not, I imagine, tell this congregation, with so many Service families in our midst, that men fight only at a remove for Crown and country, for the Sovereign’s and the Regimental Colours. Rather, they fight immediately for the extended family that a regiment is, for their brothers in that regiment, for their immediate band of brothers. And so it is that the Church Militant is a family, a band of brothers; so it is that we do, in the words of the Collect for today appointed, “true and laudable service”…’
In the porch, to which they had noiselessly Apparated from the Ministry, and where they were waiting out the sermon so as not to cause a stir, Ron and Kingsley, listening, were recalled to old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago.
Finally, old Canon Broddside wrapped up his thunderous periods and brought his oratorical flights to earth, and said the Offertory sentences.
‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
‘Who goeth a warfare at any time of his own cost? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
‘Blessed be the man that provideth for the sick and needy: the Lord shall deliver him in the time of trouble.’
And, as Ron and Kingsley slipped into their places, the choir rose, and responded with full throat and voice, to the setting of William Walton,
‘Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:
for love is strong as death
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it:
for love is strong as death.’
And the Offertory being concluded, old Canon Broddside, on this quiet and unremarkable Sunday amongst the interminable Sundays after Trinity, said, ‘Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here in earth….’
It is often thought by Wizards that ‘Muggles simply do not notice’: that, like the good Dr Watson, they see, but they do not observe. This is not, strictly, true. Natural selection over the centuries has caused Wizards to develop an unconscious magic that helps them hide themselves amidst Muggle neighbours when they dwell in such places as Tinworth, Mould-on-the-Wold, Upper Flagley, and Godric’s Hollow. And the Muggles benefit mightily: as in Sutton Littlecombe, where the presence of manorial Wizards dowers them with amenities other villages and districts can scarce recall having had since the spacious pre-War days. And they accept this as being the way of things, and even visitors subtly forget the happy anomaly as they depart.
Just as a sort of natural Muffliato guards Wizarding names from Muggle ears, and prevents Muggles hearing such startling variations as when Wizards sing their own words to the hymns (‘All things bright and magical’ for example, ‘Lead, kindly Lumos’, or ‘Lift up your heads, ye cauldrons brass, ye wards of iron, yield, and let the King of Glory pass; the Cross is in the field’, or of course that staple of every meeting of the Witches’s Institute, ‘Bring me my wand! O clouds, unfold! Bring me my hippogriff of fire! I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my wand sleep in my hand, ’til we have built Jerusalem in Britain’s green and magic land’), so too does this subconscious and autonomous magic lull Muggles in such fortunate places as Sutton Littlecombe into not realising their fortune in possessing a marvellously preserved Buttercross in the market square, an unimpeachable farm shop groaning with unblemished produce, and an undiminished trinity of pure, sweet, and sacred water-sources, St Aldhelm’s Spring, St Aldhelm’s Well, and the Village Pump beside.
They accept as due and right – as very meet, right, and their bounden duty – the downs and their orchids and butterflies, the woods and coppices, ash, beech, oak, and field maple, rowan, wild cherry, holly, and hazel, bluebells in their season and willow, alder, and poplar in the wetter ground. They accept as proper and unremarkable the badger and the squirrel, the roe deer and the rabbit, the fox and the pheasant, as the companions of their walks and days. They remark with pleasure, yet take as granted, the hedgerow and the garden, the riot of snowdrops, primroses, and cowslips, the bright flash of kingfishers, the dart of swallows and the peaceful homeliness of house martins, the soft nocturnal glimmer of glow-worm and the silent nocturnal swoop of owl.
And so it was, naturally and unthinkingly, that the village turned out for the match, amongst them old Canon Broddside in a broad soft hat, his words of the morning forgotten by his erstwhile auditors as soon as uttered; so it was that the village turned out for the match, pleasantly replete with Sunday joint and mash and trifle, turned out for the match upon a village green that was the envy even of far Marden as it was of every village in the county.
The gentle sun had long since burnt away the earliest morning’s fog, that had bedewed and bejewelled the first autumnal spider webs in hedgerow and rosebush (for the hiding-away of which Ron was most heartily and unfeignedly thankful).
The green was vast, its turf immemorial, ecclesiastical, verdant: full, springy, fern-green, malachite, and viridian: and more than capacious enough to sport pitch, pond, and bandstand, all three. The parish church anchored one end, and the WI and the Mothers’s Union competed for gustatory honours in setting out a late-summery cream tea on long, trestle tables.
The Coronation Hall, last remodelled for the Golden Jubilee, stood just across the Grovely Road – at its junction with Cornbadger’s Lane, which weaves its tipsy way towards the eponymous ford and mill at Twatford Mulliner, and thence to Starveall and Stony Down across the river – just across the Grovely Road, as we said, from the Buttercross end, the end furthest from the church end: a centre point of village life and amusement, and a refuge from sun or any rain. Within, those in charge of the evening’s jollifications were chatting, and waiting. If the weather held, there would be a band, the village’s own pride, the Silver Band, in the dimpsey, and an illumination all ’round the green as the twilight deepened on the land. The glow-worms in the churchyard would, doubtless, provide their own lumière show later on.
The British Legion branch had kindly provided ice-cream, Signor Blanco’s best, and the children’s choir were getting stuck in before going back outside. They and the hand-bell choir – if, as was by no means certain, they had not made themselves sick with ice-cream and the hand-bell choir had not spent overlong in the pub – were to be a part of the evening’s festivities, along with the Silver Band, after Evensong. Ad interim, they would follow every ball of every over with a critical eye and an unshakeable conviction that they, when they were of age, would do better, raaaaather.
Opposite the Coronation Hall, across the green, on the Fonthill Road, the White Horse, a proud free house since its establishment in the days of Good Queen Anne, was doing a brisk trade in cider and real ale. The parish, to a man, smiled to see the green so filled with folk, in place of ponies and cattle: for all the village pride in their cricketers, they’d not had a day quite so eager and as thronged as this since the Pony Club gymkhana, last month, or even the Flower Show back in the Springtide. But then, neither Mr Potter nor Mr Malfoy had been available for the intervening matches.... Lady P had already been in deep consultations with the White Horse’s jovial landlord, Mr Albert Hemmings, regarding the Village Show and Fair upcoming, and the Harvest Festival, so there was that to look forward to. Beside the pub, a marquee afforded extra shade, and those intent on conversation had clustered there. The village fire brigade were running a tombola, heavily supported by several of the young women, who appeared to be rather more interested in the firemen than in the prizes on offer. Lady P and old Canon Broddside’s spinster sister were keeping keen eyes on the smaller sproglets, one of whom had already been sent home with strict instructions to change clothes, into something that did not look like the outfit of a Whitechapel harlot, scaled down. There’d be none of that sort of thing here, by God.
The sky was perfect, as blue as the butterflies that adorned each sunny surface fit for basking; the breeze gentle, and the air murmurous with the hum of bees and the drowsy susurrations of wood-pigeon and stock-dove. There were shy, largely unseen bullfinches in the ancient hedge that bounds the pub’s back garden, where it slopes down towards the winterbourne. The ancient turf was sweet underfoot, and God, assuredly, an Englishman today: here, at least, There Would Always Be an England. Just beyond the peaceful, quiet churchyard, the village trailed away into countryside: white horses in the chalk, and larks, above, ascending. Sand martins were on the wing above the river and the quarry, thrushes and meadow pipits darted and fluttered. Local JPs and the district medico were talking of roses and wall-fruit: the good doctor was complaining of his never-ending war against a nearby sett of badgers who had taken his garden’s bulbs as a buffet supper for the third year, now.
The Ringer’s Guild were hosting their opposite numbers from a Southwold parish and a Berkshire parish; not a few once served in the same regiment, the old RGBW, and its forebears.
Some of the village youths, intent upon seeing the cricket, were trailing back, muddy, damp, and chuffed, with the trophies of a day’s fishing, their long poles casting shadows in the afternoon’s long slant of light that recalled the spears of Alfred’s army when Wessex fought the Dane.
And just outside this charmed circle, where the countryside began, the Ancient ever and always is: the land everlasting, sacred with circles and henges, horse-carven, stream-scrolled and fluted, rich; otters and voles slide into the waters and play in the wild cress, dormice sleep in coppiced bluebell-woods, foxes and deer, nightingales and woodcock, make them their homes in ancient woods of oak and ash, beech and silver birch; and the great bustard once again makes the downs its home.
It was for this, Harry reflected, that they had fought.
It was apt that Harry should reflect upon his late war and victory, and the uses of victory: for Ron, called to the Ministry over breakfast and before church, and having returned accompanied by Kingsley himself, had brought back also news of grave import.
‘Who’s your next match against?’
‘Hmmm? After today?’ Harry frowned a moment, and then remembered. ‘Oh, a friendly against the Sunday side from Kilmington & Stourton. That’s in a fortnight, mind: we’ve nothing on until then. Dangerous lot, KSCC, damned good and damned crafty. Make an interesting end to the season. Why?’
Kingsley looked grave. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve heard that they’ve a ringer?’
Draco snorted. ‘As in Grandsire Triples, or as in some demon bowler with County form who’s pretending to be a simple rustic hind from Norton Ferris? This is village cricket, Minister, it makes mere warfare seem genteel.’
‘As in the latter. Specifically, a chap named Gul.’
‘Gul. Nazim Gul. A recent incomer from Oop North, and already, I’m told, given the name “Nazgul” by those who’ve been bowled by him.’
‘Kind of you to tell us, Shack,’ said Harry, impeccably flannelled and imperturbable, his eye already assessing the wicket, ‘but would you condescend to inform me as to why this is Ministry business of what must surely be a bloody urgent nature?’
‘Because, Auror Potter, Malfoy here has somehow gotten hold of the right end of the wand. The term “demon bowler” is apt. Nazim Gul – a Muggle, I may add – is originally from, as it happens, Todmorden.’
‘Ah.’ Harry was very much on the alert. It was in Todmorden that the Evanses had dwelt for a time, when Lily had been young, and it was in Spinner’s End, in Todmorden (well, Cokeworth, strictly), that Severus Snape had lived.
‘Played,’ said Ron, with a strange reluctance, ‘for the Todmorden Second XI and was unremarkable in every way. Well. Until last year. They were playing a weekday twenty-over match there in Yorkshire. Put him in to bowl. It was an away match. He took a hat trick. For the rest of the year, he was untouchable. Hat tricks were nothing to him; he took six, seven, eight wickets in as many balls. You’d imagine he was sought after: wooed by selectors and All That. Funny thing – rum, in fact – somehow, instead, without anyone’s saying just how or why, he made the place too hot to hold him. And since that time, this bloke – a Muggle, mind you – has turned up, briefly, in Upper Flagley … then in Mould-on-the-Wold … then Tinworth…. And now he’s here, well, Kilmington, just midways ’tween here and bleedin’ Godric’s Hollow, and set to face you and Cousin Ferret on the pitch. I don’t like coincidences.’
‘There are,’ chorused Kingsley, Draco, and Harry, ‘no coincidences! Constant vigilance!’
‘Right. And the worst of it is where this bloke was, when he suddenly transformed into someone who ought to be a Test cricketer. I said it was an away match, there in Yorkshire?’
‘Yeeeeees….’ Harry knew he was not going to like this at all.
‘Little Hangleton, mate.’
The turf of the Sutton Littlecombe village green was, as may possibly have been remarked, deep, lush, immemorial, and ecclesiastical. The wicket, in consequence, ranged, depending upon weather, from green to fair: the sort of wicket that was once known the length and breadth of England, before the pursuit of £.s.d. by English cricket and English cricketers led them into evil courses, into the days of pitches covered against God’s own weather, into the severance of cricket’s ancient links with the natural order. It was the perfect wicket for seam bowling and suited, when fair, to spin bowling as well; old men who remembered the great days at Bradford, Southend, and Tunbridge Wells, at Gloucester and Cheltenham, Portsmouth and Basingstoke, Taunton and Bath, often saw, or fondly believed that they saw, upon the Sutton Littlecombe wicket, flashes of a form and style of cricket that is now but a memory.
And on a day such as today, with the wicket tending fair as the afternoon sun burnt off the morning’s dew, it was the perfect wicket for the crafty local form of finger-spin, of which Harry and Draco alike, their hands long conditioned to the snitch, were masters. The pace bowlers of Christian Malford, for all their graft and cunning, and for all the late swing at the command of their captain and premier bowler, young Hulbert-Jacques, were likely to rue this day’s work, and their batsmen to curse the names – and hypnotising flight of the finger-spun cherry – of Messrs Malfoy and Potter; and of the blazing Sutton Littlecombe seam-merchant, the left-handed David Applegate, whose delight it was to feast upon opposing batsmen demoralised by the spinners they had faced in the early overs at the hands of Potter and Malfoy.
Sutton Littlecombe having won the toss, their captain, that same David Applegate, had elected to bat first: his instincts were always those of the poacher-turned-gamekeeper, not to say the buccaneer, and limited-overs matches always brought his most cutthroat tendencies to the fore. The Christian Malford Sunday XI were more at home on their own, less temperamental pitch, and Applegate the Shrewd looked forward with savage delight to seeing their usual strategies for fast bowling on a green wicket come to grief. A green wicket may be presumed by some to favour the bowler, as the ball’s erratic and literally eccentric behaviour comes into play – the more so, of course, for slower bowlers and spin artists, but to some effect even for the proud pacemen of such sides as that fielded today by Christian Malford. But when the bowlers are less than intimately familiar with the peculiarities of the green wicket and the batsmen are masters of its secrets, it may be the bowler who is surprised, not to say startled, by the behaviour of the ball – and its flight to boundary when the batsman shows no surprise at all, and smites it for four or for six.
The shrewd and cunning David Applegate had also matched his batting order to the conditions, and to the prejudices of his opponents. If there were two batsmen on whom he could rely to fulfil the customary openers’s functions of defending their wickets and taking the shine off the ball, and who could also, as is essential in limited-overs matches, bat aggressively for a high rate of runs and take full advantage of the restrictions on fielding placement that are a corollary of the limted-overs format, they were Potter and Malfoy. Either – both – could well suit the top order in a conventional match, but today they were indisputably destined to open the batting.
Today, to no small grumbling, all of it very much sotto voce – the Cunning Applegate ran a tight ship – Malfoy went in as the non-striker, at the Buttercross End – what might easily have been called the pavilion end due to its relative proximity to the Coronation Hall, which served much the same function as the Pavilion at Lord’s and did duty as a pavilion of sorts, but would always and ever be, formally, the Buttercross End in the village phrase, and, informally, the Duck-pond End to everyone in the district – whilst Potter went in to defend his wicket at the Church End, to his quiet satisfaction. For reasons different to the thirty-nine or so articles detailed in old Canon Broddside’s sermon of that morning, Potter always liked to have the Church behind him. As he awaited the bowling, from the unpredictable Hulbert-Jacques, he was thinking of the sudden shock that had been dealt them before the match.
‘Yeah. Er. Sorry about that, mate. But …yeah.’
‘Well, I can tell you this,’ said Harry, tapping his cold, white, faded scar. ‘It’s damned well not Voldemort. He’s dead and damned, for good.’
‘I don’t question that,’ said Kingsley. ‘Still and all, evil leaves its mark. I’ll be speaking with Arthur shortly: it’s by no means impossible that some Muggle artefact, enchanted for ill –’
‘Oh, quite,’ said Harry, a trifle shortly. ‘I should hope you would consult Arthur. In fact, I think we’d best get everyone in on this. Draco, would you mind terribly? Ah. Thank you. And I should imagine that Dean and Seamus will have joined us by now as well – yes, if you’d summon them also. Chapel and RC be damned, they simply stopped at home this morning whilst the rest of us trooped dutifully off to service…. Lazy buggers.’
‘What are you planning, Potter?’
‘Come, come, Malfoy. And you a Slytherin. Whatever this Muggle ghoul is about, we’ve to meet him and hit him for six.’
‘Hullo, Harry,’ said Justin, strolling up, the ‘first of the gathering clans’, his face keen with interest. ‘Crisis?’
‘Sadly, yes. There’s a possible magical complication – a Dark Arts complication – with one of the bowlers in our next match. I intend to find a way to defeat that in a match.’
‘Really, Harry,’ said Draco, his voice warm with pride. ‘How very Slytherin of you. Using magic on the pitch. My, my.’
Harry and Justin looked at him, in outrage. ‘Good God, no. That wouldn’t be at all cricket, not in a regularly scheduled match.’
Draco rolled his eyes. ‘Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs. And just as I was beginning to think better of you. Pray how, then, do you intend to defeat this Gul chap and whatever Dark enchantment’s on him “in a match” if you won’t use magic in the match against the bugger?’
‘By interposing an exhibition fixture in aid of some charitable interest or another before Sunday next, of course.’ Harry smirked an almost Malfoyesque smirk. ‘No one could object to a little mild cheating in a festival match.’
Draco laughed outright. ‘And have you informed our gallant and cunning captain of this new fixture?’
‘Oh, it won’t involve the Sutton Littlecombe Second XI. What shall we call ourselves – the “Wessex Wanderers”, perhaps? Emphasis on “Wand”, mind.’
‘Ah,’ said Justin, gleefully. ‘So we’re fielding an Old Hogwarts Quicket side, are we? I’ll be glad to carry a bat under your captaincy, old man.’
‘Ron? Wicket-keeper suit you?’
‘What? Oh. Well. All right, I s’pose, though I’m no hand to bowl or bat.’
‘Weasley the Walking Wicket,’ snorted Draco. ‘Well, they do call the only batsmen in the tail who are worse than the rabbits, weasels.’
‘Or ferrets,’ said Harry, warningly. ‘Kingsley, if you would contact Ollivander? We’ll want a set of Quicket bats, of the best wand cores and wand-woods he has. Now. What can we put this exhibition on in aid of?’
‘You’re obscenely prepositioning me, Potter,’ muttered Draco.
‘Well, let me try,’ said Justin, taking out a mobile phone heavily enchanted to work despite ambient magic, and keying in a number. ‘Hullo? Cousin Heneage? Justin here … yes. Er, my Minister wants to know, have we anyone doing an ADC stint just now? Ah. That’s – yes. Excellent. Absolutely. Right, then, thank you – cheery-bye.’ He turned to his waiting auditors. ‘Well, that’s that. Any objection to the Wessex Wanderers, under HRH the Earl of Wessex as Hon Captain, puttin’ on an exhibition against the K&S Sunday XI in aid of the brain injury trust, Headway Dorset?’
‘I object,’ said Ginny. ‘I want to play.’
‘Or is it Old Boys only?’
‘It’s cricket, Weaselette –’
‘Ginny.’ Harry cut everyone off. ‘Someone wants to be in the crowd, guarding us all from ambush. Frankly, you’re the one I best trust to have charge of that.’
‘Nice save, Potter. All right.’
Harry kissed her cheek, and then slapped Draco on the bum, making him squeak. ‘It’s past time I reported to the Shrewd and Cunning Applegate. Shack, it’s up to you to make this happen, “influence” the Muggles into accepting, and hide everything from them. Let’s say in ten days’s time, the Wednesday, shall we, a twenty-over afternoon match? Right. Come along, Draco, we’ve a real match to win and a tourist XI to humiliate.’
‘The full resources of the Ministry are behind you,’ said Kingsley, gravely.
‘Good. They’ll damned well want to be. Oh, do come along, Draco, we’re cutting it fine already.’
As Harry drove a deceptive – but not, as it happened, deceptive enough – outswinger to cover, he smiled. Ghoul or no ghoul, he was intending to hit Kilmington’s demon bowler all around the wicket. For now, it was enough to embarrass the Christian Malford bowling. ‘No nurdling,’ said he, as he nipped past Draco at speed. ‘I scent blood.’
‘Bugger,’ said Tony Hulbert-Jacques to Applegate the Shrewd. ‘If that’s your Second XI, your First XI must play for bloody England.’ Only the special rules that apply to limited-overs cricket had prevented Harry and Draco from dominating the match – both as bowlers and as batsmen. Although the village standard was serious, not to say savage, David Applegate and the rest of the Second XI had played rather as one would expect of a village Second XI, if one possessed of grim dedication. It required none of Applegate’s shrewdness and cunning to know to what – and to whom – Hulbert-Jacques was truly referring.
‘You’re speaking o’ Potter and Malfoy. Mister Potter and Mister Malfoy. I don’t question my good fortune. I know main well that my uncle’d give his eye-teeth to have ’em on the First XI –’
‘I’m sorry, I’d not realised that, well, Bob’s your uncle.’
‘Mum’s youngest brother, he is,’ said Applegate the Shrewd, referring to the village blacksmith and perennial captain of the Sutton Littlecombe First XI, the iron-muscled Robert Cyril Goodfellow, known inevitably, off the pitch, as ‘Robin Goodfellow’, and, upon it, Homerically, as Goodfellow the Fanatical. ‘Come to that, County selectors’d want ’em, if they were available. One thing to be gentlemen-and-not-players, mind you, but, well: there’s a reason they’re Second XI players, we haven’t ’em save a third of the matches, what with their going up to London and all sorts. Something hush-hush, with the Ministry – don’t say which, but stands to reason it’s MoD, and as for what they do, well, no names, no pack-drill, but a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind mule, isn’t it.’
‘Well, all I can say,’ said Tony Hulbert-Jaques, ‘is, next time we meet, I’ll set the fixture for a day when the two of them aren’t available. Seriously, old man, if they were available for all your matches, you’d have this sort of crowd every Sunday. Now, I believe my lads and I owe your lot the first round?’