Kingsley was, at the moment, discernibly not ‘Kingsley’, nor ‘Shack’, nor anyone’s old mate and butty; he was quite imposingly and formally HM Principal Secretary of State for Magical Affairs.
Harry knew damned well that this was never a good omen – so much so that even Trelawney should have noticed the augury.
When he walked to the Designated Apparating Point with his Minister, he knew it was worse than he’d feared: not only because the Unspeakable – in both senses – Ferret was awaiting them, but because three Muggles were there also, clearly to be side-alonged by them. That in itself was not wholly alarming; who the three were, however, was perturbing in the extreme.
‘Sir.’ Kingsley’s inclination of his head was almost regal; but regality at a remove inhered rather in the peppery, craggy old gentleman whom he addressed.
‘Kingsley.’ HRH the duke of Edinburgh’s smile was like a brandished naval dirk. ‘Potter; Malfoy. Grace Gate, if you don’t mind.’
With all the determination he could muster, Harry concentrated upon Apparating CMJ alongside to the Apparating Point at Lord’s. He’d had no compunction in leaving the Muggle Secretary for Culture, Olympics, Media, and Sport to Malfoy.
They arrived, all of them, safely, to be met by the Principal Wizarding-Muggle Liaison (and, as it happened, Mayor of London); Sir John Major, in his MCC tie; Andy Flower, the England coach; and a very put out Ragnok. As Kingsley appeared to treat this as eminently normal and unworthy of remark, Harry wisely kept shtum. He knew that HRH was a Squib, as was Boris; Sir John, as a former PM, necessarily knew of the Wizarding world; and presumably the England cricket coach was a Squib as well, as he appeared unmoved by the presence of a Goblin and several Wizards.
Draco was equally circumspect, wisely keeping a still tongue in his head as the oddly assorted group made its collective way into the Long Room. When they were arrived, to a polite welcome from the Doctor’s portrait (naturally WG had been a Wizard: an Old Slytherin, in fact), Kingsley cast a succession of wards and charms, and awaited events.
‘I suppose,’ barked HRH in his peremptory, Naval manner, ‘your lot have kept up with the Leveson Enquiry.’ Jeremy Hunt was seen to wince. ‘And with all the bloody crooked play in sport, as well.’
‘They have certainly been informed, at least,’ said Ragnok, glaring.
‘Mm. No doubt. Kingsley?’
‘Sir. We have of course had a watching brief, commencing when Ragnok kindly adverted us to the gambling and spot-fixing scandals.’
The Goblin growled: Ludo Bagman remained a very sore spot, even now.
‘Damned unsporting, all of it,’ said HRH. ‘And damned dicey, as well as dodgy. And here’s everyone dashing about over phone-hacking and all that rubbish, when, at least as to Hunt, here, it’s all part of the same damned trickery. And the bloody Olympics coming soon, as well. Johnson?’
‘Oh, quite so, quite so, sir, what? Silly situation, really. It’s not that Jeremy’s put his foot in it, you know, as minister for tabloids, it’s that he’s been targeted under cover of that because his brief is for sport and the Olympics, not that he’s not managed to do some damn silly things. A fronte præcipitium a tergo lupi, aren’t you, old boy? But no one thought to ask, ah, did they, cui prodest? This shower – gutta cavat lapidem, really, non vi, sed –’
HRH cleared his throat in a marked manner.
‘Quite, quite. This shower are set on corrupting anything it’s possible to corrupt, you know. Or, rather, anything it’s profitable to corrupt, d’you see:corruptio optimi pessima is all very well, but when it’s a matter of £.s.d. – or whatever we’re to say since decimalisation –’
‘Yes, thank you. Sir John?’ HRH was not a man for time-wasting (or, as the irrepressible Boris should have said, ‘anything that smacked of the old propositum digredi, what?’), and he’d, as always, a schedule to keep.
The good grey man, long since returned to peas and quiet in place of his brief and self-destructive fondness for a quick curry, blinked, twice.
‘What we mean to say is – quite simply – that the MCC and the ECB have become aware of a gambling ring that’s going to really quite extraordinary measures. And, ah, Ragnok has kindly advised us that the gamblers are working on both sides of the Wizarding-Muggle boundary, and with the assistance or involvement of, well, renegade Goblins overseas –’
‘Yakshas,’ spat Ragnok. ‘India and Pakistan weren’t enough for them, oh, no: now they want to corrupt the West Indies Test.’
Malfoy, thought Harry, looked half-stunned. ‘Cricket, Malfoy,’ began Harry, ‘is –’
‘I know what cricket is, you speccy oaf. I’m surprised that enough other Wizards and Beings do, for there to be a gambling ring.’
‘It’s not just spot-fixing and the like, now,’ interjected the England coach. ‘We’re in a hell of a bind. If it weren’t for the kafuffle over the tabloids right now, and the death of the News of the Screws, we’d be up a gum tree. Glamours, Polyjuice – you’ve no idea.’
‘We’re having to look at Amir’s case anew,’ said HRH, who was, after all, a late president of the MCC. ‘Imperio and all that.’
Even Kingsley was moved to a low whistle at that news.
‘And now,’ said the England coach, ‘there’s a concerted effort to nobble my lads: including what, if we’d not had videotape and so on of his being blamelessly elsewhere at the time, the redtops’d’ve splashed all over their pages as snaps of Finny in a compromising position.’
‘No, even a tabloid editor’d not have swallowed that. Other … misconduct.’
‘That’s even madder,’ said Harry. ‘Man’s soundly boring – thank God.’
‘A safe pair of hands,’ chortled Boris. ‘But you see why you’re needed.’
‘I see why the Ministry are needed,’ said Harry. ‘Why me? And why, if me, with Malfoy, rather than my usual command?’
Ragnok smiled, unpleasantly. ‘In Goblin culture, we regard those who have bested us as our lifelong enemies … and as being the most worthy of our respect in equal measure to our hatred.’
‘Jimmy? Why must I be – Malfoy, if you’re taking the piss about my height –’
‘Potter, I have told you thrice, now, that the Persistent Polyjuice my department has developed works properly only upon Wizards with a general resemblance to the person being impersonated.’
‘So you get to be Broady, do you? More like Swanny-when-squiffed, if you ask me. And who says “thrice”, damn it all?’
‘The well-bred. And, yes. You’re not precisely of a format to be Cooky, Potter, and, yes, you are too titchy to be Finny. Besides, Jimmy, like Swanny, is expected to go about playing the fool. You saw Swanny’s Ashes Diary.’
‘But – I mean, Jimmy?’
‘Don’t whinge, Potter. Have you seen the man’s arse? I should think we all have done, after that photo-shoot for Attitude. It almost makes the uni-brow forgivable.’
‘Did you just compliment my arse, Malfoy?’
‘Put a sock in it and drink your potion.’
‘Malfoy, how long is this operation going to last?’
‘It really is a pity you’re not tall enough to have been Finny: you really are boring. And whinging, with it.’
‘You’re not the one who has to keep up with Swanny.’
‘Pretend he’s Weasley, Potter. Now that Freddie’s retired, he’s the next thing to the Weasel.’
When Malfoy burst in to Harry’s suite, he did not at first notice that Harry was speaking with a small, silvery, vaporous lynx.
‘– William Hill. Evidently, they continue to anticipate that some of the England side will perforce be dropped or suspended before the Test.’
‘But even then, surely, with Compton and Bairstow and the others available –’
‘Potter! Lock the door! Hurry!’
‘Is there a problem, Mr Malfoy?’
‘M- – Minister. I didn’t see your Patronus.’
‘Didn’t you, Mr Malfoy? Then you oughtn’t to have called Potter by his proper name.’
‘No, Minister. I do apologise.’
‘You sound rattled, Mr Malfoy. Harry, calm our distinguished Unspeakable and then report to me, if you will be so kind.’
The lynx dislimned, and Harry whirled ’round, ready to give Malfoy a rocket.
He found he could not bring himself to do so. He’d not thought that Malfoy could be more pallid than commonly, but, evidently, he’d managed.
‘Um. Draco?’ Harry attempted a soothing tone. ‘What’s wrong? Do we want to prepare against an attack?’
Malfoy twisted his mouth into a loathly attempt to smile. When he spoke, the bitterness was clear. ‘No, Potter. You needn’t: I doubt you’re susceptible. I just … I just found something out, that’s all.’
‘The most boring man in professional cricket.’
Harry was cautious. ‘Yes? Is – he can’t be involved in this conspiracy, can he?’
‘No.’ Draco slumped into a chair. ‘It’s what he is.’
‘Christ, must I bare all my secrets? He’s part Veela.’
‘Yes: “oh”, indeed.’
‘And you noticed because….’
‘I’m a poofter, Potter: there, are you satisfied?’
‘It’s not a matter for me to condemn.’
‘Oh, no, of course not, because Saint Harry is gracious to all the unfortunate and oppressed, naturally. You and Granger can start a version of Spew for poor, Wizarding inverts!’
‘It’s not a matter for me to condemn, you great pillock, because, as my late wife well knew – I don’t know about yours – I’m bisexual myself.’
‘You’re – you cannot be serious.’
Harry choked back a chuckle. ‘Sorry, you just reminded me of my godfather’s standing joke with Remus. I assure you, I am, in fact, bisexual.’
Draco’s mouth, which had been hanging open, shut with a decided snap.
‘Just as well I didn’t let you be Finny, then. I already wish to climb him like a tree, and if I knew it was in fact you –’
‘At the moment, in your current appearance, you’re damned nearly as tall as he is.’
‘Pillock. But – what in buggery are we to do now? This operation – I mean, it’s intolerable that I should –’
‘Oddly enough, I’ve an idea. No: hear me out. We’ve spent three weeks now being ready at a moment’s notice to provide an unshakeable public alibi against the possibility that the two main targets – or, rather, their impersonators – be traduced by a staged scandal when they’ve no witnesses to their innocence. Kingsley was just telling me that the laying side – actually Wizards and Yakshas, but to all appearance, Muggle punters – is still spending very freely on the Windies actually whitewashing England in the Test in a fortnight. You were kind enough to have me pose with what you obviously think a fanciable arse, although it’s apparently not kneazle-nip to you like that of a certain Veela bowler –’
Draco blushed, and muttered something.
‘What was that, Draco?’
‘I said. I said, well, not to put too fine a point on it, I did so because it was the only arse I could think of that was as fanciable as yours.’
‘Did you? We shall want to go into that. In depth.’
‘But what I was saying, was, let’s set it up so that the real Jimmy and Broady are in fact at some public function – with HRH, for preference: he’ll certainly oblige – and we manufacture a scandal that comes apart at the seams and leaves the blackguards ripe for arrest to go with their humiliation.’
Draco looked at him, inscrutably.
‘You. Wish. Potter.’
‘Right, then. Oh, Draco? Do I want to tie you down so you don’t go haring off after Finny?’
Draco, his brain stalling over the idea of being tied down by Potter, could essay no riposte.
Weather notwithstanding, the first day of the first Test at Lord’s, on 17 May, went with a swing (and some pace bowling as well), in an atmosphere of considerable relieved jollity – and the glow of accomplishment in many quarters of the ICC, its ACSU, the ECB, and the MCC. Potter and Malfoy, in their proper forms and their bacon-and-egg MCC ties, watched the day’s play decorously from the Long Room, seated between HRH and Sir John. The renegade Yakshas and subcontinental Wizards who’d thought to pull off a series of gambling coups, running from the Test through the London Olympics, were neither happy nor watching the match, as they were not at liberty to do so, banged up as they were in various nicks, at home and abroad.
And that night, in their proper forms, and with some innovative spells cast in the course of the evening, Draco and Harry enjoyed the just rewards of their labours, consisting in the main of one another.
As Draco was drifting off to sleep, thoroughly shagged out and having a reality now to cherish that drove all thoughts of a certain Veela bowler from his mind, Harry sniggered.
‘Oh, just thinking about Boris.’
‘Potter, if you’re thinking about Boris Johnson whilst you’re shagging me –’
‘No, love. Just wondering if he’d a Latin tag for what we’ve spent the past few hours doing.’
Draco huffed – adorably, although Harry wasn’t fool enough to say so. ‘If he wants a trot for what I seem to have spent tonight screaming, it’s dead easy: “O! Plus! Perge! Perge! Plus! Hem! Aio! Hui!”, I think.’
Harry yawned, and pulled Draco closer to him. ‘Hm. All Greek to me.’
Harry was very nearly asleep when Draco dug him in the ribs. ‘Harry.’
‘If you’re bisexual –’
‘Is that still an “if”? After the past weeks, let alone hours?’
‘Why weren’t you gagging for Finny?’
Harry shifted slightly to press himself yet more fully against his lover. ‘I have an unconquerable obsession with blonds. Cacœthes flavum.’
Draco snorted. ‘After breakfast, we’ll work on your Latin. I’ll not sleep with a barbarian, I’ll have you know.’