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A Candlelight Supper to Remember

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Act I: A visitor is anticipated

Scene I: The Bucket residence, a middle-class suburban house

Hyacinth was dusting her Spode porcelain shepherdess when the phone rang.  Technically the piece wasn’t actually marked and she had gotten it at a church rummage sale, so she couldn’t be entirely certain of its provenance.  But the sale had been near The Grange and one could tell simply by looking at it that it was a piece of Quality.  Yes, definitely Spode.

She swept into the hall to answer the phone, dusting it before she picked it up.  She did hope it wasn’t someone looking for the Chinese take-away again.  “The Booo-quet residence, the lady of the house speaking.  Daisy!”  Hyacinth blinked rapidly, wondering what new trouble her sister had gotten into.  “… Cousin Lily’s boy?  Coming to stay with you for winter holidays? …  Of course I remember him, poor tragic little one.  Didn’t Cousin Petunia take him in after his parents died?  Why isn’t she taking care of him?  …. Oh my, an executive cruise, very nice!  Didn’t I hear that the boy was at a very exclusive public school now for his education? … My!  Now, Daisy, are you sure you have room for him at your place?  And, dear, he’s probably used to a better quality of domicile after rubbing shoulders with the children of gentry at a school of that sort of standing.  I’d be happy to have him over here.  He could stay in Sheridan’s room.  Harry’s only a few years younger than Sheridan and Sheridan won’t be able to come home this year. He and his friend Tarquin are doing a cultural project at a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. … Tell Onslow that I can hear him and that it certainly is not a hippie ashram with sunrise yoga and free love!  So it’s settled then, Harry will stay here for his holidays.”

Scene II: Daisy & Onslow’s, a cluttered, dirty, yet somehow cozy council house

At the other end of the line, Daisy looked at Onslow as she hung up the phone, a bowled-over and slightly sheepish expression on her face. “Oh, nice!” said Onslow, frowning and taking a swig from his can of beer as he looked up from the telly.  “A fine thing to do to that kid, sticking him with Hyacinth for the holidays.  She’ll worry him to death, she will.  I told you not to tell her until after he was already here.  Or preferably not at all.”

Daisy was saved from answering by Rose teetering into the living room on 4-inch stiletto heels.  Rose struck a pose, one hand on her hip and one knee thrust saucily forward.  “How do I look?  I’ve got a big date tonight.  He’s a professor, so I want to look intellectual.  Do you think this skirt shows off my intellect?”  Rose shifted her hips nervously.  She was wearing black shoes and hose, a low cut black silk blouse, several ropes of chunky gold necklaces, and a leopard print skirt that was practically pasted to her and short enough to make one wonder whether it would still cover everything when she sat down.

Onslow snorted.  “I don’t know about intellect, but it shows an awful lot of leg, if you ask me.  Which you did.”

“I think you need glasses for intellect,” Daisy offered after carefully considering Rose’s outfit.

Onslow scratched his belly and went back to watching the horse races on the telly.  “So he’s a bookish type, this professor?  That doesn’t seem like your usual blokes.”

“Oh, no!” Rose protested.  “He’s actually more man-of-action type: tall, dark and dangerous.  And a wizard.”

Scene III: Hyacinth’s Kitchen

Back at the Bucket residence, Hyacinth thought she just might invite her next-door neighbor Elizabeth around to tea.  Completely innocently, of course.  Not at all to brag about her cousin’s son and his exclusive public school.  Bragging wasn’t done in polite society, naturally.  But, of course, if the topic of holiday plans should happen to come up, she wouldn’t avoid it.  Or the topic of relatives.  Or visitors.  And as Elizabeth would be a visitor herself, that naturally introduced the topic right there, didn’t it?

Hyacinth poured the tea.  “I understand children are generally put down for Hogwarts at birth, but my nephew Harry actually received a letter of invitation from them!  So tragic how his parents died when he was a baby.  Car accident.”

Liz sat at the kitchen table with her hands carefully in her lap.  After several years worth of disastrous experiences, she didn’t even try to drink her tea any more when Hyacinth invited her over.  Something dreadful always happened.  If she was lucky she merely spilled the tea, but as often as not something ended up broken.  “I don’t think I’ve heard you mention your cousins before, Hyacinth.  How curious that you all have flower names.”

Hyacinth busied herself arranging biscuits on a tray.  Not the good biscuits, of course.  “Our mothers were sisters and they were both interested in gardening.”

“It’s lucky you were all girls.  What would they have named a boy?” Liz joked.

“Well, dear, I had thought about a flower name for Sheridan, to carry on the tradition.  Florian, for example.  But Richard absolutely refused.  I don’t know what got into him.  He isn’t usually so unreasonable.”

Act II: Harry & Hyacinth become acquainted

Scene I: Arrival

“Harold!”  Hyacinth threw her arms open wide, smiling unnaturally enthusiastically and demanding a hug.

Harry submitted to the unfamiliar embrace.  He knew they must’ve met before, but if so it was before he was old enough to remember.  “It’s just Harry, Aunt Hyacinth.”  Actually, it was nice, for once, to have a relative who offered hugs, even if they were slightly fake ones.

Hyacinth looked Harry up and down, taking in his slightly rumpled look and his shaggy hair.  Not as smartly dressed as Sheridan, she thought, but few were.  And of course, the poor orphan boy didn’t have a real mother to look after him.  She would have to see about finding him something suitable to wear to church at least.  “Nonsense, dear.  No one’s just Harry.  Harry is a nickname.  If you want to get anywhere in life you need to use your full proper name.  ‘Harold’ invites respect.  ‘Harry’ does not.  ‘Harry’ is not an executive name.  Not unless you’re playing golf.”

“No, really, it’s just Harry – Harry James Potter.  It’s not short for anything.”

“Well, dear, no one will know that if you don’t tell them.”

Considering that Aunt Hyacinth was most distinctly a muggle and Harry, after his years at Hogwarts, was most distinctly not, things went rather well.  For a while.  Largely due to Hyacinth’s determination to see the world as she thought it should be, ignoring any inconvenient facts regarding how things actually were.  This unique skill allowed her to blithely overlook many things that would have disconcerted a lesser woman.  Uncle Richard just went along, as best he could, with Hyacinth’s world or with Harry’s as the occasion seemed to demand.

Scene II: Hedwig

“Oh, a falcon, dear!  How nice.  Falconry is an ancient and noble sport.”

“Hedwig’s an owl, Aunt Hyacinth.”

“An owl?”  Hyacinth’s face screwed up in consternation.  “Is it housebroken?”

Strangely, all was forgiven the first time Hedwig dropped Harry’s mail on his breakfast plate.  Richard was rather startled, but Hyancinth’s face broke into a beaming smile.  “You didn’t mention it was a trained owl!”  Harry wasn’t quite sure why she seemed to regard a trained owl as a status symbol of some sort, but he wasn’t going to question it.

Scene III: Wizard trading cards

“Is that one of those iPod video things, dear?  My they’re making them small these days, no bigger than a playing card.  I hadn’t seen one before.  Your cousin Sheridan is a bit old fashioned, like his mummy, bless him.  He doesn’t really go in for gadgets.”  She turned it over a few times before handing it back to Harry.  “Where do you put the batteries?”

Scene IV: Harry’s wand

Hyacinth picked up the length of polished wood from the table next to Harry’s bed.  “What’s this, dear?”

Harry, looking up from the book on quidditch strategy that he had been reading, couldn’t stop himself from giving an honest answer.  Tweaking Aunt Hyacinth was becoming almost irresistible, but truthfully, it was also a relief to be able to talk about what he considered his ‘real’ world in a way he couldn’t with the Dursleys, even if Hyacinth insisted on muggle-izing it. “It’s my magic wand, Aunt Hyacinth.”

“Oh.”  She waved it around experimentally, a conspiratorial and knowing smile on her face.  “Does it go with that Wii game?”  

Act III: A candelight supper on Christmas Eve

Scene I: Setting the stage

Even Hyacinth’s ability to willfully reinterpret reality was no match for the disaster that was Christmas Eve.  In theory it sounded very promising.  Ron’s mum had consented to him coming to dinner, chaperoned by his father.  It was lucky that Christmas morning was the big Weasley family event.  For the first time he could remember, Harry would actually be with a friend on Christmas Eve.  And Hyacinth was excited about having a government minister as a dinner guest, even if Harry couldn’t quite explain what Mr. Weasley was minister of.  The neighbors from next door – Liz and Emmet – were nice enough and of course Harry liked Onslow and Daisy and Rose.  Aunt Daisy and Uncle Onslow weren’t most people’s idea of respectable, but Harry was rather fond of them.  They were genuinely nice.  Aunt Hyacinth meant well, he was sure, but Daisy and Onslow actually listened to him and seemed to care what he thought.  And Rose was fun.  She was bringing her mysterious new gentleman friend to the dinner.  

Hyacinth wouldn’t normally have invited Daisy, Rose, and Onslow to a candlelight supper involving a Minister, but it was all arranged at rather the last minute and even Onslow was better than the embarrassment of an empty table and, perhaps, the holiday spirit had softened her heart just a little bit.  And Daisy had sworn to make Onslow wear a tie.

All very promising.  Until Hyacinth decided to help Harry feel at home by making some dishes out of one of the ‘cookbooks’ that she found in his school trunk.  Hyacinth thought it quite an odd cookbook.  Decidedly not proper English cooking.  She concluded it must be Scottish.  Wasn’t Hogwarts up north somewhere?  Harry had probably gotten a taste for such things there.  Most of the recipes called for too many obscure foreign ingredients, but there were several she could make.  With only a few small substitutions.  One was a cocktail of some sort; it would doubtless be very nice when mixed with some soda water.  And the other seemed to be a soup.  Perfect courses to precede the Beef Wellington she had planned.

Scene II: The front parlor of the Bucket residence

Rose and her date were the first to arrive and Harry was the one to greet them, having been assigned the task of answering the door while Hyacinth put the finishing touches on a tray of cocktails and canapés and Richard went upstairs to change his tie (again) as Hyacinth had objected to the first three he had tried.  Harry was rather unpleasantly surprised to see his potions master on the doorstep with Rose.  “You!”

Severus, with Rose clinging possessively to his arm, was just as surprised to see Harry, but much better at hiding the fact. “Mr. Potter,” he nodded in greeting as he entered.

Harry picked his jaw up off the floor.  Not only was Professor Snape here with Aunt Rose, he was dressed as a muggle.  And the dark jacket, black jeans, and leather tie looked good on him.  He definitely fit Rose’s description of ‘tall, dark, and dangerous’.  Harry could almost, almost see the appeal.  If you liked the Slytherin sort.  Which Harry didn’t, of course.  Those dreams about Draco notwithstanding.  After all, one couldn’t control ones dreams.

The other guests trickled in by twos – Daisy and Onslow, Liz and Emmet, Ron and his father.  Hyacinth rolled her eyes when she got a look at Onslow and hissed “Richard, do something!”  Richard shrugged helplessly.  To be fair, Onslow was wearing the promised tie, but only because his wife’s word of honor was at stake.  As Daisy had made no oaths regarding the rest of his outfit, he was wearing his usual sweater vest and baggy trousers along with a red bow tie that made him look rather like a dog with a ribbon around his neck.  Fair was fair, no one had said he had to wear a suit with the tie, or even a collared shirt.

It could possibly be argued that Onslow was better dressed than the Weasleys, as they had no neckties, though they were wearing their finest homemade Weasley Christmas jumpers.  Ron and Harry were off in a corner catching each other up on the latest Hogwarts gossip and eyeing Snape suspiciously, theorizing about whether his appearance here really could be just a coincidence or whether this might be some new scheme of their enemy’s.  Harry assured Ron that from what he had heard, Snape was actually a pretty believable boyfriend for Rose and that he, Harry, leaned toward the coincidence hypothesis.  On the other side of the room, Mr. Weasley, oblivious to the tie issue, was beaming, thrilled to have the opportunity to examine a real muggle home and, even better, to be able to observe how the various gadgets worked as people used them.  The doorbell, for example, had been a great deal of fun.  Though he deduced, from the guests who arrived after he and Ron had, that perhaps they should only have pushed it once or twice.  He was looking forward to visiting the loo later so that he could try out the light switches and faucets when no one else was looking.

Her guests assembled, Hyacinth handed out glasses of her new cocktail creation.  She caught Richard’s eye, raised her glass slightly, and gave several meaningful jerks with her head.  Richard furrowed his brow and gave her a puzzled look as he tried to interpret her urgent eyebrow raises and the repeated gestures she was making with her glass.  Hyacinth mimed speaking and then drinking and Richard finally caught on that she thought that he, as host, should make a toast.  Hyacinth was a very broad and unsubtle mime and Emmet, observing her from safely across the room, had chuckled to himself watching her.  At least, he thought, when she was miming, she wasn’t talking or worse yet singing at him.  He wondered whether he could possibly suggest a game of charades later.

Richard dutifully cleared his throat and raised his glass.  “Happy Christmas, everyone.  Cheers!”  As he drank he caught Hyacinth’s eye and got the distinct impression that she had been hoping for something grander.  The cocktail was actually quite tasty and Richard took another swallow.  Despite the drink being non-alcoholic, he observed that it seemed to have served its function as a social lubricant and people were chatting cozily in small groups as Hyacinth circulated with her tray of tidbits.

Liz, triumphant in having managed to enjoy some of her cocktail without spilling it, dropping it, or inhaling it, patted her brother fondly on the shoulder and quietly asked, “Now, this isn’t so bad, is it?”

Emmet, who only an hour before had suggested that perhaps they could get out of the engagement by pretending to have food poisoning, was surprised to hear himself answering “No, actually, it’s quite nice.  I rather like Hyacinth’s family.”

Sprawled on a sofa, Ron and Harry, having decided that it was unlikely Snape was seducing Rose as a means to infiltrate Harry’s extended family, had moved on to a post-mortem of the Hogwarts Yule Ball.  The Gryffindor quidditch team had agreed to attend as a group this year so neither of them had had official dates for the event.  But Harry had his suspicions about who Ron would have liked to take to the dance.  “Who did you think was the prettiest girl at the dance?” he asked.

Ron blushed.  “Hermione.  When she puts her hair up like that with her neck long and bare and that strapless dress, I can’t even remember any other girl.”  Wow, that had been a little more honest than he’d meant to be.  Maybe his openness would guilt Harry into finally revealing something similar.  Unlike Harry, whose suspicions had been entirely accurate, Ron really had no idea who his friend might fancy.  “Who caught your eye at the dance?”

Harry choked on the cracker he’d been chewing.  He obviously needed to pay better attention to this conversation and not let his mind wander.  He’d been within a second of telling Ron that Draco’s blond hair shone like a beacon atop his soft, black velvet frock coat.  “If you are asking which girls I thought stood out, Padma and Parvati looked beautiful in their saris, as usual.”  

Over by the sideboard, Richard discreetly refilled Onslow’s glass with something a little stronger.

“Ta, mate,” Onslow acknowledged.  “You should have a bit of that yourself.  Lord knows you deserve it.  How do you put up with her?”

Richard didn’t pretend not to know who Onslow meant.  “I really don’t know.  It’s been so many years now that I can’t really remember how I started and I’m just sort of used to it at this point.  But every marriage has compromises, doesn’t it?  Surely there’s something about Daisy that you don’t really care for?”

“Oh, aye.  Her constant demands for sex.”  Onslow took a swig of his drink.

Hyacinth hovered at Arthur Weasley’s elbow.  Hoping for a chance to impress him with her sparkling wit, she waited for an opening in the conversation he was having with Rose’s gentleman friend.  Sometimes, she thought, one must make one’s own conversational openings.  “So, how do you two know each other?”

“We were at school together,” Arthur replied.  “I’ve always suspected him of sleeping with my wife.  Have you?” he asked Snape.

“Actually, yes.  I’ve slept with most people’s wives.”  Severus’s eyes widened and he took an experimental taste of his drink with a look of concentration on his face.  “Sorry, Arthur.  Veritaserum.  It was before you were married if that’s any consolation.”

Hyacinth was a little out of her depth.  That conversational opening hadn’t gone quite as she’d hoped.  Veritaserum must be Mrs. Weasley’s name she supposed and although Professor Snape looked more reputable than Rose’s usual boyfriends he apparently wasn’t.  

Snape bowed to his hostess, “Please excuse me a moment, madam.”  He made his way over to the sofa with the sprawling teenagers, leaning down to loom between them.  “Potter,” he hissed.  “Was it you who put the veritaserum in the cocktail?”

“No.”  Harry tensed.  If he’d been drinking veritaserum he was very, very lucky to have managed not to tell Ron exactly what he’d been thinking about Draco.

Snape turned a glare that would stun a hippogriff on Ron, who sank backward and shook his head, denying responsibility for the prank.  “How do I know you’re telling the truth?” Snape asked.

“We drank it too,” Harry pointed out.

Ron, who might possibly have been a bit more susceptible to the potion, offered “You could ask us something really embarrassing and we’d have to answer and then you’d know we were affected too,” causing Harry to kick him sharply in the shin.

“All right, Weasley.  Since you’re offering, what hormone-soaked, adolescent schoolboy fantasy are you most ashamed of?”

Ron turned positively scarlet as he blurted, “Naked quidditch.  Against Beauxbatons.  I’m the snitch.”

“That’s it?  Rather unimaginative, Weasley.  Potter, same question.”

Harry hoped the same tactic would work a second time.  “If you’re asking …”

“No, Potter.  I know that trick.  No rephrasing the question.  You answer it just as I asked it.”

Harry looked desperately from Snape to Ron and back as he struggled valiantly, but futilely, to just keep his mouth shut.  Finally he leaned in to Snape’s ear and began to whisper.  At first Snape smirked but then his eyebrows began to rise.  And rise.  And his eyes widened a bit.  “Stop, Potter.  Five points to Gryffindor for originality and creativity.  I accept that you had nothing to do with the veritaserum.”

It was at this point that the effects of Hyacinth’s ‘ingredient substitutions’ in the recipe began to take effect.  Her guests began to lose control not only of what they were saying, but also what they were doing.  Harry, rather than drawing back, began to slide his mouth from Severus’s ear around to his lips while looking deeply into his eyes.  Ron, alarmed, exclaimed “Bloody hell!” and began to bat frantically at Harry’s shoulder.

Daisy, Rose, and Liz, giggling, seemed to be playing ring-around-the rosie.  Hyacinth had begun to sing at Emmet, as she usually did, trying to convince him that she was worthy of a part in the local musical productions he directed.  Generally this caused him to roll his eyes and flee, but tonight they had found a common interest in Gilbert and Sullivan.  Not only was Emmet not fleeting, but Hyacinth was actually sitting in his lap with his arms around her waist as they belted in unison “I am the very model of a modern major general, I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral, I know the kings of England and I quote the fights historical, from Marathon to Waterloo in order categorical …”

Arthur Weasley, unable to restrain himself any longer, was flicking the light switch on and off, adding a strobe light effect to the proceedings.  Richard, taking Onslow’s advice, had helped himself to a tumbler of whiskey.  “You know,” he confided to his brother-in-law, “I never really liked these candelight suppers.  What say we sneak out and pop down to the pub?”

“I’m with you,” Onslow replied as he grabbed Richard’s sleeve and backed them quietly out of the room, “but only if we can take off these blooming ties.”