|laziness, impatience, and hubris|
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hi, i have a html file. the content of the file is below <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> <head> <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html;charset=UTF-8" /> <title>The Kindly Ones by A.J. Hall</title> </head> <body>
The Kindly Ones by A.J. Hall
The Kindly Ones is one in a series of HP fanfic and cross-over fanfic e-books by the author A.J. Hall. You might like to refer to their suggested reading order or review the other e-books by A.J. Hall, before reading The Kindly Ones. You can find these at this e-book's web site: www.tko.shoesforindustry.net
You can also find news, updates, FAQ's and lots more useful information about the LoPiverse from the web site: www.lopiverse.shoesforindustry.net
Time has moved on. "Recent Events" are mutating into ancient history. Following a dangerous illness, Draco takes Neville on a convalescing cruise of the Ionian islands of Greece. But in that neighbourhood Voldemort has stirred up archaic and terrifying powers too powerful to be subdued by his fall; and Neville, too, has ghosts from his past to confront. Across a brilliantly sun-lit landscape a shadow falls...
This story, written for the festival of St Valentine, is intended as a reminder that the saint commemorated on 14 February was not originally St Valentine the Fluffy of Hallmark, but a martyr beheaded for being in the wrong place, proclaiming the wrong message, at the wrong time.
Set in June, 2005
This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. This ebook is rated R (American rating) and 15 (UK rating) for bad language and violence.
As ever, I am indebted to my betas, Erica, Naomi and Shezan.
Thanks to Alec for Helle-picking.
As usual, Russ from shoes for industry designed the book cover, produced the e-books and compiled this on-line work.
The opinions, prejudices, faults and spelling herein are all my own work, and I apologise in advance for them.
Tom Robinson: The Wedding
The two glasses were balanced on one of the yacht's two great primary winches. Precariously balanced, one might have said; but that June night in Frikes harbour the sea was so calm it looked more like oil than water, the crew were off somewhere ashore (and had been given strict instructions not to return any time soon) and the two naked figures in the cockpit were so still that any observer - had one been able to breach the warding charms about the anchored yacht - might have suspected that they had been the victims of a Petrifying Jinx.
Eventually, with a sigh of deep satisfaction Draco stretched, extricated his arm from beneath Neville's body, and started to haul on a thin rope which had been looped around the winch and which disappeared over the side into the depths of the water.
"Another glass?" he asked, flourishing the champagne bottle that had emerged from the depths and gripping it tightly between his thighs while he removed the foil and wire.
Neville grinned lazily back at him. His joints felt so thoroughly loosened that he was liquid honey puddling on the teak-inlaid cockpit seats, radiating the stored heat of the sun back into the night. "And why not?"
With a deft twist of his wrist and quick upward pressure with his thumbs Draco popped the cork. It went back over his shoulder and hit the water with a faint "plop". A liberated froth of bubbles foamed up and over the bottle's neck, surging uncontrollably back across Draco's stomach to the dark hollow of his navel, the feathery delicacy of the line of hairs leading up to it surprised by the moonlight as the conquering tide of bubbles thickened and redefined them as threads of tarnished silver.
"Well," Draco commented as they were lying back, propping themselves against the cockpit coaming once more, glasses in hand, "this one's a first."
He shrugged. "Score one for Ithaca. Today must be the first day of the entire holiday you haven't been fretting about finding a networked fire, so you could pester someone back at the Manor about how the estate's managing to cope in your absence. I should think by now you could recite the state of health of every last pig on the place."
Neville felt himself flushing.
He was acutely aware that this was a holiday that they had not planned for. And, in one sense, that it was All His Fault they were taking it in the first place.
A persistent cold - neglected during the 16 hour days he'd had to put in to comply with a sudden slew of idiotic new regulations imposed by the International Council on Magical Plant Exports - had edged imperceptibly into pneumonia, which only Gran, on one of her rare, unheralded visits, had managed to spot.
Her response had been thorough and almost panicky (weak chests, it was said, ran in the Longbottom line). She had banished the dogs from the bedroom - alleging they "carried germs" - and would have banished Draco if he hadn't proved that his will was as strong as hers when things came down to the wire. She'd done the next best thing, though; drowning him fathoms-deep in guilt for not spotting his illness earlier. Since Draco manifested guilt by alternate fits of sulks or violent argument it hardly made for a restful atmosphere.
Neville had found himself deeply grateful to Narcissa, who had confined her nursing duties to sitting on the end of his bed, nibbling at the Valrhona-dipped crystallized ginger she had brought him as a present, and enlightening him at delicious, inconsequential length about the sexual foibles of three generations of Ministerial bureaucrats, the Hogwarts faculty, the staff of the Daily Prophet and all of their respective friends, family, pets and acquaintances, completely avoiding the clouds of recrimination which had enveloped the rest of the household.
Nevertheless, it had been an inconceivable relief when the Healer Draco had dragged in at wand-point had prescribed a prolonged Mediterranean cruise by way of convalescence.
And now here they were.
He coughed. Draco eyed him sharply, as if to see whether the indiscretion would be repeated.
"I - well - I worry. Someone has to."
"Such as, say, Mrs. P. Our very competent estate manager. His hand-picked staff. At a pinch, Lupin - "
"Hardly tonight." Neville gestured explanatorily at the large yellow disk of the moon, which had now cleared the further headland. Across the moon-path which laid a track across the dark water the black-finned outlines of two dolphins rose and fell and left swirls of phosphorescence in the water as they played in the darkness.
"True. Or even I couldn't complain you were worrying unnecessarily about the livestock."
His lover grinned. "Anyway, as I said. Score one for Ithaca. It's only since we got here that you've started properly to relax - you don't find it easy getting your head round this "gentleman of leisure" concept, do you?"
"No," Neville mumbled. "You could call it a Protestant work-ethic, provided you substituted Gran for God." He allowed himself, reluctantly, to smile. "Probably God does. If he exists, that is. But it is lovely here, isn't it?" His smile deepened, and became slyer. "Though I've got to say, when the man said When you set out for Ithaca, pray that the journey may be long I bet what he didn't have in mind was taking one look at the chart and muttering, Ooh, I don't like the look of those overfalls off Cape Sounion - let's tell the crew to take it through the bumpy bit without us, and we'll Apparate cross-country via Hydra and Spetses, and the two wildest house-parties we can blag our way into -"
Draco's grin broadened to match his. "Max and Pietro are fun, aren't they?"
Neville shrugged, and then nodded. "Mm. Well. Thank god your mother's illegitimate half-brothers are better company than your father's, that's all I can say."
He downed a hefty swig from his glass. "Party animal," he added.
Draco raised an eyebrow. "And who was it insisted on trailing me through every bar in Hydra Town in the vague hope that we might by pure random chance bump into some depressed middle-aged Muggle singer with a Canadian accent?"
"Well - it was worth it on the off-chance. As we were there." Draco was still looking sceptical. Neville sighed.
"It's a folk club thing. You wouldn't get it. Anyway, ok. You win. We're on holiday, and I'm going to unwind and let the estate look after itself for the next fortnight." He paused. "Unless there actually is an emergency, of course."
"Deal. Emergencies excepted. So, where to next? We can't stay here - the man at the taverna said there's two flotillas due in tomorrow. The place will be overrun with seasick Muggles. And I'm hardly going to be heading in that direction."
He nodded towards the west. Cephalonia was hidden behind the nearer headland, and a mile or so of strait separated the two islands, but in the calm night noises carried - especially to war-sensitised wizarding ears. A burst of raucous house music broke upon the thyme-scented night air, as the late bars of Fiskardo opened for business.
Neville - expecting the question - reached into the open-fronted recess in the cockpit wall, pulled out a chart, plonking it in front of Draco. Draco moved the champagne bottle up behind Neville to make room for it.
One stubby finger stabbed down.
"Here. Paxos. No airport - the whole island isn't more than six miles long at the outside. Only three villages on the whole place. And we won't go to the main one - this harbour at the north end - Lakka Bay - will be perfect for us to anchor up."
Draco looked, shrugged, and nodded. "Sounds fair enough. What's that - sixty miles?"
"Give or take. Less than eight hours, even if we take it steadily. Be there for afternoon tea."
An elegant nose wrinkled.
"That a hint you want a refill?"
Without waiting for a response, Neville swept his arm back to collect the bottle. Over-impulsively, of course, as ever, fuck it. His belated rescue grab failed - the bottle tipped inexorably over, spilling its contents across his chest.
"Oh, shit! And that was the last of the vintage your mother gave us, too. Oh, god, I don't know why I'm just so fucking clumsy -"
Draco's eyes glittered in the moonlight. His tongue flicked out, sweeping across his lips in a lazy, defining arc.
"Well," he drawled, "now you've done it, it would be a crying shame to waste it. Especially since it was a present."
He bent his head, and, with the concentrated precision of a Burmese cat applying itself to a pool of spilled cream, began lapping at the champagne trail that led down Neville's body.
Each nerve Neville possessed began to quiver. Separately.
Eleanor looked across the room, mentally inventorying the packed suitcases sitting by the hotel bedroom door. She would have liked to risk a quick look at her watch, but was unsure whether the movement of her arm would awaken her sleeping husband.
A complicated business, this double bed one, and one which was going to take more getting used to than she had expected. So many extra limbs to manage - and there didn't seem to be a way of arranging them which avoided awkwardness - also, she'd not anticipated just how much heat an extra person added, and she'd found it difficult getting comfortable, even without the added, embarrassing difficulty of dodging round the damp patch - she knew now what the girls at work had meant by their sly comments about such matters, which they conspicuously cut short if they saw she could hear them, assuming - quite wrongly, of course - that she'd be shocked. Mummy had always emphasized that just because other people led their lives according to different standards that was no reason to look down on them, or to make a parade of one's own values. And both she and Reverend Mother had insisted that one day she would find someone who shared her principles, and wouldn't pressure her to change them, not like -
As ever, her mind shied away from the forbidden topic.
That was all over. Had been for years.
And anyway, Mummy and Reverend Mother had, after all, been quite right: the proof of that was right here besides her.
This time she did move her arm - after all, missing the flight would be a disastrous start to the honeymoon, and she really ought to check the time -
Still only 3.10 am. And - it seemed she hadn't been careful enough moving her arm. The body next to hers stirred. An amused voice spoke out of the darkness.
"Honestly, Ellie, I'm not going to miss the plane. I have caught them before, you know."
Unlike you hung unspoken on the air between them. She gave a small, embarrassed giggle.
"Sorry. But it is so exciting."
Roddy's voice had a husky edge to it.
"It is. And you've no idea what it means to me, being the one to show you it all. I only wished I could have gone on with my original plan and kept the destination a complete surprise until we got to the airport -"
But then I'd have missed all the fun of reading up in advance and going over in my head what I was going to see first, and buying the right books and clothes -
Dutifully, she said, "Well, that was a shame for you. And I do love surprises -"
Which was, by and large, true, so no need for her to cross her fingers there. But it seemed it wasn't just double beds which made marriage complicated, and no-one explained that sort of thing to you in advance.
"Yes. Well. It was my own fault. I made some stupid joke to your father about whisking you off to Las Vegas, and he got so agitated I had to come clean about where we were really going."
"Oh, golly. Poor Daddy! Not only abroad, but American abroad. With neon lights and gambling dens! No wonder the poor pet got fretful."
Roddy's voice was rueful. "And the rest. He cross-examined me for hours. I practically ended up having to give him my formal oath that we weren't going anywhere - what's that word he's so keen on? - oh, tripperish, yes - that there wasn't even an airport on the island itself, and no night-clubs or anything. I could understand it if I'd been planning to take you to Majorca or the Costa Brava, or somewhere else that the oiks have colonised, but a villa in the Ionian? I mean, given you can hardly move in their house without tripping over some book or other written in Latin or Ancient Greek, I'd have thought you'd have been off to Epidavros or Mycaenae or somewhere every summer."
She paused to select the right words, conscious of the shifting balance of proper loyalties - another thing no-one prepared you for, that.
"Well, Daddy was just too young to go before the Colonels got in. And then, I think when they toppled them, Daddy was planning to visit, but somehow he didn't get around to it before he married Mummy, and I came along, and by the time I was old enough to get anything out of it, he thought it'd have all been spoiled by package tours and cheap tourist hotels and people who were just going for a tan and who didn't care about the culture, and he couldn't bring himself to face it."
Her husband snorted. "He might just as well have come clean, and admitted he doesn't like foreign food. Like my father."
Justice impelled her to speak. "Oh, but he does! He loves foreign food. Mummy remembers when she was little, and he'd just started as Grandfather's research assistant - that was back when, Mummy says, spaghetti came in long blue packets, and you only got olive oil in little bottles at the chemist, and you used it for earache and to oil your recorder - and he cooked everyone genuine Tuscan food out of Elizabeth David for the Department's New Year party, and no-one knew what they were eating."
"I'll bet." She stiffened up, conscious of his scepticism. His tone changed to banter.
"Well, speaking of foreign food, I hope you aren't planning to overdo it. You were absolutely stunning today, in that dress, and when I remember what a little podge you looked at that Rugby club dinner, the first time I ever saw you -"
His hand, unfamiliar in its possessiveness, stroked up under her nightdress, over the smooth skin of her belly. She tried to suppress her instinctive response to suck in. He pinched, very gently, the soft flesh just below her navel.
"Mind you, there's still some work to do. After we get back, I'll have you down to the gym, and that should soon shift those last pounds."
Despite herself, she made a small, reproachful noise at the back of her throat. His tone changed again.
"Come on, Ellie, lighten up. After all, if a man can't tease his own wife on his wedding day, who can he tease?"
She made an effort to match his tone. "It isn't the wedding day any more. Not for three and a half hours it hasn't been. We're quite an old married couple."
He turned over, away from her, composing himself back to sleep again. "Yes. And one whose alarm clock is set for 6.15. So stop chattering and let me have the rest of the night out."
The bedroom was quiet. Despite herself, she found herself stealing another glance towards the suitcases standing by the bedroom door, and suppressed a gasp of almost unbearable anticipation.
Just eight hours to go - and then -
She shook her head, in a determined attempt at self discipline.
There's no point in trying to plan in advance for what it's going to be like. After all, it's bound to be completely different to how you could possibly imagine it.
The tiller extension had tangled itself up with the mainsheet. Again. Fortunately, hardly any breeze crept into the little horse-shoe shaped bay, given the protective jaws of the headlands, the westerly one graced with a formidable lighthouse whose origins doubtless dated back to the days when the Doges ruled these waters.
Eleanor disentangled herself, this time without incident. The cats paws rippling across the glassy surface of the bay warned her in time that there was more breeze coming, and she braced her bare feet under the toe-straps of the hired dinghy and leant outboard to keep the boat from heeling too much as the sail filled.
The little gust carried her towards the large blue-hulled yacht that lay at anchor under the sheltering cliffs on the western side of the bay. She had come in at dusk the previous evening, managing to ghost in under sail notwithstanding that the wind had dropped away almost to nothing as the sun set. What had struck Eleanor, as they watched from their table at the little waterfront taverna, had been the silent efficiency of the yacht's approach to her anchorage. No throb of engine or panicked yelling of commands had been allowed to mar the stillness of the evening. One moment the yacht had been sailing; on an instant she had rounded up into the wind; her sails had been let fly and - she had been at anchor, canvas already down and in the process of being given a harbour stow by the crew.
Calm efficiency was not something Eleanor readily associated with boat handling.
Yesterday, watching the slick precision of the yacht's arrival had reminded her by sheer contrast of long-ago family trips on the Broads, where Daddy had always managed to make an intense drama out of performing even the simplest manoeuvre. Mummy would start to flounder and panic under his rapid sequence of confusing and contradictory orders; any attempt by Eleanor to assist would only earn her an earful to the effect that her father now knew why sailors had traditionally regarded women on board as the worst of bad luck and anyway why couldn't she just put that rope down and start doing something useful, hey? and it would all turn into a frantic melange of useless belated fenderings, panic, flogging sails, nipped fingers and hurt feelings.
Seeing that yacht arrive had brought all sorts of memories flooding up in a rush, and she'd tried to convey the sense of loving, protective chaos that had been her childhood by describing it all to Roddy on the spot, but it seemed she hadn't done it right; he'd changed the subject almost immediately.
He was, she thought, still rather stiff around her parents. Though, of course, Daddy's crusty academic guise must be really quite daunting if you didn't realise what a softie he was underneath. Roddy would soon find that out. And also, it seemed, boats weren't one of his things; he'd been almost annoyed when they got to their villa and discovered a note from her parents to say that once they'd found out the resort they'd booked them a couple of Toppers from the local sailing school as a surprise extra present. He hadn't really been all that keen on her taking one of them out this morning (and had looked almost comically appalled at the suggestion he might accompany her) but she'd argued that Daddy would be inordinately disappointed about the failure of his present if she didn't come back with at least some photos taken from the water. And given everything Daddy had paid for already - the reception, her dress, and an extraordinarily generous cheque to set them off, as he'd said, housekeeping on both the right feet - that would look most dreadfully ungrateful. An argument that in the end Roddy had accepted.
She sneaked a guilty look at her watch. She was outstaying her furlough; Roddy might well have made it down from the villa already. Perhaps he was already waiting for her back at one of the tavernas in the main square. It would never do to be late on top of their - not quarrel, of course, because Roddy never quarrelled - it was one of those points of fascinating difference about him she'd been drawn to from the first, after her volatile childhood (his parents hadn't either, not in thirty-five years, he'd told her) - but, anyway, lack of harmony that morning.
She twitched mentally: perhaps she was, after all, at fault for being selfish - Reverend Mother, probably, would have said she was, come to think of it, because in her heart of hearts she had known - or at least suspected - that Roddy didn't care for sailing before mentioning the dinghies, and by assuming that they'd be using them, perhaps she'd made it difficult for him to say no without feeling guilty, which was manipulation, and so of course wrong -
The wind freshened again as she neared the mouth of the bay, and she shivered a little; she was not yet dry from the last capsize, and even with the sun beating down the sharp breeze raised goose-pimples on her bare, still pale arms. However, the little spurt of speed it had given to the dinghy had brought her, at last, under the stern of the anchored yacht.
Alecto ran in a fantastic, gold cursive script across the transom. In more prosaic capitals underneath was its port of registration: PIRAEUS. She raised her little disposable camera, hanging by its protective strap to her wrist, to her face so as to snap its glory as it lay at anchor.
The swimming step dangled down into the water, and the tender still swung from its davits; it seemed the yacht's crew was still aboard, though there was no-one on deck. She wondered what could keep anyone below on so beautiful a morning. She was, however, conscious of sneaking relief that no-one was there to watch her unashamed gawping at the beautiful lines of the vessel and the bleached sumptuousness of its teak-inlaid decks.
The high sides of the anchored boat abruptly blanketed her wind. The sail drooped, and her frantic waggling of the tiller to propel the boat forwards only succeeded in sending her into the yacht's hull with a subdued but undignified thump. Her head shot up, expecting to have to brave the wrath of an indignant owner leaping protectively to the defence of his gel-coat, but no-one stirred aboard. Guiltily, she fended off with the palms of her hand, caressing as she did so the sun-warmed smoothness of the yacht's hull, its dark gloss silky against her skin.
The fending did the trick - the recoil from her pushing propelled the dinghy along the hull and then out past the yacht's bows. Once out of its shadow the freshening wind caught her, unexpectedly, and in a rush she tried to dump the mainsail to control the little dinghy's heeling.
The mainsail block jammed, trapping the sheet before she could release it. The dinghy, its sails too tight for the angle of the ever-increasing breeze, went up on its ear. Below Eleanor's stretching toes water slopped in over the leeward gunwale. She hiked her weight out over the windward side as far as she could to balance the boat, but the wind freshened and the dinghy accelerated out of control. Panic vied with exhilaration within her, as she ripped unstoppably across the little white-capped waves, her fingers still - mindful of age-old instruction - curled around rather than gripping the tiller extension, caution left behind in her sword-straight wake. The sun blazed down on the laughing ripples ahead of her. Words of an old song soared to her lips. Absurdly, she yelled them aloud in her joy and terror.
Cancel my subscription to the - Resurrection -
The dinghy screamed across the bay towards the village nestled against the farther shore.
There was a sudden, sickening crash. The shock juddered all through her body; the noise of ripping nylon seemed to go on forever. The dinghy came to a dead stop. She catapulted out, and forward. She had a fleeting impression of a horrid tangle of rigging and detached spars before the salty water closed above her head.
She was only submerged for a second or two, and her initial panic about getting trapped under the sail eased as she kicked her way free of the capsized dinghy to emerge, spluttering, holding on to its centre-board besides its upturned hull. Her camera was still on its wrist-strap, thank goodness, and it was waterproof, of course, so no problems there -
A worried voice, with a strong Northern English accent, said, "I'm most terribly sorry. You are sure you are all right, aren't you? I really am so incredibly sorry. It was completely my fault."
Bobbing beside her, besides the wreckage of his windsurfer - that must be what she had collided with, then - was a young man; damp brown hair plastered over his forehead, blood from a scrape trickling down his face, worried eyes regarding her with concern.
She tried to sound reassuring.
"Yes, really. Truly. I'm fine."
Which - absent a bruise or so (she had always bruised easily: hockey at school had left her shins looking like maps of the world done in purple and yellow, and it was, briefly, a shock to realise that the bruises which she knew were going to blossom on her hip-bones and rib-cage from the recent impact were no longer an entirely private matter) - was entirely true. The boat, now - she shot a sidelong glance at the dinghy. The state of the mast and boom did not look very healthy. He caught the direction of her glance and smiled a trifle shyly at her.
"Please don't worry about it. I'm sure it looks a lot worse than it really is. And I can assure you I've had plenty of practice at estimating the cost of repairing disasters."
There was a hum of an outboard behind them; the safety boat from the sailing school had come out to lend a hand. The driver, a tanned Aussie with spiky blond hair, hauled her inboard with a practised hand, even though she did end up going over the RIB's side with an undignified flop-and-wriggle motion, and landing in a heap in a puddle of warm seawater in the bottom of the hull. The young man, treading water besides his windsurfer, looked up at the driver of the RIB.
"I'll be over in a few moments, as soon as I've got dressed and got my things from the yacht. It was entirely my fault, so if you'll let me know what the repairs are likely to come to, I'll let you have my details."
Eleanor made a shocked sound of protest. "Certainly not! I can't possibly let you! It was at least as much my fault as yours - and anyway - "
What on earth would Roddy say if I were to let you do that? I don't even know your name.
She let the rest of the sentence hanging. The rescue-boat driver grinned cheerfully. "Shouldn't worry, mate. These dinghies are bloody tough. That's why the company buys them. Doubt there's anything you've managed to do that can't be fixed with WD40 and a bit of duck tape."
She gaped at him.
"WD40 and duck tape?"
The driver's grin broadened. "Engineer's creed. World goes round on WD40 and duck tape. When it won't move and ought to you use the first, and when it does move and shouldn't you use the other. And if neither of those can solve it, it isn't worth worrying about."
"Well, at least," the young man in the water said doggedly, "you'll allow me to buy you a drink? Just let me get rid of this" - he indicated the windsurfer -"and I'll see you in the main square, OK? Fifteen minutes. Least I can do."
"Um - well - "
The driver had finished tying the dinghy to the back of the rescue boat by some insane complication of macramé, and was about to pull the start cord on the outboard again. Eleanor thought of Roddy - thought of her parents' carefully instilled creed of politeness - realised that the strange young man would in truth be hurt if she turned his offer down - gulped and decided to wing it.
"Yes - thank you, that's very kind - only I don't have very long - I'm supposed to be meeting my husband in the main square for lunch - we're here on honeymoon, you see -"
There, she thought belatedly, if you did have an ulterior motive -
She was simultaneously overcome by her arrogance in presuming any such thing and the appalled realisation that it had not occurred to her to think of anything of the sort earlier.
The young man in the water smiled up at her. He had a disarming grin, made more unthreatening by his broken, peeling nose and rounded features.
"Then I'll buy you both a drink. Least I can do, seeing as I just nearly widowed him. See you later. The name's Neville, by the way."
- and then the outboard on the rescue craft roared into life, and they were heading back towards the base at a considerable rate of knots, and she was not sure he had caught her own, hurried, self-introduction over the noise of the engine.
It had taken her less time than she had feared to deal with the boatyard (who persisted, reassuringly, in their view that worse things happened at sea; and that duct tape would solve all and, if she could bear not to take the boat out that afternoon, they'd have it all sorted by tomorrow); disentangle her hair (it always tended to the bushy side when wet); slide into her cotton frock and sandals, and to head into the village square where four or five tavernas converged.
She was obscurely relieved to note that Roddy had not, in fact, made his way down from the villa yet; in fact, even her new acquaintance had not found his way to the main square by the time she got there. Apart from quantities of the island's cats, the only person present when she arrived in the central concourse was a slight, elegant figure wearing a Panama hat, long-sleeved black silk shirt, and baggy, black linen draw-string trousers; who was tipping his chair dangerously back on two legs, putting his head and most of his body into the shade of a venerable lime tree which overhung a corner of the square, his feet on the aluminium table; a battered copy of Beasts and Superbeasts in his hands. He made no acknowledgement whatsoever of her arrival, but merely turned another page.
She sat down a couple of tables away, and wished she'd thought to bring a book, too. Fortunately, before the situation could become too awkward, there was a cheerful shout from the other side of the village square.
"Hi! Sorry I kept you waiting."
Neville, now dressed in sawn-off jeans and a T-shirt, was picking his way through the maze of tables and chairs that covered the square. His shout, it seemed, had attracted the attention of the other tourist, who sat up abruptly, allowing the front legs of his chair to return to earth with a resounding thump. He removed his sunglasses to reveal a pair of intent eyes, set in a sharp-featured face. Neville spotted him at about the same time.
"Oh, hello, you. The crew told me you'd emerged at last. I see you're opting for the Mafioso chic look today?"
The black-clad man smiled but, Eleanor thought with a sudden shiver, in a thin-lipped way that added an extra edge to the joke.
"Yes. Indeed. So go on. Make me an offer I can't spell," he drawled.
Neville raised his eyebrows and pantomimed shock.
"Leaving your options wide open, aren't you? Don't tempt me. Anyway, how long have you been on shore?"
He shrugged. "Just long enough to have pole position on the jetty for watching that idiot girl in the dinghy try to T-bone you."
An embarrassed tide of red spread over her face and shoulders. Neville sighed. "Draco, do take that foot out of your mouth. You'll be needing to make room for the other one in a minute."
He turned to her. "I do apologise for him, really. Eleanor (I did catch your name properly, didn't I?) meet Draco. Draco: Eleanor. The collision with whose dinghy I was totally to blame for, earlier. I promised to buy her a drink as a minor apology for attempting to drown her on her honeymoon."
"Honeymoon?" His friend's eyes glittered with interest. "If it's your honeymoon, what on earth are you doing wasting time sailing when you could be -"
Neville's voice was sharply reproving.
"Draco! However you were planning to end that sentence, don't."
Despite his tone, he was grinning and Draco responded to his expression not his words. His face, also, relaxed.
"There you are, you see. You met Neville less than half an hour ago and already he's given you a perfect illustration of what he sees as his two main aims in life. Taking the blame for everything, and keeping me in line. Both doomed to be eternally frustrated, of course. That's my main aim in life."
Neville made no attempt to deny this assertion. Instead, he pulled up a chair at Draco's table, and gestured to Eleanor to join them. The waiter appeared at her side at this precise moment.
"Er - kally speh rah," she began carefully, conscious of Daddy's dictum that even if one only spoke a little of a language, it was far better to attempt to communicate in it, at the price of feeling a prize chump, rather than behave like an ignorant tripper, and expect everyone to speak your language.
The waiter looked at her with bafflement.
At which point Draco turned to him, and unleashed a positive torrent of fast, fluent Greek which (from the changes in the waiter's expression) was amusing, informative and distinctly scurrilous, all at the same time. At the first pause, the waiter nodded, and started to enumerate something on his fingers, keeping up a running commentary in the same language.
When he had finished, Draco turned back to the others and smiled sweetly. "Well, if you're planning on lunching here, he suggests that you go and inspect the fish in person. Just landed and positively flapping, allegedly. Anyway, onto more important things. What are you having to drink? Can't keep the chap hanging about all day."
That settled, and the waiter on his way back inside, she turned to Draco.
"Golly," she said, "I wish I was that good at languages."
"Try cheating," Neville suggested helpfully. Draco wrinkled his nose.
"You're only jealous. Just because I've been blessed with the gift of tongues."
Neville, who looked rather as though he had wanted to say something different, turned instead to Eleanor.
"Anyway, what are you planning on eating?"
She paused. Having lunch with them had not formed any part of her plans. She prevaricated.
"Well, I don't think I can really say until my husband gets here and I know what he was planning to do about lunch."
Her voice trailed off, a trifle hesitantly. She really wasn't at all sure how Roddy was going to react if these two assumed - and they did seem to have a tremendous capacity for assuming, both of them - they would join them for lunch since Roddy had not even met them. On the positive side, judging by their accents and manners they did plainly fall in the category Roddy liked to call "PLU". Even as she thought it, she winced; she knew what he meant, of course, and it was hypocritical - as he'd pointed out several times - for her to complain about his actually saying it when it was true she made the same assessment every time she met someone new - everyone did -
Neville smiled at her.
"Well, while you're waiting for him I'll go and take a look at the fish. As we're here early, if it's as good as he claims it might make sense to earmark the cream of the catch before the mad rush happens."
He vanished into the depths of the taverna, passing the waiter who was bringing their drinks in the doorway and, she noted enviously, also managing to exchange a few brief words in Greek. Draco leaned back again in his chair, curled his fingers round his beer, and said,
"Personally, I'm planning to go for the kalamarakia. I do adore squid; it reminds me so of school."
Eleanor's mouth dropped open: a shade inelegantly, she reflected a moment later.
"Goodness! You must have gone to a most unusual school," she exclaimed. His brow wrinkled.
"True enough, but what makes you say so?"
Before she could stop him, he was topping up her retsina from the bottle that - despite her insistence only on a glass - the waiter seemed to have presented them with, and raising an enquiring eyebrow. Eleanor blushed a little.
"Well - it's just that my husband - from everything he's said about Stoneyhurst - the last thing that would persuade him to order anything in a restaurant would be if it reminded him of school - and Daddy said the same about Rugby - I'd assumed all public schools were the same -"
"Far from it, as the Beater said when he aimed the Bludger at the opposition Seeker and took off the umpire's head."
From his tone it must be a quotation; indeed, it had a vaguely familiar sound - but infuriatingly she couldn't place it. Though she must have made some sort of gaffe - though she was puzzled to see what it could be -
She took a large gulp of the retsina to cover her confusion, and then another. Draco topped up her glass again before she could stop him.
Life - in the hot still noon of the village square - started to acquire an attractively blurry edge.
Phooey, she muttered. Yes; Roddy might object to her striking up acquaintances with other tourists - yes, other tourists, she said spunkily to Daddy, who seemed to have intruded himself in her thoughts as the other half of the conversation. But so what? She was grown up, and a married woman, and begged leave to choose her friends and acquaintances for herself, thank you.
From a place she had suddenly found outside of herself, she looked down at Reverend Mother, and Mummy and - yes, even Daddy and Roddy - and told them politely but firmly -
"Elli! I'm sure that's more than enough. For the middle of the day. Especially as you aren't used to drinking."
Guiltily she looked up and then round. Roddy's approach - from the opposite side of the square to the one she'd been expecting him from - had been so unobtrusive that he was leaning over the back of her chair before she had noticed his arrival.
Draco leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow.
"Ah. You must be the husband, I take it."
Roddy looked first at him, and then - slowly - at her. Eleanor repressed a shiver. Roddy's voice was coldly polite as he responded.
"Excuse me? "The husband"?"
Draco's eyebrow went higher.
"Oh!" he said. "I'm sorry, but it hadn't occurred to me that Eleanor was likely to be into that sort of thing. My mistake. A husband, then. Of course."
Eleanor thought, for a moment, she had forgotten how to breathe. And then, in the interminable instant before Roddy responded, she caught with relief Neville's cheerful Northern accent from the taverna doorway.
"I think you and your husband ought to seriously think about eating here, Eleanor. They've got some swordfish that looks simply - "
He broke off, abruptly. Roddy spun on the spot. Through the heavy silence in the noon-baked square Neville walked onwards towards the table, his eyes fixed on her husband. Eleanor noted that Roddy's skin had paled; his habitual tan looked like a scum on top of a profound pallor. His muscular hand clenched into a fist below the level of the table. Neville had a reddish flush that accentuated his recent sunburn. Draco's eyes flickered from one to the other, his lips set in a tight line.
Neville spoke first.
"Roddy. Good heavens. Well, fancy meeting you here. After all these years."
With fastidious precision Draco picked up the half-lemon - so under ripe it looked more like a lime - and squeezed juice over the florets of deep fried tentacle on his plate, as though the placement of every drop was the deployment of an infantry company in a battle that would decide the fate of empires.
Neville - drawn in by the disproportion between the effort expended and the sheer inconsequentiality of the whole proceedings - lost his nerve, and broke his self-willed silence.
"Yes?" he enquired irritably.
"Yes," his lover agreed. Infuriatingly, Draco then paused. He smiled.
"So," he added after a moment's thought, "unfinished business. I presume."
Neville gritted his teeth.
"The last bit of your unfinished business we met was, if I recall correctly, seated astride a Doomsday Missile and all set to destroy the world."
With a leisurely air, Draco contemplated one of the squidlets on his plate. He speared it, ate it; and smiled.
"Um, yes, Pansy. And you should have had to deal with her when the PMT was really being a problem. I agree. Entirely. No room to talk. No room at all."
He tipped the rest of the bottle of wine into his own glass before continuing.
"So," Draco said, his tone for once absolutely serious, as he gestured for the waiter and a refill, "when was he? And why?"
Neville thought, rapidly. He had - one always does - thought he had given up to his lover as much as it was discreet and proper to know about those who had gone before. And the humiliation and sense of faint ridicule that was always stirred up on those infrequent occasions when he disturbed his ghosts scarcely demanded that he pull anything deeper out of the past.
"It was a very long time ago," he said.
"Obviously." Draco reached across him to the olive-oil flask compressed in the cruet next to the paper napkins. Having sprinkled the oil on his bread, he gestured expansively with the flask.
"I cannot possibly imagine," he added, "that you could ever have dreamt of taking to bed that - moppet - at any time when I was a remotely plausible alternate contingency."
Involuntarily, Neville gave vent to a choked gasp of amusement. "Moppet" was the last word he would have chosen to describe Roddy, personally; he had bulked up considerably since he had seen him last although - being Roddy - it was all muscle without an ounce of fat. But he had lost most of what he had once possessed by way of neck, in his studied muscularity, and Neville did not think the change had been for the better.
He pictured Roddy's likely reaction to hearing Draco describe him so, and giggled again.
"Good," Draco added dreamily, "I'm glad we share the same outlook."
Involuntarily, Neville's voice had acquired a hard, almost accusing edge. "I was sixteen when I met Roddy the first time - Easter holidays 1998. If you want to be so clever, tell me what - no, who - you were doing then - OK?"
Draco paused. His voice dropped to a husky purr.
"Spring 1998? Well let me see." His voice changed, became less emphatic. "Yes. Um, yes. Awkward times. The Dark Lord did indeed want a little harmony among his - um - family - "
Neville saw Draco's lips curl away from the word as if it had been bathed in acid. Nevertheless, he continued speaking.
"That would be when I was learning Dark Arts. Properly, I mean. Not Defence, and not from a procession of doddering incompetents."
Draco's tongue flicked out, moistening his dry lips.
"From a lecherous old goat with a remarkable facility for the Imperius curse, I have to say."
"Draco! He didn't - ?"
A chopping gesture with one elegant hand cut him short.
"Well. Less than he might have. Curious sense of honour among - yes, well, among what would you call them? Oh well. People didn't join the Death Eaters to explore their mutual interests in jam-making and swapping crochet patterns, after all. No doubt he was waiting to go further until I became fully one of the gang."
"What became of him in the end?" Partly that was real interest; partly an attempt to deflect Draco - not that it was likely to work, such efforts never did - from continuing his own probing. Momentarily Draco looked surprised, and then calculating; rather like someone who had suddenly hit upon a possible solution to a cryptic crossword clue and was trying it to see whether it fitted the space.
"Actually, you killed him."
That took him aback. "I did? When?"
Draco shrugged. "That time we went after the Lamina Regis, remember, and we got to the small-holding a short head behind the Death Eater ambush?"
Even after so long, he flinched. They had walked into hell that day (the bodies of the old couple who had owned it, their battered skulls loaded with clustered, satiated masses of bluebottles, lying prone amid the heartless early summer glory of the flowerbeds). Getting out had taken desperate measures, which previously he had not dreamt he was capable of. Disarmed early, he had flung a loop of baler twine around the neck of one masked Death Eater, in a desperate attempt to deflect his wand's focus from Draco.
And then - feeling the writhing Death Eater go suddenly limp - falling heavily forwards and away from him - realising, with an odd sense that the world was shifting away from him, and the patterns of the stars had altered, that the man was dead, and that he had strangled him personally.
"Um, yes, him." Draco gestured with a bit of bread. "When his mask fell off as he dropped - god, those masks were about the Dark Lord's second stupidest idea ever, you had to enchant them six ways to Sunday to make yourself able to see a blind thing - and while obviously his face was pretty much changed -"
"I know - "
The suffused, bloated face of the strangled man, his black tongue lolling horribly from his collapsed jaw, had haunted his sleep for years, and during his recent illness had jeered endlessly at him through an interminable succession of fever dreams. Draco looked up at him with quick concern, as quickly veiled.
"Well, anyway, I didn't have time to do more than think god, he looks familiar - I wonder where - before the next wave of them hit us and we had to bolt. I think we were halfway across the next county before I thought oh, yes, so that's who - Do you want me to do you the sam