THE HUNTING PARTY
Disclaimer: none of the characters are mine, but Rowling's…
Up came the morning of the desirable, long awaited day, it cam – hurray, lords hunters! – June 29th… Up came the day on which forgotten are the debts, bugs, expensive meals, mothers-in-law and even young wife – the day, on which the village constable who forbids to hunt may be shown the bird twenty times…
Stars paled and blurred… Voices came from some places… The village chimneys belched forth bluish-grey, acid smoke. On the grey bell-tower awoke not-quite-sober sexton and started the mass… The snoring of the night watchman, sleeping under a tree, stopped. The bee-eaters awoke, grew active, started flying from one end of the garden and began their intolerable, irritating chirping. Starlings and hoopoes also began to tweet over the kitchen… A free morning concern began…
To the half-ruined, picturesquely overgrown with the stinging nettle, porch of the manor of Rudolphus Lestrange came a pair of carriage-and-three-equestrials. A terrible mess started in the manor and outside of it. All that lived around Rudolphus Lestrange began to walk, run and knock through all ladders, sheds and stables… One shaft-horse got switched. The coach-elves took-off their peaked caps, the lackey – Rastaban's lick-boot – grew a red bruise under his nose, the kitchen elves were threatened to be fed to hell-cats, and Satan and his angels were certainly mentioned… In five minutes flat the carriages were filled with carpets, rugs, packages of food, gun cases.
"Ready!" the head house elf yelled.
"Please! All is ready!" Rudolphus Lestrange yelled as sweetly as he could, and the multiple public appeared on the porch. The first one in with the young potion master. Following him was the wizard merchant Rosier, wearing heelless boots, an orange top hat, a 25 double-barrel gun and yellow-green spots on the neck. Rosier is a plebe, but the pureborn wizards respecting his ability hitting a thrown dime in the air don't look down on his roots and take him with them hunting.
"Please, your lordship!" – Rudolphus turned to a tall thin man of approximately his age and too-pale skin. "Move over, Severus!"
Lord Voldemort sighed, put one foot on the footboard, and supported by Rudolphus, pushed aside Severus and sat next to Rosier. He was followed by his puppy, Vanity, and Rudolphus's pointer, Musician.
"Hmm… you know… Peter!" Lord Voldemort turned to Peter Pettigrew, who bore a long one-barrel gun. "You can sit here, next to me. Come here! Yup… Right here. Don't be mischievous, Peter! The horse might worry!"
After breathing tobacco smoke up the shaft-horse's nose one last time, Peter got into the coach, pushed Rosier away from the Dark Lord, and sat. Rudolphus muttered a good-luck prayer and sat next to Snape. Karkaroff, the teacher of arithmancy and higher magics of Durmstrang, sat into the coach-box, next to the coach-elf.
The first coach was full. The second got loaded.
"All is ready!" yelled Rudolphus, after the second coach, after a lot of arguments and running around, got filled with the other eight wizards and three dogs.
"Ready!" yelled the guests.
"Well? Shall we get a move on, your lordship? God bless – move it, elf!"
The first coach shook and moved. The second, which the held the most active hunters, shook, desperately creaked, twisted a bit to the side, and, ending up a bit in front of the first, drove to the gates. The hunters smiled at once and clapped their hands. All felt as if they were on the seventh heaven, but… the wicked fate!.. they didn't have time to leave the yard, when the scandal started.
"Stop! Wait! Stop!" yelled an ear-piercing tenor from behind the carriages.
The hunters looked back and paled. They were chased by the most intolerable man in the world, a mischief-maker of the country-wide renown, Rudolphus' brother, Rastaban Lestrange… He desperately waved his hands. The horses stopped.
"What do you want?" Rudolphus asked his brother.
Rastaban ran up to the coach, jumped inside and took a swing at Rudolphus. The hunters intervened.
"What is going on?" asked Rudolphus, flushed.
"What is going on," Rastaban shouted, "that you're a Judas, a brute, a boar! A pig, your lordship! What for you didn't awaken me? What for you didn't awaken me, you ass, I ask you, you lowlife? Gentlemen, don't get involved… I just want to teach him a lesson! Why didn't you wake me up? I'll get in your way? Got me drunk yesterday on purpose and thought that I'll sleep till noon! What a fruit! Let me, your lordship… I'll just do it… once… Let me!"
"What is your problem?" Lord Voldemort shouted, getting up. "Don't you see that there's no place for you? You're just… too free-spirited…"
"You curse in vain, Rastaban," spoke Rudolphus. "I didn't wake you because there's no need for you to go with us… You can't shoot. What for should you go? To get in the way? For you can't shoot!"
"I can't! Can't shoot, am I?" Rastaban shouted so loudly, that even Rosier winced. "But, in that case, what in name of Morgana Severus Snape is doing here? He also can't shoot! Does he shoot better than me?"
"He's right, gentlemen," Snape said. "I don't know how to shoot, how to properly hold the gun, even… I don't tolerate gun fire… I don't know why you're taking me with you… What for? Let him take my place! I stay!.. Rastaban, there's a spot!"
"Hear, hear! What for you're taking him?"
Snape got up, clearly ready to leave. Rudolphus grabbed the potion master by the coattail and pulled him backwards…
"Hey… hands-off my coat! It cost 30 sickles… Let go! And overall, gentlemen, I ask you not to talk to me today… I am not in the mood and may start trouble that even I won't want. Let go, Rudolphus! Sit on my spot, Rastaban! I am going back to sleep!"
"You must go, Severus!" Rudolphus spoke, not easing his grip. "You swore that you'll go!"
"It was a forced oath. Why, why should I ride, what for?"
"So that," Rastaban chuckled nastily, "so that you wouldn't stay with Bella! That's what for! He's jealous of you, Severus! Don't go, buddy! Stay back on purpose! He's jealous, by Mordred, he is jealous!"
Rudolphus blushed and shook his fists.
"Hey!" yelled the rest of the party. "Rastaban, stop making trouble! Come here, there's a spot for you!"
Rastaban smiled acidly.
"What now, shark-face," he uttered. "Who won? Did you hear? There is a spot! I'll go on purpose! Will go and get in the way! Honestly, I will make mischief! Not a devil will you kill today! And you, Sev, don't go. May he burst from jealousy."
Rudolphus got up, swinging his fists. His eyes were red.
"You bastard!" he told his brother. "You're no kin of mine! Our late mother didn't curse you for nothing! Our father died in the full bloom of his years for your immoral actions!"
"Gentlemen…" Lord Voldemort finally spoke. "I think… this is enough. You're brothers, blood brothers!"
"He's a bloody ass, your lordship, not a brother! Don't go, Sev! Don't go!"
"Move it, damn you… Argh… Hell knows what this is! Move it!" his lordship yelled and slammed the back of the coach-box. "Move it!"
The elf whipped the steeds and the vehicle moved. Meanwhile, in the second coach, Rookwood had taken two dogs onto his knees, and fiery Rastaban sat down onto the freed spot.
"It's his luck that there was a place," Rastaban said, getting comfortable, "for otherwise… Write about this robber, Rookwood!"
Rookwood, after sending an article last year to the "Quidditch Times" about the fecundity of the muggles got an answer most unkind to his self-esteemvia owl-mail, complained to his friends in the DE, and became known as a writer.
According to previously-made plan of action it was decided to go first to the hayfield that was located in about 4.5 miles from Rudolphus' manor to hunt the quails. Arriving at the hayfield the hunters got out and split into two groups. One group, let by his lordship and Rudolphus went to the right; the other, led by Rookwood, to the left. Rosier lagged behind and eventually walked off on his own. Most of all, when hunting, he loved peace and quiet. Musician, barking, ran forth and after a moment flushed a partridge. Pettigrew shot at it and missed.
"Took too high, damn it!" he grumbled.
Vanity the puppy, taken for "learning", heard its first shot, barked, and fled back to the horses. Karkaroff shot at a lark and hit.
"I like this bird!" he said, showing the lark to Snape.
"Get lost…" the latter replied. "Overall, I remember asking not to be talked to… I'm not in the mood today. Get away from me!"
"You're a skeptic, potions master!"
"Me? Hmmm… And what does that word mean?"
Karkaroff turned thoughtful.
"Skeptic means man… man… hater," he finally said.
"You lie. Don't use the words whose meanings you don't know. Get away from me! I may start trouble without willing to do so… I'm not in the mood…"
Musician took a stand. Lord Voldemort and Rudolphus paled and stopped breathing.
"I'll shoot!" his lordship whispered. "I… I… Let me! You'll miss for the second time…"
But the situation went awry. Snape, seemingly from idleness, threw a pebble at Musician and hit right between the ears… Musician squealed and jumped up. Lord Voldemort and Rudolphus looked at each other. Something rustled in the grass and out flew a large partridge. The second group shouted and pointed at it. His lordship, Karkaroff, and Peter aimed. Peter shot, Karkaroff misfired… It was too late all the same! The partridge flew around a barrow and landed in the rye.
"I believe, Snape, that… now is no time for jokes!" Lord Voldemort turned to the potions master. "Certainly not!"
"Now's no time for joking."
"So who is joking?"
"This is uncomfortable, Snape," Rudolphus uttered.
"Then you shouldn't have taken me… Who asked you to take me? – Still… I have no desire to explain… I'm not in the mood for today…"
Karkaroff killed another lark. Peter flushed a young rook, shot and missed.
"Took too high, damn it!" he muttered.
Two shots followed at once: Rookwood, behind the barrow, shot 2 partridges with his heavy double-barrel and put them into his pocket. Rudolphus flushed a partridge and fired at it. The wounded partridge fell into the grass. Victorious, Rudolphus picked it up and took it to Lord Voldemort.
"In the wing, your lordship! Still alive!"
"Yes… Alive… Let's remedy this as quickly as possible."
After saying that, his lordship raised the partridge to his mouth and bit its throat in two. Karkaroff killed his third lark. Musician got into another stand. Lord Voldemort took off his cap, aimed the gun… "Fire!" A large partridge arose, but… the bloody potions master stood exactly in the firing area, almost in front of the barrel!
"Away!" shouted Lord Voldemort.
Snape jumped away, his lordship fired, and naturally, it was too late.
"That's low, Severus!" he shouted.
"What is?" the potion master asked.
"Your interference! Why you do that? Because of you I have missed! Merlin alone knows what this is – this is getting out of hand!"
"So what are you shouting about? I'm not afraid! Your lordship, you're not the boss of me – yet. More quietly, please!"
"You're an amazing man! You're walking and interfering, walking and interfering – Slytherin himself would lose his patience!"
"Don't shout, please, your dark lordship. Shout at Karkaroff instead! He, incidentally, is afraid of you. Nothing can get in the way of a good hunter. You better admit that you can't shoot!"
"Enough! You hear a word – and say ten in reply. Peter, give me my powder-flask!" his lordship switched attention to Pettigrew.
"What for did you invite this glory hound to hunt here?" Snape asked Rudolphus.
"I couldn't do it otherwise!" Rudolphus replied. "I couldn't do it otherwise. I owe him… eight thousand… Och, Sev! If it wasn't for the accursed debts…"
Rudolphus drawled off and just sighed.
"So are you really jealous of me?"
Rudolphus looked away and aimed at a really high-flying hawk.
"You lost it, Wormtail!" Lord Voldemort's voice suddenly took-on a thundering quality. "You lost it! It cost me a 100 sickles, Worm!"
Rudolphus walked over to his lordship and asked what was wrong. Apparently, Peter had taken his lordship's bandolier and misplacedit. Immediately, the search for the bandolier began and the hunt was put on hold. The search went on for seventy-five minutes and ended in success. Once the bandolier was found, the hunters took a break.
In the second group, the hunt wasn't quite successful either. In that group Rastaban Lestrange was as bad as Snape in the first, if not worse. He knocked the guns out of hands, cursed, struck dogs, spilled firepowder, in short – did Merlin alone knows what. After some unsuccessful shots at the partridges, Rookwood with his dogs started to chase a young hawk. The hawk got wounded and was lost. Somebody else killed a ground squirrel with a stone.
"Gentlemen, let's vivisect the rodent!" somebody – possibly Lucius Malfoy – suggested.
The hunters sat on the grass, pulled-out pen knives, and turned to anatomy.
"I don't find anything in that rodent," Malfoy spoke when the rodent was cut to pieces. "Note even a heart. The guts, on the other hand… You know what, gentlemen? Let's go to the swamps! What can we kill here? Partridges are not a real game; not compared to snipes and sandpipers… Well? Let's go!"
The hunters got up and slowly moved to the coaches. As they came closer, they fired a collective blast at the pigeons and killed one.
"Your lordship… Rudolphus! Your… Rudy…" – shouted the second group, seeing the first. "Hey-hey!"
Lord Voldemort and Rudolphus stopped. The second group waved their caps.
"What for?" Rudolphus yelled back.
"Look here! We killed a buzzard! Hurry here!"
The first group didn't believe in the buzzard but came over anyways. Getting back into the coaches, the hunters decided to leave the partridges in peace and according to the route go another 6 miles – to the swamps.
"I'm terribly emotional when hunting," Lord Voldemort turned to Snape, when the hayfield was about two miles behind them. "Terribly! Won't spare my own father! So, you… don't keep it in mind!"
"Och, he can be kindly, all right!" Rudolphus whispered into Snape's ear. "He's planning to go into politics, I hear! Needs a potions' master on his side! Our lordship is cunning! Ha-ha-ha…"
"Hey, it's more spacious in here!" Peter noticed.
"How come? It's quite spacious…"
"Gentlemen, where's Rosier?" realized Karkaroff.
The hunters exchanged looks.
"Where's Rosier?" Karkaroff repeated his question.
"Must be with the other group. Gentlemen," Rudolphus shouted, "Rosier with you?"
"No, no!" Rookwood yelled back.
The hunters grew thoughtful.
"Oh, in the name of Merlin!" his lordship decided. "Why should we return for him?"
"We should, your lordship, do so. He's of the weak complexion. He won't manage back without water – he won't make it."
"If he'll have to – he'll make it."
"No, he won't."
Once they arrived at the swamps, the hunters' faces dropped… The swamps were full of other hunters – it wasn't worth it to get out of the coaches. After thinking a bit, the hunters decided to ride another 6 miles to the Ministry's forests.
"What you're going to shoot there?" asked Snape.
"Eagles, thrushes… Well, heath-cocks."
"Right. And I wonder how my potions are doing. And why have you taken me, Rudolphus? Och!"
Snape sighed and shook his head. After coming to the first copse that they saw, the hunters got out and began to argue: who was to go left and right?
"You know what, gentlemen?" suggested Malfoy. "Due to the law, so to say, of nature, in a certain way, the game birds won't get away from us. Hmmm… The game birds won't escape us, gentlemen! Let's first refresh ourselves! Wine, whiskey, caviar… smoked salmon… Right here, on the grass. What's your opinion, Snape? You know this the best: you're the one with the most reason for staying. Don't we need refreshments?"
Malfoy's suggestion was accepted unanimously. Two house-elves put down two carpets and produced a bunch of packages with food and bottles. Rudolphus cut-up sausage, cheese, smoked salmon, Malfoy opened-up the bottles, and Karkaroff cut-up the bread… The hunters licked their lips and sat down for the meal.
"Well, your lordship! A little one…"
The hunters drank and ate. Snape immediately poured himself another one and drank it down. Peter followed his example.
"And here, it ought to be supposed, live wild wolves," Rookwood thoughtfully said, looking suspiciously at the trees.
The hunters thought, talked, and after 10 minutes decided that wild wolves, most likely, don't live here.
"Well? Another one? Let's do it! Rudolphus, what are you looking at?"
Another one went down.
"Peter!" Rudolphus turned to Pettigrew. "What are you thinking about?"
Peter shook his head.
"You can when I'm around," his lordship said. "Without me – no, but with me… Have some more!"
Peter gulped down another wine-glass.
"Well? A third? Your lordship…"
They drank their third. Snape drank his sixth.
Pettigrew shook his head.
"Drink, Pettigrew," Karkaroff said in a haughty tone.
"Without me – no, but with me… Have some more!"
"Say, why the sky is so blue today?" Rookwood asked.
The hunters thought, talked, and after quarter an hour decided that it is unknown why the sky is so blue today.
"Hare, hare, hare! Get it!"
A hare appeared in the distance. Two mongrels chased it. The hunters got up, grabbing the guns. Hare flew past them, ran into the forest, followed by the mutts, Musician, and other dogs. Vanity thought a bit, looked suspiciously at lord Voldemort, and also fled to chase the hare.
"Big one!.. If only we… How did we… miss it?"
"Yes. What this bottle is doing here… You left this one untouched, your lordship? Och… That's how you want it? Good!"
They drank their fourth wine-glasses. Snape drank his ninth, looked frenziedly around himself and went deeper into the forest. Finding the deepest shadow, he lay down on the grass, put his coat under his head and immediately snored. Pettigrew got high. He downed another wine glass, took some beer and his soul stirred within him. He kneeled and quoted 20 lines from Ovid.
Lord Voldemort noted that Latin language holds a great deal similarity with French… Rudolphus agreed with him and added that when one studies French it is necessary to know the Latin language, so similar to French. Karkaroff disagreed with Rudolphus, noting that it is no place to be talking about languages where an Arithmancy teacher is sitting and so many bottles are standing, adding that his gun was expensive, that you can't find a good gun now, that…
"Let's have an eighth, gentlemen?"
"Won't that be too much?"
"Well… no! Eight is too much? You, then, never drank!"
They downed their eighth.
Peter shook his head.
"Enough! Let's do it in a Slytherin style! And you shot so well…"
"Drink, Pettigrew!" spoke Karkaroff.
"Without me – no, but with me… Have some more!"
Peter put beer aside and downed another wine-glass.
"Ninth, gentlemen, eh? What's the opinion poll? Can't tolerate the number eight. My father died on the eighth. Theo… I mean, John… Rudolphus! Pour!"
Drank their ninth.
"It's hot, however."
"Yes, hot, but it won't interfere with us drinking our ninth!"
"Forget about the heat! Let's prove, gentlemen, to the elements, that we're not afraid of them! Peter! Show an example… Shame his lordship! We're afraid of neither cold nor heat…"
Peter downed a wine-glass. The hunters yelled "hurrah" and followed his lead.
"There can be sunstroke," Lord Voldemort noted.
"No… in our climate? Hmmm…"
"But there were cases… My godfather died from sunstroke…"
"Yo, Snape, what do you think? Can our climate cause a stroke… a sunstroke that is, eh? Snape!"
There was no answer.
"You never had to make the potion for that, eh? We're talking about sunstroke here… Snape, where's Snape?"
"Where's Snape? Snape!"
The hunters looked around: the potions master was gone.
"Where is Severus? Vanished? Like wax in the fire! Ha-ha-ha."
"He went to visit Bella!" Rastaban said firmly.
Rudolphus paled and dropped a bottle.
"He went to Bella!" Rudolphus repeated, eating the salmon.
"What are you lying for?" Karkaroff asked. "You saw it?"
"Yup. Past rode a muggle on his vehicle… well, Sev sat in it and rode-off, by Merlin. Well, gentlemen, shall we have our eleventh?"
Rudolphus got up, shaking his fists.
"I asked: where you're off to?" continued Rastaban. "For strawberries, he said. To groom the cuckoo. I, said he, already ensured that cuckoo, and now off to groom it. Good-bye, he said, good Rastaban! Bow, he said, to your brother, Rudolphus! And he looked so askance at that. Bless you… he-he-he."
"Horses!" yelled Rudolphus, and staggering, ran to a carriage.
"Hurry or you'll be late!" Rastaban shouted.
Rudolphus grabbed a house-elf, jumped into the coach, and threatening the rest of them with his fist, rode off to his manor…
"What does this all mean, gentlemen?" asked Lord Voldemort when the white headgear of Rudolphus vanished from sight. "He left… But on what, darn it, will I leave? He left with my ride! Well, not on mine exactly, but on the ride that I took… That's strange… Hmm… Impudent on his behalf…"
Peter felt ill. Whiskey, mixed with beer, acted as an emetic… Peter had to be taken home. After their fifteenth the hunters decided to give the remaining ride to his lordship with the condition that he, as soon as he got home, immediately sent fresh horses for the rest of the company.
His lordship began to pay his respects.
"Tell him, gentlemen," he said, "that… that is the action only of Hufflepuffs."
"Why not, your dark lordship, protest about his bills?" Rastaban advised.
"Eh? Bills? Yes… It's time for him… One needs to know one's place… I waited, waited, and grew tired of waiting… Tell him that I protest… Good-bye, gentlemen! Free to visit me anytime! And he's a Hufflepuff!"
The hunters said good-bye to his lordship and put him into the coach next to the sick Peter.
Lord Voldemort and Peter left.
After their eighteenth, the hunters went into the forest, and after shooting around a bit, went to sleep. Before the sunset Lord Voldemort's horses came for them. A house-elf gave Rastaban letter to give to his brother. In that letter was a request, the nonfulfillment of which was threatened by the involvement of aurors. After their third (once awakened, the hunters began to count anew), his lordship's house-elves put the hunters into the coaches and took them home.
Rudolphus, once arrived at home, was met by Musician and Vanity, for whom the hare was just an excuse to run away home. After glaring at his wife, Rudolphus began to search. All cellars, dressers, chests, bureaus were examined – Rudolphus didn't find the potions master. He found somebody else: under Bella's bed he found her cousin, Sirius…
It was quite dark when the potions master awoke… After wandering around the forest a bit and remembering, that he was on a hunt, Severus cursed loudly and began to yell for others. Naturally, there was no answer, and he decided to go home on foot. The road was a good one, well-lit and safe. Snape covered the 28 miles of walking in just four hours and by morning he was at his working place. After swearing his fill, he began to write a humongous letter to Rudolphus Lestrange. That letter demanded "explanation of improper attitude", cursed jealous husbands, and gave an oath to hunt never more – never! not even on June 29th.