The Hog’s Head, in those days, hadn’t yet fallen into a state of murky disrepair or the hands of the goat-loving Dumbledore boy as he was known to his elders who still abounded (though many used rather a coarser expression). Madame Puddifoot’s not yet being thought of, it was simply one of two pubs in Hogsmeade, falling behind a little perhaps in comparison to The Three Broomsticks, and on Hogwarts Weekends rather favoured than not by sixth and seventh years looking to drink legally away from the censorious eyes of teachers, and by adults not choosing to drink in the company of babbling children. It enjoyed its future reputation only in matters of indifference, such that the Hufflepuff Head-Boy could arrive with a Gryffindor third year in tow and thump down opposite two hooded figures at an obscure table without eliciting much reaction beyond an aggrieved sigh from a neighbouring booth.
Lanyon set down his Firewhisky and said, “The idiots have only gone and accosted Yaxley. Too many mystery novels. Watch my drink, will you?”
“This is what comes of asking schoolchildren to play at conspiracy,” said one of his friends, taking a liberal swig and shuddering as the fire wrapped down his throat. “Can’t think why Lanyon drinks this rot. You ought to stop him, Alec.”
“Didn’t ask you to have it,” Alec said, reclaiming the glass. “And it isn’t conspiracy anymore, now that Dumbledore’s in agreement.”
“Darling, contrary to the collective delusion of the English people, Dumbledore isn’t part of the elected government, much less the Minister. And my point about schoolboys... oh Merlin, that one’s a mere child.”
“Do you think we should help?”Alec asked, up on his knees on the cheap suede of the booth and craning his neck. “I shouldn’t trust Yaxley with kids, if it were me.”
“And we should Lanyon? Oh come on, Alec, we both know the only reason he didn’t get expelled is old Dippet thinks he’s sea-green incorruptible.”
“And you don’t?” Alec asked, voice icing over, sliding down to sit and taking up suddenly a lot more space. “Go on, Bim.”
Bim Taylor, who had passed on to his friends tricks learnt in the Dragon Corps and wasn't likely to be intimidated by an inept imitation, raised an insolent eyebrow, leaned back in his seat and drawled, “Oh, I think he’s Morgana’s third teat and the highest battlements on Glastonbury and all that, but you didn’t, before.”
They paused for a minute delicately balanced on the edge of accusation of jealousy and bias, grappling silently like Chasers who find themselves caught of a sudden in a treacherous wind, each hating the other and yet needing him. They had been in the same year at school, friends across Houses, and till but a short time past united despite the basic differences in character. Then Lanyon, for some years absent under the rigours of training, had burst upon the scene a new-minted Auror and now there was this, a harkening across distances ever growing, like sending Patronii forth and back: touching as a gesture, but as conversation useless.
Into the silence, Lanyon said, “Budge over, you two. This is Laurie Odell, you remember him. And this is Andrew Raynes, he’s a little after my time, but I’m sure you know Alec Deacon and Bim Taylor, don’t you?”
“I should think so,” said the younger boy as Odell shook hands. “Taylor was Quidditch Captain, our house. First match I ever saw he caught the Snitch in five minutes flat.”
“Andrew’s people are Muggles,” Odell said explanatorily. “I thought I’d bring him along. He’s never been to Hogsmeade, or even explored Diagon very much.”
“My uncle didn’t want me to go here,” Andrew said. “Dumbledore got my supplies for me first year, and since I’ve just been getting them by owl-post.”
“First time I came up to London I couldn’t believe the size of it; bit of a change after Rousay,” Lanyon said briskly. “Here, ask Bim about dragons. I’ll get you a couple bottles of Butterbeer. Bim, red currant again, yeah? Alec, come with me, I’ve only got two hands.”
“Yeah,” Alec said, extricated himself with some skill and difficulty, and followed Ralph up to the bar. He could easily have trailed the drinks, but Ralph often forgot things like that, or pretended to.
“We can’t talk in front of that child,” Ralph said, gesturing vaguely at the bartender. “Too young, too stubborn, nearly got into a fight with Yaxley in the minute they were with him.”
Alec, who was still easing into the lime-green of his Healer’s uniform, but had had a Ravenclaw’s trained curiosity always, reflexively asked, “What over?”
“Got called a Mudblood. What interests me is why Yaxley knows the blood-status of a kid more than a decade younger than him.”
“And why he cares. I want a Gillywater, hold the mint.”
“Two bottles of Butterbeer, one red currant rum, and a Firewhisky,” Ralph recited, and when the bartender had nodded and wandered off, added quietly, “why do you think? The Muggles are at war, what could be easier than to get rid of Muggle-born kids and blame it on the Blurt.”
“Blitz,” Alec corrected automatically. “From Blitzkrieg. Bim says they’re all tempted to go and take on a few of these aeroplanes themselves, see what they’d do against a dragon or four.”
“If you’ll distract Raynes, Bim and I can talk to Odell. He’s bound to be useful if he’s any good as Head-Boy. Know who’ll be interested if he isn’t himself. It’ll be a bore for you, but I’ll make it up. Thanks,” he finished, this last for their drinks, and chinked coins down before Alec could reach for his pouch, encumbered by his own Gillywater and the beer bottles.
Raynes looked a stolid, sensible sort, the type you’d pick for Hufflepuff ahead of Gryffindor any day, but doubtless the Hat knew its business best. The smile he turned on Ralph in exchange of the drink—for all that Alec set it down—was certainly reckless in its adoration, but then Odell was matching it for size and brilliance without any such lionish excuses.
It was best anyway, not to judge people by their reactions to Ralph. For all the prejudices and endless squabbles about Being and Beast, some of the things at least were true, that they said about selkies.