|Beth H (bethbethbeth) wrote in hp_beholder,|
@ 2010-04-19 12:35:00
|Entry tags:||beholder_2010, cornelius fudge, fic, horace slughorn, slash, slughorn/fudge|
FIC: "The rest of the mornings in the world" for purplefluffycat
Title: The rest of the mornings in the world
Pairings: Horace Slughorn/Cornelius Fudge
Word Count: ~5,500
Summary: After the Battle of Hogwarts, Horace finds an opportunity to repay a favour to an old friend.
Author's Notes: Well, I never expected to write this pairing! Purplefluffycat, your prompts gave me quite a few ideas, but this was the one that really spoke to me, so I hope you enjoy reading! Thank you very much to mindabbles for doing a great beta job on this story. All remaining errors are my own.
The day after Voldemort's death was sunny and warm, and all over Britain wizards were celebrating their freedom and grieving for their loved ones. Diagon Alley was thronged with people who seemed to have no business there, but who needed the company of others. At Hogwarts, exhausted students, staff and families worked to set the castle to rights. Across the country, Muggles wondered what had occasioned all the fireworks. And in Azkaban, the trickle of visitors became a flood.
Horace's steps seemed to ring with more than echoes as he paced the stone corridors that ran between the cells. It might have been his confused feelings - relief, bitterness, elation, fear of what he would find - or the commotion that had overtaken the entire prison in the past few hours. Perhaps it was simply the Dementors, in turmoil over Voldemort's death.
He thought of last night's battle and briefly attempted to recapture the fierce joy he had felt in the thick of battle. It was useless. Yes, he was glad that Tom - no, Voldemort - was dead. He was more than glad; half a century's worth of guilt had fallen from his shoulders with Tom's death. But he detested unpleasantness, and last night had been full of it.
Now, in Azkaban, all he could think of were the screams of children who had died too young, which offered an internal counterpoint to the groans of prisoners as they passed each cell. Horace kept his eyes fixed on the concrete floor, unable to face the possibility of recognising anyone whom he could not release.
Finally, the Dementor halted and leaned into one of the cells; it almost looked as if it was breathing into the lock. The door wailed open and Horace edged through the gap.
The damp smell that permeated the prison was more pungent here, and he suppressed a shudder. Any self-respecting wizard should be able to dispose of bodily embarrassments, but then, the very point of Azkaban was to strip a wizard of self-respect. He breathed through his mouth and peered at the shapeless figure in the corner.
It - Horace caught himself with another shudder - he appeared to be sleeping, although his hands moved restlessly and he muttered incomprehensible phrases every few seconds. His hair was shaggy and shoulder-length; his skin was grey, and only discernible from his clothes in the gloom by the fact that the robes were so filthy.
Steeling himself, Horace trudged through the detritus of ten months' imprisonment and squatted uncomfortably at the prisoner's side. The man muttered again and turned so that his face was visible for the first time.
Horace recoiled. He had seen men horribly deformed in their lifetimes - Tom was a good example of that - and he had seen what death did to a person: how it truly stripped the life from one's appearance. But he had never seen the life so thoroughly stripped from one still living.
Nevertheless, he had come here to return a favour, and his knees were going to give out if he didn't get on with it. He placed a hand on the prisoner's shoulder.
"No," murmured the man, "leave me...leave me alone."
Horace shook the shoulder he was holding. "Cornelius. It's Horace. I've come to help you."
Dark eyes opened but the ravaged face before him remained expressionless.
"I've come to take you home," he explained helplessly.
Horace watched as the Healer checked Cornelius over. Taking him 'home' had not proved simple. Once he had negotiated the Dementors and the paperwork, there had been side-along Apparation, which was when he had realised exactly how exhausted he was.
He had spent the past twenty-four hours attending to distraught students and their even more distraught parents. A couple of hours of that time had been spent fighting with and against former protégés and pupils, which had been most upsetting. From there, he had gone to the Hogwarts hospital wing to do what he could. And then someone had mentioned Azkaban, and off he'd run like an impetuous schoolboy given his first taste of Felix Felicis.
To compound matters, Cornelius's home had been looted and was entirely unsuitable for an invalid. Horace had considered Hogwarts, but Poppy Pomfrey had enough on her plate, so instead he'd called in a favour from an off-duty Healer and taken Cornelius to his own house.
This had required yet more side-along Apparation, but at least there had been a pot of gourmet (if out of date) tea at the end of it. Horace had settled Cornelius in his spare room and wearily set his wand to dusting while he waited for Petrea Palmerston to arrive, certain in the knowledge that he was far too old for all this.
Now she turned from the bed, her expression grave.
"How is he?" asked Horace.
She sighed. "Physically, he's exhausted, although - and I realise this sounds like a contradiction - he seems to have barely moved for months. Still, that's nothing that some gentle rehabilitation won't put right. Mentally..."
"Yes?" Horace prompted.
"Well, mentally, it's too soon to say if he'll recover his faculties fully."
Horace stared at her. "Are you saying he might be...retarded?"
"Well, that isn't the most politically correct way of putting it," she said. "He may be forgetful - extremely so. The Dementors steal memories, and they also steal happiness. In a large proportion of people, that has a highly detrimental effect on their state of mind."
"I see." Horace's mind flashed an image of Cornelius in days gone by: burgundy robes, twinkling eyes, a knowing smile and a glass of brandy crooked in his right hand. "So he'll need specialist care?"
Petrea shook her head. "Perhaps in a while. For the moment, the gentle care of a friend is exactly what he needs." She glanced at him. "But that's not always easy to provide. It may be painful for you if you're thinking of managing his care yourself.
"I'm not sure there's anyone else to manage it," Horace said. Despite his gracious manner and political acuity, Cornelius had few close friends and no immediate family.
She nodded. "Well...physically, things should be straightforward. He won't be able to manage more than a few steps at first. When he can handle stairs, take him for little walks in the back garden."
"Couldn't I Apparate him to the garden?" asked Horace.
"No. I know you had to Apparate to get him here, and you did right...but any spellwork of that sort will only confuse him, and the less that happens the better."
"And how should I...see to his mental needs?" asked Horace tremulously.
The sympathy in her gaze was hard to bear. "Go easy on him, essentially. Don't push him to remember things, or to perform magic. He should be subjected to as little stress as possible. With luck and gentle treatment, he'll make a full recovery."
"Could I ask you what his chances are?" Horace hated himself for this - a Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, even a Ravenclaw would have barged on regardless - but he wanted to know what to expect.
She shrugged. "Wizards have survived Azkaban for longer than him with their minds intact. Others have crumbled much more quickly. In other words, we don't know."
"I'm afraid not." She reached into a voluminous pocket and pulled out a scroll. "This is a list of potions that may be helpful. I'll have the elves at the hospital send over a couple of bottles to tide you over until you can brew your own. Otherwise, owl me if you need anything. I'll pop by in a fortnight."
With a brisk handshake, she was gone, leaving Horace to brave his spare room alone.
The next week was terrible, even by the standards of the past few years. The press quickly discovered the whereabouts of the former Minister for Magic, and camped out in Horace's front garden. Cornelius woke frequently, but showed no interest in his surroundings or in Horace. And old acquaintances turned up to stare and ask questions.
Minerva McGonagall did not come to stare, but instead to remind him of his duties as a Hogwarts professor. Horace resigned on the spot.
"I'm sorry, Minerva," he said, "but you must admit, I'm getting too old for it." Dumbledore, of course, had been even older, but that seemed to him the best way of conveying the fact that he felt he couldn't manage the children any longer.
For it wasn't just Cornelius who was preying on Horace's mind at present. An entire generation (or even two, or three if he was very hard on himself) of Slytherins had gone to the bad under his direction, and he had no idea what to do about it. However often he reminded himself that plenty of them had in fact led perfectly blameless lives, it was those who had not who haunted him. Even in the past two years...if he had been a more attentive, more even-handed professor and head of house, perhaps he could have saved Draco Malfoy from becoming one of Tom's pawns. He could have prevented some of those children from dying in battle. And beneath all of these memories lurked the spectre of Snape, whom he had so spectacularly failed to save twice, and for whom it was, finally, too late.
Considering the pressure that she was under, Minerva took his resignation rather well, merely asking him to help interview candidates for his replacement.
Horace agreed. "Of course," he added, hurt by her equanimity, "if you haven't found anyone by the beginning of next term, I'll work out my notice period. I won't leave you in the lurch."
To his surprise, she gripped his arm and smiled warmly. "I know you won't, Horace. Thank you." She glanced at the ceiling. "How's Cornelius? Any change?"
"He's spending more time awake," said Horace grumpily. "That's all so far."
"When he comes to," she said, "would you tell him I asked after him?"
Horace did so. Lulled by a week of apathy, he was amazed to hear Cornelius murmur, "Minerva...feisty girl," when he passed on the message.
Harry Potter visited, doing the rounds of everyone who had been released from Azkaban after Voldemort's death. Horace wondered when the boy would get some rest.
"Sirius only remembered the bad stuff," Harry offered. "For any happy memories, you really had to talk him through them. I think Remus was best at it, because they'd known each other so long."
Well, Horace had known Cornelius a long time, too. Following Harry's pointers, he began chatting to Cornelius. He read the Prophet aloud - not the headlines, which might have been disturbing, but the quirkier stories and snippets of gossip that Cornelius used to relish. He ran through the photographs on his dresser at least once a day, outlining the latest progress of all his young stars. He reminisced about the old days. Cornelius did not often react beyond a glance or a muttered, 'ah', but Horace thought, as he watched from his comfy chair (moved from the lounge for convenience), that each day a little more life infused the grey features.
Every night, Horace patted Cornelius's arm and retired to his bedroom for a stiff brandy and thence to bed. Every night, he asked himself why he was doing this, when he might be celebrating freedom from fear along with the rest of the wizarding world. And every night, he reminded himself that, firstly, there was no one else, and secondly, he owed Cornelius a favour. Horace hated to be in debt; he liked people to owe him favours, not the other way round. Besides, he'd been cursed with a soft heart.
It was his soft heart that woke him when sobs wracked the upper floor of the house. At first, Horace lay paralysed; it was as if Cornelius was giving vent to Horace's misery, as well as his own. But on the third night, he picked up a vial from his bedside cabinet and padded next door, using his wand as a lamp.
The sobs continued, and Horace swung his wand towards the bed. Cornelius's eyes were open, but there was no indication that they took anything in. He was curled on his side, facing the wall, and seemed to have made himself as small as possible.
Horace laid a light arm on the duvet. "Cornelius?"
"Don't touch me!" Cornelius cried. His voice was raw.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Horace said quickly. "It's me, Horace. I won't hurt you."
"Horace?" Cornelius looked around blearily, giving Horace a long moment to take in the fear on his ravaged features.
"Drink this." He leaned over and held the vial to Cornelius's mouth. "It'll help you sleep. You need your sleep. You're in my house," he continued, striving to keep his voice light and free of distaste. "You're safe."
Cornelius drank the Dreamless Sleep Potion as if in a daze. When he was finished, he looked over his shoulder at Horace. "The Dementors?"
"Will never trouble you again." A dangerous thing to promise a man in this world, Horace thought bleakly, but worth the lie.
"They won't stay away," Cornelius said, quietly enough that Horace had to lean over to hear. "They won't stay away."
"They'll stay away from you," answered Horace firmly.
"Ah, Horace." Cornelius shook his head - or perhaps it was simply that he was shaking all over. "I wish I could believe you."
Horace seized Cornelius's shoulders in a hug. Then, because that didn't feel like enough, he eased onto the bed, spooned against him and closed his eyes.
Good morning, Horace.
He prised open his eyes to find Cornelius leaning against the door jamb: velvet robes immaculate, one eyebrow cocked and a crystal glass tilted invitingly in his hand.
Wha-what time of the morning do you call this? He struggled to sit up, but an invisible blanket seemed to have fixed him to the depths of his armchair. So he'd overdone the Oblivious Unction again.
Cornelius was there in an instant. Easy, easy there, he soothed, pulling Horace upright.
Horace's ankles felt as if they might crumble beneath his own weight. What are you doing here? he asked blearily.
Rescuing you from yourself. Cornelius turned to the sideboard and pointed his wand at a decanter. It won't do, dear boy. You've let yourself get in an awful mess.
The glass of port wavered invitingly under Horace's nose. He grabbed it and sipped just in time, before thoughts of a beautiful, dark-haired, dark-eyed and dangerous boy could fill his mind. He took a sip. I didn't do anything wrong.
Of course not, Cornelius said, and smiled.
Horace awoke in darkness and crept back to his room, where he fell asleep immediately. It was only when he took breakfast in to his visitor that he remembered the dream and was struck by the disparity between the old, suave Cornelius and the man in his spare bed.
But Horace's assurances regarding the Dementors - or perhaps the Dreamless Sleep Potion - seemed to have done Cornelius good. After breakfasting on a banana, he asked for help sitting up. A moment later, he was cushioned against all the spare pillows that Horace could Summon, and they were sharing a pot of Earl Grey.
Unfortunately, his recovery also meant that he was ready to ask questions, such as what he was doing in Horace's spare room. Horace haltingly explained their trajectory from Azkaban to his house, skimming as best he could over the state of Cornelius's own house. This was accepted with quiet sadness, although Horace, glimpsing a spark of acuity in his friend's gaze, sensed that the issue had been filed rather than forgotten.
"I must admit," said Cornelius with a sigh, "it's lovely to be looked after." He shuddered. "They...they so very much don't look after you in there, you see."
"Don't think about it," said Horace quickly.
"What else am I to think about?" asked Cornelius. He shook his head. "No, you're right. It does no good. Anyway, it's good to be here, old friend. You always were a wonderful host." As Horace smiled at him, his expression clouded. "I don't actually know how I knew that."
"It's a good sign," Horace said heartily. "It'll all come back to you in the end. You'll see."
By the time they reached the dregs of the tea, Cornelius's head was drooping against the pillows, and he slept for the rest of the day. It was a start. The following day, he was well enough to take a few steps around the bedroom; the day after that a few more. He began to take notice of things again, and even to look out through the window. Finally, ten days after he had been carried into the spare room, he declared that he was ready to leave it.
"Let the sunlight warm my bones," he said, and Horace, remembering Petrea's instructions, helped him downstairs.
By the time they reached the back door, Cornelius was clutching painfully at Horace's arm and wheezing in exhaustion. Horace revised his original plan and levitated the deckchair close enough to slide Cornelius into it, before levitating patient and chair back to the patio. He settled into the other seat with a relieved sigh.
"You're very kind," Cornelius said faintly.
"My pleasure, old man," lied Horace.
Cornelius glanced at him with a hint of his old sharpness. "I doubt that, somehow. Invalids are terribly boring creatures. Always hated 'em, myself."
"You rescued me once," Horace said with a smile. "I'm glad to be able to repay your service."
Cornelius gazed silently at the flowerbeds, almost lurid in their June bloom. "I did, did I?" he said eventually. "Well, I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm glad if I helped."
"It's natural to forget, in Azkaban." Horace laid his hand over Cornelius's where it rested on the arm of the chair. "You mustn't worry."
"Mustn't I?" Cornelius's expression was wistful, but terror lurked beneath the surface. "I remember so little, you see. All that was good the Dementors took, and what's left - the memories that come to me now - don't seem worth bothering about."
Horace patted his hand. "I know it's terrible. But you have a long life ahead of you, Cornelius. There's plenty of time to make new memories."
Cornelius turned his own hand palm up and grasped Horace's feebly. The contact was like the shock of wandwork. For the past ten days, their relationship had resembled that of a Healer and patient, but he was suddenly very aware of how his suggestion of making new memories could have been taken.
It was a long time since Horace had been touched. He told himself that he was old and past it; that he had lost interest in the pleasures of the flesh, or perhaps more accurately, forsaken one appetite for another, more literal one. But the truth was that for him, sex was for the young (not too young, as he had been reminding himself for decades) and beautiful - not for the likes of him. Lately, he had reached a point where the sight of a young and beautiful person, of either sex, laid out before him made him feel like a fraud.
The feel of an old friend's hand grasping his; the thought that his encouragement could reawaken this old friend to life and lust: that was arousing in an entirely fresh way. At a loss how to react, he simply sat and shared a long, wistful smile with Cornelius, until he felt that he could decently withdraw his hand.
"I'll just fetch us some lemonade. This weather's too good to waste on tea, don't you think?"
That night, Horace was kept awake by memories. This was not unusual; in fact, as he told himself, it was perfectly natural to be a little haunted given that such a large thorn had recently been extracted from his side. The problem was that Tom, like many thorns, tended to leave traces in his victims.
How could you think I'd find you attractive? His tone wasn't even contemptuous, merely amused. You're grotesque: a living embodiment of mankind's weaknesses.
I...I Horace had no idea how to reply. Because he had done the honourable thing, as always, and waited until the boy left school? Because plenty of other people had found him - or what he had to offer - attractive? Because Tom had flirted with him since he should have been too young to know what he was doing? Because he was a fool?
You gave me what I wanted, Tom said. And to express my gratitude, I'll keep it to myself. If you ever decide to confide in anyone about it, you'll find I'm quite able to destroy your reputation, your friends, and you.
Tom, my boy... began Horace, but Tom waved an arm in dismissal.
Go away, Slughorn. You bore me.
Horace's heart was beating so fast that he wondered if he was having a heart attack. You'll regret this, he said.
I doubt it. Tom's beautiful, lush features were calm. You might. I'll be here for a long time. In fact, I don't ever intend to leave.
After Tom had dismissed him like a puppy, Horace had spent that summer of '45 potioning away his humiliation, drinking expensive port and leafing through his portfolio of photographs. Frequently, his attention was caught by a particularly inviting smile or shapely bottom and he considered approaching whomever it was he was ogling. But he always managed to take enough Oblivious Unction to pass out rather than risk another rebuttal. It was for this reason that he often awoke in his armchair, robes unbuttoned and an empty glass hooked precariously between loose fingers.
This was how Cornelius had found him one August morning, and quietly taken charge. School was looming; every day for the past fortnight, Horace had told himself that he must reform or resign from teaching. Every day he had vowed to take himself in hand, and every day that vow had been broken. By the time Cornelius appeared, Horace was close to giving in to oblivion, and ready to hand himself over to his friend.
After pouring that first port, Cornelius had settled himself in the corner chair and announced that he would wait for Horace to 'wash up'. When Horace returned, clean and ashamed, Cornelius took him by the arm and out into the street.
They began slowly, traversing quiet byways in remote villages where they were both unknown. When they tired of pub lunches and shepherd's pie, they moved on to the expensive Muggle areas of larger towns, where the food was better and the brandy older. They visited several notorious clubs, in which, through a haze of Old Gold cigarettes, Cornelius watched Horace allow himself to be seduced and his confidence to be rebuilt, conquest by conquest.
Despite sharing rooms in every hotel they passed through, they never slept together. Horace was still too bruised by Tom's treatment, and Cornelius's tastes ran to debauching Muggle men, not seducing friends. A political animal even then, he liked to say that Muggles never made a fuss when he disappeared.
By the end of the month, Horace had been, if still fragile, ready to face school once more, and ready to forget as much of Tom Riddle as he possibly could. In return, Cornelius had asked for nothing. They had been friends before this episode, and they remained friends afterward, but they never alluded to that fortnight in which one had rescued the other.
A few mornings after that first venture into the garden, Horace found Cornelius sitting up in bed with the Daily Prophet, leafing through the sheets with a frown. He looked up and threw his hands in the air as Horace entered.
"The world's a mess! Why wasn't I told?"
Horace sighed. "It's better than it was a year ago, I must say. But I'm sorry, my dear. I was told you mustn't worry. How did you get that paper?"
"I Summoned it, of course." Cornelius shook the paper at him. "Azkaban's still full of people who should never have been there in the first place! Hundreds of funerals have been held up because there aren't the personnel to deal with them. And you never told me Veseus Yaxley was dead."
"Yaxley was a Death Eater," said Horace slowly.
"No." Cornelius looked up at him. "No. Really?" He wiped a hand over his face. "Lucius Malfoy I could well believe, although it grieved me. Severus Snape, yes. But Yaxley?" He turned another page, and then another, before looking up. "Is there anyone else I ought to know about?"
Horace named another old friend, and Cornelius shook his head.
"I think you'd better bring me up to date."
They spent the day in the garden, Horace doing his best to fill Cornelius in on everything that had happened since he had been seized and condemned to Azkaban without trial. It was a painful process. Cornelius's politics had always been of the most pragmatic kind, but it was difficult to ignore the fact that his laissez faire attitude to Voldemort's return had contributed to the magnitude of the tragedy that had unfolded in the past year.
Horace knew how he felt. He had tried; he had tried so hard to ignore the rise of Lord Voldemort. He had closed his ears to the murders and the cold-blooded speeches. He had ignored the mutterings of the children under his wing, and turned a blind eye to the sadistic tendencies so clear in some of them. They were only young, after all. Children liked to experiment; it didn't mean that they would grow up to be psychopaths.
But Tom had been young, too. And it was he, Horace, who had given him the key to all that had followed.
That evening, Horace carried a tray out to the garden and set it on the little table.
"I think we've earned a treat, don't you?" The torches staked in the grass sprang into flame at his command, adding a warmth to the breeze, and he reached for the decanter and poured two healthy glassfuls of port.
Cornelius picked up his glass, toasted Horace and smiled wearily. "There is nothing," he said, "quite like feeling an utter failure. Particularly when one has failed an entire society."
Horace tried to say something cheery, but all the ripostes that sprang to mind struck him as false. For want of anything better to do, he reached forward and took Cornelius's hand in both of his own. "You did the best that you could," he said firmly. "We all did." This was true, he realised. It might not be a good truth, but it was a fact.
Cornelius's legs felt spindly and powerless through the robes, but he brought his remaining hand to join Horace's with surprising strength. "You are a good friend," he said. "Can I ask a favour?"
"Make an old man happy. Tell me how I helped you in the past. I need to know I haven't failed completely."
"Old man!" scoffed Horace. But he complied with the request. He omitted the details about what had led to his collapse - if Cornelius hadn't known then, he did not need to know now. Instead, he did his best to describe the state in which Cornelius had found him, and the unassuming way in which he had brought him back to society and life.
They looked at one another in silence when he reached the end, until finally, Cornelius nodded. "I remember some of that. I'm glad I could help."
"You did more than help," said Horace fervently. "I honestly think you saved my life."
At some point during Horace's tale, one of Cornelius's hands had begun gently massaging his own. Now it moved over his wrist and forearm, riffling the hairs there in a caress that reminded Horace sharply of his recent loneliness.
"Well," Cornelius said lightly, "I honestly think you've done the same for me, now."
"I'm - glad I could," said Horace, his voice suddenly hoarse. He had seduced and been seduced countless times in his life, but always in a very light-hearted manner. This situation - the two of them humbled and raw - felt alien.
In addition, with a few rare exceptions, his previous lovers had been young and beautiful. Cornelius was neither. In fact, he had never been beautiful, but at one time he had been glamorous enough to have been called handsome. Wrapped in an old robe, the crags in his features shadowed by candlelight, he was no longer glamorous, but Horace realised that this did not matter. Nothing mattered, except for the soft pleasure emanating from the meeting of their hands, and the feeling that their chairs were too far apart, the air gone thick between them.
"I should like to know," Cornelius said quietly, "if this has happened before."
Horace shook his head and swallowed as he moved a hand to Cornelius's thigh.
There was another silence, broken by a hitched breath from Cornelius. "Part of me wants," he said with eyes half-closed, "to tell you that if you're doing this out of pity, you should leave well alone."
Horace could think of no answer to this except to tighten his grasp.
"But," continued Cornelius, "I don't have the strength."
"Good," said Horace and leaned forward, heart hammering, until their lips touched.
Their progress was slow by necessity. They worked their way up the stairs over the course of an hour, shedding robes as they went. Cornelius chattered almost hysterically: how good it felt to touch another man's skin again; how he had feared cold death in Azkaban; how wonderful it was to find that he hadn't forgotten this. The only time he was quiet was when his mouth was busy on Horace's body.
They hesitated at the top of the stairs, until Horace pulled Cornelius into his bedroom and towards the luxurious bed that he had so rarely shared with others.
He discovered another way to shut Cornelius up when he took him in his mouth; at least, Cornelius's vocalisations became less lucid at this point, although they increased in volume. But after a moment or two, hands reached for his face and tugged him upwards.
"Want to hold you - hold me," Cornelius gasped, and Horace, dizzy to be held and wanted and needed after so long, decided that sexual sophistication could wait.
Four months after Voldemort's death, two aging men relaxed in a garden and discussed the goings on of the world.
"Rita Skeeter's writing a book about the Black brothers," one remarked, waving a newspaper.
"Really?" asked the other. "Hmm. I wonder if she'll come to me? I was head of house during young Regulus's schooldays; I'm sure I have a few nuggets of information to share."
"It says here she's already done her research." Cornelius raised an eyebrow. "I wonder who exactly she spoke to?"
"Hmph. Probably interviewed that damned portrait of Walburga Black and left it at that." Horace shook his head. "What else?"
"Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley are the couple of the moment."
"Ah, yes." Horace nodded. "Doesn't surprise me at all. Lovely girl, Ginny. They were the talk of Hogwarts the year before last."
"And Severus Snape will be given an official pardon over that business with Dumbledore."
"Will he, now?" Horace said softly. "Good. I'm glad. It was a tragic affair all round."
They smiled at one another. The wizarding world was coming down to reality after a euphoric summer, and the leaves were browning, but Horace found he wasn't dreading winter at all. Tom was gone, and Cornelius was here and whole. Kingsley Shacklebolt looked to be taking his appointment as Minister for Magic seriously. Lily Potter's son was free to make a life for himself. Slytherins across the country were free to choose their own politics.
The world and all the remaining days of his life beckoned, but for now, Horace felt that he was quite happy exactly where he was.