FIC: "A Short Treatise on the Social Lives of Ghosts" for the HP Beholder Pinch Hitters Recipient: The HP Beholder Pinch Hitters Author/Artist: ??? Title: A Short Treatise on the Social Lives of Ghosts Rating: PG Pairings: Cuthbert Binns/Grey Lady, Cuthbert Binns/Horace Slughorn, Moaning Myrtle/Nearly Headless Nick, The Fat Friar/The Wailing Widow Word Count: 3200 Medium: Prose Warnings/Content Information: None Summary: The social lives of ghosts are more complex than they’re credited for.
I. The Wooing of the Grey Lady
One does not mention a lady’s age. It would be impolite, and Cuthbert Reginald Vortigern Binns is not now, nor has he ever been, an impolite man. But suffice it to say that, while he is somewhat younger than Miss Ravenclaw - for, by lucky coincidence, the lady’s name is the same as that of his old house and hers, and thus quite dear to him in its own right - he yet harbours hope in his breast that she might consent to an arrangement of mutual companionship. He finds that as one grows older, one grows more accustomed to solitude, yet never quite abandons the desire for affectionate camaraderie.
The lovely lady in grey, Miss Henrietta Ravenclaw, does not speak to the living; she listens to them, but avoids them as much as possible. It’s a skittishness, the product of a nervous disposition. For his part, Cuthbert speaks to the living every day, and finds them singularly unremarkable company on the whole, though he certainly has the highest respect for Headmaster Dumbledore and his Deputy, Professor McGarnigal, as is their due. The Grey Lady is not quite so reserved with the dead, or at least not all of them, as she shows the remarkable good sense to avoid that dour Slytherin dungeon chappie - the dead one, he means, not young Professor Stoat, who, while disagreeable at staff meetings, seems a fairly solid fellow in most respects. And thus Cuthbert waits for her, pacing the entrance hall one Thursday evening, till she floats past.
“Miss Ravenclaw,” says Cuthbert, with a deep bow. “Would you be willing to accompany me into the courtyard?”
She nods and takes his proffered arm, and they waft arm in arm through the wall and out into the moonlit courtyard - for the moon is full, and it’s October, the season of romance. Cuthbert is not a poet, or even particularly given to flights of fancy, but the charms of the evening are not lost on him.
“I am, as you know,” he says, “quite devoted to my scholarship, and to my students.”
“Yes,” says Miss Ravenclaw. “None is as dedicated as you, surely. I admire your sense of purpose, Professor Binns.”
At the words, Cuthbert’s heart leaps in his breast, for not only does the charming lady admire him - she admires him! - but she understands the deep and heartfelt calling of a lifelong educator, as any of his intimates surely must.
“I feel, Miss Ravenclaw...” he says, not yet wishing to be so forward as to call her Honoria. Though in his mind, he hears her name like a melody - dearest Honoria, my dearest - he doesn’t want to take liberties. “I feeI could extend my devotion to a lady of suitable disposition, were she agreeable. I’ve seen you among the books and parchments, and I feel sure you understand the the intellectual calling of the magical historian, the idiosyncrasies of a man of my sort…” Cuthbert is just warming to his subject, when he feels her slip through him and away.
“Oh, Cuthbert,” says Miss Ravenclaw with a sad look, one he’s not certain he understands. She shimmers blue and grey in the moonlight, with a loveliness that would quite take his breath away, had his death not already done so.
“Is there another?” he says politely, half-fearing the answer.
“No,” she says - dear lady! - and clasps her hand to her bosom, upset by some unknown memory or imagining. “No. Oh, Cuthbert, I couldn’t. Please don’t ask.”
In desperation, Cuthbert reaches out to her. “I could be quite devoted to you,” he says. “Truly. However much one loves one’s work, and please believe that I do, I find that it’s all too easy to drift through death alone, and it needn’t be that way.”
But it’s too late. She flees - Hilaria Ravenclaw, the loveliest creature he’s ever seen, is gone, leaving Cuthbert Binns alone in the courtyard, save for a disagreeable owl. The dejection he feels is an indulgence, certainly, but it only lasts a moment or two, for Cuthbert pulls himself together when the Wolsey twins try to sneak through to the wishing well on the eastern walkway.
“Off to bed, boys,” he says, kindly as he can muster. “Professor McGarnigal won’t like to hear you’re out past curfew.”
“It’s Binns,” whispers Fred.
“Rotten luck,” whispers George, and he calls out, “‘Ere, Professor, you won’t turn us in, will you? Only, we were just…”
“Doing homework,” said Fred. “Midnight herbology.”
“Why’d you say that?” whispers George, punching Fred in the arm. “He can check with Sprout.”
Cuthbert waves them off. “Not tonight,” he says. “Ten points from Gryffindor, and we’ll call the matter closed.” He hasn’t the heart to turn them in. In truth, he feels fortunate the Wolsey boys ignored their curfew, because it reminded him, in the midst of his disappointment, that he still has his calling, his life’s (and death’s) work, and time spent showing young minds the richness and excitement of wizarding history could hardly be called wasted. He has his work, his students, his beloved colleagues - Dumbledore, Flitwick, who’s been teaching almost as long as he, Stoat, McGarnigal, the charming Pomona Shrub, Professor Tremayne and Professor Babbage… yes, he’s a most fortunate man, despite his setbacks in affairs of the heart. Cuthbert floats off to his office on the second floor to ready his notes for tomorrow’s third-year lecture on the Gargoyle Strike of 1911.
II. The Secret Diary of Myrtle Pemberton, Age 14 and ¾
The worst thing - the VERY WORST THING - about dying young is that nobody will ever like you. They say they do, but they don’t. When I was alive, Professor Flitwick said it was nothing to worry about, and everyone went through an awkward phase as an adolescent, and then they grew out of it and found their place in the world and found people who liked them, and help yourself to a biscuit, Myrtle, the really nice ones with jam, and then he’d give me his handkerchief. Only now I can’t grow out of it, can I? I’m going to be fat and spotty forever, and it’s all Olive Hornby’s fault. I hate Olive Hornby! It’s SO horrible. I died, in a toilet, in my awkward phase, and I never had sex. I never even had a boy kiss me, unless you count Diogenes Lovegood when I was twelve, which I don’t, because UGH.
Worse, it’s a girl’s loo, and barely any boys come in.
III. Tarts and Vicars
Technically speaking, the Friar took a vow of chastity. But if he’s honest, he’s always considered many Muggle religious rules to be more in the way of helpful suggestions, and, in any case, he was rather definitively thrown out of the Carmelite order when he was executed for witchcraft. Which leaves him to his own devices, free and clear, so far as he can tell. What’s pleasant about death is that he’s, well, gone to his reward, as it were, and thus he sees no reason he oughtn’t hold a Naughty Vicars party if he wishes.
Not in front of the students, of course. The lovely dears, they’re endlessly charming company. It’s not quite healing the sick, but there is a certain provision of spiritual comfort, and if he enjoys it, it’s only proper for a man to enjoy his calling.
It was while attending a party of Sir Nicholas’s that he met the most delightful lady from Kent, a widow in fact. Widows, in his experience, were lovely women, experienced and kind, practical and clever, generous with their charms and hard-nosed in looking after their own affairs. One wouldn’t wish ill on anyone, but the world, in his view, would be better off with more widows and fewer husbands.
“All the way up from Kent,” he said to the Bloody Baron. “Quite a ways. She must be very fond of Sir Nicholas.”
The Baron stared at him in a way that was somewhat off-putting. Not a bad chap, the Baron, though just a touch hard-hearted, if the Friar could use that sort of language.
When the lady floated by the food table to sample the maggoty haggis, the Friar followed and beamed at her. “Well, if it isn’t the Merry Widow!” he said.
“Wailing,” she said, with a touch of coldness in her voice.
“I suspect you could be quite merry indeed,” said the Friar, with a jovial smile, “in the right company, and I’m quite partial to making merry. Allow me to offer my hospitality, madame, after your long journey.”
The Wailing Widow looked him over. “I would expect a man of God to be more comfortable on his knees, Friar,” she said, “than offering his services to respectable widows.”
“I’m entirely comfortable on my knees, madame,” said the Friar. “It’s a second home. But, speaking as a man of God, serving mankind is both my privilege and my joy, and who is more deserving than respectable widows?”
The lady thought over his offer. “I might require some rest after my long journey,” she said, finally.
“What is mine is yours,” said the Friar cheerfully. “Pray, make free with whatever I have to refresh yourself.”
Such generosity is not borne merely of the remnants of a mortal vow of poverty, but out of the true spirit of giving of oneself to the needy, thought the Friar, and he was most pleased to offer his bed to the lady to recover after her trip, and all his other worldly goods besides, though they amounted to little more than his cassock, his mug of ale, and his person. True generosity of spirit revealed the truth of a person’s soul; merriment was the Friar’s gift, and, if he might be permitted to say so, the Wailing Widow was aptly-named.
Thereafter, Sir Nicholas always took pride in the fact that the Wailing Widow made the long trip from Kent for each of his deathday parties. Conveniently, the Friar saw to it that his own private Naughty Vicar parties took place regularly on the following day.
IV. The Secret Diary of Myrtle Pemberton, Age 14 and ¾ (part 2)
I used to wish one of the fifth-year boys would die and come live with me, one of the really cute ones. I don’t wish that anymore, because it’s childish, and boys aren’t very interesting anymore. I don’t even look at boys in the prefects’ bathroom very much, except when it’s Charlie or Jeremy, or sometimes Arcturus. And it’s because I’m in love! He’s SO nice and SO dashing, I couldn’t possibly be interested in little boys any more. He smiles every time he sees me, and last Tuesday, he called me “my sweet little Myrtle”. (!!!) Then I blushed (I hope it was becoming, and not blotchy, because when I cry I get blotchy and bright red) and I asked him to the Christmas dance, and he said he’d be honoured! (!!!!!)
I hope he kisses me. Everyone kisses at the Christmas dance. It’d be SO romantic. Then in June, I’ll invite him to a deathday party, just the two of us, so we can be alone. (Maybe he’ll want to have sex with me. I’ve seen lots of people have sex, but I’ve never done it. I used to think about sex with boys, but I don’t want boys anymore, older men are so much more interesting.)
Lady Myrtle de Mimsy-Porpington ♥ Lady Myrtle de Mimsy-Porpington ♥ Lady Myrtle de Mimsy-Porpington
If we got married, I’d have to move out of the loo bend. (Would he want to take my name, too, do you think?) Olive Hornby was never in love with a lord. She married a horrible boring clerk and had a horrible boring life.
Lady Myrtle de Mimsy-Porpington-Pemberton ♥ Lady Myrtle de Mimsy-Porpington-Pemberton ♥ Lady Myrtle de Mimsy-Porpington-Pemberton
I hope he keeps his head on during sex. It’s very romantic to be nearly headless and I think he’s very brave, but what if it comes off while he’s kissing me? UGH!!
V. The Wooing of Horace Slughorn
The staff room was blessedly empty; Horace looked forward to an evening of putting his feet up in front of a crackling fire and a glass of Albus’s house red. He poured himself a generous glass on the sideboard, and glanced over at the armchairs near the fire. Not totally empty, then.
“What ho, Cuthbert,” he said, and settled into the chair across from Professor Binns, quite comfortably.
“Young Homer,” said Binns, with an amiable nod of his ghostly head. “Welcome, welcome.”
“Horace,” said Horace automatically. “Pleasant evening.”
“Is it?” said Cuthbert. “I suppose that it is.”
And with that, they lapsed into a comfortable silence. Horace sampled the red liberally and made a silent note to congratulate the sommelier, house elf though he (or she) might be; a crisp, layered red bursting with cherry and peppery flavors, a note of boomberry, and just a hint of oak. One of the great rewards of his profession was an appreciation for a complex bouquet. He felt the tension relax out of his shoulders as the warmth from the fire and the wine did double duty.
“I say, Homer,” sad Binns, quite out of the blue, “there’s a lecture in a fortnight. The International Confederation of Wizards, on international border disputes involving centaur territories.”
“That sounds quite your sort of thing, Cuthbert,” said Horace.
“Indeed, indeed it is,” said Cuthbert. “What I mean to say is, would you care to, er, accompany me? I’m not sure I relish going alone, you see, and, er… well, surely a young man such as yourself has some business in London. We might combine the trip?”
“What an intriguing offer,” said Horace, because, really, how extraordinary, an invitation from old Binns. “I suppose I might stop in at the Quidditch Union for a sherry with dear old Dunbar.” At Cuthbert’s distracted expression, he added, “They’re working on a history, you know. Quidditch in Britain and Ireland. Early days yet, of course, but quite the hefty reference volume, what.”
“Now that is quite fascinating,” said Cuthbert politely, though Quidditch wasn’t quite his thing. “Do say you’ll join me.”
“Yes, why not,” said Horace. He stretched his legs out in front of the fire. “We’ll make a day of it.”
Make a day of it they did, and an unexpectedly successful one. The lecture was an informative one - Horace, though not overly political himself, understood the importance of keeping one’s ear to the ground, and the delicate nature of diplomacy with certain breeds of magical creature. Centaurs were among the more personable and intelligent of magical creatures, and could be quite charming, he’d found. But beyond that, spending the day with Cuthbert was enjoyable. Horace would never have considered Cuthbert one of the more captivating of his colleagues, but he was quite pleasant, academically-minded company, and, as it happened, a surprising asset socially, for not only was he able to provide dates and places at the drop of a hat, but he was also rather attention-getting in a crowd. Walking into a cocktail party with a ghost at his side and introducing him as “my friend and colleague, Professor Cuthbert Binns” - well, the noteworthiness more than made up for any of Cuthbert’s conversational shortcomings in social situations, conversational shortcomings that Horace found he’d become quite used to over the years. The life of the party, Cuthbert was not, but entirely pleasant company in the staffroom of an evening, he most certainly was.
Upon their return to Hogwarts, Cuthbert floated through the main doors, and Horace followed soon after, though opening them, of course.
“I quite enjoyed myself,” said Horace, removing his hat and cloak. “Cup of tea in the staff room before we retire, Cuthbert?” He nodded at the house elf who popped up to take his cloak, tilting his head in the direction of the staff room.
They settled back into their armchairs by the fire, and the elf returned with a pot of tea and a tray holding a plate of bread and butter for Horace and a similar plate of moldy bread for Cuthbert, blue-green in patches and altogether dry. It was rare for ghosts to eat, but today was a special occasion. Horace placed it beside his chair.
“Thank you, Homer, thank you,” said Cuthbert. “Not too offensive to the old proboscis, I hope?”
“Horace,” said Horace absently. “Not in the least, old man, think nothing of it. One of the better choices for a shared meal, I should think.”
“A most pleasant day, most pleasant,” said Cuthbert. “Quite enjoyably collegial.”
“I quite agree,” said Horace. “I dare say we ought to repeat it sometime, if you’re amenable.”
“I am indeed,” said Cuthbert.
Horace sat back, the crackling fire warming his toes after the long walk in the night air. He slurped his tea and chewed his bread and butter. Cuthbert inhaled his own bread, almost able to taste it.
“I say,” said Cuthbert, breaking the silence, “if you don’t mind my asking, I know you’re a bachelor like myself, but, well, a confirmed bachelor?”
“Oh, rather,” said Horace cheerfully. “I’m a gentleman of non-conformist tastes, as they used to say. Why do you ask?”
“A man of my age, Homer, has often moved beyond pleasures of the flesh - by necessity in my case - but a certain companionship, you understand… well,” said Cuthbert. “One doesn’t entirely lose hope.”
“A certain special companionship, you mean?” said Horace, with a slight frown of concentration.
“Precisely that,” said Cuthbert. “We both have our work, of course, which is a not-insignificant source of pride to us both, but it does leave room for a certain special companionship.”
Horace tapped his teacup absent-mindedly with his index finger as he considered. Pleasures of the flesh were not a matter of small importance to him, on the whole, though in some cases, Cuthbert’s inability to partake merely meant all the more for Horace, so there were some silver linings. And he wasn’t unfamiliar with a certain longing for company himself. There was the slight matter of Cuthbert not actually seeming bent, but if Cuthbert himself was willing to be flexible on the matter, it wouldn’t do for Horace to be less open-minded himself. They weren’t in the worst position to make a go of it, really, two old duffers who enjoyed the quiet life - or death, as the case may be - puttering about together, enjoying a glass of brandy in front of the fire after a day of teaching, having a pleasant natter about some topic of interest.
“I dare say we could give it a try, Cuthbert,” he said eventually. “There are practical matters, of course, but they don’t seem insurmountable for two intelligent chaps such as ourselves.”
“Jolly good,” said Cuthbert. “There’s a lecture in a fortnight, at The Medieval Assembly of European Wizards.”
“I’d be delighted,” said Horace. He rubbed his tummy, warm from the fire, and relaxed back into his chair. Yes, not an altogether unsatisfying day, if unexpected on many fronts.
“I say, Homer,” said Cuthbert, “How do you feel about terms of endearment? Between two fellows, I mean.”
“The very thing,” said Horace, not bothering to correct the name. “Quite the perfect solution, my duck.”