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HORACE August, 1937
This world belongs to JK Rowling. I thank her for generously allowing us all to borrow from it.
The elegantly dressed wizard breathed a contented sigh and pushed his chair back a bit from the table to ease his embonpoint. (Less delicate observers might have called it a paunch.) It had been ever so slightly augmented by a most satisfying biftek au poivre avec champignons, haricots verts amandine, and pears flambéed in brandy. His companion--older, taller, and a deal thinner--took a sip of wine. The comfortably upholstered man spoke.
"Albus, it's a wonderful feeling for me to be back here at our old stomping grounds--on the other side of the desk, so to speak. Thank you, my friend, for recommending me for the position." He raised his glass in toast and took a sip of his own drink—a fine old Bordeaux.
His friend and mentor, Albus Dumbledore, ever humble, ever precise, inclined his head as he patted his lips with a napkin. "No thanks needed, Horace. I merely provided a bit of a boost for your talents."
"But your word in Dippy's ear was surely the one that brought my curriculum vitae to the top of the pile."
"Your work speaks for itself. The Arden principal sent quite a nice letter, and Headmaster Dippet, fervid fan of mycology that he is, has always admired your treatises on the many uses of shelf fungi in potion-making. Though, frankly I am fonder of your research into fruit-flavored confections."
Horace Slughorn glowed with pleasure. "You liked the lemon drops I sent, did you?"
"Indeed. A most satisfying combination of piquancy and sweetness. Gets the mental juices flowing, I find."
"Actually, I picked 'em up in a Muggle shop, of all places." He thought back to his discovery of that quaint little alley in--where was it—Greenwich Village? And the shop whose buxom proprietress shared his love of all things luxurious. "Muggles make the best fruit-flavored sweets, you know, and there's this place in New York that has the most scrumptious glacéed pineapple--"
"Excuse us, sir." A small head bobbed up at Horace's well-tailored elbow. It was that tiresome house-elf again—Booby or Bubby or—actually he wasn't even sure it was the same fellow. All members of the lower humanoid species looked alike to him. "How would Master like his clothing arranged?" the creature squeaked.
"Why, hang the robes, of course. There should be more than enough room in the chifforobe. Linens always go in the top drawer. Be very careful with my stockings though. They must be folded in thirds, never rolled."
As the creature left the room, Horace complained: "These little chaps are forever rolling my hosiery, then placing the rolls willy-nilly in the drawer, never taking care that the majority of the whorls might be lying widdershins, thus causing excessive negative magic."
"And then they wonder why the socks keep disappearing."
"How right you are! I've tried to explain: it makes for a very unstable situation. Cashmere wool is too delicate to withstand such a strong field as is generated by so much anticlockwise motion. Creates a hole in the ethereal plane just big enough to slip a bit of fabric through, and voilà, another of my favorite argyles--vanished!"
"I am afraid your average house elf is not cognizant of the latest in directional theory, my dear Horace."
"Ah, yes. Nor is your average student--"
"--but now that you are on the scene--"
Horace struck a mock-serious pose. "--indeed, Albus, I feel that even I— humble potioneer, expatriate returned, teacher of scant experience that I am--even I can make some small contribution to my alma mater." He grinned. "Though I suspect most of my students will not cotton on to the subtle difference a change in the direction of stirring can make in a potion."
"Some of ours would surprise you, I think."
"But I see you're not using Theories of Transubstantial Transfiguration as a text yet."
"There are some who could easily handle it though and your complex Directional Theory as well. In fact, I daresay that the current group of students at Hogwarts contains an unusually large number of talented minds."
"It sounds like you're warming up to a pitch for that old Founders Reincarnation Theory."
Albus gave him a sharp look. "What makes you say that?"
"It just reminds me of when we were in school. Remember old Trelawney going on about how you were the spit and image of Godric Gryffindor?"
That turned Albus's frown of concentration into a chuckle. "Ah yes, but he was always seeing signs and auras nobody else could."
"Well, now you've brought the subject up, you might as well tell me: who are these bright lights I should be looking out for in my classes?"
"Mmm--well in the way of intelligence, you can't get better than fifth year Barty Crouch. He's the new Ravenclaw prefect--"
"Crouch. Is he the son of Nathaniel Crouch, the perennial Ministry ambassador?"
"I believe so, though I've never met the parents. I know Barty has traveled a lot, and speaks several languages."
"My, yes. His German is every bit as good as mine, and his Mermish is quite decent as well. Last year, he negotiated the release of a student from an irate Mermaid who'd accused him of stealing her pet Grindylow. Raymie Sykes, I believe the miscreant was, another student you will soon become acquainted with, though not for his devotion to his studies."
"Rather the reverse, I expect."
"Indeed. Then there is Bathilda Bagshot, Gryffindor, second year. She is quite the history buff."
"Good. Maybe she'll take old Binns' place when he pops off."
"I doubt she will have time. She wants to write the definitive history of magic from its beginnings to the present day. And she has already started. I hear she has a whole trunkful of notes on the Goblin Wars alone."
"I guess I'll have to expect lots of questions about the origins of my potion recipes from her."
"She has already asked me more about great names in Transfiguration than I shall ever have the time to research an answer for. "
"Any other Gryffindors of note?" asked Horace, taking mental notes.
"Two of her roommates are quite good: Mina Grubbly and Minerva McGonagall. Mina is an avid magicozoologist--"
"McGonagall? Oh, yes, the daughter of the Lord of Connghaill. I read in The Owl Overseas that there was a recent death in the family--the father himself, was it not?"
The twinkle went out of his friend's eyes. "Yes. A very sad affair--an accident, as I understand it."
"I sent Miss McGonagall a note. Just a 'hello' actually. I sent them to a number of students."
"Already getting into teaching mode, eh? Introducing yourself? An excellent idea. Something you picked up at Arden, I take it."
"Indeed. Doctor Kommett, the principal, as they call him, insisted on our treating the students almost as equals."
"I believe that is what Muggles call a 'progressive education.'"
"Progressive? Hardly." His friend raised an eyebrow at this, so Horace hastened to explain. "Actually I found the Arden faculty rather a stodgy lot. Mucking about with peripherals like Ancient Runes and the origins of Mermish and Goblansk, and whether garden gnomes can be said to have speech or not, short-shrifting Transfiguration and even basic Defense--"
"Magicolinguistics is Dr. Kommett's speciality, Horace."
"Yes, but that's no excuse. Would you believe it? Half the staff thinks there are no dark wizards left to defend against."
"It sounds as if they are hiding their heads in the ground, not unlike the fabled Muggle ostrich."
"Or up their arses, more likely. Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you, Albus. But that is the main reason why I was looking to move on. The teaching's just too different over there. Although they are enlightened in one respect. Do you know, I didn't come across a single Muggle-born student while I was at Arden? Not one."
"I had heard about that. But it would seem not so much an anti-Muggle policy in the school itself, as the fact that there are not so very many Muggle-borns discovered in the States as there are here, which leads me to wonder if their Surveillance Charms are as up-to-date as ours. Something worth looking into, I would say."
"Yes--you would say." Horace paused and took a healthy sip of wine and let it flow slowly over his tongue and soft palate before swallowing. Wonderful bouquet. That Booby—or Bibby—did know his reds at least. "I will say I made a few decent contacts while I was over there. Wonderful old Tory families, steeped in the wizarding traditions-- unlike some colonials I could name. You know there's a comfortable British wizarding enclave on their East Coast."
"No, I did not know. Did you happen to run into any Macnairs while you were over there?"
"I did. Bethoc Macnair was a student of mine." Horace dwelt on an image of the zaftig red-head for a moment. Dear Bethoc. One would say her most salient charms were not of the magical variety. She had the distressing habit of brushing that tender little torso of hers up against him as she left the classroom, even though there was always more than enough room in the doorway.
Albus interrupted the incipient sensual flush that always accompanied prolonged thoughts of the Macnair wench. "I ask only because one of our students, Peter Macnair, was just sent over there to live with his uncle Macbeth."
"Macbeth Macnair is Bethoc's father. Peter Macnair, you say? Hmm—he'd be the second—no the third son of the Thane of Perth, wouldn't he?"
"I see you know your wizarding genealogy."
"Well, I won't say I make Nott's Who's Who regular bedtime reading, but I do like to know who I'm talking to over cocktails."
"Cocktails? I did not know you were interested in horses, Horace."
"Not ponies' arses, my dear boy. A cocktail--it's a drink. Americans have these get-togethers where they serve nothing but alcohol--and hors d'oeuvres. You do know what those are, don't you?"
"The bite-sized dainties? Canapés and the like? Yes, I am familiar with them. Is that how you increased your cir—er--circle of contacts?"
"And my circumference, as you've noticed." Horace patted his well-developed waistline. "It's been worth it, Albus. Believe me. And I've been thinking of starting up something similar here at the school."
"Serving alcoholic beverages to students? The Headmaster will likely object, Horace." Albus Dumbledore gave him an icy look that made him feel a brash young student again, brought up before a teacher for some adolescent prank.
He shook off the uncomfortable feeling those piercing blue eyes gave him. Dumbledore was, after all, only a few years his senior. "Great Gwydion's Ghost, Albus, what do you take me for? I was thinking more along the lines of a once-a-week tea—for the more promising students, of course."
Now the blue eyes softened and twinkled. "So long as the tea is indeed weak." Albus always did have a way with a pun. "But promising? In what way? Are you meaning to reward those who have worked hard to achieve academic superiority?"
"Wellllll…yes…but others as well."
"Persons of potential influence."
"There's nothing wrong with that, is there?"
"Perhaps not." They sipped their drinks in silence for a time, and Horace lit his pipe. The house-elf passed back through and discreetly cleared the table. Horace surveyed his friend through wine-mellowed eyes and thought back over the conversation. Albus was a witty fellow. Could he really be so devoid of worldly wisdom that he did not know what a cocktail was? It wasn't as if he'd been stuck in this musty old castle for centuries, cut off from the outside world, like that humorless old harridan, Gladys Boothby. Hadn't he accompanied his venturesome brother—what was his name?—-Ambleforth or Applefroth or something—-more than once, on his artifact-seeking expeditions? And he had been no slouch with the ladies either. Back in their salad days, there had been a parcel of nice young fillies who would have gladly kicked their traces for a roll in the hay with his tall, auburn-haired friend.
Well, Horace himself had enjoyed a conquest or two back then. Genevieve, wasn't it?—no, Genevra—saucy Eye-talian wench—how she could kiss! And blond, pig-tailed Helga, named after the Foundress--for luck, her mother said. Well, Helga wasn't much with a wand, but she surely could turn a fellow's innards to mush with those eyes of hers—her 'baby-blues', as his American friends would call them.
He smiled and drew on his pipe. The sweet smoke settled him into a haze of happy concupiscence. The current Hogwarts staff held a smattering of interest for his still active gonads. That little coquette—Vivi Trumulo—had asked him at the very first staff meeting whether he thought they might lift the age restriction on visits to Hogsmeade just for Valentine’s Day, so that some of the younger students might enjoy a first 'date.' That was a veiled invitation if he ever heard one. But she was taken already, he thought. Surely that had been a love-knot amulet he saw about her neck when he was looking down at her, though not intentionally seeking a hint of décolletage—oh no.
He adjusted the angle of his chair to allow for a slightly more recumbent posture, swinging his legs out from under the table, giving them one good stretch, as he relaxed back against the velvet-covered framework. There was one person he was sure was available—and ripe for the plucking. That dusky, sloe-eyed beauty—Porpentina Cavallo-Grifone, the Magical Creatures specialist. He loved her surname. It meant Horse-Falcon. Proud and fiery she would be—in the classroom—at staff meetings—in the boudoir...
Crash! He looked up to see the house-elf, flat on the floor at his feet, a great quantity of crockery reduced to shattered shards and slewed out in front of him all the way to the door.
"What the—" he bellowed, extricating his plump, patent-leather-shod feet from the tangle of bony house-elf arms and legs. "Can't you watch where you're going? These shoes cost—"
"Calm down, Horace," said Dumbledore, with more than a hint of ferocity in his own voice. He was on his feet, with a hand hovering over Horace's lower limbs.
"That's all right, Albus, you don't need to—I'm fine—only my slippers—I hope they aren't crusted with this—"
But the tall wizard seemed not at all interested in the salvation of Horace's footwear or even the state of his bunions. He reached down and took the house-elf by the arm, lifting him gently out of the rubble with a murmured "Are you all right, young fellow?"
The house-elf—Bippy or Bunky or whoever--was beside himself with fear and rightly so. Clumsy fellow! If there was a single stain on those slippers—
"Reparo!" boomed Albus, waving his wand at the broken dishes. They fit themselves back together instantly and stacked themselves neatly by the door.
By now, Horace had his own wand out and was examining his footwear for damage. A Scourgify would be far too harsh a treatment for the delicate, shiny black leather, and he had to admit his knowledge of cleaning spells was very limited. But fortunately there appeared to be no damage, not so much as a smudge, so he turned his attention to dressing down the naughty elf.
He needn't have bothered, for the little fellow was already cudgeling himself with his fists, saying over and over, "Bad Bobby, stupid Bobby, how dare you break the plates of your so very generous employers. You should not have piled them up so high. You should have paid more attention to what the learned professor was doing with his feet—you should have been more careful--" These last words gave Horace pause. It dawned on him that it was he who had caused the accident, stretching his legs out when he did.
"No, Booby—I mean—Bobby," he cried. "No harm done—uh--it is entirely my fault. Please stop. Albus, make him—" But his friend had already seized the little fellow's arms and held them, though gently, at his sides, with calming murmurs of forgiveness. Finally Bobby nodded his head and wiped his tear-streaked cheeks. He made a deep bow to the two wizards and went about his business with no further attempts at self-flagellation.
As the little fellow left, shakily Levitating the stack of dishes before him, Horace leaned towards his old mentor with a confiding murmur. "Excellent dinner don't you think? That little debacle notwithstanding." He sat back in his chair. "Ah, Hogwarts, my second, and truest, home! You know, Albus, teaching Potions here has always been a dream of mine. When I took that job in America, I never thought that this position would open up so soon. You can imagine my delight when you wrote to me about it."
"It was my pleasure to do so."
"But one thing puzzles me. I thought Mandra Gora was rather in her prime, wasn't she? No more than fifty or sixty I'd guess. Did she say why she was retiring?"
"It has to do with the Muggles' war activities, I believe. She has family and some Muggle friends in China, and with the Japanese Empire's occupation of Manchuria, she is understandably concerned."
"Ah, there's another thing those American mages and Muggles can't seem to get through their heads. They think they're completely isolated, that this threat of war can't touch them. But now that the Muggles have invented those fairy-planes—"
"I believe they are called aeroplanes, Horace."
"Yes, yes—but the point is—their enemies can now fly over those oceans that the Americans have always considered their primary defense--as the Swiss once thought their Alps were--"
"I have a feeling their leaders will reach that conclusion very soon, if they have not already done so. In any case, there is nothing we can do about it."
"That's right. We'd best look to our own shores, our own protection."
"And our students' needs, of course."
"Right you are, my friend. And do you know? I think this school could use a little war of its own."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we always start the year's classes bang off with a lot of long-winded lectures and reading assignments, right? Boring, I say. What the students need is a contest of some sort, something to galvanize their attention, make 'em want to learn, right from the beginning. And I think I have the thing that'll do the trick."