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Chapter 2 : Truce
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The night was hot and sticky as if awaiting a storm. In a small town on the south coast, most inhabitants of a street composed mainly of Victorian terraced houses had sensed this and gone indoors. Inside the farthest one, the one with its facade covered in ivy, Horace Slughorn was sitting on a large and cushioned velvet armchair, his stomach rumbling. In the adjacent dining-room, the table had been set ready for a king; goblin made cutlery, vintage wine and exquisite delicacies. If he was going to depart this world soon, he might as well do it in style. That had been his motto since well before Dumbledore had died.
Before he had time to react, a loud popping sound wiped away his smile. Someone had just Apparated in the middle of his living-room.
"Severus!" exclaimed Slughorn peering, horror-stricken, at the black-cloaked figure that had abruptly broken the peace of his surroundings.
"What are you doing here?" Slughorn asked in a harsh tone, as he attempted with some difficulty to get up.
"I am here to warn you," Severus answered impassively, standing still on the spot to which he had Apparated.
"To warn me?" repeated Slughorn with a hint of sarcasm, trying to cover up his feeling of unease.
"Yes, to warn you. I know who told Potter about the Horcruxes. The game is up. The Headmaster cannot protect you anymore!"
The former potions teacher could not believe his ears. "You what?"
"You could be in very serious trouble," Snape stated, pacing up and down the room as if familiarising himself with an enemy camp.
How dare he act so arrogantly, after what he had done! Slughorn thought.
"That certainly is a grand statement coming from you. The man who has just murdered the most respected wizard in the entire world. Someone who will surely end up either in Azkaban or dead at the hands of the Dark Lord, whatever or whoever gets you first!"
"Very ingenious, Horace. I killed Dumbledore to save the Malfoy brat!" replied Snape dispassionately, standing right opposite from his contender, towering over him.
"Why, because you are in love with Narcissa, like you were with Lily?" the older man remarked defiantly.
"Clean your filthy mouth, before I shut it for you forever, or even better, before I turn you in ... to the Dark Lord..."
"I daresay, he is not too pleased with you. You messed up his little plan."
"The Dark Lord will be a good deal more pleased after I convey to him intelligence about what we both know you said, and to whom," Snape pronounced this last phrase very slowly, as if rejoicing in the words. "It may improve his mood to have another target to go after... It would certainly improve mine. It has never been my desire to be the centre of his attention."
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
Snape caressed the tip of his wand as he maintained eye contact and spoke in a superior voice, "Horace, give up the theatre, I can read your mind if I so wish. Just like I can read Potter's when he is in my presence. It's ironic. Dumbledore made it far too easy ... handed the brat over to me on a plate!"
"What do you want from me? I am only an old man. I have taken no sides in this war. You well know that."
"In time, my friend, in time. I take it you are still well connected?" asked Severus, looking at his surroundings with what would appear to be mild amusement.
"I would like to think so. Ok, let’s be gentlemen. Care for a glass?" Slughorn offered, carefully pouring wine in an elegant crystal receptacle and extending his hand to invite his guest to sit.
"I rather keep my wits about me. After all, too much wine and too much greed in a hut on Hogwarts’ grounds was the beginning of your downfall. Is that not true?" Snape's eyes glared at him with penetrating intensity. Slughorn had to withdraw his gaze. "Trust a talentless brat to outwit you!"
Slughorn huffed before biting out, "Severus, you clearly want a favour, so, please, must you be so rude?"
"I have never been one for niceties. You have known me a long time," Snape replied sternly.
"Yes, but not long enough to suspect you would become a murderer."
"I had my reasons. You obviously know nothing," he replied condescendingly.
"Look, I could alert the Order."
"No one in the Order trusts you, like they did me. You sit on the fence too much. Neither side trusts you as a result."
Slughorn could feel his hackles start to rise. "I see you have come alone. How brave of you!"
"It is not me who is a coward, despite what you might have heard."
The former professor had to admit to himself that he was deeply curious about what really happened at the Astronomy Tower. He had a feeling there was more to it than met the eye. Also, he was dying to know how Snape had avoided both Azkaban and Voldemort's fury, so far.
"Ok, stop the game! How well connected are you really, in the Muggle community?" Snape questioned, not willing to beat about the bush any longer.
"In the Muggle community?" Slughorn seemed truly surprised. "You are not thinking of ... living as a Muggle?"
"Of course not, but there is something I wish to know." Again, Severus' gaze was impossible, almost painful.
Slughorn sighed in defeat. "Ask away."
"Do you know any priests, Muggle priests?"
"Priests? Whatever is, in Merlin's beard, that you have in mind?"
"Do you or do you not?" asked Snape, eager to get the conversation moving.
"I can't think, off hand..." Slughorn hesitated, his fear beginning to show.
"I want to know whether you know anything about what they call miracles, in other words their magic. Is there, in your experience, "he pronounced the word experience slowly and rhythmically, "any truth in any of that? Can they prevent evil entering a place?"
"You better ask a Muggle," he replied as he nearly choked on a great sip of wine.
"A proper Muggle would either go by faith, believing anything without a hint of proof, or by science, doing the absolute opposite. Again, a Muggle-born, would see everything as just our magic. None of it is of any use."
"Let’s get this straight. Are you trying to keep You-Know-Who at bay by means of Muggle magic? Let’s think... this could actually prove rather clever. Of course, he will not think of that, will he? Unless he reads your mind. I believe him to be a highly accomplished Legilimens. After all, I was his teacher at Hogwarts," Horace added with a hint of self-satisfaction.
"You are learning. But it is not myself I am trying to protect, not yet anyway," replied Snape dismissing the comment about Voldemort reading his mind.
"Whose side are you truly on, Severus?"
"If I knew that, I wouldn’t tell you. Maybe like you, on the side of the winner. But that’s not really my style!" Snape snapped disdainfully.
"Now, tell me," Slughorn had continued drinking and his curiosity was taking its toll, "did you make a Horcrux yourself with Dumbledore’s death?"
"Don’t be ridiculous! I can see that your bravery is no more than drink talking. You are a little pathetic, fat, drunken old man, and a coward to boot!"
"I said, enough of insults. I have done you no harm. You have invaded my home, you have threatened me!" protested Slughorn.
"All I want is information. I have given you a task. I trust you will come up with something, with a brilliance like yours!"
"Ok, there is bound to be something in it..." Horace Slughorn muttered.
"Don’t mess around. We haven’t the time. Someone is going to die if you do not find out soon. I thought I’d give my old teacher a little homework for a change."
On that note, Snape Disapparated from Slughorn’s place into the shadows of the stormy night.
After the encounter, Horace Slughorn had lost his appetite for both the food and the expensive wine. Where was his fan club now? He had spent most of his lifetime recruiting acquaintances amongst the rich, the famous and the talented but now, in his hour of need, he didn’t have a single friend he could confide in. Snape had been right; he was a pathetic fat, drunken old man and also a coward. Yes, he had to admit, like the Death Eaters, he really feared death.
A few days had gone by and Harry was still living in awe about his conversation with his aunt or, more to the point, her conversation with him.
Things at home had continued as usual. There was an unspoken pact that she would continue being mean to him when there was an audience. However, he knew they had now, just as he was about to leave for good, reached an understanding for the first time ever. Maybe there was something in that blood business. After all, she was his mother's sister.
He was sitting on his bed going over these developments and various other things connected with the year ahead. Was he really not going to return to Hogwarts even if it re-opened or, was this just a protest brought about because of Dumbledore’s death? He missed his friends and above all, he missed Ginny. He would have to face her soon enough, anyway, when he returned to the Burrow for the wedding.
Suddenly, there was a tap on his window. Harry got quickly to his feet and, impatiently, let the owl in. "Hedwig! You're back," said Harry with a smile. He had sent her away earlier in the week with a letter for Ron in which, incidentally, he had omitted any mention of his younger sister. That must be his reply, although thinking about it, Ron had never been very good at writing prompt responses.
It is from Hermione, nice! Harry thought.
I hope your relatives are treating you ok. Anyway, as you know you won’t have to be there for long anyway. There is something, however, which had I not been there with my mother, I would have thought I had dreamt. I don’t yet know what it means but, if Sirius was still with us, I would have thought it proper to mention it to him. Sorry to mention Sirius; we all miss him.
Well, I will now tell you what I have been dying to say, and believe me, I am speechless. As you well know, although my parents accept my world and our part in it, they belong to the Muggle one. My mother can be quite spiritual in her own Muggle way and likes to go to church and sometimes I go with her.. Anyway as I was saying, I was in church with my mother a few days ago, in our local chapel, quite a nice building from an architectural point of view. You should read about Muggle architecture sometime. Maybe I'll lend you a book. Anyway, getting back on topic. I was at our local chapel with my mum and who do I see? Honestly, Harry, take a seat and listen to this:
"Come on, Hermione, get on with it," muttered Harry almost aloud. There is a time and a place for Muggle architecture! he thought.
Professor Slughorn! True to life! What on earth was he doing in a Muggle church, I wonder? I thought my vision might be blurred but my mother herself recognised him. I thought to myself that maybe he is Muggleborn or something. What was even stranger was that he seemed not to wish to see us. My mother went to say hello and I came under the distinct impression that he was trying to put a charm on us or something of that ilk. However, for whatever reason he didn't or it didn’t work. I don’t really know whether we should tell someone. I have a gut feeling that this means something, but no idea what. After all, he might be so afraid of You-Know-Who that he has turned to Muggle religion. Not necessarily a bad thing though. Please, reply soon and give me your thoughts.
By the way, by the time you get to the Burrow, I will probably be there myself. My parents are ever so pleased to have been invited to the wedding. It's so kind of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, don't you think?
P.S. I have written to you and not to Ron because I know Privet Drive is protected and it is less likely that the post may be intercepted than at the Burrow. See you soon.
Slughorn indeed! Had the world gone truly mad? Worthy of the Daily Prophet. Rita Skeeter would love that! First Aunt Petunia being nice and now this! Maybe Voldemort will ask me to accompany him for a friendly drink at the Leaky Cauldron in a day or two! Harry laughed at his own silly thought.
Now, thinking about it, Slughorn was a strange character. He could be quite pivotal insofar as he knew about the Horcruxes and about Voldemort''s interest in creating several. He could have been a source of information had Harry not promised Dumbledore not to discuss the topic with anyone other than Ron and Hermione. Furthermore, Slughorn was a Slytherin, but that wasn't the sole reason why Harry had never trusted him completely. There was something dodgy about him. He had tried, at all costs, to stay away from the families of known Death Eaters by such deeds as refusing Malfoy an invitation to his private parties. He clearly did not want to make a stand in this war. He had confessed only because he was drunk and greedy and because he, Harry, had been helped by the Felix Felicis. Maybe he could ask Lupin, in a roundabout way. Maybe he could ask him if it was normal for a wizard to go to a Muggle church. Again, he might be cast as insane just as he had been on so many occasions. Better discuss it with Hermione first. Ron probably wouldn’t have a clue, since he doubted he even knew what a Muggle church looked like. Anyhow, he could not reply to Hermione yet because he truly did not have the slightest idea as to what to say.
Harry wasn't in the right mood to occupy his mind with any more conundrums right that minute. He put the letter in his trunk and picked up a book on Quidditch.
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