Chapter 1 : Ambition and Power
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-George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, page 811 (Google Books Version)
A long, lonely trail of rubble led to the half-open door of Horace Slughorn’s office. The man stepped around a collapsed column, glancing up wearily at the hole in the ceiling that marked its former position. Part of him wanted the whole castle to crash down around him, as if it would properly immortalize his feelings of utter, complete failure. Still, he tore his eyes away from the ruin, moving toward the door again. So much had changed in the twelve hours since he’d left this office, rushing to the Great Hall so quickly that the door had been left slightly ajar, and yet it was as if he was just there. As he crossed the threshold, he stepped in a shallow puddle of scarlet, which was rapidly drying into a red smear on the stone floor. A corpse had been there. It made him shudder.
Slughorn weakly pushed the door open. He could plainly see that his office hadn’t been spared from the fate that befell the remainder of the castle; his chair still stood in the center of the room, but his desk had toppled over and spilled its contents all over the carpet. Several of his paintings had slipped off the walls, and the largest had a crushed frame, like someone—or something—had stepped on it. A quick glance around the room revealed no dreadful red splotches like the one he’d seen in the corridor. If anyone had taken their last breaths in his office, at least the process was quick and relatively clean.
As he approached the chair, his eyes moved across the many photos and autographs that dotted the shelves and walls of his office. His collection of memories was undoubtedly his most prized possession; it was a currency only he possessed, one that would unlock more doors than any sort of master key. He spent no money, only favors, to gain access to some of the most exclusive parties and ceremonies in London’s wizarding society.
Slughorn sank down into his chair and sighed wearily, picking up the photograph nearest him. He stood smiling next to a young Rabastan Lestrange; the photo had been taken in front of the Lestranges’s family home on the occasion of Rodolphus’s wedding to Bellatrix Black. Slughorn had only begrudgingly accepted the invitation because of the opportunity to mingle with many members of the wealthiest families in the area; he had no personal relationship with the bride and groom since he heard suspicious rumors that they had become Death Eaters. But he refused to believe Rabastan had also become involved until the day he saw the young man put on trial along with his brother and sister-in-law. At Hogwarts, the younger Lestrange boy had always been the picture of posterity, a good conversationalist, and a supporter of Slughorn’s favorite Quidditch team, the Holyhead Harpies. These memories had kept him from throwing away the picture, as he had done with Lucius Malfoy’s picture several decades past.
But he had waited too long. Rabastan was either dead on the grounds or in the process of being moved back to Azkaban; either way, Slughorn wanted nothing to do with him now. He picked up the picture, aged frame and all, and tossed it into a nearby rubbish bin.
He always held a small reservoir of hope for his students. In the old days, he’d let just about anyone into the Slug Club, knowing that even the quietest student could one day become a household name once he or she shed the awkwardness of adolescence. As word spread around the castle about his midnight parties and elaborate feasts, however, he’d been forced to narrow the scope of his invitees. In recent years the Slug Club had become quite exclusive, or so Slughorn liked to think. As for those who disappointed him once they left school—he never forgot their slights, just as he eternally celebrated the greatness of their peers. And after a time, he decided that some students were just too far gone.
Rabastan Lestrange was one, though he had been loath to admit it until he saw the man in the flesh, cloaked in black and slaying any poor student who dared step into his path. Claire Thatchwood was another. She had come from good stock and impressed him with her stubbornness, which was no doubt what won her the position of Chaser on the Quidditch team for six of her seven years and the honor of being the first girl to play for Slytherin. He questioned her choices initially—namely her decision to date Marcus Flint and Adrian Pucey in close succession—but he held out hope that a bright girl like Claire could find a good job and fine husband and make something of herself in the world.
The last time he’d seen her was approximately six hours ago, when she was finally knocked off her broom by Professor Flitwick. She’d killed several students by then.
He picked up the brass picture frame, which showed him smiling next to her on the warm, sunny day she graduated from Hogwarts, and pitched it in the bin with Rabastan’s. He sensed a tangible pain in his heart as he remembered that the photo had been a gift.
Slughorn glanced at his ruined desk. His French parchment had been knocked out of its carefully arranged stack, and his gold inkwell was upturned onto the floor in a black puddle. The ink stained the corner of a document that Slughorn picked up to examine more closely. It was a short, polite request from Millicent Bulstrode, who wanted him to write a letter recommending her for a secretarial position at the Ministry of Magic. In the heat of battle it was easy to forget that some of the fighters were a short while away from graduating, that some of them might have been worrying about jobs or engagements or pursuing specialty education. When he’d first read this letter, Millicent had barely registered in his mind. But he had seen her hours ago, bravely fighting back against the Death Eaters and, afterwards, trailing after Madam Pomfrey with an armful of potions. Just as he had overestimated some people, he had underestimated the worth of others.
There was one student who was a paradox; he would never be forgotten by Slughorn, and yet nothing to serve as a reminder of him hung in this office. The old man had no trouble bringing Tom Riddle to mind, be it a dashing, dark-haired boy or a withering corpse. Tom had captured his interest immediately, for like Slughorn he had come from a dull, depressing background with a desire for something more burning deep in his heart. The boy’s determination and skill had been evident from the first day, save for an ability to properly harness and control his powers. I was his tutor in that, Slughorn mused.
As he gazed around his ruined office, he wondered if he could pinpoint the moment at which Tom Riddle vanished and Lord Voldemort came to be. He could recall one particularly eerie conversation—but no, they had shared many such discussions in private moments, stolen between classes or late at night when Tom claimed he couldn’t sleep. Something else we’ve always had in common, I’m afraid. Slughorn shuddered again.
Whoever he had been, he was gone. Slughorn needed to believe that. He had spent long hours and useless days out of his life wondering what he had done wrong with Tom.
But the others—these he mourned. They had succumbed to an influence more powerful than his own, more seductive than anything Hogwarts or the mainstream wizarding world had to offer. Somewhere along the way, they had lost sight of the true ideals of Slytherin House, trading ambition for a unique sort of slavery, a false sense of security and power. Had they known all along how they tarnished the reputation of Salazar’s great house? Many former members of the other houses lay dead in the corridors, but they weren’t traitors. Their deaths would be mourned, not celebrated. They would not be regrets.
Slytherins, Slughorn had come to learn, were two sides of the same coin. Some of them would be ambitious and achieve greatness. Some would plummet while reaching for power. He couldn’t save any of them, and he couldn’t predict who they would become. Don’t know why Albus wanted me to be Head of House at all, he thought somberly.
His eyes fell on a shining object hanging above his door. It was untouched among the carnage in his office. He purchased the golden medallion weeks after first getting the job at Hogwarts and hung it above the door to remind him every time he exited his office that the next great witch or wizard might be out there, waiting to meet him in a corridor or ready to answer a question in one of his classes. He had it engraved with his name and job title on one side and the Slytherin crest on the other. Buying himself an award was a bit pathetic, now that he looked back on it, but back then he did not know anyone influential or famous. He had no one to get him box seats for the theater or Quidditch season passes or get his minor magical traveling violations quietly erased from Ministry records. Now he could look back on the memory and the gold medal with pride, thinking fondly of all the friendships he’d created and everything he had accomplished since.
On that day, he had decided to look out for himself. This war had made him forget his own power, but everything he had did not come from other people. Wasn’t he responsible for molding them, imparting his wisdom and turning them into smart, capable witches and wizards? Hadn’t he played a major part in who they became, as was told to him so often by grateful parents during his elaborate parties after each successful graduation? He had not sold out to Voldemort; couldn’t he still make a difference in the days to come?
The medal was still hanging above the door. More great people could still be out there.
The castle would be rebuilt by all the great people he already knew. More students would come, one promising generation after another. Life would go on, at last, without Tom.
And Horace Slughorn intended to be there for it all.
He realized he was still holding Millicent Bulstrode’s letter. He made a mental note to write her recommendation tomorrow, or maybe even later that night when things quieted down a bit more. He needed time to remember all the good things he knew about her.
The professor sat back in his chair, sinking into its comfortable padded leather with a smile on his face. Somehow, the shattered contents of his office no longer troubled him.
Thanks for stopping by to check out my latest one-shot!
I’d like to thank Aphoride for providing the inspiration for this story :)
Slughorn was a really interesting character to explore, and I loved trying to wrap my head around his strange relationship with Tom Riddle. I certainly wish JKR had shared more about it with us in the canon series, but she only had so much space. That’s the beauty of fanfiction, though, right? You can fill in the gaps for yourself.
Please stop to leave your thoughts in the review box before you go. Thanks again!
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