3 July, 1885. Honoria Delagardie, Age 16
Honoria stood at the head of the staircase greeting the guests as they entered and smoothing her fingers over the cool blue satin of her dress in the interval between arrivals.
Sixteen and finally a lady, she thought. For whatever that may be worth. Parties are such a mixture of tedium and gaiety. I expect being a lady will be much the same.
She shook hands automatically, as the next young gentleman was introduced to her. Headmaster Dippet had placed great emphasis on the importance of decorum, so much so that it had become ingrained in her.
"You will be a bridge between worlds, Miss Delagardie," he'd said, "one of the few such with standing among Muggles. You must not be anything less than the best both Wizard and Muggle have to offer."
That doesn't sound like an enjoyable way to spend one's life, Honoria thought, though I don't see any way out of it. Must take it as it comes, I suppose – that's all anyone seems to do, for all the talk of machinations and plots and diplomacy and things. At least tonight is all Muggle. No need to spend the evening avoiding a dance with Rabastan Malfoy. I can't decide what I think of him – either he's odiously clever or stupidly foolish, though he's tiresome in either case.
She extended her hand again, letting a rather flamboyant young man press his lips to the back of her glove as she continued her musings.
Not like Bilius Longbottom, who's rather delightful, though anyone can see he's mad for Muriel Prewett. I suppose it's much better to just let love take its course if two people are so devoted to each other. So many people these days get caught up with bloodlines instead. There's something to blood, I'm sure, but it's not so exclusive as it's made out to be.
"Their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Denver, and Lord Mortimer Wimsey," announced the footman. Honoria looked up to greet the latest set of guests and her breath caught in her throat.
The young man had broad shoulders and a square, solid face from which bright blue eyes shone. He bowed over her hand in the prescribed manner, but his eyes remained locked to hers. Honoria found herself fascinated in a manner she couldn't quite explain—as if there was a subtle something, a fierceness perhaps, about the way he held himself that was different from the other men to whom she'd been introduced.
They stood there for what seemed to Honoria an eternity. But then, only a fraction of a second later than was strictly polite, he let go of her hand and stepped away towards the dance floor. Honoria fought to keep her eyes from following him.
Lord Mortimer Wimsey, she thought, is an enigma, or perhaps a double enigma, since he even hides his enigmaticness. Is that even a word? Nevertheless, there's a sort of magic about that man, however Muggle he must be. She smoothed her fingers over her dress idly, considering. Then she thought, decisively, I shall dance with him tonight.
24 November, 1931. Peter Wimsey, age 41
It was his birthday and Peter was feeling sorry for himself. He took a sip of his port, sliding his fingers along the stem of the glass. You ridiculous ass, Wimsey, he thought bitterly. You've nothing to offer a woman like Harriet Vane. Gratitude and feeble humor aren't worth anything near what she deserves.
He thought of Harriet's face as she'd sat in the dock at the trial, so very blank and empty and yet the spark of her spirit had been there nonetheless. How they could all have missed it, he didn't know.
And then, later, when she turned down his proposal for perhaps the fifteenth time, he'd looked up and seen something in her eyes. In that moment, he'd wanted more than anything to laugh, to shore up the wall between the world and his strange, naked passion for her. Instead, he'd swallowed the joke that came to his lips and turned his head away just long enough to gather his composure before changing the subject.
"Zeal is fit only for wise men, but is found mostly in fools," he murmured mockingly, twisting the glass along the tabletop. "And happy birthday to a great fool indeed." He tipped the glass to his lips and drank the last of it down.
15 October, 1947. Bredon Wimsey, Age 11
"Father," said the birthday boy, coming in to breakfast from the hallway, "there's a letter for me, all done in green ink. Isn't it queer? 'To Bredon Delagardie Peter Wimsey,'" he read. "'Second bedroom off the stairs, Talboys, Hertfordshire.'"
"Indeed?" said Lord Peter Wimsey, one eyebrow raised in placid inquiry. Inwardly, however, a small part of him was twitching. "May I see?"
The still-sealed letter was duly handed over and Peter's heart sunk as he ran his fingers over the seal on the reverse. 'Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus,' he thought. Damn, it would be so. With Bredon the heir, how are we to handle this? He will have so many other duties. He turned the parchment over in his hands pensively for a moment.
"Is this like Cap'en Treach and Mister Scatterblood?" asked Bredon, his eyes wide. "Or…" he paused, tentative, biting the edge of his lip "is magic for really and truly? 'Cause that'd be wicked."
"Young Phaethon," Peter murmured, turning his gaze from the parchment to Bredon's upturned, eager face. "He was not ready." But all the denials of Helios could not hold him back, of that I am sure, he thought. Then he sighed and said, "really and truly," and damned himself for the pleasure he felt at the grin spreading across Bredon's face.
Bredon said, with even more enthusiasm, "does that mean I really did turn George Wagget yellow that one time? 'Cause he said I must'a done it, only I didn't think I could've. Except I said he was more've a coward even than Joey Maggs and everyone could see it, too, how yellow he was."
Peter bit his lip and wondered how on earth he was going to tell Harriet.
27 March, 1919. Mervyn Bunter, age 37
Bunter set the usual cup of tea and plate of expertly buttered toast on the table next to his master's favorite chair. Lord Peter's shock of now faintly graying hair stood out over the top of the chair's back and Bunter made a mental note to begin searching for the services of a tactful barber.
It won't do, he thought, to put Major Wimsey, no, he schooled himself, being only two months into his current employment and still used to thinking of the man in his former role, to put Lord Peter into the hands of someone unused to his condition. The damage that might be done with a flashy blade will undo all I have accomplished so far.
"Thank you, Bunter," came Lord Peter's hoarse voice, his hand immediately reaching for the tea. It will be a good day for him, it seems, thought Bunter, and he made another mental note to add honey to the next cup.
"Of course, my lord," he said deferentially, and started to see himself out.
"Bunter," his master said as he reached the doorway, and Bunter froze. During the war Bunter had respected his commanding officer precisely because of Major Wimsey's sense of responsibility. He had never been careless with his men's lives. But afterwards, Lord Peter's shell shock had manifested itself in, among other things, a pathological fear of making decisions, having seen so many of the ones he'd been forced to make end in death. And so he had lived for months now, never so much as asking for his eggs to be made a different way or for the curtains to be opened or closed.
"Yes, my lord?" said Bunter carefully, taking a step closer.
Slowly Lord Peter rose from his chair and crossed to the desk at the end of the room. He withdrew an envelope and turned to hold it out. Bunter quickly stepped forward to take it, his hands noting the substantial wad of something inside.
Lord Peter nodded at him. "You shall have the rest of the day off, Bunter," he said, and turned away. Bunter's mouth hung open for a moment, then he recollected himself.
"My lord?" he said tentatively. Lord Peter settled himself into his chair again, but Bunter could see the corner of his mouth turn up just slightly before his face was hidden by the wing of the chair.
"Even a wretch so preoccupied as myself cannot be enough of an ass as to forget your natal day, Bunter," Lord Peter pronounced. "Your mother lives nearby; I am sure you will wish to go and see her. Give her my congratulations on a job well done."
"Yes, my lord," said Bunter automatically. "I will just go and give cook instructions for your luncheon and tea, then."
Lord Peter said nothing more, so Bunter let himself out. He eyed the envelope for a moment. A small decision, he thought, and well within the purview of merely habit for a man such as my lord. And yet I cannot help but take some measure of hope from it. Bunter tucked the envelope into his jacket with customary decorum, but he turned towards the kitchen with something that might almost have been called a smile on his face.
12 May, 1977. Harriet Vane Wimsey, age 77
Though she'd always imagined having children of her own, Harriet's vision of her later life had never been quite like this. For one thing, there were so many of them, her children and her children's children and so on. For another, they seemed to genuinely like her, in a way that she'd never done with her own father. She'd loved him, certainly, but theirs had been a distant relationship, colored by an obscure feeling of obligation (on both sides, Harriet rather thought).
Her own children, however, were rather different. What they wanted, it became apparent, was to be taken seriously, even when playing. It was the sort of thing Peter had taken to with splendid natural ability, and they'd come together as a family in a way that Harriet had never really expected. But it pleased her, not only for her own sake but also because it gave Peter that feeling of fatherly satisfaction that so suited him. Peter had to be old before he could truly be young, she thought, watching him now as he carefully supervised the building of a tree fort by Charles and Mary's older grandchildren.
And there was Peter, yes, again and always, looking up at her from beneath one unruly lock of hair, now pale with gray instead of pale with yellow, his face alive and un-weighted as he turned from a solemn appreciation of the plans sketched for him in the dirt at the base of the tree. Peter was solid, somehow, she thought. She'd been afraid, at first, afraid to place trust in anything outside herself. And yet Peter had proven himself, perhaps in an odd way, with those frequent proposals, to be constant. Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build, she said to herself. Yes, I chose well, in the end.
Harriet smiled at her husband and shifted slightly in her chair, fingers tapping against the arm. Some part of her wished to be writing still, though it had become difficult of late to devote sufficient concentration to any task. Instead she'd taken to encouraging younger writers, giving a lecture here and there and working more closely with those that seemed to have the requisite amount of sense. It was satisfying, in a way, to assure herself that those with adequate parts of both practicality and imagination continued to exist, that though the world had changed so very much, some things remained. Stability again. Harriet, old girl, you have gone rather soft, she thought.
Still, if that is the worst of who I have become, I shall be happy, she thought. It has been a good life. I hope I shall live to see another year of it. That is the best anyone can say.