Author's Note

This is just a little one-shot I wrote after seeing the Half Blood Prince movie. I thought Slughorn's story about Lily was very sweet and humanizing - as a character, he's fairly annoying but there was that brief glimpse of a professor who genuinely cared about his students. Anyways, I thought I'd just write a little about it - it's probably pretty boring, but it was fun to write. No copyright infringement is intended, and Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling.

It was already mid morning when Horace woke up – the sun had already passed his window, and the crisp breeze blowing through the window did nothing to encourage him to rise from his bed. Still, it was all good and proper; since retiring, Horace had taken the greatest delight in rising late. No breakfast with hundreds of bleary eyed students, no morning classes and – well, now he thought about it, the food was rather good. And mornings had always meant owls, whether quick notes from recent students (Gwenog Jones always liked to write about her quidditch training, the dear girl) or longer missives from those who had graduated long ago and still remembered their favorite potions master. Generations of students that he had influenced – surely enough to excuse sleeping a little later today?

The tune he hummed to himself was a new favorite of the wizarding world called "Cast a Spell of Love" and it was a proud Horace Slughorn who (happily remembering that the singer was on his shelf) tied his dressing gown and began making plans to stop by Hogwarts sometime soon. He'd have to see how his successor was doing; that Snape boy had been close to Lily Evans, and both had been some of the most talented students to have passed through the Hogwarts potions classroom.

The humming continued as he headed down the stairs, past the framed photographs on the wall of more favorites, and into the living room to sit and read for some time. He'd work on that potions commission later, and in the mean time he'd relax.

It wasn't until after Horace had taken a pinch of fish food and dropped it in the fish bowl sitting on his coffee table that he realized something was off. Francis was a beautiful fish – pure white as the flower petal that he had grown from – and a charming little thing that liked to swim straight to the top when he saw food. In fact, now that he looked, Horace realized something very odd: Francis had disappeared completely from his bowl.

It was the strangest thing. There was no sign of Francis on the floor so the little thing couldn't have jumped out. And Horace had no other pets that could have eaten him.

In fact, the more Horace told himself there had to be a perfectly logical explanation for it, the more the sinking feeling in his stomach grew and grew.

Of course, Horace knew eventually. The special edition of the Daily Prophet sitting on his kitchen table ensured that. It was there in black and white – a massive headline took up a third of the page, declaring "YOU-KNOW-WHO DEFEATED BY INFANT" and "HARRY POTTER DECLARED BOY-WHO-LIVED." In fact, anyone not giving in to the urge to scream would still barely notice the small line beneath it which read: "James and Lily Potter Murdered by Dark Lord – Gave Lives to Save Child."

The war had raged for years and no one had been left untouched. Still, the life of a schoolteacher, and the life of a retired potions master hardly put one in the line of fire. Horace taught children – he lived happily and greedily without real awareness of the losses. His students were too gifted, too special and he just knew that his favorites would weather through. They were his prizes and his joys. He looked slowly over to "the shelf," where one of his favorite pictures stood in front: a framed photograph of his Slug Club. Lily Evans stood in front, smiling cheerfully and waving at him without a care in the world.

He knew the horrible truth. Only he knew of the knowledge that you-know-who had possessed and Horace had long since stopped believing in questions about dark magic that were purely academic. At age 16 that boy had known the secret of immortality and somehow the horror of splitting the soul seven times had long since dulled in Horace's mind. Was it possible that you-know-who was truly dead?

Horace would tell himself yes. I didn't do it, he told himself; he was only 16, he must have forgotten it. It's not my fault, he repeated over and over again. It's not my fault.

As he sat down slowly on his kitchen chair and stared dumbly at the newspaper, that was the only thought that ran through his head. And he told himself bracingly that perhaps if he repeated it enough it would be true.

Maybe it was true.

Horace still refused to enter the room with the glaringly empty fishbowl for three weeks.