Note: I wrote this for hbpchallenge on LiveJournal, the prompt being the staff reacting to Slughorn's return. Another requirement was that the fic be under 1,000 words.
"I absolutely despise these moments," Minerva said, stirring her tea. "And by 'these moments,' I mean the times when I cannot begin to imagine what on earth Albus is thinking."
"Well, I've got a guess," replied Charity, in the cheerful way of one who was not the deputy headmistress and was not required to understand the headmaster's thoughts. "He wants Severus out but he can't bring himself to actually sack him. So he figures he'll give him the job he always wanted and let the curse take him out of Hogwarts instead."
"Oh, don't be silly," said Minerva. The curse, indeed – one would expect a woman who taught about electricity and telephone lines to be more scientifically-minded. "Severus aside, there's also the question of why Albus is inflicting another round of Horace Slughorn upon us."
"I always rather liked him," said Filius Flitwick, overhearing the conversation from his seat in front of the fireplace. He turned towards them and smiled. "Very friendly man, most amiable."
"Well, I won't fault his demeanor," Minerva replied crisply, "but his professionalism leaves something to be desired, to say the least. I have no respect for the practice of choosing favorites among one's students. It only leads to a sense of entitlement in some and resentment in others. Surely you agree with me, Charity, you studied psychology at Oxford."
"Which one's psychology again?" Flitwick asked. "Is that the one about the bumps on your head?"
Before either one could answer, the door to the staff room opened and Argus Filch stormed in, a suspicious look on his face. "Some house-elves is missing," he announced, staring at each professor in turn. "Went down to the kitchen to get a snack for Mrs. Norris. Half the breakfast dishes ain't washed. Supposed to have twenty house-elves doing them and there's only fourteen."
"Oh, dear," said Flitwick, the smile disappearing from his face. "I'm sorry, Argus, I don't know anything about that. Excuse me, please, I'm teaching fourth-year Slytherins and Hufflepuffs in five minutes."
Filch glared and stepped aside from the door. It had barely closed behind Flitwick when it opened again and Severus Snape entered. "There's some house-elves missing from the kitchen," Filch told him, the glare reduced to a mere squint. "Know anything about that?"
"They're most likely with Horace Slughorn," Severus replied. "From what I understand he intends to hold a gathering for some of the students and thought he might get a few of the castle house-elves to clean his rooms for him."
"Oh, did he?" Filch retorted. His hand was clenching into a fist. "I've got authority over those elves, you know. Thinks he can just take 'em whenever he wants and get 'em to clean for his little party, does he? Well, I hope he don't expect me to clean his bloody rooms for him. I don't clean teachers' private rooms. It's in my contract." He looked hostilely at Minerva and Charity, as though waiting for them to challenge him; when a couple of seconds had passed in silence, he glared one final time and stomped out.
"You went to one of those parties when you were a student, didn't you?" Charity asked Severus. "What goes on there, anyway?"
"Mostly an incessant stream of name-dropping and ego-stroking," Severus replied, opening the wardrobe and looking through the robes. "It appears I left my cloak elsewhere."
"You had it draped across the back of your chair during breakfast," Minerva said.
"Thank you," said Snape, shutting the wardrobe.
At that moment Rolanda Hooch burst in, grinning so broadly that her smile seemed to almost split her face. "Guess what I've got," she said to Minerva and Charity; Severus quietly slipped behind her and left the room. "Give you a hint, it has to do with Quidditch."
"A Firebolt," said Charity, at the same time Minerva said, "I haven't the slightest idea."
"Two tickets for the next Holyhead Harpies match," Hooch said, producing them from the pocket of her robe. "They're playing the Montrose Magpies two weeks from Saturday – I'm going to take my brother, it's his birthday the day before. My God, have I missed Horace and his free tickets. I used to spend each school year going to a match nearly every month. The man's a never-ending supply of them – I'm not sure what he did for Gwenog Jones, but it was something big, I'll say that."
"I know exactly what he did for Gwenog Jones," replied Minerva. It was amazing, the way Quidditch fans practically worshipped the woman. "When she was in her seventh year of Hogwarts, she failed to come back from a daylong trip to Hogsmeade and was found several hours later out behind the Hog's Head, thoroughly intoxicated and singing a ribald song about the Minister of Magic and a double-ended newt. The local law enforcement was intending to charge her with disturbing the peace, which would have led to her expulsion from school. Horace Slughorn, heaven knows how, managed to pull some strings and have the charges dropped. The Holyhead Harpies have always insisted that their players be graduates of Hogwarts or some other institution."
"Ridiculous rule, really," said Hooch, stretching her arms over her head. "If they can play good Quidditch, what does the rest of it matter? Not that I don't value education, of course, but as a requirement..." She yawned. "I don't have a class until after lunch, I think I'm going to go take a nap."
Minerva closed her eyes and heard the door open and shut. "Charity," she said, after a moment had passed, "I fear this school is on the verge of breaking out into full-blown nonsense."
"Oh, it'll be all right," Charity replied, patting her on the shoulder. "Sibyll had a vision of Slughorn staying at Hogwarts for another thirty years. With her record, he'll probably be gone before the month's out."