A/N: Love to reviewers
A PSA from Madea:
This is unquestionably the hardest thing I have ever written. I very nearly didn't write it at all. I do my utmost not to allow my personal views to unduly influence the stories; the characters speak and I am a stenographer, more or less.
That said, I believe there are very few complete monsters, and those few are, by and large, not mustache twirling Snidely Whiplashes. The truly monsterous face of evil is its normalcy, its apparent harmlessness, it's uncanny ability to imitate good when that suits its ends. No one commits evil in a vacuum--evil actions have motivations as complex as good ones. Much of my writing is based on exploring that theme.
It is therefore natural to me to extend a certain degree of authorial sympathy, even to those who do not objectively deserve it. Bellatrix, for all her hatred and terrible rage, truly cares for Hermione. Lucius is a loving father, by his own lights. Even Nagini tries her best.
Not here. I draw the line. This installment sickens me. It would be easier if Slughorn were a fanged monster, but he isn't, and I felt as though refusing to publish based on that would be dishonest.
The title is a reference to the musical "Spring Awakening", which contains a song of the same name. This piece also owes a debt to Nabakov's "Lolita", Poe's "The Imp of the Perverse" and the book "How Green was my Valley".
Even as the shade of Percy Weasley carried out a long and lonely penance, another spectre from the past was engaged in contemplation not far removed from Percy's own. He moved, elephantine bulk clad in silk and velvet, across a plush carpet, distant from the cold austerity below.
Slughorn went to his decanter and poured a little firewhiskey. He was loathe to drink and loathe to be sober; like the rest of his life a study in contrasts, the dichotomy housed desire and despair, between damnation and…something else.
The box was sitting on his dresser. He went to it, picked it up. He knew what it was, what it would always be. Tom was taunting him again. Every year, on Slughorn's birthday, the Dark Lord—Tom Riddle that once was—sent him a gift. Slughorn shuddered and set it down again. It sickened him, even the smell, but he would eat it. Every piece, just as he always had. Pleasure turned to misery—doesn't it always in the end?
He slit the string with his letter open, kept blunt to prevent him escaping his cushioned hell. Tom kept him like a damned odalisque, surrounded by luxury that meant less with every passing day. He had not seen the sky in nineteen years, and never would again. He would have traded whatever time was left him, all those long sterile hours and blank faced weeks, for a glimpse of the moon, the smell of the moors in the springtime, damp and soggy with dew.
He sat heavily, knees screaming protests. Outside the world was moving; times changed, people lived whole lifetimes out in comfortable obscurity, and winter gave way to spring gave way to summer gave way to autumn, over and over again. He did not change, save to grow fatter and wearier with each passing season.
Winter. Spring. The dichotomy again. That long ago Tom Riddle—which had he been? A beautiful boy, simply exquisite, but so cold. Eyes as big and dark as a nightwater, hair that fell over his forehead in waves. For all that, it was his hands Slughorn had noticed first—long and slender, nicely tapered, with small neat knuckles and square nails.
No woman, Slughorn reflected, seeing those hands, could appreciate him the way he deserved. Tom had been in –what—fifth year? So beautiful. So cold. Adonis, carved in ice. Skin like cream, a neck as slender and smooth as a girl's. Beautiful. Cold. Oh, but beautiful.
Slughorn's fists, lumpen with age and arthritis, clenched loosely. He pulled the brown paper wrapping off and looked at the box in his hands, traced the gilt lettering. Those hands, giving him his first box of the damned stuff, the smell of him intoxicating—clean flesh and soap and a faint cold trace of something metallic. His eyes reflected in the box, moon kissed puddles of rainwater.
He'd prepared carefully, of course. His wand close at hand for a memory charm in case the boy should panic, a bottle of wine, a divan well supplied with pillows and the other things they would need. He never had to force them—a point of pride—but one ought to always be ready.
It had been November, Slughorn was sure. Tom had come to him in his office to ask a question. The boy had been playing Quidditch. When he shed his cloak it smelt of cold air and clean sweat, and Slughorn could contain himself no more.
He'd asked a question. Tom licked his lips ( and such lips they were, red and full) and answered. Slughorn took his hand, one of those wonderful hands, and led him into his private quarters. The boy smiled coquettishly when Slughorn offered the wine, and slowly tugged his jacket off. Loosened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt with terrible, wonderful deliberation.
Slughorn sat paralyzed as, layer by layer, the boy exposed himself. His body was hard and cold and wonderful, just as he'd known it would be. Tom knelt at his feet, looked up with those melting eyes for a moment and then he'd….the memory made Slughorn swallow hard, even at seventy years distance.
That was the curse of old age, wasn't it, the realization that time isn't a river but a ocean, and anytime we wish we may plunge our hands in and scoop whatever we'd like to look at in the silvery light? Sweet, that water, but poison. He put the first piece of pineapple in his mouth and chewed. It burned, like the water, like the memories. The temptation to live in the past, that past of sunlight and laughter and boys with eyes like moonlit wells.
Then the party. Tom had looked marvelous that night, so handsome, so austere. He'd stayed after, and they'd…Slughorn was torn between revulsion and longing. Longing for his former youthful self, with his bristling gingery mustache and the beautiful boy, and revulsion at what Tom had become. What he, Horace Egbert Fallworth Slughorn, helped him become. He gagged helplessly, his mouth tasting of pineapple and sugar.
Afterword Tom had dressed himself with the air of a man who'd completed an onerous task. "Professor, what's a Horcrux?"
He'd recoiled in horror. That had to count for something, didn't it? He hadn't wanted to tell him, no, not at all. But Tom was…he couldn't refuse. Not after they'd…Tom had got him like a boy with a butterfly pinned to a board.
And then the boy, the demon, the statue come to life, smiled that icy smile. "Thank you, Professor."
"Tom? You won't tell anyone?"
"No, Professor. It will be our-- little secret." His eyes were laughing. Slughorn understood at last, and his stomach had clenched and soured even as the boy gave a polite little bow and left him forever. Over the years there had been others— Anton Tallis, Alcuin Byrd, Gilderoy Lockheart, Regulus Black—but none had ever rivaled Tom. Thank God.
And so every year the Dark Lord—once a beautiful boy called Tom Riddle—sent his teacher candy. And every year the old man ate and wept and ate until it was gone, sweet and tainted with memories as it was.
He would never be free as long as he lived. It was his reward, his punishment, his salvation and his flight into Perdition, all in one. He was kept alive to be tortured with the thought of what he could never have again, and rewarded with the memories, the dark haired boy with the well dark eyes.
Slughorn sighed and made himself take another piece. He longed for death to free him from the memories, even as he feared it. With the memories he was chained…but here. Tomorrow, free of them…but where?