A/N Written for the Snapely Holidays at LJ, and beta'ed by the wonderful Kelly Chambliss.
All plotholes are JKR's, I merely fill them in. And all interviews in this story are, of course, the property of the Daily Prophet and Miss Rita Skeeter.
Hogwarts, Christmas 1998, Professor Slughorn's rooms
Most people don't know the meaning of the word "leisure". Most people don't know the meaning of the word "work", either, come to that. They define "work" as rushing about like demented ants, busy, busy, busy; they need to be seen doing things with and for a set of people who will never get very far in the first place. And then it's leisure time, and they need to be seen rushing around again, engaging in all sorts of useless activities. Just with a different set of people who will not go far. And in some sad cases, not even a different set.
About work. Now, I've done quite a few things in my time. Quite a few. In fact, I used to open the Daily Prophet just to see the results. But I don't rush about. I sit in my study and write owls. I invite visitors and have talks. I'm not busy, I'm effective.
That's another thing, effectiveness. Most busy people conduct conversations while they sit behind a desk, in a chair they choose to impress people rather than to be comfortable in, and they talk to people who sit on hard, upright chairs facing them. They're businesslike. And then they're surprised at the lack of result. Well, of course there's no result. People say "yes" to everything, just to escape from the dratted chair and the bleak office. Afterwards they look back on all the discomfort and try to get out of whatever it is. And the busy people complain that hours of drudgery got them nothing.
What you should do is sit with your visitor in two nice, supremely comfortable chairs in front of a fireplace. You must have soft lightning, drawn curtains, the reflection of the fire in silver and gleaming wood. Have side-tables with refreshments ready. Tea and rich fruit cake. A good sherry or mead. Salted nuts, or some elegant canapés. The kind of food that's both delicious and easy to eat; you don't want your visitors struggling with complicated things like scones that need to be cut, spread with cream and jam, and eaten without the jam dripping down their front. You want your visitors to feel at ease. Have crystal, silver, opulence, coziness. Then they will surpass themselves trying to please you. When they leave, they'll work for you like Muggles, just to get invited again. And you've had hours of comfort that got you more than you even asked for.
I know about leisure, too. You won't find me running around in a Hogwarts Christmas Hunt. Oh, I quite agree with Hagrid that children who lack a pleasant home to go to over the holidays must feel lonely. But, unlike Hagrid, I'm a realist. "Dear boy," I said -- well, he is one of my old pupils -- "dear boy, the children who are left behind at Hogwarts usually also lack the social skills that'll get them invited to other pleasant homes. They'll feel lonely quite often in their lives, and then there will be no Hogwarts staff that'll create a make-believe social occasion."
So, instead of running about in that delusional party, I'm going to spend a truly leisurely afternoon with the Daily Prophet. I've avoided that paper for the last few months. Too depressing. The Death Eater trials are necessary, of course. We went through that sort of thing after the First Voldemort War; I know it's inevitable. And Shacklebolt is fair, scrupulously fair. He'll see to it that no-one gets condemned who isn't proven guilty. He's even seen to it that the Prophet doesn't publish pictures of the accused. This time, if they are acquitted, they have a chance of returning to a normal life.
Thing is, I don't need the Prophet to see pictures. Last week, for instance. Goyle condemned to Azkaban. Death Eater. Pie eater, I thought at once. Did you know Goyle once ate a whole Treacle Tart, on top of his normal dinner? Well, normal for Goyle; you and I would burst. But he did manage the whole tart, just for a bet. I never even noticed it at the time. There's only so much you can see at the High Table. Didn't realise what happened until one of his roommates came to fetch me. In the middle of the night, it was, and there was quite a mess. You seldom see 'Scourgify Spells' listed among the Head of House requirements, but I can assure you they're exceedingly useful. The dear boy felt ghastly, of course, but he was plucky enough not to cry.
You see, that's why I find the Prophet so depressing right now. I know that conviction was justified; Shacklebolt is a fair man. I know I shouldn't want to take out my wand, Scourgify the whole mess away, wipe Goyle's clammy brow and tell him "you'll be all right in the morning, dear boy." I know I shouldn't want that. But part of me still does.
And then the cases where I must send sympathy notes to the parents. What's there to say? I'm glad I'm a bachelor. Yes, of course I've felt the occasional regret. Every major choice you make will give you an occasional regret. Some weeks ago I was in the Three Broomsticks. Saw this father and son, having a quiet drink together. Just that, you know. A drink and a chat. Then they left, the father clamped his son's shoulder, and the son gave a sort of almost-hug with one arm. Silent togetherness. Made me feel wistful, that did.
Yet I've no great regrets. Very uncomfortable, children. You never know what they'll do, what will happen. Now, if you could hand-pick them … but it's too much of a lottery for me.
But this Special Christmas Edition of the Prophet is all about happy, optimistic things. They promised us that for most of last week. So let's see what we've got. An interview with Warbling Warbeck. Thank Merlin they haven't invented sound with pictures yet. Still, the girl has made a nice career for herself. I was right to point her towards that Banshee background group. And towards that spotty would-be poet. A cauldron full of hot, strong love, who would think of it?
And the Chudley Cannons Seeker discusses his "hopes for next year"? That's a triumph of optimism over reality.
And … good heavens. A two-page spread on "The Resistance at Hogwarts: What Happened before the Battle." By Miss Skeeter, no less. Now, that should make interesting reading. Just let me put an extra log on the fire; there, mead, glass, footstool, all ready. A little nibble … the crystallized pineapple Miss Skeeter sent me. That's fitting. As well as delicious; the dear girl has impeccable taste in sweetmeats.
A/N Next week: Longbottom Remembers.