Disclaimer: All characters are JKR.

Author's Notes: Plaid Slytherin had the following prompts for Hoggywartyxmas 2011. Albus/Horace, someone tries to surprise someone else, working to find some happiness in dark times. Horace indulges Albus in one of his more eccentric hobbies

This story is broken down into the various courses served at a seventeen course meal.

Many thanks to my betas, Terri & Kelly especially to Kelly because she pointed me to the finish line.

Amuse-bouche - A little bite before the meal begins:

Galatea Merrythought was a witch on a mission, an exceedingly necessary mission. A position that required the deftest of touches. Her mind giggled at her risqué word play while her face remained impassive. The click, click, click staccato of her extremely comfortable though decidedly masculine dueling boots made Armando Dippet lock his doors and refuse to speak to her.

"He never would have agreed to it anyway," she quickly decided as she glared daggers at his closed door. "He's a bit prudish. And a coward!"

Now, with Dippet gone to ground, who did that leave to fulfill her most noble of schemes?

The one-armed Silvanus Kettleburn would not do! No, not at all! This mission required a man with all his limbs intact as he might have to wrestle his victim into submission. Plus he did possess a limp which might curtail the capture of his fleeing prey. Albus Dumbledore did run like the wind when he decided flight was smarter than valor.

Filius Flitwick…the click, click, click of her boots stopped as she debated. The considering look on her face would have made House Elves flee in fear and her Hufflepuff firsties in a collective swoon.

Filius… Yes… He was perfect. Compassionate and he was blessed with a keen sense of humor. He was a undefeated Dueling Champion so Albus would be unlikely to fight out an escape. Plus, she knew where he was, as he was just finishing a vocal lesson with a young Gryffindor.

The eagle-eyed Ravenclaw took one long gaze at Galatea's determined chin and shook his head. "Go find another victim for your scheme. Albus Dumbledore is not my type, my dear. You know tall woman are my personal inclination, though you seem to take it to new heights. Really, Galatea, must you wear high heeled dueling boots? How can any mere mortal man resist you?"

The redoubtable Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was not immune to the flirtatious Charms Master and she blushed, a startling crimson stain. Then to protect her reputation, she opened her mouth to stridently protest.

"Beery. Try Beery. He's fair-haired and rumors are that he's flexible. Not just physically, but in terms of his sexuality. Though the fact that his head is still only ¾ normal size might be a major turn off," Filius admitted. "I fear to try and inflate it back to its normal size. Too much could go horribly wrong."

Gracelessly, Galatea plopped onto the floor next to Filius.

"His voice is still a bit high. Makes him sound pubescent, I fear. It will never work. Oh Filius, don't you wish to assist me in helping Albus? Ever since Gellert went on trial for high crimes against wizarding and Muggle kind, Albus just isn't Albus. Yesterday, he wore a sensible black suit, Filius!" Galatea dramatically shuddered. "Sensible! And reasonable shoes! They didn't even have a heel! Filius, he's gotten so thin, he's easily lost a stone or two since the battle."

"Do you think that shoving him into bed with a fellow Hogwarts Instructor will cure what ails him?" Filius asks. "I fear he's still in pristine condition, Galatea."

"That's why I believed Silvanus would be completely unsuitable. Plus, if Albus ran for the hills, Silvanus' limp would ensure that Albus escaped," explained Galatea. "Who then, Filius, who?"

Filius Flitwick stood eye to eye with the sitting Galatea. He tapped his fingers on his forearm and then nodded his head.

"You need someone who is charming, flirtatious and intelligent. And someone who will play dirty with our pure Albus. Someone who will enjoy the thrill of the chase," decided Filius.

"We need a Slytherin," stated the Hufflepuff Merrythought.

Wizard and witch looked at each other and the same idea came to their minds.

"Horace," they both exclaimed. "Horace Slughorn."

Hors d'oeuvre (appetizer)

"To what do I owe this unexpected honor?" Horace asked. He motioned for the wizard and witch to take a seat. Ever the consummate host, he ensured that there was a proper Galatea-sized settee and a chair suitable for Filius. He even managed to hide his wince when Galatea 'plopped' onto the settee.

"I'm worried about Albus. You can tell this trial in Nurmengard is wearing him down, spiritually and physically," Filius explained.

"He's wearing sensible clothes! Not a single solitary spangle! If that doesn't scream that Albus Dumbledore is extremely depressed, I do not know what will convince you that Albus is in dire straits," Galatea inserted. "We must improve his mood, and we need you to assist in cheering up our morose co-worker. Filius and I agree that you're the man to do it."

"So you're having a small party," questioned a rather clueless Horace. "And I'm hosting it?"

Filius and Galatea looked at each other, out of the corner of their eyes. Their shifty looks clued in the quick of mind, though not fleet of feet Horace.

"I don't do charity work!" Horace stridently protested.

"It's not charity work," insisted Galatea. "It's physical appreciation from a grateful wizarding world."

A disbelieving Horace shook his head.

"It has to be you," Filius explained. "You're an intellectual match for Albus."

"Flatterer," drolly commented Horace. He then raised his glass of elf wine to his lips and took a dainty sip to savor.

"You're considered quite the catch," inserted Galatea.

Horace nearly choked on his wine.

"Galatea, please, if your inclination didn't lean toward the fairer sex, I'd be flattered. As it is, I consider you full of …"

"Horace, you and I had several wonderful nights together," Galatea protested. "You are a true carnal connoisseur. Honestly, I'd seduce Albus but really, I'm not his type. I have diddies and a q…"

By now, the gentlemanly Filius was keen to lead the conversation to a more genteel tenor so he interrupted Galatea before she could finish explaining what she possessed that didn't interest Albus.

"You're the only male teacher at the school who would be willing to bed Albus," explained Filius. "Take one for the team, Horace."

"Galatea, you need to explain to Filius about the joys of playing for both Quidditch teams," replied a not so svelte Horace. "Life is a buffet, and he's limiting himself to just poultry. Seriously, I'm not Albus' type. There's a little too much of me. Besides… he's pining for some lost love. I mean, he's never dated even once in all the years he's been here."

Horace took another sip of wine, not realizing that Galatea Merrythought was determined to kill him.

"He's a virgin, Horace."

Fortunately, Filius was able to revive the choking Slytherin before he was permanently brain damaged.

Potage (soup)

A somber Albus Dumbledore returned to Hogwarts. He was physically and mentally exhausted. He had given witness in Gellert's trial and the sheer malignant hatred that had blazed from Gellert's eyes haunted him. He cursed himself for a fool, as his love for Gellert had always been unreciprocated but…

It was amazing how a set of green eyes could score his soul.

"Hello, Fawkes!" He pretended to put a great deal of cheer into this voice, but his Phoenix wasn't fooled.

Fawkes nuzzled next to him and then rubbed his face against Albus' beard.

Happy Thoughts left a note for you, Fawkes informed Albus. For good measure, Fawkes sent him a picture of Galatea Merrythought leaving a note and then scratching the much neglected Fawkes. I wish you'd let me go to the trial with you!

"What does Galatea want?" Albus groaned. "I just want a long soak and then crawl into bed."

Fawkes played at being an owl and before long Albus was reading the note from Galatea. His left leg began trembling, as he was unable to control his fear over what the devilish Galatea was planning. The witch had been far too sedate lately, which meant that she was up to something. Plus she had seemed distinctly amused when she had visited Fawkes. No doubt, it would be a huge, embarrassing mess and he'd be the recipient of her evil, evil plan.

"Merlin's bright and spangly unmentionables, she's up to something. A simple soirée, my arse," Albus protested to the uncaring world.

The day of the gathering arrived. Albus Dumbledore was planning on making a rather logical excuse to explain his absence. Nothing too extravagant. Perhaps there was a rampaging dragon in the Colonies that might be in the need of being subdued, or perhaps another Dark Lord that needed to be repeatedly bounced on his arse, but Galatea Merrythought gave him a very disapproving look over the Head Table in the Great Hall. It was as though the witch could read his mind.

His younger self had been of that firm opinion.

"Galatea, I must protest! I am no longer one of your students!" Albus insisted.

"You're not wearing that tonight, are you? It's so…. Intermentive."

Galatea, who had never possessed any sort of fashion sense, whose main goal in getting dressed was her personal comfort, color coordinating be damned, stared in obvious distaste at his dark charcoal grey robes. Whatever was the problem with them? They were clean and respectable.

"That's not a word," protested Albus. "You made that up."

Godric Gryffindor's great big bloody sword. He sounded like he was all of four years old! Arguing with his younger brother!

"Be a good soul, Albus. Wear something happier?" the witch requested. "You know I'm thinking of retirement; we won't have that many more of these happy times to remember."

He would not fall victim to Galatea's chicanery! He'd be strong! He'd go to his lonely quarters and have a bit of strop! Galatea was only retiring because she had accepted a position in the Auror Corps as the head trainer for trainees. And Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore pitied those Auror Trainees!

"Eight?" Albus asked. "And must I change?"

"Yes, and wear something festive. Also make sure it's loose as Horace throws the most delightful parties," Merrythought insisted. "Might even be dancing!"

The very idea of the towering, dueling boot- shod titan known as Galatea Merrythought , dancing, made his toes instinctively curl in self-defense.

There was moral boosting and dressing assistance from a concerned Fawkes and a physical escort from Galatea. Well, at least the witch had not threatened him by wand point. That would be horribly gauche.

"You bringing Fawkes?" Galatea asked. She motioned to the Phoenix who took flight to land daintily on Galatea's shoulder. The Phoenix chirped a warm greeting at the woman he called Happy Thoughts and settled on the high perch offered by her shoulder.

Albus was about to protest, but Fawkes looked pleadingly at him.

"You'll behave?" Albus asked his familiar.

The look Fawkes gave him was one of supreme shock. How could his wizard dare to think that Fawkes the Phoenix would misbehave!

Because Albus Dumbledore could easily recite a dozen or so times when Fawkes had misbehaved.

In the recent past, as in the last two days.

"Yes, you." Albus reminded his Phoenix.

"Come on, Albus."

Oeufs (eggs)

Horace Slughorn was perhaps a bit too fond of Galatea Merrythought. That was the only reason why he had listened to her suggestion that he perform charity on Albus.

It wasn't that he didn't like Albus. It's just Horace possessed the strong belief that Albus had long dismissed him as a vain, inconsequential man. And while Horace, who had been chaste for too long for a man of his voracious appetite, might be tempted for a casual fling, Albus was too much of a priss.

It was a horrible shame, as Albus, being so repressed sexually, yet so ostentatious in his wardrobe, might prove to be a literal sexual volcano when he finally popped.

A long swallow of elf wine and then Horace attempted to savor the taste. No, there was a slight bitterness to the wine, not from the delicately crushed elf grapes, but the knowledge that he had been completely shanghaied by Filius Flitwick into aiding and abetting in Galatea's plan.

"He's just so glum lately, Horace. You're so vivacious," snarked Horace.

Since it was just a gathering of instructors to celebrate surviving the first week of school, Horace had decided on a small intimate setting. He had arranged for a suitable repast as Gideon Smythe remembered how Horace had gotten him into Raphael Trafalager's restaurant as a sous chef. Now that Gideon ran his own restaurant - A Daily Prophet five cauldron ranking! - he still appreciated those who had helped him on the way up.

The chamber musicians were warming up, and Horace warmly greeted his former Slug Club students who made up the quintent. Anna, a favorite and thankfully former student of his, kissed him on the cheek and he blushed. She was a quite statuesque witch and that dress accented all her ample curves.

"You should be arrested in that dress, m'dear girl," he harrumphed which earned him another kiss. "My guests should start arriving in a few minutes. If possible, I'd like you playing when they come in. Now I have to check on a few other issues. It's so tough being a proper host. Don't forget to enjoy the food and the wine, Gideon Smythe agreed to cater."

That earned an appreciative buzz. Horace smiled as he did enjoy being liked. And helping out his friends was a win-win experience for everyone involved.

Not many people knew this, but Horace Slughorn was a pureblood child of charity. His father had died early on, pure blooded dueling nonsense or some sort or another. It had been just his mother and him, and he still remembered how they had survived. A pureblood wizard with money and prestige had seen his potential and had been willing to extend a hand.

"It's a very important lesson, Horace," his mother had explained. "Some people easily get through life because of their parents; other people survive because someone recognizes their potential and gives them a leg up. The people that rest on who their parents were; they are the ones that will never help you, Horace. Because they don't know what's it like to have to work for anything. When you're older, Horace, remember who helped you. Remember, it was Mr. O'Connor who was willing to purchase proper clothes and new school supplies for Hogwarts because he saw your potential."

So he always paid it forward. Some of the less charitable (Albus) might claim that he was only interested in gaining connections. Not so! When Mr. O'Connor had come to him, with tears in his eyes, begging him to brew a potion, that was most assuredly not Ministry approved, why naturally he did it. It was for a good cause as Mrs. O'Connor was experiencing intractable pain from her illness.

Yet, he had limited resources, so he could only help the most deserving, the ones with the most potential, regardless of blood purity.

And if a jolly good tumble would help Albus out his obvious depression, then Horace Slughorn would roll up his sleeves, drop his trousers and give him a tumble to remember. In a few years, perhaps Albus would be able to help him out.

He stopped in front of his latest masterpiece. There were a few House Elves that were testing out the ten-pin bowling game that he had set up in his newly expanded hallway. Really, he had to repeatedly remind the House Elves that he wasn't suggesting that they have fun; they were testing out his latest Charm. It was far too strenuous for him, after all. As host, he really shouldn't work up a sweat!

The Elves seemed to be having a smashing good time. In more ways than one, as originally the pins just fell over. How Muggley quaint, so Horace decided that instead the ball would smash the pins into assorted little pieces.

Like Wizarding Chess.

One of the brawnier House Elves let loose with a ferocious strike which caused a stupendous smash as he had gotten all the pins.

The House Elves all jumped up in down in their excitement and Horace benevolently smiled. Perhaps after he seduced Albus, he'd let Dippet take the ten-pin set for the House Elves. It was quite the racket and by the time he was done with Albus, Albus would need a great deal of restorative sleep.

Farineaux (rice or pasta)

Galatea ceased walking and then sighed.

"You and I have always been honest with each other, so I have to confess to you the real reason Horace is having this party. We're doing this for you, because we're horribly worried about you, Albus. Since the battle and the trial… you're just not yourself."

Albus froze and then he struggled to remove Galatea's hand from his arm. However the elder witch must have possessed Giant's blood in her veins as he failed to remove her hand.

"Galatea! I must protest! I don't wish a party. I do not DESERVE a party!"

"Mr. Dumbledore," thundered Galataea, and as her former student, Albus immediately settled down without a pip. He knew that voice. "The party is not in your honor. We have decided to have a nice night of socializing because we've noticed you're depressed. If you chose not to attend this party, as you've decided to act like a stroppy cow, the party will continue. In fact, the only reason why I am telling you this is you need to act cheerful."

Her dark eyes met his and Albus saw the threat in her eyes. It wasn't a thousand lines of 'Mr. Dumbledore shall do everything as Professor Merrythought has instructed and not improve it without warning her first', it was 'Mr. Dumbledore shall spend the next new moon collecting unicorn dung in the Forbidden Forest' threat.

"I assure you, Madam, you will not have to bespell me with a Happy spell, like I'm a homesick firstie!"

Galatea was kind enough not to laugh out loud, but her bright eyes were highly amused.

"Will you at least, please, don't let anyone see you do it," pleaded Albus.

Poisson (fish)

Horace was greeting his guests when he saw his victim.

Victim was not the correct term for what would hopefully prove to be a very pleasant experience for Albus. Horace had been assured many times by his previous lovers that he was a master of the epicurean erotic. People had a tendency to make love like they ate. Herbert Beery ate carefully and efficiently, so no doubt his lovemaking skills were… capable.

Then again, Herbert's head was still only ¾ the proper size so maybe that was the issue. Perhaps he was fearful of choking.

Horace loved to taste and sample, savor and experience.

Now, Filius Flitwick was quite the rogue who knew how to flick and swish his wand. He was also always willing to sample a new dish whenever the Hogwarts House Elves deigned to try something new. No wonder he had been forced to become a Dueling Grand Master. The Charms Master might claim his proficiency was due to his small size; that he had been forced to defend himself to prove his stature.


It had been the horde of cuckolded husbands that had required Filius to become such a dangerous duelist. He greeted Albus and Galatea warmly and handed them wine goblets from which to sip. Albus looked rattled, so Horace made no comment on it. Fortunately, the string quartet decided it was the perfect time to start playing, so a flustered Albus brightened.

"Horace?" Albus exclaimed. "Live music?"

"Yes, come, come. I have live music in my parlor, and there's even a game of ten-pin occurring somewhere around here. Silvanus wasn't interested in listening to music so I believe he's smashing pins even as we speak."

Entrée (1st meat course)

It was a rather delightful evening, Albus could admit. Horace had out done himself, the food was exquisite, the music delightful and the various professors' noble yet doomed attempts at ten-pin bowling made Albus laugh until his sides hurt. The wine was flowing freely, perhaps too freely as Albus found himself ever so pleasantly jaked.

And Horace was very liberal in touching him. First it was just on Albus' shoulder or hand, during a particularly intense conversation. Then there was Horace guiding him somewhere by placing his hand on Albus' lower back.

And he was always filling Albus' wineglass.

The two of them were conversing together. It was a rather intimate conversation, as they were sitting in an s-shaped serpentine chair and Albus dimly remembered that the last of other party guests had left much, much earlier. A befuddled Albus realized that Horace was … caressing … his hand with a light, teasing touch of his fingers. Horace was intensely staring at him with the cunning eyes of a predator.

He felt like a butterfly, about to be put into a display.

What a fool he was, he should have realized that Horace was drooling over the chance to add him to massive Slughorn compilation of contacts. Horace collected contacts the way some of the upper crust collected art, with a discerning eye to separate gold from dross. Albus cursed himself for being so stupid to think that Horace was just being… friendly.

No, he was like the majority of people that orbited Albus these days. They all wanted something from him, the grand Defeater of Gellert.

It shouldn't hurt, and it really didn't. At most, it was a small sting which was readily being soothed by the fact Albus was being touched.

"Horace?" Albus asked. His voice shook slightly, and he damned himself for showing that small amount of weakness. "Are you thinking you can collect me?"

"No," was Horace's easy answer. "I'm thinking of how I should seduce you."

"Horace!" Albus flinched and realized he had knocked over his wineglass. The bright red elf blood wine oozed into a formerly pristine white carpet.

"I'll clean it up," Horace assured him. "And I'll get you another glass."

Sorbet (flavored water)

Horace handed Albus another glass and then he deliberately put his hands on Albus' shoulders. The older mage's shoulders were quite tight which meant he was stressed.

"Albus, just relax, please. I didn't mean to rattle you. I'm not planning on it being tonight. I was just thinking that we're both unattached at the moment, and perhaps we could investigate a type of ami avec privileges. We can go to concerts together, plus I know a few good restaurants, so I can help you put on the weight you've lost. Then, if you're inclined, we could explore the possibility of plan cul."

"That sounds so hopelessly genteel in French," protested Albus.

"We're both gentleman, Albus. There's no reason why we cannot explore a relationship with mutual benefits. I know you think me a vain, inconsequential man. However, I'm looking for companionship, someone to have an intelligent conversation with, but not too intelligent, because when Filius goes on his alliterations of imagination, it makes my head hurt. And it would be quite nice to have someone to share my bed. Don't be fooled by my soft exterior, Albus. I have been assured that I excel in eroticism."

Albus pulled away but Horace's hands followed Albus. They settled on his neck and they began to leisurely stroke Albus' neck.

"Is that why you got me drunk, so you can grope me, Horace?" Albus sounded… disappointed.

"I will not grope you, Albus. Men of our age, men of our accomplishments, while I'm surely not in the rarified air of your league, don't grope. Groping is for hormonal teenagers in the Quidditch Pitch. I'm not planning on anything occurring tonight. You're more than pleasantly jaked right now. I wouldn't take advantage of you when you're in that state, even if you did agree."

Horace then stopped caressing Albus, anticipating resistance; however he was startled when Albus leaned into the caress.

He wants this, a startled Horace realized. He craves to be touched. Something is holding him back, and it's not because he believes that he's polluted.

"I did get you drunk, my friend," admitted Horace. "I assumed that was the only way I could put my wand on the table without you hexing me. What I'm offering you is a no-strings affair, Albus. Think about it, let me know. I have two tickets to a concert by tonight's musicians. It's next Thursday evening."

Albus inhaled and then slowly exhaled. Then in the softest whisper Horace had ever heard The Great Albus Dumbledore use, Albus spoke, "While I am tempted by illicit thoughts of a plan cul, I rightly fear a man of your erotic expertise would be… horribly bored … by my naivety in such matters."

Something in Horace's heart stirred… briefly… as Horace realized how potted Albus must be to admit that to him. Always so controlled and reserved, the self-contained Albus never revealed the true Albus to those closest to him. Even Galatea was allowed only so far behind Albus' walls. Oh, Albus had the façade of a barmy, badly dressed academic that he showed the world, but it wasn't the real Albus.

"Not at all, Albus. You won't be jaded by previous experiences and your reaction will be real. If anything, it will make me strive harder to make sure you have an enjoyable experience. I have a reputation to maintain."

That was said with a slight chuckle.

"I am quite drunk, Horace. I should return to my suite, please, before I embarrass myself further." Albus then stood and turned away from Horace.

"You're wrong, Albus. You haven't embarrassed yourself so you can't be embarrassed further. Look at me, Albus," ordered Horace.

For a wonder, Albus did. Horace then placed his hands on Albus' face and then he told Albus not to move. Then he kissed Albus on his lips.

It was a brief kiss, no tongue yet not completely chaste.

A flustered, blushing Albus pulled away and refused to look at Horace.

Good Lord, he's acting like he's never…been… kissed! Damn it, Galatea! You told me that you believed Albus was a virgin! You never told me that he hadn't even been snogged! I never would have agreed to this insanity if I realized Albus was completely chaste.

And the normally glib Horace Slughorn said not a word as Albus Dumbledore, world renowned Defeater of Dark Wizards, fled.

Reléve (meat course)

Horace Slughorn had kissed him! On his lips! Not knowing how to proceed, a somewhat tipsy Albus had fled for the safety of his quarters. The evening of camaraderie with his fellow instructors had been delightful as it had allowed him to escape his guilt over Gellert.

As a young stupid boy, he had allowed his hormones to overwhelm what sense he had. Infatuated by a brilliant set of green eyes and curly blonde hair, he had naively hoped that Gellert had similar inclinations. No, naturally, he hadn't. Because Gellert viewed homosexuality as a perversion and Albus quickly learned to keep his feelings tight to his chest.

After that fiasco, he had thought it best not to allow his base desires lead him astray. A completely celibate lifestyle would prevent him from ever again making such a colossus cock-up. And in those repressed years of the early twentieth century, it was just best to be… asexual as opposed to homosexual.

It didn't mean that he didn't wonder what it would be like.

Not just sex… but kissing. What it felt like to be… touched… by a lover.

Albs had never felt anything… anything… akin to Horace languidly stroking one finger up and down his hand. The world had stopped rotating, the stars had ceased their endless journey in the firmament and Albus' entire universe had been that one lazy finger.

Horace wasn't handsome, only the kindest would call him anything but solidly built, but he didn't care. If anything, he enjoyed sating his appetite with the finest vintages and most delicious of meals. He appreciated beauty in both the female and male form, and while he was circumspect, Albus was sure he had lovers of both persuasions.

Maybe that's what bothered him about Horace. Not Horace's quid pro quo attitude, but his easy acceptance of who he was. That he was comfortable enough in his own skin to live his life in an enjoyable way, rumors and possible scandal be damned.

What an absolutely marvelous, utterly terrifying way to live.

Unlike Albus, who viewed his personal predilection as a matter ripe for ridicule and scandal. Unlike Albus, who had stupidly become utterly fixated on a boy who believed homosexuality was a perversion.

A man his age! Of his supposed accomplishments! Who had never experienced a kiss with a member of the same sex. There had been that brief snog with some girl back in his days at Hogwarts when he was trying to deny his inclinations.

Albus Dumbledore stood in front of his mirror, and he touched his lips. His reflected doppelganger, for a wonder, didn't make a sardonic comment; instead, he mirrored Albus perfectly with his hands on his lips. And Albus, the real Albus, wondered if he wore the same bewildered expression.

"He touched me, Fawkes and then he kissed me," Albus whispered. "And I bloody panicked, Fawkes."

For a wonder, the fiery Fawkes had no caustic comment. Instead, he flew to Albus' shoulder and he began to preen his wizard's hair to soothe him. The Phoenix made soft cooing noises.

"He even offered me a plan cul. I wouldn't have known what to do," admitted Albus. "I would have lain in his bed like an invalid. Horace claimed he wouldn't have minded, because my response would be genuine. That my enjoyment would be paramount as he has a reputation to maintain…"

"Please, Horace just wants to be the one that everyone else has to live up to," snarked the alter Albus.

"I do not have suitors, waiting in line, wishing to deflower me," protested Albus. "I am sixty four years old and there hasn't ever been any suitor who was full sad and sweet, and with large eyes, cheeks wan and white…"

"If you're going to start moping and reciting "Two Loves" by Alfie Douglas, my rebuttal is 'Of all sweet passions, Shame is loveliest'," returned the mirrored Albus. "You must be drunk and depressed if you're quoting Bosie. After the scandalous way he treated sweet Oscar! My suggestion is go to bed, Albus, ALONE, and sleep off your drunk."

"Naturally, I'm going to bed alone. There isn't anyone. There has never been anyone and there never will," protested Albus.

The bout of melancholia earned him a sharp tug of his ear from a disgruntled Fawkes.

"There will always be you, Fawkes," Albus tenderly assured his miffed Phoenix. "Now, dearest friend, I think I need to go to bed. Go make yourself comfortable. I need to change out of my dress robes and into my dressing gown."

Fawkes chirruped and then flew to Albus' bed, where he made himself comfortable on the bed post.

Albus Dumbledore undid his dress robes and stood, absolutely, positively starkers, in front of his mirror.

His build had always been sparse, but he could count his ribs, see the hollows of his shoulder blades. There were bags upon bags under his eyes and… who, seriously, in their right mind, would want to bed him? He was old, he was exhausted and he certainly wasn't gifted with a thirteen inch wand.

Quickly, he clothed himself in his dressing gown and he then put on a pair of nice, thick wooly socks. It was hard for Albus to bemoan his lack of physical company when he was wearing his favorite pair of wooly socks. Really, all he truly needed in his life, besides Fawkes, was a pair of warm socks to keep his feet warm at night. And if he did have a lover… if he ever had a lover… if someone might consent out of a sense of carnal charity to spend the night, however did one decide which side of the bed to claim?

He'd have to share his pillows… and his companion… his supposed bedmate… might not wish Fawkes in the room. That would never do, as nothing would ever come between him and Fawkes. He'd never permit it!

With the gentlest of touches, so not to wake the slumbering Fawkes, he stroked Fawkes' talon.

"Good night, my dearest friend," Albus whispered.

Rôti (roast)

Galatea Merrythought and Filius Flitwick were having their own private party. Several superb bottles of wines had gone to their noble demise but they were still focused on their splendid goal. Well, perhaps that wasn't the truth, as Filius was in Galatea's lap, and the witch was playing with his extremely erotic ears.

"You need to speak with Horace tomorrow," Filius informed the Defence instructor. It was taking all this vast mental acuity to focus on the pressing problem at hand, that being Albus, rather than snogging Galatea. "He's in his quarters; Albus and Fawkes are most assuredly gone to ground in his. Galatea, I believe Horace frightened Albus."

"How can Horace frighten Albus? He defeated Gellert! How can Gellert be less intimidating than Horace?" Galatea asked. "Horace is rather soft and non-threatening!"

"Galatea, my love, you are most assuredly female," explained the astute Filius. "I understand that you wished to do something nice for Albus. He has been seriously out of sorts since the battle, but did you even stop to ask him if he desired to be relieved of his virginity?"

"No, I didn't. Even I know it's terribly rude to ask him THAT," admitted the defensibly dexterous yet socially maladroit Galatea. "It's just… Albus gets so depressed around the holidays and Christmas is only a few months away. He tries to hide the depths of his despair, but you and I both know it's an act. I had hoped that Horace would provide a happy diversion."

Speaking of happy diversion, Filius had decided to abandon the goal of Albus getting affection as Filius was getting quite diverted. Galatea, the minx, was rubbing his neck.

"Galatea… exactly how tall are you again?" Filius asked. "In your bare feet, that is."

"I'm just a hair over 2 ells tall," she admitted.

"I adore tall women," admitted a flirtatious Filius. "And you know I get so lonely around the holidays."

"Filius, are you trying to pick me up?" Galatea asked.

"Never, as you're a literal giantess, over two meters tall. "

Légumes (vegetables)

The next morning, Horace Slughorn was not surprised by the fact Albus Dumbledore was not having breakfast in the Great Hall. However, he was highly amused that Galatea looked astounded and Filius looked quite smug. He had a very good idea what had happened after the dangerous duo had left his gathering.

"Galatea, my dear, good morning! Filius, I'm glad to see you're in one piece; Galatea does have a tendency of accidentally crippling her partners. Dear girl put me in traction during the throes of passion," Horace staged whispered to Filius.

A blushing Galatea stopped smiling and Horace then put up his hand.

"Seriously, it's not happening, Galatea. Your intentions were pure, but he's not interested. "

Actually at the very moment, the allegedly indifferent Albus was horribly interested. He had spent the entire night tossing and turning; finally he realized that he needed someone he trusted, someone who would give him the straight talk.

Yes, it was time to go to Perenelle Flamel.

"Good morning, Perenelle," Albus said. For added inducement, he handed Perenelle some exotic plants that he knew she was interested in acquiring.

The short witch motioned for him to give her a hand and he assisted her out of her garden bed.

"Does Herbert Beery know that you nicked these, Albus?" the gravelly voiced witch asked. "Why are you here? Nicholas isn't here, if you're looking for him."

"I'm actually looking for you. I am in the need of counsel. While it may be painful, I know that you will give me the honest truth," explained Albus.

"Then let me wash my hands while you brew us a cuppa. There are some scones that I made, and I have some fresh fruit for Fawkes. It must be a very serious matter, if you're not asking Fawkes for his input," Perenelle stated. She knew how vocal Fawkes was in all matters dealing with his mage.

"He has already advised me at length. However, I wish to talk to a friend, a human friend," Albus explained as he handed her a cuppa. "You know that I prefer men."

"Yes, and I don't particularly care a rusted knute that you do," Perenelle tartly informed Albus. "You can have Nicholas if you wish. After five hundred years, the spark is gone. A little variety might do him some good."

"One of my colleagues approached me last night and offered me a plan cul."

"Which one?" Pernelle asked. Her eyes narrowed in interest.

"Horace," was Albus' response. "However, I fear Galatea Merrythought may be behind the offer."

"And you…" Pernelle paused.

"Got horribly flustered. After what happened when I was younger, I have never permitted…" Albus then slowed.

"Albus, are you telling me that you took that vital part of your life, the very potential for that wonderful experience and you just put it in a box?"

"Nailed it shut and then spellotaped it for added measure," admitted Albus. "I believe I have fooled myself into believing that Fawkes, a few dear friends and a hundred pairs of warm wooly socks is a wonderful life. Last night, I pondered about the intimacy… not just the physical but the emotional intimacy that I have never known. And I realized that I deeply crave the experience. However, my fears, well founded fears, of being made the fool and exploited…"

"Horace is most assuredly not Gellert," Pernelle said. "He doesn't wish to rule the world, just have a part in it. Now, Albus, have you ever known Horace to deliberately humiliate anyone?"

"No," admitted Albus.

"You deserve some happiness, so I give you my permission to go have fun with Horace," announced Perenelle. "Now off with you and your clothes!"

"It is not as simple as that," Albus protested.

"It is, you know. You think too much," she explained. "You over analyze everything, but you need to learn about humanity. Go have fun, and if you end up in bed with Horace, so much the better. However, you have made a very bad first impression on your first date, Albus. Fleeing in panic is a very bad sign."

The six hundred year old witch gave him a wild smile, which made Albus ponder about the young girl she once was.

"Come with me, Albus. I know exactly how you will make it up to Horace," explained Pernelle. "I have a treatise by Avicenna. Albus, it's a shame you never met him, Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā was brilliant. Got Nicolas flustered as Avicenna could give him a run for his galleons. I was his nur-e cheshm-am, because I could talk shop. You give it to Horace, and then ask what you need to wear to the concert on Thursday."

The treatise was then given to Albus with explicit instructions on how to behave. The overwhelmed wizard left and then Perenelle shook her head.

"Albus Dumbledore, you may be the most brilliant mage since Merlin, but in so many ways, you are a gormless idiot who's never gotten past puberty."

Salades (salad)

Horace Slughorn was relaxing in his quarters when there was a knock on the door. To his surprise it was Albus Dumbledore who was clutching parchment in his hands. The stalwart Defeater of Dark Wizards was looking rather nervous.

"I thought you might like this," Albus tentatively explained. "Please take it as an apology for my bad behavior."

"It is not necessary to apologize," protested Horace. His largesse didn't prevent him from taking the rolled parchment from Albus. After all, it was a delicate piece of parchment, and Albus was holding it like a first year clutched a broom stick.

"Have some respect for the parchment, Albus," gently chastised Horace. Well, at least he attempted to do so, until he realized that he was holding an honest to Merlin treatise by Avicenna. The Avicenna, the Persian alchemist. "Merlin's beard…. Where ever did you get this?"

"Doesn't matter. It's yours," stressed Albus. "Perhaps, after you read it, we could discuss the finer points. Over tea? My quarters? "

"Yes," agreed Horace.

"It's a date then," Albus blurted. Horace was spell-shocked, as Albus abruptly blushed, nearly the color of his hair. "Horace, I have a question."

"Ask," Horace harrumphed, attempting to seem that he didn't notice Albus was still blushing. He made a big commotion about gently straightening out the parchment.

"Did Galatea put you up to the other night?" Albus asked. Albus's voice was quite soft.

"Albus," was all Horace said.

"She did, didn't she?" protested Albus. "I find it hard to believe that you decided to offer a plan cul to me without some prompting."

"Albus, she did mention that you seemed… out of sorts," Horace admitted. "You haven't been dressing with your usual flare. And I haven't seen a single escaped Chocolate frog bouncing around your quarters. Have the House Elves figured out that you let them escape so they get to eat them?"

"Not yet," admitted Albus. "But damn Galatea. She had no right! It's like she believes you're a rent boy!"

"She meant well, but sadly, Galatea does not have an over abundance of tact. I am quite sure she didn't think of me as a rent boy. A man of my stature would have a very limited audience," laughed Horace. "And I'm not really sure if I'm comfortable with that particular audience because I'd be a ghastly rent boy."

And Horace was dimpling, as he found that very thought highly amusing. It was a sign of how self-centered Albus was that he hadn't noticed how good natured Horace was.

"Albus, I find that I miss having someone with which to have a jolly good chat. And I certainly miss other things."

"I understand the joys of a stimulating conversation, however…" Albus paused. "I do not know the other joy of which you speak."

Albus stopped and shook his head.

"It is rather unnerving to drop trow, especially if you're not a young Adonis," Horace admitted. Then he laughed once more. "I think that's how the young folk describe it. Dropping trow. What a horrid term. Lovers should be undressed carefully, the experience savored."

Somehow, Horace had managed to grab hold of Albus' hand. Then, slowly and deliberately, Horace put his other hand on top of Albus' hand.

"Life is full of experiences, Albus. Why must you rush about, saving the world, when you won't even permit yourself worldly pleasures? Brother Albus, you finally permitted yourself to leave your monastic cell, why do you wish to return? Does the outside world with all its glorious temptations terrify you that badly?"

"I permit myself worldly pleasures," protested Albus. "I'm not an ascetic."

"Come now, a chocolate frog every evening is not a worldly pleasure. This is a worldly pleasure," explained Horace. He released Albus' hands, so he could cup Albus' face. Then he kissed a stunned Albus.

It was a soft, exploratory kiss, starting off closed mouth. Horace's hands wouldn't permit Albus an easy escape and then all thoughts of escaping fled from Albus' brain when Horace began sucking on his lower lip. Albus instinctively opened his mouth as he was moaning, and then… sweet Merlin's beard, Horace's tongue was in his mouth. The sensation was overwhelming him as he felt faint.

Albus staggered when Horace stopped kissing him. He was dizzy… and fortunately Horace's hands were still cupping his face as he needed the physical contact to steady himself.

"Albus! When I'm kissing someone, I do not consider it a compliment when my partner swoons as he forgot to breathe!"

Albus flushed as Horace's tone was sharp, but a smiling Horace began to gently stroke Albus' face.

"Easy, my dear. Easy. You are dangerous, Albus. Do you know that? All that passion that you put in your noble causes and there's still so much passion smoldering beneath that façade of yours. It's a wonder you don't explode from your internal pressure," teased Horace.

"Horace!" Albus protested.

"I think I shall seduce you after all," Horace softly mused. His eyes were far away and his voice was quite low. "However, Galatea will most assuredly not be informed. It will be remain completely between us, Albus. A gentleman's agreement, where you just relax and I handle… everything."

"Horace!" was Albus' weaker protest.

"There's a crack in your façade, Albus. I think you crave the experience… no I don't think, I know you crave this. All that passion and you're afraid of it. You're afraid to live, Albus. You need to learn how to live, Albus. To experience life completely and recklessly. "

Albus said nothing, and Horace nodded his head. "First things, first. Tonight, I know this incredible restaurant. Meet me at the front gate at nine. Perhaps you can do something with your hair, so you're not so recognizable. Plus leave Fawkes home."

Buffet Froid (cold buffet)

The only reason why Albus showed was because Fawkes had Phoenix pecked him. Albus had gotten his dressing gown ready for bed, taken a long, hot bath and when he had returned to his bedroom clad only in his robe and his warm wooly socks, his dressing gown was gone. Instead, there was a rather lurid set of robes and Fawkes was rummaging through his bureau for a scarf. The Phoenix gave a triumphant war cry when he determined what he believed was the perfect scarf.

"Fawkes!" Albus protested.

You're going to be late! You hadn't picked out what to wear!

"I'm not going, Fawkes," protested Albus.

You are going! You are! It is rude not to go!

His familiar glared at him, and Albus found himself getting dressed as directed by his Phoenix. Really, who wore the pants in their relationship?

Entremet de sûcre (sweets)

Really, Horace Slughorn would never have believed that the prim and proper Albus Dumbeldore was such a sweet kisser. Yes, he didn't have a great deal of experience, but he had picked up the knack fairly quickly. Except for the entire swooning bit, as that would have been hard to explain.

While a shag with Albus Dumbledore would be a pleasant diversion, Horace knew that it wasn't the solution to whatever was ailing Albus. Sex was a wonderful, though sadly, fleeting experience. After a blissful Albus left Horace's bed, whatever was disturbing Albus would still be there. He'd feel good for maybe a few hours, a day perhaps, and then whatever was depressing Albus would once again haunt him.

Instead of sex, Albus needed to leave his cloister and experience life once more.

Tonight was Quebec, Thursday would be Dublin… If the blasted man ever decided to escape.

Horace narrowed his eyes, as he saw some movement by the main Gate. Aha! It was Albus, who was still dressing as though he was looking for his own burial, but the dark colors of his robes were brightened by his scarf. His hair was also far shorter than the norm, and his nose was straight.

"You must tell me if my nose falls off," Albus requested Horace.

"I'd think a wizard of your skill could fix that meandering roadway you call a nose," protested Horace.

"I could, but looking at it every day in the mirror keeps me humble. Now Horace, I'm here," was all Albus was able to say before Horace took him by the arm.

"We'll be back by the time school begins tomorrow, I hope," assured Horace. "Now, on the count of three, we're leaving…"

Savoureaux (savory)

Horace had a skillful apparition, though Albus had his doubts when he realized that the two of them were in very cramped, very smelly alleyway. Horace knocked on a small door in an odd syncopated rhythm even while Albus demanded to know where they were.

"I'll explain once we're inside. The chef is an old friend of mine, he knows who you are, but no one else does. I only confessed who you were so he could squeeze us into a private room tonight." The door opened a crack and Horace began speaking in very animated French.

I didn't know Horace spoke French, Albus thought. Albus spoke French, but badly, while Horace spoke it quite well with only the slightest trace of an accent. Horace was mentioning a Rémy which caused the other person to broadly smile and beckon them in.

"Come along," ordered Horace. "It's a tight fit for me, but you should do fine coming in. Leaving you might have to squeeze a bit."

It was a tight fit with a few hairpin turns, but before long, the three of them were in a small bistro. There was quite the crowd, combined hardwood floors but the heavy curtain muffled the sound while giving it a feeling of privacy. Their escort took them to a hallway and motioned for them to enter a very small, extremely intimate room that had one table and two chairs.

Albus took the chair closest to the wall and Horace sat down next to him. It was a tight fight as they were nudging elbows but Horace seemed not to notice.

The waiter began to hand them menus but Horace shook his head. In French, Horace said, "Please advise Rémy that my guest and I would be highly honored if he used his discretion."

Again the waiter smiled broadly before quickly fleeing.

"We're in Quebec," explained Horace. "And I noticed that you didn't eat anything for dinner, which is a very good thing as you're about to experience one of Rémy's meals. And not just any meal, but one where he is given free reign to create a masterpiece. I assure that Rémy's a dear friend, bit on the corpulent side, like me. But I've found that one should never to trust a skinny chef. "

Again, the easy, self-deprecating laugh.

"Seventeen," Albus asked. "Seventeen? As in one seven?"

"Yes, the amuse bouche should be arriving shortly. Don't get nervous, Albus, it's not seventeen plates of heavily loaded roasts. Each course is a few bites to savor, some cleansing of the palate, and some delicious wine. Ah, Verrine avocat, fromage blanc, saumon fume?" Horace asked the server.

It looked like chopped up salmon served in a shot glass to Albus, but he carefully watched Horace. A few sips of the wine, and with a delicate spoon, Horace took a small taste. It was almost obscene how a closed eyed Horace savored the experience.

"Albus," said Horace, whose eyes were still closed in apparent rapture, "For the love of God, Albus. This isn't food that is only fit as fuel for your body; this is sustenance for your soul. Show some respect for the master, please."

Reluctantly, he took a small sampling and as instructed, he concentrated on the taste. The flavor literally exploded in his mouth. It was literally like nothing he had ever tasted.

"Horace…" an astounded Albus began.

"I know, I know," Horace assured him with a gentle pat on his hand.

By the end of the epicurean extravaganza, Albus was amazed to discover that five hours has sped by. Hours that had consisted of an easy camaraderie with Horace who was quite the wit, Albus was happy to learn. He had never gotten too chummy with Horace for many reasons, but it had been a mistake that he now meant to rectify post haste.

And it had been a rather relaxing evening, with no thoughts of the trial disturbing his good mood. And also, thank Merlin; Horace hadn't made any obvious or even covert attempts at seducing him. Yes, the two of them were sitting quite close, so there were the occasional, accidental touches.

And Albus felt warm, mellow and… dare he admit to it? Not depressed, for the first time in far too long. He wasn't happy, yet he wasn't depressed either.

"Thursday then?" Horace asked before they left Quebec.

"Yes, I look forward to it."

Thursday turned into Saturday, which was then once again Tuesday. With an occasional Wednesday thrown in for good measure.

They didn't always leave Hogwarts as there were numerous cozy, chaste nights in Horace's quarters where they discussed issues and argued potions. There were conversations that couldn't wait to be held, discussions of the upmost importance that needed to be spoken, so Albus would meet Horace in his classroom between classes.

Fawkes' feathers were rather ruffled because he viewed himself as being replaced in Albus' life, but fortunately Albus was able to soothe his familiar. Fortunately, Fawkes had not made his displeasure known to Horace. Albus had a long discussion with Fawkes; the end result was the understanding Fawkes accepted Albus' need for human companionship.

No longer did Albus obsess over The Daily Prophet or spend far too many hours listening to the Witches Wireless Network, anxious for the latest details on the trial. Instead, he spent his free time learning how to dance. Albus had confessed the sad truth to Horace that he was entirely untaught in the art form known as waltzing. Their next get together had been located in the Great Hall. Horace had finagled a victrola and a partner for Albus. Head Girl Minerva McGonagall had been drafted into assisting with the noble cause, while Horace and a quite vocal Fawkes relentlessly commented on his gracelessness.

Tonight had been a wonderful night, as he had successfully completed an Advanced Twinkle with Sweetheart step along with a few other maneuvers that formerly would have filled him with dread. Truly, Miss McGonagall was a wonderful partner, as he actually felt comfortable dancing. No longer would he trod on Galatea's tender feet!

Albus realized that he was…. Happy. He wasn't sure when he realized that he had permitted himself to be happy, perhaps it was when he caught himself whistling on the way to his classroom or when his reflection in the mirror commented on how natty he looked.

And he didn't even mind that his formerly baggy clothes were now a little bit snug.

"Glass of wine?" Horace asked.

"Thank you," Albus replied. He was sitting on Horace's comfortable couch and he reached for the glass. Like he had learned from Horace, he took a long, slow swallow, savoring the subtle taste. It was really an excellent vintage.

Horace sat down next to him, and to Albus' surprise he took the glass from Albus. Carefully, he placed it on the side table.

"Make yourself comfortable, Albus," suggested Horace.

"I am," was Albus' response.

Horace put his arm around Albus and moved closer to Albus. "I think I can help you become more comfortable. Shall I?"

Fromage (cheese)

Horace Slughorn had been quite patient. Extremely patient, as he realized that Albus was quite shy. He had made a few gestures that a more experience partner would have realized was Horace expressing his interest in allowing their relationship to progress to the physical realm.

Not Albus.

Albus was content merely long conversations and dinners, which was… enjoyable for Horace, as Albus was quite the raconteur. Yet, Horace was quite interested in more. It was almost Christmas! He had been exceedingly patient!

Therefore, it was time to act.

A little wine, enough to relax Albus, and Horace made his move.

"I think I can help you become more comfortable. Shall I?"

Carefully, he undid Albus' belt. Then since Albus had not made a pip of complaint, he unbuttoned the lone button on Albus' trousers. However, being Slytherin, he didn't go the expected route. No, instead, he put his hand on Albus' knee and he began to stroke Albus' knee.

"Are you comfortable?" Horace asked. He kept his voice very soft and affectionate.

Albus swallowed once and then slowly nodded his head.

"Too bad," whispered Horace. "I think I could make you more comfortable… "

Albus' blue eyes were intently watching him.

"I must confess that I don't know how you could make me more comfortable," admitted a somber Albus. "I feel very warm and cozy right now."

In response, Horace began to unfasten Albus' shirt. Slowly, only one button at a time, with long deliberate pauses between each button. Albus' breath was quickening and then when the very last button was unfastened, Horace deliberately put one hand on Albus' chest before he deliberately explored Albus' chest.

Horace was secretly delighted how Albus was quickly relaxing under his touch. The other wizard had closed his eyes and he was quite willing to let Horace do anything. It was quite amusing that the Great Albus Dumbledore, Defeater of Dark Wizards, was such a sweet little bottom.

A few touches there, a slow exploration of Albus' chest and Horace decided that Albus needed to be a little more reactive. Therefore Horace stopped and he was rewarded with a disappointed Albus opening his eyes.

"Kiss me," Horace ordered.

And kiss they did. Albus had learned a great deal from Horace's expert tutelage and he was eager to display his mastery. He wasn't the gawky, overly enthusiastic kisser of yore, but instead, Albus was savoring his kisses, intent on relishing the experience.

They continued to exchange kisses and Horace placed his hand on Albus' inner thigh in order to explore what was rather nicely developing. A few slow, deliberate caresses caused Albus to stop kissing Horace; instead he put his head back against the sofa. His eyes were still closed and he was running his left hand through his hair. Honestly, Horace wouldn't be surprised if Albus was purring because he looked as though he was on the very verge of ecstasy.

"Oh….Horace," whispered Albus. "I wouldn't say that you're making me feel… comfortable. Nevertheless, this is quite enjoyable."

"Tell me more," Horace gloated.

"It's… amazing," admitted Albus. He took a long breath and then opened his eyes. Facing Horace, he reached toward him. Hesitantly, he put his hands on Horace's top shirt button.

"None of that, m'dear," chastised Horace. He put his hands on top of Albus' hands and pushed them away. "You don't need to worry about reciprocating. Not tonight, that is…"

Albus, being the noble sort, naturally protested but Horace shook his head. "Less protesting, Albus," insisted Horace. "More snogging. As the young folks say."

They had gotten past snogging into very heavy petting with Horace deliberately keeping his touch both teasing and unhurried. A few more caresses and Albus would be requesting to take this new understanding of theirs to a more convenient spot, Horace was positive. Naturally, that is when Armando Dippet had to intervene by sending the House Elves to locate Albus. It seemed his presence was required the next morning at the Trial of the Century.

The mood was completely shot and Albus fled to his quarters, unwilling… or perhaps… unable to talk about it.

Desserts (fruit and nuts)

The next day and the next, Albus was not at Hogwarts, and Horace found himself missing Albus. It was distinctly odd, not to be discussing potions over breakfast or debating the proper pronunciation for a rare Transfiguration spell. Albus had a bit of an Irish lilt to his voice which he steadfastly denied and which Horace was attempting to correct. Rare for a man of his various voracious appetites, Horace only had a bit of cucumber sandwich along with a cuppa for afternoon tea in the staff room.

Galatea Merrythought collapsed into the chair Horace had taken to viewing as Albus' chair.

"Horace, Horace, Horace," was Galatea's fond greeting. "I never have told you how much I appreciate you helping Albus during his recent melancholy. The staff thinks you're a miracle worker, but I know the truth. You're such a sexual dynamo, Horace."

"Galatea, please don't say that in front of Filius. He is the only retired, undefeated Dueling Champion, and I am a rather stationary target," protested Horace. "Besides, there's been absolutely no sex between Albus and myself."

"Horace, he's wearing colors again. He doesn't look like he is mourning and he's put on all the weight he lost! I saw him wearing his high heel boots the other day. The dragonhide ones that were specially dyed to match his eyes? And he was complaining to Armando about his dodgy hip the other day," insisted Galatea.

"He was practicing how to waltz! And overdid it!" It was the truth, Horace wasn't lying.

Galatea smirked, and then Filius popped in, "She won't admit to it, but she has been questioning the House Elves. It seems that you and Albus make a great deal of noise when he's in your quarters. Laughter, heavy sighs, and moving furniture? Let me guess, you're just playing badminton?"

"Ten pin bowling!" Protested Horace. "Plus I need to move the furniture so we could have a proper dance floor. I remind you, Galatea; at last week's Yule Ball, your toes were quite safe from Albus Dumbledore, notorious toe stomper."

"Well, whatever you're doing, please keep it up!" requested Robert Celestine. The Astrology Professor smiled broadly. "Albus is almost his old self again. He let loose a dozen chocolate frogs for the House Elves the other day."

Naturally, Herbert Beery, with his 5/8 normal sized head and Silvanus Kettleburn interjected with their own comments.

"He was wearing sparkly stuff yesterday," Herbert explained. "He hasn't sparkled in the longest while."

"It was a brocaded jacket," protested Horace.

"And Fawkes was quite jealous of you for a while. I saw him try to take off one of the buttons off your waist coast that day," continued Silvanus.

"He's attracted to bright, shiny things. Like a crow," explained Horace. Actually, he had been of the firm opinion that Fawkes had been trying for something lower and much closer to Horace's heart but his bulk had prevented his castration. Several times, he had caught Fawkes glaring at him, as though the Phoenix was a sulky crup.

He had even offered Fawkes crystallized pineapple, which the Phoenix eagerly devoured. However, the bird, being a noble creature, believed the offerings to be a suitable tribute from a subordinate as opposed to a bribe. However, at the moment, there seemed to be an one sided treaty of non-aggression in place, as Fawkes was behaving himself.

Speak of the devil, as the blasted Phoenix decided to appear in the middle of the staff room. Much to Horace's horror, the bird landed on his forearm.

I'm talking you on a trip, Fawkes informed him. The Phoenix' musical voice was in his head! Albus is in need of you.

"Bloody hell, you talk?" Horace growled the Phoenix. "You're taking me to the Nurmengard Trials?"

Naturally. I just only talk to people that interest me. And no, I'm taking you to a hotel near Nurmengard. Hold on.

His transportation wasn't as painful as Slide Along Apparition, but it took twice as long. He landed in a hotel room and he witnessed Albus Dumbledore staring out the window at some faraway point. Albus was dressed in dark, somber colors once more and his shoulders were slumped.

"Fawkes, where did you go?" Albus softly asked.

I brought Horace here. You need human companionship now.

Albus quickly turned and seemed stunned when he saw Horace in his quarters. The smallest smile quirked his lips and then Albus nodded his head.

"Thank you, Fawkes," Albus quietly stated. "You know me better than I do, yet you still care for me."

The Phoenix warbled twice and then disappeared. While Horace was debating what to say, perhaps something inane like How are you or perhaps How's the weather here, he was tightly engulfed in Albus' embrace.He was gobsmacked when Albus kissed him on his cheek.

"So glad you're here, Horace," whispered Albus. "You have no idea how happy I am that you're here. They announced the verdict early this morning and to no one's surprise, he was found guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in his beloved Nuremengard prison. If you look from this window, you can barely glimpse the topmost cell in the tower."

"Why are you still here?" Horace questioned.

"I cannot bear to face my ghosts this holiday," admitted Albus. "I am just staying here for another day at the most. I need to figure out where I wish to go for the holidays. Perhaps, I can locate Rémy's restaurant and possibly finagle a table for one. I must remember to fix my nose so I can have a quiet meal."

Albus tapped his crooked nose and smiled. His grin faded and he sighed.

"They believe me their savior," protested Albus. "They tell me that women are naming their children after me."

"You're exhausted, Albus. Go to bed," insisted Horace.

"Horace, have you ever trusted someone that you shouldn't have?" was Albus' surprising question. "Did you ever do something and looking back, you realized…. Perhaps, you made the incorrect choice? That your bad decision was weighing down your soul like an anchor? No matter how fast you run, it's always there, nipping at your heels. "

The intensity of the question didn't surprise him, as he knew that there was a past trauma Albus hid beneath his façade. What surprised him was that Albus was indirectly mentioning it. So Horace would take Albus' trust and answer his question. Horace didn't have to think very hard to think of a bad decision that he wished he could undo. Tom Riddle, with his strangely intent eyes, and the question about Horcruxes.

"Yes," softly admitted Horace.

"How do you handle it, Horace? I must know," insisted Albus.

"You can either run from it, or learn from it. The decision is completely yours," was Horace's answer. 'At the moment, I believe that, at best, I'm doing a slow saunter. "

His sincerity was rewarded with a smile from Albus.

Albus put his hands on Horace's shoulder and squeezed them.

"Horace, my dear, sweet Horace. Why did I not meet you when I was so much younger? When I was still capable of giving my heart completely to someone? How my life would have been so very different," admitted Albus. "Horace, would you care to share my bed tonight? I'd like you very much to stay."

Café (coffee)

Afterwards, in the afterglow, Albus stretched and then snuggled next to Horace. All of Albus' insecurities over the social niceties of lovemaking, such as which side of the bed one took, wet spot etiquette and wooly socks - to wear or not to wear to bed ? had been thoroughly eased by Horace. In fact, on Christmas, Horace was to receive a dozen pair of wooly socks that Albus had knitted just for him.

"You're better than a continental quilt," complimented Albus.

"Good lord, man. You just had mind-blowing sex and you think a compliment like that will get you a repeat?" Harumphed an amused Horace.

"Yes," was Albus' answer.

"As always, you're right," admitted Horace.