This story was originally written for the fabulous LJ fest HP_Beholder. My thanks, as always, to my wonderful beta Kellychambliss, who improves everything I write.


I hate funerals. You know that, Albus. We even talked about it once, remember? When you wrote me about Nicholas and Perenelle, and that damned Stone? After you told me how you all had decided to destroy the thing, I went to see them, with a bottle of the very best Burgundy money can buy (or useful relations can get you). Lovely afternoon we had, going over old memories, saying … well … all sorts of things that needed to be said. "That's the way to say goodbye," I said, and you agreed with me.

Mind, I'm not blaming you. No-one could have foreseen a Death-Eater attack on Hogwarts, not even you, I think. Certainly not I, at any rate. And we did plan, more or less, a moment for goodbyes. When I asked after that blackened hand of yours, offering to brew you a salve and knowing just how useless that would be.

"Severus looks after me – so far, he has done a brilliant job. A former student who does you credit," you smiled, and I smiled back and waved the words away. A former student to watch in awe, rather. Even during his final years at Hogwarts, I had watched in awe. A student like that happens once in a lifetime, if you're lucky. Severus's soaring talent was hardly my doing - but you always used every possible occasion that presented itself to make a compliment. I know the mechanism; I've used it myself often enough. And you were a past master in the art.

Well, you said Severus was looking after you admirably and would do so until the very end. And that, one day, we'd have to share a good bottle of mead together. "Nothing pressing," you said, "but something to look forward to."

Until the very end, eh? What did you plan, Albus? Were you telling me he acted on your instructions? Were you telling me, so that he'd have one friend left? You knew I'd remember that conversation – you wanted to say those words then and there. The rest could wait until we would have a drink and that talk.

As it turned out, the drink never happened. And here I sit, on a damn uncomfortable chair, I'll have you know, and watch the magnificent spectacle that is your funeral. You would have loved it. The merpeople. The centaurs. The speeches. They are a celebration of your public life, as they should be. And they say nothing at all about that intensely private and withdrawn man that was Albus Dumbledore. For you were, Albus. Intensely private, I mean. I've known you for so long, and yet I would hesitate to say even one thing truly about you, the person. The only things I'm certain of are the biographical facts. Your fondness of music and lemon sherbets, the Twelve Uses of Dragon Blood – but what do I know about you, personally?

I wanted that final talk, dammit. There were some questions I wanted to ask you. You might not have answered, but I wanted to see your face when I asked them. While knowing perfectly well that even then, I would see only what you wanted me to see.

I also wanted to surprise you. And you know, Albus, I think for once I would have succeeded. For it is a strange story. Who's the current funeral speaker, then? Ministry chap? That gives us time enough. Wherever you are, my friend, make yourself comfortable and listen. That's the one advantage of the current situation, my dear chap. This time you can't interrupt.

Right. Let's start at the very beginning. Not that there are any real beginnings in the lives of men our age. There are continuations, variations on a theme, things that may seem new, but when you dig deep enough, you see an old root that simply sprouted life in an unexpected place. But to me, this story, this event, does feel new. If there is an old root, I haven't dug deep enough. I don't plan to. I just want to watch the new sprig – see it grow.

It began, then, when you convinced me to come back to Hogwarts. You brought Potter with you, and for a long time I wondered why. He thought he had to convince me to come. He thought he failed to do so, the poor chap. But that was nonsense, of course.

I was delighted to meet the fella, don't get me wrong. Because he was the Boy Who Lived. Because he was Lily's son. Which reason was the more important? Does it matter? I was delighted. But a sixteen-year-old boy, even THE sixteen-year-old Boy, was no reason to risk my life. Your words convinced me, nothing else.

When you suggested that meeting over mead, Albus, it was one of the things I wanted to ask you. What you had planned for Lily's son. I even bought the mead – wanted to give it to you for Christmas, but didn't get round to it. And then … well, then that particular question got answered. Potter asked after You-Know-Who – and the … the Horcruxes. There. Don't make me say that word again. Potter asked after them just like that, out of the blue. Not a shred of diplomacy about him, is there? I sent him away with a flea in his ear, of course.

And then he used my own Felix Felicis, the cheeky boy. And I decided to let him have his precious memory. To let you have it, for you had sent him on that mission. You needed the information.

That was why you wanted to get me to Hogwarts. Why you wanted me to see Harry. And you were right about the you-know-whats, as you always are. You just needed the confirmation – the certainty that Tom actually had taken the road to those unspeakable horrors. The whole future of our world depends on you getting all the facts, and thus our defence, absolutely right. I can only hope you had time to do what you needed to do, my friend.

We'll find out soon enough, eh? One way or another.

But I digress. Point is, you did get me to Hogwarts. But this story of mine, this surprise, is nothing to do with Harry. Or with you, actually. No, that's not quite right. You have a cameo. Or you should have had. Not quite what you're used to, I know, and not at all in line with your undoubted star-quality. But a cameo is what I planned for you.

The main part in my story is for a spinster of that little parish of yours.

You know, that's one of the things I'd wanted to ask you. What you did about the … shall we say, physical side of life? Oh, there are rumours. The terminally ignorant think you had a thing going with Minerva. The slightly better informed thought she carried a torch for you, while you were batting for the other side. Well, they got the latter part right, at any rate. And I dare say Minerva got quite a bit of entertainment from those rumours. I can just imagine her dry chuckle and Rolanda's loud laugh – always had a wicked sense of humour, Rolanda Hooch. It's one of the reasons those two are so good together. But what you actually did and with whom? Perhaps Elphias Doge knows the answer. Perhaps he knows in astonishing detail.

You know perfectly well what I did about my own physical side, and you may have thought it wasn't very much. But it was enough for me. You see, I've never been one for great things. I like the small pleasures in life. Comfort. Good food. Parties. Interesting people. Places of beauty. I like my own, small habits. I like having my own space.

Marriage, the only kind of marriage I'd have any use for, would have meant real togetherness. A balance between keeping yourself whole and sharing yourself with the other. A great adventure – perhaps the greatest of all. And I never was one for great things. No, I never was.

But over the years, at interesting parties I went to, in those beautiful foreign places I visited, there were some lovely ladies. If one of them pleased me particularly, I'd make a little overture. And if she thought likewise, I'd enjoy the pleasure of the chase and the delectable erotic pleasures to follow. But I always took great care to choose companions who wanted the same thing I did: a few weeks, months at the most, of pure pleasure. No strings attached.

Married, they were. To a husband, mostly; to a job sometimes. And a good time was had by all. Well, not by the husbands, one presumes. But I've always been discreet. Yes, I know, apart from that one time in Vienna. Yes, I dare say seeing me climb out of a window was hilarious. And me landing in the moat must have been even funnier. Well, you try Apparition while you're climbing a Virginia Creeper. You try flying without a broom.

But, to return to my story, during the first months at Hogwarts, I was content with a quiet life. Teaching can really be quite exhausting. And then I had my small parties. The pleasure of expanding my network with some of those talented young students of yours.

I really never was one for great things, Albus, and that includes a Greater Good. Too scary. Too insecure. Who knows what the Greater Good is? Posterity will judge you, my friend, and it may or may not be as positive as today's encomiums. I've always preferred to do some very small, very minor good things. Bringing people into contact with each other. Giving deserving youngsters a chance.

Oh, I know everyone thinks I'm only interested in the rich and famous. But my little gatherings were always a mixture of those who were bound to succeed, who were born to greatness, and those who were talented but could do with some help. In order to do something for them, I needed the contacts and the clout of my little group of rich and famous. Well, I enjoyed their company, too, true enough. I don't see the point of doing things you absolutely hate just because you think it's nobler in the mind to suffer. I enjoyed myself with my parties - and I like to think that I've helped quite a few very deserving people. That I did some good in their lives. That was more than enough for me.

Young Potter doesn't get the point of my parties at all, does he? Thinks I'm a socialite – if he knows that word. Miss Granger would know it. And agree with Potter, probably. Clever witch, Miss Granger. She won't need my help, but someday she may use the influence she'll get in our world to help one of my protégés. She'll achieve greatness, Miss Granger will. But Potter … he brought Miss Lovegood to that little do of mine. She's not someone who'll ever be in a position where she'll be useful to me. There was no point in bringing her to the Slug Club – because she won't need my help, either. Dances to her own tune, Miss Lovegood does. Many will think her a failure – but she'll get exactly what she wants out of life. Whether others see the point of it or not.

But that's neither here nor there. I was telling you how I was enjoying my little pleasures and decided to put the physical aspect of life on hold for a year. I didn't want to cause a stir, I didn't want to start anything under the eyes of hundreds of young gossips, I thought I knew your entire staff, and I wasn't interested in any of them. Not in that way.

Took me all of six months to notice your support staff – notice them properly, I mean. Yes, perhaps I am a bit snobbish on occasions. Anyhow, your Healer is a right darling. Kind, generous, helpful, and practical – if I had a sister like that, I'd consider myself a lucky man. But layers of starched linen never did it for me.

No, the one I'm referring to is your librarian. Did you ever look at her, Albus? Properly, I mean? Lovely slender figure. Beautiful posture. Thick, shiny, hair. All the more beautiful for those few threads of silver. Keep her from being too intimidating and severe, those threads. As do the fine lines in her face. They speak of vulnerability. Of age. And of quite a few emotions, too. There's laughter in some of those lines. And sorrow in others. A woman who has lived a full life.

Beautiful hands, too. Thin, elegant. One admires those deft hands, careful yet firm when they handle a book, and one wonders what it would be like to feel that deftness, and care, and firmness, yes, that too, on one's body.

As I say, it took me six months to notice her properly. A damnable loss of time, a foolish mistake. One can't simply show an interest, make an overture, just like that after six months.

I should have looked properly the first time I met her. On a first meeting, one can give an admiring glance. Hold a hand a second or so longer than strictly necessary. Press said hand slightly. Tell her with the tone of your voice that you think she's absolutely stunning. And then you wait to see the result. Any kind of response? A look of appreciation, perhaps? A change in posture, to show breasts, or legs, or shoulders, or whatever she feels is her best part, to full advantage? All these things signify interest. Then you can make a little compliment. And from there you go down the path of another delightful little erotic interlude.

But after several months, that approach just won't work. So I decided on an alternative plan: library research. I found Madam Pince most helpful in getting me the books I needed. And she is deliciously stern on things like proper care of the books and prompt returning.

While I waited, keeping the books in my rooms long enough to be believable (and actually enjoying rereading bits of them – you do have such a marvellous collection at Hogwarts) I had a drink with Filius. I found him most well-informed on just about anything. And that includes school gossip. So I mentioned this colleague and that one, and finally got round to Madam Pince.

It was as I had thought and hoped. "Married to her work," said Filius. "Irma is first and foremost Hogwarts Librarian. Mind, I'm not saying she doesn't have a private life. Never spends the summer holidays at Hogwarts, and I have a very strong feeling we only get a selection of the holiday pics afterwards- you know, the careful I was alone selection that shows you weren't."

Frankly, I had no idea what he meant. Those Ravenclaws can be too clever for their own good, sometimes. But when he explained, it all made sense.

"A few years ago, for instance, Irma went to Tuscany. Travelled round, visited the highlights. And quite a few of those were in the pics. The Piazza at Luca – you know the one? Former arena?"

I nodded. Been there, took picture.

"And Sienna – the shell-like square?"

I nodded again. Been there, took picture.

"And Pisa? The Tower?" he asked with a smile.

I nodded. Been there, took picture. Just a picture of the tower, as I told him when he probed further. I wasn't with anyone, and I didn't feel like asking anyone to take a pic of me in front of the thing, so it was just the tower itself. Not bad. Not as good as the postcards – well, those photographers are professionals – but still. One likes to take the pic oneself.

"Exactly!" Filius beamed at me, as if I were a dim-witted student who had finally grasped it. Which was partly true – I hate to admit this, but it was the 'grasping' that was still beyond me.

"That's what everyone does," he explained. "You take the pic yourself, even though cards are better, because you want it. To show to others, to show to yourself, to remind you that yes, you were there, in person, and the sky was that blue, or that cloudy, or whatever it was that brings back the memories of the sounds and smells like no postcard can. You take the pic, and you put your companion in it, if you have one. Or you ask someone to take a pic of the two of you. And when you travel alone, you still take that pic.

"Irma had been to Pisa- but that picture was missing from the collection. And that says, as plain as the nose on your face, that the Tower Picture exists, but it has someone in it. Someone Irma didn't want to talk about."

I stared at him in admiration, and he smiled. Then he took a sip of his sherry, and another good look at me, and continued, "You know, I think if Irma had a permanent partner, we'd know about it. She occasionally mentions 'a friend', but never a name, and I think it isn't always the same. I think Irma enjoys life in a great many ways – she just doesn't want to commit to anyone the way she commits to her library. And she doesn't want to invite speculation, either."

"Then we should change the subject," I said virtuously. "She's a lovely lady, and one must respect her wishes."

"As long as you know what her wishes are," Filius smiled, and he switched the conversation smoothly to my Italian travels. He knew why I had asked. Oh, yes, he did. But he's as discreet as he is knowledgeable.

I was ludicrously pleased with the information. Not just because it meant Irma might be interested. Not just because it meant that she wasn't desperate for marriage, but would see things the same way I did. No, I felt that, somehow, Filius had judged me and thought that Irma and I would truly have a good time together. And suddenly, that approval meant a lot to me.

Funny thing. He does it with his Ravenclaws, too. Sums them up with a look that tells them he is pleased to have such a decent person in his House – and after that, because of that, his students behave like decent people. Because Filius thinks they are.

Well, when I had perused those books to my satisfaction I returned them – well within the allowed time, of course, and that got me some kudos with the lady. Then I stayed for little chats – on books first, on life at Hogwarts, on life in general. And there was, indeed, a response. She began to look forward to my visits. Or perhaps I exaggerate here; I don't know that at that stage she ever gave me much thought when I wasn't around, but when my coming to the library reminded her of my existence she was pleased to see me.

After a week or two, three, I felt that the time was right to return to the original schedule of little compliments, lingering looks, the whole careful first stage of courtship. And she responded in a most satisfactory way. I positively began to look forward to my remaining time at Hogwarts, and I even devoted some pleasurable thoughts to concrete, realistic plans. A liaison during the school year? Using the Hogwarts fireplaces? Feasible. But perhaps, and Filius's story seemed to point in that direction, she'd prefer to keep things calm while the students were around. Merlin knows the little blighters have eyes in the back of their heads and always turn up when least expected.

Not that they wouldn't say the same thing of us, teachers, of course. Only, we have a duty to watch them. They're just impudent imps.

So, perhaps, a little dalliance during the holidays. A trip to some sunny place? Truly sunny, to get the chill of Hogwarts and Scottish winters out of our bones. Wining and dining, azure seas, a little private beach. Strolls through quaint old streets. Leisurely talks of the interesting things we'd see together.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the reality of our little chats as much as the fantasies on the next steps. And occasionally I had such fun discussing this or that, that I completely forgot to further my courtship. Just chatted as one might with a dear friend, with whom one feels completely at ease.

That set me thinking, too. Rather thinkety thoughts. For years I had been quite content with the ritual dance of a brief liaison. But this time, I really enjoyed my time with Irma - and not just as a delightful means to an end. I thought that, perhaps, age really does have a lot to recommend itself. Friendship, real friendship between yourself and the object of your desire, may well be something one doesn't experience until later in life. Until the urges and fires of one's younger years have quieted down, and one has the time and the inclination to indulge in lengthy, friendly conversations.

I wouldn't have wanted to miss the fires. I was just glad, during this past year, to find that the glowing embers contained delights, too. And I was certain Irma and I would be able to rekindle some flames whenever we truly wanted to.

But I do admit I began to entertain hopes of keeping the friendship firmly intact after our little affair would have run its course. I planned to take some pains to ensure it. I felt that this, being truly great friends as well as lovers, was one of the pleasures of our age. One that, like the appreciation of complex meads, the enjoyment of certain books and poems, simply isn't for the very young. You've heard me say often enough that people, like wine, improve with age, and I repeated those words to myself over and over last year, nodding sagely, altogether rather pleased with my own philosophical insights.

I was a fool, of course. It should have been a warning.

I was a fool who gave his lady a little bunch of Lilies of the Valley on the First of May, since we had discussed the charming French habit of giving them for luck. And a bit of luck was what I needed to get any further. We had this very real friendship by now. A friendship that included flirting, and we both enjoyed that, too. But Irma hadn't encouraged me to go even the smallest step further, and I felt some concrete action was in order.

A little bunch of flowers, to bring her luck, was the very thing. If she wasn't interested after all, she could accept them with some pleasant words that acknowledged the gift as a thoughtful gesture from a dear friend. Without loss of face on either side, I would know where I stood.

Or she could choose to accept them the way they were really intended: as a gift from an admirer who declares his amorous intentions.

Which was what she did. With a smile that could light up a room. And that evening, as we went in for dinner … aahh …

You know as well as I do that the little dais that holds the Staff Table isn't really that high. No need to lift one's robes to take those steps. But when she saw me look at her, she did lift hers. Slowly, lingeringly, just enough to give me a glimpse of an exquisite ankle.

Young people miss so much; I often feel sorry for them. So many girls now prefer Muggle dress. Those ungainly blue pantaloons they're all so fond of. Joans, I think they're called. But give me witch's robes anytime. And a witch who knows how to use them. That brief display of ankle … it makes you think of touching, reaching upwards with a slow caress, until you reach the top of smooth stockings. And she wore silk stockings that evening, the saucy girl, she had changed for dinner. For me.

She looked at me and smiled. She knew what I was thinking, and I knew she knew, and we both had our little fantasies. Young people today are often too focused on sex. I'm proud to say that even as a young man I seldom was. I enjoyed it immensely; of course I did. But I was interested in eroticism, in enjoying the full gamut of emotions, from the first glance one exchanges to that glimpse of an ankle. And it ends in bed, of course – but oh, the pleasures one can have on the way there.

So I knew that I was firmly on my way to a most pleasurable thing. I carefully built up the tension. We began to speak of holidays. Not in a sense of going together; heavens, no. But in a sense of 'what do you like, what do I like'. Our interests matched wonderfully. That is to say, Irma mentioned a wish to see the Cyclades someday, and I suddenly realised that's what I had always wanted to do, too.

That should have been a warning, too. Fool that I was.

Then I decided to give a little dinner party. You see, we were both … reluctant isn't the word. Not at all. We were nervous, perhaps, insecure, about making the real move. The one that takes a situation from harmless, enjoyable flirting to the actual start of a love-affair. Like cats on hot bricks we were. Normally, at one point, one just goes ahead and the other accepts or refuses. And I was pretty sure of being accepted, but I still felt insecure. Because we actually had something to lose – that friendship of ours. And I didn't want that to happen.

Just how many warnings does a man need?

I decided to give a little dinner party and blithely ignored any warning signs. Refused to acknowledge there were warning signs, even. The way I planned it, either Irma would find a way to stay somewhat behind at the end of the party, and that would lead to one thing and another. Or I could drop by in the library the next day and invite her to have dinner again – but this time with just the two of us.

Either way, I'd be in clover. As long as I organized everything just so. Filius's stories had made it clear that Irma is a very discreet lady. That's why I had the back-up plan of going to see her the day after. She might think that staying behind lacked discretion, you see.

So I started planning my little party, which was a delight in itself. I knew just what I wanted: fresh, light summer food. Asparagus for starters. A bit of poached salmon. With Hollandaise sauce, perhaps. I planned a trip to the kitchens for an in-depth talk with your house-elves on the use of lemon juice only and the need for room-temperature butter that must be stirred in by hand – none of that new-fangled notion that cooking can be done by magic. No mindless wand-weaving above my Hollandaise.

And I wanted strawberries and cream for pudding and some bunches of lilacs for decoration. Not on the table – damned annoying, a floral centrepiece. Makes it impossible to see your guests. But in two or three other spots in the rooms. Just lots of lilacs. Looks unfussy and effortless, a few bunches of the same sort of flowers. But when you Charm the table cloth in a matching colour the effect is striking. I planned to go and get the flowers myself. I always do. I know exactly what I want, and it's easier to go yourself than to delegate.

And then I started to think about my guest-list. A bit late in the day, you say? After having decided on everything else already? Well, the whole point of that party was Irma. The only point of other guests was that they would have to camouflage the fact that I actually wanted her – the importance of discretion, remember?

So I needed the sort of guest list where her name would look perfectly natural. And something small-scaled – six at the most. I wanted time for her, after all.

Support staff, I thought at first. No-one would think twice if I gave a dinner for the support staff. Old Horace making a point of being kind, people would think, and he prepares the ground for future favours, of course. But support staff would mean inviting not just charming Poppy, but Filch, too. Decent fellow, don't get me wrong. Salt of the earth, he is. But … well, not quite one of nature's gentlemen.

Assorted teachers? But technically, Irma isn't a teacher. And because she isn't, inviting her as the odd one out among the faculty would be noticeable.

And then it struck me. The perfect solution. I would invite my fellow Heads of House and the Headmaster. Nothing noticeable about me wining and dining the most influential people around, is there?

That was your cameo, my dear fellow. The reason I invited you. Not because you were Albus P.W.B. Dumbledore, Biggest of Bigwigs. But because you're a Spare Man. You see, Pomona, Filius, Minerva and I made up a perfectly matched foursome. Add Albus Dumbledore, Spare Man, and one needs another lady. Who has to be chosen with great care – inviting one of the teachers to that exalted company would mean favouring her above the others. Might even raise expectations. Dashed uncomfortable situation for my guests. But invite one of the support staff, and everyone will simply think that Old Horace, who is such a stickler for etiquette, found a most diplomatic solution to the uneven-numbers problem.

And I planned a round table for six, with Minerva on my right hand, as age and position dictated. You should have been on my left hand, as most important male guest, but that would have ended in two ladies sitting next to each other – unthinkable! – and I would solve the little conundrum by putting Irma on my left hand and you next to her. No-one would think anything of it, and it would give me every opportunity in the world to talk to her and flirt with her.

Given the least encouragement, I might even play footsie.

Everyone accepted with genuine pleasure. All my little preparations went smoothly, and I enjoyed every minute of them like mad. I got the flowers, the strawberries and the asparagus myself, the day before the party. Carefully selected for reaching their prime on the day itself. Saves you no end of stress, to have the flowers all ready beforehand.

And then, that evening, just as I was quietly trying out different ways to fold the napkins, all hell broke loose. The shouts, the screams, the confusion. And then the unthinkable.

Well, the next day, the long-anticipated day of my little dinner, everyone was otherwise engaged. We with mundane things, such as looking after the students, dealing with parents and Ministry officials, and organising things. You with … with whatever there is Beyond the Veil, my dear fellow.

It must have been close on ten o'clock at night when I finally had time to seek out Irma. She had been as busy as all of us; she looked tired, sad, and ten years older. And the sight of her warmed the cockles of my heart.

I realised that what I wanted most of all was to look after her.

And just for once, I knew that was a warning sign. A fool I may be, mindless I'm not.

It made me pause for all of two seconds.

Then I invited her to my rooms. And she accepted – the time for discretion was clearly past, and besides, the world was turned upside-down. No-one would be surprised at anything.

I settled her in a comfy chair, poured her a glass of well-chilled white Macon (the very thing for asparagus and poached salmon, you know) and put the bowl of strawberries on a side-table.

We didn't even talk all that much. Disconnected remarks, mostly. It was just the peace of being together, sharing some food, giving each other comfort. We both found the presence of the other more calming than a glass of wine, more refreshing than strawberries.

She stayed the night, of course. There wasn't even a discussion – just the realisation that we wanted to be together.

And when the final arrangements for today were made, Irma just said, "I'd better sit with Argus – you know, he being support staff, too."

I said, "Yes, it does seem a bit insensitive to make an announcement now."

And Irma agreed. "Time enough for that," she said. "They'll find out soon enough when they see our holiday pictures."

That's all we said about it.

Not precisely a great declaration of passionate love, is it? But then, Albus, I never was one for great things. This suits me fine. Irma and I, just knowing that we'll spend the holiday together, and that it's the start of a very important thing in our lives.

When I think of all the time it has taken me – that ludicrously, insanely long courtship. From February to June, for crying out loud. And there I was, thinking it was just another little liaison. That all that time it took was about moving carefully. About discretion. About wanting to keep a friendship. About glowing embers – ha!

What has happened over the past year, my old friend, is that Horace Slughorn, that confirmed bachelor, that set-in-his-ways avoider of commitment, finally met the woman who is The One for him.

And believe it or not – I hardly could, but I grow more confident day after day –it seems as if I'm The One for her, too.

And you know what's funny? This ought to be just my kind of story. Not a great thing at all. Just two middle-aged people – well, all right, in my case 'verging on the elderly' – who meet, become friends, and decide to totter down what's left of the path of life together. Rather sweet, everyone will say.

But it isn't sweet. It's glorious. It's a field of sunflowers, a lark rising to a blue, blue sky. It's the sound of trumpets, the smell of spring mornings; it's the roar of the ocean. It's thunder and lightning.

It's Horace Slughorn, that discerning reader, who doesn't give a damn he's trotting out every cliché under the sun.

For these are only clichés when you talk about others. Not when it's about us, for I tell you, Albus, and you had better believe it, I tell you that no-one, in the whole history of mankind and wizardkind, has ever felt quite like this before.

Well, how's that for surprises? You never thought you'd live to see the day, eh? Oh, damnation! For one moment, I forgot. Sorry, old chap.

It's a mad world we live in right now, and with you we've lost our leader and key weapon. Dark times are ahead of us, and only a fool would ignore the warnings. Only a fool would make long term plans at a moment like this.

Well, call me a fool, then.

I plan to grow old with Irma.