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hope is the thing with fins

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On the morning of the fourth of May 1998, the sky glowed with a soft golden light, so unlike the burning red sky that had risen the morning before. No, unlike the previous morning, this morning was calm, quiet, almost - though few dared to even think the word - peaceful.

That pale golden glow streamed through the windows of Hogwarts Castle, many of which were still scratched or shattered from the battle that haunted the minds of students and teachers alike. Echoes of violence still darkened the ancient halls in the form of broken walls and bloodstained steps. Far too many dormitory beds lay empty, not slept in even though their occupants would never wake again. There was no victory without sacrifice, as every soldier knew - but they hadn't been soldiers, they had been children, caught in a war they were too young to fight. 

Horace Slughorn stood in his office, watching as curls of steam rose from his morning cup of tea and dissipated into the serene golden sunlight. He had been pottering around in his office since dawn, anything to keep his restless mind from thinking about all that had been lost.

It was with a cold, detached sense of victory that he finally disposed of the ingredients for long-forbidden poisons, the makings of which he had taught to students only out of fear of the consequences of refusal. Hogwarts had been a dark place while under the Death Eaters' control, and everyone had done things they weren't proud of just to keep themselves alive.

Horace had just finished Vanishing a bottle of chimera's blood when he first heard it - a soft splashing sound, like someone gently stirring a cauldron of water. It took him a few moments to locate the source of the noise: there was no drip, no leak, no bottle accidentally knocked over and haphazardly emptying it's contents onto to floor. Strangely enough, the sound seemed to be coming from his desk drawer.

He reached for the handle, equal parts confused and curious. For a moment though, he hesitated, his hand resting on the cool metal of the drawer handle. Why he waited, he wasn't quite sure. After all, there was nothing in the drawer that he hadn't put there himself. Yet there was only one thing in that drawer that could possibly be making that sound - but no, it wasn't possible, it couldn't be.

Still, he opened the drawer. 

The sound became a little louder. 

The object, as he had come to think of it when giving it any more thought caused him a pain in his chest, had been pushed to the back of the drawer. It lay beneath the pictures of a young girl, then barely sixteen, with thick red hair and green eyes that shined with mirth; the closest thing to a niece or granddaughter that he had ever been blessed with. Even now she flashed him a mischievous smile from within the confines of the images it still hurt too much to frame.

With trembling hands he moved the pictures aside, almost afraid to see what lay underneath.

The polished wooden bowl, small enough that it could be held between his hands, had been kept in his desk drawer for nearly seventeen years. He had hidden it away the moment the sight of it became too painful to bear.

Somedays the guilt was overwhelming, and he often feared he might drown in it. Would she have died as she did, had it not been for the information he had so freely given? 

But the man who had taken Lily Potter's life, the monster who had reduced that beautiful, vivacious girl to memory, was dead and gone. That strange dark power he once had over everyone and everything was broken now. The world could breathe.

When Horace finally managed to turn his gaze towards the bowl, he made a choked noise that was somewhere between a gasp and a sob. He didn't quite know how this was possible, but that didn't matter anymore.

There, in the bowl, looking for all the world as if it had been there since the beginning of time, was a tiny little fish. It swam contentedly back and forth, generating small ripples across the surface of the water.

"Francis." 

And in that moment, a new, almost forgotten feeling arose in Horace Slughorn's soul, one which he hadn't dared feel for nearly seventeen years: hope. Maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be alright.