• Published 23rd Apr 2017
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Magic School Days - Dogger807

When the CMC asked Discord to help them attend magic school, he pulled an owl out of his hat. Only he didn't exactly have a hat. Which was okay, since their new school had a singing one laying around. Where the hay was Hogwarts anyway?

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Chapter 63: Flash Dance

The snow-covered roof of Platform 9 3/4 did nothing to keep the bitterly cold wind streaming along the tracks from stealing the warmth from the crowds that anxiously waited. The strategically-placed warming charms, however, kept families and friends comfortable as they impatiently awaited the bright red locomotive that pulled the Hogwarts Express. Most vibrated with ill-concealed anticipation of seeing their children for the first time in over three months. The train had not even come to a complete stop before its precious cargo streamed out, eager for the love that the necessities of school had barred.

Emma Granger stood among fellow first-year Gryffindor parents as she earned the distinction of being the first to locate the object of her desire. "Hermione! Children!" she screamed as she balanced on tip-toes, waving an arm over her head. "This way! Over here!"

A purple-haired girl led the swift stream of students that snaked through the crowd. Unlike the bulk of the crowd, they were unencumbered by heavy student trunks. Eagerly, they welcomed the embrace of waiting family, for the most part.

“Where’s Mum?” Dean asked, fending off Eva and Rosie who were trying their best to hug their older brother.

“Your parents are waiting on the non-magical side of the barrier,” Neville’s grandmother said, watching as the Patil twins closed in on their own mother and father. “And Luna’s father was held up at the office; she is to go home with the Bates to be collected later tonight.”

“Princess Hope.” Lyra gave a formal curtsey to the Hufflepuff. “Come here, please. We are your ride home.” An absent gesture indicated Owlowiscious perched on the back of a bench, wearing a harnessed pouch.

“I would have been perfectly fine staying at the school,” the little blonde absently said, struggling with a cage holding a large grey owl.

“Don’t be like that,” Lyra countered, wrapping her arms around Harry. “Your father is very anxious to meet you.”

Clouded Hope gave a half-hearted scowl, but said nothing further as her eyes went unfocused.

“I wish Mum and Dad were here,” Ron complained under his breath.

“You know they had to go visit Charlie and couldn’t take all of us,” Ginny reprimanded. “We’re spending the break in Ponyville.”

“I know.” Ron sulked. “I just wish they were here.”

“There’s no point in pouting,” Percy said. “We’ll see them during spring break.”

“Don’t worry, Ron,” Scootaloo said, wrapping the redhead in a hug. “You're going to have a blast with us.”

“No,” Lyra piped up. “No explosions. You are forbidden to touch anything even remotely resembling explosives this break, not even a magic bean.”

“I didn’t mean,” Scootaloo started.

“No explosives,” Lyra reiterated.

“Aren’t you over reacting?” Dan Granger asked.

“You haven’t seen what they did to a certain field on the Apple farm,” Lyra said. “This is a reasonable precaution. Anyway, it’s time to head out; we’ve got ponies waiting for us.”

“We need to stop by Diagon Alley, first,” Sweetie Belle said. “Our new wands are done, and we need to pick them up.”

Lyra sighed. “Get in line for the floo, then.”

Nymphadora sighed as she forgot for the hundredth time that hooves were not as effective as fingers at scratching one’s head. Living with ponies for several months had yet to dampen many of her subconscious gestures. With a harrumph, she placed her rainbow-swirled forehoof back on the ground and reflected.

Her first sign that this assignment wasn’t exactly going to be what she had been expecting had come the morning of departure. Only two other applicants had been in the room at the Leaky Cauldron when Nymphadora, Clementine, and her boyfriend, Jason had arrived. Her friend had insisted that they would see her off. So, they waited with the two boys, who had been in Hufflepuff, for the representative from the Ministry to arrive. Why they weren’t meeting in the Ministry itself, was a mystery.

To make matters worse, the Ministry representative didn’t show up until a good hour after the allotted time. It was at that point that things diverged from the prepared script.

“There are only six of you?” the woman had said upon seeing the occupants of the room, stress and chagrin evident on her features as a large owl wearing a harness rested on her shoulder. “We were supposed to have seven to equal what they sent to us.”

“Actually,” Nymphadora said, “Clementine and Jason are just here to see me off.”

“That won’t do.” The woman had grimaced. “This is much too important to muck up. Congratulations, you two are drafted.”

“Um,” Jason had said, “I’m a squib.”

“At this point, even a muggle would do,” the woman had declared. “We’re running late as it is. We don’t even have time for the briefing I prepared. Oh well, it can’t be helped. Into the bag with the lot of you. Remember, you are representing the Ministry, so be on your best behavior.”

A young woman with a broom, who had been unobtrusively going about her chores, had squawked. "I'm just a barmaid!" That explained how the ministry worker got to six.

“Wait, you can’t do this.” Clementine had objected.

“Watch me.” The woman had brandished her wand. “You’ll thank me later. Levicorpus.”

Just like that Nymphadora had found herself stuffed into the owl’s pouch with the other five victims.

“I can’t believe she just did that!” Clementine had shouted while they once again waited. “I’ll lose my job if I don’t show up for work.”

“This pays well enough.” One of the Hufflepuff boys had comforted her. “She’s right; you’ll thank her later.”

The other Hufflepuff had added, "The Ministry will handle all the details on their end. What could possibly go wrong?"

Clementine had brooded, but had gone to stand next to Jason. She hadn't had enough time to sulk before the situation had become completely surreal.

Being confronted by a large number of small colorful ponies upon exiting the bag had been the last thing Nymphadora expected. Well, maybe not the last thing, but it had been extremely low on her list.

Nymphadora was ashamed to admit, but she had stood slacked-jawed with the rest of the humans as they were greeted. She still couldn’t recall the exact greeting the large Princess had given. Nymphadora had been too astonished by her appearance and the appearance of the two other princesses flanking the largest equine in the room. They had all been preternaturally beautiful.

Luckily, the welcome speech had taken long enough for some form of lucidity to take hold. Luckier still, one of the Hufflepuff boys had taken the lead and relayed a sufficiently formal reply.

Next, they had been presented with a floating pillow holding seven rings and were encouraged to take one. Apparently, they would be spending most of their time as ponies.

At first, the ring hadn't worked for Jason, but the princess had done something with her glowing horn to overcome that small hurdle.

The main disturbance had come when Nymphadora had tried her own ring. While she had been still adjusting to the sudden loss of height, the unicorn pony closest to her had let out an ear-splitting scream before vaulting backwards as she desperately escaped the room.

Nymphadora had looked at the retreating pony. “What? Did someone prank my deodorant charm again?” She had then caught sight of her own hoof, and it had been her own turn to scream. Unexpected holes in one’s arms would do that to anyone.

It turned out that she was some sort of pony monster, something that most ponies had thought were nothing more than legends. As it was, she was very happy she didn’t need to drink blood to survive. Furthermore, the shapeshifting abilities put her prior capabilities to shame. Fitting in with the ponies was easy enough with that skill.

Granted, Nymphadora hadn’t been content with being one of the crowd. It had been a great disappointment that shockingly pink fur wasn’t so shocking here. However, it became apparent that although there were ponies with rainbow manes, rainbow fur was unheard of. Presto, instant uniqueness, and thus began the integration into pony academic society.

Cultural differences had caused more than a little drama. The two Hufflepuff boys quickly learned the hazards of being unattached colts, regardless of what might or might not have graced their flanks. Now there was an extremely attached Hufflepuff boy and one paranoid and skittish boy who apparently was as bent as a nine bob note. He could scarcely believe his popularity among the fillies. Some seemed to take his preference as a personal challenge, while others relished the thought that he was sure to add another stallion to their herd once they persuaded him to join.

On the other hand, Clementine and Jason swiftly learned that "monogamous" was an epithet of the highest order. Nymphadora was positive that the only reason Clementine was still in one piece was due to the fact that she had claimed to be attached to the couple, as evidenced by her rooming with them. While that put Jason in the smallest legal herd arrangement, the proclamation served as a magnet to single mares desperately fishing for a stable herd and a chance at motherhood.

Despite the change of physiology, the transfigured humans had retained their dietary preferences. More than one cow had run away, practically screaming in terror at the hungry looks they threw her way. While the cafeteria served fare worthy of a four-star restaurant, it was all tailored to pony tastes -- herbivorous pony tastes. The discovery of the griffon restaurant had been a godsend. Their first meal had brought a round of laughter from the patrons, with the carnivores in attendance egging the transplants on with heartfelt recommendations for entrees from the non-pony menu, disguising the ingredients by naming them in Fancy. The owner had even announced that the meal would be free if they could finish the fare. It had been hard to say which was stronger, the crushing anguish of losing out on the profits from the most expensive meals on the menu, or the unbound joy at the announcement that the transplants would be taking full advantage of the royal meal vouchers to give the restaurant their continued patronage.

Nymphadora, on the other hand, had not been eating. She simply had not been hungry. That had been worrying by itself, and her anxiety had been compounded by the fact that every few days she was regurgitating a pink slime that her new body seemed to have created on its own. She could not understand how she could continue to produce mass when she had consumed nothing. Despite her fasting, she had more vigor than she had ever had as a human, and, despite the rigors of her curriculum, she had never felt better in her life.

Despite the hiccoughs along the way, living with ponies had proven to be more enjoyable than anything she had experienced before. Nymphadora would not trade that for anything.

Sitting alone in his office, Dumbledore contemplated his plans for the future over of gallon jug of raw firewhisky. He had been right predicting that change would be coming swiftly and unapologetically. The pureblood infrastructure had been decimated. Like a doomed building, it had imploded as its supports were quickly and systematically removed. The first Wizengamot meeting with Minister Lovegood presiding had lasted five consecutive days and had taken a wrecking ball to tradition.

The trials alone would leave a mark for years to come. Fudge had been stripped of all of his holdings and sent to Azkaban for life. The man had been responsible for the deaths of so many citizens that he was lucky to have avoided the veil. The witches and wizards who had attacked the home of a seated Wizengamot member hadn’t been so fortunate. Now, the remaining pureblood faction was mainly populated by the heirs of those convicted. There was almost no political experience remaining on that front.

What remained could not stop the complete uprooting of all laws pertaining to pureblood privilege. The mere distinction was now proscribed in all future laws. Purebloods were just normal wizards as far as the law was concerned. Surprisingly, there had not been an uproar over the cultural upheaval. The average wizard seemed to embrace the change, even as the prominent purebloods raged. What was once a powerful, well-funded, and vocal minority had been effectively neutered.

The bloodbath in the Wizengamot was quickly followed by a housecleaning in the Ministry. Those whose only qualification was heritage were summarily dismissed as meritocracy was asserted. Similarly, those who refused to take the vows to follow the new code of ethics were left to find employment elsewhere.

His school had proven far from immune to the upheaval. No one would have faulted Dumbledore for anticipating irregularities fomented from the seven apprentices that Severus had acquired. Surprisingly, aside from some spectacular incidents in the first-year potions class, they had integrated seamlessly into life at Hogwarts. The young women had quickly learned to have one of their number assigned to each of the two most maladroit students. Each designated tutor would walk her charge through each step whenever a potion was to be brewed. Nopony wanted to spend another day stuck at four inches tall and fleeing from Mouse.

What was unexpected was the sudden and complete exodus from the Muggle Studies classes. The subject, which was already bereft of members from the Slytherin house, lost all participants from the other houses. In one voice, the students had proclaimed that the professor had no idea what he was talking about. When it was brought to light that the Ministry-approved curriculum was being followed, the students applied the same observation to the Ministry.

For a full month, the Muggle Studies classroom remained empty. It had taken two weeks for the professors to discover the source of the student body's expertise. The answer was intertwined with the cause of the disappearance of late homework from three of the four houses. The Gryffindor’s had a working telly in their common room! The prefect, Dunbar, had been holding that contamination hostage in exchange for completing assignments. Only the Slytherin house had been immune to the temptation, though admittedly only through the application of ignorance. Some of their members had since started to join in, unable to resist the opportunity to pet ponies as they watched how muggles actually lived.

The unprecedented house unity had prevented the headmaster from removing the unwelcome influence. Worse, the professors were so attached to the increased proficiency their students were displaying due to the motivation that they leveraged the cursed box's influence. The faculty had suffered through weeks of painstaking research after the students' curfew, with untold amounts of butterbeer, firewhisky, and salty snacks to bolster their spirits. The end result had been a complete overhaul of the Muggle Studies program. The weapons policy was also modified to include confiscation of any and all lightsabers, fusion cutters, flamethrowers, disruptors, blasters, or phasers. The merfolk were still upset over the entire incident of attempting to fish dwarven style, despite the students making sure the squid was on the other side of the lake at the time. Sometimes, the Weasley twins were just too clever for their own good. Which reminded him, dwarven fishing rods needed to go on the list of banned items.

What survived from Dumbledore's prior plans could fit on the head of a pin with room to spare. He was now forced to rethink every angle as each of his carefully executed projects had been swept away by a tsunami of change. It would do no good to lament the loss. It would do no good to lament his inability to stem the tide. Now was the time to adapt to the new rules and prepare himself to lead the next generation into the future.

Still, it almost seemed as though the spirit of chaos itself had descended upon the wizarding world.

Amelia sat at her desk attacking her most despised enemy, paperwork. The drudgery had been her life for the past month, along with unsettling nausea that seemed to crop up at inopportune times. Even more than politics, pushing paper was the bane of her existence. Worse, it was all that her subordinates would allow her to do right now. Every time she attempted to pull rank, they would just smile, nod, then stun her if she attempted to go out on a call.

“Hey boss, I’ve got that report you were asking for,” Shacklebolt said, entering her office.

“Thank you, Kingsley.” Amelia said, tapping the last empty spot on her desk, indicating where she wished him to place the new offending paperwork.

Shacklebolt put down the report then hesitated a second before asking, “How are you feeling today?”

Fighting back a growl, Amelia sighed instead and said, “I am not a porcelain doll, Kingsley.”

“No, of course not,” Shacklebolt relented before quickly exiting the office.

Amelia sighed again and thought back to the day the annoying behavior started. It had been a long time since she had last remembered being sick; she simply hadn’t had the luxury of having the time for being ill. Having been forced to rush from that early meeting had left her officers uneasy. She had barely regained her seat to continue where they had left off, when Scrimgeour had waved his wand at her to perform a diagnostic.

“There’s no need for that,” she had complained. “It’s just a stomach bug.”

Scrimgeour had studied his wand before replying. “I think it might be more serious than that.”

“Oh?” Amelia had asked, dreading the prospect of having to spend some time at St. Mungo's.

Placing his wand back in its holster, Scrimgeour fixed her with a wry grin. “So, who’s the lucky father?”

The suburban home had been recently remodeled to better suit the owners' new lifestyle. The fireplace was new, the old one hadn’t been big enough. Now, there was a tasteful brick addition dominating one wall of the family room. In place of a grate, runes had been etched to prevent accidental fire damage, a prudent precaution when your new fireplace was large enough to walk into. There had been some unexpected side effects, though.

The surge that had come when the new addition had been commissioned had destroyed every bit of electronics in the house from the brand new personal computer down to the digital wristwatch. Ordinarily, magic was not compatible with electronics, but having a friend in Twilight and Lyra led to the quick integration of the opposing technologies into a harmonious whole. The giant crystal that doubled as a decoration in the chandelier in the center of the house allowed the two to coexist.

The house was now a showcase of the latest in both wizarding and muggle technology. The altar to morning had been upgraded with wizarding appliances, while the underground recreation room now sported a projection television with 3D stereo. The children would be receiving flip phones as presents this year, phones fitted with small crystals that would allow them to operate anywhere the children might go.

“We have our own floo?!” Hermione exclaimed, admiring the newest feature of the family room. “That’s wonderful! I thought we couldn’t get one.”

“The owner of the house is required to be magical,” Dan said, brushing ash off a pant leg. “It wasn’t that difficult to acquire one after that hurdle was passed.”

Hermione gasped. “You can use magic?”

In response Dan took his wand out of its holster and waggled his eyebrows. “Your mother is much more adapt than I am, but I know a trick or two.”

“This way, you can keep in contact with your friends over breaks and during the summer.” Emma beamed at her daughter. “Ron and Ginny are at ‘the Burrow’. Luna is at ‘the Rookery’. Parvati can be reached at ‘Blessed Garden'. Neville is at ‘the Longhouse’. Which reminds me, I need to talk to you about him.”

“Neville?” Hermione questioned.

“Yes.” Emma’s voice dropped in pitch as sorrow filled her being. “His parents were hurt very badly by members of the Lestrange family. I don’t think he’ll take it out on you, but I’m sure the news won’t be welcome.”

“Lestrange?” Hermione bit her lower lip. “Like our ancestor?”

“Yes,” Emma said. “Neville’s granmum was livid when she found out we were related. I’m positive her first inclination was to cut off all contact with us.”

“His granmum is scary,” Dan added.

“Yes, she is,” Emma agreed. “It took some fast talking to calm her down, which is a good thing. She ended up being the one who informed us that we could expel members from the family if certain crimes were committed. I swear, she was giddy when Dan did just that.”

“Daddy did?” Hermione scrunched her nose in worry. “I thought we were related through you. He’s descended from the same house?”

“No,” Emma shook her head with a laugh. “He’s the regent of the House Lestrange. The family rules are a little sexist. . . Okay, the rules are a lot sexist, but there are ways around them. Regardless, we now have more than enough money to significantly expand the practice. In fact, next week, we are going down to sort through the family vault and see what’s what, not to mention we have a family manor that hasn’t been touched in a decade. Our break is going to be spent exploring.”

“You should have seen the look on Mr. Moody’s face when we asked him if he’d like to take a contract to sort through the Lestrange vault and manor. The man reacted as if Christmas came early this year. On top of that, both Lyra and Twilight were tickled pink at our invite to join us.” Dan chuckled

“We would have already been done with the preliminary inspection if not for the paperwork granting us amnesty for whatever we might find being held up,” Emma said. “The Lestranges are known as a dark family.”

“I do hope we don’t find anything too terrible.” Hermione said.

"Speaking of terrible." Dan said. "Care to explain why we received an owl informing us that you are strictly forbidden from explaining any concepts originating from the sci-fi channel to the Weasley twins?"

"Um." Hermione winced. "Professor McGonagall overheard me explaining what an orbital lance is and the twins were tinkering with the idea of using phoenix power to launch a prototype."

Croaker relaxed on the couch with a woman snuggling against him on either side while a third massaged his neck and shoulders. No longer was he married to his work; he had a life outside the office. Even with the increased workload, the time he spent at home and truly away from work increased drastically. If it weren’t for the creation of the Department of Interdimensional Affairs, headed by Arthur Weasley, he might not have had the option. Fortunately, that department had taken over the integration and education of the immigrants, leaving his own department the opportunity to pore over the influx of literature the Equestrian government had helpfully provided. Croaker had been forced to limit the number of hours his employees were allowed to access the material. After the fourth spouse came complaining about not seeing their wife or husband for a week, it seemed prudent to remind everyone they were working to live, not living to work.

Magical knowledge had been effectively doubled with the arrival of the tomes from Equestria. The ponies were filling in blanks for the wizards just as assuredly as they were having blanks filled in for themselves. What would be taught to the next generation of children would be much more complete and much more correct than the current curriculum.

There had been some bumps, of course. The discovery that his magic considered him married to his three companions had been a not-unwelcomed surprise. A cursory visit to the records department showed he was legally bound, as were the other men who had physical relationships with a herd. It was evident that human and pony unions were for life. If his wives' possessiveness were any measure, anyone foolish enough to attempt a casual relationship would be in a world of pain.

All in all, life was good. Worries were melting away, and there was only one prophecy remaining intact in the entire collection. That one essentially said that prophecies were worthless.

The future looked bright.

Sirius Black still had a difficult time believing his luck. Every morning he awoke expecting to see the familiar grey walls of his cell. Seeing the red and gold walls instead always brought a deluge of euphoria, a feeling he had long thought to be gone forever. After all those long and hellish years, he was free. That alone would have made him happy, but that was only the first of many boons he had received in the last several months. It was almost overwhelming that it was only the start.

Being united with Remus could only have been made better if James were there as well. Having the ex-werewolf at his side brought a comfort that defied explanation. Friendship had a warmth that his dementor-besieged mind had forgotten but never stopped longing for.

The only fly in the ointment was his loss of custody of Harry. Alice had, during her time as head of house, signed away his dominant rights over Harry’s welfare. Now, two women would have to meet their ends before he could claim the responsibility. After meeting the woman who claimed to be Harry’s mother, he had no wish for that to come to pass. The green-haired woman did Lily’s memory proud. He did not begrudge Alice her decision; the woman had no idea if Sirius were susceptible to Dumbledore’s manipulations and had moved to secure Harry’s best interests. Sirius was disappointed but not angry over the outcome.

Then there was his current ladyfriend. He hadn’t been out for a month before she had made it clear that she was interested. Truthfully, being the pursued instead of the pursuer had terrified him at first, but once the initial chase was over, they had found a liking for each other’s company. The match should have come as no surprise since his best friend was such a scholarly type. That he was attracted to a woman with similar attributes was not a stretch. Feeling the soft caress of gentle lips against his own was a sensation he hadn’t thought he would ever experience again.

She was fairly odd though. Her animagus form, was of all things, human. Her true form was that of a unicorn, a purple unicorn. Twilight had been disappointed that, as an animagus himself, Sirius could not take the form of a stallion, but that did nothing to hinder their relationship. Their differences only accented their similarities. In fact, the cultural shock was in of itself amusing. Twilight wanted to introduce him to her friends Pinkie and Rainbow Dash, a custom that Sirius could only guess was a prelude for her introducing him to her parents.

With a goofy grin on his face, Sirius lazily lay in his bed, content with his lot in life.

Without warning, a voice echoed throughout stately Black Manor. “Sirius Orion Black! You get your mangy mutt arse in here right this moment! You hear me?! Right this moment!”

Groaning, Sirius rolled out of bed to see what Narcissa wanted. He hadn’t left any pranks lying in wait, had he? If so, it must have been a doozey; she sounded upset.

Several minutes later, he found his cousin and her son in the tapestry room, staring intently at the Black's family tree.

“What’s up, Nissy?” Sirius asked as he swaggered into the room.

“Don’t you dare ‘what’s up’ me,” Narcissa shot back. “What is the meaning of this?”

Shrugging, Sirius turned to study the self-updating piece of family magic. There, connected by a line to the spot where his birth had triggered the inclusion of his portrait on the cloth was a new picture. Sirius gasped as he witnessed the pair of pictures alternate between depictions. When he was shown in human form, he was paired with the most perfect woman in the world. Aloud, he read the name embroidered underneath, " Twilight Sparkle Black."

Narcissa gave a feral growl, and her son laughed when the pictures changed. Now, a large black dog was linked with a purple unicorn. Underneath the dog's portrait was the name Sirius Orion Black Sparkle.

The dreary, dark dome that had first been used to trap her in the cavern had been replaced with a depiction of the skies, tracking the changes from day to night and back. What had been a barren cell had been transformed into a semblance of a room in a modest bed and breakfast. However, a gilded cage was still very much a cage. The prisoner lay on a large four poster bed, reading a book from the new world where her ersatz daughter was going to school. The prisoner didn't even bother looking up as a section of wall melted away, announcing the arrival of her captor, who had thoughtfully provided everything.

“You don’t have to keep me in here,” she stated. “It’s not like I want to interfere with you or your hive.”

A chuckle was her answer. “We’ve had this conversation many times already. You know I can’t risk that.”

The prisoner sighed. “You're making it hard for me to hate you.”

“I can feel that.”

“You do know it’s not fair to Shiny.” The prisoner huffed.

“He’ll get over it.”

“We don’t have to be enemies,” the prisoner repeated for the umpteenth time.

“I agree.”

“You’re impossible,” the prisoner snapped.

“And you’re cute when you’re mad.”

Silence prevailed for several seconds. “Please tell me you brought some apples this time.”

“From the Apple family's farm, no less.”

“First chance I get, I’m going to buck you to the moon.”

“If that means my hive survives, it will be worth it.”

“. . . pass the butter.”

An old man sat in the most comfortable chair in his study, a quilted blanket shielding him from the cold as the dying fire glowed in the fireplace. Though he had sent the maid away for the evening, he felt no desire to seek his bed. So lost in thought was he, that he almost missed the sound of one of the room's windows opening.

“Who’s there?” he demanded, turning toward the disturbance, finding a strange woman climbing in the unorthodox entrance. “A burglar, then?”

“I am not here to rob you,” the woman said, turning to close the window behind her.

“An assassin then?” the old man demanded without fear.

“I mean you no harm.”

“Then why are you here?” he demanded.

“I felt death approaching.”

He chuckled without humor. “I thought you meant me no harm.”

“Your death shall not be of my making.”

Another chuckle. “That still doesn’t explain why you are here.”

The woman knelt before him, placing her hand on his blanket covered knee. “No one should be forced to face their end alone. Where is your family?”

This time the chuckle was dry. “They decided they wanted to spend the holidays in the Americas. I didn’t feel up to accompanying them.”

“They should be here.”

“They have their own lives to live. I’ve outlived my wife and my children. What’s left are people who see me as naught but a bothersome old man with a loose claim of familiarity.” Bitterness soaked the words.

“I am sure they love you,” the woman insisted.

“Be that as it may,” the man started, but didn’t finish the sentence.

The strange woman patiently waited for him to continue.

“This is the end then?” he asked after a while.

“I’m afraid so,” the woman said sadly.

“Good. I look forward to seeing my wife once more,” the old man stated. “Do not cry for me.”

The woman smiled up at him. “Tell me of those you have cared for most in life,” she prodded.

So, he began talking, sharing his memories for hours on end. The fire long past flaming, with even the embers faded to ash. When he felt he could barely talk anymore, he said his final words. “Thank you for coming. Thank you for staying and listening to the foolishness old man.”

“I heard no foolishness.”

“Thank you.” He sighed, closing his eyes never to reopen them.

The woman stood, dusting off her dress. She leaned forward and placed a single kiss on his forehead. “Thank you for the love. It is well aged.”

In the north the, landscape was hardly more than a solid sheet of ice. Its perfection was suddenly marred by the appearance of a small crack.


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