A Marmalade Man (PG; Horace, Marjorie, Ripper; 1650 words): Thinking with his stomach, Horace takes advantage of a lonely Muggle.
Horace kicked the tyre of his rented auto and swore. I never should have tried to travel as a Muggle!
And he wouldn't have done, either, except for his policy of avoiding Apparation when terrified; one didn't wish to become Splinched, did one? That, and he wasn't bound for a Floo-connected location; it was too dangerous at the moment.
Well, what am I to do, now? he wondered, as he peered into the gloom and saw no lights while his stomach growled.
The memory of the splendid marmalade on toast he'd taken with his fry up seemed like a distant dream.
"Nothing for it, then," Horace murmured, opening the boot and shrinking his trunk. "I'll just have to walk."
By the time his breathlessness was beginning to truly concern him, he spied a light in the gloom.
"Thank Merlin!" he exclaimed, bending over to clutch his knees.
"Who's Merlin?" a voice asked, then.
Startled, Horace fell over—only to be set upon by a dog.
"Ripper! Stop that!" the woman who'd questioned him exclaimed, shining a torch into Horace's face. "Come to Mummy. Come here!"
Obediently, the dog left off molesting Horace and went to sit at his mistress' feet. "You don't look like a 'Merlin'. Is he a friend of yours?"
Thinking quickly, Horace replied, "A friend of mine, yes, and not a good one! The auto he loaned me stopped running before I reached my destination, and I'm absolutely famished, dear lady."
"You poor man! Did you leave your wife behind to wait for you?"
Horace pulled himself up and brushed himself off. "Oh, goodness no. I haven't got a wife. Never did meet the right lady, you know." Holding out his hand, he introduced himself. "Horace Slughorn, at your service. And you are, madam?"
"Marjorie Dursley, and this is my sweet Ripper."
"Ah," Horace said. "Hello old chap."
Ripper growled at him.
"Now, now, don't be like that. You'll have to excuse him, Mr Slughorn. He's a bit protective of his mummy."
"And why shouldn't he be?" Horace asked, eyeing the woman appreciatively. She's got a cook's build, he thought, as his stomach growled again.
"Goodness, you must be hungry!" she exclaimed. "A strapping figure of a man like yourself needs regular feeding, and that's a fact."
"Mrs Dursley, if you would—"
"Miss," she interrupted.
"How delightful to make your acquaintance, Miss Dursley," Horace replied roguishly. "If you would be so kind as to allow me to use your fellyphone, I would—"
"Oh, how funny you are!"
Horace didn't understand the joke, but anything that pleased Miss Dursley was good; it meant that she might find him charming enough to feed. "I try," he said, "and I do feel most beastly for having surprised you as I did."
"Well, never you mind about that, Mr Slughorn."
"Please, call me Horace."
"Horace, then. And you'll call me Marjorie and accompany me back to my country home—where I'll see about feeding you properly."
"Oh, thank you very much, indeed!" Horace replied, hoping very much that it wouldn't be a long walk.
"What do you do, Horace?" Marjorie asked, as she led him down the road with Ripper nipping at his heels.
"I'm a brewer for an Australian beer company," he replied easily. It was a lie upon which he'd relied before. "I'm here to, er, put a friend's final affairs in order."
"Oh, how terribly sad," Marjorie replied, sliding her arm in his.
Oh, dear. I do hope she's not the lonely sort, Horace thought.
His interest in women had never extended much beyond their culinary abilities; in truth, he was more a marmalade man than a ladies man, and he'd always found that the more satisfying option.
"Are you all right, Horace?"
"Oh, yes. Yes, of course. In any case, Edgar was a fine man and his poor wife's utterly overwhelmed at having to deal with all his property. I was just on my way to one of them when the car died. Merlin should have taken care of the house and its effects, but he could only be bothered, it seems, to saddle me with a broken down auto and return to his drinking."
"So unmanly!" Marjorie asserted, puffing along.
Ripper growled, and Horace, growing tired of being nipped at, tried to kick him. Mercifully, Marjorie didn't appear to notice.
"Thank goodness that your friend's wife has a man upon whom to rely." Marjorie gripped Horace's arm more tightly. "How did Edgar die, if you don't mind my asking?"
By now, Horace was beginning to feel faint from hunger, and it was difficult to formulate an appropriate lie. Casting about for something plausible and finding nothing, he replied, "It was a drop bear attack, I'm afraid. Terrible plague to the Australians, drop bears."
Marjorie stopped walking and turned, shining the light into Horace's face. "I thought drop bears were a myth, something those nasty Aussies lie about to tourists so that they can get up to all sorts of mischief with them."
Horace clutched his heart and looked away as if collecting himself. With a sniff, he said, "Oh, would that were true, my dear, but the sad, tragic fact of it is that drop bears are a menace in the outback."
"What do they drop from?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Drop bears are so named, I presume, because they drop, so from what do they drop in the outback, Horace?"
Horace broke out into a sweat. "Forgive me," he said, "I'm so terribly hungry and tired that—ow!"
"Easy there, Ripper. Mummy's fine. From what do they drop, Horace?"
"N—nothing, dear lady. They're dreadfully misnamed. They don't drop. In point of fact, they leap upon their prey from burrows, a fact which Edgar well knew, and yet, selfishly, he went hiking alone and ran afoul of five of the vicious beasts. Having failed to take the precaution of carrying Vegemite with him, he had nothing to distract their attention, and they ripped him to b—bits!" Horace sank to the ground, weeping in earnest. I'm so very hungry!
"What a beast I am," said Marjorie, dropping down to embrace him. "I'm so sorry to be suspicious, Horace, but a single lady can never be too careful."
His shoulders shaking, Horace replied, "No, of course not. Do forgive me. I'm afraid the, er, stress has finally proved too much for me. You must think me a poor sort of man, indeed."
"No, I do not. Now leave off crying and get up. I'm afraid we'll have to double back—"
Horace groaned inwardly.
"—because I didn't want to show you my home until I was sure of you, but it's not that far, and I was just about to have myself a proper fry up when Ripper alerted me to your presence."
Wiping his eyes, Horace allowed Marjorie to help him to his feet, wondering what on earth had possessed him to visit the wilds of England instead of finding a hiding place in a civilised, suburban area. Didn't Frank write recently that he was bound for the Canary Islands? Perhaps I might stay at his place. There'd be no need to troop about the wilderness at night, there. He and Janice receive deliveries!
"—and it's lonely, I'm afraid," Horace realised that Marjorie was saying, "being a girl on her own."
Oh, dear, thought Horace. She is a lonely sort. Perhaps I should abandon the idea of dinner and Disapparate now.
"But it has its compensations, of course. My time is my own, and I've become quite the cook. Why, I reckon that my marmalade is better than any woman's in the county!"
"Did you say marmalade, Marjorie?"
"I did, and what's more, I'm an excellent baker."
I can string the old girl along long enough to eat, Horace thought, praising Merlin as he wheezed down the road with Marjorie. After all, any woman with a figure like hers has got to be good at cookery. "Well, my dear, then I cannot wait to sample the excellence of your," Horace paused to wink at her, "cooking."
"Oh, you!" Marjorie exclaimed, playfully bashing him with her torch as Ripper sank his teeth into his heel.
Chuckling, Horace began moving them along more quickly back in the direction they'd come, thinking fervently, No more Muggle travel!
But later, and a lot later than he would have wished, as Horace sat down with the simpering Marjorie to a sumptuous if simple meal of sausage, bacon, grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, eggs, baked beans, hash browns, buttered toast, and, of course, marmalade, he had to admit it: the meal had been worth the journey.
Now, what to do about you? he wondered, noticing that with each serving Marjorie had placed on his plate, another one of her blouse buttons had come undone. "My dear, would you, perhaps, have any orange juice, or perhaps, prune juice?"
"Why, I do!" she told him, rising at once to get it.
Pulling a phial from his coat pocket, Horace added three drops to Marjorie's tea.
"Here you are."
"Let's toast to new friendships, shall we?"
"How smooth you are," Marjorie replied, tapping her cup to his glass before knocking back the tea in one gulp.
At once, she slumped forward, smashing her cup down upon the table as she did so.
Horace repaired it as Ripper began to bark, baring his teeth, but now that his mistress was asleep, Horace was free to Stun the beast. He checked Marjorie's pulse and breathing, and then, satisfied that she'd be fine, he swished his wand over the dishes and sent them to the sink to clean themselves.
"Now then," he said, well satisfied and in no way alarmed, "I'll just find a jar or two of that magnificent marmalade to take with me, and then I'll be off to Budleigh Babberton!"
Nothing exciting could possibly happen to him there, of that, he was certain.