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House of Ghosts by FGiglia
Chapter 1 : Back To School
 
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    Adam Cynon awoke in total darkness again.  How long had it been now?  One day? Two?  More?  Was anyone even bothering to look for him?


    For what must have been the hundredth time, he tried budging the piece of the castle that had fallen on his arm.  It was a no-go like all the attempts before, almost like the enchanted stone didn’t want him to get it off.  What was it?  A piece of Gryffindor Tower?  That would make the most sense.


    But no, if it had fallen that far he wouldn’t have survived the impact, nor would he have survived the several smaller impacts that had entrapped him under a veritable quarry’s worth of stone.


    Being a sixth year, he knew more than a few spells that could free him, if only he could get to his wand, but that was pinned in the pocket within his robes, pressing into his flesh, leaving a mark he was sure could never be removed, even if he were sent immediately to St. Mungo’s.


    And that wasn’t happening any time soon.  If he remained there for much longer...


    He shifted his concentration to something else, needing to keep his mind occupied.  He couldn’t hear the battle anymore, and he figured it had to have been over for a least a day.  He wondered which side won, and which side’s victory would be better for him in his current state.


    And then suddenly, voices.  Heavy footsteps and the sound of a dog’s breathing.  Adam tried to call out, his voice was hoarse after days of non-use and inhaling dust, but he managed enough to focus his would-be rescuers attention.


    Then he grew fearful.  What if that was the wrong side out there?


    The rubble moved, slowly.  Someone was being very careful.  Soon there was a sliver of light, an animal digging and suddenly his face was being licked by a huge black dog.  He knew the animal, it was the gamekeeper’s pet.


    “Get back Fang, you dumb beast, ‘ya.”


    The dog obeyed, and a pair of large hands in dragonskin gloves reached in and easily lifted the rock from Adam’s arm.


    He next found himself being slowly removed from his stony grave, which collapsed as soon as he was clear, having been held up by a spell while they got him out.


    “’Ya alright now, its all over.”


    The sun blinded Adam as he tried looking into the furry face of the gameskeeper, trying to remember his name, Hagar, Hagra, something like that.


    His savior was bruised, tired, but otherwise none the worse for wear, and Adam guessed the Dark Lord had been defeated...again, otherwise the half-giant would have been dead, or worse.


    But Adam shook his head, it wasn’t over, not for him.


  Thirteen Years Later

    The Hogwarts Express had arrived into Hogsmeade twenty minutes ahead of schedule, which was good, because Adam had a lot to prepare for before tomorrow’s lessons, and with tonight’s feast and sorting, time was short.


    He looked at the crowd of students gathered around the gleaming red train and remembered the times it had taken him on the trip from London.  Most of those times had been good, some less so, but it filled his heart with joy to see it, and the students, looking so well considering the last time he had seen this sight.  He had regretted not returning the next fall for his seventh year, perhaps then his last vision of the school would not have been it in ruins, but the choice had not been his.  His parents had elected he would finish his schooling elsewhere.


    But it wasn’t time to think about the past, just the present.  He had tried to interact as little as possible with the students on the way up, not wanting to build the personal friendships he had seen so many professors fall prey to while he had been a student there.  He had to be stern, had to be tough, he was a Hogwarts professor now.


    Headmistress McGonagall had come in person to ask him to teach the subject she had taught him, Transfiguration.  She had finally decided to give up pulling the double weight of teaching while running the place.  As she had told him in her mild Scottish accent, “My age has finally surpassed my abilities.”


    True, it had always been his best subject, he had even gotten an Outstanding on his O.W.L., but this was the subject not only once taught by the current Headmistress, but other great wizards like Professor Dumbledore.  He was to follow in the footsteps of not one but two of the greatest teachers the wizarding school had ever seen in its thousand-plus years.  The last decade, in which he had worked a boring but fulfilling job writing for Transfiguration Today, had not prepared him to fill such shoes.


    He had contemplated that thought many times, and it always made him nervous.  It was a tremendous legacy to carry, but he just knew he had to come back to this place.


    The professor’s carriage traveled much faster than the students’ thestral-pulled ones ever did, and it was almost no time before he was viewing the castle again.


    It was remarkable.  It looked almost exactly as it had before that night.  When Hagrid pulled him from the rubble, he was certain the Battle of Hogwarts had done irreparable harm to the millennium-old castle, but the fantastic, and dangerous, thing about magic is that it could fix just about anything.


    He held that spot by his ribs, the spot where his wand had pressed against his bones, they had managed to repair his crushed arm, but his wand had bruised his ribs even beyond magical intervention.  They told him it was because of the ancient, unknown enchantments placed on the stone he was buried under, but he could never be sure.  The pain was now his constant companion and reminder.


    He found his way to the teacher’s lounge easy enough, despite having never been there and, finding his mouth suddenly dry, made right for the refreshment table.  There was the usual fare the students would enjoy for the feast, joined by several of the alcoholic variety.  He decided on his favorite, a frozen butterbeer, before finally taking the time to look over this room that had always been off limits to him.


    It was decorated in the classic style he had come to love the very first day he set foot in the place, with inviting plush couches on one side and large, uncomfortable-looking wooden chairs on the other side of a stone fireplace.  All four house banners hung from the ceiling.  There were also a few desks with ink quills and blank parchment for the work-minded.


      There was a fire roaring, despite the fact that there were only two others in the room besides himself.  An older female professor he didn’t recognize sat at one of the desks, though it looked like she was asleep, rather than working.  The other was sitting in one of those antique wooden chairs, facing the fire, and Adam debated whether he should go over and introduce himself.


    He took a long sip of his butterbeer and decided against it.  He had just turned to leave when he heard his name.


    “Adam?”


    He turned back to see that the professor by the fire was the speaker, but the fire behind him (as he was sure now that it was male) shadowed his features.  Relieved that the ice had been broken, Adam went to take the seat next to whoever it was.


    When he got close enough to finally see the speaker, he pulled up short.


    “Professor Longbottom?”


    His eager face and brown robes were perpetually smudged with dirt, and as he extended a hand to Adam he could see how blistered the Herbology Professor’s fingers had gotten from years of working with his hands.


    They shook, “Please, call me Neville.”


    Adam nodded, pleased.  He had never spoken to Neville while they were at school, not even to make fun of him like the rest of his housemates did, but the third year professor was from the class only one year older than his, if not his house, and would make Adam’s own entry into this world that much easier.  He had hoped to speak to him during the feast, but this served much better.


    “Neville then, good to see you.”


    He sat down in one of those large wooden chairs, confirming his suspicions about their lack of comfort, he had to twist his body a little to avoid putting pressure on his injury.


    “Minerva owled me this summer to make sure I was okay with her hiring you.”


    “Did she really?”


    “I guess she figured, given everything that happened while we were at school here...”


    Adam waved him off, “say no more Prof...Neville, it was a long time ago.”


    “That’s what I told her, if we’re going to put it behind us, we have to stay united.”


    Adam nodded, Neville had come a long way since their school days, “but what are you doing here?  Aren’t most professors in their offices or already at the feast?”


    “Got the whole year to spend in my office, don’t I?  No, the night of the feast I come here instead and just sit in front of the fire, thinking about all the great wizards that have passed through this place, that taught here.  Maybe they sat right in this chair, you know?  Then I think about how lucky we are that its still here, that we have a chance to do what they did, to exist in the same space they did.”


    Yes, he had changed a lot.  “I’ve never thought about it that way,” Adam said, watching the fire dance.  All those great wizards.


    Both great and horrible.


    “Speaking of great wizards, I was hoping to speak to Professor Slughorn before we headed to the Great Hall.”


    Neville shook his head, “Haven’t seen him tonight.  To tell you the truth, Horace didn’t seem himself the last few weeks of term last year.  Its funny, after the Battle he was the only one who seemed to get younger for a while there.”


    Adam looked away, he wasn’t ready to talk about that night with Neville.  The Gryffindor was a legend for being one of the heroes of the second Wizarding War, and Adam was too embarrassed to compare notes when their experiences had been so different.


    Neville seemed to take the hint, “I think its time to head out.”  He stood and Adam followed, with a little tweak of pain from his ribs.  “I’m sure you’ll have time to talk to him in the Great Hall.”


    They started out when Adam remembered the dozing witch at the desk, “What about her?”


    “Oh, no she’s fine there.”


    Adam gave the witch a last look, but figured Neville knew better than he did.


    They left the teacher’s lounge and the Herbology professor led the way with the assurance of one who had walked the passages many times.


    Now that he was in the castle proper, Adam saw that Hogwarts had lost none of its grandeur, none of its enchantment, figuratively speaking at any rate.  He couldn’t help but think of his last night there.


    He had read all the books and Daily Prophet articles that had come out over the years, devouring as much information on that night as possible, and he had learned that some of the ancient spells that had been placed on the castle by the greatest witches and wizards of their day had been broken over the course of the battle by one side or another.  Most had been recast, probably as a poor imitation of the original, but the full list of broken enchantments was impossible to know, as no one living was aware of even half of the spells the four founders had placed on the grounds, and those not living were reluctant to pass on what they knew.


    He had not spoken to the school ghosts much in his time as a student.  After all, his house ghost was not one for conversation and the others were largely uncaring about day-to-day affairs, trying their hardest to avoid the living, but he hoped now that he was a teacher he would have time to get acquainted with some of the older spirits, and possibly get some bits of little-known Hogwarts history out of them.  Maybe they even knew what spells were placed on the stones that crushed his ribs.


    Who knows, maybe he’d write his own book.


    They came up to the door to the Great Hall, that back door that only teachers may use, and Neville stepped aside to let him go through first.  Adam took the invitation without comment and stepped through into Hogwarts’ grandest space.


    He stopped in awe.  It was exactly as he had remembered it on his first night, with the high ceiling looking as if it were open to the clear night sky and hundreds of candles floating in midair.  The older students were already packing the house tables, brimming with excitement.  There was no food yet to complete the picture, but he had to take a moment before moving on, realizing that Neville had stepped aside knowing the effect would be grander if Adam went in ahead of him.


    “Its never looked better, in my opinion,” Neville snapped him out of it and Adam couldn’t help but nod in agreement.


    There were already a few teachers sitting behind the long table at the front, and the buzz was quickly building as they looked forward to the first-years entering.


    He spotted Hagrid standing, actually more like towering, over Professor Flitwick and went straight for him.  They had kept in touch over the years, or at least as much as the Care of Magical Creatures professor’s lack of letter-writing skills allowed.


    “Hagrid!”


    “Adam!  Good to see ya!”  Both of Adam’s hands disappeared into the half-giant’s meaty paw as they shook.  He kind of wanted to hug his savior, but figured better to remain professional in the presence of the rest of the teachers.


    But, to his mild surprise, Hagrid drew him in and initialized the hug for him.  It wasn’t nearly as awkward as he had feared, aside form the fact that Hagrid was so much taller than him that he only came up to his stomach.


    “Its good to see you too,” he said after they broke up.  “And Professor Flitwick,” Adam was sure not to ignore the head of Ravenclaw house and shook hands with him.  Going from the large Hagrid to the diminutive Flitwick almost made him laugh, but he held it in.


    “I was so ‘appy when Minerva told me ya were going to teach,” Hagrid told him as Neville came over and also greeted the two older men.  “Being a Hogwarts professor is my favorite thing in the world.”


    “I’m sure I’m going to love it too.”


    The half-giant took him on the side and bent to whisper in his ear.  “’Ave you spoken to your brother at all?”


    Adam looked around to make sure no one was listening, but Hagrid didn’t exactly whisper quietly.  “He’s...well, better,” he lied.  In fact, he hadn’t spoken to his brother in years, and Hagrid was the only other person here who knew that, but the professor/groundskeeper nodded his wooly head.


    “Good, that’s good to ‘ear.”


    Adam nodded, acknowledging his appreciation of Hagrid for letting him skirt the issue.


    “Anyway, we better sit down, the new students’ll be enterin’ soon.”


    Adam took a seat between Hagrid and Neville.  He had never seen the Great Hall from this vantage and took a deep breath to find his nerves calming.  He was already starting to like his new position.


    He looked up and down the teacher’s table.  There were a lot of faces he didn’t recognize, there had been a lot of turnover in thirteen years.  He saw Professor Trelawny, looking just as lost as ever, and that was about it besides those he had already greeted.


    Neville noticed his confusion and ran through a quick list of each professor’s name, subject and house, but Adam didn’t catch much of it as the one he was really looking for, Professor Slughorn, was nowhere to be seen.


    Someone else was also conspicuously absent.  “Where’s Professor McGonagall?” he asked Neville.


    Neville looked at the empty headmaster’s seat, the one Dumbledore used to occupy, as if he didn’t even realize it was vacant.  “Oh, yeah.  She likes greeting the first-years so much that she still does it.”  Adam guessed her abilities were still quite expansive, despite what she had said about her age.  Neville lowered his voice, like he was revealing a secret, “She won’t let anyone else touch the Sorting Hat.”


    The Sorting Hat.  He looked to where it was perched on top of the stool in front of the podium.  It had whispered promises of greatness to him, of power and influence.  It took the Hat some time to finish, and he wasn’t happy with its ultimate decision, but he never questioned it.


    He had missed out on being part of the most famous Hogwarts sorting of the last millennia by being born one month too late.  If he had been born in July rather than August, he would have been sorted alongside a certain lightning-bolt scarred wizard, but instead he entered the school a year later.


    The doors on the other side swung open, and Adam instinctively sat up straighter, wanting to make a good first impression.


    And there was Professor McGonagall, or was he to call her Headmistress now, he didn’t really know, leading the procession of eleven-year olds just as she had all those years ago.  The soon-to-be first years’ heads spun in all directions, trying desperately to take in this place of awe, which he knew first-hand was impossible.


    Adam spared a glance at Neville, and they shared a laugh, had they really been that small and naive?


    A little girl caught his attention, her unnaturally dark hair and pointed nose weren’t the reason, but rather because she was one of only a few not looking in all directions.


    She was staring daggers at the Sorting Hat, as if trying to master it even before she met it.  It was more cold and calculating than any eleven-year-old should be.  There was something familiar about her, but Adam couldn’t quite place it.


    He had no doubt which House she would be sorted in to.


    The Sorting Hat sang its song, explaining the merits of each House and Adam remembered that the last he’d heard of the hat was that it had been burned almost beyond recognition.


    And then Neville had pulled the sword, a true Gryffindor.


    He supposed it had been repaired in much the same way the castle had been.


    He barely paid attention as the children took their turns to be sorted: as Professor McGonagall read out their names and placed the Sorting Hat on their heads some went here, some went there.  Neville clapped hardest for Gryffindors of course, but Adam couldn’t blame him after all his House had meant to him over the years.


    Then finally, it was the interesting girl’s turn.  Adam noted her name as Ambrosia Flint, and he wondered if she was the daughter of Marcus Flint, who had been Slytherin Quidditch captain during his first two years there.


    As he suspected, it took the Sorting Hat only a few moments to declare her to Slytherin House, and for the first time he saw her smile.  She finally looked like a proper child as she practically skipped to the Slytherin table, and Adam promptly forgot about her.


    When the last student had been sorted into Hufflepuff  (it always fascinated him how exactly five girls and fives boys were sorted into each house every year, no more, no less), Headmistress McGonagall turned to go behind the podium.  She looked down the table at the gathered professors, and when she found Adam the corners of her mouth turned up in a little smile.


    This actually scared Adam, as he had never seen her smile before.  It was as if she knew something he didn’t.


    He looked up and down the table, not even hearing McGonagall’s start of term speech about how she was stepping down as Transfiguration professor, as he made some quick calculations on the Houses of those present, or at least as much as he could remember from what Neville had told him.


    “...And with Professor Slughorn’s retirement...”


    Wait?  What was that?  That wasn’t possible, if Slughorn was gone then...
 

   “...Please welcome Adam Cynon to the posts of Professor of Transfiguration and Head of Slytherin House!”


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