DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations
created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not
limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and
Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark
infringement is intended. John Constantine, the Hellblazer name, and
all related references are property of DC Comics via their Vertigo line.
Chapter 10: Who'd Watch For Me
Another year, Harry thought glumly, another teacher.
He had been quite looking forward to this year's classes ever since receiving the results of his OWLs. True, he'd done abysmally on a few of them, but he'd never expected much of a Divination score to begin with. It had been that "O" in Defense Against the Dark Arts that cheered him most, particularly since the Headmaster had reassured him of the new professor's complete and utter difference from Dolores Umbridge. True, he wouldn't be taking Potions- not with a mere "E", and Snape's standards- but Mr. Weasley had said the Auror Office was revamping its standards now that Amelia Bones was Minister of Magic.
Then there had been the explosions in Hogsmeade - Mr. Weasley's rush to St. Mungo's - Tonks' near-miss, the mystery package to Mrs. Weasley -
And to top it off, he and Ron had missed the Sorting Feast entirely, and been given detentions from Snape before the term had even begun!
So it was with only half an ear and very little heart that he listened to Hermione and Ron's speculations as they headed for their first Defense Against the Dark Arts class. "-saw him after the Feast," Hermione was saying. "I don't think he was very happy to be there- especially not after the Sorting Song was over. He spent the entire Sorting scowling at his food, not speaking to anyone. Which seemed particularly odd, since he'd been whispering to Professor Toops all through the Song-"
"You're joking!" Ron exclaimed.
Hermione shook her head. "No, Ron, I'm not- the whole thing. I don't believe he heard more than two words of the Song. Professor Dumbledore had to reprimand him-"
"What, in front of the whole school?" interrupted Harry.
"Well- not exactly," Hermione conceded. "But he did pass him a note of some sort. I couldn't make out what was on it, but Professor Constantine went very quiet after he read it."
Harry nodded. Ron looked highly amused at the prospect of a professor being brought low by such a means. "Anyway," Hermione continued, "he looked thoroughly disreputable to me-"
"Well, so did Lupin," Ron pointed out.
"No, Ron," said Hermione patiently. "Not shabby. Disreputable."
"What's the difference, then?"
"Well-" She hesitated. "If Professor Lupin were to get himself a good, new set of robes and a decent haircut, he'd look all right, wouldn't he?"
Harry and Ron nodded.
"But if you were to put a good new set of robes on Mundungus Fletcher-"
Ron shuddered; Harry scowled.
"You understand what I mean, then," Hermione said. "Rather like that. Although..."
"Although what?" Harry prompted.
"Well... there was something about him that made me think... well, that he knows his business rather better than Mundungus does."
"Yeah, 's called the word 'Professor' in front of his name," said Ron.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "That's not what I meant."
A chill breeze was the only warning Harry had. He stepped away from the wall of their corridor just in time to avoid the emerging form of the Fat Friar. "Oh, hello!" said the ghost. "Off to class with the new professor, are you?"
Hermione smiled; Harry nodded. "Yes, Friar," said Ron.
The ghost nodded happily. "Splendid, splendid. Capital fellow, really. Do give him my regards," he said, and continued across the corridor and into the opposite wall.
"That's... strange," Hermione said, watching him go. "I don't believe the ghosts normally take much interest in the teachers, do they? Except Binns, I mean."
Ron shrugged, setting off again at a brisk pace. "They've got to have something to talk about," he said. "Anyway, maybe he's been here longer than the last two."
"Possibly, Hermione said, but a doubtful tone remained in her voice. "Harry? Are you all right?"
"Hm?" said Harry. "Sorry, Hermione-"
In fact, his thoughts had been quite elsewhere. He'd caught a snatch of Seamus Finnegan saying something to Dean Thomas about Hogsmeade and the new professor, but hadn't made out more than those few words. Whether the new professor came from the village, or had lodged there, or had something to do with the Hog's Head being rebuilt- he couldn't say...
"I was just thinking," he finished a bit lamely as they reached the classroom door.
"Well, think faster," said Hermione. "That's him coming now."
Harry scrambled for the first available seat and hurriedly pulled out his textbook. The title hadn't struck him as a particularly good sign, but Unpleasant Things It Is Sometimes Good To Know at least had the virtue of being large enough to hide behind. Hermione, he noted, had already annotated her copy extensively. "Here goes nothing," he murmured as Ron took the seat next to him.
The door opened. The room went quiet, all eyes on the new professor as he made his way to the desk and turned to face them.
"Right," said Constantine, scanning the room (Harry huddled a little lower behind a diagram of the optic nerves of the Diricawl). "Let's skip the pleasantries, shall we? Some of you lot took your education into your own hands last year. You won't be repeating that with me-"
"Some of us thought it was a better idea to at least try to learn something worthwhile," Hermione muttered quietly.
Not quietly enough. Constantine had been about to speak again; he broke off what he had been about to say. "Right, who was that?"
"Me, Professor," said Hermione, lifting her chin defiantly. "Hermione Granger."
Harry peeped out from behind his book. Constantine's blue eyes were narrowed, and he had an assessing look as he considered Hermione silently. Eventually he grunted. "Good," he said.
Hermione blinked. "But you-"
"I said it won't be happening," Constantine pointed out. "You're not going to need it. You won't have the time for it either. Let's get one thing straight, all right? I don't give a rat's arse about Ministry agendas or educational decrees, or any of that sort of rubbish. This Umbridge woman had no more place calling herself a teacher than I do calling myself a priest. Dumbledore's hired me to keep you from getting yourselves killed- and that's what I intend to teach you to do. It's not going to be pretty, it's not going to be easy-"
Hermione sat up a little straighter.
"It's not going to be academic, either."
She scowled. Harry couldn't quite suppress a snicker. "Oh, do be quiet," she snapped crossly.
A noise came from the front of the classroom- Constantine clearing his throat. "Do you mind, Miss Granger?" he said acidly.
"I'm sorry, Profes-"
Constantine shook his head, cutting her off. "As I was saying. This is a class in not having your arses handed to you, whether by this Voldemort bloke or- oh, for God's sake!" he snarled as the murmurs started running around the room. "Cut that out, all of you!"
Harry lowered his book. Constantine had his wand in his hand and looked very much as if he was about ready to cast Silencio on the whole class. Gingerly, Harry cleared his throat. "Er, Professor-"
"Yes?" Constantine snapped, glancing up at Harry.
There was a clatter of wood on stone, as Constantine's wand fell from suddenly nerveless fingers to the floor. The man's face went chalk-white.
Explanation forgotten, Harry froze. Oh, no, not another-
"Tim?" Constantine blurted.
". . . er, excuse me?" was all Harry could manage.
John stared at the black-haired, bespectacled boy. This isn't possible, his brain insisted. It can't be him. Tim can't- His eyes flicked towards the kid's shoulder, half expecting to find Yo-yo, but there was no owl to be seen. He shook his head and looked back to the boy's face.
No. No, it wasn't Tim. The face wasn't right after all- too wide, too pale. Not to mention the scar on his forehead (although you know, you've been in this half-arsed world long enough for that to happen, part of his mind whispered). Still. . .
He bent to pick up his wand. "Your name's not Tim Hunter, then?" he asked warily.
The boy shook his head. "No, sir," he replied. "It's Harry Potter." He said it in a tone of half-dread, as if he expected John to take him to task for it.
John only shrugged. "Sorry," he said. "Thought you were someone I knew."
"That's . . . that's all, sir?"
"Professor," John corrected with a scowl. "Not sir. Anyone in this class calls me sir and they'll bloody well live to wish they hadn't, all right?" He surveyed the class before looking back to Harry. "And yeah. That's all. There summat else I should know?"
The look the boy gave him suggested strongly that John had somehow grown a second head. "You mean you don't. . ." Harry trailed off, uncertainly.
John shrugged again. "Should I?"
"Well-" Harry squirmed. "I-"
"Harry's the one who did all that extra teaching last year," a red-headed boy with a face full of freckles suddenly exclaimed. "You didn't know?"
"Haven't had time to look over all me notes," John returned. "Here, who're you?"
He might as well have cracked a whip across John's face; reflexively, John flinched. Ginger's kid, he thought. The girl wasn't bad enough? "Right," he said aloud. "Got it. No, as a matter of fact, I don't know. I'm not from around here, take that as you like it. I don't know your names. I don't know your politics. I don't know a bloody thing about this bloke who calls himself Lord Voldemort, except that he's got every last one of you scared down to the bones. I know you're up to your necks in people who want to see you and your parents running like rats. I can't change that. But I can tell you this. . ."
He leaned forward, placing both hands flat on the desk.
"There are worse things in this world than Voldemort. Worse by far. I've seen them. I've dealt with them. And I'm still here."
The air in the classroom was absolutely still.
"I'm not going to guarantee that what I'm teaching you is going to keep you alive. . . but it's worked for me all these years. And it's the best damned chance you're going to get."
And may God help you all if I'm right, you miserable little shits.
Done. Fucking hell, he was done. There was one more class left today, yeah, but he'd made it through the last damn Gryffindor class and he hadn't bitten anyone. Between the Weasley kid (who hadn't recognized him so far as he could tell) and that blasted Granger, he was about ready to pop the kneecaps off the next brat he saw. If she'd asked one more sodding question. . .
Never mind. No time for that. He'd deal with that later. Right now he had a schedule to stick to. If he took the long corridor right now and avoided any of the ghosts who wanted to make conversation, he could make it to his rooms, get in a decent smoke, and be back before the sixth-year Slytherins set foot in the classroom.
The mere prospect of tobacco was immensely cheering. He allowed himself a moment to straighten his robes-
"Ah, John! There you are," exclaimed an all-too-familiar voice. Constantine's shoulders sagged.
"Hallo, Dumbledore." Bugger off. Sod the buggering hell off-
The Headmaster smiled, a grossly beatific expression. John wanted nothing more than to scrub that sunny look from the man's face with a fistful of steel wool. "I do hope your first day as an official teacher hasn't treated you too poorly?"
"I've had better days."
Dumbledore's mouth twitched. John knew there was a laugh behind that look. "Ah, well. I suppose the experience takes something out of a man at first-"
You're standing between me and my fags, Dumbledore. Give me one good reason not to set you on fucking fire.
Dumbledore must've caught some of that in his face, surely. John was making no effort to hide it. Nevertheless, the man continued. "The talk is already out amongst the students, it so happens. Apparently, you were released from Azkaban Prison for the span of a year solely for the purpose of assuming your current position. Fascinating, isn't it? And quite at odds with the contention among several of the other students, namely, that you are in fact the long-lost cousin of one of the current instructors, hired almost entirely on his or her recommendation solely for the purpose of-"
Fire was entirely too good for him. Possibly something involving honey and ants. Possessed ants.
"None of which, of course, is particularly relevant- but it did seem the sort of thing that might interest you to know," Dumbledore finished.
And that seemed to be that. Nevertheless, John forced himself to assume some measure of civility. There was, after all, half a smoke waiting on the other side of it if he managed not to feed the man his own beard. "That so?" he inquired, fingers curling and uncurling behind his back. "You'd think the kids these days'd have better imaginations than that."
"One does find the current generation a bit lacking in some areas," Dumbledore agreed gravely. "I trust you'll find some way to make up for that lack."
"Oh, believe me," said Constantine, "I've got plenty of possibilities in mind for them."
"Splendid." Dumbledore beamed again, his palms coming together in front of him as his fingers interlaced. "Even more so, given that it's reminded me of my original purpose in coming here."
Oh, hell, there was more? John's fingers closed, tightened. "Izzat so?"
"It is indeed." With a flourish, Dumbledore produced a roll of parchment from some pocket or other of his robes. This he presented to Constantine, who unrolled it- and stared.
"What the fu-"
"Students, Mr. Constantine," said Dumbledore pleasantly, his voice raised just a fraction. "I suggest you avoid that incipient consonant."
Fuck the ants. Broken glass, a toilet plunger, and Josh Wright after that last hour with Isabel.
"Dumbledore," John said when he could manage coherence, "would you mind explaining this?"
"I should think it would be self-explanatory, John. It occurred to me that there might be some difference in standards between the schools of your world and this one, so I have taken it upon myself to avoid any unpleasantness that may arise as a result of those differences."
"By compiling a list of words I'm not allowed to say! What the f- what the hell d'you-"
"You'll find, I think, that most of the items there are entirely self-explanatory-"
"'Bugger'? You've got to be joking! The kids say that in front of me!"
"This, alas, is so- but you do have an example to set in your position. Therefore, I fear you must be held to a higher standard."
"Is this something you do to everyone who works here, or am I just special somehow?" John snapped.
"Oh, it's just you," Dumbledore said with entirely too much good cheer to be natural. "The others scarcely require such guidance, having long ago internalized the difference between acceptable and unacceptable. I suppose I ought to have brought this to you earlier, but you seemed to be rather wrapped up in your work-"
John ran his finger down the list, ignoring the rest of what Dumbledore said. "Do I at least get 'arse'?" he muttered.
"I would prefer that you did not, but given the nature of political discussion amongst the professors I fear it can scarcely be avoided. 'Arse' it is, as well as 'sod', although that's to be kept to sixth years or older. And be assured that we do have ways of enforcing this clause other than the termination of your contract."
Fucking hell, thought John. "Arse," he said instead.
Dumbledore chuckled. "I do believe you're getting the hang of it. Well done, John, well done. I shan't keep you from your work any further, then; best of luck with your last class of the day, hmm?"
With that, he swept off. Constantine crumpled the list in one white-knuckled fist, turning towards the corridor back to his quarters... and his shoulders sagged in defeat.
The students were already here.
Broken glass, Josh
Wright, and possessed fire ants. And throw Maggie Thatcher
into the deal.
John slammed the door behind him, stalked to his desk, and dropped ungracefully into his chair. A few moments later the door opened and the sixth-year Slytherins started to file in. He cast a somewhat more jaundiced eye than usual over them. They seemed about up there with the rest of the sixth years- better robes, maybe, or newer books- but really, if they hadn't been dispatched to his classroom during the Slytherin class period he'd never have been able to pick them out from the rest of the kids.
Frankly, he hoped he was wrong. This bunch was supposed to be ambitious as all fuck, and generally that at least meant interesting sidetracks, if nothing else.
As the last two sat down, he pulled himself to his feet and cleared his throat. "Right," he said. "Welcome to the Defense Against the Dark Arts class, m'name's Constantine, you lot've probably already heard of me if you've any ears at all around this place, I don't know what you've heard but half of it's b-"
The list Dumbledore had given him rustled warningly of its own volition. He made a mental note to pin the thing to the wall with the first silver implement he could find, and went on.
"-well, half of it's nothing but lies, and I wouldn't trust the rest of it either if I were you. I don't know who you are or what you've done in years one through five, only that you've passed your OWL exam to get into this class, whoever you lot are. Which means, I figure, that you want to be here for whatever reason. Am I right?"
The students, as one, looked back at him with the same expression: is he quite serious?
"Suppose that's a yes, then," Constantine muttered. "Right. Now, I was- yes, who're you?"
The skinny, dark-haired lad who'd entered second to last dropped his hand. "Theodore Nott, Professor," he said. "Er. . . do you really not know anything about what's gone on here lately?"
"Well, I've been living in the castle since end of last term and the ghosts won't bloody leave me alone. Not to mention that I've had about five other Defense classes before this and your fellow students will talk, but frankly? I don't bloody care."
"I'd think the Gryffindors would've said something to catch your interest, at least," said another boy, a pale-haired sort with the face of a weasel. "That lot doesn't know when to shut up-"
"Here, who're you?"
"Malfoy, Professor. Draco Malfoy."
Constantine frowned, riffling through his recollections of the prior classes for the name. "Mmm… not especially, no," he said. The boy looked disappointed. "They were too busy working to talk much. And that's what you're going to be, all right? This isn't a cruise through History of Magic, believe me." Which is good, 'cos if it were, I'd be buggered. "You've got one more exam to sit in two years' time. There'll be enough academics between now and then for you to pass whatever written stuff they put in front of you. I'll be handling the practical side- however that might shape up."
A murmur went up among the students; John let it run around the room for a bit, then coughed again. "Questions?"
A hard-faced girl just behind Malfoy put up a hand.
"Right, and you are. . .?"
"Pansy Parkinson," she said, sitting up a little straighter. "Is it true that you dueled Professor Snape for this position, sir?"
Constantine considered her for a moment, then nodded. "Dumbledore's orders," he said.
Her expression brightened as she leaned forward. "In our second year," she said, "Professor Lockhart started a dueling club, but we haven't had one since-"
"Looking forward to a bit of school-sanctioned spell-slinging, eh?"
Malfoy leaned over to mutter something to the hulking young man next to him.
John let it pass. Parkinson nodded. "We didn't get nearly the sort of practice we should've, Professor."
Nott rolled his eyes; a square-jawed, black-haired girl in the next seat let out a snort. Parkinson whipped around to glare in her direction before turning back to the front. "Well- not as much as I would have liked, anyway."
"You'll get your chance," John said. "Right here. But it won't be dueling."
All of them straightened up at that. "Professor!" Malfoy exclaimed, a disappointed sound.
"It won't be dueling because I've seen what you lot call dueling, and frankly, it's a lot of-" The paper rustled again. "-tosh. Think the enemy's going to hold still at his end of the field? Think you're always going to be faster on the draw? Not bloody likely." He surveyed the room. "Out of all you bunch sitting here right now, I reckon maybe two of you could really hold your own in a proper battle- if that. And that's what we're talking about here. Defense Against The Dark Arts isn't about rules- tell me, Parkinson, you heard about the duel, did you? Did you hear how I ended it?"
She shook her head mutely.
"Right. Let's just say it wasn't with a spell."
"But-" she protested. He cut her off with a wave of one hand.
"You'll find out soon enough, I reckon. No, see, when I went into that duel I knew Snape wanted my-" Another rustle went up from the parchment. John glared at it fiercely; it subsided. "-hide for his office wall. If you're lucky, that's all the enemy's going to be after once you're out of here. You of all people ought to understand the difference between a duel and a bloody battle, all right?"
The huge boy next to Malfoy frowned, his expression pensive and perhaps a touch confused. Towards the back a slim young black man steepled his fingers on the desk, looking thoughtful. "So," Parkinson said, "that means-"
"Means that once we get done with the day's reading and homework, you lot are going to have a serious go at takin' each other apart."