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.
Notes From The Field
PROBLEMS I AM ALREADY HAVING WITH THIS BLOODY SCHOOL:1. The grounds are entirely too big for a lazy bastard like myself to navigate on foot. And the only alternatives to 'on foot' are brooms and ghastly flying horses that eat meat and cigarettes.
2. There is a giant squid in the castle's pond- sorry, lake. Ordinarily I wouldn't care, but it waved to me as Dumbledore led the way up to the castle. Look, you're a bloody freshwater kraken, would you mind showing a little dignity? I dunno, devour the local birds or something. Nothing with that many tentacles should be acting like a puppy.
3. The paintings move. Not a repetitive loop, either. I mean move. And talk. Damn things are sentient. According to D'dore, all wizard pictures are like that, including photographs. (Wonder if I can lay my hands on some wizard porno?) They've got memories, too, and they can jump from one painting to the next. Could be useful, but damn, I'll bet that gets old fast. Better not find out they do official portraits of professors here, that's all I've got to say.
4. The stairs. Some of 'em move. Not all of them, just some. Others disappear. Some of 'em look like they're there, but they're not. Suppose that's one way of keeping the older kids from sneaking in booze.
5. The ghosts. . . well, no. I don't mind those so much. They're all right, I guess, except when they crop up in the middle of something. Walked through one by mistake when I followed D'dore around a corner. Most of 'em seem to be over the fact that they're dead, and anyway, everyone at the school can see 'em. Not half as cranky as the ghosts back home, either, from what I've seen. They've also got a poltergeist, which D'dore says isn't the same thing, but I've not met him yet.
6. No tunes, no phone, no telly. If it runs on electricity, it won't work here. No exceptions. Entertainment options went down the toilet before my eyes when D'dore said that. (At least they have toilets, I was starting to worry about that.)
7. The clothes. Hagrid was right. I'm going to need robes.
8. The ethics clause. . .
Constantine stepped out of the Headmaster's office, and the door slid shut behind him. Well, he'd done it; he'd got himself a proper job. Signed the contract and everything. They'd house him in the castle, they'd provide meals, they'd handle all the other services. He'd even be paid twice a month, though Dumbledore had suggested pretty strongly that he should look into getting a vault at Gringott's and having his pay sent there. All in all, really not a bad set-up.
There was just one catch.
"This is a school, Mr. Constantine," Dumbledore had said. "We teach children here. Our professors are expected to maintain a certain level of dignity. For as long as you are acting in a professorial capacity- and in practical terms we will say that this means 'as long as you are on the Hogwarts school grounds outside your quarters'- you may not swear, nor smoke, nor become intoxicated. What you do in your own time is your own business, but you will refrain from such behaviour in the presence, or possible presence, of the students here."
He'd agreed. He didn't have much choice. The ethics clause had gone into the contract almost exactly as Dumbledore had spoken it- one of those animated quills had taken down the entire thing. Bloody useful things, those. John made a mental note to buy one with his first paycheque- no, they paid in gold here, didn't they? Yeah, wizards didn't seem to have the hang of paper money. Bally strange if you asked him- gold got heavy fast. With another shake of the head, he headed down the hallway Dumbledore had said led to his quarters in the castle.
Two minutes later he was lost. He could deal with the moving staircases, but he was completely unfamiliar with the school's layout. Dumbledore's description hadn't helped much. What he needed was a map, but there was no such thing available. He tried to retrace his steps, thinking he might ask someone else for directions, but only found he'd got himself turned around even worse than before. He was pretty sure he'd passed that one-eyed hag statue coming from the other direction a while back, but would've sworn it was on a different floor entirely then.
Leaning back against the wall, he closed his eyes. "This is bollocks," he muttered. "I need a goddamn smoke-"
The shriek of laughter jerked John upright. Floating just in front of him- just in front of him, inside the bad breath zone- was the ugliest grin he'd ever seen. It was sprawled across the face of someone he didn't recognise, but given that the person was floating in mid-air and wearing clothes that'd make a golfer cry, he reckoned it was the poltergeist he'd been warned about. "What's so funny?" John demanded.
"Couldn't do it, could he? Wasn't even five minutes!" The poltergeist- Peeves, John remembered- cackled and did a backwards somersault in mid-air. "Saw your contract! No swearing on the school grounds, John Constantine!"
"Did it again!" Peeves pointed at John and laughed so hard he floated halfway across the corridor. "Dumbledore ought to know of this, he ought. New teacher's as bad as the students! Peeves heard!"
With an enormous effort of will John restrained himself from doing more than rolling his eyes. "I suppose you did," he said, his tone deceptively mild. "What would it take for you not to have heard it?"
Peeves stopped laughing, but the wicked grin remained as he folded his hands under his chin and stared at John. "Don't know," he said, almost thoughtfully. "Never been bribed before. What've you got, Professor?"
John started to pat down his pockets, mind racing. It wasn't as if he had been carrying much when he'd set out this morning, but maybe-
"GAH!" he cried as everything suddenly went wet and icy cold. The naff bastard had been concealing a water balloon!
"Never been bribed before! Never will!" Peeves cried, handspringing from wall to ceiling to wall. He let out another high-pitched string of giggles.
John gritted his teeth, pushing his sodden hair out of his eyes. That bloody poltergeist was still bouncing around nice as you please, sing-songing something he couldn't quite make out save to grasp that it was very insulting. Here, had it just flipped John off? "You! Peeves!" he called out, hand dipping into his pocket.
Peeves stopped in midair, smirking at John through his legs.
Taking a deep breath, John plastered a smile across his face. "Got something for you," he said.
Cocking an eye at John, Peeves started to speak. It didn't happen. In two heroic strides John crossed the space between himself and the poltergeist, hand already drawing back as he moved. The knucks smashed into Peeves' nose with all the force the man could muster, sending the pest somersaulting end-over-end down the corridor and out of John's sight.
Exhaling, John slipped the knucks off. He'd forgotten about the ghosts. He'd have to be more careful.
As John finally found his way back to the entrance he and Dumbledore had used, something made a soft, insistent noise just behind his shoulder. Sighing, he turned and found himself face-to-face with a proper ghost. This one looked considerably older than the far more solid Peeves, and wore robes of a more antiquated style than any John had seen yet. They glimmered with silvery, ectoplasmic bloodstains as the ghost blinked his blank, staring eyes. "Professor Constantine?" it whispered in a voice almost too quiet to hear.
"That's me," said John warily.
The ghost's mouth twitched as if it had forgotten quite how to smile. "Congratulations," it murmured.
"On what?" John asked. He doubted it was about the job.
"On the events of the second-floor corridor." The ghost folded its hands serenely. "It would appear there are now two at this school whom Peeves fears." And with that, the ghost dropped through the floor, its message apparently delivered. John made another mental note to keep an eye out for the things, and underlined the note several times while he was at it.
He looked up from the spot where the ghost had disappeared and saw a cluster of three or four more. Unlike the whispering entity he'd just met, they bore no wounds or marks that he could see, no sign of how they'd been killed. And they were watching him, goggle-eyed; when they saw he'd noticed them they drew back a little, almost as one. "What's the matter?" he growled. "Break another school rule, did I? Can't a man have a civil conversation with the dead?"
They fidgeted uncomfortably. Eventually one, a pudgy fellow who looked like he ought to be playing Tuck in a production of Robin Hood, spoke up. "Ah. . . not with the Bloody Baron, Professor." He smiled. "He doesn't get on well with anyone, you see. Not even with his fellow ghosts."
God, John wanted to swear.
The ghostly clergyman smiled. "I'm sorry, Professor. Where are my manners? Welcome to Hogwarts. And- since the Baron failed to say it- congratulations on your new position."
"Thanks," said John. "I'd shake your hand, but-"
"It'd go right through. Yes, that is one of the hazards of being dead, isn't it?" The ghost laughed; the other two started to drift off on their own errands. "No matter. Do allow me to introduce myself; everyone calls me the Fat Friar."
"Name's John Constantine. You don't want to know what people call me."
The ghost chuckled. "If you say so, Professor. Pardon me for saying so, but you look a bit out of your depth. May I be of assistance?"
"Depends," said John, hands in his pockets. "Can you get me to where I'm supposed to be staying? Dumbledore said it was on the fifth floor somewhere."
"Oh, yes, the old conservatory rooms. I remember them well." The ghost sighed fondly. "Quite the echo they had in my day. . . Right this way, Professor."
The Friar drifted off towards the staircase; John followed. "Conservatory, eh? Wizards not much for music these days?"
"Well- they are- but the subject's no longer taught, I fear." He shook his head sadly. "Time was when even a wizard was expected to be familiar with the arts of music and song."
John glanced at the walls, noticing the portraits whispering to each other and pointing his way. "Were you a wizard then? You don't look it, if you don't mind my saying so."
"Oh, my, yes. Yes, I was. I didn't become a Franciscan until well after school."
"Bet the magic must've gone over well at the monastery," John murmured.
The ghost heaved a sigh. "It never came up, actually," he said mournfully. "I was asked to leave the order before taking my final vows. The prior didn't think I was properly suited for the religious life, and wouldn't listen to a word I said in my own defense. After that there wasn't anything for it but to come back here and teach." John made a noncommittal noise as the ghost indicated which of the stairs ahead were safe. "Wasn't what I was hoping for, of course, but I made the best of it. I've been here ever since, really."
"Yeah?" They rounded a corner- or, rather, John did. The Friar merely passed through the stone. "No one's asked you to move on since then?"
"Merlin, no. No, I serve as the House ghost for Hufflepuff-"
"The who for what?"
"House ghost. Each of the Houses has a ghost affiliated with it. I'm for Hufflepuff, the Baron's for Slytherin- er- did the Headmaster explain the Houses to you?"
John shook his head. "Said the hat behind his desk was for sorting kids into their Houses, but that was about it."
"Ah. Well, then- oh, do mind that stone, it's got a Trip Jinx soaked into it that Professor McGonagall hasn't dispelled yet- would you like an explanation?"
Have I got a choice? wondered John, but all he did was nod.
The Friar smiled, turning about so that he drifted backwards as he talked. "Oh, good, I do enjoy clarifying things. All right, let's see- yes. Hogwarts was founded a little over a thousand years ago- you know that, of course? Good, good. The founders were two wizards, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin, and two witches, Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff." His smile grew a little broader, despite the fact that his right arm had just vanished into the wall. "Before that there really wasn't any kind of formal education for magical youngsters- if you weren't apprenticed, your parents had to teach you. It wasn't the best of times for wizarding folk, though- there was terrible persecution by Muggles, all up and down the length of Britain, so it simply wasn't safe to hope for the best any more. They built this school on land that had been in Rowena's family for ages, and set about choosing which students to accept, each according to their preferences."
"And the houses are named after each of them?" John asked, hoping to head the ghost off before the conversation got any longer.
"Indeed, indeed- and continue their philosophies and preferences to this very day. No, don't touch that-"
"Sorry." John jerked his hand back. "Thought it was a window."
"Enchanted tapestry, I'm afraid. Looks like the outside world, but it bites if you try to move it."
"Ah." John examined it from a safe distance, and briefly entertained the thought of prodding it with his wand. "There a lot of those around here?"
"Thankfully, no. Where was I?. . . ah, yes, the Houses. Gryffindor believed that the best hope wizarding folk had in the face of the Muggle world's hatred was bravery and valour, and so he took any students who had magical talent and the nerve to match. Slytherin, on the other hand, felt that Gryffindor put too much faith in his students' families, and refused to take any students whose families were not exclusively magical."
A sinking feeling trickled into John's stomach as he realised the ghost wasn't going to shut up. Nevertheless, he nodded. "Pure-bloods?"
"Exactly. Mind you, not every pure-blooded student met with his approval; Salazar Slytherin wanted students who would be architects of a glorious future for wizard-kind. Only the most ambitious and driven for him!" The Friar shook his head, adding, "Mind you, he let more than a few unsavoury candidates in- cunning, more than driven, really. I believe he felt the worst influences could be countered in time so long as their intentions were for the best."
"Where've I heard that before?"
The Friar sighed. "I'm not saying I approve, Professor, I'm merely relaying the facts. Ravenclaw was his biggest competitor, mind you. She didn't think much of the quality of education at the time, and was absolutely certain that the right path lay in winning respect through intelligence. Pinched more than a few apt pupils out from under Slytherin's nose, she did." The Friar chuckled, indicating to John that he should pull aside a heavy red curtain. "And then, of course, there was Hufflepuff."
"Don't tell me she was into religion?" John said warily, stepping through the uncomfortably small door beyond that led to the fifth floor.
"Great Caesar's ghost, no! No, though certainly her sentiments were informed that way. At least, I tend to think so. She was the only one of the four who looked around her and saw injustice, rather than competition. Helga Hufflepuff believed neither wizards nor Muggles would ever have any peace so long as they continued to treat each other unfairly. While she couldn't change the Muggles of her time, she could change future generations of wizards, and so began by taking any student with magical capability who escaped the notice of the other three."
"Must've wound up with some real winners that way," said John, looking up and down the corridor. "Er- Dumbledore said there'd be a green door-"
"Yes, the one on the end." The Friar turned about again, bobbing along almost as if he were properly walking. "I won't say it was easy for her, or any of them, but they do seem to have managed. There've been a few changes, of course. Slytherin House has some mixed-blood members now that the Hat's doing the sorting, for example. But in essence and character, the Houses are reflections of their Founders."
"Good to know," said John. "So first time a dragon shows up to strafe the school, the Gryffindors'll be running off to get themselves killed fighting it, the Ravenclaws'll have to be dragged out of the library kicking and screaming, the Slytherins'll be fighting over who gets to rebuild once everything's burned down, and the Hufflepuffs'll be playing Red Cross once the beast's done taking everything else to bits."
"Er-" The Friar's ghostly face got an uncomfortable expression. "I suppose you could put it like that, yes. It's a bit of an over-simplification, though."
"Whatever." John tested the doorknob- unlocked. "There anyone else around here who can show me the way back once I've got myself settled in?"
"Professor Blodgett's rooms are on the other side," said the Friar promptly. "He teaches Ancient Runes."
"Blodgett, right. Anything I should know about him?"
"He's a decent enough chap," said the Friar after a bit of thought. "He was a Ravenclaw when he was a student here, but the House master is Professor Flitwick."
"Right, I- wait. What? Little fellow, teaches Charms?"
"Oh yes. Professor Flitwick is Head of Ravenclaw, Professor Snape is Head of Slytherin, Professor McGonagall is Head of Gryffindor, and Professor Sprout is Head of Hufflepuff."
Somehow the news about Snape didn't come as a surprise. The Friar started to drift backwards; John held up a hand. "One last question."
The ghost's passive progress stopped. "But of course!"
"I'm not going to wake up in the middle of the night and find one of you lot sitting at the foot of my bed, am I? What I mean is, are the rooms warded?"
"Warded? Merlin, no. No, they're not, unless individual professors have taken it upon themselves to do so. We ghosts do, however, understand the need for privacy, and stay out of professors' quarters by common consent."
"What about poltergeists?"
The Friar shook his head. "I shouldn't worry about Peeves any more, if I were you. After what you did, he'll go well out of his way to avoid you."
John nodded. "Very good to know," he said. "All right, I think that'll do it. Thanks for the help."
"Oh, you're welcome," the Friar said. With a smile and a wave, he sank through the floor and out of sight. John shook his head, resolving to ward his rooms regardless- just as soon as he figured out how.
It would take a fair amount of warding, it so happened. The rooms he'd been assigned were a fair bit bigger than his flat in London, worlds and worlds away. There was a wardrobe and a bed. Both were of some dark wood, very old, but in a respectable state of repair. Beyond that, there was no furniture save a bookshelf and a lamp-stand. Whoever had designed the space knew their acoustics- the echoes were incredible. There wasn't even so much as a tapestry on the walls, though there was a fireplace in the bedroom. Evidently no one had inhabited these rooms in a while- maintained, yes, there wasn't much sign of dust, but inhabited? No.
Well, he could live with that.
Not like he had much of a choice.
He sat down on the bed, took off his coat and pried off his shoes. What was left. . . Find Blodgett. Figure out where the bathrooms were. Find out where they fed the professors. Get his books and things back from Hagrid. Find the library and see what it was like - yeah, there was plenty left to do today. Blodgett first, for preference, and then lunch. The rest would just have to wait.