Chapter 2, and thanks to all those who reviewed Chapter 1. Well appreciated, all of them:)
Five Years Later (Age 14)
Godric crouched on the balls of his feet and squinted hard at his old, torn, lifeless hat. Behind him, Helga fiddled nervously with her hands, eyes anticipating. Rowena was poised in a battle stance, quill and parchment raised and ready to take notes. Salazar was leaning casually on a wall support, trying not to look interested and failing miserably.
According to Ghost, once the round green pill was placed in a body of sorts there would be something interesting to see, but he never specified if a hat could count as a vessel. But there was no harm in trying (plus Helga would faint at the sight of an animal carcass, so a hat it is).
Salazar was skeptical, to say in the least. Right up until Rowena silenced him with a spell the teen had blathered on and on about how it was all just one big prank from the orange-haired deceased. Which it might actually be, but Godric was always one for leaps, even if some past ones led to spectacular falls.
So, fingers crossed and prayers sent, the heir to the Gryffindor House rocked back and forth on his feet, watching intently at the wide slash of fabric in which he dropped the pill into.
Suspenseful heartbeats later, they were rewarded with a dusty cough and a "Damn ye brat, a hat of all things?"
Ten Years Later (Age 24)
Salazar knocked twice on the door of Ghost's room, grimacing at the bits of decayed wood that fell at his robe sleeves. Dead or not, it was unbecoming to live behind a chunk of rotten wood that someone should have thrown in fire decades ago.
Having received his invitation, Salazar pushed the disgusting door aside.
Ghost was seated on the floor of his room, surrounded by thick and heavy tomes the way a fortress was surrounded by walls. A set of long fingers flickered through a surprisingly slim book; Salazar faintly recalled being read the same book out loud for bedtime stories.
He approached and peered at the title. "Tales of Beetle the Bard, Ghost? A child's book." He would have scoffed if Slytherins were not capable of such vulgarities.
Ghost continued to read. "Maybe I'm just making up for my childhood," he said, completely unruffled.
It was a passing remark, but nonetheless the Slytherin stored of that little crumb of information away. It was obvious Ghost was not all he claimed to be, and so Salazar considered suspicion fair game.
With brought up another thing he noticed about Ghost. "I thought that, as a spirit, you could not touch anything physical?" He still remembered the rather blunt way that was proven the first night they met.
The dead teen's brown eyes continued to scan the book. "I usually can't touch anything, but if I focus my energy into specific parts of my body I can come in contact with physical and living things."
"Does the same apply for other spirits?"
"No." A page was turned and Ghost's eyes moved at a steady speed again.
"Hmm," Salazar hummed, and his thoughts took another turn. "Ghost, who ordered you to find this, person anyways?"
Brown eyes froze. "What makes you think someone ordered me to?" His voice was soft but careful.
Salazar was not stupid enough to miss the sudden tension spike, but he pressed on anyway. "From what I've seen, you are a rather determined when given the reason. Correct me if I'm wrong, but staying in a wretched decaying castle for nearly three decades for a single person seems like there is a strong reason behind it all. If you were looking for the person for yourself, I think you would have put more effort it. However, your less-than-initiative actions and yet confusing refusal to leave lead me to conclude that it was an order, one that you only half-heartedly are willing to carry out."
Ghost was silent for a while, eyes still frozen and staring down. Then he sighed and reached for his bookmark.
"You are rather perceptive."
Salazar brushed aside the compliment with experienced ease. "You haven't answered me, Ghost."
"I never said I will."
His tone implied that the conversation was over. Smoothly sliding in his bookmark, Ghost shut the storybook and lifted his head. Brown eyes, so intense that he felt it hard to believe that they were dead, met Salazar's own. It threatened not to ask any further. Salazar took a step back.
Then the glare was broken. "So, what are you here for anyways?" Ghost's voice was suddenly a lot less calculated and a lot more open, like a favorite uncle asking how he'd been.
Salazar gave an inward sigh but pulled out the architectural blueprints anyway. Ghost obviously didn't plan on cracking but Salazar was nothing if not cunning. He'll weasel the truth out someday.
"For the west wing's third floor, I think it would be best if we remove the beetle colony first. And it is a given we keep the remains away from Godric, only Heaven knows what kind of pranks he would pull with the extra arsenal…"
Twenty-Five Years Later (Age 49)
Helga drew her breath in and exhaled it slowly. On the other side of her, Ghost rested in an armchair with his head propped on an elbow, firelight playing with his orange hair and chiseled features.
She thinks it started after the first Sorting of the Houses. Arguably, it may have started before that, on the night the four of them first met him, but it was much stronger and much more apparent after the first Sorting.
Godric was first on Sorting rotation, so he stood while she and the others sat at the High Table. Ghost was pretending to be a painting on the wall above their heads when it was really just him momentarily possessing one. Candles floated everywhere (a little decoration added in last minute) and they cast a warm yellow glow on the grey stone. Helga thought it looked more like home.
One by one, students (Hogwarts students, she had thought with delight) came forth and put on the Sorting Hat. Sort (a simple nickname for the hat) did the job of reading each boy's and girl's main trait and placing them into respective Houses, but there was another job he did. Every child he came into contact with was checked to see if he/she was the one Ghost was looking for. If he/she was, Sort would immediately yell out "GHOST!"
Fifty-eight kids. Twenty-seven girls. Thirty-one boys. Thirteen in Gryffindor. Fifteen in Hufflepuff. Thirteen in Slytherin. Seventeen in Ravenclaw.
Zero in Ghost.
After the Welcoming Feast, Ghost came down from his painting to congratulate them all in the privacy of the circular room. Which was painfully ironic, since the four of them were supposed to congratulate him, for finally finding the one he had waited more than half a century for. They made their toasts and downed their drinks, only to nearly spit it back out when Ghost, mischievous glint in his eyes, downed his drink too. Apparently, he'd always been able to eat and drink, he just never felt like it.
"Besides," he said, waving his empty glass at the four of them, smirk playing on his lips, "you're faces were priceless."
Naturally, this brought on questions (Rowena), laughter (Godric), astonishment (her), and glares (Salazar; honestly he was such a kid). It would have accumulated to a drinking contest between Godric and Ghost had she not smacked the Gryffindor upside the head.
Honestly, they were adults now. Sometimes Helga felt like only she realized that.
The term started, and Merlin it was like being a new mother again. The students looked up to her with such quivering trust in their wide eyes that she immediately resolved to give her heart and soul to teach them, these students of hers. When she stopped and thought about it, being a teacher to them was like being a mother, really.
Oh, they weren't angels, especially Godric's House. They all got in their fair share of tumbles and crashes. Who could forget that tearful Helen, who feared every statue and bust in the castle? Or Darrin, so clumsy the four of them seriously considered transforming all the floors into foam?
But they also made her so proud, especially when Orion brewed his first perfect Swelling Potion, and Kathleen managed to Charm a feather five feet into the air.
She had her hands busy, and she knew that the other three were the same. And Ghost being, well, a ghost, stayed up in the circular room, out of sight from the students unless from a painting's viewpoint. He sometimes entertained other dead souls, the most common of whom were Black and White, two ghosts who were like Ghost in terms of color and transparency.
White looked like Ghost's albino twin with a sadistic streak to rival the size of the castle and Black would have been what she'd consider a normal teen, albeit a bit dark with his raven hair and robes, if she didn't see him once carry around a thin black iron sword. Both were odd company to say the least and many times Helga feared that White would bring down the castle dead or not, but Ghost seemed to like them, so she was friendly with them too.
The term ended, miraculously, without serious injury to any students, and after what seemed like an impossibly short break, her beloved students were back in Hogwarts. With them came another generation of students, all ready to be Sorted and taught.
She held the honor the second year, and when none invoked Ghost's name, Helga could feel the ache in her heart for poor Ghost, sitting alone in his painting above. They celebrated again that night, and Godric tried his best to clap him on the back and cheer him up of a better time next term. Tried being the key word since 1) his hand passed through his back and 2) Ghost only looked mildly better.
The second year was worse and better at the same time than the first, and she nearly cried when they all left again. But she kept up a smile-albeit a bit watery- because she knew that they would return, and with them would come Ghost's little friend.
Before the third Feast Godric reeled them all in for a victory toast for good luck on their third shot. After the Feast Godric reeled them all in again for a better-luck-next time toast. The fouth, fifth, sixth, and seventh started and ended the same way. With each toast they saw their dead friend slip away deeper, leaving behind darker brown eyes. By the ending toast of the fifteenth Sorting, only Godric was attempting to smile.
After the sixteenth Feast Ghost didn't even stay until the end of the meal. He just stood up from his oil-painted armchair and walked out of the frame in the middle of the applause. When the meal was done, they all rushed up the spiral staircase, three steps at a time. On the landing in front of the circular room they found White leaning against the door, colorless thin blade in tight grip and a fierce gleam in his eyes, threatening to skewer them into a kabob if they weren't gone now. Rowena didn't even have stick around to ask what in the world a kabob was.
On the seventeenth feast, they debated if he would even appear. She didn't think it likely, so her heart soared when she saw a flash of orange in the painting when she turned to grab Sort.
This time, she swore. This time he'll come.
Down to the last child she fervently prayed that Sort would call out his name, but God was cruel. The last child turned away to join the Gryffindors. By the time she turned around, Ghost was already gone.
Instead of all of them climbing up again, she managed to convince the three to let her go alone. Again, she met White, glare and sword at ready. But Helga spat that White could go to hell, elbowed past the teen and kicked the door open ferociously.
Which brought her to her seated position in front of Ghost.
A log in the fireplace crackled. Helga fidgeted.
"You're getting better at being solid, Ghost."
"Thank you. I can almost do it unconsciously now."
"The nights are getting colder."
"Indeed; many of my students came in black and yellow scarves."
"You must have been touched."
She felt that that was enough pleasantries to last a year.
"Ghost, about the Sorting… do you want to talk about it?"
Ghost gave her a slightly exasperated look that was slightly ruined by the tired weight pulling on his cheeks. "Helga, I really don't need any comforting. I'm alright."
He saw the look on her face. "Really, I'm fine. I knew that it would take a while, I just had my hopes too high like a fool."
Helga hated the flatness of his voice. "Maybe the information was wrong, or maybe Sort missed a kid."
"No, no, the information isn't wrong, and Sort is doing his job just fine. Like I said, it's just me being a fool."
She balled her fists. "Ghost, you're not being the fo-"
She choked off her next words when Ghost conjured up a bottle of alcohol. "Rowena taught me this bit of magic," he said, voice flat as he popped the cork off. "I guess she never thought I would use it like this."
Ghost tipped his head back and took in a generous amount. Helga watched with the wide-eyed astonishment of a child who sees a pig flying.
In their many years of being something between friends and acquaintances, she'd never seen him drink. Or, considering all those damned-to-hell toasts (pardon her language) she corrected herself; she'd never seen him drink seriously, in the trying-to-forget-and-get-drunk-off-my-ass drink.
Downing a quarter of the bottle, Ghost lowered his hand and stared impassively at the sloshing liquid inside the glass. When he spoke, his voice was as blank as before.
"When the job was offered, we both knew it wasn't an offer."
Helga wanted to ask who the other party was, but decided against it.
"It was to find someone to be the new lynchpin. Something like that is a once-in-a-thousand-lifetimes honor. All I had to do was 'go on vacation.' Just stay away for five decades to five centuries. Maybe even more."
The liquid made little swirling noises.
"He said it was an honor to do it, and it was his way of thanking me for the favor I did for him. And we both knew that I couldn't turn it down, because once I did, he would go and offer the same thing to another one of my friends. And they would take it, we knew. I just couldn't let that happen."
Ghost studied the bottle.
"So I took it," he cleared his throat with another heavy gulp. "And landed here."
A sliver of a smile entered his face. He gulped down some more alcohol and looked straight at her. "I know it will take a while, Helga, I've been told as much. And as annoying as all of you brats can be, you're all important to me, like some sort of godchildren. Same goes for those brats you care for so much. But," his voice cracked.
"It's just hard, missing everyone."
Helga reached out and hugged him tightly as she would a child, patting him on the back and pretending not to hear him cry. At some point she began to cry as well, for the life and loved ones he had to leave behind.
Ghost buried his face in her robes, but they remained dry. Sometimes she forgot he was dead.
She knew he was asleep when her hand began to pass through his back. Right on time, Black and White slipped through the door and wordlessly ushered her out. But there was something like respect, or at least mild acknowledgement in their eyes as they closed the door.
Oh, right. She'd never asked about those two.
Another time, she supposed, making her way back to her Tower.
At the time of Rowena's death
"Are you completely sure?"
"Exactly and fully sure."
"In science, one can never be that certain."
"We are not talking about science, we are talking about passing over the key to the Room of Requirement."
Ghost sat by her hospital bed, his calloused young hands holding her own wrinkled lump of bones. He had an uncertain look on his face.
"Rowena, that Room is your child. Are you seriously considering handing your child over?"
"Handing over my child over to a trusted friend couldn't hurt nearly as much as losing my first one to herself."
"The Baron will be back soon, your daughter in tow."
"Bah!" She waved her other hand in the air. Age and grief had made her bitter. "They'll come back as ghosts you mean. I know my daughter. She's too proud to come back. She'd rather die than to live with this blight on her pride. My arrogant, prideful, beautiful daughter."
Ghost tightened his hold on her hands. "Your daughter will be back, Rowena. I promise it."
She shook her head. "What did I say about promises, Ghost. Don't make too many or you'll be entangled like a Skittish Sprunk in a Garland Wizbert's hair."
He didn't even question what they were. "Nevertheless, I promise it."
She drew her lips back into a yellow smile missing a few teeth. "You poor, adolescent soul. Too kind to this dying old lady when you already have to look for your little king." She coughed in heaving gasps.
She saw the spike of surprise in his natural scowl and cocked her head in a manner familiar to her old, dreamy self. "A natural King Arthur story this is, you being the blade in the anvil and young Arthur still polishing up his brother's shield and ego somewhere. I'm just curious who Merlin is in this little play."
"Well," she cast a half curious glance at her ancient body, "it's not like I have time to rummage around my Library some more."
Then her dreamy state snapped and she was back into a dying bitter mother. "Which is why you need to take the key. The only person I am willing to pass my last child to is you, since the other three are either six feet under or bedridden like me. Who knows, maybe it can be a little training area for your swordsmanship."
Ghost gave such a look of astonishment that Rowena burst out in laughter. It took hard work to break through that scowl, and she might as well use up all her ammunition while she could. Heaven could grant an old woman some sort of joy before she left.
"How did you know?"
"The sword one? Only just received confirmation." She relished in his scowl.
"Of course, it wasn't just a shot in the dark. I always suspected when I caught sight of the way you walk and Black and White's swords, but your hands were also a huge clue."
With effort, she lifted the hand that he was holding. "See? Only a swordsman could have that many calloused fingers in that particular order. Though I suspect you use the rare form of fighting with two slim blades and no shield."
"What else do you know?"
"Besides that you're not a normal ghost?" She hummed a bit, staring out the window.
"You originated from an Asian line, maybe Japanese? You look at strawberries with a scowl that looks oddly amused, so they have some sort of inside joke to them. You lost a parent, most likely a mother, before you died, which also explains that incomplete childhood Salazar blathered about. Black and White are something along the lines of bickering/overprotective brothers to you. Also potentially related. You're excellent with kids, so a lot experience with them back in the day. And also,"
Rowena looked at him with steel grey eyes. "You were a war commander before you became a Grim Reaper."
Ghost's face closed down like a steel barrier slammed down. Another confirmation. The kid was still too obvious.
"I don't think a teenager like me could have led an army." His voice was careful.
"You are purposefully drawing my attention to the first statement, which clearly means that you are indeed a Grim Reaper. I always imagined the Reaper to be a skeleton with a scythe, so it makes me happy that you are not."
"I'm not something that harvests souls."
"Indeed you're not. You're someone that harvests souls. So Mister Grim Reaper, take this key and let me rest for a while. All this talking has made me drowsy."
"For the last time, I will not take the Room."
"Think of it as a parting gift. I know you'll be even lonelier after I leave. It's just something to remember me by."
"Still, I can't. Give it to another, a trusted student perhaps."
"No one needs it as much as you will, Ghost. So take it. Please."
She reached for the fine steel chain around her neck and slowly drew out the key. The golden bit of ironwork glinted in the morning sun. Slowly, carefully, she reached out and placed it on top of Ghost's hands. Rowena saw him waver. She supplied him a nod of encouragement. He picked up the key.
"Just never lock it, will you? That magic is meant to be shared."
"Are you sure it's not just to brag?"
"A weak attempt to humor me, Ghost, but I'm glad for it."
"Grim Reapers sometimes offer their own form of therapy to the dead or dying."
"Interesting. Is it because the end is too frightening or is it for their own conscience?"
"Ghost, is death painful?"
A sad smile. "Don't worry Rowena. Your end will be gentle." He left with sorrow on his shoulders.
She lay back on her bed. A smile flickered through the old wrinkled of her face.
What an odd Grim Reaper. Who knew Death would mourn for his victims?
The moment that Harry Potter used the Resurrection Stone to bring back his loved ones, the contract was signed and he possessed the Cloak, Wand and Stone. In simpler words, he became the Master of Death.
Some time after defeating the single greatest threat in Wizarding History, the Master stood on the spiraling staircase with his two most trusted companions. In his hand was the Wand and in his robes the Cloak. He didn't realize the Stone had returned itself to its master as well, and was sitting in his pocket.
When he entered the circular room that was the office of the Headmasters, he was greeted with thunderous applause and thanks. Albus Dumbledore cried tears. Harry Potter and his friends were standing in the exact spot that the Four Founders did, hundreds of years ago when they were still young and on a midnight adventure.
The Master raised his hands for silence. The paintings respectfully obeyed. He directed his words to the silver-bearded wizard. He said he lost the Stone. The Stone was right there. The Cloak he would keep. He could never relinquish ownership until he had his first born. The Wand he would return. It would still come back to him. He wanted to die a natural death…
When he arrived, the Master was already gone, asleep in his bed. Albus begged him to let Harry have a year of peace, one year before he threw him into the world of the dead. He stared incredulously at the portrait. Did he have any idea of how long he'd waited, of how many years he'd spent alone? Did he have any idea of the pain of watching the ones he'd made friends with die and leave him alone again? Did he have any idea of this at all?
The man begged him relentlessly, desperate to let Harry experience even just a short amount of time in which he would not realize his position. The other paintings threw in their own pleas and arguments, and he wanted to swing his sword upon them all. They all knew him, watched him live too long past them, and constantly wait for the one person who wouldn't appear. And yet they surrounded him, asking him to wait longer.
He knew who the kid was. Harry Potter, chosen even before he would walk, much less take down a Dark Lord. He lost two parents, not just one. That had no meaning to him. He was always painfully different, sometimes cast as a delinquent craving attention or a divine hero from heaven, sometimes both, when he was just a struggling boy. What of it. He faced the murderer of his parents and countless other time and time again. Doesn't matter. Harry Potter finally defeated him and tasted long-awaited victory. He became Master of Death through his choice, and will have to suffer under the heavy title until he dies. He is still the next King. It doesn't relate to anything. Only it did, and-damn his soul-he agreed to wait one more year.
One year, he swore, just one. One year, in which all of the Hollows in Hueco Mundo would swarm into the World of the Living, drawn in by the scent of a newborn Master of Death. One year in which he, Shiro, and Tensa Zangetsu would take rotations of watch duty, one watching the Master and the other two fighting blood and bone to prevent any Hollow hands from touching a human. One year of 24/7 fights to the death.
But I'll wait.
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