< >It was the castle in the sky. If you looked at it, though, you would most likely think it was a castle in the mountains, but it was the castle in the sky, atop of the white, never-moving clouds. Alas, though, yes, if you had to be logical, it was on a mountaintop, far and high from the normal people and normal castles.
< >That morning was the day of opening of the seven hundred, twenty-fourth year for Sharadine School of Witchcraft For Girls - the only magic school to begin in October and end in early May - owned and operated by the renowned headmistress, Madam Juane Tatooli, respected.
< >All the teachers and staff bustled about, making sure everything was perfect, the enchanted brooms sweeping the dusted floors. Some of the brooms became comical and tried to sweep the dirt and dust under rugs, but the school caretaker, Arana Filch, put them in order by threatening to break them in half with her bare hands.
< >Feather dusters dusted the coats of armour - they had been covered in dust for the two and half summer months - who swiped at the dusters with their squeaky metal arms, attempting to rip out their feathers. Needless to say, once she saw this, Professor Samantha Gooding, of the astronomy and astrological science department, kicked the enchanted knight garments angrily as she swooped by like a bat in her normal dress of violet and ebony robes, making the coats stop abruptly - and rather morosely - stop their noisy entertainment.
< >"Professor Erwin!" a voice called, magically echoing throughout the whole castle.
< >The somewhat young professor - with dark brown hair blue eyes, and high cheek bones (making him handsome when he smiled, but ugly when he frowned) - sighed hollowly and picked himself up from his desk in his empty classroom for Transfiguration. He hated being disrupted, especially during lesson plans. Hadn't his five years of his teaching there and complaining (no matter how good-naturedly) accounted for anything? Oh, well, Professor Erwin thought, shaking his head. No matter. I need a stretch. His black robes swooped across the floor and he hurried through the corridors to the front hall, where he knew he was being called to.
< >When Professor Erwin emerged in the front hall, he stopped dead.
< >A black-haired woman, with wisps of gray in her tied-back hair, dressed in long, emerald robes, and looking very grave and somber, stood at the front door to the castle. Madam Tatooli, one of the professor's better friends, stood next to the woman, the same look on her face. Professor Erwin's polite - but somewhat touchy - smile disappeared from his face almost instantly.
< >"Professor?" he asked with a touch of shrillness to his voice. He touched his throat nervously, a habit of his whenever he thought there was something wrong, and at that moment, he knew something was wrong. "Madam?"
< >Professor Minerva McGonagall was silent for a moment in hesitation - something that Professor Erwin took as a bad omen and did not like at all. "Thomas, dear, I . . . I have terrible news . . ." Professor McGonagall was suddenly at a loss for words and looked down, straining to hold back tears.
< >"W - what is it, M - Minerva?" Professor Erwin stammered, knowing immediately that something was very wrong. He touched his throat again and stroked it. He was beginning to feel very sick.
< >Professor McGonagall wouldn't look up, seeming both distressed and abashed.
< >Madam Tatooli took a step forward and gulped. "James and Lily Potter are . . ."
< >"Lily and James are what?" Professor Erwin croaked, his throat suddenly hoarse.
< >". . . are dead, Thomas . . ." In that moment, an eerie silence crept over the front hall of the school. Not a soul blinked, not an thing moved, not an animal breathed. "Thomas, d - did you hear me? I - I said that - that the Potters passed away - " Madam Tatooli took a step forward, a distressed hand outstretched to her young friend until she touched his arm.
< >"What?" Erwin cried, snapping back into the cold reality. He ripped away from the headmistress, stumbling nearly to the floor, and had to steady himself against the old wooden wall. His knees shook violently. "Is - is this a joke?" he demanded of McGonagall and Tatooli sharply, his voice very high. "A cruel joke?"
< >McGonagall looked at him and shook her head. "No, Thomas," she replied softly.
< >"W - who? H - h - how?" Professor Erwin stammered, forcing back tears.
< >McGonagall hesitated again. "V - voldemort, Thomas. It was Voldemort."
< >There was a pregnant pause before Professor Erwin spoke again.
< >"W - what happened to H - harry?" Professor Erwin wasn't very sure he wanted to know, but he knew that he must know, no matter what. They're all dead! Voldemort! He killed them! he shrieked in his head with malice and grief. All of them! Even poor Harry! He thought, that is, until McGonagall told him otherwise.
< >"T - that's just it, Thomas. Harry - Harry . . . Harry survived."
< >Professor Erwin stared at McGonagall, shaking harder than ever. "H - he survived?" He sank into a chair against the wall and buried his face in his hands. "How could a child survive Lord Voldemort, Minerva? How - how is that even possible . . .?" The young man's voice was quavering, soft, and meek as he whispered hoarsely, hardly able to stand his grief.
< >"We . . . we don't know, Thomas. But when he tried to kill Harry, his powers . . . they . . . they just vanished!" said McGonagall, her voice shrill with fear of the unknown. "And he disappeared. No one knows why. . . ."
< >"When did this happen?" Professor Erwin demanded, lowering his hands away from his face, and looking up.
< >"Two nights past, Thomas."
< >"Why wasn't I told this sooner?" screeched Professor Erwin, looking up with a face contorted in alarm.
< >"Ev . . . everyone assumed you knew, except . . . except for Dumbledore."
< >Professor Erwin's eyes flashed with anger. "Of course not Dumbledore!" he shouted with a sneer, jumping to his feet angrily. "Why wouldn't Dumbledore know that I didn't know? He knows positively everything!"
< >McGonagall looked down again, not daring to protest Albus Dumbledore's worth in front of Thomas Erwin, a man known for his dislike and animosity toward one of the greatest wizard's in the world. Minerva McGonagall knew it wasn't worth the breath.
< >"Where has Harry been taken?" McGonagall didn't answer, still lost in thoughts. "Where has he been taken, Minerva?" Professor Erwin demanded through gritted teeth, his hands curled in fists clenched at his sides.
< >"To his only living relatives," McGonagall replied delicately, watching the professor's reactions to this carefully. "Dumbledore left him on their front step himself. I saw him do it - the boy is safe - and so did our games keeper."
< >"Them?" Professor Erwin nearly shrieked at McGonagall. "Petunia and what-is-his-putrid-face? Damn Dumbledore and damn you, Minerva! Damn you both!" he shouted bitterly, shaking a finger in her direction. The professor then gathered his cloaks in an abrupt motion and hurried down the corridor angrily, deliberately slamming his fist into the castle phantom, who doubled up in surprise as he stormed by.
< >Professor Erwin disappeared into his chambers and wasn't seen until later that evening, when the first students began to arrive by charmed clouds, lifting them up from the foothills far below the mountain peak.
< >He looked very withdrawn and white that night. He did not even look Madam Tatooli in the face, nor any student or other teacher who wanted to greet him after a long summer. The young professor merely watched the ceremony of the first years, who were sorted into the three groups of the school by the school fortune teller, who sat in the middle of the stage of the Great Hall, reading the first years' minds and deciding which group they belonged in, then would get up and leave.
< >After the ceremony was over, though, Professor Erwin stared down at his plate, not eating. He collected stares from the school prefects, and from the teachers and staff who didn't know what the news of Voldemort's disappearance was doing to him. The other students, though, were all too busy talking to take notice - that night, anyway. They would in the morning . . .
< >Professor Erwin didn't look up, but he could sense the people who knew this was abnormal of him, not speaking, not moving, not doing anything - he could feel their stares. Most of all, though, looking past these curious, prying eyes, he felt Madam Tatooli's hawk-like, yellow eyes burning into his back like the fires of Hell.
< >The next day, the whole school was talking about already famous Harry Potter, whispering that he was the one who stopped You-Know-Who. It was an uproar, since everything had finally been confirmed by the Daily Prophet , Witch Weekly, and other various newspapers and magazines that morning.
< >Harry Potter - just a small, little boy - had ridden the world of the cruel, infamous You- Know-Who! Amazing, impossible, outstanding! Absolutely wonderful!
< >There was one person, though, at Sharadine, and in most of the rest of the world, that did not look happy at the news:
< >Professor Erwin.
< >He slammed through the door to his class, startling a group of fifth years who were excitedly talking about the incredible news. The last words squeaked, before everyone hushed, was "Harry Potter!"
< >"Shut up, all of you," Erwin snapped angrily as his class of fifteen frightened girls ran to their seats. "This is a classroom for Transfiguration, and you know it. Not for gossiping about Lord Voldemort - " the class gasped at the rarely-spoken word, but said not a word themselves - "nor his hiatus from society. And if I hear the name Harry Potter in this classroom ever again, the person who said it will be expelled - I will see to it myself - do all of you understand?"
< >The class stared at their professor in horror. Professor Erwin was usually a nice, caring - though strict, of course, as every professor was - person. A teacher also never threatened students, which the students in the room - and soon to come later - thought with terror.
< >What happened to him over the summer? they all wondered; however, they didn't say a word, for they were too sacred to ask. They knew that he was extremely serious in what he said - the vein pulsing near his temple was a dead giveaway - and they were all afraid to utter a single word.
< >Professor Erwin glared at his students until they all nodded dumbly, still taken aback at his harsh threats. "Get out your books!" he yelled angrily. "Page one. You're back in the real world now, ladies. Deal with it and get on with your lives."
Ten years later . . .
< >After five more years of being an all girls' school, Shardine School of Witchcraft for Girls became Sharadine School of Witchcraft Merged, a school for all students, as most schools were coed at that time and still would be, even years and years later.
< >Every year, students filtered, charged, tiptoed, and sauntered through the school on their merry to bitter ways. Yet, no matter the mood, there would always be many happily spoken words about the elusive boy called Harry Potter. Students would whisper about who had reportedly met or seen him on the street, the next book published with his name in it, who'd had the best celebration for him that year, and more.
< >But never, ever, in a million years, were these words spoken in Professor Erwin's distance of hearing, which had seemed to grow sharper and farther every year, for everyone was fearful of what might happen if someone did. . . .
< >As a precaution, each first year student was immediately told by the older students to never speak about the subject of Harry Potter in Professor Erwin's presence. It was an unwritten law that no one did not know about, unless they were complete fools, and no one had reportedly been a complete fool . . .
< >Older brothers and sisters would tell their younger siblings tales that Professor Erwin had tried to expel quite a few students in the first few years after You-Know-Who had disappeared when they said, "Harry Potter," but Madam Tatooli had forbidden it just in time to catch Erwin trying to literally boot the students out the front door of the school.
< >And, of course, no one liked Professor Erwin anymore; he was too hard, too snide, and too seemingly evil to like. Even his favorite and best students hated him. The teachers all tried to figure out what was wrong, but Professor Erwin would never say a word, nor would Madam Tatooli, had anyone suspected she also knew what had changed Professor Thomas Erwin.
< >Rumours flew through the corridors for years saying that Professor Erwin had been on You-Know-Who's side and was upset and angry that he had lost You-Know-Who and any time now, if he got too upset, he'd fly to where Harry Potter was and kill him off on the spot - for revenge.
< >Yet there were many who had to say - even despite their dislike of Professor Erwin - that he couldn't have any real contempt for Harry Potter and what he did to You-Know-Who. He was a Gryffindor from Hogwarts - Hogwarts, no less, home of Albus Dumbledore! - and no Gryffindor anyone knew of had ever crossed over to the Dark Side.
< >About ten years after Harry had made You-Know-Who disappear, there was another uproar in Professor Erwin and everyone else's life: Harry Potter was at Hogwarts! A Gryffindor, at that! Letters from home had swarmed in on September first of that year, two days into the Sharadine year (which had been presently changed to the second-to-last day of August after the co-ed change). Everyone was in high spirits and celebrating that Harry Potter was such a special young boy - for at least the millionth time in their lives.
< >However, Professor Erwin, as usual, was a different story.
< >If anyone had been around him when everyone found out about Harry and watched him very carefully, they would have seen him go white and his hands would begin to shake. Only few did and, of course, they brought up the rumor of Professor Erwin being on the Dark side again, but it was pushed away by all the excitement over Harry Potter.
< >"Shush your mouths," Thomas Erwin had snapped at his students after he had calmed himself later that day. "What have I haven't had to tell you? Never ever speak that name in my classroom - ever! Do you hear me, damn it! It is none of our business! Back to work! Mr. Dennison, turn Ms. Fletcher back to normal this once or I'll drag you Madam Tatooli's office and have her turn you into a pig and we'll all eat you for dinner!"
< >Suddenly, a few weeks after this incident, there was word of Harry being the youngest and best Quidditch player and Seeker at Hogwarts in over a century, which had caught everyone off guard - most notably when they heard that he had nearly fallen off his broom. (Gasp! He could have injured himself very badly!)
< >The professor had gone extremely pale once more when it caught wind of him and snapped at his students to shut up again, and again, and again. But even Professor Erwin couldn't stop the uproar when it happened again near the end of the year.
< >Harry Potter had defeated You-Know-Who (at least, "one of his corrupt followers daft enough to join him," at the Daily Prophet put it) once more in his short life!
< >Professor Erwin had locked himself in his chambers after that. He couldn't have shut his students up if he'd body bound them. The teachers wouldn't shut up, either. Their faces glowed with pride in the wizard who had once again defeated You-Know-Who, which disgusted Professor Erwin to the very extent of his limits.
< >When he finally came out of his chambers, he had yelled at his classes: "I will expel all of you if you speak that name and you all know I will, by what rumors fly around here! So what if he has defeated Voldemort once more! I have told you it is none of our business, so be quiet, all of you! And I don't really care if he is your role model, MacFly, I forbid that name spoken in this classroom!"
< >Everyone knew then - at that very moment, when they finally shut up - that there was something really wrong with Harry Potter to Professor Erwin, yet they had no true idea of what. The older students could do nothing but stare at their professor and whisper as the school year drew to a close. The first years were dreadfully scared of Professor Erwin, except for one girl, who surprised everyone, especially Professor Erwin, in that same year.
< >Professor Erwin was busy writing a nasty letter in reply to a letter he had just received, when there was a light knock on his office door and a soft voice called, "Professor Erwin?"
< >"What is it?" Professor Erwin snarled, not looking up.
< >"It's Anna Winterbourne, Professor Erwin. One of your first year students . . .?" came the soft reply. The door pushed open.
< >"Ms. Winterbourne," said Professor Erwin testily, not looking up from his letter, "I didn't say you could come in, did I? Leave before I look up and you won't be punished." He thought she would leave and didn't bother to look up.
< >"Professor Erwin . . ."
< >He didn't reply, his lips curling in anger, but he refused to look up.
< >"Professor Erwin!" Anna Winterbourne nearly shouted.
< >Professor Erwin jumped, blotting the word, "you" on his letter. He stared at Anna in surprise.
< >Anna Winterbourne took a deep breath and stepped up to her professor. "Professor Erwin, I am a half blood and I have had a few brothers and sisters come through here, and they have told me stories . . . stories about you."
< >Professor Erwin narrowed his eyes to where they were slits, a normal habit of his when he was angry or annoyed. "Aye, I have heard them all. Delight me with one, Ms. Winterbourne. Go ahead, but realize, you'll be punished now, even though it's the last day."
< >Anna glared back at him, shocking him. "And the stories I heard were horrible. You suddenly turning cruel, right after Voldemort - to most people's surprise, sir, I can say the name - disappeared, and you shouted at your students to hush up about it all, and never say a word about him. I heard from my brother, James - " she didn't notice Erwin flinch at the name - "that you actually tried to literally throw students out the front door when they said - "
< >"Indeed I did and what is your point, Ms. Winterbourne?" Professor Erwin interrupted sharply.
< >"You must know everyone hates you, Professor Erwin," she continued quickly, beginning to slightly doubt her courage as Professor Erwin looked at her with hardly any emotion, save for the evil glint in his eyes. "You are not that dumb, I can tell. And you must hate everyone else, but I have to ask . . ." Anna let her words trail off.
< >"Ask what?" Professor Erwin demanded angrily.
< >Anna leaned in so she could whisper in his ear. "Why do you hate Harry Potter?"
< >Professor Erwin turned white and stared at the wall in front of him.
< >Anna Winterbourne turned and left, not looking back at him.
< >Rumours ran rampant through the school, everyone whispering about what Anna Winterbourne - a first year! - had done to Professor Erwin. He wouldn't leave his chambers and it was a good thing that classes were over, too, to say the least.
< >Anna would not say a word to anyone about what she had said and left school with everyone else, still refusing to say a word. She wouldn't even tell her parents who had heard tell of it through owls from parents of other students, nor would she even tell her older sister, the person she was closest to in the world. Her lips were shut; the only reason people knew about her encounter was people had seen her walk in and out, with the result of Professor Erwin locking himself away.
< >All she would say was this: "It is between the professor and myself. None of you have any right in knowing." Though, that is to say, she had no real idea herself of why Professor Erwin had been so shaken by her words. She had expected him to snap he didn't hate Harry Potter, but he had gone into a sort of shock, and that scared Anna more than anyone knew.
< >That was why Anna had left the office - she would have stuck around, if she had felt Professor Erwin was going to answer, but in less than a second of looking at him, she knew he would never speak to her on the subject again, as long as she lived. She feared, also, that she had stopped him from ever speaking about it . . . whatever it was.
Fourteen years after the first victory . . .
< >Professor Erwin cursed softly to himself as he read the letter. "Dumbledore," he mumbled, "again! I should just go down to that cursed place and put Dumbledore in his place on this matter!" But his psyche put him in his place. Thomas, the boy is at Hogwarts . . . has been for years now . . . "It goes on and on and on. Blast it." Dumbledore will do something, you know it . . . Professor Erwin cursed himself. Of course he would, he snapped to himself, why wouldn't he, the -
< >"Er - professor?"
< >Professor Erwin looked up, startled. "Y - yes, Anna?" He dark temperament flipped to a cautious one when he looked Anna in the eye.
< >The class stared at Anna Winterbourne. It was still shocking to them - even after four years - that Professor Erwin actually talked kindly - if you will - to a student. They didn't know why he was doing it, either. They thought, though, it probably had something to do with what Anna had said to him a few years before, and being right as they were, if they had known what even Anna didn't know . . .