Characters: Hogwarts ghosts, mostly
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 1600 words
Summary: Nearly Headless Nick and The Bloody Baron compete for the favours of the new Hogwarts ghost: Albus Dumbledore.
Note: Written for mctabby's Blame Each Other fic exchange-let.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
The Welcoming Feast was different that year.
For one thing, there were significantly fewer students at the house tables. For another thing, there were only five new students, and so the Sorting Ceremony went rather quickly and was over before everyone could get too grumpy about the lack of food. Four of the newcomers were sorted into Gryffindor, which was hardly a surprise to everyone present -- these days, people had to be either brave or stupid to venture very far from their homes. The other student sorted that year was a Hufflepuff.
Nearly Headless Nick gazed at the sausage Neville Longbottom was attacking with his fork and knife, and shook his head. The feathers on his large hat swayed gently; Neville looked up from his food and glanced at the ghost.
"What is it, Nick?" asked Neville.
"Oh, my dear boy, in these sad and trying times I often wish I were alive, so I could offer my sword to the righteous side," said Nick. "Seeing all this food is only making me wish it all the more."
Neville twirled the knife in his hand and set it down beside his plate, then stabbed the sausage with his fork and picked it up whole. "Not much you can do, is there? It's Harry who's got to do all the fighting, not anyone else, right?"
He bit off a largish chunk of the sausage, sending juice flying everywhere -- including onto Lavender Brown, who gave Neville a look of great distaste, then went back to whispering with Parvati Patil. Neville chewed, looking sheepish.
Nearly Headless Nick nodded slowly, gazing at Neville as though hypnotised. "Young Harry has a trying time ahead of him, to be sure. And yet--" he trailed off and sighed.
Meanwhile, at the Slytherin table, which was populated by a whopping fifteen people, most of them looking disgruntled, the Bloody Baron was deep in conversation with the seventh-year prefects, Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini.
"Don't be ridiculous, girl," the Baron was saying to Pansy. "Just because our numbers are reduced doesn't mean we cannot win the House Cup."
"That's not what I'm talking about," said Pansy hotly. "I don't care about that silly Cup, not with Draco gone."
Blaise made a small disgusted noise. "Are you listening to yourself, Parkinson? From the way you've been talking, it's as though the sun rises and sets with Malfoy. Why did you bother coming back here if all you're going to do is whinge about the lack of His Pointiness in the common room?"
The Bloody Baron grunted, nodding as though to approve. "That's the spirit. This is the perfect year for us to take back our honour, especially with Slughorn back on the job."
The three of them turned to look at the head table, where Horace Slughorn was merrily helping himself to chips, humming a tune under his nose.
All in all, it was a typical, although slightly more subdued, Welcoming Feast at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Of course, that all changed when the ghost of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore floated through the wall behind the head table.
The first thing that happened was that Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, who had just risen to address the school, promptly sat back down in her chair.
The second thing that happened was that Neville dropped his fork. It fell onto the table with a loud clattering noise, setting off a chain reaction of murmurs and whispers all around the Great Hall. These were so intensive that to some, it almost felt like Hogwarts was back to normal.
Dumbledore appeared supremely unconcerned with what was going on around him. He looked resplendent in robes of pure white that seemed to shine in the soft light from the floating candles. His beard and moustache were as flowing and silvery as ever, only they seemed wispier, somehow, as though to underline his new incorporeal form. He cast a glance around the Great Hall, smiled privately, and disappeared through the wall on the right, leaving a mighty silence in his wake.
Immediately, Nearly Headless Nick abandoned his post at the Gryffindor table and rushed after the former Headmaster's ghost. A moment later, the Bloody Baron followed, as did the Grey Lady and the Fat Friar, though the latter two looked none too happy to be leaving.
"Headmaster! Headmaster!" shouted Nearly Headless Nick as he floated through the second-floor hallway. He was trying to catch up with Dumbledore, who was currently peering into an empty classroom with an inquisitive look on his face.
"I say, Headmaster!" yelled Nick again. Dumbledore paid him no heed. Nick fell into place beside him and floated along as Dumbledore proceeded to tour the whole school, peeking into classrooms, nodding to portraits and examining tapestries with a critical eye.
"Harry Potter is making great progress in his quest to rid the world of the Dark Lord, sir!" offered Nick on the way to the library.
Dumbledore did not react to this in the slightest.
Nick floated quietly for a few moments, then spoke up again. "Gryffindor has got the most students this year, sir! We'll surely win the House Cup!"
Again, no response. Nick's left eyebrow was beginning to twitch. Dumbledore just kept going, seemingly oblivious that there was someone there talking to him.
"What are you looking for?" asked Nick twenty minutes later. "Perhaps I can help you find it!"
Dumbledore gave him a look and disappeared through a tapestry.
The Bloody Baron was going about things in an entirely different manner. He organised nightly parties for all the school ghosts, with frequent invitations extended to Dumbledore, who didn't seem to have picked a permanent dwelling-place yet. The lesser ghosts often had to flit around the whole school to find him and deliver the invitations -- all for naught, since Dumbledore never made an appearance at the parties.
The Baron tried to make it look like it wasn't a big deal, but everyone knew that he was none too pleased about this; surely even Albus Dumbledore couldn't resist a re-enactment of the Baron's tragically moving execution?
Days passed, and the ghost community became more and more divided. Those sympathising with the Bloody Baron made every attempt to get Dumbledore to settle in the dungeon. Those who took Nearly Headless Nick's side tried to pass Dumbledore information about Harry Potter and his quest.
It was all to no avail.
Two weeks after the memorable Welcoming Feast, the four House ghosts were assembled at the top of the Astronomy tower, after having scared away no fewer than three student couples. The ghosts were there to make a decision regarding something that had been brought up at one of the parties last week -- something they thought would finally bring Dumbledore into the community's fold.
The Bloody Baron floated to the centre of the room and made a movement as though clearing his throat. "Clearly, Dumbledore is offended that no one has offered him a House ghost position yet," he said. "He was an esteemed wizard and a legendary Headmaster; clearly this should be reflected in his standing here at the school."
Nearly Headless Nick did not react; he was looking out of the large arched window and seemed to be paying no attention. The Fat Friar looked confused; he looked from one of them to the other, his brow furrowing and his cheery smile waning. The Grey Lady looked haughty, because that's what she does.
"Of course," boomed the Baron, "Since Albus himself used to be in Gryffindor, it's only logical that he should become the new Gryffindor house ghost."
Nearly Headless Nick reacted, only it wasn't what everyone would have expected him to do. He didn't yell "Unfair!" or accuse the Bloody Baron of anything. Instead, he pointed at something outside and said, "Look!"
The other three ghosts floated over to the window. Below, near the greenhouses, Dumbledore was floating around, looking lost and alone. He seemed to glow in the moonlight as he glided along the greenhouse walls.
"What could he be looking for?" said Nearly Headless Nick.
It wasn't the first time he'd asked the question.
On the next morning, breakfast was proceeding as usual, the House ghosts at their respective tables, and Dumbledore near a corner at the back, peering around at the school, his eyes twinkling behind his half-moon spectacles.
Suddenly, a loud shriek rent the air.
It was Argus Filch, shouting from the Entrance Hall, and it was a sound no one had expected to hear again since McGonagall had banished the poltergeist from the school at the end of the previous year.
All the ghosts in attendance immediately left their posts and followed the shouting, which was immediately followed by sounds of breaking glass.
Sure enough, Peeves the poltergeist was floating near the roof of the Entrance Hall, pelting the windows with small, round stones from a slingshot. "Didn't expect me, wenches? Didn't expect Peevsie?" he cackled as he fired off stone after stone.
Then Dumbledore said, "Mwee hee hee!"
McGonagall, who had rushed to the large doors of the Great Hall, stopped abruptly and gaped at Dumbledore, who nodded. She cast a glance at Peeves, then at Dumbledore, stowed her wand back inside her pocket, and went back inside the Great Hall without another word.
With a benign smile, Dumbledore turned to the stunned ghosts assembled next to the railing. "Now that Hogwarts is back to normal, what was it your messengers were saying about parties, my dear Baron?"
Also! bethbethbeth blamed The Last Horcrux on me. In it, Dobby is a Horcrux. >:D