< >Looking to Professor Erwin, he had been shaken so terribly by what Anna had said to him, that he was fearful if she pried around enough, she would find something out, so he had decided to be less sharp with her, so she might not investigate. She was quite bright, though, he had figured out quickly, top of all her classes; he'd never noticed before, not that he paid much attention to anything like that before.
< >"I think most of us our done with our test, sir," Anna replied, eyeing him closely.
< >Professor Erwin jolted into a straight sitting position. "Ah," he cleared his throat and stroked it nervously, "yes, you are right. Pass in your papers class to Mr. Timothy. When the bell rings, you may leave."
< >A short boy - Carnaby Timothy (a horrible name for anyone) , Professor Erwin thought to himself, blinking blankly - timidly approached the desk and nearly threw the test papers onto the desk and did nothing but run back to his desk in fright.
< >Professor Erwin didn't even look at him; he was rereading the letter that had actually come in the middle of class, carried by a large barn owl, who dropped the letter on Professor Erwin's head, surprising everyone. Rereading, that is, for the fourth time.
< >When Professor Erwin suddenly realized everyone was watching him, he jumped up, rolled the parchments of the long letter, and hurried out of the classroom. Just as he strode out of the door, the class exploded into whispers and he caught someone say, "What has he got there? D' you think it's from You-Know-Who?"
< >After hearing this serious accusation, Professor Erwin ran to his chambers, slamming the door behind him with such force it made the castle echo with its sound. The castle grew hastily quiet, as if wincing, preparing for more slamming from him. This was what they were very used to, but nothing more happened, to everyone's surprise.
< >Suddenly, this made the professor very weary. A headache roared in his head like a hammer bashing against metal in a steel mill and he fell on to his bed, shaking from head to toe, white as a sheet.
< >The professor woke many hours later to the sound of loud, continuous rapping on his door.
< >"Professor?" The rapping that had stopped momentarily started up again. "Professor Erwin?"
< >"What?" Professor Erwin croaked in a low, raspy voice that was not his own.
< >There was a pause, then a sharp crack, and the recently unlocked door swung open.
< >"Professor Erwin!" a voice shrieked. It was Madam Geoffrey, head of the infirmary, looking very shocked and worried at the sight of the professor, who knew he looked as worse as he felt.
< >"Madam Tatooli!" Madam Geoffrey nearly screamed, making Professor Erwin's head pound even louder. "Madam Tatooli! I need your help, now! To Professor Erwin's chambers and hurry!"
< >The bustling castle stopped dead. Professor Erwin? Hurry? What was happening?
< >"What is it, Lorraine?" Madam Tatooli asked in a forced sort of normal voice a few minutes later. Professor Erwin could not see her, as his eyes only saw blurred objects, and realizing this, he let his eyes roll back into his head to stare vacantly at the bleary ceiling.
< >"It's Thomas, Juane. I swear, he looks as if he has been stricken with yellow fever of the Muggle world! Look!"
< >There was an audible gasp from Madam Tatooli and shuffling of feet. Thomas Erwin groaned at the inauspicious noise. "What happened?" she whispered.
< >"I don't know," Madam Geoffrey admitted in a soft voice. "He wasn't sick yesterday."
< >Yesterday? Professor Erwin wondered groggily. Have I been asleep long?
< >"Let's get him to the infirmary right now, Lorraine - "
< >"NO!" Professor Erwin shouted suddenly, sitting up. The two women jumped back a foot in surprise as he raised an accusing, shaking finger. "If you do - even try - to put me in the infirmary, I will put a hex on all of you!" Any strength he had left disappeared from his body and he slumped back down on the bed.
< >"Do you think he's serious?" Madam Geoffrey whispered, looking in shock at the gasping man, sweating on his bed sheets horribly.
< >Madam Tatooli didn't answer, just stared at the sick professor. After a moment she said, "I don't know, Lorraine . . . I just don't know . . ."
< >Rumors flew through the castle like a hurricane about Professor Erwin:
< >"Did the letter have a curse in it?"
< >"Did You-Know-Who visit him?"
< >"Have you heard what he looks like? He's grown scales!"
< >"No, he's grown fangs and tethers!"
< >"I heard he threatened to turn Madam Tatooli into a frog with whiskers!"
< >"No! A dog with feathers!"
< >Indeed, Professor was ill, but he hadn't grown anything but more weary. He refused to eat and threatened to hex anyone who came near him, but never to turn anyone into anything, and although he certainly could, that was not an issue. People did stay away, but staff members always watched him around the clock through the small window in his chamber-room door, just in case . . .
< >Transfiguration was taken over by Madam Tatooli, who would answer no questions concerning Professor Erwin, except that he was sick, and no, he could not have visitors, nor did he want visitors, to answer Anna Winterbourne's question.
< >One day, late at night, Madam Tatooli was sitting in a chair across the room from the sleeping Professor Erwin, watching him. He even shakes in his sleep, she marveled sadly. Professor Erwin was on his side, facing the wall, curled a bit into himself, and shook as if he was living in the Arctic with no blanket or fire to warm him.
< >Professor Erwin had always been complained about during the last fifteen or sixteen years. Many teachers had demanded her why she hadn't fired him and she would always reply he was a good teacher, just bad with people. She also loved him as a sister loves a brother and knew in her heart she could never fire him, even if her life depended on it.
< >And he was a good teacher, the other teachers couldn't argue that, for everyone he ever taught had, at least, good Transfiguration skills, but . . . bad with people? That was the understatement the century.
< >He hated people. From Harry Potter to Madam Tatooli to Dumbledore himself, the most renowned wizard of the world, to You-Know-Who - who was not renowned, obviously, for goodness sakes - yet all the same, he hated them, and everyone knew it; they just didn't know why.
< >"Professor Erwin," Madam Tatooli murmured softly, trying to blink away her tear-stricken eyes, "Thomas, my dear, I know you will not like this, but I will have to contact Dumbledore . . ."
< >Professor Erwin squeezed his eyes closed and did not reply. He slept so much during the day it was nearly impossible for him to sleep at night. Madam Tatooli didn't know he was awake, anyway, so what did it matter to speak and make it known he never slept at night?
< >After Madam Tatooli left to get Professor Amande Yuri of the Muggle Department for the next watch patrol, Professor Erwin let himself go and began to quietly cry. When he started, he felt he never want to quit.
< >The professor cried himself into a restless sleep, only brought on by sheer exhaustion, and woke up the next morning to find his chambers bright with light. He blinked and closed his eyes slightly to see.
< >An old man, with a long white beard and half-moon spectacles, stood over him. His sparkling blue eyes considered the aging professor before him carefully with concern and worry, yet a twinkle of amusement was clearly there in the azure irises.
< >"You are up now, I see," the man said softly, stroking his long beard.
< >Professor Erwin looked away from the man. "You see very well then, don't you?" He took a long, shaky breath. "I knew you would come. Madam Tatooli said it last night . . . but I did not know when, though I should have known . . . Immediately, I daresay . . ."
< >"You are sick, Thomas, you should not speak."
< >"NOT - SPEAKING - BROUGHT - YOU - HERE - ALBUS!" Professor Erwin shouted angrily, suddenly sitting up, and pointing an accusing finger at the man. He realized he had done enough finger pointing then, so he dropped his arm, but not his emotions.
< >Professor Dumbledore sighed, but let Erwin continue.
< >"Also, your constant letters for fourteen, damn long years, students whispering his name, rumors about me being on the Dark Side - ha! - then the boy's arrival at Hogwarts, his being sickly, and his defeating Voldemort again and again - yes, I got your letter. So what do you think this did to me, Albus?" Professor Erwin yelled bitterly, clenching his hand into a threatening fist.
< >Dumbledore sighed again, but it was quite obvious he didn't have an answer.
< >"Stop bloody sighing all the time!" Professor Erwin shouted. "I know what you are thinking and I am not pathetic! No matter what you or Minerva or Juane or anyone thinks!" He slumped back onto his bed suddenly, exhausted.
< >"Of course you are not pathetic!" exclaimed Dumbledore with surprise, raising his eyebrows. "I was not thinking that . . ."
< >"What were you thinking, then?" Professor Erwin snarled with absolute malice, glaring at Dumbledore angrily. He didn't wait for an answer. "Get out. I thought maybe your coming here would be good, but this conversation has turned that around. Get out!"
< >"No!" Dumbledore yelled, surprising Professor Erwin. "No, Thomas," he repeated in a softer, more calm voice, "I will not leave. You can't ruin your life like you are doing now, Thomas."
< >"And why not?" Professor Erwin sneered. "And I am not ruining my life, thank you very much! My life is fine. It would be great, however, if you and everyone else would just shut up about - !"
< >"About Voldemort, Thomas?" asked Dumbledore patiently. "About Harry Potter?" The professor flinched, but Dumbledore ignored it. "Not likely, Thomas. Not likely at all and you know it."
< >"And so what if I do? I've managed at least a little serenity in my life!"
< >"Doing what, exactly, Thomas?" Dumbledore demanded fiercely. "Terrorizing your students to the point where they are afraid to speak in your presence? Afraid, that if they speak the name you have dared not utter in fifteen and a half years that names their greatest hero, they will be expelled? Am I missing something here, Thomas? Tell me, what have you managed? Serenity? That's not serenity! That is neglect and fear!"
< >Professor Erwin glared at Dumbledore, his eyes turning to slits. "Leave me alone, Albus," he growled, his voice deadly quiet and cold. "Just leave me alone. You cannot tell me what I can and cannot do."
< >"True as magic, Thomas, but I can certainly try."
< >"Get out, Albus."
< >Dumbledore lifted his spectacles to eye Professor Erwin, then left the room, closing the door behind him.
< >Out in the hall, waited Madam Tatooli. "I will bet the whole school felt that argument, Albus," she said with an edge to her voice.
< >"Juane, you know he must do it."
< >Madam Tatooli glared at Dumbledore and nodded coldly. "Do you somehow not think I know that, Dumbledore?" she demanded. "But I will not blackmail him to do that, do you understand? I cannot without a guilty, nor torn heart, tell him I will fire him because of what he must do. Neither will I force him, though both my brain and my heart say I should, but I shall not and will not."
< >Dumbledore sighed and looked down. "Of course not, but Juane, believe me, he will become more withdrawn and hateful if this is not done, and then . . ." He let it sink into Madam Tatooli's psyche. "Then, you will have to fire him, because he could become an endangerment to the students and staff."
< >Madam Tatooli shut her eyes for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, I know, Albus. What if . . .?"
< >Dumbledore sighed and shook his head. "I do not know. He has had so much happening to him, both of them, that I am not even sure any of this will work out. But to here? Thomas would lock himself away and never come out. He needs to be in a place where he can't lock himself away."
< >"Give him some time, Albus. For the sake of both of them."
< >"All right, but if too much time passes . . ."
< >"Yes," said Madam Tatooli sharply, glaring at him again. "Fine."
< >Professor Dumbledore left her in the hall and went out the front door, smiling half-heartedly at the students and staff who stared at him as he walked by. He retired quickly back to Hogwarts, yet not telling even Professor McGonagall, his most trusted friend and advisor, of the circumstances.
< >Madam Tatooli looked through the grate that was in the door to Professor Erwin's chambers after Dumbledore had left. The weary man was sitting up, his face buried in his hands.
< >The next day, Professor Erwin gathered himself and walked to class, though rather carefully, as his knees still shook. It was the middle of the first class, so the halls were empty, with only the ghosts about, along with Arana Filch, but unlike everyone else, the professor knew how to stay away from her, and even her two mangy dogs, Cornelia and Darius, who sniffed the halls, catching students in the act. (It should be noted, in light of Erwin's anger of these three "vile" roamers of the castle, they was nearly identical to Arana's brother, Argus, and his dreadful cat, except for the fact all five of them hated each other, but that is just a note.)
< >Professor Erwin entered his classroom silently and the class hushed the instant they saw him, frightful. Madam Tatooli dropped her book, letting it land with a thud on the floor. "P - professor Erwin?" she asked, blinking in surprise.
< >"Madam," said the professor, giving her a slight nod, and a look that meant that he wanted her out. She understood immediately, and, with giving him a look that he knew meant see me later, she strode out of the room.
< >The students' eyes went from her to Professor Erwin who walked to the front and picked up the book the madam had dropped. He glanced at the page on the nearest student's desk and flicked his wand, making the book suspend in air, the pages turning until it was on the right page.
< >"Really," he sneered, glancing at the page number again, "I'd have thought the madam would have gotten you a bit farther along." He sighed irritably, not even looking at his students. "Mark my words, you'll forget whatever she taught you. When you are taught by me, you never forget."
< >The class stared at him in amazement and confusion as he sat down at his desk with another, irritable sigh.
< >Professor Erwin glanced at them when he finally felt their eyes. "What is it? Am I growing werewolf fur? One of the many rumors I have heard, I have heard a lot more. Smith!" he snapped. "Delight me with a new one."
< >The boy, Jackson Smith, trembled as he spoke. "Sir, I - I - "
< >"You have not heard any? Well, my absence must have been boring for you all, then?" Professor Erwin sneered, narrowing his eyes. "So, since this is nearly just the beginning of the year, is there anything I should know that everyone else knows and I don't?"
< >The class exchanged looks, then a small boy in the middle row raised a trembling hand. The class stared at him, as if knowing exactly what he was going to say.
< >Professor Erwin raised an eyebrow at this. "McCullin, isn't it?"
< >"Y - yes, sir."
< >"What news do you have?" the professor asked in a menacing voice.
< >"Er, sir, I am not sure - "
< >"Whatever is it, tell me," Professor Erwin snapped, making the suspended book snap close and fall to the floor.
< >"Harry Potter is now entered in the first Triwizard Tournament in half a century at Hogwarts," the boy said quickly and shrilly, burying his head in his arms, as if preparing to ward off the professor from biting his head off and expelling him.
< >"W - what?" the professor sputtered, nearly falling out of his chair and turning white as a sheet - for at least the tenth time in the last few days. His hands began to shake and he grasped the edge of the desk to steady them.
< >"He - uh - in the fourth of three schools entered, sir, and is the youngest," someone murmured softly, keeping their eyes on the ground. "There are suspicious that he may have cheated to get in, since no one below sixteen years old was supposed to get in and there's only supposed to be one person per school and there's already a Hogwarts student entered . . ."
< >The class hushed and Professor Erwin jumped to his feet. "I, uh, had not heard that. T - thank you, McCullin and you, Ms. Jorgenson, but as I have always said, it is none of our business and we should get on with our lives." He cleared his throat nervously, stroking it twice.
< >"Now that we have covered the daily news," the professor coughed, continuing after a short, considering pause, "on with your work." He looked around with beady, hungry eyes. "Whippet! Tell me exactly what Madam Tatooli has been teaching you. I hope it has not been blasphemy, or I will have to teach you the lesson over . . ."
< >After the day was out, Professor Erwin hurried to his chambers, slammed the door behind him, locking behind him. He sat down on his bed and put his hands on his head. The Tri-wizard Tournament? The fourth contestant of the three schools? How - ? Did he really cheat? Is the boy insane?
< >There was a sharp tap on his door and he looked up. An owl was at the grate, flapping hard, as it pushed in a large envelope. In green lettering it read:
< >Professor Erwin stared at the envelope in hatred. "Damn you, Dumbledore!" he shouted angrily, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth. "Damn you!" He didn't move from his bed and narrowed his eyes at the letter.
< >The letter stayed in it's place on the floor that entire night. Professor Erwin did not bother to see Madam Tatooli - choosing to not have to walk over the envelope that undoubtedly carried the news he already knew - she would have probably lectured him and he didn't want nor need a lecture, in his opinion.
< >At breakfast, Professor Erwin scrawled a note to Dumbledore, saying:
< >He folded the letter and gave it to his owl, who flew away, with the whole school watching it until it disappeared from sight. Then, with quick looks at Professor Erwin, they returned to a partially normal talk.
< >After a few days, everything was returning back to normal. The students lost whatever pity they might have had for Professor Erwin during his sick days and were back to hating him.
< >Professor Erwin, indeed, was acting normally, or it seemed that way to everyone else. He was snapping at everyone, yelling and bellowing, glaring at his students, and threatening them, of course, with the usual stance.
< >When he was alone, however, the professor would stare at a wall for hours, ignoring the letter that he had since picked up and put on his chamber desk.
< >About five days after he returned on the job, he was eating a small, quiet breakfast at the head table, when the morning mail arrived.
< >There seemed to be a lot more owls than usual, but that often happened, especially on the day of someone's birthday or something like that. Professor Erwin rarely cared for such formalities, so he paid no attention.
< >All of a sudden, though, the professor realized the half of the owls were headed toward him.
< >"NO!" he shouted angrily at the birds, jumping to his feet, and shaking a fist at the owls. "LEAVE - ME - ALONE!" Professor Erwin pushed back his chair and it slammed into the wall behind the curtains of the stage the high table was positioned on. He ran from the room, nearly tripping down the stairs of the stage, covering his head, as letters were being dropped on his head by the wretched creatures and sliding all over the Great Hall.
< >The students stared after him in bewilderment. The teachers and staff shared the same looks, except for Madam Tatooli who cursed under her breath and stood up to speak to the school.
< >"None of you move. Do not touch the letters. Do not speak. Samantha, dear, if you would - ?" Professor Gooding raced out of her chair and began to gather up the letters, snatching some out of the hands of confused students who held one or two blankly in their hands.
< >"Everyone," Madam Tatooli continued gravely, "you will not speak of this matter to Professor Erwin, nor any other matter but Transfiguration. You will also not spread rumors of the professor, either. He is under a lot of pressure and he does not need any more of it. Understand, young ones, if you do any of this, I will suspend you, which will seem like the royal jewels to you when I'm done."
< >The students nodded dimly, sharing looks of fear and shock.
< >After breakfast was over, Anna Winterbourne was the center of attention, though she tried desperately to run from her accusers who thought she had done something again, or just wanting to know - again - of what she had said to him many years before:
< >"What did you say to him?"
< >"What did you do to him, Anna?"
< >"You know what's going on. Tell us or we're going to Tatooli!"
< >"Tell us, Anna!"
< >Someone had actually pointed a finger at her at one point and called her one of You-Know-Who's supporters which made Anna blow up, scaring people half to death:
< >"If you ever dare call me Voldemort's ally again, I will see to it that you burn in - "
< >"All of you!" snapped Professor O. Arthur McWilliams, head of the Charms section of the school, looking very angry and grave, as he appeared in front of them. "You will leave this corridor this instant. Go to class. And you will shush your mouths. What I heard just now can get you suspended. Go on, before I tell Madam Tatooli!"
< >The students ran to their classrooms, but the fourth years moved more slowly, staring at each other and at Anna, who walked far behind everyone, her head bowed in conflicted thought.
< >Professor Erwin was already in his classroom, the letters strewn all over the desk. The class stared as they seated themselves, but dared not utter a noise. Their professor suddenly jumped to his feet, scooped up all the letters, threw them into the wastepaper basket, and with a flick of his wand, lit them on fire with a boom, to the shock of the class.
< >"Transfiguration does not use fire, but I felt this was a time for a change of . . . atmosphere," Professor Erwin told his class coldly, glaring at them with malice gleaming in his dark eyes. "Take out your books and begin reading chapter thirteen. I am particularly disgusted with your lack of effort." He spit in the wastepaper basket, making the fire rise in the air at least six feet with a sharp crack.