A/N: A huge thank you to Susan for letting me bounce ideas off of her and for putting up with my atrocious spelling
"I was afraid of death," said Nick. "I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn’t to have…" (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, pg. 861, US version)
Sir Nicholas de Mimsy–Porpington watched over two hundred children, ages eleven to eighteen, engage in an activity they all considered trivial: eating. It had been over five hundred years since he had enjoyed something as mundane as eating. Five hundred three years and eight months to be exact (not that he was counting). If he had known that fateful day he would never eat again, he certainly would’ve paid more attention to what he’d consumed. Although, oddly enough, he couldn’t even remember what that last meal had been.
There were many specific instances he had trouble remembering, while so many abstract thoughts lingered in his mind with distinctness not even five hundred years could tarnish. What he had last eaten had left him years ago, but the tangy, bitter, smooth taste of wine, swirling in his mouth and then sliding down his throat, never left him. He did not remember the last time he hugged his mother, but could feel, as if it were yesterday, her arms encircling him, pulling him close, rubbing his back. He could not, try as he might; even remember the last words they had shared. But with perfect clarity he could hear her voice, strong yet soft, commanding yet comforting.
The only person he remembered without any confusion was Margaret; his dear, sweet Margaret.
Her soft, green eyes were constantly on his mind; her lilting voice always in his heart. He had lived for her; become a ghost for her; continued his half existence with memories of her for half a millennium.
The first time he had seen her had been in the Hogwarts Great Hall, not unlike how it looked today, with its long, dark tables and its four bright house banners. The house symbols were different then, but the colours were the same, and the underlying meaning behind the symbols was clear even then.
He had been sitting at Gryffindor, waiting impatiently for the first years to put on the sorting hat, when she walked in. Even at eleven she stood out with her long blond curls falling down her back, her rosy cheeks and her bright eyes that took in everything with curiosity. She was sorted into Ravenclaw and due to the commotion of the first of the year feast, he did not think of her again that night.
Later, every time he saw her (in the halls, at meals, by the lake), a tight, not wholly unpleasant feeling constricted his chest - but he never acted on it. . He was Sir Nicholas de Mimsy–Porpington, of noblest blood, from a long line of wizards. And even if, in theory, his family was welcoming of Muggle-borns, he knew their reaction to her would be less than satisfactory. And then there was the little fact that they had never spoken, because every time he thought about it, his mind started buzzing. Nicholas supposed it more appropriate to admire from afar.
Until, one day, nearly five years after that welcoming feast, at the end of his sixth year at Hogwarts, Nick happened upon her walking around the lake. They smiled at one another, she blushed and he felt his own cheeks grow warm. One of them said, "Good day." The other replied. A conversation ensued. Perhaps it had been dull, about the weather and their professors, but to Nicholas, Margaret was the most eloquent, the most intelligent of all the girls, nay - of all the students, at Hogwarts
For the last few weeks of school they met by the lake and a friendship formed. Over the summer, owls were sent, in which every word was painstakingly thought out. The following year he saw her on the train and he knew he was in love. He confessed it to her in clumsy words and, to his shock, she declared her love for him as well. The year that followed was bliss. They held hands, kissed once or twice in an empty classroom, and spoke of a time when they would be free to wed. When he left Hogwarts, Nick began studying to become an Auror and waited for the time when she would leave school.
However, it was never to be. In the winter of Margaret’s last year at Hogwarts, after Nicholas had declared his intention to marry her, and after many long, exhausting talks of convincing his family of her worth, he received an owl that changed everything.
She had gone out in a snowstorm, they said. There was nothing anyone could do. It was while she was home for winter holiday and her entire family, being Muggle, had not even thought of using magic to find her…until it was too late. It was assumed that she had frozen or perhaps a wolf had hurt her or any other number of equally cruel deaths.
Nicholas did not believe it; it was a cruel joke someone was playing on him. His Margaret, with her laughter and her curiosity…she could not die; she could not leave him.
Nicholas spent the next five years of his life waiting for her smile. Waiting for her to come to him; tell him she was fine; they would be together forever. He forgot about everything else: his work, his friendships, his health, and instead lived only for the thought that Margaret would not –
could not - leave him.
"Nick!? Hey, Nick!" Ronald Weasley, friend of that poor, sad Harry Potter, was trying to gain his attention. With a sigh, he pulled himself back to the present.
"Well, I was just wondering what you lot do when we’re gone for the summer?" said Ron, looking at Nick.
"You lot?" said Nick, bemused.
"We do the same things that we do during the school year, I suppose. It is a little lonely with no children here, but Peeves is around to liven things up a bit. May I ask why you inquired?" asked Nick.
"Oh, well, I was just wondering. It just seems like there wouldn’t be much to do here, what with everyone gone. What, Hermione?" Ron was distracted by that pretty girl who was ever so nice; she was pulling impatiently on his sleeve.
"Where do you think Harry is?"
"I dunno…say, Nick, did you see Harry on your way in?"
"Yes, I did see young Harry." Nick thought it prudent not to offer any more information.
"Hmm…I wonder why he didn’t come in then."
"Oh, I do hope he’s all right," said Hermione. "I’m really worried about him."
"Yeah, so am I. I suppose he needs some time to himself."
"Very wise of you, Ronald." Sir Nicholas hesitated a moment. "If I might offer a suggestion…."
Both students paid close attention to him, their eyes saddened with grief and worry. "When he is ready to talk, just be there for him. And let him know that you’re willing to listen."
Both nodded as they stood to leave. "Thanks, Nick. Bye."
"Yes, thank you. See you next year."
These two teenagers were going to need to be there for their friend, probably more than they thought. Potter was going to go through some difficult times, losing Sirius Black in such an unfortunate way. When Harry cornered him only an hour ago, Nick was dreadfully reluctant to tell him Mr. Black was not coming back. He remembered the hours of waiting for Margaret to walk into Hogwarts again, as a ghost, and watching Harry so sure of seeing his godfather was heart wrenching.
He thought back on the time when he had given up on Margaret. He had already died; that blasted Patrick Cornington not even bothering to use a sharp blade when beheading him. And though he had thought he would welcome death, it seemed he couldn’t give up the hope that he would see Margaret again. He chose to stay behind. Having nowhere else to go, he came to Hogwarts. His happiest memories were here, with his beloved. If she were to ever find him it would be here. Years passed and there was no sign of her. It wasn’t until he had been dead for over twenty years that he finally accepted she had chosen not to stay behind. He thought of how foolish he’d been to believe that she would choose this half-life. But by that time, there was nothing he could do. He had made his choice and now he was stuck here until…well…he didn’t know when.
In an attempt to bring himself out of these thoughts, Nick drifted out of the Great Hall in search of Peeves.
Two days later, he found himself having a conversation with Headmaster Dumbledore about Harry Potter and Sirius Black.
"The poor boy," Nick was saying, "came to me and wanted to know that Mr. Black would be coming back as a ghost. He was as rather convinced of it, actually."
"What did you tell him, Sir Nicholas?" inquired Dumbledore. He wore a frown and seemed older than Nick ever remembered. There were only traces of the Albus who had been a student in Gryffindor, and less and less was there a twinkle in his eye.
"I told him ‘no.’ I said Sirius would not come back."
"Why? Because Sirius wasn’t afraid of death, not like I was. He would have gone on. I have been around long enough to know who will choose to go and who will choose to stay." Nick hovered in the air.
Dumbledore stared at him for a few moments. Eventually he said, "Nick, do you know how Sirius died?"
"Yes, Albus, I do. Professor Snape told the Bloody Baron, who told me just a day or two after it happened," explained Nick. "I know, of course, not to mention it to the students next autumn."
"Of course you do, Sir Nicholas." Dumbledore looked at him pensively again. "Nick?"
"You do know that you are not required to stay at Hogwarts, don’t you? You can, if the urge should ever strike, go anywhere you desire. Even, perhaps, the Ministry of Magic." Albus smiled at him.
"Well, I suppose I could. I hadn’t thought about it for a while," said Nick.
"You’re welcome to stay at Hogwarts. It’s your home, after all. But, if you should choose to go somewhere else, there would be no hard feelings."
Before Nick could respond to this however, a large crash came from overhead and Peeves could be heard cackling merrily. This was followed by a string of curses in Mr. Filch’s harsh voice. Dumbledore excused himself with a chuckle and went to sort out the situation, leaving Nick alone to wonder exactly what he meant.
And wonder he did. He thought about those words spoken by Albus relentlessly. He thought about it, until the meaning of what the Headmaster was saying struck Nick with a force that felt almost physical.
But…it couldn’t be…there was no earthly way that could be possible. Was there? And if it was possible, was Nick really ready for it? Could he just go there and do it?
The more he pondered it, the more inviting the idea was. Maybe if he just went there and looked at the veil…what harm could that do? He need not make any hasty decisions. He’d waited five hundred years for this moment. He could wait a while longer.
It seemed, however, that waiting was not an option. Now that the possibility had presented itself, the veil was all Nick could think about; it consumed his thoughts and altered his disposition. He was moody with everyone who came across him. He snapped at teachers and house-elves. When he wasn’t angry, he found himself floating down corridors while having no recollection of how he got there. The thought of that room in the Department of Mysteries exhausted him. Nick knew he had no choice but to go to it or to go mad with the thought of it.
Sir Nicholas found Dumbledore in his round office, writing what appeared to be a very involved letter. The Headmaster did not seem surprised to see him when Nick floated over.
"Ah, Nick. Lovely to see you. What brings you here today?" Professor Dumbledore queried, as he looked up from his parchment.
Nick met his eyes and saw a wealth of knowledge, trust and compassion. The speech Nick had prepared for this moment (‘As much as it pains me, I feel I must go to the veil and see if there is someway I can rectify the situation I have put myself into…’) vanished from his mind. He opened his mouth to tell the Headmaster his plan but only a squeak came out.
Professor Dumbledore put down his quill and sat back in his chair. "Have you made your decision?" he inquired, quietly.
"Yes." Nick paused and drew air into himself, puffing his chest up. "Yes," he said again. "I believe it in my best interest to go."
Dumbledore smiled kindly. "I thought so." The Headmaster looked torn. "May I say something?"
"First off, I will not pretend that it doesn’t sadden me to see you go. The Wizarding world has been thrust into difficult times and I will greatly miss your wisdom. I will also miss your friendship, which has been true from the moment I entered these halls all those years ago as a frightened eleven-year-old. I am also quite certain there will be a great number of students, not all Gryffindors, who will be disappointed in your leaving…"
Nick was aware, more than he felt, his cheeks flush silver. He had been so sure he was making the right decision, but now, speaking with Dumbledore, he realized all that he would be leaving behind, all of whom he would be disappointing. He opened his mouth to take back his decision, but Dumbledore interrupted.
"…However, I believe that you have made the right decision."
"But, Headmaster, how can I desert everyone at Hogwarts? I should stay."
"I cannot make this decision for you, Sir Nicholas, but I will say this. In my time on this Earth, which is indeed less than you have experienced, but a great deal more than most are given, I have come to the conclusion that all living beings die…or, at least, they leave this state of existence. They leave the Earth as we know it. You haven’t done this, for reasons I won’t even begin to fully comprehend. But, Nick, I have watched you over the years and you are not happy here. Until recently, I hadn’t thought of the veil as your answer. Now, however, I think it may hold exactly what you’re looking for. Perhaps it even holds what you’ve been searching for all these long years."
Nick was suspended in front of the Headmasters desk. On it, he saw the wizards hands clasped together, as if in prayer. "Are you scared to die, Professor?" he asked suddenly.
"Only a little," said the headmaster. "Only a little. All change is frightening, all new experiences disconcerting. But, in all my time alive, I have never lost faith and hope in the fact that there is a larger reason why we are all here. That reason most definitely lies beyond this world. Which is why, when it’s my turn to die, I will face it with some trepidation, yes, but also with excitement. For finding that reason, that explanation, that truth, will be positively worth it. There is not a doubt in my mind that all of the suffering and unhappiness in this life is rewarded and made better in the next."
"Not a doubt in your mind, sir?"
Albus Dumbledore smiled at Nick. "Not a doubt."
Nick set off for his journey that night, after floating through the dimly lit halls of Hogwarts, reminiscing – not only about his time here as a student, but also of the fond memories he had as a ghost. He was brought back to the moment of his first glimpse of the grand castle: sailing across the lake under a star filled, inky sky. It had seemed to him, as an eleven-year-old, far too impressive a place for him to live, far too majestic. He felt his heart constrict with the thought that it had been his home for over five hundred years. It had been his safe haven. He reminded himself over and over again that should he lose his nerve, he was free to come back.
The trip to the Ministry took longer than Nick had anticipated. He was thankful that ghosts were not susceptible to weather, but all the same, he wished he had enough substance to travel by Floo powder. It took nearly all of the next day to arrive. The only upside to the long journey was that he arrived there after night had fallen.
Nick floated through the red telephone booth, down the stairs and looked at the fountain placed in the centre of the entryway. He heard from the Bloody Baron that the golden statue, once sitting atop the pool, had been destroyed in Dumbledore’s fight with He–Who–Must–Not–Be–Named. Nick went to the lift and found a board that proclaimed the Department of Mysteries was on level nine. After many failed attempts to find the room, Sir Nicholas was startled when he finally saw the veil. It wasn’t as grand or as elaborate as he had pictured.
Was this it? This archway, crumbling apart - with its aged carvings and tattered veil - was this what he had been waiting for? And all he had to do was… go through it? It hardly seemed possible. Nick floated closer, peering at the fabric critically.
This was it. The choice he had made 500 years ago could be rectified with a single movement. Nick stared at the archway, growing (if it were possible) colder than he already was. He thought back to his last moments in Dumbledore’s office to give himself courage.
"Well then Professor, if you do not have a doubt in your mind, perhaps it is now my duty to see if you are correct – as you so often are." Nicholas smiled at Albus for the first time since floating into his office. "If you would be so kind, there are a few good-byes that I should like to make, but I’m not at liberty to do so in my current state."
Dumbledore promptly pulled out a stack of fresh parchment and picked up his eagle quill. He patiently wrote every word Nick dictated to the many who he wished to leave a final farewell. One letter each to Peeves, the Grey Lady, the Bloody Baron and the Fat Friar. He left a small note specifically for Minerva and a larger one for the staff in general, making special notice to thank Hagrid for being such a warm-hearted person. He instructed Dumbledore to send a small note to Remus Lupin, wishing him well. He gave a splendid farewell to the students of Hogwarts and a more personal goodbye to the students in Gryffindor, making sure to leave individual messages for many of the lion hearted. Last, he dictated a letter for Harry Potter, whom he was sure would be in his memory forever, should he still have one after he went through the veil.
It was this letter he was reflecting on as he floated to the front of the archway. He stared at the veil, seeing not it, but a short note, written in Dumbledore's small, neat handwriting….
No doubt when you read this letter, I will be in a place where you will be unable to reach me. I believe, however, if you did try and write back to me, it is possible I would know and I would be able to read your reply, or at least understand the contents of it. I write to you for two reasons. The first is to offer my condolences. You lost someone very important to you. I know it’s hard. I know you’re angry. I ask you this, Harry: please do not let this anger, guilt and grief that you are feeling rule your life. I am aware of what losing a special person does to you. I’m a product of it, and I’m unhappy. I am so because I let my hurt take over my life and, in doing so, forgot how to live. I hope, for your sake and for the sake of the many who love you, that you are able to overcome your despair and learn to live again. It will be hard, but you are quite capable, I am sure of it.
The second reason I am writing is to tell you that I have faith in you. It has taken over five hundred years for me to realize how strong faith can be. If you have faith in yourself, you can accomplish great things. Please, remember that you are a tremendous wizard and, more importantly, a tremendous human being. I know I will never forget. I wish you luck, Harry, in everything you do. It has been an honour knowing you.
Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington
…This was the letter Nick had on his mind when he steeled himself and moved forward. A shiver ran up his spine as felt the texture of fabric brush over his skin; something that had not occurred in over five hundred years. The sensation overcame him and it was a moment before he realized another sense he had not used for much too long was being utilized. He took a deep breath and felt cool tingly air fill his lungs. On the wind he tasted flowers and peppermint and the sea. His nostrils filled with the scent of poppies and the night sky. A bright light was forming all around him as the rushing in ears grew louder. Nick was startled to see that the light seemed to coming from the front…the side…behind him and…his own body! He looked down and was filled with incontestable bliss when he saw his arms grow darker. His ghostly pallor was leaving and in its place was flesh. Real flesh. An enchanting tune had started; something he was sure he’d heard before. It carried on the wind, reminding him of Christmases and childhood birthdays and summer time…it seemed to fill his mind with every happy memory he could recall.
Nick looked up. The bright light was fading, to be replaced by a warmer glow. He saw a pair of soft green eyes staring out from a smiling oval face, surrounded by blond curls. He caught his breath and felt love fill his every pore.
"What took you so long, darling?" she said as she approached him and placed her arms around his neck. "Welcome home."
A/N: A huge thank you to Susan for letting me bounce ideas off of her and for putting up with my atrocious spelling. And, of course, thank you to both Annika and Allie, whose words of encouragement are always uplifting. Thank you to Megan, as well.