No one – and certainly not anyone alive – knows the true story of Professor Binns.
Some believe that it was a curse placed upon him, for no one could naturally be that boring.
A few Ravenclaws briefly entertained the idea that he was a simulacrum created from an Ancient History book, back when there were no competent or plentiful instructors for the subject.
The most popular, and most widely-received, rumor, is that he just died of old age on evening by his fireside, before getting up the next morning to teach classes; leaving is body behind. Some don't think he even still knows he's actually dead.
All are relatively possible. Nevertheless, all are wrong.
But what no one realized at the time – or indeed, anytime in the future – was that one small, rather famous, second-year class came to closest to solving the mystery than any other class before or since.
The day that Hermione Granger interrupted another lecture on the International Warlock Convention of 1289 with a question about the Chamber of Secrets.
And, as the questions became more and more frequent and impertinent, Binns accidentally gave the clues to unraveling the whole mystery to the class of unwitting Gryffindors.
He said their names.
Grant. O'Flaherty. Pennyfeather.
Mariam. Patrick. Primrose.
Hufflepuff. Slytherin. Ravenclaw.
Three of the most impertinent students that Binns ever had the displeasure of teaching.
They constantly interrupted his lessons. It was never ending! And then – the gall! – they passed every. Single. Test. Without fail. Even though they never listened to ONE of his complete lectures! It was maddening! Infuriating!
'How did the Goblin Wars start?'
'What's with all the weird names?'
'What's the difference between a Warlock and a Wizard?'
'What was the Founder's stance on Goblin Relations?'
'How did the Goblins come to be in charge of the Banking System?'
'Can I go to the bathroom?'
'Can you tell us anything about the Chamber of Secrets?'
Secrets… Secrets… Secrets…
Oh yes, Binns knew about Secrets.
Like how he had a secret fondness for potions. How he was a member of a lost, Squib line of Slytherins, and so spoke Parseltongue. About how he had a Parselscript book that had a recipe for a deadly, untraceable, tasteless poison.
Like the Secret that he, one by one, slipped a drop of the poison into each of their goblets. Grant was the first to die, in her sleep, safe and warm and happy; dreaming dreams of presents and Yule four days before Christmas.
Next was Pennyfeather. She collapsed during Care of Magical Creatures. She was dead before she hit the ground. The Thestrals, having smelt the dead flesh, set upon her and began feasting. It took three powerful wizards to fight off the beasts; but they had failed to save her before they'd truly begun.
Last had been little O'Flaherty. The red-haired Slytherin had known he was coming. He'd just sat there, alone, in the common room, tears falling down his face as Binns forced his mouth open and fed him the poison. His dorm mates found him pale and cold, curled up before the equally dead embers of the fireplace.
No one ever knew or suspected. Even if they had figured out it was a potion, the first suspect would have been the Potions Master, not old, dry, boring Professor Binns.
The Secret about how he took every one of their bodies form their graves – even the mutilated one of Primrose Pennyfeather – and permanently transfigured them into three tables.
The very same three tables that every class had sat at since.
Then he took the poison himself. Sitting before his fireplace just like little second year Patrick O'Flaherty, Binns concentrated on how much he wanted to come back and exact revenge – how his task wasn't done yet. He had to erase any and all suspicion upon himself – and what better way to do that then die yourself?
So he did, he took the potion, and came back as a ghost to continue teaching. Lecturing and instructing and informing. And, all the time, Grant and Pennyfeather and O'Flaherty didn't interrupt once. They were forced to listen and learn, and Binns was able to lecture in complete, blessed silence.
But now, as he stared at the impertinent bushy-haired girl who was sitting at Grant, waving her hand like that over-enthusiastic Hufflepuff, he had to wonder if she was channeling her spirit.
But he felt obligated to answer the question, and so he did, only for everything to fall apart.
'But, sir,' And there! There it was again! That Irish accent… and he was sitting at O'Flaherty too! 'if the Chamber can only be opened by Slytherin's true heir, no one else would be able to find it, would they?'
And there! There it was, that glint of Slytherin calculating and cleverness. They were back! Those devils were back and they were asking questions and interrupting him with useless ponderings! But no, no it can't be… Pennyfeather wasn't here, and where two were so was the other.
So he answered the boy, slipping up without even realizing it, 'Nonsense, O'Flaherty,' and Binns was too far gone, too panicked, to realize that he was unraveling. 'If a long succession of Hogwarts headmasters and headmistresses haven't found the thing –'
And then there it was, what he'd been dreading to hear. It was Pennyfeather, that damned Ravenclaw, interrupting him mid-sentence with her damnable cool logic; and history was repeating itself.
'But, Professor,' the insufferable girl piped up, sitting innocently at Pennyfeather's table and staring up at him with the same eyes as that insufferable second year, all those years ago. 'you'd probably have to use Dark Magic to open it –'
'Just because a wizard doesn't use Dark Magic, doesn't mean he can't, Miss Pennyfeather,' Binn's snapped, though his voice was rising slightly in panic. 'I repeat, if the likes of Dumbledore –' But then he stopped, because if these second years – again! – told Dumbledore of when they undoubtably knew, what he'd done, he'd be as good as dead. Even if his heart was no longer beating and his body six feet under.
Binn's didn't even pay attention to the last brat who picked up the call before he was cutting him off as well. 'That will do,' he had to get them back to solid ground, he had to get back to the lecture. And if they interrupted him again, if they revealed themselves again; well, he'd just have to use his same measures as before… 'It is a myth! It does not exist! There is not a shred of evidence that Slytherin ever built so much as a secret broom cupboard! I regret telling you such a foolish story! We will return, if you please, to solid, believable, verifiable fact!'
Later, that evening, Binns floated, glowing, in his empty classroom. He was staring at the tables – at Mariam Grant and Patrick O'Flaherty and Primrose Pennyfeather.
Then he opened his mouth, and he lectured. He spouted facts and statistics and goblin wars for hours. On and on he droned, until the first rays of dawn shone through his windows.
When he stopped, he felt vindicated, at peace, and centered again. No matter what happened, he had won. He had succeeded.
He had his silence and his secrets and his lectures; and no one was going to take those away from him.
And, if those foolish second years confronted him, figured him out, well…
He'd have to see if he could fit three more tables into the classroom.
And then, when Salazar's Chamber was revealed and his Secrets were no longer secret; Binns knew that his chamber, his classroom was now the Chamber of Secrets.
For his were secrets that would never be known.
And, as he taught Grant and O'Flaherty and Pennyfeather's children, and their children's children, he smiled.
It turns out that he never needed another table, after all.