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The Writing on the Wall. by MargaretLane
Chapter 5: Mysteries.
Disclaimer: Everything you recognise, including Hogwarts itself, many of the characters, the potions and sweets mentioned belongs to J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended.
For the first time since he’d started Hogwarts, Albus felt apprehensive when he saw an owl fly towards him the following morning. He half-expected it to be carrying a Howler from one of his parents.
“BARELY AT HOGWARTS A WEEK AND ALREADY YOU’VE A DETENTION!”
He wasn’t sure even James had managed that.
“Albus, are you OK?” Rose asked.
“What if they’ve sent me a Howler?”
He couldn’t even look at the owl.
“Albus, it is far too large a package for a Howler. Besides, they’re red.”
She reached over, removed the package and handed it to him.
With shaking hands, he did so. He couldn’t help thinking it was going to be unpleasant. People expected trouble from James; he could get away with it, but Albus couldn’t.
Slowly he extracted the contents and gazed at them in amazement. A box of chocolate cauldrons was the last thing he expected.
The knot of tension in his stomach began to abate and he reached absent-mindedly for a chocolate.
As soon as he bit into it, he felt a swelling in his mouth. The insides of his cheeks were puffing out and his tongue seemed to have swollen to twice its usual size.
Rose and Derek stared at him in concern.
“Are you all right?” Rose sounded worried.
“Bleugh.” His mouth was so swollen he couldn’t form words.
“You’d better go to the hospital wing,” she said. “Wait, I’ll come with you.”
He shook his head frantically. They’d Transfiguration first. If they were both late, there was no way Blackburn would believe they’d a legitimate reason. Not after what happened the night before.
“Are you sure?” Despite his response, she made as if to get up.
He nodded firmly and she sat back down, reluctantly.
Without waiting to see if Derek or any of the others would offer to accompany him, he headed to the hospital wing. His whole mouth was stinging horribly.
How he was going to explain the problem when he couldn’t speak, he’d no idea.
To his relief, he didn’t need to say anything. Madame Pomfrey seemed to realise within moments what was wrong and handed him a potion from her stores.
“Drink this immediately, though what possessed you to drink a Swelling Solution, I don’t know. That potion is not meant to be ingested. You’re lucky you didn’t poison yourself.”
He drank the potion quickly and to his relief, felt his mouth return to normal.
“I didn’t intend to drink it. It was in some sweets I was sent.”
She clucked disapprovingly. “And didn’t anybody ever tell you not to eat anything if you don’t know who’s sent it? I’ll have to report this to the Headmistress though; we can’t have people sending dangerous potions into the school like that. Can you bring me the sweets please?”
“I…well, yes, I suppose so.”
He was going to be even later to Transfiguration, which was good in a way. With the mood Blackburn had been in the previous night, the less time he spent around her, the better, but he really didn’t want another detention and he thought being late would probably earn him one, no matter the reason. After all, she hadn’t particularly cared about reasons last night.
The chocolate cauldrons were still lying on the Ravenclaw table when he returned to the Great Hall. He picked them up and turned them over. They didn’t even have a label on them.
He felt rather silly. Of course he knew that eating something without knowing where it came from wasn’t very wise. His father was an Auror after all. He’d just been so relieved it wasn’t a letter scolding him for receiving detention that he hadn’t thought any more about it. He’d just assumed it was from his parents, though now he thought about it, he should have realised it wasn’t his dad’s owl.
He returned to the hospital wing and handed the package to Madame Pomfrey.
“I’ll bring this straight to the Headmistress,” she said. “Honestly, eating something without even looking for a label. You should know better, Albus. I hope this’ll be a lesson to you. You’d better return to class now.”
He hurried away, anxious to escape her fussing. Not that he was looking forward to reaching the classroom either. He really hoped Blackburn wouldn’t give him another detention.
But when he entered the classroom, Slughorn was sitting at the top of the room.
“Ah, Albus, my dear boy, Rose told me what happened. I hope it wasn’t too serious?”
“Madame Pomfrey said it was Swelling Solution, Professor.”
“Oh dear.” Slughorn looked quite concerned. “I do hope it wasn’t created in my class. I had the third years create that very potion yesterday. Wanted to ensure they remembered something from last year. I suppose Madame Pomfrey gave you a Deflating Draught?”
“Yes, Professor and I feel fine now.”
He did. Even the stinging in his throat had vanished.
“Wonderful, wonderful. Now, as I was telling your classmates, Professor Blackburn is unfortunately indisposed at the moment, so I have the pleasure of supervising your lesson. Do take a seat and we can carry on.”
It seemed he’d no intention of doing much more than supervising. He didn’t bother teaching them anything. Instead, he spent the class time telling them stories of some of the famous people he’d met and questioning students about possible famous relatives.
“Dora Nottingham? Could you possibly to any relation to Wilberton Nottingham who developed a cure for Spattergroit?”
“I doubt it.” Her voice was harsh; she was obviously as fed up with Slughorn’s stupid questions as Albus was.
They were better than another detention, he supposed, but it was still embarrassing when Slughorn zoned in on him yet again.
“And of course, we all know who Albus is – the son of the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One. And we mustn’t forget your mother, my dear boy. One of The Prophet’s most respected reporters, I believe. There was a time when that wouldn’t have been saying much.” He permitted himself a little chuckle. “Hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when Harry Potter - the great Harry Potter himself - was practically an outcast in the wizarding world. Nobody believed him when he announced that You-Know-Who had returned. Of course I never doubted it.”
Albus rolled his eyes. He wasn’t sure he believed that. Slughorn would have supported the popular viewpoint, he suspected.
The lesson came to an end and Slughorn dismissed them, reminding Albus, Rose and Rasmus that they were always welcome in his office.
“And I hope to see all three of you at the next Slug Club meeting. Shall we say next Wednesday, at eight pm?”
“Yes, Professor,” they agreed. “We’ll try to be there.”
“Is he always like that?” Derek wondered, as they headed for Herbology.
“As far as I know,” Rose said shortly.
Albus glanced at her.
She pulled him aside and let Derek and the others pass them out.
“What is it?” he asked.
She looked around, to make sure none of the others were paying attention.
“Did you hear what Slughorn said?”
“Um, about what exactly?” Slughorn had said quite a lot during the lesson.
“About the Swelling Solution?! The third years were revising it yesterday.”
“So, think Albus. Who do we know in third year who’d think it funny to send you chocolates laced with Swelling Solution?”
“You think James did it?”
Maybe he shouldn’t have told Madame Pomfrey he’d been sent the chocolates. He didn’t want to get his brother in trouble. If James had done it, it would have been as a joke. He wouldn’t have meant any harm.
“Well, doesn’t it seem like him? And he was obviously using that potion lately.”
“I guess,” he said uncomfortably. His brother did like to play jokes on him.
“You wait until I see him,” she continued. “I’ll give him a piece of my mind. That was a really dangerous thing to do, you…”
She came to a halt as they reached Greenhouse One.
Neville looked at her. “Everything OK, Rose.”
“Yes,” she said sharply.
Neville’s eyes rested on her a moment longer, but he didn’t say any more to her.
Turning to the class, he began to explain the plants they’d be working with that day.
“Now, these may not seem as interesting or as much fun as the Bouncing Bulbs, but they do have many important properties.”
The class was an interesting one, though unusually for Herbology, it was mostly theory.
“You’ll get to work with the plants again in our next class,” he informed them at the end. “So don’t forget to bring your dragon hide gloves. Class dismissed. Rose, could I speak to you a moment? Albus too.”
They headed over to him.
“Are you sure everything is OK? It’s not like you to be distracted in my class, Rose.”
“Somebody played a practical joke on me this morning, Professor, that’s all,” Albus put in.
“I suppose it would be too much to ask for you to give me any more details?”
“Madame Pomfrey’s already telling Mc…I’m mean Professor McGonagall about it.”
“All right. Then all I ask is that there’s no escalation, OK?”
“We’re not going to prank them back, if that’s what you mean,” Rose said.
“All right. I’m trusting you. Better hurry along to your next class now.”
They did as he suggested.
It was lunchtime before they saw James.
Rose gulped down her meal, then strode across to the Gryffindor table. Rather reluctantly, Albus followed her. He wasn’t that fond of confrontations and he was sure he was about to witness one.
“James Sirius Potter!” she began. “Have you any idea how dangerous that was? I can’t believe even you’d be so irresponsible! I’ve a very good mind to write to Aunt Ginny!”
James stared at her in bemusement.
“Would you mind telling me exactly what I’m supposed to have done?”
“Don’t even try to deny it. You know perfectly well what you’ve done! For Heaven’s sakes, James, Albus could have been poisoned! Did you even check if that potion was safe to drink?”
“Are you suggesting I tried to poison Albus? He’s a nuisance sometimes, I’ll admit, but not so bad that I’d try to kill him.” James seemed to find the whole conversation hilarious.
“Well, of course I don’t think you were trying to kill him, but putting potions in food is dangerous, James. All sorts of things can happen if you put in too much or if they’re left too long or whatever. Swelling Solution isn’t meant to be eaten anyway.”
“You think I put Swelling Solution in Albus’s food?”
“It was in some chocolates I got by owl this morning,” Albus put in.
“Merlin’s beard, Albus, are you OK?”
“Yeah, Madame Pomfrey gave me a Deflating Draught. You really didn’t send it?”
“Of course not. Do you really think I’d do that? Rose is right. That’s dangerous.”
“Well, you did once set my training broom on fire,” Albus mumbled. “When I was on it.”
“Yeah, when I was eight!”
Rose was still looking at James suspiciously. “You do like to prank him though. And Slughorn said you made that potion in class only yesterday.”
“Well, yes, we did, but that doesn’t mean I sent it. Anybody could have.”
“Come on, James. Who else in your year would even know Albus, let alone bother sending him something like that?”
Albus might have been starting to believe his brother, but it didn’t look as if Rose was.
“It wouldn’t have to be somebody in my year,” James said thoughtfully. “We left the potions in the classroom afterwards. At least I think so. Anybody could have come in.”
“Slughorn would have vanished them.”
“No, he wouldn’t. Not immediately anyway. I’ve just remembered. He got called away at the end of our class. Some Slytherins were causing havoc in Charms or something and he went to sort it out. He told us to just gather up our stuff and make sure we left the room as we found it. We left the potions in case he hadn’t finished grading them.”
Albus felt his insides go cold. If James did it, that was one thing. He’d only have meant it as a prank. But the thought of somebody else doing it was sort of scary. Especially as he hadn’t the foggiest idea who it might be. Could somebody really have been trying to poison him?
No, they couldn’t be. He was only a schoolboy. It was ridiculous to think anybody’d want to kill him.
But his dad had a lot of enemies, hadn’t he? What if one of them…?
He shuddered at the thought of being targeted by some Dark Wizard his father ‘d defeated.
Rose was still looking a James a little suspiciously.
“You really swear you didn’t do it?” she asked.
“No, of course I didn’t.”
“Maybe I should write to Dad,” Albus thought aloud.
James nodded. “Yeah, you probably should. I mean, it’s probably no big deal. Just somebody playing a prank. Maybe somebody in your year who didn’t know potions can be dangerous. I don’t think the Swelling Solution really is, anyway, but I still wouldn’t send it in chocolates without making sure. If I’d wanted your tongue to swell up, I’d have slipped you a ton-tongue toffee.”
Albus grinned wanly. That was exactly what his brother would do.
They didn’t have time to say much more as it was almost time for afternoon classes, but as soon as classes ended, Rose and Albus resumed the conversation.
“Do you think somebody was really trying to poison me?” he asked her.
She shook her head. “I really doubt it. Far more likely to be some idiot like your brother, thinking it funny and not realising how dangerous it could be. I just can’t think who else would want to.”
“Maybe Scorpius,” Albus suggested. “His dad might have suggested he play a joke on me.”
“Maybe.” She didn’t sound convinced.
“I’m going to write and tell Dad anyway.”
“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.”
His owl was answered almost immediately.
Glad you’re OK, Al. That was a really stupid thing to do, but I’m inclined to agree with Rose that it was probably a prank. Dare say I did worse on occasions when I was at Hogwarts. And you’ve heard the stories about your Grandfather and his friends. And George and Fred. And your brother!
I really don’t think any Dark Wizards with a grudge against me would be likely to deal with it by sending you chocolates laced with Swelling Solution. It’s far too hit-and-miss. Swelling Solution really isn’t all that dangerous. It’s not meant to be ingested, I know, but the worst it would be likely to do is make you sick. You’d have to very unlucky to be seriously affected.
You were right to owl me though and I want you to do the same if anything else happens. It probably won’t, especially if McGonagall is looking into this. She’s not a woman to be tangled with! But on the off-chance it does, owl me immediately. You can’t be too careful and thank God, you have more sense that way than I had when I was your age.
Albus breathed a sigh of relief. His father hadn’t even mentioned the detention. And he didn’t seem to think a Dark Wizard was targeting Albus.
He handed Rose the letter.
“Well, he’s taking it seriously anyway. And McGonagall is looking into it. I guess there isn’t much more we can do about it. Except be more careful what you eat in future, Al.”
She didn’t need to tell him that. He was quite sure he’d never again eat anything sent by owl without checking for a label.
Despite everybody’s assurances that it was probably a prank, forgetting it was easier said than done and his dreams that night were haunted with images of poisoned foods and Dark Wizards out for revenge.
He was still tired when he got up the next morning and started the day badly, knocking over a jug of pumpkin juice.
“ALBUS, be careful,” Rasmus shrieked, as pumpkin juice splashed his robes.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
In Defence Against the Dark Arts, Professor Jones told him off for daydreaming and to make matters worse, when he entered the Transfiguration classroom, Blackburn was back, sitting at the front of the room.
He sighed. With all the drama yesterday, he’d completely forgotten he still had a detention to face into. Seeing Blackburn though, he couldn’t believe he’d ever forgotten.
To his relief, she barely seemed to notice him during the lesson. In fact, he wasn’t sure if he was imagining it or if she was practically ignoring both him and Rose. She did call on Rose once, but since Rose’s hand was, as usual, up for practically every question, only calling on her once seemed odd. She didn’t call at him at all.
At the end of the class, however, she asked “Rose and Albus, could you remain behind for a moment, please?
His heart sank. What had they done now?
He caught Rose’s eye and she shrugged. She didn’t know either.
Professor Blackburn passed her wand from one hand to the other and back again as the other students filed out of the room. She seemed to be avoiding their eyes.
Albus glanced down, not wanting to meet hers. Her fingernails were cut back so far, they looked almost painful, he thought desperately, trying to distract himself from the upcoming lecture.
Finally, she spoke.
“Look I’m sorry about the other day. I…I wasn’t feeling very well and I overreacted. I’m cancelling that detention.”
It was a moment before Albus felt her words sink in.
“Thanks Professor,” Rose said.
“Oh yes, thanks,” he added.
Professor Blackburn smiled and something like relief seemed to cross her face.
“You didn’t deserve it in the first place.”
“Um, are you OK now, Professor?” Rose asked.
Albus wished she’d shut up. He just wanted to get out of there while Blackburn wasn’t angry with them. He really didn’t want to risk annoying her again.
But Blackburn’s smile widened.
“Yes, I’m fine, Rose. Thank you for asking. Now, I’m sure you need to be getting to your next class. If you’re late, just tell your teacher I kept you and that they can ask me about it later.”
“Thanks Professor,” they repeated.
Maybe Blackburn wasn’t so bad after all.