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Chapter 13: The Empty Inkwell.
Dislaimer: Hogwarts, many of the characters, the Slug Club and everything related to Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. Alice in Wonderland and the underlined quote from it belong to Lewis Carroll. No copyright infringement is intended.
The mystery continued to occupy much of Albus’s attention into December. Between that and his schoolwork, he hardly noticed Christmas approaching until James visited the Ravenclaw table after breakfast one Saturday morning.
“Bet you wish you were in third year today, little bro.”
Albus stared at him. “Why?”
“Last Hogsmeade’s trip before Christmas! All the girls are planning on getting some Christmas shopping done.” He rolled his eyes. “Hope you’re not expecting me to get your present. I’ve far more interesting plans for my time.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to get him something decent,” Rose put in. “He went to a lot of trouble finding that Quidditch annual for you last year and I know for a fact it was your parents bought those chocolates you gave him and Lily. You could get her something today too. You know she’d love something from Hogsmeade.”
“You know, Rose, you may be only twelve, but sometimes you sound like somebody’s mother. Lighten up for God’s sake.”
“And get owls home for blowing up other people’s cauldrons in Potions. We all know how Slughorn favours our family. You must have been causing major chaos to get in trouble with him. I’m surprised your mum didn’t send you a Howler. Mine definitely would’ve.”
James shrugged. “It was worth it. That’s your problem, little cousin; you take life way too seriously.”
He sauntered off.
She exhaled loudly with irritation.
“Honestly, Albus, your brother!”
“Never mind him,” he said, hoping to change the subject. Rose and James had never been able to spend more than five minutes together without bickering and he’d no intention of getting involved. “I hadn’t realised just how close Christmas was.”
“Yeah, our first term’s almost over. I suppose they’ll start decorating the castle soon.”
Overhearing them, Derek leaned across the table.
“What’s a wizarding Christmas like anyway?”
“Well, I guess it depends,” Albus replied. “As you know, our family is huge, so we spend the morning with our own families, then we all head over to my grandparents for our Christmas dinner.”
“Then we end up starving because somebody’s late and Grandma insists we can’t eat until they get there.”
“And nine times out of ten, it’s Uncle George and his family who hold us up.”
“And Uncle George always says they’re late because the children were playing up or something, but then Angelina tells us what really happened is that he got carried away playing with one of Fred’s toys or one of the presents he’s bringing.”
“I’d say his presents are worth waiting for, though,” Rasmus put in. He glanced around at the other first year Ravenclaws. “Their Uncle George runs Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, you know. It’s a joke shop.”
“Yeah, he does give good presents,” Albus said. “What’s your Christmas like?”
“A lot less exciting than yours sounds. My family’s a lot smaller than yours for one thing. We often go away for a few days after Christmas, usually somewhere of historical interest or something. But on Christmas day, we just exchange presents, listen to the Christmas programmes on the wireless and have a really delicious meal. The adults drink elf-made wine and Hilda and I have Butterbeer. We don’t have too many relatives around though.”
“I can’t imagine Christmas without television,” Derek said thoughtfully. “My family doesn’t watch that much on Christmas day itself, but we spend most of Boxing day in front of the box. And the couple of days after that.”
“There are a lot of special Christmas programmes, aren’t there?” Rose said. “We always go to my Muggle grandparents on Boxing day and Hugo and I love watching television, though I can never understand why the pictures on television move and ordinary Muggle photographs don’t.”
“In Ireland, the day after Christmas is called St. Stephen’s day,” Fionnuala said. “Or sometimes Wren day.”
“Wren day?” Rasmus looked confused.
“Yeah, it’s sort of a tradition we have. All my family gets together that day and the adults conjure wrens. If we can catch them and bring them back before they disappear, we get a Galleon. It’s good fun.”
“Sounds weird,” Derek said.
“No weirder than a world where people fly in huge contraptions that don’t even have magic to hold them up,” Fionnuala responded.
“You say that when you fly on broomsticks!” Derek was incredulous.
“Oh, stop arguing,” Rasmus said. “I want to hear more about Muggle Christmases. I haven’t any Muggle relatives.”
“There isn’t that much to tell, really. We watch the Queen’s Speech on television, because my grandmother insists on it. Oh, I guess another difference would be the presents we get. I don’t suppose wizards get stuff like computer games or DVDs.” He sighed. “I’m looking forward to playing on my computer again.”
“I can’t figure how you Muggles can get computers to work,” Rose said. “My grandparents let me and Hugo play with theirs one year. We couldn’t get the hang of it at all. I think we lost some things my granny had saved actually.”
Nathan grimaced. “I’ve seen those things Muggles call computers. I don’t think I’d dare go anywhere near one. It’s already a joke in my family that I’ve usually broken at least one present by the time Christmas day is over.”
They all laughed and Albus gave Nathan a sympathetic look.
It was fun, hearing about everybody’s Christmases. Only Dora and Angie seemed to remain apart, resisting all efforts to include them in the conversation.
“I suppose there’ll be a Christmas party for the Slug Club too,” Rose said, as they finally got up from the table. “Didn’t your dad say something about that, Albus?”
“Oh, don’t remind me.” He sighed.
Rose, however, seemed to have thought of something.
“Let’s not go back with the others,” she said quietly, grabbing Albus by the arm. “Something’s just occurred to me.”
“OK.” He wondered what she wanted to tell him.
The Charms classroom was empty again, so they slipped inside.
“You know how we were looking for a chance to ask Slughorn about Blackburn?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said doubtfully. He still wasn’t sure it was such a good idea.
“Well, the party’ll be the perfect time to ask him. You know Slughorn; he’ll be full of the joys of Christmas, maybe even have a couple of drinks taken. He’ll probably be too relaxed to get suspicious no matter what we ask.”
Albus bit his lip thoughtfully. He supposed it could work. He couldn’t say he was looking forward to it though.
The following week, Slughorn started issuing invitations.
“I thought the last Saturday before the Christmas holidays,” he announced expansively after Potions class. “I do hope you’ll both be able to join us.”
“Yes, sir, we’ll be there,” Rose said.
“And of course, if you’d like to invite anybody else, they’d be most welcome. I always allow my Slug Club bring guests to the Christmas party. It’s one of my favourite parts of the holiday season and being my last one, well, I’m planning something rather special. Just between you, me and the wall…” He tapped his nose and grinned at them. “I’ve a few rather…well, rather distinguished guests invited. Your brother should be pleased, Albus.” Perhaps you’ve an interest in Quidditch yourself?”
“Ah, well, I’ve a treat in store for you, so. Not that you’ll get me to say anymore. Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, would I? You’ll find out soon enough, my dear boy.”
“Spoil the surprise!” Rose burst out, once they were out of earshot. “He’s pretty much given it away already. I think we can fairly safely guess he’ll have some well-known Quidditch player there.”
Albus laughed. “I suppose so. Hope it’s somebody from the Holyhead Harpies.”
“As if you haven’t met all of them a hundred times already!”
“They’re the best team though.”
She laughed. “And of course the fact your mum played for them has nothing at all to do with this completely unbiased opinion.”
“Mum playing for them just proves they’re the best team. She wouldn’t play for them otherwise.”
It wasn’t often he got the better of his cousin, but this time, she gave in.
“True enough, I suppose.”
Albus grinned. If there was going to be a Quidditch star there, maybe this party wouldn’t be as boring as he’d expected.
Many of the rest of the Slug Club seemed to have the same opinion and excitement grew as the party drew nearer.
As they were allowed bring guests, it wasn’t only the Slug Club that were excited. Everybody who’d an interest in Quidditch seemed to be hoping they’d be invited.
Knowing Derek had never met any Quidditch players, Albus asked him if he’d like to go.
“It probably won’t be much fun. But Slughorn was hinting there’d be a well-known Quidditch player there or something, so might be worth attending.”
“OK,” Derek agreed. “I’d love to come.”
Rose wasn’t too pleased when he told her.
“We’re supposed to be focussing on getting information from Slughorn. Having other people around won’t make that any easier.”
“Oh, come on, what harm’s Derek going to do? You already told him about one of our plans. He can always chat to Rasmus for a while anyway.”
“I suppose so.” She didn’t sound satisfied.
A larger crowd than usual gathered outside Slughorn’s office before the party.
“Come in, come in.” Slughorn was expansive. “Great to see you all. Brian, Dominique, Hilda, James, I know you’ll all be particularly anxious to meet Demelza Robins, who played for the Applyby Arrows. She tells me she played with your father at Hogwarts, James. Oh, Albus, come over here and join us.”
Demelza laughed. “It was your father who chose me for the team. If it wasn’t for him, my Quidditch career might never have got off the ground in the first place. I played with your mother too, and then against her when we both played professionally.”
“What’s it like playing professionally?” Dominique asked shyly.
“The most important thing to remember if you’re thinking of a career in Quidditch is that there aren’t that many jobs. No matter how good you are here at Hogwarts, once you’re out there, you’re likely to be competing with others who are just as good or better. And there are so many things that can derail your career. A minor injury at the wrong time could be enough to lose you a place on the team of your choice. Nor are the salaries quite as high as you might imagine. I’m not trying to discourage any of you who may be considering it. I just want to make you aware of the reality. It’s always best to have a good education behind you, so you’ve other options if it doesn’t work out.”
Dominique nodded seriously.
For a moment, Albus allowed himself to dream of playing professionally; catching the Snitch for England in the final moments of a World Cup final. He knew it was highly unlikely to happen though. He really doubted he was that good a player.
A leprechaun band started up on the other side of the office interrupting his thoughts.
“Wow.” Derek stared in amazement as they played the first of a number of old tunes on fiddles, bodhráns, tin whistles and a tiny harp.
Some of the older girls started pulling boys out onto the floor to dance. Slughorn stood at the side, smiling beneficently.
Rose waited to be sure Derek was completely distracted by the band and then beckoned to Albus to follow her across to Slughorn.
“Sir,” she began.
“Ah, Rose. And Albus. I hope you’re both enjoying the party.”
“It was great to meet Demelza,” Albus replied honestly.
“Ah, of course, of course. Did you get her autograph yet? If not, then do come over with me now. I’m sure she won’t object if I ask her to do you a favour.”
He permitted himself a little chuckle.
“Did you teach her when she was at Hogwarts, Sir?” Rose asked before Albus could reply.
“I did indeed.”
“You must have taught nearly everybody in the wizarding world. All the younger people anyway.”
“And a lot of the older ones too.” Slughorn chuckled again. “I’m quite an elderly man now, you know, but I have to say, I still know pretty much everybody there is to know in the wizarding world. As you say, I taught most of them. Ha, ha. The stories I could tell you about some of them. You wouldn’t believe me if I did.”
“I suppose you even taught some of the other teachers here.”
“Oh yes, I taught quite a few of them. Let’s see, I taught dear Sybil, of course. Never could get her to recognise the beauty of a freshly-brewed potion. Between ourselves, I think there was only one type of potion she was interested in, if you get my drift.” He nodded in the direction of the wine on the table before him.
“And what about Professor Blackburn?”
Slughorn nodded. “I taught her too. An extremely bright girl. Expected to get all Os. Such a pity…” He trailed off.
“What was a pity?” Rose asked eagerly.
“None of your business!” Slughorn frowned, then suddenly smiled again. “But of course, this is just a casual conversation, isn’t it?”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Nothing to worry about then. Now, didn’t you want Demelza’s autograph?” He smiled at Albus.
“Um, yes Sir.”
“Well, let’s go and get it so.” He hurried across to her and they’d little choice but to follow him. “Demelza, my darling, Albus here is extremely anxious to get your autograph. Great fan of yours.
“Um, I don’t have any parchment,” Albus said awkwardly.
“No problem at all my boy. Accio parchment.” Slughorn waved his wand and a pile of parchment flew towards them.
“Thank you,” Albus said, after she signed a piece for him. “And thank you, Sir.”
“No bother at all, my boy. And now, if you’ll excuse me…”
He disappeared into the crowd.
Rose looked extremely puzzled.
It was clear she wanted to talk to Albus when the party finally ended, but was unwilling to do so in front of Derek and Rasmus.
“I can’t believe I met a real professional Quidditch player,” Derek said. “It was kind of embarrassing though, because I’d absolutely no idea who she was. I’d never even heard of the Appleby Arrows. And as for that band…oh my God, why did nobody ever tell me leprechauns existed? I honestly can’t believe they’d a band. My parents are not going to believe any of this when I talk to them next week.”
“A year ago, they probably wouldn’t have believed in magic,” Albus reminded him.
“That’s true. They’ll soon be experts at believing six impossible things before breakfast. I think I already am.”
“Six impossible things before breakfast?” Albus stared at him in confusion.
“Alice in Wonderland?”
That didn’t help clear it up.
“It’s a Muggle children’s story,” Rose explained. “My mum had a copy, so I’ve read it, but it’s not well-known in the wizarding world.”
“You’ve read everything.”
She laughed. “Not quite everything.”
It was late, so they hurried back to Ravenclaw tower, continuing to chat happily. Rose, however, looked distracted and the following morning, she woke Albus early.
He squinted in the darkness.
“Rose, it’s Sunday. This is far too early to be up.”
“I need to talk to you and once everybody’s awake, we’ll get no privacy. Come on down to the common room.”
“Well, give me a chance to get dressed first.”
After she left, he dressed hastily and then followed her downstairs.
She was pacing the empty common room.
“I wish I knew what Slughorn meant was a pity. It must be something pretty major when he wouldn’t explain it. After all, he’d just implied Trelawney was an alcoholic!”
“It was a bit weird,” he admitted. “But Slughorn’s been here forever. You said yourself nobody could hide anything that long.”
“I didn’t exactly say that, but I’m not suggesting he was a Death Eater or anything anyway. Just that he seems to know something mysterious about Blackburn’s past.”
“But…” He paused, trying to articulate what he was thinking. “If he knew something bad about her, wouldn’t he have told McGonagall not to hire her.”
She thought for a moment. “It mightn’t be something bad exactly, but he definitely knows something and it just might be significant.”
He glanced at her warily. “You’re not going to suggest we question him again.”
She shook her head. “Not yet anyway. If he didn’t tell us last night, I doubt he’s going to. Oh, I wish I knew who else might know something. Do you think Neville might?
“Maybe,” he said doubtfully. “But I doubt he’d tell us either.”
She sighed. “Everything we find out seems to lead us into yet another brick wall!”
At that moment, he didn’t really care. With the Christmas holidays only days away, all his concerns about what was happening at Hogwarts suddenly seemed less important. Soon he’d be home where weird parcels and mysterious graffiti didn’t trouble him.
“Can’t this wait until after Christmas?” he pleaded. “I mean, we’re not really going to find out much this week anyway, are we?”
“Maybe you’re right,” she admitted. “I don’t suppose your dad would know any more, do you? Maybe we should ask him what he thinks over Christmas.”
Privately, he suspected his father would have told them if he knew any more, but if it would allow them forget the mystery for a while and concentrate on getting ready for the holidays, he wasn’t going to argue.
Deciding what to take home for Christmas and what to leave at school was more difficult than he’d expected. He supposed he could leave his spare set of school robes behind. And his schoolbooks, unless they got homework to complete over the holidays, of course. He wouldn’t put it past Binns.
Piling his belongings on his bed, he pulled down his trunk and opened it. Right at the bottom was an empty inkwell.
Albus stared at it in surprise for a moment. He hadn’t opened his trunk since he’d unpacked when he’d first arrived at Hogwarts and he certainly hadn’t brought an empty inkwell with him. His trunk had been brand-new. It couldn’t have been there all along.
He picked it up and examined it closely. The sides were stained with a small amount of red ink, the same colour as the graffiti he’d seen outside Slughorn’s office over a month before.
Realising this, he gave a start and almost dropped the inkwell.
He needed to talk to Rose right away.
He really hoped she wasn’t in her dormitory. What idiot had designed Hogwarts so that the girls could enter the boys’ dormitories but not the other way ‘round? It made it so difficult when you needed to talk to a girl urgently.
He passed the inkwell back and forth in his hands, trying to decide what to do with it. Should he bring it downstairs where somebody might see it and ask him awkward questions or leave it in the dormitory where it could disappear as quickly as it had appeared?
He could put it straight back into his trunk, pretend he hadn’t seen it. But that was exactly where the person who’d hid it there would expect it to be. What if they decided to move it and plant it somewhere it’d be sure to be found on him?
He glanced around frantically, before finally deciding to stuff it under one of his jumpers, which he then stashed under the bed. Surely nobody’d think of looking there.
He glanced around the room, to be sure nobody was watching, then raced down to the common room.
Rose was sitting in a corner, chatting with Rasmus.
Normally, Albus didn’t like interrupting people, but on this occasion, that didn’t even occur to him.
“Rose, I need to talk to you.”
She gave him a curious look. “What is it?”
“It’s kind of private.”
Rasmus got up.
“No, I need you to come upstairs anyway, Rose. To my dormitory.”
Rasmus looked intrigued, but he didn’t say anything.
Outside the dormitory, Rose glanced around her before asking again, “what is it?”
He reached under the bed. Thankfully, the jumper was still there and he could feel the inkwell under it. He pulled it out.
“Look at this.”
“What is it…OH! Where did you find it?”
“In my trunk.”
“Yeah. I was just packing to go home.” He gestured at the pile of his belongings still on his bed. “I opened my trunk and…there it was. Whoever is doing this…they’re obviously a Ravenclaw.”
He paled at the thought. Whoever had sent him a fake note from Slughorn, painted slogans supporting the Death Eaters on the wall, planted an inkwell in his trunk and possibly sent him chocolates laced with Swelling Solution was somebody he sat at the same table as at mealtimes and shared the common room with every evening, somebody who could sneak into his dormitory at will and plant anything they wanted there.
“Not necessarily,” Rose said thoughtfully. “After all, anybody can enter Ravenclaw Tower, if they get the question correct.”
He wasn’t convinced. The eagle’s questions often took ages to puzzle out. Surely somebody’d notice a non-Ravenclaw waiting outside.
But he supposed somebody could be lucky. Or really smart.
Suddenly, he remembered what Slughorn said about Blackburn. “An extremely bright girl. Expected to get all Os.”
He said as much to Rose.
She nodded. “Yeah. We can’t rule her out. But right now, I think we have to go see Flitwick.”
“Yeah, the staff need to know about this. I think he’s the best person to tell.”
It would be better than having to face McGonagall, Albus supposed, so reluctantly, he picked up the inkwell and they headed for Flitwick’s office.
Outside the door, he froze. What if Flitwick didn’t believe him? He and Rose had already been caught standing beside the graffiti. What would Flitwick think when he turned up with the inkwell in his hands.
Rose knocked sharply on the door and it flew open.
Flitwick was sitting at his desk, his wand pointed at the door.
“Come in.” He smiled at them. “Take a seat. Now, what can I do for you?”
They sat down awkwardly.
Albus glanced at Rose. He’d no idea what he should say.
“Show him what you found,” she said.
He placed the inkwell on the desk in front of them.
“This…was in my trunk.”
Flitwick raised his eyebrows.
“I take it it shouldn’t have been?”
“No sir. I haven’t opened that trunk since I got here and the ink…it’s the same colour as the graffiti outside Slughorn’s office that time.” He came to an abrupt stop.
Flitwick frowned. “I see. Strange. Well, thank you for bringing this to my notice. I’ll let Professor McGonagall know. And don’t worry about it. Most likely, whoever wrote the graffiti just wanted to get rid of this as quickly as possible and shoved it in the nearest trunk.”
That wasn’t much consolation. It would mean somebody in his dormitory was probably involved. And besides, it didn’t explain the note. Or the Swelling Solution.
“Somebody sent me chocolates laced with Swelling Solution at the beginning of the year,” he blurted out.
Flitwick frowned again. “I see. Does Professor McGonagall know about this?”
“Yes, Sir. Madame Pomfrey told her.”
“All right. Well, thank you again for letting me know. If you have any more information or anything else like this happens, come straight to me.” He glanced from one of them to the other. “And do try not to worry about this, Albus. We will get to the bottom of it.”
“Thank you Sir,” said Rose.
“Yes. Thank you, Sir.”
It hadn’t been so bad, Albus supposed. At least Flitwick had seemed to believe him. But he really didn’t like the thought that somebody in Ravenclaw could be targeting him.
The Wren day traditions described are very loosely based on real Wren day traditions in Ireland. The Muggle version was far more like Hallowe'en, with children dressing up and going door to door, collecting money in this case, rather than sweets, but originally, it did also involve catching a wren.