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Chapter 2: The Aftermath
The death of Professor Peach had a profound impact on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Students were sullen when they entered the Ancient Runes classroom that was still distinctly his. His replacement, a perky, short witch in her mid 20s, although brilliant and no doubt an expert in her field, was too different from him. The staff were silent, none teaching with their usual passion for their subjects. The flowers and wreaths that had been placed on the spot where he was found had started to wither and die. The smell had begun to seep into the walls of the library, though no one made the motion to remove them. They were his too.
Blood. Bruises. Death.
The death of Professor Peach affected James Potter more severely than the ordinary Hogwartian. He saw the body. His first dead body. An old man mercilessly beaten. He could see the screams, the pleas for help when he went to sleep and saw the aftermath when he woke up.
He was plagued by nightmares.
No, he was living a constant nightmare. And there was no escape. Mentions of the aged Professor’s death echoed around the consecrated halls, everyone mourned for the man who was so evidently benevolent during his lifetime. Everyone mourned, except Time. Time has no care for deaths, no care for goodbyes, no care for people who hadn’t finished their homework due first period. She just moves on, independent of all that is happening in the world.
James envied her. He didn’t possess the capability of moving on like Lady Time. And he was suffering slowly inside because of it.
James Potter never could forgive and forget. And that applied utmost to Professor Peach. He will never forget the broken body, the vicious blows to the head, nor will he forgive his ruthless, cold hearted killer.
Aurors walked the walls of Hogwarts, their presence both welcome and not. They provided the lower years with a sense of safety, but to those old enough to understand the cruel workings of the world, they simply emphasised the reality of a murderer on the loose, the Aurors pot bellies offering no comfort whatsoever.
There were Aurors everywhere, in the Great Hall, in the class rooms, in common rooms, but the majority of the force gathered in the library. The library that was now considered out of bounds, a crime scene, much to the horror and dismay of Madam Pince and most of the Ravenclaw house.
It wasn’t a problem for James.
He didn’t want to go near that place for the remainder of his years.
“Will you stop that?” James turned around and snapped tersely.
Sirius Black looked up from the floor, where he had been kicking an innocent looking cap (that most likely originated from a smuggled bottle of butterbeer) along the corridor, scuffing his shoes in the process. His hands were deep within his pockets with the thumbs protruding, and his eyebrows scrunched together.
“What’s the matter? You look like you haven’t slept in about a month and, quite frankly, you sound like a PMS-ing girl.” Sirius scrutinised his best friend. James felt uncomfortable- Sirius’ gaze pierced his soul in a similar way to Dumbledore’s. There was nowhere to hide. Sirius sighed, before adding a soft “Tell me.”
James slid down the wall before his bottom met stone and extended his legs out in front of him, a trap ready and waiting to ensnare any who passed by, friend or foe. Sirius followed suit, crossing his legs over instead.
“I’ve been having...bad dreams,” James admitted, his reluctant tone stagnant in the air.
“Nightmares? About Peach?”
James nodded almost indiscernibly, but it was enough for Sirius.
“James, it was your first dead body, if you didn’t have nightmares, I’d have a good reason to terminate our friendship on the grounds of you being a heartless robot.” Sirius clapped his hand on his shoulder. “Time is the best healer in a case like this.”
The two stared at the blank wall opposite, James leaning slightly upon Sirius for physical and mental support.
“Y’know, you’re a better agony aunt than people give you credit for,” James said, his eyes never leaving the wall.
Sirius simply smiled, before giving James the ‘all knowing’ look that was common on mums and the general over 40 female population. The first time he had seen it on Sirius, it unnerved him as it was the same look his mother had fixed him with the day before. For the rest of the day, he wondered whether his mum’s spirit had somehow worked its way into Sirius and possessed him, but when he confronted him, Sirius just let out his trademark bark of a laugh, before walking up to the dormitory, stumbling from side to side on the staircase. James heard him chuckle occasionally into the early hours of the morning. He’d accepted Sirius’ irregularities from then on, it made their friendship a lot smoother.
A fizzy drink fuelled burp filled comfortable silence the pair had lapsed into.
Trust Sirius to break the vaguely effeminate atmosphere that he was revelling in.
James chortled, it was archetypal behaviour that was only to be expected from Padfoot.
“What’s so funny?” Sirius nudged his shaking frame, but only gently, so as to not dissipate the laughter that rolled forth in waves. It was the first time he had let loose in weeks, the first signs of James coming back from his temporary leave.
“Nothing,” James snorted. “Come on, let’s just get to Transfiguration before McGonagall has a hernia and mutilates us.”
In truth, their beloved head of house never got the chance to metaphorically eat the teens for breakfast for being unpunctual. For, instead, there at the front of the class was Professor Slughorn, who quite liked the two, although he did not love them ardently in quite the same way he loved Lily Evans- their potions talent was adequate, rather than flourishing.
“Mr Potter! Mr Black! Do take a seat!” Slughorn bumbled, his multiple chins wobbling. Sirius and James complied hesitantly. It wasn’t every day the Potions Master retreated out of the bowels of the castle and ventured onto the upper floors. James wondered how he made the journey up several flights of stairs, what with the additional bulk he carried.
“Sir? Where’s Professor McGonagall?” Sirius raised his hand and voiced his question at the same time, a habit that frequently annoyed the very teacher whom he was asking after.
“As I said before to the class, Professor McGonagall has been given leave to attend Professor Peach’s funeral.” A dead weight dropped in James’ stomach. More remnants of the passing of Henry Peach. “So, you’re meant to be learning-“ Slughorn broke off to squint at the dilapidated transfiguration textbook that was strung together by only a thin set of threads that seemed set upon breaking.“-human transfiguration.” The portly potions professor paled.
Marlene McKinnon giggled in the row behind.
“Slughorn never was any good at transfiguration. My cousin says she caught a glimpse of his records when she was in trouble with the headmaster, and he got a T!” Lily Evans and Mary McDonald laughed appreciatively, Mary’s laugh barely audible like her. But Lily’s laugh however was, dare he say it, magical.
James slipped her a glance. Her hand was clutched against her mouth in a vain attempt to dispel the sound of her giggles. He smiled at the sight of her poking fun at Slughorn, not that he had a vendetta against the Professor, but because it made her more of a normal student, as opposed to a beautiful dream girl who was infallible. Untouchable.
“Erm, human transfiguration, where to start?” Slughorn laughed nervously, a light sheen of sweat gracing his forehead which he dabbed away at with a paisley handkerchief. “Hu- human tra- human transfi- oh, just open your books and read the section on human transfiguration and answer the questions,” He barked, sauntering off behind the teacher’s desk, presumably to hide out of shame and embarrassment. The girls let out another chorus of ill hid laughter.
The rest of the lesson was spent in a leisurely manner (although for Sirius, it was a chance to catch up on his Defence homework that was due later that day), the way lessons are usually spent when a supply is employed to teach. By the time the double period was over, James had learnt that the colours red and yellow instilled hunger in the mind, memorised the 12 uses of dragon’s blood and discovered that Babylonians liked the number sixty.
In essence, he did no transfiguration work whatsoever. McGonagall was not going to be best pleased.
Minerva McGonagall lifted her head from the stacks of paper she immersed herself in, glasses threatening to slip off her long, sharp nose. Her cerulean eyes roamed over the appearance of her student, curious, the veins an angry red, exacerbated, the cornea covered in a layer of tears that refused to be shed. McGonagall physically personified weariness and grief, her posture not as straight as it usually was.
“Potter?” Her voice was composed, never once cracking, though her presence inferred otherwise. James coughed, uncomfortable at seeing the strong falter, seeing steel pulverised into dust. It was a sight that was inherently wrong, against the very laws of nature and Gamp itself.
“I wish to offer my condolences Professor,” James replied, inclining his head. For once, he would revert back to formalities, to show sincere respect for the teacher who he held in such high esteem.
McGonagall smiled weakly; she had seen James Potter transform from a rowdy first year into a mature adult, yet never once did he lose himself along the way.
“Thank you Potter, your words mean a lot.” McGonagall let out a shaky breath.
“How did you know Professor Peach? I mean, outside Hogwarts.” James all but whispered.
“Family friends. He was friends with my husband Elphinstone and became friends with me after our marriage. Elphinstone and I, not Professor Peach and I that is.” A tissue was quickly withdrawn from McGonagall’s pocket to dab gently at her nose.
“Your husband?” James enquired. His Professor wasn’t one to talk about her love life during their numerous transfiguration lessons and it was the first he had heard of a husband.
“He’s dead now, venomous tentacular bite.” McGonagall waved her scrunched up tissue.
“I’m sorry.” James bit his lip, wincing internally for bringing up the death of another loved one of his Professor’s.
“Don’t be, we had a happy marriage, and I’ll never forget the memories we shared. Nor will I forget the times I had with Peach either.”
Silence reigned and after observing McGonagall for a few moments to ensure she wouldn’t break down completely upon his exit, James Potter left his favourite teacher in peace.
Grief was a wound that could be healed only by those whom it was inflicted upon. James could do nothing but watch McGonagall patch herself together again.
But maybe, just maybe, he could apprehend the murderer, and stop anyone else from getting hurt.
It was the second time that night that James paid a visit to a teacher.
The two guard gargoyles moved aside, allowing him passage into the hallowed quarters of the headmaster.
“Enter,” a voice weighed down with weariness called out before James could even knock on the door. He shook his head slightly in amused admiration- Dumbledore still had it, whatever ‘it’ was.
James pushed the door open slowly, willing it not to creak.
“Hello Professor Dumbledore.” He pulled his sleeves down to his palms as he traversed the room and sat down opposite one of the greatest wizards to have ever lived.
“Mr Potter.” The wizened man smiled, his wrinkles growing even more pronounced in the action. “I would say take a seat, but-“ Dumbledore motioned with his hand, a twinkle in his eye.
“You know me Professor,” James chuckled nervously.
“Is there perhaps something on your mind Mr Potter?” Dumbledore put his fingers together as the gates to James’ mind opened and his thoughts tumbled out, restrained no longer.
“Sir, I want to help catch Professor Peach’s killer. I’m Head Boy, I have a pull with the students that no Auror could attest to having. I could ask questions, I could look for clues, I could even do some research. I don’t want to take over the investigation, I just want to help.” He motioned wildly with his hands, extending them outwards and back several times as he talked.
The wise old man stayed silent. James Potter was capable of being an attribute, but would it risk his safety? He pondered the situation, weighing up the pros and cons for a length of time, long enough for James’ leg to start bouncing up and down in agitation.
Dumbledore exhaled and pinched the bridge of his nose before giving his answer. “You do not under any circumstances give your findings to the Aurors, they won’t take lightly to a 17 year old probing into their case, you report to me and only me.” James nodded, affirming his understanding. “And, you have to promise me Mr Potter, that you and any friends you might rope in to help you, will take caution, that you’ll pull out if it gets too dangerous.”
“I promise Professor,” James nodded again.
“Well then, you’d better get back to your dorm and tell Mr Black, Mr Lupin and Mr Pettigrew of the recent developments.”
“Yes sir. Goodnight.”
James exited the office with a solemn smile.
“Goodnight James,” Dumbledore sighed, well after the boy was gone.
As the clock struck twelve, a cloak swished down the corridors. The figure melted into the shadows easily, unseen and unheard.
Two Aurors stood guard outside the crime scene. The character had watched the two Aurors before them, and the ones before those two as well. The changing of the guards was always a source of delight, the witless banter about paperwork and dodgy doughnuts in loud voices that carried through the halls of Hogwarts, when the murderer was within a 20m radius, it was astonishing. The figure looked upon the decaying flowers in the library with a cold condescending smirk. Flowers and well wishers will not help Professor Peach now, not where he’s gone.
No, they were of no assistance in hell.
And Professor Peach was definitely in hell, that the figure could be assured of.
A/N: Ooh, shady... The investigations definitely going to start hotting up now that ol’ Dumbly’s given his consent :P James refers to the laws of nature and Gamp, the latter being Gamp’s 5 Laws of Transfiguration. I just thought it fit more, him being an animagus and a pureblood and whatnot.
Many thanks to Jami for the help with the characterisation of Dumbledore!