Author Note: Hello! Well here I am, back from my 7 day absence, happier and jauntier than ever before! I’ve got my Chapter store back up so I’m happy as Larry. Sorry I had the take the extra couple of days, rest assured it’s business as usual and I’m back to my five day updates from now on! Anyway, Chapter 17 is longer than usual and I hope you’ll all like it, there’s definitely some suspicious circumstances afoot! To come in the next few chapters we’ve got a birthday party to remember, danger, assaults, hidden motives, arguments, confrontations, friendships being tested to the limit and just a little bit of love. You guys are quite honestly amazing, you keep me going with your fantastic reviews, I’d be lost without you all! Enjoy.
17 –Suspicious Circumstances:
“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family”
Rose climbed sure-footedly down the chalky broken surface of the vast mountain, her broomstick in hand and her team mates close behind her. Lying amongst various other miscellaneous items in the battered bottom of her old bag were sixteen flags in a rich magenta colour which had been triumphantly gathered throughout the day.
The light was fading, paving the way for the inky velvet darkness to mask their surroundings and so the three tired students were making their way back to camp, having only been back once already that day for lunch. Rose felt vaguely disappointed that they hadn’t found all their flags but her frustration with Jerard was reaching its limit as she strode alongside Ivan, wanting to keep a separation between her and the Beauxbatons boy.
Even now he was chattering insistently, checking she was ok and chancing repeated glances at her trying desperately to catch her eye even as she kept her steely gaze fixed ahead. He’d given small caresses as they’d walked; a hand at the small of her back supporting her as they climbed, a touch at her shoulder as they spoke. She had shrugged off his advances with frustration and kept as close to Ivan as possible, hoping his presence would deter the clingy student from pursuing her. Her eyes continually fixed on the unfolding landscape ahead hoping against hope that they weren’t far from the rest of Professor Arcenau’s group where she could find some kind of reprieve from the claustrophobic atmosphere.
As they rounded a high ridge of brittle ground they found themselves bearing down upon the camp once more and Rose breathed a great sigh of relief before her eyebrows rose in immediate confusion at the sight ahead of her.
Hundreds of students were gathered over the smooth platform of ground, their robes pale blue, deep crimson and inky black as they swarmed in groups far too large to be just that of the Beauxbatons Headmaster. The three students came to an abrupt stop at their high vantage point as a clipped British accented voice met Rose’s keen ears from several feet away from them.
“I think I know where I am leading my students, Professor Volkov!” Professor Quila argued vehemently. “This was definitely our sleeping area last night!”
“Well there must be some mistake,” Professor Arcenau flustered, “I am entirely sure we were here last night. But well...maybe some of us took a wrong turn...” he trailed off as he observed the thunderous look on the female Professor’s face.
“A wrong turn?” Rose’s Headmistress replied angrily. “We were climbing different mountains it is entirely impossible that we could have crossed paths!” As the school Heads continued their heated discussion Rose saw the back of Albus’ dark head partly obscured as he stood behind a tall skeletal tree which seemed to be barely surviving in the harsh mountainous conditions. She clambered hastily down towards him and tapped his shoulder.
“Albus what’s going...” she said before she stopped, registering the height of the boy she was talking to as he turned towards her.
“James! Sorry I thought it was Albus for a minute.” Every time she saw the two brothers she marvelled over how similar they were, were it not for the difference in age and height they could be identical twins. James grinned down at her, his quick smile the mirror of his brother’s.
“Rose! How are you?” he asked quickly, fixing his vivid green gaze on her whilst still flicking the emerald pupils to observe the still unfolding row behind them.
“I’m...fine,” she answered slowly, “but what are you doing here? And what’s everyone else doing here? This is our campsite I didn’t realise the groups were going to meet.”
“Didn’t you get Albus’ letter?” James asked. Rose’s eyes widened in a split second as James’ grin grew exponentially bigger in response to her reaction.
“Tell me you and Albus didn’t do this? Quila’s going to kill you, you’re not exactly her favourite person anyway!” Rose replied, sighing deeply as she shook her head and thought of the adventurous nature of her cousin; no goal was unachievable; no aim pointless in his eyes.
“Quila needs a bit of excitement in her life,” James replied with a laugh as a relaxed hand brushed his shock of dark hair away from his face, “me and Albus were just helping along that school unity thing!” he added defensively. Rose couldn’t help but laugh as she watched her own Headmistress fighting loudly with Professor Volkov who was replying with just as much fervour.
“Where have you been anyway?” Rose asked absentmindedly, her eyes still glancing across at the arguing teachers. “I’ve barely seen you since we’ve been at Durmstrang.”
“Oh, I’ve been busy,” he replied evasively, running fingers nervously through his already messy jet black hair. “You know, a new place to explore and everything.” Rose watched him for a moment before a frown took over her face.
“Which means what exactly?” she questioned as one eyebrow raised itself in pointed dissatisfaction at his statement.
“You look just like Aunt Hermione when you do that,” James commented calmly, “a hand on your hip and you could be twins. Anyway, you’re far too suspicious for your own good! I’ve just been checking out what Durmstrang has to offer to an adventurous student like myself.”
“You’ve been trying to break into Durmstrang haven’t you?” Rose said suddenly, knowing her cousin only too well. James’ eyes quickly focussed on her face as his shocked expression soon turned to admiration.
“You know too much, cousin, you know too much,” he commented, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as he walked her further into the crowds of people and away from the raised voices of the argument behind them.
“Have you managed it yet?” Rose replied, a reluctant glint of excitement in her eyes as she smiled up at her older cousin.
“You even need to ask?” he laughingly replied, the darker evening air casting shadows over his thin face. “It’s a great place though. The anti-intruder protective spells are pretty incredible and the booby traps, seriously, you’ve got to see them,” he continued excitedly, eyes bright with enthusiasm as he spoke. Rose spotted Albus through the various people ahead of her, Hannah and Dawn nearby but Scorpius nowhere in sight.
“Just don’t get in any trouble,” Rose said, trying to sound strict but failing as she couldn’t help but smile, knowing James always found his way out of things with a graceful ease everyone else in the family seemed to lack.
“As ever, Rose, as ever,” he replied, cheeky grin still firmly in place. “Well as much as I hate to, I’m going to have to love you and leave you,” he said, giving a deep sigh.”Places to go, people to provoke into angry rages – you know the drill.” He gave her a final hug and wink as he walked away leaving her only a few metres away from his physical mirror image, strutting confidently over to his group of friends. As Rose reached Albus he showed the identical grin of his brother.
“Like the new arrangements?” he asked with a laugh.
“You don’t give up when you get an idea in your head do you?” she replied. “I thought you were joking about us all meeting up!”
“And give up my birthday celebrations?” he said with mock sadness, purposely quivering his bottom lip.
“Where’s Scorpius?” Rose asked, trying to sound nonchalant. She’d tried to barely think of him since she’d arrived, busying herself with the new surroundings and people as a means of distracting her mind which always seemed to move back to the fair-haired Slytherin.
It was only natural, she’d kept trying to tell herself, that she should think about the boy she’d spent months living and working closely with. It was only her heart which betrayed her mind, giving a tiny leap each time she saw a flash on blonde hair in a group of people, hoping it would be him when she knew it couldn’t be.
“Not back yet,” Albus replied with a frown, “his team have been out searching for hours, they didn’t come back for lunch or anything.” Rose could see a shadow of worry and uncertainty in his eyes as he stared up at the mountainous backdrop. Dawn and Hannah turned to the two having been too immersed in their own conversation to notice their friend’s quiet arrival; they both ran forward and wrapped their arms around her eagerly.
“Rose is here!” Hannah yelled out, causing several nearby groups of students to look at her in confusion. Rose laughed at her friends’ enthusiasm as both girls pulled away from her, smiles firmly on their faces as they looked her up and down.
“Well, you look pretty alive,” Hannah commented. “We were thinking about placing bets on what would happen to you. Wandering out in the mountains alone...”
“I wasn’t alone,” Rose replied, “I had Ivan and Jerard.”
“Ahh yes, but we thought they’d probably hex you or chuck you down a gorge or something. You are the Hogwarts Champion after all,” Dawn said, absentmindedly winding a strand of mousy hair around her index finger.
“No such luck, it would have been a nice change though,” said Rose, thinking of Jerard.
“Are they treating you ok?” Albus suddenly said with concern in his voice, his brows furrowed as he stared at her with a serious expression on his face. “I thought that Durmstrang guy looked pretty suspicious...”
Rose elbowed him as she replied. “Ivan’s actually fine once you get to know him, he didn’t speak for ages but he’s opened up a lot. It’s Jerard that’s the problem!” she shook her head at Albus as he opened his mouth to speak.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said waving a hand dismissively. “It doesn’t matter.” Albus reluctantly let the subject drop as Hannah launched into an explanation of her team mates. The three friends soon found a patch of grassy ground and sat down awaiting the rest of their friends who had yet to join them.
Eventually Sebastian and Artemis both appeared, seemingly worse for wear having been in particularly competitive teams which refused to return until all flags had been found. The five sat contentedly talking for several hours until a disturbance around the curve of the mountain’s exterior could be heard, raised voices echoing starkly through the night air.
“I know it was you!” a male voice angrily shouted, scuffling footsteps almost obscuring the words which were being carried on a cold night breeze.
“I don’t know what you are talking about!” a feminine voice replied in aggressive defence, “I ‘ave done nothing!” From around the corner quickly emerged a beautiful blonde haired girl in Beauxbatons robes followed quickly by Scorpius whose face was shadowed in the lack of natural light. A dark-haired girl followed resolutely behind, not raising her head or taking any notice of her two team-mates.
When they reached the collection of other students the three looked around in confusion for a moment before they quickly went their separate ways, Scorpius heading towards Rose and her friends. As he neared them his face became clearer in the shadowy light; Rose gasped as she saw the bloody grazes stretching from his temple to his chin, marring the skin harshly.
A deep purple bruise dusted the side of his eye and cuts and scratches were clearly visible down his forearm which was revealed beneath the ripped arm of his robes. His face was thunderous as he approached them.
“What happened to you?” Hannah asked, hesitantly laughing. “Did you fall down the mountain or something?”
“You got it in one,” Scorpius angrily replied as he dropped to the ground, sitting between Rose and Albus.
“You fell down the mountain?” Albus asked in confusion.
“Well, I wouldn’t say fell,” Scorpius’ muffled voice replied as he pulled a woollen jumper he had on under his robes over his head, “more I was pushed.” Rose watched him in shock as her mouth fell open in reaction to his words.
“Somebody pushed you down the mountain?” she reiterated quickly, her astonishment clearly shown in her voice.
“That Beauxbatons girl,” Scorpius growled, his eyes focussed on the back of the fair haired girl he had arrived with who stood laughing with her similarly clothed friends. “She swears she didn’t but I know she did. I wouldn’t just slip like that. I was perfectly fine and then I know I felt someone push me and she was right behind me at the time.” His voice was angry as he glanced over the various wounds on his arm, pulling a pack of tissues and a bottle of water out of the bag he had been carrying on his back when he arrived.
As Albus threw questions at his friend, attempting to determine as much as he could about what had happened, Rose took the tissues from Scorpius’ hands which were shaking with anger and pulled a white sheet from the plastic packet, dampening it with water. She washed away the dried blood from the side of his face ignoring Dawn and Hannah’s gleeful faces as they observed, silently stifling smiles which crept onto their faces.
Scorpius winced as Rose discovered fragments of dust and rock which had sunk into the lesions in his skin and gently tried to wash them out, one hand softly holding the other side of his face to keep him still. As she finished attending to his face she moved onto his arms where the skin was torn more severely and blood still oozed persistently from the deep cuts.
She bit down on her lip as she worked on him, listening dimly as he spoke to Albus but not really registering what he said. Her mind was reeling, why on earth would anybody want to harm Scorpius? She couldn’t come to any conclusion so focused on the task at hand, trying to smooth the worries from her mind. She had soon done as much as she could for his superficial injuries, leaving him to quietly thank her and stretch out painful limbs, running fingers over quickly darkening bruises on his face, hands and arms.
The excitement surrounding Scorpius’ return soon dissipated and the group of friends sank into easy conversation about the trip so far and Albus’ upcoming birthday celebrations in a few days time. Rose extended her legs out in front of her and leant back on her hands, feeling the sharp rocky mud beneath her palms as it pressed against her flesh. The last splinters of light were quickly disappearing, strands of the pink sunset still settling on Rose’s outstretched figure before they were consumed by darkness.
Rose darted her head to the side when she suddenly saw Albus sitting up in rigid fascination, his eyes trained into the darkness beyond the dully lit camping site. A grin crossed his lips fleetingly as he started to climb to his feet and turned back to his group of friends.
“Anybody up for an adventure?” he said quickly, gesturing with a hand to where, barely perceptible in the poor light, his older brother could be seen disappearing up a stony ridge with several friends in tow.
The boys jumped up in an instant, Scorpius slower than the rest as he was still hampered by the soreness of his injuries. The girls raised eyebrows and looked at each other questioningly before sighing in resignation and climbing to their feet too, Rose ignoring the fatigue creeping up on her. The small group pursued James Potter whilst glancing hurriedly behind them to make sure nobody was watching or intending to follow them. They could see clearly the bright blonde of his friend Steven’s hair and could hear the only slightly muffled footsteps of his other friends. They had been following for a good ten minutes when suddenly they stopped in the midst of the silence up ahead; a sigh was heard.
“Albus, why exactly are you following us?” said James’ deep voice, slightly breathless from the climbing but mostly annoyed. A light shone from the older boy’s wand and pierced cleanly through the darkness, bathing Rose and all her companions in a yellow glow and highlighting the bright silhouettes of James and his friends.
“Couldn’t let you go off exploring by yourself now could I? What kind of brother would I be?” Albus replied in a heartbeat, his voice jovial and his teeth a pure white as he revealed them in a huge smile.
Rose could see James shaking his head as she neared him, struggling over the last few rocks before she was on the same level. James bemusedly eyed the seven newcomers and shook his head. “Thought you’d bring half the school did you?” he enquired with a laugh, his eyes still on his younger brother who had just drawn up beside him.
“Oh well...Since you’re all here now,” he said in a resigned tone and he started to climb again, shaking his wand and extinguishing its yellow light. Plunged into darkness once more Rose shivered, only too aware of the cold seeping through her robes and every noise around her as she hurried on, keen to keep close to her friends.
“There’s a cave up here apparently,” James’ disembodied voice said from up ahead, “we thought we’d check it out.” His speech gave way to the heavy breathing of everyone which had increased in volume since they had begun the uphill climb.
Soon the ground began to even out slightly and provide a reasonable path up the mountain through shelves of snow Rose could see gleaming brightly in their dark night-time shroud. Eventually the voice of one of James’ friends was heard ahead, triumphantly acknowledging they were nearing their goal.
“Look! Up ahead! You can just see a different kind of formation of the rocks,” he said loudly, pointing forward. Rose squinted and sure enough, he was right. A rough archway could be seen in the wall of the mountain, formed by jagged rocks and framing impossibly black darkness; a cave.
Their speed increased exponentially as they all neared the partially hidden doorway and Rose could almost feel Dawn’s displeasure; trampling up mountainous terrain at night in winter wasn’t really her idea of fun. She sidled over to her friend whose figure she could just make out in the light and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, squeezing tightly.
Dawn gave a faint smile and rolled her eyes at her friend, continuing on all the same. As they finally reached the cave James muttered a quiet “Lumos” and light flooded their surroundings, creating a dome of brightness which reached into the deepest recesses of the hollow in front of them and showed it to be quite unremarkable.
As they entered, Rose grimaced at the feeling of water dripping from the ceiling which towered high above her, rivulets of liquid clearly sliding over the solid rock until they left their slippery trails and dropped to the ground below with tiny splashes. Shallow puddles had been formed and swished gently as hesitant footsteps trampled through them, each of the Hogwarts students walking carefully as their eyes examined their surroundings.
“So,” Albus began, “what exactly were you expecting?” he asked his brother, eyebrows raised as his less than enthusiastic face panned round to see the rocky walls surrounding him.
“No idea,” James replied, his voice echoing, “a secret cult maybe; a hermit; an escaped prisoner from Azkaban... the usual.” He trailed off for a moment as he stood intimately close to a wall and trailed a finger down its wet surface, examining his hand afterwards.
“Maybe even a Squib selling Voldemort merchandise.” At his companions’ confused look he elaborated. “You know, t-shirts and the like.” As Hannah noticeably rolled her eyes James hastily defended himself. “Well you never know,” he said quickly.
Despite his comic defence Rose couldn’t help but feel her older cousin had different motives behind this visit, but decided to wait until he revealed them for himself.
Albus pointed his wand at the ground, muttering under his breath and creating a flaming fire on the floor of the cave which provided an instant burst of heat. It also gave substantial light to their surroundings and for the first time since starting this uphill journey all of the friends could clearly see each other.
Rose looked at the fire with relief etched on her features as she moved closer, her teeth chattering as she held out her hands to warm them by the orange and red heat. She shivered still as water continued to drop from the ceiling and slide down the neck of her robes. She heard somebody clear their throat behind her.
“Are you cold?” Scorpius asked quietly, his voice still echoing in ghostly whispers through the icy chamber; Rose gave a small nod. Scorpius turned and shrugged the bag which was still on his back to the floor, unzipping it quickly to reveal a black jacket. He handed it to her without hesitation, despite the fact his chattering teeth betrayed how cold he was himself.
“This might help,” he said quickly before turning back to face the wall of silence behind him, seeing that the cave’s occupants were watching the exchange between the couple. Rose could see Dawn and Hannah with small smiles and even Albus looking quietly pleased.
Only James wore a less than impressed expression as he eyed Scorpius suspiciously, his eyes examining him shrewdly before they focussed on his cousin.
Rose quickly pulled the thick jacket on and closed her eyes in brief relief as the warmth it offered was instantaneous. She looked back at Scorpius to thank him but he’d already moved over to Albus and was talking quietly to him. She cleared her throat loudly and looked across to where James stood.
“So, I think we’ve established there’s nothing worth investigating here. Can we go now?” Her usual sense of adventure had diminished increasingly since the cold had heightened along with the darkness. Dawn’s look of gratitude was evident in the corner of Rose’s eye.
“I guess so. A bit of a dead end this one.” James commented in disappointment, still running his hands over the interior walls as if looking for something. He slowly walked toward the rocky archway which led outside as everyone followed resolutely after him, glad to be able to return to the camp site which was hopefully still consumed by warmth charms.
After initially taking the lead James started to trail towards the back of the group, urging his friends to continue at the front as he retreated to where Rose was walking, slowing their paces so they walked apart from the rest.
“So cousin, you’ve been working with Malfoy on the Tournament?” he asked suddenly, he always was one to cut to the chase.
“I’ve been working with Scorpius, yes,” she answered, taking special care to emphasise his first name.
“Is he...er...bothering you?” James asked, his eyes fixed on the back of the tall Slytherin who walked ahead of them.
“Bothering me? What do you mean?” Rose asked, guessing exactly where this was going but wanting to find out exactly what James meant anyway. He sighed as his gaze moved to her.
“You know what I mean. Is he trying it on with you?” he said directly. Rose looked at him incredulously and shook her head in disbelief.
“James! What are you talking about?!” she asked with a laugh as she saw the seriousness in his eyes. “He’s been great, there’s nothing underhanded going on.” She smiled at her older cousin and his concern for her as his face softened at her answer but still didn’t look entirely convinced.
“Hmm, I’m not so sure. A guy doesn’t look at a girl the way he did earlier to you without it meaning something.” He shrugged. “But then, Albus is happy with it and he’s usually the first to go off the handle at these things,” he said as he threw an arm around her shoulders and rested it there, pulling his young cousin close to his side.
“So if he’s happy, I’m happy,” he finished.
“What do you mean?” Rose asked quickly. “The first to go “off the handle about these things”. What things?” James’ grin was as quick as lightning and just as bright.
“He never told you about Sam Wilkes?”
“No...” Rose replied hesitantly, remembering the cocky boy who Albus had befriended in Fourth Year. They’d stopped being friends suddenly towards the end of their Fifth, something which Rose wasn’t disappointed about having disliked the arrogant boy who thought he was Merlin’s gift to women.
“Well, as you know Sam definitely had a thing for the ladies.” Rose couldn’t help but think that was putting it lightly, Sam could barely breathe without women being within a close radius.
“Well he got a bit of a thing for you late in yours and Albus’ Fifth Year. Really got pretty obsessed. Albus knew exactly what he was like with girls and so pretty much snapped when Sam kept on talking about trying it on with you.” Rose raised her eyebrows in disbelief, quite repulsed by the idea of this slimy guy having once fancied her even as she felt a small flicker of pride.
“So he stopped being friends with him?” Rose enquired.
“So he hit him,” James corrected with a laugh, his voice holding an air of reminiscence as Rose gasped out loud.
“Albus? Hit somebody?” Rose said quickly as James nodded his head.
“Not exactly the most violent of people, my brother. But boy did he go for Sam. It wasn’t a half bad punch either.” Rose shook her head in disbelief joining in with James’ laughter and feeling a small warmth at Albus’ protection of her.
“So I’m guessing Scorpius must have been approved by Albus then,” James concluded.
“He doesn’t need to approve him!” Rose said indignantly. “And I never even said I liked Scorpius!” “Rose, I’m a Wotter. You don’t need to say it; I just know,” James replied with a wide grin.