Rose huffed for fifth time as he read through another translated book from the Hokkaido library.
“There’s nothing in here about these ‘All Seers’, all it ever does is mention them, but doesn’t give any information! Listen: ‘The theories surrounding the possibility that magic may have been used to set-up the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 have never had any substantiating evidence to support them and have become nothing more that conspiracy myths, held in the same light as Centaurians and the All Seers’.”
Rose, Scarlet, Blakely and Scorpius were sitting up in the spare room that the Salem girls would be sleeping in for the night. They had dozens of books sprawled across the bed and were going through them one at a time in the hopes of finding anything that might help them make sense of what was happening. So far, they had found nothing.
“What the hell is a Centaurian?” Blakely asked.
“A humanoid sub-species of Centaur. Some people think they went extinct about four hundred years ago while others don’t think they ever existed at all...I don’t agree with the latter. There’s evidence of them in Aztec and Mayan cultures,” Rose said absently while scanning the pages of another book.
“Smart girls are so sexy,” Scorpius grinned and Rose blew him a kiss.
Scarlet stood up and walked over to the window. She could see the glowing red end of Al’s lit cigarette. He was sitting down on the porch with a beer in his hand and (unknown to them) a gun tucked into the back of his trousers.
“Is he all right?” Scarlet asked with concern.
“He’s fine,” Scorpius said.
“You sure? It’s pretty cold out there. Maybe we should ask him to come inside?”
“Don’t bother. He’ll stay out there until he’s sure we’re safe.”
“When he gets like this, nothing will change his mind,” Rose agreed.
“I didn’t think he was this...protective,” Scarlet admitted.
“He didn’t used to be,” Scorpius sighed, sounding almost upset. Without another word, he walked out of the room and down the stairs.
“Hard to imagine him be any other way,” Blakely smiled.
“You’d be surprised. You should have seen him when he first started Hogwarts. If you dropped a book he would jump five feet in the air. Back then, Al was afraid of his own shadow,” Rose giggled.
“So what changed?” Scarlet asked.
Rose’s smile faded. “I don’t think you wanna know about that.”
“Sorry. You’re right, it’s none of our business,” Blakely said quickly.
“It’s just not a very pleasant story,” Rose said grimly.
“He saved my life...twice...I won’t think any less of him...” Scarlet said honestly. It was obvious that she wanted to know.
Rose sighed and closed the book in her hands.
“I’m sure you know about Scorpius’s father and what he did during the war,” Rose said and the two Americans nodded. “Well, the wizarding world never really forgot about that. Scorpius bared the brunt of it. He was bullied a lot when he came to Hogwarts, especially after being sorted into Slytherin...and...I’m ashamed to say that I was a part of that too.”
Scarlet and Blakely seemed a little surprised by that.
“I don’t know what made him do it, but one day during the second year, Scorpius was being bullied by a bunch of fifth years and Al came out of nowhere and started yelling at them to leave him alone. Everyone knew who Al’s dad was so they backed down immediately. Then, Scorpius, out of some crazy warped sense of loyalty, thinks that he now owes Al a life debt! He just wouldn’t leave him alone after that!” she chuckled.
Scarlet could help but laugh as well. The idea of Scorpius following Al around like a lost puppy was just too cute.
“Eventually, Al managed to convince him that he didn’t owe him anything but by that time, they had become friends anyway. Quite a few people weren’t happy about that but Al never cared. Unfortunately, it also caused the bullying to get worse. People thought that Scorpius was trying to latch onto to a Potter to save his own skin...and Al wasn’t always around to stop them...”
Suddenly Rose’s eyes were looking away from the girls and into nothing. There were hints of tears building in them.
“About halfway through the fourth year, Al comes rushing up to me asking if I’d seen Scorpius. He hadn’t been to any of his classes and Al was frantic. I swear he searched the entire school for him...” droplets of salt-water began to fall down Rose’s cheeks. These memories were painful. “Finally, Al managed to trick a Slytherin into telling him the password for the dorms. He found Scorpius huddled in a ball underneath his bed...he had been beaten within an inch of his life...”
Scarlet and Blakely stared on with blank, pale faced as Rose tried to whip the tears off her face.
“A group of sixth years had been tormenting him but this time, Scorpius tried to be more like Al and stood up to them...they didn’t like that...” she sniffed. “Al made sure that Scorpius got to the hospital wing...then he went looking for the ones that did it...It only took him an hour to find out.”
Again she tried to whip the tears away but they were flowing too freely now.
“Scorpius was practically unrecognizable...his face was just...pulp...and seeing his friend like that...something inside Al just...snapped. He went down to the Quidditch supply cupboard and grabbed a beaters bat, and then he went and found them...All three of them were twice his size but that didn’t matter...”
Scarlet actually wanted to tell Rose to stop, that she didn’t want to hear anymore but the words never came out.
“He broke both the arms of one of them, gave the second massive internal bleeding and pushed the third out of a three story window...”
Blakely gasped in horror.
“Needless to say...no one ever bullied Scorpius again...the three students never came back to school and Albus was diagnosed with an impulse control problem and received anger management therapy. He doesn’t think we know about that, but we do. The scariest part is that when I saw him after...he smiled at me...he didn’t feel even the slightest bit of guilt for what he had done...he acted like it hadn’t even happened.”
Scarlet wished she had never asked. She knew Al could take things to the next level but she never imagined him as being so brutal.
“Everyone wants to protect the people they care about but Al is the only person I know that’s willing the burn down the heavens to do it.”
Scorpius walked out onto the porch and handed Al a fresh beer.
“All quiet on the western front,” Al said taking the beer from him.
Al nodded to Scarlet and Blakely’s house, perched in distance with the lights still on.
“Been watching it in case anyone else visits thinking that they are there,” he explained.
“Tell me you’re not using them as bait,” Scorpius warned.
“I’m not...I’m using their house as bait.”
“Fair enough,” Scorpius shrugged and took a gulp of his beer. “What have we walked into this time Al?”
“Something bigger than what we’re used to dealing with. People trying to kill champions, stupidly dangerous tasks, super-powered ninja’s and now the All Seers...”
“Not to mention that you still need to find a date for the ball,” Scorpius reminded and Al let out a groan.
“I don’t remember seeing any of this crap on the brochure.”
The sound of the branch snapping caused Al and Scorpius to jump up with wands ready, pointed at the darkness were it had come from.
“They said you were fast but now I’m really impressed.”
Al and Scorpius relaxed and tucked away their wands as Han stepped out of the shadows and onto the porch. His handsome features were lit up by the light coming through the windows of the house but they also showed the bags under his eyes. He was obviously under a lot of stress with what had been happening.
“You’re a real quick-draw, aren’t you?” he smiled.
“There’s worse things to be,” Al said flatly.
“True,” Han agreed. “How are the girls doing?”
“Still a little shaken but they’re tough, they’ll be all right,” Scorpius said.
“And how about you two cowboys?” he asked.
“Wasn’t our first rodeo,” Al grinned.
“Yeah, I guessed that...anyway, I just came up to let you guys know that the ministry will be putting tighter security on the tasks themselves. We’re not going to risk portkeys anymore because they can be tampered with. Before the next task, a squad of armed Aurors will pick Shiori up from her house, then come here and then collect Scarlet and Blakely. Everyone will travel together as a group to the arena using the Salem airship,” he explained.
Scorpius seemed more than pleased that portkeys wouldn’t be involved anymore.
“Sounds good. What about in the meantime?” Al questioned.
“We got thirty Aurors patrolling the place at all times and the schools defenses are on their highest levels.
“They’ve already gotten through twice, who’s to say they can’t do it again?” Scorpius asked the obvious question.
“Nothing...but we are trying to make it as difficult as possible for them,” he admitted.
“Thanks,” Scorpius nodded.
“You guys stay safe,” he smiled before walking away.
“Oh, Han,” Al called out causing him to stop and turn. “I was targeted first, now Scarlet and Blakely...it’s a good bet that Shiori is next. You might want to keep an eye on her.”
“Shiori doesn’t need protection,” he grinned and strolled off.
“How did I know that he would say that,” Al grumbled.
No matter what was going on, a small part of Al’s mind continued to nag him about her. She was hiding something. He just needed to find out what.
The next day, under Auror supervision of course, Scarlet and Blakely returned to their dorm. The knowledge of what Albus was capable of had left them feeling somewhat uneasy around him but neither of them could deny that they owed him their lives. They knew they would eventually be able to see past what Rose had told them the night before, but it would take some time.
Life around the school became much more of an effort in the following days. Everywhere they went they were tailed by Aurors watching their every move. Teachers and students alike kept their distance and looked at them like they were wild animals or something. People stared and whispered just like they had done in Hogwarts after Smuggler’s Cove and Hogsmead. On top of that, Harry and Ron were a part of that now. They had brought tickets to the tournament and were staying in Sapporo and when they weren’t there, they were at the school, making it plainly obvious that they were watching Al’s every move.
Worse still, all their attempts to find out about the All Seers and the magical tattoo that Al had seen were getting them nowhere. It was starting to feel like they were desperately chasing their own tails.
Al still wasn’t going to his classes and he was pretty sure that the other students were very happy about that. Instead he’d still at home or in the library, going through books that may reveal any new information. It wasn’t until the 23rd of December that someone, other than Rose and Scorpius decided to talk to Al.
“I guess you weren’t kidding when you said you could drive,” Jessica smiled, appearing next to him.
All the other students in the library looked up to see what was happening.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think I’m going to be getting my license back after that.”
“Can’t say I’m surprised,” she admitted.
There were a few seconds of silence between them and then Jessica spoke again.
“So...you got a date to the Eve Ball?” her voice sounded a little bit strained, as if she was trying too hard to stay calm.
Al blinked in surprise. “No...I err, I don’t think I’m going.”
“Well, I doubt anyone is going to shed any tears if I don’t turn up.”
“I thought champions had to go?” she asked, looking confused.
“They do, but I’ll think of something,” Al stated.
“Well, I don’t have a date...so, if you wanted to go with me...as friends I mean,” she said awkwardly.
This time, Al just couldn’t keep the shock off his face. He looked at her like she had gone insane. Was she actually asking him out on a date?!
“I mean, you saved my friends lives...it’s the least I can do,” she mumbled.
Al felt a very strange sensation take over his body. It wasn’t anger or happiness, more like a sad understanding that for some reason made him feel quite grateful. She wasn’t asking him because she wanted to go with him, it was out of pity.
“I’m sure there’s someone else you much rather go with,” Al smiled sincerely.
Jessica sighed. “I just don’t think it’s fair...the way people are treating you.”
“Trust me, I’m used to it. Go find the lucky guy before some other girl does,” he said softly.
“Look...just...come to the ball...come stag or something, I don’t know. You got as much right to enjoy it as everyone else,” she pleaded.
She truly was upset about the way people were reacting to him. It was sweet. It made him smile.
“I’ll think about it,” he nodded.
At this point, Al wasn’t really concerned with the Ball. He knew that he was supposed to go but it was pretty obvious that the entire school was hoping that he wouldn’t. He certainly wouldn’t need to poison himself anymore.
Christmas came and went and nothing new surfaced. No matter how hard they looked, they found nothing. Presents were exchanged and a thick white layer of snow soon covered the school. Whether it was natural or magical didn’t seem to matter to anyone.
Al brought Rose a book on facial transfiguration which he hoped she would be able to learn in the few days leading up to New Years. That way, she could alter hers or Scorpius’s appearance and they could go to the Eve Ball together; something he knew that they both wanted to do.
That was about the only thing ‘Christmasy’ that he did. The festivities were lost on him and neither Rose nor Scorpius blamed him for it. It had reached the point now where the tournament, the ball and people’s opinions of him no longer mattered. Protecting his friends was all that matter now. He stayed indoors, going over the facts over and over again, trying to make sense of it all. He just needed to find one little clue that could help him understand what was happening because that was exactly what he needed to guarantee everyone’s safety.
But that clue just didn’t seem to exist and it was making him more and more desperate. Rose and Scorpius hadn’t failed to notice it either. Al had begun to lose sleep. He was drinking more and more often. He refused to drop his guard. He was becoming obsessed.
Before he knew, the sound of fireworks exploding in the skies echoed all around him. The laughter and cheers of the other students could be heard in the distance as they made their way towards the Paradise Atrium. It was New Year’s Eve and Albus was the only one that didn’t give a shit.
Scorpius came down from upstairs. With his pale blond hair slicked back and black suit, he looked like the owner of a multi-billion dollar software company or maybe a celebrity about to walk down a red carpet.
“Sure you’re not coming?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“Enjoy the party mate,” Al smiled.
Scorpius looked down at the floor with an annoyed expression. It didn’t feel right going without his best friend.
“Wow!” he said a few seconds later.
Rose walked down the stairs in a dark red dress that actually seemed to radiate light from it. It wasn’t the only thing though. Her lips were actually glowing from ‘Scented Radiance’; the extremely expensive lipstick that Scorpius had brought her for Christmas. It reflected light but didn’t glow in the dark and make it look like she had radiation poisoning.
Not surprisingly, Rose had mastered a few of the spells in the book Al had brought her and put them to good use. She had changed her hair color to jet black, just like Al’s and given herself slightly more defined cheeks. Only someone that truly scrutinized her features would be able to tell that it was her and people would most likely be too busy enjoying the part for that.
“Rose, you look incredible!” Scorpius blurted instantly.
“I second that,” Al agreed.
Rose blushed for a second before looking at Al with saddened eyes.
“You should come Al, really.”
“That’s not a good idea...but, you two have fun. Have your first public date,” he grinned.
“Hardly public, this is sort of cheating.”
“Not in my book. Enjoy the party...don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”
Scorpius looked at Al in confusion. “There’s things you won’t do?”
“Piss off,” Al laughed, shooing them towards the door.
He actually felt a small surge of pride as he watched them leave. For once, he wasn’t dragging them down with him. True, Scorpius had received his fair share of dirty looks after what had happened but everyone knew that Al was the instigator. Scorpius just backed him up. It was doubtful that the other students would affect his night. He was sure they’d have a wonderful evening.
Plus, Rose transfiguring herself supported Al’s cover story. They were going to tell people that Rose wasn’t feeling well and so Al had stayed home to look after his cousin. It was hardly fool proof but it would be enough.
As the fireworks continued to light up the skies with multi-colored lights, Al settled himself into the living room sofa with a beer in front of him and more books on Japanese magical history and law, hoping to find something about the All Seers or the tattoo. He started to become a bit of a pessimist when it came to searching for information but he hadn’t given up and he probably wouldn’t.
An hour later, he was on his third beer and half-way through the first book and, as expected, he’d found nothing. It was almost as if anything to do with the All Seers had been purposely kept out of the books at the request of the authors. As soon as a book mentioned them, it would suddenly and deliberately change the subject to something else. It was unbelievably frustrating.
It was like they were taunting him.
Al growled in annoyance, got up and marched over to the fridge. He grabbed another beer and headed back to the sofa. That was when he suddenly noticed a small origami bird sitting on top of the book he had just been reading. It was identical to the one that had resulted in he and Scorpius saving Scarlet and Blakely. He rushed over and opened it up.
Get to the party. Shiori is in danger.