Within a few minutes, Albus was dressed in the snazzy looking suit that his dad had sent him a few days earlier and trying desperately to do something reasonable with his uncooperative hair. If he was going to the ball, he needed to look the part and he couldn’t arouse suspicion that he already knew something was going to happen.
His unknown ally was probably taking quite a risk to warn him about this and he wouldn’t make him/her regret it.
After a few rushed minutes, his hair finally looked suitable enough. He walked over to his bed and moved the pillow aside. The H&K USP .45 MATCH was sitting, almost begging to be used. He picked it up and cocked it, looking at the bullet in the camber for a second before letting the shaft snap back.
He was about to tuck it into his trousers but halted. He couldn’t bring it with him. Discharging a firearm in the middle of a massively crowed party would put people in danger. He’d have to hope that his wand was enough and that he didn’t need a back-up. He put the gun back on the bed and covered it up with the pillow.
Seconds later, he was out of the door and headed up the illuminated path. The firefly-like dots that lit the way were now changing color at random to match the fireworks that were still blasting off in the sky.
Albus power walked up the main building. There were smartly dressed Aurors standing around the entrance and walking the perimeter. None of them looked very happy to be working on New Year’s Eve. As he approached they all eyed him wearingly. He made them nervous.
They nevertheless stepped aside and allowed him to enter.
The music hit him the moment he walked through the doors. He had heard the song on WWN. It was the Wizarding Worlds latest musical craze. An all-girl band called No Silencio, with a half-veela as the lead singer and four incredible looking women as back-up singers/instrumentalists.
He walked through the double doors and into the Paradise Atrium and was hit with a wave of energy. The cheering and screaming crowed was in the hundreds, all gathered around the huge stage that had been set up where the Goblet of Fire had once stood. They were all dressed in their very best and going wild with excitement. On stage, No Silencio were dancing and singing their latest number one single; Love like Fiendfyre.
For a second, Al’s eyes were glued to the half-veela that was front and centre on stage. She was truly amazing to look at. She was a fair skinned girl with an exotic heritage. One of her parents might have been Samoan. The back-ups weren’t quite as sexy as her but still very attractive. Their looks had clearly been designed by their producers to encompass all the current trends of their teenage target audience. One looked like an innocent (but very guilty) school-girl, the second was dressed like a naughty secretary or teacher, the third had the look of a movie star, wearing furs and sunglasses and the forth seemed to be some kind of hardcore rocker. The lead was stealing the show though. Her beauty, voice and movements were practically hypnotic but he managed to snap out of it. He had to stay focused.
Someone in this room wanted to kill Shiori and he wasn’t going to let that happen.
The party was already in full swing which meant he had obviously missed the Champions dancing with their partners. He tried to act normal and moved into the crowd, heading for the bar. There wasn’t a House elf in sight. All the caterers were human, dressed in matching uniforms. Some were cleaning while others were walking around with glasses of champagne on trays or serving people from behind the bar. It was a shame really, if he wasn’t there with the soul goal of protecting someone, he would have been enjoying one hell of a party. The Japanese really knew how to throw a shindig.
Albus got himself a beer from the barman that became very uneasy when he realized who he was.
“You made it!”
Al turned around to see Jessica standing behind him. She was wearing a beautiful satin gown and had the Welsh Hogwarts student from Al’s thank-you party standing behind her. They had obviously hit it off sometime after he had been attacked in the bathroom.
“Yeah...I’m a champion so I thought I better show my face...even though nobody wants to see it,” he said before taking a swig of his beer.
“That’s not true. I’m glad you’re here,” she smiled. “Is Rose here too?”
“No...She’s still tucked up in bed...I think she had a bad Chinese,” he smirked.
Apparently, Rose’s disguise was working very well.
“That’s a shame; she’s missing a great party! I can’t believe they got No Silencio here!” she squealed in excitement. “I’m gonna get their autographs after the show, what me to get you one?”
“Nah, I’m more of a Clapton, Beatles...Nine Inch Nails fan,” Al shrugged.
“Who?” she asked looking confused.
“Okay, well, I’ll see ya later,” she said before dragging her date back to the party.
He watched them move over to a crowd of Salem’s students at immediately spotted Scarlet and Blakely looking absolutely divine. They both seemed to have temporarily forgotten about the fact that their lives were in danger and were just trying to enjoy the party. Albus couldn’t blame them. A distraction can do wonders for stress.
They spotted him and smiled genuinely. They were actually happy to see him.
A few feet away, Scorpius and Rose were locked in a loving embrace and kissing each other passionately. He wanted to tell them about the not he’d received but didn’t want to break up their moment. He did that way too often already.
Instead, Al continued to scan the party looking for anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t easy though. The place was packed and looked more lavished and rich than ever before. The All Seers money was certainly being used well.
Eventually Rose and Scorpius stopped their exchange of saliva to catch their breath and that was when Rose spotted Al. He gave a small wave as both their faces lit up. They walked over to meet him.
“So, what changed your mind?” Scorpius asked.
“Our mysterious benefactor...” Al said handing him the note.
Rose looked both worried and upset. She had obviously hoped that she and Scorpius would be able to enjoy this night without incident but no, Al just had to show up being the bearer of bad news...again.
“You seen Shiori anywhere?”
“She was over by the teachers a few minutes ago,” Scorp said.
“Alright...you two stay here and enjoy the party. If something happens, I’ll handle it...but keep your eyes open, okay?”
“Fine,” Rose sighed. Her night was already ruined. There was no way she’d just be able to enjoy the evening now.
Albus grabbed another beer before making his way through the crowed towards where the teachers were standing. Most of the faculty were dressed in their best and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the party. Headmaster Watanabe was smile warmly at everyone that came to greet him and most of the conversation seemed to be able what the second task had in store for the Champions. Apparently most of the teachers were kept in the dark about what it involved as well.
Al stood next to another bar a few feet away from the group. His eyes moved from one person to another, trying to spot Shiori but he could see her. He reached over a grabbed, what looked like little bits of pork on cocktail sticks from a tray on the bar and took a bite. His taste buds jolted their approval.
“Excuse me,” he signaled a barman, “what is this stuff? It’s amazing!”
“Octopus,” the barman said flatly.
“Octopus?” Al repeated with a mouth full of cephalopod. He had stopped chewing.
A few years ago, he probably would have spat it all over the floor and refused to ever eat it again, much like he used to do with Brussels sprouts, but these days he really didn’t care. It tasted great and as long as it didn’t make him sick later on, he liked it.
He shrugged and continued to chomp away at the little octopus bites, getting more and more addicted to them by the minute. Eventually he asked the barman for a bag and emptied two whole trays of them into it, saving it for later.
He turned back to the party and once again started searching for Shiori but still found no sign of her. It shouldn’t have been this hard to find her. She was probably the tallest girl at the school after all. Then, a large group of students moved away and opened up a clear line of sight.
Once again, he couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping at the sight of her. His mind instantly forgot why he was there and the momentary hypnosis caused him to very nearly drop his beer. She was truly an incredible sight. She was wearing a similar Japanese dress to the one she had worn at the celebration party only this one had a strange looking symbol on the chest and lower back and a dragon that wrapped itself around her body. Again, it had a huge slit running all the way up her left leg which seemed to be grabbing the attention of more than a few people. Her six-foot long hair was, as usual, perfectly groomed and her skin seemed to almost glow.
Al shook his head trying to focus and took a large swig of beer. Women shouldn’t be allowed to be that beautiful. It wasn’t fair on men. Their brains simply couldn’t handle it. Her beautiful smile vanished the moment she spotted Al and she began walking over to him.
Al braced himself.
“You got a lot of nerve showing up here,” she hissed.
“Oh, you know me. I love a good shindig,” Al smiled. He was determined not to get into another fight with her.
“You’re not going to blow the place up, are you?” she actually sounded quite accusing.
“Not if I can help it,” he said taking another swig of beer. “Listen...I think you might be in danger.”
“Of course I am. You’re here,” she spat.
“I’m serious Shiori!”
“So am I!”
“Look, I’m trying to protect you!” Al shot back.
“I don’t need your protection, none of us do! You’re not an Auror and you never will be!”
That one hit Albus straight in the heart. For some reason it seemed to hurt more coming from her than anyone else. His face went slightly pale.
“You’re right,” he said, his voice hollow. “No good deed goes unpunished...I try to do the right thing and all that happens is I end up hurting people and blowin’ shit up.”
Shiori started to look slightly uncomfortable. As if she had been expecting some kind of cleaver retort but got this instead. She had been too harsh and she knew it.
“Albus...what you did...you saved Scarlet and Blakely, I can’t fault you for that...but what happened afterwards...you stole a car, dragged those two poor girls along with you and then you killed a man! I mean...don’t you feel any guilt about that?!”
“Nope,” he said honestly.
“How can you not feel -”
“You ever killed anyone before Shiori?” Al cut her off.
“No, I haven’t!” she stated.
“It stays with you...”
“You just said you didn’t feel any guilt about it.”
“I don’t...but it stays with you. You ever saved anyone’s life?” he asked, looking her in the eye.
“What...I...” she stammered. That meant no.
“That stays with you too...there’s an old saying; All that is needed for evil to succeed if for good men to do nothing...I forget who said it...”
“Edmund Burke,” she said automatically.
“Actually it was Friedrich Nietzche,” Al said quickly causing her to look a little bemused. “My point is, if I sit back and do nothing, it’s just as bad as if I pulled the trigger myself. So, whether you want it or not, you have my protection.”
“You may be Harry Potter’s son but that does not give you the right to do whatever the hell you want!” she scowled. “Didn’t he run off and try to save people without thinking twice and that resulted in the death of his godfather! I thought you would have learnt from his mistakes!”
“You know, I asked him about that once, you know what he said?” Al glugged down the rest of his beer before continuing. “he said; even though Sirius died as a direct result of him running off to the department of mysteries, he would do it again because there was no way he could ignore the suffering of his family...even if it wasn’t real.”
Shiori sighed to herself. There was just no getting through it him.
“Wouldn’t you do anything to protect your family?” Al asked.
Suddenly her eyes burned with fury and sadness.
“I don’t have a family anymore!” she hissed with gritted teeth.
“My condolences...but if you could go back and change that...would you?”
“They’re gone, I’ve accepted it, just as I accept that there are things that are beyond my control,” she said sternly.
“You don’t know that until you try and take control,” he shot back.
She didn’t seem to have a comeback for that one. Albus was starting to get a very good idea about her now. She was impressively disciplined almost to a fault. She had been taught from the very beginning not to do the kind of things that he believed in and that was probably the main reason that she hated him so much. They were complete polar opposites.
Whoever said that opposites attract was full of shit!
“It isn’t your duty or your responsibility to protect these people!”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, will you jump off your high and mighty horse for ten fucking seconds! I see something bad happening, I’m going to try and stop it, end of story! Just drop it!” he growled in frustration.
“Oh, I’ll drop something!”
There was a tiny click and Shiori stormed away just as Al’s trousers fell down around his ankles. She had somehow managed to unbuckle his belt without him even noticing.
Suddenly the people around him erupted into hysterics, pointing and laughing at Albus who had never been more embarrassed in his whole life. A few people wolf whistled and Shiori let out a devious little smirk. Half the room was now chuckling away at a half-naked Hogwarts Champion.
“Cute shorts Al,” she grinned as her fan club grouped around her and giggled.
“Oh, very mature...” Al mumbled, pulling his trousers back up and buckling the belt.
“I always imagined you as being a ‘briefs’ man,” Shiori laughed, getting as much amusement as possible out of the situation.
“I’m anything but brief,” Al smirked threateningly.
He marched over to the bar and snapped at the barman to get him another beer. He had only taken one swig by the time Scorpius had found his way over. He stood next to him, desperately trying not to laugh.
“You’re bloody lovin’ this aren’t you?” Al grumbled, his cheeks still bright red from being laughed at by almost three whole schools.
“You gotta admit, it’s ironic!” he chuckled referring back to when Al made him drop his clothes and dance around in the street to distract a crazed pyromaniac.
Al made a mental note to stick more of those newspaper pictures up.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think these guys are gonna have to kill her...I’m gonna do it for them,” he growled under his breath before taking a heavy gulp of beer.
Scorpius let out a chuckle and it was in that second when Albus turned away that time seemed to slow down. It was the line of icy cold champagne bottles in front of him that made him see it. The chill had made them reflective, like a mirror and that was what allowed him to spot what was standing directly behind a giggling Shiori.
Al span around with lightning speed, drawing his wand. Unbelievably, Shiori matched his move and a heartbeat later, the two were pointing wands at each other. They fired at the same time, Shiori’s spell disarming Albus instantly while his shot straight past her and disarmed the guy behind her.
She suddenly realized what had just happened and turned to see a man pulling a 9mm pistol from his trousers. Before she could act, she was slammed out of the way by Al who tackled the man, dressed as a caterer, and grabbed hold of the weapon. Adrenaline and instinct took over.
The gun fired but Al had steered it into the air. People screamed and No Silenco’s bodyguards rushed the stage to cover them as if they were protecting the president of the United States. The bullet left a hole in the roof and Al laid a heavy punch into the guy’s mouth causing him to stumble backwards and drop the gun.
He recovered quickly and started throwing punches and kicks at him. The guy was fast and clearly trained in martial arts. He smacked Al in the chest with a massive kick which set him falling back. The man went for the gun again but Albus was already there. They wrestled over the weapon as Shiori turned, twisted and roundhouse kicked the attacker in the chest so hard that it sent him flying through the air.
The attacker collided with Albus and the two smashed straight through the window behind them, landing on the ground outside and rolling down a steep hill. They rolled about twenty feet down the hill before smashing through another window and landing inside the kitchens.
A large group of panicked House elves shrieked in horror and ran from the kitchen as Al and the attacker picked themselves up and started going at it again. The attacker grabbed hold of Al’s neck and slammed his head into the side of a large silver freezer, causing blood to gush from the wound. Albus, empowered by adrenaline, ignored the injury and pushed the attacker away. He grabbed a white porcelain plate and smashed it over the attackers head then hit him with a barely decent left hook.
He fell but rolled backwards and onto his feet. The attacker grabbed and threw a frying pan at Albus, which he dodged, before picking up a large butcher’s knife. He slashed wildly at Albus who did his best to block or dodge it but the guy was seriously fast.
Albus yelled out as the knife sliced his forearm open. Blood ran from the cut and onto the tiled floor causing Al to slip and loose his balance as he attempted to dodge another strike. The attacker latched hold, span behind him and locked his limbs up, trying to drive the knife into his chest.
Albus, with all the strength he had left, tried to power out of it but the attacker was older and stronger than him. The knife inched closer to his chest until the tip touched his skin, drawing blood.
Suddenly, Al threw his head backwards, head butting the man in the nose then hit him square in the balls. In pain, the attacker dropped the knife but it never hit the floor. Albus caught it in midair, turned and drove it straight into the guy’s neck.
A spray of warm red liquid hit the wall of the kitchen and the attacker dropped to the floor, desperately clutching his gushing artery. Seconds later, he stopped moving and a large pool of blood lay beneath him.
Albus, heart pounding and out of breath fell to his knees next to him. With the attacker dead, his brain reactivated. He reached over and pulled up the guy’s sleeve, revealing the very same dragon-dagger tattoo that he had seen on the man that had tried to kill Scarlet and Blakely.
He watched as it faded and turned into nothing. Whatever they were, they were designed to disappear in the event of the person’s death.
Albus breathed heavily, the pain starting to appear on his arm and head. Then something else clicked. He looked down at the man he had just killed. Something was familiar. He reached over and pushed open one of his closed eyelids, checking the color. It was so obvious that people would probably never see it.
He stood up and grabbed a dish cloth from the side, wrapping it around the slash on his arm to slow the bleeding.
Just then, the door of the kitchen burst open and Shiori was there, her wand ready. Her eyes went wide with shock as she saw Albus and the dead man at his feet. His suit was dirty and shredding and covered in blood coming from his head and arm. He looked like he had just crawled out of a battlefield.
He didn’t say a word; he didn’t even look at her. He just walked past.
“Albus, I...” she tied, her voice shaking but he was already gone.
A minute later, Albus stormed back into the Paradise Atrium. Aurors were everywhere and teachers were comforting frightened students. They all stopped and looked on in complete shock as Albus moved past them. He walked straight over to the bar. He picked up a towel, laid it out on the bar then reached over and grabbed an ice bucket holding a bottle of champagne. He up-ended it, letting the ice fall into the towel then wrapped it up turning it into a ice pack which he pressed against the wound on the side of his head.
Before leaving, he picked up a full bottle of fire-whisky and walked towards the main entrance, leaving the onlookers stunned with silence.
He went outside and sat down on the nearest wall before taking a massive gulp of whisky, trying to calm his nerves. His throat burned and his body shuddered as it went down but it felt good.
A few moments went past as Al tried to grip the situation. Shiori’s words were echoing in his head. Why didn’t he feel bad about what had just happened? Why was it so easy for him? Why was he so good at this stuff?
He took another big gulp, relishing the burn. Had the All Seers sent him or was it personal? He was inclined to think the latter. If they were after the money, it made no sense killing Albus before the tournament was finished. His death would only be a profit if he, or the other two champions, died during the last task, negating all the previously established betting odds. It had to have been a lone nut out for revenge.
Scorpius, panicked and sweating rushed out of the entrance and over to Al. He didn’t say anything. He just walked over, took Al by the back of the neck and gently pressed his forehead to his. Whatever was happening, they were in it together. Albus wasn’t alone. That was all he needed to convey.
Scorpius didn’t need to speak to him. He just needed Albus to know that fact, and he did.
“You were right...this inside man seems to know what we’re dealing with,” Scorp said, getting down to business.
“It was a fake...” Al mumbled.
“The note was a fake...that guy wasn’t there for Shiori, he was there for me. They said Shiori was in danger because they knew it was the only way to get me there otherwise I would have just waited at our place for this guy to show up. This was a setup, the hit was meant for me.”
“How do you know?”
“Same hair, same eyes, same fucked up jaw line...same vanishing tattoo...the guy I wrapped around a lamp post a few weeks back, that was his brother, older brother I think. This was revenge...” Al said absently before taking another gulp.
“You’re sure?” Scorpius asked.
“I’m sure. He wasn’t aiming at her, he was aiming at me. I invited this...”
“No, you didn’t. Don’t start blaming yourself for this shit!”
“She was right...as long as I’m here, these people are in danger. The tournament is over. I’m leaving...tonight. Let these fuckers try and follow me home. They don’t stand a chance of taking me on my own soil.”
“How we getting back?” Scorpius put special emphasis on the word ‘we’. Albus didn’t argue.
“It’ll have to be a portkey. I’ll get my dad to arrange one. By now, he’s probably on his way.”
The doors to the main entrance burst open and a large body of men stepped out, led by Inspector Chang. They marched straight over to Albus and grabbed hold of him causing the fire-whisky bottle to slip out of his hand and smash on the ground. Albus didn’t struggle.
“Albus Potter, I am placing you under arrest for murder. You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defense later if you fail to mention something you may later rely on in court. You have the right to legal representation, if you cannot get legal representation under your own means, one will be appointed by the courts,” Chang said officially as they bolted his wrists behind his back with handcuffs.
“That’s a shame...I was just starting to enjoy the party,” Albus remarked cynically before being led away by the Aurors.
Scorpius didn’t try and stop them, because he knew that wasn’t what Albus wanted. He knew he wouldn’t be behind bars for long.
It wasn’t over yet, in fact, it had only just begun.