Chapter 9 : Caught Red-Handed.
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Rose let out an audible sigh of relief.
“Oh God, for a moment there, I thought it was blood.”
“Isn’t it?” he asked.
She shook her head. “It’s ink, Albus, red ink. They must have used an entire inkwell. Touch it.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
There was no way he was touching it. Even if it wasn’t blood, the words themselves repelled him.
Voldemort’s very name was still spoken in whispers. Though the war seemed a very long time ago to Albus, those who’d lived through it hadn’t forgotten. He’d heard how adults voices changed when they spoke of it, heard them stumble over Voldemort’s name, resort to euphemisms. He knew what the war had cost people, knew that because of that man and his followers, Teddy had grown up without his parents and Albus himself would never know his paternal grandparents or one of his apparently most amusing uncles.
And wasn’t “the Dark Lord” a Death Eater term?
He shivered at the thought. Surely there couldn’t be Death Eaters at Hogwarts.
Almost unwillingly, he glanced at the message again. What could it mean by saying he was returning? Voldemort was dead, wasn’t he? Nobody could return from the dead. It was impossible.
But wasn’t he supposed to have died before, when his father had been a baby? And then he’d come back and nobody had believed his father except Dumbledore. And some of his friends, of course, but nobody else in authority had believed it.
He wished he’d paid more attention. The stories were old and confused. Nobody really seemed to like talking about those times, except Aunt Hermione, who insisted it was important to remember, that it was the only way to ensure nothing like it ever happened again.
He’d never taken her seriously. The war had happened long ago, before he was even born. Nothing like that could happen nowadays, surely. But perhaps she’d been right. Perhaps he should have listened more carefully.
Something hit him on the back of his head, jolting him out of his thoughts.
He turned around. Peeves was floating overhead, grinning manically and firing pieces of chalk at them.
“Oooh, writing on the walls. Naughty, naughty, ickle firsties. I think I should call Filch. He won’t be pleased though.” Peeves shook his head virtuously. “The mess you’ve made of his nice clean wall. Peevsie really should tell him.”
“NO, PEEVES,” Rose said firmly. “We didn’t do this. We just found it.”
“ Tell it to the Order,” Peeves replied, blowing a loud raspberry.
He floated off, calling “Mr. Filch, Mr. Filch, look what the firsties have done. Mr. Filch.”
Albus blanched. “We’d better get out of here.”
Rose grabbed his arm.
“No! Peeves knows who we are and he’s bound to tell. And even if he doesn’t, they could find out who we are easily enough. Between the portraits and the ghosts and everybody else around this castle, we’re bound to have been seen by somebody. Our best bet is to wait and tell our side of things. There’s absolutely no proof we’ve done anything wrong.”
Albus doubted Filch would care about that. Just seeing them there would be proof enough for him.
But she’d a point. He was going to catch them whatever they did.
He was terrified. This was the second time he’d been in trouble since starting Hogwarts and it made the earlier incident pale into insignificance. Even if Professor Blackburn hadn’t retracted the detention, it had only been a detention. That has worried him enough, but he dreaded to think what Filch would do to them.
Filch was muttering angrily as he came towards them.
“That flaming poltergeist had better not have called me out on a wild goose chase. Oh, if only I still had my Mrs. Norris the first. She’d have alerted me to this immediately. Where is that stupid cat of mine anyway? Sleeping again, I suppose. Mrs. Norris the first never slept.”
He glared at them and then at the wall.
“So, this is the mess you make of my nice clean wall! Have you any idea how much work I put into trying to keep this place looking respectable? And every time, every time I think I’m finished, you flaming students mess it up all over again. Well, don’t think you’re getting away with this! It’s detention for you. Pity McGonagall has forbidden the old methods, but once she’s seen what you’ve done…”
“Once I’ve seen what, Argus?”
Albus didn’t know whether to be relieved or terrified. McGonagall arrived in the corridor, presumably having heard the disruption Peeves was still making around the castle.
“Look at this! Just look at it!” Filch ranted. “I had all the walls in this castle spick and span yesterday evening and these two…two juvenile delinquents come and mess it all up while I’m sleeping.”
McGonagall glanced quickly at the graffiti.
“Oh, do be sensible, Argus. Do you really believe that Harry Potter’s son would be gloating about the return of…of…” Words seemed to fail her. “Of…You-Know-Who,” she finally whispered.
“They were caught red-handed. I saw them myself standing right there.”
“And did you see them actually writing anything?”
“Well, they weren’t going to do in right in front of me, were they?” He sounded quite affronted at the idea of any student having such a nerve. “It was Peeves who alerted me.”
“Peeves? Of course.” McGonagall sounded slightly sarcastic. “I think he’s alerted the entire castle. It doesn’t prove these students have done anything wrong.”
“But…but...I demand punishment! At least that they be made clean it off. Without magic! I’m sick and tired of having to clean up the messes made by these infernal students.”
“You won’t have to worry about that for a while. I shall want to examine it closely before it’s removed.” She turned to Rose and Albus. “Could both of you accompany me to my office, please.”
Albus felt frozen to the spot. If McGonagall really believed they were innocent, why was she bringing them to her office? Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she’d just been trying to shut Filch up.
If she didn’t believe them, they’d be expelled! He just knew it.
“Come on, Albus,” Rose whispered.
His legs felt weak as they followed McGonagall to the gargoyle which marked the entrance to her office.
“Montrose Magpies,” she said briskly.
The gargoyle moved and she led them up the stairs behind it.
“Sit down,” she said, when they entered the office.
“Professor, we didn’t write on that wall,” Rose said earnestly.
McGonagall raised a hand to silence her. “I don’t believe you did.” She gave them a tight smile. “Honestly, Harry Potter’s son and Ron and Hermione’s daughter hoping for…” She paused again. “Voldemort’s return. Ridiculous. However, I do want to know exactly what happened this morning and what you saw. I am sure you both realise this must be cleared up as quickly as possible.”
“Yes, Professor,” they replied in unison.
“So, perhaps, Miss Weasley, you could enlighten me as to what you know?”
“We don’t know anything really, Professor. We were just walking down the corridor….”
“Before we go any further, I’d like to know why you were walking down that particular corridor. It isn’t on your way to the Great Hall and anyway, it was a little early for breakfast.”
“We got a message from Professor Slughorn. Well, Albus did. Last night. It said to come to his office this morning for a meeting of the Slug Club.” She paused and turned to him. “Albus, there was nobody else there! Not even Professor Slughorn. I said there was something odd about the timing! Sorry, Professor. It’s just, I just realised the message mightn’t have come from Professor Slughorn.”
“Very probably not, I would think,” Professor McGonagall replied. “Would you wait here for two minutes while I send a message to Professor Slughorn? I am placing you both on your honour not to touch anything or even move from your seats.”
Albus had no intention of moving. They’d been very lucky to have been believed so far. There was no way he was risking any further trouble.
It was just as well they did what they were told, as Professor McGonagall returned within moments.
“Hopefully, Professor Slughorn will be with us soon. While we are waiting, perhaps you could give me a bit more information. You received a message, Albus?”
“Who brought it to you?”
“Nathan, Professor, but he just found it. Outside, he said. I assumed he meant outside Ravenclaw Tower, but I’m not sure now. I mean…”
“Understandably, you weren’t that interested in where he’d found it.”
“Now, Rose, perhaps you could tell me what you meant when you said you thought the timing was odd.”
“Just that the ‘Slug Club’ meetings are usually in the evenings. 7:30am seemed a rather unlikely time for Professor Slughorn to hold one.”
“You should pay more attention to your instincts, Rose. Ah, it looks as if Professor Slughorn is here to join us. Albus, do you still have the message you received?”
“I think so, Professor.” He was doubtful. He didn’t remember throwing it out and he didn’t think he would have. He usually kept things like that, in case he needed to double-check the time or something. But he couldn’t remember actually putting it away anywhere either.
“Could you go and get it for us? And ask Nathan to join us also. I imagine he’s still in the Great Hall.”
He didn’t dare tell her he wasn’t totally sure where he’d left the message.
He’d go to the Great Hall first, he decided. If he sent Nathan to the office, that would be at least one of his tasks completed and he could always ask Nathan to tell McGonagall he was looking for the message.
Nathan was chatting with Rasmus and Derek at the breakfast table when Albus entered the Great Hall.
“Nathan,” he said breathlessly.
“Hi, Albus. Where were you? Did you hear about the graffiti outside Slughorn’s office?”
“McGonagall wants you in her office.”
“WHAT?” Nathan went pale.
“Oh, you’re not in trouble. It’s about the graffiti. Well, not exactly. It’s about the note you gave me last night.”
Nathan stared at him in confusion, as did some of the other Ravenclaws.
Albus took a deep breath. “The note was from Slughorn - or it said it was from Slughorn - asking me and Rose to go to his office for a Slug Club meeting this morning. So we did, but nobody else was there and the graffiti was up on the wall.” He paused. What else did he need to say? “So McGonagall wants to talk to you. Oh, and will you tell her I’m not exactly sure where the note is, so I need to look for it?”
“What do you think she’s going to ask me?” Nathan asked nervously.
“Probably where you found it and maybe if you saw what it said. I don’t know. I have to go try and find that note now.”
He wanted to get off as soon as possible. The sooner he found the note, the less time he kept McGonagall waiting. Somehow he didn’t think she’d appreciate having to wait for him, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about that.
Nathan got up. “But do you think…?”
“I’ve really got to go,” Albus said.
He rushed off to Ravenclaw Tower and rapped on the knocker.
“What never ends and yet everybody wants more?”
He stared at it blankly. If something didn't end, you couldn’t want any more, could you? It made no sense.
He raised a hand to his eyes. He needed to get inside and he needed to do so immediately. He didn’t know how long it’d take him to find the stupid note. If he’d known it would be so important he’d have taken better care of it, but he didn’t and he hadn’t, so he needed all the time he could get to look. He’d already wasted enough time talking to Nathan.
“Can’t you ask another question or something?” he asked desperately. “I really need to get in.”
“What never ends and yet everybody wants more?” the eagle repeated.
He felt like crying. The day had been stressful enough already and they'd still no idea who’d written the graffiti or what it could mean. Could Voldemort still be alive?
He couldn’t think about that now. He needed to focus on the question. What was it again? What goes on forever and yet everybody wants more?
He sighed. He just couldn’t think. Not when there could be Death Eaters in the school and the evilest wizard in history might still be alive.
“Hey, what’s the question?” a voice asked from behind him.
He turned around. A group of older students were standing there, obviously back from breakfast. He breathed a sigh of relief. Half of Ravenclaw would be returning soon. Between them, they were bound to figure it out.
He repeated the riddle as closely as he could remember it.
“Something that doesn't end but we all want more of it?” one of the older students repeated thoughtfully.
“I know,” a seventh year announced. “Time. It never ends and yet we all need more. Especially with the N.E.W.T.S. coming up.”
“Good answer,” the eagle replied.
Albus raced through the common room to his dormitory. He usually stuck notes into one or other of his books, so they wouldn’t go missing. Hopefully, he’d find the note if he flicked though them.
He’d probably have put it in one of the books on top, he thought, relaxing now. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find if he just thought about it logically.
The Dark Arts: A Guide to Self-Protection lay on top of his pile of textbooks. Actually, he thought he did remember opening that the previous evening.
Quickly, he skimmed the pages, but found nothing.
“Oh , come on, come on.”
He picked the book up, turned it over and shook it. Nothing fell out.
Well, OK, maybe he hadn’t put it into his Defence textbook. It must have been one of the others. He flicked through each book and shook them in turn. Nothing.
It had to be somewhere, he thought frantically. Think! Where else could he have put it?
Maybe he’d dropped it under his bed. Or it could have fallen out of the book.
He lay down on his stomach to search under the bed.
It wasn’t there either, so he quickly scoured the rest of the dormitory and then the common room.
Still unable to find it, he asked Derek, Rasmus, Dora and Angie if they’d seen it.
“A piece of parchment?” Rasmus asked. “Seriously, Albus, have you any idea how many pieces of parchment are lying around this place? You don’t really expect me to remember if I’ve seen a particular one or recognise it.”
Tears sprang to Albus’s eyes and he turned away quickly. He’d look a complete baby if he started crying. Oh God, what was he going to do?
He returned to the dormitory and flicked through his textbooks again, more frantically this time. It had to be in one of them. It just had to be.
What would Professor McGonagall think if he returned to her without the note? She’d think they’d made the whole thing up to cover the fact they’d written the graffiti. She was bound to.
But she was questioning Nathan. He’d seen the note. He’d tell her.
But he hadn’t read it. Albus’s heart fell. Anyway, McGonagall had sent him to tell Nathan he was wanted. For all she knew, Albus could have asked him to say he’d found the note.
He was getting desperate now. He needed to find it and he needed to find it quickly.
He paced the dormitory, checking everywhere he could think of, then did the same in the common room. Nothing.
He’d have to return to the office, he decided. He didn’t really have any choice. He just hoped McGonagall would believe he couldn’t find it. He didn’t know why she would. He didn’t think he’d believe it, if he were her.
Rose and Nathan were coming back from the office as he hurried towards it.
“Did you find it?” Rose asked him.
He shook his head. “She’s going to think we made it up.”
For a second she looked worried.
“I doubt it,” she said after swallowing. “What do you think, Nathan?”
“I don’t know. I don’t suppose so. After all, you’re Harry Potter’s son, right?”
Neither of them sounded certain.
“What happened anyway?” Albus knew he was wasting time, but he needed to know McGonagall believed them.
“Slughorn said he hadn’t sent any message, that he hadn’t even thought about a Hallowe’en-Bonfire Night party, though it sounded like a good idea and Nathan said he found the note outside the door to Ravenclaw Tower, right Nathan?”
“I thought somebody had dropped it while trying to figure out the riddle. You know?”
Albus nodded miserably.
“I suppose I’d better face her.” He turned to the gargoyle. “Montrose Magpies.”
After he said it, he wondered if he should have waited for McGonagall to come and get him.
He climbed the stairs to the office and entered slowly.
“Ah, you’re back, Albus. May I see it?”
“I don’t actually have the note. I’m really sorry, Professor. I didn’t make it up, I promise. I just can’t find it now. I searched everywhere. The dormitory and the common room, but it just…it doesn’t seem to be anywhere. I’m really sorry.”
“And you’re quite certain you didn’t throw it out?”
He shook his head. “No, Professor, I’m not certain. I don’t think I did. I think I’d have been afraid to. In case I had the time or date or something wrong. But I’m not sure. I….” He took a deep shuddering breath. It was all he could do to keep from crying.
“I see. Well, if you’re not certain, that doesn’t help us much, does it?”
He stared at her. He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.
She didn’t enlighten him.
“Can you remember what it said?” she asked. “The exact wording, I mean.”
He struggled to remember.
“It said he hoped I’d enjoyed the Hallowe’en feast and that he was planning a post-Hallowe’en/pre-Bonfire Night breakfast party in his office and he hoped I could be there. And Rose too. It said that afterwards. I mean, it added her on afterwards.”
“So it was addressed just to you?”
“YES!” He just remembered. “There was a P.S. at the end, saying congratulations to Ravenclaw on winning the quiz. We had a quiz in class on Hallowe’en,” he explained. “Us against the Slytherins. And we won.”
“I assume this is Potions class you’re talking about.”
“I see,” she said thoughtfully. “All right Albus, that’s all I wanted to know. If the note does turn up, I want you to bring it straight to me. I don’t really expect that it will, but if it does, I want to see it. All right?”
“You may return to your common room now.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. He hurried down the stairs, almost tripping in his haste. He really didn’t want to answer any more questions.
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