Chapter 12 : What the Portraits Saw.
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“But if it isn’t Scorpius, who could it be?” Albus wondered.
Rose shrugged. “We don’t actually know it isn’t Scorpius. We just don’t know it is.”
He waved the distinction aside. He wanted to know it was. Scorpius was a first year who hadn’t the magical ability to do him much harm and probably wouldn’t even really want to. Even if he was a Malfoy, Albus couldn’t imagine Scorpius trying to kill him. Besides just knowing who to blame was reassuring. Having absolutely no idea who could be sending him poisoned chocolates and threatening Voldemort’s return was far more frightening.
Not that they even knew the two things were connected, but he really hoped they were. Otherwise there might be two people at Hogwarts who hated him.
“Whoever wrote it probably sent those chocolate cauldrons as well, right?” He hoped she’d reassure him.
She thought for a moment.
“It seems likely, but I don’t think it’s certain. That could just have been some idiot’s idea of a joke, you know.”
“Don’t you think they’d have given themselves away by now, if it was? It’s not like it’s easy to keep anything secret in this place.”
“That’s true,” she said thoughtfully. “Not just about the Swelling Solution, but the graffiti as well. Somebody must have been out and about pretty early to have written it before we got up. You’d think somebody’d have noticed. Unless they’d an invisibility cloak. I know they’re rare, but…”
Something occurred to him.
“Remember when Peeves called Filch and you said that if he didn’t tell Filch, somebody else would, because the portraits or the ghosts would’ve seen us?”
“Well, maybe that’s what we should do – question the portraits near Slughorn’s office and maybe the ghosts as well.”
“That’s not a bad idea.” She thought for a moment. “Though McGonagall has probably already done it.”
He sighed. “I suppose so.”
“Still, it is worth a try, especially since we’ve no better ideas. Oh, except I’m going to look up the Chamber of Secrets in the library, see what I can find out.”
“Why?” He was alarmed. “Dad said he doesn’t think it’s been opened again and the Basilisk is dead anyway.”
“I know, but something about it might give us a clue. Somebody seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to copy it.”
“You think there’s a reason for that?”
“I don’t know, but at the very least, we might get some information about who was there. Or just who to rule out. I think anybody who’d relatives petrified is pretty unlikely, don’t you? I mean, you wouldn’t make a joke of something that could have killed your mother or somebody like that.”
“No, I suppose not,” he said quietly. He guessed she was thinking of her own mother.
McGonagall was right. There was nothing funny about Voldemort or the war. If he’d had his way, Albus and many of the people he knew would never have even existed.
There was silence between them for a moment, before he asked, “so what are we going to do first?”
“Well, the easiest thing would be to ask Nick or the Grey Lady, but I’m not sure they’d know anything. The portraits would probably be more helpful.”
“I’m not asking the Bloody Baron’s anything, though,” he said, remembering how close his portrait was to the Potions classroom and Slughorn’s office.
She shivered. “Me neither. We’ll have to do without his input, unless Nick would ask him for us.”
“I doubt it. I think he’s as scared of him as we are. Dad said so sometime.”
She laughed. “We’ll just forget him, so. I doubt he’d help us anyway, but there must be other portraits that might have seen something.”
“We should talk to Nick and the Grey Lady too. Even if they don’t know anything, they might be able to find out. They’d hear things from the other ghosts.”
“True. We’ll talk to them as well, but I think we should start with the portraits. We could go right now?”
He didn’t usually even notice the Bloody Baron’s portrait, but now that he’d thought of it, it made him nervous. What would the Baron think of their questions if he overheard them?
Rose seemed to have no such anxieties.
“Ms. Burke?” she addressed one of the portraits.
A haughty looking woman glanced down at her.
“We were just wondering if you knew anything about the graffiti that was painted here a week or so ago.”
“And why should I know anything about that?”
“Well, just because you’re here in the corridor. We thought you might have seen somebody pass. Or heard something.”
“If I had, it’d be your teachers I’d tell about it, not a mere student and probably a first year at that.”
Rose didn’t reply. Albus guessed she didn’t want to confirm the woman’s impression.
“That is,” Elizabeth Burke continued, “if I chose to tell anybody at all.”
“But surely, whoever’s insulting Muggleborns and talking about Voldemort’s return should be stopped.” Rose was scandalised.
“That rather depends on your point of view, doesn’t it? Our world hasn’t always been so obsessed with Muggleborns and their supposed ‘rights’.”
Rose glared at her and strode purposefully down the corridor.
“Come on, Albus. She’s obviously a bigot.”
He hurried to catch up with her. Behind them, Elizabeth Burke laughed.
“Can you believe that, Albus? Muggleborn rights weren’t always an obsession? What’s obsessive about thinking people should be treated as actual human beings regardless of what abilities their parents had? Ugh, that is so horrible.”
“I know,” he replied quietly.
He hadn’t liked Elizabeth Burke either. If she hadn’t been a portrait, he thought, she’d make a pretty good suspect herself, but as it was, he guessed she was in the clear.
“Do you think she knows something though?” he asked. “I think she’d probably help the person if she could. I know she can’t leave the frame, but she could have kept an eye out or something.”
“It’s possible. But if she did, I really don’t think she’ll give the person away. Unless we could trick it out of her.”
“We couldn’t,” he said glumly. “She’s had centuries of practice at hiding things and we don’t have much at catching people out.”
“Always the optimist, aren’t you?”
He didn’t reply.
“Ah, come on, Albus. I’m only teasing you. Let’s forget Elizabeth Burke for a while. There are other portraits to talk to.
They walked the corridor and some of the adjoining ones, asking the same questions. Some of the portraits saw nothing, some refused point-blank to answer, saying they’d already told the teachers what they knew or that they’d no intention of answering the same questions for the tenth time.
Finally, however, a portrait of Circe responded, “well, I saw you two, but I’m guessing you’re interested in what happened before that.”
“Yes, it’s earlier we’re wondering about.”
“I can tell you, but I doubt it’ll help you much. Whoever it was had a hooded cloak on.”
“And the hood was pulled up?” Rose asked.
Albus shivered. Images of hooded Death Eaters and Dementors filled his head.
He knew Rose would say he was being ridiculous.
“Of course they’d wear a hood,” she’d say. “Obviously, they wouldn’t want to be recognised.”
“And they were heading towards Slughorn’s office?” she asked now.
“Well, I can’t say exactly where they were going, of course, but yes, they definitely turned into that corridor.”
“I suppose there’s no point in asking anybody else now,” Albus said dispiritedly. “If they’d a hood up, nobody’s going to recognise them.”
“You never know,” Rose said. “Even with a hood up, you can tell a certain amount about a person.” She turned back to Circe. “Were they tall or short?”
“Shortish, I’d say. I didn’t really pay much attention. If they hadn’t had a hood up, I doubt I’d have taken much notice of them, although it was rather early for anybody to be around. I assumed it was a student, up to no good, because of how they were hiding their identity.”
Rose sighed. “That’s the problem. People are always acting suspiciously in school, so nobody pays any attention. I don’t suppose you could tell whether it was a girl or a boy?”
“I’m afraid I couldn’t. Like I said, I didn’t pay all that much attention, beyond wondering what mischief they might be contemplating.”
“One last question. Do you remember what time this was? Was it long before we passed?”
She thought for a moment. “It was a while, but I wouldn’t say all that long. Less than an hour, I’d say. I remember thinking there was a lot of activity for a Sunday morning. Sorry I can’t be any more specific.”
“So it was a student,” Albus said, once they were out of earshot. He was relieved. At least a student was unlikely to be a Death Eater or an enemy of his father’s out for revenge.
“Well, probably,” Rose said thoughtfully.
He glanced at her. “Do you think she might be wrong?”
“I think she saw a cloaked figure; that’s all. She thought they were shortish, but people see what they expect to and she was expecting a teenager. Shortish is pretty vague anyway. A lot of adults are shortish. Look at Flitwick!”
“But you don’t think…”
“No, I don’t think Flitwick goes around daubing pro-Death Eater slogans on walls! And I think she’d describe him as short, rather than just shortish, but she was pretty vague. I’m not sure what she said helps us at all, really. Except to confirm that the graffiti was very likely for our benefit and the note already told us that really.”
“You mean because it was done shortly before we got there?”
She nodded. “They obviously wanted to be sure nobody’d see it before us, but still wanted to make sure they were gone before we arrived. Come on, let’s ask a few more questions.”
“Who’ll we ask now?”
“Let’s try some of the portraits on the main staircase. They might be able to give us some indication which way the hooded figure came.”
They didn’t find out much more. A couple of other ground floor portraits had seen the hooded figure, but none could say for sure which way it had come.
“Maybe we should ask the Fat Lady,” Albus suggested. “She might be able to tell us if it was a Gryffindor.”
“Good idea. Let’s go.” She’d already started off in the direction of Gryffindor Tower.
The Fat Lady eyed them suspiciously.
“Don’t even try to convince me you’re Gryffindors.”
“We weren’t going to,” Rose assured her. “We just wanted to know if a hooded figure left Gryffindor Tower on Sunday, the fifth of November.”
“A hooded figure? No, certainly not. Why would you think that?”
“We were just wondering. One was seen in the main school building. Were any Gryffindors out of their tower that night?”
“Now that I couldn’t tell you. Students are sneaking in and out virtually every night. I can’t keep track of them.”
“This would have been about six or seven in the morning.”
“Not really night time then?”
“I suppose not, but surely an unusual time for students to leave on a Sunday morning.”
“I don’t know. The Quidditch team are sometimes up that early to practice and your brother has slipped out at a few strange hours, young man.”
“I’m not surprised. But you can’t tell us anything at all about that night?”
“I’m afraid not.” She sounded a little impatient and he figured she’d said all she was willing to.
“OK. Thanks for your help,” he said.
She inclined her head graciously at them, but said no more.
He felt dispirited. She hadn’t even helped them rule out the Gryffindors. Just because they hadn’t a hood up when they’d left didn’t mean they couldn’t pull one over their head later.
“There’s still the ghosts to talk to,” Rose reminded him. “And I need to look up the Chamber of Secrets.”
“Yeah, you do that.” He’d no enthusiasm whatsoever for that task. He couldn’t imagine what information they’d get, reading about the events of twenty-five years ago, especially when they didn’t even really know what they were looking for. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he added on.
“What do you mean?”
“All this hunting for clues. We don’t really know what we’re looking for. We’re just asking questions and looking up information, hoping something will help us.”
She sighed. “I guess you’re right. Whoever is doing this has hidden their tracks pretty well. But they’ll have to slip up sooner or later. People always do.”
He wasn’t so sure. Did every mystery get solved eventually? He rather doubted it. And he was beginning to think this might be one of those that wasn’t.
Not that he intended giving up. They hadn’t spoken to the ghosts yet. Maybe they’d know something useful.
He saw Nick in the corridor the following day and hurried to speak to him.
“Um, Sir Nicholas?”
“Albus, good to see you. How are you?”
“Fine. Um, can I ask you something?” he said quickly.
“Go right ahead. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to answer, of course, but I’ll do my best.”
“Well, you remember the graffiti on the fifth of November?”
“It wouldn’t be easy to forget it. Professor McGonagall has spoken to us ghosts more than once about what we saw that night.”
“And what did you see?” he asked eagerly. “If you don’t mind telling me, that is.”
“Well, I didn’t see anything myself, I’m afraid, but we’ve discussed it a little among ourselves…”
“It isn’t much. The Grey Lady said she saw a hooded figure passing early that morning, but she’s not sure exactly when and a couple of ghosts claim to have heard someone in Professor Blackburn’s office that morning.”
The first piece of information was old news, but the second he hadn’t heard before.
“Is that unusual?”
“Well, it was Sunday morning. Your teachers look forward to a break as much as any of you, you know. It’s certainly not unheard of for them to catch up on some correcting at the weekends, but I’d say first thing Sunday morning is a little unusual.”
“What do you think, Ni…I mean Sir Nicholas? Do you think she’s involved?”
The ghost shook his head. “I’d need a little more evidence than that. It’s a coincidence, probably nothing more.”
“But it could be something more, couldn’t it?”
“Well, it could, but I’d say it’s unlikely. I really don’t think Professor Blackburn goes around scribbling messages on walls.”
“And yet you told me about it.”
“Because I don’t know. Like I said I don’t think she’d do that, but how can I be sure? Stranger things have happened at Hogwarts in the past.”
“So you think there is something serious going on here, not just a prank?”
“I don’t know, Albus, honestly. I know your teachers are very concerned about it and I understand why. Personally, I’d guess it was done by the kid of some pureblood fanatic, but I’ve been wrong before. You don’t get to my age without learning to reserve judgement.”
“Thanks Sir Nicholas. You’ve been a great help.” He spoke without enthusiasm. What Nick had said was helpful. It could prove to be the key to the whole mystery. He just wasn’t sure he liked it. If Blackburn was involved, this was more than a joke or even somebody trying to scare them. He wasn’t sure what her motivation could be, but it was bound to be something serious.
Nick smiled at him. “Any time. Your father’s always been a good friend to me and if I can help his son in any way, I’m more than happy to. All you have to do is ask.”
“Thanks again, Ni…Sir Nicholas.”
Albus hurried away. He had to find Rose. For the first time in ages, he actually had some relevant information and she hadn’t been there to hear it.
He found her in the library.
“Rose,” he whispered urgently.
She looked up.
“What is it?”
“I need to talk to you. Right now.”
Rose glanced at the librarian, Madame Pince.
“Well, we can’t really talk here. Come on.” She closed the book she was reading.
“I was looking up some information about the Chamber of Secrets,” she said as they left the library.
“I’ve found out something too.” He glanced around for somewhere private they could talk. “Do you think we could use the Charms classroom?”
“I don’t see why not. You know Flitwick. So long as we leave the place tidy, I don’t think he’d mind us talking in there.”
They entered the classroom and sat down.
“I was talking to Nick,” Albus began.
“He says some of the other ghosts heard somebody in Blackburn’s office the morning the graffiti was done.”
Her eyes widened. “But Dora said Blackburn was away that morning. You don’t think…no, I don’t suppose so.”
“I was just wondering if it might have been somebody else in her office. I just can’t think why anybody else’d be in there. Unless whoever did the graffiti was nearly seen and had to hide.”
“Or maybe Professor Blackburn wasn’t away that morning at all!”
She nodded. “In which case, we’ve got to ask why she wasn’t at breakfast.”
“She might just have had a lot of correcting to do or something,” he said doubtfully. “It’d explain why she was working so early and maybe even why she missed breakfast.”
“And lunch?” Rose was sceptical. “It must have been an awful lot of correcting. I suppose she might have been away Sunday and wanted to get her correcting done first or something, but I think we’ve reasonable grounds to be suspicious.”
He grinned at her serious tone. “But what can we do about it? I mean, she’s a teacher. We can’t follow her or ask her questions. We’d get in awful trouble.”
“Depends how we did it. I agree we can’t follow her, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find anything out. I’ll check some more books for a start. See if I can find any connection between her and past events. And Slughorn might know something.”
“He knows who everybody is and he likes to talk about them. And if she was at Hogwarts herself, he probably taught her and maybe her parents too. He’s old enough.”
“I suppose so.” He remembered the research she’d been doing. “Did you find anything out about the Chamber of Secrets?”
“I’ve been making a list of the victims. I’m going to continue on with it, but right now, I think your information is more helpful. It might mean nothing of course, but it definitely bears looking into.”
Doing so, however, turned out to be easier said than done. Much as Slughorn liked talking about the people he knew, even he’d probably get annoyed if they just went up to him and asked “hey did you teach Professor Blackburn when she was at school or do you know her parents?” It required a rather more subtle approach.
As a result November passed without their finding out any more. Rose continued her research into the Chamber of Secrets and she also began searching for any information on the Blackburn family, but the latter came up blank.
“If any Blackburns have been involved in anything unsavoury,” she told Albus, “they’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it quiet.”
He hadn’t really expected her to find anything. As he’d said before, they were really looking for a needle in a haystack.
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