Chapter 23 : The Destruction of the Universe.
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Returning to Hogwarts after Easter wasn’t as difficult as returning after Christmas had been, Albus decided. Maybe it was because it was now the final term of the year and summer didn’t seem so far away or maybe he was just getting more used to being away from home.
Of course, it was still hard, saying goodbye to his parents and sister, knowing he wouldn’t see them again for months. And listening to Lily whine about how much she’d miss him didn’t make it any easier.
“I hate being the youngest. It’s so boring at home when you and James are at school. And you get to learn magic, while I have to learn stupid long division and grammar rules.”
“I miss you too, Lils, but it’s not too long now ‘til you’ll be able to come too.”
“It’s a year and five months. That’s ages.”
“It feels that way. I thought it was forever when James started too, but it passes really quickly, honestly it does.”
He didn’t add that after waiting for so long for your chance to come, when it did, you suddenly felt the time had gone too quickly and you weren’t ready to leave yet. He couldn’t tell her that, even though it was pretty much the truth.
He wished she’d stop complaining. It was hard enough to leave her, without seeing her almost in tears because of it.
“Not fast enough,” she said dismally. “I really, really, miss you.”
“I know, Lils.” He hugged her.
“Hurry up, Albus,” James called. “The train’ll be leaving soon.”
“I’m coming. Bye Lily. I have to go.”
She accompanied him to the door of the compartment, followed by their parents.
“OK, Lily, it’s definitely time to say our final goodbyes now,” their father said. “Bye Albus, James? Where is James?”
“I think he’s gone to look for his friends,” Albus said doubtfully. James had seemed to disappear while he’d been saying goodbye to Lily.
“Well, off you go and find yours. We’ll write this evening.”
“Bye Mum. Bye Dad.”
“Bye love,” his mother called.
The train started to pull out of the station.
He should go and find his classmates, he supposed.
He hated walking through the Hogwarts Express though. The older students always made him nervous, particularly the prefects. He kept expecting to be asked to account for his presence and even though he knew he wasn’t doing anything wrong, he worried they wouldn’t believe him.
Slowly, he began to walk through the carriages, glancing into the compartments to see if he could find any of his classmates.
“What are you looking at?” A wand pointed into his face.
He looked up and saw the face of Victor Flint.
“Nothing…I mean…sorry…I was just looking for…” He began to back away.
“Squirt,” one of Flint’s friends called.
“Filthy little blood-traitor.”
Albus practically ran from the compartment.
To his relief, Derek was sitting about two compartments away.
“I was wondering where you’d got to, mate. I didn’t know whether to go look for you or if you’d be with your cousin.”
“You could have joined us if I was, but no, I was just trying to find you. Walked into Flint and a couple of mates on the way.”
“I don’t think you know him. He’s a third year. My brother warned me about him. They started yelling at me for interrupting them.”
Derek scowled. “I hate the way some of the older students look down on us like that, don’t you?”
“Do you think we’ll be like that?” Albus asked tentatively. He couldn’t imagine it himself, couldn’t imagine ever dismissing Lily and her friends just ‘cause they were younger than him, but then, a couple of years ago, he’d have said James would never ignore him either.
Derek screwed up his face in thought. “I don’t think so. They aren’t all like that, after all. Let’s make a decision right now that we never will be.”
“OK,” Albus agreed.
As they chatted, his homesickness began to abate. Of course he’d miss his parents and sister and Teddy, but he was looking forward to seeing his classmates again too. And while he couldn’t say he was exactly looking forward to the exams, it would be good to see how he was doing.
At that thought, a shiver ran down his spine. What if he didn’t do as well as he expected, as well as everybody expected. He was a Ravenclaw; he was supposed to be smart. Everybody was going to expect him to do well. What if he couldn’t?
OK, so James never did particularly well in his exams, but that was different; he didn’t care. And everybody always said how smart he was and how he could do so well if only he put a bit of effort in. Albus was putting the effort in, so if he didn’t do well, it meant he was just stupid.
Derek gave him a searching look. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Just thinking how close we’re getting to the end of year exams.”
“Oh God.” Derek looked worried. “I know I’m going to make such a mess of them.”
“Why should you? You’ve done fine so far.”
“I suppose. I just keep thinking you guys have such an advantage, you know.” He grinned. “At least my parents don’t know anything about the grading here, so I can tell them everybody else did worse.”
Albus laughed. “I don’t think I’d get away with that.”
“You’ve nothing to worry about. I mean, OK, so your cousin shows everybody up, but you’re doing well in all our classes, right?”
There were already a number of students in the common room when they returned to school and not all of them looked too pleased at the noisy return of their fellow Ravenclaws.
“There are people trying to study, you know,” Albus heard one of the older students mutter.
Angie, however, hurried over to join her classmates.
“Easter was boring. What have you all been up to?”
“I spent half the holidays catching up online,” Derek said.
“Online?” Nathan looked at him in confusion.
Derek launched into an explanation of the internet. “Don’t you miss it?” He turned to Angie.
“Sorta, but I always sort of felt behind, you know, because we don’t have a computer at home. And I didn’t have a smartphone or anything. At least here, we’re sort of meant to be lost. If we’re Muggleborn, I mean.”
It was probably the most she’d ever said about her life before Hogwarts.
As if realising she’d said too much, she glanced around. “Anyway, how’d the rest of you spend the holidays?”
Albus found himself describing his holidays in detail. “And on Friday, we’d Teddy’s birthday tea,” he concluded. “His birthday isn’t until next week, but since me and James won’t be home then, we had it early.”
“Wonder what he’ll do for his actual birthday,” Rose said. “He won’t be able to celebrate with Victoire either.”
“I’m sure he has his own friends,” Dora said.
“Well, yeah, but if I’d a boyfriend, I’d want to be at his birthday celebrations, wouldn’t you?”
“How do you know I don’t? Have a boyfriend, I mean.”
And with that enigmatic comment, Dora left the room.
“Do you think she does have a boyfriend?” Fionnuala seemed to snap out of whatever daydream she’d been in to ask rather incredulously.
Rose shrugged. “Doubt it. It’s not anybody at Hogwarts anyway, or we’d know. So unless she met somebody over the Easter…”
“We don’t know everything going on here.” Albus didn’t know why he was even bothering to argue. It wasn’t as if he cared if Dora was dating. It just seemed kind of ironic to imply there were no secrets at Hogwarts when somebody was obviously hiding something far more serious than who they were dating.
Rose grinned. “That’s true, but I still think we’d know if two of our classmates were dating, don’t you think?”
“I think so,” Rasmus said. “Hilda said that when she started dating Justin, half the school seemed to know almost before she did.”
“But what if…”
The conversation veered off into speculations as to how students might hide their relationships and which of their classmates was most likely to start dating first. Albus tuned out. Even James hadn’t had a girlfriend yet, at least not as far as he knew, so it was surely OK if Albus didn’t.
He supposed he would know if James had a girlfriend. From what everybody else was saying, it certainly sounded that way, but if anybody could keep something like that secret, it’d be James.
Albus didn’t think it very likely he did though. James still seemed more interested in pranking girls than in dating them.
Deep in thought, he didn’t notice the group begin to split up until Rasmus stood up and announced he was going to the library.
Rose got up. “I will. What about you, Albus?”
He shook his head. He wasn’t quite in the mood to get back into study mode yet.
Once she left, he settled back into an armchair, half-heartedly watching some of their suspects. Eleanor left the common room about six and seemed to be gone some time.
Perhaps he should have followed her, he thought, but then he wouldn’t be able to watch anybody else. And he’d no reason to think she was doing anything significant anyway. She was probably just going to the toilet or something.
He chuckled a little to himself, knowing there was no way he’d risk following anybody anyway, let alone a fifth year. It seemed to work so well in books, but if he tried, he knew he’d bungle it and honestly, what excuse could you give for following somebody around the school? They’d think you were crazy.
“How about a game of wizard’s chess?” Derek’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Oh, yeah, right, OK.” He glanced around for his set. “I think I left the set in our dormitory. Give me a minute to find it, all right?”
He hauled himself up out of the chair.
However, all thoughts of his chess set were driven out of his mind when he saw his model of the solar system lying in pieces by his bed.
Scooping it up, he raced downstairs again.
“Did you find it?”
“What?” For a moment, he wasn’t even sure what his friend was referring to. “Oh, the wizard’s chess set. I didn’t really look. See what’s happened.”
He held out what had once been his model solar system.
“God, what happened to that?”
He paused for a minute.
“I don’t think it could have been an accident,” he said finally.
“How do you know?”
“I haven’t even been up in our dormitory since before we got back. You know that. I can’t remember where I left this, but it wouldn’t have been on my bed or lying beside it, I’m quite sure of that.”
“Maybe somebody else took it out to look at it or something.”
“Who though? Nobody from our dormitory stayed at school over Easter and I doubt anybody would have gone in just to look at it.”
“I suppose not.” Derek bit his lip.
“I need to tell Rose.”
“I need to hear what she thinks. Are you coming?”
“Yeah, all right.”
The hurried down to the library, where Rose and Rasmus were sitting opposite each other, poring over what looked like volumes on wizarding history.
“Rose, I need to talk to you,” Albus stage-whispered.
“What is it?”
She got up and he held the damaged object out to show her.
Looking at it, she moved slightly further away from the table she’d been working at.
“Where did you find this?”
“In the dormitory, by my bed. Eleanor Lockhart left the common room maybe half an hour or so beforehand.”
Her lips tightened. “But this could probably have been done at any time since we left for the Easter holidays. Or did you see it since we got back?”
He shook his head. “But hardly anybody stayed here over Easter. At least, hardly any of our suspects...I think.”
Derek gave a snort at the word “suspects”.
“We don’t know for sure it was one of them,” Rose said quietly. “And that still leaves all of today.” She was silent for a long time, fingering the broken solar system. “You know, I think I’ve the beginnings of a plan.”
“What?” Albus asked eagerly.
She shook her head. “It’s only half-formed yet, not even half-formed. I can’t really even explain it. I’ll tell you when I’ve figured it out properly. All right.”
“All right.” He couldn’t help being disappointed. He wished she’d confide in him properly.
“Look, Albus, as soon as I know what I mean, I’ll tell you, but so far, all I’m thinking is that, well…” She trailed off. “Anyway, we should try and get this fixed.”
“How do we do that?”
She looked him incredulously. “Find a teacher, obviously. It shouldn’t be too hard for an adult wizard, let alone a teacher. Come on.”
She stopped in her tracks, then turned around.
“So you’ve remembered I exist,” he said, but he was smiling, so Albus didn’t think he was really angry.
“Sorry, it’s just…I don’t know how much you heard, but Albus’s solar system model has been broken, so we’re going to see if we can find a teacher to fix it.”
“All right.” He looked a little bemused, possibly as to why it would take three of them to do that.
But Albus was glad of the company, because he wasn’t sure he’d have the courage to approach a teacher. Except for Neville, of course, but there was no sign of him.
Rose knocked on the door to Professor Blackburn’s office.
The door opened.
“Rose.” She glanced around. “And Albus and Derek. Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, just Albus’s model of the solar system had a bit of an accident and we were wondering if you could fix it?”
“Of course. Come inside for a moment.”
They followed her into the office and placed the solar system on the desk.
“This is actually a charm you’ll probably learn before the end of the year. I’m sure Professor Flitwick is planning to teach it to you soon, although the damage done to this might take a bit more than a first year’s skill to repair.” She examined it closely. “It looks as if somebody stepped on it or something.”
Albus shrugged, wondering if she expected an answer. “I just found it like that. I don’t know what happened to it.”
“Well, anyway, it won’t do you any harm to watch. Reparo.”
“Thanks Professor.” Albus grinned as it returned to its former condition.
“You’re welcome. Take care of it now. It looks a good one and I’m sure it comes in handy for Astronomy.”
“It does, Professor. Thanks again.”
As the days passed, Albus waited for Rose to tell him more about the plan that had apparently occurred to her, but she said nothing.
Finally, he asked her.
“Honestly, Albus, like I said, it’s still forming in my mind. I just think there has to be some way of catching whoever’s doing this in the act.”
He glanced at her. He’d been racking his brains, trying to think who’d left the common room, wondering if this meant Flint and any other non-Ravenclaws were in the clear or if it would have been possible for somebody smart enough to answer the eagle’s question to sneak in.
If they could catch the person in the act, none of that would matter.
“But how?” he asked.
“That’s what I don’t know yet,” she admitted. “But it will come to me. At least I hope it will. And as soon as it does, I promise, I’ll explain fully.”
And with that, he had to be satisfied.
With the Quidditch final approaching, he quickly forgot about her plan anyway. Ravenclaw were currently second to Gryffindor and if they won this match by a significant enough margin, they could end up as victors.
Albus wasn’t the only one excited. As the match got closer, Quidditch fever engulfed the castle. Only Slytherin appeared immune. Having lost all their matches, they were almost certain to finish bottom of the table no matter who won.
Enthusiasm in the three other houses however, was running so high that Professor Jones had started docking points from anybody who mentioned Quidditch during Defence Against the Dark Arts and Professor McGonagall announced that, due to complains from teachers, she was limiting the number of weeknights either team would be allowed practice to three and practices could not exceed three hours. Apparently team members from both houses had been turning up to class with no homework done as a result of excessively long practices.
Rasmus, of course, was inundated with questions from his fellow Ravenclaw first years as to what Hilda thought their chances were.
“She says it should be possible,” he reported, “but it won’t be easy. We need to win by at least a hundred and thirty points and Hufflepuff might not be the best team in the school, but they’re not bad either. She’s hoping for a short game. The pressure will be on Jones to catch the Snitch before Hufflepuff can pull ahead by more than twenty points.”
“The Hufflepuff Seeker is good, though,” Albus said.
Hufflepuff had recently won a surprise victory against Gryffindor, catching the Snitch when they were one hundred and thirty points behind.
“Yes, but they’ll be hoping for a long game, Hilda says. They need to win by over two hundred points in order to come out on top, so she’ll probably have been told to hold back and let the Chasers secure a good lead.”
“Do you think they can?”
Rasmus shrugged. “What do I know? Hilda’s the Quidditch expert in our family. Their Chasers didn’t do too well against Gryffindor, but then that was with your brother blocking their hoops and Hilda says he was everywhere, that it would have taken a miracle to get the Quaffle past him.”
Albus felt a stirring of pride, mixed with apprehension. How could he ever hope to live up to a brother like that?
The day of the match, the stands were fuller than Albus had ever seen them. Students from the three houses with a hope of winning crowded every inch of them.
Not many Slytherins bothered to attend, but to Albus’s surprise, Scorpius was there, standing a few feet away from him.
“Um, do you want to join us?” he found himself calling.
Derek stared at him. In his short few months at Hogwarts, he had quickly learnt of Slytherin’s reputation.
“He’s all right,” Albus whispered uncomfortably.
Scorpius came over.
“Em, thanks,” he mumbled.
“What an exciting match this should be,” Jordan Shacklebolt called out, his voice magically amplified. “If Ravenclaw win by one hundred and thirty points or more, they take the cup. Win by less than that and Gryffindor wins, with Ravenclaw in second place. If Hufflepuff wins by less than two hundred and ten points, then Gryffindor wins and they come second and if Hufflepuff wins by more than that, then they’ll emerge victorious. The Gryffindor team must be more on edge than anybody, knowing that their chances of victory are now completely out of their hands and depend on the performances of two other teams.
“Both teams are coming out onto the pitch now and the captains are shaking hands, cordially, considering the circumstances, but you can see the determination on both their faces. Both want a victory today. You can be certain of that.
“Madame Chang had just released the Quaffle and both teams are off.”
Scorpius leaned forward, his attention focussed on the players.
“Um, who are you supporting?” Albus asked him.
“Who are you supporting?”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t make much difference to me, really. We’ll be last either way. I think you should win though.”
He nodded. “You’ve a more consistent team.”
“Hufflepuff beat Gryffindor though. And that isn’t easy.”
“That was a fluke. Their Seeker was lucky. She’s good; don’t get me wrong, but so is Jones and your Chasers are much better. I don’t think Hufflepuff will get ahead without catching the Snitch and they won’t want to catch it while they’re behind.”
He turned back to the game.
Albus hoped his analysis was correct, because Ravenclaw weren’t showing any sign of achieving the short match they apparently hoped for. The scores crept up, with Ravenclaw remaining ahead, as Scorpius had predicted, but the gap was a narrow one and the Snitch remained tantalisingly out of reach.
“The Hufflepuff Seeker, Saunders is going into a dive,” Jordan announced. “Has she seen something Jones hasn’t? He seems to think so. He’s overtaking her…and there’s nothing there. Brilliant ruse by Saunders.”
Even from the stands, Jones looked furious. Albus couldn’t see his face, but he was quite certain he’d be scowling.
He was flying faster now.
In front of Albus, Scorpius shook his head.
“He needs to calm down and concentrate on the game. He’ll never spot the Snitch, moving at that speed.”
Albus had the uneasy feeling he was right.
The Ravenclaw Chasers, however, didn’t appear in the least discomfited by the longer match and were taking full advantage of the greater opportunity to score. They now had seventy goals to Hufflepuff’s forty. It would be the perfect time to catch the Snitch.
“Come on, Christopher,” Albus called in frustration.
It seemed like all of Ravenclaw were cheering him on, but it wasn’t making much difference.
The match continued. Ravenclaw scored again, then Hufflepuff scored twice, then Ravenclaw again. The score was now ninety to sixty.
As the Chasers dominated the match, Jones seemed to calm down.
The Hufflepuff team, on the other hand, appeared to be getting nervous. In order to have any hope at the Cup, they needed to be significantly ahead and so far, they’d failed to even equalise.
Albus wondered what Saunders would do if she spotted the Snitch while they were still behind. Would she wait it out, hoping their scoring would improve or would she decide second place was better than third and grab for it? He hoped she’d choose the former, but he wasn’t sure. Hufflepuff’s chances of pulling into the lead were rapidly decreasing. Their Chasers were panicking now and missing even easy shots.
Ravenclaw pulled further ahead. The score now stood at 120 – 60.
“Jones has gone into a dive,” Jordan announced. “And Saunders is prevaricating. Will she follow him or not? Dixon aims a Bludger at him. He’s ducked it, but he seems to have lost sight of the Snitch.”
An audible groan filled the stadium.
“But he appears to have seen something. He’s flying upwards. Dixon is flying towards the Bludger…but he’s too late. Jones has caught the Snitch. And victory goes to Ravenclaw. Two hundred and seventy points to sixty. This means Ravenclaw takes the Cup.”
The cheers from the Ravenclaw supporters were matched by the groans of both Hufflepuff and Gryffindor.
Derek was grinning from ear to ear.
“I can see why Quidditch is so popular.”
“It’s a great game, isn’t it?” Albus said. “I can’t believe we’ve won the Cup. And I think this puts us ahead in the House Cup too, doesn’t it?”
It did and the celebrations in the Ravenclaw common room went on into the night.
Somebody had apparently sneaked into Hogsmeade and brought back a huge variety of sweets and a crate of Butterbeer.
“I’m not even going to ask where that Butterbeer came from,” a seventh year prefect announced. “But I want to remind everybody that we’re currently leading in the House Cup.”
A cheer filled the common room.
“So let’s not jeopardise ourselves. For the rest of the year, and it’s really only a matter of weeks now, I want everybody, and I mean everybody to concentrate on winning this for us. We’re the smartest house, after all, so the exams should be no trouble to us. That’ll get us another couple of points. This is our best chance in years, people. Let’s do it.”
Another cheer filled the room, but Albus had the feeling they were responding to the atmosphere and not with any great determination to be on their best behaviour for the rest of the year.
Still, the prefect was right. They’d already won the Quidditch Cup and, with a lot of students predicted excellent results in their exams, there was every reason for optimism.
Unless, of course, one of the staff decided to question where the Butterbeer came from.
But no teacher interrupted their party and that night Albus dreamed of the Great Hall festooned in blue and bronze and McGonagall announcing he and Rose had gained Ravenclaw an extra two thousand points for proving Filch had written the graffiti.
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