Chapter 25 : Questions and Answers.
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“I bet Dad just answered that woman’s call so he’d have an excuse to check up on us.” James rolled his eyes.
“Why would he do that?” Albus asked nervously. He really didn’t want James wondering why their father’d really come to the castle.
“Well, think about it, why would the head of the Auror department respond to some crazy old conspiracy theorist? Surely he has lackeys to do boring stuff like that. And he knows the exams are coming up. Probably just wanted to call in and remind us to study.” He snorted. “He’ll be lucky.”
“Maybe he just wanted to see us.”
“Well, of course he did. Who wouldn’t? But mark my words, it’s no coincidence it was just before the exams he turned up.” He paused, suddenly seeming to remember he was actually spending time with his uncool younger brother. “I’m sure you can find your own way back to Ravenclaw Tower now.”
“Of course.” Albus attempted a jaunty tone. He didn’t want to give the impression his brother’s dismissal bothered him.
When he returned to the common room, Rose pulled him aside.
“Did you get the Cloak?”
He nodded. “It’s in my trunk. What do we do now?”
“Nothing until Friday. Then we ask Blackburn if it would be OK to leave some work in her classroom. We’ll tell her Slughorn invited us to his party and we don’t want to leave it lying around the common room all evening.”
“Why her classroom?”
“Well, we never did entirely rule her out did we? So let’s make sure she knows it’ll be lying there, completely unprotected as well as everybody else.”
Another stumbling block occurred to him.
“And how do we make sure everybody else knows?”
“That’s one of the harder parts,” she admitted. “If we make too big a deal of it, they’ll probably suspect a trap. I don’t think we’re going to be able to make sure absolutely everybody knows, but the odds are high it’s a Ravenclaw, so let’s try and draw as much attention to ourselves as possible when we’re leaving the tower. And maybe express some concern about where we’ll leave them while at the party.” She paused. “You could bring it up with Rasmus.”
He stared at her in confusion.
“He’ll probably be at the party too, so act like you’re really worried about leaving your project lying around all evening. What if somebody knocks it over messing around or takes it to copy it or something? Ask him if he’s just going to leave his in the dormitory or common room? You know the kind of thing. Just make sure Nathan and Derek hear you.”
He bit his lip. “You don’t think it’s any of them, do you?”
“No, I don’t really. Rasmus was with me at the time your solar system was probably broken. And Derek was with you. And I don’t think Nathan would do anything like that. But I don’t know. I suppose one of them could possibly have slipped back into the dormitory as we were leaving for the holidays.”
“Derek was with me when Scorpius’s broom was broken too,” he pointed out.
She nodded. “But the more people who hear the better anyway. You know how quickly news spreads around this school. We just need to start getting it out.”
“Do you really think anybody'd talk about where we leave our Herbology projects?”
“There are situations where they might. Like ‘will we put this in the Transfiguration classroom?’ ‘Better not. I think Albus and Rose have already left their Herbology projects in there.’ Or ‘you know Albus and Rose have asked Professor Blackburn if they can leave their Herbology projects in her classroom while they’re at the Slug Club party. Maybe we should ask a teacher if we can leave ours in their classroom too.’”
“Yeah, but…” He trailed off. No point in saying those were pretty unlikely.
And he wasn’t really sure how to approach Rasmus without sounding like a complete and utter idiot. He hated drawing attention to himself and this was bound to.
“Um, Rasmus,” he attempted as they headed up to their dormitory that night.
“I was just um wondering…erm, did you get an invitation to Slughorn’s last party thing on Saturday?”
“Yeah, I did. Rose said you did as well. I suppose you’re going?”
He fidgeted. “Um, yeah. I was just…well, I don’t really like leaving my Herbology project lying around, you know. Who knows what could happen to it? I was wondering what you’re doing with yours?”
“During the party?” Rasmus let out a shriek of laughter and Albus wilted. “Just leave it with my textbooks, I guess. Why? What do you think’s going to happen to it?”
“I dunno. Just…what if somebody tries to copy it or something?” He used the excuse Rose had given him.
Rasmus paused. “Yeah, I guess I don’t have to worry about that, since Rose is the only other person who chose the Fanged Geranium, and I really don’t think she has any need to copy anybody, does she?”
“No, definitely not,” Albus agreed.
“But I think it’d be obvious if anybody copied anyway. I mean we have to include stuff like when we watered the plants and two people could hardly be doing that at the same time.”
“I suppose. It’s just…we’ve worked so hard on them, you know, and they’re worth so much of our grade.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Would you Derek?”
Derek turned around. “The Herbology project? Nah. We can’t watch it constantly, can we? If somebody wanted to copy it, they’d probably have found an opportunity.”
“But odd things have been happening,” Nathan put in. “Look at Scorpius’s broom.”
“That was months ago,” Rasmus argued.
“But they never figured out who did it. And there was that graffiti at the start of the year as well.”
“What’s that got to do with anything? Graffiti and copying are two completely different things.”
“I know,” Nathan said. “But still, it’s like…like people can get away with anything here. I wouldn’t like to leave anything lying around where people can get their hands on it.”
“Maybe I’ll ask one of the teachers if I can leave it in their classroom.” Albus hoped he sounded as if the idea had just occurred to him. “At least it’d be less likely to be knocked over or anything.”
Rasmus shrugged. “If it makes you feel any better. I doubt it’ll make much difference personally.”
On Friday, Rose approached Professor Blackburn after class.
“Um, Professor?” She raised her voice slightly and some of the other students looked around.
“Professor Slughorn’s invited me and Albus to his party tomorrow evening and we were wondering if it’d be OK for us to leave our Herbology projects here while we’re at it. Things tend to get knocked around a bit in the common room.”
Blackburn smiled. “Of course, Rose. That’s no problem.”
“That’s no problem,” Dora mocked as they left the classroom. “Bet she wouldn’t say that if it was anybody else asking.”
“Um, why not?” Angie asked.
“Well, the Potters and Weasleys are famous.” Dora shrugged. “War hero families and all that. And you must have noticed Rose and Rasmus manage to top just about every test ever given between them.”
Albus supposed she'd a point. His family were given rather special treatment, and he supposed it wasn’t entirely fair. He hadn’t even been alive when his dad had defeated Voldemort.
But he rather doubted it was why Blackburn let them leave their projects in her classroom.She'd probably do that for anybody. Wouldn't she?
“Do you think she only agreed because of who we are?” he asked Rose later.
“No.” She sounded certain. “I’m not saying people don’t favour us sometimes, but that’s ridiculous. Anyway, who cares why she let us? What matters is she did. All we’ve got to do now is make sure everybody knows it and Dora might’ve even helped with that.”
Maybe that’s what was worrying him really. The closer they came to implementing their plan, the more nervous it made him. He couldn’t believe that the very next day, they could be facing the person who’d tormented him all year.
Of course he wanted to know who they were; he just wished somebody else would do the confrontation part.
Rose, however, seemed to be in her element.
“Now, stuff the Invisibility Cloak up under your robes,” she instructed him the following evening. “It'll ruin everything if people know you've got it.”
He did as he was told.
“Good. Now, gather up your project.”
They headed down to the common room.
“Are you going down to the party already?” Rasmus asked.
Rose shook her head. “We just need to drop this stuff off in the Transfiguration classroom first.”
“Honestly, I still think you’re both taking this way too seriously. I’d expect it of Albus, but not you.”
Albus wondered what he meant by that.
“Well, you can’t be too careful, can you?” Rose grinned at him.
“I’ve just thought of a problem,” Albus muttered to her, as they moved away. “Won’t Rasmus notice if we’re not at the party.”
“So?” She shrugged. “He won’t know where we are, will he? There isn’t really much he can do about it.”
Suddenly, she tripped, dropping her rolls of parchment on the floor.
“OH NO!” she called out.
All the eyes in the common room seemed to turn towards them.
Albus cringed. He knew this was what she wanted, but he hated everybody watching him.
“Help me pick it up, Albus,” she wailed. “This is just what I didn’t want to happen, why I was bringing it downstairs in the first place.”
He picked up a roll of parchment and passed it to her, but she wouldn’t take it from him.
“Check the photographs haven’t fallen off, will you? I’ve put so much work into this. I can’t bear the thought of it being damaged.”
“Oh, get a grip,” he heard one of the second years mutter.
He unrolled the parchment awkwardly.
“They’re fine,” he mumbled. He knew he was supposed to speak loudly, to draw attention to them, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do so. Anyway, he doubted it mattered. Rose had gotten them all the attention they were likely to need.
“Well, everybody in Ravenclaw should have heard what we’re doing,” she said, when they’d left the tower. “For the rest, we’ll have to trust to the grapevine. I asked Scorpius to try and bring it up in Slytherin, but I don’t know if he got a chance or not.”
In Blackburn’s classroom, they spread the projects out on the tables, then Albus pulled out the Invisibility Cloak and threw it over them.
“Our feet aren’t showing, are they?” Rose asked.
He shook his head. “No.”
He checked again.
The following hour was probably the longest of his life. It had never occurred to him how inherently boring it was just standing around waiting for somebody who might never come.
“Can we sit down?” he whispered after they’d been standing for what felt like a lifetime, but was probably no more than quarter of an hour.
She didn’t answer immediately.
“We could try, I suppose,” she said quietly. “We need to make sure we’re completely covered though.”
It wasn’t easy sitting comfortably while making sure they remained completely hidden. They needed to sit very close together and avoid stretching their legs or it would slip off.
They tried sitting cross-legged, but it quickly became uncomfortable as did kneeling. Eventually, they stood up again and just leaned against the wall.
“How long should we wait?” Albus asked.
“I don’t know. Let’s just wait and see what happens.”
It wasn’t the answer he’d hoped for. He’d have liked to at least have a time to count down to. Somehow when you didn’t, the wait felt even longer.
If they could talk, it mightn’t be so bad. They could whisper the odd sentence, he supposed, but any more than that and they risked being overheard. They wanted people to think the room was empty.
He wasn’t sure if he hoped something would happen or not. The thought of confronting the person terrified him. He wasn’t good at confrontation at the best of times and he felt certain this would be far more scary than arguing with a classmate or his siblings. But at least after that, the vigil would be over. In his heart of hearts, he knew that if nothing happened, they’d be there until curfew. There was no way Rose would leave while there was still a chance of something happening.
“What do we do if somebody does come in?” he asked suddenly. “I mean, they could just be getting a book they left here or something.”
“We’ll have to let them get as far as our projects,” she said. “And probably let them attempt something. Don’t worry. Even if they do any damage, it’ll hardly be held against us, once everybody knows what’s happened. They shouldn’t have time to do much anyway.”
“What if they say we’re lying when we tell what happened? It’ll be our word against theirs.”
He couldn’t believe he’d only thought of that now.
“Why should anybody doubt us? It’s not like we’ve any reason to lie. Besides there are two of us and presumably only one of them. And if they do do any damage, that’ll be evidence, won’t it?”
The lapsed into silence again.
He couldn’t help worrying the teachers wouldn’t believe them. Then the whole thing would be for nothing. It might make things even worse, because it would give the person yet another reason to target them.
He was at least as nervous as he’d been waiting to face the Sorting Hat at the beginning of the year and the longer he waited the more nervous he became.
After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened and Dora entered the room.
His heart jumped into his mouth.
Maybe it was just a coincidence, he reminded himself. She could have plenty of other reasons to be there. Maybe she was meeting that boyfriend she’d hinted she had or looking for something she’d lost. Or…
She was heading towards their projects. Oh God, what should they do if she did attempt something?
She stopped by the projects and removed what looked like a small jar from her pocket.
Without warning, Rose flung the Invisibility Cloak off them.
“Stop that right now.”
Dora jumped and dropped the jar she’d been opening. The inkwell smashed on the desk and green ink splashed the parchment.
A smile of bitter satisfaction crossed her face.
“Well, that worked anyway.”
Albus was almost in tears. After all his hard work, his project looked ruined. He wished he’d never let Rose talk him into this plan.
“What are you doing?” he asked, choking back tears. “I mean, why? What did we ever do to you? What did I ever do to you?”
Dora glared at him, almost disdainfully.
“It’s not so much what you’ve done,” she said finally, “as what your father has. Look at you. I don’t know why you’re not at Slughorn’s party now. One of his little favourites, aren’t you? You think you’re so special. Just because your dad ruined things for a whole lot of people. 'What did you ever do to me?' Maybe you should be asking what I ever did to him?"
He stared at her.
“When did you even meet my dad?”
“I didn’t. That’s the whole point. Big hero, wasn’t he? Defeating those nasty Death Eaters.” Her voice took on a babyish tone, before growing hard again. “Never stopped to think of their families, did he? We didn’t matter.”
“Your parents were Death Eaters?” Rose’s voice was as hard as Dora’s, accusatory.
“No, but my grandfather was Nicodemus Nott.” She raised her head proudly. “He’s dead now, but my family’s still lost everything. Unlike the Malfoys, we didn’t get to keep our fortune. My dad was at school with your parents, but that didn’t bother them. Why should the great Harry Potter care, so long as he got his glory?”
A tall shadow appeared in the doorway behind her. Professor Blackburn!
Albus was about to speak, to tell her what Dora’d just said or at least call her attention to them, but Rose laid a hand on his arm and shook her head slightly.
“So that’s why you’ve been targeting us,” she said. “Sending Albus Swelling Solution. It could have poisoned him!” Her voice rose angrily. She seemed to have forgotten the other infractions in her indignation.
“A pity it didn’t.”
Rose reached for her wand.
“That’ll do.” Professor Blackburn’s voice interrupted them.
Dora spun around in surprise.
“Perhaps you’d better explain exactly what’s been going on here. Or no, maybe you’d better wait until we reach the Headmistress’s office. Then you can explain everything to her.”
A strange gloating smile crossed Dora’s face.
“You’re not going to report me to the Headmistress. In fact, you’re going to back me up when I say this pair are complete and utter liars. After all, we both know I’m not the only person in this room with something to hide.”
All the colour drained from Blackburn’s face.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, but her words sounded forced. “And even if I did, it wouldn’t make any difference. Minerv…Professor McGonagall will have to hear about this. Please come with me. Albus and Rose, if you could come too, please.”
Albus noticed her wand arm was shaking.
“You’ll regret this,” Dora practically spat at her.
She didn’t respond.
The short walk to McGonagall’s office was a tense one. Albus couldn’t bring himself to even look at Dora and Blackburn seemed to be avoiding eye contact with any of them.
He realised he’d never expected to actually solve it.
They reached the gargoyle which marked the entrance to the Headmistress’s office and Blackburn muttered the password.
It moved to the side and they proceeded up the stairs.
McGonagall was sitting at her desk, a quill in her hand.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Headmistress,” Blackburn's voice still sounded strained. “But…” She paused and took a deep breath. “It appears that Dora has been playing some nasty tricks on Albus and Rose. And possibly other students.”
Dora folded her arms defiantly.
“Prove it,” she said, but her voice had lost its confidence. She seemed to know she’d been defeated.
“You admitted it,” Rose burst out. “She did, Professor. She even said it was a pity the Swelling Solution hadn’t poisoned Albus!”
McGonagall raised her eyebrows. “I think we’ll let Dora explain the rest. Dora?”
There was silence.
McGonagall put down her quill.
“Do you want me to call for Professor Slughorn?” she asked quietly. “I could ask him to bring some Veritaserum.”
“What do you want me to tell you?” Dora spat out.
“Well, firstly, I expect you to speak a little more respectfully when you address me. You are in serious trouble here, Dora. Try not to add to it. I presume it was you who wrote graffiti on the wall by Slughorn’s office at the beginning of this year? And broke a classmate’s broom?”
“So what if it was?” she mumbled.
“I think you’ll find we take that kind of behaviour quite seriously here at Hogwarts.” She turned to Professor Blackburn. “Is there anything else I should know?”
“All right. Then perhaps, I could speak to Dora privately.”
“Oh! There is one thing.”
Professor McGonagall nodded.
“Dora said something about her grandfather being...well, Nicodemus Nott.”
“I see.” McGonagall turned to Rose and Albus. “Dora’s parents particularly asked that she be registered as Dora Nottingham and not Theodora Nott, because of the stigma often faced by the families of Death Eaters. Regardless of what has happened, it must remain her decision who she wants to reveal this information to. I would not be at all pleased if it were to ‘slip out’ in retaliation. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Professor,” they said in unison.
“Not that she wouldn’t deserve it, if we did give her away,” Rose muttered, as they descended the stairs from her office.
She glanced around at Professor Blackburn, anxiously, but the teacher didn’t seem to be paying them much attention. She still seemed rather pale and distracted.
“Oh, I left the Invisibility Cloak in the Transfiguration classroom,” Albus burst out suddenly. “And our projects are completely ruined.”
Professor Blackburn glanced at him.
“We’ll return to the classroom now,” she said. “I’m sure the Cloak will be fine. And if it’s only ink on your projects, it can be easily removed.”
He hoped she was right. His father would kill him if anything'd happened to the Cloak. What if somebody had taken it? Oh, how could he have been so stupid as to leave it lying around like that?
To his relief, however, the Cloak was lying exactly where he’d left it. He gathered it up quickly.
“Um, Professor, is it all right if I package this up and send it off to my dad now. It’s…it’s pretty important, you know.”
She nodded. “Of course.”
Once the Cloak had been packaged up and Wendelin was delivering it safely back into his father’s hands, Albus returned to the classroom, where Rose was waiting for him.
“Blackburn removed the ink from our projects,” she told him.
He picked his up and examined it. It seemed to have been completely restored to its former condition.
Rose grinned at him.
“Can you believe we actually did it? You were brilliant, by the way. The way you got her to admit everything…”
“It wasn’t deliberate,” he admitted. “I didn’t even think about what I was saying.”
“Well, whatever you did, it worked. So what do we do now? There’s still time to call into Slughorn’s party if you’d like to.”
He shook his head. “I think I’ve had enough excitement for one night. Let’s just return to Ravenclaw tower.”
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