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Chapter 19 : Stepping Up
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Albus awoke early and laid in bed for half an hour before rousing himself and getting ready. He then woke up Matt and John, and the three met Rose, Amanda, and Kaden in the Great Hall. After a late breakfast, the group set off for Hogsmeade.
There was an excitement in the air as they walked through the village. With less than a week of classes left, everyone was eager for the Christmas holiday to arrive. Even the teachers were getting into the spirit. On their way to the Three Broomsticks Albus noticed Professor Cedonia walking alongside Professor Young, and both professors were laughing about something.
“Now there’s an odd couple,” Rose said, nodding to Cedonia and Young. “Best and worst teachers right there.”
Albus laughed. “Maybe she’ll rub off on him.”
“You don’t think they’re an actual couple, do you?” Kaden asked, looking disgusted.
“Who knows?” Rose said. “Teachers do have lives outside of school. Look at Longbottom.”
“Speaking of Longbottom, my mum said that she invited him and his wife over for new year’s,” Albus said. “I guess my parents are having some sort of party.”
“That’s so bizarre,” Kaden said. “Your parents know Longbottom.”
“You lot can all come over for new year’s, too,” Albus said, ignoring Kaden. “Mum said I could invite whoever.”
“Excellent!” John said. “I won’t have to stay home with my sisters.”
“I’ll ask my parents and let you know,” Amanda said.
“I’m sure I’ll already be there,” Rose said.
“I think I’m supposed to spend new year’s with my grandparents and Aunt Marge, so count me in.” Kaden laughed. “Anything to get away from Aunt Marge.”
“Matt?” Albus asked.
Matt shrugged. “I dunno, Albus.” He lowered his voice. “The full moon’s on the 30th, so I guess if I can I’ll show up. If I don’t, you’ll know why.”
“Oh, right. Well, I hope you can.”
“Let’s not think about that now,” Rose said as she picked up the pace and reached the Three Broomsticks. “Time to go meet Luna.”
The Three Broomsticks was packed. Not a single table was empty, and the bar was three people deep. Albus followed Rose, who seemed to know where she was going. She led them to the back of the pub, where Luna was seated at a table, a sandy haired boy on either side of her. The table was littered with remnants of their lunch and six extra butterbeers.
“Should we go somewhere else?” Matt asked as they sat down. “It’s a bit crowded in here. Won’t someone overhear us?”
“Hello, Albus,” Luna said, smiling. She turned to Matt. “It’s best we stay here. This place is filled with wrackspurts, so no one will be able to concentrate on our conversation very long. We’d be more likely to be overheard at the Hog’s Head. I’m Luna Lovegood-Scamander, by the way.”
“Matt Eckerton,” Matt said. “Nice to meet you.”
Albus introduced John, Amanda, and Kaden. Kaden’s eyes immediately narrowed on Luna’s butterbeer cork necklace and raised his eyebrows at Albus.
“Is it okay to talk about, er, what we’re going to talk about in front of Lorcan and Lysander?” Albus asked, eyeing the boys.
Luna nodded. “I don’t shelter them from the realities of life. Death is a part of life, whether it comes naturally or not.”
Albus exchanged glances with Rose, who shrugged. Somehow, he was not surprised.
“Anyway,” Rose began, “I think the Ministry is trying to cover something up about the Knockturn Alley murder.”
Luna’s mildly interested expression didn’t change. She merely took a sip of her half-empty butterbeer and stared at Rose. “That’s interesting.”
Albus knew Luna was weird; he’d known that his entire life, ever since he could remember Luna. But he thought even Luna would react to Rose suggesting the Ministry was hiding something.
“What do you know about it?” Rose asked.
“The murder?” Luna set down her mug. “As much as you do. What makes you think the Ministry is hiding something?”
“The Prophet hasn’t been consistent with their articles on it. At first, right after the murder, there were plenty of articles speculating on motive and reporting every detail they could. But then they stopped. All of a sudden there was nothing, and the Aurors claimed it the investigation hit a dead end, that the case went cold. Then, there was that new article last week that claimed a witness had stepped forward. Why would a witness wait that long to come forward? Why didn’t they report the murder when it happened, if they witnessed it? If they had, Cousins might still be alive.”
“Death is scary,” Luna said. “Nobody is rational in the face of death, whether its theirs or someone else’s. Perhaps they’re feeling guilty now.”
“It seems fishy,” Rose said. “Also, in the first article, they reported that Cousins was killed by his throat being sliced. In last week’s article, they skirted over that detail, as if they’re trying to hide it. And that article was a load of-” Rose glanced at Lorcan and Lysander, who were building a log cabin out of chips “-dung. Its only purpose was to remind people that the murder had taken place. Why report that a witness had stepped forward without saying what the witness claimed to have seen?”
Luna nodded. “I do see your point.”
“Isn’t it odd, though?”
“Very,” Luna agreed.
“So will you write about it?”
“I don’t know, Rose… It’s not the sort of thing I normally write about.”
“But the Quibbler published that article about my dad. And that wasn’t about magical creatures or plants or anything,” Albus cut in.
Luna smiled. “Yes, my father did publish that article. And it sold a lot of copies! It was the best selling Quibbler ever. But that was a story that needed to be told, and all we did was publish it. Rita Skeeter wrote it.”
“But you write articles,” Albus said.
Luna nodded. “But I don’t investigate the Ministry, especially the Auror department. I’m not sure that’s a door I’d like to open, Albus.”
“But there’s something there,” Rose insisted.
Lorcan (or maybe it was Lysander) threw a chip at his brother, who retaliated by smearing ketchup all over his brother’s arm. Luna grabbed a napkin and wiped his arm.
“There might be, Rose,” Luna said as she pushed the chips out of the boys’ reach. “But until there’s more, I can’t write an article about it.”
Rose sighed. “Is Rita Skeeter still around?”
Luna laughed. “I think she writes the occasional scathing article for Witch Weekly. I wouldn’t recommend owling her.”
Albus downed the last of his butterbeer. Asking Luna to investigate was a long shot, but Albus thought she’d at least write an article with the information currently available. She made a good point about this being different than the article the Quibbler published on his dad, though. Rita Skeeter had written that article, not Luna’s father. Maybe if someone else wrote the article, Luna would publish it.
That was it! He should’ve thought of it before. Luna didn’t want to write the article, but Albus could think of someone who would love to write it.
“Wait,” Albus began, “what if someone else wrote it?”
“Mummy, I want to go to Honeyduke’s!” one of the twins shouted. Albus couldn’t tell them apart.
“Soon, Lorcan,” Luna said. “What was that, Albus?”
“What if someone else wrote it? Would you publish it?”
“Promise me you aren’t going to owl Rita Skeeter,” Luna said, her eyes larger than normal.
“No, not Rita Skeeter. Rose. What if Rose wrote it?”
“What?” Rose exclaimed. “I couldn’t-”
“Why not?” Albus asked.
Rose didn’t seem to have an answer to that. She furrowed her brow and stared at her butterbeer. “I suppose I could….”
“Would you publish it?”
Luna smiled. “Possibly. It would depend on the article, of course.”
“Do it, Rose,” Amanda said.
“Okay,” Rose said. “I’ll do it.”
“Owl it to me when you can,” Luna said as she took each of the boys’ hands in her own. “I have to go. They’ve had enough of sitting still. It was wonderful to see you again, Rose, Albus. And nice to meet the rest of you.”
“Wait,” Kaden said. “What’s a wrackspurt.”
Albus stifled his laughter.
Luna giggled. “They’re invisible. They float into your head through your ears and make your brain fuzzy. I felt quite a few of them in here when I arrived.”
“That’s mad,” Kaden said, shaking his head.
“Goodbye, Albus Severus,” Luna said as she led the twins through the crowd. “I suspect I’ll be seeing you soon. Your parents invited me for new year’s.”
“Bye, Luna,” Albus said.
“C’mon,” John said as soon as Luna and the twins disappeared. “I need to go to Weasleys’.”
The group left, John and Kaden leading the way. Rose was glowing, the grin on her face larger than Albus had ever seen it. He smiled to himself, very happy he’d thought of her to write the article.
“Do you really anticipate skipping that many classes between now and February?” Matt asked John as they left Weasleys’ an hour later.
“Just trying to be prepared,” John said, slinging his Weasleys’ bag over one shoulder.
“You bought five boxes!” Matt exclaimed.
“And I used three since term started,” John pointed out. “And classes are only going to get worse now that O.W.L.s are closer.”
“All the more reason not to use the Skiving Snackboxes,” Rose added. “Skipping class after Christmas in fifth year is just stupid. I mean, unless you’ve got a good reason.”
“Having a lie-in is a good reason,” John said.
“Let’s just drop it,” Albus said, sighing. “Neither of you are going to convince the other. Does anyone have anywhere else they want to go?”
“Honeyduke’s,” Matt and Amanda said at the same time.
The sweet shop was as crowded as the Three Broomsticks had been. Everyone at Hogwarts, it seemed, was doing their Christmas shopping there. Albus jumped on this bandwagon and bought a variety of chocolate for all of his friends, James, and Lily. He wasn’t the greatest at coming up with good gift ideas, but you couldn’t go wrong with chocolate.
Once everyone had large bags brimming with chocolate and other sweets, the group left the shop and decided to wander the village until they got too cold. No one had any desire to squeeze their way back into the Three Broomsticks for another butterbeer.
“So whatever happened with your brother and Meg Johnson?” Amanda asked as they passed a couple snogging outside of Madam Puddifoot’s.
“They’re still together,” Albus said, remembering Meg watching their last Quidditch practice.
“I patrolled with her last week,” Rose said. “She talked about him a lot. James has invited her for new year’s.”
“This is going to be a huge party,” Albus muttered. “My aunts, uncles, and cousins alone would be a huge party.”
“I don’t think they’re all coming,” Rose said. “I know Uncle Charlie, Aunt Katherine and all them are going to visit Aunt Katherine’s side of the family for the entire holiday.”
“I still think it’s going to be weird going to the same party as Professor Longbottom,” Kaden said.
“If Professor Burke was going you wouldn’t think it was weird,” Rose pointed out.
Kaden’s face brightened. “Can I invite him?”
“Absolutely not,” Albus said. “Longbottom is family. He’s my godfather.”
Kaden’s jaw dropped. “Seriously?”
Albus smirked. “Yes. Seriously.”
“What’s going on up there?” Matt interrupted, pointing toward the Shrieking Shack.
Albus turned away from Kaden and saw that a small crowd had gathered just outside the fence surrounding the Shrieking Shack.
“Come on,” Albus said, running ahead of the group.
The crowd had grown by the time Albus and his friends arrived. Everyone was whispering amongst themselves and more than a few people were crying. A startled looking Ravenclaw pushed her way through the crowd, her eyes wide with shock. She didn’t meet anyone’s gaze as she ran back to the village.
“Wait!” Rose grabbed her robes.
The girl stumbled and turned to Rose, tears streaming down her face.
“What’s happened?” Rose asked.
“S-someone’s been k-killed!” the girl shrieked. She turned and ran before Rose could respond.
“Move aside!” Rose shouted as she grabbed Albus’s arm and led him through the crowd. “Excuse me, we’re prefects!”
Albus and Rose soon lost the rest of their friends in the crowd. Albus’s heart pounded as they neared the front of the crowd, most of whom seemed frozen in place. Rose stopped abruptly and let out a gasp. A body lay sprawled in the snow, still and unmoving. A thin line of blood trickled from the neck and pooled next to it.
“Oh my God,” Rose whispered. “Oh my God. Albus…Albus!”
Albus was frozen in place. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t do anything but stare at the body, lying in the snow. He knew he, as a prefect, should do something, especially since Rose was in hysterics and it didn’t seem like there were any other prefects around. Swallowing hard, he snapped out of it and turned to Rose.
“Rose,” he said, taking her arms in his hands. “Rose!”
“H-h-he-” Rose stammered, tears streaming down her face.
“He might not be dead, Rose,” Albus cut her off. “Go to the nearest shop. I think the Hog’s Head is closest. Tell Aberforth to call the Ministry. Take John with you.” Albus had a feeling John would be the least hysterical in this situation and would be able to keep Rose from freaking out anymore than she already was.
Rose nodded. “O-okay.”
“Go,” Albus said as he let go of his cousin.
Albus watched Rose disappear into the crowd. He took a deep breath and turned to the crowd. “Did anybody see anything?” he shouted, his heart pounding.
The crowd didn’t pay him any attention; they were still focused on their own conversations.
“Listen!” Albus shouted, even louder. This time nearly everyone turned to look at him. “Did anyone see anything? Anything at all?”
The whispering picked up again, this time with the addition of shaking heads. Albus watched the crowd and sighed. Another possible murder without a witness.
Albus suddenly remembered the potential victim. Should he be doing anything? Stopping the bleeding? He really didn’t want to touch the body, but wasn’t that what healers did until they administered the appropriate potions?
Mark, one of Albus’s quieter cousins, stepped out of the crowd. Without saying a word to Albus or anyone else, he approached the body and unwound his scarf from around his neck. Mark knelt down and pressed the scarf into the man’s neck.
Albus let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He turned back to the crowd. “Get back to the castle, now!” he shouted.
No one moved.
“I’m serious! It’s not safe here. We don’t know if whoever did this is still around.”
That got people’s attention. The crowd slowly dissipated and once it did, Albus saw Rose and John running back up the hill, followed by Aberforth. Matt, Amanda, and Kaden were huddled under a tree, all three looking paler than usual.
“Aurors are on their way,” Aberforth muttered, not making contact with anyone. Albus always felt slightly awkward around Aberforth, given that he was named after Aberforth’s brother.
“Are you okay?” Albus whispered to Rose.
Rose nodded. “Not really, but better. How did you get everyone to leave?”
“I told them whoever did this might still be around.”
Rose looked impressed and scared at the same time. “See? You are a good prefect.”
Albus felt his cheeks redden. “I suppose. But-”
Loud cracks cut him off. Albus’s dad, Uncle Ron, and Head Auror Johnson appeared a few yards away and ran toward them. Both stopped short when they noticed Albus and Rose.
“Why are you two always involved?” Harry asked, sighing.
Albus opened his mouth to respond, but Harry kept walking, toward the body, where Mark was still putting pressure on the wound. Albus didn’t step any closer to the victim and wasn’t able to hear what Harry, Ron, Aberforth, and Mark were discussing. A Healer Apparated next to them, spoke in whispers for a minute, and then Disapparated with the victim.
Ron began combing the scene while Harry wandered over to Albus and Rose.
“Did you two see anything?” he asked.
Albus shook his head. “No. We saw a lot of people over here so we went to check it out and we saw…him.”
Rose nodded. “Then Albus told me to go to the Hog’s Head and get Aberforth to call you. Albus got everyone to go back to the castle.”
Harry smiled. “I’m proud of you, Al. You stepped up and handled the situation well.”
“Albus?” a quiet voice said from behind them.
Albus turned and saw none other than Elsie Willinson, looking scared and twitchy. Her eyes were darting in every direction except Albus’s.
“Elsie? What are you doing here? You aren’t allowed in Hogsmeade,” Rose asked.
“What is it?” Albus asked.
“I…saw something,” she whispered.
“What do you mean something?” Harry asked.
“Someone running away…from here, after that man was killed.”
“Elsie,” Harry said quietly, “did you see this happen?”
Elsie shook her head. “I saw someone dragging him. He left him there.” She pointed to where the victim had laid. “Then he ran behind the Shrieking Shack and Disapparated.”
Harry sighed. “I am going to walk you back to the castle and up to Professor Kendrick’s study. I need to tell him what happened. Elsie, you will need to wait there until I can get ahold of your parents. I will need to question you at the Ministry about what you saw.”
Elsie looked terrified at both the prospect of contacting her parents and being questioned at the Ministry. Knowing what he did about her family, Albus felt very sorry for her. Her parents weren’t the sort that would take being questioned at the Ministry lightly, especially by Harry Potter, even if it meant helping to catch a murderer. Not to mention the fact that she was breaking rules by just being in Hogsmeade in the first place.
“Dad, do you think this is connected to the Knockturn Alley murder?”
“I can’t say, Albus. But if it is, it’s a safe assumption you’ll find out soon. I need to go tell Ron and Johnson that I’m taking you up to the castle.”
Johnson, Albus thought. Johnson. Head Auror Johnson. “Dad, does Johnson have any kids?”
“I think he’s got a few. They’re all in Ravenclaw. I think he’s got a daughter in your year or James’s. Can’t remember. Why?”
“No reason,” Albus said quickly. He was fairly certain Meg Johnson was Head Auror Johnson’s daughter. He was also fairly certain James didn’t know that.
Albus, Rose, and John led Elsie over to where the rest of the group were. All three were now sitting on a large rock, looking shaken.
“What’s going on?” Matt asked quietly.
“We’re going back to the castle,” Albus said.
“What happened to the victim?” Amanda asked. “Did that healer take him to St. Mungo’s?”
Rose nodded. “Most likely.”
“What’s she doing here?” Kaden whispered to Albus, glancing at Elsie.
“She saw something,” Albus explained.
“He was dragged here,” Elsie said quietly, just loud enough the six of them to hear. “He wasn’t killed here.”
“Then where was he killed?” Matt asked, eyeing the Shrieking Shack nervously.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it.”
“Did you see where they came from?” Matt pressed.
Elsie nodded. “Behind the Shack.”
“The Aurors will figure it out,” John assured them. “Whatever happened, they’ll figure it out.”
“But they didn’t figure out the Knockturn Alley murder,” Rose reminded them.
“You’ll have plenty to write about now,” Amanda said quietly, as she drew swirls in the snow on the rock. “Two people killed the same way, without magic. They’ve got to be connected.”
“He might not be dead,” Rose reminded her.
Albus turned and saw Mark walking toward them. “How do you know?”
“I don’t,” Mark said. “But there wasn’t a pulse, and I’m fairly certain his carotid artery was nicked.”
No one said a word. The eight of them stood and sat in silence until Harry returned to walk them back to the castle. The walk back was silent as well, the only sound being the crunching of their footprints in the snow.
A/N: Thanks for all the reviews!
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