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Chapter 20 : Christmas Cheer
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Mark had been right about the man being dead. The Prophet announced his death the following morning, and revealed his name, which was Michael Sheldon, a resident of Hogsmeade for the past ten years. No other information about the man was published, but Albus didn’t see a single connection between him and Steven Cousins. Michael Sheldon didn’t seem to have any connection to Quidditch.
Michael Sheldon’s murder, which had been termed the Hogsmeade Murder by the Prophet, shook up the entire castle, teachers and students alike. While Elsie appeared to have been the only student to witness anything besides the body, two dozen students had gathered near the body before it had been moved, and seeing something like that leaves a mark. The professors noticed. They turned their heads when students walked into class late, wiping a few tears from their cheeks. They said nothing when students didn’t turn in homework that was due, muttering excuses of not being able to concentrate.
Whereas before the Hogsmeade visit the castle had been full of excitement for the holidays, it was now grim, with students excited for the holidays only because they meant putting both distance and time between themselves and the Hogsmeade Murder.
Monday meant repotting mandrakes. Longbottom assured them they’d only have to do it once more before the mandrakes were harvested next term, but nobody saw that as a good thing. Albus had to repot his and Matt’s mandrake alone, as Matt skipped Herbology per Madam Pomfrey’s orders. After they finished, Longbottom let them leave early.
The only professor who seemed untouched by the murder was Professor Burke. Albus wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Despite the fact that they only had a single period on Monday, he still had them brew an entire potion. No one was very excited by it, something that seemed to irritate Burke enough that he snapped at a few of them for not chopping their rat tails in small enough pieces. Matt was on the receiving end of this, which irritated Albus since Matt was already on edge about the murder possibly having taken place in the Shrieking Shack.
Tuesday was the last day of classes before term ended and much of the castle went through the day in the same somber silence as they had on Monday. But when Albus returned to the common room after dinner, it was only to find that James was attempting to organize a celebration.
“It’s in poor taste, James,” one of the seventh year prefects said. “Someone was murdered on Saturday.”
“And everyone’s been depressed ever since,” James said. “It’s almost Christmas. Is the murder really the last thing we want to remember before we leave?”
Albus thought James had a point. He was sick of everyone moping around.
“Let’s celebrate Michael Sheldon’s life, whoever he was,” James said. “I’m not saying we have a party like we do after winning Quidditch, just a few crates of butterbeer and skiving off homework for the night.”
“Oh, all right,” the prefect said, shaking her head. “Fine. I won’t say anything to Longbottom.”
James grinned. “Ben, Cedric, Nathan?”
James, Ben, Cedric, and Nathan disappeared, heading off to take advantage of the passageway into Honeyduke’s. While they were gone, the common room banter steadily increased and the general mood of the place livened up. Albus and his friends settled on the floor to play a large game of Exploding Snap.
By the time James and his friends returned, most of the Gryffindors were back to their usual selves. The butterbeer only helped and soon the room was filled with laughter and excitement about Christmas. James, after taking a butterbeer, wandered over to Albus and his friends.
“Thanks for the butterbeer,” Albus said, clinking bottles with his brother.
“Did you know they’ve got the entire Shrieking Shack property blocked off?” James asked as he toyed with the label on his bottle.
“What?” Matt asked, looking up from his cards.
“It’s all blocked off for the investigation. They’ve got caution tape around the whole property and a sign up that says no trespassing due to the investigation. We wandered over after getting the butterbeer.”
“Well, the murder didn’t take place where they found the body,” Albus said. “They’ve got to figure out where it took place and look for clues.”
“Clues will be hard to find in all that snow. It’ll destroy any evidence, I’m guessing,” Rose said.
“How long do you think it’ll take?” Matt asked quietly.
“I suppose it’s lucky whoever murdered him decided to do it near the Shrieking Shack and not near someone’s house or a shop, like what happened with that shopkeeper two years ago. No one lives in the Shrieking Shack, so it doesn’t much matter how long it takes,” James said.
“Still, I hope it doesn’t take long,” Albus said, sneaking a sidelong glance at Matt, who looked nervous. “I still wish I knew what Elsie said.”
“Weird that she saw it,” John said, shaking his head. “That girl is a little creepy, you have to admit.”
Albus nodded. She was a bit creepy, but he also felt bad for her. She didn’t seem to have a place at Hogwarts.
“She’s so quiet,” Amanda said. “That’s why she was able to see it. The murderer wouldn’t have moved him if he had known someone was watching.”
“But why move him?” Rose asked. “Say Sheldon was murdered in the Shrieking Shack, which makes the most sense since it’s always empty.”
Albus glanced at Matt, who was looking steadily more nervous at where this conversation was going.
“Why move him outside?” Rose continued. “It would take forever for them to find a body in the Shrieking Shack-”
Matt stood up suddenly. “I have to, er, check something upstairs.” He bolted without another word.
Albus glared at Rose. Usually Rose was more sensitive than this, but Albus had a feeling the murder addled her more than she cared to admit.
“A long time,” Rose said quietly. “It’d take a long time. Dragging the body outside makes it seem like the murderer wanted the body to be found quickly.”
“Unless he wasn’t killed in the Shrieking Shack,” Albus said.
“If he was killed outside, someone would’ve seen it. Hogsmeade was packed.”
“Again, why do it during a Hogsmeade visit day unless he wanted someone to find out quickly?” Rose asked. “Odd.”
“Well, all the more stuff you can use for your article,” Albus said as he got up. “I’ll be back.”
The dormitory was eerily silent compared to the common room. It was also a mess, due to the fact that only about half the boys had started packing for the holidays. Matt was sitting on his bed, haphazardly throwing clothes into his bag.
“Hey,” Albus said as he walked in.
Matt startled and turned to look at Albus. “Oh, hi Albus.”
“I don’t think Rose realized what she was saying,” Albus said as he walked over to Matt’s bed and sat down. “I think she’s still freaked out about seeing…well, what we saw.”
Matt nodded. “I didn’t look.”
“I wish I hadn’t.”
Matt tossed a scarf into his bag. “Do you think he was killed in the Shack?”
“I dunno,” Albus said quietly. “The Aurors might, by now.”
“No one’s supposed to be able to get in there,” Matt said, shaking his head. “It’s got wards around it.”
“It’s just a rumor. No one’s sure-”
“Then why did they block the whole place off?” Matt interrupted, his voice rising.
“They have to investigate every possibility, no matter how unlikely. And no matter where he was killed, his body was left on the Shrieking Shack property.”
“I’m glad I’ll be home for this month’s full moon.”
“And I’m sure it’ll be done by January’s,” Albus said.
“If it did happen in the Shack,” Matt began, as he toyed with the zipper to his bag, “do you think the Aurors will…clean it up a bit?”
“The murder scene? Yeah, of course they will. Or they’ll hire someone to do it.”
Matt nodded. “Good.” He zipped his bag shut.
“Do you want to go back down to the common room?”
The boys got up and walked out of the room. Why did the murderer have to choose the Shrieking Shack’s property, of all places, for a murder? Albus sighed, hoping the murder hadn’t actually taken place in the Shack.
There was something about Christmas at the Burrow that enabled Albus to forget about everything else in the world. It was like the rest of the world disappeared as soon as he crossed the threshold into his grandparents’ house, and was enveloped in the warmth of the presence of his entire family. The sheer amount of food his grandmother and aunts cooked didn’t hurt, either.
The Potters were the last to show up on Christmas Eve, as they continued their tradition of going to Godric’s Hollow beforehand. The Burrow was slightly less crowded this year since Uncle Charlie, Aunt Katherine, Stanley, Heather, Mark, and Eddie were visiting Aunt Katherine’s family for the holidays, but six fewer people didn’t make a very noticeable difference. The small house was still packed and Albus soon lost James and Lily as he wandered around looking for Rose.
Albus found her in the den, sitting with Georgia and Cedric, who were in the middle of a game of chess. A pile of biscuits sat next to them and Albus helped himself to a few as he sat down.
“How was Godric’s Hollow?” Rose asked.
“Sad, as usual,” Albus said. “But this was the first year Lily was quiet the whole time.”
Lily, always a chatterbox, never seemed to understand the somberness of visiting Godric’s Hollow every Christmas Eve, and would pepper the rest of them with mindless talk of her friends at school and anything else on her mind. But this year, she stood quietly next to James and Albus as their parents laid flowers on their grandparents’ grave.
“That’s a first,” Rose said.
Albus nodded. “What’s been going on here?”
“Not much. Teddy, Fred, and James are supposed to be figuring out teams for tomorrow’s Quidditch match. But last I heard they were arguing over the Falcons’ chance at the league cup without Steven Cousins.”
“They’ve got no chance,” Georgia said. “Their reserve Seeker is terrible. James has got a real shot at getting recruited by them now that Cousins is dead. He’s easily Hogwarts’s best Seeker.”
Rose groaned. “He hasn’t even been dead for four months. How can you talk about it so casually?”
Georgia shrugged. “Things move fast in Quidditch. But anyway, they’re screwed for this year and next, but if they can get James, they’ll have a chance in two years.”
Albus nodded. For James’s sake, Albus hoped he got it. James had no other real career prospects and while it was stupid to rely solely on Quidditch, that’s what James was doing.
“And Rose was telling us about the Hogsmeade Murder,” Cedric added.
“But I’m done now, thanks,” Rose muttered, averting her gaze.
“Al organized everyone, though,” Cedric continued, ignoring Rose’s obvious displeasure for the subject. “Didn’t you?”
Albus nodded. “Yeah. It was awful, though.”
Georgia let out a low whistle and shook her head as she captured one of Cedric’s pawns. “I can’t even imagine. I still say you’re lucky you were in detention that day, Ced.”
“I don’t,” Cedric muttered. “I could’ve helped.”
“No, you couldn’t have. From what I heard he was dead the moment his throat was sliced. Once that artery is sliced, that’s it. It would’ve had to have been healed within seconds, and he would’ve needed blood replenishment potions.”
“You were in detention?” Albus asked. “What did you do?”
“Young caught me putting a decoy detonator in his classroom,” Cedric said. “It was stupid. I should’ve waited until after curfew.”
“Wait, so you had detention with Young? What time?”
“One,” Cedric said. “By the time he let me out everyone was back, talking about the murder.”
Albus glanced at Rose, but she hadn’t made the connection. She seemed distracted, staring off into the direction of Uncle George and Uncle Bill, who were drinking large mugs of eggnog and laughing about something.
“I saw Young in Hogsmeade,” Albus said. “He was with Cedonia. Remember, Rose?”
“What?” Rose asked, turning back to Albus.
“Young. We saw him with Cedonia right when we got there. What time was that?”
“Noon,” Rose said.
“I guess he went before my detention,” Cedric said, shrugging. He directed his queen to take Georgia’s knight. “And that’s checkmate.”
“I guess,” Albus said. “It’s still weird. Why would he assign you a detention during Hogsmeade if he was planning on going?”
“For maximum punishment. You’re reading too much into this, Albus.”
“Cedric’s right,” Rose said. “Maybe he just forgot and then rushed back to the castle. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“But what if it does?”
Rose groaned. “It doesn’t, Albus. Not everything means something. I’m going to get more food.” She got up and left without another word.
“What’s up with her?” Cedric asked.
“Seeing the body freaked her out,” Albus said quietly. “She says she’s okay, but I don’t think she is.”
Cedric nodded. “Yeah, seeing something like that isn’t something you get over quickly.”
“That’s for sure,” Albus agreed. He had had nightmares about it every night since.
“Want to play?” Cedric asked.
“I’m going to go find Teddy, Fred, and James,” Georgia said as she got up and Albus took her seat. “I’ll see you two later.”
Albus didn’t discuss the Hogsmeade Murder or the fact that Professor Young might’ve been in two places at once for the rest of the night. No one else seemed inclined to talk about it and Albus didn’t dare bring up with Rose again. He did wonder if she would still write the article about the Knockturn Alley murder, but he didn’t want to bring that up either, for fear of Rose snapping at him again.
When midnight arrived, Nana Molly hurried everyone, adults and children alike, off to bed. Albus went upstairs with James, Hugo, and Cedric and settled into one of the bottom bunks in his uncle Ron’s old room, as he did every year. While he laid in bed, waiting for sleep, he listened to the chatter of James and his cousins, the Hogsmeade Murder the last thing on his mind. He drifted off a short while later, and fell into a restful sleep, without any nightmares about murders.
Albus awoke the next morning to a large pile of presents at the end of his bed. James, Cedric, and Hugo were already awake, ripping into their own piles of presents. Albus grinned and grabbed the first present. It was from Matt. Albus ripped the wrappings off and found a giant box of chocolate frogs. Albus laughed; he’d given Matt the same thing.
Fifteen minutes later Albus had opened all of his presents, which included a broomstick servicing kit from his parents and a set of Defense books from Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione, which he was sure had been Aunt Hermione’s idea. James had received a similar set of books on Quidditch tactics.
Nana Molly, Aunt Katherine, and Aunt Corrine had prepared a feast for breakfast, although Albus was still slightly full from the previous night’s dinner. Albus sat next to Rose, who was still looking upset and was picking at a plate of sausages in front of her.
“Happy Christmas,” Albus said.
“Happy Christmas,” Rose said. “Sleep well?”
Albus nodded. “Yeah, first time I didn’t have nightmares about what happened in Hogsmeade.
“I did,” Rose said quietly. “I wish they’d go away.”
“Maybe you need some dreamless sleep potion,” Albus suggested. “Matt takes that a lot for his nightmares.”
“He still gets nightmares?” Rose asked, her voice pained.
Albus nodded. “I don’t think they’ll ever go away.”
Teddy waltzed into the room, a big grin on his face. He was already dressed in a thick cloak, Gryffindor scarf, and knitted hat. He walked over to the table and grabbed a muffin.
“Morning,” Albus said. “Why are you wearing a cloak? You don’t have to work, do you?”
Teddy grinned even wider. “Nope. No work today. Anyone seen Victoire yet?”
“She’s probably still asleep,” Rose said.
“All right,” Teddy said as he squeezed in between Albus and Rose at the table. “Budge up.”
“So, why are you dressed like you’re walking to Antarctica?” James asked.
Teddy shrugged and grabbed another muffin. “Quidditch.”
Rose raised her eyebrows. “Not everyone’s up yet, Ted. You sure you didn’t bang your head on the wall when you woke up?”
Teddy turned bright red and patted his cloak absentmindedly. “No, no, I’m fine.” He stood up. “I’m going to wait in the den. If you see Victoire, tell her to meet me there.”
“Bit nervous, isn’t he?” Albus commented after Teddy left.
Rose nodded. “A bit, yeah.”
“You just wait and see,” Nana Molly said, smiling as she passed the bacon. “Have some bacon.”
Rose took the bacon and piled some on her plate. “Do you know what he’s up to?”
Nana Molly shook her head, but kept smiling. “I don’t know a thing, Rose, dear.”
“Weird,” James muttered. “Everyone in this family is mad.”
“And that includes you, James,” Albus said.
James opened his mouth to respond, but at that moment Victoire entered the room, also dressed in a cloak, scarf, and hat. She was smiling, but her grin wasn’t nearly as wide as Teddy’s.
“Your boyfriend is waiting in the den,” James announced. “And he’s behaving very strangely.”
Teddy burst back into the kitchen and put his arm around Victoire. “Let’s go.”
Victoire grinned and the two of them disappeared out the door.
James immediately jumped up and ran to the window, where he pressed his face up against the glass. Albus was halfway out of his seat when Nana Molly scurried over to James and pulled him away, directing him back to the table.
“Absolutely not, James Sirius,” she said. “I’m not taking my eyes off you until they get back.” Her gaze rested upon Albus. “You, either. You’re worse than he is.”
“I am not!” Albus exclaimed.
“Oh, don’t bother, Al,” Rose said, sighing. “You really are. Who’s the one who would do anything to find out what’s in Professor Burke’s cauldron?”
“Don’t bother asking him,” James cut in. “I tried that and he gave me detention. I didn’t even think he could give me detention for that.”
“I stand corrected,” Rose said.
“Obviously you can’t just ask him,” Albus muttered. “I would’ve done that ages ago if I thought it would work.”
“If any of you know what’s good for you, you’ll let that go and concentrate on your O.W.L.s,” Nana Molly said.
“I’ve finished mine,” James said.
“And maybe if you spent more time studying you wouldn’t have wound up with a Dreadful in Transfiguration!” Nana Molly said, clucking her tongue.
Rose’s eyes grew wide. “You got a D?”
“Only in Transfiguration,” James muttered. “I passed everything except that and History of Magic. Even Dad failed History of Magic.”
“Because he passed out during the exam,” Nana Molly muttered. “You didn’t have that excuse.”
Albus snorted into his orange juice. He fully planned on studying and passing all of his O.W.L.s, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t find out what was in Burke’s mystery cauldron. He’d simply do both. He’d never failed an end of year exam, so he doubted he’d fail any O.W.L.s.
At that moment the back door opened and Victoire burst in, followed by Teddy. Albus hadn’t thought it possible, but their grins were even wider than when they left. They paused in the doorway and Teddy planted a huge kiss on Victoire’s lips. Victoire turned bright red and turned to the group seated at the table, and held up her left hand. On her ring finger was a sparkly diamond.
Rose let out a high pitch shriek and James burst out laughing. Albus stared at the ring and then turned to Teddy, his jaw falling open.
“Y-you’re-” Albus stammered.
“Engaged!” Victoire shrieked. “We’re engaged!”
Gabriella burst into the room, her smile almost as wide as Victoire’s. “Did he do it?!”
“Yes!” Victoire shouted. “Look!”
Gabriella ran over to Victoire and grabbed her hand. “Oo, Teddy! You took my advice!”
James laughed even harder. “You didn’t pick it out, mate?”
“I picked out three,” Teddy explained. “And asked Gabriella for advice.”
“Well, however he picked it out, it’s perfect,” Victoire said. She turned and kissed Teddy’s cheek.
The room soon filled with the rest of their family, so much so that they spilled out into the den. Albus smiled as he watched everyone congratulating Teddy and Victoire. It was a sure sign that they were all growing up. Victoire had been the first of the bunch to do everything, including Hogwarts, and now she’d be the first to get married.
Albus turned to Nana Molly, who had tears in her eyes. She smiled and winked at Albus. Albus doubted Teddy had told her he was proposing today, but somehow, she’d figured it out all on her own.
A/N: Thanks for all the wonderful reviews!
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