Chapter 21 : Mr. Grayson
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Georgia, on the other hand, was still as passionate about playing for the Kenmare Kestrals as ever. She invited the entire family to a match that took place on the 30th and everyone who went got to watch in the top box. Georgia didn’t play, but she did keep up a running commentary about everyone on the team and how brilliant it would be when she was a starting player the following season.
Albus, James, and Lily spent most of New Year’s Eve setting up for the party, having been recruited by their parents to prepare snacks, clean the house, and put up decorations. Their parents hadn’t hosted a party in years, but Albus was very happy that this year the New Year’s party he was attending would be at his own house.
“Remember, Harry, I don’t want this turning into a work party,” Ginny said as she supervised a group of knives chopping carrots and celery. Harry was slicing rolls.
“I know, I know,” Harry said.
Albus’s mum had spent the past week reminding his dad that she didn’t want the party turning into a work party, since they’d gone to parties at the Minister’s Mansion the past two years for New Year’s. Part of Albus hoped it would turn into a work party just so he could find out more information on the murders, but it would also be nice just to forget about that for the night.
“I mean it, Harry,” Ginny continued. “How many people from the Ministry did you invite?”
“Not counting family members?” Harry asked, grinning.
“Yes, not counting family members,” Ginny huffed, sounding an awful lot like Nana Molly.
“Just Walter Eckerton, then,” Harry answered.
“You invited Matt’s parents?” Albus cut in.
“It was last minute,” Harry explained. “I should’ve invited them earlier, but it slipped my mind. And I didn’t want word spreading around the Ministry that I was having a party and not inviting mostly everyone.”
“You make it sound like a school,” Ginny said as she released the knives and started arranging the vegetables on platters. “Would anyone really be that upset if they found out about it?”
“Not the entire Ministry. Obviously Draco Malfoy wouldn’t be itching to come over to our place, but a few of the other Aurors might be put out. Not that they’d show it.”
“Who did you lot invite?” Ginny asked, turning to Albus, James, and Lily.
“Just Ashtyn,” Lily answered. “She’s coming with John.”
“Matt, of course,” Albus began. “And John, Amanda, and Kaden if Kaden can convince Uncle Dudley not to make him go visit his aunt Marge.”
Harry shuddered. “I hope for his sake he gets to come here.”
“Harry,” Ginny scolded.
“What? She’s a bloody awful woman. You know it, too.”
Ginny said nothing, but turned her attention to James. “What about you? I need to make sure I’ve got enough food.”
“Just Nathan,” James said. “And…well….”
“Well what?” Ginny asked.
Albus turned to James, who had stopped dusting the mantelpiece.
“I, er…I invited Meg Johnson,” James muttered. “She’s, er, my girlfriend.”
Ginny closed her eyes for a few seconds, before looking back to James. “And what happened to Gabby?”
“We broke up a while ago.”
“James has been dating Meg for a while now,” Lily piped up.
“Is this why you were asking me about Johnson’s kids?” Harry asked Albus.
Albus nodded, not wanting to be a part of this conversation.
“Bloody hell,” Harry said quietly, shaking his head.
“What?” James asked.
“Your father doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Johnson about how the department is being run,” Ginny explained, turning to Harry. “You’re not going to invite him now, are you?”
“Of course not.” He turned to James. “But James, you cannot repeat anything I say about work to her. Do you understand? I’m not going to tell you who you can and can’t date, but this is very, very important.”
James nodded. “I know.”
“They don’t really talk much, anyway,” Lily said.
“Lily, shut up!” James said.
Albus stifled a laugh. Despite the fact that this party wasn’t going to be a work party, it might be interesting yet.
Uncle Ron, Aunt Hermione, Rose, and Hugo were the first to arrive. Once they did, Albus, James, and Lily were released from their tasks and the adults took over the rest of the preparation. The rest of the family (sans Uncle Charlie, Aunt Katherine, and their kids, as well as Georgia and Gabriella, who had a Gryffindor class reunion type party to go to at the Three Broomsticks), arrived before anyone else. The rest of the party goers trickled in afterward and by the time the clock struck eight, a dull roar could be heard throughout the crowded house.
Albus and his friends stationed themselves in the drawing room, strategically next to the dessert table, of which Albus had already taken full advantage. Rose, John, and Amanda had arrived and all four of them were comparing their Christmases while waiting for Matt, and possibly Kaden, to get there.
“And then my cousin Madison decided it would be a good idea to give Isabelle’s cat a bath,” John continued, describing Christmas morning at his cousins’ house. “Right while we were all opening our presents.”
“That sounds eventful,” Rose said, laughing.
“It would’ve been more so if Ashtyn hadn’t walked in on Madison and the cat in the bathroom and let the cat out of the tub. We would’ve wound up at St. Mungo’s. As is Madison was covered in scratches. My dad fixed her up.”
“I went to my uncle’s house for Christmas this year,” Amanda said as she grabbed another biscuit off the table.
“I thought you didn’t celebrate Christmas,” John said.
“I don’t. But my uncle, the Prime Minister, does. So does his family. His wife, my aunt Megan, isn’t Jewish. So sometimes we go to their house for Christmas. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as yours sounded, John.”
“But he’s the Prime Minister,” John said.
“What do you think Albus’s uncle would’ve done for Christmas if he’d won the election?”
“Same as he’s always done,” Albus answered.
“Exactly.” Amanda laughed. “Oh, look, Matt’s here!”
Albus looked up and saw Matt squeeze in between Aunt Alicia and Angie, who were queued up for food. He snagged a couple biscuits as he did so and sat down in the empty chair in between Albus and Rose. Albus noticed he looked very exhausted and walked with an obvious limp.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said in between bites. “Took me all day to convince my parents to let me come in the first place.”
“What happened?” Rose asked, eyeing his leg suspiciously.
Matt eyed the queue at the desert table. “Can we go up to your room, Albus?”
“Sure,” Albus said.
It took the group quite a while to get to the stairs and go up to Albus’s room. On the way, Albus was stopped by no fewer than three of his family members who seemed to already have partaken in quite a few alcoholic beverages, all of whom insisted on asking him various questions about school. Even Auntie Muriel was there. Albus had to admit that she scared him a bit, especially when she peered at him over the top of her bejeweled glasses and asked him what he planned to do with the rest of his life.
“I swear she’s going to live longer than Dumbledore,” Albus muttered when they finally reached the stairs. “She’s well over a hundred.”
“I think she’s out to prove that death is for the weak,” Rose added with a wicked grin.
They reached Albus’s bedroom and Albus shut the door behind them. Matt flopped onto the bed and Albus sat next to him, while Rose, John, and Amanda sprawled out on the floor. Amanda picked up stray chocolate frog card and grinned.
“I freaked my cousin out with one of these on Christmas,” she said.
“Which card?” Rose asked.
“Your dad,” Amanda answered.
“You know he’s got the first card of himself ever made framed in our house,” Rose said. “It’s his proudest achievement.”
Amanda laughed. “From the few times I’ve met him, I’m not surprised.”
“Mum says he was unbearable the day he got his photograph done. Wouldn’t shut up about it for a month after. Uncle Harry just looks really awkward whenever you bring up the fact that he’s on one.”
“Does he have it framed somewhere?”
Albus laughed. “Definitely not.” He turned to Matt, who was laying down and staring at Albus’s poster of the current Puddlemere team. “So, what happened last night?”
“According to Healer Sterling I aggravated an old injury. When I had to transform in that Ministry center all those ago I hurt my leg really badly. It got better, but apparently it’s possible to re-injure it.”
“How did you do that in a padded room?” Rose asked.
Matt shrugged. “Must’ve happened when I was transforming.”
“You had to go to St. Mungo’s?” Albus asked.
“Yeah. Earlier. Only got home a few hours ago, and my parents weren’t going to let me come here. The only reason they did was because they came too.”
Rose looked skeptical. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I wanted to come. I’m sick of missing out on stuff because of this.”
“Will your leg be better by the time term starts?” John asked.
“I don’t know, to be honest. Last time it took weeks, but it’s different than last time. Healer Sterling said it’ll just heal on its own.”
“You’re not still taking that potion, are you?” Amanda asked hesitantly.
Matt sat up suddenly. “Of course not. I’m not stupid.”
“Sorry,” Amanda muttered. “But you seemed pretty insistent on it before.”
“Because it meant I had a chance. Burke’s tweaking it and once he’s done, I’ll take it again. He said it should be ready for January.”
Amanda muttered something under her breath, but Albus couldn’t hear it, and if Matt heard it, he didn’t respond. Instead, he lay back down and closed his eyes like he did when he had a headache. But if he had a headache, he made no mention of it.
“So,” Matt said. “Where’s Kaden?”
“He wasn’t sure he’d be able to come. His aunt Marge is visiting, and he lives an hour away. I don’t think my parents would be willing to Apparate and get him with Marge around, either,” Albus explained. “She’s awful.”
There was a knock on the door. “Come in!” Albus said.
The door opened and Harry stuck his head in. “Oh, there you are. Matt, your dad was wondering where you went.”
Matt groaned. “Tell him I’m fine.”
Harry smiled. “Parents worry. You’ll see when you have kids. Albus, Kaden can’t come. Dudley just rang. Something about Marge wanting to spend time with all of them.” Harry disappeared and shut the door.
Albus sighed and leaned back against the wall. “I’m not surprised. Do you want to go back downstairs?”
“Can we just stay here?” Matt asked. “It’s a bit crowded down there.”
“Sure,” Albus said, glancing at Rose, who looked worried.
“Actually,” Amanda said, a grin splayed across her face. “I had a bit of an idea last night.”
John brightened. “What sort of idea? You don’t mean a prank, do you?”
Amanda laughed. “Of course not. Albus, your mum writes for the Prophet, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah,” Albus said, unsure of where this was going. “She’s the senior Quidditch editor.”
Amanda grinned. “That’s what I thought. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before, and Rose, I’m shocked you haven’t thought of it.”
Rose looked confused. “Thought of what?”
“We should ask her if anyone’s been asked to cover things up, in terms of those murders,” Amanda explained. “Has there been any new information about Michael Sheldon recently?”
“No,” Albus answered. “If there have been any updates, they haven’t been published.”
“See?” Amanda said.
“Mum does Quidditch, not front page stuff,” Albus said. “You’d have to ask the other writers.”
“Who’s in charge?” Amanda asked.
Albus wracked his brain. He knew he’d heard his mum mention the names of some of the other senior editors before. “I think someone called Natalie? I can’t remember her last name. And a bloke…Jason or Mason or something.”
“Any chance they’re here tonight?”
“Actually…” Albus began, “actually one of them might be. Mum said this wasn’t a work party. She told Dad that repeatedly, but I think she did invite a few people from the Prophet.”
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go find one of them!”
“How do we do that?” John asked. “We don’t know what they look like.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Rose said as she stood up. “All we have to do is wander around slowly enough to listen in on people’s conversations. We’ll hear something that gives it away. Plus, everyone’s had at least a few drinks by now. That’ll make it easy.”
“Now you’re getting it,” Amanda said as she stood up as well.
Albus got off the bed, eager to start. He hadn’t even thought of finding out information through his mum’s colleagues, but they’d probably be easier to get information out of than the other Aurors.
“What about Matt?” John asked.
Albus glanced at Matt, who had fallen asleep. “Let him sleep. We can wake him up if we find out anything.”
John nodded in agreement and the four left the room. Albus quietly shut the door behind them.
Nearly two hours later Albus still hadn’t found any of the editors, or found out any information regarding either murder. What he had done was walk in on Teddy and Victoire snogging in the loo, and learned that when Hannah Longbottom was at Hogwarts, she often snuck into the kitchens and did her homework there because she could concentrate better there than in the library. Nobody he encountered was discussing the murders, nor had he seen anyone he didn’t at least vaguely recognize. There were a few witches and wizards that he couldn’t quite place, but none of them seemed like editors from the Prophet. Amanda’s idea had been good, but so far it wasn’t helping them much.
The clock struck eleven and Albus wandered back into the drawing room to get another piece of treacle tart. He was surprised to find his parents next to the table, talking to Matt’s parents. Other than the four of them, the room was empty. None of them turned around when Albus wandered in, so he lurked near the doorway in order to listen to their conversation. If anything, the past two hours had taught him that people were far less likely to notice you spying on them after they’d had a few drinks.
“I’ve never met him,” Harry said. “None of the kids have said anything particularly scathing about him, but rumor has it he’s barking mad. Dumbledore level madness. Genius type of madness.”
“That’s what I heard,” Mr. Eckerton replied. “I honestly thought this could help, and it does. But at what cost? The side effects are brutal. I’ve never had much faith in anything else we’ve tried, but when I heard he was working on something, I got my hopes up. I shouldn’t have, obviously. But if the world’s best Potions Master can’t help, then who can?”
“Maybe it’ll be someone who isn’t an official brewer yet,” Harry mused. “Kaden Durlsey is particularly good.”
Mr. Eckerton laughed. “So I’ve heard. Still, it’s not very encouraging, when a potion created by the century’s most celebrated brewer has such awful side effects.”
“His goal wasn’t to fix Wolfsbane,” Mrs. Eckerton said. “Remember that. This was something completely different.”
Burke, Albus thought. They were discussing Burke and his failure of a potion that only made the past few full moons even worse for Matt. But why were they talking about side effects? If the goal of the potion was to ease the symptoms before the full moon, and the potion made those worse, wouldn’t that be more than just side effects?
“Wish Belby would come out of retirement,” Mr. Eckerton muttered. “Who creates a life changing potion and then goes into hiding, never to be heard from again? Talk about mad.”
“I heard he couldn’t take the pressure,” Ginny said. “Oh, Albus! I didn’t see you there.”
Albus walked over to the table, pretending as if he’d just walked into the room. “Yeah, just came in for some food.”
“Where’s Matt?” Mrs. Eckerton asked, a look of concern on her face.
Albus thought about lying and saying Matt was in another room with the rest of their friends, but figured his parents would follow him to go check on their son. “He’s up in my room…asleep.”
Mrs. Eckerton sighed. “I knew this was a bad idea.”
“There’s not much difference in sleeping here or sleeping at home, Jule,” Mr. Eckerton said quietly. “At least this way he can feel like he isn’t missing out on anything.”
Albus had a feeling Matt would feel differently once he woke up and realized Albus and the others went off to investigate the Prophet without him, but clearly he needed the sleep.
“Should we take him home?” Mrs. Eckerton asked, glancing from Albus’s parents to her husband and back.
“Don’t worry about it,” Harry said. “We understand. It’s perfectly fine for him to sleep here.”
“He’s fine, Julie,” Mr. Eckerton said. “Let’s go get another of those Golden Snitch drinks. They’re fantastic.”
Albus watched the four adults leave the room before serving himself a huge slice of treacle tart. He took a few bites and then set off to find the rest of his friends.
After wandering around the first floor and only finding various relatives in differing stages of inebriation (including Auntie Muriel, who was berating Heather for the state of her messy hair), Albus walked downstairs to the dining room. This particular room was even more crowded, but Albus soon located Rose and Amanda talking to an old, stooped man wearing a monocle in his left eye.
“Oh, yes, I hear from Rita Skeeter at least once a month!” the man exclaimed, his drink slopping over its brim and onto the floor. “Just last month she wanted me to print an article she’d written on your uncle. Claimed what happened in the Chamber of Secrets last year rattled him into insanity. Barking mad, that one!”
Rose laughed, but it was an uneasy laugh. She noticed Albus and visibly relaxed. “Albus! Might I introduce you? This is Mr. Grayson, the head editor of the Prophet. Mr. Grayson? This is Albus Potter.”
Albus managed to prevent his jaw from dropping as he shook the old man’s hand. Rose and Amanda had done it. They’d managed to find the head editor of the Prophet, despite Albus’s not remembering his name correctly.
“Albus Potter! Very pleased to meet you,” Mr. Grayson said as he dropped Albus’s hand. “I’ve met you before, but you were about half your size. You broke my desk lamp. Or maybe that was your brother….”
Albus laughed. “I’m sure it was James. He’s around here somewhere. Are you enjoying the party?”
“Very much!” Grayson said, raising his drink. “That Ted Lupin is an excellent bartender. Too bad he decided to become an Auror.”
Mr. Grayson seemed to have enjoyed more than an average number of Teddy’s drinks.
“I was just telling young Rose and Amanda about what it’s like to work for the Prophet.”
“He’s been very helpful, especially since I want to go into journalism,” Amanda said, giving Albus a significant look.
Albus had to stifle a laugh, although Grayson probably wouldn’t have even noticed. Amanda certainly was clever.
“I suppose what I’d like to know next is if you’ve ever had to cover anything up because the Ministry wanted you to?”
Grayson closed his eyes and sighed. “Ah, yes, well, you wouldn’t know much about it, would you? Being Muggle-born. During the height of You-Know-Who’s power, we published all sorts of propaganda. I’m deeply ashamed.” He shook his head. “I don’t like to speak of it. Very dark time in my life. In all of our lives, I suppose.”
“So you wouldn’t do it again?” Amanda prodded. “I couldn’t help but notice the paper has skirted around the cause of death in both of the recent murders.”
Grayson gave a wry smile. “You’ll make an excellent journalist. But I’ve had years of experience, Amanda.” He raised his glass. “Even seven or eight of these won’t knock me off my toes.”
“Then you are covering something up?”
Grayson laughed. “It’s a lot more complicated than that, my dear. A lot more complicated. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need some more refreshment.” Grayson tipped his glass back into his mouth and downed the remaining amber liquid, before hobbling out of the room without another glance at Albus, Rose, and Amanda.
“That was weird,” Albus said, shaking his head.
“Weird, yet informative,” Amanda replied. “Come on, let’s go find John.”
“But he didn’t say anything one way or the other,” Albus pointed out as he followed Amanda and Rose out of the room.
“Exactly,” Amanda said, turning around to smile at Albus. “By not giving us a straight answer, he gave us exactly what we needed.”
Albus sighed. Sometimes, when he spent a lot of time with Rose and Amanda, he felt really stupid.
A/N: Thanks for all the wonderful reviews! I will try to answer them this weekend as I worked all day and am exhausted. The good news is I finished this story the other day! It's the longest one yet, topping out at 39 chapters. I am going to continue with the once weekly updates since I will be taking a break from fan fic during November in order to write original fic. Come December, there's a chance I'll toss in a few extra updates.
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