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Chapter 22 : Elsie's Evidence
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After locating John, the group returned to Albus’s room to discuss what they’d learned from Mr. Grayson. Matt, after being woken up, was just as peeved about missing out on the search as Albus had suspected.
“I missed it, too,” John said. “I was discussing magical creatures that may or may not exist with Luna while attempting to keep her kids from climbing the bookcases.”
“Kaden will be jealous,” Matt said. “He seems to have a fondness for made-up magical creatures.”
“Can we get back to Grayson?” Amanda asked, glaring at Matt and John. “This is important.”
Both boys shut up immediately and waited for Amanda to begin.
“Thank you,” Amanda said. “Anyway, Grayson was really drunk, so I fed him a story about wanting to go into journalism. That got him going on his own life story about how he wound up at the Prophet. I pretended to be interested in that for ten minutes or so, and then Rose showed up. Rose asked him about Rita Skeeter and he remembers her. Apparently she still tries to send him articles for publication, but he always turns them down.
“Then Albus showed up and I managed to steer the conversation to when the Prophet covered things up during the war. He readily admitted to it, but when I asked about the recent murders, he got really vague and wouldn’t confirm anything. So the way I see it he is covering something up, because if he wasn’t, he’d have no reason to be vague about it.”
That’s what Amanda had meant when she’d said Grayson gave them exactly what they needed, Albus thought. It made sense, even though it wasn’t concrete proof.
“So what are they covering up?” Matt asked, stifling a yawn.
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell us. He went off for another drink.”
“I wish there was some way for us to find out what they’re covering up,” Albus said, staring at the ceiling. “But short of breaking into the Ministry….”
“Albus, you are not going to solve these murders,” Rose said flatly. “This is different than past years, when things were happening at Hogwarts. This is much bigger than that.”
“I never said I wanted to solve the murders,” Albus muttered, although he couldn’t deny that the thought had crossed his mind. What if he could solve them?
“That’s what you’re thinking, Al. I know you.”
“Are you sure your dad wouldn’t let something slip?” John asked.
“Positive. He’s even more uptight about talking about work now that he’s found out James is dating Meg Johnson. Meg’s dad replaced him as Head Auror. Apparently they don’t get on well.”
“And your mum?”
Albus opened his mouth to reply, but Amanda cut him off. “I don’t think there’s even a chance she knows what the Prophet is covering up. Grayson seemed very nervous when I brought it up, and he kept saying the whole thing is very complicated. I suspect he’s keeping this from his colleagues.”
“But they must suspect something,” Rose said. “What I wouldn’t give to spend a day listening in on conversations at their headquarters.”
“Or the Ministry,” Albus added.
“We could…with Polyjuice,” Amanda pointed out.
“Absolutely not,” Rose said immediately. “We’d be expelled. If we’re going to do anything, it has to be simple.”
“We’ve got to do something,” Amanda said. “Otherwise we won’t have much for that article for Luna’s magazine.”
The group fell silent. Albus continued to stare at the ceiling as he thought. Whatever they did, it had to be done at Hogwarts, but their only source of outside news at the school was the Prophet. How were they to investigate the newspaper if that was their source of information? Unless they skipped the paper…and went straight to the source.
Albus sat up suddenly, his heart thumping louder than normal. What if they investigated the actual murders instead? What if instead of trying to find out what information and evidence had been collected, they collected their own? One of the murder scenes was in Hogsmeade, only a short walk from Hogwarts. Going to Hogsmeade would only break a couple school rules, none if they went during a Hogsmeade visit.
“Albus?” Rose asked. “You look like you’ve just had a ghost walk through you.”
“Do you think the Shrieking Shack is still blocked off as a crime scene?” Albus mused, ignoring Rose.
“I don’t know. Probably,” Rose said, giving him a strange look. “Why?”
“I think we ought to forget about the Prophet. Someone got murdered in Hogsmeade. We could go have a poke around, see what sort of evidence we can find. My first tutoring session back I’ll talk to Elsie, see if she’ll tell me what she saw-“
“Albus, that sounds an awful lot like solving a murder,” Rose warned. “Not to mention poking around a crime scene as you called it is probably a felony.”
“That’s why we wait until it isn’t a crime scene anymore,” Albus pointed out. “They can’t keep it like that any longer than the next full moon.” He glanced at Matt, who had fallen asleep again.
Amanda grinned. “That just might work. During the next Hogsmeade trip?”
Albus shook his head. “I thought of that, but the next one won’t be until around Valentine’s Day. I say we do it as soon as they take down the caution tape. The only rule we’ll be breaking is sneaking out of the castle, and even if we get caught it’ll only be a few detentions. But I doubt we will. If we sneak in through the Whomping Willow passage at night, no one will see us.”
“Brilliant,” John said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rose said.
“We don’t all have to go. In fact, we probably all shouldn’t. Only two of us can fit comfortably under the Invisibility Cloak. And someone would have to let us back in.”
“You and Matt, then,” Amanda said. “It has to be. He’s the only one who can get past the tree, and the whole thing was your idea.”
Albus glanced at Matt, who had drifted off again.
“I don’t think he’ll be too pleased with your idea, Albus,” Rose said.
“What idea?” Matt mumbled.
Albus and Rose exchanged glances. “Er, an idea I’ve had about investigating the Hogsmeade murder,” Albus said tentatively. “It involves the Shrieking Shack….”
Albus explained the entire idea, watching Matt carefully for signs of dislike as he did so. But to Albus’s surprise, Matt’s face broke into a wide grin after he finished.
“You like it?” Rose exclaimed, looking disgusted at the loss of her only possible ally against the idea.
“Like it? It’s completely mental, but it’s brilliant. And we won’t get in trouble,” Matt said.
“How can you be so sure?” Rose asked.
Matt smiled knowingly. “Because if we get caught, all I have to do is tell them I was worried about what the Shack looked like after the investigation and wanted to check it out before my next transformation. So as long as we do it before the end of January, we’re set.”
“That is genius,” John said in awe. “Pure genius.”
Once back at Hogwarts, Albus was forced to put thoughts of investigating the Hogsmeade murder in the back of his mind. With O.W.L.s only five months away, every single teacher not only assigned homework for new parts of the curriculum, but also assigned review readings and essays to help them prepare for their exams. Rose considered this helpful, but the rest of the students found it irritating. John in particular ranted about not having enough time, until Rose told him if he used the time he spent planning and executing pranks for homework he’d have enough time.
Albus, participating in far more extracurricular activities than John, actually did have trouble finding enough time in the day to complete the additional work. Bradley, despite his reputation as the most laid-back Quidditch captain Gryffindor had ever had, added an extra practice per week. Dueling practice remained informal, but Albus hated having to skip it to write additional essays. In the end, what got dropped from Albus’s schedule was assisting Professor Burke with his brewing. Whereas before the holiday Albus had managed to go at least once a week, he didn’t go at all the first week back and had a feeling he’d only manage a visit every other week from then on. Burke didn’t seem to care and Kaden gladly picked up Albus’s slack, but Albus could feel his ability to figure out what was in the mystery cauldron slipping away by the day.
Luckily Elsie remained the only one in attendance during Albus’s tutoring sessions and he was able to keep using them to catch up on his own homework. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a chance to ask her about what she saw during the murder the first Saturday back since Professor Cedonia had assigned a review essay that had a two rolls of parchment length requirement. Elsie also seemed very absorbed in her homework that day, and Albus doubted she would’ve said much.
“You’ve got to talk to her this Saturday,” Amanda said as they sat around the table in the Marauders’ Den working on homework Thursday evening.
“I know,” Albus said, not looking up from his star chart. “That’s why I’m trying to get this done now.”
“You’ve mixed up Lynx and Cygnus,” Matt said as he glanced at Albus’s chart. “They’re opposites, see?” He showed Albus his own chart.
Albus jabbed his wand at the parchment and vanished the two names, before rewriting them. “Thanks. I can’t wait until I can drop this. Are you going to stick with Astronomy next year?”
“Probably,” Matt said as he opened his Potions book. “It’s my best subject.”
“You’re not?” Rose asked Albus.
Albus shook his head. “Not if I can help it. It’s so tedious.”
“When are you two exploring the Shrieking Shack?” Amanda asked. “We’ve been back nearly two weeks.”
“Dunno.” Matt shrugged. “It’s got to be within the next ten days because past that I’ll be too exhausted to do it.”
Albus pulled his schedule out of his bag. “I’ve got Quidditch practice Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Dueling practice next week is Tuesday and Wednesday. I patrol on Monday and Saturday.”
“You ought to do it while I patrol,” Rose said, not looking up from her Charms essay. “That way you won’t run into any prefects on your way back.”
“It’s going to take more than an hour,” Matt pointed out. “It’s nearly a half hour walk.”
“We’ll have the map,” Albus said. “But maybe we can leave while you’re on patrol.”
Rose nodded. “I patrol Tuesday and Thursday.”
“Thursday it is, then,” Albus said. “After Quidditch practice. I should be done by eight.”
“Sounds good,” Matt agreed. “If we can get out of the castle by eight-thirty, we can make it back by ten, so we’ll only be out a little past curfew, at most.”
“And we’ll have the Cloak,” Albus added.
“Are you sure it’s not a crime scene anymore?” John asked. “I don’t want you two thrown in Azkaban.”
“We can ask Professor Longbottom,” Rose said. “He lives in Hogsmeade.”
Albus nodded and agreed to ask him the following Monday, when they were next in Herbology.
The door opened and Kaden walked in, slamming it behind him. He hurried over to the table and sat down, an excited grin on his face.
“You look like Christmas has come again,” John said. “What happened?”
“I was just with Burke,” he said. “And I saw him add something to his mystery cauldron!”
Albus’s head snapped up, his star chart officially abandoned. “What was it?”
“Stewed mandrakes!” Kaden said excitedly. “I’ve never seen him do anything except stir that cauldron before, but this time he definitely added a cup of stewed mandrakes.”
“Mandrake,” Rose mused. “That’s only used in restorative potions.”
“It’s used in Wolfsbane,” Matt said quietly. “One of the active ingredients, since it’s supposed to restore someone to their natural state. You’re sure that’s what he was adding to his mystery cauldron?”
“Positive,” Kaden said. “So it’s definitely some kind of restorative potion.”
“You don’t think he’s working on Wolfsbane and not telling anyone, do you?” Rose asked, looking tentatively at Matt.
Matt shook his head. “It can’t be. If it was Wolfsbane, I wouldn’t be able to set foot in his classroom without having a reaction.”
“But how can Wolfsbane not cause a reaction when werewolves take it?” John asked. “If you’re all allergic to aconite.”
“It’s fine when it’s diluted and stewed down in a potion, but I can’t be around it until the potion is finished.”
“He’s got aconite in his brewing room,” Kaden pointed out. “I’ve seen it. Maybe he only adds it when he knows there will be enough time before he next has you in class.”
“Wolfsbane doesn’t make sense,” Rose said. “He wouldn’t be that protective of it. He isn’t that protective of his other potions, and some of them are really powerful and dangerous. No, I’m guessing the mystery potion is something that will benefit him, once it’s complete.”
“What kind of potion takes that long to brew, anyway?” John asked.
“Maybe it’s something he’s got to take continuously, like Polyjuice,” Albus suggested. “But it can’t be Polyjuice because he’s got that in his brewing room.”
“And mandrake would render Polyjuice useless. They have the opposite effect,” Rose said.
“That’s it!” Kaden shouted. “Maybe he’s trying to counteract the effects of Polyjuice!”
Rose shook her head. “There are already potions and spells that will do that. Plus, there wouldn’t be much point in a potion that just did that. Polyjuice wears off after an hour, twenty-four if it’s the long lasting kind.”
“Still, this is a clue,” Albus said, toying with his quill. “And a good one at that. We’ve just got to keep searching.”
The rest of the group slipped back into their homework, but Albus stared at his star chart, not bothering to label anymore stars. What could the potion possibly be? He thought once again of Burke’s habit of brewing Polyjuice, and possibly sketchy way of distributing it. Were the two connected? He had a feeling the only way he’d find out is if he somehow found room in his busy schedule to visit Burke more than just once every other week.
The library was packed on Saturday, the only available table being Albus’s tutoring table, which remained empty save for himself and Elsie. According to Rose, the prefects in charge of the other subjects were finding their tutoring sessions almost too busy to handle. Albus, however, breathed a sigh of relief when his session only had twenty minutes to go and still no one else had shown up.
For the past hour, Albus had been watching Elsie work on a Transfiguration essay, neglecting his own Ancient Runes assignment in the process. Elsie, on the other hand, hadn’t seemed to pay Albus any attention at all. Albus knew he had to ask her about what she saw the day of the murder soon, or else time would run out and Amanda would kill him for not asking.
“Elsie,” Albus said, “how is the essay?”
“Fine,” Elsie said without looking up.
“And how was your holiday?”
“Fine,” she said.
Didn’t most girls enjoy talking? That had been Albus’s experience with his cousins and sister. Lily, for one, wouldn’t shut up unless you left the room.
“Elsie, I was wondering,” Albus paused to take a breath. “If you could…possibly…tell me what you saw that day in Hogsmeade?”
Elsie dropped her quill and it dribbled ink all over her essay, but she didn’t seem to notice. She stared at Albus, her brown eyes wide open. “Wh-what do you mean?” she stammered.
Albus glanced around to make sure no one was watching, but Miss Walsh was busy helping a group of Hufflepuffs across the room. “You know…the day that bloke was murdered. You said you saw something. And then you went to the Ministry-“
“Albus, stop,” she whispered, her voice shaking. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Albus said hurriedly. Maybe it would’ve been a better idea to have Rose talk to her. Surely someone would start to notice them if Elsie started crying.
Elsie shook her head. “No. I can’t. I can’t say anything!” She grabbed her essay and bag and ran out of the library, leaving her quill and ink behind.
Albus glanced at his watch. Ten minutes early wouldn’t matter, would it? He shoved Elsie’s ink, quill, and his own supplies into his bag and took off after her.
The corridor was deserted. Albus swore under his breath. He didn’t have the slightest idea where she would go and the chances of finding her in the castle were slim to none, and hopeless if she’d gone to the Slytherin common room. Albus sighed and ran back up to Gryffindor, in the hopes of finding Rose and explaining to her what had happened.
Rose was there, working on a Potions essay, and after berating Albus for nearly ten minutes about his tactlessness in asking Elsie about the murder, she set off with him to find her.
“And then you can ask her?” Albus said as they walked down the stairs to the sixth floor. “About the murder? Maybe she’ll talk to you?”
Rose looked incredulous. “No, Albus! I want to make sure she’s all right! I suppose it was a stupid idea to have you talk to her anyway-“
“Hey! I’m not an idiot. Matt talks to me all the time.”
“Because he’s your friend and he trusts you! Elsie is probably traumatized. That was her first time in Hogsmeade, and she wasn’t allowed to be there anyway. Who knows how she got in-“
“There are secret passages all over,” Albus pointed out. “Probably the one-eyed witch.”
“What I meant,” Rose began, ignoring Albus’s comment, “was that it was stupid for any of us to try. If she really did see a murder take place, of course she’s not going to want to talk about it.”
“Oh, right,” Albus muttered. “Do you know where she is, then?”
“I have a hunch,” Rose said.
Neither of them said another word. Albus had no idea where Rose was leading him, but was surprised when she stopped short in front of Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. He raised his eyebrows at Rose, who rolled her eyes in response.
“Elsie?” Rose called as they entered. “Elsie, are you in here?”
Muffled sobbing was coming from the only closed stall, but Albus couldn’t tell if it was Myrtle or Elsie. Myrtle suddenly appeared, having floated through the shut door.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, throwing Albus a nasty look. “She doesn’t want to see you.”
“Albus has come to apologize,” Rose said. “Haven’t you, Albus?”
“Er, yes?” Albus responded. “I’m really sorry, Elsie.”
The sobbing continued, but Myrtle began to smile wistfully. “Where’s Matt? I haven’t seen him in ages and ages…”
“He doesn’t want to see you, Myrtle,” Albus said shortly.
Myrtle screwed up her face and let out a loud wail, flying back into the stall.
“Nice, Albus,” Rose muttered. “Very nice.” She knocked on the stall door. “Elsie? It’s Rose.”
The sobbing stopped and the door opened a crack. “Albus?” Elsie said. “I’m not mad at you. And hi, Rose.”
Now Albus was thoroughly confused and felt a bit more sympathy for James and his near constant issues with girls.
“And I want you to know that I didn’t see much of anything,” Elsie continued. “Just someone running away from the Shrieking Shack right before everyone saw the…the…you know….”
“And who was it?” Albus asked anxiously. Rose shot him a dirty look.
“Well that’s what I mean. I didn’t see anything, because it was Professor Young.”
Albus’s jaw fell open, and he was very glad Elsie hadn’t opened the door wide enough to see.
“Are you all right?” Rose asked.
“Fine,” Elsie said. “You can go, you know.”
“Oh, okay,” Rose said. “Bye.”
Elsie shut the door. Rose grabbed Albus’s arm and led him out of the toilet.
“That was weird,” Albus said once they were a safe distance away. “Why was she crying like that and then fine two seconds later?”
Rose sighed. “You’re more like James than you’d like to think.”
“Professor Young, though,” Albus said, ignoring her. “That’s so strange because-“
“Because Cedric had detention with him at that exact moment,” Rose finished. “But Albus? Elsie told the Ministry. If they had any reason to suspect him, he wouldn’t still be here.”
Albus nodded, but felt very unsettled. Why hadn’t the Ministry arrested him? Because no one could be in two places at once, and Cedric was his alibi. Cedric.
“We need to talk to Cedric,” Albus said.
A/N: Thanks for all the reviews!
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