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Chapter 37 : Secret of the Shack
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John and Amanda had to sit their Divination exam on Friday and Kaden still had one more end of term exam, and therefore Albus spent Friday with Rose and Matt, wandering the corridors and the grounds discussing their summer plans and Professor Young’s sentence to Azkaban. They visited Hagrid, who was delighted to see them and offered rock cakes for lunch, all of which sat on his table, uneaten.
When they returned to the castle for dinner they found John, Amanda, and Kaden all in good spirits at the Gryffindor table. The rest of the Gryffindors, as well as the other Houses, were talking cheerfully about the end of exams and the upcoming summer. Albus felt happier than he’d felt in two weeks as he sat down at the Gryffindor table. He glanced up at the staff table and saw that all the professors and examiners were smiling and laughing. Even Professor Burke, who had been very subdued since his return, looked better. Still gaunt and shaky, with his cane leaning against the table, he smiled as he spoke with Professor Longbottom.
“…And I definitely bombed the practical portion,” John said, rattling on about his Divination exam as he shoved potatoes into his mouth. “Made up something about a really cloudy day since all I saw in the crystal ball was a bunch of smoke. But I don’t think the examiner believed me.”
“Probably because it’s sunny,” Rose said, smirking.
“I think McGonagall may have passed me just because she’s fed up with Divination,” Amanda said, laughing. “Her lips were so thin the whole time I read her tea leaves that I thought they’d disappear. Told her she’d live as long as Dumbledore.”
“I overheard Parker Wayland telling Olivia Price that he predicted his examiner’s untimely death in his tea leaves,” Matt said. “Bet he fails.”
Albus laughed. “Well, at least you can drop it now.”
“I couldn’t be happier,” John said, grinning. “Anyone else notice that food tastes so much better now that exams are over?”
Kaden nodded his head fervently. “After seeing the lot of you, I’m dreading my O.W.L.s.”
“As you should,” John said. “Anyway, we should have a proper celebration of the end of exams tonight. What do you think the chances are of sneaking into Hogsmeade and not getting caught?”
“Pretty good,” Albus said. “I’ll keep an eye on the Map as we go and we’ll have the Cloak.”
It was a sign of the extreme elation of the end of exams that Rose didn’t say a word about the boys sneaking into Hogsmeade. She simply smiled, poured herself another glass of pumpkin juice, and asked them to get her a few bars of Honeyduke’s chocolate.
“When do they send out results?” Amanda asked.
“Not until July,” Albus answered, remembering James receiving his results nearly a year ago. “So we’ll have a few weeks of blissful ignorance.”
“And then we get to pick our N.E.W.T. classes?” Amanda said.
Rose nodded. “Longbottom will fix our schedules on the first day of sixth year. Every teacher lets you into their N.E.W.T. classes with Exceeds Expectations or higher, and a few take Acceptable.”
The only exam Albus thought he may have failed was History of Magic. He may have gotten an Acceptable in Astronomy and Ancient Runes, but he was confident he got at least an Exceeds Expectations in the rest. He may have even scraped an Outstanding in Defense and Care of Magical Creatures.
The boys decided to wait until later on in the evening to sneak into Hogsmeade, when the corridors would be emptier. In the time being, they played a few rowdy games of Exploding Snap in the Marauders’ Den with Rose and Amanda. Rose was scheduled for the early prefect patrol and Albus decided twenty minutes after she left would be a good time to begin their journey to Hogsmeade.
“We can’t all go,” Albus said as he pulled the Map and Cloak out of his bag. “Three of us would be a tight squeeze under the Cloak and four would be impossible. I think it ought to just be two of us to be on the safe side.”
“So, you and one of us,” John said. “I’ll go, unless one of you really want to.”
Matt and Kaden shook their heads, the latter looking slightly disappointed.
“There will be other times,” Albus said. “We’ve got two years left. And Kaden, you’ve got three.”
Albus spread the Map out on the table and all four boys peered at it. Albus first checked the Hogwarts map, checking for professors, Filch, Peeves, and prefects. The path to the one-eyed witch was clear, the only slight problem being Peeves, who was lurking just one corridor away. But Peeves didn’t know Albus possessed the Cloak and it was unlikely he would notice them.
“Excellent,” John said, grinning. “I can almost taste the butterbeer. You know, if we go to the Hog’s Head, I bet I could get us some firewhisky.”
“No,” Albus said. “That’d be stupid.”
Albus switched the Map to the Hogsmeade part, his eyes narrowing on Honeyduke’s and its surrounding area. A few dots milled around both in and out of the shop, but Albus didn’t recognize any of them. He checked Neville’s house next, and was happy to see his dot inside, along with Hannah’s and little Lucy’s.
Matt let out a loud gasp and Albus turned to look at him. He had gone white as Nearly-Headless Nick, his eyes wide as he stared at the map.
“What is it?” Albus asked, following Matt’s gaze. He saw what was wrong before Matt managed to speak it. There was a dot, one lone dot, inside the Shrieking Shack. It was labeled Stuart Boone, a name Albus had never heard of in his life.
“Is it…is it a mistake?” Matt asked, his voice barely a whisper.
“It can’t be,” Albus said, still staring at the dot, which wasn’t moving. “The map doesn’t lie. Do you think it’s the same bloke who was living there, months ago?”
“But he hasn’t been there since January, has he?” John asked, looking to Matt for confirmation. “Have you seen any signs of anyone being there?”
“N-no,” Matt said, his voice shaking. “No one’s been there when I’ve been there. But…the rest of the month…who knows?”
“What do we do?” Amanda asked. She was looking nervously from Matt to Albus and back again. Albus couldn’t blame her. Matt looked on the verge of panicking.
“It’s not the full moon, and you won’t transform there until September,” John pointed out. “So there’s no chance of-“
“That’s not the point,” Matt interrupted, finally looking away from the Map. “The Shrieking Shack is mine. It has been ever since I came to Hogwarts and it will be until I leave. I have to have it. I have to have somewhere I can go…during the full moon…where I know no one else will be. Otherwise…” His voice trailed off, but Albus knew what he was thinking. Without knowing that the Shrieking Shack was his, truly his, he wasn’t comfortable with it being his transformation place.
“Then we’ll go tell Professor Kendrick,” John said. “He’ll sort it out.”
“Like he did last time?” Matt said. “No. Albus, give me the Cloak.”
Matt, still pale and shaky, looked determined, his hand held out in front of him, waiting for Albus to grant him the one object that could help him do what he was so obviously about to do.
“You can’t mean-“ John began.
“I have to go see who it is,” Matt said, his hand still held out for the Cloak. “I have to, no I need to know. It’s the only way-“
“But he could be dangerous!” John reasoned.
“You sound like Rose,” Matt said.
“And you sound like an idiot!” John said. “Someone was possibly murdered in the Shrieking Shack a few months ago! And right after that someone was found living there. Don’t you think there’s a chance they’re the same person? And you want to go confront this bloke, who is probably the same bloke? That’s stupid.”
“You don’t understand,” Matt said quietly. He turned to Albus. “Come on, Al, please give me the Cloak. I’m going whether you give it to me or not, but I’d much rather go with it.”
“Fine,” Albus said. “But I’m going with you.”
“Albus!” John exclaimed. “You can’t be serious!”
Albus sighed. John had good points, but so did Matt, and Albus couldn’t deny the fact that he was curious, incredibly curious, to find out if this was possibly the same man who murdered Michael Sheldon. It would undoubtedly be dangerous, but when it came down to it, Albus could not let Matt go on his own, and he knew Matt would go.
“I can’t let him go on his own,” Albus said. He turned to Matt. “You’re a terrible dueler. I’m going with you.”
Matt looked slightly relieved, but clearly didn’t want to admit it. “Fine. Can we just get going? Before he leaves?”
“Wouldn’t that be a good thing?” John asked.
“What about you?” Matt asked, looking at John, Kaden, and Amanda. “Coming?”
“Yes,” John said immediately. “It may be a stupid plan, but I can’t let the two of you go on your own.”
“I’m staying here,” Amanda said. “And if you lot aren’t back before curfew, I’m telling Professor Kendrick.”
“I’m in,” Kaden said, with very little enthusiasm.
“Good,” Matt said. “Now let’s go.”
Albus didn’t bother throwing the Cloak over them as they hurried through the castle. It wasn’t curfew, so it wasn’t against the rules for the boys to be wandering the corridors. He only hoped they didn’t run into Rose, who would surely wonder why they weren’t using the passageway in the one-eyed witch and why they looked so frightened.
“So what’s the plan once we get there?” John asked as they neared the oak front doors.
“I don’t know,” Matt muttered.
John didn’t question him further. He, Albus, and Kaden followed Matt out onto the grounds and it struck Albus that this was the first time Matt had been the leader of their pack. Usually it was Albus who spearheaded these types of adventures. But Albus had to admit, if it weren’t for Matt’s desire to immediately rush to the Shrieking Shack, he would’ve owled his dad before doing anything.
They reached the edge of the Whomping Willow’s reach and Matt pulled his wand out of his robes. He waved it to release the wards and froze the tree with a nearby branch. Without looking to see if Albus, John, and Kaden were following, he slid into the tunnel. Albus went next, followed by John and Kaden.
Once in the tunnel Albus lit his wand. It was just as dirty and creepy as it had been the last time he’d been in it. But with four wands, the place was decently lit.
Matt, who suddenly seemed more nervous than before, turned to the other boys, his wand shaking in his hand. He was the only one of the four who didn’t need to stoop over, the top of his hair just barely skimming the ceiling. Even Kaden, who stood in the tunnel with ease as a first year, was now hunched over.
“We can still go back,” Albus pointed out.
“No,” Matt said, his voice surprisingly forceful. “Just check the Map.”
Albus pulled the Map out of his robes and pointed his wand at the Hogsmeade section. Stuart Boone was still there. “He’s there.”
“Then let’s go,” Matt said, turning to begin the long journey.
No one spoke on the way to the Shack. Instead they walked single file, Matt in the front, followed by Albus, John, and Kaden, the latter three bent low under the ceiling. The walk seemed to be fast and slow at the same time, the group arriving at the door to the Shack far sooner than Albus would’ve liked. Matt reached out for the knob.
“Wait,” Albus said, pulling the Cloak out of his bag. “Distinguish your wands.”
The tunnel went dark as all four boys distinguished their wands. Albus threw the Cloak over all four of them, and they squeezed together so that only their feet showed. He assumed the Shack would be as dark as the tunnel, since it was supposed to be abandoned and Stuart Boone would not want to draw attention to himself.
Matt pushed the door open and they shuffled inside. The downstairs looked abandoned and Albus wished the Map would show him exactly where in the Shack Stuart Boone was. They walked further into the room, Albus, John, and Kaden following Matt. He led them throughout the room, the tiny bathroom, and the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Matt stopped and walked out from under the Cloak. He carefully opened the cupboard door and looked inside. Albus looked as well, but his night vision was not good enough to notice anything.
“Three cans of beans,” Matt whispered, returning to the safety of the Cloak. “And a loaf of bread.”
“Do you think it was here the last full moon?” John asked.
“I don’t know,” Matt said. “I don’t want to think about-“
Matt, who had been leading them out of the kitchen, froze, causing Albus to walk into him.
“What?” Kaden asked.
“Shh!” Matt said. “I heard something upstairs.”
Albus strained his ears and heard the faintest creaking, as if someone was pacing around the bedroom.
“This is it,” Matt whispered. “Come on.”
They walked slowly through the living room and up the creaking stairs. Albus was sure Stuart Boone would notice them walking up the stairs and hoped he would be in the dark, and therefore unable to see their feet sticking out of the bottom of the Cloak.
A faint light glowed from the crack under the door of the only bedroom. The boys stopped on the landing and waited for Matt to decide what to do. Pushing the door open would reveal their presence, despite the fact that they were invisible. But they hadn’t come just to spy on Stuart Boone; they’d come to confront him.
Matt walked forward, pulling the Cloak up and over his head as he went. Albus let out a gasp and made to grab the back of his robes, but Matt took another step forward, drew his wand, and turned around to look at the other three.
“Stay behind me,” he whispered. “Draw your wands. And stay under that Cloak.”
Albus didn’t have the faintest idea what Matt’s plan was, but he seemed certain, so he led John and Kaden forward, following Matt to the partially closed door.
Matt pushed the door open and it creaked loudly, as Matt probably knew it would. He held his wand shakily in front of him and crept into the room. Albus, John, and Kaden followed, their footsteps creaking on floorboards Matt must’ve known to skip.
A man stood at the far end of the room, almost completely bald, but with a very bushy beard that Albus could see despite the fact that he was facing away from them. His robes were plain and seemed to swim on his lanky frame. He turned around slowly and Albus had to stifle his gasp when he recognized who it was.
The man was Professor Young.
Albus looked at the Map for verification. There were five dots inside the Shrieking Shack labeled Albus Potter, Matthew Eckerton, John Brickston, Kaden Dursley, and Stuart Boone. None were labeled Elliot Young.
“Professor Young?” Matt said, lowering his wand slightly.
“Expelliarmus!” Professor Young shouted.
Matt’s wand flew through the air, but Young made no move to catch it. It clattered on the floor and Young lowered his own wand as he strode closer to Matt.
Albus suddenly understood Matt’s plan. Without saying a word to John and Kaden, both of whom still stared slack-jawed at Young, he pointed his wand at the man and whispered, “Expelliarmus.”
Professor Young, caught off-guard, jumped in surprise as his wand soared through the air toward Matt, who was unarmed. Matt caught it, pointed it at the bed and shouted, “Accio wand!” Matt’s own wand zoomed back into his hand and he stowed Young’s wand in his robes.
Albus yanked the Cloak off himself, John, and Kaden and stuffed it into his robes, his wand still pointed at Young, who was now the only unarmed wizard in the room. He seemed to have realized this was now backing away.
“Professor Young?” Kaden asked. “But…but…you’re supposed to be in Azkaban!”
“That isn’t Professor Young,” Albus said, staring at the man who looked to be Young’s twin. “The Map does not lie. This man is Stuart Boone.”
The man screwed up his face in anguish and grabbed his beard with both hands. He released it and stared at the boys. “I am not Stuart Boone! I am Elliot Young, professor at Hogwarts!”
“You aren’t,” Albus said, no longer nervous now that Stuart Boone could no longer defend himself. “Elliot Young is no longer a professor at Hogwarts. He is sitting in Azkaban for a murder he didn’t commit. But I think you know that.”
“I’m not!” Boone shouted again. “I am Elliot Young, professor at Hogwarts! Now get out of the way.”
“No,” Albus said as Boone hurried forward.
John reached back and slammed the door shut, never moving his wand from its position pointed at Boone’s chest.
“Get out of the way!” Boone said. “My name is Elliot Young…my name is Elliot Young…” But as he repeated his mantra, his face began to contort and grey hair began to sprout from his bald head. He shrunk considerably until he was two inches shorter than Albus, his robes now humorously too large. The grey hair finished growing in until it was close to chin-length, and the beard shot back up into his face until it was a mere shadow. His true face was lined and his eyes were tired, with purple bags beneath them. He had the unkempt look of someone on the run, who hadn’t had a decent meal in months.
Albus exchanged glances with Matt, sure that he had reached the same conclusion. Stuart Boone, for whatever reasons, had used Polyjuice Potion to become Professor Young. That was why Elsie saw him in Hogsmeade, fleeing from the scene of the crime, while Cedric sat detention for the real Professor Young. That was why the Aurors found Professor Young’s DNA at the scene.
“Move!” Boone said. “I need to get-“
“More Polyjuice?” Albus supplied. “What’s the point? We know you aren’t Professor Young. You’re Stuart Boone.”
Boone flinched at the sound of his name, something that confused Albus. Who was this man? And why had he kept insisting he was Professor Young? What was so bad about his own identity that he would rather assume the identity of a convicted murderer, even if that man hadn’t actually murdered?
“Who are you?” Matt asked, his face still ghostly white. “Why are you here?”
“I could ask you the same question,” Boone said, clearly giving up on his quest of retrieving more Polyjuice. “Not to mention how you knew my real name when I appeared to be your Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.”
“You aren’t in a position to ask questions,” Albus said forcefully. “We’ve got your wand.”
Boone sighed and shook his head. He walked away from the boys and collapsed into an armchair that looked ready to fall apart. He put his head in his hands, rubbed his face, and then looked up, his face etched with pain.
Albus, more confused than ever, followed Matt as he walked toward Boone. John and Kaden remained on either side of the door, as if they were a pair of mismatched bodyguards.
“Do any of you know what it is like?” Boone began. “What it is like to be hated by society for something that you cannot control? To be forced to scrounge for a living, unable to work, because people believe the worst of you as soon as they find out what you are? To be denied the thing that would help you be normal, just because you do not have the means to procure it?”
Albus glanced at Matt, who stood frozen, staring at Boone. Matt was shaking even worse and Albus knew why. Stuart Boone had just described the life of a lycanthrope who had no one on their side. He had said, in three sentences, what Matt feared the most when he left Hogwarts in two short years.
“I thought not,” Boone said, a wry smile on his face, somehow not noticing how much his words had hit Matt. “I will explain everything…the Polyjuice…why I am here…but first, first you must try to understand, and I know it is difficult, what my life is like. My name is Stuart Boone, and I am a werewolf.”
A/N: Sorry for the cliffhanger! Thanks for all the reviews!
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