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The Rise of the A.W.L. by MargaretLane
Chapter 23 : Things Fall Apart.
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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 Disclaimer: Everything you recognise belongs to J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended. The title of this chapter is taken from W.B. Yeats' poem, "The Second Coming."

By the following day, Angie seemed to have largely recovered from her shock, but she was still clearly nervous as they entered the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.

"Are you all right?" Rose touched her arm.

"Yeah, just not looking forward to seeing that boggart again."

"You won't have to face it today. She said just those who didn't get the chance yesterday."

Angie took a deep breath.

"I hope not, but I didn't exactly fight it, you know."

Rose paused for a moment. She hadn't thought of that. She didn't really think Jones would make her fight it again though, not when it had so clearly upset her the previous day. Jones could be strict about things like homework and paying attention in class, but she was pretty understanding really.

Her instinct proved correct and class passed off reasonably peacefully, apart from when Nathan accidentally let go of his wand while casting the Ridikkulus spell and it hit the boggart-McGonagall in the face as she told him he was being expelled for gross incompetence.

Rose grinned at him, as they left the room.

"Well, nobody could say you didn't make us laugh."

He grimaced. "I'm not exactly sure that was quite how I was meant to do it, though.

Angie smiled weakly. "You did better than I did, anyway," she said quietly.

Rose glanced at her in concern, but as the day passed, she really did seem to have returned to her old self.

Her concerns allayed, her thoughts started to turn back to Dora's trunk and what she'd found, or rather what she hadn't found, in it. It was high time she told Albus about that, she realised. She hadn't done so yet.

"Let's not go back to Ravenclaw tower with the others," she said as they left Charms that afternoon.

He glanced at her curiously. "Why not?"

"There's something I need to tell you. Come on, it looks like Blackburn's classroom is empty."

"Well?" he asked, as they sat down on a couple of desks.

"I should probably have told you this yesterday, but well, all that stuff with Angie distracted me. I got Dora's trunk opened."

"Did you find anything?" he asked eagerly.

She shook her head. "Nothing at all. A spare set of school robes, that's all."

"Oh well." He shrugged. "I guess it's not surprising really. After all, we'd no real reason to believe she was involved. It could be anybody."

"Yeah, I suppose it could." She sighed. The whole thing was beginning to look hopeless. Months had passed since the memorial'd been hexed. If they hadn't found anything out by now, they weren't exactly likely to, especially as nothing else had happened. Not that she wanted anything else to happen, of course, but if it did, it might give them some more information. "Let's see if James knows anything," she suggested finally. "If he doesn't, I suppose we'll have to let it drop, for the moment at least."

Finding out what James knew was easier said than done. Spending time with second years, even if they were his brother and cousin was something he considered beneath his dignity and then, even if they did manage to separate him from Robin and his other friends long enough to ask him anything, he was likely to tease by refusing to tell them anything they wanted to know. She didn't think he'd be able to resist bragging if he'd found out anything important, but even about that, she wasn't sure.

"James," she called to him after dinner, later in the week.

"Yeah, what do you want?" He rolled his eyes.

"You never told us if you found any, well, invisible items." She lowered her voice.

"Neither did you, pipsqueak."

"Let's get away from this crowd and I'll tell you if you'll tell me. Direct swap of information."

"You mean you've actually found something out?" He sounded incredulous.

"Not as much as I'd like to," she admitted, kicking herself for not having anything more impressive to tell him. "But I'll tell you what I do know. I can't say fairer than that."

"All right." He sighed. "This had better be worth it."

"I got Dora's trunk open," she told him once they'd retreated to an empty classroom, "but there was nothing there except a spare set of school robes."

"That's not really much of an achievement then!"

"I bet it's more than you've got!"

He paused for a moment. "Well, you've an advantage, haven't you, sharing a dormitory with her? I can't exactly get into the Slytherins dormitory, after all."

"Why not? Our parents got into their common room, didn't they?"

"Are you suggesting we brew Polyjuice potion?" He was openly snickering as he spoke.

"No, of course not. People's lives were in danger back then. Vandalising Remus's memorial might be nasty, but I don't think it justifies illegally brewing an extremely dangerous potion. I'm just saying it isn't actually impossible to get into other houses. It's been done in the past."

"I'd like to see you try!"

"Well, maybe it's not necessary. There must be other ways to find out who's behind this."

"I don't know." Albus finally joined the conversation. "It's seems like we've tried everything possible."

"And what have we learnt?" Rose asked in frustration. "That the person may or may not have been invisible and that they seem pretty talented at getting past protective spells. That's really the entire sum of our knowledge. Everything else we've learnt has been negative." She paused. "I still think it's significant Dora went to so much trouble to prevent anybody searching her trunk. If anything, the fact there was nothing much there makes it even stranger, don't you think?" She glanced from one of them to the other.

"What exactly are you suggesting?" James's tone was teasing and she'd the feeling he wasn't going to take whatever she said very seriously.

"I don't know. Maybe...maybe she'd something in it last term but brought it home at Christmas."

Not that it would help them much if that was the case . They could hardly go and search her house.

"So what do we do now?" Albus sounded slightly anxious.

Shee sighed. "I guess just wait and see if any bright ideas occur to us. If they don't, I guess we will have to let it drop."

"Let's just keep an eye out," James suggested. "You guys can easily keep an eye on Dora and I'll watch out for the terrible threesome."

 "And if any of us learn anything, we share information immediately," she said.  "Or as quickly as possible anyway. Sometimes things get in the way." She thought for a moment. "Scorpius would let us know if Victor or Phaedra say anything suspicious during Quidditch practice. They might, you know."

James raised his eyebrows. "Over two months after the event?"

"Yeah, yeah, I know, but it's worth a try, isn't it? If he'll do it."

He shrugged. "I suppose. I wouldn't exactly trust anything a Malfoy said, though. Strikes me he'd make a pretty good suspect himself!"

"Oh, Scorpius is all right," she insisted. "He's just a bit of a loner, that's all."

"If you say so." James smirked.

Unlike James, she didn't doubt Scorpius could be trusted, but she did wonder if he'd be willing to help them. Remus didn't matter to him, as he did to her and the Potter family and he certainly wouldn't be too anxious to risk antagonising Flint and his pals.

When she asked him, however, he reluctantly agreed.

"I'm not asking them anything," he clarified. "Or spying on them. Or anything like that. But if they say anything suspicious, I'll let you know."

"That's all I'm asking," she reassured him. "Thanks Scorpius."

He shrugged.

"You're welcome," he muttered, before walking away.

He'd have plenty of opportunity to overhear anything they might say over the coming weeks, she thought. Slytherin's match against Gryffindor was only weeks away, so they'd surely have plenty of practices coming up.

She doubted they would say anything incriminating though, even if they were involved. James was right; if they had been going to say something, they'd probably have done so before now. All the same, just knowing they were still investigating made her feel better. She really hadn't wanted to give up completely.

The first full moon of 2019 arrived towards the end of the month and the following day, Professor Cavendish again supervised the second year Ravenclaw's Transfiguration lesson.

"Great!" Rasmus muttered sarcastically. "He'll probably have forgotten what work Blackburn left for us again."

He was wrong. Cavendish had managed to remember the assignment they'd been given, but appeared utterly stumped when asked how long it should be.

"Erm, I don't know." He waved a hand dismissively. "Write as much as you can."

"But are we supposed to complete it for homework if it isn't a certain length?" Rasmus sounded exasperated.

 Cavendish paused for a moment.

"Oh, I don't think so," he finally said vaguely. "Just...just see how much you can get done in class. Now, where did I leave my own notes?" He rooted through the pile of papers on the desk, leaving Rose wondering if Blackburn would be able to find anything the following day.

"How could his notes be under those papers anyway?" she whispered to Albus. "He didn't touch any of them until after they went missing."

Albus shrugged and turned back to his assignment.

With the exception of Dora, who spent the time completing her Astronomy homework, most of them had a reasonable amount written by the time Cavendish drew the lesson to an end.

"And if they are too short, she can hardly blame us," Derek said. "He didn't tell us how much we'd to write."

"Just as well it's for Blackburn," Nathan said with feeling. "I'm not sure Fairfax'd accept that as an excuse."

"What are you worrying about anyway?" Derek asked him. "I saw you rolling up your assignment. It must have been about two feet long. No teacher could find fault with that."

Nathan shrugged and muttered something about how you never knew what teachers might find fault with.

He'd a point about Blackburn, Rose thought. She was usually pretty understanding, even immediately after a full moon, when she sometimes appeared a little less even-tempered than usual.

The following morning, Blackburn wasn't at breakfast.

"Think she'll be absent again today?" Derek asked.

"I doubt it," Rose replied before anybody else could. "She's missed breakfast after a transformation before and still been in class. She's probably just tired."

All the same, she couldn't help feeling slightly anxious and she suspected she wasn't the only one. 

Albus and Angie both seemed distracted during Defence Against the Dark Arts and she noticed Albus glancing repeatedly at his watch.

"Transfiguration next," he whispered to her.

She nodded, wishing he wouldn't remind her. Until they knew for sure Blackburn was in class, it was difficult to completely dismiss the possibility something'd gone wrong.

They packed up their things quickly once the class ended and hurried down the corridor.

As usual, Blackburn was waiting for them in the Transfiguration classroom but their relief was short-lived when they caught sight of her face. Her bottom lip was swollen and cut, angry scratch marks tore down her right cheek and the eye above them was red and bloodshot. Always pale after a full moon, she was now completely white.

For a moment, Rose couldn't help staring.

As if noticing her reaction, Blackburn raised a trembling hand to cover her cheek and Rose noticed her wrist was bandaged.

Angie paused at her desk.

"Are you all right, Professor?" she asked.

Blackburn raised her head slightly. "Yeah, thanks, Angie."

"What happened?" Rose asked, the words coming out before she could truly think about them.

"Don't ask me that, please!"

"Erm, sorry, Professor," she replied, slightly taken aback by her vehemence.

"It's all right, Rose. It's just, I really don't want to talk about it. All right?"

"Yeah, of course," she replied awkwardly. "I am sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

"You didn't," she said quickly. "It's all right." She glanced around wearily at the students, most of whom were still gathered around her desk. "Go and sit down, everybody, please, and let's just get started."

She fumbled with the textbook. Just turning the pages seemed to be giving her difficulty and Rose had the impression certain movements pained her.

Seeing Dora smirking, Rose glared at her. How she'd love to imitate Angie's response during their first Transfiguration class that year and give her a kick.

The strain began to show on Blackburn's face and finally, about fifteen minutes before the end of class, she paused and took a deep breath.

"Can you just continue reading the chapter silently and answer the questions at the end, please?"

The students muttered their agreement, exchanging concerned glances as she lowered her forehead onto her fingertips.

Eventually the lesson came to an end and the students gathered up their books.

Professor Blackburn glanced up.

"You can leave the rest of those questions. We'll finish them in class tomorrow."

"Thanks, Professor," Derek said.

Rose grabbed Albus's arm.

"Let's wait behind for a moment," she said quietly.

He looked a little doubtful, but didn't argue.

After the others had left, they approached the teacher's desk.



Rose paused for a moment, a little nervous of saying the wrong thing.

"Are you OK?" she asked finally.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll be fine." Blackburn looked up and forced a smile. "Really. Just go on to lunch, all right?"

"Aren't you coming?" Rose asked warily.

"I'm not very hungry." There was a  moment's pause, before she added, "honestly, Rose, there's nothing to worry about. I just want a few moments' peace and quiet, that's all. Go and have your lunch, both of you."

"All right," Rose said doubtfully, not entirely convinced there was nothing to worry about. In her opinion, Blackburn really didn't look well.

As they left the classroom, she noticed McGonagall coming towards them. Realising where she was probably headed, she again grabbed Albus's arm and pulled him around the nearby corner.

"Wha..?" he said in surprise.

"Shush," she hushed him and glanced around the corner.

She'd been right. McGonagall paused and knocked on the door of the Transfiguration classroom, then opened it and stepped inside.

"Now, come on," Rose whispered to Albus.

If only she'd her extendable ears, but they were in her dormitory, so they'd just have to manage as best they could with the good old-fashioned ear-to-the-door method.

Albus looked somewhat reluctant as he knelt down beside her, not that she paid much attention. She was far more interested in what was going on inside the classroom.

"How are you?" McGonagall was asking.


"You are most certainly not fine. And you know it." Despite everything, Rose almost laughed. McGonagall sounded as stern as if speaking to a student. Her voice softened. "You've been under a lot of pressure recently and then this transformation..."

"I don't want to talk about that," Blackburn blurted out. "I...I'm sorry Minerva, I didn't mean to interrupt you, but I just...I don't even want to think about it."

"I understand." McGonagall's tone was gentle. "But I am concerned about you, Lydia. It's obvious you're still in a good deal of pain."

"Poppy's given me a potion for that."

"That may well be, but potions can only do so much and she certainly didn't anticipate your returning to work this quickly. I believe she recommended you take at least another two days' complete rest."

There was a pause, but if Blackburn answered, it was too quietly to be heard from outside the room.

"There's no shame in taking some time off, Lydia," McGonagall continued. "You have absolutely nothing to prove, not to me or to anybody else."

"That isn't true though." Blackburn sounded close to tears. "The press are certain to get hold of this. I've just had Nott's daughter in that last class so if he doesn't already know what's happened, he soon will. And who knows what else she's seen or heard? That child is everywhere!"

"Is that what you're worrying about?" McGonagall asked quietly. "Lydia, I promise you, they are not going to be able to use this against you. If anything, it plays right into our hands. After all, this is exactly what the A.W.L. has been scaremongering about, the possibility the potion could fail..."

"And now it has." Blackburn sounded utterly defeated.

"And nobody was placed in any danger, even for a moment. The only person who was harmed was you. This proves the precautions are adequate, that we are not dependant on one potion as they've so often implied. I don't think they'll want to draw too much attention to it. It can be too easily used to refute everything they've been saying."

"I don't think I can handle this being debated publicly."  Blackburn's voice was shaky.

"Hopefully, you won't have to. Try not to worry about it; the stress isn't good for you. Just take the rest of the day off and go to bed. And that isn't advice, it's an instruction. You're in no fit state to be teaching, not physically or emotionally." A smile entered her voice as she added, "and if I remember correctly, you've some difficult classes this afternoon."

"I'll have to face them sometime." But the protest sounded almost perfunctory.  

"Yes, but preferably once you've had a proper rest and are feeling a whole lot better than you do right now."

Blackburn sighed. "I am sorry about this, Minerva."

"Nonsense, Lydia, you have nothing to apologise for. It's a medical condition, that's all. You can't help being unwell. Now, you should probably go to Poppy and get something to help you sleep. You need some rest."

Hearing the teachers rising from their chairs, Rose and Albus got quickly to their feet.

"Back around the corridor," Rose whispered so quietly she wasn't sure if Albus heard her. McGonagall would not be pleased to find they'd been eavesdropping.

After they'd concealed themselves, McGonagall and Blackburn emerged from the classroom, McGonagall's arm around Blackburn's shoulder.

They waited until they were sure the teachers had passed before slipping out of their hiding place and hurrying to the Great Hall.

"Where were you?" Derek asked as they joined the Ravenclaw table.

"Tell you later," Rose replied, before Albus could enlighten him. There was no way she wanted to risk Dora overhearing where they'd been or what they'd heard.

Actually, thinking about it, she wasn't sure if they should tell anybody. What they'd overheard had been pretty private, after all.

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