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With fifth year upon them, Albus and his friends should be concentrating on their upcoming O.W.L. exams, figuring out possible careers, and making the most of their rapidly disappearing time at Hogwarts. But with a mysterious new Potions professor, a new Minister of Magic, and a string of murders, exams and careers are the last things on any of their minds.
“You’re mad, Albus, completely mad,” Matt said as they sat doing homework in the Marauder’s Den with John, Rose, Kaden, and Amanda after class on Monday. “Why would you want to spend extra time in potions?”
“So he can figure out what’s in Burke’s mystery cauldron,” Rose answered, not looking up from her arithmancy book. “That’s all he cares about.”
“I just overheard a first year telling another one about how the murder victim was half mermaid and that’s why they’re keeping everything quiet,” John said breathlessly as he joined Albus and Amanda in Care of Magical Creatures.
“That’s ridiculous,” Amanda said, not looking up from her sketch of the crup Hagrid had provided for the day’s lesson. “Where have you been, anyway?”
James groaned and started pacing in front of the fire. “It’s not that simple. She was getting clingy. I didn’t want to spend every night with her this week. All I wanted was a few hours of snogging! And someone to go to Hogsmeade with.”
“Classy, James,” Amanda said. “You’re really building a case for yourself there.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone else,” Albus said. “You know that Ravenclaw prefect, Meg Johnson? She likes you for some bizarre reason.”
“What kind of school do you think you’re running, Kendrick?!”
Albus turned back to the doors, where Professor Burke stood, his robes and hair even more askew than they had been in the hospital wing the previous day. He was breathing heavily, and he looked ready to hex anyone or anything in his path. He stomped up the aisle to the staff table, his eyes fixed on Kendrick.
“Why is my classroom filled with desks and Arithmancy texts?” Burke demanded. “And where the bloody hell-”
“Not as creepy as Devon Wright,” James muttered, nodding at the Beater who landed him in the hospital wing the previous year. Judging by the grin she was giving James right now, her crush hadn’t fizzled in the slightest.
Albus laughed. “Oh, come on. Suppose Meg Johnson doesn’t work out. I’m sure Devon would love to go to Hogsmeade with you in December.”
“Players, mount your brooms!” Professor Oteski shouted.
Amanda sighed. “Again, why would he store a load of gold at Hogwarts?”
“Safest place in the world, Hagrid always says.”
“Only if the Headmaster is in on it. Plus, think about everything famous that has ever been stored at Hogwarts. They’ve all been stolen, or people have at least tried. The Sorcerer’s Stone. Ravenclaw’s diadem. The Elder wand. Stuff never stays hidden here.”
“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.”
“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 stopped short when they reached the stone gargoyle. It was as solid and unmoving as ever, reminding Albus that he hadn’t been in Kendrick’s study since first year and had no idea what the password was.
“Is this the entrance?” Matt asked, looking skeptically at the gargoyle.
“Yeah, but I don’t know what the password is. It was ‘rubber duck’ in first year,” Albus explained.
“Dammit!” Matt said as his eyes darted around the corridor. “Now what am I supposed to do? What about Longbottom? Where does he live?”
“Well, I’m starving. What say we get lunch?” John suggested as he stood up. “Then I’ve got to do that Potions essay.”
Rose laughed. “You, volunteering to do homework on a Saturday?”
John sighed. “I’ve come to accept it.”
“Good. I’m thinking we can devote each day of the week to a different subject, doing two subjects on Saturdays and possibly Sundays to fit them all in. I’ve drawn up schedules and I give you each one when we go back to the common room after lunch, and then we can…”
There was much talk in the Great Hall at breakfast on May 31st. The Prophet had reached new levels of insanity, publishing not only a life story of Young and restating everything they’d already published about Michael Sheldon’s murder, but also a description of his arrest, in which Auror Johnson greatly exaggerated his own heroics.
“This is utter crap,” Matt said, tossing the paper onto the table. He looked exhausted and Albus doubted whether he’d gotten any sleep after he recovered in the wee hours of the morning. “He didn’t put up any sort of struggle that I heard."
Albus turned to John, who hadn’t said a word, which was very unlike him. He was staring at the examiners, who had reached the staff table and were now sitting down and beginning to eat, chatting pleasantly with the professors.
“John?” Albus asked.
“Our futures depend on them,” John whispered. “How weird is that?”
“Our futures depend on us,” Rose corrected. “All they do is mark our exams. We’re the ones who have to do the magic. So let’s go study.”
Albus stared from Matt to Boone and back again. Without a word, Matt walked over to the bed, sat down, and put his head between his legs, his wand abandoned next to him. If Boone was surprised by this, he didn’t show it. Instead, he merely waited until Matt lifted his head back up and was paying attention once more. Albus stepped closer to Matt, lifting his wand higher, despite the ache in his arm. Matt did not get up from his spot on the bed.
“I’ll stay as long as your parents will let me,” John said. “Gemma is going to be unbearable this summer. She’s starting Hogwarts in September.”
“So are Samantha and Lindy,” Albus said. “Georgia, Bradley, and Cedric’s little sisters.”
“And Bethany,” Kaden said. “If she’s a witch, that is. I think she probably is, since last summer she blew up the TV when her favorite program wasn’t on. Aunt Marge ran from the house. I thought she might never come back, but I don’t have that kind of luck.”