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Chapter 8 : In Which Questions Are Asked
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We’ve been back at school for a week, now. Where are you? Are you getting these letters? I can kind of imagine you sitting somewhere sunny with a cigarette, reading my words and then tossing them in the sea and letting them float away. You don’t like taking things too seriously.
I know you won’t like that I’m starting to worry. But I can’t help it, Cass. This is the longest I’ve gone without speaking to you since we were eleven. It’s hard not having you here.
Scor’s been super grumpy. I don’t know if he’s written to you? He probably has, but he wouldn’t tell me about it. He misses you, obviously. If you don’t want to write back to me then maybe you could at least write to him?
It’s been strange here. I’ve ended up spending a load of time with Albus Potter?! Not quite sure how it happened - I blame you. I’ve got prefect patrols with him and he’s my potions partner. He’s actually alright. Surprisingly so.
If you’re getting these letters could you write back? Please? Just to let me know you’re okay.
I hope you’re having a wonderful time wherever you are, breaking hearts and drinking cocktails and pretending to be royalty.
I sealed the letter and gave it to Mercury to deliver to Cass. He always came back without the letters so he must have been taking them somewhere, but I didn’t know if they were being read.
Scor was tapping his foot impatiently, always keen to get to breakfast early, so we left the Owlery quickly and made our way down to the Great Hall.
“She won’t write back, you know,” he said as we sat down.
“Cass. If she hasn’t replied by now she’s not going to.” He sounded bitter and didn’t look at me as he loaded his plate with eggs and bacon.
I poured a glass of orange juice and held onto the cup without drinking.
“Why would you say that?”
“Because it’s Cassie. Look, she’s either able to reply or…not able to reply,” Scor said with a swallow. “I, well, I can’t think that she’s not able to reply, so let’s say she’s capable. If she hasn’t done it already it’s because she’s bored of us or whatever. She’ll be enjoying the idea of us worrying and thinking about her, and she’ll think it’s mildly entertaining that she’s caused a fuss, but she won’t care enough to contact us.”
I wanted to tell him to shut up, that what he was saying wasn’t true, but I couldn’t. He knows Cass just as well as I do, probably even better.
An owl dropped two envelopes down onto the table in front of me.
I turned to grin at Scor. “Speak too soon?”
He turned over the envelopes and shook his head when he saw the handwriting. “They’re not from Cassie. Your parents. A letter from each.”
“You want me to read them for you?” Scor put down his coffee cup.
I nodded and took a gulp of my orange juice. Letters from my parents are a horrid start to the day. I usually try to avoid them.
Scor slid his finger under the flap of an envelope and glanced over the contents before reading the other. I munched on marmalade toast and watched the owls above us.
“Well, it’s nothing too bad,” Scor finally said, looking away from the letters and back at me.
“Mum suggesting weight loss potions?”
“Little bit,” Scor said with a grimace. He thoroughly disapproves of my mother’s parenting techniques. “She seems to think I might take a bit more notice of you if you lose a few more pounds.”
“I see. Is that true?” I took another piece of toast.
Scor reached out and pinched my cheek. “Nah. You look lovely.”
“You’re all cuddly looking. Like a pygmy puff,” Scor said, beaming like this was a compliment.
“Pygmy puffs are spherical, Scor.”
He nodded seriously and then laughed. “You’re gorgeous, Ollie. You know that. You definitely don’t need to lose weight. If I didn’t have Cassie I’d go out with you right now, if you weren’t, well, you’re just also my…you know.”
“Sister-type-thing?” I spoke with my mouth full.
“Yeah. It would be weird. And I find it pretty repulsive how you speak with food in your mouth, so that would be a problem for our hypothetical love,” he said, grinning. “The rest of her letter’s pretty much the same as usual. She misses you, she hopes you’re not forgetting about your skincare regime….blah blah blah….she loves you and could you write back soon.”
Scor scrunched one of the letters into a ball.
“Fantastic. And Dad?”
“Says he needs to talk to you as soon as possible.”
“I don’t know. That’s all he says. Dear Olivia, I need to talk to you as soon as possible. From Andrew.” Scor scowled at the letter as if it had offended him. It probably had. Scor’s parents always make a point to say they love him in their letters. Apparently Mr Malfoy’s father didn’t show him enough affection when he was growing up, and he’s resolved to do the opposite for his son. It makes Scor furious that my father doesn’t say he loves me.
“Chuck them both. I might write back to Mum at some point but Dad can be left alone to think about his life choices,” I said, finishing my toast. “What class do you have?”
“Free period. I’m going to go flying. Come?”
“Nah, I’ve got Herbology. I should probably go now. Walk with me?”
“Haha. No. Dropping Herbology was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ll see you in Transfiguration after.”
I stuck my tongue out at him and lifted my bag onto my shoulder. Herbology’s another lesson I usually share with Cassie, and it wasn’t much fun without her. Joe had moved from his usual spot to work with me but I missed my best friend.
When I arrived at the greenhouses most of the class was already there. Joe waved me over and passed me the protective gloves I’d left behind last lesson.
Professor Longbottom stood at the front of the class, pruning a wilting flutterby bush while the rest of the class filed in, and then looked up.
“Okay team,” he said with a smile, stroking the flutterby bush with one had. “Today we’re, erm, polishing the venomous tentaculas.”
He frowned as the whole class groaned. Polishing the venomous tentaculas is difficult. It involves focus, otherwise you’re at risk of getting badly bitten, and you have to avoid being slapped by fanged tentacles because the plants are very ticklish. We’d learnt how to deal with them the previous term and none of us particularly wanted to revisit the topic.
“You know the drill,” Longbottom said. “Get into groups of four. The polish is on my desk.”
Al and Rose came over from their place across the room.
“Partners?” Rose smiled while she put on her gloves.
“Of course,” Joe said, beaming. He likes working with Rose because she gets him good marks.
I held back the points of the tentacles with Joe, letting Rose mix the polish and Al carefully brush it down the underside of the plant.
Venomous tentaculas need regular polishing to protect them from parasites and make them more resilient to the weather. I’m generally of the opinion that we should forget the polishing and just let them die. They’re evil. But apparently Professor Longbottom doesn’t agree.
When we’d covered about a quarter of the plant, Longbottom came over to see how we were doing, making approving noises.
“This all looks good. Maybe the four of you should work together more often. You’re getting a thicker coat than usual. How…?”
“I added another block of resin to the polish,” Rose said with a smile. “I thought if it was thicker the plant would be more water-resistant and then might need polishing less often.”
“That’s a brilliant idea, Rose. Your Potions talent coming into play, I see,” Longbottom said with a proud smile. He’s another teacher that’s like family to the Wotter clan.
“It was just a thought,” Rose said, her cheeks flushing pink.
I could imagine Cassie’s response to this exchange, her scorn at Rose’s fake modesty, and the favouritism offered by the teachers. But this time it didn’t seem that way at all. Rose had done some good work and it had been acknowledged.
“If you carry on like this all four of you can expect very good marks in this class,” Longbottom said, watching Al trickle polish over some of the exposed veins on the tentacula. “That looks really good, Al.”
“Thanks,” Al said, putting down his brush to grin at his teacher.
“I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you. Your parents said you might be struggling with all this gossip in the news,” Longbottom said.
Al looked uncomfortable and gave an awkward shrug. “It’s not ideal.”
“I remember Harry struggling with something similiar in our fourth year,” Longbottom said. “They’re horrible, these journalists. You’re just a kid.”
“It’s fine. It’ll go away,” Al said.
“That’s the spirit.” Longbottom smiled. “Well, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Don’t forget that I’m your godfather as well as your teacher.”
Al grinned. “I’m fine. But thanks.”
Longbottom turned away to help Clara Zabini, who’d been scratched by the edge of her plant, and Rose smiled at Al.
“He’s just looking out for you,” Rose said, rubbing Al’s arm.
“I know. Maybe I’ll ask him to put Louis in some kind of revolting detention, harvesting bubotuber pus or something.”
“Maybe you should give Louis a break. It’s been a week, and he’s really sorry,” Rose said, watching Al sadly.
I felt sorry for her, having her two best friends and cousins arguing like this. Rose, Al and Louis were as much a trio as Scor, Cassie and I, and it couldn’t be easy for her to see them hating each other.
“He should be really sorry.” Al glared at the tentacle he was polishing and it curled dangerously towards him. Joe caught it in his gloved hand and pulled it flat.
“He was blind drunk. He hardly even remembers what happened.”
“That doesn’t make it any better. He should stop fucking drinking if he does things like this,” Al said, his temper visibly starting to rise. I took a step away from him.
“Well, yes,” Rose said quietly. “We’ve all been telling him that for months. I don’t know why he does it. But maybe you could at least speak to him?”
“No,” Al said shortly.
Rose looked like she might say something else, but then the door to the greenhouses opened and Professor McGonagall swept in, glancing around the room before turning to speak to Professor Longbottom.
“Neville,” she said crisply. “Could I borrow Miss Bell? I’d like a word with her in my office.”
Joe looked at me questioningly and I shrugged. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wasn’t sure why I’d need to talk with the Headmistress.
“Of course. Leave your things, Miss Bell. Unless you think she’ll be gone the rest of the lesson?” Longbottom directed his question to McGonagall.
“Leave your things. We shouldn’t be too long,” McGonagall said.
I nodded and followed her out of the room, aware that I was being watched by the majority of the class. It was unusual to be pulled out of class.
“What’s this about, Professor? Did I do something wrong?” I really wasn’t sure why I’d need to speak to her.
“It’s nothing to worry about, Bell,” she said, her voice making it clear that it wasn’t worth asking questions.
I followed her up to her office, genuinely confuse about what I was doing. Part of me kept thinking back to my father’s letter - I need to talk to you as soon as possible - but marching up to the school and pulling me out of class wasn’t really his style, and anything that demanded such drastic measures would surely have been mentioned in my mother’s letter as well.
When we arrived at McGonagall’s office the door opened in front of us and Scor stepped out, looking furious.
I caught his hand, wanting to ask what was wrong, but he shook me off.
“I’ll talk to you in Transfiguration,” he said, his voice quiet and cross, walking away without giving me the chance to respond.
McGonagall and I entered the office and I winced when I saw the two Ministry witches sitting by her desk. They both looked young and friendly, and smiled as we walked towards them, but I couldn’t think of any good reason why I needed to meet with them.
“You must be Olivia. I’m Elena,” one of the witches said, holding out a hand for me to shake. She had thick red hair and a complexion that wouldn’t look out of place on a Weasley, but I was pretty sure none of them were called Elena.
“And I’m Clementine. It’s lovely to meet you,” the other witch said with a smile. “We work with the Magical Law Enforcement Department at the Ministry.”
My thoughts were still on my father and his letter. Magical Law Enforcement. What in Merlin’s name had he done?
But that couldn’t be right. Why would Scor be questioned about my father?
“We wanted to have a quick chat with you about your friend Cassandra,” Clementine said, a wide, false smile pasted onto her face.
“What about her?” I frowned, unsure why Cassie would be anything to do with MLE.
“Sit down, sweetheart,” Clementine said, patting the chair beside her.
I remained standing.
“It’s nothing for you to worry about,” Elena said quickly. “Cassandra’s underage, so her…disappearance has to be taken seriously by the Ministry.”
“We’ve been told you’re close friends with her. We thought you might have some ideas about where she could be?” Elena seemed more professional than Clementine, her eyes were serious and her smile genuine.
“I already told Professor Slughorn I don’t know where she is,” I said, watching Professor McGonagall to see if she’d tell me I could leave. She gave a small shake of her head and I sighed.
“Yes, we’ve heard that,” Clementine said. “But we want to be really clear that we’re not trying to get you or your friend in trouble. We’re looking out for her safety.”
“We need to be able to account for all underage witches and wizards so that we know they’re safe,” Elena said. “If it’s really true that nobody knows where Cassandra is then the matter needs to be taken very seriously.”
“I said I don’t know, and Scor doesn’t either.”
“Yes. We’ve spoken to him,” Clementine said.
“So can I go now? I have class,” I said.
“You really don’t have anything you’d like to tell us? Don’t be nervous. By helping us you’re helping Cassandra,” Clementine said, beaming. It must be tiring to hold on to such a wide smile.
“I don’t know where Cassie is. She’s not responded to any of my letters.”
“Okay. Well, thanks for trying,” Elena said with a soothing smile. “We’ll keep you informed of any developments in the case.”
I didn’t like that they were referring to Cassie’s disappearance as a ‘case’. It made it sound like she was in danger, or at least in some kind of trouble.
“Do you have any suggestions of anyone we could speak to who might know more?” Clementine looked at me, seeming disappointed in my lack of knowledge. “Maybe she’s confided in somebody else?”
“She’s my best friend and Scor’s girlfriend. I don’t know why she’d talk to someone else,” I snapped, suddenly feeling defensive.
“Of course,” Elena said, shooting Clementine a glare. “We’ve spoken to her brother as well, and he’s said the same as you.”
“Her mother was completely unhelpful,” Clementine said quietly, with a scowl.
“Yes. Well, thank you for your time. I’ll leave my contact details with Minerva. Please do get in touch if you hear anything from your friend,” Elena said, standing up and reaching to shake my hand again.
“Can I go back to Herbology now?” I directed the question at McGonagall rather than Elena. She gave a small incline of her head and I left without saying anything more to the MLE workers.
They’d annoyed me, questioning me in a way that made it clear they thought I was lying to cover for Cass. I kind of understood why they’d think it - if Cassie had told me where she was and didn’t want to be found, I would absolutely keep it a secret from the teachers and the MLE workers - but given that she hadn’t decided to keep me informed their questioning felt insulting.
I was in a bad mood when I got back to Herbology. Al put a hand on the small of my back, obviously meaning to be comforting, but I stepped away from him without acknowledging it.
“What did they want, Liv?” Rose spoke carefully, obviously recognising that I was cross and not wanting to make it worse.
“MLE officers. They were asking about Cassie,” I said, grabbing one of the tentacula tentacles so Joe could polish it.
“Do they know where she is?” Joe put down the brush he was holding to look at me.
“Of course not. If she doesn’t want to be found they’re not going to find her,” I said dismissively.
“So what were they asking?” Joe looked confused.
“They think I know where she is. They want me to tell her.”
“So did you tell them anything?” Joe stepped closer to me, recognising my anger. The tentacle squirmed in my hand and I tightened my grip, careful to avoid the thorns. I hadn’t put my gloves back on yet and their scratches could be dangerous.
“Do you know anything?” Al said.
“No. I don’t know, Potter,” I said, frustrated. “And I’ve told them that. She hasn’t bothered to let me know where she is, or if she’s okay, or if she’s planning to come back. I don’t know. And I don’t know why they’re bothering to ask.”
I squeezed the tentacle I was holding without thinking, and it flicked out of my hand before gripping my wrist in its fangs. I let out a small scream and Al was immediately by my side, trying to pull back the plant.
“Diffindo,” Rose muttered, cutting through the other end of the tentacle so Al could pull my arm out of its grasp.
My wrist was purple and swollen, already pulsating strangely in the bright greenhouse light.
Longbottom rushed over and looked dismayed.
“Miss Bell! You need to get straight to the hospital wing before the poison gets too far into your bloodstream,” he said, looking flustered. The venomous tentacula is, unsurprisingly, venomous, and it was no surprise that he was panicking. “Um, oh no, why weren’t you wearing gloves? You need medical attention immediately. Erm, Al, go with her, won’t you? Make sure Madam Bulstrode knows what happened?”
“Sure,” Al said, grabbing my good arm and dragging me towards the greenhouse door. I was feeling woozy and was grateful for his support.
Joe shouted out that he’d pack my stuff up for me and Al thanked him on my behalf, which was good because I wasn’t sure I’d manage to get the words out.
We pretty much ran to the hospital wing, Al not letting go of me. Venomous tentacula bites are pretty treatable if you get to a healer quickly, but can be fatal if left too long.
Waves of dizziness kept hitting me, and in the end Al shrugged and picked me up, carrying me the last few staircases to the Hospital Wing.
I sat down on the bed he placed me on and held tightly onto his hand, vaguely aware of him telling Madam Bulstrode what had happened. His voice was anxious and low, and he squeezed my hand as he spoke.
Then a potion was poured down my throat, making me feel for a moment like my insides were on fire, and the world came back into focus.
Al was beside me, looking worried but grinning.
“Welcome back, Liv,” he said.
“Hi,” I said shakily. “So, um, I take it you shouldn’t hold onto the venomous tentaculas too tightly?”
“It would seem so,” Al said.
Madam Bulstrode tutted. “I don’t know why they keep those things in the school. You could suffer much more than this from one of those bites. It’s irresponsible.”
Madam Bulstrode is an enormous woman with a mean face. Most of the school hate her, but she was a Slytherin herself and has always had a soft spot for us. She’s alright really, a little obsessed with the welfare of her cat, but her heart’s in the right place and she’ll always turn a blind eye when we sneak in to steal her hangover potions.
“I’ll have a word with Professor Longbottom about this, mark my words,” she said loftily, wrapping a bright white bandage tightly around my wrist and sealing it with her wand.
“Nah, it was my fault,” I said, leaning back into my pillows. “I wasn’t being careful.”
“If you say so, dear,” she said with a frown, and then the door opened and she turned to help a green-faced first year being escorted in by the flying teacher.
I realised I was still holding Al’s hand and quickly let go.
“You didn’t need to come with me. I was fine,” I said, not looking directly at him.
“Course you were. That’s why I had to carry you halfway here when you collapsed,” Al said. I could practically hear him rolling his eyes.
“Well, you didn’t need to stay.”
“It’s no problem. I wanted to make sure you were okay. Anyway, it got me out of Transfiguration,” he said with a grin. “And I haven’t done the homework so I was looking for an excuse.”
“Have we missed Transfiguration? I didn’t realise we’d been here so long.” I’m not very good at Transfiguration. Scor sits with me and helps me. Missing the first lesson back probably wasn’t ideal.
“Nearly. Bulstrode says we should stay here until lunch to make sure all the poison’s completely left your system. You feel okay?” He looked concerned and reached out to squeeze my hand again.
“Yeah, I’m completely fine. I should have been paying better attention.” I pulled my hand away from him. I was cross with him for being overly concerned, but was more cross with myself for letting my frustration about Cassie interfere with my concentration. It had caused me a lot of unnecessary pain and I hated that Al Potter had needed to help me.
“Nah, don’t worry about it. You’ve been having a rough time. Everyone gets distracted. We’ve still got fifteen minutes till lunch. You want to play exploding snap?”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about Al saying I’d been having a rough time, given that he’d spent the term so far reading horrible stories about himself in gossip columns and discovering his ex-girlfriend in a broom cupboard with his best friend, but I didn’t think there was much point telling him that.
We spent the remaining time in the Hospital Wing playing exploding snap with a pack of cards so old that most of the explosion charms had worn away, making it much less dangerous than usual, and then left for lunch together. I thought Al would leave to find his Gryffindor crew, but he seemed perfectly happy to stay with me, laughing and chatting about Longbottom’s reaction to me getting bitten.
“I love the guy, but really,” Al was saying. “How did he fight in a war? With that kind of response to a crisis? I mean…” his voice trailed away.
I looked up and it was immediately obvious why he’d stopped talking. Scor was standing outside the Great Hall, arms folded, a scowl etched deeply onto his face.
“Malfoy. Hi,” Al said, clearing his throat. He sounded guilty, like he’d been doing something wrong. I could kind of understand the feeling. The look on Scor’s face wasn’t a happy one.
“Where have you been?” Scor didn’t look at Al, instead choosing to glare at me. “Why weren’t you in Transfig? I wanted to talk to you.”
“Hospital Wing. I got bitten,” I said, lifting up my bandaged arm to show him.
Scor’s eyes widened slightly but he still looked angry.
“You could have told me.”
“I’ll just, erm, see you later,” Al muttered, squeezing my arm briefly before rushing to get into the Hall and away from us. I waited for him to get inside before glaring back at Scor.
“How could I have told you? That’s not fair, Scor. I missed one lesson. What is there to be angry about?”
“I’ve been waiting for you. I didn't know where you were, and didn’t know who I could ask, and then you’re laughing with Potter?”
“Yes. Potter took me to the Hospital Wing because I had venom running through me and needed to get there as soon as possible. You really have a problem with that?”
“I got bitten. I told you that. Now are you going to tell me what’s wrong? Or are we going to stand here and fight about nothing because you’re in a bad mood?”
Scor hunched his shoulders, suddenly looking defeated.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
It’s unusual for him to apologise, so I stepped towards him and put my good arm around his waist, giving him a kind of half hug.
He put one arm around my shoulders and drew me closer. “I just wanted to talk to you about the MLE officers. They were asking me about Cassie. A lot. It felt like I was in trouble or something and I wanted to see what they said to you, and then I couldn’t find you, and…”
I’d forgotten how scared Scor is of Magical Law Enforcement. When he was little they used to go round to his house all the time to check up on his father. It was some kind of condition of his not going to prison after the war, and Mr Malfoy would always be terrified before their visits. He’s done his time now and they don’t check up on him anymore, but Scor has a lot of memories of being a little boy watching his father falling apart, and his fear of the officers who used to scare his daddy hasn’t gone away.
“It’s fine, Scor,” I said, pulling away from him and smiling. “Don’t worry about it. Come on. Let’s get some lunch.”
I could feel Al watching me from across the Hall, concerned, but didn’t look back at him as I sat down with Scor, complaining about Clementine and her fake smile and Elena’s pretend concern. A little part of me felt guilty for ignoring Al after all his help, but Scor had been my friend for a long time and I wasn’t really sure I could talk to both of them.
“Are you listening? Ollie?” Scor poked me with his spoon.
I jumped. “Sorry. Drifted away. What were you saying?”
“We should have known that officer would be useless. She looked like a goddamn Weasley,” Scor said with a laugh.
I laughed halfheartedly along with him, but nothing about his comment really felt funny.
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