Chapter 10 : Malfoy's Secret
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But even more uncomfortable than walking in on Malfoy snogging someone was this. Standing inside an empty classroom while Malfoy sat on a desk in front of him, an anguished look on his face, his hands shaking not unlike Matt’s did whenever he was particularly anxious about something. He wished Emily had gotten dragged into the room along with him. Then he’d at least have someone to exchange awkward looks with.
“Swear to me, Albus,” Malfoy said.
That snapped Albus out of his thoughts. Malfoy never called him anything other than ‘Potter.’
“Swear to me you won’t tell,” Malfoy whispered, not making eye contact. “I’ve kept Eckerton’s secret for years. You owe me.”
“Swear I won’t tell anyone what? That you were snogging someone in a broom cupboard? I get that’s embarrassing, but you won’t believe the amount of people I catch doing that. Sure, most of them are fourth year or below, but other prefects have caught the occasional fifth or sixth year-“
“Not that,” Malfoy interrupted. The more awkward the situation, the more Albus rambled. “Not that I was snogging someone. That I was….that I was snogging Marcus. And not…you know…a girl.”
“Oh,” Albus said, staring at his feet. “I wouldn’t tell anyone that. But it’s not a big deal-”
Malfoy let out a sharp laugh. “You wouldn’t understand. Just swear to me you won’t tell.”
“Ok, I swear,” Albus said, holding up his hands.
“And tell Rhodes she can’t tell anyone either,” Malfoy said quietly as he got off the desk. “If I find out you told…I swear to god, Al, the whole school will know Eckerton’s a werewolf by morning.”
Albus debated reminding Malfoy that if he ever told anyone about Matt’s lycanthropy he’d be expelled, but three seconds later Malfoy was out the door, running down the corridor, leaving a bewildered Emily standing just outside the door.
“Did you know he was gay?” Emily asked once Malfoy rounded the corner.
“No,” Albus said, shrugging. “He doesn’t want us telling anyone.”
Emily nodded. “I wouldn’t ever out him.”
“Me either,” Albus said. As much as he disliked Malfoy, he wouldn’t ever do that.
They continued their patrol in silence, the whole time Albus thinking about Malfoy’s strange behavior since the start of the year. The whole time he’d attributed it to Malfoy’s grandfather’s death, but maybe it was more.
“Well…?” Rose asked the next morning at breakfast as Albus sat down next to her.
“Well what?” Albus asked.
Rose groaned. “Emily. Did you ask her to Hogsmeade or not?”
Albus’s stomach clenched. Emily. Hogsmeade. In all the drama of walking in on Malfoy snogging a bloke Albus had completely forgotten to ask Emily to Hogsmeade. “I forgot,” he muttered.
“What do you mean you forgot?” Rose replied. “Honestly.”
“Something…came up during the patrol,” Albus said quietly.
Rose’s eyes widened. “Neither you or Emily put anything in the report.”
“You already read the report?” Albus asked, incredulous.
“Of course I did. I read them right after I get them. How else am I to stay informed? But seriously, Al, if something happened that made you forget to ask Emily to Hogsmeade, it was big enough to put in the report.”
“It wasn’t that big. Just two people snogging in a broom cupboard,” Albus said. He wasn’t lying, technically. He was just leaving out a bit of information. And he wasn’t breaking his promise to Malfoy, either.
Rose rolled her eyes. “You ought to be used to that by now. But you should go ask Emily now, before class. I just saw her at the Ravenclaw table.”
Rose was right, of course. Albus hastily shoved another piece of bacon into his mouth and set off for the Ravenclaw table where Emily sat, alone, reading a book. It was some miracle she wasn’t surrounded by all her friends.
“Er, Emily?” Albus asked.
“Oh, hi, Albus,” Emily said, looking up from her book and porridge.
“Can I talk to you? Er…outside?”
“Sure,” she said, smiling.
The Entrance Hall was empty, save for a few Slytherins on their way up from the dungeons. Albus led Emily to the oak front doors and pushed them open. There was a chill to the air, but not an uncomfortable one.
“Is this about last night?” Emily asked as they walked a few feet out onto the grounds.
“No,” Albus said, sitting down on a nearby rock. Emily sat next to him. “It’s…it’s about Hogsmeade. You know, the Hogsmeade visit coming up?” What was he saying? Of course she knew. He was an idiot.
Emily smiled. “Yes, Al, I know the Hogsmeade visit.”
“I was wondering if you wanted to…er, go with me. That is, if you’re going…?” Albus sputtered. He could feel his cheeks turning red.
“Yes, I’m going. And yes, I’d like to go with you,” Emily answered, still smiling.
“Ok. Well, should we meet around 10? In the Entrance Hall?”
“That sounds good,” Emily said, getting up. “I have to get to class. I’ll see you then, Albus.”
“See you,” Albus said.
Albus took a few deep breaths and waited until Emily was back in the castle before getting up. He’d done it. She’d said yes.
Rose had a satisfied smirk on her face when Albus returned to the Gryffindor table. “What’s so funny?” Albus asked.
“Emily looked very happy when she got back,” Rose said, gesturing to the Ravenclaw table, where Emily and a few of her friends had their heads together. “Bet they’re talking about you.”
Albus, whose cheeks had finally returned to a normal color, now felt them grow warm again. “Shut up.”
“Oh, it’s not a bad thing,” Rose said. “She’s probably talking about how cute you are.”
“Just leave it,” Albus said. “Maybe you should ask Justin Brink.”
Now it was Rose’s turn to turn red. “Shut up, Al.”
“Head Boy and Head Girl? It’d be perfect,” Albus said.
“What about the Head Boy and Head Girl?” John asked as he and Matt sat down across from them.
“Nothing,” Rose said. “We were just discussing how Al has a date for the Hogsmeade trip.”
“Emily?” John asked. “Nice. I’m going with Hannah Nottingham. You know, that sixth year Hufflepuff with the braids down to her waist?”
“When did that happen?” Matt asked, as he loaded his plate with eggs and bacon.
“Last night in the library. And before you start, Rose, yes, I was in the library. Kaden and I were researching spells for Mischief Night and Hannah came up to me and asked.”
“She asked you?” Rose said.
“Yes. It’s the 21st century. Girls can ask blokes to Hogsmeade.”
“It wasn’t that I was shocked by. It was the fact that she was asking you.”
“Hey.” John faked offense. “I’m a Quidditch player now. Girls like that.”
John wasn’t wrong. Even Albus has noticed the stares John got from girls, and a few blokes, as they walked down the corridors. He was a six foot five inch Quidditch player and captain who was just enough of a trouble maker that it was entertaining. Girls did tend to like that, Albus had noticed.
Albus, however, was not entirely sure he liked John as a Quidditch captain. They’d now had a little over a month of practices with John as captain and Albus felt he could now safely say that John was the most ruthless captain he’d ever suffered under. When he’d mentioned to Albus that they’d be running every practice, he hadn’t been kidding. They spent the first half an hour of every practice running around the pitch and then doing other exercises including crunches and sit-ups. No matter the weather.
The pleasantly chilly weather of the morning had given way to a blustery rain storm that evening. Albus gazed toward the rock where he’d asked Emily out earlier that day and could hardly believe it had just been that morning. His robes were soaked through, his hair sopping wet, and his shoes were now more filled with mud than they were with feet.
“Your brother never made us run through the mud,” Harrison Watts muttered as he caught up to Albus.
“Go, go, go!” John shouted over the wind. “One more minute and then we’ll fly!”
“We can’t fly in this!” Janie shouted. “You’re mad, John, barking mad!”
“Yeah, this is the sort of weather James crashed in!” Elias Graham added.
They converged upon the broom shed that was attached to the changing rooms. John, as always had reached the end of their running circuit first. Despite the wind and the rain, John had a grin plastered all over his face and Albus felt a strong desire to slap him. Judging from the sullen looks of his teammates, they all wanted to as well.
“It’s just a bit of rain,” John said.
“Can’t we reschedule for tomorrow night?” Janie suggested.
“I can’t. I’ve got prefect patrol,” Albus said.
“Plus, Hufflepuff’s got the pitch tomorrow,” John said. “Tonight and Thursday are the only nights we’ve got booked. Plus I managed to get Saturday afternoon, but that won’t be an every week thing.”
“Running in the rain isn’t going to make us win the Cup,” Elias said.
John sighed. “Fifteen minutes. Then we’ll call it. Go on, get up to the hoops.”
The whole team groaned, but shouldered their brooms and set off toward the middle of the pitch. John made to follow them, but Albus grabbed his arm.
“What, Al?” John snapped.
“Look, Elias is right,” Albus said quietly. “I get it. There’s a lot of pressure this year.”
John’s silence told Albus he was right.
“That’s how I felt last year,” Albus continued. “First year in fourteen years we don’t have a star Seeker. I’m sure Elias is feeling that, too. But he’s right. Running all of us ragged every practice won’t help us win. You’re going to kill all the team morale.”
John sighed. “Fine. But we’ve all got to learn to play in these conditions.”
“We know how to play in these conditions. James’s freak accident was just that. A freak accident. And I know you’re thinking about Puddlemere, but Puddlemere isn’t going to care if you win the Cup. They’re going to want to see how you pull a team together after they lost their star Seeker due to a freak accident.”
“I guess I hadn’t thought about it that way,” John said.
Albus nodded. “Now, do everyone a favor and end practice.”
“Fine,” John said, sighing again. He blew his whistle and waved everyone in, then disappeared into the changing rooms.
“Thanks, Albus,” Elias said as he walked past with his broom over his shoulder. “Whatever you said, thanks.”
Albus nodded. “He’s just feeling a lot of pressure.”
Elias barked out a laugh. “Him, pressure? Try being a Seeker who comes after Teddy Lupin and James Potter, both eldest sons of war heroes.”
“I mentioned that,” Albus said.
Elias shook his head. “Bloody hell…Seeker after James Potter. What was I thinking?”
“Try being his brother,” Albus muttered.
Elias laughed, then set off for the castle with Janie and Harrison. Albus watched the rest of the team leave, then darted inside the changing room to find John.
John was nowhere in sight, but Albus heard the shower going, so he sat down to wait. A few minutes later, John appeared, considerably dryer than he had been before and dressed in clean robes. He seemed surprised to see Albus.
“I thought you would’ve gone back to the castle,” he said as he shoved his soaking wet Quidditch robes into a bag.
“Bit early to drown your sorrows,” Albus commented.
John sat down next to him. “What if this is it, Al? What if we peak this year and everything goes downhill from here?”
“You sound like Matt,” Albus said.
“Funny, because that’s what he said yesterday when you were on patrol with Emily Rhodes. He’s just had me thinking ever since.”
“Matt’s got a good reason to think that. You don’t. You’re going to be Puddlemere’s next strategist,” Albus pointed out.
“Not if we lose this season. The whole world’s got their eyes on what Gryffindor’s captain will do the year after losing their greatest seeker this century.”
“The whole world meaning, people who follow Hogwarts Quidditch?” Albus asked, laughing. “That’s fewer people than you’d think. And with everything happening with Boone and werewolves and all that, there’s not going to be much room in the Prophet for filler articles about Hogwarts Quidditch. Not to mention the inquiry Johnson and Balladanis are facing at the Ministry.”
“What’s happening with that? I haven’t heard anything lately.”
“First week in November there’s going to be a hearing on whether they’ll be suspended from their jobs during the investigation.”
“Bloody hell. It’s been months and they’re just getting to that?”
“Dad says it’ll be months before it’s even decided whether what they did is grounds for them to be sacked,” Albus said. “He always says it’s a good thing wizards have long lifespans given the rate things move in our government.”
“Maybe that’s why things move slow,” John suggested.
“Probably,” Albus agreed as he stood up. “Now let’s go. You aren’t allowed to wallow in self-pity until after Puddlemere rejects you.”
Albus’s first day back at the Auror Department was the week before Halloween. Of all the seventh years, Albus was the only one doing another internship and he would only be in the Department on Mondays. They’d taken on a sixth year intern as well, a quiet Hufflepuff girl Albus didn’t know well, but she wouldn’t be there at the same time.
Unlike the previous year, Albus wasn’t greeted by Johnson when he arrived at the Ministry. Instead, Teddy was waiting for him. Albus was quite pleased by that turn of events.
“He never comes out of his office,” Teddy said after Albus inquired about Johnson while they rode the lift to the Auror Department. “I’ve only seen him about five times since the whole thing went down.”
“So who’s running the Department?” Albus asked.
“All of us,” Teddy said. “Dawlish is the one assigning missions and Uncle Ron has been doing the general overseeing. But other than that, we all know what to do. Saw Johnson’s daughter once. She came and brought him lunch a few weeks ago. She asked me about James.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Nothing, really,” Teddy said as the lift opened. “Just a generic ‘oh he’s fine.’ She didn’t press it. I think she was just asking to be polite.”
Albus nodded. “Have you seen James recently? He hasn’t answered any of my owls.” Albus had written James three times during September and all three had gone unanswered.
“I’ve been round for dinner a few times. He’s been working at Weasleys’ once a week or so, but he won’t talk about it. Your mum told me his physical therapy is at a bit of a standstill. He hasn’t made much progress since August.”
“How long will they keep doing it? The therapy, I mean?”
Teddy shrugged. “As long as your parents will pay for it. Your dad said the WHS only pays for a ‘reasonable length of time as prescribed by healers,’ but if you pay out of pocket they’ll keep it up as long as you want.”
“So, the reasonable length of time has passed?”
“I think it’s up soon, assuming he continues to not make progress,” Teddy said. “But your mum and dad are going to keep paying for it. And he’s still got the cognitive therapy. Aunt Ginny said he still gets confused a lot and can’t remember any spells.”
“Does he still mope around most of the time?”
Teddy nodded. “Yeah…I don’t blame him, though. I mean…he could’ve played for England.”
He could’ve. They all knew it. That was the worst part. Any team would’ve been stupid not to recruit James and he would’ve then been recruited by England in a few short years.
“You could’ve, too,” Albus pointed out.
“But I didn’t want to,” Teddy said as he opened the door to the Auror Department. “Sometimes I think James hates me for that. For the fact that I could’ve gone professional and gave it all up for this. I know he thinks I’m mad.”
“I don’t think you’re mad,” Albus said, following him inside. No amount of money in the world could convince Albus to play Quidditch instead of become an Auror. Not that he’d ever get recruited.
The department didn’t look any different than it had the previous year. Most of the cubicles were messy, scattered with paperwork and clippings from the Prophet. Only a few were occupied, and all by Aurors Albus only vaguely knew. Uncle Ron and Dawlish were nowhere in sight.
“Uncle Ron’s on a mission,” Teddy said, reading Albus’s mind. “Dawlish went to lunch about an hour ago. Don’t expect him back for at least another hour and a half. He comes and goes as he pleases, ever since Johnson was put on probation.”
“What’s he having me do this year?” Albus asked as they entered Teddy’s cubicle. It was messier than the rest, except perhaps Uncle Ron’s. “Shadowing the junior Aurors with the tip owls again?”
Teddy snorted. “I thought you would’ve picked up on it now,” he said, lowering his voice. “Johnson doesn’t even realize you’re here. He’s not running the show anymore. And I’d bet my last Galleon he’ll be suspended at next week’s hearing. With pay, but suspended.”
“Didn’t he have to sign off on me being here?”
“Well, yeah, but that’s all he did was sign off on it. Dawlish picked the interns and gave the form to Johnson to sign. I doubt he so much as looked at what he was signing. Dawlish said he was half a bottle of scotch in when he brought the papers for him to sign.”
“You neglected to mention that’s what he’s doing in his office,” Albus said.
“Did I?” Teddy mused. “Well…the witch who empties the bins every night let slip to Uncle Ron that there’s always one or two empty bottles in there every night.”
“Damn,” Albus whispered. “And what about Balladanis?”
Teddy snorted again. “He’s walking around like nothing’s changed.”
“Isn’t he…you know…on our side?”
“Shh,” Teddy said, glancing around. “Johnson might be drunk half the time, but he’s still got ears everywhere. And don’t put all your trust in Balladanis, no matter what he claims. The man serves no master but himself.”
“Right,” Albus said, nodding.
“I’m serious, Al,” Teddy continued. “If I’ve got one piece of advice to you, Auror to Auror, it’s that you can’t trust anyone.”
“Now you sound like Mad-Eye Moody,” Albus said.
“You’ve got to investigate everything, and everyone, yourself,” Teddy added, ignoring Albus’s comment.
“Are things really that bad here?” Albus asked.
Teddy sighed and put on the most serious look Albus had ever seen on him. “Al, the Head Auror and the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement are both likely to be sacked before the year is out. It doesn’t get much more serious than that. Just because one of them is an idiot and the other is selfish doesn’t mean their sacking won’t disrupt things. It will. And remember who’s still in charge. Laurentis. Who do you think’s going to pick their replacements?”
“Laurentis,” Albus said quietly.
“Exactly. And other than Balladanis and Johnson, who’s her righthand man?” Teddy prompted.
Albus felt all the color drain from his face. “Malfoy.”
“Now you got there. And as for what you’re doing at the department this year, well, that’s up to Dawlish. Because until Johnson is sacked and someone else is put in, Dawlish is running the show.”
A/N: Sorry for the day-late update! And thank you for all the reviews. Unfortunately I am posting faster than I am writing so I'm going to update every other week in October, which means two more chapters this month. Then it's November, which means NaNoWriMo, so I won't be working on this for much of November. So, if I can write another couple chapters before October ends, I'll keep updating every other week in November. If not, I'll have to take a break during November. I'll let you know later on in the month.
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