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Stuck On a Puzzle
Albus S. P. & James S. P. & Rose W. & Scorpius M. - Words: 124,604 - Rated: T - English - Mystery & Romance - Chapters: 11 - Reviews: 33 - Updated: 28-06-2018 - Published: 17-08-2016 - by Rose Wazlib (FFN)

12/09/2016


This Devil's Workday
Let's take this potted plant
To the woods and set it free
I'm going to tell the owners
Just how nice that was of me
I could buy myself a reason
I could sell myself a job
I could hang myself on treason
I am my own damn god


Teddy Lupin was too thin, but it suited him. It made him look wild. It made him look as though he'd be better suited in the wilderness rather than at the dinner table. He laughed loudly and often and it seemed to burst from his throat like a howl, as contagious and unsettling as that of a wolf beneath the moon. Muscles and bones rippled under olive skin and hair that usually lay somewhere on the colour spectrum between plum purple and meridian blue fell into glowing brown eyes that darted around the room, ceaseless, endless, searching for something that was not there.

Teddy Lupin did not quite belong around people, it seemed; he was a tame beast, a wild thing, a barbarian with the tongue of an Edwardian gentleman, a pinprick of life and substance that tore through every room he entered. People wanted to know his face, people wanted to know his mind, but both of these were difficult feats.

His girlfriend was the image of perfection, but her brilliance was not restricted to her looks. She spoke with the wisdom and patience of a woman older than her twenty-one years, and laughed with a chime that drew in the eyes of anyone who heard it. It was hard for someone to imagine a person would be born looking like she did. It was an injustice to put her into writing, because mapping out her face with words or letters was not enough; you would have to see her to know the exquisite curve of her jaw, the blue of her eyes, the infinite arches of her cheekbones.

They were born to be together, or so they had been told. Her porcelain skin shone against his dark, house of Black flesh and he held her in an iron grip that no other man dared to dream of. They had loved each other since they were children and had stolen kisses behind their parent's turned backs since she turned fifteen and had begun sleeping together in his last year of school. They gave no sign of doubt or fleeting disinterest and it was assumed, or perhaps it was known, that they were to live and die together, extraordinary and eternal and to be remembered as the great, fiery lovers that they were, bound to marry sooner rather than later and to be forever entwined to the other as lovely Victoire and lovely Teddy as they had always been, and it was these thoughts that raged through Dominique Weasley's mind as she watched him make a beeline for her across the crowded office, and it was these thoughts that had raged through her mind every moment she laid eyes on him since she was nine years old.

He smiled when he reached her and, having trained herself well, she returned it, and watched unblinkingly as the bone of his elbow came to rest on her desk and his dark hand rose to catch his sharp, strong jaw, lazing his head in his palm, watching her with his hungry eyes that whispered, like they always seemed to, that he had a secret she knew not.

'Hey,' he sang to her.

She, tearing her eyes from the dark face that sat inches from her, glanced around him at the other occupants of her office, but, consumed by paper work and gossip, his entry had gone unnoticed. Her eyes shifted back to him. 'Hi.'

'How's it going?'

'Fine,' she replied, shifting her hand to cover the ink-blotched memos she had been struggling over. 'Harry's in a meeting.'

'That's okay. I came up to see what you.'

The gleam in his eyes told her he knew what she was thinking, but she promised herself that was impossible. 'Oh,' she murmured, and, before she could stop herself, added, 'Why?'

'Oh, you know,' he hummed, shifting his lean shoulders and swapping his head to his other hand, smiling all the while. 'Victoire wanted to make sure everything was going okay with your new job.'

The name of her sister ushered in unwelcome reality to the few inches of space that lay between their eyes. 'Oh,' she said again, picking up her quill and returning to the pile of unfinished memos awaiting her attention. 'I've been here almost a month now.'

'Yeah, but I felt like talking to you.'

With that the looming shadow of Victoire receded in an instant and the sharp flourishes of her quill softened. She was blushing, and she was sure he had noticed, for he proceeded to ask, 'So, what's going on in here?'

At that, she looked up to gaze over the chaos in question; the Auror office had collapsed into disarray before she had arrived at work that morning and it had persisted in such a manor all morning. Since then there had been ceaseless movement, a constant flow of Ministry workers streaming in and out.

She glanced back at Teddy, who was watching her with his bottomless umber eyes, and leant over the desk to whisper, 'They're saying Gamp's dead.'

The look Teddy Lupin adopted when he was surprised was quite exquisite; she watched his arching eyebrows in the moment it took his to collect his thoughts. 'Really?'

She shrugged, pleased to have his attention. 'I don't know. Nobody's told me anything. But Harry's had people coming in all morning from all the different departments wanting to talk to him. They're all going mad.'

'Why?' he asked, and the calm drawl of his voice made her ask the same question. 'I mean, he was getting on a bit, wasn't he?'

'Yes, but…'

'But what?' he breathed at her, his stare unwavering. 'They don't think… you don't mean he was killed, do you?'

She gave a shrug and scribbled down something extraneous on one of the memos, hoping to look sly. 'No idea, but Harry had Aurors stationed at all the homes of the Departments Heads.'

Teddy's eyes swelled with intrigue and she loved the way it looked on his face. She wished she had more to tell him, but all she could say was, 'You can't tell anyone that, though.'

'Course not,' he assured her. 'Is that why you've got so many memos?'

She gazed down at the pile before her and gave a nod, wishing he had not noticed the mess she had been making. 'I'm a bit behind,' she told him, trying to sound careless. 'Harry wanted these sent out already.'

'He won't mind. I bet you could use a drink after this, huh?'

Her quill twitched in her hand, marking the purple parchment with a sharp strip of ink, and, trying to steady her hand, quickly continued on scribbling. 'Yeah, I suppose.'

'I'll shout you one. Meet in the atrium after work?'

'Won't Victoire mind?'

There was a pause; it was brief, but it was definite, and she did not know whether to be pleased or dismayed by his hesitation.

'Why would she?' he asked her after a beat of silence.

'Yeah,' she replied, because there was no other possible answer. 'Are you guys busy downstairs?'

'No more than usual. Had to go out to Cardiff this morning to deal with these Cockatrices who had taken it upon themselves to start mating in an old Muggle dear's orchard. Nearly lost my thumb. Have a look.'

He extended his arm to her, laying his hand on the desk, and her eyes travelled over it without hesitation, working to commit the patterns of scars and mottled flesh that ran over his arms to memory, and her eyes came to rest on the deep, bloodied slit that circled his thumb, laying before her on the desk, not even an inch between his skin and hers.

'Merlin,' she murmured, and she closed her hand over his, raising it to inspect the wound. 'Teddy, that looks awful. Did anyone take a look at it?'

He gave her his toothy, canine grin but did not retract his hand from hers. 'I've had worse.'

'I know you have. That doesn't mean that's not disgusting.'

'All in a day's work, Dom.'

'You're going to get yourself killed one of these days.'

'I'd like to see them try.'

She tore her eyes from his ruined hand to his godly face and found him watching her. He was no longer smiling, but was wearing a look something close to a frown, as though he was struggling with a riddle in the depths of his mind, of which she knew nothing but which she was sure she had never seen him wear around Victoire, and for a brief moment his hand within hers did not seem unordinary in the least, but that shining instant in which her heart leapt into her throat was broken by the door behind her being thrown open and the sound of her uncle's voice.

'I know, Dennis, I know but there's nothing more I can tell you. Look, I really must – oh, Teddy, hi.'

His hand slipped from hers and it as if it had never been there. She quickly turned her eyes back to the memos before her as her uncle approached them, accompanied by the other Auror who had emerged with him from his office.

'Hey, Harry,' and the smile he gave his godfather was the one she adored – easy and careless and unaware of her burning flesh where their skin had met. 'How are you?'

'Yes, good, good,' Harry replied, in a breathless voice that told them he was anything but, his eyes not leaving the severe looking Auror beside him. 'Bit behind schedule for the day, so Dennis, I really am sorry but I'm going to have to get back to you on this. Until now we have the Minister's orders…'

The Auror opened his mouth, looking as if he wanted to argue, but apparently reconsidered and gave a stiff nod. 'Yes, Mr. Potter.'

'Thank you, Dennis, and I will let you know once I… well, perhaps by this afternoon. No later than tomorrow, certainly. Dominique, could you please have Flint and Urquhart's files sent over to Mr. Creevey's office?'

Dominique hastily dropped her quill back into the inkwell, splattering her desk with a few rogue pin-pricks of black, and wrenched open the heavy draw beneath her desk and began to rifle through the files within.

'No, no, we don't keep them up here,' began Harry quickly. 'You'll have to send a memo to personnel and – you know what, don't worry about it. I'll send them over to you this afternoon, Dennis – no, really, I will. As soon as I get the chance…'

The glum looking Auror mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "fucking catastrophe" before he bid Harry a terse good day and stalked off across the bustling room and out of stone archway into the winding corridor that led to the offices of the head Aurors.

Dominique saw her uncle's head give a rigid twitch, as if he was fighting not to shake his head, before he turned back to face her. 'Did you manage to get onto MacMillan?'

Dominique hesitated and reached for the pile of letters she was still working to get through. 'Um…'

'That's okay,' Harry assured her, a strained calm in his voice. 'Don't worry about it, I'm sure I'll run into him upstairs. Just finish with the memos and then if you wouldn't mind sending one up to administration to see if they can spare a few hands to help us on the desks just until Coote and Peakes get back from patrol this afternoon?'

Dominique gave a hurried nod. 'Yes, sure…'

'Preferably someone who's familiar with our Department.'

'Right.'

'And then if you could send a request form down to Percy for the Floo records for the North West for this morning between one and three o'clock…'

Dominique snatched up her quill and grabbed a blank memo. 'Right… one to three o'clock…'

'Actually better make that four o'clock… don't want to miss anything,' said Harry, a frown knotting between his eyebrows as Dominique scribbled onto the memo. 'And if anyone comes in to see me tell them they'll have to wait until this afternoon – or tomorrow morning perhaps. Just make an appointment in the book – but you better leave tomorrow morning free until ten. And if they don't want to make an appointment just please don't let them hang around here waiting. Just take a message and tell them I'll get back to them, okay?'

'Okay.'

'Unless it's anyone from the Wizengamot. Then you can let them into my office, but please let me know before I go in there, and if it's Mafalda Hopkirk you better get her a cup of tea or she won't leave you alone, alright?'

'Alright.'

'Alright,' said Harry, finishing with a great sigh. 'Thanks, Dom. I'm heading up to the Minister's office but I'll try to come back here to check up with you before I head out this afternoon, alright?'

'Right.'

'And if you need anything just… well, I won't be around so I guess it's up to you.'

Hoping her cheeks weren't taking on too much colour, Dominique gave a nod.

'Got all that?' asked Harry, his façade of calm cracking with the shudder in his voice.

'Um… yes. I think so. Yes, definitely.'

'Desk temps, Floo records from one to four this morning and don't let anyone in my office unless they're from the Wizengamot,' resolved Harry breathlessly.

'And make Mafalda Hopkirk a cup of tea,' added Teddy, a grin threatening to spill onto his face.

'Er, yes, thank you, Teddy,' said Harry, glancing at his watch before glancing at his godson as if only just registering his presence. 'What brings you up here?' he asked, before his eyes swelled behind his glasses and he asked in a panic, 'They didn't send you up to get me, did they?'

'Don't worry, it's nothing so dreadful. I just thought I'd come up to see if you and Gin would be free for tea tonight,' Teddy told him, and the lie did not escape Dominique. 'Didn't know I'd be walking into the Third Wizarding War, though.'

'Oh, right, well…' began Harry, running a hand through his mess of silver-flecked black hair. 'Perhaps not tonight… Not sure when I'll be getting off.'

'Leaky Cauldron for lunch then?'

'Er, no, I don't think so, Teddy. I'm supposed to be in the Minister's office in…' He glanced at his watch once more. 'Eight minutes ago, actually. So I'll get back to you… perhaps owl Ginny…' He raised a hand to straighten the front of his robes, taking a few backwards strides towards the office's exit. 'Better use the blue parchment for the memo to administration, alright, Dom?'

'Good to see you, too, Harry,' said Teddy jovially, but he went ignored, for Harry had ran into one of the Auror officer's desks on his way out of the office before he finally made it to the door and disappeared in a flurry of robes, almost at a run.

Teddy turned back to Dominique, grinning broadly. 'There goes the face of order and stability in our world. He really has a faultless aura of grace, don't you think?'

Dominique stifled her giggle as she spun in the chair to the filing cabinet behind her desk. 'Accio request forms!'

Three draws sprung open, a cascade of multi-coloured parchment flying from them, landing in a mess on Dominique's desk. She picked a lime-green one up, giving it a scrutinising frown, and plucked up her quill to begin to fill it out.

'I think the green ones are for Magical Catastrophes,' Teddy informed her gently. 'If you're sending it to Transportation you're gonna need to use the yellow ones.'

'Oh, right…' murmured Dominique, watching as Teddy unearthed a slip of canary-yellow parchment from the bottom of the pile and took it from his offered hand. 'Thanks.'

'No problem.'

The smile he gave her forced her to drop his gaze, as if she was staring into great light, and placing the yellow parchment aside she began to return the unwelcome cluster of wrongly summoned request forms to the filing cabinet behind her. 'I best get back to work, I suppose, before Harry gets back.'

'Don't worry. Sounds like he'll be a while.'

'Yes. But even so…'

'Oh, right,' said Teddy, and she was sure there was an inkling of dejection in his tone. 'We'll still get that drink though?'

'Oh, I… Yes, I suppose I can.'

'Great. So we'll meet in the atrium?'

'Sure.'

Another blinding smile and he dug his hands deep into his pockets, backing away from her desk, striding towards the door backwards with the grace that escaped her uncle as if guided by the benevolent force that had smiled upon him through all his days. He reached the door and disappeared through it but not before calling to her over the rabble, 'If I see anyone heading up here looking for Harry I'll distract them for you.'


Three pairs of eyes darted towards him as he fell through the heavy oak doors that guarded the minister's office, straightening up and pushing his glasses hurriedly up his nose.

'Sorry,' he spluttered at the room, hurrying over to take the seat beside Hermione. 'Lost track of time and I left my ID in the office so your guards wanted to do a full disillusionment procedure…'

Kingsley Shacklebolt raised a hand to dismiss the apology. 'Believe me, Harry, I fully appreciate the disaster all our morning's have turned into.'

Harry gave him a weary smile to show his appreciation of the Minister's sympathy, though the sharp look Hermione fixed upon him told him she was not so sympathetic to his misplacement of his ID card.

'If you wouldn't mind,' Kingsley said to the guard waiting stock-still beside his desk, 'I'm afraid we'll be needing privacy.'

'Of course, Minister,' replied the guard, and silence fell across the room as they waited for the woman to depart, leaving the three of them to their own devices.

'I apologise that I couldn't convene with you both earlier,' Kingsley informed them. 'We had to tell something to the press, of course, and then the Wizengamot needed to be informed of the situation. And then I felt that I owed Augusta Gamp a visit to offer my condolences.'

'Of course, Minister,' said Hermione.

'Hermione, how long have we known each other? I know asking you to call me Kingsley has made no dint on your professionalism in the past, but in this coming period of crisis perhaps you'll take my wishes into account.'

A flutter of a smile crossed across Hermione's face and she gave a small nod. 'Of course, Kingsley.'

'Now, Harry,' began Kingsley, folding his arms over his desk and fixing the Head of the Auror office with a sombre gaze. 'Have your people been able to uncover any type of picture of last night's events?'

'A very patchy one,' replied Harry. 'St Mungo's sent over a report this morning estimating the time of death to be two-sixteen this morning. The Killing Curse; no doubt about it.'

Neither Kingsley nor Hermione gave any sign that this news surprised them, and the Minister continued to watch him over his desk with an unwavering calmness on his lined face.

'It looks as though the killer forced their way through the protective charms at the property's rear, so it's safe to assume we're dealing with a fairly skilled witch of wizard. We're unsure how exactly the protective charms were broken at this point, but we've got curse breakers at the scene working on it.'

'Any witnesses?'

'Well, as I'm sure you know Augusta Gamp was abroad visiting their son and daughter-in-law in Tuscany until she heard the news, but we do have their House Elf in custody downstairs – we don't suspect her, but we need her to answer some questions,' he added in response to Hermione opening her mouth for the protest he only too well predicted.

'What questions?' asked Hermione shrewdly. 'The Auror admissions officer told me Lula was brought in as soon as the Aurors responded to her message from the manor, Harry. That was hours ago. Can't you get someone in with her so she can go home?'

'We've had someone in with her since the minute she was brought in,' Harry assured her, keeping the bite in his voice closely in-check, 'but she's absolutely beside herself. She won't talk to anyone. Nobody can get a word from her. We were hoping Augusta Gamp would be able to get to speak to us, but we didn't think it was appropriate to bring her in to deal with her elf after just losing her husband, so all we can do is hope the elf calms down sooner rather than later.'

'Well can you blame her?' demanded Hermione.

'I trust the elf has been well-accommodated for, has she not, Harry?' asked Kingsley, in his cool, deep voice that commanded calm with every utterance.

'Yes, of course she has,' said Harry, speaking mostly to Hermione. 'We had a healer come check her immediately, and we've tried to get her to eat and to take a calming draft, but she's refusing, so unless we bewitch her-'

'You can't do that anymore,' Hermione reminded him quickly.

'Yes, I know,' grumbled back Harry. 'That's what I'm saying. There's nothing else we can do but wait.'

'Then we'll wait,' said Kingsley smoothly. 'But moving on from the elf to the two dead wizards found in their cell this morning.'

'Dead wizards?' asked Hermione, aghast, turning in her seat to face Harry. 'Harry, it wasn't…'

'Flint and Urquhart, exactly,' said Harry darkly. 'It looks like Hemlock. Probably self-administered before they were arrested.'

'And any connection between their deaths and Gamp?'

'It looks unlikely,' said Harry. 'It's not the first time some lunatics have wanted to search the school thinking they'll be able to find something to give them the upper hand. All those who have tried have been just as unlucky as Flint and Urquhart.'

'Although nobody else has died in their cell,' Hermione reminded him. 'Harry, what if the school-'

'We've got the grounds guarded,' Harry assured her. 'And if this attempted break-in has shown us anything it's that protective charms around the school are the best we could hope for. We were on the scene within minutes.'

Hermione gave a nod, though Harry could not overlook the crease of anxiety between her brows.

'I'll need all of this documented and sent to both Hermione and I, if you would, Harry,' Kingsley informed him, and Harry replied with a nod before Kingsley continued. 'I'm sure you understand that the role of Head of Department now falls to you, Hermione?'

She gave a stiff nod. 'Yes.'

'That is if you accept it?'

'Of course,' said Hermione breathlessly. 'I wouldn't have accepted the offer of Deputy if I wasn't willing.'

'Yes, but I don't think any of us predicted your assumption of the role to take place under such trying circumstances,' said Kingsley wryly. 'And I do feel the need to apologise to both of you for calling you back in on your mornings off. It's your son's first year at school, is it not, Hermione?'

Hermione gave a nod. 'Yes, but it doesn't matter. Of course this is more important…' She gave a pause, and added rather uncertainly, 'I still saw him onto the train, so it's alright.'

'I shouldn't have to tell either of you how invaluable you both are to the Ministry,' Kingsley told them, though Harry hardly felt the praise was a compliment. 'Now more than ever. You'll both need to keep a tight reign on the department – I can only imagine what disarray it's in currently. Neither of you have spoken to the press, have you?'

'No, Minister,' said Hermione.

'Of course not,' Harry told him.

'I trusted as much, but you see I have to ask. It appears every department knows about it. I'm aware that it is in the nature of this business that the word has been spread around the Auror office, and I of course needed to inform Gamp's staff, but I need you both to make it imperative to your people not to speak a word of it to any reporters. They've already started arriving in the atrium, and we have them at bay, but we're going to be hounded – you two especially, and your spouses, I'm sure.'

The pair gave a nod to show that they understood, and when Kingsley continued his voice seemed to take on another degree of severity. 'The death of a Ministry official, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, in his own home… It's going to cause panic, and under no circumstance can we allow ourselves to show any sign of uncertainty to the Wizarding community. Understand?'

'Yes,' they chorused.

'Solidarity is key; cooperation from all corners of Wizarding Britain. I don't think I need to tell you that Gamp was… controversial. He was close to being dismissed several times for his candidness regarding his personal views. If the public was have any indication that his politics was a factor in his death-'

'There's no evidence of that,' interjected Harry.

'Evidence or not, we must accept the very real possibility that he will gain sympathisers. If the Pureblood community was to see him as a martyr...'

'Not in this day and age, surely,' said Hermione. 'People aren't so naïve.'

Kingsley gave a warn smile. 'Don't quote me on this, Hermione, but we can't overestimate the people. The progress we've made in the last two decades cannot rewrite hundreds of years of prejudice and we mustn't take the permanence of this stability we currently enjoy for granted. It is for this reason I have decided to give the position of Deputy Department Head to Mikhael Rowle.'

'What?' hissed Harry.

'Mikhael Rowle?' cried Hermione. 'Minister, please…'

'Kingsley, you can't be serious,' growled Harry. 'Mikhael Rowle – he's worse than Gamp was!'

'He marched with the Blood Supremacists all through the 2000s!' Hermione reminded him shrilly. 'He may think we've forgotten that but we haven't. He's quietened down since he joined the Department but to make him Deputy Head-'

'He's a damn Death Eater,' spat Harry, ignoring the startled look Hermione shot him at his candidness. 'You put him in a position of power and we'll have Muggles turning up dead in a matter of weeks.'

'Harry!' gasped Hermione.

'You know I'm right,' he snapped at her.

'Harry, I understand this is a sensitive matter,' said Kingsley, 'and you both know I value your opinions on this above anyone else's. But you must see the logic. A Muggle-born Head of Magical Law Enforcement doesn't turn heads any more, but there are still those among us ignorant enough to see your promotion as an insult to their blood status, Hermione. You are both some of the greatest symbols we have for blood equality, as am I, and to have one of you as the Head of Department and the other as Head of the Auror office is going to attract criticism – they'll call it nepotism, they'll call it favouritism, they'll call it whatever they want, and we can deny it all we like, but people will talk and people will wind each other up, and so the only way to combat that is to give them someone they can trust. Muggle-borns trust you both, and Purebloods trust Rowle. You can't deny it.'

'Minister, I understand that,' began Hermione hesitantly, 'but…'

'But he's dangerous,' finished Harry. 'I'm asking you not to do this, Kingsley. As a friend, as a colleague – I'm saying don't do this.'

The warn smile across Kingsley's face, combined with the heavy sigh that filtered through his lips, made Harry almost hopeful that his appeal had been successful until Kingsley spoke. 'I don't want you to think that I am taking your concerns lightly, but I'm afraid my mind is made up.'

Harry gazed back into the Minister's warm, dark eyes, marked by the crow's feet and laugh lines that he had watched deepen and lengthen in the twenty-three years the man had spent in office; there had been times over their long working history together in which Harry had disagreed with Kingsley, but never, until this moment, had he thought him a fool. He got to his feet, fighting to keep his voice level, and said in a bitter, hoarse voice, 'Will that be all?'

Kingsley gave a nod. 'Yes, for now. Thank you for your time, Harry.'

He turned away without a backwards glance at the Minister and strode from the office, the blood rushing in his ears, deafening him to Hermione's murmured goodbyes. The Minister's reception area was rife with witches and wizards waiting for their chance to convene with the Minister and he hurried past them, sparing no apology for those who shrugged off when they dared to approach him.

'Harry,' called a witch from the Department of Magical Transportation, 'do you have any idea what's going on?'

'Mr. Potter,' came the eager voice of a wizard he knew belonged to the Daily Prophet, 'a minute of a time if you would?'

He stormed past them, offering them no regard, and was nearly at the elevators when he felt a hand close around his shoulder.

He rounded on the unfortunate witch of wizard who had disturbed him in his fuming state, a flood of insults bubbling to his lips, only to find Hermione before him, brushing from her face the tendrils of hair that had escaped from her bun as she hurried after him.

'Harry…'

'I don't want to talk about it, Hermione.'

'Well, we need to,' she snapped at him, grabbing hold of his forearm and dragging him towards the elevator. 'Quick, before someone else joins us.'

He allowed her to guide her inside and with a flick of her wand she forced the doors closed and the elevator jostled into motion, heading downwards towards their Department.

'Look,' he began, 'I know I lost my temper but…'

'Merlin, Harry, I'm not here to snap at you about that,' she hissed at him. 'What are we going to do? I mean Rowle. Mikhael Rowle, for god's sake! I can't even remember how many Death Eaters he's tried to get released from Azkaban!'

'You don't need to tell me that, I'm well aware,' he snapped back, as the elevator came to a halt on their level, but he flicked his wand to prevent the doors from opening to allow them another moment of privacy. 'Kingsley's lost his mind.'

'He does have a point-'

'Bloody hell, Hermione!'

'Would you let me finish? I was going to say he does have a point about solidarity – I mean I shudder to think what kind of reaction we're going to get when it comes out how Gamp died – but to use Rowle for it? It's just ridiculous. He's kept his mouth shut since he got the job in the Improper Use of Magic Office, but I know exactly where he stands on blood equality.'

'So what are we going to do about it?'

She gazed up at him, fixing him with a shrewd glare. 'What do you mean?'

'You're really going to let him stay on as your Deputy?'

She gave a shaky laugh. 'No, Harry, I'm going to break into his house and wipe his memory while he sleeps and have him admitted to St Mungo's!'

'Now that's a thought.'

'Harry, be serious.'

'I am serious. Do you want to see the Ministry go back to what it was? I stand by what I said fifteen years ago. The children of Death Eaters should be barred from Ministry work.'

'Now that's prejudice,' Hermione informed him tersely. 'All we can do is keep an eye on him and as soon as we see what his motives are we need to tell the Minister-'

'Would you just call him Kingsley?'

'Oh, Merlin, Harry, would you listen to me?'

'I am listening!'

'Fine, well, we'll need to let Kingsley know as soon as we see anything suspicious. Merlin knows what Rowle wants with being Deputy. He's probably got hundreds of blood purists lined up for appointment in the Auror office-'

'Over my dead body,' growled Harry.

'Then you need to be sensible,' Hermione told him sternly. 'He's your superior now, Harry, and you don't want to give him reason to single you out. He's going to have the support of every pureblood across the country. We need to be careful.'

'Constant vigilance?' he asked her dryly.

'Don't,' she warned. 'We're not at the point yet.'

'Fine,' he grumbled back. 'So, what now?'

'Now we do what we have to do,' she informed him. 'I'm going to call a Department meeting to announce to everyone the change of leadership, and you're going to find out who killed Gamp. The sooner we can prove his death had nothing to do with his blood the better. Kingsley's right; we can't afford for him to be made a martyr.'

Choosing not to protest, he gave a nod and raised his wand to open the elevator doors, but Hermione's hand flew out to catch his wrist, forcing his wand down.

'What?' he asked her.

'Flint and Urquhart,' she murmured. 'You really think-'

'It's unrelated.'

'But the school,' she urged, watching him with wide, unblinking eyes. 'If someone's trying to get into the school…'

'Nobody is,' he assured her briskly. 'Flint and Urquhart are dead. Whatever they wanted they didn't get, and they're not going to.'

'But what could they want with the school?' she breathed. 'Harry, the wand…'

'That wand is no use to anyone,' Harry told her shortly. 'It won't answer to anyone anymore.'

'Yes, but what if they don't know that? If someone wanted to know where it was, or how to find it, or how to force it to do their bidding... What if they tried to use Ron or Ginny to find out?' Her voice faltered and she swallowed the lump in her throat before continuing. 'Or the kids...'

'Stop it,' he warned her. 'It's nothing. We've got other things to worry about. The school's safe – the kids are safe. It's just the fate of Wizarding Britain we have to worry about, so it's no big deal, okay?'

She did not manage to return his forced smile, but gave him a short nod and released his wrist. He gave his wand a twitch and the elevator doors shuddered open and they strode out.


The chilling fog that hung over Hogsmeade station confirmed for Albus that summer had truly departed and he stood, shivering in his robes, within the bustling crowd of eager students hurrying off to find a free stagecoach to take them up to the castle.

'Alright, Al?' came his cousin's voice through the crowd, and he turned to see Louis approaching, surrounded by his hoard sixth-year boys. 'You're looking lost.'

'I'm waiting for Rosie,' he replied.

'Oh, right. Where's she gotten to?'

'Prefect's cabin, I guess.'

'Lucky her. Well, don't just stand out here – it's bloody freezing. Come get in a coach with us.'

Albus eyed Louis's friends, all of which shared the same careless good looks as Louis, a characteristic that Albus hated in a person. 'No thanks, it's okay.'

Louis gave a shrug and slung his arm around the shoulders of a handsome brunet boy that Albus felt he should remember the name of but had surely forgotten. 'Suit yourself, then,' his cousin told him. 'See you up at the castle.'

Albus bid him goodbye and watched the gang disappear through the crowd; he could see them laughing at something at a distance and wondered if he was the butt of whatever the joke was, before reminding himself what Rose would tell him if she was there, which was that he was as self-involved as earthly possible for someone as self-loathing as himself.

'Al!'

The sound of Chandra's voice caused him to jump slightly and he did not miss the smirk across Connor Davies's face when he turned to face them.

'Oh, hi,' said Albus, and he straightened up, still finding himself to be a head shorter than Davies. 'How was it? Er, the ride I mean – the train-ride that is…'

'Yes, it was good!' Chandra trilled, and if she was aware of Davies's stifled laughter spurred by Albus's stammering she gave no sign of it. 'Where's Rosie? I thought she was going to meet us.'

'She's probably gone up already,' said Davies. 'Come on, let's get a coach…'

Albus watched as the Quidditch captain placed a guiding hand on Chandra's waist and with a gentle nudge attempted to lead her away from the station towards the coaches, but when Chandra brushed his hand away he was greeted with an immense sense of relief.

'No, no, Connor, it's okay. You go. I'm gonna stay here with Al.'

'Really?' asked Davies rather incredulously, though Albus wasn't sure what was so incredulous about that.

'Yes, yes, you go. I'll see you later.'

Davies gave a nod and departed with a definite lack of enthusiasm in his swagger, and when he was out of earshot Chandra leant in closely to Albus's ear, clutching his arm as she did so and sending shivers across his body. 'I think I'm a bit drunk,' she informed him in a whisper. 'I'm not sure I like fire whiskey.'

'Oh, really? Are you okay?'

'Oh, yes, it's fine. I think I much prefer mead. Oh, where's Rosie? I want to go have something to eat…'

'Well, I don't think mead or fire whiskey are allowed on school grounds,' said Albus as Chandra scanned the crowd, acutely aware of the tight grip she kept on his arm. 'Do you think the Ravenclaws know that?'

'Oh, look, there she is!' chirped Chandra as the moonlight hit the head of crimson hair as Rose stepped off the train. 'Come on, let's go!'

Chandra hurried through the crowd and Albus trudged after her, muttering apologies to the students he bustled against in his efforts to reach his cousin.

'Rosie!' hummed Chandra, catching hold of her best friend's hand. 'There you are! We've been waiting! I drank too much fire whiskey and I'm hungry!'

'Oh, Merlin, how tragic,' sighed Rose as they started towards the coaches, and Albus knew in an instant that she was in a sour mood. 'Bloody Lucy made us patrol the train all the way here. I tried to sneak off back to you, Al, but she caught me. She told me she was going to write to my father, and then when I pointed out dad couldn't care less about prefect duties she told me she'd write to my mother. God knows how that girl has made it to seventeen without being murdered in her sleep. I mean, whose idea was it make her head girl? She's gone mad with power. Come on, that coach is free.'

They climbed into the horseless coach, soon followed by a group of three giggling second-year boys whose presence did nothing to improve Rose's mood and which rendered their ride up the castle nearly void of conversation other than Chandra's vocal wonderings as to what would be served at the welcoming feast, and Albus turned his attention to the glistening silver castle. Lying across the great, black expanse of lake, sitting atop the cliff-face, its many turrets silhouetted against the glowing half-moon, sat the place that he would be stuck in for the next three months.

Not stuck, he told himself irritably. Living in. Allowed to live in.

'Look!' sang one of the second-years, nudging his friend beside him. 'Which one do you think is Gryffindor tower?'

Albus could not help but listen to the eager debate held between the boys that lasted the remainder of the journey, watching as they jabbed their fingers at the panes of the carriage windows, indicating which tower they each believed to be theirs. Albus could not recall a time in his life when he had ever been so elated by his return to Hogwarts, nor by his belonging to Gryffindor.

The horseless coach came to a halt at the foot of the castle where a heavy set of doors stood ajar, spilling light onto the pebbled road and beckoning them into the entrance hall. The second year boys kicked open the coach's door and bounded out before Rose could so much as put her book away, and this display of enthusiasm drew a great scoff from the redhead, before she climbed out of the coach, followed by Chandra and Albus.

'Oh, look, there's Sally and Elena and Kim – I love your new hair cut, Kim!' called Chandra as they passed her and Rose's three dorm mates on the way into the entrance hall. 'Ooh, wow, Rosie, look at Scorpius Malfoy! Gosh, he's gotten tall…'

'He's not that tall,' said Albus, fixing the blonde boy ahead of them with a scowl as they entered the Great Hall, but his commentary went unnoticed by the two girls.

Rose dropped into the first free seat she came by at the Gryffindor table, towards the rear of the Great Hall, and Albus and Chandra took seats flanking her as other students scrambled into place across the four house tables.

'Oh, Merlin, I hope the sorting doesn't take too long,' sighed Chandra. 'I'm going to pass out I'm so hungry!'

'You shouldn't have drunk so much fire whiskey, you're all pale,' Rose told her, reaching for a jug of water that sat in the centre of the table and pouring a glass. 'Here, drink that.'

'What's this about fire whiskey?' came a carrying voice from behind them, and they turned to see James approaching with two other seventh years, and the three of them dropped into seats opposite Rose, Albus and Chandra. 'What would Mummy say of her little prefect, Rosie?'

'Keep your voice down,' Albus hissed at him, glancing around for eavesdroppers.

'Ducky, nobody gives a fuck about whose drinking except you,' James dismissed, before he cocked an eyebrow. 'Why? Have you guys got some on you?'

'You don't, do you?' Finlay Jordan, the burly, dread-locked Gryffindor beater, asked eagerly. 'Give us some!'

'Ooh, yes,' trilled Xan. 'Celebratory drinks after the feast for the last of us to join Gryffindor.'

'Let's not be so sure, Roxanne,' came the voice of Lucy, who had stopped beside them in her search for a seat. 'He's quite bright, you know. He might be in Ravenclaw.'

'Uncle Ron will hex you for saying that, Luce,' James told her. 'Now go away. We're talking about illicit substances.'

Lucy's eyebrows rose so high they disappeared into her toffee-coloured fringe. 'What?'

'Oh, calm down, I'm only pulling your leg,' said James with a wave of his hand. 'Go find your boyfriend, would you? I don't want to be seen with the head girl.'

Lucy rolled her eyes but complied none the less, continuing up the Gryffindor table to join a peaky, blonde boy with Head Boy badge fastened to the front of his robes.

'But really,' said Finlay, turning back to Rose, 'pass us the bottle.'

'What do you care? You're all of age. You can just go buy some,' Rose reminded them.

'Yes, but it tastes so much sweeter when it's forbidden,' said Finlay, flashing a grin at the redhead, who responded with a severe shake of her head.

'We don't have any anyway,' Albus assured them quickly. 'It was the Ravenclaws. Connor Davies brought some on the train.'

'Connor Davies?' scoffed James. 'What are you three doing with that tosser?'

'He's not that bad,' said Chandra in a small voice.

James fixed her with a pitiful stare. 'Oh god, Thomas, don't tell us you're shagging him. Rose, how can you let her do that?'

'James, why must you hate every soul who's ever scored against you in Quidditch?' asked Xan, sparing a blushing Chandra from James's scrutiny.

'Excuse you, Xan, do I need to remind you that you jinxed him during his Charms exam for knocking you off your broom last year?' chortled Finlay.

'That was totally unrelated. I had to get back at him for dumping Corrina,' Xan informed them.

'My point exactly,' said James, turning back to Chandra and telling her shortly, 'Drop him, Thomas.'

Chandra gave a shrug and sipped her water. 'Maybe…'

'You could get any guy you want anyway,' James informed her with a grin.

'Stop it, James,' Rose warned him, and Albus silently agreed with her whole-heartily.

'Don't defend that wanker, Rosie,' said Finlay. 'You're too good for any boy in Hogwarts, you are.'

'Back off, Fin, she's got a Muggle boy waiting back in London for her,' James informed his friend.

Chandra gave a gasp and spun in her seat to face Rose. 'I thought you weren't going to tell anyone!'

James gaped at her. 'Seriously? I was only joking! Rose, that kid looks like the biggest twat!'

'I don't know what you're talking about,' replied Rose icily, and Albus spied her give Chandra's arm a sharp pinch beneath the table.

'Merlin, Rose, I'd rather see you with Finlay than that kid…'

'Shut up now, the first years are coming,' instructed Xan, giving her cousin's arm a sharp smack, and James's retort died away as he caught sight of a stream of tiny first years flooding into the Great Hall, led by the Deputy Head Master.

'Look – there's Hugo!' said Xan eagerly, pointing him out to her cousins amongst the crowd of other newcomers.

'Saved you a seat, Hugo!' James called to him as he passed, to which he received a beaming grin from their youngest cousin.

The Deputy Head Master led the first years to a halt before the staff-table, before which sat the ancient sorting hat, and Rose, Albus and their companions waited through the sorting hat's song and the long list of first-years that the professor read from the roll.

'You'd think Neville would do us all a courtesy and skip to G first,' sighed James impatiently. 'He can go back and do all the other brats after his godson's been sorted.'

'Shut up and listen,' Finlay told him, clapping as Daniel Bagnold became the first of his year-level to join Gryffindor.

Finally, after Annalise Godfrey joined Hufflepuff, Neville read in a carrying voice, 'Granger, Hugo!'

The name spurred a chorus of whispers around the Great Hall, just as his sister's and cousin's names had in the years before him, and the boy trotted up to the stool, utterly undeterred by the excitement his name had inspired throughout the students. He plucked up the hat, pulling it onto his head so that only his long tendrils of brown curls were visible, and dropped down onto the stool. Barely had he had contact with his seat when the Sorting Hat sung out, 'Gryffindor!'

The Gryffindor table erupted into applause while the other house tables gave feeble murmurs of disappointment at having missed the chance to claim the famous name of Granger.

'I knew it!' bellowed James, giving Rose's shoulder a light punch of celebration. 'I knew it, didn't I?'

Smiling in spite of herself, Rose applauded along with the rest of Gryffindor as Hugo tore off the hat and hurried across to the Gryffindor table, taking a seat amongst the other first-year Gryffindors who greeted him warmly.

Once the applause had subsided, which required a call for silence from the Head Mistress in response to James and Finlay's persistent clapping, Neville continued with the Sorting Ceremony, which failed to garner the same enthusiasm from Albus and his cousins once they had their assurance that Hugo would be joining them that evening in Gryffindor tower. After the last student had been assigned to their house and Neville had collected the Sorting Hat and its stool, Professor Sinistra got to her feet from behind the staff table.

'Welcome all of you to another year at Hogwarts,' the Head Mistress called across the Great Hall. 'How wonderful it is to see so many faces, both new and familiar, and what better way to greet you than with food. So please, enjoy!'

With that, the golden plates before them filled with piles upon piles of a vast array of dishes.

'Oh, thank Merlin,' sighed Chandra, diving for a dish of boiled potatoes and began ladling them onto her plate.

There was little room for conversation while they ate, all eager to fill up on the endless selection of cuisines offered by the welcoming feast, and once they had eaten their full each cousin departed to congratulate Hugo.

'I suppose I better go say something to him,' sighed Rose, though Albus was fully aware that the smile playing at her lips had not fully departed since her brother was sorted.

After the remnants of the feast disappeared from their plates to be replaced by desert, Rose and Albus left Chandra deep in a covert analysis with Elena Fortescue as to which boys had aged best over the summer, and strode up the Great Hall to find Hugo.

'Rosie!' hollered Hugo at the sight of his sister. 'I got in! I got in!'

'I noticed,' she replied, unable to contain her smile. 'It'll save Dad from spiralling into depression, at least.'

'Well done, Hugo!' said Albus.

'Thanks, Al!' trilled Hugo, before turning back to face the other first years he was sitting with. 'That's my cousin Albus. He's Harry Potter's other son.'

'You've got pudding on your nose, Hugo,' Rose informed her brother coolly over the first year's awe-struck gasps. 'Come on, Al, let's go back and sit down.'

They returned to their seats to find that James and Finlay had departed for join the other seventh year boys further down the table and Xan had found herself a seat beside her boyfriend at the Hufflepuff table.

'I wish the first years wouldn't stare,' sighed Albus, quietly enough so to allow only Rose to hear. 'Nobody stares at James.'

'Chandra does,' Rose reminded him. 'Just about every girl in school does.'

'You know what I mean,' he grumbled back.

'It's only because James doesn't really look like your parents,' Rose informed him. 'You'd only know he was their son if someone told you. Just like Hugo and I. But you look so much like your dad it's hard to miss. You better pray you don't need glasses later in life; that would be too much.'

'Thanks, Rosie.'

'I'm not saying it's a bad thing,' she assured him. 'And any way, if you're doing this whole personal make-over thing you need to start loving it when people look at you.'

'Shh!'

'Oh, for God's sake, Al. Nobody's listening.'

'Hey, Rose?'

The voice of this new arrival almost sent Albus off his chair, but he steadied himself in time to catch sight of Lucy, who had returned to Rose's side with a copy of the Prophet tucked under her arm.

'Look, Lucy, we don't have any fire whiskey, okay?' sighed Rose.

'No, not that,' said Lucy, and Albus noticed that her voice lacked its usual purpose, and held something that could only be called apprehension. 'You don't get the evening Prophet do you?'

'No, I don't. Why?'

Lucy's eyes darted around for onlookers before she took the copy of the Prophet from under her arm, keeping it rolled up as she passed it to Rose. 'I think you should have a look.'

Rolling her eyes, Rose accepted the paper and shook it open and Albus craned his neck towards her to read the front page.

GUSTAV GAMP FOUND MURDERED
GRANGER NAMED NEW DEPARTMENT HEAD

Albus and Rose exchanged glances.

'You better read it,' said Lucy. 'Quickly though. You've got to take the first years up to the tower soon. The new password is "scurvy grass", okay?'

Rose nodded her thanks and Lucy departed, leaving the two fifth-years to scour the article before them. The text was brief, evidently scrounged together by Prophet reporters desperate to make the story known regardless of reliable facts, but the segment had been stretched to fit the entire front page of the Prophet by the accompaniment of a large photograph of Gustav Gamp standing at a podium in the Wizengamot, batting his fists and bellowing something silent over and over again.

Aurors were called to the home of Gustav Gamp earlier today after the Head of Department of Magical Law Enforcement was found dead by his house elf. Sources within the Auror office confirm that the death is being treated as suspicious, but Head of the Auror Office Harry Potter declined to comment.

Gamp, 89, had served as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement since 2013, assuming the appointment under Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt during the massive reshuffling undertaken by the Ministry following the Second Wizarding War. Known for his Blood-purist rhetoric, Gamp was faced with the prospect of dismissal thrice during his term as Department Head and had garnered a massive band of opponents both in the Ministry and the public sphere.

The Auror office offered no insight into the investigation and denied Prophet reporters's suggestions that Gamp's murder may have been orchestrated by blood equality activists.

The position of Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has been assumed by Hermione Granger, former Deputy Head and close friend of Harry Potter, who played a major role in the downfall of He Who Must Not Be Named. Mikhael Rowle, formerly of the Improper Use of Magic Office, has been appointed Deputy Head under Ms Granger.

Ms Granger was unavailable for comment regarding the events surrounding her predecessor's death but sources within the Department confirm that Granger claimed a Department meeting earlier today that the Auror office has no suspects of yet.

Rose finished reading first and sat in silence for Albus to reach the end of the article, after which her raised his head to gaze at her with wide, green eyes.

'That's what all those owls were at the station for,' murmured Albus. 'Because of Gamp getting murdered!'

'Supposedly.'

'What do you mean?'

'Come on, Al. You can tell this article's been pieced together by rumours and guesswork. Who knows what the Auror office has made of it. For all we know he could have died peacefully in his sleep. He was eighty-nine, after all.'

'That's not that old for Wizards, though,' Albus reminded her. 'And it must have been something pretty bad or otherwise why would they have needed your mum and my dad to come into work so quickly? If he just died in his sleep surely it wouldn't be that big of a deal.'

Rose was silent for a moment while she considered this before giving a shake of her head and folding up the Prophet. 'I suppose there's no way of knowing yet.'

'Do you think you should tell Hugo?'

'Why? What's he going to do about it?'

'Your mum's been made Department Head! That's pretty big news!'

'He doesn't even know what the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is,' Rose told him dismissively.

Albus opened his mouth to protest, but it was at that moment that Professor Sinistra chose to get to her feet once more and the hall fell into silence for the Head Mistress to give the usual beginning of term reminders before she bid them all a goodnight and dismissed them.

Rose gave a sigh and got to her feet. 'Well, I'll see you up there.'

'Wait, where are you going?' he asked hurriedly.

'I've got to get all the first years together to take them upstairs.'

'Oh, no, do you?' grumbled Albus.

'Well, it's not like I want to do it. You can take my place if you like and have Hugo's new friends gawking at you.'

'No thanks,' mumbled Albus. 'Shouldn't you owl your mum and dad?'

'What for?'

'To tell them Hugo got into Gryffindor, obviously.'

'I'm sure Neville will,' said Rose carelessly. 'I'll see you in the Common Room, okay?'

Albus watched her go before turning back to Chandra, who was still engrossed in conversation with Elena Fortescue. He waited several moments before either girl registered that he was staring at them, at which time Elena cast him an odd look and shuffled away slightly, evidently irked by his apparent eavesdropping.

Deciding not to dwell on another of his frequent social missteps, he asked of Chandra, 'So are you ready to head up?'

Chandra's cheeks darkened immediately and she plucked up a stray lock of black hair and wound it around her finger intently. 'Oh, sorry, Al. I told Connor I'd meet him after dinner to… to go for a walk.'

'Oh,' mumbled Albus, 'right.'

'You can walk up with Rosie, though, can't you?'

'She's got to get all the first years together.'

'Oh, right! Stupid me! Well, um… perhaps you could come along with Connor and me. I'm sure he wouldn't mind. We were just going to see if any of the classrooms are unlocked-'

'No thanks,' Albus spluttered as quickly as he could, and he jumped to his feet in an instant. 'I'll just see you later.'

'Oh, okay,' said Chandra, looking vaguely disappointed, but Albus could not bear to look at her any longer and he hurried away into the crowd pouring out into the entrance hall.

He allowed the crowd to jostle him forward, not watching where he was going, his mind full of Chandra and Gustav Gamp and the lingering stares of the first-years. How long had he gone in life without being utterly humiliated? How long had he gone without saying something utterly ridiculous, or doing something painfully embarrassing, or-

'Oi, watch it, Potter!'

Emory Vane's sharp voice pulled him from his reverie; he had collided with his tall, wiry-haired dorm-mate at the foot of the Marble Staircase, having not realised the crowd had come to a halt under the congestion of students ascending the stairs.

'Oh, sorry, Emory, I didn't…'

His voice died in his mouth at the sight of the tiny blonde girl that stood amongst the group of his dorm-mates. Cassie Kettleburn, her thin, sandy-coloured hair pulled into a familiar pony-tail, accompanied by her usual gang of Hufflepuff girls, stood amongst the Gryffindors, conspicuously avoiding his gaze, her usually rosy-cheeks positively scarlet at the sight of him.

He was staring at her too long, he knew, and yet he could not look away, nor could he force himself to speak, and the moment of silence seemed to last an eternity before Hamish Coote spoke.

'So, how was your summer, Albus?'

'G-good. Yes, it was… good, thanks.' He was fully aware of the giggle being stifled by Cassie's friends, while Cassie herself was staring stubbornly at her feet. He forced himself to keep his eyes on Hamish, whose robes boasted a gleaming golden badge. 'Oh, you got prefect. Congratulations.'

'Oh, yeah, thanks,' said Hamish with a shrug.

'Surprised you didn't get it, Potter?' asked Johnny Kirke. 'I thought surely Professor Longbottom would have hand-picked you for it.'

The Hufflepuff girls didn't even bother to stifle their giggles at that, and Emory Vane and Atticus MacDonald too let out a huff of laughter.

'Er, no… I guess not…' mumbled Albus.

'Well, I wouldn't worry,' said Hamish. 'It's a bit of a pain, really. Only just managed to avoid taking the first years up. The new head girl's a bit psycho.'

'She's your cousin, isn't she, Potter?' asked Emory Vane gleefully.

'Oh, shit, right…' muttered Hamish. 'Well, I mean, she's good at her job I guess.'

Albus said nothing as another string of laughter sounded around him; Cassie and Hamish were the only ones who seemed able to control themselves, and yet Cassie still did not seem capable to tearing her eyes from her shoes.

'Oh, good, the line's moving,' said Hamish eagerly, and they started up the steps. 'We were gonna go to the Transfiguration room for a bit before curfew. You wanna come, Albus?'

If he had had any desire to accept the offer it was quickly crushed by the groans he heard emitted from Vane.

'Er, no thanks. I'm a bit tired.'

'Oh, yeah, fair enough,' said Hamish, and Albus did not miss the relief in his voice. 'Well, we'll see you up in the dorm.'

'Yeah. Night.'

At the top of the Marble Staircase he watched the group depart, his eyes fixed upon Cassie's golden hair, careful to scan for any sign of physical familiarity between her and any of the Gryffindor boys.

'You stalking her now?'

The arrival of his brother did nothing to improve him mood, and Albus turned to see him approaching with Finlay from down the Marble Staircase.

'I was talking to her,' grumbled Albus. 'Am I not allowed to talk to her?'

'You were not, you liar. You were talking to Coote. You couldn't even manage to look her in the eye. How are you gonna find a girl to shag you if they can't even bring themselves to look at you?'

'Leave him alone, James,' protested Finlay as they started up the Marble Staircase again. 'It's a good thing, Al. If she can't look at you it means she's not over you. You might still have a chance.'

'Fuck that,' said James. 'She's too scrawny. You should ask out that Ravenclaw girl with the curly hair.'

'Faheem?' inquired Finlay. 'Isn't she still with that Malfoy kid?'

James gave a mournful sigh. 'Typical. Well, you could ask out Thomas I suppose. If she's sleeping with Davies her standards obviously aren't too high. She might be a bit too pretty for you, though.'

'I can't ask out Chandra. She's my friend.'

'She is not,' said James, stopping at the sixth floor landing to fix Albus with a pointed look. 'She's Rose's friend and therefore she has to be nice to you. Whether being nice extends to shagging you remains to be seen, however.'

'She is pretty fit, Al,' said Finlay.

Albus rolled his eyes and continued up the staircase, but he had only taken a few steps before he realised James and Finlay were no longer in his stride, and turned back to see them poised on the sixth floor landing. 'Where are you two going?'

'Ask no questions and I'll tell no lies, Ducky,' James sung to him.

Albus trudged back down the steps to re-join them. 'You know Mum said she'd take away your broom if you get another detention before October.'

'Ye of little faith,' said James. 'Not every misdemeanour we commit results in detention. If so we wouldn't be able to make it to any classes.'

'So what are you doing?'

'That's for me to know and you to fry your teeny, tiny brain trying to find out.'

'You're a prat, James,' Finlay informed him. 'We found some Slytherins on the map down in an empty corridor and we're gonna chuck a dung bomb in. Wanna come?'

Albus's immediate response was "no", and it came so automatically that he omitted a rather choked splutter as he tried to catch it before it left his mouth. Recovering quickly and ignoring James's laughter, he said, 'Alright.'

James let out another burst of laughter. 'Very funny. Now go away, you're holding us up.'

'No, I'm serious,' insisted Albus. 'Let me come with you.'

'You've never experienced anything more exciting than Gran's trifle in your life. This is gonna do you in, Al.'

'I mean it!' he told his brother imploringly. 'Come on, James, let me come! What do you think's gonna happen?'

'Come on, James, just let him come,' said Finlay. 'If we don't hurry we're gonna miss them.'

James gave an immense groan of reluctance. 'Okay, fine, but you better not be an idiot about it, alright, Al? Just do what I tell you and you'll be fine, alright?'

Albus had lived most of his life under the guidance of the philosophy that he should absolutely not do what James told him to do for the sake of his own survival, and so, casting away the ideology he had lived by for his first fifteen years of life, he gave a nod.

The walk down the sixth floor corridor seemed to last for hours and the inexplicable sense that he was walking to a noose waiting for his neck settled upon him, but he did not allow himself to fall behind Finlay and his brother.

'Down here,' James instructed of them, gesturing down a narrow offshoot of the corridor, in which he could see nothing but pitch-blackness.

'Are they down there?' asked Albus wearily. The prospect of wondering through pitch-blackness into a hoard of Slytherins was anything but attractive.

'Through there and then they're in the corridor parallel to this one that goes to the Charms room,' said James, glancing down at the weathered yellowed parchment in his hand.

James turned, unheeded, down the blackened corridor. Finlay offered Albus a grin before following his partner in crime and Albus, swallowing the fear in his throat, hurried along after them.

Albus felt his way along the corridor, his fingers grazing the cold, stone walls as he followed the sound of James and Finlay's soft footsteps, and he asked into the darkness, 'Do you think this is what Dad intended you to use the map for?'

'Shut up,' was the reply he received from both seventh years, and a moment later he felt himself collide with a tall figure. A hand caught his forearm in an iron grip, holding him upright and panic flooded through him before a light appeared at the tip of James wand and he saw the figure he had collided with was Finlay.

They had reached the end of the narrow corridor, which was barred by a heavy, burgundy tapestry, through which Albus could hear a murmur of voices. James raised a finger to his lips and fixed his brother with a piercing look, and Albus knew that should he make any noise he would pay for it, and, following James and Finlay's lead, he approached the tapestry, resting his ear against it to listen to the voices of the Slytherins on the other side.

'Look, I don't know what you're so worried about-'

'Goyle,' James informed Albus.

'I think it's pretty obvious what he's worried about, Edmund,' came the snarling voice of Lucien Runcorn. 'I'm worried about the same thing.'

'The fifth years,' narrated Finlay, to which he received a nod from James.

'Then you're an idiot,' snapped Clement Rosier. 'We've told you, there's no way the school's going to find out-'

'And how can you promise that?' demanded Beaumont Burke. 'For all we know the teachers could be watching everything we do after what happened last night.'

'Why would anyone suspect that had anything to do with us?' demanded Rosier.

'On the count of three?' Finlay whispered across at James.

'If you need that explained to you then I definitely don't have any interest in getting involved,' came the drawling voice of Scorpius Malfoy.

James gave a nod and, dimming the tip of his wand and stowing it away, he withdrew from his pocket a heavy-looking dung domb. 'One, two-'

'Wait!' Albus hissed at them, catching James's hand and forcing himself to ignore the venomous look James gave him. 'Listen!'

'Excuse you, Malfoy?' snarled Rosier. 'You should be honoured that we've even asked you to join us.'

'I have no idea why,' retorted Malfoy. 'Now if you don't mind I'll be going-'

'Wait,' Rosier hissed at the Ravenclaw, and from the heavy silence that fell upon the group Albus knew that Rosier had withdrawn his wand. 'I suggest you take a moment to really think about what you're saying.'

'I don't need a moment to think about it,' Malfoy told him, and there was a second of silence in which Albus was sure Malfoy had withdrawn his wand. 'I already know my answer. Get out of my way.'

'You're seriously going to walk from this opportunity?' demanded Rosier, his voice laced with venom. 'You seriously want to do that?'

'Clement, put your wand away,' snapped Runcorn.

'Wait, wait, Lucien, I think Malfoy owes us an answer,' hissed Edmund Goyle, and with a rustle of his robes he too doubtlessly withdrew his wand. 'You know my father told me about your family but I decided to give you a chance-'

'Very kind of you, Goyle,' snapped Malfoy. 'I'm so sorry to have wasted your energy. Merlin knows it must take you a lot of effort to haul yourself up the stairs.'

'You little – Levicorpus!'

'Protego!'

The absence of yells told Albus that Malfoy had managed to blocked Goyle's jinx, and Runcorn's raised voice rung around the corridor. 'Stop it, for god's sake!'

'Don't pretend you don't know what's going on, Malfoy!' Goyle bellowed. 'Don't pretend you don't know what your father's up to!'

'Edmund, shut up,' snarled Burke.

'You can pretend my family's beneath yours, but we're going to end up fighting on the same side-'

'Edmund, shut the hell up!'

'What the fuck's your problem, Beaumont?'

'There's someone listening behind that tapestry, that's what!'

Albus did not even have time to straighten up before he heard Malfoy's shout of 'Evanesco!' and the tapestry before them vanished. There he stood, flanked by James and Finlay on either side, the three of them empty-handed and frozen in their spots, five pairs of wands aimed at the mouth of the tiny corridor where they stood, Edmund Goyle's pointed squarely over the space in Albus's chest that guarded his heart.

'Move,' Goyle hissed at him, 'and you're dead.'


Song credit: This Devil's Workday by Modest Mouse.

A/N: Jesus Christ, another ridiculously long chapter that was more exposition than substance. I'm sorry. I may not be the most frequent updater but I promise that none of my chapters will be short.

If anyone's wondering what the point of having Aurora Sinistra as Head Mistress instead of McGonagall was, it's because JK Rowling had stated through various sources prior to the Cursed Child (I.E. real canon) that McGonagall had retired before James started at Hogwarts. Sinistra just seemed like a good choice as by this point she's been working at the school for over twenty years.

Is anyone intrigued yet? Does anyone care in the slightest? If so please, please, please let me know in a review, no matter how brief or critical. You will have my endless adoration.

The next chapter will be entitled She Only Loves Me When I'm There, or it will be if I ever upload, which may not happen if I don't get some sign (reviews!) that there are a people out there wanting to see how this story plays out.

Once again, thank you forever and ever for reading! xxx

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