Dance Little Liar
She'll detect the fiction on your lips
And dig a contradiction up
And the clean coming will hurt
But you can never get it spotless
When there's dirt beneath the dirt
The liar takes a lot less time
Awakening in Gryffindor tower, weak daybreak light creeping through the scarlet curtains, the deep breathing of her dorm-mates rising around her, was worlds away from waking beneath her parent's roof in London.
As it was each morning, she was first to wake. She slid from beneath her covers and crept to the window between her and Sally Wood's bed to peel back the curtain. The morning sky was alight with swarming red and orange clouds, stretching before her to meet the dark, shapeless peaks of the Forbidden Forest that lay at the edge of the horizon.
A familiar brush of silky fur looped round her ankle and she glanced down to find Chandra's purring tabby cat slinking between her legs, gazing up at her with expectant yellow eyes, and she thought inexplicably of her mother, who she would find in the mornings at the breakfast table, reading glasses perched on the end of her nose as she scoured her ever-present piles of Ministry parchment, one hand clutching a lukewarm cup of tea and the other scratching the neck of her ancient ginger cat, and in that moment she was enveloped by the immense desire to return home to London.
'You're going to have to wait,' she informed the cat at her feet. 'She'll feed you when she wakes up.'
Once showered, dressed and having inspected her body in the bathroom mirror, she crossed noiselessly back through the dormitory and down the stairs into the Common Room, occupied only by younger students more eager to begin the school-year than older students who would savour another half hour of sleep, to find Albus waiting in his usual armchair beside the hearth, his head drooping onto his shoulder as he fought sleep, freshly-washed black hair flattened against his forehead that she knew would deteriorate into its usual unruly mess as it dried.
'Morning,' he yawned when he saw her.
'Sleeping. She's never been awake before eight a.m. in her life.'
She ignored his disheartened look and asked, 'Where'd you get to last night?'
She watched as Albus threw a scouring look around the common room for any would-be eavesdroppers.
'Honestly, Al,' she sighed
'I don't want anyone to hear.'
'What? Should we be putting up protective charms?'
Albus hesitated, a frown playing at his pale face, and when he spoke again she caught a tremor of anxiety in his voice. 'I… On the way back to the common room last night I ran into James and Finlay.'
Rose gave him her frequently utilised looks of derision, eyebrows raised and lips pursed. 'Did that really require such digression?'
'You don't get it,' he grumbled.
'Well, if you told me that might help. What happened?'
He made another flinching glance over his should and she gave a heaving sigh of frustration.
'Spit it out, Al.'
He turned back to her, fidgeting in his seat, before telling her in one breath, 'The Slytherins caught the three of us eavesdropping on them and now I think they're going to try to murder us.'
The proclamation was enough to fault Rose's composition. 'Pardon?'
They had reached the bottom of the Marble Staircase when Albus concluded his recount of the previous evening's misdemeanours, finishing with a woeful sigh and turning wide, deploring eyes to Rose, pleading for her consolation. She was silent for a moment before asking slowly, 'And you're sure that's what they were talking about?'
'Of course I'm sure! It was pretty obvious what they were on about.'
'Yes, but think about it, Al,' she began calmly as they entered the Great Hall, 'why would a bunch of fifteen year olds have any business with a plot against Gamp? If there even is a plot against Gamp, which I think remains to be seen.'
'Rosie, did you even listen?' asked Albus beseechingly, dropping into a seat at the Gryffindor that put them at a safe distance from any other early diners. 'Goyle tried to Crucio James!'
At that Rose was silent, watching Albus with wide brown eyes, before asking in a small voice, 'Really?'
'But he didn't?'
'Runcorn and Malfoy stopped him.
She was silent again before she reached for the dish of scrambled eggs in the centre of the table, served out a plate for each of them and told him matter-of-factly, 'If he tried to do that then that's really bad.'
'Wow, really, Rosie? I had no idea,' grumbled Albus, glaring down at his plate of eggs.
'Of course, it's not as if it would have done anything,' she told him reasonably. 'I mean he struggles to even get his cauldron boiling, let alone use magic that powerful – although it's lucky they stopped him before he could try,' she finished quickly at the look Albus gave her. 'Perhaps you should tell the teachers.'
Albus gave a furious shake of his head. 'No way.'
'Because all they'll do is deny it and then what if they try to like, you know, shut me up…'
Rose rolled her eyes. 'What, murder you in your sleep?'
'Goyle and Rosier were furious that we'd been listening.'
'You shouldn't worry about them,' she told him sternly. 'They're total idiots. You know they are. They were probably just trying to wind up Malfoy.'
'You don't get it,' he insisted. 'Malfoy was with them – they want him to join them. I mean, what if…'
'What if what, Al?'
'What if they're… Death Eaters?'
She gave him what was possibly the most severe eye roll she had ever given him. 'Albus…'
'Those things don't happen anymore,' she assured him. 'Just because our parents are totally paranoid doesn't mean you be too.'
'Gamp and Rowle-'
'Gamp and Rowle are detested by the whole country,' she dismissed. 'They're the minority. And besides, even if Goyle and Rosier were stupid enough to try anything it's not like they'd ask Malfoy to join them. Blood-purists loathe his family even more than they do ours.'
The Great Hall was slowly filling with students, and she watched Albus throw a glance over his shoulder as a group of third-year girls took the seats beside them. He turned back to her, swallowing the argument she knew he was concocting and settling for, 'I know what I heard.'
'I'm not saying you didn't – I'm just telling you that you need to stop worrying. Whatever Goyle and Rosier are up to isn't worth your while worrying about. They're hardly going to try anything in school, so you ought to forget about it. And as for Malfoy, you've really got to stop listening to my dad whinging about his and stop trying to find reasons to hate him. Their family's been minding their own business since the war. Now would you eat something, please?'
A frown fixed on his pale face, Albus sufficed to nod and reached for his fork to take a half-hearted stab at his eggs as the fluttering of eings from above announced the arrival of the morning post.
'I hope we don't have Charms today,' said Rose thoughtfully, as a tawny owl landed before her and offered her a copy of the Daily Prophet. 'Lucy's forced another prefect's meeting upon us this evening and I can't bare that and Smith in the same day.'
'Another meeting?' asked Albus as Rose paid the owl. 'But you all met up on the train yesterday.'
'Yes, but she needs to know our timetables before she can organise patrols,' she explained as she shook open the paper. 'It's just my luck that the year I get made prefect is the year she's…'
But Albus had to presume the conclusion of her musings for himself, for she had fallen silent at the sight of the Prophet's front page.
'Rose?' he asked shrewdly. 'What is it?'
She gave him a look that she suspected betrayed her misreading of the matter and spread the paper out on the table for the both of them to read it.
DRACO MALFOY ARRESTED ON SUSPICION IN GAMP MURDER INVESTIGATION
Albus glanced up to look at his cousin, and she told him fiercely, 'That doesn't prove anything.'
'Course not,' he grumbled back, turning back to the paper to continue reading.
Ignoring him, she swivelled in her seat to cast a look across the Great Hall to Ravenclaw table, and all around the hall students were doing the same. He was easy to spot beneath his platinum blonde fringe, sitting beside his girlfriend, wearing a pained look that confirmed for her that he had already seen the headline. She tore her eyes from him to re-join Albus in poring over the article.
In the early hours of this morning, Aurors stormed the prestigious Malfoy Manor, the ancestral Wiltshire home of the infamous Malfoy family. Draco Malfoy was taken into custody on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Gustav Gamp, former Head of the DMLE who was found dead in his place of residence yesterday morning.
It is understood that a skirmish ensued, with the Auror Office turning to force when Mr Malfoy resisted initial requests to present himself to the Ministry for questioning relating to his knowledge of Gamp's murder.
This is not the first scandal the Malfoy family has found itself in the midst of in its long history. Known for their status as one of the last truly Pureblood families within Great Britain and its enduring anti-Muggle stance, the Malfoys played a prominent role in the Second Wizarding War. Both Draco Malfoy and his aging father Lucius Malfoy were known Death Eaters and remain some of the few who escaped imprisonment following the Post-War Trials between 1998 and 2000.
Albus shifted beside her, straightening up as he finished reading, but she refused to glance around at him for the "I told you" she knew was coming.
Despite criticism from the public and Ministry officials alike, the Auror Office has maintained its faith in the Malfoy family's innocence in the post-war years. Since then rumours have circulated within the Ministry that it was at the recommendation of Harry Potter that the Malfoy family should be acquitted of all charges. Mr Potter was unavailable for comment, having been admitted to St Mungo's earlier this morning.
Her stomach gave an unpleasant turn and she raised her eyes to meet Albus's. He sat rigidly in his seat, wearing the impenetrable look on his pale face that he had on the other numerous mornings in which the Prophet hailed bad news for the Auror Office, before he jolted upwards and was on his feet.
'Al!' she hissed at him, but he paid her, nor the on looking students, any mind as he bolted towards the doors of the Great Hall.
There were few things that could urge James Potter to decline the promise of another hour's sleep in the morning, and the phenomenon of seeing him walk the earth at this early hour was limited to those mornings in which he was to wake in a bed other than his own beside a girl who wasn't his girlfriend.
Corrina Peakes, as nice as she was to look at from across the stretch of crimson pillow between them in her bed, paled in comparison to a sky over the castle ablaze with September sun and the immense comfort of solitude in which he revelled as he lay sprawled on the Quidditch pitch with a cigarette in hand and his Comet 380 at the crook of his elbow, until he heard the murmur of distant voices swept across the lawn by the breeze from back towards the castle, and he turned on his elbow to glance over his shoulder to see Finlay, Xan and Louis approaching from across the pitch.
'I knew you he'd be here,' he could hear Finlay tell them as they drew nearer. 'Harnessing the power of pitch to choose a new seeker, hopefully.'
'Made your get away, did you?' asked Xan conversationally as she reached him.
James took a drag of his roll-up. 'I have no idea what you could mean, Roxanne.'
'Oh, so it wasn't your loathsome form I spotted in Corrina's bed when I got up to go to the loo last night?' she asked as she and her team mates dropped down to join James on he grass.
'You're despicable,' Finlay told him, though he was grinning.
'Did you three come all the way down here to tell me that?'
'No, we came to make a game-plan,' Xan informed him, 'but I thought I'd shoot two birds with one stone and tell you you're pathetic while I'm here.'
'You better be nice to her,' Louis warned him, reaching for the tin of tobacco that lay beside James and beginning to roll himself a smoke. 'As much as I love seeing Ravenclaw get the cup, it'll start to get boring if we let it happen two years in a row.'
'Lou, I'd never touch another woman if I thought it would make any difference,' he informed the blond.
'What do you mean?' asked Xan shrewdly, as she too began to roll herself a cigarette.
'She quit,' James informed them matter-of-factly.
'You're joking!' burst Finlay.
'Nup. Says she wants to focus on her NEWTs. I'd forgotten why I didn't like her.
'So now we not only need a new seeker but a new chaser too?' asked Finlay bitterly. 'Brilliant. And I thought you three were quitting?'
Louis gave no reply other than to smoke his cigarette, while James proclaimed, 'It settles my nerves.'
'And I never said anything about quitting,' Xan informed him, 'only if I were to smoke at home Mum would hex my fingers off.'
'Well, you'll all leave beautiful corpses,' mused Finlay. 'So have you thought about replacements?'
'I've tried not too. Looks pretty dismal,' said James.
'Ewan's a good flyer,' offered Louis. 'He didn't try out last year because of OWLs.'
'No way,' James told him flatly.
'And why not?'
'Because last time one of your boyfriends was on the team you ended up duelling in the change rooms and I'd prefer not to have my robes set on fire again.'
'Oh, that won't happen this time,' Louis assured him lazily. 'Rory was very temperamental. Ewan's nothing like that.'
'I don't care. You're way overdue to dump him as it is. How long have you been together now, three weeks?'
Louis gave him one of his crooked grins from behind his cigarette, accompanied by a crude hand gesture.
'I'd watch it unless you want to start buying your own tobacco, mate.'
Finlay intervened with, 'So when are we going to hold try-outs?'
'What will try-outs do?' grumbled James. 'We saw what was on offer last year and they were all abysmal. We need to just pick someone and start training them immediately.'
'That's your plan?' scoffed Xan. 'God knows how you got captain.'
'God knows how you got prefect but miracles do happen,' he told her. 'I'll hold try-outs if it msatters that much to you, but I don't want to sit through the usual trash that come every year. I want at least some idea who we're going to get so we can keep it short. Lou, ask the guys in your dorm.'
'And I'll ask the girls in mine,' said Xan. 'There must be one you haven't trodden on yet, right?'
'Possibly,' James mused. 'I remember some altercation in a dark room with Anadia Indra back in fifth year, but I think the amount of fire whiskey consumed nullifies it. Shall we go eat?'
Xan aimed a kick at him as he got up and he gave her shoulder a vague shove before offering a hand to pull Louis up.
'We don't even know if that article was right.'
'I need to check.'
'Then let's go to the owlery,' she urged, striding behind him as he hurried down the empty corridor. 'We'll owl your mum-'
'She won't be home if he's…' But he fumbled over the words into silence and quickened his pace. 'I just have to check.'
The doors of the hospital wing stood ajar, though the long room was empty for all but the school matron, it being too early in the term for students to have done themselves serious harm, who glanced up at the pair from the bed she had been making.
'Oh, hello, you two – what's happened?'
Albus, struggling for breath, could manage no more than a panted, 'Where's Neville?'
Hannah peered at him, striding towards them from across the room, wearing the look of scrutinising concern she had mastered since becoming the school's matron. 'He's inside having a cup of tea. Albus, dear, what on earth has happened?'
'I- I just need to talk to him,' he told her. 'Can I go in? Please?'
'Yes, Al, of course, but…'
Albus dashed across the hospital wing to the door that led it into the couple's adjoining quarters,, Rose and Hannah at his heels.
The Herbology teacher sat perched at the breakfast table beneath the window that gazed out at the lake, a copy of the Daily Prophet spread beneath a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea, and the look he gave Albus upon his entry told the boy he had already scoured the article that dominated the paper's front page.
'Albus,' he told him gently, getting to his feet, 'how are you?'
'You read it?' he asked in a shaky voice. 'The Prophet – the arrest, and Dad-'
'Yes, Al, I did,' said Neville evenly, a wry smile creasing his cheeks, and he raised a steady hand to motion Albus forward to the breakfast table. 'Sit and have a cup of tea. You too, Rosie-'
'It said he was at St. Mungo's,' Albus told him. 'It said he was hurt at Malfoy Manor-'
'It didn't say that, Al,' Rose reminded him, in the seldom used tone that was the closest she ever came to sounding gentle. 'It just said he wasn't available for comment-'
'It said he was at St. Mungo's,' he snapped at her, a bite in his voice that was as rare for him as reassurance was for Rose, 'and I need to go see him – I need to talk to him.'
'But if we just owl your mum-'
'Al, come on,' said Neville soothingly, 'would you please sit down? I just made a pot and you've got time before class-'
'I'm not going to class,' he proclaimed, his panic shifting to allow a sprouting of anger. The look of relentless calm on Neville's face did nothing but propel his anger. 'Dad's hurt and I've got to talk to Mum and it could take all day for her to owl me and the common room fire places aren't connected to the Floo Network but the professors' are so… so can I use your fireplace? Please?'
Neville seemed to consider him for a moment, wearing a look sombre contemplation that was hauntingly similar to his father, before he gave a nod. 'Of course, Al. But quickly, because you better get to class. It's alright, Hannah, you go. I can do it.'
Hannah, who had moved towards the fireplace to tend to it, gave her husband a raised-eyebrowed look of uncertainty before she resigned to nod and bustled from the room, giving Albus's shoulder a quick brush with her hand as she did so that made him feel more like a patient than anything else.
Moments later, Neville was kneeling over emerald flames in the hearth, before he got to his feet and ushered Albus forward.
'Now, she may not be home, you know,' Neville reminded him gently. 'But if she isn't it probably just means she's out.'
'Don't let yourself jump to conclusions, okay?'
'Okay,' Albus murmured, but his heart was already beating hard enough to make his whole body quiver. He hobbled over the to the fireplace, feeling Neville gazing down upon and knowing Rose had her eyes fixed upon him from where she stood hovering by the breakfast table. He dropped onto his knees and, with a deep breath, plunged his head into the emerald flames.
'Hecate Hall, Godric's Hollow,' he instructed of the fireplace, before he was enveloped by the sickening spinning sensation he had been anticipating. He pressed his eyes shut, wincing through dizzying rotation before stability returned and he opened his eyes to see his kitchen before him.
Ignoring the unsettling quiet of the house, he called out into the kitchen, 'Mum! Hello? Mum!'
No reply came, and his heart began to beat faster than he thought it could ever muster.
'Mum! Mum, are you there? Mum-'
And then he heard hurried footsteps and the creaks that he knew could only belong to the old staircase that led into the manor's upper floors.
'Al?' he heard his mother's voice, distant and unmistakably on edge, before she came into view across the room in the doorway, donned in her dress-robes and her long hair swept up into a neat bun, her face pinched with panic. 'Al, what's happened? Are you alright?'
'I saw the Prophet,' he told her in one breath. 'Dad – St Mungo's-'
And in an instant the panic across his mother's freckled face was swept away by the look of impatience she often wore when giving James one of his frequent reprimands.
'Oh, Al,' she said with a sigh, crossing to the fireplace to stand over him. 'How many times have we told you not to listen to what the paper says about our family?'
Albus gazed up at her in bemusement, and the murmur of dismay his mother gave told him his face exposed this.
'Your dad's fine,' Ginny told him. 'There was some accident at the office. You know the Ministry insists on admitting staff to St Mungo's no matter how minor the injury is. He's going straight back to the office as soon as the healers let him.'
'So... so he's… he's okay?'
'Yes, Al, of course he is. I don't know how many times I've told you that if something happens, you and James and Lily are going to be the first to know.'
'I know but…' He suddenly felt terribly foolish, thinking of Neville and Rose waiting for him to return the news. 'The Prophet said-'
'The Prophet is full of rubbish. You know that.'
'You write for them!'
'The sports section,' she told him rather defensively. 'I can't stand any of their political nonsense. He wasn't even at Malfoy Manor. There was some skirmish in the interrogation room.'
'So... so you're going to see Dad now?'
'No, I'm working today,' she told him. 'He might have been emitted by now. I haven't spoken to him. Dennis just let me know what was going on.'
'Oh,' was the only reply Albus could muster.
Ginny paused for a moment, gazing down at her son with a look that Albus thought may be somewhat pitying. 'I'll have him write to you, okay?'
'He doesn't have to.'
'Well, he'll want to,' she assured him. 'He knows how to look after himself, your dad. You don't need to worry, Ducky, okay?'
'Have you had breakfast?'
'Well, you should go eat something. It's your first day back.'
He watched his mother straighten her robes before she asked, 'Are you using Neville's fireplace?'
'Yeah, I came and asked if I could.'
'Could you tell him I want to talk to him for a minute?'
Albus knew what her intentions were, and he gave her a nod. 'Okay. Bye, then.'
'Bye, Ducky. Have a good first day, won't you?'
'I hope work's okay.'
'Thank you, darling. And let Neville know, please.'
He gave her another nod, returned the kiss she blew him, and, shutting his eyes, pulled his head from the flames. Opening them he found himself back in the Longbottoms' office, Rose watching from across the room, brows knitted together, and Neville standing over him with a hand offered to help him up. He got to his feet and dusted the soot of the fire off of his front, murmuring with downcast eyes, 'Dad's fine. They just sent him to St Mungo's for a check up.'
Rose gave a deep sigh of relief, seeming to emit more air than lungs could comfortably hold, and Neville gave him a great clap on the back.
'Good! That's great, Al. Told you, didn't I? Your dad's too stubborn to let anything get the best of him.'
Albus gave another one of his weak nods. 'Mum wants to talk to you.'
'Oh, she does?' said Neville, glancing towards the fireplace with a look that told Albus he too knew that Ginny had not approved of his enabling of her son's anxieties. 'Well, I best pop in for a chat. I've got your timetables over there on the desk if you want to grab them.'
'Thanks, Neville,' said Rose.
'Yeah, thank you,' murmured Albus. 'And I – thanks.'
'It's no worries, Al,' Neville assured him, giving him another clap on the back, before he dropped to his knees and plunged his head into the fire.
Ginny's voice could be heard in an instant, unintelligible but loud enough to reach them through the fireplace, and they exchanged looks before crossing to Neville's desk to collect their timetables.
'So he's okay?' Rose asked once they were out in the corridor on their way back to the Great Hall.
'He's fine. He wasn't even at Malfoy Manor. It was just some office accident,' Albus told her flatly. He felt inexplicably awful in the wake of speaking to his mother. Of course he had panicked; of course she had dismissed him. Rose had been right, as had Neville, and no doubt James and Lily would have passed over the article with no panic at all.
'Well, that's good,' said Rose, and the insistence in her voice told him she had read the morbid look on his face. 'The Prophet's full of shit. I don't know why I bother to read it, honestly. They make up all these rumours just to sell more copies.'
'That's what Mum told me.'
He could feel Rose looking at him with her shrewd, watchful eyes but refused to glance back at her as they walked. They took the passageway that would lead them to the entrance hall and Rose opened up her timetable. She gave it a scan and said in what he knew was a bid to break the silence, 'Oh, damn, we've got Charms first with the Ravenclaws.'
Albus opened his mouth to reply, but fell silent at the drawling voice he heard reach them from around the corner in the next passageway.
Rose seemed to have heard nothing, and continued to tell him, 'I don't know how they let an idiot like Smith teach-'
'What – Al, watch it!' she snapped at him, as he took a firm hold of her arm and pulled her up against the wall of the passageway.
'What's the matter with you-'
Rose fell silent, pressed against by Albus's arm, waiting to catch what he was strianing to listen to.
'Scorpius, you are being such an idiot!'
'Oh, not this, Al,' Rose hissed at him, but he gave her hand a pinch to quell her into silence as Scorpius spoke again.
'Look, Zaina, you don't know what you're talking about-'
'You know Professor Karim kicked Kienan off the Quidditch team for getting too many detentions?' came the shrill, fiery voice of Scorpius's girlfriend from around the corner.
'What does that have to with anything?'
'Because you're going to get caught!' Zaina shot at him.
'Zaina, I told you, that's not where I'm going-'
'You don't even know how to apparate! What do you think you're going to do?
'Would you calm down?'
'God, you're being such a baby! He hasn't even been charged with anything yet so I don't know why you're so upset-'
'Look,' Scorpius snapped at her, suddenly vicious, 'you don't know what you're talking about, so I'd stop if I were you.'
There was silence in which Rose and Albus exchanged glances, before it was broken by the sharp, quick footsteps and Zaina's snarl of 'Scorpius, don't you dare walk away from me!' before the Ravenclaw rounded the corner to almost collide with the Gryffindors. The pair of them gazed up at Scorpius and he gazed back, and Albus felt his hand flinch towards his wand before Rose caught his wrist in an act of restraint.
'Scorpius!' thundered Zaina, rounding the corner after Scorpius, and her face flushed as she caught sight of Gryffindors. 'Oh, listening in were you? That's nice.'
'Can't a person walk down a corridor anymore?' retorted Rose.
'Oh, yes, a nice walk pinned up against the wall enjoying my conversation with my boyfriend,' cooed Zaina in voice that bristled with rage. 'Don't you have anything better to do?'
'What, like bicker with my boyfriend for the whole school to hear?'
'Only those sad enough to skulk around corners listening in,' snapped Zaina, and she laid a hand on Scorpius's arm. 'Come on, Scorp.'
Scorpius did not appear to hear her. His was watching Albus unblinkingly as the Gryffindor glared back up into the Ravenclaw's sharp, grey eyes that seemed full of the same venom in his girlfriend's voice. Rose's grip did nothing to deter Albus's fingers hovering over his wand, and with his eyes fixed on Scorpius he knew that the boy was thinking the same, before, in one fluid motion, he shrugged of Zaina's hand and pushed past them down the corridor.
'Scorpius!' Zaina barked at him, but if he heard her he gave no sign of it.
'Albus,' muttered Rose again, tugging at his arm. 'Come on, we should go wake Chandra up.'
He cast Scorpius's retreating figure one last look before he gave her a nod and allowed her to lead him past a rigid Zaina who, by the stony look on her face, had never been the recipient of such an affront in her life.
The Maximillian Crowdy Ward was perhaps the only one of St Mungo's wards which, in Ron Weasley's opinion, was suitable for any individual in the midst of recovering from whatever form of ailment, and he and his family had only been allowed to grace its floors due to the Orders of Merlin attached to their names. It was perhaps the only space within the establishment lacking the characteristic babble, chatter and overcrowding, and on this particularly visit he found the place unoccupied for all but one patient who had been afforded the widest and brightest private room on offer.
'Looking good,' he gave as his greeting as he strode through the door.
The bed's occupant glared at him with heavily bruised eyes and a cumbersome amount of dressing wrapped around his head. 'Shut it.'
'You alright, mate?' he asked as he reached the bed, giving Harry's shoulder a slap of consolation.
'I'll be better once I'm out of here,' said Harry. 'Is twelve hours observation for some bruising really necessary?'
'I don't know if you've looked in the mirror this morning but it seems a bit worse than bruising,' chortled Ron. 'Are they at least going to take your bandages off before you go?'
'They don't have a choice. Once you sign me out I'm in your hands, not theirs.'
'Oh, yeah, do you want to tell me I had to close the shop to come sign you out? Where's Ginny during all of this?'
Harry did not answer immediately, but raised his wand and gave it a few sharp swipes to sever the tightly bound dressing encasing his temple. 'She's covering the match today.'
Ron gave a murmur of distaste. 'She's going all the way up to Barra to cover the Catapults and the Tornadoes? They're at the bottom of the ladder! Thought that would be below her.'
'I suppose not,' said Harry, giving a vicious flick of his wand at the last of the bandages and managing to whip off a good chunk of hair at the back of her head. 'Damn it.'
Ron watched him set about fixing the damage before saying lightly, 'Not happy about getting woken in the middle of the night to hear you've put yourself here again, is she?'
Harry gave a sharp flourish of his wand and vanished the remnants of the bandages and said in a grumble, 'Seems that way.'
'Don't mind her, mate. Everyone's a gone a bit mad after yesterday. Popped in to the Burrow last night for a cup of tea after work and spent the next three hours trying to convince Mum they didn't need to get a Secret Keeper again. And Hermione seemed alright yesterday until she heard about the poor elf.'
Harry rounded on Ron with narrowed elf. 'Gamps elf? But she's alright, isn't she?'
Ron goggled at him. 'They didn't tell you?'
'Tell me what?'
'Well, she… she died.'
'Yeah, from her injuries. Shit, I thought you would have been told. I mean of course they were going to get you and Creevey out first but they didn't reach her in time… Hermione was furious. Came home in tears. She was gone this morning before I woke up. She reckons they still don't think elves should have the rights we do. Seems she's right, I suppose.'
Ron trailed off, peering at Harry as he wordlessly gathered up his robes from the dresser in the corner of the room. Harry drew the curtain around his bed and began changing, Ron waiting in silence before he told him through the curtain, 'Sorry, mate… I really thought you would have been told.'
'Yes, so did I,' replied Harry, emerging fully dressed a moment later..
'Funny to think that it's still like that in some households, isn't it?' sighed Ron. 'I mean, an elf rather do herself in than live without her master.
'It's not just that,' said Harry, in a strained voice that told Ron exactly how unwelcome this revelation had been. 'She said she saw Malfoy kill him.'
'You're joking?' spluttered Ron. 'That's why he's been taken in for questioning?'
'She saw him do it and she used to belong to his family. That's why she killed herself. She knew she wasn't supposed to tell us that.'
'Malfoy,' hissed Ron with an incredulous shake of his head. 'The bloody fool. What the hell would he want with killing Gamp?'
Harry shook his head, possessing no other answer, and pulled on his cloak.
'Thought Malfoy would have no problem with the foul rubbish Gamp and his lot spew out,' said Ron darkly. 'Right little prick he is. He thinks hiding away in his manor house is going to make us all forget what he did.'
'Well, we've all got manor houses these days.'
'Yeah, but you and I don't have a bloody snake on our arms,' grumbled Ron. 'God, this stuff gets me depressed. Come round for dinner next week. You and Hermione deserve some pleasure in your life. Dean and Parvati will be there. George and Angelina. Luna and Rolf will bring the twins. Neville said he and Hannah would try to drop in if they could get away from the school.'
Harry gave a grin and I nod. 'I think I could do with that.
'So if the elf's not there to testify before the Wizengamot, you're going to have to get some other evidence, aren't you?'
'That's what I'm off to do now,' Harry told him as he started for the door. 'I told Dennis he's not allowed to talk to him without me. I want to see what he has to do about it.'
'You're going into work now?' asked Ron. 'Blimey, Harry, you're worse than my wife.'
Harry gave him a grim smile, fastened his cloak, and strode out of the room with Ron at his side.
'He didn't?' asked Chandra in a horrified whisper. 'The Cruciatus Curse? Oh, Merlin… He couldn't have… Oh, that's horrible. Is James okay?'
'Malfoy and Runcorn stopped him before he could cast the curse,' Albus told her in an undertone, glancing up the corridor to be sure their classmates had not ventured to near enough to listen.
Chandra gave a gasp. 'Oh, wow. That was very brave of them. I would have no idea how to stop a curse like that.'
'It wasn't like that,' Albus informed her. 'They just told him not to so they wouldn't all get in trouble. They're all in on it together.'
Chandra gaped at him. 'Oh, no. Oh, that's terrible. You don't really think so, do you? Rosie, do you think it's true?'
Rose gave a shrug. 'I think they were just showing off.'
'But what about Draco Malfoy getting arrested?' said Albus. 'And now his son's sneaking off to go see him!'
'He is?' asked Chandra nervously.
'That's what Faheem seemed to think.' He gestured up the passageway where the other Gryffindors and Ravenclaws were waiting at the classroom door. 'And he isn't here now.'
'Even if he is trying to sneak out, it doesn't mean it has anything to do with Gamp,' Rose told him tiredly.
'But it might,' insisted Albus.
'What if the Slytherins come after you, Al?' squeaked Chandra. 'You should really tell the teachers, Al.'
'Don't bother, Chandra,' Rose advised. 'He's not going to do it.'
Chandra glanced at Rose before shuffling up beside Albus, close enough for him to catch the scent of her hair, before he felt his heart jump into his throat as she closed her fingers around his wrist and whispered, 'You better be really, really careful, Al.'
Rose gave a huff of derision. 'Please, Chandra, don't wind him up.'
But Chandra gave no sign of hearing, gazing up at Albus with bright, brown eyes that he felt somehow he had never seen properly until now, and he wondered if his skin beneath her fingers felt as hot as his face did.
'You will, won't you, Al?' she pleaded in an urgent murmur.
He swallowed heavily and opened his mouth, willing his lips to work. 'I…'
'Thomas, you can climb on top of Potter on anybody's time but mine,' came the snaring voice of Zacharias Smith as he appeared from around the corner, accompanied by his usual scowl and the gleaming spot on top of head his where the torchlight glinted upon his bald patch.
A chorus of laughter rattled around them from their classmates as Chandra dropped his hand, springing away from him as if receiving an electric shock. She hurried away, Rose at her side fixing Smith with a venomous glare as he opened the classroom door. The students trailed in after him, Albus very aware of the piercing glare Connor Davies was shooting his way.
He took a seat at the back of the classroom and Chandra and Rose went to join him before Smith called from the front of the classroom, 'Weasley, Thomas: separate. Do you think I'd forget our rule after the summer?'
Rose gave a rolled of her eyes and made to cross the room, but Smith interrupted her once more.
'No, Weasley, you stay there. Thomas, over here. I don't want to risk you next to Potter.'
Another bristle of laughter from around the room scored Chandra's scuttle across the room and Albus watched her go, feeling terribly guilty and then blisteringly furious as he turned his eyes to watch Smith scribbling on the blackboard. The Professor turned back to the classroom, gesturing towards the blackboard where he had written in smugly flourishing handwriting Ordinary Wizarding Levels, watching them with his narrow eyes to gauge their response as if he had just scribed for them a charm to will a soul into immortality.
'OWLs,' he spat at them. 'Do you all understand what these exams mean for your future?'
It did not matter how many times he posed to the class these maddeningly rhetorical queries or how many times he was met by blank stares; their silence never failed to rile him.
'Well, do you?'
'Yes, Professor,' they sang back to him.
'No, you don't,' he retorted. 'Because they are your future. Any job you ever wished for yourself while lazing around in your common room, know that it is not attainable if you cannot pass even these most basic tests of your magical ability. If you have not yet mastered what seemed to be a much-coveted secret of how to write an essay and how to complete the homework set for you then I suggest you do so now. Judging by the performance of previous year levels in their Charms OWLs, I have been much too lenient with you all.'
Or perhaps, thought Albus bitterly, they failed their exams purely to spite you.
'And that is why this year I will not be tolerating any slack. If you fail to attend my classes, I will not permit you to attend your exams. If you fail to return homework before the deadlines I set for you, I will not permit you to attend your exams. If I see your grades lagging as a result of pure failure to follow my instruction and direction, I will not permit you to attend your exams. Is that understood?'
There was a murmur of "yes, Professor" from around the classroom.
'Good,' said Smith. 'Davies, where is Malfoy?'
Davies glanced up at the professor and then around the classroom, apparently only just registering Scorpius's absence. 'I don't know, Professor.'
'You didn't see him in your dormitory?'
'Er… I didn't really check.'
'I see. Well you can tell him that unless he is curled up in the hospital wing waiting for death to come, he will be attending each and every one of my classes if he intends to sit his Charms exams this year. Understood?'
'Yes, Professor,' grumbled Davies.
'Good.' He turning back to the blackboard and began to scribble. 'Now take out your books and copy this down – carefully.'
Albus shot a sideways glance towards Zaina Faheem, the seat beside her usually occupied by her boyfriend tellingly vacant, and Albus gave a glance to Rose. Her eyes flickered towards him and her frown told him that she too was wondering where Scorpius Malfoy was, and what business he had missing the first class of the year.
He could not recall the last time he had been in such close proximity to Draco Malfoy but he knew, guided by the new lines on the man's pointed face and the thinning of the silvery hair upon his scalp, that it had been many years, and yet his scowl had not changed, fixing Harry with a probing glare as he entered the interrogation room.
'Mr Malfoy,' began Dennis, 'I'm sorry to have kept you waiting.'
'Six hours,' snarled Malfoy, and the livid drawl could have been plucked out of their schoolyard bickering. 'Six hours I've been locked in here at the mercy of your convenience. I hope you realise I'll be complaining to your Head of Department.'
'Well,' began Harry, as he and Dennis took seats across from Malfoy, 'the Head of Department is a good friend of mine, so I wouldn't waste your time if I were you.'
It seemed to Harry that he might as well have spat in Malfoy's face. It contorted into a scowl, the new lines that Harry wasn't familiar with coursing across his pale skin. 'How dare you-'
'Let's take it easy,' said Dennis slowly, raising a hand to signal Malfoy into silence. 'You can do whatever you like once we're finished here, Mr Malfoy, but for now we're entitled to ask you whatever we choose, and afterwards we may refer your to the Wizengamot for the administration of Veritaserum if we deem in necessary, but I'm sure you're familiar with the process.'
Malfoy gazed at Dennis with piercing, grey eyes, before his scowl weakened slightly and he told them in a strained voice, 'I told your arresting officers I have an alibi.'
'Yes, and we're in the midst of following that up,' Dennis told him. 'Of course, with your alibi being your wife and your mother-'
'And my aunt,' said Malfoy hurriedly. 'Andromeda Tonks. My wife and I were with her all evening, until the very early hours of the morning. She'll confirm that.'
'Your aunt doesn't make the most compelling alibi-'
'You know her,' Malfoy insisted, turning in his seat to face Harry. 'You know she wouldn't lie for me.'
'We've taken note of your alibi, Draco,' said Harry calmly. 'It is yet to be either confirmed or debunked, so while my officers get onto that it will make things easier for everyone involved if you explain to us your exact movements on the night of the thirty-first. Don't you agree?' He took Malfoy's silence for consent, and he continued. 'What time did you arrive at the Tonks household?'
Malfoy hesitated, weighing his options, before muttering, 'Around quarter to ten.'
'My wife and I returned home close to five in the morning. My wife had just gotten to sleep when she was woken by your officers demanding entrance to our property before daylight hours.'
'You can include all of that in your complaint to my superior,' Harry told him, scribbling out notes into his pad. 'And the reason for your visit to the Tonks household?'
'My mother and father have been living with Andromeda Tonks for the past two years,' Malfoy told him coolly. 'But you already know that.'
'Yes, I do, but I was referring to this specific visit,' said Harry. 'Ten at night until five in the morning. Those are very odd hours to pop over for a visit, don't you think?'
The baleful scowl returned, and it was several seconds before Malfoy told him in a biting voice, 'I've already explained this your officers.'
'Well, you now you can explain it to us now,' said Dennis.
Malfoy's eyes flickered between the two Aurors before he shifted in his seat, pressing his hands together as if searching for something that was not there, and when he spoke again Harry thought he sounded oddly deflated. 'My father passed away two nights ago. The night Gamp died.'
'I'm sorry to hear that,' Dennis replied.
To Harry's surprise, Malfoy gave a thankful nod. 'He had been ill for a long time. We knew it was coming, but my mother didn't take it well. He died at half past eleven and my wife and I stayed with her for the rest of the night until she could sleep. My father's healer can confirm this. Lucinda Smethwyck.'
'We'll be sure to check with her,' Dennis told him.
'Is there anything else?' asked Malfoy callously. 'My wife is waiting for me at home, having had her house stormed by Aurors, and I would like to assure her that I will be coming home this evening.'
'Let's not get ahead of ourselves,' Dennis advised. 'We need to confirm your alibis and then we can permit your release, but that's not to say that we will not call upon further if we see it necessary. Does that sound reasonable?'
'No, it does not!' Malfoy snarled, rising in his seat as if propelled by his anger. 'My wife is- my wife is worried, and she does not respond well to stress, and I need to get back to her!
'Mr Malfoy,' began Dennis gently, 'I promise you we are immensely sympathetic to the strain this is causing for your family at this difficult time-'
'Like hell you are!'
'- but just as you have a duty to reassure your wife, we have a duty to find Mr Gamp's murderer and hold him accountable,' finished Dennis calmly, as if no interruption had occurred.
'Like you give a damn who killed him,' muttered Malfoy darkly, settling his eyes upon Harry. 'You're as thrilled to see him gone as all of the other Muggle-lovers.'
'I should tell you, Draco, if you're trying to win any favours from us you're not going about it too well,' Harry informed him, and he turned to Dennis and asked, 'Are we done for now?'
'Yes, I think so.'
And with that they drew themselves up, feeling Malfoy's glinting eyes following them, and strode from the interrogation room, the guard securing the door after them.
He glanced up the corridor to see Hermione hurrying towards him, looking particularly flustered with blotches of red clear in her cheeks.
'What's happened now?' he asked her flatly.
'Harry, I'm sorry, I need you right now – I'm sorry, Dennis…' And she seized hold of Harry's arm and began to steer him back to the corridor that led to the senior offices. 'It's Rowle – he's in my office. Oh, Harry, it's just a mess…'
She bustled him down the passageway to her office with such speed and force that he felt at risk of tripping, before they arrived at her office and she wrenched open the door. She was in the process of packing her belongings in preparation for her relocation into the Department Head's office, her bookshelves bare and a multitude of large boxes stacked against the walls ready to be moved. Only her desk remained unchanged, if not for the man seated in front of it.
Mikhael Rowle was a man who, no matter how hard one might hope for the contrary, was not easily forgotten. Standing at well over six foot, broadly built and with sleek blonde hair that sat in a neat ponytail at the back of his head, he was not all together unpleasant to look at, but it was the sneering gaze somewhere between a snarl and a smirk that foreshadowed his snide manner and slithery spiel long before he uttered a word that confirmed for people that he was no a pleasant man.
'Mr Potter,' he said in the low hiss that was perhaps as close he would ever come to sounding welcoming, wearing his twisted half-smile. 'How are you?'
'Fine,' replied Harry, ignoring the man's offered hand and turning to Hermione. 'What's going on?'
'Sit down, Harry,' Hermione told him rather breathlessly, crossing around her desk to take a seat across from Rowle.
Harry did as he was instructed, overtly conscious of Hermione's avoidance of his eyes and the imposing smile playing and Rowle's lips. 'So what is it?'
Hermione seemed to hesitate before telling him in a rather shrill voice, 'You're going to have to release him.'
'Harry, we have to. There was another attempted break in at Gamp's house.'
'You're joking,' said Harry. 'I've got twenty-five Aurors stationed there-'
'They didn't get in, of course,' she assured him. 'But somebody definitely gave it a go – a gouging charm used on the west fence. It wasn't any use with all the protective charms we've got around the place, and whoever tried it must have disapparated immediately once they knew they weren't getting in, but it means that whoever we're looking for is still out that.'
'We have a witness placing him at the scene,' Harry reminded her.
'His alibis check out, Harry.'
'What, his wife and his mother? As if they're reliable.'
'Andromeda too, Harry,' said Hermione pressingly. 'And the healer who was tending to Lucius Malfoy. He died just when Draco said he did.'
'So then Lula was lying then, was she?' he countered.
'Oh, come now, Mr Potter,' said Rowle in what could have been called a chortle if it had belonged to a man with any shred more humanity in his voice. 'You know how these elves are. They get a bit silly when it comes to things like this. They don't process things the way we do, you see. It must have misunderstood.'
'It's not a matter of her misunderstanding,' Hermione told him coolly. 'She was in an immense state of grief and was trying to recall memories from the most traumatic night of her life. And of course in the dark she may not have seen the intruder clearly. Not to mention she had the whole Ministry pressing down on her for answers.'
'Ah,' murmured Rowle, slowly and triumphantly, 'but you agree that it was not Draco Malfoy she saw at Gamp's Manor?'
Hermione gave no response, and Rowle continued. 'And as the elf's testimony – which, really, I think should be discarded as it was evidently not in the right state of mind – was the only piece of evidence linking Mr Malfoy to the investigation, I think it would be wise of you to follow orders and release him before we are all made to face the errors of your judgment.'
'So Lula drives herself to suicide in order to tell us the identity of her master's killer and we're just going to ignore her information?' demanded Harry.
'She's an elf, Mr Potter, nobody understands how their minds work.'
'I think the elves have a pretty good idea,' snapped Hermione, 'but we're not here to discuss that. Harry, you need to let him go. He has grounds to make a serious complaint as it is.'
'And we have grounds to charge him with murder,' snapped Harry. 'If Lula's information had been given before the Wizengamot that would have been enough to get them to convict.'
'But, Mr Potter, the information was not given before the Wizengamot,' contended Rowle. 'There was no Veritaserum, no follow-up interrogation, nothing to support it's claims. Nothing but you and Mr Creevey.'
'Are you accusing us of lying?' demanded Harry.
'I would never do such a thing to a colleague, Mr Potter,' Rowle assured him without hesitation. 'But I am aware – as are many others in our department – that this current administration has been in favour of putting those with certain leanings in positions of power, and there may be some degree of prejudice toward those from Pureblood families.'
Harry opened his mouth to bark back, but Hermione beat him to it. 'Excuse me, Mikhael,' she began hotly 'are you saying that Harry and I are looking to use Draco Malfoy as a scapegoat?'
'Oh, Mrs Granger, I wouldn't dream of it,' he assured her jovially. 'You're not to blame, of course. The Minister, as brilliant as he is, has always had some affinity for Muggles and Muggle-borns, and it only natural that he would feel some need to elevate them. But the war was a long time ago now and it is necessary for Mr Shacklebolt and his allies to put aside your bigotry-'
'Our bigotry?' growled Harry incredulously. 'Don't you dare to talk to me about bigotry, Rowle-'
'Harry...' hissed Hermione warningly.
'I'd listen to your superior if I were you, Mr Potter,' Rowle told him calmly, and his thin lips twisted into a deeper leering smile. 'It's time we even the footing between Muggle-borns and Purebloods, and I will not allow Draco Malfoy to be profiled based on his blood status-'
'Blood status?' bellowed Harry 'We have a witness placing him at the scene!'
'Harry, stop it!'
'Hermione, are you listening to him?'
'Yes, I am,' she replied coolly. 'And I don't think I need to tell you, Mikhael, that I am profoundly worried to hear what you're saying. Suggesting that Purebloods need to somehow take back their power – I don't want to see that kind of rhetoric return to the Ministry, and I will not accept it in my office or in the DMLE, as least while I'm in charge.'
'Oh, forgive me, Mrs Granger,' cooed Rowle. 'The last think I want to do is cause ill rest in the department just as you're trying to consolidate your leadership. Please believe me when I say I'm here to assist you, and I feel that the best assistance I can give right now is offering a voice to the Pureblood community who have felt disillusioned in recent year and, perhaps, even in danger. Especially at a time when prominent Pureblood figures are being targeted.'
'We have no evidence that Gamp's murder was in any way related to blood status,' Hermione told him tersely.
'Ah, and that is why I believe that I am a necessary presence in your administration. It always helps to have an outsider to offer a different perspective, don't you agree?'
The smile he gave Hermione stirred something deep within Harry and, standing rigidly over Rowle, he felt his fingers flinched towards his wand. Hermione's eyes darted to his hand before meeting him with a pleading look, but the exchange went unnoticed by Rowle, who has pulled himself to his feet and said mildly, 'I'll go have the guards release Mr Malfoy, shall I?'
'Be sure to inform him that he is still a person of interest,' instructed Hermione. 'He is not the leave the country.'
'Of course, of course, Mrs Granger,' Rowle assured her, starting towards the door. 'And a good day to you, Mr Potter.'
Harry did not reply but watched the man go, and barely was he out of the room than Harry flicked his wand and the door slammed heavily shut.
'Mrs Granger,' spat Hermione, imitating Rowle's low, silky drawl. 'My god, he is foul. Trying to consolidate your leadership. How dare he? Oh, I can't even… How are you feeling, anyway? When did they release you?'
'I'm going to Kingsley,' was the only reply he gave her. 'I'm not working with him – no way in hell.'
Hermione gave a long sigh and seemed to sink back in her chair. 'We have to, Harry.'
'Hermione, did you hear him-'
'Yes, Harry, I heard everything you did,' she retorted. 'Put aside our bigotry – he is just loathsome.'
'Then let's go tell Kingsley-'
'Not yet,' she told him firmly. 'Everything he said is true-'
'No, it is! You know it is! Because that's exactly what Purebloods think! They think Muggle-borns and blood traitors have taken over the Ministry and the Purebloods are the new minority. And if we have Rowle removed it's just going to prove to them that you and I shouldn't be in positions of power.'
'I can't work with him,' Harry told her flatly. 'I can't – I nearly cursed him right then.'
'Then you need to get over yourself.'
'I'm serious, Harry. You need to be careful. He knows you detest him, and he doesn't think very highly of you. If Malfoy makes a complaint about the arrest – which you know he will – Rowle's going to make sure you and I take all the blame. So please, Harry – be careful.'
There was a pre-dinner ritual that occurred in the evenings in their usual corner of the Gryffindor common room at an hour when the waning sun cast the walls in a dreamy orange. Rose would be reading, Albus would have his journal propped open in front of him and Chandra would shuffle her weathered tarot cards and spread them across the floor with a religiousness that Rose couldn't decide was either naïve or admirable, before turning eager eyes upon her and Albus and asking, 'Who wants to go first?'
'You can, Al,' said Rose without looking up from her book.
Albus was scribbling furiously in his journal, and it took a little nudge from Chandra to bring his forth from his reverie.
'Huh? Oh, no, Rose, you go first,' he told her before returning to his feverish writing.
'I'm reading. I'll go after you.'
Albus tore his eyes from his journal to glance at the book she had open before her. 'The Tale of Two Cities? Haven't you read that before?'
'Yes, because I like it. Hence why I want to read it again if you'll let me.'
'But you've got your prefect meeting,' he reminded her. 'You better go soon.'
'Oh, yes, you're right, Al!' cried Chandra. 'Come on, Rosie, we better hurry.'
Her fate sealed, she snapped shut her book and slid from her armchair to join Chandra on the floor, shooting Albus a withering look as she did so.
'Okay, now, split the deck,' Chandra instructed of her, twirling a lock of thick, black hair around her finger.
Years of feeding Chandra's love for divination had left these directions redundant as Rose knew the process too well for her own liking. She watched as Chandra fixed the cards into her favourite spread, before flipping the first one over.
'The Tower,' said Chandra in the chilling whisper she adopted for her tarot readings. 'You've recently suffered a loss – like a big loss. Oh, Rosie, it's probably talking about Andrew. Are you okay?'
'Who's Andrew?' asked Albus.
'Her Muggle boy in London.'
'Oh, no, Rosie,' cooed Albus, wearing the precocious smile only produced by one of Chandra's incessant predictions for Rose's love-life. 'Are you alright?'
Rose ignored him and said to Chandra, 'Last week you said the Tower meant I had made a positive change in my life.'
'The cards are up for interpretation,' Chandra reminded her matter-of-factly, moving to the second card. 'Oh, look – the Moon.'
'Fear?' asked Rose lazily.
'No, I don't think so,' said Chandra slowly, twisting a long tendril of hair through her fingers thoughtfully. 'I think it's about illusion. There's a secret you don't know about and you need to find out what it is.'
'That's very specific for a tarot card,' said Rose.
'Oh, yes, I practiced a lot over the summer. Mum says I'm getting very good at it. She told me to always go with my first impression. I'm getting very accurate.'
'I can tell,' said Rose, avoiding Albus's eye for fear of cracking a smile.
Chandra beamed at the pair of them and flipped the third and final card. She blinked her long lashes at the faded image before her as if struggling to divine it through a heavy fog. 'Oh, dear…'
Albus sat up in his chair to peer down at the card. 'The Wheel of Fortune? Isn't that good luck?'
Chandra gave a feeble shake of her head, her bright, brown eyes still fixed on the card before her. 'It's reversed,' she said in a whisper. 'That's bad luck. Oh, no… that's really bad. I can feel it.'
Albus peered down at Chandra, who looked on the verge of tears, and then turned to Rose, who looked as unfazed as a person could manage. 'So what's going to happen to her?'
'I… I don't know. But…' Chandra drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her thin frame. 'I just don't know.'
'I wouldn't worry, Chandra,' Rose told her calmly. 'Let's wait and see if I uncover any secrets first.'
'Malfoy,' hissed Albus suddenly, and Chandra and Rose both glanced across at him. 'And Gamp. What if it's all connected?'
'Oh, for god's sake, Al. I am so sick of talking about this.'
'But what if they're planning something big? Have you looked at the Evening Prophet today? There was another attempted break-in at the Gamp house and he was missing from Charms today!'
'Yes, of course,' said Rose. 'That's their grand plan. Malfoy is going to take over the Wizarding World and I'm the only thing standing in his way. First he murdered Gamp and now he's going to murder me.'
'Don't,' murmured Chandra. 'It's not funny.'
'Think about it,' insisted Albus, snapping shut his journal and dropping off the couch to join them on the floor. 'That card might not mean just you. It could mean something bad for everyone. He's definitely up to something. He missed class today-'
'Oh my god, arrest him!' cried Rose. 'You realise his father's just been arrested for murder. I don't know if I'd take the news too well either.'
Albus gazed at her disapprovingly. 'You'll have to start taking this seriously if more people start turning up dead.'
Chandra gave a squeak of panic and pressed her face against her knees. Rose shot Albus a deploring look and, under her piercing gaze, he mumbled rather guiltily, 'But I'm sure that won't happen.'
'Yes, so am I,' said Rose resolutely and she got her feet, gathering up her book and satchel. 'I better go. Chandra, you haven't done Albus's reading yet.'
'Oh…' murmured Chandra, raising her head to stare down at her scattered tarot cards, the ill-fated Wheel of Fortune glinting up at her. 'Yes, of course… Let me shuffle them.'
Rose gave Albus another look warning him against discussing her demise any further with Chandra before she bid them goodbye and crossed the common to the portrait hole.
The castle in late afternoon looked like a painter's impression of some an Arthurian legend, drenched in honey-gold light and inhabited by students who seemed to float up and down the corridors revelling in the joys of the end of the day. In a few brief weeks, she knew, the sun would not be out at this hour, and they would be plunged into darkness earlier and earlier in the evening, and she thought wearily of the patrols she would be assigned to that would force her out of her fire-lit common room and shivering into the dark corridors in the winter evenings.
She had never been to the prefects' office before and walked rather leisurely around the fifth floor until she located it. It was guarded by a wide, oak door, at which she saw the tall, thin figure of Scorpius Malfoy, leaning heavily against the wall of the corridor.
'I didn't get given a password,' she heard him snap as she drew nearer, catching sight of the brass doorknob set into the door that was welded into the shape of a dragon head and was currently gazing placidly up at Malfoy.
'Password?' the doorknob asked.
'I told you, I don't have the damn…' He fell silent as he caught sight of her, straightening up as she drew nearer, and growling at her, 'What's the password?'
'I didn't know we needed a password,' she replied coolly. She realised now there had never been words exchanged between the two of them, and for the first time she appreciated Albus's distaste for the boy.
She extended a hand to try to turn the doorknob and in an instant the dragon head gave a low hiss, opened its mouth and sank its metal fangs deeply into her fist.
'Damn it,' she hissed, balling her bloodied fist into her robes.
'I already tried that,' he told her impatiently, raising his own fang-marked hand as evidence.
'Thank you for the warning. I don't suppose you tried knocking too?'
The glare he gave her told her he hadn't, and she raised a hand to rap smartly on the door as Malfoy slumped back against the wall. A moment later she was met by the sound of muffled footsteps from within the room, and the door was wrenched open to reveal Xan, who gave her a bright grin.
'You're in trouble,' Xan whispered to her teasingly, before stepping aside to allow them entry and calling over her shoulder, 'They're here.'
Malfoy moved forward and she followed him into a wide room, gleaming with evening sunlight that streamed in through two tall, arched windows that stretched ten feet above her head to meet the high ceiling. Four polished pine wood tables were spread about the room, each one inlaid with a jewelled house emblem and large enough to comfortably seat each of the house's prefects. The far corner of the room held a desk and two high-backed armchairs, in which the Head Boy and Girl were sitting.
'What took you so long?' Lucy demanded.
'Sorry,' Malfoy muttered at her. 'I didn't have the password.'
'Well, that's why you should have been here on time so Broderick and I could let you in,' Lucy snarled at him before turning blazing blue eyes on Rose. 'And you?'
She did not answer immediately. She noticed now, as he hobbled forward towards the Ravenclaw table, that Malfoy had abandoned his usual straight-backed march that she had heard Albus and James ridicule on more than one occasion, and was hurrying forward doggedly with a faltering limp.
'Rose?' asked Lucy more pressingly, the colour rising in her freckled cheeks.
'I- I couldn't find the room,' she murmured hurriedly, before crossing the room to take a seat beside Xan at the Gryffindor table with their fellow prefects.
'We better get started if we don't want to run in to dinner time,' began Broderick Cattermole bracingly, hoping to redirect his counterpart's focus from the latecomers. 'We just need to work out a schedule for the patrols. You've all got your timetables, don't you?'
There was a murmur of affirmation and shuffling from around the room as the prefects withdrew their timetables from their bags.
'You'll be patrolling in pairs,' Lucy informed them in a prickly voice. 'One patrol each a week. Ten in the evening until one and then one until four.'
There was a collective murmur of discontent from around the room from the older students.
'Last year the patrols only went from ten until two,' grumbled a Slytherin boy.
'Well, this year it will be ten until four,' said Lucy acidly.
'Four in the morning?' scoffed Mei Zhao from the Ravenclaw table. 'That's ridiculous.'
'Well, um…' mumbled Broderick, looking uncertainly at Lucy for direction, 'we're going to have a look at your timetables and make sure the one to four shifts get covered by people with free periods in the mornings.'
'So we'll have to sleep through breakfast?' asked Hamish Coote glumly.
'And we'll have less time to study,' added a Hufflepuff girl. 'Some of us have NEWTs to think about.'
'And OWLs,' added Zaina Faheem fumingly.
'It's one hour extra each,' Lucy reminded them in a prudish voice. 'One hour more. Is that so terrible?'
'This wasn't your idea, was it, Luce?' asked Xan, who was looking rather amused. 'Come on, be honest.'
'No, it wasn't,' snapped back Lucy. 'For your information, this new arrangement was Professor Sinistra's idea, so you all should be showing a little more respect.'
There was a chorus of groans and protests from around the room, filled with unintelligible mumbles of complaints, until the drawl of Scorpius Malfoy came from the Ravenclaw table over the indistinct mutterings of their peers.
'Why's she changed the rules?'
Lucy's eyes darted towards the blonde. 'Why she did isn't important,' she retorted. 'She told us this is the way she wants it, so this is how it's going to be.'
'Is it because of the Ministry murder?'
Silence swamped over the room at Scorpius's question as all eyes turned towards the Ravenclaw and then shot back to Lucy to gauge her reaction. She was glaring at Scorpius in a way that reminded Rose distinctly of their grandmother, before she told him sharply, 'That's not an appropriate question.'
'But is it though?' asked Cassie Kettleburn from the Hufflepuff table. 'I mean, if the professors think whoever did it might try to get in the school, shouldn't we know about it?' So we know what to look for?'
'The patrols have nothing to do with that terrible murder,' Lucy told him, her voice growing shrill.
'Then why have they done it?' demanded an older Ravenclaw boy.
'I've told you, Professor Sinistra wants us to-'
'You don't know, do you?' said Xan. 'You can just say you don't know.'
'That is not what I'm saying!' shot back Lucy with enough force in her voice to make the Head Boy jump in his seat. 'I'm saying you and I and everybody else have no business knowing why Professor Sinistra wants it this way, but it's our job to do it for her. Now will you please let Broderick and I have a look at your timetables? Otherwise we'll put you on whenever we like and you can all just deal with it.'
A murmur of hostile consent rose from around the room and the next half hour was dominated by discussion regarding when each prefect was available, punctuated by frequent protests from around the room. Rose, who found the prospect of patrols off-putting regardless of which night or hour she was assigned to, instead busied herself with casting sideways glances at Scorpius Malfoy when she was sure he would not meet his eyes. He was sitting as far as he could from Zaina Faheem, his hand disappearing beneath the table to clutch at his damaged leg, and Rose could hear Albus's fretful voice ringing in her ears.
There was another break-in attempt at the Gamp house and he was missing from Charms today!
It's ridiculous, she told herself. Totally ridiculous.
But what if it was true?
When the meeting concluded Scorpius Malfoy was the first to rise, limping back across the room and wrenching open the door before many of the other prefects were even out of their seats. Rose gathered up her satchel, unsure whether the mutterings in the room were dominated by complaint regarding the extended patrol hours or speculation as to whether or not Draco Malfoy was responsible for the murder of Gustav Gamp.
She left the room at Xan's side with a patrol scheduled with Mei Zhao and a promise to herself that she was never, under any circumstance, to voice her suspicions of Scorpius Malfoy to Albus, no matter what fate Chandra's tarot cards had planned for them.
Song Credit: Dance Little Liar by Arctic Monkeys.
A/N: I'm sorry about the long wait between chapters, but here's a long, long, long chapter to make up for it. That being said, it is currently 5am and I'm sure I've missed a million typos so I'll probably have to re-edit this the morning.
Thank you so much to the people who have been reviewing! It's you people who make me want to update and keep me determined to tell this story.
Thank you all so much for reading! If you loved it, hated it or just want to tell me about you day, please review! xxx