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Albus Potter and the Path Left Untrodden by Gryffin_Duck

Format: Novel
Chapters: 38
Word Count: 132,193
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Mystery, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Teddy, Scorpius, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Hugo, Rose, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Teddy/Victoire

First Published: 09/16/2009
Last Chapter: 04/26/2018
Last Updated: 04/26/2018

Summary:
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Albus Severus Potter is returning to Hogwarts for his third year and it's sure to be an exciting one.  Hogwarts is hosting an inter-school Quidditch and Dueling Tournament and Albus just may make the team.  Along with the tournament, there is a new and very mysterious Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who is like no teacher Albus has had before. 


Chapter 1: Prologue
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    A mother kangaroo stood absolutely still in the moonlit forest, watching her child play in the bushes in front of her.  The mother would gently pull the roo back every time he got too far away.  She was watching him carefully when a loud pop startled her.  The joey hopped back over to his mother and jumped into her pouch.   They hopped away quickly, not noticing the man who had just appeared a few meters away.

    The man swore under his breath as his face contorted.  His round face was elongating and his black hair lightened to a brownish shade.  He stumbled around and kicked off his shoes as his feet grew too large for them.  It was not only his feet that were growing, but his entire body.  The man was now six inches taller than he had been when he first Apparated into the forest.  Finally, it stopped.  The man now looked completely different and kind of strange in Muggle clothing that was far too small for him.

    He opened his bag and pulled out a set of black wizard robes, changing into them quickly.  He tossed the Muggle clothing into the bag and set off at a brisk pace.

    "Bloody Muggle airplanes,"  he muttered to himself,  "Ministry ought to just allow international Flooing."

    It was a very quiet night, with only the occasional owl hooting in the distance.  The moon was not full enough to provide enough light to illuminate the path, but the man did not want to draw attention to himself by lighting his wand.  He merely stumbled along, swearing every time he tripped over a rock or a tree root.

    The tall man was not entirely sure how far he would have to walk to find the place he was looking for.  In fact, the man he was going to visit did not even know he was coming.  Nevertheless, he kept walking through the forest, until he finally came to the edge.

    A short distance away stood a rather large house.  It was not big enough to be considered a mansion, but substantially larger than most houses.  The man glanced at his watch before continuing towards the house.

    "Damn,"  he muttered as he noticed that his watch was still set for British time.  He pulled out his wand and pointed it at his wrist.  The hands on the watch swirled until coming to a stop.  It was nearly midnight.

    There was one lone light on in the house.  Other than that, the place seemed either deserted or its occupants asleep.  The man did not care if everyone was asleep; he would merely wake them up.  He picked up his pace as he crossed the yard and ascended the steps up to the front door.

    The man knocked three times and stood waiting for someone to let him in.  A short while later, the door opened a crack.   However, it did not appear that anyone had actually answered it.

    "Is you needing something, sir?"  a squeaky voice asked.

    The man looked down and saw a house elf peeking his head around the door.  "Why yes,"  the man replied,  "Is Lubar in?"

    "Master Lubar?"  the elf asked,  "He is."

    "I need to speak to him,"  the man said.

    "Come in,"  the elf replied,  "Is you wanting a drink?"

    "No,"  the man muttered as he entered the house,  "Just show me to Lubar."

    "Yes, sir.  This way."

    The man followed the elf through the extravagant house.  He always wondered how Lubar managed to afford everything.  It's not like he made much money at his job.  There were statues, works of art, gold encrusted tables, oriental rugs, and the fanciest furniture in all of the rooms he passed. 

    The elf led him to a room with the door halfway open.  Light was streaming out of it, but the man couldn't hear any voices.  Lubar must be alone, he thought. That would be best anyway.

    The man pushed past the elf and into the room without knocking.  He didn't see the need.  Lubar was family.  Sure, the man hadn't seen him in years, but he was family nonetheless.  Lubar was the man's wife's cousin, to be specific.

    Lubar was sitting at his desk, perusing a book.  His untidy brown hair was dangling over his face.  He looked up when the man stepped into the room.  He looked momentarily shocked, but regained his composure and stood up.  Lubar was quite a bit shorter than the man in the doorway and was wearing similar black robes.

    "Jarrett,"  Lubar gestured for him to come in,  "What an, unusual, surprise."

    The man, Jarrett, walked in and took a seat in the red leather chair in front of the desk.  Lubar resumed his position behind the desk.

    "To what do I owe the pleasure?"  Lubar asked, folding his hands in front of him.  "It's been a long time, Jarrett."

    "I know, Ralph, it has indeed,"  Jarrett mused.

    "I have half a mind to throw you out of this house after what your brother-in-law did to my brother,"  Lubar growled.

    "And I assure you that I understand,"  Jarrett replied,  "I do not approve of what my brother-in-law did.  I have not spoken to the man since."

    Lubar raised his eyebrow.  "Interesting.  And has your wife been in contact with him?"

    "She has,"  Jarrett sighed,  "But that is just one of the many things we have different opinions on.  I am well aware that you have no plans to forgive her brother, which is why I am here unbeknownst to her. I would like to put that issue behind us and rekindle our friendship, Lubar."

    "I will have to think about that,"  Lubar said.

    "I understand,"  Jarrett said,  "That's all I can ask you to do."

    "I am quite curious as to how you managed to get here.  Isn't your entire ministry after you?  I pay attention to magical news all around the world, you know.  I have been following your story for the past year,"  Lubar changed the subject.

    Jarrett smiled.   It had been surprisingly easy to get to Australia with Muggle transportation.  It took a while and was rather annoying, but easy.

    "Yes, the Ministry is after me.  However, I took the liberty of using Muggle transportation to arrive here.  I simply took some Polyjuice Potion, bought an airplane ticket, and now I'm here."

    "Impressive,"  Lubar replied,   "You used the new 24 hour Polyjuice?"

    "Obviously,"  Jarrett smirked,  "Otherwise I would have turned back into myself in the middle of an airport."

    "True.  Now, what can I do for you?  What could you possibly need that would cause you to take Muggle transportation to get here?  Somehow, I don't think you would go through such extreme measures to rekindle a friendship that died a decade ago."

    "Do you know why the Ministry wants me?"

    "Something about dueling Harry Potter?"  Lubar smirked,  "That might be the stupidest thing you have ever done."

    "That's the gist of it,"  Jarrett muttered,  "But we had reasons for doing it."

    "We?"

    "Yes.  Myself, my son, and one of my friends."

    "Ah,"  Lubar leaned back in his chair,  "Do you care to enlighten me about your reasons?"

    "We want to unite the Deathly Hallows in order to help our mission to continue the plans of Lord Voldemort,"  Jarrett explained,  "Harry Potter knows the location of all three of the Deathly Hallows and currently possesses two of them.  Have you heard of the Hallows?"

    "Of course I have,"  Lubar snapped,  "Mind you, I thought it was just a children's story."

    "I assure you, it's not,"  Jarrett said,  "I myself saw the Invisibility Cloak.  They exist and had something to do with Voldemort's downfall."

    "Lord Voldemort,"  Lubar mused,  "I understand.  I myself agree with his ideas about the wizarding world.  Especially when it comes to half-breeds."

    "I was hoping you'd say that.  Now, we have been on the run for over a year.  After our first unsuccessful attempt at obtaining the Hallows, we chose to lay low for a while."

    "You know where all of the Hallows are?  You said Potter's got them?"

    "Two of them,"  Jarrett corrected him,  "We thought we knew where all three were, but we were wrong about the Elder Wand.  Well, Potter could be lying to us.  That's entirely possible.  But even if he does not currently have it in his possession, I am sure he knows where it is.  The Invisibility Cloak is currently in possession of Harry Potter's middle child, Albus.  The Resurrection Stone is residing in the forest next to Hogwarts, although I am not sure where."

    "Interesting,"  Lubar mused,  "But what do you need me to do?"

    "I'm getting to that.  Recently, my son and I came up with a plan to obtain the Invisibility Cloak.  My son was to lure Albus Potter out of school by capturing his cousin.  To make a long story short, it ended in a duel between my son and Harry Potter.  Potter captured him and he now resides in Azkaban,"  Jarrett seethed.

    "That sounds like an absolutely abysmal plan.  Did you actually believe Potter's kid wouldn't tell him his cousin was captured?"

    "We kind of hoped so-"

    "Shut up.  The point is, that was a horrible plan, and now your son is in prison."

    "Yes,"  Jarrett sighed,  "And I was kind of hoping you could help get him out."

    Lubar stared at him and then smirked.  "Me?  Help get your son out of prison?  How in the name of Merlin do you suppose I'll be able to do that?"

    "Well, you're a high ranking Ministry official, you must have a lot of influence in these kinds of things,"  Jarrett stammered.

    "I am a high ranking Ministry official in Australia, not Britain,"  Lubar laughed,  "Why do you think I have any influence over there?"

    "But don't you keep in contact with Britain's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures?"  Jarrett asked.

    Lubar laughed.  "I do not contact Britain's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  My opinions are vastly different from those in Britain.  I would not want to associate myself with the blokes there.  Plus, my name is mud with the British Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."

    Jarrett looked curiously at Lubar.  "That is hard to believe.  What did you possibly do to make them dislike you?"

    "That, is a very long story,"  Lubar replied,  "The old head of my department was a very liberal man.  He sympathized with werewolves and disliked any sort of strict legislation dealing with them.  His reason for this was because his own son is a werewolf."

    "Really?"

    "Yes.  Anyway, he was fired after he broke one of the werewolf laws.  Then I became head of the department and passed more laws.  He hated me.  He moved his family to Britain, where he got a job in Werewolf Support Services.  Turns out, he was planning on moving anyway, even before he got fired.  He wanted his werewolf kid to attend school.  The headmaster of the Australian School of Sorcery obviously did not let him attend.  The Hogwarts headmaster did.  As far as I know, he's there now.  Once there, he made sure everyone in his department knew my name and what I believed.  They do not speak kindly of me."

    Jarrett rubbed his chin.  "Interesting.  So there's a werewolf at Hogwarts?  Quinton never told me anything about that."

    "He probably doesn't know,"  Lubar smirked,  "I tend to doubt that the werewolf would announce it to the whole school."

    "Do you know the werewolf's name?"  Jarrett asked.

    "Don't remember his first name.  Last name's Eckerton."

    Jarrett thought for a moment and then his eyes popped out of his head.  "Eckerton?!  Quinton's mentioned that kid.  He's one of the ones we dueled with last year!  He's friends with Potter's kid."

    "Really?"  Lubar smirked,  "How interesting."

    "Yes, extremely interesting,"  Jarrett rolled his eyes,  "Potter's kid befriended a werewolf.  Thrilling, really.  Now, can you help get Quinton out of Azkaban or not."

    "Talk like that and I won't help you,"  Lubar muttered.

    Jarrett's eyes lit up.  "So you can help?"

    "Possibly,"  Lubar said,  "But I could most certainly help you get the Hallows."

    "And how would you do that?"

    "First, I give you advice,"  Lubar began,  "You're going about this all wrong.  Your first priority should have been the Resurrection Stone, not that Invisibility Cloak.  Yes, the Stone will be difficult to find, but nobody currently owns it.  It's sitting in the bush.  You've got to search that bush and get that Stone.  Then, you use the Stone."

    "Use it?"

    "Yes, use it!"  Lubar shouted,  "Honestly, I don't know what my cousin sees in you.  But anyway, use it to talk to Voldemort!"

    "Oh, right."

    "Then, you ask Voldemort what happened to the Elder Wand!"  Lubar continued,  "That thing is the best Hallow.  The Cloak is the least useful.  Anyone can make themselves invisible with a Disillusionment Charm.   You've got to get that wand and stone first."
   
    "Oh, I'll get looking for the Stone,"  Jarrett muttered.

    "Good,"  Lubar replied,  "And I'll go to Britain and help you."

    "Seriously?"

    "Yes.  I'll make sure you do it properly.  And I can check up on that werewolf kid,"  Lubar sneered.

    "What about the Ministry?  I thought they hated you."

    "They do,"  Lubar said,  "But I can come up with a good reason to be at Hogwarts this year."

    "What might that be?"

    "I cannot explain in detail.  There is an event happening at Hogwarts this year.  Students from Australia are participating.  I have reasons to be there."

    "Shall I wait for you to search for the Stone?"

    "Yes,"  Lubar said,  "I'll make sure you don't screw it up.  And perhaps, while I'm there, we can work out some way to break your idiot son out of Azkaban."

    "Thanks,"  Jarrett muttered.

    "Just remember, you owe me for this."


A/N:  I love it when editing takes less time than I thought!  Big thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, who also named this story.

This story is more intertwined with In Moonlight's Shadow than my other Albus stories have been.  People who have already read IMS will know this now that they've read the prologue.  I suggest anyone who hasn't read IMS read it, although you'll still be able to understand this story if you don't.

I may be switching my update days to Wednesdays because I'm quite busy on Thursdays.  It'll depend on how the semester goes.


Chapter 2: Football
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.




    Albus Severus Potter awoke to a high pitched shriek.  He sat up quickly in bed and listened.  It was coming from downstairs and sounded exactly like his little sister, Lily.  He groaned and got out of bed.  It would be pointless for him to try and go back to sleep. 

    Lily had been impossible to deal with ever since Albus returned home from Hogwarts.  She was incredibly excited about the fact that she was going to go to Hogwarts in the fall. Therefore, Lily had been constantly asking Albus about Hogwarts and the questions were usually ones Albus did not know the answer to or did not want to answer. 

    Albus quickly changed his clothes and ran downstairs.  It was a mystery as to what Lily was shrieking about now.  His mum probably told her some new piece of information about Hogwarts.

    "Al!"  Lily shoved a piece of parchment in Albus's face,  "It came!  It came!  My Hogwarts letter came!"

    So that was what the shrieking was about, Albus thought.  Lily had been waiting for that letter all summer.  Every morning she'd watch the window waiting for the post owl to arrive.

    "Congratulations, Lily,"  Albus grinned at her and continued his walk down to the kitchen.  Lily ran ahead of him and was literally dancing around the room by the time Albus arrived.

    "Lily!"  James shouted,  "One does not shriek and dance like a lunatic when one receives their Hogwarts letter."

    "Oh, really, James?"  Ginny smirked at him,  "Weren't you the one to stand on top of the table and do some sort of dance?"

    James blushed.  "Er, no."

    "Oh, don't be ashamed, James,"  Albus grinned as he sat down next to his brother,  "At least you didn't shriek like a girl."

    "Yeah, that was you,"  James laughed.

    "I did not!"  Albus shouted,  "I acted perfectly normal!"

    "Normal for a girl,"  James replied.

    "Stop it, James,"  Ginny scolded as she set a bowl of oatmeal and a few envelopes in front of Albus,  "You got some post as well, Al."

    Albus picked up the pile of letters and opened the top one.  It was the usual book list as well as his Hogsmeade permission slip.  "Here, Mum,"  he handed her the slip,  "You'll have to sign that."

    Ginny took the parchment.  "I can't believe you're a third year, Al.  You're growing up so fast."

    "Mum!"  Albus groaned. 

    "I can't believe it either,"  James sighed,  "Ickle Al is getting so big!"

    "James!"  Albus smacked him.

    "Mum, Al hit me!"  James shouted.

    "Behave yourselves, boys,"  Ginny said without looking at them.

    Albus opened the other envelope.  It was from Matt. 

Dear Albus,

My parents said you could come visit
on the 16th for a few days.  They're
going to take us to Diagon Alley too.
Let me know if you can come!

Your friend,
Matt


    "Mum!"  Albus shouted,  "Can I go to Matt's house on the 16th?"

    Ginny read the letter over Albus's shoulder.  "Sure.  We'll meet you in Diagon Alley and get James and Lily's stuff then."

    Albus grinned.  He was very excited about going to Matt's house.  He had never been there.  He hoped that John and Kaden would be able to go as well.  They hadn't seen each other in about a month, when Albus and Rose had had their birthday party. 

    "Thanks, Mum."

    "Mum!"  Lily whined,  "I wanted to go to Diagon Alley today!"

    "Sorry, Lily,"  Ginny replied,  "I'd rather get everyone's supplies at once."

    "I don't want to wait!"

    "Lily, you have to wait,"  Ginny sighed.

    Albus turned to James and they smirked at each other.  Lily still hadn't grown out of her whiny phase.  It got rather annoying.  Albus hoped that she wouldn't be like that at Hogwarts.

                        ******

    The next few days passed very slowly.  Albus was anxious to get away from Lily.  She asked him no less than fifty times how the sorting was done and Albus replied with fifty 'I can't tell yous'. 

    Eventually the sixteenth arrived and Albus sat in the drawing room waiting for Matt and his parents to show up.  Kaden was with him.  He had arrived a few hours earlier and they had spent their time trying to stay away from Lily.

    "You know, Kaden, you were as irritating as Lily a year ago,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Was not,"  Kaden replied,  "And I've matured."

    "Yeah, sure,"  Albus rolled his eyes.

    The two boys looked up when they heard a loud crack.  Matt's entire family had Apparated into the drawing room.  Ginny walked into the room and greeted Matt's parents.

    "Matt!"  Albus grinned,  "I am so glad to see you.  I can't wait to get away from Lily."

    "Oh, Al, be nice,"  Ginny sighed.

    "What?  She's irritating,"  Albus shrugged,  "Bye, Mum."

    "Goodbye, Al, I'll see you in a few days,"  she gave Albus a hug.

    "All right,"  Mr. Eckerton said,  "Albus, you can Apparate with Amy.  Kaden, you can Apparate with my wife."

    Albus nodded and stepped over to Amy.  She wrapped him in a hug and the two of them disappeared with a crack.

    They reappeared in the middle of a large field.  There was a log house in the distance.

    "This doesn't look like a house,"  Kaden announced as he stepped away from Matt's mum.

    "It's not,"  Matt said as he pointed to the log house,  "That's my house."

    "Oh,"  Kaden replied as they started towards the house,  "Why didn't we just Apparate into it?"

    "My parents put anti-Apparition wards on the house,"  Matt explained.

    "Why?"  Kaden asked.

    "I don't want to get into it,"  Matt muttered.

    Kaden groaned.  "I thought you were done keeping secrets from me."

    "There are some things I don't tell anyone, Kaden,"  Matt sighed.   

    Albus smirked and shook his head.  Some things never change.  Kaden still didn't know how to keep his mouth shut. 

    Matt's house was the only one in the area.  Albus couldn't see any other buildings besides a shed behind the house.  There were fields surrounding the house and a low fence surrounding the property.  Beyond the fence was farmland. 

    Matt's dad unlocked the door and Albus followed him inside.  He stopped in the entryway and looked around.  The place was about as different as a house could be from Grimmauld Place.  It was open and airy and decorated in a modern yet rustic way.  From the doorway, Albus could see the kitchen straight ahead, the dining room next to it, and the living room next to the door.  On the other side of the door was a set of stairs leading upstairs.  Albus continued walking into the living room and saw a corridor next to the kitchen that lead to a few more rooms.  Albus liked it instantly.  It had a homey feel to it like the Burrow did.  Except it was much cleaner.  Matt had said his mum was kind of a neat freak, but Albus wasn't expecting it to be this neat.

    "Great house, Matt,"  Albus grinned.

    "Yeah,"  Kaden agreed,  "But it's too neat.  We're going to have to change that."

    "My mum likes it neat,"  Matt said,  "She'll make you clean up whatever you mess up."

    "I'll go get John now,"  Mr. Eckerton announced,  "You can come, Matt.  I'll be able to Apparate both of you."

    "Ok.  I'll be right back, Albus,"  Matt said and left the house with his dad.

    "You can just wait in the living room,"  Mrs. Eckerton gestured for Albus and Kaden to turn to their left.

    Albus nodded and sat down on one of the couches.  It was quite comfortable.  Kaden sat down next to him and put his feet up on the coffee table, earning a stern gaze from Mrs. Eckerton.  Kaden sheepishly removed his feet from the table.

    Amy sat down on a chair and pulled a book off the table.  She opened it and began reading.  It was some sort of potions book.
   
    Kaden tilted his head and read the title.  "Do you like potions?"  he asked.

    "Yeah,"  Amy replied,  "I'm studying to be a Healer."

    "That's great!"  Kaden exclaimed,  "I like potions too.  Albus thinks I'm insane.  Well, so do Matt and John."

    "There aren't many people who appreciate brewing,"  Amy replied,  "But I'm glad you like it."

    "Me, too,"  Kaden said.

    Amy set her book down.  "So, Albus, how has your summer been?"

    "Good,"  Albus said,  "Well, Lily is driving me mad because she got her Hogwarts letter the other day."

    "I still remember when I got my letter to the Australian School of Sorcery-"

    "The what?"  Kaden asked.

    "The Australian School of Sorcery,"  Amy repeated,  "The school of magic in Australia.  I went there for three years.  Then we moved here."

    "You lived in Australia?"  Kaden gaped.

    "Er, yeah,"  Amy looked at him strangely,  "You didn't know that?"

    "Nope.  Matt never told me,"  Kaden turned to Albus,  "Did he tell you?"

    "Yeah, my first year,"  Albus replied,  "I never really noticed that he didn't tell you."

    "Well, he didn't,"  Kaden muttered,  "But it would explain the funny accent he's got."

    Albus stifled his laughter.  "Er, yeah."

    The three of them sat quietly for another few minutes.  Kaden began to laugh and it became louder and louder until Albus turned to look at him.
   
    "What?"  Albus asked.

    "The Australian School of Sorcery,"  Kaden laughed,  "A, S, S.  Ass!"

    Albus groaned.  Leave it to Kaden to figure that out.

    Amy laughed.  "You know, that's what Teddy said when he first heard about it."

    The front door opened and Matt and John ran inside followed by Mr. Eckerton.  John paused in the entryway and looked around.

    "Whoa,"  he grinned,  "This house is bloody brilliant!"

    "Thanks,"  Matt said and the two of them entered the living room.  "What are you three laughing at?"

    "My old school,"  Amy smirked,  "Kaden figured out its acronym."

    "Oh, ASS,"  Matt laughed,  "Yeah, I laughed about that for days when I figured it out."

    "Well, I've got to get to work,"  Amy stood up,  "I'll try and stop by for dinner sometime this week."

    "Bye, Amy,"  Mr. Eckerton gave her a hug.

    "Bye, Dad."

    "So, I'll show you the upstairs,"  Matt said after Amy left.

    Albus grabbed his bag and followed Matt upstairs.  John and Kaden thundered behind them.  Once they reached the top, Matt led them to the door on the left along the back wall. 

    "This is my room,"  Matt announced as they entered.

    Albus stepped inside and looked around.  The carpet was blue and the walls were white.  It was messier than the rest of the house, but nowhere near as messy as James's room.  There was a Chudley Cannons bedspread on the bed and multiple posters on the wall.

    "Nice bed,"  John smirked,  "Nice to see the Cannons can still sell merchandise.  If only they devoted that effort to their playing...."

    "Shut it, John,"  Matt replied,  "The Cannons have been playing better this season."

    "Oh, yeah, they did get three goals in their game against Puddlemere,"  John said,  "Too bad Puddlemere had a hundred times that many goals."

    Matt groaned.  "Come on, I'll show you the other rooms."

    Albus followed Matt out of the room and down the corridor.  The next door was a bathroom and the one after that was Amy's room.  The last door was alongside a different wall and Matt gestured for them to step inside.

    "This is the library,"  Matt announced,  "We'll be sleeping here."

    "Sounds like Rose's dream come true,"  John laughed.

    The library was twice the size of Matt's room.  Bookshelves covered all the walls and there were a few desks sitting in the middle of the room.  A squashy looking couch was sitting below one of the windows and there were a few armchairs in various places.  There were also four cots in the middle, but Albus doubted they were normally there.

    Albus tossed his bag down on a cot as John and Kaden did the same.  Kaden started wandering around the room and looking at the various books.

    "I don't think I've ever been in a house with this many books,"  Kaden said.

    "There's even more in Dad's study."

    "You should see Rose's house,"  Albus commented.

    "You've got a lot of books about magical creatures,"  Kaden pointed out.

    "Yeah, well, that's what Dad's into."

    "Especially werewolves,"  Kaden went on,  "There's a whole row of them."

    "Yeah, you can probably guess why,"  Matt mumbled.

    "So,"  Albus changed the subject,  "How was your trip to New York?"

    The discomfort that had been on Matt's face moments before disappeared.  "It was brilliant!  We had so much fun."

    "And how was the airplane?"  John asked eagerly.

    Matt laughed.  "Just like every other one I've been on."

    "Anything else new with anyone?"  Albus asked.

    "Bethany thinks she's a witch,"  Kaden announced,  "She found a stick outside and has been pretending to cast spells."

    "Bet your grandpa loved that,"  Albus laughed.

    "He turned a lovely shade of purple,"  Kaden laughed.

    "I'd pay to see that,"  John replied.

    Albus and Kaden laughed.  "I wouldn't suggest being anywhere near my Uncle Vernon when he turns purple,"  Albus put in.

    "Did I tell you that my dad's getting a promotion?"  Matt asked.

    Albus turned to him.  "Nope.  What kind of promotion?"

    "The head of the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is retiring at the end of the year,"  Matt explained,  "And he's recommending my dad for the position.  It's not final, but it'll most likely happen."

    "That old bloke is finally retiring?"  Albus asked,  "He's been there for decades."

    "Yeah.  Dad wasn't sure he wanted the promotion, but after thinking about it, he decided to take it if it's offered to him,"  Matt continued.

    "Why wouldn't he want it?"  John asked.

    "Well, that's what he did in Australia.  And he hated it towards the end.  But he thinks it'll be better up here."

    "From what you've told us, everything is better up here,"  Albus said.

    "What does your dad do now?"  Kaden asked.

    "He works in Werewolf Support Services."

    Kaden nodded.  "You know, that is kind of funny, considering...."

    Matt rolled his eyes.  "Yeah, I know.  The general public didn't really think it was that funny when we were living in Australia."

    "And that's why you moved?"  Kaden asked.

    "Pretty much, yeah,"  Matt said quietly,  "But I like Hogwarts, so I don't really care that we had to move."

    "How about you, Albus?"  John asked,  "Anything exciting happening in the most famous wizarding family?"

    Albus rolled his eyes.  If anyone besides his friends referred to his family that way, he probably would have hexed them. 

    "Actually,"  Albus began, surprised that he had momentarily forgotten about it,  "I do have some interesting news about the Hogwarts staff."

    "What is it?"  John asked eagerly,  "Is Slughorn finally retiring for good?"

    "No,"  Albus laughed,  "I don't think that will ever happen."
   
    "Then what is it?"  Matt asked.

    "My dad's not teaching Defense this year,"  Albus answered.  Harry had broken the news to Albus, James, and Lily a few weeks ago.  Albus was disappointed, but not really surprised.  He had been surprised that Harry had stayed for more than a year.

    Matt, John, and Kaden gaped at him.  "What?"  John asked,  "Are you serious?"

    "Yeah,"  Albus nodded.

    "Why?"  Matt asked,  "He's a brilliant teacher."   

    "He thinks he needs to focus more on his Auror job,"  Albus explained,  "He wants to fully devote his time to finding Willinson and Washburn."

    "Oh, well, that makes sense,"  Matt replied.

    "Who's replacing him?"  John asked.

    "Dunno,"  Albus shrugged,  "Dad didn't tell me.  He said he wants me to develop my own opinions of the teacher."

    "I wonder if we'll ever have the exact same staff for two years in a row,"  John commented,  "I mean, first year they were all new to us.  Last year we got Cedonia.  And this year we've got some new Defense teacher."

    "I just hope whoever the new teacher is, that they're nice,"  Matt said,  "So what do you lot want to do?  We've got a few hours until dinner."

    "Hmm,"  Albus mused,  "Want to play Quidditch?  That field would be excellent for it."

    Matt groaned.  "That's the one thing we can't do.  The Muggle farmer is often out tending to his fields and he'd see us."

    "I've got an idea,"  Kaden grinned mischievously and dug around in his bag.  He pulled out a football.  "Let's play football."

    The boys decided it was as good an idea as any and they ran downstairs.  Albus had limited experience with football.  He had watched a couple matches and played it a few times, but that was it.  He didn't think John had ever played and he wasn't sure about Matt.  John was skeptical about the fun of football, but he was willing to give it a try.
   
    "Where are you boys going?"  Mrs. Eckerton shouted from the kitchen as they ran to the back door.

    "We're going to play football,"  Matt said as he pulled the door open.

    "Be careful!"  Mrs. Eckerton replied.

    Albus followed Matt down the deck stairs and into the field.  He stood next to Matt and John and all three of them turned to Kaden, who had set the ball on the ground and had one foot on it.

    "Have any of you played football before?"  Kaden asked.

    "A few times,"  Albus answered.

    "Nope,"  John said.

    "When I was younger, I played a bit,"  Matt replied,  "But I was never any good."

    Kaden sighed.  "All right.  Why don't we just play two on two.  John and I versus Albus and Matt."

    The other three boys nodded.  Kaden pointed out two different trees that would serve as makeshift goals.  He next explained the rules of the game and they began playing.

    Albus found the concept very similar to that of his Chaser position in Quidditch, only he couldn't use his hands.  That was very odd.  He had trouble keeping the ball near his feet and even more trouble aiming it to Matt.  Half the time Kaden would steal it and he wouldn't even get a chance to pass it.

    John was hardly any better than Albus.  He never managed to kick the ball where he aimed it, but Kaden's superior skill seemed to compensate for John's lack of skill.  The two of them (well, Kaden) had scored more goals than Albus and Matt.

    Matt seemed to be able to aim the ball, but he wound up tripping over it a lot.  He did manage to score a few goals, though.

    All in all, Albus thought it was kind of fun.  It wasn't something he desired to be on an official team of, but it was fun to play informally.  Not nearly as exciting as Quidditch, though.

    "John!"  Albus shouted as John picked up the ball and took off across the field,  "You can't touch the ball!"

    "I'm turning the game into Quidditch-football!"  John shouted and threw the ball at the goal,  "See, we've got another point now!"

    Kaden groaned and kicked the ball back into play.  "That's cheating, John!  And we're winning, so we don't need to cheat!"

    "I don't care!"  John grinned and picked the ball up again.

    Kaden tackled John and tried to wrestle the ball out of his arms.  John tried to escape, but Kaden was holding onto his leg.

    "Now it's Quidditch-football-wrestling,"  Albus said to Matt as the two of them walked towards their wrestling friends.

    "Albus!  Help!  Your cousin is Muggle dueling with me!"

    "Well, we are playing a Muggle sport, John,"  Albus smirked and yanked the football out of his hands.

    "Hey!"  Kaden shouted and grabbed Albus's leg,  "Give that back!"

    Albus stumbled and fell onto the ground.  He held the ball out of Kaden's reach and Kaden tackled him.  John, now free of Kaden's wrath, grabbed Matt's leg and pulled him into the mix.
   
    "Hey!"  Matt shouted,  "I didn't take the football!"

    "Doesn't matter,"  John grinned,  "We're not going to let you stand there while we're Muggle dueling each other."

    "Got it!"  Kaden shouted a few minutes later.  He held the football up over his head.  "And I declare John and I the winners!"

    Albus stood up and shook his head.  John and Matt stood up after him.  John looked quite triumphant at the win, even though he hadn't really contributed to it.

    "Congratulations,"  Matt smirked,  "You beat a clumsy wizard and a Chaser at football."

    "Any win is a good win,"  Kaden grinned.

    "Boys!"  Mrs. Eckerton shouted from the window,  "Dinner is ready!"

    Albus grinned as he walked towards the house.  As much as he enjoyed his own house, it was fun to spend a few days with Matt and his other friends.  Plus, the girls weren't there.  They had never really had time away from Rose and Amanda and it was kind of fun.  Not that he didn't enjoy their company, there were just things they couldn't really do around Rose and Amanda.  Like turn a football match into a wrestling match, for example.

    "What did you boys do?"  Mrs. Eckerton exclaimed as they entered the house,  "You're filthy!  I want you all to go shower before you eat!"

    "Just like home,"  Kaden commented,  "You're a lot like my mum."

    "Well, I'll take that as a compliment,"  Mrs. Eckerton smiled.




A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight!  Thanks so much to everyone for reading and for your wonderful reviews!  You make my day when you leave reviews!  Also, I will be updating on Wednesdays from now on, they're just easier this semester.


Chapter 3: Microwaved Eggs
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Dinner with Matt's parents was interesting.  Mealtimes at Albus's house were always chaotic and never really planned in great detail.  It seemed like one of his parents was always coming or going.  Then there was the fact that at least one of his cousins or Teddy always seemed to be showing up partway through the meal.  But Albus didn't really mind.  He kind of liked the chaos that was his family.

    Mealtimes at Matt's house, on the other hand, seemed more formal and planned.  His mum and house elf, Ellie, cooked a lavish spread and served it on fancier dishes than Albus's family had.  And Matt didn't have any relatives to randomly drop in.  Albus enjoyed it, though.  The formality of it didn't faze Kaden in the least and he dominated the conversation, which centered around Hogwarts, Quidditch, and football. 

    The boys spent the evening in the den playing round after round of Exploding Snap.  Since Rose wasn't there, they all had a chance of winning.  Matt's parents joined in for a few rounds and once they left, Albus and his friends talked about the upcoming school year.  John and Kaden agreed that they needed to pull a few marauderesque pranks, but Albus and Matt were a bit reluctant.  The job of school pranksters was currently held by James and his friends and Albus really didn't want everyone to think he was a just like his brother.

    Eventually, Mrs. Eckerton returned to the room and told them they needed to get to bed.  Albus followed Matt up the stairs and into the library.  They all changed into pajamas, but they didn't go to bed.  Their conversations continued until Mrs. Eckerton knocked on the door and told them they had to go to bed.

    "Albus?"  Matt whispered a few minutes later,  "Are you awake?"

    "Yeah,"  Albus whispered back.

    "I'm really glad you came,"  Matt replied.

    "Me, too,"  Albus said.

    "You three are the first friends I've ever had over here,"  Matt said quietly,  "I never really thought it would ever happen."

    Albus really didn't know what to say to that.  He knew Matt had had a lonely childhood until going to Hogwarts, but the fact that he had never had friends over to his house before never crossed his mind. 

    "Well, I'll definitely want to come back,"  Albus decided to say.

    "Thanks,"  Matt said,  "Well, good night."

    "'Night."

    Albus fell asleep quickly to the muffled sound of Kaden's snoring.  But what seemed like a short while later, he awoke again to the sound of somebody's whispering.

    "Kaden,"  someone whispered,  "Kaden!"

    "Wh-what is it?"  Kaden yawned.

    "Are you hungry?"  Albus recognized John's voice.

    "Erm, a little, I guess,"  Kaden replied.

    "Want to go find some food?"  John asked.

    "Sure."

    Albus listened as John and Kaden got up from their cots and crept out of the room.  There was the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and then quiet.

    Albus leaned over his cot and poked Matt.  "Matt!"  he whispered,  "Get up!"

    Matt rolled over and Albus groaned.  It was always so difficult to wake him up.  "Matt!"  Albus shouted a little louder.

    Matt rolled over again and mumbled something incoherent.  Albus poked him a little harder and he finally opened his eyes.

    "What?"  he asked.

    "John and Kaden went to get a snack,"  Albus told him.  Albus didn't know what kind of snack the two of them were going to get, but he had a feeling they wouldn't make it simple.  John and Kaden were known to come up with some pretty mad ideas when they were together, especially when they didn't have Albus or Matt to counteract them.

    "All right,"  Matt groaned and got out of his cot,  "Let's go."

    Albus got up and the two of them quietly left the room and went down to the kitchen.  The light was on, but Albus couldn't hear anything going on.  That could either be a good sign or a bad sign.

    When the kitchen came into view, Albus saw John and Kaden rummaging around in the refrigerator.

    "We could combine this with that,"  Kaden was saying.

    "That is disgusting,"  John commented,  "But brilliant."

    John and Kaden emerged from the refrigerator carrying various containers.  They set them down on the counter and then turned around.

    "Oh, hey Albus and Matt!"  John grinned,  "Want any of our midnight snack?"
   
    "Depends on what it is,"  Albus smiled wryly and sat down on one of the counter stools,  "If you think something is both disgusting and brilliant, I'll bet it's really disgusting."

    "Oh, come on, Albus,"  Kaden grinned,  "Mashed potatoes and chocolate cake would be a good combination."

    "Oh, nasty!"  Matt grimaced and sat down next to Albus.

    "It's only nasty if you forget the ketchup,"  John replied.

    Even the idea of a combination like that made Albus want to vomit.  It sounded like some sort of new Bertie Bott's flavor.

    "No thanks,"  Albus said.

    "Your loss,"  Kaden shrugged and opened the container of potatoes.

    "So, if you're not down here to eat our delicious food, what are you here for?"  John asked as he dumped the cake into the potatoes.

    "To supervise you,"  Matt replied,  "I can't let the two of you cook unsupervised in my kitchen."

    "Oh, relax,"  John grinned.

    Albus watched as Kaden stirred the potatoes and cake combination.  It actually didn't look that bad.  Almost like some sort of strange pudding.  Albus was sure the ketchup would negate any sort of potential edibility, though.

    "Hey, what's this thing?"  John gestured to a black box that was attached to the bottom of the cupboards along the wall.  He pushed a few buttons and the whole thing lit up inside and started whirring.

    Albus stared at it.  He vaguely remembered seeing something like it at some of his cousins' houses, but he couldn't ever recall using it.

    "It's a microwave,"  Matt jumped off his stool and pushed a button on it.  It stopped whirring and turned dark again. "And you can't turn it on when it's empty."

    John stared at it.  "What's it do?  What's the point?"

    "It cooks food,"  Matt explained,  "Faster than an oven."

    "Oh,"  John shrugged and picked up a fork that was sitting on the counter.  He put it in the microwave and went to turn it on.

    Matt grabbed his arm.  "You can't put metal in it!  It'll break!"

    Albus smirked.  And John said he didn't need supervision.  He definitely did, especially since there were Muggle appliances everywhere.

    "Well that's stupid,"  John replied and took the fork out.

    Matt shrugged.  "It's Muggle technology."

    "Why's it in here then?"  John asked.

    "Came with the house.  And my mum likes Muggle technology for cooking."

    "Oh,"  John said and turned to Kaden, who had begun pouring ketchup in the mixture,  "Let's put the whole thing in the microwave!"

    Matt groaned and turned to Albus.  "This won't turn out good."

    Albus laughed.  "Probably not.  But Kaden's Muggle born, so I'm pretty sure he knows how to work the microwave."

    "Good point,"  Matt said,  "John!  Let Kaden do the microwaving."

    "Aw,"  John sighed,  "It looks fun."

    Kaden took the bowl and put it in the microwave.  He turned it on and Albus watched as the bowl turned around and around on the inside plate.  It was rather clever, he thought.  Almost like magic.  It seemed like a magic box that cooked food in record time.

    A minute or so later, the microwave beeped, which caused John to jump.  "Bloody hell!"  he shouted,  "What was that?"

    "It means it's done,"  Kaden laughed and took the bowl out,  "Who wants to try it?"

    "Me!"  John shouted and grabbed a few spoons off the counter. 

    "No way,"  Albus shook his head.  The mixture in the bowl was the consistency of pudding, but was a strange reddish brown color that was absolutely disgusting looking.

    "Me either,"  Matt said,  "Just the smell of that grosses me out."

    John took a whiff and grinned.  "Smells good!"

    "Oh, gross!"  Matt covered his mouth.

    "You look a bit green,"  Albus said to Matt.

    "Good thing he's not having any,"  Kaden took a huge spoonful and stuffed it in his mouth.

    Albus watched as Kaden swallowed the food.  He was actually smiling when he had finished.  Matt really looked like he was going to vomit after watching Kaden eat it.

    "Delicious!"  Kaden grinned.

    "Kaden, that is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen you eat,"  Albus announced.

    John tried it next and pronounced it delicious as well.  Albus and Matt just stared at each other and tried not to watch as John and Kaden polished off the rest of the concoction.

    "Are you done yet?"  Matt asked,  "The smell of it is really getting to me."

    "Almost,"  John said.

    "Done,"  Kaden replied.

    "You'd better wash the bowls out,"  Matt said.

    Kaden nodded and began to wash the dishes.  John returned to the refrigerator and started rummaging around again.

    "You're not still hungry, are you?"  Albus asked.

    "Not really,"  John shrugged,  "Just looking." 

    He closed the refrigerator and went back over to the microwave.  He stuck something in it, pushed a few buttons, and it lit up and started whirring again.

    "What did you put in there?"  Matt asked suspiciously.

    "Er,"  John stammered,  "Well, I just kind of wanted something else to eat-"

    "I thought you weren't hungry,"  Albus pointed out.

    "I wasn't, but then I got an idea and I thought I'd make an egg-"

    "AN EGG?!"  Matt shouted as he jumped up,  "Did you put an egg in the microwave?"

    "Er, yes,"  John said,  "Why?"

    "Because eggs-"

    Matt never got to finish his sentence.  A loud pop came from the microwave before he could continue.  He quickly turned the thing off and glared at John.  John was grinning and looking at the microwave.

    "Explode in microwaves,"  Matt finished.

    "Oh, er, sorry,"  John said, trying not to laugh.

    "That's brilliant!"  Kaden grinned and opened the microwave,  "I've always wanted to try that!"

    Albus stood behind Matt and looked into the microwave.  The inside was covered in egg yolk, white, and shell.  It was a complete mess, yet kind of funny at the same time.

    Matt groaned,  "I can't believe you did that.  Well, ok, I can.  I told you not to touch the microwave."

    "Sorry,"  John shrugged,  "I'll clean it up."

    "Clean what up?" 

    Albus turned around and saw Matt's parents standing in the entrance to the kitchen.  Both of them looked half asleep.

    "John decided to put an egg in the microwave,"  Matt explained.

    Mr. Eckerton burst out laughing and his wife glared at him.  "I did the same thing when we first moved here,"  Mr. Eckerton grinned.

    "See?"  John said,  "I'm not the only one!"

    "I know,"  Matt sighed,  "At least I caught you before you put the fork in there."

    "Do I even want to know what you boys were doing down here?"  Mrs. Eckerton asked.

    "John and Kaden wanted a snack,"  Matt replied,  "So they made a disgusting combination of mashed potatoes, chocolate cake, and ketchup.  They liked it, but Albus and I thought it was vile.  Just the smell of it made me sick."

    Mrs. Eckerton groaned.  "Well, just clean up the microwave and go back bed."

    "Ok, Mum,"  Matt replied.

    "You have to admit that was funny, Julie,"  Mr. Eckerton laughed.

    "Yes, I do actually find it funny that you made the same mistake five years ago, and now John did it and he's a thirteen year old boy,"  Mrs. Eckerton smirked.

    "How was I supposed to know eggs exploded in the microwave?"  Mr. Eckerton asked as they stared back towards the stairs.

    "You should have taken Muggle Studies,"  Mrs. Eckerton said.

    Albus, Matt, and Kaden waited while John cleaned the microwave.  It didn't take him long and soon the four of them returned to their cots in the library.  Albus fell asleep thinking about what Rose would say when he told her John exploded an egg in Matt's microwave.

                        ******

    "What do you want to do?"  Albus asked the next day.  The boys were all sitting in the den throwing a Quaffle around.

    "Let's microwave random stuff,"  John suggested.

    "No way,"  Matt replied.

    Matt's parents had officially banned them from cooking for the remainder of the visit.  Albus found this rather funny, especially the looks on John and Kaden's faces when they were told they couldn't cook.  The two of them spent a good twenty minutes trying to find a loophole in the rule.
   
    "Do wizards play hide and seek?"  Kaden asked.

    "That was random,"  Albus commented,  "But yes, wizards do play hide and seek."

    "I play it with my cousins all the time,"  John said.

    "Me, too,"  Albus said.  He loved games of hide and seek at the Burrow.  There were excellent places to hide there.

    "We should play it,"  Kaden announced,  "It's always boring to play it at my house because the only one there to play it with is Bethany.  And she never hides in good places."

    "That's what Amy said about me when I was little,"  Matt said,  "I would always hide in the same place."

    "Ok, let's play,"  John stood up,  "The couch in here can be home and we can hide anywhere in the house."

    "Sounds good.  But no going outside,"  Matt agreed,  "Who's it?"

    "Albus,"  John said.

    Albus shrugged.  He always liked being it.  "All right.  You lot can all go hide and I'll count to 100."

    Albus closed his eyes and started counting.  He heard the footsteps of his friends disappear as he got closer to 100.  Usually, one of his older cousins was it whenever he played hide and seek.  Albus rarely got to be it.

    "Ready or not, here I come!"  he shouted and looked around the den. The den would be the perfect spot for hiding because it was close to the home couch.  But there weren't very many places to hide in it.

    Albus walked quietly over to the one closet that was in the room.  He pulled it open and looked inside.  Empty.  He left the room and looked down the corridor.  The bathroom, he thought, that would be a good hiding place.  Albus himself hid in the bathtub on numerous occasions.

    He stepped into the bathroom and sure enough, the shower curtain was pulled shut.  Albus yanked it open and saw John laying in the tub. 

    "Got you,"  Albus grinned.

    "Merlin, this is always a good spot!"  John groaned as he got out of the tub.

    "Yeah, which is why it's always where I hide,"  Albus grinned,  "Come on, you can help me search for Matt and Kaden."

    Albus and John left the bathroom and resumed the search.  Albus really didn't feel comfortable searching in Matt's dad's study, so they left it alone.  Albus figured no one would hide in there anyway.  They searched the rest of the downstairs, looking in every nook and cranny and closet.  But Matt and Kaden were no where to be found.

    Next they went upstairs and searched all the bedrooms except Matt's parents'.  The library and bathroom were searched as well, but still no luck.  The game was reminding Albus of the ones he played at the Burrow.  James was always impossible to find.  Although one time he got a broom and decided to hover above the house to hide.  No one found him for hours and then the adults made a 'no flying' rule for hide and seek.

    "Where are they?"  John said as they searched the library for the second time,  "We've searched the entire house!"

    "Not the basement,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Good idea,"  John agreed.

    Albus and John ran down the stairs and towards the basement.  They opened the door and ran down another flight of stairs.  Albus flipped on the light and the two of them began to look around.  Matt had showed them the basement earlier, when he showed them Amy's potion brewing room.

    John checked the potion brewing room while Albus looked in the main part of the basement that seemed to be a combination storage area and den.  Still nothing.  The basement was perfectly quiet, too. 

    "What about that room?"  John pointed to a room at the back of the basement. 

    "Matt said it was just storage,"  Albus replied,  "I doubt either of them are in there.  Plus, it's so quiet.  We'd hear some sort of movement.  No one's down here."

    "Then where are they?"  John asked.

    "Maybe they made it to the couch,"  Albus suggested.

    Albus and John returned the den and Matt was laying on the couch.  He grinned and sat up when Albus and John entered the room.

    Albus gaped at Matt.  "Where were you hiding?  We didn't even see you run in here!"

    "I was in that closet,"  Matt pointed to the closet Albus had searched earlier.

    "But I checked that as soon as I finished counting!"  Albus groaned,  "And no one was in there!"

    "There's a smaller door in there that leads to a smaller closet,"  Matt got up off the couch and walked over to the closet.  "Look,"  he opened the door.

    Matt pulled back a few coats that were hanging up and Albus noticed a very tiny door in the wall.  Matt opened it and revealed a tiny closet that was just big enough for a small person to climb into.

    "See?"  Matt grinned.

    "You had an unfair advantage,"  John said,  "You know stuff about this house that we don't."

    "Well, when we play at your house, then you'll have an advantage."

    "My house doesn't have any little secret closets,"  John muttered.

    "What's that for anyway?"  Albus asked.

    "Dunno,"  Matt shrugged and looked around the room,  "Hey, where's Kaden?  Didn't you find him?"

    "Nope,"  Albus replied.  He never would have thought that Kaden would be this good at hide and seek.

    "We'd better go find him,"  John said.

    "Wonder why he hasn't tried to run to the couch,"  Albus said as they left the room.

    "No idea,"  Matt said,  "But with Kaden, it could be anything."

    The boys searched the entire house twice, but they still couldn't find Kaden.  He was the ultimate hide and seek player, Albus thought.  He could even give James lessons.

    "Where the ruddy hell is he?"  John shouted as they walked down the stairs.

    "I wonder if he'll ever even come out if we don't find him,"  Albus said.

    "He'll come out once he's hungry,"  Matt pointed out.

    "What are you boys doing?"  Mrs. Eckerton asked.  She was sitting on the couch reading a book in the living room.

    "Playing hide and seek,"  Matt replied and sat down on a chair,  "But we can't find Kaden."

    "Did you look outside?"  Mrs. Eckerton asked as she set down her book.

    "Outside was off limits,"  John said.

    "We've searched the house twice just now,"  Matt said,  "And Albus and John searched it twice before that.  We've looked everywhere."

    "Everywhere?"  Mrs. Eckerton raised her eyebrows,  "Even in the basement?"

    Matt's face paled.  "Oh, Merlin!  Not the entire basement!"

    "You'd better go check,"  Mrs. Eckerton said.

    Matt jumped off the couch and ran towards the basement door.  Albus shrugged at John as they followed.  He didn't have a clue as to why Matt was so nervous about Kaden hiding in the basement.  Plus, Albus and John checked the basement.  Except that storage room.  But why would that make Matt nervous?  What was in it?

    Albus ran down the stairs and followed Matt.  Sure enough, Matt went straight to the storage room.

    "Merlin!"  Matt muttered and paused in front of the door,  "Why did he hide in here?"

    "Er, are you ok?"  Albus asked.

    Matt sighed, but didn't answer.  He put his hand on the doorknob and slowly opened it.

    Albus gaped as he saw what was in the room.  Well, what wasn't in it.  The room was completely empty and had no windows.  But the strangest part was that it was padded.  The floor and walls were completely covered with what looked like mattresses.

    "Is that?"  John asked,  "A padded room?"

    "Hey!"  Kaden, who was running around and literally bouncing off the walls, ran over to them,  "Took you long enough!  Matt, why didn't you tell us you had a padded room in your house?  This is brilliant!"

    Albus didn't think that Matt thought it was so brilliant.  He was staring at Kaden and was as white as he had been when his mum suggested they search the basement. 

    "Bloody hell, this is brilliant!"  John grinned and walked into the room.

    "No it's not,"  Matt said quietly,  "Come on." 

    Matt turned and left without waiting to see if the others would follow.  Albus followed immediately and he heard John and Kaden run after him.  Matt didn't say anything as they walked back upstairs, and Albus hoped Kaden would have the sense not to say anything either.

    "Did you find him?"  Mrs. Eckerton asked as they entered the living room.

    "Yeah,"  Matt muttered.

    "Was he-"

    "Yeah,"  Matt said without stopping.

    Albus followed him all the way upstairs and into his bedroom.  Matt flopped down on his bed and stared up at the ceiling.  Albus sat down on the floor and John and Kaden sat down on either side of him. 

    "Er, what did I do?"  Kaden whispered to Albus.

    "Shush,"  Albus replied.  He had an inkling as to what that room was used for, but he wasn't sure.  He did know that it was usually best to let Matt tell them what was going on in his own time, though.  Kaden's pestering questions certainly weren't going to help.

    Albus sat quietly for a while as they waited for Matt to say something.  He was still laying on his bed staring at the ceiling.  Kaden kept glancing at Albus and then at Matt and back again. John was playing with a gobstone that he had found on the floor.

    Matt sighed and sat up.  Albus glanced up from the floor and looked at him.  "You ok?"  he asked.

    "I guess,"  he nodded,  "I should have just told you not to hide in that room."

    Albus nodded and sent Kaden a look so he wouldn't ask about the room.

    "I don't know if you guessed what that room is for,"  Matt began,  "But I guess I'll tell you."

    "You don't have to,"  Albus said quietly.

    "I know,"  Matt sighed,  "But I will,"  he paused,  "That room is where I transform."

    Albus nodded.  That's what he had guessed.  Judging by the calm look on John's face, he had guessed it too.  Kaden on the other hand, was gaping at Matt.

    "Wait, what?"  he asked.

    "That's where I go during full moons,"  Matt said.

    "Oh,"  Kaden replied,  "Why is it padded?"

    Albus groaned inwardly.  Kaden really needed to learn not to ask about these sorts of things. 

    Matt laid back down on his bed and stared at the ceiling.  "Back when I was five and I went through my first transformation, I spent the whole night ramming into the wall trying to get out.  My dad put the padding on the walls before the next full moon.  Then when we moved here, my dad recreated the same room in the basement of this house."

    Albus winced at the thought of Matt ramming himself into a wall.  Every time Matt told him something else about the full moons, Albus felt even sorrier for him.

    "Oh,"  Kaden muttered,  "Er, sorry for hiding there, then."

    Matt sighed,  "It's ok.  I should have told you not to hide there."

    "What about the Shrieking Shack?"  Kaden asked,  "Is that padded?"

    "No,"  Matt replied,  "But it's bigger, so I don't bang my head as much."

    Kaden nodded.  "Well, I can't say I've ever seen a padded room in anyone else's house."

    "You'll probably never see one again,"  Matt said dryly.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight!  Thanks as well to everyone who has read and reviewed this!  You guys are all awesome!

Chapter 4: Tipping the Boats
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   The remainder of the visit at Matt's house went by very fast for Albus.  Albus and the other boys spent the next few days playing various games and doing some of the homework they had put off until the last minute.  Amy visited for dinner one evening and let Kaden brew something in her potions room.  Kaden was thrilled and after he and Amy had finished, he pronounced Amy the best potions brewer he'd met besides Slughorn.  Albus, Matt, and John did not participate in the brewing since all three of them got enough of potions at Hogwarts.

    Albus threw his bag over his shoulder and went downstairs with Matt, John, and Kaden.  Mrs. Eckerton and Amy were waiting by the door.

    "Are you boys ready?"  Mrs. Eckerton asked.

    "Yeah,"  Matt answered.

    Mrs. Eckerton opened the door and Albus followed everyone outside.  They walked a few meters away from the house and then Mrs. Eckerton put an arm around Matt and the other around Albus.  Amy did the same with John and Kaden and all six  of them disappeared with a crack.

    They reappeared in the middle of the Leaky Cauldron, which was practically empty.  Albus wasn't surprised since it was early afternoon on a weekday.  Albus looked around the pub and saw his mum, Uncle Ron, James, Rose, Hugo, and Lily sitting at a nearby table.  John's mum and sisters were sitting with them.   James looked bored out of his mind and a little annoyed as John's sisters ran around the room.

    The adults greeted each other while Lily, Hugo, and John's sister, Ashtyn, flew out of their seats and over to Albus and the other boys.  Rose followed them and stood next to Albus.

    "We're getting our wands today!"  Lily announced.

    "Yeah!"  Ashtyn grinned,  "And books and robes and cauldrons and-"

    "We know, Ashtyn,"  John groaned,  "You've been telling me about it since I got home from school."

    "Me and Lily are going to be in Gryffindor,"  Ashtyn said proudly,  "But Lily says Hugo is going to be in Hufflepuff."

    "Am not,"  Hugo retorted.

    "There's nothing wrong with Hufflepuff,"  John said,  "My cousin is in Hufflepuff."

    "Well, anything's better than Slytherin, right Albus?"  Lily said.

    "Er, right,"  Albus agreed.

    "Kids!"  Ginny shouted,  "We're going to go to Flourish and Blotts first, then Madam Malkins.  Al, you need new robes."

    "So do you, Rose,"  Ron put in.

    "As do you, Johnny,"  Mrs. Brickston said.

    "I want my wand!"  Lily whined.

    "You'll get it,"  Ginny said,  "But you need robes too.  And your wand will be useless without books."

    Lily pouted and folded her arms across her chest, but followed Ginny out of the pub.  Albus and his friends followed the adults, James, and the girls out of the pub and into Diagon Alley.

    Diagon Alley was a bit more crowded than the Leaky Cauldron, but still rather deserted.  Albus walked with the large group into Flourish and Blotts, where the salesman took one look at them and ran into the back room.  He returned with a saleslady.

    Ginny walked up to them.  "Let's see, I have four Hogwarts book lists."

    "And I have two,"  Ron rummaged around in his robes and pulled out two wrinkled pieces of parchment.

    "I've got two as well,"  Mrs. Brickston said.

    "And I have one,"  Mrs. Eckerton said.

    "Ok, if you'll just give us a few minutes, we'll get them for you,"  the salesman took the lists and gave half the stack to the saleslady.

    "So, what did you lot do at Matt's house?"  Rose asked as they were waiting.

    Albus looked at John and burst out laughing.  "John had fun with the microwave,"  Albus smirked.

    Rose groaned.  "What did you do?"

    "Microwaved an egg,"  John replied,  "It made a nice explosion."

    "Bet your mum wasn't happy,"  Rose said to Matt.

    "She just made him clean it up.  My dad did the same thing after we moved here.  We didn't have a microwave in Australia,"  Matt said.

    "Muggle studies ought to be mandatory,"  Rose sighed.

    Albus spent a few more minutes telling Rose about what they had done at Matt's house, although he left out the part about the padded room.  Matt could tell Rose that later if he wanted to.

    "Here you go, Al,"  Ginny dumped a stack of books into Albus's arms.

    Once everyone had a stack of books in their arms, the group left the book store.  They walked down the street until they reached Madam Malkin's.  Luckily, the shop was empty, although they'd have to wait a while until everyone was fitted for robes.

    Lily and Ashtyn went first, since they were eager to get their new robes.  Hugo was excited about going to Hogwarts, but he couldn't care less about robes.

    Albus sat down on a chair as he waited for his turn.  Matt and John sat down on either side of him.  Albus glanced over and saw that Matt was staring wide eyed at his stack of books.  Albus peered down at his own stack of books, but the one on top was Intermediate Transfiguration.

    Albus looked over at Matt's stack of books and he gaped when he saw which book was on top.  It was the exact same book that Kaden had found at Flourish and Blotts a year ago.  The one entitled Dark Creatures:  How to Protect Yourself.

    "Interesting book choice,"  Albus muttered.

    Matt looked up at Albus.  "This doesn't bode well for the new defense teacher."

    Albus shrugged.  "Well, third year defense does focus on dark creatures."

    "It does?"  Matt groaned,  "Great.  That's just what I need, for everyone to learn about you know what."

    "I doubt they will,"  Albus replied,  "No one's going to pay that much attention in class. The only one in our year who would've put the clues together after learning it in class is Rose, and she already knows."

    "I guess,"  Matt muttered,  "I just hope the teacher is nice."

    A half hour later, everyone had new robes who needed them and the large group exited Madam Malkin's.  They made their way down the street and towards Olivander's.  Lily, Hugo, and Ashtyn arrived before anyone else did and couldn't wait to start trying out wands.

    Albus watched as his sister waved numerous wands and subsequently broke everything on Olivander's desk.  After she tried a few more, Lily found her wand and proudly held the box as carefully as she could.  Hugo and Ashtyn found wands a few minutes later and the group set off to the Apothecary.

    After a visit to the Apothecary, Eyelops, and Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, everyone had what they needed for the upcoming school year.  Albus was rather tired by the time they finished, but Lily, Hugo, and Ashtyn seemed to have endless energy.  They kind of reminded Albus of the way Kaden had been the previous year.  Granted, Kaden still had endless energy, but the three eleven-year-olds had surpassed him.

    Albus said goodbye to his friends in the Leaky Cauldron and then Flooed back to Grimmauld Place with his mum, Kaden, James, and Lily.  He and Kaden watched Lily try to perform spells with her new wand while they waited for Dudley to pick Kaden up.  Lily was kind of frustrated that she was unable to do much of anything besides 'Lumos'. 

                        ******

    In an effort to try and avoid nearly missing the train like they had the previous year, Ginny insisted that Albus, James, and Lily pack their trunks the night before.  Despite this, Albus awoke to the shouts of his mother.

    "Albus Severus Potter!"  she shrieked,  "Get up!  We have to leave in ten minutes!  I seriously hope you've got your trunk packed!"

    Albus slowly got out of bed as he listened to the loud footsteps of his mother in the corridor.  "James Sirius Potter!  Get out of bed this instant!"

    The door to his bedroom opened and Lily came bounding in, already dressed in her Hogwarts robes.  "Al!  We've got to leave!"

    "I know, Lily!"  Albus said in an annoyed tone,  "Now get out so I can get dressed!"

    Albus hurriedly threw on some clothes once his sister left.  He grabbed his owl cage and school bag and quickly left the room.  He was quite glad his trunk was packed and already downstairs.

    Harry was sitting on top of Albus's trunk in the drawing room when Albus walked in.  Lily was once again trying to perform spells with her wand.

    "Hey, Al,"  Harry grinned,  "Ready?"

    "Yeah,"  Albus nodded,  "We leaving soon?"

    "As soon as James packs his trunk,"  Harry smirked.

    "James Sirius Potter!"  Ginny shouted from upstairs,  "I told you to pack that last night!  Hurry up!"

    "Daddy, why can't you teach Defense this year?"  Lily asked.

    "Because I have too much work at the Ministry,"  Harry explained as he pulled her onto his lap.

    "But it's not fair,"  Lily whined,  "James and Al got to have you teach them for two years."

    "The new teacher is very competent,"  Harry assured her.

    "Is he nice?"  Albus asked.

    "Well, he's,"  Harry paused,  "He's fair.  That's a good way of putting it.  He'll treat everyone the same."

    At least he didn't sound like Washburn, Albus thought.  But on the other hand, he didn't sound like Neville or Cedonia either. 

    "And just because I'm not teaching, doesn't mean I won't be around,"  Harry grinned.

    "What do you mean?"  Albus asked.

    "I'm not giving anything away, but Hogwarts will be an exciting place to be this year,"  Harry said,  "Plus, the Ministry decided that Hogwarts needs more protection in the form of Aurors after last year's incident.  And the year before's."

    That certainly spiked Albus's curiosity.  What could be going on that would make Hogwarts more exciting than usual?

    "Come on,"  Albus replied,  "Can't you give us a hint?"

    "Nope,"  Harry laughed,  "I probably shouldn't have even said that."

    Albus groaned.  "Aw, just tell us."

    "Tell us what?"  James asked as he entered the room.

    "Dad says something exciting is happening at Hogwarts this year but he won't tell us what."

    "Please, Dad?"  James whined.

    "No,"  Harry lifted Lily off his lap and stood up,  "Now we'd better go or you'll miss the train."

    The Potters arrived on Platform 9 3/4 with fifteen minutes to spare, which was actually earlier than they had arrived the previous year.  They met Kaden and his family as well as Rose, Hugo and their parents.  Harry and Ron loaded all the trunks onto the train and then returned to say goodbye.

    "I'll see you soon, Al,"  Harry said as he gave Albus a hug.

    "Be good, Albus,"  Ginny smiled,  "And take care of Lily."

    "I will,"  Albus replied,  "Bye, Mum.  Bye, Dad."

    Once everyone had said goodbye, Albus headed to the train with Rose and Kaden.  James immediately left to find his friends, and Lily and Hugo followed Albus and Rose.  They climbed on just before the train started moving and waved to their parents until the train left the station.

    Albus peered into all the compartments trying to find the one that his friends were in.  He eventually found them halfway down the train and pulled the door open.

    "Hey,"  Albus grinned as he sat down next to Matt.

    "Hi, Albus, Rose, Kaden,"  Matt greeted them.

    Kaden sat down next to John and Rose sat next to Amanda.  Hugo and Lily sat down near Ashtyn and the three of them immediately started talking about the Sorting and the Hogwarts houses.  Albus, who had been listening to Lily talk about that all summer, did not want to participate in that conversation.

    He turned to Matt.  "Guess what?"

    "What?"  Matt asked.

    "My dad says something exciting is happening at Hogwarts this year, but he won't tell me what,"  Albus said.

    "Really?  Wish he'd tell you what it was,"  Matt replied.

    "How could he say that and not tell you?"  John groaned.

    "Any ideas what it is?"  Matt asked.

    "Nope,"  Albus shook his head and then turned to Rose,  "Has Uncle Ron said anything?"

    "Just that it was something exciting,"  Rose sighed,  "The only thing I can think of is the Triwizard Tournament."

    "The what?"  Matt, Amanda, and Kaden asked at the same time.

    "Didn't someone die the last time they had that?"  John asked.

    Albus nodded.  "The Triwizard Tournament is a contest that involves three wizarding schools:  Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang.  A champion from each school participates in three magical tasks and whichever champion wins gets the Triwizard Cup.

    "The last time they had it was in my dad's fourth year and a Death Eater tricked the cup into choosing my dad as a fourth champion.  He won, but the other Hogwarts champion, Cedric Diggory, died during the final task."

    "Whoa,"  Matt stared at him,  "Do you really think they'd do that again?"

    "No,"  Rose shook her head,  "There's no way they'd do that again.  At least not for years.  Cedric's death is too fresh in a lot of people's minds to have that tournament again.  So I have no idea what my dad and Uncle Harry were talking about."

    "I wish they'd do the tournament again,"  John said,  "I fancy myself as the Hogwarts champion."

    "Me, too,"  Kaden grinned,  "That would be brilliant."

    "Not me,"  Albus shook his head.  He hated being in the spotlight.  "I bet James would do it, though."

    "I wouldn't,"  Matt said.

    "Me, either,"  Amanda agreed,  "What about you, Rose?"

    "I'd probably enter,"  Rose replied,  "But last time they did it, you had to be seventeen.  So even if that is what was going on this year, none of us would be able to enter."

    "I bet Georgia would enter,"  Albus commented.

    "No doubt about that,"  Rose agreed.

    "Oh, and my dad knows who the new Defense teacher is,"  Albus announced.

    "Is he nice?"  Matt asked immediately.

    "All my dad said was that he was fair,"  Albus sighed,  "He kind of dodged the question when I asked if he was nice."

    "That's a bad sign,"  Matt groaned.

    "If he's fair, then he won't be favoring the Slytherins,"  John pointed out.

    "Have you looked at that book yet?"  Albus whispered to Matt.

    "Nope,"  Matt replied,  "Haven't wanted to."

    "Well,"  John began,  "If he's mean to you, we can try and get him sacked before he starts the you-know-what unit.  That unit's not until the end of the year."

    "And how are you going to do that?"  Rose raised her eyebrows.

    "Dunno,"  John shrugged,  "We'll think of something."

    "That,"  Rose sighed,  "Has got to be the dumbest idea you've come up with.  And that includes microwaving the egg."   

    "Well, have you got any better ideas?"  John asked.

    "Why don't we just wait and see what the teacher is like before we start thinking about getting him sacked?"  Rose suggested.

    The rest of the train ride passed quickly.  The entire compartment participated in an Exploding Snap contest, which Rose won.  Then they bought a large amount of snacks from the trolley.  Albus fell asleep shortly after he finished eating and the next thing he knew, Rose was nudging him awake and telling him to change into his robes. 

    The sky had turned dark and the weather stormy while Albus had been sleeping.  Thunder sounded and lightning flashed as he pulled on his robes.  He was very glad he wasn't going to be crossing the Black Lake like Lily was.  He'd much rather take a thestral-pulled carriage and stay dry.

    The train pulled into Hogsmeade station and Albus joined the throngs of students heading out into the rainy weather.  He heard Hagrid calling the first years and said goodbye to Lily, Hugo, and Ashtyn.  Albus found an empty carriage and led his friends inside. 

    "The first years are going to get soaked,"  John said as he wrung out his hat onto the bottom of the carriage.

    "Spooky crossing the lake in this weather,"  Kaden grinned,  "Makes me wish I was crossing the lake."

    "Maybe the Giant Squid will tip over one of the boats,"  John grinned mischievously,  "I've heard it doesn't like this kind of weather."
   
    Rose rolled her eyes.  "The Squid is not going to flip one of the boats."

    If the Squid tipped Lily's boat, she would freak out.  Albus's sister had always scared easily, a trait that James and Albus always took full advantage of.

    "James purposely tipped his boat when he crossed the lake,"  Albus said.  He still remembered his mother receiving an owl telling her about that.  She wasted no time in getting a howler off to James.

    "That's brilliant!"  Kaden exclaimed,  "Wish I'd thought of that."
   
    "Me, too!"  John agreed.

    "I'm glad you didn't,"  Albus laughed,  "We all would have been soaked."

    "Yeah,"  Matt agreed,  "That would not have been pleasant."

    The remainder of the trip up to the castle was spent discussing the likelihood of one of the boats being tipped over by the Giant Squid.  John and Kaden decided that they wanted to find the Giant Squid that year and agreed to take a swim in the Black Lake during the first available weekend.

    The entire Entrance Hall was covered in water by the time Albus and his friends entered the castle.  Albus was sure Filch would have a hippogriff when he saw it.  Albus led his friends to the familiar Gryffindor table and sat down, eager for the feast to start.

    Albus scanned the staff table and his eyes rested on the only unfamiliar face.  A stern looking man with his black hair cut in a Muggle military style was sitting completely still.  His eyes seemed to penetrate every student in the entire room at the same time.  Albus did not get the sense that this teacher would be nice, although he lacked the hatred that Washburn had emanated.

    "That must be the new Defense teacher,"  Matt whispered to Albus,  "Merlin, he does not look happy."

    "Looks like his face is frozen that way,"  Kaden muttered.

    "I wouldn't want to be on his bad side,"  Albus replied.

    "Looks to me like he had a bit too much U-No-Poo,"  John laughed.

    Albus snorted and shook his head.  It did kind of look like the professor had a bit too much of that certain Weasley product.  His Uncle Percy wore that same look when his Uncle George put U-No-Poo in his tea over the summer.

    The Great Hall immediately quieted down as Professor Patil led the first years into the room and towards the staff table.  They congregated near the three-legged stool upon which the Sorting Hat sat.

    "They look shorter than last year's first years,"  John whispered as the Sorting Hat began singing.
   
    "They are,"  Kaden agreed,  "I wasn't that short last year."

    "Yeah, you actually were,"  John replied,  "Hey, Matt, I think these first years might actually be shorter than you.  A few of them, that is."

    Matt rolled his eyes.  "At least I'm not a giraffe like you."

    "Hey, height has its benefits,"  John retorted.

    "And so does lack of height,"  Matt pointed out,  "At least I didn't have to stand still while Madam Malkin poked me with needles like you did."

    "Shush!"  Rose hissed,  "They're starting the Sorting!"

    Albus watched as a chubby boy was sorted into Ravenclaw.  The next first year became a Slytherin and the next was another Ravenclaw. 

    "Brickston, Ashtyn!"  Patil announced.

    John's sister ran forward and jammed the hat onto her head with a big smile on her face.  Mere seconds later, the hat exclaimed, "Gryffindor!"  Ashtyn practically flew across the room and sat down across from John.

    "Congratulations, Ashtyn!"  John grinned,  "Gryffindor really is the best house."

    "Yeah,"  Ashtyn agreed,  "Although Isabelle kept telling me to hope for Hufflepuff."

    "Well, she is a Hufflepuff...."

    Albus didn't really pay attention to the next few Sortings.  He vaguely recognized a few names, but didn't really know any of them.  He snapped back into reality when he heard Patil announce, "Potter, Lily!"

    Lily ran forward with almost as much excitement as Ashtyn.  The hat took a little more time to decide than it had with Ashtyn, but it soon shouted, "Gryffindor!"
   
    The Gryffindor table erupted with cheers as Lily ran towards it.  Albus clapped her on the back, as did James and all their cousins, and Lily took a seat next to Ashtyn.

    Soon, Hugo was the only first year left standing near the hat.  Hugo had already started putting the hat on when Patil called out his name, which caused a few of Albus's cousins to burst out in laughter.

    "He may be the only Weasley to ever be in Hufflepuff,"  Cedric smirked.

    "Gryffindor!"  the hat announced a minute later.

    "Or not,"  Cedric grinned as he clapped along with everyone else.

    Hugo sat across from Lily and Ashtyn.  "Told you I'd be in Gryffindor," he said to Lily.  Lily shrugged.

    Professor Kendrick stood up.  "Welcome, students and staff!  As usual, I will save all the speech making for after the feast."  He waved his wand and sat back down.

    Food appeared on all the golden plates and Albus helped himself to some of everything.  He was hungry, although this year he had kind of wanted Kendrick to announce what the exciting thing was before the feast.

    The topics of discussion varied greatly during the feast, and Albus mostly listened.  John and Matt had a heated argument about the Quidditch season, primarily the Chudley Cannons' spectacular loss to the Holyhead Harpies that had taken place a few days previously.  Rose chattered non-stop about the new classes she was taking and bombarded her older cousins with questions about them.  Albus was amazed she had any questions left, since she had done the same thing during the Weasley Family Dinner prior to the start of term.

    Kaden talked to whoever would listen about the prospect of adding Muggle technology to Hogwarts.  Albus groaned to himself as he heard Kaden tell one of the first years about his petition to have televisions put into the common rooms.  Amanda listened to Kaden, although it didn't seem like she was nearly as excited as Kaden was.

    "So, how was the trip across the lake?"  John asked Ashtyn as the desserts appeared.

    "Wet,"  Ashtyn replied.

    "Any of the boats tip over?"  he asked eagerly.

    "No,"  Ashtyn laughed.
   
    "Hagrid said he had anti-tipping charms put on them after James tipped his a few years ago,"  Hugo announced.

    "That's no fun,"  John sighed.

    A little while later, the golden plates became clean once again and Albus looked eagerly up at the staff table.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, and thanks as well to all the awesome readers and reviewers!

Chapter 5: Linda Morales
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Professor Kendrick rose to his feet.  "May I have your attention!"  he shouted and the room quieted down,  "Thank you.  Now, I have a few rather boring announcements, two somewhat exciting ones, and one really exciting one.  I shall start with the boring ones.

    "As usual, the forest and Whomping Willow are out of bounds to everyone.  If you wish to try-out for your house's Quidditch team, give your name to your head of house.  The Dueling Club and Junior's Dueling Club will be starting up again and once meetings have been set up, I shall let you know.

    "As for the somewhat exciting announcements, we have a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  Please welcome Professor Balladanis."

    The stern looking professor stood up for a few seconds and received mediocre applause.  He resumed his seat and Professor Kendrick turned back to the students.

    "The other somewhat interesting announcement is that Hogwarts will be patrolled by Aurors a few days a week.  After last year's incident, the Ministry has deemed this a necessary precaution to take.  The Aurors are positive that Jarrett Willinson and Jameson Washburn will try to return to Hogwarts at some point this year.  I do not tell you this to scare you, but to make you aware of the situation.  If anyone sees any suspicious behavior or has any information regarding the whereabouts of either fugitive, please tell a teacher."

    The entire Gryffindor table turned to Albus and his friends at this announcement.  Albus felt his face turn red and he stared down at his plate.  He really hated all the attention he got from what happened the previous two years. 

    "And now,"  Kendrick continued,  "I have a very exciting announcement to make."

    Albus grinned and turned to his friends, who were all wearing equal faces of excitement, and then turned back to the headmaster.

    "First, I would like you all to remember the inter-house dueling from last year."

    The entire hall groaned and people started whispering amongst themselves.

    "Quiet down,"  Kendrick said,  "There was a reason why I enacted that last year.  More than just school unity, that is.  I wanted the school to become more united because of an event that is taking place this year.  An event that will put us into competition with other magical schools-"

    "The Triwizard Tournament?!"  Bradley exclaimed,  "Is that it?"

    "No,"  Kendrick replied,  "This is not the Triwzard Tournament.  It is a different competition that will involve more than just one student from each school. 

    "Tomorrow evening, shortly before dinner, a select group of students from the Adirondack Academy of Magic, which is in New York State, and the Australian School of Sorcery will travel to Hogwarts, where they will live and attend classes for the duration of the year."

    Albus turned to look at Matt, who was gaping at Kendrick. 

    "The students from both schools will be Sorted into the four Hogwarts houses during a special Sorting ceremony tomorrow evening.  They will live in whichever house they are Sorted into and attend classes with those in their year.  I expect you all to treat them like they are fellow Hogwarts students.

    "However, you will also be competing against them.  There are two events.  The first is Qudditch.  Each of the schools has created a Quidditch team comprised of the best Quidditch players in their respective school.  We will be doing the same thing here.  The three teams will play each other throughout the year and whichever team wins shall receive the Quidditch Cup for Schools.

    "The other event will be dueling.  Each of the schools has also put together a team of the best duelers in their respective school.  Again, we shall do the same.  The tournaments will work much like the Dueling Club works here."

    The entire school started talking at once.  Albus thought the whole thing was brilliant.  It was like the Triwizard Tournament, only less dangerous.  Maybe he could even participate.  He was a decent Chaser and dueler. 

    "Albus, you've got to try out for the Hogwarts Quidditch team!"  John shouted.

    "I will!"  Albus grinned,  "As long as they don't have an age limit or anything."

    "I don't think they will,"  Rose said,  "Quidditch isn't that dangerous."

    "It kind of is,"  John laughed.

    "Maybe I can duel,"  Kaden said,  "I'm a second year now."

    "I think it'll be great just to go to school with kids from Australia and New York!"  Rose exclaimed,  "Think of all we can learn from them!"

    "Yeah,"  Amanda agreed.

    "Quiet!"  Kendrick shouted over the chatter and everyone settled down,  "The Hogwarts Quidditch team is open to anyone who is currently on a House Quidditch team.  I'm sorry if that upsets some of you, but it would be impossible to hold try-outs for the entire school, and I think it would be better if our team were comprised of those who have experience on a Quidditch team.  If you have interest in trying out, please tell your head of house. 

    "Try-outs for the Hogwarts Dueling Team will be open to fifth through seventh years only."

    "Crap,"  Kaden muttered.

    "If you want to try out, give your name to your head of house.  Try-outs for both teams will most likely be next weekend.  I believe that is all I have to say for now.  First years, please follow a prefect to your common room.  Good night, everyone."

    Albus got up from the table and walked to Gryffindor tower with his friends.  They talked about the competition the entire time.  Albus was incredibly excited about the prospect of playing for the Hogwarts Quidditch team, and a little nervous at the same time.  Of course, his chances of getting picked were kind of slim.  He was the youngest Chaser eligible to try out.

    "Albus!"  James pushed his way through the crowd of Gryffindors in the common room,  "Are you trying out?"

    "Of course!"  Albus grinned,  "You?"

    "Yeah!"  James exclaimed,  "That's everybody!  Everyone on the Gryffindor team is trying out!  Wouldn't that be amazing if we were all picked?"

    "You won't be,"  Rose said,  "The whole point is to have a Hogwarts team, not a Gryffindor team."

    "Albus and James will get picked,"  Kaden said adamantly,  "You two are both great Quidditch players."

    "Thanks, Kaden,"  Albus smiled,  "But all the other Chasers are older than me."

    "Doesn't matter,"  John assured him,  "They'll be searching for skill, not age."

    "Who's picking the team?"  Amanda asked.

    "Probably Professor Oteski,"  James said,  "And maybe the heads of houses will help."

    Albus and his friends talked about the Quidditch competition for another few minutes before retiring to their dormitories for the night.  Albus climbed into his familiar four-poster bed, but found that he was too excited to sleep.  The more he thought about the Hogwarts Quidditch team, the more he thought he actually had a chance of making it.  He was also excited about having the Australian and American students at Hogwarts.  He hadn't really met many foreign witches and wizards before, not including his Aunt Fleur's family.  Matt and Amy and their parents were the closest he'd come, and they'd been living in England for a while.  Matt didn't seem very excited about the whole thing, though.  In fact, he had remained rather quiet ever since Kendrick made the announcement.

                        ******

    It was easy to feel the excitement at Hogwarts the next day.  Since it was Sunday, classes weren't starting yet.  Most people slept late, and the main topic of conversation in the Great Hall at lunchtime was the competition and the students from Australia and New York.

    Georgia organized a spur of the moment Quidditch practice for the Gryffindor team in order to prepare for the Hogwarts Team try-outs.  Albus and the rest of the team practiced for at least two hours that afternoon. 

    "You're a shoo-in, James,"  Albus told his brother as the two of them began to walk off the pitch,  "Everyone knows you're the best Seeker in the school."

    "Well, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw are the only other houses that are keeping their Seekers from last year,"  James pointed out,  "So I'll only be competing against Lisa Galivant and Miranda Corner."

    "And you're better than both of them,"  Albus said,  "I'll be competing against at least six other Chasers."

    "Yeah, but you're a good Chaser,"  James assured him.

    Albus nodded and shouldered his broom.  He was already nervous about the try-out, and it was almost a week away.  What if he was so nervous during the try-out that he completely messed up?  He'd just have to be sure to calm down by then.  Albus sighed and continued walking off the pitch.  Just as he was getting close to the stands, he noticed someone sitting alone in the lower level.  It was Matt.

    "I'll see you back in the common room,"  Albus said to his brother as he detoured towards the stands.  James nodded and continued back towards the castle.

    Matt had hardly said a word the entire day.  He was normally quiet, but it was never a good sign when he was completely silent.  Albus knew better than to ask why, but he was still curious.  He had a feeling it had to do with the Australian students.

    "Hey,"  Albus sat down next to Matt.

    "Hi,"  Matt mumbled.

    "Where's everyone else?"  Albus asked.
   
    "Rose is in the library researching about the magical schools in Australia and New York,"  Matt explained,  "Amanda is with her."

    "Why does that not surprise me,"  Albus smirked,  "I'm assuming John isn't with them?"

    "No,"  Matt gave a half-hearted laugh,  "He and Kaden are in the Marauder's Den.  I was there with them, but they kept talking about Quidditch and Dueling competitions and I just got sick of it, so I came out here."

    Albus nodded.  Matt was going to have a hard time finding someplace in the school where no one was talking about the competitions.

    "Er, are you ok?"  Albus asked tentatively,  "I mean, you've been kind of quiet."

    Matt sighed.  "I,"  he paused,  "I'm just not that excited about the competition thing.  Well, it's not that, it's the fact that we're doing it with Australia."

    "Oh,"  Albus said, not sure what to say next.

    "I was supposed to go to the Australian School of Sorcery,"  Matt continued,  "That's where Amy went.  Then the headmaster told my parents I couldn't.  In fact, he said it in a downright cruel way.  I never read that letter.  I think Mum burned it.  But she never told me what it said.  She just said it was mean.  The headmaster hates, well, people like me."

    Albus hadn't even thought about that.  He turned to look at Matt.  He looked quite upset about the whole thing.  Albus had no idea what to say.

    "I don't want the headmaster to come here,"  Matt said quietly,  "I know that's stupid, really.  I mean, he's never met me.  And we moved five years ago.  He probably wouldn't even recognize my last name."

    "It's not stupid,"  Albus assured him.  Albus couldn't really imagine what this was like for Matt, though.  He supposed the only thing close would be if Washburn came back to teach or something.  "But I don't think you'll really come into contact with their headmaster much.  You can't try out for the Quidditch team or the Dueling Team, so I don't think you'll do much more than pass him in the corridor."
   
    "I guess,"  Matt sighed,  "It's just going to be so weird."

    "Yeah,"  Albus agreed,  "But I don't think anything will happen.  This is Kendrick's school.  Even if the Australian headmaster is here, he can't really do anything.  He's got no control over anything here."

    Matt nodded.  "That's true.  I hadn't really thought about that."

    Albus stood up.  "Come on, let's go find John and Kaden.  I'm sure we can convince them not to talk about the competition.  We could ask them how their plans for swimming in the Black Lake are coming."

    Matt laughed,  "They're all ready to do it.  They just didn't want to do it today since you were practicing Quidditch and Rose and Amanda were in the library."

    The rest of the afternoon went by very quickly.  Shortly before dinner, Albus and his friends made their way into the Great Hall.  The entire room was buzzing with excitement.  Albus noticed that nearly all of the professors were wearing dress robes.  The only one who wasn't was Professor Balladanis, who as wearing the same black robes as the previous day.

    Albus sat down at the Gryffindor table, where everyone was talking about the foreign schools.

    "I heard that the Australian School of Sorcery is underground!"  Hugo shouted excitedly.

    Matt snorted.  "It's not."

    "Oh, maybe it was the Adirondack Academy of Magic,"  Hugo replied.

    "That one's not underground either,"  Matt laughed.

    "How do you know they're not?"  Hugo asked.

    "My sister used to go to the Australian School of Sorcery,"  Matt explained,  "And my uncle lives in New York.  I've seen that school, too."

    "Well, that's boring,"  Hugo muttered,  "Would have been better if one of them was underground."

    "Hey, Hugo,"  Kaden grinned,  "Guess what the initials of Australian School of Sorcery are?"

    "A, S, S,"  Hugo shrugged and then a big grin appeared on his face,  "Ass!  That's brilliant!"
   
    "Quiet, please!"  Kendrick shouted over the crowd,  "The students from the Adirondack Academy of Magic shall be arriving at any moment!"

    No sooner had Kendrick finished his sentence, people began to whisper and turn their heads towards the door.  Albus craned his head up and saw a tall man striding into the Great Hall.  He was wearing navy blue robes and had a rather large amount of messy grey hair on his head.  Behind him were a dozen or so students wearing identical blue robes.  Most of the students looked to be a few years older than Albus.  They all stared around at the Great Hall, a couple of them pointing excitedly at the ceiling. 

    The tall man (who Albus presumed to be their headmaster) led the students to the staff table.  Kendrick greeted them and then looked up at his own students.

    "Let me introduce Professor Marvin Roberts, headmaster of the Adirondack Academy of Magic, and his students,"  Kendrick announced,  "Welcome to Hogwarts."

    Albus and the rest of the Hogwarts student body burst into applause.  Once it died down, Kendrick opened his mouth again.

    "And now, if I'm not mistaken, the students from the Australian School of Sorcery are arriving at the very moment."

    Albus turned back towards the door and saw another man entering the room.  He wore emerald green robes and was completely bald.  He made up for the lack of hair on his head by sporting a pointy mustache and goatee.  He wasn't nearly as tall as Roberts, but not short either.  He walked purposefully towards the staff table with his group of students clad in matching emerald green robes following him.

    Albus noticed that Matt didn't take his eyes off the man.  It was almost like he was frozen in place, except for his eyes, which followed the man to the staff table. 

    "Now I'll introduce Professor Addair Killigan,"  Kendrick said,  "And the students of the Australian School of Sorcery."

    Albus clapped along with everyone else, but it was more subdued.  He took an immediate dislike to Killigan just because of what Matt had said.  Albus noticed that Matt didn't really clap at all. 

    "Thank you,"  Kendrick said once the clapping stopped,  "Now, we shall have a special Sorting ceremony in order to find out which house you belong in.  The four houses are Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin.  While you are here at Hogwarts, you will live in your house dormitories, spend free time in your house common rooms, and attend classes with the other students in your house."

    "You know, it'll be interesting to see if they adopt the house prejudices like we have,"  Rose whispered,  "What if two of them are really good friends and then one is sorted into Gryffindor and the other into Slytherin?"

    "I dunno,"  Albus shrugged.  Rose had a point, though. 

    "To be Sorted, all you have to do is put on the Sorting Hat,"  Kendrick continued,  "It will tell you where you should be."

    Professor Patil stood up and walked around to the other side of the staff table.  She was holding the three-legged stool and the Sorting Hat.  She set the hat down on the stool and it burst into song.

    There were loud gasps from all of the students from the other two schools.  A few of the Hogwarts students giggled at this.  All the foreign students stared intently at the hat and whispered amongst themselves.

    "When I call your name, come sit on the stool and put on the hat.  It will tell you which house you're in and then you can go sit at the appropriate table,"  Patil said after the hat stopped singing.  "Allen, Gregory."

    A tall and lanky boy with messy brown hair stepped away from the group and sat down on the stool.  He was wearing navy blue robes, so he must have been from New York.

    "Slytherin!"  the hat shouted.  Gregory Allen took the hat off and went to join the Slytherin table.

    The Sorting continued and Albus clapped loudly whenever anyone got Sorted into Gryffindor.  So far, all the new Gryffindors looked at least two years older than Albus. 

    "I think that bloke is going to have to lose the green robes,"  John commented as one of the Australian students was Sorted into Gryffindor,  "It's just not normal to wear green robes when you're a Gryffindor."

    "I imagine they'll get Gryffindor robes soon,"  Rose said.

    "Do they even have houses at the Australian School of Sorcery?"  John wondered aloud,  "I mean, all their robes look alike."

    "They do,"  Matt told him,  "But those are the plain school robes."

    "I'm guessing they wanted to look unified,"  Rose suggested,  "I doubt Albus will wear Gryffindor Quidditch robes when he plays on the house team.  They'll probably have special Hogwarts robes."

    "If I'm on the team, Rose,"  Albus sighed.  Everyone seemed to think he was going to make the team.  What if he didn't?  Everyone would be disappointed.  Albus didn't really like the pressure.

    "Morales, Linda,"  Patil shouted.

    Albus turned back to the Sorting and saw a rather short girl step forward.  Albus watched as she walked towards the three-legged stool and he couldn't take his eyes off her.  She was beautiful.  There wasn't really any other way to describe her.  Albus hadn't ever seen a girl as pretty as she was.  Her dark brown hair cascaded down her back in soft waves.  It didn't quite match her surprisingly pale skin, but it was beautiful nonetheless.  Her light skin went well with her emerald green robes.  She looked a bit nervous as she sat down and Patil dropped the hat on her head.

    Albus turned to look at his friends.  Matt, John, and Kaden were all staring at the girl.  So was James.  In fact, all the boys at the Gryffindor table seemed to be staring at her.  The girls were whispering to each other and glancing up at Linda Morales every so often.

    The hat seemed to be taking forever to decide.  The entire Great Hall had erupted in whispers.  Finally, the brim of the hat burst open and shouted out, "Gryffindor!"

    Linda Morales took off the hat and walked quickly towards the Gryffindor table. 

    "Bloody hell,"  John whispered as she took a seat a few places down from Albus.

    Albus nodded and turned to look at the girl.  She looked, if possible, even more nervous now that she was sitting down.

    "Albus!"  Rose seethed,  "Don't stare at her!"

    Albus shook his head to clear his thoughts and tried to turn his attention back to the Sorting.  A little while later, the last student was Sorted into Hufflepuff and Patil and the other headmasters took seats behind the staff table.

    Kendrick stood up.  "I'm sure you are all quite famished by now, so without further ado, dinner is served."  Kendrick waved his wand and the golden plates filled with food.

    None of the new students had sat near Albus and his friends, so they didn't get a chance to really get to know any of them.  Most of them were older anyway.  Albus's cousins struck up conversations with a few of them, though.  Albus did notice that Linda wasn't saying much, despite the fact that she had quite a few Gryffindors trying to talk to her. 

    "Well, I certainly hope everyone enjoyed the feast,"  Kendrick announced after the plates cleaned themselves of dessert,  "I have just a few announcements.  The new students need to take note of the fact that the forest and the Whomping Willow are out of bounds.  There is also a rather large list of forbidden objects.  The entire list can be viewed on the caretaker's door, which is located on this level.  Or, you can ask your fellow students.  Anyone with the last name of Weasley has a particularly extensive knowledge on the subject."

    There was a large amount of laughter at this, mostly from the Gryffindor table.

    "Also, try-outs for the Hogwarts Quidditch team will be held this Saturday at one in the afternoon.  Dueling Team try-outs will be held a week from today, also at one in the afternoon.  And with that, I suggest you all turn in early, as classes start tomorrow."

    When Albus and his friends returned to the Gryffindor common room, Linda Morales was already there, surrounded by a rather large group of boys and a couple girls.  She didn't appear to be enjoying it, though.  She looked as nervous as she had been in the Great Hall and was mostly just nodding.

    "I'll bet anything all those blokes have asked her out already,"  Rose muttered as they watched the group.

    "Probably,"  Amanda agreed.

    "They should just leave her alone,"  Rose went on,  "It doesn't look like she wants all that attention.  I'll bet she's overwhelmed by everything."

    "I wonder how old she is,"  Albus said.  He'd been trying to figure that out all evening.

    "Dunno,"  Rose shrugged,  "She looks our age, but older at the same time.  It's kind of odd."

    "Guess we'll find out tomorrow,"  Albus said,  "She might be in our classes."

    "Well, I'm going to bed,"  Matt turned away from Linda and stood up.

    "He's been quiet all evening,"  John commented as Matt left.

    Albus leaned over to John.  "That Killigan bloke, the headmaster, is the reason he couldn't go to school in Australia,"  Albus whispered.

    "Oh,"  John said,  "Well, that would explain it."

    Albus and his friends stayed up for a few more minutes before turning in for the night.  Albus laid awake for a while, though, thinking about Linda Morales.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 6: Flobberworms and Boggarts
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Dislcaimer- I don't own Harry Potter.


   As it turned out, Albus didn't have to wait until classes to know if Linda Morales was his age or not.  Rose and Amanda burst out of the girls' dormitory as Albus, Matt, and John were heading down to breakfast.

    "Albus!"  Rose caught up with him,  "Linda is our age.  She's in our dormitory."

    "Really?"  Albus replied, realizing that he hadn't really thought about which dormitory the new students would be in.

    "Where is she now?" John asked.

    "Still up there,"  Amanda said,  "She's been in the bathroom for ages."

    "Girls,"  John muttered, "I'll never understand them."

    The group hurried down to the Great Hall and ate a quick breakfast before their first class.  Neville handed out schedules and Albus saw that he had Care of Magical Creatures first.

    "Blimey, this schedule is packed,"  John said as they headed out of the castle towards Hagrid's hut.

    "Well, we are taking two extra classes now,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Wonder who we'll have this class with,"  Matt said.

    "With our luck, it'll be the Slytherins,"  Amanda groaned.

    "Maybe Linda's taking this class,"  John said hopefully.

    Amanda sighed,  "You haven't even met her."

    "Yeah, but this class would be the perfect time to do that!"  John pointed out.

    Amanda groaned and they continued their trek to Hagrid's hut.  Once they got there, they saw that they were indeed with the Slytherins.  Albus groaned inwardly and stood with his friends as everyone waited for Hagrid to appear.

    "'Ello, everyone!"  Hagrid said as he stepped out of his hut a few minutes later,  "Welcome to Care o' Magical Creatures."

    "Hi, Hagrid,"  Albus grinned. 

    "'Ello, Albus,"  Hagrid grinned back,  "Now, today's lesson's abou' Flobberworms.  Can anyone tell me anything abou' them?"

    Flobberworms, Albus thought.  Flobberworms were about the least exciting magical creatures in the world.  Albus wished they were doing something a bit more exciting. 

    "Nobody?"  Hagrid said,  "Well, I know they aren't the most excitin' creatures, but we've got to start somewhere.  Now, flobberworms are small white worms...."

    Albus listened as Hagrid explained about flobberworms, but he didn't take any notes.  Rose would have, but Albus didn't see the point.  Flobberworms were pretty basic.

    "Now, everyone can take a worm,"  Hagrid held up a box,  "An' draw them into yer notes an' observe 'em."

    Albus and his friends each took a worm and began the tedious task of recording the worms' every movement and sketching them.  Albus thought the rest of the class was rather boring and was a bit disappointed.  He had kind of been expecting Hagrid to bring in some sort of dangerous creature, like he had when his dad was at Hogwarts.  Although, come to think of it, his cousins had said Hagrid had adopted a more normal curriculum.

    "I wish Hagrid would bring in a dragon or something,"  John said as they made their way back to the castle for Transfiguration.

    "He probably wishes that, too,"  Albus laughed.

    The Transfiguration classroom was already filling up by the time Albus and his friends entered.  Albus noticed that they had this class with the Hufflepuffs.  Rose was already inside, sitting at her usual table in the front.  Amanda quickly joined her.  Linda was there as well, but she was sitting by herself at the other front desk.

    "Let's go sit by Linda!"  John said excitedly.

    "Sure,"  Albus grinned and started to walk towards her table.

    "Wait,"  Matt said,  "There's only two seats.  And do you really want to sit in the front?"

    "Er, that's true,"  John said,  "We'll sit behind her then."

    Albus vaguely wondered why Matt so set on not sitting with Linda, but he didn't dwell on it and sat down at the table behind Linda.  Patil walked in a moment later and everyone quieted down. 

    "For the first few classes we shall be learning about a very difficult branch of transfiguration,"  Patil said after she took attendance,  "And it is called the Animagus Transfiguration.  Can anyone tell me what that is?"

    Albus smirked as Rose's hand shot into the air.  Albus knew the answer, of course, but he was perfectly happy to let Rose answer.

    "Yes, Miss Morales?"  Patil pointed to Linda.

    Albus turned away from Rose and saw that Linda had half-way raised her hand.  The rest of the class was staring at her as well, probably because Rose always answered the preliminary questions in class.

    "The Animagus Transfiguration is the act of transfiguring oneself into an animal,"  Linda answered.

    "Yes, that is correct,"  Patil smiled. 

    Albus noticed that Rose was staring in shock at Linda.  He had to stifle a laugh at this.

    Patil went on to describe Animagi in more detail and Albus took a few notes. 

    "Can anyone name a registered Animagus they may have heard about in another class?"  Patil asked.

    Both Rose and Linda's hands shot up into the air.  Patil called on Rose this time.

    "Minerva McGonagall,"  Rose answered.

    "Yes, she turns into a cat.  She used to teach Transfiguration here and was the Headmistress for a few years.  How about an illegal Animagus?"

    Albus scribbled the words 'Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs' onto a piece of parchment and showed it to Matt and John.  All three of them stifled laughter and then looked back up at Patil.

    "Rita Skeeter,"  Rose grinned.

    Patil smiled.  "Yes, and it was your mother who discovered her."

    The rest of the class passed by at a reasonably quick pace and once it was over, Albus and his friends went to the Great Hall for lunch.

    "You've got some competition, Rose,"  John grinned as they walked down the corridor.

    "Shut up,"  Rose muttered.

    "She might beat you on the next test,"  John laughed.

    "And your point is?"  Rose snapped.

    They walked the rest of the way in silence, as no one wanted to set Rose off even more.  Albus had no idea she would get that competitive about grades.  Although after two years of easily being the smartest in their year, Rose hadn't previously had any competition.

    Half the Gryffindor table was roaring with laughter when they arrived for lunch.  James quickly filled Albus in on the fact that Hugo had exploded his first potion earlier in the morning and was apparently quite proud of it.

    "Well, you'll have no competition from him,"  John muttered to Rose.  Rose sent him a withered look and sat down to eat.

    Albus spent lunch telling Kaden about Care of Magical Creatures.  Despite the fact that they learned about flobberworms, Kaden was jealous.

    The third year Gryffindors had double potions after lunch, with the Slytherins again.  Slughorn started the class with a review of the previous year's potions.  Once again, Rose and Linda both knew the answer to every question.  Then, when Slughorn had them brew a new potion, both Rose and Linda tied for best potion.  Slughorn gave them each a bar of Honeyduke's chocolate.  Albus was quite surprised that Linda seemed as smart as Rose.  He had never met anyone his age who could compete with Rose with grades.  John was right.  Rose did have some competition.

                        ******

    "Well, time to go meet the new Defense teacher,"  Albus said as he finished breakfast the next morning.

    "I wish your dad was still teaching,"  Matt sighed.

    "Yeah,"  John agreed,  "The new teacher looks like the kind of bloke who gives a lot of homework."

    "You really ought to just keep an open mind,"  Rose commented as they left the Great Hall.

    "Easy for you to say,"  John muttered,  "You're freakishly smart."

    "You have got to be kidding me!"  Albus groaned as they reached the classroom,  "We're with the Slytherins, again!"

    "Great,"  Matt sighed,  "Three years in a row, what are the chances of that?"

    Albus led the way into the classroom.  Linda Morales was already seated at one of the front tables.  Rose and Amanda immediately took the other front table.

    "Let's sit in the back,"  Matt muttered.

    Albus nodded.  He really didn't want to sit near the front.  The teacher was already there and was wearing an unreadable expression.  If he turned out to be mean, Albus preferred to be as far away as possible.

    The classroom looked exactly the same as it had the year before, except for a trunk that was sitting in front of the teacher's desk. 
   
    A few more students trickled in and once the bell rang, the teacher waved his wand and the door slammed loudly.  Albus jumped in surprise and snapped his attention back to the new teacher.

    He walked slowly from behind his desk and stood in front of it.  He was holding a piece of parchment and a quill.  Albus noticed that he was wearing the same black robes, except now he noticed that there were intricately designed silver fastenings on them. 

    "Please raise your hand and say 'present' when I call your name,"  he said in a stern voice.  He ran through the list, fixing each student with a piercing gaze when he called on them.

    "Brilliant,"  he said flatly,  "All here.  I am Professor Balladanis, as you all know from Professor Kendrick's speech.  You will address me as Professor Balladanis, or Professor, or Sir.  I will not tolerate speaking out of turn or misbehavior of any kind in my classroom.  I expect all homework and other assignments to be completed on time, no excuses."

    Professor Balladanis began to pace back and forth in front of his desk.  "As you shall discover throughout the year, I take defensive magic very seriously."  He paused and glared sharply at Linda and Janie Creevey, who had sat next to Linda.

    "Defensive magic is a very very important branch of magic.  I would make the argument that is the most important.  It can save your life.  It has saved my life on numerous occasions.  I have no doubt that your previous two years of instruction were very extensive and I am sure you all have a basic knowledge of defensive spells courtesy of Professor Potter."

    Balladanis stopped pacing and paused before continuing his speech.  "However, the third year Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum focuses on defense against dark creatures."  He turned to Albus's table and gave Albus, Matt, and John a piercing stare.

    "I will be continuing the curriculum that has been used in this school since after the final battle,"  Balladanis continued,  "I have looked over the curriculum and have deemed it satisfactory.  I immensely approve of the first day's lesson for third years.  I've always thought a practical approach was good for Defense, although I do expect you to carefully read your text book as well.

    "In this box,"  Balladanis gestured to the trunk, which jumped a little as he touched it,  "Lives a boggart.  Can anyone tell me what a boggart is?"

    Rose and Linda's hands shot up into the air.  Balladanis smirked and pointed to Rose.  "Yes, Miss...?"

    "Weasley, sir,"  Rose replied,  "A boggart is a shape shifter. It takes the form of whatever scares you most.  No one knows what one really looks like."

    Balladanis nodded.  "Correct.  5 points to Gryffindor.  Boggarts,"  he began pacing again,  "Take the form of whatever scares us most.  The boggart focuses on the nearest person and turns into whatever scares them. 

    "We will have an advantage over our boggart.  There are a lot of us, which means the boggart will become confused about what to turn into.  However, that is not enough.  There is a necessary incantation for defeating boggarts.  It is 'Riddikulus'.  Repeat after me, 'Riddikulus'."

    "Riddikulus,"  Albus said along with everyone else.

    "Good,"  Balladanis said, although his voice wasn't exactly cheerful,  "You'll also need to think of a way to turn whatever your most feared thing is into something funny.  Laughter is what really finishes off a boggart.  Then, think of that as you're saying the incantation.  Now, take out your wands and stand up."

    Albus pulled his wand out of his bag and stood up.  He wasn't even sure what he was most afraid of.  Snakes?  No, he really didn't fear snakes.  Spiders?  Nope, not them either.  He had no idea what that boggart was going to turn into, and that made it even scarier.

    Balladanis waved his wand and all the tables and chairs moved to the sides of the classroom.  "Form a line,"  he instructed.

    Everyone pushed to be at the front of the line.  Albus wound up being towards the back, behind John and in front of Matt.

    "Miss Weasley,"  Balladanis motioned for Rose to step forward,  "Perhaps you could go first."

    Rose nodded and stepped out of the line.  She stood in front of the trunk with her wand raised.  Albus had no idea what the boggart would turn into for Rose either.  Nor did he have a clue what John and Amanda's boggarts would be.  He had an inkling about Matt's, though.

    Balladanis stood off to the side and pointed his wand at the trunk.  The lid slowly opened and out stepped...Neville.  Albus gaped at the boggart. 

    The boggart Neville opened his mouth.  "I'm sorry, Rose, you did not get the highest grades in your year.  You've been beaten."
   
    Oh, Albus thought, that kind of made sense.  For a moment there, Albus actually thought Rose was afraid of Neville, which was ridiculous.

    "Riddikulus!"  Rose shouted.

    The boggart Neville swayed, but didn't look any different.  He opened his mouth again.  "Rose, you have beaten everyone in the entire school!  You have the best grades in the history of Hogwarts."

    Albus smirked.  It wasn't entirely funny, but it fit Rose perfectly.

    "Interesting,"  Balladanis muttered,  "Next!"

    Rose stood off to the side and grinned as Amanda stepped forward.  Albus watched as the boggart turned into a very large snake.

    Amanda stared at it for a few moments and then shouted, "Riddikulus!"  The snake twirled around and tied itself into a knot.  Amanda, along with most of the rest of the class, burst out laughing.  Amanda stepped to the side next to Rose and Janie Creevey stepped forward.

    Janie's boggart turned into a giant rat, which then got transformed into tiny mouse.  A few Slytherins were up after her, and then it was Linda Morales's turn.

    Albus watched intently as the boggart that had previously been a dragon turn into a raging fire.  Linda raised her wand and shouted, "Riddikulus!"  The fire turned into a waterfall and Linda joined the growing group of students off to the side.

    Marina Jordan-Bell was next, and her boggart turned into a spider, as did her sister, Karina's.  Karina had a bit of trouble, but eventually managed to turn the spider rainbow colors.  Ethan and a couple of the Slytherins had difficulty as well.

    Leigh Montague charmed her mummy boggart into a strait jacket and then it was John's turn.  He stepped forward and the mummy turned into a clown.  A clown, complete with a big red nose and huge shoes.

    Albus could hear a few of the other students snickering already.  Albus wasn't exactly a fan of clowns, but he could think of at least ten things that were scarier than them.

    "Riddikulus!"  John shouted.  The clown boggart started to walk forward, but it tripped over its ridiculously large feet, which were growing at an alarming rate.  The entire class burst out in the loudest laughter yet as John joined Rose and Amanda.

    Albus took a deep breath and stepped forward.  The clown with the huge feet started spinning again and when it stopped, it looked like Professor Oteski.  The Oteski boggart stepped towards Albus.

    "You did not make the Hogwarts Quidditch team,"  it said.

    Albus gulped.  Come to think of it, that was what he was most afraid of at that moment.  But how could he make it funny.  He racked his brains as the Oteski boggart continued walking towards him.

    "Riddikulus!"  Albus shouted. 

    The boggart spun around again and then stopped.  "You did make the team!"  it said,  "In fact, everyone is on the team!  All of Hogwarts will play at once and therefore win the competition!"

    Albus laughed at the thought of a Quidditch team consisting of over 200 people on it and joined John at the side of the classroom.  Albus watched as Matt stepped forward.

    "Hey, Potter,"  Scorpius whispered,  "I bet the boggart won't know what to turn into with Eckerton.  He's afraid of everything."

    "Shut it, Malfoy,"  Albus growled.

    "Quiet over there!"  Balladanis shouted.  Albus immediately shut his mouth and Scorpius didn't say anything else.

    The boggart was spinning around again and when it stopped, it didn't turn into the bright full moon that Albus had been expecting.  It had turned into a very sinister looking man.  He was skinny and rather short and had a mop of untidy brown hair on his head.  It wasn't like Roberts's hair, though.  This bloke's hair was stringy and dirty looking.  His eyes were piercing, not unlike Balladanis's, and he was sneering at Matt.  Albus didn't recognize who it was.  He hadn't seen anyone that resembled the boggart.

    The boggart stepped slowly towards Matt, who looked frozen in place.  Albus could see his wand shaking in his hand. 

    "Who's that bloke?"  John whispered.

    "No idea,"  Albus said.

    Albus continued to watch as the boggart advanced towards Matt.  Balladanis wasn't doing anything besides watching with an unreadable expression on his face. 

    The boggart was now only a couple feet away from Matt, who still wasn't doing anything.  The boggart began to slowly raise its hands and muttered something that Albus couldn't quite catch.

    At that moment, Matt seemed to unfreeze.  He stepped back and all of a sudden ran towards the door.  He wrenched it open and disappeared from the room.  Everyone who had already faced the boggart started whispering amongst themselves

    Albus turned to John, who shrugged.  Albus couldn't even begin to imagine why Matt was afraid of that strange man, but he could sense that it went beyond a normal fear. 

    "I'm going after him,"  Albus whispered to John.  John nodded and Albus ran from the room without asking Balladanis or even looking back at him.

    Albus could hear Balladanis trying to quiet the rest of the students down as he walked quickly down the corridor.  Matt wasn't anywhere to be found.  Albus continued to walk down the corridor, not really knowing where he was going.  Where would Matt go?  The dormitory?  Room of Requirement?  Marauder's Den?  That was it, Albus thought.  That's where Matt would go.  After all, only a few people knew about that.

    Albus walked through the empty corridors, thankful that nobody else was wandering around.  He glanced at his watch.  There was only ten minutes left in class.

    The fifth floor corridor was also deserted.  Albus quickly pulled up the arm on the appropriate suit of armor and then searched the opposite wall for the tiny paw prints.  He found them and glanced up and down the corridor once more before wrenching the door open.

    The room looked empty when Albus stepped inside.  In fact, it looked just like they left it at the end of the previous year.  Albus hadn't been in it for months.  He quietly walked further into the room and headed straight for Matt's alcove. 

    Matt was sitting on his four-poster bed, just staring directly at the wall in front of him.  Albus wordlessly sat down on the bed, not sure of what to say.  Matt didn't even acknowledge the fact that Albus was there.  Either that or he didn't notice.

    "Er, are you ok?"  Albus asked after a few moments of awkward silence.

    Matt looked over at him.  He didn't look all right.  His face was pale white.  "I guess,"  he said quietly,  "But everyone probably thinks I'm afraid of everything now.  Nobody else ran out of the room."

    "Maybe everyone else's boggarts weren't as scary,"  Albus suggested.   

    "Maybe,"  Matt muttered.

    Albus heard the door open and he craned his head around to see that Rose, John, and Amanda had come inside.  John and the girls walked over to where Albus and Matt were. 

    "We've got your bags,"  John said as he dropped Albus and Matt's bags on the floor.

    "Thanks,"  Albus replied.

    "Are you all right?"  John asked Matt.

    "Yeah,"  Matt sighed.

    "What have we got next?"  Albus asked.

    "Herbology,"  Rose answered,  "And we'd better go if we don't want to be late."

    "Are you coming?"  Albus asked Matt. 

    "Yeah,"  Matt got up off the bed,  "Let's go.  I just hope we don't have it with the Slytherins.  I'd bet my last Galleon that Malfoy's going to make fun of me for this for rest of the year."

    Albus would have been willing to bet that as well.  Fortunately, the third year Gryffindors had Herbology with the Ravenclaws that year.  A few of the other Gryffindors stole quick glances at Matt during the beginning part of the class, but nobody said anything to him.  Neville quizzed them about a few plants they had learned about the previous year for a few minutes.  Rose and Linda answered all of them.  Then he gave a broad overview of what they'd be doing that year.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight and all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 7: Nightmare
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   After lunch, Albus, Rose, and Matt headed to Ancient Runes while John and Amanda went to Divination.  Albus didn't really know what to expect from Ancient Runes, nor did he know anything about the teacher.  Matt had told them that Amy said the teacher was nice enough.

    Albus, Rose, and Matt sat down at one of the tables in the middle of the room and waited for the teacher.  Linda Morales was already seated at one of the front tables.  Albus wondered how she always seemed to be the first to arrive to any class.  There was also an assortment of Hufflepuffs in the room.  Albus, Rose, Matt, and Linda appeared to be the only Gryffindors taking the class, though.

    The professor walked in a few minutes later.  She was a short woman with curly grey hair and a patient look on her face.

    "Hello,"  she smiled,  "I'm Professor Sturly."

    She took attendance and then gave a lengthy lecture about what the study of Ancient Runes was.  Albus kind of thought she could have condensed it and he found himself zoning out about halfway through.  Rose was paying rapt attention and Albus had a feeling this would become one of her favorite classes.

    Towards the end of the class, Sturly gave an overview of the first chapter in their book and then assigned the remainder of the chapter for homework.  The chapter covered a variety of basic runes that Albus and the rest of the students would have to memorize.

    Charms consisted of Rose and Linda alternatively answering every question Cedonia threw at them.  Albus had a feeling it would become a regular occurrence in all the classes he had with both Rose and Linda.

    "How was Divination?"  Albus asked his friends after dinner as they were sitting around the Marauder's Den.

    "Entertaining,"  John laughed,  "I think it'll be my easiest class."

    "So, who did Trelawney say would die this year?"  Rose asked.

    "What?!"  Kaden exclaimed,  "Someone's going to die?"

    "No,"  Rose sighed,  "Trelawney just predicts someone's death every year.  The student in question has never actually died during that year."

    "Oh,"  Kaden shrugged,  "So she's not a real psychic?"

    "You mean a Seer?"  Rose asked,  "Well, she has made a few real predictions.  She's the one who spoke the prophecy about Albus's dad.  But can she really predict the future with crystal balls and such?  I doubt it.  I really doubt anyone can do that.  I'm sure there are real Seers out there, but they're extremely rare.  Divination is a very obscure branch of magic that is difficult to interpret.  My mum says we shouldn't put much faith in it." 

    "I still think it would be brilliant to know the future, though,"  Kaden grinned.

    "I don't know,"  Matt shrugged,  "I've always thought the future was best left unknown."

    "I've always thought so, too,"  Albus agreed. 

    "So, who's going to snuff it?"  Kaden asked.

    "Carter Eubert,"  John replied,  "That Ravenclaw we shared a boat with when we crossed the lake in first year.  I have to say that I'm relieved it wasn't me."

    "Me, too,"  Amanda agreed.
   
    Rose groaned.  "I've told you that it's not real!  Trelawney has never accurately predicted a student's death.  She predicted my Uncle Harry's death and he's still alive!"

    "Yeah, but didn't he nearly die at the end of his third year?"  John asked.

    "Key word, nearly,"  Rose replied,  "Plus, he faced death pretty much every year."
   
    "Ok, ok,"  John said,  "But I'm still glad she didn't predict my death, even if it's not a real prediction."

    "So how was Ancient Runes?"  Amanda asked.

    "Really interesting!"  Rose said excitedly and proceeded to give a commentary on how the class had went.  However, Kaden seemed to be the only one really intrigued by it.

    Albus and his friends spent the remainder of the evening in the Marauder's Den.  Once they had exhausted the topic of their first two days of classes, they moved on to the Quidditch competition and Albus's chances of making the Hogwarts team.  Everyone thought Albus had a good chance of making it, except Albus.   Then they talked a bit about their upcoming Hogsmeade trips, although that topic kind of made Kaden jealous.  John brought up the topic of Linda Morales, but both Rose and Matt didn't want to talk about her at all. 

    Eventually, they had to return to Gryffindor tower in order not to break curfew.  On his way up to his dormitory, Albus noticed that Linda once again was surrounded by a group of admirers, but appeared not to be enjoying it at all.

                        ******

    "No!  I don't want to go!  Dad, don't make me go!" 

    Albus's eyes snapped open.  He peered at the clock and saw that it was just after two in the morning.  He could hear someone tossing and turning and mumbling in their sleep in the bed next to him.

    "Please,  I don't want to.  Just let me go home."

    Albus was wide awake now.  The talking was coming from Matt's bed and Albus knew he was having a nightmare.  Albus had been woken up by Matt's nightmares on numerous occasions, especially during first year.  They always seemed to come around the full moon.  Although, Albus was pretty sure that the full moon wasn't for a few weeks.  This nightmare sounded worse anyway.

    The mumbling continued for another few minutes and then stopped all of a sudden.  Albus heard the bed creak and footsteps crossing the room until they disappeared altogether.  Albus sat up and waited a few minutes before quietly getting out of bed.  He stepped into his slippers and padded across the room and carefully shut the door behind him.  None of the other boys had woken up.

    The common room was dark and empty when Albus got there.  The fire had long since died out and Albus shivered slightly as he stumbled around the room.  There was faint wand light coming from one of the corners.  Albus walked slowly towards it and saw Matt sitting curled up in one of the chairs, staring at the floor.

    Matt startled when he saw Albus.  "Oh, Albus,"  he sighed,  "What are you doing up?"

    Albus shrugged and sat down in the chair next to Matt's.  "Followed you down here."

    "Oh, did I wake you up?"

    "Sort of,"  Albus replied,  "But it's ok.  I just came to see if you were all right.  I mean, first the boggart and then that nightmare-"

    "How do you know I had a nightmare?"  Matt asked.

    "I sort of  heard you mumbling,"  Albus answered,  "You were talking in your sleep."

    "Oh."

    "Listen,"  Albus paused,  "You don't have to tell me, but I was sort of wondering who that bloke was that your boggart was.  I mean, I kind of thought it would be a full moon."

    "So did I,"  Matt said quietly,  "Which is part of why I freaked out so much."

    Albus nodded, wondering if Matt was going to continue or not.

    "I know I haven't told you much about what happened when I lived in Australia,"  Matt began.

    Albus nodded again.  All he really knew about Matt's life in Australia was that he had lived in a mansion and his dad had been the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

    "That bloke the boggart turned into is the current Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,"  Matt continued,  "He replaced my dad.  But before that, he was the Head of the Werewolf Control Unit."

    Albus was still a bit confused about why he was Matt's boggart, but he figured it would be best to just not say anything.

    "While my parents were in the process of finding out where to move, a law was passed that all werewolves had to transform in a Ministry approved center if their place of transformation failed an inspection.  Mine failed."

    "What?!"  Albus gaped at him,  "But your dad was-"

    "The head of the department, I know.  They passed the law while we were visiting New York.  My parents refused to let me transform at one of the Ministry centers, so they broke the law and were fined.  The first time that happened, my dad was fired over it.

    "But that bloke, Ralph Lubar is his name, wouldn't give up until I transformed in one of the centers.  My parents said it was because he hated my dad so much.  The two of them had some sort of long term row going on or something.  I don't know the details.  But anyway,"  Matt paused,  "Eventually, Lubar was able to pass a law that made it legal for the Ministry to take werewolves by force to one of the transformation centers.  He flooed to our house, grabbed me, and flooed to the Ministry approved center before my parents had a chance to stop him."   

    Albus stared at Matt.  He could hardly believe what he was hearing.  What was even more unbelievable, was that it had been legal.  How could it be legal to basically kidnap a kid for a night?

    "I don't remember any of it,"  Matt said quietly,  "Except for what happens in the nightmares I have.  It was horrible, though.  The other werewolves were all adults and they all sort of ganged up on me.  I spent a day or so at the hospital in Australia and then my parents had me transferred to St. Mungo's because they wanted Healer Sterling to take care of me.  I spent three weeks there."

    "Well, it makes sense that you were so scared of that boggart,"  Albus said,  "Lubar is one of the most horrible wizards I've ever heard of." 

    Matt nodded and shifted slightly.  "I thought I was over it.  I mean, it was over five years ago.  I really thought that boggart would turn into a full moon.  But I guess having Killigan here brought everything back.  I thought all that stuff that happened in Australia was behind me, but I guess not."

    "Nothing like that is going to happen here,"  Albus said quietly,  "Lubar has no control over our Ministry.  He's in Australia."

    "I guess you're right,"  Matt sighed,  "I think I'll go see if Madam Pomfrey will give me any dreamless sleep potion.  Could I use the Invisibility Cloak?"

    "Yeah, of course,"  Albus said as he stood up.  He had a feeling that Madam Pomfrey would definitely give him the dreamless sleep and probably try and convince him to spend the night in the Hospital Wing as well.

    Albus and Matt quietly walked back to the dormitory and Albus dug out the Cloak, as well as the second edition Marauder's Map, and handed them to Matt.  Once Matt had left the room, Albus climbed back into bed.

    Albus lay awake thinking about what Matt had told him for a while.  His own boggart of not making the Hogwarts Quidditch team seemed very insignificant now that he knew the details about Matt's boggart.  That didn't make Albus any less nervous about the try-outs, though.

                        ******

    Albus and the other Gryffindor third years, as well as the Ravenclaws, started out the next day with History of Magic.  All Albus learned during the hour was that third year History of Magic was equally as boring as second year.  Transfiguration consisted of another lecture on Animagi and Albus noticed that John paid a considerably more amount of attention than he usually did.  Albus thought this was pointless, though, since they had already established the previous year that they would not become Animagi.

    Care of Magical Creatures was after lunch and the class moved on to the slightly more interesting bowtruckles.  Albus was very thankful for the break they had afterwards, when Rose went to Muggle Studies.

    "It's only the third day and I'm already sick of homework,"  Albus muttered as they entered the Marauder's Den.

    "So don't do it,"  John said as he pulled a Chocolate Frog out of his bag.

    "You should do that Divination homework,"  Amanda said,  "You know, the one where we predict what happens to us next Wednesday."

    "Already did it,"  John announced.

    Albus, Matt, and Amanda all stared in shock at John.  John never ever did homework early.  He was always the one finishing the last lines of an essay as the teacher took attendance.

    "What?"  John shrugged,  "I occasionally do stuff before it's due."

    "No, actually, you don't,"  Matt smirked.

    "Divination's different.  It's fun to make up fake predictions."

    "So what's happening to you next Wednesday?"  Amanda asked.

    "I'm going to break my neck when I fall off my broom."

    "John, you don't even play Quidditch,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Trelawney won't care."

    Albus personally thought it was a waste of time to come up with fake predictions for Divination, but that was probably why he hadn't signed up for the class.

    "Oh, did we ever tell you what Balladanis's boggart was?"  John asked Albus and Matt.

    "Nope,"  Matt said.

    Amanda burst out laughing.  "You're going to love this."

    "Yeah,"  John grinned,  "When the two of you left, the boggart got a bit confused because no one was standing that close to it.  Everyone was whispering and not paying an ounce of attention to it, so Balladanis stepped in front of it and you'll never guess what it turned into!"

    "A werewolf?"  Matt asked.

    "No, but that would have been funny, too,"  John laughed,  "Anyway, it turned into a woman."

    "A woman?"  Albus raised his eyebrows.

    "Yeah,"  John said,  "A tall, skinny, pale faced woman.  Her skin was as pale as Linda's.  Her hair was a bit lighter, but still a dark brown.  The woman just sort of walked over to Balladanis with a smile on her face.  She was kind of pretty in an odd sort of way."

    "Now that is weird,"  Albus replied,  "Why in the name of Merlin would he be afraid of women?"

    "Maybe it was a specific woman,"  Matt pointed out.

    That would make more sense.  After all, Matt wasn't afraid of all men.  His boggart had turned into a specific man.  But Albus did think it was kind of odd that Balladanis, the stern man who hated Dark Arts, would be afraid of a witch.  Albus would have thought he'd be afraid of some sort of scary dark creature.

    "Who do you think she was?"  Matt asked.

    John shrugged.  "His wife?"

    Albus smirked.  "Well, that would be funny."

    "My dad jokes that he's afraid of my mum at times,"  John replied,  "But I doubt his boggart would turn into her."

    "Maybe she's some sort of dark witch that he's faced in the past,"  Amanda suggested.

    "Good thinking!"  Matt agreed,  "Maybe she was a Death Eater."

    "I don't know if he fought in the War or not, though,"  Albus said,  "My dad's never mentioned his name before and he doesn't really seem like the kind of bloke to just stay in the background, does he?"

    "I guess not,"  Matt replied,  "She could still be an evil witch, though."

    "That does make the most sense,"  John said, "She must be really evil.  I mean, Balladanis doesn't seem like he'd be afraid of anything."

    "Everyone's afraid of something,"  Albus pointed out,  "But yeah, she must be evil."

    "What did Balladanis do to make her funny?"  Matt asked.

    "Turned her into some sort of statue,"  John answered,  "It was strange, like she was petrified.  She just froze in place.  And then Balladanis banished it to the trunk."

    "How is that funny?"  Albus asked.

    "No idea,"  John shrugged,  "Just adds to the mystery that is Balladanis."

    "I'm still not sure I like him,"  Matt commented.

    "Me, neither,"  Albus agreed.

    "But hey, at least he didn't give us any homework on the first day,"  John pointed out.

                        ******

    The next day Albus found himself yet again sitting in the back of the Defense classroom in between Matt and John.  Malfoy kept turning around in his seat and smirking at Matt.  Albus was glaring at him, silently daring him to say anything about Matt's experience with the boggart.

    Balladanis stormed into the room a few minutes later in a way that reminded Albus of Washburn.  The class immediately quieted down and Malfoy faced forward in his seat.  Balladanis quickly ran through attendance and then stared at his students.

    "Well, some of you were successful with last class's boggart,"  Balladanis began,  "However, there were quite a few of you who weren't."

    Malfoy yet again turned around and looked at Matt, this time unable to stifle his laughter.

    "Quiet, Mr. Malfoy,"  Balladanis growled,  "Five points from Slytherin."

    Albus couldn't help but grin at that.  At least Balladanis wasn't favoring Slytherin. 

    "Therefore, we will continue battling the boggart until you all have success with the spell,"  Balldanis continued,  "I do not want any of you to slip through the cracks and skate through this class on the tails of more successful students.  That may work while at Hogwarts, but the moment you get out into the real world, it will abruptly end.  Without a basic knowledge of defensive spells, you will meet an untimely end at the hands of dark wizards."

    This teacher was making it seem like they were in the midst of a war.  Albus knew it was important to be able to defend yourself, but he thought Balladanis was acting like everyone was out to get you.  It kind of reminded him of what his parents, aunts, and uncles had said about Mad-Eye Moody.

    "Dark wizards love finding victims with little knowledge of defensive spells.  The students who skirt by with acceptable marks and just barely pass each exam, without really understanding anything.  They also love people who read book after book and pretend to understand everything.  And while these people may have a full knowledge of defensive spells, they may not possess the skills necessary to perform them,"  Balldanis's eyes rested on Rose and Linda.

    "I want everyone in this room to have more than the basic skills needed to perform defensive skills.  I want everyone to be able to come off better in a duel.  I want everyone to be able to defend themselves against dark creatures and wizards alike.

    "Starting with the boggart, I will not rest until every student is capable of performing every spell we learn in this class.  I will assign extra lessons to those I deem it necessary.  You will come in for extra help.  I do not care if it interferes with clubs or Quidditch practice.  Quidditch will be of little help when you are facing a dark wizard or creature.

    "Stand up!"  Balladanis ordered.  The class scrambled to their feet and Balladanis moved the desks aside.

    "Sir!"  Malfoy called out,  "What if we've already had success with the boggart?"

    "Then you'll do it again,"  Balladanis replied,  "Practice makes perfect."

    The class lined up in front of the trunk.  Albus and his friends wound up being in the back, and Albus didn't think Matt minded this in the least.  He looked very nervous at the prospect of seeing the Lubar boggart again and Albus couldn't blame him.

    The line moved much faster this time than the last class.  Everyone who had had problems with the boggart during the previous class seemed to do a better job this time.

    Albus stepped forward once it was his turn and the boggart once again turned into Oteski, who told him he did not make the team.  Albus vaguely wondered what the boggart would turn into after the try-out, if they battled it after that.  He shouted the spell and moved to the side to stand next to Rose and Amanda.

    John was next and battled his clown boggart in the same way he had the other day.  He stepped to the side and Matt walked slowly towards the boggart.

    "Two Galleons says he runs again,"  Malfoy whispered in Albus's ear.

    "Shut it, Malfoy,"  Albus and John said at the same time.

    The boggart once again turned into Lubar and Matt slowly raised his wand, which was shaking.

    "R-R-Ridikkulus,"  Matt whispered.  Nothing happened and the boggart advanced towards Matt.

    "Louder,"  Balladanis told him.

    "R-Ridikkulus!"  Matt shouted.  Still nothing.  His wand arm was shaking even harder.

    "R-Ridikkulus!"  he shouted once again.

    This time, the boggart spun around and when it stopped, Lubar was decked out in a black and white striped prison outfit with a ball and chain attached to his right leg.
   
    "Looks like you owe us two Galleons,"  John smirked at Malfoy.

    "Not a chance, Brickston,"  Malfoy growled.

    "Good job,"  Albus grinned as Matt joined the group.

    Balladanis already had the boggart shut in the trunk when Albus looked back at his teacher.

    "That's enough for today,"  Balladanis announced.  "You,"  he pointed at Matt,  "Come see me."

    Matt glanced at Albus and then walked slowly towards Balldanis as the rest of the class left the room.  Albus and his friends lingered near the doorway, but Balladanis gestured for them to leave.  They reluctantly left, but waited just outside the doorway.

    "What did he want?"  Albus asked once Matt exited the room.

    "I have to go in for extra help,"  Matt groaned,  "Until I can face the boggart successfully."

    "But you were successful,"  John pointed out.

    "Not successful enough for Balladanis."

    "Somehow, I don't think anyone would be successful enough for him,"  Rose muttered.

    "Yeah,"  Albus agreed,  "That was some speech he gave at the beginning of class."

    Albus still didn't know what to think of their new Defense professor.  He seemed very strict and Albus didn't really feel comfortable with him, but on the other hand, he seemed very knowledgeable in defensive spells.  Albus had a feeling they'd learn a lot from him, and even though they weren't involved in a war at the moment, Albus knew defense skills were always important to have.  That's what his father had told him ever since he could remember.  Albus had grown up knowing the need for defense against the dark arts.  He just had never had it taught to him in such a forceful strict way.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight!  Thanks as well to everyone who has read and reviewed this!

Chapter 8: The Incident With the Giant Squid
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   The remainder of the week went by quickly.  Albus spent all his spare time on the Quidditch pitch, trying to hone his skills for the try-outs on Saturday.  Unfortunately, the Slytherin Quidditch team booked the pitch all Friday evening, so Albus was unable to cram in a last minute practice session.

    Instead, Albus sat in the common room with the rest of his friends, trying to write an essay for Transfiguration.  He was supposed to research a famous Animagi and write a foot long essay about him or her.  Albus had wanted to write about his grandfather, but given the fact that Prongs's Animagus status had been a secret, Albus didn't think such an essay would work.  So, Albus eventually decided to write about McGonagall.  He had a feeling half the class would write about her.

    "What are McGonagall's markings?"  John asked, proving Albus's theory.

    "Spectacle marks around her eyes,"  Albus answered as he stared at his mostly blank piece of parchment.

    "Thanks,"  John grinned,  "You just saved me fifteen minutes of research."

    "No problem,"  Albus replied.  He wasn't sure why the essay was taking him so long.  He knew a great deal about McGonagall and her Animagus capabilities.  He supposed he just had his mind on other things, like the Quidditch try-outs.

    "How can she even concentrate on her studying?"  Rose sighed loudly.

    "Who?"  Albus asked.

    "Linda Morales,"  Rose muttered, with a hint of contempt in her voice,  "Just look at her."

    Albus turned around and saw Linda sitting at a table with a bunch of books and parchment strewn about it.  There was quite a crowd of boys surrounding her, including Bilius, Ethan, James, Ben, Cedric, Nathan, and a few second years Albus didn't know the names of.  They all seemed to be talking at once while Linda had her eyes fixed on one of the books.

    "Well, from what you've said, she's so freakishly smart she doesn't need to study,"  Kaden said.

    "Humph,"  Rose huffed,  "Everyone needs to study."

    "I think you're jealous, Rose,"  Albus smirked.

    "Am not,"  Rose replied.

    "I wonder what position she plays,"  John mused.

    "What?"  Albus asked.

    "Position.  You know, in Quidditch,"  John explained,  "She must be on the Australian team.  Since she's our age, she can't be on the dueling team."

    "Seeker,"  Rose said.

    "How do you know?"  Albus asked.

    "Karina asked her one day in the dormitory,"  Rose explained.

    "Who's a Seeker?"  Matt dropped his bag onto the table and sat down in the chair next to Albus.

    "Linda Morales,"  Albus told him,  "How was your boggart lesson?"

    "Weird,"  Matt replied,  "Balladanis wasn't stern like he is in class."

    "Really?"  Kaden gaped,  "I don't think I could imagine him not strict."

    "Yeah.  I wouldn't say he was nice, but he didn't act like he does in class."

    "What did he do?"  John asked.

    "Well, I walked in and he was sitting at his desk.  So I walked up to him and he got up and went over to the trunk.  He didn't say much, just told me to battle the boggart.  And then I did.  Over and over again until I thought I was going to go mad."

    "That sounds like Balladanis,"  Kaden interrupted.

    "I know,"  Matt replied,  "I'm getting there.  Anyway, eventually he told me I could stop.  Then he told me to sit down and that he wanted to talk to me.  He basically told me the same thing he told everyone in class the other day.  But he changed it a bit."

    Matt lowered his voice.  "He said that the point of Defense class wasn't only to learn how to defend ourselves against the dark arts.  He said it's also to teach us why the dark arts are so horrible.  He then went on to tell me that it was especially important for me to know that."

    "That is weird,"  Albus said quietly,  "You don't think he said that because of, well, you know."

    "Yeah, I think he did,"  Matt replied,  "But he didn't say it in a mean way or anything.  It was just really really odd."

    "I'll say,"  John agreed,  "Do you have to go there again?"

    "Unfortunately, yes,"  Matt muttered,  "He wants me to go every Friday until he says I don't have to anymore."

    "How did it go with the boggart, though?"  Rose asked.

    "I thought it went ok.  I mean, I'm doing better than I was.  But he still wants me to go in for extra help."

    "Well,"  Kaden said after a few moments,  "This just proves that Balladanis is a very very strange teacher."

                        ******

    Albus awoke riddled with nerves the next morning.  It reminded him of the nerves he had only one year ago prior to the Gryffindor team try-outs.  Only this was ten times worse.  He felt like he'd eaten a few live pygmy puffs and they were bouncing around his stomach trying to escape.

    Try-outs were to be held shortly after lunch and Albus spent all morning talking with his fellow Gryffindor teammates in the common room.  Georgia spent over an hour talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the other people who would be trying out.  Albus only sort of paid attention.  The rest of the team seemed excited and not nearly as nervous as Albus.  Albus thought James was lucky; he was only competing against Lisa Galivant of Hufflepuff and Miranda Corner of Ravenclaw, as Slytherin was getting a new Seeker that year.

    Albus sat with his team at lunch, although he didn't eat much.  Georgia continued talking about everything they'd need to know for the try-outs.  The other Gryffindors kept coming up to him and wishing him luck.  All Albus could manage to do was nod and mutter 'thanks'. 

    In an effort to keep order on the Quidditch pitch, the headmaster had banned the rest of the students from watching the try-outs.  Albus was very grateful of this and was kind of relieved when Georgia finally announced that they should leave for the pitch.  Albus's friends wished him luck and he left the Great Hall following James.

    The walk to the pitch was quiet.  Georgia had stopped her running commentary on the strategy of the rest of the Hogwarts Quidditch players and everyone else seemed to realize they were more nervous than they thought.

    Albus took a deep breath as he entered the pitch and adjusted his broom on his shoulder.  He tried to think positive thoughts and followed his team onto the pitch.  Then, he stopped in his tracks and felt his jaw drop to the ground.

    Standing in the middle of the pitch, next to Professors Oteski, Longbottom, Slughorn, Patil, and Polo, was none other than Teddy Lupin.  Standing with Teddy and the professors were Oliver Wood and Tyler Pike, the Head Boy from Albus's first year.

    "What's Teddy doing here?"  James whispered.

    "No idea,"  Albus whispered back, wondering the same thing.  Why was Teddy there?  He hadn't mentioned anything over the summer about doing anything at Hogwarts that year.

    Albus stood with his team and looked at the rest of the students who were trying out.  The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff players were already there.  Amongst the Ravenclaws were Kate Waverly, the Keeper; Natalie Cable, Damien Waverly, and Dan Burke, the Chasers; Zack Valentino and Allie Davis, the Beaters; Miranda Corner, the Seeker.  Their entire team was trying out, like the Gryffindor team. 

    The Hufflepuffs had a few less players trying out.  Their Keeper, Tanner Royce was there, along with Anna Reilly and Shawn Ames, the Chasers.  One of their Beaters, Andy Kaper was there.  Albus remembered that their other Beater had graduated the previous year.  Lisa Galivant, their Seeker, was there as well, looking determined.

    The Slytherins showed up a few minutes later.  Leading them was their new captain, Ferris Fielding, who was a Chaser.  His fellow Chasers were Peyton Haines and Hailey Odele.  Their remaining Beater, Talan Flint, glared at the Gryffindor team as he walked by.

    Professor Oteski gazed around the pitch and then looked at his watch.  He said something to the four heads of houses and then cleared his throat.  Albus stopped watching the Slytherins and turned to Oteski.

    "I think everyone's here now,"  Oteski began,  "First, I want to introduce you to your Head Captain and your Assistant Captains.  Oliver Wood, formerly of Puddlemere United, has agreed to captain the team."

    There was a very loud round of applause and a few whistles from the crowd of students.  Albus grinned and clapped until the applause began to quiet down.

    "And your Assistant Captains are former students you probably all remember.  Teddy Lupin, former Seeker and Captain of the Gryffindor team, and Tyler Pike, former Seeker and Captain of the Ravenclaw team will be your Assistant Captains."

    Albus clapped hard enough to make his hands hurt.  He had no idea Teddy was going to help run the Hogwarts team!  Teddy must have had a hard time keeping that a secret over the summer.

    "You will all try out this afternoon and I, along with your captains and heads of houses will make the decisions tonight.  The final list of the team as well as the reserve players will be posted in your common rooms late tomorrow.

    "Now, I thought we'd start with the Seekers.  Everyone else please go sit in the stands."

    Albus and the vast majority of the crowd drifted towards the stands.  James, Lisa, and Miranda remained in the pitch.  Miranda was a third year and Lisa was a fourth year.  Albus thought James had a pretty good chance of making the team.  He had beaten both of the other Seekers numerous times.

    Albus paid some attention to James's try-out, but mostly he was thinking about his own try-out.  Eventually, James and the other Seekers finished and Oteski called for the Keepers.  Georgia practically ran down to the pitch, followed by the other two Keepers.  Albus watched and he was pretty confident Georgia would make the team as well.  After Georgia returned with a huge grin on her face, Oteski called the Beaters down.  Albus's cousin, Bradley, as well as Ryan O'Malley did well with their try-out, but so did the other Beaters.

    Finally, Oteski announced for the Chasers to enter the pitch.  Albus stood up with his cousins, Heather and Fred, and walked nervously down to the pitch.  Teddy flashed him a grin as he entered the pitch. 

    There were ten other Chasers besides Albus; the worst chances of all the positions to get a spot on the team.

    "Ok, I want everyone to fly around the pitch a few times,"  Oliver Wood announced. 

    Albus mounted his broom and flew into the air.  His nerves seemed to calm down as he felt the wind blowing against his face.  Just think of it as another Quidditch match, he thought as he flew amongst the other Chaser hopefuls.

    The thought of try-outs being like a Quidditch match carried Albus through the whole try-out.  He was still nervous and did drop a few Quaffles, but all in all, it wasn't as bad as he thought it would have been.  The rest of the Chasers had dropped a few Quaffles as well.  Albus still wasn't sure he'd make the team, but at least he hadn't made a fool of himself.

    "Everyone did great,"  Oliver Wood said at the end of the try-out,  "We'll make our decision and post the team list tomorrow.  I'll be seeing some of you really soon."

    The group started to disband and Teddy made his way towards the Gryffindor team.

    "Teddy!"  Georgia shouted,  "I can't believe you might be my captain again!  How in the name of Merlin did you keep this a secret?"

    Teddy shrugged.  "Honestly, I'm not even sure.  I guess I kind of liked knowing something you lot didn't."

    Georgia groaned.  "Oh, shut it, Teddy."

    "You all did really well, though,"  Teddy grinned.
   
    "Yeah, but there's so many other Chasers,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Al, even if you don't make it, you're a brilliant Chaser and you'll still have the house Quidditch.  That's still going on during this whole thing."

    "Oi, Teddy!"  Tyler Pike called,  "Get a move on, we've got to discuss the team!"

    "I'll see you later, Al, everyone else,"  Teddy waved as he left.

    Albus left the pitch with the rest of his team, who were all talking animatedly about the highlights of the try-outs.  Albus was thrilled that Teddy was going to be one of the captains and it made him hope for a spot on the team even more than he had before.

    Albus and the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team were greeted by raucous applause when they returned to the common room.  Albus thought it was kind of premature, since none of them were actually on the team yet, but it was still nice.  Rose, Matt, and Amanda were sitting at their usual table and Albus went over to them.

    "How was the try-out?"  Matt asked immediately.

    "Better than I thought,"  Albus replied as he sat down,  "I think I have a slight chance of making it."

    "That's good,"  Matt grinned.

    "Oh, and Teddy's one of the captains!"  Albus told them.

    "Really?"  Rose said,  "Who are the others?"

    "Tyler Pike, the Head Boy from our first year, and Oliver Wood-"
   
    "John is going to be thrilled when he finds that out,"  Matt interrupted. 

    Albus grinned.  Oliver Wood had gone to Slughorn's Christmas party in their first year and John had given him a Quaffle to sign.  John was a big supporter of Oliver Wood and Puddlemere United.

    "Where is John anyway?"  Albus asked,  "And Kaden?"

    "In the Marauder's Den,"  Matt answered,  "Plotting.  They're planning on swimming in the lake tomorrow with the Giant Squid."

    "I'm rather afraid of what sort of plotting they're doing,"  Rose muttered,  "If swimming requires plotting, nothing good will come of it."

    "I take it you three don't want to join them?"  Albus laughed.

    "Definitely not,"  Amanda said.

    "Are you insane, Albus?"  Rose raised her eyebrows,  "Of course not."

    "Nope,"  Matt shook his head,  "I'd rather not get in trouble this soon into the year."

    "Yeah,"  Albus agreed,  "I don't want to either."  Albus and his friends had gotten into quite a bit of trouble, mostly because of Kaden, the previous year and Albus was hoping he'd keep Filch's detentions to a minimum this year.

    "The two of them are going to be in detention more often than they're not,"  Rose muttered.

    "That wouldn't surprise me,"  Albus replied.  John had always been the trouble-maker of Albus's group, even before Kaden entered the scene.  And then when Kaden had arrived, nothing was going to stop him.  Now John had someone to conspire with for all of his mischievous schemes.

                        ******

    Although Albus and Matt flat out refused to swim in the lake with John and Kaden, the two mischievous boys managed to convince them to at least watch by the side of the lake.  However, Rose and Amanda refused to be anywhere near the lake when this took place.  Rose insisted that she needed to devote the day to studying and Amanda decided to join her.  Albus had a feeling Rose's increased amount of studying had a lot to do with Linda Morales, but knew better than to mention this to his cousin.

    John and Kaden walked excitedly ahead of Albus and Matt on their way out of the castle the next day.  Albus still had no idea what exactly they were planning on doing, and for that he was grateful. If John and Kaden got caught, Albus preferred to not know anything about it, so he could deny his involvement. 

    There were a few students sitting around the lake enjoying the warm late summer day when the boys arrived.  Albus and Matt chose a spot underneath a large beech tree and sat back to watch the event unfold.

    John and Kaden grinned at each other and then pulled off their shirts and shoes, so they were only wearing shorts.  A few first year girls who were sitting near Albus and Matt giggled and began whispering to each other.  Albus turned to Matt and rolled his eyes.  Matt stifled a laugh.

    "This isn't going to end well,"  Albus said.

    "But it will be entertaining to watch,"  Matt laughed.

    John and Kaden began to obnoxiously stretch by the edge of the water.  Albus had a feeling they were doing it only to try and gain the attention of the few students who weren't watching them.  Next, they bent down to the water and felt the temperature.

    "Bloody hell!"  John shouted,  "It's freezing!"
   
    "That means we'll just jump right in!"  Kaden announced.  He turned around and walked away, and then took a running start into the lake.  He landed with a loud splash that soaked John, who was still standing by the edge.

    "They're mad,"  Albus grinned.

    "All right, here it goes!"  John shouted and followed Kaden into the water,  "Merlin, that's cold!"

    Albus laughed as John and Kaden got used to the water.  The two of them were flailing around and shrieking like little girls.  They had gained quite a few on-lookers who were standing around the lake laughing their heads off.

    Albus may not have wanted to do something this crazy himself, but he was having a good time watching his friends do it.  The two of them got used to the water and then began swimming around.

    However, merely swimming in the Black Lake wasn't that exciting.  Albus knew they had something else up their sleeves (or lack thereof) and it was only a matter of time until they put their plan into action.

    John and Kaden were just beginning to have a contest to see who could remain underwater the longest when a long tentacle appeared out of the water a few feet behind them.

    "Ooo!"  a girl shouted,  "It's the squid!"

    Both John and Kaden turned around.  "Yes!"  they both shouted at the same time,  "The squid has arrived!"

    Albus watched as John and Kaden swam towards the tentacle, wondering what sort of torment they were going to inflict upon the squid.  He didn't think the squid was particularly dangerous, but who knew what it would do if it was provoked. 

    John and Kaden treaded water on either side of the tentacle and then began to tickle it.  This earned a bunch of loud gasps and more hysterical laughter from the crowd.

    A few more of the squid's tentacles appeared out of the water and two of them smacked John and Kaden on their heads.

    "Hey!"  John shouted and pushed the tentacle away.

    Then, the squid's head emerged from the surface of the water.  A few of the younger girls who were watching began to shriek and the older students laughed even harder.  Albus was laughing and shaking his head at the same time.  He couldn't help but laugh at his friends' stupidity.  They should have known that the squid would try and tickle back.  And it had more arms than John and Kaden combined.

    John and Kaden grinned at each other and then swam towards the back of the squid as it rose out of the water.  They grabbed onto its back and began to ride it.  Albus gaped as the squid began to swim around with John and Kaden on top of it.  The two of them had actually decided to ride the Giant Squid. 

    "They're idiots,"  Matt commented.

    Albus nodded as the squid swam closer and closer to the shore.  The onlookers retreated and scattered as it drew nearer.  John and Kaden both looked thrilled, until the squid propelled them onto the shore.  They landed in the grass and the squid returned into the murky depths of the lake.

    Albus jumped up and ran towards John and Kaden, followed by Matt.  He squeezed his way through the crowd and looked down at his two friends.

    "Urgh,"  John groaned as he sat up, rubbing his head.

    "That was incredibly stupid,"  Albus grinned,  "And very entertaining."

    "Let's do it again!"  Kaden said excitedly as he examined his arm, which was bleeding.

    "How can you actually want to do it again when the squid threw you five feet into the air?"  Matt asked.

    "It was fun,"  Kaden shrugged.

    "Move aside!"  a female voice shouted.

    The crowd immediately dispersed and people ran towards the castle and to other areas of the grounds.

    Albus looked up and saw Professor Patil striding towards them.  Albus groaned.  He knew they wouldn't get away with this.

    "I've just been informed that the two of you were riding the Giant Squid!"  Patil shouted at John and Kaden,  "Is that true?"

    "Er-"  John began.

    "Well..."  Kaden said.

    "Of course it is!"  Patil replied,  "Look at you!  I'm very disappointed!  I thought it was a given not to swim in that lake and the fact that you provoked the squid..."  she shook her head,  "Well, you two will need to go to the Hospital Wing  and then I'll assign you detention."
   
    John and Kaden stood up and nodded.  The thrill that had been on their faces just moments before, was completely gone.

    "And what about you two?"  Patil said to Albus and Matt,  "Were you involved?  I see you're both dry, but I've noticed that the four of you are always getting in trouble together."

    "They didn't do it, Professor,"  Kaden announced.

    "Yeah,"  John agreed,  "They didn't even know what we were going to do."

    Albus felt a surge of gratitude for his friends, especially Kaden.  Just a year ago, Kaden had been getting all four of them in trouble for things only he had done.  Now, he was actually telling teachers that Albus wasn't involved.  True, Albus hadn't been involved, but it was the principle of it.

    Patil nodded.  "All right.  Mr. Brickston, Mr. Dursley, you'll need to follow me.  Mr. Potter and Mr. Eckerton, you may return to your common room."

    Albus didn't need to be told twice.  He and Matt took off towards the castle and once they were out of earshot of Patil, started talking about John and Kaden's adventure.

    "I think the two of them could single handedly cause the destruction of the entire castle,"  Albus laughed.

    "It's only a matter of when they'll do it,"  Matt smirked,  "Let's see, Kaden's already tormented the Whomping Willow, and now they've tormented the Giant Squid.  What'll be next?"

    "Filch's new cat?"  Albus suggested.

    "Filch would love that,"  Matt replied.

    At some point in between the end of the last year and the start of this one, Filch had obtained another cat.  Albus had heard stories about his previous cat, Mrs. Norris, from his parents, aunts, and uncles, but had never actually met her.  She had died before Albus was born.  Apparently Filch had been so overcome by grief that he hadn't gotten another one, until now.

    The new cat, Josie, was a young sprightly kitten, whose only resemblance to Mrs. Norris was her uncanny ability to locate students who were breaking rules.  All the students took an immediate dislike to Josie and turned in the other direction when they saw her small orange body emerge from around the corner.

    People were already talking about John and Kaden's swim in the lake when Albus and Matt entered the Gryffindor common room.  Albus had a feeling it would be weeks before anyone forgot about it.

    Albus and Matt spotted Rose and Amanda and sat down at their table.  It was spread with numerous books and rolls of parchment and quills.  The only other table that rivaled its amount of books was the one Linda Morales was sitting at.

    "I take it you've heard about John and Kaden's incident with the squid?"  Albus asked.

    "Bits and pieces,"  Rose muttered without looking up.

    Albus and Matt launched into the entire story and Amanda was in stitches by the time they finished. 

    "Those two are going to be expelled if they're not careful,"  Rose said as she frantically scribbled something onto a roll of parchment.

    Albus looked curiously at his cousin.  Rose had always been a stickler for homework, but never had he seen her this obsessed with it unless it was right before the end of term exams.  And this was only the first week of school.

    "Rose, why don't you take a break?"  Albus suggested.  He was actually kind of worried about her.  Studying was good, but too much was kind of unhealthy.

    "Can't,"  Rose muttered,  "My Potions essay is only a roll and a half of parchment."

    Albus gaped at her,  "Rose, you do know that Slughorn only wants a half a roll, right?"

    Rose nodded.  "Yeah, but Janie said that Linda's essay is already two rolls.  So I've got to make mine at least that long."

    "Rose,"  Albus sighed,  "Your essay doesn't have to be longer than Linda's."

    "Yes, it does,"  Rose insisted.

    Albus sighed and sat back in his chair.  He knew it was a lost cause.  His cousin had that determined look in her eyes and Albus knew there was no convincing her that she didn't have to be so competitive with Linda.

    "I think she studies so much because she doesn't really have any friends here,"  Amanda said quietly.

    "What?"  Albus looked at her incredulously.  At any given moment, Linda was surrounded by at least five other people.  She was easily the most popular of all the Australian students.  "Look at her!  She's got eight people talking to her at once!"

    Amanda groaned.  "They're not her friends.  They just think she's pretty.  She doesn't even want them around.  They do all the talking.  All she does is sit there and study.  Plus, ever notice how she's never around any of the other Australian students?"

    Albus looked at Linda again.  Amanda was right.  Linda wasn't actually talking to any of the students around her.  And come to think of it, he hadn't seen her talk to any of the other Australian students either.  "Wonder why that is?"

    Amanda shrugged.  "Well, all the other Australian students are a lot older than her.  All her friends are probably still in Australia."

    "She could befriend any of those blokes near her,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Again, they're only there because they think she's pretty,"  Amanda sighed,  "But she's really really quiet.  Her first night here, she didn't say a word in the dormitory.  Now, Janie's really the only one she talks to.  I mean, being shy is one thing, but never talking at all?"

    Albus turned to Linda once again.  It was kind of odd for her never to talk to anyone, besides the teachers.  It was like the only thing she wanted to do was study.  Her obsession with homework seemed to be ten times that of Rose's and Albus wasn't sure if Rose could keep up.


A/N:  Big thanks to PotterCast for giving me the idea for the giant squid incident!  The title for this chapter was also made up by PotterCast.  It's used in one of their interview with J.K. Rowling podcasts.

As usual, thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight and all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this story!

Also, I am yet again doing NaNoWriMo, so if I'm ever late on updates or seeming to take a long time to answer reviews, that's why!


Chapter 9: The Hogwarts Quidditch Team
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    John and Kaden returned to the common room an hour or so later, completely healed and scolded.  They had a week's worth of detention with Filch and fifty points taken from Gryffindor.  The other Gryffindors had been congratulating John and Kaden on their nerve and stupidity until they heard about the points.  After that, John and Kaden were glared at and ignored by their house-mates. 

    The boys joined Rose and Amanda in their studying once the excitement died down.  All of the boys had neglected their homework over the weekend.

    Albus tried to concentrate on his Potions essay, but he couldn't.  The list of who made the Hogwarts Quidditch team was going to be up within the next few hours.  Albus kept stealing glances at the message board as if the list would suddenly appear there.
   
    It didn't help that various members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team were coming up to Albus and trying to get his opinion of whether they made the team or not.  How was he supposed to know if they made the team?  He was the youngest one trying out.  If anyone was going to be asking about whether they made the team, it should be Albus.

    Would it even be that bad if Albus didn't make it?  He wasn't sure.  He did want to make the team.  He wanted that more than anything, but at the same time, he knew it was going to be a lot of work and quite nerve wracking.  It would be a bigger deal than playing for Gryffindor, that was for sure.  The entire school would be watching his chasing skills and hoping he would win.  Albus loved playing Quidditch, but if he was honest with himself, he didn't like a whole lot of people watching him.  Making the Hogwarts team would ensure that hundreds of people would be watching him.

    Albus managed to write about half his essay before dinner, but he didn't think it was very good.  Oh, well, he thought.  One failed essay wouldn't matter in the long run. 

    He went down to dinner with his friends, but didn't participate much in their conversations.  In fact, he was probably as quiet as Linda. 

    Albus glanced up at the staff table.  His eyes rested upon Professor Oteski, who was deep in conversation with a grey-haired Auror who had been assigned to patrol Hogwarts for the week.  Oteski had probably already decided on the team.  Albus hoped he'd hurry up and post the list.

    "Albus!"  Georgia nearly collided with Albus on his trek back up to the Gryffindor common room after dinner,  "The list is posted!"  Georgia turned around and sprinted back to the common room.

    Albus took a deep breath and his heart sped up.  This was it, he thought.  Within a few minutes, he'd know whether he made the team or not.

    There was a large crowd around the message board when Albus entered the room.  James burst out of the crowd with a huge grin on his face.

    "I made it!"  he shouted,  "I'm the Hogwarts Seeker!"

    The entire common room burst into applause.  Albus grinned through his nerves and patted his brother on the back.

    "What about me?"  Albus whispered to James,  "Did I make it?"

    "Look for yourself,"  James grinned and pushed him towards the message board.

    "I don't think I can,"  Albus sighed.  This was worse than last year when he tried out for the Gryffindor team.

    "You have to,"  John insisted.

    Albus took a deep breath and squeezed his way through the crowd.  He closed his eyes and then stared at the list.

Keeper-  Georgia Weasley, Gryffindor, 7th year.

    That didn't surprise Albus in the least.  In fact, he would have been shocked if Georgia hadn't made the team.  No wonder she looked so excited when she ran into Albus.

Chaser-  Damien Waverly, Ravenclaw, 7th year.
Chaser-  Anna Reilly, Hufflepuff, 7th year.
Chaser-  Ferris Fielding, Slytherin, 7th year.

    Albus felt a wave of disappointment overcome him.  He hadn't made it.  All the other Chasers were seventh years, and captains of their respective house teams at that.  Why had he thought he'd be able to compete with them?

    He continued to read the list.  There were still the reserve players after all.

Beater-  Andy Kaper, Hufflepuff, 5th year.
Beater-  Allie Davis, Ravenclaw, 4th year.

    So, James wasn't going to be the only one who wasn't a seventh year on the team.  That was good.  But still, most of the team were seventh years.  All the team captains made the team.  That made sense.  As captains, they were most likely the best Quidditch players in the school.

Seeker-  James Potter, Gryffindor, 4th year.

Reserve Players

Keeper-  Kate Waverly, Ravenclaw, 5th year.

    Kate would be happy, Albus thought.  She had been Albus's dueling captain last year.  She was nice and Albus was happy she at least got to be the reserve Keeper.

Chaser-  Hailey Odelle, Slytherin, 7th year.
Chaser-  Albus Potter, Gryffindor, 3rd year.

    Albus gaped at the list.  He blinked and read it again, just to make sure his eyes were working properly.  They were.  He, Albus Severus Potter, was one of the reserve Chasers!  Suddenly, the disappointment was gone and Albus felt as happy as he would have if he made the regular team.  Reserve was better than nothing after all.  Plus, there wouldn't be as much pressure.

Beater-  Talan Flint, Slytherin, 5th year.
Seeker-  Lisa Galivant, Hufflepuff, 4th year.

    Albus turned around and walked back to where his brother and friends were gathered.

    "I'm a reserve Chaser,"  he announced.

    "See!"  James grinned,  "Told you you'd make it!"

    "Well, I'm not actually on the team,"  Albus pointed out.

    "Yeah, you are,"  James contradicted,  "Didn't you read at the bottom where it said the reserve players have to go to practices and everything?"

    "Er, no,"  Albus shrugged sheepishly.  He hadn't noticed much after his own name.

    "Well, that's what it said,"  James continued,  "First practice is on Saturday."

    Albus tried to work on his Potions essay later that evening, but it was no use.  The common room was in the midst of a party that usually only followed a spectacular win at Quidditch.  Georgia, James, and eventually Albus were thrown into the throngs of it and he quickly gave up on his essay.  No one else, besides Rose and Linda, was working on homework and Albus figured it would be pointless to even try.  Maybe Slughorn wouldn't have enough time to even get to Albus's essay due to the length of Rose's and Linda's.

                        ******

    In fact, the rest of the week was much like that night in the Gryffindor common room.  Albus seemed to attract attention wherever he went.  On his way to class, in class, even on his way to the bathroom, people came up to him and congratulated him.  Students who he had never even talked to before were telling him what a brilliant Chaser he was.  All in all, he was kind of shocked at the whole thing.  It's not like he was one of the main Chasers on the team.

    Albus's friends were kind of enjoying the whole thing.  They were kind of attracting attention by association.  John and Kaden were already known as 'those Gryffindor blokes who rode the Giant Squid' and now had the added fame of being some of Albus's closest friends.  Rose seemed oblivious to the whole thing and devoted more time than ever to studying.  Matt and Amanda seemed to wish they wouldn't attract so much attention.

    Even Lily and Hugo were attracting attention by being the sister and cousin of the Hogwarts Seeker.  Albus's fame paled in comparison to James's.  James had a group of admirers following him all the time.  Lily and Hugo told anyone they could that they were the sister and cousin of James.  Ashtyn, John's sister, told everyone she was the sister of one of the blokes who rode the Giant Squid and that her brother was friends with Albus.

    John and Kaden had nightly detentions with Filch and both boys came back quietly cursing Filch every evening.  Apparently the caretaker was as ruthless as ever with his detentions.

    The detention wasn't the only thing John earned from his trip into the lake either.  On Monday morning, he was blessed with a Howler from his mother.  Instead of running into the Entrance Hall like most students did with their Howlers, John opened it at the Gryffindor table and the entire room, including the teachers, listened to John's mum screaming at the top of her lungs about how stupid he had been.  John said it was worth it, though, and wasn't fazed at all by the Howler.

    Albus was relieved when the week was finally over.  He was hoping that the excitement of the Hogwarts Quidditch team being picked would die down over the weekend.

    On Saturday afternoon, Albus left his friends in the common room and walked with Georgia and James to the Quidditch pitch.

    Oliver Wood, Tyler Pike, and Teddy were already there, along with a few of the team members.  Albus stood with Georgia and James as they waited for the rest of the team to show up.
   
    "First, I'd like to say congratulations,"  Oliver announced once everyone arrived,  "You are now the Hogwarts Quidditch Team.  I'm Oliver Wood and I will be your captain.  Teddy and Tyler are here to help.

    "Now, I know regular Quidditch is still going on, so we'll have to work around each house's practice schedules.  I've looked at those and I think Saturday afternoons will work best for practice.  For now, we'll stick with once a week practice and increase if necessary.

    "I thought we'd start by doing a few drills, just so everyone can get used to playing with each other.  I know it'll be an adjustment, since you usually compete against the other houses, not play on the same team as them."

    An adjustment was an understatement, Albus thought.  As the practice progressed, it became apparent that it was extremely difficult to work with members of other houses.  Albus found that it was instinct to try and keep the Quaffle away from his fellow Chasers rather than to pass it to them.

    Wood, Teddy, and Tyler tried to get everyone to work together, but Albus thought it would take more than one practice.  Everyone was rather subdued by the time the practice ended.  Nobody had been able to work together, except for James and Lisa.  The two of them actually cooperated.  But the Chasers and Beaters in particular had a hard time working together.  Ferris Fielding, Hailey Odelle, and Talan Flint left the pitch muttering about how they couldn't work with 'bloody Gryffindors'. 

    Wood looked ready to scream and throw things by the time everyone left.  He was whispering to Teddy and Tyler as Albus left with James and Georgia.

    "That was a disaster,"  Georgia groaned on their way back to the castle.

    "Yeah,"  Albus agreed,  "I don't know how this is going to work."

    "It's got to work,"  James said adamantly,  "I mean, Lisa and I practiced just fine with each other.  Why can't everyone else?"

    "It's Fielding and Odelle,"  Albus muttered,  "They wouldn't pass anyone else the Quaffle!  It's like they're trying to prove they're the best Chasers!"

    "Well, they're idiots, then,"  James said,  "And they better stop if they want to actually win this."

    Albus definitely agreed with that.  Fielding and Odelle certainly weren't acting like team players.  Fielding had actually pushed Albus out of the way in order to get the Quaffle before him.

    Albus felt rather depressed about the practice for the rest of the day.  It seemed that the house rivalries really were awful.  Albus would be the first to admit that the disliked Slytherin and certainly wasn't lining up to become best friends with any of them, but he was willing to put the rivalry behind him for the sake of the Quidditch tournament.  But it didn't seem like many other members of the team wanted to do so.

    Luckily for Albus, the fame of being a reserve player on the team seemed to decrease during the next week.  He was able to catch up on his homework and spend time with just his friends, without anyone else following him. 

    Of course, spending time with Rose was beginning to be pointless.  Albus couldn't remember the last time he'd had a real conversation with her or seen her without a book open in front of her.

    "Rose, you've got to give it a rest,"  Albus said the following Saturday.  He was sitting in the common room, killing time before the second Quidditch practice.  "No one can possibly study this much."

    "I can,"  Rose muttered as she read,  "Linda can.  She studies at night.  I woke up in the middle of the night and saw her reading.  I don't think she sleeps.  I've heard her sneek out in the middle of the night before.  I think she goes into the common room and studies."

    Albus stared at Rose.  He had never seen her like this.  Usually Rose was rational.  "Rose, I'm serious.  Take a break."

    "No,"  Rose said adamantly.

    Albus sighed and got up to go to practice.  He was really worried about Rose.  Unfortunately, Quidditch practice did nothing to lift his spirits.  The practice was another disaster. 

    "All right, all right!"  Wood shouted and motioned for everyone to fly down.

    Albus landed next to James and looked at Wood.  He was looking very very stern and determined.

    "We've had two practices,"  Wood began to pace,  "Two practices and you're still flying like you're a team comprised of five-year-olds.  Five-year-olds who don't get along.  I'm sick of it.  I agreed to captain the team because I thought you'd be the best of Hogwarts's Quidditch players.  The ones who could someday play professionally.  But I've been sorely disappointed.

    "The house rivalries are disrupting your playing.  I've got as much Gryffindor pride as the next Gryffindor, but I would put that aside if I had gotten the opportunity to do this while I was in school.  This is the opportunity of a lifetime.  You realize that there will be scouts for professional teams at these matches? 

    "In real life, you're going to have to work with people you don't like.  So you'd better get used to it.  All I have to say is that if you don't shape up and put the petty bickering aside, I will not hesitate to kick you off the team.  I'll give you a week to do it.  If any of you are still fighting next Saturday, you're off the team.  Practice is over."

    No one said a word as they filed out of the pitch.  Albus thought Wood's speech had been good.  He was sick of the fighting as well.  He'd put the rivalries aside for the sake of Quidditch.  After all, Albus was on the same dueling team as Scorpius Malfoy and they acted civilly towards each other.  Albus wondered if the Australian and New York teams had had this many issues with getting along.  He hadn't watched any of their practices, but Georgia had.  She said both teams were incredibly good.

                        ******

    "I can't take it anymore!"  Rose shouted as she slammed her book down on the table, which startled Matt out of his homework and impending full moon induced slumber.

    Albus and his friends were in the Marauder's Den, working on the plethora of homework they had been assigned on that particular Monday.  Albus, who had been watching Rose grow steadily more tense and snappish over the past few days, knew it was only a matter of time before she cracked.

    "Er, Rose, are you ok?"  Albus asked tentatively.

    "No!"  Rose shouted so loudly that Matt winced and rubbed his head.  "I'm not ok!  I can't take it!  I just can't!  Nothing I do is good enough, nothing!  I just can't beat her.  She got a higher grade on that Potions essay and she answered more questions in Transfiguration today.  Not to mention the fact that she doesn't look like she's going to fall asleep at any moment, like John was so kind to point out about me earlier."  Rose glared at John.

    John shrugged.  "Well, you do...."

    "I know!"  Rose shouted. 

    Albus looked at his cousin.  She did look ready to fall asleep at any moment.  Her eyes had purple bags under them and were bloodshot.  Combine that with the fact that she was nearly in tears, and she looked awful.  In fact, she looked an awful lot like Matt did.

    "Rose,"  Amanda said quietly,  "You don't have to beat her at everything."

    "But I do!"  Rose wailed,  "I don't even know why, but I do!"

    "Look,"  Amanda continued,  "She's from Australia.  They might teach stuff in a different order down there.  Maybe she's already learned this.  But eventually, we'll get to something she hasn't learned and then maybe she won't beat you."

    "Maybe,"  Rose sighed and poked Matt,  "Matt!  Do you know what they're learning in Australia now?  Amy went there, did she tell you?"

    Matt groaned and glared at Rose.  "No, how would I know?  Amy went there years ago."  He stood up and walked slowly over to his bed and collapsed onto it.

    "Did I say something?"  Rose asked.

    Albus sighed,  "You just woke him up.  Do you even know what tomorrow is?"

    "Tomorrow?"  Rose asked,  "What's significant about tomorrow?  Oh, we've got a Defense essay due!  I have to edit mine!"

    "No,"  Albus groaned,  "Tomorrow's the full moon."

    Rose froze.  "Oh, Merlin.  I hadn't even realized."

    "I figured,"  Albus said,  "Listen, you're not doing anymore homework tonight."

    "But I need to edit-"

    "No,"  Albus said,  "You need a break."

    "Albus is right,"  Amanda agreed and took Rose's pile of books away,  "You're not studying for the rest of the night."

    "Uh, ok,"  Rose smiled nervously,  "I can do that.  I mean, what's the worst that can happen?"

    Rose didn't seem to know what to do with herself.  Albus found it difficult to concentrate on his own homework as he watched Rose pace around the room, trying to figure out something to do.  Eventually, she settled on helping Kaden with his Transfiguration essay.  Albus and Amanda exchanged glances at this, but neither of them said anything since Rose wasn't technically doing any homework.  She was merely helping Kaden.

    Albus, Matt, John, and Kaden wound up spending the night in the Marauder's Den.  Matt had been so sound asleep by the time curfew arrived, that no one wanted to wake him up nor did anyone want to leave him there alone.  Albus certainly didn't mind.  He liked spending the night there.  It gave him a sort of connection with his grandfather. 



A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, and all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Here's the Weasley Family Tree, to help everyone keep track of them.
Wealsey-Potter-Dursley Family Tree

Bill-Fleur                     Charlie-Katherine (witch)     Percy-Corrine (Muggle)                          
Victoire, 19                   Stanley, 18                  Georgia, 7th year
Gabriella, 7th year      Heather, 6th year                 Bradley, 5th year
Ben, 4th year               Mark, 5th year                       Cedric, 4th year                      
                                       Eddie, 7 years old            Samantha & Lindy (twins), 8 years old

George-Alicia Spinnet       Ron-Hermione               Ginny-Harry
Fred, 6th year                      Rose, 3rd year               James, 4th year
Angie, 10 years old              Hugo, 1st year               Albus, 3rdd year
                                                                                     Lily, 1st year

Dudley-Christina (Muggle)
Kaden- 2nd year
Bethany- 8 years old

*all in Gryffindor*

Chapter 10: Threats
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Rose handed in her unedited essay to Balladanis the next morning.  Albus did notice her scribbling some last minute sentences onto it as Balladanis collected the essays.

    Defense Against the Dark Arts continued to be the strangest class in Albus's schedule.  Balladanis expressed such a strong dislike for the dark arts that he started nearly every class with a stern lecture about why they were learning defensive spells and why the dark arts were bad.  His eyes tended to rest on Matt and for some odd reason, Linda, whenever he gave these talks and Albus got the feeling it made Matt extremely uncomfortable.  Albus couldn't blame him.  He certainly wouldn't want to be under the teacher's eye like that.

    Albus couldn't really say whether he enjoyed Balladanis's class or not.  It had been nearly a month since the term started, but Albus still didn't know whether he liked the class or not.  It was definitely different than when his dad taught.  Balladanis was strict, but a good teacher. 

    The rest of the day went by quickly.  Albus listened to John tease Rose during Herbology since she was fretting about her Defense essay.  Ancient Runes was rather boring and Albus doodled idly on his notes while Matt fell asleep on his.  Charms was rather fun since they worked on Cheering Charms and Albus left the room grinning profusely, along with most of the other class.  Matt in particular looked strange with a huge grin across his pale fatigued face.

    Matt left for the Shrieking Shack shortly after dinner and Albus went to the Marauder's Den with his friends where they distracted Rose from her studying by playing Wizard's Chess.

    The next day Albus truly began to realize how busy his third year schedule was.  For the past two years, he and his friends almost always had time to visit Matt in the Hospital Wing in between classes.  This year, however, they didn't have time until after dinner.  Albus was positively exhausted by that point, as he had stayed up late working on homework the night before, and still had Dueling Club practice afterwards.  Lynley Anderson, the fourth year Hufflepuff who had replaced Kate as captain, had insisted that the whole team attend that meeting, as it was the first one and there were new second years on the team.  Kaden wasn't put on Albus's team, but he was put on John's team, much to the delight of both boys.

    Hectic was really the only way to describe Albus's life at Hogwarts.  As September turned into October, it only got busier.  Gryffindor Quidditch team practices picked up again and along with Hogwarts Quidditch practices and Dueling Club practices, Albus hardly had anytime to rest. 

    The Hogwarts Quidditch team was shaping up nicely after Wood's stern warning during the second practice.  That and the fact that they now practiced on both Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Even the Slytherin team members were beginning to work together.  They didn't really acknowledge their teammates outside of practice, but Albus didn't care as long as they got along with everyone during practice.

    Albus was really starting to enjoy the Hogwarts Quidditch team.  He was actually beginning to wish he could play in the first match, which would be taking place towards the end of October. 

    "First Hogsmeade weekend!"  John said excitedly to Albus one Friday evening as Albus was trying to catch up on his homework.  Kaden was standing next to him.  Albus guessed they had just returned from Dueling Club practice.

    "When?"  Albus asked without looking up.

    "October 27th,"  John grinned,  "Can't wait!"

    "Yeah, it'll be brilliant,"  Albus agreed, hoping he wouldn't have too much homework to go.

    "That's not all, either,"  John went on,  "There's a Halloween party that night."

    "You mean the Halloween feast?"  Albus asked.

    "No, there's an actual party!"  John said,  "But it's not on Halloween, it's on the 27th.  It's because of the Tournament.  So we can mingle with the foreign students.  Or at least that's what the poster on the notice board says."

    Albus nodded.  He really hadn't had that much contact with the foreign students.  Sure, he'd seen them in the corridors and the common room and stuff, but that was about it.  The only one who was around his age was Linda and she still didn't seem to talk to anyone.

    "And,"  John continued,  "Costumes are encouraged."

    "Costumes?"  Albus asked, finally looking up.

    "Yeah, costumes,"  John grinned,  "We get to dress up!  This is going to be brilliant!"

    "What should we dress up as?"  Kaden asked.

    "Dunno,"  Albus shrugged.

    "We'll figure it out later,"  John said,  "Where's everyone else?"

    "Rose and Amanda are at the library,"  Albus told him,  "And Matt's with Balladanis."

    "Merlin, is he ever going to give up about that boggart?"  John asked.

    "Knowing Balladanis, probably not,"  Albus said.

    "Well, let's go to the library,"  John announced,  "We've got to tell Rose and Amanda about Hogsmeade."

    Albus was all too eager to agree to this.  He was thoroughly sick of trying to catch up on all his homework.  It was good to take a break every now and then anyway.

    Albus pushed open the door to the library a little while later, fully expecting to see Rose up to her elbows in books furiously scribbling away on a roll of parchment that was nearly used up.  He gazed around the library and he spotted Rose's bushy red hair and walked towards her table.

    Rose was up to her elbows in homework.  In fact, there were so many books on Rose and Amanda's table that you could no longer see the actual table.  What Albus wasn't expecting to see was a third person at their table.  Linda Morales

    Albus stopped short a few feet from the table.  He turned to look at John, who looked equally shocked.

    "Is that-"  John began.

    "Linda Morales?"  Albus gaped.  He blinked twice to make sure he wasn't seeing things.  After all, he was quite tired.  But even after he blinked, Linda was still sitting across from Rose and Amanda.

    All three of the girls were working quietly.  In fact, none of them even seemed to notice the others.

    Albus slowly walked towards the table and John followed.  Albus wasn't entirely sure what to say.  He hadn't had much interaction with Linda.  Albus had hardly said hello to her since she arrived at Hogwarts.  He wasn't trying to ignore her or anything; it had just ended up that way.  Linda hadn't shown any real interest in making friends with Albus or any of his friends.  Yet here she was, doing homework at the same table as Rose of all people.  Albus hadn't the slightest idea why either.

    "Rose,"  Albus whispered once they arrived at the table.

    Rose startled and then looked up at Albus.  "What?  I'm trying to study!"

    "Can I talk to you?"  Albus glanced at Linda,  "Alone?"

    Rose sighed loudly.  "Fine, but make it quick."

    Albus led his cousin over to a deserted area of the library.  John took Rose's vacated seat and began to whisper to Amanda about the Hogsmeade visit.

    "All right, what is it?"  Rose asked once they were alone.

    "Couldn't help but notice that you were studying with Linda..."  Albus's voice trailed off.  He really didn't know what he wanted to say to Rose about it.

    "Oh, well..."  Rose began,  "I guess I just realized I was being stupid in trying to compete with her."

    Albus smirked,  "Yeah, you were.  But I told you that loads of times and you didn't listen."

    Rose sighed.  "I know.  Amanda's the one who convinced me to stop trying to compete with her.  She said Linda would know a lot about Australian wizarding history and I could learn a lot from her if I stopped with the competition thing."

    Of course, Albus thought.  Appealing to Rose's love of learning would definitely work.  Although he hadn't really been trying to have Rose and Linda become friends.  He just wanted Rose to ease up on the studying.

    "I guess, if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em,"  Rose shrugged.

    "So now you're friends with her?"  Albus asked.

    "That's where it gets complicated,"  Rose sighed,  "You see, she still doesn't really talk to us."

    "How did you wind up studying with her then?"  Albus was still thoroughly confused. 

    "Amanda and I came in and she was sitting alone at the table, so I asked if we could join her.  She just nodded and moved her books over.  She hasn't said anything yet."

    Albus nodded.  "I don't think I've heard her say anything outside of class."

    "Neither have I,"  Rose said,  "Amanda and I figure we'll just be nice to her and maybe she'll start talking to us."

    Albus thought that was probably a good idea.  She was the competition, but even if they played against each other on the Quidditch team, that didn't mean they couldn't be friends off of it.  Linda seemed nice enough.  Of course it was hard to tell since she hadn't said much.  And she certainly was pretty.  Albus couldn't deny that.  Linda wasn't surrounded by half the male population of Gryffindor every evening for nothing.

    "Oh, the first Hogsmeade visit's on October 27th,"  Albus said, suddenly remembering the reason he had gone to see Rose in the first place,  "Followed by a Halloween party in the Great Hall."

    "That sounds like fun,"  Rose grinned,  "And maybe Linda will want to go with us."

    "And it's a costume party,"  Albus told her.

    "This could get interesting,"  Rose said.

                        ******

    Albus didn't have a clue as to when he'd actually have time to figure out his costume for the Halloween party.  John thought it would be cool if their group's costumes coordinated, but that was the last thing on Albus's mind.

    The weekend seemed to literally fly by for Albus, meaning he was on the Quidditch pitch more than he was off it.  He had heard stories about Wood's ruthlessness when it comes to practice from his dad and similar stories about Teddy from his older cousins.  Having the two of them captain one team seemed to create practices that lasted nearly five hours, with short breaks every so often.  Albus would never again complain about Georgia's length of practices.

    Albus had a fleeting thought that since he was a reserve player, he wouldn't have to practice as much as everyone else, but Wood shot that down during that Saturday's practice.  He said he saw no reason for the reserve players to be any less prepared for the upcoming match than the regular players. 

    It wasn't that Albus didn't enjoy Quidditch practice.  He did, and very much so.  He loved Quidditch, but too much of anything could run a person down.

    Albus spent a lot of his Sunday on the Quidditch pitch as well, in the middle of a drenching rain.  Georgia had scheduled Gryffindor Quidditch practice that day and she flat out refused to cancel due to rain.  James had asked.  He was even more run down than Albus, since either Teddy or Tyler were constantly training the two Seekers during Hogwarts Quidditch practice.

    Albus returned to Gryffindor tower after eating a late dinner with the Gryffindor team Sunday evening, realizing he had no idea what his friends had spent the weekend doing.  He had seen them on occasion, but most of his free time had been spent doing homework or sleeping.  Two things he still had to do.

    Albus grabbed his bag from his dormitory and walked down to the crowded common room.  He saw Rose, Amanda, and Linda at one table, but his other friends were no where in sight.  The girls looked very absorbed in their homework, so Albus decided to go check the Marauder's Den for his other friends.

    By the time Albus made it to the Marauder's Den, he felt ready for a good twelve hour sleep.  Unfortunately, he still had plenty of homework to do.  Albus sighed to himself and opened the door to the room.  He paused in the entryway, surprised to see that Matt was the only one there.

    "Hey, Matt,"  Albus said as he sat down at the table.

    "Oh, hi Albus,"  Matt looked up and smiled,  "I was wondering when you'd show up."

    "Me, too,"  Albus said wryly,  "I never thought Georgia would end practice."

    "Makes me glad I'm not on the Quidditch team,"  Matt commented.

    "Where are John and Kaden?"

    "Detention, again,"  Matt smirked.

    "What did they do this time?"  Albus groaned.  John and Kaden had been earning quite a few detentions every week.  Albus was quite glad they weren't involving him in their pranks, since he had no available time in his schedule for detention.

    "They were levitating rolls of toilet paper around the corridors and charming them to hit people in the head yesterday,"  Matt explained,  "I think you were at Quidditch practice."

    "Probably,"  Albus laughed,  "Wonder what they're in for this time."

    "No idea,"  Matt said.

    "What are you doing here?  Rose and Amanda are in the common room."

    "Yeah, I know.  But they're with Linda,"  Matt muttered.

    "Oh, ok,"  Albus replied, a little confused.  He still didn't quite understand why Matt didn't seem to like Linda.  Sure, she was from Australia, but Matt wasn't avoiding anyone else from Australia.  Of course, the rest of the Australian students were older and Matt wouldn't really have to avoid them.

    "John said Rose is actually trying to become friends with Linda."

    "She is,"  Albus confirmed,  "She's finally realized that it's pointless to try and compete with Linda."

    "I guess that's good,"  Matt shrugged.

    John and Kaden burst into the room a short while later, successfully ending the conversation about Rose and Linda.  Both of them were freely cursing Filch, who had made them clean the Entrance Hall without magic.  Once they finally seemed to run out of curses, all four boys settled into doing their homework and no one brought up the topic of Linda again.  Albus still thought it was odd how Matt seemed to have taken a dislike to her, although Linda herself was rather odd, in Albus's opinion.

    Rose and Amanda joined Linda at her table during Transfiguration the next day.  Linda had arrived before them, as always, and didn't seem to notice or care that Rose and Amanda sat on either side of her.

    The same thing happened in double Potions after lunch.  Rose, Amanda, and Linda even worked together on that day's potion.  Slughorn had decided to give up on the inter-house pairs idea of the previous year, which Albus was very grateful for.  Linda had previously worked alone on her potions because there was an odd number of people in the class, but Slughorn didn't object to all three girls working together.  In fact, he seemed thrilled that the two smartest people in the class were now working with each other.

    "Ah, yes!"  Slughorn exclaimed excitedly as he peered into their cauldron,  "Your potion is turning just the right shade of green."

    Albus looked up from his and Matt's slightly brown potion and saw Slughorn gently stirring the girls' cauldron.

    "Ours is better,"  Malfoy muttered from behind Albus.  He was working with Jackson Limbert, Albus's partner from the previous year.  Malfoy and Limbert were easily the two best Slytherin potion-brewers in the class.

    Albus turned around and looked at Malfoy's cauldron.  It was indeed the correct shade of green.

    "And what are you looking at, Potter?"  Malfoy asked,  "Jealous that I'm Limbert's partner now?  I doubt your potions grade will be be that good with Eckerton as your partner."

    "At least I'm partnering with him for a reason other than trying to get a decent grade,"  Albus glowered at him.

    "Yeah, well..."  Malfoy's voice trailed off. 

    Albus smirked to himself and turned back around, happy that Malfoy couldn't come up with a good comeback.

    At the end of the class, Slughorn announced that Rose, Amanda, and Linda's potion had been the best, much to Malfoy's dismay. 

    "You'd better watch out at the Dueling Tournament,"  Malfoy seethed as they left the room.

    "We're on the same team, Malfoy,"  Albus pointed out.

    "I wasn't talking to you,"  Malfoy turned and glared at Rose, Amanda, and Linda.

    "Is that a threat, Malfoy?"  John asked loudly.

    "I think you can figure that out for yourself, Brickston,"  Malfoy said as he turned in the direction of the Slytherin common room, flanked by Limbert and Goyle.

    "He's just jealous,"  Rose muttered as they made their way out of the dungeons.

    "Probably,"  Albus agreed,  "But he's a good dueler, much as I hate to admit it."

    "Chances are, I won't even duel him, Albus,"  Rose sighed,  "And even if I do, there's only so many spells he's allowed to use."

    Albus didn't bother reminding Rose about the Slytherin who used a forbidden curse on Matt last year.  Albus was kind of worried about one of his friends having to duel Malfoy.  Malfoy was the only one Albus had ever dueled and didn't manage to beat.  And Albus had beaten students who were two years older than he was.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 11: Halloween Costumes
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   "All right, we need to come up with a good costume idea,"  John announced the following Saturday as he flew poorly made parchment airplanes around the Marauder's Den.

    "Definitely,"  Kaden agreed as his much better parchment airplane flew gracefully over John's head and landed softly on the couch.

    "Anyone got any ideas?"  Matt asked.

    "Haven't even thought about it,"  Albus muttered as he tried not to move anymore muscles than he had to.  He just completed a four hour Hogwarts Quidditch practice, which mainly focused on dodging Bludgers.  Unfortunately, Albus hadn't dodged them all.

    "You should go see Madam Pomfrey,"  Matt told him.

    "I've already been there twice this week,"  Albus groaned,  "If this keeps up, I'll break your record.  I'm fine, I just need sleep.  Georgia canceled practice for tomorrow because of the Dueling Tournament, so I think I'll be fine."

    "Back to the costumes,"  John said,  "I was thinking that we could be the Marauders.  You know, their animal forms."

    Albus craned his head to see John.  John looked quite excited by this idea.  Albus had to admit that it was a pretty good idea.  He could affix fake antlers to his head.  Or see if one of his older cousins could transfigure some onto his head.

    "That's brilliant!"  Kaden shouted excitedly.

    "I like it,"  Albus grinned.

    "No bloody way,"  Matt said flatly,  "I am not dressing up as a werewolf in front of the entire school."

    Albus hadn't even thought about that.  No, there was definitely no way Matt could do that. 

    "Oh, right,"  John sighed,  "Sorry, hadn't thought about that."

    "How about we just dress up as the Marauders in their human forms?"  Albus suggested.  All he'd have to do is get a pair of round black glasses and he'd be set.

    "I don't know..."  Matt said,  "Everyone knows Teddy's dad was a werewolf.  What if they realize that I'm one, too, since I dressed up as him?"

    "I bet people will just think we dressed up as them because of Albus,"  John pointed out,  "And someone would have to be Moony.  Might as well be you.  You probably look the most like him anyway."

    "He does,"  Albus said.

    "See?"  John replied.

    "Yeah, but still..."  Matt sighed.

    "It doesn't matter,"  Kaden said,  "Because there is no way that I am dressing up as Pettigrew unless it's his rat form."

    That Albus could definitely understand.  "Ok, so I guess we're not doing the Marauders thing."

    "Too bad,"  John sighed,  "Would've been cool."

    "Says the bloke who wouldn't have to dress up as a traitor,"  Kaden pointed out.

    "And we're back to square one,"  Albus said,  "Any other ideas?"

    "The players from Puddlemere United?"  John suggested after a few minutes.  "You know, if Rose, Amanda, and Linda joined us, we'd have enough people to be the entire team."

    "Why not the Cannons?"  Matt asked.

    "Because they're awful,"  John groaned.

    "Are not,"  Matt refuted.

    "Are to,"  John said,  "Let's be Puddlemere."

    "Cannons,"  Matt said adamantly.

    "Manchester United,"  Kaden interrupted.

    "Who?"  John and Matt said at the same time.

    "Manchester United,"  Kaden repeated,  "Football team."

    Both John and Matt groaned.  "Puddlemere,"  John said once again.

    "Cannons."

    "Manchester."   

    "Puddlemere."

    "None of them!"  Albus shouted.  He was already irritable due to his aching muscles and fatigue from Quidditch practice.  The last thing he wanted to do was listen to his friends squabble about Quidditch and football teams.

    "Well, have you got any other ideas?"  John asked.

    "Actually, yeah,"  Albus replied.  Matt's mention of not wanting to dress up as a werewolf had sparked an idea.  Albus had been mulling it over while his friends argued about Quidditch teams.

    "What is it?"  Matt asked.

    "Well, I kind of thought it would be neat to use Muggle costumes,"  Albus said,  "You know, we can dress up as things Muggles usually dress up as on Halloween."

    Matt, John, and Kaden stared at Albus for a few moments.  Albus shrugged.  He had thought it was a good idea, but maybe his fatigue was clouding his thinking.  Then, all three of his friends broke out in huge grins.

    "That's brilliant!"  Kaden shouted,  "No one else will think of it!"

    "Yeah,"  John agreed,  "We'll be the only ones at the party with Muggle costumes."

    "As long as I don't have to dress up as a werewolf, I'm fine with it,"  Matt said.

    Albus grinned.  "Good.  Kaden, what are some classic Muggle costumes?"

    "Ghosts, witches, vampires, skeletons, mummies,"  Kaden rattled off,  "Oh, and zombies.  Frankenstein, too."

    Albus had no idea who Frankenstein was and he wasn't in the mood to listen to Kaden explain it, but the other ideas were good.  "Who wants to be what?"  Albus asked.

    "Matt should be a vampire,"  Kaden grinned.

    "Why's that?"  Albus asked.

    "Vampires and werewolves are mortal enemies,"  Kaden explained,  "At least in the Muggle world."

    "In this world, too,"  Matt muttered,  "And I'm not dressing up as a vampire."

    "Aw, come on,"  John said.

    "No,"  Matt said adamantly,  "I'm being a ghost.  The only question is, how do I make myself transparent."

    "Aw, no!"  Kaden sighed,  "When Muggles dress as ghosts, they just put a white sheet with eye holes over themselves.  That's what Muggles think ghosts are.  White."

    "Oh, that makes things easier,"  Matt laughed,  "But seriously?"

    "Yep,"  Kaden laughed,  "White sheets.  Now, what about the rest of us?"

    A half an hour later, everyone had settled on what they were going to dress up as.  With Kaden's help, that is.  Albus, Matt, and John really had no idea as to what Muggles wore when they dressed up for Halloween.  John insisted on being a vampire, much to Matt's disgust.  However, John was going to be a classic Muggle vampire.  The ugly, waxy, blood-stained lips, turn into a bat type of vampire that Muggles thought of when they heard the word 'vampire'.  Albus didn't know much about vampires, but he knew they weren't completely like the ones Muggles thought of.

    Kaden was going to dress up as a mummy, which was a very simple costume.  All he'd have to do was obtain a bunch of strips of white cloth.  Albus said he'd pick some up in Hogsmeade. 

    Albus was going to be a skeleton, which was the most difficult of all the costumes.  He was going to buy a black long-sleeve t-shirt and a pair of black pants and then paint on bones in white paint.  He was hoping Amanda would be able to help with it.  She was the only one in their group who had any artistic talent.

    "Maybe the girls can be witches,"  Kaden suggested.

    "They are witches,"  John smirked.

    "You know what I mean,"  Kaden sighed.

    "I know,"  John grinned,  "Hey, Albus, catch!"

    Albus snapped his eyes open just in time to see a Quaffle come sailing across the room.  It hit him right in the stomach before he had a chance to catch it.

    "Oh, ow!"  Albus groaned and curled up,  "That's where I got hit with a Bludger!"

    "Brilliant, John,"  Matt sighed,  "Are you ok, Albus?"

    Albus squeezed his eyes shut and nodded.   It did hurt.  It hurt a lot.  A lot more than it should, he thought.  He was sick of getting pelted by Bludgers during practice. 

    "Albus?"  John asked worriedly,  "Merlin, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to hit you with it."

    "It's ok,"  Albus whispered.  He inhaled sharply.  Now it was getting hard to breath.  This was not good.

    "Albus, you've got to go to the Hospital Wing,"  Matt announced.  He walked over to Albus and helped him off the couch.  "C'mon."

    Albus nodded.  There was no point in objecting.  He knew he had to go.  But honestly, three times in one week seemed excessive.

    The Hospital Wing was empty when Albus stumbled inside, being supported by Matt and John, a little while later.  Madam Pomfrey came out of her office when she heard the door open.  She saw who it was and threw her hands up in the air.

    "You again!"  she groaned,  "Let me guess.  Quidditch?"

    Albus nodded and collapsed onto the nearest bed.

    "Well, what did you injure this time?"  the nurse asked.

    "Bludger in the stomach,"  Albus replied, not bothering to mention that John hit him with a Quaffle as well.

    Madam Pomfrey clucked her tongue and waved her wand over Albus.  "Broken rib.  That's the second one this week,"  she waved her wand again and pressed it to Albus's ribs.  Then she bustled away to a Potions cupboard.

    Albus's stomach immediately felt better and he sank back into the bed.  The rest of his muscles still ached, though, and he wanted nothing more than to fall asleep right there.

    Madam Pomfrey returned a few minutes later and thrust a potion into Albus's hands.  He drank it quickly and grimaced at the disgusting taste.

    "You're staying the night,"  she announced in a tone that Albus knew not to argue with.  Not that he really felt like arguing anyway.  He was just too exhausted.

    Madam Pomfrey turned to Matt, John, and Kaden.  "You lot can return to Gryffindor.  Albus needs to rest."

    Albus's friends said good night and then left the room.

    "I'll be speaking with Professor Kendrick,"  Madam Pomfrey muttered to herself,  "Honestly, what was he thinking?  Twice the amount of Quidditch?  Twice the amount of injuries is what I say!"

    Albus didn't have the faintest idea as to what Madam Pomfrey wanted Kendrick to do, but he didn't think about it for long.  Exhaustion overcame him and he was asleep within minutes.

                        ******

    Albus awoke feeling better than he had in days.  One look at the clock told him why.  He had slept over twelve hours.  It was just after eleven o'clock.  Two hours until the Dueling Tournament.  Albus pulled the blankets off and started to get up.

    "Where do you think you're going?"  Madam Pomfrey appeared at his bed.

    "Er, the common room?"  Albus slowly sat back down,  "The Dueling Tournament is in two hours."

    "Dueling?  You think I'm going to let you duel?"  Madam Pomfrey demanded.

    "Well, yeah,"  Albus muttered.  Come to think of it, he actually wasn't surprised that the nurse wasn't going to let him duel.

    "Definitely not!"  she exclaimed,  "You're spending the day in bed!"

    "Come on!"  Albus groaned,  "Please?"  He had to duel.  He was practically the best on his team.  What would Malfoy say when he didn't show up?

    "I won't have it!"  Madam Pomfrey said,  "You were dead on your feet last night!  You're going to rest today!"

    Albus groaned in defeat.  He was going to miss the first Dueling Tournament of the year, because of a Quidditch injury.  His two favorite things to do were now conflicting with each other.

    Madam Pomfrey brought a tray of breakfast, or maybe it should have been lunch, for Albus a little while later.  He wasn't in the mood to eat, though.  Why couldn't he just go to the tournament?  He felt fine now.

    Matt, John, Kaden, Amanda, Rose, and for some reason, Linda, burst into the Hospital Wing just as Albus was finishing up his food.  Madam Pomfrey looked a bit taken aback at the amount of visitors, but she didn't say anything.
   
    "Albus!"  John shouted,  "Dueling's in an hour.  You going to be getting out of here soon?"

    "She won't let me go,"  Albus muttered.

    "What?"  John exclaimed,  "Why not?"

    "She says I need to rest,"  Albus explained.

    "Honestly, it would have surprised me if she did let you go,"  Matt commented.

    "I'll convince her, Albus,"  John announced and walked over to where Madam Pomfrey was organizing potions.  "You've got to let Albus duel."

    "I do not have to do any such thing,"  she replied, not looking up.

    "But it's Kaden's first tournament,"  John pointed out.

    "I wouldn't care if it was Merlin's first tournament, I'm not letting Albus go."

    "Please?"  John begged.

    "No,"  she said,  "And if you don't stop arguing, I'll make you leave."

    John sighed and walked glumly back to Albus's bed.  "Sorry,"  he muttered,  "And this was sort of my fault since I threw that Quaffle at you."

    "No it wasn't,"  Albus assured him,  "A Quaffle wouldn't have broke my ribs.  It was that Bludger from Quidditch practice."

    "But still..."  John said.

    Albus's friends remained in the Hospital Wing until it was time for them to go to the Dueling Tournament.  It was sort of tense, and Albus could only attribute this to the fact that Linda was there.  It was strange how someone who never said a word could cause the rest of Albus's friends to remain quiet as well. 

    After his friends left, Albus was filled with boredom.  The Hospital Wing really was a boring place, especially when you weren't actually sick or injured.  Albus began to count the cracks on the ceiling, but lost track after 467.

    It wasn't until after the tournament was over that Madam Pomfrey actually let Albus leave.  He figured she hadn't let him leave earlier since then she would've had no way to know he wouldn't go to the tournament. 

    Albus jumped out of bed as soon as he promised Madam Pomfrey that he wouldn't play Quidditch that day.  He ran as fast as he could down to the dueling chamber, hoping that the tournament was still going on.

    Unfortunately, students were already streaming out of the room chattering excitedly about the tournament.  Albus sighed dejectedly and slumped against the wall, where he waited for his friends.

    "Hey, Albus,"  Matt said.

    "Oh, hey, Matt,"  Albus replied,  "Who won?"

    "My team.  No thanks to me, of course."

    "Who'd Malfoy duel?"  Albus asked, thinking of his threat to Rose and Amanda.

    "Some Slytherin second year and a Ravenclaw fourth year,"  Matt answered.

    Albus nodded, relieved that he hadn't dueled either Rose or Amanda.   

    "Albus!"  someone shouted excitedly.

    Albus turned around and saw Kaden with a huge grin on his face.  John was standing next to him, looking equally happy.

    "Hey, John, Kaden,"  Albus smiled.

    "I won one of my duels!"  Kaden announced,  "I dueled a Ravenclaw and I actually beat him!"

    "That's great,"  Albus told him, still wishing that he had gotten to beat a Ravenclaw.  Or a Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Gryffindor.

    "But he was horribly beaten in his second duel,"  John laughed.

    "At least I won one of them,"  Kaden smirked.

    "Yeah, yeah,"  John muttered.

    "Did you lose both?"  Albus asked.

    "Yeah,"  John sighed.

    The boys set off for Gryffindor tower, figuring they'd catch up with the girls once they were up there.  Albus was eager to see Amanda because he wanted to know how his team had done.

    Amanda, Rose, and Linda were talking about the tournament when Albus entered the common room.  He was shocked to see that Linda was actually talking.  Although, she immediately stopped when Albus and the other boys showed up.

    Apparently Albus's team had came in second place.  Amanda said they were only two points behind Matt's team, which caused Albus to wish even more that he had been there.  He could have easily gotten the two points they needed.  Amanda said that Malfoy thought the same thing, because he shouted angrily about Albus not being there once they announced the winner.  Albus was kind of amused by this.  He never thought Malfoy would ever be lamenting Albus's absence from anything.

    The group, including Linda, spent the remainder of the afternoon in the common room.  It was sort of odd, though.  Linda didn't say a word, yet Rose and Amanda tried to engage her in every conversation.  Matt remained almost completely mute, whispering quietly so only Albus and John could hear what he was saying.  Kaden of course didn't notice any of this and talked as loudly as he usually did.  It didn't really help that various boys kept coming up to Linda and asking her useless questions about Australia and Quidditch and various other topics.  Linda gave them very short, quiet answers.  John paid rapt attention to every little thing she said.

    "So,"  Rose began,  "First Quidditch match in a week.  Australia versus New York.  Are you nervous, Linda?"

    Albus stared at Rose.  He couldn't remember the last time Rose actually brought up Quidditch in a conversation.

    "A bit,"  Linda muttered, not looking up.

    "Well, I hope you win,"  Rose smiled,  "Since Hogwarts isn't playing."

    "Thanks,"  Linda whispered.
   
    Albus was looking forward to the first match.  He was glad he wasn't playing in it.  His team would be able to assess both Australia and New York's skill before they played either team.  That was definitely good for strategy.  Then when they actually played, they'd be able to use the team's weaknesses to their advantage.  Wood had given them specific directions to look for weaknesses in both teams.  Of course, chances are Albus wouldn't be playing in the first Hogwarts match, or really any of the matches.

    Albus walked down to dinner with his friends and Linda sat in between Rose and Amanda.  He glanced absentmindedly at the staff table as he scooped mashed potatoes onto his plate and noticed a new wizard talking with the headmaster from Australia.  He was a rather short man, compared to Killigan, and his face seemed to have absolutely no emotion on it.  His dirty blonde hair sat flat on his head and fell over his eyes.  He was wearing plain black robes.

    "I wonder who that bloke is,"  Albus said to John as he pointed at the staff table.

    "Dunno,"  John shrugged, not really seeming interested.

    Rose turned to look at him.  "Probably some bloke from Australia, I'd be guessing.  I imagine a few people from Australia and New York will visit to see what's going on with the tournaments."

    "Recognize him, Matt?"  Albus asked.

    Matt looked up and then quickly turned away.  "No."

    "How about you, Linda?"  Rose asked.

    "No,"  Linda whispered.

    Albus shrugged and returned to his dinner.  It seemed like he was really the only one interested in the unfamiliar wizard at the staff table.  Was he really only there to see the tournament?  The Quidditch match wasn't for another week, so why was he there already?  Would he really be spending the whole week at Hogwarts?

    Kendrick stood up after dinner started to wind down.  Albus immediately stopped eating and paid attention.  Maybe he was going to tell everyone who the strange wizard was.

    "If I could have your attention for just one moment,"  Kendrick announced,  "Thank you.  When I first began to organize this competition, I always thought we would continue with the usual Hogwarts Quidditch Cup tournament like usual, but I didn't think about what affect it would have on the players who would play on both their house team and the Hogwarts team."

    Albus had a feeling he knew where this was going and it had everything to do with that talk Madam Pomfrey said she was going to have with Kendrick.  Albus sank lower in his seat and tried not to look at anyone.

    "It's come to my attention that playing on two Quidditch teams at once is much more work than could have been anticipated.  Therefore, I have decided to cancel the Quidditch Cup tournament for this year only, while the tournament is going on."

    "What?!"  Over half the room erupted in various shouts and jeers.  Albus sank even lower in his seat.  This was all his fault.  He was the one who had been to the Hospital Wing so many times that week.  He had gotten Quidditch canceled for the whole school.

    "Quiet down,"  Kendrick shouted,  "It's what's best for the players.  Plus, it's been rather tight to squeeze in so many practices for so many teams.  We only have one Quidditch pitch.  With four less teams to accommodate, it'll be easier to schedule practices.  This is my final word on the subject.  Remember that we still have excellent Quidditch going on this year."

    "I shouldn't have gone to see Madam Pomfrey last night,"  Albus muttered.

    "Albus, this isn't your fault,"  Rose assured him,  "You're not the only one who's been injured numerous times."

    That was true.  Pretty much everyone on the Hogwarts team had been to see Madam Pomfrey at least once a week since the start of term.  So maybe it wasn't all his fault.  Plus, there was the scheduling conflicts on the pitch.  Albus had witnessed a few fights between the house captains that certainly couldn't be good for teamwork on the Hogwarts team.

    Albus had to admit that life would be a lot easier without Gryffindor team practices.  Now he would only be practicing Quidditch twice a week.  Well, Wood would probably increase it to three times now that Kendrick canceled the house Quidditch.  But even that would be less than he had been doing.  He might even have an evening or two off a week now.

    The Gryffindor team was sitting together in the common room when Albus returned.  Georgia immediately flagged him over.

    "I still don't like it,"  Fred sighed,  "Now I don't get to play at all this year."

    "Yeah, well I don't get to play for Gryffindor in my seventh year, but it really is for the best,"  Georgia said.

    "I'll say,"  James agreed,  "I'm already behind on homework and it's only October."

    "Me, too,"  Albus said.

    "Just think, Fred,"  Heather began,  "Next year, one of us will be captain."

    "It'll be me,"  Fred announced.

    "Really?"  Heather raised an eyebrow.

    "Yeah, Gryffindor's had two girl captains recently.  It's time for another bloke."

    Heather rolled her eyes.  "Not if I'm a better leader."

    "What makes you think it'll be either of you?"  Bradley asked,  "It might be Ryan or I.  We'll be sixth years.  They don't always choose seventh years."

    "Maybe,"  Fred replied,  "I'm still going to miss it, though."

    "We could play pick-up matches on the weekends,"  Ryan suggested.

    "I guess,"  Fred sighed.

    Albus remained quiet for the rest of the time with the team.  Although he didn't blame himself for the cancellation of house Quidditch, he felt guilty that he was relieved it was canceled.  But most of the team was far from happy about it.  In fact, it seemed like only James and Albus were relieved.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this story!  You guys are awesome!

Frankenstien belongs to Mary Shelley.


Chapter 12: Dueling and Fighting
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Albus was amazed at how much extra time he had now that he did not have to go to Gryffindor Quidditch practice.  During the next week, he got all his homework done on time and got a decent amount of sleep.  Plus, he made fewer trips to the hospital wing, which he attributed to having more sleep.

    Classes were going well.  Albus was very glad they had moved onto more exciting creatures in Care of Magical Creatures.  They weren't up to hippogriffs or thestrals, but nifflers were certainly entertaining.  Despite the rather boring start, Care of Magical Creatures was quickly becoming one of Albus's favorite classes.  He seemed to have an affinity for the variety of animals they learned about; something Hagrid was quick to notice.

    Arithmancy was turning out to be kind of dry, but Albus was just happy he wasn't taking Divination.  Even John was beginning to get tired of making up fake predictions for Trelawney.  'What's the point?' he had shouted out angrily one night as they were working on homework.  Albus wasn't able to suppress his grin at that, which earned him a Divination book to the head when John saw Albus's smirk.

    Defense Against the Dark Arts continued to be the strangest class Albus had ever attended.  He was beginning to think he was enjoying it, but still wasn't sure.  He liked the class, but wasn't sure if he liked Balladanis himself.

    The professor continued to be a mystery to students of all years.  Hours were spent debating his background in the common room.  He seemed to take points away equally from each house, which either meant he was extremely fair or had never attended Hogwarts himself.  Quite a few students had asked their parents if they'd ever heard of Balladanis (namely, had they gone to school with him), but so far none of the parents had.

    Balladanis's teaching methods were certainly unique.  Albus could count on one hand the number of actual lectures he had had in that class.  Most all the lessons were practical, but not in the same way Harry had done them.  Harry's method had been very caring and all about trying.  Balladanis's methods were more harsh and focused on success.  He insisted that everyone succeed and refused to let anyone stop until they did, even if it meant coming in for extra help.

    The amount of students going in for extra help was increasing quickly.  Matt was no longer seen as weak or odd for having to go in for extra help.  Nearly half of Albus's class was spending extra time with Balladanis at least once a week.  The professor still hadn't let Matt stop going.

    "Stand up!"  Balladanis barked at Albus's class.

    These two words were frequently spoken by the professor.  Albus wondered why he didn't just do away with the desks all together instead of having to move them at the beginning of each class.

    "Get a move on!"  he shouted,  "Unless you think your books will attack you.  Books can only get you so far.  You need to practice!"

    The class spent nearly an hour practicing the spell to repel grindylows and once the bell rang, Balladanis announced that they'd be practicing on real grindylows in the next class.

    "Brickston!"  Balladanis announced,  "You'll be coming in for extra help tomorrow night.  You may come the same time Eckerton does."

    Albus didn't think John had done that bad with the spell.  It had taken him a while, but by the end of the class he had managed it.  Albus was beginning to think that by the end of the year, everyone would be going in for extra help.

    "He's certifiably insane,"  John muttered as they walked to potions after they left the Defense classroom.

    "Well, I'm kind of glad you're going in for help,"  Matt said,  "You can keep Amanda and I company."

    "That's nearly all of us going in for help,"  Rose commented,  "Just Al and Linda and I."

    Kaden had been going for help nearly as long as Matt had.  Amanda had started a few days ago.

    "Albus won't ever have to go,"  Matt said,  "He's too good at Defense."

    "I'm not that great at it,"  Albus muttered quietly.  Sure, he managed all the spells, but it's not like they were very advanced.

                        ******

    "What do you think Balladanis did before he taught here?"  Kaden mused late the next day.
   
    "Dunno,"  Albus shrugged.

    "I think he was an Auror,"  John said,  "I mean, he obviously hates the dark arts."

    "No,"  Albus shook his head,  "My dad would have mentioned that."

    "Maybe he was a foreign Auror,"  John suggested.

    "But he sounds British,"  Matt pointed out.

    "So do you, for the most part, but you're from Australia,"  John countered.

    "Really?  I always thought I sounded Australian."

    "You do a bit.  But your parents sound more Australian than you do.  Same with Amy,"  Albus told him.

    "Oh,"  Matt shrugged,  "So I guess he could be foreign."

    "Why did he come teach here, then?"  Albus asked.

    No one had an answer to that.  Albus was really curious to what the answer was, but it's not like he could actually ask the professor.  In fact, the idea of being alone with Balladanis kind of scared him.  He was really glad he didn't have to see the professor outside of class.

    The first Inter-School Dueling Tournament was scheduled to take place the next day.  The entire school was buzzing about it.  It was the first big competition between the three schools.  Albus didn't know a whole lot of people who were on the Hogwarts Dueling Team.  Just his cousin, Fred.  Despite this, he was still excited.  Albus absolutely loved dueling and wished he was old enough to be on the school team.

    The tournament was taking place in the Great Hall, since the dueling chamber was much too small to accommodate the entire school.  Albus walked with his friends into the room and saw that all the tables had disappeared.  They were replaced with raised stands, sort of like the Quidditch pitch.  Albus found seats towards the front and waited impatiently for the tournament to begin.

    The dueling area was a raised platform in front of the stands.  On the other side of it was a smaller set of stands, in which all the teachers were filing into.  The mysterious wizard who had been seen talking to Killigan, but never introduced, was sitting next to the Australian headmaster, but neither of them were talking.  Both wore identical looks of determination mingled with fascination.  A witch Albus didn't recognize was seated next to Roberts and the two of them were talking.  Albus assumed she was from New York.  The Auror who had been assigned to patrol Hogwarts that week was talking with Albus's Uncle Percy, who had came to represent the Ministry.  Neither Albus's dad nor his Uncle Ron were there, so Albus assumed they were busy with work.

    Once all the students, teachers, and various other spectators were seated, Professor Kendrick stood up and everyone quieted down.

    "Welcome, students, staff, and visitors to the first Dueling Tournament between Hogwarts, the Australian School of Sorcery, and the Adirondack Academy of Magic.  All three schools will duel this afternoon.  Each school's team has five students and each student will participate in two duels.  Whichever student wins the duel gets a point for their school.  The school with the most points will win.  But keep in mind that this is just the first of many tournaments that will take place during this year.  Now, here are the teams."  Kendrick gestured to a door on the side of the room.

    The door opened and Professor Longbottom led the Hogwarts team into the room.  The other two schools' teams followed and Albus didn't recognize either of their professors.  He hadn't really thought about the other teams' captains before.  He kind of figured they had them, but hadn't seen them before.  He guessed they just came to Hogwarts for practices.  They must have set up some kind of special floo connection with the school.

    The tournament commenced in much the same way the Junior Dueling Club had, except only one duel took place at a time.  The spells used were much more advanced, too.  The spell that Slytherin had used on Matt during the previous years paled in comparison to the ones being used by the older students.  Albus was absolutely fascinated.  He paid rapt attention and wished that he could learn such advanced spells.

    The tournament took nearly two hours, but Albus wasn't bored at all.  In fact, he was kind of disappointed when the last duel was over.

    Professor Kendrick tallied the points and then rose once again.  "Thank you everyone.  Each and every student performed well today.  However, this is a tournament and I must declare a winner.  And that winner is the Adirondack Academy of Magic.  Congratulations to them!"

    There was a small amount of loud applause from the New Yorkers who were in the audience, as well as some polite applause from everyone else.  Albus sighed and clapped politely along with most of his fellow students.

    "Well, it's only the first tournament,"  Matt said.

    "Yeah,"  Albus agreed,  "Plus there's Quidditch."

    "And we've got a brilliant Quidditch team!"  John grinned as he stood up,  "Now we've just got to hope that one of those other Chasers breaks something so Albus can play next week."

    "John!"  Rose scolded.

    "I'm only kidding,"  John shrugged,  "Sort of."

    "We could just give one of them the orange end of a puking pastille,"  Kaden suggested,  "And not give them the purple half."

    "Wouldn't work,"  John sighed,  "Madam Pomfrey recognizes those things now."

    "I know I probably won't get to play,"  Albus said as they left the room,  "You don't need to land yourselves in detention to get me a place on the team."

    "We know,"  Kaden said,  "We're just joking."

    Albus figured they were, but when it came to those two, one just never knew.

                        ******

    Albus stowed his broom in his dormitory late Tuesday evening following a particularly tiring Quidditch practice.  Wood's focus during this particular practice had been goal scoring, so Albus had worked hard the entire two hours.  At least the focus hadn't been on dodging Bludgers.  He yawned, grabbed his bag and headed out of the common room.  He walked slowly to the Marauder's Den, thinking he could squeeze a bit of homework in before bed.

    "Albus!"  someone shouted as Albus reached the suits of armor in front of the room.

    Albus turned around and saw Rose, red hair flying behind her, running down the corridor towards him.  "Rose?"

    "Albus!"  Rose panted,  "I saw you leave the common room."

    "Er, yeah,"  Albus shrugged.  He usually did his homework in the Marauder's Den since it was quieter and easier to concentrate.

    "I wanted to talk to you,"  Rose said.

    "Ok,"  Albus said as he located the paw prints on the opposite wall,  "We can talk in here."

    "Actually,"  Rose said,  "I kind of wanted to talk to you alone.  Are Matt, John, and Kaden in there?"

    "Probably,"  Albus replied.  What did Rose want to talk about that she didn't want their other friends to hear?  "I didn't see them in the common room."

    "Well, I'd rather talk to you alone, first,"  Rose shifted nervously from foot to foot.

    Albus looked at her strangely.  Rose rarely ever looked nervous, especially when she was talking to Albus.  What could she possibly have to tell him?

    "Er, all right,"  Albus said slowly,  "I guess we could find an empty classroom or something...."

    "Good,"  Rose nodded and took off down the corridor.  Albus ran after her and she found an empty classroom.  Albus followed her into it and shut the door behind him.  "What is it?"

    Rose paced around the room for a bit, wringing her hands together, before letting out a loud sigh and leaning up against one of the desks.  "It's about Linda."

    Albus blinked.  Linda?  He barely knew her.  What could Rose possibly have to say about Linda?  "Linda?"

    "Yes, Linda,"  Rose sighed,  "You know Amanda and I are sort of becoming friends with her.  Well, we are friends with her now.  She talks to us.  I think she misses Australia.  Anyway, I was sort of thinking it would be good if she started to make friends here.  You know, like you.  And maybe Matt, John, and Kaden."

    Albus still had no idea why Rose felt the need to talk to him alone about this.  She wanted Albus to befriend Linda.  How was he going to do that if Linda didn't say a word around him?  Not to mention the fact that Matt didn't seem to like her.

    "Er, why exactly didn't you want Matt, John, and Kaden to hear this?"  Albus asked,  "You can't really expect them to become friends with Linda unless you tell them you want them to."

    "I know that,"  Rose groaned,  "But the four of you are always holing up in the Marauder's Den, so I hardly see any of you anymore.  What I wanted to know was whether Linda could come into the Marauder's Den with us."

    Albus stared at his cousin.  So that was what she wanted to talk about.  "You want Linda to come into the Marauder's Den?"

    "Yes,"  Rose nodded,  "She's in the common room with Amanda.  Can she?  I'll go get them right now if you say yes."

    "Wait, wait,"  Albus shook his head,  "It's not up to me."

    "Yes it is!"  Rose replied,  "You found that map.  It's yours, so the room is yours."

    "No it's not,"  Albus said,  "It's Matt, John, and Kaden's, too.  All four of  us had to work to get that map to show up and to find the room.  If it weren't for them, it would still be a blank piece of parchment."

    "But-"

    "No, Rose,"  Albus said irritably,  "I can't just let you bring random people into the room without asking everyone."

    Albus and his friends hadn't really thought much about whether they'd let other people into the room, but Albus knew he couldn't do it without talking to them.  Letting Rose and Amanda in had been a given, since they helped with it, but Linda certainly hadn't helped.

    "I have to talk to Matt, John, and Kaden,"  Albus told her,  "I can talk to them now, if you want."

    "All right,"  Rose sighed and stood up.

    Neither of the cousins said a word to each other as they walked back to the Marauder's Den.  Albus was still rather bewildered by this whole thing.  First, he had never really talked to his friends about letting other people into the Marauder's Den.  He always assumed it would be their secret.  He wasn't entirely sure he wanted anyone else in it, no matter what his friends thought.  Second, it was rather out of character for Rose to be this spontaneous and demanding.  Whether this was due to the increased work load, the sudden competition in class brought on by Linda, or something else entirely, Albus didn't know.

    Albus took a deep breath as he opened the door to the room and glanced at Rose.  She was looking more nervous than before.  Albus walked into the room and paused.  John and Kaden were lounging on the floor, playing a rather rowdy game of chess (the two of them could turn any board game into something physical), while their neglected homework sat haphazardly on the table.  Matt was paying vague attention to the game while stretched out on the couch.  It didn't surprise Albus that he wasn't doing much, since the full moon was the next night.  John and Kaden looked up when they heard the door open.

    "Albus!"  Kaden shouted,  "How was practice?"

    "Rose!"  John grinned,  "I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about this place.  I don't think I've seen you here in over a month."

    "Hey, John, Kaden,"  Albus smiled,  "Practice was good.  What have you lot been up to?"

    "Beating Kaden at chess,"  John explained.

    "Hey, I beat you once!"  Kaden countered.

    "Only once,"  John repeated,  "I've won four games."

    "I'm surprised neither of you have detention tonight,"  Albus smirked.

    "They almost did,"  Matt announced,  "Professor Longbottom caught them sneaking into the girl's toilet-"

    "What were you doing in there?"  Albus raised his eyebrows.

    "We were going to put dung bombs in there,"  Kaden explained.

    "Anyway,"  Matt continued,  "Longbottom took pity on them since they're already doing so many detentions and only took away points."

    "Professor Longbottom is great,"  John grinned.

    "I wouldn't expect him to let you off again,"  Matt pointed out.

    "Want to play chess, Rose?"  John asked,  "I could use with some real competition."

    "Hey!"  Kaden crossed his arms across his chest,  "I'm real competition."

    Albus glanced at Rose.  "Er, Rose has something she wanted to ask us,"  Albus said quietly.

    Rose glared at Albus.  Clearly she wanted him to bring up the topic.  Albus gave her a quick shake of his head.  There was no way he was going to ask.  She was the one who wanted Linda there.

    "Well, what is it?"  John asked,  "If it's about homework, I'll have you know that I've already finished most of it."

    "It's not about homework,"  Rose sighed and sat down on the end of the couch that Matt wasn't occupying.

    Albus settled himself into an armchair opposite the couch and waited for his cousin to continue.

    Rose took a deep breath.  "You lot know Amanda and I have sort of become friends with Linda, right?"

    "Yeah,"  John said and Kaden nodded.

    "Well, since then Amanda and I have been spending more time in the common room with her.  But you lot still hang out here all the time...."  her voice trailed off.

    "Well, yeah, because this room is so much better than the common room,"  Kaden pointed out.

    "I know,"  Rose sighed,  "And I do miss being with all of you, but at the same time, Linda's my friend now, too."

    "So spend time with all of us,"  John said,  "I'm sure Linda would be fine by herself for a few hours a day so you can be here with us."

    Rose groaned.  "That wasn't what I had in mind.  What I want is for all of us to spend time together.  As in you lot can become friends with Linda, too.  She needs more friends."

    "She doesn't talk,"  Kaden said.

    "She does when she gets to know you,"  Rose explained.

    "So what you're saying,"  John began,  "Is that you want us to stop hanging out in this brilliant room and go back to the boring common room?"

    "No, of course not,"  Rose replied,  "I want all of us to hang out here.  Linda, too."

    The room was completely silent.  Albus watched his friends' reactions with great interest.  Both John and Kaden gaped at Rose and then turned to look at Albus.  They then turned their heads back to Rose, but didn't say anything.  Matt suddenly sat up, eyes wide open, and stared at Rose with an incredulous look on his face.

    Nobody said a word for what must have been nearly five minutes.  Albus kept looking from Rose to his friends and back.  Rose was looking nervously at everybody in turn and then sending pleading glances at Albus.  Albus was about to open his mouth, when Matt finally broke the stony silence.

    "No,"  he said.  It was hardly more than a whisper, but was very forceful.

    "We haven't let anyone else in,"  John pointed out,  "Why should Linda be the first?"

    Kaden turned to Albus.  "What do you think, Albus?"

    "Er-"  Albus began.

    "Why not?"  Rose demanded,  "She's mine and Amanda's friend."

    "But she's not our friend,"  John said.

    "But she could be!"  Rose insisted.

    "Then we'll become friends with her before we let her in the room!"  John replied,  "It's still our secret.  We haven't even told Teddy about it yet."

    Albus turned and looked at John.  He hadn't even thought about that.  John had a point.  They hadn't told Teddy about the room yet.  Or his dad.  Shouldn't they see it before other people did?

    "If anyone has the right to know about this room, it's Teddy and my dad,"  Albus said quietly.
   
    "Yes, but they aren't here,"  Rose pointed out,  "Come on, why won't you let her in?"

    "We don't know her,"  John said.

    "She's got no connections to it,"  Albus said.

    "I like keeping it a secret,"  Kaden said.

    "You could know her!"  Rose shouted,  "Then she would have connections to it.  And it would still be a secret."

    "Look, Rose,"  Matt said loudly,  "We're not going to let her in!  You can't convince us otherwise!"

    Albus, John, and Kaden turned to look at each other.  Albus had never heard Matt raise his voice like that, and certainly not with Rose.

    "And what's your reason why she can't?"  Rose asked icily.

    Matt glared at her.  "They're the same as Albus, John, and Kaden's!"

    "You just don't like her!"  Rose shouted.

    "So what if I don't?"  Matt asked hotly.

    "You don't even know her!  You haven't said one word to her the whole time she's been here!"

    "Neither has she!"  Matt yelled.

    "You lot are so stubborn!"  Rose huffed,  "I just don't get why you won't let her-"

    "Do you really want to know why?"  Matt raised his voice even louder,  "I honestly wouldn't think I'd have to tell you!  You're smart!  This is the one place in the castle that nobody else knows about!  It's the only place I can go and get some peace and quiet and not have to worry about anyone else barging in!  The only people who know about it already know what I am, so I can actually relax!  If you let Linda in here, it won't be like that anymore!  I like the quiet of this place.  And it was quiet before you came in here demanding that we let a witch we hardly know into it!"

    Matt leaned back against the arm of the couch and squeezed his eyes shut as he rubbed his temple.

    Albus stared in shock at John and Kaden.  Albus had never seen Matt shout at someone like that.  Sure, he got a bit short with people around the full moon, but had never had a full-blown row like this.

    "Well, maybe if you become friends with Linda, you'll tell her what you are,"  Rose said.  She looked quite taken aback that Matt had shouted at her like that.

    "Are you bloody insane?!"  Matt yelled, causing him to wince even more.  Albus had a feeling he was giving himself a headache.

    "You told us,"  Rose said.

    "That's different,"  Matt shook his head,  "You figured it out on your own."

    "What if we hadn't?"

    "I wouldn't have told you,"  Matt muttered,  "And Linda's going back to Australia after this year, so there really wouldn't be a point."

    "You know, since she's from Australia, she might already know,"  Rose pointed out,  "You did say that the entire country found out shortly before you moved."

    That was the wrong thing to say.  Albus knew she was going to say it just moments before she finished and he tried to shake his head to tell her to stop, but she either didn't notice or didn't want to stop.

    All the color drained from Matt's face and with it most of the anger.  He merely looked a little scared now.

    "You think I haven't thought about that?"  he asked quietly,  "Why do you think I wasn't thrilled about this whole tournament thing?  Why do you think I try to avoid anyone from Australia?  I mean, it was five years ago, so I really hope most people have forgotten about it, but all it would take was one of them to remember and soon the whole school would know."

    "I doubt Linda would tell anyone, if she did know,"  Rose said.

    "Yeah, because she doesn't talk,"  Kaden laughed.

    Leave it to Kaden to find humor in this situation, Albus thought.  He couldn't help but grin at his cousin's statement himself.

    "Could you at least think about it?"  Rose asked.

    "No,"  Matt raised his voice again,  "Don't you get it?  I don't want to risk anyone else finding out.  I don't want this to be a repeat of what happened in Australia.  I like it here.  I don't want to move again.  So I'm not going to change my mind.  I'm going to bed."

    Matt got up off the couch and walked slowly over to his bed and rammed the curtains shut behind him.

    Albus exchanged glances with John and Kaden, completely at a loss as to what to say.  Rose got up off the couch a moment later and left the room without another word.  Albus, John, and Kaden quietly began to work on their homework, but the remainder of the evening was very subdued.  Albus stared at his Herbology book, but couldn't possibly concentrate on it after the row his cousin and best friend had just had.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!

NaNoWriMo is now over and I managed to win, although not nearly as quickly as I did last year.  Big congratulations to Dancer_of_Starlight for winning as well, during her first year of the regular NaNo program!  Now it's back to fan fic for the time being.


Chapter 13: Silence
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Albus's group of friends had never been torn apart by a row before.  From the moment they met on the train ride over two years ago, the five of them had been close.  During their first year, only one time had any of them had a row.  It had only lasted ten minutes.  Albus remembered it like it was just yesterday.  The night he and John had fought about whether to tell Matt they knew he was a werewolf.  It had been a very brief row, ending when Matt walked in.

    Then, just a year ago, Kaden had flew into their group in a mist of hyperactivity and loudness.  Albus didn't really count the rows he had shared with his cousin as rows within his group of friends.  Kaden had not been Albus's friend then.  They reconciled and then became friends.  That was how Albus saw it.

    No row had come between them like this one, though.  Albus was still in shock about it the next day.  If he had had to pick two of his friends to fight, he wouldn't have chosen Matt or Rose.  The two of them seemed least likely to fight.

    Rose did have a temper.  There was no denying that.  She and Albus had shared quite a few sibling-like squabbles growing up, but they had grown out of it.  Rose's temper remained, though.  She was stubborn as well.  Albus had a lot of experience with that.  Once Rose got an idea into her head there was no stopping her.  It seemed that bringing Linda into their group was one of those things.  Albus just couldn't fathom why.  Sure, she was smart, but was that really a reason to become friends with someone?

    Matt, on the other hand, didn't seem to have an angry bone in his body.  This was definitely ironic considering that he became a raging werewolf once a month.  In the two years Albus had known him, he had only seen him angry a couple times.  Most of these occasions were when he was having whispered conversations with his sister.  Albus would never have predicted that he would yell at Rose like he had.

    Albus had no idea what to expect the next day.  He doubted this was the sort of thing that would just blow over.

    It certainly had not blown over, as Albus discovered at breakfast.  His group of friends was no longer sitting together.  When Albus, Matt, and John entered the Great Hall, they noticed that Rose, Amanda, and Linda were sitting at one end of the table, while Kaden was a few feet down from them.  John immediately headed to where Kaden was sitting and Albus and Matt followed.  Rose did not seem to notice them pass, nor did Amanda or Linda.  There was no doubt in Albus's mind whose side Amanda was on.  She was Rose's best friend first and foremost.  And whatever her reason was, she had also befriended Linda.

    Even though the girls were seated far away, nobody said anything during breakfast.  John still looked furious as he stabbed his eggs with a bit too much force.  Matt looked more tired than anything, but there was a glint of anger in his eyes.  Kaden was at a complete loss for words, which happened very rarely.  Even he went the whole meal without uttering a thing.  Albus had no urge to start any conversations either.  He was still quite angry with his cousin.  The nerve of her to ask if they could let a complete stranger into the Marauder's Den was unfathomable to him.

    The silence continued through History of Magic and Transfiguration.  Albus sat in between John and Matt during both classes and glared at the back of Rose's head.  She was sitting in between Amanda and Linda at the table in front of Albus's during both classes.

    Albus paid zero attention during History of Magic.  He merely recounted the row over and over again, which only caused him to become more angry.  Judging by the look on John's face, he had been doing the same thing.  Matt merely slept the entire class, completely unnoticed by Professor Binns.

    Albus forced himself to pay attention and take notes during Transfiguration, although John did not.  Matt remained awake during the class, but had a glazed look over his eyes.

    It wasn't until Care of Magical Creatures that the uncharacteristically long silence dissolved.  Matt decided to skip that class and sleep in the Marauder's Den instead and Albus couldn't blame him.  It was a particularly windy and cold Autumn day and Albus shivered as he walked down to Hagrid's hut with John.  Rose and Linda had Arithmancy, so they weren't even there.  Amanda was, but she stood with Janie, Marina, and Karina for the duration of the class.

    "Wow,"  John said in a low whisper as they sat on the cold, hard ground drawing pictures of the puffskeins they were watching.

    He didn't have to say anything else.  Albus knew what he was talking about.  "Yeah,"  he muttered.

    "Have you got any idea why Rose was so insistent about Linda?"  John asked quietly.

    "She's stubborn.  She always has been,"  Albus replied,  "Once, when we were eight or so, she wanted to go to this sleepover my cousins Gabriella, Georgia, and Heather were having.  Her parents said no and she didn't speak to them for nearly a week."

    "Seriously?"  John gaped and then smirked,  "Siriusly...."

    Albus rolled his eyes.  "Yeah, she did."

    "Do you think she'd do that this time?  Not talk to us for a week?"

    "It wouldn't surprise me if she didn't talk to us until we let Linda into the room,"  Albus sighed.

    "That's not going to happen,"  John said.

    "No, it's not,"  Albus agreed,  "Even if by some chance we decided to let her, there's no way Matt would.  And I think Kaden would just agree to whatever I said."

    "Well, I can't blame Matt for not wanting her in there,"  John lowered his voice even more,  "He always sleeps there before the you know what.  He's not going to want her to know about it."

    "I can't blame him either,"  Albus agreed.

    "You do know what this means, right?"  John asked.

    "What?"

    "We're going to have to take our own notes in class now,"  John groaned,  "No way is Rose going to let us borrow hers anymore."

    Albus couldn't help but giggle a little at that.  Albus could always rely on John to lighten the mood.  Either him or Kaden.  Albus and John didn't talk much for the remainder of the class and the brief bit of humor died away quickly.

    Albus and John headed straight for the Marauder's Den after class.  They passed Rose on their way there, but she acted like she didn't notice them.

    "You awake?"  John shouted as they entered the room.

    "I am now,"  Matt replied groggily from his bed.  A few moments later he got up and laid down on the couch.

    "You don't look so good,"  John said as he tossed his bag unceremoniously onto the floor and jumped onto the other end of the couch.

    "You think?"  Matt said sarcastically.

    "No, I mean, you look worse than usual,"  John replied.

    "Oh, that's nice,"  Albus said as he sat down in one of the chairs.

    John did have a point, though.  Matt was as pale as he usually was the day before a full moon, but the dark circles under his eyes were more pronounced.  His eyes were also more bloodshot, which gave him the look of a person who hadn't slept in days.

    "It's true,"  John shrugged,  "Haven't you been sleeping all day?"

    Matt sighed and shook his head.  "No.  Didn't sleep that much last night either.  I just can't.  I keep thinking about what happened yesterday....  The only real sleep I've gotten was in History of Magic.  I need a good Binns lecture to put me to sleep now."

    Albus didn't think he'd ever heard the phrase 'good Binns lecture' before.  "Won't that make tonight worse?"  Albus asked quietly,  "Not sleeping before it?"

    "Yeah, of course it will,"  Matt said quietly,  "But I can't make myself sleep."

    "Ask Madam Pomfrey for a potion,"  John suggested.

    "She'll ask too many questions,"  Matt said,  "I never have a problem falling asleep before the full moon.  She'll be suspicious.  I don't want to tell her about the row."

    Matt didn't elaborate anymore about his lack of sleep, so Albus and John played a bit of Exploding Snap.  Matt didn't feel like playing.

    "Albus?"  Matt asked after a half hour or so.

    "Yeah?"  Albus replied.

    "Rose wouldn't,"  Matt paused,  "You know, tell anyone about me, would she?  Because I've been thinking, she's the sort of secret keeper for the charm for Kaden, but if she tells someone then who knows what would happen with that, so maybe we should switch to you and-"

    "No,"  Albus interrupted him,  "She wouldn't do that.  Rose might be stubborn and angry with you, but she would never ever tell anyone that you're a werewolf.   She knows that it's your secret to tell."

    "But what if she just slips up?"  Matt asked anxiously.

    Albus tried to see this from Matt's point of view.  He also reminded himself that Matt was probably sleep deprived and combine that with how sick he always got before the full moon, he wouldn't be seeing things rationally.  But the idea of Rose telling someone that Matt was a werewolf just because she was mad at him was hard to believe.

    "She won't,"  Albus said adamantly,  "I've known her longer than you.  She won't do that."

    "All right,"  Matt said warily and leaned back on the couch.

    Albus exchanged glances with John as Matt's eyes began to glaze over.  This was not going to blow over quickly.

                        ******

    Albus slept horribly that night.  He tossed and turned and stared at the glowing circle the full moon created on the hangings of his bed.  Bilius's soft snoring filled the room.  Albus was sure he wouldn't fall asleep at all that night.  He had too much on his mind.

    His best friend and his cousin were fighting.  The cousin he had grown up with, spent all his pre-Hogwarts days with.  His best friend since first year.  Albus felt awful about it.  He could think of at least twenty things he'd rather do that have his best friend and his cousin fight like this.  A month's worth of detention with Filch, for example.

    This was different than a little disagreement, too.  John and Rose often fought with each other, but Albus kind of thought they liked it.  Albus himself sort of enjoyed squabbling with James.  Matt never fought with any of them, though. And none of them ever really rowed.  What if Rose and Matt never made up?  Albus swallowed hard and stared fixedly at the end of his bed.  They had to make up, eventually.  But what if they didn't?  A nagging voice in the back of Albus's head told him it was a possibility.  He tried to shake it out of his head as he closed his eyes in a vain attempt to get some sleep.

    Albus had been hoping Defense Against the Dark Arts would provide a much needed escape from his thoughts of Matt and Rose never making up.  That class usually required every bit of Albus's brain power and he couldn't really think about anything else during it.  Unfortunately, Balladanis decided to give one of his rare lectures.  Albus's mind wandered and by the time the class was over, he really couldn't remember what Balladanis had lectured about.  He had assigned an essay, too, which didn't help matters.

    Slughorn, on the other hand, decided to have a practical lesson even though it was only a single class.  Since Matt was in the hospital wing, Albus worked with John and Janie Creevey, John's usual potions partner.  He was just glad Slughorn didn't make him work with Rose and Amanda.  Linda was mysteriously absent, so their group was down to two people.

    John sent Albus to go get ingredients while he and Janie set up.  He joined the queue behind Amanda. 

    "Albus,"  Amanda said quietly.

    "Amanda,"  Albus replied, reminding him a lot of the way he and Limbert had worked the previous year.  Polite greetings and no talking.

    "Albus?"  Amanda asked as they neared the cupboard.

    "Yeah?"  Albus replied.

    "Er, how's Matt?"  she asked quietly.

    Albus shrugged.  "Haven't had the time to visit him today."

    Amanda nodded.  "Um, what about the row?  How is he about that?"

    "He's still angry with Rose,"  Albus muttered.

    "Oh.  I was hoping..."  her voice trailed off.

    "How is Rose?"

    "Angry,"  Amanda sighed,  "Oh, Albus, I hate this!  I hate not being able to be with you lot, but I can't abandon Rose."

    "I hate it too,"  Albus said quietly.  He was sort of surprised that Amanda still wanted to be around them, after they denied Linda access to the room.  After all, she was Linda's friend, too.

    "It's so stupid,"  she whispered,  "Fighting like this."

    "I know,"  Albus said,  "But I don't think Rose and Matt think it's stupid."

    "What about John and Kaden?  What do they think?"

    "John flat out refuses to let Linda into the room.  I do, too,"  he said quickly,  "We're all in agreement about that.  Kaden, too."

    "I know.  And I get why.  I just think its stupid to let it come between us."

    "Me, too,"  Albus agreed,  "But Rose is so stubborn.  I know she's your best friend, but I've grown up with her.  And she refuses to give in.  So this might last a while."

    "I don't want it to, Albus,"  Amanda said quietly.

    "I don't either,"  Albus sighed.

    Albus got his ingredients and went back to John's cauldron.  He couldn't tell John anything about the conversation, though, since Janie was there.  In fact, they only talked about the potion as they worked.

    "Time's up!"  Slughorn announced a while later,  "Bring a sample up to my desk for grading."

    Albus dropped their potion off to Slughorn on his way out the door with John.  He glanced back at Amanda.  She was talking with Rose, but looked up and gave Albus a half-hearted smile.  Albus returned it and left the room, somehow feeling worse than he had when he entered.

    Albus and John hurried to the Great Hall and found Kaden.  The three of them ate a quick lunch and then rushed off to the hospital wing before their next classes.

    Madam Pomfrey was sitting at her desk when they walked in.  She looked up, but remained seated when the three boys walked inside.

    "Hello, boys,"  she greeted them.

    "Hi Madam Pomfrey,"  Albus replied.

    "Where's..."  the nurse began to ask, but then shook her head and closed her mouth.

    Albus shrugged and continued his way towards the only occupied bed in the ward.  He pulled the curtains open and sat down on the end of Matt's bed.

    Matt was asleep.  Sound asleep judging by the rhythmic way his chest moved up and down under the blankets.  His face was scratched and there was a bandage around his forehead, but other than that he looked all right.  Granted, most of his body was covered by the blanket, but Albus hoped he was all right otherwise.

    He didn't stir when Albus sat down.  John gently prodded his blanketed arm, but he didn't appear to notice it at all.

    "If he's asleep, I suggest you let him be,"  Madam Pomfrey shouted from her desk,  "In fact, I insist."

    "Is he ok?"  John asked,  "He usually wakes up when we come in."

    "He had a rough night,"  the nurse sighed,  "It's like he didn't get any rest beforehand, but Hagrid tells me he skipped Care of Magical Creatures, so I'm sure he must have slept.  But he's only woken up once since I brought him back this morning.  So, for whatever the reason, he must need to sleep.  Perhaps it would be best if you came back after dinner."

    Albus nodded and got up off the bed.  He knew why Matt needed the extra sleep.  He hadn't slept much the previous day.  Albus didn't say much to John and Kaden as they left.  He muttered a quiet goodbye as he left for Ancient Runes.  He was dreading that class.  It was one he shared with Rose and Matt, and since Matt was practically unconscious in the hospital wing, it would just be him and Rose.

    Albus was half tempted to just skip Ancient Runes.  After all, he hadn't ever skipped a class before, except when he was sick.  Even when Washburn was teaching Charms, Albus was there for every class.  But, he was sure the teacher would send an owl to his parents, so he trudged his way to Ancient Runes as slowly as possible without being late.

    However, Albus hadn't thought about the downside of being the last one to show up for class.  When he walked into the room, there were only two seats left, at Rose's table.  Linda was mysteriously absent again.

    Albus groaned inwardly and sat down next to his cousin.  He stole a quick glance at her, but she was facing forward, looking determined.

    Professor Sturly walked in a moment later.  Albus crossed his fingers for a lecture class, something he rarely did.  If the class was a lecture, he could easily not talk to Rose at all.  But if they were working on decoding runes, he would have to work with a partner as usual.  Since both Matt and Linda weren't in class, he'd have to partner with Rose.
   
    Sure enough, Sturly passed out tablets of runes for the class to decipher. She placed one in between Albus and Rose and told them to work together since their usual partners weren't there.

    "Albus,"  Rose said icily as she turned to the tablet.

    "Rose,"  Albus muttered.

    They worked quietly for a while, only talking about the runes.

    "That's not a sun, Albus,"  Rose said as Albus wrote the word 'sun' on his parchment.

    "Then what is it?"  Albus asked.

    "It's a moon."

    "Oh,"  Albus muttered and changed his answer,  "Er, where is Linda?"

    "Why do you care?"  Rose glared at him.

    "I'm just curious,"  Albus shrugged.

    "She's sick, if you must know,"  Rose said,  "She hasn't looked well for the past few days."

    "She wasn't in the hospital wing,"  Albus replied.

    "Not everyone goes to the hospital wing for every little thing,"  Rose said shortly.

    "Well, if she's been sick for a few days-"

    "That's her business, isn't it?"  Rose interrupted.

    Albus nodded.  Rose was right about that.  "Er, aren't you going to ask how Matt is?"

    "I guess,"  Rose muttered,  "How is he?"
   
    "Worse than usual, thanks to your row."

    "That wasn't only my fault.  He was right there rowing with me,"  Rose seethed,  "So don't guilt me into doing anything."

    "I'm not trying to guilt you into anything,"  Albus groaned,  "I just thought that you might actually care how his-"

    Albus cut himself off.  Transformation.  Rose said Linda had been sick for the past few days.  So had Matt.  Linda had been sick around the full moon.  Was it possible that she, Linda, was a werewolf, too?  Albus stared dumbstruck at the tablet he was supposed to be decoding.  It was kind sort of too much of a coincidence for them both to get sick at the same time.  But then why would Matt be so opposed to Linda finding out that he was a werewolf, if she was one herself?

    "Albus?"  Rose asked.

    "Rose-"  he paused.  Would Rose really tell him if Linda was a werewolf?  Probably not.  "Never mind."

    "Er, ok,"  Rose shrugged.

    The rest of the class dragged by.  As soon as the bell rang, Albus grabbed his stuff and ran out of the room.  He had to find John and Kaden.  They had to find out if Linda really was a werewolf or not.
   
    Albus made it to the Marauder's Den in record time.  Neither John or Kaden were there yet.  Come to think of it, Kaden had class anyway, so he wouldn't even be there.  But John didn't.  Albus tossed his bag down and began pacing around the room.

    John entered the room a short while later.  Albus looked up and ran over to him.

    "John!"  Albus shouted.

    "What?"  John asked, thoroughly confused.

    "I had to partner with Rose during Ancient Runes since Matt wasn't there.  Guess who else wasn't there?  Linda.  And she wasn't in Potions either,"  Albus said quickly.

    "So?"  John asked.

    "I asked Rose about it and she said that Linda's been ill the past few days,"  Albus continued.

    "But she's been in class,"  John pointed out.

    "I know, that's part of it!"  Albus replied,  "Can you think of anyone else who goes to class even when he's ill?"

    John paused and then his eyes widened in shock.  "Matt!  Wait, are you thinking-"

    "Linda's a werewolf,"  Albus said.

    "You really think?"  John asked.

    "Well, I obviously don't know for sure...."

    "What about the last full moon?  Was she sick then?" 

    "I don't remember,"  Albus sighed,  "I didn't really pay attention, did you?"

    "Nope,"  John said,  "But seriously?"

    "I don't know.  I mean, it's possible, but if she's a werewolf, why was Matt so afraid of her finding out he's one?"

    "Good point,"  John sighed.

    "We've got to find out."

    "I know, we can ask Matt!"  John said,  "Because she would've been with him in the Shrieking Shack, right?"

    "Not necessarily,"  Albus shook his head,  "If Wolfsbane works for her, she couldn't have been near him."

    "Oh, right,"  John replied,  "But maybe he'd know anyway."

    "Or maybe not.  Maybe he hasn't got a clue, but if he did know he wouldn't be so worried about her finding out about him,"  Albus said.

    "And then he and Rose could make up."

    "Exactly,"  Albus grinned.  He wanted nothing more than Rose and Matt to make up.  "Let's go see if he's awake."


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight and all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 14: Hogsmeade
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Albus and John practically ran to the hospital wing.  They slowed down as they neared it and tried to look as casual as they could as they walked in.  Madam Pomfrey was busy with a patient, so she didn't even notice them as they made a beeline for Matt's bed.

    Albus yanked the curtains back and shut them again once John and himself were inside.  To his relief, Matt was awake this time.  He looked exhausted, but he was awake.
   
    "Hey, Matt,"  Albus said.

    "Hey, Albus,"  Matt replied,  "How are you?"

    "All right,"  Albus said,  "How about you?"

    "Tired,"  Matt sighed,  "Er, how is Rose?  Is she still ignoring us?"

    "Pretty much,"  Albus said quietly.

    John nodded and then glanced at Albus.  Albus took a deep breath.  He hadn't really thought about how he was going to ask Matt about this.

    "Are you two ok?"  Matt asked tentatively.

    John poked Albus.  Albus glared at him and then turned back to Matt.  "Well, we sort of wanted to ask you something,"  Albus lowered his voice,  "I'm sure you'll think its mental...."

    Matt stared at him curiously.  "Er, all right, what is it?"

    "I was talking to Rose in Ancient Runes-"

    "I thought she was still ignoring us."

    "She was.  But we were partners, since you weren't there."

    "What about Linda?"  Matt asked.

    "She wasn't there either, which is what I wanted to ask you about,"  Albus paused,  "Rose said Linda's been ill the past few days.  I couldn't really help but notice that she was ill around the same time you were and well, John and I were sort of wondering if maybe, well, she was-"

    "Like me?"  Matt whispered.  His eyes had widened in shock and he was staring incredulously at Albus and John.

    "Er, yeah,"  Albus muttered,  "Told you it was mental."

    "It is,"  Matt said adamantly.

    "So you know she's not?"  John asked,  "You saw her in here or something?  Or did Madam Pomfrey tell you?"

    Matt smiled wryly.  "Of course not.  Even if she was, I doubt Madam Pomfrey would tell me.  You two missed the obvious clue that she's not like me."

    Albus turned to John, who shrugged.

    "Linda normally goes to the Australian School of Sorcery,"  Matt stated,  "The school that I wasn't allowed to go to.  Obviously, if Linda was like me, she couldn't go there either."

    Albus felt like he should have smacked himself in the head.  He turned to John, who looked like he was about to burst out laughing.  How could they have forgotten about that?  It was staring them straight in the face and they completely overlooked it.  Professor Killigan was prejudiced against werewolves.  There was no way he would admit Linda if she was one.

    "Oh, right,"  Albus mumbled,  "Should have remembered that."

    "It's actually kind of funny that you thought she was like me,"  Matt smirked.

    "I guess she's just got a cold or something,"  John shrugged.

    "Yeah, probably,"  Albus said.  So much for the idea of Rose and Matt making up.  Albus would just have to think of some other way to get them to be friends again.

    "When do you get to leave?"  John asked.

    "Not sure,"  Matt sighed,  "Probably late tomorrow, if I'm lucky."

    "Hogsmeade is on Saturday,"  John said.

    "I know.  I'll be out for that, even if I have to sneak out when Madam Pomfrey is sleeping,"  Matt replied.

    Albus didn't really think Madam Pomfrey would sleep through someone trying to sneak out of the ward, but he hoped Matt would be out in time to go to Hogsmeade. It would be incredibly unfair if he wasn't allowed to go.

                        ******

    The silence continued into the next day.  Linda returned from her mysterious illness and went back to spending all her free time with Rose and Amanda.  Albus spent his time with John and Kaden in the Marauder's Den.

    Albus hated the silence more and more every day.  It kept him up at night, but he couldn't think of anything he could do about it.  The row was mainly between Rose and Matt.  Albus couldn't solve it, but it was eating away at him like it was his own row.  He was very glad he wasn't playing Quidditch in the upcoming match.  He wouldn't have been able to concentrate.

    Matt didn't leave the hospital wing until Friday evening.  Madam Pomfrey had reluctantly let him leave in order to go to Hogsmeade the following day.

    Albus woke up not feeling nearly as excited as he probably should have about going to Hogsmeade.  He and Rose had imagined going to Hogsmeade together since they were little kids.  They plotted where they would go and what they would do.  Both of them had been to Hogsmeade before, but never without one of their parents.  The idea of going by themselves had always been exciting.

    Now that the day had actually arrived, Albus couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed.  He wouldn't be going with Rose.  Not while they were still in the midst of a row.  It was either go with Matt and John, or ditch them and go with the girls.  The latter wasn't even a real option.  He was still mad at Rose and if he decided to make up with her, he'd have Matt and John angry with him.  He just had to face it; going to Hogsmeade with Rose was not an option.

    Albus, Matt, and John joined the queue of people in the Entrance Hall later on in the morning.  Matt and John were more excited than Albus was, but still more subdued than the rest of the third years.

    "We've got to remember the stuff for the Halloween party,"  John reminded them.

    The Halloween party was that night.  Albus had nearly forgotten about it over the past few days.  It was another thing that would have been more fun if they weren't fighting with the girls.

    "Yeah,"  Albus nodded,  "We've got to get Kaden's stuff, too."

    "Merlin, he was jealous that we get to go and he doesn't,"  John smirked.

    "Can't blame him,"  Matt lowered his voice,  "I mean, this is the first time we'll get to try out the Hogsmeade part of the map."

    Albus grinned.  That was one part about the Hogsmeade trip that Albus was still thoroughly excited about.  He had the new map in his cloak pocket, all ready to go. 

    "We can see who likes to go to the Hog's Head,"  John grinned mischievously.

    "Hey, Amy used to go there,"  Matt said.

    "Really?"  John asked.

    "Yeah, she liked how empty it was."

    "Seems like an awfully depressing place,"  John said.

    "Where do you lot want to go first?"  Albus asked as they gave their names to Filch.

    "Weasley's,"  John said immediately,  "I've got loads to buy there.  And Kaden gave me a list of stuff he wants me to get him, too."

    "Why does that not surprise me?"  Albus smirked.

    The boys walked the short distance into Hogsmeade once Filch checked their names off.  It was a chilly autumn day.  There was a slight breeze in the air and it was cloudy, but not the kind of clouds that threatened rain.  They couldn't have asked for better weather in late October. 

    Once they arrived, they hid behind a tree in order to look at the map.  Albus glanced around to make sure nobody was watching and then pulled it out of his cloak.  He muttered the incantation and soon, an inky replication of Hogsmeade was on the yellowed paper.

    "Whoa,"  Matt whispered,  "Look, Weasleys' is so crowded, you can't read any of the labels."

    There were dots spilling out of the joke shop and even more inside, piled on top of each other.  Albus wasn't surprised in the slightest.  His uncle's shop was the most popular in Hogsmeade.  There were more modest collections of dots in the rest of the shops and pubs.  A slight few were in the Hog's Head.

    "Anyone we know in the Hog's Head?"  John asked.
   
    "Nope,"  Albus said after he read the labels.

    Albus wiped the map clean and then they set off for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.  It took them a while to squeeze into the crowd, and once there, Albus and Matt quickly lost John to the throngs of students grabbing merchandise.

    Both George and Teddy were behind the counter, ringing up purchases as fast as they possibly could.

    "Hi Uncle George!  Teddy!"  Albus shouted.

    "Hey, Al!"  George shouted back.

    "Albus!"  Teddy exclaimed,  "How's your first Hogsmeade trip?"

    "Great,"  Albus smiled,  "Are you coming to the Halloween party?"

    "Wouldn't miss it,"  Teddy grinned,  "Victoire and Amy are going, too."

    "That's good,"  Albus said,  "Are you dressing up?"
   
    "'Course,"  Teddy laughed.

    "What as?"

    "Where would the fun in that be?"  Teddy winked.

    John returned a little while later, arms laden with merchandise.  He dumped it all on the counter and a few Skiving Snackboxes fell on the ground.  Albus picked them up and smirked as he put them on the counter.

    "Stocking up for a year?"  Albus asked.

    "Nah, this is just until next Hogsmeade trip,"  John said.

    "You're one of my best customers, John,"  George laughed.

    "Do you really need five Snackboxes?"  Matt asked.

    "Definitely.  Divination's awful.  And two are for Kaden,"  John replied.

    John paid for his purchases and then the group wandered down the road until they reached Gladrags Wizardwear.  They slowly walked inside, only to find that it was filled with giggly girls.

    "I'd be happy if I never had to set foot in here again,"  John groaned as he gestured to a display of pink sparkly robes.

    "We just need to get our costume stuff and get out,"  Albus muttered, equally unhappy about having to visit a clothing shop.

    The three boys tried to move as quietly as possible through the crowd of girls in order to find their costume stuff.  Albus immediately found a black shirt and pants for his skeleton costume.  He had bought glow in the dark paint at Weasleys' and one of his cousins was going to paint bones on the shirt and pants with it. 

    John had purchased Muggle vampire teeth and Muggle face paint at Weasleys', so all he needed was a black cape, which he found quickly.  Matt located a white sheet, which was all he needed for his ghost costume.  Albus got another white sheet, which they would cut up into strips for Kaden's mummy costume.   

    "Finally!"  John exclaimed once they left the shop,  "That's my least favorite place in Hogsmeade."

    "You should go to Madam Puddifoot's, then,"  Albus laughed.

    John shuddered.  "No way.  I will never set foot in that hideous place."

    "Anyone want to go to the Three Broomsticks?"  Matt shivered.

    "Yeah, I could use with a Butterbeer,"  Albus agreed and pulled his cloak tighter.  The wind had picked up and Butterbeer would be good to warm up with.

    Albus led his friends up the street and into the crowded pub.  It seemed that everyone had the idea of warming up with a Butterbeer.  Albus and Matt snagged the last empty table while John went to the bar to get a few Butterbeers.

    "What do you think the party is going to be like?"  Matt asked.

    "Dunno,"  Albus shrugged,  "It's not really common for there to be an actual party.  Usually it's just the feast.  I guess they just want us to interact with the foreign students.  Kind of like the Yule Ball for the Triwizard Tournament."

    "I just can't wait to see what people dress up as,"  John announced as he returned with the Butterbeers.

    "Think the teachers will dress up?"  Matt asked.
   
    "I hope so,"  John grinned,  "Probably depends on the teacher, though.  I could see Kendrick dressing up.  And Longbottom.  Not sure about Slughorn."

    Albus snorted into his Butterbeer.  "Slughorn, dress up?  Now that would be funny."

    "I think any of the teachers dressing up would be funny,"  Matt laughed.

    "So, how long do you think it'll be until Kaden tries sneaking into Hogsmeade?"  John asked.

    "Next trip,"  Albus said immediately,  "I know he's plotting it.  He asked me if I was taking the map today.  I think he wanted it to sneak in."

    "Are you going to let him have it next time?"  Matt asked as he sipped his Butterbeer.

    "Probably,"  Albus nodded.

    "What if he gets caught?"  Matt asked.

    Albus shrugged.  "He'll get a couple detentions.  It's not like he'll notice another two detentions."

    "Good point,"  Matt grinned and turned to John,  "You two spend half your waking time in detention."

    "It's not that bad, once you get used to it.  I think Filch is getting a bit fed up with us, though.  He's starting to pawn us off on the professors."

    "Well, when you spend every other night with him, who can blame him?"  Albus smirked.

    "Shut it, Albus,"  John laughed,  "Or next time we get caught, we'll tell Filch whatever we were doing was all your idea."

    "He'll never believe you,"  Albus grinned.

    "Albus,"  a female voice said from behind him.

    Albus turned around and saw Rose, Butterbeer in hand, with Amanda and Linda on either side of her.

    "Rose,"  Albus muttered.

    The mood at the table quickly turned from joking around to tense silence.  Albus nervously glanced from Amanda to Rose and back again.  He looked at Matt and John, who were both glaring at the girls.

    "All the tables are taken,"  Amanda sighed,  "Do you mind if we sit here?"

    "Er-"  Albus began.
   
    "We were just leaving,"  Matt announced as he stood up,  "Right?"

    "Yeah,"  John agreed.

    Albus nodded and stood up as well.  He followed Matt and John through the crowded pub, looking back at the girls.  Amanda was the only one who was watching them leave. 

    "Why couldn't they have found some other table to sit at?"  John groaned after they were back outside.

    "I dunno,"  Albus muttered.  He had been having fun joking around with Matt and John, but as soon as the girls showed up, he was reminded once again of the rift that had formed in their group.  "Anywhere we haven't been yet?"

    "Madam Puddifoot's,"  Matt laughed.

    "Don't even joke about that,"  John shuddered,  "But you know, we haven't been to the Shrieking Shack."

    Matt groaned.  "You're kidding, right?"

    "Nope,"  John grinned and took off up the street,  "Come on, don't even say you're not going.  Because you are."

    Matt sent Albus a withered look and set off at a slower pace after John.  Albus laughed to himself and followed them.

    There were a couple people leaning on the fence in front of the Shack.  They were all third years.  Albus figured the thrill of the Shrieking Shack wore off after the first couple Hogsmeade trips.  Albus and Matt joined John, who was standing near a couple girls who were looking at the Shack.

    "It's the most haunted building in Britain!"  a Ravenclaw named Ann Jacobs told her friend.

    "Really?"  the girl's eyes widened.  Albus vaguely remembered that she was Muggle born.

    "Yeah, it's haunted by ghosts!"  Ann Jacobs said excitedly,  "Right, Albus?"

    "Er, yup,"  Albus nodded,  "Ghosts."

    "I wonder if we could get inside!"  the other girl said.

    "You can't,"  Matt said quickly.

    "How do you know?"  the girl asked.

    "My sister tried once,"  Matt answered,  "She graduated our first year.  The place is completely sealed."

    "Oh,"  the girl sighed,  "Would have been cool."

    "We should get back,"  Matt said,  "We've got to get our costumes ready."

    "Good idea,"  Albus agreed.

    The boys bade goodbye to the two Ravenclaws and headed back to the castle.  They were all very quiet on the walk back.  Albus sunk back into his thoughts of how he should have gone to Hogsmeade with Rose.  He hoped he'd be able to go with her the next trip.  Albus couldn't imagine that he'd still be mad at her when that came around.  At least he hoped he wouldn't.

    Kaden was waiting in the Marauder's Den for them.  He immediately bombarded them with questions, and the rest of the boys launched into a detailed description of their entire trip. 

    After Kaden's curiosity was finally satisfied, the boys got to work on their costumes.  Matt, John, and Kaden stayed behind in the Marauder's Den to make Matt's ghost costume and Kaden's mummy costume while Albus set off to find one of his cousins to paint his skeleton costume.
   
    Gabriella agreed to make the costume.  Not wanting to find the girls and ask Amanda to do it, Albus had been hoping Gabriella would.  Gabriella was the most creative of all his cousins and even though all he needed was someone to perform a painting charm, he figured Gabriella would do the best job.

    "What are you dressing up as?"  Albus asked as Gabriella performed the charm.

    "A Veela,"  Gabriella replied.

    "Creative,"  Albus laughed.

    "My friend actually came up with it.  A couple of us are going as Veelas."

    "Well, you've already got the hair, so it won't take much for you to dress up,"  Albus said.

    Gabriella grinned and handed Albus his costume.  "Here you go.  I'll see you at the party.  I've got to go get ready."

    "Thanks,"  Albus said.

    When Albus returned to the Marauder's Den, he was met not by his friends, but by a ghost, mummy, and vampire.  All three costumes were brilliant.  Matt looked just like a Muggle ghost, complete with eye holes and a round mouth hole.  Kaden was wrapped in strips of white sheet that were hanging off of him in various places.  John's costume was the best, in Albus's opinion.  He wore a black cape with a white shirt and black pants underneath.  He also had a red bow-tie on, which Kaden insisted would make him look more vampirish.  His face was completely covered in white make-up and he was wearing bright red lipstick that dripped onto his chin.  When he grinned, he revealed pearly white vampire fangs.

    "You lot look great,"  Albus grinned,  "The Muggle costumes was definitely the way to go."

    "Put yours on,"  Matt said.

    Albus nodded and went to his section of the room.  When he came out, he was wearing his costume.  Albus looked at his arms and they were glowing.  Gabriella had done an excellent job with the painting charm.  His chest was covered in a glow in the dark rib cage.

    "Brilliant, Albus,"  John grinned.

    "We're going to have the best costumes in the school,"  Kaden announced,  "Are the girls still dressing up as witches?"

    "No idea,"  Albus sighed.  He hadn't talked to Rose about the costumes in weeks.  "Guess we'll find out."

    Albus had no idea what to expect from the party.  The professors had never sponsored a party before while he was at Hogwarts.  He walked down to the Great Hall with Matt, John, and Kaden.  They passed quite a few people on the way down and saw all sorts of different costumes. 


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who read and reviewed this!  You guys are awesome!

Chapter 15: Answers
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   When Albus walked into the Great Hall, he stopped in his tracks.  The room had been completely transformed.  There were huge jack o' lanterns everywhere, lit up by candles.  Realistic looking spider webs were draped across every surface.  The four House tables had disappeared and were replaced by spindly round wooden tables.  Fake spiders were crawling around the floor.  Fake bats were flying around.  Tables of food were set up everywhere.  Cauldrons were smoking on top of them, emitting all sorts of different colored smoke. 

    The professors were all milling about and talking with each other.  Kendrick was dressed up as Merlin or Dumbledore, Albus couldn't tell which.  Neville was dressed as Godric Gryffindor, Patil as Rowena Ravenclaw, and even Slughorn was dressed as Salazar Slytherin.  Polo was not dressed as Helga Hufflepuff, a fact John was quick to point out.  He was probably dressed as some other famous Hufflepuff, but Albus had no idea who it was.

    In fact, nearly all the professors were dressed up.  The only one who wasn't was Balladanis.  He was wearing his usual pristine black robes with the intricate silver fastenings.  He was wearing a grim look as he brushed past Albus and his friends.  His eyes narrowed a little at John but he quickly looked away.  Albus thought this was odd, but didn't dwell on it.

    As the room gradually filled with more and more students, Albus noticed that there were an alarming amount of them dressed up as his father.  Most were first years.  Albus just kept staring as eleven-year-olds with plastic glasses and fake scars on their faces walked past.  He thought it was really really odd.

    "We're surrounded by your dad,"  John laughed as another miniature Harry Potter walked by.

    "This is just weird,"  Albus muttered, shaking his head.

    "It's kind of funny,"  John laughed even harder.

    "Bet you wouldn't think that if everyone was dressing up as your dad,"  Albus replied.

    "And that kid's dressed up as your uncle!"  Kaden announced, pointing to a red-haired boy who could've easily passed for a Weasley.  In fact, he didn't really look like he was dressed up at all, but Albus figured he was his Uncle Ron.

    "Uncle Ron would like that,"  Albus smirked.

    "He would,"  someone said from behind Albus.

    Albus turned around and saw the real Harry Potter with a plate of biscuits in hand.  "Hi, Dad!"

    "This has got to be the strangest party ever,"  Harry said,  "I've never seen people dressed up as me before.  It's rather odd."

    "Yeah,"  Albus agreed.  He didn't really like that so many people were dressed as his dad.

    "Too bad Ron is on duty tonight,"  Harry sighed,  "He would've liked to see a kid dressed as him.  Where's Rose?"

    "Er...."

    Harry gave Albus a curious look.  "Is everything all right?"

    "Um, yeah,"  Albus mumbled,  "I guess."

    "Well, you know I'm always here if you need to talk,"  Harry replied,  "I like your costumes, by the way."

    "Thanks,"  Albus grinned,  "Kaden's idea."

    "So far I haven't seen any other Muggle costumes,"  Harry pointed out,  "I've got to go talk to Kendrick, so I'll see you soon."

    Albus nodded.  "See you later."

    Once Harry left, Albus and his friends wandered over to one of the food tables.  They loaded up plates with chicken and potatoes and various other stuff and went to find seats.

    "Look, Albus,"  Matt pointed to the door,  "The girls are dressed as Muggle witches."

    Albus looked up and saw Rose, Amanda, and Linda strolling into the room dressed as the Muggle version of a witch.  All three of them were wearing plain black robes, black witch hats, and had painted their faces green.

    Albus caught Amanda's eye and they gave each other weak smiles as the girls walked into the room. 

    "Guess they couldn't come up with any other ideas,"  John muttered.

    "We did agree on costumes before they stopped speaking to us,"  Albus pointed out.

    "I guess,"  John said.

    "Looks like they're coming over here,"  Matt groaned.

    Albus set down his plate and watched as the girls progressed towards them.  Rose's face was still stony, even in green.  Amanda was leading them, so Albus figured she wanted to say hi, not Rose.

    "Hi, Albus,"  Amanda greeted them,  "Matt, John, Kaden.  Great costumes."

    "Thanks,"  Albus smiled,  "You, too."

    Nobody else said anything.  Albus stood awkwardly with Amanda and looked around at the group.  Rose was glaring at Matt and vice versa.  John and Kaden were shifting nervously around.  Linda was staring at John, but not in a loathing way.  It was more of a combination between curiosity and revulsion, which Albus thought was kind of odd.

    "This is just so stupid!"  Amanda finally exclaimed,  "Do you lot want to keep fighting for the rest of the year?"

    "Not really,"  Albus muttered.

    Rose sent a withering look at Amanda and then turned around and left in a huff.  Amanda sighed and followed her.  Linda shook her head and then ran after Amanda.

    "Well, that was awkward,"  Kaden announced a few seconds later.

    "Is this really what the rest of the year is going to be like?"  Albus asked, looking pointedly at Matt,  "Because I think I'll go mad if it is."

    "Well, Rose started it,"  Matt muttered.

    "You both started it,"  Albus snapped,  "And you both had better finish it."

    "It's not that simple, Albus,"  Matt sighed.

    "It isn't?"  Albus asked,  "What am I missing, then?  I was there.  You two fought over whether Linda should be in the Room or not!  And we all said no, but Rose is still upset over it!  I just don't understand it."

    "Told you it wasn't simple,"  Matt said in barely more than a whisper.

    "They're girls.  Nothing is simple with girls,"  John groaned,  "And do you know why it's not simple, Matt?"

    Matt shifted uncomfortably and looked away for a few seconds.  "Yeah, I do," he whispered.

    "Care to explain?"  Albus asked, now thoroughly confused.

    "Not here,"  Matt said,  "Come on, let's go to the room."

    Albus followed Matt out of the Great Hall with John and Kaden on either side of him.  None of them said a word until they reached the Marauder's Den.  They went inside and sat down on the furniture.  Matt stood up as soon as he sat down and then began pacing around.  It reminded Albus of the time he explained about the Hallows back in their first year.

    "All right, what's up with the girls?"  John asked after Matt paced for a few moments.

    Matt stopped pacing and stood in front of them.  "Ok, here it goes.  What do you know about vampires?"

    "Wait, what?"  Albus shook his head.  What in the name of Merlin did vampires have to do with the girls?

    "What do you know about vampires?"  Matt repeated.

    John laughed.  "They vant to suck your blood!"  he exclaimed in a bad Transylvannian accent.  He opened his mouth and leaned towards Kaden's neck.

    "Ew,"  Kaden moved away,  "Vampires are afraid of garlic and they can't see themselves in mirrors.  They can't go out during the day and they turn into bats.  Oh, and you have to kill them with a wooden stake to the heart."

    "Er,"  Albus began,  "I don't really know much besides the whole blood sucking thing."

    "You know,"  Matt began,  "You know nothing about vampires, yet you knew enough about werewolves to figure out that I was one."

    "That was Rose,"  Albus reminded him.

    "Right, anyway, Kaden, those are the vampires as Muggles see them.  They're not like that."

    "Oh,"  Kaden said.

    "What do vampires have to do with this anyway?"  John asked,  "I just want to know why Rose is so stubborn."

    "It's just the way she is,"  Albus muttered.

    "Vampires,"  Matt continued,  "In the wizarding world, are the undead.  They're dead, but they're still around, obviously.  Vampires feed on human blood, but if they don't suck a human completely dry, the victim becomes a vampire themselves."

    "Sort of like werewolves,"  Kaden pointed out.

    "Yeah, I guess,"  Matt replied,  "But not really.  Anyway, they basically die but they don't.  They become immortal and stop aging.  Someone could be bitten when they're twenty and still look twenty two hundred years later.  Their hearts stop beating and they run out of blood.  That's why they turn pasty white.  Then, they need to feed on blood in order to survive.  They can either use human or animal blood.  The vampires that like to integrate into human society prefer to use animal blood.  All they need to survive is blood.  They don't need food.  But they eat it to pretend they're human.  They don't need to sleep either."

    "Really?"  Kaden asked,  "That is weird."

    Albus never knew any of that.  Now the vampire unit in Defense class was going to be incredibly easy.

    "How often do they drink blood?"  Albus asked.

    "Depends on the vampire.  Most need to drink it every couple of weeks or so."

    "What happens if they don't?" 

    "They get weak,"  Matt explained,  "Vampires are exceptionally strong and fast, but if they haven't had any blood recently, they feel weak and sick."

    "Like you do before the full moon,"  Kaden pointed out.

    "Yeah,"  Matt nodded,  "Sort of like that."

    "Can they go out during the day?"  John asked.

    "There's a potion that they take so they can go out in the sun.  The sun hurts them.  Kind of like the moon for werewolves."

    "But what's this got to do with Rose?"  John asked impatiently.

    "I'm getting there,"  Matt said as he began pacing again,  "Anyway, vampires are fast and strong so they can catch their prey.  But they are also more beautiful than regular humans.  That way people are attracted to them.  They're also really really charismatic.  When you meet one, you're naturally attracted to them.  It's hard to explain, you're just drawn to them.  It doesn't even matter if they're a boy or a girl or if you're a boy or a girl."

    Albus suddenly remembered the day the foreign students arrived and he first laid eyes on Linda.  She was beautiful.  Albus hadn't been able to take his eyes off her.  But she didn't seem particularly charismatic.  After hearing Matt's description of a vampire, Linda did sound like one, except for the charismatic part.  She hardly said a word.

    "So if a vampire walked through the door, I'd immediately want to to go over to them?"  John asked.

    "Pretty much, yeah,"  Matt said.

    "How do you know all this?"  John asked.

    "Remember the library at my house?  There are loads of vampire books there because of my dad's job.  I've read a few of them."

    "Well, you'll do great on whatever test Balladanis gives us on vampires when we get to that unit,"  John laughed.

    "Wait,"  Kaden looked at Matt curiously,  "Muggles believe that vampires and werewolves hate each other, and didn't you say that's real?"

    "Er, yeah,"  Matt said quietly,  "That's pretty much it.  But mostly the big rivalry is between werewolves and vampires who live away from wizards.  There are packs of werewolves and covens of vampires who fight over territory and stuff.  That doesn't happen as much as it did years ago, but it still does occasionally, mostly in other countries."

    "So, you don't really hate all vampires?"  Kaden asked.

    "I've never really met one,"  Matt shrugged.

    "And what in the name of Merlin does this have to do with Rose rowing with us?"  John asked exasperatingly.

    Albus was getting a bit impatient as well.  Sure, he liked hearing about vampires.  They were kind of interesting, but he mainly wanted to know what Matt knew about Rose. 

    "Linda is a vampire,"  Matt said simply.

    The room was silent for a few minutes.  Albus stared at Matt.  Linda was a vampire?  It was possible.  She did fit some of the characteristics, but it was still hard to grasp.  Albus had never met a vampire before, let alone one that was his age.

    "When did you figure that out?"  Albus asked.

    "As soon as she walked past the Gryffindor table,"  Matt answered.
   
    John looked at him in awe.  "Wow, that's impressive.  You ought to go into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."

    "Now that would be even more ironic than my dad working there,"  Matt laughed,  "But I would have known she was a vampire even if I didn't know so much about them.  Werewolves and vampires can instantly recognize each other."

    "How?"  Albus asked.

    "Smell,"  Matt said,  "Vampires have a distinctive smell, but regular wizards can't tell.  Werewolves can, though.  And vampires can smell werewolves."

    "And you didn't tell us?"  John asked incredulously.

    "I didn't see the point, until now."

    "Didn't see the point?  There's a vampire at Hogwarts and you didn't think to tell us?"  John shook his head,  "There's always a reason to tell us that kind of stuff."

    Matt shrugged.  "Well, you know now."

    Albus was still processing the information.  Linda was a vampire.  Matt knew Linda was a vampire from the start.  Werewolves can smell vampires.  Vampires can sense werewolves.  That meant-

    "Wait,"  Albus began,  "Linda knows you're a werewolf, doesn't she?"

    Matt sighed.  "Yes, she probably does."

    "Then why does it matter if she gets to go in the Marauder's Den?"  John asked,  "Not that I want to let her in."

    "It's the principle of the thing!"  Matt replied,  "I just don't see why Killigan let her go to his school but he wouldn't let me!  I know it's stupid to avoid her because of that because it's not her fault, but I just don't get it."

    Albus hadn't even thought of that.  Matt was right; it didn't make sense.  How was letting a vampire into a school any different from letting a werewolf?

    "But if you had been let in, you wouldn't have moved here,"  John pointed out.

    "I know, and I'm glad we moved, but it's just not fair,"  Matt sighed.

    "So,"  Kaden said loudly,  "There's a vampire at Hogwarts.  Who's blood is she sucking?"

    “That, is actually a good question,"  Albus said.

    "I have no idea,"  Matt replied,  "I'm guessing she's sucking animal blood.  Probably hunts in the forest."

    "What about the whole 'vampires are charismatic' thing?"  Albus asked.  Even if Linda did want to suck human blood, he had no idea how she'd manage to lure a human towards her.  She seemed to avoid as many people as possible.

    Matt smiled wryly,  "That's where it gets interesting.  The three of you don't see her as charismatic, right?"

    "Yeah,"  Albus said.  John and Kaden nodded.

    "That's what I thought.  It's because you're friends with me."

    Albus turned to look at John and Kaden.  Both of them looked as confused as Albus felt.

    "Wait, what?"  John asked.

    "Even way back when there were more packs of werewolves and covens of vampires running about, it was possible for humans to affiliate with one or the other.  Occasionally, a pack of werewolves would sort of 'adopt' a human and the human would live with the pack.  I mean, the human would leave for the full moon, but live with the pack the rest of the month.  But if the human came upon a vampire, the human would be completely undesirable to a vampire because they were affiliated with werewolves."

    "And we're affiliated with you, so Linda wouldn't want to suck our blood, even if she did suck human blood?"  Albus asked.

    "Exactly,"  Matt replied,  "Remember how everyone seemed to flock around Linda when she first came here?  Everyone except us.  Even Rose disliked her back then."

    "But she doesn't now,"  Kaden reminded him.

    "I know.  That's because as Rose started spending more time with Linda, she spent less time with us, with me.  She became less affiliated with me, so to speak.  And then when we had that row, well, now she's just affiliated with Linda.  She's completely under Linda's charisma."

    Rose was affiliated with a vampire?  Did this mean there was no hope of her reconciling with Matt?  Albus groaned inwardly.  He really didn't like Linda now.  She was putting a huge rift into their group.

    "Is it possible for a person to be friends with both a werewolf and a vampire?"  Albus asked quietly.

    "I think so,"  Matt sighed,  "But Rose won't even talk to us."
   
    "I think the only way she will is if we agree to let Linda into the Marauder's Den,"  Albus muttered,  "She's just so stubborn."

    "But we don't want to let her in here,"  John groaned.

    "No, we don't,"  Matt agreed.

    "Do you think Rose knows she's a vampire?"  Albus asked.  Rose was smart, but if she had found out Linda was a vampire, she probably would have told him.  She told him Matt was a werewolf, after all.  Unless of course she discovered Linda was a vampire after the row.

    "No idea,"  Matt shrugged,  "Do you know if she knows anything about vampires?"

    "Probably not much,"  Albus answered.

    "Then she might not.  Linda's obviously trying to conceal that she's a vampire.  I bet she'll find out when we do the vampire unit in Defense, though."

    "Unless we tell her first,"  Albus said quietly.

    "Are we going to?"  John asked.

    "Would she even listen?"  Matt asked.

    "I sort of think we should at least try to tell her,"  Albus said,  "And Amanda, too."

    "I suppose,"  Matt sighed,  "But they're always around Linda."

    "We'll just have to wait until she's at Quidditch practice.  I think the Australian team practices on Mondays, so I guess we'll wait until then,"  Albus said.

    The room descended into silence for a few minutes.  Linda had definitely spiked Albus's curiosity.  He was mostly curious about why Linda had been allowed to go to the Australian School of Sorcery but Matt hadn't.  What was the difference in letting a vampire attend than a werewolf?  Even if Linda did suck animal blood, there was still the potential for her to suck human blood.

    "Bloody hell,"  Kaden let out a low whistle,  "A vampire at Hogwarts."

    Albus nodded.  Kaden pretty much summed up what Albus was thinking.  Linda being a vampire had shocked him more than Matt being a werewolf.  He wasn't sure why, but maybe it was because Teddy's dad had been a werewolf and he attended Hogwarts, but as far as Albus knew, no vampires had ever been there.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!  You guys are awesome!

Chapter 16: The First Match
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   The atmosphere at Hogwats the next day reminded Albus a lot of what it was like the day of the Quidditch Final.  It was the day of the first Quidditch match of the Inter-School Competition.  Australia would be playing New York.  Albus was excited, but not as excited as he would have been if Hogwarts was playing.  He didn't particularly care who won this match.  He was curious about Linda's seeking skills, though. 

    "Hi, Al,"  someone said from behind Albus as he walked down to the pitch with Matt, John, and Kaden.

    Albus turned around and saw his dad.  "Hi, Dad!  Here to see the match?  Or are you on duty?"

    "Just to see the match,"  Harry grinned,  "I'm hoping to be able to see them all, especially the ones you and James get to play in."

    "I don't really get to play in any of them,"  Albus pointed out.

    "You never know,"  Harry said,  "Well, I'm sitting with Neville, so I'll see you after the match."

    "Bye, Dad,"  Albus waved as he ran ahead of them.

    The boys found decent seats and waited for the match to begin.  The weather was particularly nice, especially for a late October day.  The sun was out and there was only a slight breeze in the unseasonably warm air.

    "It's kind of odd to not be rooting for Gryffindor,"  Matt said.

    Albus agreed.  Nobody was segregated into House sections like they usually were during Quidditch matches.  "I don't know who to root for."

    "Me either,"  John lowered his voice,  "I mostly just want to see how Linda plays.  Never seen a vampire play Quidditch before."

    "She must be good.  She's only a second year and she's on the team,"  Albus pointed out.

    "But she's immortal,"  Matt reminded them,  "So she's probably decades older than us at least."

    Albus still found that aspect of vampires very strange.  He sighed to himself and focused on the pitch, where a few people were milling about.  Albus could make out Professors Kendrick, Roberts, and Killigan, along with a few other people Albus didn't recognize.

    "Welcome, students, staff, and guests to the first Quidditch match of the competition!"  Kendrick shouted over the crowd a few minutes later,  "This will work exactly like regular Quidditch matches.  Ludo Bagman of the Department of Magical Sports will referee this match.  And now, I give you the Quidditch teams of the Adirondack Academy of Magic and the Australian School of Sorcery!"

    The New Yorkers were dressed in blue Quidditch robes and the Australians were dressed in green.  Both teams entered the pitch with brooms in their hands.  Albus watched as each of their captains shook hands.  Bagman blew a whistle and all fifteen of them rose into the air.

    "And they're off!"  Todd Smith, who was apparently the commentator for the inter-school matches, shouted,  "Haberino of New York catches the Quaffle and is flying to the Australian goal posts...."

    It was a very fast paced match.  The Quaffle passed back and forth between players faster than Smith could announce.  Albus was very impressed.  He also doubted he could fly as well as them and was sort of glad he wasn't playing.

    Albus knew he should pay the closest attention to the Chasers, but he couldn't help but gawk at Linda as she flew around the pitch.  She was noticeably faster than the rest of the players.  Her form was practically a blur every time she darted in between the rest of the players.

    "Merlin, she's fast!"  Albus exclaimed as Linda went from one end of the pitch to the other in mere seconds.

    "I don't think I've ever seen anyone fly that fast!"  John gaped,  "And I've been to loads of Puddlemere matches!"

    "Well, that would explain it,"  Matt smirked.

    "Puddlemere has plenty of fast fliers!"  John shouted,  "It's you who's probably never seen anyone fly fast, what with you being a Cannons fan...."

    Matt rolled his eyes.  "She's fast because of what she is."

    Albus nodded.  He kind of figured that.  It didn't seem fair, though.  None of the other teams had a vampire for a Seeker. James obviously wasn't a vampire and Albus doubted the New York Seeker was one either.  He was a lot slower than Linda.  It seemed like there should be some sort of rule that would prevent Linda from being on the Australian team.  Although, Albus wasn't sure Kendrick and Roberts knew Linda was a vampire.

    "New York scores!"  Smith shouted,  "40-20 New York!"

    Linda may have been fast, but New York seemed to have better Chasers.  Their style of playing reminded Albus of how he played with his cousins.  When Albus played with Heather and Fred, it was almost like they shared a brain.

    All of a sudden, Linda shot across the pitch, from the Australian goals to the bottom of the New York goals.  Albus stood up and watched the New York Seeker flew after her, but was meters behind.  Linda dove for the ground and flew back into the air clutching something in her hand.

    "Is that?"  John began.

    "The Snitch?"  Kaden gaped.

    "It is,"  Albus stared as the two teams descended to the ground.  It had only been fifteen minutes since the match started!

    "Linda Morales of Australia has caught the Snitch!"  Smith announced,  "Australia wins 170-40!"

    "That was the quickest game of Quidditch I've ever seen,"  John said.

    Everyone agreed.  Albus had never seen anyone catch the Snitch that fast before.  If the other matches were like this one, Australia was going to have the competition in the bag.

    "I'm guessing this match won't be followed by a party in the common room?"  Kaden asked as the boys got up from their seats.

    "Probably not,"  Albus laughed,  "Hogwarts didn't play, so we've really got nothing to celebrate."

    "Linda's in Gryffindor, though,"  John pointed out.

    "Yeah, but I'm betting most of the Gryffindors are going to be a bit upset at Linda's seeking skills.  I mean, James is good, but even he's going to have problems going up against Linda.  I think she'd even give Teddy a run for his money,"  Albus pointed out.

    "James can beat her,"  John said confidently as they began the journey back to school,  "He's a brilliant Seeker."

    "But she's faster,"  Albus sighed.

    "She's bound to slip up eventually,"  Kaden said hopefully.

    Albus certainly hoped so.  Maybe the Beaters could just constantly pelt her with Bludgers throughout the whole match so she wouldn't have a chance to find the Snitch.

    They continued to walk alongside the forest on their way to the castle.  The hair on the back of Albus's neck bristled and he looked quickly over his shoulder.  It felt like someone was watching him.  He stopped in his tracks and looked into the forest.  He saw a dark figure jump behind a tree.  Someone was in there.

    "Why'd you stop, Albus?"  Kaden asked.

    "There's someone in the forest,"  Albus whispered.

    "Hagrid?"  Matt asked.

    "No,"  Albus shook his head,  "Too small to be Hagrid."

    "We should go find out who it is,"  John announced.

    "Are you mental?"  Matt said,  "Whoever's in there could be a murderer or something!" 

    Albus wasn't sure about that, but he was sure that he was curious.  He wanted to know who was lurking about the forest after a Quidditch match.

    "Maybe we should,"  Albus said.

    Matt sighed.  "Albus, you're supposed to be the sane one."

    "I want to go see who it is,"  Kaden said.

    "It's the Forbidden Forest!"  Matt groaned,  "Forbidden!  If we get caught, we'll be in huge trouble!  Look at everyone walking around.  Someone is going to catch us."

    That was a good point.  But at the same time, Albus really wanted to know who it was.  He couldn't just stand there and not go find out who the mysterious figure was....

    "Al,"  a voice said from behind him.

    Albus jumped and turned around.  His dad was standing there, looking at him curiously.  "Oh, hi Dad."

    "What are you doing?"  Harry asked.

    "Er, there's someone in the forest,"  Albus replied.   

    Harry peered into the forest and then turned back to Albus with a grim look on his face.  "Thanks for letting me know, Al.  I'll check it out.  I want all four of you to go back to the castle and go straight to Gryffindor Tower."

    "Who do you think it is?"  Albus asked.  His dad seemed rather worried.

    "I have a few guesses,"  Harry replied,  "If it's anyone important, I'll let you know."

    Albus nodded and started to walk back to the castle with his friends.  He glanced back at his dad and saw his Patronus running in the opposite direction.  A few people were pointing at it and whispering.

    "Who do you think it is?"  Kaden asked.

    Albus shrugged.  "Dunno.  I mean, the only people I can think of are Washburn and Willinson, but they haven't been sighted in months."

    "It's got to be one of them,"  John said,  "Why else would your dad get so worried about it?"

    "But he couldn't even see who it was,"  Matt pointed out,  "It might turn out to be nothing."

    "Scary, though,"  Kaden shivered,  "One of them coming back.  I mean, I've never met either of them, but if they're anything like Quinton...."

    "Don't worry,"  Albus assured him,  "We'll just go back to the common room and we'll be fine."

    The boys hurried back into the castle and up to Gryffindor Tower.  Most of the people around them were talking about the match, but Albus overheard a few people talking about his dad's Patronus.

    The Gryffindor common room was packed when they entered it.  There was a very large group of people in the middle shouting about Quidditch and Albus had no doubt that Linda was in the middle of it, even if she didn't want to be.  Albus didn't see Rose or Amanda anywhere and figured they were with Linda.  Albus had a fleeting thought that he needed to tell them about what he saw, but decided not to since Rose wasn't speaking with him.  He just didn't feel like telling her anything important while she was still giving him the silent treatment.  He was starting to feel a bit dejected that it had been going on so long.

    Albus and his friends found a table and sat down.  They were quickly joined by Lily, Hugo, and Ashtyn.

    "Can you believe she caught the Snitch that fast?"  Lily asked.

    "That was incredible,"  Albus agreed,  "But she's going to make it hard to beat Australia."

    "I'll say,"  Hugo sighed,  "Everyone is trying to figure out how she's so fast.  Fred thought she had some sort of special broom, but she denied it."

    "Well, she obviously wouldn't admit to that,"  Ashtyn rolled her eyes.

    "Maybe Rose could ask her,"  Lily suggested.

    "I doubt Rose would do that,"  Albus muttered.

    "Are you still rowing with her?"  Lily asked.

    "Er, yeah,"  Albus said.

    "Why?  Nobody's told me what your row was even about,"  Lily huffed.

    "It's not your business, Lily,"  Albus sighed.

    "Come on,"  Lily whined,  "I'm your sister."

    "And I don't tell you everything,"  Albus said,  "So give it a rest."

    "Can I have everyone's attention?"  someone shouted from the portrait hole.

    Albus looked up and saw Neville standing there.  Everyone immediately quieted down.  Teachers rarely went into the common room.  In fact, the only time they did was when something bad happened or when Gryffindor had a spectacular Quidditch win.

    "I don't want anyone leaving the common room for now,"  Neville said in an unusually strict tone.
   
    "What's going on?"  Georgia asked.

    "Someone was spotted near Hogsmeade and in the forest,"  Neville replied.

    "Who?"  Fred asked.

    "The Aurors don't want us to disclose that information yet,"  Neville said,  "I'll be back when we know more."

    Neville left and the common room erupted into whispers.  Albus turned to his friends, who had all turned a few shades lighter after hearing Neville's announcement.

    "It's got to be,"  Matt whispered,  "They wouldn't shut us in if it wasn't someone dangerous."

    Albus nodded and swallowed hard.  He knew he was perfectly safe in the common room, but couldn't help feeling a bit scared. 

    "I bet it's Washburn!"  someone shouted from across the common room.

    "Who's Washburn?"  one of the first years piped up.

    "Evil Charms teacher,"  someone replied.

    "Yeah!"  Ashtyn said,  "He tried to kill my brother!"

    "Mine, too!"  Lily put in.

    "And he tried to kill my sister,"  Hugo added.

    Lily, Ashtyn, and Hugo started telling the other first year what had happened to Albus and his friends.  Albus groaned and shook his head as all four eleven year olds watched him.

    "Wish we could go to the room,"  Albus muttered.

    "Let's go to the dormitory,"  John suggested,  "I'll bet it's empty."

    The boys left the common room (much to the dismay of Lily, Hugo, Ashtyn, and their growing group of on-lookers) and went up to Albus's dormitory, which was thankfully empty.

    Albus, Matt, and John all sat on their beds and Kaden sat on the foot of Albus's.  None of them said a word.  Albus supposed that deep down in his mind he knew Washburn would come back, but he tried not to think about it.  He figured Washburn was after the Resurrection Stone.  That meant he wouldn't try and break into the castle, didn't it? 

    No, it didn't.  Albus's gaze fell upon his trunk, where the Invisibility Cloak resided.  If Washburn still wanted to unite the Hallows, he'd need that cloak.  Albus gulped.  Washburn was going to try and break into the castle.  Albus didn't know when, but he knew it would happen at some point.

                        ******

    Harry never returned to the castle to tell Albus what had happened.  Neville came back to the common room an hour or so later and told everyone they were free to leave if they wanted to, but he didn't disclose any details.  Albus and his friends stayed in the common room, hoping Harry would eventually find Albus, but he never did.   

    The Great Hall was filled with much more chatter than was normal on Monday morning.  Albus and his friends sat down at the Gryffindor table and James immediately passed Albus a copy of the Daily Prophet.

    "They didn't catch him,"  James said as he tossed Albus the paper.

    Albus took it and all four boys read the front page article at the same time.

Washburn Sighted in Hogsmeade; Mysterious Man Sighted in Forest

Jameson Washburn, wanted for torturing underage
students and the illegal use of Legilimency on an
underage student, was sighted by an anonymous witch
in Hogsmeade yesterday afternoon.
   
The sighting took place a few hours after the first
Quidditch match in the tournament between Hogwarts,
the Australian School of Sorcery, and the Adirondack
Academy of Magic.  The anonymous witch stated that
'a man ran from behind the Hog's Head up towards the
hills.  He looked like Washburn.'

Harry Potter, Head of the Auror Department, was on the
Hogwarts grounds at the time and reported quickly to
the scene.  No signs of Washburn were found and Potter
is sure he had Disapparated quickly.

Potter had previously been investigating the Forbidden
Forest, after receiving a tip from a student that
someone had been lurking around.  Nobody was found.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry went into
lock down after the supposed sighting of Washburn. 
Students were not informed about the situation.  The
Auror Department has not said whether additional
protection will be given to the school.  Currently, an
Auror is assigned to the school at all times, after the
kidnapping of a student by Quinton Willinson (currently
residing in Azkaban) last Spring.

'We don't want people to worry.  We're not even sure
whether either sighting was actually Washburn or not,' 
Potter told reporters.


    Albus set down the paper and turned to look at his friends.  There was no doubt in his mind that that man in the forest had been Washburn.  He had gotten away again.  For someone who seemed incompetent at just about everything, Washburn certainly was good at escaping.   

    "I wonder where he's hiding,"  John said,  "I mean, he's probably somewhere around here, you'd think?"

    "I bet he Apparated someplace far away,"  Albus replied,  "He's not going to want to stick around and get caught."

    "Yeah, that's true,"  John said,  "But I bet he'll be back."

    "Probably,"  Albus agreed,  "Willinson might even go with him.  I wonder where he is."

    "I hope he's far away from here,"  Matt said,  "We'd better get to class."

    Albus was happy that they had Care of Magical Creatures first because he would be able to continue talking about Washburn as they observed firecrabs.

    "You don't think they'll cancel the Hogsmeade trips, do you?"  John asked once they had walked a safe distance away from the Slytherins.

    "I dunno,"  Albus shrugged,  "They didn't cancel them when Sirius escaped from Azkaban."

    "I hope they won't,"  John said,  "They could just have Aurors patrolling the village.  That'll keep Washburn away."

    "There are already Aurors patrolling the school,"  Matt pointed out,  "So I'm sure they'll be patrolling Hogsmeade now, too."

    "Just as long as they don't bring any dementors here, I'll be happy,"  Albus shivered.  He had never actually seen a dementor, but he knew enough about them to fear them.

    "Well, that didn't exactly work out well when Sirius had escaped, did it?"  John replied.

    "I know, but still...."  Albus's voice trailed off.

    "Dementors don't even guard Azkaban anymore, so I don't see why they would get sent here,"  John said as he stopped his firecrab from escaping.

    "I wonder where they went,"  Albus pondered,  "I've never seen one."

    "Me neither,"  John shook his head,  "But that's a good point.  What did happen to them all?"

    "That's one thing my dad never told me,"  Albus shrugged.

    "I've never seen one either,"  Matt shivered,  "But my dad has.  He's had to deal with them at work-"

    "So he knows where they were sent?"  John interrupted.

    "No,"  Matt shook his head,  "He dealt with them in Australia.  There are a lot of them on the outback.  There's hardly anyone living around there, so every once in a while, they'll descend on some tiny town they come upon.  Then some witch or wizard reports it and my dad or someone else from his office would have to go clear them out."

    "That would be a horrible job,"  John said quietly.

    "He hated it,"  Matt replied,  "He'd come home all shaky and depressed and Mum would feed him loads of chocolate.  Then they'd go talk by themselves.  He refused to tell me and Amy what he hears when he comes across dementors, though.  Amy asked loads of times, but he never told."

    "My dad won't tell me what he hears either,"  Albus said,  "It's got to be awful."

    "Neither of my parents have ever seen dementors,"  John said,  "I think my parents lead relatively normal lives compared to yours."

    "No one in my family leads a normal life,"  Albus laughed.

    "Mine either,"  Matt agreed.

    "Well, hopefully your dad will catch Washburn and Willinson and then you can have a somewhat normal life, Albus,"  John said.

    "Maybe,"  Albus shrugged. 

    "As for me, I like a little excitement in life,"  John grinned.

    "You can have all of mine,"  Albus laughed.

    "Mine, too,"  Matt smirked.

    "Nah,"  John shook his head,  "I'll make my own."


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!

Chapter 17: The Anamatek
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    In all the excitement of the possible sighting of Washburn in Hogsmeade, Albus nearly forgot about talking to Rose that evening.  He was sitting in the common room trying to read his Defense Against the Dark Arts book when John prodded him.

    "What?"  Albus looked up at John.

    "Linda just went to Quidditch practice,"  John gestured to the portrait hole, which just closed behind someone,  "We can talk to Rose now."

    Albus nodded and closed his book.  He had to admit that he was a bit nervous about telling Rose that Linda was a vampire.  He had a feeling she wouldn't take it well.  They were going to have to break this to her very nicely.

    It wasn't that Albus was worried that Rose would be upset that Linda was a vampire.  Albus knew that wouldn't bother her in the slightest.  It was the fact that Albus was the one who figured it out that he was worried about.  Albus fully expected Rose to deny that Linda was a vampire for the sole reason that she hadn't figured it out herself.

    "I guess we'd better,"  Albus said as he got up.  He glanced around the common room and his eyes rested on the table Rose and Amanda were sitting at.

    Albus walked over to her table with Matt, John, and Kaden following.  The two girls looked to be working on homework.

    "Rose,"  Albus sat down next to her,  "We need to talk to you about something."

    Rose put down her quill and looked up.  "Is it about Washburn?  If you're worried about him coming back, don't be.  He can't get into the castle."

    "It's not about him,"  Albus sighed, although he had a feeling Washburn could get into the castle if he wanted.

    "Then what?"  Rose said shortly.

    "It's about Linda-" 

    "Then I don't want to hear it,"  Rose interrupted.

    "Rose, it's important,"  Albus insisted,  "Just come talk to us."

    "No,"  Rose said a bit louder,  "I know you lot don't like her, but I do.  And I don't need you telling me who I can and can't be friends with."

    "That's not what we're going to tell you,"  Albus groaned,  "There's just something about her you should know."

    "Just talk to them, Rose,"  Amanda said,  "To be honest, I'm sick of you ignoring them."

    Rose looked a bit taken aback.  "All right, fine."  She shoved her books into her bag a bit harder than necessary and stood up.

    Albus said nothing but lead everyone out of the common room.  Nobody said a word until they were in the Marauder's Den.  Rose sat in one of the chairs and folded her arms across her chest. 

    "What?"  she asked,  "What do you possibly have to tell me?"

    Albus glanced at Matt, who nodded.  Albus took a deep breath.  "Linda is a vampire,"  he said quietly.

    Rose's mouth fell open and then she burst out laughing.  "Are you bloody insane?  How in the name of Merlin did you possibly come up with that stupid idea?"

    Albus groaned.  "It's not a stupid idea.  It's true.  And Matt told us."

    Rose rolled her eyes and glared at Matt.  "Of course.  You're the one who hates Linda the most."

    "Rose, it's true!"  Matt insisted,  "Do you honestly think that I would just randomly claim someone was a vampire?  For all the differences between vampires and werewolves, they both get discriminated against."

    "Oh, I don't know.  Maybe because you want me to stop being friends with her?"  Rose shouted.

    "Well, that would be stupid of me because I know you wouldn't stop being friends with her because of that,"  Matt said quietly,  "After all, you're friends with me.  Or at least you used to be."

    "I still am,"  Rose whispered.

    Albus smiled to himself.  That was promising.  Maybe their friendship wasn't totally destroyed. 

    "But don't you lot think that if Linda was a vampire, I would have figured it out?"  Rose asked,  "I mean, I was the only one to figure out that Matt's a werewolf."

    "How much do you know about vampires, Rose?"  Albus asked.

    "Er, not much, I guess,"  Rose said sheepishly,  "But still, how do you know?"

    Albus opened his bag and pulled out his Defense book.  He tossed it at Rose.  "Read the bit about vampires."

    Rose caught the book and opened it up.  She began to read it with Amanda reading over her shoulder.  A few minutes later, Rose set the book down.  Her face was pale.

    "You're right,"  she whispered and then turned to Matt,  "Is that why you don't like her?"

    "Sort of,"  Matt shrugged,  "It's not the fact that she's a vampire.  It's the fact that she knows I'm a werewolf."

    "Oh,"  Rose nodded,  "And she's from Australia and Killigan doesn't like werewolves.  I get it.  But, wait, how come Killigan lets Linda go to school but he wouldn't let you?"

    "No idea,"   Matt sighed,  "It's a mystery."

    The room descended into an awkward silence and Albus looked at all of his friends.  Rose still looked a little shocked and Amanda did as well. 

    "So,"  Albus began,  "Are you going to keep ignoring us, Rose?"

    "Are you going to let Linda come in here?"  Rose asked.

    "No way,"  Albus, Matt, John, and Kaden said at once.

    Rose sighed.  "Fine.  I've missed you lot, but I am still going to spend time with Linda.  I guess I'll just split my time, then."

    Albus grinned.  "Good.  But next Hogsmeade trip, you're coming with us."

                        ******

    Over the next couple of weeks, Rose and Amanda began spending more and more time with Albus and the other boys.  Albus was thrilled about it, especially since after a few days passed, it was like Rose and Matt hadn't rowed at all.  Nobody ever brought up the topic of Linda, though.  Rose and Amanda both spent time with Linda, usually in the library, but Albus didn't particularly mind.  He kind of liked having time to spend just with Matt, John, and Kaden.

    John and Kaden found it increasingly difficult to pull pranks due to the fact that Hogwarts was being patrolled by more Aurors since the Washburn sighting.  Teachers, prefects, and the head boy and girl were also patrolling more often than they used to.  Albus was secretly happy about this since he had an increasing fear of Washburn breaking into his dormitory to steal the Invisibility Cloak.  John and Kaden, on the other hand, came back to the common room ranting about how they couldn't pull off some prank or the other due to an Auror or prefect finding them.  Matt didn't seem to have an opinion on the subject and Albus suspected he would be happy so long as Killigan stayed away from him.

    The next Quidditch match was in the beginning of December, and although that was still a month away, Wood increased practice to three days a week instead of two.  Wood was especially tough on James since the next match would be between Hogwarts and Australia.  Wood was determined to beat Australia and that meant James would have to try and fly faster than Linda.  Teddy was working with him one on one during all the practices.

    The next junior dueling tournament was coming up as well and Albus was determined to actually duel during this one.  He didn't care if both his legs were broken, he would still go.

    Between his various practices and classes, Albus didn't have much time for anything else.  All his teachers were increasing the work load, especially Balladanis.  He started packing more and more into each lesson and had begun assigning weekly essays.  And since all the lessons were practical, Albus had to read the book to do the essays.  There were no notes from class to use.

    Albus and the rest of the students no longer bothered taking their books and parchment out at the beginning of class.  In fact, the majority of Albus's class didn't even bother sitting down.  Albus wondered why Balladanis even bothered to put the desks back at the end of class, since he had yet to hear of any of the years having an actual lecture in that class.

    Due to this, Albus was completely shocked when Balladanis told the class to sit down at the beginning of Defense in the beginning of November.  Albus turned to Matt and John, who looked equally surprised.  Balladanis, on the other hand, was acting like this was perfectly normal.

    Albus sat down in between Matt and John amongst the whispering of the rest of the class.

    Balladanis stood in front of his desk and looked out at the students.  There was a large trunk in front of him which reminded Albus of the first day of class.  But why would Balladanis bring a Boggart back to class?  Matt told Albus that Balladanis wasn't even using Boggarts in his help sessions anymore.

    "Today's lesson will be part lecture,"  Balladanis announced,  "The reason for this being that the particular creature we are studying today is not in your text book."

    The class erupted in more whispering and Albus distinctly heard Rose gasp.

    "Settle down,"  Balladanis said,  "The creature is not in your book because it is extremely rare and most wizards will go their entire lives without ever encountering one.  Because of this, it is not normally in a third year curriculum.  The creature is usually studied in advanced N.E.W.T. Defense Against the Dark Arts only.  I however, believe this creature is extremely beneficial to third year defense and am adding it in, despite the fact that it is not in your book."

    Albus was on the edge of his seat now.  He was staring directly at the trunk in front of Balladanis, where the creature probably resided.  It couldn't be that dangerous, could it?  Otherwise, Balladanis wouldn't have brought one.  Although, there wasn't much that Balladanis could do that would actually surprise Albus.  He was a very odd teacher.

    "The creature I am talking about is an anamatek,"  Balladanis said as he began pacing back and forth in front of the trunk.  He stopped in front of Rose, Amanda, and Linda's table.  "Does anyone know what an anamatek is?"

    Albus had never heard of one in his life.  Rose didn't put her hand up either.  The only hand in the class that went up was Linda's.

    "Yes, Miss Morales,"  Balladanis said.
   
    "An anamatek is a shape-shifter, but it is different from a boggart.  anamateks are forced to change into whatever form the wizard controlling them wants,"  Linda explained.

    "Correct,"  Balladanis began pacing again,  "anamateks are very strong and powerful creatures.  It takes a very strong and powerful witch or wizard to control them.  Not many are able to do so.  But if a witch or wizard can, the anamatek  must transform into whatever form the wizard wants. 

    "This of course is very dangerous if a dark wizard gets hold of one.  Can you imagine if Voldemort had been able to control a few anamateks and had them transform into chimaeras?"

    The entire room was silent.  Albus shivered at the thought of an army of chimaeras, especially in the hands of Voldemort.

    "Luckily for us, anamateks are extremely rare and the majority of wizards can't control one, let alone an army of them.  The few anamateks that exist in the world reside in warm climates and they prefer to stay hidden amongst trees or bushes.  Anamateks are rarely sighted in Britain and I would guess that there aren't more than four or five in the entire country.  They are a bit more common in warmer climates such as the Southwestern United States, Latin America, South America, Africa, and Australia.  However, you could search all of these countries extensively and never come across one.

    "Anamateks do not like wizards because they do not want to be controlled.  Not only can wizards control what the anamatek turns into, they can also make it do whatever they please.  When they are not controlled, they can turn into whatever they like and usually choose a particularly dangerous creature in order to dissuade wizards from capturing them.  They cannot, however, turn into humans, for the most part.  There are exceptions to that.  Certain powerful witches and wizards have had success turning them into humans, but they do not act like humans.  No anamatek can turn into a human on its own."

    Balladanis paused and stopped next to his trunk.  "I have captured an anamatek.  I captured it many years ago and it has been under my control ever since.  Having an anamatek at my disposal provides a great learning opportunity for all of you.  Can anyone guess why?"

    Rose's hand shot into the air.  "Yes, Miss Weasley,"  Balladanis said.

    "You can have it turn into whatever we're studying and we can learn to fight it instead of having to fight a real one.  That way, you can control what its doing and none of us will get hurt,"  Rose answered.
   
    "Correct,"  Balladanis said,  "Before class, I performed a spell which caused the anamatek to turn into a kappa, which I hope you are all aware that we are currently studying.  When I say so, get up and form a line in front of my desk.  You will be performing the spell you learned last class to try and repel the anamatek, which is going to look and act exactly like a kappa."

    "Sir?"  Malfoy raised his hand.

    "Yes, Mr. Malfoy?"

    "Sir, are you going to tell us the spell to bring an anamatek under a wizard's control?"

    "No, Mr. Malfoy, I am not,"  Balladanis said darkly,  "First, it's not just one spell, it is a set of extremely difficult spells, beyond N.E.W.T. level.  Second, there is much debate as to whether the spells are Dark Magic or not.  Third, it would be pointless since none of you would have the capability of performing such magic and will likely never have the opportunity to perform it.  Fourth, the headmaster would not be happy if I did so.  I will also not sign any notes to admit any of you into the Restricted Section of the library to research the spells."

    Malfoy scowled at this and Albus stifled a laugh.  It didn't surprise him in the slightest that Malfoy would want to learn the spells.  Albus was extremely curious as to how Balladanis managed to perform them, and how he had come across the anamatek in the first place.  Albus doubted that he would tell that story, though.  Balladanis never talked about his past.   

    "Everyone get up!"  Balladanis shouted.

    Albus hastily stood up and watched as the rest of the class did the same.  Rose and Linda shoved their notes into their bags, but nobody else had bothered to take notes.  The thought hadn't even crossed Albus's mind.  He was so used to not taking notes in Defense.
   
    Balladanis moved the tables to the sides of the room and Albus joined the queue forming in front of the trunk.  He stood on his tip-toes and peered around John to try and catch a glimpse of the anamatek when it emerged from the trunk.

    Balladanis pointed his wand at the trunk and it shot open.  Nothing happened for a few seconds and then a slimy, scaly kappa crept up over the top of the trunk and climbed out.  It stretched out its webbed hand and started towards Janie Creevey, who was first in the line.

    Janie held up her wand and muttered the spell.  The kappa was shot back towards the trunk and Balladanis nodded at Janie.  She stepped to the side and Karina walked forward as the kappa recovered.

    The queue moved forward and Albus was able to get a good look at the anamatek.  It looked exactly like a kappa.  If Albus didn't know any better, he would say that it was a real kappa.

    Balladanis made everyone perform the spell until they could do it successfully.  Rose and Linda got it on their first tries, but Amanda had a bit of trouble.  Albus had a feeling she would be working with the anamatek in her next extra help session.  John managed to have success on his first try and he stepped to the side and Albus stepped forward.

    The anamatek crept towards Albus, who held up his wand.  Kappas didn't really scare him in the slightest, yet his heart had begun pounding faster.  The anamatek is what scared him a bit.  The thing had the potential to change into something dangerous like a chimaera at any moment.  How much control did Balladanis really have over the thing?

    Albus shouted the spell and the anamatek was thrown back against the trunk and landed with a loud crack.

    "Very good, Mr. Potter,"  Balladanis smiled ever so slightly,  "A few of the rest of you might wish to take note of the force Mr. Potter put behind his spell.  A determined kappa would have been able to recover very quickly from most of your spells.  Mr. Potter, on the other hand, would have been able to escape if this had been a real kappa."

    Matt's turn was next and Albus stood next to John to watch him.  The kappa was only slightly deterred by Matt's first spell and he had to try about three times to get it to work.

    "Now I know what Balladanis is going to have me do tomorrow night,"  Matt whispered to Albus as they watched Malfoy take on the kappa.

    Malfoy sent the kappa slamming into the trunk with almost as much force as Albus had, earning him a slight smile from Balladanis as well.

    "Where in the name of Merlin did Balladanis get that thing?"  John exclaimed after they'd left the classroom.

    "No idea,"  Albus shrugged,  "But I wish he'd tell us."

    "He won't,"  Matt sighed.

    "I know, but I still want to know,"  John said,  "And what did he do for a living before this?  I mean, I don't think teachers normally come upon anamateks."

    "Probably not.  I don't think my dad has ever seen one and he's an Auror,"  Albus pointed out.

    "They are extremely rare in Britain,"  Rose ran up next to Albus,  "I bet Balladanis lived in some other country before he started teaching here.  Africa or Australia or one of those places where anamateks are more common."

    "Yeah, but they're not exactly common in those places either.  My dad hasn't seen one either and he worked with magical creatures in Australia for years,"  Matt said.

    "I'm surprised Kendrick lets him have that thing in the school,"  Amanda said.

    "I doubt Kendrick knows about it,"  Albus replied.

    If Kendrick hadn't known about the anamatek before, he most likely did by the end of the day.  The entire school was buzzing about it.  Apparently Balladanis had not only shown it to his third years, but second and fourth through seventh years as well.  The common room was filled with chatter about it after dinner, as well as extremely jealous first years.  Lily, Hugo, and Ashtyn whined about not being able to see it.

    "Are you ready for Quidditch practice, Al?"  Georgia said to Albus as Lily and her friends left.

    Albus looked up.  Georgia's face was white and she looked more than a little scared.  Albus stared at her curiously.

    "Yeah.  But, Georgia, are you ok?"

    "I'll be fine,"  she assured him,  "Balladanis had that anamatek thing turn into a dementor during class right before dinner.  We spent the entire class trying to cast Patronuses against it.  Let me tell you, that anamatek was just like a dementor."  Georgia closed her eyes and shuddered.

    "You should have some chocolate,"  Albus told her and pulled a chocolate frog out of his bag.  He tossed it to her.

    Georgia caught it and ripped it open.  "Thanks.  Let's go find James."

    Albus said goodbye to his friends and went to go find James with Georgia.  He felt a bit unsettled that Balladanis had used the anamatek as a dementor.  Having it turn into a kappa was one thing, but a dementor?  They were really dangerous.  As far as Albus knew, the Patronus charm wasn't actually practiced on dementors until Auror training.  Part of Albus hoped that Kendrick would ban the anamatek from the school before he started learning the Patronus charm in seventh year.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 18: Advanced Lessons
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   Much to Albus's surprise, the anamatek was still sitting in Balladanis's classroom the next class.  Albus really thought Kendrick would have made him get rid of it.  The class continued practicing on it and after a few sessions with it, Albus got used to the fact that it was an anamatek.  As long as it didn't turn into a dementor or a chimaera or something else really dangerous, Albus didn't mind.

    Practicing on the anamatek was a lot like practicing dueling anyway.  That's how Albus saw it.  Defense classes were beginning to be a lot like dueling practice.  Albus was very happy about this, especially since the next dueling tournament was quickly upon him.  It took place on a Saturday in the middle of November, the day before the second inter-school dueling tournament.

    "Nice to see that you actually showed up today, Potter,"  Malfoy smirked as Albus and Amanda sat down at their team table.

    "Shut it, Malfoy,"  Lynley Anderson said as she walked past Albus,  "Or you won't duel in the next tournament."

    Malfoy scowled and Albus smiled to himself.  He sat down and looked to the front of the room.  The usual dueling rings were set up and Neville was standing in front of one.  Balladanis was standing in front of the other one.  He must have been chosen to be the other professor in charge of the dueling club since Albus's dad left.

    The tournament began a short while later and Albus sat back to wait for his turn.  As much as Albus loved dueling, he couldn't stand having to wait while everyone else dueled.  He couldn't wait until he was a fifth year and could try out for the regular dueling club.  The teams were much smaller for that and Albus would get to duel more during each tournament.  If he made the team, that is.

    "Albus Potter and Kaden Dursley,"  Balladanis announced.

    Albus looked up and stared at him.  Kaden?  Albus turned to gape at Amanda, who shrugged.  Albus was going to have to duel Kaden?  Albus had yet to duel any of his cousins.

    Albus got up and walked towards the ring.  Kaden was already there when he arrived.  Albus and Kaden bowed to each other and then raised their wands.

    "Begin,"  Balladanis said.

    "Expelliarmus!"  Albus shouted and pointed his wand at Kaden while silently apologizing to him.  He really didn't want to duel Kaden.

    Kaden's wand flew from his hand and Albus caught it.  Albus looked up at Balladanis.  Balladanis was looking at Albus with his piercing stare and Albus quickly looked away. 

    "Point to Potter,"  Balladanis said without taking his eyes off Albus.

    Albus handed Kaden back his wand and went back to his team's table.  Lynley and Amanda congratulated him and he sat back down.

    "I can't believe they had you duel Kaden,"  Amanda giggled.

    Albus shrugged.  It hadn't been much of a fight.  Albus rarely had trouble dueling anyone during the tournaments.  The only person who Albus ever had difficulty dueling was Malfoy, and he was on Albus's team.

    Albus wasn't really thinking much about having to duel Kaden.  He couldn't get the look Balladanis had given him out of his mind.  It was sort of like the looks he'd received in class, only more intimidating.  There was a hint of curiosity mixed in with something Albus couldn't describe.  It was almost like he was trying to read Albus's mind, but Albus had had enough experience with that to know that Balladanis wasn't doing it.

    Malfoy was up next and he dueled James.  It was a very fast-paced and exciting duel.  In the end, Malfoy managed to disarm James.  Albus had no idea how he felt about this.  Part of him was happy that his team got the point, but on the other hand, the thought of his brother losing to Malfoy was rather unsettling.

    James had a mutinous look on his face as he grabbed his wand out of Malfoy's outstretched hand.  He stormed back to his table without a second glance at Malfoy or Balladanis. 

    Albus looked back to Balladanis and saw him giving Malfoy the same odd look he had given Albus earlier.  Albus had no idea what to make of that.  Balldanis hadn't looked at anyone else like that.

    The next person Albus dueled was a bit more challenging, but Albus still disarmed her within three minutes.  She was a fourth year Ravenclaw who had the reputation of being the smartest of all the fourth years.

    Balladanis gave Albus the same strange look as he awarded him the point.  Albus quickly gave the girl back her wand and went back to his table.

    Albus's team narrowly won the tournament.  Lynley congratulated everyone and said the entire team had improved greatly since the last tournament.  Albus and Amanda got up and joined the throngs of people leaving the room.  They headed up to the common room, where they had agreed to meet their friends after the tournament.

    "Good job,"  John said as he sat down next to Albus.

    "Thanks,"  Albus smiled.

    "Yeah,"  Kaden agreed,  "I mean, you beat me pretty quickly."

    "Albus is the best dueler out of all of us,"  Matt said as he joined them.

    "Balladanis was certainly interested,"  John said,  "What was up with him looking at you like that?"

    "I dunno,"  Albus said,  "It was really odd."

    "He was looking at Malfoy like that, too,"  Rose said as she and Linda sat down.

    "I'll bet it's because you're both such good duelers,"  Matt replied,  "I hate to admit it, but Malfoy is really good."

    "Did you see James's face after Malfoy beat him?"  John laughed,  "That was pretty funny."

    "I don't think James would agree with you,"  Albus smirked.

    "Well, we should probably do some homework,"  Rose said.

    Everyone groaned but nobody disagreed.  Albus went up to his dormitory and returned with his books.  He cracked open his Herbology book and started an essay that was due on Tuesday.

    "You're from Australia, aren't you?"

    Albus's head snapped up.  Linda was staring curiously at Matt, whose eyes were darting about.  Everyone else was now staring at Linda.  Albus didn't think he had ever heard her talk outside of class.

    "Er, why do you think that?"  Matt asked nervously.

    "The other day after Defense, you mentioned that your dad hadn't seen an anamatek even though he worked down there,"  Linda explained.

    "Oh, yeah,"  Matt muttered,  "I did used to live there."

    "Why did you move?"  Linda asked.

    "My dad's job,"  Matt said.

    "Oh,"  Linda replied,  "Well, if you hadn't, we could have gone to school together."

    Matt mumbled something under his breath.

    "What?"  Linda asked.

    "Nothing,"  Matt said and closed his book,  "I'm, er, going to the library."

    Albus closed his own book and got up to follow Matt, but he had already left. Albus sighed and looked at Rose, who was slowly shaking her head.  That was exactly why Matt had wanted to stay away from Linda and Albus couldn't blame him.

    The rest of the afternoon was spent in silence in the common room.  Albus managed to finish his Herbology essay just before dinner.  He had no idea if Matt actually went to the library, but found him in the Great Hall at dinner.  He made no mention of what Linda had said, so Albus didn't bring it up.  Albus only had enough time to eat a quick dinner anyway, because he had Quidditch practice afterwards.

                        ******

    "All right, that's enough for today,"  Balladanis announced as the bell rang the following Tuesday,  "Leave your essays on my desk on your way out."

    Albus stowed his wand in his robes and rummaged around in his bag for his essay.  For some reason, Balladanis always collected essays at the end of class.  Albus had no idea why.  All the other teachers collected them at the beginning, presumably to prevent students from frantically scribbling their essay during class the day it was due.  That would be impossible in Balladanis's class, though.

    "Potter, Malfoy!"  Balldanis shouted,  "Please see me before you leave."

    "Looks like you're getting extra help, too,"  John laughed,  "Welcome to the club."

    "Somehow I doubt that,"  Matt replied,  "Albus was the only one to cause that anamatek to fly halfway across the room today.  Well, besides Malfoy."

    Albus shrugged and muttered that he'd meet them in Herbology.  His heart started beating a bit faster as he placed his essay on the pile and stood in front of Balladanis's desk.  Why did he want to see him anyway?  Could Balladanis really think he needed extra help?

    Malfoy tossed his essay onto the pile and then leaned up on Balladanis's desk as he watched the rest of the class leave.

    "Stand up, Malfoy,"  Balladanis said as he shut the anamatek's trunk and walked over to his desk.

    Malfoy jumped and quickly stood up straight.  Albus stifled a laugh and turned to Balladanis, whose face was expressionless.

    Balladanis walked over to the door, shut it, and returned to his desk.  "I couldn't help but notice that both of you won both of your duels last Saturday."

    "I always win both of my duels,"  Malfoy said pompously.
   
    "I thought so,"  Balladanis replied, ignoring Malfoy's less than respectful tone,  "I'm assuming the same goes for you, Mr. Potter?"

    "Yes, sir,"  Albus nodded.

    "Have either of you ever been defeated in a duel before?"

    "I've disarmed Potter during practice,"  Malfoy smirked.

    "And I've disarmed you, Malfoy,"  Albus rolled his eyes.

    "Any other times?"  Balladanis asked.

    Albus opened his mouth, but Balladanis interrupted him.

    "During the dueling tournaments, Mr. Potter.  I have heard about your altercation with Jameson Washburn, Jarret Willinson, and his son."

    "No other times,"  Albus replied.

    "I could have defeated Washburn,"  Malfoy announced.

    "I sincerely doubt that,"  Balladanis said, much to Albus's delight,  "But that is not what I have asked to discuss with you.  I have noticed, both in class and during dueling tournaments, that the two of you seem to possess exceptional skill when it comes to dueling.  You're dueling skill appears to be much higher than the third or even fourth year level.

    "Therefore, I would like to train both of you privately.  There is only so much you can learn in a large group with those whose skill is less than your own.  I will be able to teach you spells you wouldn't normally learn until fourth or fifth year.  Are either of you interested?"

    "Of course,"  Malfoy said immediately.

    Albus couldn't believe it.  His family and friends always told him he was an excellent dueler, but somehow having Balladanis tell him meant more.  Balladanis was incredibly hard to please, and not only did he think Albus was a great dueler, he was offering to teach him more advanced spells.  That was incredibly exciting.  Albus would be able to learn spells that James hadn't learned yet.

    "Yes, I'd like that,"  Albus grinned, thinking it would be brilliant to beat James in a duel.

    "I shall see you on Friday at eight, then,"  Balladanis told them,  "After I am done tutoring the less skillful in your class."  He pulled out two pieces of paper and scribbled onto both of them.  "Give these to your teachers, as you are quite late to class by now.  Get out of here."

    Albus took his note and left the room feeling that Friday was an incredibly long time away.  Private dueling lessons.  He couldn't wait.  Sure, they'd be with Malfoy, but Albus was willing to put up with him in order to learn advanced spells.

    Albus hurried to Herbology, but the class was already well into that day's lesson by the time he arrived.  He handed his note to Neville and then sat down next to Matt, who was shoveling dirt into an empty pot.

    "What did Balladanis want?"  Matt asked.

    "You're never going to believe this,"  Albus said as he pulled on his gloves,  "Balladanis wants to give Malfoy and me private dueling lessons.  He wants to teach us advanced spells that we wouldn't normally learn until fourth or fifth year."

    "You're kidding,"  Matt said in awe.

    "Nope,"  Albus grinned.

    "But why?"  Matt asked,  "Did he say why he's teaching you?"

    "Just because he thinks we're good duelers, I guess."

    "Well, you are a good dueler, Albus,"  Matt agreed,  "When do you start?"

    "Friday at eight.  Right after your help session, actually,"  Albus answered.

    "I'm not going to the help session this week,"  Matt lowered his voice,  "And you'll be having loads more fun than me."

    "Oh, right,"  Albus whispered, remembering that the full moon was Friday night,  "I'll let you know how it goes, though."

    After Herbology was over, Albus told John, Rose, and Amanda about Balladanis's dueling lessons and then had to repeat it to Kaden when they ate lunch.  All of them were excited about it, especially Kaden.  Albus suspected he was a bit jealous, too.

    The remainder of the week seemed to creep by at a flobberworm's pace.  It wasn't like Albus didn't have anything to keep him busy, but he just couldn't think about anything other than the dueling lesson. 
   
    "Albus, you've got to stop tapping your quill,"  Rose said shortly,  "It's driving me mad."

    Albus and his friends were in the Marauder's Den.  It was Friday evening and dinner had just ended.  Albus was trying to concentrate on homework, but it wasn't working.  Rose and Amanda were both reading.  Linda had mysteriously disappeared after her last class and Rose and Amanda had been with Albus and the other boys ever since.  John and Kaden were discussing a prank that involved charming gobstones to follow the Aurors and prefects around as they patrolled the corridors.  Rose had already advised against this, but John and Kaden didn't listen.  Matt was laying on the couch with his eyes closed, but he wasn't asleep.  John and Kaden kept asking him things and he'd respond with very short answers.

    "Sorry,"  Albus muttered and dropped his quill.

    "So where's Linda tonight?"  John asked.

    "I dunno,"  Rose shrugged,  "She didn't look that great today, though."

    "Then she's probably sucking some animal's blood in the forest,"  Matt announced.

    "Well, there's a lovely picture,"  Kaden said loudly,  "Linda biting the neck of some helpless animal and sucking the life out of it.  Think of all the blood.  It must get all over her face and neck.  That's pretty gross."

    "Thanks for that image, Kaden,"  Matt replied.

    "It's better than her sucking human blood,"  Rose pointed out.

    "That's true,"  Kaden agreed,  "So, should we fill the gobstones with stink sap before we charm them?"

    "Of course!"  John grinned.

    "And that's my cue to leave,"  Matt sat up slowly and rubbed his head,  "I'll see you lot tomorrow, probably."

    "Yeah, we'll see you in the morning,"  Albus assured him.

    "Have fun,"  Kaden said.

    "Fun,"  Matt muttered on his way out,  "That's a word I've never used to describe it."

    "We'd better go, too,"  Amanda said.

    "Yeah, time to go sit through an extra Defense lesson,"  John groaned as he stood up.

    "I thought you didn't mind them,"  Rose said.

    "I don't.  They just get old after a while,"  John sighed as he and Amanda left.

    Albus worked on his homework for the next hour, mainly because there wasn't anything else to do.  Rose was working on her own homework and didn't seem to want to do anything else.  The hour dragged by at an incredibly slow rate, but eventually Albus packed up his books, said goodbye to Rose, and left for Balladanis's room.

    The door was half-way open when Albus arrived.  He took a deep breath, suddenly overcome by nerves, and knocked lightly.  There was no answer.  Albus pushed the door open and walked very slowly inside. 

    The room was dim.  The only light stemmed from a few torches lit on the walls.  It was obviously the same classroom he had Defense class in, but it looked completely different in the evening. 

    There wasn't anyone left in the room from the extra Defense lesson earlier.  Albus had passed John and Amanda in the corridor.  They both wished him good luck. 

    Albus looked around the room and saw the trunk that contained the anamatek sitting unnaturally still in front of Balladanis's desk.  Balladanis himself was also sitting unnaturally still at his desk.  He stared directly into Albus's eyes and Albus, remembering the Occlumency lessons he received two years prior, quickly averted his own eyes and began to close his mind.

    "You know Occlumency, Mr. Potter,"  Balladanis said not as a question, but as a statement.

    Albus nodded as Balladanis slowly rose from his chair and walked around to the front of his desk.  Albus took a step back and nearly collided with the front table.  He swallowed nervously and kept his eyes off of Balladanis. 

    Albus had always been a little wary of Balladanis, but now he had to admit that he was a bit scared.  The only way for Balladanis to know that Albus had been practicing Occlumency was if he had actually been performing Legilimency.  Albus had enough experience with teachers performing Legilimency on him and he didn't want to do go through that again.  The only thing Albus was thinking about then was how he could leave the room without Balladanis getting suspicious.  He wished he had a Puking Pastille or something in his pocket.

    "Who taught you?"  Balladanis asked.

    "My Aunt Hermione,"  Albus muttered.  He wondered where Malfoy was.  That had to be the first and probably only time he would ever wish Malfoy to be present.

    "Hermione Weasley,"  Balladanis mused,  "Yes, she is one of the most accomplished Occlumenses of her generation."

    Albus's head snapped towards the door as he heard footsteps enter the room.  He breathed a sigh of relief and had to stifle a laugh at the fact that he was happy Malfoy was in the room.

    "Mr. Malfoy, you're late,"  Balladanis said.

    "Sorry, sir,"  Malfoy muttered.

    "Sit down,"  Balladanis pointed to the front table.

    Albus turned around and sat as quickly as he could in one of the chairs.  Malfoy took his time in sauntering over and sat in the chair next to him.

    "Mr. Potter.  Mr. Malfoy,"  Balladanis began to pace in front of them,  "By now I am sure you are both aware of my stance on the Dark Arts.  If not, I suggest paying a bit more attention in class.

    "You may also be aware of my devotion to helping the students who are struggling in my classes.  I hold extra help sessions every single day after dinner.  However, I also wish to help those who are truly talented to reach their true potential.

    "You two are the most talented duelers in the third year,"  Balladanis paused and looked at each of them in the eye,  "I would argue that you are the most talented duelers amongst the students below fifth year.  I would even wager that you could give a couple of the sixth years a run for their Galleons."

    Albus stared at Balladanis.  He didn't think he was that good of a dueler.  He knew he could beat most of the students in the Junior's Dueling Club, but sixth years?  They were doing N.E.W.T. Defense classes.  They knew spells Albus had never even heard of.

    "I wouldn't go picking fights with sixth years, though,"  Balladanis continued,  "They know spells you do not.  What I mean is that you have the talent to learn spells that the sixth years are learning.  The spells I am currently teaching in class are incredibly simple for the two of you.  What I hope to do is teach you spells that are more at your level.  Now, stand up, the both of you.  Let's see what you can do."

    Albus stood up and pulled out his wand.  He had no idea what Balladanis wanted him to do.  Would they be practicing on the anamatek?

    Balladanis waved his wand and the desks moved to the sides of the classroom.  Another wave and the light increased.  "I would like you to duel each other.  Use any spell that you have learned in school.  Do not use any spells you have picked up elsewhere.  Madam Pomfrey would not be happy with me if I sent the two of you to the Hospital Wing with missing limbs.  Keep going until I say to stop."

    Albus couldn't believe it.  He was getting to duel Malfoy!  He had been wanting to do that ever since Kendrick had first announced the dueling club.  The little practice duels they did weren't really what he had wanted to do, though.

    Albus raised his wand and stared at Malfoy.  Malfoy was smirking and pointing his wand at Albus.  The two of them bowed and Albus took a step forward.

    "Petrificus Totalus!"  Albus shouted and pointed his wand at Malfoy.

    Malfoy easily dodged the spell and sent a tickling hex at Albus.  Albus threw up a shield and then tried to disarm Malfoy.  Malfoy jumped onto a nearby desk and the spell collided with a chair which collapsed.

    The duel continued in this matter for quite some time.  Albus tried as hard as he could to actually hit Malfoy with a spell, but Malfoy kept dodging and blocking them.  It was driving Albus mad.  He kept thinking of everything Malfoy had done to him in the past two years and how much he wanted to beat him in this duel.  If he beat Malfoy, he'd have something on him for the rest of the year.

    "Expelliarmus!"  Albus shouted for what must have been the tenth time.

    Malfoy dodged it and sent the same spell at Albus.  Albus jumped and the spell hit Balladanis's desk. 

    "That's enough!"  Balladanis shouted.

    Albus lowered his wand and glared at Malfoy.  Albus shoved his wand back in his robes and looked around to find a chair that remained intact.  He found one and collapsed into it.  That duel had been exhausting.

    "Well, that was certainly interesting,"  Balladanis gave a rare smile,  "Not a scratch on either of you but my classroom has been destroyed.  It seems that I was not premature in my judgment of your dueling skills.

    "Have either of you thought about what you want to do when you get out of Hogwarts?"

    Albus stared curiously at Balladanis.  That was an abrupt change in conversation.  Albus had never thought about life beyond Hogwarts.  He was only thirteen.  He never thought there was any need to think about it yet.

    "Er,"  Albus began,  "Not really.  I mean, I always thought being an Auror would be interesting."

    "Indeed it would,"  Balladanis said,  "Your father certainly is happy with it.  How about you, Mr. Malfoy?"

    "No idea,"  Malfoy replied.

    "There are many things you can do with dueling skills such as yours.  I would suggest looking into it,"  Balladanis said.

    "But sir, we're only third years,"  Malfoy scoffed,  "Isn't it a bit early?"

    "I already knew what I wanted to do at thirteen,"  Balladanis said quietly.

    "And what is that exactly?"  Malfoy asked.

    Balladanis gave Malfoy the strangest look Albus had ever seen.  It was a combination of sadness, anger, and pride. 

    "I do not wish to discuss that,"  Balladanis said,  "Perhaps you will find out someday.  For now, I think it best we call it a night.  If you wish to learn advanced spells, return at this time next week and we will begin."

    "I'll be here, sir,"  Malfoy said as he walked out the door.

    "Thanks, Professor,"  Albus said as he followed.

    "Mr. Potter,"  Balladanis said,  "Please tell Mr. Eckerton that it will not do for him to skip his extra help sessions."

    "But sir,"  Albus looked at him incredulously,  "You know what tonight is.  He couldn't possibly have gone."

    "The moon didn't rise until after the session was over.  I do not take excuses."

    Albus sighed to himself as he left.  Balladanis had been teaching him for over two months and he still surprised Albus all the time.  Albus had seen a different side of him that night.  He did truly hate the Dark Arts, that was something Albus did not doubt.  But he had also performed Legilimency on him.  Albus didn't think he could ever trust a teacher that did that.  Not after his experience with Washburn.


A/N:  To answer a common question people have left in reviews, I came up with the anamatek, but based it off of boggarts in the HP series.  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!

Chapter 19: The Unbeatable Seeker
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    "What did Balladanis teach you?" was the first thing Matt asked Albus when he went to see him the following afternoon.

    Albus had given every little detail about the evening to his other friends once he returned to the dormitory afterwards and they were impressed.  John's first reaction had been that perhaps Albus would be able to find out what Balladanis did before he began teaching.

    "He didn't really teach us anything,"  Albus explained to Matt, who looked exhausted but was paying rapt attention.  "I dueled Malfoy."

    "Wow,"  Matt looked impressed,  "How was that?"

    "Neither of us won,"  Albus sighed,  "Balladanis made us stop because we pretty much destroyed his classroom."

    "I wish I had seen it,"  John chimed in,  "Bet the look on Balladanis's face was priceless."

    "He just looked impressed.  He wasn't angry or anything,"  Albus told them,  "Then he asked us what we wanted to do with our lives."

    "Like what kind of job you want to get?"  Matt raised his eyebrows,  "You're only thirteen."

    "Yeah, I thought it was strange,"  Albus shrugged,  "But he said I should think about doing something that would put my dueling skills to use."

    "Like an Auror?"  Matt asked.

    "I don't think so.  I mentioned that and he kind of made it seem like that wouldn't put my dueling skills to use."

    "I can't think of any other job that you'd duel more than that,"  Matt replied.

    "I have no idea what I want to do with my life,"  Kaden announced.

    "Me either,"  John said,  "I say we've got plenty of time to figure it out."

    "I'll say,"  Madam Pomfrey stuck her head in between the curtains,  "And you certainly do not have to figure it out now.  It's time for you lot to leave."

    Albus, John, and Kaden reluctantly left the hospital wing, lamenting the fact that Madam Pomfrey hadn't let them stay very long.  They had no idea why the nurse had shortened visiting time so much, considering that Matt hadn't seemed worse than usual, but they never understood why Madam Pomfrey did most of the things she did.

                        ******

    Albus's week could be easily summed up in two words.  Quidditch and homework.  Normally he would only complain about the latter, but Oliver Wood was like a Muggle drill sergeant when it came to Quidditch.  Since the match was on Saturday, Oliver was insisting on daily practices.  Albus and the other alternates had to be at every practice because according to Oliver, 'you never know when someone will get sick or hexed right before a match.'

    In fact, Oliver even wanted them to practice on Friday night, the night before the match.  Albus wasn't too happy about this since he had his lesson with Balladanis at eight.  That was the same time Quidditch practice let out, so he had to run to the Defense classroom still completely covered in mud from practice.

    He ran into the classroom ten minutes late, heart pounding with worry about what Balladanis was going to say. 

    "Mr. Potter, you're late,"  Balladanis said as Albus entered the room.  He and Malfoy were sitting at the front desk.
   
    "Sorry, sir,"  Albus said as he joined them,  "Quidditch practice."

    "So I gathered,"  Balladanis eyed Albus's muddy robes,  "I was just telling Mr. Malfoy about the responsibilities that come with learning advanced dueling spells."

    Balladanis pulled out his wand and pointed it at Albus.  Albus's robes were clean and dry and he muttered a thank you to the professor.  Malfoy was smirking to himself.

    "The most important responsibility is that you cannot and I repeat, cannot, use the spells I teach you here in the junior dueling tournament.  It would give your team an unfair advantage and you could inadvertently injure your opponent. The spells I teach you are not to be used outside this classroom, unless I instruct you otherwise.

    "You are not to duel your fellow students in the corridors with these spells.  Nor are you to use them against your siblings and cousins,"  his eyes rested on Albus.

    "I also feel the need to warn you that these spells are more exhausting than the ones you have been learning.  They use a lot of magical energy and do not be surprised if you feel as though you have just run a marathon,"  he turned to Albus again,  "Or played in a very long Quidditch match."

    Balladanis stood up and gestured for the boys to do the same.  Once they did, Balladanis moved the desks aside and stood in between where Albus and Malfoy stood.

    "I am going to have you work on your shield charms first-"

    "I already know how to do a shield charm,"  Malfoy announced.

    "I am well aware of that, Mr. Malfoy, and I do ask that you not question my teaching style,"  Balladanis said darkly,  "The shield charms you have been using are relatively weak and fade away after only a few spells are cast against them.

    "With a fair bit of practice and mental concentration, one is able to keep the shield up for long periods of time in order to block multiple spells.  Really skilled duelers can even keep the shield up while casting other spells.  That is quite useful, as you can imagine.  It is also possible to shield a great many people with just one person's shield charm, which is also very useful.  Some shield charms can even protect one against magical creature attacks,"  Balladanis lowered his voice and averted his eyes at this, which Albus thought was odd.

    "It takes a lot of concentration to maintain hold of a shield charm for so long, which is why the charm can be difficult.  I doubt either of you will produce a long term shield charm tonight, so don't be disappointed.  Wands out, both of you, and we'll see how long you can hold the charm, without any spells hitting it."

    Albus held up his wand and muttered the incantation for the shield charm.  He had practiced this charm numerous times before, usually with someone else trying to hex him at the same time.  It was quite easy to just hold it there and even kind of boring.  He and Malfoy just stared at each other and Albus doubted that either of them were going to drop their shields.  It would be like admitting defeat to the other.

    After what must have been at least ten minutes of holding the shield charm, Albus found he was getting tired.  His arm ached from holding his wand up and from throwing so many Quaffles at practice earlier.  Malfoy had the advantage since he didn't have Quidditch practice.  Much to Albus's dismay, he noticed his shield starting to fizzle.  He wasn't going to be able to hold it much longer and Malfoy's still looked strong.

    Balladanis looked at his watch.  "Let the shields go,"  he instructed,  "Wands down."

    Relieved, Albus lowered his weary hand and then sat down in a chair.  Balladanis was right when he said advanced shields were exhausting.

    "Very good,"  Balladanis said,  "Stand up again.  Now I'll see how many spells each of your shields can withstand."

    Albus and Malfoy both put their shields up again and Balladanis sent disarming charms at both of them.  Albus could feel his shield faltering after the first charm and didn't think it would last as long as Malfoy's.
   
    Albus's shield fizzled out after three charms.  Malfoy's dismantled after four.  He had the biggest smirk on his face afterwards, but didn't say anything.  He probably didn't want to gloat in front of Balladanis.  Albus knew he'd hear about it the next time they had a class together, though.

    If only he hadn't had Quidditch practice!  Then Albus would have beaten Malfoy.  Or at least tied with him.

    "That's enough for tonight,"  Balladanis said as he eyed Albus.  Albus had a feeling that he looked absolutely exhausted.

    "Looks like I'm the better dueler,"  Malfoy said once they were out of the room.

    "That's not what it meant,"  Albus muttered,  "We didn't even duel each other.  I could beat you in a real duel."

    "And I could beat both of you,"  a Slytherin Prefect, who was making his rounds, said as he walked by,  "So get to your dormitories."

    Albus had no idea if he could beat the Prefect or not but he didn't want to stick around to lose house points.  Plus, it was a good excuse to stop talking to Malfoy.

                        ******   

    The excitement that filled the Great Hall the next morning reminded Albus yet again of the previous year's Quidditch finals.  Only this wasn't a final.  It was the Hogwarts versus Australia match, the first match Hogwarts was going to play in.

    The Hogwarts team did not sit together at breakfast or lunch.  There was considerable argument at practice the previous night about this.  Oliver Wood, Tyler Pike, and Teddy all wanted the team to sit together in order to squeeze in last minute strategizing, but nobody could agree on which table to sit at. 

    In the end, Teddy sat with the Gryffindor players at the Gryffindor table, Tyler sat with the Ravenclaw players at the Ravenclaw table, and Oliver walked from table to table giving out last minute advice.  Albus thought this worked out fine since Oliver didn't seem to be able to sit still for more than a minute.

    Albus was kind of relieved that nobody on the Hogwarts team came down with Spattergroit or lost a finger in potions class because he didn't really want to play.  He loved Quidditch, but so much was at stake.  He wanted to merely watch the first match that Hogwarts participated in.  Then, if right before the next match, one of the Chasers came down with a cold and Madam Pomfrey forbid them from playing, Albus would gladly take their place.

    The excitement only increased as Albus and his friends walked to the pitch. Rose and Amanda were there, although Linda wasn't.  Albus thought this was only fitting since Hogwarts was playing against Australia in this match.

    “Welcome, everyone!”  Todd Smith's voice boomed over the crowd,  “Hogwarts is playing its first match in the Cup and they are up against Australia!  The Hogwarts team is captained by Oliver Wood with help from Ted Lupin and Tyler Pike!

    “The team is comprised of Georgia Weasley as Keeper; Damien Waverly, Anna Reilly, and Ferris Fielding as Chasers; Andy Kaper and Allie Davis as Beaters; and James Potter as Seeker.

    “The biggest excitement in this match is whether James Potter will be able to beat Australian Seeker Linda Morales, who shocked everyone with her speed and agility in the last match.  Potter, of course, is the son and nephew of legendary Gryffindor Seekers Harry Potter and Charlie Weasley.  He is also being coached by Gryffindor's other legendary Seeker, Ted Lupin, and is on his way towards becoming another legend in the house of Gryffindor.”

    “Not being very modest about James, is he?”  Rose muttered to Albus.

    “No, not really,”  Albus replied, happy that he wasn't in James's position.

    “The captains shake hands,”  Smith continues, “And they're off!”

    All fourteen players, half in emerald green Australian robes and half in black Hogwarts ones, rose into the air.  Whoever decided on the colors must not have been thinking about visibility.  If it was a rainy, snowy, or foggy day, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two colors.

    The match was fast-paced like the first one had been.  All of the Hogwarts players were superb and as far as Albus could tell, equally matched against Australia. 
   
    The teams were tied fifteen minutes into the match, each with 120 points. The Quaffle exchanged hands so often that Albus had a hard time keeping up.  Rose had already given up and was talking to Amanda about something.  Matt, John, and Kaden were all trying to keep up with the match.

    It happened so fast that if Albus had blinked, he would have missed the whole thing.  Linda had been hovering above the Hogwarts goal posts and then she shot down towards the ground, pulling out of her dive with the golden Snitch in her grasp.  James had been next to her and was a few metres above her when she caught it.  Just like that, in a matter of seconds, the match was over.

    “Linda Morales has captured the Snitch, which means Australia wins 270-120,” Smith announced less than enthusiastically. 
   
    “She caught it?”  John gaped,  “But she was above the goal posts two seconds ago!”

    “No one can fly that fast!”  Albus agreed.

    “It can't be over!”  Matt exclaimed,  “It just started twenty minutes ago!”

    Everyone around Albus was talking about how fast Linda flew to the Snitch. Albus and his friends descended onto the pitch and Albus quickly lost them in the sea of people.  He pushed his way through the crowd until he found his team.

    “They've got to be cheating!”  Andy Kaper shouted to Teddy,  “They've rigged her broom or something!”
   
    “All the brooms were fully checked before the match,”  Teddy reminded him.
   
    “Well, check it again!”  Andy exclaimed,  “There's a speed charm on that thing, I guarantee it.”

    “We'll have it checked again,”  Wood assured him.

    “I want a rematch,”  Georgia muttered,  “They've got to be cheating.  Even a Firebolt 2000 can't fly that fast.”

    “We're only going to get a rematch if there is something wrong with that broom,”  Wood sighed.

    “I want an unofficial flying competition between her and James,”  Damien Waverly said,  “There's no way she's a better flyer than he is.”

    James was the only one not talking.  He appeared to be in shock.  The entire team was shouting around him, but he didn't seem to hear any of it.

    “James?”  Albus asked tentatively.

    James jumped and looked at Albus without saying a word.  Then he trudged off to the changing room.  No one else noticed that he left.

    No one had noticed Albus show up either, so he joined the crowd of people going back up to the castle.  He figured it would be easier to talk to the James once he returned to the common room.

    The common room was ominously silent when Albus walked through the portrait hole.  Most people were sitting, staring into space, and not talking to anyone.  It was a scene more fitting to someone just dying than a lost Quidditch match.  None of the Australians who had been sorted into Gryffindor, including Linda, were there.  Albus briefly wondered where they were going to go, now that they'd probably be chased out of every common room.

    Albus's friends were sitting at their usual table and Albus joined them. Rose and Amanda were whispering to each other, but John and Matt were silent. Kaden was rifling through a stack of chocolate frog cards.

    The match had been the definition of anti-climactic.  Hogwarts had spent weeks preparing for it, working every day well past when the sun set.  Homework had been ignored and studying put off.  All so Hogwarts could beat Australia.  Then, Linda Morales had caught the Snitch twenty minutes into the match.  Linda Morales, the only one who had managed to best James Potter at Quidditch.

    “You know,”  Kaden set down his cards,  “If James and Linda had a kid, he or she would be the best Seeker in the world.”

    Nobody responded.  Albus thought it would be more likely to become best friends with a chimaera than James and Linda to get married and have a kid.  Not to mention the fact that vampires couldn't bear children.  Kaden probably didn't know that, though.

    “I just don't get it,”  John mumbled,  “She must've cheated.”

    “You just don't want to admit that Hogwarts might not have the best Quidditch players in the world,”  Rose muttered.

    “Let's go to the Marauder's Den,”  Matt whispered as he stood up.
   
    Albus didn't know why Matt wanted to go there, but considering how depressingly quiet the common room was, he wasn't about to object.

    They passed no one except an Auror on their way to the room.  Everyone must have been lamenting the Quidditch loss in their common rooms.

    “Finally,”  Kaden said as he collapsed onto one of the couches in the room, “Now we can actually talk.  The common room is depressing.”

    “What do you expect?”  John groaned,  “We lost our first mach.  We're in last place.”

    “No, we're not,”  Rose said,  “New York lost to Australia with only 40 points.  They're in last place.”

    “Doesn't matter,”  John shook his head,  “We still lost.”

    “No one's ever going to beat Australia,”  Albus sighed.

    “You're probably right,”  Matt said darkly,  “Remember the last match?  How quickly she caught the Snitch?  I knew she'd be fast, but I thought maybe she'd slow down to even things up a bit.  This match proves that wrong.  She's using the fact that she's a vampire to her advantage.”

    “That's completely unfair!”  John shouted,  “Why would Kendrick let her do that?”

    “He obviously doesn't know,”  Rose sighed.

    “So, she is cheating,”  Albus said.

    “Technically, she's not,”  Matt replied,  “She's just really skilled at Quidditch.  Vampires, and werewolves, have really keen eyesight in order to,”  he paused,  “Catch prey.  She's better at seeing a Snitch than any human.”

    “Then why don't you play Seeker against her!”  Kaden exclaimed, grinning at the idea,  “That would be more fair.”

    Matt burst out laughing.  “You didn't see me at flying lessons in first year. I'm an awful flyer.  Sure, I could see the Snitch, but I'd fall off my broom trying to catch it.”
   
    “Oh,”  Kaden deflated.

    “Plus she's super fast,”  John pointed out,  “And Matt's not.  No offense or anything.”

    “None taken,”  Matt said.

    “So, what are we going to do about this?”  Albus asked,  “If she doesn't stop, Australia's going to win this competition.”

    “I think Rose should talk to her,”  John suggested.

    “Why?”  Rose asked.

    “Because she likes you and you like her,”  John said,  “Just tell her to fly a little slower.”

    “Yeah, right,”  Rose rolled her eyes,  “Believe it or not, she's about as fanatical about Quidditch as you lot are.  No way is she going to agree to that.”

    “It's true,”  Amanda agreed.

    The room descended into silence.  The only other thing Albus could think of to do would be to tell Kendrick that Linda was a vampire.  That would get her off the Australian Quidditch team for sure.  However, Albus didn't really want to do that.  Rose would hex him to next century and she'd probably never speak to him again.  It would be a lot like if Rose told someone Matt was a werewolf and if that happened, Albus would have the same reaction.  Not that Rose would ever do that.

    They stayed in the Marauder's Den until dinner.  Dinner was much more subdued than normal and James never made an appearance.  Linda was sitting at the far end of the Gryffindor table with only fellow Australians near her.  That kind of surprised Albus since he had never once seen her interact with anyone besides Rose and Amanda.

    “Albus,”  someone put their hand on Albus's shoulder.

    Albus turned around and saw his dad, wearing the same forlorn look all the students were wearing.

    “Dad,”  he said,  “Were you at the match?”

    “Yeah, I was sitting with Lily,”  Harry nodded,  “Have you seen James?”

    “Haven't seen him since right after the match.  He went into the changing rooms.  Actually, I haven't seen Teddy either.  Maybe he's with James.”

    “Merlin, I hope so,”  Harry ran a hand through his hair,  “I've checked everywhere I can think of.  Makes me wish I hadn't given him the map.”

    “You can use mine,”  Albus suggested,  “But I want to go with you.”

    “All right,”  Harry said,  “Let's go.”

    Albus said goodbye to his friends and walked up to Gryffindor Tower with his dad.  He ran up to his dormitory once he was there and retrieved the map.  The dormitory was empty, so Albus and his dad looked at it there.

    They scoured the Hogwarts section of the map for nearly five minutes before coming to the conclusion that James was no longer in the school.
   
    “Bloody hell,”  Harry muttered,  “Where did he go?”
   
    Albus pressed the number two in the corner of the map with his wand and the map of Hogsmeade appeared.  This one was  a bit more difficult to search than the Hogwarts one had been.  Most of the Hogwarts students had been in the Great Hall. Everyone was spread out in Hogsmeade.

    Two dots made Albus freeze.  Two dots were in the Shrieking Shack.  A closer look told him they were Teddy and James.  Albus gasped.  Why were they there?  How did they get in for that matter?

    “Dad,”  Albus pointed to the Shrieking Shack.

    “The Shrieking Shack?”  Harry shouted and stood up.

    Albus followed him out of the dormitory and then out of the common room. “How'd they get in?”  Albus asked once they were walking through the corridors.

    “Teddy knows the counter-charm for those wards,”  Harry muttered.

    “Why?”

    “Everyone who goes through Auror training learns a very large variety of counter-charms.  One of them was bound to work on that tree.  Now, he wasn't supposed to use them outside of training, so I really have no clue what he was thinking,”  Harry explained

    It had gotten cold and windy outside since the match, which really made Albus wonder why Teddy and James would go to the Shrieking Shack of all places.  The decrepit old building had no heat, for Merlin's sake.

    Albus dodged a branch from the Whomping Willow as they neared it.  Harry aimed his wand at the bottom and muttered the counter-charm.  Then he froze the tree.  Albus hurried after him into the passageway.

    The walk to the Shrieking Shack was brisk and silent.  Albus, who had been on the receiving end of many a lecture from his dad, knew that both Teddy and James were going to get one once they made it to the Shack.

    Harry carefully opened the door and walked into the quiet old building. Hushed voices could be heard from the back room.  Albus followed his dad back there.

    Teddy and James were both sitting on the floor.  James looked a complete mess, still wearing his muddy Quidditch robes and his face was all blotchy.  Teddy didn't look much better, although his robes were a bit cleaner.

    “Teddy.  James,”  Harry said sternly when he entered,  “What in the name of Merlin's pants are you doing in this place?”

    Both boys snapped their heads up at the sound of Harry's voice.

    “Trying to convince James not to make the biggest mistake of his life,” Teddy muttered.

    “That sounds a bit overdramatic,”  Harry said.

    “He wants to quit the Quidditch team,”  Teddy said dryly.

    “That is the most idiotic thing I've heard,”  Albus shouted,  “You can't do that!”

    “Albus,”  Harry warned.

    Albus shut his mouth, but he still thought the very idea of James quitting the team was mental.  They'd have no hope of ever beating New York, let alone Australia, without James.

    “Twenty minutes, Dad,”  James said in barely more than a whisper,  “Twenty minutes.”

    “We've all had our bad matches,”  Harry said quietly as he sat down next to James,  “I fell off my broom in my third year and lost a match.”

    “Because of the dementors,”  James muttered,  “There weren't any dementors at this match.”

    “James, I'm afraid everyone has made you out to be the unbeatable Seeker. Todd's commentary today proved that.  The stakes are set so high with you that when you do lose a match, it completely shocks everyone.  It's kind of unfair, actually, because nobody can win every match,”  Harry replied,  “You're not the unbeatable Seeker, I'm afraid.  And running away will get you nowhere.”

    “I suppose,”  James sighed.

    “You're playing New York next,”  Harry reminded him,  “They lost to Australia sooner than we did.  I think you have a chance at catching the Snitch then.”

    “I guess,”  James replied.

    “So you won't quit?”  Albus asked, unable to keep quiet any longer.

    “No,”  James said.

    “Good.  Because Lisa Galivant is nowhere near as good as you.  You're the best Seeker Hogwarts has got,”  Albus told him.

    “Thanks, Al,”  James gave him a half-smile,  “Too bad Australia's got a better one.”

    Albus nodded, wishing that he could just tell James why Linda was so good. But he had sort of promised Rose he wouldn't.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!  You guys are awesome.

I've written a new song fic, Lie to Me.  It's a Remus/Tonks and is in no way connected to my Albus series, but if you guys want to check it out, that would be awesome!


Chapter 20: The Investigation
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    On their way back to the castle, Harry gave Teddy and James that lecture Albus had been expecting him to give.  Albus walked a little ways behind them.  Far enough to make them think they had privacy, but close enough that Albus could hear what they were saying.

    Harry made it clear that he was not impressed that Teddy was taking advantage of the charms he was learning in training.  In fact, Harry said if he caught Teddy doing it again, he'd have to report it.

    Then he told James that the Shrieking Shack was well out of bounds and that if he went in there again, he'd report James to Professor Longbottom.  Albus doubted either of them would set foot in the place again.

    “Why didn't you just go to the Room of Requirement if you wanted privacy?” Harry asked before leaving James and Albus in the Entrance Hall.

    Teddy and James looked at each other and then laughed.  “It was otherwise occupied,”  Teddy grinned,  “Fred's got himself a girlfriend.  They were enjoying the privacy of the Room of Requirement.”

    Harry smiled and shook his head.  “Next time, just ask Neville if he'll let you talk in his study.  I'm sure he will.  I'll see you boys after term is over, then.”

    Albus and James said goodbye to their dad and Teddy and then walked back up to Gryffindor Tower in silence.  James was obviously still upset over the match and Albus didn't want to say anything to make it worse.

    “They're doing a full investigation of Linda's broom!”  Rose announced when Albus found them in the common room.  James had gone directly up to his dormitory.

    “Yeah, Wood's just told us,”  John continued,  “Stripping it down, plus they're interviewing the Australian captains, headmaster, and everyone on the team, including Linda.”

    “Wow,”  Albus was impressed.  They wouldn't find anything, of course, but it was still nice that they were taking this seriously,  “Wish it would actually help.”

    “Me, too,”  John agreed,  “So where was James?”

    “The Shrieking Shack,”  Albus whispered.

    Matt dumped his ink bottle all over his homework and swore.  “How'd he get in?”

    “He was with Teddy and Teddy knows the counter-charm from Auror training,” Albus said quietly,  “But he wasn't supposed to use it outside of training, so my dad told him if he does it again he'll get in trouble.  Don't worry, neither of them will go in there again.”
   
    “Still, of all the places they could've gone...”  Matt's voice trailed off.

    “Why were they there?”  Rose asked as she siphoned the ink off of Matt's homework.

    “James was thinking of quitting the team,”  Albus whispered,  “Don't worry, he didn't,”  he said quickly when he saw the disgusted look on John's face.

    “Well, thank Merlin for that,”  John said.

                        ******

    It must have been a slow news day the next day.  One of those days where the front page article of the Prophet was about a young wizard who had graciously volunteered his time in the closed ward at St. Mungo's or an elderly witch who passed away, leaving her fortune to her cats.

    That is, if it weren't for the fact that the Department of Magical Games and Sports and the Department for International Magical Cooperation doing an all out investigation on the Australian School of Sorcery's Quidditch team, Linda Morales and her broom in particular.

    Albus was quite shocked to see the lengthy article by Rita Skeeter on the front page.  He hardly ate any breakfast as he read it out loud to his friends before classes.

The Australian School of Sorcery:  Did They Cheat?

In a competition of Quidditch and dueling, which reminds
many a witch and wizard of the thrilling and slightly
more dangerous Triwizard Tournament, accusations came
yesterday of whether the team from Australia cheated.

A match was held between the Hogwarts and Australian
teams yesterday afternoon and was over in twenty minutes.
The score was 270-110, in favor of Australia.  Linda
Morales, 13, of Australia, caught the Snitch in what
some people believe to be an impossibly fast speed.

“It was like one minute she was flying above the pitch
and I blinked and then she was on the ground with the
Snitch in her hand,”  one Hogwarts student said.

Many other students and a few staff members recalled
the same thing.  The many witnesses of this near
impossible flying have fueled the investigation.

If it is discovered that Australia used any charms,
potions, curses, hexes, or anything else deemed
unacceptable by International Quidditch standards,
a rematch will be played between Hogwarts and
Australia.

“We don't know what we're going to find,”  Ian
Herkimer, of the Department of Magical Games and
Sports, said late yesterday,  “On the one hand, it
is nearly impossible for a thirteen year old girl
to fly that fast on the broom she was using.  On
the other hand, all the brooms used in this
competition were extensively searched for charms
before the match.  It could very well be that young
Linda Morales is just an exceptionally good
Quidditch player.  If that is the case, then scouts
from professional teams may wish to pay attention
to this competition.”

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this story is
that the Hogwarts Seeker is none other than James
Potter, son of the legendary Gryffindor Seeker
Harry Potter.  James Potter, 15, has lived up to
his father's reputation in the past and has never
lost a match this quickly before.  Neither James
or his father were available for comment.

Is Linda Morales a cheater?  Or is she merely the
next greatest Quidditch star?


    “Great,”  Albus set down the paper,  “First she's going to win this competition and then be drafted to play for Puddlemere United.”

    “We don't have to worry about her playing for the Cannons,”  John smirked, “That would get rid of their awful reputation.”

    “That would be a bad thing because...?”  Matt said.

    “I wouldn't get to make fun of them anymore,”  John grinned.

    “Not a bad thing,”  Matt replied.

    The entire school was talking about the article all day long.  Everywhere Albus went, someone was discussing it.  Most likely due to this, James spent the day in his dormitory.

    “Why'd Skeeter have to stick James in that article,”  Albus lamented as he, Matt, John, and Kaden wandered the corridors.  Rose and Amanda had gone to find Linda, to see if she knew anymore details about the investigation.

    “Because she's Rita Skeeter,”  John said,  “She never writes an article without sticking your dad in it somehow.”
   
    “I know.  Rita Skeeter's horrible,”  Albus said.

    “There are a few reporters in Australia who could give her a run for her money,”  Matt muttered.

    “So irresponsible!” a hushed voice said from a classroom they were passing.

    Albus stopped.  He didn't recognize the voice and it didn't sound happy.  He gestured for his friends to stop as well and paused to listen.

    “We're already skating on thin ice!”  the man was saying,  “First she catches the Snitch ten minutes into the first match and now she flies too fast for people to see and beats James Potter?  Now there's an investigation for Merlin's sake!”
   
    “I didn't know she was going to do that!”  another man said,  “I made it clear to her that she could only fly slightly better than the other players!”

    “Told you they were cheating,”  John whispered.

    “We weren't the ones arguing with you,”  Albus replied,  “That was Rose.”

    “The bloke doing the yelling is the Australian headmaster,”  Matt said.

    “The other one's probably the captain, then,”  Albus said.

    “Well, you must not have told her enough because now she's on the front page of the Prophet and the Ministry is investigating!  Do you have any idea what's going to happen if anyone finds out?”  the headmaster raised his voice.

    “Of course I do!”

    “Let me refresh your memory anyway.  We'll both be fired and Australia will be out of the competition.  Hell, we'll be lucky to get away with fines and no jail time!”

    “That wouldn't be a bad thing,”  John muttered.

    “You hear that?”  the headmaster barked,  “Someone's out there.”

    Albus turned in panic to his friends and before he could run, the door opened all the way and Albus was staring at who he assumed to be the Australian Quidditch captain.  The man was tall and lanky, the perfect build for a Chaser.  His hair was messy in a way that reminded Albus of his father, but this man's hair was light brown.

    The headmaster appeared behind the man, along with a surly looking boy who must've been around Teddy's age.  Albus assumed he was the assistant captain.
   
    “Well, who have we here,”  the headmaster smirked.

    Albus was frozen in place.  The back of his mind said to run, but he couldn't get his legs to work.  He was staring the bloke who was so prejudiced against werewolves that he refused to let Matt attend his school in the face. 

    “You're the Potter boy,”  the headmaster continued,  “The younger one.”

    Albus forced himself to nod only because he didn't really want to be mistaken for James at the moment.

    “That means...”  Killigan's eyes moved from Albus to John, Kaden, and then Matt,  “That one of you is probably,”  his eyes rested on Matt and then he smiled, “The Eckerton boy.  I was told you were here.”

    Albus turned to look at Matt, who was now almost as white as Professor Binns. Albus shook his head, grabbed Matt's arm, and took off running.  The footsteps behind him told him that John and Kaden were following.

    Albus didn't stop running until he made it to the Marauder's Den.  He completely ignored the Prefect who told him not to run in the corridors and Filch's new cat.

    “Bloody hell, how did he manage to figure out which one of us you were?” John asked Matt once they shut the door,  “He hasn't seen you in years!”

    “Lucky guess,”  Kaden shrugged.

    Matt shook his head.  “No. None of you lot have blonde hair.”

    “But still, how does he know I'm friends with you?”  Albus asked,  “Of all the blonde haired students here, he picked you.  He somehow knows we're friends. Remember, he said 'you must be the Potter boy', which isn't abnormal.  Everyone knows who I am.  But then he said 'which means you must be the Eckerton boy.' Someone's telling him about you.”

    “So much for trying to ignore him,”  Matt groaned,  “Now he knows who I am. Merlin knows what he's going to try to do now.”

    “Why does he even care?”  Kaden asked,  “I thought he didn't want you at his school.  If he hates werewolves so much, wouldn't it make more sense that he ignore you?”

    Kaden had a point.  Albus hadn't really thought about it before, but it was kind of strange that Killigan would be so interested in Matt.  But then, why would he let a vampire attend his school?

    “That actually makes a lot of sense, Kaden,”  Matt said,  “Why does he care?”

    Albus didn't know, but something told him it meant nothing good.  Whatever Killigan was doing here, it went deeper than just trying to win a Quidditch tournament by having a vampire for a Seeker.

                        ******

    It took the Ministry three days to complete the investigation.  During this time numerous Ministry officials appeared at the school and held interviews with Killigan, the Australian captains, and the Australian players.  They even interviewed James, Oliver Wood, Todd Smith, and Professor Kendrick.  Albus heard that every broom on the Australian team had been stripped and checked for illegal magic.

    The results were announced before Rita Skeeter wrote another article.  A Ministry official read them at dinner Wednesday evening.

    “Upon close inspection of all the Australian broomsticks as well as extensive interviews with everyone involved, the Ministry is able to say that Linda Morales's capture of the Snitch was a result of pure talent and nothing illegal.  I thank you all for your cooperation during this time,”  he said and then resumed his seat next to Kendrick.

    The Great Hall erupted in angry shouts.  Everyone was staring at Linda and it looked like she wanted to disappear.  Rose and Amanda were sitting on either side of her and Rose was whispering to her.

    Albus and his friends weren't expecting anything different, but they had to act angry for appearance's sake and it was not difficult to do so.

    Kendrick eventually had to stand up and tell everyone to quiet down.  It worked, but nobody stopped talking about the results.

    It was still possible for Hogwarts to win the competition.  If they won every match from now on and continued doing well in dueling.  The competition wasn't even half over, so there was plenty of time to pull ahead.  However, the chances of doing so were low so long as Linda was playing Seeker for Australia.

    The rest of the week passed with continual Quidditch discussion.  James was still abnormally subdued and sat quietly with Ben, Cedric, and Nate every evening in the common room.  Albus was hoping it would blow over during the holiday.  It was strange seeing his brother so quiet.

    There was a Hogsmeade visit that Saturday and true to her word, Rose went with Albus and his friends instead of Linda.

    It was a particularly cold and blustery winter day with a steady snowfall that had already dumped six inches on the grounds.  This wasn't nearly enough snow to keep people out of Hogsmeade and all the shops were full to capacity.

    Kaden had begged Albus to give him the map so he could sneak in, but Albus refused.  The Hogsmeade visit before Christmas seemed too risky.  Too many students went on that one.  The Valentine's Day one would be better, when the other students were too absorbed in their love lives to notice a second year in Hogsmeade.

    “Let's go get Butterbeer first,”  Amanda suggested as they made their way into the village,  “I'm already frozen solid.”

    “Me, too,”  Albus agreed.

    The Three Broomsitcks was already packed, but they managed to find a table and Albus went to get five Butterbeers.  When he returned, everyone was talking about what they were doing for the holidays.

    “My mum has decided she wants one of my aunts to do Christmas this year,” John said,  “She's done Christmas at our house since she and my dad got married and it's finally worn her out.  The funny thing is that none of my aunts really know what to do, so my mum is doing as much work as she always does.”

    “I can't imagine Christmas not being at the Burrow,”  Rose said.

    “Me either,”  Albus replied as he set down the Butterbeer,  “The Burrow is just so Christmasy.”

    “Believe it or not, but I'm not going to Australia for Christmas this year,” Matt announced.

    John spit out his Butterbeer.  “What?”  he coughed,  “You always go to Australia.”

    “I know,”  Matt said,  “Never had a Christmas anyplace else.”

    “Why?”  Albus asked.

    “Well, you know how my dad's going to be the new Head of the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  He officially starts on January second.  But the Ministry is throwing a fancy party for him on New Year's Eve.  He didn't really want it, but they insisted.  So, we've got to go to that.  Hopefully it'll be better than the parties my grandparents have.”

    “Rose and I will probably go to that, too.  My dad's always invited to those things since he's head of the Auror Department.  My whole family goes to them.  There's always something to do, especially if James is feeling particularly mischievous.  Rose's parents get invited, too.  So does my Uncle Percy,”  Albus explained.

    Matt grinned.  “Well if you lot are there it won't be bad.”

    “This party's going to be anything but boring,”  Albus grinned.

    “Never thought I'd wish I was going to a fancy party,”  John sighed,  “How about you, Amanda?  Any parties?”

    “Nope,”  Amanda laughed,  “Just spending time with my family.”

    They finished their Butterbeer and went back out into the snow.  Honeydukes was their first stop, where Matt proceeded to buy enough chocolate to feed all of Gryffindor.  His excuse was that it was for Christmas presents, but Albus doubted as to whether the chocolate would ever make it home.

    Honeydukes was really too crowded to stay in very long, as were most of the other shops.  They wound up just wandering up and down High Street until they got to the Shrieking Shack. 

    After a very brief snowball fight Rose suggested they just go back to the school and spend time in the Marauder's Den.  Nobody argued since they were all cold and wet from the snow.

                        ******

    The next two weeks went by in a blur for Albus.  It seemed like he just went from one Quidditch practice to another, with dueling practice and lessons with Balladanis thrown in.  Albus had started making progress with his shield charms, but so had Malfoy and neither of them were better than the other.

    At their last lesson of the term, Balladanis reiterated how important it was for them not to practice while at home.  He then told them to have a good holiday and be ready to work even harder when they returned.

    Linda's amazing catch of the Snitch had already started to blow over before term ended.  Everyone seemed much more focused on getting a few weeks off from school than a lost Quidditch match.  This helped return James to his normal self and he finished off the term with his usual pre-holiday prank.

    This one was a little less harmless as he just charmed the suits of armor to sing Christmas carols at random times of the day.  Of course, the carols were alternated with 'Hogwarts will win the Cup' and 'Hogwarts is better at Quidditch than Australia' and 'Hogwarts will beat New York in the next match'.  James was never caught, though.

    Eventually the carols wore off as did the pro-Hogwarts messages and everyone packed and got ready to go home.  Albus wondered for a moment what it would be like to stay at school over the holiday.  He knew his dad had done nearly every year, but Albus couldn't imagine not being with his family for Christmas.

    Albus and his friends found a compartment towards the back of the train and settled in for the long journey.

    “What are the Australian and American kids doing for Christmas?”  Kaden asked.

    “Dunno,”  Albus shrugged.

    “Some of them are going home, but most are just staying at Hogwarts.  Linda's staying,”  Rose told them.

    “I bet it was Linda,”  John muttered absentmindedly.

    “What?”  Albus asked.

    “Linda.  I'll bet every Knut in my pocket that she's the one who told Killigan who Matt was,”  John explained.

    “You're just mad at Linda for winning the match,”  Rose rolled her eyes, “She did not tell Killigan.”

    “Why not?”  Albus asked,  “He's her headmaster.  Why wouldn't she tell him?”

    “I don't know.  I just don't think she did,”  Rose muttered.

    “Even that doesn't explain why Killigan wanted to know,”  Amanda pointed out.

    “Which means we have to find out,”  Albus said.

    “Find out what?”  Matt asked sleepily.  The full moon was that night and he had fallen asleep as soon as they got on the train.

    “Why Killigan was so interested in you that time we spied on him,”  Albus explained.

    “Oh,”  Matt said as he leaned his head against the window,  “How are we going to do that?”

    Albus didn't know.  All he knew was that it could be problematic and there was a big chance of them getting in trouble.  An unsettling silence fell upon the compartment.  No one knew how they were going to get answers.

    “Do you think Linda's teammates know she's a vampire?”  Kaden asked towards the end of the journey.

    Albus, who had been drifting off to sleep, lifted his head up.  “Good question.”

    “They don't,”  Rose answered,  “They just think she's really good.”

    “Interesting,”  Albus said, “I bet she wouldn't be allowed to play professionally.”

    “She wouldn't,”  John confirmed,  “Vampires can't play professional Quidditch. It's unfair to the rest of the teams.”

    “I'd pay a lot of money to see two teams of vampires playing Quidditch against each other,”  Albus grinned.

    “You wouldn't be able to see them,”  John laughed,  “They'd be flying too fast.”

    “I'd like to see vampires play football,”  Kaden announced.

    “Of course you would,”  John rolled his eyes.

    The boys spent the rest of the trip discussing vampire Quidditch while Rose and Amanda played Muggle card games.  Before long they were in London.

    All of their parents were standing together on the platform. Albus said a quick goodbye to Matt before his parents hurried him out of the station. 


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

For those who are interested, I posted a sort of epilogue/short sequel to In Moonlight's Shadow.  It's called Life Amidst the Moonlight and is on my author's page.


Chapter 21: A Christmas Blizzard
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Albus spent most of the days preceding Christmas at Rose's house.  James was determined to use all of his spare time for Quidditch practice, and he had to go to Rose's house for that.  Albus usually went with him and he and Hugo would help James practice while Rose read.

    Harry had to practically separate James from his broom by magic on Christmas Eve so they could go to Godric's Hollow.  James wanted to stay at Rose's house and keep practicing, but Harry refused to let him.  The trip was quiet since James was rather sullen the entire time.

    “Professor Patil says I'm a natural at Transfiguration,”  Lily bragged to Albus as they walked towards the Burrow afterwards.

    “That's good,”  Albus replied.

    “Yeah, so I'm going to become an Animagus eventually.  I want to be a cat.”

    “You don't get to choose what kind of animal you transform into,”  Albus told her.

    “Oh,”  Lily said,  “But I think I'll become a cat.”

    Albus nodded as Lily began to describe in great detail what kind of cat she would transform into. 

    Everyone else was already at the Burrow and Albus felt an immediate warmth come over him as he stepped inside.  It had nothing to do with the fact that it was so cold and snowy outside, either.  There was something so comforting about being at the Burrow surrounded by all his family.  He was able to forget all the issues with the Quidditch tournament and Professor Killigan.  All he could think about was how ravenous he was and how good some of his grandmother's cooking would be right about then. 

    Rose sat down next to Albus as he tucked into a large bowl of onion soup with a side of homemade bread.

    “Uncle Charlie and Aunt Katherine are going back to Romania this summer,” Rose announced.

    “To tame more dragons?”  Albus asked.  His uncle and aunt hadn't done that since Stanley started Hogwarts, but they often talked about how they wanted to go back.
   
    “Yeah,”  Rose nodded,  “They might stay even after the summer's over, but Heather and Mark will come back to go to Hogwarts.”

    “They get to go, too?”

    “Yup.  Stanley and Eddie are going, too.  Stanley's quitting his job for it. He's definitely staying in Romania after the summer's over.  He wants to get into dragon training.”

    “Wow,”  Albus replied,  “They're lucky.  I guess it's good that Stanley decided what he wants to do.”

    Stanley had been working at the Magical Menagerie since he finished Hogwarts, but knew he didn't want to do that his whole life.  He just didn't know what he did want to do.

    “I wish our parents would take us to some other country,”  Albus sighed.

    “Me, too,”  Rose agreed,  “Imagine the history we could learn.”

    Albus personally had enough of History from Professor Binns, but he supposed learning history by traveling would be fun.

    “Christmas Quidditch tomorrow?”  Teddy asked as he sat down next to Rose.

    “Definitely,”  Albus grinned.

    “I wouldn't count on it, Teddy,”  Molly said as she handed Albus another hunk of bread,  “We're supposed to get the snowstorm of the decade tomorrow.  The Muggle electricity is already out in town.”

    “Is it really?”  Arthur popped his head into the room,  “Fascinating!  I may have to go see it tomorrow!”

    “You'll do no such thing!”  Molly shouted,  “It's near impossible to Appparate during such a storm.  Not to mention the fact that it's Christmas and you should be here.”

    “We don't need electricity to play Quidditch!”  Teddy exclaimed,  “It'll be perfect training conditions!  If you can catch a Snitch in the middle of a blizzard, you can catch one in any weather.  It's not like Kendrick ever calls off Quidditch because of snow.”

    “We'll see tomorrow, Teddy,”  Molly sighed.

    Albus finished his soup and he and Rose went into the den, where they were greeted by a loud chorus of 'Odo the Hero', sung by George, Alicia, Charlie, and Ron.  Bill and Fleur were laughing while Hermione shook her head.  Albus had a feeling the only reason why Fleur approved was because the singing was drowning out Celestina Warbeck. 

    “So then I said, I'm not paying seven Sickles for that!”  Percy said to Katherine, who was only sort of paying attention,  “And the bloke looked at me like I was mad.  I say he's mad, charging that much for a tour of a questionably historic old building.  There really should be regulations on such things.  It's one thing I'll change if I'm ever Minister.”

    Albus stifled a laugh.  His Uncle Percy had been talking about running for Minister for the past ten years, but still hadn't done it. Most of his uncles and aunts got sick of hearing him talk about what he would and would not change. 

    “Hey, Albus, Rose,”  Victoire waved at him from across the room.

    “Hi Victoire,”  Albus made his way over to her,  “How is Healer training?”

    “Exhausting,”  Victoire sighed,  “And I have to figure out which part of the hospital I want to do the rest of my training in by September.  We've been rotating throughout all the floors, but now we have to pick one.  I'm nowhere near decided.”

    “You have until September,”  Albus shrugged.  It seemed like a long time to him.

    “I know,”  Victoire replied,  “But Amy's known where she wants to finish training since we were in fourth year.”

    “You're not in Amy's situation,”  Teddy appeared and put his arm around her, “And I think you'll do great anyplace you decide.”

    “Thanks, Teddy,”  Victoire smiled,  “I'm thinking either the Maternity ward or Spell Damage.”

    “There's a busy ward,”  Teddy grinned,  “Spell Damage.  You'll get all the funny injuries there.”

    “That's not a good reason to pick a specialization,”  Victoire groaned.

    “Good a reason as any,”  Teddy shrugged.

    The time grew later and after Albus played numerous rounds of Exploding Snap with his cousins, his grandmother announced that it was time for bed.  Everyone argued, but there was really no point.  Everyone, including the other adults, knew that arguing with Molly Weasley was useless.

    Albus trudged up the stairs to the highest bedroom that he shared with James, Ben, and Cedric.  He climbed into bed and then realized just how big this impending blizzard was.  The wind was howling louder than he'd ever heard before.

    The wind was so powerful that Albus could feel it through the gaps in the window.  Every once in a while, the house would creak and shake.  Albus sighed and put his pillow over his ears to try and drown out the howling. 

    Albus didn't manage to drift off to sleep until after Cedric got out of bed, swore loudly, and disregarded the no magic outside of school rule to put a silencing charm on the room.

                        ******

    Albus was awoken by his annual Christmas wake-up call, Lily.  She breezed through the door shouting about how they all needed to wake up and open their presents. 

    “And there's three feet of snow outside,”  Lily said as she left the room, “I checked.”

    “Merlin!”  James jumped off the top bunk and looked out the window,  “There is!  And it's still coming!”

    “Whoa, you can't see anything!”  Cedric added.

    “We could build the world's biggest snow wizard later,”  Ben suggested.

    “We could build an entire snow wizard army,”  Albus said.

    “Presents first,”  James said as he located his pile of presents.

    Albus descended upon his own pile of presents and began opening them.  There were the usual sweets and Weasleys' products from his aunts and uncles.  Another Weasley sweater, this one scarlet and gold striped.  He pulled it on over his pajamas and opened the rest of the presents from his aunts and uncles.  His Aunt Hermione had gotten him a few books he'd probably never read, including one about the history of house elves at Hogwarts. 

    Albus saved his parents' present for last, although he doubted they could top last year's.  There really wasn't anything in the world that was better than the Invisibility Cloak. 

    “Al, did you open Mum and Dad's yet?”  James shouted.

    “I'm opening it now,”  Albus said as he ripped the paper off the small box.
   
    “You'll never guess what they got us!” 

    Albus opened the box and saw two tickets. Two tickets for the Quidditch World Cup that was taking place this summer!

    “Whoa!”  Albus shouted,  “World Cup tickets!”

    “I didn't even know they were on sale this early!”  James said.

    “You two get the best presents,”  Cedric said.

    “Hey, I got two tickets,”  James replied.

    “Yeah, two,”  Ben sighed,  “You can only pick one of us to go.”

    Albus suddenly realized he had the same problem.  Two tickets.  Five friends he would want to take.  Who was he going to choose?  Not Rose.  They may have been friends since they were babies, but she just didn't have a passion for Quidditch. Neither did Kaden.  He was another to cross off the list.  John and Matt were the Quidditch fans.  He'd have to choose between them.  Amanda liked Quidditch well enough, but she didn't follow a team or anything.

    “Those are limited edition tickets,”  Ben said,  “They don't know who's playing yet, so they don't sell very many tickets ahead of time.”

    “They're for the top box, too,”  James said in awe.

    Lily burst into the room with a big grin on her face.  She was holding two tickets as well.  “Did you get Quidditch tickets?”

    “Yeah,”  Albus and James said at the same time.

    “This is going to be brilliant,”  Lily said and then ran out of the room.

    Albus's parents were already in the kitchen by the time Albus went downstairs.  They were sitting at the table eating breakfast.  Albus gave them each a huge hug and then sat down.

    “How did you get the tickets?”  he asked.

    “They were a gift from the Minister,”  Harry replied,  “The Cup is in Canada this year and he's good friends with their minister.  Got him a lot of free tickets.”

    Albus grinned as he began to eat breakfast.  Somehow his parents had come close to topping last year's present.  Now not only was he going to get to see the World Cup, he would get to travel to a different country.

    Rose came downstairs a little while later and was impressed with the tickets. She had no desire to go to the Cup and had no suggestions on how Albus was going to choose between John and Matt.

    “Anyone up for Quidditch later?”  Teddy announced as he sauntered into the kitchen.

    “Not under my watch!”  Molly shouted,  “You can't see a foot in front of you out there!  And it must be close to 15 below!”

    “Maybe after lunch, then,”  Teddy shrugged.

    Molly shook her head and sighed as she set a few more platters of eggs and toast onto the table.

    There was a knock on the door that could only just be heard over the howling wind.  Molly glanced at Arthur, who shrugged and got up to see who it was.  Albus followed, very curious to see who would visit on Christmas morning in the middle of a huge blizzard.

    “Xeno, is that you?”  Arthur shouted outside.

    “Yes!”  Xenophilius Lovegood shouted back.  Arthur stood aside as the man walked in and then shut the door behind him.  “Quite the storm we're having!  Just thought I'd stop by and see if this place was still standing.”

    “Quite the storm, yes,”  Arthur agreed,  “I heard the Muggles lost electricity. Fascinating.  I wonder what they do without it.  But yes, the house is still standing.”

    “Good, but if you feel it's too rickety, just let me know and I'll go get some of my Jutispy Plants.  The leaves do wonders on old buildings.  Makes them like new.  I just put a bunch into my place and it's a good thing, too.  Of course, they tend to attract Nargles...”  Xenophilius's voice trailed off.

    “I'll keep that in mind,”  Arthur smiled,  “Are you spending the holiday alone?”

    “Yes, yes,”  he replied,  “Luna and Rolf are with his family this Christmas.”

    “Then you must stay here a while.  Molly's cooked far too much food, like usual,”  Arthur lead Xeno into the kitchen.

    Albus followed them.  He always found Xenophilius Lovegood to be an interesting wizard, if not a little mad.  Always going on about Nargles or Nom-Noms or something.

    Molly was more than happy to provide Xenophilius with a large platter of breakfast and he settled down to discuss the storm with the adults.

    Albus spent most of the morning playing Exploding Snap, Wizard's Chess, and Gobstones with his cousins.  They tried to play hide and go seek, but the house was too crowded to play it properly.

    Teddy and James kept looking out the window, willing it to stop snowing. Both of them were just itching to go play Quidditch.  Albus would have gladly gone and played if it would stop snowing so much.  He was dedicated to the game, but not enough to play in this storm. 

    Lunchtime came and the snow was still falling.  George went outside to measure it and came back with the news that it was three and a half feet. 

    Teddy went upstairs after lunch and came back decked out in three jumpers, a thick cloak, and a pair of boots.  Under one arm was his broom and under the other was a box of Quidditch balls.  James was right behind him, dressed the same.

    “Theodore Remus Lupin!”  Molly shouted,  “I suppose I can't stop you from going out there and catching death of a cold, but I will not let you drag James with you!”

    “He's not dragging me, Grandma,”  James rolled his eyes,  “I want to go!”

    “Just let them, Molly,”  Harry said,  “They'll get cold soon enough and come back inside.”

    “Fine,”  Molly replied and went back into the kitchen.

    “Excellent,”  Teddy grinned,  “Anyone care to join us?”

    Georgia, Fred, and Heather suited up in warm clothes and joined Teddy and James.  Albus decided against it.  Quidditch was fun, but he didn't want to freeze when he could stay inside and be warm.

    The Christmas Quidditch lasted a half an hour.  Teddy, James, Georgia, Heather, and Fred all stumbled back into the house shivering with their faces red and covered in snow and ice.  Molly immediately descended upon them with mugs of hot chocolate and dry clothes.

    “Told you, Molly,”  Harry grinned.

    “C-can't find the Sn-Snitch,”  Teddy muttered.

    Harry laughed.  “That doesn't surprise me.  You'll find it when the storm calms down.  You put the charm on it to stay in the yard, right?”

    “Y-yeah,”  Teddy replied.

    Christmas dinner came and went in its usual chaos.  Xenophilius stayed for it and James snuck sneezing powder into his soup, which he found incredibly funny. Molly was not as impressed and gave James quite the scolding.  How she found out it was James was beyond Albus. 

    The storm continued throughout the night and Cedric had to put the silencing charm back on their room in order for any of them to get any sleep.

                        ******

    Nobody left the Burrow until two days after Christmas.  That was when the snow finally let up.  It topped out at around four and a half feet, which was a new record for Albus's lifetime.  The Burrow's yard had been decorated by dozens of snow witches and wizards, along with hippogriffs, owls, and a variety of other magical creatures. 

    When Albus found out what his family was doing after they left the Burrow, he wished the snow would have kept coming.  They were going shopping for dress robes for the New Year's party.

    “Why can't I just wear my old dress robes?”  James whined as they walked down Diagon Alley towards Madam Malkin's.

    “Because they're five inches too short,”  Ginny replied,  “They're even too small for Al.”

    “Yeah, Hugo's the lucky one,”  James muttered.  Hugo was wearing James's old dress robes to the party and therefore did not have to go shopping.

    “Mummy, I want purple robes,”  Lily announced.

    “If they have any,”  Ginny replied.

    Albus wanted to buy the first pair of dress robes he found, so long as they weren't pink or purple.  The sooner they were done robes shopping the better.

    Rose and Lily made a beeline for the girls dress robes as soon as they walked in the door.  Albus stood awkwardly next to James while their mother found various robes for them.

    “Here, try these on, Al,”  Ginny handed him a pair of emerald green robes.

    “Very Slytherin,” James snickered.

    “Shut it, James,”  Albus muttered.

    “They'll bring out your eyes, Al,”  Ginny told him,  “Now go try them on.”

    Albus reluctantly tried on the Slytherin colored robes and then left the dressing room for his mother to see.

    “Too short,”  she announced,  “But the color is perfect.  I'll find a bigger size.”

    James wound up with a navy blue pair of robes, which Albus would have preferred.  Lily found her purple robes and Rose got a sky blue pair. 

    “Next time you're getting green robes,”  Albus muttered to James, who was still making fun of the color of Albus's robes.
   
    “No I won't.  I don't have green eyes,”  James grinned.

    “Then we'll get you a nice red set,”  Ginny said,  “They'll clash horribly with your hair.”

    “I don't care.  They'd be Gryffindor colored,”  James laughed.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!  Also, for anyone who read In Moonlight's shadow, the first chapter of the sequel, Beyond the Shadow, is now up!

Chapter 22: The Party
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    The party was at the Minister's Mansion, the house where all the Ministers of Magic had lived. Albus had been there a few times before, but not in a couple years.  Usually all the parties the Minister held were while Albus was at Hogwarts.

    A few hours before the party, Ginny made Albus, James, and Lily all take showers and comb their hair properly.  She spent a good fifteen minutes trying to get James's hair to lie flat and another fifteen minutes putting Lily's up in some sort of elaborate bun type thing.  Albus was very happy his own hair was far too short for that sort of thing.

    Before they left, Albus's parents sat him, James, and Lily down on the couch and proceeded to tell them the rules for the evening.

    “Absolutely no making trouble!”  Ginny stared at James as she said this,  “None at all!  This is the Minister's house!  I will not have you wreaking havoc in it.”

    “We're trusting you to keep yourselves occupied during this.  I'm going to have to mingle with everyone and we won't be able to watch you every second,”  Harry added,  “You're all at Hogwarts now.  You're old enough to not be glued to us for the evening.”

    “Don't worry,”  James said,  “I know when mischief isn't appropriate.”

    “Let's hope so,”  Ginny sighed.

    Albus and his family Apparated to the Minister's house, which meant side-along Apparition for Albus.  He hated side-along Apparition.  It felt like he couldn't breath.  It was worse when the person who was Apparating him was also Apparating another person, which was always the case in his family.  It was the curse of being the middle child.  He was either with James or Lily.  This time it was with Lily and Harry was Apparating them.

    When Albus had regained his ability to breath properly, he looked around at where they had landed.  He was standing on the front lawn of what was the most extravagant mansion he had ever seen.  It couldn't be considered a house; it was just too monstrous.

    A long and winding sidewalk, framed with bushes and lights on either side, lead up to the front door.  Albus's parents started walking up and Albus followed.

    The mansion seemed to get bigger as they got closer.  It was painted brown with a black roof and reminded Albus of a castle.  It wasn't nearly as big as Hogwarts, of course, but it was still huge.

    Harry rang the bell when they arrived at the door and it was answered by the Minister himself.  “Harry!”  he shouted,  “Come in!”

    Minister Langston Hartwell was the third minister since the fall of Lord Voldemort.  He was a tall, rotund man with very little hair left on his head.  He did sport a rather large mustache, which caused Albus to think of him as a much taller version of Professor Slughorn.

    Hartwell was one of those very educated wizards who spoke using very large words that Albus couldn't really understand.  He was long-winded and most of his speeches could be condensed down into a few sentences, according to Harry, that is.  He was a very nice man, though.

    “Right this way,”  Hartwell motioned for them to follow him.

    Hartwell lead them through the house, which was just as immaculate as Albus remembered, and into what could only be described as a grand ballroom.  It was the same ballroom all the parties Albus had been to were held.

    The room was decorated with silver and black and was already filling up with people.  Albus spotted Rose and Matt in the back of the room and left his family in the doorway to go see them.

    “Some place, huh?”  Albus said once he reached them.

    “This is the biggest house I've ever seen,”  Rose agreed,  “I see you're wearing your Slytherin robes.”

    Albus rolled his eyes.  “Shut it.”

    “What do you think, Matt?”  Rose turned to Matt,  “His mum says they match his eyes, but James says they're Slytherin robes.”

    “Slytherin,”  Matt said immediately.

    “Then yours are Ravenclaw,”  Albus pointed out, gesturing to Matt's blue robes.

    “I don't care,”  Matt shrugged,  “So, did you just get here?”

    “Yeah,”  Albus replied.

    “I've been here for two hours already,”  Matt said,  “We were the first ones here.  Dad keeps introducing me to people and they all think I'm a first year.”

    “Bet that's fun,”  Albus laughed,  “Do you know most of these people?”

    “Some,”  Matt said,  “That's the bloke Dad's taking over for,”  he gestured to a very large wizard,  “McVicar.”

    “Right,”  Albus said,  “I've heard of him.  Dad's always said he would never retire.”

    “Dad never thought he would either,”  Matt laughed,  “Then we've got your Uncle Percy, I think you probably know him.  Those people are a few of Dad's colleagues,”  Matt gestured to a few more witches and wizards,  “Then there's a bunch of people from other departments, but I don't remember any of their names.”

    “Looks like it's going to be a fun night,”  Albus said sarcastically.

    “Oh, it will be,”  Matt grinned,  “When I was really little, we went to parties like this a few times a month.  You make your own fun.”

    “Like what?”  Albus asked.

    “Charming alcohol out  of the wine and champagne.  It'll still taste exactly the same,”  Matt grinned mischievously,  “By the time midnight rolls around, everyone will be wondering why they're not drunk.  It'll be funny.”

    “You've done this before?”  Rose raised an eyebrow.

    “Amy has,”  Matt said,  “She's here somewhere and she's going to do it soon.”

    “I have to admit, that's really creative,”  Rose giggled,  “What else?”

    “Mostly stuff with the food.  Charm the chocolates to taste like vanilla, charm the serving utensils to move every time you go to pick them up, that sort of stuff,”  Matt explained.

    “My parents gave us this speech about how we can't play pranks here,”  Albus said,  “She was saying it mostly for James, but I think she should've given it to you.”
   
    “My parents never say that stuff to me,”  Matt laughed,  “They never suspect me of anything.  The minute they find out the alcohol's been charmed out of the drinks, they'll find Amy.”

    “She is the one who's going to do it,”  Rose pointed out.

    “It was my idea, though.  She wasn't originally going to do it at this party,”  Matt explained.

    “Alcohol's gone,”  Amy said quietly as she came up behind Matt,  “This is going to be interesting.”

    “What exactly happens when you use this charm?”  Rose asked.

    “Oh, it's great,”  Amy grinned,  “First, only a couple people notice and they make a very quiet mention to another person and then that person agrees that there's something wrong with the drinks.  Then it just snowballs from there until it's all they're talking about.  Then someone will test the drinks, discover the alcohol's been charmed away, replace it, and then everyone will cheer.  But some of them will act drunk because they think there's alcohol in the drinks.”

    “Aren't your parents going to be upset?”  Rose asked.

    “They might tell me they wish I hadn't done it, but there's not much they can do,”  Amy shrugged,  “That's why I'm doing it and not Matt.”

    “I couldn't see your parents yelling at you anyway,”  Albus laughed.

    “You never know,”  Matt shrugged.

    “I bet James and Cedric are going to do something,”  Albus said as he scanned the crowd.  James and Cedric were sitting at one of the tables, heads close together like they were plotting something.

    “I'd be shocked if they didn't,”  Rose smirked,  “Aunt Ginny has no hope of stopping James.”

    “And I'd bet my last Galleon that Georgia and Bradley are talking about Quidditch,”  Albus gestured to his other two cousins, who were standing near the buffet.

    “That's all they talk about,”  Rose said,  “And Lily looks bored.  Five Sickles says she's over here in about ten minutes or so.”

    “I wouldn't bet against that,”  Albus said,  “And Samantha and Lindy will sneak out of the room the next time Aunt Corrine looks away.”

    Albus's Aunt Corrine was talking with two witches Albus didn't know and his twin cousins were chasing each other around the room.

    “Are any of your other cousins coming?”  Amy asked.

    “Nope,”  Albus shook his head,  “None of my other aunts and uncles work for the Ministry.”

    “Let's go get something to eat,”  Matt said.

    Albus and Rose agreed. Amy left to go talk to someone else and the three friends walked over to the buffet.  There was already a small queue in front of it. 

    “There go Samantha and Lindy,”  Rose said as they waited.  The twins ran out one of the doors and Corrine quickly followed.

    The queue moved quickly and soon Albus was in front.  He grabbed a plate and piled it high with just about everything.  There was always the best food at this sort of party. 

    They found an empty table far enough away from James and Cedric.  Albus didn't want to be anywhere near them when they did whatever they were planning on doing.

    “I don't even know what half this stuff is,”  Matt said as he began eating, “But it's good.”
   
    More and more people arrived as Albus ate his dinner.  He recognized a few of them, but didn't remember any names.  He also noticed that nobody was acting strangely due to Amy's charm.  They were all acting perfectly normal for adults who had had a few drinks.

    Albus, Matt, and Rose wandered around the room once they finished their food. A few adults stopped to exclaim how big they'd gotten and to inquire what year they were at Hogwarts.  Lily joined them because she didn't want to be associated with James and Cedric's mischief.

    “Hello, everyone!”  Minister Hartwell shouted from the podium at the front of the room.

    Everyone quieted down and turned to watch him.  Albus, Rose, and Matt were somewhat close to the podium.

    “Thank you,”  he smiled,  “I assume you all know why I've thrown this party, and it's not just to unload the large amount of wine I was given for Christmas!”

    The adults all chuckled at Hartwell's attempt at a joke and then quieted down once again.

    “Yes, yes, well, this party is in honor of none other than Walter Eckerton, whom I have appointed to the position of Head of the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  There is no one else whom I would trust with such a job....”

    Hartwell's speech soon descended into one of his usual speeches, which Albus could not understand.  It was long, drawn-out, and Albus could've sworn he saw his dad yawn at one point.

    Albus clapped loudly when Hartwell finally finished and turned the podium over to McVicar.

    “Thank you, Minister,”  McVicar began,  “That was quite an interesting speech.  I, too, would like to congratulate Walter Eckerton on his promotion.

    “I am sure at least half of you were quite surprised to hear that I was retiring.  I myself was surprised.  In fact, I probably wouldn't have done it if it weren't for the fact that my wife has been begging me to for the past ten years. 

    “However, the main reason for my lack of an earlier retirement was because there was not a single person employed in the Ministry whom I would have trusted with this job.  Nobody had the capabilities to carry out this position in the way I would like.  Like they always say, if you want something done right, do it yourself.  That was my motto up until five years ago, that is.

    “A little over five years ago, a man came into the Ministry looking for a job in the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  He applied for a job in Werewolf Support Services, a position that had been open for well over a year.  I was ready to hire anyone who walked through the door at that point, but I had no idea what was to come when I hired Walter Eckerton.

    “Some of you may know that Walter has experience in this field.  He was the Head of the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia for three years before leaving the position in order to move to England. 

    “Walter revolutionized Werewolf Support Services as soon as he started.  The ideas he had were ones that even I hadn't thought of.  In five short years, he has bettered life for those plagued with lycanthropy more than anyone else in the department have in their entire careers.

    “It took only six months for me to realize that I wanted Walter to take over for me when I retired.  Not only does he have the experience and intelligence for the job, but he also has dedication that I have never seen before.  I even have to admit that his dedication surpasses my own.  I have never seen anyone fight as hard for werewolf rights as he has. 

    “The only thing left for me to do was convince myself it was time to retire,” McVicar chuckled,  “And yes, it did take the better part of five years to do that. But now, I feel very confident as I hand the reins over to Walter.”

    Everyone clapped as McVicar stepped away and Matt's dad took the podium. “That was quite the speech,”  Albus muttered to Matt.

    “I'll say,”  Matt agreed,  “And McVicar doesn't usually praise people like that.”

    “Well,”  Matt's dad began,  “Thanks for your vote of confidence, Rob.  I certainly hope I can live up to your expectations.

    “I have to begin by saying how unexpected this was.  I really had no intentions of becoming the head of the entire department again, no matter which country I was living in.  Werewolf Support Services has been such a great place to work these past few years.  It truly is my passion.

    “However, when Langston and Rob approached me about taking over when Rob retired, I found it difficult to say no.  In the end, I said yes because I want to make more of a difference. 

    “Of course, I could not have gotten to this place without the help of my wife, Julie,”  he gestured to Matt's mum, who was standing near the podium,  “And my daughter, Amy, and my son, Matt. 

    “I'm not one for long speeches, so I'll just say that I look forward to starting the job and I truly hope I can be at least half of the head of the department Rob has been.”

    “I just hope none of them find out why my dad's so dedicated,”  Matt whispered.

    “They're too drunk to think much on it,”  Rose smirked.

    “They're not really drunk,”  Albus reminded her.

    “They're certainly acting like they are,”  Rose pointed out.

    A good portion of the adults were acting very drunk.  In fact, if Albus hadn't known about Amy's charm, he would say they all really were drunk.  The weird thing was that everybody was acting drunk.  There didn't seem to be anyone who was thinking there was something wrong with the drinks.

    “Let's go ask Amy about it,”  Matt suggested.

    Amy was standing nearby, so Albus, Matt, and Rose squeezed their way through the crowd to get to her.

    “Amy,”  Matt whispered,  “Why's everyone acting normal?

    “I don't know,”  she whispered back,  “Let's go look at the drinks.”

    James and Cedric were also standing near the drink table, looking nearly as confused as Albus felt about this charm.  That was kind of strange.

    Amy grabbed a glass of wine and tried it.  “Well, it tastes fine, but it's supposed to.”

    “You'll have to drink a lot more than that to get properly drunk,”  Matt grinned.

    “I'm not doing that,”  Amy rolled her eyes.

    “Actually,”  James grinned mischievously,  “That might get you drunk.”

    “What did you do?”  Albus groaned.

    “Cedric and I added some extra alcohol to that wine,”  James whispered.

    Albus, Rose, Matt, and Amy burst out laughing.  Albus could not believe it. All of their pranks had backfired. The wine was now perfectly normal.

    “What's so funny?”  Cedric asked.

    “Amy pulled a prank, too,”  Albus said.

    “I put a charm on all the wine to remove the alcohol, while keeping the taste,”  Amy explained,  “I did it right when the party started.”

    “So much for that prank,”  James groaned.

    “Now you won't get in trouble,”  Albus pointed out,  “Mum's been watching you two.”

    “I know,”  James muttered,  “That's why we can't do it again.”

    “What do you want to do now?”  Albus asked as James, Cedric, and Amy left.

    “Want to explore the Minister's Mansion?”  Matt suggested.

    “Is that allowed?”  Rose asked skeptically.

    “I don't see why not, I mean, this is my dad's party,”  Matt pointed out, “Plus, we'd just be walking around.”

    “Let's go,”  Albus said and lead them out of the ballroom.

    It was much quieter in the rest of the house.  They started wandering through any rooms that had open doors.

    “This place is so bloody fancy,”  Albus said.

    “It reminds me of my grandparents' house,”  Matt said.

    “Their house is this big?” Rose asked.

    “Nearly,”  Matt replied, “They've got a ballroom and everything.”

    The three friends wound up in a very large living room filled with antique furniture.  There was an oriental carpet on the ground and oak tables and bookshelves around the perimeter.  Atop the tables were fancy vases of flowers and crystal sculptures.

    “We'd better be careful in here,”  Rose said as she walked into the room, “If we break any of this stuff, our parents would murder us.”

    “Cinda's got one of these,”  Matt pointed to a crystal swan.

    “Don't touch it!”  Rose hissed.

    “I wasn't,”  Matt assured her,  “I broke Cinda's once, but Mum fixed it.”

    “Look at all these books,”  Albus gazed up at one of the bookcases,  “Madam Pince would love to get her hands on these.”

    “They're all about politics, though,”  Matt pointed out,  “Pretty boring.”

    “Mum would like them,”  Rose said

    “I wonder how old this furniture is,”  Matt said as he looked at a rather uncomfortable looking armchair.

    “Probably older than Aberforth Dumbledore,”  Albus replied.

    “Hey, Albus, Matt, come here,”  Rose said as she looked out the window.

    Albus and Matt walked over to the window and leaned over the table that was in front of it.

    “What is it?”  Albus asked.

    “Look, there's-”

    Matt leaned farther over the table and knocked one of the crystal sculptures off.  Rose gasped and managed to catch it before it crashed onto the floor.

    “Merlin,”  Rose whispered as she set it back on the table,  “Be careful.”

    “Sorry,”  Matt replied,  “What were you saying?”

    “There's someone sneaking around out there,”  Rose said.

    Albus peered out the window into the darkness.  He could just barely make out a shadow lurking around the bushes.  It didn't look like the person was walking up towards the house to go to the party.  Plus, why would he show up three hours late?

    “There's definitely someone out there,”  Matt said.

    “Let's go find out who it is,”  Albus said.  He didn't have a clue as to who it was, but he wanted to find out.  There was no reason for someone to be sneaking around the Minister's Mansion at this time of night.

    “Albus Severus Potter, are you bloody insane?”  Rose exclaimed,  “I think you are!”

    “Look, I just want to go see if we can find out who it is.  I'm not saying we should go duel them.  Plus, there's a whole room full of Ministry officials in case whoever is out there is someone bad,”  Albus said.

    “That's a good point,”  Matt replied,  “Why would someone sneak around a house that's full of Ministry officials, especially when the two top Aurors are inside?”

    “I don't know,”  Albus said,  “But I want to find out who it is.”

    Rose reluctantly agreed and followed Albus and Matt, muttering under her breath.  They found the nearest door and went out into the cold night, drawing their wands as they did so.

    “If we aren't killed, we'll freeze to death,”  Rose muttered.

    Albus ignored her and started looking around.  He stayed close to the house and tried to keep himself concealed in the bushes as he looked for the figure. However, he couldn't see or hear anything.

    “Do you hear anything?”  he whispered to Matt.

    “No,”  Matt replied,  “It's like they disapparated or something.”

    “Good,”  Rose muttered,  “Now let's go back inside.”

    “They could've just moved,”  Albus pointed out,  “Let's keep going.”

    Albus continued creeping around the house, with his wand out in front of him. His heart was beating fast and his hands were sweaty despite the cold.  He didn't want to stop, though.  Figuring out who this bloke was was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.

    “Don't move!”  someone shouted and all of a sudden there was a bright light in Albus's eyes.  Wand light.

    Rose screamed and grabbed hold of Albus's arm.  Albus held up his own wand, his hand shaking.

    “Who are you?”  the person shouted.

    “Wh-who are y-you?”  Albus stammered.

    “He sounds familiar,”  Matt whispered,  “Hang on. Bloody hell, that's Professor Balladanis!”

    Albus thought for a second and the voice did sound a lot like Balladanis. But why would he be sneaking around the Minister's Mansion?

    “Albus Potter, is that you?”  the man shouted.

    “Er, yes,”  Albus replied.

    The wand light lowered and Albus heard the man step through the snow towards him.  Albus saw that he was indeed Professor Balladanis.  He breathed a sigh of relief as Rose let go of his arm.

    “Mr. Potter,”  Balladanis said and then waved his wand around,  “And Miss Weasley, Mr. Eckerton.  Oh, I suppose this party is for your father, Mr. Eckerton?”

    “Y-yes, sir,”  Matt replied.

    “What are the three of you doing sneaking around outside in the dead of night?  I thought I'd taught you better than that.  You're just asking for trouble,”  Balladanis said sternly.

    “Told you,”  Rose whispered to Albus.

    “Er,”  Albus began,  “We saw someone lurking around out here and went to investigate.  I guess that person was you....”

    “And you're lucky it was me,”  Balladanis barked,  “The three of you could have been dead if that person had been a dark wizard.  Now, I'm taking all three of you back inside.”

    Albus nodded and followed Balladanis through the snow and towards the door. “Sir,”  Albus said,  “If you don't mind my asking, what were you doing outside?”

    “If you must know, the Minister asked me to check the grounds in order to make sure nobody was lurking around,”  Balladanis replied.

    That did nothing but spark Albus's curiosity even more.  He knew better than to press further, though.  Balladanis was not one to explain his motives.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!

Chapter 23: All in Good Time
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   It was nearing midnight when Albus, Matt, and Rose re-entered the building, escorted by Professor Balladanis.  Albus had been hoping the professor would just see them to the door and then continue his search of the perimeter, but instead he went back to the ballroom with them and marched them right up to Harry.

    “Potter,”  Balladanis interrupted the conversation Harry had been having with some wizard Albus didn't know,  “I found your son, your niece, and their friend wandering around outside.”

    “Albus,”  Harry groaned,  “I thought we made it clear that you were to stay inside.”

    “I'll leave them with you,”  Balldanis said,  “Happy New Year.”

    “Happy New Year,”  Harry replied,  “And thanks.”

    Balladanis disappeared into the crowd and Albus shifted uncomfortably as his dad stared at him for a few moments.

    “Care to explain?”  Harry raised an eyebrow.

    “We were just, er, exploring,”  Albus muttered.

    “Don't do it again,”  Harry sighed.

    “We won't,”  Albus assured him.

    Harry went back to his conversation and Albus lead his friends back to the buffet. 

    “I hope you've learned your lesson,”  Rose muttered,  “I am not doing that again.”

    “We won't do it again.  Not tonight, that is,”  Albus grinned.

    “10!”  someone shouted.

    Albus looked at the nearest clock and saw that it was almost midnight. Everyone else joined in the countdown, holding their glasses of champagne in the air.  Amy joined Albus, Rose, and Matt. 

    “3, 2, 1, Happy New Year!”  Albus shouted along with everyone else. 

    The crowd began to thin out a little while later.  Most of the people Albus didn't know left, along with his Uncle Percy, Aunt Corrine, and his cousins. Albus's parents didn't look like they were in any hurry to leave, so he got a plate of the leftover desserts and at them with his friends.

    Rose's family and Amy left, and then it was just the Potters, Matt, his parents, the Minister, and his wife left.  All the adults were talking, James was teasing Lily about something, and Albus and Matt were finishing off the last of the desserts.

    “Do you think there's any way for Hogwarts to win the Quidditch tournament?” Matt asked as he polished off a piece of chocolate cake.

    “Only if Linda's sick the day of one of the matches,”  Albus sighed.

    “Maybe that'll happen,”  Matt said,  “You never know.”

    “Al, we've got to go,”  Ginny tapped him on the shoulder.

    “Ok, Mum,”  Albus replied and then turned back to Matt,  “I'll see you soon.”

    “Yeah, see you on the train,”  Matt said.

    Albus waved goodbye and then joined his mum, dad, James, and Lily.  They all said congratulations to Matt's dad and then left the Minister's Mansion.  Albus peered into the bushes as he left, but there was no sign of Professor Balladanis.

                        ******

    The remainder of the Christmas holiday went by very slow for Albus.  He did all his homework, which was quite boring, and there was nothing to do after that. Rose was visiting her other grandparents and James was at Nathan's house.  Even Kaden was busy visiting his grandparents (Vernon and Petunia).  He sent Albus a letter complaining about it, since the visit was also with Aunt Marge.  Albus was very grateful that he didn't have to go.  Neither of his parents had mentioned anything about visiting with Vernon and Petunia again.

    Finally the day to return to school arrived and the Potters made it to Platform 9 ¾ just in time.  Albus found all his friends in one of the compartments and once they kicked Lily, Ashtyn, and Hugo out, they told each other about their holidays.

    “Aunt Marge has got to be the most horrible aunt in the entire world,”  Kaden fumed,  “My dad told her about magic a few months ago and she's been awful ever since.  I mean, she was always kind of horrible, but now she's worse.  She just hates magic so much.  She's worse than my grandparents.”

    “Wow,”  Albus replied,  “Glad I've never met her.”

    “Consider yourself lucky,”  Kaden muttered,  “I'm guessing you lot had better holidays?”

    “We found Professor Balladanis lurking around the Minister's Mansion,”  Albus announced.

    “What?”  John, Kaden, and Amanda shouted at the same time.

    “I saw someone sneaking around outside and Albus insisted we go investigate,” Rose said,  “Turns out it was Balladanis and the Minister had apparently asked him to check the grounds for trouble.”

    “Did he find you?”  John asked.

    “Yeah,”  Albus nodded,  “He wasn't to happy either.”

    “Told us we could've been killed,”  Matt explained.

    “Well, we could've,”  Rose muttered.

    “Weird though,”  John said,  “Why would the Minister think someone would be hiding around his house?”

    “Doesn't he have guards around anyway?”  Amanda asked,  “The Muggle Minister does.”

    “Again, that's why it's weird,”  John replied,  “He does have guards.”

    “Why would he ask Balladanis anyway?”  Matt asked,  “Why not ask an Auror? Balladanis is a professor.”

    “He hasn't always been,”  Albus pointed out,  “He had some sort of mysterious job before.”

    “Again, weird,”  John said.

    “Yeah, there were a bunch of Aurors at the party, not to mention Albus's dad,”  Matt pointed out.

    “That settles it,”  John announced,  “Albus, you've got to find out what he did before he started teaching Defense?”

    “Why me?”  Albus asked.

    “Because you've got those special dueling lessons with him.  He likes you for some reason.  Of course, he also likes Malfoy.  But that's probably just because Malfoy's a good dueler, too,”  John explained.

    “I'll try,”  Albus sighed,  “But I really don't think he'll tell me.”

    “You never know,”  John said.

                        ******

    “Quiet, quiet!”  Balladanis shouted the following Tuesday, their first day of Defense after the holiday.

    Albus immediately stopped talking to Matt and John and turned to face Balladanis.  He was really hoping that the professor would say nothing about what happened at the party and so far Balladanis was showing no recollection of it. 

    “I trust you all had superb holidays,”  Balladanis said,  “But the holidays are over and although I am sure none of you thought a bit about defensive magic during said holidays, it is now time to commence that thinking once again.

    “First, I'll say that there is no time to not be thinking about defensive magic, as the dark arts do not take breaks for trivial things such as holidays.

    “Second, in this term we will begin to explore creatures far more dangerous than hinkypunks and kappas.  In this term we shall learn about those terrifying creatures such as acromantulas, basilisks, werewolves, dragons, and vampires.”

    Albus couldn't help but glance at Linda when Balladanis said vampires. Balladanis had glanced at her as well, and he also glanced at Matt when he said werewolves.  Of course, he had looked at Albus when he said basilisks, so it didn't necessarily mean anything, but Albus had a feeling it did.

    “As the headmaster would find it highly inappropriate for a dragon to manifest itself in this classroom, we shall not be using the anamatek as often this term,”  Balladanis continued,  “But we will be using it a few times.  You will find that there are more lectures in this term, much to my dislike.  There is nothing I would like better than to teach you about acromantulas and werewolves with practical lessons, but there are both laws and school rules that prevent such lessons.”

    Albus and Matt glanced at each other.  It was official.  Professor Balladanis was insane.  What kind of teacher would want to teach about dragons with live dragons?  Well, Hagrid would, but he wasn't the same as Balladanis.

    “Take out some parchment,”  Balladanis said,  “We're going to begin learning about acromantulas today....”

    The rest of the day went by relatively quickly.  Albus actually did not have Quiditch practice that night, so everyone went to the Marauder's Den after dinner.

    “Divination is such a joke,”  John said as he tossed his bag onto the floor and collapsed onto a couch,  “We started crystal ball gazing today.  All I saw was a load of fog.”

    “I told you not to take it,”  Rose said as she pulled a stack of books out of her own bag.

    “I didn't think it would be this bad,”  John groaned,  “There is no way anyone could see anything in a crystal ball.”

    “Palmistry was better,”  Amanda said,  “And Trelawney makes the whole thing worse.”

    “Trelawney could make Defense bad,”  Albus replied.

    “Balladanis told us that he wished he could teach us about dark creatures using the anamatek,”  Rose said,  “Seriously, he wanted a basilisk to appear in the middle of the classroom.”

    “That would be stupid,”  Kaden said as he unwrapped a Chocolate Frog,  “Those can kill you with their eyes.”

    “I know,”  Rose said,  “Balladanis is insane.”

    “Do you think that anamatek could turn into a werewolf if the moon wasn't full?”  John asked.

    “Probably not,”  Matt answered,  “It would just be a wolf.  I think it would just be a wolf any other time of the month, too, because there's no way it could turn someone into a werewolf by biting them.”

    “That's good,”  Albus said,  “Because he did say that he'd use the anamatek a few times this term.  Wonder if he'll have it turn into a vampire.”
   
    “No need,”  John laughed,  “We've got Linda.”

    “If you think of it that way, there's no point to have it turn into a fake werewolf either,”  Rose pointed out.

    “Good point, I guess,”  John muttered.

                        ******

    The rest of the week went by quickly.  Albus had Quidditch practice Thursday evening, and Wood informed the whole team that they'd gotten rusty over the holiday.  He also told them that the next match was in two weeks and they'd be playing New York.  If they won, they'd be in second place. 

    Albus had a dueling lesson with Balladanis the following evening and he had absolutely no idea how he was going to ask what Balladanis's previous job had been.

    Albus arrived at Balladanis's room before Malfoy and entered to find Balladanis clearing all of the desks from the middle of the room.

    “Mr. Potter,”  Balladanis turned around and greeted Albus,  “Is it safe to assume that you did not go wandering about late at night alone after New Year's?”

    “Yes, sir,”  Albus muttered as he felt his face turn red.  He was quite glad Malfoy wasn't there yet.

    “Mr. Malfoy,”  Balladanis said as Malfoy walked into the room,  “Now we may begin.  I have decided that your understanding of the Protego charm is satisfactory so we are going to move on to something else.

    “This particular charm, when performed correctly, manages to disarm and disorient a person at the same time.  The sensation is often described as dizziness.  Can either of you tell me what why this charm would be more useful than a standard disarming spell?”

    “Because it's easier to duel someone who's dizzy than someone who isn't,” Malfoy said.

    “More specifically than that,”  Balladanis said,  “Mr. Potter?”

    “Er, because you can get the person tied up while they're disoriented?  If they're a dark wizard you're trying to catch,”  Albus replied.

    “Another good reason, but not the one I was thinking of,”  Balladanis began to walk slowly around the room,  “Wizards who are expecting to have to duel other wizards often keep multiple wands on their person.  There are spells that can be performed on these wands to keep them attached to your robes or your actual body, spells that Expelliarmus won't overcome easily.  However, these spells require constant concentration. 

    “If a wizard is hit with the charm I am about to teach you, they will lose the concentration necessary to keep their extra wands affixed.  Then, you can use Expelliarmus to get the extra wands.”

    “Can you teach us that charm to keep extra wands in our robes?”  Malfoy asked.

    “Perhaps towards the end of the year.  It takes immense concentration and magical energy to simultaneously perform that charm while dueling someone,” Balladanis explained,  “For now, you will learn the charm to disarm and disorient a person at the same time.

    “The incantation is 'Confundo-Expelliarmus'.  A combination of Confundus and Expelliarmus.  Mr. Malfoy, you will go first.  When I say so, perform the charm against Mr. Potter.  Mr. Potter, you may try and stop him using the Protego charm I taught you earlier.”

    Albus nodded, wishing he had been chosen to perform the new charm first, and faced Malfoy.  He held his wand up and muttered 'Protego' under his breath.  He focused all of his concentration on holding the shield up.

    “Now, Mr. Malfoy,”  Balladanis muttered.

    “Confundo-Expelliarmus!”  Malfoy shouted.

    Albus felt the charm hit his shield, but it didn't break through.  He gripped his wand harder and stared at Malfoy. 

    “Keep going,”  Balladanis said to Malfoy.

    “Confundo-Expelliarmus!”  Malfoy shouted again.

    The charm hit Albus's shield a little harder this time.  Albus could feel beads of sweat forming on his forehead. 

    Malfoy kept going and it took him five times to break through Albus's shield. When it happened, Albus felt his wand leave his hand and was overcome by a wave of dizziness at the same time.  He felt exactly like he had when he had gotten the flu the previous year, only without the fever.

    Albus didn't pay any attention to what Malfoy and Balladanis were doing.  He felt like he was going to pass out and he had to sit down.  He sat down right on the floor and was vaguely aware of Balladanis standing over him.

    Then, all of a sudden, the dizziness was gone.  Albus shook his head and then looked up and saw Balladanis and Malfoy standing in front of him.  Malfoy looked impressed and Balladanis looked like he always did.

    “You did quite well with that shield,”  Balladanis said as Albus stood up, “And I think it's safe to assume that you couldn't have held concentration for any spells after Mr. Malfoy succeeded in breaking your shield.”

    “No, sir,”  Albus shook his head.

    “Normally the charm's effects would have lasted longer, but I performed the counter-curse because it looked like you were ready to pass out,”  Balladanis explained,  “When you're ready, you can try the charm.”

    “I'm ready,”  Albus said as he took his wand back from Malfoy.

    Balladanis gave Malfoy a few seconds to get his shield up and then nodded at Albus to perform the charm.

    “Confundo-Expelliarmus!”  Albus shouted.  As he expected, the charm did not break Malfoy's shield. 

    Much to Albus's delight, he managed to break the shield on the fourth try. One less try than Malfoy had needed for Albus.

    The charm hit Malfoy in the chest and his wand soared towards Albus.  Albus caught it and watched as Malfoy bent over and fell to the ground, much like Albus himself had done.

    Balladanis gave Albus one of his rare smiles and then pulled out his own wand.  He waved it at Malfoy and Malfoy looked up.

    “That was weird,”  Malfoy muttered.

    “It's supposed to be,”  Balladanis said,  “Now get up and we'll do it again.”

    Balladanis kept them at it for the better part of an hour, past when Albus would have liked to quit.  It was exhausting to be hit with that spell time after time while trying to hold up a shield charm.  Malfoy didn't seem to be faring much better and Albus thought he was even going to ask Balladanis to stop after a half hour, but Malfoy closed his mouth, obviously thinking better of it.

    The practice wasn't for nothing, though.  Albus managed to hold Malfoy off longer and longer each time and although Malfoy was getting better at the shield charm as well, Albus broke through it a few more times.

    “That's enough for tonight,”  Balladanis finally said after he performed the countercurse on Albus for what must have been the tenth time that night,  “I'll see you in class on Tuesday.”

    Malfoy made a beeline for the door, but Albus turned to Balladanis instead. He might as well just get it over with.  There was no good way to ask Balladanis what his previous job had been.  He just had to do it.

    “Er, Sir,”  Albus began,  “I was just wondering, what did you do before you began teaching here?”

    Balladanis gave Albus the strangest look he had ever seen.  It was a mixture of anger, sadness, and even regret.  For a moment, Albus wished he hadn't asked. It was too personal.  He should have just told John they wouldn't be able to find out.

    “Now is not the time,”  Balladanis said quietly,  “All in good time, I will tell you.”

    Albus was taken aback.  That was more than he had expected.  He had thought Balladanis would have told him to mind his own business and get back to Gryffindor Tower before curfew.  Albus was going to find out, he was just going to have to be patient. 

    Albus left the room as quickly as he could in his exhausted state, before Balladanis could change his mind about eventually telling Albus about his previous career.  The walk back to Gryffindor Tower seemed longer than usual and all Albus wanted to do was collapse into bed when he finally got there.

    Instead, he was ambushed by all of his friends.  All five of them looked shocked and Amanda looked like she was going to be sick.  He looked around the common room and saw that most people looked shocked and everyone was subdued.  There was no joking around going on.  Even James was quietly sitting at one of the tables.

    “What happened?”  Albus whispered as he followed them back to their usual table. 

    Rose opened her mouth to speak and then closed her eyes, unable to do so. Albus turned to John and raised his eyebrows.

    “You know that bloke who owns Dervish and Banges?”  John asked quietly.

    Albus nodded, having seen the man on numerous occasions when he was in Hogsmeade.  He was slightly older than Albus's parents, with greying hair and a very intense personality.  He never hesitated to make his opinions known

    “Someone killed him,”  John said in barely more than a whisper.

    “Wh-what?”  Albus turned to look at all his friends in turn.  Matt nodded ever so slightly and then put his head on his hands.

    “Must've just happened,”  John said,  “They just found him.  Madam Rosmerta heard a commotion and Flooed here, to get the Auror on duty.  By the time they got back, his shop was a complete mess inside and he was laying dead on the floor. Avada Kedavra.  They're searching Hogsmeade, the forest, the grounds, and the school.  Nobody's allowed out of their common rooms and dormitories.”

    “We thought Balladanis would bring you back here when it happened,”  Rose said.

    “Nobody even came in to tell us,”  Albus replied, still in shock.

    People weren't just randomly killed in Hogsmeade.  That sort of thing just didn't happen anymore.  Not since Voldemort had been defeated.  Well, Professor Torro had been killed back before his first year and then that one witch from the Ministry had been killed over Christmas, but their killers had never been found and nothing had happened since.

    “Why would anyone kill him?”  Matt wondered aloud.

    “Why would anyone kill anyone?”  Rose replied.

    The portrait hole opened and all the whispering stopped.  Everyone looked to see who came in.  It was Professor Longbottom, looking worse for the wear.  His robes were disheveled and his tie was askew.

    “Aurors are still searching the castle and the grounds,”  he told them,  “I suggest you all try and get some sleep.  The search will be long over by morning, so you will be free to leave the common room then.”

    Albus and his friends looked at each other after Longbottom left.  They wordlessly went up to their dormitories, Kaden going with Albus instead of to the second years' dorm.  Nobody said anything as he curled up on the floor with one of Albus's spare blankets.  Albus got into bed and stared at the ceiling.  He had been so exhausted earlier, but now there was no way he'd get much sleep that night.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome readers and reviewers!

Chapter 24: Darker Times
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   Lunch was very subdued the next day.  Most people had slept quite late since it was a Saturday.  Every student of Hogwarts had their nose in a copy of the Prophet, be it their own or a friend's.  The staff table looked the same, with every professor either reading the Prophet or whispering with another professor, no doubt about what they'd read. 

    Albus was reading Georgia's Prophet as she had finished with it and made a mental note to start subscribing himself.  All of his friends were peering over his shoulders.  Even Linda was hovering around them, a foot or so away.

HOGSMEADE SHOPKEEPER MURDERED

A disturbance in Dervish and Banges late
yesterday evening that sent one Hogsmeade
resident to Hogwarts to find the Auror on
duty lead to the discovery of the death
of a shopkeeper. 

Leroy Wisander, 42, the ten-year owner of
Dervish and Banges was pronounced dead
on the scene by Ministry Aurors yesterday
evening.  His shop had been broken into
and it showed signs of a struggle.
Wisander was discovered in the middle of
destroyed merchandise with his wand
laying a few feet away.  Aurors confirmed
that he was killed with the killing curse.

An extensive search of Hogsmeade, the
forest, Hogwarts, and its grounds turned
up nothing despite the hours Aurors spent
searching.  No fingerprints were found on
the scene.

Aurors will be devoting time to finding
Wisander's killer and a possible motive.

Leroy Wisander had owned Dervish and Banges
for a little over ten years, when he
purchased the shop from its previous owners
who retired.  However, Wisander is more
known for the scathing editorials he writes
for this very newspaper.

Anyone who knew Wisander knew he was a man
of very strong opinion and did not hesitate
to let others know his opinions.  His most
recent editorials have explored the subject
of werewolf, vampire, and other so called
'half-breeds' rights.  Aurors have declined
comment on whether they believe Wisander's
editorials are a possible motive for his
murder.  Wisander's obituary can be found
on page five.


    Albus set the paper down and his friends all resumed their seats.  Nobody said a word for a few minutes.  Albus didn't know what to think.  The article certainly made it seem like Wisander was killed because of his beliefs.  However, it didn't exactly say what his beliefs were.  Albus hadn't ever read any of his editorials, so he couldn't say either.

    “What kind of editorials did he write?”  Matt asked quietly.

    “I have no idea,”  Albus replied, looking at his friend whose face was quite pale,  “Want to go to the room?”

    “Yeah,”  Matt nodded,  “I'm not really hungry.”

    Albus got up and was followed by all of his friends.  John and Kaden each grabbed a stack of toast before leaving.  Even Rose and Amanda went with them instead of going off to study with Linda.

    “Have any of you read his editorials?”  Matt asked as soon as they were in the Marauder's Den.

    Nobody had read them.  Not even Rose.  Matt sighed and collapsed onto one of the couches.  “I've got to find out what they were about.  I don't even know which would be better, him being for or against werewolf rights.  If he's for them, that means some bloke is on the loose killing people for wanting werewolf rights.”

    Matt didn't even have to continue for Albus to know why that worried him. Matt's dad was possibly the biggest proponent of werewolf rights in all of Britain and everyone knew it.  If someone had been killed just for writing about werewolf rights, what would happen to someone who was actually passing laws for them?

    “That might not be why Wisander was killed,”  Rose pointed out.

    “Why else would someone have killed him?”  Matt asked,  “He was just a shop owner in Hogsmeade.”

    “Why did someone kill Professor Torro?”  John replied,  “He wasn't even writing any editorials or anything.”

    “To scare people,”  Albus said quietly,  “The Defense teacher position used to be cursed, back when our parents were in school.”

    “Well, I don't think you should worry until you find out what the editorials are about,”  Rose said to Matt.

    “The other option isn't much better,”  Matt muttered,  “If he didn't write editorials for werewolf rights, then he wrote them against them.”

    Albus thought Matt had a point, but he kept his mouth shut.  Any way you looked at it, this murder pointed to the fact that things were changing.  Aurors had been patrolling Hogwarts for months, but Albus had quickly adjusted to that and didn't really think much about it, but maybe there was more happening outside of Hogwarts than Albus was aware of.

    “Let's go to the library,”  Rose said as she stood up,  “They'll have old copies of the Prophet there.”

    Everyone agreed with this and they set off to the library.  When they arrived, they were surprised to find how crowded it was.  Usually Saturdays were the days everyone put off their homework and then Sundays were spent in the library.

    Once they stepped inside, Albus saw that everyone was looking through old copies of the Prophet.  Nearly every table had a few newspapers on it and a few students poring over them.  Madam Pince was bustling about, no doubt worrying about whether the students would rip her precious newspapers.

    “Might not be any left,”  John muttered.

    “This is good,”  Albus replied,  “Now it won't look suspicious for us to be investigating.”

    John was almost right.  There was a very small stack of newspapers left. Albus grabbed them all and then they went to a secluded table towards the back of the library.  Albus, Matt, and Rose each took a newspaper while John, Kaden, and Amanda played tic-tac-toe on a spare bit of parchment.

    Albus leafed through his newspaper, which was about two years old, until he got to the editorial section.  In the very middle, in the biggest font, was an editorial by Leroy Wisander.

HEALERS, BREWERS TO BLAME, NOT MINISTRY OFFICIALS

As I was locking up my shop last night,
I noticed that it was a full moon.  I
could not help but think of the poor
people plagued with lycanthropy
currently shut up while attacking
themselves.

Now, I know what you all are thinking.
Wolfsbane.  The stuff works miracles
if taken correctly.  However, it does
no good if it's sitting in St. Mungo's
and not being used by witches and
wizards with lycanthropy.

The stuff is expensive.  I myself did
the calculations and discovered that
it would be extremely difficult for
anyone with a low income to afford it.

And what kind of jobs are lycanthropes
often stuck with?  Menial, low-paying
ones.  The jobs where they make hardly
enough money to pay the rent and buy
food, let alone purchase a potion that
could alter their lives for the better.

I am absolutely appalled that Healers
and potion brewers charge for this
important potion.  They must be making
a nice profit.  They can use the profits
to take extravagant holidays while the
poor witches and wizards who buy it
struggle to afford it.

There is only so much Ministry officials
can do.  Head of Werewolf Support Services,
Walter Eckerton, says he would love to
give away free Wolfsbane, but there just
isn't room for it in the budget.

What do I propose?  I propose that Healers
and potion brewers give it away for free.
They have the abilities to brew it, not
the Ministry.  Most Healers claim to love
helping people, but often it is those who
need it most, such as those with lycanthropy,
are often forced to go without, all because
those with the abilities to brew it like
to have a little extra spending money.


    “Nothing in this one,”  Rose said as she shoved hers aside.

    “This one's got one about vampires,”  Matt said as he set his paper on top of Rose's.

    “Read this,”  Albus handed Matt his paper,  “Wisander even mentions your dad.”

    Matt took the paper and he and Rose began to read it.  John, Amanda, and Kaden peered over as well.  Albus sat and waited while they read.

    “Let's go back to the room,”  Matt said as soon as he'd finished reading it.

    Albus nodded and they returned the newspapers and walked as fast as they could back to the Marauder's Den.

    “Bloody Hell, that bloke must have had so many enemies!”  John shouted as soon as they were back.

    “I know,”  Albus agreed,  “And that one's from two years ago.  Imagine what he's written recently.”

    “Why did he have to mention my dad?”  Matt groaned,  “He made it sound like my dad agrees with that editorial and he definitely doesn't.”

    “He was just trying to stir something up,”  Rose replied,  “And look where it got him.”

    “Healers aren't like that.  Most of the ones I've met would give away free Wolfsbane, but it's more complicated that that.  The ingredients are expensive and it takes forever to brew.  Not to mention how difficult it is.  There aren't many Healers who can brew it and even most brewers can't brew it,”  Matt explained.

    “That bloke didn't know the half of it,”  John agreed,  “My dad's a Healer and he'd love to give away free potions.  It just doesn't work that way.”

    “My dad's linked with that bloke,”  Matt said quietly,  “And now that he's head of the entire department, he'll be passing more laws.  Whoever killed Wisander's not going to be happy.”

    “Your dad's a really good wizard, though,”  Albus pointed out to his worried friend,  “Plus he works at the Ministry, where there are loads of Aurors milling about.  And your house is more protected than any other house I've seen, well, except the Minister's Mansion.”

    “I know, but it's still not good,”  Matt sighed.

    Albus couldn't argue with that.  Something was going on outside of Hogwarts. Something far more important than the Quidditch tournament and the dueling tournament.

                        ******

    Albus and his friends scoured the Daily Prophet every morning the following week.  Every day there was an article about Wisander, the investigation, or both. So far the investigation had turned up nothing.  The Aurors had questioned quite a few people, namely those very outspoken against werewolf and vampire rights, but the search had proved fruitless. 

    The articles about Wisander were far more interesting.  It seemed that his editorial about Wolfsbane Potion was one of the tamer ones.  Each day little pieces of his various editorials were being published.  In one, he stated the reasons why werewolves shouldn't be locked up on full moons.  The reasons were quite absurd, but the Prophet had printed it anyway.  Another editorial talked about why vampires should be allowed access to humans to bite.  He suggested using prisoners and allowing vampires to suck them dry.  Thus helping vampires and reducing prison costs at the same time.

    “I reckon this bloke was off his rocker,”  John announced at breakfast the following Sunday.  He had just finished reading an article about how Wisander spent a year living with a vampire tribe in Turkey when he was young.  They were some of the few people actually up at an early hour, as Albus had Quidditch practice and John had a morning detention with Filch for putting dungbombs in the toilets in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom the previous day.

    “That's a nice way of putting it,”  Albus said as he served himself more eggs.

    “What are you doing after Quidditch practice?”  John asked.

    “After Quidditch?”  Albus laughed,  “You mean, I'm going to get to leave eventually?  Wood won't make us practice for the next week?  I thought he was going to keep going until the actual match on Saturday.”

    “He's got to let you out for class,”  John grinned.

    “What a shame,”  Albus rolled his eyes,  “Anyway, I'll probably have to do homework, since practice will go until late.  How about you?  Any plans for after detention?”

    “Thought I might earn another detention,”  John grinned,  “But Kaden's busy with chess club this afternoon-”

    “Wait,”  Albus nearly choked on his juice,  “Kaden joined the chess club? Kaden?  Kaden Dursley?”

    “Know any other Kadens?”  John laughed,  “Rose said they want to teach him how to play properly, you know, like a challenge of sorts.”

    “I'll tell Rose good luck with that,”  Albus said.

    “Yeah, so both Kaden and Rose will be busy with that.  Not that Rose would want to earn detention with me anyway.  And Amanda's doing something with Linda today, homework, I think.  And I doubt Matt will be up for doing anything,”  John continued.

    “Right,”  Albus said, remembering that the full moon was that night,  “But you did the dungbombs on your own.”

    “But it's not as fun,”  John sighed,  “I guess I'll just hang around the den with Matt.  I can have a nice one-sided conversation.”

    “You can do your homework,”  Albus told him.

    “Nope, I'm waiting until you get back for that,”  John said.

    “Well, have fun in your detention.  I've got to get to practice,”  Albus said as he got up.

    There were a few choice words Albus had for practice that day.  Long, grueling, and intense.  Wood was in his finest form as he ordered the team to do drills hour after hour.  He seemed to get more and more stressed as the day wore on.

    James did a lot of one-on-one training with Teddy and Albus was more than a little envious.  Teddy was a much more patient captain than Wood was and yelled a whole lot less.  Tyler Pike mostly helped Wood.

    Wood let them have a short break for lunch, making sure they knew to come back afterwards.  Albus heard the Slytherins on the team talking about skipping out of the rest of practice, but they were back on the pitch at the time Wood told them to be.

    The afternoon was very similar to the morning and Albus found that he could tune out Wood's yelling quite easily.  It was similar to tuning out his mum's yelling. 

    Practice finally ended at three, when the New York team walked onto the pitch and demanded they leave, because they had booked the pitch for three o'clock that day. 

    “Remember, practice Tuesday evening!”  Wood shouted as the whole team rushed to get off the pitch.

    Albus trudged back to the castle tired and shivering.  He went straight to Gryffindor Tower and took a very long, hot shower and then set off to find his friends. 

    Rose, Amanda, and Linda were in the common room, but the boys weren't.  Albus figured they were in the Marauder's Den and set off to look for them after saying a quick hello to the girls.

    John and Kaden were in the middle of a heated game of Exploding Snap when Albus walked into the Marauder's Den a few minutes later.  John's face was full of ash, but Kaden's was quite clean.  There was also a big grin on his face which contrasted the scowl on John's face.  Matt was laying on the couch facing them, like he had been watching the game, but he was sound asleep.

    “Albus!”  Kaden shouted,  “How was practice?”

    “Grueling.  Wood's ten times worse than Georgia.  Five hours we were out there.  Five bloody hours in the cold!”  Albus groaned as he collapsed onto the other couch.

    “Better than scrubbing Moaning Myrtle's bathroom with a toothbrush,”  John muttered,  “I don't know what was worse, the scrubbing or listening to Myrtle.”

    “All three of you are so cheery today,”  Kaden said,  “So many complaints.”

    “Can you blame us?”  Albus muttered.

    “No, not really,”  Kaden shrugged.

    “How was chess?”  Albus asked.

    “I got beaten by every single person in the chess club,”  Kaden shook his head,  “But they think I have potential.”

    “Albus,”  John said as the cards blew up in his face again,  “Have you done that Defense essay?

    “No,”  Albus groaned.

    “I need your help,”  John said as he got up and started digging around in his bag.

    Albus groaned again and fished around in his own bag for his Defense book. Balladanis wanted a foot long essay about basilisks, which were the current dark creature of the week. 

    John sat down at the table while Albus lay on the couch.  He just couldn't bring himself to get up and do his essay.  Instead, he mumbled answers to John whenever he asked a question.

    “Do you hatch the chicken egg under a frog or a toad?”  John asked.

    “Toad,”  Albus mumbled.

    “You know, I could pull a Rose and tell you to do your essay,”  John replied.

    “Don't even bother,”  Albus said.  Even Rose wouldn't be able to get him off the couch.

    “Quidditch seems less grueling than football,”  Kaden commented,  “I mean, you fly, you don't run.”

    Albus lifted his head up and glared at Kaden.  “Wood had us doing push-ups and running laps.”

    “Really?”  Kaden sounded surprised,  “Why?”

    “To get us into shape after the holiday,”  Albus answered,  “So yes, Quidditch is a lot of work.”

    “Ok, ok,”  Kaden muttered as he located some of his own homework.

    Albus managed to get in a somewhat comfortable position on the couch and wrote his essay with his book and parchment perched on his knees.  It beat sitting at the table; at least he was able to sort of lie down. 

    A few hours later both Albus and John had their essays completed.  Kaden was still scribbling furiously on whatever homework he was working on.

    “We should probably wake him up,”  Albus gestured to Matt, who had not moved one muscle since Albus had came back from practice.

    John got up and began to prod Matt's arm.  It took a good two minutes for Matt to open his eyes.

    “It's nearly six,”  John told him.

    “Then I should probably go,”  Matt mumbled,  “Oh, Albus, you're back from practice.”

    “Yeah,”  Albus nodded,  “It was really long, though.”

    “I'll go with you to the hospital wing,”  John said and Matt did not object. Albus assured him they'd visit him the next day and then they left, leaving Albus and Kaden alone in the room.

    John returned a little while later and the three of them went down to dinner. They returned to the Marauder's Den afterwards and John and Kaden continued working on their homework while Albus slept on the couch.

                        ******

    “Albus, get up!”

    Albus mumbled something incoherently and rolled over in his bed.  It felt far too early to wake up.

    “Albus!”  Whoever was shouting was now prodding him in the side.

    Albus opened his eyes and saw Teddy standing over his bed.  A glance at the clock told him that, yes, it was far too early to wake up.  It was six in the morning.  On a Saturday.  Yes, it was the day of the Quidditch match against New York, but that wasn't until one o'clock and Albus was only a reserve player anyway.

    “Albus, you'd better get up now.  Wood's in the common room,”  Teddy whispered.

    That got Albus's attention.  His eyes shot back open and he sat up.  “What?”

    “Fielding's sick,”  Teddy told him,  “You're playing today.”

    Now Albus was wide awake.  “Seriously?  What about O'delle?”  Hailey O'delle was the other reserve Chaser, a seventh year Slytherin.

    “She's sick, too,”  Teddy explained,  “The two of them are going out, so it doesn't surprise me.”

    Albus took that to mean that Teddy thought they were snogging and one got the other sick.

    “I'll be down in two minutes,”  Albus muttered.

    Teddy nodded and left.  Albus threw on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans before running down to the common room, where he found Oliver Wood pacing in front of the empty fire.

    “Albus,”  he said as soon as Albus stepped into the common room,  “You're playing Chaser today.”

    Albus nodded and sat down for what was sure to be a very long speech.  Wood paused and then launched into an explanation of tactics, which Albus had already heard during practices that week.  He couldn't figure out why he had to be woken up at six to be told he was playing.  Wood could have accomplished the same thing at ten.

    Wood and Teddy left after Wood finished lecturing Albus and Albus considered going back to bed, but as he was wide awake, it would be pointless.

    Part of Wood's speech had been on the weather, which was cold and slightly snowy.  Could be worse, Albus thought.  At least there wasn't a blizzard.  The conditions were very similar to those they had been practicing in all week.

    Albus sat in the common room reading a book he found laying around until his friends got up around ten.

    “There you are,”  Matt, who was looking significantly better than he had a few days ago, said,  “What time did you get up?”

    “Six,”  Albus muttered,  “Teddy got me up.  Wood had to tell me I'm playing Chaser today.”

    “What?”  Matt shouted,  “That's brilliant!”

    “This is great, Albus!”  John grinned,  “But why?”

    “Fielding's sick and so is the other reserve Chaser,”  Albus explained,  “I'm just glad we're playing New York and not Australia.”

    Albus went to the Great Hall to eat lunch with his friends, but he wasn't really hungry.  He didn't think he had ever been more nervous for a Quidditch match.  This was a really important match, as Wood had pointed out numerous times.  If they won by a wide enough margin, they'd be in second place.

    Word had gotten around that Albus was playing in the match and numerous people came over to the Gryffindor table to wish Albus luck. 

    “Al,”  Harry sat down next to Albus.

    “Dad,”  Albus smiled.  He hadn't been sure if his dad was coming to the match or not.

    “I'll be watching the whole time.  I'm sure you're going to do great.  Just think of it as a match against another house.  Ravenclaw, I guess, since their robes are blue,”  Harry grinned,  “Good luck.”

    “Thanks,”  Albus replied.

    Albus left with the rest of the Hogwarts team a few minutes later.  All his friends wished him good luck as he left the Hall.

    Nobody talked much as they changed into their robes.  Everyone sat down afterwards, ready for Wood's pre-match speech.

    However, Wood seemed to be all speeched out.  He merely said that they'd trained well and to give it their all.  Albus was a little shocked by the shortness of the speech, but quickly got over it as he walked out onto the pitch.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Also, I wrote a new song fic!  It's from Snape's point of view, as I wanted to try something different.  It's on my Author Page if you want to check it out!


Chapter 25: The Memory
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


  Ten minutes into the match, Albus decided there were four types of Quidditch in the world.  Casual Quidditch, like what he played with his cousins; school Quidditch; professional Quidditch; and then there was the type of Quidditch he was playing now.

    It was a combination of school Quidditch and professional Quidditch.  The crowd was louder, the players more determined, and the stakes were higher than a normal school Quidditch match. 

    Albus dodged one of the New York Chasers and flew up to catch the Quaffle, which had been dropped by Waverly as he had been hit by a bludger.  As soon as Albus had the Quaffle, he was flanked by the other two New York Chasers.

    Albus pushed his broom to fly faster and held the Quaffle tighter to his chest.  Then he plunged down to the ground, where nobody else was flying.  He was back up high two minutes later when he had reached the New York goal posts.  After dodging a Bludger, he threw the Quaffle into the left goal post.  The Keeper was too slow and the Quaffle soared through.

    “Potter of Hogwarts has scored!”  Todd Smith shouted,  “40-30 Hogwarts!”

    James grinned at Albus as he flew past.  Albus smiled to himself and joined Waverly and Reilly, who were waiting for New York's Keeper to throw the Quaffle out.  That had been his first goal of the match.
   
    The Quaffle continued to exchange hands quickly as the match went on.  An hour later there was still no sign of the Snitch and both teams were neck in neck as far as points went.  New York was up by ten. 

    Albus scored a few more goals and he began to relax a little.  The match began to feel more like a school match and less like a professional match, even though the stakes were still high. 

    Wood had repeated over and over again that they had to be up by at least fifty points when James caught the Snitch, or they wouldn't be able to overtake New York as far as overall points went. 

    “New York's Seeker has seen the Snitch!”  Smith announced.

    Albus, who had been following one of New York's Chasers (the one who had the Quaffle), turned around and saw that their Seeker was making a beeline for the top of Hogwarts' middle goal.

    James noticed as well and flew straight at the hoop.  He had been significantly closer than New York's Seeker and flew away from the hoop with the struggling Snitch in his hand.

    The crowd roared and James held the Snitch high above his head.  Both teams flew to the ground and Albus saw the pained look on Wood's face.  They hadn't won by enough to be in second place overall.

    “I had no choice!”  James shouted to him,  “She was going to get it!”

    Wood nodded in agreement, but he still looked disappointed.  Albus chose to ignore this and helped the rest of the team to hoist James onto all of their shoulders.

    “To update everyone on the points, the Australian School of Sorcery is in first place.  New York and Hogwarts are currently tied for second.  The next match will take place at the end of February!”  Smith told the crowd.

    Albus didn't meet up with his friends until they were back in the common room.  Teddy had gone to Hogsmeade and a party was currently underway in the Gryffindor common room.  Teddy informed everyone that the three other houses were hosting parties as well.  The students from New York who had been sorted into Gryffindor, including their Seeker, were sulking in a corner.

    “I think that was your best match yet,”  John said to Albus as they settled down at their usual table.

    “I think so, too,”  Albus agreed,  “I kind of wish I could play in the next match.”

    “Maybe Fielding will still be sick,”  John said.

    “Doubt it,”  Albus replied,  “Plus, I'm sure O'delle will get first dibs on the next match if any of the other Chasers get sick.”

    “At least you got to play in one match,”  Rose pointed out.

    “Anyway, the next match you'll probably be playing Australia,”  Matt said.

    “Yeah,”  Albus nodded,  “If we win that one, it'll be a miracle.  But we're not even playing in the next one.  Next match is New York versus Australia.”

    The party continued until dinner time, when people began to leave as nobody had snuck down to the kitchens to get food.  Harry came in to congratulate Albus and James shortly before Albus and his friends left for dinner.  He was also scheduled to patrol the school for the remainder of the weekend and wanted to let his kids know.

                        ******

    Life at Hogwarts returned to normal shortly after the Quidditch match.  The Prophet printed fewer and fewer articles about Wisander until there were none at all.  Everyone seemed to forget about his death.  Everyone except Matt, that is, who was still worried about his dad.

    However, the students at Hogwarts were reminded again of the unsolved murder when the next Hogsmeade trip arrived two days after Valentine's Day.  A portion of the students were too lovesick to notice the boarded up shop of Dervish and Banges as they made their way to Madam Puddifoot's.

    Neither Albus, John, or Matt were too preoccupied to notice the abandoned building, though.  The three of them stopped to look at it for a while despite the biting wind.  Rose and Amanda were spending the day with Linda.

    “Who owns it now?”  John asked as they looked at the empty building.

    “Dunno,”  Albus shrugged,  “The Prophet never mentioned any family.”

    “It's probably still part of the investigation,”  Matt pointed out,  “Plus, who would want a building that someone was killed in?  I don't even want to go in it.”

    Albus didn't think it was a good time to remind Matt that Severus Snape had been murdered inside of the Shrieking Shack.

    “Good point,”  Albus said,  “But so far they haven't found anything.”

    “They won't find who it was,”  John said quietly,  “They never found out who killed Torro.”

    “I really hope they find who it was,”  Matt replied.
   
    “They will,”  Albus said,  “They're still focused on it.”

    Albus, Matt, and John went to the Three Broomsticks a little while later because all three of them were frozen.  They warmed up with Butterbeer and were just thinking about heading back to the castle when Albus heard someone whisper his name behind him.

    “Albus,”  they said again.

    Albus turned around, but no one was there.  The voice sounded familiar, though.  Albus slowly reached his hand out and it touched something solid, but it looked like no one was there.

    “Kaden,”  Albus groaned,  “Is that you?”

    “Yeah,”  Kaden whispered back,  “I stole your cloak.”

    Albus immediately stood up and motioned for Matt and John, who were both looking confused, to follow him.  He assumed Kaden would follow as well.  Albus lead them up High Street until they reached the Shrieking Shack.  Nobody was hanging around it that day.

    “Kaden!”  Albus seethed,  “You do realize how stupid this was.”

    “Yes,”  Kaden replied as he took off the cloak.

    “Bloody Hell!”  John shouted.

    “You stole the cloak?”  Matt asked.

    “Kaden, you idiot!”  Albus shouted,  “I know I first told you this would be a good time, but there was a reason I changed my mind and told you not to sneak in today.  Most of the teachers come to Hogsmeade for the February trip.  My cousins told me.  They want to make sure no one does anything stupid because they're in love or whatever.”

    “Er,”  Kaden muttered.

    “How did you get in?”  Matt asked.

    “One-eyed witch statue,”  Kaden replied,  “Leads right into Honeyduke's.”

    “Kaden, do you know how difficult it's going to be to get you back unnoticed?”

    Kaden's face turned white and his mouth dropped open.  Albus turned around to see what he was looking at and was met face to face with Professor Balladanis.

    “Quite difficult, I'd expect,”  Balladanis replied,  “Come with me, all of you.”

    Albus groaned inwardly as he followed Balladanis down the street.  They had gone all year without Kaden getting them into trouble, but Albus should have known better than to think they could go the whole year.

    Nobody spoke until they were shut in Balladanis's study.  Balladanis sat down in his chair and looked at Kaden.

    “Explain,”  Balladanis said.

    “They had nothing to do with it,”  Kaden said quickly,  “Albus was just telling me how stupid I was.”

    “Then it would seem that Mr. Potter and I agree on something,”  Balladanis replied,  “Where'd you get that cloak?”

    “It's Albus's,”  Kaden said quietly,  “I took it.  He didn't give it to me to sneak in or anything.”

    “Very well,”  Balladanis said,  “Mr. Potter, Mr. Eckerton, and Mr. Brickston, you may return to your common room.  Mr. Dursley will join you after I arrange his detention.”

    Albus, Matt, and John could not get out of there quick enough.  They walked straight back to the common room, talking about how lucky they had been.  It must have looked like all three of them had helped Kaden sneak into Hogsmeade.  Good thing Balladanis believed Kaden.

    Kaden returned fifteen minutes later, looking quite unhappy.  He collapsed onto a chair and stared mutinously at the table.

    “Detention every Saturday for the next month,”  Kaden muttered,  “Plus he gave me a lecture about how dangerous it was for me to sneak out and if I did it again I'd get a worse punishment than detention.  Didn't elaborate on that, though.”

    “He'd probably get you kicked out,”  John commented.

    “Did he say what you have to do for detention?”  Albus asked.

    “No,”  Kaden said,  “Guess it'll be a surprise.”

                        ******

    Kaden discovered what his detention was that night.  Balladanis decided to have him alphabetize his private library, which was quite extensive.  Kaden returned to the Marauder's Den ranting about the amount of books Balladanis had.

    “He's got more books on dark creatures than your dad's got,”  Kaden said to Matt.

    “That's impressive,”  Matt replied.

    “Wish he had less,”  Kaden muttered.

    Kaden spent all four of his detentions alphabetizing those books.  He almost didn't manage to finish and if that had been the case, Balladanis would have given him a fifth detention.

    The next full moon came and went, as did the next Quidditch match.  Albus was beginning to suspect that the full moons were becoming worse for Matt, although he didn't know why. 

    New York lost miserably to Australia in the Quidditch match.  They had been doing pretty well until Linda caught the Snitch a half hour in.  Wood insisted that this was a good thing, though.  It meant that if Hogwarts managed to score a good amount of goals before Linda caught the Snitch in their next match, they would have more overall points than New York.  Wood seemed to have lost any hope that James could beat Linda in Seeking, something James fumed about on a near daily basis.

    March arrived and with it a three day rain storm that left the grounds completely flooded.  Both Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures had to take place inside, which resulted in incredibly boring lessons.  Wood continued to hold Quiditch practice and Albus returned to the castle completely soaked and covered in mud after each one.

    All of the teachers were piling on the homework and Professor Patil had even gone so far as to mention the O.W.L.s even though they were a whole two years away. The only teacher who wasn't talking about the end of term exams was Professor Balladanis.

    Balladanis conducted his lessons as if end of term exams did not exist.  He changed nothing about his lessons except the dark creature they were learning about. 

    “We're starting vampires next week,”  Balladanis announced at the end of class on Thursday,  “Please read the chapter on them by Monday.”

    Albus couldn't help but look at Linda before he began packing up his things. He wondered if Balladanis would be teaching them enough about identifying vampires for anyone to figure out that Linda was one.

    “So,”  John said as he flipped through his Defense book the following evening.  Albus, Matt, John, and Kaden were in the Marauder's Den and John was just finishing the chapter on vampires.  “Look what's after vampires.

    Albus looked through his own book.  “Werewolves,”  he said quietly and then looked at Matt.

    “Yeah,”  Matt muttered,  “It was bound to happen eventually.”

    “I wonder if Balladanis is going to make you go in for extra help during that unit,”  John grinned,  “I'm sure you'll need loads of extra help in identifying werewolves.”

    Matt rolled his eyes.  “He better.  It'll look suspicious if I don't go in for extra help.  Speaking of extra help, we're due to go in for it in fifteen minutes.”

    “We'd better go then,”  John said,  “See you two later.”

    Albus managed to finish his Herbology homework while John and Matt were gone. Then it was time for him to go in for his dueling lessons.

    The desks weren't pushed to the sides of the classroom when Albus entered. Balladanis was seated behind his desk and there was a stone basin sitting on it. Balladanis was pulling silvery strings of something out of his head and placing them in the basin.

    It was a pensieve and the strings were memories, Albus realized.  For a moment, he thought that maybe Balladanis had cancelled dueling and neglected to tell him.

    “Sir?”  Albus asked hesitantly.

    “Mr. Potter,”  Balladanis said quietly,  “Come in.”

    Albus stood awkwardly next to one of the front tables while he waited for Malfoy.  Balladanis stared into the pensieve and acted like Albus wasn't there. When Malfoy arrived, he looked up and stared at the two boys for a few minutes before speaking.

    “We're not dueling today,”  he said,  “Instead, I am going to show you something.”  He motioned for them to join him at his desk.

    Albus glanced nervously at Malfoy.  Balladanis wasn't one for explanations, but Albus would have appreciated one right then.

    “This is a pensieve,”  Balladanis said,  “It is used to explore memories. That is exactly what we're going to do.  Albus, lean forward and put your head into the pensieve.  Your body will follow.  Scorpius, you will follow.  I will come after you.”

    Albus's pulse sped up a little bit as he leaned over the pensieve.  Was this a stupid idea?  He didn't even know what he was getting into.  But it was just a memory.  Nothing could hurt him in a memory, right?

    Albus took a deep breath and plunged his face into the pensieve.  He had never been in one before.  He landed on the hard grass and looked around.

    It was dusk and very quiet.  There was a small house in the distance, atop of a rocky hill.  In fact, the whole area was mostly rocky.  Albus had landed on the one lone piece of grass in the whole place.  It didn't look like any place in Britain.

    He stood up as Malfoy landed next to him, followed quickly by Balladanis. Balladanis landed on his feet and they waited for Malfoy to get up.

    “Follow me,”  Balladanis said quietly.

    Albus did so, but he still felt like he deserved an explanation.  Where were they?  Why were they there?  Whose memory was this?  What did it have to do with dueling?

    “Excuse me, Sir,”  Malfoy said,  “Where are we?”

    “Greece,”  Balladanis replied.

    This did nothing but increase Albus's curiosity.  Why were they in Greece of all places?  But he didn't ask.  It didn't seem like Balladanis was in an explaining mood, judging by his short, one word answer to Malfoy.

    They walked quietly towards the small house.  The only noise was their footsteps.  There weren't even any owls hooting or dogs barking.  It struck Albus as very odd.

    The house must have been their destination.  Balladanis stopped when they arrived at the broken down wooden fence surrounding it.  The house reminded Albus of the Shrieking Shack, only smaller.  It was kind of broken down and didn't look like a place that would be good to live in.

    Someone lived there, though.  A light was on upstairs.  It remained on for a few more minutes and then someone turned it off.

    Balladanis made no move towards the house.  Instead, he seemed focused on the forest that lay just beyond it.  Albus decided the forest was as good a place as any to watch.

    They watched the forest for a half an hour before anything happened.  Then five hooded figures practically flew out of the forest.  They were at the house before Albus even realized it.  He looked at Balladanis.  His face was hardened.

    All was quiet for two minutes.  The figures entered the house, but did not turn on any lights.  Then the screams started.  Albus jumped at the sound of the first one. 

    They were agonizing, long screams.  Albus wanted nothing more than to go in and help whoever was screaming, but he knew he couldn't.  It was nothing more than a memory.  Instead, he looked again at Balladanis.

    His professor's face showed nothing.  Nothing but the same hardened look he had seen on it so many times.  Malfoy on the other hand, looked horrified.  He looked exactly how Albus felt.

    The screaming was coming from two different people.  There was a high-pitched one that must have been coming from a woman, and a lower one that must have been coming from a man.

    Then, they stopped.  First the woman, then the man.  The hooded figures left the house as quickly as they had entered and returned to the forest.

    Balladanis, however, made no move to leave.  Instead he stared at the house. Two minutes later, someone fled from it.

    They ran from the house, towards Albus, Malfoy, and Balladanis.  As they drew closer, Albus could see that the person was a boy who looked no older than Albus himself.  His face was etched with a sadness Albus had never seen before.  It was too dark to tell, but Albus was sure there were tears running down his face.

    The boy obviously didn't notice the three people watching him.  He ran right past them, up the rocky hill in the distance.  It occurred to Albus after he passed that the boy looked somewhat familiar.  There was something about his face that Albus recognized, but he couldn't quite place it.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all of the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 26: The Presuler
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   Professor Balladanis didn't say anything for a long time after he, Albus, and Malfoy returned to the Defense classroom.  Albus landed next to Malfoy, still confused as to how he managed to get out of the pensieve, in front of Balladanis's desk.  Balladanis landed behind his desk, facing the wall, and didn't turn around for a few minutes.

    Albus glanced nervously at his professor as he thought of questions he was just burning to ask.  In fact, there was nothing about the scene he had just witnessed that didn't make Albus curious.  Everything about it had been confusing.

    Malfoy looked just as confused.  They kept looking at each other and it was kind of strange.  They were on the same side.  Both of them wanted Balladanis to explain. 

    Balladanis finally turned around and looked at them.  He put his hands on his desk and leaned forward, looking both Albus and Malfoy in the eye. 

    It happened in a split second.  Albus looked at his professor and immediately thought back to the face of the boy in the scene.  That was why he looked familiar. The boy was Balladanis.  Then, Balladanis shifted slightly and the likeness was gone.  But Albus knew it.  That scene had been from Balladanis's childhood.

    “Sit down,”  Balladanis said.

    Albus and Malfoy sat down quickly at the table in front of Balladanis's desk. They were sitting right next to each other and Albus didn't care.  At the moment, finding out what that scene was was more important than staying away from Malfoy.

    “A few weeks ago you asked me what I did before I started teaching here, Mr. Potter,”  Balladanis began,  “I have always had the intention of telling you, of telling both of you.  I was merely waiting for the right moment.  I feel that that moment is now.”

    Balladanis paused and walked around to the front of his desk.  He began to pace in front of it. 

    “There is a reason why I am telling you this now.  Why I am not explaining to all of my classes what I did before teaching.  The reason is that you two are incredible duelers.  Both of you have skills beyond your years that I have never seen before, and believe me, I have seen plenty of exceptional duelers in my time. This may be a good time to tell you how rare it is to have two such skilled duelers in the same year at Hogwarts.”

    Albus turned to look at Malfoy.  What was Balladanis getting at?  It sounded like the start of some sort of house unity speech or something. 

    “I know the two of you aren't the best of friends,”  Balladanis continued, “But I must say how impressed I am that you seem to put the animosity behind you when you step into my classroom for your lessons.”

    The sole reason for that, at least for Albus, was because of Balladanis himself.  Albus doubted he would tolerate Albus and Malfoy bickering with each other during lessons.

    “Back to what I was going to tell you,”  Balladanis said,  “That scene that I just showed you, in case you have not figured it out yet, took place while I was a boy of only thirteen.  It was the summer before my third year at school.

    “I grew up in Greece, in that very house we just saw.  My parents, although they loved me deeply, were very poor and could barely afford to put food on the table.  I think they were grateful when I went away to school, the sole reason being that they wouldn't have to worry about me getting enough to eat.

    “I had two blissfully innocent and fun years at the Grecian School of Magic. I returned home during summers full of stories about my friends and all the mischief we'd gotten into.”

    Albus found it difficult to imagine Balladanis getting into trouble at school or doing anything fun in general.

    “Everything changed the summer before my third year.  It changed on the night you just witnessed.  A coven of vampires entered my house that night.  They attacked my parents and drank them dry.  I hid in a closet, too scared to do anything.  Then, once the vampires left, I fled.  I ran until I could not run anymore.  I wound up at the house of one of my friends.  His parents took me in, but things were obviously never the same.  I changed on that night.”
   
    Balladanis stopped talking and Albus sat in complete shock.  Balladanis's parents had been murdered by vampires?  That was one thing that had never crossed Albus's mind. 

    “I returned to school that September hardened.  Nothing was fun anymore. Nothing was funny.  It was then that I decided to devote my life to ridding the world of such evils.  Vampires, dark wizards, werewolves, anyone and anything that murders viciously.”

    Albus couldn't help but glare at Balladanis when he mentioned werewolves. Balladanis seemed to notice this and gave Albus the slightest of smiles.

    “However, I did realize that not all vampires, werewolves, giants, and other beings are inherently evil.  Not all of them want to kill.  It was for this reason that I did not wish to be employed by the Greek Ministry.  The Greek Ministry prefers to deal with magical creatures as a whole and not distinguish between them.  Perhaps this is because Greece has a very large population of vampires.

    “Thus, becoming an Auror was out of the question. Instead, I chose to enter a more secretive profession.  One that you will not find pamphlets on when you get career advice from your heads of house.  One that no one except me is going to suggest to you.  Yet it is one that I believe the two of you are quite suited for.”

    Albus's heart sped up at this.  Balladanis was going to give them career advice?  They were only thirteen.  But at the same time, Albus felt excited. Balladanis thought he was a good enough dueler for this career, whatever it was.

    “I am a Presuler,”  Balladanis said,  “I am sure neither of you have heard of one.  A Presuler is somewhat like an Auror, in that we seek out dark wizards and dark magic.  However, we not only seek out dark wizards and dark magic, we seek out dark and dangerous creatures as well.

    “The biggest difference is that Presulers are not employed by the Ministry. There are very few Presulers in the world and we are often sought out by various Ministries and hired on an as-needed basis.  We travel from country to country, whenever we are needed.  It is quite secretive.  I suppose Presulers are a combination of Aurors and private investigators.”

    Balladanis was right in that Albus had never heard of a Presuler before.  The idea intrigued him, though.  A secretive kind of Auror who did not work for the Ministry. 

    “I never caught the vampires who killed my parents.  I have met one vampire who knew them, but she is not like them.  I am still searching for them, however.”

    Balladanis stopped pacing and leaned up against the front of his desk.  He looked at Albus and Malfoy, but did not say anything else.

    “Why are you teaching here, then?”  Malfoy asked.

    “That is one thing that is between myself and Professor Kendrick,” Balladanis replied.

    “Are you coming back next year?”  Malfoy asked.

    “As of right now, I have no idea,”  Balladanis answered,  “It is getting late.  I've kept you here much longer than normal.  If you think of anymore questions, do not hesitate to see me.  I'll walk you back to your common rooms.”

    Albus walked alongside Balladanis in silence on his way back to the Gryffindor Tower.  His mind was racing with what he just learned.  He didn't know what to make of it.  It was just so much information at once.

    The common room was nearly empty when Albus climbed through the portrait hole.  It must have been really late, since it was Friday night.  Albus really didn't know what time it was.

    “There you are!”  Rose shouted,  “Merlin, you've been gone for hours!”

    “What did he have you doing?”  Matt asked.

    “I'll tell you tomorrow,”  Albus muttered, realizing that all he wanted to do was lay in his bed and think about what Balladanis had just said.

    Albus was vaguely aware of his friends sighs of disappointment as he went up to his dormitory, but he didn't feel like talking about it right then.  He was tired and his mind was racing at the same time. 

    Albus tossed and turned the entire night.  He alternated thinking about what he had seen in the pensieve and about becoming a Presuler himself.  Then he wound up thinking about Linda and what Balladanis thought of her.  He had said he didn't hold a grudge against vampires that didn't kill people, but who knew what he really thought.

    Was Linda the vampire he had met who knew the vampires who killed his parents?  It was possible since vampires never aged.  Or maybe she was a completely different vampire.  Albus wondered how many vampires Balladanis knew.

    Eventually Albus fell into a restless sleep, but his dreams were plagued by what he had seen in the pensieve. 

                        ******

    “Merlin, Albus, get up!”

    Albus rolled over in his bed and put his pillow over his head.  After waking up drenched in sweat at four in the morning after a nightmare in which his whole family had been killed by vampires, he had finally drifted off into a somewhat decent sleep.  One that he wished he was still in.

    “It's nearly one o'clock.”

    “He's like you are after full moons.”

    “Shut it.  Seriously, Albus, get up.”

    “Yeah, we want to know what happened last night.”

    Someone pulled the curtains open and took the pillow off Albus's head.  He looked up and saw John and Matt.

    “Did you lose to Malfoy or something?”  John asked,  “Because that would make me want to hole up in bed for the day.”

    “No, it's not that,”  Albus muttered,  “I'll tell you, but I'm only explaining it once, so one of you better find Rose, Amanda, and Kaden.  And I'll tell you in the Marauder's Den because there is no way Linda can be around to hear this.”

    The girls and Kaden met them in the Marauder's Den after Albus, John, and Matt had lunch.  John kept pestering Albus all through lunch, wanting to know why Linda couldn't hear about it, but Albus said nothing.  He wasn't even sure if he was allowed to tell his friends about this, but Balladanis hadn't really forbidden him.

    “Albus, what in the name of Merlin happened last night?”  Rose asked as soon as they were all in the Marauder's Den.

    “Balladanis told us what he did before he started teaching at Hogwarts,” Albus said quietly.

    “And you neglected to tell us until now?”  John gaped,  “I've been wanting to know for the entire year!”

    “I know, John,”  Albus snapped,  “But it's not anything what you'd think.”

    “Sorry,”  John muttered.

    “Balladanis took us into a pensieve last night,”  Albus began.

    “Really?”  Rose looked impressed,  “What was that like?”

    “Not that great, to be honest,”  Albus said,  “Probably would have been better if it was a better memory. 

    “Anyway, he took us without any explanation of what we were going to see.  He took us to this really old broken down house in Greece.  Kind of looked like a smaller more run-down version of the Shrieking Shack.”

    “In Greece?”  Kaden asked.

    “Yeah,”  Albus nodded,  “We watched the house for what seemed like hours and then these figures broke into it and we heard this awful screaming.  Then the figures left.  Then this bloke who was about our age came running out with this horrible scared look on his face.  Then we left.”

    “What does that have anything to do with what Balladanis does for a living?” John asked.

    “Everything,”  Albus sighed,  “That had been his house.  The screams were his parents.  The boy was him.  He told us this after.  His parents were killed by a coven of vampires.”

    Nobody said anything for a long time.  Albus looked at his friends and they all wore equal looks of shock.

    “And you watched it?”  Matt asked.

    “From a distance,”  Albus replied.

    “Merlin, no wonder Balladanis is so bloody insane,”  John let out a low whistle.

    “He decided to devote his life to ridding the world of evil, whether it be vampires, dark wizards, or other dark creatures,”  Albus continued.

    “So he's an Auror?”  Rose asked.

    “No,”  Albus shook his head,  “He's a Presuler.”

    “What is that?”  Kaden asked.

    “It's like an Auror, only they go after dark creatures, too.  And they aren't employed by the Ministry.  They're hired by Ministries all around the world. They're investigators as well.  Apparently it's all very secretive,”  Albus explained.

    “Wow,”  John said,  “I thought he was an Auror or something.”

    “Me, too,”  Matt agreed,  “Instead he just hunts down vampires.  And, werewolves.”

    “Only ones that kill people,”  Albus assured his lycanthropic friend.

    “All werewolves have the capability of killing people, Albus,”  Matt said quietly.

    “So does everyone,”  Albus replied.

    “Whatever his view on vampires and werewolves truly is, it's going to be interesting to see how he teaches us about them,”  Rose mused.

    “Guess this is why you didn't want Linda to hear about this,”  John said.

    “Yeah,”  Albus replied,  “Apparently he still hasn't found the vampires who killed his parents, but he knows a vampire who knows them.  That vampire doesn't kill people.  I wonder if it's Linda.”

    “Who knows?”  Rose shrugged,  “I doubt we'll ever find out.”

    “Oh, I've got to tell you what he said after he told us all of this,”  Albus took a deep breath,  “He thinks Malfoy and I should become Presulers.”

    “Seriously?”  Matt asked.
   
    “Yeah, because we're good duelers,”  Albus explained,  “But I don't know.”

    “You don't have to know.  You're only thirteen.  And Albus, don't decide anything until you've read about this.  Don't just go on what Balladanis is saying. I think we've finally discovered why he's so passionate about fighting the Dark Arts, but it might cloud his judgement sometimes,”  Rose warned.

    “I know, that's what I don't get,”  Albus said,  “Why is he telling us this now?”

    “Maybe because he doesn't plan on staying,”  Matt replied,  “Why would he stop searching for the vampires who killed his parents to teach here anyway?”

    “Malfoy asked,”  Albus told him,  “But he wouldn't tell us.  He said it's between him and Kendrick.”

    “Because that's not suspicious or anything,”  John rolled his eyes,  “There's still something funny about Balladanis.”

    “What are you going to do, Albus?”  Matt asked.

    “I'm not deciding anything now,”  Albus replied,  “I'm just not going to think about it.”

                        ******

    Not thinking about Presulers and what happened to Balladanis's parents proved to be easier said than done, especially since Defense class was soon devoted to learning about vampires.  Balladanis seemed to teach that particular unit with much more enthusiasm than usual, a feat that nobody thought possible.  Everyone speculated as to why Balladanis was more enthusiastic than usual, but most just attributed it to the fact that he was bloody insane.

    A lot of what Balladanis taught about vampires was stuff Albus already knew due to what Matt had told them earlier in the school year.  It was still fairly interesting, though.  Albus found that the more dangerous the creature they were learning about, the more interesting it was.  Not to mention the fact that they didn't use the anamatek anymore, a fact that nearly every student was grateful for.

    However, partway through their second week devoted to vampires, the anamatek's trunk reappeared in the Defense classroom.  There was an audible groan from every student who stepped into the room.

    “If that thing turns into a vampire, I think I'm going to get up and leave,”  John seethed as they took their seats.

    “Maybe we're moving onto another creature,”  Albus suggested even though he knew the chances were slim to none.

    “That wouldn't be any better.  We're doing werewolves next,”  John reminded him,  “And Matt said that thing couldn't turn into an actual werewolf.  Speaking of Matt, he's lucky he's missing this.”

    “I think he'd say otherwise,”  Albus replied.  The full moon had been the previous night. 

    “Quiet,”  Balladanis said,  “We'll be continuing our vampire lesson today. Today I wish to show you what a vampire looks like, which is why I have brought back the anamatek.  However, you will not be fighting it.  None of you have the skills necessary to fight a vampire.”

    “He's mental,”  John muttered.

    Balladanis drew his wand and pointed it at the trunk.  It snapped open and out stepped a very pale man with chiseled features.  He didn't move, but merely stared out at all the students.

    “Vampires are the perfect predator,”  Balladanis announced,  “They're incredibly fast,”  he pointed his wand at the vampire and it disappeared.

    It reappeared in the back of the classroom, but it had not Apparated.  The vampire had moved so fast that Albus had missed it in the blink of an eye.

    “They're agile,”  Balladanis continued,  “They're good looking.  They attract you in.  Then they kill, they suck you dry until you are dead.  The alternative is not great, either.  From the moment their teeth break your skin, you begin to transform into a vampire as well.  You will become one if they do not suck you dry. There is no way to stop it, no potion to counteract it.

    “Vampires hunt at night when their vision is still excellent, but when human vision is compromised.  However, that is not the only reason.  Does anyone know the other?”

    Rose raised her hand.  Linda did not.

    “Yes, Miss Weasley?”  Balladanis said.

    “Vampires are in essence allergic to the sun,”  Rose explained,  “When the sunlight hits them, it hurts them.  The sun gives them headaches and makes them feel sick.”

    “Precisely,”  Balladanis gave her a rare smile,  “There is no potion to counteract the effects of the sun on vampires.  Therefore they tend to inhabit areas that see less sun and areas of dense forest, such as the Northwestern and Northeastern United States, parts of Canada, and parts of Russia.  However there is also a significant vampire population in Greece.”

    Balladanis pointed his wand at the vampire again and it retreated back into the trunk.  Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The lesson continued until the bell rang.  Balladanis made no mention of moving onto the next unit, nor had he assigned the usual end of the unit essay.

    Albus and his friends went to visit Matt late that night after Albus got out of Quidditch practice.  They only had a half hour or so until curfew, but they hadn't visited at all yet.

    “You missed an excellent Defense lesson today,”  John said once Madam Pomfrey had gone back into her study after leaving to see who had entered her ward.

    “Was it any different from the usual ones?”  Matt asked tiredly.  He looked ready to fall asleep at any moment.

    “Balladanis brought back the anamatek,”  Albus told him.

    “He what?”  Matt shouted, although since his voice was hoarse it wasn't very loud,  “We're still doing vampires, aren't we?”

    “Yeah, he had it turn into a vampire,”  John said,  “We didn't have to fight it.  He just used it to show how fast vampires were and what they looked like.”

    “That is weird,”  Matt replied,  “He assign the vampire essay yet?”

    “Nope,”  John shook his head,  “I think we're in for a few more days of vampires.”

    “Well, the longer we spend on vampires, the more time we have before we start werewolves,”  Matt said quietly,  “I really hope he doesn't spend as much time on them as he has on vampires.”

    “I don't think he will,”  Albus said,  “His parents weren't killed by werewolves.”

    “Thank Merlin for that,”  Matt yawned.

    “You're tired,”  Rose said,  “We should leave.”

    “We'll be back tomorrow after lunch,”  Albus told him,  “Good night.”

    “'Night,”  Matt said.

    They left the ward just as Madam Pomfrey was coming out of her study, presumably to tell them to leave and give Matt more potions.  Albus and his friends headed straight for the common room, where they got started on all the homework that had been piled on them that day.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 27: The Werewolf Lesson
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.




    A few of Albus's cousins had begun to take up bets on how long Balladanis was going to spend teaching the third years about vampires.  Fred was sure he'd spend the remainder of term, but Bradley was convinced he'd move onto the next unit partway through April.  None of the third years were actually participating in these bets because they were all afraid Balladanis would find out. 

    The vampire unit was still well underway when the next Quidditch match came along.  This one was the second Hogwarts versus Australian School of Sorcery match, which meant Wood was in his prime when it came to practice.  Albus considered just moving his bed to the changing rooms since he spent more of his time on the Quidditch Pitch than in the Gryffindor common room.

    Albus awoke the day of the match to John's loud swearing instead of Teddy, which told him that he did not have to play during that match.  He couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed.  Figuring there was no point in going back to sleep, he got up and asked John what happened.

    “Tripped over Matt's bloody cauldron,”  John muttered, holding onto his right foot,  “Why can't he just put that stupid thing away?”

    “Like you always do?”  Albus smirked and gestured to John's own cauldron, which was sitting only a few feet away from Matt's.

    John muttered something indistinguishable and shoved his cauldron under his bed.  He went into the bathroom while Albus woke Matt up.  The three of them met Kaden in the common room a little while later and then went down to the Great Hall to get something to eat.

    A few hours later the boys were in the Quidditch stands, waiting for the match to begin.  Rose and Amanda were with them. 

    “Wonder how long it'll take Linda to find the Snitch this time,”  Albus mused.

    “I'm betting on ten minutes,”  John said,  “Hey, remember that time we eavesdropped on Killigan?”

    “Yeah,”  Albus replied,  “Wasn't Linda supposed to start flying slower after that?”

    “That's what I thought,”  John shrugged,  “But she didn't during the last match.”

    “She probably won't this time, either,”  Matt put in,  “I mean, think about it, if James could fly that fast, would he really slow down to a normal speed?”

    “Definitely not,”  Albus sighed.

    Matt's prediction proved correct.  Linda did not slow down in the slightest.  She flew at her usual abnormally fast speed, beating James to the Snitch by a few yards.  Luckily for Hogwarts, they had been ahead of Australia at that point and only wound up losing by forty points. 

    This put Hogwarts quite a bit ahead of New York as far as Quidditch points went.  Australia was still in the lead, but they were not faring so well in the dueling tournaments.  As of the most recent tournament, Hogwarts was winning.  Australia was in last place and New York was somewhere in between.  Albus was pretty sure that if the Quidditch and dueling tournament points were added up, Hogwarts and Australia would be neck in neck.  Whatever the outcome of the remaining qualifying tournaments and matches, the finals for both were going to determine the winner of the competition.  The points were just too close.

    Although there was obviously no celebration in the Gryffindor common room after the match, nobody was particularly depressed either.  Albus figured this was because nobody had really expected Hogwarts to win anyway. 

                        ******

    Two weeks into April, Bradley along with quite a few other older Gryffindors, were able to cash in on their bets about Balladanis.  Fred and a few others grumbled loudly about it as they handed over Galleons to the winners.

    Balladanis had assigned the long awaited essay on vampires on Thursday, officially making the vampire unit the longest unit they had done.  They had spent an entire month and a half on it.  The essay seemed to match this length, as Balladanis wanted it to be two and a half feet.

    Albus, Matt, and John saved their essays for the last possible minute, settling down to work on them the day before they were due.  It wasn't a particularly hard essay because Balladanis had given them so much information on the subject.  It was just a very long essay to write.  Rose and Amanda had done theirs over the weekend, presumably with Linda.  Albus couldn't help but be slightly envious of them because doing the essay with an actual vampire would make it the easiest essay ever.

    “Bet Linda's glad this unit's over,”  Albus said as they worked on their essays in the Marauder's Den Monday evening.

    “She is,”  Rose answered,  “She hated every minute of those lessons.  Can't say I blame her.”

    “How long is your essay, Rose?”  John asked as he measured his own essay.

    “Three feet,”  Rose answered.

    John groaned.  “Do you think Balladanis will notice if mine's three inches short?”

    “Yes,”  Rose said,  “If there's any essay he'll be extremely picky about, it'll be this one.”

    “Maybe if we don't finish it we can just skip class tomorrow,”  Matt muttered,  “After all, I wouldn't want to show up in class without the essay done.”

    “But it'll be worse when you finally do go to class,”  Rose pointed out.

    “I still don't particularly want to go to class tomorrow,”  Matt said,  “Whether I've finished the essay or not.”

    “You're going to finish it,”  Rose told him,  “You've got two inches left.”

    “Finished,”  Albus announced.

    “Excellent,”  John said as he grabbed Albus's essay,  “I'll copy bits of yours.”

    “You know,”  Albus said quietly,  “Nobody found out about Linda being a vampire even after we've spent a month and a half on them.  I don't think anyone's going to find out you're a werewolf just because we're learning about them.”

    “I know, I've just got a bad feeling about it,”  Matt sighed.

    “Look on the bright side,”  Kaden put in,  “When you get assigned the werewolf essay, you're sure to get a 100.”

    “I don't really care about the essay,”  Matt said flatly.

    Both Matt and John managed to finish their essays before curfew and they returned to Gryffindor tower, and they soon went to bed.  Albus didn't think Matt slept much, though.  He heard him tossing and turning all night.

    Albus, Matt, and John got a late start since John had misplaced his vampire essay.  After finding it under his bed (no one was sure how it go there), the three boys rushed down to the Great Hall to grab pieces of toast before running to Defense.

    They walked into the room right on time and barely had a chance to catch their breath before Balladanis asked for everyone to hand in their vampire essays.  Albus passed his essay up and pulled out parchment and a quill.

    “Well, our unit on vampires is over,”  Balladanis said once everyone had handed in their essays,  “I trust you have all read the chapter on werewolves for today?  If you had for some reason decided not to do that, I highly suggest doing it tonight.”

    Balladanis began his usual pacing in front of the classroom.  He stopped in front of Rose and Linda's table and then stared out at the class.

    “I thought I would begin with werewolf history,”  he announced,  “Nobody is sure when the first werewolf came about, but they have existed in nearly every wizarding culture.  Not only that, but even ancient Muggle cultures have lycanthropy in their histories.

    “Hundreds of years ago, before the Muggle field of psychology came about and long before Muggles had any understanding of the human mind, they tried to make sense of people whom they deemed 'insane'. 

    “One way they did this was to attribute the insanity to the moon.  Over the years, the myth of werewolves came about.  Thus, werewolves have had a significant role in Muggle stories.  In reality, the people Muggles accused of having lycanthropy were merely suffering from schizophrenia or bouts of insanity.”

    Albus frantically tried to write everything down.  He knew absolutely nothing about the Muggle view of lycanthropy.  He glanced at Matt and saw that he wasn't writing anything down, but his hand was shaking.

    “Muggles of course know nothing about real werewolves,”  Balladanis continued,  “And their Hollywood created werewolves have little in common with the real thing. 

    “Werewolves are plagued with the illness lycanthropy.  Does anyone know what that means?”

    Rose was the only one who raised her hand.  Balladanis nodded to her.  “It comes from the Greek words 'lykos' and 'anthropos',”  Rose explained,  “Lykos means wolf and anthropos means man.”

    “Very good,”  Balladanis replied,  “Lycanthropy refers to the disease and those who have it are called lycanthropes. 

    “Lycanthropes have been shunned by wizarding society for as long as history has told us about them.  In recent years, there has been much speculation about whether this is necessary or even a good idea.  However, it is difficult to change the minds of the majority when we have been taught to avoid lycanthropes and shun them from wizarding society for so long.

    “It has not been for no reason that this general prejudice has came about. When in wolf form, werewolves cannot control their actions and thus attack helpless people.  This has long been construed as lycanthropes wanting to attack people, wanting to infect them with the horrible disease. 

    “This can not be farther from the case when it comes to most werewolves. Most do not wish to attack others.  Within the past hundred years, lycanthropes have begun locking themselves up on the full moon in order to avoid attacking others. However, there is one significant drawback to this for the lycanthrope. Does anyone know this?”  Balladanis's eyes rested on Matt, but he continued staring down at his empty parchment.

    Rose and Linda raised their hands.  This time Balladanis called on Linda. “When werewolves don't have anybody to attack, they attack themselves,”  Linda said,  “They don't have a choice and they often wind up really injured because of it.”

    Balladanis took Linda's thought further, but Albus didn't hear what he said because Matt had knocked over Albus's ink.  He looked incredibly nervous and Albus was happy that the class was almost over.  He quickly cleaned up the ink and tried to pay attention to the rest of the lecture.

    “We'll pick up next class with what happens before, during, and after full moons for a person with lycanthropy,”  Balladanis announced shortly before the bell rang,  “If you have not read the werewolf chapter, please do so for next time.  Mr. Eckerton, if you could please come see me.”

    Matt looked, if it was possible, even more nervous at this prospect.  The rest of the class left and Albus tried to put away his things as slowly as possible, but Balladanis shooed him, along with John, out of the room.

    Malfoy was standing outside the classroom when Albus and John left.  He had a slight smirk on his face.

    “Interesting lesson, Potter,”  Malfoy said quietly,  “Very interesting indeed.”

    “What do you want, Malfoy?”  Albus asked, knowing perfectly well what he wanted.

    “Oh, nothing.  Just a very illuminating lesson.  I've learned so much,” Malfoy replied and then sauntered off down the corridor.

    “Merlin,”  John muttered,  “He knows.”

    “If he doesn't yet, he'll know after next lesson.  He's onto it, that's for sure,”  Albus said.

    “Onto it?”  John replied,  “That's a nice way of putting it.  The whole school's going to know in two days, after the next class.”

    “What are we going to do?”  Albus groaned,  “If we tell him what Malfoy said, he's going to be too scared to do anything.  I mean, did you see him during this lesson?”

    “Yeah,”  John nodded,  “We can't tell him.  Whatever Malfoy's going to do, he's going to do it whether Matt knows about it or not.”

    “I agree,”  Albus nodded,  “We won't tell.”

    “What are you two talking about?”  Matt appeared behind them, looking no better than he had before.

    “Nothing,”  John said,  “What did Balladanis want?”

    “Told me I didn't have to go to the extra help during this unit unless I wanted to,”  Matt told them.

    “What are you going to do?”  John asked.

    “I don't know,”  Matt said as they began walking to Herbology,  “I know it'll look suspicious if I don't, but I really can't take many more lessons like that. Merlin, Thursday's lesson is going to be awful.”

    Albus saw no point in denying that.  Matt didn't have a clue as to how awful it would be.  They said nothing more about it the whole way to Herbology. 

                        ******

    Albus had never been so happy about having ridiculously long Quidditch practices as he was Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  He was perfectly happy to spend all his free time on the Quidditch pitch and then be too tired to do much of anything else afterwards.

    It was just so difficult for him to keep what Malfoy said away from Matt.  He wanted nothing more than to warn his friend about it, even though he knew that would accomplish nothing.  All it would do was make Matt worry even more and then act even more anxious during Defense.

    Quidditch also kept Albus's mind off of what would happen after Malfoy's suspicions were confirmed.  It wouldn't be anything like when Albus found out or even when Kaden found out.  No, Malfoy was going to use this to his advantage. Albus was nearly one hundred percent sure Malfoy would announce it to all of Slytherin.  Then, word would spread and the entire school would find out.  Merlin only knew what would happen when students' parents found out. 

    Albus knew that werewolf rights had come a long way since Teddy's dad was in school, but he also knew that most people would not be happy if their children were going to school with a werewolf, especially one that did not take Wolfsbane.  Not to mention the field day the press would have with it.  Matt's dad had just become Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for Merlin's sake. It would be a repeat of what had happened when Matt and his family had lived in Australia.

    Not to mention what it would do to Matt himself.  Albus remembered when there had been a slight chance that Malfoy found out about the passage under the Whomping Willow.  He had nearly had a panic attack.  What would happen if Malfoy found out he was a werewolf?

    It did not help that the full moon was that Friday.  Matt barely spoke during the brief times that Albus was not occupied on the Quidditch pitch.  He sat in the Marauder's Den with everyone else, but he stared off into space or slept.

    Yes, Wood's long Quidditch practices took Albus's mind off of all of that, but they did not stop Thursday from arriving and sooner than Albus would have liked he found himself sitting in Balladanis's classroom.

    Albus and John exchanged nervous glances as Malfoy walked in with a very smug look on his face. Albus was so focused on Malfoy that he nearly missed the fact that the anamatek's trunk was back in front of Balladanis's desk.  Once he noticed it, he poked John in the side.

    “What?”  John seethed.  Albus gestured to the trunk.  “Merlin's beard,”  John exclaimed,  “I don't even want to know what he's going to do with that.”

    “Quiet down,”  Balladanis said,  “We'll continue our werewolf discussion today by talking about what happens to a werewolf when the moon waxes.

    “Werewolves, in a similar way to vampires, are somewhat allergic to the moonlight when the moon waxes.  For the few nights before the actual full moon, when exposed to moonlight lycanthropes will feel ill.  The moonlight gives them headaches and when exposed long enough, causes them to lose consciousness.”

    Albus didn't bother writing any of this down, as he knew first hand what happened when a werewolf was exposed to too much moonlight shortly before the full moon.  Instead he stole quick glances at Malfoy and Matt.  Malfoy was furiously writing down everything Balladanis said and stealing quick glances at Matt himself. Matt was staring down at his parchment and Albus was sure he was trying to ignore everything Balladanis said.  He was pale and ill, but Albus wasn't sure if that was because of the lesson or because the full moon was the next day.

    “Lycanthropes are often too ill to go about their daily activities the day of the full moon and occasionally the day before as well.  Before I describe the actual transformation, I wish to show you what a person with lycanthropy looks like the day of the full moon.”

    For a brief second, Albus thought Balladanis was going to call Matt to the front of the room, but then realized that as a professor, Balladanis must have promised Kendrick that he wouldn't do anything like that. 

    Balladanis pointed his wand at the trunk and a small man stepped out of it. His pallor looked exactly like Matt's and he looked just as ill.  In fact, the two of them looked incredibly alike.  Both of their faces bore scars and had a sickly look to them.

    Balladanis began to speak about what the anamatek looked like, but Albus paid no attention.  Instead he looked to Malfoy.  Malfoy stared at the anamatek for a minute or so with shock and then he glanced at Matt.  Finally, he met Albus's gaze and Albus saw the biggest smirk he had ever seen on the Slytherin's face.  That was it.  Albus knew it.  Malfoy had made the connection.

    The remainder of the lesson passed by in a sort of fog for Albus.  He and John had exchanged glances and the look on John's face told him he had noticed Malfoy's realization as well.  Albus heard Balladanis's lecture, but he didn't process it. 

    The lesson seemed to drag on and speed by at the same time.  Albus wanted it to be over so he could get out of there, but at the same time he did not want to know what was going to happen after. 

    “Next lesson will focus on Wolfsbane Potion and the effects it has had on werewolf rights,”  Balladanis announced at the end of the lesson,  “Class dismissed.”

    Albus and John looked at each other.  Albus didn't know what to do.  Should he confront Malfoy?  Or should he tell Matt what happened?  Matt seemed oblivious to the whole thing.

    They silently decided just to leave the classroom and decide what to do after.  Rose and Amanda had left with Linda with absolutely no idea what had happened.
   
    Malfoy was waiting for them outside the room and Albus was not sure if this was a good or a bad thing.  He had the sudden urge just to hex Malfoy right then and there.

    “Another enlightening lesson,”  Malfoy smirked,  “Oh, Eckerton, feeling a bit ill?”

    “None of your business,”  Matt muttered.  Albus and John both stepped a bit closer to him and Albus clenched his hand around his wand.

    “Bet you'll be feeling even worse tomorrow,”  Malfoy replied,  “It's about that time of the month, isn't it?  Tomorrow night?”

    That got Matt's attention.  His head snapped up and he glared at Malfoy. Then he turned around and looked from Albus to John with the most panicked look on his face Albus had ever seen.

    “It's going to be a fun full moon, isn't it?”  Malfoy whispered, just loud enough for Matt, Albus and John to hear.

    Matt didn't say anything.  He shook his head and then ran.  He pushed through the crowd, much to the dislike of the students who were trying to get to class, and disappeared in a matter of seconds.

    Albus suddenly felt more hatred for Malfoy than ever.  Not only had he worked out Matt's secret, but he had used it to scare him.  In essence, Malfoy had threatened him with it.  That was one of the worst things he could have done.

    Ignoring all the other students who were going to class, Albus pulled out his wand and had it against Malfoy's chest in two seconds.

    “If you tell anyone,”  Albus growled,  “I will personally make sure you're so indistinguishable that even your own parents won't recognize you.”

    “Is that a threat, Potter?”  Malfoy pulled out his own wand.

    “You need me to spell it out for you?”  Albus asked,  “I think we're about to find out just how much better I am at dueling than you are.”

    “Rictumsempra!”  Malfoy shouted.

    “Protego!”  Albus shouted at the same time.

    “Expelliarmus!”  John shouted.

    The crowd moved away so that there was a circle of onlookers surrounding the duel.  Albus ignored them.  It was just him, John, and Malfoy.  And Malfoy was outnumbered.

    Malfoy deflected John's disarming spell and shot another spell at Albus.  It bounced off Albus's shield and hit a nearby portrait.  The portrait's occupant shouted in disgust and moved into her neighbor's frame.

    Albus concentrated on his shield charm and glared at Malfoy.  “Petrificus Totalus!”  he shouted through his shield.

    Grateful for Balladanis's dueling lessons, Albus watched as his shield held up while the hex shot at Malfoy.  Unfortunately, Malfoy dodged it and sent a tickling jinx at John.

    This one hit John and he collapsed onto the floor in a fit of giggles.  Albus shot another hex at Malfoy and this one collided with his face.  Malfoy's nose started bleeding and he rounded on Albus.

    “What is going on out here?”  Balladanis shouted.

    Albus didn't lower his wand and neither did Malfoy, but they didn't fire off anymore hexes either.  Albus let his shield down and noticed that the crowd had dispersed.  John was still rolling around on the ground.

    Balladanis pointed his wand at John and John immediately stopped giggling and stood up.

    “Follow me,”  Balladanis growled.

    All three boys followed Balladanis into his study.  Albus looked nervously at John.  Of all the professors to catch them dueling, it had to be Balladanis.  Of course, the one good thing about this was that Malfoy couldn't announce Matt's lycanthropy to the entire school while Balladanis was lecturing them.



A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!


Chapter 28: Old Acquaintances
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   Albus and John sat as far away as possible from Malfoy in Balladanis's study. Balladanis just stared at them before speaking.

    “I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed I am in all of you,”  Balladanis began,  “Especially you, Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy.  I am sure I taught you better than this.  The two of you especially should know how uncalled for that was.  You are well aware of your dueling skills and what sort of responsibility lies with them.  I have half a mind to discontinue our training sessions.  However, I am willing to hear all sides of this story before laying out any sort of punishment. You may go first, Mr. Malfoy.”
   
    “I was just walking to class and Potter pulled out his wand and attacked me. Then Brickston joined in.  I was outnumbered, sir.  I had to defend myself,” Malfoy said.

    Albus had to try hard not to snort.  He and John looked at each other and John rolled his eyes. 

    “Very well,”  Balladanis said,  “Mr. Potter, if you please.”

    Albus took a deep breath.  He was going to tell the story.  The whole story. “Malfoy was threatening Matt, sir,”  Albus began.

    “Mr. Eckerton?”  Balladanis asked,  “I did not see him anywhere.”

    “He left after Malfoy threatened him,”  Albus continued,  “You see, Malfoy has figured something out about Matt, after listening to your lectures on werewolves.”

    Balladanis's eyes widened and he looked at Malfoy.  “Is that true, Mr. Malfoy?”

    “Yes,”  Malfoy muttered,  “And I wasn't threatening him.  I was asking him about it.  I think I have the right to know if I'm in school with a werewolf.”

    Malfoy said 'werewolf' with disgust and it made Albus want to hex him once more.

    “Mr. Eckerton has the right to keep his medical issues to himself,” Balladanis replied,  “His health is none of your business whatsoever.  Please continue, Mr. Potter.”

    “After Matt left, I wanted to be sure Malfoy wasn't going to go tell the whole school about Matt's lycanthropy,”  Albus explained,  “And I guess we just wound up dueling.”

    “Just wound up dueling?”  Malfoy scoffed,  “You had your wand on me.”

    “You sent the first hex,”  Albus muttered.

    “Do you have anything to add, Mr. Brickston?”  Balladanis asked.

    “No,”  John replied,  “Albus is telling the truth.”

    “Very well,”  Balladanis replied,  “I see this matter goes much further than a duel.  All three of you will receive four nights' detention starting tonight at eight.  Each of you have lost ten points from your respective houses.

    “However, I am taking all three of you to see the headmaster.  There are things more important to discuss than detentions,”  Balladanis said as he stood up.

    Albus knew full well what Balladanis was insinuating.  He and John said nothing as they followed Balladanis to Kendrick's study.  Malfoy walked a few feet behind them.

    Albus hadn't been to Kendrick's study since his first year, when he went to talk to Dumbledore's portrait.  The place hadn't changed in the slightest. Everything seemed to be in the exact same place.  Both Dumbledore and Snape were awake and in their portraits.

    Kendrick was behind his desk writing something when they entered.  He looked up curiously at them.  Albus, John, and Malfoy stood near the door while Balladanis strode forward.

    “We have a problem,”  Balladanis said,  “These three have been dueling.”

    “I trust you to hand out detentions, Tethys,”  Kendrick replied,  “I am busy at the moment.”

    “It's not the dueling,”  Balladanis said,  “It's what they were dueling about.”

    “And what would that be?”  Kendrick asked.

    “Mr. Malfoy has discovered that Matt Eckerton is a werewolf,”  Balladanis answered,  “And I believe Mr. Potter and Mr. Brickston have known for quite some time.”

    Kendrick dropped his quill and looked up.  “I'll take this from here.  I believe you have a lesson to teach.”

    “I believe I do,”  Balladanis replied and left the room.

    Kendrick conjured a few chairs and gestured for the three boys to join him at his desk.  Albus sat down in the middle chair and waited for Kendrick to begin.  He noticed that both Dumbledore and Snape were paying rapt attention.

    “Well, well,”  Snape said,  “Deja vu.”

    “Not now, Severus,”  Kendrick said,  “Mr. Potter, perhaps you can tell me if anyone else knows about Matt's lycanthropy?”

    “Er, yes,”  Albus replied,  “Rose Weasley, Amanda Tagger, and Kaden Dursley.”

    “I knew that Dursley kid knew something,”  Malfoy muttered.

    “Not now, Mr. Malfoy,”  Kendrick said,  “I'll need to speak with them, as well as Matt.  I imagine they're all in class.”

    “Sir,”  Albus interrupted,  “I don't think Matt's in class.”

    “You may be right,”  Kendrick sighed,  “Do you have any idea where he might be?”

    “Yes,”  Albus answered.

    “Very well.  Please go find him,”  Kendrick said,  “And Mr. Brickston, please go find the others.”

    Albus nodded and he and John left the study.  Albus went straight to the Marauder's Den while John went to the dungeons as Rose and Amanda would be in potions.

    Matt was sitting on his bed in the Marauder's Den, staring at the wall and not moving a muscle.

    “I suppose Malfoy's told everyone,”  Matt said without turning to look at Albus.  His voice was hollow.

    “No,”  Albus replied,  “He hasn't had the chance.  John and I dueled him after you left.  Balladanis gave us all four nights of detention and took points away.”

    “He'll tell everyone soon,”  Matt replied,  “I should probably go pack.  You know, I really thought I'd get to finish school.  That's not even the worst part. It's going to be all over the Prophet.  My dad's going to lose his job again. We'll probably have to move to New York.”

    He finally turned around and looked at Albus.  He no longer looked anxious. He looked absolutely terrified, yet sad at the same time.

    “Why did Balladanis have to be such a good teacher?”  Matt groaned and laid back on the bed,  “If he had been some sort of awful teacher then maybe Malfoy wouldn't have found out.  He's just so thorough!  He left nothing out!  Even the way he described the transformation.  It was so, it was just so, realistic.

    “And that stupid anamatek!”  Matt sat up and looked at Albus,  “That thing looked just like me, only older.  No wonder Malfoy found out.”

    “You're not going to get kicked out,”  Albus assured him.

    “How do you know?”  Matt shouted,  “How do you really know?  I know Teddy's dad got to stay after Snape found out, but this is different.  That was when Dumbledore was here!  Everyone says Dumbledore was barking mad.  Kendrick isn't. Kendrick's perfectly sane and he's not going to want to deal with this.”

    Albus didn't really know what to say to that.  Everything Matt said was true. Kendrick was not Dumbledore.  Nobody could compare to Dumbledore. 

    “Kendrick wants to see you,”  Albus said,  “He's got Malfoy up in his study. He wants to talk to all of us.  Me, John, Rose, Amanda, and Kaden.”

    “I don't want to go up there,”  Matt said,  “I never want to see Malfoy again.  I just want to stay here.  Merlin, my head is killing me.”

    “I think you have to go,”  Albus said quietly.

    “I know,”  Matt groaned and got up off the bed,  “This just isn't fair.  I hate it.  I hate this whole thing.  I don't want to be a bloody werewolf anymore.”

    “I know,”  Albus said, knowing just how miserable Matt was at that moment. Albus had never once heard him complain about being a werewolf.  Not when he was too tired to do anything because of the full moon or when he was laid up in the hospital wing for days afterwards.

    They walked quietly back to Kendrick's study.  Albus muttered the password, that he had overheard Balladanis say, to the gargoyle and they ascended into the study.

    Everyone else was already there and they all turned to Albus and Matt when they walked in.  Matt froze in place and Albus stopped and looked at him.  He was staring directly at Malfoy.

    “Take a seat,”  Kendrick gestured to the two empty chairs, one of which was next to Malfoy's.

    Albus took the seat next to Malfoy's, but didn't look at him.  Matt took the other one.

    “First, I want to assure you that you do not have to leave Hogwarts,” Kendrick said to Matt,  “Nobody else will be finding out about your lycanthropy.”

    Matt didn't look reassured by this.  Malfoy looked mutinous.

    “My father won't agree with that,”  Malfoy muttered.

    “Your father has no say whatsoever in which students I admit to this school,”  Kendrick replied,  “He works in the Ministry, and may I point out that his position is not very high.”

    “Matt,”  Kendrick turned away from Malfoy,  “Does anyone else know?”  Matt shook his head.  “And did you tell the others, besides Mr. Malfoy, willingly?” Kendrick continued.  Matt nodded.

    “Very well,”  Kendrick said,  “And how long have they known?” 

    Matt seemed unable to speak.  After a few moments of silence, Kendrick turned to Albus.  “How long have you known, Mr. Potter?”

    “Two years,”  Albus answered.

    Kendrick repeated this question with Rose, John, and Amanda, who all gave the same answer as Albus.  Then he moved onto Kaden and Albus suddenly remembered the Sileo Altus charm.  He shared one horrified glance with Rose and waited for Kaden's reply.

    Kaden looked at Kendrick and then turned to Albus.  His mouth was agape and he looked a little panicked.

    “Are you all right, Mr. Dursley?”  Kendrick asked.

    “Fine,”  Kaden answered,  “It's just, well....”

    “Professor, Sir,”  Rose began,  “We sort of put this charm on Kaden, so he wouldn't tell anyone.  He can only talk about it with us.  He won't be able to say a thing about it around you or Malfoy.”

    Albus braced himself for Kendrick's response, but before the headmaster could say a word, Dumbledore chuckled in his frame.

    “The Sileo Altus charm,”  Dumbledore smiled,  “Ingenious.  Who performed it?”

    “I did,”  Rose answered.

    “Remarkable,”  Dumbledore said,  “You must be an incredible witch, Miss Weasley.”

    “Too smart for her own good, more like it,”  Snape muttered.

    “That is indeed quite the amazing feat, Miss Weasley,”  Kendrick said,  “Can you tell me how long Mr. Dursley has known?”

    “About a year,”  Rose said.

    “Thank you,”  Kendrick replied,  “Now I have some things to discuss with Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Eckerton in private.  The rest of you may go to the Great Hall.  I believe there is still a half hour or so left of lunch.”

    Albus didn't really want to leave without finding out what was going to happen to Malfoy, but he knew Matt would tell him.

    Matt never showed up in the Great Hall for lunch, nor did he go to Ancient Runes or Charms.  Albus could not concentrate on either of those classes and was very happy when Charms was over and he was able to leave.

    Wood was not very happy that Albus had acquired four detentions.  In fact, he was livid.  He spent twenty minutes telling Albus how he shouldn't be picking fights with other students so close to the next Quidditch match, especially in front of teachers' classrooms. The lecture had only ended when Albus told him he was late for Charms.  Albus had run into Wood in in between Ancient Runes and Charms.

    “What do you suppose Balladanis is going to make us do?”  John asked as they walked towards the Marauder's Den.

    “Haven't a clue,”  Albus replied,  “But whatever it is, it's going to be bad since we have to do it with Malfoy.”

    “True,”  John agreed.

    Rose, Kaden, and Amanda were with them.  Albus wanted to go find Matt before they went to dinner.  They had to wait a while for the corridor to clear out before they were actually able to get into the room, though.

    Matt was fast asleep on the couch when they entered.  “Good thing he doesn't have detention tonight,”  John pointed out.

    “Yeah,”  Albus agreed.

    John gently shook Matt's shoulder until he cracked his eyes open.  “Wake up,” John said,  “Or you'll miss dinner.”

    “I'm not hungry,”  Matt muttered.

    “What's Kendrick doing about Malfoy?”  Albus asked as he sat down on the other end of the couch.

    “He should put that charm on him,”  Kaden announced,  “The one you lot put on me.”

    “I wish he would,”  Matt sighed,  “All he did was tell Malfoy how important it was not to mention anything.  He said telling his father would do nothing.  Then he told him that if he ever did tell anyone, he would face expulsion for revealing another student's medical information.  But that's it!  I mean, Malfoy did promise he wouldn't say anything, but who really knows?  Sure, if he tells, he'll be expelled, but that won't take it back.  I'd still have to leave.”

    “As much as a git as he is,”  Albus began,  “I don't think he's going to tell anyone if it meant he'd be expelled.  That would be the ultimate shame in the Malfoy family, besides being a Squib or marrying a Muggle or something, getting expelled and not being a fully qualified wizard.  Malfoy won't want that.”

    “I guess you're right,”  Matt sighed,  “It's just so strange, knowing that he knows.”

    “I know,”  Albus said,  “Do you want to go eat dinner?”

    “No,”  Matt shook his head,  “You guys go on ahead.  I've got to send an owl to my parents, let them know about this.”

    Albus nodded.  “We'll see you later, then.  John and I have got detention tonight.”

    “Oh, right.  Good luck with that,”  Matt replied.

                        ******

    Balladanis's detention was a bit anticlimactic.  Albus had been expecting him to think up some really creative and taxing detention, but instead he assigned them lines.  Lines were possibly the most boring detention ever thought up, but they were preferable to cleaning the bathrooms or something.

    “Potter, Malfoy,”  Balladanis said after they'd been writing for ten minutes, “Your dueling lesson is canceled for tomorrow night due to your detention. Detention will be at nine, after my extra help session, something I'll expect you to be attending, Brickston.”

    Balladanis said nothing more and began grading essays at his desk.  He completely ignored the three boys, which Albus didn't really mind.  He just wanted to get his lines done and get out of there.

    “Where does he go?”  Malfoy hissed at Albus.

    “What?”  Albus whispered.

    “You know, on full moons, where does he go?”  Malfoy elaborated.

    “I'm not telling you that,”  Albus muttered.

    “My dad said a werewolf used to teach here, and he got fired when everyone found out,”  Malfoy drawled.

    “He quit,”  Albus corrected him,  “He wasn't fired.  He was the best Defense teacher any of our parents ever had.”

    “Quiet!”  Balladanis shouted,  “I didn't say you could talk.”

    Albus was grateful for Balladanis's scolding.  Malfoy stopped asking questions and went back to his lines.  Albus sighed and went back to his own.  How far was Malfoy going to go?  Why couldn't he just be satisfied with having worked out Matt's secret?

    A half hour into their line writing, when Albus was contemplating switching hands despite the fact that he wrote horribly with his right hand, there was a knock on the door.  Albus looked up and saw Professor Kendrick standing in the doorway, along with none other than Matt's dad.  Albus set down his quill and turned to John.  John had set down his own quill.

    “Who's that?”  Malfoy asked.

    “Shush!”  Albus hissed.  The last thing they needed was for Balladanis to remember they were there and tell them to get out so he could have whatever conversation he was about to have in private.

    “Tethys,”  Kendrick said quietly,  “This is Walter Eckerton.”
   
    “We've met,”  Balladanis muttered.

    Albus turned again to John.  Matt's dad knew Balladanis?  How?  Matt had never mentioned that before.

    “That's his dad?”  Malfoy whispered.

    “Shush!”  Albus said again.

    “I wish to talk to you about what happened earlier today,”  Matt's dad said quietly.

    “What about it, Eckerton?”  Balladanis asked.

    “My son told me about your lessons,”  Mr. Eckerton said,  “How, informative they are.”

    “I teach my students what they'll need to know in order to defend themselves,”  Balladanis replied.

    “I think you go too far with that,”  Mr. Eckerton disagreed,  “Merlin, showing them exactly what a werewolf looks like before a transformation with an anamatek?  Do you realize how dangerous those are?”

    “Of course,”  Balladanis said, raising his voice a bit,  “You're not the only expert on magical creatures.  I have perfect control over my anamatek.”

    “Nobody has perfect control over an anamatek!”  Mr. Eckerton said.

    “The headmaster has already told me I'm not allowed to use it anymore, so you really don't need to be lecturing me about this,”  Balladanis seethed.

    “Oh, it's not only that,”  Mr. Eckerton stepped a bit closer to Balladanis, “It's how much you taught the third years about werewolves.  The details about their transformations, how to pick one out of the general population, what happens before, during, and after transformations.  Your lesson was far more detailed than a third year text book.”

    “You'd find that all my lessons are like that,”  Balladanis replied,  “Text books do not give enough details.”

    “I think giving enough details about identifying a lycanthrope so that a third year would be able to work out that someone not even in their same house is one is going too far,”  Mr. Eckerton seethed,  “You knew about my son.  You should have been a bit more cautious with your lesson.”

    “Withholding information from an entire class because of one student is not a good method of teaching,”  Balladanis countered.

    “It is when it could be dangerous for that one student,”  Mr. Eckerton said, “Fan of the greatest good for the greatest number, are we?”

    “There are times when that is a good philosophy,”  Balladanis replied.

    “We'll agree to disagree, then,”  Mr. Eckerton said,  “But if I find that your lessons are putting my son in danger anymore, you may find that the Ministry is inquiring into your teaching practices.”

    “I'll teach however I like,”  Balladanis muttered.

    Mr. Eckerton ignored this and turned to the three boys, none of whom were writing lines any longer.  “Is that him?”  he asked.

    “The one who found out?”  Kendrick replied,  “Yes.”

    Mr. Eckerton strode over to the table Albus, John, and Malfoy were working at.  He nodded hello to Albus and John before turning to Malfoy.

    “I realize the headmaster has already gone over this with you,”  Mr. Eckerton began,  “But I feel the need to repeat that there will be consequences if you make public my son's condition.”

    Malfoy nodded.  “I know,”  he muttered.

    “Good,”  Mr. Eckerton replied and returned to where Kendrick was standing. He turned once again to Balladanis.  “I'll be returning to the castle tomorrow to search your study and classroom for the anamatek.  If it is still here, I will take it into custody.”

    Balladanis muttered something under his breath as Matt's dad left the room with Professor Kendrick.  Albus exchanged a glance with John.  He wanted nothing more than to leave, so he could talk about what had just happened.

    “That's enough for tonight,”  Balladanis barked,  “Get out.  Be back here tomorrow night at nine.”

    Albus nearly spilled his ink in his haste to get up.  He ran out of the room as fast as he could with John following.  Malfoy made no move to try and talk to them again, so they headed straight to the Marauder's Den.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight as well as all of the lovely people who have read and reviewed this!  You guys are awesome!

Chapter 29: Increasing Tension
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   Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   Albus and John burst into the Marauder's Den a little while later to find that Matt and Kaden were the only ones there.  Matt's face was covered in ash and Kaden was grinning.  They were in the middle of a game of Exploding Snap.

    “And that makes four wins for me and none for you,”  Kaden announced as he collected the cards,  “Oh, Albus, John!  How was your detention?  Want to play?”

    “Not now,”  Albus said hurriedly as he sat down next to Matt,  “Matt, did you know your dad was just here?”

    “Yeah,”  Matt nodded,  “When he got my owl, he wanted to go talk to Kendrick. I went with him.”

    “Well, do you know where he went after?”  John asked.

    “Home, I guess,”  Matt shrugged,  “Why?”

    “He and Kendrick turned up in our detention,”  John said.

    “He what?”  Matt replied.

    “Yeah, it was really odd,”  Albus said,  “He came in with Kendrick and Kendrick introduced him to Balladanis.  Only Balladanis said 'we've met'.  You never told us your dad knew Balladanis.”

    “I never knew,”  Matt shrugged,  “Then what happened?”

    “Your dad was really angry,”  Albus continued,  “He thinks Balladanis taught us too much about how to figure out if someone's a werewolf and that's why Malfoy found out.  Then he told him how dangerous it was for him to use that anamatek in class-”

    “Oh, yeah,”  Matt said,  “I told my dad about the anamatek and that's one of the reasons he came here, to tell Kendrick about it.  Kendrick's making him get rid of it.”

    “Yeah, that's what your dad said,”  Albus replied,  “He's coming back to inspect Balladanis's room tomorrow to make sure he got rid of it.  He also said that if any of Balladanis's teaching puts you in danger again, the Ministry's going to investigate him.”

    “It's really not a good idea to get on my dad's bad side,”  Matt said,  “What did Balladanis do during this?”

    “He kept saying that he was going to teach however he wanted,”  Albus explained,  “Honestly, he did not look happy that your dad was there.  I think something happened between the two of them.”

    “But what?”  Matt asked,  “Dad's never mentioned him before.”

    “Think he'd tell you if you asked?”  John wondered.

    “Probably,”  Matt said,  “I'll owl him about it.”

    “Oh, and then your dad told Malfoy he'd better not tell anyone you're a werewolf,”  John said,  “He looked pretty scary, too.  I don't think Malfoy's going to tell anyone.”

                        ******

    It did not take very long for word to spread that Balladanis had gotten in trouble for having an anamatek.  Galleons exchanged hands the next morning at breakfast, as a few older students had bet on how long he would have it.  Somehow everyone knew that Matt's dad had showed up at Hogwarts the previous night and informed Kendrick about it. 

    Kaden had Defense that morning and reported to Albus at lunch that Balladanis was even stricter than usual and seemed incredibly angry.  That did not bode well for Albus's detention that evening.

    “He's downright scary,”  Kaden said as he piled steak and kidney pie onto his plate,  “Yelled at one of the Ravenclaws in my class for spilling her ink.  She was nearly in tears.  But I'd hate to be in your class, Albus, he's going to be brutal. I mean, it's pretty much because of Matt that he got in trouble.”

    Matt had gone up to the Marauder's Den after they got out of Herbology since he felt ill and wasn't in lunch.  Albus knew that Kaden was right.  Balladanis was going to take this out on Matt, and possibly Malfoy as well.

    “I don't know why he cares so much,”  John shrugged,  “I mean, the Ministry could have just taken that thing away.  He's lucky he just had to take it back to his house or whatever.”

    “I don't think he likes the government,”  Albus said,  “That's the feeling I got after listening to him talk about what he did before teaching here.  I think that's why he did that, instead of becoming an Auror.”

    “Well, I think it's a good idea for the Ministry to make him take that thing home,”  John said.

    “Me, too,”  Albus agreed,  “I mean, he could've turned it into a manticore next.”

    Kaden went to class after lunch while Albus and John went up to the Marauder's Den with Rose and Amanda. 
   
    “Think he's owled his dad yet?”  John asked as he gestured to Matt, who was asleep in his bed.

    “Doubt it,”  Albus said,  “He's probably been asleep since he got up here.”

    “Merlin, I just want to know what happened between his dad and Balladanis,” John groaned.

    “You're so impatient,”  Rose commented,  “Just let him sleep.”

    “I wasn't going to wake him up,”  John muttered.

    The remainder of the afternoon passed by quickly.  Albus was dreading his detention later and John complained loudly about how he had to go to the extra help session about werewolves when he already knew so much about them.

    Albus woke Matt up shortly before dinner and he looked much worse than he usually did the day of full moons.  They all escorted him to the hospital wing, where Madam Pomfrey rushed him into bed.

    Just as they were about to leave the hospital wing, the doors opened and in walked Matt's dad.  Albus assumed he was there to check if Balladanis had gotten rid of his anamatek.

    John nudged Albus.  “We should ask him about Balladanis,”  John whispered.

    “He's not going to tell us now,”  Albus muttered back,  “Look at him.”

    Mr. Eckerton looked tired out and incredibly worried.  He nodded to Albus and the others before rushing over to Matt's bed and talking to Madam Pomfrey in hushed whispers.

    As it turned out, Albus had been worrying about the detention for nothing. He entered the room before Malfoy and John was already doing his lines.  Balladanis said absolutely nothing to Albus as he handed him parchment.  Malfoy arrived a little while later and still Balladanis said nothing.

    Malfoy did not talk either.  He did not ask anything about Matt and didn't even comment that the full moon was that night.

    Balladanis let them leave at half past ten.  Albus and John found Kaden in the Marauder's Den and spent the remaining time left until Astronomy playing Exploding Snap and Wizard's Chess.

    “Why, why do we have to have this class with the Slytherins?”  John groaned as they made their way to the Astronomy Tower,  “If Malfoy doesn't make a single comment about the full moon, I'll eat an entire cauldron.”

    “I'm going to hold you to that,”  Albus laughed,  “But I don't think you'll have to.”

    Malfoy went so far as to actually set his telescope up next to Albus's. Professor Polo spent ten minutes telling them that they were to plot the position of Mars, Venus, the moon, and a handful of stars before turning them lose to actually do so.

    “The moon is so bright,”  Malfoy whispered,  “And big and...full....”

    Albus looked at John.  “Looks like I won't be eating my cauldron tonight,” John muttered.

    “Just shut it, Malfoy,”  Albus said.

    “Isn't his dad the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures?  Yeah, he must be, because he's the one who made Balladanis get rid of the anamatek.  Can't say I'm really upset about that,”  Malfoy said quietly, “But how ironic.”

    “Just stop talking about it,”  Albus muttered.

    “Oh, come on, Potter.  Even you have to appreciate the irony,”  Malfoy said.

    “Will you just shut up,”  Albus seethed.

    “Quiet over there,”  Polo said.

    Malfoy smirked at Albus one more time before going back to his telescope. The rest of the lesson passed without anymore commentary from Malfoy and Albus was quite happy when he was able to return to his dormitory.

                        ******

    “It's like back in first year,”  Albus sighed,  “Remember when Madam Pomfrey locked the hospital wing?”

    “That's why this is bad!”  Rose said.

    “Well, she didn't lock us out this time,”  John pointed out.

    “She didn't exactly let us in either,”  Kaden said.

    Albus and his friends had slept late on Saturday morning and after grabbing a quick bite to eat, had gone to visit Matt in the hospital wing.  Madam Pomfrey hadn't let them in.  They were currently in the Marauder's Den, trying to figure out why.

    “She always lets us in,”  John groaned.

    “He obviously had a really bad night,”  Albus said quietly.

    “Yeah, but why?”  Rose wondered.

    “Haven't you noticed that the full moons have been worse the past few months?”  Albus asked,  “He's been taking longer to recover.”

    “I wish he'd just let us become Animagi,”  John muttered.

    “John, I honestly don't think you could become an Animagus,”  Rose replied, “You'd wind up with a permanent tail affixed to your arse.”

    “That wouldn't be that bad,”  John grinned,  “Always thought it would be cool to have a tail.”

    “You're not helping,”  Albus sighed,  “What are we going to do?”

    “I think all we can do is just keep going back to the hospital wing,”  John shrugged,  “Until Madam Pomfrey lets us in.”

    Their efforts proved fruitless, though.  They went to the hospital wing twice that afternoon and then right before Albus and John had to go to detention.  Madam Pomfrey told them 'no' each time. 

    Sunday, the last day of Albus and John's detention, was the same.  Madam Pomfrey was quite livid when they showed up for the third time that day.

    “Nothing's changed!”  she shouted,  “Come back tomorrow evening!  I'll give the lot of you detention if you come back any earlier than that!”

    With that, she strode back into the ward and slammed the door.  “Can she even give detention?”  Kaden asked.

    “I dunno,”  Albus shrugged,  “I wouldn't put it past her.”

    Albus and John broke away from the group to complete their last detention. Balladanis gave them lines, just like he had the past three nights.  Albus sat quietly completing them, very grateful for the fact that Malfoy hadn't said two words to him since Astronomy.

    “You may stop,”  Balladanis said quietly after they'd been writing for about an hour and a half.

    Albus threw his quill down and leaned back in his chair.  Finally, it was over. 

    “I hope you learned something,”  Balladanis said, which shocked Albus.  He had been expecting Balladanis to continue his silence.  “If I catch any of you dueling in the corridors again, the consequences will be much more severe than detention and lost points.

    “Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy, I have given great thought to whether I should continue giving you extra lessons.  I have decided to give you one more chance. Lessons will continue this Friday at their normal time.  However, if either of you disregard my rules again, I will no longer hold them.  You may go.  I'll see all three of you in class on Tuesday.”

    “Merlin, I'm glad that's over,”  John muttered to Albus once they were on their way to Gryffindor Tower.

    “Me too,”  Albus agreed,  “He's going to be awful in class, though.”

    “Yeah, can't say I'm looking forward to that,”  John said.

    Albus couldn't concentrate at all in his classes the next day.  All he wanted to do was go to the hospital wing and find out how Matt was, but Madam Pomfrey insisted that they wait until evening.

    Rose and Amanda ate dinner with Linda, but they met Albus, John, and Kaden near the hospital wing afterwards.  They had all eaten a very rushed dinner due to Albus's Quidditch practice at seven.

    Albus cautiously opened the door to the hospital wing, half expecting Madam Pomfrey to yell at them again.  He walked quietly inside, followed the the others. Madam Pomfrey was sitting at her desk and she visibly sighed when she noticed them.

    “Go ahead,”  she gestured to the only occupied bed, which had the curtains pulled around it.

    Albus rushed over to the bed and yanked the curtains back.  Matt looked exhausted and there was a rather large bandage wrapped around his head.

    “I was wondering when you'd come visit me,”  Matt gave them a half smile.

    “We've been trying!”  John said,  “Madam Pomfrey hasn't let us!”

    “I know,”  Matt smirked,  “I've heard her yell at you.  It's kind of amusing.”
   
    “Well, we're here now,”  Albus said,  “How are you?  Why didn't Madam Pomfrey let us come visit?”

    “Because I didn't wake up until yesterday afternoon,”  Matt answered.

    “But that was-”  John began.
   
    “Nearly two days later?”  Matt cut him off,  “I know.”

    “But why?”  Rose asked.

    “A bunch of things, really,”  Matt sighed,  “First, I was worried about Malfoy telling everyone and it's always worse when I'm worried about something. Second, I hit my head really hard at some point that night.  It still hurts. Third, the transformations in general are getting worse, because I'm getting older.”

    That thought certainly hadn't crossed Albus's mind.  Albus and all his friends were obviously getting older and that brought plenty of changes, but he hadn't even thought about how the wolf would change when Matt got older.

    “So, are all of the full moons going to be this bad now?”  Kaden asked.

    “No,”  Matt shook his head and then winced,  “I mean, I don't really know what'll happen in the future, but this one was just a combination of bad things.”

    “That's good, I guess,”  Albus shrugged,  “When do you get to leave?”

    “Tomorrow night at the earliest,”  Matt sighed,  “Although that means I'll miss Defense.”

    “Wish I could miss Defense,”  John muttered,  “Speaking of Defense, did you owl your dad yet?”

    “John, he just woke up yesterday,”  Rose pointed out.

    “I didn't owl him,”  Matt said,  “But he came to see me earlier and I asked him.”

    “Brilliant,”  John grinned,  “And?”

    “And,”  Matt said,  “He told me all about it.  He told me Balladanis was a Presuler and was really surprised that I already knew.

    “Apparently, back when my dad had just been appointed Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia, he hired Balladanis to catch a band of vampires who were attacking Muggles on the outback.  Balladanis caught them, but he thought Dad went too easy on them.”

    “What did he do to them?”  John asked.

    “Sent them to prison.  I think they got 20 years.  Balladanis thought they should have gotten life sentences.  Dad and Balladanis got into this huge argument at the Ministry about it and Balladanis stormed out.  The Australian Ministry didn't hire him after that,”  Matt explained,  “Although, I'll bet Balladanis and Lubar would agree on punishments.  I wonder if he's hired Balladanis.”

    “That explains a lot,”  Albus said,  “Did your dad say anything else about him?”

    “No, not really,”  Matt replied,  “Just that he's got a lot of issues.  Oh, and he wanted me to warn you not to listen to everything Balladanis says during those dueling lessons you've got.”

    “I'm not going to,”  Albus assured him,  “I think we've all seen a different side of Balladanis during the past week.”

                        ******

    Tuesday morning dawned quickly and Albus trudged to Defense with John.  Neither of them really knew what class would be like, but judging from what he heard about recent Defense classes in the common room, it wouldn't be fun.

    Malfoy was back to his smug self now that detention was over.  He sat next to Goyle wearing a smirk on his face.  Albus ignored him and went to his usual table.

    Balladanis stormed into the room a few minutes later.  He waved his wand at the door and it slammed shut with a bang loud enough that it caused the Jordan-Bell twins, who had been sitting closest to it, to jump.

    “Pass your homework questions forward,”  he growled.

    Albus handed his homework to the table in front of him and waited for Balladanis to collect it.  He paused in front of the table in front of Albus's.

    “Potter,”  he began,  “You can tell Eckerton that his homework is late and therefore I will not accept it.  If he wished to get credit for it, he could have graced us with his presence.”

    Malfoy snorted at this, earning him glares from both Albus and Balladanis. Balaldanis tossed the homework unceremoniously onto his desk and then turned back to his students.

    “Wolfsbane potion,”  he barked,  “Was created by a man by the name of Oliver Belby.  He finished the creation in 1991.  For most werewolves, the potion was a lifesaver.  Who can explain what it does?”

    Nobody, not even Rose and Linda, raised their hands.  Albus stared down at his desk, hoping that Balladanis wouldn't call on him.

    “Nobody?”  he said,  “Pity.  Wolfsbane potion renders a werewolf harmless during full moons.  The lycanthrope turns into a wolf, but a harmless one.  One that will just sleep until the moon sets and will not have the urge to bite and kill.

    “The potion is a lifesaver to those plagued with lycanthropy. I had been hoping to show you what a werewolf would look like on Wolfsbane potion, but my anamatek has been banned from the castle,”  Balladanis said with malice,  “Therefore you will have to go without the visual.  It seems that certain parents, Ministry officials, and the headmaster do not approve of my methods of teaching.  Unfortunately, it is all of you who are suffering for it.”

    “I wouldn't call it suffering,”  John muttered.

    “Quiet, Brickston!”  Balladanis shouted,  “Unless you have something to contribute to the class.”

    “No, sir,”  John replied.
   
    “Good,”  Balladanis muttered,  “Anyway, the anamatek will not be making anymore appearances in this classroom and your education is going to suffer for it. Nothing, and I repeat nothing can replace hands on training.”

    Albus usually agreed with that, but he drew the line at having what was in essence a live manticore in front of him.  There were some times when reading sufficed.

    The lesson continued with Balladanis talking about Wolfsbane.  He spoke about how the potion doesn't work for all werewolves and Albus found his mind drifting. All in all, the lesson hadn't been as bad as he'd been expecting.  Besides his brief rant about his anamatek being banned from the castle, he had been pretty normal.  Normal for Balladanis, that is.

    “Next lesson will be the last on werewolves,”  Balladanis announced at the end of class,  “We will learn about lycanthropy's effect on children.”

    Albus groaned inwardly.  Matt would be out of the hospital wing by then.  Why couldn't Balladanis just finish the werewolf unit already?

    “He won't be back next year,”  John muttered as they walked to Herbology.

    “I don't doubt that,”  Albus replied,  “I just wonder who we're going to get instead.”


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight as well as all the lovely people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 30: Placing Bets
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   “Place your bets here!”  Fred shouted the next day as he walked around the common room.
   
    Albus had just climbed through the portrait hole with Georgia and James after a particularly difficult Quidditch practice.  Wood was getting them prepared for the match against New York, which was to take place in a little over a week.

    “Georgia, James, Albus!”  Fred greeted them,  “Care to place a bet?”

    “What are you taking bets about?”  Georgia asked tiredly,  “And if you keep betting on stuff, your mum is bound to find out.”

    “She won't care,”  Fred shrugged.  He was probably right.  Albus's Aunt Alicia was the least strict out of all of his aunts.  She'd probably place a bet with Fred.

    “You'd just better hope Grandma doesn't find out,”  Georgia smirked.

    Fred looked momentarily horrorstruck and Albus couldn't blame him.  Molly Weasley would probably send him a howler if she knew he was gambling.

    “She won't unless you tell her,”  Fred muttered,  “And Heather and I are taking bets on how much longer Balladanis is going to last.  Care to take a guess?”

    “I suppose,”  Georgia said as she pulled out some gold,  “Two Galleons says he's gone in a week.  I heard he had three first years in tears today.”

    “He nearly had half of my class in tears,”  Fred said as he took Georgia's gold,  “James, Al?”

    “Three Galleons says he's gone in two weeks,”  James said as he tossed Fred some gold and then left to go find his friends.

    “Nope,”  Albus shook his head. 

    “Suit yourself,”  Fred shrugged and continued his walk around the common room,  “Bets here, place your bets!”

    Albus found his friends crowded around their usual table in the common room. Linda was with them.  All three girls were working on homework.  John and Kaden were trading Chocolate Frog cards.

    “Fred's going to get himself in trouble,”  Rose muttered as Albus sat down, “You didn't bet anything, did you?”

    “No,”  Albus shook his head,  “How about you lot?”

    “I bet ten Sickles he won't last the year,”  John said.

    “You should know exactly when he'll leave, what with your taking Divination,” Rose smirked.

    “Divination's a joke,”  John muttered,  “I can't wait to drop it after fifth year.”

    “Told you so,”  Rose grinned,  “Sick of making up stuff?”

    “It's just so pointless,”  John groaned,  “We're still doing crystal balls.  I just tell her that I see myself dying anytime she asks and it keeps her happy.”

    “That's why I'm not taking Divination,”  Kaden announced,  “Bloody waste of a class.”

    Kaden had chosen his classes for next year a few days prior. He decided on Care of Magical Creatures, Ancient Runes, and Arithmancy.

    “Easy homework, though,”  John sighed,  “I just keep reminding myself about that.”

    “What's got easy homework?”  Matt asked as he sat down in the chair next to John's.  He looked a bit better than he had the previous day, but still worn out.

    “Pomfrey finally let you out?”  John asked,  “And we're talking about Divination.”

    “Yeah, just in time for Defense tomorrow,”  Matt groaned,  “I'm tempted to use a Fainting Fancy to get out of it.”

    “I think half the first years are going to do that on Friday,”  Kaden said, “I overheard them talking.  Apparently Balladanis completely flipped out on one of them today, all over one incomplete homework question.  Made her cry.”

    “That's what Georgia was saying,”  Albus replied,  “Makes me want to use a Fainting Fancy.  Two weeks.  I know I didn't bet on it, but that's really all I'd give him.”

                        ******

    John filled his pockets with Puking Pastilles before he set off to Defense the next morning.  Albus didn't bother.  His curiosity always trumped his dislike for certain classes.  He'd rather be there and know exactly what Balladanis was doing.

    “Werewolves,”  Balladanis said as soon as the bell rang,  “When the term is used, most people conjure up images of lonely adults, condemned to a miserable life that revolves around the moon. 

    “However, there is a whole group of werewolves that are mostly overlooked. Children.  Ah, yes, children do get attacked by werewolves.  Very few survive. Found by their parents when it is too late.  Even fewer survive the initial transformation.  Werewolf transformations, as you have learned, are incredibly taxing, both physically and emotionally.  Very few children are strong enough to make it through.”

    Balladanis paused and began to pace the room.  “Parents are faced with a decision after their child is bitten.  They have three choices.  Number one, they can deal with it.  Deal with the monthly transformations and try and make life as normal as possible for the child.  Number two, they can abandon their child.  Force them to live with a wild pack of werewolves, to grow up to kill.  However, there is a third option.  Does anyone care to guess as to what it is?”

    Nobody raised their hand.  Balladanis looked at his class until his eyes rested on Matt.  A very creepy smirk appeared on his face.

    “Mr. Eckerton, care to tell us?”  Balladanis asked.

    Albus, who had been trying hard not to look at Matt throughout the lesson, stole a quick glance at him.  He was staring at the desk, quill in hand, shaking slightly.

    “N-no,”  Matt stuttered.

    “Very well,”  Balladanis smirked,  “The third option is to put the child down.  Not a pleasant option, but one that a few parents select anyway.  This option used to be readily suggested by Healers, but has now become quite controversial.  It is not suggested very often anymore.

    “Parents who choose the first option, to continue to raise their child, are in for a very tough life.  Werewolf children are difficult to raise.  It is a huge adjustment for parents and siblings if there are any.  The bite affects the whole family.  It changes lives, it can rip families apart.”

    Balladanis continued droning on and on about how lycanthropy affects children and Albus looked again at Matt.  His hand was shaking even harder and his face was as white as it had been when he had dressed up as a ghost.

    Albus shared a look with John and John reached into his pocket.  He slid a Puking Pastille across the table towards Albus and then slid one to Matt.  Albus quietly unwrapped it and then waited until Balladanis had looked away to shove it into his mouth.  John and Matt did the same.  Albus clutched his stomach as the sweet began to take affect.

    “Lycanthropic children rarely, if ever, get to attend school,”  Balladanis droned.

    “Sir!”  John shouted,  “I don't feel so well.  May I go to the Hospital Wing?”

    “I don't feel too well either,”  Albus added.

    “Shut it, you two,”  Balladanis shouted,  “And no you may not go to the-”

    Balladanis was cut off by the sound of all three boys vomiting at the same time.  Albus leaned over his table and vomited right onto the floor.  The class erupted into shouts and Balladanis tried to keep order.

    “Fine!”  he seethed,  “Get to the Hospital Wing, all three of you!”

    Albus resisted the urge to vomit again as he ran for the door.  Matt and John followed.  All three of them shoved the orange end of the sweets into their mouths as soon as they shut the door behind them.  The affect was instantaneous.  Albus immediately felt better.
   
    “The man's evil!”  John shouted,  “How could he teach that?”

    “Not here,”  Matt muttered and took off down the corridor.

    None of them said anything else until they reached the Marauder's Den.  “As I was saying,”  John began,  “What is wrong with that bloke?”

    “I think a lot of things,”  Albus muttered,  “He's a raving lunatic.”

    “He's only doing it because you're in the class,”  John said to Matt as he paced around the room,  “None of what he said today is actually in the book.  I mean, did you read the book?  There's not much in there that Balladanis has actually taught!”

    “He hates me because my dad made him get rid of his stupid anamatek,”  Matt muttered.

    “But it started before that,”  Albus pointed out,  “He wants to make you miserable because of what your dad did with those vampires years ago.”

    “It's just not fair,”  Matt groaned,  “I mean, did you listen to what he was talking about?”

    “It was hard not to,”  Albus sighed,  “Is it true?”

    “Yes,”  Matt said quietly,  “And before you ask, one of the Healers did suggest that to my parents.”

    Albus suddenly felt more sick than he had when he ate the Puking Pastille. How could a Healer, someone whose job it was to make people healthy, actually suggest that to a child's parents?

    “Seriously?”  John asked,  “What happened after they asked?”

    “My dad and my Uncle Jack hexed him at the same time,”  Matt gave them a half-smile,  “Put him in his own hospital bed for two days.”

    “You know, I'd really like to meet your Uncle Jack,”  John grinned,  “He sounds like a great bloke.”

    “He is,”  Matt smiled,  “He would've hexed Balladanis quite a while ago if he were here.”

    “But he's not,”  John sighed,  “So what are we going to do about this?”

    “I'm sending an owl to my dad,”  Matt said as he stood up,  “You two aren't going to have to do anything.”

    “Three days,”  John said after Matt left,  “I give Balladanis three more days.”

                        ******

    “Your dad certainly doesn't waste any time,”  Rose said to Matt as she unfolded her copy of the Prophet the next morning at breakfast.

    Albus leaned over and read the paper over Rose's shoulder. 

HOGWARTS PROFESSOR TO BE INVESTIGATED BY MINISTRY
The Department of Magical Education received an inquiry
late yesterday afternoon, requesting an investigation
of Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts professor,
Tethys Balladanis.  The inquiry was submitted by none
other than the newly appointed Head of the Department
for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,
Walter Eckerton, whose fourteen-year-old son currently
attends Hogwarts.

Professor Tethys Balladanis has been teaching Defense at
the school since September, when he replaced Head Auror
Harry Potter.  Potter had taught the subject for two
years and wished to focus solely on his Auror career,
resulting in his resignation at the end of last school
year.

The impending investigation comes as hardly a surprise.
Earlier this week Walter Eckerton visited Hogwarts
after receiving a tip that Balladanis was holding an
anamatek in his classroom.  This proved to be true and
Eckerton ordered him to remove it.  The anamatek was
legally in Balladanis's possession, so all he had to
do was remove it from school premises.  Eckerton told
reporters that Balladanis complied.

However, Eckerton has claimed that the professor
repeatedly put students in danger and humiliated them
in front of their classmates.

'It's not just the anamatek,' Eckerton told reporters,
'I'm filing this inquiry as a parent, not as a Ministry
official.  First and foremost, I wish to protect my son.'

The investigation will begin today and be carried out
by officials from the Department of Magical Education,
a department that was set up for this purpose after
the downfall of Lord Voldemort.  Officials will visit
the school and interview both students and staff as
a part of their investigation.

Tethys Balladanis will continue to teach Defense Against
the Dark Arts during this time.


    “He's still going to teach?”  John said incredulously after he finished reading the article.

    “I'm not going to Defense anymore,”  Matt said,  “Not until he's gone.”

    “They can't stop him from teaching until they do the investigation,”  Rose explained,  “Only Kendrick can stop him from teaching at the moment.”

    “Then why doesn't Kendrick do that?”  Albus asked as he looked up at the staff table.

    Kendrick was talking with Neville and there was a copy of the Prophet laying between them.  Balladanis was not present.

    “I don't know,”  Rose said quietly,  “But Defense is just going to get worse.”

    “Which is why I'm not going,”  Matt said adamantly.

    For once, Rose did not chastise him about skipping class.  Albus couldn't blame him.  He himself was half tempted to skip, but he knew his curiosity would get the better of him.

    “Somehow, I don't think you'll have the chance to skip,”  Rose muttered,  “We don't have Defense until Tuesday.”

    “Excellent,”  John grinned,  “Now I won't have to do that werewolf essay.”

    “I never said that,”  Rose replied,  “You still ought to do it, just in case.”

    “Look, Kendrick's getting up,”  Kaden pointed to the staff table.

    “May I have your attention!”  Kendrick shouted and the chatter in the hall immediately ceased,  “Thank you.  I trust by now that you've all either read or heard about the article on the front page of the Prophet.

    “Ministry officials will be visiting the school today and tomorrow to conduct their investigation.  They will be selecting students to interview.  If you are selected, I advise you to answer their questions truthfully.

    “As of right now, Professor Balladanis is still your teacher, therefore you need to treat him with respect and attend his classes.  This is, at the moment, an investigation and nothing more.  Now, you'd best be off to class.”

    “Albus,”  Rose whispered as they made their way out of the Great Hall to History of Magic,  “You're not going to that dueling lesson tonight, are you?”

    “I dunno,”  Albus shrugged.  He hadn't really thought about it until then.

    “I don't think you should,”  Rose told him.

    Albus nodded.  He didn't want to go, but he also didn't want to find out what Balladanis would do when Albus didn't show up that evening.

    Nobody fell asleep during History of Magic.  It must have been a new record, one that was previously set back when Binns was still alive.  However, the lack of fatigue was not due to Binns's lecture.  No, that was just as boring as usual.  The students remained awake because they were talking about Balladanis.  The classroom was filled with the hushed whispers of the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw third years and Binns droned on without seeming to notice.

    There were only six students in the castle who knew the specific reason why Matt's dad had submitted that inquiry.  Albus, Rose, John, Amanda, Kaden, and Matt himself.  Seven, if you counted Malfoy, but even Malfoy did not know that it had been Balladanis's lecture on lycanthropic children that pushed Mr. Eckerton to submit the inquiry.

    Everyone else speculated.  About half the school put the blame on the anamatek, even though Matt's dad had come out and said that wasn't the real reason. The Prophet had only glazed over the reasons, not getting into specifics.  The Hogwarts students wanted specifics.  They wanted to know what had pushed Matt's dad to submit an inquiry when none of their parents seemed fazed.

    The reasons the students fabricated ranged from plausible to outrageous.  A few seventh years, mainly Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, speculated that Balladanis had gotten a bit overenthusiastic with his extra help sessions and perhaps used Matt as an example of someone who did not possess the skills to defeat dark wizards.  Combine that with an overprotective parent (what the seventh years claimed Matt's dad to be, which was not actually an overstatement), and the investigation was born.  They believed that the investigation would blow over and within two weeks everything would be back to normal, with Balladanis still teaching.

    A few overexcited first years were the on the opposite side of the spectrum. They believed that Balladanis had let a chimaera loose in his classroom while teaching the Gryffindor and Slytherin third years.  Apparently they overlooked the fact that nobody had turned up injured after class and the fact that Balladanis would have been sacked immediately if that had actually been the case.

    Matt had become somewhat of a celebrity inside the Hogwarts walls.  There wasn't a single person, living, ghost, or portrait, who didn't know it was his dad who launched the inquiry.  He was stopped no less than six times on the way from History of Magic to Herbology by people wanting to know the details of the inquiry.  It was something Albus could tell Matt was extremely uncomfortable with.

    “Merlin, when will they learn that I don't want to talk about it!”  Matt groaned as they made their way back to the castle after Herbology.  Two Ravenclaw second years had just run up to Matt, demanding to know why his dad wanted to get Balladanis sacked.  Apparently they actually liked him.
   
    “You should just stand up on the Gryffindor table and make an announcement during lunch,”  John suggested.

    “Definitely not,”  Matt said,  “I'm just glad we don't have class this afternoon.”

    “Me, too,”  Albus agreed,  “Hey, look, I bet those are the investigators.” Albus pointed to three official looking people striding up towards the castle. There were two witches and a wizard.

    “Probably,”  John said,  “I wonder who they're going to interview?”

    “Ten Galleons says they interview me,”  Matt replied,  “And probably Albus since he's had all those private lessons.”

    “Let's just hope they don't interview those two Ravenclaws,”  John said.

    Albus, Matt, and John continued their trek to the Great Hall, where they ate a very fast lunch.  None of them wanted to stay very long since everyone was still asking Matt about the inquiry.  After they finished, the boys went to Gryffindor Tower to deposit their bags before going to the Marauder's Den to put off their homework.

    The common room was mostly empty when they arrived, but Albus spotted Lily, Hugo, and Ashtyn sitting around one of the tables. 

    “Don't you three have class now?”  Albus asked, feeling very much like Rose.

    “Yes,”  Lily muttered,  “We've got Defense and we're skipping.  Don't say anything about it.  There's nothing you can do to make me go, so don't even try.”

    “I wasn't going to,”  Albus assured her,  “Wasn't it your class where Balladanis made someone cry?”

    “That's why we're not going,”  Ashtyn replied,  “And we don't care if we get detention either.  Oh, and John, you'd better not tell Mum.”

    “I won't,”  John said,  “The three of us used Puking Pastilles to get out of Defense yesterday.”

    “You should have just skipped from the beginning,”  Ashtyn told them.

    “Well, you three enjoy your skipping,”  Albus said as he continued to his dormitory.

    “Oh, believe me, we will,”  Lily grinned.

    The boys quickly stowed their bags in their dormitory and set off for the Maruader's Den.  Albus climbed out of the portrait hole and ran straight into Gabriella.

    “There you are, Al!”  Gabriella exclaimed,  “I've been looking for you. Kendrick wants to see you in his study.  Oh, hang on.”  Gabriella consulted the piece of parchment she was holding.  “He wants to see Matt, too.”

    “Looks like you two are getting interviewed,”  John said as Gabriella went into the common room.

    “Guess so,”  Albus shrugged.  He really wasn't surprised.  Even if he hadn't been receiving private lessons with Balladanis, he probably would have been interviewed.  It was one of those things that happened when your father was the most famous wizard in Britain.

    “I'll see you two later, then,”  John replied,  “Have fun.”

    “Oh, yeah,”  Albus rolled his eyes,  “Loads.”

    Albus and Matt left for Kendrick's study while John continued towards the Marauder's Den.  Albus had no idea what he was going to do while they were gone, but he would bet that John would be bored within fifteen minutes.


A/N:  I hope you all enjoyed HPFF's April Fool's Day Prank!  The staff really outdid themselves this year.  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, and everyone who has read and reviewed this story!

Chapter 31: Balladanis's Fate
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    There was another Prefect standing next to the gargoyle that concealed the entrance to Kendrick's study.  It was apparently his job to mutter the password to the gargoyle to allow all the students being interviewed in.  He looked incredibly bored.

    Albus and Matt ascended into the study and found three other students waiting in front of Kendrick's closed door.  A very bored looking Hufflepuff, who was probably in sixth or seventh year, Scorpius Malfoy, and much to Albus's dismay, one of those Ravenclaws they had encountered on the grounds earlier.

    Albus was not at all surprised to see Scorpius Malfoy there.  After all, he had private lessons with Balladanis as well.  However, he chose to ignore Malfoy's presence and leaned against the wall to begin the long wait.

    What had been the point in sending them all to Kendrick's study at the same time?  They were obviously only interviewing one person at a time.  Why couldn't they have just summoned Albus later, when there were less people waiting?

    Kendrick's door opened and a pale-faced Gryffindor first year walked out. She hurried out of the study and one of the Ministry officials motioned for the Ravenclaw to enter.

    The Ravenclaw was in Kendrick's study for about fifteen minutes.  Then it was Malfoy's turn.  He took a bit more time, but finally came out and left without so much as a glance towards Albus and Matt.

    In the mean time, two more students had entered.  One Albus recognized as Peyton Haines, one of the Chasers from the Slytherin Quidditch team.  The other was a young Hufflepuff Albus didn't recognize.

    Finally, after what must have been at least an hour, Albus was finally called into the room. 

    Kendrick was not in his study.  Only the three investigators were.  Albus was now able to see them up close.  The one who had called him into the room was quite tall and wore a menacing glare.  Her robes were perfectly pressed, without a single wrinkle, and her hair was pulled into a tight bun.  She reminded Albus of Minerva McGonagall.

    The other witch was the complete opposite.  She was short and quite a bit overweight.  Her frizzy brown hair stuck up at all sorts of odd angles and she had a small pair of glasses perched on her nose.

    The remaining investigator was a wizard and he was seated behind Kendrick's desk, a quill in hand.  He looked a bit bored by the entire thing.  He was gazing about the room and had the look of someone who wasn't quite paying attention.

    Two people who were paying rapt attention, or should he say portraits, were Dumbledore and Snape.  Both were sitting straight up and looking straight at the investigators.

    The tall witch gestured for Albus to take a seat in front of the desk.  Albus did so.

    “My name is Katherine Torenzo and this is Lorraine Smyth,”  the tall witch gestured to the short witch,  “And that is Herb Cletus.  He'll be transcribing our interview.”

    No wonder he was so bored, Albus thought.  He didn't even get to ask any of the questions.

    “Please state your full name, age, year, and house for the record,”  Torenzo said briskly.

    Albus raised his eyebrows.  Wouldn't they already know all of that information?

    “It's protocol, dear,”  Smyth told him.

    “Albus Severus Potter, thirteen, third year, Gryffindor,”  Albus answered.

    “Excellent,”  Torenzo replied,  “Now, perhaps you can tell us what goes on in an average lesson with Professor Balladanis, in your own words.”

    “Er, all right,”  Albus said,  “Well, he comes in and tells us all to stop talking.  Then he'll collect the homework.  Oh, and you have to get the homework in on time, no matter what.  He doesn't take late work, even if you've got a good excuse.  You could be sick in the hospital wing and he wouldn't take late homework.

    “Then he'll teach us a new spell or about some new creature.  Then we'll have to perform the spell.”

    “What happens if you don't perform it properly?”  Smyth asked.

    “He makes you do it again, and again, until you get it,”  Albus answered, “If you don't get it, he makes you go to extra help sessions.”

    “Has this caused distress to any of the students in your class?”  Smyth asked.

    “Not in my class, but I've heard of other students crying because of it,” Albus answered.

    “Have you attended any extra help sessions?”  Torenzo asked.

    “No,”  Albus shook his head,  “Professor Balladanis has never told me I had to.”

    “I understand you have been given dueling lessons by him, however,”  Torenzo said,  “Can you tell us a bit about them?  What do they consist of?”

    “Most times he just teaches me new spells, spells that are harder than the ones we learn in class.  Scorpius Malfoy is there, too, and we duel each other with the spells,”  Albus explained.

    “You said 'most' times,”  Smyth said,  “What else does he have you do?”

    “Er,”  Albus shifted uncomfortably in his chair,  “One time he had us go into his pensieve.”

    “Did he,”  Torenzo muttered,  “Please elaborate.”

    “We watched his parents be murdered by vampires,”  Albus said after a brief hesitation.  He doubted Balladanis would be happy about this, but Kendrick had said to be truthful.

    Both Torenzo and Smyth looked horrified.  Cletus was writing away furiously on the parchment.  Snape was smirking and Dumbledore's face had seemed to harden.

    “We didn't actually see it,”  Albus said quickly,  “We stood outside the house as it happened.  Balladanis's parents were in the house.  Then we watched Balladanis, in the memory, run away from the house.  He was thirteen.”

    “And then what?”  Torenzo prodded.

    “We left the pensieve.  Balladanis explained what we had seen-”

    “He didn't tell you ahead of time?”  Smyth asked.

    “No,”  Albus shook his head,  “He just told us to go in the pensieve.”

    “Did he explain why he wanted you to see this?”  Torenzo asked.

    “Yeah.  He wanted to show us why he became a Presuler,”  Albus said.

    “He told you he's a Presuler?”  Torenzo raised her eyebrow.
   
    “Yes, he thinks me and Malfoy should become Presulers,”  Albus explained.

    “Very well,”  Torenzo said as she walked towards Albus,  “I have one final question.  Would you feel comfortable if Professor Balladanis continued to teach here?”

    Albus thought about it for a moment.  Balladanis was certainly a motivated teacher and one Albus could learn a lot from.  But on the other hand, he wasn't the kind of wizard Albus felt comfortable around.

    “No,”  Albus said quietly,  “I guess not.”

    Torenzo nodded.  “Please return to your common room.  You are not to speak of this interview to anyone until after the investigation is completed.”

    Albus got up from the chair and Torenzo followed him out of the room.  She called Matt in as Albus left.  Albus muttered a quiet 'good luck' to him before descending from the room.

                        ******

    “Why can't you just tell us?”  John lamented as the boys sat around the Marauder's Den after dinner.  Rose and Amanda were currently in the girls' dormitory with Linda, who had recently been interviewed.

    “I've told you a million times,”  Albus said,  “The Ministry witches said we couldn't talk about the interview.”

    “But how would they know?”  John asked,  “It's not like I'm going to go telling the whole school about it.”

    “Neither will I,”  Kaden added.

    Albus snorted.  “I'll tell you about it after Balladanis is sacked, or isn't sacked.  I don't think it's going to take long for them to decide.”

    “He's going to be sacked,”  Matt said adamantly and then turned to John, “You're not going to his extra help session tonight, are you?”

    “Not if I was paid twenty Galleons,”  John replied,  “Well, ok, maybe if I was paid twenty Galleons, but not for less than ten.  What about you, Albus?  Going to go to your dueling lesson?”

    Albus shrugged.  He still hadn't decided.  What he really wanted to know was whether Malfoy was going, but he couldn't very well waltz down to the dungeons, barge into the Slytherin common room, and ask.

    “No idea,”  Albus sighed.

    “Don't go,”  Matt said,  “If you go, I'm going to start worrying about your sanity.”

    “Why would you want to go?”  John gave Albus a strange look.

    “I might find out something about how the investigation is going, or something,”  Albus muttered.

    John opened his mouth to reply, but instead turned to the door.  A loud squawking noise had seemed to emit from it.

    “Did you hear that?”  John asked.

    Albus nodded and got up from his seat.  He walked over to the door and paused next to it.  The squawking noise was repeated. 

    One thing Albus loved about the Marauder's Den was that it was always very quiet.  No noises could be heard from the corridor while he was inside.  Albus rarely ever heard noises from the corridor, let alone squawking noises.

    Albus cautiously opened the door and instead of the bizarre bird he had expected to see, Rose was standing there with her wand out.

    “Finally!”  she groaned,  “I thought you'd never come to the door.”

    “Rose?”  Albus asked,  “What is it?  Was that squawking you?”

    “Yes,”  Rose said hurriedly,  “I had to get you to come out of there.  Uncle Harry's looking for you.  He's waiting in the common room.  I told him I'd find you.”

    Albus turned around and told Matt, John, and Kaden, all of whom had followed him out of the room, that he would be back soon.  He had no idea what his dad wanted, but it must have been important for him to go to the castle on a day he didn't have to patrol it.

    Harry was sitting in one of the squashy armchairs in front of the fire when Albus arrived.  Georgia and Fred were both talking with him, most likely about Quidditch judging by their excessive use of hand gestures, but stopped abruptly when Albus entered.  Harry got up and met Albus near the portrait hole.

    “Let's talk outside,”  Harry said.  Albus followed him out of the portrait hole and down the corridor a little ways.

    “What were you up to just now?”  Harry asked, grinning a bit.

    “Nothing,”  Albus shrugged truthfully.

    “Well, I'm no longer a teacher here, so I won't say a word about you causing trouble, if that's what you were doing,”  Harry told him,  “But anyway, what I wanted to ask you is whether you were planning on going to Professor Balladanis's dueling lesson tonight?”

    That seemed to be the question of the evening, Albus thought.  “I dunno,” Albus shrugged.

    “I realize that the decision is completely up to you,”  Harry said quietly, “But I would advise you not to go.  Professor Balladanis is under a considerable amount of stress, of which you don't know the half of.  I'd say the chances are high that he may take out this stress on you and Scorpius.”

    “Do you know if Malfoy's going?”  Albus asked.

    “I really have no idea,”  Harry answered,  “But I tend to believe he won't.”

    “I don't think I will either,”  Albus said.

    “A wise decision,”  Harry smiled.

    Harry said good night to Albus and then Albus went back to the Marauder's Den.  Kaden was in the middle of showing Matt and John how to make a proper paper airplane.

    “What did your dad want?”  John asked without looking up from the parchment he was folding.

    “To tell me it wasn't a good idea to go to Balladanis's lesson tonight,” Albus said as he flopped down onto the empty couch.

    “And?”  Matt asked.

    “I'm not going,”  Albus answered.

    “Good,”  Matt replied.

    “You know what was weird, though?”  Albus began,  “My dad said Balladanis was under a lot of stress, most of which I don't know about.  So I'm guessing it's not only the investigation.”

    “Weird,”  Kaden shook his head,  “I'll be happy when he's sacked.”

    “We don't know for sure that he'll be sacked,”  Albus pointed out,  “I just wish I knew what else he was stressed about.”

    “Maybe he's got to battle a beautiful woman,”  John smirked,  “Remember his boggart?”

    “His boggart!”  Albus shouted,  “I can't believe I didn't put that together sooner.  It wasn't a beautiful woman; it was a vampire.  It's so obvious now that we know what happened to his parents, too.”

    “Yeah, that does seem fairly obvious,”  Matt agreed,  “But what's that got to do with his stress?”

    “Probably nothing,”  Albus shrugged,  “I just realized it.”

    “You know,”  John began,  “This is the first Friday we've had to ourselves.”

    “You're right,”  Albus said,  “What should we do?”

    “Let's go down to the kitchens,”  Kaden said.

    “And spend the night here,”  Matt added,  “We hardly ever do that.”

    They did just that.  The boys snuck down to the kitchens and were given as many sweets and puddings as they could carry by the house elves.  Then they stayed up late eating all of it and playing various games.  Albus was even able to forget about Balladanis for a while, something that had not happened in quite a while.

                        ******

    The Ministry officials remained a permanent fixture at Hogwarts throughout the remainder of the weekend.  Albus overheard a lot of students mentioning that they'd been interviewed, including John's cousin Isabelle, one of the Chasers on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, and Gabriella.

    Professor Balladanis did not show up at a single meal.  In fact, he wasn't seen at all throughout the weekend.  Nobody saw him, which raised the question of whether he was even still in the castle.

    Albus was hoping he ran for it.  Got out before the Ministry had a chance to make their decision.  Albus was more than a little nervous about going to Defense on Tuesday and hearing what Balladanis had to say about Albus's absence from their dueling lesson.

    It was on Monday morning that all the Hogwarts students knew a verdict had been reached.  Professor Kendrick rose partway through the meal, something that only happened when something important happened.  He was flanked by the two witches from the Ministry.  The wizard was no longer there.

    The Hall immediately quieted, without Kendrick even having to ask.  Albus was slightly taken aback by Kendrick's impending announcement, since there had not been a single mention of Balladanis in that morning's Prophet.

    “A decision has been reached about Professor Balladanis,”  Kendrick announced,  “Madam Torenzo will inform you of it.  The Prophet has kindly agreed not to publish the article about it just yet, as I wished to inform you of it first.”

    “He's sacked,”  John muttered,  “Otherwise he'd be at breakfast.”

    “Good point,”  Albus said.

    Torenzo stood up and gazed out at the students with a neutral look on her face.  “Upon extensive investigation of Professor Balladanis's teaching methods and thorough interviews of selected students, the Ministry has seen it fit to remove him from his teaching position here at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Professor Balladanis packed his things late last night and no longer resides in the castle.  Professor Kendrick will inform you about what will happen with Defense classes for the remainder of the year.  I would like to thank all of you for your cooperation during this time.”

    Torenzo sat back down and continued eating her breakfast like nothing had happened.  The Great Hall immediately erupted into whispers, but they were quickly stopped by Kendrick.

    “Defense Against the Dark Arts classes will not take place until further notice.  I will try and procure a suitable replacement for Professor Balladanis as quickly as possible.  Until then, please use the time to study for your upcoming exams,”  Kendrick said and then resumed his seat.  He began to talk with Torenzo and the students voices rose in the Hall.

    “I knew it!”  Matt exclaimed,  “Best news I've heard this month!”

    “Yes!”  Georgia shouted and then turned to Fred,  “Pay up!”

    “Merlin!”  James groaned,  “Why'd they have to do that investigation so quickly?”

    Money began to exchange hands throughout the Gryffindor table as Fred collected and handed out Galleons.

    “Do you think Kendrick'll find a replacement?”  John asked.

    “Dunno,”  Albus shrugged,  “No one really wanted that job to begin with.”
   
    “Glad I didn't do that werewolf essay,”  John grinned.

    “Maybe Kendrick won't find a replacement,”  Kaden said,  “Then we'd have one less exam.”

    “That would be brilliant,”  John replied.

    The atmosphere in the castle for the rest of the day was incredibly upbeat. Hardly anyone seemed at all sad that Balladanis had left.  Quite a few students asked Matt to thank his dad for them.  It seemed that the only students upset by it were those who had lost bets because of it.

    Argus Filch was another who was unhappy.  The general excitement of the castle caused him more work.  Peeves destroyed the Defense classroom in celebration (Balladanis never liked Peeves), James and his friends set off a few Weasley fireworks, and then there was the general mess that was associated with students celebrating by playing outside in the muddy grass.  Plus, Moaning Myrtle flooded her bathroom when a few students told her that even she ought to be excited about it.  Apparently she did not agree.  For some odd reason it reminded her of her death.

    One person who seemed incredibly excited was Linda. Linda who rarely showed any emotion whatsoever walked around the castle with a big smile on her face. Albus could only attribute this to the fact that Balladanis had taught so extensively about vampires.  But he never taunted her the way he'd taunted Matt. Perhaps that was because his biggest fear was vampires.

    There was even a party in the Gryffindor common room that night.  Rose thought it was a little ridiculous, to celebrate the sacking of a teacher, but everyone else, including Linda, thought it was an excellent thing to celebrate.
   
    “Just think,”  John said,  “We don't ever have to listen to him go on and on about how bad the dark arts are.  I mean, we all know they're bad.  We all know about Voldemort and what he did.”

    “And that bloody anamatek,”  Matt added,  “I could've gone my whole life without seeing one of those.”

    “What do you think he's doing now?”  Rose mused.

    “Maybe some Ministry hired him,”  Albus said quietly,  “I hope it's some place far, like Madagascar or somewhere.”

    “Yeah,”  Matt agreed,  “I bet he's not even in Britain anymore.”

    “I don't see why he'd bother to stick around,”  Albus replied,  “I mean, he snuck out in the night to avoid anyone seeing him.”

    “Wish we could've seen him leave,”  John grinned mischievously,  “Would've been nice to give him a proper send off.”

    “I'm just glad it's over,”  Rose muttered,  “Maybe now you lot can concentrate on exams.  And maybe the castle will get back to normal.”

    “Normal?”  Albus raised his eyebrows,  “This place will never be normal. Plus, we've got Quidditch on Saturday.  It's the last match before the final.”

    “When's the final?”  Rose asked.

    “Beginning of June, I think,”  Albus answered,  “Australia's already so far ahead that they'll be in it.”

    Albus, John, Matt, and Kaden all sent scathing looks at Linda, who looked down at the table.

    “But if we beat New York in this match,”  Albus continued,  “We'll be in it, too.  So Wood is in full form this week.  I'm practicing every night starting tomorrow.”

    “Oliver Wood is insane,”  Rose muttered.

    “Insane, but brilliant on the Quidditch pitch,”  John grinned,  “I would love to get yelled at by him during a Quidditch practice.”

    “Excellent,”  Albus said,  “You can take my place.”


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight and everyone who has read and reviewed this!

Chapter 32: The Breakout
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


    Despite the fact that he did not have Defense Against the Dark Arts the next morning, Albus was down in the Great Hall bright and early because he wanted to read Rose's Daily Prophet.  Having Kendrick announce Balladanis's sacking was one thing, reading it in the Prophet was entirely different.

    Rose was already there when Albus, Matt, and John sat down at the Gryffindor table.  Amanda and Linda were on either side of her and all three girls were reading the article.  Albus drummed his fingers impatiently on the table while he waited for them to be finished.  Finally, Rose handed him the paper without saying a word and Albus read it, with Matt and John looking over his shoulder.

HOGWARATS TEACHER REMOVED FROM POSITION BY MINISTRY

In an event that causes much of the wizarding world to remember
back to Voldemort's reign, Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark
Arts teacher, Tethys Balladanis, has been removed from his
position by the Ministry of Magic's Department of Magical
Education.

During Voldemort's reign, Defense teachers rarely lasted more
than a year at the school, a mystery that abruptly ended when
Voldemort was defeated on May 2, 1998.  Up until two years
ago, Hogwarts had had only one Defense teacher since that
fateful May day.

Professor Torro taught at Hogwarts for years until he was
mysteriously murdered nearly three years ago.  He was
replaced by Head Auror, Harry Potter, who is rumored to
have only taken the position after nobody else agreed to
fill it.

Harry Potter left the position this past autumn and it was filled
by Balladanis. 

Balladanis taught until two days ago, when he was removed
from his position.  Approximately a week and a half ago, a
complaint was lodged by Head of the Department for the
Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Walter Eckerton,
whose fourteen-year-old son currently attends Hogwarts.

The complaint included harsh teaching methods, the use of an
anamatek as a teaching tool, singling students out for lack of
skill, and embarrassing students in front of their peers. 

An investigation by Ministry officials ensued and included
the interviewing of select students and staff.  The department
concluded their investigation late Sunday evening and informed
both Balladanis and Headmaster Fabius Kendrick of their decision. 
Balladanis left the castle willingly and will not be appealing the
decision.  When asked for a statement on the issue, both Kendrick
and Balladanis declined.

Upon hearing the news, Walter Eckerton said, 'I am very happy
with the decision and that the investigation was concluded in
a timely fashion.  I am not happy that it came to this, but I
feel that nothing should be put ahead of children's safety.'

Hogwarts students will not attend Defense classes until a replacement
is found.  As of right now, one has not been found.


    “I knew they'd stick your dad in there somehow,”  John announced once they'd finished reading.

    “There wasn't anything in there that we didn't already know,”  Albus muttered,  “I was hoping Balladanis would've said something or we'd find out what happened when he left the castle.”

    “Maybe he really did go quietly,”  Matt shrugged,  “Maybe he wanted to get back to his anamatek.”

    “I wonder where he lives,”  Amanda mused,  “Think he lives in England?”

    “Doubt it,”  Rose answered,  “Even if he did before I doubt he does now.”

                        ******

    Life soon returned to normal for the Hogwarts students, as it often does after something exciting happens.  Everyone talked about Balladanis the day the article was published, but soon there was nothing left to say and the students focused on the upcoming Quidditch match, which was mere days away.

    Albus had an easy time forgetting about Balladanis due to Quidditch practice.  He was out on the pitch every evening and was soon hearing Wood's commands in his head as he fell asleep, which was something that certainly couldn't be deemed normal.  Albus was almost glad that the year was drawing to an end because once the tournament was over, he wouldn't have to deal with Wood anymore.  Thinking about that made Albus realize that Gryffindor would have a new captain the next year since Georgia was graduating.  Albus was sure it would be either Fred or Heather, but he wasn't sure which.

    Albus trudged into the Great Hall on Thursday morning sorely wishing that John hadn't woken him up.  They didn't have a class first thing, so why'd he bother doing that?  Albus was already running on little sleep.

    “I'm going to wake you up at five in the morning this Saturday,”  Albus muttered to John as he poured himself some pumpkin juice.

    “No you won't, you'll still be asleep,”  John grinned,  “I need you to help me finish that Herbology essay that's due today.”

    “That's the reason for you waking me up?”  Albus groaned,  “Why can't Rose help you?”

    “She's a bit sore with me right now,”  John muttered.

    “What did you do?”  Albus asked.

    “I may or may not have accidentally set fire to her Potions notes last night,”  John said.

    “And I should have to suffer because of that?”  Albus replied,  “How did you manage that anyway?”

    “It wasn't an accident,”  Matt put in,  “John and Kaden were tinkering with those super strength dung bombs last night in the Marauder's Den.  They stupidly decided to do this at the table right where Rose's notes were.  The dung bombs exploded and Rose's notes caught fire.”

    “See, an accident!”  John exclaimed.

    “No, stupidity,”  Matt said,  “You should've done it somewhere else.  Oh, Albus, I wouldn't suggest going in the Marauder's Den anytime soon.  It smells.”

    “I wouldn't have time to anyway,”  Albus muttered,  “Quidditch practice again tonight.”

    “Oi, Albus!”  James shouted.

    “What?”  Albus said.

    “Is Dad patrolling here this week?”  James asked.

    “I don't know, why?”  Albus replied.

    “He's here,”  James pointed to the staff table.

    Albus looked up and saw that his dad was talking with Neville.  Except he wasn't wearing his Auror robes, he was just wearing normal robes.  Albus glanced back at James who shrugged.

    “May I have your attention?”  Kendrick announced,  “Thank you.  I just wish to inform you all that Harry Potter has kindly agreed to take over Defense classes for the remainder of term.  Because of this, Defense classes will resume today.”

    “Good thing I woke you up,”  John grinned.

    “Guess you won't be able to finish that essay,”  Albus shot back.

    “Merlin,”  John muttered.

    Albus wasn't that surprised, nor did he care that much.  He'd already had his dad teach for two years and it hadn't been bad at all.  Plus, his dad was a far better teacher than Balladanis.

    Albus walked with Matt and John to Defense.  Rose was still not speaking to John and she walked with Amanda and Linda a little ways ahead.  Albus seriously hoped that this wouldn't turn into what happened earlier in the year.

    The entire class erupted in applause as soon as Harry entered the room and Albus noticed that this caused him to blush.  Even Malfoy was clapping, albeit half-heartedly, but he was clapping nonetheless. 

    “Thanks,”  Harry muttered,  “Well, I did not think I'd be back here.  I do have to continue with the curriculum, so I must ask that you complete the werewolf essay for next Thursday.  However, it only has to be one foot of parchment.”

    There was a collective groan from the entire class.  “Great,”  John muttered,  “I was hoping to get out of it.”

    “It won't be that hard,”  Matt rolled his eyes.

    “But it'll be time consuming,”  John replied.

    “I know, I know,”  Harry smirked,  “But there is a month and a half of term left and I can't just let you have this time to mess around.”

    The class was the most enjoyable Defense class the third years had had in quite a while.  Harry lectured for the entirety of the class, but it wasn't boring. Albus did not mind in the slightest that his dad was going to be finishing out the term.

                        ******

    By the time Saturday arrived, virtually no one in the castle was talking about Professor Balladanis.  Quidditch was on the forefront of everybody's minds and the tensions ran higher than they had all year.  The outcome of this match would determine who played Australia in the final.

    Albus himself was not particularly worried.  Hogwarts had already beaten New York once and they could easily do it again.  The entire team was in good health and none of the alternates were needed.  Albus was perfectly content to sit in the stands with his friends and just watch the match, rather than have to play in it.

    It was a warm spring day with a slight wind and cloud cover, perfect playing conditions.  Wood had spoke of the weather during the previous night's practice, telling the team that a large storm had been predicted for that day.  Luckily it had not appeared yet.
   
    The match commenced with a lot of shouting and cheering from the crowd. Hogwarts scored five goals within the first fifteen minutes of the match and New York scored two.  The teams remained neck in neck for the remainder of the match, until James pulled out of a dive clutching the golden Snitch in his left hand.

    The crowd erupted into cheers and James was soon hoisted onto the shoulders of some of the older students.

    “I have an announcement to make!”  Professor Kendrick shouted over the crowd, “Due to Hogwarts's win, they will be competing against Australia in the final Quidditch match, scheduled to take place on the first of June!”

    The usual after Quidditch party ensued in the common room and everyone rehashed their favorite parts of the match.  No one talked about the final match, although Albus was sure it was in the backs of everyone's minds.  Australia seemed impossible to beat.

    Once the excitement from another Quidditch win abated, the Hogwarts students seemed to realize that exams were quite near.  The library soon became a popular place to be and fifth and seventh years in particular could be seen there all hours of the day.

    As the middle of May arrived, Gabriella demanded a quiet common room in the evenings, much like her sister had two years prior.  Albus and his friends spent more time in the Marauder's Den after that, usually without Rose, Amanda, and Linda.  The three girls seemed to like the quietness of the common room.

    Rose did forgive John for messing up her notes, but she became more tense and snappish as exams drew nearer.  It wasn't something that surprised Albus or anyone else because it had become a sort of end of term tradition with Rose.

    Defense lessons took a drastic turn for the better.  Albus and all of his friends got perfect marks on their werewolf essays, to the surprise of no one. After that, the classes bared no resemblance to Balladanis's.

    “Aw, Merlin!”  John shouted at breakfast one Friday in the middle of May. He had been reading the Prophet.

    “What is it?”  Albus asked, thinking Balladanis had been reinstated as Defense teacher or something.

    “England didn't make it into the World Cup final,”  John sighed,  “They were so close.”

    “Who did make it?”  Albus grabbed the paper from John, suddenly remembering the tickets he'd gotten for Christmas.  He hadn't picked who he was going to invite to go with him.  Actually, he hadn't even told his friends about the tickets.

    “Portugal and Russia,”  John groaned,  “Russia!  They've got a rubbish Quidditch team!”

    “Obviously not,”  Rose smirked,  “Albus, did you pick who you're going to take when you go to the Cup?”

    “Wait, what?”  John gaped at Albus,  “You got tickets?”

    “Er, yeah, for Christmas,”  Albus said.

    “And you didn't tell me!”  John exclaimed.

    “Well, I only got one extra and I didn't know how to pick.  I had it narrowed down to you and Matt.  Mind you, if you hate Russia, I'll just pick Matt,”  Albus smirked.

    “No, no, I didn't say I hate Russia,”  John said quickly,  “They've just got a bad team.”

    “How am I supposed to pick then?”  Albus asked.

    “You don't have to,”  Matt said as he sat down next to Albus.

    “Nice to see you awake,”  John grinned.  Albus and John had attempted to wake Matt up before they went down to the Great Hall and had no luck.  The full moon was the next day, so Albus hadn't even been sure if Matt was going to go to class.

    “Why, is the Cup a bad time of the month?”  Albus whispered.

    “No,”  Matt shook his head,  “It's just that my dad got tickets, so you can just give your extra one to John.”

    “Oh,”  Albus grinned,  “That makes things easy.”

    “Where is the Cup?”  Amanda asked.

    “Canada,”  Rose replied.

    “How are we getting there, Albus?”  John asked,  “Are we going to take a Muggle airplane?”  John looked excited at that prospect.

    “No idea,”  Albus shrugged,  “Dad might get a Portkey.”

    “That's boring,”  John said.

    “Wish I could go,”  Kaden sighed.

    “Why, don't you not like Quidditch?”  John asked.

    “It's ok,”  Kaden shrugged,  “I just want to try out a Portkey.”

    “You're weird, Kaden,”  John laughed.

    “So are you.  Airplanes are boring,”  Kaden argued.

    “I'm with Kaden on this one,”  Matt said,  “I'd take a Portkey any day.”

                        ******

    Between studying for exams and Quidditch practice, Albus had no time for anything else.  He managed to squeeze in time to visit Matt in the hospital wing on Sunday, but only briefly before he went to Wood's day long Quidditch practice.

    The following weekend was the final match of the Junior's Dueling Club, something Albus had been forced to neglect due to Quidditch practice.  After begging Wood and a bit of help from Teddy, Albus was able to attend the final. Albus's team won, much to the delight of both Albus and Malfoy.

    Albus had not spoken to Malfoy since the incident with Professor Balladanis. Nor had Malfoy said a word to Albus, or any of his friends.  Malfoy remained mysteriously quiet around the full moon, not saying anything about it to either Albus or Matt.  It was strange, but not something any of the boys were going to complain about it.

    Three days before the Quidditch final, the Great Hall was filled with whispering voices that reminded Albus of the day Balladanis had been sacked. Copies of the Prophet were being passed back and forth and quite a few students looked extremely scared.

    “What's happened?”  Albus asked Rose as he sat down.

    “Willinson has broken out of Azkaban,”  Rose whispered, her face completely white.

    “What?!”  Albus shouted as he grabbed the nearest copy of the Prophet.  Matt and John crowded around him as he read it.

AZKABAN BREAKOUT

Officials have reported that three prisoners
broke out of Azkaban late last night.  It is
still unknown how it happened.  Azkaban guards
have refused to speak with reporters, and the
Ministry does not wish to divulge information
at this time.

The names of the escaped prisoners have been
released and anyone with information reguarding
any of them are asked to contact the Ministry.


    The Prophet then gave detailed information about all three of the escaped prisoners.  Albus only recognized Willinson.  The other two had been imprisoned for more petty crimes.

    “How did he get out?”  Albus wondered,  “He's an idiot!”
   
    “I think everyone's confused about that,”  Rose said.

    Any hope Albus had of getting homework done that week was gone.  He was lucky he was able to concentrate on Quidditch practice.  Willinson was out of Azkaban. He was galavanting about England, doing whatever he pleased.  That in itself was not necessarily that bad, due to Willinson's stupidity.  If he somehow met up with his father and Washburn, then it could be quite bad.

    What worried Albus the most was the fact that he would be after the Hallows, all of which still resided somewhere in or around Hogwarts.  Willinson was bound to come back, especially now that he was out of prison.

                        ******

    Before Albus knew it, the night before the Quidditch final arrived and Wood called the team into the changing room after ending practice. 

    “It has been incredibly rewarding to manage this team,”  Wood said as he began to pace in front of them,  “There were difficulties in the beginning,”  he paused and looked at the two Slytherins on the team,  “But I am proud to say that you came together as a team wonderfully.

    “It still amazes me that a group of students from all four houses can come together and play together on the same team.  I am not sure this could have been done when I was in Hogwarts.

    “You have all come a long way over the year.  You've all made vast improvements in your skill.  Quite a few of you are seventh years and I am very happy to tell you that there will be scouts from a couple Quidditch teams watching tomorrow's match.  I have high hopes for the lot of you, when it comes to Quidditch.

    “I cannot say whether we will win tomorrow.  Australia is good, there is no denying that.  However, I have faith in all of you.  Tomorrow, go out there and give it your best.  Now, I think you should all turn in early and eat a proper breakfast tomorrow before the match.  Teddy, Tyler, anything to add?”  Wood turned to the boys.

    Teddy and Tyler both shook their heads and Wood turned back to the team. “I'll see you all down here tomorrow.  Good night.”

    Wood, Teddy, and Tyler stayed behind to discuss tactics while the team left. Albus and James were the last two to leave.  Georgia had left with the other seventh years, excitedly discussing the prospect of scouts.

    “You think Georgia's going to sign with one of the professional teams?”  Albus asked James as they walked back to the castle.

    “I'd be surprised if she didn't,”  James said,  “I just hope it doesn't hurt her chances when we lose.”

    “We might not lose,”  Albus pointed out.

    “We're going to lose,”  James muttered,  “Linda's too good of a Seeker.”

    Albus said nothing.  He wished he could just tell James that Linda was a vampire.  It would be so much easier.

    They kept walking, each lost in their own thoughts.  Albus stopped abruptly when he heard a loud crack in the forest.

    “What was that?”  he asked anxiously.

    “Probably just a branch breaking,”  James answered.

    “It was too loud,”  Albus said as he looked into the forest,  “It sounded like someone Apparating in there.”

    “I don't think you can Apparate in the forest,”  James pointed out,  “And it didn't sound that loud.  You're just tired from all the Quidditch practice.”

    “I guess,”  Albus said as he and James kept walking,  “But what if it was someone Apparating?  What if it was Willinson?”

    “You worry too much, Al,”  James groaned,  “This place is filled with Aurors and Dad's here full time now.  You'd have to be mad to Apparate here if you're wanted by the Ministry.”

    “But Willinson is stupid enough to do that,”  Albus replied.

    “That's just it,”  James laughed,  “If he's stupid enough to do that, he's going to get caught and sent back to Azkaban.”

    Albus nodded but he wasn't reassured.  Willinson may be stupid, but he did manage to kidnap Kaden the previous spring, and he had been on the run for a year prior to that.  He may be a rubbish dueler, but he was certainly good at not getting caught for the most part.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight as well as all of the wonderfully awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 33: In Dervish and Banges
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   The atmosphere in the Great Hall the next morning was unlike anything Albus had seen before.  The Hogwarts team was sitting together at the Ravenclaw table, surrounded by students from all four houses.  Teddy and Tyler seemed to be in the thick of it and were loudly discussing tactics. 

    The Australian team was sitting together at the Hufflepuff table, with a large distance between them and the Hufflepuffs.  A small crowd of Australians had congregated around them.

    Albus decided not to join the rest of the Hogwarts team at the Ravenclaw table.  Nobody was unable to play that day, so Albus's days on the team were pretty much over.  To be honest, he was kind of relieved.  There was just so much pressure.

    “I think this tournament has been good for Hogwarts,”  Rose mused,  “Look at everyone.  Nobody seems to care who's in what house.”

    “It'll all go back to normal once the match is over,”  Albus pointed out.

    “Maybe not,”  Rose shrugged,  “You never know.”

    “I don't know, Rose,”  Matt said,  “I don't think one year can change centuries of tradition.”

    “It's worth a try,”  Rose said,  “I think we should all try and get along.”

    “I don't think this has helped international magical cooperation,”  John gestured to the Australian team.  The Hufflepuffs sitting nearby were glaring at them.

    “Competition rarely does that,”  Rose muttered.

    “Well, they'll all be going home soon,”  Matt said cheerfully.

    Rose shot him a dirty look and then looked up at the staff table.  Albus's gaze followed.  The staff table was quite overcrowded that morning.  There were scouts from Quidditch teams, Ministry officials including Albus's Uncle Percy, and a variety of people from Australia and New York. 

    “Look at that witch,”  John pointed to a very tall, beautiful witch with pale white skin and long dark hair.

    “She's Linda's mother,”  Rose told them.

    “Is she-”  John began.

    “Yes,”  Rose whispered,  “She's one, too.”

    “I thought so,”  John said without taking his eyes off the witch.

    There was a loud cheer from the Ravenclaw table and the Hogwarts team began to leave the Hall.  Their entourage followed until they reached the door and then they went to sit back down at various tables.

    The Australian team followed shortly.  The excitement only seemed to increase now that the teams had gone down to the changing rooms.

    A few minutes later people began to leave for the pitch.  The crowd at the staff table left first and the students followed.

    “Albus,”  John said as they got up from the table,  “I've got a few pairs of omnioculars in my trunk.  I want to see it up close when Linda catches that Snitch.”

    “Let's go get them, then,”  Albus replied.

    Rose rolled her eyes.  “Meet us down at the pitch.”  She and Amanda turned towards the door as the boys ran up the grand staircase.

    “Why didn't you just bring them to breakfast?”  Matt asked.

    “Forgot,”  John said.

    The castle was absolutely deserted as they made their way back to Gryffindor Tower.  Albus hadn't seen it that empty during the day.  It was almost disconcerting.

    John had to empty out his entire trunk in order to find the omnioculars.  He had four pairs and handed one to each of the boys.

    “Let's go,”  Albus said,  “We're going to miss the start of the match.”

    Albus completely ignored the no running in the corridors rule as he made his way through the castle.  There wasn't anyone to scold him anyway.  The footsteps behind him told him his friends weren't far behind.
   
    Albus turned a corner and ran smack into something.  He fell down onto his back and looked up, only to see that it was someone.  Not just anyone either.  Albus had collided with Matt's boggart.

    Only, it couldn't be a boggart because if it had been a boggart, it would have manifested itself into what Albus was most afraid of.  At that moment, it probably would have been Willinson.

    The man sneered down at Albus and then smiled creepily.  Albus scrambled up and turned back to look at his friends.

    Matt had turned white and looked far more afraid than Albus had ever seen him before, including when he had faced the boggart and when Malfoy had found out about his lycanthropy.  John was looking from Matt to the man, an obvious horror on his face.  Kaden was looking extremely confused.

    Albus turned and grabbed all three of his friends, pulling them into the nearest classroom.  He slammed the door and pulled out his wand, putting every locking charm he knew onto the knob.

    Matt collapsed onto the nearest chair and put his head in his hands.  “Th-th-that's-”

    “We know,”  Albus whispered.

    “What the hell is he doing here?”  John ranted,  “He's got no business here!”

    “Why's he in the castle anyway?”  Albus began to pace around the room,  “If he's here to watch the Quidditch match, then why isn't he down there?”

    “What if he's not here to watch the Quidditch?”  John said darkly.

    “Who the bloody hell is he?”  Kaden asked loudly.

    Albus glanced at Matt before looking at Kaden.  Matt didn't seem to have heard Kaden's question.

    “His name's Lubar.  He's the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia,”  Albus explained,  “He's the reason why Matt had to move here, amongst other things.”

    “He's a sick and twisted evil git,”  John muttered,  “What are we going to do?”

    Albus walked over to the door and peered out the small window at the top. Lubar was no longer in sight.

    “I've g-got to go to the Ministry,”  Matt said,  “I've got to t-tell my dad. L-Lubar, he can't be here.”

    Albus paced back and forth in front of the door.  The Ministry.  How would they get there?  Brooms?  No, that would take too long.  They'd have to use the Floo Network, but none of the fireplaces at Hogwarts were hooked up, as far as Albus knew.

    “We're going to have to get to Hogsmeade,”  Albus said,  “You wait here. I'll get my Cloak and the map.  Then we'll sneak into Hogsmeade and Floo to the Ministry.”

    Matt nodded.  “You guys don't have to come.  You can go to the match.”

    “Are you mental?”  John exclaimed,  “That bloke out there is probably worse than Willinson.  We're not letting you do this alone.”

    Albus nodded in agreement before waving his wand and undoing the locking charms.  He cautiously looked out into the corridor before leaving.  It was empty.

    Much to Albus's relief, both the Cloak and the map were right where he'd left them.  He shoved them into his robes and ran back to the classroom.  Matt, John, and Kaden were all talking quietly.  Matt didn't look any less scared, but at least he didn't seem to be in shock anymore.

    “We're not all going to fit underneath it,”  Albus said as he unfolded the cloak.

    “You three get under it,”  John said immediately,  “I'm tallest so I'll take up the most room anyway.  Plus, if we meet up with Lubar again, I'm the best liar.”

    Albus couldn't argue there.  Both he and Matt were horrible liars and Kaden still hadn't gotten over his inability to keep secrets.

    “You take the map, then,”  Albus handed the map to John,  “We've got to get to the one-eyed witch statue on the third floor.

    Albus threw the Cloak over himself, Matt, and Kaden, and the three of them followed John out of the room.  The corridor was still empty, much to Albus's relief. 

    John set a very fast pace and he was soon quite a bit ahead of Albus and the others.  Albus couldn't say anything, though, as it would give away his presence. Instead he tried to run as fast as he could while making the least amount of noise possible.

    The boys made it down the two flights of stairs necessary to get to the third floor and arrived at the statue without seeing anyone.  Albus pulled the Cloak off of them and stuffed it into his pocket.  With a quick tap of his wand, he statue's hump opened and the boys climbed inside.

    Albus lit his wand and took off down the small passageway.  Matt, John, and Kaden followed suit.

    “Why did Kendrick let him in?”  John asked as they ran,  “Doesn't he know what he did?”

    “Yes,”  Matt answered,  “I don't think Kendrick knows he's here.”

    “What did he do?”  Kaden asked.

    “You don't think he came here to see you?”  Albus asked Matt,  “I mean, remember when Killigan saw us that one time and he seemed so interested in finding you?”

    “Of course I do,”  Matt muttered,  “And it really wouldn't surprise me if that's why he's here.  But I'm betting there's another reason.”

    “What did he do?”  Kaden repeated, a bit louder.

    “Why else would he be here?”  Albus asked,  “The match?”

    “Maybe, but I'm betting it's got something to do with Linda,”  Matt replied,  “I don't know for sure, but it seems too coincidental for him to be here just to see me.”

    “What did he do?”  Kaden shouted,  “Why would he want to see you?”

    Matt stopped running and wheeled around to look at Kaden.  “It's a long story.  Lubar's got a grudge against my dad, one that he obviously still has even though we haven't lived in Australia for six years,”  Matt paused,  “He passed a bunch of laws against werewolves and I wound up having to transform with a bunch of other werewolves.  It was bad.”

    Matt resumed walking and didn't elaborate on the subject.  Kaden didn't ask him to.

    “What's your dad going to do about it?”  Kaden asked.

    “I dunno,”  Matt shrugged,  “Maybe talk to Kendrick or something.”

    There was no doubt in Albus's mind that Matt's dad would be able to get Lubar to leave Hogwarts, possibly even leave the country.  Albus had known little about Mr. Eckerton prior to this year, but now he knew that you did not want to be on his bad side.  When it came down to it, Mr. Eckerton was the one who had Balladanis sacked.

    The passage finally began to rise until it came to an abrupt stop at a knotty wooden door.  Albus pressed his ear to the door, but heard nothing.  He carefully pushed it open, wincing as it creaked.

    Seeing nobody in the storage room beyond, Albus beckoned his friends forward. The room was dimly lit, enough for Albus to see a huge amount of boxes littering the floor.  On the far wall he could see a fireplace.

    The boys climbed over the various boxes and stood in front of the fireplace. Albus located a small sack of Floo Powder and then lit a fire.  He turned to his friends.

    “You can't Floo directly into someone's study at the Ministry.  We're going to have to go to the Atrium,”  Albus told them,  “I'll go first, you follow.” Albus took a handful of powder and then handed the bag to Matt.

    He tossed the powder into the fire and stepped inside, shouting “The Ministry of Magic!”

    Albus stumbled out of a different fireplace seconds later.  The Atrium was nearly deserted, save for a few wizards striding towards the lifts, clearly too busy to notice Albus. 

    Matt landed rather ungracefully on the floor.  He picked himself up, brushing stray ash off his robes.

    “Place is deserted,”  Matt said as he looked around.

    “It's a Saturday,”  Albus pointed out,  “Does your dad work Saturdays?”

    “Yeah,”  Matt nodded,  “At least mornings.”

    John was next to step out of the fire, doing so more elegantly than Matt had. He stood in front of the fire, staring around at the Atrium.  His eyes rested on the Fountain of Magical Brethren.

    “This is more fancy than I imagined,”  John said.

    “Bloody hell!”  Kaden shouted as he fell out of the fire,  “This is the Ministry?”

    “Yes,”  Matt said quickly,  “But we haven't got time to explore.  Let's go.”

    Albus followed Matt towards the desk in the front of the Atrium.  There was an old wizard leafing through a copy of the Quibbler, oblivious to his surroundings.  Albus almost thought they'd be able to sneak around him, but he looked up just as they were about to pass.

    “Where do you think you're going?”  he asked and then his eyes rested on Albus,  “Albus Severus Potter.  Why aren't you in school?”

    “Er,”  Albus began, a little unnerved that the man knew who he was.

    Matt stepped in front of Albus.  “We need to go see my dad.  He's the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  It's kind of an emergency.”

    “Very well,”  the man looked at them oddly,  “Put your wands up here.”

    Albus did as he was told and the others followed suit.  They waited impatiently as the old wizard tested their wands and then handed them back.  He waved them on towards the lifts.

    “What's the point  of that?”  Kaden asked as they waited for a lift.

    “So if you murder anyone, they can tell whose wand did it,”  Albus said bluntly.

    “That's cheerful,”  Kaden replied.
   
    Once the lift arrived, the boys piled in and Matt pushed the number four. Nobody said anything as the lift creaked its way to the fourth floor.

    Matt took off at a run down the corridor after they left the lift.  Albus had never been to this particular floor.  It looked rather similar to the Magical Law Enforcement's floor, with nondescript sets of double doors on one side.

    Matt skidded to a halt in front of the only door that was single and banged his hand loudly on it.  When there was no answer after a few seconds, he banged again.

    “Hold your hippogriffs!”  called a voice from the inside,  “I'm coming, I'm-” Matt's dad said as he opened the door.

    Mr. Eckerton seemed to freeze at the sight of his son and the other three boys.  He gaped at them for a second before shaking his head.

    “Matt?”  he asked and rubbed his eyes, as if he thought he was seeing a hallucination,  “But, why aren't you in school?  How did you get here?  Why are you here?  Albus?  What are you- and John, Kaden?” 

    His eyes rested on Matt again.  “Matt?  What's wrong?”

    Mr. Eckerton stepped aside and let the boys into his study.  He shut the door quietly behind them.

    The study reminded Albus of his dad's.  There were large windows on the side opposite the door, although the scene outside was not real, nor was the gentle rain that was pattering onto it.

    There was a large leather covered chair behind the huge oak desk and a few smaller chairs in front of it.  Along the other two walls were shelves with loads of books.  Most of them were about various magical creatures.

    Albus, Matt, and John took the seats that were in front of the desk while Kaden wandered around the study looking at things.  Mr. Eckerton leaned against the front of his desk and looked at his son.

    “What's happened?”  he asked quietly.

    “L-Lubar,”  Matt said in barely more than a whisper,  “He-he's at Hogwarts.”

    “What?!”  Mr. Eckerton exclaimed.

    “We were on our way to the Quidditch final,”  Matt said,  “A-and we saw him.”

    “Bloody hell!”  Mr. Eckerton stood up and slammed his fist loudly against his desk,  “Did Professor Kendrick allow this?”

    “I don't know,”  Matt replied,  “B-but everyone else was at the match and he was just lurking about the castle.”

    Mr. Eckerton's face hardened.  He looked just like he had when he talked with Professor Balladanis earlier in the term.  “Let's go, boys,”  he said darkly, “I've got to have a word with Professor Kendrick.”

    Albus followed Mr. Eckerton out of his study and down towards the lifts. John's walking speed was nothing compared to Matt's dad's.  The boys had to run to keep up.

    “Where did you Floo from?”  Mr. Eckerton asked once they were in the lift.

    “Honeyduke's,”  Albus answered.

    “We'll Floo there now,”  Mr. Eckerton replied.

    The wizard at the welcome desk looked at them curiously as they rushed towards the fireplaces, but didn't say anything.

    Mr. Eckerton handed Albus a bit of Floo Powder and gestured for him to go first.  Albus stepped into the fire and shouted, “Honeyduke's!”

    Albus began to spin faster and faster.  He saw glimpses of people's houses, shops in Diagon Alley, and a variety of other places he did not recognize.  Then, out of one of the fireplaces, came a hand.  Everything seemed to slow down, but Albus wasn't sure if it actually did or not.

    The hand grabbed him.  Albus fought against it, but it was too strong.  All of a sudden he was laying on a dusty wooden floor, one that was not at all like the one in Honeyduke's.

    Albus coughed and stood up.  His heart was beating fast.  What had happened? Why wasn't he in Honeyduke's?  Where was he?  Whose hand was that?

    Albus grappled for his wand and shakily held it up.  He lit it and looked around the room, seeing no one.

    “Nice to see you, Potter,”  a cold voice said from behind him.

    Albus jumped and turned around.  There, crouching next to the fireplace with his hand inside of it, was Lubar.  He looked even more creepy in the dank room than he did in Hogwarts.

    The fireplace glowed green and Lubar yanked his arm out of it.  John came tumbling out of the fire and scrambled too his feet, looking about.

    Lubar muttered something underneath his breath and stuck his hand in the fire again.

    “What the?”  John whispered to Albus,  “Where are we?  Is that?  Bloody Hell!”

    “Shut up!”  Lubar shouted.

    Albus gazed around the room.  It looked vaguely familiar, but Albus couldn't put his finger on it.  The windows were boarded up, but it was definitely not the Shrieking Shack.  Albus doubted that was connected to the Floo Network anyway.

    The fireplace glowed green yet again, this time sending Kaden onto the floor. This earned another shout from Lubar, who stuck his hand in the fire again.

    Kaden gaped and then got to his feet and stood next to Albus.  He looked absolutely terrified, even before he laid eyes on Lubar.

    Albus wanted nothing more than to run from the room, but he did not know where the building was even located.  Plus, Lubar would probably stun him or something.

    Green light filled the room as the fireplace glowed once more.  Albus knew even before it happened that Matt would be the one to next fall out of the flames. Mere seconds later, that suspicion was confirmed.

    Matt coughed and scrambled to his feet.  He gasped when he saw Lubar and ran over to Albus.

    Lubar, finally satisfied, doused the fire and lit his wand, which illuminated his sinister face.  He began to pace slowly in front of them.

    “Well, well, you went crying to Daddy just as I expected,”  Lubar grinned manically,  “I do love when things work out the way I expect them to.”

    Albus could feel Matt shaking next to him.  He gripped his wand hard, debating whether to try and disarm Lubar.

    “Any idea where you are?”  Lubar asked,  “Dervish and Banges.  Lovely shop, pity about the owner.  Yes, a real shame.”

    Lubar didn't seem at all upset about what happened to the shop owner.  Albus looked around the shop again and now he recognized it.

    “Well, let's not waste our time here,”  Lubar said,  “There's a few people who've been dying to see you.”  Lubar snapped his fingers three times and Albus heard footsteps on the stairs.

    Three wizards descended the stairs and strode into the room.  They lit their wands at the same time and Albus gasped when the light showed their faces.  Jarrett and Quinton Willinson, along with Washburn.  Three people Albus hoped never to see again.

    Albus swallowed hard.  He could see no way out of this.  As good a dueler he was, he was up against four fully qualified wizards.  Three of them did not possess the skills to duel, but Albus had no idea what Lubar was capable of.

    “Ah, yes,”  Lubar smirked,  “What a lovely reunion.  Unfortunately we haven't got time to chat.”

    Before Albus knew it, Washburn had him in a headlock with his wand pointed at his neck.  Quinton Willinson had Kaden and his father had John.  Matt, seeing his friends restrained, made a run for the nearest window.

    “Not so fast, young werewolf,”  Lubar caught him by the back of his robes and wrapped one of his arms around his middle.

    Lubar reached into his robes with his free hand and pulled out an old tea kettle.  He held it out to the other three men and each one put a free hand on it. Albus knew what was going to happen right before it did.  He shared a frightened glance with Matt before feeling a jerk behind his belly button.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as everyone who has read and reviewed this!

Chapter 34: Arguing
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter. 
A/N:  I decided to do part of this chapter from Harry's point of view.  It begins in his point of view and then switches back to Albus's.  Asterisks indicate where the point of view switches.


   “Spectacular save by Georgia Weasley!”  the commentator shouted.

    Harry grinned as his niece threw the Quaffle back into play.  It was immediately taken into possession by Hogwarts, and all three Chasers threw it back and forth as they flew to the Australian end of the pitch.

    “Score!  Hogwarts has scored against Australia, bringing the total to 50-20 Hogwarts!”

    Harry stood up and shouted as loud as the students.  One thing he loved about the Quidditch tournament was that he didn't have to try and conceal his excitement when Hogwarts scored.  During house matches, he had to try and pretend he was neutral, even though he obviously supported Gryffindor.

    As happy as Harry was about the Hogwarts Chasers being very skilled, he did not have hope that Hogwarts would actually win.  Australia's Seeker, Linda Morales, was the best Seeker Harry had ever seen outside of professional Quidditch.  He knew that his son, James, was good, but he wasn't delusional.  Linda was brilliant.

    There was something odd about her, though, and Harry couldn't put his finger on it.  Her speed on a broom just didn't seem natural.  Professional Quidditch players would kill for her speed.

    “I'm surprised she hasn't found the Snitch yet,”  Neville muttered to Harry.

    “Yeah,”  Harry nodded as he watched Linda slowly circling above the pitch. James was doing the same,  “It'll be soon, though.”

    Harry turned his gaze to the rest of the staff who were sitting around him. Most of them were quite reserved.  Nobody seemed to be showing the enthusiasm Harry was.  He didn't care.  Harry didn't share their belief that teachers couldn't get overly excited about Quidditch.
   
    A few professors stood up and then sat back down again as someone squeezed their way past them.  Harry craned his head and was surprised to see Walter Eckerton.

    Harry didn't know the man well.  They'd met on occasion at the Ministry, although Harry had a feeling he'd be seeing more of him now that he was Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

    What Harry mostly knew about Walter Eckerton was more on a personal than professional level.  Harry had never met a father who was more protective of his son than Walter Eckerton, although he did have good reason.  Never a more devoted father, either.

    Walter continued his way past the other professors until he stopped in front of Harry.  Harry was even more shocked to see the expression on his face.  Worry was etched in every part of his face, bringing out the wrinkles, but there was anger in his eyes.

    “Walter,”  Harry shook his hand as he stood up,  “What's going on?”

    “Not here,”  Walter muttered,  “I need a word in private.”

    Harry told Neville he'd be right back and he followed Walter out of the stands.  They continued walking until they were a short distance away from the pitch and then Walter stopped.

    “The boys have just been to see me at the Ministry,”  Walter said as soon as he'd stopped.

    “Wait, what?”  Harry asked,  “You mean Albus and Matt?”

    “Yes, and the other two as well,”  Walter said quickly,  “You've heard of Ralph Lubar, the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia?”

    Harry nodded, slightly confused at the change of subject.  “Yes, not a very tolerant bloke, is he?”

    Walter's face hardened.  “That's a nice way of putting it.  The bloke is sick and twisted and he's got a grudge against me.  Very long story and I haven't got time to tell it.  Short version is that when Matt was eight, Lubar passed a law that required him to transform in a building with other werewolves, older werewolves.  Nearly killed him.  It was right before we moved.  For whatever reason, Lubar decided to visit Hogwarts today, possibly under the pretense of attending the Quidditch match.

    “The boys saw him and Flooed to the Ministry from Honeyduke's.  Matt's absolutely terrified of him, which is why they came to me.  I came back with them. They Flooed before I did, but when I arrived at Honeyduke's they weren't there. I've already spoken with the owners of the shop as well as a few other Hogsmeade residents.  No one's seen them.  We've got to find them.”

    Harry's heart sank.  “You don't think Lubar's got them, do you?  He's not dangerous, is he?”

    “To Matt, yes, but I haven't the slightest idea as to why he'd want the other boys,”  Walter said.

    “Even if he did only want Matt, he'd have to get Albus as well because I know Albus wouldn't let him take Matt sitting down,”  Harry replied, and started walking briskly towards Hogsmeade,  “Let's go.  I'll get every available Auror on this.”

                        ******

    Albus tried as hard as he could to dislodge himself from Washburn's grasp as he was Portkeying to who knows where.  All Albus knew about the location was that it must be far away.  Portkeying is usually mostly instantaneous, but this time there was a significant lag.  Albus had time to try and get away, not that it did anything.

    The second clue that their destination was far away was the fact that it was very dark when Albus finally landed on the ground.  Not dark like an impending storm either.  Dark as in night.

    Washburn had let go of Albus as they landed and Albus hastened to get to his feet.  Loud thumps around him told him that his friends had landed as well.

    The ground was damp and hard and the foliage around them was dense.  Albus assumed they were in some sort of forest.  He gazed around and saw a lot of unfamiliar trees that seemed to stretch towards the starry sky. 

    There was no moonlight to illuminate the forest.  Lubar, the Willinsons, and Washburn had walked a few yards away from the boys and were whispering to each other.  All four had lit their wands, but it wasn't enough wand light to give Albus a good view of his surroundings.

    Matt, John, and Kaden had all scrambled over to where Albus was and were standing quite close to him, their wands out.  Albus pulled his own out as well, but didn't dare light it.

    “Why is it night?”  Kaden whispered.

    “Where the hell are we?”  John asked.

    “We're in Australia,”  Matt said in awe, as if he was just coming to terms with that fact.

    “We Portkeyed across an ocean?”  Kaden gasped.

    When Albus thought about it, it made sense.  Lubar was from Australia, so why shouldn't he take them there?  It was quite far away from anyone who would be looking for them.

    What didn't make sense was why Lubar was with Washburn and the Willinsons. As far as he could tell, the four wizards seemed to be working together, but why? Lubar lived halfway across the world.  How had he met the Willinsons?

    “Is this anywhere near your old house?”  John asked.

    “How should I know?”  Matt snapped,  “Australia's a huge country!”

    “I just thought if we were near it, we could hide there,”  John muttered.

    “You wouldn't want to,”  Matt said,  “My stupid cousin owns it now.”

    “You have a cousin?”  Albus asked.

    “Not important,”  Matt said quickly.

    Albus nodded.  “How are we going to get out of this?”

    “They're not paying attention,”  John whispered, gesturing to where the four wizards stood huddled in a circle,  “Maybe if we run for it.”

    “The Portkey's right there,”  Matt pointed to the tea kettle, which was a few feet away,  “If we can just get to it.”

    “All right,”  Albus whispered,  “On the count of three.  One...two...three.”

    Albus ran as quietly as he could towards the Porkey.  He was about to pick it up when it soared up into the air.  Albus looked up and saw Lubar sneering at him, with the Portkey in his hand.

    “That won't do,”  Lubar said as he stowed the Porkey in his cloak.  He turned to the other three men.  “They're trying to get away.”

    “What do you expect?”  Jarrett said rudely,  “There's four of them!  Do you realize how much more difficult this is going to be now?  We only needed Potter! But no, you had to go and insist on bringing that werewolf kid as well.”

    “You wouldn't even have managed this if it weren't for me!”  Lubar growled, “So don't go telling me what I should and shouldn't have done.”

    “Well, now we've wound up with two extra ones as well,”  Jarret muttered.

    “They're kids, how much trouble can they be?”  Lubar smirked.

    “You don't know this lot,”  Washburn replied,  “They're the reason we haven't had luck before.”

    “I thought that was because of your incredible stupidity,”  Lubar said.

    Albus was very intrigued.  Lubar was arguing with them as if he knew them well.  Had Lubar really been working with them all along?

    What did they need him for anyway?  What had Willinson meant when he said 'we only needed Potter'?

    “Shut it, Lubar,”  Jarrett said.

    “I'll say what I like,”  Lubar replied,  “This is my bush, not yours.”

    “You own the forest now?”  Jarrett asked.

    “As a matter of fact, I do,”  Lubar snapped.

    “Ministry must be paying you well.”

    “Indeed they are,”  Lubar said and turned to Matt,  “So many years have passed.  Tell me, what is it like pretending to be something you're not?”

    To Albus's surprise, it was John and not Matt who went flying at Lubar. Lubar disarmed John with a lazy wave of his wand, leaving John stunned in front of him.  It appeared that Lubar was a significantly better dueler than either of the Willinsons or Washburn.

    Pocketing John's wand, Lubar turned back to Matt, who was shakily holding his wand up.

    “It doesn't matter what country you're in,”  Lubar seethed,  “You're the same thing no matter where you live.  The laws don't change what you are.  Pretend as much as you like, but it won't change a thing.”

    Now Albus wanted to go after Lubar.  The anger was boiling up inside of him and he didn't think he had ever felt more angry in his entire life, and that included every encounter he had had with Scorpius Malfoy.  Malfoy was like a fluffy kitten compared to Lubar.

    However, Albus held himself back.  John was already wandless.  It would do them no good if Albus got disarmed as well.  Something told him to wait, to wait until he could catch them off guard.

    “What about your father?  I hear he's the head of the department in Britain now,”  Lubar smirked,  “Guess it's just a matter of time until the same thing happens.   You'll have to flee again.”

    Matt was visibly trembling now.  Albus wracked his brain, trying to figure out what to do.  What could they do? 

    “Oh, for Merlin's sake!”  Jarrett strode forward,  “How is this helping things?  Did we really risk Portkeying a bunch of kids to Australia just to waste time taunting one of them?”
   
    “Quiet!”  Lubar shouted,  “I'll do what I like!”

    “Excuse me!”  Kaden said loudly, turning to Lubar,  “But how in the name of Merlin do you know them?”  He gestured to the Willinsons and Washburn.

    Albus held his breath, waiting for Lubar to put some sort of jinx or curse on Kaden.  Sometimes his cousin was quite dense.  It seemed obvious to Albus that this was a time not to ask questions.

    To Albus's surprise, Lubar smiled.  It was a twisted sort of smile, but a smile nonetheless.

    “I think that's a fair question,”  Lubar said.  “My cousin married this idiot,”  Lubar pointed at Jarrett.

    “You're married?”  Kaden gaped at Jarrett, causing Albus to groan.  Why wouldn't Kaden just shut up?

    “Not for much longer,”  Jarrett muttered,  “Can we please just get on with this?”

    “Patience, cousin,”  Lubar said as he began to walk slowly around the other three,  “We musn't do this hastily.  Haste is the reason you three have failed prior to tonight.”

    Fail at what?  What were they going to do?  The only thing Albus could think of was getting the Hallows, but all three Hallows were in England.  If that was their plan, they wouldn't have taken them to Australia.

    Albus glanced nervously at Matt, who still looked scared out of his mind. Something was still telling Albus not to try and duel the men.  Lubar seemed smart, much smarter than the other three, and that scared Albus more than anything else.  There was a big difference between dueling someone who was smart and dueling someone who was an idiot.

                        ******

    The Ministry seemed deserted when Harry and Walter Flooed there a short while later.  Harry had briefly questioned the owners of Honeyduke's, but they had not seen any of the boys.

    Harry and Walter ran towards the lifts at top speed, not pausing to answering the questioning stare of the bloke at the welcome desk.  The lifts could not go fast enough for the two men.  Harry nearly pulled the doors open when they finally arrived at Magical Law Enforcement's floor.

    The Auror office was slightly more lively than the rest of the Ministry, but not much.  Three Aurors were inside, two of whom hastily shoved away a pile of Exploding Snap cards and stood up upon seeing Harry arrive.  The other Auror, a rather short but stocky witch, shoved the book she was reading in the drawer, and joined the other two.

    “Potter, sir!”  the witch said,  “We thought you were at Hogwarts today!”

    “I was,”  Harry said darkly and explained the situation.

    The three Aurors looked grim as they waited for Harry to give them instructions. 

    “Dabney,”  Harry turned to the taller of the wizards,  “Brighton,” he looked at the witch,  “Get started with an extensive search of Hogsmeade.  I'm calling in everyone who isn't busy with anything else.  Tiburon and Oswald are on duty in Hogsmeade today, inform them of the situation.”

    Dabney and Brighton nodded before dashing out of the room.  Harry turned to the remaining Auror.  “Lewster, you will be searching the Forbidden Forest as soon as someone else arrives.”

    Harry pulled out his wand and muttered a spell.  An enormous silvery stag flew out of his wand and Harry whispered to it.  The Patronus glided out of the room and Harry leaned against the nearest desk.

    It wasn't long before Harry heard footsteps in the corridor.  He looked up at the door just as Ron was running through, followed by half a dozen other Aurors.

    “Harry, what's going on?”  Ron said in a worried tone.

    Harry rehashed the entire situation again.  Ron's face paled.  “What about Rose, was she with them?”

    “No,”  Walter shook his head,  “It was just the boys.”

    “Thank Merlin,”  Ron whispered,  “But Harry, what about Willinson?  D'you think he's got anything to do with this?”

    “It's crossed my mind,”  Harry muttered,  “But I haven't got a clue as to how Lubar would know him.”

    “With dark wizards, you just never know,”  Ron pointed out.

    “I know,”  Harry nodded,  “Ron, lead the search of the Forbidden Forest.  Lewster's going with you.  And take Daniels and Smith with you.”

    Ron nodded and left the room, followed by Lewster and two other wizards.  The remaining four Aurors looked to Harry.

    “The rest of you can search the castle and grounds.  Be discrete.  I do not wish to interrupt the Quidditch match unless it is absolutely necessary,”  Harry instructed.

    The Aurors left the room and Harry turned to Walter.  He slowly shook his head.  Why was it always Albus?  This was the third year he had gotten into trouble.  Albus's years at Hogwarts were reminding Harry dangerously of his own.

    “I'd better go Floo home and tell Julie what's going on,”  Walter sighed, “She's going to fall apart.”
   
    Harry nodded as Walter left the room.  Ginny.  Harry snapped his head up. She was going to be watching the match, but was going to be late.  She's probably there now, Harry thought.  She'd be looking for him.

    Harry slowly left the room.  How was he going to tell his wife that Albus had been kidnapped and he didn't have a clue as to where he was?

                        ******

    “You're just too afraid to do it!”  Jarrett shouted at Lubar,  “What could possibly go wrong?  We're halfway across the world from the Aurors that are looking for this lot!”
   
    “Once again you have proved your stupidity,”  Lubar replied,  “Do you realize who we've taken halfway across the world?  Harry Potter's son!  You haven't a clue as to how things work in the Ministry!

    “I can assure you that at this very moment, the entire Auror Department is looking for them.  Harry Potter's probably got every Auror on this case.  It won't take them long to realize that we're not in England.

    “And this one,”  Lubar gestured to Matt,  “He's got the most meddling parents in the world.  They'd sooner kill everyone in the world before letting something happen to him.  Very irritating.  They won't rest until they find him.  Not to mention the fact that he's the son of a Ministry official.  We've got two kids of two of the most prominent Ministry officials of Britain.  Think, Jarrett, think! We've got to be careful!”

    “Well, you're the one who wanted to take the werewolf, too,”  Jarrett growled.

    “And you're the one who insisted we take Potter's son!”  Lubar shouted,  “Why do we even need him?”

    “We just do!”  Jarrett shouted back.

    “If both of you idiots hadn't wanted to bring the kids, we could've done this whole thing without the Ministry finding out,”  Washburn cut in.

    “Shut up!”  Lubar and Jarrett said at the same time.

    Maybe if they kept arguing, they wouldn't have a chance to do whatever it was they wanted to do before the Aurors found them, Albus thought.  He could only hope that the wizards would have enough to argue about.

    “Are we going to do it here?”  Jarrett asked,  “Or go to the house?”

    “Have you learned nothing?”  Lubar shouted,  “When they find out that we're here, the first place they'll look is the house.”

    “Got any better ideas?”  Jarrett seethed,  “Have you got a secret little shack somewhere in this country?”

    “No,”  Lubar snapped,  “We're taking them to the outback.  Plenty of places to hide, not very inhabited.  Perfect place.”

    Before Albus could even contemplate running away, Jarrett had his arm in a vice grip again.  Matt was once again in the clutches of Lubar, and John and Kaden were both caught by the Willinsons.

    Albus knew very little about the Australian outback, just that it wasn't suitable for much human inhabitation.  However, the one piece of information he did know about it was that it was where most of the dementors that used to guard Azkaban had gone.  That, and it was a somewhat popular place for vampires.

    Lubar and Jarrett had stopped bickering.  Albus had two seconds to realize what was happening before he felt the familiar but unpleasant sensation of side-along Apparition.

A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight, as well as all of the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 35: Patronuses and Stones
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.
A/N:  Like the previous chapter, this one goes back and forth between Albus's and Harry's perspectives.


  Albus stumbled as he landed, breaking free of Jarrett's grasp.  He tripped over a rock and landed face first in the sand.  Spitting the grittiness out of his mouth, he stood up and glanced around.

    It was still far too dark to see anything but the outlines of mountains in the distance.  The outback seemed very empty and very quiet.  There was a very small clump of bushes and trees nearby, but besides that, Albus did not see much else in the way of plant life. 

    Albus immediately knew why Lubar had taken them there.  He had never been in such a deserted place in his life.  There was absolutely nothing around them.  Even if Albus had decided to run away, he wouldn't have gotten very far.  As dangerous as staying with Lubar was, Albus knew he would have no chance of surviving if he ran off into the outback.

    Lubar seemed to know that Albus and the others wouldn't run away.  He neglected to use any sort of ropes to tie them up or put any spells around them. Instead, he walked a short distance in the direction of the mountains and gestured for the Willinsons and Washburn to follow them.

    “What are we going to do?”  John seethed,  “Has anyone got any idea where we are?”

    “The outback's huge,”  Matt replied,  “I bet we're right in the middle of it. The nearest civilization's probably miles away.”

    “So we're done for,”  John groaned,  “What do they even want with us anyway?”

    “No idea,”  Albus said,  “But if they keep arguing, we might not have to find out.”

    “Do you really think your dads are going to be able to find us?”  John asked skeptically.

    “Lubar's right,”  Albus said,  “The whole Ministry's going to be looking.  I think they'll find us.”

    “Does stuff like this happen every year?”  Kaden asked,  “I mean, last year I got kidnapped by Willinson and now we all were.  What'll happen next year?”

    “Hopefully nothing,”  Albus said.

    “If there is a next year,”  John muttered.

    “Shut up over there!”  Lubar shouted as he walked back over to the boys,  “I didn't tell you to talk!”

    “Lubar!”  Jarrett seethed as he pointed to someplace in the distance, “There's people gathering over there!  We've got to go somewhere else!”

    Albus looked towards where Jarrett was pointing and his heart leapt a bit. There was a small gathering of figures a few yards away.  Could his dad have found them already?

    “Calm down,”  Lubar said,  “They're just vampires.  They won't bother us.  I know that coven.  They know better than to mess with me.  I'll make life pretty miserable for them if they do.”

    “Cutting deals with vampires now?”  Jarrett asked.

    “Proving to be helpful, isn't it?”  Lubar answered.

    Albus's hopes sank once again.  Lubar seemed more confusing than ever.  He cut deals for vampires but passed restrictive laws on werewolves?  It didn't make sense.

    The men lowered their voices again and Albus wished he had a few Extendable Ears with him.  He didn't dare talk to his friends, just sent them anxious glances every now and then.

    A cold wind blew over them and Albus shivered.  It was the kind of cold that chilled him to the bone.  Hoping that it wasn't going to rain, or snow (wasn't it winter in Australia?), he looked to the sky.  There were no clouds, but what Albus saw was much worse than clouds.

    Five or six cloaked figures were slowly circling above them.  Although he had never before seen one, Albus recognized them as dementors immediately.  Despite the dark, Albus could clearly make out their forms.  As they got closer, he could even hear their rattling breath.

    The world in front of him began to swim.  He felt like he was going to pass out, but he knew it was just the dementors sucking all the happiness out of him. Albus was left with all his unhappy thoughts.

    His dad wasn't going to find them.  They would be stuck on the Australian outback until Lubar and the others did what they were going to do.  Then who knew what would happen?

    “No, no, no!”  Matt shouted. 

    Albus squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them, forcing himself to look towards his friend.  Matt was kneeling on the ground, shaking violently.  Both John and Kaden were looking at him anxiously, neither seeming to be that affected by the dementors.

    Of course the dementors would affect Matt the worst.  He had gone through things that Albus, John, and Kaden couldn't even imagine.  It probably didn't help that Lubar was actually present, either.

    Without even thinking, Albus pulled his wand out of his robes.  He'd heard the incantation for the Patronus charm before and figured it was worth a shot. What else could he do besides try?

    “Expecto Patronum!”  Albus shouted, pointing his wand at the sky.  Nothing happened.

    A happy thought!  How could he have forgotten that?  It was difficult to think of one with dementors flying over heard and listening to Matt shouting on the ground.

    When the Sorting Hat put him in Gryffindor!  Albus pointed his wand to the sky again.  “Expecto Patronum!  Expecto Patronum!”

    Albus kept shouting the incantation while using various happy memories. Nothing was happening, but Matt's shouting was decreasing.  Then it stopped.  Albus stopped and looked towards the ground.  It looked like Matt had passed out.

    Thinking of the day Balladanis had been sacked, Albus pointed his wand at the dementors once again.  “Expecto Patronum!”  he shouted.

    A silvery blob exploded from his wand and went after the dementors.  Albus stood shocked for a few seconds.  He had sort of done a Patronus charm!
   
    “Bloody hell,”  John whispered.

    “Expecto Patronum!”  someone shouted from the distance.

    Albus looked up and saw Lubar running at them with his wand pointed at the dementors.  A silvery squirrel was floating ahead of him and the dementors scattered as it reached them.

    Albus's foggy brain immediately cleared and the happiness returned.  He quickly stowed his wand in his robes before Lubar thought to disarm him. 

    “Leave him,”  Lubar growled at John and Kaden, who were bent to the ground trying to get Matt to wake up.

    “Dementors!”  Washburn shouted sarcastically,  “This was a bloody brilliant place to come.”

    Lubar paid no attention to Washburn's comment.  His eyes were focused on Albus and he was giving him a very curious look.  Albus took a nervous step back, but Lubar did not avert his gaze.  Albus immediately closed his mind.

                        ******

    “Potter, sir!”

    Harry, who had been walking up High Street in Hogsmeade with Ginny, turned around and saw Lewster striding towards him.  Harry stopped, hoping he had some good news.

    “What is it, Lewster?”  Harry asked.

    “Just talked to a few of the centaurs,”  Lewster said,  “They saw three wizards in the forest a few hours ago.  They recognized one of them as Washburn.”

    “I'd bet my last Galleon the other two were the Willinsons,”  Harry replied, “Did the centaurs know anything else?”

    “Just that Washburn and the others were looking for something.  Apparently they were scouring the forest floor for something,”  Lewster answered.

    Harry nodded.  That didn't surprise him.  The Resurrection Stone was someplace in the forest.  “Did you see anything?”

    “No,”  Lewster shook his head,  “And the centaurs are pretty sure they've left.”

    “Very well,”  Harry said,  “See what else you can find out.”

    Lewster left and Harry turned to Ginny, who looked afraid.

    “Harry, you don't think that Washburn is with Lubar, do you?”  Ginny asked.

    “There's no doubt in my mind,”  Harry answered,  “It's just a matter of finding them.  Listen, I've got to go search Dervish and Banges.  I've got this hunch about the place.  Seems like the perfect place for Washburn to take them.”

    Ginny nodded.  “I'll go catch the end of the match.  I won't mention anything to James and Lily yet.”

    “Good,”  Harry said,  “I'll be in touch soon.”  He kissed her lightly on the forehead.  “We're going to find him.”

    “I know,”  Ginny replied softly,  “Stay safe.”

    Ginny turned around to walk back to the Hogwarts grounds while Harry picked up the pace and walked the short distance to Dervish and Banges.

    The building looked utterly abandoned.  The windows were still boarded up, the grass overgrown around it.  It certainly didn't look like anyone was hiding inside, but Harry had to check.

    Pulling out his wand, he crept cautiously to the door.  He carefully pulled the boards off of it and quietly wrenched the door open.  Without lighting his wand, he walked inside. 

    The place had the smell of a recent fire in the fireplace.  Someone had been there.  However, there was not a sound from anywhere in the building.  Harry lit his wand and saw that it was deserted.

    After a thorough check of the entire building, in which Harry found no living creatures, he returned to the main room.  The fireplace was filled with nearly dead embers and there was a small pile of Floo powder spilled out onto the floor.

    The Floo had been used recently.  Harry bent down and muttered an incantation that would tell him where the last person to use the fireplace had Flooed from.  He waited for the incantation to work, his heart pounding. 

    Soft red smoke emitted from his wand, curling together to form the words 'Ministry of Magic.'  Harry breathed a sigh of relief.  He was getting somewhere. Without hardly a doubt, Harry knew that Albus and the other boys had wound up in Dervish and Banges after going to the Ministry.  The only question was, where had they gone after that?

                        ******

    “How old are you, Potter?”  Lubar asked.

    “Thirteen,”  Albus replied, still a bit nervous as to why Lubar was looking at him like that.  It reminded him of how Balladanis had looked at him during the second dueling tournament.

    “And they teach the Patronus Charm to thirteen-year-olds at Hogwarts?”  Lubar replied.

    “No,”  Albus shook his head, although when he thought about it, Balladanis may have taught him and Malfoy Patronuses if he hadn't gotten sacked.  “That was the first time I'd tried it.”

    “Very intriguing,”  Lubar said as he turned to the other three men,  “This lot didn't tell me you were skilled at Defensive magic.”

    “You never asked,”  Jarrett muttered,  “But is Potter's aptitude for Patronuses really relevant to what we're doing?”

    “It matters if they decide to try and hex us!”  Lubar snapped,  “I think it might be best if they're all wandless.”

    Albus gulped and clenched his wand harder.  He glanced at Matt, who was still unconscious.  John didn't have his wand.  Kaden wasn't very good at dueling.  It would be up to him, to Albus, if this came to a duel.

    “The only one who's got any skill is Potter,”  Jarrett said,  “The other three aren't going to be difficult.”

    “Fine,”  Lubar muttered,  “We'll get started, but I need to talk to you three away from them first.”

    Jarrett nodded and the men walked a few yards away and began whispering too quietly for Albus to hear.

    Albus bent down to where Matt had collapsed, wishing he knew a healing spell or two.  “Matt, Matt,”  he whispered,  “Wake up.”

    After a minute or two, Matt's eyes fluttered open and he sat up.  “What happened?”  he asked, looking around confusedly.

    “You passed out,”  Albus told him,  “When the dementors were here.”

    “But Albus cast a Patronus!”  John said excitedly.

    “You what?”  Matt gaped at him.

    “It was just silvery mist,”  Albus told him,  “Lubar's actually the one who got rid of them.”

    “Probably just for his sake,”  Matt shuddered,  “Did anyone else pass out?” The other three boys shook their heads.  “Figures,”  Matt muttered.

    “You need some chocolate or something,”  Albus said,  “Anyone got some?”

    “Might,”  Kaden began fishing around in his pockets.  He produced a chocolate frog and handed it to Matt, who took it without saying a word.

    “Listen,”  Albus said,  “Whatever it is that they want to do here, they're doing it soon.  Do you think you can get up?”

    Matt nodded and Albus helped him to his feet.  Lubar and the others were walking towards them again.  Albus slowly pulled his wand out of his robes and held it to his side, hiding it partially behind his back.

    Lubar conjured a pile of wood and set fire to it, illuminating himself, Washburn, the Willinsons, and the boys.  Albus was now clearly able to see the twisted look on Lubar's face. 

    “Are you mad?”  Jarrett seethed,  “Fire's going to attract attention!”

    Lubar laughed.  “Fire's going to ensure that those vampires stay away and we've got to see what we're doing!”

    Albus glanced towards where the vampires had been congregating.  They were currently walking farther away from Albus and the others.  Thinking back to Linda's boggart, he remembered that vampires are destroyed by fire.  Albus turned back to the men.

    Jarrett was holding something out in his hand, but Albus couldn't make out what it was.  Jarrett, along with Quinton and Washburn, looked quite excited.  Lubar looked mildly annoyed and impatient.

    “Do you know what this is, Potter?”  Jarrett asked gleefully.

    “No,”  Albus said, trying not to sound too nervous.

    “It's the Resurrection Stone,”  Jarrett answered.

    Albus could hardly conceal his gasp as he peered closer at Jarrett's outstretched hand.  There was a very small stone sitting in it.  The Resurrection Stone.  One of the Deathly Hallows.  Jarrett had finally succeeded in getting one of the three objects he had been after for years.  But how?

    “How?”  Albus asked, trying to sound confident.

    “Ancient magic is a beautiful thing, Potter,”  Jarrett answered,  “There are long forgotten spells, spells that work very nicely with long forgotten magical objects such as this Stone.  It was merely a matter of finding the correct spell, getting to the Forbidden Forest, and putting it to use.  Quite simple now that I look back on it.”

    “Only because you didn't do any of the work,”  Lubar muttered,  “It was I who found the spell!”

    “The other Hallows will prove to be easy to obtain with the help of this,” Jarrett went on, ignoring Lubar's mutterings.

    Albus did not like the sound of that.  The Stone itself did one thing and that was bring back the spirits of people who had passed on.  How would that help Jarrett get the other Hallows?

    The Invisibility Cloak.  Albus's stomach plummeted.  It was still in his robes.  He really hoped Jarrett wouldn't realize that.

    “Another thing that I thought of!”  Lubar seethed.

    “You think this lot cares who did what?”  Jarrett laughed.

    “Oh, just get on with it,”  Washburn rolled his eyes.

    Jarrett sidestepped past the fire and strode closer to Albus.  Albus took a step back as his heart started beating faster.  He had a very bad feeling about what Jarrett was going to do with that Stone.

    “Ah, yes, Potter.  You should be afraid,”  Jarrett's gaze swept over all four boys,  “You should all be afraid.”

    “Quit taunting them and just do it,”  Washburn said impatiently.

    “With this stone,”  Jarrett said a bit louder,  “I will bring back Lord Voldemort.”

                        ******

    Harry burst out of Dervish and Banges, not caring that he had blasted the door completely off its hinges as he did so.  He had to find Walter.  He had to find Walter and then go to the Ministry.  The fireplace did not show signs that it had been used to Floo away from the abandoned shop.  That left either Apparition or a Portkey, both of which would have left traces that he'd need the Department of Magical Transportation for.

    Harry rounded a corner as he ran towards Honeyduke's and nearly ran headlong into a witch.  He stepped back and saw it was Ginny.  She wore a strange look of confusion and shock, mixed with mingled fear.

    “Ginny,”  Harry said,  “Sorry.”

    “Not a problem,”  she said quickly,  “Have you found anything?”

    “Yes,”  Harry answered,  “Is the match over?  How badly did we lose by?”

    “Only a hundred points,”  Ginny said,  “But we might not have actually lost. Listen, did you know Australia's Seeker is a vampire?”

    “Wait, what?”  Harry gaped at her, trying to wrap his mind around that fact while still focusing his mind on Albus.

    “I'll explain after we've found Albus,”  Ginny said.

    “Right,”  Harry agreed,  “I've got a lead.  Someone was in Dervish and Banges.  They Flooed there from the Ministry; I'm sure it was Al and the others. I've got to find Walter and go to the Ministry.  I'm not sure where that will lead us, but I might not be back for a while.”

    “Just be careful,”  Ginny said as she gave him a kiss,  “And bring him back.”

    “I will,”  Harry said as he kissed her back,  “I'll see you soon.”

    “Harry!” 

    Harry turned and saw Walter striding out of Honeyduke's.  With one last look at Ginny, Harry met Walter half-way.

    “We've got to get to the Ministry,”  Harry said immediately, and explained about what he had found at Dervish and Banges and what Lewster had learned from the centaurs.

    Walter nodded and the two men Disapparated on the spot.  They reappeared a little while later in a small Apparition chamber in the Ministry. 

    Passing the bewildered looking security guard for the third time that day, Harry and Walter ran to the lifts.  Neither of them said a word as the lift clattered to the Department of Magical Transportation.

    The department was nearly deserted, save for one very bored looking witch sitting at a desk.

    “Mr. Potter, Mr. Eckerton!”  she exclaimed as she took her feet off the desk, “Something I can do for you?”

    “Yes,”  Harry answered,  “I need to know if anyone's Disapparated from Dervish and Banges in Hogsmeade.  Or used a Portkey from that same location.  And if you're able to, I need to know where they went.”

    “Of course, Mr. Potter, of course,”  the witch said as she got up.  She disappeared into another room, shutting the door behind her.

    Harry sighed and sat down on the nearest chair.  Walter sat down in the adjacent one, looking thoroughly miserable.

    “We'll find them,”  Harry said quietly.

    “I don't doubt that,”  Walter replied,  “However, that is not the only thing I am worried about.  The last time Matt had an altercation with Ralph Lubar, he wound up in therapy for months afterwards.”

    Harry was not expecting that.  He did not know much about therapy, except that wizards did not normally use it.  Whatever had happened, it must have been bad. 

    “Do you mind if I ask what happened?”  Harry asked, not sure if he was overstepping some sort of boundary.

    Walter did not speak for several seconds.  “It's ok,”  Harry said,  “You don't have to explain.”

    “I will,”  Walter said quietly,  “Shortly after Matt was bitten, I became the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia.  Nobody outside of the department knew about his condition, of course. Ralph Lubar was given my former position of Head of the Werewolf Control Unit, and was quite jealous that I was given the Head position.  He could not get over the fact that I was given it, even when my own son had lycanthropy.

    “It was a grudge he held against me for many years, until the day finally came when he cracked and let it slip that Matt was a werewolf.  A bit of legislation had been passed that required all places of transformation be inspected by the Ministry.  Lubar inspected Matt's and it failed on a technicality.  Ministry centers were set up for werewolves to transform in, together.  Matt was required by law to transform there since his safe room did not pass.  I refused to have him transform there.  The papers were all over it.  I lost my job.  Lubar was appointed to the Head position.

    “More legislation was passed.  A law that stated that Ministry officials could physically force werewolves into the transformation centers.  On the day of the full moon, Lubar Flooed into our house and took Matt to the center.  By the time I figured out which center it was, the moon had risen.  It was too late.

    “Matt spent weeks in St. Mungo's.  By that time we were nearly ready to move here.  He was so traumatized, it took months for him to get over it.  To be honest, I don't think he's fully over it.

    “The only reason Lubar did it was to try and get to me.  That's why he's so sick and twisted,”  Walter finished as he put his head in his hands,  “I swore I'd never let him near Matt again.  Swore I'd kill him if he went near Matt again.

    Walter gave an odd sort of laugh.  “Listen to me, I'm telling the Head of the Auror Department that I'd commit murder.”

    “Just so long as you don't actually do it when we go save the boys,”  Harry said, still processing what Walter had told him.  It certainly explained a lot- why they were so reluctant to let Matt out of their sight, why they weren't on the Floo Network.

    One thing that Harry could tell was that Walter blamed himself for everything that had happened.  Honestly, Harry wasn't surprised.  If something like that had happened to James, Albus, or Lily, he would've blamed himself, too.

    “That wasn't your fault,”  Harry said quietly,  “And this isn't either.”

    “If I had just Flooed ahead of the boys-”

    “It wouldn't have mattered,”  Harry interrupted,  “And it'll do no good to dwell on it now.  It's in the past.”

    “That's exactly what my brother said when Matt was in St. Mungo's,”  Walter said wryly.

    “Mr. Potter!”  the witch came bustling out of the room she had gone into, brandishing a piece of parchment, which she handed to Harry.

    Harry stood up as she handed them the parchment.  His eyes scanned the parchment.  Portkeys.  Four Portkeys had left Dervish and Banges a few short hours ago.  That in itself did not shock Harry, especially compared to where the Portkeys had gone.

    “Australia,”  Harry read as he turned to Walter, who had visibly paled at the word,  “They're in Australia.”


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight as well as all of the awesome people who have read and left such lovely reviews!

Chapter 36: The Return
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.
A/N:  Like the previous chapters, this one is also split between Albus and Harry's perspectives.


   Never had Albus wished so hard that he could Apparate.  Why did you have to be seventeen to get your Apparition license anyway?  If he ever worked in the Department of Magical Transportation, he would change that law.  Apparition would've enabled him to get out of Australia, away from Jarrett Willinson, who was trying to bring back Lord Voldemort with the Resurrection Stone.

    Albus could not remember being more scared in his life.  This was far worse than when he had dueled Washburn on the Hogwarts grounds two years ago, far worse than when Quinton kidnapped Kaden the previous year.  Lord Voldemort was far scarier than Lubar, Washburn, and the Willinsons combined.

    What would Voldemort look like when Jarrett brought him back?  Harry had said the Stone couldn't actually bring people back to life.  Albus guessed he'd be more like a ghost.  But would he be able to do magic, to perform the curses and hexes he did when he was alive?

    Albus held his breath as he watched Jarrett turn the stone over in his hands. Albus had no idea how it worked, but judging by how quiet all of the adults were, Jarrett was trying to use it.

    Over and over again Jarrett turned the stone.  He did it for so long that Albus had to let out his breath.  The excited gleam on Jarrett's face slowly dissipated until it was replaced by frustration.

    “Why won't it work?”  Jarrett shouted,  “Are you positive this is the right Stone?”

    “Of course I am!”  Lubar shouted as he grabbed the Stone,  “The spell said it was!”

    “Well, it's not working now, is it?”  Jarrett mocked.

    Albus breathed a sigh of relief.  Either they had the wrong stone or for whatever reason, Voldemort couldn't be brought back with it.  Albus was hoping for the former.

    Lubar turned the stone over in his hands.  On the third turn, a strange sort of mist appeared in front of him.  Albus's heart sped up.  It had worked.

    The mist began to clear and a figure was standing in front of Lubar.  The figure was not Lord Voldemort, though.  Albus had no idea who had been resurrected, but it certainly was not Voldemort.  This person was a woman, and a short one at that.

    Washburn and the Willinsons were exchanging curious glances.  Lubar, however, was staring directly at the figure, his face contorted with something Albus could only assume was sadness.

    “M-mother?”  Lubar said as he stepped closer to the woman.

    “You idiot!”  Jarrett shouted,  “That's not Voldemort!”

    “I know that!”  Lubar snapped and the looked back to the woman, who was apparently his mother,  “Mum.”

    “Ralphy,”  the woman replied.

    “I-it's been so long,”  Lubar whispered.

    Albus turned to his friends, who were all staring in confusion at Lubar. Matt in particular was giving Lubar a very strange look.  Apparently the stone was the Resurrection Stone and it did indeed work, just not in the way Jarrett had been planning.

    “Very long,”  Lubar's mother agreed,  “But you've done well.  I'm very proud of you, son.”

    Albus had to cover his mouth to conceal his snort.  What kind of mother could be proud of what Lubar had done?

    “I've tried,”  Lubar said,  “I swore I would after, after what happened.”

    “You have,”  Lubar's mum replied,  “You've done me proud.”

    “Oh for Merlin's sake!”  Jarrett shouted as he ran towards Lubar.

    Lubar seemed to have forgotten that there were other people around.  He jumped as Jarrett advanced and Jarrett grabbed the Stone out of his hand.

    Lubar's mother began to fade as soon as Jarrett took the stone.  Running towards her, Lubar held out his hands trying to keep her there.

    “No!”  he shouted,  “Mum!”

    Mere seconds after Lubar's mother completely disappeared, Lubar had his wand out and was holding it up at Jarrett.  Jarrett had taken out his own wand, but neither man was hurling jinxes.  Washburn and Quinton had taken a few steps back.

    “You arse!”  Lubar shouted,  “That was my mother!”

    “I know!”  Jarrett replied,  “That's why I did it!  We're trying to bring back Voldemort here, not your messed up mum!”

    “Do not insult my mother,”  Lubar seethed and flicked his wand. 

    Jarrett fell to the ground, completely unable to move.  Lubar stood over him with his wand directed at his chest.

    “My mother was a lovely person,”  Lubar growled,  “You're sick to be speaking ill of the dead like that.”

    Albus didn't really think Lubar should be talking about who is sick and who isn't.  Nor did he think his mother was particularly lovely.  Never before had Albus thought he'd agree with Jarrett Willinson on anything, but when it came to Lubar's mother, he did.
   
    “Better they hex each other than us, right?”  John muttered.

    “Good point,”  Albus replied.

    “Can we please just get back to bringing back Voldemort?”  Washburn drawled loudly,  “I was under the impression that that's what we were here for, not to insult each other's mothers.”

    Lubar turned his wand on Washburn.  “Have you anything to say about my mother?  Well, do you?”

    Washburn hastily pulled out his own wand.  “Er, no, she seemed quite lovely.”

    “Good,”  Lubar said manically,  “Keep it that way, or you'll end up like him.”  Lubar gestured to Jarrett, who was still laying paralyzed on the ground, his eyes darting about nervously.

                        ******

    “Australia,”  Walter said weakly,  “Bloody hell.”

    “I'll need you to replicate that Portkey,”  Harry said to the witch, who nodded and left the room again.

    “Walter,”  Harry began,  “I am nearly one hundred percent sure that Jarrett and Quinton Willinson, as well as Jameson Washburn are working with Lubar.  I am nearly positive that they are with the boys in Australia.”

    “Right,”  Walter agreed,  “The evidence surely points that way.”

    “There is something about that investigation that hardly anyone in the Ministry knows,”  Harry lowered his voice,  “Nearly a year ago, after Quinton was sent to Azkaban, the Ministry decided that the Auror Department needed some help with capturing the other two.  The Minister hired a Presuler.”

    Walter let out a low whistle and then realization dawned on his face.  “Wait, you don't mean-”

    “Tethys Balladanis,”  Harry said quietly,  “Yes, he was the Presuler the Ministry hired.  Stationed at Hogwarts under the pretense of teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

    “Bad idea on the Minister's part,”  Walter muttered.

    “It was my idea to station him at Hogwarts,”  Harry replied,  “But I did not know that he would be such an awful teacher.”

    “I won't hold it against you,”  Walter said.

    “I appreciate that,”  Harry said,  “However, since Balladanis is a part of this investigation, I have to contact him and he will have to go with us to Australia.  I understand that you have had your differences, but-”

    “If he helps to find Matt, I will forgive him for everything he's done,” Walter interrupted.

    “Here you are, Mr. Potter, Mr. Eckerton,”  the witch returned holding a misshapen plastic container, which she handed to Harry.  “If I can be of anymore assistance, let me know.”

    “That's it for now,”  Harry said as he took the container,  “Thanks.”

                        ******

    Albus stood frozen as the four men dueled each other.  Completely unsure of what to do, yet very happy that they seemed to have momentarily forgotten about the boys, Albus just stood there watching.  Matt, John, and Kaden did the same, although John looked more than a bit apprehensive, most likely due to his lack of a wand.

    Washburn had attempted to take the Stone from Lubar, who had taken it back from Jarrett, shortly after Lubar had stunned Jarrett.  Apparently Lubar did not take kindly to this and hexed Washburn.  In the mean time, the Stunner had worn off Jarrett and he attempted to hex Lubar.

    All four men were running around, throwing hexes at each other while dodging the fire.  Albus was kind of hoping one of them would trip and burn their arms or something.  Or even better, maybe one or more of them would drop their wand into the fire.

    Washburn and the Willinsons were definitely worse for wear.  All three of them were sporting injuries.  Both Willinsons  were limping and Washburn's left arm was being held at an odd angle. 

    Lubar seemed fine and even though it appeared that the other three were siding against him, he was coming off better.  Albus had to admit that he was very skilled at dueling.

    Lubar shot a jet of red light at Washburn, who went flying over the fire and landed with a sickening thud in front of the boys.  He did not move.  Albus looked down and saw a small stone next to Washburn's head.  He bent and picked it up.  It was the Resurrection Stone.

    Albus stood up and jumped back.  Lubar, Jarrett, and Quinton had all advanced towards him.  Three wands were pointed at his chest, being held by three people with maniacal gleams in their eyes.

    Albus gulped and held up his own wand, his arm shaking slightly.  Matt and Kaden had done the same.  John tried to hide behind Matt, but was unsuccessful since he was a good head taller than him.

    “Hand it over, Potter,”  Lubar growled.

    With a defiant look at Lubar, Albus hastily shoved the Stone into the pocket of his robes and held his wand up higher.

                        ******

    “Balladanis.”

    “Eckerton.”
   
    Harry watched as the two men stared at each other.  Balladanis had Flooed to the Ministry shortly after receiving Harry's Patronus.  Harry had filled him in on what was going on, but the man hadn't taken his eyes off of Walter the entire time. 

    “We haven't got time for this,”  Harry muttered and held out the plastic container,  “Let's just go.”

    Walter agreed immediately and laid his hand on the Portkey.  Balladanis did so as well, with a little hesitation.

    With a familiar jerk behind his naval, Harry disappeared from the Ministry. The Portkey trip was a bit longer than ones Harry was used to, but it didn't surprise him since he knew they were going to Australia.

    Harry landed softly on his feet and held out his wand as he adjusted to the surroundings.  It was pitch black and after he lit his wand, Harry knew they were in the middle of a forest.

    The forest was disappointingly quiet.  The only sounds were those of animals and the occasional rustle of trees, brought about by the wind.  Not a single sound caused Harry to believe that there were people about, let alone his son.

    “Spread out and search,”  Harry announced.  The place may seem deserted, but Albus and the others had been there at some point.  They had Portkeyed there.

    None of the wizards said a word as they combed the area. Harry left no stone unturned as he looked for the smallest trace of evidence of where his son had gone. If only it wasn't night.  Wands didn't provide nearly enough light.

    There seemed to be not a trace of anything that showed anyone had been in that area of the forest, let alone where they had gone afterwards.  Ralph Lubar was good at this, that was for sure.  Harry swore as he returned to the same place he had started from.

    Walter returned a few minutes later, looking even more anxious than he did before.  “Nothing,”  he muttered,  “Not a ripped piece of cloak or a single Knut. They didn't stay here long.”

    Harry groaned and scuffed the ground with his shoe.  He and Walter stood quietly as they waited for Balladanis to return. 

    Balladanis came running towards Harry holding a small metal instrument in his hand and an strange kind of excited smirk on his face.  He skidded to a halt in front of Harry, holding out the instrument.  Harry recognized it as an Apparition detector.  They were quite rare.  The British Ministry only owned one, for the entire Ministry.

    “They've Disapparated,”  Balladanis said hurriedly.

    “Obviously,”  Walter muttered,  “Any idea where?”

    “A general idea, yes,”  Balladanis replied, ignoring Walter's sarcastic tone, “They're on the outback.”

    “The outback?”  Walter gasped,  “Dammit, there's dementors out there!”

    “I am aware,”  Balladanis said.

    “Let's go, then,”  Harry said, placing one of his hands on the metal instrument.  It would be able to guide them to the relative area they needed to go.

    Walter put his hand on the instrument as well and with an exceptionally loud crack, all three men Disapparated.

    They landed on terrain that was very unfamiliar to Harry.  The ground was dusty and sandy and there was hardly any plant life in sight.  In the distance there were tall mountains and cloaked figures floated above them.  Harry suppressed a shudder and gripped his wand tighter.  Dementors. 

    What looked like a roaring bonfire blazed in the distance.  Harry glanced at it suspiciously and then looked back to Walter and Balladanis, both of whom were more familiar with the area.

    “Only vampires and dementors ever venture out here,”  Balladanis said quietly,  “Neither of whom would set a fire.”

    “Let's go, then,”  Harry said and began to lead the small group towards the flickering lights in the distance.

                        ******

    “Hand it over, Potter,”  Lubar repeated.

    Albus gulped and tried to hold his wand more steady.  His wand arm was shaking uncontrollably and Albus didn't seem to be able to hold it steady.  His heart was thumping hard in his chest.  Albus was sure everyone was able to hear it. However, he did not want to give up the Stone.  That was one thing he was sure of. The only way Lubar would be getting it is if he killed Albus first.  Which actually, wasn't something Albus would put past him.

    “Maybe you should just give it to him,”  John whispered,  “I mean, it didn't work to get Voldemort back.”

    “No,”  Albus seethed, surprised that John had suggested it.  He probably wouldn't have if he still had his wand.

    “Do you really want to have to duel me, Potter?”  Lubar stepped a bit closer, “There's three of us and four of you, one of which doesn't have a wand.  Not good odds, if you ask me.”

    “And do you realize that those two are horrible duelers?”  Albus replied.

    “I have noticed,”  Lubar smirked,  “But they're fully qualified; you are not. I'm going to get that Stone, one way or another.”

    Lubar flicked his wand and sent a jet of orange light at Albus.  Albus jumped back and threw up a shield charm, concentrating on making it big enough to shield him and his friends.  It worked and the orange light bounced harmlessly off the shield and hit the ground.

    “Stay behind me, John,”  Albus muttered,  “Matt and Kaden, spread out and hit them with whatever spells you know.”

    Albus concentrated on keeping his shield up while casting other spells, like he had done in Balladanis's dueling lessons.  So far it was working, but Albus never managed to keep the shield up very long. 

    Lubar was momentarily stunned when he saw Albus's shield, but he quickly recovered and began sending hex after hex, nonverbally, at Albus and John. Concentrating hard, Albus sent a Stunner at Lubar, but he flicked his wand and it shot off into the distance, hitting one of the lone bushes, which promptly caught fire.

    Albus chanced a glance at Matt and Kaden.  Matt was dueling with Jarrett and it looked like they were pretty equally matched, which was kind of pathetic as far as Jarrett was concerned.  It made Albus feel better though.  Quinton and Kaden just seemed to be sending Expelliarmus charms at each other and missing every time.

    The shield emitting from Albus's wand faltered and faded a bit.  Albus renewed his concentration, but the shield was still weaker than it had been before. There was no way he'd be able to send any spells through the shield now.

    “Your shield is weakening, Potter,”  Lubar smirked as he sent another Stunner at Albus, which shook the shield. 

    “Merlin!”  Quinton shouted to the right of them.  He was hopping on one foot and Kaden was laughing hysterically.  Albus grinned.  Kaden had actually managed to do some sort of hex, although Albus wasn't sure what one it was.

    Lubar turned to Quinton and flicked his wand at Kaden.  Kaden promptly froze and fell to the ground.  Albus gasped and his shield disappeared.

    “Albus!”  John shouted.

    Albus turned back to Lubar, but didn't get the shield back up before Lubar shot a hex at John, who fell to the ground like Kaden had.

    “Wouldn't it be easier just to give me the Stone?”  Lubar asked as he sent a Stunner at Albus.

    Albus deflected it.  “Not really.”

    Jarrett and Matt were still dueling.  Both were sporting a few injuries, but nothing too serious.  Neither seemed to have noticed that John and Kaden were Stunned.

    Albus managed to hit Lubar with a trip jinx, which gave him a few seconds to catch his breath while Lubar righted himself.  Unfortunately this only angered him and he was now sporting a gash across his left cheek.

    “Expelliarmus!”  Lubar shouted.

    Albus jumped to the side and the spell hit a nearby rock.  Lubar resumed his nonverbal spells and Albus continued deflecting them and dodging them, too exhausted to try and hit Lubar with any other jinxes.

    “You can't keep dodging them forever, Potter!”  Lubar grinned manically.

    “Watch me,”  Albus said defiantly.

    Albus of course knew that Lubar was right.  The odds had not really changed. John and Kaden were both out of the fight and while John was easily the best dueler after Albus, his absence did not put Albus greatly behind.  Washburn was out as well and both Willinsons were injured.  Quinton was currently on his knees panting, not in any shape to continue dueling.  Matt was holding his own against Jarrett, something Albus was both amazed and delighted by.

    No, Albus was not trying to overcome Lubar.  He knew that wouldn't be possible.  Albus was merely biding for time.  He tried to figure out how long they'd been gone as he dodged spells.  It must have been at least three or four hours, although the dark Australian sky had not changed a bit.  Albus wished the moon had been out so he could have monitored its trip across the sky.

    How long would it take his dad to find them?  Longer than normal, Albus thought.  They were in the middle of a foreign country, nowhere near anyplace Harry would be looking.

    “I'm getting annoyed, Potter, and you don't want to see me when I'm annoyed!” Lubar shouted, sending another jet of red light at Albus.

    Before Albus even had time to register what sort of hex it was, Matt gave a shriek of pain to Albus's right and collapsed to the ground.  Jarrett wasted no time and pointed his wand at Albus.

    Albus took a fraction of a second to digest the fact that he was now utterly alone, facing two fully grown wizards.  The two wizards shot identical jets of blue light at Albus and he managed to pull up a feeble shield.

    The force hit him like a dozen Bludgers to the stomach.  He lost his footing and landed flat on his back, his head hitting a particularly sharp rock. 

    “I told you not to fight, Potter,”  Lubar sneered as he loomed over Albus.

    “You're not getting the Stone,”  Albus said, forcing away the dizziness.  He reached into his robes and pulled out the Stone.

    “I disagree,”  Lubar said as he made to grab the Stone.

    With all the force Albus could muster, he threw the Stone as far as he could to the right.  In the darkness, it disappeared in a split second and Albus didn't even hear it land.

    “No!”  Lubar shouted,  “You'll pay for that!”

    “Wands where I can see them!”  someone shouted from behind Lubar.

    Lubar and Jarrett whipped around as fast as they could.  Albus lifted his head slightly and caught a glimpse of his dad, along with a few other wizards.  He breathed a sigh of relief.  They were saved.


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight as well as all of the lovely people who have read and reviewed this!

Chapter 37: The Outcome of the Match
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   Albus managed to sit up right before the hexes started flying.  Realizing that he dropped his wand when Lubar and Jarrett hexed him, he groped about for it on the ground.  Not finding it, he crawled behind a nearby bush and watched.

    Jarrett didn't stick around long.  He sent one pathetic Stunner at Harry, who easily deflected it, and disappeared on the spot.  Harry immediately disarmed Lubar before he could do the same. 
   
    Once Lubar was defenseless, Albus left the safety of the bush and shakily stood up.  He reached the fire and was able to see who the other two wizards next to Harry were.  What he saw made him dizzy with shock all over again.

    The shorter of the two was Matt's dad.  He was staring stony faced at Lubar.  Albus had never seen anyone glare at anyone else with such hatred and loathing as Matt's dad glared at Lubar.  And that included when his Uncle Ron talked about the Malfoys, or his mum when somebody mentioned Vernon and Petunia Dursley.

    It was the other wizard that nearly caused Albus to pass out in shock.  He was none other than Professor Balladanis.  What in the name of Merlin was he doing there?  It looked like he was actually with Harry and Matt's dad.  But why?  Didn't Matt's dad hate Balladanis?

    “Eckerton, what a pleasant surprise,”  Lubar smirked.

    “Lubar, if we weren't in the presence of an Auror and a Presuler I'd rip you limb from limb, Muggle style,”  Mr. Eckerton growled.

    Albus was slightly stunned by Mr. Eckerton's choice of words, but remembering what Matt had told him at the beginning of the year, all surprise left him.

    “Lucky for me Potter and Balladanis are here, then,”  Lubar replied and snatched Washburn's wand off the ground.

    Harry, Mr. Eckerton, and Balladanis all sent different spells at Lubar at the same time, but it was too late.  He was already gone.  Mr. Eckerton swore loudly. 

    “Two ain't bad,”  Balladanis muttered as he gestured to Washburn and Quinton, the latter of whom was still conscious but not completely aware of his surroundings.

    “That's the glaring difference between you and I,”  Mr. Eckerton muttered as he moved swiftly past Quinton and Washburn to reach Matt.

    “Dad!”  Albus shouted.

    Harry looked up from Kaden's unconscious form and raced towards Albus.  Albus threw his arms around his dad and the two of them hugged each other tightly.

    “Al, thank Merlin,”  Harry said.

    “Dad, what's Balladanis doing here?”  Albus asked immediately,  “And Lubar, what's going to happen to him?  And Willinson?”

    “I'll explain it all once we get you back to Hogwarts,”  Harry assured him.

    Balladanis had a firm hold on both Washburn and Quinton and was fiddling with a broken plastic cup.  A few seconds later, all three of them disappeared.

    Harry turned to Mr. Eckerton, who was standing up with Matt in his arms.  “Can you take John, too?  I'll get Kaden and Al will come with me.”

    Mr. Eckerton nodded and grabbed hold of John's arm before pulling his own broken plastic cup out of his pocket.  They disappeared.

    Harry pulled Kaden up and took Albus's arm.  Albus was still thoroughly confused, but did not have time to ask his dad anymore questions before feeling the familiar jerk behind his naval that signified he was traveling by Portkey.

    Albus landed with a thud in the middle of the Hospital Wing.  The question of how they managed to Portkey inside the Hogwarts grounds was the least pressing question on his mind.

    Looking around, Albus saw that the others had arrived as well.  Mr. Eckerton was laying both Matt and John on the nearest beds while Madam Pomfrey was shouting and gathering potions.

    “Look at the state of them!”  the nurse exclaimed,  “Always this lot, too! You're a bad influence on them, Harry, I swear!”

    Harry looked slightly sheepish as he set Kaden down on the bed next to Matt's and then turned to Albus.

    “I've got to speak with Professor Kendrick and go to the Ministry-”  he began.

    “But Dad!”  Albus interrupted,  “What was Balladanis doing there?”

    “I promise I'll tell you all of that and more,”  Harry replied,  “But I need to tell everyone you and the others are ok.  When I get back, I'm going to need you to tell me everything that happened.”

    “But-”

    “No buts!”  Madam Pomfrey cut in,  “Bed, Albus, bed!  You need rest!”

    Albus, who had barely registered the fact that his head was bleeding and he was still quite dizzy, felt that the last thing he needed was rest.  He needed to know what was going on.

    “I'll explain once you've gotten some sleep,”  Harry assured him.

    Albus muttered under his breath and got into bed.  Once Madam Pomfrey had given him a Sleeping Draught, Harry left, leaving Albus to unsuccessfully try to fight off the sleep he knew was coming.

                        ******

    The ward was quiet when Albus woke up.  It was completely dark outside, although Albus didn't have the slightest clue as to what day it was.  John, Matt, and Kaden were either still unconscious or sound asleep.  Albus was betting on the latter since Madam Pomfrey was no where to be seen.

    Mr. Eckerton was still there and he had been joined by his wife.  Both of them were nodding off in chairs next to Matt's bed.  It didn't look like Mr. Eckerton had even left.  He was wearing the same Ministry robes he had been wearing before.

    Albus sat up and put his hand to his head.  There was a bandage on the back of it.  Another bandage was wrapped around his right arm, although he couldn't recall when he had injured it.  Besides that, he just felt exhausted. 

    The door to the ward opened, letting in a small flood of light from the corridor.  A figure stepped inside and began walking towards Albus's bed. 

    “Hey, Al,”  they said.

    “Dad,”  Albus replied, recognizing his father,  “Are you going to tell me about Balladanis now?”

    “Yes,”  Harry chuckled,  “Perhaps we ought to go to the Room of Requirement.”

    Albus shook his head, remembering something he had been debating for the past year.  He had waited long enough.  It was time.

    “No,”  Albus said,  “I know someplace better.”

    Without saying a word, Albus got out of bed and lead his dad out the door and up to the fifth floor corridor.  Harry did not ask a single question as Albus pulled the arm down on the appropriate knight and turned to face the opposite wall.

    Albus located the paw prints and touched his hand to them, turning it into a doorknob.  He opened the door and stepped inside.  Harry followed, letting out a gasp as he did.

    “Remember that map from last year?”  Albus asked as he shut the door.

    Harry nodded, apparently at a loss for words.

    “There was more to it.  Instructions on how to get into this room.  It was theirs, the Marauders'.  Their secret common room,”  Albus said quietly.

    Harry didn't respond.  Instead he walked slowly around the room.  Albus stood near the door and waited.  He wasn't sure how long he stood there, watching as his dad investigated the room that had once belonged to his grandfather.

    “This,”  Harry began,  “This is just incredible, Al.  How long have you known about it?”

    “About a year,”  Albus said quietly.

    “And you spend time here?”  Harry asked.

    “Probably more than we do in the common room,”  Albus answered.

    “Then it is the perfect place to talk,”  Harry said as he sat down on one of the couches.

    Albus sat down next to him.  “So why was Balladanis there?”

    “I'll tell you that,”  Harry said,  “But first I want you to explain to me what happened.”

    Albus took a deep breath and told his dad everything.  Starting with when they saw Lubar in the castle and ending with throwing the Resurrection Stone into the Outback.  He explained how they had first gone to a forest in Australia, how they had Portkeyed to the Outback, the dementors, the almost Patronus he had managed to make, the duel, the fact that the Resurrection Stone didn't work to bring Voldemort back.

    “Why didn't it work?”  Albus asked,  “I mean, I'm glad it didn't, but why?”

    Harry thought for a few minutes and then looked at Albus.  “There are a few reasons that might explain it.  The Resurrection Stone brings back people we love, but it does not bring them back completely.  It's almost as if their soul is coming back.”

    “Like a ghost?”

    “Not exactly,”  Harry said,  “But similar.  It's possible that since Voldemort split his soul so many times, he can't be brought back with the Stone. The Stone may need the soul to be intact to work.”

    Albus nodded.  “That makes sense.”

    “It could also be that only loved ones can be brought back with the Stone. Washburn and the Willinsons did not love Voldemort; they did not know him.  They wanted to bring him back for their own agenda,”  Harry explained.

    “Is there any way to find out which it is?”  Albus asked.

    “No, I don't think so,”  Harry said,  “Especially now that the Stone is once again gone.  Which is something I'm very grateful that you did.”

    “Well, I figured you left it out in the Forbidden Forest for a reason,” Albus shrugged.

    “Yes, yes I did,”  Harry replied, “I think it best if nobody had that Stone.”

    Albus nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.  But what was Balladanis doing there?”

    Harry laughed.  “You're not going to let that go, are you?”

    “Nope, you said you'd tell me,”  Albus said.

    “I will,”  Harry replied,  “Albus, do you know what a Presuler is?”

    “Yes,”  Albus nodded,  “And I know that Balladanis is one.”

    “You do?”  Harry looked impressed.

    “He told me during one of those dueling lessons he gave me,”  Albus explained.

    “Well, that makes my explanation easier,”  Harry said,  “A little over a year ago, shortly after Quinton kidnapped Kaden, the Ministry decided to hire a Presuler to help find Washburn and Jarrett Willinson.”

    “Seriously?”  Albus gaped at him.

    “Yes,”  Harry muttered,  “The Minister believed the Aurors needed some help.”

    Albus thought he heard bit of contempt in his dad's voice.

    “When I realized that Washburn and the Willinsons were most likely working with Ralph Lubar, I had to contact Balladanis and let him know.  He came with us, and I have to admit that he was very helpful.  We would not have found you as fast if he wasn't there,”  Harry explained.

    “But why was he teaching here?”  Albus asked.

    “The Minister, Professor Kendrick, and I believed it would be good strategy to have him stationed at Hogwarts, where we all believed Washburn and the Willinsons would return to.  Balladanis agreed,”  Harry said,  “Of course, none of us realized that Balladanis would not be able to handle teaching.

    “This is all quite secretive, Al.  I'd prefer you didn't tell anyone.  I will be telling Matt, John, and Kaden, because I feel they have the right to know, but I don't want anyone else knowing about it.”

    “What about Rose and Amanda?”  Albus asked.

    “I suppose I'll tell them as well, otherwise Kaden is sure to tell them,”  Harry said.

    “What's going to happen to Lubar?”  Albus asked,  “Is Balladanis going to be after him now?”

    “No,”  Harry shook his head,  “That's going to be tricky situation.  Lubar isn't a British citizen.  We can't do a thing while he's in Australia.  It's up to the Australian Ministry to either put him on trial or give him to us to put on trial.  And since he's one of their officials, we're not sure they'll do either.”

    “But that's not fair!”  Albus stood up angrily,  “Look what he did! Look what he's done!”

    “I know,”  Harry sighed,  “I'd like nothing more than to give him a life-long stint in Azkaban, but unfortunately the laws don't work that way.”

    “He and Balladanis get along anyway,”  Albus said,  “Balladanis probably wouldn't want to go after him.”

    “I don't know about that,”  Harry said,  “Balladanis likes people to pay for what they've done.  However, being a Presuler and having no Ministry affiliation, he does not have to take a case if he's offered it.”

    “He told me I'd make a good Presuler,”  Albus said quietly as I sat back down,  “Malfoy, too.”

    Harry sighed.  “What do you think about that?”

    “I don't know,”  Albus shrugged,  “I mean, I like dueling, but I don't really want to decide what I want to do right now.”

    “You don't have to,”  Harry replied,  “And I don't want to tell you what to do, but I am going to tell you something.

    “Being a Presuler is a hard job and often a lonely one.  You have no coworkers.  You work with various Ministries, but rarely get to know anyone.  You travel a lot, which can make it difficult to have a family.  It's not an easy path to go down.  Not one I'd choose for myself.”

    Albus hadn't even thought about that.  He didn't think he'd want to rarely ever see his friends and family.

    “There's plenty of other things you could do that would put your dueling skills to use,”  Harry told him,  “And you're only 13 so no need to decide now.”

    “I know, I don't plan to,”  Albus replied.

    “Well, you should probably get back to the Hospital Wing before Madam Pomfrey notices you're gone,”  Harry smirked,  “And thanks again for showing me the room.”

    Harry stood up and gave his son a hug.  They left the room and walked back to the Hospital Wing, both lost in their thoughts.

                        ******

    As it turned out, Madam Pomfrey had already noticed that Albus was missing. When he returned to the Hospital Wing with his dad, she was running about the ward shouting at the top of her lungs.  Matt, John, and Kaden were all awake, staring at her.

    “There you are!”  she shrieked,  “Where have you been?”

    “Er,”  Albus began.

    “I had to talk to him in private,”  Harry answered for him.

    “You should have asked me first!”  Madam Pomfrey exclaimed as she ushered Albus back into bed,  “He needs rest!”

    “I'm his father,”  Harry said incredulously.

    “I don't care if you're the Minister of Magic!”  Madam Pomfrey replied,  “I'm the one with the nursing degree!”

    “How long has she been shouting?”  Albus whispered to Matt as he got back in bed.

    “Fifteen minutes or so,”  Matt answered.

    Madam Pomfrey returned to her desk and Harry strode over to where the Eckertons were sitting.

    “Could I have a word in private?”  Harry asked Mr. Eckerton and then turned to Madam Pomfrey.  “Do I need your permission for that?”  he grinned.

    “Very amusing,”  Madam Pomfrey muttered.

    Albus drifted back to sleep a little while later and when he next woke up it was light out and Madam Pomfrey was bringing them all breakfast trays. 

    “Er, what day is it?”  Albus asked as Madam Pomfrey set his tray down.

    “It's Sunday, dear, but it's afternoon,”  Madam Pomfrey replied,  “I figured you'd prefer to have breakfast.”

    “Only Sunday?”  Albus asked.  It felt like it had been far more than twenty-four hours since he had met up with Lubar before the Quidditch match.

    “Time zone changes are difficult to adjust to,”  Madam Pomfrey explained,  “Australia's quite a few hours ahead of us.”

    Albus nodded and dug into his breakfast.  Suddenly he was ravenous.  When he thought about it, it must have been at least a day since he'd eaten anything. 

    “I wonder how the Quidditch match went,”  Kaden mused as he shoved toast in his mouth.
   
    Albus choked on his eggs.  He'd forgotten about the match!  “I doubt we won,”  he sighed.

    “Is your dad going to tell us why Balladanis was with him when he came to save us?”  John asked,  “I mean, he's had plenty of time.”

    “He will,”  Albus said,  “He already told me.  You lot were asleep.”

    The doors to the Hospital Wing banged open and Rose and Amanda came running in.  Madam Pomfrey made a move to get up from her desk, but then sat back down, shaking her head.

    “Tell us what happened!”  Rose demanded as she skidded to a halt in front of Albus's bed,  “When did you get back?  Where did you go?”

    “Who won the Quidditch match?”  Albus asked.

    “Quidditch?  Quidditch?”  Rose groaned,  “I'm not saying a word about Quidditch until the four of you tell me what in the name of Merlin's saggy left-”

    “Miss Weasley!”  Madam Pomfrey shouted,  “If you don't lower your voice, you'll have to leave!”

    “Sorry,”  Rose turned back to Albus,  “But you lot have got to tell us what happened!”

    Albus launched into the entire tale, which took the better part of a half hour to tell.  Neither Rose or Amanda interrupted once during the whole thing. Both of them looked absolutely shocked by the time Albus concluded.

    “But, but why was Balladanis there?”  Rose asked.

    “My dad's going to tell you,”  Albus said,  “He's already told me.  He'll probably tell the rest of you today.”

    “Merlin, Albus,”  Rose sighed,  “How much trouble can you get into?”

    “It's not my fault,”  Albus shrugged,  “Now can you tell us about the match?”

    Rose exchanged glances with Amanda, who sighed.  “It was quite the match, let me tell you,”  Amanda said.

    “Nobody won, Al,”  Rose said.

    “What?”  John interrupted,  “How can nobody win?”

    “About forty-five minutes into the match, Fred and Heather ran onto the pitch-”

    “The match lasted that long?”  Matt asked.

    “Yes,”  Rose said,  “I don't know why.  Anyway, Fred and Heather ran right up to Ludo Bagman and started talking to him.  Nobody could hear what they were saying.  Then Bagman blew his whistle and they went into a time-out.

    “Bagman left the pitch and had a really long talk with all the headmasters and captains.  Then Kendrick announced that the match was called off and told everyone to return to their common rooms.

    “Everyone was really angry of course.  Amanda and I were already worried because you lot hadn't shown up yet.  We thought something bad had happened and that was why they called it off.”

    “Why did they call it off?”  John asked.

    “I'm getting to that,”  Rose said,  “We got back up to Gryffindor and everyone was gathered around Fred and Heather.  Linda wasn't there, and neither were any of her teammates who were Gryffindors.

    “We pushed our way to the front of the crowd and heard what Fred and Heather were talking about.  They were claiming that Australia had been cheating the whole time-”

    “Well, they were,”  Matt muttered.

    “I know,”  Rose agreed,  “And apparently so did Fred and Heather.  I'm sure they figured it out just recently or else they would've told someone sooner.  They found out Linda's a vampire and now the entire school knows.”

    “How did they figure it out?”  Albus asked, completely shocked.  Linda hid her secret quite well.  Fred and Heather were sixth years, they wouldn't have heard Balladanis's vampire lecture.”

    “They've been trying to figure it out all year,”  Rose explained,  “And since they're smart, they figured it out.”

    “But what about the match?”  Albus asked.

    “I think they're going to cancel the tournament, Albus,”  Rose said quietly.

    “Cancel the tournament?”  Albus gasped,  “Cancel the tournament?!  They can't do that!  We've spent the whole year on that tournament!  Do you know how much time I've spent on the Quidditch pitch this year?  More time than I've spent in class, probably!  And now they're going to cancel the bloody tournament?”

    “I don't know, Al,”  Rose said shortly,  “And if they do it's not my fault.”

    “Sorry,”  Albus mumbled,  “It's just a little aggravating.”

    “I know,”  Rose replied.

    “Where's Linda?”  Matt asked.

    “Gone,”  Rose sighed,  “Without a word.  I haven't seen her or any of the Australians since the match.  Killigan's gone, too.”

    “Wow,”  Matt replied,  “Can't say I blame her, though.”

    “I guess,”  Rose said,  “Anyway, they'll probably make an announcement about the tournament at dinner.”


A/N:  Thanks to my beta, Dancer_of_Starlight as well as all of the awesome people who have read and reviewed this!  There is only one more chapter left!

Chapter 38: Silver Lining
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Disclaimer-  I don't own Harry Potter.


   Harry returned to tell everyone else about Balladanis later on in the afternoon.  Madam Pomfrey flat out refused to let any of them leave the Hospital Wing, so she agreed to lock the door and go to her study while Harry explained. Matt's dad was there as well.

    Harry told them everything he had told Albus, although he left out the parts about why it was not all that advisable to become a Presuler.  Everyone was completely shocked to learn that Balladanis had been hired to help capture Washburn and the Willinsons.

    Unfortunately, Harry also brought news of Lubar.  News that was not all that welcome.

    “As of right now, he's completely free and in the clear,”  Harry sighed, “The Australian Ministry refuses to extradite him, and they won't prosecute him in Australia either.  To them, it's like nothing's happened.”

    Albus noticed that Mr. Eckerton looked positively furious with this.  Harry looked quite angry as well, but it did not come close to how Mr. Eckerton looked.

    “We're not going to give up,”  Harry said,  “We'll keep negotiating with them.”

    Mr. Eckerton had also apparently been told about the Hallows.  When Harry had spoken with him the previous night, it had been about the Hallows.  Albus remembered back to his first year, when Matt had told them about his dad's young adult dream of locating the Hallows.  Harry must've trusted him now.

    Albus reached over to his bedside table, where Madam Pomfrey had placed the Invisibility Cloak the previous night.  He wordlessly handed it to Mr. Eckerton, who carefully took it with a look of awe on his face.

    “Merlin's beard,”  he muttered,  “It's the Cloak.”

    “That it is,”  Harry said quietly.

    “Unbelievable,”  Mr. Eckerton whispered as he fingered it.

    He spent a few minutes trying the Cloak on before handing it back to Albus. “I cannot believe I've finally solved the case of the Hallows,”  he said to Harry, “This is amazing.  I would love to share the tale with my brother.  Perhaps I could introduce you to him at the World Cup this summer.”

    Harry nodded.  “That would be fine.  Perhaps I will eventually tell him as well.”

                        ******

    Albus wanted nothing more than to be allowed out of the Hospital Wing in time to go to dinner that night.  He was sure Professor Kendrick would make some sort of announcement about the tournament and he did not want to miss it.

    After a full ten minutes of begging on his part (helped out by Matt, John, and Kaden), Madam Pomfrey told him he was in no fit state to leave the ward.  Albus thought this was ridiculous because he felt fine.  So what if his arm was still bandaged and in a sling?  That shouldn't stop him from eating dinner with the rest of the school.

    Instead, Albus was forced to eat a quiet meal in the Hospital Wing and wait anxiously for Rose and Amanda to tell him what Kendrick said.

    The girls showed up right after dinner ended.  Albus immediately asked them what Kendrick had said.

    “Tournament's canceled,”  Rose sighed as she sat down on the end of Albus's bed,  “The kids from New York are staying to finish out the year, but the tournament's canceled.  I expect it'll be in the Prophet tomorrow.”

    “Merlin!”  Albus shouted,  “Why'd they have to cancel it?  Couldn't they just disqualify Australia?”

    “No,”  Rose shook her head,  “To do that Hogwarts would have to play New York in another final.”

    “Why don't they do that?”  John asked.

    “Too close to exams,”  Rose shrugged,  “It'll mess up everyone's studying.”
   
    “That's stupid,”  Albus fumed.

    “If it makes you feel better, I'm pretty sure Hogwarts would've won if Australia hadn't have been here,”  Rose pointed out,  “And Kendrick gave one hundred house points to everyone who was on the Quidditch and dueling teams.”

    “Yeah, well, all the houses had people on the teams, so that doesn't really help,”  Albus muttered.

    “Well,”  Rose grinned,  “I know one thing that'll cheer you up.”

    “What?”  Albus asked, even though there was nothing that could cheer him up.

    “There were Quidditch scouts at that match,”  Rose told him,  “And even though the match was disastrous, they did find someone they wanted to draft.”

    “Who?”  Albus asked, slightly intrigued.

    “Georgia!”  Rose exclaimed,  “She's been drafted to play for Kenmare Kestrals as soon as she graduates!”

    “That's brilliant!”  Albus replied.  Rose had been right, that did cheer him up.  There was no one he thought who belonged on a professional Quidditch team more than Georgia.

    “Yup, she's their newest reserve Keeper,”  Rose said,  “She says Uncle Percy's not impressed.  He wanted her to work at the Ministry.  She doesn't care what he thinks, though.”

    “Uncle Percy's got plenty of other kids to work at the Ministry,”  Albus shrugged.  He could never see Georgia working in government.

    “Kenmare?”  John said incredulously.

    “Yeah, seriously?”  Matt grimaced.

    “They're nearly as bad as the Cannons,”  John groaned.

    “She's just happy to be on a team,”  Rose shrugged,  “She's always supported Puddlemere, but she thinks if she's on any team, she'll be able to work her way up to a better one.”

    “Merlin, I hope so,”  John shrugged.

    “Is she the only one who got drafted?”  Albus asked.

    “Only one I know for sure of,”  Rose said,  “I heard a rumor that Anna Reilly got taken on by the Balycastle Bats, but I don't know for sure.”

    Albus nodded, feeling slightly better about the tournament.  It wasn't pointless now that he knew his cousin had been taken on by a professional Quidditch team because of it.  However, that didn't take all the disappointment away.

                        ******

    Madam Pomfrey reluctantly let the boys leave the next day after breakfast. She didn't really have a choice since exams began that day.  Albus felt perfectly fine and was quite happy to leave the place. 

    Rose handed him a copy of the Prophet as soon as he and the other boys reached the common room.  Albus took it, happy that he had a few minutes before his first exam to read the article that was inevitably there.

AUSTRALIAN SCHOOL CHEATS- TOURNAMENT CANCELED

After a startling discovery made by two Hogwarts
students, the Quidditch and Dueling tournament
involving Hogwarts, the Adirondack Academy of
Magic, and the Australian School of Sorcery
has been canceled.

The tournament's final Quidditch match was
interrupted this past Saturday by two Hogwarts
sixth years, Fred Weasley and Heather Weasley,
both 17, who claimed that the Australian team
had been cheating throughout the entire
tournament.

A few months ago, allegations were brought upon
the Australian team after their Seeker, Linda
Morales, 14, flew at an exceptionally fast speed.
An investigation found nothing.  The tournament
continued.

Fred and Heather Weasley accused Linda Morales
of being a vampire.  Vampires are outlawed
from playing on professional Quidditch teams due
to the unfair advantage they have.

The match was immediately stopped while all three
headmasters questioned the Weasleys and Morales.

Headmaster Addiar Killigan of the Australian
School of Sorcery admitted to allowing Morales
to be the Seeker of his team in order to win the
tournament.  The Australian team was immediately
disqualified from the tournament.

Killigan, Morales, and the rest of the Australians
participating in the tournament left Hogwarts late
on Saturday, declining to speak with any of our
reporters.

Tournament officials as well as the other two
headmasters have decided to cancel the tournament,
and not declaring a winner.

'It is regrettable that the tournament turned out
this way,' Fabius Kendrick told reporters, 'Perhaps
we can try it again in a few years.'


    “Killigan is an idiot,”  Albus said.

    “Look at the next article,”  Rose replied.

QUINTON WILLINSON BACK IN AZKABAN, JOINED BY WASHBURN

While the final Quidditch match was ending in disaster
at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry
Potter's middle child, Albus, 13, was dealing with his
own battle.

Albus Potter, as well as cousin Kaden Dursley, 12, and
friends Matthew Eckerton and John Brickston, both 14,
were kidnapped by Quinton and Jarrett Willinson, and
Jameson Washburn.  The three convicts were helped by
Ralph Lubar, Head of the Department of the Regulation
and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia.

The four Hogwarts students were taken to Australia
where Harry Potter and Walter Eckerton found them.
It is unclear what the convicts were after, as well as
why Lubar was involved.

Quinton Willinson and Jameson Washburn were caught and
sent to Azkaban.  Lubar and Jarrett Willinson escaped.
Aurors are currently looking for Willinson and the
Ministry is negotiating with the Australian Ministry
about what to do with Lubar.

All four boys have recovered from the ordeal and are
currently taking their end of the year examinations
at Hogwarts.  Harry Potter has declined comment.


    “Well, that's not a very informative article,”  Albus said as he tossed the paper onto a nearby table.

    “I don't think they can report much,”  Rose said,  “The Australian Ministry may be asking them to keep quiet about Lubar in return for giving him some sort of punishment.

    “It won't matter,”  Matt said,  “They're not going to do anything to him.”

    Albus was forced to push Lubar into the back of his mind as exams began. They were all significantly harder than the previous year's had been, but he was sure he at least passed all of them. 

    There were short articles in the Prophet about Lubar everyday, but they all said the same thing.  Australia refused to extradite him.  Matt was not at all surprised by this, but it infuriated Albus to no end. 

    The week after exams was a strange one for Albus.  There was nothing left for them to do.  No studying, no homework, no Quidditch.  Rose and Amanda went back to spending all their time with the boys, like it had been before Linda had arrived.

    Things were different, though.  Both Rose and Amanda were a lot quieter than they used to be.  Albus was sure they missed Linda, and he had no idea whether she had said goodbye to them, or even if she'd had the chance. 

    Matt was lost in his own thoughts most of the time, rendering him quieter than ever.  He often went entire evenings without saying two words to anyone, something that usually only happened around full moons.  However, the next full moon wasn't until after they left Hogwarts.

    Albus was sure this was because of what had happened in Australia.  He never talked about it, but Albus knew that getting kidnapped by Lubar again had scared the daylights out of him. 

    John and Kaden remained as boisterous as ever and did not seem to be fazed by what had happened in Australia.  They spent their week pulling pranks and playing endless games of Exploding Snap that Albus occasionally joined in on.

    Albus himself was quieter.  His mind was racing with thoughts of Lubar and Balladanis.  None of the articles ever mentioned Balladanis, but he knew that was because Balladanis's job had to remain a secret.  He wished more than anything that Lubar would get thrown in prison, whether it was Azkaban or Australia's prison.

                        ******

    The train ride back to London was subdued, the only noise being John and Kaden's Exploding Snap cards.  Albus and Matt both gazed out the window, mesmerized by the passing landscape.

    “Linda sent me a letter last night,”  Rose said, breaking the silence.

    Albus lifted his head up and looked at her.  “What about?”

    “She told us she was sorry, and wanted me to tell you that she was sorry about the tournament,”  Rose told him,  “She's on the run with her mum now. They're thinking of moving to a different country.”

    “To go to school?”  Albus asked.

    “No,”  Rose shook her head,  “She's been through school a couple t