Chapter 2 : The Weasley Burden
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“How can they keep us cooped up like this? Why is no one telling us what happened?” Carmen wailed in frustration.
“Sit down, Number One Teen Detective, you’re giving me a headache,” Rose groaned, her eyes following her panicked friend as she paced back and forth along the Ravenclaw table.
“Sit down? Hogwarts just exploded!”
“Well, look at it this way, at least classes are canceled,” Rose offered. She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, snuggling into a comfortable position. With a sigh, she closed her eyes to drown out the irritating fussing and chattering on all sides.
Many of the other students were in a similar state as Carmen. They were whispering amongst themselves agitatedly and glancing towards the stairs leading to the East Wing with frowns on their faces or with painfully wide, worried eyes. Rose wrote this off as an obsession with sensationalism, convinced that every single person in the Great Hall was secretly enjoying the chance to be terrified. For years, she had made it her business to discredit all that interested the masses, and this would be no exception.
Something shuffled to Rose’s left, suspiciously close. Frowning, she squeezed her eyelids tighter together.
“Hey freak,” a silky voice greeted her.
Rose popped her eyes open and, without moving an inch, fixed her pupils on the intruder.
“Hey skank,” she replied.
Dominique Weasley let something resembling a smile play around her large hazel eyes before slipping back behind a perfectly cold, bored mask.
“Do you want to guess what happens now?” she asked her cousin, crossing her arms.
Rose twisted around in her chair abruptly, eyes wide with a sudden realization.
“No!” she groaned, as if still hoping that Dom had made a sick joke.
The chair to her other side scratched across the floor.
“Ok, so I asked around,” Carmen rattled off, swinging herself back into her seat energetically, “And the girls from the Slytherin Quiddich team – you know, the big ones that always fight after each match, remember them? - They say that some Wizardly Geezes were found on site of the explosion…Oh, hey Dom!”
Rose and Dom stared at Carmen for a few seconds before reacting.
“It’s Wizard Wheezes,” Dom corrected her, fixing the girl with her patented, unrelenting stare. This was the shameless kind of stare that left its object wondering whether they were being judged or were just suddenly very interesting to look at.
“It’s always those blasted Wizarding Wheezes!” Rose growled bitterly, eyes glazed over.
“Well, we should get ready, there comes Mullet,” Dom announced, raising a limp-wristed arm towards the speeding figure of the Head of Gryffindor House. The plump, middle-aged witch was marching straight towards their table.
“And it begins again,” Rose sighed, sliding lower in her seat.
* * *
“Yes, Professor, but I don’t actually own everything in my uncle’s store,” Rose insisted, her face beginning to hurt from all of the polite nodding and smiling.
“Oh, no no, I’m not saying it was you,” Professor Bot backpedalled, all but tripping over his words. He ran a hand through his longish blond hair nervously and strode around the table to where Rose was sitting.
“Then what are you saying, sir?” Rose inquired, this close to switching to the voice she reserved for infants and the mentally challenged.
“Just that maybe you know…maybe you saw who purchased…” Bernard Bot insisted, wringing his hands in the air animatedly, as if he was trying to explain a complex formula that had just materialized in his mind.
He was still very young, not just to be a Professor, but to be doing anything as thankless as a teaching job. With his three-day-beard, flippy hair and lanky physique, the twenty-four-year-old should have been backpacking through France or working towards a Master’s degree in Botany and Magical Creatures. One thing was clear: he should not have been cursed with the task of disciplining a bunch of hormonal teenagers. And yet, for some reason, there he was, running around Hogwarts, forgetting his notes and mixing up class rooms like a first-year.
His enthusiasm and persistence evoked something akin to pity even in Rose’s desensitized, condescending mind. She would never admit it, but even she, the queen of cynicism, secretly cringed at every joke that was made at this poor lunatic’s expense.
And yet, some things were not forgivable no matter how much pity was involved. Assuming that Rose, simply by being a Weasley, was responsible every time a Wizarding Wheezes product was misused, that was one of those things.
“Well actually, sir, now that I think about it…I was in the store yesterday and saw McGonagall acting quite suspicious. She may be frail, but…you know how the veterans are, paranoid and always planning something, those old wolves! ” Rose mused, puckering her lips into a sugary, mocking smile.
Professor Bot did not immediately understand that she was making fun of him. His smile slid down his face a little bit as he contemplated the idea of a student spending a school-day in Hogsmead without a permit. At the mention of Minerva McGonagall, finally, his shoulders slumped in disappointment and his eyes lost some of their former spark as he tried to retain control over the conversation.
“This is not a laughing matter, Miss Weasley,” he scolded, trying to glare at her through the curtain of hair that had slid in front of his eyes. The shiny blond strands swished right back once he tried to shake them away with a sharp head movement. Rose watched with raised eyebrows as he untangled his spindly arms and tucked the stubborn hair behind his ear, looking rather humbled and embarrassed.
“This is your way of telling me that you do not know who might have placed the firecrackers in the East Wing, correct?” The Professor continued hastily, returning to his seat behind a heavy oak desk.
“Of course not!” Rose exclaimed, “None of us do! I mean, how did you do this a few years ago, when Hogwarts was swarmed with Weasleys? Did you interrogate every single one? For the record, I don’t even like the Wheezes products... I use the things as props for my bookshelf when I run out of bricks…”
Professor Bot lowered his eyes and his jaw tensed. He looked down, drumming his fingers on the heavy wooden surface in front of him.
That was when Rose realized that Bot must have been assigned the task of getting to the bottom of what happened, and he was failing. She wondered how badly he needed to prove himself. Maybe something serious was hanging on the line for him…His job? His reputation? Maybe he had a hungry family stashed away somewhere that relied on him…
“Sir, basically, I just meant that no one uses pre-made prank kits anymore,” she added in a softer voice, “No one except maybe some idiots or first-years. Or rebellious House elves, I heard they were trying to push through a new Workers’ Rights amendment...”
“Miss Weasley,” Professor Bot interrupted her, “Thank you, I will keep in mind what you said. You may go.”
He had switched from desperate to cold so quickly, that Rose did not immediately register the meaning of his words. Only after staring at the Professor blankly for a several seconds did she finally get up and walk out of the office. She stepped awkwardly, unsure about how to hold her hands or where to look, feeling like the door was much further away than when she had come in.
In the hallway outside the office, another Weasley was awaiting his turn to be interrogated for his uncle’s sins.
“Hey Albus…” Rose mumbled gloomily.
The boy was leaning against the stone wall under a torch and staring at the shadows that the flickering flame cast onto the floor. His dark hair was plastered to his head on one side and sticking out randomly on the other. As a final touch to his miserable appearance, Albus’s shoulders were painfully hunched and his left arm was draped around his torso in a half hug, almost as if he was trying to make himself smaller.
“Uhm…Albus?” Rose repeated, louder this time.
His head snapped up, eyes searching for the origin of the disturbance. Once he spotted Rose, his face seemed to relax slightly. But his eyes remained unusually wide and his sharp jaw was still clenched in a way that gave his entire face more corners than a boy’s face should have.
“Hey,” he replied. One side of his mouth jerked up and formed a dimple, supposedly aiming at a full-blown smile but giving up half-way.
Albus Potter had always been an odd boy, and Rose did not like him much. His oddness wasn’t very entertaining, so he just qualified as a creep in her books. Unlike his older brother, Albus seemed to avoid the light of his father’s fame like others would avoid a lava pit. He liked to sit in the corner and read books, which he slammed shut every time someone came near. When he talked, his gestures were writhing and slithery and he always looked guilty, although no one ever knew what of. The boy was an old-school Slytherin, through and through. It was no wonder his mother, the usually very collected and rational Ginny Potter, seemed to wince whenever anyone jokingly called her son by his much more fitting middle name, Severus.
“You can go in now, I’m free of all charges,” Rose informed him.
Albus pushed away from the wall, light and soundless as a cat. He slipped into Bot’s office without another word, leaving Rose alone in an empty hallway.
* * *
In a completely different part of the castle, Carmen was also running along empty hallways. But she was hardly alone.
Wheezing, the girl threw herself against a wall and pressed her entire back to it, feeling the rough, stone surface.
Panicking slightly, she hoped the thing hadn’t seen her yet. She had been as sneaky and noiseless as possible and had successfully traced the Unidentified Magical Phenomenon through several of the East Wing’s floors. It, so far classifiable only as a strange, dark shadow, had hovered at the end of each new hallway, as if waiting for her, its edges quivering gently. And every time, it would spring into motion only when its persecutor caught sight of it.
Carmen did not know what it was, but she was convinced that it was related to the explosion.
When she first spotted the thing, it was pretending to be a normal shadow against a wall on the fourth floor of the East Wing. Carmen had gone to explore after the halls had emptied, unclear on what she hoped to find, but convinced that she would find something important. The hole in the wall had already been patched up and the groups of curious students had also dispersed hours ago. House elves had been running around the area all day, picking up remaining pieces of debris and doing whatever house elves do to keep the castle tidy, but they had also retired to the kitchens long ago. Since the East Wing consisted mostly of unused classrooms, nobody strayed in that direction on purpose. And yet, Hogwarts’ newest detective soon discovered that certain other beings stalking the East Wing after dark.
And now, several floors higher and significantly out of breath, Carmen was still in hot pursuit. Carefully, she peeked around the corner, thankful for the presence of a statue in clumpy armor to hide her.
The thing was there, waiting.
It was blocking the entrance to a stone balcony, swaying in the breeze that came from the opening. Bright moonlight illuminated the Phenomenon from behind, outlining its silhouette and distracting the eyes’ focus from what lay within the contours. Instead of winding and twirling or speeding past paintings and rows upon rows of doors like before, it was just hovering, a dark spot in the otherwise familiar picture of the castle interior.
Carmen quickly jerked back and plastered herself to the wall again, heart pounding. After a deep breath, she gathered the courage to sneak another glance.
Upon closer examination, the blotch looked more like a carelessly made voodoo doll: Just a round head, under which a cloth is tied and left to hang down in imitation of large robes. The creature was also not as black as Carmen had initially thought. In fact, it appeared to be slightly translucent. The dangling ends of its “robes” seemed to dissolve into the air around them and wound into each other like upside-down trails of smoke.
Mesmerized, Carmen stepped out from behind the statue and faced her opponent.
To her surprise, the thing didn’t react to her grand gesture at all. It continued to sway, not budging from its chosen spot in front of the balcony. Carmen shivered as the cold wind reached her as well.
Before she could change her mind, or even think about what she was about to do and why anyone would ever do such a thing, she jumped forward and raced towards the dark shadow, her feet pounding heavily against the carpeted floor.
Everything happened so fast, Carmen couldn’t hear or see anything. Her eyes remained fixed on the blotch of darkness ahead of her, and her body tore through the air, as fast as it could. Two empty stone walls flew by on both sides as the balcony drew nearer. And then, within seconds, she was out in the cold.
Carmen crashed against the stone banister and bent over it, breathing heavily. Wind tore at her hair and clothing, making it difficult to breath freely or to focus on what was around her. White specks were floating before her eyes and the stone was painfully rough beneath her clammy, raw hands.
The thing was gone.
Breathing heavily, Carmen stared at the murky castle grounds, her hair twisting in the wind and slapping her face and shoulders. From the angle at which she was hanging over the banister, Carmen could see the ends of her long, flowered skirt wind around the thin stone columns, reaching towards something beyond the safe walls of the castle. The wind bit at her exposed legs and Carmen’s teeth began to rattle from the cold and the receding adrenaline. But she stayed that way, unwilling to admit that the hunt was over.
On a terrace many floors below, a hooded figure was looking up. It hastily pocketed a wand and ran inside, slamming the door behind it.
Here it is, chapter 2 of my almost abandonded fic. I decided that I simply could not leave the characters stranded like this, since I've already become so attached to them :3
Hope you like it! Share those thoughts, reviews rock my world ;)
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