A/N: Hello again! Here's another chapter for you. I think this is one of the quickest updates I've ever done. Enjoy!
"MINERVA! Come on, that's not fair! How do you always manage to get a head start?"
I can't help laughing when I hear Rolanda's annoyed shriek of my name, but it quickly turns into a whine that reminds me of one of the first years.
"Rolanda, stop pouting! I got on my broom at the same time as you, it's not my fault I'm better at it." I tease her, and the offended look on her face makes me smirk as I touch the ground again.
I hear a burst of laughter and I look behind Rolanda at Poppy, who's sitting on the lowest spectator seat. She tries to stifle the giggles with her hand, but fails miserably when Rolanda turns her offended look on the healer.
"H-Hey! Don't look at me, I didn't say it!" Poppy chokes out.
Rolanda rolls her eyes, "It was not that funny!"
"I beg to differ! Besides, Ro, Minerva's got a point."
Rolanda pouts even more, which now makes Poppy roll her eyes.
"Oh, please. I was watching. Minerva did in fact get on the broom at the same time as you."
"See, Rolanda, I told you I don't cheat. So, if you're done acting like a first year, I believe you wanted to race."
Rolanda mounts her broom so fast I can't believe she didn't fall, and she's up in the air before I even get a chance to mount mine.
I smile, turning my head to look at Poppy. She smiles, shaking her head. I wink back at her before allowing myself to be propelled into the sky after Rolanda.
After a number of laps around the pitch, Rolanda finally signals the end of the race and she flies back down to the ground with me following behind her. The smile on her face is almost giddy, and she spins around, celebrating her victory.
"I won! See, Min, I told you I could beat you in a race!"
I smile back at her, but I don't say anything. Poppy snorts though, as she walks onto the pitch and up to the two of us.
"I wouldn't be so sure, Rolanda."
"What do you mean? You saw me! She wasn't able to catch up to me once!"
"Yes, but I've also seen the way Minerva usually flies. I can almost guarantee that she let you win to make you stop pouting."
Rolanda takes a moment to look between the two of us, but not even a moment later she rolls her eyes and gives a snort of her own.
"Oh fine, I see whose side you're on! Why don't you get on a broom and I'll show you a thing or two!"
"Ha!" Poppy yells, crossing her arms defiantly. "Not on your life!"
I smile to myself as I listen to them continue their banter. Honestly, Rolanda should know better than to try to get Poppy Pomfrey on a broom. Everyone knows Poppy hates flying and Quidditch more than almost anything else. She's healed too many injuries as a result of both to feel anything but disdain for it. It took weeks for Rolanda to convince her to at least join us on the pitch.
Rolanda started suggesting we go flying once a week sometime at the end of February as a way to get us out of the castle for a bit. Everyone's been so tense I think it helps her get her mind off of things. Sometimes Albus will join us when he's not busy, but since he's Deputy Headmaster that's almost never, especially with the current state of things.
"Oh, c'mon, Poppy! Please? I promise you'll be safe!"
"No! I'd have to be mind controlled before I ever even thought about using one of those death traps! You know how I hate flying, Ro. The only reason I let myself be convinced to be out here with you two was so that I could keep an eye on you."
I raise an eyebrow at Poppy, "Keep an eye on us?"
"Yes! I swear one of these days one of you is going to get yourselves killed on those things. Ro's far too competitive and Minerva, some of the tricks you manage on that glorified stick is going to give me early gray hairs!"
Rolanda and I glance at each other for only a moment before we both burst out laughing, causing Poppy to huff in annoyance.
"Oh sure, it's funny now but one day when you do injure yourselves you'll be grateful I'm so close by!"
I look back up at her, shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand, "I'm sure we will, Poppy."
Rolanda smiles at her too, "Yeah, but seriously, Poppy. You know you have fun out here with us, no matter what you think about flying."
Poppy only huffs again, but I can see the hint of a smile on her face, and she doesn't deny her words.
"Alright, well, I don't particularly want to go back inside just yet, but I am tired of standing here listening to the two of you bicker. Let's at least move to the stands so I can sit down." I say finally. I make my way over to the stairs of the spectator stands with Rolanda and Poppy following behind me.
We sit in silence for a time just enjoying the sun and fresh air. It's only March, so the temperature is still a little bit cold, but with the sun out none of us seem to mind. I smile as a slight breeze moves a few pieces of my hair around.
"Oh!" The tranquility is shattered by Rolanda's sudden outburst, making both Poppy and I jump.
"Sweet Merlin, Rolanda, are you incapable of just sitting quietly for longer than thirty seconds?"
I almost laugh at Poppy's words, even though I can tell she's annoyed. I think she was enjoying her moment of relaxation as much as I was.
"Sorry," Rolanda smiles sheepishly, "But I just remembered, did you two hear about the prank in the Slytherin Common Room?"
"What are you talking about?"
"The prank! Little John Ambrose cast an atmospheric charm in the Slytherin common room. Apparently it was quite a storm; everything was soaked! It caused quite an uproar, the kids were clambering all over themselves trying to get out of it."
"Oy vey," Poppy groans, "That boy just can't help himself."
"His friends all thought it was hilarious, the girls, not so much. I heard Slughorn talking about it in the Staffroom this morning. He was fit to be tied; he was still so angry."
I can hear the amusement creep into Rolanda's voice now, and Poppy gasps.
"Rolanda, it's not funny! Someone could have gotten hurt trying to get out."
"Oh, come on, we all know Ambrose didn't mean anything by it. He doesn't have a malicious bone in his body."
I nod in agreement, remembering the way the other teachers talked about him that day in the staffroom. Although ill timed, I'm sure the boy was just having a bit of fun.
"I imagine Slughorn dealt with it?" I ask the question needlessly, because I already know the answer, but Rolanda nods anyway.
"Yeah, he has detention tomorrow night. Apparently he'll be cleaning all of the trophies in the trophy room."
"Oof," Poppy groans, "That'll take him a while. Let me guess, no magic?"
"No magic." Rolanda confirms.
Poppy sighs, "Well, I feel a little bad for the boy, but if nothing else, I imagine that will make him think twice before pulling another one of his pranks."
Rolanda and I both nod in agreement, although we can't help but smile.
John Ambrose sighed as he finished scrubbing a trophy and placed it back on its shelf. Filch had left him in this room two hours ago and he wasn't even halfway through cleaning everything. He knew it would be so much easier to do with magic, but John supposed that was why Slughorn wouldn't let him use it. Detention was supposed to be a punishment, after all. He briefly considered using magic anyway since no one was around to supervise him, but he also knew that Filch would have somehow been able to tell. He figured it'd be easier to just do it the hard way than to risk getting in trouble again.
John wasn't even upset about being given the detention. It's not like it wasn't warranted. True, the atmospheric charm was only meant to be a harmless prank, but he didn't expect the chaos that ensued when everyone tried to scramble out of the room. Even so, John still chuckled to himself when he thought about everyone's reactions when the storm started. It wasn't like it was acid, just water, but they still lost their minds.
Slughorn had lectured him for what felt like forever, and by the end the Professor was beyond red in the face. Seeing his head of house so flustered is what really made him start to feel bad. He liked Professor Slughorn, and even if he thought the man showed a bit of favoritism for his higher-profile students, he always seemed like a fair man. John figured the Professor had a point when he said that the result of the chaos triggered by the prank could have been much worse.
John picked up the next trophy and began cleaning again. At some point he started humming a tune he remembered from the radio back home. It was one of his parents' favorites.
Suddenly John stopped and looked around the room. He thought he'd heard the sound of something dragging across the floor, but that didn't make any sense. He shook it off and picked up his cloth again. Only a minute later, John could swear he'd heard someone's voice, and he slowly put the trophy down again.
John moved closer to the door, trying to ignore his sudden uneasiness.
"Is anyone there? Mr. Filch?" He spoke louder this time, but no one answered him.
John stood still for a minute and listened, but the castle was quiet as always.
Finally the boy shrugged. He assumed it must have been one of the ghosts of the castle moving around. If anything, it was probably Peeves trying to make him anxious; everyone knows the ghost was partial to practical jokes himself.
John smiled to himself at the thought, even though he kind of hoped that Mr. Filch would be back soon.
He picked up his cloth and the trophy again and resumed cleaning. The quicker he got this done, the quicker he could go to bed. Maybe he'd even make it to the end of dinner in a couple of hours if he hurried.
A few minutes later, he thought he saw a flicker in the gold of the trophy, and the boy polished the spot harder, holding it up to the light and squinting at his reflection to get a better look.
His reflection was unexpectedly joined by something else, and John's mouth fell open in shock. He barely had the time to register the pair of giant yellow eyes he saw looking at him through the shiny surface of the trophy before he was suddenly unable to move and everything faded away.
When Argus Filch walked into the trophy room roughly an hour or so later, all he found was a fallen trophy, the cloth, and a paralyzed Slytherin first year, John Ambrose.
Dinner tonight is a fairly quiet affair. The students are busy talking amongst themselves or studying, and the professors are engaged in their own side conversations with one another.
"Did you enjoy being out on the pitch today, Minerva?"
I move my eyes away from my plate to look at Albus next to me. I smile at him.
"Very much. I wish you could have been with us, I think you would have been as amused by Poppy and Rolanda's bickering as I was."
"Ah, I do regret not witnessing that. I hear Rolanda beat you in a race?"
I can tell from his tone that he doesn't really believe it. I laugh, but I don't answer. Instead I only shrug my shoulders, not confirming or denying the statement.
"Minerva, you and I both know how good you are on a broom. Is it possible that you simply let our poor flying instructor win this afternoon?"
"Now Albus, whatever could have given you that idea?" I answer, attempting to sound surprised, but I'm pretty sure the smirk forming on my lips gives me away.
Albus's eyes twinkle with mischief as he smiles in return. "Rolanda Hooch didn't really beat you, did she?"
I look away from him for a moment to lean forward in my seat. Looking to my right, I steal a glance at Rolanda, who is having a rather animated conversation with a somewhat confused looking Professor Sinistra, completely unaware of our conversation.
I smile as I look back at Albus. "Not a chance." I whisper, making Albus laugh aloud.
Argus Filch interrupts the moment suddenly as he walks through the door behind the High Table. I can see that this surprises more than one of the professors that noticed him; usually Mr. Filch uses the main entrance to the Grand Hall when he comes in. The man seems agitated, and immediately walks up between Albus and Armando, whispering something to both of them.
Even if I hadn't been watching him, I'm sure I would have been able to feel Albus tense next to me. His expression changes faster than I've ever seen it, and I can see Armando next to him turning white.
"Albus?" I whisper to him, feeling oddly worried. I don't even bother fighting the urge to grab his hand under the table.
After a moment, Albus looks at me, and I have to stifle a gasp when I see his face. The twinkle I'd seen only a few moments ago is completely gone now, replaced with worry and fear. I've never seen such a look on Albus's face before, and the slight unease I felt increases ten-fold.
"Albus?" I try whispering to him again, but he still doesn't answer.
Instead, Albus and Armando stand abruptly from the table, and Albus's hand is removed from mine. The Deputy and Headmaster follow Mr. Filch back through the door from which he came. I turn, as do a few of the other professors, but even though I'm sure Albus can feel my eyes on him, he does not turn around to face me.
It isn't until the next day that I speak to Albus again. Part of me was hoping that he'd come to my rooms sometime after dinner, and when he didn't it only concerned me more. It was obvious to me that whatever Filch said to them, both Albus and the Headmaster were unnerved by it. This thought troubled me more than I wanted to think about. Albus has always been so calm and optimistic, so for something to cause the look I saw on his face last night… I shudder to think what it could have been.
When Albus doesn't show up to lunch, I finally decide to look for him. I've never known Albus Dumbledore to skip a meal; everyone knows how much the Deputy Headmaster enjoys the feasts prepared by the house-elves in the castle. I check his office first, thinking that perhaps he got overly caught up in his work, but he's not there.
When I get to the portrait outside of his rooms, I speak the password Albus gave me, but the door does not open. My brow furrows, because the portrait has never not allowed me entry before. Did Albus change his password without telling me?
I resort to softly knocking on the door instead, thinking maybe he'll hear me. When there's no answer, I knock harder.
"Albus?" I call, "Albus, are you there? It's Minerva."
He still doesn't answer, and I can't hear anything through the portrait even if he was there.
Finally I sigh and step away. Either he's not in his room after all, or he simply doesn't wish to talk to me. I turn away from the door, feeling more anxious now than ever.
Before I can let my thoughts run wild though, I hear the door behind me unlock and the portrait creak, as it swings open.
I turn back around and stare at the now open door, but it doesn't take more than a moment before I'm stepping through it.
"Albus?" I call out before I see him.
"Ah, hello my dear."
I look toward the couch to see Albus sitting there with a somewhat blank look on his face.
"You missed lunch, Albus." I inform him somewhat lamely, suddenly unsure. Now that I've found him I'm not really sure what to say.
"I wasn't hungry."
I try not to show the shock on my face when I hear this, because Albus Dumbledore is never not hungry.
I take the few steps over to him and sit beside him on the couch. "Are you alright?"
Albus looks at me now, and he attempts to give me his usual smile. "Of course, my dear, why wouldn't I be?"
"Don't lie to me, Albus, please. I can see something is bothering you, I'm not even sure why I asked such a ridiculous question."
Albus doesn't respond right away, and it only takes me a moment to realize what I'd said and what a hypocrite I am for saying it. How can I ask him not to lie to me when all I've been doing from the moment I arrived was lie to everyone?
I sigh, suddenly feeling like a fool. "I'm sorry. Forget I said anything; you don't have to talk to me if you don't want to."
I turn away and make a move to stand, but Albus stops me. "Wait."
I pause, looking back into blue eyes, once again devoid of their usual twinkle.
"What is it, Albus? What happened? You never disappear like this. At first I thought you were in a meeting with Armando, but…"
"I was," Albus confirms. "Last night, and again today. I got back probably an hour ago."
"What's going on? Does it have something to do with whatever Filch said to the two of you last night?"
Suddenly Albus's composure crumbles, and he leans forward and covers his face with his hands.
"Oh, Minerva." He says, and although it's slightly muffled I still understand.
Albus sighs. He removes his face from his hands to look at me, eyes shining.
"There's been another attack."
At first, my brain refuses to register the words and what they mean, but as soon as I understand them my breath catches in my throat.
"Last night, John Ambrose."
Hearing of the attack is one thing, but as soon as I hear the name of the victim I feel like I've been hit with a bludger.
"No." The word comes out in a whisper. "The first year? Didn't he have detention yesterday?"
Albus nods, "Yes. Mr. Filch found him last night when he went to check on him in the trophy room. He…"
"It's just like Olivia Green, Minerva. Completely paralyzed and unresponsive."
We sit in silence for a minute or two, neither of us really knowing what to say next. The idea of this happening again, especially to a boy as young as Ambrose makes me want to be sick.
"What do we do?" I ask quietly.
"I don't know." I can tell from the roughness of his voice that Albus is trying not to cry, and I look at him.
"Armando is calling a meeting later to tell the rest of the staff. We have to tell the boy's parents…"
Albus closes his eyes, as if the thought of having to explain this to another student's parents is physically painful.
I take a deep breath before turning all the way toward him. I've never seen him look so defeated, and I feel a sudden need to get him to feel hope again.
"Albus, look at me."
He hesitates for a second, but eventually he does as I ask. "We're going to figure this out, Albus."
"Minerva…" He sighs.
"No, listen. I may not have known you for very long, but I do know it's not in your nature to give up."
Albus just stares at me, eyes wide, so I continue.
"Everyone is allowed a moment of weakness, so take it. Take it, and then move forward. You're one of the most brilliant minds at this bloody school, Albus, and you're the Deputy. When the news of this gets out, they'll be looking to you and Armando for guidance. You can give them that."
He sighs again. "I don't know, Minerva. We don't even know what's happening. I don't know if we can do that without a clear explanation."
"I know." I tell him, "And I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one."
I get up from my seat and walk a few feet away. I stare at the fireplace; trying to figure out something I can say to him to help him understand.
"Professor Flitwick said something interesting a while back," I say it quietly, and I can sense Albus's confused gaze behind me.
"I said," I turn back toward him, "Filius said something interesting a while back, the day that the first attack on Olivia Green was mentioned in the staffroom. The other professors were scared, because they didn't know what to say to the students' questions about it."
I smile, "But Filius knew what to say. He said that none of us had an answer, not even you or the Headmaster. He said the only thing we could do for everyone at that time was to do our best to reassure them and make the students feel safe."
I walk back over to the couch and sit beside him, "No one is expecting either of you to have an answer right now, they understand. Filius was so sure that we would figure it out, and that Olivia Green would be back in her classes soon. I wish you could have seen it, Albus, because he gave everyone in the room hope when you weren't there to do it yourself."
I smile at him, the first full smile I've given him since last night, "You've always looked on the bright side, Albus. Even when it's hard, you find some way to do it. That's what everyone needs from you right now."
It's quiet for a while after I finish. Albus looks shocked, and I can't say I blame him. God, did I really just say that? Speeches about hope and silver linings have never been something that I do. Glinda used to try to give me those kinds of talks all the time, and I clearly remember having to force myself not to gag at the sentimentality of it all. What is happening to me?
I'm pulled from my thoughts rather suddenly when I feel Albus's arms around me and he pulls me into a hug.
I tense almost immediately, but he doesn't seem to notice. Actually, it only makes him tighten his grip.
"Thank you, Minerva."
He sounds so grateful that it throws me off for a moment, but I find that I'm happy to have been able to help him. He's done so much for me in the months that I've been here; it's nice to know I can return the favor even just a little. All at once, I don't feel so awkward about my ridiculously sentimental speech if it made Albus feel better.
I clear my throat as I pull away from him. I give him a small smile, but I don't quite look in his eyes.
"It's nothing more than what you've been trying to do for me, Albus. You don't need to thank me."
I stand now, using my hands to smooth out my robes. "I'll be seeing you at dinner, yes?"
Albus smiles at me, "Absolutely. I'm famished!"
I smile too, feeling relieved that he's hungry again, "Good."
I walk toward his portrait door once again, but then I have another thought and I stop.
"I think you're in need of another chess game distraction, don't you?"
The way his face lights up at my suggestion tells me all I need to know, and I nod to him as I walk through the portrait into the hallway.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed! I hope to have the next chapter up fairly soon.
Until next time...