“This does not look good.” Bill sighed as he leaned against the fireplace in Professor McGonagall’s office, breaking the almost ten minutes of silence since they entered the room. “What were you three thinking?”
“Not exactly planning this, Bill.” Tom said with his head in his palms.
“Are you sure it was Liam? It was dark in there… could you have been mistaken?” Laun said, still making consistent eye contact with Tom.
“No, it was him.” Tom looked away toward the window. “I know it was.”
“That presents a problem,” Laun sighed, “I was standing closer to him than I am to you now and I am just as sure.”
“Oor wands wis lit.” Orlando wiped his sooty brow with the sleeve of his jumper. It smelled of smoke. “We keeked his face. He drew oan us an ken wha we wis. It wis the lad.”
Or was it? He re ran it back in his head, picking at the details. He saw his face, the anger in his expression. But there was something in the way he called out to them, accused them of ruining everything. Something didn’t fit quite right.
“Liam was acting strangely, he had an excuse for being out of bed but it didn’t smell right. That’s the real reason why I suggested we follow him back,” Laun said turning to Bill for a moment before turning back to the others, “That may be some evidence of there being more to the facts at hand but it doesn’t explain him being in two places at once.”
Suddenly the fair haired boy’s eyes widened.
“Professor Snape.” Laun almost whispered.
“Whit aboot him?” Céilidh said folding her arms.
“Nothing, probably just another crazy theory. I just need to have Professor McGonagall talk to him, clear it up.” Laun gave a weak smile and turned towards the fire.
As if on cue, the door to Professor McGonagall’s office opened and she entered. The head of Gryffindor house strode across the room to her desk where she sat. She looked tired. Distress creased her brow.
Green eyes settled on Céilidh MacAllister. “A nine hundred year old antique mirror,” she started, her voice stern. Her gaze turned to Orlando, “likely broken beyond repair, to say nothing of the castle wall.”
Her fingers folded in front of her. She looked to Tom. “And there was no tunnel, Mr. Llewellyn.”
“No t-tunnell?” Tom stammered. “Professor that can’t be right. I’m sorry, but I swear that we are telling the truth.”
McGonagall held up a hand for quiet. “Michael,” she said softly not looking at him, “I am gravely disappointed.”
“Professor, nae disrespect, bit howfur dae ye think we git lik’ this?” Céilidh stood up and pointed at herself. “Peaves juist happened tae dump an entire lum oan us?”
McGonagall stood and pressed her hands on her desk. “That is enough, Ms. MacAllister!” The vice headmistress’s eyes scanned the room.
Orlando put his hand on his sister’s shoulder. “Howfur lang daes it tak tae find a body is missin…” he grumbled half to himself, half to her.
“Ye wantit tae see me, ma’am?” The sound of Liam’s voice drew every eye in the room. He stood there flanked on one side by Amen Qasim and on the other by the diminutive figure of Fillius Flitwick, who was still sporting his sleeping cap. “Gif this is aboot ma bin oot o bed efter oors…”
Three of the jaws in the room went slack, their owners struck dumb with disbelief. “Whit the f-”
Laun didn’t look particularly surprised at Liam’s appearance, his eyes flew more quickly to Professor Qasim.
McGonagall looked to Amen Qasim. “Where did you find him?”
“He was in his common room.”
“I swear to God, ma’am,” Tom pleaded, “I watched him die!”
Laun pulled Tom aside, barely looking at the Gryffindor or anyone else as he did so.
“Tom,” He whispered, “I know you believe what you saw, I know you’re confused and maybe even scared but right now you’re in a room full of professors who already don’t believe you. Screaming stuff like that at a very much alive Liam, is not making them believe you, it’s only making you look crazy. Take it from someone who is used to that. You need to calm down and recollect, I don’t mean give up, I don’t mean you’re wrong or lying, I just mean that right now… This is what it is.”
“Shut it, Laun,” Tom said through gritted teeth. He stood and strode across the room until he was nose to nose with Liam, “I saw him die. I am not a liar. I know what happened. And this…” Tom redoubled the grip on his wand.
“Enough, Michael!” McGonagall slammed her fist on the desk.
Laun made his way across the room to Professor Qasim.
“Professor, could I speak with you for a moment?”
“Of course, Laun.”
The two stepped aside from the others momentarily.
“Bill made a joke earlier about the polyjuice potion, these events seem like an almost too ironic follow up. Is it possible that that could explain what’s going on? I was going to speak with Professor McGonagall about seeing if any Professor Snape’s stores were missing from his vault.”
“Very astute theory, Laun. Trust that I will make sure every avenue is exhausted to get to the bottom of this.”
“Thank you, Professor.” Laun said with his first genuine smile since this began, he returned to standing near Bill Weasley by the fireplace.
“If Ah may,” Liam raised his hand, “Ah micht hiv something tae add. Ah hiv nae been completely honest.” Liam shrugged, “Ah did sneak oot efter curfew…”
“Oh?” The Transfiguration Professor’s eyebrow arched.
His eyes flickered to Laun and Bill standing by the hearth but fell quickly to the floor. “A wis in th’ library. A wantit tae dae a bit o extra studying in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Ahm…” he sighed softly, “Ahm embarrassed tae say tha Ahm no daen as weel as A could be – shoud be, an wi N.E.W.T.s coming up, Ah needit the extrae wirk.”
“We will discuss punishment for that later with the head of your House; it is the least of my worries.” The Professor sat back down. “Fillius, I think you can take Mr. Liddell back to his dormitory.
“Weasley, Orris-Whitmoor, if you could wait outside a moment.”
Bill and Laun both nodded, motioning for Liam to walk out in front of them. “Ever get the feeling we’re more escorts than prefects, Laun?”
“Indeed. He said somewhat somberly despite his smile, and with a last look inside the office, he vanished out into the hall after the others. The door closed behind him.
Professor McGonagall stared at the three, “I think it goes without saying, but you three are in serious trouble.” She rubbed her temple, “I will be writing to your families. I will be taking one hundred points each from your houses.”
Tom and Céilidh both shared a gloomy look. That meant two hundred points taken from Gryffindor.
“I will of course be assigning detention for later this week.”
Qasim cleared his throat, “If I may, professor,” he stepped forward and placed his hand on Tom’s shoulder, “I have special preparations that are needed in my third year class for the week after. I think next Saturday would work perfectly. Say nine o’clock in the morning?”
Céilidh’s jaw tightened. She had, for the most part, been able to control herself through the entire interview. She knew there was no way out of some measure of discipline, but detention on a weekend…
“Perfesser… Whit aboot th’ match wi’ Hufflepuff?”
She could tell by the look on Professor McGonagall’s face that the Professor knew exactly what detention would mean for Gryffindor’s chances of winning the House Cup. McGonagall was probably the professor most vested in their house Quidditch team. “If I were you, Miss MacAllister, I would be more concerned with the future of my educational career at this school than with a game.”
Tom opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it. He shared another look with Orlando and Céilidh and then sighed. His head dipped. He knew they were defeated, and that nothing they could say would change the situation. “Yes, ma’am.”
McGonagall pulled her glasses off of her face and rubbed her eyes. “For now I will have William and Laun escort you back to your common rooms and Professor Qasim and I will speak with Professor Dumbledore in the morning. You may leave.”
The three stood and left the office. Qasim followed them. “Laun if you would escort Orlando back to the Hufflepuff common room, and Bill please take Tom and Céilidh back to Gryffindor tower.” With that he shut the door again.
“Come on,” Bill patted the other two on the back, “let’s go back to the tower. You guys have had a rough night.”
The three Gryffindors turned and started taking the stairs up to the tower.
Laun glanced at Lando.
“After you.” Laun said unemotionally.
Orlando gave one more look back to the door to Professor McGonagall’s office. There was a knot in his stomach that seemed to be getting better. He took a breath and swallowed it down a little further. He nodded. “Richt,” and took the lead down the hallway.
The Hufflepuff knew that had been Liam. He had seen him plain as day, had looked into his eyes as he pointed his wand and started the killing curse. And he could still smell that awful smell of burning as the teen had been engulfed in the dragon’s flames.
And yet, there he had been in McGonagall’s office. Couple that with what they had learned earlier in the kitchens after the incident that had poisoned and there was one thing he could be certain of. Liam Liddell was a dangerous mystery.
“Tell me, Laun,” he said looking over, “whit happent the nicht?”
“It was just as I said; we found Liam out of bed after hours, he seemed to be acting odd or guilty so we followed him back to Ravenclaw tower. We never left his side once till he was inside and it was only moments later that you came into the picture. He would have to have a twin or double for both of us to be right.”
Orlando shook his head. He ran a hand across his scalp. “Ahmno wrang and Ahmno crazy. An Ah dinnae think ye are either.”
Laun finally made eye contact with the Scot.
“Thank you.” Laun said sincerely, the first time the chill left his voice, “Unfortunately, and ironically considering my history, you’re now the one in the position of proving that.”
“Mebbes A spake tae soon,” a short, dry laugh fell from Orlando’s lips. “Ahmno shuir hou Ah kin prove onything. Liam showed up juist whaur ye sain. Ahm the ane wioot a lick o evident.”
Laun gave a soft laugh.
“It’s not a great feeling is it?” Laun said quietly but audibly as he resumed walking.
“Niver haes bin.” Foozle shook his head. He looked at Laun. “Ye see mebbes wha Danny an Ah got sae defensive the ither nicht than?”
“I do see, and yet I’ve somehow managed to make it through the events of tonight without turning on you like someone I haven’t known since we were first years.” Laun’s cold tone had returned.
Orlando opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it. Realizing that what he’d thought was common ground perhaps wasn’t common enough, he held his Scot’s tongue. He could hear his mother’s auror voice in his head. “Ah jalouse mebbes we got a wee oot o line tae.”
“Maybe just a tad. Say I was wrong about you guys being the culprits, fine; I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong again. But when have I ever purposefully gotten you in trouble? Even when you did do it? I lied to Professor Snape, my favorite teacher right out of the gate last year to cover for you guys! I deserved better than to be treated as just another Slytherin.”
“It’s nae ye Ah dinnae truist, Laun,” he replied with straining restraint.
Laun took a breath. “It doesn’t matter I suppose, what’s past is past,” he said, no longer sounding cold, just tired.
As they passed the painting that hid the kitchen away Orlando’s thoughts lingered once more to what he and Tommy had learned there. “Mebbes sae.”
The approached the stacks of barrels that hid the Hufflepuff common room away. “Thanks for the escort, Laun.” He tapped a pattern on one sideways barrel with a knuckle.
Laun nodded and as Orlando disappeared into the Hufflepuff entryway, he turned back.