“Gerti’s Gentlemen!” The little house elf Gerti squealed at the sight of them, but with with notably less delight than they were accustomed. She rushed to the boys, “What can old Gerti do for her gentlemen?”
Tom smiled and hugged the little house elf. “Gerti, we’re actually here about what happened during lunch today.”
“Oh terrible,” Gerti rubbed her hands in the tea towel she wore. “Never, never has that happened as long as Gerti has been at Hogwarts.” As she said this tears welled up in her large eyes.
Orlando crouched down beside the matronly elf. “Thare, thare, guidwif,” he said and put an arm around her shoulders. “Ah dinnae think a body in the hail schuil thinks ony o ye coud hae onything tae dae wi whit happent.”
“No, but…” Gerti took the misshapen thing from her head and held it against her chest. “Terrible. Terrible.” She shook her head.
“Are there any of the plates left from the people who got sick?”
Gerti shook her head. “No.”
The Scot grumbled. “Tha wis fast.”
“Professor Qasim claimed all of the plates after… after…”
As the little house elf sobbed again, Foozle looked up to Tommy. “Did he nou?”
The Gryffindor Gentleman shook his head. “He has been heading up all the initial investigations throughout the year,” Tom reminded his partner. “Gerti, is there anything left over from this afternoon? Anything at all?”
“Well…” She chewed on her “hat”, her face contorted in thought. “Filgroy and Boovary have been ever so distraught.” The two boys remembered the names as two of the elves that handled the dishes. “Gerti doesn’t think they have been able to get anything done since.”
Orlando kissed her on the forehead. “Yuir brilliant, ye are.”
Tom and Lando shared a look, and then walked further into the kitchens. There they found one of the most horrible sights ever. Two completely smashed house elves completely drunk on butterbeer lay against the copper piping of the sinks. A symphony of burps and sobs came from the two who sat arm in arm.
Another look was shared between them, this time with something of a smile playing between them. Tom knelt down in front of the two and spoke. “”Filgroy and Boovary?” Tom asked in a gentle voice.
The one known as Filgroy belched mightily for a house elf. “That we are; no poorer sots in the castle than us.” He said in a thick bull froggy voice.
The other next to him that was Boovary blew his nose into the stained tea towel that he wore. “No truer words. We almost killed children today. We may need to cut off our ears for this.”
Tommy placed a hand on both their knees. “None of that.” He patted them soothingly. “Nobody blames you at all.”
Filgroy gave Tom a contemptuous look. “I wouldn’t bet on that, young master,” he barked sarcastic laughter, “not the way he talked to us.”
Tom jerked his head toward Lando. “He?”
“Master Qasim,” Boovary said shakily, “used to treat Boovary kindly.”
Tommy rubbed the back of his neck, shaking his head. He could already hear the comments that were rumbling in his brother’s head, and it was his turn to grumble. “Of course…”
Orlando shook his head. “Ahm shuir he didnae mean it.” The words tasted awful on his tongue but he said them anyway. “Ahm shuir he wis juist upset aboot whit happent.”
Boovary’s eyes quivered. They stared at the reflection in his butterbeer. “Boovary is terrible elf.” He shook his head, those large ears flopping a little. “A careless foolish elf…”
“Maybe there’s something we can do to help sort out what happened. Then Professor Qasim would get a better idea of what happened.” Those round, wet eyes looked up expectantly at Tommy. The boy gave a reassuring smile back. “Is there anything left he might have forgotten to look at? Maybe some of the pots and pans?”
Filgroy set his mug down and its contents foamed over the rim and down the side. “It’s all there still,” he said in his thick voice, pointing with a single knobby finger. “And there it says until we’re fit to work in Hogwarts again.”
The two Gentlemen turned around. Copper and stainless steel were piled up so high you couldn’t see the sinks behind them. “Good lord…”
The Gryffindor shook his head. “You kind of forget what goes into all those meals here.”
“Nae kidding,” replied Orlando. “Tis juist a wee bit humbling, isna it?”
“So what do we do with this?” Tommy cautiously took one of the pans and carefully extracted it so as not to send everything clattering down all over them. “What’s our play here?”
“Fin’ oot whit it wis what pit a’body in the hospital.” Foozle rubbed his chin. He could hear his mother talking about detective work with Monty. The two of them had been breaking down an investigation over a series of thefts at the ministry. At that point, they hadn’t been able to pinpoint a single possible culprit. “Fin’ the evident, uise it tae leid us tae a suspect.”
A thought struck him in that moment. “Oor…” They hadn’t even asked about a suspect. “Fin a suspect ‘n see gif the evident leads back tae thaim.”
He spun around, looking at the pair of elves. “Haes ony body been doun here asides the twa o us? Hiv ye keeked a body at aw?”
The pair of drunken elves looked back. Boovary’s lip trembled and he burst back into sobs, covering his face with the towel that was wrapped around him. Filgroy shook his head reminding them that they had already told them that Professor Qasim had been there earlier and Hogwarts elves were not the sort of elves to imply even the slightest bit of impropriety upon their betters.
Orlando palmed his face in frustration. “Tha’s no whit A meant.”
“Gert?” Tommy called out, bringing their favorite house elf’s beaming face hurrying around the low elf-height counter. “Gert, you don’t get many people down here. Has anybody else been seen in the kitchen? Maybe before lunch was served?”
Gerti looked up thoughtfully. “Well, Gerti does remember one boy this morning. A nice boy from master Danny’s House.” She gave her pleasant smile. “A professor had sent him along for some items from the pantry.”
“Danny’s house.” The two boys shared a look. Tommy gestured to Foozles bag, and the Scot tossed it over.
“Whit Perfesser, Jurt?”
The house elf rubbed her ear thoughtfully. “Professor Slughorn, if Gerti remembers.”
Of course Lando wanted her to say Qasim, but he knew that was wishful thinking. But that didn’t rule the Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor out. After all, he and Danny had seen the lauded Amen Qasim escorting students off castle grounds late at night last year. If Qasim was clever by half, and he certainly was, he would never leave evidence to be directly tied to him so plainly. “Did he hiv a note?”
The house elf seemed confused at the inquiry and explained that they never asked for one. “Why would a student lie about a professor’s errand? Gerti finds that a most troubling thought.”
“Jurt,” Tommy had fished out a book from Orlando’s bag and held it open for her. “Was this the lad you saw?” he asked, pointing at one of the pages. “Is this him?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
Tommy turned to face Orlando so he could see. It was a picture of last year’s Ravenclaw house and his finger was beside a handsome dark haired boy with a pleasant smile. “Liam Liddell.”
“Liam. Bloody. Liddell.” he closed the book and dropped it back in the sack. Tom paced back and forth for a moment seething. He had a gut feeling that Liam was involved in something and here was something that could prove him right. Now he just needed the proof.
Tommy ran his hands through his sandy blond hair and sighed, willing himself to calm. “Okay.” He said steadily enough but there was a slight shake in his voice that still showed his anger. “So, please tell me you have a plan to find out which of,” Tom waved his hand, “this is the offending meals?”
Orlando’s already cocked eyebrow raised slightly higher than usual. A slightly wicked grin crossed his face.”Dinnae Ah ayeweys hiv a plan?”
“Charmer.” Tom grinned. “So get to it then.”
“Wha me?” Orlando replied with mock innocence before barking a laugh. “Ah wis gaun tae suggest ye gang rummaging.”
“Jerk.” Tom shook his head.
“Lik’ Ah wid mak’ ye dae that,” Orlando chuckled again, tossing the notion aside with the wave of a hand.
He went back into detective mode. He could hear the sound of his mother’s voice saying, Find the puzzle pieces. Put them together.
“We dinnae hiv tae search throu the heystack gif we ken whit needle we need. We ken Danny went ill. Dae we ken whit the lad wis eating?”
Tom’s eyes screwed up for a moment as he thought. Finally his eyes widened. “It was bangers and mash.” Tom pulled his wand and gave it a flick. “Accio bangers and mash.”
There was a rattling of several pots and pans. A moment later, several large pots of mashed potatoes and and pans of sausage, or at least the remnants of them, sailed forth. Tom gave another swish and flick of his wand and the pots and pans skidded to a halt and floated in front of them.
“So now what?” Tommy grinned looking back at Orlando.
Foozle picked up a pan and held his wand against its stale and caked on contents. “Ingredī recipere” The metal gave a greenish glow and the savory smells of sausages being cooked started to drift up in a hazy green cloud.
“Ye mind howfur Gran wis sic a stoatin cook?” He looked through the cloud to Tom. “Loved tae soch bit coudnae staun tae pay fur they fancy meals. Sic a Scot, ma Gran.” An image started to form from the cloud. the two of them recognized it as a cut of meat. “Sae she wid uise this tae fin’ oot whit wis in it ‘n’ figure th’ rest oot oan her ain.”
The picture shifted to a clove of garlic. They watched as it changed from image to image with nothing special and then moved onto the crusty pot of mashed potatoes and repeated the process. They weren’t feeling very positive about things until…
“Wait. Wait, what’s that?” He leaned in close, Orlando looking from the other side. “That’s no cooking herb I know. You?”
“Nae.” Foozle shook his head. “Tha’s Hemlock. And tha’s Black Whisper root,” he said as it changed again.
There were more that neither of the boys could recognize. They did a random sampling of the other dishes and found several others has been poisoned as well.
“So it’s a potion,” Tom said as Lando tossed another pot into the sink. “Like we figured. But the ingredients are way restricted.”
“Ye wid hiv tae hae access tae the Potion Master’s personal stores. An we baith ken hou Snape guards tha.” He washed his hands. “Oor Sproot’s private back green, an she keeps tha beyond private. Nae body kens whaur tha is.” Of course “nobody” was an exaggeration; the Gentlemen had found it in their third year, and they knew that Rose knew. Still, it was a guarded castle secret.
Tom nodded thoughtfully. “Except Professor Snape is gone.” He looked at Orlando. “Because of that accident.”
“Yuir stairting tae soond lik me, brither.”
“So we’re saying that it’s one of the teachers then?” Tom said with unease. There could really be only two of the professors that could be counted among suspects, and at that only one that Tom had a feeling Orlando was considering.
Rather than waiting for Orlando to answer, Tom flicked his wand and a large sauce pot changed into a wooden chest. He packed the chest with the evidence. After shutting and locking the trunk, he turned toward Jerti. He knelt down and whispered into the house elf’s large, bat like ears.
Gerti smiled and nodded. She placed her hand on the trunk and with a crack she disappeared, only to return a second later without the trunk.
“Coud be a perfesser,” Orlando finally answered. He didn’t bother to voice any accusations there. Tommy knew him well enough. “A body needit him oot the wey. Mind, twas a cless mishanter whit Snape suffered frae.” He paused, ” We ken Liddell wis doun here afore, but Ah reck he coudna be daen aw this lee lane. E’en we need pairtners fer muckle o whit we dae.”
The Gryffindor leaned against the sink. “What about Eric?”
“True. Bit Eric imperiused a few fowk tae run interference ‘n errands.”
Tom nodded remembering how Eric operated.
He looked down at the sloppy house elves, and the mountain of dishes. Tom rolled up his sleeves and flicked his wand again. “Scurgify!” With a shot of bubbly white light, the pots and pans started to float and clean themselves. Tom waved his wand like a conductor, as the bowls and sauce pans danced in the steaming soapy water. Once they were done, he directed them to their normal places along the wall.
“Yuir verra guid at tha,” said the amused Hufflepuff. “Ye hae a real future aheid o ye in the back ruims o restaurants.”
“Though that would be a most unfortunate waste of a wizard’s talents.” The low voice of Amen Qasim rose up from behind the two Gentlemen. “True as it may be.”
Orlando and Tommy turned around to find the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor standing with Fligroy and Boovray cowering beside them.
The Scot’s gaze flickered from the elves to the considerably larger wizard. “Wirk needs daen,” he said with a perfectly casual smile, “disnae maiter the skill o the wizard gif thay kin dae it. Ah wadna ask an elf tae dae onything A widnae be willing tae dae masel.”
Tom cleared his throat with a cough that could no doubt be translated to please do not poke the bear and make it angry.
Qasim did not become angry, however. He smiled and chuckled to himself. “Oh, I could not agree more, Mister MacFoozle.” There was something in his laugh or perhaps the way his dark eyes looked down over them that Orlando found somewhat unsettling, but it disappeared like a breeze.
“Given this afternoon’s events of which I know you are both aware, I must inquire what you two are doing here in the kitchens.” His look turned somewhat stern. “I don’t need to tell you that being down here does not reflect well.”
“To be honest, sir,” Tom said calmly, “we were worried about our friend Danny and trying anything we could to help him. We figured maybe if we found what happened, it would help madam Pomfrey devise a cure.”
Qasim considered the two boys for a few moments as well as the two drunken house elves. “And did you find anything?” The question seemed more like a statement as his brown eyes burrowed into Tom’s blue ones.
“A lat o clatty dishes and twa – three brassic elves drowning thair sorrows in butterbeer,” Orlando replied. “Thay sain ye wis awreddies doun here sae whit wis thair ense fer us tae dae cep th’ dishes?” He shrugged his shoulders. “An by ‘us’ Ah mean ‘Tommy’.”
No trace of amusement or humor graced Amen Qasim’s face. “I did and the results of that investigation have lead me back here.”
The professor looked down to the two elves that stood beside him. “It would appear that these elves used an unlicensed and caustic agent in their cleaning work, contaminating several dishes.”
Boovray sobbed loudly, but Filgroy only grunted.
“The evidence is clear, and such a grievous accident cannot be overlooked. Lives were placed in danger; one girl may not ever recover.”
“Tha’s insane!” Foozle cried out. He could feel that well of anger boiling up. “E’en gif tha wir true it nae hoose elf wid knowingly hairm ony student!”
Qasim closed his eyes as if he was drinking in Orlando’s anger and took in a deep breath. “Be that as it may, Orlando,” his voice was maddeningly calm, like a father trying to talk sense to an angry toddler. “These two put lives at risk with their irresponsibility. Now I know good and well that you have a softness in your heart for these house elves. But you must make all people accountable for his actions, up to and including house elves. Wouldn’t you agree with that, Orlando?”
As Tom listened to the Professor he realised it. He realised for the first time that what everyone else was saying about Professor Amen Qasim was the truth.
Fire smoldered behind Orlando’s eyes, their yellow flecks flickering like embers. He stared up at the auror’s and found them cold and black in return. The Scot felt both of his wands tucked up in his sleeves against his forearms. Each of them begged to be drawn. He could even hear the incantations they wanted to wipe that pompous expression from the older wizard’s face.
“Ye micht be surprised whit A agree wi, perfesser.” Orlando was nothing if not reckless too often, but Rhane MacFoozle didn’t raise her boy a fool. “Me ma is juist an auror, nae a juidge, bit she ayweys sain tha the law – tha juistice acted wi compassion whin it wis served proper.”
He held his gaze on the man. “But Ah reck tha’s no up tae me.” He couldn’t help the slight, satisfied curl at the edge of his thin lips. “Ahm not the heidmaster of Hogwarts.”
“And neither am I,” the Professor shrugged. His voice almost sounded bored. “The Headmaster will need to decide the their fate. Not you nor I can bend his will either way. I consider the investigation into what happened earlier today closed, and I suggest that the two of return to your afternoon classes and trust that justice has been done.”
Tommy placed his hand just below Orlando’s elbow and began to guide him out of the kitchen. “Thank you, Professor,” Tom said with his brightest smile, “you showed us exactly what we needed to know.”
The two teens strode into the basement hallway, Orlando flinging the tapestry back behind them. They kept walking, not bothering to head for their next class. Neither said a word until they had put the entire castle behind them.
They stood there in the snow and looked back on Hogwarts. Foozle didn’t mind the chill of the air one bit. It served to cool his temper.
He broke the silence. “Sae, the great Amen Qasim cannae find a real suspect sae he fingers twa elves?” He looked at Tommy. “Nou we ken wha he gits students tae dae his detective wirk. Thair smairter. Mebbe tha’s hou he mad his career?”
Tom shook his head, the cool stinging air bit at his cheeks. He closed his eyes, and an almost inaudible groan of frustration. “Something tells me that there is more to it than that.” He was silent for a few more seconds as he watched the snow fall. “You were right, Orlando.”
The Hufflepuff nodded. “Ah ken.” He looked over at Tommy. “Ahm sairy.”
“No reason for that.” Tom shook his head, “I’m still not sure that he’s what you would call a bad guy,” Tom laughed at this, thinking of how silly that term sounded. He shoved his beginning to chill hands in his pockets and shivered slightly. “But he’s holding something back. Something that is,”
Tom sighed as his sentence died in the cold air. It was always disappointing when your heroes failed you. “Please tell me you have your flask on you.”
Orlando reached into his front pocket and pulled out his father’s watch and the fob attached to it. He unscrewed the cap and held it to Tom. “Whit say ye an me bugger rest o th’day. Juist gae tae the cave, hang wi Wirdswirth, an get rairin-fou.”
“Fooze,” Tom held the flask fob in his fingers and stared down at it, “like you said, for whatever the reason, Qasim’s investigation came to the wrong conclusion. You and I know that the food was poisoned and that poison probably was stolen from somewhere in the castle. That much truth still might come out.” He looked over at the Hufflepuff, one of his longest friends. “And Qasim asked Laun and I to investigate a run of thefts around the castle, remember?”
The Hufflepuff nodded. He remembered alright. It wasn’t so long ago the pair of detectives had confronted he and Danny about the items. They’d had no evidence, just the gut hunch and in turn the pair of Gents had fired back defensively. Tommy had come to their aid to put the whole notion to rest, but the whole thing hadn’t gone over very well when it was done. Now he could see where Tommy’s train of thought was headed.
“Danny an A hae the stuff,” he admitted, though he knew Tom really had already known. “We needed some samples an whitno tae study fer neist year’s project. Tis gauntae be a guid yin tae. Bit tis a’gaun back whin we’re dane.”
Tom took a long pull of the firewhiskey from the flask. He could feel the burning liquid as it flowed down his gullet and into his stomach.
He gave Orlando a half hearted smile. “I figured as much.” Tom nodded at nothing in particular. “And I also know you will return what you took. I…” he stammered slightly as the two started walking toward the cave, “I’m beginning to wonder if Qasim is trying to set us against each other.”
When someone’s idol stumbled and fell, the natural thing for a friend to do was reassure them. Orlando knew that much. Sometimes it meant you said something you didn’t really believe, not completely. He didn’t have an ounce of that faith in Amen Qasim, and he loved Tommy too much to steer him down something he thought was a lie.
He looked over, and read the crease in the Gryffindor’s brow.
“Mibbe,” he said, “Mibbe naw. Better men than Amen Qasim coud hiv a gae n’ fail ilka tyme.”
“Amen, brother.” Tom nodded. He handed the fob back to Orlando as they walked. He hefted a sigh and threw his arm around Orlando. “So were you going to tell me about next year’s invention or keep me in suspense till the train?” For the first time since lunch a broad smile covered his face.
“C’moan, brither,” Foozle took a pull from the fob before capping it and putting it back in his pocket. He gave the other lad a small grin. “Naething sells tha pure, wide eyed innocence lik genuine surprise.”
“Just tell me this,” Tom said warily, “this one isn’t going to singe my eyebrows off again will it?”
Foozle stopped. He looked at Tommy, his eyes examining the other’s eyebrows for a moment. He shrugged his shoulders. “Prolly no.” And they continued on.