Ron did not bring any better news back with him from London. His father still lay on a bed in St Mungo’s with Ron’s white-faced mother visiting every day, leaving with nothing to show for her troubles. Bill’s death had shaken him and gone was the relatively carefree Ron. In his place was a quieter individual, who looked permanently in fear of his life. Hermione had been very attentive to him, but even she accepted that she had limitations when it came to comforting people. The time spent at Grimmauld Place had been no holiday for her. She felt exhausted by the demands of the house, and of Molly, who had turned from a capable, well-organised witch into a quivering mass of misery. None of the Order members had returned to Headquarters after the battle at Azkaban so she didn’t know the whereabouts of any of their friends. She was very relieved to return to the rigid structure of school and the certainty of timetables. Her prefect badge glinted in the sharp, January morning as she raced from her first Charms lesson to Professor Snape’s Potions class.
She had almost made it to the door of the classroom when she caught sight of Harry lurking behind a statue in the corridor. He was holding something in his hands and, despite its thin disguise beneath Harry’s striped scarf, she could see it was a book.
“What are you doing?” she hissed as he beckoned her over. “Shouldn’t you be in your Divination class?”
“It’s only Trelawney. We’ve got her because Firenze can’t take the class today. She won’t even notice I’m late, and anyway, it’s Metoposcopy today,” he replied.
“It’s what?” Hermione asked.
“Metoposcopy… apparently it’s telling the future by studying the lines of your forehead.”
Hermione snorted with derision. “You have no idea, Harry, how glad I am I dropped that ridiculous subject. Lines on your forehead, indeed! And what happens if you frown halfway through the reading?” Hermione’s distaste for all things Divinatory was clear from the look of disdain on her face.
“Yes, well, forget about that. I want to show you something,” Harry said eagerly.
“Harry, I’ll be late for Professor Snape’s class, and you know what he can be like.” Her voice was stern as she glanced down at the green book that Harry had pulled out from under the scarf.
“There is a potion in here that could help Remus,” he whispered, glancing anxiously down the corridor. “I want you to help me make it.”
“What sort of a potion?” she asked, her curiosity aroused by the mysterious book that was being waved before her.
“I don’t know. Maeve was going to make it, but she doesn’t want to do it without Snape, and there is no way he will agree to it.” Harry’s eyes gleamed with a fanatical glint.
“Harry,” Hermione began, a worrying thought having occurred to her, “where did you get that book?”
“I borrowed it,” he said, evasive eyes quickly looking down at the floor.
“Oh, please tell me you didn’t steal it?” she asked sharply
“I borrowed it. I’m sure Maeve would have lent it to me anyway if I’d asked.” Unfortunately, Harry’s voice wasn’t filled with much conviction.
“Then why didn’t you ask her?” she snapped. She had been about to take the book, but now that it was confirmed as being stolen property, she withdrew her hand. “I’m surprised you are still doing things like this, Harry, after everything that happened at the end of last year!”
“Look, Hermione,” he pleaded, ignoring the reference to the events at the Ministry. “I just want you to look at it. You would want to help Remus, wouldn’t you?”
“Are you seriously suggesting that we should make a potion that two other people, who happen to be the best potions makers we know, are refusing to make? Why on earth would we do that?” Hermione couldn’t help looking a little scornful as Harry continued to regard her hopefully.
“We could try. After all, you did a great job with the Polyjuice Potion that time.”
“Harry, I turned myself into a cat,” she said, stepping away from the statue. Hermione winced as she remembered the furry disaster that had occurred when she had mistakenly used a hair from Millicent Bulstrode’s cat instead of one of Millicent’s own. “I suggest you put that back before it’s missed.”
“I will, if you promise me you will look at it first,” Harry said, trying to negotiate a compromise with her.
Hermione glanced towards the black door that contained her Potions class, and she knew if she didn’t get in there immediately she would be in serious trouble with Professor Snape. She also knew if she took the book she would be compounding the theft, opening herself up to a lot of, potentially greater, trouble.
“Oh, all right.” She caved in and snatched the book from his hands, quickly stuffing it into her bag, where it was immediately lost amongst her other textbooks. “Happy?” she snapped before dashing off towards the door, her shoulders slumped in defeat.
Harry heard Severus’ caustic voice greet her with a barbed comment, and he could just picture Hermione’s flushed face as she tried to settle down in her place. Potions lessons had been much easier since he had started receiving private tuition from Maeve and he had learnt so much. He wondered that anyone learnt anything at all from Snape, with the oppressive atmosphere in his classroom and his constant sniping at his students.
Satisfied that he had at least aroused her interest, he left his hiding place. Harry dashed down the corridors towards the North Tower and an hour of watching Ron wrinkle his forehead.
As he passed Maeve’s classroom, he heard a wave of laughter as a voice shouted Riddikulus. He guessed, accurately, that the third years had found a Boggart. He had to step aside quickly as one of the suits of armour suddenly staggered forward into his path. It swayed in the air for a moment, before the visor snapped open revealing a pair of startled green eyes. There was a surprised wail as the armour finally toppled forward and landed with a crash at Harry’s feet. It wobbled on its stomach for a moment, leaving Harry incapable of doing anything but stare in surprise, so it was rather fortunate that the door of the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom opened quickly and Maeve stepped out. She had drawn her wand, but it was by her side, and as soon as she saw the scene in front of her she put it back in her robes. Her face twitched with amusement at the sight of the figure on the floor, which was still rocking like a dropped tin can.
“What’s going on, Harry?” she asked, as she bent down to roll it over. “Give me a hand, will you?”
Harry immediately sank to his haunches to help her set the thing upright. “I don’t know, Professor, but there’s a man inside it,” Harry said, his breath coming in gulps as he used quite a bit of effort to get the swaying armour stable. Once they felt confident enough to let go, Maeve reached forward and flipped open the visor, which had snapped shut in the fall.
“What on earth are you doing?” she asked as the green eyes peered out at her. She had fully expected to find a seventh-year in there attempting to play a trick on some unsuspecting victim, but the face that stared back at her was much older than that of a pupil, although it did bear the same shame-faced expression of a schoolchild who has been caught being naughty. As the mouth opened to speak, she felt a sudden flash of recognition; swirling red and a railway compartment sprang to mind and she looked closer into the visor, causing the man to close his mouth quickly.
“Roderick Rampton…,” she asked tentatively. “It is, isn’t it?”
“Ermm…. ” The man looked suddenly flustered, as if being recognized in such a bizarre situation was worse than the situation itself.
“It is!” Maeve insisted. “What are you doing in a suit of armour, for wizarding’s sake? You could have seriously injured yourself. And, more to the point, what are you doing at Hogwarts?” She couldn’t help patting at her hair and she gave her lips a quick lick. Harry was bemused at her sudden preening in front of what he considered to be a bit of a buffoon.
“Do I know you, Madam?” The voice was rich and resonant. She knew immediately it was the same man she had met on the train-ride down to London back in August.
“Yes, we have met.” She reached out automatically to shake his hand, and then realised he could barely move so her hand fell back against her robes. “I was disguised then so you won’t remember me. I’m Maeve O’Malley, Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher here at Hogwarts.”
“Yes, yes,” he said testily. “I know that much, I just didn’t think you knew me.” He gave her a defeated look and Harry could see beads of sweat beginning to appear on the man’s temples.
“Hot in there, is it?” he asked cheerfully. “I know just how you feel, mate. I had to wear one at the Halloween Ball and it was very uncomfortable. Never again.”
Roderick turned stiffly to Harry and grimaced.
“Yes, it is a little warm. I don’t suppose either of you could do something about it, only, I can’t reach my wand,” he said with an embarrassed smile.
Maeve pulled out her wand and pointed it in his direction.
“Vestum Expedire,” she called. With a huge amount of clanking, the suit of armour parted company with the unfortunate Roderick and was once more standing quietly by the door to her classroom. Harry was sure he heard it mutter something along the lines of ‘thank Merlin for that’ and he grinned to himself. Unfortunately, this left Roderick Rampton standing in the corridor wearing nothing but a bright scarlet pair of long-johns. Immediately, they heard a great deal of tittering from the classroom entrance, where the entire class was busily trying to get a good view of the proceedings.
“Class, please go and sit at your desks,” Maeve said with a barely suppressed smile on her lips. She turned back to Roderick, who looked horrified at his predicament. He dipped his hand into the top of his long johns and pulled out the wand that was tucked away there. He turned his well-muscled body away from them and whispered, “Accio clothes.”
Within seconds, splashes of red floated down the corridor and into his arms. Maeve took pity on him, opening the door of classroom twelve, which she knew was unoccupied. With one last forced attempt at a straight face, she told him he could get dressed in there.
“Harry, do you have a class you should be attending?” she asked, as if suddenly aware that Harry should have been somewhere else.
“Um, yes, sort of,” he mumbled.
“Well, I really think you should be getting there, don’t you, or you’ll find yourself in detention.”
“It’s only Divination,” he protested.
She gave him a disapproving look, which served to remind him that, though she was his friend, she was also his teacher. “All classes are important at this stage in your school career, Harry, so run along… and it would probably be best if you didn’t mention this little incident to anyone.”
He caught the amusement in her voice and couldn’t help bursting into laughter as he hurried off down the corridor with a cheeky wave at her. She watched him until he had turned the corner and then knocked softly on the door of classroom twelve. She stared at the blank door for a few seconds, waiting for a response, and jumped back when it was flung open. She was faced with a much more recognisable Roderick Rampton. The flamboyant character was back, without a trace of the discomfiture he had displayed just moments earlier. He wore his bright clothes like a talisman against banality, and with them, he shone with appeal and glamour.
“Sorry about that,” he said, grinning at her with a perfect set of dazzling teeth. “Slightly overestimated the manoeuverability of a suit of armour. Stupid mistake to make.”
“Yes, it was really,” she said, keeping one ear on the quiet classroom next door. Generally speaking, this particular set of third-years was well-behaved, but she knew a prolonged absence would only encourage mischief. “What were you doing exactly?”
“Keeping an eye on you,” he said indignantly. The implication was clear from his tone; this was all her fault.
“Why would you be doing that?” Suspicion crossed her face, quickly followed by rapidly dawning understanding. “You’re an Auror, aren’t you?”
“Might be,” he replied coyly.
“Oh for goodness’ sake, are you or aren’t you?” He was the most infuriating man, and she could feel her foot begin to tap with irritation.
“Yes, I am,” he said finally. “Have been since September. It’s a tricky business, this stalking people. Have to adopt all kinds of disguises.”
“But you were a… a Party Planner?” She looked at him questioningly, as if unable to connect that earlier information with the facts she was now being presented with.
“Yes and no,” he said. “Where exactly do I know you from?”
“Selene Lupin, Hogwarts Express, last August.”
“Ahh, yes,” he smiled. “If you don’t mind me saying so, you look much better now. You were a tad dowdy before.”
She smiled. He had charm aplenty, and was plainly used to using it to good effect.
“So you were saying, Party Planner?”
“When I met you I had just finished my Auror training — bloody hard work it was. The party planning was a nice little earner, but it also kept me very involved with certain circles of society. Times have been hard since dear old dad popped his clogs, and a man’s got to live, so why not use your connections?”
“Connections?” Her head was swimming.
“Lord Frederick St John Rampton, doddery old fool and owner of the famed Rampton Court,” he said with aplomb, only to be disappointed when she gave a shake of her head accompanied by a vacant look. “Good heavens, woman! Where have you been for the past ten years? It was all over the Prophet. Head of top wizarding family gives all his money to a Muggle charity and then sets fire to his house with himself still in it, very macabre.”
She blinked slowly at him, not sure if he was being entirely serious until he pulled out his wand, and with a swirl conjured up a copy of the Daily Prophet from three years ago. She hadn’t seen the story before and scanned the page quickly, taking in all the pertinent details. It was quite horrifying really, so horrifying that she couldn’t believe Roderick was being so blasé about it all.
“We weren’t close,” he said, as if reading her thoughts. “Stupid old fool was about to completely disinherit me anyway, so it’s not as if I really lost anything. And I’ve still got the title.” He gave a sharp laugh and the Prophet dissolved into the air. “Lord Roderick Rampton, nice touch, when it’s needed.”
“But that’s a Muggle title. You can’t be a Lord.”
“Well, that’s where my rather clever ancestor came in,” he said slyly. “Four hundred years ago one of the Rampton heirs decided he had had enough of being a wizard and tried his hand in the Muggle world. Did rather well out of it, although I’m not entirely sure he gave up magic completely, if you know what I mean. He got along rather well with the king, and ended up with a nice bit of land and a title. Came back to the wizarding fold eventually though. The king got his head chopped off, some miserable chappie came in and organised a few serious witch-hunts, so my ancestor scarpered pretty quickly.”
“So you became an Auror after your father died?” she asked, trying to make better sense of his history.
“Oh no, I’d already applied to become an Auror when my batty father did what he did. People said that was the reason why, but I always thought there was something more to it. He never really cared about me while he was alive, so what did it matter what I decided to do with my life. I think I spent a few months of my whole teenage existence at Rampton Court. It’s not like I really cared about the place.”
Maeve was unsure about this strange young man. He was a mixture of disarming honesty and mystifying complexity. She narrowed her eyes at him, about to continue her questioning, when there was a knock on the door and he looked towards her with a beseeching expression on his face. “Be very grateful if you kept that little accident with the armour quiet… not sure it’s the kind of things we Aurors should be getting up to.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” she said with a conspiratorial smile as she moved swiftly to answer the knocking, which was now becoming more insistent.
The solemn face of Percy Weasley was standing there with his hand poised in mid air, ready to let loose another barrage, but he let it drop when he saw her face.
“Professor O’Malley,” he said in a lofty voice. “I don’t know if you are aware of it, but your class are currently blowing Flaming Fireflies out of the window in an attempt to hit Mr Filch, who is trying to find his cat.” Percy enunciated each word with care, enjoying finding fault with a professor.
“Thank you, Mr Weasley,” she said gratefully, not picking up on the young assistant’s triumph, and with a roll of her eyes at Roderick, stepped from the room. She felt Percy’s eyes watching her as she placed her hand on the doorknob. He looked so aloof that it was only his flare of red hair that reminded her he was a Weasley.
“Any news of your father, Mr Weasley?” she asked, and he flinched as if he had been struck.
“No,” he said curtly, making to walk away.
“Percy.” He was about to correct her use of his first name, but she carried on with what she was going to say. “I don’t know the nature of the disagreement with your family, but I strongly advise you to get in touch with your mother. She has lost one son forever. I suggest you don’t make this current situation permanent, for both your sakes.”
He looked at her as if she were an inmate of the Serious Maladies of the Mind Ward at St Mungo’s.
“Thank you for that unlooked advice, Professor, but I think I am capable of making my own decisions regarding my family,” he said contemptuously.
“I am sure you are, but so far it strikes me you have only made very bad ones.”
The barb hit home and Percy’s ears turned a very bright shade of pink. He glanced quickly at Roderick, who was now standing in the doorway with a frown on his face.
“So you’re Percy Weasley,” Roderick said slowly. He ran a large hand through his long, dark hair and gave a small smile. “That explains a lot.”
Maeve glanced from one man to the other and registered that fact that Percy seemed to be getting more flustered by the second at this two-pronged attack. He flicked one last malevolent glance at Maeve before turning sharply on his heel, disappearing hurriedly down the corridor.
“You know him?” she asked, her hand still on the doorknob of her classroom, which was becoming warm under the pressure of her grasp.
“I know of him and… ” What he was about to say was lost beneath the sudden yelp from Maeve as she let go of the doorknob, clutching her hand in pain.
“Bloody hell,” she cursed as she pointed her wand at the offending object. “Frigidus!”
Roderick barged past her and he flung open the door using the now cold knob. Every single student was sitting at their desk with innocent looks on their faces, yet none of them could meet the eyes of either Roderick or their teacher. The tall man strode between the desks with his hands firmly planted on his hips, giving each student a long, hard look and not saying a word. They all shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and an occasional comment was passed between some of the bolder children. Maeve sat on the edge of her desk, blowing on her throbbing hand, and enjoyed the discomfort of her class. It was one thing tormenting Mr Filch, who, in her opinion, deserved everything he got, but it was quite another to target her.
Roderick finally worked his way back to the head of the class and coughed quietly.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked in an ominous voice.
The class shook its collective head, the females stunned into silence by his slightly threatening good looks.
“I have been sent by the Ministry at the request of Professor Dumbledore to ensure the protection of certain people within this school.” He paused to allow them to take this information in. “I am an Auror and my work is very serious. I have no time for pranks and silly jokes, especially ones that cause harm to others.”
Maeve couldn’t help but think of his recent argument with the suit of armour and smirked as she thought of the marked difference between his recent actions and his current words.
“I very much hope something like this does not happen again, because if it does the culprits will be facing very serious consequences indeed! Understood?”
Perhaps it was his commanding voice or his striking looks that impressed the class, but whatever it was, they all nodded their assent; some of them even muttered an almost inaudible sorry.
“Good,” Roderick said, and as he turned away from the class, he gave Maeve a mischievous wink. “That should keep them quiet for a bit.”
Maeve wasn’t sure she agreed. In her experience it took more than an Auror to keep a class of students quiet, but even so, the rest of the lesson passed without further incident.
“I hear that you have met one of your protectors.” The voice belonged to Professor Dumbledore and stopped her in her tracks as she made her way back to her rooms after the last lesson of the day. The sixth-years had been studying sea creatures, but it had been rather a dull lesson. The promised Kraken had not turned up, although given the nervous disposition of several members of the class, that probably wasn’t a bad thing. She smiled at Dumbledore as he caught up with her.
“You mean Mr Rampton?”
“I do indeed,” Dumbledore confirmed with a grin. “Colourful, isn’t he?”
“Very, both in appearance and in background,” she said, wondering if the headmaster would fill her in a little more regarding the unorthodox Auror.
“Hidden depths, I believe, is the term,” Dumbledore responded. “He’s very good, one of the best in his year during his training, and despite his rather challenging background, I believe he is just the sort of man we need on our side.”
“Terrible story, though, his father and the house….”
“Ah, yes, his father always was unstable. The boy has done very well to remain relatively unaffected by it. You should introduce him to Harry. I am quite sure they would get along, and I think it would inspire Harry a little. He is still wishing to become an Auror, I take it?”
“Oh, definitely! His progress so far has been excellent, at least in my classes.” Maeve neglected to tell him that Harry and Roderick had already met. She didn’t want to destroy his faith in the competence of the newly-qualified Auror.
“Good,” he said slowly. “That’s what I needed to hear.” Dumbledore looked preoccupied as he stood there with his hands clasped in front of him.
“Are you all right, Headmaster?” she asked with concern.
“Oh yes, yes. It’s just that Harry is somewhat important to me, as you know.”
She nodded her understanding. Sometimes she believed the affection that Dumbledore showed towards Harry bordered on the paternal, but he was always careful to maintain a discreet distance between himself and the boy, which, in many ways, was a shame.
“Well, my dear Professor, I really shouldn’t keep you any longer. Be careful around the school. Those Aurors aren’t here without good reason.” And with this note of caution, he was off down the corridor at an unexpectedly rapid speed.
The castle was settling down around her, students and teachers alike doing schoolwork before making their way to the Great Hall for dinner. She had almost reached her rooms when she spotted a flash of scarlet in the alcove, and she smiled to herself, thankful there were no suits of armour anywhere in the vicinity. Unlocking her door, she knew immediately that someone had been in her rooms, and it wasn’t a welcome visitor. She was tempted to nip back out and call Roderick in, but something made her hesitate. The window was open slightly and the curtain flapped in the breeze, so she walked over to peer out. Maeve could see nothing apart from a few students congregating on the grass below her window, and yet there was something making her uneasy. Turning around, she could see a few things had been displaced on her desk. Closer inspection revealed lots of tiny pairs of muddy footprints on her chair and beneath the desk itself. She sighed with relief. So that was it; an animal had found its way in and made a bit of a mess before escaping through the open window. She cleaned up the footprints and was about to sit down when her sharp eyes spotted something else that had fallen between the bookcase and the wastebasket. Reaching down, she picked up the tiny object, looking at it in bewilderment. What on earth was a piece of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum doing in her room?
She slipped it into her pocket, turning over the discovery in her mind. First a book had gone missing, then animal prints appeared by her desk, and now there was a sweet that had come from an unidentified source. Clearly, despite the lock on her door, her room was not secure, and she would have to place an Unbreakable Charm on the door whenever she left her room in future. But the other question was who and why: who wanted access to her room and why did they want that book of her grandmother’s. Her mind raced as she tried to think of someone who even knew the book existed, let alone what it contained. She couldn’t think of anyone apart from Severus and Dumbledore, both of whom would not need to steal the book in order to access its contents. And then she remembered the incident in the grounds of the school when she had been telling Severus about the potion. There had been someone, or something, close by because they had heard a yelp, and Severus had seemed to think it was one of the students.
She bit her lip and wondered if she should tell Dumbledore about the missing book. Maeve sat at her desk mulling it over, while the sun silently slipped below the trees and evening overtook them. By the time Liam came to find her, having missed her at dinner, she had reached the decision that even if someone did have the book, they would find it impossible to make the potion. It would have taken the combined experience of Severus and herself to have produced anything resembling the formula, so there was no way a student could do the same.
The missed dinner the previous evening meant Maeve was more than ready for breakfast, so she found herself in the hall before anyone else. She was ravenous and immediately tapped her plate, asking for bacon and eggs with toast and orange juice. As she tucked in, the hall slowly filled up, and Professor Flitwick took the place beside her with a cheery ‘good morning’.
“We didn’t see you at dinner last night,” he commented pleasantly.
“I know, I must have had a Mind-Muddle charm on me,” she laughed. “I completely forgot to eat.”
At the mention of a charm, Flitwick’s face brightened.
“Now that is a good charm, but I find the Flip-Flop charm is a much more effective way of confusing people and those around them,” he said wisely.
“The Flip-Flop charm?” she queried, never having heard of it.
“Oh, yes, it is a very interesting little charm.” He took a swig of his coffee. His face became very expressive and he waved his hands in the air as he spoke. “Developed very recently, it causes the charmed person to change their mind every two minutes, so that a decision they make will be almost immediately be overturned in favour of the opposite course of action.”
He quickly scanned the hall and his eyes alighted upon Mr Filch, who was bossing around a bunch of first-years.
“Observe,” he said as he covertly removed his wand from his pocket and sent the charm winging its way across to the unwitting Filch.
“Now, now," Filch was saying. “I don’t want to see any of that food on the floor. D’you hear me? Anyone caught dropping food will be doing a detention in my room. Consider yourself warned.” His beady eyes never left the first-years, who cowered under his withering gaze.
Flitwick and Maeve watched eagerly as Filch continued to stand there with a broom at the ready and a vacant look on his normally animated face. He seemed to suddenly snap to attention and started brandishing the broom at the students in a very agitated manner.
“What are you doing!” he shrieked. “Why is that food on the table? On the floor… it should be on the floor!” He started bashing at their plates, knocking masses of scrambled eggs, tomatoes and toast to the floor, where they all gathered in a pool of spilt orange juice. The poor first-years struggled to get away from the tables and the madness that was Argus Filch. Maeve glanced nervously at Professor Flitwick, who seemed to be rather enjoying the spectacle. She coughed in his ear and he looked startled, before realising that perhaps an agitated caretaker smashing breakfast plates wasn’t quite ideal. He quickly cancelled the spell and looked triumphantly at Maeve, who was now more concerned with the mess surrounding the Hufflepuff table as several prefects gathered round trying to calm the terrorised students. Professor McGonagall immediately took charge and cleared up the mess with a snapped “Scourgify” and lots of tutting.
“Really, Mr Filch, what were you thinking?” Professor McGonagall asked the confused caretaker in a disapproving manner. “Please, if you can’t control yourself, then kindly leave the hall.”
“It’s rather good, isn’t it?” Flitwick said in a pleased voice.
“Yes,” Maeve replied doubtfully, although she could see its potential. Scanning the now calm hall she spotted Harry, who was deep in conversation with Hermione. They appeared to be looking at a piece of parchment and discussing its contents animatedly while Ron looked on, his plate still full of food. She assumed it was a particularly tricky piece of homework and turned her attention to Percy Weasley, who had just entered the hall and was speaking in low tones to Professor Dumbledore.
She managed to make out the words ‘Fudge’ and ‘Dark Mark’ before Dumbledore silenced Percy with a wave of his hand and got up from the table, leaving his breakfast half-eaten.