A/N- Ah, long hiatus was long. Apologies to all those who waited so long and patiently! As usual, a big thank you to all those who reviewed and favourited this story and sat biting their nails in hopes of it being updated again! Your support really means a lot to me!
Hope you'll enjoy this chapter!
Edit: Whoop whoop uploaded this on a school computer. Hope they're no errors.
Chapter 10-The Calm Before The Storm
America wasn't expecting much when he touched down at the airport. Edinburgh was a beautiful city, especially when seen from the sky, but inwardly America was wondering why Scotland acted like a total grouch most of the time when his own country and people looked perfectly content.
After exiting the plane with his duffel bag in one hand and a bottle of Coke he had cajoled a bemused air stewardess to give him earlier in the other, America glanced around the arrival hall. He was wearing a white shirt and a jumper, his usual bomber jacket draped on his shoulders. The arrival hall was packed with tourists and Scottish returning from their various holidays.
The endless sound of chatter filled America's ears as he sitted himself on a nearby bench. He sighed deeply and took a sip from the bottle of Coke as he fruitlessly looked around for Scotland.
He sure is late, America thought as he took another sip. Maybe Scotland had pranked him by abandoning him in a foreign city? Was this his idea of a joke? Seconds later, America dismissed that thought just as fast as it had came to him. If there was one thing America was absolutely certain about England's loud and obnoxious older brother, it was that he always kept his promises, whether they be good or bad.
"Oy, out of the way people! I've got myself a Yank to pick up! 'Scuse me, fella!" A familiar rough voice reached America's sharp ears and he straightened his back, craning his neck to get a better view of the crowd milling around the arrival hall. Strange, America mused. That voice sounded like eeriely like Scotland's voice and that coarse manner of speaking was obviously his except for one tiny difference... since when had Scotland sounded like a girl?
A young woman pushed herself through the crowd, sidestepping a kissing couple. She had flaming red hair which reached her waist and the white dress she was wearing swished angrily around her heels as she strode towards America on high heels. A handbag swung precariously on her right hand. The woman was clearly furious as she pushed aside a drunk tourist who had wandered a little too close to her, her mouth sprouting some very colourful language that would've made even Romano's ears wilt.
The fiesty woman walked straight up to America, ignoring the way his eyes bulged out when he saw her. She scrunitised him critically for a moment before speaking,"What're yer waiting for Yank? The sky to fall down on ye? Come on! I promised Wales that I was only going to use his car for two hours so hurry up!"
"Er...uh, who're you?" stuttered poor America. Who was this woman? Scotland's evil twin sister?
The woman swore under her breath, mumbling a string of Scottish swear words that made America thankful that he didn't understand them at all. "I'm Scott Kirkland, ye stupid Yank! Arthur Kirkland's brother! Can't you recognise me?"
"But you're a woman!" protested America. "How was I supposed to recognise you?" He backed away from Scotland warily. "Wait, how do I know that you're not lying?"
Scotland snorted. "Well, if you insist that I prove myself, I know for a fact that Arthur sleeps with a plush toy unicorn and rabbit, keeps his spellbooks on top of the cupboard where he thinks no-one can reach them, regularly blows up the kitchen thrice a week, cries his eyes out whenever the first week of July rolls around, gets drunk with Francis every second Wednesday of the month, keeps a picture of you under his pillow and kisses it every night before he sleeps and..."
"Okay, okay! I get it!" said America hastily, cutting off Scotland. "So what happened to you?"
Scotland looked down at himself (herself?) and snorted. "You can go ask your ex-mentor at Hogwarts. He sent a gender switching curse to me via owl and now I'm stuck as a woman for the time being." One of Scotland's eyebrows was arched, daring America to laugh at him and suffer the harsh consequences.
And sure enough, America started laughing. He doubled over with laughter, eyes crinkling with mirth. "Oh...my god...Arthur did that to you? He...did that?" America continued laughing, ignoring the sinister black Russia-like aura emitting from Scotland. Without warning, Scotland raised his handbag over America's head as the younger man continued howling in laughter, attracting the attentiong of a few curious tourists walking past.
With a grunt, England shut the last Niffler into the wooden crate. Bending back slightly, he heard the unmistakable rustle of robes behind him. With a long suffering sigh, he turned around and saw Albus Dumbledore leaning on one of Hagrid's fences, an amused glint in his eyes as he eyed the rattling crate behind England. "Just had a lesson, Arthur?"
"Good afternoon, Albus," replied England as he gently placed the wooden cover on the crate. "What brings you down from your office today?"
"The weather is pleasant today," said Dumbledore amiably. "It is good to come out for fresh air once in a while, especially for an old creaky wizard like me cooped up in his office almost everyday."
"True," chuckled England, a wry smile on his face as he stretched to his full height. "But I'm willing to wager that that is not the only reason you came down here."
Dumbledore smiled. "Sharp as always, Arthur," he said, his blue eyes twinkling. "Indeed, it is difficult to hold a conversation in the castle without being overheard."
"Tell me about it," said England with a sigh as he breathed in the air and threw a glance at the castle. "Umbridge is really starting to get on my nerves, much as I hate to admit it."
Dumbledore looked amused. "I can see your ego is still intact, my friend. Some things really don't change, do they?"
England decided to let that comment pass. "Indeed, and that includes the Ministry of Magic. One of the main reasons I don't keep in contact with them, in fact. The last time I tried to contact them, the then-Minister tried to have me thrown into Azkaban for apparently being a raving lunatic." At that particular memory, England couldn't help but roll his eyes. "It took me precious hours to convince them that I wasn't lying."
"You can't really blame them, Arthur," said Dumbledore. "They're just not comfortable with having you around, that's all."
England smiled bitterly. "Then wizards and normal humans aren't much different, are they? After all, neither side like me to hang around them."
"But yet you agreed to come to Hogwarts to teach." countered Dumbledore evenly. "I think that still says something about you, hm?"
Eyes flickering up to the castle again, England replied. "It has been a while since I returned to Hogwarts. When you sent me the invitation, how could I resist?" he chuckled, voice soft. "Hogwarts holds a special place in my heart, Albus, and teaching here is one of the greatest jobs I have ever taken up in my life.
"I'm glad of that." answered Dumbledore softly. "Deep down in your heart, you still enjoy it don't you? Teaching the young ones, imparting new knowledge unto them, seeing them grow, it still excites you, doesn't it?"
"As it does with you," replied England. His eyes drifted beyond Dumbledore's face to the figure that was striding down the green lawn that led to Hagrid's hut. "She's here, Albus. Say no more."
Umbridge drew closer to them, her cold eyes contradicting the smile on her face. "Hello, Albus." She didn't look at England at all, choosing to ignore him as if he was invisible. "I was looking for you in your office just now and the statue guarding the entrance told me that you were down here having a chat with... Professor Kirkland."
"Yes I was," replied Dumbledore amiably. "We were just discussing the possibilities of having a couple more Hippogriffs and Nifflers for Arthur's lessons. Who knows, we might even apply for a permit and bring in a dragon too."
"That sounds pleasant," said Umbridge in a voice that was anything but, her eyes flicking over England and his blood stained shirt. England stared back at her, his face neutral. After a few second, Umbridge lowered her eyes and refocused on Dumbledore. "Oh yes, I was supposed to pass this on to you, Albus." Out of her coat came a letter which, England had to squint to see it properly, was stamped with the official seal of the Ministry of Magic.
Silently, Dumbledore took the letter and opened it with a flick of his wand. Minutes ticked by as he read the contents, his face never giving anything away. After a full five minutes he tucked the letter into the pocket of his robes and cleared his throat. "Tell Cornelius I'll be awaiting his arrival together with my staff."
Umbridge smiled. "I knew you would agree, Albus." She looked smugly at England. "How about you, Professor Kirkland?"
England couldn't help but feel slightly irritated. "What about what, Dolores?" he said as politely as he could.
Dumbledore answered England's question, "Cornelius Fudge has called for a staff meeting with him at one in the afternoon. All teachers are required to attend, no exceptions."
"What?" was England's instant reply. "Why a sudden staff meeting?"
"Oh, Cornelius is very concerned with how the school is being run and of course," Here, Umbridge's lips curled. "He's also worried about the standards of the teachers, you know. Some teachers in the school are just not suitable for their posts, Albus, and Cornelius wants to see them personally before coming to a decision."
"Dolores, it also says in the letter that Lucius Malfoy will be attending," cut in Dumbledore, "I have reasons to belive that Malfoy is not in the board of directors anymore. He has no right to attend the metting."
"Oh, Lucius will be attending on behalf of all the concerned parents in the school," answered Umbridge sweetly, "I hope you don't mind, Albus."
"No, of course not, Dolores." said Dumbledore. Behind Umbridge, England's eyes had narrowed to green slits as he stared in disbelief at her. Umbridge was, he decided, either very brave or extremely daft by pushing Dumbledore all over to accommodate her requests. If it wasn't for Fudge's backing, she would just be another person with an overly huge ego, he idly thought.
At that moment, Umbridge turned to England and looked at him coldly. "Do you have anything you might want to say, Arthur?"
England would've dearly loved to give Umbridge a piece of his mind at that moment but with a little difficulty, he managed to shut his mouth and merely replied, "No, Dolores," in a manner as polite as he could muster at the moment.
"Good then!" said Umbridge happily, adjusting her pink cardigan. "I'll be expecting the both of you in the staffroom then. Good day, Albus." Here, she turned her nose at England. "And I would change into proper attire if I were you, Professor Kirkland." With that snide remark, she trotted back to to the castle, a garish display of pink marring an otherwise perfect scenery.
England groaned as he looked down at the blood stains on his shirt. "She's right," he mumbled. "I better get myself changed if I want to make a good impression on the Minister of Magic."
Dumbledore nodded. "I'll be seeing you then, Arthur. Take care, and do be careful." With a sweep of his midnight-blue robes, Dumbledore walked back to the castle, taking the exact same path Umbridge has taken not long ago.
England leaned a little longer on the fence, his eyes fixated on Dumbledore's retreating figure. A slight wind blew in from the general direction of the lake, ruffling up his already unruly hair. It wasn't until a few minutes had passed did he finally start the long walk back to the castle, the wind still blowing behind him, albeit a little more mournfully now.
Harry and Ron weren't exactly in the greatest of moods as they stamped out of Snape's dungeon into the Great Hall for lunch. Even Hermione's face was sour.
The reasons were partly because Snape had been his usual self, which mean snarky remarks thrown at Harry every five minutes and the constant deduction of house points from Gryffindor, chiefly from Ron and Harry for trivial matters such as not being fast enough (by Snape's standard) in measuring out the proper weight of powdered Mandrake roots.
But the main reason for their black moods was Draco Malfoy.
Throughout the entire lesson, Malfoy had been speaking loudly with his bunch of friends, smiling nastily as he stirred the bubbling solution in his cauldron. "Yeah, my father just sent me a letter by owl today. He's coming with the Minister of Magic himself to inspect that Professor Kirkland chap. Seems like old Fudge isn't very happy about Dumbledore hiring a filthy Muggle to teach here. Mind you, at least that hairy oaf Hagrid was still half wizard. Bet you ten Galleons that Kirkland will get the sack after Fudge and my father are done with him."
At that point, Harry had tried to tune out everything Malfoy was saying and concentrate on cutting up his ingredients instead. But Ron had risen to the bait and said out loud to Malfoy across the room, "It was your own bloody fault for not listening to the professor during our lesson, Malfoy."
"Really now, Weasley," Malfoy had replied, his trademark ugly sneer on his thin, pointed face. "At least I wasn't the one who lost the two Nifflers he was supposed to be in charge of for the week."
"Professor Kirkland found them!" Ron had retorted, the tip of his ears starting to turn red.
"Yes, after the whole castle heard Professor Umbridge scream bloody blue murder from her office." Malfoy smirked as the Slytherin side of the class erupted into laughter.
Ron turned his back on Malfoy, his hands trembling in embarrassment as he shakily cut up his Mandrake roots and silently mouthing curses at Malfoy as he did so. Fortunately for Malfoy (or Ron himself), his wand was a good two metres away, stashed away safely in his school bag.
Malfoy continued chatting with his friends. "As I was saying before Weasley interrupted us, Father thinks that there's something off about Kirkland, something about his real age or something. Father reckons that he faked his age because Fudge found some really old office documents dated almost thirty-five years back about Kirkland in the archives. But you've all seen him, he can't possibly be a day over twenty-two or three and that's why Father's interested in him..."
"Maybe he's a Squib in disguise!" Pansy Parkinson had laughed nastily. "That'll explain his eyebrows! Unfortunate side effect of whatever aging spell he tried to use."
"He's a Muggle, Pansy," Hermione had cut in, "he can't use magic."
"Or so he says," Parkinson shot back, "Then explain to me how he can see magical creatures, or even Hogwarts for that matter. You're the know-it-all, you should know that Hogwarts is invisible to the Muggle eye!"
Before Hermione could open her mouth to answer, a familiar voice had interrupted the conversation. "Chatting in class now, Granger?"
Harry had looked up to from his intense chopping of roots only to find Snape hovering over the trio's table, a smirk on his face as he said, "Ten points from Gryffindor. Less chitchat, more work." And with that, Snape had swept away, ignoring the death glares being aimed at him from behind his back.
The rest of the Potions class was spent in hostile silence.
And now as Harry glumly tipped some pork chops onto his golden plate in the Great Hall, he briefly wondered if Malfoy was telling the truth about Professor Kirkland being much older than he claimed to be. But still, a Squib? In Harry's own opinion, Professor Kirkland being a Squib was as likely as Sirius being a real Death Eater.
Briefly, Harry glanced up the staff table. Even though he was seated far away from the staff table, he could almost literally see the tension emitting from the table. Professor McGonagoll's mouth was turned down in one of her infamous frowns and next to her, Professor Sprout was moodily picking at her potatoes, her mind a thousand miles away. And was it Harry's own imagination, or was Snape scowling more than usual today?
It was different story altogether at the other side of the staff table. Umbridge had a brilliant smile on her face as she looked up and down the Great Hall, scanning students at random. As Umbridge turned her toady face in his direction, Harry hurriedly looked down at his plate, determined not to make eye contact with her. His right hand throbbed slightly, the faint words etched into it "I must not tell lies." still visible from last night's round of detention.
"Harry? Are you all right?" asked Hermione concernedly, "You're not eating at all."
Harry looked up from his plate at Hermione. His eyes wandered again to the staff table. "Professor Kirkland's not in again," he said quietly.
"Oh, that bloke rarely eats," said Ron through a mouthful of peas, "I mean, I've only seen him a couple of times during meals. Maybe he eats his meals outside in Hagrid's cabin."
Harry shrugged in response, returning his attention to his now cold lunch.
"Something on your mind, Harry?" As though determined to prevent him from eating his meal, a hand clapped down on Harry's shoulder. Twisting his body around, Harry saw Fred Weasley (or was it George?) grinning down at him. "We overheard you mention Professor Kirkland's name."
"We?" enquired Hermione, "Where's George?"
"Here," said George breezily as he walked up to his twin's side from wherever he had been, "Sorry for the delay. Nifflers are a little hard to smuggle in sometimes."
"You!" spluttered Ron, "I knew it! You took those two Nifflers Professor Kirkland asked me to take care of for the week and decided to toss them into Umbridge's office, didn't you?"
George looked down seriously on his little brother, "Well, you should've been more careful with the Nifflers if you didn't want people using them for their own interests." Ignoring Ron's incomprehensible swearing, he turned to Harry, who merely looked bemused. "So Harry, you want to hear our idea?"
"Does it has something to do with Professor Kirkland?" said Hermione disapprovingly from the side. "Are you two planning something?"
Harry's curiousity was perked now. "What idea?"
Two identically devious smiles made their way onto the twins' faces.
Fred leaned in closer, as if he was sharing a closely guarded secret. "You know that Professor Kirkland says that he's a Muggle..."
"...but he can see magic, and according to reliable sources, works in the Muggle government as a top government official and advisor to the Muggle Prime Minister bloke..." continued George, his grin widening.
Hermione looked affronted. "How did you know all that?" asked she, not quite sure how to react.
The twins continued. "So we were both thinking, how could someone as young as he is hold a post so high in the Muggle government and is also apparently qualified to teach as a professor at the same time?"
"Fred and me then cracked our heads over it last night...quite literally."
"And came to the conclusion that our dear Professor Kirkland is hiding something..."
"Hey, even I could tell you that much!" said Ron loudly, waving his knife dangerously over his own head.
"Patience, Ron," said Fred, the same devious smile still on his face. "Now, as we were saying before someone interrupted us..."
"...our dear professor is clearly keeping mum about something really big..."
"...and we fully intend to find out what it is." finished Fred truimphantly. He looked at Hermione, who was clearly torn between blatant disapproval and a desire to know more. "What say you, Hermione? You willing to help us out now?"
"Why are you even bothering about Professor Kirkland?" argued Hermione feebly, "He doesn't even teach you!"
"It never pays to ask too many questions, Hermione." George winked at her, "Let's just say, our reputation as masters of trickery and deception are on the line..."
"Along with a few bags of Galleons." Fred chipped in.
Hermione sighed in defeat. Behind her, Ron and Harry shared a knowing grin. "Fine. What do you need?"
"You do know that Professor Kirkland is keeping a group of Hiporgriffs in a pen near the edge of the Forbidden Forest, right?" Fred's voice had turned all buisness-like. "At exactly half past one today, that is..." he checked the watch on his wrist, "About twenty minutes from now, all the Hippogriffs will be 'mysteriously' released into the school grounds..."
"And Professor Kirkland, as the teacher for Care of Magical Creatures, will have no choice but to chase and recapture the runaway Hippogriffs, which will give the three of you exactly fifteen minutes to pop into his private quarters and find out as much as you want to know about him," continued George calmly, as if they were merely discussing homework instead of a break-out. "Our sources within the school have also told us of the staff meeting that will be taking place in about five minutes, so we will all be having a free study period. All you three have to do is sneak out and proceed to Professor Kirkland's quarters."
"A staff meeting?" echoed Harry. "Won't Professor Kirkland be interrupted if he has to go out halfway and run circles around the school to hunt down Hippogriffs?"
Fred's eyebrows arched. "Your point, Harry?"
"Anyway, this'll be a perfect opportunity for Professor Kirkland to show Fudge and that Umbridge woman that he's perfectly capable of taking on the Care of Magical Creatures post," said George.
"So Malfoy wasn't lying after all when he said Fudge was coming to school together with his father," said Harry bitterly.
Fred and George looked at Harry. "Lucius Malfoy is coming to the school?"
"Yeah, Malfoy was bragging about it in Potions just now," answered Ron angrily. "Showing off for his friends as usual."
George looked at Fred. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Fred?"
"Definitely," George grinned back at his twin. He then turned back to the trio. "Well, time's a-ticking away. Remember what we told you and oh, take this." Gingerly, George extracted a cloth-wrapped bundle from his pockets and handed it over to Harry. Just from feeling it, Harry knew what it contained and a ghost of a smile flittered onto his face.
"Thanks," said Harry genuinely. Ron just stared at him in bewilderement.
"No problem," George slapped Harry heartily on the back. "Well, have to be off now. Got to prepare a special welcome for Lucius Malfoy."
"A very special welcome." Fred elaborated.
To everyone's surprise, Hermione just snorted. "Oh, just get on with it already." she retorted, the smile on her face saying otherwise. "Just don't let Malfoy catch you."
"Yes, Mum," chorused the twins deliberately as they walked out of the way. On their way out, Fred shouted at them one last time. "Oh and tell us about whatever you'll find in Kirkland's room!"
Harry just waved at them, a growing sense of discomfort in his head. Professor Kirkland had been really kind to him so far and in Harry's mind, breaking into the young professor's room was just as bad as betraying the professor's trust in him. But he didn't mention it to his friends as he turned around to face them and said bravely, "So, should we get started?"
A/N- So in order to make up for my long hiatus (or any hiatuses after today), have a little preview of the next chapter:
Harry pulled the drawer open, his head raging full of curiousity. What was it that the professor had kept locked away in this drawer even though there was only a very tiny possibility of someone manging to get past his Muggle padlocked door? Surely it must be something of great importance to him.
Ah yes, he could see it now... the light from the harsh afternoon sun shining in through the window illuminating the contents in the previously locked drawer perfectly.
"Hermione," Harry called out, "I think we've found it. The professor's journal."