Chapter 13- The Net Tightens
The dreadful realisation that America had also gone tragically missing like his eccentric former mentor England spread like wildfire throughout the entire world within a few hours, and phone calls were soon made by very important people in very important places, all asking each other the same question. "Have you seen America?"
Sooner or later, the news reached Scotland, who was lounging in France's house. He was all smiles again, the stupid gender switching spell having worn off after a letter had been sent to him, the counter-curse (and a few other choice suggestions on which weapons to use on certain parts of his body) written in familiar handwriting. It was after he had finished performing the spell when he had picked up a call from Canada, who was going hysterical. The poor boy was almost in tears as he asked the older nation if he had any information concerning his twin brother, and please could he tell him if he did know anything concerning America's whereabouts.
"Look laddie," groaned Scotland as he shifted himself into a more comfortable position on France's sofa. "I know he's your twin brother and all, but yer twin doesn't want to be found at the moment. Give him a rest, will ya?"
Canada, being the intuitive person he was, instantly picked up on Scotland's edgy tone. "So you do know something?"
Scotland was silent for a second too long before he replied. "Maybe."
Canada pressed on. "Scotland please, this is no laughing matter. America's boss is going nuts over here and he thinks I know something about America because he's my brother and all so if you do know something..."
"Al right, calm down boy!" said Scotland, his patience frayed. "But promise me you won't tell anybody, and if someone does find out, don't invovle me in any of the mess that comes after it, okay?"
A heartbeat passed. "I promise." came the short reply.
"Right." Scotland sighed. This was it. He was going to be in deep trouble after this. "America begged me to send him to where his dear England was, so I sort of helped the young laddie get into Hogwarts." A pause. "He should be doing fine there, boy. No need to worry."
"You-" Canada's voice was hushed, but Scotland could hear the anger in it. "America's in Hogwarts?"
"Yeah, that's the general gist of it." Scotland mentally shrugged. "His well-being is in England's hands now."
Awkward silence. "I'll get back to you about this." seethed Canada from the other side of the line before it went dead.
"Boy sure has a temper when he wants to show it." muttered Scotland as he threw the mobile phone onto the table in front of him before leaning back on the sofa.
"Trouble?" asked France as he entered the living room with his own mobile phone dangling loosely from his right hand. "I just had Spain asking me if I had kidnapped our dear America and perhaps locked him up as a nasty sort of kink-"
"Whoa, stop right there. I don't want to hear any more " said Scotland as he grabbed two pillows and buried himself in it. "Shut up and get away if yer don't have anything important yo say, yer git."
"Touchy." muttered France, shaking his head sadly as he exited the room, but not before shouting back. "Don't ruin my sofa, you uncouth highlander!"
Scotland merely snorted and went back to burying himself in the pillows, metally reminding himself to pour his next cup of tea all over France's sofa.
"So, Keeper eh?" Harry said merrily as he sat down next to Ron at the table for breakfast. "Ready for your first practice?"
"Er, about that Harry..." Ron turned to face Harry. "Ehm, can you, give me some practice before training? So I won't, you know..."
"Yeah, no problem." said Harry.
Next to him, Hermione tutted. "Really now, the both of you. You're behind in your homework and we still have to look through that journal of Professor Kirkland's..."
Harry was saved at that moment by the delivery owl which landed right in front of them, the Daily Prophet clutched in its beak as it held out a leg. Hermione dropped a Knut into the leather pouch and the owl took off, dropping the newspaper and upsetting a bowl of cereal as it went.
"Anything?" asked Ron.
Hermione's expression was furious as she scanned the front page. "What... oh no, it's Sirius!"
"What?" Harry snatched the newspaper from her hands and read the headline. "The Ministry of Magic has received a tip-off that Sirius Black, a notorious blah blah blah... might be hiding himself in London!"
"But...how?" said Hermione, anguished.
"Lucius Malfoy." growled Harry. "I bet you anything he recognised Sirius when he came to the platform to send us off. Malfoy did mention something dodgy to me on the train..."
Hermione had snatched back the newspaper from Harry and was now scanning the entire newspaper like a hawk. "Sturgis Podmore..." she said out loud. "Hm, I wonder why he did that...he's part of the Order too..."
Ron and Harry paid her no further attention as they finished their breakfast, the two of them discussing Sirius' safety under their breathes. As they walked down the Quidditch field, broomsticks in hand, Harry glanced around cautiously. Despite the news about Sirius and all, he had also heard the grand tale which had spread like wildfire of how Professor Kirkland had apparently fought with two dozen Hipporgriffs and managed to get them back into their pen within the hour. And even though the poor professor had tried his best to clean up, evidence was still around. The occasional spot of blood showed up on the grounds, along with a few feathers and matted fur. With a shudder, Harry tried to ignore the mental image of Professor Kirkland battling with his own Hipporgriffs and getting gravely injured.
They practised for about an hour and by the time they went back to the dressing room, the entire team was there. Fred and George gave Harry the thumbs up as he came in and Harry smiled back a little weakly.
"So, Ron." said Angelina briskly as she entered the dressing room. "Right, it's your first practice so I want you to pay extra attention to how we play, and I want you to concentrate especially on our defensive pattern. Fred, if you could bring out the ball crate for us over there. Oh and there are a few people watching outside, but I want you guys to ignore them okay?"
Something in Angelina's disapproving tone told Harry exactly who was watching them and sure enough he wasn't mistaken. As soon as they exited the dressing room, a chorus of boos met his ears as he glanced up and saw almost the entire Slytherin Quidditch team sitting in the stands along with a few random other passer-bys. Their jeers echoed around the empty stadium, and Harry saw Ron gulp and clutch his broom even tighter.
"Hey Potter!" Malfoy's catcall could be heard clearly. "You okay there? Are you sure you don't want to book a hospital bed in advance before the match?"
"Ignore them." The entire Gryffindor team turned around in surprise and Harry's eyes almost bugged out of his sockets. Strolling towards them casually with a plate of pancakes in one hand was Alfred, a thick scarf wrapped around his neck. He was dressed in simple black robes but beneath it he was still wearing his shirt from the first time Harry had seen him, though it had been cleaned.
Alfred raised his eyebrows as he caught the entire team looking at him. "What? Never seen a dude eating pancakes before? Man, you've gotta try these. I never knew Britain had such great pancakes before, though Canada's ones are still better. I rate these a seven and a half out of ten. Canada's get a one million out of ten though."
"Excuse me, but who are you?" said Angelina politely.
"Hmeh?" said Alfred through a slice of pancake. "Oh, just your new Quidditch assistant, keeper of the grounds and part-time referee. Oh look! Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley! Hey there, guys! Didn't know you were on the Gryffindor team, honestly speaking!" He waved wildly at them using his other hand, which was sticky with syrup.
"Do you know him?" Fred asked Harry.
"Uh, sort of..." said Harry lamely as he tried to comprehend the American staring at him. "But I thought Professor Kirkland planned to send you back...?"
Alfred waved him off. "Oh, Arthur. He makes really grand plans but that doesn't mean they actually work." He looked at the team, who were still staring at him as though he'd grown a second head. "Well? Aren't you guys supposed to be practising Don't let me interrupt, geez! And you lot over there!" He was shouting at the Slytherins now. "I'm technically a teacher now so if I hear one more jeer out of you lot, I'm gonna deduct points from your house, get it?"
"Who are you?" shouted Malfoy down at Alfred, a scowl on his face.
"Alfred F. Jones, assistant Quidditch referee and caretaker of the grounds!" shouted back Alfred at Malfoy, much to the amusement of the Gryffindor team. "Now sit back and watch the Gryffindor team, kid! I've got a feeling they're really good!" He winked at Harry, and Harry couldn't help but grin. Alfred's enthusiasm was catchy, and sure enough, the Gryffindor team were looking perky, their eyes bright.
Practice was smooth even though it was Ron's first time and everytime the Slytherins started their catcalls, Alfred would shout them down, much to everyone else's bemusement.
As Harry dismounted from his broomstick and helped George wrestled the Bludgers back into the crate, Alfred flashed a thumbs up at Harry and went back to his pancakes as he walked back to the castle, whistling (if Harry wasn't mistaken) the American anthem.
"I've never seen him around before." said George in a low voice as he helped Harry carry the crate back into the dressing room. "Is he a Muggle?"
"Honestly speaking?" replied Harry, just as softly. "I have no idea. When we broke into Professor Kirkland's room, he came in via the fireplace. The professor did say that he was going to deal with him, but it looks like he's staying here for the time being..."
"Well, I like him." stated George. "He's really cool for a Yankee, anyway. And Malfoy's face was priceless when he shouted him down."
"I know." sniggered Harry as he remembered the stunned look on Malfoy, as if a tree trunk had ran into him hard. "I hope he referees all our matches. That'll be hilarious."
Ron was waiting for Harry as he walked up the stairs to the Great Hall. "Well that was a great practice!" he said as they walked back into the castle. "Alfred is a real joker. Who hired him? Umbridge is so going to throw a fit over this."
"Yeah, she can do it together with Fudge and Malfoy." said Harry. "You think he's like Professor Kirkland? Muggle, but knows magic?"
"Well we could always ask him right? He's that sort of guy who'd proudly tell us his whole life story if we asked him nicely." replied Ron as he swung his broom over his shoulder. "I'm starving now. Think we can grab some of those pancakes Alfred had from the kitchen?"
Harry grinned as he thought of the tantrum Hermione would throw if she knew what they were about to do. "Yeah, why not?"
England was busy preparing the Nifflers for his next class when a shadow fell over him. He just had time to spin around and dodge before America tried to hug him, but tripped over himself instead as England gracefully avoided the lunge.
"The hell was that for, Alfred?" demanded England as he straightened his tie. "I'm busy right now, go disturb somebody else!"
"I saw Harry and Ron down at the Quidditch pitch." crowed America. "You know, the one you said defeated Vol-"
"Keep it down!" hissed England, silencing the American. "I don't want Dolores finding another reason to put me on probation!"
America sighed in exasperation. "Geez man, your people are too sensitive. It's just a name what's wrong with Volde-"
England clapped a hand over America's mouth and was about to wrestle him to the ground when he heard footsteps behind him. Slowly he turned around, hand still over America's mouth only to find Filch the caretaker staring wide-eyed at him.
"Ah, Professor Kirkland..." Filch's words trailed off as he stared at the scene before him.
England blushed furiously and released America, who instantly staggered back and started massaging his mouth. "This isn't what you're thinking it is, Argus. Now, you were saying...?"
Filch cleared his throat as he tried to clear the sudden mental image of Professor Kirkland and the American kissing out of his mind. "Dolores has requested to see you in her office this very moment. Something about the certain employment of a new Quidditch assistant without her consultation...?" His eyes wandered over to America, who was still choking in the background as he tried to flatten his hair.
England groaned softly. He should've expected this. "Tell Dolores I'll be coming up immediately."
Filch sniffed as he acknowledged England. As he walked past America, he merely sneered and continued on his way to Umbridge's office.
America stared after Filch. "The hell was that for?"
"Go to my room, Alfred." said England tiredly. "Wait until I get back. I won't be long."
"But what-?" said America, confused. "What's going on, Arthur? Why-?"
"Please, Alfred." England's tone was firm. "I can handle this on my own. Do as I say, now."
Grumbling under his breathe, America strode away, his hands dug deep into his jeans. England released the breathe he never knew he was holding as soon as America was gone.
He was walking a thin line at Hogwarts. Any moment now, the Ministry could turn on him for declaring he was a Muggle with the ability to see magic and identify the wizarding world. Had it not been for Albus' protection, he would have been brought before the Ministry on the first day of school itself. If he had known better, declaring himself Muggle-born like Alfred would have brought less trouble. But it was too late. Best deal with the outcome from it all than mourn over the past.
Silently, he made his way to Umbridge's office. Students were still in their classrooms, and he could see Filius teaching as usual from his place on the stack of books as he passed the Charms classroom.
Umbridge looked up as soon as England had closed the door to her office. "Ah yes, Professor Kirkland." she said softly as she hastily pushed the documents she had been reading underneath a stack of parchment. England pretended to not notice her, his eyes fixed on the office's design and he couldn't help but retch internally.
Pink was apparently the office's theme, from the tablecloth on Umbridge's desk to the colour of the wallpaper. As he sitted himself down on the chair opposite Umbridge, England couldn't help but notice the lamp was pink as well.
"You must be wondering why I called you here, Arthur." began Umbridge as she leaned forward, closer to his face.
Yes, I know you want to whine about America, thought England as he continued staring blankly at Umbridge.
"You see, once I heard that Albus had recruited a wayward Muggle-born American who'd fallen down from your chimney as the new caretaker of the grounds and Quidditch referee, I thought I'd look him up in the Ministry's records under the foreign wizards and witches division. And I found this. Care to explain, Arthur?". She pushed a battered brown folder at him across the table. Frowning, England picked up the folder and flipped it open.
His eyes widened. A picture of America had been attached to the top of the folder, his face uncharacteristically serious. England instantly recognised when the picture had been taken, just by glancing at the uniform America was wearing.
It had been taken during the second World War.
"Well, Arthur?" demanded Umbridge. "What do you make of this?"
"I don't understand." said England sharply as he quickly glanced through the folder. It was a military record of America during the second World War. Reports from his superiors about his whereabouts, his involvement in the military campaign in Europe. Thankfully, America's now long-dead superiors had used his cover name and treated him as a normal soldier in their reports.
"I am not dumb, Arthur." grinded Umbridge through clenched teeth. "That is a Muggle military report from the second Muggle World War. Kindly explain to me how Alfred ended up on a Muggle military record in a war that happened almost sixty years ago."
"Dolores-" started England but Umbridge interrupted him.
"I have yet to inform Cornelius of this," she said, her eyes glittering darkly. "What do you think he will say once he reads this, I wonder?"
"Dolores," said England as civilly as he could, "You are dealing with matters beyond your depth. Why don't you just let this slide, hm?"
"You are hiding something, Arthur Kirkland. You and the American." Umbridge's tone had turned icy. "And I intend to find out what it is, with or without your help. If you will not aid me, I cannot guarantee your immunity if Cornelius decides to take action against you."
England stood up, his patience at an end. "Good luck to you then, Dolores. But I wouldn't push further into this matter if I were you, no matter how interested you may be." He opened the door, letting sunlight from the corridor stream into the office. "Good day, Professor."
As he exited, England didn't catch the slight smile on Umbridge face as she delicately lifted America's folder, stared at the picture and said softly to herself. "I am sure Lucius will be extremely interested in this matter too."
Harry and his friends were in a mixed mood the next morning. On one side, Harry was happy because he had finally had contact with Sirius in the Gryffindor fireplace last night. On the other side, Harry was internally fuming over the poisonous letter Percy had sent to Ron last night.
And today, they were mentally preparing themselves to comb the Daily Prophet in search of, to quote Percy from the letter, some "interesting news" about Professor Umbridge, but just as Hermione was unfolding the newspaper, an unholy screech sounded from outside of the hall. Most of the students currently eating in the hall automatically turned their heads towards the doors and they weren't disappointed. Alfred ran into the hall, his face white as he blabbered at the top of his voice. "IT'S A GHOST OH MY GOD IT'S A GHOST-!", running towards the staff table and towards Professor Kirkland, who was steadily ignoring the younger man's screeching by reading the newspaper, his thick eyebrows furrowed together.
Nearly Headless Nick floated in after Alfred, looking thoroughly offended as Professor McGonagoll attempted to calm down the hysterical American. "I was just merely saying good morning to the young gentleman here, Minerva, not threatening to behead him-"
"I understand." came the curt reply. "Alfred please, for Merlin's sake, stop snivelling. It's not a very pretty sight."
"It's a ghost, it's a ghost-!"
"Alfred." Professor McGonagoll tried again. "Please, Nick will never hurt you-"
"HOW CAN YOU STAY SO CA-?"
"Alfred." This time, the name didn't come from Professor McGonagoll, but from Professor Kirkland as he finally folded up his newspaper and set down his cup of tea, deciding that it was time for him to intervene before Alfred started flipping the staff table in panic. "I understand that you don't really, ehem, like ghosts, but this is getting childish. Now sit down, and eat your bloody breakfast. And you can stop looking at me like that, it doesn't work."
Glaring balefully at the older professor, Alfred sat down reluctantly, only to make a face as he looked at the food provided. "This sucks. Do you guys always eat toast with butter? How about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
Alfred's statement was met with blank stares from all the professors except for Arthur. No doubt they were all trying to process why the American wanted jelly on his bread.
"For the last time Alfred, it's not jelly, it's jam." came the biting reply from Arthur as he wiped his mouth and pushed his chair back. "Excuse me, I have a class to attend to. And behave, Alfred. The Slytherin team will be training on the pitch later, you'll have to be there to ensure the pitch is preserved in one piece by the time they're finished with it."
"I'm not a kid." came the sulky reply. "I know what to do." Another scared glance was shot at Nearly Headless Nick as Alfred inched slowly away from the ghost.
"I'm sure you do." was the sarcastic response as Professor Kirkland gathered up the newspaper and walked down the Hall, ignoring the whispers from the students as they discussed the latest commotion by the newest professor.
As the chatter continued on in in the Great Hall, Harry's attention turned back to Hermione but she wasn't reading the newspaper. She was still staring intently up at the staff table. Looking closer, Harry saw the affair that had caught her attention. Professor Umbridge had sidled into Professor Kirkland's empty chair next to Alfred, and was now speaking to him in a tone too low for Harry to hear. But judging by the way Alfred's face, which was already considerably white from his supernatural encounter earlier, paled even further, she wasn't giving him very good news.
"What do you think she's telling him?" muttered Ron to Harry.
"Maybe she's saying 'I found your baby pictures.'?" said Harry offhandedly.
Hermione gave out a cry of outrage as she finally glanced at the headline and flattened it out for Harry and Ron to see. Plastered onto the front page was a hideous picture of Umbridge grinning as she waved at the reader, the huge words leaping out of the page to Harry's eyes.
"Educational reforms? High Inquisitor?" whispered Ron in horror as he stared at the paper in confusion. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means from now on, Umbridge will be inspecting every single professor at Hogwarts and she will have the power to sack them if she isn't satisfied with their performance." seethed Hermione as she read the article.
"Fudge huh?" said Harry dully. "I'm not surprised.
A small grin was forming on Ron as he stared into thin air.
"What's so funny?" snapped Hermione.
"Wait until McGonagoll gets inspected." chortled Ron. "I want to be there when she brings Umbridge back to reality."
Even Harry had to admit privately to himself that he was looking forward to that as well.
"What's our first lesson?" said Ron cheerfully as he helped himself to more cereal.
"Care of Magical Creatures, in twenty minutes, so eat fast Ron." replied Hermione angrily as she shoved the newspaper into her robes. "I don't want to get Professor Kirkland into trouble if Umbridge's inspecting his class."
"Stawp beid sah pushhie Hermyown." said Ron in a garbled voice as he worked his way through his breakfast.
"Boys." muttered Hermione, her mood lightening as she flipped open her Potions textbook to study while she waited patiently for her two friends to be done with their breakfast.
America pushed around his bread for a good fifteen minutes before deciding that he wasn't hungry. Pushing back his chair, he walked out of the Great Hall, his head pounding dully, an impending sign of a headache.
He still remembered freshly what the vile woman had told him not just twenty minutes ago.
"I know who you are." she had smiled at him as she spoke, leaning close to him and whispering in his ear. "If you will confess to me, I will make the future investigation less stringent. It will help both of us, don't you think so, my dear Alfred?"
"You're lying." America had replied coldly, internally curling into a ball of horror. "You're trying to trick me into giving out details."
"Why, Alfred." Umbridge's eyes had widened innocently. "You haven't even been here a week. Why do you insist on making enemies out of friends? I am merely offering help to you, not issuing a death warning to you."
"Arthur warned me about this." he had replied, no mercy showing in his tone of voice. "Umbridge, I didn't come here to be gossiped about. I came here to help Arthur, and help him I will. I don't want to get embroiled in whatever political nonsense you currently have going on. I've had enough of it back home, and I'm tired of it. So please, don't disturb me any further."
Umbridge's eyes had hardened too. "So you won't cooperate with me, just like Arthur chose not to indulge any information to me. Very well. On your heads, so be it." The last words were practically a hiss as Umbridge stood up and stalked away from America with her nose high in the air.
America's hands shook as he walked down the corridors, replaying the same conversation over and over in his mind as he methodically analysed it with an almost soldier-like detachment. I have made an enemy at Hogwarts. It will be wise for me to be on my guard from today onwards. He squinted. Where's old Arthur anyway? Sulking in his room over the educational reforms?
Someone bumped into his shoulder hard and America swore as he regained his balance. The culprit was the Malfoy kid who smirked at America as he watched him lazily, like an eagle watching its prey.
"Sorry, Professor. Didn't see you there." drawled Malfoy as he hurried down the corridor with his two other friends. "Won't do it again."
America could only gape with his mouth open at the brazenness of Malfoy as he retreated into another corridor.
Stupid rich students.
He turned into another corridor, and then suddenly realised that it wasn't a corridor he was familiar with.
"Fu-" he nearly cursed but stopped himself just in time as a group of first years walked past him.
He took a right turn, jumped across a moving staircase and went through two doors pretending to be walls as he desperately tried to make his way into familiar territory. It wasn't until half an hour of hopeless wandering later that America had to conclude that he was now really, really lost.
America spun around on the spot desperately. "Uh... help?" he tried. "Anybody?"
Nobody answered him. America groaned and pushed his hair out of his eyes. "Fine then. Whatever. Have it your way!" He was shouting at the castle's walls now, despite knowing that it would do him little good. "Make me stay lost forever, you hateful little-"
America turned around again, his eyebrows arched. A door had seemingly appeared in the wall next to him. And he was a hundred percent sure that the door hadn't been there before when he had walked past that particular section of the wall. So what was it...?
Curious, America put his hand on the knob, England's earlier warning to him echoing in his head. "For crying out loud Alfred, don't touch anything you don't know and don't go into any rooms randomly. For all you know, there might be more ghosts in them!" But England's warning was the last thing on his mind at the moment as he turned the knob and entered the mystery room.
Unbeknownst to all the nations, information about them, stored deep in the vaults of the Muggle Ministry at Downing Street in Great Britain, had been raided. The vaults were discovered to have been raided the next morning when the morning guards came in. The night guards were all found, dead, in a cabinet in the photocopy room.
There had been no trace of any weapons used on them. As if they had all just decided to drop dead all of a sudden.
Alarms were raised when the documents were all accounted and checked, and those checking them found certain important documents missing. Even the Prime Minister was called in, his hair in a mess as he had rushed all the way down to his office to handle the situation. Nevertheless, he was utterly dismayed when he found out from the detectives about the certain documents missing. Oh he was going to be in so much trouble when those above him found out which documents in particular had been stolen.
Documents pertaining two men called Arthur Kirkland and Alfred F. Jones.
So there won't be any new updates this month as I'll be having exams. And honestly, I'm not very happy with how this chapter turned out, but it's necessary for the setting up of future chapters so meh. The story will be relatively fast paced from now on because I don't want to drag it out too much, and I'm trying to at least wrap it up in forty or forty five chapters as I've already started planning a new Hunger Games and Hetalia crossover fic, but that won't come out until much later hah... Anyway, thank you for your support and do drop a review if you have any questions or comments!
Special thank you to E.P. Wat.s for beta reading!
Edit: Urgh I apologise for the formatting of those two sentences floating in the middle. Fanfiction keeps changing them back to centre even after I've changed it a million times. I'm sorry!