(Author's notes: I am aware I am late in updating. I know those authors who leave good stories hanging, and though the quality of my work is arguable, I don't want to be like them.
This chapter reflects my university's midterms, basically.
Here's one to hoping. Enjoy and leave long reviews if you can!)
The castle grounds were gleaming in the sunlight as though freshly painted; the cloudless sky smiled at itself in the smoothly sparkling lake, the satin-green lawns rippled occasionally in the gentle breeze: June had arrived, but to the fifth years this meant only one thing: Their O.W.L.s was upon them, at last.
"…bloody hell…one moment we're all dashed up in an'uther shadowy ruckus, next, REALITY CRASHES DO'OWN!"
"Lower your voice, Merida, I think we've all got the same thought in our heads…" Hiccup mumbled as they went through the halls, clutching their belongings.
"It's going to be alright, I think," Rapunzel said cheerily, "We've been studying the whole terms, anyways."
"Pretzel," Jack said firmly with an almost stern look, "You're the only one who actually studies in Hogwarts."
"Hey!" Hiccup snapped at him as they fought through the traffic in the sunlit halls.
"Oh, no, it's not an insult," Jack smirked, holding his hands up innocently, "You remember everything you read."
"Lucky yeh don' read muggle fiction…" Merida snorted, "Oh, the darned things they come up with."
"I read muggle fiction," Rapunzel cut in, "I think they're quite good!"
"Yeah?" she huffed, "I picked up one with this girl who every'un falls in love with. Bloody pulp, if yeh ask me,"
"They're not all bad," Jack defended, slinging his staff over his shoulder as a flock of first year girls ran past him on the way to Charms, "Put muggle and wizard literature side by side, they're as grand and ridiculous..."
"Like yeh do a lot of readin'," Merida taunted, running a hand through her bushy hair.
"I read quite a lot, actually," Jack shrugged, "Yet people always seem surprised…"
"Let's hope you fondness of reading is any help, then," Hiccup sighed, tapping his forehead with a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, "Because with O.W.L.s coming up with us this fast, we're going to need a lot of reading."
"At least we have the Championship waiting after exams," Rapunzel pointed out, trying to cheer them up.
Merida turned to her in disappointment, "Yeh jus' had ter remind me, didn' yeh?"
"Not like you need a lot of practice, anyway," Jack said, "You're as good at flying as Professor ManSnoozie is at sleeping, and that's saying a lot."
"But not as a Beater, apparently."
Merida didn't need reminding of her new spot in the team, standing in for Hugo while Hiccup took over his old spot as Keeper. With the recent panic of shadows that sent everyone in the castle practicing their Patronuses, the fifth years nearly forgot their impending Ordinary Wizarding Level Examinations.
Now everything was crammed in the bottom end of one short week.
The throngs of students clogged the corridors, trapping their din in the air overhead.
"What's going on?" Rapunzel wondered, skirting about the people to see.
They were at a complete halt, unable to move any further.
"But it's finals week!"
"This is bloody unconstitutional!"
"This is murder, this is!"
"Hey, Sophie," Jack said, catching the arm of the Hufflepuff first year as she made her way from the middle of the crowd, "What's going on in there, kid?"
They turned to her in wonder as shouts and grumbles carried on up ahead, most especially from the seventh years yelling about what they're going to do for their N.E.W.T. exams.
"The closed the library," Sophie replied with a shrug.
Hiccup's brows furrowed, glancing to the door unseen a few yards away.
"Closed?" Merida gaped, turning to Sophie, "Why's it closed?"
"They said Madame Goose went away for a bit…"
Rapunzel wove her way through the crowd, tossing her braid over her shoulder as not to get snagged in the mob. Professor Longbottom was at the front of the large double doors, now locked, trying to explain to students that they're going to have to study whatever books they borrowed out.
She stood on her tiptoes, seeing over the heads of a couple of Ravenclaw boys to see a sign hanging on the oar doors:
"Librarian Out. Closed until further notice."
"Well that's EXTREMELY lucky," Merida groaned, turning to the lads, "C'mon, boys, let's see what books we have in the common room…"
Albus Severus Potter took his studies seriously. Well, as seriously as his father had.
At the moment he was more preoccupied by the same thoughts that filled his head the day before when anyone barely remembered the finals was that week. Although rose poked him into skimming over his notes, he was all too busy watching everything with the scrutiny of a magizoologist examining the properties of mimbulus mimbletonia pus.
He was convinced that those damned shadows were still looming about the place, looking for a chance to leap up at people as they had before. His theories had him more concerned.
Not to mention that Rapunzel was nearly slashed by one in the Gryffindor common room.
Oh, the horror of seeing the aftershock of shadow attacks.
He still could see Hugo in his mind's eye.
One note that made him the least bit cheery that day was a letter from his Aunt Hermione telling of Hugo's near recovery. Uncle Ron was right. Weasleys are a tough lot.
"Al! Did you hear me?" Lily snapped at him.
"Eh?" he looked over his bowl of beans and to her.
He had lost himself in mulling over again, in the middle of the Great Hall, no less. No, he had to stay focused…maybe he should go down to the kitchens for a dollop of coffee or some dry tea.
"I said do you have a copy of One Thousand Magical Herb and Fungi?"
"Oh, that book, er…I think so, why?"
Lily pouted, grabbing a buttered toast, "Library's shut."
"Huh, Madame Goose isn't back yet? Odd…" he said, taking a spoonful, "I'll go through my trunk. How's your O.W.L. studying going?"
"Awful. Your N.E.W.T.s?"
They looked up to see Rose with a huge dusty volume of Carpe Retractum spellbook under one arm and a beater's club in her other hand.
"Books are all the fashion today," Al chuckled, "What's got your wand in a knot, Rosie?"
"People have been cramming all day and here I have you snooping about the corridors. Again."
"Well, imminent danger is always top priority," he replied with a grin.
"I don't think any shadows are going to attack in the middle of examinations, Albus."
"So everyone thinks…"
"Oh, wait 'til mum hears," Lily taunted.
"Don't you dare, Lily Luna," Al told her, pointing an accusing fork at his sister.
"Al," Rose snapped, tapping the table with her club, sending the plates rattling, "We have N.E.W.T.s and the Championship afterwards all in a row, the least we can do is win one of them."
"You know what?" he said, getting up and taking the spellbook from her, setting it on the table, "You ladies study, I'll go off and…get some chocolate frogs."
With that, he was off, whisking his bag away.
"Potter! You're setting a very bad example for your sister!" Rose shouted after him, to which he gave a small wave of the hand.
Sure he'd study, so long as he was sure everyone was safe for the moment.
His brother James sure didn't revive the Dumbledore's Army for no reason, though he was completely content in swiping their father's Marauder's Map off without one. No, the DA was there to keep students safe.
And although the no original member of Dumbledore's Army (Professor Neville included) actually knew that their old organisation was still working, it held a good stand and Albus was not willing to let it down.
Earlier that day, he's been informed of some disturbances in one of the classroom in the ground floor. Something that might be worth checking out since he was assured that it was not one of Peeves the Poltergeists' doing.
"Classroom eleven…" he muttered to himself, trying to find the room.
When he did so, Albus entered carefully, wand out and ready, just in case.
It was an old Divination classroom, used more than twenty years ago by, according to Professor Finnigan, a centaur. There must have been some sort of faculty shortage to have a centaur teach, but no more was asked of the matter.
Befittingly, the room was not at all like any in the castle.
The stone floor had a thick, healthy layer of moss and trees entirely jutted out from under the flagstone, casting the windows with branches and leaves that made the light in the room greenish as if in the Slytherin common room.
It was still used sometimes by students as a hangout or study area with the calm air reminiscent of the not-so-calm Forbidden Forest (in order to accommodate the centaur professor, as they say). Occasionally, Professor Longbottom brought his class there instead in the instances of one of his plants making the greenhouses a hazard area (like a loose Devil's Snare, for one).
"Alright, anyone in here?" Al called out in case any ghost was looming about.
He didn't want the Bloody Baron or the Grey Lady being upset with him, if anything.
With the lack of response, he proceeded to go about the disused woody classroom, checking behind each tree, boulder or bush growing in there, wand up front.
There seemed to be nothing there, at all.
Rose was right; he should just study for N.E.W.T.s…
The door slammed shut and he held up his wand as he was plunged into the green light of the room, now seeming sinister as he felt the shadows of the trees in the room dance in the corner of his eyes.
Their teachers were no longer setting them homework; lessons were devoted to reviewing those topics their teachers thought most likely to come up in the exams. The purposeful, feverish atmosphere drove nearly everything but the O.W.L.s in Hiccup's mind, though he did wonder occasionally whether he should leave more food for Toothless in his next visit.
Rapunzel was also much preoccupied, though she did occasionally badger anyone whom she knew had a copy of a certain book she lacked. The library was still yet to be opened after a few days.
She was not the only person acting oddly as the O.W.L.s drew steadily nearer. Merida had developed an irritating habit of interrogating people about their study habits.
"How many hours d'you think you're goin' in a day?" she demanded of Hiccup and Jack as the queued outside Herbology, a manic gleam in her eyes.
"I dunno," Hiccup shrugged, "A few…"
"Mo'ore or less than eight?"
"Less, I s'pose," Hiccup said, looking slightly alarmed, "Merida, are you…?"
"I'm doing eight or nine," said Merida, head held high, "Eight or nine. I'm getting' in an hour before breakfast everyday. Eight's me average. Ah can do ten on a good weekend day. I did nine and a half on Monday. Not so good on Tuesday, only seven and a quarter. tHen on Wednesday…"
"Are those reading hours or including your Quidditch practice?" Jack suddenly butting in.
Merida blinked, turning away as if she'd been caught stealing butterbeer.
They received their examination schedules and details of the procedure for O.W.L.s during their next Transfiguration lesson.
"As you can see," Professor Toothiana told the class while they copied down the dates and times of their exams from the blackboard, "your O.W.L.s are spread over two successive weeks. You will sit the theory exams in the mornings and the practice in the afternoons. Your practical Astronomy examination will, of course, take place at night…"
"Hey, Hiccup…?" Lily whispered.
"Remind me to get more coffee…everyone'll need it."
"Now I must warn you that the most stringent Anti-Cheating Charms have been applied to your examination papers. Auto-answer quills are banned from the examination hall, as are Remembralls, Detachable Cribbing Cuffs, and Self-Correcting Ink…"
She went one for a few more moments calling out every known magical cheating contraption and thingamabob there was. Jack grinned from his table as he rested his cheek on his propped up arm, "I'd like to try some of those…" he chuckled to himself.
Rapunzel looked to him troubled, wondering if he would even dare try.
Every year, I'm afraid to say, seems to harbour at least one student who thinks that he or she can get around the Wizarding Examinations Authority's rules. I can only hope that it is nobody in Gryffindor."
She flicked her wand, her iridescent wings glimmering lightly as they fluttered behind her, "However, that is no reason not to do your very best. You have your own futures to think about."
"Please, Professor," Lily said, her hand in the air, "How're we supposed to study for all this when we don't even have the library anymore?"
"Oh, no need to worry, dear. The library will be open tomorrow." Toothiana said with a smile, causing a chorus of relieved sighs in the classroom.
"…Magical Water Plants in the Highland Lochs?" Merida read with great doubt as she stared down at the book.
"That's all I got, sorry."
"Yeh don' have a copy of the standard textbook?" Merida looked up at Hiccup as he sat down beside Rapunzel, who was nose-down on her book.
The Gryffindor common room was quieter that I had been before, though occasional outbursts among seventh years studying in groups would drown the place ("I told you before, Hipogriffs are classified as winged horses!" "HOW CAN THEY BE WINGED HORSES WHEN ONLY THEIR REAR END IS EQUINE!?")
"I had one, but someone borrowed it…" Hiccup mumbled, opening his journal.
They all turned to see Jack climb in through the portrait hole, hands in his pockets as if he had just been out for a walk in the afternoon. The lights in the common room were coming to life, casting the tower in the homely golden glow.
"What'd I do?" he asked, all-too used to such moments, perhaps.
"My Herbology book," Hiccup replied with a small yawn, turning back to his work.
"Oh, I'll look for it…it's around here somewhere, I suppose," Jack grinned, plopping down beside them by the fireplace.
"Ser'yesly, wha' am I goin' ter do with this?" Merida huffed, lifting the copy of Magical Water Plants in the Highland Lochs, "Yeh think I'd kno'ow these things first hand, eh?"
"Just because you're Scot doesn't mean you know all things there," Jack retorted.
"Ah kno'ow water plants in highland lochs," she pointed out, propping the book open with a flourish, "Ah know the Nessie ain't a water dragon."
Hiccup looked at her with a rather terrified look, "The Loch Ness Monster isn't…?"
Jack chuckled, sitting back while Rapunzel looked up from her book, interest piqued.
"It's not even a bloody sea serp'ant," Merida chortled, "That Nessie is a darned kelpie."
"A kelpie?" Rapunzel tilted her head in interest, Pascal as wide-eyed on her shoulder.
"Yeah, yeh kno'ow. Shape-shifter," Merida said nonchalantly, "Likes ter show off to Muggles with cameras, pretending to be a great old snake or a flippered dragon!"
"Thank you for hacking out something from my bucket list…" Hiccup said, tone dripping with sarcasm as he receded back to his notes, "Anyways, where've you been, Frost?"
"Out for a walk," he shrugged, "Just enjoying the look on everyone's faces…"
"You're taking the O.W.L.s, too, aren't you?" Rapunzel asked, tucking a stray locks behind her ear, a pencil propped between her fingers.
"Oh, yeah, sure…" Jack said with a huff, "Auror-level Guardian taking O.W.L.s…"
"Lucky yeh, then," said Merida, "Not having to pass tests an' all these darned exams."
Jack shrugged, "Not really."
"How long have you been a Guardian, anyways?" Hiccup asked, "We've never really asked."
"Longer than I've counted," Jack said, propping his staff at his side, "Technically, I'm an Auror."
"Get outta here!" Rapunzel beamed in disbelief.
"Yeah. Kingsley Shacklebolt offered everyone who was at the Battle of Hogwarts an Auror's position."
"The Minister of Magic?" Merida gaped, "Ye've got ter be joking."
"Hang on!" Hiccup said, looking to him, "If you were at the Battle of Hogwarts, you have to be at least as old as our parents!"
Jack chuckled in amusement, staring off into the fire dancing in the fireplace.
The other three stared at him in disbelief.
"Ye're bloody old…" Merida drawled.
"Yes, well, I don't really change," he shrugged, "People I knew grew up, act different, but somehow, I practically stay the same. Especially the way I think."
"Explains your immaturity," Hiccup snorted.
"Well, I don't have to pass my O.W.L.s, so I have that going for me," Jack retorted.
"So, that's it, you're immortal?"
"No, not really," Jack replied casually, "Nobody lasts forever. We live we die. That's all of it."
"What about the other Guardians?" Merida wondered, thinking about Professor Bunnymund, Toothiana and the others Jack called similar to him.
Jack just turned to her with a knowing smile, "They have their own stories."
"You're an Auror," Rapunzel said quietly, closing her book, "A member of a secret Order…you practically know every person of note…so, what are you still doing at school?"
"I told you before," Jack said, tapping the surface of the coffee table in front of them, casting a blanket of frost on it, "Until I get to the bottom of these happenings at Hogwarts, you're stuck with me, and I'm stuck with you guys."
Al bounded in, looking harassed, with his unkempt hair in unbelievable disarray, Gryffindor tie hanging loosely about his neck. A few snickers from upperclassmen lying about at the side of the rooms were omitted.
"Yeah…?" Jack chuckled, "You look terrible, Potter."
"Why'd you run!?" Al said with a smile of disbelief, "That was amazing!"
They looked to Jack puzzledly. Oddly enough, he was as befuddled as anyone.
"Er…" Jack's brows furrowed, not really sure what to say.
"Well, doesn't matter," Albus sighed in relief and clapped the younger lad on the shoulder, "Thanks for popping out to cover my back, mate. That shadow woulda' gutted me if you weren't there."
Jack blinked, "Al, I don't-"
"Say no more!" the prefect ruffled Jack's snowy hair, "I'll treat you to Honeydukes after exams, a'right?"
Albus moved off, dusting his robes as he ran up the spiral staircase to the boy's dormitories, looking happy as a clam.
"What was he talking about?" said Hiccup.
"'Out for a walk' he said…" Merida grinned, "What's with yer constant heroics, Frost? I know you're getting to the bottom o' this, but actin' like a darned superhero!?"
Merida cackled, elbowing him lightly.
"Seriously, guys…" said Jack, looking stern as he turned to them, "I was just grabbing a doughnut from the Great Hall."
"What was Al going on about, then?" Rapunzel raised a brow, "He said you saved him."
"I haven't even seen him," Jack told them, "It must be that thing again…"
"The doppleganger?" Rapunzel's eyes widened.
"Freaky," Hiccup grimaced, "Jack, I know we live in a school with ghosts and all but a doppleganger? That's really weird..."
"Alright, whoever this guy is, he needs to stop."
"Apologies, dear Katherine…"
Perhaps he meant it. The attack had been random, but at least she was out of the way. Madame Goose was starting to suspect him, after all.
But given his way, it should have been at least of the others.
"No matter…" Pitch sighed comfortably as he looked down on the Entrance Courtyard from the Clocktower, the large cogs and hands of the time-keep moving smoothly. People from the Ministry were arriving for the O.W.L.s.
People from the Wizarding Examination Authority.
The sudden hubbub of O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s at least made the shadows less noticeable. Everyone moved about the halls with their heads in a flurry of thoughts to remember and recall that they barely watch the corners of the corridors anymore.
"The plans continue." he said, arms folded behind his back regally, "Go tell the others."
With that, the shadows hanging about the vaults and bars of the clock-tower slinked away into the night.
"Thank goodness! I can finally get an Arithmancy book!" Rapunzel chittered on as they made their way to the library.
"We don't have Arithmancy…" Merida looked to her oddly.
"I know…but I've finished my books and I promised Roxanne I'd help her."
"Well, you've got your work cut out for you," Hiccup chuckled, heaving his book bag, "You're already tutoring a N.E.W.T. student."
"Let's just get books and get back to the Great Hall," Jack told them as they made their way to the library. The corridors leading to eat were especially packed, as well. Perhaps everyone heard of the re-opening.
People worked as they always did, books putting themselves back in their proper places, moving in the air as if they were being moved by unseen ghosts.
A couple of paper birds flew over students' heads as they poured into the books who had never had so much attention.
Rapunzel and Merida ran off towards the librarian's desk to check out their reserved books weeks before while Hiccup returned his on the shelves. Jack leaned back on a bookshelf, staring at the ancient tomes and volumes in line.
"Some of these books really suit you…" he chuckled as Hiccup did his best to empty his book bag, barely listening.
"Yeah?" he mumbled.
"Dragon books…" Jack couldn't help but grin, "Some of these are quite funny…"
"Uh-hu…" Hiccup muttered, struggling to hoist an especially heavy volume.
"From Egg to Inferno: A Dragon Keeper's Guide."
"I didn't hatch Toothless."
"Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland."
"There's too few of them there. Big ones, though…"
"Dragon Breeding for Pleasure and Profit."
Jack turned to him with a taunting grin, holding up a book, "Men Who Love Dragons Too Much."
The girls found them, clutching newly borrowed books, "Odd…" Merida was telling Rapunzel.
"What is?" Hiccup asked.
"Professor ManSnoozie's standing in as librarian." Rapunzel said.
"I wonder where Madame Goose is," Hiccup mumbled as he replaced his last book.
"but she never leaves the library to anyone," Jack said, concerned, "I'll see you guys later… I'll be along."
He wove his way across the library and towards the librarian's desk where Sandy was posted, helping a couple of second years with where to find a textbook. He sat on Katherine's swivel stool, fitting the job quite comfortably.
"Hey, little man…" Jack greeted as the students moved away. Sandy turned to him with a drowsy smile.
"Wh-where's Madame Goose?" said Jack.
Sandy blinked, his golden sand shuffling over his head hesitantly. There was a look on his face, as if Jack had missed a huge chunk of news.
"Sandy?" he said anxiously.
"Professor, I'm borrowing this…" a Ravenclaw came up to the table.
Sandy shot an apologetic look to Jack and returned to his work.
They've never told him anything. Was Katherine on some errand by MiM? If she was, why did they hesitate to tell? Jack doesn't pry; he knew much of those things. Something was very out of place.
He found himself out on a night's stroll about the empty corridors like he occasionally did.
Jack tried to ask the other professors, but most of them genuinely had no idea. While the guardians, well, they reassure him everything was fine.
He stood in front of the library doors, dim moonlight filtering through the glass windows of the corridors. With a small nudge, he opened them and walked inside.
There definitely was something wrong with the library.
As if something was missing along with Katherine. The life of the place, perhaps.
She's always insisted that every book was alive, just waiting to tell people its story. And perhaps it made the library a living being. Now, it stood empty despite the crowded shelves. Like it was stripped of color.
Well, wherever she was, she needed to be back soon, the students need a librarian. These days, especially.
He walked along the shelves, running his fingertips over the spines of the books, wondering if the stories within are any better than the thousand others in the room and the countless more outside the walls of Hogwarts.
Jack peered over Madame Goose's desk right by the entrance to the Restricted Section, her thick leather-bound journal sat atop her unarranged papers.
Curiosity struck, Jack reached for it.
Then, a scuffle.
All too used to the manner and situation, Jack whirled around, sending a flurry of ice. Instead, his spell hit a table.
At the ready, he looked about, staff gripped tight, "…where are you…?" he muttered.
Another scuffle. Jack turned to have his staff yanked away unexpectedly.
Breath knocked out of him by the sudden taking, he froze, a cold hard object touching his throat. It was the end of a spear. Like a knife made out of glass, glowing with what seemed like moonlight.
A form held it up. A lad with almost the same reflection.
Jack's blue eyes widened at the sight.
Snow-white hair, gleaming eyes, pale skin, though his seemed to be translucent like marble, illuminated by the glow of the spear's tip. An ageless boy just like him.
He felt like he knew that boy somewhere before…
There was a tough expression on his face, like one on a young soldier who had been battered by war.
Jack stared, unable to find words. Unable to ask who he was or what he wanted.
The cloaked lad did not withdraw his weapon as his lips parted to speak, doing so as if he were a child still learning to talk. But his voice was clear and firm, almost echoing.
"Where is Katherine!?"