Chapter 7: After the Fall
By the time Shawn made it down to the grounds, a crowd had formed around the base of the Divinations tower. Clearly other classes had seen the girl fall and had gone to investigate.
Shawn turned to see that Gus was storming angrily towards him. "Gus!" he exclaimed. "Where've you been?"
"Where have I BEEN?!" Gus looked incredulous. "Shawn, I've been working all morning! First I was on cleaning duty with the caretaker, Filch! Have you met Filch? He's terrifying! Kept muttering about rule breakers, and whenever I made a mistake he looked at me like he was planning to put me on a torture rack! Oh, and do you know where we were cleaning? The dungeons! This castle has DUNGEONS, Shawn!"
"Well, of course it does," said Shawn. "What kind of self-respecting castle doesn't have a dungeon?"
"Oh," added Gus, "and when we'd done that for an hour, I got dragged off to the grounds to work with the groundskeeper, Hagrid. Great guy, but he's got me taking care of these...things! Did you know there's a giant squid in the lake?!"
"How would I have known that?" asked Shawn.
"Well I do!" Gus exclaimed. "I FED it! Do you know what a giant squid eats?! Neither do I! I just had this bucket of pink stuff that I had to feed it!"
"Look, Gus," said Shawn, "I feel you, but right now we've got to focus. There's been a murder."
Gus blinked. "There has?"
Shawn gestured towards the crowd of students. "A girl, looks to be a Hufflepuff," he said. "She fell right past my window."
"How do you know it was a murder?" asked Gus as the two began walking towards the crowd. "If she fell, that sounds more like a suicide."
"She started screaming towards the end," said Shawn. "Generally when someone makes the decision to jump, they don't scream."
"Maybe she changed her mind," suggested Gus. "Maybe she decided halfway down she didn't want to go through with it."
Shawn shook his head. "Typically people who jump off a tower aren't exactly easy to dissuade," he said.
"So you think she was pushed?" asked Gus.
Shawn continued to shake his head. "But that doesn't make sense either," he said. "She would have been screaming all the way down. Why only at the end?"
"Beats me," said Gus. "Let's go ask McGonagall."
McGonagall had by this point managed to direct the attention of all the students to her. "Attention students!" she called. "I know we are all quite upset by what has happened, but I must insist that you remain calm. I can assure you that we are doing everything in our power to investigate what has happened."
"What if someone killed her?!" shouted a high-pitched first year girl near the back.
"Not likely!" shouted a muscular Gryffindor boy closer to Shawn. "She probably jumped herself! I bet she couldn't bear the thought of what she tried to do to Professor Mills!"
The crowd erupted with murmuring.
"Be quiet, everyone!" shouted McGonagall. Instantly, the crowd fell silent. McGonagall, Shawn had long ago realized, was a force to be reckoned with. "At the moment we have reason to believe that Miss Jones' death was nothing more than a tragic accident. We will be making a formal announcement at the feast tonight; until then, I ask you to remain indoors and away from the Divinations tower until we are finished investigating. Your Heads of House will escort you back to class."
Gradually the students began to file away as Professors Sprout, Flitwick, Slughorn, and Charleston began to lead them back to class. McGonagall strode up to Shawn and Gus; now that she was done directing the students, a bit of the wind seemed to have drained out of her.
"Tell me you have some answers," she said. It was not a request.
"We'll have to examine the body first," said Shawn; he felt Gus wince slightly behind him. "But before that, I need you to tell me what happened before we got here. Who was the first to arrive on the scene?"
"That would be Professor Flitwick," said McGonagall. "He saw Miss Jones fall from the second floor of the Charms tower; he and his students rushed down as quickly as they could to investigate. They couldn't have taken more than fifteen minutes to get there."
"Wait, back up," said Gus. "Jones? As in, Abby Jones? The girl who attacked the teacher? The whole reason we're here?"
"That is correct," said McGonagall. "Do you think the two events are linked?"
"The question isn't whether the events are linked," said Shawn. "The question is how they're linked. Did she commit suicide over what she allegedly did...or is the real culprit trying to cover their tracks?"
McGonagall seemed to shudder ever-so-slightly at this. "I never thought I'd have to see something like this again," she murmured. "Not after he was defeated..." Then suddenly she was laser focused again. "I don't think I have to remind you that this matter should be treated with the utmost secrecy," she said. "You are to speak to no one about your investigation, or even to let them know that you are investigating. Is that clear?"
Shawn and Gus both nodded nervously. The way she looked at them reminded them uncomfortably of being kids again and facing off against Shawn's dad.
"Very well," said McGonagall. "I will allow you to examine the body before we...move it." Her voice seemed to shake ever so slightly on the last word, but it might well have been Shawn's imagination.
Shawn and Gus turned in unison and walked up to the body. They looked down at the figure that, until half an hour earlier, had been a young witch walking around the castle like any other student. Shawn tried to discern something from the pose; occasionally it was possible to tell whether the victim had been pushed or jumped from the way their body lay. Unfortunately, this was not one of those cases; the girl simply lay face-down, her arms at odd angles, her long hair splayed out before her.
"So what do you think?" asked Gus. "WAS it suicide?"
"I don't know," admitted Shawn. "There are no signs of a struggle, so she wasn't physically pushed off the tower. But something just doesn't add up about this. If she really wasn't guilty, why would she kill herself?"
"Maybe she couldn't handle the stress," suggested Gus. "What she did was too much for her to bear, and everyone getting mad at her over it couldn't have helped."
Shawn didn't look convinced. "I mean, maybe," he said. "But the scream is what's getting to me. Why would she only start screaming halfway down? Either she would have been screaming the whole time or she wouldn't have screamed at all."
"You can't know that, Shawn," said Gus, glaring at his friend; Shawn rather suspected that this was one of those times he was being insensitive without realizing it. "Like I said, maybe she was having second thoughts."
"Or," said Shawn, "maybe there was something keeping her from screaming until then."
"Well," said Shawn, "like whatever it was that made her attack Professor Mills in the first place."
Gus's eyes widened. "You mean she was mind-controlled into jumping?!" he exclaimed in alarm.
"It's a possibility I haven't ruled out," said Shawn grimly. "This is wizard country, after all."
Gus looked nauseous. "I think I need some air," he said.
"We're outside," pointed out Shawn.
"I'm going down to the lake," said Gus. "Then with my luck, Hagrid will probably want more help. I'll see you at dinner, Shawn."
Shawn nodded. As Gus walked away, he turned back to the body of Abigail Jones. The idea that something like this was possible- that someone in this castle had just used magic to make a teenage girl kill herself- made him want to get right back on the train and go straight back to London. But McGonagall had contacted him to solve this case, and that was what he intended to do.
The first matter, he decided, should be to interview the students who had known Abigail. He needed to figure out who she had been in contact with, what she had been doing recently, and most importantly if she had any enemies. To do that, he'd need to interview some students.
He walked back to McGonagall. "I have an idea on how to investigate this without arousing suspicion," he said. "But I'll need you to make an announcement at the feast tonight."
"I had better like this, Mister Spencer," said McGonagall, seeming to stare right through his face.
Shawn told her his idea. She didn't like it. But with some persuading, she agreed it was the best option for investigating while remaining undetected. She headed off towards the castle, claiming that she needed to make preparations for their investigation.
Shawn was about to leave when he noticed something strange out of the corner of his eye. He turned back towards the body. For the first time, he noticed that Abigail Jones had apparently still been carrying a leather book bag when she died; the bag now lay on the ground beside her, its flap hanging slightly open.
"Now that's odd," he remarked quietly. "Who brings their book bag with them to commit suicide?"
Bending down to examine the bag, he promptly got another surprise: the bag was empty of books. The only contents were an ink bottle, now smashed, some thoroughly stained pieces of parchment, and a few feather quills of the sort Shawn had seen students using to take notes in his class. Looking around, he saw that a few of the pages were now several feet away, blowing away in the breeze, weighed down by the coating of ink. But with the way the bag had fallen, there was no way the pages could have gotten free, let alone blown away in the wind.
Shawn placed his pointer fingers on his temples and closed his eyes, as if trying to psychically divine the answer; this didn't actually do anything, but it was a habit built up over four years, plus it helped him concentrate. If the pages were loose, that meant they had gotten out somehow. The bag was partly pinned down by Abigail, and the flap was facing downwards and too heavy for the wind to lift; that meant that at some point some force had removed the pages from the bag. It couldn't have opened during the fall; if that were the case, either all the contents would have fallen out or they would have been pinned in the bag, depending on how she fell. That meant that at someone or something had opened the bag's flap, and in the process the pages had come loose.
But that doesn't make sense, said Shawn. Why would someone open an empty book bag just to remove some blank pages? Unless...
Unless, he realized, the bag hadn't been empty at the time.
Possibilities spun through his mind. If the bag had had more contents when Abby fell, and if someone had removed it afterwards, then it would make sense that the flap had been opened. The object must have been pretty large- large enough that, when the third party attempted to remove it, they couldn't get it out without pulling out the papers along with it. And seeing as this was a book bag, a book would be the most logical thing to store in it.
But who would want to steal a book from a dead girl? Shawn wondered. And more importantly, what exactly was in that book?
He stood. Some details were starting to align, but at this point it was still too early to draw any conclusions, or even name a suspect. He turned and headed back to the castle; he had a lot of things to think about.
A/N: Alright, welcome to the first chapter of this story since Meer-Katnip (previously TheBigCat) took over as co-author! While she didn't make too many edits to this chapter, she's really making a difference in some of the other projects and I'm having an absolute blast working with her! She DID contribute the title of this chapter, which I was absolutely stumped on, and correct some grammatical mistakes throughout.
Incidentally, I'm really sorry- both to you guys and to Kitty- that I haven't been writing much. Between my homework load, an ongoing case of writer's block, and dealing with something of an existential crisis about a week ago, I haven't really been in the writing mood recently. But the good news is that that's changing, and hopefully more content will be coming out soon-ish. Until then, R&R!