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The Perfect Alibi by Russia Snow

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The girls panicked. Cleo flung herself across the room, grabbing a startled Nina and pulling her along. Where could they hide? Cleo glanced desperately around the room: there was a store cupboard to the left; too obvious. For a split second she considered curling up under the desk, but there wouldn’t be enough room for them both. The Cleo saw it. A grill set into the stone floor. Mouthing urgently at Nina, she pointed to the grill and made a beeline for it. Still holding onto Nina, she heard the other girl swear under her breath, as her leg smashed into one of the student tables lined up in rows across the disused classroom.

Cleo was already across the room and had lifted the grate from the floor. Nina jumped down into the abyss beneath it and Cleo followed, pulling the grill back down on top of them with a small clang.

And then the door was open. Light from a wand slunk across the floor of the room and trailed lazily on the grill where the girls were hiding. Cleo and Nina pressed themselves to the back wall of the cell and held their breath.

“What are you doing Zarek? We need to leave.”

Zarek growled, then nodded curtly, extinguished his wand and shut the door behind him.

Nina sighed in relief. “That was close.”

“Too close,” agreed Cleo.

“Maybe we should go back to the common room and just wait for breakfast.”

“That’s probably a good idea.” Cleo straightened and brushed the dust from her robes, then reached above her head and pushed the rusting metal grill out of the way.


Neither of the girls went back to bed that morning. Suzi and Julia were shocked when they came downstairs to discover both their friends, even lazy Cleo, already awake.

“Where have you two been?” Julia asked, stifling a yawn.

“Nowhere,” Cleo replied stretching like a cat in an armchair in front of the fire. “We just couldn't sleep.”

The pack of exploding snap cards that lay on the floor at Cleo’s feet told the new arrivals what Nina and Cleo had been doing to amuse themselves until breakfast.
“Do we have time for a game?” Julia asked, kneeling down to reshuffle the cards.

Cleo shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

The pack of cards barely had a chance to explode three times before their game was interrupted by a fourth year boy with dark curly hair and bright blue eyes. He shuffled up to Cleo holding a piece of parchment out to her. “Here’s that drawing you asked for.”

Cleo took the parchment and cast it a look. “Oh, um, thanks...” She bobbed her head, trying to remember the boys name.

“Robinson.” He supplied helpfully smiling.

“Yeah, thanks Robinson.”

“Cleo...” Nina asked, looking disapprovingly at the other girl. “Is that your Care of Magical Creatures homework?”
Cleo folded the drawing and pushed it into the pocket of her robes. “Maybe.”

“Cleo! I thought you were going to do your own homework this year?”

“I was... I am. But it was a drawing assignment, and you know I always do terrible on those.”

“That’s probably because last time you spent twenty seconds drawing on the back of a chocolate wrapper while Professor Hillywig collected the rest of the class’ work.”

Julia raised an eyebrow. “The back of a chocolate wrapper? Really Cleo?”

“Well, I had no parchment and I was hungry... Speaking of hungry, can we go down for some breakfast now? I’m starving.”

“Same,” Nina nodded.

Julia and Suzi gathered up the pack of cards and the four girls headed down to the Great Hall.

Nina spent a lot of her day thinking about the encounter they had had in that abandoned corridor. When the bell rang for lunch, Nina headed straight for the library, leaving a bewildered Cleo behind in the Charms classroom.

By the time Cleo caught up, Nina was poring over a long roll of parchment. “What are you doing? We haven’t got any homework yet . What could you possibly need the library for?” Nina didn’t answer. “Come on, Nina. You know I feel uncomfortable in the library. Places of learning make me feel dirty.” Still no reply. Cleo frowned and peered over Nina’s shoulder. “What’s that?”
Finally, Nina looked up. “It’s a list of teachers and their subjects. The librarian keeps it, in case students want help with a topic and needs to know which teach will know the most about it.”

“Which topic do you need help for then?”

“I don’t need any help. I just need to know the teachers’ first names.”

Cleo looked at her blankly. Nina sighed. “I’ve been thinking. Last night. We heard those men use each other’s names. They weren’t students, so they must be teachers.”

“They didn’t sound familiar though.”

“That’s why I think they’re new. Remember at the start of term feast? Two new teachers started, and it looked like they were good friends.” Nina scanned down the list. “Professor Qunitinson is the new Runes teacher and Professor Mallory teaches half of the astronomy classes.”

“And you think they’re the people we saw in that store room last night?”

Nina pointed to two names at the bottom of the parchment list.

“Prof. Z. Quintinson and Prof. J. Mallory. The names we heard last night were Zarek and Jeffwin.”

“Z and J… Jeffwin was the cowardly one, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, he’s that skinny ginger teacher, the one who looks a bit like a rat?”

“Ooh yeah... so that other one, the scary one, he must be Zarek.”

“He’s the teacher who came to talk to Professor Hillywig in Care of Magical Creatures last week.”

Cleo looked blank. “You were probably too busy thinking about who you could persuade to do your homework for you.” Nina looked disapprovingly at the other girl; Cleo shrugged innocently.

“Anyway, he’s tall with dark hair. Built like a keeper.”

Cleo nodded. “Okay. So, we know who they are, but we still don’t know what they were doing last night or why they were there.”

“No. But maybe we could find out...”

“I think I like where this is going.”

“I know it’s probably not really our business... and we could get into a lot of trouble if we get caught...”

“Your point being?” Cleo grinned and Nina shook her head, smiling and rolling up the list of teachers. “So, we go back to that corridor and take another look at that store room tonight. Correct?”

“That’s what I was thinking.”