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Chapter 23: Loyalties
‘Are you sure it was Welsh?’ Lucas asked eagerly as the Hufflepuff boys joined the Slytherins in the Great Hall.
‘Yes,’ Glyn rolled his eyes. ‘Of course I’m sure!’ He insisted. ‘I speak Welsh! All my lessons at Primary School were in Welsh!’
‘Alright, Glyn,’ Jai tried to calm his friend. ‘I believe you.’
‘Me too,’ Greg added. ‘So does Lukie.’
‘Yeah,’ the redhead nodded. ‘I do.’ He smiled, timidly. ‘What did he say?’
The Welsh boy winced. ‘That’s the problem,’ he admitted. ‘I couldn’t really tell. It didn’t sound like a spell – just a load of words. They were definitely Welsh words,’ he insisted, staring pointedly at Lucas, ‘but they were hardly in order. It was like he’d tried to learn the language but didn’t know how to form a sentence properly.’ Glyn sighed. ‘You know, like when you hear a foreign Quidditch player like Zakis interviewed on the wireless, and he says, “I make good goal,” or something like that.’
‘Did it make any sense at all?’ Jai asked. ‘Did you catch any of it?’
Glyn nodded. ‘I think he said “no hunters in the school”, or something like that, but his accent was really bad... It was difficult to tell exactly what it was. I think he said “a fortnight” or “a week” at the end.’
‘Maybe he was trying to tell them to get out?’ Greg suggested. ‘Cause that’s what happened in the end, wasn’t it? After that flash of light?’
‘Yeah,’ Glyn agreed, ‘but why did he say it in Welsh? He’s not Welsh, they’re not Welsh. There’s hardly anyone here who speaks Welsh except me...’
‘Ed Williams is Welsh,’ Isaac noted, pointing to a blond seventh-year Ravenclaw who was leaning over the Gryffindor table at that moment, talking with Ciaran Abercrombie. ‘He takes our Herbology study lessons.’
‘He’s not Welsh!’ Glyn shot back.
‘He’s from Swansea...’ the Slytherin reasoned.
‘Exactly,’ Glyn seethed. ‘If he was properly Welsh, he wouldn’t call it Swansea. He’d call it Abertawe. I bet he doesn’t even speak any Welsh...’
‘Careful, Glyn,’ Cameron warned, nervously, ‘he’s coming!’
‘Afternoon, boys,’ Ed Williams may not have been properly Welsh in Glyn’s eyes, but his accent was rich enough to convince the other first-years of his nationality. ‘Little bit of fun for you this afternoon,’ he grinned. ‘Absolutely your choice, but if you’re up for it then we’re going down the Black Lake and seeing what we can find by the shore. Bring your swimmers if you’re keen. Otherwise you can please yourselves.’ The seventh-year turned, heading for the Great Hall doors, and leaving the younger children to mull over his offer.
‘Shall we do it?’ Greg asked.
‘Why not?’ Theo beamed. ‘How many chances do you get to swim in the Black Lake?’
‘But it’ll be freezing...’ Lucas complained, only for Isaac to quickly talk over him.
‘Which will make a nice change from being too bloody hot in here, right? I’m in,’ he reached his hand forwards across the table. ‘Who’s with me?’
With degrees of enthusiasm that ranged from eagerness to resigned reluctance, the other three boys leaned out to place their hands on top of Isaac’s.
‘Cool,’ the brown-haired boy smiled.
‘We’ll see if Ed knows anything about the Welsh magic as well,’ Greg ignored Glyn’s sarcastic shrug, before turning round and gesturing breaststroke towards Ciaran, who nodded his understanding, flashing a quick thumbs-up back to the Slytherins.
‘Is anyone else coming, then?’ Ed Williams sat on the thick root of a lakeside tree as a scattering of first-year boys waited on the shingle beach. ‘I know there’s no more Slytherins, but I’d have thought there’d have been more than two Gryffindors...’ he mused. ‘Obviously not as brave as they used to be,’ he grinned.
Ciaran managed a thin smile as the Slytherin boys laughed at the seventh-year’s joke, but the other Gryffindor, sitting on his own, away from the other five boys, was not as easily amused.
‘He’s called Aidan, isn’t he?’ Greg leaned towards Ciaran, whispering to the sandy-haired boy.
‘Yeah,’ the boy nodded. ‘Aidan Mills’.
‘Well, boys,’ Ed wasn’t distracted. ‘Water plants,’ he grinned. ‘They’re one of Professor Longbottom’s favourites. In fact, I get the feeling you might be seeing them on your exam. So,’ the Ravenclaw continued, ‘we’re going to see what we can find out about their habitats. I’d like you to work in pairs – there are six of you, so that should be easy enough – and find me a specimen of each of these three.’ He flicked his wand towards an illustrated board, sending a cloth covering drifting to the floor. ‘You have fifteen minutes!’
‘Do you want to go with Aidan?’ Greg covered his mouth as he questioned Ciaran, who shook his head in reply. ‘Fine,’ the blond Slytherin shrugged. ‘I will,’ he strode over to the other Gryffindor. ‘Looks like it’s me and you,’ he announced. ‘Which one are we going to get first?’
‘Er... flaxweed?’ Aidan offered, straight-faced. The Gryffindor was around Greg’s height, with a thin face that sat beneath a messy bundle of dirty brown hair. ‘There might be some by those tree roots.’
Greg followed the Gryffindor boy behind Ed Williams’ noticeboard and towards a tangled maze of bark that led down to the shore, only hesitating as the sounds of shouts and splashing water told him that his friends weren’t strictly following the seventh-year’s instructions.
Aidan stopped abruptly as the roots dropped away to the water’s edge. ‘Why aren’t you playing with them?’ He asked.
‘Ed asked us to go in pairs,’ Greg answered.
‘Yeah,’ Aidan stared back at the Slytherin. ‘I know. So why didn’t you leave Abercrombie to go with me?’
‘He didn’t want to,’ Greg couldn’t see any reason to lie.
Aidan snorted. ‘So you just let him?’
‘Why shouldn’t I?’ The Slytherin was unmoved.
‘You’re a Slytherin...’
‘You’re a Gryffindor,’ Greg shot back. ‘So why have you guys been treating him like shit all year?’ He shook his head as the other boy shuddered. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘Well,’ Aidan protested, ‘I didn’t start it...’ His voice faltered for the first time.
‘So that makes it alright then, does it?’ Greg rolled his eyes. ‘Is that what being a Gryffindor is all about now? Doing what Dawlish tells you to? How brave,’ he smirked.
‘But...’ Aidan swallowed. ‘If I didn’t, then they’d just pick on me as well.’
‘How Gryffindor,’ Greg’s voice filled with sarcasm. ‘I wish everyone was that brave,’ he repeated, watching the other four first-years playing in the shallows as Aidan sat silently beside him. ‘Are we getting this flaxweed, then?’
‘Okay,’ the Gryffindor boy muttered, quietly. ‘There should be some on the roots down there,’ he leaned forward, reaching his arm under the water and picking a handful of leaves from beneath the wood. ‘Yeah,’ he confirmed, ‘here it is.’
‘What’s next?’ The Slytherin inspected the tangled plant as Aidan held it out to him.
‘Green bogroot,’ the other boy replied.
‘Won’t that live on the bottom of the lake?’ Greg asked.
‘Yes,’ Aidan nodded.
A grin crept over the blond boy’s face. ‘Are you coming, then?’ He pulled his t-shirt over his head, and tiptoed to the water’s edge. ‘Or are you scared?’
‘I’m not scared,’ Aidan shot back, lifting his own shirt off. ‘I’ll go first,’ he dived from the end of the tree roots, disappearing under the water as Greg swiftly followed.
‘That’s more like Gryffindor.’ Greg grinned, and Aidan couldn’t stop himself from smiling.
‘I’m meant to hate you,’ Aidan confessed. ‘Gryffindor and Slytherin,’ he explained, ‘but for some reason I just can’t...’
‘Guess I’d better try harder then!’ The Slytherin laughed, splashing a wave of spray over the other boy’s hair.
‘Watch it!’ Aidan retorted, copying the other boy’s playful attack, before ducking out of the way as Greg countered. ‘What about the bogroot?’
‘Who cares about bogroot? You can see that any time! When do you get to do this...’ Holding his breath, the eleven-year-old ducked under the lake, swimming around Aidan’s back before emerging to drench the Gryffindor’s hair.
‘Hey!’ The other boy spun around, shaking the water from his bedraggled hair, and forgetting his pursuit of the water plant as he joined the other boys’ games.
‘Alright, then,’ Ed Williams’ shout brought their fun to an end. ‘Everyone in,’ he smiled. ‘With your plants.’
‘I’ll go get the flaxweed,’ Greg announced, striking out for the bank of roots from which they’d dived earlier. ‘See you in a minute.’
‘Who’s got their plants, then?’ The Ravenclaw asked as the boys gathered back together.
‘I’ve got flaxweed,’ Greg waved the leaves up in the air, before tossing Aidan’s abandoned t-shirt to the other boy.
‘I got bogroot,’ the Gryffindor added, quietly. ‘I got it at the end, after you called us in,’ he explained to the seventh-year.
‘We have our winners, then,’ Ed concluded. ‘So, who can tell me about these little beauties, then?’
The lesson drew onwards as Ed revised the three species, and as he finished up, Greg spoke out. ‘Thanks, Ed,’ he hesitated. ‘This might sound a bit weird, but... well... seeing as you’re Welsh, we wondered if you knew what Tregeagle was saying at breakfast?’
The seventh-year smiled. ‘I’m afraid I don’t speak much Welsh, boys,’ he admitted.
‘Oh, Glyn’ll love that...’ Isaac sighed.
‘He’s in our year,’ the younger boy explained. ‘He said you wouldn’t be able to speak Welsh because you were from Swansea.’
Ed laughed. ‘Typical North Welshman, am I right?’ The seventh-year seemed unconcerned. ‘Kennedy’s told me that you guys are trying to find out what’s going on. I know there are supposed to be stories of Old Welsh magic from well before Hogwarts was founded... even before the Romans,’ the Ravenclaw shook his head, ‘but he’s the one you want to ask about all that.’
‘Well,’ Isaac reflected as the boys trekked back up to the castle in the late afternoon sunlight. ‘What next?’
‘I think we should try and find out more about this Old Welsh magic,’ Lucas suggested. ‘We could go to the library.’
‘The library?’ Isaac groaned. ‘You want to go to a library on a day like this...?’
‘I don’t think the Wild Hunt care about what kind of day it is,’ Greg pointed out. ‘Anyway, what else are you going to do, Zac?’
‘See my sister?’ The other boy shot back, instantly.
‘Oh,’ The blond boy swallowed, embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry, mate,’ he apologised into an awkward silence. ‘I forgot.’
‘I’ll come see your sister with you, Zac,’ Theo tried to divert his friends’ attention as Isaac stared stonily back at Greg.
‘Thanks,’ the brown-haired boy nodded as the group of first-years entered the corridor that led back down to the Slytherin dungeon.
‘Zac, I’m sorry,’ Greg tried again as the boys headed their separate ways moments later.
‘You said,’ Isaac retorted, bluntly.
‘I mean it,’ Greg pleaded. ‘I didn’t think...’
‘Well maybe you should try it sometimes,’ Isaac barely turned as he spoke, only for Theo to hold his arm out and block his friend’s path as he headed for the stairs that would lead to the hospital wing.
‘Zac,’ Theo whispered, holding the other boy still. ‘You’re not thinking now.’
Isaac’s head dropped almost instantly, and he turned around slowly to face the other two first-years. ‘Greg... It doesn’t matter. It’s alright,’ he muttered.
‘Thanks, mate,’ Greg managed a weak, but relieved, smile.
‘Slytherins stick together, right?’ Theo’s voice echoed around the corridor.
‘Always,’ Lucas answered, holding his hand out in the same way that Isaac had done at lunch, and watching the other boys copy without hesitation. ‘Slytherins stick together,’ he repeated, before turning to head for the library alongside Greg. ‘See you later.’
‘Do you know anything about Welsh magic?’ The blond boy asked his friend as they wound their way to the library tower.
Lucas shook his head. ‘I mean, I know the Romans came here... two thousand years ago, and they conquered England and Wales – and they must have fought back, but...’
‘What about druids?’ An idea crossed Greg’s mind. ‘Muggle history talks about druids... I think they were meant to be like ancient wizards.’
‘That could be true,’ the redhead admitted. ‘That was way before the Statute of Secrecy, so there could have been wizards fighting with the Welsh.’
‘Do you think there’ll be any books about it in the Hogwarts library?’ The muggle-born boy wondered aloud. ‘I don’t think anything in my world would be of any use...’
‘I don’t know,’ Lucas shrugged. ‘Only one way to find out, though,’ he pushed open the double door that lead into the reading room, before turning to pore over the pages of a catalogue. ‘Section 936,’ he read. ‘Upstairs.’
‘Can you find anything decent?’ Greg turned to his friend as he thumbed numbly through the weak pages of a volume entitled Annales Cambriae. ‘This is hopeless.’
‘No,’ the other boy answered, ‘well, not really. I got one that might be alright.’ He held up a thickly-bound book. ‘Druidian Lore,’ he read the cover, before leafing through the thinly-typeset pages within. ‘It’s the right topic, I guess, but it just looks so boring...’
‘You can read that one, then,’ Greg deadpanned, pulling another book off the shelf as he returned the Annales Cambriae to its rightful place. ‘How about this one – Combrogi: A lost people?’ He held up the book, and Lucas shook his head, blankly.
‘Doesn’t look much better,’ he replied. ‘I guess we’ll only find out if we try to read them.’ He headed towards a circular table, set away from the bookshelves into a window bay, only for his friend to hesitate, his attention clearly somewhere else.
‘Is that... Josh Tregeagle?’ Greg pointed towards a neighbouring chamber, where the dusty crop of a boy’s hair lay flat on top of a desk, his face squashed against the pages of a book upon which he had clearly fallen asleep.
‘I think so,’ Lucas nodded, following the other Slytherin towards the dozing boy.
‘Josh?’ Greg offered, before gently shaking the Gryffindor’s collar and calling his name again. ‘Joshua? Are you alright?’ He asked as the twelve-year-old stirred.
‘Uh...’ Joshua blinked, lifting his head slowly from the pages that had smudged print over his freckled face. Unlike the Slytherins, he was still in his school uniform, although he had loosened his tie and unfastened the top buttons of his shirt. ‘What do you want?’
Greg swallowed. ‘I just wanted to see if you were alright, that’s all.’
The Gryffindor blinked again. ‘W... Why?’
‘Cause you were asleep on top of a book,’ Greg replied, honestly, ‘reading about...’ He sat down beside the other boy, peering onto the thin font beneath his hands. ‘The Wild Hunt.’
Joshua snapped the book shut in a hurry. ‘It’s none of your business,’ he spat.
‘You said you’d never heard of the Wild Hunt this morning,’ Lucas challenged him. ‘It’s only cause of our project that you even know what it is!’
‘Fuck off,’ Joshua snarled, his eyes narrowing. ‘I would have found out anyway.’
‘How?’ Lucas didn’t back down despite the other boy’s bad language.
‘I just would have done, alright?’ The Gryffindor’s face had reddened, and his breathing quickened.
‘Leave it, Lukie,’ Greg interrupted, before his friend could get in another shot. ‘Josh,’ he turned back to the Gryffindor, ‘we both want to find out the same things, don’t we? We both want to find out more about the Wild Hunt... and what it wants with your Dad.’ He paused. ‘It doesn’t make any sense to fight about it now.’
‘I... I guess,’ the other boy conceded.
Under the table, Greg kicked Lucas gently on the ankle, before angling his head towards the third member of the group.
‘Sorry,’ the redhead offered.
‘Yeah, sorry,’ Joshua muttered in reply.
Greg allowed himself a brief smile, before remembering something that forced him to change the subject. ‘Josh, how long have you been here?’
‘Since History of Magic.’
‘Have you had anything to eat?’
The Gryffindor looked back towards him, before shaking his head slowly. ‘No. We had to go straight from breakfast because of what happened with the Hunt, and then I missed dinner, and...’
‘We’ll go to the kitchens,’ Greg decided. ‘Come on,’ he insisted. ‘Bring the books. We can try and read whilst we’re down there.’
‘Kitchens...?’ Joshua blinked.
‘What, you’ve never been?’ The blond Slytherin gaped in surprise. ‘I guess that’s because you never made friends with any Hufflepuffs...’
Greg sidled up to the painting that guarded the entrance to the Hogwarts kitchens, surreptitiously tickling the green pear that he knew would lead to the portrait swinging open to allow the three boys access.
‘Wow,’ Joshua stammered as he followed the two Slytherins into the long, low room, before sitting unsteadily down on a low worktop.
‘It’s not bad, is it?’ Greg smiled, before turning his attention to the scattering of house-elves that had massed around the first-years. ‘Our friend hasn’t had anything to eat today,’ he announced. ‘Please could you make something for him?’
‘What did you say?’ Joshua shook himself as a handful of the elves busied themselves with the boy’s request.
‘You hadn’t had anything to eat?’ Greg turned back to the Gryffindor. ‘That’s what you said, wasn’t it?’
‘No,’ Joshua contradicted him. ‘Before that.’
‘Oh,’ Greg hesitated, realising what it was that the other boy’s hearing had picked out. ‘Well, what else was I going to say?’ He asked, rhetorically. ‘We found this guy in the library and he told us to fuck off...’
‘Funny,’ Joshua sneered. ‘You try finding out that your family’s been hiding something from you all your life; see how you deal with it.’
‘What like?’ Lucas turned to stare at the Gryffindor. ‘Something like your Dad being a muggle who you’ve never met? Does that count?’ The redhead’s chest rose as his breathing hurried.
‘You... your Dad...?’ Joshua stammered.
‘How did you guess?’ Lucas countered, angrily.
‘Fuck,’ Joshua shook his head.
‘You swear too much,’ Greg tried to lighten the mood, but Joshua could only smile sadly.
‘I don’t know what to do...’ His voice suddenly wavered. ‘I mean, I can’t fight back, and even if I could, I don’t even know what the fuck I’m meant to be fighting against... Sorry,’ he sniffed.
‘It’s alright,’ Greg shuffled onto the worktop beside the Gryffindor, and remembered one of the first things Matthew had told him after he had received his Hogwarts letter. ‘Sometimes there’s just nothing else you can say.’
‘Thank you,’ Joshua muttered, barely managing to look the Slytherin in the eye. ‘Why... why are you doing this for me?’ He asked slowly as one of the house-elves delivered a plate of sandwiches to his grateful hands.
Greg took a deep breath. ‘I guess,’ he began, deciding to be brutally honest with his answer. ‘I guess it’s because I want to find out more about everything that’s going on. I mean, we’ve found some stuff out, but we don’t know if it’s true or not...’
Joshua nodded sharply, turning away from Greg as he attacked the pile of sandwiches. ‘So you didn’t mean really mean it, then?’
The Gryffindor’s voice dropped suddenly. ‘That we were friends.’
Greg struggled to keep his mouth from falling open with surprise. ‘What?’ He stuttered, stumbling carelessly over his words. ‘After everything you’ve said...?’
‘Forget it,’ Joshua muttered, blinking the shadows of tears out of his eyes. ‘I knew you didn’t; not really.’
‘Do you mean it?’ Lucas interrupted, his voice unusually cold as he fixed his stare on the Gryffindor.
‘Yes,’ Joshua’s answer came back as little more than a whisper, his freckles standing out above ever paler cheeks. ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen...’
Greg glanced at Lucas, before cautiously lifting his hand to rest on Joshua’s shoulder. ‘Josh...’
‘I’m sorry,’ the other boy mumbled, ‘for telling you to fuck off...’
‘It’s alright,’ Greg counselled. ‘Most of my friends have told me to do that at least once by now.’
The Gryffindor managed a stifled smile through a mouthful of sandwich, which Greg returned as Lucas sat down on Joshua’s other side.
‘I haven’t,’ the redhead grinned, picking up the three books he had carried with him from the library. ‘So, shall we try and have a look at these before we have to go to Quidditch...’
The cloudless skies of that afternoon persisted long into the evening, and the Slytherins’ practice only ended as the sun slipped below the horizon and the hour hands of the school clocks edged towards ten.
‘That’ll do,’ Matthew announced as one of Isaac’s shots rattled against the edge of a hoop, deflecting back past Seb’s dive. ‘Come on, everyone in.’ His broom accelerated the short distance that was needed to collect the quaffle as it drifted towards the ground. ‘We’ve got to do better than that if we’re going to beat Gryffindor,’ he declared.
The first-years looked at one another sullenly as the captain complained.
‘Zac, where was your finishing?’ Matthew started to go around the group. ‘Lucas, it was like you’d forgotten how to catch. Greg, you were too slow nearly every time we tried a move. Theo, you missed way too many bludgers,’ he sighed. ‘It was like being right back in September all over again.’
‘Well,’ the fourth-year continued into the silence that had followed his criticisms. ‘Have you got anything to say for yourselves, or are you just going to sit there?’
‘What do you want us to say?’ Greg challenged his neighbour. ‘Do you think we weren’t trying?’
‘It looked like it,’ Matthew snapped.
‘No it didn’t! Oscar cut across his friend, repeating himself as the first-years blurted angry responses. ‘No it didn’t, Matt. Would we have finished tied with Gryffindor if they hadn’t been trying?’
The captain relented. ‘I guess not,’ he admitted. ‘But that doesn’t change the fact that we weren’t that good tonight.’
‘Yeah, well, have you never had a bad day?’ Greg retorted. ‘Do you expect us to be perfect?’
‘Well, why are you acting like it?’ Greg shook his head, feeling the sweat collecting on the back of his neck beneath his Quidditch jersey.
‘Yeah,’ Theo backed his friend. ‘What about that pass from you that went right over Zac’s head?’
‘Guys,’ Oscar protested, ‘leave it. Please!’
‘It’s not just us,’ Theo shot back. ‘He started it!’
‘Oh, for Merlin’s sake!’ Oscar raised his voice. ‘You’re all acting like little kids! What are we going to achieve by fighting with each other over something stupid like this? It’s nearly ten o’clock, I haven’t done my homework yet, and I bet you guys haven’t either...’
‘So why’s Matt starting on us, then?’ Isaac interjected.
‘He wasn’t...’ Oscar sighed. ‘Were you, Matt?’
‘No,’ The captain shook his head. ‘I didn’t mean it like that. I just, well,’ he stuttered. ‘You know I want to win the Cup so badly... sometimes it stops me from thinking straight. That’s all. Sorry,’ Matthew grimaced. ‘Hey,’ he changed the subject abruptly. ‘Who’s that?’ He pointed across to the edge of the Quidditch pitch, where the terracing gave way to the changing rooms.
‘They better not be spying on us!’ Isaac snarled, quickly mounting his broom and kicking off towards the other side of the arena with his team mates in hot pursuit. ‘Hey,’ the eleven-year-old called out as he neared the intruder. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ He skidded to a halt in front of the terracing. ‘Dawlish!’
‘Dawlish?’ Theo repeated, stunned.
‘What do you want?’ Isaac dropped his broom, striding towards the other boy. ‘Why are you spying on us?’ He glared into the Gryffindor’s eyes.
‘I’m not spying,’ Dawlish whispered.
‘So why are you here, then? Isaac pressed, gritting his teeth as his hands clenched into angry fists before grabbing the spiky-haired boy on the collar.
‘Get off me!’ The Gryffindor yelled.
‘Just tell me what you want!’ Isaac shook the other boy furiously, jarring his back against the terrace railings.
‘Get the fuck off of me first, alright!’ Dawlish pushed the Slytherin away from himself, back into the grasp of Greg and Theo.
‘Why,’ Greg asked as he caught his friend by the arm, ‘do Gryffindors all swear so much?’
Oscar laughed. ‘Cause you never swear, do you Greg?’
‘Not as much as them,’ the eleven-year-old defended himself. He stepped forward, leaving Theo to hold on to Isaac. ‘Dawlish?’ The Slytherin offered, holding his hands up in the air. ‘What do you want?’
The other boy stared, wordlessly, back at him for a long moment before stuttering an answer. ‘I just wanted to talk.’
‘Talk?’ Greg echoed, disbelievingly.
‘You know,’ the Gryffindor answered, glumly. ‘Everything that happened today.’
Greg’s voice stayed level. ‘The Hunt?’
‘Yeah,’ he swallowed, ‘and Holly.’
‘Why us, though?’
Dawlish sighed. ‘Cause...’ he shook his head, and his voice dropped. ‘Look,’ he offered, ‘you know what happened at breakfast. It’s just been a really shit day...’
Oscar smirked in the background, but Greg ignored him as he spoke again. ‘So what? Why weren’t you at Herbology?’
‘I went back to bed,’ the Gryffindor murmured. ‘Well, I tried to. I never got any decent sleep last night,’ his words started to slur into one another.
Dawlish didn’t argue.
‘So why are you out here, then?’ Greg pressed. ‘Cause to us, it still looks like you’re spying.’
‘I’m not, honest,’ Dawlish ran his hand over his head, upsetting the tangle of spikes on top. ‘Aidan told me I should talk to you...’ he swallowed.
‘Fine,’ Greg waited for the other boy to continue. ‘So what do you want to talk about?’
The Gryffindor shook his head, stumbling backwards onto the concrete terrace beneath his feet, and Greg quickly made to jump over the barrier to join the other first-year.
‘Careful,’ Matthew warned.
‘I’m alright,’ Greg called back, squatting down as he did so. ‘Spencer,’ he lowered his voice.
‘Aidan said you’d get it...’ The Gryffindor stuttered, turning his head away.
‘Spencer?’ Greg’s own voice faltered, and he looked back at the other boys. ‘Can you give him some space?’
Lucas nodded. ‘We’ll wait in the changers,’ he suggested.
‘I’m staying,’ Theo insisted.
‘Fine,’ Greg decided not to argue with his best friend, before turning back to the other first-year’s slumped body as his team mates filtered slowly into the changing rooms.
‘Spencer...’ the Slytherin tried calling the other boy’s name for a third time. ‘Look, I want to try and help you,’ he offered, ‘but...’
‘You’re not going to,’ Spencer stared at the floor despondently, ‘because, because...’
‘You’re a tosser,’ Theo put in.
The Gryffindor turned slowly, adjusting his gaze towards the other Slytherin. ‘And the kid of a Death Eater.’ He tried to smile, but only succeeded in stifling a thin stream of tears. ‘I don’t know what to do...’ he coughed. ‘My girlfriend’s in hospital, and my best friend’s being chased by that...’
‘What about the other Gryffindors?’ Theo was unimpressed. ‘Why us?’ He repeated his friend’s question.
‘I talked to Aidan,’ Spencer murmured. ‘He was in the common room, talking to Abercrombie, so I started to have a go at him... and he just told me to fuck off.’ He swallowed. ‘He said I was treating Ciaran like shit and he’d had enough of it.’
‘He was right,’ Theo shrugged, and Greg found himself agreeing with his friend’s every word. Making peace with Joshua was one thing, but this was something else entirely. Spencer Dawlish had always been the Gryffindor ringleader, at the heart of anything unpleasant that had been directed at Ciaran or the Slytherins.
‘You have,’ Greg backed up his housemate’s opinion. ‘Ever since that first Defence lesson – and before, for all I know.’
Spencer’s head dropped further, as the flow of his tears quickened. ‘I know,’ he swallowed. ‘I realised. I’ve got no one left except my enemies... I don’t want it to be like that.’
Greg nodded slowly. ‘How do we know you’re telling the truth?’ He asked. ‘How do we know you’re not just trying to trick us?’
‘I’m not...’ the Gryffindor gave up on his attempts to stem his tears, and wiped the bottom of his white t-shirt over his face. ‘I’m not. Please...’
‘Do you promise?’ Greg glared, his eyes narrowing as he spoke. ‘Do you swear on it? Cause if you go back and break it...’
‘I promise,’ Spencer held out his hand before Greg could complete his threat, and the Slytherin took it calmly. ‘I won’t break it. I swear.’
‘I’m not going to say we’re friends, because we’re not,’ Greg tightened his grip, fixing his eyes on the dark-haired boy’s own and remembering his conversation with Joshua earlier that day. ‘Maybe one day we could be, but not today, not after everything you’ve done. I will help you, though: we both want to find out what the Wild Hunt is after... just so long as you promise to stop treating Ciaran like that, and to stand up for him if anyone else tries to carry on with it.’
‘Yes,’ the other boy wiped the bridge of his nose with the back of his hand. ‘I will. I promise.’