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Snake Bites by Sheriff
Chapter 14: Covered Memories
‘See you later, Nath,’ Louis called to his friend the following morning, leaving the muggle-born boy sitting in the front row of one of the main stand of the Quidditch pitch as the other three Slytherins took to their brooms for the annual trials.
‘See you,’ Nathan echoed, wondering privately what he would do with the next hour whilst his friends tried out for the House teams. ‘Good luck,’ he sighed, propping his feet up against the rail at the front of the stand, and recalling the contents of his old friend’s letter.
This combination of Quidditch and memory combined to distract the blond boy so completely from his surroundings that he failed to notice Alexander and Toby, the two Ravenclaws, sitting down next to him, and he jumped at the sound of his name.
Toby laughed at his friend’s obvious shock. ‘What’s up with you, Nathan?’ He asked, gently.
The Slytherin shook his head, forcing himself back into the moment. ‘Nothing,’ he mumbled. ‘Just thinking about home… How come I ended up a wizard and my friends didn’t? What if it was Charlie who was here, and me who was still back in Ascot, getting into fights about rugby games?’
Toby blinked. ‘Who’s Charlie?’ The Ravenclaw asked. ‘What’s rugby?’
Nathan allowed himself a grin. ‘A muggle sport,’ he explained briefly. ‘I’ll show you guys how to play it some time,’ he sighed. ‘Charlie was my best friend at my old school… until the last couple of weeks.’ The eleven-year-old retold the story of the incident with the cricket stump. ‘I know it was accidental magic now,’ he reflected, ‘but I don’t know what I’m going to say to Charlie at Christmas.’
‘Oh,’ Toby nodded. ‘I don’t know, either,’ he added, awkwardly. ‘I mean, I…’
‘It’s okay, mate,’ Nathan talked over his friend. ‘It’s just hard,’ he exhaled, ‘and it won’t go away.’ He forced himself to smile. ‘I’ll work something out, though: we’ve been friends since we were four.’
‘Did you ever… I mean, that thing with the cricket stump,’ Alexander changed the subject clumsily. ‘Was that the first time you ever did magic? I know you didn’t realise at the time, but…’
‘Yeah,’ Nathan saved the other boy the trouble of completing his tangled question. ‘That was the first time. It happened again in the summer, though… the first time I met Professor Bennett and Louis.’ He shivered at the memory of the way he’d sworn at his soon-to-be housemate. ‘I made a thunderstorm happen.’
Alexander whistled. ‘My Dad… he’s trying to do research into how people turn out magical or not – things like muggle-borns and squibs.’
‘Children with magical parents who can’t do magic themselves,’ the black-haired boy answered the unasked question. ‘Every kid in the magical world grows up afraid of being a squib, and not being able to come to Hogwarts,’ Alexander took a breath. ‘Some families seem like they have lots more squibs than others,’ he continued, ‘and Dad wants to find out why.’
Nathan’s interest piqued as he heard the other boy talk of his father’s work. ‘My Dad’s a scientist, too. Not the same, I don’t think, but I know he investigates stuff like diseases and things… we call it “genetics”, things you inherit from your parents.’
‘Does he know about magic?’ Alexander had been completely distracted from the Quidditch trials a handful of yards away.
‘Yeah,’ Nathan confirmed, ‘muggle-borns are allowed to tell their immediate family.’
‘So…’ Alexander’s brain tried to process the new information it had learned. ‘Do you think he might help you find out why you’re a wizard?’
The Slytherin boy shrugged. ‘I don’t really know much about his work,’ he repeated, ‘but he might, I guess… I mean, if it was me, then I would.’ Nathan sighed. ‘Are your parents all wizards?’
‘Yeah,’ Alexander nodded. ‘My Mum and Dad were in Harry Potter’s year at school.’
‘Yeah,’ the Ravenclaw confirmed, wryly. ‘My parents get tired of people asking them about the war, and about Dumbledore’s Army… but it must be even worse for him.’
‘I bet,’ Nathan nodded, dumbly. ‘What about your parents, Toby?’
‘Wizards,’ the tawny-haired boy answered, simply. ‘Not as famous as Xander’s parents, though. Nothing like. They emigrated during the last war,’ he admitted, turning away from his friends.
Alexander shifted on his own seat. ‘So what if they did?’ He challenged his housemate. ‘They’re not you,’ he emphasised.
‘I know,’ Toby mumbled, ‘but it’s a bit embarrassing when I hear everybody else talking about what their parents did.’
‘It could be a lot worse,’ Alexander argued back. ‘Look at Scorpius; his Dad fought on their side. No wonder he never talks to anyone. It’s amazing he’s not in Slyth… er… shit,’ he caught himself, blushing furiously. ‘Sorry, I…’
Nathan laughed. ‘I know what you meant,’ he grinned. ‘I listened enough in History for that!’ The blond boy shoved his friend playfully on the arm. ‘What about Louis, though?’ He half-changed the subject. ‘That Veela thing, that’s from his parents, isn’t it?’
‘It’s from his Mum,’ the Ravenclaw answered. ‘She was part-Veela… and a Triwizard Champion too. Her Grandma was a full Veela – so it’s from Louis’ Great-Grandma.’
‘Triwizard?’ Nathan blinked, and Toby smiled as he remembered his own confusion when the muggle-born boy had mentioned rugby.
‘Wizard sport,’ he explained. ‘It’s a tournament between the three biggest schools in Europe to find out who the best wizard is.’
Nathan nodded, but his questions didn’t stop there. ‘Why is everyone so fussed about him being a male Veela, though? Surely there has to be male Veelas for them to continue, doesn’t there?’
‘That’s just it, though, isn’t it?’ Alexander smiled. ‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you… but I looked it up, and there’s almost nothing in the library on them. That article in the Prophet was right about that.’
Nathan dropped back onto his chair, turning his attention to the Quidditch trials for a moment to see Louis snatch a quaffle out of the air, before spinning and hurling it towards Albus. ‘Well I guess someone ought to find out, then,’ he recalled the loneliness he’d felt during the summer, ‘cause nothing’s worse than not knowing what’s going to happen.’
Nathan mustered the courage to mention the subject of Louis’ genetics that evening as the four first-years relived the morning’s Quidditch trials, taking advantage of a pause in the discussion of feints, passes, shots and saves.
‘Louis…’ the boy offered, tentatively. ‘Did your Mum and Dad ever say anything about you being a boy Veela?’ He hesitated. ‘Like, if your Mum ever had any brothers or male cousins, or anything like that?’
The room fell quiet, and Louis stared warily at his housemate before forming his reply. ‘Why do you want to know?’
Nathan took a deep breath. ‘I was talking to Xan and Toby,’ he began. ‘Xan said there was hardly anything about them, anywhere…’
‘So?’ Louis’ voice turned cold. ‘What’s it got to do with you?’
‘We… we just…’ Nathan stammered. ‘We just thought…’
‘Why’s it any of your business?’ The redhead snapped, turning away from his friend. ‘It’s bad enough as it is, without you having a go at me as well.’
‘He only asked you, Louis,’ Albus challenged his cousin’s reaction. ‘He wasn’t having a go.’
‘But what?’ Albus didn’t relent. ‘He stood up for you all that time, remember? He’s not having a go at you,’ the first-year repeated. ‘He’s just asking.’
‘Nat’s right, isn’t he?’ Daniel interrupted, sensing his discomfort. ‘You don’t know anything about it either, do you?’
Louis’ eyes began to water, growing darker and wider as they did so. ‘I, I…’ He swallowed, before shaking his head. ‘He’s right. I don’t know anything else,’ he admitted. ‘None of the men in Mum’s family have been Veelas before. She didn’t even think it was possible. No one did,’ he gasped for breath, ‘and no one knows what’s going to happen to me as I get older…’ He brushed the back of his wrist against his face, drying his eyes as he turned to face Nathan again. ‘Sorry, Nath, I don’t know why I…’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Nathan brushed off his friend’s apology. ‘It’s okay,’ he gathered his thoughts, ‘but, like I was going to say, shouldn’t we try and find anything out before she does?’
Louis nodded. ‘Yes,’ he answered, quietly but decisively. ‘We should.’
Nathan managed a thin smile. ‘That time outside Transfiguration,’ he ventured, aware that he would be digging up a painful memory, ‘was that the first time you… you changed?’
The redheaded boy sighed. ‘Yes,’ he admitted. ‘There’s always been… bits…’ he struggled to put his words into order. ‘When I’ve been cross, or upset. My eyes are the worst.’
‘All the family know,’ Albus added. ‘It was just little things, his eyes, like he said, and his nose and ears sometimes.’
‘It had never happened like that before, though,’ Louis explained, ‘and never for so long.’
Albus’ voice dropped. ‘No one had ever been as bad as we were before, though, had they?’ he gulped. ‘And it’s only ever happened when you’re angry or upset, hasn’t it?’
Louis nodded. ‘I’ve tried to make it happen on my own,’ he confessed, ‘when I was little, or when I was bored… I wanted to see if I could make it happen, but I never could.’ He shook his head, sadly. ‘I can’t control it, not like Vic and Dom can… it just happens to me.’ Louis sniffled. ‘Sorry,’ he shivered.
‘It’s okay, Nathan repeated.
‘Yeah,’ Albus echoed. ‘It’s not your fault,’ he insisted, putting an arm around his cousin’s shoulders, ‘and we’ll help you figure it out, cause there’s got to be a reason,’ his voice grew insistent, ‘and that means there’s got to be a way to explain it.’
Connor Norris leant back against a dull stone wall on the narrow road that ran alongside a covered marketplace that bustled with Saturday morning shoppers, hiding from the steady drizzle that soaked the centre of Oxford. Connor lifted the top of his black hoodie, shielding his face from the breeze as he watched a group of schoolboys cluster together at the end of the cobbled street, blazers damp in the autumnal rain.
‘Losers,’ he muttered to himself as he caught sight of the navy and blue stripes on one of the children’s ties, and fixing the boy with a cold stare as his jaws closed over a stick of gum. ‘School on a Saturday,’ he shook his head as the other boy turned away to face his teacher.
Connor looked around the street, the grey skies half-reflecting in the standing water around the gutters at the sides of the pavement, echoing the tired masonry of the buildings at either side. To the boy’s left, an iron grate half-closed an alleyway that led through to the back of the covered market, and the engine of a white van idled on his other side, between the eleven-year-old and the gathered schoolboys. ‘Just Like Magic,’ he read the green lettering daubed along the side of the van.
‘We’re heading for Carfax Tower,’ a voice that could only have belonged to a schoolteacher echoed off the sandstone walls as the white van edged forwards into a vacant parking space. ‘So please follow in line, down Market Street and left at the end, onto Cornmarket. Denness, stay with Ogundo.’
The local boy couldn’t help but smirk as he watched the class troop along the path, keeping a wary distance from his stony glare, and occasionally preferring to splash a polished black shoe into the roadside puddles than come too close to Connor’s space. ‘What are you looking at?’ He challenged a lone boy who straggled, several yards behind the tail end of the line, brown-haired and pale-skinned, but before the other child could respond, the normality of a routine Saturday morning had been shattered.
An ear-splitting crash echoed across the street, instantly followed by a flood of thick white smoke that choked the air around the boys, before a fusillade of other blasts merged into a chorus of car alarms and panicked screams as Connor coughed for breath. ‘Shit,’ he gasped, blinking as the petrified face of the other schoolboy appeared out of the mist. ‘What the fuck was that?’
The brown-haired boy shook his head, mutely mouthing words that were never accompanied by sounds, before another explosion echoed in the distance, shaking the local boy into action.
‘Come on,’ Connor urged, jerking his head towards the iron gate behind him. ‘You can’t stay out here, it’s not safe.’
The other boy nodded dumbly, following Connor’s blond head through the gate, before cutting sharply right into an even narrower passage. ‘This goes under the market,’ Connor explained. ‘Me and Dan always used to… it doesn’t matter, come on,’ he insisted, reaching through the steel grille of a gate to unlock a latch and allow the two boys into a darkened cellar. ‘You can get through the other side, out onto the High Street.’ Connor took a breath, realising that his companion hadn’t yet uttered a word. ‘Hey,’ he paused, turning to face the other boy in the half-light, ‘are you alright?’
‘What… What happened?’
Connor shrugged. ‘How should I know?’ He asked. ‘Someone blew something up! I wasn’t sticking around to find out what!’ He shook his head. ‘I’m Connor, by the way.’
‘Charlie,’ the other boy whispered.
‘Nice tie, Charlie,’ Connor smirked, grinning as the brown-haired boy blushed.
‘I have to wear it,’ Charlie defended himself. ‘It’s school uniform.’
‘On a Saturday?’ Connor snorted, derisively. ‘What sort of school makes you wear something that looks like that?’
Charlie shook his head. ‘A stupid school, that’s what,’ he retorted. ‘One that never sticks up for you if you make a mistake.’
‘Oh,’ Connor swallowed, remembering how the other boy had lingered behind his peers as the class headed along Market Street. ‘I hate my school too,’ he admitted. ‘Ever since my best friend left to go to some boarding school in Scotland.’
‘What?’ Charlie startled, his elbow knocking back into a steel keg stationed behind him. ‘Which one?’
Connor eyed the other boy suspiciously. ‘What’s it got to do with you?’
‘The same thing happened to me,’ Charlie answered, quietly, ‘this summer.’
‘Really?’ Connor blinked. ‘Shit,’ he shook his head. ‘I can’t remember its name properly; Something Castle?’
‘Merchiston Castle,’ Charlie replied. ‘That’s where Nathan went.’
‘Shit,’ Connor swore again. ‘So,’ he ventured, ‘that’s why you were stood behind all the others.
Charlie nodded. ‘They’re all tossers,’ he snapped, ‘and I nearly ended up like them,’ he exhaled sharply, ‘but that doesn’t matter, not any more.’ The eleven-year-old sniffed, grateful for the gloom that hid his reddened eyes from his new acquaintance, and shook himself. ‘That other exit, do you think it will be safe?’
Connor shook his head. ‘Not now,’ he answered, ‘you saw what happened. The whole city must be going mental. The police will be out there for hours.’
‘Do you think they’ll come down here?’ Charlie fretted, his eyes darting around the semi-darkness as the features of the basement grew clearer.
Connor grimaced. ‘They’re bound to,’ he observed, simply. ‘They’ll search the whole market.’
This time it was Charlie’s turn to swear, and the local boy couldn’t help but smirk. ‘What would your teacher say if he heard you say that?’
Charlie rolled his eyes. ‘He’d love it. It would mean he could finish expelling me.’
‘Finish?’ Connor blinked, and the other boy nodded in confirmation.
‘I got suspended last week, for breaking somebody’s nose.’
‘He deserved it,’ Charlie insisted, fiercely, and Connor grinned.
‘I bet he did,’ the boy laughed. ‘Well,’ he offered, ‘there might be another way out, if you want to try it. Me and Dan followed it once, as far as one of the College Quads, but we didn’t get out the other side because it was full of students.’
‘Better students than policemen,’ Charlie observed.
‘Alright, then. Why not?’ Connor smiled. ‘Come on, let’s go.’ He turned, leading the way towards a thin passage that led off from the main cellar. ‘I wonder if our friends know each other?’
‘This is the end of the passage,’ Connor explained a few minutes later, as a handful of shards of broken sunlight dappled the tunnel’s masonry. ‘It sounds pretty quiet.’ He edged towards the steel grille that punctuated the ceiling. ‘Can you give me a leg-up?’
‘Sure,’ Charlie nodded, and the shorter boy scrambled onto his companion’s shoulder, peering left and right across the old courtyard before shunting the grate upwards with the palm of his hand.
‘All clear,’ Connor reported. ‘Everyone’s inside, or watching the road.’ He scrambled out of the grate, before turning to grab hold of Charlie’s wrist and hoist the other boy out.
‘Thanks,’ Charlie breathed as he climbed clear. ‘You’re bleeding, did you know that?’
Connor’s hand jerked upwards. ‘What?’ He shuddered. ‘Where?’
‘Just on your cheek,’ Charlie assured him. ‘It’s nothing big,’ the boy reached into his pocket for a tissue, and held it out. ‘You’ll be alright.’
‘Okay,’ Connor nodded. ‘Now come on, let’s get out of here, let’s go!’
Charlie didn’t need to be told again, and he followed the other boy across the courtyard. The two children pressed themselves close to the stone wall of the college’s outbuildings, inching the final yards back onto the cobbled street outside before melting into the gathered crowd of people.
‘This is where we were stood…’ Charlie observed. ‘Like, half an hour ago…’ He craned his neck, straining to see over the mass of strangers in front of him, before clambering up onto the college’s window frames as he struggled to make out the scene in Market Street.
‘What can you see?’ Connor asked, shoving his shoulder beneath Charlie’s kneecap to hoist the other boy higher still.
‘My class,’ Charlie answered, bluntly. ‘Just stood there, waiting… I’d better get back.’
Connor eased backwards, releasing his support as the other boy jumped down from his perch. ‘To all the other tossers?’
Charlie sighed. ‘I wish I didn’t,’ he managed a weak smile, ‘but I’ll get in so much shit if I don’t.’
‘Hey,’ Charlie hesitated as he turned away, pulling a pencil and a piece of paper from his pocket. ‘What’s your mobile number?’
‘This,’ the blond boy replied, flipping open a simple cellphone, and showing the screen. ‘Text me later.’
‘Sure,’ Charlie smiled. ‘See you.’
‘That black owl’s back again,’ Albus looked up instinctively as the echoes of the morning mail deliveries filled the Great Hall. ‘More letters for Merchiston Castle, I guess…’
The bird dived sharply towards the end of the Slytherin table, knocking Daniel’s goblet of pumpkin juice sideways as it snatched a full rasher of bacon from his place, leaving two envelopes on the wooden table top in its place.
‘One each,’ Daniel noted, picking up the body of the shattered glass. ‘Me and you, Nat.’ He tossed one of the letters across the table to the other muggle-born boy, before tearing open his own and beginning to read its contents. ‘Bloody hell…’ he stuttered, his head turning so that his eyes could lock with Nathan’s as the blond boy stared back at him, open-mouthed. ‘Has… does yours...’
Nathan nodded, slowly. ‘Yes.’
‘What is it?’ Albus pressed his friends, immediately aware that all was not ordinary. ‘What’s happened?’
Daniel took a deep breath. ‘Should I read mine first?’ He glanced back towards Nathan, who nodded in response. ‘Okay.’
You’ll never believe this, but I swear it’s all true. I met someone in Oxford yesterday who knows another boy in your year at your school. He’s called Charlie and his friend is called Nathan. Do you know him?
You must have heard about the bombs that went off in Oxford? We were there. It went off in Market Street and we escaped down that passage into the college that we found once.
There’s something weird, though. There was a van right outside the market just before the bombs went off, only nobody else can remember it. I swear it was there, it had “Just Like Magic” or something on the side, in big green letters, and it was where the explosions started! No one else believes me about it.
We are going to try and find out what happened. Thanks for letting me know how to write to you. I tried texting you but I guess you must have no signal?
‘Shit,’ Albus gasped as Daniel placed the letter back down on the breakfast table, grabbing for a glass of cold water. ‘Yours is the same, right Nathan?’
‘Pretty much,’ the blond boy nodded. He cleared his throat, beginning to read from his own letter.
Thanks for writing back to me. I can’t wait to see you again at Christmas! I’m glad you’ve made new friends. I’ve made a new friend too, but not at Ascot. I met him in Oxford on Saturday on a school trip. It’s amazing, because his best friend also went to Merchiston Castle this summer. Have you met anyone called Daniel Hamilton?
Anyway, we met in the weirdest way. We were on a school trip, walking through Oxford, and then this explosion happened… I got split up from the others, but I met Connor. He showed me a secret passage down through the market that led us away from all the noise and the smoke and out through one of the colleges. You must have seen it on the news.
I think it’s a miracle nobody got seriously hurt, but the police don’t seem to have any idea who did it. Connor keeps saying that there was a white van outside before everything happened, but I never saw it. Everyone else he’s told thinks he’s making it up, but I don’t think he is… I mean, why would he do that?
I hope nothing like that has happened to you!!
‘Wow,’ Louis shook his head as Nathan finished retelling his friend’s story. ‘Nothing like that, just Veela and Fire Crabs,’ he smiled, wryly. ‘Do you think he’d believe you about that?’
‘I’m not telling him,’ Nathan shivered, nervously. ‘I’m glad they’re alright,’ he grimaced, ‘but what about the van? Isn’t that weird?’
‘I don’t think it’s weird at all,’ Albus shrugged. ‘Not if Dan’s friend was the only one who escaped and never went back.’