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Lion, Eagle, Badger, Snake by Sheriff
Chapter 4 : Day One
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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‘I guess that’s one good thing about being in Slytherin,’ Matthew grinned as he watched a pale boy turn even whiter at the sight of the green and silver crest on his trunk. ‘Everyone else leaves you alone on the train.’ He sighed, planting himself into the corner of a compartment and hauling his trunk into the space between the two benches within.

‘Aren’t you going to put it on the shelf?’ Greg began to question his neighbour, pointing up towards the steel luggage racks that ran above the seats, but Matthew shook his head.

‘No point,’ he answered. ‘Like I said, no one’s going to sit next to us. There’s plenty of space to spread out.’

‘He’s right,’ Oscar agreed. ‘The only other kid who won’t look at us and get away as fast as he can is Seb Burns.’ He shoved his own trunk beside Matthew’s, before dropping down opposite his friend.

‘Is he Slytherin, too?’ Greg asked cautiously, leaving his own luggage on the ground alongside the older boys’ belongings, and sitting next to the boy who was about to answer him.

‘Yeah,’ Matthew nodded. ‘Second... third year. He was keeper on the team last year.’

‘Against Gryffindor?’

Matthew nodded, and Greg didn’t say anything else. This was the first time he had mentioned the record-breaking match since his friend had told him the story, and the memory of their argument in the attic still stung.

‘He took it worse than any of us,’ Oscar answered the question that he knew the younger boy hadn’t dared to ask. ‘It was his first game for the House team.’

Greg swallowed, remembering one particular match his school football team had played against a side from the nearby city – a game that had finished 8-0 to the opposition. That had felt bad enough, he mused, but to concede fifty times... ‘What about the others on the team?’

Matthew snorted. ‘The beaters were only in the team cause they were seventh-years, and at least big enough to hit the bludgers properly. They’ve both graduated now. As for the other two chasers... well, they were bloody useless.’ He shook his head.

‘But they must have been the only other kids in Slytherin who could fly a broom without falling off...’ Oscar rolled his eyes.

‘Most of the time, anyway.’ A voice in the doorway interrupted the boys’ conversation.

‘Seb!’ Matthew shouted a greeting, and the newcomer, a tall boy with neat black hair that jumped up at the front, reddened as he returned it quietly.

‘Hi, Seb.’ Greg offered as the fourth boy sat down, opposite him and alongside Oscar. ‘I’m Greg.’

The tall boy nodded. ‘Hi.’

‘Greg lives in my village,’ Matthew offered an explanation for the first-year’s presence.

‘Alright,’ Seb nodded again.

‘Seb doesn’t say much,’ Oscar smiled, nudging the newcomer, who was taller than him by several inches despite being a year younger, in the ribs. The third-year shook his head, opening his trunk and hunting for one of his new textbooks.

‘See?’ Matthew half-smiled, crossing his legs as he rested them on the roof of his trunk and turning to stare out of the carriage’s window, watching as the city of London faded away into Hertfordshire countryside beyond the glass.

As Matthew had promised, the presence of the Slytherin luggage proved a guarantee of peace for the duration of the train journey, and as night fell on a day filled with aimless conversation and scattered sleep, the two oldest children got to their feet, throwing robes over their casual dress.

‘Prefects’ meeting,’ Oscar explained, holding out an arm to prevent Greg from following them.

‘But...’

‘Quidditch captains are invited too,’ Matthew explained, heading for the compartment door but pausing moments before he closed it. ‘See you at the Sorting, Greg. Good luck.’ He gave the eleven-year-old a brief wave, before turning to follow his best friend along the corridor. ‘I hope that’s it, Os. I hope I don’t see him again until Christmas.’

‘Oh, come on...’ Oscar glanced back over his shoulder, rolling his eyes.

‘If he ended up in Slytherin, it would be our fault. Our fault for giving him the idea. You know what it will be like in lessons. In History of Magic...’

‘For Merlin’s sake, Matt,’ Oscar stopped suddenly, turning on his heel to stare back at his best friend. ‘It’s not your fault Voldemort was in the same House as you. Being a Slytherin doesn’t make you a Death Eater, no matter how many Gryffie idiots tell you that. Now get over it.’

Oscar turned again, his black robe sending a gust of wind across Matthew’s face as the prefect strode off down the corridor, and after a brief moment the Quidditch captain followed him.

‘Robes.’ Back in the compartment, one of Seb’s rare words caught Greg’s attention.

‘What?’ The first-year jerked his head around.

‘Put your robes on,’ the third-year, already changed like the two other passengers, explained. ‘We’re nearly at Hogwarts.’

‘Oh,’ Greg swallowed, suddenly remembering the stories of the Sorting that Oscar and Matthew had told him over the last few days. ‘Thanks.’

‘If you get the chance, don’t pick Slytherin.’ It was the first time that the older boy had mentioned Houses all journey. ‘Unless you want it to feel like the world’s against you – because it will be – and the rest of the school will hate your guts, just because of one word from one stupid hat.’ He snapped his head back to the pages of his book, leaving Greg’s imagination to fill the final leg of his journey.

*

Try as he might, Greg couldn’t push the Sorting away from his thoughts as the train ground to a halt at Hogsmeade station. Even the sight of the half-giant Hagrid and the fleet of magical boats that cruised across the Black Lake to the stone keep of the castle could only distract the eleven-year-old for brief moments. Who was right? Oscar, or Matt and Seb? Did he want to Sort into Slytherin? Did he have any choice in the matter? Why the hell had he ever agreed to any of this?

Greg followed a knot of forty or so first-years between two of the four long tables spread over the Great Hall, his eyes fixed on the fastener on the cloak of the boy in front of him. Oblivious to the enchanted ceiling that reflected the cloudless sky above, or the sparse Slytherin table to his far left, Greg paced mechanically down the hall. Coming to a halt, alongside the other eleven-year-olds, at the front of the room, he gazed in stunned awe at the battered old hat on the table ahead of him as it twisted into life.

It’s been seven long years since the fateful battle

When Old Man Tom heard his death rattle

And now a new generation makes its way

Through lessons to learn, and games to play

Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw

I hold the knowledge of the founding four

It is my task, my raison d’être

To see the founders’ wishes are met

Gryffindor brave, headstrong and quick

Hufflepuff at your side, through thin or thick

Ravenclaw, where thoughts come to fruition

Slytherin cunning, full of ambition

Lion, eagle, badger, or snake

That is my decision to make

I am The Sorting Hat, my dears

I’ve been here for near one thousand years

So come on children, sit beneath my brim

Let me see your secrets within

A scattered round of applause died around the hall, and a round-faced woman stepped forwards beside the hat, a scroll of parchment in her hand. ‘When I call your name,’ she announced, ‘you will try on the hat, and be sorted into your House.’ She cleared her throat. ‘Abercrombie, Ciaran.’

Greg watched absently as a nervous-looking sandy-haired boy was sorted into Gryffindor, and ‘Absolom, Margaret’ became a Ravenclaw.

‘Bannan, Michael.’ As the third name was called, Greg realised with a jolt that the sorting was proceeding in alphabetical order – which only meant one thing for him: that he would soon be next.

‘Bennett, Gregory.’ The eleven-year-old swore as he heard his name being read out, loudly enough for a boy with floppy white-blond hair standing beside him to turn around and grin as he overheard. Greg tried to smile nervously back, but as he edged towards the centre of the stage he honestly had no idea of the expression upon his own face.

‘Ah! Fresh blood!’ Greg jolted as the sharp voice of the sorting hat sliced through his thoughts. ‘The first in a new magical line... or perhaps a re-awakening of old talents?’

‘W... What’s going on?’ Greg’s mind stammered back. ‘Who are you? How can you tell?’

‘Didn’t you listen to the song, boy?’ The voice grumbled. ‘Ancient magic, the founders of Hogwarts, etc, etc?’

‘No, I...’ Greg began to argue, but the magical voice cut him off again.

‘You were afraid,’ it concluded. ‘Afraid of Slytherin, like so many before you. Yet,’ the hat continued before the boy could complain, ‘I sense a part of you that is drawn towards Slytherin. A part that desires opportunity and craves recognition... and to be with your two friends, whose stories you have heard so often this last week.’

‘Are the stories true?’ Greg mustered, ‘about the Dark wizards in Slytherin?’

‘Oh, they are,’ chuckled the hat. ‘You see, boy, if one is not careful, then ambition leads to tyranny, and cunning leads to corruption.’ It paused. ‘Yet... so too can courage lead to arrogance, intellect to snobbery and loyalty to subservience. A wise man, a great Headmaster of this very school, once said that it was not our abilities – but our choices – that made us who we truly were. The Death Eaters did not all come from Slytherin.’

‘Am I a Slytherin?’ Greg heard his mind ask.

‘You have the qualities to succeed there.’

‘If I belong there, then put me there.’ Greg’s heart began to pound against his ribcage, and he felt his breathing grow shallower as his throat tightened up.

‘SLYTHERIN!’ The hat announced its choice to the school, and as the teacher lifted it from Greg’s head, the first-year hurried over to his thinly-populated House table, settling down beside Matthew and opposite Oscar for the second time that day.

‘Greg...’ Matthew began, open-mouthed. ‘How did the hat...’

‘Oh, shut up, Sawyer.’ Oscar interrupted with a grin, holding out an arm to high-five the new arrival. ‘The hat tries to choose what’s best for whoever’s wearing it; you know that.’

‘I told it to put me here,’ Greg told the other blond-haired boy. ‘You were right... the things you said at the Leaky Cauldron. It said that I would fit in here – that there would be opportunities for me. I know you’re not all Dark wizards.’

‘You’re bloody stubborn sometimes, Greg,’ Matthew groaned.

‘That’s Slytherin for you,’ Oscar grinned, before lowering his voice as another name was called to the Sorting Hat.

‘Brand, Lucas.’

‘That’s Kevin’s brother,’ Oscar whispered pointedly into Greg’s ear, watching as a stony-faced boy with unremarkable red-brown hair sat down beneath the brim of the hat. ‘He’s the other boy in the fourth year...’ Oscar angled his head along the table, indicating a child who looked similar to the boy on stage at that moment – only with a more pointed chin, and a facial expression that seemed like a permanent sneer.

‘Wonder if he’ll turn out like that,’ Matthew shook his head. ‘He looks almost the same...’

‘SLYTHERIN!’

‘I guess we get to find out.’ Oscar led a perfunctory round of applause for the second new Slytherin, who shuffled nervously onto the bench alongside Greg. ‘More than we got last year already!’ The fourth-year grinned as Lucas took his seat. In fact, the previous year’s record was well beaten, as by the end of the ceremony, two more children had taken their places at the green and silver table.

‘Hey,’ Oscar had tried to greet the third boy, Isaac Davies, short and brown-haired with glasses atop his freckled face, but the newcomer, head slumped between his arms, wouldn’t answer.

There would be no such difficulty in starting conversation with the fourth first-year, however, as he sat down opposite Lucas with a wide grin on his face.

‘Hey, I’m Theo Forrest,’ he smiled, and Greg recognised him as being the blond-haired boy who had overheard his bad language in the queue to be sorted.

‘I noticed,’ Oscar reached over Isaac’s limp body to shake the first-year’s hand, ‘Sprout just read it out to everyone.’

Theo laughed, turning to offer his hand to Greg and Lucas. ‘Why did you swear when she called your name?’

‘Don’t know,’ Greg blushed, shrugging his shoulders. He remembered something Matthew had said the previous week. ‘I guess it was the only thing that I could say...’

‘It’s because Matty’s been scaring him with stories about Slytherin all week,’ Oscar glanced across at the Quidditch captain as he spoke.

‘You knew him already? Cool,’ Theo answered him own obvious question. ‘Your name was Gregory, right?’

‘It’s just Greg.’

‘Okay,’ the blond-haired boy smiled again, and Greg couldn’t stop himself from grinning back. There was no way, he told himself as he watched the boy greet Lucas, that Theo was a Dark wizard.

Much of the conversation at that evening meal was dominated by Theo’s excited voice, as Oscar, and Matthew answered his questions about the magical world. The Hogwarts letter had been as much of a surprise for him as it had been for Greg, and the eleven-year-old, who had been at a private school in London, was eager to find out as much as he could about his new surroundings.

The other new Slytherins, however, were far quieter. Lucas seemed to prefer to listen to the others’ conversations, and – despite the combined efforts of Oscar and Theo – Isaac had barely opened his mouth, even to eat, by the time that the Headmistress Minerva McGonagall called on the prefects to lead the first-years to their new dormitories.

*

‘The Slytherin dorms are down here,’ Oscar, the newest prefect, appeared to be the only pupil taking his job seriously as the four new boys followed him onto a stone stairway that twisted around below the Great Hall.

‘How cool is this?’ Theo nudged Greg’s elbow as they led the other two first-years along a corridor that grew lower and wider as it wound back on itself, broadening out beneath the castle before drawing to an abrupt close beside a wall of black marble. ‘It’s a dead end...’

‘Really?’ Oscar glanced back, a sly grin edging across his face. ‘Are you sure?’ The prefect reached forward, touching his wand against the marble. ‘Ordovicius.’

‘Wow...’ Theo’s mouth fell open as he watched the bricks melt back into an arched doorway, and a snake-headed handle grew from the mortar. ‘Awesome.’

‘Remember the password,’ Oscar reminded the others as he eased the doorway open, showing their way into a lowlit chamber. A gentle fire crackled in one corner, more for light than heat as the warmth of the late summer evening lingered. Around the room, black leather wrapped around stools and sofas, clustered in little groups underneath lanterns that gave a lustre to the walls on which they hung. ‘It can get cold in the winter if you’re waiting there for somebody.’

Greg laughed, before a thought occurred to him. ‘What about the other Houses? What if they found out?’’

Oscar snorted. ‘You think they’d want to come in here, and risk the wrath of the Death Eaters?’ He rolled his eyes. ‘No, I think we’re safe from that.’ The prefect beckoned the first-year boys towards a sofa that squatted beside the fireplace, and pulled a stool across the tiled floor to sit facing the new children. ‘Welcome to the Slytherin dungeon.’

‘Cool,’ Theo grinned, ‘thanks.’

‘Yeah,’ Greg echoed, quickly. ‘Thanks, Oscar.’

The prefect nodded. ‘I just...’ he hesitated, pausing. ‘I just thought,’ he bit his bottom lip. ‘You all must have heard stories about Slytherin,’ he offered, limply, ‘and I doubt they’ve ever been much good.’

As Oscar spoke, Isaac sat bolt upright at one end of the sofa, and though Greg could hear the other first-year’s teeth grinding beside him, neither eleven-year-old spoke.

‘They don’t have to be true,’ Oscar struggled to keep eye contact with the new children as he spoke. ‘Not if you don’t want them to be.’ He swallowed. ‘Just because we are in Slytherin doesn’t mean we have to act like those stories, to act like people think we’re like.’  He brushed the back of his forearm over his forehead. ‘No one else will look out for us,’ he exhorted, standing up. ‘I know Sprout always says your House should be like your family. Just for once, why can’t we manage to get along like that?’

‘What...?’ Theo glanced at Greg. ‘What does he mean?’

‘I’ll tell you later,’ Greg whispered, as Oscar lashed out in frustration, shunting the stool across the polished floor.

‘Forget it, I suppose it’ll never happen.’ He shook his head. ‘Your dorms are down there.’ The prefect pointed down a corridor that led away from the main common room. ‘First floor down the staircase, then first door on the left.’

*

‘What does he mean about the stories?’ Theo asked Greg again later that evening. Isaac and Lucas had pulled the cotton hangings around their bunks tightly closed, leaving the two blond boys sitting together upon Greg’s bed. ‘About what people think we’re like?’

Greg sighed, leaning back and feeling the cool on the iron bedhead push against his shoulder blades. ‘I don’t know,’ he grimaced. ‘Well, I think I know a bit, but not everything.’ He tried to recall the stories that Greg and Matthew had shared with him during the summer holidays. ‘It just sounds like we get bullied,’ Greg found himself staring down at his pyjama shorts, ‘because of something a few idiots did, nothing to do with us.’ He looked up towards Theo, to find for the first time that the other boy wasn’t smiling back.

‘Why did no one tell me that before?’ Theo growled, pushing himself up from the bunk and taking a handful of thunderous steps across the room to a window that looked out directly onto the grey-green shore of the great lake.

‘That’s what Matty said,’ Greg offered into the silence. ‘All the House gets any more are the real tossers and new kids who don’t know any better.’

‘Well, I guess that makes you a tosser, then!’ Theo snapped, glaring over his shoulder before striding the short distance back to his own bunk and snapping the curtains shut around himself.

‘I guess you’d know all about being a tosser!’ Greg spat back, yelling upwards as he sank down onto the cool of the bedsheets. His eyes fell shut, and in that moment he understood Matthew’s warnings, both about Slytherin House and about the fact that a day would come when he would feel like he needed to use a certain word.

‘Fuck,’ he whispered to himself, replaying the handful of hours since he’d stepped from the ramshackle boat onto the rocky shore of the castle. ‘Maybe this is what Slytherin turns us into,’ he shivered, pulling the thick duvet over his chest, ‘maybe that’s what happens to people when they get treated like this.’

Greg blinked, willing his eyes to remain free from any tears as he remembered how the boy whom he’d thought most likely to be his friend had called him a tosser. How pale Matthew’s face had seemed as he joined his neighbour on the Slytherin table. How uncharacteristically tense Oscar had been a few short minutes ago as he spoke of the history of the House. How frightened Isaac Davies had looked all evening, ever since the moment the Sorting Hat had called that fateful word.

Greg kicked the base of his heel against the mattress on his bed, swearing again as his conversation repeated inside his mind. Why had he asked to be placed here? The hat had said something about choices, rather than abilities, that showed who someone really was. He swallowed, considering the language he had chosen in the last few minutes, and felt himself blush at the memory.

‘Th... Theo?’ Greg called out hopefully into the lantern light of the dormitory. ‘Theo,’ he repeated himself. ‘I know you’re still awake.’

An angry grunt from the other boy’s end of the room was enough to confirm that Greg was right.

‘I just wondered...’ Greg coughed as he searched for the words he wanted to use. ‘What did the Sorting Hat say to you? What did it say about Slytherin?’ He waited for an answer, but when nothing came he kept on talking. ‘It said to me that our choices were more important than our abilities. Just being in Slytherin doesn’t make us bad people.’ He continued, trying to convince himself as much as to persuade Theo. ‘We’re in this House because we’re ambitious, because we’re cunning... because we want to succeed. That doesn’t have to be bad, does it?’ Greg’s question drifted into the empty quiet of the dormitory, and no answer came in reply.

A handful of metres away, Theo pulled his own duvet tightly over himself, blinking back the tears that beat against his eyelids as he heard Greg talk.

‘I guess you’d know all about being a tosser!’ The other boy’s insult echoed in his brain as he remembered his own conversation with the Hat.

‘An appetite to lead,’ it had uttered, ‘and ambition to make your mark on the magical world.’ It had sounded so promising a few short hours ago, but as he listened to the other boy’s stories about a wizard named Lord Voldemort, the language seemed so much more sinister. ‘One house more than any other will provide these opportunities,’ the Hat had offered, ‘so long as you are willing to face the challenges it will present. You will certainly require a strong mind to overcome its past.’

He rolled over, pressing his eyes deep into his pillow as the meaning of the Hat’s words, which he had dismissed as dramatic nonsense only hours before, crystallised in his mind. He repeated the last two sentences into the dormitory before the silence descended once again.

‘Greg?’

‘Theo?’

The two children talked at the same time, their words catching on one another, and another awkward quiet descended before Theo spoke again.

‘Sorry,’ he swallowed. ‘Sorry for calling you a tosser.’

‘Same,’ Greg answered. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I was just...’ He tailed off.

‘Scared?’

‘Yeah.’ Greg heard Theo pull open the hangings of his bed, and pushed himself up against his headboard as the other boy walked over. ‘Sorry,’ he held out his hand, ignoring Theo’s reddened eyes.

‘That’s okay,’ Theo took Greg’s hand, managing a weak smile as he did so. ‘Thanks, mate.’

‘I think I know what the Hat meant when it spoke to you,’ Greg offered.

‘Me too,’ Theo replied, ‘and I think I know what Oscar meant, too. I think we should go talk to him.’

‘Good idea,’ Greg agreed, ‘let’s go.’

*

‘Oscar?’ Greg called out as he hurried up the wide staircase, back to the common room. A single figure sat, slumped against the jet black of one of the armchairs beside the fireplace, dejectedly charming scraps of parchment to burn into embers in front of him. ‘Oscar, is that you?’

‘W... what? What is it?’ Startled, the figure looked up, hiding his wand away as he confirmed his identity to the first-years.  ‘Greg?’

‘Yeah,’ the eleven-year-old answered, his voice calm and quiet. ‘Do you mind if we talk to you?’

‘Okay,’ Oscar levered himself upright in the armchair, leaning forwards as the two younger children dropped down onto footstools between the prefect and the fireplace. ‘Are you both alright?’ He added, almost as an afterthought, suddenly remembering his role.

‘We’re fine,’ Greg answered. ‘It’s just that we’ve been talking...’ he glanced towards his friend, ‘and we want to know what you really meant – about houses, and family – and why it’s not the same for Slytherin.’

Theo nodded in agreement. ‘We think we know – well, sort of,’ he hesitated. ‘Me and Greg just had a stupid argument downstairs, for no reason.’ He looked down at his feet. ‘It’s things like that, isn’t it?’

Oscar nodded. ‘It’s why I know Matt didn’t want you here.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Look around the room,’ he sighed. ‘I’ve been sat here on my own since you two went down to your dorm. Did anyone come and talk to me? Did anyone care?’

 ‘What about Matthew...?’ Greg’s jaw dropped.

‘Quidditch Captains’ meeting,’ the prefect answered, ‘but there shouldn’t be just one person! The other Houses call us selfish pricks – and they’re right,’ he reflected. ‘It’s all very well looking out for yourself, but sometimes you need someone else. Nobody else here gives a shit.’ He looked directly at Theo. ‘Sorry.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ the first-year smiled. ‘I know worse than that.’

 ‘You’ll laugh about anything, won’t you?’ Oscar grinned. ‘So, what did you want to ask me about, then?’

‘Why do you think Slytherin is like this?’ Greg asked. ‘Is it what all Slytherins are like anyway, or is it just what they become?’

‘It’s what they become. Look at Seb.’ Oscar replied quickly, using the third-year as an example. ‘He was like you are – excited, looking forwards to school – but now...’

‘Is it because of the game, do you think?’

‘A bit,’ Oscar shrugged, before noticing the blank look on Theo’s face. ‘Quidditch, last year,’ he explained, ‘against Gryffindor... we lost 660-10. He was the keeper.’

‘Oh.’ Now it was the first-year’s turn to swear.

‘That wasn’t all, though.’ Oscar continued. ‘Greg, you know he never talks, but it wasn’t always like that. He’s just got quieter and quieter... Lessons are bad enough when there’s two of us. I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s only one.’

‘Why...?’ Greg asked, aimlessly

‘You’ll just get picked on,’ Theo looked down as he answered, ‘whatever you do,’ he sighed. ‘So you just hide.’

‘Yeah, exactly,’ Oscar nodded. ‘Wait...’ He looked directly at Theo. ‘How do you know?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ the eleven-year-old shivered. ‘I just guessed.’

Oscar glanced at Greg, raising his eyebrows as he heard the other boy’s answer. ‘Whatever – you can’t let that happen to each other,’ he insisted. ‘You have to stick together, help each other out... cause you know no one else will.’

‘I know,’ Theo still stared at the floor, ‘if you’re different, then you’re on your own.’

‘What happened, mate?’ Greg reached an arm out onto his friend’s shoulder as the other boy fixed his eyes on his own reflection, staring back from the tiles. ‘Was it your old school?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Theo repeated, pushing the loose strands of his long fringe behind his ears. ‘Really, it doesn’t.’

‘It’s like when everyone else in the room is talking about something and you’re not involved,’ Oscar recalled. ‘Like there’s an invisible fence drawn around them all, and you’re on the outside. The only time you have something to do with the inside is when it gets thrown at you.’

Theo stared back at the prefect. ‘What? How...?’

‘I’ve been there too, don’t forget. Every year.’

‘Oh, God...’ The first-year’s head dropped again. ‘I thought I’d got away from all that,’ he murmured as the fringe of his hair fell over his eyelids. ‘I was the only white kid in my class,’ he explained.

‘In London?’ Greg asked, surprised.

‘Yes,’ Theo nodded slowly. ‘I don’t think they meant it all to end this way,’ he sighed, ‘but it did. I wasn’t interested in the same things they were; I didn’t have the same holidays... I just got left out. Then weird things started to happen – stuff I now know was bits of magic escaping – and the others started to pick on me because of it...’

‘Oh,’ Greg tightened his grip on his friend’s shoulder for fraction of a second. ‘Sorry, mate. We won’t let that happen again, I promise you. I promise I’ll always stick up for you.’

‘Thanks, Greg,’ Theo made no effort to dry the single tear that had begun to trickle down his right cheek. ‘Same here.’

‘Well said,’ Oscar smiled. ‘What about the other two new kids? Do you think they’ll join in, too?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Greg shrugged. ‘Neither of them have really spoken to us yet.’
 
 
 


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