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Chapter 19 : Veritaserum
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‘If it’s a truth potion, I don’t care what it’s called,’ Greg refused to be cowed. ‘I’m not afraid,’ he repeated himself, ‘I’ve got nothing to hide.’
Glyn’s mother raised her eyebrows, before turning on her heel and sweeping out of the kitchen, leaving their boys on their own once more.
‘Greg...’ the older Welsh boy looked up, sniffing as he rubbed the back of his forearm across his eyes. ‘You don’t have to do this; you know I believe you.’
‘I know,’ the blond boy smiled, gently patting his friend’s shoulder. ‘You wouldn’t have stood up to your Mum... particularly not like that... if you didn’t.’
Glyn blushed, wiping his eyes once again before untidily heaving a chair outwards and sitting down beside Isaac. ‘You do know you’ll have to tell the truth about everything, right?’
‘So what?’ Greg shrugged. ‘What am I going to tell her? That we drank too much butterbeer after the Ravenclaw game?’
Glyn managed a stifled laugh. ‘I guess,’ he offered, ‘it’s just... you shouldn’t have to do this.’
‘Yeah, maybe,’ the Slytherin smiled, sadly, ‘but it looks like I do,’ he reflected as the noise of the kitchen door signalled Gwenog’s return.
‘Three drops,’ she smiled haughtily, ‘that should do it.’ The woman counted out the potion onto a silver teaspoon before emptying it down Greg’s throat. ‘Right, then,’ she smirked, ‘let’s see what you’ve got to say for yourself. What’s your full name?’
‘Gregory Joseph Bennett.’
‘Where do you live?’ The questioning quickly gathered pace as Gwenog snapped at the eleven-year-old, and Greg answered drearily back.
‘Who are your parents?’
‘Joseph and Elaine Bennett.’
‘Were they in Slytherin?’
‘Which House were they in?’
‘They didn’t go to Hogwarts.’
A couple of the watching boys turned their giggles into sudden coughs as they watched Gwenog’s startled reaction to Greg’s answer.
‘So you’re muggle-born?’ she stuttered.
‘Obviously,’ Greg droned.
‘And you’re in Slytherin?’
‘That’s why he’s had to take this, Mum!’ Glyn yelled out, pushing himself up from the kitchen table. ‘I could have told you he was a muggle-born! He’d never even heard of Quidditch at the start of the year.’
‘I didn’t ask for your opinion,’ Gwenog glared at her older son, who swallowed under her gaze, edging back to the other gathered children. ‘Well,’ she gathered her composure. ‘Why are you in Slytherin?’
‘I asked the Sorting Hat to put me there.’
‘What?’ Gwenog spluttered. ‘What did you do that for?’
‘It said part of me belonged there, and anyway, I already knew two of the boys in the fourth year.’
‘Who are they?’
‘Matthew Sawyer and Oscar Symons,’ Greg pre-empted the woman’s next question. ‘They’re muggle-born too.’
Gwenog sighed, changing the tack of her interrogation. ‘Who is your best friend?’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘Is Glyndwr Jones one of your friends?’
‘How good a friend of yours is he?’
‘Very good.’ Glyn couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief as he heard Greg’s answer, even though he had never doubted its truth.
‘Have you ever argued?’
‘Of course we’ve argued, Mum!’ Glyn’s patience was growing thin and his composure began to break. ‘What did you expect?’
‘Are you planning to betray him?’ Gwenog talked over her son’s interruption.
‘Have you learned any Dark Magic?’
‘Mum!’ Glyn yelled again, starting forwards only for Theo to grab hold of one of his arms, and Jai the other, as they held him back. ‘Why don’t you just ask him if he’s got a Dark Mark yet?’
‘I’m only thinking of your safety, Glyndwr,’ she simpered, before turning back to Greg. ‘Why did you choose my son as a friend?’
‘Because he trusted me.’
‘Don’t you want to use him for something?’
‘If you had the choice between saving his life and winning the House Cup, what would you choose?’
‘Saving his life.’
‘Mum!’ Glyn snapped for a third time, breaking free of his friends’ grasp and storming across the kitchen. ‘How can you ask him that? What do you think he is? What do you expect him to say?’ The eleven-year-old’s eyes began to water, and he sniffed fiercely, steadying himself with a deep breath. ‘I’ve got a question,’ he turned to Greg. ‘How does it make you feel to be treated like this?’
‘It makes me feel like I’m second-class,’ Greg answered with brutal honesty. ‘It makes me wonder why I bother trying to be different, because people don’t want to see me, they just want to see Slytherin, and pretend I’m like Voldemort.’’
Glyn ignored his mother’s shudder as his friend answered. ‘What do you think of people who don’t trust you, just because of the House you’re in?’
‘I don’t think it’s any different to any other kind of prejudice.’
‘So you think it’s the same as being racist?’
Glyn turned back to face his mother, as a threatening silence began to suffocate the kitchen once more.
‘Glyndwr Jones...’ Gwenog stuttered... ‘Are you suggesting...’
‘Yes.’ This time it was the Welsh boy’s turn to answer with a single word, and the silence shattered as his mother’s calm edifice crumbled.
‘GLYNDWR JONES!’ She repeated, suddenly in hot pursuit of her older son as the eleven-year-old bolted for the doorway, whilst Greg took his own chance to dash for the back door, leaving the other six boys shell-shocked and alone in the kitchen.
‘I think we should go,’ Lucas offered, calmly. ‘If we stay, we’ll only make things worse.’
Harlech Castle stood on top of a high promontory, looking out over the rocky shore below, its four corner towers linked by great stone walls and abridged only by an imposing gatehouse. The shell of its interior lay empty, ruined but for the remains of stairwells and skeletons of fireplaces, but as Greg sat, squatting back against the remains of the highest tower, it was the closest place he could approximate to the grandeur of Hogwarts.
Why had he even thought that he could change things? He shook his head sadly, remembering a line that Neal Kennedy had quoted during History of Magic about the “foolish idealism of youth”. It was so much easier, the seventh-year had argued, to claim that you would change the world, than to actually do so.
‘The world’s not as simple as you thought it was, right?’ Another memory, this time of his near-neighbour’s wisdom on the evening of the Gryffindor match, crossed the eleven-year-old’s mind. He sighed as he recalled Matthew’s words, half-turning around as he heard the excited shouts of children from the courtyard below.
‘You don’t know how lucky you are,’ he whispered to himself, watching a pair of boys, neither any older than nine, chase recklessly around the castle ruin. ‘I didn’t either.’ Turning out the pockets of his canvas shorts, he began to count through the sum total of his belongings. ‘Not enough to get a train home with, that’s for sure,’ he mused as the sound of a departing diesel locomotive echoed out from the station that interrupted the railway line along the coast below. ‘Not even enough to get out of Wales...’
Greg shivered as a gust of breeze blew onshore, eddying around the ruined turrets and battlements, and the boy found himself wishing fervently that he had brought a jumper with him when he left Castell Fach. As his thoughts drifted back to his friend’s house, he began to wonder what might have played out in his absence, and where Glyn and Gwenog’s argument might have led. As it turned out, however, he didn’t need to wait for long to find out, as the insistent screech of a small brown owl cut his daydream short.
‘Okay, okay, alright...’ Greg muttered, detaching a thin package from the bird’s talons, and watching as a slip of parchment, wound around an old biro, and a scattering of bacon rashers tumbled to the floor. Ignoring the owl’s lunge for the scattered food, Greg carefully peeled the note away from the barrel of the pen and began to read.
Please don’t run away. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re not like Voldemort, and you never will be. My Dad says we’ll come and get you, wherever you are. Just write where you are on the back of this letter and give it back to Branwen, our owl. I put a biro pen in so you could do it. Please come back and stay with us. My Dad doesn’t care that you’re in Slytherin. You’re one of the best friends I ever had.
Greg held the parchment in his hands, gazing at the blotches of moisture that peppered its disjointed sentences, before reaching out for the biro on the floor by his feet. ‘So are you,’ he spoke to himself, scrawling “in the castle” onto the back of the paper, and reattaching the message to Branwen’s talons. ‘See you soon.’
Greg lapsed back into his thoughts, imagining what might have come to pass at his friend’s house, and just what role Glyn’s father – an arithmancer, he recalled – would have played in this apparent resolution. He shook his head, remembering the Welsh boy’s fury as he argued with his mother, and couldn’t help being drawn to the stereotype of Hufflepuff House, fiercely loyal at any cost. An army of conflicting ideas swept through his mind, and he struggled to consider each one of them in turn. Was this what the Sorting Hat had seen in Glyn? If it was, did it mean that the different Houses really did matter, after all? Or was it just a gesture of friendship, where the Houses never even came into it?
‘Greg? Greg!’ It took two shouts to disturb the blond boy’s concentration.
‘Wait... what?’ The Slytherin shook himself, looking up for the owner of the voice. ‘Glyn? How did you get here so quick...?’
‘Dad Apparated.’ The Welsh boy grinned. ‘There’s another wizard who lives in the High Street; we usually go through his house when we need to get to Harlech – and don’t want muggles to see us appearing out of nowhere!’
Greg nodded slowly, getting steadily to his feet as he let the information sink in. He looked from Glyn’s face to that of his friend’s father, standing alongside the boy. Aneurin Jones stood tall and lean, his thin black hair and well-defined cheeks echoing his son’s face. ‘What happened...?’ Greg stuttered.
‘Gwenog has a Quidditch player’s temper,’ Aneurin explained. ‘She’s not one for thinking first and acting later, no matter how often she’ll tell you to do the same.’ He smiled, kindly. ‘I think that’s why she married me, boys. Her opposite, you know?’
‘You know I’m a Slytherin, right?’ Greg asked, uncertainly.
‘I don’t think I could have missed that,’ Aneurin squatted down in front of the blond boy, ‘with my wife and son screaming the place down about it when I came home.’
‘So you don’t mind?’ Greg swallowed.
‘No,’ Glyn’s father rested the palm of his right hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘If Glyndwr says he trusts you, then that’s good enough for me.’ He reached around the back of the first-year’s neck, gently drawing him closer as Greg let his mask of composure fall away into a slow stream of tears.
‘I’m sorry...’ he mumbled, moments later, brushing the back of his wrist over his face.
‘Don’t be,’ Glyn insisted, repeating the words of his letter. ‘You’ve got nothing to be sorry for.’
‘Thank you,’ Greg turned his head to face the other boy, blinking through a film of tears. ‘You know what you said in your letter? You’re one of the best friends I ever had, too.’
The kitchen at Castell Fach was quiet once more as Aneurin, with Greg and Glyn at his side, Apparated back into the Jones family home. The hush lasted no longer than a couple of seconds, however, as Greg staggered sideways, grabbing at the wooden back of a chair before vomiting unceremoniously onto the linoleum floor.
‘Oh... sorry...’ he offered weakly, blushing as he spoke.
‘No bother, boy,’ Aneurin patted his shoulder firmly. ‘Apparating for the first time has a habit of making people a little queasy.’ He lifted his own wand from his belt, pointing it at the mess. ‘Scourgify!’
‘Thank you,’ Greg nodded.
‘No bother,’ Aneurin repeated, smiling. ‘Now,’ the man’s expression grew stern, ‘about this little... disagreement.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I won’t stand for it. I believe that everyone has the chance to choose their own path through life, and this is what the rest of the world should judge them on: not their names, their faces, their nations, their Houses. Otherwise we build ourselves a world of suspicion and fear, and that is not a world I wish to live in. I do not wish to speak of this again. Now then,’ his tone instantly brightened, ‘what’s for dinner?’
‘Greg?’ The eleven-year-old stirred as he heard a quiet knock on the door of the small room that he was sharing with Theo. ‘Greg?’ The voice repeated itself.
‘Who’s there?’ Greg blinked. ‘Glyn, is that you?’
‘Yes,’ the voice came back. ‘Can I come in?’
‘Yeah, of course.’ The Slytherin pushed himself up, sitting against the makeshift headboard of his camp bed, as the Welsh boy guided the door open and eased the dimmer switch in the room to a low light. ‘Are you alright?’
‘Yeah,’ Glyn nodded. ‘It’s just... I was lying in bed, thinking about today... I just wanted to talk about it.’ He tried to smile, edging towards the end of Greg’s bunk. ‘I’ve never heard Dad like that before.’
Greg looked across to Theo as his best friend shook the long fringe out of his eyes. ‘It must have been weird,’ he offered, his words shy of any confidence.
‘This whole year’s been weird,’ Glyn admitted, staring down at the floor. ‘I remember what I used to think Hogwarts was going to be like. I never imagined anything like what’s really happened.’
‘Imagine what it’s like for us, then,’ Theo interjected. ‘How different do you think this is from what we thought our first year of senior school would be like? If someone had told me a year ago that all this was going to happen then I’d have said they should’ve been locked up.’
Glyn winced. ‘I know,’ he stammered. ‘I know, it’s not the same, but...’
‘It’s okay, Glyn, I get it.’ Greg counselled. ‘Slytherin, right?’
The Hufflepuff nodded, and Greg watched, stunned, as his friend struggled to blink moisture out of his eyes.
‘That’s just it,’ the Welsh boy’s breath rasped. ‘I was just lying there thinking, and I thought, I thought... a bit of me wished none of this ever happened, wished things were just like they were meant to be...’ Glyn gave up his attempts to stem his tears and turned away, hiding his face away as he sobbed into his hands.
‘So...?’ Theo broke the silence after the two Slytherins had stared at one another. ‘What’s wrong with that?’
‘Didn’t you hear it?’ Glyn pleaded. ‘Part of me wished I’d never met you! You’re some of my best friends, and I wished that. I’m a Hufflepuff; I’m supposed to be loyal, and I can’t even manage that...’
Greg swung his legs over the side of his bed. ‘Glyn,’ he reasoned, shifting to sit alongside his friend. ‘You used the f-word at your mum today when you were sticking up for me. How much more loyal do you want to get?’
‘’But...’ the Welsh boy complained, ‘you heard what I said, that I wished it never happened...’
‘I think about that sometimes,’ Greg admitted. ‘I wonder what things would be like if none of this had ever happened, if I’d never had my letter and just gone to the Grammar School.’
‘Me too,’ added Theo, ‘I bet everyone does. My rugby coach used to say that it didn’t matter what might have happened, though, it was what did happen that counted.’
‘It’s like that first night,’ Greg remembered, ‘when were worried about what would happen because we’d ended up in Slytherin – but there’s no point in worrying about things that aren’t real when there’s enough that is real to bother us.’ He took a deep breath, reaching out to rest a reassuring arm over the Hufflepuff’s shoulders. ‘Just as long as we stick together.’
‘Yeah,’ Theo echoed, stridently. ‘Never give up.’
Glyn blinked, clearing the film of tears from in front of his eyes for long enough that half a smile broke through, and he wiped the back of his right arm over his face. ‘I guess it’s just been a bad day.’
‘I don’t know,’ Greg shrugged. ‘I don’t think it’s been that bad a day,’ he suggested. ‘I know that there’s still some people in the world who won’t just judge us because we’re Slytherins,’ he paused, looking slowly towards the Welsh boy, ‘and that I’ve got some friends who will stick up for me, no matter what.’
‘I guess...’ Glyn muttered. ‘I never really thought of it like that,’ he admitted, ‘but you’re right,’ his voice grew clearer. ‘Maybe it wasn’t that bad.’ He swallowed. ‘Thank you.’
‘That’s alright,’ Greg nodded.
‘I never really imagined what my friends would be like, either,’ the Hufflepuff added, ‘but I’m glad they turned out to be like you.’ He smiled, before jolting as he remembered a half-forgotten memory. ‘I’m not meant to tell you this, not till tomorrow anyway because it might not work out, but... well, you know it’s my birthday next week?’ He paused, suddenly breathless. ‘Mum says we can all go and watch the Harpies’ game against Falmouth at the weekend as a treat.’
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