Chapter 21 : Broken Glass
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‘You don’t deserve it, you know?’ Spencer Dawlish didn’t hesitate to share his opinion as the first-years gathered outside the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom the following Monday.
‘Don’t deserve what?’ Isaac wasn’t in the mood to let the Gryffindor’s taunts go unchallenged.
‘You know what,’ Dawlish sneered. ‘To be in the playoffs. We’ve already beaten you once; we should be Champions already.’
‘Shame you didn’t beat Ravenclaw then, isn’t it?’ Isaac snapped. ‘Cause we did, then they beat you, so shouldn’t that make us Champions?’
‘Kennedy just got lucky,’ Dawlish snorted, ‘that snitch flew right into his hands. That wasn’t skill.’
‘Just ignore him, Zac,’ Greg suggested.
‘You guys are all lucky you’re even allowed to be here,’ the Gryffindor wasn’t dissuaded. ‘I don’t know why they haven’t just knocked down the Slytherin common room for good.’
‘Yeah, I know,’ Greg’s eyes glazed into an icy stare as he ignored his own advice. ‘I don’t know why they let anyone with Death Eaters in their family anywhere near the school.’
Dawlish’s cheeks burned a sudden red, and he swallowed as he heard the Slytherin’s words. ‘Why don’t you just fuck off?’ The spiky-haired boy turned on his heel, before shoving Ciaran Abercrombie roughly to one side as he pushed to the front of the queue outside the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.
‘Greg...?’ Lucas asked, tentatively. ‘You said you’d never...’
‘He deserved it,’ the blond boy was unrepentant. ‘He can’t go around saying all that shit and not expect to get something back. I bet no one in Gryffindor ever stands up to him,’ Greg glanced sideways, noticing that Ciaran still hadn’t got up from the ground. ‘Look at the way he goes around treating him, and no one cares.’ He reached an arm out to the sandy-haired boy, who took it sheepishly, but not before checking to see that none of the other Gryffindors were looking.
‘Thank you,’ he whispered, ‘but... I can’t let them see me talking to you.’
Greg nodded. ‘You’ve got to stick up for yourself more,’ he insisted, but the pale Gryffindor had already turned his back, following his housemates into Jacob Tregeagle’s classroom. ‘How do they get away with it?’
‘I know,’ Theo answered his friend’s question in a low voice. ‘It’s because he lets them; cause he doesn’t dare try and stop it because it might just make it all worse.’
‘First-years, in you come!’ Tregeagle’s command interrupted the Slytherins’ reflections, and the boys filed into the classroom as the teacher began his instructions. ‘It is two weeks until your final exams, and you are all greatly in need of practice – starting with the very basics: disarming spells, simple jinxes and hexes, and the shield and counter-spells. Anything may come up in your practical exam, depending on who ends up calling your name. The examiners have been instructed to change the tasks for each candidate, keeping you well and truly on your toes.’
He leaned over his lectern as Lucas, the last of the Slytherins, closed the classroom door, leading into a room that was, for once, free of desks or chairs. ‘Today, I expect you to split into pairs to practise a spell and its counter-spell. Yes,’ he paused, ‘if you do it badly, then you will get hurt – so don’t do it badly. Oh, Mr Abercrombie?’ He glared at the sandy-haired Gryffindor. ‘Do try to avoid getting yourself killed.’
‘He’s got no chance,’ Greg shook his head, sadly, as he followed his friends to an empty corner of the classroom ‘No chance at all when Tregeagle’s his Head of House.’
‘Can we start with disarming?’ Theo asked.
The other boys nodded. ‘Do you want to go first?’ Lucas offered. ‘Try it on me.’
‘Alright,’ The blond boy nodded. ‘Expellarmus!’ He jabbed his wand towards his friend, who simply stood there, unaffected by the failed spell.
‘You’re saying it wrong, mate,’ Isaac observed. ‘Watch.’ He turned to face Greg, whipping his wand arm forwards with a flourish. ‘Expelliarmus!’
‘Hey!’ Greg watched his wand spin into Isaac’s left hand. ‘I wasn’t ready!’
‘Ready?’ Tregeagle’s low voice snapped across the room. ‘You weren’t ready? Constant vigilance,’ he bellowed, ‘you must always be ready.’
‘I’m sorry, Professor,’ Greg apologised. ‘He’s right, as well,’ the eleven-year-old muttered as Isaac passed his wand back once the teacher had walked away. ‘I should have been ready. Expelliarmus!’ He aimed the spell back at Isaac.
‘Protego!’ A shield charm glowed around the other first-year, and a wide grin spread over his face as the disarming jet speared away into the classroom floor. ‘I was ready.’
Greg smiled wryly. ‘Well done, mate.’
‘I wish I could do that,’ Theo sighed.
‘I bet you can,’ Greg insisted, ‘the same as that Transfiguration... the same as spinning the quaffle. You’ve just got to concentrate on the right things.’
‘Remember what Tregeagle said,’ Lucas reminded his friends. ‘Wand, Words and Willpower.’
The Slytherin boys turned around as they heard a volley of spells hitting their target in the next corner of the classroom.
‘Guess who...?’ Greg muttered, darkly.
‘Ciaran,’ Lucas sighed, watching the Gryffindor writhe in a magic-driven frenzy, dangling upside down as he suffered the effects of several spells at once.
‘Finite Incantatem,’ Tregagle intoned, leaving Ciaran to fall clumsily to the floor. ‘Did you not hear what I just said? Constant vigilance!’
‘I couldn’t...’ Ciaran stammered. ‘There were four of them...’
‘A properly-cast shield charm will resist against much more than four first-years, boy,’ the professor held his glare. ‘I would have thought that if there was one spell that you would have made an effort to learn, that would have been it.’
‘That’s so unfair...’ Theo whispered, watching the Gryffindor stumble to his feet amidst his housemates’ ironic cheers.
‘I wonder what they’ll get him with next?’ Lucas asked the question, but no sooner had the words escaped his lips than the sandy-haired boy decided to take matters into his own hands.
‘STUPEFY!’ Ciaran yelled, his face burning as he shot a jet of light straight at Professor Tregeagle.
‘Where’s his vigilance now?’ Isaac observed, cynically, as the teacher stumbled backwards and the other Gryffindors’ mouths fell open in shock.
‘Stupefy, Stupefy, STUPEFY!’ Tregeagle was back on his feet as Ciaran advanced, but a combination of the boy’s desperate aim and the professor’s easy shield charm meant that no further damage was done.
‘Immobulus!’ Tregeagle pointed his own wand back towards the first-year and the classroom fell silent. ‘That’s quite enough of that.’ It was a silence that would not persist, however, as a low hissing noise began to thrum from within one of the cupboards that sat around the room. ‘Funny,’ the teacher opined, ‘I thought I had sealed that.’ He moved closer to the source of the disturbance, tutting to himself as he examined the steel barrier that sat across the glass casing. ‘Ah...’
The professor lifted part of the metal guard, and as he did so a blast of cold air gusted out of the cupboard, knocking the teacher to the ground once again before spinning like a cyclone around the classroom.
Greg opened his mouth to speak, only to realise that the roar of wind would keep any of his questions from reaching his friends’ ears, and instead settled for taking a firm grip on Lucas and Theo’s robes. The other Slytherins quickly copied, holding tightly on to one another as the gusts of air coalesced into the bodies of spirits, both on foot and on horseback, surrounded by packs of dogs.
‘The Wild Hunt...’ Lucas mouthed, but no one heard him as the maelstrom grew to a crescendo, before bursting suddenly through one of the skylights that sat in a half-circle above the teacher’s desk.
‘This lesson is over!’ Tregeagle announced, hurrying for the doorway, swiftly followed by the rest of Gryffindor House. ‘Class dismissed!’
‘Do you think that really was the Wild Hunt?’ Lucas repeated into the silence as the four Slytherins walked across the deserted room towards Ciaran’s motionless body, standing alone in its centre.
‘What else could it have been?’ Greg asked, rhetorically.
Isaac nodded. ‘Sure explains Tregeagle’s reaction, too, if they were after his granddad.’
Greg paused in front of Ciaran. ‘We’re going to try and set you free,’ he explained, ‘but you must promise not to run off on us,’ he stared into the Gryffindor boy’s eyes as Theo took a tight hold of Ciaran’s free hand. ‘What was the charm?’
‘Finite Incantatem,’ Lucas answered.
Greg nodded. ‘Alright,’ he steeled himself. ‘All of us – on three – one, two, three...’
‘FINITE INCANTATEM!’ Greg, Lucas and Isaac pointed their wands, firing jets of white light towards the first-year Gryffindor and sending him stumbling to the ground.
‘Sorry...’ Greg offered as the sandy-haired boy blinked, his eyes darting frenetically around the empty classroom. ‘I didn’t think we’d be that strong...’
Ciaran flinched as the Slytherin boy lifted an arm towards the side of his face, only to jerk his head back downwards as he realised Theo still held his left hand in a vice grip. ‘Please don’t hurt me,’ his voice came in a panicked whisper. ‘I didn’t mean it; I don’t know what that was, honest!’ A stream of tears began to trickle down his pale face, and Greg ignored the Gryffindor’s twitch as he raised his hand to Ciaran’s shoulder once again.
‘I know,’ he spoke softly, ‘I know.’ Greg managed a gentle smile before Ciaran let his head drop, burying his face in the shoulder of the blond boy’s robes.
‘Colloportus,’ Lucas aimed his own wand towards the classroom door, and Greg nodded his gratitude to the redhead. ‘Ciaran,’ he whispered, ‘something happened in here today. Something weird, something that’s probably dangerous. I want to find out what.’ He looked around his circle of friends. ‘We’re going back down to the dungeon – our common room. Do you want to come with us, or should we take you to the hospital wing?’
‘Not the hospital...’ Ciaran mumbled.
‘You’re coming with us, then?’ Greg repeated.
Ciaran grunted, his head still hidden.
‘Good enough for me.’
‘Votadini,’ Isaac touched his wand to the marble wall that hid the door to the Slytherin common room. ‘Here you are, then.’
Ciaran nodded dumbly, following the other first-years’ path through into the lantern light of the dungeon. ‘Thank you,’ he muttered. ‘I wonder who the last Gryffindor in here was?’
‘Probably Harry Potter,’ Lucas answered without missing a beat. ‘During the Second War; during the Battle.’
‘Come on, sit down, Ciaran,’ Greg indicated the nearest sofa to the fireplace. ‘Do you want something to drink?’
Ciaran shrugged, but Greg took the other boy’s indecision to be agreement. ‘Can you go and get something from the cupboard, Theo?’ He turned back to the Gryffindor as his friend scampered off. ‘When did...’ He paused, correcting himself. ‘Can you remember when all this started?’
‘Do you remember the first Defence lesson?’ Ciaran was a fraction taller than Lucas, the smallest of the first-year Slytherins, but his skin was paler than any of the other boys, and it seemed to grow ever more ashen as his whispered reply came back. ‘That first piece of homework.’
‘Yeah,’ Isaac butted in, ‘when you...’
‘Zac!’ Lucas elbowed his friend in the ribs. ‘You don’t need to remind him.’
‘Thanks, Luc,’ Greg smiled. ‘We remember, mate. He made Theo do it all again, too, didn’t he?’
‘Do what again?’ Theo had returned with a trayful of lemonade, which he set on a low table amidst the sofas before slumping back onto one of the leather seats.
‘That first Defence essay,’ Greg clarified.
‘Oh, yeah,’ the blond boy remembered, shaking his head. ‘I loved that,’ he remarked, sarcastically.
‘They never let me forget,’ Ciaran sighed. ‘Any time they needed somebody to pick on, it was always me.’
‘Like Halloween,’ Isaac recalled.
‘Yeah,’ Ciaran nodded his head, slowly. ‘I tried talking to them, but none of them even talked back. I tried telling Tregeagle, but he didn’t care; he said he wasn’t my babysitter. Then I tried ignoring them, but they just wouldn’t stop...’ The tears that had dried as Ciaran followed the Slytherins to their common room began to flow once again. ‘They never leave me alone.’ He sniffed. ‘Gryffindors are supposed to be brave, not bullies!’
Greg dropped an arm over the other boy’s shoulders. ‘Houses don’t mean everything, mate,’ he counselled. ‘What are Slytherins supposed to be like?’
Ciaran wiped his eyes. ‘Not like you,’ he shook his head. ‘Nothing makes any sense any more! I just don’t get it!’ He thumped the cushion beside his thigh.
‘Life’s not as simple as you thought, right?’ Greg summarised. ‘That’s what Matt said to me, and he’s right. Life doesn’t make perfect sense.’
‘It would be boring if it did,’ Theo agreed, ‘but we decided we were sticking together, whatever happened.’
‘That’s easy if you’ve got friends,’ Ciaran answered back, morosely. ‘I haven’t.’
‘Well,’ Lucas answered, matter-of-factly, ‘that’s only because you didn’t want any.’
‘What...?’ Ciaran stammered.
‘Don’t you remember?’ Lucas repeated. ‘It was a flying lesson, in something like the second week. You said you didn’t want any Slytherin help.’
The Gryffindor boy blushed, looking away from the redhead and staring at the tiled floor as the fringe of his sandy hair fell over his eyes.
‘You do remember, don’t you?’ Lucas pressed.
‘Yes,’ the other boy murmured.
‘Well, then,’ Lucas was unrepentant. ‘You chose it this way; you chose Gryffindors.’
‘Yeah, I know.’ Ciaran swallowed, before slowly lifting his eyes to gaze back to the other first-year. ‘I guess I got that wrong.’ He bit his lip. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Oh,’ Lucas blinked, surprise lining his face, before breathing a sigh of relief as Greg changed the subject.
‘Don’t worry about it, mate,’ the other boy smiled. ‘Hey, can you remember what Sorting Hat said to you...?’ He paused, correcting himself. ‘I mean, before it sorted you into Gryffindor.’
Ciaran sighed. ‘It said I would fit into any of the Houses,’ he recalled, ‘and that it was my choice.’
‘So why did you choose Gryffindor?’ Theo followed up his friend’s question.
‘Cause of my brother,’ Ciaran explained. ‘He was in Gryffindor when he was here. He left a few years ago.’
‘Alright,’ Greg continued. ‘It told me something Dumbledore once said... that it wasn’t someone’s abilities that made them into who they were, but their choices.’
Ciaran nodded. ‘It’s right,’ he smiled, sadly. ‘Merlin!’ He kicked his right heel against the base of the black sofa. ‘I’ve made so many bad choices this year.’
‘So what?’ Theo downed his own glass of lemonade. ‘My rugby coach always said that experience was just a whole load of bad choices.’
Isaac rolled his eyes. ‘Your rugby coach talked too much.’
‘Yeah, maybe,’ Theo shot back, instantly. ‘Just like you.’ He grinned as Isaac’s smirk swiftly hardened into a glare.
‘I bet he also said “never start something you can’t finish”, right Isaac?’ Greg joined in with his friends’ banter.
‘Oh, piss off!’ The brown-haired boy snapped back, reaching for his own glass of drink. ‘Anyway,’ he decided against continuing the argument, ‘aren’t we supposed to be figuring out what that was all about?’
‘Yeah,’ Greg nodded. ‘So, do you think it really was the Wild Hunt?’
‘What else could it have been?’ Theo protested. ‘It fitted everything in all the descriptions, didn’t it?’
‘Sorry,’ Ciaran interrupted, timidly, ‘but what’s the Wild Hunt?’
‘I’ll go and get the project,’ Lucas volunteered, turning to head for the staircase that led down to the dormitories.
‘You’ve never heard of it?’ Theo asked.
‘Well, obviously,’ Isaac put in quickly, unable to pass up the chance to get one back over his friend. ‘He wouldn’t have asked if he had.’
‘I guess.’ Theo shrugged, unconcerned.
‘I thought it was quite a well-known story,’ Greg explained, playing for time as he waited for Lucas to return. ‘I figured that, seeing as muggles had heard of it, most wizards would have done.’
‘I’d never heard of it either,’ Isaac admitted.
‘Lucas never said...’ Greg reflected. ‘Hey, Lukie!’ He called his friend’s naem as the noise of shoes on stone told the waiting first-years that the redhead was on his way back. ‘Had you heard of the Wild Hunt before we did the project?’
‘Um... yeah,’ he nodded breathlessly, tossing the plastic-bound folder into Greg’s lap, ‘but only a little bit; only as a legend...’
‘We did our project for History of Magic about them over Christmas,’ Greg explained. ‘I live near Dartmoor, near Wistman’s Wood, which is where the Hunt’s supposed to live.’
‘There are loads of stories,’ Lucas added, ‘about the Hunt chasing people – and ghosts – to the end of the world.’ He paused, looking slowly towards Greg as his friend flicked idly through the folder. ‘They chased one of the Tregeagles.’
Ciaran’s eyes bulged wide. ‘Our Tregeagle?’
‘Well, we don’t know,’ Greg admitted, ‘I guess there can’t be too many Tregeagles... and even fewer who are wizards. He has to have been a wizard,’ he clarified, ‘because he was a ghost when the Hunt chased him.’
‘Wow...’ The Gryffindor blinked. ‘What happened to him?’
Lucas shook his head. ‘We don’t know,’ he sighed. ‘We couldn’t find out. All the stories talk about is the tasks that Tregeagle had to do to keep him busy and keep the Hunt from taking him.’
‘Then what happened to the Hunt after that?’ Ciaran asked the same question that Neal Kennedy had done when he marked the project.
The Slytherins fell silent, before Greg finally spoke up. ‘That’s exactly what we’ve got to find out.’
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by Woodrow Rynne