Chapter 22 : The Hunted
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‘I wonder what the other first-years are doing?’ Theo wondered aloud.
‘Who cares?’ Isaac remarked. ‘At least they’re leaving him alone for once.’ He slipped onto the long bench beside the Slytherin table. ‘Tregeagle’s there, though,’ he pointed towards the staff table.
‘I wouldn’t want to be him right now,’ Greg shook his head as he sat down beside Isaac, ‘not if everything we found out is true.’
Lucas shrugged. ‘It might not be that much fun being us, either,’ he observed, ‘not if the Wild Hunt ends up loose in the school.’
‘Oh, thanks for that, Lukie!’ Theo rolled his eyes. ‘That’s a great thought to start the day with, mate.’
‘Well, it’s true,’ Lucas protested.
‘That doesn’t mean I want to know!’ The other boy brushed the fringe of his hair out of his eyes. ‘Right now I just want a fried egg!’
‘I don’t know how you eat all that,’ Greg helped himself to a glass of orange juice, ‘especially in this weather.’ The eleven-year-old ran a hand through his own matted fringe.
‘I’m hungry,’ Theo shrugged, nonchalantly slicing into a thick muffin, ‘but yeah, you’re right. It was hot last night.’
‘Do you think it was just in the dungeons?’ Isaac asked.
‘I don’t think so,’ Lucas argued, ‘the dungeon’s never been like that... not since that first week of term. It must have been even hotter in the towers.’
‘Poor Gryffindors...’ Isaac smirked, before noticing the targets of his joke trudging into the hall. ‘Looks like they slept well,’ he continued, sarcastically, before turning back to his own breakfast as the line of children, his sister at the rear, slowly made their way to their table.
‘Let’s see how they fly this morning,’ Theo grinned through a mouthful of muffin. ‘I bet...’
‘LOOK OUT!’ The Slytherin’s wager was cut off abruptly as Professor Tregeagle shot to his feet, knocking the staff table in front of him onto its side and sending the crockery on top crashing to the stone floor below. ‘CLEAR THE DOORWAY,’ he bellowed. ‘MISS DAVIES, NOW!’
‘What on earth...’ Isaac began to speak, but before he could form any more of his question, it was answered beyond all doubt as the great wooden doors of the Entrance Hall were flung from their iron hinges.
‘Oh, shit...’ Greg was far from the only pupil in the hall to swear as they watched the doorway shatter, but such was the noise of the splintering wood that none of the children could hear the others’ bad language. The first-year Slytherins gaped, horrified and awestruck, as the silver spectral forms of the Hunt funnelled through into the Great Hall itself, knocking Holly Davies to the floor as she tarried too long in following her Head of House’s instructions.
‘Holly!’ Isaac’s frightened scream was loud enough for the boys around him to hear. ‘No!’ He made to push himself up from the table and run to his sister’s aid, only for Greg to seize him around the wrist and haul him backwards.
‘You can’t, Zac!’ Greg pulled his friend close enough for his insistent shout to reach the other boy’s ears. ‘The same thing will happen to you!’
Isaac’s panicked eyes softened as he nodded his understanding, before edging closer to his fellow Slytherin as the noise of the invasion grew louder. The wisps and jets of smoke that had destroyed the door were now, as they had done in Tregeagle’s classroom the previous day, gradually coming together to form the bodies of the Huntsmen and their animal entourage under the enchanted ceiling of the Hall. A line of spectral armoured men gathered in formation, surrounded by their hunting dogs and mounted on horseback, and presented itself in mid-air towards the staff table.
‘Jacob Tregeagle,’ the ghost at the head of the pack spoke up as the tumult of the Hunt’s forced entry receded. ‘Jacob Tregeagle,’ he repeated, his voice low and hoarse, grinding against the insides of the children’s ears. ‘Answer me!’
‘I am Jacob Tregeagle,’ the professor stared coldly back towards the gathered spirits. ‘What is your business here?’
‘He knows!’ Lucas whispered, animatedly. ‘He must know why they’re here...’
‘Shh,’ Theo put down his breakfast and lowered his voice. ‘What if they hear you? What if they find out how much we know?’
‘Oh,’ Lucas blushed, ‘Sorry.’ He covered his mouth. ‘I didn’t think of that...’
‘You know our business,’ the spirit blazed. ‘You are a Tregeagle.’ Greg craned his neck around as the ghost spoke, stretching to catch a glimpse of the Defence professor’s son. Like everyone else, however, the twelve-year-old was doing nothing more than staring, open-mouthed, towards the staff table. ‘You are our business.’
‘Not here!’ Tregeagle roared. ‘Not in this school!’ He held his wand arm out towards the massed spirits. ‘Dim Helwyr,’ He called out. ‘Dim Helwyr ar Ysgol!’ A pulse of white light arced out towards the gathered spirits, only to fade and dissolve as the lead huntsman held up his arm.
‘Un Flwyddyn,’ the professor yelled, jerking his wand at the Huntsmen again. ‘Chwe mis,’ he snapped, repeating the wand movement. ‘Un mis,’ Tregeagle asserted, as the white jet glowed ever brighter and ever longer and the battalion of Hunters closed their ranks.
‘Pythefnos,’ the teacher insisted. ‘Dim Helwyr ar Ysgol... un Wythnos!’ Tregeagle stabbed his wand arm outwards, ejecting a stream of light so vivid that the children had to turn away and shield their faces.
‘What happened...?’ Theo rubbed the back of his arm across his eyes as the Great Hall blinked back into his vision. ‘Where did they go?’
‘Thank you!’ Minerva McGonagall rose to her feet. ‘That will be enough.’ She stared, hawk-like, over the rims of her half-moon spectacles towards the four House tables. ‘Prefects,’ she announced, ‘please ensure that all students return to their common rooms. The first period of the morning is cancelled.’ The Headmistress paused. ‘Unless you hear otherwise, lessons will begin when the bell rings for the start of the second period. All corridors are out of bounds until that time.’
‘That’s the bell, then,’ Greg kicked off the leather sofa as a sharp ring echoed over the Slytherin common room. ‘I guess that means we go to History of Magic?’
‘I wonder if Neal knows any more about the Hunt?’ Lucas offered.
‘I wonder if the Gryffindors know what’s happened to Holly,’ Isaac had hardly spoken since the boys had returned to the dungeons.
‘There’s only one way to find out,’ Theo stood up, heading for the door. ‘Come on,’ the blond boy flicked his long fringe behind his ears, ‘let’s go.’
‘Lucas?’ Greg paused as he reached the door. ‘Have you still got that folder?’
‘Yes,’ the redhead nodded. ‘It’s still in my bag.’ He followed his friends through the common room door and along the corridors towards the ground floor classroom, where Neal Kennedy and the Gryffindor first-years were waiting.
‘Hi, guys,’ the Ravenclaw greeted them.
‘Hey, Neal,’ Theo answered on behalf of the Slytherins, as the four boys found seats at one side of the classroom.
‘Right,’ the seventh-year pushed himself up from the front of his desk. ‘I guess there’s no point in pretending you want to revise any of Binns’ notes,’ Neal winced at his own joke. ‘Sorry,’ he apologised, ‘that was bad, even for me.’ The Ravenclaw sighed. ‘I know what you’re going to ask, but no one’s told us anything else about this morning. You guys know as much as I do,’ he paused, before looking purposefully to the group of Slytherins and then across to Joshua Tregeagle. ‘Probably even more.’
‘What’re you looking at me for?’ Joshua blustered. ‘Just cause my Dad’s the Defence teacher!’ A thin sheen of sweat had already formed on the boy’s freckled forehead, and he fiddled with the knot of his tie as he fidgeted on his seat.
‘Yeah, that’s the idea,’ a sudden voice came from the rear corner of the classroom.
‘Shut up, Megan,’ Joshua snapped, jerking his head around over his shoulder to stare at the tall, blonde girl who had spoken out. ‘You don’t know anything about it, either.’
‘I know that it’s chasing your Dad,’ the girl sneered, ‘and then it’ll probably come after you.’
‘I told you to shut up!’ Joshua stood up sharply, his eyes burning. ‘It’s none of your business.’
‘Now, Joshua...’ Neal reasoned, walking over towards the Gryffindor boy. ‘It doesn’t help anyone if you get worked up like this.’
‘Tell her that!’ Joshua retorted. ‘Tell her to keep her big ugly nose out!’
‘That’s enough, Josh,’ the Ravenclaw repeated, more sternly this time, ‘and Megan, if you have nothing productive to add, then I would appreciate it if you kept quiet.’ The girl snorted as Neal glared at her, but she stayed silent as the seventh-year turned back to Joshua. ‘Thank you,’ he whispered to the boy. ‘I know this must be difficult...’
‘I kind of feel sorry for him,’ Greg admitted to his friends as the Slytherins watched the teacher’s son fighting to hold back tears. ‘It’s not his fault that the Hunt’s after his family.’
Isaac shrugged. ‘Doesn’t change the fact that he’s been a gigantic tosser for the whole year.’
‘Does he even know what his great-great-grandfather,’ Lucas paused, ‘or whoever it was, did?’
Greg looked across the room. ‘Joshua,’ he called out, slowly. ‘Do you know the story of the Wild Hunt?’
The Gryffindor shook his head.
‘Have you ever heard of it?’ Greg asked again, watching as the other boy gave the same response. ‘Has anyone else?’ A scattering of hands, including Ciaran’s, edged upwards. ‘Should we tell them, Neal?’ He glanced to the seventh-year.
‘You might as well, mate,’ Neal nodded. ‘No one’s gonna listen to anything else,’ he reflected.
‘Right...’ Greg stammered, ‘well... we did our holiday project about it.’ He held his hand out, smiling gratefully as Lucas passed him the plastic folder containing their work. ‘It’s a muggle legend as well as a magical one.’
The eleven-year-old opened the folder, starting to read from the very first page. ‘The Wild Hunt,’ he began, ‘is found in stories of mythology and folklore across Britain and Northern Europe. Whilst the exact nature of the huntsmen differs from region to region, a handful of key similarities link each legend: giant black dogs, leaders with no compassion for their prey, and ranks that would chase to the ends of the earth.’
Greg chanced a glance upwards, suddenly aware that the room had fallen quiet, and all of the Gryffindors’ eyes now rested upon him. ‘The tales date back to the middle ages and stretch as far as the early 19th century,’ he read, before pausing for breath and continuing from his memory. ‘A lot of the British legends say that the Hunt is based in Wistman’s Wood, on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, so we went to the wood, to see if we could find anything out whilst we were there.’
‘Well?’ an anonymous voice asked.
‘We didn’t,’ Greg answered, ‘and I’m glad we didn’t,’ he admitted, shivering. ‘Not if this morning was anything to go by. We could tell there had been something there, though,’ the boy continued. ‘It was like it is when you go into a classroom after the seventh-years have been there... we could feel that powerful magic had been done there.’ Greg repeated the description that he’d first given to Theo during the Christmas holidays. ‘It’s called a magical signature.’
‘Yes,’ Neal nodded, as if he sensed dissent forming amongst the other first-years, ‘that makes sense. Magical signatures can last for hundreds of years if they are left by suitably strong magic – there are lots of places in Britain where even muggles can feel them. Of course, they don’t call them magical signatures, but they can feel that there’s something unusual in the air.’
Greg smiled, grateful that the older boy had backed him up, before flicking through the pages of his project as he continued to read. ‘Then we went to find out everything we could about the muggle stories about the Hunt, so we went to the library in Exeter. The Hunt is meant to have chased loads and loads of people, but wherever we looked, one story kept coming up again and again: the story of Jan Tregeagle.’
Every pair of eyes in the room fell towards Joshua, whose face paled as the realisation sunk in.
‘Do you want to hear it, Josh?’ Neal interrupted before Greg could begin his retelling.
‘I... I guess I should,’ Joshua nodded limply. ‘I’ll probably find out soon anyway.’
‘Okay then, Greg,’ the seventh-year turned back to the Slytherins. ‘Go on.’
‘Right,’ Greg gathered himself, picking out the correct section in his folder, ‘the story of Jan Tregeagle.’ He took a final breath. ‘Tregeagle was a lawyer who lived in Cornwall in the 17th century. He was a horrible person: a selfish, arrogant man who was only ever out for himself. None of the books we read had a single good thing to say about him. Some stories say he sold his soul to the Devil, others that he murdered his wife and children’
Greg chanced a glance at Joshua as he read, and noticed that the little colour that remained in the boy’s cheeks had drained away beneath his freckles. ‘He must have been a wizard, though,’ Greg continued to read, ‘because of what happened after he died. Just before his death, he was the only witness to a deal where one man loaned another a lot of money. The other man then denied it had ever happened so that he didn’t have to pay it back: it all went to court,’ Greg explained, ‘and the man who owed the money shouted out, “If Tregeagle ever saw it, I wish to God he would come and declare it!”’
Greg turned the page of his folder. ‘Next, as the courtroom laughed, Tregeagle’s ghost appeared in the witness box, confirming that the loan had indeed taken place.’ The Slytherin watched as Joshua hunched himself more and more closely against the classroom wall. ‘Then,’ he continued, ‘the jury decided that Tregeagle couldn’t go back to hell. Instead, they gave his spirit a series of tasks to do that would keep him occupied, and therefore keep him safe from the hounds of the Wild Hunt that would be sure to chase him otherwise.’
‘Did they ever catch him?’ A boy’s voice filled the silence that followed Greg’s revelations.
‘We don’t know,’ Lucas answered. ‘Every time we found a story about Tregeagle, we looked to see what happened, and there are lots of different tasks that he’s supposed to have been given.’ The redhead took the folder from his friend’s grasp. ‘Emptying a bottomless pool, removing all the sand from a beach that was filled up again every high tide, or weaving a rope from grains of sand. None of the stories ever say that he finally escaped, or that he was captured.’
‘Was he... definitely... related to Josh?’ Spencer Dawlish stuttered.
‘We’ve got no proof, Spencer,’ Neal Kennedy beat the boys to an answer, ‘but you were there at breakfast, weren’t you? That wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t related, would it?’
‘So what’s happening now?’ The spiky-haired boy pressed. ‘Why are they chasing Professor Tregeagle? What’s going to happen to Holly?’ The quiet in the classroom began to shatter as several isolated conversations broke out and the first-years speculated about the answers.
‘That’s enough,’ Neal held his hands up. ‘I am sure Holly will be alright. I’ve never heard of ghosts being able to kill people just by passing through them, no matter how many hundred of them there are,’ he sighed. ‘If I’m honest, though, Spencer, I just don’t know why they’re after the professor. Maybe they never caught the guy Greg was talking about... maybe they’re after his descendants instead?’
‘Oh, fucking hell...’ Joshua Tregagle let his head slip to the table in front of him.
‘Joshua,’ the Ravenclaw warned. ‘You don’t need to use that language.’
‘That’s easy for you to say,’ he picked his head up again, his eyes raw as the colour returned to his face in an angry rush. ‘It’s not your family!’ The twelve-year-old seethed, talking over the seventh-year’s attempts to reason with him. ‘You said it yourself, you don’t know what you’re talking about, so just fuck off and leave me alone!’ He stood up, pushing past Spencer and heading for the back door of the classroom, slamming it behind him as the bell for morning break echoed through the corridor outside.
‘Did you hear what happened in History of Magic?’ Isaac and the other first-year Slytherins hurried to the Transfiguration classroom to catch their Hufflepuff friends before the next lesson began. ‘Joshua Tregeagle told Neal Kennedy to fuck off!’
Cameron gasped. ‘What, really? To his face?’
Isaac nodded. ‘He stood up in front of everyone and said, “you don’t know what you’re talking about, so fuck off and leave me alone”.’
‘Wow,’ the little Hufflepuff gaped. ‘What happened to him?’
‘Well...’ Isaac hesitated, ‘nothing, really.’
‘What?’ Cameron pestered the Slytherin. ‘You mean he got away with it?’
‘I think Neal felt guilty about what he’d said before,’ Greg reasoned. ‘He said that the Hunt might have been chasing Josh because it never caught Jan Tregeagle, all those years ago.’
‘That might be true, though, mightn’t it?’ Glyn asked. ‘You said you never knew if Jan Tregeagle got caught or not.’
‘Yeah,’ Greg nodded, ‘but you don’t just go out and say it like that, do you?’ He shook his head, before glancing cheekily at one of his friends. ‘Well, Zac might...’
‘You can fuck off, too!’ Isaac shoved Greg on the shoulder, but he smiled as he did so. ‘I wouldn’t; you know I wouldn’t,’ he protested.
‘You wouldn’t call someone a squib, either, would you?’ Lucas remarked, drily, before grinning as he watched his friend blush furiously.
‘What do you mean?’ Glyn’s eyes narrowed.
‘Nothing,’ Lucas shrugged, smiling as he turned to follow his friend into the Transfiguration classroom.
‘Oh, come on, Luc,’ Isaac whispered as the boys sat down around a circular table at the edge of the room. ‘That was ages ago.’
‘I know, Zac,’ the redhead smiled, ‘but you still said it.’
The other boy sighed. ‘You know I never meant it,’ he shook his head. ‘I said I was sorry,’ he winced. ‘What else do I have to do?’
‘Isaac?’ Theo dropped onto a chair beside the other Slytherins. ‘That doesn’t sound like you.’
‘Yeah, well it is,’ the brown-haired boy glared back at his friend, ‘and it’s not funny, not today, so just leave it out, alright?’
‘Okay, Zac,’ Greg joined the other boys. ‘We’ve got more important things to worry about.’
‘So you won’t mention it again?’ Isaac pressed.
‘Alright,’ Greg nodded, as Professor McGonagall turned to face the class. ‘We won’t.’
‘First-years!’ The Headmistress announced. ‘Now, I’m sure you are all aware of the events of this morning. Let me assure you that we are doing all that we can to investigate them and find a solution,’ she paused. ‘What we do not need are pupils spreading rumours or stories, or trying to figure things out for themselves.’
‘Professor,’ Glyn raised his hand.
‘Mr Jones,’ McGonagall eyed the Hufflepuff sternly. ‘There do not need to be any questions.’
‘But,’ the boy protested, ‘the spell that Professor Tregeagle cast... Why was it in Welsh?’
‘Mr Jones,’ the Headmistress repeated herself, focusing her severe stare on the twelve-year-old. ‘That is none of your business, and I suggest you keep it that way.’ She glanced down towards the textbook on her desk, and as she did so Greg caught the eye of his Welsh friend.
‘Our table at lunch,’ he mouthed.
‘Now,’ McGonagall looked up, ‘we will start by revising the basic snail-teapot transfiguration...’
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