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Lion, Eagle, Badger, Snake by Sheriff
Chapter 24 : Elements
 
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There were only two children left in the Slytherin common room that evening as the bell of the old clock struck twelve.

‘Is this your first midnight study session, Greg?’ Oscar looked up from a long sheet of parchment.

‘Yeah,’ the first-year nodded, barely shifting his gaze from an increasingly untidy list of the properties of water plants.

Oscar let his quill drop. ‘Are you coping, mate?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then how come the others have gone to bed?’ The prefect sat up, watching the younger boy’s response and sighed as the eleven-year-old could only mutter something unintelligible in reply. ‘Greg, are you alright?’

‘I’m fine,’ the first-year snapped. ‘Just let me get on with my work!’

Oscar shook his head, turning back to his own essay and listening to the scratching of his friend’s quill grow ever louder until, inevitably, it snapped.

‘Oh, fucking hell!’ Greg threw the broken feather down on his desk.

‘Greg,’ Oscar warned, standing up. ‘You need to stop.’

‘But I’m almost done!’ The younger boy protested, shrilly.

‘I don’t care, Greg,’ the prefect ignored him, clutching for his wand inside the pocket of his pyjama shorts. ‘You’re going to go and sit on that sofa, now. You need a break.’

‘Or what?’ Greg challenged.

‘Or I’ll make you,’ Oscar gritted his teeth.

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Yeah,’ Oscar raised his wand. ‘Immobulus.’ The jet of light hit Greg’s chest before the first-year could even think about drawing his own wand in defence. ‘Now, come on.’ The prefect lifted the eleven-year-old’s motionless body and carried it the short distance to the black leather of the nearest sofa. ‘Greg,’ he pleaded. ‘I’m going to let you go now, but please...’ he swallowed, tell me what’s wrong.’ He touched the wand to the sunburn on the younger boy’s shoulder. ‘Finite Incantatem.’

‘Ossie!’ The first-year stammered, coughing suddenly as he collapsed sideways onto the prefect’s arm, struggling to gain control of his body as the charm wore off. ‘There’s nothing wrong,’ he choked. ‘Why...’

‘Greg,’ the older boy whispered gently. ‘It’s gone midnight. All the other first-years have gone to bed, and I know you work harder than any of them... well, Zac and Theo for sure. Yet they’re done and you’re just losing your temper...’

‘That’s not it,’ Greg sniffed. ‘I’m not losing my temper over it.’

‘Greg,’ the prefect repeated his friend’s name, ruffling the first-year’s untidy hair. ‘You just broke your quill in half cause you were pressing so hard, and then you shouted “fucking hell” at it.’ He paused. ‘And you told me that you didn’t swear that much.’

‘I don’t...’ he objected, vainly, as his eyes began to fill with tears. ‘I don’t... I’m not...’ He slumped against the older boy’s arm, letting his eyelids sink shut and hiding the redness beneath. ‘It... it’s not just the homework,’ he managed a few moments later, blinking his eyes slowly back open.

‘What is it?’ Oscar asked gently.

‘Everything.’ The eleven-year-old swallowed. ‘As well as the work... our exams are coming up... Then there’s the Quidditch, and all the stuff with the Wild Hunt and the Gryffindors... and people keep asking me what to do, and, and I just don’t know what to tell them...’ He shivered, sinking low into the black sofa.

‘I remember what Matt said about you at the start of the year,’ Oscar recalled, ‘that you take things way too seriously.’ He let his arm drop from the first-year’s head onto his shoulder as the younger boy looked up at him with burning eyes. ‘He said that about me, too, when I was a first-year. He was right.’ The older boy sighed as he retold his memory. ‘It was the first time we found out about Slytherin, and about the War. I couldn’t cope; I didn’t know what to do. I went off and hid in the memorial garden... Matt looked everywhere for me.’

‘So that’s how you knew... that time after Quidditch... that’s where he would be.’

‘Yes,’ the prefect nodded, ‘and it’s how I knew you weren’t alright just now. I could tell; I’ve felt like that, too.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Greg stuttered.

‘What for?’ Oscar smiled.

‘Swearing at you,’ the eleven-year-old sighed, ‘and losing my temper.’

‘Oh, Greg,’ the older boy grinned. ‘That’s alright, mate. Just remember that you can always talk to me, about anything,’ he patted the first-year on the shoulder, before pulling his arm away.

‘Thanks, Oscar,’ Greg nodded, slowly.

‘Matt was right about that,’ the prefect reflected, ‘but there was something else he was totally wrong about. He didn’t want you to be in Slytherin... but look what’s happened.’

‘It’s not just me,’ the younger boy dissented.

‘How many other Slytherins have made friends with Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors?’

‘Not just me,’ Greg repeated. ‘It’s the others as well. Theo and Zac and Lucas.’

‘Cause of what you said to them,’ the prefect smiled. ‘You’re like Matt: you make things happen. Just remember you don’t always have to do it all by yourself.’

‘Thanks, Ossie,’ the first-year finally managed a smile in return.

‘That’s alright,’ the older boy grinned. ‘Now go to bed, mate,’ he insisted. ‘I bet you’ll do this Herbology in two minutes in the morning.’

‘Okay,’ Greg didn’t argue. ‘Night.’

*

Greg decided to skip breakfast the following morning, choosing instead to catch up on a few more minutes’ sleep before heading up towards the Charms classroom. When he arrived, the Hufflepuff boys were already waiting.

‘Hey, Greg,’ Glyn greeted him, brightly. ‘You alright?’

‘Yeah, I guess so,’ The Slytherin shrugged, as he remembered his conversation with Oscar the previous evening. ‘You?’

‘Yes,’ the Welsh boy grinned, before bursting in to a question that Greg could tell he had been desperate to ask. ‘You know I said about Tregeagle talking in Welsh yesterday?’

The blond boy nodded, leaving his friend to continue his revelation.

‘Well, I sent our owl to my Dad yesterday after school, asking whether he knew anything about Old Welsh magic, and he wrote back this morning!’ Glyn reached down into his school bag to pull out a sheet of parchment.

‘Cool,’ Greg smiled, immediately feeling livelier. ‘Me and Lukie went to the library yesterday, but we didn’t find anything useful.’

Glyn listened as he smoothed out the creased parchment against the stone wall of the corridor. ‘Here it is,’ he held up the letter for the other boy to begin reading.

 

Dear Glyn,

It’s lovely to hear from you, son. I’m glad you guys are all settling in back at school. You know I’ve never been into my Quidditch, but I can tell that you are as happy about Slytherin’s win as you have ever been with the Harpies. I am so proud of the way you have chosen – and stood up for – your friends this year.

 

Greg blinked, looking from the handwritten script of the letter to his friend’s face as the Welsh boy blushed. The Slytherin smiled, nudging the other boy gently on the elbow before turning back to the letter.

 

It’s interesting you should ask about Old Magic. As you well know, you’re named after Owain Glyndwr, leader of the Free Welsh 600 years ago. Glyndwr claimed to be a descendent of several of the old princely families of the Welsh kingdoms, which was one of the things that helped him to unify the whole country behind his banner.

We don’t have many books about Glyndwr’s time... very few people could read, and even fewer could write. Stories were told as songs, passed down by generations of bards and poets. There are many tales, dating back to the Normans, Vikings, Saxons and beyond, that talk of magic. I know that even your muggle-born friends will know of Merlin and Arthur: their stories were told by Welsh bards more than 1000 years ago, long before Geoffrey of Monmouth created the modern lie.

I have tried to find out bits and pieces about Old Magic here and there – it is so much a part of Snowdonia that it is impossible to ignore – but I have never found anything concrete: any spells, potions or charms that could stand the test of time. Perhaps it is just as well; I have heard it said that the Old Welsh magic is much deeper, and more powerful, than the formal magic we use today. I have heard it called “Elemental Magic” – drawing on the primitive forces of earth, air, fire and water – plus, too often, human blood and sacrifice. It is as dangerous as it is fascinating, my son, and whilst your interest is only to be expected as a proud Welshman, I must ask you to be careful. I do not think anyone knows the true extent of its power.

I hope that you’re enjoying this sunshine, if it has reached as far north as Hogwarts, of course, but not letting it distract you from the exams you’ve got coming up. Mum and Iestyn send their love. Well, I’m sure Iestyn would do, but I can’t get him off that broomstick! He’s convinced he’s going to be on his House team when he gets to Hogwarts...

See you soon,

Dad

x x x

 

Greg swallowed, digesting the information in Aneurin Jones’ letter as he re-read the penultimate paragraph. ‘Your Dad says it’s more powerful than formal magic,’ he commented. ‘Maybe that’s why Tregeagle was trying to use it.’

The Welsh boy nodded. ‘Maybe,’ he echoed in a quiet voice. ‘I wish I knew more, though,’ he admitted. ‘It’s my country, my history... but I hardly know anything about it, and everyone else will expect me to.’

‘It’s okay, mate,’ Greg reassured his friend as Oscar’s advice repeated inside his head. ‘Nobody can do anything on their own. You know we’ll always help if you need us.’

‘Thanks,’ the Hufflepuff smiled.

‘I found some things out yesterday, as well,’ the Slytherin added after a moment’s thought, before relating his meetings with the Gryffindor boys. ‘They’re scared...’

Glyn bit his bottom lip as he replied. ‘I would be-, if I was them.’

‘I think I’m scared, too.’ Greg shivered. ‘I said I’d help them, but I don’t really know if I can.’

‘What else could you do?’ The Welsh boy asked, as he folded his father’s letter back into his school bag. ‘Just leave them to it?’

Greg shook his head. ‘No,’ he insisted. ‘That’s what the Slytherins did at the Battle of Hogwarts, and I am not like them!’

‘I know you’re not,’ Glyn reassured his friend. ‘So what are we going to do, then?

‘We?’ The blond boy asked, checking that he had heard properly.

‘Yes,’ the Hufflepuff answered. ‘You just said you can’t do things on your own. Whatever it is, I’m in it with you.’

Greg noticed a fierce glare of determination in the other boy’s eyes as he spoke. ‘Thanks, mate. That means a lot,’ he smiled.

‘Alright,’ Glyn returned his friend’s smile. ‘So what are we going to do?’ He repeated his question.

The Slytherin hesitated, deep in thought, before suggesting an idea. ‘I suppose we all need to get together,’ he reasoned. ‘All the houses. Everyone who wants to help.’

‘Where, though?’

‘The dungeon, I guess,’ Greg sighed. ‘Where else could we go without people interrupting us?’

‘How about one of the empty classrooms?’ Glyn suggested, but his friend shook his head.

‘What if a prefect walks in? Or, even worse, one of the teachers? You heard what McGonagall said...’

‘Won’t Slughorn come to the dungeons?’

Greg laughed. ‘What, you mean leaving his comfy chambers to bother us? We haven’t seen him all year. No, the only one we’ve got to worry about is Lukie’s brother... but I think Matt and Ossie have got enough to deal with him.’

‘Okay,’ the Welsh boy agreed. ‘Tonight?’

Greg nodded. ‘We might as well.’

*

Seven first-year boys – four Gryffindor and three Hufflepuff – gathered in the entrance hall that evening, about an hour after supper had finished.

‘I don’t see why we didn’t just go down straight after we’d eaten,’ Aidan Mills commented, to nobody in particular.

‘Because,’ Glyn snapped around, glaring at the Gryffindor boy, ‘then everyone would have seen.’

‘Alright, alright,’ Aidan held his hands up in apology. ‘Don’t bite my head off about it.’

The Welsh boy’s glare hardly softened as he looked from the brown-haired boy to his housemates. ‘Don’t try anything funny,’ he warned.

‘We weren’t going to,’ Aidan protested. ‘You know what’s been going on; you know things have changed.’

‘Leave it, Glyn,’ Jai whispered in his friend’s ear, pulling the other Hufflepuff away. ‘Greg will be here soon.’

‘Hey, guys,’ the Slytherin arrived moments later, turning to greet the Hufflepuffs first. ‘You know the way, right? I’ll bring up the rear.’ Greg watched his friends lead on, before settling behind the four Gryffindors as the boys wound their way down to the dungeons. ‘Okay, Ciaran?’ He noticed the sandy-haired boy had drifted back from his housemates. ‘Did you have a good day?’

‘Yeah,’ the Gryffindor nodded, tentatively. ‘We had double Potions this morning. Slughorn said my forgetfulness potion was unforgettable!’ He smiled, and Greg couldn’t help but laugh at the professor’s weak joke.

‘Well done, mate,’ the blond boy grinned, before lowering his voice as he asked the next question. ‘Are they giving you any more trouble?’ He nodded towards the other Gryffindors.

‘No,’ Ciaran shook his head decisively. ‘Aidan sits next to me sometimes.’

Greg noticed the happiness in the other boy’s response, and bit back a comment questioning how things had ever reached the stage where something so simple was so important to him. ‘What about the others?’ He tried to sound casual. ‘Josh and Dawlish?’

‘Fine,’ Ciaran shrugged. ‘They don’t really talk to me, but that’s better, much better... and besides,’ he tailed off, ‘they barely talk to anyone any more...’

Greg winced as he heard his friend’s honesty. ‘It must be tough being Josh right now.’

Ciaran didn’t argue, but there was little time for the boys to continue their conversation as the low doorway of the Slytherin common room came into view.

‘Is that everyone?’ Oscar spoke up as Greg let the door swing shut behind him moments later. ‘Great,’ he stood up in front of one of the sofas that had been pulled into a circle beside the fireplace, before giving the last arrivals the chance to find their places in the ring.

‘You don’t have to be here...’ Greg began to protest, but Oscar talked right over him.

‘Well, I think I do,’ the fourth-year’s riposte was matter-of-fact in its tone, ‘for lots of reasons. One, this is my common room, I’m a prefect, and I want to keep an eye on it. Two, you guys are our Quidditch team and I’m not letting anything happen to you. Three, you might need someone who can actually do more magic than a first-year, and four, I’m a Slytherin, I want to know what the bloody hell’s going on, and this is the best way to find out. So you’re stuck with me... and Matt.’ He indicated the other fourth-year, who wore a wide grin as he digested his friend’s words. ‘I guess it’s over to you then, Greg,’ Oscar smiled. ‘I take it you’re in charge...?’

Greg looked around the circle for a moment, as the other twelve pairs of eyes locked onto his own. ‘Well...’ he recalled the prefect’s words the night before, slowly getting to his feet. ‘We need to decide what we’re going to do,’ he announced, hating the shakiness he could hear in his own voice. ‘We all want to work out what’s going on... what the Wild Hunt want, and when they’re going to come back.’ He sat back down, feeling his own cheeks flush as the others’ gazes remained fixed on him.

‘How do we know we can trust them?’ Glyn spoke up, breaking the silence that had followed Greg’s opening speech.

‘The Gryffindors?’ Isaac was the first for whom curiosity defied caution.

‘No, who do you think?’ Joshua Tregeagle snapped, before glowering back at the Welsh boy. ‘Don’t you think it’s real, then?’ He raised his voice. ‘Do you think we made the Wild Hunt up? What was it that came after my Dad, then?’

‘I didn’t say that,’ Glyn refused to be cowed by the other boy’s straw-man argument. ‘We know it’s real,’ he swallowed. ‘I just wanna know why you want to work with the Loser House.’

Joshua had opened his mouth to argue again when he was silenced by a dig in the ribs from Spencer. ‘Don’t, Josh,’ he pleaded, simply.

‘Thank you, Spencer,’ Greg heard himself start talking before he had consciously realised he was going to do so. ‘We all want the same thing,’ he observed, ‘shouldn’t that be enough for us to work together?

‘I think so,’ the blond Slytherin was delighted to hear Aidan’s voice supporting him. ‘What’s the point in arguing about it?’

‘Glyn?’ Greg turned back to his friend. ‘Happy?’

The Hufflepuff nodded, slowly. ‘I guess so,’ he muttered, ‘but if any of them try...’

Greg cut the Welsh boy off mid-threat. ‘I know, mate,’ he pacified. ‘I’ve told them. They know. They won’t try anything.’ He tried to force a smile. ‘How about you tell everyone what you’ve found out about Welsh magic?’

‘It’s not much,’ Glyn protested.

‘It’s more than the rest of us know.’

The Hufflepuff groaned, before slowly starting to share the information his father had sent him. ‘Welsh magic,’ he began, ‘is really old magic. Much older than Hogwarts. My Dad has been trying to find out more about it for years.’

Glyn looked around the circle as the other boys’ eyes turned to focus on him, noticing a thin smile of encouragement on Greg’s lips before continuing. ‘Dad says it’s elemental magic, much more powerful than the magic we learn here.’

‘What’s elemental magic?’ Theo was the first of the boys to ask, though several of them had looked to one another in confusion as they heard the phrase.

‘Is it like the old elements?’ Lucas suggested. ‘Earth, air, fire and water?’

Glyn nodded. ‘I think so,’ he bit his bottom lip, knowing what he would have to say next, and dreading the sound of the words. ‘Them... and blood.’ He shrunk back into the leather sofa as the common room dissolved into scattered conversation around him.

‘Glyn,’ Joshua’s face had obviously paled as he shuffled forwards to address the Hufflepuff. ‘What do you mean, blood?’

The Welsh boy blinked, steeling himself to meet the Gryffindor’s eyes before he murmured his answer. ‘Human sacrifice.’

Joshua’s head fell forward into his hands as he whispered a swear word into his palms.

‘Sacrifice?’ Now it was Aidan’s turn to let his voice echo against the marble walls. ‘Are you sure?’

‘It’s what my Dad said,’ Glyn muttered. ‘That’s all... I don’t know anything else.’

‘I think it started with the druids,’ Lucas broke the silence. ‘They were like ancient priests for their tribes, when wizards and muggles lived together.’

‘They started human sacrifice?’ Aidan repeated.

‘It probably wasn’t just them,’ Oscar interrupted. ‘Muggles did it as well, all over the world: in Africa, South America, the Pacific Islands...’

‘Why?’ Isaac questioned sharply, and the prefect could only shrug in reply.

‘I don’t know,’ he shook his head. ‘I guess it was some kind of ritual,’ he offered, tamely.

‘Tregeagle never said anything about that at breakfast, though!’ Glyn’s voice grew indignant. ‘Just because he spoke Welsh doesn’t mean he was planning a sacrifice!’

‘No one said that, Glyn.’ Greg tried to take back control of the meeting. ‘None of us speak Welsh, though. None of us could tell what he said.’

‘He said nothing about sacrifice,’ the Hufflepuff repeated. ‘He said “no hunters”, then “a month, two weeks, one week...” That was all.’

‘Then they vanished after he said “one week”, right?’ Greg recalled. ‘So do you they’ll be back next Tuesday?’

‘They could be,’ Glyn had to admit, ‘and they’ll be after him again, won’t they?’

‘That’s my Dad you’re talking about!’ Joshua’s head snapped up from his hands, as he glowered, red-eyed, across the common room.

‘Yeah, we know it is,’ Isaac leapt to the defence of his housemate. ‘It was him who was keeping the Hunt locked up in his classroom. It’s him who they’re after because of what Jan Tregeagle did...’

The Gryffindor tensed to argue back, only for Spencer Dawlish to tug at the shoulder of his housemate’s shirt. ‘Josh, please,’ he begged. ‘It’s true. It’s not their fault...’

Joshua shivered as he heard his friend’s words, his eyes immediately beginning to water as his head collapsed back into his hands. ‘I don’t know what to do...’ he struggled. ‘Dad won’t even talk to me about it. He just says it’s his business and nothing to do with me...’

The room fell quiet, but for the stifled sobs of the teacher’s son, as the other children glanced uncomfortably from one nervous face to another.

‘Joshua,’ Greg could stand the silence no longer, and he stood up to shuffle slowly across and squat alongside the Gryffindor. ‘We want to help,’ he offered, gently, only for his voice to turn colder as he continued, ‘but you’ve got to let us. We won’t get anywhere if you keep accusing people of things they haven’t done.’

‘But they were...’ Joshua’s head jerked up again, only for Greg to quickly talk over him.

‘Just like that!’ Greg shook his head. ‘We learnt a long time ago that we wouldn’t get anywhere on our own... not when the other houses couldn’t stand us, and everyone we met thought we were just Death Eaters in training.’ He took a breath. ‘We decided that Slytherins stick together: no matter what, we were going to help each other out.’

‘What’s the point...?’ Joshua struggled to keep eye contact with the Slytherin. ‘They’re going to take my Dad, and don’t say they’re not, because it’s true! You know it, I know it, everyone knows it!’

‘Things don’t always happen like you think they’re going to, Josh,’ Greg’s voice didn’t waver. ‘No one thought muggle-borns could end up in Slytherin. No one thought we had a chance of winning a single Quidditch match, never mind getting to a playoff for the Cup! You never know unless you try, and you’ll never know if you just give up! The Wild Hunt can’t be invincible. Now come on, we’ve got enough books, let’s go and find out how we can beat them!’

*

‘It’s hopeless...’ Joshua’s spirits had flagged further as the evening drew onwards without any sign of fresh information that could offer him any new hope. Lucas had found a story from English legend about a farmer defeating the Hunt in a tug-of-war by tying his end of the rope to an oak tree, but none of the boys could believe that something so simple could save Professor Tregeagle: not with the Huntsmen in the room with him, at any rate.

‘It’s not,’ Greg begun to argue, but the Gryffindor cut him off before he could utter any more.

‘It is!’ Joshua snapped. ‘There’s these little tricks that one person might be able to pull, one person that the Hunt caught by accident, but no one ever escaped the Hunt when they went after him.’

‘Tregeagle did,’ Isaac countered. ‘We never found out what happened to him, the original Tregeagle... and someone must have caught them to get them trapped in your Dad’s classroom.’

‘Maybe...’ the other boy was forced to admit, ‘but that’s not beating them for real, though, is it? It’s just hiding, running away and hiding like a coward.’

‘Why fight when you know you can’t win?’ Oscar wasn’t prepared to risk the conversation heading towards House rivalry. ‘Whoever trapped the Hunt must have been a brilliant wizard, Josh, if it had never been done before.’

‘I bet they were a Tregeagle, too,’ Greg added. ‘Who else would have taken the Hunt on to save Jan’s soul?’

‘I know what you’re trying to do, Greg,’ Joshua spoke slowly, turning to face the Slytherin. ‘I know you’re trying to help, and I really appreciate it... but it’s just no good,’ he sighed. ‘It’s coming back, I know it, and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ He looked around the common room. ‘Come on, Spencer,’ he muttered. ‘Let’s go back to the tower.’

Greg watched, wordlessly, as the two Gryffindors headed for the dungeon door, letting his own head drop as the marble wall sealed itself behind the boys.

‘It’s not your fault, Greg,’ the first-year barely heard Theo’s voice rise out of the silence as he slipped backwards into the folds of the leather sofa, his eyes sliding shut as his world slipped into darkness.


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