Chapter 25 : Sunset
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‘Or take him to the hospital wing?’
‘Have you got any revitalising draughts, Zac? Maybe we should give him one of those?’
‘He’ll wake up, just give him a bit longer.’
‘I’m up...’ Greg groaned as the cluster of boys’ voices echoed inside his mind. He blinked twice, slowly drifting back into consciousness and noticing that he was now lying in his familiar four-poster bed, its curtains drawn around him. ‘What time is it...?’ He grasped for the end of the fraying cord that would pull back the green drapes.
‘Just after 11, mate,’ Theo smiled as his friend’s face emerged. ‘Good morning.’
‘I missed lessons!’ Greg shot upright, snatching for his wand, only for Oscar and Matthew’s older arms to block his way and ease him back down onto his mattress.
‘Greg,’ the prefect counselled, ‘you’re still in the same things you were wearing last night.’
‘Am I...?’ the first-year blustered, looking down to see his creased clothes and realising that the older boy was telling the truth. ‘What happened? Why didn’t you wake me up?’ He grabbed at Matthew’s arms as his neighbour held him down.
‘You only missed Muggle Studies, Greg,’ Oscar reassured his friend, ‘and what were you going to learn from that which you didn’t know anyway already?’ He lowered his voice as the younger boy’s hurried breathing steadied. ‘You pretty much passed out last night, mate – after the Gryffindors left. We tried to wake you up, but we couldn’t, so we just carried you down here.’
‘We figured it didn’t matter if you missed Muggle Studies,’ Theo completed Oscar’s story, ‘so we left you to sleep some more, and then we came back just now to check on you before Potions...’
Greg smiled slowly, taking in his friends’ words. ‘Thanks,’ he swallowed, peering past the prefect to the other gathered boys, ‘all of you.’
‘Do you think you can make it to lessons?’ Lucas asked, cautiously.
‘Yeah,’ Greg nodded, ‘I guess I’ve got to.’ He felt Matthew’s grip on his forearms loosen as he edged upwards. ‘I think I’m gonna need a shower first, though...’
‘Greg!’ Glyn’s excited shout greeted the Slytherins shortly afterwards, as they arrived outside Slughorn’s classroom. ‘You’re alright!’
‘Yeah,’ the blond boy had little choice but to answer in the affirmative.
‘I’m sorry we didn’t come and see you this morning,’ Glyn raced into an apology. ‘We had lessons, and we couldn’t get into your dungeon without knowing the password, and...’
‘Glyn,’ Greg held his hand up. ‘It’s okay, mate. Don’t worry about it.’ He smiled, thinly. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Did any of you see the Gryffindors this morning?’ Theo changed the subject abruptly. ‘Didn’t you have lessons with them?’
‘Yeah, Muggle Studies,’ Jai answered. ‘Dull as,’ he remarked. ‘No one said anything.’
‘They wouldn’t even talk to Maria,’ Cameron added. ‘She’s the seventh-year who takes us,’ he explained.
‘I know,’ Theo nodded, ‘she takes us too.’
‘I didn’t hear Joshua say a word all lesson,’ Glyn shook his head, ‘it’s like he’s given up.’
‘Wouldn’t you?’ Lucas asked. ‘After everything that’s happened to him?’
‘Students!’ Professor Slughorn’s low voice echoed across the corridor outside the Potions room. ‘Inside, if you please!’
‘I wouldn’t,’ Greg whispered, as he followed Lucas inside. ‘I wouldn’t, because I know you guys wouldn’t give up on me.’
‘Well, then,’ the teacher intoned, ‘everyone in their seats, please.’ He strode, lumbering, towards his chalkboard. ‘Not long until your exams, now,’ Slughorn continued, ‘and I’m sure you’ll want to be ready when they come along.’
The class sighed as one at their professor’s mention of the topic. Isaac glanced at Theo, and the blond-haired boy, no more taken by the prospect of any revision than his friend, smiled as he lifted his hand. ‘Sir,’ he offered. ‘Do you know anything about the Four Elements? Earth, air, fire and water?’
A hushed wave of chatter spread across the classroom as the children, whether or not they knew of the motivation behind Theo’s question, waited on the professor’s response.
‘Mr Davies,’ the room fell silent as Slughorn began to reply. ‘May I ask what your question has to do with Potions?’
‘Sir,’ Isaac raised his own hand. ‘We’ve been reading,’ Greg turned a chuckle into a cough as he heard his friend’s lie. ‘I read that there were different kinds of potions,’ he improvised, ‘and they all match one of the elements.’
The corners of Slughorn’s mouth turned slowly upwards, and the professor’s stare twitched into a smile. ‘Indeed, you are correct,’ he proclaimed. ‘Five points to Slytherin!’
Greg struggled to keep his mouth from falling open as he watched Isaac similarly trying to contain a smirk.
‘The Four Elements,’ Slughorn announced, ‘have been part of potion lore for as long as anyone can remember. It was clear to the earliest brewers that their affinity for their concoctions was not uniform. Some had talent for cures and salves, others for transformation, and others still for destruction or creation. It is no coincidence that the four founders of Hogwarts followed the Four Elements: Gryffindor fire, Slytherin water, Hufflepuff earth and Ravenclaw air.’
‘So are the students in each House better at potions that fit that element? Greg followed his housemate’s lead as he thought on his feet. ‘Are we better at water potions?’
‘Not necessarily,’ Slughorn shook his head. ‘It is a good question, though, and over the years I suppose that you would be generally correct. I do think that the Hat must take your affinity into some account, but there is more to the sorting than just this one question. Indeed, if the Hat can sort you, as muggle-born, into Slytherin then who are we to ask how its mind works?’
‘Is it just in potions?’ Lucas joined in. ‘What about other magic, like jinxes and hexes? Can the elements affect them, too?’
‘Certainly, Mr Brand,’ the professor agreed. ‘Everyone will have their own strengths and weaknesses, and more often than not you will find they are linked to one of the elements.’
‘What about... blood?’ Glyn was sure that his question would be greeted by a sharp intake of breath, and he was not about to be proven wrong.
‘Mr Jones,’ there was no need for the Potions Master’s voice to rise over the hushed room. ‘It is not for me to speak of the magic of blood. Nothing has caused more innocent deaths in the wizarding world than our fixation with blood.’
‘But...’ Glyn wasn’t entirely distracted, ‘didn’t Harry Potter survive because of his blood?’
Slughorn paused, staring long and hard at the twelve-year-old before forming his answer. ‘His blood had something to do with it,’ the professor spoke slowly and thoughtfully, ‘and better wizards than I never fully understood the full reasons why. Now,’ he sighed, ‘none of this will be on the exam, so let us turn our attention to something that may well be: the forgetfulness potion. Just make sure you don’t take any of it beforehand...’
The boys had no reason to doubt Cameron’s gloomy interpretation of Joshua’s mood in the days that followed, and as Quidditch practice fought for time with exam revision, their own optimism for Tregeagle’s fate seemed to diminish as well. Any research that they did find the time to do only drew the same blanks, and it was with a deep sense of dread and foreboding that they sat on their respective breakfast tables the following Tuesday, waiting for the inevitable; waiting for something that never arrived.
‘Why didn’t the Hunt come back?’ Isaac demanded as he set eyes on Neal Kennedy at the beginning of the second period.
‘Isaac,’ the seventh-year warned as the boy stood up, holding his glare.
‘What?’ The eleven-year-old snapped back.
‘What?’ Neal echoed the first-year’s words. ‘What do you mean, what?’
‘Leave it,’ Greg tugged on the sleeve of his friend’s robes. ‘Just sit down, Zac.’
‘Don’t you want to know what’s going on?’
‘Yes,’ the other boy hissed, ‘but how is acting like that going to help?’
Isaac sighed. ‘You’re right, I guess.’
‘Thank you, Greg,’ Neal had noticed the blond boy’s intervention. ‘I have my theories, as I am sure you do, too.’
‘So you don’t know, then?’ A voice interrupted from the back of the classroom, and as the Slytherin boys turned around they quickly identified the speaker as Megan, the girl who had provoked Joshua the previous week.
The Ravenclaw raised his eyebrows. ‘Anyone who tells you they know the workings of such ancient magic is almost certainly a liar.’
‘So you don’t know,’ the girl repeated her empty assertion. ‘You’re teaching us about it, and you don’t know yourself!’
‘Shut up, Megan!’ Aidan Mills stood up, his eyes flashing angrily. ‘Let’s hear what you think, if you’re so clever.’
Megan narrowed her eyes, glaring back at the other Gryffindor. ‘Maybe it’s not coming back? Maybe it’s just part of our exams, and it’s a trick to see how we all cope?’
‘Are you calling my Dad a liar?’ Joshua snapped, standing up himself as he turned around to face down the black-haired girl.
Megan shrugged. ‘Maybe I am.’
‘How dare you?’ Joshua trembled, snatching his wand from the pocket of his robes. ‘You don’t know anything... anything that’s happened outside these classrooms...’ He jabbed his wand towards Megan, who shrunk back in her chair.
‘Josh...’ Neal reached for his own wand. ‘Not here. Not now.’
The Gryffindor boy spun around, his wand arm shaking. ‘Why not?’ He tensed, steeling his eyes to remain dry. ‘You know she’s lying!’
‘I do, but this isn’t the way...’ The seventh-year’s words were cut off as a sudden flurry of light split the classroom.
‘First-years...’ Neal stammered, his wand arm dropping to his side as he surveyed the scene in front of him. Several boys were on their feet, their wands poised, and Megan lay, stunned and disarmed, on the floor at the back of the classroom. ‘Explain yourselves!’
‘She started it,’ Greg mumbled, swallowing as he looked up to meet the Ravenclaw’s stare. ‘She cast Flipendo at Josh,’ he explained, ‘but Ciaran spotted it; it was his Protego...’
The sandy-haired boy blushed scarlet. ‘I can sort of tell when someone’s going to cast a jinx.’
‘I can imagine,’ Neal nodded, ‘but that doesn’t explain why Megan has been knocked out.’
‘That was my fault,’ Spencer Dawlish volunteered. ‘One of the others cast Expelliarmus, but I’d already started the stunner and I couldn’t stop.’
‘That was me,’ Isaac owned up. ‘She deserved it, anyway,’ he declared.
‘That doesn’t make it acceptable to attack another student,’ the seventh-year strode over to Megan’s unconscious body. ‘Enervate. Now,’ his voice dropped, ‘you all have two choices. One, you can stay here, and we can try to get to the bottom of this, or two, you can clear off and suit yourselves. Anyone who chooses to stay, and then questions the integrity of another student or a member of staff, will be punished as severely as the school rules allow.’
Megan swallowed gormlessly. ‘He cursed me!’
‘It was a stunner, Miss Campbell, not a curse,’ Neal grimaced, ‘and let me assure you that Mr Dawlish will be appropriately dealt with.’
‘Good,’ the girl got to her feet. ‘How many points will it be?’
‘Ten,’ the Ravenclaw answered, flatly. ‘Now, are you going, or staying?’
‘You’ll be lucky if you ever see me again,’ she turned on her heel and strutted to the classroom’s back door, with a fawning group of her friends following in her wake.
‘Ten points...?’ Aidan gasped as the door slammed shut, leaving the boys on their own inside the classroom.
‘Ten points to each of you who stood up for him against that, that...’ Neal stuttered.
‘The word you want is bitch,’ Isaac supplied, mischievously, as the other first-years choked back their laughter.
The seventh-year smiled. ‘You might want to put it that way. I couldn’t possibly comment.’ He walked back the length of the classroom, sitting down on the front of his desk as the children slipped back into their seats. ‘Joshua,’ he began, ‘I hope you realise how lucky you are to have people stand up for you like that; even people who aren’t necessarily your friends...’
The Gryffindor’s pale cheeks reddened beneath his freckles. ‘I know,’ he looked around the room, ‘but you’re wrong,’ he swallowed. ‘They are my friends.’
Neal gave the first-years a moment to react to Joshua’s admission, before he begun again. ‘My theory,’ he paused, allowing the boys’ concentration to drift back towards the front of the room, ‘is that Welsh Magic, like the old Elements, is set ever so deeply within nature. Any spells that are cast with it must therefore obey the cycles of nature, and rise and fall with the sun and moon.’
The boys stared back at him, open-mouthed, until Lucas ventured an interpretation of the Ravenclaw’s words.
‘So, what you’re saying...’ he took a deep breath, ‘is that they’ll come back at sunset.’
The older boy nodded. ‘That’s what I think.’
The first-years had needed no persuading to seek out a vantage point that evening to test Neal’s theory. The only argument had been the exact location of their hideout, but once Jai reminded the others that the school kitchens, located right beside the Hufflepuff common room, possessed a transparent ceiling, agreement was quick in coming. As the clock struck ten, the thirteen students who had met in the Slytherin common room the week before waited, alongside the Ravenclaw seventh-years Neal Kennedy and Ed Williams, for the final rays of June sunshine to slip away.
‘Looks like the teachers all think the same thing,’ Ed observed, pointing out the gathered staff members at the head table.
‘Aurors too,’ the other Ravenclaw agreed. ‘One at each end. Look at the robes.’
‘They’re coming,’ Joshua whispered. ‘I know. I can feel it. Shit...’ He shook his head, as the walls of the kitchen and the Great Hall above began to reverberate to the gusting winds that all the boys knew surrounded the onrushing Wild Hunt.
‘Protego!’ The teachers chorused, aiming their wands outwards as the spectral form of the Hunt splintered the deadlocked doors. ‘Protego Duo!’ The translucent spheres of the shields pulsed outwards from the staff table, but neither spell had any effect on the waiting Huntsmen, who drew to a halt behind their leader in the middle of the hall.
‘Tregeagle,’ the Head of the Hunt implored, his voice resounding across the vast chamber. ‘Your arcane magic has held us off for a week, but now we come to claim what is rightfully ours.’
‘Very well,’ the Defence professor took two paces forward, before levelling his wand at the lead Huntsman. ‘Avada Kedavra!’ A jet of green light shot unerringly towards the spirit’s head, before passing harmlessly through and shattering on the stone buttress of the furthest wall.
‘Your wand’s magic is useless here, Tregeagle,’ the pitch of the ghost’s voice didn’t change. ‘We are above these little games. Now,’ his voice lowered, ‘come with us and no others shall come to any harm.’
‘What about the girl?’
‘She will be free.’
Professor Tregeagle let his wand slip back into the pocket of his robes, turning his head back to the staff table for a moment. ‘Goodbye, Minerva,’ his voice dropped, and the boys gathered in the kitchens could barely make out the teacher’s farewell. ‘Look after my boy.’
Nobody said a word, above or below the Great Hall’s enchanted floor, as Tregeagle made his unblinking way along the hall’s central aisle, into the clutches of the Wild Hunt.
‘DAD!’ Joshua’s anguished yell split the silence that had filled the room beneath. ‘NO!’ He vaulted upwards, evading the panicked grasps of his friends, and made hurriedly for the kitchen door.
Aidan was on his feet in an instant. ‘Come on, then!’ He yelled back over his shoulder, making to follow his housemate out of the room. ‘We can’t just leave him!’
Glyn and Theo were the first to react to their fellow first-year’s appeal for help, rushing to follow Aidan’s footsteps before the other students followed suit.
‘Gryffindors...’ Oscar muttered under his breath, shaking his head. ‘Always the same.’
The fourth-year’s sarcasm was far away from the younger boys’ minds, however, with the chasers bearing down on Joshua as the boy approached the entrance to the Great Hall.
‘DAD...’ he yelled, just as Theo caught him in the jarring crush of a hard rugby tackle, sending him crashing to the cold stone floor as the two boys slid into the legs of the Hufflepuff House table. ‘Theo!’ Joshua snapped, struggling to prise the Slytherin away, and noticing his own blood spilling from a cut on his left hand. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘I’m trying,’ the blond boy hissed, tightening his grip, ‘to save your life. Leave it, there’s nothing you can do...’
‘No!’ Joshua shouted back, clenching his left fist to strike Theo across the bridge of the nose and mix the other boy’s blood with his own.
‘Ow! Josh!’ Theo recoiled.
‘I’m not leaving him here for them!’ The Gryffindor’s eyes burned red as rivulets of tears began to flow down his cheeks. ‘I can’t...’
‘Well, I’m not letting them see you,’ Theo remained adamant, grabbing at the Gryffindor’s wrists. ‘They’ll kill you if they do!’
‘I think it’s too late for that.’ Glyn’s hollow warning jerked the scuffling boys back into the present, and they looked up to see the figure of the lead Huntsman no more than a few feet away.
‘Shit!’ Joshua bolted upright, but Theo was alert enough to keep his grip on the other boy’s robes, and shepherd him to the side of the Hall, before standing guard between the Gryffindor and the Hunt.
‘Fresh Tregeagle blood,’ the Hunstman droned, his ghostly eyes beginning to glow an ethereal white as he glided towards the two first-years. ‘Your father did well to keep you from us, but your blood cannot hide your identity. Stand aside,’ he ordered, turning his gaze to Theo, ‘and allow us our rightful prey.’
‘N... no...’ the blond boy stammered, shaking as he willed himself not to cry.
‘Theo,’ Greg whispered, turning his head away and hiding his eyes in the folds of Oscar’s robes. ‘Why...’ he choked. ‘That’s not Slytherin...’
‘It’s not old Slytherin,’ Oscar held his hand on his friend’s head, as he felt the eleven-year-old beginning to sob. ‘We’re not old Slytherin any more.’
‘Have it your way,’ the lead Huntsman was unmoved. ‘Tregeagle’s blood shall be ours.’
‘Wait!’ Glyn stepped forwards. ‘He has the blood of Tregeagle, but I have the blood of Glyndwr!’ He lifted a sharp knife from the Hufflepuff table, and with his teeth gritted, scored a thin line along his left palm. ‘Blood of earth,’ he joined Theo and Joshua, placing his hand against the Gryffindor boy’s own. ‘Blood of fire. Blood of water.’
Neal Kennedy understood. ‘Blood of air.’ He followed the Welsh boy’s example, cutting his own palm and doing the same to Theo as the blond boy offered his hand.
‘Earth, air, fire, water,’ Glyn repeated, turning to face the Huntsmen, and making certain that the bond of blood never slipped. ‘Four elements united by the heir of Glyndwr, himself the heir of Merlin. Hunters, cross the bloodline if you dare.’
Greg lifted his head from Oscar’s robes, staring as the twelve-year-old Hufflepuff and the ancient Huntsman stared one another down.
‘What’s he doing?’ The prefect whispered. ‘Did he mention any of this to you...?’
The first-year shook his head. ‘No... I don’t know...’ He swallowed. ‘What’s happening?’ Greg’s mouth fell open as he watched the Huntsmen hesitate, before the mass of spectres began to fold back in on one another, shrinking away before the boys’ eyes. It was as if there was an immense vacuum pulling everything closer, glowing ever brighter like an inverted black hole, before the might of the Hunt faded with one final blast of white light.
‘Dad!’ Joshua called again, sprinting free of the other students only to fall to his knees beside his father’s body, reaching his bloody hand onto the man’s face. ‘Dad!’
‘It’s too late, Joshua.’ Professor McGonagall had advanced steadily down the aisle to stand behind the distraught twelve-year-old. ‘There’s nothing you can do.’
‘There must be!’ The boy blushed, unbothered by the fresh tears that rimmed his eyes. ‘No one thought the Hunt could be beaten, but look what happened! Glyn,’ he snatched for breath, looking across as the Hufflepuff knelt opposite him. ‘You believe me, don’t you?’
‘Blood of earth,’ Glyn didn’t answer the Gryffindor’s question, but instead held his injured palm to the teacher’s forehead.
‘Blood of fire,’ Joshua copied the other first-year, as he noticed Theo and Neal joining him.
‘Blood of water.’
‘Blood of air.’
Joshua shut his eyes. ‘Please let this work. Please, Dad. Please don’t leave me...’ He slumped forwards, letting his ear fall onto his father’s chest. ‘He’s breathing!’ Joshua jumped upwards. ‘Professor, he’s breathing! I told you, I told you!’
‘Poppy!’ McGonagall called the school nurse, who, with an auror at either side, hurried from her post at the top table to join the impromptu meeting in the middle of the hall. ‘Is it true? Is he breathing?’
Poppy Pomfrey knelt down, filling the space that Joshua had vacated in his excitement, and smartly examined the fallen professor’s body before returning to her feet. ‘He is... and there is a pulse.’
McGonagall nodded. ‘You know what to do.’
With a neat flick of her wrist, the nurse lifted Tregeagle’s body from the floor and, with the aurors still in tow, headed for the hospital wing.
‘As for you,’ the Headmistress pursed her lips, turning to the gaggle of students who stood, motionless in front of her. ‘My office. Now.’
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