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Snakes and Ladders by Sheriff
Chapter 2 : Discovery
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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Greg whistled, reading the parchment in his head once more. ‘How did we find it?’ He asked aloud, assuming the paper would respond in kind. ‘Does it just appear out of nowhere?’

‘It is always here,’ the neat handwriting answered his question. ‘You found it as it has always been found; by passing its entrance three times whilst thinking of what you wished to find.’

Greg looked up to Joshua, whose face had paled. ‘I didn’t,’ he stammered. ‘You heard what I said, Greg, I just wanted to go to the East Tower, and find...’

‘... find something that none of the other kids knew about.’ Greg completed Joshua’s sentence for him, breaking into a broad smile. ‘Do you reckon this room can turn into whatever we want it to?’

Joshua glanced down to the parchment on the table in front of them, reading out the single-word answer that had appeared. ‘Yes.’

The two boys slowly turned to face one another as a hazy understanding began to take form inside their minds, before Greg broke the quiet. ‘Wow.’ He held up his hand, and Joshua high-fived him with a shy grin. ‘There’s something I want to know, though, Josh,’ Greg added, slowly strolling towards the window and its panorama over the Hogwarts grounds. ‘If it turns into whatever you want it to be, why on earth did you imagine this?’

Joshua blushed, looking away from his friend and squatting down onto the soft cushion of one of the stools. ‘I don’t know,’ he slumped onto the nearby table, supporting his chin on his forearms. ‘I guess I just wanted to find something new, like you said...’

Greg shrugged, turning away from the window and trotting back to take one of the other low stools. ‘Shall we see what else we can make it into, then?’ He asked, playfully. ‘Do you want to go first?’

‘Alright,’ Joshua stood up, hastily, knocking his stool to the ground as he headed for the great door that led back to the seventh-floor corridor. ‘Walk past the entrance three times, right?’

Greg nodded. ‘Whilst you’re thinking about what you want it to turn into,’ he added, following his friend out of the room, and watching him stride purposefully back and forth.

‘Done,’ Joshua looked up moments later as the great door began to fade back into the wall. ‘Come on,’ he stepped forwards, reaching for the brass door handle, pushing it slowly open. ‘Cool...’ he breathed, holding the door open for his friend.

‘What did you ask for?’ Greg asked, looking around the new layout of the room. ‘It just looks like, well, I don’t know, like a common room.’

Joshua dropped down onto a low armchair. ‘Don’t you like it?’ His voice wavered, and Greg immediately qualified his last sentence.

‘No, it’s not that,’ he backtracked. ‘I just expected, well...’ He glanced around the room. It was larger than it had been in its librarian guise, but still no bigger than the Slytherin boys’ dormitory. A handful of comfortable-looking recliners sat across the room, surrounded by a scattering of board games, books and what looked as if it must have been a radio. ‘I expected a bit more.’

Joshua grimaced. ‘I guess I just wanted,’ he swallowed, catching himself. ‘I just wanted somewhere to get away from... from everything.’ He looked up, pleadingly, at the other boy, and Greg – feeling as if there were nothing else he could do – nodded.

‘Can I have one go at the Room?’ The Slytherin asked, tentatively, before hurrying into a postscript. ‘If you don’t like it, we’ll change it back again, I promise.’

‘I suppose,’ the other boy shrugged, answering in little more than a hoarse whisper, but all the same rising to his feet and following Greg from the room. Joshua stood to one side, watching intently as the blond boy paced outside the stretch of wall that both children knew would soon transform back into a doorway.

‘Okay,’ Greg smiled, ‘here goes.’ He reached for the door, narrating his idea as he took hold. ‘You said you wanted somewhere to go, and I thought that was cool, but I also figured we’d want to have some stuff to do, as well...’ He eased the door open, showing that the soft recliners still held a place in one quiet corner of the room, across from a panelled wooden floor that held tables for both pool and table-tennis. ‘Muggle games,’ Greg explained, noting his friend’s perplexed gaze. ‘I’ll show you how to play,’ he added.

Joshua blinked ‘Is that a k... a kitchen?’ He gestured towards the far side of the room, where a range of walnut brown worktops and cabinets stood, each topped with a layer of black marble. ‘Why do we need a kitchen? Can’t we just ask for food?’

Greg shook his head. ‘You can’t transfigure food,’ he recalled a chapter he’d read in a textbook. ‘It’s Gamp’s Law,’ Greg took a breath, ‘but there’s nothing stopping us getting the ingredients,’ he emphasised the last word, ‘and cooking for ourselves if we want to. This way we don’t have to go anywhere...’

‘What if we need...’ Joshua began, only to fall silent as his friend pointed to a small door in the final corner of the room.

‘Bathroom,’ Greg explained, with a wry grin. ‘So,’ he asked, ‘what do you think, then? Like it?’

Joshua returned his friend’s smile. ‘It’s brilliant.’

*

The sun had long since set by the time that the two boys decided to turn in for the evening, leaving their room to fade into the bleak darkness of the Scottish night.

‘Won’t people wonder where we are?’ Greg asked as he watched two of the reclining chairs transform into comfortable-looking single beds.

‘Doubt it,’ Joshua shrugged, letting his checked shirt fall off his shoulders. ‘Can’t remember the last time anyone checked.’

Greg shivered as he pulled his own shirt over his head, searching for a way to reply but struggling for the right words to say. ‘Josh,’ he ventured, a couple of minutes later, once both boys had buried themselves under their respective duvets. ‘Why did you ask me to come and stay?’

The room fell quiet again, before the Gryffindor managed a slow answer. ‘Cause you never gave up before,’ he struggled. ‘Never, even when I had given up, even when I was being a tosser... you tried to help,’ Joshua sniffed.

Greg swallowed. He hadn’t really thought about what kind of answers his friend might give him, and he didn’t know how to respond now. ‘Oh,’ he filled the silence awkwardly, speaking for the sake of making a sound. ‘Right. Thanks, I guess?’

‘I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t...’ he rolled over, looking away from the other boy as the sheets muffled his voice.

‘It would have been alright,’ Greg offered, nervously. ‘Someone would have figured something out.’

‘Who?’ Joshua snapped around, his voice growing sharply louder. ‘If you guys hadn’t have figured it all out then I wouldn’t have known when the Hunt were coming back!’ His eyes began to water. ‘They would have just killed him, like they tried to do anyway, and no one could have stopped it! Then, then...’ His voice tailed off, and Greg heard his friend cough over a stifled sob.

‘I’m sorry,’ Greg began to apologise, only for the other boy to cut him off.

‘Don’t,’ Joshua protested immediately. ‘It’s not your fault.’ He rolled back over, turning his back on the Slytherin as he huddled himself beneath his duvet.

Greg sighed inwardly as his friend fell silent, suddenly regretting bringing up the topic of Joshua’s father. He rolled over onto his other side, staring through the room’s high windows and out into the constellations that speckled the night sky, as he waited for Joshua’s breathing to tell him that his friend had fallen asleep. Why, Greg asked himself again, had he mentioned the subject? He shut his eyes, pondering the question, only to drift off himself before he had the chance to fully consider his answer.

The next sound that Greg heard was the harsh thud of a pool ball as it bounced on the wooden panels of the floor. ‘What the...?’ He sat up abruptly in his bed, blinking Joshua’s face into focus.

‘Oops,’ the brown-haired boy grinned, self-consciously. ‘Sorry,’ he offered. ‘I didn’t mean to wake you up.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Greg shook his head, pushing himself out of bed. ‘How long have you been up?’

‘Not long,’ Joshua shrugged, ‘half an hour?’

Greg nodded. ‘Have you been practising all that time?’ He looked across the table, scanning the untidy spread of balls. ‘Shall we have a game, then? See if you can beat me today?’

Joshua laughed, setting down his pool cue against the side of the table. ‘You’re on!’ He reached out across the scattered balls, gathering together those that remained spread over the blue baize, before ordering them inside their triangle as Greg rolled back those that had already been potted. ‘There’s one missing,’ Joshua looked around.

‘Try the floor,’ Greg grinned, remembering the noise that had woken him moments earlier.

‘Oh,’ Joshua laughed again, ‘yeah. Do you want to break?’ He offered the cue to his friend.

‘Alright,’ the blond boy smiled as he took it, settling over the pool table, ‘watch and learn.’

As it turned out, Greg’s confidence was not misplaced, and his friend’s inexperience proved no match for his skill: he potted the black with four of Joshua’s stripes still remaining on the table. ‘Easy!’ Greg held the cue up in triumph as he watched the black ball drop smoothly into a corner pocket. ‘Another game?

Joshua shook his head. ‘Maybe later,’ he suggested, before taking a deep breath and looking up, directly into his friend’s eyes. ‘Listen, Greg, about last night...’

Greg felt himself tense up as he heard his friend’s words, and he dropped the pool cue, clumsily. ‘I’m sorry,’ the Slytherin repeated.

‘No,’ Joshua talked over the other boy, sitting down unsteadily on the end of his unmade bed. ‘I do want to talk about it,’ his voice wavered.

‘Josh,’ Greg crossed the short distance to sit on his own bed, opposite the Gryffindor. ‘You don’t have to tell me.’

‘I do,’ Joshua insisted, folding his arms across his pale chest. ‘Everyone’s going to ask me what happened when we get back to school. I can’t just do that again; I can’t just hide.’ He swallowed, steeling himself. ‘I’ve got to start somewhere.’

Greg managed a thin smile, nodding slowly as he met his friend’s gaze. ‘If you’re sure you want to...’

‘I’m sure,’ Joshua nodded back, defiantly, taking a deep breath before he continued. ‘You saw what happened in the Great Hall, right,’ he began. ‘Well, Miss Pomfrey took Dad up to the hospital wing... he was in a coma,’ Joshua faltered, looking back into Greg’s eyes. ‘Do you know...’

‘Yeah,’ Greg answered, softly. ‘When someone’s unconscious, right?’

‘Right,’ Joshua continued, ‘and they won’t wake up.’ He took another breath. ‘Dad was in coma for nearly a week. Even now, he’s really tired. He can only stay awake for like an hour at a time, and he can hardly get out of bed. That’s why Miss Pomfrey’s always round us, looking after him and checking that everything is alright.’ The boy’s eyes reddened and he looked away for a moment. Greg didn’t interrupt as his friend gathered his thoughts.

‘That’s not all of it, though,’ Joshua looked back up, shivering. ‘His m... magic,’ he stammered. ‘They think it might be gone.’ The twelve-year-old bit his lip, hard, willing himself not to cry, but failing as a lonely tear crept down his face.

Greg stared back at the other boy, at a loss for a way to respond and afraid of what might happen if he chose the wrong words. In the end, he settled on crossing the short distance between the two beds, and sitting down beside his friend.

‘I don’t know what’s going to happen,’ Joshua blinked, turning to look at the boy alongside him. ‘Where are we going to go? What’s Dad going to do if he can’t do magic? What’s going to happen to me?’ The single tear had been joined by several others, and Joshua couldn’t keep his head from collapsing onto his friend’s shoulder.

‘Josh...’ Greg snatched for words that might console the other boy. ‘Someone will look after you,’ he insisted. ‘We used to say Slytherins Stick Together,’ he recalled, ‘but that’s not enough any more, it’s not just Slytherin any more. We’ve all got to stick together, and we will,’ he gritted his teeth. ‘We won’t let anything happen to you, Josh.’

Joshua sniffed, loudly, brushing the back of his hand across his face but still singularly failing to stop the flow of his tears. ‘Really...’ he choked, ‘even after the way we acted, the way we behaved, the things I did...’

Greg cast his mind back to the conversation he had shared with the Sorting Hat, nearly a year ago. ‘It’s our choices, not our abilities, that show us who we truly are,’ he murmured. ‘When it mattered, you chose right.’

Joshua swallowed, trying to brush his face clear again. ‘I don’t deserve to have you as a friend,’ he admitted, sombrely.

‘Well,’ Greg managed a thin smile, ‘that’s too bad, because you’re stuck with me.’

The Gryffindor struggled to reflect his friend’s grin. ‘Thanks, Greg...’ he muttered, ‘for everything.’ Joshua shook himself, lifting his head from the other boy’s shoulder. ‘Come on,’ he ventured, ‘I want to show you something.’

*

The rectangular hedge of the memorial garden was a familiar sight for Greg, but he didn’t comment as Joshua approached the tightly trimmed plants to whisper the password that would allow their entry.

‘We will never forget.’ The Gryffindor buttoned the front of his checked shirt as he stepped reverentially forwards, onto the dry gravel path that led to the solemn obelisk, a monument that grew knew carried the names of all those who had lost their lives to Voldemort. ‘There,’ Joshua pointed.

‘Helen Tregeagle,’ Greg followed his friend’s gesture to read a lonely entry on the pillar. ‘October 19, 1996.’ He swallowed, turning back to face Joshua, who nodded sadly.

‘My Mum,’ he explained, simply. ‘I was two.’

Greg felt his throat tighten up, as his focus on the boy in front of him started to blur. He glanced around hurriedly, before staggering backwards onto the safety of a low bench on the other side of the gravelled path.

‘Greg?’ Joshua turned. ‘You okay?’

‘Yes,’ the blond boy smiled, wanly, shaking his head. ‘I just don’t know what to say... but it shouldn’t be you asking me that.’ He gulped. ‘I never knew; I never even thought about it... Shit...’

Joshua shrugged, sitting down beside his friend. ‘Dad was already an auror. They attacked both of them one night at a restaurant; Dad survived, but...’ He tailed off as the words began to choke his mouth.

‘You don’t need to tell me any more,’ Greg held his friend’s shoulder as Joshua stared down at the floor. ‘I can see why the Hat put you in Gryffindor.’

Joshua snorted. ‘A lot of good that did.’ He sighed. ‘What if I’d ended up in Hufflepuff, and been friends with you from the start?’

‘The Hunt might still have come back,’ Greg ventured. ‘It was Ciaran who set it free in Defence, wasn’t it? And we only beat it because it was four people from different Houses working together. Anyway,’ the blond boy continued, defiantly, ‘it doesn’t matter what House you’re in; the Hat doesn’t decide what kind of person you are, you do!’

‘I know,’ Joshua nodded slowly, ‘but... it’s hard, you know, when you’re on your own. You think of the worst things that could happen, and there’s no-one to tell you anything else.’

Greg let the other boy’s words sink in for a moment, staring up at the point of the memorial as he listened. ‘You’re not on your own, Josh,’ he insisted, ‘and we won’t let you be. ’

The Gryffindor turned to his friend, a nervous smile creeping onto his face. ‘Thank you,’ he blushed, ‘and you’re right. It doesn’t matter what House someone is in. You’re nothing like people said Slytherins would be.’

Greg grinned. ‘Now to convince the rest of the world.’
 


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