Chapter 2 : Muggle-borns
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‘Mum! Mum! He’s here!’ An excitable voice greeted the new teacher as a young girl who, so Greg thought as she bounded along the dusty driveway towards him, looked remarkably like her mother, but for her flyaway ginger hair. ‘Are you Professor Bennett?’ she enquired, enthusiastically, before continuing without ever really having waited for the man to reply. ‘Are you going to be teaching us Transfiguration this year? What are we going to be doing in the first lesson? Which page of the book is it going to be on? How long should it take me to be able to learn how to do it?’
‘Rosie, Rosie!’ An older man poked his head out of a garden shed on the side of the path. ‘Let the man think!’ His tone was firm, but he smiled as he chastised the girl. ‘Arthur Weasley,’ he extended his arm. ‘Grandfather of Rose,’ he hesitated, ‘among others. I take it you are here to meet Hermione?’
‘Yes, sir,’ Greg replied, stiffly. ‘I’m going to meet some of the new muggle-born children.’
‘Call me Arthur,’ the older man laughed, ‘please.’ He clapped an arm on Greg’s shoulder, leading him up towards the main house. ‘Hermione,’ he called out, pushing the back door open. ‘Visitor for you.’
As if on cue, Hermione Weasley emerged through the opposite doorway. ‘Good morning, Gregory.’
‘Good morning,’ Greg answered.
‘You are prepared, I trust?’ She eyed a set of forms on the kitchen table. ‘You know where you are going, and whom you are meeting?’
‘Yes,’ Greg nodded. It might only have been his second day as a professor, but he didn’t need to be told every last detail of his work.
‘Good,’ Hermione looked up from the kitchen to a haphazard staircase that led up to the higher floors of the Burrow. ‘Albus,’ she called. ‘You may as well be going.’
A few moments later, a small, tense-looking boy had made his way down the flight of stairs, presenting himself nervously by the kitchen table.
‘Say good morning to Professor Bennett, Albus,’ Hermione chided the boy, whose untidy black hair obscured all of his features as he stared determinedly at the tiled floor.
‘Morning,’ Albus mumbled.
‘Good morning, Albus,’ Greg responded, more brightly. ‘Albus Potter, Harry’s son?’
The eleven-year-old looked up at the teacher for a fraction of a second, before snapping his gaze back down to the floor.
‘Come on, Albus,’ Hermione prompted him, ‘smarten yourself up a bit.’ She pointed her wand towards him, snapping the hem of his cotton shirt into the top of a light green pair of corduroy knee-length shorts, and directing his fringe into line.
‘Shall we be going, then?’ Greg glanced to the Deputy Headmistress, and, realising she had nothing further to add, he reached out his right hand to take hold of Albus’ left. ‘Hold tight, mate,’ he whispered, as the two of them vanished with the familiar crack.
Greg and Albus emerged moments later on a pavement beside a wide main road, a handful of feet from the curved back of a low wooden bench.
‘Are you alright, Albus?’ Greg noticed the eleven-year-old stumble. ‘Have you Apparated much before?’
‘Yes,’ Albus answered hurriedly, only to blush as he looked up at the teacher and look away equally quickly. ‘A bit...’ he clarified.
‘Let’s have a sit down,’ Greg suggested, taking two steps backward and slipping onto the bench behind them. ‘Never been a big fan of Apparation myself,’ he tapped the boy on the shoulder. ‘Threw up all over my friend’s kitchen the first time I tried it.’
Albus managed a small smile, which Greg returned as he remembered his conversation with Kennedy and Wood the previous day. Stealthily, keeping his wand under the cuff of his pale blue shirt, he reversed the two spells that Hermione had cast over her nephew before they had departed.
‘Wh... why’d you do that?’ Albus stammered, his face pale below a thin rash of freckles, as his shirt untucked itself. ‘Aunt Hermione...’
‘Aunt Hermione’s not here, Albus,’ Greg answered, calmly, ‘and besides, I don’t want this lad to meet someone putting on an act, someone pretending to be somebody he isn’t. I want him to see a real person, hopefully someone he’ll want to make friends with.’
‘Should’ve brought James, then.’ Albus sighed, fiddling with the newly untidy hem of his checked shirt. ‘Everyone likes him.’
‘He’s your brother, right?’
‘He’s already at Hogwarts, isn’t he?’
‘Yeah,’ the boy’s voice was still quiet, and almost monotone. ‘Starting his second year.’
‘No good for me, then!’ Greg tried to lighten the mood, but the eleven-year-old wasn’t so easily cheered up. ‘You don’t really want to be here, do you?’
‘Fair enough,’ the teacher looked up and down the main road. ‘I understand that. Sometimes, though, things happen to us that we’re not sure about, but when you give them a go, they turn out to be pretty good after all. I reckon I felt like you do now before my first Quidditch match, in my first year.’
The boy jerked upright almost instantly at the mention of the wizarding sport, and Greg noticed the vivid green tinge of his eyes for the first time. ‘You played Quidditch... in your first year?’
Greg smiled. ‘Yes, I did. Want to hear about it?’
The eleven-year-old nodded, earnestly.
‘Alright,’ the man smiled. ‘I’ll do you a deal. You tell me a bit about yourself, so that I can properly introduce you to our new acquaintance when we find him, and I’ll tell you about my Quidditch.’
‘Deal,’ Albus grinned.
‘Brilliant,’ Greg got to his feet. ‘Now, first things first, let’s make sure we’re in the right place.’
‘Are we meant to be in Oxford?’ Albus asked.
‘What?’ The man started. ‘How do you know that?’
Albus couldn’t hide another grin as he pointed onto the main road. ‘Cause there’s a big red bus with “Oxford Bus Company” on the side.’
‘Good point, well made,’ the teacher laughed. ‘Which means we are in the right place, so it’s time to get cracking. I believe it’s your turn to start, Albus...’
‘You won the Cup?’ the eleven-year-old’s eyes bulged with surprise. ‘In your first year?’
‘Yeah,’ Greg nodded, ‘we got a bit lucky, like I said, but we won. First time Slytherin had won in fifteen years.’
‘You’re going to be Head of Slytherin, aren’t you?’ Albus looked up at the man, inquisitively.
Greg nodded again, before reaching into the pocket of his trousers to check a map as the two wizards entered the wide, grassy expanse of a park. ‘Yes, Al. I am.’
‘Did you...’ the boy hesitated, waiting for his companion to look directly at him once again before asking his next question. ‘Did you ever think you wanted to be in a different House instead?’
‘Good question,’ Greg sighed, checking another piece of parchment as he noticed a pair of boys playing in the lower branches of a nearby oak. ‘Seeing as it looks like we’ve got a bit of time before we can get our target on his own, I guess I might as well answer it.’ He reached into the pocket again, pulling out a rug that was far too large to have reasonably been hidden within, and settled down on the fabric. ‘It was difficult when I was little,’ he admitted. ‘People treated us like shit... Oh, sorry, Al,’ he blushed, suddenly, as the boy grinned. ‘Please don’t tell your Aunt I said that.’
‘I won’t,’ Albus agreed. ‘As long as you don’t tell my Dad if I swear.’
Greg hesitated for a moment, before agreeing. ‘Fair enough. I know I swore when I was your age... just make sure you don’t go round swearing at people. There’s a difference, you know.’
‘Yeah,’ Albus nodded, solemnly.
‘Anyway,’ the man continued, ‘everyone thought we were just little Death Eaters... it was hard. We didn’t have many friends, but we had each other. We decided that Slytherins Stick Together, and we did.’ He paused. ‘I guess it helped when I met your Dad when you were tiny, only a few months old I guess, and he told me you were named after a Slytherin.’
‘Severus...’ Albus whispered.
‘I loved it there, Al,’ Greg admitted. ‘Seven great years. I just hope it’s still the same now, that it never goes back to what it was,’ he finished, before waiting for a reply that never came. ‘You’d make a good Slytherin,’ he offered. ‘That was the sort of deal we would make.’
Albus looked up at the teacher, unconvinced. ‘James says I’ll be in Slytherin. He says I’m not brave enough for Gryffindor.’
‘James sounds like he’s got a big mouth,’ Greg suggested. ‘Typical Gryffindor,’ he shrugged, ‘but anyway, it really doesn’t matter what House you end up in. Some of my best friends were in the other Houses, and like Dumbledore once said, it’s your choices, not your abilities, that decide who you really are.’
Wordlessly, Albus shuffled a few inches across the rug, moving close enough to the man to rest his head on Greg’s arm. ‘I don’t think I’d mind if I did end up in Slytherin.’
The teacher patted Albus on the shoulder. ‘The Hat will put you in the right place. If you do end up with us, you’ll be welcome.’
The two wizards barely moved for the next quarter of an hour, chatting idly about Quidditch and Hogwarts, before Greg sat up abruptly, knocking Albus’ head away. ‘That’s the boy,’ he whispered, pointing, ‘the brown-haired kid. Daniel Hamilton. Let’s go.’
Hurriedly snatching up the rug, but deciding against trying to force it back into his trouser pocket, Greg followed Daniel the short distance to a low semi-detached house on the outskirts of the park. He allowed the unsuspecting boy a few moments’ grace, before striding confidently along the garden path and up to the peeling blue paint of the front door.
‘Hello?’ The boy greeted him suspiciously, his hazel eyes staring back from underneath a rust-brown fringe.
‘Oh, hello,’ Greg replied, airily. ‘Sorry to bother you... are your parents in?’
‘My mum is,’ Daniel answered, grudgingly. ‘What do you want?’
‘I’d like to talk to her.’
The boy groaned. ‘Mum!’ He turned around, pushing a door open inside the hallway. ‘Someone wants to see you...’
‘Come on, Al,’ Greg whispered to the other wizard, beckoning him to follow over the threshold before ushering Daniel into a cramped front room that reeked of stale cigarette smoke. ‘Good morning,’ the teacher offered. ‘Greg Bennett. I’d like to talk to you about education.’
Stephanie Hamilton looked back at him with a sneer. ‘Education? Why would I want to talk to you about education?’ She sat in a single, dirty armchair and turned to stare at the visitors.
‘Let me be more specific,’ Greg’s tone grew colder. ‘Your son’s education.’
Stephanie’s face formed into an icy glare. ‘What the hell has he got to do with you? He’s done nothing wrong, he hasn’t!’ She raised her voice over the shrill din of a daytime television programme.
Greg sighed. This was not the way this morning had been meant to unfold. ‘I am a teacher at a boarding school in Scotland,’ he declared, ‘and we wish to offer your son a place.’ The room fell quiet, but for the background gabble of the television, and Greg got the feeling that the woman was wondering whether to call the police. It was time for his deal-breaker, he realised. ‘It’s a boarding school for wizards.’ Greg retrieved his wand from the inside of his sleeve, and pointed it towards the television with a flourish, switching the picture off and plunging the room into complete silence.
‘What did you just do?’ Daniel spoke up for the first time. ‘How did you switch the TV off?’ The eleven-year-old’s face was part-muddy, part-suntanned, and he wore a dishevelled yellow football shirt, which was a couple of sizes too large for him, above a pair of boardshorts.
‘It’s my wand, Daniel,’ Greg held it out.
‘Don’t touch it!’ His mother snapped. ‘You don’t know where it’s been!’
Greg bit back a comment suggesting that it would hardly make her son any more dirty, and moved his arm towards Albus. ‘This is Al Potter. He’s starting at the school in September, too.’
Albus took the wand, nervously, before handing it back to the teacher.
‘Is there anything else you can do with it?’ Daniel demanded. ‘Could you turn the TV into, like, a shoebox?’
‘Could I?’ Greg allowed himself a grin. ‘Let’s find out.’ He jabbed the wand towards the set, instantly replacing it with an empty cardboard box. Daniel’s mouth dropped open. Stephanie screamed.
‘Fine,’ the man shrugged. ‘Is this better?’ He waved the wand again, upgrading the television. ‘Is that the right model?’ He asked, aloud. ‘Or is it too big?’ He winked at Albus.
‘No, it’s fine!’ Daniel’s mother proclaimed. ‘Are you saying that my Daniel can do this, too?’
‘With the right education,’ Greg nodded, reaching into his trouser pocket for an envelope addressed to the eleven-year-old, and passing it to the boy. ‘Which is where Hogwarts School comes in. I’ll give you a moment to read the letter.’ The teacher shepherded the other wizard back into the hallway, closing the door behind him. ‘That could have gone better,’ he muttered, sitting down on the steps.
Albus blinked. ‘I thought she was going to hex you or something.’
‘Not likely,’ Greg smiled, ‘not as a muggle. I did think I might have needed to get the shield charm out, mind.’ He shook his head. ‘What do you think then, mate? Seem alright?’
The eleven-year-old shrugged. ‘Don’t know,’ he looked at the floor. ‘Couldn’t tell.’
‘First impressions, though? Would you trust him, Al?’
Albus bit his bottom lip. ‘Don’t know,’ he repeated himself.
The teacher nodded. ‘I suppose that’s better than a straight-out “no”, at least,’ he offered. ‘I suppose it’s question-and-answer time next up.’ Greg nudged the boy’s shoulder. ‘Just be honest, that’s all I’m going to ask you to do... oh, and smile. That would help.’
‘I’ll try,’ Albus grinned, as the door to the front room edged open again, to reveal Daniel standing in the doorway.
‘Excuse me,’ the boy mumbled, ‘but none of this makes sense. What’s platform 9¾?’ He asked. ‘Where can I get any of these things?’
‘All good questions,’ Greg stood up, steadily, ‘and much the same questions as I asked when I was eleven,’ he walked towards the brown-haired boy, ‘and that’s why I’m here now – to answer them.’ The teacher followed Daniel back into the living room, casually conjuring a pair of stools for himself and Albus. ‘All of these objects are available in London, in a street named Diagon Alley. It’s not visible to non-magical people, before you ask.’ He paused for breath. ‘If you decide you would like to go to Hogwarts, then I’ll show you how to get there, and make sure you get everything you need. I’ll also show you the platform on September 1st,’ he added, ‘it’s between Platforms 9 and 10, of course.’
Daniel swallowed, looking from the teacher to the other boy. ‘How come you’re here?’
‘I got asked to come,’ Albus followed the other wizard’s directions to the letter. ‘My Aunt works at the school; she wanted someone to meet new muggle-born kids before they started school.’
‘Muggle-born?’ Daniel repeated.
‘Yes,’ Greg saved Albus from an awkward explanation. ‘It means non-magical.’
‘Is it fun?’ Daniel asked another question. ‘Magic, I mean. This school.’
‘My brother says it’s great,’ Albus replied. ‘He’s already been there a year. I haven’t been yet. I’ve got all my things, though,’ he offered.
‘Do they play football there?’ The other boy changed the subject abruptly, and Greg shook his head in reply.
‘Well, only a little, for fun,’ the teacher explained. ‘The big sport at Hogwarts is Quidditch.’ He reached into his trouser pocket once more, retrieving a book titled “Quidditch Through The Ages”. ‘Take a look.’
Daniel opened the front cover, turning to a random page, and barely keeping his grip as a stunned look crossed his face. ‘The pictures move...’
‘Yeah,’ Greg smiled. ‘They do that.’
Daniel nodded, dumbfounded, as he leafed through the pages. ‘This looks awesome...’ he mumbled. ‘Did you play this?’
‘Yep,’ the teacher answered. ‘All my seven years at school. Four years as chaser, three as seeker.’ He glanced at the boy’s shirt. ‘I didn’t miss football.’
‘Cool...’ A smile edged onto Daniel’s lips for the first time since the wizards had arrived. ‘I can’t wait to tell Connor.’
‘Ah,’ Greg interrupted, ‘that’s a no-no, I’m afraid. We keep ourselves to ourselves; we don’t tell. No one else can know about this. Sorry,’ the man added, sensing the disappointment in the boy’s eyes, ‘but I hope you understand why. It’s your decision, Daniel,’ he spoke softly. ‘Here’s my address if you want to write to me and ask anything.’ He got to his feet. ‘Unless I hear otherwise from you, I’ll see you here at nine o’clock next Monday. Come on, Al,’ he made for the front door. ‘Keep the book.’
Another loud crack brought Greg and Albus back to the dusty driveway outside the Burrow a few moments later. ‘Thanks for coming, Al,’ the teacher leant a hand on the boy’s shoulder, steadying him as the effects of Apparition wore off. ‘You were a great help.’
‘Really?’ Albus peered back up at the man, unconvinced. ‘I didn’t say much.’
‘You didn’t need to, mate,’ Greg assured him. ‘Just being there helped. Showed his Mum I wasn’t some kind of nutter out to kidnap her little boy...’
Albus managed a dry laugh. ‘Am I going back next Monday?’ He asked, before hurriedly adding a proviso. ‘If he decides he wants to go.’
Greg smiled. ‘Do you want to come?’
The boy nodded, resolutely.
‘Then I look forwards to it,’ he turned towards the shadow of the house. ‘I hope your cousin’s as much help as you’ve been,’ he offered, pushing through the same kitchen door that Albus’ grandfather had opened earlier that morning. ‘Hello? Anyone in?’
‘Yes,’ Hermione Weasley appeared beside the kitchen table. ‘I trust everything has gone to plan?’
‘Pretty much,’ Greg answered. ‘Needs a bit of time to get used to it, I think, but I reckon he’s good.’
‘Was Albus any help?’ She stared at the boy.
‘A great deal,’ the man snapped, more sharply than he had expected, as he watched the eleven-year-old back away. ‘If he’d already started Hogwarts, then I’d be giving him points.’ Greg watched a thin smile drift onto Albus’ face, and felt the same thing happening on his own.
‘Well, I hope Louis is as much use this afternoon,’ she huffed. ‘He’s been making a scene about it ever since he got here...’
‘I’ll take Albus again,’ Greg suggested, quickly. ‘If you want to go, that is, mate?’
‘Yes,’ Albus replied, eagerly. ‘I’ll go.’
Hermione shook her head. ‘I’m afraid it must be Louis. If this plan is going to succeed, every pupil must have a different buddy.’ She fixed her gaze on Albus in time to see the eleven-year-old’s smile fade.
‘I’ll see you next week, Al,’ Greg offered, but it wasn’t enough to brighten the boy’s expression.
‘Fine,’ he mumbled, turning away. ‘See you.’
Greg rolled his eyes. ‘What did you say it like that for?’ He complained. ‘Did you see the look on his face?’
‘Well, it has to be Louis,’ Hermione was unrepentant. ‘You know the idea. My nephews can’t be seen to be avoiding their bit.’
‘That doesn’t mean you had to tell him it like that,’ the man shook his head, before lowering his voice. ‘He was nervous as hell this morning, and look how he came through it...’ Greg caught his tongue before saying anything more. ‘I’ve got another lad to meet now, haven’t I? Two, I suppose,’ he thought out loud. ‘Where’s that Louis kid?’
Hermione glared back at her new colleague for a moment, before seemingly deciding similarly against continuing their argument. ‘Through here,’ she announced, leading Greg through into a low-ceilinged sitting room, where a sullen-looking boy sat, hunched in the back of an armchair. ‘Time to go, Louis,’ Hermione announced. ‘This is Professor Bennett. Come here.’ She paused. ‘Now.’
The boy, whose red hair dropped to the top of his eyebrows above a heavily freckled face, seemed to have lost all stomach for the fight, and trooped disconsolately across to meet the two professors.
‘Hi, Louis,’ Greg reached out to shake the boy’s hand. ‘Let’s go.’
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