Chapter 3 : Shields and Secrets
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‘S... sorry, sir,’ the boy stammered, his face pale as he pushed himself up from the kerbside.
‘Don’t worry about it, mate,’ Greg ruffled the boy’s already untidy hair. ‘At least Hermione hasn’t tried putting smartening charms on you.’
‘She did,’ Louis confessed. ‘Six times.’
‘She said you made a bit of a scene,’ the professor recalled, and the boy blushed. ‘I’d have got rid of the bloody things, too, if I were you. I want a real kid here, not a mannequin.’ He smiled as the eleven-year-old grinned back: the professor had quickly learned that this was a job for which he would need his companion fully onside. ‘Well, no use standing around,’ Greg continued, ‘we’ve got a job to do. Looking for Church House, and the Llewellyn family.’
Louis nodded, following the teacher without complaint as the two wizards followed the leaf-lined road around the rural village.
‘That’s the church,’ Greg noticed, nodding towards an old sandstone building that stood, lop-sided, on one side of the village square. ‘So...’
‘Church House,’ Louis pointed towards an ornate set of gates a handful of yards away, set in between a high pair of hedges.
‘Good work,’ the professor smiled, heading towards the gates. ‘I could have the awkward conversation now, or...’ He touched the tip of his wand to a lock at the centre of the gates. ‘Alohomora.’
‘Cool,’ Louis grinned his approval, following the man onto the now-open driveway.
‘Even bigger than the Burrow, this,’ Greg observed, leading the red-headed boy towards the stately entrance and thumping the iron door knocker.
A middle-aged man with thinning silver hair answered. ‘Can I help you?’
‘Good afternoon,’ Greg greeted him. ‘Philip Llewellyn? Professor Gregory Bennett.’ His name sounded much more convincing, he thought, when he included the title. ‘I am doing some research, looking into traditions and folklore in the British Isles. I’m wondering if I can ask you a few questions?’
The man shook his hand. ‘Well... I expect so,’ he blustered, peering beyond Greg’s shoulders. ‘How did you get through the gate?’
‘The gate?’ Greg repeated, blankly, before telling a half-truth. ‘It was open.’
Llewellyn shuddered. ‘Bizarre. No harm in it, though, I suppose.’ He shook his head. ‘My son is in the garden; I shall have to call him in. Do take a seat,’ he gestured to an airy front room, populated by a set of wide, low armchairs. ‘Nathan,’ he called out, heading along the timber floor of the hallway.
‘Play along, Louis,’ Greg whispered as the two wizards followed Llewellyn’s instructions and sat down. ‘Got my head screamed off this morning when I went straight for it. We’ll get to magic,’ he assured the boy. ‘Don’t you worry about what to say – just be honest if you need to be.’
‘Professor Bennett,’ the man returned, carrying a tray that held three glasses and a jug of iced water. ‘Traditions and folklore? An interesting topic, if I may say so.’
‘I’m glad you think that, Mr Llewellyn,’ Greg improvised. ‘It’s long since been an interest of mine.... since I was Louis’ age, in fact.’
Philip Llewellyn glanced thoughtfully at the boy. ‘Ten, eleven?’ He enquired. ‘My boy’s a similar age. Turned eleven last week.’
Greg nodded. Now wasn’t quite the time to broach the subject of his son’s magic. ‘Would you say that traditions or folklore play a significant part in your life?’
The other man’s expression wrinkled in thought. ‘Probably not,’ he concluded. ‘Perhaps a few decades ago, when there might still have been a little truth in the matter... but no longer. I suppose it is no more than a good story today.’
Greg made to jot down a summary of Philip’s answer. ‘Interesting,’ he nodded. ‘Are there any particular tales which you feel hold any special resonance, either to your family or to your local area?’
‘Well, there’s the Wild Hunt, I suppose,’ Philip offered. ‘You can’t grow up near Windsor Great Park without hearing tell of Herne the Hunter, can you?’
‘Herne the Hunter?’ Greg winced.
‘Oh yes,’ the other man confirmed, eagerly. ‘Herne the Hunter, leader of the Wild Hunt. That’s what my grandmother always told us... When there was a thunderstorm, it was the hooves of Herne’s horses, as they ran across the sky.’
‘Well, that’s not true, for starters...’ Greg muttered to himself, before clearing his throat and raising his voice. ‘Your Grandmother?’ He asked. ‘Did she ever mention anything more about the Hunt? Did she ever claim to see it?’
‘I think she might have,’ Philip shrugged. ‘I was only little; I don’t remember.’
Greg nodded, sympathetically. ‘It’s quite a common tale, across the country, passed down from generation to generation. It’s a theory of mine that there’s an affinity for this supernatural, a gene that’s passed on like these stories. Was there ever anyone else in your family who claimed to have seen the Hunt, or anything along these lines?’
‘I had a cousin...’ Philip recalled, stiltedly. ‘He loved Grandma’s stories more than any of us. I couldn’t tell you what happened to him, though,’ the man shook his head. ‘Don’t think I saw him when he was any older than eleven.’
‘What about yourself?’ Greg aimed to keep his voice casual. ‘Or your son?’
Philip’s body snapped rigid at the professor’s mention of his son. ‘Fine,’ he answered, robotically. ‘Nathan is perfectly normal.’
Greg snatched a glance at Louis, before turning back to the muggle man. ‘Mr Llewellyn,’ he began, ‘I don’t think I asked you that.’
The man flushed. ‘Well, I assure you, neither of us have seen, or done, anything supernatural. Not here. Not in North Ascot.’
‘The supernatural doesn’t usually worry about where it is,’ Greg replied, cryptically. ‘As I say, my theory is that this affinity can often skip a generation or more. Louis’ family can trace it back as far as their family tree runs. I can’t go back a single step.’
‘What are you implying?’ Llewellyn’s voice rose. ‘Who has sent you? Nathan is not a freak!’
‘Dad?’ The quiet voice of an eleven-year-old boy, standing in the doorway between the sitting room and kitchen of the old house, silenced his father. ‘What’s going on? Why are you talking about me?’
Greg’s first thought was that Nathan Llewellyn looked like a choirboy frozen in the headlights of a lorry. He was a couple of inches shorter than either Albus or Louis, and his golden blond hair sat slick against the top of his head, still damp from what his swimming trunks suggested must have been a morning in the pool. His arms and chest were gently tanned, but this only served to make his face seem more obviously pale.
‘Nathan,’ Greg began, softly. ‘Have strange things ever happened to you, when you have been frightened or scared? Things you can’t explain?’
The boy’s thin body shivered. ‘Dad...’ He repeated. ‘Who is this?’
‘My name’s Professor Greg Bennett,’ Greg stood up to introduce himself as Nathan backed behind his father’s armchair. ‘I’m a teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m here because you – like me, and like Louis here – are capable of magic.’
The room fell into an awkward silence, as Philip and Nathan Llewellyn stared, dumbfounded, at their two visitors. It was the older man who broke the quiet. ‘Who sent you...?’ He repeated.
‘Every birth of a child capable of magic is recorded at the school,’ Greg explained. ‘Nathan’s name has been down since he was born.’
‘Did you know about...’ Philip had begun to ask a question, but his son cut him off.
‘Dad! Don’t tell them!’
‘They might be able to explain.’
‘I don’t want them to know!’ Nathan’s eyes began to water. ‘Dad! Please!’
‘They need to know, Nathan,’ he pleaded with his son. ‘You can’t hide from it forever.’
Nathan turned on his heel, rushing out of the sitting room. Moments later, the sound of the back door slamming told the others where the boy had gone.
‘Perhaps you shouldn’t tell us,’ Greg suggested. ‘It sounds like you might be talking about accidental magic – not unusual for a boy of his age – and whilst I agree with you that he cannot hide from it, perhaps it would be better for him to admit it himself.’ He pulled his wand out of the cuff of his shirt. ‘Louis,’ an easy flick changed the redhead’s casual clothes into swimshorts. ‘This is your bit, mate. Just go and talk... be a friend. I get the feeling he hasn’t had many of late.’
The eleven-year-old stood up, obediently. ‘Yes, sir,’ he answered. ‘I’ll try.’
‘Thanks, mate,’ Greg held out a hand for Louis to high-five as the boy followed his soon-to-be classmate out into the back garden.
‘You’re right,’ Philip Llewellyn concluded a moment later. ‘He’s not had any since it happened.’
‘Don’t tell me,’ Greg insisted. ‘It’s his decision to share it.’
Philip nodded, getting to his feet. ‘The kitchen looks out over the back,’ he explained. ‘We should keep an eye on them.’
Greg didn’t argue. ‘The gate wasn’t open,’ he chose the moment to admit it. ‘I unlocked it.’
The other man accepted the teacher’s confession without comment. ‘What else can you do... can he do?’ Philip stood by a glass wall, watching his son slump on a lounger beside a pool that reflected the hot August sun.
‘Right now,’ Greg answered, ‘not very much. Anything that he can do will be out of control, and it will usually come out in bursts, when he’s angry or frightened. One of my best friends made someone end up on top of a cupboard after an argument. Louis’ uncle is fond of telling a story where he regrew a whole head of hair overnight after one particularly bad haircut.’
‘And when he controls it?’
‘Sky’s the limit,’ Greg held out his own wand. ‘Just like anything else – depends how hard he wants to work at it.’
Louis Weasley glanced up over his shoulder towards the overlooking kitchen of Church House, noticing a positive thumbs-up signal from his future professor and resolving to approach the other eleven-year-old.
‘Hi,’ the redhead sat down on the next lounger. ‘Nice pool,’ he offered, tamely. It didn’t surprise him when the other boy didn’t answer. Louis sighed, recalling the task that the teacher had given him. What was he meant to do? He stretched out on the chair, feeling the sun’s rays on his chest. ‘This must be really weird for you,’ he thought out loud. ‘I mean, I’ve grown up with magic all my life, but you... it must have just come out of nowhere.’
‘I don’t know what I’d do,’ Louis continued. ‘I guess you’re pretty freaked out by it all.’
‘I’m not a freak!’ Nathan sat bolt upright all of a sudden, his eyes watering.
‘I didn’t say that,’ Louis defended himself.
‘You might as well have,’ the other boy snapped back, glaring at the redhead. ‘I’m not normal, am I? Not like the others.’
Louis bit his bottom lip, searching for an answer. ‘What do you mean by normal?’
‘Normal like everyone else at my school was,’ Nathan shuddered. ‘Not like you and your Dad, you’re fucking... freaks.’
Louis swallowed. ‘He’s not my Dad,’ his voice faltered, ‘and he’s not a freak, and neither am I.’
‘Just fuck off,’ the blond boy shook his head. ‘Fuck off and leave me alone.’ He collapsed back onto the sun lounger, making no effort to hide his tears.
‘Don’t talk to me like that,’ Louis stood up, feeling his fists clench without thinking about it.
‘Or else what?’ Nathan rolled over to face the other boy, his own arms shaking. ‘What are you going to do?’
Without warning, the sun lounger behind Louis snapped shut, nipping at the back of the redhead’s shorts. ‘What the hell...?’ He jerked his head around to face Nathan again.
‘You see it, I am a freak!’ He lashed out, throwing a wild punch towards Louis. ‘I make things like that happen,’ he stood up, pushing the other boy in the chest, ‘and I don’t know why!’
‘It’s magic,’ Louis tried again. ‘It’s normal...’
‘It’s not fucking normal!’ Nathan’s eyes had begun to overflow with tears that streaked down his cheeks, blurring his vision as he shoved Louis backwards, tripping him over the sun lounger, before pushing past the redhead’s stricken body. His escape was suddenly halted, however, by the deafening echo of a thunderclap above. Nathan paused, looking upwards just in time to see a droplet of hail the size of a golf ball come crashing down onto his forehead, causing him to scream out in pain as it made contact with his skin.
‘Get under here!’ Louis’ shout shook the other boy back to the moment, and Nathan turned to see that the redhead had scrambled under the flattened sun lounger, and was now holding it skywards as a shield. ‘Come on!’
Nathan didn’t need to be told again. He threw himself under the green plastic chair, cowering as he watched the hailstones smash onto the concrete around him.
‘Are you alright?’ Louis reached out an arm to Nathan’s bare shoulder, brushing shards of ice away from a cut as the blond boy winced.
‘I think so...’ Nathan muttered.
‘Protego!’ The two boys looked up together as they heard a shout from the back door of Church House, and Nathan instinctively ducked as a beam of red light shot towards him.
‘It’s alright,’ Louis counselled, ‘it’s a Shield Charm. Come on, we can get up.’ He pushed the lounger-come-shield away, flipping it up and over as he got to his feet. Greg Bennett was walking towards the two children, his wand propelling the jet of light over the boys whilst a similarly coloured bubble protected him from the storm.
‘What’s going on...?’ Nathan stammered.
Louis turned to the other boy. ‘Magic.’
‘Some thunderstorm,’ Greg reflected moments later, as they reached the sanctuary of the Llewellyns’ back door. ‘Not the hooves of Herne, mind,’ he added, watching Nathan run for his father’s arms. ‘Louis,’ he turned to the other boy, now standing alone by the doorway.
‘Y... yes, sir?’ He shivered.
‘Come here, mate,’ the teacher smiled, holding his arms out. ‘That was awesome.’
Louis smiled broadly. ‘Thank you.’
‘British Weather,’ Philip Llewellyn offered into the silence that followed. ‘You never can tell.’
Greg nodded. ‘Not when you’ve got a couple of frightened young wizards around.’
Philip’s mouth dropped open. ‘You mean to say... Nathan...’
‘It’s not unheard of,’ Greg shrugged. ‘You saw the sun lounger snap shut,’ he explained. ‘He wasn’t in a good way.’
‘I swore at him,’ Nathan confessed, without prompting. ‘I told him to fuck off...’ The eleven-year-old slipped into tears again. ‘I didn’t mean it...’
‘Forget it,’ Louis pulled away from the teacher, walking towards the other boy. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘I felt like this when it happened,’ Nathan continued. ‘At school,’ he explained, as his words tumbled out. ‘After a cricket match; we lost, and Charlie Riley said it was my fault, and it wasn’t, not really, but he wouldn’t stop saying it, and then, and then...’ He swallowed, realising what he had begun to share. ‘These stumps flew across the changing room and nearly hit Charlie. They went so fast they went right through the wall... I swear I never threw them, but the others all said I did, and everyone believed them, I mean, how else could it have happened...’ Nathan tailed off.
‘Magic,’ Greg answered. ‘Accidental magic. It happens to kids of your age, Nathan – usually when they’re angry or upset or scared.’
‘I blew up some Brussels Sprouts that I didn’t want to eat,’ Louis offered, making the other boy smile through his tears.
‘Hogwarts teaches you how to control your magic,’ the man explained.
‘To do stuff like that... that bubble?’ Nathan asked. ‘In the garden?’
‘That was a Shield Charm,’ Greg nodded, ‘and yes. You’ll learn about that.’
‘Cool...’ Nathan swallowed. ‘Sorry,’ he apologised again. ‘I didn’t mean any of what I said...’
‘I told you, mate,’ Louis smiled, ‘it’s alright.’
Greg reached into the pocket of his trousers for what he hoped would be the final time that day. ‘Here’s your letter,’ he explained. ‘Don’t worry about the shopping list,’ he added. ‘We’ll sort that out for you – next Monday, if you’re keen.’
Nathan took the envelope carefully, before looking across to the other boy. ‘Are you coming on Monday, too?’
‘I don’t know,’ Louis turned back to the professor. ‘Can I?’
Greg smiled. He was about to spend a year asking questions to which he already knew the answer, he reasoned, so there was no harm in starting now. ‘Do you want to?’
‘Yes!’ The eleven-year-old answered, defiantly.
‘Then I suppose we’ll see you then,’ he turned back to the Llewellyns. ‘My details are on the letter, if you need to contact us. See you next week,’ he held his hand out towards Louis, who groaned.
‘See you,’ Louis smiled, before reaching for the professor’s hand, and vanishing from the Llewellyns’ kitchen with a crack.
Philip Llewellyn swallowed. ‘Did that all just happen, or did we imagine it?’
Nathan looked around, taking in the still-damp paths around the garden, before his gaze settled back on the parchment in his hands. ‘I don’t think you can imagine a letter.’
‘Greg,’ Arthur Weasley caught the teacher’s attention as he left the Burrow having returned the man’s other grandson. ‘How were the boys?’
The professor paused, allowing himself a moment’s thought as the older man approached. ‘Not what I’d expected,’ he settled on his answer, and Arthur nodded, knowingly.
‘Smart of Hermione to take her own daughter and leave you with Al and Lou,’ he gestured towards his garden shed. ‘Come on, let’s have a cuppa. Let me know how they got on.’
Greg shrugged, following the other man down the garden path. ‘No complaints from me, mind,’ he added, ‘they both did fine... they just weren’t what I’d expected,’ he repeated his observation.
‘What had you expected?’ Arthur probed, and Greg shook his head.
‘I’m not sure, truth be told,’ he grimaced. ‘More confidence, I suppose, but Al couldn’t be further from that. Scared of his own shadow, almost.’
Arthur acknowledged Greg’s answer, pushing open the wooden door of his shed and holding it ajar for the other man to join him inside. ‘Scared of James’ shadow, more like.’
‘Oh,’ Greg nodded, recalling the way the black-haired boy had mentioned his brother’s name earlier that morning. ‘That figures.’
‘He’s grown up being compared to James since he was old enough to talk,’ Arthur reminisced as he half-filled a kettle. ‘No surprise he’s ended up comparing himself, too,’ the man frowned.
‘He said I should have brought James,’ Greg remembered, ‘because everyone likes James.’
Arthur smiled, sadly. ‘That’s Albus, alright,’ he acknowledged. ‘Always second best.’
‘He said James was teasing him about not being in Gryffindor,’ the professor mentioned, ‘that he’d end up in Slytherin.’
‘Perhaps that would be better?’ Arthur offered as the kettle came to the boil. ‘Get away from James.’
‘I think he’s a little worried that he’ll let the family down if he isn’t a Gryffindor,’ Greg suggested. ‘I get the feeling that it’s rather the family House.’
‘You could put it that way,’ the older man offered a mug of tea to the teacher. ‘Everyone but Molly and Lucy,’ he paused, blowing across the top of his own drink. ‘Percy’s twins. Ravenclaw.’
‘Not quite Slytherin, though, is it?’ Greg reflected, bitterly. ‘I know that all too well.’ He took a mouthful of the hot drink. ‘I’d be delighted to take him into Slytherin,’ he observed. ‘As I would Louis, though I think he may be another one in the family mould.’
‘You do?’ Arthur raised his eyebrows. ‘Gryffindor’s about dressing up and throwing tantrums now?’
‘Sorry?’ Greg blinked. ‘I know he had a bit of a sulk this morning, but he was excellent once we got there,’ he defended the eleven-year-old. ‘The other kid was scared out of his mind, and had a real go at him, but Louis stood up to him, held his nerve.’
Arthur swallowed another mouthful of tea. ‘I’m glad the boy’s got that in him,’ he admitted. ‘I’d never seen it before. Two older sisters,’ the man added, by way of explanation.
‘Both Gryffindor,’ Greg didn’t need to check his assertion. ‘Another one in the shadows.’
‘But one who’s used to getting everything he wants,’ Arthur added, ‘or beware.’
‘I never saw that,’ the teacher confessed.
‘Maybe he knew he wasn’t getting anything out of you,’ Arthur surmised. ‘Kids can tell sometimes, can’t they? Some teachers you just don’t mess with.’
‘I’ve not even started yet,’ Greg smiled, grimly. ‘I doubt that I’ve got that far. Could be a Slytherin streak, though,’ he suggested. ‘Knowing what you want and how to get it.’
The older man snorted. ‘I always thought of that as being a spoiled brat,’ he chuckled. ‘Each to their own, I suppose.’
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