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Snakes and Ladders by Sheriff
Chapter 4 : Words and Pictures
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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‘I still can’t believe they made him go home,’ Theo had not stopped complaining even as he turned the keys in his front door later that afternoon.

‘Me neither, but there’s nothing we can do about it now,’ Greg followed his friend into the house. ‘Hang on,’ he bent down, picking up a stack of parchment envelopes from the floor beside his feet. ‘Our letters are here! All of them!’

Joshua’s eyebrows rose. ‘Where did you think they were going to send them? They know we’re both here... and even if they didn’t, they could have used the Trace.’

‘Trace?’ Theo halted, halfway through ripping open the seal on the back of his own envelope.

‘Yeah,’ Joshua nodded, sarcastically. ‘You know, the way the Ministry keep track of you, and make sure you haven’t been doing underage magic.’

Theo swallowed. ‘Oh,’ he smiled, awkwardly. ‘I didn’t know.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Greg interrupted, pulling his letter free from its envelope. ‘You do now.’

‘They’re probably all the same,’ Joshua copied his friends in tearing into the contents. ‘Just a new book list, I reckon.’

‘Yeah,’ Greg answered, unfolding the parchment he had received. ‘Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2.’

‘Surprise,’ Theo snorted.

‘This one’s new, though,’ Joshua had read onwards. ‘Beasts Beware: a field guide to Dark creatures of the British Isles, by Mary Knight.’

Theo’s eyes narrowed. ‘I didn’t think we did Magical Creatures until third-year.’

‘We don’t,’ Joshua answered, matter-of-factly. ‘It must be for Defence. They must have got a new teacher.’ He took a couple of steps towards the foot of a staircase, and closed his eyes as he sunk down.

‘Josh...’ Greg ventured, tentatively. ‘If they’re not sure how long it will take for your Dad to get better... They couldn’t just leave it.’

‘I know,’ the Gryffindor didn’t look up. ‘I knew they’d have to get a new teacher. It’s just, reading this, it makes it seem real all over again... it’s stupid, I know...’

‘It’s not stupid,’ Theo replied, forcefully. ‘I get reminded of it sometimes, too. Sometimes it’s good, it makes you think of what you can do if you put your mind to it, but sometimes it’s, well...’

‘I know,’ Joshua repeated, looking up forlornly as he tried to blink away the outlines of his tears. ‘Sorry,’ he took a deep breath, pushing himself up to his feet, and changing the subject. ‘Do you think Morgan got a letter?’

Theo shrugged. ‘He’d better... otherwise we’ll have a hell of a lot of explaining to do.’

‘Don’t,’ Greg rolled his eyes. ‘Anyway, he’s bound to get one. How else could all of that have happened if it wasn’t accidental magic?’

‘Guess we’ll find out tomorrow,’ Theo finished scanning his letter, before pushing it untidily back into its envelope and heading down the hallway of his house towards the kitchen. ‘Come on, I’ll show you that DVD now, the greatest try anyone ever scored...’

*

Joshua’s question would be answered early the following morning, as the boys retraced their steps from Richmond Underground station to the rugby fields that the London Welsh club called home. Morgan Williams was waiting at the gates.

‘Hey,’ the dark-haired boy called out, unable to contain himself as the other three children approached. ‘You were right! You were right, I got a letter...’

‘Shush!’ Joshua interrupted sharply. ‘Keep your voice down,’ he hissed, staring fiercely at Morgan’s suddenly nervous expression. ‘Sorry,’ he lowered his own voice as the three twelve-year-olds approached the younger boy, ‘but you can’t go shouting that out to everyone.’

Morgan blushed. ‘Sorry,’ he echoed, biting his lip.

‘It’s okay,’ Greg re-assured him, before taking note of the woman standing alongside the eleven-year-old. ‘Is this your Mum?’

‘Yes,’ Morgan nodded, and the other boys’ eyes glanced upwards towards a short, slim woman who wore a pursed expression of bemusement and surprise. ‘She didn’t really believe it,’ he confided, ‘that magic was real, but I told her that you knew what I did yesterday, that you said it was magic...’

‘Is it true?’ Morgan’s mother spoke in a clipped voice. ‘Hogwarts School? Magic?’

‘Yes,’ Greg answered simply. ‘All of it.’

‘And you go there?’

‘Yes,’ Greg repeated.

‘You know where he can get these... things he needs...?’

‘Yes,’ Greg smiled gently at the boy and his mother. ‘We’re probably going to go this week,’ he explained. ‘He can come with us if he wants.’

‘Hang on,’ Theo spoke up for the first time. ‘Why don’t you come back to my house tonight, and stay over? We can tell you about everything you need to know, and then go to down to Diagon Alley tomorrow.’

Morgan looked pleadingly across to his mother, who scowled for a moment before sighing as she relented. ‘Well, it can’t hurt... can it? You don’t end up fighting and stinging each other at this school do you?’

‘No,’ Greg shook his head, automatically, hoping that the woman wouldn’t push the question any further.

‘Thanks, Mum,’ the dark-haired boy beamed, turning around and flinging his arms around his mother. ‘Could you bring me some pyjamas, and...’

‘Yes, dear,’ Morgan’s mother returned her son’s hug. ‘I’ll drop something off for you at the end of the day. See you later.’

‘Bye, Mum,’ Morgan waved.

‘Are they definitely going to let you play again, then?’ Greg asked, as kindly as he could manage.

‘They will,’ Theo answered, stridently. ‘I’m pretty sure they don’t want me to go and play for London Scottish instead.’

Joshua laughed. ‘That’s Slytherin.’

‘That’s what?’ Morgan blinked.

‘One of the Houses at school,’ Greg put an arm around the younger boy’s shoulders as they followed their friend into the park. ‘Come on, mate,’ he smiled. ‘We’ll explain later.’

Theo never told the other boys whether he had needed to make the threat he had suggested, for it turned out that all four children were allowed back for the second day of the rugby course. Sensibly, the coaches kept Morgan well away from the other boys with whom he had clashed, and the day passed without any further incident.

‘I still can’t believe it’s all real,’ the eleven-year-old muttered, following Theo as the blond boy pushed open his front door later that afternoon. ‘I keep thinking it’s like one great big practical joke... but then I remember what happened yesterday in that scrum,’ he continued, without talking to anybody in particular.

‘You’ll believe it in a minute,’ Greg assured him, kicking off his shoes at the foot of the stairs.

‘Particularly when you have a look at my trunk!’ Theo yelled from halfway up the staircase, and the other boys scampered upwards to the Slytherin’s bedroom. ‘Have a look at this!’ Theo tossed a slim hardback book, titled “Quidditch Through the Ages” towards Morgan, who caught it, turned it over so that its cover faced him, and felt his jaw drop open.

‘The pictures...’ he stammered. ‘They’re moving...’

Greg laughed good-naturedly, clapping Morgan on the shoulder. ‘They’re wizard pictures,’ he explained, recalling the first time he had seen a photograph move – a Chudley Cannons team lineup in his neighbour’s attic. ‘They do that.’

‘Wow...’ Morgan gasped, disbelievingly flicking through the first pages of the book, taking in a selection of famous goals, saves and beaters’ takedowns. ‘Quidditch?’ He asked, and the others nodded.

‘It’s the wizard sport,’ Greg added. ‘Wizards have been playing it for hundreds of years... even longer than muggles have played football or rugby.’

‘Muggles?’ Morgan’s voice seemed to have taken on an almost permanently questioning nature.

‘People who aren’t magic... like our parents,’ Greg answered patiently, only to notice Joshua’s wince and suddenly wish he’d chosen a different example.

‘So...’ Morgan swallowed, ‘are you all... like me? Muggle parents, I mean?’

Even as they nodded their own silent answers, Greg and Theo couldn’t keep themselves from turning to stare at Joshua.

‘My parents were magical,’ the Gryffindor whispered. ‘My Mum died when I was two, and my Dad...’ He took a deep breath, before fixing his gaze on the floor. ‘My Dad got attacked this summer. He’s still alive, but they don’t know if he’s going to get his magic back.’ He tried to smile as he blinked his eyes clear.

‘Oh,’ Morgan filled the silence. ‘I’m sorry,’ he shook his head. ‘I didn’t know...’

‘It’s alright,’ Joshua sighed. ‘I know you didn’t. I have to get used to telling people about it, anyway.’

‘I never knew my Dad,’ Morgan confessed, and Joshua acknowledged him with a thin smile. ‘People don’t ask me about it,’ the eleven-year-old added.

‘They’ll ask me,’ Joshua shook his head, sadly. ‘My Dad was a teacher. He got attacked at school.’

‘Oh,’ Morgan tailed off, shivering as the other boy’s explanation sunk in. ‘H... how...?’ He stammered. ‘What happened?’

‘It’s a long story,’ Greg cautioned, ‘but I guess we owe you it, seeing as it’s your school now, too.’ The other two second-years nodded, leaving Greg to begin his narration. ‘I suppose we’d better start with the Sorting Hat...’

*

‘So that was it,’ the twelve-year-old finished, nearly half an hour later. The three boys had stumbled through the story of their first year at Hogwarts, skating over their early arguments and petty squabbles, and concentrating on the tale of the Wild Hunt and the Four Elements, building up to the final confrontation in the Great Hall. ‘We never saw the Hunt again.’

Morgan’s face had turned a deathly pale beneath his dark fringe, and he shivered as he spoke next. ‘That happened... at school?’ He stuttered. ‘You nearly died, and you want to go back?’ The eleven-year-old stared disbelievingly at the older boys. ‘Why...?’

Greg hesitated for a moment, glancing to his left towards Theo and Joshua, before turning back to face Morgan. ‘Cause we’re not leaving Josh on his own,’ Greg swallowed, before forcing his voice to grow louder as he continued. ‘Same as we didn’t leave you on your own yesterday.’

Morgan’s head dropped as he heard Greg’s words, and he felt the raw prickle of tears at the back of his eyes as the memory of the previous day replayed itself inside his mind. ‘I’m sorry...’ he mumbled.

‘Don’t be,’ Greg interrupted, as Theo moved to sit alongside the youngest of the four boys. ‘It’s a lot to take in, I know.’

‘Yeah,’ Theo echoed, holding his arm around Morgan’s shoulders. ‘It’s alright, mate, we all found it hard at the start. I know I did, the first time I heard about everything.’

‘And me,’ Joshua agreed. ‘We didn’t tell you this, but we hated each other for almost all of the year,’ he admitted, ‘because that’s what Gryffindors and Slytherins were supposed to do. Sometimes, I think... I wonder,’ he stuttered, ‘if everything hadn’t have happened like it did, would we have ever made up?’

‘Probably not,’ Greg answered, slowly.

Joshua sighed. ‘Definitely not, I don’t reckon,’ he managed a thin smile.

‘I wish we’d worked it out before your Dad got attacked, though,’ Greg reflected, honestly. ‘How to beat the Hunt.’

‘You did your best,’ the Gryffindor shrugged, ‘and you never gave up,’ he swallowed. ‘Same as I’m not giving up on him now... not never.’

‘That’s why we’re going back,’ Theo whispered to Morgan. ‘I can’t explain it in words, but...’

‘I get it,’ Morgan nodded. ‘All for one, and one for all...’

Greg smiled. ‘We used to say Slytherins Stick Together,’ he recalled, ‘but I guess that counts for pretty much the same thing.’

‘Still up for Diagon Alley tomorrow, Morgan?’ Theo relaxed his grip on the eleven-year-old’s shoulder as the younger boy pushed his dark fringe away from his eyes.

‘That’s where the shops are, right?’ Morgan asked, before smiling defiantly. ‘Yes.’

*

‘D’you think it’s going to be busy?’ Theo asked the other second-years as the four boys emerged from the Underground station at Charing Cross into the August sunlight.

‘Don’t know,’ Greg answered, filling the quiet that had followed his friend’s question. ‘Does everybody get their letter on the same day?’

Joshua nodded. ‘I think so... Dad always had to decide on his books at the same time,’ he took a deep breath, refusing to dwell on the subject, ‘but they might not all come the next day.’

‘It’s going to be quite a long way for some people to come to London as well, isn’t it?’ Morgan ventured. ‘If they come from all over the country.’

‘Yeah,’ Greg agreed, ‘but that doesn’t matter, mate,’ he smiled. ‘Wizards can travel anywhere they want to by Apparating... like teleporting... or through their fireplaces on the Floo Network.’

Morgan’s head dropped. ‘Sorry...’

‘Stop apologising!’ Greg laughed, ruffling the younger boy’s hair. ‘Me and Theo know how this feels, remember? Some things still don’t make any sense to us... You’ve just got to keep asking, cause people will help you out.’

‘Thank you,’ Morgan nodded.

Joshua glanced back over his shoulder. ‘Does that mean you’ll explain Theo’s haircut, then?’ He grinned, before ducking down as the target of his jibe swung a playful arm towards his head.

‘No,’ Greg shook his head, laughing. ‘No one can explain that. Maybe he’s allergic to scissors? Is that it?’

‘Oh, piss off, both of you,’ Theo stuck his tongue out. ‘Like I said, I’ll get it cut when I can’t see the bludgers any more.’

‘Quidditch balls,’ Greg whispered to Morgan, letting the first-year join in with the others’ laughter. ‘If that happens, we’re going to shave it all off when he gets knocked out...’

Morgan smiled. ‘How much further is it?’

‘Not long,’ the older boy answered, quickly. ‘Just a bit further, through the back of that pub,’ he pointed ahead, to a run-down looking building that squatted beside a bookshop.

‘How come muggles don’t go in it?’ Morgan asked, his gaze following Greg’s direction.

‘Same reason they don’t end up in Hogwarts,’ the blond boy replied. ‘They can’t see it. Watch,’ he suggested, ‘they just walk straight past. No one will notice us as we go in.’

‘Wow,’ Morgan blinked, before quickening his stride as he followed the other boys through the door and into the pub.

‘Brace yourself, mate,’ Greg warned his friend. ‘If you thought that was weird, just wait till you see the Alley.’ The Slytherin noticed the eleven-year-old draw a fraction closer as Joshua tapped his wand against the backyard wall. ‘Enjoy...’

‘Bloody hell...’

‘Told you,’ Greg smiled. ‘Welcome to the wizarding world. Where do you wanna go first?’

‘Quidditch,’ Theo answered instantly.

Joshua rolled his eyes. ‘Not you, you daft git!’

Theo blushed. ‘Oh, yeah. Sorry!’

Morgan shook his head. ‘I don’t know...’ he stuttered. ‘I don’t know where anything is,’ he winced.

‘I guess it should be Gringotts first, then. That’s the bank,’ Joshua concluded. ‘You need some money – then go and get your wand. You’ve got your list, haven’t you?’

Morgan nodded. ‘W... Where’s the bank?’

‘Down there,’ Joshua pointed to a large white marble building that towered over the middle distance of the alley. ‘Can’t miss it. Just look out for the goblins inside.’

‘Come on then,’ Greg pulled on Morgan’s sleeve. ‘Let’s go. Go look at your Quidditch stuff, Theo,’ he grinned. ‘Meet you outside Flourish and Blotts in half an hour?’

‘Alright,’ the other boy didn’t need to think about his friend’s suggestion for very long before he agreed. ‘Can’t stand goblins, anyway...’

‘They’re not... dangerous, are they?’ Morgan questioned, nervously. ‘Goblins, I mean?’

‘Not if you don’t piss them off,’ Greg answered, dryly, ‘and whatever you do, don’t try and steal from them.’

‘I w... won’t.’

‘Good decision,’ Greg laughed. ‘We’ll be at Ollivander’s in no time,’ he predicted, and less than ten minutes later he had proved himself correct as he pushed the wandmaker’s door open, leading the eleven-year-old into the sparse interior of the shop. ‘Hello?’ He called out, before the sound of footsteps told him that the old man who ran the store was approaching.

‘Ah, Mr Bennett,’ his eyes narrowed behind the scraggy mane of tangled grey hair. ‘Mahogany with kneazle hair, nine inches... no problems, I trust.’

‘That’s my wand,’ he told his friend as he felt his hand clenching subconsciously around the wooden blade in the pocket of his shorts. ‘No, sir,’ he raised his voice, ‘None at all. This is Morgan Williams. He needs to buy a wand.’

‘A-ha,’ the old man nodded, turning to face the dark-haired boy, who took an involuntary step backwards. ‘Another Welshman.’

Greg turned to face the other boy as the wandmaker spoke. ‘You never said that...’

Morgan’s voice dropped to little more than a whisper. ‘I never knew. I mean,’ he corrected himself suddenly, ‘I know my name is as Welsh as you can get, and that’s the team I play for, but my mum isn’t Welsh... and, well, I told you I never knew my Dad.’

Greg nodded. ‘It’s okay, mate,’ he smiled. ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He watched as Ollivander’s set of tape measures scooted up and down Morgan’s nervous body, before returning themselves to the pockets of the old man’s robes as he headed back into the rear of the store. ‘He’ll find the right one for you,’ Greg explained. ‘It might not be the first one you try, but you’ll know when it is.’

For Morgan, it was fourth time lucky, as Ollivander picked out an eight-and-a-half inch blackthorn wand, with a core of ground erumpent horn.

‘Don’t ask me what one of them is,’ Greg shook his head as the boys left the shop. ‘I’ve got no idea...’

‘It doesn’t matter...’ Morgan was still staring, entranced, at his new purchase. ‘I don’t care if it’s got six eyes and five noses, this feels awesome. It feels like it there was a bit of me missing, and this makes up for it...’

Greg smiled, clutching at his own wand again and remembering the day he purchased it for the first time, with his neighbour Matthew Sawyer watching over him. ‘I know what you mean, mate,’ he nodded. ‘I don’t think the rest of your shopping is gonna be quite as much fun, though.’

Morgan nodded. ‘I never thought I’d be looking forward to school like this.’

‘Me neither,’ Greg echoed, ‘me neither.’
 


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