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Snakes and Ladders by Sheriff
Chapter 5 : September the First
 
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‘Hey, mate,’ Oscar Symons, a fifth-year Slytherin prefect, looked up to greet Greg as the younger boy pulled open the door to an already busy compartment on board the Hogwarts Express. ‘It’s a bit different to last year, right?’

‘Dead right!’ Greg laughed at the blond-haired boy’s comparison, recalling the previous year’s train journey, when hardly any other pupils had dared talk with the handful of Slytherins who had shared a compartment. ‘Nowhere to put my trunk this year, though.’

‘It’ll make a change for that thing to stay in one place for more than a week, won’t it?’ Matthew Sawyer, Oscar’s best friend and the Slytherin Quidditch Captain, nodded towards his near neighbour’s trunk. ‘Hardly saw you in Chudleigh all summer.’

Greg blushed a little. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘I tried to come and see you when I was home, but you were on holiday, I think...’

‘It’s alright, mate,’ Matthew laughed. ‘We’ll see enough of each other at school, I bet. Come on,’ he beckoned, getting to his feet. ‘You can get your trunk up here, and we can fit Theo’s in too... hang on,’ he paused. ‘Who’s that?’

Greg glanced back over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of Morgan’s dark hair, before the newcomer hid behind the other second-year. ‘This is Morgan Williams,’ he introduced the eleven-year-old. ‘We met him on a rugby course... he’s like us, muggle-born.’

‘Cool,’ Oscar stood up, holding out his hand towards Morgan. ‘Nice to meet you, Morgan. You going to be in Slytherin, too?’

‘I... I don’t know,’ Morgan stammered.

‘It’s the best House,’ Oscar grinned, only for a small boy sitting on the opposite side of the compartment to cut him off.

‘It is not!’ The boy, who was no taller than Morgan despite his extra year, called out shrilly. ‘Who won the House Cup?’

‘Who cares about the House Cup, Cameron?’ a brown-haired boy with glasses that sat on his freckled face answered back. ‘Quidditch is more important, everyone knows that!’

Cameron Ollerton stuck his tongue out, and the boy with glasses laughed.

‘Good comeback,’ he grinned. ‘Shows why you’re not in Ravenclaw!’

‘Shut up, Zac,’ Cameron reddened. ‘What did you get in your exams again?’

‘Oh,’ the glee in Isaac Davies’ voice deflated almost instantly. ‘Can’t remember...’

‘It doesn’t matter what House you end up in, Morgan,’ another boy interrupted, noticing the first-year’s nervous expression. ‘We learnt that last year, didn’t we? We wouldn’t have beaten the Hunt without all four Houses working together.’

‘I know, Glyn,’ Cameron apologised. ‘I was just winding him up.’

‘How was your summer then, Glyn?’ Greg, changed the subject, sitting down opposite the Welsh boy.

‘Good, thanks,’ Glyndwr Jones smiled. ‘We went with the Harpies on their tour to Croatia.’

‘Cool,’ Greg smiled. ‘I guess that’s where you got that tan from, right?’

Glyn nodded. ‘Yeah. I don’t know how they manage to play Quidditch in that weather every day.’ He shook his head. ‘Me and Iestyn tried playing some one-on-one, it was like being in a sauna.’

‘Not going to be like that back at Hogwarts,’ Theo observed. ‘Remember that Ravenclaw game last year?’ He shivered at the memory. ‘I didn’t think it was possible for it to rain that much...’

‘You’ve never been to Iceland, then, have you?’ Oscar interjected. ‘What a crap place to go for a summer holiday that is.’

‘Iceland?’ Theo asked, disbelievingly. ‘Why on earth did you go to Iceland?’

‘Dad’s a volcanologist,’ the older boy explained. ‘Iceland’s full of volcanoes. He said it wasn’t that bad in the summer. All I can say is that I hope I never have to go there in the winter...’

‘Don’t get him started...’ Matthew shook his head. ‘Anyone know about the new Defence teacher? Greg? Did Josh tell you anything?’

‘No, he doesn’t know anything,’ Greg answered, firmly. ‘What textbook have you been set? We’ve got something about Dark creatures.’

‘Something called “Beyond the Wand”, I think,’ Oscar grimaced. ‘I’ve had a look through it... it’s all about things like using your surroundings to outsmart your opponent. We’ve got to bring our old book as well, though.’

‘That sounds fun, doesn’t it?’ Matthew rolled his eyes. ‘Tregeagle might have been strict, but at least he taught us stuff.’

‘We haven’t even met him yet,’ Glyn observed, fairly. ‘You don’t know what he’s going to be like yet.’

‘As long as he’s more interesting than Binns, I don’t mind,’ Oscar shrugged. ‘We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we? No point worrying too much about it now, is there?’

‘Guess not,’ Matthew shook his head. ‘Hey, has anyone seen Lucas yet?’

‘Not since he stayed at ours over the holidays,’ Isaac shook his head. ‘I didn’t see him on the platform, either.’

Oscar snorted. ‘I hope Kevin left him alone,’ he spat the name of the other Slytherin fifth-year. ‘I haven’t missed seeing that tosser, I can promise you that.’

‘He’s probably just late,’ Greg tried to reason, ‘but we should go look for him if he doesn’t get here soon.’

There was no need for a search party, however, as the pale face of a redheaded boy appeared at the window of the compartment soon after.

‘Lukie!’ Isaac greeted his friend. ‘Alright, mate?’

‘Yeah,’ the new arrival nodded, slowly, slumping down on his seat after dragging his heavy trunk through the door. ‘Good to be back.’

‘I guess you haven’t been anywhere sunny, then?’ Oscar returned to the topic of summer holidays, and Lucas shook his head.

‘Just Norfolk,’ he muttered, with a sigh. ‘Boring.’ Lucas glanced around the carriage, taking in the faces of his school friends.

‘This is Morgan,’ Greg explained, pre-empting the redhead’s question as his friend’s eyes settled on the first-year. ‘The boy we met in London.’

‘Oh,’ Lucas relaxed, ‘hi.’

‘Hi,’ Morgan echoed. ‘Are you in Slytherin, too?’

‘Yes,’ Lucas managed a thin smile.

Morgan nodded. ‘Is that everyone?’

‘What do you mean, everyone?’ Greg answered playfully. ‘Everyone in the whole school?’

Isaac rolled his eyes. ‘Was that meant to be funny, Greg?’ He grinned. ‘There’s no more Slytherins in our year, Morgan,’ Isaac added, ‘but I guess we might see some of the Gryffindors.’

‘They won’t fit in this compartment with us, though, will they?’ Theo joined in. ‘It’s tight enough as it is...’

‘Fine,’ Isaac corrected himself, ‘then we might have to go and see some of the Gryffindors. We’ve got long enough until we get to Hogwarts, haven’t we? Plenty to catch up on before the feast.’

‘Feast?’ Morgan queried.

‘Hasn’t anyone told you about that?’ Oscar laughed. ‘What have they been telling you about, then? That’s the best bit!’ The prefect launched into a full description of the banquet that would be laid out to welcome the children back to Hogwarts, and Isaac’s description of the long journey ahead was swiftly filled with a multitude of stories as the older children competed to prepare Morgan for his induction into the magical world. Before any of the boys had realised it, the morning sun had drifted across the sky and dipped below the Western horizon.

‘Prefects’ meeting!’ A sharp knock on the glass of the compartment window jolted the boys back into the present.

‘Better be off, then.’ Oscar waved an acknowledgement to the face in the doorway, and he and Matthew got to their feet. ‘See you at the feast, guys. Good luck with the Sorting, Morgan. Watch out for the squid!’



Greg made sure he caught Morgan’s eye as a crowd of new first-years shuffled along the centre of the Great Hall. The scattering of children on the Slytherin table, at the far side of the hall, were almost all clustered towards the front of the room, their eyes keenly set on the slumbering form of the school’s Sorting Hat.

‘Kevin looks pleased to be back, doesn’t he?’ Matthew sneered, pointing out the aloof figure of Lucas’ older brother, who had taken a solitary place at the opposite end of the room.

‘Don’t talk about him,’ Lucas snapped, folding his arms sourly.

‘Sorry,’ the older boy checked himself, but the clear voice of Pomona Sprout, a Herbology teacher and the Deputy Headmistress, stopped him from adding anything more to his apology.

‘Welcome back to Hogwarts,’ she beamed, taking her place on the raised stage beside the battered old hat. ‘I know you all know the routine by now, so I shan’t keep you any longer than I need to. I know we’ve all been waiting to hear from our favourite hat...’

As if on cue, a torn crease that ran across the peak of the Sorting Hat grew wider, before the whole of the hat began to twist into life, and its words rang out across the Great Hall, overshadowing the stunned gasps of the first-years.

 

It’s eight safe years since Riddle fell

But listen close now to what I must tell

 

Yes, I know, Voldemort is no more

But he was not the only threat to our law

 

Before him, through time, others fought

Control they sought, and chaos they wrought

 

Study your History, and you will know

From the lust for power, evil can grow

 

Dark Magic lurks where you expect it least

Its vile temptation turns man into beast

 

This very room has seen its own part

Even last summer, families torn apart

 

Yet even still, some of us cannot see

It is not who you are, but who you wish to be

 

The badge of a House is not all you are

There is more to a person, much more by far

 

Sometimes one may need a Gryffindor’s nerve

Or perhaps Ravenclaw wit may better serve

 

My Sorting, however, does not tell you

All that you can, or cannot, do

 

It is no more than a guide, a gentle bump

Don’t say “how high?” if I say “jump”

 

A House is like a family, but it isn’t the end

Sometimes you simply need a good friend

 

Remember, it isn’t just Hufflepuff

Who’ll stand at your side if the going gets tough

 

And we all know it’s not only Slytherin

Who’ll do everything they can to win

 

Lion, Eagle, Badger or Snake

I know it’s my decision to make

 

Yet as Ancient Magic lingers on

I cannot help but fear all this is wrong

 

If the Founders’ Houses continue to fight

Their pupils may forget what is right

 

Hogwarts, my children, will be your home

As long as you remember: you’re never alone

 

A scattering of applause rippled across the Hall, fighting for dominance over a cloud of uneasy whispers that questioned the Hat’s choice of words. There was little chance for the children to dwell on the ominous theme, however, as Sprout’s voice drew their attention again. ‘When I call your name, you will try on the hat, and be sorted into your House.’ She glanced down to the scroll of parchment she was holding. ‘Ablett, Penelope!’

It would be a long wait before Morgan’s surname brought him to the Sorting Hat, Greg realised as he watched Penelope sort into Gryffindor, leaving the Slytherin second-years to wait – like two-thirds of the other returning students – for their first new arrival. Gryffindor quickly collected another two students in Tyler Barton and Dean Collins, but the Slytherins didn’t have to wait much longer to welcome a new member to the green and silver as Thomas Fitch, a small boy with a dark fringe that was almost as long as Theo’s, joined the House. He was quickly followed by Anton Garnett, a tall dark boy with wiry black hair, and a pair of girls, Katie Keane and Victoria Montague.

‘Bloody hell,’ Matthew whispered as Victoria sat, self-consciously, beside Katie. ‘We haven’t had any ladies in five years.’

Theo grinned. ‘A bit young for you, aren’t they? Ouch!’ He recoiled as the Quidditch Captain nudged him firmly in the ribs.

‘No shit.’ He turned his gaze across the Great Hall. ‘I’m kind of hoping that I might be have a chance with some of the girls in the other Houses this year. I reckon “Quidditch Cup Winning Captain” has a bit of a ring to it.’

‘You think so?’ The second-year laughed as Paul Quinn became a Hufflepuff. ‘It’s better than what you could say last year, isn’t it?’

Further down the table, Greg turned to Lucas, who had tried – and failed – to start up a conversation with Thomas. ‘Where do you think Morgan’s going to sort?’

The redhead shrugged. ‘No idea,’ he admitted. ‘I only met him on the train,’ he justified his caution, ‘and besides, how do you tell any more, anyway? He could end up in any of the Houses, for all I know...’

‘I hope he’s in Slytherin,’ Greg replied. ‘We need as many as we can get.’

‘I guess,’ Lucas didn’t argue. ‘Here’s another one, anyway,’ he observed, clapping his hands as a pale, blond boy named Leif Ulriksson became the fifth new Slytherin. ‘Won’t be long before Morgan’s go, now.’

‘Nope,’ Greg agreed, holding his hand out to welcome Leif to the House table, as the first year smiled shyly back. ‘Welcome to Slytherin.’

Leif blushed, sitting down on the end of the table alongside the two second-years. ‘Thanks,’ he whispered, his voice drowned out by a large roar from the other end of the hall as Shane Vittles, a burly boy with very short hair, became a Gryffindor.

‘Beater material,’ Oscar observed, pithily, and Greg smiled, despite the bemused look on Leif’s face.

‘You muggle-born?’ Greg asked, and the first-year nodded timidly. ‘Don’t worry,’ the older boy smiled. ‘So am I. We’ll explain later... it looks like there’s only a few left now.’

‘Williams, Morgan,’ Sprout’s voice demanded Greg’s attention as the eleven-year-old Londoner edged towards the centre of the stage, glancing backwards toward the Slytherin table as he did so, and managing a thin smile as he noticed the second-year’s subtle thumbs-up.

‘SLYTHERIN!’ the hat announced a few moments later, and the House Table broke into the loudest applause it had mustered that evening.

‘Well done, Morgan,’ Greg smiled, shuffling down the side of the House table to create a space for the new arrival, who grinned back as Andrea Yaxley, the last in the line of new first-years, joined Ravenclaw.

‘Thank you for your patience,’ Minerva McGonagall, the Headmistress, rose to her feet. ‘It is almost time for the feast – but first, I must introduce two new members of staff.’ She looked to her left. ‘First, Dylan Jenkins will be taking over the role of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor from Jacob Tregeagle.’ A handful of eyes across the hall flickered away from the bald head and silver moustache on the rounded face of the new teacher and towards Joshua. The Gryffindor boy remained steadfastly stony-faced, however, and the Headmistress continued her speech. ‘Neville Longbottom will become Acting Head of Gryffindor. Additionally,’ she drew a breath, ‘Joanna Holte will be joining the staff to cover a number of lessons across several subjects,’ she indicated a stern-looking woman in dreary grey robes. ‘Any further notices can wait until after the feast.’

McGonagall clapped her hands together, and as the tables ahead of her instantly filled with meats, savouries and sides – and the Hall itself echoed with the appreciative gasps of two hundred children – the Headmistress allowed herself a smile. ‘Welcome back.’



*

‘Good, right?’ Greg turned to Morgan as the first-year’s eyes bulged at the sight of the spread on the table in front of him.

Morgan nodded, dumbfounded. ‘Yeah... wow.’

‘Anything like your old school?’ Greg took the opportunity to sink his teeth into a chicken leg, as the younger boy laughed.

‘Nothing like it,’ Morgan smiled, picking out a sausage roll to start his meal. ‘Nothing at all.’

‘So, what did the Hat say to you?’ Greg continued the conversation, oblivious to the fact that his question would have sounded utterly ridiculous to a non-magical boy.

‘It told me that it could tell I wanted to be in the same house as you guys,’ the first-year answered, ‘and then it asked if I knew about the history of the Houses. I figured it meant all the things you told me about in the summer, so I said yes... Then the Hat said it sounded like I knew my own mind, and I knew what I wanted, and that made me into enough of a Slytherin as far as it was concerned.’

‘Cool,’ Greg acknowledged. ‘What about you, Leif?’’

The blond boy coughed on a mouthful of water ‘Me?’

Greg raised his eyebrows. ‘I don’t see anyone else called Leif down here.’

The first-year blushed. ‘I guess not.’ He had a halting accent that Greg struggled to place. ‘It asked me if I knew any magical ancestors,’ Leif spoke stiffly, ‘and I don’t,’ he added, rapidly. ‘I don’t know how I’m magical,’ he looked down at the empty plate in front of him. ‘I really don’t.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Greg comforted the eleven-year-old, even as he wondered how his own magical power had come about. ‘Did the Hat tell you why it put you into Slytherin?’

‘It said I was taking the first step of a journey, and if I was going to reach the end then I had to learn how to stand up on my own,’ Leif muttered, ‘and I would learn the fastest in Slytherin.’

‘It’s right about that,’ Greg concluded. ‘We learnt so much last year, even things we didn’t think we needed to know.’ He looked across the hall to the Hufflepuff table, where Glyn and Cameron were happily tearing into their own suppers.

Leif turned, hesitantly, towards Morgan. ‘What do you mean about the history of the Houses?’

Morgan swallowed. ‘I don’t really know much,’ he confessed, ‘just what they already told me. Slytherin used to be the House all the Dark wizards came from... but it isn’t any more,’ he added, hurriedly, as Leif’s already pale face whitened further.

‘Oh...’ the blond boy managed.

‘That doesn’t mean anything now!’ Greg interrupted. ‘Just because something happened once before, that doesn’t mean it’s bound to happen again. It’s down to us what we want Slytherin to be like! Remember what the Hat said – it’s your choices that really matter.’

Leif nodded, albeit forlornly.

‘So where are you from, then?’ Greg changed the subject, as much to keep the first-year talking as anything.

‘Iceland,’ the younger boy answered, mechanically, before staring back down at his still untouched plate.

‘Hey, really?’ Opposite him, Oscar had overhead the younger boys’ conversation. ‘Cool,’ he smiled. ‘I went to Iceland this summer with my Dad. Where do you live?’

Leif’s expression brightened. ‘Reykjavik,’ he bit his lip. ‘Near Hallgrim’s Church.’

‘That’s the massive one, isn’t it?’ Oscar gave the first-year his full attention. ‘The one that’s meant to look like it’s made of volcanic rock? It’s amazing!’

Greg tuned himself out of the conversation, shaking his head as he whispered into Lucas’ ear. ‘That’s all bollocks,’ he covered his mouth. ‘He said on the train he couldn’t stand the place.’

‘So what?’ Lucas shrugged. ‘Leif needs it,’ he glanced down the table. ‘I bet those girls don’t wanna hear what Theo and Zac have got to say, though... and I bet that’s just as much bollocks.’

‘More than just bollocks, mate,’ Matthew leaned over. ‘It’s a good laugh, though,’ he grinned, attracting a sharp glare from Isaac that only made the fifth-year laugh. ‘Keep at it, mate, you might get there one day.’



‘What do you think, then?’ Theo aimed a question at nobody in particular as the second-years settled back into their familiar dormitory later that evening.

‘I think I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,’ Lucas answered, sarcastically.  ‘What do we think about what?’

Theo sighed. ‘The Sorting, what else?’

‘I couldn’t tell,’ Greg grinned, mischievously. ‘I thought you might have been talking about Pluto not being an official planet any more...’

‘Shut up,’ Theo laughed. ‘What did you think?’ He persisted, settling down on his four-poster bed. ‘About what the Hat said.’

‘It was obvious, wasn’t it?’ Isaac interjected. ‘It was talking about last year, and the Wild Hunt, and how we stopped it cause we worked together.’

‘That’s not all of it, though,’ Lucas argued, almost instantly. ‘If it was, it wouldn’t have gone on about how evil runs through time... there’s more to it than just the Hunt.’

Greg nodded. ‘Yeah,’ he agreed. ‘All that stuff about Dark magic lurking everywhere... it’s not exactly starting the year on a bright note, is it? At least we got a decent number of first-years,’ he looked for the evening’s positives. ‘Morgan’s gonna be alright, we know that, and Leif’s muggle-born, too.’

‘Well at least those two talked to you,’ Isaac complained. ‘The other two boys never said a word.’

‘Oh,’ Theo smirked. ‘I’d forgotten about the way you never stopped talking at the welcome feast last year,’ he grinned sarcastically, and Isaac blushed.

‘Piss off,’ the brown-haired boy shook his head. ‘That wasn’t the same, and you know it.’

Theo shrugged. ‘What about the girls?’

‘Wouldn’t know,’ Greg replied. ‘Never got a chance to talk to them, did I?’

The other boys laughed, as Theo stuck his tongue out back towards his best friend. ‘Well, sorry,’ he smiled. ‘Should have got there first, shouldn’t you?’

Greg rolled his eyes. ‘I meant, are they muggle-born or what?’

‘No,’ Theo answered, ‘both magical, quite a long way back. Victoria said her family’s always been in Slytherin.’

‘Well, you’d better watch out there, then,’ Lucas remarked. ‘You know what Slytherins used to be like.’

‘That doesn’t mean anything now, though, does it?’ Theo countered.

‘I’m just saying,’ Lucas shrugged.

‘What if they’re one of these old families that still believes in purebloods?’ Isaac asked. ‘Mum and Dad might not be very happy if their daughter brings home a mudblood for Christmas.’

Theo fell quiet. ‘I guess that would get in the way, right?’ He murmured.

‘Katie’s better looking, anyway,’ Isaac tried to lighten his friend’s mood.

‘Speak for yourself,’ Theo snorted. ‘There’s more of her, if that’s what you meant.’

‘Theo,’ Greg rolled his eyes. ‘Have you got any idea how much of a tosser you sound like right now?’ He asked.

‘What?’

‘You heard,’ Greg repeated. ‘Just cause they’re girls, that doesn’t mean you have to start talking about them like that.’

‘Doesn’t mean he doesn’t,’ Isaac butted in, ‘and besides, you should hear how Holly and her friends talk about boys, anyway.’

‘That doesn’t make it right,’ Greg insisted.

‘Fine,’ Isaac sniped, ‘we’ll make sure you’re not here when we talk about girls, and you make sure we’re not here when you talk about boys.’

‘Fuck you!’ Greg snapped back. ‘That’s not what I meant, and you know it.’ He reached for the cord that would pull the drapes closed around his bunk. ‘Maybe in the morning you might have grown up!’
 
 


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